On the day of Nathaniel Romero’s promotion to Lance Corporal, the battalion was anxious, like a horse awaiting the starting gates.
They were in the final stages of preparing to deploy as part of II MEF, the Second Marine Expeditionary Force. Some were eager, and some nervous. They’d be touring ports of call across the Atlantic; Havana, Accra, and Buenos Aires, before sailing on beyond the African coast. This was the adventure they had all signed up for, for some, the most they would experience in their entire lives.
Others were masking visible anticipation. Many of them had never been on a real ship other than the mock landings and rehearsals, and none of them had been to combat. For all the training and bravado of the infantry, they were all still human, and many were scared. You could hear it in the overcompensation of the young ones, the boots.
“We’re gonna’ kill ‘em all!” they would cackle.
“Kill who, you retard?” one of the older Lances or a Corporal would say. It’s a strange thing to be a fraternity of war in a time when peace abounds, at least for your country.
For others, though few of them had ever been embraced by the burning arms of warfare, this was far from their first tour. To the “Salty” Marines, this was just another seven months at sea, they thought, and another half a year they wouldn’t be seeing their families… yet again. It was the same biannual routine for the peacetime Marine Corps. Earning their keep in the military manner. They were just irritable, and easily aroused when they saw any of the younger Marines goofing off. When the old ones aren’t happy, no one is. Best just to dot your “i’s” and cross the “t’s”, so that they have no reason to the leave the office besides the wretched inspections day after day.
Put it all together, and no one took note of the furthering of one young PFC’s military career. Romero barely even blipped on their radar. The air around the battalion was buzzing, tense, but unfocused. Everyone had plenty to do, but they needed direction. Everyone knew how to do their jobs. Now they just needed a why. The battalion commander could see this, he’d been on many deployments before, and as a younger officer, had even led Marines in Afghanistan. He knew well that the Marines needed to be reminded of their place in the world and what their purpose was.
After the closing of the monthly promotion ceremony, the battalion’s Commanding Officer, Lt. Colonel Irons gathered all the Marines together for what he called a chat. He called for a school circle of the four hundred Marines of the Battalion. He wanted to remind them of the importance of the Marine Expeditionary Units.
“Devildogs,” he bellowed with what could only be described as a fatherly growl, “You all know what today is?”
The Marines looked on. It’s an awkward moment to be surrounded by hundreds of people who don’t know exactly what the answer to a simple question is supposed to be. No one was quite sure what answer the Colonel wanted, and they were all afraid that any wrong answer might be interpreted as smarting-off to the man in the big office. Nobody wanted to be the guy to smart off to the Commanding Officer, but none quite knew what they were supposed to say. That is, no one wanted to smart-off… except Kaiser.
“Monday?” he said, earning the disdainful scowl of the rest of the battalion.
Fortunately, Noam’s answer worked.
“That’s absolutely right Devil! And do you know why this is important?” They all looked at the Lt. Colonel expectantly.
“Because Mondays really suck!” he barked. A few chuckles could be heard from around the battalion, still not realizing what their CO was getting at. “But there’s good news. This is your last Monday in the Continental United States! For the next seven months, every day might as well just be Friday, Oo-Rah?” He punctuated his point with the casual Marine Corps greeting, almost as a question, but also as a joke. The battalion chuckled again. The tension was cracking, the goal of the Lt. Colonel in the first place.
“I want to talk to all of you as we set on our last few days before leaving to join the MEU.” He stated in the same jovial tones.
“There’s still a lot of work to do, not for most of you. You’ve already done all the hard work. The training we did leading up to today was all you and you did amazingly well. I’d be hard pressed to find a unit I have commanded more prepared for what is expected of them, then all of you. No, the work left is up to the battalion staff. All the rest of you need to worry about is listening to your NCO’s, making sure your gear is squared away, being where you are supposed to be, and no last minute jackassery.”
The battalion enjoyed that one. Everyone knew the members of their teams and squads who fit that description. The three Marines in William’s fire team all shot a glare to Kaiser, knowing well who to expect of being the drunken Lance Corporal pissing on the Duty NCO’s door at 0300 two days to the deployment.
The Lieutenant Colonel’s laughter sharply broke. He was then absent his good ole boy overtone for one more earnest and weighted with gravitas of purpose. This was their commander speaking.
