Sgt. Hanrahan

Sunday was Family Day for Alpha Company.  I rode down to Camp Pendleton with the man who was once my Platoon Commander.  Neither of us are in the unit anymore, but we still have strong ties to the men, and couldn’t let them go without seeing them off.  My father sent along a bottle of Ireland’s finest to be stowed for the journey.

Family Days precede every deployment.  This one had all the usual sights.  A bounce house for the little ones, parents seated at picnic tables in the sun, a hot dog station that was certain to run out of food.  A couple of LAVs were in the parking lot swarmed by kids, their mothers watching nervously, knowing full well that experienced crewman fall off of them all the time.

I was introduced to a whole squad of new wives and fiances, another familiar pre-deployment ritual.  Marines generally use last names when referring to each other, but when meeting a significant other, introductions are always made with first names.  If asked, any Marine would tell you it is to make themselves seem friendly and approachable, but I have a personal theory that it is also to disassociate one’s self from any indelicate stories that may have been told.  “Oh, you’re THAT Bennett.”

A couple of the old Black Sheep showed up, families in tow.  It was awfully good to see them.  Together, we inspected the new up-armor modifications that our vehicles have received since we last lived in them.  This led to criticisms like “Now where will the cooler go?”, and “That new turret shielding will make it kind of difficult to swing a Nerf Bat at the kids trying to steal your pack.”  Indeed, we are untapped resources when it comes to assault vehicle design.

SSGT. Vanderpol

On Monday morning I picked up the newly minted Staff Sergeant Vanderpol from his father’s machine shop in Newport Beach.  I’d offered to take him back down after he’d ditched his truck and the civilian gear he’d been keeping on base.  He was waiting for me out front, his two sea bags, pack, and carry-on stacked behind him. This is to be his fourth deployment, and his experience shows.  There were no last minute errands to run, everything was packed and ready.

When we arrived at the Battalion Area, word came down that their flight was to be a delayed until Wednesday, and that the Marines were to be released until then.  Wives and parents were there, happy of course to have their men for a few more days, but I’d seen those looks on my own family’s faces before.  It had taken a lot of emotional wind up just to get into the car that morning.  They’d only steeled themselves through mid-afternoon.

SGT Acosta

Vandy and I headed south to Sgt. Paul Acosta’s house in San Diego.  We hung out all afternoon, the three of us drinking beer and relaxing.  We ended the night with a sushi dinner and an old John Wayne favorite.

I woke up early Tuesday morning on Acosta’s couch, my jacket wrapped around my chest.  I lay there without moving for a long time.  The morning was very gray and very still.

Vandy was sleeping in the loft above me.  I didn’t even raise my voice.

“Are you awake?”, I said.

“Yeah, I’m up.”

I could tell by his voice he’d been awake for a while.  It occurred to me that whatever he’d been thinking about up there in silence was probably more than I’d had to worry about lately.

“Join me for a beer then?” , I said.

He answered back, “While I still can.”

When Acosta woke up, we three went out for coffee and some proper breakfast burritos.  When the meal was over, and everything that would be said was said, I shook the boys’ hands, got in my truck, and started driving north.  Back towards the decisions I’ve made.

SGT Dorado

SGT Reyes

GYSGT McCoy

CPL Degeus, CPL Gleason, SGT Madrigal

LCPL Cooley, CPL Rios, CPL Parker

Half the boys took off on Wednesday, the other half left just this afternoon.  Next stop Afghanistan.

There is more than a small part of me that wants terribly to catch up with them somewhere out there in the desert.  Unexpected, and good for morale.  Like a brother showing up to the big away game, camera in hand.

There are a few small logistical issues I’d have to figure out, but in the meantime;

Godspeed to you my fine Marines.  You make me so humble, so grateful, and so immeasurably proud.