Commitment, from Bruce Hartzell, USMC vet and retired Special Agent with US Customs, ICE and HSI

In 1979 I just received my BS degree in Administration of Justice. A career in law enforcement always intrigued me as a young kid watching crime shows on TV and my brother telling me of his college friend who was a special agent with Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, who had tales of chasing after bootleggers in Tennessee, getting in car chases, gunfights and such.


I thought that must be the coolest job ever, real Elliot Ness stuff. But, my resume needed some more boxes checked. Most of the male members of my family had careers or had otherwise served in the military and I was bent on that same direction. It also provided an excellent opportunity to travel the world; I wasn’t concerned the least about where I went or why nor the circumstances.


Bottom line: I went to college to get a degree, I joined the Marines to get an education. My wife always reminds me: Love is blind but marriage is an eye opener! My first night at OCS was definitely an eye-opener. Little did I know at the time that I was one of only a handful of candidates with zero military exposure: no Naval Academy, no ROTC, no military prep school, no PLC training and no prior enlisted experience.


At the airport before my flight to OCS I met up with a fellow officer candidate from my hometown. While talking with him he seemed to anticipate the worst of personal humiliation by the staff at OCS. I never saw too much of him during training but low and behold after a few weeks he DOR-ed (dropped on request). I thought what a fool, what a pathetic quitter. It disgusted me. I was going to be a Marine no matter what. The only way out for me was to be thrown out. I’m not a quitter, I’m both feet in, I’m fully committed.


At OCS and TBS I often heard from those with prior military experience variations of the phrase, “Not in my Marine Corps!” This came from those who were already fully committed to build a better Corps than what they previously experienced. It was something I didn’t fully relate to until I got to the FMF.


Armed with a full year’s worth of Quantico indoctrination at OCS, The Basic School, Embarkation School, Infantry Officer School and a flight to Okinawa, I was ready for the Fleet Marine Force. I took over a platoon from a staff sergeant ready to transfer home. The battalion was close to half its T.O. (table of organization) strength, my platoon was never more than 25 men and half of them I rarely saw since they were assigned regimental labor duties elsewhere. I never had more than one sergeant in the platoon. The battalion whittled down to three 2nd lieutenant company commanders. C'est la vie (such is life). The only way to look at the manpower situation was like stepping into a combat unit with a high attrition rate. You make the best with what you have.


Soon the battalion went on float on and off for the next 4 to 5 months. It was just the experience I had hoped. Unfortunately, I had that Embarkation School box checked in my OQR. We made landings in the Philippines, Korea, Thailand and Okinawa. So, after an entire year training to be a platoon leader, I had to stay aboard ship during each landing. Then, as soon as the training float had ended, I was ordered to report for duty as the OIC of the rifle range and then rotate back to the U.S. with another battalion. So, my experience thus far seemed lackluster and banal. The Battalion commander wrote all the officer’s fitness reports and it read like a Zodiac astrological prediction complete with all the vagueness you can imagine. My commitment level was still intact but had me reassessing thoughts of seeking a military career.


Overseas travel to the Far East was still a special experience for me. I opted to rotate back to the U.S. and spend my third and final year at Parris Island. After 6 months of PI and serving as a recruit series commander, the spit and polish atmosphere and “carrying out the training schedule” became sheer boredom, isolation and babysitting 12-14 hours a day. It wasn’t for me. My commitment to the Corps waned as my three-year contract was nigh. I wasn’t cut out to be a parade officer, I wanted to be a combat officer. World events at the time did not seem conducive for any imminent skirmishes. All told though, the Marine Corps was far better for me than I was for the Corps. I now had the fundamentals of leadership, preparation and tenacity to accomplish anything I set my mind to.


Was now the time to become the US Treasury agent I sought for a career? Is there life after death beyond Marine Corps?


Part II — Next stop: The Kansas City Board of Trade, being self-employed, and trading stock index futures


Bruce is a former US Marine infantry officer having served 3 years active duty in Quantico, VA, Okinawa, Japan, and Parris Island, SC. In 1983 he went on to become a stock broker and trader at the Kansas City Board of Trade, trading stock index futures. In 1987 he briefly worked as a correctional officer at the maximum security facility, US Penitentiary, Leavenworth, KS, during the Atlanta, GA, and Oakdale, LA, prison riots.


From 1988 until his retirement in 2013 he served as a US Treasury special agent (criminal investigator) with the US Customs Service, and as a Department of Homeland Security special agent with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Homeland Security Investigations. He conducted investigations encompassing drug smuggling and contraband seizures via air, land, marine and the internet.

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