Sunday, August 29, 2010

Under the black flag.

America's 1stSgt Vents

The problem with being a Marine is sometimes lesser beings try to hobble you with their own perceived limitations.  In the case of FAST Co this takes the form of Sailors losing their minds over the day to day activities of Marines.

In Bahrain any time a FAST Marine is seen doing anything resembling training with an actual weapon we always get a phone call from the Naval Security types. "There are Marines with rifles! THEY HAVE RIFLES!" Seriously? I would trust the average Marine with a rifle over most anyone else.

Lately my favorite thing is getting calls about Marines conducting physical training (PT). It is summer in the Middle East which means it is furiously hot and in Bahrain, humid as well. In deathly fear of heat injuries no one is allowed to PT when the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature is over 90 degrees. We call this black flag conditions. In the Marine Corps units generally cancel all non-essential physical activity outside.  We immediately all go outside to conduct our own individual PT.  I have never had any issues conducting my own personal training on a Marine base in black flag.

I have pointed out to anyone who would listen that the Marines are expected to fight in black flag conditions yet not allowed to conduct simple physical training.  The initial response is usually the same: "But you can't!" Sigh, never tell a Marine he can't do something.

In World War II the Japanese commander of the garrison on Tarawa boasted "it would take one million men one hundred years" to conquer the island. It took the Marines three days.

During the Korean War the amphibious landing at Inchon was considered impossible by most American generals. The U.S. Marine Corps managed it in two days.

During my time with the Chemical Biological Incident Response Force we routinely participated in static displays of equipment or conferences highlighting our capabilities as an emergency response force. In August of 2006 we took part in a big Chem/Bio extravaganza in Quantico that included a number of various emergency response agencies, fire departments, police, and a bunch of those three letter outfits.

Despite the massive heat wave striking the continent all the vendors and various response organizations spoke to the assemblage about their capabilities and whiz bang gear they had available. Our operations officer took the podium and began to talk about what we do at CBIRF. Essentially he said equipment and training wise CBIRF didn't really offer anything different than any other organization. What we did have was the capability to get 200 U.S. Marines on the road in two hours who would do anything you told them to. This was greeted with some eye rolling and a 'yeah sure' kind of attitude.

Suddenly two helicopters from HMX-1 thundered over the tree tops heading toward the open field where the expo was taking place. On board were about 50 or so of us with full Personal Protective Equipment on either MOPP gear or Level A suits with SCBAs. The helos came to a hover and rotated 180 degrees so that their tails faced the crowd. The ramps dropped and we ran out on to the field with all our equipment.

A buddy of mine in the crowd told me later an Army officer standing near him exclaimed to some of his colleagues: "They're running in full PPE! They're running in full PPE!"

In minutes we had set up a full decontamination site, a medical triage site, static displays of all our rescue equipment, reconnaissance equipment, and all the Marines were in a formation at parade rest. On a fine August day in Virginia during a heat wave in full PPE, Marines again did what others were unwilling or incapable of doing.

This year Bahrain FAST Marines have stood over 90 days of fixed site security missions in full combat gear weighing up to 90lbs in black flag. We have not had a single heat casualty. This isn't necessarily because we are tougher (we are), but as a culture Marines lean heavily on strong NCO leadership.  My NCOs know the consequences of not ensuring their men drink plenty of water and keep any eye out for signs of heat related injuries.  Plus (here's the crazy part) we train in the environments we are expected to operate in so we are somewhat conditioned to it. 

"But you're being unsafe 1stSgt!'

Negative. Being a full fledged member of the Safety Gestapo myself my job isn't to immediately declare we can't do something simply because there may be a hazard. I will ensure there are procedures in place to help mitigate any hazards and if they are unsatisfactory then we will make the call.  I am also not an advocate of making training miserable simply to train for misery. Operations become miserable all by themselves without any extra help so I am not a proponent of sleep deprivation training or any of that nonsense just to "get hard". 

Did I also mention that my Company Gunny received a "noteworthy" result as our Company Safety Ninja in our recent CGRI inspection? I think we are doing it right. 

Sorry gang, needed to vent a little. Really, I love the Navy. 

Semper Fi,
America's 1stSgt

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Ask America's 1stSgt: What does it all mean?

The New Magoo asks about uniforms and accompanying paraphernalia.

"Back in primary school we had a project about WWII. My dad told me about my granddad and I took his medals in and talked about D-Day and tanks and stuff. I remember my teacher saying something along the lines of how a soldier's medals and his uniform can basically tell you everything you need to know about his career, if you knew what to look for.

So my question is, what can your (or any general non-specific Marine's ) uniform tell us? What does it all mean?"

In my opinion, your teacher was basically right. Everything you need to know is right there pinned on to the chest. We often refer to awards, ribbons, and badges as "chest candy". This is because it's very colorful and much of it doesn't always mean anything monumentally significant except that America likes to recognize service members with lots of bling (and that's kind of cool really). It also doesn't necessarily tell you how "good" someone is at what they do or lend them any credibility.

