Editor's note: The following is an opinion piece submitted to Marine Corps Times. 

There are many titles that define the man I am today — retiree, Marine, Vietnam veteran, leatherneck, devil dog, gunnery sergeant, "gunny" and a few others not suitable for writing. I can't express enough the immense pride and honor I feel to have served my country and my Corps.

But this story isn't about that.

It's not about being a combat-wounded veteran who served 20 months in Vietnam during the Tet Offensive of 1968. It's not about the amazing career I established in the Marine Corps. It's not even about all the medals, ribbons and awards I earned during that career.

What this story is about is a struggle that I overcame, which started long before my enlistment, and how the U.S.nited States Marine Corps helped to save my life.

My troubles with alcohol began as a young man, before I had even discovered the courage to enlist in the Marines. My older brother was the first to join the Corps in 1963 and served in Vietnam as well. As a young high school student, I knew I wanted to follow in his footsteps. But it was some of those footsteps that would lead me down a dark path. When my brother returned home from Vietnam in 1966, I began following him around from bar to bar, and unfortunately developed a habit of drinking rum and & cokes like a drunken sailor, thinking it was cool and just a rite ght of passage in becoming a Marine. How wrong I was!

What it led to was heavy drinking both in and out of the Corps, troubles in my personal life and numerous reductions in rank. Until fFinally, I realized that if I was to make the Corps my career, I would have to straighten up, fly right and quit the alcohol and smoking addictions.

After being discharged in 1970 as a private, I was still just as determined and decided to remain in the Reserve, earning my rank back up to corporal Cpl. and then to sergeant Sgt. It was during this time I quit drinking and smoking "cold turkey". I contribute the quitting cold turkey to the discipline instilled in me during boot camp in 1967 at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina.  from Marine Corps boot camp "Parris Island 1967".

When I look back at my first three years in the Corps, I realized what a good Marine I was. I moved up in rank quickly in rank, and the only time I would get myself in trouble was when I drank. So wWhen I quit, the difference it made in my career and my life — for both me and my family — was enormous.

After years of broken time from our beloved Marine Corps, I knew the time had come to establish a long-term career. The commandant at that time, Gen.eral Al Gray, would see that I was given the chance to prove myself in the Corps and allowed me to re-enlist in 1989.

It was dDuring that his time, I held the position of substance abuse control officer (SACO) at the 1st First Marine Corps District. I served proudly and worked hard to rise to the rank of gunnery sergeant.

My and my goal was to reach sergeant major or master gunnery sergeant before retirement. However, that was cut short due to a parachuting incident, which led to major back, neck and knee surgeries. Medical and now age waivers would not be approved and my career in the Corps came to a bittersweet end in December 2003 at the young age of 54. 

In looking back at during my re-enlistment in 1989, I was blessed to have spent some of those years in the Corps mentoring and explaining to our younger Marines and sailors not only what I went through, but how I was given a second chance. Many of the Marines and sailors I spoke with were combat veterans themselves, and were dealing with combat-related issues that led to heavy drinking and also suicide. 

I would always make it a point to tell them the best way to deal with combat stress was to talk about it, and that did not mean sitting in a bar thinking you could drink your problems away.

In closing I would like to share a short story in how I met our Commandant Gen. Robert Neller and my reason for writing this letter.

One morning while sitting in Dunkin' Donuts on Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, I looked out the window only to see then-Lt. Gen. Neller getting out of his personal vehicle POV and walking in to get a coffee. Like any good Marine, I jumped to attention as he entered and he came over, shook my hand, introduced himself and explained to both me and another couple I was with why he was at Lejeune.

Talk about an "officer and a gentlemen." Little did I know at the at time that he would become our commandant.

Gen. Neller's campaign slogan "Protect What You've Earned" is spot on. My advice that I can offer from my own experiences and alcohol abuse would be that our Marines and sailors will take this message seriously, and if they are going to drink — which we know many will — that they do so responsibly.

Our job as Marines is simple: we train to go to war, to fight battles, to kill the enemy. But it's also to take care of each other, a bond that all Marines share.

God bless and Semper Fidelis.

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