Two months after the Colonel’s speech, the Marines of 2/2 were aboard the USS Tripoli.
Gone was the initial thrill of being on the high seas. It had long since worn off, as now most of Romero’s time was spent in the squad bay, surrounded by the smell of ancient socks and the lingering after odor of tobacco mint. The squad bay was a cramped hole in the middle of the ship where Marines called home. Marines slept in hammocks dangling across the steel beams standing throughout the bay or on the fold up cots riveted to the walls. Sea bags with all of their gear, equipment, and personal belongings lined the deck beneath the hanging cots and bedding. During the times when they weren’t making port, they would be doing drills on the ship’s quarterdeck, in classes and simulation, or performing preventive maintenance on the gear. There was no task more mind-numbing than the constant cycle of PMing gear. Perhaps they would be lucky enough that something would break from all the maintenance and they could actually have something to do. The deployment was already a few months in and they were well into the tedium of ship life.
Romero was asleep when a fellow Lance Corporal from the platoon, Robert Lomax, “Lolo”, along with Kaiser, shook him violently awake. Kaiser most delicately flipped his hammock sending him crashing to the floor.
Lolo cackled as Romero came to life, “Dude! We’re in Africa! Ain’t no way you’re sleeping through Accra.”
Romero groaned less awake than angry, “I’m good. You guys go on without me.”
“Ahh, you’re just butt hurt from back in Havana,” Lolo said.
Romero grunted into the bag of laundry he used for a pillow.
“Look. Everybody in Ghana speaks English, so Kaiser isn’t going to be able steal your girl ‘cuz you don’t speak the language.”
Kaiser was going through his gear, grabbing whatever he thought he might need for his adventures on the Gold Coast. Romero said nothing.
“Serves you right.” Kaiser said. “It isn’t my fault that we went to Cuba, and you can’t even speak enough Spanish to hit it with one of the locals. Seriously, you’re Mexican. How do you not speak Spanish?”
“I’m half Mexican,” Romero replied. “My family have been citizens since the 60’s.”
“Not the half Juanita cared about. Once she found out you couldn’t speak the mother tongue, you left the door wide open. With a third of the United States Hispanic, you’d think that you’d learn to have exploited that dual nature of yours. You only have yourself to blame.”
Romero was annoyed to have the story brought up. “Why do you even speak Spanish? You’re a Jew.”
“The maid taught me.” Noam replied very matter of fact.
Lolo mocked Noam for his class faux paux, “Ho ho.” He bellowed. “Must be nice havin’ a maid to fluff your pillow and teach you the tongue of all society’s bottom feeders like us, huh?”
“Whatever,” he said as he continued to rifle through his gear, “It isn’t my fault my dad is a venture capitalist. So, I’m loaded? I still crawl through all the same mud holes as the rest of you. I just clean up better when it’s over.”
As he said this, he pulled from his bag a nice watch and shoes, far nicer than anything Romero could afford. He had designer clothes he pressed religiously whereas the only civilian attire Romero had was a pair of jeans and a Hawaiian shirt he bought at the PX back in Camp Lejeune. Noam certainly did clean up better than the rest of them.
“Why did you go into the Marines, anyway?” Romero asked.
“You mean because I could just drop the money and go to some private school where everyone is pretentious and boring, get an internship my dad set up at some banking firm, before taking an executive position at my dad’s venture firm at 25 and twenty years before I deserve it?” He let the point hang in the air.
Romero was puzzled. That was what he, as well as everyone else, wanted to know. They just didn’t expect to hear the summary of Noam’s paradoxical existence in this place spelled out so well.
“Look, my whole life has been planned out for me,” he explained. “Go to my dad’s college. Hang out with my dad’s friends’ kids, then follow him to be a self-absorbed billionaire. I didn’t want all that. I wanted to do something on my own for a while, see the world in a different way than my family or anyone else does back San Francisco.”
Lolo interjected, “I wouldn’t mind being a greedy, self-absorbed billionaire for a couple days.”
Romero kept asking, “So why not go officer? Or take an easier job. I mean you live on a cot, but walk around in Armani shoes.”
Kaiser straightened his watch and finished primping himself in a small mirror he had hung on one of the beams. He usually gaffed off the military regulations on service uniform and grooming, but once he went out, he was a meticulous vain narcissist. He finished tucking his shirt and turned around to answer Romero, who was still sitting in his boxers.