Here are the basics:

Ribbons and medals can tell you what parts of the world someone has been to or what campaigns they have participated in.

Korean Defense Medal -

Southwest Asia Service Medal -

Kuwaiti Liberation Medal-

Achievement medals and such can be awarded for superior performance over a period of time or for a specific act. If you see a V device on the award you know it was awarded for valor. Valor is one of my favorite words.

The Purple Heart Medal is of course awarded to those wounded in combat.

The Combat Action Ribbon is coveted by nearly every young Marine who has never seen actual combat and not so coveted by those that have.


In the later half of my first Iraq deployment we had pretty much pushed all the bad guys out of our AO. Some of the younger Marines complained they weren't going to be able to get their Combat Action Ribbon. To my proud surprise some of the slightly older Marines responded with: "Good! Then we're not doing any memorial services either."
The Iraqi Campaign Medal is self explanatory I think.


As is the Afghan Campaign Medal.


Trying to decipher what all this means could hurt your brain so I like to keep it simple. Let's stick to the awards someone like me keeps an eye out for. Certain things tell you more about servicemen than you might think.

I am always on the lookout for this ribbon.


It is the Sea Service Deployment Ribbon. It tells you the bearer has been deployed overseas. Why is this important? It may or may not surprise some that despite the expeditionary nature of our occupation there are those who put quite a bit of effort into NOT deploying. Some of us read more into the Sea Service ribbon than any number of Navy Achievement Medals. This is what I meant above when I said all you need to know about someone is right there on the chest.
In the Marine Corps, subsequent awards of the same type are displayed on the ribbon as a service star. One silver star equals five bronze stars. You can hang around and do the math if you want to but I generally equate a bunch of stars on an awards to "a lot".

On our Service A and Dress Blue uniforms you may notice diagonal service stripes we refer to as "hash marks". In the Marine Corps each stripe represents four years of service.


Other decorations include rifle and pistol badges. There are three different badges depending on how well you shoot in the Marine Corps. The only one that matters is the Expert Badge. Why? Because the Sharpshooter and Marksmen badges mean you don't shoot as well as the Experts do. In the Corps we refer to the Marksman badges as "pizza boxes". Marksmanship being so ingrained in our culture and history, walking around with pizza boxes pinned to your chest is like bearing a "kick me" sign. I would feel sorry for them if they weren't a bunch of non-shooting cub scouts.This gunslinger is sporting multiple award rifle and pistol expert badges proving he is pretty shooty. He has also spent quite a bit of time overseas including Asia and Iraq, as well as some time as an embassy guard. Look, jump wings! The lead sled on top indicates the individual is at least a five jump chump.

There are also Distinguished Marksmanship badges but if your Sea Service Deployment Ribbon doesn't have stars falling off I really don't want to hear about it. It's great that you shot up the Division Rifle Matches but those skills are probably best demonstrated on the Taliban next time.

And finally, no, there are no medals for zombie slaying. Killing zombies is its own reward.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Sgt Wrightsman Memorial, Helmand Province, Afghanistan


SERGEANT JOE L. WRIGHTSMAN
3 MARCH 1987 – 18 JULY 2010

Sgt Joe Wrightsman reported to Recruit Training Battalion, MCRD Parris Island for basic training on 16 May 2005. After graduating basic training on 12 August 2005, he reported to the School of Infantry at Marine Corps Base, Camp Pendleton. He graduated with the Military Occupational Specialty of 0311, Rifleman on 21 October 2005. After graduation, he reported to Kilo Company, 3d Battalion, 3d Marine Regiment, MCBH Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii for duty.

In March 2006, Sgt Wrightsman deployed with Company K, 3d Battalion, 3d Marines to Haditha, Iraq, where he served as a point man for 1st squad in 1st platoon. In July 2007, he deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom to Kharma, Iraq, where he served as a team leader for his squad. In April 2009, he arrived in Ar Ramadi, Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, where he was a squad leader for 1st platoon. In May 2010 he deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, as a squad leader for 3rd platoon. He was combat meritoriously promoted to Sgt effective 2 Aug 2010.

Military Schools: Basic Training, School of Infantry, and Martial Arts Instructor’s Course

Sgt Wrightsman is survived by his son Makae, his father John Wrightsman, mother Connie Merritt, brothers Michael, Lonnie, and Andre, and sisters Jomice, Tiamillia, Lillie, Trina, Shalon, Ashley and Rachelle.

Awards: Navy and Marine Corps Medal, Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, Combat Action Ribbon, Navy Unit Commendation, Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal w/ 1 Campaign star, Iraq Campaign Medal w/ 3 Campaign stars, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Sea Service Deployment Ribbon w/ 3 stars, NATO Medal, Certificate of Commendation.


