Until now, I have not spoken much about our work, for a few reasons. First, our mission may be exciting only to the logisticians of the world. We are cleaning equipment, packing it in boxes and crunching data. Second, if I go into much more detail, the process gets a bit technical and it would be challenging to explain without using military terminology! But the most crucial aspect of this process – my Marines – deserves special mention. So if you’ll allow me, I’ll dedicate this post to the Marines of R4OG, and to my company – Retrograde Operations Company, in particular.
The Marines come from all over – from Camp Pendleton, California; Camp Lejeune, North Carolina; Okinawa, Japan and from reserve units scattered across the country.
They represent almost every combat service support (CSS) military occupational specialty (MOS), and a few combat MOSs! We have communications Marines, administrative Marines, truck drivers, forklift drivers. We have embarkation Marines (critical for packing the containers, weighing and measuring in preparation for shipment), preservation, packaging and packing (P3) Marines who build boxes from lumber and plywood – and get very creative! We have supply Marines, armory (weapons facility) Marines, ordnance technicians (the ones who fix weapons systems) and infantry Marines. We have logisticians and combat engineers, utilities Marines (who fix our generators, air conditioning units and refrigeration units – critical in Afghanistan!). We are the ultimate Marine Corps unit – quite literally a compilation of “cooks, bakers and candlestick makers”.
Many volunteered; some were “volun-told”.
They come from all backgrounds, and each has his or her unique story. I’m always asking about their plans! I want to know about their goals and aspirations, their families and loved ones. Two young Marines are reservists, working on their bachelor degrees, and want to work in the Pentagon! I’ve warned them that it’s not nearly as glamorous as they think it is, but I don’t think I convinced either one. Another is leaving the Marine Corps to drive a big rig truck. One is working on a business degree, and wants to be an entrepreneur. Another is pre-med; his fellow Marine is working on his criminology degree. Many of them do this while we are deployed – taking classes online during their off-hours. I am very proud of each of them, encouraging their academic goals. I often ask if they had considered becoming officers. Slyly, sometimes shyly, many of them smile and say, “yes”. It’s as if they are not supposed to become officers – that they are not supposed to think that a lance corporal could become an officer. Nonsense, I think, as I urge them to get their college degrees and go to Officer Candidates School (OCS). I believe strongly that each one of them can do it, and that they should pursue their dreams and have high expectations for themselves.
They have families of all kinds. Many have newborns, and eagerly share stories of their children and show off the latest pictures. Some will become fathers while we are deployed. Most will miss at least one birthday. Care packages are a constant reminder of how much our families and friends love us. Being the Marine Corps family that we are, we share our goodies with each other. Loved ones reach across the miles with “snail mail” and Skype to remind us how much we are loved, and missed.
This week we began Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (MCMAP). Getting thrown on the ground and getting beaten up is not exactly how I want to spend my free time. The gym suits me just fine! However, the Marines love it. They are so motivated and happy to be doing MCMAP. Their faces light up at the thought. Each night, they don body armor and run the perimeter of the lot before moving onto other exercises. Much like most martial arts programs (I suspect) you have to earn the opportunity to get to the fun parts – the aspects you and I commonly think of as martial arts. They cannot wait to show off their new belts (tan to grey to green to brown to black).
The Marines approach their daily tasks with equal enthusiasm. The work is not glamorous, but it can be extraordinarily satisfying. You can see progress each day. A bunch of equipment comes in, enters the retrograde process. The Marines sort it, identify whether it’s worth keeping or not, then clean it, pack it and prepare it for shipment. The pile of stuff grows, and then recedes. Containers come onto the lot, get packed full of stuff, and leave again. Truckloads of unserviceable items leave for proper disposal. Everyone pitches in to help. I often see our embarkation officer out on the lot, building pallets for air shipment. My senior enlisted help build boxes, cut wood, and provide a constant guiding presence on the lot. I have even had my chance to sort gear and to power wash equipment!
The Marines in my command are nothing short of amazing, and I have a superb staff. My Marines motivate me every single day. Being on active duty, I get to be motivated, to say things like “outstanding” and “oorah” with abandon – which makes me very happy!
My officers and senior enlisted are the best kind of leaders. They empower the Marines to do great things. They believe in the Marines’ abilities and find ways to encourage success. They ensure the Marines have the required tools. They develop new ideas to make the process better. They are open-minded, willing to listen and collaborate. They understand that open and honest communication is the cornerstone to our success. I look forward to each day, just to be around these extraordinary individuals.
Can you tell I’m having the time of my life? I am. Deployments aren’t supposed to be this much fun. I would not trade this experience for the world.