Veteran Spotlight: Joni Clarke, Sergeant (E-5) USMC
Joni Clarke, Sergeant (E-5) USMC 1978-1982
Marine combat training is not a prerequisite for employment as a city manager, but it sure doesn’t hurt. Not that city councils are combat zones, but Marine Corps training does instill characteristics in its service members like resourcefulness, innovation and perseverance. Lucas is fortunate to have Sergeant (E-5) Joni Clarke, a Marine Corps veteran, onboard as its city manager.
Clarke grew up in Gobles, Michigan, a town of 829 people (according to the 2010 census), located in southwest Michigan. In high school, Clarke was active in many activities; president of the student council, showing horses and school athletics. She also worked part-time in her step-father’s gas station. After graduation, she realized that she needed to figure out what direction her life might take. She visited an armed forces recruiting station one day in Kalamazoo, the nearest large city. When she entered the office the recruiting officer, who was seriously overweight, was reclined in his chair with his feet on the desk. Clarke instantly decided that this was not the military branch to which she would aspire. Instead, a short time later a friend, who had enlisted in the Marines, urged her to visit the Marine Corps recruiting station which she did. After a bit of contemplation, Clarke signed on. Her mother and step-father, at first, were taken aback but over time realized it was a good choice for career advancement.
Clarke’s first port of call as a Marine recruit was Parris Island, South Carolina for boot camp. The eight-week program was certainly challenging, but thanks to her high school activities, she was in good physical condition and didn’t find boot camp to be the excruciating experience it may have been for those who were not physically fit. Training in the use of gas masks including exposure to real tear gas, however, definitely made a lasting impression. The worst part of boot camp she says was barracks life where she shared sleeping quarters and bathroom facilities with about 60 other women all housed in one large room.
Clarke came through boot camp and earned her Marksmanship Badge in the process. Her parents attended graduation ceremonies after which she was posted to Meridian, Mississippi, for aviation operations school. At the time, women Marines were assigned two male marine escorts whenever they left the base. It was, says Clarke, “A scary and somewhat hazardous time but I learned that when Marines say, “They take care of their own”, they really mean it. While it was a tough assignment, I graduated first in my class. This, and some additional achievements, led to my promotion to the rank of Sergeant (E-5) within two years of enlisting, something that even today I remain very proud of accomplishing”.
Shortly thereafter, Clarke was assigned to the 3rd Marine Aircraft wing in El Toro, California. That, she says, was an exciting assignment but she spent most of her time at Marine headquarters doing administrative work. It was at El Toro where highly classified war games took place including mock attacks on other armed forces units. At one time, Clarke was assigned to work in the “enemy’s” base. While at El Toro, Clarke made time to qualify to shoot the then newest version of the M-16 rifle, a heavy automatic weapon with a 20-round magazine, that became the weapon of choice for all U.S. armed forces infantry. She earned her Marksmanship Badge as a result.
Looking back on her armed forces experiences, Clarke believes, “Armed forces experience should be mandatory for all young people who are able to serve. I learned so much about people during my four years and was surrounded by caring people dedicated to keeping our country safe and who made no distinctions between someone’s race, religion, political beliefs. We were all the same in the service of our nation.” An additional reason to serve; funding her college education with veteran’s benefits.
After her discharge Clarke became involved in another form of public service, working for city governments in Michigan, Colorado and now in Lucas, Texas. She ascribes much of the success she had enjoyed in her government during her career to the preparation and training she received as a non-commissioned officer in the United States Marines.