MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
After a successful tour in the Marine Corps, one 23-year-old corporal has begun preparing himself for his life’s next big challenge: earning a bachelor’s degree from Columbia University, an Ivy League school in New York.
Corporal Kyle Lichtenberger left home from Missouri July 30, 2007, to step on the yellow footprints at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, Calif., with the goal of earning the title Marine, as three previous generations of his family have done.
Before joining the Marine Corps, Lichtenberger attended Moberly Area Community College in Columbia, Mo., on a two-year scholarship. As the end of his academic program drew near, he said he realized he wanted to experience something different.
“I just wanted a change, to experience something a little different,” he said. “I knew I would eventually come back, and maybe I would have a better idea of where I wanted to go, and what I wanted to do in terms of career.”
His family has a strong attachment to the Marine Corps from three previous generations of Lichtenberger men who wore the Eagle, Globe and Anchor. His great-grandfather, Ralph, served six years as a Marine during World War I. His grandfather, Ralph Jr., served six years as a Marine during the Korean War. His uncle, Steve, served four years as a Marine during the Vietnam War.
He said his decision to join the Marine Corps was based on that legacy of service as well as the education opportunities he knew it would afford him.
“It was something I wanted to do and it just kind of worked out for me,” he said. “I knew I wanted to go back to school, but I didn’t want to put that financial burden on my parents. So I said, ‘well I’ll do the Marine Corps for four years and once that’s done I’ll pursue the rest of my education with the benefits of the (Post-9/11 GI Bill).’ ”
Lichtenberger enlisted as a contract private first class because of his prior college. After his initial training, he spent nine months at the Marine Corps Communications Electronic School at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, Calif., where he learned the skills required to assemble and repair various communications equipment.
After completing school, he received orders to 8th Communications Battalion, II Marine Expeditionary Force, aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C. Less than a year later, he deployed with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, February through August 2010.
During the deployment he supported a variety of operations including disaster relief in Haiti after a 7.0 earthquake devastated the country. He also participated in a number of other training exercises throughout the Middle East.
Lichtenberger said his role during that time focused on supporting the command’s communication needs. He primarily performed maintenance on communication equipment and oversaw the administrative processes of repairing gear.
“His knowledge and leadership is way beyond someone who holds the rank of corporal,” said Master Gunnery Sgt. Eric B. Evans, who served as the communications chief with the Command Element, 24th MEU during the deployment.
Evans described Lichtenberger as a highly intelligent, mature and extremely professional Marine who was able to handle a myriad of tasks outside of his military occupationally specialty.
“Installing cables and receiver systems on a ship is something these guys don’t do in school,” Evans said. “No one teaches maintenance folks how to go up on a mast that’s hundreds of feet above the flight deck, hang upside-down and install the stuff. He did it.”
Evans added that while he knows Lichtenberger will do well as a civilian, he sees his leaving as a loss for the Marine Corps.
“We’re losing someone who could potentially be a great senior enlisted Marine, or better yet a great officer, or warrant officer,” he said. “But it’s not a total loss. He’s going to be an asset to society because of what he learned, and what he experienced with the MEU.”
After the deployment Lichtenberger began looking to college. He applied and registered with the University of North Carolina Wilmington and was poised to go there.
Not long after, Lichtenberger received information from his senior leadership that a number of representatives from various colleges would be in the area interviewing Marines. He expressed interest in Columbia University to his leadership, who then urged him to meet with the college’s dean.
Lichtenberger applied to the college and got accepted.
“Columbia is just one of those things that kind of popped up,” he said. “I got a phone call from them, and they offered me a spot for the fall term and that’s where we are today.”
He plans to pay the majority of his tuition with a combination of the Post-9/11 GI Bill and Yellow Ribbon Program. The Post-9/11 GI Bill will pay up to $17,500 per academic year for a private school, and the Yellow Ribbon Program can make additional funds available for a veteran’s education program without an additional charge to their GI Bill entitlements, according to the Veterans Affairs GI Bill website at www.gibill.va.gov.
As Lichtenberger makes the transition from military to civilian life, he knows the experiences he gained from his time in the Marine Corps will aid in attaining his future goals.
“I think I took a lot of good things away from it,” he said. “It was a good experience … I enjoyed it, and I did my time honorably.”