MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. -- When 52-year-old Master Gunnery Sgt. Stephen C. Doutt, supply/operations chief, Center Logistics Division, graduated from boot camp in 1979, Gen. Robert H. Barrow was the 27th commandant of the Marine Corps. Women Marines were finally given assignments as embassy guards and Iranian militants stormed the United States Embassy in Tehran taking approximately 70 Americans captive, including 13 Marines.
Twenty-five years later, Doutt, a Williamsport, Pa., native, finds himself as the oldest Marine aboard the Combat Center with an abundance of Corps memories embedded in his heart and mind.
1979 marked the start of an anti-Soviet war by the people of Afghanistan, Jimmy Carter was the nation’s 39th president, and leisure suits for men, which were once commonplace, was a dying fashion. Meanwhile, Doutt was on his way to becoming a Marine. At the time he felt the revolution in Iran was a threat to world security, which eventually influenced him to serve his country.
“[My family] was pleased,” said Doutt. “My father was a submariner in the Navy, and my uncles were in the Army. My mother wanted me to get out and get a real job, but she is very proud of my service.”
Doutt found himself on the yellow footprints of Parris Island, S.C., for recruit training. It was 10 years before Stanley Kubrick’s movie “Full Metal Jacket,” but the typical stereotype of an “abusive” boot camp still existed.
“A common misconception of every generation of Marines is that the ‘old Corps’ was somehow cold and impersonal,” said Doutt. “The Marine Corps has never been cold or impersonal. However, there are always a certain number of people that just don’t get it. If you are keeping up with your professional reading you will know that concerned leadership has always carried the day. I went to boot camp in Parris Island, and I was a drill instructor in San Diego. For me, boot camp was exciting and challenging but painful.”
Doutt said the hardest part of training was the solitude.
“There is a loneliness that hits you when you realize you have nobody to blame but yourself,” said Doutt.
In 1979 the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program didn’t exist. Instead, the Marine Corps taught Close Combat Training.
“A few years later it was called line training,” said Doutt. “I have always felt that martial arts should be part of our thinking.”
As a married private first class, Doutt’s paycheck was $500 basic pay with $99.51 in COMRATS. The average cost of gasoline in the country was 89 cents a gallon, a gallon of milk cost $1.62, and a new car was $6,000.
“We had variable housing allowance that was adjusted for the zip code, but it seemed like the landlords always charged a little more,” said Doutt. “I don’t think that has changed. Even with that meager pay I could have bought an acre of land in Fallbrook and should have.”
Doutt did not complain about his pay, at least not a whole lot.
“The minimum wage was not fully in effect so I was making more as a Marine than I had been as a civilian,” said Doutt.
As a junior Marine, female Marines were still segregated and so were their uniforms.
“Females had pinstripe outfits that looked like a nurse or a waitress,” said Doutt. “The sateen combat uniform was being phased out and replaced by camouflage utilities. Actually, the pockets on my first set of woodland cammies were a lot like the ones on the new digital pattern combat uniform. We had a winter and summer set of service uniforms, and we did not get blues issued – we had to buy them.”
Doutt said although we still stress pride in the uniform and overall appearance, the one notable difference back then was that Marines were instantly corrected by the first Marine that spotted an imperfection on a uniform.
In 1979 the thought of a global war against terror. The Vietnam War had ended and support of the troops at home was at a low point.
“Our nation was in turmoil in 1979, however there was not as much solidarity behind the armed forces as there is now – partly because freedom of the press was more restricted in those days,” said Doutt. “The public was afraid of us.”
The biggest difference Doutt has seen in his Marine Corps career is the educational opportunities available to Marines.
“There is no reason every service member regardless of [military occupational specialty] should not have an associates degree at the end of four years, even if you spend the whole four years deployed,” said Doutt.
Doutt reminisced back on his history of service in the ‘old Corps’ and said he is proud of today’s Marines.
“I am sure that all of those who have gone before are equally proud of the way these young Marines handle themselves in combat and in all of the other missions we are tasked with,” said Doutt.
As far as being the oldest Marine aboard the Combat Center, it does not discourage Doutt or make him feel like old news.
“It feels good. I can’t believe how fast it happened.”