Interview with Garrett Treer, US Marine Corps
Name: Garrett Treer
Military Branch & Rank: US Marine Corps, Sergeant
Dates of Service: March 2004 – January 2010
Date of Interview: May 9, 2019
Interviewer: Michael D. Brown
Audio Producer: Laura Bang
Length of Interview: 1 hour 23 minutes
Transcribed by: Nicholas Coscarelli
Edited and annotated by: Meg Piorko
MICHAEL BROWN (INTRO): Thank you for joining us today. My name is Michael Brown, and we are here today at Villanova University recording another installment of the Voices of Villanova’s Veterans.
BROWN: Good afternoon. Today is May 9th of 2019 and we are here at Villanova University doing another installment of the Voices of Villanova’s Veterans and today we have the pleasure to interview –
GARRETT TREER: Garrett Treer.
BROWN: Garrett Treer, who is a law school student here at Villanova, at the Charles Widger School of Law, and we are happy to have him here and he will be telling us his story from birth until today and everything in between. And we look forward to that story. So, as we begin, talk to me about where you were born and a little bit about your childhood.
TREER: So, I was actually born in this area. I haven’t really traveled. I ended up back in the same place, if you will. Okay. West Chester. So, Chester County. I don’t really remember too much about my early childhood. I know that I lived in a number of at least a few different households in the Thorndale, Downingtown area and beyond that I was actually an army brat, so I don’t remember my parents being divorced, but at some point, right around I was six or so. We moved from this area. I’d gone to Beaver Creek Elementary School then we moved to Iowa, and I remember the conversation distinctly because my brother thought we were going to Idaho. He was talking about potatoes. But my dad was in the Army Medical Reserve. He served in the Vietnam era and so, I’d actually – he never really talked too much anything that was that deeply personal to himself, and he never really talked too much at all really about his army background. And so, I’ve actually learned more about the man from my mother after the fact now because he’s since passed. My sister believes that there might have been complications from Agent Orange, but he was also a smoker so it could be difficult to weed things out. So, he got transferred to Fort Des Moines. I spent a number of years in the Des Moines, Iowa area living with my dad, my half-brother, and my sister. My brother was in his teenage years at that point, so he was a troublemaker having parties and whatnot. My dad would work long hours and so I was largely unsupervised, which was a mistake, and so I was the sort of neighborhood terror at that time that nobody liked having around. I would get into trouble, throw rocks or windows, steal from the local stores if you will. That kind of thing, which culminated when I was around, I think 10 or 11 in me intentionally setting a fire, but unintentionally setting my house on fire that resulted in a fire that destroyed the trailer that we lived in. And fortunately, nobody was harmed, and the cat was fine or my sister would have killed me and I would not have survived the day, but that was a life-changing moment for me. That’s what led me to decide to move back to live with my mother instead of my father. I thought that by fleeing from my problems in life that I would get away from them and solve them because my system of good and bad, right and wrong, at that point was that if you did something wrong and society sort of acknowledged it then you would be punished, and I never was punished for the fire. So, in my mind I still had this great burden. And so, that really that was the big thing that just sort of dog piled on top of the normal sort of middle school social politics and drama for me is that I inwardly had this great burden of guilt that I’m sure other kids whatever was that they had their own things that they’re wrestling with at that time. So, I moved back to Pennsylvania, and this was in I think around September 3rd of ’91, ’92, somewhere in there. I think ‘92 because it was for my mother’s marriage; she was getting married to my stepfather, and they’re still together and he you know I had that the paranoia of “am I going to like this guy?” He turned out to be the greatest friend I could ever ask for and his father actually was a Marine. He served in the Pacific theater, is my understanding, but he also did not talk too much about his service. But according to my stepfather, he served and he was at Guadalcanal and – I forget where else – but I don’t know, if I had to guess, I would say he probably saw things that you wouldn’t want to see. And grew up, really, I can’t say that there’s too much that was that amazing or abnormal about my childhood. I was kind of an athlete, but I was never the greatest athlete. I was kind of smart, but I was never the smartest. And so, I just made an eclectic group of friends and eventually sort of wrestled with my inner demons and that was sort of a matter of faith for me. I no longer consider myself Christian, but at the time, becoming aware of Christian theology was hugely transformative for me because I previously didn’t really understand concepts like “grace” and “forgiveness.” Loving someone because at that time in social politics of middle school era, you’re talking about caring about people because you get things in return.
BROWN: For selfish reasons.
TREER: Correct. And so, that was very transformative, but ultimately, I realized that a lot of my faith really came down to just meeting and knowing so many amazing people, and that’s part of what really attracted me to it. The theology is very intellectually interesting, and I still think that it’s really impressive and wonderful, if you choose to see it on its own merits. But for me, it just felt sort of personally hollow after a time and that that became a big problem. That came to a head during my military service, along with a number of other things. During my high school years is when I first talked to a Marine Corps recorder – recruiter, rather. I don’t exactly – I think it might have won one of those things where he made the sales pitch and I didn’t want to say, “no.” And so, he ended up coming my home, terribly polite, talked about all the great things, about how Marines are better than everyone else, and sort of planted a seed, if you will. And I sort of did some of my own cursory research at the time and so, throughout high school, it was one of those things to where I had considered joining the military. It was something on my radar, but I thought I can try to go to college first, and if you don’t like it you can leave. If you go into the military, you don’t just get to leave. I’d actually tried to, wanted to go to, the military academy but I had realized the opportunity too late. It was too late for me to secure a nomination to go.
BROWN: And so, let’s bring this back to the time. So, what year was it when you moved to Iowa?
TREER: Okay yeah, so moved to Iowa I want to say, I was around six when it happened. So, that would have been ’87.
BROWN: 1987, okay, and you’re there for how many years?
TREER: It’s about five.
BROWN: And what are your thoughts on comparing Iowa to this area? There’s not a lot of potatoes, but there are a lot, there is a lot of corn.
TREER: There is. I had, I would say, and probably an atypical experience. I was within walking distance of a shopping mall.
TREER: And so, we were in the I think the – not in downtown Des Moines, but within the greater Des Moines limits and so, it was, I lived in a trailer park so there’s plenty of people around to include. Other kids my age so, for me, I was oblivious to it. I would say for the most part, there’s a lot of culture that isn’t there, but when your kid, you know, sometimes just having toys and people to socialize interact with it really doesn’t matter. I played baseball; I played I think maybe even a year of flag football. Those kinds of things and so, I would say oblivious more than anything. I had a good time of it when I wasn’t making life miserable for others.
TREER: But compared to this area, I would say it can be surprisingly flat. I think is one of the things that really stands out to me is being here, you know, you can go to mountains. You can go skiing, you can go to things like that, but when it snows in the Des Moines area, it’s actually one of the things that will regularly – be on the news is that there’s this one big hill where the Capitol building is. Capitol Hill. So, when it snows, that’s where everyone, if you want to go sledding, that’s where you go and so. But I do remember we also had family in Nebraska. So, we would actually travel I think it’s about a four to six hour drive to where we are in Nebraska, and be on a ranch and get to experience life out that way too so. And different. I would say the minority population in Des Moines was largely black and so, I was going to school with other kids that did not look like me, which for me was a huge privilege. Whereas in this area, when it came back in Kennett, there’s a large Latino population there. So, being able to interact with people who are unlike me, I didn’t appreciate it as much, but in hindsight I think it helped me in a lot of ways.
BROWN: Sure. So, you’re in Iowa for six years you said?
TREER: About five.
BROWN: Five years. So, you’re back here in ‘92-ish?
BROWN: And you’re in what grade when you come back here?
TREER: I came back I was in fifth grade. I think I was towards the old end of my cutoff. I don’t – I was never held back I think I was just old. Not that it helped me with my peer group, again like I said, I was intelligent but never the smartest. So, yeah so, I came back for fifth grade. I went to it’s called Mary D. Lang which among the different elementary schools, it’s seen as the “urban,” if you will, or the “lowly” elementary school if you will. Not the most affluent so, it covers – our property line, interestingly, is divided between Kennett borough and Kennett township. The borough of Kennett is one square mile roughly, and so that’s part of why I got to interact with a lot of students who really didn’t look like me. Unfortunately, once you got to later schools a lot of the students were in stratified if you will academically. And I don’t know if it’s a function of racism or just the way things shake out. A lot of them weren’t native English speakers, so you don’t really see them even though they’re in your grade. Even though you’ve traveled with them for, you know, six seven years throughout middle school and high school. You don’t see them as much, but yeah fifth grade I went to Mary D. Lang and then the Kennett Middle School at that time was co-located with the high school and I think they’ve since built a new one. Later, they sort of took that building and attached it and just merged it into the high school.
