Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Impact Of Words Part I…

As a leader you can often forget the impact your words make on those around you. Not just in your capacity as a military leader, but even as someone of influence in the everyday lives of your family and neighbors.

For instance, I recall having lunch with friends at the Awase Golf Course in Okinawa after church one Sunday. Sitting across from me was a 4 year old girl named Rokeisha. The poor girl was wrestling valiantly with her dessert and losing badly. A massive strawberry nearly the size of her little fist was stubbornly embedded in the ice cream and was shrugging off her spoon as if it were a mere annoyance.

Turning her big brown eyes in my direction she pleaded for my assistance in applying a little good order and discipline to the truculent strawberry. Being the kind of mentor that I am; I prefer to teach people to fish.

America's 1stSgt mentors children
“You’re going to let that strawberry beat you up? Don’t be a sissy! Get after that thing!” Applying my reservoir of combative knowledge from the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program, I coached Rokeisha through various angles of attack as she stabbed, slashed, and chopped at her ice cream with her war spoon.

Finally the offending strawberry was pried loose and Rokeisha victoriously hoisted it up in the air.

“Good! Now ram that thing in your pie hole.”

This statement earned an indignant scolding from the girl’s loving mother.

“Hey! Don’t speak to her like that. I don’t want her to use that kind of language.”

“What do you mean? That wasn’t bad. Besides, she doesn’t listen to anything I have to say anyway.”

“Pie hole!” Rokeisha shouted gleefully, as she devoured the last of her strawberry ice cream.

Let me just say that there is no Professional Military Education which prepares you to deal with an angry mom.

More on the impact of words tomorrow.

Semper Fidelis,
America’s 1stSgt
"This isn't a game, boy! This is war!"

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A Need to Know Basis

The list of things I do not need to know is long and varied. But in particular I do not need to know certain things while deployed to areas of the world with a vested interest in my violent death.

I appreciate that you are worried about me. However, letting me know that you have a bad feeling right before I go on a road trip through IED infested roadways has an adverse affect on my whole lower GI tract.

Recently a friend said something like; “Be careful out there, I’ve been having bad dreams about you.”


Now you’re getting ready to head out the wire when it abruptly dawns on you, “Hey! I’m MORTAL!” The next forty-five minutes are spent seeing if anyone has an extra SAPI plate they want to give up.

There’s nothing like a well meaning friend to cure your constipation. Imagine a sphincter clenching three hour road movement punctuated with thoughts of, “Is the IED going to hit now? How about now? Now? Wait for it…NOW!”

Or, “When the RKG hits us; I wonder what part of the MRAP is going to get it?” Just the thought of shape charge munitions rending my body to so much pulp gives me that warm tingly feeling. Or is that pee?

Then of course, during the helo lift back your only thought is wondering how spectacular the crash will be after the RPG takes out the rear rotor. “Oh man, oh man, oh man, it’s going to hit us in the squishy bits! I KNOW it!”

So friends, please, we who are forward deployed do not need to know about your palm reading at Madam Voodoo’s and how she prognosticated the imminent violation of our earthly bodies. By all means, keep that crap to yourself. Not only is it so much BS but it is liable to produce the opposite affect that you intended. Namely, it will take our mind off the mission at hand which is more likely to lead to something going wrong than all the tarot cards in the world.

All we need to know from you guys is when the brownies and chocolate chip cookies are coming in the mail.

And for those who need to know, I made it back to Al Assad in one piece. No thanks to you.

Semper Fi,
America’s 1stSgt

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Blaming Arnold, a boot camp story...

Eyes glued to the back of the recruit's skull ahead of me, I continued to focus through my peripheral vision. I didn't want drill instructors beheading me for looking around in an undisciplined manner before my turn to attack the obstacle course.

Smiling Marine officers ambled up to our platoon taking pictures. What in the world was going on?

A large hand clapped the shoulder of the recruit in front of me. "How ahre dey treating you heah?" a familiar voice asked as cameras clicked.

The Austrian Oak! Arnold Freakin' Schwarzenegger!

Arnold had been my hero since childhood. Mr. Universe, Mr. Olympia, Mr. Cool! My favorite movie was Pumping Iron, and when Conan the Barbarian was released, it was a dream come true for a Conan geek like me.

"You should only do the easy obstacles," Arnie said with a laugh. "Yes, sir!" the recruit replied, then bolted awkwardly toward the first obstacle. Ritualistically painted across his sweatshirt were two red stripes identifying him as a diet recruit. A scarlet letter that screamed "fat body!"

The horizontal log was about chest height. His round little body produced an audible splat, plopping against it like so much Silly Putty. His flesh wrapped around the log in a U shape as he slowly slid off.

Futilely, Stripes jumped again, only to ooze off the obstacle like a ball of slime. Enraged drill instructors barked obscenities until he went around. Utter failure in front of Conan. Horrifying!

