When we returned stateside from one of earlier tours in Iraq, the first thing the command started planning was a large memorial service for the boys we’d lost back in Iraq. That time, we’d lost over thirty, so it was going to be the entire MEU [Marine Expeditionary Unit], as well as a lot of the families of the fallen.
I’ve never liked formations, ever. You just stand there while your knees start hurting more, the bugs bite you, and your feet go numb. A few guys always pass out, but I’ve never done it. But this ceremony was a little different. It was going to be big and long, yes, but also appropriate. Every guy there was grieving more than he was thinking about how much he didn’t want to be standing at the position of attention.
About that time we’d started getting newly graduated Marines from SOI [School of Infantry]. Because I guess the platoon commander knew that I wasn’t going to beat them up or haze them (others might), he made me handle all their checking in. Trouble is, it’s like handling a pack of refugees coming off the boat from a foreign country. They may speak the language, but only barely. They’re confused, young, stressed out, and dragging around at least two gigantic sea bags full of crap that the Marines made them buy but they’ll never use.
When we went out to do the memorial service for the guys we’d lost, the new Marines have to come, too. They may not have been there, but they’re still Marines, and they can still honor the guys from their unit that didn’t make it. Because they’re pretty young and stupid, they often get stuck doing dumb things, like setting up displays, arranging chairs, or sometimes as attendants to the bereaved.
Just why somebody would give a bereaved family a Marine escort that had been in the fleet for two weeks is beyond me. Not only do they have no idea where everything is on base, but their “comfort” is virtually useless. They’re just young guys, frequently bezitted teenagers, with no real understanding of the fleet Marine force, combat, or the tragedy of losing a comrade overseas. The reason I can think of that they would give the job to junior Marines is because they’re typically too terrified to screw it up, or use anything other than the best possible manners. Compared to a “senior” Marine, it’s much better. The junior will say yes ma’am and no sir, and the more experienced Marine will just grunt, drink, and probably bitch about something. Our capacity for sympathy is virtually destroyed. For grief, not so. We do grieve, but usually by destroying ourselves – hence the dysfunction of most infantry Marines. But sympathy – take it somewhere else. Maybe that’s why they choose the new Marines.
One of my guys, one of the new Marines, made an absolute fool of himself. During the memorial service, he had been specifically tasked with standing directly behind a bereaved girlfriend and adjusting her chair for her, escorting her to the displays on the field, escorting her back, and offering his assistance as she took a seat back in the chair – which was perched on uneven ground in the grass. Sounds easy enough, and he didn’t have to even speak.
This kid decides to hit on the woman.
But let me elaborate a little further. It’s one thing to be perhaps excessively nice to a girlfriend who’s just lost her boyfriend and supposedly future husband. It’s quite another to hit on her and ask her out when you see her in a bar with her friends. And even worse to do it again when you’re at the memorial ceremony for HER deceased loved one.
Yet there’s more. Though my junior Marine didn’t know it, she, too was a Marine, and unlikely to take any sort of crap from a kid four ranks her junior. And on top of this, the guy that was killed – her boyfriend – was a friend of mine with whom we’d done some special operations training. And there was my guy, by now a battalion-wide embarrassment, hitting on his girlfriend.
She did the right thing. She immediately told the people in charge of the memorial service. What that meant is that the fact my platoon had a retarded junior Marine hitting in the girlfriend of one of our battalion’s war dead went up the food chain a LONG way, and then eventually back over to my battalion command, and then all the way back down to us, and me.
And, of course, the entire battalion knew about it, too. They were going to lynch him, I think, and I really wouldn’t have said much about it. Heck, we’ve already had Marines airlifted from directly in front of our barracks for the beatings they’ve received, so I don’t think anybody would have been particularly surprised. What I did tell the kid, however, was that he should lock himself in his room, and not come out after dark. They’d kill him – especially the boys from the platoon that lost the guy. They already had a reputation for being pretty aggressive anyway.
So the command gets the bright idea that we should get rid of this guy before he causes any more trouble. In addition, he’s totally useless to the battalion now. Nobody would trust him, nobody would be nice to him, and if I had my say in it, I’d have him cleaning trash cans and picking up cigarette butts for his entire 4-year enlistment – as a career private.
They ended up making him pack all his stuff and moving over one regiment to some people that supposedly hadn’t heard of him. But, of course, they had. We made sure of it. That was the sort of thing they needed to know. They weren’t just getting somebody who had a propensity for gross indiscretion; they were getting a true ass of a man that had no place within our ranks. For all our dysfunction, it paled in comparison to this guy’s behavior.
I can’t remember his first name, so I can’t check to see of he’s still in the Corps, but I’m hoping that he’s not. There’s no place for people like him.
When they picked the regiment that they put this guy in, I don’t think they picked very well. The battalion they put him in had only recently returned from Fallujah, and they’d lost a lot of their own guys. In other words, they were pretty bitter about everything, and rightfully so, and then they got a kid that didn’t have any sort of common sense whatsoever. And I could see how deeply rooted it was. I watched him get screamed at up and down the line. And he’d just stand there with a blank look on his face. I don’t even think he understood what he did was wrong. He was just disappointed he didn’t get laid.
Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw
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