An old co-worker from long before the Corps once told me, “Time flies when you’re having fun … or when you’re working your ass off.” If only I had known then just how often that statement would be proven true over and over again in my life – especially the latter point. As I stand here “on the raggedy edge” of that one thing all servicemen simultaneously (and somewhat pathologically) long for and dread – the return to civilian life – it occurred to me that some sort of farewell was in order to the institution of maladjusted misfits that has claimed four years of my existence. I know, as a short-timer, I may not have much right to speak on the pros or cons of the Marine Corps compared to the long-sufferers amongst my comrades, still “living the dream” for many more years to come, and I don’t really intend to – so, don’t expect any uniform-burning, or whatever.
It probably won’t come as a surprise to anyone who had the misfortune of knowing or (even worse) supervising me in the Corps that I had joined with no intention of making a career out of it. I came up with several different answers to the question of “why did you join?” none of which were really what I meant and, to be perfectly honest, I’m still not even sure what my reason was to this day. The why really didn’t matter for me – service, in and of itself, is a noble thing and, in defiant contradiction to everything our culture of comfort and cowardice preaches incessantly, I would not tolerate a life without that experience of service. The Marine Corps gave me that experience in the way that best suited me, I suppose … a fact that probably achieves nothing except skyline my propensity for maladjustment even more gravely to the nice, clean HR people currently reviewing my job applications at the moment. I sacrificed a lot for the Corps (yes, even in just four years) – and it was far more than just the clichés of “family, freedom, comfort, safety” that come to mind for most people when they think of military service. A lot was taken from the recesses of my interior in the past four years … some good, some bad, and some that a civilian just flat-out wouldn’t even get if I told them.
However, despite whatever a stint in the Corps took from me, I bear it no ill will for those because I received even more in return. Memories, experiences, mannerisms, language (can’t beat Marine vocabulary for appropriately summing up just how bad something can be), skills, and a frighteningly high tolerance for alcoholic beverages that will remain with me for the rest of my life are just a few I can list for you. I was given an opportunity to be educated in what I will argue to my deathbed is perhaps the finest tradition of warrior servant/leadership still somehow alive in the unhappy world today – despite the occasional hypocritical betrayals of it that I witnessed from a handful of “leaders” who knew better. For the rest of my days in this life, Gen Lejeune’s exhortation for a “father/son” relationship between leaders and subordinates will haunt me to the end … and hopefully hold me to that standard that is sadly so often disregarded in our self-absorbed society.
The most important gift I received, though, would have to be the bonds of camaraderie and fraternity I shared with individual Marines – especially those I was privileged enough to lead. There’s an old saying in the Corps that, “Marines take care of Marines – because the Marine Corps won’t.” While we often say it as a joke, like all Marine-isms, there is an element of profound and tragic truth lurking beneath the sarcasm and dark humor. Life in the Marine Corps is a living hell at times and all Marines (even the most die-hard of Kool-Aid drinkers … you know who you are) will admit this eventually. What really keeps any of us going usually ends up being the “man next to us” – the Marine who will sacrifice anything for you, from a duty-free weekend to the last drop of blood in his body, if you needed it. I knew such Marines and was even put in the unbelievably intimidating position of leading such Marines. From SSgts whose unique perspectives on life, the universe, and everything can completely change how you view yourself and the world around you to the endearing bitterness of the Terminal Lance, whose loyalty (and resourcefulness) is worth more than the whole world and all the riches in it when you earn his trust and confidence – these will be the treasures I will guard with the most jealousy from my time in the Corps. To be completely honest, I never gave much thought as to why I joined the Corps because, deep down, it wasn’t ever really about me. It was about them – it was always about them, as far as I was concerned, even if that meant my career suffered for it (trust me, it did). I remember thinking to myself shortly after having been commissioned that if I could spend four years making any sort of real difference in the lives of the Marines I may lead, then I’d gladly forego a career. I will never claim that I made a difference in their lives, but leading them – some of the last few finest kids this country doesn’t deserve to claim as its own – made an almighty difference in mine … for which I will forever owe them a debt I cannot hope to repay.
So, there it is. The good, the bad, and the ugly of my short-timer’s experience with Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children – perhaps one of the only institutions I will ever belong to that will be like another family to me, even if it was a shockingly dysfunctional one at times (the best ones usually are, though). To all the Marines who impacted my life – I will miss you … painfully sometimes. Always remember, once you were one of mine, you will always be one of mine. Do not ever hesitate to get a hold of me for anything you may need … even if it’s just for a drink or five. To all those who have more time to owe or just have a masochistic fetish for punishment, I wish you the best and keep your heads down … and, for the love of God, don’t let the core principles of our beloved Corps go the way of tattoos and hazi … er … “individualized training.” I’ll be here in 1st CivDiv holding the line against conformity, decency, and the Mothers of America.
Rounds complete – facial hair in effect – EASer on overwatch.