At some point we all have a defining moment that forever changes the course of our lives. For me, that moment occurred as I was sitting in Ms. Brandi McCormick’s 7th grade literature class on Sept. 11, 2001. Until then, I was determined to become the next Neil Armstrong and explore the mysteries of space.
All that changed in a matter of minutes. With my eyes glued to the TV screen, I watched commercial airplanes crash into the twin towers. I saw the pain and suffering of my fellow Americans and everything changed. At that moment I knew that I wanted to do something with my life that would help prevent such a tragedy in the future. I knew on that day that I wanted to serve my country.
As the years rolled past and I entered high school, that feeling only intensified. I joined the Army Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (JROTC) and was immediately hooked. Everything from the drill and discipline to the uniform and required community service seemed to reinforce this idea of becoming a better citizen.
Through JROTC I was introduced to Texas A&M University’s Corps of Cadets. During a visit to campus as part of the Junior Cadet Accessions Program, I was exposed to yet another life-changing experience. But this time, instead of destruction, death and pain, I felt a mixture of delight, pride and excitement. The Aggie spirit had already taken hold, and it’s the reason I wanted to attend Texas A&M. My goal was to be admitted to Texas A&M, to participate in the Corps and to graduate as a commissioned officer in the U.S. military. I was about to find out, however, that sometimes there is a greater plan for our lives than the ones we set for ourselves.
Flash forward to mid-June, after my high school graduation. I was still waiting on an answer from Texas A&M, living in a constant state of anxiety. I had been accepted into Sam Houston State University as a backup, but in my mind, if they didn’t have senior boots, they weren’t on my priority list.
I was walking home from the post office one day, fighting off thoughts of rejection, when I noticed a car following me. In inner city Houston, this is never a good thing. Both my pace and heart rate quickened. I cut across a parking lot to get to the bus stop, but the vehicle followed close behind.
“Whoa! slow down, motivator!” said the driver. I turned around and came face to face with two Marine Corps recruiters. My anxiety changed to intrigue as they began to tell me about the options that the Marine Corps had for me and the great service I would be doing for my country. After our conversation, I knew that God was giving me another option, and I was going to take it. I was only 17 at the time and could not sign the enlistment papers without my parents’ consent. My father was on board, but my mother could not bring herself to sign the papers. I had to wait it out.
At 6 a.m. on July 13, 2007, my 18th birthday, I stood outside the Military Enlistment Processing Center in Houston to enlist as a private first class in the United States Marine Corps Reserve. A week later I shipped off to Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego, to begin 13 weeks of recruit training.
Semper Fi & Gig ’Em
Recruit training was by far the most difficult but most rewarding experience of my life up to that point. I learned valuable life lessons, and returned with a maturity that I did not have going into it. I was pushed to my limits and beyond. The Marine Corps ingrained in me the idea that I am here for more than just myself. Each day presented various challenges, but three months later I finally earned the title of United States Marine. It was the happiest day of my life.
Once I checked into my reserve unit, I volunteered for a month of active duty to learn more about my job as a personnel clerk. I truly enjoyed taking care of my fellow Marines, and somehow that one month turned into 10. But as I neared the end of my orders, I knew I had to do more with my life, so I took a chance and reapplied to Texas A&M. This time I was accepted early in May.
When I returned for my new student conference, the decision of whether to join the Corps once again presented itself. Initially, I admit to having a “been there, done that” attitude. I had already been through recruit training and did not need to repeat it. However, one of the Aggie lieutenants in my Marine Corps unit encouraged me to attend the Corps of Cadets-sponsored pizza lunch. Then-Corps Commander Brent Lanier ’10 and Col. Jake Betty ’73 convinced me to attend the open house. The next day I found my home outfit, Company H-1, and began a leadership journey that I never imagined would culminate with the position of corps commander.
That fateful day in September 2001 changed our nation forever. It affected my generation in ways that we may never understand. I was hardened by it, but at the same time it set me on a path that has improved my life and made me a better person. With only respect and reverence for those who lost their lives that day, I can see now that something good did come of it: I found Texas A&M, I found the Corps of Cadets, and I found my calling as a United States Marine.
By Marquis Alexander ’13
Texas A&M Corps Commander