BROWN: Sure, and so you’re thinking Marine Corps. Did you do any due diligence with looking at the Air Force or the Navy or the Army, or do you just have your sights set on being a big tough Marine?
TREER: I had looked. I think my power rankings were: Marine Corps is my top choice, and then Air Force would be the next. And my thinking among other things had to do the biggest thing was sort of the social cache I guess of the Marine Corps is that when you think of a Marine, it is wrapped up in that title, whereas if you think a lot of the other services it’s maybe you’re in the Army, but you know what did you do, whereas in the Marine Corps it’s still what you did in the Marine Corps is still important – I’m not dismissing that – but being a Marine in and out of itself is seen as a very big deal. To me at least. And so, I thought, you know, if you’re a Marine you get you get to have that title you – you’re associated with the Marine Corps forever more. The Air Force that they’ve got a lot of money and amenities that the other services perhaps don’t have, and so two wildly different sort of polar opposites.
TREER: But to me, it made sense and so, a lot of it just came down to they had sort of the cache you can just say that you’re Marine and maybe it’s an ego trip but also you know I appreciate their uniforms I guess as well.
TREER: So, probably not the most rational choices of, you know, where you wanted to go, but I knew that I didn’t want to be a, what I would call, trigger puller is that while I morally had to come to terms with the idea that I could be called to take someone’s life. And I wrestled with that, and I figured that that’s something that I could see myself doing and do if I had to in that situation. I didn’t want that to be sort of my primary function and so being a computer nerd in the Marine Corps versus being in the other services you still get like a certain sense of achievement and brotherhood that I just personally didn’t think that I would get if I was in one of the other branches.
BROWN: Sure, so what year was this that you decided to join the Marine Corps?
TREER: So, it wasn’t until much later. Like I said, I tried college first and I went to – actually in the area – I went to Penn State. It’s called Brandywine now; Delaware County campus back then, and I did well until my high school knowledge ran out and I actually had to study for things, and I did terribly, and the stress kind of got to me. I worked at Immaculata University and took classes there for free and I’d actually ended up working for the – my supervisor ended up getting fired for stealing, but the person that they hired was a Marine chief war officer. So, chief war officer Dallello and she was a wonderful person and that kind of just put the, like I said, the plan of the seed previously when I was in high school and that just kind of struck up the conversations, and it was one of those things of why not and it was that in confluence with, again, I was still engaged in a lot of the Christian activities that I had been in going to their camps and organizations where I might go and help. They’re still in Kennett, and now I think West Grove, what’s called the garage, which is a youth community center that does a lot for people there. I was affiliated with that, but my youth pastor at the time. Mike Miller, there’s this book called Wild at Heart and I’ve never read the book so I can’t tell you anything about anything to do with that book other than that the way you characterize it is that it’s important that you’re living your life and that you look for ways to contribute as you’re living because if you wait sort of until there’s something for you that’s specifically handed to you to do, then you’re idle and you’re doing – you’re not being productive with what’s been given to you. So, I didn’t feel like I was spending my time well working as a janitor in Immaculata – not to say that there’s anything wrong with it – I just felt that you know this isn’t a career track for me. This isn’t where I want to stay and so what am I doing where? Am I going and so at that point that’s it was 2003, I went and spoke to a recruiter and pretty much signed up immediately. And I think one of the reasons why I wanted to do this is that for a lot of people anymore, the attacks of 9/11 are a matter of historical record at this point and so, a lot of people who went in during my time if they’re too young to go in they might have gone in around the same time as me because of 9/11. but there’d actually been huge waves of people who wanted to sign up earlier than I did for exactly that reason. So, that kind of – I can’t discount that, but that I don’t think is what motivated me.
BROWN: So, 9/11 had an influence, but it wasn’t the driving force.
TREER: Yeah, and because I was actually again, I was at Penn State. I was on campus, my mother, I woke up and she’d said that there had been a plane that flew into the World Trade Center and there’d been a previous, I want to say like, assessment or something that had flown into the White House. The guy was drunk, and they debated shooting him down and I think he just crashed on the lawn. I don’t think even hit the building and there’d been some other impact on the building I think or whatever. So, I didn’t think anything of it by the time I got to the campus. There are obviously all the news stations, so our teachers sent us out. So, I was watching TV when the second tower was hit and so it’s hard to and of course I’m sure a lot of you know, the media cycle, it was some like something never before they kept painting that image over and over again. So, there are a lot of Marines that I knew that were influenced by that a lot of people who joined. For me, it was more a matter of, again, being athletic and intelligent I thought that my gifts were such that being in the military I could excel and that I was willing to do things that I think not everybody was willing to do, and even if they’re willing not necessarily able to do.
TREER: So, I just felt like it everything sort of seemed to line up to me and it just –
BROWN: The perfect storm.
TREER: — it made so much sense to me that, and I knew that you know obviously the government’s gonna want to get what they can from you, but at the same time, I also knew that there’s a huge amount of benefits that come with military service.
BROWN: Yeah, no, absolutely I think you’re spot on. I want to go back to your, if you if care to talk about, how your religious background made you feel about 9/11. Was there any sort of, you know, what was going through your brain at that moment?
TREER: It’s, I would say, by this point, my memories are so colored by the present that I don’t know if I’m accurately recalling them, but I would say that my general sentiment is I think the biggest thing was my initial reaction was sort of fear and sort of anger and hostility, but I don’t think, I never at any point mistook the attack of religious fundamentalists as being representative of Islam or Muslims. And in fact, I actually knew, and associated with, when I was at Penn State, we had a Christian club that we would talk about you know biblical teachings, and we would do that with other students who are Jewish or Muslim. And so, for me I knew better than to associate one with the other to conflate, but for me it was a profound – why would they do this? And so now that I’m more I think exposed to international politics, I can understand why people would resent the United States and what it does, but at the time I sort of felt like we were the blameless innocent victims and certainly the people in the towers did not deserve that, but the United States as a whole has a problematic history with the way that we interact with the rest of the world. And I think that’s a fair thing to say. So, I think religiously it was a matter of just wanting to understand and care about people having a heart for the world, but knowing that they’re people who also want to kill you and what was your reaction are you willing to sort of kill them in return? So, that was a big part of my, like I said, I had to wrestle with the idea of whether or not I was going to kill someone. Actually, one of my peers in high school got into the Military academy had gone through the process, but then abstained from actually going because he realized that I might actually have to, and that was very prescient on his part because, again this is a decision he made in 2000 so, he would have been going through you know college and directly going into the active duty combat pipeline as an officer. So, he very well could have ended up being in a situation where we’d have to kill people so.
BROWN: Yeah, absolutely.
TREER: Religiously, it was more a matter of um trying to understand I guess the motivations trying to understand the heart behind that, trying to still love people but then also sort of almost like the ridiculous joke in full metal jacket of the duality of man. Of born to kill, but then also having the peace button, right? As you can have both.
BROWN: No, that’s good. So, you’re going, it’s 2003 you said?
TREER: Correct that’s late 2003.
BROWN: And you’re shipping off to Paris Island, South Carolina. I’m assuming.
BROWN: So, what are your parents, family members, other people in your life, what are they thinking about your choice to join the United States Marine Corps?
TREER: I think superficially everyone went along with it. I think my mother knew that if I decide to do something and I’m sharing it with her as though I’ve made the decision she just knows better than to try to convince me otherwise. We’re both very stubborn and we had actually had, I found out later, I almost broke up her marriage at one point because we had been arguing so much, and there’s so much tension that I was causing by being this angst-ridden teenager. It was one of those things though, “is this worth it?” and fortunately they stuck it out. My mom is my best friend at this point, and so I don’t she didn’t like it, but she was supportive. She understood that it was something that I recognized as that’s something that I wanted to do I sort of needed to do at that point in my life. But I think that they probably had the same feeling that I did is what did I get myself into.
