MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- Amid the sights and sounds of roaring machine tools, oldies music and blow torches coming from the Auto Body Hobby Shop, a simple sign within the building hangs as a justification for the shop's existence.
"We believe there's no such thing as a stranger," reads the sign, "only friends we haven't met."
The hobby shop serves not only the auto body needs of Marines and sailors here, it is a place which provides a sense of kinship and brotherhood to those wanting more of that human experience.
"I see this place as a hybrid of the USO, enlisted club and staff NCO club," said Jack Tagmyer, a native of Pittsburgh and the shop's manager. "This is the crossroads in the Marine Corps."
A major strength coming from the shop are the bonds formed between the staff and customers. Here, staff members and Marines -- regardless of rank -- work side by side, many times helping each other out with their projects.
"This place provides an opportunity for Marines to come out and learn about vehicles, bodywork and the like, instead of sitting in the barracks," said Master Gunnery Sgt. Leroy Blair, a native of Sumter, S.C., and a storage chief with 2d Supply Battalion, 2d Force Service Support Group, using the shop to paint a car. "Plus, it helps out their wallet instead of paying [for space] in a shop out in town."
Some in the staff, including Tagmyer, are Vietnam War veterans who remember a vastly different American military during the 1960's and 1970's. Despite the tumultuous historical and social events affecting the military during that era, Tagmyer believes there was more camaraderie within units then than now.
"One guy who re-enlisted in the Corps said he'd rather re-enlist here, because of the people who would come to the shop and talk [about their past experiences in the military]," said the former Marine Corps gunnery sergeant. "He said he wanted to be a part of that."
Inside the shop's office, mementos and memorabilia dot the shelves and walls. Iraqi currency with the image of Saddam Hussein is tacked up on a bulletin board filled with pictures and postcards from deployed Marines, while cans of foreign carbonated soft drinks and non-alcoholic beer from Saudi Arabia line up on the window ledge.
"We get letters, pictures and postcards from a lot of deployed people," said Tagmyer. "You have to be doing something right if these guys are sending you stuff back, especially if you wonder if he sent anything back to the post exchange, or even their units."
Marines working on car projects seem quite grateful to the staff and facilities provided to them.
"Ever since I've arrived at Camp Lejeune, this is the place that I come to," said Cpl. Joseph A. Russo, a native of Baltimore and a training noncommissioned officer/machine gunner assigned with 2nd Marine Regiment, who was working on rebuilding a Volkswagen Beetle. "This is like my family down here. My wife and son know the people here."
Tagmyer hopes that word will get out to more Marines of not only the services provided at the body shop but of the sense of kinship and inclusiveness shared here.
"It's so much more than a hobby shop," said Tagmyer. "It's a gathering place."