FORT A.P.HILL, Va. (MCN - 10/12/2010) —
“My name is 1st Sgt. LaFountain and I am absolutely humbled to be in
your presence. I know of all the great things that you have done in the
past, the legacy of the (Marine rifleman). I know that they are the
backbone of the Marine Corps; they inspire me. I am so proud to serve
with them,” said 1st Sgt. Philip Joseph LaFountain, company first
sergeant, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment.
“I saw how much attention he was getting and I said “man that's pretty cool,” he
said with a grin. “Then I started doing my research on the Marine Corps.”
He sat in a tan field tent in the early hours of the evening. A bluish
hue cast a somber glow on his confident visage, revealing nearly two
decades of Marine Corps experience. A youthful smile exposed the
continued passion and energy for a lifestyle that less than .06 percent
of the American population chooses to live by. He broke the silence. A
modest tone began the story. And words of wisdom and understanding
poured like water from a canteen.
“I kept myself in a good crowd,” said 1st Sgt. Philip J. LaFountain,
honestly. “It really paid off and I owe a lot to my parents. Like the
average kid in America, I came from a pretty good background, my parents
were hard workers.”
Growing up in the cultural melting pot of Toledo, Ohio, LaFountain
quickly found his niche playing sports. Throughout junior high school,
he ran track and wrestled. It was this time spent wrestling, training,
and watching his weight that forged the foundation of his discipline. He
wrestled until his junior year in high school, hoping to receive a
scholarship and continue his education in college. That all changed, one
day when his brother, a Marine, came home as a lance corporal in his
His brother, a combat engineer throughout Operation Desert Shield and Operation
Desert Storm, ignited the fire of competition in the younger LaFountain and in
1992, at the age of 18, he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps.
Having grown up with the spirit of competition thriving between the two
brothers, LaFountain had a strong advantage when entering the Corps.
“My brother was a huge inspiration in my life. Seeing him become a Marine,
seeing him do well; he was a high shooter in boot camp and graduated high in his
platoon,” he said. “When I went there I was a high shooter, I had high (physical
fitness scores). I found a niche and I liked it.”
LaFountain matured while in recruit training and entered the Marine Corps as a
motor transport operator assigned to 8th Motor Transport Battalion. Even though
he felt better suited for the infantry, LaFountain began his career with endless
motivation. Consistently being chosen for meritorious boards and receiving high
performance scores, he found the Marine Corps to be a good fit and adapted well
to the new lifestyle.
Years quickly passed and when the opportunity to reenlist arose, a question
lingered in his mind. As a sergeant of Marines by his fourth year, LaFountian
was convinced by the feeling of bonding and brotherhood and inspired to keep
doing what he was doing.
“I always tell my Marines that you have to go with what's in your heart. Being a
Marine is the most gratifying thing that I've ever done. Earning the title of
being a Marine is my most proud moment, and that's what has kept me in over the
With his next few years spent in Hawaii, thoughts of becoming a Florida state
trooper became more and more prevalent. He did his research and readied to leave
the Marine Corps, but for some reason didn't fly back to Florida to take the
exam. The enduring idea of becoming a drill instructor remained and he had to
“One day I'm walking through the battalion and I don't know what it was, but I
passed the career planners office, with no intention to go there, I stopped dead
in my tracks and I said to myself If I don't at least try to become a drill
instructor, I don't want to go through the rest of my life regretting it. I
ended up putting in a drill instructor package and I guess the Marine Corps
wanted to keep me around because they gave me orders to the drill field.”
Between the years of 1999 and 2002, he spent his time on Marine Corps Recruit
Depot Parris Island making Marines. As a green belt drill instructor, a senior
drill instructor, and a series gunnery sergeant, he molded fresh recruits into
the newest generation of Marines and added a fresh face to the Marine Corps.
Stepping off the parade deck and heading to the 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance
Battalion at Camp Pendleton, California, LaFountain went twice to Iraq in
support of Operation Iraqi Freedom before becoming the Enlisted Assignments
Monitor for his MOS at Headquarters, Marine Corps.
After several years, he was given the opportunity that he had longed for, to
work with infantry Marines. He received orders to be the company first sergeant
for Company E, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, an experience that would earn
him the bronze star with combat valor and one he would never forget.
“I owe that bronze star to every Marine in my company,” he said with a serious
tone. “We inserted by helicopter into Mian Poshteh, Afghanistan on July 2, 2009.
It was pretty quiet and we knew a bunch of the local population was fleeing the
area. We were on the ground for about two hours and then we began receiving
contact from every direction, from (rocket propelled grenades) to machine guns.
We weren't being overwhelmed we were just holding our ground, trying to identify
where the fire was coming from. A couple of hours later our first casualty was
Lance Cpl. Berry. He had passed out from heatstroke. My team of Marines and I
rushed out of a building in the middle of the firefight. We ran about a hundred
meters through RPG and AK47 fire. We collected the Marine up, got his gear off,
and put him in the water to try and wake him up. He wasn't conscious at all.
This whole time we're getting shot at and I heard my (Executive officer) yelling
for us to get him out of there. From the moment we left that canal we were
getting shot at. We really cared about that Marine and getting him inside the
wire. I can't tell you how proud I am of that group of guys. I was only able to
do that because I had great platoon commanders, great platoon sergeants, and
great squad leaders that kept us as safe as they could. They surrounded us as we
moved under fire to get that Marine. I owe it to them why I'm alive today.”
Having fought bravely, side-by-side with the Marines of Echo Company, LaFountain
couldn't illustrate enough the courage and heroism of his Marines on that day.
“I was in complete awe to see my Marines run straight into bullets to protect
me, to protect their fellow Marines,” he said. “When we are fighting next to one
another, all we are thinking about is not letting my buddy down to the left and
to the right. If I can do that then we will succeed because we will fight to the
Currently the company first sergeant for Headquarters and Service Company, 2nd
Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, LaFountain reflects on a younger generation of
Marines, stressing the importance of seizing the day, making the right
decisions, and working hard to be the best.
“Junior Marines need to strive hard, he said. “If they start making the right
decisions and start doing the right things they will find themselves very
successful in their lives. If they try to set the standard the Marine Corps has
always lived by, they will get every ounce of the Marine Corps that they were
looking for, but they have to want that, no one can give that to them.”
He stood as his story drew to a close, the faint tent lights illuminating the
pride in his eyes. Pride, not for his endeavors, his medals or his
accomplishments, but pride for the men he serves with. With a pause, he ended
with one last thought.
“My success story is my Marines. I believe in the team and I would be nothing
without them, that's why the Marine Corps is great, we don't fight as
individuals, we fight as a force. We are the Marine Corps and there is a legacy
behind what we do.”
By USMC LCpl. Jeff Drew
2nd Marine Division
Marine Corps News
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