As the military continues its downsizing efforts, one program is committed to ensuring Marines and sailors get the assistance they need.
The Marine For Life program, which was started in 2002, has ramped up their outreach efforts as more and more Marines transition from the Corps. The program has points of contact in all 50 states to help Marines transition and a growing mentor program, where Marine reservists or civilian Marines offer advice and resources to make the Marines’ adjustment to civilian life as simple and stress-free as possible.
“This program is important because it helps Marines with their transition, so it’s important for them to network with us about six months before their discharge,” said Marine Maj. Liza Tonko, 42, of Camp Lejeune. “We help them with resumes, school, employment and more so they can go from active duty to civilian life easily. As a rep, the best part about our program is being able to help Marines be successful.”
The Marine For Life program was started by then-Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. James Jones as a way for Marines to stay a part of the Marine Corps family and brotherhood, according to the Marine For Life website. The goal of the Marine For Life program, according to the website, is to harness the skills, contacts and personal and professional networks of Marine Corps veterans and others in the community to form a network to help Marines. According to Tomko, the program cannot promise a Marine or sailor a job, but they can promise to point them in the right direction.
The unique part of Marine For Life, according to Tomko, is that their resources are everywhere the Marine Corps is, to get Marines involved before they transition. From Quantico, Va., to Okinawa, Tomko said that the Marine For Life program is something other generations of veterans didn’t have and that the aim of the program is to give veterans the tools they need to succeed so they don’t “flounder” in civilian life. Aside from person-to-person contact, online resources are available on the Marine For Life website as well as its LinkedIn page, where they have groups for different regions of the country.
“There is no other brotherhood like that of the Marine Corps,” Tomko said. “When veterans of days past went home, nobody understood what they were going through or talking about which led them to not saying anything to people. We are here so there is at least one person for you to talk to that knows what you’ve been through. Marines never leave a Marine behind. Transitioning is no different.”
After 17 years in the Corps, Staff Sgt. Kevin Truxall opted for a voluntary separation and with only 45 days left in the Marines, he is excited about starting a new life with his fiance. Paired with his excitement is a mild feeling of nervousness, he said, because all he has known is the Marine Corps and he doesn’t know what to expect outside of the gates, especially in Pennsylvania, a place he has only visited a handful of times.
Transitioning, according to Truxall, has a lot to do with fear of the unknown, such as how he will continue to feed his family, how long it will be until he receives benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs or what school to attend. Part of the reason why Truxall got involved with Marine For Life prior to his discharge is so he at least knows what is available to him when he is discharged, he said, and he doesn’t want to wait until he needs something to go looking for resources.
“Where I’m going, I don’t know anyone, so this program will offer me a place to turn when I need help,” said Truxall, 34. “The only thing I wish is that the Marine Corps would give you more time to transition. I have a little over a month left and I still have daily responsibilities. I need to move, check out and attend transition classes. They should let you focus on your transition so it is a success. I’m just glad these programs are here to pick up where the Corps left off.”
Cpl. Clinton Johnson, 21, of Burkburnette, Texas, said that the Marine For Life program compliments everything the Marine Corps tries to do with their transition seminars.
“The most difficult part of my transition is going to be the fact that I will have to jump back into life with my family because I’ve been gone for so long,” Johnson said. “I’m not even home yet and I’m being attacked by people who want to see me and spend time with me. They need to understand it’s going to be difficult for me. I need to have time to settle myself and get used to the civilian life again.”
While he knows they are “bombarding” him because they care, having time to decompress is an important part of transitioning, he said, because of the high-pace lifestyle Marines live. Because none of his peers are from his hometown, Johnson hopes that the Marine For Life program can put him in touch with someone to mentor and guide him to success in the civilian world.
“Honestly, I don’t think there is any real way to make the transition easier besides doing it and having help along the way,” Johnson said. “Courses and classes help, but doing things is where you learn the most. The good thing about Marine For Life is that if you need someone by your side, they’ll help find you that person.”
Thomas Brennan is a reporter for the Jacksonville Daily News.