Last year, after nine years in the United States Marine Corps, I made the difficult decision to leave the service. When my friends ask me why I left, I often tell them that I had simply reached my expiration date. I loved my time in the Corps, and I cannot think of a more relevant way to have spent my 20s. But I was tired. After four overseas tours, including combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, it was time for me to go. I left the Corps, used my GI Bill benefits to enroll in school, and headed off to greener pastures. Unbeknownst to me, those pastures would be a lot rockier than I had anticipated.
As many fellow service members and I are coming to realize, the war does not simply end when you come home. Over the past few years, two Marines I knew personally made the tragic decision to end their own lives. Additionally, in December 2015, a young man by the name of Casey Graham went missing in the Alaskan bush, never to be found. Casey was a native Alaskan who joined the Marines after high school. He was trying to carve out a trail in the dead of winter to deliver Christmas presents to the children of his remote region. This is the measure of the resolve of the incredible Americans I met in my nine years in the Marines.
And then there’s Caleb Specht. Infantry officers should never play favorites, but if I am being honest, Caleb was the best Marine I ever had. He possessed that rare combination of intelligence and humility that commands admiration and respect. Caleb punched well above his weight, leading patrols in Iraq that I normally wouldn’t have entrusted to Marines two ranks above him. In Marine Corps parlance, he was our platoon’s stud. A native Kansan who graduated from Minneapolis High School and later made his home in Topeka, Caleb embodied the grin-and-bear-it mentality that I have come to realize is the trademark of any proud Kansan.
Caleb died last month in a traffic accident while on his way to work. He was 32. His 5-year-old daughter, Emma, is now without a daddy.
As Caleb’s former platoon commander, my obligation to serve him did not end when I took off the uniform. Now more than ever, I feel called to action to ensure the well-being of my Marine. But I desperately need your help.
A few days ago, Caleb’s former platoon buddies and I began raising money to start an education fund for Emma. Our goal is $20,000.
We have had some tremendous success so far, with thousands of dollars already raised. But we are at a point where we have exhausted our personal resources. We are now appealing to you, with the hope that Caleb’s fellow Kansans will rally around his daughter to make sure she has the means to one day follow her dreams.
Every little bit helps to make an enormous impact on the life of Emma Specht. If you are interested in making a donation, please visit www.gofundme.com/education-fund-for-emma-specht. On behalf of the Marines of Blackfoot Company, 3rd Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, United States Marine Corps, thank you in advance for your donations and prayers. Semper fidelis.
Nick De Gregorio served in the United States Marine Corps from 2007 to 2016. He is currently a graduate student at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.