Monday, August 31, 2009

Safely Handling Radioactive Stupid…

It’s funny how young Marines feel they deal with a lot of stupid stuff. They think getting up in the morning is a pain in the neck. Having to shave is an inconvenience. Keeping their area squared away is imposing on their right to self expression. The list goes on.

Often I ask a group of Marines who among them thinks they put up with stupidity. Inevitably a forest of hands goes up until I bark, “Well try putting some rockers on and see how stupid it gets!”

Things 1stSgt’s deal with include…

Other people’s marriages:

Everyone just HAS to get married right before deployment. These individuals are always lined up outside my office with their marriage packages in hand; oblivious too everyone who is getting divorced right before deployment who are waiting in another line to see me. There is a mysterious phenomenon occurring here where these two groups of people are utterly blind to the existence of the other and will heed no one’s advice about waiting until after deployment or at least until he gets to know her better.
Then of course there is everyone who is getting married during post deployment leave (at least they waited for the deployment to be over). This is followed closely by all those getting a divorce immediately following the deployment. The classic example is the Marine who returns home to an empty house having had no idea his spouse had left him. His chain of command and all his buddies no doubt told him it wasn’t a good idea to marry a stripper he had only known for four weeks but did he listen?

Once I had a Marine get a divorce right before we deployed. When we came back seven months later, one the guys from his platoon ended up marrying the girl on post deployment leave. I think I broke at least three of my own teeth during this episode.

There have been cases where Marines have deployed while neglecting to make sure their spouse had any money to live on while deployed. No ATM card, no checks, no direct deposit. Hey stud, do you think she might need to buy food and pay your rent?

My favorite is forgetting to mention to your spouse that you are going to be gone for seven months in Iraq at all. This is more common than you might think. I’ve even had Marines forget to tell their mothers that they were deploying. Awesome!

Now with the advent of 21st Century technology you can fight with your loved ones a dozen times a day and still be 8,000 miles from where they are. We’ve got clowns that call multiple times a day and then get belligerent if the wife hasn’t answered the phone on the first ring. Brain surgeon, she has to go to the crapper some time. If you don’t trust her then maybe you shouldn’t have married a woman that was sleeping around with you behind her previous husband’s back when he was on deployment. Sometimes people just get what they deserve.

Other people’s parents:

Then there is the odd Marine who writes home to his mother that he doesn’t get to eat. She naturally writes her congressman in concern which starts a whole chain of e-mails with a subject line containing the letters W, T, and F. Now of course there is plenty of food for this Marine and his delicate palate to consume he just doesn’t like it. Here’s a news flash: NONE OF US LIKE IT!

There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that military food is just plain rancid. MREs, Tray Rations, and UGRs are only slightly less foul than what passed for chow back in the Old Corps. But guess what? There is plenty of it so there is no reason to complain about hunger. I remember once the little heathens ate everything in sight and my Company Commander and I were left eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches made out of shelf bread. So Mom, check it out: your son is being fed plenty; he is just being a sissy because you are not cooking for him anymore. Tell him to man up. I already did, that is why he sent you that whiny e-mail.

Most mothers want their sons home from combat. I don’t blame them. I want their sons to come home from combat too; right now in fact. Here’s the problem, we all signed up to do a job. It’s called a contract. When you don’t live up to it then you are called a dirt bag. So Mom, please stop sending the command emergency Red Cross Messages requesting the presence of your son because you are having a bunion removed. No one in the entire theatre of operations is going to approve that emergency leave request. There’s like a war on.

Self inflicted wounds:

In the Marine Corps we have standards; standards of conduct; standards of dress; even height and weight standards. The weight standard is particularly amusing especially when the fat Marine in question is completely mystified by the fact that you want to break a park bench over his back. Of course it is never his fault; no one told him he looked like a beach ball with lips. Maybe when that gigantic orb of flesh called your gut began to affect the tides it should have given you a clue. Listen, when Japanese fishermen start licking their lips when you walk by it’s time to cover your blow hole and run.

