It is late on Wednesday night (Thursday Morning). This will not be one of my better written posts. Oh well.
Many people find their callings in the strangest of places. I found mine in 1999 while going through Marine Corps boot camp.
I was a recruit in the 2nd Battalion, Hotel Company—Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, South Carolina. I entered the Marine Corps on a whim (literally), with virtually no regard for the implications of what I was actually doing. I knew I wanted to serve my country—I identified with the military, but I really did not know what I wanted to do with my life. It became a purely emotional decision:
I felt drawn to the Espirt de Corps—the pride and loyalty shared by Marines—past and present—the eternal brotherhood shared by those who have earned the privilege of wearing the same uniform, namely the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor. I wanted to be part of something greater than myself. I was drawn to the themes of honor, courage, and commitment. Plus, it didn’t hurt that the Marine Corps had those impeccable dress blues (is there a more awe inspiring sight in the world than a fully decorated marine in his dress blues?).
When I called my parents one summer afternoon to tell them I had just enlisted, I remember hearing silence on the other end of the line! My parents were proud and supportive, no doubt, but the Marine Corps? They don’t even have air conditioning!
I enlisted in the Corps in 1999—just a short while removed from graduating high school. I worked a few jobs, and I even tried a little college–it just wasn’t for me. I wasn’t ready for that.
Bring on the Corps! So I went: July 4th weekend, 1999.
I remember the events fairly specifically: I was transported to the Military Entrance Processing Station—which for me was in Montgomery, Alabama. From there, we were screened for physical defects, sworn in, and put up in a hotel for the night. The next day, several Marine recruits and I were transported in the night to “The Island.” Yeah, that’s what they call it.
A few of the “recruits” I travelled with in that van still keep in touch with me on Facebook (Shawn, Chris). Some of them even saw combat—heroes.
I remember upon arrival, and the yelling and screaming that took place (all to simulate the stresses of combat)—I found a smidgen of solace standing upon the yellow footprints that ALL Marines stand on before entering boot camp. There is something about tradition and doing what others have done before that sends a chill up my spine. **I Wonder Who Else Stood Here**
Honest Thought: “I may have stood in the VERY spot that a Medal of Honor recipient stood.”
To be completely transparent, I wonder about that today. Who else stood on the same footprints as me!?
We entered a forming platoon, did the initial physical testing (that a few failed because of overzealous recruiters or because they went on an eating spree the week before boot camp), and then awaited our transport to our new squad bay (barracks for you non Marines in Rio Linda). Forming wasn’t just administrative nonsense. It was intense. The orchestrated spectacle was as intense as they could make it. Yelling, pushups, Yelling, Pushups, spittle flying, no sleep. At that point in my life, I had been yelled at more and been more sleep deprived than at any other point in my life. Little did I know this was the NORMAL life of infantry and recon Marines.
To watch videos of it now is almost laughable. To be there is as stressful an event as you can imagine.
The question you are faced with immediately is: Could I REALLY ever function under enemy fire? Could I willingly follow orders when I know I might die?
When we were transferred to our permanent training platoon, all hell broke loose. We were introduced to our Drill Instructors and our Senior Drill Instructor. Now to be clear, by “introduced to”, I mean dropped into a den of lions. If I heard their voices today, I would immediately snap to attention—no doubt about it.
Until meeting them, my concept of God had not been challenged! I was in a new world, and I did not know how to negotiate it! I remember the first few days of boot camp. I was lost. I felt as if I had made a mistake by joining up.
But then it happened.
Marine recruits are afforded the opportunity to attend chapel on Sundays. I went. I didn’t go because I was actively seeking God. I went to get some reprieve (if only a few moments) from the constant wrath of the drill instructors.
Hey it was better than spit polishing my boots!
I firmly believe that God has our phone numbers. He knows where we are and what will reach us. He put me in Marine Corps boot camp—in 2nd Battalion Hotel Company—in protestant chapel—FOR A PURPOSE. There is no chance. There is no random. It is called the sovereignty of God.
It was in this sacred place that God spoke to me.
I was “saved” at age 5. I was baptized soon after. Despite that, it never seemed completely real. I cannot say that I fully understood what sin was at age 5. I only knew that I wanted to go to Heaven, and that my Mom and Dad were a part of something that I wasn’t.
Don’t get me wrong, I believed in God at age 5. The thing is, I did not understand that I was infected by a disease called sin and the only way to be cured was Jesus Christ. I could not fully understand the cross because I didn’t understand that it was my sin that caused the cross.
So I went to chapel and something amazing happened. God spoke to me. I submitted to him—being found depraved and recalcitrant. I submitted to the Lord in a repentant and penitent spirit.
The Chaplain at the service I attended did both the music and the preaching. I was drawn to him. He had the ability to reduce a room full of hardened US Marine recruits to putty. I was in a room with guys who would go on to fight in some horrific wars—real hardened guys— and he was able to touch their hearts. I was reminded of Christ reaching salty fishermen.
I will never forget his leading worship songs from the keyboard and his preaching about being a soldier for Christ and facing the Goliaths in our lives. I will never forget him talking about spiritual warfare the fact that we must be marines, not only for our country, but marines in the spiritual battle against evil. I will never forget him tying the challenges of Marine Corps boot camp tangibly to the challenges we will face as followers of Jesus Christ.
I finished boot camp. I did the rifle range, I did the Crucible. I went on to the School of Infantry. I passed the indoc for Force Reconnaissance school (BRC and ARS). I ended up at 3rd Force Recon Co., a Marine Reserve unit in Mobile, Alabama—which has been subsequently disbanded.
I was not a poster boy for the Marine Corps. I was in for a short time.
I learned a lot about myself. I gained confidence. I learned about combat and about service. I learned that Marines have a knack for being selfless (see Kyle Carpenter, MOH recipient). I learned that I did have the DNA to be a Marine. I was proud to be in the Corps.
But to be fair–the Corps? I also learned that it wasn’t for me. It would not be a career. I knew God had called me—through the Corps—to something else.
That day in July, standing on those yellow footprints, I had a plan. I wanted to finish boot camp and then get into an officers program that might land me a slot at pilot or helicopter school.
It’s funny how God changes the desires of our hearts.
One Sunday morning, a few weeks into the hell of boot camp, amidst the sun peering in through the famous stained glass windows of the Parris Island recruit chapel, I that I wanted to serve the Lord. I wanted to sing. I wanted to preach.
I wanted to be a special forces Marine for Christ.
Call it corny if you want, but I am sentimental: My cousins are all war heroes. All of them. Charles, Stephen, and Andrew—I am in their shadow. I look up to them. I respect them immensely. Also, many Marine brothers who I went to boot camp with are heroes—they know who they are. Several even paid the ultimate sacrifice on foreign fields of battle.
But I want to tell you this as plain as I can: God changed me through the Corps. He lit a fire in my heart that would grow larger the more I submitted myself to His will.
I sometimes wish I had the stories to share. I wish I was decorated. I wish I was a hero. I am not.
You know what I do value? I value the short time I was a Marine, the fact that I went through some of the toughest schools in the Corps, the elite fraternity that being a Marines grants me, and…
I value the fact that God spoke to me.
The Bible says “Submit yourself to the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” I used to question that verse. It sounded like Santa Claus—but then it happened to me.
He doesn’t just give you what is on your wish list. He REWRITES your wish list—For His glory.