My Transition From Marine to Attorney

After completing my time in the service, I had no idea what I was supposed to do next. Marines have it easy. While in the Marine Corps, we don’t have to worry about anything. We don’t have to worry about food, where we are going to sleep, or what we are going to do. The Marine Corps is a great activity planner. As a First Sergeant of ours used to say, “I can’t believe I get paid for this shit!” or “All this and a paycheck!”

A typical day in the Marine infantry, while not in the field, begins at 0530 hours with some PT (Physical Training). The rest of your day consists of morning chow, training, noon chow, more training, evening chow, and hopefully being released for the night. If training out in the field then you may be out in the field training for 2-6 weeks at a time. Even still, the Marine Corps gives you chow, water, a nice sleeping bag, a sleeping mat and your paycheck still arrives on the first of the month.

If your unit is lucky, the Marine Corps plans “field trips” to exotic places for an opportunity to either train some more, do some sight-seeing, or use your training in real world missions. I was lucky to have been with 2nd F.A.S.T. Company and we were selected for “field trips” to Bahrain, Djibouti, Kuwait, Qatar, and Iraq. Similar to training at our home base, the Marine Corps planned our activities, food, place to sleep, and our paycheck was still ready on the first.

My First Field Trip Ticket to Baghdad, Iraq

Once I got out of the Marines, I realized that I was solely responsible for planning my own activities. More importantly, I was solely responsible for finding the source of my paycheck so that I can buy some chow and get a place to sleep. In that sense, the military did spoil us.

1st Attempt to Transition

Today, I am very thankful that this country provides veterans with the educational benefits that allow us to gain new skills and seek new careers. At first, I had no idea what I was doing in college. All I knew was that the Montgomery GI Bill provided me with a paycheck. Plus, since I negotiated the Marine Corps College Fund prior to leaving to boot camp, I had a kicker to the GI Bill, and I might as well use it. So, I gave college a shot.

Attending college right out of the Marines was not easy for me. Not because of the subject matter but because of the new environment I found myself in. I was now surrounded by primarily 18-20 year olds who were on their OFP (“Own Fucking Program’). Worst of all, most students were undisciplined and would often complain about the most insignificant things, such as having to wake up “early” for a 9:00 a.m. class.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that I didn’t belong in college. Almost as soon as I began, I researched overseas contracting opportunities. By the end of my first semester, I was hired by Triple Canopy and left for Baghdad, Iraq as soon as I finished my last college final. Shortly after arriving in Baghdad, I met some members of the team and I immediately began to feel much better. Life was good again.

Team Picture – I’m standing on the far right

In hindsight, I was running away from change. Back then, I had no idea how to translate my skills onto a resume without appearing crazy. In my eyes, every skill that I learned in the Marine Corps had no use in the civilian world. I had spent countless of hours, days, weeks, months training “to locate close with and destroy the enemy by fire and maneuver [and] to repel the enemy’s assault by fire and close combat” (Mission of a Marine Rifle Squad). Once out, all that knowledge was only useful to get me a minimum wage mall security job, an opportunity with a law enforcement agency, or an overseas contracting opportunity. I chose the contracting route.

I have no regrets whatsoever with the choices that I made in my life. Becoming a contractor was the right choice for me at the time. It also allowed me to continue to meet and work with some of the greatest people I’ve ever met. More importantly, contracting allowed me to help my parents and I purchase our homes. There is one thing I could have done better. I should not have undervalued my experiences, skills, and worth at that time.

A Marine learns many different skills and life lessons that seldom are learned elsewhere. Although these skills/lessons may initially appear to have no place in the civilian world, I now realize that they do but with a civilian adjustment. As veterans, we must realize this sooner. In our quest to reintegrate into the civilian world, it is helpful to find careers or goals that are compatible with these skills. For me, it was a career in law.

Skill: Combat Mindset

2nd FAST/5th Platoon Team Picture – I’m in the middle of the front row – circa Summer 2002.

