Monday, February 22, 2010

Cyborgs and other terrors...

The School of Infantry 1992

Getting exactly what you asked for is always such a revelation.

My first day with Charlie Company, Infantry Training Battalion had been adventurous to say the least. Shuffling through the evening chow line I could barely hold my tray and was so physically wrecked I was more nauseous than hungry. Completely dehydrated I set up an intravenous tube directly to the Gatorade dispenser and prayed I wouldn't pass out in the middle of the chow hall. This is the absolute truth, I was completely useless and had nothing left to give. If the Zombie Apocalypse were to have gone down that day I would have been eaten.

What could have caused a vigorous young Marine fully convinced of his immortality to be so utterly destroyed? What sick and depraved mind could so thoroughly blast my brain and body to bits?

Let me tell you of the days of high adventure… (insert Conan theme music)

I remember anticipating my attending the School of Infantry (SOI) with some excitement. After boot camp I had spent about a month in Marine Combat Training (MCT). We renamed the course Mass Consumption of Time, as compared to our boot camp experience, MCT seemed to be an exercise of standing around waiting for something to happen. We didn't PT much so we got out of shape and when we did train it was mostly familiarization with weapons systems most of us didn't get to fire anyway. It was a real let down for young Marines who were used to the fast pace of boot camp and those of us who were slated to continue on to SOI couldn't wait to start our "real" training as grunts.

Worse still were the two weeks we spent in the receiving barracks waiting for our SOI course to start. Those of us awaiting training were mixed in with all the legal/medical cases who were being discharged due to their fundamental character flaws or their fragile genetics which caused them to be so physically brittle they could not continue service in the Corps. In our lexicon these individuals are known as dirtbags or $#!%-birds. Even as a young Marine it amazed me the Corps would allow fresh young Marines to live with these malingerers on a daily basis and risk being infected with their poor attitudes. I remember this as a particularly low and unmotivated period of my career and could not wait for SOI to start.

Immediately upon dropping to SOI we were treated like garbage again: "What are you looking at idiot?" In our minds this was a good thing. We knew how to survive this environment and what was expected of us.

As soon as we staged out gear by our racks in the new squad bay our Platoon Sergeant made his grand entrance. On the white board just inside the front hatch was a caricature of him as half man and half machine saying something derogatory to us. He was known to young Marine infantry hopefuls as the Cyborg. You may recognize him from this famous picture:

Hint: He's the one in the middle.

Or you may have read his book.

At that point in his career no one had actually ever seen Sgt. Kasal perspire. In our eyes he was a rugged veteran of the first Gulf War capable of feats far exceeding average humans. On a hike no Marine could match his pace. I remember being directly opposite him on a hike and deliberately trying to match his stride. It was, of course, impossible and I ended up having to run to keep up with him.

It was related to me by another Marine that Sgt. Kasal had once been diagnosed with a bad case of the flu and was ordered to go home and rest. Cyborg told the platoon on a Friday he would defy medical science and be back on Monday to run their junk into the dirt. True to his word, a platoon of Marines were casually destroyed Monday morning as well as a number of immutable laws of medicine.

Sgt. Kasal never worked his jaws while talking. He spoke to us through perpetually clenched teeth punctuated by an impressive use of profanity. Imitating the sound and cadence of the Cyborg's speech was considered a high art.

In the squad bay he selected some sasquatch to be the platoon guide and said: "Whoever wants to be a squad leader go stand outside my office." Immediately 28 of use stood up and went out into the hall. I remember thinking my chances were slim to none I'd be selected: "They'll just pick another cro-magon and us midgets will be left on the side."

Although in boot camp I graduated as the platoon guide and honor man, in MCT leadership was based on your ability to intimidate everyone else. Usually the meat heads were selected and at 5'9 and 140lbs soaking wet America's PFC didn't quite fit the bill.  I wasn't holding out much hope for myself this time.

