Marines

USMC to WNBC

17 Aug 2000 | Sgt. Jeffrey Castro

From humble beginnings as a news producer and assignment manager at a Chicago station, a former Marine Corps captain forged his way to the top of a national broadcast network.  His reasoning behind his success is hard work and lessons learned in the Marine Corps. 

Currently the president and general manager of WNBC-New York, Dennis Swanson, a native of Wilmar, Calif., always knew he would be a Marine.

"I thought it was important to serve my country and wanted to do that as a Marine Corps officer," said Swanson.  "I did not intend, however, to make the military my professional career." 

Along with being a Marine, Swanson always knew he wanted to work within the broadcast journalism field.  Entering the Corps with a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana, he later went back to receive his master's degree in communications and political science in 1966.  

"I still believe every American should serve his or her country," he added.  "I had a great experience when I was in the Marine Corps and it was something that I wanted to be and I am proud that I was."

As a newly commissioned 2ndLt., Swanson was sent to K Company 3rd Bn., 7th Marines as an infantry officer.  Later he became the regimental legal officer for the 1st Force Service Regiment, where he also was put in charge of the headquarters' security platoon.  

After the Corps and for more than 40 years, Swanson has been working in the broadcast journalism field and in his own right is responsible for some television history many people probably aren't aware of. 

While vice president and general manger of an ABC affiliate in Chicago, Swanson created one of the most successful talk shows in history - "The Oprah Winfrey Show."  Later on as president of ABC Sports, Swanson would shape television programming on a global scale.  Ever wonder why the summer and winter Olympics never happen in the same year?  Dennis Swanson knows; he convinced the International Olympic Committee to stagger its winter and summer games so that they would be held every two years.  The reasoning behind this was to strengthen support for Olympic coverage as well as lessen the stress on advertisers.

With all that he has done, Swanson still manages to pull some hint of Corps into everything he creates.

"Being a Marine has affected me in many ways," said Swanson.  "The lessons I learned as a Marine Corps officer have been instrumental to me in my professional business career.  Going through officer candidate school, basic school and then serving in the Fleet Marine Force prepared me well for any challenge I was to meet later on in the business world."

Swanson said that while he was at the basic school, most of the instructors had already been in some major conflicts, so the lessons they taught were not only from books, but from the "most difficult of circumstances."

"Their lessons," said Swanson, "Analyze the objective, never underestimate the enemy ... these are all things that were pounded into you when you were in Marine training that would apply in virtually any walk of life."

The lasting effects of Marine Corps training are still pulsing through his veins and he feels the concepts he learned are "absolutely relevant."

"I don't think I would have had anywhere near the success that I've had in the business world had I not gone through the Marine Corps," said Swanson.  "One thing you learn is that those DI's are pushing you beyond what you think you can physically endure.  The intent is to break you and you learn that the human body is capable of way more than you would think."

Swanson equates this idea into managing a work force.  According to his idea, one can expect more from people than they might be prepared or think they're prepared to give in terms of output because they are simply capable of more, all they need is to be challenged.

Swanson believes today's Marine Corps is doing well, yet he feels it's also a difficult time for the Corps.

"The world is a dangerous place," said Swanson.  "I think that for some reason our country believes that since the iron curtain fell everything is OK.  It's probably more dangerous now than its ever been because at least when there was a Russia we knew where to aim everything.  Now who knows who has access to these dangerous weapons that exist."

Swanson also expressed concern about the current status of military pay and benefits.  

"I think military pay should be raised I just think that we need to make some adjustments to the military," he said.  As for other issues within the armed forces, such as recruiting goals, Swanson feels that the Marine Corps has been able to overcome those obstacles.

"My advice to any Marine, either in the Corps, getting out of the Corps or already out would be to apply the lessons learned in becoming a Marine to whatever you do in life," said Swanson.  "Teamwork, loyalty, hard work, perseverance and belief in yourself; these principles should put you in a position to succeed in life, whatever your pursuit." 

Today, Swanson's contact with the Marine Corps is only occasional; he helps the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation, the Marine Corps Law Enforcement Foundation, as well as other charities raise funds, but he always loves to reminisce on his days in the Corps.  Swanson recalled some survival training he received at Camp Pendelton.

"We were out there for two weeks, all they gave us was a handful of rice and raisins," said Swanson.  "The last day we formed up for a 20 mile hump back to Las Pulgas.  At our first designated 10 minute break my captain, who had been at Iwo Jima and the Chosin Reservoir yelled, "Take ten - deep breaths and keep moving!"

Headquarters Marine Corps