Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Here's to them...

Sir, we're supposedly the senior battalion in the Marine Corps. When are we going to get our chance?

I smiled when I heard that question. I was inside the hangar bay of the USS Essex in Sasebo Japan, circa April 2003, and we had been standing there for about 2 hours. The "15 minutes prior" rule applied -- each level up the chain of command told us to be in the hangar bay 15 minutes earlier than when they had been told, and since the Commandant of the Marine Corps was aboard, we'd been waiting for a while.

That question was asked by a Sergeant from 2/4. They were extended for another cycle on the 31st MEU, and had been away from home for almost a year. While we sat around and did nothing on ship and on Camp Hansen, Okinawa, our friends were storming through Iraq.

As Iraq was -a- brewin', we were told that there was a "90% chance" that we would be going to the Philippines to take care of the problems that were going on in the southern islands. Abu Sayyef was causing problems, and it was time for the 1st of the 1st down at Tori and the 31st MEU to do their part in the GWOT. I remember my mom sending me a newspaper article stating that the 31st MEU was already underway, heading down to the PI to "get some," which I read sitting in our bay. The CO of 3rd Recon Battalion had orchestrated this whole thing where the USS Essex was to be a floating reconnaissance platform, and had four reconnaissance platoons aboard, which is insane. In his graduation speech during R&S, he told us in his psychotic manner, "If you guys head to the Philippines tomorrow, you'll be ready. I know you will. Why? Because you have no choice."

The Brass was rotting in Okinawa while their colleagues were seeing combat in Iraq, and they wanted to play too.

...Long story short, Arroyo read about an ARG steaming towards her island, reminded the US Government that it was counter to their Constitution, and the whole jamboree got canc'd. The 31st MEU would get their chance (and then some) to play in Iraq, but that was after 2/4 was long gone. 2/4's story picked up about a year later, in a town called Fallujah.

I've been reading a book called No True Glory: A Frontline Account of the Battle for Fallujah. Reading it gives me butterflies. The author was able to capture how Marines act and the type of things that they will do and say in stressful situations. It puts a human face on the American kids in Iraq and what they have to deal with on a day to day basis, and how they react to situations that seem at times like a tragic, dark, and ghastly comedy. It shows the disparity between the thinking of the "intellectuals" who are armchair-quarterbacking the war from the states, and the people who are actually in the line of fire.

I should mention that I didn't really do anything "for real" in the military. I went to probably three years worth of schools hosted by all four branches and did my share of training. The most interesting thing I did during the five years I was in was go on a trip to North Korea for a month on a remains recovery mission, which mainly consisted of being held prisoner in a hotel for 18 straight days during the rainy season, plagued by asshole North Korean military folks and unbearable propaganda music..

Tongil Manse to you too, fuckers.

This may be part of the reason that I find myself being affected by this book. Sure, I did a lot of preparing, but I never made the sacrifices those guys made and continue to make over there in Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.. (I don't count my own time in Afghanistan as any sort of "sacrifice", because that was for the money.) Anyway, most of us know folks who never made it back from that part of the world. Time has passed and my memories of them have faded, but this book has made me think more and more of them. I never want to forget their names and faces, or what they gave up and left behind.

My life (and this blog) is chock full of absurdity and grab-ass, but every so often I like to take a few moments and reflect upon what's important. Hours of reading this book and a heavy dose of Okinawan moonshine brought me back down to earth this weekend and made me appreciate how fortunate I am to have what I have, know the people I know, and be where I am.

I think about what that Sergeant asked in the hangar bay that day, and I wonder if he realized what he was asking and what implications it carried. I wonder if he had any idea that he was foreshadowing a grim chapter that would open in their lives one year later, and how for many, it would be their last.

Here's to their sacrifices -- individuals greater than myself.

Thanks for reading.


Blogger brando said...

good post.

6:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

that's the post that keeps me reading. thanks paul. jt

11:09 AM  
Blogger Paul said...

mr troff-
that crazy bn co is the same one that throat punched you that one time (bristol)

"like, for example, i bet you wont see this coming" *WHACK!*

11:50 AM  
Blogger brando said...

The Mrs. loved this post. But because she's a wierdo, she refuses to comment. It was our dinner conversation tonight.

2:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ah ha, yeah, i'm not surprised to hear that. george bristol, to be precise, and the hardest thing he ever did was kill somalis! j

2:29 PM  
Blogger Paul said...

tell her punk ass to comment or..let's just say we'll have some litigation up in here.

my buddy said that bristol ended up in iraq and was in his element. running around all up in the business, calling shots, being crazy, probably challenging mullahs to knife fights. bristol is at MIT right now for some reason. yeah, the MIT. who knows what he's doing there, maybe teaching chimps his deadly fighting style.

2:35 PM  
Blogger Jinxy said...

I've been waiting for a good book about Falluja to come out.

Thanks for the heads up.

And don't be sad, Little Camper. A lot of us didn't do "anything" while we were in the military.

It's all a matter of timing.

But I'm proud to say that I never shoveled shit in Louisiana.

9:41 AM  
Blogger Paul said...

Yeah, it's kind've hard to be critical of one's self for not doing anything in the military, unless of course one is a malingerer..

Think about being in the Roman Army during pax romana. Those guys didn't see any action, except for putting down some rowdy persians or germans.

10:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a crazy fuck that guy was. Remember when he was trying to do that thumb crap? Who do you think would win in a street fight...Ernie Gillespie or Col. Bristol?

I love how removed from the world you are over there, Paul. See, it's not cool to be supportive anymore. The honorable Mrs. Sheehan just published a book who's co-author doesn't think we should allow the youth to enlist because they're not adults at 18. Furthermore, the author went on national television and stated that these "kids" whom are too young to decide to fight for their country, should be denied the right to vote. I think he wants to reserve that right for white, land-owning males over the age of 40.
O yeah. In less then 30 days, I will have Jason L., Eddie H., and James W., in my living room.

11:50 AM  
Blogger Paul said...

Ummmm... If Col Bristol, Kelly McCann, and Ernie Gillespie got into a brawl, who would win? I think Bristol has them both on whackjobbedness. I dunno man. I think Bristol would win, cuz he's a pretty big dude.
Yeah, I heard about your little party down there. I'm jealous... I'll have to give you guys a call when that happens, so make sure you let me know when the crew will be assembled. I havent seen Lulu in ages. I wish we coulda linked up in the 'stan.

Speaking of Lulu, he's killed more terrorists than any of the aforementioned whackos. Card carrying AQ at that. That's pretty neat. Now instead of getting drunk and waxing poetic about driving cattle, he can wax poetic about killing foreign fighters.

12:46 PM  

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