By Danny Jaillet
“You like your coffee cowboy style?” 20-year-old WSU student Patrick Vossmer quips to his friend as they eat lunch in the Lancer Loft food court.
“No, that’s just how they made it,” the friend replies.
The friend shakes his hand and goes to sit down. As Vossmer is on a time crunch, he sits down and begins to eat right away. His friend sits down to have a cup of coffee, one which he declares to be underwhelming, as there are still coffee grounds at the bottom of the cup.
A couple minutes later, one of Vossmer’s other friends walks by. He shakes his hand as well and says “What’s up?” They then begin to have a rather humorous discussion about the friend’s previous haircut.
“That’s the thing, I never let a girl touch my hair,” Vossmer says.
Sporting a blue sweatshirt and a pair of jeans—not quite a military uniform—Vossmer daps me up and says hello as I join the group. I’ve asked him for an interview about his experience of being a student and a member of the Marine Corps at the same time, and he seems very excited to take part; in fact, despite it being a cold February day, he seems to have all the energy in the world.
We make small talk about the semester, then begin to discuss his involvement in the military. He is an Infantry Assaultman, and has been for a few years. It’s not an easy job, and doing this along with taking classes is an impressive feat.
“My first day was more like my first two or three days,” Vossmer said. “I was awake the entire time. I had woken up and gotten on a plane after waiting at the airport all day. That plane took me to JFK, then to Savannah International Airport. From there, we went to Parris Island, South Carolina.”
The Lancer Loft food court is a far cry from Parris Island. It was interesting to see him recount these stories in this different environment: As he told me the details, he was noticeably thinking through each question, almost as if I was giving him a test. There was so much detail in each response that I asked him to slow down a bit.
But, judging by his account of his first days as a Marine at the island, slowing down was not in the cards. As he continues to tell me, Parris Island was anything but a cushy vacation.
“Once we got there, we were told to put our heads down so we would not recognize our surroundings if we tried to run away,” he said. “Then I heard someone yell to get off the bus. Once we got off the bus, we were told to go through these metal doors. By doing so, I became a recruit.”
Other members of the military can also attest to the fact that Parris Island is anything but a walk in the park. Patrick DeForge, also currently attending WSU, is an Assistant Marine Officer Instructor who worked at Parris Island for the better part of decade; he describes the climate conditions as less than ideal — at least from a recruit’s perspective.
“Temperatures skyrocket to over 90 degrees by early afternoon, and often don’t fall below 70-75 degrees in the summer months. There are a lot of summer months in Beaufort,” DeForge said. “It will get down to the 30s or so in the winter, usually only at night. While not intimidating to us in New England, Recruits come from all over the Eastern United States, so it can be a shock to some.”
This might sound miserable time to some, but Vossmer was eager for the opportunity. Just ask his mother, Stacey Walkinshaw. Communicating with her via e-mail, it was evident that she was proud of her son tackling Parris Island with such vigor, and that she is still proud of him to this day. As she notes, perhaps his greatest quality is never giving up.
“When he sets his mind to something he wants to accomplish, he’s all in and gets it done,” Walkinshaw said. “Determined would be a word I would use to describe him. He was determined to go to Parris Island and make it through the Crucible. He did! He’s a U.S. Marine!”
The Crucible is the final event in Marine training. It is a 54-hour event in which Marines endure sleep deprivation and little food. Marine recruits are matched into teams and take part in day and night events as means of working together. Along with these events, the recruits take part in a leadership reaction course, combat assault courses, and warrior courses. The warrior courses also serve as team-builders, according to RecruitParents.com,
While Vossmer may say that his greatest accomplishment was making it through that first day at Parris Island, it is important to remember something else he has done, which, for some, might seem mundane: going to college.
“Dedicating himself when he wanted to go to Worcester State was his greatest accomplishment,” Walkinshaw said. “He went to Middlesex Community College and got the grades to get in for his sophomore year at Worcester State. That was the only school he toured. Patrick has overcome many obstacles growing up. He just amazes me every day.”
Back in Lancer Loft, it was almost 4 p.m., and the dinner crowd was starting to form.
