CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. - From the humid, subtropical city of Greenville, Texas, Lance Cpl. Jeffrey S. Gardner, a Headquarters Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, small arms repair technician, enlisted in the Marine Corps during his junior year in high school.
Gardner, who never knew his biological father, and lived with his mother, stepfather and five siblings, had a love of firearms and weapons long before he enlisted in the Marine Corps.
“I have loved guns and weapons my whole life,” said Gardner. “I don’t know why I liked them so much, I didn’t even shoot my first gun until a few months before going to boot camp.”
According to Gardner, his stepfather wasn’t a fan of guns at all.
Although they differed in opinions about weapons, Gardner did share another passion with his stepfather, rescuing stray dogs.
“My dad is an animal person. We always had a lot of dogs around when I was growing up,” Gardner said. “My dad would find dogs on the side of the road and rescue them.”
Gardner’s house was always filled with the joyful barking of the rescued canines and the laughing of his siblings growing up.
Gardner moved a lot when he was young and he always shared a room with one of his brothers.
Gardner and his siblings lived in three separate bedrooms. His older brothers shared a room; his youngest brother had his own bed in his parents’ room while Gardner and his remaining brother shared another room.
His accommodations changed when Gardner woke up to debris flying across the hardwood floor of his room, and a sports utility vehicle that crashed into his wall staring him in the face.
“A drunk 17 year old was street racing his friends and wound up losing control and hitting the stairs to the house next door, which had burned down before this, and launched into my room,” said Gardner. “I usually slept on the top bunk, but luckily I slept on the bottom bunk that night. The top bunk saved my life from the debris and if I had laid my head where my feet were I would have had nails fall on my face. That was the scariest day of my life. No drill instructor could compare to that level of fear.”
After rebuilding the roof and wall, Gardner and his family made the one room two separate bedrooms so he and his brother could finally have their own space.
While growing up, Gardner’s family was never the wealthiest in terms of monetary income, but Gardner and his brothers found a wealth of happiness from having fun outside.
“I never had the new Xbox or PlayStation when they came out. I had the old Atari or Nintendo, so I never liked staying inside with my friends playing video games because I would always lose,” Gardner said. “I loved going outside and running around, climbing trees or playing war. Outside no one could be beat me because we were all equals.”
After witnessing poverty and his older brothers moving back in to his parents over several years, Gardner made a life choice of becoming an independent man who can stand on his own two feet.
“In ninth grade, I decided I wanted to join the military,” Gardner said. “I didn’t know which branch I wanted to join though. When I got a list of classes to sign up for I saw the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps I told my friends ‘This looks interesting. Let’s all sign up for this class. It looks like a lot of fun.’”
A lieutenant commander and a Marine master sergeant were the JROTC program instructors.
“It was a great experience to see how different branches worked,” said Gardner. “The lieutenant commander knew what he was doing, but the master sergeant was the epitome of what a Marine should be. He always had his uniform looking perfect and a perfect haircut.”
While still in high school, Gardner started talking to a Navy recruiter about a Special Forces contract.
“The Navy recruiter tried to get me the contract I wanted, but it just didn’t work out in the end,” Gardner said. “That’s when I went straight to the Marine recruiter. I told him I wanted to work as closely with weapons as I could. That is when he told me about what armorers do. He said it was a lot of hours but I would work with different kinds of weapon systems every day. I knew that was the job I wanted.”
A sense of camaraderie and brotherhood pushed him even harder to join the Marines.
“I had to coerce my mom into signing the papers to let me enlist because I was 17 at the time,” said Gardner. “This is my first duty station and I absolutely love working here. I love being able to pull a weapon system out and break it completely down and just feel a sense of accomplishment. I would look down at the disassembled parts and just thing ‘I did that. Wow.’”
If Gardner has a problem with a weapon system he’s working on, he can rely on his fellow armorers and his non-commissioned officers to help troubleshoot the problem.
“If none of the lance corporals in the shop know what’s going on, I know I can go to Cpl. Moon and he will know what’s wrong with the weapon before I even open my mouth,” Gardner said. “I’ll just walk up to him and he’ll take one look and say ‘I see what’s wrong.’ That is exactly what I want be. I want to know exactly what the problem is just by looking at a weapon.”
Gardner’s love for his job and his willingness to volunteer to close late and open early motivate his fellow Marines and himself to continue through the unglamorous moments the armorers often face.
“I love working with weapons,” Gardner said. “It doesn’t matter what weapon it is because you are always bettering yourself by working on them. Sure, the paper work isn’t fun and sometimes we work long hours, but I can get lost in breaking down a weapon and figuring out faster ways to break it down.”
Learning the weapon systems isn’t the only thing that keeps Gardner’s esprit de Corps high. He said he likes meeting new people who come through the armory for the ranges.
“I’ve met a bunch of awesome people working here,” said Gardner. “I made a lot of new friends and had some great conversations with senior enlisted and officers about the Marine Corps.”
Whether he is walking across the dew soaked grass to open the armory before the sun has risen or working on weapons well after the rest of the Marines in the battalion have hit the rack, Gardner pushes through and overcomes the challenging lifestyle Marines live every day.