Sunday, October 24, 2010

Iraqi Halloween

October in Iraq 2007.

Considering the season of All Hallows Eve I am reminded of the horrors endured at OP Omar on my first deployment as a company 1stSgt.

Going into the month of October the temperature had thankfully starting to drop. Which meant instead of it being 120 degrees Fahrenheit it is a mere 105. Cases of spontaneous combustion were less frequent and the weather kept to a reasonably low broil.  Iraq being the kind of place it was we didn’t expect a comfortable transition into winter but instead theorized the temp would suddenly drop out the bottom and paralyze us where we stood.

At least the cooler weather cut down on the various flesh devouring insects inhabiting our small slice of the Middle Evil. Some of you may be familiar with the humming bird sized mosquitoes found in the Carolinas or in the jungles of Southeast Asia. At OP Omar there thrived a colony of invasive little beasts composed entirely of wings and teeth. They were so insidious you didn't even realize you’d been bitten until you looked down and noticed your arm was missing.

As we crept ominously through the month of October strange and unsettling things began to occur around our area of operations. Sightings of the elusive Chupa Cabra increased. No kidding. Pilots flying in support claimed to have spotted this creature skulking through the streets of Kharmah. Seriously! What was initially reported as an attack by flesh eating zombies turned out to be a squad of Marines getting up early to stand post. Disappointed we returned to our daily routine. It was agreed by all there would have been nothing like an early morning zombie brawl to kick the day off right. There were a number of reports of the wolfman stalking the FOB but once the Company XO put his shirt back on the villagers took their pitchforks home without incident.

October 2007 also marked the founding of the Kilo Gentlemen’s Club. This exclusive association sponsored a number of activities for men of distinguished taste in an effort to cultivate a more refined atmosphere around the OP. These included mustache grooming, cigar smoking, and Chupa Cabra catch and release programs. 

Due to the efforts of Marines, schools in our neighborhood had begun to reopen much to the dread of local children and the maniacal laughter of their parents. We had given out all kinds of school supplies, toys, and enough candy to keep Iraqi dentists employed for years.  Local people were beginning to enjoy a measure of security they have not had in a long while.

Nothing like fixed bayonets to keep the monsters squarely under the bed where they belong.

Semper Fidelis,

America's Vampire Slaying Machine

Monday, October 18, 2010

Extracurricular Marine Activities

   In August of 2008, 3d Battalion, 3d Marines was conducting training exercises in the Pohakuloa Training Area (PTA) on the big island of Hawaii. We weathered the many hazards of a training evolution dubbed Lava Viper.  After having conducted Exercise Mojave Viper the year before we had gotten into the habit of snarkily naming every training event as Something-Viper. Here wild, man-eating geese, demon driven typhoons, crazed environmentalists, and bad coffee all conspired to thwart our efforts at a successful training evolution. 

   Now PTA isn’t exactly what you think it is when hearing the words “training in Hawaii”.  Palm trees, not so much.  Sandy beaches, sorry we were at an elevation of about 6,800 feet.  Truly, hearts are broken when people hear they are training in Hawaii then arrive at PTA wondering how in the world it got so cold in the middle of summer.  The landscape is dominated by over 100,000 acres of lava flows on the lower slopes of Mauna Kea. Traversing it is like stumbling across a field of broken concrete  sprinkled with razor blades and broken glass.  Just the type of place guaranteed to toughen you up. Those who have ever trained at PTA will tend to agree it may be some of the worst terrain in the world. Inside of five or six weeks you will destroy at least one pair of boots.

   In between iterations of shooting cool guns and blowing things up, someone picked up newspaper and saw an interesting article about the Bayfest event that had taken place the month prior.  The article featured the contestants of the All American Pie Competition and included a photo of one of our very own platoon sergeants taking first prize! Flanking him in the photo were two dejected ladies, the second and third place losers.

   Marine infantrymen participate in a host of rugged and manly hobbies including hunting, spear fishing, martial arts, motocross, surfing, alligator wrestling, hiking, etc.  But pie baking? Indeed it was decided only the most hardened combat veteran had the fortitude to bake pies and be successful at it.  Nothing bellowed HARDCORE like out baking housewives in the kitchen.  Such an achievement could not go unacknowledged.  We presented the young SSgt a Certificate of Commendation with a citation that read as follows:

 For exceptional performance of his culinary abilities while competing in the 2008 Bayfest Viper All American Pie Competition while serving an apple pie, lemon meringue pie, and mango custard pie, 4 July2008. During this challenging, stressful, and demanding pie making extravaganza, Staff Sergeant Cardinell performed his baking in an exemplary and highly delicious manner. His demonstrated superior pie appearance, original flavors, top quality ingredients, and extraordinary attention to crust texture served as an example worthy of merit. His efforts, coupled with a keen sense of mission tastiness, were instrumental in his earning the distinction and honor of overall winner of the All American Pie Competition and were a decisive factor in the sound defeat and utter degradation of all the female competitors including his own spouse. Staff Sergeant Cardinell's exceptionally yummy ability, initiative, and loyal devotion to creamy pie goodness reflected credit upon him and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and housewives across the nation.

