Quote of the Day: “The man who writes about himself and his own time is the only man who writes about all people and all time.”
- George Bernard Shaw
There is a place on my wall in my office that is reserved.
Reserved for a picture of the 34th Commandant of the Marine Corps, and me of course.
I knew he would be coming ever since he took over last November; they all make their round-robin trip and MCRD San Diego is always part of the “West Coast Swing.”
Today was that day and like every visit from Marine Corps royalty,
… the spazing starts weeks before he arrives. Ever detail is meticulously planned out, discarded, replanned, cycled through a dozen times, and then the final product falls apart like toilet paper in the rain the moment he arrives.
This morning, it seemed to be easy. Get everyone on base inside the base theater by 0830. Here is where you get every Officer being the chief and trying to out-chief everyone. It reminds me kind of what I think an all-star sports team would be like; everyone trying to take the helm (did I just mix a sports metaphor with a naval one?)
So, OK, everyone is in and the word has been passed down multiple times to let everyone know not to get up and bum-rush the exits after he is done talking. This owuld prevent him from making his own exit and getting to Balboa for the next part of his visit. Therefore this word was passed down about a dozen, dozen times. Then again.
For my part, I was instructed to stay toward the back because the Sergeant Major and I were going to make an early getaway near the end so we could get to the hospital, smoothing the way for the Commandant’s arrival there. My CO had the honor of driving with the Commandant and bending his ear about the new Wounded Warrior Regiment in the works so when the time was right, the Sergeant Major and I walked past the huge Escalade motorcade and hopped in the little Civic. Never a more symbolic example has there been.
But before all that happened, I was hanging out in the lobby of the theater waiting for the Commandant’s arrival. I was, of course, not the only one and was not assigned to greet him or anything. I just wanted to see him present his coins to a few hand-picked, deserving Marines they had lined up before he entered the theater. I was supposed to hang out in the back anyway so I didn’t see the harm.
Evidently, a few Colonels milling around did.
One in particular started shooing people into the theater, mostly enlisted Marines hesitant to get inside and take their seats.
This is why I was taken off guard when this Colonel, who knew me, turned to me and asked “What are YOU doing out here?”
I really didn’t have a good answer for that.
“Um, eyes and ears for Colonel Redfern” was my lame and not altogether untrue response. I was going to give the high sign to the Colonel once the Commandant came into the lobby just to let him know the show was about to begin.
This Colonel didn’t hear me and I realized my hesitant response was afflicted with very low volume, making my case for being there that much weaker.
So when he asked me again, I boldly and loudly responded.
This Colonel didn’t like my answer and barked at me “Get he hell out of here” which really surprised me. Officers, even those of widely gapped ranks, don’t usually attack like that unprovoked, especially when they know each other.
I don’t know what pissed me off more, the rudeness or the fact that I couldn’t do a damn thing about it but turn and walk into the theater. Maybe it was the fact that I wouldn’t say that to a recruit and I damned sure didn’t expect it from a Colonel to a fellow Officer in front of a row of young enlisted Marines.
When we slipped out of the theater an hour later, the Sergeant Major and I drove to Balboa and I was still stewing about the encounter. When we got to the hospital, I coordinated with the PAO and the OIC to make sure everyone knew what was going on.
As a result of my mood, I was a little nervous about the Commandant’s aide who had a reputation for “minimizing the footprint.” In other words, he didn’t have a problem with telling people to go away if they didn’t meet his criteria for following around the Commandant.
Normally, this wouldn’t bother me but after the event at the theater, I didn’t know if I could stand by and take another dose of that medicine. I really didn’t have a specific reason to be there (Company Commander is low on the totem pole when the Battalion Commander, Base General, and hospital Admiral are present), but I took on my normal role of troubleshooter which, as it ended up like I knew it would: me serving a role in making things go smoother.
When the Commandant pulled up in his convoy and got out, we all met him and he made small talk until the Admiral motioned him toward the tour. I told the PAO and OIC I would head up to the ward where two injured Marines were inpatient. I was to make sure everything was ready.
When I got there, both Marines were gone. One had been discharged and one was in surgery prep ready to go into the OR.
