Albany, Ga -- One of the longest- serving Marines currently on active-duty will officially retire Friday in a ceremony at 9 a.m. on Schmid Field at Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany.
Col. Ben Braden, chief of staff, Marine Corps Logistics Command, has been on active duty for the past 38 years and is the longest-serving Marine here. He is also one of only 18 in the entire Marine Corps currently serving more than 37 years.
Ronald Reagan once said, “Some people wonder all their lives if they’ve made a difference. The Marines don’t have that problem.”
Braden often uses this quote when he serves as a guest speaker at various events or as the retiring officer for other Marines, and now it applies to him.
A native of Albuquerque, N.M., Braden graduated from Del Norte High School in 1973, and joined the Marine Corps one month later - voluntarily - during the Vietnam War.
“I knew I did not want to go to school or pump gas, so after listening to stories from my Boy Scout troop leader, who was a retired Marine, and seeing their uniforms, I decided to join the Marine Corps,” he said. “I immediately went to see a recruiter and asked what it takes to become a Marine. One month later, I left for recruit training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, California”
As an unrestricted officer, Braden served nine years enlisted, having earned the rank of gunnery sergeant, four years as a chief warrant officer and 25 years as a commissioned officer. He has worked as a truck driver, motor transport maintenance officer, motor transport officer and a logistician during his career.
“I was on recruiting duty in San Francisco when my commanding officer ‘strongly’ encouraged me to apply for warrant officer school,” he said. “I preferred to stay enlisted, but applied anyway and was selected. I was later selected as a first lieutenant limited duty officer, becoming an unrestricted regular officer in 1991.”
Braden noted he has served at many great places including his first duty station, Camp Pendleton, Calif., where he has served twice; two tours at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., two tours at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., two tours at Okinawa, Japan; two tours here at MCLB Albany; recruiting duty in San Francisco, and several overseas tours and exercises throughout the world including Guam, Korea, Kuwait, Iraq, and most recently, as commanding officer of Logistics Command (Forward), Afghanistan.
“Colonel Braden brought in an understanding of Logistics Command from a previous tour and was absolutely the right person to be chief of staff during the last few years,” said Mike Madden, executive deputy, Logistics Command. “With 38 years of experience having served as an enlisted Marine, warrant officer and commissioned officer, he had a solid fleet reputation that helped advance our initiatives.”
Madden said Braden’s time as Logistics Command (Foward) commanding officer brought astute leadership and a commanding presence that ensured mission success during critical Operation Iraqi Freedom retrograde operations.
“Those on the battlefield and within Marine Corps Central Command knew we were serious as we sent our best forward,” he said. “He and his wife, Terri, are a terrific team who did a lot for the command’s esprit de corps. They will be missed both here and in the Corps.”
Braden said he has seen a lot of positive changes in the leadership and aptitude of Marines, as well as in uniforms, equipment and the use of technology since he first enlisted in 1973.
“The draft was coming to an end, the Vietnam War was still going on and the volunteer force was just beginning,” he said. “I saw a lot of shady characters with disciplinary problems serving back in the early days, but when we went to an all-volunteer force, the Marine Corps started cleaning up the ranks. It is a different Corps now - Marines want to be here and are not forced to be.”
Braden said looking back, it’s been a great career and it’s been good to watch the progression of the Marine Corps over the years as it has kept up with technology and all the changes in the world.
“I look back now and remember being in one of the first units to get electric typewriters. Now we all have computers that did not even exist back then,” he said. “It’s kind of fun to joke about how much technology has changed us as well.”
His most memorable experience has been the 10-year gap between the last time he was stationed here and his current tour.
“It was great to see some of the same faces and the dedication of this workforce to the Marine Corps,” he said. “I learned it then, but it was reinforced this time around, that we have what I refer to as ‘blocking backs,’ employees who never get the praise, but do all of the work to support the warfighter. It is great to be stationed with such wonderful professionals.”
Braden says he and his wife will be moving back home to New Mexico after his retirement and plan to spend a lot of time with his four grandsons and volunteer in the community. He admits being stationed here was his favorite assignment, but he says that about all of his past duty stations.
“Terri and I have been married for 37 years and our goal was to make every duty station great, so my last one is always the best,” he said. “We’ve had some great duty stations during my career and had some great times and did some great things. I have always believed that you bloom where you’re planted. We’ve made some wonderful friends, both on and off the base.”
Braden concurred with others that Albany is the best kept secret in the Marine Corps.
“This is where the professional logisticians are and one of the best places to be a Marine because of the great relationship we have with the community,” he said. “We absolutely love it here and it is going to be tough for us to leave. It really is a team effort here between us and the community and their support enables us to be able to support the warfighter.”
Kent Morrison, executive director, MCLB Albany, has served with Braden during both of his tours here.
“Ben and I have been friends for many years and while I am sad to see him retire and leave, I am happy for him and his wife, Terri,” he said. “He has served our Corps and country for so many years and like all Marines, there comes the day when we all must hang up the uniform. I think he only came in for one tour, but has been having so much fun, he simply forgot to get out!”
Morrison said they have talked many times about this day and he reminded him that it is time for him to go home and start enjoying time with his sons and grandsons.
“He and his wife have made many sacrifices that have included long hours, frequent deployments, constant moves, etcetera,” he said. “I wish them both the very best and as they head out to start a new chapter in their life.”
Braden said he is very confident the future of the Marine Corps will continue to be what it currently is - the premier 911 fighting force and the president’s button to push because that is what Marines do and are the best.
“I’ve had a great ride and have been in the best ‘gun club’ in the world,” he said. “It’s my time to give back, so Terri and I will be spending a lot of time volunteering and seeing where we fit into our community. I will miss all of the Marines I have served with over the years the most. The Marine Corps is a big family, but small enough for me to one day see some of those Marines again.”