Officers eat last. The phrase is not only a motivational cliché in the Marine Corps, but a practiced part of military life. The higher ranking you are, the further back in the chow line you stand. Those subordinate to you eat first. You might be the brains of a mission, but your enlisted are the brawn, and the most important factor in achieving your goals. Without enlisted Marines, there would be no need for officers. This phrase has come to mean those on the frontline are the most important aspect of the Marine Corps.
My decision to join the military was easy. In high school, I wanted to commission as an officer as my father had. My decision to become a Marine Corps officer was even easier, having a Marine officer for a father and knowing I only wanted to be one of the few and proud who can call themselves Marines. But if someone asked me why I wanted to be a Marine before today or why I wanted to become a Marine officer, my explanation would have been superficial. Something like “I want to be a badass,” or “it’s a family thing.” I knew my reasons lacked a certain heart. Today I realized why I need to be a Marine Officer.
In the subject box for an email my father sent me today was the name of a young Marine, lance corporal Brady A. Gustafson. The name meant nothing to me, but upon reading the email, I realized its importance. LCpl Gustafson was machine gunner stationed in southern Afghanistan, when his squad was ambushed by rocket-propelled grenades and machine gun fire from multiple directions. A grenade pierced through two of the light armored vehicles and started a large fire with Marines trapped inside. Gustafson sustained a severe leg injury, but managed to climb to his gun turret and fire off over 400 rounds before allowing medical help to treat him. Even though he was already suffering from shock when manning the turret, he maintained his position with cover fire so his fellow Marines could safely exit the burning vehicles. Gustafson was awarded the Navy Cross for his bravery and dedication.
That young Marine gave his best effort to help his comrades. I wanted to have a similar affect on people. I do not want to be a hero, only to be remembered by my subordinates as a good role model and trustworthy officer. I want to protect and serve those who defend our country every day. Enlisted people deserve protection from officers, so they can do what others will not to ensure safety at home.
I believe my reasoning for becoming a Marine Corps officer is why the status of officer was established. The interests and safety of the Marines under my command will always come before my own. They will have the better food, shelter, and any other commodities I can spare for them. I will stay up at night fretting over technicalities so they can rest well. And in the morning, my Marines will be ready to take the day with the commands I give them. I believe officers eat last.