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Walton is a retired Marine who hasn't stopped giving back to service members. Upon retirement as a substance abuse counselor in the Marine Corp, Walton continued his services aboard the Combat Center as a civilian SACC officer.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Kasey Peacock

What I’ve learned: John Walton

1 May 2014 | Lance Cpl. Kasey Peacock

Walton is a retired Marine who has not stopped giving back to service members. Upon retirement as a substance abuse counselor in the Marines Corps, Walton continued his services aboard the Combat Center by becoming a civilian substance abuse control officer.

I was born and raised in Chicago and went back and forth between there and Minneapolis until I ended up in the military.

I was raised mostly with my grandparents. I wanted to move on and be my own, and not burden them with me being there. College, at that time, wasn’t really on my radar, so I decided to look into the military.

I wanted to go into the Air Force, but the recruiter wasn’t returning my phone calls. It was a Sunday afternoon, the Chicago Bears were playing, and I saw a commercial for the Marine Corps. It said they take raw steel, mold it, shape it. After that, I said I was going into the Marine Corps.

Most people thought that was a humorous idea because I was 6’3 and 147 pounds.

I originally wanted to fix airplanes, but I couldn’t because I was color blind. I ended up choosing communications after that because it sounded high tech.

I signed up with the Quality Enlistment Program, which back then meant I could pick my first duty station, and that I was guaranteed to pick up corporal in 13 months.

I remember I picked Twentynine Palms as my first duty station because coming from Chicago it sounded nice. I thought it was going to be like Palm Springs, and didn’t realize how wrong I was until I got out here.

I originally didn’t plan to retire from the Marine Corps. I signed a six-year contract originally, and at about my four-year mark, I remembering thinking I wanted to get out and do something else. Around the time I picked up sergeant was when the Gulf War happened, and I ended up extending. Before I knew it, I was at 11 years in, and decided to go all the way.

I ended up stationed at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune. I was taking a few college courses in psychology, and the opportunity came up to become a substance abuse counselor. I put in for a package and got it, and ended up moving to Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, S.C.

It wasn’t until I started doing it that I realized how much I enjoyed it, and it inspired me to continue with my education in psychology.

The month that I retired, the SACC program went civilianized, so I was fortunate enough to be able to go to work one day as Staff Sgt. Walton, and come back the next day as Mr. Walton.

While working as a civilian addictions counselor, I absolutely loved it. I loved continuing to work with Marines and sailors.

I finished my bachelor's and master's degrees in psychology while working as a counselor, and am currently working on my doctorate degree.

What keeps me wanting to be a counselor is seeing the difference myself and this program make in Marines and sailors. I get calls all of the time after they complete their programs letting me know how they are doing and that makes it all worth it.

I think me being able to empathize and feel for my clients aids me in being a successful counselor. I don’t shy away from feeling bad for my clients, because I genuinely care about Marines and sailors. It can be a lot to take in and deal with at times, but we have a great support system here with other counselors.

I always say the day that I have a client here, and what he or she has to say doesn’t faze me, that is the day I shouldn’t be a counselor anymore.

I’m a simple guy, I love movies, a good restaurant and bowling. I’m also working on learning to play the guitar.

I consider myself kind of a nerd; I love comic books and comic movies, and already have my tickets for the new "Spider Man 2" movie.

I love the Marine Corps, and I love Marines and sailors. It sounds corny, but that is the truth, and that is why I continue to work here. It is what I have done since I was 18 years old.

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Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms