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Subject: from a mom

Dear Jason,

Thank you so much for your interesting site.  My son is thinking of joining the Marine Reserves.  He is almost 22.  He wanted to join right out of high school, but we talked him out of it.  He took some machine shop at a technical college and has been working as a machinist in a forging company since then. He recently broke up with a girlfriend of 3 years and is feeling a great void in his life.  He says he is looking for something to do that is challenging and that will contribute something to this world.

I don't mind telling you that as his mom I have great reservations about his wanting to do this.  He is very smart and creative and I heard that the Marines don't want individualistic thinking.  I'm afraid of his losing his wonderful personality and becoming just one of the 'jar-heads.'  Excuse me, I don't mean to sound demeaning.  I know that there are many intelligent people in the Marines.  I am afraid of him experiencing being 'broken' during boot camp...Full Metal Jacket scared me to death.

He has a great work-ethic and caring attitude toward others.  He is not a tough guy, although he's in great physical shape.  I worry that because of his recent lost love that he is joining up to get her off of his mind.  My dad served in WWII, but no one else has served in the military.  We are getting conflicting advice from many different friends, who've served in  the various armed forces.

He says he wants to be a Marine because he said he's heard that they have the most intensive training available.  I worry that he'll turn into a killing machine mentality and also of the active duty requirements as the  Marines seem to be first in and last to leave.

Thanks for listening to me ramble on and on.  The way you portray yourself on your web site, it did seem like you would be willing to answer my concerns. Our son has agreed to wait for one month before signing up.  Even though it is the reserves and not the regulars, we want him to really think hard about this decision.  It is really breaking us -my husband and I up-thinking about him doing this.

I read all of your stories and printed them out for my husband and son to read. I enjoyed them and your evident sense of humor. I bought a number of books for him to read on the Marines, including the 2 you listed.

Do the Marines still do blood-winging?  That is appalling.

Thank you for listening.

My response

Dear “From a Mom,”

First of all, I want to apologize for taking so long to answer. I recently had surgery, got a new computer I had to set up, and changed email carriers. I have been meaning to get to you r letter and am glad to sit down and let you know what I think about the concerns you have.

I have been a Marine for almost 12 years now. I went in right after high school and served in the enlisted side for five years before earning a commission. I was an avionics technician and now serve as an adjutant for a tank battalion. So my experience is across a wide spectrum across the Marine Corps. I am very proud of what I have accomplished but that does not even compare to being able to say what I started our this paragraph saying.

I take no offense at your statement, "I'm afraid of his losing his wonderful personality and becoming just one of the 'jar-heads.'" You see, most people do not understand and are unwilling to listen to what the Marine Corps is really about. I run across many a lot of people who think of Marines as dumb automatons who mindlessly follow harsh orders and kill at will.

Being a Marine is a mindset. We are instilled with one overriding theme: excellence. I could give many examples but the thing to understand about being a Marine is that we must strive to do the very best that we can in everything we do, whether that be winning a battle or pushing a mop. This code of excellence pervades everything we do and even leaks over into our personal lives. We look at life as a challenge to do every task, make every decision, perform every duty better than everyone else. The challenge is to what level of excellence we can achieve even the most mundane tasks. We derive honor from this and therefore in everything we do, we are either achieving a high state of excellence, or failing ourselves because we could have done better.

The result is a confidence rarely seen in our generation. Do we always achieve this? No. Do we have our problem children who do not internalize this mindset? Absolutely! But the vast majority of us strive for those higher levels. We believe in the team concept and the only way to make the team stronger is to improve each component. Therefore, we are taught that self-improvement is team-improvement.

I crave knowledge and educate myself for two reasons. First, to feed my thirst for knowledge for the sake of knowledge. Second, is so that I will be that much more able to teach what I have learned to my fellow Marine, whether that be a private or a general. This is the attitude that has been "brainwashed" into me.

You wrote, "He is very smart and creative and I heard that the Marines don't want individualistic thinking." Nothing could be further from the truth and many people find that fact hard to believe. You say that your son is smart and creative and that is exactly what the Corps wants and needs. Some of the greatest Marines I ever met were also the most individualistic thinkers I have ever met. The Corps tries to use that creativity and tries to steer that positive trait to help the group. That is what a leader does, takes the strengths of his group and uses them for the good of the whole. Marine Corps history is replete with stories of characters that can be described no other way than "anti-establishment." We do not need mindless robots nor do we need wannabe murderers. When I worked in a recruiting station, if a young man walked in and wanted to be a Marine, we asked him why. If he said "To kill people!" then we told him to get the Hell out of our office. We do not need Rambo. He will just get himself and worse, Marines around him get real dead, real fast.

"I am afraid of him experiencing being 'broken' during boot camp...Full Metal Jacket scared me to death."

