10 November 2010


By Andy Weddington
Wednesday, 10 November 2010 (235!)

                                                      "Always do what you are afraid to do." Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

First, follow-up...

Last week's Commentary, "TABLE 6", generated quite the response from readers. My hope is that's an indicator "The Home Front Cares" added considerably to their bottom line. And will continue to do so. If you did not do so, it's not too late to read and pass the Commentary along--it's posted under the Archive--top November link--left.

In an email to a key sponsor and me earlier this week, April Speake, Executive Director of "The Home Front Cares", wrote, "This is a moving time for me - as a newcomer to The Home Front Cares. On Friday, Channel 5 & 30 visited us to learn more. They heard we had just written a check to get a homeless vet and his 5 month old son out of his car and into a home. They wanted to know how many more cases we see like this. I can't even begin to say! This year - well over 50% of requests for support are for veterans of this war on terror. In Sept, over 75% of the requests were for vets. To be able to do this work is an honor - but we would be useless without the support of folks and companies like you and yours. Rest assured that all support is appreciated - well over 90% of each dollar is used in support of our mission (our last audit indicated 92% and we expect similar results from this audit)."

It's never too late to make a contribution: http://www.thehomefrontcares.org/

Congratulations to Mark M. from Panama City, Florida, as first to respond to the second Author's Endnote offering a gratuitous numbered/signed copy of "Making Marines". Thanks to all for tuning in and responding to the offer. It pays to read the fine print.

A number of readers wrote asking for comment on the elections. Ah, yes, the elections. The only surprise was the beating not more severe.

A forthcoming Commentary? Maybe. But what else really needs to be said?

Millions and millions and millions of Americans, including once Obama supporters, made a resounding statement. Straight up, "Mr. President, you're not listening." And their clearly implied message, "You're next if you don't right yourself."

Whether Mr. Obama learned anything or not, well, we shall see. His next day press conference language--body and oral--signaled he denies the elections were a rebuke of him, his far more than just unpopular agenda, perceived smug and comprehensive deafness, and a void of leadership. Self-reference of failing to effectively communicate his message and direction as reason for the slaughter befuddling. Who knew ego could cause severe myopia. Any key advisor worth his salt if asked, "So, how'd I'd do?" by the president had a duty to be brief and blunt, "Mr. President, it appeared you'd have prefered a prostate exam."

Mr. Obama lost the whimsical daisy petal-pulling love forecasting game of "She loves me. She loves me not." With approval ratings that have plummeted from 70% to 44% in less than two years, fickle America does not love Mr. Obama. But fickleness aside, a common malady when one betrays their lover. Mean ol' Americans.

The president's big problem is now he must somehow convince the country any move(s) toward the right is not a feint. But, up to this point in his presidency, the unveiling of his true character and agenda is going to make that damn near impossible. He's barreling ahead as a one-term fluke in history. So even if only in pencil, Mr. Obama would be wise to jot down "house-hunting" at the bottom of his "to-do" list. The good news is in two years it'll still be a buyer's market; most likely globally. And a library may come cheap, too.

For today...

An extension of last week's words because today--Wednesday the 10th--is the U. S. Marine Corps 235th Birthday. And Marines around the world, whether ashore stateside--assigned to a remote recruiting substation or training for combat in one of the live-fire corridors in the desert aboard the Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, California; at sea; or in a combat zone on the other side of the planet are, in one way or another--in every clime and place--toasting the Corps. It's what Marines do.

The 10th of November is seared into the brain of every Marine. Drill Instructors tend to that business during recruit training. Platoon Sergeants and Sergeant Instructors do the same at Officer Candidates School. A Marine may forget the birthdays of parents, siblings, spouse, and maybe even children but November 10th....never. Case in point, October 13th is the birthday of the U. S. Navy. Last month, on that Wednesday morning, I offered birthday greetings to a Sailor who also holds the title Marine. His response, "Andy, I knew the Navy birthday was this month but I could not have told you when. Its importance was not drilled into me the way the Corps reveres 10 November; a date I'll never forget."

So for this week's thoughts a bit more about Marines with focus on service to country.

Among last week's reader mail was a lengthy note, from a Marine friend, that caught my attention. In short,  there'd been a recent connection (via Facebook) with a childhood friend who, at the time, was rather distraught--disappointed and struggling with the reality her bright 21 year old son had decided to make some drastic changes in life. Having dropped out of college and gone through at least a few jobs he enlisted in the Marine Corps, and was recently off to Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island.