Seeing us all in the hallway Sgt. Kasal barked: "Who runs under a 285 PFT? Get out!"

About half of the guys left the room including many of the gorillas who sadly dragged their knuckles back to the squad bay with them.

"Who runs under a 295?" At the time I ran a perfect score of 300 and was feeling pretty good about myself as wannabes fell out left and right leaving about a dozen of us in the office.

"Who has been a squad leader before? Guide before?" Score for me! Only eight of us were left standing in the office and I noted I was probably the smallest one there. One of the guys had been a kick boxer before joining and some others wrestlers and just plain studs. In my memory they seemed to be tough company.

Sgt. Kasal looked out his window and said: "See that hill? See those two bushes at the top? Run to those bushes and back. The first four in my office are squad leaders….you're still here?"

Eight Marines immediately tried to exit through a doorway designed for one. Untangling ourselves we mobbed down the stairs to the foot of Mount Olympus outside the back of the barracks in full view of Sgt. Kasal's office window.

Skeletons of Marines who had gone before littered the hillside. We were heedless and sprinted upwards trying to avoid tripping over any loose bones. Little did we know Mt Fuji there suddenly took an 85 degree angle up. On our hands and knees we continued the climb. I passed nearly everyone except for the two Marines in front.

I ran through two layers of clouds before I reached the top. If memory serves I may have even seen the hole in the ozone from that vantage but I had no time to linger and took off back down the hill.

My legs felt as big as tree trunks and my knees began to bend both ways. For a while I skidded down the slope on my behind in an effort to put out the flames that had spontaneously ignited there. One of my buddies tripped and tumbled head over heels past me. I decided that mode of travel wasn't physically sound and didn't try it.

I was the fourth Marine to charge in Sgt. Kasal's office but not before I pushed a washing machine down the stairs on the Marines behind me. There was no air to be had in the office as the other three had already sucked up any oxygen there was. I was completely wrecked and would remain so all night.

We were it. Sgt. Kasal explained he expected his squad leaders to be more physically fit than the rest because we would be pushing everyone on the humps. Every day we'd hump our guts out to and from classes and ranges. If you're ever near Camp Pendleton just look at the hills. It's enough to make the average person weep. The four of us pushed and pulled Marines to exhaustion. On top of that we had PT runs before and after the hikes as well as getting our butts thrashed by the Cyborg for whatever we did wrong.

The entire time I was at SOI I remember being totally whipped and in the rack by 1900 and waking up tired. It was tougher than boot camp by far. I have never before or since so thoroughly abused myself physically.

Whew! I'm just tired thinking about it.

America's 1stSgt

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Boot Camp Letters 2

You may recall the letter I sent my parents after arriving at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego dated May 9, 1992 .

Upon arriving at the depot our first stop was at Receiving. This term is somewhat misleading as we were "received" with the same enthusiasm more often reserved for an infectious mob of plague victims.

"What are you miserable $&#@ doing here? Did you walk in the wrong hatch? Women's boot camp is in Paris Island!"

Around this time we were introduced to the famous yellow footprints. My memory of this is rather vague but I do remember hearing my inner voice trying to be heard over the booming voices of the Drill Instructors: "Just do what they say! Do what they say! For the love of…faster fool!"

Early on in Receiving Drill Instructors made us understand in no uncertain terms that even our absolute obedience was woefully inadequate and unsatisfactory. It was also when we began to learn interesting things about our fellow recruits. There was the guy who showed up to boot camp with a bag full of Star Trek magazines with him. Despite the fact our instructions stated we were to show up with tennis shoes on our feet there was the cowboy who decided his hat and boots just had to come with him. My personal favorite was the recruit with the USMC tattoo on his shoulder. Note to those who may be considering joining the Corps, nothing will infuriate your DI more than sporting a USMC tattoo when you have not earned the title.

