I’m going to warn you ahead of time. This post, and Gunny Walgren’s speech, contain bad words. A lot of them. I don’t care. I’m going to share it anyway, with adults, and for those of you who haven’t seen it, or can’t find a way to understand the fire, the camaraderie, the solace of brotherhood, the compassionate and inspired leadership this man is displaying before his Marines, mere minutes before they step off to fight, and to kill, or be killed, by some very bad people, in The Graveyard of Empires, Marjah, Afghanistan, then I don’t know what to say to you. Think of this as a portal, a window into a different world that most people will never see, let alone to be a part of, and that may challenge your sensitivities. As Gunny Walgren says: “It’s my world, I can say what I want.”
Maybe think of it this way: isn’t it refreshing to hear from people who actually believe in something?
I’m giving this to you because in less than a week I’m off to Arizona, to Organ Pipe National Monument, to cavort with my fellow veterans for a week on the border, dismantling cartel smuggling sites, embedded with Border Patrol and Park Rangers, doing something for the preservation of our country. We believe that. You don’t have too.
I don’t know who the others are yet, disabled war fighters from around our country, but I can’t wait to meet them, and to cover their stories, and to document the new story we will be creating in the Sonoran desert. I’m a veteran, sure, and my sole disability is an inability to hear anything not uttered above the conversational tone, but I have a solemn duty next week, which is to tell their stories, and to tell them true. I’m going as a veteran and a journalist. Rest assured, I will do my duty.
I’ve written at least one column for the newspaper about this trip, but I may not have said much in this forum about it. The details aren’t important, except that a man in Sisters, Brett Miller, has created a non-profit foundation called Warfighter Outfitters, and after spending three years in the hospitable because of a traumatic brain injury suffered during an IED attack in Iraq, Brett has dedicated his life to getting veterans out on the land, hunting, fishing, or performing “engagement” missions like the one we will accomplish next week. Because he cares. Because he is taking disabled veterans out of their mother’s basements, where they kill themselves with booze, or drugs, or kill themselves outright by astonishing numbers each day.
I had a Gunny once, much like Walgren. Gunnery Sergeant Terry. Every company of fighters needs a father figure, a demanding, threatening, compelling, and compassionate man who simply embodies the word TRUST, and for us, Gunny Terry was that man. A sniper in the first Gulf War, who infamously ended a half-dozen enemy with a .50 Caliber Barrett by firing through a brick wall, he came to us with command presence, a legend, and the credibility demanded by those who are looking for leadership. Fearsome, with a voice capable of traveling farther than a howitzer, Gunny Terry inspired, taught, disciplined, and embraced us all while he tried to shape us into Expeditionary Marines, selfless teammates and self-reliant men, in an environment that is still very much a man’s world, knowing that some day we would face an enemy that didn’t care how much we enjoyed hot dogs, baseball, or apple pie.
He did that for us. Gunny Walgren did it for 1/6. And as it happens, I happen to know something about Bravo Company 1/6, because Captain Ryan Sparks was a corporal in 2nd Platoon, Bravo Company 1/1, on my second deployment to the Persian Gulf. I knew Corporal Sparks well.
Gunny Walgren was sending these same Marines into the fire in this video.
So I guess today’s post is simply a thank you, to these men I served with. I know how many folks feel about our involvement in foreign wars, but those political stances don’t interest me much, because I was once among those who simply focused on the mission we were given. There is humility in that. There is, in Gunny Walgren’s words, “dedication to purpose,” and I can tell you that nobody deployed overseas even cares about much of the hullabaloo bandied about in the press. It isn’t their job. They care about each other, and accomplishing the mission, which is their job. The philosophers among us would love to condemn them, to say they should have some principled philosophical stance that precluded joining the Marines, or whatever branch of service, but that is an arrogance that can’t even be confronted, at least not rationally, by those of us who gave up that kind of righteous insistence, once, for something else.
And I know one other thing, and I hope you’ll forgive me for the way I say it. It isn’t my style, but I’m going with the Gunny Walgren approach just now. The next person I hear referring to our war fighters as “kids,” in my presence, I’m very likely to punch straight in the neck, with extreme prejudice, because there are things worth going to jail for, and because the people who use that language are so empty, so depraved, and so spoiled, they have to say it that way to make themselves feel superior, or justified, and because they also have no idea what the fuck they are talking about.