AL ASAD, Iraq -- In Oct. 1983 recruit William Burton arrived at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, S.C., for training with “H” Company, 3rd Recruit Training Battalion.
While Burton went through the rigors of boot camp, one of his drill instructors, Sgt. Michael J. Closterman, had an impact on him that would last throughout his career.
“Whenever I think about boot camp I remember him, because he is the one who taught us everything,” said Burton, now the sergeant major for Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 224 and Harlem, N.Y., native. “He taught us what it means to be a Marine.”
Burton’s drill instructor is still in the Corps, and is now the sergeant major of Marine Wing Headquarters Squadron 2. Closterman a Hope, R.I., native, had just graduated drill instructor school at the time and was training his first platoon.
“I was able to pick up from the beginning of the cycle,” Closterman said. “During that time drill instructors often picked up a platoon at the middle or at the end of the training cycle. It was a good learning experience to start from day one and stay with it through its completion. I had the opportunity to see a raw recruit transform into a basically trained Marine.”
According to Closterman, recruits are given leadership positions, such as squad leader and platoon guide, to help the drill instructors with the other recruits. Burton was given some of these responsibilities.
“Sergeant Major Burton was older than the average recruit. He was mature and intelligent,” Closterman said. “He made my job easier. I didn’t have to waste my time with childish games.”
Burton graduated from boot camp in Jan. 1984 and proceeded with his career while Closterman continued his tour of duty at Parris Island. Over the years Burton has seen Closterman two other times; On both occasions, one was leaving while the other was just arriving a duty station.
“We ran into each other in 1987 when I was a corporal leaving Iwakuni,” Burton said. “The other time was in 1996 when I was a staff sergeant leaving Okinawa, while [Closterman] was being reassigned as Headquarters and Service Battalion first sergeant.”
Although they have seen each other in passing, they have never worked as closely together as they are now.
“The times I have seen [Closterman] we have talked about how we are doing in the Corps,” Burton said. “Since we have been here, we have talked about old times and swapped stories about his fellow DIs and memories from that platoon.”
When Burton arrived at Al Asad, just over a month ago, he had no idea his former drill instructor would be coming.
“I walked into a sergeants major meeting a couple of days after [Closterman] arrived and was in shock to see him here,” Burton said. “It was a total surprise. He didn’t know who I was, he just remembered my face. After I introduced myself he congratulated me on making sergeant major. I think he was proud to see one of his recruits succeed.”
Burton knows what it is like to be proud of the success of one of his recruits. He too was a drill instructor once from 1989 to 1992 and again from 1997 to 2000.
“When I was a series gunnery sergeant during my second tour as a drill instructor, two of the drill instructors under me were my former recruits,” Burton said. “They both were meritoriously promoted to staff sergeant and I was able to pin on their chevrons. I think that’s similar to how Sergeant Major Closterman felt when he saw I was a sergeant major.”
Although both Marines are the same rank now, Burton doesn’t feel like he is equal to Closterman.
“I still look up to him as my drill instructor,” Burton said. “Never did I imagine that I would be a fellow sergeant major.”
Closterman will retire later this year after 25 years of service, he will always be proud of his former recruit who has now reached the Corps’ highest enlisted rank.
“It is exciting to see one of my recruits excel in the Marine Corps and reach the highest enlisted rank,” Closterman said. “I am proud of his accomplishments and devotion to the Corps. I wish him and his family the best in their future endeavors.”