“Don’t be mistaken though, Marines. Much is expected of you in the next few months. It’s important that you remember what the Marine Expeditionary Unit is all about. I know you’ve heard it over and over this last year, but you really need to get it in this next few days before we disembark.”
The battalion stared. He let it stand in a calculated silence.
“What is our motto, Warlords?” He asked.
There was another tense pause.
“Now come on, Marines! This one ain’t even hard!”
“War Tomorrow!” the voice came from a Gunny off in the back, one of the old faces of the battalion.
“War Tomorrow! There you go! Thank you Gunny Sossa! War Tomorrow! You all know what that means? We acquired that motto from our Israeli allies, the Maglan Special Forces. Over there, they function under the assumption that war could happen at any moment. War Tomorrow.”
He paused to let that sink in.
“We aren’t at war. You all know that, but every war has a first shot fired. If nations have the aim of surviving, they need to have a force ready to give that first shot. They need a force ready with the belief that war might happen tomorrow. They need one ready to make war when all the others have long ago let their weapons rust, their muscles atrophy, and their skills dull. We are that force in readiness for the United States. We are the ‘First to Fight’. It’s more than a recruiting poster, this is the embodiment of what the Expeditionary Force is all about. We exemplify what it means to be Marine infantry by being the warriors first to arrive no matter what is asked of us. It won’t matter if we are there to quell some regional uprising, civil disturbance, or even to aid in disaster weeks before the volunteers show up in their air conditioned jets. And should the people of the United States feel even the slightest whiff of danger from some government who would like to see our people suffer, then we are also the force that exists to make sure that said government doesn’t exist next month. No matter what it is… the Marines are the one they call, and we, the Marine expeditionary forces are the exact Marines that get that call.”
He paused, before breaking from his ceremonious tone.
“You get that right, don’t you all?” He had his hands out at his hips, beckoning a response. “We will literally be the first boots on the ground wherever we land. The first Americans to set foot on a place where Americans are not welcomed. That’s what Marines do, and especially expeditionary Marines. In the event of the sudden onslaught of war, you will be the first Americans to take ownership of contested ground and will spearhead the American ground offensive, leading the way that others will follow. We are the embodiment of American force projection,” Irons continued, “the personified ability of the United States to deliver the world’s finest trained, equipped, and capable warriors she has ever known, to any city, valley, beach, or peak within twenty-four hours of receiving our marching orders.
The Colonel gave another calculated pause.
“That very show of force, my fine young warriors, the willingness and ability to deliver American warfighters, the most selectively chosen, most highly trained, well-armed, and deadliest in the history of warfare, to the doorstep of any nation who dares to oppose her will…,” the Lt. Colonel said, “is usually enough to prevent our actions from being necessary. Usually, the sight of our ships just beyond the horizon is enough to bring about capitulation of any enemy stupid enough to necessitate confrontation.”
He paused for another moment. It was theatrical really, attempting to invigorate his Marines with the spirit of greatness surrounding what, to them, was their first chance at battle, and to prove themselves after many months, for some years, of preparation for it. Many believed that, like so many others, this one would probably have been just another non-eventful seven month cruise filled with little more than weapons cleaning, gear inspections, and the tedium of shipboard life.
Irons’ stance became firm and his tone quickened again, building to a fiery crescendo.
“But sometimes… sometimes Marines, it happens that there will be a need of trained riflemen, those professional gunmen with a talent and the training to topple regimes and force dictators to submission through the absolute annihilation of the lesser gunmen which they are unfortunate enough to field. Sometimes, as has been our legacy in grounds named Montezuma, Belleau Wood, Iwo Jima, Fallujah, and along with thousands of other fields, cities, and beaches, the Marines are called to visit violence upon the enemy. And make no mistake about it, if we are called, we will rain down pure, unadulterated violence upon the poor fools who would beckon us to do so. We, more than other individuals in the world, have the power to redraw the maps and to redirect the course of history. This is why we trained so hard this last year, so that your nation trusts you with such high honors of the kind of responsibility it places on us.”
In one final statement, almost a whisper, but echoing out over the silenced Marines as a roar, the Lt. Colonel ended his homily of violence.
“We are living in uncertain times Marines. We may not be needed, but if we are, know this my stalwart warriors; every time Marines are called to action, history is made. ”
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