The fact that anyone would find what rattles around in my brain to be an interesting read is very humbling, if indeed these individuals exist. I am a United States Marine and have been serving for just under 18 years now. I have thoroughly enjoyed this career and will certainly miss the camaraderie and esprit de corps I have experienced when I retire in a couple of years.
Just over a year ago, I was assigned to take over a platoon of Military Police (MP) who were preparing for a deployment to Afghanistan. We have spent the last year completing training and performing a variety of build-up exercises which are designed to prepare the Marines for a 7 month deployment. MP’s perform a variety of functions in a combat environment. They are a security and defense element for Forward Operated Bases. Additionally, they are tasked to provide security for personnel and supply convoys, safely escorting them from Point “A” to Point “B”.
We started with basics such as terminology and reporting. The Marines slowly but surely memorized a variety of important radio reporting procedures such as calling in situation reports, and medical evacuation procedures. Throughout the year the training became more difficult. The Marines became proficient with all of the weapons systems deployed by MP’s (M4 rifle, M203 grenade launcher, M249 machine gun, M240 machine gun, M2 .50 cal machine gun, MK19 automatic grenade launcher). They were trained in mobile patrolling tactics as well as dismounted patrolling. A great amount of time was spent on identifying Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) as well as reaction to an IED attack and reporting procedures. Additionally, they received a variety of classes designed to familiarize them with Afghan culture and language. This all culminated with a month long training exercise in Twentynine Palms, CA, named Mojave Viper, designed to test the Marines’ preparation and gauge their overall readiness for deployment to Afghanistan. It was my Marines’ day to shine, as they impressed the professional graders, attaining a score of 92% overall on their graded events.
The Marines in my platoon are by far the most talented group of young adults I have had the pleasure to lead, and I must admit it has little to do with me. I have been blessed with an amazing Staff Sergeant who deserves almost all of the credit in preparing these Marines. This has been arguably the most enjoyable year of my career and the Marines under my charge are nothing short of amazing. Rest assured America, that the best and the brightest are still donning military uniforms in defense of this great country, regardless of mainstream media propaganda which would suggest the opposite.
As we go forward in the next month I must admit to a different feeling than in earlier years of my career. I have always enjoyed the “band of brothers” feel in the military. There is truly no other job like it that brings a team of individuals together so tightly that they act and feel like a true family. I must admit that I no longer enjoy that type of bond. Roles change with promotions and over time I have begun to feel more like a father than a brother. Age, as well as a daughter in college, have only served to strengthen this feeling which continuously penetrates my mind. As each day brings us closer to stepping on an aircraft bound for the third world, this feeling becomes both a blessing and a curse.
It is first a blessing, as I sincerely care for every Marine in my platoon. I enjoy their professionalism, the pride they take in their training, and the evening stories and banter which carry through the night air to give the old Gunny a laugh each time we are in the field. Anyone who has served will know exactly what I am talking about. I will not share any of these intriguing stories and arguments, as many would require a parental advisory. What else would anyone expect from 50 young Marines after a long day of weathering 110 degree heat in numerous layers of clothing and many, many pounds of armor and gear? It is an amazing phenomenon to witness the laughter and morale that is displayed after such days and during such conversations. Yet, what other organization in America can confidently trust a 19 year old to lead 10-12 others successfully in a stress-filled environment every day, along with successfully maintaining accountability of a vast amount of high dollar weapons and gear? These Marines accomplish this with class and dignity, and they do it with pride and happiness. These actions are the definition of professionalism if you ask me. I believe Eleanor Roosevelt may have said it best, though she is not a person I would often quote.
“The Marines I have seen around the world have the cleanest bodies, the filthiest minds, the highest morale, and the lowest morals of any group of animals I have ever seen. Thank God for the United States Marine Corps!” –Eleanor Roosevelt-
I have to give her credit. She sums it up quite accurately. It is a true blessing to be entrusted with leadership over such high caliber men and women. I will never forget this upcoming deployment and am daily humbled by the opportunity.
Seeing my role change over the years is also troubling to my mind at times. Gone are the days when I would be one of the boisterous individuals talking trash and telling stories in a carefree manner with my brothers in the evening. I now see things through older eyes. I see these young Marines more and more like my own children. As I get to know their backgrounds, their experiences, and even meet some of their family members on occasion at family functions, ceremonies, etc., my mind grows somewhat troubled with the responsibility placed upon me at this juncture of my life.
I am no longer able to be concerned with only my knowledge, proficiency, and overall welfare. I now hold some degree of responsibility in the welfare of each of these young Marines as well as their families back home. It is a heavy weight to bear some days. Their minds are on the excitement of the mission. They want nothing more than to get the opportunity to perform their duties in country and get in the action. My mind is stuck on the mission of ensuring every one of them get back on a plane and come home in seven months. These thoughts remain internalized, as deep down I know that I will perform my duties in a precise and accurate manner, as it concerns mission accomplishment and the welfare of my Marines. I firmly believe that caring deeply for these Marines will make me a better leader than one that forces himself to be detached in order to allegedly be professional. I honestly believe a good leader can be both professional and caring. I have seen over the years that a detached, professional leader can build a proficient team. If you add sincerely “caring” to the mix you can build not only a team but a family.
So off these young Marines go to see a section of the world and a culture that few who have not been there would believe exists. I have no doubt that it will be a character building experience for everyone. Operational security prevents me from sharing details regarding dates, exact locations, etc. but I hope to be able to share some of our experiences over the next several months, should enough people find these ramblings of an old Marine interesting.