MCAGCC, Twentynine Palms, Calif. -- When terrorists attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, few Americans were in a position to do much more than display their anger and grief in the form a car-mounted American flag or a nasty bumper sticker aimed at Osama bin Laden.
Retired Master Sgt. Ronald C. Plumlee took his own anger a step further, leaving his east Texas farm for the California desert and returning to active duty as the Combat Center Provost Marshall's anti-terrorism/force protection officer.
"I was just ... mad. I'm still mad," Plumlee said. He explained that he heard about the attacks by phone while out feeding his livestock. Fighting back tears of "anger and compassion," Plumlee decided then and there that he must leave his wife and family for a while and return to his other family, the Marine Corps.
"The cows had to wait," Plumlee said. "I already knew I was going, I just had to talk to my wife. She said, 'I knew you'd have to go, so go.'"
Why, after serving his country both in the military and during a 30-year career in law enforcement, did he have to go? Simple. He's a Marine.
"My family knows the Marine Corps is part of what I am," Plumlee said. "Besides, if you don't have a safe country and a free country, you don't have anything.
After an involved process of phone calls, paperwork and waiting, Plumlee received orders to report to MCAGCC by Oct. 9, 2001 to serve as the base's anti-terrorism/force protection officer. He is already familiar with the Combat Center, serving with PMO on an as-needed basis as an Active Reservist since 1994, sometimes lending valuable advice by telephone or e-mail from his Texas home. He has also filled in from time to time as acting Provost Sergeant, as well as performing various special assignments.
"Since 1994, I've never refused a request from MCAGCC PMO to do my duty," Plumlee said. "As a Marine, it's what I have to do."
Product of an entire family of Marines, Plumlee's own Marine Corps odyssey began before some retired Marines were even born, on Oct. 11, 1963, as a member of Platoon 178, 1st Battalion, Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego. He spent his first stretch of active duty, from 1963 to 1969, as a jet engine repair technician. He returned to the Marines as part of the Active Reserves in 1977, and has since served as a combat engineer, armorer, primary marksmanship instructor and a military policeman. That doesn't include active service in the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Storm or a four-year period in Force Recon, which ended when Plumlee was 47 years old.
Now at age 57, Plumlee shows no signs of slowing down. In his nine months as anti-terrorism/force protection officer, he established the Combat Center's internal barrier plan, enhanced security at all entry gates, installed several security access gates and introduced 24-hour video surveillance. His most recent tour of active duty ended with his retirement June 30. For his efforts, he earned the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal.
Plumlee said he plans to remain in the Active Reserves for a few more years, hoping to earn the rank of Master Gunnery Sergeant. "If I don't get it, I won't mind," he said. "The title United States Marine means everything to me. I'll retire with a smile on my face."
Until then, he said, he'll be standing by with a packed seabag in his closet, ready for the next time his country or Corps needs him.
"Don't you dare start a war without calling me," he said.