“Let’s Talk about Tradition” (Blood Stripes and Pinning)

By Chris Pascale.

For those who don’t know, pinning is the practice of stabbing a person with their chevrons or wings, which can be seen in this Dateline video. A blood stripe is a red strip of cloth that goes down a set of dress blue pants when a marine is an NCO or higher. When some LCpls are promoted to Cpl, the NCOs get together and give him a blood stripe, which I explain in the story below, but is briefly mentioned in comments 12 & 14 here.

These 4 stories are not the goriest among the Marine Corps. They are merely 4 times I witnessed something related to these ridiculous concepts.

Scene: Keesler AF Base, October, 2003

“Hey, Gatch,” a brand new PFC said to the marine I was walking with in the barracks, “I kept the backings off; pin me.”

At that, the LCpl who I’ll call Gatch, touched his collar to make sure he was telling the truth, then bottom-fisted the shit out of both chevrons into his shoulders with a sharp, thick thud bringing him to crumple halfway over at the pain.

I must had a look that said, ‘what the fuck?’ to which the new PFC said,

“I got promoted today.”

To PFC, which, like self-respect, is given, not earned

We don’t keep in touch.

Scene: Falluja, Iraq, July, 2005

Myself and Texray were promoted to Cpl. As the engineers came around to shake my hand my SSgt lightly touched the chevrons. I considered giving him permission to pin me. He was one of the finer marines I knew, and a good leader who’d encouraged me whereas the previous one sought to single me out. But I let the emotion of the moment pass, and he didn’t assume he had the right. It’s a Catch-22, really. The marine worthy of pinning you is often the one who wouldn’t. And the marines seeking respect allow themselves to be disrespected.

Hours later I was out on a mission with a recon platoon I was attached to in the back of a high back Humvee with a Sgt.

“I got promoted today,” I told him.

“To corporal?” he asked, sounding upbeat.

“Yeah.”

And then he punched me in the shoulder. Not getting a reaction he tried again, and then again.

“Nah, I’ll getchya later,” he said like he was a good-natured friend and not some jackass who didn’t understand the basic tenet of leverage – you can’t get it if you’re sitting on your ass.

We firmed up at some house in the city and since I wasn’t posted on one of the guns that hour I laid down to sleep. Off on the front porch I heard this Sgt jovially exclaiming,

“But it’s the blood stripe! He earned it. We can give it to him.”

What he was referring to was having me run through a 2-column gauntlet of marines who’d knee me in the sides of my legs as I attempted to run through them. The Sgt worked to make it seem like a fraternal-type thing that would make me one of them, and not as though he was a sadistic asshole who got joy in hurting others.

Aside from the lack of interest and presence of morals from the recon SSgts, my Platoon Sgt – the one who I’d have considered letting pin me – would have pulled all engineer support from the recon battalion, and they would have had to explain just why it was no roads were being cleared from midnight to 4:00 A.M., and no weapons caches were being uncovered any longer.

Scene: Camp Lejeune Field Exercise, June, 2006

We’d just come from a mock patrol through the forestry of Camp Lejeune in preparation for the deserts of Iraq, and then formed up. A Motor T marine was promoted to LCpl. Afterwards, our new company CO made the following speech:

“Isn’t this something; getting promoted in the middle of this hot shit out here. Welp,” he concluded, “I’ll leave you NCOs to congratulate your marine.”

At which he left, and a small minority of asshole NCOs, one of whom was nicknamed “The Weasel” because of all the slimy shit he was always involved in, were like, ‘yeah, we’re gonna congratulate you.’

Scene: French Creek Rec Center, Sept. 30, 2006

For unrelated reasons, I’d requested to leave that line unit, initially for another base, but settled for H&S Co.

The command was a good one, and I was lucky to be there. The company CO was a female Lt. A good marine who cared about her job and doing the right thing. Helping her was a female 1stSgt of whom I only have good things to say.