BROWN: Sure. So, as you got to Parris Island, what were you expecting? And then how that lined up with what actually took place during boot camp, or were you expecting full metal jacket and got something different? Were you expecting full metal jacket and got full metal jacket?
TREER: So, here’s the sort of, I don’t know that I’ll call it ironic, but I typically can be very, not strategic, but I tend to research things more thoroughly generally. But at that point, a lot of my understanding the military had to do with the actual military itself, not with what they call the accession pipeline of training and getting in. So, I really didn’t know much of anything other than that there’d be a lot of physical activity and they would probably be yelling at you.
TREER: But there are so many people who haven’t gone through that experience and it’s kind of sending to say that people can’t understand so, I think there are ways that you can try to get people to understand. So, just knowing that someone’s yelling at you and knowing that there’s going to be a lot of physical activity doesn’t prepare you for it.
TREER: So, when I try to prepare people for it, or give them an insight, it’s like being a child and your parents being angry with you. They control your whole world and so, that fear that you get as soon as you’ve done something wrong, and then you know your parents know that you did something wrong. That’s what bootcamp is for, you know? For me, it was like 13 weeks, I think at the time it shifts slightly, but—and so, when I arrived, I just remembered I flew in and then from the airport, I think we just took a bus, but I think they bus everyone into the island. So, when I landed, you know, you’re still sort of in civilian mode, walking, and then you see this person in their service Charlies. I think it was the short sleeve tan shirt with the brown gabardine trousers, and they start yelling at you in public in this terminal and you’re wondering what’s wrong with this guy, and then he keeps yelling at you. So, then he starts sort of hesitantly jogging, making a public scene, and you’re like why am I doing this, but you know in hindsight it makes sense. They immediately block you into that mode and then they don’t let go of you for 13 weeks. It was a terror and when you’re not working arduously, when you’re not getting yelled at, you’re typically standing somewhere looking at a wall or looking at the back of someone’s head, bored, for who knows how many minutes. Or even, you know, could be hours because we had to wait. I didn’t know at the time, but we were waiting for the other people who were still coming and so, we’re just standing there looking at a wall, for what seemed like forever.
BROWN: [laughs] So, you get there, you get bussed to the island, and you’re putting your feet on the yellow footprints that Parris Island is famous for. What are your drill instructors like?
TREER: I think the most distinctive thing at that time was how absolutely destroyed their voices were. It’s something that I’d never considered is you don’t realize how much, because they’re shouting so loud, so often, that their voices are hoarse. Often sometimes, it sounds like a whisper, but not in a way that doesn’t confer terror. It’s still terrifying, it’s just strange that a voice that could be quiet, relatively speaking, could still be that terror inducing. So, they are. I think the easiest analogy is when you see uh wolves sort of hurting a pack of animals to try to thin out the herd, so that they can pick one off to kill it. They are aggressively hurting you.
TREER: So, it’s somewhere in between the wolf, because they don’t they don’t want to kill you, but they want you to think that you’re going to be killed by them. So, somewhere between the wolf and the sheepdog. Honestly, their actual function is the sheepdog; they’re just trying to make sure that you get all of the training that’s necessary to protect you.
BROWN: But they want you to think that they’re “the wolf.”
TREER: Yes, and so that’s the initial terror is there’s a lot of them, they’re flying everywhere, they’re being very loud – the ones that still have voices – and the most aggressive. I’ve seen fights at this point in my life, but I’ve never seen someone that aggressive, and it’s all my design, but at the time you’re too terrified you can’t think rationally about it at the time because again these people now own you. They’re your parents; they control your whole world.
BROWN: Correct, and you’re the sheep, right. So, you know, you’re getting thinned out. How many started in your platoon and how many ended up graduating with you?
TREER: For me, it’s a bit hard to say. I went in March and because a lot of students, if you don’t think about it, it’s a lot of students, graduate high school and they go right in. So, they’re going in more of like the June/July timeframe. So, I went, and all of the platoons were very small. So, my understanding is that platoons can be out upwards of 100 and whereas mine, I think, my number was 47, and Treer’s towards the end of the alphabet, so I think we started with somewhere around 50. I think we graduated somewhere around that, maybe a little bit less. We lost a good number of people, but we also you know throughout training, there’ll be people who are injured who get dropped back, or who are sick, or who go unqualified, whether it’s swimming or the rifle range. And so, you pick up a few along the way as well.
BROWN: Sure. So, I’m gonna ask you two questions. What was your least favorite part about bootcamp? And what was your favorite part about bootcamp?
TREER: This is another excellent question. This is how, another way to tell people is how truly terrifying bootcamp is. My favorite part was going to my dental appointments and getting my teeth worked on even though that’s normal in civilian life. One of the worst things that you could possibly do in bootcamp. It’s the one place where the people aren’t required as part of your training. They’re there just to work on your teeth. So, they treat you like a human being. Everywhere else, you get treated, you know, like the scum of the earth, and not only the scum of the earth, but like you are in your existence, in and of itself, is offensive to the drill instructors.
BROWN: You’re stealing their oxygen.
TREER: Basically. It’s a nightmare. So, my least favorite part of bootcamp is, it’s one of those things to where like, patience, if you pray for patience and you’re unfortunate enough that God sort of grants that prayer. It’s one of those things that you don’t appreciate when you’re going through it. So, it was my absolute least favorite, but in hindsight, it was wonderful having all my rights taken away. You can’t smile when you want to, you can’t laugh when you want to, you can’t talk when you want to. There are people who unfortunately urinate themselves because they’re not allowed to go to bathroom when they want to. So, you have all your rights taken away from you, done intentionally. Again, to instill in you the discipline that’s necessary for military life. But, at the time, it encompasses so much of your life that having to set aside your ego was a very difficult thing. I’m still stubborn, but I tend to be stubborn, but also typically rule conforming. And so, it was it was a very difficult process, especially when I thought I was right. There’s one time I corrected my drill instructor mildly, and fortunately I didn’t suffer too much for it. I kind of got away from it because we were on the rifle range at the time, and we have these I think some of the services might have automatic targets that pop up, but we have these metal carriages that work on a counterbalance system. So, you have to lift them up manually and lower them manually and. So, if they’re functionally jammed up, if you will, you’re the one getting yelled at for what is old military equipment. And so, the drill instructor – all he cared about was getting the thing fixed. The result, whereas I was trying to explain why I was not getting that result. He did not care for my explanation. So, just having all your rights taken from you. That, and then a very close second was food. Even though you’re fed a lot of food, it never seems like it’s enough because you’re burning so many calories because you’re so much more active than a normal person typically is. You go to bed hungry; you wake up hungry, you’re just always hungry. And it was very hot during that time. So, you don’t appreciate the ability to drink fluids, like normal fluids not like alcohol or what have you, as much as when you’re in the military. Just because there are instances where you are thirsty and you’re away from water, so you can’t. That happened to me on the Iwo Jima; we actually ran out of water. So, a lot of people use their canteens for chewing tobacco and whatnot, and so they didn’t actually have water with them because their canteens were gross. So, we ran out of water and we had to go throughout for about a couple of hours, maybe like the latter half of our day without water. And even though it’s winter, Iwo Jima was surprisingly hot. I will say, so those things, in that order.
BROWN: Yeah, no, I appreciate those answers. I think whenever you list going to the dentist as your favorite thing about a moment in time, or whatever. That’s, you know, interesting to me, to say the least.
BROWN: I think that’s normal. Some people would say going to chapel, some people, it’s you know, those moments where you’re out of the line of fire of your drill instructor, drill sergeant, whoever, I think are moments that we can all sort of remember like, “Oh yeah, I remember those moments in time that they treated me like a human being.”
TREER: And I’ll add the caveat, of earning the eagle, globe, and anchor, graduating bootcamp. Those are highlights, but I don’t really consider those part of bootcamp.
TREER: So, if I include those then I will say the moment when I earned my eagle, globe, and anchor is honestly, it’s maybe the second biggest moment of my life. And so, but I again, at that point once you’ve reached the last couple weeks of third phase, I don’t really consider. That’s still attached to bootcamp, but it’s really not bootcamp life at that point.
