Thursday, August 14, 2014

Sometimes you get what you asked for.

Kilo Company, 3d Battalion, 3d Marines. Camp Liberty, Kuwait, 2008.

Having finally been relieved of our duties in Kharmah we had managed to catch a flight out of Al Taqaddum, Iraq and arrive in Kuwait. There we sat on cots and ate our fill of fat pills at the DFAC until we were called up to continue on the next leg of our journey.

Each company in the battalion was on its own timetable and flight schedule. Every day another company would arrive as we transitioned back to the home of the brave. One night the India company commander came storming into our berthing area. He approached my CO with great concern flapping and pacing as if on fire: "They switched our ULN numbers! We gotta get this fixed!"

I have no idea what ULN means but each of us had a line number which translated to a seat on a chartered flight home. Somehow our company's roster and India's were switched. We had India Company's ULN numbers which in the short term meant we were scheduled to fly out on India's flight. They had been scheduled to get back to Hawaii first and would arrive a day before us. On paper, we now had their flight.

"We gotta get this fixed! They have the wrong ULNs!" Perspiration rolled down the India Company Commander's face as he waved his roster around. The idea other Marines might get home before him was an indignity he could not allow. My CO, always cool, replied: "It's alright. We'll take care of it."

This wasn't enough for India. He continued to gyrate and fuss. My boss had to calm him down some assuring him we weren't interested in beating him home. His histrionics were amusing. After he whirled out of our berthing my CO turned to me.

"Tell that bitch to be cool," he smirked.

"Be cool honey-bunny," I replied.

We got the rosters straight and India Company boarded it's precious flight. The plane broke down in Shannon, Ireland and had to be repaired. Though Shannon isn't a bad place to be stranded, a number of spouses and family members awaiting their Marines were not amused. Nor was our battalion commander at the shenanigans of Marines turned loose in the land of Guinness and fine Irish whiskey.

As the days passed, the rest of the battalion landed at the flight line in K-Bay.  Every day the word changed on when India Company might get back. Seems there wasn't enough duct tape and bubble gum to keep their plane air worthy. I sat on the beach drinking locally brewed beer chuckling to myself.

Finally the day came when India Company returned home. They were delayed of course. Instead of landing at the flight line in K-Bay the plane had to stop in Honolulu first. I don't remember the exact circumstances surrounding the stop but I remarked to one of my fellow 1stSgts we could have sent buses over the Honolulu International and brought the Marines back faster than it was taking them to tinker with the bird and fly it over the mountain to K-Bay. We came back some hours later to finally greet the returning Marines days after than they were originally scheduled to come home.

The lesson here? Getting your panties in a was usually just ends up in a mess of wadded up panties. Karma hates wadded up panties.

Semper Fidelis!
America's SgtMaj

Monday, August 11, 2014

Airborne Adventures IV

Jump week. Ft Benning, GA 2003.

Really, Jump Week should be referred to as "bench week" as we spent most of our time sitting on the most uncomfortable benches ever constructed with a couple of parachutes strapped to us. These were purposely designed to cause such discomfort, everyone joyfully boarded the plane without complaint just thankful to be moving again.

As we filed toward the bird in stick order, our lead airborne instructor, a Sergeant First Class and the jump master, grabbed me by the shoulder saying: "Oh no, you're my Gunny. You're going out the door first." Dick. 

As we took off and headed toward the LZ, one of our other instructors was lounging near the open hatch we were to hurl ourselves out of. He casually remarked: "Gunny, you're usually not so quite. All of sudden you don't have much to say."

"I'll have something to say when I get on the ground," I managed.

Everyone is supposed to count up to four one thousand after jumping. I guarantee every first time jumper in this picture is actually shouting: "Ohmygodohmygodohmygod!"

So there I was, watching trees zip past beneath the open hatch of the plane. There were a number of things the first guy out had to do. I hadn't bothered remembering any of them as I was always somewhere in the middle of the stick and always concentrated on being a guy in the middle of the stick repeating commands and doing what I was told.

One at a time each member of the stick would check the gear of the guy in front of him. If everything was good to go he would smack the man in front of him in the behind and shout: "All okay!" This was passed all the way to the front to the first man. The guy at the front of the stick (me) was supposed to knife hand the jump master and shout a predetermined phrase indicating everyone was  squared away and ready to go. For the life of me, I could not remember what in the world that phrase was.

"Everything's cool man!" The jump master shook his head in the negative.

"All's well dude!" This was also unacceptable.

"All ready to go!" Each of these were punctuated with my knife handing the jump master who finally produced a resigned look on his face.

