MARINE CORPS AIR STATION BEAUFORT, SC -- Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 31 bid farewell to three Marines with 69 combined years of experience during a retirement ceremony May 20.
Master Sgts. Mark W. Thaler and John M. Jones and Gunnery Sgt. Shawn F. Smith completed their Marine Corps careers after many years of duty, dedication and sacrifice.
“It means a lot to have so many people come out and show their love and support for these Marines,” said Maj. Larry L. Fowler, the MALS-31 operations officer. “They have made a significant impact on the lives and careers of countless Marines and Sailors in Marine Aircraft Group 31.”
Thaler, the senior Marine in the trio, enlisted in the Delayed Entry Program in September 1977 and, after graduating from Armour High School, reported to Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego in July 1978. The Pierre, S.D., native spent his first term in the Marine Corps in the infantry, serving a one-year tour in Okinawa, Japan, and three years on Marine Security Guard duty.
In July 1983, Sgt. Thaler applied for reenlistment and a new job with the air wing. Later that year, he reported to Millington, Tenn., for Fundamentals of Basic Aviation Maintenance, Basic Electronics and Electricity schools and, except for an extended tour of duty as a recruiter, has been in aircraft maintenance ever since.
“I would not be where I am today without the love and support of my wife,” Thaler said. “I simply couldn’t have done any of it without her.”
In 2001, Thaler was promoted to his current rank and reported to Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 251. After three consecutive overseas deployments with the Thunderbolts, Thaler was reassigned to MALS-31 for duty as the MAG/MALS-31 F/A-18 Modification coordinator.
“Reflecting on the things these Marines have been through and accomplished is good for Marines of all ages,” Fowler said. “The older veterans see paths similar to our own, while the junior Marines and Sailors can see the same things that they may have already experienced or will in the future.”
Jones, an Indianapolis native, reported to MCRD San Diego in July 1981. Despite two meritorious promotions during his first term, the aviation ordnance technician separated from the Marine Corps in 1985. The separation did not last, as Jones reenlisted in 1987 and resumed what would become a career as an aviation ordnanceman.
“My message for the Marines and Sailors is to always do what’s right, do your best and trust God,” Jones said. “You’re going to make mistakes, but admitting them, apologizing and carrying on is what is important. “
Smith’s 20-year journey began and ended in the same Lowcountry town. The Wellsboro, Pa., native reported to MCRD Parris Island in July 1985 and after completing basic avionics training returned to Beaufort as a communications/navigations systems technician for the Thunderbolts of VMFA-251.
Twelve years later, Smith came back to his Beaufort roots after receiving orders to Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 533 where he served as the staff non-commissioned officer in charge of the Com/Nav section. During his tour with the Hawks, Smith served as a quality assurance representative and completed two Western Pacific deployments and a combat deployment to Tazar, Hungary. In 2002, Smith made his final stop at MALS-31 as the MAG/MALS-31 basic aircraft maintenance monitor.
“This is a great day for me,” Smith said. “I am just glad to have my family, Marines and Sailors here to share it with me.”
It is not every day that six decades of experience walks out the door, but the three Marines will mostly be missed for their heart and leadership, according to Fowler.
“In talking to these Marines the days prior to their ceremony, I asked them what their most proudest accomplishments were and they all chose personal things, matters of the heart,” Fowler said. “I think that is a sign of a true leader. This is a bittersweet moment because we’re sad to see them go, but are congratulating them on a job well done. I am really proud of all of them.”