CAMP BULLRUSH, Kuwait -- "If you look at the Marines who were in combat during Vietnam and Korea and came out alive, those guys were tough, and that's the Marine I want to be," said Sgt. Ben "Tex" Conner, 26, a Newark, Del. native and a team leader with Trailer Platoon, Battalion Landing Team 2/1, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable).
Walking out of the dust storm kicked up by a CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter, he carried his Texas flag out front as he lead his Marines to a gathering point to link up with his unit. His fondness with Texas is more than just a belief -- it's a way of life for this five-foot two-inch tall rowdy Marine.
Since his introduction into high school, Conner was a crowd favorite as the school mascot and part of the television crew.
"This one time, the vice principal asked me to try and get the crowd riled up, so I ran out to the basketball court and slid on my stomach," Conner said. "Another time during St. Patrick's Day, my friend and I dressed up in all green and wore a bunch of four leaf clovers. On the show, we mixed ham, cabbage, potatoes along with some Lucky Charms and drank it on TV. People said it was gross, but it was all in good fun."
Going in a different direction from his childhood dreams of becoming a rock star, Conner felt he was missing something in his life and decided to try the Marine Corps on for size.
"I remember growing up watching Davy Crockett on Disney and watching him defend the Alamo," as he said with a smile. "Watching war movies, watching the guys go through the mud, it just seemed tough, and that"s what I wanted to be -- a tough guy."
"As I looked around seeing all my friends doing the same thing, I joined the Marine Corps when I was 20 years old," Conner said. "There are times I wish it would be better, but I would never regret the Marine Corps."
Even before Conner left for boot camp at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, he was in excellent physical shape and knew basic Marine Corps knowledge.
"Going to boot camp, I wanted to be the man," Conner said. "I remember one day during a poolee function, I did really well on the (Physical Fitness Test). I did my 20 pull-ups, 80 sit-ups and ran somewhere between 18 and 19 minutes for the three mile run. That is when this master sergeant called me in the office and asked me if I was ready to go to boot camp, I said, 'Hell yes!'"
Conner stood tall on the yellow footprints three days later. Boot camp was not a problem for him because of his physical shape. He graduated as the Company's most physically fit Marine with a score of 298, two points shy of a perfect 300.
After graduating from boot camp and the School of Infantry at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., Conner finally made it to his first unit. There, he met his best friend, 'Janssen' who just happened to be from Texas.
"We just had a lot of things in common, but the most of all we were both rowdy," he said sitting on a box of water. "I remember one night when both of us were in the same [fighting hole] together, we sat up all night just talking."
By gaining a new life long friendship with his best friend, Janssen invited him down to his wedding in Texas.
"The people there are exactly like they are in TV, southern hospitality is no joke down there," Conner said. "They treated me as if I had known them for ten years. Everywhere I went, his family was giving me a hug and said how much they liked having me there. That is one of the biggest reasons I fell in love with Texas -- the people."
That same southern hospitality didn't stay in Texas; it followed him back to his platoon.
"He boosts the morale of the entire platoon with his attitude," said 1stLt. Matthew Nichols, the platoon commander with Trailer Platoon, BLT 2/1. "He brings that good 'ole southern hospitality to the whole platoon."
Along with Conner's ability to boost morale among the platoon, the Marines in his fire team respect him as a leader.
"He's rough around the edges, not like the sergeants you would see in garrison, he'll tell you how it is," said Cpl. Matthew D. Murphy, 26, an infantryman with Trailer Platoon, BLT 2/1, who is a native of Easton, Mass. "But when the grunt work needs to be done he'll get it done."
Although he has lived more than 1,000 miles from Texas most of his life, he feels and acts like a true Texan.
"People always joke and give me a hard time because I was born in Delaware and my bumper sticker on my car says, 'I wasn't born in Texas, but I got there as fast as I could,' but to me, Texas is the place to be. Just listen to Gary P. Nunn's song, 'What I like about Texas' and that will explain it all."
After he completes his tour with the Marine Corps, Conner plans on setting up his claim in Texas either becoming a police officer or firefighter.