Saturday, August 8, 2015

Yellow Footprints 21 Years Ago Today

Arriving at the airport in Charleston, SC, I am greeted by a Marine in his service uniform. Alongside a group of ten or so other young men, we wait at the gate for a few other recruits to land. From there the Marine walks us single file to the bathroom, or head. He stands us in front of the sink and tells us to empty all contraband from our pockets, such as cigarettes, lighters, and knives. He collects them all and takes us through a maze of hallways in the bowels of the airport. We arrive to a room where we are instructed to sit down and lunch was passed out “bag nasties”. After we eat we are told to put our heads on the table and sleep. I was not sure what to expect as my recruiter only told me about island life, not the details of the journey to get to the island. None of us are allowed to look up. Every thirty minutes or so new recruits enter the room and are ordered to do the same, thus beginning our thirteen weeks of having no control.

Shortly after midnight everyone has arrived at the airport and they file us out to an unmarked white shuttle bus. The interior of the bus is like that of being shut in a closet or unlit basement. The windows seem to have two layers of limousine tint on them, shielding our view outward. We approach the main gate to Parris Island. The driver stops the bus and speaks with the guard, or sentry. After pulling through, we are then stopped in front of a building and as the bus door glides open, a drill instructor boards the bus and tells us all to sit up straight. He has a raspy, deep, and commanding voice, and welcomes us to the United States Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Parris Island, South Carolina. He screams, "Get off my bus. Get off my bus NOW and on my yellow footprints.”

(The famous yellow footprints at Parris Island South Carolina)

It’s hard to believe that 21 years ago today, August 8, 1994, I boarded that flight out of Jackson, Mississippi headed for Charleston, South Carolina and was then off to Parris Island. I grew up an Army brat in Giessen, Germany (The Rock) or Fort Stewart, Georgia and when my parents separated I was eight years old. That day marked the moment I knew that I wanted to prove to my father that I could be tougher than him. I was angry at him for divorcing my mother and leaving our family and forcing us to grow up in rural Mississippi in a single wide trailer. Growing up in Brandon, Mississippi with a sister three years my senior and a single mother who worked three jobs at times to give us the best she could, seemed unbearable. We didn’t have much growing up, but my mother did her best to teach us morals, ethics, and how to be successful in life.

(Ice cream with my mother at the ice skating rink near the Zugspitze, Austria)

At the age of 15, I obtained my driver’s license, purchased my first car, and secured my first job flipping burgers at a local Wendy’s. I signed up for Army Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) at the start of my freshman year of high school and after four years was the JROTC Battalion Sergeant Major. By the age of 17 I was working at Exxon with computers, networking, marketing, and sales through the local community college (Hinds Community College) and on-the-job training. None of this really mattered me then because the only thing I wanted to be was a Marine and to show my father I was more of a man than he ever was. All the years later I was still bitter. I never took my SATs nor thought about going to college. I was a below-average C-student in high school and cared more about women than my education at the time. But the woman who mattered most stood beside me in the recruiting station when I was 17 years old and helped me realize my dream towards becoming a United States Marine - my mother.

(Parris Island graduation photo October 1994)

My three months in 1st Recruit Training Battalion, Bravo Company, Platoon 1014 were a blur as was my time in the Fleet Marine Force. It’s hard to remember it all but I remember the good times and cherish the bad times. It’s those bad times that have helped me survive in the civilian world realizing things could always be worse and I have survived worse situations. When things get bad I remember nights on rail watch mid-February cruising in the Adriatic off the cost of Bosnia during Operation Joint Endeavor with below zero temperatures or the 115 degree days in Africa with 100% humidity listening to AK47 rounds hitting sandbags exploding sand everywhere during Operation Assured Response and Operation Quick Response.

