It was seeing his best friend come home in uniform that caused Joseph Geeter to get on board with the Marines, "hook line and sinker." That was in 1976. He was 18 years old and growing up in Chicago. Since then, Geeter has served four tours of duty in Korea, Japan, Thailand, and the Philippines, gathering skills and experiences that continue to shape and enhance his life today. After 25 years of service, he retired as a Master Gunnery Sergeant in 2001.
The versatility, communication and integrity instilled in him while working as a Marine is what Geeter looks back on with the most appreciation. Despite the racial disparities that loomed in everyday life, Geeter says he always loved his country and believed in the American dream. He was of tough mind and skin - during training, in boot camp, and while working alongside his fellow Marines. He says he was always proud to wear the uniform.
"When I first enlisted, minorities certainly had some rough times," Geeter said. "As time went on, though, society got better, so the treatment in the military got better. Plus the more stripes that get added to your sleeve over the years, the fewer people who could treat you bad."
Though he had several different assignments and positions throughout his 25-year career, Geeter — who now lives in Philadelphia — says it was his six years of work as an Equal Opportunity Advisor (EOA) that prepared him for life outside of the Corps. The position requires providing assistance to a commanding officer on issues including hazing and sexual harassment.
"I became used to talking to all sorts of people about a range of issues as an EOA," he said, adding that he often could empathize and draw on his early racially charged experiences that helped guide others to peaceful resolutions. "I was proud of that work and the way in which I could resolve and provide guidance on sensitive issues."
Since retiring from the Marine Corps, Geeter has continued to be a voice for minorities who served. From 2005 to 2009, he served as the national president of the Montford Point Marine Association, a veterans group that honors the first black Marines..
"We really seek to preserve the legacy of the first African Americans in the Marine Corps," he said. "Blacks have only been able to enlist since 1942, so we try to find these guys and get them the recognition they deserve from the U.S. Congress."
When he's not serving his community and veterans, Geeter works as a human resources manager at AmeriGas. When he applied for a job in the corporate office 14 years ago, Geeter had zero experience in the field. Not only did he land the job, but he was promoted just 90 days after his hire date. He has since continued up the ladder.
"Learning those communication skills so early on really helped in my current role," he said from his experience as a Marine. "I never know what I'm going to get when people walk through my door, so learning to adapt to any situation has not only benefited me, but my company, as well."
Geeter recalled that when interviewing for the initial position, he asked his soon-to-be boss how long it would take for a successful candidate to be proficient at the job. The interviewer told him 18 months. Geeter said he couldn't help but laugh.
"I told him that I could learn to fly to space in 18 months," he said and then added that Marines often have to be proficient at something in just days.
"I knew I was going to be okay," he said thanks to the values of honor, courage and commitment instilled in him as a Marine. "Even now sometimes I look around, I'm sitting in an air-conditioned office and enjoying the work I do. Everything else is gravy."