Alcohol is the perennial villain in many a tale of liberty gone awry and is usually prominently featured in any and all of the above scenarios. Its uncanny ability to cripple what is already questionable judgment is legendary. Lessons like it is against the law to operate a motor vehicle under the influence are usually learned the hard way vice simply listening to your 1stSgt tell you it is EVERY WEEKEND. That fact that stumbling around Waikiki blind drunk at 0300 in the morning will make you a victim is another good one.
Even as you read this I am probably standing in front of a group of Marines getting ready to fly home from Iraq. I am more than likely trying to convince them that all the alcohol in America will still be there the day after they get back and that there is no need to attempt to drink it all in one night. Will they listen? That remains to be seen this trip.

Semper Fi,
America’s 1stSgt

Saturday, August 29, 2009

A sign that it is time for me to leave Iraq…

Occasionally you have a premonition that it is time to move on. That what you’ve been doing is now concluded and your work here is actually done.

Recently I received the below notice on the all hands e-mail here in scenic Al Assad. After reading it, I felt it complete confirmation that it is time for me to leave this country and never return.

What I’m not sure about is which is more ludicrous: the idea that MWR is having a haunted house in a combat zone or that some brain surgeon thought it would be a good idea to host a haunted house and invite hundreds and hundreds of people armed with automatic weapons.

America’s 1stSgt
Refugee from the island life.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

America's Babysitter

I keep thinking about things I want to do when I get back to planet Earth and I am reminded that it doesn’t always go the way you imagine it will. Take for instance what happened to me a short time after I got back from deployment last year:

There was a minister's meeting at my pastor's house scheduled for a Saturday night. All the ministers, music, Sunday school, youth ministry, etc, were going to be at the meeting. The babysitter who was going to watch the kids fell through for some reason and someone brilliant said, "Mike is good with kids, let's ask him if he'll watch them."

As a single man, of course, I am good with the kids. My job is to spin them up and send them back home with their beleaguered parents. It’s kind of a deal we have. Let me also point out that the best thing about other people’s kids is that they go home.

Still, being the kind of guy I am I, of course agree; despite the fact that I really DO NOT want to watch other people's children on a Saturday night. Sacrifice comes in many forms and if anything I am all about helping out the church.

Saturday night we all meet at the church in the upstairs room adjoining the office.The stink of burning rubber fills the air as eager parents peel out of the parking lot in an effort to maximize their night of “adult time.” Sigh. We, who are about to babysit, salute you.

It was 6:30 PM and America’s 1stSgt had 10 feral children running around him ranging in age from 2 to 14. Fortunately, the two older ones were helpful. Kids began doing kid things while Balto was playing on the TV, coloring was going on, and everyone just had to pee RIGHT NOW. Not all at once mind you. but only when my butt happened to touch down on a chair.

One little boy hit his sister. Gallantly, I grabbed him by the arm and bent over to explain how we don't do that kind of thing to girls. He laughed and punched me right in the chin. ME! Grown men are afraid to put their hands on me, but this little... Suffice it to say he spent about an hour unhappily weeping and standing in a corner and didn't get any popcorn. Take that punk.

Speaking of popcorn, everyone was also hungry. ALL THE TIME. Despite the fact that parents assured me everyone had eaten, it seemed this was a lie and all these poor malnourished children had never been fed in their entire lives. What snacks did I have for everyone? Whatever your mothers left for you kid. Oh, nothing? Go color and eat a crayon. I finally relented and sent one of the older ones to go get pop corn at the 7-11. Amazing how a couple of bags of pop corn can pacify those savages.

Throughout the night children had to be escorted to the restroom down stairs. We rented the space from another church that owned the property. They also had some people there including a Micronesian family who were staying there for the time being. Of course, what that meant to me was that there are now 5 extra kids hanging out with us and I was busy counting heads to make sure my 10 were all present and accounted for.

From time to time I had one of the older kids take the little ones down stairs to use the restroom. Nothing like managing the room right? Wrong. The one time I escort a kid down there grievous bodily harm happens. I had hardly set foot outside the door when, "Uncle Mike! One of the pillars fell down and hit Madison on the head!" The children’s response to this was as if they had all spontaneously combusted and burst into flames. Then Clark Kent calmly appeared to save the day. But I'm skipping over some of the drama.

