Long, winding road to the Corps

18 Aug 2000 | Cpl. Jeffrey R. Womack

In a first deck squadbay, a tall and trim drill instructor glares down two columns of recruits, waiting for one of them to move more than their eyelashes and lungs as he examines their position of attention.  The Marine gives his recruits the command, "READY..." and they respond in a loud aggressive tone, "BACKBONE!"

Sergeant Lanny B. Powell, drill instructor, Platoon 2080, Company F, 2nd Recruit Training Battalion, traveled a long road to earn the right to give that command, but he has never lost the feeling he had when he finally was able to become a Marine.

Powell was born and raised in Greenville, S.C., and grew up learning Naval traditions from his father, Michael D. Powell, a former petty officer 3rd class, serving four years in the Navy.

"He would always use words like 'head call' and 'deck' around the house even after he was out of the Navy," said Powell.  "He'd whistle to wake us up in the morning like they do on ship.  That's one of the reasons why I joined the Corps."

When Powell turned 18, he visited the local Marine recruiter, SSgt. Jeff Osborne, and told him his plans.

"When I spoke to the recruiter, mom kept trying to tell him that I had asthma as a kid because she wanted me to go to college," said Powell.  "Staff Sgt. Osborne said all he needed was a document from the doctor saying that I don't have asthma anymore.  I got it and he started the paperwork."

Osborne began the paperwork, then realized that Powell was still a student at Greenville High School.

"He wanted me to leave for recruit training very soon, but I wasn't going to graduate without a high school diploma," said Powell.  "He got frustrated, threw the pen on the desk and said, 'I can't do anything for you.'"

After Powell graduated high school, he worked odd jobs such as a waiter at Applebees and heat and air conditioner repairman. Additionally, he took computer classes at a technical school but still never lost the fever to be a Marine.

"This was about the time Operation Desert Storm was ending," said Powell.  "SSgt. Gary Mays, my second recruiter, was always on me trying to get me to come in and talk to him.  I had a girlfriend then and I didn't want to leave just yet.  After a while, I saw the recruiter again and just before I was getting ready to take the physical, I ran into some legal problems and got arrested.  I still kept thinking about joining."

About one year passed and the opportunity to join presented itself once again.

"I moved back in with my parents and a buddy of mine called me and said he was joining the Corps," said Powell.  "I started to realize, with my legal matters taken care of, that I had nothing holding me back now.  I saw SSgt. Mays again, took the IST (Initial Strength Test) and the physical that Tuesday.  Before I knew it, I was on a bus to Parris Island."

Two years after his original visit to a recruiter, Powell finally had the chance to become a Marine.

Powell's career lead him through Marine Combat Training at Camp Geiger, N.C. and Motor Transport School where he became a logistics vehicle operator.  He then went to Camp Johnson to join the 8th Engineer Support Battalion, 2d Force Service Support Group, New Providence, Bahamas.  His next duty station was Okinawa, Japan, with the 12th Marine Regiment.

During his tour, Powell earned meritorious promotions to lance corporal in 1994 and corporal the following year.  In 1996 he re-enlisted as a sergeant in less than four years.

Powell is now training his third platoon of recruits and teaches them the same determination he used to join the Marines.

"Every platoon that we pick up, I always tell them we run a tight ship here.  You get on or off.  You don't hang on the side," said Powell.