Runaway Marines

There comes a time in every person’s life when the thought of running away from the things that are causing them the greatest amount of stress crosses their mind with a great intensity.  Many Marines wistfully speak of the day when they will say, “Fuck this silly shit,” put down their pack, and walk away; never to be Devil Dogged, Hey Marined, or Hard-Chargered for the peaceful remainder of their remaining years.  Unfortunately, this is not as easy as it sounds.  Recruiters, Drill Instructors, and other…ahem…motivated individuals will often explain to Marines, mainly through high-volume, intense oral communication methods, that one cannot simply walk out on their Corps.  They will throw words like “deserter,” and “traitor” around with an aggressive ferocity normally reserved for the men they are trained to kill (or American football fanatics…yeesh).  In their eyes, walking away from the Marine Corps is as bad as sending the enemy a text that says, “like omfg u guyz, unit is totes 3 klicks west lmmfao XD #allahackbar” while urinating on a Medal of Honor recipient’s corpse.  Walking away is kind of a big deal.  There are fines to think about, possible jail time, harassment from local law enforcement and military communities, and a whole mess of other garbage no one wants to deal with, so most of us take it on the chin like a true bitch and put up with the dangerous nonsense until our contracts run out.  There are some, however, who do not put up with bullshit and do exactly what so many of us have thought so much about:  They walk away.

My first experience with someone ditching the Corps was, of course, at boot camp.  They had warned us since we stepped into that white van* that smelled like dick sweat that if we tried to run, we would not make it.  The San Diego police were always on patrol around MCRD looking for escaped recruits.  Allegedly.  Supposedly.  Okay, looking back, believing that the SDPD would have the time/manpower/funds to specifically patrol for wayward Marine recruits seems pretty stupid.  Whatever, recruits are dumb, they believe everything.  This alleged, semper-vigilant populace was sometimes the only thing standing between many recruits and sweet, sweet freedom.  It didn’t always work.

When my platoon made it up to Edson Range, we soon found out why team week away from the officers was a bad thing.  Our Vampires (guys that worked the chow hall before breakfast hours) were supposed to be day sleepers, but they were IT’d instead.  All day long.  Before the second day was through, the had changed from Vampires to Zombies.  By the fourth day, one of them had had enough.

The recruit waited until the DI** was asleep, changed into his green sweatpants and sweatshirt with “1055” stenciled in shoe polish, packed his plastic camouflage gym bag, and made his way towards the highway.  An SUV quickly pulled over and gave him a lift…right back to the main gates of Pendleton where he was snatched up by PMO.  We never saw him again.  They told us he was being kicked out and would be fined and probably jailed and yada yada bullshit lie yada.  Some guys do get away though.  I have never met one, but they do exist, apparently.  Regardless of their threats and lies, we heard from an MRP recruit that he was in SEPS platoon and was going home with an Entry Level Separation.  He escaped but was captured, tagged, and freed.

My second run-in with a runner was on Okinawa.  I was working on an engine rebuild when out of nowhere two PMO walk by escorting the whitest and skinniest dude I have ever seen.  He was wearing PT gear, handcuffs, and a shit-eating grin, and by that I mean his teeth were literally doo-doo brown.  The PT gear was a necessity as he had sold all of his uniform items and was required to report in wearing something devil-doggish at the very least.  I mean, come on, you can’t just show up to meet your new CO and not look fabulous amirite?  He did have some pretty nice shower shoes, though, I have to admit.  They were the kind sailors buy, you know, the ones with super thick soles that (hopefully) keep your toesies out of the pissy-semenfest they call a shower on ship?  Yeah, those.  After an awkward introduction at the barracks, I learned that he had gone UA right after his MOS school.  For six months.

By the time he had graduated Motor T Operator school, he was already bored with the whole “Marine thing.”  He had seen the shoddy leadership, deficient training methods, and all around garbage for what they were and decided that going home was a better expenditure of his time and efforts.  A few weeks after he was supposed to be on Oki, a local law enforcement representative appeared at his door to warrant him up, but his father agreed to forget his whereabouts until the officer gave up and left.  He did not come back.  For the next six months, he continued on with his life as if the Corps never happened.  Then, one day, he got bored.  He had been arrested several times since he went UA but his warrant never showed up on the local blotters.  The last time he got himself locked up, he admitted to being a Runaway Marine.  They did not at first believe him until he phoned his very pissed off recruiter who confirmed he was in fact missing.  He said the Chasers (guys who transport detained people) were actually pretty cool and didn’t really care as long as he didn’t try to run and kept his mouth shut (I am still not sure if they were appalled more by his grammar or rotting teeth).

Several weeks later he found himself stuck on an island in Japan in a company full of people that didn’t like him from day one.  My command hated him because he went UA, was a filthy dirtbag, drank underage, looked terrible in uniform, and gave absolutely zero fucks about Marine shit.  The thing they hated about him most was his ability to run a <16:30 3-mile without breaking a sweat or being out of breath.  THAT shit pissed them off like nothing else could.  Nothing says “Fuck You” to a group of senior Marines like shitting all over their PFT scores like it’s nothing.

The thing that I thought was so weird about him was that eventually he became the Company Pet.  Although I’m sure he was barred from reenlistment, after a while they seemed to treat him with a lot of respect for a guy that they so often verbally berated for being a quitter.

-AAVPOG

*I didn’t take the bus, but that story is for another time.

**We had only one DI for three weeks straight, but that story is also for another time.

Note from S: Sorry about taking so long to publish your article AAVPOG

On To Bigger, Better Things: It Really Does Get Better

Before I get into how and why shit really does get a hell of a lot better, I’ll write a little about the VA and why it is so difficult for many of us to seek help from that system.

 

Walking into a VA hospital is a coin flip for every veteran who suffers from, well, anything really.  On one side, you might flip heads and end up with a great doctor who will check your records, listen to what you have to say, give you an examination, run some tests, and assign to you the medical treatments that you will require while being a professional.  However, some of us flip tails and end up with…substandard healthcare.  I don’t mean that you will either be treated like a hero or a villain for life, I mean every time you walk through those doors, your experience will be different.

 

If you spent any amount of time in the Marines, you know that everything comes from the lowest bidder.  The doctors at VA hospitals are no different.  There are many men and women in the system that are very genuine in their pursuit of helping sick and injured veterans, but of course there are also some that are only there to enhance their careers.  Many of them are fresh from college, which is good and bad.  They lack experience but have all of the modern knowledge…which is also a two-sided coin.  I’m not trying to go all Harvey Dent on you, but it really is a coin flip at every turn in the VA system.  Some of the more experienced doctors have vast reserves of information in their heads, but have become so jaded by scams and “advice” from above that they will treat every patient as if they are only seeking a drug connection (that is, unless the patient is over 70).  The nurses are…well, honestly your nurses will either be sweet as pie and full of sunshine and rainbows or complete bitches who don’t give a shit because “ugh, *tch* I’m on break.”  Males included.  Some guys bitch about the “foreign” doctors, but they are just as professional and courteous as any other docs you’ll meet.  The best help I have received came from two Pakistani doctors, so pay no attention to the racist/nationalist bullshit from our older, less enlightened brethren.  Some of the older guys and patients with hearing loss ask a nurse to basically interpret, though.  If you get a doc with an industrial strength accent, the nurses will be ready to answer your questions.  I have met a couple guys in group that had to request another doc because they couldn’t handle baring their soul to a guy who looks and sounds eerily similar to the men they fought against.

 

And there are the pills…

 

If you suffer from chronic pain, be ready for one of two things to happen:

1.  You will be treated with respect and dignity while receiving the help you need for you injury.

2.  You will be treated like a common criminal.

 

You will likely get the medications you require to kill the pain and allow you to function as a productive member of society.  However, some doctors have become very jaded by their years of doctoring and dealing with addicts and will therefore use extreme scrutiny when considering your individual needs.  Some of them will ask you what medications you want as a test to see if you jump right to opiates, which will lead them to believe you don’t need the meds, you’re just a filthy, lying goddamned junky.  When you are standing in line at the pharmacy window, you will very likely find out why this is because loud mouthed shitbags exist in the VA system as well and they have no problem bragging/complaining to you about their “score.”  Yeah, you have to deal with shitbags in the civ div, too (fuckin’ frowny face and shit, man).

 

The mental health side is just as messy, if not worse.  Mental health care has become a trial and error process of seeing what chemicals are less likely to put you down for good.  There are now over 300 different *cough*bullshit*cough* diagnoses that can be given to anyone, whereas there used to be only a handful (which included female hysteria and drapetomania…and that’s your cue to google those two terms by the way).  Again, some docs will ask you which medications you would prefer to weed out addicts.  If you request that they NOT prescribe you anti-something pills, you will likely be prescribed something anyways and receive a “voluntarily refused treatment” statement on your medical record if you choose not to use them- a form you have to sign in order to continue receiving health care from the VA.  Any time you don’t follow their advice, you have to sign another one.  The system is usually pretty clogged up with red tape shit like that.  They are required to prescribe pills because that is the new thing to do and apparently therapy wasn’t cost effective (but was in reality very effective for veterans).  Appointments are usually a few months apart and are very difficult to schedule sooner unless there is an emergency.  The chemicals do not begin to work for two to six weeks and sometimes make things like PTSD, depression, and suicidal thoughts/tendencies to intensify.  SOP for worsening symptoms is to stop taking the medication immediately and contact your doc for a replacement, leaving a several-week time span where the veteran is extremely vulnerable and sick before they can ever see someone who can help them.  When they go back, they are given a different chemical and the process repeats until they find something that doesn’t make the problem too much worse, succumb to their ailment, or get very pissed off and find their own way to deal (this last one is not recommended by professionals).

 

That all being said, the system does seem to do more good than it gets credit for.  I once ended up with acute pancreatitis (I would suggest avoiding this if at all possible) and they helped me avoid losing that inflamed little bastard.  When I had nowhere to sleep, they hooked me up with a local mission, who in turn, due to an unnecessarily intense confrontation with the manager, pointed me towards the hotel our VA uses to house transient patients.  Their substance abuse programs are pretty useful.  I haven’t eaten any strange medications or had more than one beer since February of 2013 and I was shitfaced nearly every day before that.  Without the alcohol, my depression eased up a bit.  Enough that I decided to stop taking anti-pills.  That did suck at first; coming off of any brain-altering chemical will be awkward at the very least.  Separating myself from my old friends/bad influences helped A LOT.  The group sessions they hold are often very eye-opening.  When I was in the inpatient program, they had classes every morning and a group session before and after lunch, then another class.  Group was held by the head counselor-guy and was usually a motivating speech then whoever would talk about whatever, the conversations centering around positivity and letting go of the things that truly do not matter.  After these talks, I would always feel better about some ass-chewing or bullshit game because I had realized that it was almost always due to shoddy leadership instead of a personal failure.  It gives a lot of intelligent insight into how and why people become assholes.

 

Many of the most useful things I learned there came from other veterans who had made far poorer choices than I and for much longer.  There were retired officers and SNCO’s with cocaine and crack problems.  Bad ones.  Alcoholism was present in nearly everyone, but there were people that were addicted to meth, heroine, pills, eating, shopping, sex (seriously, the most honest addicts you will ever meet are sex addicts), and even success.  That is a real thing by the way.  Several guys from my local VA are literally addicted to gaining a fortune then losing it all so they can get it back over and over.  This happens to people on both sides of the law.  Most of them never touched the harder shit until after they got out, which kind of has to be expected.  Be prepared, however, as you may hear some stories that will curdle your spermicles and make you think to yourself, “holy shit how the fuck are you even alive right now?” or “wow, dude, you really should be in prison right now” and those aren’t even the war stories.  Shit will make you sick sometimes but you have to sit through it to get a proper perspective on how truly flawed our system is.

 

They feed you.  It is food, and it…um, has nutrients?  Sometimes it has taste, but most of the time it will be hospital food that is very easy to digest (its all soft and bland).  It’s hot, it’s free, and it’s always on time, so you can’t really complain.  To quote Alfred Matthew Yankovic:  “Just eat it.”

 

Job placement services are available to any veteran who wants help finding a good/better job.  Inpatients can get part-time to full-time employment within the VA doing things like laundry, painting, landscaping, and other manual labor jobs while they are being treated.  It is a good way to save up a little cash so that when you’re treatment is through you can find a place and a vehicle.  Some VA’s have on-site or nearby group homes where patients that have completed the program can live and work.

 

Normally there is at least one VFW representative in the hospital somewhere.  Even if you haven’t deployed to a war zone or seen combat, they will help you file your claim and work with you if you are having legal troubles.  There are sometimes volunteers who come in to help veterans with financial woes like bankruptcy, losing their home, or the almost obligatory bad credit so many of us tend to accumulate.  They will even do your taxes if it is February – April for the free.  These fine folks, the VFW and volunteers, will help you buy a fucking house!

 

Many of the employers they can introduce you to are very awesome people who want to hire you.  It may be a little bit of blind troop worship, but use it to your advantage because if you don’t, a shitbag will abuse it until they no longer accept us.

 

Education benefits are the easiest thing to apply for, and they will help you with that, too.  If you have had problems with school due to anxiety, depression, PTSD, or something similar, your docs can pull a string or two and keep your instructor from dropping you due to absence or tardiness.  That “string” being a letter stating that you are seeking assistance for a disability and they must accommodate your illness’s unfortunate side-effects.

 

It can be difficult for many of us to even walk through those doors for the first time.  The “only shitbags go to medical” mentality follows some of us for life, stripping us of the willingness to seek out medical help until it is often too late.  Horror stories of bad experiences with staff, treatments, and policies ruin some peoples’ opinion of VA healthcare, but those stories often lack the important elements of truth and perspective.

