The Marine Corps added a congressman to its ranks Monday evening in an intimate ceremony at the Home of the Commandants in Washington, D.C.
Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., was formally made an honorary Marine by the Commandant Gen. Joseph Dunford, who acknowledged the congressman's commitment to the sea services and his care for wounded warriors.
Wittman, who has represented Virginia's first congressional district since 2007, is head of the House Armed Services Shipbuilding Caucus and a longtime advocate of the Marines' professional military education and amphibious shipping needs. But he earned the golden pin that made him an honorary Marine, Dunford said, because of his less-known efforts in support of wounded troops.
"Behind the scenes, and a lot of people don’t know this, he’s been out hunting, he’s been out fishing with our wounded warriors, he’s been taking care of them," Dunford said. "It hasn’t been with fanfare, it hasn’t been so there can be an article in the front page of the Washington Post ... it’s just been because of his compassionate leadership."
An avid hunter and fisherman, Wittman has participated in events with Project Healing Waters, an organization that takes wounded and disabled troops and veterans on fly fishing excursions as a form of relaxation and therapy. He also holds annual hunting trips near his Virginia home for smaller groups of wounded troops.
On a recent excursion, Wittman went hunting for geese with wounded Marines.
"For me there’s nothing better than to have them there to kind of forget all the things they’re dealing with, to come out and enjoy the outdoors, enjoy the camaraderie," he said. "A friend of mine has a farm and we went there and cooked the geese immediately, and the Marines were enjoying the feast of their exploits. It was really neat."
Wittman, who was joined by his wife Kathryn and his daughter Devon and her family for the ceremony, said he had admired the Marines ever since he was young and a neighbor friend returned from boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina, sporting his crisp service uniform.
"My jaw just dropped to the ground and I said, 'wow,'" Wittman recalled. "He told me the story of what he went through to earn the title of United States Marine, and I was a fan forever."
Monday's honor, Wittman said, would motivate him to look for ways to do more on behalf of wounded warriors, and to continue to advocate on behalf of the Marines for more amphibious ships.
"I love our Marines; they are fantastic," he said. "They can do a lot of things, but they can’t walk on water yet. Until they do, we’ve got to build ships for them."
Wittman is the 97th person to be named an honorary Marine since the program began with Gen. Carl Mundy, then the commandant, in 1992. Only six of the honorees have been members of Congress.