BROWN: Sure. They’re not as aggressive. [laughs]
BROWN: But you said you went into the Marine Corps not as a grunt. As a computer nerd. So, where do you go then for your advanced schooling?
TREER: Well, we still get the combat training that comes next. So, that was at Camp Geiger, which is co-located with Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. It was about a month and a half; I think if I’m recalling correctly. Again, this is still summer. This is the later part of the summer and so still very hot. All of our, almost all of our training days were black flag training days, which if you’re not familiar with the black flags, just the flag system. They have green flag, which is standards, fine weather, good training day. Then there’s yellow, which means caution. Red, which means like you know limit your activities, if possible. And black flag, means absolutely no training unless necessary. Unfortunately, combat training, necessary is necessary. So, they had redesigned the training schedule because apparently a number of the Marines before us had complained about the format. So, the instructors themselves were still adjusting to the format because they didn’t get time to eat or do things that they were used to doing. And we were adjusting to it too. So, it was chaos, but they were also willing to work with us. So, they would allow us some more breaks and things like that. They’d gone from a period where they would have all the range time in one big chunk, and then all of the sort of the classroom and other training time in one big chunk, and it just got to be monotonous and boring. So, they decided to intersperse it so you’re going back and forth a lot. There’s a lot of marches, a lot of in-and-out of equipment, you know in-and-out of the classroom, and so very hot days, and then air-conditioned classrooms, trying to stay awake. So, you appreciate the air conditioning, but it’s also your enemy in a sense. And so, that’s really all I remember from that was the immense heat, and we had a lot of people fall out. We had a lot of heat casualties. I myself didn’t fall out, but I had – I don’t know if it was from drinking too much water, because we had been just drinking an awful lot of water –and I know that I had been drinking water. So, I don’t think it was dehydration in normal sense; it might have been drinking so much water that you deplete the resources in your body. I don’t know, or maybe it was just dehydration despite drinking. But I had lost bladder function on the way back, and I just felt absolutely miserable, and I made it, and I was so worried because they always tell everyone if you fall out, they’re gonna stick the rectal thermometer in you because they need to get your core temperature immediately.
BROWN: That is correct.
TREER: They need to know, do we need to immediately get this guy to safety? Is he going to die? Do we need to throw him in an ice bath? Or can we just you know take this person, give him some water, set him in the shade? So, I waited about half an hour to an hour you know, if I get better, I’ll be fine. I still felt really crummy. So, I went and talked to the corpsman, worried that I was going to get the rectal thermometer. He just laughed at me. I still had a temperature at that point though, but he said that I should be fine. So, I just kept drinking water. I ended up being fine, but then from there my nerd training. All the Marine Corps communications schooling is in 29 Palms, California. So, they give you a bit of time to go home. I think it was before combat training, and I forget if I got time to go home maybe a little bit after the combat training. And then I went to 29 Palms, California, which is near Palm Springs. It’s a few hours away from Los Angeles and San Diego. About five or six hours from Vegas, which gets a lot of Marines into trouble, and also close to Mexico of course if you’re close to San Diego. But otherwise, it’s in the middle of nowhere. It’s near Joshua Tree and Death Valley. So, you’re in this town; the town only exists I think because the base is there. I think originally it was an army base built intentionally in the middle of nowhere in the high desert because of, I don’t know if it was mustard gas, but a lot of people who would convalesce for respiratory illnesses, they would go there. So, the great upside is if you have allergies, you’re not really going to be allergic to anything unless you’re allergic to I think sand. It’s an interesting place, beautiful in its own right, but very desolate. So, you see coyotes there a lot. The general of course still has a lawn, even though everywhere is sand. There’s a green golf course and there’s a green lawn for the general and there are signs that you know basically you will be shot if you walk on that lawn without permission. Not that it ever matters, but an interesting place. And I went there, did at the time our schooling was still redundant. We did a lot of the same training twice over because they had been trying to transfer a lot of the stateside computer networking responsibilities. In fact, they already had, but they hadn’t eliminated the job for it. They transferred it to an NCI, which is a civilian provider for networking capabilities in the United States. So, we went through the DNS, data networking school, something like that, but then we went into a follow-on school. Tactical networking specialist. So, same job but now you’re working with crummy marine core equipment that is put into boxes to make sure it’s you know. You don’t want things falling apart on the way over. So, for computer equipment, that means you’re working with the outdated system just by virtue of how technology works. Interesting, challenging time, but really not a whole lot to do there. I’m surprised that more Marines don’t get in trouble, but you’re out in the middle of nowhere so, I guess there’s only so much trouble you can get into.
TREER: The most noteworthy thing to me is that actually snowed while I was out there, and to put that in perspective, it rains so seldom and even when it does rain, it’s usually so warm that they actually have inside furniture outside. I mean obviously it’s going to be, because it’s for Marines, it’s going to be like resistant type things, but it’s not like patio furniture. It’s padded so, for it to snow, it was beautiful because you could see for so far there’s nothing to obstructive view. But no, I would not recommend going to 29 Palms. If there’s a choice involved, the base theater is great, but other than that you’re kind of on your own.
BROWN: How long were you there?
TREER: In total, I was there for about nine or, yeah about nine months.
BROWN: This is 2004?
TREER: This is 2004. Or no, this is 2000—At this point, because of my training cycle with bootcamp and then the combat training, and I think my time off, I forget exactly when I got there, but I think it was. Yeah, 2004, up to right up to I think the end of 2004.
TREER: But it was six months at that point, but I went to a follow-on school later. As when I picked up the rank of corporal, there’s an NCO level course that was also held at 29 Palms.
BROWN: So, you got the pleasure to go back.
TREER: Yeah. Well, that time, it wasn’t so bad. I went with someone else from my unit, and we had actually convinced our command to give us a rental car. So, we’re going to the casinos; we were going to San Diego we’re you know. I didn’t get in trouble, but I can’t speak for my roommate.
BROWN: Sure [laughs] plead the Fifth.
BROWN: Alright. So, you’re done with schooling, you’re actually a marine, and so where’s your first duty station?
TREER: So, for some of the schools, they give, they basically just assign you where you’re going, but my understanding at least for our school is that the instructors get basically a chunk of slots, and they can disperse them however they want to. So, for our courses, the instructors said, yeah, to you know encourage performance is if you perform better in your class, you get to choose. You get choice-order. So, I decided that I wanted to go somewhere interesting, and that had a number of different meanings and by the time, I forget exactly how it worked out, but I thought that I would have been the top. It really ended up not mattering, but my choices were either going to be Okinawa, Japan or to an infantry unit. And so, by the time it got to me, there was still a slot for Okinawa, Japan. And I thought that going to Japan would be great, and so, that’s where I ended up going. One of the Marines above me had already decided that he wanted to go to I think it was 8th com in Okinawa, and so that’s a unit that their whole function is communications, whereas I went to Marine Air Sports Squadron. I forget, I think it was just First Marine Division for the slot that I chose. So, I didn’t know where I’d be going. Or, not First Marine Division. Sorry, First Marine Air Wing. It’s Third Marine Division that’s in Okinawa. And so, I went to the air wing, and I didn’t know exactly where I’d be going, and that was the first of two times that my orders changed while I was in transit. So, I showed up, and this stayed within the same overall command. I think it was …, which I forget what that stands for, but that’s another air wing-related function. I ended up going to Marine Air Sports Squadron 2.
BROWN: And so, you get there, you didn’t know what to expect. So, what was it like? What was being part of an air squadron in Okinawa?
TREER: So, the stereotype is that swinging with the wing is that the wing is very relaxed and that the infantry units are not. As far as I know, that is very much the case. Not that the wing is relaxed, but when compared to an infantry unit, it is relaxed. So, I checked in and didn’t know what to do, but they treated me you know, like a decent human being. Even the combat training, they still kind of treat you like crap, but it’s way better than bootcamp.
