Thursday, November 12, 2009
What the Marines Taught Me About Me... and About Jesus
There are blogs that discuss matters and blogs that update others on the blogger's personal life like some one-way facebook... long ago I established this blog as an "idea place" not social networking site. That said, there has been an event that crossed into both of those worlds and instead of me re-telling the story countless times (I already have but this can reach those I haven't yet talked to) I am going to blog my account.
Some time, about 9-10 months ago, my wife and I were in discussion about where we wanted to go in life and what we wanted to do. For once I allowed her to talk first and she talked about places in the world she would like to visit and have our kids see. She wants to make great jewelry and take beautiful pictures. I asked her if me being a military officer could ever fit into those dreams and, shockingly, she told me it could.
Fast-forward past hundreds of discussions and a highly painful and personal surgery, approximately 800 pages of paperwork, dozens of interviews, 8-9 physical fitness tests with the local USMC officer recruiter, hundreds of phone calls, awkward family situations and discussions, and endless waiting ("hurry up and wait" has whole new personal meeting for me).
Finally, in late August I was selected by a board to attend United States Marine Corps Officer's Candidates School in Quantico, VA for 10 weeks and I was thrilled. So I officially resigned my position at the church I was working for and prepared for my journey. The last day of September my bags were packed and prepared and my family (plus one good friend) took me up to KCI airport for a family briefing and an overnight stay before we lifted off the next morning.
After dinner, my wife and kids came back to the hotel and held me close for awhile as I changed over into shorts and a tee-shirt I was taking with me. Then I walked them downstairs, loaded them into the Blazer, and tried to man up. Sarah and I hugged for a long time and I knew the longer it went on the harder it would be. With some trouble we let go and I made her promise not to cry until she got home, she nodded through misting eyes and I wondered how this would work. Talk is one thing, doing it is another. Israel sat in the back and as the car pulled away his little paw shot out and I heard him sobbing, "I want my daddy!" My resolve that this was the right thing, to provide, to follow this passion, started to crumble then.
The 727's wheels lifted up at 0647 on a cool October morning and none of the 10 candidates on board slept even though it was earlier than we all got up usually. We studied flashcards and swapped stories of OCS that we had heard through the recruiter or friends or the Internet. We landed at Ronald Reagan International and thought, "Here we go."
Over the next five days our resolve was tested as the Marines attempted to bore us to death through gear issuing and sitting on the most uncomfortable camp stools known to man, only able to read our Candidate Regulations. It was painful. Amazingly though, they did not take our cell phones yet and I was able to text and call, quietly, during that time.
Now, I have never experienced the phenomenon known as "home sickness". I was the child who cried about having to go back home and my wife and I have spent 2-3 weeks apart a couple of times due to various circumstances and trips in our marriage before. Ten weeks is awhile but we believed it would just be a stretch. Day 3 of the Death By Boredom phase and I began to understand how and why a deployment would be so incredibly and uniquely difficult. One night my wife, no doubt trying to give me a little slice of home, sent me a picture on my cell phone of my whole family and visiting grandparents. I buried my head in a blanket and silent tears slid freely down my cheeks (anybody in the military who says that they have not cried for home I would deem a liar).
The following Wednesday is known as "pick up" in military circles and involves you being turned over to your platoon staff. In my case, a staff sergeant, two gunnery sergeants, and a captain. This is where hell begins. There is lots of weeping and gnashing of teeth. You lose all of your civilian gear, your phone, you WILL talk in third person and speak only once you have asked for- and been granted- permission to speak... oh, and scream everything. Example:
"Good afternoon, Gunnery Sergeant!! Candidate Rose, requests permission to speak to platoon Sergeant, Gunnery Sergeant Arcentales!! Good afternoon, Gunnery Sergeant!!"
You learn "instantaneous, immediate obedience to orders" and moving with "speed and intensity". And there is no "adaption time"- you will fix yourself now. Really, all of this isn't too bad and the only bad thing is you lose your voice within the first week and sound like you have laryngitis. You get to know all of the guys in your platoon really well- though not through fireside chats or coffee- but based on how they sound off, what you hear third hand, how fast they adapt, how good of a fire team member they are, how well they march... basically, their general performance.