"Ok jackass, how about, 'all ok Jumpmaster.'"

"Yeah, that one!"

It was a long week.

Semper Fidelis!
America's SgtMaj

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Teach the children well

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away I was in an airport on my way to a new duty station. I had just flown from Hawaii to the fine soft winter weather of the east coast. As soon as I got off the plane, another Marine and I changed over into our Service Alpha uniforms. These are sharp looking duds which harken back to WWII and beyond. In the Marine Corps it is SOP to check into your new unit in Service A's.

Cutting dashing figures, we hung around the concourse waiting for our ride to the base.  Noticing our excellent profiles a young boy saw us and exclaimed to his father: "Look dad! Soldiers!"

"Yes son," the father replied. "But those are a special kind of soldier. They're Marines."

It's always refreshing to see responsible parenting in action.

Semper Fidelis!
America's SgtMaj

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Returning Warrior Brief

Upon returning from our 2007-2008 deployment to Iraq all of us were subject to what we call a returning warrior brief.  The idea is to prepare the Marines minds for the transition from a combat zone back to civilization.

I remember sitting in a theater in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii blandly listening to a parade of subject matter experts brief us on their particular cottage industry. The fact I can't remember anything they talked about is a testament to the impact of their subject matter and their method of delivery.  Most of the people speaking were civilians, few were military, none were even from our battalion. I later remarked to our battalion SgtMaj it would made more of impact if the battalion leadership had given most of the classes.

Two speakers from that week of classes stand out in my mind. The first was a local civilian gentleman who lectured the Marines about not coming back with the 1000 yard stare.

"You're home now. You're safe," he admonished us. He almost seemed angry.

He was immediately followed by a Honolulu Police Officer who briefed us about local crime and recent spat of sexual assaults on service members. A taxi driver was injecting drunken service members who got in his cab and would have his way with them.

This contrary news irked me and I wanted to stand up in the middle of the theater and shout: "The guy before you said we were safe!"  As it was I had to content myself with merely smacking myself on the forehead with a combat boot.

Imagine young Marines grappling with the hypocrisy of being told their combat mindset needs to be shut off back home yet remain Marines 24 hours a day. We tell them to conduct themselves as ethical warriors at all times yet only apply their warrior skills in combat. What nonsense.

After a few days of listening to this stuff I held a company formation and let the Marines know my personal opinion on the matter. I reiterated the nuggets of good information which were passed and I also noted the falseness of being told they were safe yet to keep an eye out for threats within the same hour. I reminded them the terrain had changed from the battlefield as well as the form in which threats presented themselves, but how we evaluated a threat did not. We couldn't respond with pen flares and machine guns but the mental tools were still there to use. 

"Maybe I'm screwed up," I said drawing my pocket knife. "But don't think I don't walk around evaluating whether or not I'll have to use this on someone."

Ball tickets, check. Dress Blues, check. Switchblade, check.
The average civilian will read that and quite possibly be horrified there are Marines on the street who think about possibly using violence on a daily basis. I tend to disagree considering the number of predators prowling the streets right now with the full intent of committing an act of violence.  Having some well trained good guys around seems like a good idea to me.

 It offended me Marines with a bias for action were being told to stuff their vigilance in their cargo pocket. We always tell Marines there is no distinction between a "field" Marine and a "garrison" Marine. If that's the case then using tools hammered into them in order to survive a combat deployment are the same they can use to survive weekend liberty without incident.

I've since encouraged my Marines to use those tools daily and have found it tends to have a positive result both on and off duty. Go figure.

Semper Fidelis!
America's SgtMaj

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Fear not! I am indeed alive.

"KNOW, oh prince, that between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the gleaming cities, and the years of the rise of the Sons of Aryas, there was an Age undreamed of, when shining kingdoms lay spread across the world like blue mantles beneath the stars—Britain, Nippon, Burundi, Eire, Iraq with its dark-haired women and cities of insurgent-haunted mystery, Australia with its breweries, Bahrain with its shadow-guarded tombs, Mongolia whose riders consumed obscene amounts of vodka. But the proudest kingdom of the world was America, reigning supreme in the dreaming west. Hither came America's SgtMaj, a Marine of renown, black tempered, bright- eyed, rifle in hand, a leatherneck, a smart ass, a swordsman, with gigantic blarney and a gigantic hole under his nose, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his combat boots."

 Rumors the hordes of darkness over ran the perimeter of the Castra Praetoria and left it burning in the ether are untrue. No really, I'm still here kicking evil doers in the taint and performing other exploits. Various projects, commitments (stupid day job) and just plain lack of material have kept me away from my post this summer.

