Category: Military


Jonathan Kirk Davis, Veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps

It is an experience that is incredibly difficult to understand and describe.

I will try to describe the emotional/psychological process that I and many other fellow Marines (soldiers, sailors, etc) experienced.

Before you understand what a returning Marine/soldier/sailor/etc experiences when they come home, you have to know what they really go through when they are over there.

What we all experience, combat or none, is a very, very long period of extended absence from comfort, security, our families, and breaks. The Marines spend seven months on deployment. Army is about twice that, but they don’t go as often. That means months where you deal with the same people day, after day, after day. There is no change and no break. You work with them, you eat with them, and you live with them. If you can’t stand them, oh well. If your boss is a jerk or psycho, there isn’t even the escape of going home at the end of the day or having a weekend. Now you need to consider the war side of things. In the best case scenario, you are under the constant threat of surprise attack. Car bombs, roadside bombs, suicide bombers, mortars. Looking at people everywhere who you can see absolutely hate you. In the worst case scenario, you actually fight. You might kill people. You might lose friends. But I won’t get into what it’s like for those cases, they are pretty tough to nail down and can vary wildly. But whatever picture I drew, don’t think about how it sucks for a few short periods of intense violence; imagine it sucking for months and months of a slow drone and a psychological beating.

And then you come home. Everything is fine now right? Not really …

First, we are absolutely elated to come home, see our families, go to our bars, women … This is a high that can’t really be expressed very accurately. In a way, you are doing things that you have done many times before, but it has been so long that it feels completely foreign to you. When you see your wife, she is unfamiliar to you. When you first see her, you get the smell of her hair and her embrace, but there are subtle differences that make you feel as if things are different somehow. Her hair has changed or she has new interests. It kind of feels like a first date for a few weeks as you try to remember how you fit together again … figuratively speaking. This “second first date” is the same with all the things you do, hanging out with your old friends, going to favorite hangouts. But don’t get me wrong. Even if we are quiet about it and act like it is no big deal, these are some of the happiest days we have ever had.

Second, there is residual stress that carries over from a combat deployment. While on deployment, military people deal with each other in ways that are not normal in civilian America. We are harsh with each other and don’t often act with kindness and gentleness with one another. Add this to natural combat stress, the constant concern that you may get attacked, the wondering if a vehicle near you is going to blow up, always seeing in the eye of every local that they want to kill you.  You are suspicious, tightly wound, and easily angered. I remember several times waking up in my bed even a few months after deployment and panicking because I couldn’t find my weapon. You also don’t mesh well with your families. They do things you don’t understand. They do things you don’t understand, mostly because they have grown very independent of you. Many confuse this for a feeling that you are unwanted or unneeded, and this makes the returning person very irritable. Combine all these, and you have an explanation as to why so many men returning from “over there” come back angry and beat their wives. It is difficult to transition between two worlds and some, especially those who experience combat, don’t cope well. It isn’t right, but it happens.

Third, there is a long phase where you try to adjust to having your life back. To be honest, it is never the same as before you left. You are changed by the experience of a combat deployment, even after the first. Every time you go, you change. And so does everyone else that you care about. Everyone matures naturally, but independent of each other, and you have to reintegrate into each other’s lives again. Young Marines often have a hard time keeping control; husbands fight with wives, and fathers can’t communicate with kids (and don’t be naive, this is different from those people who think it is the same as having teenagers). It takes time before everything settles down emotionally. Most people make it through this phase OK, but unfortunately, many don’t.

This is the part of coming home most people don’t really talk about.

This question originally appeared on Quora.

As a special bonus, this post was also published on Forbes.com.

This is the first of a series of posts I intend share with my followers of answers I make to questions posted on the website Quora. Quora is an internet community where the users have the ability to share and promote their questions to users who have the best ability to answer it. It is much like Yahoo answers, but updated and community centered. This series is a break from some of the themes of some of heavier articles and gets more into some of the things that just interest me.

This question was:

Who have been the greatest warrior races throughout history?

Jon’s Answer:

The Spartans

It wasn’t just that these guys were awesome in 300. It’s that barring a bit of literary license where they didn’t wear enough armor and the field was bit off, not to mention the mutant Persians, the story was totally true.

The Spartans were a fierce culture that prided itself in its military upbringing. The warriors were those who were the survivors of the first eugenic filtering process in history, where the babies who were not born up to code were discarded. The male children, upon the age of adolescence, were taken to warrior training until they reached manhood. From this point on they become part of the Spartan Army as a Spartan Hoplite.

The Spartans were not only a fierce band of warriors, but also the best tacticians of the era.

