Thursday, February 22, 2007

Proud Pictures

Ten years ago this month, I stood on a parade field in Hawaii and received the colors of the 1st Battalion, Third Marines. The next eighteen months were some of the most rewarding, and quickest, months of my life. Commanding an infantry battalion was not as tactically fun as commanding a rifle company had been ten years previous, but it provided a whole different level of thrills and challenges. Riding herd on nearly a thousand super-charged teenagers and twenty-somethings, trained to fight at the drop of a hat, will keep your heart racing 24/7.

Among all the plaques and mementos in my office, there are two (not as grand as many of the rest) that mean most to me. They both have a photograph as centerpiece. The first is a plaque with a photo of the seven officers of Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, Eighth Marines. We are standing in a tent, faces subdued by camouflage paint. Those four platoon commanders, my XO, our Artillery Forward Observer, and I had built the best rifle company in the Marine Corps out of 200 of the finest young Americans this nation has ever produced. The large brass plate under the picture lists the officers by name and bears the inscription, "What's he trying to prove?"-- a reference to what a faceless voice in the dark had queried in the middle of one of the countless challenges to which we subjected the company during long hours of training.

The other plaque dearest to me bears a photo of the 46 officers of the 1st Battalion, Third Marines taken during our deployment to Okinawa, Japan. It is the only instance outside of the Change of Command ceremonies at either end of my tenure as Commanding Officer, that I had all of the officers assembled in the same place at the the same time. I had driven my staff crazy trying to find just the right jungle backdrop for the photo. We had gathered ten or twelve cameras to make sure that we got a good picture. The best picture (the one on the plaque) came not from the expensive Nikons, Cannons, and Pentaxes, but from the little cardboard disposable camera I carried in my pocket, and had pitched to the photographer at the last second.

I made sure every officer in the battalion got a copy of the photo, and charged them to keep it safe. I knew most of them didn't care much about it at that moment, but with the passing of time it would become an important artifact and touchstone in their lives.

It is in mine.
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