Just as with anything, personal preference comes into play. For me, I am a Marine, despite not being on active or reserve duty. Marines are unique in this sense compared to the other services. From the time we enter boot camp or OCS (officer candidate school), it is drilled into our heads that ‘Once a Marine, Always a Marine.’
Many people will refer to a Marine who is no longer on active or reserve duty as an ‘ex-Marine.’ I find the term to be mildly insulting, as, to me, the term implies a dishonorable discharge – or, being kicked out. Another term, which I sometimes use to refer to myself or to correct another is ‘former Marine.’ However, that is also incorrect. Once a recruit completes basic training and earns their EGA (Eagle, Globe & Anchor) they have officially become a Marine by earning the title. It wasn’t just given to them, it was worked for and earned. It’s something that cannot be taken away.
To properly refer to a U.S. Marine whether on active duty, reserve duty or living as a civilian, you call them Marine. The Commandant of the Marine Corps reaffirmed this in December 2011.
A Marine is a Marine. I set that policy two weeks ago – there’s no such thing as a former Marine. You’re a Marine, just in a different uniform and you’re in a different phase of your life. But you’ll always be a Marine because you went to Parris Island, San Diego or the hills of Quantico. There’s no such thing as a former Marine.
The Commandant of the Marine Corps, General James F. Amos
I compromise a little and accept the term former-Marine, but I will always correct someone, politely, when they refer to me as an ex-Marine. I did it just the other day to someone at a meeting. But if I want to be stoic about it, I am just a Marine; not ex, and not former.
The other services’ aren’t as traditional as the Marine Corps and do not teach or dwell on their services’ history like the Marines do. Therefore, they aren’t as adamant about what they’re referred to or uphold their service branch quite as we do.
The Marine Corps has a long and very proud tradition and its actually taught to recruits in boot camp. We have actual history classes in the Marines; it’s that important to us. We do not want to forget who we are, where we came from (as a service) and those who went before us. We keep and uphold traditions passed down from Marines prior and we honor them all the time. Significant battles are taught, remembered and heroes of the service are also remembered. Even more, mostly unknown Marines, are honored in nearly every passageway in any Marine Corps building with plaques on the wall. Most of them are Marines killed in action in one war or another. Their picture, their rank, and a short description of their heroics are hung on the walls for everyone to see and read.
Because of that, Marines are a very proud people. When I visited the Marine Corps Museum in Virginia a few years ago, I actually cried a little at some of the displays (oh great, now I’m welling up just thinking about this) of the battles we’ve fought and the sacrifices so many Marines gave. The museum pulled out all the stops when they built it. They went so far as to recreate the actual smells of combat, and of gear and vehicles used. When I walked into a display of a CH-46 transport helicopter, I was overwhelmed with memories of my time flying in them because they had the same smell the real helicopters had. As you probably know, the sense of smell is the most powerful of senses to help you recall memories. The museum was amazing. If you ever get a chance to visit it, you should.
Anyway, I said all that to distinguish the Marines from the other services. That’s not to say that they don’t have pride in their branch or recall some of their history, but the Marines are very big on tradition and history far more than the others are. The other servicemembers probably, mostly, don’t care, don’t mind or even know about a distinction between an ex or former “insert service branch here.”
There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think of the Marine Corps and the mere 4 years I spent on active duty in the late 1990’s. I carry a 1st Marine Division challenge coin with me every single day in my pocket; even if I’m running out to Taco Bell and coming right back home. I also wear a gold Marine Corps ring every day as well. The ring has on one side ‘Fleet Marine Force” and on the other “Guadalcanal” which was a major battle of WWII that the 1st Marine Division fought against the Japanese.
If you come across anyone who has served in the Marines, please, just call them Marine. They’ll thank you for it.
SandboxGeneral served as a U.S. Marine Corporal in 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines from 1997 to 2001.