The Value of an Hnorable Discharge
Sergeant Major Alford L. McMichael
Fellow Marines, let me reemphasize a simple, but sometimes-overlooked
truth: the characterization of your discharge will impact your
opportunities for success in the future, and might affect your
self-esteem and personal sense of pride. Occasionally, there
are Marines who lose sight of this fact and then have trouble
dealing with the consequences.
For example, in a recent letter to the editor of one of
our professional journals, an individual wrote to express his
concerns about having received an Other Than Honorable Discharge
from the Marine Corps. Interestingly, he said that he felt bad
about his separation because the Corps had been a major part
of his life, and it had given him a great sense of honor and
responsibility. His main point, however, was that he didn’t
understand why he couldn’t get a second chance to correct his
missteps. He knew that he had violated the trust and confidence
placed in him as a Marine, and understood that the Marine Corps
had to take legal action in his case. Still, the writer appeared
to be genuinely dejected by his separation and its characterization.
While I don’t know the details of the incident, I was struck
by the emotion in the letter. Its strong appeal for a second
chance suggested that civilian life might not have been going
well for this individual. His situation highlighted the fact
that an Other Than Honorable Discharge has negative long-term
It is important to remember that the characterization of
your discharge will depend entirely on the nature of your service.
Most Marines perform their duties and conduct themselves in
the manner in which they are expected, and will thereby rate
a favorable characterization. However, these papers are not
“rubber stamped.” Our profession requires that our standards
of behavior be higher than the norm. We insist on discipline,
integrity, and courage because the nature of warfare requires
that we obey orders, trust each other, and be able to set our
fears aside in order to accomplish the mission. If you meet
these standards and perform your duties as expected, then at
the end of your days in uniform, you will receive a ringing
endorsement that carries the full confidence of the United States
Marine Corps -- an Honorable Discharge.
An Honorable Discharge is more than a piece of paper that
you are given at the end of your enlistment. It is a document
that shows that you have served your country faithfully and
honestly. It is a reflection of your commitment to duty, and
demonstrates that you have done your part to protect and advance
our national interests. In short, an Honorable Discharge is,
as our Commandant has stated, “both a sign of dedication to
the prosperity of our nation and a measure of personal character.”
An Honorable Discharge can also be considered your ticket
to success because it is an effective endorsement from the U.S.
Marine Corps that tells prospective employers or college admissions
committees that you are dependable and reliable. Since hard
work and personal responsibility are familiar concepts to Marines,
it also says that you can remain committed to a cause and see
it through to its completion. Moreover, it correctly implies
that by virtue of your military service, you are better equipped
than your civilian counterparts to overcome adversity and find
solutions under stressful conditions.
These distinctions are important because there are a growing
number of employers who give hiring preferences to former service
members. They recognize, especially in the case of Marines,
that your training has given you a sense of discipline, honor,
and commitment that many of your civilian peers do not have.
In the business world, managers see this as translating into
greater efficiency and productivity. However, not everyone who
served in the military has these attributes. Therefore, the
“truth teller” that lets an employer know if you are going to
“measure up” is the characterization of your discharge. An honorable
characterization suggests that you have these attributes, and
will therefore be an asset to any employer.
An Honorable Discharge also affords you civil service preference
in the federal government, as well as many state, and local
governments. Municipal employers, such as the police and fire
departments, often favor former military members not only because
of the training that we receive, but also because those jobs
require disciplined professionals who can think quickly on their
feet. They want people who are trustworthy and reliable, and
are able to work both independently and as part of a team.
For some, the greatest utility of an Honorable Discharge is
that it entitles you to all the benefits the Veterans Administration
(VA) offers. These include the educational packages known as
the Montgomery G. I. Bill (MGIB) and the Marine Corps College
Fund (MCCF). The MGIB provides up to $19,296 dollars, and the
MCCF will grant up to $50,000 dollars to pay for your college.
Other VA benefits include the VA home loan guarantee, which
allows you to purchase a home with little or no down payment.
This provides great assistance to first-time homebuyers and
young Marines who may have limited savings. The privilege of
receiving medical treatment at VA medical centers is another
benefit. Treatment at these centers is guaranteed even if the
injuries or illnesses occur after you leave active service.
Although we can assign these benefits a dollar value, in
terms of their positive effects on a member, we consider them
priceless. By paying for your education, easing the burden of
buying a home, and ensuring your access to medical care, they
contribute greatly to helping you reach your full potential
and realize the “American dream.”
Other advantages that an Honorable Discharge guarantees include
the privilege of retaining your eligibility to join the Reserve
or National Guard. Joining the Marine Corps Reserve is a great
way to continue serving our country and Corps. The Reserves
allow you to pursue a civilian career while remaining strongly
connected to our Corps.
For non-U.S. citizens serving in the military, an Honorable
Discharge helps to speed up the naturalization process, provided
they meet other requirements. Incidentally, current law requires
that the Marine Corps notify the Immigration and Naturalization
Service to revoke the citizenship of naturalized citizens who
receive an Other Than Honorable Discharge.
Finally, an Honorable Discharge allows you the distinction
of being laid to rest at one of our nation’s federal cemeteries.
If you or your family desires, you will receive full military
honors and the VA will fund the headstone or flag for the burial.
This is our grateful nation’s final “thank you” for your honest
and faithful service.
The above-mentioned are just some of the material benefits
that an Honorable Discharge guarantees. They are important to
us because they produce visible results. This makes them seem
more like a “reward” for our service. However, there is one
other benefit that, although it is more difficult to measure,
is just as rewarding. This intangible benefit is, perhaps, the
most gratifying of all -- the pride that comes from knowing
that you served your country -- rising to the challenge, meeting
your obligation, and performing as expected.
When you return to civilian society, you will have every
reason to walk proudly and with your head held high. That pride
will be rooted not only in the personal satisfaction that comes
from having served our nation as a Marine, but also in the certain
knowledge that your Corps and country are grateful for your
service and will always stand beside you. An Honorable Discharge
will always follow you as a mark of your accomplishment, and
precede you as sign of your potential.
After you’ve used the scholarship money to advance your
education, and the VA loan to purchase a house, the satisfaction
of knowing that you served faithfully and honorably will always
remain. You will never have to second guess yourself and wonder
“what might have been” had you earned an Honorable Discharge.
You can forever be secure in your knowledge — with well-deserved
contentment — that you did something important for our nation,
that by your honorable service, you contributed to maintaining
our country as the shining example of freedom, and helped to
maintain our Corps as America’s premier fighting force. In the
end, you can stand with your head held high as living proof
that, for 224 years, our Corps has been making Marines, winning
battles, and returning responsible citizens to society.