  • While the rest of the world was content to create a massive slave army, the Spartans were one of the first to create a volunteer army. They believed, and rightly so, that free men would fight harder if they had something to gain or lose from the wars.
  • While the rest of the world was content to armor their warriors in cloth with wicker shields and copper or brass weapons, the Spartans were using bronze helmets, chest plates, bracers, shin protectors, spears, swords, and their most unappreciated weapon… the Spartan shield.
  • The importance of the shield, however, wasn’t that it was one of the most offensively powerful tools of war, it was in modern terms a force multiplier. A force multiplier is something in war that increases the offensive or defensive capabilities of many other tactics or tools. The shield gave a Spartan warrior complete protection for their entire body against both arrows, spears and other warriors. The shield was unique in that it had the ability to also be used offensively to create massive amounts of force directed into opponents. This force has been measured to be able to generate force in access of being hit by a car, in the face.  Even more importantly the shield allowed the Spartans to perfect a tactic called the Phalanx.
  • The Phalanx was a tactic in which many Hoplites form a wall of shields. Several actually, many rows deep. Projecting from the walls of shields were row after row after row of spears. And not the tiny spears from 300, 30 feet long spears. Yeah, 30 feet. Imagine trying to fight through a wall of pointy spears, only to have to push through a wall of bronze, only to face the fully armored Spartan warrior himself. It’s just a bad day for everyone, isn’t it?
  • To emphasize their brutality, there was the Spartan habit of ritualistically slaughtering the outlying tribes around Sparta. This was called the Perioikoi and these people were called the Helots. They were a race of free Greeks who were conquered and enslaved by the Spartans. After that they put them to fields. After all, the Spartans were all already busy being warriors, how could they be expected to also be farmers? Every now and then the Spartans would also declare war on the Helots. It wasn’t really a fair fight since they didn’t allow them to train or make weapons, but it must have been fun for them. They held the Perioikoi for more than 100 years. Was it cruel? Yes. Was it barbaric? Yes. Did it make for callous and viscous fighters? Definitely.
  • There was also an interesting perspective of the Spartans; never run, never quit. There was a saying attributed to Spartan mothers who sent their sons off to war: “Come back with this shield or upon it.” What this entailed is actually very deep. The shield was over forty pounds of metal. It was not an easy thing to haul around. For this reason, running was not a very necessary skill when using the shield. And as I mentioned before, it was basically the center of the Spartan military strategy. Now let’s consider you are facing a terrifying battle. You decide to run. You could never escape with the shield so the only choice for a Spartan coward was to abandon the shield. The other option referred to the respect Spartans gave to their dead warriors. The warriors who survived would carry their fallen back on the shield to Sparta for honorable cremation. This gave the Spartan warrior three choices in battle. To win and return with the shield, to die in the service of Sparta and be carried home upon the shield, or run in which you had better not return at all.
  • Finally the battle of Thermopylae, perhaps the greatest military event in history, is the legacy of the greatest warrior race in history. This battle was the pinnacle of military perfection in that it stacked a monumentally outnumbered force against one of the largest armies in the world. The Spartans perfectly used their terrain to funnel the hordes of Persians into their spears. A shear rock face guarded the West flank and the sea was directly to the East. The Persians were so inferior in armaments and training that tens of thousands were slaughtered at the hands of 300 Spartan Hoplites and around 1000 other Greek Hoplites.

    This battle was much more important because it served as a maneuver that stalled the Persians long enough that the Athenian navy was able to sail around the land battle and assault the Persian fleet. This disrupted the supply lines of the Persian army and most likely cost them the strategic victory in the battle. The Spartan warriors were able to fight and stall the Persians, a force that many have estimated at more than 1,000,000 warriors, keeping them at bay for more than 3 days. By comparison, the Alamo, where Texas soldiers were famed for fighting gallantly against a massive army of Mexican soldiers was 150 against 5,000 and lasted around 90 minutes. While the Spartans were all eventually killed, they achieved one of the most stunning strategic victories of all time: 300 Spartans, 1 million Persians and 3 days. This battle was the moment in time when the Spartans gained the respect of the entire world as the greatest warrior race in history.

    But don’t get me wrong. All the rest of you are entitled to your opinions.

And as a special bonus: A lego phalanx. Enjoy.

Jon’s Memorial Day Message

So I hope everyone is enjoying their Memorial Day, but I have been bothered a lot by some of the things that have been going on. I see on the news and hear from my friends of how they are going to be enjoying Memorial Day with their
family and friends at the lake and doing other things, and that’s ok. Everyone should embrace the opportunity to spend time to with the family away from work. But when an area 10th grader blasts his ignorance when asked what Memorial Days to them …”To party and get out of school.” I feel the need to make sure that people keep a little perspective.

Memorial Day is about remembering those who have died in service to their country. It’s not about the day off, or the family. It isn’t even about the veterans, those who have served or are serving now. It is about those who died.  So please, at some time during the day, do your somber duty as free citizens of the United States and say a small prayer or give some thought to those who gave us our freedom with theirs. Give up some time while you are at the lake or the BBQ or just relaxing on the couch. Think about those men and women who gave up all of their tomorrows so that you and I could enjoy ours.

Thank you to everyone who read what I have to say and know where I am coming from.

Semper fi. Happy Memorial Day.

-Jon

Lance Corporal Hatak Yearby – Marine Corps, Killed in Action, Iraq 2006

Master Sergeant Brett Angus - Marine Corps,  Killed in Action, Iraq 2005

Staff Sgt. William Douglas Richardson - Marine Corps, Killed in Action, Iraq 2005

Marines are Kind of Like the Jedi

A senior Marine once taught me that being a Marine is kind of like being a Jedi. We are kind of like a strange little culture within a much larger culture. We are a bit extreme in our beliefs, some would say fanatical, and have a strange ability to bring about the destruction of evil as if guided by some supernatural force.  But there is so much more. I would like to share some of that with you now.

Marines can be broken into a few groups: Officers, Senior Staff Non-Commissioned Officers, Non-Commissioned Officers, and the E-3 and below.  All of these have a copy somewhere in the followers of the force. Check out the story below to see what I mean.

Take yourself back to countless Monday morning formations and inspections. Each member of the platoon is carrying his different roles. The squads are aligned and the inspections are about to begin. Suddenly there is a disturbance in the force…

PFC Rice heads to formation. As he makes his way to the formation, he realizes he has forgotten his chevrons, the symbol of his rank and his ignorance.  In his haste to correct the error before the formation, he puts his chevrons on his collar… nearly an inch from the edges.  (People not familiar with Marine Corps fanaticism might overlook this detail.  So did Rice.)  He is unaware of the gravity of his mistake and doesn’t have time to correct it.  “They’re small so maybe no one will notice,” he thinks to himself.  But he doesn’t yet understand the power of the Corps and what a great disturbance he has made within it.

I know it’s hard to see, but it’s there on the collar. You’ll see it next time.