   Just another little known chapter in the glorious annals of Marine Corps history.

Semper Fidelis,
America's 1stSgt

Monday, October 11, 2010

Ask America's 1stSgt: Arts and Crafts Edition

It's been a while since I last fielded any questions so I went through my electronic mail bag.

Ally asks: "What are some fun things to do with parachute cord? This 78 year old retired codger has been telling me a few things from back in the day. A few are pranks presumably played by others since he says he was a straight arrow type..."

Marines do a surprisingly diverse amount of stupid things to each other in the name of fun. Much of the time it's tried and true methods such as sending young PFCs all over creation looking for 50ft of flight line, ID10T forms, a BA-1100 November, or a box of grid squares. It just doesn't get old.

Ally's question reminds me of my first deployment to Okinawa. We lived in squad bays back then (still the best way for infantry platoons to billet in my humble opinion).  At the time we thought our squad bay had to be the coolest place on earth.  It had a vending machine which dispensed beer.  Turned out this was fairly common in Japan but it was a novelty to us. It served as our emergency stash in the event of a typhoon.

At any rate, one night my platoon decided it would be a brilliant idea to lash our three beer drunk to the top bunk of his rack with 550 cord (parachute cord).  He usually paid a terrible price for passing out so early on us.  One evening prior to our deployment he had arranged a date for himself.  Due to his poor planning he pushed his three beer threshold during the Company BBQ at the beach.  As he slept if off in the afternoon I shaved his head with clippers.  Really, I was probably doing his date a favor.

So, 550 cord, we used so much on him he was virtually paralyzed.

In the morning we awoke hearing his pitiful cries to the apparently deaf Marine posted on duty as fire watch. Have you ever watched the 1958 version of The Fly? It was kind of like that.

"Firewatch! Firewaaaaaaaaaaaaatch!" he whined struggling helplessly. "I have to PEEEEEEEEEEE!" 

If that's not fun I don't know what is.

Semper Fi!
America's 1stSgt

P.S. As a reminder to everyone, if you have any questions for me please click on the ASK link to the right or click here. No one has been sending me any inquiries for quite some time. It's a good think I don't have any feelings to hurt.    

Monday, October 4, 2010

Defining The American Warrior

   You may have seen articles in the news about U.S. Army Soldiers purportedly forming “death squads” or going on “thrill kill” sprees in Afghanistan. A friend sent me some links on the story. She wasn’t sure what to make of it and was despondent about the reprehensible conduct of the soldiers allegedly involved.

   “What does this all mean?” she asked me.

   How could American Warriors conduct themselves in this way? Are these America’s finest? Is this endemic of our so called “warrior culture?” I assure you the answer is no, but it does mean being a reprobate dirt-bag isn’t a character trait belonging exclusively to the Taliban. It’s something we all must guard against daily.

   It also means being in the military doesn't make one a warrior any more than being in the kitchen makes one a chef. I have often remarked that three months of boot camp does not necessarily repair years of bad habits or a fundamental character flaw.

   So what separates the real American warrior from those masquerading as one? What’s the difference between a mere killer and a professional soldier? Fortunately, America’s 1stSgt is here to answer those questions and hopefully shed some light on what choosing the path of a warrior is all about.

   A warrior/soldier is other-oriented and takes action on someone else’s behalf. The thug is self-oriented; his actions reflect his own self interest. He is incapable of adopting the warrior habit of thought and action as it is the antithesis of what the warrior is.

   Some who enlist or accept commissions in the armed forces will never buy in to our core values. They merely exist, stagnantly enduring their time in the military until they are discharged. They are more focused on self interest rather than self improvement. We usually refer to these individuals as “oxygen thieves.” Constantly reemphasizing proper values, leadership traits, as well as a true warrior ethos is the only way I can think of to combat this mindset. Stressing this at every level of training throughout a Marine’s career will develop wholly competent professionals in the long run.

   In the infantry we often say the formula for success on the battlefield is a solid foundation in infantry fundamentals. We preach the virtues of “brilliance in the basics” and it is absolutely on point. When we say this we often mean proficiency in the use of weapons, optics, communication, tactics, techniques, procedures, leadership traits, etc. Training in the fundamentals develops habits of thought and action that have proven successful in combat.

