Archive for the ‘Military’ Category

From Fear To Pride

Posted by Doug White under Military, Personal

After I completed boot camp, I was sent to Camp Johnson, North Carolina for admin school training and upon completion of that I was stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina which is literally in the same city as Camp Johnson was.  It was not much of an event for me to move to one base from the other.

My first job was as an orders clerk for the Headquarters Battalion of the 2nd Marine Division.  I remember having what was probably a silly feeling of excitement when I was given my own desk in the office where I was to work.  I’d never worked in an office before and something about that desk made me feel … grown up.

About three months later, I took Christmas off to visit my family in Rapid City and when I came back to Camp Lejeune I was pulled aside and told I was no longer an orders clerk.  Fortunately it wasn’t because I had done anything wrong, rather they needed a Marine to serve as a Chaplain’s assistant for the Division Chaplain.

There I was again, just a few months after arriving at my first adult job now starting my second one.  I worked with a Navy enlisted man and the Division Chaplain – a Naval Captain – and his assistant chaplain – a Lieutenant Commander.

I enjoyed the job quite a bit; it was much more informal than I’d been used to since becoming a Marine.  This could be the reason I made the error I did not long afterwards.

One day I was asked to go over to the Headquarters Battalion and get some signatures from the new First Sergeant there.  I walked up to his office and knocked at the door and introduced myself, “Good morning, First Sergeant, I’m PFC White and…”

“What in God’s name do you think you’re doing!!??” a voice bellowed from the office.

“Um, uh…”  I looked in and saw one of the biggest men I’d ever seen in my life.  The Marine Corps mascot is a bulldog and I swear that day I saw that mascot come to life – at a good six and a half feet or so, snarling and ready to tear me from limb to limb.

“Marine, is that how you enter a First Sergeant’s office?  Like we’re some kind of buddies or something?!!”

“Uh, no sir…I mean, no First Sergeant….”

“Get out of my office and come back when you learn how to present yourself like a Marine!” the man bellowed.

I did exactly what he said.  I left.  However, what he said was not exactly how I interpreted it.  Apparently, he had meant for me to stay outside his office and eventually present myself properly.  I made no friends that day by leaving.

By the time I made it back to the Chaplain’s office, a call had been made and I had been ordered back to the First Sergeant’s office.  With a distinguishable gulp, I knocked on his door and when told to do so I walked in at attention and presented myself to him.

As one can imagine, several of the next minutes were filled with various profanities and loud yells to intimidate me and put me in my place.  Both objectives were accomplished.  I feared this man more than I probably ever feared my drill instructors at Boot Camp.

Which taking that into account made my next mistake even more stupid.  Several months later, we had a Chaplain from Great Britain come to Camp Lejeune on an exchange program.  Because I was the Division Chaplain’s assistant this meant I drove him around the base, I was there when this Chaplain arrived and I got to meet him, his wife and their two girls.

Not long after that I got the nerve up to ask this Chaplain’s daughter to go out with me and we began dating.  One day I decided I wanted to buy her some flowers from the local PX.  I drove there at lunch to do so – but I did this in the Division Chaplain van.  When I came out a few minutes later, the van was gone.

It turns out that using military vehicles for personal use is a big no-no.  Granted, this should have been something I understood but looking back at it now, I’m going to cut my nineteen year old self some slack.

The First Sergeant was not as kind.  It wasn’t long before I was once again standing in front of his door.  Fortunately, by this point, I was well aware of how he wished me to present myself and did so accordingly.

There was no pleasure to be found in the fact I remembered our earlier lesson together.  More profanities and loud yelling ensued.  The First Sergeant decided I needed to be taught a lesson.  I had requested time off as I had planned to take my girlfriend to visit a good friend of mine in Washington D.C.  That leave of absence was revoked and I spent that time on duty.

As reprimands go, despite how unfair I thought it was at that time, it was a rather tame punishment.  In fact, I was able to get time off later on and was able to take my girlfriend to Washington D.C. after all.  I was pretty lucky to be honest that more hadn’t been done.

That makes the final thing I did the stupidest thing of all.  Another young female Marine had been moved into the Chaplain’s office.  I have to be honest; I didn’t like her at all.  She outranked me slightly – for most of the time we were the same rank but she was the senior of the two of us – and honestly I probably was threatened by that a bit.  Again, I was nineteen.

She and I had a lot of issues for the next year or so and I did not show her the respect she deserved.  It didn’t help though that she was pretty incompetent at our job.  That doesn’t excuse what I did however.

