Time after time I keep hearing from many future Marines that they must serve in the Middle East/combat in order to accomplish what they feel needs to get done. Somehow they feel as if deploying there means all of their fantasies will be lived out. At the end of the day what many only want is to be able to say that they deployed to Afghanistan because this fact alone in this society, during these times at those ages will make them look and feel special. Many of you may not admit this is true, but you all know it is for many of you.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that if no conflicts were ongoing for the past twelve years, then many who want to become Marines today would not even glance at the Marine Corps. But these conflicts do exists, and here we are. For many the cool thing to do today is to become a Marine, and not just any Marine, but an infantry Marine.
The following are two actual deployments by two active duty USMC infantry Marines (2009-10). At the end of the day they are both Marines, and twenty years down the road they will still be Marines and fifty years down the road they will continue on in being Marine Corps veterans. As time passes, the “who is more macho” crap goes away, and the worrying about how we are perceived also fades into the years as they pass. It is important you want to do what you want to do for the right reasons and not for juvenile reasons.
MARINE #1 0311/RIFLEMAN
He had always been motivated and had wanted to be in combat ever since I met him during his senior year in high school. He was lean and mean and looked forward to all this combat that he envisioned had existed out there. Somehow this Marine felt that by going to Afghanistan his life would somehow be complete as a Marine and as a human. It would be as if who he is would suddenly change because he would now be a combat veteran and be seen as a different person.
I spoke to him during month number four of a seven month deployment to Afghanistan. Right away I asked him the simple question of: “Is it everything you thought it would be”, he instantly replied, “NO”. He said there was rarely any action. He added it was pure boredom most of the day and night. He said he did get to fire his weapon at the enemy due to incoming sporadic fire, and because of this he will have earned his combat action ribbon (CAR), the award most coveted by infantry Marines. The enemy was at great distances and whether his rounds had any great effect, no one will actually know. Keep in mind this unit’s mission was to seek out the enemy in that particular region.
He went on to tell me how some of the platoons in his infantry company had not seen any action since being there. And many Marines lost most of their motivation the first week. The ooh-rah-kill-kill-kill motivation goes away when you realize this isn’t a game and that you are literally doing nothing for many months. He told me that when you come here thinking you are going to rack up a body count, and continually bust through doors while tossing grenades left and right, then you are just setting yourself up for a great disappointment. That type of action is very very rare these days, and if it does exist, it does not mean every single Marine will participate in it, and it never goes smoothly and as fun as you see in video games or on tv.
He told me to imagine this: A column of Marines walking down a dusty dirt path along the opium fields. It is very hot, your load is heavy, you are exhausted, your feet hurt, and you have many miles to go. From out at a distance a shot is heard and the column takes cover in a ditch/canal. You lay there for an hour or so until higher ups decide it’s safe to move on or until air support comes and does its job. Repeat this same scenario all day about once an hour and you have your basic day as an infantry Marine in this part of Afghanistan. Sounds fun doesn't it?
He said some units will see action, but it will be very brief sporadic action, and it is nothing like what you think. It is not like the You Tube videos many see, and it is not an old fashioned wild west style shoot out. There is no enemy out there who will stand toe to toe with you, so don’t expect that. It is mainly the enemy hiding out far away and when he sees you, he tries to shoot you. You duck and cover, you maybe return fire in that general direction, and life goes on.
He wanted me to tell whoever will listen that what they think the infantry is all about in Afghanistan is simply not true, because there isn’t all this combat awaiting you. In order for you to see actual combat many variables have to come into play, and it is very rare. Remember, combat is not some random round being fired in your direction.
The funny thing about this Marine and many others is that as bad as they wanted to be in Afghanistan, for some odd reason they all can’t wait to come home. How funny is that? You go from it being a must you go there, to wanting to leave that place and the sooner the better. Think about that folks.
This Marine also felt that deploying to Afghanistan was a must in order to feel complete as a Marine and person, but the USMC had other plans for his unit. His battalion was to be deployed to Japan for 6 months. Ohh the humanity. Imagine enlisting to serve in the Marines during a time of conflict and having to deploy to Japan. What in the world could he learn in Japan and why was he not going to fight in war?
