“It’s different than California, but at least I’m getting to rope.”
Chief Warrant Officer Mike White, a 22-year Marine, is on the seventh deployment of his career, serving at the U.S. Department of Defense headquarters. He’s five weeks in and seems to have the situation dialed in.
“I’m hanging out in my Bloomer trailer at an alfalfa farm, roping on the weekends, teleworking a few days a week and going into the Pentagon two days a week,” White, 45, said, explaining that he’s less than an hour from the weekly PRCA rodeo in Pilesgrove, New Jersey. “We got here on a Saturday morning and then we went to Cowtown that night, and we won the rodeo. That was kind of cool. Like, welcome to the East Coast.”
Though he’d attended Engineer School at Camp Lejeune for a few months early in his career, White, a born-and-raised Californian, is otherwise devoid of East Coast experience. He’s been other places, though.
“I’ve done Afghanistan a few times; Iraq,” said White, who joined the service six months prior to the Sept. 11 attacks. “The Marine Corps has Expeditionary Units, so I’ve done the 15th MEU, 13th MEU, the 31st MEU, a UDP (Unit Deployment Program). Every east Asian country and, then, a lot of ship deployments as well, where you’re like a Force in Readiness in the Western Pacific or Indian Ocean.”
Each year, with each deployment or expedition, a Marine develops more skills, becomes better trained and is more apt to be assigned leadership roles in increasingly challenging environments.
“I got selected on one deployment to lead a platoon of Afghan soldiers,” White said. “Where I was, it was me and one other Marine and, you know, a handful of Afghan soldiers. We were in the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan for a year.”
As a young Marine, White was ready to deploy. Now, living on the opposite coast from his wife, Monica, and their three children—9, 7 and 3 years old—seems like deployment enough.
“She’s a hero,” White said of Monica, an environmental consultant in the garbage and recycling industry. “Even when I got orders out here, she was like, ‘Look, take the living quarters, take two horses, rope. I’m not cleaning five stalls.’ Not to stereotype, but team roping wives get asked a lot. And then, military wives, you’re asking a whole lot. And she’s both.
“She like, you know, hit the lotto,” White added, jokingly. “I’m going to the Finale in December and have some good partners. We just make a vacation out of it, and she’s real supportive. Like, ‘Have you been practicing? You need to practice this; don’t get too rodeo crazy. You need to make some jackpot runs and free your horses up.’ And I’m like, ‘Okay. I got it.’”
White was rodeoing long before he joined the Marines, and roping has remained a constant throughout his career.
“I did the whole junior rodeo, high school rodeo, college rodeo,” he said. “I went to West Hills for a couple years, Panhandle State for a couple years. And I’ve been able to rope for the last 20-something years and still compete and go to Wickenburg and the Finale and some of the bigger ropings.
“I was really fortunate,” White continued. “When I first joined the Marine Corps, I was stationed in Camp Pendleton and it was like 10 miles to Rancho Mission Viejo in San Juan Capistrano. At that time, they had 100 team roping steers there and quite a few people that roped, so I spent every day there for five or six years.”
White didn’t waste the opportunity.
“I would train, do whatever I had to do to get off at 4 o’clock in the afternoon and, 15 minutes later, I’m at Rancho Mission Viejo, on a horse, roping some steers and getting ready for the weekend.”
In the years since, White has come to credit his roping—in part—for his sustained sense of self.
“Team roping has kept me grounded and been like a decompressor for me,” he said. “Every deployment, I just saved money so I could get back and buy a new saddle or buy a new horse or go roping here or there, and I have a lot of memories in my mind of doing that.”
In one particular memory, White returned from his year-long deployment with the Afghan soldiers and, within 24 hours, he was headed to a few ropings in Arizona with a friend who had an extra head horse for him.
“So, I go to Mormon Lake the next day and they have a #15 roping,” he explained. “It was a pick-one, draw-one, and I drew Victor Aros. I just remember being at that roping and the sound of the chutes, the smell of the arena, the snack shack, the announcer. And, all day, I just had a smile on my face. Like, this is amazing. I was on the other side of the globe, you know, 36 hours ago, and I’m in Mormon Lake winning second with Victor Aros.”
Aros isn’t the only NFR roper White has partnered with, either. In his Rancho Mission Viejo days, he was taken under the wing of Angel Crosthwaite—partner to “The Outlaw,” H.P. Evetts. On the East Coast, he’s crossed paths with and practices with Casey Cox, who competed in the 1988 NFR with Speed Williams on the heel side. In December, he’s partnered up with two-time NFR Average Champion Denny Watkins for the Ariat WSTR Finale after winning the #13.5 at the Ceres Qualifier in April.
When Watkins asked if White would be interested in pairing up at the Finale, White told him yes, and, “Matter of fact, I won my first USTRC check with your dad, Eddie Watkins, at Klamath Falls, Oregon.”
White is undoubtedly excited about the opportunity to rope with Watkins and others. He’s ranked 15th in the First Frontier Circuit and has his eye on January’s circuit finals, as well. He’s careful not to sound overly confident about his prospects at the Finale or in the circuit, but for someone who’s made a career of leveling up, the odds may be in his favor.
“I probably won’t deploy again, which I’m okay with,” White said. “But it’s kind of shaped me into who I am today. I feel like I’ve succeeded at every level [even when I was put] in positions that were outside my rank or maturity level.”
To make his point, he refers to his time as a drill instructor.
“That was probably the hardest thing I ever did. I was a little older when I went there. When you go to DI school, there’s 100 Marines in [with you]. You have to be physically fit and academically savvy, and I went there thinking I was way behind. But, I was able to be the Honor Grad there and the Iron Man for the most physically fit, and that was kind of cool. I kind of surprised myself.”
Still, White is quick to keep his accomplishments in perspective.
“I’d much rather win a big roping. Win Salinas,” he concluded.