One day we were filling out performance reports for the Chaplain’s that worked under the Division Chaplain and she kept doing them incorrectly.  In the arrogance that comes so quickly to the young I made a big production of showing her how she was doing them wrong.

The assistant Chaplain at that time had finally seen enough.  He contacted Headquarters Battalion and asked to have me removed from the Division Chaplain’s office.  I had been, in essence, fired.

I was embarrassed and frustrated.  I knew I was good at what I did and I lost this job because of someone else’s incompetence.  That’s at least what I told myself at the time.  In truth, I lost it because I didn’t know how to work within the system.  I was trying too hard to fight it.

I expected to find myself before the First Sergeant again to be once more hit with more profanities and loud yelling.  Surprisingly that didn’t happen.  I was moved into the Logistics office for the Division and not much else was said of what happened.

I have to admit, I think being put into that job was a good thing and I actually enjoyed what I did.  We were responsible for keeping track of things the various units in the Division needed such as food, ammunition, etc.  I worked for a Gunnery Sergeant who was quiet and firm but pretty good to work with.

One day I was walking to my office when I saw the First Sergeant headed my way.  He was coming right towards me with a determined look in his eye.  I quickly thought back over the last few days and couldn’t think of anything I had done wrong!  What was he going to say to me?

He stopped right in front of me, “White!  I see you haven’t signed up for the football team we’ve put together.”

“Uh, um…well, First Sergeant, I’m really not a football player,” I began.

“White!  Did you hear me?  I see you haven’t signed up for the football team we’ve put together!”

“Well, uh, First Sergeant would you like me to sign up for it?”

“That would be fantastic White!  I’ll see you at practice!” With that he turned and left.

I stood there dumbfounded.  What the heck just happened? I guess I had just joined a football team, a MARINE football team, having never played a day of football in my life.  “I’m going to die.” I whispered to myself.

The next several days were brutal.  I practiced with fellow Marines who took this game of football, one I never understood and never thought made any sense, very seriously.  I would go back to my barracks after practice bruised and in pain but feeling something I hadn’t in awhile.

What I felt was that I once again belonged to this group known as Marines.  I wasn’t an outsider, I wasn’t a failure, I was just like them.

Silly as that might sound it was confirmed one night after practice when the First Sergeant took me aside and complimented me.  What he told me was irrelevant.  This man had spent every one of our encounters together yelling at me for something or another.  This time he was telling me I was doing well.  I felt a swell of pride that I hadn’t felt in a really long time.

Unfortunately we never got a chance to play any football games.  Not long after that, a dictator in Iraq decided to invade Kuwait and the world changed for everyone I knew.  My unit was in preparation mode to go to the Gulf.

I didn’t go with them.  I had orders to go to Okinawa and so I watched as many people I knew began the steps to go to war.  No one knew how long we’d be there or how serious the war would be.  We just knew we were going.  That would include a certain First Sergeant who terrified me so.

I don’t know what happened to the First Sergeant.  Considering how the first Gulf War turned out, I’m sure he was fine and continued on in his career as a Marine.  But I wonder about him sometimes.  I wonder if he continued to first terrify and then essentially instill pride into other Marines such as he did to me so long ago.

As for myself, I can’t honestly say I am happy I experienced all that I did under him.  I can say that I see now, twenty-five years later, that it served a purpose.  I made silly, dumb mistakes as a young Marine and I deserved every consequence I received as a result.  But what I also needed, and I like to think he knew it those last few days before all changed, was to feel like I was still part of this group I had joined.  If that’s the case, he definitely accomplished his mission.

 

Once A Marine

Posted by Doug White under Military, Personal

I spent the flight goofing around, joking around with others in my same predicament.  I’m sure all of us were wondering in the back of our minds what we got ourselves into.  I’m also fairly certain none of us were fully prepared to find that answer out.

We arrived at the airport and found our way to the man who would get us to our final destination.  He immediately had us sit cross-legged with our hands on our knees facing forward.  “Sitting at attention” if you will.  I heard a young boy from somewhere ask, “Mommy, what are they doing?”  Again, I’m sure none of us could answer that question.

We were directed onto a bus which drove for what seemed like hours.  It was raining outside, which was a perfect match for my mood.  I was becoming uncertain of myself, sitting in the quiet with all these boys.  Yes, all of us were boys.  We were a long way from being men.

