When I think about interviewing the military, I always say “This will be such an amazing and educational experience for me.” I can definitely say that I am not wrong. The interview I did with Staff Sergeant Keith Carter on January 5th, 2016 was such a great opportunity, and I certainly walked out with a better perspective about the United States Marines. I hope, after reading this, you will walk away feeling the same.
Staff Sergeant Keith Carter
United States Marines
Stationed in Colorado as a recruiter and just recently promoted to Staff Sergeant, Keith Carter definitely bears the Marine title with pride. The story of his journey to becoming a Marine is an inspiring one and captures the true meaning of courage and determination.
Why did you decide to join the Marines?
I used to be a Boulder County Sherriff’s Deputy, and I worked with a lot of guys that I looked up to. They had these characteristics about them that I wish I had in myself. Each of them had a lot of confidence, very driven, incredible work ethic, and that no matter what they always put everyone before themselves. I wanted their confidence for myself so I asked them “How are you so confident and what do think made the biggest impact on your life?” They all answered with “the Marine Corps.” Since I wanted it for myself, I came and checked it out.
How long have you served in the US Marines so far?
I joined in January of 2008 so 8 years.
What places have you been stationed so far?
I bounced around a lot for my first year – year and a half. For boot camp, I went to MCRD San Diego, Pendleton, and MCT (Marine Combat Training) out in California. After that, I got stationed in Pensacola, FL for my Aviation School I was there for about 9 months. Then to a follow on school in Coronado, CA. After that, I ended up being stationed in Yuma, AZ for some time. Then I asked for orders to come out to Colorado because this is home.
How do you feel while you are serving in the military?
I love it because it’s challenging. I think a lot of times civilians become stagnant and just keep going through the motions. You don’t really have a purpose. You’re just working and living. With the Marine Corps, there are so many changes whether you want them or not, and you have so many different opportunities. There’s never a sense of boredom. There’s always a sense of go, go, go! Never a dull moment.
What has your experience serving been?
Just like any other job there’s good days and bad days. I think the difference between having bad days in the civilian world and bad days in the military is we kind of have a saying called “enjoy the suck.” When you have real bad days, everyone comes together, and they end up turning into the best days of your life. Because even though everyone was absolutely miserable, you were all miserable together. You’re cracking jokes about how miserable you are, and you can’t help but get lifted up by that. Even when you go home you’re surrounded by guys that had that same bad day. You vent to each other. You laugh about it, and you move on. The next day ends up being outstanding because of your attitude. So in the long run, it’s like any other job, but it’s the people you’re surrounded by that take even the worst of days and turn it into the best of days.
What was training like for you?
Training was hard. I was one of those people who tried to survive. I never really worked out a whole ton compared to what the Marines do in their daily lives, so getting into shape was a huge deal. And then when I got to boot camp, it was like a huge slap in the face as far as I wasn’t even prepared for what I was about to go through. The emotional stress (being away from home, fear of the unknown), the mental turmoil (dealing with the drill instructors and stress they put you in), and the physical stress was really tough for me.
I ask “Are you happy you got through it?” Absolutely! Before, I didn’t really reach my full potential until I got to recruit training. I didn’t know how physically or mentally tough I could be. I didn’t really know how to handle stress like that. I get there, and it pushed me pass my limits.
So you enlisted, but did you do college beforehand or during?
Before I got in the Marine Corps, I did about a year at Red Rocks. Then after I got in, I took night classes at Arizona Western University when I was stationed in Yuma. After that, I did another 3 – 3 ½ years of college. Finally, when I got to Colorado, I enrolled at Metropolitan State University and took about two classes. I have my Bachelor’s degree, and I am working on my Masters in Criminology.
What is your job in the Marines?
I’m an Aviation Mechanic.
Have you built good friendships?
Absolutely! One of the big reasons I came in was because of the brotherhood. In the police force, they have something called the “blue brotherhood” which is basically anyone that wears a uniform and has a badge, they stick together. Then when I joined the Marines, the brotherhood is at a whole nother scale. I have a twin brother that lives here as well, I joke around that if I called him and said my car broke down he would say, “Call a tow-truck.” But if I called one of my buddies I work with, they would say “I’m on my way.” When you live and work with someone 24/7 and you’ve suffered together, you have been victorious together, you end up building this bond that will literally last a lifetime.
