For Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Justin Billingsley, after 12 years of service to the nation and Corps, it’s a return home, but his military career is far from over.
Billingsley, a bass guitar player in the Marine Corps bands, will be taking a slight break from his full-time music gig to give others the opportunity to pursue their passions by serving as a Marine Corps recruiter.
“My older brother, Joel, preceded me in the Marine Corps by about two years,” said Billingsley, a Chesterfield, Virginia native. “It was actually his graduation from recruit training at MCRD Parris Island that introduced me to the Marine Corps.”
When the younger Billingsley saw the transformation in his elder brother firsthand, it gave him the idea that the Corps could be something for him too.
“It was a real shock to my parents and I when he told us that he had joined the Marines. It was very out-of-the-blue, and completely out of character for Joel to commit to anything,” said Justin Billingsley. . “Gone was the slouching, greasy, slacker that was too lazy to leave the nest- what stood tall before us was a United States Marine. Joel didn't even have to say a word; his posture, bearing, and pride told me all that I needed to hear.”
While seeing the transformation in his brother made Justin Billingsley consider the Marine Corps as a post-high school option, it was seeing the band perform that hooked him. When he saw a Musician Enlistment Option Program pamphlet with a Marine playing the bass on the cover, there was no stopping him.
“I had no life skills other than playing the bass, and this looked like a way that I could be of some use,” said Billingsley. “I always enjoyed playing music growing up, and I couldn’t think of any other way to play as a profession and be able to support my family. In the Marines, I’d have a steady paycheck and benefits. That’s something most professional musicians don’t have, and you can’t raise a family like that.”
A 2003 graduate of the Chesterfield County Mathematics and Science High School at Clover Hill, Justin Billingsley shipped to recruit training a mere two weeks after graduation. Since earning the title of Marine, he has had an exciting career – playing in performances around the globe.
“My experiences during my career have been quite an adventure, and I wouldn't trade a second of it. After recruit training and Marine Combat Training, I attended the Armed Forces School of Music in Norfolk, Virginia. There, I was pushed through a rigorous six-month curriculum of music theory, ear training, personal instrumental instruction, basic conducting, arranging, ensemble performance and field drill. Following my graduation, I reported for duty to the 3d Marine Aircraft Wing Band at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California. During this tour, I deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom as a member of the Tactical Air Command Center Security Platoon at Al-Asad Air Base. When not deployed, our performances included recurring commitments at Disneyland, the Tournament of Roses Parade, and the Miramar Air Show.”
Following his reenlistment, Billingsley reported to the 1st Marine Division Band, at Camp Pendleton, California. For the six years Billingsley spent at Camp Pendleton, he and the 1st Marine Division Band worked extensively with a local high school to improve the students’ musical skills.
“Each year, we would have the students visit our band hall, have sectional practices, rehearse and eat at the chow hall. The students loved the experience, and shortly afterwards we would travel to Irvine, California for a combined concert,” said Billingsley. “We developed strong professional relationships with the students. Over the course of the six annual concerts I participated in, I was able to watch students grow from freshmen and graduate, grow from beginners to actual musicians.”
Billingsley, once again reenlisted and moved to the other side of the world to continue his professional music career.
“In 2012, my family and I moved to Okinawa, Japan, for duty with the III Marine Expeditionary Force Band. I have performed at the Tokyo Budokan, Iwakuni Friendship Days, the Gyeryong Military Culture Festival, deployed to the Republic of Korea in support of Exercise Key Resolve 15, the Ambassador's Quarters in Kathmandu, Nepal, the American Institute in Taipei, Taiwan, re-enlisted atop Mount Suribachi, and various other climes and places. I have personally worked with military musicians from Australia, the Philippines, Thailand, Japan, Republic of Korea, Nepal, and Taiwan.”
Recruiting means taking a short break from his musical career, but Billingsley, who volunteered for the duty, is looking forward to working in the area he grew up in.
“I really look forward to giving back to the community,” said Billingsley. “The community here nurtured me, but it was the Marine Corps that gave me the opportunity to go forth and see the world, all while representing my home town. I really see this as an opportunity to pay it forward. There were so many educators and other people here who made a difference in my life, and I’d like to be able to make that kind of difference in somebody else’s life.”
Billingsley will be working at Recruiting Substation Richmond South and will be assigned to three high schools, including his alma mater, Clover Hill.