We pulled up and came to a stop near a large building.  I couldn’t see much because of the rain.  We waited, yet again.  I would learn very fast that waiting is a common thing to do in this new adventure I was going into.

Finally, a man came into the bus and in a deep voice that resonated throughout said, “My name is Drill Sergeant Smith  , you are now the property of the United States Marine Corps!  The first and last words out of your mouth will be sir!  Do you understand me?”

As you might imagine, the voices in the bus replied back meekly, “Sir, yes, sir.”

Again, the booming voice, “I SAID, DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME?”  “SIR, YES, SIR!” was the more confident, or maybe more terrified reply.

We were ushered into the building where one of the first things they did was shave our hair completely off.  Then we were moved into a room where we were given uniforms.

This is where I did my first stupid thing of many while I was in boot camp.  I had been told previously that when we got here that the drill instructors yelling at us would not brook us wasting time.  “So when you’re changing from civilian clothes to your uniform, don’t go slow.  Rip off the clothes and be done with it.”

I did just that.  The problem was I was wearing a shirt that buttoned all the way down the middle.  I like to imagine I looked like Clark Kent as I grabbed that shirt from the middle and ripped it open.  What I really looked like was an idiot as my shirt buttons popped off the shirt all over the floor.

The next several days are a blur to me.  The first several days you are put into a “processing platoon” so you can get all your shots and paperwork done.  Finally you are delivered to your drill instructors who will take you from there.

We were brought into an open squad bay and told to sit – at attention again.  Three men walked in front of us.  The senior drill instructor was in the middle with two junior drill instructors at his side.  The senior drill instructor spoke for several minutes in a very relaxed voice – which I now know was only to lull us into a false sense of security.

When he wrapped up his monologue, he concluded with seven words that should bring fear into any person’s heart: “Drill Instructors, They are all yours.”

The roar from these two men was deafening.  They were everywhere and nowhere at the same time.  They yelled for us to do something and then were mad because we were doing it wrong.  Within moments we were out in a sandpit by the barracks, doing bends and thrusts, sit-ups, push-ups until I felt like I would throw up.

If you’re curious what a bend and thrust is, imagine yourself standing up.  You then bend down until you are in a squatting position and then you put your hands on the ground and thrust your legs out as far as you can behind you, ending in what looks like a pushup.  Then you stand back up and repeat.  And repeat.  And repeat.

I had been there a few weeks when I found out that I had made a serious error.  It’s not easy to admit, but I went through a kind of depression because I was away from home.  I’d never been away from home this long and the sadness I felt upon missing my family combined with the mental stress I was going through was causing me to kind of withdraw.  So I was not performing up to par.

In the Marines, there is no such thing as sub-par.  I was brought into my Senior Drill Instructor’s office and informed that I was being transferred to another platoon that was just starting.  I was going to have to start over.

It took a lot out of me but I think that what the Senior Drill Instructor did that day was force me to grow up.  I wasn’t going to slide through boot camp just because I missed my family.  I had to shape up.

Now if this was a TV show, the star (i.e. me) would be seen not only improving, but going to the head of the pack.  This wasn’t reality TV.  I wasn’t at the head of the pack, but I was no longer at the end of it either.  I can honestly say, with some pride, that I gave the best of myself for the remaining weeks I was in San Diego.  It may not have been the best the Corps has ever seen, but it was the best I had.

The new drill instructors were just as tough as the old drill instructors.  One of them, Staff Sergeant Turner was the one we spent the most time with and probably the one I feared the most.  I know that’s how they train them, but I think he liked the fact we were all afraid of him.

I can remember one time; many of us had been asking if we could call home.  So he had us out marching and he marched us over to a telephone booth.  He walked over to it, put a quarter in it and made a call.  He then looked at us and said, “There’s your f**king phone call!” and then marched us back.

There was another drill instructor that was in charge of us who ended up losing his job.  He had been yelling at one of us for some reason or another and was right near the guy’s ear when he bit it.  He ended up being reduced in rank and losing his drill instructor position.

I ended up having to tell them that this same drill instructor had gone over the top with me as well.  It was early on and I was guarding the barracks.  One of the weapon racks was unlocked and I hadn’t thought to check it.  He came in and noticed it.  I was standing behind two foot lockers stacked on top of each other and he walked over to me and kicked one of those foot lockers into my chest.

Looking back on some of the stories now, I can laugh and see the humor in what they were doing.

