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Daily CSR

Daily CSR
Daily news about corporate social responsibility, ethics and sustainability

US Marine Corp melting pot of race and religion


Leaving a small town to join the United States Marine Corps was a life-changing experience, not only in terms of leaving as a Marine, but also in terms of observing the strength that comes from our differences and appreciating the impact that can be made as a team member.

We seem to be encouraged these days to find ways to stand out from the crowd, as if being one of many in a group isn't enough to feel important in our rapidly expanding social lives. We live in an era when social media influencers are idolized and followers are just part of the scenery. Isn't it better to be an influencer than a follower?

We didn't have the terms "influencer" and "follower" when I was a fresh-faced 18-year-old in the early 1990s. Those labels were decades in the future. Instead, we talked about "leaders" and "individuals." While the words have changed over the years, the spirit and context have not: people want to be a part of something bigger than themselves. We often mistake success for being a leader and assign less success to being a follower, but I believe there are many roles to play on the path to success, one of which is as a contributing member of a strong team.

When I joined the military, I chose not to identify as an individual, but rather to join a respected team and be a part of something bigger. To be honest, I was perplexed. I wasn't a leader, but I wasn't a follower either—I wasn't sure where I fit in. I felt like the proverbial square peg with no place to call home.

I joined the United States Marine Corps shortly after graduating from high school. I spent one semester in college studying a variety of subjects but only learning one thing: I wasn't ready for higher education yet. I had always admired the Veterans I knew and their demeanor. I was drawn to military imagery of strong leaders, as well as fictional war heroes I read about in books and saw on TV.

As a small-town kid, I yearned to be something, to be someone, to find my place in the world. So I enlisted in the Marine Corps. I left Small Town, USA with the intention of proving myself on the hallowed grounds of Parris Island. As most USMC veterans will tell you, I had no idea what was in store for me.

Parris Island's physical and psychological challenges are legendary, and are well-known to anyone with even a passing interest in the military. I won't go into detail here, but I'd be happy to listen to anyone who wants to swap Boot Camp stories over a drink. Talking about military experiences is most likely a Veteran's favorite and most enjoyable pastime. With all of the pushups and sit-ups and Drill Instructor's yelling aside for a moment, the diversity of people, beliefs, and cultures to which I was suddenly exposed was perhaps most surprising to me when I arrived at Parris Island.

Do you recall my Small Town, USA? I didn't realize it at the time, but it was mostly homogeneous in terms of race and religion. But then, in the USMC, I met great people who looked and sounded different than me, and I quickly came to rely on them for their dedication, teamwork, and our similarities (our desire to survive boot camp!). They all joined for the same reason I did: to be a part of something bigger than themselves. To serve as a Marine.

The military is our country's true melting pot. Despite our differences (age, race, religious beliefs, national origin, you name it), we quickly discovered that we were all the same unnamed recruit seeking to be more. Those men and women I served with were some of the finest people I've ever known. We were all young, scared, proud, and committed people just trying to get to graduation day, when we could finally hold our heads high and call ourselves Marines. We bonded in the way that only those who have shared intense experiences can.

We had to rely on one another to make it. Nobody teaches us this, but we all learn it in boot camp: no one leaves Parris Island as an individual. We arrive as individuals but depart as Marines. We got to graduation together not despite, but because of our differences. I learned—we all learned—that even though we were different in many ways, we were fundamentally the same, and our differences strengthened us. There was no room or time for prejudice or bias; we had to capitalize on our differences in order to succeed, and we did so as a team.

As a group. As part of a platoon. As a business. And, after graduation, as a Marine Corps officer in charge of defending our country.

These are the lessons I learned early in my life as I transitioned from the comforts of youth to adulthood. I credit the military with instilling in me the importance of mission and team over individual ambitions. I treasure this lesson as one of the guiding principles for every decision I make—is this good for the team? What about the group? For the Corporation? What about the community? For the entire world? I know I wouldn't be who I am today if I hadn't learned this in the military at such a young age.

Above all, the military teaches selflessness through the time-honored traditions of sacrifice and teamwork. Our military is able to achieve such spectacular results because of this selflessness and focus on unity.

As we approach Veteran's Day, I am grateful that our country has set aside a day to honour military veterans. Veterans, in my opinion, are the backbone of our country. Veterans are among those who have given their lives to preserve our liberties, to enable our nation's democracy, and to provide us with a free society in which individuals can be whoever or whatever they want to be. We can celebrate our differences and embrace the uniqueness that unites us as citizens because of them.

I did not enlist in the military to become a national hero. That kind of fame was never in the cards for me. That honor is reserved for people far greater than I will ever be, but as a Veteran, I stand proudly alongside those heroes to honor them and their sacrifices whenever the opportunity arises. Looking back and reflecting on my life, I believe all I wanted was for someone to be proud of me.

With the celebration of Veteran's Day, I feel a sense of national pride. On Veteran's Day, when The Hershey Company headquarters' iconic smokestacks are lit in red, white, and blue, I will stand proudly not only as a Veteran but also as an employee of Hershey because I know my personal and individual military service is being recognized and celebrated. As a member of the Veteran's Business Resource Group, I've seen firsthand how the company values the skills and experience we bring to the table. I am no longer a square peg in search of a round hole. As a veteran of the United States Marine Corps, I've found my place in history.