TREER: So, you’re gradually, you’re appreciating the sort of return to normalcy even if, you know, the normal constraints – like, you have to get haircuts, you have to not wear you know. You have to wear your clothing in certain ways, there are all these rules that as a normal person out in the world, you wouldn’t dare have to worry about, but—so, even though you still have all these restrictions on you, they’re treating you so much better in comparison. There were no real issues. It was weird being in. It was weird how familiar everything was even though I was in another country. A lot of my time obviously is spent on base. So, speaking to people who speak English, but even when I was out in Okinawa interacting with people who were, whether they’re English proficient or limited English proficient, that people just seemed like people, and I’m sure their cultural differences mind you, that I was oblivious to being a white male from the United States. Like, we have a lot of, there are a lot of things that I don’t usually have to be mindful of. I don’t have to be worried about how my race is usually perceived. I don’t have to be worried about how you know my language, whereas if you’re speaking Spanish, maybe there are people who don’t like that. So, there are a lot of things that I don’t have to worry about, and it was interesting being a position to where I was aware that there’s a lot of resentment towards Americans there, because Americans were a lot of times associated with the military. I had actually volunteered as a part of the, there’s what’s called the single marine program, and the goal is to help keep Marines from doing the stupid things that young Marines do, and it’s not really that successful, but it gives us opportunities to go to like the aquarium there, which I think at the time was the third largest aquarium in the world. They’ve had one of the largest tanks, single-cell tanks, which was beautiful, and it also gives us chances to volunteer. So, we actually went and volunteered at a senior citizen home, and there’s a lady there who hisses at white people if she sees them. She’s apparently old enough that she was there when World War II had transpired and so, it gave me a sense of perspective of, again the idea that the United States isn’t universally beloved. That we’ve had an impact on the world, that isn’t, it can be very complicated.
TREER: Especially for Okinawa, because Okinawa was originally its own thing that had close relations but was independent from Japan. Then they were taken over by Japan, then we took it over, and we held onto it, and I think until around the ‘70s we handed it back. So, another thing that stands out is typically every morning, they play the anthem, and then in the evening they’ll play colors. So, you have to stand at attention for those. But in Okinawa, they play the U.S. anthem and the Japanese anthem. So, you have to stand even longer. So, you see people around those times a day will scramble to get into their cars or into a building, and it seems counterintuitive because it’s meant to be a point of pride, but you see these people scampering to get out of it. [laughs]
BROWN: [laughs] Well, good. So, overall, you thought your units and your time in Okinawa was going fine. With your fondest memories are being able to be a part of the – given opportunities to volunteer. And so, did you get any travel while you’re there? Did you just stay on the island? Did you go anywhere else?
TREER: So, that was the unfortunate thing that alluded to earlier, by saying the 8th Com versus the air wing is that the unit that I was with, their primary function was communication. Well, it was communications in a sense, but not as I performed it. Their job is to coordinate airspace. So, they’ll liaise with the air force, the army, and the air assets fixed wing or rotary, artillery fire, mortar fire. Obviously, you don’t want planes flying into air mortars, you know.
TREER: It’s one of those things that makes sense, but it’s one of those things that you don’t necessarily think about when you watch battlefields and things like that, is that you have different military branches that operate in the same areas and you need to make sure that there’s no conflicts, as much as possible. So, they would go to Korea or to Thailand. In fact, when I first got to the unit, that was when there’s a huge tsunami that had impacted much of southeast Asia and Indonesia. So, I actually got an award for just showing up, And that’s the way – I’m sure you know – is that a lot of the awards that you get are more or less for showing up and having your clothes on, whether it’s for any specific time or for a certain length of time. So, one of them was for the unit going and performing humanitarian aid. I think that might have been the presidential unit citation or something of that sort. But I didn’t get to go anywhere because my core function at that place was something that they previously had, they’d had a server, which mind you again, this is computer equipment that, even though it’s outdated, costs a substantial amount of money. For whatever reason, they had it. They didn’t really need it at their level. They could have just had a lot of their core computer functions handled by the next higher unit that more likely than not, if they deployed, they’ll be attached to in some fashion anyway. But they had the equipment. So, they wanted to use it. So, before I got there, they actually hadn’t even used the servers because they didn’t quite have all of the core competencies to set it up. So, I didn’t get to travel anywhere because I wasn’t really, I wasn’t what their purpose was. So, they sent those people out to the other places, but I did eventually get to go to Iwo Jima. So, it took me, I want to say, about five or six attempts because the plane would get rerouted. Obviously, it’s a time of war so, if there’s something related. The thing that I didn’t realize at the time is that Okinawa, given your theater operations if you will, the part of the world that you cover they weren’t deploying to OIF, OEF. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, respectively. There are terrorist groups in Southeast Asia. There’s China itself at that time that was a concern because there’s tensions with Taiwan, which I think there’s still tensions politically, but at that time, there wasn’t as much of a sort of a political reacquaintance between the two. There are still very many concerns, and of course, North Korea. There are a lot of different areas where conflict could break out one way or another. So, we can’t really pool those military assets, or we risk an issue similar to like the Korean War, where we didn’t really have significant military assets to respond. So, it was weird because it’s a time of war, but the war is on the other side of the earth, but yet you’re training and preparing for because they have battle plans. You know, if we go to war with North Korea or if we go to war with whoever, there are battle plans that are generically drafted for pretty much every major entity that we think we might go to war with, and you know that you’re gonna be where you’re at you’re gonna be one of the first people there. So, you’re probably just dead because, especially if it was, if you do like the Chinese war scenario is their military is absolutely ginormous and so, they don’t have to shoot very well or be particularly well-trained just by a matter of math. If you’re one of the first people, you know whether it’s Korea or what have you, that you’re Taiwan then you’re just dead. So, it’s very weird headspace to be in, but after five attempts of planes being rerouted for war or breaking, which is another common thing. My best one, I’ll tell you. I was meritoriously promoted while I was in Okinawa, I got along very well with my command. I met some great people and so, that was actually really great time for me and so, just after having been meritoriously promoted, my gunnery sergeant – I was working in the S2 the intelligence section – I, strictly speaking, never actually did my job of tactical networking. I trained and sort of exercised, but I never deployed, so I never put it to use. So, I was in the intel section at the time, he offered me the chance to fly to the United States to help support that training exercise and then you could, what you could do at that point is take leave so that you could fly home. And so, flying home from Arizona versus flying home from Okinawa at the time I think was something like a $1,500 difference. So, it’s not an insignificant offer.
TREER: The other offer was to take part in, I forget what anniversary it was, but it was the anniversary of the flag raising on Mt. Suribachi, which for the Marine Corps is sacred if you will. The joke, I think it’s Joe Rosenthal’s photo, the iconic Iwo Jima photo, to take part in the ceremony with some of the few survivors from both sides as sort of a peace offering between the two nations, as part of mutual respect and our ally relationship. Now, it was a no-brainer, I wanted to be meritoriously promoted standing on top of Mt. Suribachi. I get down to the port, the ship is broken. [laughs]
TREER: So, the show must go on. So, they retest the 31st new, which is a unit that exists on board a naval ship. Their sole job is to float around and make sure that if any fights break out, they have a whole group of Marines and other military assets prepared to respond. So, they got the luxury of being involved in that ceremony and I got to sit at home and do nothing. Well, at home, in Okinawa that is. But eventually, there was another time around, there was a flight at that point and so, we actually had the convenience of flying to Iwo Jima and so, that was the one place that I really got to travel, and it was amazing. The island is a lot smaller than you would expect, that if you’re going to fight over something the only reason to be there, and this is probably in every military document about the issue, is there’s an airstrip there. That was it, there’s nothing else there worth being there. I honestly don’t know why, other than the ceremonial aspect of it, I’m not sure why the Japanese self-defense force is still garrison there, but they’re there and I feel bad for them because there’s nothing there. We didn’t get to. They have their own sort of private facilities, so they tolerate our presence, but we didn’t get to live in a hotel or anything. So, we had to … And so, we’re just to give a greater depth of what people would have been going through. In fact, during the war is, you know, we’re trying to sleep and I’m being terrorized by fire ants and there’s no easy place that you can just relocate to because there were several mounds of them. I have no idea what those fire ants are eating, but obviously other than us at that time.
