Marines don’t compromise their values. Marine Corps officers lead with integrity and build trust by taking care of their people.
A quarter of each commissioning class from the Naval Academy enters the Marine Corps as second lieutenants. The values and ideals of Honor, Courage and Commitment are engrained in midshipmen during their time at the Academy through Marine Yard leadership, company officers and mentors.
The Marine Corps’ rich history is packed with Naval Academy alumni. In preparation for the Corps’ 228th birthday on 10 November, Shipmate asked alumni to share their perspectives and offer advice to the next generation of Marines. Here are the responses from:

General Carlton W. Fulford Jr. ’66, USMC (Ret.)
Major General Charles F. Bolden ’68, USMC (Ret.)
Major General Leo V. Williams III ’70, USMCR (Ret.)
Lieutenant General John E. Wissler ‘78, USMC (Ret.)
Steve L. McGaugh ’84, USMC
Major General Austin E. Renforth ’88, USMC
Major General Scott F. Benedict ’90, USMC
Colonel Anthony Ché Bolden ’93, USMC (Ret.)
Colonel Maria "MJ" Pallotta ’94, USMCR
Colonel Nicole A. Mann ’99, USMC
Major Katie A. Cook ’08, USMCR
Captain Katrina A. Herrera ’15, USMC
Captain Christopher J. Goodale ’17, USMC


Fulford: The summer programs offered by the Academy provided a good exposure of the various career options available at graduation. Littoral Combat Ship Training Center Atlantic in Norfolk was a two-week introduction into the Marine Corps and amphibious warfare.
After that summer, I had pretty much made up my mind that I wanted to fly in the Marine Corps. For the remaining two years, I spent my time making sure I was qualified to do both. I credit the Academy for providing exposure to the options available.
I think the major reason I chose the Marine Corps was the influence of the Marine Officers I met who were serving in various capacities at the Academy. We had a Marine company officer, a Marine battalion officer and my faculty adviser was a Marine. They all impressed me as professional and good role models. Their influence was very important in my decision.

Charles Bolden: As one who entered the Naval Academy straight out of high school with very little knowledge of the naval service, there were two things I knew I would not do: accept a commission in the U.S. Marine Corps and fly airplanes. Fortuitously, my plebe year company officer was the incredibly impressive Marine Corps Major, John Riley Love ’51, who reminded me of my dad. He was tough but imminently fair and he exuded strong leadership and character.
When I reached my first class year and arrived at service selection, I looked back on my four years at the Academy and the one thing that stood out above all else was the example of Major Love. I decided that I wanted to be like him and, in spite of my belief that I’d never be a Marine, went down to Smoke Hall on Service Selection Night and walked straight over to the Marine Corps desk and made my commitment to the Corps.

Wissler: I chose to commission in the Marine Corps because of the example of the Marines that were stationed at the Naval Academy. They exemplified everything that I thought Naval Officers should be. Their professionalism, accountability to maintaining standards and most of all their commitment to those they led made me want to be on their team. As a rugby player, I felt the Marine Corps culture was very much the same as the culture of Navy rugby. Marine Corps culture was committed to trust, resilience, selfless sacrifice, accountability to your teammates and never accepting less than complete commitment to pursuing excellence. I decided that I wanted to be a part of that culture.

Benedict: It was never a choice for me at Annapolis. I had considered joining the Marine Corps out of high school, alternating between that and a college in my home state of California. A chance encounter with a federal service academy questionnaire at a western regional soccer tournament, along with my father’s encouragement and that of a friend he knew to be an alumnus, led me to understand you could become a Marine out of Annapolis.
I was ultimately recruited by the Navy soccer team— which helped me meet the entrance requirements! I was fortunate the year I graduated it was a requirement to attend Marine Officer Candidate School to be commissioned as a Marine and as a result many ‘hard chargers’ didn’t go Marines that year (only 90 versus normal ~160 in a graduating class at that time). That low USMC commissioning number allowed ‘Marine aviator’ to dip low enough in the class standings for me to grab it off the board in the Rotunda.

