San Diego -- Racing dirt bikes for a living and competing against Ricky Carmichael (by most considered the greatest Motorcross rider of all time), can only be aspired by many. For Gunnery Sgt. Jason L. Buckingham, drill instructor, Platoon 3229, Company K, 3rd Recruit Training Battalion. Motorcross stardom was within reach until fate interfered that led him to the Marine Corps.
At the age of 6, Buckingham, began to race and developed a passion for motorcross racing.
Buckingham grew up in Payallup, Wash. where he excelled in the sport. He began to competitively race at the age of 12. In 1993 Yamaha of Troy in Washington State sponsored him. Subsequently, he was offered a better sponsor deal by Susuki. He was well on his way to becoming a professional rider. However, fate had other plans for him.
Just as Buckingham was about to graduate Eatonville High School in 1996, he was involved in a racing accident. The dirt track was watered and dampened prior to the race. During the race, Buckingham attempted a 90-foot double jump, a jump he had successfully executed prior to the track being watered. This time the maneuver attempt failed.
“I knew I was going to come up short as soon I left the ground,” said the 6-foot-2 Buckingham. “I tried to brace for impact and push the bike away from me as much as possible.”
The accident caused multiple injuries, including wrist and ankle breaks, a punctured lung and some broken teeth. The recuperation and rehabilitation period was 9-months long.
“I tried to get back on a bike but it wasn’t the same. That was my life. All the people that I was racing with, they are all now professionals,” said Buckingham. Among those now professional riders, were Lance Smail and Ricky Carmichael.
Buckingham’s life came to a screeching halt. He needed to find a new career. Gene Toft, a former U.S. Army soldier, served as inspiration for Buckingham.
“He was always coming to my races and kept me in line. He was very patriotic and would teach me military tactics and skills,” said 35-year-old Buckingham. “The impression of the military guy grew on me and I realized what I needed to do.”
He took an interest in the military, the Marine Corps in particular. Buckingham went to recruit training on Aug. 5, 1996 and graduated Nov. 1, 1996.
At the beginning of his career in the Marine Corps, he did not know if he would complete a 20-year career. However, he made the best of it. His time in the Corps has been, successful. He was meritoriously promoted to staff sergeant during his time in recruiting duty.
Now at 17 years of active duty service, Buckingham, still enjoys the fitness, discipline and leadership.
“It’s a true show of character since it’s not exactly easy to enlist after your life changes,” said Staff Sgt. Akira K. Givings, drill instructor. “You are either part of the problem or part of the solution; he is definitely part of the solution.”
According to Buckingham, some of the most memorable moments of his life were in 2010-2011 during his deployment to Afghanistan with Combat Logistics Battalion-5, 1st Combat Logistics Regiment, out of Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton.
“The missions out there were the most exciting because we did a lot of recovery missions and we were in a lot of awkward situations,” said the self-described adrenaline junkie Buckingham. “A lot of the missions were fast paced, exciting and dangerous.”
As his retirement approaches at the end of his drill instructor tour, Buckingham is more than ever committed to his job of training recruits.
“He is down to earth, dependable and adamant about training recruits. He wants to make them better than he ever was,” said Givings.
Buckingham wants to ensure the legacy of the Marine Corps, something he treasures dearly, is inherited by future Marines even after his departure.
“My motivation is training the recruits that will be replacing me to carry out our history and traditions; being able to mentor, train, lead and be a part of a team,” said Buckingham. “This is where you get the hands-on training to mold recruits and it’s probably the best way to finish out my career in the Marine Corps.”
Even though he can no longer become a professional motorcross rider or a street racer, Buckingham still spends his free time riding and teaching other motorcross and street racing enthusiast skills he has learned throughout his life. He is an instructor for the Advanced Riders Course at MCB Camp Pendleton. There, he teaches other riders maneuvers he learned while performing the sport he loves--motorcross.