This past Saturday, Marines from Recruiting Station (RS) Houston, Texas gathered new recruits and their families together alongside Marine drill instructors and veterans for a day full of fun events and something more. While poolees gather for these sorts of events every year (poolees are new recruits who haven’t departed for training yet), this year saw some changes thanks to a new program called Operation Semper Fi, aimed at connecting new recruits with Marine Corps veterans who can help them better understand and prepare for the challenges ahead.
And while events like this are happening all around the country, Major Courtney J. Boston and Sergeant Major James A. Cabarrus, the commander and senior enlisted leader of Marine Recruiting Station Houston, decided to take their efforts even further, partnering with Sandboxx to have Marine veterans keep in touch with new recruits through the mail as they make their way through training and into their new careers.
Change is tough. Transformation is tougher.
Joining the Marine Corps can be a truly transformational experience, and that’s not just artistic hyperbole. My decision to enlist into the United States Marine Corps one cloudy April morning just over 16 years ago changed the course of my entire life. In what seems like an instant (in hindsight), I was transformed from a young man with promise into a young Marine with real opportunities to use that promise for something bigger than myself. The lessons I learned in uniform didn’t just help shape the man that I am today, they helped me understand the importance of choosing the type of person we each want to become.
Of course, looking back, the transformation just seems instantaneous now. In reality, change is always hard—and joining the Marines is a big change for most of us. For the average Marine Corps poolee in the Delayed Entry Program (DEP) staring down the barrel of 13-weeks of intense training, that transformation probably seems like it’ll be anything but instant. With such a daunting challenge ahead, poolees must overcome more than the physical and mental challenges of training—they have to overcome the inertia of a lifetime of comfort and control, relinquishing their freedom to do things like stay up late and sleep in on weekends in exchange for an opportunity to be a part of something bigger than themselves… and for a chance to become the sort of person others can look up to and aspire to emulate.
“Old breed? New breed? There’s not a damn bit of difference so long as it’s the Marine breed.” – Lieutenant General Lewis Burwell “Chesty” Puller
The transformation from a civilian into Marine is so profound that, unlike in other service branches, the title of Marine sticks with you for life: Once a Marine, Always a Marine. Being a Marine isn’t something that you do, it’s something that you are—and it’s that thread of being that connects all Marines of every generation across states, nations, continents and importantly, eras.
But many new Marines join the service without any idea of what to expect, and that uncertainty can make training even more challenging than it needs to be. That’s where Operation Semper Fi comes in, carrying the name of the Marine Corps motto of “Semper Fidelis,” which means, Always Faithful.
Launched last November, Operation Semper Fi connects new poolees with Marine Corps veterans who have been there and done that. And while this effort is sure to help new recruits better understand and overcome the challenges they’ll face in service, it also offers Marine veterans an important way to stay connected to the community they feel such a deep affinity for.
RS Houston connects recruits in the Delayed Entry Program to Marine Veterans
Not only did last weekend’s poolee event include the sorts of athletic competitions you might expect among physically fit young Americans preparing for their new careers in cammies, RS Houston also provided meals for friends and family members in attendance—most of which came prepared by Marine veterans themselves who also came to participate in the day’s events.
If there’s one thing American popular culture has slowly begun to appreciate in recent years, it’s that representation matters—and that’s just as true for aspiring Marines as it is in any other line of work. Climbing the mountain before you may seem impossible… until you meet a person just like you who’s climbed it before. Operation Semper Fidelis gives Marine veterans the opportunity to share how being a Marine has shaped their lives and why earning the title of Marine is something that extends beyond your end of active service. Marines, young and old, are Always Faithful, and Operation Semper Fi gives new recruits a chance to really see, hear, and feel what that means.
“Having Veterans connect with Future Marines to inspire them to serve our country is amazing. Veterans play a vital role in the legacy of our Marine Corps,” explains retired Marine Sergeant Major Paul Davis, who attended this weekend’s event. Davis now works for Sandboxx as the company’s director of Military Relations.
Meeting Marines who have already climbed the mountain of service is important for new recruits and their families
Meeting veterans who’ve climbed that mountain into service before isn’t just about offering advice—after all, the highly trained drill instructors at Marine Corps Recruit Depots Parris Island and San Diego will teach you everything you need to know to succeed during 13 weeks at recruit training. There are no real “secrets” to getting through boot camp… but there is real tangible value in seeing that it can be done, in learning that there’s a whole life after basic training waiting for you, and in commiserating with those who have experienced the same nervous anticipation, the same dragging anxiety, and the same growing sense of pride these young men and women are beginning to experience for the first time.
The Marine veterans who participated in this weekend’s event at RS Houston may have had some tips and tricks to share with the next generation of recruits, but one could argue that the most valuable thing they provided was a glimpse into the seemingly mysterious future waiting on the other side of earning the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor. They represent the stable and promising future every recruit can earn through service and hard work. For young men and women standing on the precipice of a new beginning, getting to see men and women who have already succeeded in service can go a long way to assuaging fears.
And the same can be said for their families. Thanks to efforts like Operation Semper Fi, parents also get the chance to interact with Marines who have been through the training process before, and that can go a long way toward giving them some valuable peace of mind as their sons or daughters head off for training.
Bridging the generation gap with Sandboxx Letters
Bringing Marines and recruits together on one sunny Saturday can have a real impact on how the next generation of service members contextualizes the challenges of service, but Major Boston and Sergeant Major Cabarrus have bigger plans than that. Not only did their poolees get to meet with Marine veterans during the event, they’ll also have the opportunity to stay in touch with them throughout training by exchanging letters using the Sandboxx App.
Sandboxx was founded by two Marine veterans, Sam Meek and General Ray Smith, to provide overnight letter delivery services to basic training facilities all around the country. So, as you might imagine, the company was eager to help support an effort like Operation Semper Fi. Sandboxx will be picking up the tab for all letters sent to recruits in training from the veterans working with the Marines at RS Houston.
“Sandboxx working along with RS Houston is going to continue the Veteran and Future Marine connection one step further by providing the Veterans the ability to write the recruits at basic training in the Sandboxx App,” Davis says.
During the 13 weeks recruits spend at recruit training, letters are the only form of communication most recruits have with the outside world. So, for many, the mail becomes an emotional lifeline. Now, thanks to the efforts of RS Houston, these recruits will also be receiving direct support from Marines who’ve experienced the same challenges, hardships, and victories.
“Letters are the number one morale booster for recruits. Recruits receiving a letter from the Veteran they connected with while in the Delayed Entry Program just motivates me! It’s perfectly in keeping with the Motto Semper FI (Always Faithful),” Davis says.
Becoming a Marine is no easy undertaking—in a very literal sense, it’s not for everyone. But for those who feel that calling to be a part of something more, the Corps is more than a job… it becomes a part of who you are. And now, thanks to Operation Semper Fi and leaders like Major Boston and Sergeant Major Cabarrus at RS Houston, Marines of all ages are getting the chance to share that part of themselves with one another like never before.
Because helping each other succeed is what Marines do.