At one time, your humble correspondent was a proud member of the Fourth Estate, toiling as a print and broadcast journalist in the Midwest. Like many young reporters, I was inspired by Watergate, and convinced that my coverage would somehow change the world. Working at small-market (and low-paying) reporting jobs tempered my optimism; being fired at age 23--part of a format change at the radio station where I served as news director--convinced me to seek another career path.
My search for work led me to an Air Force recruiting office. With my money almost gone and a hopeless habit to support (eating), a military tour began to look very appealing. Besides, I told myself, with a bachelor's degree in journalism, I was a shoo-in for Officer Training School and a commission as a Second Lieutenant. Picturing myself in the cockpit of an F-15, I promptly signed up, and even allowed the Air Force to select a job for me (mistake #1).
Mistake #2 came in the form of a botched flight physical, during a period when the only officer positions available were for pilots and navigators. Barred from the cockpit, but still needing a job, I decided to enlist anyway. After basic training, I learned that the "needs of the Air Force come first" and letting the military pick your job isn't a good idea. I began my military career as an EMT trainee at an Air Force hospital in South Carolina.
But something funny happened along the way. I discovered that I loved being a part of the Air Force, and my military career was far more rewarding than anything I'd done in the civilian sector. I also discovered that the military rewarded achievement; within a year, I was hand-picked to join the Wing Commander's staff. His recommendation--and those of other supervisors--helped me earn my commission four years later. My enlisted time made me a better officer, and helped convince me to make the Air Force career.
Matt Pottinger, a former reporter for The Wall Street Journal, is undergoing a similar, life-changing experience. Tomorrow, Mr. Pottinger will become Second Lieutenant Pottinger, USMC, after completing the Marine Corps basic school at Quantico, Virginia. In today's Opinion Journal, Pottinger traces the events that prompted his career change, and his struggle to meeting Marine Corps fitness standards, at the ripe old age of 31. Semper Fi, Lieutenant Pottinger.