 

I didn’t know what to expect when I walked into a VA for mental health and substance abuse help.  I mean, I knew where to go and what the buildings looked like and all of that because I grew up there; my ma worked around the VA for most of my life and I had been in and around just about every building.  The anxiety I experienced was very intense for the first couple of hours, but that was mostly due to the fact that the mental health ward was once home to the bed where, as a child, I watched cancer slowly turn my grandfather into a 70-pound skeleton.  That realization later helped me a little bit by reminding me how bad things can get when you replace someone’s instinct for self-preservation with John Wayne Macho Bravado.  I wasn’t sure how the doc would react or how the other personnel would treat me:  were they going to be dicks like the old, jaded docs, or calm, understanding, and willing to listen and help.  They were definitely in the latter category.

 

Counselors helped me figure out what my problems really were instead of just ticking off symptoms on a checklist and tossing a diagnosis my way.  This was a huge step.  It is hard to fix yourself if you don’t know what is wrong.  Medications are for treating symptoms and are used for sustaining stability.  Therapy and getting it all out is the cure.  For some at least.  It appears that many of us depart the Corps with some demons, and an exorcism of sorts is often in order.  I found my outlets in art and beating the ever-loving shit out of an old heavy bag.  Painting something horribly violent, disgusting, or ugly helps me focus.  Tits work also, but making pretty things has never really been my thing.  Being an addict, however, is often a life-long ordeal, so many people just trade one addiction for another…or several.

 

Instead of drinking, I hobby.  I hobby my ass off.  Old, broken things are easily acquired for the cheap, and I find a lot of crap to fix in order to stay busy.  If something is broken or looks like shit, I feel obligated to immediately fix and improve it if I can.  It took me a while to realize that this was not a fault and should be used to my advantage.  The counselors helped me get back into school and even offered to help me with homework if I had any.  I had already finished all of the prerequisites like readin’ and ritin’, and in auto tech there isn’t much homework, but the sentiment was there, and I appreciated the crap out of it.

 

With my mind slowly beginning to work properly again, I was able to concentrate in school and take the next step and find a job.  After a few unsuccessful attempts at working around a large number of people, I found a part-time job as a janitor.  Already being fully trained (and possibly over-qualified), I was hired on and have been skat…cleaning buildings for about a year, which is the longest I have held a job for a while.  Those of us who have problems with anxiety (and no shame) should look into janitry:  It is easy, relaxed, quiet, and above all else, nobody fucks with the janitor.

 

Employed and doing well in school, things were looking better.  I slowly weened myself off of anything stronger than ibuprofen until I was off prescriptions altogether.  I waited a few months to tell my doctor about this because I figured he would come down with a case of the Butt Hurts, but he instead was not only supportive, he told me that is their goal.  The doctors and counselors want to see us off the medications because they know how harmful they can be but are required to issue them – if we have improved that is.  My counselors were initially against me stopping my medications but once I showed them that I was getting better, they were much more supportive.  It needs to be noted that you should never simply stop taking your meds and think that shit will magically get better.  If you aren’t ready to change, dropping your meds will only hurt you.  It needs to be done gradually and with a good amount of control.  You can’t take a double dose to make up for having a bad day or because you have an important interview, it ruins the progress, and you can’t just stop for a few days and then start taking them again when you start feeling like shit again because they will take a while to kick back in and by then you could be anywhere from perfectly fine to permanently confined.

 

So, unnecessarily long story short, I’ve held a job for a year, stopped drinking, got released from death by prescription, gained my physical and mental health back, and earned an associate’s degree in auto tech.  Sure, plenty of people have accomplished much, much more and against much greater and dire odds, but it was my struggle and I made it my bitch.  For now.

 

Some of the most important things I learned from all of this:

 

-Alcohol and drugs are not the answer.  A couple of beers or blunts now and then between friends who are celebrating a victory or an accomplishment is perfectly healthy, but getting wasted to relieve stress or forget about your problems is counter-productive, depressing, and potentially dangerous.

 

-Talk to someone.  Believe it or not, there is at least one person in your life that WANTS to hear your story, and you need to get it off of your chest before it crushes the life out of you.

 

-Keep yourself busy.  When you are in the Corps, you are almost never truly “bored,” you just spend a shit load of time waiting.  There is always something that needs to be done, and even if you spent the majority of your time avoiding said thing-that-needs-to-be-done, your mind was occupied.  Without the constant use your brain is accustomed to, it will find things to occupy itself, those things often being negative memories or other triggers.

 

-Find someone to talk to.  This doesn’t mean you need a girlfriend, boyfriend, fuck buddy, friend with boobs, or that guy you met through Craigslist’s casual encounters section that swears he just wants to watch you play with it a little, it means have another person around that will listen.  Family members, spouses, and old friends can be hard to talk to because they do not understand, so you may have to adapt and overcome by getting yourself a good dog (hey man, worked for me).

 

-Death won’t help.  Killing yourself will not end your troubles, it will ruin the lives of everyone around you instead.  If you have children, they will be scarred for the rest of their lives and will feel at fault or that you are doing it to punish them.  If you are married, your spouse will feel like it is their fault for not loving you enough.  Your parents will feel like they are to blame.  Your friends?  They too, will think they were the cause of your demise.  The guys and gals from your old units?  Yep, them, too.  They will feel terrible because, “I should have known but didn’t.”  I have been unfortunate enough to have been on several sides of this confusing octahedron, and can tell you that every side is just as awful.

 

-Talk it out.  Tell your story.  If you don’t trust anyone enough to listen, write it out.  Find a pen, pencil, marker, crayon, finger-full-of-shoe-polish, half-frozen cat turd, whatever.  Scribble that shit on a pizza box if you have to.  Burn it into your neighbor’s lawn if you want, I don’t care,  just get your story out.  Grab a keyboard and pound out a few words here on this very site if you can.  (Have I stressed the importance of talking about your problems yet?)

 

-It gets better.  It really, truly does.  The world may seem like an endless ocean of shit, but you have to keep swimming:  The Shit gets thick and sticky, but that just means you have to push a little harder to get through it.  The Shit may confuse you at times or obscure your view of the goal, but you have to wipe it out of your eyes and keep pushing onward and upward.  The Shit gets heavy, but you have to push it off your back and keep going.  The Shit gets deep, but you can’t let it suck you down.  The Shit can seem to suck the life right out of you sometimes, but you have to keep kicking your legs and pushing that shit out of your way so you can breath and move on.  Don’t ever let The Shit keep you down.

 

 

 

-AAVPOG

On To Bigger, Better Things: Old Habits Die Hard

The ER folk were nice enough to ensure that my official diagnosis included the words “heat stroke” so that my supervisors couldn’t question it and were forced to deal with their plant’s shady conditions.

Still awaiting approval from the company’s health insurer however, I had nowhere else to go but the VA for help.  I explained to them the basics of what had happened:  I lost my shit and worked myself into a nice, healthy heat stroke.  They immediately began the guessing game of throwing random pills at me in a feeble attempt to find a combination that worked, much to my disappointment and gastronomical discomfort (that went on for seven years).  Note to anyone going to the VA for mental health issues;  just say no to drugs.  Chemicals are for extreme cases, therapy often works much better and will not turn you into a sad zombie with a slowly rotting digestive system.  I felt so sick the first couple of weeks that I called in enough to lose my job and things quickly started to get out of control.

A good friend from Okinawa offered me a place to stay for a while in another state, so I took him up on the offer.  It turned out that he was having similar issues dealing with acclimating to the 1st Civ Div and hating the VA‘s endless bullshit.  The job market around there was limited due to a large auto manufacturer closing its doors, making it difficult to even get a job as a clerk at a video store or gas station.  After a couple of months, my savings were almost exhausted and I made the horrible decision to move back home around family and old friends.

To be honest, moving back in with the family wasn’t all that bad at first.  It was cheap and…well, it was cheap and I was broke.  Sure, there was little privacy, but it would only be for a few weeks, a month at best.  A few part-time jobs and an entire year later, I realized I was stuck.  Trying to move seemed impossible as it was prohibitively expensive and brought guilt trips that would make a recruiter tear up with pride.  One of the worst parts of living in a house full of needy females with no permanent male entity in their lives…the guilt trips.  Guilt works on the depressed like nothing else, probably due to the incredible amount of it already present.  If you come from a close-knit family, you know how difficult it can be to “leave them behind to fend for themselves” as they often put it.  Having a suicidal family member does not help this, like, at all (if she offs herself, its your fault for not being there to prevent it, apparently).  It felt like moving on with my life would be turning my back on everyone I cared about.  Again.

Trying to deal with shitty jobs, selfish-asshole family members, keeping myself clean, and generally hating life again was getting to be too much.  I eventually said “fuck it” and started hanging around the only people who took an interest; my old high school friends.

Know how your recruiter and all those SNCO’s kept screaming about how your buddies back home aren’t doing anything but playing Nintendo and popping out welfare babies?  It is, for the most part, bullshit.  Some of them might be doing the same shit they were when you were kids, but many of them have upgraded, for better or worse.

My best friend was The Dro Man.  Not a regular connect, but the guy that stays on Baskin Robbins status (31 flavors – from Poor to Coma quality).  His circle of friends was full of familiar faces who accepted me and didn’t ask a lot of questions.  Partying was generally a big part of that life, making attendance at bars, clubs, concerts, and parties essential, as was sampling the products for quality control and proving your legitimacy by consuming large amounts of booze, weed, and hallucinogens.  Cocaine made random appearances, but was mostly looked down upon in our circle.  Alcohol helped desensitize my anxiety but also destroyed my speech filter and removed my ability to closely monitor my actions while using it.  There were some decent looking ladies around who loved to party, but they were definitely not the kind you’d want to spend more than a few hours with if you have a decent amount of intelligence in you.  Run-ins with thieves, thugs, and gangsters were common, as were special guest appearances by LEO’s with and without warrants (SURPRISE!).  Getting pulled over several times a week gets old very fast, especially when they start addressing you by your first name before they even get a chance to see your ID.  That is when you know it is time to slow your roll.  Long story short:  Some shit went down, a house got raided and trashed, a dog caught a flash-bang to the face, and prison sentences were barely avoided.

The problem with…um…retirement…was that people tend  to not believe it.  Years have passed and I still run into people who ask me if I can hook them up with someone or some dumb shit like that.  I never  directly sold but they still ask because I’m guilty by association.  Several times within the first year of his retirement he had his door kicked in by people who thought he still had pounds and stacks.

This is where I go off on a tangent:  Look, I know it may seem exhilarating to put your boot through someone’s front door and order them flat on the floor with your weapon pointed at their head, but you shouldn’t brag about it to your civilian buddies, or anyone for that matter.  Until you have been on the other side of that experience, you will never understand how fucked up it is.  How would you like it if you were curled up on the couch with your old lady (or whatever you call the gal that lets you put your thing in her)  about to get some and out of fucking nowhere the door flies open and there’s some random asshole standing there pointing a shotgun at you?  You like to sleep, right?  What if you were peacefully sleeping off an epic hangover, only to be woken up to a big, black, metallic cave being aimed into your eyes?  Know how you like to get your drink on and play some Call of Duty with your pals on the weekend?  What if you were sitting around having an awesome time and several large men kicked your doors in and pointed gun barrels in your faces?  That would be kind of fucked up, wouldn’t it?  (Yes, I see the humor in a former marine playing a combat-simulation game while being robbed at gunpoint.)

Note:  Robbers usually leave when they realize there is nothing to be taken but an old xbox and an early 90’s big-screen with a busted housing.  Keep it simple, guys.

Most of the time when shit went down it was relatively tame, like some guy that just wanted to snatch some nonexistent green or imaginary, rumored cash.  It only got truly dangerous once, and it had nothing to do with drugs or money.

I was outside on the front porch attempting to cleanse my palette of some sub-standard alcoholic beverages via regurgitation when this great big fat person appeared and began demanding that I bring her the racist expletive who…something or another.  I was pretty drunk and had no idea what the fat harpy was screeching about.  All I remember was her dropping N-bombs like it was trendy or something.  Anyway, I felt some shit hit my face, like someone had thrown a handful of glass at me, and all sound faded in a split second.  The door opened and my buddy was standing there for a second before yelling something and slamming the door as sparks flew off of the screen’s frame.  Trying to figure out what hit me, I looked at the house and saw there was a small hole surrounded by a broken kind-of-circle where the siding had shattered.  Thinking to myself, “what in the absolute fuck is going on here -”  I heard what sounded like a balloon popping but much louder and saw a couple more holes appear in the house, sending more shards of dusty siding towards me.  I then theorized, “well, shit.  I think someone might be shooting at me.”  A quick glance to my left confirmed that someone was definitely crouched down in an improper kneeling position attempting to put rounds into my chubby tummy and/or grizzled melon.  I turned and found the closest cover I could find – a car.  Pulling the handle as the windshield exploded forced me to realize two things:

1.  The goddamned doors were locked.
2.  I should find better cover because this fucker was still shooting.

A few holes appeared in the garage as I sprinted towards the back of the house but none of them hit me, proving my brother’s old hypothesis that I could be extremely fucking lucky sometimes.  At the back of the house, I ducked behind the fence and waited in the dark for whoever to pop around the corner and catch a Spyderco to the jugular, but no one followed.  The sounds of car doors slamming shut, an engine rapidly increasing RPM’s, and tires breaking traction told me they took off, so I ran back up front to make sure everyone inside was alright.  They were.

Local law enforcement popped in to say hello, take selfies, police-call brass, take measurements and statements, and tell me that the round that hit the house next to my face missed my grape by a couple of inches at best, which was reassuring (thank goodness for terrible marksmanship, amirite?).  A couple of phone calls revealed that the shooter was someone’s ex’s sister’s boyfriend’s something’s someone’s…whatever, look it doesn’t matter; his old lady caught a few man-slaps from an ejected, disorderly partier earlier in the evening and he wanted to avenge her, I dunno, honor or something.  Because, you know, murdering a stranger is totally fine if they slapped your gal, I guess.

It took a lot to wake me up.  Even being shot at by random strangers didn’t seem to bother me enough to make me want to get away from that type of situation.  Sure, I couldn’t sleep for a while and carried my .45 everywhere, but it could have been worse I suppose.  It took hitting what I felt was rock bottom for me to take a step back and observe.

