USS CARTER HALL, At sea -- During World War II, the Marine Corps was tarred in absentia by Imperial Japanese propaganda, who claimed that it filled its ranks with the likes of psychotic criminals and the murderously insane. It’s not uncommon for enemies of the Marine Corps to attribute to it a reputation for barely restrained ferocity and rare ruthlessness. Over the years, the Marine Corps itself has done what it can to dispel that image, even as the Marines that comprise it revel in their image as the roughest and rowdiest of the armed services, an image that’s not entirely a lie.
Some Marines, though, take their behavioral cues from a different source, striving for a different image. “It’s something that’s been expounded to me throughout my life; without God, you won’t flourish,” said Sgt. Peter Van Dyken, landing support specialist and Combat Logistics Battalion 26 platoon sergeant for the detachment aboard the USS Carter Hall. Raised in Hammond, Ind., Van Dyken is one of the Marines aboard the Carter Hall responsible for overseeing the safe and efficient amphibious landings of Marines and equipment wherever events take the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit.
While a military branch dedicated almost entirely to expeditionary warfare may not seem like an ideal place for someone dedicated to living a fairly conscientious life, Van Dyken makes it work. Joining the Marine Corps after graduating from high school in 2008, Van Dyken wound up becoming a landing support specialist, and was assigned to II Marine Expeditionary Force. He deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom from 2011 to 2012. He was transferred shortly thereafter to CLB-26, which comprises the logistics combat element of the 26th MEU. His unit began workups for their 2013 deployment shortly thereafter.
Van Dyken, along with hundreds of other 26th MEU Marines, were among the first heavyweight responders to Hurricane Sandy, reaching areas inaccessible to National Guard units by utilizing the MEU’s organic amphibious and airmobile capabilities to put Marines and the assets to bring relief on the ground precisely where needed. “It was humbling, being able to help out with the 26th MEU’s recovery efforts during Hurricane Sandy. I was primarily tasked with providing assistance in Rockaway, on Staten Island,” said Van Dyken. “I had a team of about seven Marines and 10 sailors, and we were clearing debris out of alleyways and houses.”
The 26th MEU deployed several months after that, making port in harbors across Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. “On the MEU, I enjoy going on the community relations projects,” said Van Dyken. “While in Bahrain, we helped out a center for the handicapped. In Greece, in Souda Bay, we painted the fence of a cemetery.” The concept of a Marine expeditionary unit is a flexible one, their deployments usually involving several port calls and community relations projects in countries and continents across the world, strengthening ties between nations. “You see a different side of the country you’re visiting. It’s not the club scene or the touristy scene – it’s just everyday life,” said Van Dyken. “If I can do something that’s going to change someone’s life for the better, that’s great.”
That’s not his only contribution to bettering the world around him – Van Dyken also plays drums for churches, when he’s able to, a legacy of a religious and musical upbringing. “My family is very musical. My brother plays the trumpet. My sister plays the clarinet. I can’t actually read music, so I played drums,” said Van Dyken. “I’ve played for a couple churches since I’ve been on active duty, so it was natural to play drums on the USS San Antonio,” he said, referring to when he played during musical services on his previous ship. “It’s my way of serving the lord. Musical talent is, I believe, one of my gifts.”
In the end, he brings this attitude of giving, of improving and helping out back to the Marine Corps, contributing what he can to preparing a new generation of Marines. “If you don’t serve, if you don’t give back what’s been given to you, what good are you? You learn that in the Marine Corps,” said Van Dyken. “As a private first class, as a lance corporal, you’re learning. But as you become a corporal – a sergeant, you should be giving back to the next generation of Marines.”
Presently unsure if he’ll be making a career of the Marine Corps or not, Van Dyken plans to continue doing his best to better himself or others no matter where he goes. “I’m not sure if I’m staying in or getting out,” said Van Dyken. “If I get out, I’d like to become either a police officer or a teacher. It ties back to serving others. Teaching, I believe, is one of my strong points, and serving others is what I love to do. It gives me a sense of purpose – a direction.”