   Many of us in the Marine Corps have seen their troops perform valiantly in war only to comport themselves poorly back home. Developing habits of thought and action should always include an ethical and moral mindset based on our core values. When not in combat, the conditions, terrain, and appropriate actions may change but the habit of thought should not.

   Perhaps I should also define what a warrior is. Most references classify a warrior as a person experienced, capable of, or actively engaging in combat or warfare. The word is also used figuratively to refer to a person who has shown vigor, courage, or aggressiveness in their chosen activity like sports. The second definition is used more in an agonistic sense and doesn't suit our purpose here. Plus, over application of the word of "warrior" dilutes and confuses its meaning.

   I prefer the below extract from an ICS statement on the nature of a warrior:

Modern Warrior Concept

● The warrior is an individual; he is self-initiated and self-motivated.

● The warrior is a follower of the warrior path of responsibility and obligation. His following of that path underscores his individuality while stressing the importance of his responsibility as protector in his society.

● The warrior trains to become ever more capable at those combative skills that are intrinsic to the responsibility of protector. The foundation of those skills is based in his self-initiative to become more. It is inherent in the warrior that as he gains in capability in and comprehension of the principles intrinsic to the martial path, he will of his own self-initiative, seek to expand the application of those principles beyond any institutional standard. In other words, the warrior is not satisfied to stand still, waiting, being, but is constantly looking forward, to becoming.

● The warrior attempts to conduct his daily life based upon a code of conduct rooted in an innate sense of ethics, integrity, and morality. This code of conduct is not an enforced expression demanded by others, but a code of behavior that the warrior expects of himself. As with the warrior of earlier times and cultures, valor, loyalty, honor, trust, and comportment are values that are inherent. Compassion, an aspect of the “life-giving sword” (an often neglected component of martial behavior), is vital part of the code.

   So, the modern warrior concept by definition is an individual who is self-motivated to exceed an institutional standard. In the case of entry level recruits we introduce them to our institutional standard but it is up to them to go beyond that. We often tell our Marines the standard is a starting point not the goal.

   Personal morals must be the cornerstone and the foundation of becoming a warrior. Being Marines we are merely professional soldiers trained for group combat. It isn’t until we take personal responsibility for our individual training and development that we begin to embark on the path of a warrior.

   Using the example of Marines who show poor moral judgment at home despite their prowess on the battlefield, I submit they are indeed NOT warriors any more than we in the Corps consider them ideal Marines. Though they certainly share some attributes we associate with warriors they also displayed other attributes that are in complete opposition with the warrior ethos. We constantly remind our troops they do not stop being Marines when they remove their uniform on the weekend. We cannot play loose with our core values and principles and still claim to be whatever those values define.

   I regularly joke that I have sent young men outside the wire loaded down with automatic weapons, rockets, and grenades and have not worried about them in the slightest. But what kept me up nights was letting them go out in town on liberty. I stress to my troops their conduct off the battlefield is more defining than their conduct on it.

   To put it more simply, of the two types of courage - moral and physical - moral courage has always been the most difficult to execute. This defines a warrior and separates him from a mere grunt.

   Mercenaries and hooligans may be very capable on the battlefield but their moral conduct may more resemble that of a common thug. Thus they are not warriors by definition.

   When discussing warrior concepts sometimes a comparison to professional athletes is made. The adulterous conduct of various sports figures is brought up along with the statement: “What does this have to do with how good a (fill in the sport of your choice) player he is?” In these cases I would say their character most resembles that of the mercenary. They are good at their profession and do it for money. Off the field their conduct is reprehensible. This is why sponsors often distance themselves because they do not wish to be associated with this kind of poor character and lack of fidelity. I frequently tell my Marines that if their spouse can't trust them there is no reason the Marine to their left and right can either. Warriors should likewise not wish to be associated with those of low character.

   It should also be pointed out that using athletes is a poor example since they have no moral obligation to play sports. Plus their various organizations probably don't have an institutional standard of conduct that doesn't involve playing the game. However, adultery is a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Hmmmmm…

   Are character flaws correctable? Certainly, but it requires the individual to make a conscious decision and take personal responsibility for corrective action to set his foot on the path of a warrior.

   Consider this: if your actions are defined by your character flaws then you are not being/becoming a warrior. If we are not becoming better than we were, we are becoming worse. And that is not being/becoming a warrior either.

   Those of us who have chosen the profession of arms as our vocation should regard self improvement and ethical standards of conduct as an essential component of our training and development. As a leader it is paramount to pursue self improvement and to recognize our own personal training as a critical factor in developing others. Leadership and mentorship, in combat and in garrison, defines who we are as Marines and what we are trying to become as professionals.

Semper Fidelis,
America's 1stSgt