East Rowan grad among Marine elite

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Steve Huffman
Salisbury Post
Lance Cpl. Thomas Gravitte said there’s a bit of risk in tossing a rifle into the air while standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon.
“There were only 6 inches in front of us,” Gravitte said. “You drop it, it’s going down the mountain and you’re going down after it.”
Gravitte, 21, who graduated from East Rowan High School in 2005, is one of 34 Marines featured in a Marine Corps television commercial being aired nationwide. It made its debut in January.
The commercial is titled “America’s Marines” (and can be viewed by Googling those words on the Internet) and shows the aforementioned Marines at various locations ó from the Grand Canyon to the Hoover Dam to the Golden Gate Bridge ó across the United States.
Totaled, filming took place at 15 sites.
It’s an impressive commercial, one that’s sure to get flowing the patriotism of virtually anyone who watches.
The 34 Marines are members of the Silent Drill Platoon stationed in Washington, D.C.
Gravitte said only 3 percent of all Marines are selected for the Silent Drill Platoon. “They’re very picky,” he said.
Once selected, members of the Silent Drill Platoon are involved in hundreds of hours of training where they’re taught to turn and toss rifles in a fashion that makes them the world’s elite. Hand/eye coordination is of the utmost importance.
Gravitte said members of the Silent Drill Platoon were flown across the country last year for filming. He said 48 hours of film were shot.
There were two commercials produced from all those many hours ó one that lasts but a single minute and another that stretches 90 seconds.
In that short period of time, the commercials deliver a wallop.
“I couldn’t be more pleased with how they turned out,” Gravitte said. “They give me chills. Anyone who looks at them, they’re going to have a different view of the Marines.”
Recognizing Gravitte in either of the commercials is a bit of a trick. The scenes change rapidly and typically include the Marines stretched out in long lines ó on a beach in front of the Golden Gate Bridge, for instance, or on cliffs surrounding the Grand Canyon.
They’re all wearing their dress uniforms, representing perfectly America’s military might. In the commercials, individual Marines are hard to differentiate one from the other.
Gravitte is probably most visible in a scene that represents small-town U.S.A.
The scene is shot on what appears to be the main street in what could be any one of numerous small towns across the country. Behind the Marines is a hardware store. Gravitte is the Marine standing directly under the “H” in the hardware store sign.
“We’re so proud of him, so few are selected,” said Gravitte’s father, Mark, a sergeant with the N.C. Highway Patrol stationed in Rowan County. His wife and Thomas’ mother is Lisa Gravitte.
Thomas Gravitte said he decided during his junior year at East Rowan to join the Marines. He signed up through the military branch’s Delayed Entry Program, then joined the Marines shortly after graduating high school.
“I realized I could be the first Marine in my family,” Gravitte said. “I realized that going to college would be boring for me.”
He said he’s had few regrets. The lessons taught through the Marines, Gravitte said, will last him a lifetime.
“They’ll be as valuable outside the Corps as they are within,” he said.
Gravitte is no longer a member of the Silent Drill Platoon. He’s recently been transferred to Camp Lejeune near Jacksonville, a move that Gravitte said was of his choosing.
He expects to be deployed overseas within weeks, though he doesn’t know exactly where he’s headed.
“I’ve done my time in D.C. the past two years,” Gravitte said. “It’s time to go over there in the ditches with my brothers.”
He asked that a newspaper article about him emphasize his pride in the Marines despite recent news accounts of a Marine being arrested in Mexico and charged with the murder of a female comrade near Camp Lejeune a few months ago.
“Every place is going to have a few bad apples,” Gravitte said. “Those are the people who don’t appreciate the title they had to earn. They’re putting down their brothers and sisters who are being shot at every day.”
That said, Gravitte paused to chuckle while recalling one of the scenes included in the making of “America’s Marines.”
He said that while the Marines were stretched out on the beach in front of the Golden Gate Bridge, a sea lion continually beached itself, bellowing and disrupting the film-making.
“We kept having to start over,” Gravitte said, laughing at the memory. “They finally had to throw him some food to get him out of the picture.”

For those wishing to view the Silent Drill Platoon in person, the Evening Parade is staged every Friday evening beginning in May and continuing through August at the Marine Corps Barracks near the capitol in Washington, D.C.
Reservations are recommended. Guests with reservations are admitted beginning at 7 p.m. and should arrive no later than 8 p.m. Reservations may be made in writing, by fax, or online (for groups of six or less) at www.mbw.usmc.mil. To assure ample time to confirm reservations by return mail, requests should be addressed to the Protocol Officer, Marine Barracks, 8th and I streets, S.E. Washington, D.C. 20390-5000. Requests made by fax should be faxed to the Protocol Officer at 202-433-4076. The request should include the name of the party (either group or individual), the number of guests in the party, a complete return address and a point of contact with a telephone number. An alternate parade date should be included in the request in case the primary date requested is unavailable.
Guests without reservations are asked to gather at the Main Gate of the barracks and are offered any remaining seats (there typically are some).

Contact Steve Huffman at 704-797-4222 or shuffman@salisburypost.com.