News: True hero says farewell to beloved Corps after 30 years of service
Story by Sgt. Shannon Yount
BARSTOW, Calif. -- Frozen moments depicted by numerous framed photos and other trinkets of success adorned the walls of his office.
On the surface, they represent a timeline of honorable service, but beneath them lay the true meaning of honor, courage and commitment.
When looking back on his extensive military career, with a smile on his face, Sgt. Maj. Donovan G. White Jr. can only say, “I wouldn’t change a thing.” White’s military career began 30 years ago, when he stepped on the yellow footprints at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, May 5, 1982.
It wasn’t until his younger brother graduated from basic training, that White wanted to join the toughest military institute. He explained his desire to be a part of the culture of such a fine organization.
After graduating from basic training and infantry training school (ITS), White reported to 2nd Battalion, 6th Marines, 2nd Marine Division, where he served as a mortar-man.
“I came in as open contract to be an infantry man,” said White. “I guess they thought I was smart enough to be a mortar-man,” laughed the native of Winter Haven, Fla.
In February 1983, White was on his first deployment with Battalion Landing Team (BLT) 2/6, which deployed with the 22nd Marine Amphibious Unit, aboard the USS Raleigh LPD-1.
“We were doing a routine cruise (in the Mediterranean Sea) when we were re-routed to Beirut, Lebanon,” he said.
White explained that when the ship arrived on shore, the Marines immediately became part of the Multi-National Peacekeeping Forces. As a part of the peacekeeping force, his responsibility wasn’t his military occupational specialty, but instead he provided security and conducted patrols around the compound, checkpoints and BLT area of responsibility.
Thirty minutes after White’s shift ended at the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, it was bombed by terrorists.
“It could have been me, I could have been in there when it was bombed,” White said.
Once notified about the attack, White went to the embassy to search for survivors which later resulted in hours of recovering bodies.
The attack killed more than 60 individuals, most of whom were embassy staff members, Marines and sailors. Immediately after the incident, a pro-Iranian group calling themselves the Islamic Jihad Organization took responsibility for the attack.
Shortly after returning stateside, White’s unit was recalled to Camp Lejeune during liberty hours due to another terrorist attack, this time, was the Marine barracks bombing in Beirut on Oct. 23, 1983. As the BLT conducted forward recovery operations for those affected by the attack, White and his unit provided security stateside because of the recent attacks on U.S. troops.
According to the Arlington National Cemetery website, the barracks bombing occurred when two trucks struck separate buildings that were housing U.S. and French military forces in total the Islamic Jihad Organization killed 299 service members. The death toll for the Marine barracks was 220 Marines, 18 sailors and three soldiers. It was the largest single-day loss of life for Marines since the Battle of Iwo Jima in World War II.
Many of White’s friends from ITS, were serving in Beirut with 1st Battalion, 8th Marines, 2nd Marine Division when the attack occurred.
Remembering that day brought few words, “I lost a lot of Marines… friends over there,” and as he said those words, his eyes were filled with pain and sorrow. The kind of anguish only a tragedy of this magnitude could explain.
In May 1985, Cpl. White reported to Marine Corps Security Forces, Panama, where he served as corporal of the guard, sergeant of the guard and the unit’s color sergeant.
Participating in security and combat operations were becoming fairly routine for White, as he completed tours at the U.S. naval station in the Panama Canal and at the Arraijan Tank Farm near Howard Air Force Base in the Republic of Panama.
In July 1986, White was selected as the Non-commissioned Officer of the Year for 1986, representing Marine Forces Security Forces, Republic of Panama and the following month he was meritoriously promoted to sergeant.
“I felt honored to be NCO of the Year,” stated White, especially because his unit recommended him for the recognition.
White believes he was nominated for the prestigious title because of his motivation, maturity and dedication to the Marines.
A pure example of these traits was when, then-Cpl. White, noticed a Marine standing under a shed that was barely keeping him dry from the rain. Without being told to do so, White took the initiative and built a new guard post that provided better shelter, during his off-duty time.
