Jackson City, Kan. native's journeys from grunt to 'Pony Express';

30 Mar 2005 | Cpl. Mike Escobar

From an early age, Lance Cpl. Ben J. Bett knew he would answer the call to serve America's fighting forces. 

"I pretty much grew up into the military," stated the 21-year-old Jackson City, Kan. native.  "I joined ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps, a military science program offered in some schools) when I was in eighth grade, and my dad is a prior enlisted with the Army."

The 2002 Jackson City High School graduate's connection with the service didn't stop his summer plans after his senior year.  Instead, it was his plan. 

Bett attended Marine Corps recruit training in Sept. 2002, received further training as an infantryman upon graduation, and reported to Company B, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment as a rifleman.

"I loved it in the infantry, just going out and being with the boys in the woods," he exclaimed.  "You train with the unit for awhile, and you get to know everyone real well.  After awhile, you know how everyone's going to react in certain situations (in combat) because you've been with them all along."

Several months after joining the Fleet Marine Force, the Corps' deployable force component, Bett continued his training as an assaultman.  He learned how to employ heavy weapons and build and use improvised munitions against armored threats, such as tanks.  

As the saying states, however, all good things must come to an end.

Bett returned to the U.S. after deploying to Afghanistan from Feb. to Sept. 2003 and was reassigned to Headquarters and Service Company where he found himself filling shoes he said he never expected to fill.

"I was told I was going to be the battalion's mail clerk," Bett explained.  "Coming from the infantry to H&S Company was a really different experience, like two completely different beasts.  In the grunts, you work with your hands, but in H&S, it's done with your head."

According to one coworker, Bett adjusted to his new lifestyle quickly and proved why he was selected for the position: his hard working ethic.

"Even though in his heart he's a grunt (infantryman), he took up this new challenge, and he takes pride in what he does," explained Lance Cpl. Souksavanh Phaengkhouane, the unit's administration clerk.  "He'd be thrilled if he was out there hiking with the grunts, but he's dedicated himself to learning and performing his job to the best of his ability."

Phaengkhouane added that the appointment to mail clerk was an honor.

"They were looking for a Marine who had his stuff together, someone who was squared away," he continued.  "They needed someone responsible because if anything happens to mail, it's a federal offense."

"I know mail is a very important thing to the Marines, especially handing it out as quickly as possible," Bett agreed.

On his current deployment, his level of responsibility increased.  The unit's Marines and sailors wait for letters and packages from home while performing their mission of providing security and stability to Fallujah's people.  The battalion's mail clerk works hard to ensure his teammates receive their correspondence as quickly as possible.

"I typically go pick up mail (from Camp Baharia, his home base, to nearby Camp Fallujah, where 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment's mail arrives) early in the morning," he continued.  "Once I sort our outgoing mail, I'll sometimes help the Marines (postal clerks who work at Camp Fallujah) sort theirs.  Then I load it in the back of a seven-ton truck.  It sometimes fills up to about three-fourths of the truck."

Bett also said he estimates an average mail load to consist of approximately 100 boxes and 90 lbs worth of letters.

Although he continues performing his postal duties, Bett added that he would love to return to his primary love, the infantry.

"If my staff sergeant were to tell me I was going back to a line company (infantry unit), I'd pack my bags in a heartbeat.  When we get back from Iraq, I'm putting in a request to go back to the grunts."

He also said he plans to continue serving the Marine Corps by reenlisting in the infantry or logistics field.

Bett said no matter what direction his Marine Corps career has taken him, he is forever glad he enlisted.

"It was the first major decision of my life I'd made on own, and I've never regretted it."