Market Overview

Trucking It With The Marines

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From Orange County, California drive south on Pacific Coast Highway about 30 miles or so and you come to Camp Pendleton. Geographically close, but worlds apart, the two places have populations that rarely mix.

Orange County is home to TV shows such as “The OC,” and “The Real Housewives of Orange County. " Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base is home to more than 40,000 Marines, including the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment known as Darkhorse.

Life “in the OC” is reputedly spent in the pursuit of luxury, physical beauty and absorption with self. Life as a Marine is spent in the pursuit of self- discipline, survival skills and the triumph of team and mission over self.

Today, a handful of residents from Orange County will disabuse the OC stereotype, when we complete Jane Wayne day alongside Marine wives and girlfriends. Our Team Darkhorse group is among a number of Orange County based support groups that have sprung up in local cities during the ten years of war.

The 7- ton truck in which we ride lurches and rolls down a rutted road. We are four hours in to a seven hour field day spent with the Marines of 3/5. We have already been drilled, marched, and trained to shoot M16s. We have lunched on MRE's, ready to eat meals carried in combat patrols.

We are tired and filthy. Our faces, which we gaily painted with camouflage grease earlier in the day are now smeared with sweat and grime. Our Flak vests are heavy and cumbersome. In the truck we take the chance to remove the hard helmets from our heads. Briefly, I wonder if this is against regulations, and am grateful Staff Sgt Lennon is not on our truck to bark “Did I say take your Helmets off?”

Staff Sergeant Manuel Lennon does an excellent job of giving us a taste of what life is like “in the field” for enlisted Marines. The experience is eye opening. I am no neophyte to this military world. Our son served four years with USMC 1/3 as a platoon commander in Iraq and Afghanistan. But hearing about what the Marines do, is not the same as actually doing what the Marines do. And it isn't even the big things we are experiencing. But, we are finding that it is all the little things that add up to make a Marine.

For example, comfort is not considered inside a 7 ton truck. We sit on aluminum benches facing one another across a wide, windowless cargo space. The driver's cab window opens to the cargo, and the upper back hatch is lifted allowing the heavy dust our truck kicks up to blow straight through the truck, covering us with a film of fine dirt in the process. We will wear this dirt, and pick up more of it throughout the day, until we return to our own homes and showers that night. The reasons behind sending boxes and boxes of baby wipes to Marines in Afghanistan become quite clear.

Across from me is a Marine with some years under his belt. Whereas the young Marines we met earlier were full of smiles, this man's eyes and mind fix on something distant from the present place and time. I wonder what he is thinking, and decide to find out.

“So how do you like Jane Wayne day?” I call to him, raising my voice loud enough to be heard over the rumble of the trucks.

He turns toward me. “Its just a day,” he shouts, “like any other.”

I lean forward, risking being pitched onto the floor of the truck, in order to more easily hear him. The noise level, and dust clouded air makes conversation difficult . He is looking at me now, but his reserve remains uncracked. I tell him we are from Laguna Hills support group, then ask “Do you think events like this are good for the community?”

This question lights him up, and Gunnery Sergaent Delasandro leans in toward me now, and begins talking.
“Absolutely it is good for the Marines. And its good for the community to come see what we do. Marines don't do a good job of explaining how we spend most our time. It's not all combat. We spend more time outside combat zones than in. But we are always getting ready for combat. “

I ask him why he thinks Marines don't do a good job of explaining their work. “Marines don't brag, and we shouldn't. So when people ask about our experiences, we clam up. Or say its not a big deal. Unless someone shows a real interest and asks, we don't say much.”

“Most Marines don't live on base,” he tells me, “ we live among our communities and neighbors, but still we tend not to talk about what we do. “

I ask him what he would most like civilians to understand about life as a Marine.

“That it's not just a job. Its a lifestyle. Marines have to embrace the whole lifestyle. If we didn't, we'd have people refusing to go into combat when called. “ He pauses, then adds, “But although Marines have to buy into the whole lifestyle, its also important not to let it take over your entire life. You have to have a private life too,” he pauses, then adds, “That's the paradox we live with.”

He tells me that after about 7 years in the service, he left for the civilian world. After six years or so of working outside, he returned to the Marines and plans to finish out his twenty full years of service before he retires. He tells me that he regrets his earlier decision to leave the service, but at the time he felt it would be best for his son. “I was a single dad,” he said, “and worried about being gone for months at a time.”

I ask him what are the main differences he noted between his work with the Marines versus his work as a civilian. “ Your day is never about you, it is about the mission and the group. So, for example, if I was on the way to work, as a civilian and I had a flat tire, I might call in and say I will be a few hours late . That would be okay . But, in the Marines, if that happened, the other men would do what they had to do to get you back where you needed to be as rapidly as possible and they would make that happen. Because every Marine is part of something bigger than himself, and his role is crucial to the group.”

“And another thing: a Marine knows he will always be held accountable for the last thing he does, no matter how great the thing he did the day before. For example, those guys that get Medals of Honor? If they got picked up on a DUI the next day, they'd still get their butts chewed out. Nobody's better than the mission or the conduct expectations. “

He pondered a moment and then added, “You look at those young Marines out there today. Yesterday they got orders to help out the ladies at Jane Wayne day. Guarantee that's not what wanted to get assigned. I watched them at the shooting instruction. They were patient, kind and laughing with the ladies. Not a grumbler in the bunch.”

He goes on to tell me that he worries sometimes that some young Marines get married and become fathers so early in life. He understands why they want that security, but he says he counsels them to take their time, not rush into those responsibilities so quickly.

“We have down times when we talk a lot. I try to give them good advice,” he tells me. Then he settles back in against the side of the truck, and I do the same. Our talk is done.

I reflect for a moment on what Delasandro has said, and realize that there are philosophers in the Marines, and this man is one of them. He has given me food for thought.

It is not only the big sacrifices we see in headlines that our Military make, it is the day to day mental and physical strains in their lives that add up over the course of a lifetime.

Marines are expected to be highly skilled, toned and ready to drop into a war zone at moment's notice, but capable of empathy and kindness too. The tension between being a tautly trained warrior, while maintaining a private self, is ever present.

Our truck lurches to a stop. Gunnery Sergeant jumps up, clicks open the lower back hatch and drops it down. He turns, offers me a hand , and then adds, “And, my son I mentioned?” I nod. “He's now a Marine!” His face breaks into a broad smile. I smile back, accept his hand for support and clamber down the back and off the truck.

There, waiting for us, is Staff Sergaent Lennon.

“Forward!” he yells. We slap helmets back on our heads and respond “Darkhorse!”

We fall into formation, ready for our next command.

NEXT: IMMERSION WARFARE AND THE SIMULATION TEAM

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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