What does your family think of you being in the military?
At first, when I was 22, my mom said that recruiters were “harassing” her. That was when I told her I was thinking about joining the Marine Corps. She started crying and locked herself in her room and didn’t talk to me for two days. I knocked on her door and said “We need to have the adult conversation. So just come down and talk to me about it, because I’m really thinking I’m going to do this.” Her first concern was she didn’t want me to go off to war and die. I said “Cool. Me neither, so we got that in common.” She gave me this whole spiel that she made a promise to God we wouldn’t do anything that would put our lives in a greater chance of something horrible happening. I think the scary part for her was the unknown. Since I got in and left to boot camp, she just gritted her teeth and bared it as well as researched everything she could about the Marines.
My whole family is really supportive and proud of me being a Marine now. In fact, just recently I got promoted to Staff Sergeant and my whole family including my grandparents came out to the ceremony at Sports Authority Field.
Were there any moments you were afraid?
Absolutely! When I went up to MEPS, swore in, and the Marine Corps became real, I was scared to death. When my recruiter was driving me to my hotel to go to boot camp, I remember thinking like, “I want to jump out of this car right now”, but construction was happening on 36 and I knew that one of the cones on the side of the road would shut the door and throw me back in, so that was useless. Whether I’m scared to death or not, something that always helps me is that when I commit to something, I have to do it, there’s no turning back at that point. So there’s plenty of times I’ve been afraid but I knew that fear is what holds you back from great things so I kept with it.
Have you served in the war?
Yes, I served in Afghanistan for about 8 months. Just did my job working as an Aviation Mechanic, and I got to go outside the wire a little bit to do a couple of patrols.
Do you feel like your career in the US Military is a successful and fulfilling one?
Yes I do
Are there any stories you’d like to share?
I remember one time at boot camp we had just finished the crucible and became Marines. We still had about a week to adjust back to normal Marine Corps life before they released us. We woke up early and stacked all our mattresses in front of the Duty Hut (drill instructor’s quarters) and waited for him to turn the lights on. We heard the drill instructor slam into the door a couple of times. Finally he broke the door off the hinges and mattresses went everywhere. He came out fuming mad but he yelled at us to get outside just before he cracked up (drill instructors are known to hold their bearing and never show emotion.) We could hear him laughing while we were running outside.
At the end of the interview I asked the two final questions that allows each military member to share their voice and opinion on the issue Connecting & Protecting is addressing.
Do you feel that there is a disconnection between the military and the general public?
Yes I do. I met a Gunny once that told us a story. Military is kind of like the sheepdog. The sheep don’t like the sheepdog. The sheepdog are nipping at their heels, and they’re just there. The only time when the sheep love the sheepdog is when the wolf comes, they hide behind the sheepdog and he protects them. There’s a huge disconnect because a lot of civilians don’t know what it’s like outside of this “bubble” of protection. They live in this “bubble” and pretend evil doesn’t exist. If we’re doing our job well then they will never have to encounter the evil.
Another problem is we work ourselves out of a job. We’ve kept them safe in a “bubble” for so long, so that they start to think, “Well, why do we even need you guys?” So, they get rid of a bunch of us. Then we can’t handle it. The wolves come and attack the sheep. They ask, “Well, where were the sheepdogs?” It’s an endless cycle.
Unfortunately, it takes a serious eye-opener where some sheep get lost, and they call us back in to fix it. Then when we try to talk about it to tell the general public what’s out there, they say we’re crazy and that there isn’t anything bad out there. Yea, there’s a huge disconnect. We think completely differently from how civilians do.
Any ideas on how this issue could be fixed?
If we talk about it, the issue will fix itself. It will just take time. I have a theory that with all these guys getting out of the military, with budget cuts and force draw-downs it will make the unseen, seen by the general public more because the military veterans coming back will talk about it more. It’s an “Out of sight, out of mind” type of thing because a lot of us before weren’t in the US. Now you’re going to start seeing a lot more guys with those hats, stickers, and license plates. It’s not going to be foreign anymore. It will be harder to put the military “out of sight, out of mind”. That’s the plus side of downsizing so much. As a recruiter that’s what most of our job is now, informing the public, not just signing someone up for the military.