Determined not to fail under the red gaze of the Terminator, I attacked the course with all the intensity I could summon. I smashed through the logs, producing clouds of splinters. Steel groaned and bent as I maneuvered over bars, proper technique all but forgotten. I flossed my teeth with the rope-climbing obstacle as fires broke out all over the course. Dominating the final obstacle, I turned to bask in Arnold's approval of my manly conquest. Chest out and head high, I looked to find that Arnold had gone, never seeing me.

Dejection. Despair.

Monopolizing Arnie's time when it was rightfully mine marked Stripes for an early grave. But I quickly learned that revenge belonged solely to Marine drill instructors.

"You failed in front of Arnold Schwarzenegger!" The overwhelming ire and absolute disgust charging this proclamation cannot be reproduced with the written word. Stripes trembled, standing at attention under the scrutiny of all the drill instructors at once.

"What did he say to you? He told you to attack the O course, didn't he?"

"Yes, sir!"

"And what did you do? Fail in front of Arnold Schwarzenegger!"

There was no forgiveness for this atrocity. Stripes never graduated boot camp with the rest of us.

In the end, I'm not bitter at Stripes. Time and maturity have revealed the truth: I blame Arnold.

The future governor couldn't spend three minutes to watch his biggest fan destroy the obstacle course? Every time I relive this incident, I actively hate him. After that day, I was never the same.

Next time, I'll just punch him in the liver.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Milblog Conference 2009

No mission is ever successful without support. Castra Praetoria has enjoyed some success since I started posting last month. The response has been positive and the analytics page on Site Meter seems to have exploded. I am told this is a good thing.

Mostly, I attribute this to all the help I get from my website administrator and raging pain in my colon, Hope. A couple of years ago she and her family picked up my company for milsupport and now refuse to leave me alone. Litigation and restraining orders have summarily failed.

For two years Hope insisted I start a blog. Finally, I caved and decided to give it a try despite my misgivings that it was kind of silly and no one would really want to hear from a clown like me.

The arcane and esoteric arts of html code and other computer voodoo are a mystery to a Cro-Magnon like America’s 1stSgt. Hope does all the brainy stuff and other keypunching work. My part of the job is easy. I just sit around and say things like, “Remove that. Add this. No, that is too girly and will not appear on my site.” I never really thought it would take off or that anyone would think it was any good.

Yes, Hope is soooooooooo basking in her rightness at the moment.

Anyway, my glorious web administrator, mil supporter, and part time editor will be attending the Milblog Conference in DC this weekend. There is no stopping her.

If you are attending the conference and run into a woman cussing Marines and 1stSgts in particular, it is probably Hope mad as all get out that I haven’t posted something new in the last 24 hours. Stick your hand out and say hi to her. Don’t be scared.

Edit: See what I put up with? Between my own jarhead husband and this little brother I always/never wanted, I feel compelled to step out of obscurity and relay to you, who read, that today my posting recollection faded out sometime around the opening this file attachment Mike sent this morning. I assume I must have fully blacked out during the actual posting process or it would never have gone to print.

**one eyebrow up and surveying the latest post**

Looks like we'll have to send Mike a nice girlie pink package laminated in rainbows, butterflies and Clay Aiken alongside a suitably cherubic 8X10 glossy of my Littlest Guy tucked fast asleep up under the 1st Sgt.'s squared off, jarhead chin.

Oh and yes as a matter of fact,
I am basking.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Ambassadors in Desert Tan: Another Fine Day's Work

Every weekend back in the rear I hold my breath anticipating a phone call about any number things which can go wrong while Marines are on liberty. These can range from simple drunkenness, to DUI, hospitalization, or arrest. Most incidents involve alcohol in one form or another, but with Jarheads there is no level of stupidity beyond their scope of performance.

The amazing thing is this: the same Marines who are involved in street brawls in Waikiki, or revived from an alcohol induced coma, or require car keys to be physically wrenched from their kung fu grip to prevent them from driving; all somehow manage to make the right decisions in the combat zone.

Yes, they may not be trustworthy with your daughter on prom night, or keep me awake all weekend, but if you load them up with machine guns, grenade launchers, and all manner of other instruments of violence, and give them a mission to execute, you will sleep peaceably at night. I know I sleep better on deployment than I do in the States.

Last deployment Kilo Company conducted a number of operations in support of what we then called the Iraqi Civilian Watch. This was an effort to get locals to start policing their own neighborhoods and get rid of any bad guys lurking about, engaging in murder/intimidation campaigns and other insurgent pastimes.

At the time the eastern edge of our AO(area of operation) was the corps boundary between U.S. Marine and U.S. Army units. You didn’t cross over into someone else’s AO without letting them know or asking permission. Insurgents pretty much went where they wanted to until stopped by well manufactured American ordinance.

