If anyone had told me when I got out of the Marines in 1994 that ten years later I would happily be living within a few miles of a Marine Base, I would have told them they were crazy.
When I got out, I wanted nothing to do with the government. This anarchist had served for four years, gotten promoted, done his time, and been honorably discharged as an E-5 or Seargent.
All that aside, I do live within about two miles of Marine Corps Base Hawaii, Kaneohe. My neighbor across the street is a retired Marine. In fact, the place I went to get a beer and some dinner this evening is right outside the back gate of the base. I went there because Pinky’s is close, casual, reasonably priced, has a decent selection of beer, and pretty decent food. Basicly it’s a TGI Fridays but it’s called Pinky’s PuPu Grill and Cocktails. Nuff said on that.
I ponied up to the bar, ordered a big Longboard Lager, babyback ribs, and a baked potato and sat back staring at the big TV, just as the guy next to me was doing. He was a fresh faced young jarhead sitting in front of a big Newcastle Nut Brown Ale.
“How long you been in?” I asked.
“Is it that obvious?” he said, without a trace of humor despite his high and tight, clean shaved face, upright posture, and the base being about two blocks away.
“Nah, it’s just we’re sittin outside the back gate. Hell, I was in the Corps once…”
And that’s how I started talking to a damn nice fella named Justin that just wants to finish his enlistment, go back to Vegas, marry his sweetheart, and become a firefighter. Turns out he’s been in two and a half years and saw some of the fiercest fighting in Iraq and is scheduled to rotate to Afghanistan in January. He’s a grunt (o3-11) from Charlie Company. Charlie company led the frontal assault on Fallujah and is the same company that lost all those Marines in an H46.
It wasn’t a long conversation, but there were some choice tidbits. Like when I asked Justin about the Iraqis and he told me about giving his Oakley sunglasses to an Iraqi reservest he was working with. How the guy was overcome with the gift. “The Iraqis are some of the most generous and giving people in the world, ” he told me, “but that doesn’t mean I’m talking about them assholes we were fighting in Fallujah. ” Justin likes Iraqis. The guys he met in the Iraqi army were described variously by him as funny, grateful, and ‘on it.’ Not the usual thing we civilians get to hear about.
When I asked if he would stay in he laughed. “No way. I just got a whole boot platoon dropped to me and I have to teach them how to come back from Afghanastan alive. When I come back alive, I am getting out and becoming a fireman. I can’t wait to answer someones question of ‘what do you do?’ with ‘I’m a civilian.” Asked about the new guys coming in, this 21 year old guy says sagely “They’re good kids. They’ll never hear me say that, but they’re good kids. I’m like the Dad that nobody wants. I have to be tough on them so they can keep from getting killed.”
I asked him only a few questions about Iraq. He told me about being in the field without a shower for 45 days. His unit coming in with full beards and enough smell to mow down Mosul. He told me how being in the field was less complicated than being stuck in garrison where he has to shine his boots several times a day. He told me about ‘R and R’ that consisted of getting a shower and a chance to eat hot food for three days before going back in the field. He told me about the first beer he had in 10 months, when he got back and how it nearly knocked him on the floor. He was a nice guy. A good kid. A solid man. A guy doing the job he signed up for and glad to have the opportunity to be here in Hawaii.
So I bought him a beer. Semper Fidelis.