At 38 years old, Chris Borgerding of Sauk Centre may seem a little young to be retiring. But, having been an active Marine for 20 years, he has had more experiences than most people have had in their whole lives. 

Borgerding has been a recruiter, trainer, builder, guardian over authority – including the president of the United States – and much more, all during a time when history was being made.

“Everybody always asks why I did 20 (years), especially during that time frame,” Borgerding said. “It’s what I always saw myself doing, and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. Regardless of all the hard times and all the deployments, as difficult as they were sometimes, I always felt that was my calling, that was what I was supposed to be doing.”

Growing up on a dairy farm near Sauk Centre, Borgerding knew he wanted to go into the military; it was a matter of picking which branch. He went to grade school at Holy Family School in Sauk Centre, later entering Sauk Centre High School. During his junior and senior years, Borgerding decided he wanted to join the Marine Corps.

“The legacy is that it’s the most professional, the hardest and the tightest group,” Borgerding said. “If I was going to put myself in harm’s way, I wanted to make sure I trusted the people I worked with, and I had the highest-caliber people working with me.”

Borgerding graduated high school in May 1999, and, in August, he went to boot camp at San Diego.

The most memorable part of boot camp for Borgerding was the graduation challenge, called the crucible. Over a three-day training evaluation, candidates had four hours of sleep and two or three military meals during their challenges. On the last day, the crucible culminated with a climb up the Sierra Nevada mountains, starting around 2 a.m., and the graduation ceremony took place at the top.

“When we climbed to the top of the mountain, the sun was just coming up over the Sierra Nevada mountains,” Borgerding said. “We could see the ocean and the sun coming up, and the whole thing’s over with. From that point on, you’re treated differently by the drill instructors, like everybody acts a little differently. That part really stuck with me through my career.”

After graduation, Borgerding’s first duty station was in Washington, D.C. While in infantry training school, he was selected to be part of the presidential security team. Four Marines work with the Secret Service and other security agencies to keep the president safe. It took a while for the approval to come through; there was some government reshuffling, Borgerding’s security clearance package was lost at one point and then 9/11 happened.

“I got selected for a security detail,” Borgerding said. “We worked with Secret Service and went up to the United Nations summit up in Manhattan (N.Y.) for a month in November 2001. Our job there was to provide security for Colin Powell and President (George W.) Bush while they went to that summit.”

Finally, Borgerding passed the security clearance and was assigned as one of the four Marines of the presidential security team in 2002.

“The four of us work in the west wing, right next to the Oval Office, right next to the press secretary and the vice president,” Borgerding said. “Our purpose there is to be a ceremonial guard. Anytime there’s an arrival, say, if the prime minister of England comes, we’re the first official face they see as they come out of the limo. If there is a threat, we’re the last line. We hold that line as long as we can while the Secret Service remove the president and the other VIPs out of the area, so that’s our secondary duty. We should never get to that point, but if it does, that’s why we have all that training and security checks on the front-side.”

Borgerding had many interactions with President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and many other people in power at the time. During his first year, Borgerding and his fellow Marine on duty were personally invited by Bush to join his family for Christmas dinner.

Another event Borgerding remembers took place one year later between Christmas and New Year’s when he had to stand guard outside the west wing door.

“It was a particularly cold couple of days,” Borgerding said. “There’s a little buzzer that tells us when someone’s leaving the west wing so we can open the door. We heard the buzzer, went through the motions and opened the door, and out steps President Bush. He said, ‘Come inside; it’s too cold to be outside. I’m going to be working in here all day long, and I want you guys to stand inside. You can do your job from here, and if anybody says anything to say otherwise, let me know,’ and he handed me a cup of coffee he made.”

Another thing Borgerding was allowed to do was give tours of the west wing and the old executive office building next door, so he was able to show his mother and sister when they came to visit.

Borgerding served as a guard until 2005; by then, he was 21 and had reached the rank of sergeant. He established a unit in North Carolina where they were setting up an anti-terrorism battalion, and, in 2006, he had his first overseas deployment as security at the Baghdad embassy.

Over the next 13 years, Borgerding was deployed to Iraq six times, as well as to Afghanistan, Jordan, Guantanamo Bay and the Caribbean. Some of his assignments included helping the fight against IS, providing convoy security, working with anti-narcotics forces, training military allies, repairing infrastructure and establishing schools and free markets.

“What is put out on the news and what is covered isn’t really what the guy on the ground sees,” Borgerding said. “Our presence there changed life for those people who lived in the area. It had a big impact on things while we were there and made stuff a lot safer.”

In between deployments, Borgerding usually waived his dwell time, the regulation saying military must spend as much time at home as they do abroad. He married his wife Maranda in 2008 after his second deployment overseas; 26 days after the wedding, he was called back to Iraq. So far, he and Maranda have celebrated three Christmases and four anniversaries together.

Borgerding also had several assignments stateside, including recruiting duty in Phoenix.

“The first few months is always a struggle for everybody,” Borgerding said. “The Marine Corps isn’t about sales, so I had to learn a new skill, but I quickly established myself. It’s a little rocky getting everybody to trust you because some days you do feel like a used car salesman, but I actually did really well on recruiting duty.”

When Borgerding returned from his 2017-19 deployment in Jordan, he retired in September at the rank of gunnery sergeant. He has considered obtaining an engineering degree, but his future is looking pretty open-ended.

“I’m enjoying being in our house with my wife,” Borgerding said. “I’ve been gone for most of our marriage, and now we’re together. [Marine life] was hard, but it was fun. And, right now, the benefits of retiring have given us the flexibility to enjoy life.”