There was one time when I was on guard duty again and the Senior Drill Instructor came into the barracks and ordered me to go downstairs and get some papers from the Senior Drill Instructor of that platoon.  I ran down stairs and reported in.  Before I could tell him what I was asked to get he yelled at me to get out of his barracks.  I complied and ran back upstairs at which point my Senior Drill Instructor yelled at me to go back downstairs and get the papers.  This went on for a little while, me being the little yo-yo toy for two bored Senior Drill Instructors.

There was another time when we had moved to the barracks where we were going to be for a while during our rifle training.  There were three platoons together and so the drill instructors were torturing us and enjoying the fact they could torture recruits that weren’t in their platoons.

I mentioned previously that I feared Staff Sergeant Turner.  That was true, but I was TERRIFIED of the drill instructor that had me at this moment.  He had me up against a wall bending down with my arms out.  He got in my face and yelled, “Lower!  I said LOWER!”

I then made a fatal flaw.  Through clenched teeth, I said, “I can’t.” For those that haven’t served in the Marines, the flaw was two-fold.  During boot camp, you NEVER refer to yourself as “I”.  It is always “this recruit”.  The other flaw was saying that I couldn’t do something.

That was all it took.  He got close to my ear and started whispering, “I?  I???  What’s wrong, recruit?  Do you need your mommy?”

“Sir, no sir!” I replied.

“No I think you do, recruit!  Call out to your mommy!” he whispered again.

“Sir, no sir!” I tried again.

“I TOLD YOU TO CALL FOR YOUR MOMMY!” he roared in my ear. So there I was, back against the wall, arms out trembling and now going, “Mommy!  Mommy!”

One of my proudest moments of boot camp was during our time at Mount Mother.  It’s called Mount Mother in polite company; an extra word is added to it around not-so-polite company.  We climbed what seemed like Mount Everest to me with full backpacks and then we camped for a week with no shower and then back up Mount Mother we went.

I was exhausted.  I wanted to quit, but I wasn’t going to.  I looked over at another guy who looked like he was going to quit.  I walked over and stood behind him and told him that I wasn’t going to let him quit.  Between the two us, we were making it up that hill.

I’m proud of that moment because I think it was the first time I “got it”.  I realized it wasn’t about me, it was about the platoon.  It’s a small moment in my time in boot camp but one I’m pleased with.

Towards the end of boot camp, something happened that to this day I still find very strange.  We were going through our “guard duty” training where a group of us would stand on guard over an area for the night – in shifts.

We were all outside cleaning our weapons and I was told I was the first one to stand guard.  Oddly though, I was given our Platoon Leader’s weapon to use.  What that meant then was that weapon was going to be the sole weapon used for the entire night.  Each guard would give the weapon to the next guard as he was relieved.

I came into the barracks the next day from somewhere and saw all the other guys that stood guard that night in the back of the barracks doing various exercises with a drill instructor yelling at them.  The drill instructor saw me and yelled at me to get over there and join them.

I found out that the weapon we used had apparently had sand dumped in it.  That was bad enough, but the fact that it was the Platoon Leader’s was worse because now it had to be re-cleaned prior to the Platoon Leader competing with other Platoon Leaders the next day.

The drill instructor said he was going to keep us there until one of us admitted we did it.  What turned out to happen is that ALL OF US admitted to doing it, even though I knew I didn’t do it.   The drill instructor was supposedly unconvinced of the veracity of any of our admissions.  Eventually he let us go.  To this day, I have no idea if the weapon had been vandalized as we were told and if it was who did it.

Eventually the day came for us to graduate.  I will tell you that there have been several things in my life that I’m proud of.  The day I graduated high school.  The day I married.  The birth of both of my kids.  The day I became a black belt in TaeKwonDo and then the day I earned my second degree black belt.

The day I graduated boot camp is right there at the top of that list.  I’m not sure if it had more effect because I was put back or what I felt that day was what every Marine feels.  All I know is that I had accomplished something that a rare group of people can claim do have done.  I was – and still am – a Marine.

The next three and a half years were a roller coaster of experiences for me.  There were times I hated it.  There were times I couldn’t wait to be done.  However, there are just as many where I was filled with a sense of wonder at what I was.  Who I was.

The United States Marine Corps made me a man.  They drug me kicking and screaming into it at times, but they got me there.  I do not believe I would be the man I am today if not for my time in the Marine Corps.  I am proud to be a Marine.

