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Black Migration: Moving Forward

Black Migration: Moving Forward

To move forward is to migrate to a better life and leave the past behind you. For Master Sgt. Aaron A. Bonner, moving forward is to give to those you care about what they deserve: time, love and even another Marine.

Bonner, the recruiting duty monitor for Manpower Management Enlisted Assignments aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico, set his sights on retirement, after more than 22 years of faithful service, to give his children more stability.

“I don’t want to reenlist and put stipulations on that reenlistment,” he said. “I think the Marine Corps deserves better than that from me and since I can’t reenlist with no stipulations, it’s time for me to retire.” As we talked, it quickly became evident that Bonner is fully focused on the next chapter of his family story.

Over the last five years, his kids have been doing great in school and have made good friends. They love the environment in Northern Virginia because they are excelling and he doesn’t want to disrupt that.

The Bonner’s love the outdoors. Since living in Stafford, Virginia he and the children explore the outdoors in and around Quantico. His eyes lit up as he talked about camping and fishing at places like Breckinridge, Smith Lake and Chopawamsic Creek.

Bonner considers himself an all-around outdoorsman who loves to hunt and fish. He even takes his youngest son out to go hunting with him. One of their favorite things to do is to take off on fishing expeditions. He laughed as he explained how the children jump in the boat, excited each time they head out to fish. They’ve even made a tradition out of traveling to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, each Fathers Day to go camping.

As Bonner approaches retirement, the decision to stay in the area comes down to more good camp sites and fishing. Northern Virginia offers the family diversity and acceptance.

“I can’t think of one time when I can really point the finger at being singled out or being discriminated against because of my race, gender or anything along those lines during my career,” Bonner said, swelled with pride. “I was always treated like a Marine, I was truly blessed with open-minded leaders.”

He is no stranger to racism. Growing up in Dodson, Louisiana, Bonner remembers many experiences of racial profiling. The small town was divided by a railroad track one side was predominantly black and the other white, he explained. One Halloween, when he was 10 years old, he and his siblings crossed the tracks, wearing their mother’s handmade costumes to go trick or treating. He vividly remembers a woman who was especially cruel.

“They had two bowls of candy, really good chocolates and nice candy, and the other bowl was the penny candy that nobody wanted,” he explained. “I saw the woman put the good candy down because she initially came to the door with it.”

She approached the children with the candy no one wanted and asked, “What are you supposed to be?” Before they could respond, she exclaimed, “That’s not a costume,” as she dropped a single piece of candy in each of their bags.

Walking away that day he realized that that was a horrible way to treat anyone. He never went trick-or-treating again.

“It could have been that she was just mean person,” he admitted. “But because we crossed the tracks into the opposite side of town and were treated that way.”

He knew that in that small town, the only options that were available for him were fast food, logging industry, or to head down the wrong path. He found another option. Bonner joined the Marine Corps because he wanted a better life and after 22 years of service, he admitted, he lived a life of privilege that he can pay forward to his children.

With all he has done for the Marine Corps during his 22-year commitment to his country, Bonner’s sacrifice was never lost on him, his family and especially his oldest son, Aaron Anthony, 20, who has decided to enlist in the Marine Corps as well.

After high school, Anthony studied civil engineering for two years at Clemson University until he ran into financial difficulties. He worked full and part time jobs but never felt he was living up to his potential.

“Becoming a Marine will give me the checklist to become a successful black man in America,” Anthony said proudly. “I saw many men’s lives change from the example my father set and decided that this would be the best choice for me.”

Anthony plans to follow his father’s advice and will finish his education through the Marine Corps and then branch further into avionics.

“It will be one of my proudest moments as a parent to see my son earn the title of U.S. Marine,” Bonner exclaimed. I’m relieved that he is taking responsibility of his own prosperity with his commitment to become a Marine.”

During his time in the Corps, Bonner received his bachelor’s in business management and a master’s in homeland security, granting him more options for the civilian world as he pursues a job as U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer at Dulles Airport.

This moment in Bonner’s life is as much about a personal migration as it is about opportunities for his family. “At this point in my life, I want to try something new,” said Bonner. “I had a great life in the Marine Corps it’s been a phenomenal experience but now I want to try something new and really challenge myself more mentally.”

Bonner compares retirement to heaven; he doesn’t know what’s going to happen but he just wants to know what heaven is like.

Lance Cpl. AaRron Smith, MCINCR-MCBQ CommStrat

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