The Non-NCO, or  The Padawan Learner:  The youngest members of the Marine Corps, these are the enlisted personnel, rank E-3 and below.  While still Marines, they are still learning their roles. They are unfamiliar with the intricacies of the Corps,  its subtle rules, and its customs and are not yet fully aware of the great and terrible power they could one day command. They also screw up a lot, and if left on their own too long they would easily lop off their arm with a lightsaber. They are sometimes dangerous in their incompetence and can bring about the downfall of the entire platoon, bringing about endless field days, blaster cleaning, and the fall of The Republic. The most dangerous can be those most senior, the Senior Lance. This is the one who has passed all of his Jedi Trials, but hasn’t got the cutting score. He has grown very powerful and a master of his trade and his role of the the senior LCpl.  He commands a deep underground of knowledge and intuition (the Lance Corporal Network). He has the ability to mind-trick more senior Marines and those weak in the Corps to achieve his aims. He is still young though, and weak with the Corps,  but his terrible power and lack of understanding of the Corps will be his downfall. If his cutting score doesn’t merit promotion he will soon fall to the dark side. Still though, he isn’t as much a threat as the youngling, the boot PFC who just arrived three weeks ago straight from the school house…

A Sergeant is preparing to inspect his squad. He is a seasoned warrior and well-trained in the ways of the Corps. He still has much to learn, but the Corps is strong with him. He feels a tremor coming from the Corps. He knows something is wrong with his squad. He begins to inspect his Marines. He walks down the line of Marines. As he inspects his more senior Marines his senses are screaming. He is about to arrive at the last Marine, Rice. He is the boot PFC who has just arrived and knows nothing of the ways of the Corps. The Sergeant hopes that he is wrong, but knows this is the source of the disturbance. He left faces and to his dismay the Marine has carelessly placed his rank insignia nowhere near the designated 1/2′ and centered! He has offensively dishonored the Corps and its customs and traditions. By appearing in less than presentable attire he has offended the Corps and is in need of correction from one of its noble knights.

The NCO, Sergeant, and the Corporal are those wise and seasoned in the ways of the Corps.  They are like the Jedi Knight.  He has completed his training and is now mastering the ways of the Corps. He understands the Corps and is guided by its pull.  He has yet to gain full control of its power.  Mastery is still beyond his reach.  He has, however, a great sense for a disturbance and is the front line galactic warrior against the dark side of the Corps, the raw youngling PFC’s.  His power is great, but it pales in comparison to the abilities of the true master of the force…

 The Gunnery Sergeant sits at his desk. He feels the disturbance in the Corps and seeks to correct it. He stands up and walks to the window overlooking the platoon off in the distance. He leans out the window, and as if guided by supernatural forces yells, “RICE! Correct yourself!”

With this he begins his work in preparation for the duel that is soon to come with the dark side of the Corps.

The Senior Non-Commissioned Officer, known by many names like “The Gunny“, “Top”, “Master Gun” and “The Sgt. Major.”  He is the Jedi Master of the Corps.  His service stripes serve as symbols to the brave knights and Padawan PFC’s in his years of service fighting the forces of darkness.  He has supreme command of the Corps and uses its power to command and mold the Marines within his care.  He is attuned to even the slightest disturbances in the Corps, and is able to spot any dangerous situation, be it an enemy ambush, or the PFC using his lightsaber to fix the haircut he forgot to get on Sunday.  His charge is t0 carry out the daily mission of the Corps and see that its will is seen through.  But there is one more element to the force, one that stands opposed to the nature of the Jedi Master of the Corps.  Those who fallen to the dark side of the Corps…

He is the Lieutenant.  As he makes his way to the formation, he anticipates with a sinister glee the duel with the enlisted Jedi warriors. He has been secretly scheming, hidden away in offices away from the eyes of the noble and stalwart knights. As the Marines are distracted with this minor disturbance in the force, he is able to clandestinely manueveur to catch them unawares.  In his ambitious march to supreme power of the Corps, he is preparing for the arrival of his master, the General… or rather, the Dark Sith Lord.

Yes, Officers are the Sith. They have given up the noble path of the enlisted Jedi for power and glory. While they may have once thought they could control the power of the dark side of the Corps for good, as they all do they fell to its grandeur and corrupting power. They are selected from amongst the most powerful and impressionable of candidates. Given special training, power and privileges, they are in command of the most powerful of dark Corps abilities: Surprise inspections, field days, weapons cleanings and the 11th hour mission orders in the prospects of gaining supreme glory. Have you ever wondered why the other Marines salute? They raise their right hand when they pass officers to protect their minds from the influence of their manipulating dark powers. Just warning you.

So as they prepare for their duel, the the Masters of the Corps square off in front of the platoon. The mighty Jedi Master Gunnery Sergeant stands ably with the platoon of noble warriors behind him. Facing him is the corrupt and vile master of the dark side of the Corps. They stare each other down. The Gunny raises his right hand to protect himself from the treacherous powers of the Lieutenant. He then warns the Lieutenant away by listing the size and strength of his force “All Marines present and accounted for.” The Lieutenant is scared. He sees that he is outmatched. As a desperate bid to cover his mistake, he issues a series of senseless orders to command the Marines’ attention while he prepares a new plan. He executes his plan “Carry out the plan of the day” (said another way: “Do what must be done.”) With his distractions in place the Lieutenant makes his escape, hiding away into the dark places where he builds his schemes of galactic domination. This battle won, the Gunny takes his men and begins to undo the plans of the Lieutenant, setting his Marines to the tasks at hand.

Yep, so that’s how it is. The Marines are like Jedi and now you know why.

This is an update to a earlier post I made a while back Women in Combat Operations in which I expressed some of my mixed feelings, both for and against the future of women serving in combat centered missions. In any case, I am glad that actions are being taken by the Pentagon and the Marines one way or another.

This Monday Gen. James F. Amos, the Marine Corps commandant, announced that actions were going to be taken by Marine Corps command to study how women would be able to adapt to the combat environment by introducing a select number of women into the  infantry officer school at Quantico, Va., and ground combat battalions that had once been closed to women.

This new effort will, as I understand it, focus on female officers. As my post said many of the women I dealt with in military were officers. One in particular stood out for excellence among Marines, male or female. I think this is an important prospect for the military. It will be putting the women who are the most dedicated, most ambitious and hopefully the ones who will serve the greatest example to future Marines, notably the women.

Although there is great controversy over this debate, much of it in my previous article, and it will likely be a very long time before we see a completely coed military, I think this is a good move for the Marines as they wean into a future that will have to incorporate women more thoroughly.

I wanted to share my thoughts on a viral video going around about a few Marines that had a few too many. It stars the Marines of 3/5 Lima Company Weapons Platoon. According to some helpful notes at the beginning of the video we learn that the platoon was engaging in some after hours activity after an all-too-short liberty on what must be an all-too-long deployment. What happened next was a video of Marines in the middle of the rough and rowdy. I got caught up in the discussion that engaged as a result of the video and it got me thinking.

