DVIDS – News – “Tomorrow Ain’t Promised to Nobody”: Civilian Marine Reflects on 45 Years of service In and Out of Uniform
NAVAL SUPPORT ACTIVITY HAMPTON ROADS, Va. – For nearly half a century, Ernest Davis has called the Marine Corps home. As he prepares to retire for the second time in his career, he can say his time in the service was fulfilling.
“I wanted to do something meaningful with my life,” Davis said. “So, I joined [the Corps] to do Marine things and enjoyed every minute of it.”
Davis and his twin brother, Charles, grew up in a working-class Washington D.C. neighborhood. Knowing that no one in his family members received a college education ignited a lifelong passion for learning. His athletic prowess in high school football, baseball, basketball, cross country, and track led to the offer of a full-ride college scholarship. Instead, Davis and Charles chose the path less traveled.
“Me and my brother went in on the buddy system and that worked out well for us,” Davis remarked.
The Davis twins reported to Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina, in December 1977. Coincidentally, they went through the 11-week recruit training cycle together within the same platoon.
“They didn’t know that they had two Davises, but it worked out for us,” Davis recalled.
After graduating recruit training in 1978, the brothers parted ways. Charles went to the infantry at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and Ernest went to the field radio operator course at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center (MCAGCC) Twentynine Palms, California. After completing the course, he volunteered to join the elite 2nd Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company (ANGLICO) Battalion at Camp Lejeune.
“I was told they needed volunteers, so I went,” he said.
The mission of 2nd ANGLICO is to provide Marine air-ground task force commanders with an enhanced capacity to plan, coordinate, and employ air and naval gunfire in support of ground forces. After completing the ANGLICO Basic Course, Davis and seven other Marines reported to Fort Benning (now Fort Moore), Georgia, to attend the Army’s Basic Airborne Course.
“The ‘Black Hats’ [ Airborne School instructors] came to me and the other Marines and asked us to help lead the class.”
Leadership was a trait for which he would be repeatedly recognized and rewarded with meritorious promotions to the ranks of lance corporal, corporal, and sergeant between 1978 and 1980.
“I had leaders that saw something in me, and they [mentored] me to the point where I went to the boards got promoted, got promoted again, and got promoted again,” said Davis.
In 1980, Davis received orders to serve as an artillery radio chief with the 12th Marine Regiment in Okinawa, Japan. As the vital link between ground and artillery forces, Davis and his Marines ensured accurate fire support was provided it in a timely manner.
“I grew up in the field,” said Davis. “Whatever we did, we did it together.”
Exercise Bear Hunt 1983 was a regular occurrence. The exercise was a joint venture between the USMC and Republic of Korea Marines. The two services worked together to test their capabilities and combat readiness in the sea, air, and land battlespace throughout the Indo-Pacific Region.
While on liberty in 1981, Davis met native Filipina Maria-Luz. The couple would marry two years later. After four decades, Maria-Luz is still by his side.
“Back then you had to ask your commanding officer for permission to get married,” Davis remarked. “It is not like that today.”
In 1981, Davis reported back to MCAGCC for a tour of duty at the Marine Corps Communication-Electronics School. After completing his tour instructing new radio operators, he reported to Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia. There, he trained Marine Corps officers in marksmanship from 1983 to 1985.
Following his promotion to staff sergeant, Davis received orders to at attend Recruiter School at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, California. Recruiting duty in Cleveland, Ohio, was not an easy job, but he worked tirelessly to find qualified individuals for the service. As his time on recruiting duty drew to a close, the Davises welcomed their son, Ernest Junior, into the world. Even though his commanders tried to convince him to become a career recruiter, Davis’s heart was with Marines in the field.
“As a junior Marine we were always training in the field and that is where I wanted to be,” said Davis. “I wanted to be back with the Marines.”
As the 80s drew to a close, Davis and his growing family spent a brief tour of duty in Okinawa before returning to MCAGCC. While serving as the communications chief with Wing Support Squadron (MWSS) 173, it seemed that 1990 would be his chance to close with and destroy the enemy.
