Gray Matter


My Former Marine Corps Life

Marine CorpsI rarely reflect on my former Marine Corps life. Sharing some of it with you may help explain why I am the way I am, why I write the way I write. My life in the Corps was far harder than anything I’ve experienced since I left it, but it’s not something I can easily explain.

I spent 20 years on active duty. The delayed entry period before active duty and the Fleet Marine Corps Reserve period after active duty count as 10 years of non-active reserve time. It’s been more than 10 years since I completed my 30 years of total service.


I was an administrator. My official occupational title started as “personnel clerk”, which morphed to “personnel chief” at some promotion level. I was called many other things by those outside of the admin field. I was an office poge, a Remington raider, a paper shuffler and a pencil pusher.

Unlike other military branches, I had to stay proficient in many of the same areas as other specialties. The difference between an admin guy and a non-admin guy going to the field was that the non-admin guy got time off afterwards. The admin guy still had work to do.

I was an enlisted Marine. Some civilians don’t know the difference between enlisted personnel and officers, thinking a sergeant’s next step up is lieutenant. It just doesn’t work that way. I retired as a Staff Sergeant, pay grade E-6, without doing anything wrong. The quotas just weren’t there. It had a lot to do with the downsizing of the military that started when Bill Clinton was still the President of the United States.


Marines who lived in the barracks had to subsist in dining facilities, with military cooks until the dining facilities were privatized in the 1990s. Those that didn’t live in the barracks ate just like their civilian counterparts. All that was while in garrison. Eating in the field was completely different. Regardless of where we lived, we had to stand mess duty in the dining facilities from time to time, at least until the rank of Staff Sergeant.

I had combat rations made in previous decades when I went through basic training. The “Meal, Ready-to-Eat” (MRE) didn’t get distributed until the early eighties. Most of the meals contained dehydrated portions until sometime in the nineties. The MREs today are much better than the first batches.


During my 20-year service period, the only real uniform changes involved the field uniform, the overcoat and the raincoat. The service uniforms remained constant, as did the dress blues. The field uniform changed from the sateen utility uniform (being used since at least the fifties) to the camouflage uniform. The camouflage pattern changed once. The overcoat and raincoat were combined into the all-weather coat.

The camouflage uniform is different today, with a lot more green in it. You can tell a Marine in uniform from any other military branch without even knowing about the uniform. Marines tend to look sharp in every uniform they wear. They roll up their sleeves in the summer.

Until the nineties, the camouflage uniforms had a Marine Corps decal on one of the pockets and rank insignia on each collar. Eventually, sewn-on tags for the name and branch of service were added and a rank insignia was added to the “cover” (hat). Marking kits, which I hated with a passion, were slowly phased out. Although you can find them on eBay and other sites, they’re no longer being made. They’re collectors items now.

Marine Corps Life

It’s not like the other branches of the military and I can’t really explain it. For whatever amount of time a person serves in the Marine Corps, it’s their life. It’s 24-hours a day, seven days a week.

The things I learned while in the military about people, about my job and about the things I taught myself outside the job enabled me and my family to have a better life after the military than many who avoided the military. Getting a job was easy after the military, if I really wanted the job.

To this day, there are some people who make snide remarks about my retirement pension. It doesn’t take me long to explain the details about how I served the country, so they wouldn’t have to. I mention Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Kuwait, and they usually shut up.

Photo Attribution: Russ McElroy from Pixabay

Author: RT Cunningham
Date: October 14, 2020 (UTC)
Categories: Retirement

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