So the battalion loaded onto their ships as part of a USMC MEU. Off they went, destination: WEST! While on ship they practiced firing off of the ship’s deck. From pistols, to machine guns, to rifles, they fired them and learned more about them. From hand to hand combat, to PT on the ship’s deck, these Marines were living the dream. They also learned and mastered the art of loading and unloading onto helos, and received many classes on combat procedures and tactics. While bonding aboard these ships, Marines quickly began to look forward to what lay ahead. Maybe this deployment would not be as bad as many had made it out to be.
First stop was the Philippines. Some good motivating jungle training, just like the Old Corps. Paint your face, say your prayers and head into the hot humid dense jungle just like the Marines of yesterday while using a machete to clear a path. The reward, liberty for four days. Memories that will last you forever. Next stop was Okinawa, Japan. The grueling jungle survival course awaited them, and they conquered what many had done before them. During their one month aboard Oki they learned a lot about small unit tactics, about the jungle environment, about land navigation (old school style), about jungle survival, and they learned all about ropes, knots, and about rappelling off of cliffs. There were paint ball wars in the jungle where infantry units faced off with Recon Marines and with each other. The firing of various weapons was once again accomplished, and so was the weekend liberty. To walk on the beaches where many Marines landed years ago during WW2 is indeed an honor for most Marines, and to train in some of the same jungles where they fought and died was indeed the ultimate honor.
Once loaded onto their ships again, it was time to practice some good ole USMC amphibious operations. From LCACS to AAVs to LAVs, to helos, the operation/training was to be enjoyed, as this is what the USMC was or is all about. Some Marines even got to SPIE Rig, while others fast roped or rappelled out of helo’s as the battalion invaded the beaches.
Next stop was South Korea for some more fun liberty. And from there the MEU sailed into classified operations. More training in all aspects that the USMC has to offer, and more training with the local people from various nations. They were given liberty two more times at various ports around the world and they returned home to a hero’s welcome filled with many great, sad, funny, scary, and adventurous memories that will last them a lifetime.
Even though these Marines are not combat veterans, they did experience what the actual Marine Corps is all about. Many Marines who deploy to the Middle East will never see combat, so the only difference between those Marines and these Marines is what: The right to say “I have been to Afghanistan”. At the end of the day many of you need to understand that there is a lot more to the Marine Corps then what exists in Afghanistan.
Many will argue that the USMC is all about combat, and that is where many of you are dead wrong. My proof is this: Take a look at what the USMC has also done these past ten years while being involved in two active conflicts. Combat is one part of the USMC and the USMC has been involved all around the world doing many things that are not related to combat. Yes, as a combat Marine you should want to be in combat, that is understandable. But what you need to realize is that just deploying to the Middle East does not mean you will see combat, and with all due respect much of what many call combat in the Middle East is not actual good solid combat and this has been said by actual infantry Marines who have been there and done that. In many cases it is more of someone taking a shot at you from a distance and you firing in his direction in hopes that he goes away. Or random mortars fly your way and this is your combat. Or your unit encounters an IED and now all of you can say you've been in combat. And let me make it perfectly clear: I am not taking anything away from any Marine who has deployed into the Middle East and I am not saying that combat does not exist or that it never existed in the Middle East. What I am saying is that much of the combat you may find in the Middle East these days would not be considered good solid combat by many combat veterans of past generations and it most likely is nothing like the combat you may be thinking of. Times have changed and the enemy is also very different in how he fights, so do not expect what Marines of the past have experienced.
MORALE OF THE STORY:
Marine #1 can say he is a combat veteran, but whether he feels he is an actual combat veteran is another story. And many infantry Marines never see any type of action while deployed. Yes, they have deployed to Afghanistan, but what exactly did they accomplish while there besides guard a village or an area of land out in the middle of the desert for seven months?
Marine #2 cannot say he is a combat veteran, but he has seen as much combat as many infantry Marines who have deployed to the Middle East. Not only that, but this Marine has trained in many aspects in what the Marine Corps is and has been about for many years. Training in the jungles and in amphibious ops and touring half a dozen foreign countries with liberty is indeed an event that will last him a lifetime.
Serving in the infantry can be very fulfilling and it can be very exciting at times. Like any job, it works for some and for others it doesn't. The problem is that many of you will have super high expectations of what serving in the infantry will be like and once in you realize it is not like that.
Now that we are heading back to a "peace time" Marine Corps, the only difference is going to be that you wont be deploying to a combat zone. You are still going to deploy, still going to train, etc etc, so try not to make a big deal about peace or war time. And always remember what happened in Beirut in 1983 during "peace time." Over 200 Marines were killed during a peace mission, so think about that.