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Shooting With The Marines


We are on our bellies, legs splayed behind us, leaning onto our elbows in the dust. In our hands are M16's, pointed at targets 35 yards ahead of us that float in and out of focus through the cross hairs of our guns.

One hour up Coast Route Highway 5, our south Orange County neighbors are dropping kids off at school, chatting at starbucks, working out in the gym, settling in to their day's work.

We are worlds away from all of that, down here in the scrub brush at Camp Pendleton. We are with the Marines, whose work over the last 10 years has been to constantly prepare for war, in between deployments to war.

Today, we are participants in Jane Wayne day, an annual event staged by Battalion 3/5 for wives and girlfriends of the young Marines. The idea is to build empathy and understanding among the spouses for the work their husbands do. Easing stress at home enables Marines to be less stressed in the field.

Also included in this day are members of Team Darkhorse, Laguna Hills' support Committee for Battalion 3/5. Battalion 3/5, known by the call sign Darkhorse, made history last fall for suffering the more casualties than any other unit in the 10 year war.

Their mission was to assume control of the area from the British, who had lost 100 men in four years. When the 3/5 arrived, schools were damaged and closed; poppy crops flourished for the opium trade, and villagers were at constant threat from the Taliban. Seven months after their arrival, the 3/5 Marines had cleared the roads, rebuilt and opened schools, and helped farmers return to growing crops of wheat. Though their mission was widely successful, that success came at a terrible cost. Twenty five Marines lost their lives and nearly 200 were wounded, with many losing limbs to roadside bombs.

One cannot help but be tremendously humbled at such sacrifice, and at the time our committee did what we could to lend community support. We learned that sometimes the support which meant the most was for the families who knew their sons were not forgotten by the citizens of the country which they serve.

Today, these same 3/5 Marines were staging an open house of sorts, and included us, as a show of gratitude. We are leaning our cheeks against the guns, using our shoulder for support as we were told, and slowly releasing the safety catch. I take my pointy finger, which is always supposed to be pointy and straight until the moment I tell it to curl around the trigger and pull. I pull. The kick of the barrel lifts the M16 quickly up and the butt pushes back against my shoulder. I hear the whap of the bullet hit the target barely visible between shadows and light.

“Good job!” says the young Marine kneeling just behind me to my right. “Try again,” he says. I do. I get five shots off while lying on my belly. Then I scramble up into a cross legged sitting position and take five more.

I am struck by the heavy weight of the gun. Holding it steady is difficult, finding the flickering red chevron in the site line and moving it just where it needs to be proves tough too. Five more “Whaps”, and the young Marine tells me I'm done with the sitting, and to shoot standing now.

I adjust my posture according to the Marine's instruction, to be at just a slight angle to the target and settle the M16 back in against my shoulder. The importance of my index finger remaining straight and pointed until ready to shoot stays at the front of my mind, while I slowly take aim, remove the safety latch, and then curl my pointy finger around the trigger and squeeze. The now familiar kickback comes.

I think about the difference between a day of work or leisure up the road, in civilian life, as compared to what we are experiencing today. One very important difference is that there are no moments free to daydream, shift focus or take one's eyes or ears off task. It is not that there will never be those times, for the Marines, but it is that those times will be defined as such. In the world up the road, most civilian occupations allow ones mind to wander, rest, or shift topic time to time. For the Marines, a shift of focus, even for a second, when on task can mean loss of life or limb. Theirs is a world of narrow, close attention to detail, whether it be a pointy finger against the trigger, or in developing an intuitive urgent sense of calm or trepidation on a village road.

We are done, and told to walk forward and take our target sheets off the wall to be scored. We get scored on all we do that day. If we do poorly, we are not told "good effort." A poor score means we did not pay attention, or did not perform well enough. Egos and self esteem are not fed in the Marines. Performance counts. Performance counts for the mission and unit, not oneself.

My young Marine assistant takes my sheet to count score. My 15 rounds were respectable but not good. If I were a real Marine, I'd have a great deal of work and practice ahead.

I look at him as he counts, and guess his age to be no more than 20. His face has not a single wrinkle or crease to mar the smooth skin of youth. Yet, he is already finely tuned and trained to handle this M16 and carry it into combat. He knows how to walk miles through searing heat, or tremendous cold, wearing 50 pounds of gear, and yet still able to react in seconds at the sharp command of his sergeant or the crack of a gun. I wonder where is his mother, and I know she is worried for her son.

The earlier words of Gunnery Sergeant Dalesandro rise to the surface of my thoughts, “Those young Marines helping out today might not have liked it when they were called out to help the ladies shoot target. But, I watched the first target practice awhile, what I saw was Marines being kind and patient and polite as could be. Those same Marines might have been chewed out just hours ago by some senior Marine, but they shake it off and deliver what the next moment calls them to deliver."

I think about those words on the way back to our 7ton truck. These are good young men, these Marines. I wish I had asked the young man next to me his name, and his hometown. And, most of all, I wish I could tell his parents what a fine son they raised.

The preceding article is from one of our external contributors. It does not represent the opinion of Benzinga and has not been edited.


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