Mom was concerned for her son's safety. Without explicitly saying so came across in her note, unintended or not, as she'd higher hopes for her son than military service. That was the line that caught my attention--as last week I mentioned efforts of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to visit college campuses and appeal to students to step forward and serve their country. And it was only a few weeks ago I spent time with hundreds of people gathered to honor wounded warriors who'd have been grossly offended at the mention of military service being beneath anyone.

To my friend's friend and all others--whether a mom or dad or grandma or granddad or aunt or uncle--who are troubled by a youngster's decision to serve in the U. S. Marine Corp or any branch of the armed services, I say...

If not your son (or daughter or grandson or granddaughter or niece or nephew), then who?

With rare exception, parents (and family) think of their children as bright, gifted, talented, skilled and more. Of course. And reality is some are brighter, more gifted, more talented, and more skilled than others. Such is life. And there rests the reason why they should serve their country--America needs her best in intellect, gifts, talents, and skills to protect and defend that which we all hold dear--freedom.

Puzzling is why anyone would ever consider themselves or their children above such noble service.

Is military service dangerous? Certainly. But life is dangerous. As is the case in all of our armed services, safety and welfare is of paramount concern in the Marine Corps--whether training without weapons, training during live fire, or on the battlefield. Fact is recruits die in squad bays. Marines die during physical training. Marines die in aircraft mishaps. Marines die in combat. And Marines die in senseless off-duty motor vehicle crashes. Sometimes alcohol is involved. And sometimes cell phones--as deadly as alcohol. And all of these deaths despite regular training and continuous application of prudent safety measures. That's reality. 

And what of the young American warrior who survives a couple of combat tours in Iraq and another in Afghanistan only to come home and be killed in a motor vehicle crash or stabbed to death on a city street? A couple of examples...last Friday in the community where I live a young Marine, only weeks home from combat in Afghanistan and a Purple Heart recipient, was killed while riding his motorcycle. Traveling along the highway at 60-65 MPH a drunk driver pulled out in front of him. And Halloween weekend a Marine veteran of Iraq, while in his dress uniform and escorting his wife, was stabbed to death on a New Orleans French Quarter street while defending his wife from a hooligan. Senseless, difficult to comprehend, deaths.  

The mother of that 21 year old now at Parris Island would not be normal if not concerned for his safety and welfare. And her hope for high expectations is understandable. But another look through the prism shines a different light--her son's decision reflecting back on how he was raised and that he's answered the highest of callings; service to country.

I do not know her or her son--not even their names. It doesn't matter. But we all know a great deal about them through her son's decision. It takes courage to visit a Marine recruiter. It takes more courage to sign documents and raise your right hand swearing an oath to become a Marine. It takes more courage still to board a bus and arrive in the middle of the night at a Marine Corps Recruit Depot. And it takes incredible courage to step off that bus and fight every internal instinct that for days says, 'get me out of here'.

And the courage it takes to endure those first days of culture shock, squash homesickness, then face and conquer thirteen weeks of continuous, increasingly difficult challenges never imagined is not something mere words are capable of capturing. You have to have done it to understand. Marines know.

That Marines understand the impact of transformation from civilian to Marine is well explained in an excerpt from that note (commenting on a note to her friend) I received last week...

"I will tell you that I concluded the letter with a thought that I have only shared with one other person. I told my friend that people can be patriotic and can love America, but it is only when they serve their country they truly understand the responsibilities that being an American requires. I also told her that for many years after I got out of the Marine Corps that I looked down on civilians and held them in contempt because they were/are weak, self-serving, undisciplined and did nothing to make America any better. I added that I felt excited for her son, but felt sorry for her as she would never be a part of the most elite group of people in the world. I have received her response and I am feeling hopeful!!! I plan to "educate" her about the Corps a little before he returns home. I will start with your 'Table 6' commentary!..."

So I wonder where have we stumbled as a nation--at home, in our schools, and in our communities--large and small--that youth are not ingrained with the love of country sentiment that so compels them to consider military service as an equal possibility, if not top of the list, among all other opportunities. That only about 1% of our countrymen is serving--shouldering an enormous burden--is disturbing. Why is not the problem 99% eager to serve with the 1% making up only those that simply are either not mentally or physically qualified for the rigors of service?

And in turn I wonder why not the day when there is no such character as a Marine (military) "recruiter." But a Marine (military) "screener and selector" charged with cherry-picking the brightest, most gifted, most talented, and most skilled amongst the throngs beating down the door wanting to compete for the opportunity, privilege, and honor to wear the uniform of one our armed services; as it should be. And there's absolutely no reason why such cannot become reality. It should. It must. At least to some degree. A good start would be 10% beating down the door. But knowing all cannot and need not serve is understood. Yet it's the desire that matters. It goes to the psyche of the country--to the awareness and subsequently to the support for those who end up serving.