I once told my wife that if Alex, our son, ever goes to boot camp, she would be a wreck for three months. Without skipping a beat, she looked at me and said, "No, YOU would be a wreck for three months." Thinking about that, she was right. I will not lie to you and tell you that it is easy, for the recruit or his family. Bootcamp is tough, as it should be. Almost without fail, every parent I talk to before their son or daughter goes to bootcamp, is against sending their children to the Marines. My own mother was so upset she could not even talk to me. But then an amazing thing happens. He comes home and through the door walks a man where a boy left. He seems a little taller because he is standing a little straighter. He has a self-confidence and a pride that he never had before. He opens doors, pulls chairs, answers ma'am and sir. He is polite without seeming submissive. In fact he is on the verge of cockiness but always respectful. He cleans up after himself and makes his bed when he gets up early to take a morning run. He speaks proudly of the experience that has changed his life. Is he brainwashed? No. He has just been shown a few things such as what a good life he has after being shown what lacking one is really like. But at the same time he has been shown what he has inside, the confidence to accomplish anything he can imagine. To endure through hardships and to perform under stress and pressure applied by experts. These are traits anyone would be proud to have. Most mothers, including my own, end up with the most amazing amount of pride that their son is a Marine. It becomes a bragging point and for good reason.

Full Metal Jacket scared me to death, too. But to really understand what was going on, you must face the reality of why we need to instill these traits in Marines. The harsh truth is that Marines must fight sometimes. We do not relish the fact but we accept it because someone must be there when a threat exists. Parents want to say "OK, but no my son." I ask, then whose? Someone whose parents don't love them or are indifferent to losing them to war? So we have two choices. Either disband the Corps and hope that the world will no longer be a dangerous place and that all the countries that want to take away the high standard of living we enjoy will leave us alone. Or we can train a high quality force that is so well-trained that we not only make winning the only option, but do it with a very small percentage of casualties. Further, we can instill into thousands of young men and women the ethos of excellence and honor so that when they decide to leave our ranks, they can go out into society and carry that mindset to the civilian community.

Full Metal Jacket is a stark reminder that to create this high-quality, low casualty situation, you must instill a spirit and test the mettle of the warriors you must create. We have about 11 weeks to take a person whose only exposure to the military are movies and who conflict exposure ranges from silver-spooned rich kids to street rules. Believe it or not, the drill instructor probably cared about Pyle more than anyone because he know that they were going to Vietnam right after they finished bootcamp. If Pyle was not able to handle the stress and learn the harsh lessons of war while in the "safe" environment of Parris Island, he would be a dead man walking and most likely get many more Marines killed along with him. The ending of the first half is obviously not a success story but is Hollywood tragedy at its best or worst. The vast (I would not even be able to calculate the odds) majority do not blow their heads off as a result of bootcamp.

The bottom line is that we do not want to take your son away and eat him alive, making him into a ravenous killing machine. Who hates war more than those who have to fight it? But you stated "He says he is looking for something to do that is challenging and that will contribute something to this world." I would say that the Marine Corps has been the most challenging thing I have ever done and the challenge is only outdone by the pride that it has given to me and my family. As far as a contribution, I will tell you this.

I once saw a report where a group of Marines came into a small Kuwaiti village after running the Iraqi force out of it. When the Kuwaitis saw them coming, they fled into their houses and hid until someone noticed that they were Marines. Suddenly, the squad saw dozens of Kuwaiti women and children flood out of the houses to the surprise of the startled Marines who were initially shocked at the sudden influx of people around them. The women were crying and the children clung to the legs of the Marines. One woman told the interpreter that she was in the midst of being raped when the Iraqis learned of the American advancing squad. Once the lookout spotted that they were Marines, they fled at once. The Iraqis were systematically raping the women in front of their children and then killing all of them. This might sound like a sappy movie plot but the terrible reality is that it was true.

When I think of a contribution, I think of this story. I had a part in giving these people their freedom back. They were not rich oil tycoons or dirty little third world heathens. They were people like you and me and that squad of American Marines intervened in one of the most tragic situations imaginable. If you think these kinds of situations only appear in movies, you are wrong. We can either stick our heads in the sand and thank God we are the lucky ones who enjoy security and prosperity, or we can contribute, make a difference, and make an effort to do what is right. I looked in the eyes of one of those children and saw something. I saw that he was no different than my son and that his parents loved him no less than I did my own. What if we were invaded and did not have the might to repel the enemy? How would we feel if foreigners came into our neighborhoods and performed atrocities on us and our families. Think it can't happen? Why not? Who will stop them? Hopefully, not too many people will say "Fine, but not my son."

My advice is to talk to your son. If he is considering joining the Marines to get away from his ex-girlfriend and the situation, then by all means, talk some sense into him. But if he wants to join the Marine Corps to serve and to better himself, then let him make his first adult decision. Will he go through some trials? You can bet on it. But is it worth it? The old adage goes, "I would not go through bootcamp again for a million dollars. But you could not pay me a million dollars to take back the experience."

To let you know what kind of people will be leading him on his journey, I will tell you that I look at my Marines in this way; Parents have entrusted me with their most precious gift they have ever received. I, Jason Donald Grose, am responsible for this gift until I can return it better than when it was given to me. I will use every means necessary to train, motivate, educate, and instill the excellence mindset in him. I will praise, compliment, reward, spoil, and brag about him. I will also bully, embarrass, belittle, exhaust, deprive, and stress him when necessary for one common goal. If I ever take him to battle with me, I never want to arrive on your doorstep with hat in hand and tell you that your son is dead because I did not train him well enough. I will not compromise the trust the parents have given me. I have made this implicit promise to the parents of the Marines I lead and I will care for them to the same degree I care about my own son and daughter. I would expect nothing less from the officer that might be in charge of my son someday.

Semper Fidelis.

Jason D. Grose
United States Marine Corps

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