MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. -- On an uncomfortably hot day in the Mojave Desert, many service members participating in Large Scale Exercise 2014 prepare for the day to end, but one Marine decides it’s the perfect weather to bring out his tools and some spare wood to create something from scraps of nothing.
Corporal Tanner Lechner, a combat engineer with Combat Service Support Company, 1st Brigade Headquarters Group, 1st Marine Expeditionary Brigade, said he enjoys his time out in the field regardless of the weather because he gets to practice and improve his construction and creativity skills.
Before the Marine Corps, Lechner lived in Topeka, Kan., up to his early adulthood. Lechner said after high school, he wanted to take charge of his life and do something he enjoys.
His life-changing decision was inspired by his grandfather, who retired as a captain in the Marine Corps, Lechner said. His grandfather would tell him stories of his career. Those stories motivated him to the point where he decided to join the Marine Corps in 2011.
“I picked combat engineer as my [Military Occupational Specialty] when I joined,” said Lechner, now 21 and driven. “It wasn’t my first choice, but I couldn’t do reconnaissance because I was color blind. My recruiter mentioned to me, ‘As a combat engineer, you’ll get to build things and blow stuff up,’ so I said, ‘Yeah! Put me there.’”
After graduating recruit training and MOS school, Lechner said he moved on to the operational forces which gave him the opportunity to deploy and conduct his job.
“We made what [we] would call a ‘triple nickel forty’ out of cratering charges on a partially dry lake bed in the Philippines,” said Lechner. “When this thing went off, it made this massive crater and all of the water that was underground came rushing in. It instantly filled with water and we were like, ‘Hey, we made a big pond.’”
After realizing how much he enjoyed his job, Lechner said that one of his best decisions was joining the Marine Corps.
“My job is the best job in the Marine Corps,” said Lechner. “Whether the ground needs to be blown to bits, a house needs to be repaired, or a simple plaque needs to be created, I could do it all.”
Lechner added people often question their decision to enlist, but he said he was glad he joined because it helped him mature. That alone gave him an advantage over a lot of people he knows. It also gave him one of the strongest families that he’ll ever have.
“Lechner is a good guy,” said Quentin Sanders, also a combat engineer with the MEB. “We’re like brothers because I’ve been with him since day one. That guy is a hard worker and he takes a lot of initiative.”
Now at three years into his contract, Lechner is participating in LSE-14, a bilateral training exercise being conducted by 1st MEB.
The exercise is a tool used to build U.S. and Canadian forces’ joint capabilities through live, simulated, and constructive military training activities from Aug. 8-14 at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms.
Lechner said he supports the MEB by building the simplest of things that aid with the setup of the camp.
“Pretty much anything wooden you see out here, we made it,” said Lechner. “We made the billboards in the command operations center, the benches and tables in the shower rooms and the little tables next to the [restrooms] that hold hand sanitizer. We build those things that help you out, and it’s hardly noticeable, but it’s those little things that count.”
Lechner said he enjoys the work he is tasked with during the exercise because it allows more room for creativity and it’s different than a typical work day on Camp Pendleton.
“Building things [during LSE 14] can be fun,” said Lechner. “It’s also good practice for when I get out of the Marines.”
Lechner said he plans on making a career out of construction after his enlistment because he likes his job so much.
“After I get out of the Marine Corps, I’m going to start some college classes and join an apprenticeship program,” said Lechner. “I want to become a journeyman and then work my way to the top from there.”
Lechner said he wants to own his own construction company and to buy and rebuild older houses. After the restoration process, he said he hopes he can rent his homes out then eventually live off that money and retire at an early age.
Lechner said he will continue doing what he loves, whether building benches and tables at Marine Corps exercises, or rebuilding homes and easing into retirement. Either way, he said he is grateful to have honed his craft in service to the country.