After days of not sleeping and being unable to convince my colon that Marine Corps toilets were safe for use, we were transferred from Receiving and dropped into our actual training platoons. Thus begins training day one and brings me to my second letter from boot camp dated May 17, 1992:

Dear Mom and Dad,

I have reached recruit training safely and have since been assigned to Platoon 1039. I have one senior drill instructor and three drill instructors who are with me at all times and take care of all of my needs. I receive eight hours of sleep per night and three well balanced meals per day, therefore it is not recommended that I receive any other food items as that would upset the balance of nutrition that I already receive. I also receive one hour of free time per day at which time I can write and read letters. My address is:

America's Recruit
[Here we used to actually put our full social security number]
Plt 1039 C Company
San Diego, CA

You may notice how lifeless and banal this letter is. That is because it is the scripted letter every recruit writes home so his poor mother is tricked into thinking her son is actually at summer camp vice boot camp. Let's look at that letter again accompanied by translation in parenthesis:

I have reached recruit training safely and have since been assigned to Platoon 1039. (Where I have learned that safety is a relative term meaning "I'm still breathing" and Platoon is another relative term that actually means Gulag.) I have one senior drill instructor and three drill instructors who are with me at all times and take care of all of my needs. (The Commissars never ever leave us alone. Needs is yet another relative term meaning "shut your trap!" ) I receive eight hours of sleep per night (whereupon we are violently awakened in new and interesting ways each morning) and three well balanced meals per day (which we are forced to consume far faster than the human gastrointestinal system was designed to digest), therefore it is not recommended that I receive any other food items as that would upset the balance of nutrition that I already receive (and may incite banned emotions, like joy). I also receive one hour of free time per day at which time I can write and read letters (while the drill instructors retire to the duty hut to laugh at us).

Parents be warned. What your children experience and what you are allowed to perceive are two wildly different realities. As a mater of fact, bootcamp is infested with strange reality-warping vortexes. For instance, Drill Instructor time is different than regular lazy civilian time.

DI: "You have 30 seconds to get your gear on! 30, 29, 28, 25, 20, 15, 12, 10, 9, 5, too slow!! Take all your gear off now!"

Other physical laws of bootcamp: No matter how vehemently the DIs bellow in your ears to sound off louder, you will never be as loud as they are. Even in boot camp it amused to me to watch Recruits attempt to mollify DIs by yelling at the top of their lungs only to have DIs with spit misting the air drown them out with: "Louder!!! Looooooooooooouuuder!!!"

Once this happened to me with a DI on each shoulder attempting to enter my ear canal to ensure I heard their instructions clearly. Those instructions? Merely: "LOUDER!! LOOOOOOOOOOUDER!!!" Having witnessed this same scenario a few times already a small hot flame of rebellion somehow managed to burn through the concussive auditory blasts and my brain ordered my mouth firmly closed. I waited for the squall to pass. As the DIs stared at me a clear fluid began to leak from my ears, a sure sign of traumatic brain injury.

Finally one of them spoke: "Well?" This was my cue to speak and as soon as my lips parted they emptied their spleens into my eardrums again. There was an audible click as I clamped my mouth shut again refusing to waste my energy. When they finally caught on that I wasn't going to play their game they allowed me to speak. But by then I had forgotten what in the world I had to say in the first place.

A week later they made me the guidon bearer for the platoon.


America's 1stSgt

Friday, February 12, 2010

Ask America's 1st Sgt: Edition 2

Tankerbabe asks: I've always been confused about Navy Corpsmen being so widely utilized by the Marines as medics. Please explain any reasons/history behind how this came about. Do Marines have medics or only utilize the Corpsmen?

Additionally, it is my understanding that Navy Corpsmen are widely considered Marines by the Marines. HELP!

The Marine Corps is a component of the Department of the Navy. When asked about whether or not this is true your standard Marine response is: "Yes, we are under the Department of the Navy; the Men's Department."

