MARINE CORPS LOGISTICS BASE BARSTOW, Calif. --
The Marine Corps is losing a pillar of the education community now that Francis Villeme has retired from his job as Personal and Professional Development Program site manager for Marine Corps Logistics Base Barstow, Calif., Feb. 28.
In one form or another the retired Marine Corps gunnery sergeant has worked for the federal government since 1975, a large part of that in the education assistance field, a far cry from what he started out doing.
“My original Military Occupational Specialty was field artilleryman. I was stationed at (Marine Corps Base) Camp Lejeune when a battery gunny took me aside and asked ‘Why aren’t you going to school?’”
He took that advice to heart and while on recruiting duty at Saint Louis, Mo., Villeme applied for the Staff Noncommissioned Officer Degree Completion Program and graduated from Columbia College in 1986.
For three years he was the Education Services Officer for MCLB Albany, Ga., for his pay back tour.
Villeme said when he retired from the Corps in 1996 he went to work for the Marine and Family Programs office at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, Calif.
He began his career with MCLBB in 2002 accepting the Education Services Officer position, working as a Government Service employee. He retired from that position five years ago to take the job as Personal and Professional Development Program site manager, which is a non-appropriated funds slot.
Over the years Villeme said he has been stopped on the street by people he’s helped so they could thank him for his guidance, which he said is one of the things that makes life worthwhile.
“I’ve had people holler at me from across the parking lot (in Flagstaff, Az.) while I’m getting gas in my vehicle, and they come dragging somebody along with them to say to me ‘This is the man who helped me get my degree.’”
“I was in Gallup, New Mexico, for breakfast and a man came up and bought my meal. He told me ‘You made my son go to college.’ I didn’t make him, I gave him the opportunity and showed him how to do it.”
On Villeme’s Facebook page, one of the many people he’s mentored during his career did a mathematical study of just how many people the veteran academician has helped.
“He told me that I’ve helped well over 100,000 people get where they want to be.”
That shouldn’t be surprising as Villeme has also worked as vice president of the California Advisory Council for Military Education and part-time for eight years as a Service Members Opportunity college counselor for Copper Mountain College in Joshua Tree.
Retiring leaves him with mixed emotions.
“When I entered the Corps I embraced it and the Corps embraced me and has taken care of me,” Villeme said. “I’ve loved working with my brothers and sisters in uniform, all through my entire life. That’s the bitter part, leaving them behind.
“But I’m also looking forward to a new stage in my life. I’m a Certified Professional Life Coach and so is my wife Kim. I can still work and still help people. That’s what it’s all about
is sharing the love and making it work,” he said.
Villeme said the small size of MCLB Barstow is really an advantage for Marines stationed here “because they’ll be able to do what they can’t do at any other installation, get their education.”
Other Marine Corps installations, even other Department of Defense facilities, have called the Education Office at MCLBB to draw from Villeme’s extensive experience and knowledge about a subject he’s always been passionate about.
“This office has never turned down any request for help from any service member,” he explained. “Whether it’s Marine, Navy, Army, or Air Force, we take care of it. Edwards (Air Force Base) calls us often.”
Though he’s retiring from the base, Villeme said he’s not retiring from life. He plays guitar, sings, paints and writes poetry, and has even been offered singing jobs by a couple of bands.
The best advice he has for Marines is actually to throw down the gauntlet and challenge them.
“If you haven’t been into the education office on this base, you need to because there are opportunities galore,” Villeme said. “Don’t just consider going to school, do it. I dare you to do it.”