ANNAPOLIS – For 12 years Sen. John C. Astle, D-Anne Arundel, has been directly influencing Maryland’s laws. For almost twice that long he has influenced his son Jay, a midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy.
Part of that influence – a subtle, intangible part – has led to Jay’s being commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant in the Marine Corps upon his graduation in May.
Like father, like son: Astle is a colonel in the Marine Corps Reserves. During a recent interview at the Academy’s Bancroft Hall, the two talked about their relationship and about their family’s links to the military.
Jay wore his Navy dress blue uniform, the senator a gray two-piece suit accented with a Marine Corps lapel pin. With clean-shaven faces and close-cropped haircuts, each looked younger than his years. The father is 52, the son 23.
“He didn’t really try to influence me overtly,” Jay said. “But nonetheless, I think he did have a pretty big influence on me. He always had good [Marine Corps] stories. Lots of ’em.”
The senator, a former combat helicopter pilot, didn’t recall talking exclusively to Jay about his experiences. But he said Jay was within earshot while he shared them with friends.
“The time I got shot down, wounded…he’s heard that story,” Astle said. “But he’s also heard about the good times and friendships and that sort of thing.”
Jay has also heard Marine Corps stories from his own generation. During his year at the Naval Academy Preparatory School in Newport, R.I., U.S. troops moved into Kuwait. He and his classmates were briefed daily on Gulf War developments.
“A Marine officer would get up and explain to us how many troops were over there,” Jay recalled, “and what would happen if Iraq used gas on them and how hot it was, how many gallons of water they had to drink every day.
“It was a little bit scary thinking…we might actually be going to war.”
The senator said that when he began active duty in 1966, the military had a pretty clear objective – “to engage an enemy.” But there is a lack of clarity in the role of the military and Marine Corps today, he said.
“We’re seeing some tremendous upheavals in the military today. With the…scrambling in the Pentagon as each service tries to get its share of the budget…. As we try to define what our foreign policy is…it’s going to be more difficult.”
Jay – a reserved, slightly smaller and younger version of his father – listened intently. The uncertainty his father cites already weighs on him: He hasn’t decided whether to make a career of military service or get out after completing his five year commitment.
Astle enlisted in the Marine Corps reserves in 1961, becoming an active duty officer the day he graduated from Marshall University in 1966. He was awarded 31 air medals and two purple hearts for action in Vietnam and later the meritorious service medal and presidential service badge. He returned to the reserves in 1975, but volunteered and served five months’ active duty during the Persian Gulf War.
Astle’s father served as an Air Force flight engineer during World War II, and his brother, a 1969 graduate of the Air Force academy, served as a B-52 pilot.
But the senator said he consciously took a hands-off approach to Jay’s career choice.
“I believe very strongly that parents have an obligation to help their kids get the foundation they need to make sound decisions,” he said. “But they have to choose their own career path.”
Jay’s younger brother, David, is pursuing a financial management degree at Clemson University, and his father is supportive.
“I’m glad he’s made that choice,” Astle said. “Particularly in the face of the fact that I was in the service and his brother has chosen the service.”
Still, he observed matter-of-factly that David won’t share part of his bond with Jay.
“I will tell you this…the Marine Corps is a unique experience. And one of the things that will come from [Jay] being a part of the Marine Corps is that we will be able to share some things that I won’t be able to share with [David].”
Jay’s first choice of assignments was the Marine Corps, a branch of service his father said is “really a family. The relationships and friendships that you develop stay with you a lifetime.” But because Jay’s vision doesn’t meet Marine Corps flight standards, he won’t be a pilot. After he completes the basic school at Quantico this summer, he would like to train for intelligence operations. -30-