CAMP HURRICANE POINT, AR RAMADI, Iraq -- A reenlistment is a high point in a Marine’s career because it means they continue their dedicated service to Corps and country. A fat check and coverage by major TV news makes raising that right hand and swearing to support and defend even more special.
Such was the case for Lance Cpl. Michael P. Neal and Cpl. Nathan S. Southwick during their reenlistment ceremony here.
The two warriors with 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, each received a bonus of approximately $20,000 and time on Fox News with Oliver North.
Oliver North and his two-man camera crew happened to be on their base – living here briefly while covering military operations in Ramadi – and got wind of their reenlistments.
The cameramen eagerly squeezed into the conference room, which was filled by more than 50 Marines who’d gathered to honor their comrades, set up their equipment and recorded the entire event. Both Marines had their photo taken shaking hands with the celebrity war correspondent after taking their oath of reenlistment.
Neal and Southwick are both machinegunners on their third deployment with the infantry battalion supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Money and 15 minutes of fame aside, both combat veterans were pleased to sign on for four more years and continue wearing the Eagle, Globe and Anchor.
“I love my job,” said Neal, a 21-year-old from Country Club Hills, Ill., who serves in the battalion commander’s Jump Platoon, which regularly travels about the urban battlefield in a convoy of humvees.
The 2001 Hillcrest High School graduate rides in the turret of an armored vehicle and is in charge of providing security with his M240G machinegun.
“I’m doing something very few people have a chance to,” said Neal. “At my age, I have a lot of responsibility. In the civilian world it’s rare for a 21-year-old to be trusted with the same level of responsibility.”
Neal was working as a freelance computer programmer designing web pages for small businesses when he decided to change professions in 2001.
“I literally woke up one morning and said to myself, ‘Hey, I’m going to join the Marines,’” he recalled. “I was getting bored with my job and wanted to do something the total opposite.”
Neal enlisted as a machinegunner and transitioned from typing on computers to pulling triggers. “I chose the infantry because I wanted to be in the action.”
Neal will leave his present unit and serve as an instructor at Edson Range on Camp Pendleton, Calif. when he returns stateside in September.
Neal collected $19,692 in tax-free bonus money, which will be paid in a lump sum. He plans to use it to support his family, he said.
Neal and his wife, Ciera, are expecting a girl in less than a month. “Her name is McKenzie Rose.”
Southwick shared Neal’s pleasure in reenlisting.
“I want to continue being an infantryman,” said the 21-year-old from El Cajon, Calif., who serves as a team leader in 1st Squad, 4th Platoon, Company A. “I like the fighting, the action and the brotherhood. The camaraderie with my fellow Marines is great.”