TREER: But yeah, there are fire ants all over our … site. We went around to different areas and there’s still some historical markers, but then we also engaged in traditions of reading, you know, those who had the Medal of Honor citations, or things like that just to sort of steep ourselves in our own culture. It’s one of the more interesting facets of Marine Corps training is that no matter how pressed we are for the operational tempo of war, we still make sure to instill the discipline of close order drill even though that doesn’t really make you a better, doesn’t make you more lethal in a normal sense, it doesn’t improve your aim, it doesn’t make you stronger, if you will. It just makes you more disciplined. So, it makes you more lethal as a result, but another thing they try not to skimp on is your military tradition because it makes you sort of invested in it. It steeps you in that culture, the esprit de corps that you know, when times are down, that you’re going to be there even if you hate the guy. Trust me, there are plenty of people who I did not, I would not otherwise associate with, but I would risk my life to save theirs, and I know that they would do the same. And so, it was an impressive time. We got to, obviously get attacked by the fire ants. It was winter and it was still hot, and surprisingly small, but when you’re traversing it was a bit of a pain especially going up Mt. Suribachi, we had a literal paved road that wound back and forth up the mountain to make it as easy as possible, and it was still it felt like a trudge. So, trying to scale that mountain without a road, I especially, again people are obviously going to be shooting at you at this point, they had mortars and things like that. They’re firing and it was, I guess tragedy is the word that comes to mind. It’s easy for me to sort of smile about it because of how ridiculous it seems but, if it wasn’t for that airfield, there’s so many lives that would not have needed to die, at least not there, not those days.
BROWN: Sure, sure. So, what’s next in your military life? You come back; you’re still attached. Do you go anywhere else? Do you finish out your tenure in the Marine Corps there? What’s next on the menu, if you will?
TREER: Right. So, after you’ve gone to, you kind of get assigned your first DD station.
TREER: But then they try to accommodate you, in a sense. They’ll give you a wish list that, a lot of times, gets ignored it seems. My wish list at the time is there’s the girl that I had been best friends with, who at the time I thought I was going to marry, and things worked out differently.
TREER: I’d asked her to date not, I didn’t try to pressure her, but we’d been friends for a long time. So, every so often I would bring the issue up, and this time, for whatever reason, she said yes. So, we were going to date. So, I came back, and I had hoped she was in Louisiana at the time. So, there’s really there’s the Fourth Marine Division, which is the reserve division that’s located there, but I don’t know the units in terms of my position were very small and so, there’s no real likelihood that I would be able to go there. So, my first two choices were both in Louisiana and I obviously didn’t get those. So, I went to Camp Lejeune, that was my – and I chose that as my major command because if they you have to include at least one major command. They might accept your list, but you’re not going to get any of them at that point. And I was assigned to, I looked this up, I think it was 1-6, I’m not certain. I remember it was an infantry unit and I was told that they would – by my career retention specialist, or whatever his position is. The guy who gets stuck with the job of telling people where they’re going and what they’re doing. He said that they would be deploying about a month after I got there. So, I warned everyone like, “Look, I’m going to be going with an infantry unit, but I’m a data nerd so,” you know. When I actually show up, again, my orders change and this time I’m not even within Second Marine Division. I’m entirely separate command. They’re far outside of my knowledge because this isn’t something they covered in the typical bootcamp training, and the other things that you learned. So, there’s a relatively newly created command that was Mar-SOC at that time, the Marine Special Operations Command. So, in order to get in, there typically, especially now you need to go through an intensive process where they screen you out based on your physical fitness, your career otherwise, your psychological fitness. All of these things, but for me, they just grabbed me and said, “You’re going there.” So, I have the privilege of having been in special forces without ever having deserved to be there.
BROWN: [laughs] Well, congratulations.
TREER: [laughs] Yes, thank you. So, I went to a communications element within Mar-SOC and so, at the time, I was there it was an interesting time because in the Marine Corps, a lot of times you’re getting hand-me-downs from like the army or whatnot.
BROWN: What year is this?
TREER: So, this is 2007.
TREER: And so, the command is less than a year old because it actually participated in their one-year anniversary. So, you’re getting new equipment, and you get training, and they have actually they have funding for things. So, it’s a completely different perspective from the Marine Corps generally and not just in that way, also by this point I am a corporal still, but I was promoted early on to sergeant. And so, I’m getting promoted to sergeant, but I still don’t have any Marines under me because most of the Marines in my section are sergeants because they want a more mature more capable force because again that’s the whole – they want people capable of independently getting things done. And in the Mar-SOC, and Special Force community otherwise, I’m sure. So, even though I’m a sergeant, I’m still very much like a much more junior Marine, and that’s true for officers and enlisted. You have officers who are typically like one step higher than what their station would typically be seen as. So, it’s an interesting command, a lot of great people there, a lot of great training because they don’t want you to know just your job, they want you to sort of train on some of the other things. So, I got to work on satellite communications equipment that I never would have otherwise touched, but at that point, we’re not there’s what’s called the table of organization, which is basically an inventory of your personnel and equipment, and we didn’t have sufficient T.O. to actually deploy anywhere. So, we weren’t doing anything, we were checking people in and doing inventory lists. So, that was from 2007 until 2008, that’s when I went back to 29 Palms for my follow-up training. And the thinking is that this gives us something to do. This makes us more proficient in our jobs and more beneficial to the Special Forces command, and we were still trying to figure out what our mission was because I think a lot of the communications at that time was handled by the army. There’s the, I forget what the signal core is, but the army has a Special Forces signal core that handles a lot of communications for, whether it’s the Joint Special Operations Command or others. And so, we went to that training, and it was while I was at that training that I started exhibiting I have ulcerative colitis and I became symptomatic at that time.
BROWN: And so that means you’re on your way out of the Marine Corps.
BROWN: Yes, you’re getting med-boarded out. For those who don’t know what that means, it’s a lengthy process, but how does that make you feel? Are you angry? Sad? Happy?
TREER: Anger didn’t really enter into it. Maybe in an existential sense. I’d alluded to earlier that I had sort of a crisis of faith is that being overseas in Okinawa, and then being at the new Special Forces unit where I didn’t know anyone at that point. The girl that I came home. I spent however many weeks on leave with her and so, things between us literally, and when I checked in is when she broke up with me. So, emotionally I was a wreck, and then the training was, I want to say six within about six months or so later. After that, that’s when I become symptomatic. Maybe six months to a year.
BROWN: Do you think they’re tied to themselves?
TREER: [laughs] No, no, not at all, but emotionally I wasn’t in a good place overall because we tried to maintain a friendship and it was continuing to antagonize and reopen the wound, if you will. And so, I was in the training command not even at my parent command and going through this illness, and so my parents – they’re from the east coast – so, I’m in California, 29 Palms, and so, I’m going through a lot of this alone, in and out of the hospital. My symptoms they never really got under control. So, they got me stable, they got me the things figured out. The naval, the medical treatment that I received was overall great, but I think just by virtue of what the military does, a lot of what they do see are just routine injuries. You know, people hurting their ankle, their legs, their arms, their joints. Ulcerative colitis is probably not something they typically see. So, the doctor had initially a difficult time diagnosing me initially, but then I went to San Diego, the Balboa Medical Center, which is absolutely gorgeous area, and it was relatively nice because they finally got me on medication that got me taken care of. And so, I could take my day and go over to Balboa Park, where San Diego Zoo is. There’s a rose garden there that I would recommend. You can get like a cup of tea and just hang out there, but then when I came back to the east coast, the Mar-SOC had no use for me. So, they sent me to Wounded Warrior Battalion-East and so, you’re in a situation where everyone there that is broken in some fashion or another, or they’re there to there’s staff basically, and even some of the staff are also patients.
TREER: So, everyone either wants to get better so they can go back because they know that their unit is doing things without them, or they just they want to sort of accept their fate and move on. So, nobody wants to be there, everyone has things wrong with them, so it’s a very –
BROWN: So, the morale is not very high.