Marines are naval infantry so technically we are supported by the Navy to carry out our mission. The Navy/Marine Corps team has been successfully defeating our nation's enemies together for quite some time. Perfectly illustrating this is the famous photo by Joe Rosenthal of the second flag raising on Iwo Jima. Corpsman John Bradley is one of the six men in the photograph.

We do have Combat Life Saver trained Marines but they are not medics or Corpsmen just gunslingers with a little extra medical training. I wrote a post about one of my Corpsmen and a Combat Life Saver here:

Ambassadors in Desert Tan

Within the Navy there are blue side and green side Corpsmen. Blue siders serve strictly within the Navy itself and green siders serve with Marines and are of course the superior breed of Corpsman. Blue siders hate the green side with a passion and treat green siders with more contempt than they do Marines. This is all derived from petty jealously and an overwhelming inferiority complex. Green side Corpsmen hate the blue side because regular Navy Corpsmen are sloppy undisciplined troglodytes.

Navy Corpsmen are NOT considered Marines by any means. They are Sailors and do not wish to be considered Marines which is just as it should be. Sailors have their own Naval traditions of which they are justifiably proud. Though they are not considered Marines this does not diminish the bond shared by Marines with their Corpsmen.

Which reminds me of a quick story... or three...

It may come as a shock to some that as a young Marine I used to instigate brawls with other platoons. These sessions culminated with knots of grappling bodies usually being broken up by SNCOs yelling about someone getting hurt.

Once during one of these epic battles somewhere in the jungles of Okinawa our platoon Corpsman was tackled by a couple of heathens from the other platoon.

"They got DOC!"

You might as well have said something about our mother.

Rising en mass we assaulted through the other platoon to rescue our doc. NHL games had never seen as much action as we body checked fellow Marines into the jungle floor.

Corpsmen are always out to test Marines' pain tolerance as well.

During a live fire range in Pohakuloa Training Area on the Big Island I was operating an M203 grenade launcher. During the shoot I closed the breach on the webbing of my left hand taking a nice chunk of flesh with it. I finished the shoot and handed the M203 over liberally anointed with blood.

Ambling over to the range Corpsman I asked if he could take a look at it. Dutifully he poured alcohol and other pain inducing chemicals into the wound and began scrubbing it with a cheese grater. Vowing not to let this Swabby see what kind of hurt I was in I acted bored and even managed a yawn while my brain was screaming: "This guy is grinding my entire hand off all the way to the wrist!"

On another occasion I was in the clinic at Quantico, VA preparing for embassy duty in Africa. Before shipping off to foreign lands we get our shots updated and are immunized against any and all local varieties of nastiness.

The Doc had me drop trou and proceeded to give me a shot in the rear. I thought he had merely thrown a javelin at my butt but then I heard him pick up a mallet and begin hammering it all the way in. As it passed through my pelvis I exclaimed: "Whooooooo! Doc, that tickles!"

He laughed genuinely at my humor then grabbed another harpoon plunging it into my buttocks with all the fury of Captain Ahab.

Other reasons Marines dig Corpsmen:

From the Medal of Honor citation of Hospital Apprentice First Class Fred Faulkner Lester during WWII.

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a Medical Corpsman with an Assault Rifle Platoon, attached to the 1st Battalion, 22d Marines, 6th Marine Division, during action against enemy Japanese forces on Okinawa Shima in the Ryukyu Chain, 8 June 1945. Quick to spot a wounded marine lying in an open field beyond the front lines following the relentless assault against a strategic Japanese hill position, Lester unhesitatingly crawled toward the casualty under a concentrated barrage from hostile machineguns, rifles, and grenades. Torn by enemy rifle bullets as he inched forward, he stoically disregarded the mounting fury of Japanese fire and his own pain to pull the wounded man toward a covered position. Struck by enemy fire a second time before he reached cover, he exerted tremendous effort and succeeded in pulling his comrade to safety where, too seriously wounded himself to administer aid, he instructed 2 of his squad in proper medical treatment of the rescued marine. Realizing that his own wounds were fatal, he staunchly refused medical attention for himself and, gathering his fast-waning strength with calm determination, coolly and expertly directed his men in the treatment of 2 other wounded marines, succumbing shortly thereafter. Completely selfless in his concern for the welfare of his fighting comrades, Lester, by his indomitable spirit, outstanding valor, and competent direction of others, had saved the life of 1 who otherwise must have perished and had contributed to the safety of countless others. Lester's fortitude in the face of certain death sustains and enhances the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.

