“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was the military mantra when Tomblin enlisted. But he said he felt comfortable picking his staff sergeant as the first person in leadership to tell he was gay.
“She said, ‘I don’t care as long as you do your job and keep your nose clean,” Tomblin recalled.
He was the first member of his immediate family to serve in the military.
After graduating from Commerce High, turning 18 and voting for the first time, Tomblin said he “figured, why not?”
He spoke with recruiters from the different branches of the military.
“I just liked the Marine Corps and the way they presented themselves,” he said.
Tomblin delayed entering the Marines for seven months – time he used to drop 15 pounds, train hard and shape up by running and exercising.
On Dec. 15, 2008, his Marine Corps service officially began with basic training at Parris Island, S.C., followed by combat training in Cherry Point, N.C.
He was assigned to the Marine attack squadron, VMA-542, keeping pilot log books and schedules and ensuring that all Marines were up to date on ground training.
“It was very interesting,” Tomblin said.
He was deployed to Japan in 2010 and was in Indonesia that sane to assist with a visit from President Barrack Obama.
He later volunteered for duty in Afghanistan, largely working on base security.
In 2012, with his Marine service completed, he moved to Utica, New York. He attended Utica College on the G.I. Bill, graduating with a degree in history and a minor in government.
He moved back to Commerce in 2016 and worked in two Democratic campaigns: Hillary Clinton’s presidential run in 2016 and Kevin Abel’s’ unsuccessful bid this year for Georgia’s 6th District Congressional seat.
Like many veterans, Tomblin said he had difficulty finding full-time work once he was back stateside.
At one point, he applied for 78 government jobs. He said he didn’t receive a single offer, something that still baffles him.
“I think a lot of employers just don’t understand how good we can be as employees,” Tomblin said.
Marines, he said, come out with valuable skills, including knowing how to multitask, be leaders and present themselves, he said.
Late this summer, Tomblin landed full-time work for a company that manufactures forklifts. The gratitude is clear in his voice.
Tomblin still looks back fondly on his time in the Marines. It turned him from the high school class clown to someone with “confidence and courage,” he said.
Although it’s been a decade since he enlisted and went to Parris Island, Tomblin said he will never forget standing on the island’s landmark yellow footprints.
They were painted on the pavement in front of the recruit receiving barracks in the early 1960s as a reminder to new Marines where to stand in formation.
“I remember what I was wearing, the thoughts running through my head,” Tomblin said. “It’s that impactful.”