MARINE CORPS LOGISTIC BASE ALBANY, GA -- A career Marine sits at his desk, staring at his desktop calendar. He looks at the block for July 2 in disbelief as he reads "retirement ceremony, 1500." Some people look forward to the day they can retire, but this Marine will have to fight back tears and emotions as he bids farewell to the family he has known for 30 years - the United States Marine Corps.
With his retirement closing quickly, Lt. Col. James J. Kraus, officer-in-charge of Marine Corps Systems Command Branch at Marine Corps Logistics Bases Command here, looks back on his career in the Marine Corps.
Kraus's long and unforgettable journey in the Marine Corps began in September 1972, after deciding college wasn't the place for him. He graduated from Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, Calif. the following December. He chose the aviation military occupational field, after the recruiter spoke highly of it. However, it was not until after boot camp that he decided to attend school in Glenco, Ga. for air traffic control maintenance.
During his early years in the avionics field, Kraus worked mostly on air traffic control communications equipment. The equipment he repaired and serviced was used to communicate with pilots to ensure safe flights.
"I really have enjoyed it," said Kraus referring to his career in aviations maintenance. "I always felt I was kind of responsible for making sure the equipment was working, to prevent crashes and mishaps."
Kraus's most memorable experience while serving Marine air-wings was when he served as the communication chief for Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, in Okinawa, Japan. While stationed there, his crew was responsible for simultaneously providing radar support to MCAS Futenma and Kadena Air Force Base, for two to three months while Kadena's radar systems were upgraded.
During that time, while supporting the Air Force Base, Kraus remembers watching one of the United States' fastest birds land and take off.
"We were able to watch the SR-71 [Blackbird] land and take-off at night," said Kraus, with excitement. "It was pretty neat to watch when you are standing next to the runway. The after burners looked like they were about a quarter-mile away. There was nothing but flame coming out of that thing. When it hits the end of the runway, it takes off straight up in the air like a rocket!"
Not only has the Marine Corps given Kraus many memorable experiences, it also gave him the opportunity to meet a remarkable woman, JoAnn DeSalvo, who has been his wife for 27 years. They met when they were both corporals stationed in Okinawa. After being together and in love for a year, they were married in 1975 at Naha City Hall, Okinawa.
Kraus was commissioned a warrant officer in February 1981. He wanted to become an officer because he felt he could support the Marine Corps more effectively. Serving in the enlisted ranks before becoming an officer has helped him become a better leader, said Kraus. He was able to understand what happens at all three levels of the Corps' rank structure; enlisted, warrant officers, and commissioned officers. He also felt he was able to understand and relate to junior and enlisted Marines.
"I found out that the staff NCOs are pretty much the backbone of the Marine Corps," said Kraus. "They were there to mentor me when I was a troop. They were there to help support and guide me as a young officer and they are still there helping me out today."
Making his way through the enlisted ranks before receiving his commission is something Kraus is proud of. He feels his experience as an enlisted Marine has helped him relate to his troops.
Apparently that factor works both ways.
"When your troops know that you were prior enlisted, they feel they can relate to you better," said Kraus. "We went through the same boot camp and it gives that same common ground they can relate to."
From his first-hand dealings with Kraus, Sgt. Tim K. Lewis, equipment specialist for Marine Corps Systems Command, knows Kraus does what he can to help his junior Marines. Lewis feels it is an officer's job to look out for the well-being of his Marines, and that is something Lewis said Kraus does on a daily basis.
"If I have a problem he is more than willing to listen to it and take care of it," said Lewis. "I'm getting ready to deploy, and he gave me his home phone number for my wife to call him in case she has any problems while I'm gone."
Lewis has only known Kraus for 11 months, but in that short time, he was glad for the opportunity to work for an officer who genuinely cares about his troops.
Having been in the Corps for three decades, Kraus has learned many things that helped him along the way.
"I found that keeping everybody informed of what's going on seems to help out," said Kraus. "Whether it is in the family or here at work. It seems to give everybody a certain level of security and comfort. And when it is time for you to make a decision, they trust you."
Keeping his wife informed of his career decisions was one thing he always did, said Kraus. Especially when he went to her for guidance, which he often did.
His wife served the Corps for 22 years before retiring as a gunnery sergeant. He remembers when she was promoted to sergeant, wearing maternity clothes because she was pregnant with their first child. Many times his wife had to make the transition to the reserves to take care of their two children.
"I think it was pretty tough on her," said Kraus. "I really think she would have liked a career on active duty herself. I think she gave up a lot to let me have a career."
Military tradition seems to run in the Kraus' family. Not only has he and his wife served the Marine Corps, but his youngest daughter, Christina Davis, works at the dental facility at Camp Lejeune and his oldest daughter, Army 1st Lt. Kimberly Kraus, has served in the Army for six years and is currently stationed in Greece.
Kraus said he is going to miss the Marine Corps, but hopes to get a civilian job here. Enjoying the warm weather and friendly community, Kraus and his wife plan to call Albany home.
Kraus recalls a conversation he had when he was 14. An older neighbor made him realize something that has stayed with him through the years. The gentleman questioned what work he wanted to do when he was older. Of course, like any teenager, Kraus replied he just wanted to find a job and rake in the dough. The older, wiser man told him that he should just find something that he liked to do, and everything else would fall into place.
Kraus took that advice and that is what he has done. He joined the Corps and has enjoyed it so much he decided to stay in for the long haul - 30 years. Staying in the Corps for as long as he did was not something he really thought about or planned. It just sort of happened because he loved his job and the Corps so much.
Reflecting on his time in the Corps, Kraus said he is happy with his career decisions and that he wouldn't change a thing. He would do it all over again, in a heartbeat.
"I've been having fun for 30 years," said Kraus. "Sometimes I can't believe I actually get paid for this."
One thing Kraus has always told his troops who were pondering reenlistment, was that if they are not having fun then they should move on, he said.
"There is nothing wrong with leaving the Corps," said Kraus. "The Marine Corps has trained you with a certain trade, so you can find another job, once you are out. But if you really are enjoying the Corps, this isn't a bad life."
To pay tribute to Kraus's 30 years of dedication to the Marine Corps, a retirement ceremony will be held at 3 p.m. Tuesday in front of Bldg. 3700.