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Major Grose’s Retirement Speech

Friday, July 24th, 2009

Quote of the Day: “Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers.”

- Alfred Lord Tennyson


I have been given two very sage pieces of advice for this speech. One I will take, the other I will leave.

The one I will take is to recognize my lovely wife. This is often and tragically forgotten so to make sure I don’t mess this up, I will do it at the beginning, middle, and end.

Hi honey.

She has been with me for almost 22 years and this is her day as much as it is mine.

The second piece of advice was to keep my speech brief. For those of you that know me, which is all of you, you know that is not going to happen. It just … isn’t.

BUT, I have a reason for such verbosity that will become evident soon enough which brings me to another point about tradition and protocol. If you have heard many of these retirement speeches, you know that they normally start off with a shout out to Generals, distinguished guests, VIPs, and loved ones who came from afar.

But you see my problem, you are all distinguished guests, VIPs, and loved ones who have come from afar.

So what to do.

First, I have to thank the band who were kluged together at the last minute and some even pulled off leave. I cannot thank you enough for your sacrifice today.

Second, I want to thank the Color Guard. You lend a level of professionalism and dignity to this ceremony that will not be soon forgotten. Hold those Colors high, Gentlemen. I am honored beyond description at your presence here today.

Third, I want to thank the Flag Detail. I know you represent me at every rank but I don’t remember being as young and thin as some of you. Thank you for that very touching presentation.

For the rest of you, I came up with a solution that kills two birds with one stone: you see, I am not all that comfortable standing up here and telling you how great I am and of all of the earth-shattering service I have dedicated 22 years of my life for.

Some people would like to claim themselves a “self-made” man but I am far from that. I am a product. I am the result. I am the culmination of what I have received from each and every one of you sitting in the audience today.

So, my plan is a simple one. I don’t want to stand here today and tell you of my greatness; I want to turn the focus around and if you will bear with me, allow me to point my finger at the actual characters of the passion play that has been my Marine Corps career.

I can see a few of you sweatin’ a little out there which has nothing to do with the temperature today.

Right now, look to you left and to your right. Each of you is sitting next to greatness. Soon, you will understand why this is and while I would like to cover each one of you in depth, please forgive me for breaking the cardinal rule of ceremonies by even starting down that road. I could ramble on until sunset but to avoid you throwing heavy things at my head, I have done the best I could in the time allotted.

How am I doing, Honey? Did I point out she has put up with me for over two decades?

Today, I have my mother coming from Oklahoma, my father coming from Kansas, and my older brother coming from Seattle Washington in the audience and they represent my life before I joined the Marine Corps. Please stand … you can figure out who is who.

Mom, I’m sorry about the way this all started with me running away to join the Marine Corps but like so many parents of Marines, what is at first an unimaginable and tragic decision in the eyes of the parents turns out to be one of their proudest bragging rights. I know you are proud of your little boy who grew up to be a Marine but please stop telling your friends I am a General.

I love you.

Dad, I’m glad you could make it today. I know you have worried all of these years and to answer your question, TODAY I finally step out of the line of danger. You can get some sleep now. I’m going back up to the great Northwest and becoming Boring Seattle Guy.

Chris, my brother. I know you have waited a long time for Carrie and I to “come home.” You yourself answered the call of our Nation and served in the Army so you know it was difficult for us to be away for so long. But I must provide this warning because I know how you old Army dogs can be; please behave yourself in front of all these nice people today because if you don’t, I will not hesitate to summon all of my authority as a Marine Corps Officer and bark out at you …. I’m gonna tell MOM!

Believe it or not, I have some high school friends here. To Sylvia, Liz, Mike, and Kyle I say, GO RAIDERS! It took 22 years for the likes of Sylvia and Liz to give me the time of day but I’m honored you would come down here and witness this special day for me.

8033 days

8033 days ago today I was sitting on a dark bus in the darkness of night and driven right past there on my way to the famous Yellow Footprints to spend my first terrifying night as a Recruit.

