Best. Birthday. Ever. Those are the words that come to mind when I think of this birthday. Thank you to all of you who wished me a happy birthday here in Afghanistan. It is a day that would pass without much fanfare at home (since it is not something I like to publicize). A year ago I happened to be with my best friend, whom I had not seen in almost two years. We had a lovely evening, just catching up with each other.
At Camp Leatherneck, I kept my expectations exceedingly low. I smile as I write this, because this birthday held many pleasant surprises. The morning began with an Inbox full of well wishes from my friends and family back home. All hail the technological age that we live in, for I could tell that many individuals had reminders on their device of choice (phone, IPad, computer) that popped up to say “It’s Beth’s birthday!”. I smiled at each note, so happy to hear from everyone so far away. I had already received two presents in the mail, with promises of two more on their way.
My Marines had cards for me, and had written “Happy XXth Birthday!” on the white board in my office (my age was no secret, but they were discreet enough not to shout it to the world). My Company First Sergeant happened to have her birthday exactly the week before mine – so naturally she was tracking that the company commander’s birthday was coming up. Sneaky devils.
At the morning briefing, one of my fellow officers was kind enough to add a “Happy Birthday” to me at the end of his talking points. So now everyone knew. Sigh. Fortunately, I thought that was the end of it. Two of my senior enlisted came into my office looking like they were up to something. They were making me downright nervous, as my clasping of hands indicated. I told them as much, wondering out loud what they were up to. They claimed nothing, that they know how to “take orders” and that when I said I didn’t want anything done, they respected that. Thank goodness! They actually listened.
We had our weekly Officers’ Call that evening. I met up with a fellow officer (the same one who had wished me happy birthday at the morning meeting) to go to dinner. We were supposed to meet a third Marine for dinner, but evidently the communication had gone amiss. He said, “forget him, we’ll just go to dinner”. I was more than a little surprised; since it is completely unlike him to so readily dismiss our fellow Marine like that. But, being the laid-back, easy-going person that I am (seriously!), I let it go.
We arrived at the restaurant (refer to my blog: Welcome to Bastion) to find that same Marine standing outside waiting for us. Surprised to see that he had met us there (how had he gotten the timing right?), I was still clueless. I walked into the restaurant, and happened to see one of my officers there. This was my first indication that something was up – he rarely leaves Leatherneck for any reason. Then I turned to my left to see a table full of my Marines. They were all smiling expectantly. I was completely embarrassed, and overwhelmed.
The strongest members of my team were waiting (and had been waiting, for 45 minutes) to help me celebrate my birthday. I have not had a surprise party like that ever, and I did not stop smiling the entire evening. They ordered my favorite pizza (barbeque chicken) with chocolate ice cream for dessert. They had even gotten candles and presents.
Originally, they had me sitting at the head of the table. But you know I couldn’t stay there. Before long, I had moved to the middle, so that I could talk to most of the Marines gathered around the table. It was my birthday, after all, and they had come to celebrate with me. So I wanted to be able to talk to them.
We had a glorious time. We were having so much fun joking and talking that we easily could have been back in the States, relaxing at the end of a long week.
I cannot put into words how much that evening means to me. I’m still smiling, as I sit here writing. In just a few months, I have formed friendships that I know will last a lifetime. The Marine Corps has given me so much. It welcomes strong personalities, drive and determination unlike any other organization I have experienced. The bonds we form come from a combination of like personalities, the circumstances in which we find ourselves, and the mission we are here to accomplish. We will go our separate directions in another few months, but the bonds will last for years. And I will cherish the memory of my 35th birthday more than any other.