One particular day a squad from my company was providing over watch and security to a Vehicle Check Point near the corps boundary. Iraqi nationals manned the check point itself and the Marines were there to back them up. The oldest Marine was the squad leader, a Corporal about 22 years old.

A couple of vehicles approached waving white flags and stopped about 50 meters away. The excited passengers dismounted and proceeded to walk toward the checkpoint.

A young boy about age 6 or so was being carried by an Iraqi man they presumed to be his father. Noticing the boy was bleeding, the Marines quickly called their Corpsman up and provided security while he worked.

Doc assessed that the boy was suffering from blast wounds to the head and legs and a gunshot wound to chest. With the help of a Combat Life Saver trained Marine, he treated the boy with an occlusive dressing on both the entry and exit wounds to the chest. Although there were no signs or symptoms yet, they wanted to prevent a sucking chest wound. They applied two battle dressings to the 3” diameter blast wounds to his leg. The boy’s head wounds were bleeding minimally and Doc wrapped them in Kerlix.

The first team leader had grabbed his interpreter and approached the Iraqi men accompanying the child. The Iraqis claimed that a group of boys were swimming in a canal about 2 kilometers inside the Army AO when insurgent forces began to fire on an Army helicopter. In the ensuing battle the kids were caught in the crossfire.

During all this the squad leader had called for a helicopter medevac to pick the kid up and take him to Fallujah Medical. But once Doc was done dressing the wounds the Iraqis refused a medevac and bundled the kid up in the car and took him to a hospital themselves.

Twenty minutes later another vehicle pulled up to their position with another wounded boy claiming he had been hurt in the same incident. Fortunately, the wounds were minor lacerations which were cleaned with water and betadine, then treated with three sutures. Doc explained to the father when and how to remove the sutures and they went on their way.

See? Ambassadors in green, or desert tan, if you will, those are my guys. Another fine day’s work for the world’s finest United States Marines.

Or so you’d think.

The next day we were getting reports from higher saying Army forces in the area were accusing my guys of refusing to render aid.

Upon hearing this I grabbed my eyebrows with both hands and ripped the skin completely off my frame like a jump suit. Expletives concussed across the COC like thunderbolts as I kicked the empty bag of epidermis across the floor. Young Marines manning the radios began to bleed from their ears as I hurled curses at the map hoping Army clowns could feel the furnace of my breath on them.

I recall advising my company commander that we could mount the entire company on gun trucks, roll right into the Army AO, offer to render them violence, and then burn their FOB right to the ground.

Accuse my Marines? Refuse to render aid? After monitoring what was going on out there that day over the radio these accusations made me HOSTILE.


A week later I had to go to Fallujah Dental because I had ground my teeth all the way down to the gum line. In the meantime, I had my boys all write statements of what actually happened and passed it on to higher.

We never heard another word. THAT infuriated me even more.

So I did the only thing a 1stSgt could do.

I wrote the Corpsman up for a Navy Achievement Medal and the Marine that assisted him for a Certificate of Commendation. Both were approved and awarded with enthusiasm.

Take THAT! Clowns.

Slept like a baby that night.

Semper Fidelis,

America's 1st Sgt

Awards ceremony on Kilo AO, Karmah, Iraq 2007-2008

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Everybody loves a winner...

My reputation as a PT stud in the battalion is well documented. We do a lot of Crossfit and my times and numbers tend to be better than the other Marines and Sailors we workout with. However, each person has their strengths and weaknesses and I don’t always get the best of everyone.

Lately, I’ve been getting beat like it’s cool. Guys I used to smoke check are putting up the numbers and leaving me behind.

Not that I’m out of shape mind you; just not as finely tuned as I was before. If I told you I was out of shape right now, you’d laugh me to scorn. Sure, training at Mojave Viper for six weeks and eating the way we did was not helpful. Not working out during all the pre-deployment madness wasn’t any good either. But those are just convenient excuses.

As shocking as it may seem, America’s 1stSgt may have let himself slip a little. *gasp!*

This is not acceptable! Not for America’s 1stSgt. I cannot allow these younger wolves to snap at my heels like this.

But do you want to know a secret?

Marines hate losing more than we love winning. Write it down because it’s true.

We have two companies of Marines running rampant all over the northern half of this island, and three Army regiments pinned down in the southwestern corner, doing nothing. What the hell is going on?

Gen. John W. Vessey Jr., USA, Chairman of the the Joint Chiefs of Staffduring the assault on Grenada, 1983

We hate losing General; that is what is going on.

Don't you forget that you're First Marines! Not all the communists in Hell can overrun you!

Col. Lewis B. "Chesty" Puller, USMC rallying his First Marine Regiment near Chosin Reservoir, Korea, December 1950

Chesty hated losing too.

I have only two men out of my company and 20 out of some other company. We need support, but it is almost suicide to try to get it here as we are swept by machine gun fire and a constant barrage is on us. I have no one on my left and only a few on my right. I will hold.

