by Tom Billups, C.S.C.S.
I have just returned from Camp Legeune, North Carolina, site of this year’s Armed Forces Championships. Camp Legeune is one of three Marine Corps bases in the world, and is home to II Marine Expeditionary Force, 2d Marine Division and 2d Force Service Support Group.
The United States Marine Corps. You really don’t need to hear much more do you before your mind starts to whirl with images of those incredible dress blue uniforms and the elite fighting force’s stories of bravery in battle. I hear the word “Marines” and I automatically think of toughness, discipline, and sacrifice.
We read and hear everyday about the heavy and relentless demand on human and material resources our presence in Iraq and Afghanistan calls for. As a civilian and a rugby coach, it only seemed to make sense that I, along with Jack Clark, volunteer to coach the All Marine team as a token of our support and appreciation for the sacrifice made by the troops.
The Marines are comprised of amazing individuals. The Marines rugby players come from far and wide. Most have varying degrees of club rugby experience. The Marine Corps is organizationally part of the Navy, so many of the Marine Corps officers attended the Naval Academy in Annapolis. The Naval Academy coach, Mike Flanagan, has done a terrific job teaching these young cadets rugby as they matriculate at the Naval Academy.
The All Marine team relies heavily upon Marine Corps Officers and what exceptional men they are. Captain Jeremy Graczyk, who was outstanding in last year’s competition is currently in the last weeks of a deployment as Company Commander and missed this year’s competition. Marine Officers like Dave Fenbert, who literally stepped of the aircraft (called the Freedom Bird) from Iraq to join us just before the competition started stopped me in my tracks with his attitude and toughness. The All Marine team this year also included men such as David Pigeon, who has been deployed nine times since 2002. I find myself in awe of the commitment they display to their chosen path and their missions.
I’ve learned that the Marines have a tradition of “doing more with less”. The Marine Corps are a service branch that operates annually on about a three percent of the Department of the Navy’s budget. When the Navy is ready to upgrade it’s equipment, for example computers etc., and is going to dispose of the hardware, the Marines show up and are grateful to accept the hand-me-downs.
We instil a mentality at Cal that believes we are “entitled to nothing, grateful for everything”. The Marines have reinforced to me how powerful the right mindset, used properly, can be to a team.
And finally I have learned that being tough, mentally and physically, isn’t something the Marines have printed on a t-shirt. They demonstrate being tough in their willingness to perform their duties with great professionalism. They demonstrate their toughness by taking the rugby field even if they haven’t played a game in several years, as was the case for several starters on the 2007 All Marine team.
These are but some of the things I have learned from being with the All Marine rugby team, and I am grateful for the opportunity to work with such good Marines, and great men.
Tom Billups began his rugby career in 1984 and has spent time as a player in New Zealand, the U.S. and England for domestic teams as well as representing the U.S.A. at international tournaments with the Eagles. After hanging up his boots, Billups got into coaching leading the Eagles and now with University of California – Berkeley. Read the entire bio of Tom Billups as well as Billups first column My Rugby Path and then check out what Billups is saying about the game of rugby in The Billups Column on Rugby Rugby.
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