Since last week's Commentary 13 more U. S. warriors have been killed in combat in Afghanistan. For the year that's 429 of America's brightest, most gifted, most skilled, and most talented. America's most courageous. What might have they gone on to become had their lives not ended so abruptly? We'll never know. You better know the hearts of mothers and fathers, and grandparents, and siblings, and spouses, and children, and dear friends are breaking. And these folks will never be the same. But they do have bragging rights...they enjoy personal ties to real heroes...real role models. And of those who remain in harm's way you better know hearts are concerned for their safety and welfare. Of course. There's another 49 days on the 2010 calendar. There will be more deaths. And more broken hearts.

There's something not quite right that those who wear and have worn the uniform endear an America that most of those who have not served do not see or appreciate. Last week's elections, to some extent, just may be a commentary on that issue. Maybe.

To that mother (any mother) whose son (or daughter) is at Parris Island (or San Diego) today, I say...

Your son could not be in better hands. Those unique characters like no other in the world--his Senior Drill Instructor and Drill Instructors--are not only concerned for his safety and welfare but are simultaneously molding him into something that will leave you wondering how they did it. They will not give up on him even if--at times when physically and mentally exhausted, sore, hungry, and ready to quit--he may want to give up on himself.

Conquering extreme hardship is part of making him a Marine. Conquering extreme hardship that can only be achieved as part of a team will make him a better person and Marine. And that is the foundation upon which further training and education realizes the world's most feared and respected warrior. It is that forged mindset of knowing nothing is beyond his ability that will make him a complex force on the battlefield--with the same brain and pair of hands and tools able to take a life and in the next instant save one--and increase the odds of his and his fellow Marines and Sailors survivability.

And what you may not realize is that lieutenants and captains and majors and colonels and even generals--seasoned male and female Marine officers entrusted with the responsibility for ensuring strict compliance to the letter and spirit of training--supervise the 'Making Marines' process. Some of these Marines were recruits and Drill Instructors.

Madam, take comfort knowing your son could not be in better hands.

The officers supervising training will be a distant memory, and not too long after leaving the Depot. And though many Marines will come and go in your son's life and their names will fade with time, the names of his Drill Instructors will haunt him--forever; maybe longer. Their faces clear and names rolling off the tip of his tongue as easily as his own. Outside of you (and his father), it's unlikely another human being will have such a profound and lasting impact on his life.

And the fact is your son will never be the same. Nor will you. Should he one day earn and wear the eagle, globe, and anchor and for no matter how long he should choose to wear the uniform, he will always be a Marine. That simple, elegant emblem and the notes of the Marines' Hymn stirring emotions until the day he dies. And with age will come stronger emotions.

Major League Baseball Hall of Famer, Ted Williams (1918-2002), summed it up nicely...

"It’s a funny thing, but, as years go by, I think you appreciate more and more what a great thing it was to be a United States Marine. People will tell me what a shame it was I had to go back into the service a second time, but I’m kind of glad I did. Besides, I am a U.S. Marine and I’ll be one till I die."

Though on graduation day he, as nearly all do, may swear never to return to the island, like many later in their life he may not be able to resist the pull to return and walk the ground he conquered in his youth. Your Marine friend did just that a year or so ago--returning to the Depot at Parris Island and several times on the same day--decades after she earned the title. That's just the way it is.

Finally, know you, too, will always be part of the Marine family; new bragging rights. A quote from a Marine mom that's been around the Corps for some time comes to mind, "I may look harmless, but I raised a Marine." That, too, is just the way it is.

Held most every Friday morning at each Depot, the Marine Corps Recruit Training graduation ceremony is something every American should witness once. For many it is a breathtaking and eye-moistening experience defining patriotism. Do not miss it!

Post Script

"Long live the United States of America, and success to the Marines. Happy Birthday, Marines!"

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the greatest thing Parris Island is able to offer young men and women is that they have substantially more ability than they give themselves credit for. The training forces the participant to go as far and as hard as they possibly can, and then.....one step more.It is there that the epiphany erupts in their minds. They can do more, they realize the limits that bound them in past were self imposed. There is always a bit more left. And we cannot minimize the realization that there is a higher calling than ones self. Gung Ho, teamwork, make for a stronger unit, and stronger people. The mother who worries does so because she does not know and perhaps fears what she does not know. You were on the mark to alert her to what she might expect on graduation day.