Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif. -- The stories of authentic warriors are told, retold and passed down through generations of Marines. Even in a culture that demands elite performance from its members, there are a few special warriors who overshadow all expectations and become legendary.
Today U.S. Marines are proving the worth of the Corps on battlefields in the Middle East. Through individual stories, Marines are showing the strength and morale of those who fight in the United States’ elite force.
If he has his way, the story of one Princeton University graduate and decorated officer in the Marine Corps has the potential to change foreign policy.
Captain Mark C. Reinhardt, training and operations officer with Headquarters Battery, 3rd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, was born and raised in Princeton, N.J. He graduated high school from The Lawrenceville School and continued his education at Princeton University.
During the summer of his junior year at Princeton University, Reinhardt attended Platoon Leaders Class in Quantico, Va., which is a 10-week training course that prepares students for commissioning as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps. After completing the course, PLC recruits are given the choice to accept a commission or deny. Reinhardt accepted.
One year later, Reinhardt graduated with a degree in economics.
“I chose to commission in the Marine Corps because I knew it was the best branch in the military,” said Reinhardt. “In high school, my wrestling coach was a former Navy SEAL. After hearing what he had to say about the military, I gradually became more and more interested in joining.”
Just like thousands of others, Reinhardt spoke to a recruiter about his options in the Marine Corps.
“I told him about my goals and interests,” said Reinhardt. “I was interested in foreign relations, global strategy and I definitely wanted to get out there and mix it up in the world a bit. I decided the Marine Corps was just a direct approach to that.”
“Now that I am in, my goals are roughly the same and my plot to succeed in those goals are a little better formulated,” continued Reinhardt. “I want to be in a position where I could have the power to influence foreign policy and relations.”
Reinhardt’s first duty station was the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms. Two weeks after he checked in to 3/11, Reinhardt deployed to Kuwait as a second lieutenant in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He was tasked as a forward observer with Weapons Company, 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion.
After a few months, the 1st Marine Division consolidated and he returned to 3/11 as a platoon
commander for Lima Battery where he completed his first tour in Iraq.
During Reinhardt’s second deployment, Lima Battery was assigned as a provisional military police force and the battery was reduced into platoon-sized elements and dispatched throughout Iraq. He was platoon commander for 1st Platoon.
Reinhardt returned from his second OIF tour in September 2004. Again, he deployed in April 2005 but this time to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
There, Reinhardt worked with the Afghan National Army. He was assigned team leader of a three-man team within a 17-man detachment made up of ANA soldiers and Marines.
The company was deployed to Paktika province, a province that borders Pakistan.
“The ANA was the first form of any kind of government in 100 years,” said Reinhardt. “Our mission was to advise their army during combat operations.”
On Aug. 4, 2005, Reinhardt, a fellow Marine, and the rest of an ANA company he was working with were on a mounted patrol through the province. The patrol consisted of four vehicles, one of which was Reinhardt’s humvee.
“As we were convoying, our humvee ran over an [improvised explosive device],” said Reinhardt. “The IED we hit was two combined anti-tank mines, chained to a 120-millimeter mortar round. Our vehicle was the only one in the convoy hit.”
The IED took out the vehicle, killing a Marine gunnery sergeant and severely wounding Reinhardt and an Afghan soldier who was driving the humvee.
“All I can remember was drifting in and out of consciousness,” said Reinhardt.
Under excruciating pain and in the midst of the chaos, Reinhardt yelled to the soldiers to gather all sensitive equipment from the humvee and to secure it in other vehicles. With disregard for their own safety, the Afghan soldiers quickly reacted by aiding the casualties with no hesitation, and they immediately brought Reinhardt out of harms way and into their tactical vehicles, leaving the scene with no delay.
“The Afghan soldiers did an excellent job handling the situation,” said Reinhardt. “Luckily there was no firefight at the scene, but because of their courage I was given the proper medical treatment right then and there and I live to tell about the tragic incident today.”
Reinhardt and the Afghan soldier were treated for wounds and evacuated via helicopter to Bagram, Afghanistan. Six days later, Reinhardt was transported to Germany where he stayed until Aug. 25, and then returned to the Combat Center.
The incidents Reinhardt has seen in the Middle East led him to believe that his mission in “mixing it up” in the world was carried out.
Reinhardt received the Purple Heart for his wounds.
The 26-year-old war veteran is expected to end his honorable Marine Corps career in January.
“I am applying to programs in foreign relations and master’s programs for when my duties are complete here,” said Reinhardt. “I want to see how the ‘non-green’ side handles these issues.”
Nonetheless, he will leave the Marine Corps with an experience that may never be comparable to another.
“As a platoon commander it is almost humbling watching Marines in my platoons perform so well in such ugly circumstances,” said Reinhardt. “And at the same time, they grow, mature and fill in spots as leaders.”
“There is one certain memory that I will always talk about forever,” said Reinhardt. “In [OIF2] we patrolled all day and night. It was tiring and strenuous. But we stayed on a U.S. Army base for some nights. There I would leave my platoon to coordinate for the next day’s events. One night I was coordinating an air strike for the next day and when I returned our eight humvees were formed into an octagon with the headlights facing inward. The Marines had created a ring and were challenging soldiers to friendly wrestling matches. It surprised me and I laughed because after fighting and patrolling for days and nights, the morale of the Marines hadn’t died because they had enough strength to challenge the soldiers in some friendly wrestling. Nothing could take down a Marine’s will.”
Reinhardt considers three deployments an achievement that cannot be matched.
“Over the course of three tours, particularly Afghan-istan, I saw a lot of issues at work that at times, made it hard for Marines,” said Reinhardt. “If I can take something with me that could facilitate policies for the hard-working Marines or U.S. troops in general, I would like to support them to make issues work easier.”
In the immediate future, however, Reinhardt sees himself enjoying doing more relaxing things than combat tours or policymaking.
“As of now I am looking forward to enjoying my time doing things I like to do,” said Reinhardt. “My brother Dirk and I will be fly-fishing in Idaho.”