(On post atop of the U.S. Embassy in Monrovia, Liberia - Africa April 1996)

Two weeks before graduating boot camp we had just returned from Basic Warrior Training (BWT). We were in the head cleaning our gas masks when I heard “Recruit Bowles, report to Senior Drill Instructor Sergeant Smith, recruit”. I shouted “Aye Aye Recruits” and beat feet to the Drill Instructor’s Hut. I slapped the hatch 3 times and shouted “Recruit Bowles reporting as ordered Sir!”. Upon entering the Drill Instructor’s Hut ALL of my Drill Instructors were standing behind the desk and my SDI had the phone in his hand. He said “Your father is on the phone for you recruit”. My heart sank. I knew I would pay for this. I had developed a phone relationship with my father after their divorce and saw him every few years for a couple of days. I took the phone from Sergeant Smith and stood at attention and spoke “Sir, this is recruit Bowles, sir.”. My father, then Army Sergeant Major Bowles, was on the other end of the phone and I knew he was laughing on the inside. He asked questions like how was I doing, when will I graduate, etc. The entire time I’m standing at attention in front of my 4 Drill Instructors and speaking in the third person to my father on the phone.

As the call concluded I handed the phone back to my SDI and the heavy took me to the pit for a good hour of “fun”. Apparently my father had called the Parris Island Base Sergeant Major and was passed all the way down to my Series Commander and then into the SDI’s hut. I was never a great runner at 6’4” tall and 200 pounds. I was more of a “Give me as much weight as you want and let’s go hiking “humping”. During the final physical fitness test (PFT) 3 mile run the Series Commander ran up next to me and said “I wonder what Sergeant Major Bowles would think of his baby boy back here at the back of the pack”. To which I gasped to respond “Aye Aye Sir” and took off. That was the fasted PFT I ever ran during my time in the Marine Corps. I finished just shy of 22:00 to do the 3 miles.

          The values instilled in me during my time at Parris Island, and my time in the FMF, stick with me to this day. JJDIDTIEBUCKLE is what I live my life by and I am thankful for each and every opportunity I had serving my country. After my time in, I reflected on that thought I had before joining of “Showing my father I’m harder than he is”. I learned a tough lesson. The World War II, Korean War, and Vietnam Era veterans were hard as nails. My father retired in the mid-nineties with 30 years of faithful service, two tours in Vietnam, and a DD214 full of awards. It wasn’t truly about me being better or tougher than him. It was about me making him proud at the end of the day and earning his respect as a man and love as his son. He is retired now and resides in the desert in Nevada and we talk regularly via phone/email and see each other each year.

          It’s hard to believe it’s been so long since I stood in those footprints but the values/lessons have served me well to the point where I have a loving wife of 14 years, 4 beautiful children, and a career which affords me the opportunity to have time/skills/network to give back to my fellow Marine Infantrymen, and Corpsmen, via the 03XX Foundation, Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion, and Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association.

(Family vacation at Universal Studios, Orlando June 2015)

Semper Fidelis,

Larry “LB” Bowles
Operations Director
03XX Foundation

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Curtis Romano - Infantryman and Entrepreneur

Article by: Rian Madden - 03XX Foundation Consulting Journalist

Curtis was born in 1984 and grew up near Arlington, Virginia.  He grew in a military family and had an appreciation and interest in military service from a young age.  Curtis originally joined the Marine Corps with the intention of working as an aviation crew chief but then switched to the infantry occupation field. 

After Parris Island and training at Camp Geiger, earning the 0311 MOS, Curtis joined Kilo 3/6 in 2003.  Curtis first deployed to Afghanistan, operating in Asadabad and Gardaz, in 2004.  Upon his return, he was selected to join Scout/Sniper Platoon, working as a radio operator, and deployed to Al Qaim, Iraq.  Curtis again returned to Kilo Company, this time as a squad leader.  He deployed near Husaybah, Iraq for a final deployment as a line platoon squad leader.

Much like all Marines, Curtis’ aspirations changed over time and were molded by his experiences as an infantryman.  He initially intended to continue to serve, earn a commission and retire.  As time went on, Curtis had other ideas.  During his time in sniper platoon, he found himself growing more and more interested in entrepreneurship and owning his own business.  With only two week left remaining on his contract, he elected to leave the Marine Corps and enter private military contracting.  Curtis returned to Afghanistan, working for Blackwater and other PMCs.  He operated as a member of personal security teams and trained and supervised Afghans in fixed site security.

Curtis’ work as a contractor had a clearly defined goal, raising capital to start his own business. Over the years he had developed an interest in functional fitness and was particularly interested in Crossfit.  Following his career in security contracting, Curtis’ started his entrepreneurial journey.  Crossfit Axon, in Charlotte, NC opened for business in June of 2014.  Curtis now enjoys spending time with his family, competing in functional fitness teams sports leagues, continuing his education and acquiring addition certifications in his professional and expanding his business.