Naturally, the chair I had been sitting in was the focus of effort for children to rally around any time I moved. When I got up to take one of the kids to the restroom the masses gathered to alternately sit, climb, run, or cartwheel or genuflect around my chair. In so doing, the toddler bumped into one of these plastic pillars used for events and about 6 1/2 feet tall and it fell over right on my chair where poor Madison was happily sitting in the seat of power. That will teach her to take my chair next time.

When I got on the scene there wasn’t hardly any blood at all so I was not too worried until I took a good look and saw a small open cut on her scalp. Great, this was going to take a few stitches. But like I said, thank you Jesus it wasn't bleeding like a scalp wound usually does. What didn't help was every kid in the joint looking over my shoulder and exclaiming, "OH MY GOD!"

My drill instructor voice came out and ordered all non participants to firmly plant themselves in front of Mary Poppins or pay the consequences. I called the minister's meeting and let the parents know what has happened and secretly hoped it would get all the parents back a little early. In the mean time I tried to distract the poor girl with drinks, ice packs, television, and back rubbing. Fortunately, no photographic evidence of this exists.

The mother of poor decapitated Madison arrived and I braced myself for righteous destruction. Mom was surprisingly cool and agreed that the cut on her scalp would probably take about 5 stitches (groan). She didn’t blame me and said that things happen. Things like being run over by a family SUV in the church parking lot by an angry matron? Just wondering.

I still felt like a complete failure. Here I was imagining myself heroically fending off kidnappers and saving toddlers from vicious predators and alien invasion and the minute I turned my back they were braining themselves on the furniture.

So Madison was now safely in the care of her parents and I was told that the meeting was over and imagined concerned moms would be breaking down the door any moment to rescue their children from the careless knuckledragger who was no doubt selling their children into slavery.
Resigned to my fate, I distracted the kids by taking group photos with my phone camera and instructed them on various hideous kinds of faces to make for each picture. This went on for a while until boredom overwhelmed us all and tired children begin sprinting in circles in an attempt to stay awake.

Babe is placed in the VCR and all gathered 'round for the tale of the talking pig beast. Around this time it was discovered that the doors to the restroom had been locked and little girls had to go BAD. Sigh, "Have you ever gone outside before? Alexis, take her out around the back of the church." On Sunday Kassidy would proudly boast to everyone that she went outside in the bushes. Greeeeeeeat.

Over an HOUR later parents arrived to take up their progeny and I was finally free of the weight of this responsibility. Their parents no doubt weighed the possible dangers to their children against the relief of an extra hour and a half of freedom. Time won out over peril, apparently and I didn't get out of there until almost 11PM.

I had just returned from a combat deployment where mortars had landed all around me like pop flys; snipers had taken shots at us like it was a duck hunt; IEDs were all around me like a yard full of dog poo and somehow we brought everyone back in one piece. One night with a bunch of kids and I end up presiding over traumatic brain injuries.

I don't get it, I hung out with these other kids after last deployment and their perfectly fine, though Hope did mention something about facial tics and fear of small spaces or some such thing.
Allowing the children out of the closet at feedingtime is a risky venture at best.
My light saber was more sabery than his light saber. Totally kicked his tail.

Before chow the responsible adult ensures the children practice good hygiene.
America's 1stSgt prepares a swimming lesson.

Semper Fi,

America’s 1stSgt

Friday, August 21, 2009

Mail heads up

A note from Hope

Michael and his gang will not get any mail posted later than August 31 sent to Al Asad.

If you intend to post anything please consider the following types of items:

(no smoke or sugar coating on the nuts) a good qulaity trail mix of sorts
freeze dried veggie snacks
Taped tv...Battlestar Galactica, Rescue Me, Heros, The Mentalist
magazines- martial arts, history, health/fitness
He's a John Wayne, Charleston Heston fan.

He's on a fairly strict diet training wise and the fare in the DFAC is limited if you are trying to eat as clean as he does.

They will be in Al Asad for quite a bit of time after mail cut least a month so if you are interested in getting some stuff out to him let me know via and I'll send you his addy.

