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Life in a poem

15 May 2012 | Cpl. Sarah Dietz

“A well trained sharp mind is more important than our M16s. When we run out of bullets, we can still think and make stuff happen,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Bryan Mackall, ground communications maintenance section, Marine Corps Communications-Electronics School. “That well trained, sharp mind is our most valuable asset.”

The sergeants and below of Ground Communication Maintenance Platoon, Headquarters Company, MCCES, participated in a writing competition last week. The assignment was to read a poem and write a response essay on how the piece impacted them personally and what they can learn from the principals it contains.

The writing competition, while seeming like an English class homework assignment, was meant to be much more than that to the Marines.

“What I try to do with the Marines is make them look at life lessons bigger than the Marine Corps,” Mackall said. “None of us can stay in the Marine Corps forever, we will eventually have to do something else and at that point it won’t be good enough to just be a good Marine, you have to be a good man, woman, person, citizen. Ones personal knowledge is the key to all of that.”

The poem assigned to read was “If,” by Rudyard Kipling, which was originally written from the point of view of a father to a son, giving advice on becoming a better man and pushing the son to be greater than his current state.

“It’s about people, how we can look at ones self and figure out what we can do to make ourselves better in every aspect of our lives,” Mackall emphasized. “I pride myself on lifelong learning. Everyone can take something away from this.”

The assignment’s origin came from the impact the poem had on Mackall’s own life.

“I was a sophomore in high school, my varsity basketball coach gave it to the entire team, he said it was something he thought it could be incorporated into our lives,” Mackall said. “He was thinking about how our individual performance can effect the people around us. I’ve probably read it 25 times since then and every time I do I take something away from it.”
The impact the poem had on Mackall drove him to share it with his students.

“You read it and you think it has absolutely nothing to do with the Marine Corps. Then you read it again and it could be the very blue print of how to have success in the Marine Corps.”

The winner of the response competition, Lance Cpl. Casey L. Tulk, wrote his paper on how the poem applies to him becoming a better father.

“He’s about to be a new dad, so he’s definitely taking stock in his own life right now,” Mackall said, who has children of his own. “He wants to be that good role model for his new son or daughter, to look at him and be proud of him, not just because he was a Marine, but because he is a good man. When I read Tulk’s assignment, I could see him in it.”

The purpose of the particular poem essay assignment was not to sing praises to a talent poet, but to show the students at MCCES life lessons written in a simple, beautiful and poetic way they could understand easily.

“Long after you can no longer do a single pushup, fireman carry your buddy or buddy drag him, something that you took away from this can get you over that next obstacle in your life.”

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