Lyle Gilbert didn’t consider a military career until he felt the pull of patriotism after scores of U.S. troops were killed and injured in the 1986 La Belle discothèque bombing in West Berlin.
Today, he’s a Marine Corps major whose example has led four of his children into military service – three as fellow Marines.
“For me there was no other alternative than to join the Marines. I never visited another recruiter,” said Gilbert, the director of communication strategy at MCAS Iwakuni, alluding to the toughness, image and ethos embodied by the Corps.
His eldest daughter, Marine Capt. Sarah Rhodes, 29, is a company commander at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C. She is a communication strategy officer by trade, just like her father. Marines in that field serve as military journalists, broadcasters, photographers and public relations specialists.
Rhodes’ younger sister, Marine Sgt. Jordan Gilbert, 25, is also in communication strategy and stationed on Okinawa.
Maurice Murrain, 19, graduated Air Force basic training Sept. 28.
And Tyler Gilbert, 18, who graduated recruit training Nov. 30, was a member of the same recruit company and battalion his father graduated from 32 years ago. He is now headed to Camp Lejeune, N.C., where he will attend combat engineer school.
The Gilberts trace their Marine Corps heritage to Lyle’s father, Dominic, who served in the 1950s. He also worked behind a camera, and today would be considered a communication strategy Marine like his son and granddaughters.
Rhodes was the first of her siblings to sign on the dotted line, in 2012, and said she joined because of the examples set by her parents. Her mother and biological father were both in the Army, and she grew up around the Marine Corps and participated in the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps while attending high school on Okinawa.
“I loved everything about the uniform,” Rhodes said. “That feeling of pride started me on the path to joining the Marine Corps.”
Jordan Gilbert was next in April 2013. She was recently selected for promotion to staff sergeant and will sew on her new rocker next year.
“I got super motivated when my older sister graduated” from Officer Candidate School, Jordan said. “The whole plane ride back, I asked my dad a bunch of different questions, and the next month I signed up.”
The Gilberts’ sons graduated from MCAS Iwakuni’s Matthew C. Perry High School together earlier this year, and were best friends growing up. So much so, that the Gilberts adopted then-12-year-old Murrain in 2012 before moving to Okinawa.
Murrain said he wasn’t set on joining the Air Force until his junior year of high school. Today, he is attending technical school for aircraft structural maintenance at Pensacola Naval Air Station, Fla. He hopes to be stationed at Okinawa’s Kadena Air Base after graduation.
Before leaving home for recruit training, his brother, Tyler, said being a Marine has always been his dream.
“Growing up around the Marine Corps made me want to join,” he said. “It’s a pride thing. [Two of] my sisters had already joined, and I really wanted to make my parents proud. I think the military is the best way to do that.”
Family within a family
Lyle Gilbert met his wife Johanna, then a specialist and finance technician in the Army, while training to become a Marine broadcaster at the Defense Information School at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Ind. Together, the couple has raised a tight-knit family with an emphasis on service. Currently, Johanna is a civilian nurse and lives in North Carolina.
“I think we built it together, although the greater balance was with my wife,” Lyle Gilbert said. “She has always been very nurturing, very loving, very open. She always wanted to have a place where the friends come, not a place our kids wanted to stay away from.”
Their children remember growing up around young Marines from their father’s work who would join the family for holiday parties and other gatherings.
“On Christmas, these corporals and lance corporals would be watching movies in the living room,” Jordan Gilbert said. “Even when dad was deployed, my mom would always have his Marines over.”
That bond carries over even though the family is now spread all over the world.
“We grew up together,” Rhodes said. “And we go through it in the Marine Corps together as well. We have an extra bond that not everyone has.”
Tradition of service
Lyle said he understands that most of his children will likely be deployed – potentially to combat zones.
“The only thing needed for evil to prevail is for good and capable men and women to stand idly by and do nothing. And I tell [my children] that,” he said. “If not you, then who? Serving your country, protecting your fellow man and your family, putting it all on the line for that, it’s why we are all here.”
He said he was very proud when he heard that Rhodes had decided to join the Marines. Despite his and his wife’s pride in their own service, Lyle Gilbert said he didn’t push his children to join the military.
Instead, he said, the focus was on serving others and doing things the right way.
“If you are going to do something, do it 100 percent,” said Tyler Gilbert, explaining one of his father’s philosophies. “Even if it’s a mostly meaningless task, do it and do it right. Do it the way it is supposed to be done, not just to get it over with.”
Two Gilbert children chose paths outside the military. Emily Gilbert, 20, is teaching English at a preschool in Iwakuni while seeking a degree in elementary education.
“I had made it very apparent that I wasn’t going to join the military,” she said. “It’s their thing. It’s amazing what they are doing, but I wouldn’t be able to do it.”
Amanda Segobiano, 27, lives in California, holds a degree in sociology and plans to work as a counselor for formerly incarcerated adults.
What the future holds
While many of the Gilberts’ children may be on active duty for the next several years, none is committed to making the service a career like their father.
Rhodes will hit her six-year mark in December. She said she wants to see what her next station holds before she commits to the long-term.
Lyle Gilbert is also at a crossroads. January will mark his 33rd year in the Marine Corps. Though retirement has long been an option, he was notified of his selection to lieutenant colonel the day before Tyler completed recruit training. With his tour at MCAS Iwakuni coming to an end next year, he said all options are on the table.
“The first thing we advise our children, with anything in life, is to pray about it,” his wife said. “Then do your homework. Know what you’re getting into and make sure it’s something you want and can to do. The military brings discipline, sacrifice and commitment. They understood this, and it’s not a decision they have taken lightly.”
“As a mom, I couldn’t be more proud,” she added. “And our family photos are amazing!”
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