Lt. GoodMarine had us at the French Creek Rec Center and began talking about hazing. I didn’t recall any hazing in the unit, but maybe some directive was passed down.

“Why,” she began, “do you marines think that some think it’s okay to pin other marines?”

There was a silence. I was getting promoted to Sgt the next day. So far as I was concerned I’d earned it the year before in Falluja, for which no one present had been with me, meaning that no one rated to even consider pinning me.

Filling the brief silence, I said something about people not sticking up for themselves. I said this because when you’re stupid (and I was stupid) you think everyone has a share of the blame for fucked up things that happen. The CO thought it over, and must have seen something in the look of the Sgt next to me.

“Sergeant CrotchSmell,” she said. “What do you think?”

“You don’t want to know what I think,” he told her, as though what he had to say was so intense it would have made our little heads explode.

Fact was, Sgt CrotchSmell was an ASVAB-waiving Bulk Fuel tough guy with a very limited vocabulary, and a bit of a womanly swagger. He must have learned early and often that whatever it was he wanted to convey wouldn’t come off very well, so with every request to express himself he thickened the wall.

“I have something to say,” another Sgt spoke up.

“Go ahead.”

“We have traditions,” Sgt BrainCell said, stressing the word, “and when we don’t respect our traditions we lose them. This Corps has been around since seventeen-seventy-five, and it seems like these new marines want to leave the old traditions behind…”

He went on as though George Washington had personally slam-stabbed chevrons into the gangrened shoulders of every marine in the Revolution, and Samuel Nicholas was the first to say, ‘you know what, fellas? We should knee the shit out of that new corporal until he can’t walk! You know, for camaraderie.’

You get so used to hearing these canned speeches from insecure Sgts who spout them off when challenged that this idiotic rant didn’t even seem funny. He had the floor until a SSgt finally said,

“I’m sorry to interrupt, Lieutenant, but I was asked to get a head count. Raise your hand if you bought your tickets for the ball yet.”

Most hands stayed down.

“So you’re talking about traditions, but you’re not attending the birthday ball?”

Traditions

Sgt BrainCell was right. We can lose valuable traditions by not practicing them, and that’s because traditions are not inherent to our lives – they are simply something a culture adopts and disowns. I’m lucky not to have experienced any physical abuse in the Corps, but for those who do, it’s something they carry with them well after their time in. With all that we give to serve our country, it shouldn’t be.

And that’s all I have to say about that.

Author: Chris Pascale

Christopher Pascale is the author of War Poems: A Marine's Tour 2003-2008. He served in the Marine Corps as a combat engineer.

  • old

    You do some intelligent, impartial research on this whole ‘Blood Stripe’ issue and you find out that the Marine Corps (as per usual) LIES about its origins, and exaggerates the story behind it!

    https://www.stripes.com/blogs-archive/the-rumor-doctor/the-rumor-doctor-1.104348/what-s-the-real-story-of-the-blood-stripe-1.122658#.WPb-tt0zVkh

    I saw my fair share of NCO assholes that took it as an opportunity to hurt others, but if I was in charge a CHANGE I would make to the tradition to one where NCO’s have the latitude to “welcome” the newly minted Corporal – but it has to be one-on-one, and the new guy is allowed to HIT BACK- regardless of what rank is on your shoulder!

    This tradition is so reminiscent of a lot of military traditions ( mindless and outdated) that the ‘Grandmas Pot roast story’ applies:

    http://selfdefinedleadership.com/blog/?p=158

    Since I’ve written before that Marines have too many uniforms and trinkets, I’ll also add that its just another tailoring hassle that keeps the ‘Marine Uniform’ side industry in constant business! (btw OCS MARINE SHOP-GO FUCK YOURSELF!)

    Finally, you could also argue that in the proper spirit of the ‘seven Marines were killed at Chapultepec’, and borrowing the stripe tradition from the Army, maybe you shouldn’t be allowed to wear it unless you been in a firefight, and/or wounded in one.
    Cheers.

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