What attracted me to the practice of law was realizing that each case is a new mission. What I still miss the most from my Marine/contractor days is participating in real world missions. Becoming an attorney allows me to fill that void by representing my clients with the same tenacity that I had during my Marine/contractor days. In my practice, I represent clients primarily with initiating civil lawsuits when they are wronged/injured and
in criminal defense matters. Since becoming an attorney, I have learned that a combat mindset is critical to becoming a successful attorney. While I accept that there is much more for me to learn as an attorney, I am confident that having entered the practice of law with skills such as a combat mindset, has brought me early success.

Marines are indoctrinated with a combat mindset from the moment that they take their first steps onto the yellow footprints at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot. This theme is echoed throughout the remainder of their Marine Corps career, especially in the grunts (infantry units). In fact, when I checked into my first unit, the 2nd Fleet Anti-Terrorism Security Team (“2nd FAST”), I, along with the other young Marines dropping into the unit, were greeted by our Platoon Commander who taught us our first period of instruction that he coined, “Killology 101.” Along the same theme, our former Secretary of Defense, the Honorable James “Mad Dog” Mattis, told Marines immediately prior to invading Iraq in 2003 to “Demonstrate to the world there is ‘No better friend, No worse enemy’ than a U.S. Marine.”[1] A few years later, then General Mattis told Marines in Iraq to “Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.”[2]

So, what does it mean to have a combat mindset? As a Marine, our leaders mentally prepared us for death. Whether it be the death of our enemies, our fellow Marines, or ourselves. During the Killology 101 class, our Platoon Commander taught the class while holding his Ka-Bar and pointing it at us and asking, “Are you ready to put a motherfucking round through a motherfucker’s chest?” Naturally, we all replied, “KILL!”

Myself on a roof in Baghdad, Iraq – circa 2009

Although a combat mindset does require a Marine to be prepared to take a life or sacrifice one’s own life, it also means much more. A combat mindset requires a Marine to be mentally and physically resilient to withstand the long days of training or combat operations. Often in the heat, cold, rain, sleet, snow, mud, ocean, desert or mountainous terrain all while enduring the many sleepless nights and carrying a full combat load and a heavy pack. A combat mindset requires a Marine to be responsible enough to properly prepare their weapon and gear for a mission, cover their sectors of fire, know the terrain, know the enemy, and know who the friendlies are. A combat mindset requires the ability of anticipate enemy movements all while remaining flexible (i.e., Semper Gumby). More importantly, a combat mindset requires a Marine to exercise sound judgment when using deadly force.

As an attorney, a combat mindset is applied a bit differently. We must zealously represent our client’s with the utmost duty of loyalty. At the same time, we must not compromise our integrity. Attorneys must prepare for our mission by sharpening the tools that we have at our disposal. To do so, we must carefully examine the evidence and law objectively to accurately assess the strengths and weaknesses of the case. Doing so allows us to provide the best advice to our clients. In turn, they will be able to make informed decisions. We must anticipate our opposing counsel’s “attacks” and be prepared for adverse judicial rulings. When opposing counsel does “attack”, we must be prepared with sound counter arguments. When faced with an adverse judicial ruling, we must remain flexible, have contingency plans, and be prepared to move forward with the mission.

Debrief

I share my experiences and approach to life in an effort to benefit fellow veterans who are encountering similar struggles during their transition into the civilian world. These examples are not all encompassing. Importantly, veterans with different interests, goals and careers should continue to apply a “combat mindset” to accomplish their own mission(s).

In future posts, I intend to expand on other skills and experiences that I have learned in the Marine Corps and while contracting and discuss how I apply them in my practice. As always, if you are a veteran, or know a veteran, that may have some question(s) that I may potentially be able to answer, please contact me.


[1] Jenny Cheng, Rebecca Harrington, 17 of the Most Legendary Quotes From James Mattis, Four-Star Marine General Turned Defense Secretary, Business Insider, (Mar. 31, 2018, 2:15 PM), https://www.businessinsider.com/james-mattis-quotes-2018-3.  

[2] Ibid.

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