I am an active duty officer in the U.S. Marine Corps. All views expressed in this blog are my personal views as an individual and not those of the Marine Corps or the Department of Defense.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

it's 5:09 AM...

and thanks to an f-ed up night I'm wide awake, stone sober and sitting on the balcony of our hotel room overlooking VA beach, typing this. But if my night turned out to be a complete waste (not in the sense I'd hoped), maybe my pre-dawn will atone. It has, after all, been a long time since most of you heard from me, though a loyal few keep calling and for that I'm grateful. So until I can call you back, I hope this little update will do.
Let's see. We're definitely past the half-way point in the POI (program of instruction) at the basic school, and it feels even further than that because we really only have a few major events left: some field exercises/urban combat stuff, the 15 mile hump (this Thursday), a few exams. Today (actually yesterday) we went out to the range and got "familiar" with some crew-served weapons we'd been studying for the past week or two. We fired the 240B med machine gun (dinkadinkadinkadinka), the 50-cal heavy MG (thwack thwack thwack thwack thwack) and the MK-19 automatic grenade launcher (thunk thunk thunk...whomp whomp whomp). It was, in a word, awesome. Of course, for 2 minutes or less of trigger time each we waited around about 8 hours or more (of course wearing flaks and fliks and all that jazz), so all in all a pretty average day here at TBS (The Big Suck). But we're finally getting to the good stuff - big guns (I fired a 155mm howitzer the other day), platoon-sized evolutions, fire and maneuver (instead of what amounts to a bonzai charge every time we spot - or think we spot - the enemy), setting up a defense (read: digging holes and filling sandbags), and in just a few short weeks - MOS's.
MOS stands for Military Occupational Specialty - your job in the Marine Corps. There are 22 MOS's open to active duty Marine Officers such as myself - everything from infantry to PAO (public affairs officer). There are a set number of slots for each. I'm going for intel, with my main back-up being combat engineer. There are more slots for each than I expected, but it's still going to be extremely competitive. I got my 1st command eval today and my SPC (staff platoon commander, a captain) thinks I'm doing a good job. He thinks I'd be a good fit for intel, but also for comm or logistics. I think not...but I told him I'd think about it, so who knows.
Anyway, we find out our MOS's in about a month, or a little less. If I get intel, I'll be training at the Navy/Marine Corps Intel Training Center in Dam, Neck, VA, which is probably a five minute low-crawl from where I'm sitting right now (incidentally, starting to watch the sun rise over the shore - life could be worse). I have no idea when I'd start there, so I might be doing some temporary duty in DC or theoretically even with my 1st unit, while I wait for the next class to start up. Regardless, I graduate TBS on July 2 (note the change from July 3 if you already had it on your calendar), all dressed up my blues and sword and the whole schtick. So that's my way of saying - come! In just a few short months I could be on my way to Afghanistan (or Hawaii, you never know), and it's been far too long since I've seen most of you anyway. So while you'll definitely be getting a bit more personal of an invitation, I just wanted to let everyone know when it is in the hopes that you'll set aside the date and join me for it. It's in Quantico, VA of course, about 40 minutes south of DC.
Two teens just skate-boarded by me down on the board-walk. It's 5:47 AM. One was wearing a kippah. We're entering the realm of the bizarre, and I think it's time to sleep. Hope to hear from you!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Cold enough for ya?

How cold was it this week? It was so cold...
  • within an hour or two of leaving the barracks for the rifle range, the water in our canteens/camelbaks was frozen solid
  • despite wearing some 4-5 warming layers (underarmour, polypro, fleece, gortex) we were still shivering and stomping and blowing like spastic, rabid horses
  • I heard one guy trying to give away a block of ice disguised as an apple
  • thanks to uselessly numb fingers, during pistol cleaning we sent multiple spring-loaded parts whizzing past unsuspecting ears
  • even Sgt. G put on gloves
One of my roommates captured the mood perfectly while we were shivering in the pits (running the targets up and down for other platoons) when he said simply, "fuck everything." Indeed.

But...I can't complain. Miraculously, on Friday, the actual day we qualified on pistol/rifle, the clouds parted, the sun came out, and it was a balmy 45 or so degrees. We felt, as someone else in my platoon put it, like we'd won the damn lottery. And most of us shot better as a result. I got "expert" on rifle (the top ranking) and missed it by 3 points on pistol, getting "sharpshooter" instead. I'm definitely happy with those results, though I'm looking forward to getting more practice on the M9 Beretta.

