Governor selects ESD Commissioner Crabtree for appointment
By Christine Bolaños
Governor Greg Abbott recently appointed a commissioner of the Williamson County ESD #4 to the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation Governor’s Council. Marine Maj. James Crabtree is the new Texas Ambassador of the National Museum of the Marine Corps.
His responsibilities will almost be an extension of his current job as coordinator of the Texas Veterans Land Board’s Voices of Veterans oral history program. His main duty will be sharing the stories of veterans currently residing in Texas and helping spread the word to fellow veterans about the museum, which is located just outside Quantico, Virginia.
“We exist to save veterans’ stories for posterity and also to honor them for their service. We interview all veterans of any age, any branch of service, time of service, as long as they’re in Texas now,” Crabtree explained. “We send them four free copies of the audio CD’s with a signed letter from (Texas Land) Commissioner George P. Bush.
“We also save veterans’ interviews in our archives. We have archives that go back to the 1700s. We have the land grant that David Crockett received after he was killed at the Alamo,” Crabtree said. “The goal with this is that these interviews can be listened to hundreds of years from now. It’s pretty unique. I don’t know of any other state that has a program like that.”
The VLB also grants low interest home loans and land loans to veterans, oversees eight veterans’ nursing homes across the state and four veterans’ cemeteries in Texas, he said.
Crabtree says the organization’s slogan is “Every veteran has a story to tell.” He will carry that thought in mind with his new post on the Governor’s Council.
“A lot of them will say, ‘I don’t have anything to talk about.’ A lot of the time the children and grandchildren may not have heard those stories. For whatever reasons, the veterans have been reticent to talk about it,” Crabtree shared. “If they talk about it to a stranger or someone who understands it, it’s more likely for them to open up. It’s kind of cathartic for the veteran that’s interviewed.”
He is proud of the National Museum of the Marine Corps, which he believes is a “first class” museum that has done an “incredible” job of capturing the Marine Corps story.
Crabtree lives in the Leander ISD area but resides in the Liberty Hill ESD-serviced area. He enlisted in the military in 1997 while still a student at the University of Texas at Austin.
He served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and is adjutant for the 14th Marine, an artillery regiment based at Naval Air Station Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base.
“(Joining the military) definitely changed my life for the better. A lot of it came from playing with a lot of G.I. Joes as a kid and always being really interested in history and the military,” Crabtree said. “A real good friend of mine — we went to high school together at McCallum in Austin — he went into the Marine Reserve right out of high school. I was able to talk to him about what it was like. I went and talked to the recruiter and entered the delayed entry program.
“Because of (Crabtree’s friend) I knew what to expect, the good and the bad. Recruiters have a tough job to do. They ultimately have to get people to sign up every month,” Crabtree added. “In my case, because of my friend, there were no surprises.”
The government major at the University of Texas at Austin spent three summers in boot camp.
“That was a good experience. It helped with my schooling. I qualified for the reserve GI bill and it paid a good chunk of it. At the time it was a big help,” Crabtree explained.
For about eight months, between 2004-2005, Crabtree was in the Marine Corps Infantry Battalion.
“Some of the guys that I served with when I was enlisted were over there with me at that time. I was on active duty for about four-and-a-half years,” he said.
He was preparing to work at the General Land Office in Texas and was at a weapons company, which was Camp Mabry at the time, when he was deployed to Iraq.
His employer assured him his job would still be there when he got back. He spent months preparing to go to the Middle East.
The next milestone for Crabtree was getting married in 2006.
“That was the best part of my deployment to Iraq. My wife and I met as pen pals. She’d never even been to Texas before. She was living in Florida and was a nurse,” Crabtree recalled.
At the time, Crabtree was writing a blog for his battalion as a way to get more care packages for troops and boost morale. Many of the troops, including Crabtree himself, expressed interest in having a pen pal. That’s when Crabtree’s future wife answered the call.
Their conversations were usually 20 to 30 minutes long, but dating via blog and phone call allowed the couple to get to know each other on a deep level, he said.
“When I got back home to Austin that’s when I met her in person. She was there when I got off the bus at Camp Mabry and we got engaged a little over a year later. My battalion chaplain who married us was one of the first people in Iraq who I told about her,” Crabtree shared.
He and wife Meredith are parents to Hannah, 8, Caroline, 5, Grace, 4, and Jack, 1.
Crabtree’s volunteer experience includes serving as election judge in nearly every election since 2009 and his two-years-plus on the ESD Board. He started the American Legion Post in Cedar Park that continues to grow today.
To learn more, visit www.glo.texas.gov/voices-of-veterans/. Any veteran interested in including their story in the program should contact the Veterans Land Board at 1-800-252-VETS (8387) or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.