I'm only pulling this since he can't get online to see the blog, but I know the mail would bring a smile, things have been fairly stressful lately. I also know he shares everything, so it goes quick. He sure looks after his guys. I'm pretty sure he'd rather be only patrol taking fire than slaying paper dragons, but everyone has to take their turn in the Corps including America's 1st Sgt.

Thanks in advance!

This message will self destruct in a couple of

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Kung Fu and Stuff

For reasons I tend to think are unwarranted, America’s 1stSgt kind of has a reputation among the Marines of the battalion. Mostly I figure it’s because I swagger around with my knuckles dragging on ground like a silver-back gorilla baring my fangs at any young Marine that crosses my path. I also kill myself in order to run faster, jump higher, and generally out perform any of them physically (there may be a few that have my number though).

Thanks to the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (MCMAP) and Ultimate Knuckle-dragger Championship, Marines are enamored with grappling. This is fine as I generally endorse any activity that is tough and physically demanding.

Now I could really care less about grappling. I have some familiarity with it having trained with ju-jitsu types before and as a MCMAP instructor myself. According to the Marine Corps, the purpose of grappling techniques is to allow you to get back to your feet to gain the tactical advantage over your opponent. The tactical advantage is you get to put the boots to the guy on the deck. May I add that kicking people while they are down is a perfectly legitimate and honorable technique designed to achieve victory on the battlefield.

I mean really, the only reason I can conceive of for rolling around on the deck with someone is to hold him down long enough for five of my friends to show up and beat him down with axe handles.

Of course the whole problem with having a reputation is that there is always some youngster who wants to test his skills. Usually I hear the challenge in this form:

“You wanna grapple 1stSgt?”
 Or ...
“1stSgt, I’d like to roll with you some time.”
In a culture where physical capability is a measure of credibility this kind of thing has to be dealt with convincingly. My battalion commander usually gives me disapproving looks if I grab a Marine by his throat and crotch and hurl him through the windshield of the nearest HMMV. So my responses tend to be less physically violent. Quite frankly, there are a number of Marines in the battalion that could wipe the floor with me on the mat or in the ring. This would have to do with the fact that combative sports and combative killing are two wildly divergent events.

As coolly as I can I explain to the eager volunteer that as America’s 1stSgt I can lose, but I may not lose. Thus I will do those things that it takes to achieve victory on the mat and will only entertain “grappling” if the Marine is willing to endure what I am ready to do to him. Much like Ric Flair, I have to be the dirtiest player in the game.

They are usually convinced when I am conducting weapons training of some kind and we are cleaning each other’s clocks.
Now as far as I’m concerned weapons use is where it’s at. When’s the last time you ever heard of a caveman putting a saber-tooth cat in a wrist lock? In my files you can find America’s 1stSgt’s thoughts on alligator wrestling under the heading: STUPID. Greek hoplites did not engage the Persians on a wrestling mat. They stood shoulder to shoulder thrusting spears into the enemy and ground Xerxes’ army into the mud. I am completely on board with that scenario.

In any given one on one engagement scenario you have a 33% chance of survival. Either the other guy is better than you are; so you die. You are better than he is; he dies (my preference). Or you are equally skilled and you both die. So how do I maximize my 33%? I pick up a brick and get to work. It’s all about mindset and what you are trying to accomplish. 
 I get comments about the look on my face in photos like these. Some want to know where that intensity comes from. It comes from the fact that in my mind I am thinking about killing someone. The exercises we are using here are more about what your brain is doing than what your body is. Bayonets, knives, e-tools, firearms, it’s really all the same thing.Of course, training Marines doesn’t mean I always get the best of it at their expense…
 Usually a few rounds of bayonet action with me is a convincer. Maybe rolling around on the ground with the 1stSgt isn’t the best health care plan.

Semper Fidelis,
America’s 1stSgt

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Plates Are Spinning!

This is what it looks like when you are trying to prepare everyone for a retrograde back to planet Earth; “responsible retrograde” that is.

