FORWARD OPERATING BASE PAYNE, Helmand province, Afghanistan --
Williamsport, Ind., native Thomas Marshall never thought the Seeger Memorial High School football team would go so far. The small, country town began to take notice of the team’s success, however, in 2004 when the team won game after game in the regular season.
Local businesses posted Seeger high football signs in their windows, and the crowds at each game began to grow. The team pushed through the playoffs and garnered the support of the surrounding communities. Fans filled the seats by the time they reached the state championship.
Marshall and his teammates ran onto the field of the RCA Dome, where the Indianapolis Colts once played, to the cheers of thousands of local supporters.
“That was my fondest memory because those were some great times,” said Marshall, now a sergeant with 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion. “No athletic team in our school had ever gone that far, and it was a big deal for our community; everyone came together.”
It was that feeling of togetherness and a desire to be a part of a brotherhood, coupled with the fact that both his parents were Marines, which led Marshall to enlist several years later.
“When I told my parents I wanted to join the military, my mom wanted me to talk to an Air Force recruiter, especially with the war going on,” Marshall said. “Down deep I think we all knew that with them both being Marines, there was no way I was going to join any other branch of the service.”
Marshall’s parents raised him in a disciplined household. They instilled in him a desire to succeed and a drive to never settle for second best. He attributes his early success in the Marine Corps to the work ethic they instilled at an early age. These traits gave him an advantage during recruit training -- he already had the solid foundation of discipline, while other recruits were just beginning to adjust to everyday life in the Marine Corps.
Marshall completed recruit training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego and became a light armored vehicle mechanic. His first assignment was to Combat Logistics Battalion 22 with the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit. The MEU travelled to the Mediterranean, and he was able to see countries like Kuwait and Egypt for the first time.
“Growing up in a small town in Indiana, you never think you’re going to go to all these places,” Marshall said. “When people ask you about what you’ve done and you start telling them stories, they really enjoy it because (visiting other countries) is not something many people from my town get to do. A lot of people from (Williamsport) were born there, raised there and will most likely live the rest of their lives there.”
When the MEU returned to the United States, Marshall was on post-deployment leave when his unit was called back to the ship to aid the people of Haiti affected by the 2010 earthquake. After two months of providing humanitarian assistance, Marshall returned to the United States, re-enlisted, and was meritoriously promoted to the rank of sergeant, with just under three years in the Corps. He then received orders to deploy to Afghanistan with 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion.
From the cool, grassy football fields of Indiana to the dry, sandy battlefield of Afghanistan, Marshall now works diligently to maintain the 18-ton vehicles in his care. He is also a vehicle commander for a recovery team, in charge of fixing light armored vehicles if they require maintenance during patrols.
He is currently only two months into his deployment and is still relatively new to the field of mechanical repair, so Marshall is taking advantage of his time here to learn every aspect of his career field.
“Right now the learning process is the best part of my job,” said Marshall. “Before the Marine Corps I never really worked on vehicles, so now I’m enjoying learning as I go. Some of these guys came in and they have the mechanical background because they worked on cars with their dads. I’ve been learning for the last three years and getting better, but I have a lot more to learn. It’s a fun and continuous process.”
This learning process offers Marshall a chance to excel. In the past he pushed himself and his Seeger football teammates to the state championship, now he pushes himself to be as skillful and proficient at his job as possible.
“He picks up on how to repair things quickly,” said Sparta, Mich., native Sgt. Jacob A. Hubach, an LAV mechanic who works alongside Marshall. “He’s a team player, a positive influence and is always ready to get his hands dirty.”
In Afghanistan, when his days are longest and sleep is a rarity, he remains positive and optimistic when he thinks about home.
“I just want my family to know that I’m all right, I’m enjoying myself, and I’ll be home soon. Semper Fi,” Marshall said, ending with the Corps’ motto, a shortened version of Semper Fidelis, meaning “Always Faithful.”
Editor’s note: 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion is currently assigned to 2nd Marine Division (Forward), which heads Task Force Leatherneck. The task force serves as the ground combat element of Regional Command (Southwest) and works in partnership with the Afghan National Security Force and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to conduct counterinsurgency operations. The unit is dedicated to securing the Afghan people, defeating insurgent forces, and enabling ANSF assumption of security responsibilities within its area of operations in order to support the expansion of stability, development and legitimate governance.