Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Mustangs, Uniforms, and Old Marines

There is something very special about a military uniform. It was my privilege to have worn two uniforms of our nation’s military during the past forty years: Marine and Navy. Now that I’m retired from the Navy I have a mess of uniforms that I don’t need and that are taking up space. I’ve been considering just how to properly be relieved of them.

As a young Marine it was a tremendous thrill to wear the blues on those special occasions such as the Marine Corps Birthday Ball held each November on the tenth, or as close to the birthday of the Corps as is practical. I was reminded of this last Saturday night when I attended the Ball held at the Stockton Sheraton. This is an event hosted by the 4th LSB (Landing Support Battalion) out of Lathrop and the Stockton Marine Corps Club. Last year I was invited to be the guest of honor – something that I never even dreamed of when I first attended these Marine Corps events at the start of what would become a circuitous and long military career.

Anyway, at the Ball this year, the guest of honor was a friend of mine, Colonel Al Cruz. His speech that night was a real stem-winder! It was both inspirational and motivational. As an enlisted man Al was an artilleryman, completing two tours in Vietnam. Al is what we call in the military, a “Mustang,” as am I. Now for those of you who are unaware of this term “Mustang,” allow me to explain it to you. Someone who is labeled a Mustang began their time in the military as an enlisted man. Should this enlisted man prove himself a leader on the field of battle, he might receive a direct commission as an officer. Should this man demonstrate particular skills in a chosen area he might be selected for a commission as an LDO (Limited Duty Officer). Should this person earn a college degree while still an enlisted man he is then eligible to be commissioned as an officer. Or this man might be selected for OCS (Officer Candidate School) whereupon after successfully completing this rigorous training the man is commissioned as an officer. “A mustang is defined by continuity in military service from enlisted to officer (i.e. no break in military service). However, being a slang term, there is no precise definition or set of criteria to determine which officers can properly be called a "mustang"; however generally accepted mustangs are those who earned a Good Conduct ribbon or have completed 4 years of enlisted service prior to earning their commission.”

When I completed my seminary training I was then qualified to become a military chaplain. Even though I never intended to go back into the military, the Lord had other plans! Because of my ecclesiastical training and education I was able to be commissioned as a naval officer rather quickly. This occurred in December of 1983, nearly twenty-five years ago. Since I had become a Navy Chaplain I knew I could no longer wear the Marine dress blues – unquestionably the best looking uniform bar none. At my first duty station as a chaplain I knew I needed to part with my blues. I met a Marine built much like me who was also a Staff Sergeant with two hash marks. I sold him my blues for fifty bucks. This was a dark day!

Now back to the Marine Corps Birthday Ball last week. At every Ball there is an official cake cutting with a sword. The guest of honor receives a piece along with the oldest and youngest Marine present. I believe the youngest Marine was nineteen – born in 1989. That was depressing! However, the oldest Marine there was a major, born in early 1915. He joined the Marine Corps in 1933. And get this – he was wearing his uniform that night, looking very fit and spry. With all the Marines there, most being twenty-five and younger, there was a great cheer as this old Marine major came to the front of the room to help cut the Marine Corps Birthday Cake. That was motivational!

I’m still undecided about what to do with all my uniforms. But this much I know: This old Mustang is keeping his Navy mess dress uniform just in case he attends a Marine Corps Birthday Ball when he’s ninety-three.

Happy Birthday, Marines. Semper Fi.

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