July 8 marked 3 years since the Marine Recon community lost one of its finest. MSGT John Hayes was killed in action in Afghanistan on July 8, 2009.

When I passed the indoc and was actually assigned to 2d Recon Bn, John was one of the first faces that we learned to fear. We were ropes and he was a seasoned Recon SGT.

We were reminded quite often that we didn’t rate shit, and to make things even more uncomfortable, all of the new ropes were assigned to the barracks that John’s platoon lived in … not a great situation for us ropes living with an operational platoon.

Of all of the hazing and thrashing we dealt with, John was always the one who made sure we learned something every evolution. No matter how small or big of a lesson, we learned something.

I remember quite a few times being on duty, and John would sit down with me and really go through what we were learning. A lot of guys would ask you a few knowledge questions just hoping you’d get them wrong to start a small “PT Session”, but he wanted to make sure you not only knew the subject, but understood it.

He exemplified the definition of a silent professional. No yelling or chest pumping was necessary with this guy … he just commanded respect when he walked in a room. This respect wasn’t unwarranted, because he knew his job and had the reputation that legends were made of.

MSGT John Hayes
MSGT John Hayes

One fine morning, John and his platoon decided that they’d take the new ropes out for a nice PT session. This wasn’t the norm, since we were assigned to our own platoon. This was their way of seeing what we were made of. The PT session was nasty, to say the least, but we all made it through. I might even go out on a limb and say that we all earned a little bit of respect from the old school.

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Like I said, there was always a reason behind everything John did, no hazing for the sake of hazing. He just wanted to ensure that if we made it through Amphib Recon School (ARS), he’d have no issues with any of us being on his team down the road.

Time passed, us ropes went on to ARS and earned our MOS. Once we actually were Recon Marines, the thrashing became more professional “hello’s” in passing. As we grew as Recon Marines, John Hayes was always there for the junior guys to guide us along and help us truly master the skills of a Reconnaissance Marine.

Later in my time at Recon, I remember John came to our room (my roommate Joey and I) and knocked on the door. Expecting him to pass on some info or just ask us a simple question, he came in and sat down. We shot the shit for quite a while and had a few beers.

This was that moment that we realized we were officially part of the “club.”

It’s one thing to earn a title, but to have a highly respected member of the community truly look at you as an equal is quite another. A large portion of my Recon memories include John Hayes in some way, shape or form.

I know that I’m not articulating these stories as impacting as they were, and I’m sure for a lot of folks they may just seem like a few little events. But, everyone who has made it through any type of selection process can tell you about a mentor that truly helped form them into the man they are. That guy who truly inspired and pushed you, taught you those little tricks, gave you real lessons and knowledge, and had such an impact that you aspired to attain his level of respect … that man for many Recon Marines was MSGT John Hayes.

John was truly a Recon legend. He had the respect of all he worked with and the admiration of everyone in the community.

When I found out about John being killed, I remember saying to one of my buddies “this can’t be, John’s a f&*kin superhero, there’s no way he died.” I think that sentiment was pretty common amongst us.

Rest easy John, you are truly missed. Semper Fi.
Semper Fi

Bill Janson is a former Recon Marine and is the founder of Eleven 10, a tactical gear manufacturer.