The Marine Corps is renowned for its ability to transform civilians into warriors. There is often something inherently unique about those who willingly accept the challenge of becoming a Marine—something inside them that thirsts for more, which is embodied by Marine Corps 2nd Lt. Robert Kiffs.
Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C.
Kiffs was born in 2001 in Accra, Ghana. Like most children, his early childhood revolved around education and family. His mother worked two jobs throughout his life to ensure her sons had everything they needed and instilled the value of hard work. Kiffs was nine-years-old when he received the life-changing news that he and his family would move to America. His mother told him they were moving to America for his and his brother’s opportunity to be successful. Settling close to the Las Vegas strip with his mother and brother, Kiffs adjusted to what was a stark difference to the life he knew in rural Ghana.
Kiffs faced academic challenges in elementary school due to language and cultural differences. In Ghana, his primary language was Ewe. He dedicated extra hours to after-school English classes, helping him catch up to his peers, showing perseverance and a commitment to education. During middle school, Kiffs found interest in the clarinet. Unbeknownst to him then, the clarinet would become a cornerstone of his life, transforming its trajectory in unpredictable ways.
Kiffs attended Rancho High School in Las Vegas. High school served as a formative period for Kiffs’ character development. He dedicated countless hours honing his craft as a clarinetist. Driven by betterment, Kiffs saw the fruits of his efforts as he elevated his standing in his high school’s band. Kiffs would ultimately make his high school’s top band, cementing his position among the school’s top musicians. Kiffs also made the all-county band, furthering his status as a musician. Kiffs set a goal to audition for the all-state band and to secure a music scholarship at the University of Nevada, Reno. His dedication paid off with a music scholarship covering half of his college tuition, supplemented by the state of Nevada for his academic achievements.
My mom had a stroke during COVID. I wondered, would she ever see me as a full-grown adult with a career? I thought the Marine Corps would be a means to make her proud.”
Marine Corps 2nd Lt. Robert Kiffs
Kiffs attended the University of Nevada, Reno, continuing his musical career and, like most college students, contemplating his next steps in life. A hiking trip with high school friends during his sophomore year of college sparked Kiffs’ contemplation of the military as a potential path. A friend’s interest in the U.S. Air Force reminded him of Gunnery Sgt. Izhar Weaver, a Marine Corps recruiter he met during his freshman year. Following the conversation about military service from the hike, Kiffs contacted Weaver to initiate the enlistment process. Reflecting on his mother reminding him why they came to America, he ultimately decided to join the Marine Corps to make his mother proud.
“I wanted to kick start my career, ” Kiffs said. “My mom had a stroke during COVID. I wondered, would she ever see me as a full-grown adult with a career? I thought the Marine Corps would be a means to make her proud.”
Kiffs wanted to align his musical talents to his Marine Corps career by earning a contract as a Marine Corps musician. First, Kiffs had to conduct a live audition to evaluate his musical acumen to secure the music contract. He succeeded in his audition and was accepted for a music contract having met all the standards for enlistment into the Marine Corps. However, his excitement was short-lived when he discovered he could only hold his contract in the Delayed Entry Program for a year, which was sooner than his projected college graduation timeline. Unwilling to put completing his degree on pause, Kiffs doubled his course load and attended summer classes to accelerate his degree. Kiffs completed his degree in 2 1/2 years, a year earlier than usual.
College to Corps
Kiffs graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno in December 2021, allowing him to shift focus to what would be the biggest undertaking of his young adult life: becoming a United States Marine. He arrived at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego two weeks after college graduation to begin recruit training.
Following 13 weeks of trial and triumph during entry-level training, Kiffs graduated recruit training as his platoon’s guide. The distinction as platoon guide is given to the top recruit in each platoon. Kiffs felt immense pride for having earned the title Marine, compounded with his mom and friends attending his recruit training graduation. He successfully completed his follow-on Marine Combat Training at Camp Geiger, North Carolina, and reported to the Naval School of Music, Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story, Virginia, to become a Marine Corps musician. There, one of the instructors introduced him to Marine Corps commissioning programs and the idea of pursuing a commission as an officer.
The effort you put into something in the Marine Corps determines what you get back. If you have a goal, go for it, and if you work hard, you will eventually achieve it.”
Marine Corps 2nd Lt. Robert Kiffs
Kiffs was assigned to the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing Band at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, after successfully earning the military occupational specialty 5524, musician, from the Naval School of Music. Although he enjoyed being a musician, he aspired to make a more significant impact on Marines. With encouragement from Weaver, he pursued the Enlisted Commissioning Program. Kiffs received the news of his acceptance into the program during a temporary additional duty with the 2nd MAW Band. He was elated but also understood that becoming an officer required the completion of Officer Candidates School.
Kiffs found OCS to be less of a culture shock, having already been through enlisted recruit training, but it was challenging, nonetheless. Kiffs went to OCS as a lance corporal, making him among the most junior candidates with prior-enlisted experience in his company. Approximately halfway through OCS, he learned he met the requirements to be promoted to corporal; however, his promotion would have to wait until after OCS graduation. Kiffs graduated OCS after 10 intense weeks. He officially completed all the requirements to be commissioned as a Marine Corps officer.
He returned to MCAS Cherry Point following OCS graduation Aug. 5, 2023. Upon his return, the commanding officer of Marine Wing Headquarters Squadron 2 held a promotion and commissioning ceremony for then-Lance Cpl. Kiffs. Because he had met the requirements to be promoted to the rank of corporal during OCS, Kiffs was first promoted to corporal, marking a significant milestone in his enlisted career. However, with his new blood stripes draped over his shoulders and corporal chevrons on his collar, Kiffs’ time as a noncommissioned officer would be short lived as he immediately and subsequently pinned on the rank of second lieutenant having also met all commissioning requirements.
His promotion and commissioning ceremony ended symbolically with the 2nd MAW Band playing the “Marines’ Hymn,” marking the conclusion of his time as a Marine Corps musician and the beginning of his journey as a Marine Corps officer.
When asked why he wanted to commission as an officer, Kiffs’ answer could not be clearer: “To help Marines; to give back. Officers are uniquely positioned to influence Marines’ lives for the better.”
Kiffs’ journey, from his origins in Ghana to his pursuit of excellence in music, education, and service in the Marine Corps, reflects perseverance, a commitment to seize every opportunity, and a continual quest for improvement.
Kiffs offers this advice to young Marines aspiring to take on greater challenges: “Your career is in your hands. The effort you put into something in the Marine Corps determines what you get back. If you have a goal, go for it, and if you work hard, you will eventually achieve it.”