By GREG JORDAN
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
For one new resident of Mercer County, visiting the JROTC class at Princeton Senior High School was one stop in a journey for a man who started his career wondering if he could climb an obstacle course’s rope.
Gunnery Sgt. Jared W. Stiles of the U.S. Marine Corps is originally from the town of Colgate, Oklahoma, but his current job as a Marine recruiter has made him and his family residents of Princeton. He took some time after speaking to the class to talk about what brought him into the Marines and the Princeton community.
“I joined on Feb. 1, 2000. It’s been over 12 and a half years. I am originally from Colgate, Oklahoma. It was actually the gateway to the coal mines there”
Being from a former mining community was helpful when visiting neighboring McDowell County, Stiles said. Many of the mines around Colgate closed because their coal had a high level of sulfur. It has since become a rural community.
While both Colgate and Mercer County share a coal industry heritage, there are some differences in the communities. Princeton is just one of the places Stiles has called home.
“It’s different from Oklahoma,” Stiles said. “West Virginia is more condensed with the wildlife and stuff. My father, he was in construction. He worked with an outfit out of Dallas. As a kid, I actually lived in multiple places. We moved around a lot. I can’t really stand being at a place more than three years. I’ve lived in California, Georgia, Virginia, New Jersey my last four years in high school, and then I when I enlisted, I was in Fairfax, Va.”
The Stiles family has become part of the community.
“I do live here in Princeton — it’s family friendly. My wife enjoys the school; it’s a nice school at Princeton Primary. My 7-year-old son, Grant, goes there.”
“I like it (Princeton) because it’s a small community, and no matter where my wife goes, people say, ‘Oh, I know you.’ People know when you move it. It’s real friendly. Our neighbors have been just real friendly and helpful,” Stiles said.
Stiles recalled what led him to join the Marine Corps. He decided that he wanted a technical job and saw the armed services as a way to achieve that goal.
“I wanted to do something different. My dad was a Marine in Vietnam. I wanted to be a Marine, but I had a misconception about them. I thought they were kicking in doors, that ‘Full Metal Jacket’ stuff. I originally sent an email to the Air Force. My girlfriend, now my wife, her father was a colonel in the Air Force.”
But the inquiry went unanswered. He reconsidered the Marine Corps when he learned that a high school classmate had enlisted.
“My first period in high school was weightlifting. We were sitting there in the hallway waiting for the coach to open up the door,” Stiles recalled. “We were talking about what our plans were. One girl said, ‘Well, I joined the Marines.’ And I thought. ‘a girl joined the Marines?’ So I started asking questions. I said was thinking about the Marines, but I wanted an electronics job and the Air Force had planes. She said, ‘No, the Marines have electronics jobs. I’ll have my recruiter talk to you.’”
This time, the response was almost immediate. Thirty minutes after he returned home from school, a recruiter was calling him.
“He said. ‘I heard you were thinking about electronics jobs. Why don’t you come on in?’” Stiles said. The recruiter said he could not guarantee an electronics job, but the chances were good if he scored well on tests.
“I scored well, I got into electronics, became a Marine, and I’ve been happy ever since,” he said.
But before Stiles could begin training for an electronics posting, he had to undergo the rigors of boot camp with the other new recruits. The experience proved to be both challenging and a confidence builder.
“It was a shock to the system to say the least. When I, for instance, got in there and thought, “Wow, I’ve dived into the deep end of the pool. I’m just immersed in everything. It was mentally tough, but I was thinking, ‘This is what I want to do. This is my future,’ and some guys couldn’t handle it.”
Stiles remembered one fellow recruit who said, “This isn’t for me” and went to speak to a Marine drill instructor about his problem.
“The drill instructor said, ‘Oh, it’s not for you? Come here.’ They walked into another room. Next thing, I could hear five drill instructors ‘mentoring him.’ And then he came back and sat down and he didn’t say anything the rest of time we were there.”
Stiles and other visiting Marines recounted their boot camp experiences for the JROTC students.
“What I’ve been telling the students here is that when I went there, I was overweight, I wasn’t in shape, and I didn’t take full advantage of the recruiters helping me. I was a terrible what I call ‘poolie,’” Stiles said.
One fellow from his hometown in Colgate told him he had been kicked out of the Marines because he couldn’t get up the 20-foot rope on the obstacle course. Stiles was worried that his career would end because he couldn’t make the climb. Those fears returned when he went on the boot camp obstacle course.
“My fears were confirmed when I was halfway up there dangling like a little bell. I was thinking, ‘Oh, great. They’re going to start processing me out, but they didn’t,” he said. A physical and mental change was in progress, but he didn’t realize it until later
“I never saw the transition. I was doing what the drill instructor said day-by-day. Then I went up the rope — I couldn’t believe it. We went through the obstacle course three times and I went up the rope three times,” Stiles said. “We tell these kids that boot camp is transformational. It teaches you that you can do 400 percent more than what you think you can. That’s what you learn. My confidence went through the roof after that.”
Stiles’ first job after boot camp was test measurement diagnostic equipment repair – a calibration technician. After training for a year, he became a fleet Marine, meaning he was out of the training pipeline and performing duties. He later was assigned to spend a year serving in Japan. His wife, who had grown up with a father in the Air Force, understood how to handle a long separation.
“She knew that all she had to do is keep yourself busy and that year will fly by,” he said.
Now a recruiter, Stiles is on what the Marine Corps calls a special duty assignment or SDA. Marines who want to progress more rapidly with their careers often apply for SDAs that include recruiting, embassy duty, drill instructor duty, Marine security duty that protects nuclear facilities such as nuclear submarines, and school of infantry instruction duty. Taking on one of these special assignments helps Marines be “a cut above the rest” when it come to possibilities for promotion, Stiles explained.
“One of the biggest challenges is knowing that I spent 12 and half years as a electronic maintenance individual, and now I’m learning a brand new job and that job comes with ensuring I’m part of the community, working with the schools, the counselors, the principals and seeing what I can do to help the community.”
The JROTC program’s goal is to help students become better citizens, Stiles said. It is not a recruiting tool, but students who join the program are often thinking about a career in the military. The visit helped to show them some of the possibilities open to them.
Stiles was also thinking about what he could do if he was asked to visit his son’s school. Most of his presentations are geared toward high school students, but he also has a program about the American flag. That was another way to work with the community.
— Contact Greg Jordan at