Marine trades deltas for desert cammies
By Sgt. Jimmie Perkins
| Marine Corps Recruiting Command | May 17, 2004
QUANTICO, Va. --
For Marine Lieutenant Colonel Robert Wendel the war on terrorism has up until now been an operation he has studied and observed, but only from afar. Now he too will be playing a direct role as he travels halfway around the world this summer as a representative of both the Corps and the country he loves so much. He has been selected for a vital mission with the military forces of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
“We will be spending a lot of time training the Saudis in counter-terrorism so they can protect their oil distribution infrastructure,” said Wendel, head of Officer Programs, Marine Corps Recruiting Command. “So the importance of our mission has broad-ranging implications.”
And when Wendel says, “broad-ranging implications,” he is talking about issues that affect the world. Take for example the cost of a barrel of oil. Many analysts are attributing the rising price of gasoline here in the United States to fears about the ability of the Saudis to protect foreign workers at their oil refineries. On May 4, the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh told representatives of American companies working in the Kingdom that their American workers should leave for their own safety. Circumstances like these make Wendel’s mission all the more significant.
Now, nearly 20 years after his life changing decision to become a Marine, Wendel will join a handful of fellow Marines as advisors to the Royal Saudi Marine Forces in Saudi Arabia. Their primary mission will be to teach the Saudis joint military operations in order to better enable them to work more effectively with United States and coalition forces, but the true nature of the mission will be much more significant.
“In this job I will be required to be both a warfighter and a diplomat. Our goal is to keep and maintain friends overseas,” said the 40-year-old native of Grangeville, Idaho. “It is a delicate balance, but the people I will be working with are honest, good people and I look forward to it.”
For Wendel this is an honor, and a duty, that his career led him to. When Wendel graduated from Crook County High School, Prineville, Ore., in 1981 he had aspirations to go to college and become a veterinarian. His biggest concern was how to pay for school. Along came the Marine Corps, which helped Wendel get an education. He was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant after graduating from Oregon State University and intended to just stay in for one tour. In a short time, the Marine from a small town saw a part of the bigger world, and it changed him forever.
“I had so much fun doing it that I stayed in. I thought then, and still feel, that I owe my country for the things my country has done for me,” said Wendel.
Wendel will join other service members from all four armed services as part of the United States Military Training Mission to Saudi Arabia, a program that has been in place since 1953. The mission is tasked with advising and assisting the Saudi armed forces in the interest of regional security. The significance of the mission’s effect is evident in the successful integration of coalition forces in the 1991 Gulf War, Operation Iraqi Freedom and the Global War on Terrorism. The tour for a Marine advisor is for a minimum of one year.
“The global war on terrorism isn’t just about direct combat. It is about gaining and maintaining friendships and having a presence,” said Wendel. “This also comes at a time when the Saudis are working very hard to strengthen their self-defense capabilities, and I feel that I can contribute my experience to their efforts.”
During his years of service to the Marine Corps, Wendel has served as an infantry commander, within the recruiting field, and as an evaluator at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in the high desert of Twentynine Palms, Calif. It was in California that he gained valuable experience in teaching and training in a desert environment as he worked to prepare deploying Marines to operate in the demanding conditions. During his career, Wendel earned a Masters of Military Science, and specialized in tactics, skills also important to his new mission.
And while this seasoned Marine Corps veteran is away, his wife Beth and children, Katie Lynn, 13, and Reid, 11, will be staying in the family home in Idaho, eagerly awaiting his return. They can surely take pride in knowing that their Marine is playing a key role in the global war on terrorism. For Wendel it is also a matter of pride, for both the task at hand and his service to Corps and country.
“This is something I wanted to do and volunteered for,” said Wendel. “I’ve been a Marine my entire adult life and consider it an honor to say that I am a professional soldier.”