Never too late; Marine's life comes back into focus

25 Jul 2000 | Cpl. Derek Shoemake

Experience as a Marine rifleman helped land Dwayne Bailey the job that put him on the street that night.

The plain-cloths cop was on patrol when he saw a man trying to break into a vehicle. The would-be car thief made a futile attempt to run. Bailey was faster.

They struggled back and forth. The man broke Bailey's nose, but Bailey kept fighting. Bailey even kept fighting when he saw the suspect brandishing the pistol he had slipped out of the police officer's own holster. Bailey kept fighting until deafened by the sound of gunfire.

The man was dead.

Though Bailey didn't know then, that instance marked what would be his return to the United States Marine Corps, via the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable). Over the next six months, Bailey found that out as he did most things in life: the hard way.

GROWING UP ROUGH Dwayne Bailey's parents divorced when he was young, and he spent the better part of his childhood living between New York and New Jersey. Before he was a teenager, he had had smoked Marijuana, experimented with alcohol and stolen cars with his cousin.

"I was playing little league during the day," said Bailey, "and doing stuff like that at night.

"Fortunately, I never got arrested, and I never got heavy into anything."

Bailey said his parents deserve most of the credit for that.  "They stuck with me," he said.

Shortly after he turned 13, Bailey's mother forced him to work at a summer camp for the Salvation Army. He worked maintenance, spending many of his hours in the hot sun cutting grass.

Bailey fell in love with the Salvation Army. He began attending church and hanging out with a different crowd. Until he was 22 years old, Bailey spent every summer there, eventually taking a job as the local athletic director.

"I loved it, but I knew I couldn't be a (Salvation Army athletic director) forever," he said. "So I went down to the Air Force recruiter's office. You know, just to check it out."

However, when he showed up, the office was closed. The Marine Corps recruiter's office wasn't.

After spending that evening with the recruiters, he was hooked. Two days later, Bailey enlisted into the United States Marine Corps.

After boot camp and infantry training, Bailey served on barracks duty, picked up Corporal meritoriously, got married and eventually ended up with 1st Marine Division, 8th Marine Regiment. It was with 1/8 he deployed to the Persian Gulf War.

"I was loving it. Things were great," he said. "My goal was to be the first black Sergeant Major (of the Marine Corps). I was on it. I was a grunt. I had been in almost four years and was about to pick up (sergeant)."

Unfortunately for Bailey, things took a downward spiral. While deployed to Saudi Arabia, his wife had an affair. Bailey still wanted his marriage to work, so when his wife told him the problem in their marriage was the Marine Corps, he opted not to re-enlist.

Still, the marriage dissolved shortly after.

Bailey stayed in the Marine Corps Reserves for two years, where he picked up staff sergeant. While living in Pittsburgh he again began working as the local Salvation Army's athletic director, until a position with the Pittsburgh Police Department opened.

Like in the Marine Corps, Bailey quickly made promotion. He was named officer-of-the-month several times and was in the running for officer-of-the-year. For the first time in a long while, things were going well for Dwayne Bailey.
Then one night he saw a man breaking into a car.

AFTER THE SHOOTING -- The blast went off so close to Bailey's ear, he was deaf for two days. By the time he regained his hearing, things had changed at the station. No one backed him.

Throughout the next six months, the shooting remained under federal investigation.

Eventually witnesses surfaced to corroborate Bailey's story, and it was discovered the man was wanted for murder in the state of Tennessee. For Bailey, though, the damage had been done.

"I gave these people five years of my life. I worked my butt off," he said. "But when this happened, they didn't back me. I felt betrayed.

"So I started thinking, where I have ever been that if you did your job, did what you were supposed to do, and worked hard, you're going to get what you deserve? It was the place I was before. It was the Marine Corps."

In December 1999, 34-year old Dwayne Bailey, now a mortar man, became, for the second time, an active duty member of the United States Marine Corps. Due to his length of time out of the Marine Corps though, Bailey was now a sergeant.

"When I raised my hand that second time I was nervous as Hell," he said. "I've sat on the witness stand in federal court and been grilled by prosecutors and wasn't as nervous as when I first got introduced to my Marines."

That introduction came to Battalion Landing Team 2/2's 81mm Mortars Platoon, part of the 26th MEU. He was the platoon's first squad leader.

Bailey admits things have changed since 1991.

"It's like the packs," he laughs. "We've got these new packs that have so much stuff on them. The ones I used didn't have all these clips and snaps."

Having not been around the Corps, though, gives Bailey certain advantages.

"You have a lot of young leaders out there now," he said. "Sometimes it's hard for them to answer questions because they really haven't been there. I have."

Bailey said he has learned about life first-hand, often times the hard way. For now, his life is in focus. Bailey said he is in a place he should have never left.

Even though he hasn't been back long, he's already set his sights on a new goal: "I want to be the second black Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps," he said.