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March 14, 2005

A slander, or not?

I thought I'd already linked to/commented on this bit before -but perhaps I missed it - intended to, but never got it finished. Probably ought to go check my 'drafts'.

Anyway - today at work an email went 'round that I had seen before. "They Are So Damn Young". Shortly thereafter, a good soldier, and buddy of mine, sent a response. As I read the response, I got the sense that perhaps a slander was being perpetrated. Obviously, my buddy thinks what he says is true - I think it's over-stated, perhaps by a lot. So, I open it up to the sailors I know swim by here - *especially* the enlisted types - to offer the Salty Sea Dog's perspective. I suspect that at a minimum, the submariners will disagree.

First - the piece that started it all:

********************************** "They Are So Damn Young"

"I was going to the gym tonight ( really just a huge tent with weights and treadmills), and we had heard that one of the MEUs (Marine Exp Units) that had come out of service in the "triangle" was redeploying (leaving country). We saw their convoy roll in to the Kuwait Naval Base as the desert sun was setting.

I have never seen anything like this. Trucks and Humvees that looked like they had just come through a shredder. Their equipment was full of shrapnel blast holes, and missing entire major pieces that you could tell had been blasted by IEDs. These kids looked bad too! I mean, sunken eyes, thin as rails, and that 1000-yd. stare they talk about after direct combat.

Made me pretty damn embarrassed to be a "rear area warrior".

All people could do was stop in their tracks and stare... and feel like I wanted to bow my head in reverence. A Marine Captain stationed with me, was standing next to me, also headed to the gym. He said, "Part of 1st Brigade Combat Team, 8th Marines, sir. Took the heaviest losses of any single unit up north as part of Task Force Danger, sir."

As the convoy rolled up, all of us watching just slowly crept toward these kids as they dismounted the Hummers and 5-tons. Of course, we were all shiny and clean compared to these warriors. This kids looked like they had just crawled from Iraq. I had my security badge and ID around my neck, and started to help them unload some of their duffle bags.

A crusty Gunny came up to me and said "sir, you don't have to do that..." I said, "Gunny... yes I do..." They all looked like they were in high school, or younger!! All held themselves sharply and confident, despite the extreme fatigue you could tell they had endured. "You guys out of the triangle?" I asked. "Yes, sir." 14 months, and twice into the grinder, sir" (both fights for Fallujah).

All I could do was throw my arm around their shoulders and say "thanks Marine, for taking the fight to the bad guys...we love you man."

I looked at these young kids, not one of them complaining or showing signs of anything but focus, and good humor. 'Sir, they got ice cream at the DFAC, sir?" "I haven't had real ice cream since we got here..." They continued to unload...and after I had done my handshakes and shoulder hugs, the Captain and I looked at each other ...

They want ice cream, we'll get them ice cream. You see, a squid O-5 and a focused Marine O-3 can get just about anything, even if the Mess is closed. Needless to say, we raided the closed DFAC (mess tent), much to the chagrin of one very pissed off Mess Sergeant and grabbed boxes of ice cream sandwiches (as many as we could carry), and hustled back to the convoy. I felt like Santa Claus. "Thank you, sir.." again and again from each trooper, as we tossed up the bars to the guys in the trucks. I'm thinkin', "Son, what the hell are you thanking me for? I can't thank you enough."

And they are so damned young ... I will sleep well, knowing they are watching my back tonight."

Here is the response that I'm not sure I agree with, completely. Yes, the Navy does, from my limited exposure, have a more rigid sense of caste than the ground arms do - but I don't think it's to this extent. Each service does have its unique culture, derived from (for most of us - there is one with only decades of it's *own* adaptations) centuries of experience and better or worse adaptation to changes in warfare and society.

- I truly liked the sentiments written by this Navy O5, but I also found his perspective (view) of who does our fighting quite interesting.

I truly find it interesting (even astonishing) that he was impressed by how “young” our “fighting” troops are…

I have to remember the naval officer’s perspective of the world… I have to remember that our Navy lives on ships and they relate their way of doing business to the rest of the military… I have to remember that our naval officers have a long and very guarded tradition of being separated from their enlisted (in fact, it’s very much of a caste system on board a naval ship)… Naval officers rarely venture into the spaces where the younger enlisted work, live, or eat. Naval officer rarely see or even speak to the younger sailors. Typically, US naval officers only deal with other officers and only the more seasoned, higher ranking, highly technical enlisted personnel…

Anyway, I’m damn glad that at least one Navy O5 sees who really does our close combat fighting and close combat leading…

Sure those Marines look “so damn young”, because they are!!!

It is a shock to this Navy O5 that a typical platoon is made up of 18-20 year old troops who are led by a 22 year old Platoon Leaders and 26 year old Company Commanders (although I commanded in the 82nd ABN at age 24 and 25)…

So no shit Batman, these guys are in deed young… Hell, the truly “old men” in a company are the Platoon Sergeants and the Company 1SG (at ages 30 to 40 years old)…

Consequently, the officers in the Marines and in the Army have a much different style of leadership than do our stuffy naval officers… in the Army and USMC, officers see our lower enlisted not just as subordinates, but as fellow soldiers/marines and as fellow comrades… We eat, sleep, live and work in the same environment… We share the same risks, and have each others backs…

Anyway, it was heartening for me to see that a US Navy Commander felt some genuine admiration and appreciation for the young Marines returning fresh from the fight... On the other hand, I find it interesting (even disappointing) that the typical senior naval officer doesn’t know/realize just who is doing our fighting until a convoy of redeploying troops drives into his rear area.

Best regards - Xxxx

What say you, assembled hordes?

*Snopes has no entries on this particular piece, in re Billl's observations in the comments.