View Full Version : Program aids returning Marines

05-27-05, 11:09 AM
By Matt Smith/Staff Writer

Coming home from active duty can be tough for a Marine. The difficulty of securing new employment poses a challenge. Some face the burden of continuing medical problems. Others simply find the transition back to civilian life problematic.

Marines don't have to go it alone thanks to a relatively new program, Marine For Life, which helps them navigate through red tape and other roadblocks when returning home. The program, which began about four years ago, uses the Internet to create a network to link returning Marines with other Marines and Marine-friendly businesses, organizations and individuals.

The Marine For Life Web site (www.m4l.usmc.mil) is a free service, open to active duty and reserve Marines. Priority for personal service goes to Marines in their transition period, which runs from 180 days before to 90 days after the end of active service.

On the site, Marines can create an account and post a resume. They can also search job postings, find assistance on medical and Veterans Affairs issues, and link up with area Marines. They do this by locating their hometown link, a reserve Marine assigned to their area, who assists them in finding answers and solutions.

Lt. Col. Kevin Mechler, who serves as a hometown link for the North Texas area, said the Marine For Life program is a necessary resource.

"With Iraq going and Marines coming home, we needed a bit of forward thinking to figure out the easiest way to help Marines transition back home," Mechler said.

Mechler said the program provides proof that slogans such as "Once a Marine, always a Marine" are more than lip service.

The program doesn't supply Marines with jobs or medical treatment. Instead, it brings returning Marines into contact with other Marines as well as employers and mentors.

"In other words, we link Marines with people who can help them, maybe with a job, maybe other things, and they take it from there," Mechler said.

Many employers and mentors who post openings on the site are former Marines. Not all are, however. Mechler said that others not affiliated with the Marines can list job postings or apply to mentor.

"Lots of employers post jobs here because they respect the training we put into our Marines and want that leadership in their companies," Mechler said.

Another resource, the mentor section of the Web site, allows people to volunteer and help Marines in a variety of ways. Often by offering expertise in a given area, often by just being there. Mechler said the mentor program further displays how Marines and Marine-friendly mentors step up for each other. He said the program is popular with Vietnam veterans because they have gone through the service and transition back home and feel they have much to offer younger Marines.

Unfortunately, many Marines are missing out by not signing on with the Marine For Life program, according to Mechler.

A recent Bob Ray Sanders column in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram regarding the difficulty of Cpl. Calvin Ruiz -- a 2000 graduate of North Crowley High School -- in finding employment after returning home, distressed several area Marines. Partly, their displeasure arose from the article's use of improper Marine terminology.

Ken Henry, commandant of the Longhorn Detachment of the Marine Corps League said, "Marines don't fight in a foxhole, they fight in a fighting hole. And it's a drill instructor, not a drill sergeant."

More than that, Henry wanted to reach out to a fellow Marine. Mechler said several Marines contacted him within 24 hours of the article to offer help. Henry said he contacted Sanders with an offer of a possible job for Ruiz but, although Sanders promised to pass the information along, neither contacted Henry again.

Ruiz said that a couple of Marines, whose names he can't recall, did eventually contact him.

"Basically, they told me to look up the Web site and get an account, which could help me further," Ruiz said.

Ruiz said he's since found a few good job leads and is waiting to hear back from the employers.

Asked if he had been informed of the Marine For Life program before leaving active service, Ruiz said: "Sure, they did [tell me about it], but I wasn't quite sure what it could do for me, so I didn't pay much attention. I thought I could find a job pretty easy myself."

Mechler said coming home can be tricky enough, and that's why every returning Marine and his immediate family members should be aware of and take advantage of the Marine For Life program.

"We appreciate the Sanders article because it lets us know we have to get hold of this Marine and see what we can do to help," Mechler said. "The downside is, it makes us look like we're deserting Marines after their service, which isn't true at all. We need follow up to get the word out of how Marines rush in to help each other whenever it's needed."

The Longhorn Detachment meets the first Tuesday of each month at the Crowley Community Center, however, the detachment recently acquired property in Cleburne and will meet there when a new facility is completed. For information, call Henry at 817-297-4405.

Matt Smith can be reached at 817-645-2441, ext. 2339 or msmith@trcle.com