As I mentioned before, this video is about Marines getting into drunken fights on board a ship. It is filled with vulgarities and violence. There is also some ludity, and the entire 8 minutes is basically a huge ball of NSFW. If you would like to see the video you have been warned and can find the link at the bottom of the page.

Before you watch though, I hope you check out some of the points that some less informed viewers have already tried to make, and what an actual Marine has to say.  These are some points and some counterpoints that I want to share with all my readers on the real nature of the few and the proud.

1) “So this is our tax dollars at work.”

(One should also note that the school’s tax dollars seem to be wasted as well.)

Response: No, not at all. First of all,  the military doesn’t pay a stipend to get Marines drunk and act like fools. There is no National Monetary Fund for Jackassary. They didn’t buy their alcohol from a big keg right on the deck. They did however, buy it. With their own money.

What they did they did on liberty. Liberty is a basic privilege bestowed to the military to relieve stress and let off steam. Of course it is also where Marines stop off port and engage in some other extra-curricular activities. This is not an activity that is financially sponsored by the military and it isn’t actually a part of any mission. The ship is already at port and basically, it doesn’t cost anything to let the Marines blow off steam (legal considerations not considering). You can think of it as how much it costs you to let your dog out. It costs money to feed them, train them, and send them to the hospital, but it doesn’t cost you (or the U.S. taxpayer) anything to let the dog (Devil Dog!) out to play.

Now back to the topic of “their own money.”

2) “We pay them to do a certain job, and this isn’t it.”

Response: We pay them to do their job, and we don’t have any right to tell what to do after that. Sometimes I find it a little absurd that we believe that because we pay taxes that eventually get paid out to the military that we have some say so over how they spend that money. The simple truth is that they bought the alcohol with their own money and it is no one’s business what they do with it as long as what they do is legal. Of course at that point they are really just putting themselves at risk to be investigated by the same authorities that govern us, plus military authorities.

Let’s think of it this way. My wife is a teacher. She too works for the government. Therefore, your tax dollars go to your state government, which then make their way to the schools, and eventually to her checking account. If my wife decides to go to the bar and buy a drink, do you think that you have any say over her right to do so? Let’s take it a bit further. On Sundays, we go to church. There, we give them money…taxpayer money! So you see that your tax dollars are directly being used to fund religious activities! Unacceptable! Or is it? I mean what right do any of us have on how a government employee spends his money? We do not, just because we pay taxes.

3) “Marines and the military are supposed to hold the moral high ground.”

Response: I will give you this one, but with a reality check. While I am a fan of the sleeping and violence quote we have to really consider who we are dealing with. This video shows the extremely volatile nature of one of the most extreme cultures in the world. While the Marines are a bunch of drunk and disorderly hooligans, they are exactly the sort of unsavory individuals that are required to do those things we in polite and well-refined society don’t like to do ourselves. The average age of the Marine Corps is 19, therefore, they are young and immature. They are experienced in the ways of warfare, yet inexperienced in the ways of the world. They are asked to do great and terrible things in the most inconvenient ways possible. While it is a beautiful notion to believe that every rough man is at his heart a poet and philosopher, the simple truth is that they are angry, violent, and surrounded by people who bring out these traits in eachother.

We argue that this kind of attitude and these behaviors are deplorable, yet we are also a country that has been at war for more than a decade. Many of the men you saw in that video have been in various theaters of those wars, many of them on multiple deployments.  Stress runs high in that culture and much is demanded of them, namely directed violence. I think it is a bit hypocritical of those who sleep soundly to condescend the Marines, because they weren’t violent in the way that makes everyday U.S. citizens comfortable.

4) “It’s just a Marine Corps thing.”

Response: You’re absolutely right. What most people don’t get is that this level of  roughhousing is what is expected and laughed at by older Marines. What you also don’t know is that along with the 8 minutes of video there is a story that every Marine knows is coming, and it actually does address many of the concerns that were mentioned before.

You don’t get this…

First, the Marines got out frustration that has been building for a very long time. The opening of the video discusses a lot of the general frustrations that accompany a long time at sea on a Marine vessel. Long times at sea, endless weapons maintenance, crappy bosses, close quarters, oh and also there is the fact that there are no women. This level of stress is something nine-to-fivers will never get, even if they have a really important report due on Monday. When you put the frustrations and stresses on a group of men this volatile and young under such conditions you have to expect some level of unsavory behavior. Otherwise you would see a total meltdown. You’ve got to let this stuff out.

Or This…

Second, the video does show that Marines are capable of bringing their craziness back to the barracks and not making fools of themselves in public. The fact that they managed to keep control until they got back to the ship does show one important goal of the Marines, to always show a good face. As for the video making the internet, well… I blame that on the cameraman, a semen, oops, seaman. We’ll just call him a sailor. Which brings up a good point. They actually had medical supervision. The camera man was a Navy Corpsman, a medic in the Naval side of the show. When you were getting drunk at the frat house, were you of such clear and responsible mind to make sure that before you got stupid you had proper medical supervision? Ok, that one is a stretch. But I do want to make one final point.

Without a bit of this. (Ok, these aren’t even Americans, but you know the moment they saw this they tried it out.)

We don’t know what happened the next day. The truth is this whole event probably happened between 2100 to 0000 that night (9:00 PM to Midnight). And I am pretty sure that they caught more attention than they would have liked. I am pretty sure I saw an officer towards the end of that display. That means at least one thing. They are not done hearing about this. If it were my platoon, we would be in formation until 4 in the morning while the command tried to figure out each and every detail of the night. Then the next day the punishment starts, the whole platoon. Cleaning weapons would have been easy. While this was a display of undisciplined and, in truth, embarrassing behavior, discipline will be achieved. If they are lucky they will lose all future libo, work like dogs for the next few weeks, and that will be the end. If they aren’t lucky a few will face Page-11 entries (which isn’t all that nice) and some might even lose rank. I can’t tell you  what did happen, but I know it was one of these. And now that the video has gone viral, I bet that it isn’t going to get any easier from upper level brass.