PATROL BASE JAKER, Helmand province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan — A memorial service honoring the life of Sgt. Joe L. Wrightsman took place at Patrol Base Jaker, Afghanistan, July 30, 2010. Wrightsman died supporting combat operations July 18, 2010. (Official Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Mark Fayloga)



PATROL BASE JAKER, Helmand province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan — Cpl. Travis A. Riel, Lance Cpl. Michael A. Barnhouse and Lance Cpl. Joshua S. Leventhal begin a rifle ceremony to place the battlefield cross of Sgt. Joe L. Wrightsman during a memorial ceremony at Patrol Base Jaker, Afghanistan, July 30, 2010. Wrightsman died supporting combat operations July 18, 2010. (Official Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Mark Fayloga)



PATROL BASE JAKER, Helmand province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan — Cpl. Travis A. Riel, a team leader with Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, places a rifle to begin the battlefield cross of Sgt. Joe L. Wrightsman during a memorial service at Patrol Base Jaker, Afghanistan, July 30, 2010. Wrightsman died supporting combat operations July 18, 2010. (Official Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Mark Fayloga)


PATROL BASE JAKER, Helmand province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan — Lance Cpl. Michael A. Barnhouse, a team leader with Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, places a helmet atop the battlefield cross of Sgt. Joe L. Wrightsman during a memorial service at Patrol Base Jaker, Afghanistan, July 30, 2010. Wrightsman died supporting combat operations July 18, 2010. Wrightsman was a mentor and friend to Barnhouse for the past two and a half years. Barnhouse attributes the Marine he is today because of Wrightsman’s guidance. (Official Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Mark Fayloga)


PATROL BASE JAKER, Helmand province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan — Lance Cpl. Joshua S. Leventhal, a grenadier with Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, completes Sgt. Joe L. Wrightsman’s battlefield cross by placing boots and identification tags on the monument during a memorial service at Patrol Base Jaker, Afghanistan, July 30, 2010. Wrightsman died supporting combat operations July 18, 2010. (Official Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Mark Fayloga)


PATROL BASE JAKER, Helmand province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan — First Sgt. Jimmy D. Ferriss, first sergeant of Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, performs roll call during a memorial ceremony honoring the life of Sgt. Joe L. Wrightsman at Patrol Base Jaker, Afghanistan, July 30, 2010. Ferriss called out Wrightsman’s name during roll call only to be answered by crushing silence - a reminder of the loss. Wrightsman died supporting combat operations July 18, 2010. (Official Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Mark Fayloga)

My buddy, Jimmy Ferriss, replaced me as Kilo's 1stSgt back in 2008.

PATROL BASE JAKER, Helmand province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan — Haji Abdul Manaf, Nawa District governor, honors Sgt. Joe L. Wrightsman’s memory by saluting his battlefield cross during a memorial service at Patrol Base Jaker, Afghanistan, July 30, 2010. Wrightsman died supporting combat operations July 18, 2010. “His dedication will stay forever in the history of Afghanistan and will be remembered forever by the people of Nawa,” Manaf said. (Official Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Mark Fayloga)


PATROL BASE JAKER, Helmand province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan — The rifle detail at Sgt. Joe L. Wrightsman’s memorial service maintain their bearing as a departing helicopter shrouds the service in sand at Patrol Base Jaker, Afghanistan, July 30, 2010. Wrightsman died supporting combat operations July 18, 2010. (Official Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Mark Fayloga)

PATROL BASE JAKER, Helmand province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan — Mementos placed at the base of Sgt. Joe L. Wrightsman’s battlefield cross. A memorial service honoring Wrightsman took place at Patrol Base Jaker, Afghanistan, July 30, 2010. Wrightsman died supporting combat operations July 18, 2010. (Official Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Mark Fayloga)

PATROL BASE JAKER, Helmand province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan — A Marine says goodbye to Sgt. Joe L. Wrightsman during his memorial service at Patrol Base Jaker, Afghanistan, July 30, 2010. Wrightsman died supporting combat operations July 18, 2010. (Official Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Mark Fayloga)


Oh, all the comrades e'er I had,
They're sorry for my going away,
And all the sweethearts e'er I had,
They'd wish me one more day to stay,
But since it falls unto my lot,
That I should rise and you should not,
I gently rise and softly call,
Good night and joy be with you all.



Wednesday, August 4, 2010

PT! PT! EV-ER-Y DAY!


Today's offering is a collage of suffering. In our culture this is called fun.

"What time is it? What are we doing? Is this going to suck? Why is the 1stSgt laughing himself into hysterics?"


We threw a physical challenge at the Marines the other day that included various events like running around the base carrying all kinds of odd objects. The Marines got rather creative including using their belts as shoulder straps to carry water jugs and ammo cans.

"Oh, this can't be good."

And they're off!

While rough men contemplate violence the guy in the aloha shirt contemplates ice cream.

Ammo can presses.



Squad push ups. They suck.

Nothing like starting the morning off with a little light body maintenance!

Semper Fi,
America's 1stSgt