During my 23+ years in the Corps, I've learned many things. Some of the things I've learned were tough lessons, and I wish I had known these things when I was a brand new PFC, fresh out of boot camp. So, here's a few tidbits that I wish I could go back in time and explain to my young self, or simply hope that a new recruit or junior Marine will come across and take to heart.
1. Your current unit or duty station is like Texas weather; if you don't like it, just give it a bit and it will change. Duty stations, and even units at that duty station, are cyclic in how miserable or pleasant they are. This stems from the fact that the leadership of those units and bases changes on a regular basis. Be patient, and know that with new leadership often comes a fresh change of atmosphere.
2. The minimum standard or requirement is merely a starting point, not a goal. I saw this on a placard as a young NCO and have embraced it ever since. No Marine should ever strive to simply pass the physical fitness test (PFT); they should strive to max that sucker out! If you aim for perfection, you'll find yourself routinely excelling at all that you do. Hold yourself to high standards beyond the minimum that the Corps requires. The Marines that routinely exceed expectations are the ones that get chosen for positions of greater responsibility, and also the ones that the leadership will reward with meritorious promotions, awards, etc.
3. It's one thing to step on your d*ck once in a while; just don't mark time on it. A crusty old Gunny made that comment to me once and I'll never forget it. We're all human, and your leaders will understand if you make a mistake; it's patterns of screwing up that will not be forgiven. Don't be so fearful of making a mistake that you never take any risks. Risk can be mitigated but not entirely eliminated. If you never make a decision or venture forth into the unknown, you'll never achieve success. With decision-making and uncertainty will come occasional mistakes; learn from them and become better.
4. Don't throw away old uniforms or gear. I've lost track of how many different versions of boots I've been issued over the years, and I also have worn two different colors of t-shirts under my cammie blouse, flip-flopping back and forth a couple of times. Whenever we get a new Commandant, expect some changes, but don't bank on them being forever. If our next Commandant decides to change the color of socks that we wear, just put your current batch of perfectly good socks in a plastic tub and keep them; you'll probably need them again in the future. Got extra "CIF" gear? Hang on to it. You never know when you, or your buddy, will lose a canteen, ammo pouch, or something else that the civilian-run issue facility will charge you an arm and a leg to replace.
5. Just because they have shiny sh*t on their collar, doesn't mean that they're great leaders. Not all officers are great leaders. In fact, many are mediocre, at best. Some are downright wastes of skin. The officer selection and promotion systems are not perfect. As a result, less than stellar officers occasionally make it into positions of influence; this often leads to misery for the enlisted Marines. If you find yourself doing stupid things, seemingly for no reason (painfully redundant safety briefs, for example), it's probably because some idiot with shiny stuff on his collar thought he had a brilliant idea that would earn him a positive fitness report comment. Officers love to try and fix the un-fixable, such as throwing a few more safety briefs at a group of young Marines, fully expecting that to prevent them from doing stupid things while on liberty. Just be patient, and see comment #1, above.
6. Never pass up an opportunity to do the right thing. Integrity is more than honesty; it's doing the right thing, even when nobody is around to see it. Never miss those opportunities, and you'll make good habits that will benefit you for life. One of the best things I could possibly hope to be remembered for is being "a good man." Nobody says that about a thief or a cheat. Be the person that never fails to come to the aid of a fellow Marine in need. Do the right things, even when they're unpleasant or unpopular, and you'll be a great leader and a great person.
7. Surround yourself with good Marines. Just like your friends in grade school, the Marines that you associate with will influence you, like it or not. Successful people don't surround themselves with losers, and that's just as true in the Corps as it is in the civilian community. When you get to your first, or even your next unit, look at the pictures on the wall of the Marine of the Quarter and NCO of the Quarter; those are the guys (or gals) that you want to hang out with. Associate with winners and you'll be a winner.
8. Don't be a sheep in wolf's clothing. The Corps doesn't need guys or gals that aren't willing to fight. We're an organization that prides itself on its history of valor in combat. Every Marine knows the names of our most famous battles, from Belleau Wood, to Fallujah, as well as what we accomplished in those storied places. If you're confused or squeamish about what we do for a living, find another line of work.
9. Make a list of what you want to do in the Marine Corps, and go do it now! The Marine Corps doesn't give a damn what you want. That's a hard pill for some guys to swallow, but it's true. If you want to go to jump school, be a Drill Instructor, travel the world, or whatever else you think would be fun to do in the Corps, then get off of your ass and go do it now. Don't put it off. Pester your leadership to send you to the school you want to attend, or to get you orders to where you want to go. Understand, however, that if you're a turd, don't expect anyone to grant you your wishes. If you follow rule #2, you'll have more success. Your time in the Corps is going to come to an end at some point, and your chances to do the things you want to do will be gone. How do you want to remember your time in the Corps? What stories will you tell your grandchildren about that time? Start making those memories today.
Note: This post, like all of the posts on this blog, represent my personal opinion, and do not represent the United States Marine Corps in any capacity.