Military Connection: Drill Instructor Gets Pinning Honor

draffenBy Debbie Gregory.

For the last 21 years, Sgt. Thomas Draffen has given his all to the Marine Corps. At the Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma, Arizona, Draffen stood at attention in front of the Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron 1 building, with his uniform’s collar bare.

Behind him, friends and peers stood tall with the air traffic controller. To his left, his wife of over 20 years, to his left, retired Marine Corps Master Gunnery Sgt. Michael Arnett pinned in place Draffen’s new rank as Marine Corps Master Gunnery Sgt.

Master Gunnery Sergeant (MGySgt) is the ninth and highest enlisted rank (along with the grade-equivalent ranks of Sergeant Major and Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps) in the United States Marine Corps. Master Gunnery Sergeants are senior staff non-commissioned officers (SNCOs), and are assigned a pay grade of E-9.

Predecessor Arnett was the drill instructor responsible for shaping Draffen into a Marine. Arnett and Draffen were able to reflect on their beginnings together after the ceremony.

“He was the shortest drill instructor, and he was very skinny,” Draffen said about Arnett.

“Well, the only one skinnier than me was him,” Arnett interjected with a chuckle.

Draffen, a New York native, said it was easy to ask Arnett to pin him, as Arnett was, “clearly very passionate about what he was doing.”

In boot camp, Arnett said Draffen was the knowledge recruit. The knowledge recruit is picked by the platoon drill instructors, and is usually one of the brighter recruits of each training cycle.

“Our platoon took No. 1 for academics, and I didn’t do it by myself,” Arnett said. “Draffen was there on the back end, as a recruit, encouraging the guys to be the best.”

In the beginning of his Marine career, Draffen was newly married with a child on the way. Arnett recalls his own situation at the time, a sergeant with two kids. He remembers thinking to himself, “Golly, he’s got a family, and he’s just starting out.”

Draffen says he enlisted due to financial strain, and felt his only option to support his family was to go to boot camp. Now, almost 21 years into his Marine Corps career, Draffen says he still holds true to the lessons instilled in him by the man who taught him the fundamentals of what it means to be a Marine.

“I’d say the one lesson that he really drove home, and is something we push on our kids, is to take care of your family,” Draffen said. “He reinforced that you perform to take care of your family first, and everything else comes secondary to that.”

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Military Connection: Drill Instructor Gets Pinning Honor: By Debbie Gregory