1stLt. Clifton B. Cates, USMCin Belleau Wood, 19 July 1918

Lt Cates held because the alternative was unacceptable.

The bended knee is not a tradition of our Corps.

General Alexander A. Vandergrift, USMCto the Senate Naval Affairs Committee, 5 May 1946

Why? Because bending the knee is for losers!

The taste of other people’s dust is bile in my mouth; with chunks in it. The proper care and feeding plan of America’s 1stSgt has been re-implemented. The intensity of my PT sessions has been cranked up to new levels of ferocity. My body has been brutalized during the last ten days and I deserve it.

I WILL beat you. Yes I will.

Semper Fi,

America's 1st Sgt.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

How the Spartans Were Conquered

Been on deck nearly 10 days and this deployment may prove to be darkest night as compared to last year’s glorious days of ruggedness.
Last deployment I had a rifle company that lived in an OP that looked like something out of the Road Warrior. Watchtowers festooned with machine guns and grenade launchers overlooked the maze of obstacles littering Entry Control Points.

The Marines lived in conex boxes which were converted shipping crates covered in sandbags and Hesco barriers. The Company Commander, myself, the XO and our air officer all lived in one room together that used to be some kind of meat locker.

Indirect fire from insurgent mortar teams was pretty regular until we killed them all.

The chow sucked. It was something known as UGRs or some such acronym. I suspect the name has something to do with the sound troops make while trying to choke down a mouthful of it. “UhhGGhRR!!”
Physical violence nearly erupted the week we ate the same dish seven out of ten days. America’s 1stSgt was leading the way. The box was labeled chicken fajitas but I suspect it was composed of chicken colons. Marines were only able to pry my hands from the cook’s necks with a case of Dr. Pepper.

Mail from home was a most coveted item. We received mail twice a week and sometimes took as long as two weeks to reach us. Knife fights were known to break out over a package of homemade baked goods. Premium cigars were treated with nearly as much reverence as one’s personal weapons.

Air conditioners were appropriated and installed with sledge hammers. Marines also constructed their own phone center and computer stations. This was considered pretty high speed for us jarheads. Spaware was set up and the boys were able to call home and e-mail regularly. There was even a large screen TV and DVD player. We couldn’t get Armed Forces Network television, but as grunts we thought we lived in the lap of luxury.

Lean, hardened Marines exited friendly lines multiple times a day looking to take the fight to the forces of jihad. It was hot, miserable, sucky work and I remember it fondly.

We were totally ready for the Zombie Apocalypse.

This year I am completely disgusted with myself.

I have Headquarters and Service Company and we live on an air base that looks more like a small town. (Que Mr. Rogers theme music)

The Marines live in air conditioned trailers we call ‘cans’ and fit two to a room. They have electricity, mattresses, cable for AFN television, and even wireless connections are available for internet use!

My can has a TV that is rarely watched. My laptop is KIA so that is not an option, no big deal there. I even have a small leather couch that does quite well as reading area.

It’s sick!

Mail is picked up daily and takes five to seven days to get here. I haven’t seen a knife fight in over a year.

On base, there is a Subway, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, Burger King, KFC, and a stinkin’ Cinnabon! There is a Green Bean Coffee Shop, though I see no reason to bad mouth that fine company.

Then there are the dinning facilities. The food is pretty good eatin’ if you ask me. There is the main line for meals, a short order line for burgers and such, a sandwich line, salad bar, and the dessert bar. Yes, dessert has its own bar replete with various types of cookies, cake, pie, ice cream, and other fat pills.

The movie theatre shows two movies a day, there are USO comedy nights and Charlie Daniels is doing a show this week. The PX sells, music, DVDs, potato chips, candy, and everything America’s 1stSgt doesn’t stand for.

The forecast for me leaving friendly lines in an effort to confront the forces of evil is not looking so good.

The base is totally inundated with Army, Air Force, Navy, KBR workers, and third country nationals.

It IS the Zombie Apocalypse.

Semper Fidelis,

America's 1st Sgt.

Ice Cream!

The other day I was eating evening chow at the DFAC when I saw one of my body compositionally challenged Marines approach the dessert bar. Ice cream bowl in hand, he leaned forward in anticipation, eyes wide with joy as he took his place in line.

Without thought, my voice boomed across the chow hall,
“Hey stud! Maybe for you, not so much with the ice cream, ya’ think?”

He scrunched his shoulders forward and motioned with his fingers as if to ask, “Just a little bit 1stSgt, just a little bit? Please?”

Baring my fangs not unlike a wild striped hyena, I let him know that he could eat all the ice cream he wanted, but he would be PTing with me first thing in the morning.

Gutbag immediately slapped the empty bowl on the counter and walked away from the dessert bar without a backward glance.

Apparently, pain makes a more lasting impact than mint chocolate chip.