All kinds of fun things happen during this portion of the deployment. We have meetings to discuss the outline of the next meeting and perhaps go over a course of action to determine how best to review the score of courses of action available for us to responsibly retrograde a battalion of America’s finest.

One of the things I deal with is manifests. Hooray! This is when we put together rosters again and again and again because they are always incorrect. Imagine Mouseketeer role call but it just won’t ever end. It makes you want to punch Mickey right in the liver.

“Look SSgt, there are two Taylors in the company. One is a Sailor and the other is a Marine. Two, count’em, two. Please don’t make me kill you right here.”

Then after the roster is validated EVERYONE wants to make changes for various reasons. Some of them are even legitimate.

“Well, I was hoping to get LCpl Oxygen Thief home in time to catch the season premier of So You Think You Can Dance. Is that going to be a problem 1stSgt? That’s a weird vein on your forehead.”

In the meantime nothing else has really changed as we continue to conduct convoy security missions throughout Al Anbar; Corporal’s Course is in full swing; Martial Arts Instructor’s Course is judo chopping its way to graduation; Marines all want to submit marriage packages; and my blood pressure sets Olympic records daily.

As numbing as dealing with these subjects are wont to be, nothing kills as many brain cells as dealing directly with Marines and their issues, especially during times of radical change like deployment and redeployment.

Heard in the clear right out of the 1stSgt’s mouth:

“Killer, I don’t care if you think you can declare it as a war trophy. You are NOT bringing an Iraqi chainsaw back to Hawaii with you.”

“So uh, you spent $1000 on that wide screen television at the PX uh? Ummm…really think it’s going to fit in your sea-bag stud?”

“No, no, no, they are not going to let you bring the crossbow you constructed out of fly-swatters through customs.”

“Brain surgeon, you may not mail your body armor home so you don’t have to carry it on the flight back. You might need it between now and then, ya’ think?”

Then there are the litanies of briefs that have to be given multiple times to prepare us for the big environmental change from combat zone to tropic Hawaiian beaches. These include driver safety, DUIs, professional conduct (what we like to call the Don’t Be A Dumbass Brief), alcohol abuse (where I explain to the Marines that all the alcohol in the United States isn’t really going anywhere so they don’t have to try and drink it all as soon as they get on deck). Post Deployment Health Assessments need to be done so Medical can identify Marines who have suddenly grown a prehensile tail.

Most important is the Warrior Transition Brief where we discuss what to expect when we get back home. You’d be surprised how things change in seven or more months. Marines need time to rest and reacquaint themselves with family and children. Proud fathers will suddenly discover that they prefer handling IEDs to poopy diapers.

The really fun part is that we are still months away from redeploying home!


America’s 1stSgt

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

War is hell

Once in a while it seems an entrepreneurial fellow and his camel can make a quick buck in the desert. Expecting another ho-hum day of tax free pay in Al Asad, we were swaggering our way to the chow hall when we were greeted with this sight.

Read the short article linked below about what in the wide, wide world of sports was going on here in the parking lot.

What you will not find the article is how mangy and disagreeable this creature was. Mind you, I would be disagreeable too if you got on my back in the triple digit heat. Judging by the hideous noises coming from the beast, Miss Camel was not as enthusiastic as her owners about the whole thing. One of my intelligence analysts was able to roughly translate Iraqi camel speech and they report that she was saying things like:

“No, I am not kneeling down on this hot sand for some jackass to climb on me!”

“Come closer so I can spit on you.”

“Whack me in the shins with that stick one more time and I’ll bite your mustache off.”

Naturally some of my Devil Dogs had to get in on the action. I let them know in no uncertain terms that riding around on the back of that poor animal was questionable behavior for rugged type Marines. The idea of going on a combat deployment and participating in camel rides just doesn’t sit well with me as something Marines would do. Eat a camel? By all means! Riding one around like some kind of carnival attraction smacks more of camel dung than “cultural exchange”. Sigh.

Then of course one of my Warrant Officers had to vault onto the back of the filthy thing like an underage Chinese gymnast.

In her defense she at least didn’t ride around on it. Besides, she carries a razor around somewhere on her person and only takes it out to get blood on it. America’s 1stSgt is not going to be that guy.