Ché Bolden: It was a combination of legacy and aspiration. Growing up, I was fortunate to be surrounded by exceptional examples of humans and leaders. Being the son of a Marine afforded me the opportunity to see, firsthand, the value of values and standards. As I looked around, all the positive examples I found had one thing in common—they were United States Marines (… and sailors). My father and his contemporaries exemplified all the things I saw as prerequisites for positive contributors to society.

Mann: There were a lot of people who influenced me early on in Annapolis—company officers and other midshipmen who were becoming Marines. I had the opportunity to do Leatherneck and training during the summer with the Marine Corps. That’s when I really knew that’s where I belonged. It was a different sense of honor and tradition that pulled me to the Marine Corps. The summer before firstie year, I went to a squadron in Miramar and got to ride in an F/A-18. It was all those experiences, meeting different Marines and understanding the mission our role in the military that I knew I wanted to be a Marine.

Cook: My father is Class of 1981 and was in the Navy for 26 years. While I am so proud of his service, I did not want to just be “Bill’s kid” for my entire career. I was searching for a community that allowed me to have my own identity.
During summer training, I was exposed to enlisted Marines for the first time. They were some of the most professional, dedicated and intelligent people I had ever met. I wanted to lead people of that caliber because I knew they would expect more of me, and I would have to rise to that challenge. I was also blessed to have Captain Shane Groah as my company officer when I was a midshipman. His example solidified my decision that the USMC was the path for me.

Pallotta: I chose to become a Marine because it was the most challenging thing I saw that I could actually do if I worked really hard at it. I love the emphasis on leading people, maintaining high physical fitness standards, being outdoors, deploying to where the action is—and getting to wear the best damned uniforms on the planet! The officers I admired most on the Yard were Marines, and I wanted to be like them.

Herrera: I chose to commission into the Marine Corps after being introduced through reading a Tom Clancy novel in early high school and watching some close friends enlist. I entered the Naval Academy knowing that I wanted to commission into the Marine Corps. The mentorship of the Marine staff on the Yard stood out to me as a midshipman and it was incredible running into some of my favorite senior enlisted leaders in the fleet. While I was finishing high school, I remember watching the Marines push into Maarjah, Afghanistan, on the news and knew that I wanted to “get in the fight” and contribute in any way I could. I ended up flying the MV-22 and the highest honor of my life was being able to fly our most precious cargo and lethal weapon: my fellow Marines.

Goodale: PROTRAMID during my second class summer planted within me an initial interest in the Marine Corps. I had never really considered it seriously before that, as I was hindered by preconceived notions about what Marines were like. I was struck by my exposure to the young, confident junior Marines who were in charge of us midshipmen during Marine week.
I was attracted to the idea that these would be the men and women that I would work with—that I would lead—as a Marine officer. It certainly didn’t hurt that one of the sergeants pulled me aside to ask me if I was looking into the Marine Corps because, according to her, I seemed to maybe “have what it takes.” Seed planted.
Upon my return to Annapolis at the end of the summer, I began developing my personal network of mentors from the Marine officers on staff (including Major Audrey Callanan ’08, USMC) who further encouraged me to consider a Marine Corps commission. My decision to commission as a Marine was a direct result of their mentorship, advice, encouragement and, at times, starkly honest feedback, all of which I continue to receive and value to this day. They saw potential in me that I, at the time, did not know existed. I ultimately decided to put Marine ground as my top service preference. That choice has made all the difference for me.


Fulford: After graduation, I went to Airborne School with several of my classmates and then to The Basic School at Quantico. I still intended to go to flight school after Quantico but changed my mind while there and chose the infantry MOS. One reason was the example provided by the instructors at The Basic School, and the other was a perceived urgency to get to Vietnam and take part in the conflict before it was over.
After The Basic School, I had a short stint at language school in Monterey, then on to Vietnam. Combat provided many life-changing lessons, but the overwhelming reward was serving with the great young men who were magnificent in their courage and loyalty. After returning home, I looked around at a few other civilian options—but finally came to the realization that I liked what I was doing in the Corps, I really liked the people I worked with and I committed myself to a career as long as the Corps wanted me.
I never regretted that decision. The Marine Corps provided great role models as well as dedicated young men to work with as I progressed through commands at various levels. In short, the people I served with, and the ethos of the Corps kept me in the Corps.

