You may have seen a paddle displayed proudly in the home or office of a former Recon Marine. So, what’s the deal with these paddles? Every Recon Marine is presented with a paddle from his peers when he leaves the unit or the Marine Corps.
The history of this tradition stems from the days of the WWII Raider Battalions. In the Raiders, each man was issued a boat paddle. When they were getting ready to rotate back to the States, their teammates would draw some designs on the paddle with charcoal so the Operator had a nice keepsake from his time in the unit. In the current Marine Corps, this tradition is a bit more “fancy”.
Most paddles have the unit logo either laser engraved or painted on it, the handles are wrapped with 550 Cord, the Operators badges and/or awards are attached and there’s usually a plaque with the dates and a personal message. There are always guys in each unit that are known for their paddle skills and are usually tasked with wrapping or painting paddles many times over.
The biggest part of receiving your paddle is, of course, the insane party that goes along with it. Your buddies and peers take turns basically giving you a goodbye, but in Recon Tradition, anyone is welcome to speak, but only Recon Operators can actually hold or touch the paddle.
By far the coolest part of the tradition is to flip the paddle over and see all of the messages that your brothers wrote to you. So, next time you see a paddle hanging on a wall, take some time to admire what goes into them. But, you may want to ask permission before you grab it, if you don’t rate.
Bill Janson is a former Recon Marine and is the founder of Eleven 10, a tactical gear manufacturer.