If you don't love your Corpsmen then you are just all kinds of wrong.

Semper Fi!

America's 1stSgt

Monday, February 8, 2010

On military blogs and social media.

What is the impact of social media? Do military blogs shape how we view our military and current conflicts we are engaged in? Does it affect the way we communicate? How about the way we write?

I haven't the faintest idea. But I know someone who is trying to find out. Patrick contacted me recently with some questions about military blogging and my thoughts on my writing. He also contacted about 70 other military bloggers and has only received about 10 replies. This weak response was unsatisfactory to America's 1stSgt so I asked Patrick to put something together I could use to post today.

From what I can tell Patrick is researching something no one has seriously looked into before. I'll let him explain:

My name is Patrick Thomas, and I am a doctoral student in the Department of English at Kent State University. Currently, I'm conducting research for my dissertation on the role of blogs as alternative sources of information about the War on Terror, and more specifically, the writing that soldiers do through blogs-the ways in which soldiers use blogs, their motivations for writing on blogs, and how blogs have changed the nature and function of military communications.

I believe this study is important for two reasons. First, the popularity of social media (like blogs or social networking sites) has allowed for new kinds of writing to emerge at such a rapid rate that many people are still trying to figure out how this writing affects people's day-to-day lives-at work, at home, in communities, in schools, in corporate culture, etc. Why are blogs important? What motivates people to write them? Second, the sheer number and volume of military blogs suggests to me that the writing that soldiers do through blogs is an important thing for researchers to study. To date, there is no empirical research that examines military blogs or the functions of this kind of writing in the day-to-day lives and work of soldiers. To this end, I aim to use data from this study of milbloggers to argue that the kinds of writing soldiers do on blogs is important for other academic researchers to know about.

As part of my dissertation research, I am conducting email interviews of military bloggers about their blogging practices-how and why they blog, and their perceptions of their blogs' readership. Therefore, I am searching for soldiers who are currently deployed and who operate and regularly maintain their own blogs to participate in an email interview within the next few weeks. Participating in this research requires soldiers to write responses to a questionnaire consisting of 19 open-ended questions about their blogging practices and to allow me access to their blog so that I can read their previously published posts. Of course, confidentiality will be maintained to the limits of the law, and all identifying or biographical information about soldiers will be kept confidential through the use of pseudonyms.

While I cannot compensate soldiers for their participation in this study, I can assure anyone interested in participating in this study that the information soldiers provide will contribute greatly to researchers' growing understanding about how and why soldiers write and the implications of social media on communication practices in the military.

Should anyone be willing to participate or would like to know more about this study, please contact me via email at, or by phone at (330)672-1760. If possible, I would like to complete these interviews by Monday, February 22, 2010.

A special thank you to 1st Sgt. for his help in spreading the word about this project to fellow soldier bloggers. I cannot complete this project without the generosity of bloggers like you.

Many thanks,

Patrick Thomas

Doctoral Candidate & Teaching Fellow

Department of English

Kent State University, Kent, OH

I've had friends contact the university and his work is a legitimate study authorized by the University and its Institutional Review Board.

What is tightening my jaws somewhat is the lack of a response from a group of people who claim to be misrepresented by the media at large. Here is someone asking us to talk about what we do and we as a group we have ignored him. If you have received his e-mail and not responded then I declare you weak-sauce.

