MARINE CORPS BASE, CAMP H.M. SMITH, Hawaii --
Lance Cpl. Patrick Bennett, a native of New Orleans may seem like just another young Marine, but this smiling, almost scarily happy individual has come a long way to be called a devil dog.
Bennett’s Marine Corps story picks up at age 12 when his mother first mentioned the idea of joining the military.
“We didn’t have much money growing up and she talked with me about one day joining the Marine Corps to pay for college and to make something of myself,” Bennett said. “She specifically mentioned the Marine Corps because she knew about the reputation it had and the respect people had for it.”
From that time on, Bennett knew he would join the Marine Corps no matter what.
Yet life would not be so simple. A tragic blow hit Bennett only a few years later at age 15. One morning when his mother was catching a bus to work, an unknown person shot her at the bus stop, killing her.
This event left Bennett and his younger brother, Mykel with many questions.
“At first I was just angry. I wanted to know who, why?” he said. “I worried about what was going to happen to me and my brother. I didn’t know where we were going to go or who would take care of us.”
Fortunately for Bennett, Suzette and Alex Tauber, his aunt and uncle, were willing to adopt him and his brother. However, this required him to leave everything he had ever known in the Big Easy and move to Phoenix, the Valley of the Sun.
“When the boys came to our house, it was an extreme difference,” said Suzette. “Even the cooking was different. Their mom was a true New Orleans cook. She fried everything and we are workout fiends who eat salmon and asparagus. The boys might have thought they were sent to hell when they first got here,” she said laughing.
Bennett doesn’t deny it was a bit of a transition.
“It took some time getting used to. The lifestyle was so different. I used to live in the projects. Eventually, it got easier and I began to blend in,” Bennett said. “It was difficult, but I was happy to live with them.”
In the midst of a drastic life change, the idea of joining the Corps did not waiver.
“My life was different for sure. My aunt and uncle had money, something I wasn’t used to,” said the 2006 Saguaro High School graduate. “Even though they had it, I wasn’t going to make them pay my way.”
During high school, Bennett admits he was not a stellar student, but knew he had to do well enough to reach his goal of joining the Corps.
“I was a C student, so I did alright. I just wasn’t motivated to work any harder,” said the 20-year-old leatherneck. “Really I was just lazy and didn’t want to work.”
According to Suzette, what Bennett and his brother went through and where they went through it, may have attributed to Bennett’s lack of motivation.
“You have to remember he came from a very poor background,” she said. “The schools were horrible and he didn’t have anyone to push him in the right direction. It was hard for us to push him along.”
The Marine Corps of course changed all that.
“He is a pretty hard worker,” said Lance Cpl. Paul Bowman, who showed Bennett the ropes when he first arrived to the administrative section. “He listens and is eager to learn.”
According to his leaders, Bennett hit the ground running as soon as he checked in and has since not lost his motivation.
“He was first assigned to the battalion mailroom and jumped into it with a can-do attitude,” said Chief Warrant Officer Lecia Negaard, S-1 adjutant here. “He stood up an inspection for the mailroom as a [private first class] and succeeded at that with only minor discrepancies. For not having been in the Marine Corps long and having never worked in a mailroom before he did very well.”
Negaard said he continues to come into work with a positive attitude and a willingness to accomplish his mission every day. “He always has a smile on his face.”
This change in motivation came in August 2006, right after graduating high school, when Bennett left for Marine Corps Recruit Training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego.
“I was one of those guys who were never under the radar,” said Bennett who weighed 210 pounds before boot camp and 160 after graduating. “All the drill instructors knew my name. I [received incentive training], a lot. I liked it. It was good for me.”
Bennett’s family said they too believe it was good for him.
“The Marines did something that we couldn’t,” Suzette said. “His level of self confidence is so much higher. He used to be a chubby unmotivated kid who never took responsibility for anything and they changed all that.”
Bennett’s younger brother has also found strength in his brother’s accomplishments.
“I am really proud of him. Not a lot of people thought he would make it through boot camp,” Mykel said. “I never really thought about joining the military, but seeing Patrick do it has made me take another look at it. If I was to join it would be because of him.”
Bennett has made an impression on his fellow Marines as well. With an adaptive and personable air about him, Bennett has been able to make friends from every walk of life.
“When I first met him I didn’t think we would get along,” said Pfc. Marvin Carmona, a fellow administrative clerk here. “He was a lot different from [my other friends] I usually hang out with, but after a while he began to open up.”
Carmona has been living and working with Bennett for all but one month since arriving here in July.
“When I first got here he was the one who checked me in, took me around and filled me in on how things work,” said Carmona, an Allentown, Pa. native. “To this day, he is the only one I really click with at work. He’s a good friend.”
Now after a year in the Marine Corps, Bennett is looking to further his career – maybe in a different direction.
“I want to pursue [Marine Corps martial arts] training and other things the Corps has to offer, but I am also looking at [aircraft rescue and fire fighting],” he said. “Regardless of what I decide to do, I know I want to stay in for the full 20.”
Until he moves on to his next stage in his career, Bennett said he wants to learn as much and work as hard as he can, to lay down a foundation that will help him meet his goals.
“The more I think about it, the more I want to be a sergeant major one day,” he said.