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Life Lessons From A Marine Who Refused To Be Forced Out Of The Military
Chris Taylor stared at the limp body of a newborn baby. It was 2006, and he was in East Africa visiting a Darfur refugee camp. A young woman, too malnourished to breastfeed, was watching her own child die in her arms. “We immediately took her to our tent where we had Enfamil,” Taylor told me in an email, “We spent an hour teaching her how to feed her baby with the bottles.” Amazingly, the baby recovered almost immediately.
Taylor did what he could in a tough situation. “She refused to fly back to Nairobi with us so we gave her a 45-day supply and promised more before that ran out. Watching that child regain life in front of us was life-changing for me.”
That was just one intense day out of many for the former enlisted Marine. Taylor, 50, now lives in Northern Virginia and works for DynCorp International as the senior vice president for strategy and advanced programs. Taylor spoke with Task & Purpose how his time in the Marine Corps prepared him for a life committed to national security.
Chris Taylor pictured at a Darfur refugee camp in 2006.
Taylor’s 14-year career in the Marines ended in 1999, but he continued to serve in a variety of environments. With each career shift he traded up, building a strong professional track record.
Taylor has been the CEO of a multimillion-dollar defense contracting company and also founded his own tech startup. He was selected as one of America’s most influential veterans in 2014 when he convinced ABC’s “Shark Tank” and the White House to collaborate on an all-veteran episode. Taylor’s tenacity in and out of uniform has been the critical ingredient to a life lived on his own terms.
Taylor immediately pushed hard after enlisting, trying out for Marine Reconnaissance. “One of my best days in the military was passing the Indoctrination Test for 2nd Force Reconnaissance Company,” he told Task & Purpose. Determined or just stubborn, he refused to give up during the grueling experience. “Of 17 Marines, only two of us passed. I trained for six months to make it to that day.”
After seven years of service, things quickly took a nosedive when Taylor was denied reenlistment. “This was during the Reduction in Force in 1992–93,” Taylor said. “They were cutting guys left and right. I couldn’t get any traction with the bureaucracy.”
Not being a Marine wasn’t an option. Taylor — who was twice selected for meritorious promotion, was the distinguished honor graduate at NCO Leadership School, and rated the number one sergeant in his unit — wanted to remain a Marine. “I wrote a long letter to the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, Harold Overstreet, and FedEx’ed it to his office saying I would be there the next morning to discuss. At 0400 the next morning, dressed in my Alphas, I drove from Camp Lejeune to Washington Navy Yard.”
Overstreet and Taylor had a long discussion about the Marine Corps, what it meant to be a Marine, and how Taylor could continue to serve. Overstreet told him to go back to Camp Lejeune. His authorization to re-enlist was already at his unit by the time he returned home that night.
Taylor loved the Corps but didn’t stop at training himself or his Marines. He worked hard at his education, using every possible benefit to pursue college, first as part of a force recon team deployed on the USS Kearsarge, and then at St. Leo University on Little Creek Naval Base when he became an instructor at the Amphibious Reconnaissance School. Taylor was relentless. “I once came off six days of patrols with students at 7 am, went to my car still cammied up, and sat for an 8 am final. My classmates weren’t too happy about that. I was really, really ripe. I’ve taken finals on a C-130. You have to commit to getting your education.”
After getting out of the Corps, Taylor continued that education. He immediately went to the College of William and Mary for his MBA. After several years of work, he then attended Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, earning a master’s of public administration.
Taylor’s resolve was on full display during his educational journey. In fact, it helped fund him through graduate school. “I used every education benefit I could, everywhere I could,” he wrote in an email. “While still on active duty, I maxed out my tuition assistance and PELL Grants. As a graduate student I wasn't eligible for the GI Bill, but there were other options. I checked out each of them, and where appropriate, used them. I also tended bar at night just to keep a little cash in my pocket.”
Money and time are the key resources in each veteran’s education. “Use every dollar to sort out what you want to do with your life. If you already have a life mission, use every dollar to prepare yourself for it. Whatever you choose, learn new tools to think differently and apply everything you learned in uniform.”
While education was important, continuing to work in national security was critical for Taylor. “It straddles service and business, making it a very rewarding experience. Starting at a defense contractor can help veterans prepare for new opportunities elsewhere.”
For Taylor, the military was a great foundation. “It was a defining part of my life, but it doesn’t completely define who I am. Veterans need to leave space for new endeavors and find their own paths after service that leverage everything they’ve learned. The goal is to drive value for yourself and whatever organization you join after your service.”