So now the list of animals I give a wide berth to include scorpions, spiders, various vipers and snakes, wild striped hyenas from outer space, and now the rickety camel of doom.

Everybody carry on with the plan of the day.

Semper Fi,

America’s 1stSgt

Monday, August 10, 2009

A word from America's 1st Handler

Hey Everyone,

This is America's 1st Handler. Michael is slammed with Corporal Course and MCMAP training, but there is a post in the works. Anyone who plans on sending him mail love needs to have it out no later than than 18th of this month. Anything that gets there after Aug. 31 gets sent to KBay.

Things I know he would like are new movies, raw or plain oven roasted smoke or sugar etc. He can always use Kona coffee, and magazines of the martial arts, MMA, fitness,Wild West variety.

I keep trying to send the cheerleader with the fine moral upbringing, razor sharp intellect and hotness he describes, unfortunately I can't talk her into the box without committing a felony.

Let me know if you want to send and I'll get his address out to you.

It might be good to send him a bunch of stuff here at the end of the deployment. They are offline mail wise the last 4 weeks or so, so it would be good to stock him up and raise the moto a bit. All this paperwork is eroding his general sparkling, effervescent personality.


Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Fleet Marine Force Warfare Insignia

The other day it was my pleasure to be a part of presenting two of our Hospital Corpsmen with their Fleet Marine Force pin. This is a pretty big deal in case you didn’t know as it signifies achievement of superior excellence and proficiency.

The Navy Hospital Corps was established in 1898 and is the only all enlisted Corps in the U.S. Navy. They have served alongside U.S. Marines since the Revolutionary War and since there are no medics in the Marine Corps we find them pretty handy. Generally Marines refer to all Corpsmen as “Doc” no matter their rank. Except the Chief; we call him Chief.

America’s 1stSgt reads the certificates using his big boy voice.

Navy Corpsmen are one of the most highly decorated rates in the Navy. They have the most Medal of Honor recipients with 22 (probably because they are always looking after Marines); Navy Cross recipients 174; Distinguished Service Cross 31; Silver Star 946; Bronze Star 1582.

The FMF pin in and of itself is a relatively new thing as it has only been around for eight years or so. The designation "Fleet Marine Force" has been in use for quite some time as it characterizes Sailors serving with the world’s finest United States Marine Corps.

Chief Rains pins Doc Imperial.

Before Sailors can qualify for this august designation they must be assigned to a Marine unit. In the case of Petty Officers Imperial and Sison pictured here it just happens to be America’s Battalion, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines. They also happen to be in Headhunting & Skullduggery Company with America’s 1stSgt.

First they must meet and complete the Personal Qualification Standards (PQS) consisting of twenty separate areas of Marine Corps knowledge. These subjects range from the glories of Marine Corps history to what in the wide, wide world an engineering outfit is supposed to do. There are also a number of specific tasks that must be completed including passing a Marine Physical Fitness Test; familiarization with nomenclature and capability of various weapons systems from the rinky-dink M9 pistol to the rugged and manly M240G machine gun. I myself have looked at the PQS and privately wondered if I would pass. They have to learn and retain a lot of trash!

Doc Taylor pins Doc Sison.

After drinking from the PQS fire hose there is a written exam then a practical exam covering subjects like weapons handling fundamentals; communications operations; land navigation; aircraft and ship recognition; and basic first aid. If they manage to get over that hurdle they report to a board of Senior Enlisted Sailors where their FMF knowledge; bearing; and understanding of the litany of subjects discussed above are assessed.

For the individual Sailor this experience not only qualifies them to wear the coveted FMF Warfare Insignia but cements their place in the unit to which they are assigned and illuminates their role in as part of the Marine Air Ground Task Force.

HM1 Imperial and HM1 Sison proudly sport the Fleet Marine Force Warfare Insignia. They don’t quite have the swagger thing down, yet, but apparently that wasn’t part of the PQS.

The United States Navy: life, liberty, and the pursuit of those who threaten it. Yeah!

Semper Fi,

America’s 1stSgt