When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, newly promoted Gunnery Sergeant Davis was eager and ready to lead Marines during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. However, the Corps had different plans for him.
“I wanted to go but the Corps would not let me go,” remembered Davis.
Davis’s commanding officer explained to him that he required him to stay behind in order to keep continuity of leadership within squadron while others were deployed. Over the next two years, Davis continued to mentor and lead the Marines of MWSS 173 through various training events and exercises to be tactically proficient and ready within in their jobs.
In 1992, Davis reported to II Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) to serve as a communications chief. While assigned to II MEF, Davis went to Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi, to attend the Spectrum Manager Course. There students learn the different types of frequencies used by Marines and civilian equipment and learn how to supervise its use within the battlespace and training environments. All of his previous experiences coupled with his Spectrum expertise, prepared him to serve as the communications chief for the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit.
“Back at that time, to be a communications chief on the MEU, you had to be Spectrum trained or you didn’t go,” Davis said.
In 1994, Davis was promoted to master sergeant and deployed for the first time with the 24th MEU. While operating in the Mediterranean Sea and the Middle East, he became a part of military history by providing communication support during the rescue of the U.S. Air Force pilot Scott O’Grady. Made famous by the 2001 movie Behind Enemy Lines, O’Grady was shot down over Bosnia in 1995.
The years between 1996 and 1999 were a time of skill refinement and mentorship as Davis led at the level of senior enlisted advisor. Highlights of this time included a second deployment with the 24th MEU and various roles with 3rd Force Service Support Group (now 3rd Marine Logistics Group) and 1st Marine Aircraft Wing.
In 1999, Davis reached the pinnacle of his career in uniform when he was promoted to master gunnery sergeant. Four years later, in 2003, he reported to Marine Forces Atlantic (now Fleet Marine Force Atlantic, Marine Forces Command, Marine Forces Northern Command) at Naval Support Activity Hampton Roads, Virginia. He would call this area home for the next 20 years.
“While I was still stationed in Japan, I had a friend that was retiring.” Davis remembered. “He asked me to be his replacement and… I said ‘yes.’” Davis remembered.
When the command’s sergeant major retired, the commander of MARFORLANT was forced to find a replacement. His solution was a round table session with all the master gunnery sergeants in the command.
“I was selected by my peers to me to serve in the role [of acting sergeant major],” Davis recalled.
In 2007, after 30 years of service in defense of the nation, Davis hung up his uniform to make way for the next generation of Marines.
“If I had a choice, I would have stayed on active duty for forty years,” said Davis. “I still have my uniforms hanging in my closet.”
After his retirement, Davis worked several jobs before returning to FMFLANT, MARFORCOM, MARFOR NORTH as federal employee. As the Satellite Communications Manager, he works alongside the Marines in the communications section to manage various satellite frequencies II MEF requests in support of combatant commands across the globe.
“I really enjoy my job,” Davis said. “I have received emails from the Marines saying thank you for my support.”
Davis is hopeful about the future of the Corps. As in the past, the Marines will continue to adapt and modernize in order to fight and win future conflicts.
“The Marine Corps today is by far better. And it needs to be,” Davis said. “When I went to boot camp in 1978 it was only 11 weeks, not 13 weeks as it is today.”
Other modernization changes include the re-establishment of Fleet Marine Forces in 2020, returning Marines to their amphibious roots. The Corps is constantly evolving as it moves towards the complete implementation of Force Design 2030.
Highest on Davis’s list of priorities following retirement is quality time with his family.
“My aunts are getting older, my son is 38 years old, and I just want to spend some time with them,” he said. “Family is ultimately all we’ve got. I liked my job. I loved it. I want to spend time with my family. Tomorrow ain’t promised to nobody.”
When asked what advice he would give to the next generation of Marines, his answer was to seize every opportunity that comes their way.
“That’s the one thing about the Marine Corps; take advantage of every opportunity you get, said Davis. “You’ve got to prepare yourself.”
|NORFOLK, VA, US
|WASHINGTON, DC, US
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