Williams: Continually having the opportunity to be led by and to lead THE BEST kept me in the Corps. The missions were challenging and important, the training was demanding and it continued to be FUN!
Doing just enough was never good enough. And the camaraderie—the Esprit de Corps—was palpable! “Once A Marine, Always A Marine” is real!
The expectations of fellow Marines kept me in the Corps. Marines expect:
1. To be pushed to the limit of their endurance
2. To have exceptional leaders and brothers/ sisters in arms
3. To prove to themselves and others that they have high worth
4. To make a difference with the achievement of their missions
5. To be respected because they are U.S. Marines

Charles Bolden: Although my original plan was to stay in the Marine Corps for my five-year commitment out of the Academy and then get out and go back to grad school to get a master’s degree in electrical engineering, I made a major decision at the end of The Basic School to defy the second certainty out of high school to not fly airplanes and opted for Marine Corps Aviation and headed off with my young bride, Jackie.
I fell in love with flying as soon as I lifted off on my first flight in aviation basic and never looked back. The primary reason for staying was the joy and pride of working with some of the most dedicated and loyal people I met who were fellow Marines. Having the opportunity to lead Marines in my latter years and to watch them overcome any obstacle to accomplish the mission was incredibly inspiring and rewarding and made me want to stay around them for as long as possible.

Renforth: I stayed in the Marine Corps when it stopped being about me and I realized that I could make a difference in other people’s lives. The higher I got in rank the more people I could help. Helping Marines was my favorite part of serving.

Cook: In October 2019, I made the tough decision to transition to the USMC Reserve. I had two children 15 months apart while in company command and felt the best way to support both my family and the Corps was in the Reserve. I could have just walked away completely, but the people and my love for the institution kept me wearing the uniform. Throughout my life, I had always been searching for “my people”—those that had my back through thick and thin. I found that in the Marines.

Ché Bolden: Simply put—the Marines. While all young women and men who raise their right hand and swear to support and defend the Constitution are exceptional, Marines hold a singular position atop that esteemed group. There is no more stubborn and irreverent bunch of highly intelligent, creative and adventurous collection of overachievers anywhere else in the world. In was an honor of a lifetime to be given the opportunity to work alongside, and lead, them.

Mann: There are certainly crossroads in every career. As you grow, maybe you get married, maybe you have children, your life changes quite a bit. The Marine Corps was always the greatest route for me. There were lots of opportunities. I didn’t feel like I was streamlined into one career path. The Marine Corps supported me throughout all of that. When I was ready to have my son, the Marine Corps supported me. The Marine Corps is not just a job, you’re a Marine—that’s your life. It’s important that your life encompasses your personal life as well as your work life. I felt the Marine Corps gave me a great balance.

Pallotta: The Corps has meant more to me than I could ever have imagined. I have never had so much fun, been so fulfilled, made such incredible lifetime friends and been challenged as much as I have as a Marine (and first as a midshipman). I was also lucky in that I worked for the best leaders of my career early on—this made me love the Corps right from my first tour in Okinawa and kept me going through the tougher years. In short, I thought I would get the Corps “out of my system” in a few years, but those years just kept going on and never stopped for an entire career. The time has flown by, and I’m sorry to see it end.

