ORIGINS OF THE FORCE RECON ASSOCIATION (FRA)
BLUE ANGEL REUNION
FRA ORIGINS :
I was invited to attend that event as a guest. Once I had the opportunity to observe the camaraderie and pleasure that elite group enjoyed merely by meeting annually for a few days the thought immediately struck me, why not a similar organization for Force Recon Marines?
Shortly after my return to San Diego I met with Tom Gibson to discuss my idea over a lengthy lunch at a restaurant in Mission Valley, located coincidentally, about a 60mm mortar lob shot from the Hanalei Hotel, the site of our recent 20 th Annual FRA Reunion. Little did we know then in 1979 what the future was to hold! Tom was immediately enthusiastic about my idea. At that early, critical juncture, Tom's strong support was important, because I knew him to be a very logical, methodical thinker and I valued his judgement.
CHICAGO STYLE ELECTION
At this point, in early 1980 we didn't even have a name for the organization, but we did have two officers! Tom nominated me to be the president of our unnamed outfit and I nominated him to be the secretary of same. Then we both seconded our own motions and thus the first slate of FRA officers was approved by the only two members present...sorta like the good old days in Chicago!
Very shortly after our initial meeting serious organizational planning got underway. Tom Gibson in his capacity as secretary coined the name “Force Recon Association” and drew up the organization's first set of by-laws, which today are essentially in the same format he proposed in 1980. We, of course, immediately began recruiting more Force Recon Marines to join the undertaking. To the best of my recollection, member numbers 1 through 8 attended our first official FRA meeting conducted at the MCRD Officer's Club (now the Bay-View Club) during early 1980. Those members, in addition to Ryan and Gibson were:#3, Ernie DeFazio; #4, Bill Weise; #5 Duff Rice; #6, Gary Marte; #7, Bruce Meyers and #8, Bob Burton.
ENLISTED PARTICIPATION CRITICAL
During the early years of the FRA, there was the erroneous perception that the outfit was an “officer's club.” Gibson and I were very much aware of that perception and were most anxious to kill that insidious snake quickly. Accordingly, we made a special effort to solicit a former enlisted Marine to be the FRA's first vice-president. The first few individuals we contacted, for various reasons were non-committal. However, Ernie DeFazio, universally respected throughout our Corps as “Gunny DeFazio” based upon his Korean War exploits chronicled on the cover of Life Magazine, accepted the post with enthusiasm. Accordingly, we then had a full slate of officers as per our by-laws at that time. We further attempted to squash the “officer club” rumor by inviting Sergeant Major John Massaro, USMC (Ret) to be the honored guest and speaker at the FRA's first annual reunion. Massaro's topic was “Leadership by Personal Example” and to this day, I recall it as the finest speech I have heard delivered at an FRA Reunion, which specifically includes several humble efforts of my own.
THE EARLY YEARS
New FRA members, especially the younger Marines from the active duty units may find this difficult to believe, but in the early days of the FRA, circa 1980 - 1983, we kept all our personnel records and all other important data on 3 x 5 cards. I clearly remember Tom Gibson carrying around the FRA records - and I mean all our records - in a small, brown, hand size metal box. By contrast today, with over 2,500 members on the rolls, our Executive Director Gary Marte would literally require at least a 6 X 6 to move all our records not to mention our significaant inventory of hooch assets.
FRA ENTERS THE COMPUTER AGE
Recruiting was brisk during the first two years of our existence and by the end of that second year we had exactly 192 members on the rolls. The specific numbers reported here are a credit to the invaluable corporate memory of Gary Marte who advises that, “out of a total membership of 192 members at the end of our second year, 135 attended the 1982 FRA Reunion.” At the 1982 Reunion, a motion was made and passed to make the original 192 members of the FRA “Charter Members” of the organization. Each charter member was issued a special commemorative certificate. But for the early on and generous support of our Charter Members, it can unequivocally be stated, there would not have been an FRA as we know it today.
Circa 1983, as the FRA grew rapidly in numbers, Tom Gibson realized that the 3 X 5 card roster box was about as ancient a part of our Force Recon's past as was the T-10 parachute. Hence, we all began looking for alternate solutions. Up stepped Alex Lee, who along with his many talents, was also an expert in the computer business. Alex was appointed the FRA's first “Executive Director” and ushered the FRA into the 20 th Century computer world during his approximate three year tour of duty. During his tour of duty, Alex also brought our membership levels up to circa 600 members. A. Lee is no longer active in the FRA, but he has left an indelible footprint on the FRA and I very much appreciated his noteworthy contribution to our organization's success.
TWO AREAS OF CURRENT CONCERN
The FRA motto, coined by Tom Gibson in 1980 is, as you all know, “Link Forever Those Who Served Together.” During the past few years I have become concerned that we have somehow lost sight of that primary fraternal goal. Competing goals and agendas - all desirable in moderation - have somehow crept into the FRA tent on cat-like feet. Specifically in this regard, I have become concerned with the activities of our Scholarship Committee during the past few years. The Scholarship Committee exists solely under the aegis of the FRA and not as a separate entity marching to the beat of their own drum. Funds collected and/or generated by the FRA, via whatever means, should ALL be deposited in the FRA's General Fund. The only exception to that policy should be, of course, when a donor specifically directs their donation to the “FRA Scholarship Fund.” The FRA is not a well funded organization. We do not have generous cash reserves. We pay our executive director about one half of the current market rate for his time and effort. We need to prepare financial reserves now for the day when Gary Marte takes off his pack. I anticipate the salary tab for the two, or even three individuals it will take to replace Buddha, Roselle and Esther will exceed $2,500 per month.
CRITERIA FOR FRA MEMBERSHIP
My second area of current concern is the criteria for membership in the FRA. The criteria for membership are spelled out in our by-laws, but of course the devil is in the details. Resolution of this important issue should be a lead agenda item for the Board of Directors at Recon 2001. Hopefully Bruce Meyers will be the Pathfinder Leader for a study group to prepare a detailed brief for the board on this subject. The very basic guidance I can offer on this critical issue was the sign that my mentor Neil Avery had in his office at First Force circa 1962, which read simply, “IF EVERYBODY COULD JOIN IT WOULDN'T BE FORCE RECON.”