MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C. --
For one Marine who spent 31 years in the Havelock, N.C. area, his life seems to have come full circle. After finding out that he would be promoted to the first field grade officer rank of major, Maj. Leron Lane knew that the only place appropriate for this honor was his childhood home, Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C.
"Every aspect of my life has been influenced by this base," said Lane, who is currently serving as the 2nd Marine Logistics Group communications officer at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C. "I love it here. This is my town and my base."
In a ceremony Sept. 4 at Miller's Landing, Lane invited scores of individuals, still in the Havelock area, who have influenced him over the years. His family, fellow Marines, pastor, teachers, sports coaches, and childhood friends were all in attendance.
One close friend in particular, who Lane can now call a professional peer, was among the host of attendees at the ceremony. Maj. Karl Schmidt, the aviation training unit program manager at the KC-130J Aviation Training Unit on Cherry Point, has known Lane since they were in elementary school.
Schmidt recounted how the two Marines' fathers, both former Marines, never strayed too far away from the Havelock area. In Lane's case, his father, a retired master gunnery sergeant and former EA-6A Intruder mechanic, never changed duty stations. Schmidt’s father, a retired colonel, assumed a number of billets, but served two tours at Cherry Point and other tours at nearby installations including Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune.
"Leron is like the brother I never had," said Schmidt. "He's just a fun guy to be around. He is all heart and wears his heart on his sleeve. I have always been very fond of him."
Along with the common ground they shared being the sons of Marines, both Lane and Schmidt said their mutual enjoyment of sports was a large factor that solidified their relationship early on.
"Karl has been my friend and a role model for as long as I can remember," said Lane. "He always seemed to lead the way. I joke about him being born on Dec. 5 and myself on Dec. 24 and how that set the natural order for me to follow him."
Lane, who said his life has always been shaped by basketball, recalled his introduction to organized athletics and the role Schmidt played in that.
"When we were about five years old Karl was a player in the Havelock City League," said Lane. "One day he slipped on some ice and broke his arm and could no longer play."
Lane said that up to that point he had only shot hoops in his backyard and had never played organized basketball before. Little did he know, Schmidt’s simple misstep would change his life forever.
"Karl's coach happened to be passing my house and saw that I, like Karl, was pretty tall for my age," said Lane. "He asked if I wanted to play basketball. I told him that I had never thought of it."
Lane went out for the team and as he said, "the rest is history."
Not only did the incident propel Lane to basketball stardom later in high school, where he received a Nike All-American honorable mention, but it also led to him receiving a basketball scholarship to Barton College in Wilson, N.C.
"When I think back on my childhood with Leron, memories of basketball are always at the forefront," said Schmidt. "I think those experiences taught us about the highs and lows of life."
"I joked that, in a way, I owe everything to Karl and the fall he took on that ice," said Lane. "Basketball allowed me to go to school and get an education thus becoming a Marine Corps officer."
Now, years later, Lane has come full circle. In the ceremony recognizing his promotion to major, Lane’s words were full of admiration and reverence for the room full of people who have influenced his life. Lane, a man of intimidating stature, warmly and eloquently expressed his appreciation for those present. He remarked on his choice for the uniform of the day, bringing to mind a phrase used by Schmidt to describe his constant concern for others.
"That's Leron," said Schmidt. "He doesn't take these things lightly. In his moment of being promoted it's very much like him to recognize someone else."
"Everyone knows that you don’t come to the officer's club in utilities," said Lane. "But, I thought this was an appropriate uniform. We have men and women down-range protecting our freedom. The least we can do is honor them by wearing the warrior’s uniform as they do."
The ceremony culminated with Schmidt leading Lane in the Oath of Office and Lane's promotion to major.
"This promotion is well deserved," said Schmidt. "The old adage is that you receive awards for the things you've done and promotions for your potential. It's good to see that he is succeeding in the Marine Corps and it's even better to have him in the field grade ranks."
The ceremony highlighted Lane only briefly. The majority of the time, Lane spoke of the deeds and sacrifices of others. Adjacent to where he spoke sat a makeshift memorial to several service members who died during his time in Iraq. In addition, Lane pledged that his first set of gold oak leaf clusters would go to the wife of a captain he had known in Iraq who was killed in the line of duty and therefore never reached the rank of major.
"I'll be sure to set out an empty chair for him," said Lane. "I will take off my first set of ranks and send them to her. I never got to say goodbye to my friend, I promised his memory and myself that I would live my life in a way that would take advantage of my time and his sacrifice. In some way, me obtaining this shows that I kept my promise and says the goodbye I never had the chance to say."
As Lane stood at the front of the room, tearfully at times, thanking person after person, one thing rang clearly time and again. An entire town had a hand in molding him.
However, much of Lane's character and love for the Corps rests with the people who raised him. His mother, Florence Lane, recently marked her 30th year working at the air station’s First Citizens Bank. Lane spoke about the inspiration she has been for him all his life.
"I often shake my head at the thought of the emotional sacrifice that my mother has made for our Corps," said Lane. "She watched my dad come and go into harm's way from the Vietnam War to everything else spanning his 24-year career and now she has to watch her son go to war as well."
During that time, Lane watched his mother feed and clothe Marine families, store the vehicles of deployed Marines in her yard, and be there for him and his sister as they grew up with a father who could not always be there.
"I tell people who ask me why I love the Corps so much that the Marine Corps has given me everything I have," said Lane. "It took my father from a slick collared private from rural Alabama and molded him into a future master gunnery sergeant. It took him and my mom out of Alabama and gave us a chance at a different type of life."
Lane said that his father never pushed him in any particular direction, but as early as age five or six he had decided that he wanted to follow his father’s example.
"Although I thought I was destined for athletic greatness, I always had three dreams in life," said Lane. "I wanted to play basketball on a high level, which I achieved in college. I wanted to be a good dad and now that I have two sons, I work so hard to set a good example for them. The final was to be a Marine. My dad, as well as the other great Marines I grew up watching, were my inspiration. I was not sure what it was that they had, but I was sure I wanted it.
"I truly believe that Marines are modern-day superheroes and I am happy just to be associated with them,” said Lane.
"I tell everyone that regardless of the situation, as long there is one Marine left, freedom still has a chance." Lane looks to his family as another source of inspiration. His wife and two sons were there to pin on his new rank.
"My wife has held on to me through all the hard times over the years," said Lane. "Anyone else would have left a long time ago, but she's held on to me and I’m going to hold on to her. Having my family has given me something to fight for."
At the end of the ceremony, Lane's support system was apparent. Dozens of people formed a line and gave hug after hug to the newly minted major. Smiles beamed and laughter rang through the reception area.
As the African proverb says, "it takes a village to raise a child." Lane's extended Havelock family celebrated the fruits of their labor, a man who has grown up to be all they hoped.
"All of you have always been there for me," said Lane to those in attendance. "Everyone in this room has given something to my life and helped me to become who I am.
"When you surround yourself with good people, as I have, you're afraid to disappoint them."