As I stood in line to grill my sandwich, I watched a young corporal preparing two meals to-go. There was nothing really special about the meals . . . except this.
It was obvious to me that this Marine was carefully selecting different things for each tray. One was for him, the other was for his buddy who stood guard at the gate.
He carefully selected meat and cheese, meticulously grilled and wrapped them, then chose sides. I was moved by the obvious care with which the Marine made lunch for his buddy.
But the bond between these Marines goes far beyond chow time.
The International Zone has its own Marines who stand guard to keep the area safe. There are about 50 of them, and they live in the basement of the Presidential Palace. I sat down with a few of them, a team of four, to get a taste of what it means to be one of them. And I learned this: the Marine Corps is a family.
The men I spoke with are all between ages 19 and 23, and all single, though the one from Rhode Island has a girlfriend. When the topic of girlfriends rises, the other three give him a hard time, something he’s obviously accustomed to by now.
I can tell these four guys are close. They are all part of a group of five who are on the same guard schedule. When I indicate my assumption that this must be why they are so close, one of them replies, “Ma’am, if anyone of the 50 Marines down here walked into a dark room, I could sniff and tell you who it is.”
These men don’t just share a job . . . they are brothers.
There was something about these four that reminded me of that bad joke that John Kerry tried to cover up a few months ago — the one about young people who don’t study hard enough ending up in Iraq.
Let me say this. I have never met more impressive, intelligent, respectful, honorable, funny, handsome men in my life. These young men are the best America has to offer. They are not washouts, dropouts or losers. And, while their peers are back home beer-bonging at a frat party, these young men are on the rise as leaders.
They keep their living quarters cleaner than my grandmother’s house and they bear the burden of ensuring safekeeping of the people who live in the Green Zone.
These men make me proud to be American.
And while the four I met utter not a word of complaint — aside from the fact that they need more beef jerky — they are making sacrifices. I try to get them to talk about these sacrifices, and they really won’t have it.
They talk about their fellow Marines who are fighting in more dangerous areas, under fire daily. They feel guilty because they are in a relatively safe place. But they know their time will come.
Today they protect their fellow Americans — the people who live and work at the embassy in Baghdad.
But they look forward to that day when they can take their turn protecting Iraqis from the bloodshed that has driven a stake into the heart of Iraq.
It is a timeless honor to sacrifice for our countrymen, but I wonder how many of us are so eager to live a life of sacrifice for people not our own, for people of a foreign land.
When I direct the conversation to thoughts of home, I get a reaction I’m not expecting. Talk of family is usually the one thing that gets people talking about sacrifice. Missing home and loved ones is maybe the hardest part of the tour of duty.
These four love their families, and they talk about the things they look forward to about home: barbecue on the beach, sleeping late and letting mom wait on them, the food (this came from the Italian boy, of course), and girls.
But they all agree on something that shocks me. When they go home on leave, they can’t wait to get back to their brothers. When they are home, they call back to the unit, missing their fellow Marines.
My small mind fails to comprehend how a group of young men can bond so seamlessly — more tightly than many siblings. These men would die for each other in a heartbeat. I pray not one of them is forced to make such a noble choice. But I have no doubt each one of them would happily lay down his life for his friend.
These men are Marines. They are family.
This article appeared in the October 23rd eddition of the Plainview Daily Herald written by a young woman named Terah Kay who is currently in Iraq. Terah is a graduate of Abilene Christian University and received her juris doctorate from the Texas Tech University School of Law last May.
This column is the latest in her series. I encourage you to read the rest. They are all excellent.
Terah Kay: Just below bananas 09-06-2007
Terah Kay column: Angry words demoralizing 10-07-2007
Terah Kay column: Tea time in the ladies’ room 10-04-2007
Terah Kay column: America’s defenders making tremendous sacrifices 09-18-2007
Terah Kay column: Reality of Fear 09-17-2007
Terah Kay Column: Going for a ride in the Red Zone 09-16-2007
Terah Kay: Duck and cover 09-11-2007
Terah Kay column: Observing Ramadan can keep you free 10-11-2007