Why We Serve: Marine Captain Talks About Corps Pride

By Fred W. Baker III

American Forces Press Service  

March 14, 2008 – Marine Capt. John Sand knows what it takes to be a good college student: go to class, read the book, and take good notes. And, for him, first spend four years in the Marine Corps.  This realization came after Sand spent a few years as a not-so-good college student after high school, he said.  “I had a 0.8 grade point average for the semester when I left school. That’s very hard to do. I pretty much flunked everything and didn’t really care much about school,” Sand said.  

Sand grew up in the small Illinois town of Ottawa. Both of his parents were career educators; his father was a counselor and his mother a grade-school teacher. After high school graduation in 1988, Sand accepted an Army ROTC scholarship to attend college. But after a few years, both Sand and his parents accepted that he needed to do something different.  “I flushed a scholarship away, basically. I wasn’t paying for school. I was having a little too much fun. I needed to get some discipline and more control over where I wanted to go,” Sand said.  

His father, once in the Navy, suggested the Marines, and Sand agreed.  In 1991, Sand enlisted as a Morse code interceptor. He said he did, indeed, learn self-discipline, and that he enjoyed his tour, which took him twice to Somalia on deployments. But Sand had promised his parents that at the end of his enlistment he would return to college.  He made good on that promise and returned to study criminal justice.  

“It was a complete 180 from my experience the first time at college. Four years in the Marine Corps made coming back to college kind of … simple,” Sand said.  The former dropout then made the dean’s list and played tennis competitively. In the 60 credit hours he amassed to finish his degree, Sand received nearly perfect grades.  Still, he missed the Corps, Sand said. After graduation, he returned to the Marines as an officer.  

“When I enlisted in 1991, did I think I’d be doing this in 2008? No, I didn’t, but it led me down that road, and I really enjoy it,” Sand said.  Now Sand, as part of the Defense Department’s “Why We Serve” public-outreach program, is traveling the country, telling his story to community, business and veterans group audiences and at other gatherings. Fresh from a deployment to Iraq, Sand said he hopes to convey the efforts of servicemembers there.  

“It’s important what we’re doing in the global war on terrorism. I think it’s important that they hear it from the servicemember’s perspective,” Sand said. “In Iraq, there’s a lot more to it than guns and tanks. There’s a lot of humanitarian assistance. There’s a lot of nation building. We definitely do a lot of work for the Iraqi people, alongside the Iraqi people, to better their lives.”  Sand served as an artillery battery commander in Iraq, returning in October. His battery provided a regimental combat team with artillery fire in support of operations in and around Fallujah.

They also performed nonstandard missions such as providing security for explosives technicians who cleared the roads of bombs. His battery went on more than 500 combat patrols.  “I like to talk about my Marines a lot. I’m very proud of what my Marines did in Iraq, and I think that there’s a really good story there,” Sand said. “It’s hard work over there. A lot of times they are out for long patrols. They don’t get a lot of sleep. They don’t get a lot of time off. But they do their job, and they’re proud of what they do.”  During his tour, Sand said, he saw the tangible signs of progress.  “Things got better while we were there. When we initially showed up, we were shooting quite a bit. By the time we were leaving … we might go a week or more without ever pulling the lanyard on a howitzer,” Sand said. “If we’re not shooting as much, to me that’s a sign that things are better there.”  

As a father of three children, being around the Iraqi children sometimes made him homesick, but also served as reminder for why he was there, Sand said.  “Seeing the little kids playing soccer, it’s like ‘Wow, I miss spending the time with my kids,'” Sand said. “On the other hand, it makes you feel like we’re doing something good over there. The smiles, the little conversations — sometimes just with hand gestures — or kicking a ball around, that makes you feel good that day.”  Sand said he also hopes to convey that servicemembers are typical people, Sand said.  Military people are your average Joes,” he said. We do a lot of the same things. I’m a husband. I’m a father. I’m also a Marine.”  In fact, his family is a big part of why he continues to serve in the Marine Corps, Sand said.  “That’s very important to me. I want them to grow up in a country where they (continue to) have the freedoms that we enjoy,” Sand said. “And so I’m willing to serve to ensure that they grow up in a place where they don’t have to worry. I want to ensure that they have a good childhood experience and continue to reap the benefits of the country that we live in.”  

Sand continues his service also because of the sense of camaraderie he feels for his fellow servicemembers and the sacrifices of those who have fought before him.  “I think that’s a big deal. You keep doing it because the guy next to you is counting on you,” the captain said.  He is in awe for those who have given the ultimate sacrifice for their country, Sand said.  “It’s just amazing to think that I’m part of that organization that would have somebody of that character. That makes you want to stay,” he said.  

“I serve because I’m proud to wear the uniform. I’m proud to be a Marine, and I want to get that message out there — that it’s a very honorable service and that we’re proud to serve the American people,” Sand said. “That’s why I do what I do.”


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