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These Men Are Marines

Embedded with Marines at al-Qaim in Western Anbar province in Iraq, W. Thomas Smith writes of them at The Tank on National Review Online.

Ramos, a 30-year-old, mellifluous-speaking Marine officer, who – even in this sand and heat – always looks as if he just stepped out of a recruiting poster, has only been here since April. But he exudes the same command presence that might be found in any more-seasoned combat veteran.

In fact, all the Marines out here are a reflection of commanders like Ramos. They remind me of my nephew’s high school wrestling team, only a few years older and a bit more severe.

War, the Anbar desert, and simply being a Marine makes you that way.

These men – no women out here (except the Iraqi terp I saw today) – are enduring elements that will make me never again complain about hot South Carolina summers. The Marines are constantly moving, functioning on small four-hour packages of sleep (sometimes less), and subsisting on Pop Tarts, Cheerios, and MREs. Sometimes, they eat steaks and ribs cooked by other Marines on the grill inside the BPs, the highlight of life out here.

They sleep in huge plywood and canvas “hootches,” basically giant tents. They relieve themselves in plastic “wag bags” or tubes sticking out of the ground. Cammie netting shields their battle positions from the searing sun. Razor wire, sandbag berms, and machine-guns mounted in towers protect them from enemy sappers and suicide bombers.

They unwind by reading books and watching DVDs from portable players. There is a single community computer at BP Tarawa with Internet access, but it’s very slow, the Internet signal is hit or miss; and somebody is always waiting in line to use it … even at 2:00 in the morning. Lots of time is spent sharing stories under the stars or in the hootches or outside of the combat operations center – real and imagined – of their greatest sexual conquests, and dreams of girls back home.

They converse in simple sentences with clauses linked by all manner of profanity, but – like their battalion commander, Lt. Col. Bohm – most of them pray openly and unashamedly. They constantly rib each other and boast – a lot of broad chests and big egos out here – but no one is ever offended by the other. They love each other like brothers, but expect a lot out of the same. Here there is no room for weakness, and one who exhibits fear, laziness, or untrustworthiness is quickly isolated and dealt with.

Every servicemember and veteran has good reason to take pride in the particular branch that defines their service. We each joined our respective branches for a reason. As Thomas writes of the Marines in the western Iraqi desert, it reminds me of why I chose the Marines: That rugged bravado, a truly iron-clad brotherhood with a self-imposed demand of higher standards and lower tolerance and a toughness subliminally enforced by the ghosts of such Marines as Dan Daly and Chesty Puller.

All services instill pride in their men and women, and each has cause for such pride distinguished not only by their service, but by the specific traditions and honor of each branch. And we compete heartily among ourselves constantly trying - demanding - to best the others. And we respect each other, though some non-military types may observe and swear by our sharp banter that we must truly hate one another at times. We most certainly do not, though I do recall a few rather untidy Marine-Army unsanctioned 'gloveless group boxing matches' staking out 'bar territory' in a certain unspecified Mexican border town. After all, the invincibility of youth, testosterone and ego is a terrible thing to waste. But such is the capitalism of American military service. And competition breeds excellence.

Sailors take pride in their particular ship. Soldiers take pride in their particular unit. And veterans' decals on their vehicles reflect, with "Big Red 1's, " "Rangers," and "USS Enterprise" stickers to distinguish their service. Such specificity is rare among Marines. Our decals far more often than not say simply one thing: "Marines." In many cases, such as mine, even less. A simple, prominent Marine Corps emblem, the Eagle, Globe & Anchor.

We all make mistakes in our lives and live with regrets. One thing there are absolutely no regrets over is choosing to "Embrace the Suck," as we were fond of saying while griping about one menial duty, task or deployment or another. After all, we were Uncle Sam's Misguided Children (USMC).

As Americans, we love each of our branches of service and those who serve in them. As veterans, we each especially love the one we chose for our own reasons.

I thank W. Thomas Smith for reminding me tonight of my own reasons. I hope you will read it all, for these men are Marines.

1 Comment

My son is a recruit at MCRD San Diego. I wish that he could read this essay.

I am so proud of him and all who are serving.

I cannot wait to become a Marine Dad on October 19 !!!
Jim