Drinking always left me a little depressed at the end of the night.  Some nights much more than others.  Most of the time I could force myself to pass out or find something tiring to do, but occasionally I would find myself extremely intoxicated and unable to do anything but think.  Thinking for too long led to a downward spiral of disgust and hate for the careless, irresponsible asshole I thought I had become over the years.  Things that wouldn’t bother most people stuck out in my mind as red flags that signaled how fucked up I was.  Stuff like Aryan Nation biker dudes immediately assuming I was a skin head.  I had gained over 70 pounds since my EAS and looked like ape shit.  That head Carny offering me a job on sight.  My old “respectable” friends would no longer be seen with me, even the few friends I made in the Corps began to shy away from me and after a while, completely broke contact.  It’s not as if I ever stole anything or cheated anyone, I was just given the “he’s a lost cause” treatment and dismissed.  I understood that sometimes you just have to cut toxic elements out of your life.  My home life got much worse over time.  I kept up the bills and house maintenance type of shit and stayed away for the most part, but would still catch family members speaking ill no matter how much effort I put into helping out.  My education was getting pushed aside for work, family and social obligations, ruining my GPA.  Relationship problems with females only added to all of that garbage.  I would sit and hate all of that for hours on end, trying as hard as I could to keep it together and figure out what exactly in the hell I was supposed to do to fix it all.  Anxiety attacks became more and more intense as time passed, and it became very difficult to control myself when I was alone and inebriated.  I eventually came to the genius conclusion that eating every pill the VA prescribed me and whatever else I had lying around and then dying was a good idea (it was not).  Luckily, my rotten bastard of a gut forced every last pill, beer, buffalo wing, and sloppy film of bile from my insides in a glorious, forty-minute salute to projectile regurgitation and painful dry-heaving.  It wasn’t the first or last time I thought about killing myself, but it stuck with me, like a sign that it wasn’t my time and that I needed to push on for some reason I won’t understand.  Soon after that I found myself needing a place to live again, and with the encouragement of a few friends, forced myself to nervously walk into the VA and ask for help.

Next Time:  It Really Does Get Better

Hazing and the “New Corps”

“The measure of a man is what he does with power.” – Plato

 

My feet hit those adorable little yellow footprints in January of 2002, and from T-1 all the way up until my EAS in 2006, I heard “New Corps” at least five times a day.  It always amused me to see 19 year old kids and 30 year old men complaining about how the world was going to shit because they couldn’t IT a 17 year old boy barely out of high school for forgetting to shave.  I was issued “old school” woodlands which required heavy starching and ironing in order to make them look sweet.  I was issued black leather boots that needed to be cleaned, buffed, and polished every night and touched up throughout the day.  Most of us took a lot of pride in our uniforms and the hours of maintenance that came with them.  When the spiffy new digital camouflage utilities emerged, nearly every Staff NCO, NCO, and Senior Lance began having meltdown after hilariously embarrassing meltdown, screeching and wailing like meth-addicted banshees about how ri-goddamned-diculous it was that they weren’t allowed to starch or iron them.  And the boots!  YOU CAN’T SPIT SHINE THEM??  WHAT THE FUCK??  MY MARINES WON’T HAVE SHINY FEET??  NOOOOO!!!  All ending with violent fist shaking towards the heavens and a moon-shattering “DAMN YOUS NEW CORPS!! DAMN YOUS ALL TO HELL!!”

 

It, uh…It got intense.

 

Digital utilities and the new boots meant, in reality, less time spent on starching, ironing, and polishing and more effective camouflage.  Marines who were not issued Marpat were so confounded by this change that many simply refused to wear them, until units began officially making them the uniform of the day, to try to preserve their status as “old school.”  Boots were buying old utilities and jungles in attempt to fit in and be “Old Corps.”  It was beautiful. [single tear forms before I force it back in like a man.]

 

Everything that was updated, changed or different was immediately terrible and was blamed on this “New Corps.”

 

Civilians running the Chow halls?  Damn that New Corps!  Drill Instructor gets removed for spraying a recruit in the face with windex?  Damn that New Corps!  Changing the way the Rifle Range is scored?  Damn that New Corps!  Getting rid of 5-tons so Motor T has to learn about 7-tons?  Damn that New Corps!  We have to sit through another Safety Brief/Stand Down?  Damn that New Corps!  Most often it was basically “Troop welfare is better than when I was that rank…FUCKING NEW CORPS!! UUUUGGGGHHHH!!” (with or without violent, childish tantrum-kicking.)

 

Many Marines never open their eyes enough to realize that at one point, this “New Corps” was blamed for making them trade in their trusty M-14 for a POS M-16, a musket with balls for a rifle with cartridges, and a horse for a tank.  Speaking with WWII, Korean War, and Vietnam veterans will provide much insight into this, as they all will tell you about Marines who bitched about the “New Corps” or “Kinder, Gentler Marine Corps” when they served.

 

Point being:  Progress and change in the Corps are viewed as dangerous, unnecessary, and coddling.  When the AAV was originally scheduled to be replaced by the AAAV (aka EFV) nearly every 2141 and 1833 complained about the training that they would need if that happened.  Instead of being excited about receiving a faster, safer, and overall better piece of equipment, they all blamed this new technology (which was never instated) for the decline of their beloved Corps.  Their “logic” was:  “Marines don’t need air-conditioning in a combat vehicle!  Quick-disconnect parts are for bitches!  That 25mm Bushmaster isn’t as cool as my m2 and mk19, I don’t care if it CAN hit a target in 6 foot swells from a longer distance, I don’t need no dang ole’ electronics helping me shoot!  Going 35 knots isn’t much faster than 8, that’s a waste of power!  These vehicles being easier to diagnose, repair, maintain, and operate will lead to my Marines becoming complacent and turning into shit bags!”

 

By far, the most hilariously stupid use of New Corps Blaming was unleashed upon anyone mentioning the hazing policy.  I came in several years after the original order was instated and there were still Marines who claimed to not fully understand it.  It was a fairly simple order;  Incentive Training was for recruits at MCRD’s only, no public humiliation, no physical assaults, no consenting to being hazed or abused, and punishments must make sense.  For example:  If he is late for formation, the Marine stays late that week or has to be in early the next week to write an essay so that he knows what he did wrong and how to fix it, instead of forcing him to PT which would only add to his exhaustion and teach him that he can fuck up all he wants as long as he can keep up with whoever is running him.  If his uniform looks like dusty ass, he should stand several uniform inspections until he has proved that he is competent in that area of Devil Doggyness.  If his room looks like six hobos held an epic fisting orgy overnight, he should lose his weekend to a proper Field Day (Chinese if there is mold or is an extreme case).  If he is a fat body or cannot pass a PFT, extra PT should be used to fix those deficiencies, where an essay or uniform inspection could not.

 

There is often a good amount of debate between Marines as to what type of punishment fits each offense.  A common misconception is that extra PT will solve any problem by teaching Marines that physical pain is the result of making a mistake.  This is incorrect.  It teaches him that he can get away with being a poor quality Marine as long as he can exercise well.  Some argue that it is better to take a Marine out to the tree line and beat some sense into him than to “ruin his career with paperwork.”  This does not teach him to correct his deficiencies, it teaches him that it is acceptable to assault someone when they make the wrong choice, there will be no official repercussion if he does, and that he can be a failure as a Marine but still stay in the Corps because he has a clean record.

 

Some types of hazing are fairly innocent, and like many Marines, I have no problem with those.  Tasking a young devil with finding an eight pound bolt stretcher, some grid squares, blinker fluid, or 50 feet of shore-line is not humiliating, but it does show him that work can be sacrificed in order to play games.  Inside jokes help form lasting bonds, every adult realizes that.  Including the new guy in those inside jokes helps him acclimate to the environment and feel like part of the team, especially when he can include someone in the joke later on down the road.  Pranks that don’t waste time and resources and do not result in someone being injured or humiliated are fine in my opinion, and I doubt many Marines would disagree with me on that.

 

Tradition is often cited as a reason for allowing hazing.  A notable tradition being the NCO Blood Stripe ceremony.  When a Marine is promoted to Corporal, he walks between two rows of senior NCO’s who each punch him in the shoulder to “make the rank stick” and knee him in the thigh, creating a line of bruises that are supposed to mimic the scarlet stripe on NCO and Officer dress blue trousers.  Marines are taught in boot camp that the Corps uses the blood stripe to remember that 90% of all Officers and NCO’s were lost during the Battle of Chapultepec in 1847, and this ceremony is supposed to honor that.  In reality, the losses were much less significant (7 out of 400-450 men) and the Marine Corps borrowed the blood stripe from the Army in 1840.  Freshly promoted Corporals often have trouble walking for at least a day after this pointless, historically inaccurate ceremony, and a few have formed blood clots that have endangered their careers and lives.  If we are going to have traditions, let us at the very least make sure that they don’t make us look like fools.  If you want to congratulate your brother for being promoted, shake his hand like a man.

 

As for as the “tradition” argument; the Corps has never tolerated hazing.  Before the current order was instated it was just called an Article 93 (Cruelty and Maltreatment).  Putting a new name on and bringing attention to an old problem does not make the Corps weaker or softer, it helps address an existing issue so that future Marines can have a better Corps than you did.  Children that were abused are more likely to abuse their own children, and the same goes for Marines.  If we don’t work together and stop making the same mistakes our predecessors made, the Marine Corps will never be the elite organization that we all wanted it to be.

 

tl;dr – You are always boot to someone who thinks you are ruining their Corps.  Don’t be a dick and ruin it for everyone who serves after you.

On To Bigger, Better Things: Assaulting the Civilian World

The disclaimer *your experience may vary* should be attached to every Marine Corps picture, poster, social media post, commercial, and Recruiter.  Four years of on and off severe alcohol abuse and depression due to horrible and sadistic leadership failures were not what was promised, but that is what I got.  When your recruiter promised you all of those outstanding training opportunities, remember how he said that they would transfer towards college credits?  Like everything else he told you, that is a lie with a little kernel of truth tucked firmly inside.

 

Transition Assistance classes taught me how to see how many college credits my training would translate to, and it was horrifying.  I had been through basic and advanced vehicle maintenance courses including electrical, hydraulic, pneumatic, fuel and emissions, diesel diagnostics and troubleshooting, tracked suspension, and maintenance and complete overhaul for engines, transmissions, PTO’s, winches, electrical components, and hydraulic components.  Unfortunately, there was no complete survey done for my MOS school’s basic or advanced courses, so I was awarded zero translated credit for learning more than most diesel mechanics with an Associate’s.  When I learned about this, I spoke with my peers then brought it up to a superior that we should find a way to get the survey group to work with the school towards awarding credit for the training we received.  I almost expected a “good initiative Devil Dog, Marines could benefit from this” I got an ass chewing about how selfish it was for me to bitch about not getting college credits merely because I was about to EAS.  Explaining that I did not know about this deficiency in our training programs until then was useless and only resulted in a longer and more motivated ass chewing for being insubordinate and talking back to a superior.

 

When my terminal leave date came around, I grabbed my papers, changed into civvies in the head, which was now a bathroom again, and hit the road not caring what I was going to do as long as I was done with that bullshit.  I had enrolled in some classes at a community college back home, but I had about a month until school started and wanted to drift.  My first couple of weeks were spent on my brother’s couch.  He didn’t seem to mind.  We were never close friends despite growing up in the same bedroom, but he seemed genuinely more concerned with my mental health than with my plans for the future.  I brushed it off at the time as him being a senior NCO in another branch more than a big brother looking out for me.  I went back to my home town and moved back in with the Mama until I could find a place.  Going to the community college to get books and an ID, I was informed that my GI Bill paperwork had been lost and then found, but that it was too late by the time they got it in and I was unable to receive my benefits for that semester.  That shouldn’t have been a problem as long as I could get a PEL grant or something, right?  Actually, no, you made too much money last year as a Corporal, so you cannot receive a financial aid to go to school.  For the first seven days of the semester, I would have still been on terminal leave, making me ineligible the Illinois Veteran’s Grant, which would have paid tuition.  No problem, I’ll just get a small loan and – I’m sorry, all of our spots are filled but you can come back towards the end of the semester and register for the fall if you want.  Okay, fuck, well, I can always go on unemployment and get a Joe job until then, something low key, really easy with no bullshit to deal with.

 

Unemployment was awful.  It is nowhere close to enough to make the bills on your own, even as a bachelor.  I moved into a trailer on an old guy’s property (less than five and its not a trailer park!) with my buddy because I could not afford it alone.  Four months of hardcore job searching and resisting the urge to burn a great big fat-ass joint later and I end up working as a machine maintenance/operator guy person in a factory for $16/hour.  Not bad for someone with almost no official education going into a non-union position at the time.  It wasn’t that I was overly qualified however, it was mainly due to the unemployment office’s veteran’s coordinator, who was a Chief and a recruiter for a Big Ten college and knew nearly everyone in town who worked in personnel management.  It was a pretty decent job, and allowed me to move into much nicer digs the day my second paycheck hit my hands.

 

Somehow though, I was extremely unhappy.  I had everything I had been wanting for years; a decent paying job where I don’t have to deal with being micromanaged, a nice place with my buddy, and all the freedom I could handle.  But I didn’t feel…right.  I didn’t feel like I belonged in the civilian world, or anywhere.  I knew I didn’t belong in the Marine Corps any longer and that nothing would ever get me to go back, but I  felt like there was no one I could relate to anymore.

 

Civilians didn’t understand.  They didn’t understand why I gave them a dirty look while I picked up that piece of trash they threw on the ground next to the trash can.  They didn’t understand why I paused so often and chose my words carefully when talking about the Marine Corps, using words like “appropriate” instead of steal.  They didn’t understand why I had to excuse myself and walk away when I was pissed.  They didn’t seem to understand why I would be upset when they would wipe off the equipment with a greasy rag instead of washing it off with soap and water, or why I would bring them five extra pairs of ear plugs for their tool box if they weren’t wearing any.  I ended up downplaying my time in the Corps by saying, “it was okay most of the time,” or “it wasn’t all bad,” which are both very similar to the things said by abused spouses and children.