In closing, the Marines did go overboard. They did have a few too many, and they did embarrass themselves, and at least the public face of the Marine Corps. But what we in the civilian sector need to accept is that this is who they are, this is what we recruited them for. This is what we need them to be, and we can’t judge them too harshly against the standards we set for ourselves.

If you want to see the video, you can check it out here. I say again, not safe for kids or work.

Females are serving across the world in full combat ground positions. The debate over the equality of this situation is coming back to the main stage here in the United States.

There is a debate going on right now concerning women’s equality, particularly in the military. As it stands, women are not allowed to take place in strictly ground combat occupations. This doesn’t mean that women in the military are always safe from combat, but it does mean they cannot join some MOS’s (Military Occupational Specialty or military job) like infantry, artillery or to be an officer of those units. Women are also not eligible for the draft, if that were to happen.

There are many who believe this is not in line with our current view of a need for sexual equality. At President Clinton’s request, the Department of Defense reviewed this issue in 1994. DoD noted that America’s prior drafts were used to supply adequate numbers of Army ground combat troops. Because women are excluded by policy from front line combat positions, excluding them from the draft process remains justifiable in DoD’s view. Although no conclusions were reached, DoD recognized that policies regarding women need to be reviewed periodically because the role of women in the military continues to expand. This week Marine Corps command has release statements stating that it is planning on receiving an undetermined number of women candidates for it’s infantry officer training program. What this will mean for the future of the military and women’s roles within are undetermined, but it definitely shows signs of movement on an issue that hasn’t seen the light of day for quite some time.But where they have still not expanded is into the role of combat infantryman.

Sgt. Theresa Lynn Flannery during an attack in April 2004 near Najaf, Iraq, as other soldiers used a wall for cover.

Most see no reason for this injustice. It must just be some dusty old tradition right? I think there is a better reason than that. Women are just not made for combat. If you say that then you must never have been married to a woman. But in all seriousness, what do you think makes us so different that men could “handle the stress” better than women? Men are just stronger than women? Perhaps, but as another article of mine shows the last decade of warfare has taught us one thing, we need more boots on the ground. In a Marine Infantry squad, there are few “heavy lifting” activities that I experienced where some women’s smaller (it’s statistically true women are smaller than men) frame may have slowed them down. That still leaves at least 10 slots left in the squad that anyone no matter how small would be good for. I would also like to point out another small fry who showed what the littlest member can pull off in an infantry situation. Check out the history of Audie Murphy. This is guy who was too small to join the Marines and then became the most decorated soldier of WWII. So you can see that I don’t put much weight in the argument that women, on average, are too small to do the job.

To maintain fairness I want to put out two differing points of view, both from my own personal perspective of real live cases I witnessed. I want to do this not because I don’t have a point of view, but because I want readers and debaters to see, as fair as I can, as much information possible so that you can arrive at a decision of your own.

For women in combat:

Be honest. Do you think that is a face too weak to do the job?

I want to talk about an officer I knew while in the Marines. She was one of the best Marines I ever knew. Seriously, top 3, including men. Her name was Capt. Dienhart. She was a company commander for an engineering support squadron I worked for. She was in command of over 120 mostly male Marines. Even here in the Marines, the most famous boys club in the world, she had respect. Why? She could out do any one of us. She made it a point to be able to do more push ups than us (and not girl push ups either), she could do more pull-ups than any of us ( and I am not talking about flexed arm hangs) and she ran the 18 minute 3 mile. And when I say us, I mean the group of 450 19-24 year old male Marines in the squadron, not an easy group to beat, but she did almost every time.

The only time I really got to know her was when I was a marksmanship coach for the squadron. I was her pistol instructor and helped her through her annual qualification. I used “instructor” and “helped” loosely because she was, on top of everything else, one of my best shooters ever. She had the form down, was very patient and methodical and had the strength to hold the weapon with control that and delivered precise and accurate shooting. In the Marines, marksmanship is kind of a big deal, so for her to deliver precise, consistent shooting, not just a few good shots was impressive for myself and the other Marines.

The women rewrote the book for me on what women in the military are capable of. I don’t know if she has any inclination to be part of a combat MOS, but I feel that the leadership and professionalism she showed while in a non-combat roles shows that woman have the capability and potential to serve in such positions in the future.

Against women in combat roles:

Marine atop gun turret.

Many of you ladies reading are about to get very upset. I am sorry if you feel I am not being fair to the gender, that is not my intention. Remember that what I am writing about is what happened to me and is all very true. I am trying to provide all points of view on the subject so please try to keep an open mind throughout.

In truth, I don’t see any reason that women can’t do anything in the military that men can do. My mom always had fun pointing out that there wasn’t anything a man could do that a woman couldn’t do. What I think is the key determinate in this argument isn’t what women can’t do, it’s what men can’t do that is holding women back.

Men can’t get pregnant. (Oh dear God he went there!) Now this sounds like someone attempting to throw up a catchall to prove that all women shouldn’t ever be able to join the armed forces. It isn’t. But it is a fact, women alone can conceive and carry a child and this fact has grave repercussions in the military world. Let me explain.

Suppose that you are getting ready for a deployment to Afghanistan for a 7 month tour. You will be sent to some very dangerous areas where you need every member of your team. Your unit isn’t in combat roles, but there is still a lot of work to be done and the presence of threat is very close, as it is a combat zone. Now, two weeks before you deploy everyone is arriving from pre-deployment leave and PFC Sarah has news. Everyone is happy for PFC Sarah, sort of, because they know that will be deploying a man down. You can’t deploy when you are pregnant after all. So now a team of 10 is a team of 9. That means that for the next 7 months, everyone will have to work harder and have less security during risky operations or difficult procedures. But hey, we are just breeding one more warrior in the fight against terrorism right? It’s ok we can manage.

But what if it happens, 4 more times? That is exactly what happened during my second deployment to Iraq. In a platoon with 9 women, 4 became pregnant within weeks of leaving. 1 was actually sent home from Iraq in the first week of the deployment when her mild case of mono turned out to be a severe case of pregnant. So now the platoon was down to just 4 women left of the original 9.

