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Twentynine Palms

Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center

Twentynine Palms, California
What I’ve Learned: David Pittelkow

By Pfc. William Chockey | 10th Marine Regiment | March 27, 2018

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> I was born in Rochester, Minn. My folks are Milwaukee natives but my dad was attending medical school there at the time. Sometime after I was born we moved back to Milwaukee.

> I have one older brother who is two years ahead of me and twin sisters who are five years junior to me. I grew up as a suburban kid and attended public school up until the point I got accepted to college at Utah State University.

> There was a moment during high school when I briefly considered enlisting after I graduated. At that time, the Vietnam War was drawing down and it was a really unpopular time to be in the military. I wasn’t going to let public opinion sway me but pretty much everybody above me, my brother and my parents, had all gone to college and it was just kind of what you did.

> In college I decided I was going to become a veterinarian. Growing up, we always had a dog or cat so I was always around animals and I liked that. My dad was a dermatologist and my brother went into medicine so perhaps there is something genetic about my choice to become a veterinarian.

> During my first week of college I went down to the Student Union to get lunch and when I got to the bottom of the stairs there were some ROTC tables set up. There were guys from the Army and Air Force in one area but then I looked over and there was a Marine captain all by himself standing by a table wearing dress blues. I went over to ask him how one becomes a Marine officer and from that moment the hook was set.

> I think a lot of guys joined the Marine Corps because they saw the uniform and that's what attracted them. I think that's what hit me.

> Shortly after I met my recruiter, Capt. Peterson, I changed my major and ended up studying criminal justice. I graduated four years later and became an active duty Marine in 1977.

> I served in the Marine Corps as an infantry officer almost seven years to the day I joined. I actually started off on the path to be an aviator but I didn't think it was really me so when I was down there I ended up requesting to drop out of flight school and go to infantry school.

> After I successfully completed my training my first duty assignment was in Hawaii. I was there for three years. After that I became a series officer at [Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C.] I worked with some great guys who I'm still in touch with today. I have fond memories of that. Another good thing about being there is that I used to go on liberty with some pals down to Jacksonville, Fl., and that’s where I met my wife.

> While I was stationed at Parris Island I submitted an inter-service transfer to go from the Marine Corps to the Navy.

> I'd seen Navy SEALs when I went on deployments and I thought I might want to try it out. The SEALs were kind of mysterious in the early 80s, nobody really knew much about them. I started doing some research, there was no internet but there was a small pamphlet that I read through. It was one of those things that looked like an interesting life, full of excitement and adventure, so I just tossed in my hat and went for it.

> I think it was the challenge that appealed to me the most. I wasn't the greatest swimmer so I had to work hard because swimming is a big deal for Navy SEALs. At that time I was 30 years old so I was concerned about that but I passed the screening so they accepted me. I exercised about three or four times a day in preparation for my training but my biggest worry was looking back and thinking “I wish I would have tried that.”

> I was on the SEAL team for 23 years, making for a total of 30 years served in the military.

> I think the Marine Corps really taught me what I needed to know about being a man and being a leader. Not that I didn't learn stuff in the Navy too but the Marine Corps was my foundation. The things the Marine Corps teaches you about discipline, bearing, initiative and all those leadership traits that you read in the guidebook for Marines are all good. So I leaned on that because that's how I was raised as an adult in the Corps. I think that's kind of who I became and I hope that acting like a Marine as a naval officer was a good thing.

> My dad was a World War II Navy veteran. He fought in the Pacific but he never said anything about it. The world we were living in was Vietnam and all the unrest that came along with it. So when I first said I was joining the Marine Corps I think he was a bit taken aback. I still remember the phone call. There was a long silent pause after I told him.

> By the time I was in for a little while I think my parents thought, “That's why God created this guy, so he can be in the military”. I used to Xerox off my fitness reports and mail them home and my dad would show his friends to say “Hey, look at my boy!” So I think he really started liking the fact that I was in the miltary.

> There are similarities between Marines and SEALs. All the guys who I went through SEAL training with were driven, motivated and they loved what they did just like Marines. I enjoyed working with the guys who I had to rein-back versus the guys who I had to kick in the pants to get in line.

> I like working with people who are dedicated which is why I like my job now because I get to hang around with guys who still think and act in the same manner as the people I served with.

> When I retired in 2007 we wanted to do something as a family so we got a farm in Washington State. After two years of doing that I got a call from one of the guys I served with in the Navy and he told me that there was a job working with the Marines. Since I'm bilingual, meaning I was a Marine and a SEAL, he thought that I'd be a good fit.

> It's a part-time thing. I help integrate SEALs, Army Rangers, Green Berets and various special forces into training events like [Integrated Training Exercise] and [Large Scale Exercise.]

> When I’m not working on training exercises I'm either working on the farm or at the fire station. I'm a station captain with the fire department in my town and we're all volunteers so we provide everything from Emergency Medical Services and structural firefighting to wildland firefighting.

> I enjoyed the years I spent on active duty. I've enjoyed the last 10 years doing stuff with active duty people. Everybody's different, but I think there's a lot of value in leading a life of service in some capacity.

> If I could give advice to someone it would be, don't live life with any regrets. If you feel compelled to do something then go for it. I would also encourage those who have served to do their best to stay in touch with the people they served with. Some of the greatest times I've had in the last 10 years were getting together with guys who I served with. It might not make sense now but 10 or 20 years from now it will.

> My favorite thing about being in the military has been the people. I do my current job because I like working with like-minded people who have the same thoughts and attitudes about the Marine Corps, the country and accomplishing what needs to be done. In life you can do some crummy jobs but if you're doing them with good people, it's okay.
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