MARINE CORPS MOUNTAIN WARFARE TRAINING CENTER BRIDGEPORT, Calif. --
A very special Marine is gone but not forgotten. This was the message Marines and sailors made clear to his family and friends at the dedication ceremony of the Sgt. Phillip A. Bocks Mountain Leaders Classroom at the multi-purpose building here Tuesday.
Bocks, a 28-year-old former Mountain Leaders Course instructor stationed here, was killed during combat operations Nov. 9, 2007. His platoon was hit with direct fire from small arms and rocket-propelled grenades from multiple positions during an enemy ambush while returning from a meeting with village elders in Afghanistan’s Nuristan Province, according to the official casualty report.
A Michigan native and Truckee, Nev., resident, Bocks moved with his family to Nevada when he was in the seventh grade. He attended Truckee schools until the 11th grade, then returned to Michigan where he graduated high school.
Long-time friend and neighbor, Gary R. Schroeder, knew Bocks for 17 years. He said he remembers Bocks as both the young boy who was looking for direction in life and as the man who later found it in the Corps. The transformation was evident, said Schroeder. “He took to the Marine Corps like a water dog to the river. The Marine Corps was very good for him.”
Just how good is evident by the plaque that now hangs over the doorway of the room where Bocks spent so much time, first as a student, then as an instructor.
It reads: “As a Mountain Leader, Pack Master, and Embedded Training Team Advisor, Sgt. Bocks epitomized the ethos and dedication of a Mountain Warrior.”
Bocks’ journey to MWTC began when he enlisted in the Marine Corps May 9, 2000. That same year, he graduated from basic training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, S.C. He then reported to the School of Infantry East at Camp Lejeune, N.C., where he graduated and became a Marine Corps rifleman. He later served with Company A, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, where he deployed in support of Operation Southern Watch from Sept. 1, 2001 to Feb. 3, 2002. Sgt. Bocks then deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom from May 5 to Aug. 15, 2003, according to his service record book.
He arrived at MWTC in 2004, where he completed the Summer Mountain Leaders Course and the Winter Mountain Leaders Course, before becoming a Mountain Leader and an instructor.
“I just think the classroom dedication is such an honor,” said Kent A. Bocks, his father, after the ceremony. “In coming here to the Mountain Warfare Training Center, he fell into the most perfect situation a Marine could ever want to have. He loved it here. He loved the outdoors. He was a hiker, he was a skier and loved everything to do with snow,” said Mr. Bocks.
“He loved animals. He loved dogs, cats, and was just wonderful with them.“
So it was no surprise to Mr. Bocks when his son volunteered to train to become a “Mule Pack Master,” who teaches Marine Corps units alternative methods for transporting crew served weapons, ammunition, supplies and wounded personnel to and from rugged and inaccessible areas using mules.
“All the things he could ever want in life, he had here. He was as happy as I’ve ever seen him. The friends that he had here were just the best friends a young man could ever ask for.”
But it wasn’t perfect for Bocks. Friends said he yearned to return to Afghanistan to practice what he was teaching and make a difference in the war.
This was the type of Marine Bocks was, said Gunnery Sgt. Charles M. Evers, a good friend from 3rd Platoon, Company B, Anti-terrorism Battalion, Reno, Nev.
“It’s a well-deserved recognition that couldn’t bear a better name. I know he loved this place and I know he loved what he did up here,” said Evers, who first met Bocks when Evers was as an an instructor and he was a student at the Summer Mountain Leaders Course in 2004. “After he became an instructor, we became good friends and worked and played together for about a year and a half.”
Evers remembers Bocks as a Marine who always had a smile on his face and never let anything get him down. “He was a clown, a good clown, and someone who was always there for you no matter what. He was a good man, just a good dude all-around.”
In a solemn speech outside Bocks’ classroom, Col. Norm Cooling, commanding officer of MWTC, expressed the gratitude Marines and the nation feel for Bocks’ service.
“The ultimate sacrifice, in my mind, quite honestly, was not made by Sgt. Bocks. It’s made by you, his family members and those who knew, worked with and remember him,” said Cooling. “You will always have that piece missing in your lives...his service, his love for you.”
Cooling told family members and those present what most Marines believe: Bocks is now serving in a better place. Then he paraphrased the closing stanza from the Marine’s Hymn, “If the Army and the Navy ever look on Heaven’s scenes; They will find the streets are guarded By United States Marines.”
In his short life, Sgt. Bocks contributed more to his fellow man, fellow comrades-at-arms, and to the units he served in, said Cooling. “He touched more people in more ways than many of us could in a lifetime,” he said. “The evidence of that is why we are all here today.”