Friday, June 20, 2008

What Your Marines Do For You


by Paul

I spent the last week on the rifle range. "The range" is an annual event that must be completed by all Marines. It re-certifies the shooter on the M16 rifle and ultimately gives them a level of qualification. The course of fire has changed many times in the past ten years that I've shot and the latest incarnation incorporates combat shooting simulations based on lessons learned from Marines fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
While I was out there, I kept thinking about a few key concepts that many Americans probably do not realize or ever consider. Your Marines are young, at least in terms of time...they are nineteen and twenty-year-olds, for the most part, and they suffer greatly to be on the front lines for you. Normally, I work at a level pretty far removed from the most junior Marines but being at the range allowed me to mill around among them and it was a rare treat to speak candidly and openly with the boys. The Marines who work for me fall into a chain of command so they will always be guarded in conversation, but on the range every shooter is quasi-equal so I got to sort of relive my glory days as a lance corporal.
We shot at Camp Schwab, a remote base on the Northern end of Okinawa that rests more or less in a dense jungle. The range is a huge patch of open, mowed grass that sits surrounded by dense foliage. Marines shoot from 500 yards away (really-no scope either) during some stages of firing, so the range is well over half a kilometer square. Since bullets need a clear path to hit their target, there is virtually nothing on this entire square exceeding a foot or so off the ground. For those who can't connect the dots, I'll spell it out...THIS MEANS NO SHADE. The Okinawa sunlight comes ironically from the same sun used by people all over the world, but for some reason, when it shows up here it does so with an intense fury that makes you wonder how something can arrive after a 93 million mile trip and still kick your butt.
I got incinerated over the past week, as did every other Marine there. Even the backs of my hands got sunburned, which, despite my lifelong fairness, has never happened to me before. And this was the least of the miseries we endured. Imagine a week spent in scorching heat, wearing a thick long sleeve shirt and trousers, carrying all of your food and water for the day, lugging twenty pounds of gear, getting harassed by huge bugs and yelled at to "hurry up" at every turn.
Now remember, we weren't in combat, we were just shooting. We do this every year. I have to do this because it's my career and I get paid well to provide for my family. The vast majority of Marines out there are first termers who won't re-enlist. They get paid below minimum wage. They're doing this for themselves, for their country...for YOU.
I realized for the millionth time in my career just how tough these people are. Yeah, they still harbor the immaturities you'd find in a high school or college campus: they talk about chasing girls and how much hard liquor they can drink. They talk about comic books and the new big summer movie and which cigarette brand is the coolest. They eat fast food, junk food, and candy bars when they should be getting something healthy and they drink soda instead of water even though they know that the sugar within is going to make an already hot day feel even hotter. But they get the job done. They're NOT college kids or high school kids...they're not even kids at all. They're men and women; they're not the youth of America. The youth of America, the dot com generation, are often viewed as a bunch of arrogant, too smart for their own good little snobs who think the whole world revolves around diversion and entertainment and can't understand why people can't just get along. These Marines know better. They are the greatest generation.
Our grandparents all fought in WWII, but that was the thing to do. Literally everyone contributed. These junior Marines (and all military folks, for that matter) today enlisted against all advice from their peers and parents. They knew it would be terribly hard...they knew their families would think they were crazy...they knew they'd have to go to war. But they came anyway while their contemporaries went to Starbucks and watched American Idol instead. God Bless Them.

It does me proud to be able to stand among them. To learn more about your Marines, look here.

5 comments:

nannamfg said...

Wow. Thank you. Powerful stuff and as a former Marine wife and Marine mom, I share your feelings. I hope you don't mind if I share your thoughts with some of my friends. God Bless you and your family and thank you for all you do to serve our country.

Mimi Geiger
(Jim and Mandy's Mom/Mother-in-law)

"Nana" said...

I loved reading that, and you're right. Thank you so much, it's great that you came out of that week with more than a sunburn! :)

Paul said...

nannamfg:

Feel free to share as you wish. Thanks for the kind words.

Anonymous said...

Paul(y)--Just read this. Great thoughts, many of which I concur with. I still remember the glory days of the range. When you're immersed in the culture of military life, you don't realize how your day to day activities differ so much from the average American your age. Thanks for bringing that to light. --Your Bro-In-Law, Paul

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