Semper Fidelis,

America's 1st Sgt.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are

During my previous deployment to Iraq I had to contend with all types of exotic creatures which made our lives that much more interesting. These included mosquitoes which extracted blood by the pint, chupacabra sightings which turned out to be feral cats living in our garbage can, and an army of mice which could chew through armored bulkheads, if they thought something edible was on the other side.

This trip I have had to contend with swarms of gnats which blow into your face like an winged tornado. The phenomenon becomes quite interesting during physical exercise. So far I have only swallowed seven of them. It is a far more pleasant experience than keeping your mouth firmly closed and snorting one up a nostril though. Trust me.

As spring moves into summer, we are expected to see an increase in snake activity. Among the various neuro and hemotoxic fiends which inhabit the area are the Desert Black Snake, the Persian Sand Viper, and the Blunt-Nosed Viper. (look closely at boot)All come equipped with a full range of lethality, not unlike your average Marine.

Also available are the nocturnal joys of the local arachnid population. My favorite is the Death Stalker Scorpion. This creature lives throughout Iraq and we are told is very neurotoxic. Fortunately for humanity it is only “relatively aggressive”. Not a trait I admire in predators but for my own safety I’ll take what I can get.
 At night here on Al Assad you can hear the din of strange creatures cavorting about. Some have assumed wild dogs are roaming the area. Others suppose they are coyotes of some kind. The other night one of these lurking nightmares was caught in a live trap by animal control on base.
 That friends, is a wild striped hyena. It looks like some ferocious space dog thing which may have attacked Captain Kirk in an old Star Trek episode. Here is another picture:

Seems there is a pack of these creatures prowling the base. Here is some video:
When I leave the company office at night, I now do it at a full sprint.

Semper Fidelis,

America's 1st Sgt

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Become a Martial Arts Master in 5 easy steps!

People often ask what is the best martial art to train in? What's your favorite technique? How do you counter the over-the-shoulder-boulder-holder (or whatever technique you prefer)? Who would win, a samurai or a knight? The debate surrounding these issues are ongoing, pointless, and lame.

But for the sake of those who think these questions are important, I will do my level best to answer them.

Q: What's your favorite technique?
A: Steady trigger control.
A2: Even better than that would be a radio with an artillery battery at the other end. If you don't think that's martial arts then you are sadly mistaken my friend.

Q: How do you counter the over-the-shoulder-boulder-holder?
A: Do not let him get close enough to you to do the over-the-shoulder-boulder-holder. How? The best counter I know is the Flamethrower Technique. There is also the Runaway Technique. I think you get the idea.

Q: Who would win, a samurai or a knight?
A: A Marine and his rifle.

Q: What's the best martial art to train in?
A: This was best answered by Col George H. Bristol, the Marine responsible for creating the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program. He said all martial arts are good, it just depends on what you want out of it. He followed this by stating Marines train for victory on the battlefield. Yes, yes we do indeed.

So with victory in mind I will now deliver a period of instruction which will make you, yes YOU, an all American butt kicking machine in five easy steps. True believers, let me introduce you to the fighting secrets of Irish Judo...

Combative Secrets of Irish Judo:

Step One: Get a brick. (this in and of itself can be an awesome technique. But it is not Irish Judo)

Step Two: Get a sock.
Step Three: Place the brick into the sock.

Step Four: Tie a knot in the sock.

And here you have the final product.
Oh yes, and here is Step Five:

You will notice that the Bad Guy has been struck from behind with a vicious Irish Judo Chop. In mainstream martial arts this is called UNFAIR. On the battlefield this is called VICTORY. In Irish Judo this is called HEY, HE WAS LIKE THIS WHEN I GOT HERE.

And that's it. You are now an expert in Irish Judo and all that it entails.

Naysayers may make remarks to the effect of, "Yeah, well if you had to get in the ring with the heavyweight champion of Ultimate Knuckle-dragger Championship, you'd get your ass kicked." The difference is, I wouldn't get in the ring with any of those bruisers. If I did, that fight would end with me burying a fire axe into the forehead of the champ, his coach, and everyone in his corner.
Don't get me wrong, I enjoy Ultimate Knuckle-dragger Championship as much as anyone. It meets all my minimum requirements in regards to entertainment. As a means of waging war, not so much.

Do NOT try any of this at home. The personnel depicted in the above photos are TRAINED EXPERTS in the most lethal and esoteric combat systems known to man. Just looking at these pictures has taken a good 45 minutes off your lifespan.

No Irish were hurt during production of this demo.
America's 1stSgt is a 2d Degree Black Belt Instructor Trainer in the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program and holds a 10th Degree Black Sock in Irish Judo. He prefers the bayonet to the spinning back fist.

Semper Fidelis & Happy Easter,
America's 1st Sgt.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

NOT going my way...

Another long day of travel sprinkled liberally with stretches of waiting around and I have arrived at my final destination.