TREER: Correct and so, they try to give people things to do, but at that time there’s no real requirement, so you could just basically sit in a room all day. And they’ve changed that, which I think is good, but I think the way that they changed it I think was to basically give people busy work that might be more frustrating. So, I don’t know if that’s the positive change, but I actually volunteered in they had a driver’s section for people who were so injured that they could not transport themselves. We would help provide transportation. So, they again, it’s a matter of storm clouds with silver linings is that I ended up being a wounded word battalion. They have nurses who are caseworkers who help you fill in paperwork or, you know, making appointments, or handling things that you just don’t have the you know, the simplest things could set you off. And I don’t know if it was my illness, the stress I was going through, or the medication because a lot of medication can kind of make you moody and whatnot. So, you’re breaking down in tears in the parking lot because somebody almost hit you and it’s just frustrating, and it’s very small and petty, but it’s enough that you just can’t handle things very well. So, they do have very supportive staff that are there to help you. Very trying time in my life, but I got to meet people who are going through far worse things and I ever you know there are people who are inside of a tank when it got hit with an RPG and so, they had third degree burns over most of their body. Two different Marines, who are actually one, was a naval corpsman who had been shot in the face, a Marine who been shot in the head and survived with stroke leg symptoms, and so I asked some of them, not all because I know that some wounds, that even if it outside it looks like it melts inside. You know it’s got to be a lot worse, but the one Marine who got shot in the head, he seemed surprisingly calm about his situation life. I guess he was sort of happy or not happy, but content with what he did because I think he got shot while he was laying down suppressing fire to make sure everyone was safe. I asked him if he would do it again. if he could. Without any hesitation, he said yes. So, it’s really beneficial experience, but difficult and so eventually I get my results back. My treatment didn’t work. I ended up having to either increase my treatment to where I’d be taking what’s called a chimera or a similar. So, medications that are designed to basically suppress your immune system, so your immune response is retarded enough to where you’re not symptomatic and that requires IV transfusions every six to eight weeks, which means you’re not deployable, which means you’re no longer a Marine. So, I opted for the surgery knowing the doctors said my symptoms were severe enough that I would probably need surgery anyway. I waited because you have to wait for the injuries and everything, even the surgery to heal, and it just wasn’t enough. So, I get my results back. They let me know I’m being medically separated, not medically retired, which was its own issue, but very difficult time and it took me, I took a year off when I got home. I went home, I live with my parents, and I was trying to figure out what I was doing in my life. I mean it’s hard to tell now, I’m probably around 186 or so now. My symptoms were severe enough that at one point, I was down to around 124. So, even though I’m not healthy enough to be a Marine, my quality of life, even given my symptoms and health issues is so much better that it’s hard to be anything but thankful, because if I had done things the other way around, if I’d gone to the military and then gone to college, and I’d been a poor college student or whatnot. Well, I would have the GI bill, but if I tried the military failed and then gone to college instead of tried college failed military. I don’t know how I would cover all the medical debts. So, while you know they typically say military service they’re sort of like the country, there’s a debt that society owes you is I feel that I still have an ongoing debt to society. And so, I get out and that’s in 2009 is when I get the actual word, but I have enough leave that they give you what’s called terminal leave. You just take that time and even though you’re not, you don’t have typically you have to check back in with your command, in that case they will sign everything in advance and as long as you don’t go and do something – you know, like break any laws or anything like that to where they’ll throw you in the brig – they just administratively close everything out. You don’t have to check back in. So, I go on administrative leave, terminal leave rather, at the end and I get to spend Christmas at home and then I’m officially out in January of 2010. And so, that’s when I take a year, I realize at this point that I need to go back to college because what am I going to do without my health, you know? I can’t be a construction laborer like I was before. I can’t be a janitor, and so I start weighing my options with that, and I end up getting a job at what’s now called Williamson College of the Trades, which is in the area, It’s in Media, and I go to Newman University, which is right down the street in Aston. And they have a criminal justice program there and they also had part of it that really weighed for me was they have an intelligence studies program that was a minor, for whatever reason, there weren’t too many students taking advantage of it even though they give you training on some of the proprietary federal software that is used for intelligence gathering and sharing, which I think would be at least a feathering cap. And so, I go there. I decide on criminal justice because I don’t like a whole lot of writing and reading and I don’t like, I’m not good at science, and so it seems a bit strange that I’m here at law school now, but at the time, because I failed at college twice if you will, I decided to set myself up for success. And so, I go there, great program at least. I met a lot of great people there, and I still keep in touch with some of them. I got a 4.0 my first semester and so then I try to maintain that 4.0. And so I did for all of those semesters, and so then I’m applying to law school and I’m like well, great, I’ve got this amazing grade point average. Turns out law school considers your entire academic record, not just your degree granting institution. So, my 4.0 becomes a 3.42.
BROWN: Alright, yeah, good to know.
TREER: Yeah. So, I graduated in 2015. I take another year. I am trying to apply to federal positions with my undergraduate degree in the area. At this point, I am married to my wife, who is a very different person from me. She’s sort of my complimentary other half, and in a lot of, sort of cliche senses. I met her while I sat behind her in class, and antagonized her enough to where we finally went on a date. Timely enough with Avengers: Endgame out now. Our first date was Avengers so, this recent movie opening was something of an anniversary for us.
BROWN: There you go.
TREER: And so, I graduated—
BROWN: The way you met was “antagonized.” I just want to make sure that’s on the record. [laughs]
TREER: Correct. [laughs] Yes.
BROWN: “Antagonizing.” [laughs] It worked!
TREER: Yeah, yeah, no, it’s maybe not the noblest of ways to meet a woman, but you know, it’s kind of like the – it’s the updated version of pulling on the pigtails, I suppose. I just verbally you know, and so I wasn’t sure what to do, and nobody had any interest in me, despite my sort of sterling academic record if you will. And my military service, which I honestly, I thought my military service might get some of the federal agencies interested, but I think a number of postings they have to put them up publicly, but they probably already have, in some cases, people that already know that they’re going to be applying for it as soon as it exists.
TREER: Or at least that’s what I tell myself to help soothe my ego. And so, one of my professors at Newman actually, psychology professor who I had for … basically said, “Why not go to law school?” And I’m like, “Well I don’t have money to go to law school.” She was of the mind that you just take the debt and then you get the job, and you pay off the debt, whereas I’m of the mind of “I don’t want to handle all that debt” because that will freak me out, and then I’ll just be you know, another homeless Marine out on the streets. So, as it turns out, the reason why I came to Villanova – and this is again 2015-2016 timeframe – is they had two different programs that were full-ride scholarship. And so, at that point, I’m like well maybe you know I can I’ll test the waters, see what shakes out. At this point, I looked up, and the deadline to apply for the LSAT – well, to meet the deadline so that you’re not paying even more money than I don’t really have – was rapidly approaching. So, I had to file, I think it was the next day in fact. So, I signed up immediately and then about a month later I’m taking the LSAT with having taken one practice test and being terrified because of all the different rules about things that you’re allowed to have and not have, and I did well enough on the LSAT that I had significant scholarship opportunities, such that law school became more of an economic reality for me. And so, I’m very appreciative to Villanova and to the admissions personnel that worked with me, because I ended up getting into an argument with one over a misunderstanding. And that’s how I ended up at law school. It was something that I always thought about doing because, you know, being an argumentative person, people just, if you’re argumentative, people just say, “Oh, you’re a lawyer.”
BROWN: Some call that stubborn.
