Pat Senft wasn’t what you might think of as the “typical” Marine recruit.
“I was 27, almost 28 years old when I left for boot camp,” recalls Senft, who now serves as principal of The Bancroft School in Mt. Laurel, NJ.
His father was a Marine in Vietnam – and instilled in Senft a lifelong sense of responsibility, respect and discipline that are the hallmarks of servicemen and women. Somewhere in the back of Senft’s mind, there was always a sense of duty to serve his country – a calling he wanted to fulfill.
“My dad never pushed or steered me in that direction – but he was a proud Marine, and always spoke of it in such high regard. That always spoke to me,” he said.
Still, when Senft graduated from high school, he wasn’t sure what the future would hold. A conversation with his mother persuaded him to give college a try first.
“Military service was something I weighed heavily during high school. One night, my mom said ‘Do me a favor: Give college two years, and if it isn’t working out, or you decide you still want to go – I will be fine with that,’” he said.
So he did – and college was a good fit for the 18-year-old.
“Once I got there and got settled, I thrived. My mom’s approach worked,” he says. “But there was always something in the back of my head. I knew I wanted to join the Marines, but I never figured out how to do it while I was in college.”
Senft graduated with his degree and a teaching certificate, and landed a full-time teaching position in Charlotte, N.C. Like many young adults, Senft was trying to find his place in the world – and the Marine Corps was still there in his mind.
After about three years of talking to recruiters, he knew the time was right. He enlisted – and at the end of his fourth year of teaching, he departed for boot camp at Parris Island, S.C.
Senft was assigned to a Marine Corps Reserve unit in Charlotte, where he worked in logistics, ensuring the battalions attached to his unit had the resources they needed for success.
The Reserves were a good fit for the educator and his soon-to-be wife. He returned to teaching in September, and was able to balance his growing teaching career with fulfilling his service requirements during monthly drill weekends – and a two-week requirement during the year. When the couple relocated to New Jersey, he was able to transfer to a reserve unit close to home.
Senft served as a Marine Reservist for a total of eight years – from 1998 until he was honorably discharged as a Corporal in 2005.
Today, Senft says many of the qualities of the Marine Corps carry over into his work at The Bancroft School.
“The biggest one is the ‘can-do’ attitude of a Marine: You can’t and won’t be defeated; you won’t allow yourself to be,” he says. “No matter what barriers, for our staff, and for the students. The Marines have a saying: ‘We can do the impossible; it may just take a little longer.’”
“Just like the military, this is a job that’s bigger than yourself. We’re in this together, as a team. But at the end, we all have a common experience we’ve shared – and it builds trust; a brotherhood. You know you can depend on each other.”
His own service aside, Senft admires those – especially younger men and women – who choose to enlist.
“It’s amazing to think that our armed forces – many of the men and women out there are 18-, 19-year-old kids. It is a tremendous commitment. To me, it’s very impressive – and I have the utmost respect for anyone who serves.”
“Whenever I meet someone who has served, I try to thank them for their service – and not just on Veteran’s Day. It seems like a few simple words, but it means a lot.”