A couple of days later, I met a couple of men who would have a profound effect on the rest of my life. Not many people can be so lucky as to have their actual Drill Instructors attend their retirement ceremony 22 years later but I am such a person.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I want to introduce you to Senior Drill Instructor Sergeant Major Jon Wertjes and Drill Instructor Master Sergeant Sergio Garcia.

For 13 weeks, these two men put me through a living hell. They broke me down. They yelled, screamed, intimidated, and berated me for every indiscretion, small and large. They woke me up early, ran me hard all day, and spit out the crumpled residue into my rack with only the promise of the next day making the previous seem like child’s play.

So now, as a Major of Marines, you would think I could exact my revenge. I mean, I do outrank them according to the laws and regulations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and laws pertaining to the Armed Forces of the United States. Here is my chance, as I hang up the Cloth of the Nation one last time, the opportunity is at hand, right?


If you think I could ever do that, you have a very ignorant view of what these men represent to me. I will NEVER outrank either one of these Marines, even if I were to attain the ranks my mom tells everyone I already have.

In an odd twist of fate, these men who I used to call “Sir” now call ME Sir” and I can’t describe how utterly bizarre that is.

You see, I described the harshness of their methods during those long months in 1987 but what I didn’t describe was the discipline, honor, professionalism, and courage they instilled in me that summer. Not one of the 8033 days I’ve spent a Marine, have I NOT drawn from the lessons burned into me by these two men.

I received more than a little grief from some people about the uniform I chose for this ceremony. You see, they have to wear what I wear and while this uniform may look good, it isn’t exactly what you would consider the most comfortable uniform we Marines wear.

Add that to the fact that there is no recruit graduation today and therefore everyone would normally wear the comfortable cammies…

… and you get a rather unpopular decision on my part.

But the reason I chose the Charlie uniform is because I’m playing dress up today. As my last official uniform I will wear, I wanted to “dress up” as my Drill Instructors. What I wear today is an ode to you, Sergeant Major Jon Wertjes and to you,Master Sergeant Sergio Garcia for what you have done for me. Even this cover I chose specifically because it most resembles the legendary Drill Instructor Smokey that you wore those long hot days of summer back in 1987.

My goal for 22 years was the same as those three months in 1987, and as it is today: Gentlemen, I hope I made you proud.

From bootcamp, I was sent to Millington Tennessee to learn avionics but other than getting gnawed on by the Sergeant Major each week for failing tests, the highlight of that tour was marrying my lovely wife who flew from Washington State to marry me.

Lyle, please stand up. Ladies and Gentlemen, this is Carrie’s father, my father-in-law from Seattle. I have one question for you from the perspective of the father of a beautiful young daughter myself … Criminy, man, you let her marry a Lance Corporal! What were you thinking?

Well, I guess I must be thankful but I seriously question your decision-making abilities.

I love you, Lyle.

After Millington, I was sent to Cherry Point to learn how NOT to electrocute myself and then it was on to Yuma where I fixed avionics in Harriers. When asked if I wanted to actually fly them, I always said “Hell no, I know what little it takes to lawn-dart them!

Alex, stand up. Ladies and Gentlemen, this is my son, Alex who was born at this time in Yuma. I danced in the doctor’s office when I learned he was going to be a boy and my pride has only grown ever since. I am proud of the man you have become, Son. I still think it’s an optical illusion that you look taller than me and no, we don’t need the level again. That bubble is obviously defective.

I love you, Son.

It was also at this time I met my mentor and the man who taught me how to be an NCO. I hated his guts from the first time I met him but there was the small matter of taking me to war and bringing me back alive that softened my attitude a bit.

Actually, this Sergeant of Marines became the greatest Marine I ever met and it saddens me that he could not be here today but in classic Shane Maxey fashion, he is fulfilling a commitment of taking a group of teenagers from his church youth group rafting in Idaho.

Shane, you pushed me hard and meeting you was one of the most fortuitous encounters of my entire life. My friend and my mentor, I thank you, you Big Red Ape.

Rob, stand up! In 1990, I was deployed to Saudi Arabia during the first Gulf War. With me was the then LCpl Doyle and he holds the title of the only person, to include the enemy, that DIDN’T want to kill me during that time.