Aside from the cold, the past few weeks have been pretty awesome. We earned our tan belts in MCMAP (Marine Corps martial arts program) a few weeks ago by throwing one another around (and into the ground comma frozen solid). While I initially hated MCMAP because the fundamentals are much closer to boxing than to the fluid, low-center-of-gravity techniques I'm used to, I've grown to like it, especially as we learn techniques that are straight out of Aikido. MCMAP is supposed to combine the best and most martial elements of all the other arts (while leaving out impractical, sport-oriented stuff) and I'm starting to see how, at the higher levels, it does exactly that. I'm hoping to find the time to earn my grey and green belts while I'm here.

Next week, we do some more advanced rifle stuff - moving targets, etc. It will still involve early mornings, the 3 mile pre-dawn hump out to the range and whatever temperatures G-d throws at us, but I'm looking forward to it.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Looking back and looking forward - part II

I'm back at Quantico and have some time before things kick off again tomorrow morning. When we last saw our hero, he was making it through week five and a runny nose. We gave him a tissue.

Anyway, in the second half of OCS, things got easier, and harder. The PT got harder, both objectively - more repetitions, harder runs, etc. - and subjectively, insofar as my body was slowly breaking down. The yelling gradually lessened, and though it never really went away, it was even less of a big deal than it had been at the beginning. The expectations rose, of course, and the leadership evaluations got harder - squad-sized groups instead of fireteam, more complex orders to receive and issue, etc.

But as we got through one event after another - the 9 mile hump, various field exercises, the night IMC - we got stronger, physically but more importantly mentally. We could see the light at the end of the tunnel, and we had confidence in our ability to handle whatever was thrown at us.

Along the way, we lost lots of candidates - 50% in my platoon. We lost a rather large handful in week four, the first opportunity to drop on request. We lost some candidates who will make great Marine officers, including at least one who had already been a great enlisted Marine, but had the bad luck to get injured or sick. And we lost some candidates who the staff felt didn't have what it takes, at least right now. The last of these was dropped two days before graduation.

The last few days of OCS, I felt at times elated but mostly tired and relieved. Our very last event was a five-mile "moto run" which, believe it or not, was in fact a ton of fun. At the end the Col. jumped up on the PT table and lets just say he knows how to motivate Marines. That was probably the happiest moment at OCS for me aside from commissioning - I was sweaty and a little tired from the run but I felt great, pumped and proud to be part of that swarm of almost-Marines screaming OOH-RAH in response to the Col.

Friday, Dec. 12, we graduated from OCS in the morning and, after lunch with my parents, I headed to the museum, changed into my rank-less Alphas, and took the oath with the roughly 180 or so candidates of Delta Co. that remained from a starting company of about 360. Technically, that was the moment I became a Marine, but in my mind, it happened two nights earlier, when our platoon commander, a captain, handed each of us our first Eagle, Globe and Anchor, shook our hands and said "congratulations, Marine." Anyway, after the commissioning, my parents pinned me on, I stepped outside and received my first salute from my former instructors, and then I went straight to TBS to check in, without passing Go or collecting $200.

The next week consisted of long hours of in-processing, and that's what this coming week will be too - plus a PFT and Swim Qual. So wish me luck on those. Assuming I don't bomb those, the following week 299 Marines and I will start the 6 month POI (program of instruction) known as the BOC (Basic Officers Course). Around April or May, I'll find out my MOS (Military Occupational Specialty, or job) in the USMC. It's based on class rank at TBS, my ranking of preferences, and the needs of the Corps. On July 3, G-d willing, I'll graduate TBS and head off to my MOS schools. Depending on the school, that will take a few months, and from there it's off to the fleet. I'll be assigned a unit at a given location (e.g. Camp Lejune, Okinawa, Camp Pendelton, etc.) and that'll be home for the next few years - the place where I train and from which I deploy (probably to Afghanistan, from everything we're hearing). And I'll meet my first platoon - the Marines whose lives and livelihoods will be in my hands, the Marines whom I will command, but whose experience will far exceed my own. I can't wait.

So that's what the next year or so holds for me. TBS is physically and mentally demanding - we'll have various fitness tests, lots of exams (it's equal to 2.5 years of college crammed into 6 months), all kinds of field exercises, rifle and pistol qualification, etc. etc. etc. Dropping even a fraction of a percentage of your GPA can drop you tens of places in your class ranking, which not only impacts your MOS but will affect your promotion timing for the rest of your career.

But at the same time, we're treated like adults. Eating, sleeping, working out is up to us. The days will be long but at the end of each day we'll have liberty, just like you do in the civilian world when the workday is over. Most of our weekends will be ours. Of course, we'll have plenty of studying and working out to do in that free time, but it's still nice to have regular access to the world again.

I guess that's it. If you have any questions about OCS or TBS or anything else, don't hesitate to write or call me - I'm happy to answer them and I would love to hear from (and see) you! Especially those of you who don't live in the DC area - if you're ever around please let me know, and if you want I can even show you around the picturesque environs of MCB Quantico.

Semper Fi.