Herrera: I commissioned in 2015 and after completing flight school I had a six-year contract which I am currently serving out. The Marines in my former fleet squadron and my Academy classmates were there for me during some of the most difficult times in my life following a devastating crash in my squadron.
The hundreds of Marines we didn’t know that lined up at 2 a.m. in the freezing Arctic circle to support us is something I will never forget. Seeing the absolute dedication and professionalism of my junior Marines in the fleet working 14-hour days on the sweltering flightline and now Marines I get to meet throughout Africa in the Marine Security Guard program and their dedication to protect U.S. interests overseas is incredibly motivating to me.
The fact that any one of them are eager and willing to step up should they be called makes me so proud to call myself a Marine. Watching my friends from afar while they assisted in the evacuation at HKIA and then watching my Marines perform honorably as they stayed up for days as the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum, Sudan was evacuated inspires me every day and makes me honored to be able to call myself a Marine.
Finally, knowing and learning about the legacy of Marines before me who gave the ultimate sacrifice like Captain Jennifer Harris ’00, USMC, and Captain Ford Shaw ’06, USMC, inspires me because of how much they cared about their Marines and how they pursued excellence in their respective careers. After completing this tour, I hope to continue my service with a commission in the Reserve.


Fulford: Certainly, the time-honored values of honor, courage and commitment are vital for leaders at every level of command. Beyond those, I would place integrity as key, along with genuine humility. If you are a platoon commander of 30 Marines, or a commander of thousands, you must build trust from those you lead. You do this by exhibiting absolute integrity, a willingness to share any hardship and recognition that any success you have is the result of the hard work and sacrifice of those young men and women who carry the load.
Once Marines believe that you have their well-being and safety as your guiding light, they will follow you anywhere, in combat or peacetime—and perform magnificently.

Charles Bolden: Without question, one of, if not the most important value of a successful leader is integrity and a sense of never asking your Marines to do something you wouldn’t do yourself. A value taught to me by my parents and reemphasized at the Naval Academy, in The Basic School, and at every step along my Marine Corps career is compassion teamed with empathy for everyone with whom you associate.

Renforth: I think the biggest leadership quality that makes you successful is humility. Arrogance is the body armor of a shallow person but humility is the foundation of excellence. I always say it is amazing what you can accomplish if you sincerely don’t care who gets the credit.

Cook: Before I reported to my first squadron, my father gave me a great piece of advice: “You don’t put Naval aviator on your taxes, you put Marine officer … Your people should always be your first priority.”
I have lived my entire career by this mantra. It could be very easy for a junior officer to get focused on their individual qualification, their achievements, their career goals. This selfish mindset will be glaringly clear to those you lead and their performance (and your unit’s performance) will reflect.
If you show up at a unit and prioritize your people, work the long hours aside them, take the face shots from higher headquarters when required, advocate for their opportunities to grow and excel, there is nothing, including giving their life, these enlisted men and women won’t do. As an officer, you are entrusted with our country’s most precious resource—its sons and daughters. You need to show up every day with humility and appreciation for this responsibility.

Benedict: There has been so much written on this subject it’s a bit daunting to capture in a few sentences. The Marines’ embrace of the core values of honor, courage, commitment comes to mind. Those values embody many different nuances and layers throughout a career but have stood the test of time.
Without honor and integrity, it is impossible to lead at any level while maintaining the respect of seniors, peers or subordinates. Doing the right thing for the right reasons is bedrock for leaders. Courage tends to wax and wane between physical and moral throughout a career but is integral to leading by example. We cannot be seen to avoid the physical risks of our charges nor be unwilling to stand up for them or the unit/institution in public or private despite the risks that might also entail.
Finally, commitment. Military service is a tough life with many sacrifices for your family and yourself, regardless of your rank. If you lack commitment to the mission, the Marines and the defense of our country, it will show through. I also believe the more senior I have gotten the aspect of personal and institutional will, another element of commitment, has become more important to move large organizations forward against the tide of inertia.

Ché Bolden: My faith in those who are doing the real work. As my father taught me early in my career, “Take care of the Marines and they’ll take care of you.” Leading by example was just one component of my approach to leadership.
The preponderance of my abilities as a leader, and any characterization of me as a good leader, all stem from my unwavering faith in the simple fact that, as long as I focused on clearing the path for them to excel and providing them the tools with which to do their jobs, they’d succeed. I was never proven wrong in that context.

