July 20, 1988 was the day my life changed forever. It was on this day, as a 19-year-old young man with no clue what I was going to do with my life, that I stood before a US Army Captain at the Military Entry Processing Station (MEPS) in Nashville, Tennessee and did solemnly swear to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic…
On that day I set sail on a course that would see me travel the world over, seeing sights and experiencing cultures that few have the opportunity or the honor to enjoy. In a few short months I would be shipping off to Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, to undergo the toughest military basic training in the free world: Marine Corps Boot Camp. From the moment I stepped off of the bus at 1 a.m. on January 3, 1989, I was embroiled in a process designed to indelibly instill in me a sense of duty, honor, commitment and courage. This did not come without pain, both physical and mental. Physical in that my body was subjected to exercise and activity that broke many recruits, mental in that I was completely isolated, save the occasional letter from home, with the outside world. Across the bridge from our base was the civilian world, a world we no longer belonged to. We were intent on becoming Marines, and as the old saying goes, once a Marine, ALWAYS a Marine. Marching across the drill deck in April, I experienced a pride in my accomplishment that I had never felt before. I had endured, I was a Marine and no one could take that away from me.
Thus began a 20-year career that shaped my life in ways that I could have never imagined as a middle-class kid from Tennessee. A war in 1991 opened my eyes to the harsh reality that when the chips were down, America was called upon to step in and set things right. Two deployments to the Mediterranean Sea in 1992 and 1993 exposed me to cultures that forever changed my world view and drove home to me what I was serving to protect: a way of life not found in any other country the world over. 2001 brought with it horrors heretofore unimagined; the first attack on American soil since the War of 1812 left this country reeling in shock, then anger, then action – action which, unfortunately, was stymied by willful indifference and apathy by those who had never seen life outside their own neighborhood. A combat deployment in 2004-2005 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom III made it immensely clear to me that there are those in this world who live in conditions so harsh that most Americans would be sickened to see up close; the complaints of the OWS movement turn my stomach when I compare them to the conditions I have seen others endure because they have no other choice available. Deployment to the Southwestern border brought to light the struggles and desperation experienced by our Mexican neighbors who are in search of a better life for themselves and their families; the bureaucratic quagmire they must navigate to even be considered for entry into the United States is catalyst enough to drive them to risk life and limb to cross the border in the face of a heavily armed security presence.
Through it all, my military training taught me how to cope, how to improvise, adapt and overcome, how to steel myself to challenges. I developed a world view that, while not unique in military circles, is often at odds with the rest of polite society. Despite our internal, struggles, we don’t exactly have it so bad in America. In general, no one is forced to bathe in a roadside ditch. Housing is plentiful. Gasoline and other fuels, while “expensive” are usually readily available. Our children, especially our daughters, can be educated without fear of reprisal; no one is standing at the corner with a machine gun or a machete threatening death or dismemberment to anyone daring to educate themselves beyond the dark ages. Food can be found in every city, town and village. Our water is free of toxins and pollutants. Our politicians, for the most part, are accountable to their constituents; no one is ruling at the end of a gun or a sword.
In other words, what my time in the military taught me was this: America is worth fighting for. She is worth dying for. Many have already been called to make that sacrifice; many more in the future will also answer that call. I say to all those who stand in protest dressed in Abercrombie, Hollister, Aeropostale, North Face, etc., camping out on public land in $200 tents: I served to protect, and many others died fighting to protect, your right to protest about your “situation.” I have also seen many other who would gladly embrace your “situation” and those things you take for granted – the right to voice your opinion, the freedom to dress as you desire, the ability to eat three meals a day without having to fight for or steal the food you intend to eat – and would be completely appalled at your complaints. I also served to protect my rights, one of which is the freedom of speech I enjoy as an American citizen. That freedom of speech affords me the opportunity to look at you and say: pull your damned pants up, take a shower, wash your hair, find some gainful employment, recognize just how good you have it, and stop acting like a fool.
For the record, that’s another thing the military did for me: it reduced my capacity to deal with stupid down to almost nothing. And at my age, I don’t have much issue with calling it out when I see it either.