The life of an infantryman can mold a person’s mindset for the rest of their life, greatly increasing their success following active duty.  Serving as a grunt teaches valuable skills, while they may not be directly transferable to many civilian job fields, are still applicable in the private sector.  Curtis credits much of his success to the mental toughness and problem solving skills that he developed as a Marine NCO.  He is no stranger to hardship and developed his leadership skills on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. 

Curtis emphasizes the transition to civilian life is easier with a defined goal, or at least a direction.  Things are not just going to “work out” themselves and Marines should find their passion and pursue a career that relates to that interest.  He points out that many Marines head home following their service, a place of natural comfort and familiarity.  Curtis explains that this isn’t always the best course of action for job seekers and that there are opportunities all over the country, and the world, that may be seized by those willing to relocate.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Below is the 2014 03XX Foundation Annual Report.  You can also download a copy of this report by clicking HERE!

Semper Fidelis,

Team 03XX Foundation

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

True Warrior: Gunnery Sergeant Kenneth Goss

GySgt Kenny Goss enlisted in the United States Marine Corps from Orange, Texas and entered recruit training at MCRD San Diego on July 14, 1981.  A young Kenny Goss became interested in military service at an early age, inspired by his father’s service in the US Army during the late 1950s.  Following recruit training, PFC Goss attended the Construction Drafting School, Defense Mapping School, at Fort Belvoir, Virginia.  While at HQ Battalion, 4th Marine Division, Kenny reconsidered his occupation decision and submitted a request to become an infantryman. His request was approved one year after his obligated time on station was complete. He transferred to G 2/8 in January of 1983 for duty as an infantry rifleman (0311).

From October of 1983 to May of 1984, 2/8 participated in a historic deployment.  First seeing combat during the invasion of Grenada, then in Beirut, Lebanon.  Gunny Goss was a sergeant squad leader at the time and Golf acted as the track company during Operation Urgent Fury for the battalion landing team.  Once Golf landed, they were tasked with assisting in the extraction of Governor-General Paul Scoon, his family and staff, and the Navy SEALS out of the Governor-General's mansion.  They were next tasked with securing Fort Frederick, which they seized unopposed by the People’s Revolutionary Army (PRA).  During site exploitation of the fort, Gunny Goss’ squad located a large cache of communist weapons and documents.  After six days on the island, G 2/8 once again boarded the USS Manitowoc and landed, in conjunction with F 2/8, on the adjacent island of Carriacou.  The Marines quickly secured the island, and captured several groups of PRA soldiers.  Following the seizure of Carriacou, Gunny Goss and 2/8 once again boarded ship and set sail for Beirut, Lebanon. 

During operations in Lebanon, Gunny Goss recalls experiencing intense fighting with Shiite militiamen.  The M203 grenade launcher was employed with great affect to reduce enemy positions, as well as the use of Marine M60 Patton main battle tank, which were attached to the rifle platoon.  In one instance, an M60 actually had to be resupplied with 105mm rounds during the engagement, firing a total of 33 rounds.  During the course of the deployment, nine Marines from Golf 2/8 were killed and several were injured. 

Following his initial tour with 2/8, Gunny Goss went on to serve in a variety of billets and units.  Gunny Goss served as a drill instructor at Parris Island.  He served in Charlie 1/1, deploying on two WESTPACs; first as a squad leader, then as a platoon sergeant.  Gunny Goss then served on the Inspector-Instructor staff for Weapons Co. 1/23. 

In 1993, Gunny Goss was assigned to Fox 2/2 where he again served overseas in two separate hostile environments.  In 1994, Fox 2/2 participated in Operation Support/Uphold Democracy in Haiti.  Gunny Goss recalls confusion during the planning phase; as to whether or not this was an offensive operation or a peace keeping and humanitarian operation.  Early in the mission, local police instigated a fire fight with Marines, leading to numerous police officers being killed.  In 1996, Fox 2/2 deployed to the Mediterranean aboard ship.  During the course of the deployment, the US embassy in Liberia came under attack.  Fox 2/2, with Gunny Goss as 2nd platoon sergeant, conducted a heloborne insert and established a defensive position around the embassy.   

