The first time I said the oath was in a dusty gymnasium in Newport, Rhode Island.
I, Gavin Boyd Lippman, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.
At the time, I couldn’t have possibly grasped the gravity of what I was actually committing to. As an eager, optimistic 17 year old, I was more nervous about surviving the grueling physical and mental indoctrination period that was soon to come.
But over time, the importance of these words grew, and I can remember a few distinct moments when they really hit me.
After I signed my two “For 7s,” a document that committed me to spend the next seven years of my life in the service. After I screamed, “I DO!” after the oath at my graduation and commissioning, realizing that playtime was over and that I would soon be responsible for leading Marines somewhere. After my first promotion in 2010, when we had just returned from a place where many had made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
To me, these words are the ties that bind so many in uniform regardless of their gender, socio-economic class, or the color of their skin. The words are a declaration, stating aloud the proud CHOICE to be a part of something bigger than you are. Ronald Reagan once said, “Some people go to bed at night wondering if they have made a difference. The Marines don’t have that problem.” It’s exhilarating to be a part of a service that has played a major part in America’s history, one that still is the preeminent fighting force in the world. I was so proud, so honored to serve.
So proud that it made it very hard to leave.
I had deployed to Afghanistan, my unit being part of the successful invasion and capture of Marjah and responsible for many civil affairs projects completed throughout the Helmand Province. To be honest, my unit had a rough start, but in time, our admin team rounded into an extremely cohesive unit, able to support all of our Marines in some very austere conditions. We bonded. We were family. I loved them all, and so I stayed.
After that, I was fortunate enough to serve in Europe and do some great work in Africa. But while living abroad, something changed. As much as I immersed myself in my job, I also found myself picking my head up to see the big picture.
I took a bigger interest in the world outside my bubble in the military. I wasn’t just fascinated by the sights and tourist spots when I visited new places, but by the people, important aspects of their culture.
I watched social media shine a light on protests in Turkey, the quest for electricity and connectivity in Africa, the notion of the sustainable city. In the Marine Corps, I had indirectly played a role in the government, but I wanted to understand more about the people.
I loved seeing how businesses, technology, and the quest for new resources impacted their lives. I wanted to be a part of that. I didn’t know how exactly I could or would fit into all of this, but I knew it was time to take the next step.
But after living for years with the motto of Semper Fi, it wasn’t easy to make a change. My decision to leave the Marine Corps was not one that I took or made lightly.
Sure, I was frustrated with certain aspects of being in the Marine Corps, but who wasn’t frustrated certain aspects of their job? I found myself feeling guilty, rising from the fact that this organization gave me so much. I felt like I was quitting the family.
Other Marines often asked me what I wanted to do next in the Corps. Their jaws dropped in shock when I explained I was leaving, registering complete disbelief. Exclaiming, with all the concern of a favorite brother, “You’re leaving, but why!?”
It may sound unsupportive, but look. As a Marine, I completely understood that reaction: this job had provided me with not only a great education and a countless stream of friends and mentors, but also the opportunity travel the world as a leader serving my country. How many people can say that their company gave them those opportunities? Like I said before, I was so proud, so honored to serve.
So I kept looking for ways to stay in and prolong my military career. In a way, I was pot-committed, having invested so much of my life into this. But the more I tried to do force it the more I realized my heart wasn’t really into the options in front of me.
It was then that I thought back to what drove me to take the oath that day in Newport. I had wanted to get out of Baltimore. To one day serve my country. To do something I could be proud of. That’s when it hit me.
Had I really done all those things?
Once I put that in context, I knew it was time to move on. Looking back, it’s still one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made. The tears I shed at my farewell couldn’t account for 13 years of friends, education, life lessons, and life-changing opportunities. The good times and the bad times.
I had help from some fellow veterans as I chased down my new dream, and am lucky enough to have ended up in the Bay Area, arguably the hub for new ideas and technology that can change society. The ambiguity and creativity are quite an adjustment, but I promise you—I’m tough enough to handle it.
Why? Because no matter what title I earn in the future, I will always be a United States Marine. That, and everything that comes with it, will never leave me.