This was going to be lovely. The Commandant was going to be coming in with no one to visit. My cell phone didn’t work so I found myself having a Navy Commander help me use a phone to call the PAO, all the while chuckling in the back of my head that one, I was sorta ordering around a Commander and two, I was doing it more tactfully than the Colonel at the base. I finally got in touch with Major Hayes and we quickly hammered out a change in plans to meet them at the elevators where we would escort them to the OR.
Oh, BTW, I had no idea where the OR was so the MCRD POA photographer ran down to scout it out while I bird-dogged the elevator in case they came up early.
When they came out of the elevator and turned toward the ward, I barked out the Admiral’s name and had the entourage do a U-turn so we could go to the OR.
Yes, I was playing lead hunting dog for the Commandant at this point.
The rest of the tour went well and I was getting good at this VIP escort thing. I chatted with his personal bodyguard (former Marine) and kept him informed of where we were going next which he relayed to SOMEONE connected to his earpiece.
The Commandant wanted to walk to where the Marines lived which was on the other side of the hospital grounds. I knew this was going to be a mixture of amusement and embarrassment.
Amusement because people were ignorant that the Commandant of the Marine Corps was on the grounds so the entourage made them stop and stare, trying to figure out who the hell he was.
Embarrassment because anytime Marines walk among the Balboa hospital population, salutes are rare or sadly executed. It seems the Navy has completely let the concept of “ATTENTION ON DECK” fall by the wayside for even, oh, I don’t know, a 4-STAR!!!! You would think that having two 1-stars along for the ride would help but…. no.
Again, I was lead hunting dog and we made our way to the Liberty Center where we could fit all the Marines. I was mesmerized for a simple reason: I thought back of how I would have felt to meet the Commandant of the Marine Corps when I was a young enlisted Marine. It happened once (General Al Gray) when I was a Corporal and I never forgot the moment.
After the Commandant and the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps talked to the Marines, they opened the floor for questions. As usual, it was slow-going at first but it picked up and Marines became bolder. It wasn’t until one of the
more… personalities.. of the platoon started asking weird questions that we all made mental pleadings to wrap it up. I wanted time to allow everyone to get a picture.
Some of my friends tease me and would say it was ME who wanted to get the picture but there is another story about a blown opportunity to get a shot with the Commandant that happened to me during the aforementioned meeting in 1990 which affected me deeply. I’ll admit I wanted to get a pic after everyone had their chance but my main motivation was that every Marine there had an opportunity to get that picture that was blown for me 17 years ago.
Rather than letting the situation unravel into chaos, Major Hayes and I whispered out a plan during his talk where she would bolt over to the Commandant as I organized the Marines.
I waited until the Colonel was done speaking and then jumped forward.
“OK, here’s the way we’re gonna do this. Everyone who wants a picture line up single file right here. When you are done, file off that way so the next Marine can step up. And let’s get our combat wounded Marines get at the front of the line. OK, let’s go.”
The reason we wanted the combat wounded up front was because we thought that the Commandant would give them coins and at the point in the line where the combat Marines ended and the otherwise-hurt Marines (car accidents, training accidents, etc) started, the coinage would cease.
Meanwhile, Major Hayes was explaining to the Commandant that she wanted him and the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps right in front of the bookshelf because it was the best background.
I can’t let this moment pass without admitting that the moment I stepped forward and started talking, I was ever so aware that I had, without preamble, just grabbed the attention of the entire room, to include the Commandant of the Marine Corps and the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, and took charge, albeit for something as insignificant as lining up a bunch of Marines for a photo-op.
I belabor these moments but it’s just the way I am (and they KEEP HAPPENING!) so please bear with me. Even at the time I was explaining, I could appreciate the fact that a formerly skinny little scared recruit
…… was now, even if for the briefest of an insignificant moment, taking charge in the presence of two 1-stars, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, and the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps.
If the unlikelihood of scared little recruit eventually even being in the position to make a minuscule bid of charge-taking with the highest ranking Officer and Enlisted Marines in the land doesn’t rate a pause for thought, then I can’t explain it to you.
The idea worked flawlessly as I held back the next Marine in line, letting him or her go when the Commandant was done shaking each hand and asking each story. The photographers snapped the pictures and each happy Marine flowed out the opposite direction in an assembly line of efficiency.
Eventually, after all those present had the opportunity for a picture, I humbly asked for one of my own.
My wall would be completed soon.
Free Advice for Today: “Smile a lot. It costs nothing and is beyond price.”
- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.