The Perfect Scapegoat

To Semper Huh and ExMotard, I and most likely many others appreciate your candor. I’ve been out for four years now, and still remember my “epiphany.” I realized after about the two-year mark that greatness comes from within and the Corps, quite simply, was a monstrous impediment to my social, mental, emotional, and intellectual health. While this may seem melodramatic, consider the alternative: relying on another person or institution to extract virtues that already exist isn’t always successful.

Don’t get me wrong- tutoring, mentoring, and instruction are great things. But the institutional logic that exists within the Corps reinforces the identity of the Marine without truly making him better. Unless you were some kind of social reject, orphan, or juvenile delinquent, the Corps can’t offer much with regard to basic life skills. The training is rudimentary, while the drudgery of what I call the “existential upkeep” that Marines are expected to do is just too much for a normal, well-adjusted person to accept. I also noticed that the reason the USMC fosters such a zealous atmosphere is because its morale hangs by a thread on a daily basis. Incessant talks about motivation aren’t necessary if a unit is already motivated. It’s also important to note that Marine officers live very different lives from the enlisted. I would venture to say that the observations made on this site would come as quite a surprise to officers. I don’t blame officers for feeling this way, and I’m sure most of the hostility enlisted Marines have for them stems from plain, good old-fashioned envy. Hate them all you want, but officers were smart enough not to enlist. They get better pay, more freedom, and have more resources and training invested into them.

Now for the good news. I used to be a bit embarrassed to say I was a Marine, and it’s not because I failed at it. If anything, it failed me. I did a 4 year contract, served a year in Iraq, earned my Bachelors while I was in, and honorably discharged as a Sgt.  But I am fairly nonchalant about my service. It’s really no big deal because civilians work hard every day and don’t expect to be adored just for wiping their asses. And now that I’m out, I wouldn’t discourage someone from joining as long as they understood that they themselves are responsible for their own contract, conduct and decisions. If they know there is NOTHING in the world they can do to change the madness, they may come out of it okay. I’m still reaping the VA and GI Bill benefits, so it was a good decision for me. But I have serious doubts about the mental stability, moral grounding and competence of enlisted lifers. They aren’t bad people. They’re just a product of their environment.

Most Marines are basically “tourists”. They stroll around base for 3 1/2 years just to get a feel for the military culture. So I recommend that if you join the Corps, you do so within the context of a bizarre sociological experiment. I entered boot camp with a very serious and solemn tone because I really wanted to improve myself and excel. But I left the front gates at Lejeune laughing my ass off because everything I did in the Corps I could have done on my own. Tourists have the luxury of grabbing the proverbial bag of popcorn and just watching the show. I didn’t do that, unfortunately. I believed that the Corps would eventually deliver on its pledge to cultivating me into a better person. It never did. I recommend young people to just mind their own business and do their time if they’re a tourist. Employers don’t care that I was a Sgt, so I could’ve remained a LCPL and had a much better time. While I still ridiculed my superiors and mocked them, there was always this lingering responsibility I had that never went away. I think what drives Marines to promote in their first contract is vanity. No one remembers my name from 4 years ago and no one cares.

In other words, I was bought cheap.  LCPL is the best enlisted rank that offers the least amount of effort for the most return. You get to laugh at the debacles, poor leadership and stupidity, and if something goes wrong it’s not your fault. The second-best rank is SGT. Being a Corporal kind of blows.

A lot of people join the Corps for the bragging rights, which I think is just selling out to its undeserved reputation. So they leave the Corps with greater confidence and conveniently “forget” that they’re leaving because it’s overrated. If it wasn’t, they would still be Marines. Plus, that EGA tattoo isn’t coming off for a while, so they might as well just shine it on. But the lifers are dead serious about their profession, or at least they should be if they want to keep their careers. I’ve found that an enlisted lifer working on his career is like a toddler playing with his toys; both take their respective activities very seriously and believe that what they’re doing at that moment is the most important thing in the world. Take away his toys (or for the Marine, threaten his career or credibility), and all hell breaks loose. But at the end of the day, not a lot is accomplished. And then they get up the next day and do it all over again. They don’t see the futility of it all, but it gives them something to do and have been made to believe they are important. While I’ve heard tons of people talk about how awful the life of LCPLs and below are, I believe that enlisted lifers are the most miserable and disillusioned bastards in the USMC. Those who aren’t discouraged are blissfully ignorant. They believed with every beat of their hearts that one day they would be able to rise above the turmoil and struggle of the Corps, but it’s an anti-climactic “victory.” Every job has a changeover in bullshit with regard to promotions; but the USMC’s bullshit is epically infuriating for a sane individual.  Even if they promote to E9, lifers spend over 15 years getting to it just so they can drive a desk and watch LCPLs clean out their trash. I believe that it’s not worth it. There is no light at the end of the tunnel until you EAS.  I do believe in worthy careers, though- I’m pursuing mine. So the point is not that we should all just give up and live in some kind of fatalistic world where nothing has any purpose. Quite the contrary. It’s that we need to determine what we’ll get out of an organization before throwing ourselves into it.

