Matt Pottinger had one of the best jobs in journalism. He was one of the Wall Street Journal’s lead reporters in China, until he decided to chuck it all and join the Marine Corps
Second lieutenant Pottinger joined Tucker Carlson on ‘Situation’ to describe his want to join the service and quit his job.
To read an excerpt from their conversation, continue to the text below. To watch the video, click on the "Launch" button to the right.
TUCKER CARLSON, HOST, ‘SITUATION’: I know you explained this to a great extent in really a remarkable op-ed in the “Wall Street Journal.” It ran a couple weeks ago. But why did you do this?
2ND LT. MATT POTTINGER, U.S. MARINE CORPS: Well, it really boiled down to a desire to participate at a key moment in our nation’s history. I mean, we’re really facing a tough decade ahead of us. We are fighting a war against a formidable enemy, a totalitarian ideology pointed at us.
And I had a terrific job covering China, another remarkable story that’s going to have an impact on our country and its future, but I found myself increasingly distracted by the war on terror. And increasingly felt this nagging impulse to actually get involved on the ground, as a participant.
CARLSON: You have in your op-ed a description of your reaction to a video you saw on the Internet, of a beheading carried out by al-Zarqawi or someone who works for him.
And you said, “At first I admit I felt a touch of the terror they wanted”—they being the terrorists—“they wanted me to feel, but then I felt the anger they didn’t. We often talk about how our policies radicalize young men in the Middle East. We rarely talk about how their actions are radicalizing us. In a brief moment of revulsion, sitting there in that living room, I became their blowback.”
POTTINGER: It wasn’t the only decision. I mean, one moment of sort of getting caught up in emotion isn’t enough to justify a career change like the one I chose, but it was definitely one of those moments that kind of hit home. I mean, it was one of these wake-up moments.
It’s easy to forget in America today, that we are at war. Right? I mean, of course, you’re watching what’s happening on the news, but when you walk the streets of New York, for instance, you don’t feel like we’re a country at war.
And then when you really focus and pay attention on what’s going on and the nature of the enemy that we’re fighting, for me it was watching one of those videos, the snuff film, of an American contractor that really knocked me down.
CARLSON: You’ve taken the most radical possible step. I mean, you didn’t just join the military. You joined the Marine Corps, as an officer. I mean, the chances are you’re going to see combat. Obviously, you know that. Are you ready?
POTTINGER: I need to train before I’m going to be ready, but, yes, I’m certainly ready for whatever challenges are ahead. And the Marine Corps’ going to make sure that I’m prepared for them.
Yes. Why the Marines? You know, while I was living in China and covering events in Asia I ended up bumping into a lot of Marines. At one point during the Asian tsunami, was flown in to cover the devastation in Thailand. I ran into Marines who were actually spearheading a lot of the rescue efforts in the region.
And I was just impressed, again, by the flexibility, the leadership, the sort of no-nonsense, let’s get the job done approach of the Marine Corps. So I started doing more and more homework on the Marines, reading up on them, and the more I learned about the Marines—specifically, the more I came to respect the institution and wanted to be part of it.
CARLSON: What do your fellow journalists think? I mean, you were a reporter for a long time. It’s not like you were a reporter for six months; you were a reporter for years. What do the guys you work with say?
POTTINGER: Yes, you know, my colleagues at the “Wall Street Journal” have been overwhelmingly supportive. I was really happy about that.
I mean, if you look back to the 1940s and 1950s, it wasn’t that unusual of a shift. I mean, it was generally the other way around. You would have people writing for the “Wall Street Journal,” for any newspaper, who had served in the military. A lot of reporters back in the ‘40s and ‘50s served in the military. It’s rarer, today, unfortunately. And so I think that my colleagues were, by and large, pretty supportive of my move.
CARLSON: I think your early 30s, 31 or 32. Is that right?
POTTINGER: Thirty-two years old, yes.
CARLSON: Which is older than most people who go up and join the military for the first time. How is that possible? Were you up to it physically? What did you have to do?
POTTINGER: I had my work cut out for me, after I made the decision to try to tackle this and become a Marine. I spent about six months of doing pretty intensive training, trying to run, do pull ups and sit-ups and you know, get my butt in shape, really.
And I was fortunate that I ran into another Marine in Beijing, who was studying there. He’s on a fellowship- you know, classic Marine teamwork. This guy would get up, set aside his schedule and get up at 5, 6 in the morning to go running with me every morning, make sure that I was sticking to a tough schedule. And that’s what motivated me.
CARLSON: I understand the running. It’s the pull ups that kind of blow my mind. How many can you do?
POTTINGER: Last check I was up to 20, but a few turkey dinners later, after the holidays, I may be down a bit.
CARLSON: so what’s your next step?
POTTINGER: The next step now is to train. I’ve got six months at the basic school, with all my fellow graduates from officer candidate school. We are all going to be trained to be infantry platoon commanders and to take other jobs in the Marine Corps after about six months.
So it’s been pretty extraordinary. I am a little bit older than the group of people there, but it’s an amazing assortment of men and women who graduated with me. I know there’s been attention on me because of my previous career—in the Marine Corps. But these people who have all made sacrifices. They have postponed jobs in finance and in law and in real estate, and they’re really amazing.
CARLSON: That is amazing. And finally, quickly, what do your parents think of this?
POTTINGER: They’re supportive. I think they’re apprehensive, as any parent would be. But after they came to the graduation ceremony, they saw the professionalism. They met all these other terrific candidates. They met my commanding officers. And both of them said to me that they came away feeling a lot better, having the more they got to know the Corps, the more they get to know the Corps, the more impressed they are.