My wife, once I returned, wanted to know when I knew that I wasn't going to take the job. In a rare instance of self-awareness and self-realization, it was Training Day 2 after pick up. We were issued our M16-A4s. Don't get me wrong, I LOVED the rifle (okay, not after carrying it 12-16 hours for the first days) but it was putting together those "instant obedience" + "gettin' some" (military-ese for killing) that it occurred to me that one day they are going to point me in some direction and tell me to kill and I won't even question it... that killing would be WHY I got up in the morning.
I know, it is a necessity. I have more respect for the Marines now than I did joining. I just determined in that day that I was going to trade years away from my children and wife and all of those good memories to go and make really terrible ones. It is my choice. Maybe it makes me a coward to some. I don't really care about those opinions.
It was in these moments after my realization that I knew I was stuck for WEEKS on end with only letters to communicate. That I would have to pay the piper to some degree. That there was nothing I could do for the moment and that I may as well suck it up, put out, and spend some time in self-reflection while drilling for hours on end.
Pride got to me early on. I thought, "Great, I am going to go back and face two types of people: those who are disappointed in me for 'failing/quitting' and those who will always think, 'I/we told him so.'" ... and it is here that I have Marine training to thank. I have always been a fairly confident person but this choice was bothering me a lot- mainly in regard to others' reaction to my choice. But after the first 7-10 Training Days I stopped caring. This is not to say that I do not care about others but that disagreeing with people with confidence is a way of life in training. If you do not project confidence in decisions those instructors will eat you alive. It was a wonderfully freeing teaching.
In the weeks I had to think about my decisions and life I found two things that I will conclude with:
1. I cannot shut-up about this guy Jesus that I know. My last night in Quantico, with 5 guys gathered around my rack, I told them in verbiage that only other Marines would understand about who Jesus was and why He is the only thing that matters. This is who I am.
2. This was a pilgrimage for me. I do not regret going, though it has cost me. It answered questions I had that I did not even know I was asking. It taught me more than I ever thought I could learn in such a short period of time. It reminded me of what I am capable of. It showed me how little I need to survive. It showed me my priorities far better than reflective moments in a coffee shop ever could. I do not know if this will be my last pilgrimage but it was, ironically, 40 days long.
Notes for the church as a whole:
I. The Marines should not be the ones who claim "Ductus Exemplo" ("to lead by example") that should be Christians motto. As should, "We don't lie, cheat, or steal". We have gotten lazy in our example- no excuses.
II. Organization and Identification. Every Marine is a rifleman and knows his/her job within a fire team, squad, platoon, company, and battalion... why don't Christians know their most basic mission and act like it is important?
III. The lack of importance excuses have. A job/mission is either done or it is not, who care WHY it did not happen if it did not happen? Would it matter if lives were at stake?
IV. Professionalism is a must. The way you sit, stand, walk, talk, dress, and take care of your body in health and hygiene are reflective of your professional nature. Do not take it lightly.
If you have comments or questions please feel free to leave them or e-mail me. Words won't do any of the experience justice and it was the hardest thing I have ever had to do.
HUGE thank-you to:
Gunnery Sgt. Arecentales, you have entered my Hall of Fame of influence. You did not tolerate mission failure, excuses, or attitude. I haven't been so angry at any person for a long time... and almost immediately realized that it was MY problem. You are a fine man, a great Marine, and this country owes more than it can repay for the countless fine officers you have produced.
Capt. Brian Olmstead for his time and work with me. I know you are disappointed but you have made your own mistakes. Still respect you to death.
Gunnery Sgts. Herron, Borreo, and Cruz. Wow, you still haunt my sleep but you taught me more about discipline than anyone I have encountered since my last butt-whooping by my own parents.
Staff Sgt. Nixon, thanks for showing me (by force) how to not show anger or die laughing when I really want to. You scare me and make me laugh a LOT. "Blame it on the Aa-a-a-a-co-hol!" Hahahahaha!
HUGE Jerk Award Goes To:
Gunnery Sgt. Hervey. Guess a number between 1 and 10... that's how many seconds you have to get to your table and sit down! Oh, you didn't make it either. Maybe we will bump into each other somewhere else, buddy.