There is nothing quite like serving in the military. You get the see amazing parts of humanity. Taylor’s visit to the Darfur refugee camp ended with a fitting story.
“As we taxied down the runway in our AN-28 we hit a soft spot in the dirt, and our nose wheel was buried. Once the refugees saw what happened, about 200 of them came to our rescue. They dug us out and pushed the plane to the end of the runway so we could take off, singing songs the whole time.”
The inside story of how The Village People shot the Navy's most controversial recruiting video onboard an active warship
The video opens innocently enough. A bell sounds as we gaze onto a U.S. Navy frigate, safely docked at port at Naval Base San Diego. A cadre of sailors, dressed in "crackerjack" style enlisted dress uniforms and hauling duffel bags over their shoulders, stride up a gangplank aboard the vessel. The officer on deck greets them with a blast of a boatswain's call. It could be the opening scene of a recruitment video for the greatest naval force on the planet.
Then the rhythmic clapping begins.
This is no recruitment video. It's 'In The Navy,' the legendary 1979 hit from disco queens The Village People, shot aboard the very real Knox-class USS Reasoner (FF-1063) frigate. And one of those five Navy sailors who strode up that gangplank during filming was Ronald Beck, at the time a legal yeoman and witness to one of the strangest collisions between the U.S. military and pop culture of the 20th century.
"They picked the ship and they picked us, I don't know why," Beck, who left the Navy in 1982, told Task & Purpose in a phone interview from his Texas home in October. "I was just lucky to be one of 'em picked."
Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Tuesday casually brushed aside the disturbing news that, holy shit, MORE THAN 100 ISIS FIGHTERS HAVE ESCAPED FROM JAIL.
In an interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour, Esper essentially turned this fact into a positive, no doubt impressing public relations and political talking heads everywhere with some truly masterful spin.
"Of the 11,000 or so detainees that were imprisoned in northeast Syria, we've only had reports that a little more than a hundred have escaped," Esper said, adding that the Syrian Democratic Forces were continuing to guard prisons, and the Pentagon had not "seen this big prison break that we all expected."
Well, I feel better. How about you?
On Wednesday, the top U.S. envoy in charge of the global coalition to defeat ISIS said much the same, while adding another cherry on top: The United States has no idea where those 100+ fighters went.
A senior administration official told reporters on Wednesday the White House's understanding is that the SDF continues to keep the "vast majority" of ISIS fighters under "lock and key."
"It's obviously a fluid situation on the ground that we're monitoring closely," the official said, adding that released fighters will be "hunted down and recaptured." The official said it was Turkey's responsibility to do so.
President Trump expressed optimism on Wednesday about what was happening on the ground in northeast Syria, when he announced that a ceasefire between Turkey and the Kurds was expected to be made permanent.
"Turkey, Syria, and all forms of the Kurds have been fighting for centuries," Trump said. "We have done them a great service and we've done a great job for all of them — and now we're getting out."
The president boasted that the U.S.-brokered ceasefire had saved the lives of tens of thousands of Kurds "without spilling one drop of American blood."
Kade Kurita, the 20-year-old West Point cadet who had been missing since Friday evening, was found dead on Tuesday night, the U.S. Military Academy announced early Wednesday morning.
"We are grieving this loss and our thoughts and prayers go out to Cadet Kurita's family and friends," Lt. Gen. Darryl Williams, superintendent of West Point, said in the release.
The U.S. Army's Next Generation Squad Weapon effort looked a lot more possible this week as the three competing weapons firms displayed their prototype 6.8mm rifles and automatic rifles at the 2019 Association of the United States Army's annual meeting.
Just two months ago, the Army selected General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems inc., Textron Systems and Sig Sauer Inc. for the final phase of the NGSW effort — one of the service's top modernization priorities to replace the 5.56mm M4A1 carbine and the M249 squad automatic weapon in infantry and other close-combat units.
Army officials, as well as the companies in competition, have been guarded about specific details, but the end result will equip combat squads with weapons that fire a specially designed 6.8mm projectile, capable of penetrating enemy body armor at ranges well beyond the current M855A1 5.56mm round.
There have previously been glimpses of weapons from two firms, but this year's AUSA was the first time all three competitors displayed their prototype weapons, which are distinctly different from one another.
The Air Force is investigating whether an airman smoked weed at a missile alert facility for nuclear Minuteman ICBMs
The Air Force is investigating reports that an airman consumed marijuana while assigned to one of the highly-sensitive missile alert facility (MAF) responsible for overseeing Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota.