“You have been living by a code, a code of conduct, for the last 18 years. When you leave the Marines, you will discover most people don’t have a code of conduct,” I said.
I was talking to Lee, a man who has dedicated his adult life to serving his country as a United States Marine. He has been on three deployments, and his specialty is military intelligence.
“What is military intelligence?” I asked.
“In short, my job is to figure out where the enemy is now, where they are projected to be, and determine their fighting strength,” he answered almost without having to think about it.
“As an Intelligence Warrant Officer, were you ever in combat?” I asked.
His first deployment in Iraq.
“We were in-country and found ourselves in a firefight. I lost seven of my friends that day in that fight,” he said.
He went on, “It is something I have to live with. I ask myself every day if I dug deep enough in gathering intelligence on the enemy in that area of Iraq. Did I miss something? Did they lose their lives because I didn’t do my job? Why them and not me? I guess I might be carrying some survivor’s guilt.”
I had a special interest in this Marine after our conversation. He shared something with me few men share. He shared his heart.
So I watched him with the other active-duty Marines who were with us on that hunting trip. These men, although from different units and different parts of the country, enjoyed and respected each other. They were in this life together. They shared a life purpose. In short, they shared a code of conduct.
Their code of conduct.
And this is what I observed. They train and prepare to win the fight by killing the enemy and by supporting our allies. They cover each other’s back. They act with courage knowing they represent the men of the same fighting unit who went before them in other battles. It is not their reputation but the reputation of the Corps they live and fight for.
They didn’t tell me the code this succinctly, but it is what I heard and observed through their stories. Observing these men made me want to be a better man. I wanted to be like them. I wanted to be with them. And then I realized what this feeling was really all about.
I admire men and women who live by a code of conduct. And the code of conduct I admire is never about the individual. It is always about others and something bigger than themselves.
Entering civilian life.
“When you leave, you’ll be with people who live by their personal code of conduct. They are good people, but their code of conduct is defined by them and primarily for their benefit. This is the way of the world. This is the way of business,” I told Lee.
I said there will be great pressure to become like the rest of the world. “It will be up to you to continue to practice the Marine code of conduct when you enter civilian life. It will continue to set you apart as a leader.
“And because you stayed in the Marines all these years, each deployment reinforced this code. It is real and evident. In life, we learn as we get older. We are who we hang with. Stop hanging with Marines and you will become like the people you hang with. Unless you continue to be a leader. Then they will become like you!”