We've been very busy the past couple of days here in scenic Al Assad. Once on deck there are a battery of classes we must undergo before we are allowed to go "outside the wire". This serves to remind the Marines of where they are and get them caught up on the AO. We also spend a little time at the range making sure our weapons are properly zeroed ensuring deadly pin point accuracy.

Other than that things have been pretty much not been going my way. It isn't always big events that cause stress and/or traumatic brain injury in 1stSgts. Sometimes it is just a litany of little things that just can't go right. Things like the bag of Kona Coffee that I mailed myself breaking open in the package. Or realizing that I forgot to pack a laundry bag. Or trying to figure out how to make the lock on my door function properly before I rip it right off the &^$# hinges!

Most of the real issues I have all concern equipment and personnel accountability in one form or another. I am convinced that if I were simply issued five feet of bamboo cane and given free reign in its liberal use, the majority of my issues would suddenly vanish. No really, I believe this.

Yet another incident currently vexing me involves a bottle of water, my personal laptop, and someone's buttocks. This one really didn't go my way. Suffice it to say my computer is no longer functioning.

Smashing my forehead against the corner of my desk sounds appealing, but my predecessor has already gnawed it clean off.

Like I said, NOT going my way.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Boot Camp Letters 1:

I was looking through some old letters I sent home from boot camp. The stationary looks old now and I see things I didn't notice at that time. Hindsight is a crazy thing.

Along the left side of the stationary they made us use are five small pictures of recruits in various phases of their training. Parents looking at this will naturally assume that their son is cheerfully taking part in pugil stick training, the obstacle course, shooting the rifle range, and drill.

This is all a LIE. After 17 years of indoctrination I am happy to say what is really happening is your son is being transformed into an All American fighting machine and will probably go on to make more of an impact on world events than the average American will ever dream of doing. But before that we get to have the kind of fun with him that college fraternities can only fantasize about during pledge week.

The first picture at the top shows eight recruits who still have their hair and civilian clothes intact, standing on the yellow footprints looking at a sign a DI is calmly pointing to that starts "TO BE A MARINE". (sample letter photo credit)Underneath it we can presume that sage wisdom on becoming a Marine is written. I personally do not recall this sign or much wisdom during the whole yellow footprint experience.

What is really happening is something like this:

DI: "Look at this friggin' sign ass clowns!"
Recruits: "Sir! Yes Sir!"
DI: "Take the friggin' picture!"

Right after the photo was taken the DI walked up to the recruits and probably punched each one in the throat.

The next photo has two recruits squaring off with pugil sticks. The recruits are wearing padding over vital areas to include helmets. The helmets are really just there to hide the look of utter terror on the faces of these poor kids so the camera can't capture them.

What you can't see are the DI's standing just out of the frame encouraging the young recruits to eviscerate each other with foam padded sticks.

DI: "Johnson! If you don't knock the helmet off that SOB I am going to kick your balls off! What kind of aggression is that? You have got to be kidding me! If you don't kill him right now I am going to sleep with your mother on graduation day!"

However it turned out we can only assume that Mrs. Johnson now has a son she can be proud of.

Below this photo is one of a recruit with his rifle in a sitting position aimed in down range. Standing directly on top of him is a DI presumably adjusting the weapon in the recruit's shoulder with one hand on the butt and the other on the hand guards.

Every Marine knows what's really going on.  The recruit in this picture hasn't even been able to get lead on paper yet and his DI is about to rip the rifle out of his hands and wrap it around his throat. He probably deserves it too. Non-shooting, low life, son of...but I digress.

So here is what I wrote to my parents on the above stationary dated May 9, 1992:
Hi Mom & Dad,

Right now I am still in processing and am also quite bald. We got here on Thursday and have stayed up for 2 days. Our Senior DI says things will get worse from here after we drop into our Battalions. Oh well. I don't have much time but I'm okay and I love you.

love Michael.
Once again, graduates of recruit training realize why I didn't "have much time" as they know that this letter, like those by POWs, was written under duress.

Duress means there was a DI spitting obscenities at me during the entire five sentences I wrote.

"Faster! Did you tell your mother you loved her? WHY NOT? She's worried about you! You inconsiderate %#$@&! Hurry up!"

The funny thing is I really can't express to you how much I love this lifestyle.

Semper Fidelis,
America's 1stSgt

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Longest Day

Everyone who has spent any time in the military is familiar with the concept known as 'hurry up, and wait.' Waiting is fundamental to Marine Corps doctrine. Why, you may ask? Because if we eliminated waiting from our planning and operations we would be back from our deployment already and that is just not acceptable.

Case in point, the longest day. This is the day you leave for your deployment. How is it the longest day? By all means read on...

Our longest day began with the planned chartered flight scheduled to take off at 08:30 in the morning. The abhorrent trolls who run operations at the air field (US Air Force) demand we show up 4 hours prior to departure. So then we had a show up time of 04:30.

