My heart sinks in my chest. I feel a catch in the back of my throat. And it’s not because those two words on the computer screen mean I won’t be able to get on the Internet. It’s not because I don’t know how long it will be until I can logon again. It’s because “River City” means that someone – a fellow Marine or sailor – has likely died.
They turn off Internet access immediately following the serious injury or death of a service member to prevent unintentional notification to family members. In today’s world of Facebook, instant message and e-mail, loved ones could learn about a death long before official Marine Corps representatives have the chance to notify them., This has happened in the past. There are stories of a wife of a friend of a Marine who died in combat, sending a her condolences to the Marine’s widow – but the Marine Corps had not yet notified her of her husband’s recent death.
To address this issue, they put a policy in place – Department of Defense wide (meaning, it covers the Army an Air Force as well) – that shuts down Internet access immediately following the death or serious injury of a service member, to allow notification via official channels.
I cannot imagine anything worse than unexpectedly hearing about a loved one’s death via Facebook. Out here, it happens in reverse as well. My Marines have learned about family members and friends passing away via Facebook messages and emails from home. If they knew a loved one was sick, or aging, there may not be much shock. If the death is unexpected, the news is traumatic. Five thousand miles from home, they cannot always do something about it. They cannot always be there with their family and friends to grieve and to console each other. Marines usually are only allowed to return home for immediate family. It falls to their Marine Corps family to support them during this time.
This concept of the “Marine Corps family” never ceases to amaze me, and to impress me. This is not a typical job, where we get up and go to work every day, perhaps interacting with co-workers, perhaps not. This is a job where we absolutely must support each other, in all things. When we need each other most, we are there to cry together, laugh together, to work together and to just be there for someone in his or her time of need. My Marines have shown me how great they are every day.
When we leave here in a few weeks, we will take lifetime memories, and often life-long friends, with us. The bonds formed in the Marine Corps, especially on a deployment, are unlike the bonds I have experienced anywhere else in my life. They are indescribably to anyone who has not deployed. I have not found them replicated outside the military. I cherish them all the more because of that fact.