You Marine leaders hear it all the time: that Lance Corporal who wants to get out and do what?

Go to school.

They all seem to want to go to school but very few of them follow through with that despite the almost universal claim that scholastic plans are in the works.

Some even go as far to say they want to become doctors.

Yeah right.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to introduce you to the former LCpl Doyle … DOCTOR Robert Doyle M.D. coming all the way from Colorado to be here today.

Rob, I want to publicly thank you for your friendship over all these years. I guess they never found out about us burning those pubs in the Yuma desert and almost catching the entire desert on fire or we would both still be breaking big rocks into little rocks.

When I got back from the war, I was accepted to the Marine Enlisted Commissioning Education Program (MECEP) and after 10 weeks here on the Depot doing a prep course, it was on to the University of Washington.

Stephanie, please stand up. This is my daughter who was born during this time. Despite Alex poking her eyes for identification purposes (eye, daddy), she survived and has grown up to the beautiful young lady you see today; a clone of her mother. I missed her 14th and 15th birthdays but I will not miss another, Sweetheart.

I am particularly hard on my son when it comes to the way he must treat the opposite sex because I have a simple reasoning: Son, you HAVE to be a PRINCE because I have a PRINCESS.

I love you, Stephanie.

After college, I was treated to a big steaming helping of Officer’s Candidate School and then The Basic School where I met two people sitting here today.

Marissa Serano has followed me around the Corps for over a decade now and I can tell you, I got the lion’s share of the benefits in that relationship. She, too, is an Adjutant and I have been outmatched at every turn from those long days at TBS to our eventual reunion here at the Depot. Like so many stories about Marines, she would play a pivotal role in one of my final honors as a Marine Officer.

But before I get to that, Jesus Leon, please stand.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I don’t want to give you the wrong impression about my ability (or inability) to make friends and influence people but I have to admit, I have not always been the most popular girl at the prom. Carrie, I love you but please, make no comment at this.

Just like Rob somehow put up with me when deployed, Jesus Leon had some kind of personality disorder that caused him to befriend the likes of me at TBS. He made me laugh until my face and stomach ached. I was without my family and going through 6 months of hard training so you can imagine the level of jackass that was my daily mood.

Leon came from Virginia for this today and I deeply appreciate the friendship and the Comedy Central Special-level hilarity you possess. You, my friend, are by far, the funniest person I have ever met. And I will pass on making some wise-ass comment about you because you are from New York and would be waiting for me in the wings with a piece of REBAR after this ceremony.

After surviving The Basic School and being assigned as an Adjutant (thank you quality spread), I was sent back to the desert. As though Yuma wasn’t bad enough, this time it was 29 Palms where I have to admit, I almost cried as I looked down over the sparse base and saw the shimmering sewage ponds of Lake Bandini. But I grew to love the desert once again and what I didn’t know was that I was about to embark on what I consider my best duty of my entire career: Adjutant for First Tank Battalion.

It was here I first met two people who would become very dear friends. One of them is here today. LtCol Brent Norquist, who came from 29 Palms (his 3rd posting there), I thank you for befriending the green Adjutant Lieutenant, for the poker games, for the runs through the desert, and your lasting friendship over these many years. You have watched me grow from 2ndLt to Major just as I’ve seen you go from Captain to Lieutenant Major. That was a great promotion ceremony. Gotta love Master Gunz.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Phil Patch who was my boss, the XO of 1st Tank Battalion.

He started out as a boss, then a running partner, and now a long-time friend. But as quirky as he is, I owe him a debt of gratitude for mentoring me as an Adjutant, and a junior Officer. Filthy Phil could not be here today but he sent his advice to me the other day.

“I hope it’s a great day for you and that you don’t start waxing so eloquent that you start crying (happens – not to me, but to most.)”

I guess I did such a good job at Tanks that they rewarded me by moving me up to 7th Marines as an Adjutant and after 18 months, I moved on to the Naval Postgraduate School. I earned my masters but the problem there is that if you show up at Quantico from NPS sporting a master’s degree, everyone assumes you have a 10-lb brain.