Some may argue that I’m just being hateful. It’s not that at all. It’s that once a lifer retires, he has little or no career prospects. His legacy is being a Marine, and little else. While there are exceptions to this, enlisted retirees are generally relegated to working for the electric company, driving a taxi, pool cleaning company or short order cook. Tell me, why would I want to do this?  Their best years are behind them. It’s kind of like a protracted reign similar to the glory days of high school. And once it’s over, he’s discarded into the private sector. Most don’t have a college degree, and many are shuffled around to shops different from their MOS. Enlisted lifers are usually glorified supervisors who have lost their job skills. I’m just being truthful. A handful become GS workers and are able to make gobs of money, but there are only so many slots available. To put it mildly, enlisted lifers got on the wrong career track and are stuck with having to watch officers move on to achieve bigger and better things. That’s just the way it is.

I don’t think all enlisted lifers are lazy. I think they’re burdened with an SOP that has been 2 steps forward and 1 step back for too long, and it’s designed that way to keep the animals occupied. In Iraq, my unit was a MACHINE. Nearly everything went smoothly, and when obstacles appeared, they disappeared with innovation and teamwork because there was a real mission at stake. But the very moment I stepped back on CONUS soil, the silly and infuriating games began. You can only imagine my anger. It was like, “Shit, I’m back. I could’ve just remained on deployment for the rest of my contract.” So I got off the USMC treadmill because an inefficient template for policy, regulations and the overall mission results in protracted success (if any at all). It was just more of the same, regardless of the unit.

The bulk of tourists EAS because they know there is something fundamentally wrong with it. The word I used in the first paragraph is “normal,” and I used that term deliberately. If even half of the enlisted lifers I saw were in their right minds, that would be a very generous concession. But to remain and embrace such a dysfunctional environment requires a bit of insanity and/or desperation. And I’m not talking about the “Ha ha, Marines are so zany and wild with their silly and fun antics.” Instead, I saw serious indications of obsessive compulsives, narcissists, manic depressives and co-dependents. Don’t forget the sadists. Their environment is driving them insane. There is no way on this planet that the Marine Corps environment can pass as “normal.”

I realize that many a motivator might want to respond to this last assertion by defending the chaos of the Marine Corps as a prerequisite for sound training and mental preparation in combat. That’s a very creative rationale, but I call bullshit on it: smelly, sanctimonious, and self-deluding bullshit. On paper, Marines ply their trade and hone their craft with training, but that doesn’t happen in reality. Instead, it is the image of the Marine Corps that is
polished and maintained for the public to observe, and that requires time-consuming formalities that ultimately precludes additional mission-oriented training. The result is that every Marine that goes home for leave is a walking advertisement for the USMC, and each one that discharges is expected to live by the pledge of “Once a Marine, Always a Marine.” Allow me to call that last adage what for it is: a cheap form of guilt inducement designed to keep you from criticizing the Corps. What other military organization focuses its theme on permanent (though unofficial) membership? None that I can think of.

SNCOs aren’t entirely stupid. They know who is going to stick around and who isn’t, and they give preferential treatment to the motivators (even if their performance is woefully lacking). The moment they discover you’re getting out, you’ve been blacklisted. The only thing that virtually  guarantees that you’ll be taken care of in the USMC is whether or not you’re “in.” “Are you in, or are you out? That is the million dollar question. Are you going to make a career out of this, or not? If so, then welcome to the brotherhood. If you get a DUI, we’ll do our best to suppress it because we don’t want to ruin your career. But if you’re not in, well you can just bugger off and die (but not until we freeze your pay and demote you). Semper Fi, Devil Dog. Semper Fi.”

Thank you for reading, I know it was lengthy.