But wait there's more...

The casual observer will forget we are moving approximately 300 Marines and Sailors with all their equipment. This requires loading and unloading all this gear into chartered trucks. So we must tack on an extra hour for this. Very well, 03:30.

Hold on...

Before we load gear the State of Hawaii demands an agriculture inspection. This is to prevent the spread of man-eating venus fly traps and the mad orchid disease from becoming a pandemic. So a dog handling team has to go through our bags before we load them. 03:00. The dog will be late. 02:30.

We also have to issue weapons, optics and all high speed equipment to all ninjas deploying. This is an exercise specifically designed to give everyone involved rectal cancer. It will also take at least 2 hours. 00:30.

Marines being notorious for their meticulous attention to detail, it just wouldn't be right if we didn't inspect the barracks before we left it in the hands of others. So let's start that at say 23:30.

So for an 08:30 flight we arrived to work 9 hours before departure. And who are we kidding anyway? You know I didn't get any sleep that night so there I was up all Friday going into Saturday's deployment ritual.

Then the dumb stuff started happening.

We got on the plane at 07:30 as planned but there was some kind of contract issue involving weight and crews and other details which escape most Marines who are simply trying to do as they were told.

08:30 moved into 09:30 and on into 10:00. It seemed we are not at fault on our end but safety was now a concern as well. The pilot refused to fly the mission with the plane we had. As a side note I will never ever bad mouth anyone on a safety call and in this case I believe our pilot was looking out for our best interests.

Finally, it was resolved we would be served breakfast on the plane we were on (it was 13:00). We then got off the bird and boarded a new plane with bigger engines. We would finally depart at 15:30. By the time our flight finally left we had been sitting on the tar mac for eight hours.

The eight hour wait was followed immediately by an eight hour flight to Detroit with a two hour lay over. Then we blissfully continued our journey among the clouds to Amsterdam where our Dutch friends refused to let us go anywhere in the airport and we hung out in a terminal area smaller than our plane was. I guess they didn't want us animals scaring the locals.

Finally, we landed in joyous Kuwait where generally the weather is not unlike that of your nearest oven set on high. This time of year it is thankfully more like a low bake though.

The flight in and of itself was twenty six hours not counting the eight hours on the flight line or the nine or more hours of cat herding and full belly roaring employed to remind Marines it was healthier to move with a sense of urgency than not to.

So here I am in Kuwait. Waiting for another flight to Iraq. Today all I have to do is turn chow into crap. The waiting has all been factored in.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

IEDs and Such...

Back in the summer of 2007 my company was conducting a turnover of battlespace in the quaint Iraqi town of Kharma just outside of Fallujah. At the time bad guys in the area were fairly butt hurt as the gun slingers from the battalion we were replacing had been doing pretty much what Marines do ever since they took over the AO from the Army. That being kicking critical insurgent colon right up into the cheap seats.

I had been in country about fifteen days and my company commander and I were heading back to our OP and were gearing up our four vehicle convoy. As it worked out, my seat was in Vehicle 1 right behind the Vehicle Commander (VC) in the passenger side of up armored hummer.

"First Sergeant," my captain pulled me aside for a moment with that special gleam in his eye. Soft spoken with a generally dry sense of humor, Captain Hanson's tone has been known to trick people into not realizing that he is screwing with them. Not me.

"You know," he said in mock seriousness. "Generally if we get hit with an IED it's the lead vic that gets it. Are you sure you want to ride in the first vehicle?"

I don't recall my exact response, but I'm certain it was laced with the appropriate amount of colorful language as befits a 1stSgt of Marines and probably included something about riding through Kharma town on the hood with a mega phone talking trash in Arabic. In reply Captain Hanson simply shrugged his shoulders, palms up as if to say, "It's your ass."

We finally got under way. LCpl Curtis was driving the lead vehicle, SSgt Soto was the vehicle commander. LCpl Kitlas was in the turret.

Sitting to my left was a 1stLt from the company that we were replacing. I can't remember his name but he had picked up the moniker "Dog Tits". My platoon commanders were all untried young officers straight out of Quantico. These fresh faced boys were on their first deployment and had gravitated to this salty Lt who was showing them the ropes on the mean streets of Kharma. The sight of my young Lts following him around like pups milking their mom's teet was more than some of their fellow officers could bear. Any Marine worth his salt was bound to make a comment concerning this. Thus Dog Tits is how I will always remember him.

That summer Kharma still pretty much looked like a war zone. There was a small market doing business, but side streets were little more than armed camps run by neighborhood sheiks. Rubble sprawled here and there from the beginning of the war while police stations, schools, and the like had been subsequently demolished or closed by Al Queda since then. Our convoy snaked through Downtown Kharma the roads pock marked with holes mainly created by detonated IEDs. We weaved our way through razor wire and Hesco barriers littering our route and were just coming up to an intersection before a bridge when...

