“ATTENTION ON DECK!”
When the lieutenant colonel entered the office, I jumped to my feet just the way I’d been trained and screamed out the words at the top of my lungs.
“Oh, uh, thank you Private. As you were.” LTC Wise was in charge of the Foreign Area Officer (FAO) program, the office I’d just been assigned to. What he didn’t know was that I’d given the same reception to office’s second in command, an Army major, as well as the chaplain, who was also a major, just minutes before. The three of them were the permanent staff of the FAO program, a special section for Army officers who were going to be stationed as liaisons overseas. They’d get a quick course in the language of their soon-to-be host country and attend seminars on culture, history, and current events related to their postings. The rest of the office consisted of a retired Marine CWO3 named Lloyd and the civilian secretary who I was temporarily filling in for.
I, on the other hand, was a Private who’d been standing on the infamous yellow footprints at MCRD San Diego only a little over four months prior, and had ended up being sent to the Defense Language Institute (DLI) in Monterey, California. The Army ran the base but all four branches studied there; in a few months, I’d be one of three Marines in my class, but for now, I was on Casual.
DLI is an odd place. Classes can run for a year or more, so it wasn’t uncommon for service members assigned there to spend up to six months waiting for an available seat. I’d arrived at the beginning of October, and the last class of the year for my language had just started, so I was scheduled to be running a deck buffer for the next three months.
However, two weeks or so after I got there, the corporal in charge of the Casual platoon of the Marine Corps Admin Detachment got a call from down the hill. Linda, the FAO office’s secretary, had just given birth the day before. Lloyd told me later that getting a soldier would have required a reorganization of the office’s official TO&E, so he’d suggested to LTC Wise that he might be able to informally borrow a Marine to fill the billet.
“Hold on a moment, sir.” Cpl. Khoury scanned the room, then focused on me. “Valentine, when do you start classes?”
“January, corporal,” I said.
“Right, you’ve got a new detail.”
So there I was, the lone active-duty Marine in the office. Fresh out of boot camp, I knew that with one dropped courtesy or missed crease in my uniform, I could single-handedly destroy 213 years of Marine Corps pride and honor, so I was on my absolute best “recruit in the squadbay” behavior. That turned out to be a mistake, but the good kind. After two days of jumping to attention and screaming at every officer who walked in, the colonel called me into his office.
“SIR, PRIVATE VALENTINE REPORTING AS ORDERED, AYE AYE SIR!” I yelled from six inches and centered in front of his desk, eyes locked on the wall behind him.
“At ease, Private. Look, you’re doing an outstanding job, but please, take it down a notch,” he said in a patient tone, “When I come into the office in the morning, you come to attention and greet me, but unless they outrank me, the simple greeting of the day is appropriate for anyone else.” He smiled, “And no need to yell, you’re scaring everyone.”
“AYE-,” I started to shout, then stopped, and lowered my voice to a conversational level, “Aye aye, sir.”
“Right, back to work, thank you, Private.”
Secretarial work hadn’t been covered in boot camp, so I wasn’t the model of efficiency. I could barely type, and one time I didn’t recognize the name of the Marine detachment’s XO when he called. Fortunately, even though I’d been promoted, “PFC Valentine” is service-nonspecific, so he didn’t chew my ass when I asked which unit he was with.
I must have done something right. It was a skate duty, I still had to do formations and PT, but I got to skip out on a couple inspections, and when Linda returned from her maternity leave, they decided to make the billet permanent. Lloyd helped me write my letter of appreciation, and when I brought it for signing, LTC Wise read it carefully, repeating the high points under his breath.
“…vital asset… critical to the functioning of this office… embodies the highest standards and traditions of the United States Marine Corps.” He smiled as he signed it. “Well, sounds about right to me. Good luck, Marine.”