That may not seem like a great deal, but not only did this mean of all their work was split between those who remained, but they were also not able to fulfill a very important role. We worked at an entry control point to a major base. There was a great deal of local civilian traffic here. Everyone who came an went had to be checked, including the women. Do you think the U.S. government wanted those dirty male Marines all over the local populace? No, we needed females to do it. And many times we had to call in just to have someone check if someone had a weapon under their clothing. Ah, SOP how I miss you.

This wasn’t an isolated issue either. This freak epidemic of mass pregnancy happened throughout the squadron both times we were deployed. I liken it to a college where you don’t have to take finals if you are pregnant and then two weeks before finals you have 5 of 9 women in a particular class (and more than 20% overall) of the women show up pregnant. Would you think it was an accident? Would you think they were all accidents? Others were sent home in the middle of an Iraq deployment because they became pregnant in Iraq (please trust me when I say that it is not a romantic place, so it is curious to me that this could happen at all.) Female Marines who are or were recently pregnant are also given different standards to uphold than their non-pregnant counterparts. This makes sense with limits, being that there is some point where they must be deployable at some predetermined point in the future. For example I had a Sergeant who was very much overweight and never took part in scheduled physical training. The reasoning, she had had a kid. “But wait, her kid can talk.” Where is the line? When are we supposed to start upholding standards?

As for me, I don’t think it is that hard not to get pregnant. With today’s health care and knowledge it seems impossible to me that this many people could accidentally become pregnant preceding a time of great personal struggle. My wife and I agreed long ago that we would not have children until we were in a house, graduated from college and both had good jobs. It has been nearly eight years and we are still not ready, but we are also not pregnant. I think for that reason I have little sympathy for those who become accidentally pregnant. I feel that having children is never truly an accident and the fact that when this happens it leaves a lot of good people, men and women, down a (wo)man.

I couldn’t agree with you more sir.

In my mind there has to be some sort of accountability in the military community to combat this growing form of malingering in the ranks. The civilian population also needs to see that this is indeed a problem and an epidemic for the military. Efforts to address this evoked civic outrage two years ago when Maj. Gen. Anthony Cucolo threatened court martial for four soldiers who became pregnant, as well as the male soldiers who fathered the children after disobeying expressed orders to avoid such happenings. The National Organization for Women (NOW) said the policy to reprimand them was “ridiculous.” “How dare any government say we’re going to impose any kind of punishment on women for getting pregnant,” NOW President Terry O’Neill said. “This is not the 1800s.”

I would like to agree with Ms. O’Neill. In the civilian world that I now enjoy and that Ms. O’Neill seems to be only experienced with, someone telling Jennie and I we can’t have children is unacceptable. But in the military it is different. It may seem draconian, but that life is much more extreme. It’s more violent, dangerous, harder and we need each other more. We are Marines (soldiers, sailors, airmen, coasties.) We aren’t accountants, teachers or postal workers. When we lose a person we can’t hire someone on for a few months until Sarah is back. When we lose someone it is a loss, and to those who are left to complete the mission, it might as well be a casualty.

Tech. Sgt. William Greer / U.S. Air Force

In conclusion, I feel that women in the military have outstanding potential. I have seen some of the most amazing feats of excellence performed by female Marines. My conclusion however, is that the achievements and virtues of these and many other individuals, do not represent the whole. As a whole, they aren’t ready for the responsibility of combat MOS’s. When 1 women is unable to deploy it’s a tragedy for it’s unit, when 60% are unable to deploy it’s a statistic, and a damning one. For as long as women in the military can not accurately be relied upon to deploy in sufficient strength and readiness, to complete the mission through the course and then to return home to their family life as men do, they as a group are not ready for the difficulties and responsibilities of combat warfare. In such theaters when you lose someone, it isn’t just a burden, like it was for our platoon, it places everyone else in danger. It leaves open the likelihood that others will never see their families so that some could start one of their own. When there are women  who choose to use pregnancy as a tool to avoid duty they do a grave disservice to the Capt. Dienharts of the armed services, who have earned the right to serve in any manner they should wish.  When this pattern ceases to be a problem, I will be one of the first ones cheering for some more fresh boots in the thick of the fight.

-Jon

I have tried to provide links to both parts of the debate so that you can make up your own mind on where you stand on the issue. If you know of another good link to either side of the debate, please post it in the replies. Any retaliatory remarks will not be posted as I tried to be fair. And please, let’s not make this about rape. People love to site that “what-if” because of it’s moral impossibility to judge, however rape accounts for such a low amount of pregnancy cases be they civilian, military or otherwise that I will not justify it as a meaningful addition to this debate.

Facts Regarding the Women in Combat Roles. Women in Combat: Issues for Congress, The Impact of Pregnancy on U.S. Army Readiness 

Arguments for:

Five myths about women in combat Great article written by a female Marine Corps Major. I really liked this article and agree with most of what she says in it (except  myth 3, sorry ma’am).

Military.com posting a poll that American’s support women in combat roles.

Now that the gay thing is resolved, can we let soldiers be openly female in combat?

Remove ban on women in combat

G.I. Jane Breaks the Combat Barrier

Women in Combat: Study Recommends Ending Military’s Last Male Bastion

Arguments against:

Soldier’s Duty Is Country First, Pregnancy Later

Knocked up and deployed: An Army captain’s view

Navy gives new urgency to retaining pregnant sailors

More women in combat means more mothers with PTSD

A discussion group on “Service Member Pregnancy During Deployment”

Senators Demand General Rescind Order on Pregnant Soldiers

Remember also that my personal point of view is currently more against a change in the current system. This is mostly due to my personal experiences and for that reason I admit that I may have some biases preventing me from fairly showing both sides.

I was in class some time ago when a professor made a joke about the meaning of what an oxymoron is. It means a figure of speech that combines contradictory terms. She gave some like “Act Naturally” and “Aunt Jemima Light”, but then she mentioned another that struck a chord with me. The last she said was “Military Intelligence.” The class, full of college freshmen like myself laughed at that one too. The professor knew that I was a Marine and that I had served two tours, one of which ended less than six months before, so she knew this was a mistake I would not take lightly. I saw the look on her face as she saw the look on mine.

“Ma’am, are you aware of what it takes to re-calculate the trajectory of an object traveling at 3,110 ft/s for a three inch change in elevation at 5 times the length of a standard football field when factoring in for wind speed and direction as well as differences in elevation?” (Marine recruits do in week six of their basic training.)