Pallotta: Successful leaders set the example every single day. They are relentless and committed to the mission and their people. The best Marines earn their uniform and their Eagle, Globe and Anchor each day and constantly strive to be better. They are men and women of action, and they tell the truth. They are servant leaders who sacrifice for each other, the mission and their country.


Williams: Search for a mentor who is a model for what you want to be!

Charles Bolden: While I try to shy away from giving advice, I do share principles to live by taught to me by my parents growing up in segregated Columbia, SC: Take care of your people (and they’ll take care of you); never be afraid to say “I don’t know!” (You’ll seldom be the smartest person in the room); listen to the gunny (or listen to the chief)—they bring wisdom beyond your years that will serve you well and make you a stronger leader; and never be afraid of failure— don’t let anyone else tell you what you can and cannot do—be a smart risk taker!

Wissler: A midshipman contemplating service as a Marine should dedicate themselves to simply being a Marine and all that entails. They must dedicate themselves to the Marine Corps culture and they must not focus on anything else. They can’t decide they want to be an infantry officer, an intelligence officer, an aviator, a Marine Corps special operations officer or any other “job” in the Marine Corps. They must understand that they are Marines that perform a variety of individual functions in the Marine Corps. They are Marines first and foremost, everything else is merely how they contribute to the success of their fellow Marines on the battlefield.
They must also commit themselves to excellence, trust and accountability; to being a selfless servant warrior leader. Holding themselves and others accountable to these ideals is what makes Marines. Commitment to doing what is right, not what is easy is the hallmark of the culture they will be joining.
They must practice those habits daily while midshipmen, so it is a part of their DNA when commissioned. That is not to say that other service assignment opportunities and the entire Brigade shouldn’t demand the same commitment, but to be selected for assignment as Marine, they must exemplify that commitment throughout their entire time as midshipmen. Being selected as a Marine is exceptionally competitive, and the commitment to trust, excellence and accountability as a selfless servant leader across the entirety of their midshipmen experience will separate them from those that will not receive their opportunity to be Marines.

McGaugh: Make sure you understand what options the Marine Corps can truly offer you versus the Navy. Many programs are either not offered or are more competitive to gain entrance once you transition from the Navy to the Marine Corps. If your passion is to be a U.S. Marine then by all means do it! Semper Fi!

Benedict: Work hard and be sincere about joining our team. The quality of USNA graduates has never been better, but it takes a special individual to thrive in the Marines. Without a hard work ethic and a sincere passion for your country and our Corps, it would be hard to live this lifestyle and earnestly lead Marines.

Ché Bolden: Dedicate yourself to being a lifelong learner … you will never know all that you think you should. However, as long as you remain open to new—and different—opportunities, and empower your Marines, sailors, soldiers, airmen, guardians and/or coast guardsmen to do their job, your potential can be realized and your growth as both a leader and a human, is limitless.

Pallotta: I always tell midshipmen that the Corps is not for everyone. If you think it is for you, then do Leatherneck before first-class year and you will know if the fit is right and we are your tribe. It is important that you make this decision for yourself—not what you think others want you to do (parents, friends, significant others, the Marines on the Yard, etc.). Being a Marine is not easy or comfortable, and you have to really want it—for the right reasons. If you want to join our tribe, then go for it.

Goodale: The Marine Corps is by no means the path of least resistance. Marine officers are constantly tested in all sorts of ways—physically, mentally, emotionally.
You have to really love the idea of working hard and being uncomfortable. If this sounds like you, then look into it in earnest. Meet with Marines on the Yard and ask them about their experiences, and sign up for Leatherneck or other USMC summer trainings.
My particular advice to midshipmen who are LGBTQ+ like me, if you want to commission into the Marine Corps, then go for it. There is a place for you in the Corps. Marines are a group of good-hearted people who really care about three things: Are you competent at your profession? Are you a trustworthy teammate that they can rely on? And do you have the best interest of the Marines you lead in mind? If the answer to these questions is “yes,” then you have what you need to be a respected leader in the Corps.