On a mission - Mormon serves Corps with high distinction
| | January 30, 2004
MARINE CORPS RECRUIT DEPOT SAN DIEGO, Calif. --
Instead of pursuing missionary service like many of his religious peers do at his age, Lance Cpl. Derek A. Smith, 19, chose an armed service. One of roughly 11 million Latter-day Saints is now the Corps' latter-day Marine, holding the highest distinction of any boot-camp graduate in his company.
Though recruit training was tough, Smith, Company E's honorman, came to Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego with support from the church and his parents; after all, he can still share his religion in the Marines.
Retired Air Force Gen. Robert C. Oaks, a general authority leader in the church, commended Smith on his decision and urged him to serve with pride. "Church members in the Armed Forces have, over the years, been instrumental in introducing the Gospel to many people in many lands," wrote Oaks to Smith in boot camp.
"The church thought joining the Marine Corps would make me a better member and help me follow the teachings and beliefs," said Smith. "Without the military, the church believes it wouldn't have the freedom to practice."
After 10 days leave, Smith will report to the School of Infantry, Camp Pendleton, Calif., before joining Company F, 2nd Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment, Salt Lake City.
Derek's father, Jeffrey Smith, wanted him to become a missionary but understands and supports his son's decision to join the Corps. His father said, "(Missionary service) tests the skills of a man, how to depend on the Lord, and gain confidence in his abilities."
Smith sees recruit training as an added foundation to strengthening his faith and sees similarities between the church and the Marine Corps. He said recruit training constantly challenges recruits' abilities and confidence and stresses the importance of teamwork.
"The same values of honor, courage and commitment the Marine Corps teaches goes along with the teachings of the church," said Smith, who is from West Jordan, Utah.
Smith's foundation of church and Corps values has driven him, gaining respect from his fellow recruits and drill instructors.
"He's the most squared-away recruit," said drill instructor Sgt. Mark A. Mann, Platoon 2142, Company E. Smith's senior drill instructor, Staff Sgt. Gregory B. Nelson added his praise "He's done an awesome job; he has definitely led by example."
Smith said Oaks' letter presented a good challenge: A Marine can perform his duties and use his time in service to spread the faith.