TREER: Right, or tenacious. [laughs] That’s why, for my interview questions, I always do the greatest strength/greatest weakness. For me, it’s always the same answer: it’s I’m stubborn, but I’m also tenacious. They’re two sides of the same coin, and I think it really comes down to: are you professional? Can you take that stubbornness and make it to your advantage? And then when it’s being that bad element, can you be a professional enough that you realize, “Alright it’s time for me to concede?” And so, it became a reality. There were a number of other schools that I considered. Temple, but I would prefer to be outside of the city, and it worked out well with my commute and whatnot. And coming here, there’s some things that I wish were a little bit different, and I’ve made those comments known through some of the feedback surveys. I think with an institution that has “Caritas” as one of its core values, that I think there’s more that could be done for pro bono public interest. They do have the clinical programs, and they do have the Pro Bono Society and the Public Interest Fellowship program, but a lot of those functions are primarily student driven. And so, I think, I don’t think it’s an unfair criticism that perhaps there’s more that they could do, but that said, the faculty that I’ve met here, some of them have overwhelmingly impressive records. There are professors who have clerked for Supreme Court Justices, or who’ve argued before the Supreme Court, or the five-time Jeopardy champion. And so, there are people here who are just characters, that in the normal setting would absolutely stand out. That people in and of their own right, if you go around that, their resume in itself opens doors, and sort of it’s just inherently impressive. But here, they’re just down to earth, and if you have questions to ask – even if it’s about something relatively mundane, or in one case, if it’s you know, the Cubs won and the Cubs lost. Like, there’s conversations with people who are like seem impressive, but there’s they’re still just human, and that’s one of the things like I said, no canal or realizing that people are just people. I thought about the Marines before I joined the Marine Corps is that they’re somehow superhuman, but then I became a Marine, I realized that we’re all just very normal in a lot of ways. And it removes a lot of the sort of mythos, and the sort of the –I don’t want to say prejudice – but misconceptions. But the academic fact here, and the people that have met. Even the student group, my grades have been middling, but having middling grades among a peer group that is academically excellent still makes you pretty good. So, it’s easier to not have the 4.0 when I’m at a much higher level, where things are much more – I wouldn’t say competitive, because the students don’t make it competitive in the negative sense – it’s more challenging. So, that I’m very thankful for as well. The climate that they’ve created here among the students isn’t the greatest for people that there’s only so many students of color, and I think that’s a matter of who comes here. Like, you can’t go out and just grab people and say, “You’re going to law school,” but I do understand that there might be issues with diversity. Also, I think there there’s more that can be done for the study of, I think like philosophy, or ethics, or civics for instance. At a high school level, those things don’t really exist, but they’re universally important, universally transferable elements of study, but they’re not what we test on. We test math, science, so that’s what we teach. Well, law school, it’s a similar function. We teach the law a lot of times, but there’s issues of race and gender. And you know, whether however you feel about intersectionality, if we’re catering to the legal needs of people who are you know, this women who are disadvantaged by the system, or you know people of color who are disadvantaged by the system, or the elderly who are disadvantaged by you know predatory practices, it would help to have a mindset that’s open to that. But all the core classes, some of the some of the other things that are done here. One of the questions they ask me is, “If you had to choose over, would you still come here?” And I didn’t realize that at the time, there are, I’m actually using a different military benefit called vocational rehabilitation, where they, as long as it’s an element of your training, at their discretion they approve it, but they’ve been generous and approved things for me. I even got a laptop at one point, and they asked me, “Do you really need this,” and I’m like, “Well, it would be very helpful, but I don’t absolutely need it.” You can hand write things out, but you’ll be at a disadvantage, and so the guy appreciated that I was forthright, and approved it anyway. So, again, I owe a debt back to society if you will. I might financially calculate things differently, but I think I would still end up here. I think they’ll know it’s a great place, they do, I really appreciate that. The faculty do pop-up exercises and discussions in the Commons that are about topical issues. And so, if you have something that is heartfelt, there’s always someone that’s willing to listen to you. And I think that’s important because I think some of administrations or you know, different military units, or different places that there’s environments where they pay lip service to listening to things, but they don’t sincerely consider them. And I don’t think that’s the case here. And of course, people like yourself, the veterans you know, the people that hear that the various capacities, the various different agencies that I’ve worked with. Even if it’s the bookstore manager about going through the weird voucher system to get my books. Everyone here has been so thoroughly helpful that I honestly can’t think of a single staff or faculty member that I would write off if I could, which is huge to me.
BROWN: Sure, yeah, that’s great. So, you’re gonna be wrapping up your degree here soon, from what I understand.
BROWN: And probably preparing for another exam. Hopefully you give yourself more than a month of prep time for the Bar, but what is your, you know, what is your eventual goal? Do you want to be the mayor of a town? You want to be a judge? You want to be a public defender? What’s next for Garrett?
TREER: I think before I came to law school, part of what I admired about the law was sort of the function of like the ACLU. I might not agree with some of the things that they pursue necessarily, but that they’re there as a counterbalance to make sure that rights are protected. I like the core idea of what they do. I think there’s more that could be done to help people on the ground, and the ACLU is very much sort of like a top-down approach, instead of a bottom-up. Now, I’m not so sure what I would want to do it. It might still be something like the ACLU, but I think ultimately, whether I’m doing civil or criminal law, whether I’m a judge – I like the idea of being a judge and making the decision and having sort of that sense of power and whatnot – but at the same time, there are limits on if you’re a judge, whether or not, you can’t really advocate at that point. There are a lot of things that you can’t do, by virtue of being a judge. You actually, ironically, constrain yourself in very important ways. So, I’m not certain that I would want to be a judge, but whether I’m working civil or criminal, I want to be able to give back with what I’ve been given because I don’t feel that I truly deserve my station in life if you will. So, I think I, for as much as I’ve sort of given in in, sort of vague ways to others, I still think that there’s a lot that I owe. So, I think there’s some things that it’s easy to sort of overlook the gifts that you’ve given, and received in terms of their true value, but I definitely still feel like I owe them. So, I’ve considered public defense. I’ve considered also working with the Board of Veterans Appeals, working on cases. It’s interesting, for administrative law for veterans. That’s a sort of, in theory, there’s a presumptive favor to the veteran that where there’s sort of a tie that the tiebreaker goes to the veteran, but they have a non-adversarial process where the lawyers initially are responsible for developing the claim and representing the government’s interest. So, it’s this really interesting area of practice, and I think that that might be a good way to reform for our immigration process. We already have lawyers, they work for ICE, but it’s adversarial. I think maybe they could take the administrative process and just make it not adversarial. But as long as I’m helping people, civil or criminal, I think the market’s going to decide where I end up. But no matter where I’m at, what I’m going to do, if I’m going to remain at that place, is help people.
BROWN: Sure. Well, I think, you know, as we’ve sat down now for about an hour and talked, I think one of the themes that I’ve heard you consistently bring up in a variety of ways is your commitment to that service to others. So, I appreciate that lack of selfish initiative on your part. Your willingness to think about others’ perspectives, your willingness to think about their place and space in life, and how that impacts where they are and their actions that they’re taking. And again, that theme of, whether it’s volunteering to help young Marines not make stupid decisions, or whether it’s your willingness to be a public defender. You know, those aren’t glamorous things to do. A lot of times, you get dumped on. So, I appreciate that, and I think if nothing else, that really lines itself up well with Villanova, because I think part of our mission is our lack of selfishness. We like to think of ourselves as being good to the community, and so I think that you fit in very well with that. So, thank you for that. Thank you for your service. Thank you for being a Marine and thank you for spending some time talking to us today. Is there anything you’d like to add before we wrap up?
TREER: I think I’ve covered a good amount, and I wouldn’t want to keep it too much longer. There’s nothing that comes to mind but thank you for having me.
BROWN: Sure. Well, thanks, and that wraps up our session with Mr. Treer.
BROWN (OUTRO): That concludes this installment of the Voices of Villanova’s Veterans, a joint project of the Villanova University Office of Veterans and Military Service Members, and Falvey Memorial Library’s Distinctive Collections and Digital Engagement departments. Thank you for listening. For more information, and to listen to more interviews, please visit us online at veteransvoices.library.villanova.edu.
 Agent Orange was a tactical herbicide used by the U.S. military for control of vegetation. It was named for the orange band around the storage barrel. The military sprayed Agent Orange and other tactical herbicides during the Vietnam War.
 The Pacific War (Dec 7, 1941 – Sep 2, 1945), sometimes called the Asia–Pacific War, was the theater of World War II that was fought in eastern Asia, the Pacific Ocean, the Indian Ocean, and Oceania. During World War II, the Allied Powers of the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and Britain fought the Empire of Japan across the Pacific Ocean. This part of the war, called the Pacific Theater, started with Japan controlling almost the entire area, but ended with victory by the Allies.
 At Parris Island, the yellow prints appeared in a recruiting film dated 1965, showing the footprints on Panama Street in front of the receiving building. According to the National Museum of the Marine Corps, they are there to assist new recruits in placing their feet in the correct position for formation.
 NCO: Non-Commissioned Officer.
 Unknown phrase. Best guess: NAX 4.
 OEF (Operation Enduring Freedom) in Afghanistan and OIF (Operation Iraqi Freedom), primarily in Iraq, are military campaigns that are part of the ongoing Global War on Terror. OEF began in October 2001. OIF began on March 20, 2003.
 Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima is an iconic photograph of six United States Marines raising the U.S. flag atop Mount Suribachi during the Battle of Iwo Jima in the final stages of the Pacific War.
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 Medical Evaluation Board. Physical or mental health problems that are expected to render a member unable to fully perform his/her duties, exceeding 90 days require a Medical Evaluation Board (MEB).
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 ICE: Immigration and Customs Enforcement.