Conversations ceased abruptly Thursday afternoon as the commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps walked into the room to scattered shouts of “Attention on deck.” Gen. Michael W. Hagee directed the assembled Marines to stand at ease and slipped easily into the crowd at the Oklahoma City Golf and Country Club. In his remarks at a reception hosted by the Marine Corps Coordinating Council of Oklahoma, Hagee said the corps is stronger than it has ever been during his 38-year career. He told the stories of two Marines to illustrate his point. One was a first sergeant who took on a building full of insurgents during a battle in Iraq to rescue two wounded comrades, suffering seven gunshot wounds in the process. The other was a Marine on leave who inspired everyone at a Florida gym to stand at attention at noon each day when a local radio station plays the national anthem. Hagee said their stories illustrate the impact of people committed to doing the right thing. “I’m proud to say we’ve got about 180,000 of them in the Marine Corps today,” he said. Hagee described the corps’ efforts to train a new army in Iraq, collect intelligence for the global war on terrorism in Africa and assist in disaster relief efforts on several continents. “Those men and women are doing a terrific job across the globe,” he said. Support encouragedDuring a question-and-answer session, Hagee encouraged Marine veterans to offer their support to their active-duty counterparts because they share a unique understanding of what they are experiencing. He also asked the veterans to talk to young people about the value of serving their country. Their parents are not as likely to talk about the importance of military service, which makes it difficult for recruiters, he said. Despite that, Hagee said the Marine Corps is ahead of its recruitment goals for this year. It also is close to meeting its retention goals. “The Marine Corps is looking really good,” he said. “Not only today but for many years to come.” Organizers of Thursday’s reception said it included representatives of every Marine organization in Oklahoma except the artillery detachment at Fort Sill. The Marines there were attending a change-of-command ceremony at the Lawton Army post. More than 150 current and former Marines, including former Oklahoma Gov. Henry Bellmon, made their way to Hagee’s side after he was finished speaking to shake hands or have a photo taken.
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