I felt as stupid as I ever felt, I was just certified smart according to the sheep skin on my wall which made walking into doors all that much more embarrassing.

After languishing, er, I mean, serving in Quantico for a few years (I soon realized why they called it a “payback tour!”), I got a call out of the blue from who else? Marissa Serano. I had not talked to her in years and the first thing she bluntly said was “Do you want Command?”

“Um, HI, Marissa!”

She’s Italian, folks. Enough said.

But you have to understand, I’m an Adjutant. We don’t get Command. We get staff work. Then more staff work. And when we are done with that, we get …. more staff work. It is our lot in life.

So I jumped at the chance for an actual Command which brought me out here to San Diego for what I thought was going to be my twilight tour.

But before I could have the Command, I had to go through a phone interview. Marissa had vouched for me but the XO wanted to talk to me before I was knighted. I had to fool one person over the phone and get him to make a huge mistake by letting me sip from the Golden Cup of Command.

Little did I know that I was to meet the next Marine in my career that would have a profound effect on me personally and professionally.

LtCol Scott McLennan is here in the audience today. Sir, I want to thank you for putting your trust in me, giving me the opportunity to lead a Company of Marines, for all of the advice you have shared with me, and most of all, for having terrible phone radar and letting yourself get duped.

Folks, this is the guy you would go to to get answers. I was always amazed at your vast knowledge and your willingness to answer the stupid questions. And I had a lot of STUPID QUESTIONS!

This brings me to HIS boss at the time, the Commanding Officer of Headquarters and Service Battalion and the Colonel that just happens to be the Presiding Officer for today’s ceremony.

Col Redfern, you created an environment that I have only seen at one other place in my 22 years of service, which was at 1st Tank Battalion. The group of Marines we had here will remain in my memory as that team one can only hope for and it was in large part due to your leadership. You and Sheila have been role models as well as friends (as well as a Major and a Colonel can be, I guess), but seriously, Carrie and I value you and Sheila’s friendships. Thank you for seeing me off today, it really means a lot to me.

I must also mention that Col Redfern moved me from Headquarters Company Commander to Operations Officer before he left the unit and while I didn’t appreciate giving up Command at the time (pauses and looks over at the Colonel…), I realized soon enough that you showed great faith in my abilities and I was able to do a SECOND billet that most Adjutants never get a chance to see.

It’s just one more example of how I have been blessed by many of you sitting in this audience today.

It was also during this time that I was fortunate enough to meet Sergeant Major Anthony Spadaro, today’s’ Senior Staff NCOIC for this ceremony.

I specifically asked him to stand by me today because I knew with him involved, I would not be tempted to revert back to my days as a Lance Corporal and screw things up ten ways till Sunday. When I was a young enlisted Marine, the only time I ever got to even talk to a Sergeant Major was if I did something really good … or really bad.

So you can imagine what it is like for me to even be in the presence of such greatness today.

If there is any catastrophically mistaken rumor that our Senior Staff NCO ranks are anything but world-class, they only have to look as far as SgtMaj Spadaro to see the folly of that misconception. If I had continued in my enlisted career, I would have the time in to be a Sergeant Major but when I speak with you, Sergeant Major, I realize…I would still have a long way to go. You honor me by being here today.

Also helping me out today is Major Paola Hayes, the narrator for today’s ceremony.

I met Paola when she was the OIC of the Wounded Warriors up at Balboa Hospital and it wasn’t long before she met my wife Carrie and we all became the best of friends. I don’t know who adopted whom but however it happened, Paola has become part of our family and with her, her insane dog Koo-Koo.

Paola, I’m going to miss you and your crazy son-of-a-….OK, I’ll be nice. But seriously, thanks for all you have done and for the friendship I know will continue. Your dog can come over and crap on my trampoline any time.

Finally, as you all know, I just returned from a year-long deployment without my family to Saudi Arabia. I can unequivocally say….. it sucked.

