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What The Recruiter Didn't Say
by U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Garron Garn - February 27, 2015

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"Mere Chance" by David G. Bancroft

Don't let the headline fool you; this isn't an anti-recruiter article.

In fact, my tour as a recruiting station Executive Officer was professionally rewarding due in large part to the outstanding Marines serving on the frontlines in our battle for the best and brightest. It seems that our first interactions with recruiters often set the tone for our time in the Corps, yet the ‘recruiterman' can only tell us so much.

Some things need to be experienced (read, endured, felt, and seen) for us to really know it.

Crow Valley, the Philippines is the barren area being used by Marines for training in October 2014.  The Mount Pinatubo volcano's eruption in 1991 caused the desolation. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by GySgt Ismael Pena)
Crow Valley, the Philippines is the barren area being used by Marines for training in October 2014.  The Mount Pinatubo volcano's eruption in 1991 caused the desolation. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by GySgt Ismael Pena)

The Benefits

One of the first things to happen after a young man or woman walks into a recruiting substation is for the recruiter to present 11 ‘benefit tags.' These tags help identify the motivations of the potential Marine and can be divided into two categories: ‘tangible' and ‘intangible' benefits*. The tangible benefit tags (technical skills; professional development and opportunities; physical fitness; educational opportunities; and financial security/advancement and benefits) are all good things, but they are common to all Services. It's hard to picture a Marine saying “I'm only doing this for my GI Bill benefits.”

These tangible benefits won't provide the spark to complete the Crucible or to gear up for another patrol in another forgotten village during yet another deployment while missing another significant event back home.

So where does the motivation come from?

The remaining six benefit tags define the intangibles of being a Marine: leadership and management skills; courage, poise, and self-confidence; self-reliance, self-direction, and self-discipline; pride of belonging; challenge; and travel and adventure. These are the traits that set Marines apart from civilians. These are the traits that sustain a Marine through difficult duties. These are the traits that Marines wear on their sleeve long after they've folded up their cammies or hung up their dress blues.

Challenge, Travel, and Pride

To develop these intangibles, we were told we would have to work hard. The recruiter said Recruit Training (or Officer Candidates School) will be the most difficult thing we will ever do. This was in the forefront of our minds when we were presented with the “challenge” benefit tag. But left unsaid is that at some point in our career we will be faced with an ambiguous situation where there is no clear answer. The situation might involve a peer, or a senior Marine, and we will have to decide how to respond (or not), knowing that there may be consequences for coming forward (or not).

At times, moral dilemmas will confront us at a greater frequency than physical challenges. We train year round for our physical fitness tests partly because we know the tests will be coming – but there is no way to train for the murky situation that appeared out of nowhere.

Was I ready? Did I uphold our core values?

The “travel and adventure” benefit tag is also a popular selection for potential Marines. A recruiter will support this benefit with listings of overseas duty assignments, deployment opportunities, and even pictures from their personal cruisebooks. But the recruiter didn't tell us the Sydney Opera House seems smaller than it appears or the skyline in Hong Kong from Victoria's Peak at dusk is simply... incredible. Or Malaysia has a unique smell and Crow Valley in the Philippines looks like the surface of the moon. Or that Thailand in February is ‘suffocatingly' hot for 22 of 24 hours while South Korea in February is bone chilling cold for 24 of 24 hours.

What about “pride of belonging?” Did that mean we were going to contribute to something bigger than ourselves as an integral member of a team?

Sure. But we didn't understand what brotherhood meant until we made friends in the Corps who became our family and who we see more than our blood family. In fact, over the course of one three-year tour that included seven deployments, I have likely spent more time with two Marines in the unit than my immediate family. I can also count on exactly no fingers and no toes how many friends I keep in contact with from high school, yet my friends in the Corps are too many to count. My recruiter didn't tell me about the emotions I would feel when a “family member” dies in combat; even though it's been almost 10 years, I still frequently think of 1stLt Nathan Krissoff...

Things Left Unsaid

I wasn't told I would be nervous, I mean anxious before every single physical fitness test during my career. Someone should check my pulse – or hand me my DD-214 – if that feeling ever goes away.

‘Recruiterman' didn't say I would find myself caught in the middle of a challenging situation between two highly respected individuals, one senior and one junior. Or that it would happen on more than one occasion.

Thankfully there were mentors who provided wise counsel during these times. Not the kind who are assigned but the kind who just kind of happen over time. These mentors sometimes see something in us that we don't yet see in ourselves. I consider myself extremely honored to have a few Marines who continue to patiently entertain my curiosity and questions. But my recruiter didn't tell me the only way to thank these mentors is to emulate them by molding the next generation after their example. We eventually figure this out because there is no other way.

It wasn't in my contract that the closest I would ever live to my hometown in my career was an eight hour drive or that I would literally spend years living outside the continental U.S. Or that I would miss my daughter's “Little Mermaid” themed 3rd birthday or the “Queen Elsa” themed 5th birthday.

It wasn't in the fine print that my travel and adventure would include more than 15 foreign countries.

I didn't know that my immediate section would one day include Marines from South Carolina, New York x 2, Texas, Palau (look it up), Michigan x 2, Mexico, and Massachusetts. Talk about pride of belonging! There are a lot of things the recruiter leaves out when we start our journey. And that's ok.

Because no one wants to be told the ending to a good story.

*Three prior recruiters and two prior Executive Officers were asked about which benefit tags were tangible or intangible and six different answers were given...

By U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Garron Garn
Provided through DVIDS
Copyright 2015

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