 

The questions they would ask were the worst, as they brought up all of the random, awful feelings right back but with much more intensity and regret.  If you are a civilian and meet a veteran, please do not ask them a lot of questions.  Most of us really just don’t want to talk about it, we are out and want to leave it behind us.  Now that I am thinking about it, here are some questions that you should avoid when speaking to a veteran:

 

Did you have/get to kill anyone?

If you ask this question:  Fuck You.  That is an extremely personal question that brings up the feelings associated with ending another human being’s life.  Anyone who answers this question with “hell yeah, it was awesome blah blah…” is a liar or has severe emotional problems associated with combat.

 

Did you ever watch anyone die or get shot/blown up/vaporized?

This is very similar to asking if they have killed someone, and should be avoided.  Do not prod a veteran for information about a fallen comrade, it is disrespectful.  If they trust you enough to tell you about it, they will volunteer the information when they are comfortable.

 

Did you have to deploy/go to war?

This one is seemingly innocent, but it also brings up all of the horrible things that Marines have to go through before, during, and after deployments.  They do not want to think about these things because they can be emotional triggers.  Marines that did not deploy often feel as if they haven’t done their job as a Marine by going to war and dying.  The workload on rear-element units are greatly increased and they have minimal personnel with which to accomplish their mission and are often treated with much less respect despite their efforts simply due to them not being in a unit when it deployed.  Again, if they want to talk about it, they will tell you.

 

Did you lose any close friends?

The short answer to this question is always going to be “yes.”  Everyone loses friends, but not everyone wants to talk about it.  We have all lost friends during training accidents and to IED’s, enemy attacks, car accidents, murders, or suicides.  We generally don’t want to think about it, just like you.

 

You seemed to have not liked it, did you get kicked out or something?

You talk shit about your last job, did you get fired or something?  No, most of us have not been kicked out, we decided to move on with our lives.  Many, MANY people that wasted their youth in the military absolutely hated it, and they weren’t kicked out.  Even if they were, it was likely the result of them standing up for themselves or because a service-connected condition forced them to be retired or caused them to behave inappropriately.

 

Other than my room mates and the few devils I kept in touch with, I didn’t have a social life.  Bars were no fun because I hated crowds and didn’t drink, as were concerts, festivals, fairs, and probably even the circus I suppose.  I played a lot of PS2 and worked a lot of shifts.  I did everything I could to keep my mind off of my buddies back in the Suck who were deployed but couldn’t shake the feeling that I was doing nothing to help and that that fact made me a shitty excuse for a Marine.  I couldn’t shake the feeling that maybe those asshole SNCO’s and NCO’s were right after all…I mean…some of my friends from high school are literally doing the exact same shit they used to, except now they do it in bars and have added more bad habits like snorting cocaine into their lives.  Some of them have never left the state, let alone the county, and have never held a job.  What else were they right about?

 

Sleeping was nearly impossible.  I was used to getting less than six hours per night for the past four years, but when I got out it was as if I could never sleep for more than four at a time if I was lucky.  I could work four days in a row of 12 on 12 off shifts only sleeping three hours after work and on my days off still could not force myself to pass out for a full eight hours.  When I could fall off, it would be so deeply that my room mates could not wake me by shaking the bed and I would wake up freaked out but never knowing why.  Instead of seeking help, I self-medicated with sleeping pills to help me rest but then needed caffeine to keep wake me back up.  My back was bothering the shit out of me but I wanted no part of the VA so I kept a shitload of Excedrin and Ibuprofen around to minimize the migraines, which also kept me awake but unable to do much.

 

The insomnia and depression caught up with their friends anxiety and agoraphobia and had themselves a goddamned field day one night while I was at work.  I had been stressed out over some disputes between my room mates and was exhausted and dehydrated from working a week of 12 and 12’s in a 110+ degree factory and the utility workers they kept sending me were worthless, forcing me to do my own job and theirs all night.  After eight hours of working non-stop pushing 1/2 ton boxes around and running blazing hot machines without a break while trying my best not to think about how worthless of a human being I had become for leaving my brothers behind and being incapable of even settling immature arguments between room mates and being so goddamned sad all the time, my brain started to shut down.  I had just grabbed my thousandth cone-cup of water from the Culligan bottle next to my machine and took a sip, then a black spot and I’m kneeling in front of the machine after running the shutdown sequence, then another black spot and the machine is shut down and I’m trying to find someone but there is no one around, then yet another black spot and I’m wobbling towards the lunch room and finally see another employee.  He nodded as I made eye contact and I tried to say something but could not speak.  My mind was so cloudy I couldn’t even think of what words to say to this stranger, so I put my shaking hand up I was trying to tell him he shouldn’t be going any further.  He stopped and looked at me a little side ways and asked me what was up, but I couldn’t even grasp a word from the cloud to convey what was wrong and couldn’t remember what gesture to use, so I shook my head “no” and opened and closed my mouth a few times to show him I was attempting to speak but had lost the ability.  A few moments of confused, wordless posture changes and shuffling later, I was able to pluck the word “nurse” out of the air in the form of a mono-syllabic inquiry.  He gestured for me to follow him so I nodded vehemently in the positive as he led me towards the cafeteria.  Water was drank while I waited for whatever was going to happen to happen, and a while later my supervisor walked in looking very serious but not angry.  I managed to point to my temple and push out “I don’t…the, talk” and shaking my head in a nervous panic.  I could barely feel my hands and my chest felt like it was being crushed between two skyscrapers.  I could not catch my breath, my lungs only took short, shallow, shaky breaths.  My heart rate could be felt in every part of my body including my eyeballs, I could almost see it and I felt like my blood had been infused with static electricity.  I could not shake the feeling that I should either sprint out the door and never stop running or destroy everything and everyone around me.  I felt like an animal that had been backed into a corner and was fearing for its life, yet I was in an extremely safe environment and in no danger whatsoever.  Someone called an ambulance, and I was escorted outside by two EMT’s.  Once we were out front and I saw the ambulance’s flashing lights, I had to face away from it because it was freaking me out hard.  My supervisor wanted me to stay there and chill out in the lounge until the end of my shift, but I couldn’t even understand what he was saying, all I could do was shrug my shoulders and shiver uncontrollably with unexplainable tears rolling down my cheeks.  Words would not come out of my mouth, no matter how hard I concentrated.  Nothing.

 

The feeling of “holy fuck shit is so out of control right now even my speech doesn’t work what the fuck is happening everyone is staring at you they all know what do they know it doesn’t matter they know you’re probably dying one of them is going to hurt you don’t trust any of them dude just run just fucking run and never ever ever fucking stop” was, at best, terrifying.

 

The EMT’s were very cool about it all.  They seemed to understand that I couldn’t express anything and was in an intense fight or flight mode, and were careful not to handle me until they were sure that I understood they were required to strap me in the ambulance because they could not allow me to drive home or stay at work because I could put others or myself in danger.  One of them was a sailor or a coastie, I can’t remember clearly, and recognized my stupid moto tat, and he made sure they took damn good care of me and tried to calm me down by telling me I was going to be okay, he’d seen it before and I was going to be alright.  It did help quite a bit.  They drove me to the ER, strapped me to a bed, gave me a couple shots and an IV, then left me to pass out until later on the next day.

 

When I woke up there was a doctor in the room and I was confused and couldn’t immediately recall how or why I was in a hospital.  My speech had partially returned, at least enough to inquire as to exactly what in the fuck I was doing there.  She informed me that I had been brought in early that morning highly distressed and unable to communicate, although no one knew exactly why so they put me down and kept an eye on me.  A few moments of hazily explaining what I could remember later, she stops writing, looks up at me and says, “it sounds like you might have had an extremely bad anxiety attack.”

 

Next time:  Old Habits Die Hard

On To Bigger, Better Things: The Struggle Begins

Like many a soon-to-be-separating Devil Dogs, in the early winter of 2005 I was all too ready to shed my green, amphibian skin and horrible indentured servitude.  The transition assistance classes required by the Corps for all separating Marines were thorough enough, and I had a coverletter/resume/thanksbiatchletter combination that looked pretty damned professional.  My final physical was cleared, noting my exposure to CS and asbestos, a fucked up knee, and some hearing loss.  My terminal leave was approved and worked out so that I could pick up my walking papers at 0830 on my motherfucking birthday.  It was the most content I had been in…well, years.  The sad part about that sentence is the fact that I had to use the word “content” because I was normally in a state mentally in which I hated almost every second of my life.  At the time, I never realized how goddamned awful it was to fully accept being treated like a stupid, useless child, and for no reason other than it had been pounded into my brain for the past few years that it was acceptable to treat people that way because if they were “below” you, they deserved it.

 

My transition was not a smooth one.  I was so eager to get away from the terrible people at my local USMC Rape Dungeon that I failed to realize how unhealthy my state of mind had become and and why it became that way.

 

Truth be told, I was fairly moto for my first year and a half.  I was that dumb ass boot wearing Oorah gear and rocking the horse shoe.  Boot camp, MCT, and MOS school took up most of that year, and being surrounded by a constant stream of other boots and ridiculously motivated SNCO’s did not help that at all.  It was a while after I got to Okinawa that I realized the Marine Corps wasn’t nearly as awesome as it was made out to be.  A month of cold showers and six months of opening my door with an ID/credit card (or stiff envelope for fuck’s sake) due to horribly negligent BEQ management,  watching my best friends and the hardest working Marines get harassed and put on duty for petty disagreements, and all of the other constant bullshit cured my motardity.  My NCO’s noticed this, but instead of asking why I was no longer sounding off as loudly or being motivated in general, they would fail me on field day, attempt to take credit for my work at the shop, short count my pullups at unofficial PFT’s, and look for reasons to either publicly chew me out or humiliate me.  I accepted it as “tough love” for a long time, but after a while it got really old and insulting, humiliating even.  Eventually I started thinking really stupid, shitty things about myself like, “damn, maybe they’re right, maybe I’m just a reject who really should kill himself.  I really am worth more dead than alive like he keeps saying.  I don’t think SGLI pays out for suicides and everyone would just hate me more because they’d have to go to a bunch of safety briefs and shit, better not, don’t want to be a buddy fucker.”  I would often have to listen to shit for my appallingly long 22-minute run time even though I always kept a 1st class PFT.  The stream of “you’re a piece of shit” type of insults was constant and endless towards my coworkers and myself by our superiors simply because we had different MOS’s; us being AAV mechanics and them being LAV mechanics who considered themselves grunts because the guys that drive the vehicle they work on have “03” in their MOS.  Public humiliation was their personal favorite, as well as discrete assaults to the abdomen, back, and thighs with fists, feet, and tools.  My section kept the highest turnover rate in the shop because we always stayed late, came in early, and missed chow to get it done.  This was mainly due to us hating our NCO’s so viciously that we would do anything to get away from them, even for an hour.  At times it felt like we were in the first half of the movie Sleepers, but with less rape.  We never got our “inmates obliterate guards during epic football game” though.  In the Marines, you almost never do.  It was bad enough that most of us would gladly volunteer for duty and working parties just to relax.  Eventually I just wanted to fade into the crowd or become invisible just so that I could do my job in peace without having to worry about what kind of random, pointless rectum-rapery was going to occur next.

 

Dealing with the bullshit day in and day out eventually began to take its toll on my mental state, and like many Marines before me, I attempted to solve my problems by numbing myself with alcohol.  It wasn’t difficult, booze is everywhere and it seemed like everyone was doing the exact same thing.  Alcoholism is so common in the Marine Corps that it is not treated as a sickness, it is looked at as just another part of being a Marine.  At the time, it didn’t seem so unhealthy because being a drunk meant always having friendly-ish people around and not feeling like an outcast.

 

Severe depression and alcoholism pretty much ran my life by the end of my first year on the Rock, although I had no idea how bad it really was getting.  Instead of becoming an aggressive dickbag, I slowly dropped all cares outside of work and focused on the job at hand because nothing else seemed to matter.  I ended up getting really good at my job, and our Gunny noticed this, eventually deciding to pull every string he could to get me accepted into an advanced MOS course near Pendleton.

 

While in California for that course, my drinking had all but stopped.  The school environment was strict on procedures but relaxed on bullshit formalities and they played zero games because the class consisted of a Staff Sergeant, two Sergeants, two Corporals, a Brazilian Lieutenant and Staff Sergeant, and my lowly, boot Lance Corporal ass.  I studied, PT’ed, and read every book I could get my hands on because I was isolated as the only non-rate student.  Some of those books changed the way I perceived the world around me and I ended up deciding to change my religion to one that mirrored my system of beliefs about man and life and that brought hope and motivation back into my life.  The school command did not care, and looked at it as a Marine expressing his religious freedom, and if it helped him stop drinking and get motivated, all the better.

 

Okinawa was different, with Warrant Officers, SNCO’s, NCO’s, and other non-rates randomly picking fights, but they almost always lost.  One of our less-enlightened officers decided to order me to disrobe in front of several other Marines so that he could see one of my tattoos.  Having your Platoon Commander force you to strip your upper half in an office full of people is a bit humiliating, especially if while doing this he is insulting you by telling you how worthless of a human being you are and how badly you are failing is Corps and how you are a disgrace to the uniform and do not deserve the title “Marine” because of your religion.  Events like that are what brought back everything I hated about life and demotivated me until I began drinking again, and much more heavily.  I could not stand the fact that regardless of how many positive changes I had made in myself, my superiors’ treatment of me worsened with every step.

 

They knew I had stopped drinking, so they put me on duty more often, telling me “its not like you have anything better to do, you don’t drink” until I started drinking again so they couldn’t use that excuse.  They knew I had graduated an advanced course for my MOS that non-rates do not get to attend, so they put me in charge of paperwork so that I could not do the job I had been trained to do and was still liable for anything that went wrong because I was the “Duty Expert.”  They found out I changed my religion so they began harassing me about it constantly, making disrespectful remarks and jokes, refusing to respect my beliefs, and telling me that it was “unauthorized” while filling out charge sheets that would ultimately be torn up and thrown out by someone with common sense.

