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08-18-06, 07:30 AM #1
Weekend warrior no more, Reserve Marines drop stigma
HEADQUARTERS MARINE CORPS, Washington (Aug. 18, 2006) -- Richard Litto does not like the term “weekend warrior.” In fact, he despises it, and the mere mention of the phrase triggers a standoffish response in a thick, South Boston accent.
“I don’t like it,” said Litto, a reserve Marine on active duty at Westover Air Reserve Base, Mass. “We’re all Marines regardless of what status we’re in.”
And Litto is a true Marine. The 46-year-old sergeant currently serves with Marine Air Support Squadron 6; however, when called up for active duty from the reserves, he wanted to be with the action. He wanted Iraq.
Litto adjourned his civilian duties as a Boston police officer and joined the 6th Civil Affairs Group, a unit that primarily focuses on promoting good community relations in Iraq.
“I made the choice. I volunteered. I wasn’t told I had to go to Iraq,” said the Boston native. “I owe the Marine Corps for everything the Marine Corps has done for me.”
Nowadays, a typical reserve Marine no longer goes by “weekend warrior,” a term derived from reservists who typically trained two days a month, and two weeks a year.
Litto, and thousands like him, have whirled into fast-paced lifestyles as a result of the Corps’ high operational tempo. And reserve Marines no longer dwell in the shadows of active duty but rather shine by augmenting active-duty units. They man the gates in the rear when active-duty Marines deploy, or they join fellow infantrymen in the thick of battle.
Reserve Marines can be found in some of the most dangerous hotspots in Iraq. When mobilized to active duty to the Al Anbar province in 2005, Marines from Ohio’s 3rd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, took perhaps the heaviest toll of any unit: 48 Marines and sailors killed in action.
But a reserve warrior’s daily life on the home front can be much different from active duty, as some are everyday citizens living double lives as Marines. These citizens, however, must nevertheless maintain military standards – and oftentimes where workout facilities, uniforms, and training can be hard to find.
Just getting the basics
On any given Marine Corps base or station – and with little effort – one can usually find barbers, tailors and military clothing, and prices relatively fixed to suit a Marine’s wallet.
Reserve Marines typically do not have these conveniences. They must explore.
The barber Litto frequents does a very good job for Marine standards – probably the best, Litto said. Ironically, his barber is an Iraqi immigrant.
“He can do a high-and-tight – takes the straight razor right down to the skin,” said Litto.
Litto is lucky because most barbers around Westover are not familiar with the standards he requires, he said.
Minor predicaments add up for reserve Marines, like finding a barber who knows Marine Corps standards or a tailor who can ensure uniforms meet Marine Corps regulations.
Getting creative, Litto’s squadron site commander Maj. Dan Sprenkle said he has taken uniform regulations in writing to local shops so civilian-minded tailors can get it right.
“You have to find a tailor and hope they know what they’re doing,” said Litto. “Order clothing (online) and you don’t know what you’re getting.”
However, Marines are Marines, and Litto doesn’t allow excuses to interfere with upholding standards.
“There’s no excuse in not looking good,” he said.
The model look of a Marine is square-jawed and barrel-chested – an epitome of fitness. Not all Marines look this way, but with a gym in every main area of their installations, most are afforded the opportunity to try. And active-duty Marines can train daily with their units in all climes. Moreover, Marine Corps Community Services, an organization that sponsors recreational activities for Marines and families, offers on-base fitness services ranging from swimming pools to nutrition classes.
Reserve Marines, on the other hand, must adapt.
“We have to present ourselves professionally as Marines,” said Litto. “You want to be the best no matter what because we are the best.”
Marine Corps Community Services does, however, help reserve Marines more distant from the proverbial guard house, as some Marines have discovered.
When the gym shut down on his reserve base, leaving no immediate facility for his squadron to train, Sgt. Alvin Mclean, a Marine formerly attached to the unit, obtained off-base gym memberships so he and his unit, MASS-6, could exercise indoors through the winter. MCCS paid the bill.
A reserve Marine’s versatility abides.
Sgt. Luis Sepulveda works as the career retention specialist for MASS-6 and Marine Wing Support Squadron 472, both reserve units. He attests that in the same vein that every Marine is a rifleman, many reserve Marines fire wherever they can find a 500-yard shooting range. Sepulveda’s unit fires at an Army range at Fort Devin, Mass. To ensure they retain their amphibious ties, Sepulveda and his unit also conduct required swimming qualifications at a local college pool.
Inaccurate and outdated
The past five years have been a busy time for reserve Marines. Many have been taken out of their normal day-to-day lives and thrust into the Corps’ high op tempo.
Sepulveda’s job is to keep Marines in the reserve force and to reenlist Marines who want to transfer to active duty from the reserves. After leaving active duty, he noticed a big change in camaraderie and understands why most enlistments he oversees are reservists who want to join active duty, he said.
Both reserve and active-duty Marines attend the same recruit training, and both attend the same schools for their respective Marine Corps occupations. That is where the active-duty lifestyle ends for reserve Marines.
Those on active duty normally go to a Marine Corps installation.
Reserve Marines go back to their hometowns.
When Sepulveda talks to Marines wanting to reenlist on active duty, that lifestyle is the biggest selling point, he said.
“Usually right after deployments, it’s the most challenging,” said the Amarillo, Texas, native. “Now reservists are jumping to active duty because they enjoy the camaraderie.”
He sees reserve Marines bearing the same conviction as those on active duty.
“‘Weekend warrior’ is an old-fashioned statement,” he said. “I think it is an old term; it doesn’t apply anymore.”
Sprenkle said he is proud of his reserve unit but didn’t start with that attitude toward reservists when he was on active duty. He referred to them as “spare parts.” But that was the past.
“I’m a convert,” said the 37-year-old from Tucson, Ariz. “I used to give reservists a hard time all the time.”
Now he sees proficiency and professionalism, and he respects reserve Marines for fulfilling, in less time, the same training requirements as those on active duty.
“Every day they are balancing two lives: answering to Marine boss and civilian boss,” he said.
He doesn’t necessarily consider “weekend warrior” a derogative, but he said it is definitely inaccurate.
Just don’t let Litto in on that.
“If someone calls me a “weekend warrior,” I’ll call them to the gym and put the boxing gloves on.”
IN LOVING MEMORY OF MY LATE HUSBAND, SSgt Roger A. Alfano, USMC
ONE PROUD MARINE
Once a Marine...Always a Marine
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