If you are a military blogger and have not received Patrick's questionnaire I suggest contacting him if you are interested in participating. I turned mine in over the weekend.

Man up,

America's 1stSgt

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Ask America's 1stSgt : Edition 1

Gracie from San Francisco writes: "So - 1st Sgt. - did you ever say - and I almost hesitate to ask - why you became a Marine? Knowing your writing style - I'm afraid I might be hung out to dry for asking that question - but - why did you? And, why not something else - like being a doctor or a lawyer or a fireman or a butcher or an actor? Was it 'YES!! - I'm going to be a Marine? Or were there other equally important choices looming on the horizon at that time?"

The alternative was to stay in boot camp. Forget that!

I suppose I can trace this way back to ancient times during the Vietnam War. My mother was pregnant with me and it was the night before my father shipped out to Vietnam for his third tour.

That evening they watched a John Wayne movie called Sands of Iwo Jima. In retrospect this not the best film for an expecting mother to watch before her husband marches off to war. If you haven't seen it know it is one of the few movies where John Wayne is killed storming the beaches with the World's Finest United States Marines.

As my dad left the next morning my mother rushed to the door weeping: "If John Wayne could die, YOU COULD DIE TOO!"

Dad confidently turned back toward the house: "I'm coming back," then he stalked down the sidewalk with his sea bag and woe to any communist heathens who crossed his path.

I was born while he was in country. When he came back he scooped his baby son up in his arms and I promptly barfed all over him.

By age four or five, Dad was a SgtMaj. Marines would approach me and make comments like: "There's the next SgtMaj!" or "When are you joining up tiger!" These men were all hardened Vietnam vets motivationally growling like lions grooming a cub.

One day Dad sat me down in the house and said: "You know, you don't have to be a Marine if you don't want to." This is the same man who, when I came home from preschool one day, asked what I had learned. He listened with tears streaming down his face as I recited the "Pledge 'llegiance".He always said I stopped to think about it for a moment then announced: "Okay Dad, I don't think I want to be a Marine."

Usually I tell people from that time until about a week before I walked into the recruiter's office I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. But I'd be leaving a few things out if I left it at that.

By the time Dad retired when I was 10 he had spent 33 years in the Marine Corps. Tales of his time in the service was the stuff of Arthurian legend to me. When the Marine barracks in Beirut was bombed in 1983 he was positively hostile he wasn't still in the Marine Corps. When the Desert Shield rolled around he had been fervently against the war. This surprised me as in my mind's eye he was a flint eyed, thin lipped, man killer.

One day I came home to find an American flag flying grandly in front of the house with a yellow ribbon tied to it.

"What's up with that Dad? I thought you were against the war?"

"Well son," his flinty eyes shined at me. "I guess I'm just gungy." I don't think I quite understood him at the time. I do now. The why no longer mattered. Marines were in harm's way; you could get hard or get out.

That night on the news the talk was about the impending invasion of Iraq. I remember my father ripping his wide belt off as if he we getting ready to beat someone with it.

"If we're gonna go then let's go!" he shouted slamming his belt on the coffee table. "Damn, I wish I were a few years younger."

As for me I was going to school part time at Honolulu Community College and then got a job waiting tables at a 50's diner in Honolulu called Rose City Diner. I had hair down to the middle of my back and an earring in my left year. What a dork.

The more I worked the more money I had. The more money I had the better I liked it. Soon work was more important than school and I dropped out. I was also having far too much fun than is healthy for the average human. What was important was when the next party was.

One day my dad and I were walking through downtown Honolulu when he noticed some Marine recruiters walking out of the Federal Building.

"You know, you'd look pretty sharp in that uniform son." I recall rolling my eyes and thinking it was highly unlikely I would do something so foolish.

"It's not a bad life.", he said and dropped the subject. It was the first time he ever even hinted about joining the Corps since telling me I didn't have to join if I didn't want to when I was five.