Besides the loneliness and missing my family which is a given, I must point out that one of the worst aspects was that I was not with Marines. Marines are not solitary creatures. We need other Marines so the worst situation you can put a Marine in is to isolate him from other Marines. I would never wish to relive my last year but it gave me a lot of time to reflect on my time in the Corps. What I came up with is something I can without a doubt impart to you today as a final thought ….

I am leaving the active ranks of the Marine Corps today but I look in front of me where it all started and I KNOW that we as a Marine Corps still do what we do best. We make Marines and we win battles.

As I exit the ranks, I can look over you and see those Recruits behind you that are taking my place. I hope they get 8033 days to serve this great Nation but most of all, I hope they have the mentors, the friends, the leaders, the heroes, and the family like you sitting here today to guide them, to support them, and to make each one of those days as special for them as they have been for me.

I told you I would be long-winded but I also told you I would not forget my wife.

Baby, the time has come. They say the Corps is like another woman in your life that a wife must allow. Well, my love, I’m leaving the other woman. You’ve been ever so patient and in a few short minutes, I’m all yours.

22 years ago, I made a promise to a beautiful young lady that if she followed me around this gun club for 20 years, I would get out and get her a white picket fence. Well, she kept her end of the bargain and now it’s about time I fulfill my end of this obligation. She has done her part and then some. We made it and I love you.

Thank you all from the bottom of my heart.

Senior Drill Instructor Sergeant Major Wertjes, 22 years ago you brought me into this Marine Corps and now… you can take me out.

Sergeant Major, take me out to the ball game!

Semper Fidelis.

Free Advice for Today: “Always order bread pudding when it’s on the menu.”

- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.



Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

Quote of the Day: “We judge ourselves by what we feel capable of doing, while others judge us by what we have already done.”

- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

OK, now that we got that out of the way, I know I know I know, I said I would be blogging again and then you get nothing.

So much is happening I feel like a gerbil in a blender.

Where do I start? Well, you get the bulleted list again because that’s the only way I can think right now: in short bursts of randomness:

- I got my last Marine Corps hair cut today (see picture above). I made it a big production and even had a friend snapping pictures. I figured how much I have spent on haircuts over the years and let the barber know all about it. I had always knew there would be a “last” Marine Corps haircut and this guy happened to be The One. I slid him $50 for the honor.

- I wore my cammies today for the last time. I had my daughter photograph me taking it off. OK, let me announce, she photographed me taking the TOP off. You people sicken me!

- My mother, father, and brother are in town. It’s the first time we have all been together in a very long time.

- I took my brother, his girlfriend, my dad, my two teenage kids, and my 21-year-old cousin to watch Recruits get off the bus and encounter the first hour of bootcamp. It was horrifyingly beautiful and something they will never forget. My family AND the Recruits.

- I took my mom to a baseball game along with my brother, his girlfriend, and my family. The Padres lost.

- My wife showed me the shadow box she got for my retirement. Words cannot describe it so you will have to wait for the pictures.

- BIZARRE MOMENT OF THE DAY: I zipped into a parking space at the Commanding General’s Building to get to my Retirement Ceremony practice and stole the spot from another car who was just a bit too slow to win the spot. The man driving was Retired Master Sergeant Sergio Garcia who happens to be one of my Marine Corps Drill Instructors from 1987. Oops, sorry Top.

- Tonight, he and his wife will be eating dinner at my house along with 16 other people. Do you realize how utterly surreal it is going to be to have my DRILL INSTRUCTOR eating Mexican food at my house tonight with my mother, father, brother, wife, kids, and in-laws?

- I wrote but did not practice my retirement speech. I think it is going to go long but in my opinion, is entertaining so I’m hoping people won’t get pissed. If they do, well, it’s my day so too bad. The procrastination of writing this and the acknowledgments for the program is about the only things that have stressed me out lately. And stress me out they did!

- My retirement is going to be filmed with 5 cameras and according to the director (yes, there will be a DIRECTOR!), of the same quality as an HBO documentary. He made this film: Ears Open Eyes Click!

- I will be posting the program and the speech tomorrow.

- I will be posting the pics as soon as I get them from the photographer.

- I will be posting the video when I get it from the director but he said it might be months because they are backlogged with the editing process.

