By: E&P Staff
A 32-year-old former Wall Street Journal reporter has joined the U.S. Marines.
“When people ask why,” Matt Pottinger wrote in a column last month, “I usually have a short answer. It felt like the time had come to stop reporting events and get more directly involved. But that’s not the whole answer, and how I got to this point wasn’t a straight line.”
Among other assignments, Pottinger covered China for the newspaper for seven years.
“Friends ask if I worry about going from a life of independent thought and action to a life of hierarchy and teamwork,” he wrote in that column. “At the moment, I find that appealing because it means being part of something bigger than I am.
“As for how different it’s going to be, that, too, has its appeal because it’s the opposite of what I’ve been doing up to now. Why should I do something that’s a ‘natural fit’ with what I already do? Why shouldn’t I try to expand myself?”
In China he was arrested for writing about corruption. “I was standing over a toilet,” he told ABC News recently, “with a bunch of Chinese policemen standing around me shredding my notebook, page by page, and flushing it down a toilet.” Freedom took on new meaning for him.
“I would come home, and you didn’t feel coming home to the United States from abroad that we were a country at war,” he said. “I was surprised by that … and that disturbed me. It gave me a sense that we were being a little bit too complacent.”
When he decided to join the Marines–after witnessing their work on tsunami relief–he surprised even himself, but he wasn’t sure he could meet the physical requirements. After strict training he passed the minimum tests.
On completing officer training, he graduated in mid- December.
“I wanted to actually be participating in an incredibly important period in our history,” he told ABC, “as opposed to just observing and reporting events. … I didn’t want to watch the movie and not have a part in it.”
An officer at the ceremony congratulated Pottinger by quipping, “It’s an honor, you know, to get somebody from the dark side to come over to our side.”
Pottinger told ABC: “There’s a war going on right now, and there’s a very good chance that I’m going to end up in Iraq. I’m a bit scared. But I think anyone who would end up facing combat would be scared….
“The life of a reporter versus the life of someone in the military — it is a radical departure.”