“Look, being infantry isn’t the worst thing in the world, once you get used to all the stuff that sucks about it. I mean, where else do you get to see stuff like this. Everyone takes vacations to Cancun, but how often do you get to go to Cuba, Ghana, Buenos Aires, South Africa, and Australia? Once you accept the role you have to play and just embrace the suck, then the Marines aren’t that bad. Besides this isn’t going to be my whole life. At the end of my four years, I’m probably getting out, then do the whole college thing before working with investments, spending my father’s money in the least stupid way I know how. I’ve resigned myself to that, but for now, I’m going enjoy as much stupid as I can, do things all the other yuppies in Armani shoes dream about, and piss off my dad with all the time I have left.”
“You’re a real patriot, Kaiser.” Nathaniel said condescendingly.
“Hey, we’re all here for different reasons.” Noam fired back. “I’m here because I want some life experience before becoming a glorified bean counter. Lolo and Corporal Williams are probably just here because nowhere else do you get the chance to get paid to kill people.” Lolo, also getting changed across the squad bay, laughed out loud for being accused of psychopathy.
Kaiser continued with a snarky grin, “You’re here because of your overwhelming inferiority complex to real men like the rest of us. Others are here for college, or to get money to start businesses, or for the benefits. Others come to the military for citizenship. Whatever. No one is here just to ‘serve their country’… well, maybe Su.”
The three looked over at Lance Corporal Fannon, Suicide. He was sitting on his cot reading a book on his tablet – Gates of Fire, a novel retelling the Battle of Thermopylae. He wasn’t one who usually engaged in the antics of Marines on liberty either. Answering to his pseudonym, he looked up, just long enough to let them know he was listening, then went back to his book.
Kaiser smirked while continuing to look to Suicide sitting alone, “Yeah, maybe Su’s your patriot, Boot. Texas born and bred. Dad was a Marine. Granddad was a Marine. Only thing he ever wanted to be was a Marine. Probably gets a hard on every time the National Anthem plays at ball games.”
Suicide looked up again for a few seconds. He was annoyed with Kaiser. He was often annoyed with Kaiser.
Lolo looked to Nathaniel as he buttoned up his shirt. “You know where he got that name, Romero?”
Nathaniel just looked at the three of them. The truth was that he had been curious ever since he met him. How could a person not be curious about a name like Suicide? But he had never worked up the nerve to ask.
“It was Gunny Yafante. You know how he joined the unit two months before you did? Yeah, well, one of the first things he did was notice our boy Fannon. He’d always go balls out every day in PT. It didn’t matter what it was, the O-Course, the run, on humps, softball… Fannon was always doin’ it better and harder than any of the rest of us. MCMAP too, the ranges, even the reloading drills. Then there was one day on the O-Course. He blew the rest of us out of the water, you know. Got to the end, climbed the rope, but then slipped… came down hard. We all thought he broke something, for sure. He laid there for a second, but then rolled out of it, pulled himself to his feet, dusted off, and climbed the rope like nothin’ happened. Doc Shu was down at the bottom like, ‘I’m gonna check you out, son.’, but when Gunny told us to do the course over, he just went to it. Old Shu was like, ‘Screw it.’ It wasn’t until we were all heading out that Doc Shubert saw him limping. None of the rest of us even noticed. Turned out he’d done the whole thing with a broken ankle from the fall. Never even heard him wince. They bandaged him up and put him on light duty for a few weeks, but he was back at PT the next morning trying to train like a moron. That’s why he’s called Suicide. He’s always trying to get himself killed. Gunny’s had a soft spot for Fannon ever since.”
Romero asked Fannon, “Is that true, Su… uh… I mean, Fannon?”
LCpl Fannon replied, “More or less. Gunny started calling me Suicide. The name stuck. Now everybody calls me Suicide.”
Kaiser smirked again, “Man of few words, as always. Yeah, this is his whole life. He’s going to do this for the rest of his career. When the MEU is over he’s going to Sniper School, then probably end up joining with Force Recon for a while. I’d bet he goes into joining the Raiders before it’s all said and done. Probably even goes OCS to become one of the brass. If you stick around long enough, you’ll probably be saluting him, Boot. That’s why he’s the patriot, you see? He was born to the wrong age. He’s the last of a dying breed – a warrior in the age of robots. There’s not a lot of need anymore for guys like him, good old boy ‘warriors of the American Empire’ out to fight in the name of God, liberty, and the American dollar.”
Fannon dropped his tablet on his rack and glared at Kaiser, “You talk a lot. You know that?” There was the subtle implication that the next few words that Kaiser spoke could well be his last with that pretty complexion. Fannon may be quiet, but not above asserting his dominance among the other Lances.
He replied, “Yeah, yeah. We talk a lot, but tonight, we’re getting wasted. We’re going out to every bar in this city, womanize for a while, and try not to start an international incident. You’re going too, Patriot. Spread some American good will with a few of those dollars you never spend out in town. Romero needs a battle buddy and one of us has to be sober enough to drag the rest of us back to this floating heap.
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