On the morning of Aug. 2, 1990, Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein sent invading forces of more than 120,000 6 troops into Kuwait. This action caused the United Nations to quickly respond with condemning the invasion and the U.S. military supported the efforts by defending Saudi Arabia. Shortly after, White deployed to Kuwait with BLT, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st
Marine Division in support of Operation Desert Shield.
Though it was a challenging environment, White didn’t let that stop him from enjoying the time spent with his Marines.
“The value of serving with Marines and striving through hardships and victories to build camaraderie is a value I carry with me,” expressed White.
Shortly after redeploying stateside, then-Sgt. White was given the opportunity to fulfill yet another dream.
Prior to picking up sergeant, the Marine Corps was accepting drill instructor packages for corporals to serve on the drill field. By the time White submitted his package, however, the Marine Corps was no longer accepting them.
“I got my opportunity after Desert Shield when my commanding officer asked me if I wanted to become a drill instructor,” he said. “I told him, I always wanted to become a drill instructor.”
White explained that his desire to serve on the drill field came from wanting to give something back. He wanted to see the same pride develop in young men just as it did for him, when he graduated from basic training.
“It really doesn’t hit you, until you graduate your first platoon,” he said. “You get a new sense of accomplishment.”
While stationed at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, White was promoted to staff sergeant and served as the Senior Drill Instructor for Physical Conditioning Platoon and as Senior Drill Instructor in Company M, 3rd Recruit Training Battalion.
Becoming a drill instructor wasn’t solely for the gratification of training new Marines; actually it wasn’t about him at all. White explained being a drill instructor was about carrying on Marine
Corps traditions and legacies that will live on long after he is gone.
In February 1994, Staff Sgt. White deployed with 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, as part of the Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force, in support of Operation Support Democracy in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
In November 1996, White again deployed with BLT 1/8, this time serving with the 26th MEU and participating in Operation Silver Wake.
“We were on liberty in Greece when we got called back to the ship,” he explained. White and a squad of Marines left in the middle of the night to conduct a noncombatant evacuation operation at the U.S. Embassy in Tirana, Albania.
“We held the compound for a couple of days with just a squad until our reinforcements came in to support,” said White. “We were there to rescue and protect American citizens and get them out of harm’s way.”
More than 900 personnel were evacuated during the course of that operation.
Moving closer to home, then-Gunnery Sgt. White received orders to Naval Officer Candidate School in Pensacola, Fla., in the summer of 1998. White served as a class drill instructor, battalion chief instructor and primary instructor for physical training at the schoolhouse.
Instructing in Pensacola proved to be challenging for White, but also extremely fulfilling.
“[I was] contributing to the leadership of the Navy and Marine Corps team,” he said. “It was a worthy endeavor to train future leaders.”
Almost 19 years after first becoming a Marine, White was frocked to first sergeant and shortly afterward reported to Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island where he served a second tour on the drill field, this time as a company first sergeant.
“It was one of the most rewarding assignments,” said White. “Given the ability to make Marines and mentor drill instructors.”
After successfully completing his tour at Parris Island, White deployed in 2006, with his fellow brothers-in-arms from 9th Engineer Support Battalion, 3rd Marine Logistics Group, to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. This would be White’s last deployment, in a career emblazoned by many months serving with Marines in forward environments.
In May 2010, White assumed duties as the base sergeant major of Marine Corps Logistics Base Barstow.
Now, after three decades of honorable service and a career that epitomizes a love and passion for the Corps, White will hand over his reign as base sergeant major on Feb. 10, 2012.
“I can’t imagine who I would be if I didn’t join the Marine Corps,” he said. “I can see myself being retired, but I couldn’t imagine what I might have done had I not joined the Corps. The Corps has been a part of who I am for the majority of my life!”
“Marines will always be able to make and be a part of history,” said White. “I feel very proud and very fortunate to be a part of this (era) and serve during the time I did.”
Looking back on his 30-year career, White encourages Marines to remember their time in the Corps.
“Don’t take being a Marine for granted,” White said. “Make sure you are ready and prepared for what the Corps has to offer.”
This piece of advice coming from a man who took every opportunity given to him by the Corps.
As this chapter of his life comes to a close, White looks forward to the next, where he plans to serve as a Marine Corps or Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps instructor in his home town. White also plans on spending more time with his wife, Miriam and children Allison and Andrew.