Thursday, November 10, 2011

Happy 236th Birthday, Marines.


Today marks the 236th birthday of the United States Marine Corps. Formed in the "hallowed halls" of Tun Tavern in 1775, the Marines have spent over two centuries building and reinforcing their reputation as one of America's finest fighting forces. From the early days of battling Barbary Pirates to recent engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Marines have always been ready to answer the call.

It's difficult to put into words exactly what it means to bear the title "Marine." It's more than just belonging to a world-wide fraternity and certainly much more than becoming a warrior. It's a designation that is seared onto the soul and forever marks you as a member of a very small, but very passionate group. The bond that forms between Marines spans generations. It is one that is forged in the heat of combat, the sacrifice of time and blood, and the shared understanding that out of everyone in this nation, they few chose to sign their name on the dotted line.


The process of becoming a Marine is long and painful. For three months, recruits are run ragged, forced to overcome obstacle after obstacle, and pushed to their breaking point in order to hone the skills that will make them an integral part of an elite fighting force. They endure hours and days worth of strife simply for the privilege to stand on parade deck, be handed their Eagle, Globe, and Anchor, and be called "Marine" for the first time. But once they claim that title, they keep it forever. 

As the old saying goes, there are no ex-Marines, only former Marines.    

Becoming a Marine also requires a certain mindset and one of the best examples was during my senior year of high school. We had an assembly where the recruiters from each branch presented their "cases" to the student body which was followed by an informal meet-and-greet. The Army, Navy, and Air Force all talked about the opportunities that their branch offered. When the Marine recruiter stepped up, he stated that the Marine Corps wouldn't promise us scholarships, promotions, or a good time. The Corps would make us dirty, tired, and frustrated. It would send us to crappy corners of the world, pay us next to nothing, and separate us from our loved ones for months, even years on end. We would be stressed, exhausted, and most likely placed in harms way if, and only if, we were strong enough and tenacious enough to complete basic training, follow-on training, and a myriad of other challenges along the way. 

"Suffice to say," the recruiter said, "most of you simply don't have what it takes to make it." 

When it was time of the meet-and-greet, the line to talk to the Marine recruiter far surpassed the line for the others.  

And it's not a fad. The Marines have always prided themselves on never going easy. A recent recruiting commercial depicts young men and women leaping through the boot camp process. In one scene, a recruit is thrown to the ground during hand-to-hand combat training. In another, a squad exits gas chamber training and one recruit pukes. For a service attempting to recruit our nation's youth, that's a bold statement.


And, of course:


But the cornerstone being a Marine is the tradition. Marines look to the past and honor the people and battles that paved the way. Spend an hour wandering the halls of the Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico, VA and you'll be overwhelmed by the passion for the history and tradition. Spend an hour talking with an active or former Marine and he or she will gladly explain why they wear accessories that are outdated by centuries. Spend an hour standing at the base of the Iwo Jima memorial in Arlington, VA and you'll likely see a young Marine polishing the emblem so that it shines brightly in the Virginia sun.

It is the tradition that binds each and every Marine and part of that tradition is the celebration of the birthday. From large, formal balls in Washington D.C. to small, intimate gab-sessions at a local bar, Marines always celebrate their heritage. Every year on this day, units around the world pause to salute the Marine Corps' creation. Logistics commands will bend over backwards to ensure that birthday cake, or a facsimile therein, is delivered to warriors in dirty, remote outposts because every Marine has earned the right to have cake and clink canteens to honor the Corps. Retired Marines will pick up the phone and call their buddies just to say "Happy Birthday."

All because they are bound by the intangible, yet unbreakable bonds of tradition.

So on this, the 236th birthday of our Corps, let us remember the sacrifices of those who went before, the sacrifices of those currently serving, and the burning desire of those hoping to one day earn the title of "Marine." It may not be easy, but ask anyone who bears the title and they'll tell you it's worth it.

Semper Fi, Marines, and Happy Birthday.

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