Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Timing is Everything

I served for the better part of three decades as an infantryman. With all of the combat the Marine Corps saw in those years, I never set foot in a combat zone. I had as many operational assignments as any one else. I volunteered for the infantry, and like most Marine infantry officers, fought to get back to infantry assignments whenever I was assigned elsewhere. At the end of my four years of obligated service I considered leaving the Marine Corps for the civilian sector. One of my buddies opined at the time that if I got out I would be sitting at home some day watching him and my other buddies on TV, running across the sand of a combat zone; and I would be sorry I wasn't with them. He was right, and I stayed in.

As my career progressed, my buddies began referring to me as "The Peacemaker." Anytime I checked into an operational unit, peace would reign world-wide. Nearly every time I left an operational unit, headed for a school or some other assignment, that unit would go to war, or some facsimile thereof. Those unfamiliar with the way of the warrior could remark that I led a charmed life. That's not how I viewed it at the time.

I spent four straight years in infantry battalions and expeditionary units when I was a lieutenant. The most combat I saw was the obligatory end-of-liberty call brawl in some port city whose gendarmerie looked forward to cracking the heads of a few unruly Americans. The month after I left for an instructor assignment in January of 1983, my previous unit left its liberty call station in the Pacific, steamed through the Suez Canal, and joined the fray in Lebanon.

Four years later I returned to Camp Lejeune and took command of an infantry company in a battalion that was in the Mediterranean deployment cycle. We trained hard, made two uneventful 6-month deployments and I left for recruiting duty after 3 of the fastest and most fun years of my career. Three weeks after I took command of a recruiting outfit in Georgia, Saddam did the stupid. My old unit, 1st Battalion, 8th Marines, was featured on a news special that December as they prepared to leave Camp Lejeune for Saudi Arabia. A few months later I watched a day-old C-Span tape of my battalion as it got ready for its assault of an objective on the outskirts of Kuwait City. I watched as the guy who had succeeded me as Operations Officer issued an attack order to the company commanders--all friends of mine. I had stayed in the Corps and my lieutenant buddy's prophecy had still come true.

I later commanded an infantry battalion through one of the most operationally quiet times in my Corps' history. I left 3rd Marines to go to the Naval War College and then got my follow-on assignment to serve as the Current Operations officer for US Forces Korea. I was in school there in Newport with several of my long-time buddies, and they reprised my "Peacemaker" moniker when, a scant three months before I was to leave for my assignment on the Powder Keg Peninsula, a smiling peace summit between the leaders of North and South Korea was broadcast. The most tense time I experienced during my subsequent tour in Seoul was a snowstorm. I even had a face to face experience with the enemy, but that is grist for another post.

In June of 2001, I assumed command of the Sixth Marine Corps District, essentially a recruiting regiment, responsible for officer and enlisted accessions in the Southeast. Not a full three months later, my nation was at war. I had tried to get out of my recruiting assignment to join the fight in 1990, without success. You only get out of a recruiting assignment early by getting fired--regardless if you are the world's foremost operational expert (as I tried to portray myself at the time). So, stuck on recruiting while the war on terror heated up, I could only watch in frustration as the majority of my Marine Corps slung packs on their shoulders and headed off to fight, without me, again.

One of my oldest and dearest friends served for nearly thirty-five years as a Marine, rising from the enlisted ranks to the rank of lieutenant colonel at his "retirement" two years ago. His heart wasn't in the civilian world, and when the Marine Corps started asking for retired officers to volunteer to come back on active duty, he signed up. He is in Iraq.

Dang it, Scott. I better not see you on TV.
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