 

I became disillusioned with everything motivating and began to see the world as a dark place full of awful people who were only out to hurt others.  Alcohol only fueled this further until I hated Marines, I hated life, and I wanted to be done with it all as soon as possible.  When my second year on Okinawa was up, I went to Twentynine Palms with a severe alcohol problem and a death wish.

 

The Stumps was different.  It was a combat unit and most of the guys had deployed at least once, so it was way more relaxed on the petty bullshit because everyone was concerned with getting work done and being left alone.  Being an all AAV unit also helped, as there was very little “my MOS is better’n yer MOS” rivalry/stupidity to get in the way.  The alcoholism, however, was much, much worse, with almost every night being full of drunken shenanigans both hilarious and tragic.  I kept to myself mostly; I only knew one guy and he was a Lance from my unit on Oki, but you know, fraternization.  That part about it being a combat unit with a bunch of guys that had deployed?  Yeah, that was kind of important if you weren’t paying attention.  Being a Corporal from an ultra-pog GSM shop was like…shit…let’s just say that a tiny part of me totally feels for Amos and Rodney Dangerfield.  Absolutely no respect.  Before I had finished checking in, they already had me a spot reserved as the Tool Room NCO because I had “no experience”…even though I had been through an AAV course only one of our SNCO’s had been to, and that was years before.  When the company left for Okinawa, I stood so much duty they should have given me a secondary MOS of 1369 Permanent DNCO (they didn’t).  Our Rear Party CO was a douche bag Lieutenant whose head was so far up his ass his shoulders were shit-stained and he overreacted to every incident by locking us down so tightly we had to log Marines in and out of the lounge and laundry rooms.  I stood barracks duty so often it interrupted my “social” life enough to actually force me to quit drinking because I never had eight hours between work or duty.  Yes, I could have sneakeded a few, but by that point I was so goddamned paranoid and nervous all the time that I assumed that I would be caught and fucked right down to Private on the spot.  I didn’t care about losing drinking buddies, by then all we had were boots and guys getting out, so nobody associated with each other.  Even our boots ended up hanging out with tanker boots and Comm school kiddies more than guys in their own unit.

 

When the Company returned, things loosened up but I had to deal with way more SNCO’s and NCO’s talking down to me because I decided to not reenlist.  Trying to explain to them, “I am a terrible Marine, the spot should be saved for someone better” was like trying to teach calculus to a Buick; it ain’t fuckin’ happenin’ son.  What is worse is that instead of listening to the reasoning of a Marine who is obviously depressed, they would angrily describe the horrible lives of anyone who was stupid enough to get out.  “Out in January, homeless in February, and wanting back in my Corps in March!”  My Platoon Commander was so insulted by my refusal to reenlist that he took a special interest in making my life hell.  After my final physical, instead of hitting the gym or being OFP, he wanted me to run with the unit, which I was cool with.  A month before my terminal leave date, my knee is swollen to the point where it was visible in cammies and I was getting sharp pains in my back, ribs and neck that came with migraines, and I was having trouble even walking to work.  Medical did an X-ray and couldn’t find anything broken, so the CWO assumed I was a malingerer and started berating me in formations, especially during PT when I would fall out of runs due to the pain of my right knee being twice the size of my left and headaches so intense I would puke.  Another trip to BAS revealed a bunch of inflamed tendons and a lack of cartilage, which was apparently what was causing that funny grinding noise whenever I bent my knees.  When migraines and numb spots in my back were mentioned, shit got real.  Medical records had to be found, final physicals had to be voided and re…um…physicalled.  This does not look good on a command, and of course it was explained to me by mine that it was all my fault because Marine Corps, rah?

 

I left the Corps with migraines, back pain, shitty knees and hips, and a desperate need for real medical attention for depression and anxiety.  It took me around seven years to think seriously about getting help because I was so sick I believed I didn’t deserve to be helped.  Like many others, I have ruined relationships with friends, family, and women by pushing everyone away when they tried to give me a hand, all due to sadistic Marines and their sick desire to humiliate someone under them for not conforming.

 

But I’m not bitter.

 

Next Time:  Assaulting the Civilian World

End The Epidemic

Suicide can be a very touchy subject because most of us have an intimate relationship with it in one form or another.  Whether it is because the thought of doing ourselves in has crossed our mind, we have talked a friend down from doing it, or have lost someone to it; the pain suicide causes has touched every one of us in one way or another.  There is help available to those in need, but unfortunately that assistance often becomes difficult to find or even ask for due to the negative stigma that goes with a strong warrior seeking the cure for this deadly sadness.  Unfortunately, there is no solid, succinct answer to the question “why?”

 

Many people believe that veteran suicides have much to do with deployments and combat action.  This is not true.*  Depression seems to be a noticeably prominent factor in many reported suicides.  That factor would undoubtedly have been reported in much higher numbers if seeking help was not looked upon as an act of weakness, cowardice, and malingering in the military community.  Marines are often afraid to ask to speak with a mental health specialist because they will be openly mocked for “going to see the Wizard.”  Mental illnesses are treated as a sign of weakness and those whom decide to gather the strength to admit they are having problems are all too often accused of malingering (pretending to be sick in order to get out of work/contract.)  Many young men and women also fear getting administratively separated due to their mental illness, believing that they would lose their honor by admitting they are no longer fit for duty.  These fears, among other factors, can lead to severe depression, increasing their likelihood of attempting suicide.

 

Depression among active and reserve military and veterans is a problem that has always been ignored, and it is time to address and resolve the issue.  Signs of depression can be found in a very high number of service members.  Young people are away from their friends and family, often for the first time, and are immersed in a culture that glorifies alcohol abuse and violence.  This in itself can be traumatic.  When someone is depressed, they are often told to “man up” or “suck it up because there are men dying right now that haven’t seen their families in months and never will again.”  Statements like that only make a young man feel worse because he will be depressed about being lonely in addition to feeling guilty for being selfish enough to think about his own problems.  The much-overused “someone else is at war right now so you have no right to complain” type of thinking needs to end, as it is detrimental to good order and discipline by reinforcing the image of an unsympathetic and oppressive chain of command.

 

The culture in the Marine Corps is one of violence and intolerance.  The “weak” are cast aside and treated as if they are garbage.  Legitimate injuries from training, including PT, go undiagnosed until they are nearly catastrophic and keep Marines from performing basic tasks due to them being afraid of their NCO’s and SNCO’s publicly humiliating them and punishing their “weakness” with extra duties.  When one of these injuries becomes acute enough for the Navy Corpsmen to treat, it has often caused permanent damage.  When a Marine breaks his ankle in training, he will be put on Light Duty and will usually perform basic, non-physical activities until he has healed enough to resume his normal duties, excluding PT and other physical tests.  Limited Duty follows until the ankle has healed, and they are restored to full duty.  The problem with this is that just because the bones have healed does not mean he is ready to run a PFT that will undoubtedly have a negative effect on his career.  Muscles and tendons need to recover and acclimate as well, and that recovery can take a long time.  Light and Limited Duty do not permit the intense physical activity that the Marine is accustomed to, and exposing them to that intense training can cause their condition to quickly deteriorate and cause further injuries such as foot, knee, and hip problems.  Being on Light or Limited Duty can be depressing because he can feel as if he is no longer a “good” Marine due to his physical limitations.  A command that is harassing, intimidating, and humiliating him only exacerbates his already fragile mental state, and worsens his feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness, sending him further down the spiral.

 

There is the belief that ending one’s career in the military will magically turn them into a “nasty, useless civilian puke.”  It could be safely assumed that the vast majority of Marines have experienced this within six months of their EAS.  This begins at boot camp, where a platoon full of teenagers are told that they are no longer “disgusting, worthless” civilians, they are Marine Recruits.  Drill Instructors promise to purge every atom of filthy civilian scum from their bodies, injection-molding them into a higher form of being.  After boot camp, they are no longer normal citizens, they are Marines.  One of those gals goes to MOS school and becomes Admin.  She knows that she is a POG (Person Other than Grunts) but remains proud and motivated.  For the next few years, she works hard and becomes a Corporal.  The Career Planner asks her if she wants to put in a reenlistment package and she declines, saying that she wants to go to school and start a business because she didn’t think the Corps was the place for her.  In the time it takes the Career Jammer to get to the Company Office and report back, she has become a shit bag.  Officers, SNCO’s, and NCO’s will talk down to her and attempt to bully her into reenlisting.  If she continues to resist, they will tell her that she never belonged in “their Corps” in the first place and that she is disgracing the title by not staying in.  Her EAS is in January and they tell her that she will be “out in January, homeless in February, and wanting back in my Corps in March.”  Marines in leadership positions explain to her that if she doesn’t sign another four years of her life away, she will become a filthy, diseased civilian piece of garbage, worth less than the excrement she is made of.  Once she is finally out, she begins to feel as if they were right as she is no longer part of something important, making her transition much more difficult and depressing.

 

Deployments are thought to have an impact on veteran suicides.  With around half these cases being members that never deployed, it can be safely assumed that this is incorrect.  Deployments do have effects on the mental health of service members, but not always in ways that are obvious.  Marine veterans that have not deployed to a combat zone may feel as if they have not lived up to the expectations of the nation they swore to protect.  While their brothers are in harm’s way, they are working a 9 to 5 job while getting regular chow and liberty.  When units are deployed, the personnel that are ordered to stay behind in garrison units usually have a highly increased workload and have less assets with which to complete.  While the work they are performing has intensified, they may feel that they are not pulling their weight simply by not being deployed with everyone else.  It is not that they are missing out on “all of the fun”, it is that they are missing out on doing something they feel is important and feel that it is due to their deficiencies, regardless of what they are told or how proficient they are at the work they perform.

 

The pursuit of perfection may be a factor for some Marines.  No matter the effort, it could have been better.  The obsession with perfect hindsight vision has become a burden to many Marines.  If someone can do 20 pull-ups, they will be heckled for not doing 22.  Their run time might be 16:45, but it would have been outstanding if they had really put out and beat it by thirty seconds.  Accomplishments that should be respected and admired are dismissed as hogwash by hateful SNCO’s and NCO’s, jealous of another Marine’s success.  The ridiculous one-upmanship and constant, pointless bickering among Marines is caused, in part, by the thick cloud of aggressive competitiveness that the Corps promotes with complete recklessness.  This pursuit puts Marines into the mindset that nothing they do will ever be good enough to properly honor the Marine Corps.  When that train of thought is followed, their self-worth can be diminished to nearly nothing, causing them to feel insignificant and unwanted.  This “nothing is ever good enough” feeling is present in a majority of people suffering from depression, regardless of military service.

 

Guilt may be a factor among some combat veterans.  Men and women who have been ordered to kill other humans often find themselves having trouble afterwords.  Some experience intense feelings of guilt for taking someone’s life, even though they were an enemy combatant trying to do the same.  Others may feel guilty for surviving unscathed when someone else died or was severely injured.  The phrase “it should have been me” can be heard in survivor support groups of every kind.  The grief associated with taking a life or witnessing such an event can be devastating to anyone, regardless of the amount of training they have received.

 

Members of the military are encouraged to look out for one another, especially when it comes to the mental health of their own.  They are taught how to recognize some of the symptoms of depression and PTSD, but are not trained how to properly deal with someone that is having these troubles.  Underage Marines who find themselves depressed and abusing alcohol have a very tough time getting assistance because they are afraid that their command will charge them with a crime, and their friends will cover up the problem to keep him out of trouble as well.  Instead of rewarding the strength it took him to admit he had a problem and ask for help, he might be punished with an NJP for underage drinking and then be treated as a shitbag for the rest of his enlistment.  Punishing Marines for admitting they are sick does no one any good, and keeps others from trying to fix their condition.  Marines suffering from PTSD sometimes have emotional outbursts that can be detrimental to their career if taken as insult or disrespect.  This is often explained away as “he’s having a bad day.  His girl just left him.  Won’t happen again, Sergeant.”  For Marines, losing one’s bearing in front of superiors has a negative emotional effect.  Ignoring, walking away from, or talking back to someone with a higher rank can have a more profound effect than screaming “FUCK YOU CUNT” to your grandmother at a family reunion.  Not only will they be berated and humiliated, there will be an element of ostracizing them as well, keeping others from helping him with his problems.

 

To help fix some of the problems with this epidemic, some measures need to be taken.  Mental health screenings at Military Entrance Processing Stations need to be more intensive, and include personality tests.  Background investigations, both medical and legal, need to be more thorough.  Too many members of our military have preexisting psychological and emotional issues that need to be addressed before sending them away to be trained as killers in a hostile environment.  Active and Reserve troops need to be trained how to recognize the symptoms of mental illnesses, specifically depression, PTSD, and bipolar disorder, and how to properly address the issue with the member to encourage them to speak with someone.  All members, regardless of rank, title, or status, should be required to pass at least one mental health examination each year.  Their personnel and medical records should be reviewed by the interviewing professional to provide a proper perspective on their abilities.  Substance abuse should be treated as an illness and not as the lack of discipline it is currently.  Encouraging each other to seek help when it is needed is important, and needs to be thoroughly reinforced by all.

 

* http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/07/military-suicide-study_n_3719850.html

* http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/foreign-affairs-defense/why-soldiers-keep-losing-to-suicide/

The Highest Form of Flattery

My favorite comedians were always the guys that could do really good impressions, not of celebrities but of their friend, family member, or stranger with an odd, distinguishing trait.  Whenever I was in trouble growing up, it was usually due to someone catching me mocking the shit out of them, as I have this tendency to forget how obnoxiously loud I can be.  In the Marine Corps, this…talent turned on me.

