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Phil Downer, the president of Discipleship Network of America, speaks to Marine Corps combat engineer students aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, March 10. Downer visited the base and gave speeches to service members, families, various units and commands during a three-day tour.

Photo by Pfc. Nik S. Phongsisattanak

Phil Downer speaks to young Marines about hardship, resilience

12 Mar 2012 | Pfc. Nik S. Phongsisattanak

The Protestant Chapel invited former Marine, Phil Downer, the president of Discipleship Network of America, to speak to Marine Corps combat engineer students, as well as other service members and families about the challenges they may face while serving, during his three-day tour aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune and surrounding installations.

“I was excited about the opportunity to have Mr. Downer here because of the work that he does,” said Col. Peter Ramey, commanding officer of Marine Corps Combat Engineer School. “He understands the experiences that the Marines go through. These combat engineers are the tip of the spear with our infantrymen. I thought that the stories that (Downer) told were very appropriate, because he talked about the things that they did successfully, as well as the failures. It made him real to the audience, and the honesty and credibility enhanced his speech.”

More than 500 Marines gathered to hear Downers’ stories on Ellis Field at Courthouse Bay aboard MCB Camp Lejeune, March 12.

“Well, I just appreciate Marine engineers,” said Downer. “Marine engineers kept me and my Marines alive. They disarmed (improvised explosive devices) that would have killed Marines and sailors, cleared lines, built facilities and bridges to evacuate wounded and provided hot water. Engineers put their lives on the line every day for the practical and the survival needs of the Marine Corps.”

Downer wanted to give back to service members, speaking to them about his challenges with post-traumatic stress disorder and the challenges faced in dealing with combat stress, with hopes that listeners would find guidance or inspiration from his stories of struggle and resilience.

“When I was in training as a young Marine, I didn't understand the need to be disciplined and have attention to detail, and frankly, I didn't always appreciate the instructors,” said Downer. “The instructors were over the top with their expectations, but what the instructors were, were Marines who had been combat hardened and had combat experienced. They were giving me a great gift and that is excellent training before going to war.”

On March 11, Downer spoke to service members and their families about the challenges they may face after a combat deployment during his “Building Stronger Families” family conference at Paradise Point Officer's Club aboard MCB Camp Lejeune.

“It all goes back to family,” said Downer. “Your father or mother always had your best interest at heart, but we didn't always listen to our parents. Sometimes it's helpful for someone outside your family to come in and reinforce what you're learning, and that's what I wanted to do.”

After returning from the Vietnam War, Downer struggled with combat stress. He now uses the stories from his life experience as a tale of triumph over challenges that many service members face.

“One of my goals, as I speak about post-traumatic stress, is to make an effort to help them understand to leave the war, and not bring it home,” said Downer.

Downer has dedicated more than 10 years to speaking to military members of all branches and their families.

“My goal is to reinforce the commands’ and the military’s desire and mission to train and equip the men and women who serve,” said Downer. “One of my goals is to keep as many Marines operationally ready and effective by helping them understand that we live in a world where we want everything now, and so much of what the Marine Corps is, is delayed gratification. (You’ve) got to work today for a future result.”

Downer continued to shed his positive light as he toured MCB Camp Lejeune, speaking to various units and companies, often informally with several Marine Corps school circles. The training he received as a Marine resonated in his character.

“What I learned in the Marine Corps has helped me in every aspect of my life,” said Downer. “You may take casualties today, lose friends and make mistakes, but the thing about a Marine is, a Marine never quits, whether it's at work, home, school or on the battlefield. If we can continue to stay in the fight with character, honor, integrity and with courage, we're going to see a good outcome.”

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