Man was that loud!

Explosions in my experience are not long drawn out affairs like in the movies. Instead this was a hard fast concussion of sound and in my memory I could swear I saw the flash of the explosion through the armor of the vehicle.

I couldn't see from the smoke and the next thing I remember was my hands waving in front of my face. There was so much dust and smoke I was waving my hands around trying to clear it.

Whenever I am involved in any situation which includes the possibility of grievous bodily harm my brain automatically runs through a quick functions check that goes something like this:

Brain: "Reproductive Junk intact?"

Body: "The boys are all here!"

Brain: "Very well, ensure the anus remains closed for the remainder of the convoy."

Anus: "Awwww, maaaaaan!"

Later Capt Hason would tell me as he witnessed my vehicle become enveloped in the explosion and resulting black cloud, he became completely deflated.

"Oh man, I killed the 1stSgt." He hadn't but that wouldn't stop him from trying again in the future.

The next thing I remember was Lt Dog Tits grabbing LCpl Curtis by the shoulder. We hadn't been able to see with all the smoke and Curtis had nearly stopped the vehicle just past the kill zone.

"Drive through! Drive through! Push it all the way up there!"Dog Tits shouted.

As we moved up a couple hundred meters or so Dog Tits grabbed LCpl Kitlas' leg, "You okay?" he continued to shout. It was a loud explosion if you recall.

"1stSgt, you okay?"


Anus: "I want to poo!"

Now I've seen people in various emotional states, but what I saw next was one of the oddest things I've ever seen. Dog Tits ran through the entire range of human emotions in the matter of minutes. In hindsight I would take this as a sure sign it was time for this guy to go home.

When he realized everyone was okay and in one piece he started yelling.


I just looked at him like he was stupid.

Then he got mad, first at dirtbag insurgents, then at Fate itself.

"Dumb sumbitches! &%*$%^$#! WTF? I'm supposed to leave here in two weeks! This isn't supposed to happen to me anymore! #@*%&<#$!"

He then proceeded to begin tugging on the roll of razor wire lashed to the hood. Instead of letting him hang out there all day I dismounted and helped him out while SSgt Soto got on the radio let Capt Hanson know that he had failed to eliminate his company 1stSgt.

What the heck were you doing with the wire, you ask? I was pretty much asking myself the same thing. We strung it across the road a couple hundred meters in front of the vehicle. Of course, it wouldn't stop anyone who really wanted to get through but it would make those who weren't interested in getting shot at go somewhere else. Some may not believe this, but there are times when Marines are trying NOT to kill people.

Now, exiting an up armored vehicle in the aforementioned sniper zone was not my idea of an intelligent thing to do. But I wasn't about to leave Dog Tits out there by himself. It's a Marine thing, go figure. Besides, all Marines have this teenager in them that still thinks he's invincible. Mine isn't as convincing as he used to be but there is this other guy inside daring all comers to take a shot anyway. He's not as loud as the teenager. In fact his voice is much colder and reserved.

"Come get it, if you want. I'm the meanest mutha in Kharma." He rasped inside me.

Except for the IED nobody else took a shot at the title that day. They would try another time though.

In the meantime, when we got back to the OP, I gave the good Captain the largest ration of crap I had ever dished.

"Sir! Why are you wishing that kind of evil on me? You do that again and you and I are going 'round and 'round!" Funny though, he really did feel bad about it. But it wouldn't be the last time he cursed me either.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Herding Cats with Baseball Bats

This week is a painful endurance of pre-deployment madness. Not that the things that have to get done are non-sense. It just feels like non-sense.

For me this takes the form of cornering young Marines and explaining through clenched teeth the importance of getting their service record book audits completed before deployment and why doesn't he have his family care plan turned in to the Family Readiness Officer?

Next, my fists begin to transform into jackhammers as I describe to the errant youngster my unfathomable satisfaction after ripping a person's arm off and beating them with the sticky end.

Not surprisingly enlisted men are not the major violators at this stage.

It's usually the odd Lieutenant that I have to hold down by his throat and groin while one of my Corpsmen administers a host of vaccinations that he had been brushing off.

In my battalion, missing a dental appointment is probably the number one reason why Marines end up needing dental work in the first place.

Then I have the awesome task of convincing my guys that all the liquor in the United States will still be here when we get back in seven months. Thus they really don't need to go out and try drinking it ALL this weekend.

Here's something that gives me cancer, Marines who haven't let anyone in their family back home know they are deploying. Last year I had one of my platoon sergeants stand on a Marine's neck as he dialed his mother. Hello mom? Yeah, um...just wanted to let you know I'm in Iraq. THAT went over greeeeeeeeeat.

Of course, two weeks before deployment everyone just HAS TO get married. It's enough to make me want to hammer nails into my temples.

I just really need to deploy. Life is so much simpler. Sigh.