 

Cobra Gold was awesome, mostly.  A month of skating on Foster in the same barracks as my best friend, followed by a month of living in an old Thai garbage dump, three days of liberty in Pattaya, and another few weeks of skating.  The leadership was pretty relaxed, specifically the NCO’s and lower Staff.  Our First Sergeant was a very motivated man that gave many speeches.  I usually disliked motivated DI types, but this guy could get almost anyone excited about being a Marine.  He was, of course, a former Drill Instructor and spoke with a voice you could feel in your spine.  He also had a unique tempo and gave extra emphasis on certain words, as if some of his words were written in caps, bold, and italicized.  For example, “Hey, listen up Devil Dogs; when we get to Pattaya…” turned into “Heylistenupdevildogs when we get to PATTAYA…”  Take that pattern and apply it to Patrick Warburton’s (Joe from Family Guy) voice, and you have the First Sergeant.

 

There was one other guy from my parent unit that came with me TAD, Lcpl Olsen, and our job was to look busy.  The Sergeant that was our…sigh…boss was from a “real” Amtrac unit and was banned from coming within ten feet of the AAV’s for locking some keys in one of the vehicles…the keys to ALL the hatches to every vehicle, and that made us banned as well.  While he was stuffed into the company tent doing paperwork, we dug ditches for gray water, carried MRE’s, PM’ed Motor T stuff, and did every bit of bitch work possible.  Whilst performing these bullshit details, we would have nothing better to do than joke and complain, especially about the leadershit.  This quickly led to me imitating some of them.  Olsen thought my impression of the First Sergeant was pretty dead on, and and it would be hilarious to fuck with one of the Motor T guys somehow.

 

We crept into the maintenance tent and stood behind the HMMWV.  I gathered my balls and boomed, “Heylistenupdevildogs I need to see a Lance Corporal PORTER!

 

The sound of a wrench falling through and engine compartment gives way to a Lcpl Porter cautiously creeping around the corner of the vehicle at parade rest timidly answering, “…yes First Sergeant…?”

 

Olsen and I nearly choke on our own stupid laughter for a moment while Porter walked around looking for a senior SNCO ready to chew his ass sideways.  When he saw there was no one there but us, he could not believe it was me and that seemed to make it even funnier.  Our schoolgirl-like giggling attracted the attention of a Sgt from Motor T who insisted on knowing exactly what in the fuck was so goddamned amusing.  We begrudgingly told him about the joke and he laughed as well, insisting on hearing me say something in that voice.  After hearing it, giggled gleefully and told us to find something to do.

 

That night, right before lights out, most of us in the company were sitting outside smoking and joking.  A female Staff Sergeant walked up and started a conversation with the Motor T Sergeant from earlier, and he began talking about some Marine that sounded exactly like the First Sergeant earlier.  She didn’t laugh at all, and wanted to know who it was.  This caused me to immediately sweat another gallon of bullets.  He said he didn’t remember who it was, then she giggled and said it would be pretty funny to hear it.  Enter the Falcon.  “Oh, hey Devil, wasn’t it you?  Yeah, I think it was this guy! Ha, do it for Staff Sergeant real quick.”

 

Nervous as hell at the thought of this Staff NCO taking a joke the wrong way, I told them I didn’t think it would be appropriate to imitate him in front of everyone, so they walked me away from the smoke pit.  I belted out my idea of the First Sergeant telling Marines to stay away from the whores across the street.  I thought she was going to have a heart attack or was maybe crying because she was shaking so bad.  I thought it was rage and I was about to get the Knifehand Of Justice, until she let her laughter out like a painful yet much needed fart.  The three of us agreed that it was funny, but I should probably not do it in front of anyone that could take it the wrong way.  Then she left to go do SNCO things, I guess.

 

As it turns out, my lack of vocal volume control led to everyone in the smoke pit hearing my impression, or at least enough of it for them to believe the First Sergeant was seriously just a few yards away telling three Marines to stay away from whores.  I did not want to admit that it was me and told them that yes, he had in fact just told us to stay away from the whores, and the Sergeant backed me up.  Everyone believed it until Porter came outside, listened to what everyone was saying the First Sergeant just said, then pointed to me and told them it was probably me.  Olsen backed me up when I said that I couldn’t have possibly imitated such a man, as I sound more like Randal from Clerks than anything.  They had their suspicions, though.

 

After all the “training” was concluded, the companies all got together for a Good Job Not Killing Each Other This Time Ceremony.  Being Marines, this meant we all had to stand in formation for an hour before the little old man came out of his hole, giving us plenty of time to kill.  Staff NCO’s and Officers don’t like standing in formation, so they usually post an NCO until a few seconds before the ceremony begins.  Not this time.

 

The female Staff Sergeant was out front.  “Company Atten-shun!  Lance Corporal AAVPOG, front and center!”

 

I report and stand at the POA while she tells me that for the next few minutes, I am the Company First Sergeant and need to give the Safety Brief before we can go on Liberty.  Not understanding for a moment, she told me it would be okay and that I would not get in trouble.  She posts behind formation with the Staff and Officers, and I blindly assume the responsibility.

 

Putting the company at ease, I scan for a moment and see the First Sergeant poke his head up, shoot me a shit-eating grin, and nod “yes.”

I had heard many a safety brief in my time, and in that moment decided that if I had to give one under those circumstances, I was going to own it and make it MY safety brief.  What follows is not word-for-word, but is pretty close:

 

“Alrightlistenupdevildogs when we get to PATTAYA, youmayruninto some ‘Ladies of the Evening‘.  You’ve been outrunningaround TRAINING in this former GARBAGE DUMP, and you are probably DISGUSTING.  You’regoingtowantto take a nice cold SHOWER before you go out in TOWN.  If the showers are DOWN, you’regonnawanttogetan MRE SPOON and scrape all that nasty gray CROTCH ROT off your grundle.  That’s your TAINT ifyoudidn’tknow.  If you drink, don’t drive.  If you drive, don’t drink.  Thatdoesn’treallymatter since you can do NEITHER here, butIhavetosayitanywaysdevildogsoorah?  Gentlemen, this is THAILAND, you’regonnawantto wrap it up.  LADIES, I don’t think you’ll wanttohookupwith one of these little guys, but if YOU DO, wrapitupoorah?  Goodtogo!”

 

This went on for several minutes until I had had enough and ended it with, “okay that’s it, I’m out,” fully expecting a SNCO to appear and give me the signal to hand the reins of power back.  Instead, I was told by random Marines to imitate others.  The problem with this was that only one other person in the company had a personality that I thought was worth imitating, and he was a very large Sergeant whom spoke as if he watched Scarface about 1,000 too many times, so I declined.  Of course, declining did not keep them from insisting, loudly, that it would behoove me to do it.

 

I have an intense hatred for that phrase; it would behoove you.  The intense heat, 9999% humidity, and my anxiety combined their powers,  forcing me to say fuck it, whatever.  I looked over  at Olsen and asked, “Gunny Fern?”  I have yet to see a bigger smile.

 

Gunny Fern was our boss on Okinawa.  He had a very heavy Tagalog accent because he was Filipino.  A very heavy accent.  Gunny Fern was the boss and he made sure you fucking knew it at all times, mostly by Devil Dogging whilst Knife Handing.

 

Someone asked who Gunny Fern was, so I explained, “What da puck Debil Dog?  You don’t know Gunny?  What, you ASVAB waiver, huh Debil?  Dat’s the prolam with you Marines; all queshin no asser!  Fix your chit Debil Dog or I haver ass!  Da puck you laff at, Debil?  Gunny funny?  Fix yaself Debil nuts!”

 

Officers and SNCO’s appeared to be amused by this as all I saw were teeth behind formation.  It was right about then that I realized there were people laughing behind me as well.  I turned far enough around to see every other company staring at us as if we had all lost our goddamned minds. Their peanut galleries peeked around their formations giggling like children.  Finally, the Company Gunny gave me nod which I interpreted as “put them at attention and stand by” so I did just that.  We did the here-now-you’re-in-charge shuffle and I took my place back in the Non-NCO section of the formation, sweating profusely and ready to be done with this shit already.

 

After the ceremony we were all walking back when the CO, Capt Tears, jogged up and pulled me aside between two of the maintenance tents.  He told me that they all seemed to think my impression of the First Sergeant was “pretty good” and that they were wondering if I could imitate anyone else.  I tried to explain to him that I couldn’t imitate just anyone in general, they had to have a personality quirk, speech pattern, voice, or vocabulary that stuck out significantly in my mind.  He understood that, but still wanted me to do an impression of him.  I had several problems with that.

 

First off, I cannot stand people who insist upon an impromptu performance.  Especially when the insisting is the result of vanity.  When you go to an art gallery and see a collection of beautiful nudes, you don’t insist on the artist sketching your naked body on the spot do you?  No, it would be quite rude.

Second, it is almost never a good idea to imitate someone directly to their face.  All jokes aside, some people get extremely upset when they hear another person openly mock them within punching distance.  Maybe they stutter a little, maybe it’s a slight lisp, it could even be a word like “Strategery” “Dumbassity” or a misunderstood word (I met a Sgt Maj that used the word “magnanimous” wrong…and constantly.)  My point being, folks don’t like being called out on their flaws.

 

Third, I had only heard him speak maybe a handful of times, and that was including when he pulled me aside just then.  He addressed the troops a few times, but only once was I around when it happened, and that instance happened to be when he started crying -literally- about how proud he was of all of us (thus, Captain Tears).

 

Lastly, he didn’t have any significant vocal or personality traits that struck me as anything but fully professional at all times.  He was one of those guys that seemed to disappear in a crowd, an everyman type.  He didn’t throw bass in his words, mince about like a hippie picking flowers, swear like a madman, or act like a weirdo of any kind, and that made him extremely difficult to imitate.

 

Sure, I could have pushed out a few tears and told him how proud I was of him, but that probably would have seemed insulting, and would have looked very awkward to everyone walking by; seeing a Lcpl crying and telling an officer how proud of him he was, all while at parade rest.

 

Damn, I totally should have done that.

 

He did eventually give up and began talking to me about something or another.  I don’t remember now, so it must have been unimportant.  Probably something like “that’s funny and all but watch it, Blue Falcons are everywhere” but, you know, in Officerese or whatever professional language they speak.

 

The First Sergeant never did strangle me to death like I imagined he would.  He did get me back, though.  I was waiting in line for the post Cobra Gold Let’s-go-ahead-and-make-sure-you-know-we-don’t-trust-your-ass piss test and he walked up behind, leaned in close, and asked, “heythereMarinehowwas PATTAYA?” then walked off laughing hysterically as I jumped and came dangerously close to filling my trousers with my test answers.

The License Scam

Of the many opportunities available to military personnel, the authorization to operate multiple tons of sexy, deadly combat vehicles often appears to be a good selling point for recruiters.  Pictures and videos showing Marines performing awesome feats of high-precision military excellence in millions of dollars’ worth of ground equipment are showered upon young prospects and poolees, convincing them that they will soon get the chance to do donuts in their LAV while shooting bad guys and blowing up enemy tanks before hitting a sweet ramp and crashing through the front door of (contemporary evil dictator)’s fortified compound and delivering a case of good old American Whoop Ass right in his evil, terrorist face.  That is not quite how it works.  Most Marines never get to drive an HMMWV.

 

To operate a vehicle owned by the Marine Corps, the driver will need a license.  There is a license for every vehicle and there are multiple stamps or qualifications needed for the various configurations of the same equipment.  For example:  AAV Repairmen (2141) earn a Shop license for the three basic models of the AAV (P7, C7, R7).  The Shop license permits them to operate the vehicles within the confines of the maintenance areas only.  AAV Crewmen (1833) earn a Road license that permits them to operate the vehicle in every other condition (roadways, beaches, combat, etc.)  Tank and LAV operators/repairmen are similar,  separating their licenses by MOS.  For Motor Transport and Heavy Equipment MOS’s, there are several licenses that the operators and mechanics must receive, as their jobs are more versatile and often require them to be competent at operating (for Motor T) HMMWV’s, 7-tons, LVS’s, and (for H.E.) Bulldozers, cranes, and forklifts.  There are Shop and Road licenses for these as well.  While overseas, additional licenses or certifications may be required to operate vehicles on foreign roadways.  Marines from an MOS that does not work with these vehicles on a daily basis can get a license to operate, but they must first gain their command’s approval, which can be easy depending on their command’s need for operators, or it’s heinous ulterior motives.

 

What was the first piece of advice given to young people by older veterans?  Never volunteer for anything, right?  Regardless of the opinion on their current mental state, that is the most useful advice anyone can give you in regards to daily life in the United States Marine Corps.  That advice should especially be taken into account when one mistakenly believes that a license could improve their professional image and importance to their current chain of command.

 

I was one of those Marines dumb enough to forget such sage-like advice.

 

A month into my first year on Okinawa I noticed that some of the Lcpls seemed to never stand barracks duty.  Our battalion had a policy of allowing Marines with an HMMWV road license to be exempt from frequent Barracks Duty in exchange for the hardship of monthly Driver Duty and the possibility of being called upon to randomly serve as Duty Driver if someone fell (deathly) ill.  After standing Barracks Duty with a good number of shithead NCO’s until I was deemed “worthy” of a license (read: was promoted to Lcpl) I was allowed the opportunity to get that golden ticket to the skating rink.

 

One of our Sergeants and a couple of other Lcpls were getting their licenses, too.  Normally, this would be an awful ordeal due to three Lances having to put up with some dickhead NCO.  Luckily for us this particular NCO was Sgt. Skate.  He was close to his EAS and gave absolutely zero fucks under certain conditions.  Those conditions being; away from staff, officers, and motards.

 

The first week was all on Foster, which meant we had to take the first Green Line to get there and had to miss PT.  Short classes with plenty of breaks because the instructors didn’t want to be there any more than we did, like most classes in the Fleet that are outside of your parent unit.  Lunches were 1100-1300.  Some times the classes would get out around 1500 and we would be done for the day.  Field day?  Sorry Corporal, Sgt. Skate is coming through to inspect at 2000 because we have to be up for PT formation at 0530 with the company then catch the Green Line at 0700 and we are required to get a minimum of eight hours of sleep or we can’t get drive and get our licenses and that would make our unit look bad wouldn’t it, Corporal?  The second week was extra sweet because all we had to do was get up, check out a vehicle, then drive it around all day.  On base the first three days, off base the last two.