 You may take my excuses for what they are, but sleep peaceably knowing I am back on my watch, writing.

Semper Fidelis,
America's SgtMaj

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Another ho-hum day for a swordsman.

Behind my desk in my office is a rack of training gear which includes basket hilt swords, bokuto of various sizes, shinai, mokuju, and even a jo stick.  I like to think it makes a visual impact on anyone entering my office.  Truth be told, I do get some perverse pleasure when I overhear Marines whispering about all that, "crazy $#!@ behind SgtMaj's desk."

Plus it's handy to have nearby when counseling sessions turn ferocious.
Last drill the Reserve Bn Commander asked me if I really knew how to use "all that $H!@" or if it was just for show. Discretion being the better part of valor, I decided a live demonstration was not in order and merely replied: "Of course I know how to use it."

I prefer training in a traditional Japanese battlefield system as opposed to other "martial arts" as I'm mostly interested in putting steel on target. The cultural aspects are unimportant to me.  I'm infamous within my koryu for mispronouncing Japanese names of various kata and concepts. For me it's a warrior thing vice a cultural thing. You won't find me doing a lot of grappling or MMA type of training as those are just not my interest. Again, it's about putting steel (or lead) on target.

The other day I was wearing a t-shirt from the Spartan Training Center when I walked into a sandwich shop. I was wearing a light jacket that obscured the text printed on the upper right of the shirt. The young lady at the register said:

"Do you mind me asking what your shirt says?"

With a smirk I lifted open the lapel of the jacket so she could read: 

It's not about making them tap out ... it's about making them BLEED OUT.
Her eyes got big: "Are you a fighter?"

"I'm a Marine."

"Oh, that makes sense then."

 Semper Fidelis,
America's SgtMaj

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Airborne Adventures III

The first week of training at jump school is known as ground week. This is because the Army teaches troops how to fall down in a proper military manner by having everyone hurl themselves into the deck for five straight days.

In order to land safely students must master the Parachute Landing Fall (PLF).

Ocorrding to the Wikipedia link above, the PLF is properly conducted thusly: "While landing under a parachute canopy, the jumper's feet strike the ground first and, immediately, he throws himself sideways to distribute the landing shock sequentially along five points of body contact with the ground:

    1.    the balls of the feet
    2.    the side of the calf
    3.    the side of the thigh
    4.    the side of the hip, or buttocks (as a side note, keeping your head out of your 4th point of contact is highly recommended)
    5.    the side of the back (latissimus dorsi muscle)

After days and days of falling down I noticed I was developing bruises along my lats. I took this to mean I was doing it right. Unfortunately, Ground Week was the first time I ever felt older than the young fire breathers.

At one point during ground week we practiced falling off of something known as the lateral drift apparatus.  This contraption was essentially a short zip line. Students would grab on to the line and jump off a 3 or 4 foot platform. Barreling down the zip line, they'd let go and execute a proper PLF into the pea gravel below.

Feet and knees together dirtbag!
You may note in the picture above everyone is standing in a line along each side of the apparatus. As the line progressed students moved down hopping to their left with their feet and knees together in a PLF position. Keep in mind students were expected to run everywhere they went as well. Punishment for deviating from this routine was to execute a set of pushups. This is because, Airborne!

We spent an entire morning colliding into the planet. Gravel and spittle flew as students crashed into the gravel again and again. I must have executed 1000 perfect falls that morning. Each time I landed I immediately leapt up and ran to the end of line then obediently hopped to my left until it was my turn again.

After lunch we went right back to training. I discovered that sometime over chow my body decided it would no longer participate. Try as I might, I could not execute a proper PLF to save my life. Hurdling into the gravel, my arms and legs went in all directions and my body rolled into a sloppy heap of wet laundry. Frowning, the Black Hats shook their heads in quiet judgement of my unsatisfactory performance.

Young, 18 year old Joes continued to execute flawless PLFs. Leaping up out of the gravel like resurrected phoenix from mythology, they sprinted back into line as fresh as they were this morning. In contrast, my performance was getting uglier and uglier as I bounced like a crash test dummy. I  was just plain beat and realized I was probably unlearning everything I'd trained to do all morning.

My mood began to reflect my energy level as I stopped caring about ridiculously jumping around the stupid training area in a proper PLF position. I deliberately walked throughout the rest of our lateral drift high impact training session. I figured any pushups levied would take less out of me than hopping about like a dumb ass jackrabbit in the pea gravel.

Strangely, none of my Airborne instructors demanded their tribute of pushups for my open rebellion.

Semper Fidelis!
America's SgtMaj