We continue our 11/11-themed series (11 questions / 11 answers!) with one of our own.
Our Executive Director Mark Otto was born in Manhattan, NYC and was raised in New Jersey.
He served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1988-92 and was forward deployed to the Panama Invasion and Desert Shield/Desert Storm.
After his service, Mark had a successful career as a trader on the New York Stock Exchange where he recently retired after 26 years.
Today, he not only leads the UWVC, but is active with a wide range of organizations, including Team Red, White and Blue, the American Legion, the VFW, GoRuck and more.
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WHY DID YOU JOIN THE MILITARY?
Ever since I was a child watching G.I. Joe cartoons, I wanted to serve in the military. In high school, my only friends who joined the military ended up joining the Marines. I was recruited by a former sniper who helped to prepare me both physically and mentally for what was to come.
DID YOU HAVE VETERANS IN YOUR FAMILY?
I am one of six veterans in my family’s lineage. The other five were in the Army. We were all deployed in wartime to include World War I, World War II, Vietnam War, Panama Invasion and Desert Storm.
WHERE DID YOU ENLIST?
WHAT WAS YOUR PRIMARY MOS?
8621 Surveillance Sensor Operator/Team Leader. We operated in 5 man teams deploying tactical remote sensor fields to gather intelligence on enemy movements. I was also certified as a Radio Operator and a Parachutist.
DO YOU REMEMBER THE NAME OF YOUR FIRST DRILL INSTRUCTOR?During my 13 weeks on board Parris Island my Senior Drill Instructor’s name was Staff Sergeant Meany.
WHAT WAS THE WORST THING YOU ATE IN THE MILITARY?
I’ve eaten bugs, snakes and creepy crawly things. However, to me, there was nothing worse than the Ham and Chicken Loaf MRE! Who comes up with ideas like that?!
WHAT WAS YOUR MOST MEMORABLE DAY IN THE MILITARY?
Going through the breach during Desert Storm. Pathways were blown through the minefields which formed a perimeter blocking the allied advance. Tens of thousands of troops were forced to squeeze through these narrow improvised corridors. It was early morning and the sun had just come up. The sky turned black as the smoke from the 200+ oil wells Saddam Hussein’s troops ignited to cover their retreat engulfed our convoy. We were forced to halt for an hour in the middle of the mine field until the winds shifted and we regained visibility. When we rolled into Kuwait there were thousands of Kuwaitis lining the roads waiting to thank us for liberating their country.
IF YOU COULD GO BACK TO THE DAY YOU GOT OUT OF THE MILITARY, WHAT WOULD YOU TELL YOUR YOUNGER SELF?
Instead of focusing on what makes you different, think of the things you have in common with people and ways to connect with them. It’s time to start over and to reinvent yourself. Don’t be discouraged. Always push on. You will end up reinventing yourself many times throughout your life. Each time, things work out for the better.
DID YOU HAVE ANY VETERAN MENTORS?
John Eric Smith is a Vietnam Veteran who got me my first job on the New York Stock Exchange when I got out of the service back in 1992. He’s been my mentor and friend ever since.
WHAT WAS YOUR PROUDEST MOMENT AS A VETERAN?
Successfully delivering the 2019 Centennial NYC Veteran Day Parade. Thanks to the efforts of my team, the UWVC Board, our long time sponsors, WABC, the veterans and veteran supporters, the crowds and the hundreds of volunteers we were able to produce a parade that was worthy of a presidential visit and one that appropriately celebrated 100 of military service to our great nation.
WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE/LEAST FAVORITE MILITARY THEMED MOVIES?
Favorites: Drama – Saving Private Ryan, Comedy – Stripes, Popcorn – Rambo II. Least Favorite: Starship Troopers