- I am remiss with so much right now but I have to give a preliminary thank you to Teri Wilde who sent a scrapbook of my career to me that brought tears to my eyes and to my mom’s as well. I will not even begin to try to thank you in this venue. I will be doing that in person and in a separate blog entry. It’s just too special to try to shoot out a bullet on it and call it good.

- I ran in to and talked with the Commanding General today. I had dropped off an invitation yesterday and had to see if she was going to attend because it would change the sequence of events slightly. She is not going to be able to make it and as bad as this sounds, I was kind of glad about that because we had already practiced how the ceremony was going to go and if a General showed up, that would change and complicate things.

- Is it normal to be stressed about not being able to adequately capture everything going on via blogging?

Well, that’s about it. Tomorrow is the big day starting at 1000. The ceremony is about an hour, then we have a reception, then I’m taking a select group over to my original bootcamp squadbay (to include two of my Drill Instructors and a few of my bootcamp brothers), and then to a dinner at the Coyote Café in Old Town.

The next day is a BBQ at my house starting at 1300. Hopefully with all of these venues, I will get to talk with and enjoy the company of everyone who came here to watch this transition.

Man, crazy days!

(see whole set of Last Haircut here.)

Free Advice for Today: “Take your family to a dude ranch for a vacation.”

- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.


I’m Gonna Rise, I’m Gonna Shine!

Sunday, July 19th, 2009

Quote of the Day: “Man has to suffer. When he has no real afflictions, he invents some.”

- Jose Marti

And like a phoenix, the Viper blog rises from the ashes.

Where to begin…OK, well, I just spent a year in Saudi Arabia alone and I had to tear down my webpage and blog for security reasons. I did blog though because you know I can’t COMPLETELY stay away from blogging. I sent them out to most of you in the form of mass email and my plan is to post them up on this blog. I’ll provide links as I go.

So, I got back and as thrilling as it is to be home, it’s a hectic time for me and my family. I am retiring so on July 24th, I will have my ceremony and shortly thereafter, the packers are coming to pack up my house. Then we take off on the 28th, do a little road-trip, and will end up in Seattle by early August.

We plan to stay with the in-laws until we can work out a place to live. I need to, you know, find a job and all.

Shortly after we get up there, we will be hitting the road again to go to Montana for my sister-in-law’s wedding and then on the heels of that, I have a huge family reunion in Kansas.

As you can see, I might go completely insane before all is said and done.

So there is the tip of the iceberg but let me mind-vomit a few other quick hits:

    - I plan to keep this blog updated as a means of therapy

    - I connected my Facebook to my cell phone so I am officially all geeked up with text updates.

    - I just spent almost an entire day de-gunking my computer, organizing all my files, and melding the files I used/created/updated in Saudi with the set I have at home. This was very far from easy.

    - I am back to running after taking a year off. With my 15-pound weight loss and core work, I’m hoping to get back to distance running with the minimum of bleeding out all my orifices.

    - I was basically up for two days by the time I got to San Diego from Saudi so I crashed and somehow got on the right sleep schedule right away.. thank GOD!

    - I am going to have to pull some last-minute heroics to get my retirement ceremony up to speed since a certain person completely flaked on me. Luckily, I have a week.

    - I got an incredible scrapbook from a friend as a retirement present and it has a letter from Arnold Schwarzenegger. Also, Barbara Boxer.

    - I also have my retirement flag and a letter signed by President Obama.

    - I upgraded my WordPress software from 2.5 to 2.81 all in one shot and only had a small glitch. But I got it working so yeah, you are looking at the latest and greatest.

    - I am going to a BBQ today for all of the old crew who used to work at the unit I was attached to before I left to Saudi.

    - My mother and my brother fly in today (I bet their arms are going to be tired.)

    - I’m done sending out mass email-blogs so you all will have to either visit here for now on or friend me up on Facebook.

OK, that’s enough for today. It’s good to be back and I hope to get back to my more traditional posts soon, A.K.A., ranting and foolishness.

Free Advice for Today: “Lear to make corn bread in a cast-iron skillet.”

- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.