CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- Naturally, the $12.9 million contract negotiated by Aaron Goodwin for the National Basketball Association's premiere rookie Lebron James received national attention. And rightly so, it's not often that a high school sports phenom commands such a dollar amount.
But the daily contract negotiations of Sgt. Tracy D. Self are successfully accomplished with hardly any notice much less headlines. Self is the career planner for 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, with perhaps some of the "top athletes" of America's 911 force - the Marines.
While there are few parallels between the NBA and military service, the fact remains that both the NBA and the military draw a good share of media coverage. Millions of Americans tuned in when Lebron James' high school games were broadcasted on pay-per-view. Likewise, intense media coverage resulted from U.S. troop deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq. Viewer-ship soared, thus altering the landscape of American television today.
The service members who ensure the ranks of Americas military are full do not concern themselves with getting media coverage or multi-million dollar deals for the men and women whose contracts they handle. The motive for ensuring the success of their "clients" spans far beyond fame and fortune for recruiters.
"I do it because I want to know that people are being taken care of," said Self.
The 26-year-old, Lafayette, Tenn., native comes from humble beginnings, growing up in a small tobacco town. Self said growing up was tough, but he didn't know any better.
Lacking modern day conveniences like running water and electricity, he remembers cooking food over a can of Sterno and fetching water from a well until he was in the seventh grade.
"It all really didn't faze me," said Self, although he recalls bathing out of a five-gallon bucket in the winter was interesting.
An average student, Self maintained decent marks and played the schools only sport available, basketball.
His parents' divorce and his father's relocation to Kentucky had an adverse effect on his grades. Fearing he wouldn't graduate, a fate his mother had succumbed to, he began exploring future options.
A Marine recruiter took interest in Self's future, made arrangements to get him to Kentucky so his father could drive him to Illinois with the agreement that after he graduated he would join the Corps.
Self graduated from Sparta High School in Illinois December 1995 and shipped off to basic training shortly thereafter.
After being trained as a jet engine mechanic, he was assigned to Marine Air Logistics Squadron-26, Marine Corps Air Station New River, N.C. During that time he married Ariane, who he met on leave and started a family.
When it was time to re-enlist Self said, "My experience with the career planner was not what I expected. I was just a social security number on a piece of paper," he said.
Self also said because his career planner didn't seem to care what happened to him, the paperwork needed for him to re-enlist as a jet engine mechanic was never completed.
Self faced a discharge or a new job assignment.
"I was extremely disappointed when I found out I had to change jobs," he said, "and to top it all off my wife and I were expecting a five thousand dollar bonus awarded to jet engine mechanics upon re-enlistment."
Due to the intervention of another career planner Self chose to "stay Marine," but he still faced an uncertain future.
"When I heard of the career retention specialist, I didn't know what is was" said Self, "but after it was explained to me I knew it was exactly what I wanted to do."
Self's beleaguering experiences with his career planner was the driving force behind his decision to become one.
"I didn't want someone else to go through what I went through," he said.
Self said being a career planner has given him the ability to really help people.
The Marines he talks to are not generally looking for a giant re-enlistment bonus. They are just trying to make good life decisions, he said. Often he'll have Marines come into his office and ask for specific duty stations because their spouse has a doctoral degree and they can only find jobs in certain areas of the country. Others claim if they deploy one more time their wives will divorce them. It's these circumstances, which motivates Self to go the extra mile.
"If someone comes to me with a question about jobs for spouses, I'll go to the Internet and do a job search," he said. "To be a career planner, you have to be compassionate and push for what your Marines need."
When a Marine is considering re-enlistment, Self doesn't hit them with a hard sales approach. Instead, he discusses the options available and simply offers advice.
"I try to take things down to a personal level. These guys are not just numbers to me they have faces," said Self.
"I'm not looking for a big paycheck or a special pat on the back for helping them out," Self said. "It's the gratification of seeing someone happy about the fact that they have re-enlisted. There is a look I see on some Marines' faces when they re-enlist that expresses true happiness. It's that reaction that makes it all worth while."