Nevertheless, I barely noticed. Having never had immediate family members who served in the military, these stories were keeping me entertained. Or perhaps curious is a better word. After all, being in the military is not just some joyride. Vossmer has every right to be excited: He managed to make it through Parris Island, after all.
Vossmer has a distinct dedication to this country. I found out about this during football camp. He decided to walk-on to the football team as a linebacker, and, being the team manager at the time, I spent nearly every day with him during preseason camp. However, it was not for the right reasons: He hurt his knee on the second day of camp and, as a result, he spent the rest of the camp with me watching from the sidelines.
Since football camp was the first time I had met him, I kept asking him questions to get to know him better. One of the hot-button issues at the time, and perhaps even still, was the new presidency in Washington.
“I actually really like what’s going on in Washington,” Vossmer said. “I know a lot of people don’t like it but I do. I would love to work there one day.”
With that statement, I could see the drive and determination that his mother talked about. Coupled with his love for his country, it was easy to see why he was so enthusiastic about becoming a United States Marine. Seeing as he is very loyal to his country, this would make sense. If anything, it is reassuring to know that he has energy and pride when fighting for this country.
“I joined the Marines because personally I am a very competitive person,” Vossmer said. “From a young age I knew I wanted to serve my country and I couldn’t think of a better way to do it than by joining the Marine Corps. They’re the elite branch among the other branches of our armed forces. I wanted to do something challenging and I have a sense of pride in being called a United States Marine. Just to be able to put on my uniform and see what I have accomplished and how far I’ve come in my life gives me that sense of pride.”
Even with all the pressure and time spent being a Marine, Vossmer still makes sure to make time for his family. Vossmer and his mother have always had a close relationship from as far back as they can remember. One of Walkinshaw’s best memories with her son was going to the ocean.
“Just going to the beach and enjoying the ocean and sun with my son is one of my best memories. It’s one of our favorite places,” Walkinshaw said.
Vossmer’s childhood was simpler than his time as a Marine. Being a Marine takes a combination of discipline, endurance and strength to survive the rigors of being put to the test everyday, both mentally and physically. In order to be a Marine, you have to be physically fit. In order to get there, a lot of running was required. Many do not like the concept of running but, for Vossmer, it just added to the exciting challenge of being a Marine.
“Everything in the Marine Corps is difficult in one way or another. If I had to choose one thing, for me it would definitely have to be the running, I’ve never been a huge running type of guy and there is definitely a lot of running in the Marine Corps,” he said.
Following lunch, Vossmer and his friend have a busy day ahead of them. They will be off to the Burncoat School in Worcester to do some volunteer work. All of the Worcester State football players are doing community service in the offseason. It is a great way to give back to the community and it gives the football players a chance to do more than just throw and catch a football well. Especially in the offseason with not much to do, it gives them a productive way to spend their time. For Vossmer, community service seems only fitting. He is very grateful for how Worcester State helped him with tuition and how they were able to adjust to his schedule when he was away in the service.
“I wouldn’t be at Worcester State if it wasn’t for them working so well with my mom while I was on active duty,” he said. “I’d like to thank everybody in admissions for being so flexible with deadlines and forms while I was out of contact for a period of time.”
Although it may seem like everything is falling into place for Vossmer at the moment, his future looks uncertain. His specific job of Infantry Assaultman is being disbanded, because the military has decided that they want to spend the money and put their resources towards other roles. Once it is fully out of operation, he is not exactly sure where he will go. He wants to continue his military career, but he is not sure if that will be in the Marine Corps or not. What he does know is that, upon graduation, he wants to work in Washington D.C.
“Currently I’m a criminal justice major,” he said. “My end goal is to work at the federal level in law enforcement. I want to work at the state or municipal level to build my resume. My end goal is to be a federal law enforcement officer.”
Whatever Vossmer decides to do, his mother will be proud of him. It has been quite a journey. From the Marines, to Middlesex Community College, to Worcester State and hopefully to Washington D.C. one day, Vossmer has come a long way. At only 20 years of age, the sky appears to be the limit for him. One thing is definite: Vossmer will always take pride in being a Marine and serving his country. That is certainly something he should hang his hat on.