Marine Corps service helps lawmaker cultivate a spirit of public service

State Rep. Bill White, R-Joplin, discusses his experience in the Marine Corps, and the manner in which the military prepared him for the challenges encountered in public service.

State Rep. Bill White, R-Joplin, discusses his experience in the Marine Corps, and the manner in which the military prepared him for the challenges encountered in public service.

Recalling a youth during which he was “quiet and reserved,” state Rep. Bill White, R-Joplin, says service in the Marine Corps helped instill in him a spirit of self-confidence and a desire to help others — characteristics that have been of benefit in fulfillment of his legislative duties at the Capitol.

Raised in Olathe, Kan., White took the path of many recent high school graduates when he decided to attend community college in 1971.

With 11⁄2 years of school behind him and the Vietnam War winding down, he enlisted in the Marines.

“The Marines were the best … the toughest, and my decision to join was kind of a chance to prove that I could do it,” White said.

The fresh recruit was sent to Paris Island, S.C., where he completed his initial training. Earning high scores in the testing that took place during the entry process, he entered the air traffic control field.

During the next several months, he attended air traffic control training and eventually completed the requirements to earn an FAA license for tower operation.

“In our training,” White said, “we learned how to land aircraft with radar and to conduct a precision controlled approach. This was like a pre-video game with all of the blips, and landing the aircraft with proper separation.”

With the training completed, he was assigned to Bogue Field in North Carolina, where he was introduced to a mobile aluminum landing strip.

“In a time of conflict, you had to be able to pick up everything and move,” he said.

Remaining in North Carolina until early 1975, he transferred to the Marine Corps Air Station at Iwakuni, Japan. At his new assignment, the unit did not require ground approach personnel and White served in the flight service center, where he reviewed pilots’ flight plans for accuracy.

He spent a brief period in Korea working with that country’s air force during a simulation exercise to prepare and train in case of a major war with the north.

In 1976, he was sent to Beaufort, S.C., and worked in the air tower until his discharge the following December.

Over the next several years, he focused on his education by finishing a bachelor’s in history and a master’s in Soviet area studies.

After working his way up in Commonwealth Edison from a computer programmer to a senior systems analyst, he changed careers paths and enrolled in law school at John Marshall in 1988.

White later transferred to Washburn University and earned a law degree with a certification in tax in 1993.

Seeking to satisfy a desire to continue the public service he began in the Marines, he opened his own law practice and performed court-appointed guardian work for seniors and children.

“Abuse and neglect work is exhaustive,” White said. “But I didn’t go to law school focused on making money — it’s a service profession.”

Later developing an interest in teaching, White curtailed his law business to teach various classes at high schools in the Joplin area.

For years, White said, he toyed with the idea of entering politics. In 2010, he made the decision to run for representative of the state’s 129th District because those in the race “did not share my values.”

Winning the race, he has recently completed his first term and is unopposed in the coming election.

Seeking to explain how a mild-mannered kid from Kansas eventually entered a career at the Capitol often characterized as adversarial, White said, “My time in the service helped me develop critical thinking skills and a pragmatic approach to resolving the challenges I encounter (in the legislature).”

White added: “You have to have the character for this type of work, and the Marines can certainly help you develop that.

Jeremy P. Amick is the public affairs officer for the Silver Star Families of America.

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