Photo Information

Sergeant Abdi?s?specialty is meeting people and ?handshaking,? as shown above with Chris Sergeant, a security guard at a local store.

Photo by Sgt. Maj. Nathan Johnson

Fire destroys Marine's house but not heart

15 Aug 2005 |

The last week of May, Sgt. Mohamed Abdi barely escaped an apartment fire, taking only the clothes on his back.  Yet by mission day he had enlisted four applicants.  The next month he sent five more down range (although two never enlisted due to weight and medical limitations).

Abdi lost virtually everything in the fire.  Extraordinarily, in the weeks following, he refused to take leave.

“My substation had a big mission of 11 and it was important to make mission,” he said. “Mission comes first.”

“Perseverance.” This single word describes Abdi, according to his Staff Noncommissioned Officer in Charge, Gunnery Sgt. Timothy Allen, Recruiting Substation Bloomington, Recruiting Station Twin Cities. “He kept plugging away and never used it (the fire) as an excuse to not keep working. Motivating.”

Then RS Twin Cities Commanding Officer, Maj. Eric Johnson, said he wasn’t expecting any contracts from Abdi due to the fire. “When I heard he had put in that many (applicants), I was amazed,” he said. “From that point on, I came to believe that there was no excuse for anyone to not write one (contract) per month.”

The constantly-smiling, soft-spoken 29-year-old has enlisted 22 applicants since going on production in August last year.  His specialty, he says, is meeting people and “handshaking,” preferring area canvassing to telephone contacts, since people don’t always understand his thick Somali accent on the phone.  Regardless, he TCs regularly, and often his accent is a cultural barrier, but one he counterbalances with a dogged work ethic.

For example, since Abdi took over PCS Hopkins in 2005 the Marine Corps became the only service to recruit a First Senior (enlisting a senior as early in the school year as possible) from some area high schools for the last few years. The 1997 Roosevelt High School (South Minneapolis) graduate’s recruiting style seems basic on the surface, but can be complex. He basically starts conversations, often scouting bowling alleys, high school parking lots during lunch, and substitute teaching at high school gym classes.

From there, he tailors his interviews based on the applicant.  Sometimes he’ll convey the fact that he grew up in a rough part of south Minneapolis.  “I give them my background and I say I’m changed, a married man who supports my family,” he said.  “I let them know I came from the same place as them.”  Other times, he speaks with applicants offered four-year college scholarships but primarily want more self-direction and discipline.  The 1999 Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego graduate said he joined to make a difference in his life and to give back to this country.  

“I deal with applicants the same but talk about different needs, he said.”

“He adapts to his surroundings as any Marine,” said Allen.

But always, Abdi says, he involves the applicant’s parents.  “I interview the parents like an applicant,” he says.  “It works if parents believe it’s good.  They may think the whole Marine Corps is about infantry.   So I explain to them all the programs.”

Allen believes Abdi’s success is mostly due to his upbringing.  He said Abdi knows he has to work hard for what he gets and doesn’t take anything for granted.

Abdi was born in Mogidishu, Somalia, and lived there until he was 13. He and his parents, two brothers and two sisters escaped civil war by moving to Kenya in 1990. 

The Abdis left Kenya for Minneapolis in 1995 with the assistance of Lutheran Social Services, going “from the oven to the freezer,” according to Abdi. Arriving in November, it was the first time he experienced snow.  Now he’s back in Minnesota with his wife and infant son after being stationed at Camp Lejeune, N.C.; Okinawa, Japan; Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Ca.; and deploying to Kenya and Afghanistan.

Johnson said that any recruiter can learn from Abdi - to not let anything hold them back from what the Marine Corps sent them out here to do.
9th Marine Corps District