Semper Fidelis – Tested

Posted by Doug White under Military, Political

I joined the United States Marine Corps in 1988.  That one sentence always makes me smile, because if you knew me, you’d be surprised I was a Marine. I’m not real military material – and Marines are the cream of the crop.  But I made it through boot camp and spent 3 years in North Carolina and finally a year in Okinawa.  I got out with an honorable discharge in 1992.

I did not serve in a typical Marine type of job. I worked in an office for the most part.  I spent a year working as a Chaplain’s assistant, then working for a Logistics office and finally for an Intelligence office while in Okinawa.  I basically did…paperwork.  But a Marine is a Marine is a Marine.

For someone whose job was to do paperwork, I was always surprised by the amount of time I spent out in the field on exercises and forced marches and other such non-administrative tasks. The reason for this is primarily tied to what I said already.  A Marine is a Marine is a Marine. A Marine is to always be prepared to fight – no matter what their actual day-to-day job is.

I will be the first to admit to you that being a career Marine was not for me. That’s why I got out. I had other ambitions and the lifestyle was a little more than what I wanted.  But I always understood one thing about being a Marine.  It was something to be looked at as a great honor.  Not everyone wears that title and it’s a title filled with a lot of history and should always be treated with great respect.

The Marine Corps motto is “Semper Fidelis” or “Semper Fi” which translates to “Always Faithful”.  In essence, the way I always understood this is that you are faithful to your God, your country, your family and the Corps. This is why even 20 years after getting out of the Corps, I still think of myself as a Marine.  There is no such thing as an ex-Marine.  We are a band of men and women who form a group that not many understand.  It’s an honorable group filled with dignity and blood and tears of many wars over the course of our history.  Even if you never fought in a war, you are a part of that group because you are a Marine.

This is why I find myself in a very unenviable position today. This week a video came out of some Marine soldiers urinating on dead Taliban soldiers. As of this writing, it appears the video is legitimate. And as one may expect, this video has been met with outrage across the world.

However, I have seen a very confusing reaction amongst people in our own country. I – as a conservative Republican – tend to lean towards the attitudes that most conservatives share.  So imagine my surprise when the general reaction of most conservatives I read about was basically, “eh…no big deal.”  No big deal? These Marines urinated on dead people! How is that not a HUGE deal? Being a Marine is supposed to stand for something!  I don’t care what the person who is dead did, we don’t desecrate their bodies.  Ever. Period.

I know and understand that these Taliban soldiers have done horrible things.  I know that given half a chance, they’d have taken those Marines and done unspeakable things to them that makes urinating on them look like a day in the park.  Does. Not. Matter.  We, first as Marines, and second as AMERICANS, should always be better than this. We do not stoop to the same low levels of behavior that others do.  That’s grade-school mentality…”well they did it first!”  It’s ridiculous.

Let’s look at another way.  Consider the roles reversed – because they easily could be.  Picture your brother, uncle, husband, father off fighting a war against some country.  And the soldiers of that country killed your loved one and then stood over them and urinated on them.  Then they  videotaped it and put it out on the Internet for the world to see.  At that point do you still think its ok?  If your answer to that question is: “Well the Taliban does/did horrible things to us so they deserved it!” then you are still leading with a grade-school mentality.

And how about this? If urinating on them is ok – after all their dead and they deserve it…how is that any different from chopping off an ear for a souvenir? Cutting their head off and using it for a soccer ball? Or as gross as this sounds – eating a part of them?  Why is one thing ok but the others cross a line?

Now before anyone thinks I’m taking to task only the conservative side of our country – let me be clear on one thing – I don’t support the liberal side’s position either. While there tends to be the moral outrage amongst them on this issue that I do agree with – it seems that their moral outrage is not put in the same place as it usually is when there is a Republican president in office.

A few years ago – some soldiers did some despicable things to prisoners in Abu Ghraib and the first thing many liberals did – was blame George W. Bush. Where is the outrage against Barack Obama in this case of the Marines?

The left tend to take great excitement when a Marine defends the ludicrousness known as Occupy Wall Street but then turn on them in any case involving the military and their actions against other countries.  Their moral outrage is in no way consistent and in many cases hypocritical.

Ultimately, regardless of political belief, it is my belief that what these Marines did is not only wrong, it’s criminal and it goes against anything honorable about a Marine.  They should go to jail for these actions. As Marines, we need to remember who we are, what our history is, what we stand for and always act accordingly.  These men did not and as such have lost my respect.  While I will be “always faithful” to the Corps, I will not extend that to those four soldiers.  They no longer deserve it.