Working at his cousin's service station in eastern North Carolina, Ron Kinlaw saw a glimpse of his future get off the bus at the soda fountain across the street.
"He wasn't in his uniform, but he had a T-shirt on with the sleeves rolled up and had the bulldog on his shoulder," Kinlaw said. "It said, 'Drill Instructor, USMC.' I was 17 years old, and I wanted to be just like that guy."
That brief encounter marked the beginning of Kinlaw's 26-year career in the Marine Corps, a path that began and ended at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, but included stops in Vietnam, Jerusalem and at the White House. That same body of work would eventually help him land his current job as the depot's game warden.
Growing up on his family's tobacco farm in Lumberton, N.C., Kinlaw, 60, said his rural upbringing helped him realize what he didn't want to do with the rest of his life.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Island Packet
"I loved growing up on a farm and being a country boy, but I figured out early on that this was not the life for me," he said. "I had members of my family who were career Army -- my father was in the Army and served in World War II and Korea -- so they were a little dismayed when I told them that I was joining the Marine Corps. I wanted to join the Navy, but I could never catch the recruiter in his office."
Kinlaw enlisted in the Corps in 1965, graduated from Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island the same year and was sent to Vietnam a year later.
Over the next 26 years, Kinlaw would serve tours of duty in Asia; at Marine Corps Base Camp LeJeune, N.C.; and in the Middle East as a Marine Security Guard. He eventually was assigned to Marine Helicopter Squadron-1 at the White House from 1979 to 1982 under Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan.
"Through the Marine Corps, I saw a lot of my dreams and ambitions come through," he said. "When I joined in 1965, I knew this was going to be my career. It was a great honor to be selected for that duty at the White House. It was never something I thought I would have had the opprtunity to do."
Kinlaw retired in 1991 as a master gunnery sergeant stationed at Parris Island, but wasn't sure what the next step in his life would be.
"Since I was 17 -- all of my adult life -- I had been a Marine," he said. "That realization hit me when we were outside the General's Building during my retirement ceremony that this was all I'd ever known. So I started looking for a job."
Kinlaw was hired in 1991 as a military pay auditor in the base's comptroller's office, and six years later found himself working as an intern in the depot's environmental affairs office.
"I was an intern as a retired master gunnery sergeant," Kinlaw said, with a chuckle.
Over the next six years, Kinlaw took courses on wildlife management, hazardous materials and pollution control, and in 2003, a directive from Headquarters Marine Corps would put Kinlaw on yet another career path.
"(Headquarters Marine Corps) said that every installation had to have a sworn Law Enforcement Conservation Officer," he said.
Kinlaw, a lifelong wildlife enthusiast, enrolled in a 20-week federal land management law enforcement academy in Glynco, Ga., and in February 2005 became the depot's law enforcement conservation officer, commonly referred to as a game warden.
Since then Kinlaw has patrolled the depot, keeping close tabs on its array of wildlife -- which includes two active bald eagle nests, healthy deer, racoon and possum populations, and species of venomous spiders and snakes -- and enforcing compliance with federal wildlife laws.
Kinlaw said he enjoys helping people see a different side of Parris Island.
"The law enforcement part of my job is necessary, but I love to see people enjoying the outdoors," he said. "As a military installation, Parris Island and the depot is on public land, it belongs to the people of the United States. My job is to make sure that we're good stewards of the land."