Forwarded by a friend in Iraq. God bless 'em, every one!
Subject: About the Marines
Maybe it's the Christmas season. Maybe I'm just getting old. Maybe I've been working overseas in some pretty mean places just too long and would rather be driving a turbo-charged American muscle car across the Nevada desert (we all have different fantasies, right?) Maybe it's the constant news crawl on my TV set announcing another dead American in Iraq or Afghanistan. I don't know, but for the last few days I can't stop thinking about how much we owe the young Marines who protect our Embassy and how angry I get every time I hear that a Marine has died in Iraq. And today was particularly bad as CNN reports that seven Marines died in clashes against terrorists.
I don't want to denigrate any of our other fine armed services, but at State we have had a long and special relationship with the USMC. Since 1948, some of the best Marines get seconded to us to protect our diplomatic missions abroad. In addition, of course, both before and since 1948, it's the Marines who come yank us out when it all goes to hell or, as in Somalia and Liberia, or to save the Embassy from a howling mob.
In our Embassy in this rather tough corner of the Far Abroad, we get daily threats of all types; almost daily demonstrations in front of the fort-like Chancery; we shuttle about in armored cars; and have weekly "duck-and-cover" drills. We've had some nasty and very lethal bombings; we know that the bad guys are out there; they have us under surveillance; and they have lots of time, explosives, and guns.
We also have a detachment of MSGs (Marine Security Guards), all of them very young (18-23) led by a quiet but tough "old" Staff Sergeant (I doubt he's 30) tasked with protecting the Chancery building and ensuring that we follow good security practices (Note: One of the most dreaded events in the Foreign Service is to walk into your office and find a "pink slip" on your desk left by an MSG who the previous night found a classified cable left in an outbox, a safe not properly spun shut, or some piece of classified gear left unsecured. Those "pink slips" are career killers; of course, in the old Soviet GRU, one of these "security violations" was literally a killer . . . it meant the death penalty.)
Most days, however, you're hardly aware that an MSG is there: Just a shadowy figure standing inside a glass box, buzzing you through the hard line. Normally you sweep past him (and increasingly her) absorbed in your own thoughts, blabbing away on your cell phone, adjusting your tie, fumbling with papers, or just plain too rude and self-important to say "Good morning." When you have events at your house you rarely think of inviting the Marines. But despite all that, they remain cheerful, upbeat, and exceedingly polite, and exude a quiet confidence that comes from great training and dedication.
Among the MSGs at this post we have two fresh from combat in Iraq, and itching to go back. These youngsters, one 19, the other 21 (both younger than my kids!), seem genuinely puzzled when we civilians ask, "So what was it like?" They can't seem to believe that anybody would be interested in, much less amazed by hearing about coming under mortar attack or driving a truck at high speed down some "Hogan's Alley-type" street lined with crazed and armed Jihadists. They relate it in a shy, matter-of-fact manner, full of military jargon. And they want to go there, again.
Watching these guys as they pulled toys out of the big "Marines' Toys for Tots" box in the Embassy lobby and hearing their cheerful shouts of "Oh, cool! Check this one out!" I couldn't help but think, "They're kids. They're just kids. Probably not much older than the orphans to whom they'll give those toys." I kept thinking about my own kids, living safely in the States, and the fact that they're older than these kids, these Marines.
But then I went with the "kids" out to the gun range. Suddenly they became deadly serious. The "kids" disappear; no goofing around; strict discipline and concern for safety kicks in. They certainly know firearms, and treat them with respect and care. It was quite a sight to see the former "kids" deliberately, methodically pumping out rounds from their M-4s -- single shot, three-shot bursts, full auto -- punching out quarter-size groups in targets I can barely see. They don't look like kids anymore. They look like Hollywood's idea of Marines; like the actors John Wayne "led" in "Sands of Iwo Jima." Now my thinking shifts to, "I wouldn't want to go up against these guys." And for a brief, very brief moment, I almost feel pity for the poor stupid thugs in Falluja who had dared tangle with the Marines, "You jerks haven't got a chance. Just call Dr. Kevorkian and get it over with."
We all have had our days when we rant and rail against America's youth. I have heard my father's voice emanating from my own mouth: hopeless, hedonistic, rock addled, etc. I take it all back. I don't know what the Corps does to those orange-haired kids I see hanging out in the malls when I go home to the States, but whatever it is, keep doing it. The Europeans and their imitators in Ottawa, New York, Boston, and Hollywood, paint their faces white and prance around in the "theater of the street" calling for peace; they wave their oh-so clever "Bushitler" posters; and over their lattes, they decry the primitive "Red State" Americans. I know it's way too much to ask such smart and sophisticated people, but maybe they should take a moment to remember that it's these kids, these Marines from small-town America who put their own lives on the line to make all that noise and color of freedom possible. These kids, these Marines are the wall holding back the fascists of this century, and keeping the rest of us free.
Life isn't fair; the odds are not even. But I don't think these Marines would have it any other way.
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