 

Not having driven anything for almost a year wasn’t the difficult part.  Adapting to driving on the other side of the road whilst avoiding suicidal civilians that lose their minds at the sight of any military vehicle was.  Few things in this world are more entertaining than the look on an unsuspecting Japanese businessman’s face as over 5,000 pounds of ugly, cheap, lowest-bidder garbage comes screeching to a halt within inches of his panicked, guilt-stricken, red-light-running teeth.

 

The privilege of being Duty Driver had its perks:  I spent way less days on duty and none on barracks duty.  It usually meant getting off work at 1100 to hang out at the Battalion building and run the admin guys to IPAC or wherever they felt like skating.  It meant 8 hours of “guaranteed, uninterrupted” sleep the night before (bahaha…yeah, I’ll get to that).  For once it was a chance to not have to walk everywhere like a bloody savage.  It was also a great learning experience.  “Supervising” the Marines on restriction that were cleaning the building usually consisted of leaning against a wall and earning my J.D. in Barracks Law.  Sometimes the OOD or SDO would be a raging motard and would insist that their Duty Lcpl and driver either clean, do MCI’s, or read something on the Commandant’s Reading List.  I would usually insist on practicing MCMAP with the A-Duty, but this only worked once.  Most of the time however, the OOD or SDO was just as bored and pissed at having to stand duty as everyone and they’d let us watch movies or sleep until he was ready to rack out.

 

The best SNCO’s to drive for were the ones who remembered being a young Marine.  They did their tours of the barracks by trusting the Duty NCO’s report and leaving instead of insisting on inspecting every lounge, hallway, and unlocked room.  They did what all men do when they are bored, they talked.  They reminisced about their days as a young idiot on Okinawa and how they got away with what they got away with.  They spilled the beans on why some staff and officers will never be promoted, and why others will.  Best of all, they would listen.  Not all, but some.  A fifteen year Staff Sergeant whom obviously has felt the ripping force of the Corps’ horned phallus tends to call “bullshit” when he sees it.  That new Platoon Sergeant abusing his authority?  Don’t worry, devil dog, he’s got this shit.  Your paperwork got “misplaced” in your company office somewhere?  Its cool, he’s got a couple buddies at IPAC (calls one on the spot).  Even if they aren’t in your CoC, they can fix problems.

 

Driving an HMMWV wasn’t all rainbows and sunshine.  It had it’s drawbacks.  That “8 hours of sleep” thing?  It was more of a suggestion.  Hearing an NCO hiss “I don’t give a fuck if you have duty, you’re not sleeping til I say your room is clean.  I’ll be back at 01” was very common.  Four hours of sleep is definitely not the same as eight, and being exhausted on duty just plain sucks.  Being the battalion Duty Driver wasn’t the only responsibility, however.

 

Having the off-base stamp on my license made me into a transportation asset to my command, and they exploited the shit out of that fact, especially when it came to training.  Our well-intentioned SNCO’s decided that Marines from my section were in need of some proper MOS training on AAV’s instead of just rebuilding the engines and transmissions all day, so they would schedule a Friday here and there for us to go up to another camp and work on their Amtracs.  This meant going to Motor T by 0430 to check out a vehicle and be at PT formation at 0530, then loading up everyone but the two Cpls and one Sgt that are LAV mechanics and no not one goddamned thing about AAV’s but insist upon making us wait until they can convince the Platoon Sergeant that five non-NCO’s cannot be trusted, then driving through heavy traffic slower than every other car on the road for a couple of hours while ignoring the wrong directions being screamed at my by Cpl Literallycannotreadaroadmap.  The training usually consisted of looking busy with the other mechanics while the LAV NCO’s walked around and did the exact same thing.  The drives back were usually peaceful because everyone would be asleep or too tired to give a shit about what anyone had to say.  This quiet, exhausted state sometimes led to me almost nodding off, which could have been extremely dangerous and has been known to happen to many Marines.  Nothing was learned and no amount of training was accomplished by anyone.  Not on purpose, at least.

 

I learned how to fix HMMWV’s by accident.  Let us not forget that as awesome as these vehicles may appear, they are only as effective as their maintainers allow them to be.  Let us also not forget that the people who maintain said vehicles are United States Marines.  On one trip up north, I had a fully loaded soft-back and was on the main highway when someone taps me on the shoulder and yells, “HEY I THINK YOU JUST LOST A BOLT.”  Confused, I keep driving and pay closer attention to see if I could feel any vibration, thumping, grinding, or other sign of possible failure, but heard and felt nothing.  A couple of OHSHITs later and another tap on my shoulder, accompanied by a car flying past me on the right, confirmed that my vehicle  was, in fact, dropping bolts onto the highway and bouncing them towards traffic.  I pull over, unload everyone, and set up the plastic “move over asshole there is a wreck or something up there” cones (the furthest of which was promptly destroyed by a speeding civilian the second I stepped away), and begin inspecting the HMMWV’s underside.  Two bolts were holding the differential cover on.  Two.  This was in 2004 when cell phones were popular but not everyone had one.  Not everyone meaning, in this instance, none of us.  We ended up stripping that truck for the better part of an hour before finding a couple of loose bolts that looked good enough to work for now, then duct-taped around them until they fit and pounded them into place, securing them with more duct tape.  Did it hold?

 

We got to a gas station just in time for the last bit of gear oil to drain out, and would later find out that three people reported us for going inside in uniform.  When we eventually arrived at the camp we were supposed to be going to, their Motor T laughed it off as if it were normal.  They couldn’t trade us vehicles, but they did manage to scrounge up enough replacement bolts to secure the cover.  I had to make the seal.  It wasn’t the fist time I would have to produce a field expedient replacement part.

 

I was once ordered to drive a boot from Kinser to Hansen to retrieve his issued gear from the barracks of the MEU detachment he had just returned from.  We were at a red light, about to pass one of the Kadena Air Base gates, when the passenger side of the windshield turned a light yellowish-green color and a thick cloud of sweet heat obscured everything in view.  My first thought:  Aliens.  It wasn’t aliens.  The coolant hose had burst and was diarrhea farting steam and antifreeze everywhere.  On our vehicle, on the ground, and on the cars around me.  Thinking it best to get off the road, I turned toward the Air Base and approached the guards.  It went something like this:

 

Air Force Guard:  What’s up?

Me:  Sup.  Where’s your Motor T?

AFG:  (bewildered expression)

Me:  (Fuck) I’m leaking antifreeze, where do you keep your hummers and trucks?

AFG:  Oh.  Um.  Let me grab…hold on.

-Second AFG appears-

AFG2:  Uh, what’s going on?

Me:  This vehicle is broken.  I need to get to where you keep your vehicles so that I can fix it and continue my mission.

AFG2:  Oh.  Uh, let me call someone real quick.

Me:  Wait, I have-

AFG2:  I’ll be right back.

Me:  …fuck.

-Several minutes and levels of pissed later-

AFG1:  I don’t think they can help.  Sorry.

Me:  Whatever, can I at least use the phone in the security hut to call my command and explain the situation?

AFG1:  Ah, well, um, ah, you see, uh, we’re not allowed to let anyone use the phone.  It’s for official guard stuff only.

Me:  Are you fucking serious?  Like, seriously, are you fucking with me right now?

AFG1:  Nah, sorry man.

Me:  This is official business, though.  We are on our way to Hansen to transport important equipment.  I need to use your phone to call my command so that they can send another vehicle for us.

AFG1:  No, Gate Guard business.  If it doesn’t have anything to do with us, we can’t let you use the phone.

Me:  Could you call my command and tell them what is going on then?  You are a gate guard, and I am at your gate seeking assistance.

AFG1:  (looks at other guard in air-conditioned booth)  No I don’t think we can do that.  It’s not an emergency.

Me:  A broken down vehicle IS an emergency.

AFG1:  Ok.  I have to go.

Me:  …

Dealing with those dickheads took so long the vehicle was almost cooled down enough to work on, so we started looting every crack and crevice for something that we could use to repair the split coolant tube.  There was a small tool kit in a plastic box, but there was nothing inside of use.  The duct tape holding that kit shut turned out to be the only thing we could find that might work, but it was old and mostly dried out and definitely would not work on its own.  I had a bunch of zip ties for…um…some reason…and decided to test my hypothesis that if I tightened them down enough around the edges of the tape-wrap, it would be watertight.  There was no way to test this without filling the reservoir first, but alas, there was no hose to be found.  This problem was solved by filling my camel-bak in the security booth’s bathroom sink then carefully pouring it in.  Many times.  All while these two Air Force douche bags sat in their air-conditioned booth giggling like school girls and refusing to help a brother out.

 

Fuck it, it worked.  We got to Hansen in the late afternoon, grabbed his gear, called our command and bitched about how utterly useless the Air Force is and how goddamned awful our Motor T was, then ran to Taco Bell.  I figured the least I could do for this poor guy having to go through that shit on his first day back was buy him a burrito.  The trip back took longer than expected.  Much longer.

 

I’ll be completely honest here and admit that I fucked up.  It was my responsibility to triple-check the map to make sure my A-Driver didn’t give me wrong directions, and I fucked up.  Literally, right from the start.  I turned left out of Hansen instead of right.  The countryside looked quite different going back, but we didn’t realize why until we got to Schwab.  Realizing how far gone we were, I pulled a U turn and headed back.  Maybe it was dusk settling, maybe it was exhaustion.  Hell, it was probably lack of attention to detail.  It doesn’t matter, we missed the turn.  Okinawa has a major highway that goes all the way around the island, 58.  English is everywhere on Okinawa, but not so much on street signs.  It is easy to stay on 58, though, as numbers are universal.  We followed 58 all the way around the bottom of the island and ended up stuck in traffic for over an hour twice.  We pulled into our battalion Motor T at around 1955ish.  The sergeant on duty was extremely pissed, but eventually calmed down enough to read the notes his staff left him about the Air Force guys being dicks and his piece of shit humvee being released while having maintenance issues and gave us no further trouble.

 

That license did not make me more important to my unit, it made me yet another checked box on a clipboard and allowed them to take an awesome training opportunity and turn it into a big old bag of shredded taints.

Is there Discrimination in the Marine Corps?

As the most elite fighting force in the United States’ massive military arsenal, the Marine Corps must uphold an image of professionalism at all times.  Marines are held to a higher standard because we proudly claim that we are the “tip of the spear.”  These higher standards ensure Marines always perform well in combat, their everyday jobs, and behave in a manner which is honorable, courteous, and respectful.  It takes hard work, but that is what it takes to be considered “professional.”

 

Any truly professional organization these days needs diversity.  People from significantly different backgrounds working together can produce amazing results and accomplish nearly anything imaginable.  One thing the Corps is good at is assembling groups of people from very dissimilar walks of life.  She is also very accepting of all people regardless of sex, religion, race, sexual preference, or nationality.

 

However…

 

Many Marines are not so…accepting of other cultures/religions/preferences.  I say “many” instead of “some” because during my enlistment, I noticed that the discrimination was not limited to a few…”good” men (sorry).  Bigotry comes in the form of every rank and for varying reasons.  Sometimes it is a racist SNCO.  Other times it may be the elitist Captain that thinks all enlisted men are dirt poor mud farmers who should be treated as if they were serfs in medieval times.  Finding a religious zealot, however, is a very common occurrence.

 

One of the worst parts of being bullied or discriminated against is not the douche bag attempting to ruin your day, but the fact that other human beings that stood by and watched without so much as saying a word out of fear that they, too, will be engaged by this monster.  For United States Marines, men that have been bred to fight injustices, this should not be difficult.

 

This is the part where I tell you two stories.  The first tale deals with one way the Marine Corps did an amazing job at ridding herself of an ignorant piece of garbage that was detrimental to the health and safety of her Marines.  The second, a much less than inspiring anecdote.

 

I call this guy “Pfc Hank Hill” mostly because he looked, in fact, like a much younger Hank Hill.  He was from East Texas, wore glasses, and had zero ass.  I’m willing to bet that if you checked his medical record you would indeed find at least one entry regarding a narrow urethra.  He was also one of those boots that buys a cowboy hat, boots, and gigantic motard belt buckle the first time they see Oceanside, magically transforming them into a cowboy (even though they grew up nowhere within 50 miles of an actual horse.)  Hill liked to drink while he told racist stories about “bustin’ n***** heads” back home.  He also enjoyed harassing the shit out of anyone he didn’t think was white or manly enough.  Months of this went by while we constantly complained to our NCO’s, who did nothing but giggle and tell us that the Corps would work it out.  One of them told me something that may be a cliche but has always stuck with me:  “Give him enough rope, he’ll hang himself.”

 

He did.  Figuratively, of course.  We had a pretty diverse class.  We had a black guy, two Latinos, a middle eastern dude, and only four southerners (none of whom shared Hill’s views on race).  Hill decided one night to have a few too many.  Being shitface and feeling entitled to the lounge, he stalked around mumbling random slurs at whoever looked  towards him.  After a few minutes of this, Chuck, our bearded black angel stepped in and had a seat.  Hill did not like him for two reasons;  a) he was black and b) he had a no shave chit.  Hill lost his damned mind, which prompted Chuck to calmly tell him that if he did not calm down and stop making everyone uncomfortable, he would tell the duty.  Firewatch broke up the would-be fight that ensued and directed stumbly-ass into the squad bay to quiet him down.  This didn’t help.  As soon as he got into the squad bay, Hill stumbled towards Gomez’s rack and started up again with his white power bullshit.  Gomie did not like this one bit and informed us all that if we did not restrain Hill, he was going to end up at medical with a broken everything.  Firewatch and a couple other guys pulled Hill back towards his rack and tucked him in, so to speak.  Just about the time everyone was sighing with relief, dumbshit gets back up and starts telling Ram (our Indian devil) how much fun its going to be gunning down his “hojee fambly” (yes, I assume everything out of his mouth is misspelled).  Apparently, that last remark was enough to send Gomie over the edge, because before any of us realized what was going on, he had jumped up from his rack, walked up behind Hill, turned him around by his shoulder, and knocked him out cold with a right cross that fired and hit so fast most of us didn’t even see it happen.  Our initial relief and several seconds of cheering were fleeting.

