USS GUNSTON HALL, Arabian Gulf --
Master Sgt. James Clark marked the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11, terror attacks in a special way – he signed on for three more years of service in the Marine Corps.
Clark, a Louisville, Ky., native and maintenance chief for Combat Logistics Battalion 24, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, reenlisted in the Marine Corps on the flight deck of the USS Gunston Hall in the Arabian Gulf.
“When I had the opportunity I said ‘I want that day,’” Clark said. “To me, I thought that would be something special.”
The 39-year-old Iraq-war veteran has served more than 20 years in the Marine Corps. He said he chose this day because he wanted to inspire his Marines and knew a 9/11 reenlistment would do that.
“If we sit around and mourn the loss all the time, then they win,” he said. “The way I was thinking about it was this: ‘what better day to put faith in the younger Marines than on that day? That here I am on that day reenlisting to give service to my country for another three years. To me that was my own little special victory.’”
Clark’s Marine Corps journey began at 17-years-old, when a Marine recruiter contacted him.
“He just kind of put to me the idea of ‘are you just going to stay on mommy and daddy’s coat tails your whole life?’ That kind of ticked me off,” Clark said.
He met with the recruiter in person and the Marine had managed to do something other recruiters had not – he challenged Clark. He showed Clark videos of boot camp and talked to him about the difficulties of becoming and being a Marine; difficulties that would surely be more cumbersome for the then 5-foot-4-inch, 125-pound Clark.
“It was that challenge of my becoming a Marine versus everyone else,” he said. “I had talked to other recruiters. They didn’t challenge me. They were trying to sell me. I didn’t need to get sold.”
Two years later, 19-year-old Clark enlisted in the Marine Corps and traveled to Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island on Aug. 12, 1992. He signed up as a heavy equipment mechanic.
Clark said the culture, sense of family and purpose he has found in the Marine Corps has been the reasons for his decision to continue service throughout the years.
“It becomes a calling,” he said. “The Marine Corps has made me better. Now it is at the point where I can make the Marine Corps better.
“How do you leave something like that, that is a calling to you?”
Clark has now spent a lifetime in the Marine Corps, complete with a lifetime of achievements. He has raised a family, been to war, mentored numerous young men and women into successful members of society, earned multiple meritorious promotions, traveled the world and more.
“The most significant one to me is graduating boot camp. To me that was it, that is what started it all,” he said. “Getting married to my wife in my Blues (the renowned Marine Corps enlisted dress uniform) at the church, that was something else. There was also the birth of my daughter.”
After a lifetime of service, Clark can count one more achievement among them. Rather than retire, he has chosen to continue service to his country. He chose to make that commitment thousands of miles away from home, on a boat in foreign waters, on a day that resonates with all patriotic Americans – 9/11.