August 06, 2006

What They are Proudest of.

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A Marine footlocker plopped itself down with a ‘THUNK!’ on my porch today, with the help of a postal worker, who insisted on helping me lug it’s sandy, battered dark-green plastic self over my threshold.

The weighty locker’s arrival was not a surprise, as I had received an overseas call just days before from the young Marine Lance Corporal, a friend stationed in Fallujah, who had asked that I be ready to receive it in lieu of his wife who attends school out-of-state. There is only one correct response to that kind of request. ‘Absolutely!’

“It’s gonna be heavy”, he warned. Like I care. He and his unit are being redeployed stateside at the end of this month, having (God willing) survived 7 more months in the land of sun and fun that is Iraq. His buddy’s locker should also show up here in a day or two. I’ll drag it inside and add it to the pile of suitcases, golf clubs, book boxes and odds and ends of Marine regalia that currently litter most of my spare room.
One pair of spare desert boots sits perched atop the whole heap. There is always room for more.

I make it a point to ask them, these young men who represent the best of us, the wall of safety/blanket of security/ call it what you will, that we are so fortunate to have guarding our nation - one particular question when they come home. I fully intend to ask it of these two in the very near future.

No. It’s not the 6-million dollar question. ‘Didya kill anyone?’ They will get that one from every corner; the idly curious, the morbidly fascinated, concerned family members, those who only use it to condemn - and they each will have to respond to that question often enough for me not to ever want to add to that burden.

Many of them hadn’t heard my question before . One even expressed his amazement that ‘nobody else had ever asked him that’, and he’d been back nearly a year from his 3rd deployment in 4 years.

What I ask is this: ’What did you do over there that you are proudest of?’

To a man, they have yet to give the same answer. The first response I received, a newly-minted Sgt. was quietly honored to be put up for a Bronze Star with a V for Valor, but he never did say what he’d done to have achieved that and it felt wrong to press. Another, a Corporal, had formed a close bond with an Iraqi interpreter who worked and lived at the camp where they both worked, it not being safe for the ‘terp’ to live off base with his family.

JC, the Marine who got me involved with this ‘fine mess’ that is the Marine Corps when he began moonlighting at my store, and who I thank nightly in my prayers for granting me the opportunity to get to know these young men and women, was both proud and relieved that he’d brought his whole Squad home, SAFE, from walking over 70 ground patrols in Ar Ramadi, one of the most dangerous cities in Iraq for our troops. Most of his men even thanked him, and said JC had been a hardass, but they understood now, why.

A 23 year-old LCPL, shot once, hit by an IED in his right arm and back, and who will probably be having PT for the rest of his days, - but who willingly went out on 2 more deployments after that even though he could’ve been medically discharged - said he and his buddies pulled some young Iraqi school kids out of a building that had caught fire. All suffered some burns as a result - but they got those kids out.

A Sergeant I work with now on Base, who happens to be a gifted artist, said he felt like the time he spent with local children, handing out school supplies and the cliché but oh, so important beanie babies and candy, and just being a sort of pied piper to the little ones, was something he still carried with him and always would. (He told me that when the big kids would snatch of the smaller kids freshly distributed soccer balls or stuffed animals, he would ‘make sure’ that the little ones would get them right back!)

Another Marine, who left just this Friday on his second deployment, said the first go ’round he and his men ’adopted’ one special little girl and they checked up on her, and made sure her family had things they needed. They were always hospitably received, and he raved about the goodness of their hot chai and warm bread! He is hoping to be able to hear of/see her again. Long shot, but….
One’s unit laid the most communications equipment/cable in the history of the Marine Corps. Endless miles of the stuff. Yet another made sure his men got what they needed, supply-wise, becoming quite proficient at wheeling and dealing with both the locals and other logistics folks so that his unit didn’t have to go lacking, ever. One time one of his CPLs busted a file cabinet that he’d been putting together for a higher-up, who was furious. In a panic, the beleaguered CPL came to him to pay for another, but the PX was all out. It just so happened that the filing cabinet was the exact same one he himself had bought earlier in the week, though, so he gave the CPL his, gratis. Assembled and ready to go.


Some knew their answer to my question right away. Several gave me their responses a day or so later, after they’d mulled it over. I thought it spoke to their achievements in the sandbox that they had so many things to choose from that it took some thinking to single out the ‘best’.

I came into this from the outside world, having a Dad who served, but no one currently. These Marines I’ve met through my work; either off, or now on, Base. If you ever wonder about the young troops of today, and whether they have what it takes to commit and fight, and achieve victory in this War, I can answer that by asking myself my own question:

What am I proudest of?


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