MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS -- Col. John E. Kasperski has been in the Marine Corps for 29 years. He also played football for Tulsa University and the New York Jets.
I grew up during a period when we didn’t have the internet and only a few television channels. Naturally, I fell into playing a lot of sports like most kids in my generation.
My dad signed me up for every sport growing up and made sure my siblings and I went to school. He was a big sports enthusiast.
I played little league football, basketball and baseball. In high school I played basketball until junior year. That’s when I put all my focus toward football.
I was fortunate enough to get a football scholarship to Tulsa University. The school had good teams on the schedule, and I wanted to go there because the class sizes were small.
My whole life I’ve never really had goals that look ahead more than six months. In hindsight, getting a football scholarship was probably one of the most important goals I’ve accomplished.
Despite never having any long-term athletic goals, I tried out for the New York Jets after graduating college. I played guard on the team for three preseason games and was released before the season started.
I didn’t want to spend another year exclusively training to get back onto the Jets. I didn’t have time for that. I wanted to move on and do something else. That’s when I signed up for the officer selection program for the Marine Corps.
The mentality of a football player and the mindset of a Marine are similar. Preparation is the key to success in both lifestyles. In football, you’re only going to play as well as you practice. Also as a Marine, you’re only going to perform on the battlefield or in a deployed environment if you train to that standard.
Teamwork is vital because you can only perform as well as your weakest link. You can’t just be focused on what you’re doing. You have to know the assignments and responsibilities of the guy next to you and how he is important to the big scheme of things.
Another similarity I saw in both football and the Marine Corps was the camaraderie. It’s just fun hanging out with the guys, getting dirty and enjoying each other’s friendship.
Some of the most memorable moments in my Marine Corps career happened while I was commanding at the regimental or battalion level. It was rewarding being responsible for the success and failures of a large organization. Being a Marine officer is an all-consuming job, but taking care of the individuals under my charge made it worthwhile.
Whatever success I had was probably because I was fortunate enough to be surrounded with great people and lucky enough to have good assignments early on in my career. The Marine Corps knows what’s tough and what’s not. I would tell a young second lieutenant to seek out the tough jobs and attack them.
After being an active-duty Marine over 29 years, I’m fixing to retire here shortly.
When I retire from the Corps, I want to find the right type of employment that makes me want to get out of bed every morning. I want something I’ll enjoy and get excited about.
Over the years, I’ve worked for great people, but more importantly I’ve worked with great Marines. I’ve been very lucky to have great noncommissioned officers who served around me. They kept me out of trouble for 29 years. I think I’m running out of luck and it’s about time to get out.