By LtCol Walter F. McTernan III, USMC (Ret.)
After I retired from active duty I went to work for our Uncle Sam in a civilian capacity. My clothing changed, but my duties – not so much. One of my main assignments was to serve as a liaison officer (LnO) between “OGA” and deployed commands in the Balkans and Southwest Asia. Most of those great experiences were with largely U.S. Army commands. In the Balkans on multiple tours I served with IFOR, SFOR and KFOR (which had me often asking why for?). As the main thing I miss about the Marine Corps is being around Marines, serving with the relatively few Marines in those joint-combined commands was a truly great experience which I will always treasure! One of the most memorable Marines I served with in Bosnia was a young man and a great, representative U.S. Marine Corps non-commissioned officer who by his very presence added to the laurels of our Corps among his Army friends, colleagues and comrades. His name is Rob Townley. At the time we first met Rob was a Corporal of Marines.
Unknown to many is the point of fact that military retirees are still officially members of their parent services, but on the “Retired List.” The phrase “Once a Marine, Always a Marine” is a bona fide truism! This largely unknown and ignored personnel fact rarely matters to me, but has on occasion been of benefit to a young, junior active duty Marine whom I have been able to officially assist in some small way in battling the bureaucracy. This was one such time.
Then-Corporal Townley was a PMOS 26XX “SigInt” Marine who was at HQ, IFOR as a member of a national level support group. He was the sole acdu Marine I knew at Camp Eagle, Tuzla, Bosnia at that time. Rob was perhaps one of the shorter Marines in physical stature that I have known, but he was a giant of a man nonetheless. He had the physique of a wrestler or weight lifter and exuded an aura of supreme self-confidence at all times. Cowed by seniority he was not; thoroughly professional and respectful he always was. In terms of military presence, he frankly put his Army NCO and SNCO counterparts to shame. He strutted around like a mini-Arnold Schwarzenegger or like a samurai among peasants in a rice paddy. He was supremely self-confident and was/is an all-around great guy too. It was quite obvious to me that his Army colleagues were not only jealous of him, but intimidated by him as well, though of course they would have been loath to admit it. So much so that the Sergeants First Class (SFC/E-7) in the J-2 Section looked for ways to put Rob “in his place”. That was no easy chore, let me tell you.
One day Rob approached me asking for some advice. By Table of Organization and Equipment (TO&E), Cpl Townley was armed with a M-9 service pistol and a Kabar combat knife. Rob had been issued the latest style Kabar (a very cool weapon, I must admit). The Army NCO’s up to SFC/E-7 were, per TO&E, armed with the M-16A1 service rifle and bayonet. It obviously bothered them that a “mere” corporal/E-4 got to wear a pistol and Kabar while they, in their exalted seniority, had to carry an M-16 and bayonet, just like the junior soldiers-snuffies. Clearly they were jealous of this. And so they were messing with the Marine corporal, using this arming issue as their excuse to engage in “the seventh troop leading step” – harassment. Rob inquired informally, young Marine to old, how he might handle the situation.
So I did something I rarely ever did; I put on my “lieutenant colonel” cover and sent a letter to the J-2, an Army MI LTC friend of mine and a good guy, explaining that per Marine Corps policy, a Marine is to be armed for duty IAW the TO&E. That one each Corporal Rob Townley, USMC, was to be armed with an M-9 service pistol and a Kabar combat knife, and that the opinions and feelings of the other NCO’s and SNCO’s were irrelevant. Marine Corps policy trumped Army NCO egos. End of subject; and so it was. So Rob continued the march with his pistol and ninja-looking Kabar (which on Rob looked more like a machete). He continued to rule the roost in J-2 like the “cock o’ the walk” and by his sheer force of personality and commanding military presence made Marines stand tall in the eyes of their countrymen in other uniforms.
I next saw Rob at Fallujah in 2007, when I had the extreme honor to again serve with Marines in the field, this time as an OGA LnO to II MEF of MNF-West. By then Rob had risen through the ranks to Staff Sergeant of Marines, and switched his Primary MOS to 0211 (Counterintelligence/Human Intelligence) – the only Marine I ever knew who cross-decked from OccFld 26 (SigInt) to 0211. Rob was a great Marine and I was delighted to have the opportunity to serve with him once again. I wish him well, wherever he is.
MCLL: Don’t mess with Marine NCO’s!