Effects of trajectory on a round and point of aim

“Further more, I feel that it is important to note at this time, that by the time many military people have reached the age of 22 they have become experts in a field of study that takes years for civilians to achieve.” This is true, be it Infantry (0300 Military Occupation Specialty series), Engineers (MOS 1300 series)  a data network specialist (MOS 0650 series) or (here’s a fun one) 2834– Satellite Communications (SATCOM) Technician. Most have by that time achieved the rank of E-4 or E-5 and been given responsibility of a small team of 4 up to a squad of 13 (that’s like an assistant manager for people in college working at the fry kitchen.) And many have learned to performe their job under harsh climate, horrible living conditions and the treat of someone shooting at them.

“And while wars like Iraq and Afghanistan have gone on for far too long, you may be hard pressed to find a military battle since Korea that ended in an American defeat. As you may also know, since so many students declined military service because you don’t like taking orders, the military is not free to go about and do as it will freely. They are following orders. Orders given to them by politicians. Politicians…you voted for.”

“And as an additional note, I am making an A in this class, as well as all my others.”

Calculation sheet used to make marksmanship "less complicated."

Soldier training on a virtual training system.

I felt I made my point clearly, in spite of my lack of modesty. The issue stuck with me though. It does bother me that people perceive the Military as being stupid. Oh they always thank us when they see us at church or the bar. “I sure do respect what you boys did for us over there,” but they still don’t believe we could carry a conversation with a cat, much less anyone else. What they do know is that most of the military is made up of people who went straight to the military and have received little or no college education, and since college is equivalent to educated, that doesn’t shine a very bright light on military folks. That is all most have to go on.

What they don’t understand is that most MOS schools require a grade of 80 or above on each and every test or you fail out of the course (and they were as hard as anything I took in college). They also don’t know that by the time they are 19 many have been deployed overseas where they did the most extreme version of their particular specialty in the world. For myself, I was a Data Network Specialist ( 0656). That is the equivalent to the network administrator at a company who sets up the computers in the office and runs the switches and servers for the company. Yeah, the Marines have computer nerds too, but our computer nerds can shoot an open sightes rifle from 500 yards away, run 3 miles in less than 20 minutes and have green belts in the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (that’s like mixed martial arts, except the ultimate goal is that the other guy stops fighting for good.) The only other difference between what I did in the military and what a civilian does is that I also dug the three mile trench for the fiber optic cable as well as replaced a relay station when it was hit by rocket fire. I ran code and ran convoys. Oh, but a civilian made 3 times my salary as well. By the time I was 21 I was on my second deployment and headed a small team. I worked as a part of a security team and in a week learned over 400 words in Arabic that I needed to communicate with locals. That is enough to have a conversation with someone. Like, for instance, if you need to communicate with Iraqi army personnel, are curious how much your iPod or sister-in-law would go for on the Iraqi market, or if anyone around has heard of a men with bombs (pronounced  ka-na-buhl in Arabic. Go ahead, Google it if you don’t believe me.) When I was 22 I was responsible for ensuring that over $3 million worth of gear in the form of new laptops, switchboards, servers and accessories safely and completely changed hands along with all necessary updates, installs and user modifications.

Air Force UAV Pilot

What I think is interesting is that in the military, this isn’t that special. Many military people reading this  are saying to themselves “I had it harder” or “My job was a lot worse than that” and they are right. I suppose you could ask an engineer about how to build a house, or like ours who build forty living spaces in a week. You could also ask a 40 year old department manager what it takes to handle fifteen thousand units through the warehouse in a month, or you could ask a 26 year old army logistics chief to do the same thing. For those real academics out there I will ask it this way “If two vessels are traveling towards each other, one heading east at 40 knots with a 10 knot headwind and the other traveling west at 32 knots and a 6 knot headwind and they are 4200 miles apart, how long before they meet? A butterbar ensign in the Navy could tell you that. So what I am curious about is “What ignorant person thinks these people are stupid?”

As a special note, I graduated three years after that conversation with that professor and the class. I earned a degree in business administration. In my school that is a four year degree that takes most people 5 years to get and I got it 3 1/2. I also graduated cum laude in the top 15% of my class. That is out of the 50 or so percent that made it to graduation from when they laughed at that funny joke. Although my family was instrumental in me pushing through, I think that really set me apart in achieving this was my intelligence, my military intelligence. 

- Jon

Images from MCRP 3-01A available on scribd.com. Link available here.

The Nice List

I wanted to lighten up a little with this post and mention some organizations out there that I feel that we all need to keep close to our heart and in our thoughts this Christmas season. I am calling this “The Nice List”.

Toys for Tots, for those who don’t know, is the official charity backed by the United States Marine Corps. The organization was began by a major in the Marines in 1947. The organization collects toys for underprivileged children. You have seen the boxes around so you know how easy it is to drop off a new toy. Perhaps you’ve seen some of their commercials. “Are you Santa Claus?” If you don’t well up when the kid hands over his letter you’re a monster. Come on people, the Marines need your help. This is the only thing we really enjoy being good at that doesn’t involve womanizing or killing people, and it’s for the kids.

Lego – For the first part, Lego is better than _______(<<<Insert any awesome thing here) . Let’s face it, if you didn’t play with Legos as a kid then you missed out. I used to love playing for hours with my pile of Legos on the living room table. Legos are equivalent to a magical place where children can create a world populated by pirate rocketships, castles with race car refueling stations and dragons with laser beams on their heads. If I only had the chance I would take a few decades off my years and be that six year old all over again. Now I am just trying to get my nephew to develop an interest in the art (yeah, I said art.) He “engineered” his first Helicopter Car last time I visited. I never loved him more. This year it is even better. This year Lego is partnering with Toys for Tots. Follow this link and you can send an E-Card to your friends. For every card you send out Lego will donate 1 toy to Toys for Tots, up to 1 million toys. Right now they are at 345,897. Still have a long way to go with not a lot of time.