Following his years with 2/2, Gunnery Sergeant Goss went on to Inspector-Instructor duty in Louisiana, where he retired in 2001.  He has since worked for the US Postal Service in Louisiana and North Carolina.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Fellow 0311 Does Well - Brooks' Cycle Center

A couple of weeks ago LB (03XX Director of Operations) was out blanketing the Centreville, VA area with flyers for a charity bike wash. While stopping into all of the local motorcycle businesses he walked into Brooks' Cycle Center and saw a large Marine Corps flag hanging behind the desk. It wasn't your standard flag. It was one of those nice ones with the gold fringe around it. Come to find out the owner of Brooks' Cycle Center is a Marine Veteran and is an 0311 (Jason Brooks).

While speaking with Jason he shared his story of all the trials and tribulations in the job market after he got out of the Marine Corps. As an 0311 he kept charging the hill. He had a day job but also helped fix motorcycles out of his jeep in his spare time to make extra money for his family. A little over a year ago he took the leap and started his own business. When LB stopped in there was a buzz around the shop and there were several bikes out front awaiting service.

The 03XX Foundation wanted to share this story with you to show you that 03XXers can do anything they put their mind to in the civilian world. If anyone is looking for bike work drop Brooks' Cycle Center a line and support your fellow 03s.

Brooks' Cycle Center website:

Hit them up on Facebook:


03XX Foundation Staff - LB

Friday, May 10, 2013

True Warrior: First Sergeant Donald "Woody" Hamblen

1st Sergeant Donald Hamblen enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in 1950.  After his initial training, he was assigned to D 2/5 in Korea.  1st Sgt Hamblen served with distinction as a Scout/Sniper. During an engagement with Chinese Communists forces, he was wounded in a mortar barrage.  While being evacuated by a litter team, his group was ambushed by an element of Chinese infantrymen.  Hamblen was again wounded, after being shot in the leg.  Despite his wounds, Hamblen quickly made his way back to his unit and was promoted to squad leader.

During the next ten years, 1st Sergeant Hamblen served in numerous units before being assigned to 1st Force Reconnaissance Company as assistant platoon sergeant with the Pathfinder Platoon.  At the time, 1st Force maintained a Pathfinder capability, allowing them to conduct deep reconnaissance missions, as well as the ability to conduct terminal guidance for drop and helicopter landing zones.  1st Sergeant Hamblen was a skilled parachutist. He received training in air delivery systems and tested a variety of parachutes.  1st Sgt Hamblen’s training included hunting and tracking in the Philippines, as well as attending the Navy’s Underwater Swimmer School in Key West, Florida.

On September 21, 1962 1st Sergeant Hamblen was severely injured during a static jump at Camp Pendleton, California.  Strong winds forced him into high tension power lines causing third degree burns over much of 1st Sergeant Hamblen’s lower body.  His wounds were so severe, that doctors were forced to amputate his left leg, below the knee.  Equipped with several prosthetic legs and a burning desire to continue his service, 1st Sergeant Hamblen began his road to recovery.  A disagreement existed between the Navy and Marine Corps.  The Navy wished to know if Hamblen would ever be able to return to full duty.  The Marines Corps wanted to know when he would return to full duty. 

After his release from the hospital, 1st Sergeant Hamblen began a demanding physical training program which included running, swimming, and weight lifting. A little over half a year after his injury, 1st Sergeant Hamblen convinced 1st Marine Division leadership to allow him to take the Physical Readiness Test.  The test included carrying a casualty, ruck marching, a twenty foot rope climb, and a boots and utilities run.  1st Sergeant Hamblen successfully completed the PRT, then famously removed his prosthetic leg and poured out the blood which had accumulated from the torn scar tissue.  1st Sergeant Hamblen had officially returned to 1st Force Recon.

1st Sergeant Hamblen went on to serve in Vietnam with the highly classified Studies and Observation Group, leading South Vietnamese forces in covert special operations in both North and South Vietnam.  Hamblen was again wounded in 1966 during an engagement with the enemy, receiving shrapnel in his armpit and chest.  1st Sergeant Hamblen spent over two years in country and was eventually forced to leave Vietnam after newspaper reporters learned of his presence in country.  1st Sergeant Hamblen retuned to the United States in 1967, where he served in various training and joint billets until his retirement on March 1, 1970.