At that time the group of friends I hung out with was a diverse spectrum of people with aged anywhere from 16 to 36 years old. A couple of older guys I worked with were both in their mid to late 30's. One a waiter and the other a bus boy. I always thought they were cool because they had some funny stories about stuff they had done.

One night I remember having a small satori or moment of enlightenment. We were working and it dawned on me that they were both about 16 years older than I was and still doing the same kind of work. Did I want to still be waiting tables as a 36 year old? One guy was the stinkin' bus boy for crying out loud. He worked for me!

Shortly thereafter unseen forces began to conspire against me. I had a falling out with some friends culminating with my moving out of the apartment we shared. My mother had gotten a job with DOD schools as a nurse so my parents were moving to Germany. Another satori as I realized all my high school friends were getting ready to graduate college soon while my homeless behind had accomplished nothing and was going nowhere.

I am convinced m 61 year-old father did back flips the day I told him I had been talking to the Marine recruiter. By contrast, my mother, who had been a Navy nurse at Balboa Hospital during the Vietnam War, was in tears again. She had seen legions of wounded Marines come through the hospital during the war and the thought of her baby lying gut shot in some foreign land worried her to no end.

When I made the decision to enlist it wasn't to follow in any one's footsteps. I like to say that joining the military was my idea as it really hadn't occurred to me in over 15 years. But when it came time to pick a particular branch, do you really think it was much of a contest?

Eighteen years in and you know what?

It's not a bad life.

Semper Fidelis,
America's 1stSgt

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Not quitting my day job.

Everyone who thinks I'm still in Hawaii you are wrong, wrong, wrong. After coming back from Iraq I spent a whole two months in the States and am now back in the Middle East. Hooray!!

Actually, Bahrain is nice. No complaints here. Of course, that doesn't diminish the threat of an enemy who wants very badly to take a big wet bite out of us.

Al-Queda Cell Plotted To Attack US Base

U.S. Beefs Up Missile Defenses In Gulf

…Threat To Navy

Although not directly in a combat zone, combating evil doers is still what I do.

Specifically, I am the new 1stSgt of FAST Company stationed out of Naval Support Activity Bahrain. FAST stands for Fleet Anti-terrorism Security Team and we are part of Marine Corps Security Force Regiment.

Officially our mission is to provide limited duration expeditionary antiterrorism and security forces in support of Commander NAVCENT in order to protect vital naval and national assets. We can also conduct other limited duration contingency operations as directed by Commander, NAVCENT. We kinda do what he says operationally.

America's 1stSgt contemplates the AOR.

Throughout our Area Of Responsibility (AOR) we may be called upon to support the State Department to secure any one of 24 embassy and consulate facilities. [Bagdad] Or we could be tasked to provide maritime security to American ships, port security, or protect gas and oil platforms. When the USS Cole was attacked it was Marines from my company that responded.

The pistols were already on the door when I got here. I promise.

Align CenterThis sign is all me. I must also point out that the arrow points directly at the Company Commander's office.

Our AOR includes 20 nations with over 25 different ethnic groups, greater than 6.5 million square miles to include 2.5 million sq. miles of sea space. This area contains 80% of proven global oil reserves, 28% of oil production. Additionally, 95% of Gulf oil transit through the Strait of Hormuz.

Nice military jargon 1stSgt but what do you guys DO?

In no particular order...

Deter terrorist attacks.
Detect terrorist operations.
Defend against attacks.
Mitigate effects of terrorist actions.

We also conduct bilateral engagements with engagements with partner nations. In English that means we train with allied countries in the region.

Which is why I occasionally sign off as...

America's 1stSgt
A Living Barrier Against the Forces of Evil

Monday, February 1, 2010

Why America's 1stSgt doesn't like Avatar.

Okay, that's not true.