The last group I want to keep in your thoughts are the Marines themselves. I should say the whole military, they have all earned your consideration, but I have my biases. I served with the Marines and experienced Christmases in some far away desert. If you have a Marine, soldier, sailor or airmen in your life let them know you are thinking of them, especially the deployed ones.  When we are safe and warm by our trees and our presents, just keep in mind our troops and especially the Marines.

So I am asking all my Marine Corps friends and everyone else out there reading as well to also spread the news and support three great organizations with three very important missions this Christmas Season.

-Semper Fi and Merry Christmas

Jon

I think that the extra pink with fuzzy sides is perfect for you corporal.

(Edited Dec 21, 2011) I also wanted to add this link. It features soldiers debating on choosing Hello Kitty or My Little Poney. No but seriously they out collecting toys for toys-for-tots so they earn an Ooh-rah for that.


I am writing this post to my fellow Marines out there. I am suggesting, though I am not the first, that a discussion regarding the status of formal Marine Corp Academy be created.

To begin with, I am a former Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps. I had two tours in Iraq and feel that gives me the right to pose the question, “Why is it that the Marines’ do not have their own formal Academy?”
Currently officers in the United States Marines who have received academy training come from Annapolis. This is the site of United States Naval Academy. For its history Marine Officers were selected from every class of Naval Academy graduates. Officers have been trained in all the standard courses that a sailor would need to begin their career. They are also briefed on what would be necessary to be a Marine, if that were to happen.
While I understand the nature that we rely on the navy for the greatest part of our mission success in a traditional engagement, we have evolved. We are the force in readiness that is the reach of the United States military on every corner of the globe. We do this by piggy backing on Navy vessels around the world. There is no location so far from the sea that a Marine boot can’t land in a matter of minutes. But then things change. For decades now, since the Korean conflict, entire wars have been fought where there is no obvious link between the Marines and their sailor counterparts. Our tactics have evolved to show this. The way we fight now resembles more of an aggressive version of the Army rather than a land version of the Navy.
This has made sense for many years, centuries really. Now though I am concerned about the future of the Corps. In the future of warfare it is questionable to me what the role of the Navy will be. With expanding technological innovation leading the way for remote warfare, the Marines’ ever increasing ground roles, and build up of our direct to the fight capabilities like the Osprey and the SuperCobra attack helicopters how can we continue to rely on the same fundamental training as before?
Part is this the issue of whether or not the Marines should have their own academy. I have heard some arguments for and against this. Some arguments are that this would increase esprit de corps and refine our distinctive culture. Another aspect that I don’t hear mentioned is a new headquarters for the Marine Corps University. This would create a new center for military learning and new theory development concerning Marine tactics and strategy. The best minds in the Marine Corps would be gathered to create the plans that will be instilled in new leaders, hopefully giving us new capabilities that will save Marine lives and ensure mission success.
Cons involve new funds being diverted, a lot of them. And since, last I checked, the Marine Corps only rates 3% of Navy budget, this may be a very large obstacle to overcome. Beyond the fiscal realities are the issues of is this even a good idea? Are we discounting the benefits of the current system? The minds of some the best military leaders are already available in the form Naval professors. And as much as I like to make fun of the sailors, they are a fine group of young cadets to pull from for our future officers. Further, would a break such as this result in a breakdown of our fundamental function, be the first to fight and those who secure the beachhead? If we break from our Naval brothers we may lose a great deal of the teamwork necessary for this type of mission success.
Would this be a tool to continually evolve the Marine Corps in their continually changing role? Would this help the Marines to grow and prosper by refining our already distinctive and world famous culture?

I am writing this post to my fellow Marines out there. I am suggesting, though I am not the first, that a discussion regarding the status of a formal Marine Corps Academy be created.

To begin with, I am a former Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps. I had two tours in Iraq and feel that gives me the right to pose the question, “Why is it that the Marines do not have their own formal Academy?”
Currently officers in the United States Marines who have received academy training come from Annapolis. This is the site of United States Naval Academy. For its history Marine Officers were selected from every class of Naval Academy graduates. Officers have been trained in all the standard courses that a sailor would need to begin their career. They are also briefed on what would be necessary to be a Marine, if that were to happen.
While I understand the nature that we rely on the Navy for the greatest part of our mission success in a traditional engagement, we have evolved. We are the force in readiness that is the reach of the United States military on every corner of the globe. We do this by piggy backing on Navy vessels around the world. There is no location so far from the sea that a Marine boot can’t land in a matter of minutes. But then things change. For decades now, since the Korean conflict, entire wars have been fought where there is no obvious link between the Marines and their sailor counterparts. Our tactics have evolved to show this. The way we fight now resembles more of an aggressive version of the Army rather than a land version of the Navy.
This has made sense for many years, centuries really. Now though I am concerned about the future of the Corps. In the future of warfare it is questionable to me what the role of the Navy will be. With expanding technological innovation leading the way for remote warfare, the Marines’ ever increasing ground roles, and build up of our direct to the fight capabilities like the Osprey and the SuperCobra attack helicopters how can we continue to rely on the same fundamental training as before?
Part is this the issue of whether or not the Marines should have their own academy. I have heard some arguments for and against this. Some arguments are that this would increase esprit de corps and refine our distinctive culture. Another aspect that I don’t hear mentioned is a new headquarters for the Marine Corps University. This would create a new center for military learning and new theory development concerning Marine tactics and strategy. The best minds in the Marine Corps would be gathered to create the plans that will be instilled in new leaders, hopefully giving us new capabilities that will save Marine lives and ensure mission success.
Cons involve new funds being diverted, a lot of them. And since I last checked, the Marine Corps only rates 3% of Navy budget, this may be a very large obstacle to overcome. Beyond the fiscal realities are the issues of is this even a good idea? Are we discounting the benefits of the current system? The minds of some the best military leaders are already available in the form Naval professors. And as much as I like to make fun of the sailors, they are a fine group of young cadets to pull from for our future officers. Further, would a break such as this result in a breakdown of our fundamental function, be the first to fight and those who secure the beachhead? If we break from our Naval brothers we may lose a great deal of the teamwork necessary for this type of mission success.
Would this be a tool to continually evolve the Marine Corps in their continually changing role? Would this help the Marines to grow and prosper by refining our already distinctive and world famous culture?
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