 

The same NCO that told me about letting him hang himself was on Duty that night.  No one saw him walk in.  No one saw him walk out.  He didn’t say one word to us or anyone else, he simply watched Gomie deal with it then stepped back outside until Hill was tucked back into his rack.

 

Firewatch reports “all secure” to the Duty a few minutes later when he walks back in the dark squad bay.

 

Duty:  “Get me your squad leaders real fast.”

 

Firewatch complies, fetching them.

 

Duty:  “You want to tell me what that was all about?”

 

Squad leaders:  “Pfc don’t know, Corporal.”

 

Duty:  “If you make statements, we can get him an adsep.  If you don’t, that’s up to you.  Come talk to me when you figure it out.”

 

The squad leaders grabbed a few of us and we all talked it out.  To us, there was no place in the Corps for anyone that has proven themselves to be a racist.  They reported to the duty and dropped their statements, then we all stood by.

 

It only took a few days for him to be dropped from the course.  Our SNCO’s really stepped up and handled his shit like professionals.  He got some of the most glorious ass-chewings I have ever had the pleasure of witnessing.  When it comes to obvious racism, they tend to take that shit seriously and act quickly.  Not so fast are they to react however, when other types of bigotry are exposed.

 

I accidentally found a religion that clicked with the way I think and I fully embraced it.  I knew from the start that it would not be a popular subject to bring up, so I hid it for months.  My friends knew and didn’t care, they themselves being fucking weirdos that were very accepting of, well, weird shit.  We were also all very into tattoos.

 

One of the NCO’s I attended the advanced course for my MOS with was also shared an interest in tattoos, and he invited me to a hotel party where his artist friend was going to be.  I went, had a few beers, then said “fuck it” and got a tattoo on my chest.  I looked at it as a way to show pride for my religion and celebrate my success (IMC is for NCO’s, SNCO’s, and Officers, I was the first Lcpl to attend and graduate.)

 

The following Monday, we were in the smoke pit between classes when one of the Sgts asked to see my new tat, which he liked.  Word got around and the SSgts liked it too, as well as a Gunny (after he heard the explanation).  We were shooting the shit for a while when one of the Gunnies from Bn came down, asked to see it, then snatched me up for a counseling session.  He tried to chew my ass until one of my instructors swooped in and knife-handed him for fucking with one of his students.  My instructor then asked me for an explanation and had me stand by for a few.

 

When he returned he had a concerned look on his face that worried me.  He was holding paperwork, and that made me more nervous, as I had no idea what I might have done wrong, as is the case with most awkward encounters with SNCO’s.

 

The staff had all just been through the updated tattoo policy, something that my command in Okinawa had already made us sit through.  He handed me the paperwork, which turned out to be a photocopy of the Order and told me to read it.  After reading it, he asked me if I had any banned tattoos, piercings, or brands and I informed him that I did not.  He nodded then asked me to show him my newest tattoo, so I complied.  When asked about its meaning, I truthfully gave a full description of what it means, why I have it, and what my next two pieces were going to be, as they are of a similar nature.  Without questioning my integrity, he thanked me for my honesty and told me to get back to work and tell him if anyone bothered me about it again.

 

Unfortunately, the next time I got shit for it I was several thousand miles away.  Returning to my unit was pretty sweet.  I got back during a 96 and had a few days to catch up with all the friends I missed and assholes I didn’t.  Something odd had occurred, though.  Everyone kept asking to see my new ink, but I hadn’t told anyone about getting it since returning.  I asked my buddy about it finally and he told me that our Gunny had received an email from one of the Gunnies at School (yeah, it was the one that tried to chew me out) saying that I had gotten a banned tattoo and that I should be charged the second I report in.  We had a good laugh about that shit, because it was funny.

 

We get to work and I’m working on an engine, waiting on an NCO to drive me around to check in, when the office bitch tells me to go see the CWO.  I had not personally been introduced yet, so I figured he was one of those commanders that likes to actually meet the Marines he is commanding.  Nope.

 

I get into the maintenance office and he bursts out of his door, sweaty and pissed.  Without one molecule of tact, he instructs me to strip my upper half so he can get a good look at this awful tattoo.  I instantly knew how fucked up the situation was so I tossed off the blouse and green skivvy and stood at a nice, proud, proper parade rest while he yelled things like “MOTHERFUCKIN’ WHITE BOY” “NJP” “Page 11” and my personal favorite, “YOU DON’T LOVE JESUS, BOY?”  All of this happened as the office bitch and his bitches, a couple of NCO’s, and every SNCO in my platoon and our sister platoon stood silently by, looking completely shocked throughout this performance in its entirety.

 

He finished his tirade by ordering me to speak with the Company 1st Sgt, a salty old bastard that gave zero fucks about petty bullshit.  First Sgt pulls up the order, has me show him the ink, laughs, then asks me about it.  I explain again, he laughs more, then tells me to stand by and get ready to report to the CO.

 

The Major was one hell of an awesome guy.  It always felt like he wanted to tell the Staff and NCO’s to stop fucking with us and let us do our jobs.  He was also very understanding and was the CO for the old reserve station that used to be in my home town (small Corps, small world.)  I didn’t even have to explain it to him, he was a well-educated man and said he realized that a man’s religion doesn’t make him good or evil, it is what is inside of him.  He was also the only one in the company that knew what the symbols on my calf mean, and allowed me to affirm instead of swear when he promoted me to Cpl (he made sure his Marines took the oath of enlistment again and recited the NCO’s Creed when promoted to Cpl.)  After speaking with him, no one in the company ever fucked with me about my religion or tattoos again.

 

Is what I wished would have happened.  For a while, I was left alone to do my job and exist.  Until we got a new CO.  He was a mustang that loved enlisted guys, but he was one of those extremely busy guys that are never in the office.  That CWO called me out every single time we had a formation, class, or lecture that had anything to do with tattoos, religion, respect, racism, or uniform standards.  Chaplain’s coming to talk to us about the MWR programs?  Ha, shit no devil, he walked up behind me right before the chaplain entered the room and loudly ordered me out of the room because I “obviously couldn’t care less what a man of god has to say (his words, not mine).”  He also tried to fail my room for field day before a CG Inspection for “eccentric decoration” because I had a picture of a religious leader on my wall and claimed it was “prejudicial to good order and discipline” and that my choice was “unauthorized.”  It didn’t work, as far as I know there is no such thing as “eccentric decoration” and Marines are totally allowed to worship however they need, and there is no “authorized religion” list.

 

One of my NCO’s felt very similar to the CWO, but enlisted men are MUCH easier to deal with, as they have bosses that will actually do their job.  Corporal…let’s call him…Corporal Susan, because he was a bitch-ass.  Corporal Susan brings back a box of freshly minted dog tags and instructs a Lance to distribute them.  Mine come back correct for once (custom job by the Underground and I still have them, thanks boys!), but he of course wants to make sure his Marines are squared away, so he double checks us all after we have them.

 

“What the fuck is this shit, devil dog?”

 

“My identification tags, Corporal.”

 

“No, what the fuck is this shit?  You can’t have that!  That shit is illegal, its unauthorized!  That’s it, I’m sick of your shit, stand the fuck by!”

 

Yeah, a United States Marine tried to tell me that my religion was unauthorized and illegal…then attempted to charge me with an article 134, where he was stuck forever trying to figure out how to properly word “I don’t like his religion” without sounding like a moron.

 

Lots of words, I know, but there is a point to them.  That point being, if you are in any way different from the crowd, you will be “put on blast” so to speak, and it will be by the very men put in charge of your well-being.  In an institution that is supposed to be open to all races, sexual preferences, and beliefs, there are some extremely bigoted people.  Diversity is something that the Marine Corps has boasted about for quite a while now, but as diverse as it may be, there are still plenty of petty pieces of shit that believe they are superior simply due to their beliefs.  Part of being a good leader is evolving, adapting, and changing not only your methods but also the way you think.  Leaders need to accept their subordinates for who they are, not despise them for having unfamiliar beliefs.

 

Race and religion represent only a fraction of the things people discriminate against.  Is there sexual discrimination in the Marine Corps?  This…this is a touchy subject.  But the answer is yes, and it is everywhere.

 

Understand that discrimination towards females in the Marine Corps is a double-edged sword.  Females are routinely disrespected (rarely to their faces or within earshot) but are often treated with much more respect if that makes sense to you (it does if you have a sister or if your mom is a total bitch).  This, as always, depends on the unit they are attached to.

 

My unit in Okinawa was integrated.  We had a female SSgt and a couple of Lcpls usually, and there were more throughout the battalion.  Back in those days they were known as “WM’s”, “Women Marines” or “Walking Mattresses.”  Sexist much?  Yeah, just wait.  Males were constantly reminded that those Marines were female and that we should never, ever, ever, under any circumstances, rape them.  Like, ever.  NCO’s inspecting for field day always talked about having to be careful not to fuck with them and to let a female NCO play games with them, never a male.  Yes, they weren’t allowed to haze females, only males.  But a female sergeant sure as fuck could come into your room and keep your penis-having devil dog ass up till 0300 without anyone batting an eye.  Female Marines have different PFT standards due to the fact that men and women are built differently, and this fact is often used by male Marines to disparage their efforts during PT.  Females in my unit were not treated as harshly as males were for falling out of runs, rarely getting a page 11 while males would receive this paperwork and be put on remedial PT (and for the record, if I had a period, I would have exploited that shit as well.)

 

Now for the part that fucks with me to this day, and probably will until this shit stops happening.  We had two females, a Lcpl and a Pfc (the latter had just been busted down for having a relationship with a Sgt in her last unit…also on Okinawa but on a different camp).  They were drunk when two NCO’s showed up, a Sgt and a Cpl, and decided that they wanted to party too.  The Sgt was married, so his NJP was a bit harsher.  He was soon a Lance, as was the Cpl.  The really shitty part was they used the Pfc’s bad reputation to keep the rape charges from sticking to either one, and both females got charged and busted down for fraternization.  Yes, they were raped and then punished for reporting it.

 

This happens more than Marines will admit, and they often pull the “she was drinking with some Marines, what did she expect to happen?”  Know what she expected?  She expected her Marines to protect her.  She expected her NCO’s to look out for her.  She expected her brothers to act like professionals, not drunken frat boys looking to get a piece of free pussy.

 

Both of these Marines were treated like absolute shit after this.  They were known as sluts and whores, the bitches that fucked up poor Sgt Daterapist’s illustrious five-year career.  “Man, all he wanted was a little strange…bitch could have just put out she didn’t have to cry rape like that…”  When you actually hear another human being say something like that out loud after knowing what happened, it is very difficult to resist the urge to punch their fucking teeth down their throat.  They were standing extra duty, put on every working party imaginable, forced to field day throughout their restriction (60 days) and PT’d constantly.  Their lives were hell because they opened their mouths and told the truth about being sexually assaulted by their superiors, both of whom ended their enlistment as Corporals.

 

Women are definitely discriminated against in the Marines.  Not by the Corps, but by the Marines themselves.  Policies cannot be enforced if commanders are willing to throw females under the bus to protect the image of their unit and the victims are afraid to step forward and speak up. They are often too scared to report these crimes because they have seen what happens to other females that don’t comply with the rape culture bullshit.

 

No matter how awful the treatment of personnel can get, I would have to say that I truly feel for any openly gay male enlisted Marines right now.  The few times I encountered the true homophobia of United States Marines, I was appalled.  For bloodthirsty, hardened war machines, these men acted as if they were children.  Mean, stupid children.

 

On an average day, a Marine might use the word “gay” sixty times, mostly describing arbitrary NCO orders.  They will call each other “fag” and “faggot” a lot, like most young men these days.  This seems normal at first, until you leave base and end up in Palm Springs outside a bar with a few of them.  I have seen many a devil dog grow instantly, aggressively angry the second they see an effeminate guy walking around in jean shorts and high heels.  Here are some words that I have actually heard out of Marines’ mouths around/about members of the LGBT community:

 

“Git ‘way frum me faggit or Ima bust yer shit!”

“If that tranny fuck sez sumthin’ ta me Im gunna fuck its worl up.”

“I think Lcpl Quietguy is a queer, keep and eye on him for me, I don’t want no faggots in my Corps.”

“I heard Lcpl Notabrute was talking to some guy in a club.  Think its enough to get him charged?”

“Don’t do that faggot shit around me.  I hate that faggot shit!”

 

To me, that is some seriously fucked up shit.  I would almost have to assume that openly gay males have similar problems to females:  a slight break on the hazing and bullshit punishment in exchange for no one taking them seriously and constant allegations that they only got where they are because they throated a few gallons of Commissioned Cocksauce, but knowing Marines as well as I do, they will probably be hazed much harder in addition to said allegations.

 

No one is safe from discrimination, though.  Like I said, the Marine Corps is a diverse organization with many differing ideologies, philosophies, and beliefs, many of which contradict each other.  You will meet good ole boys that believe White is Right.  You will meet black guys that hate all white people, and you will meet brown guys that hate all white people.  You might meet an Asian guy that hates everybody.  You will definitely meet men that hate homosexuals, and you will meet men that you won’t find out are gay until years after your enlistment ends.  There are christians that hate muslims that hate jews that hate wiccans that hate vegans that hate lesbians that hate men that hate satanists.  Most of the Marines I worked with couldn’t care less as long as you did your job and didn’t cause trouble, but there are some really awful pieces of shit out there that need to be flushed, as they are leaving a nasty brown stain on the beautiful porcelain toilet bowl that is the United States Marine Corps.