As a fan I enjoyed the effects, CGI, and the 3D. Plus, anytime machine guns and missiles are fired at aliens it meets my minimum requirements for entertainment. The story wasn't that great, but overall it was entertaining and a good film.


Much like scientists dislike seeing things in movies that are just not possible, i.e., light sabers, military professionals hate seeing unrealistic portrayals of combat and misrepresentation of their culture. For instance, watching 40mm grenadelaunchers in movies firing munitions that detonate like 105mm artillery shellsmakes us roll our eyes in grief. In The Hurtlocker, the characters drive all over Iraq by themselves in one HMMWV. Never happens. Personally, my sword training has ruined Conan the Barbarian forever. Sigh.

If there had been a proper First Sergeant cast in the film you would have heard off camera: "Hey sir! How about keeping your *&$#$^% finger straight and off the trigger!" Seeing people mishandle weapons like this drives us bonkers.

So what kind of beef do Marines have with Avatar?

We really didn't appreciate how Marines were portrayed as soulless mercenaries without a shred of moral character. In the film the Marines completely betray our core values for the sake of the bottom line and bow low to their corporate masters like mongrels.
James Cameron claims the main character, Jake Sully, was meant to embody characteristics of Marines. Unfortunately Sully is the exception to the rule in this fictional universe where Marines have no institutional standard of conduct and are merely on the mission for their cut of the take.
On the other hand, there isn't a Marine in the world that doesn't think being a door gunner has got the be the coolest job ever. Especially if he gets to operate this monster.

Meanwhile, in the real world, America's 1stSgt daily stresses to his Marines that their conduct off the battlefield is more defining than their conduct on it. I often joke that I have sent young men outside the wire loaded down with automatic weapons, rockets, grenades, knives, pointed sticks and have not worried about them in the slightest. Because when it mattered, when the world was watching, they did the right thing. What kept me up at night was letting them go out to Waikiki on liberty.

Of the two types of courage - moral and physical - moral courage has always been the most difficult to execute. We teach Marines that this is what defines a warrior and separates him from a mere grunt. It distinctly sets him apart from the mercenary who may be capable on the battlefield but whose moral conduct resembles that of a common thug.

I do get it though, in the movie the troops portrayed were "former" Marines who sold out to the corporation. You won't see me beating up James Cameron or demanding he apologize. It would just be nice for once if the Marine Corps as an institution (or any of the services for that matter) were portrayed for what it was.

Other instances of Marines portrayed wrongly in film and TV:

Battle Star Galactica - Marines participate in a mutiny in that series. WHAT? That would NEVER HAPPEN. Marines' traditional role aboard ship is to prevent mutiny. If they did decide to align themselves with mutineers you'd get all of them or none of them. Not some of them. That's how we operate.

Brothers - I have not seen this film but I understand the Marine Captain is forced by his Taliban captors to choose between his life and that of a Marine Private's. He opts to beat the Marine to death with a pipe. I say again, this would NEVER HAPPEN. There isn't a Captain in the Marine Corps who would do such a vile thing. Speaking for all leaders in the Marine Corps I suspect our response to such an offer would be to stare right down the barrel of the nearest AK and reply: "Shoot me then, dirtbag."

Jarhead - The author of the original book seems to have a personal problem with the Corps. Enough said. Except that I would personally beat Marines into a coma with a shovel if I caught them out in the middle of the desert firing their weapons into the air in "celebration".

Stargate: Universe - In the first episode Marines and Air Force special ops types defend their base from incoming alien fighter craft with .50 caliber machine guns and anti-tank rockets from trenches. How in the universe are military professionals using WWI tactics and weapons we currently don't even use to combat conventional aircraft against sub-orbital alien technologies? What the.?

Hey, I'm just saying if scientists get to rail on Star Trek for its blatant violation of scientific laws then I get to comment on blatant misrepresentation of my chosen profession too.

And really, where in the world is their 1stSgt during all this?

Semper Fidelis,
America's 1stSgt