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Breakfast With the General, Lunch with the Colonel, and Dinner with the Flies

Friday, February 23rd, 2007

Friday

Quote of the Day: “Cats are intended to teach us that not everything in nature has a function.”

- Unknown

Yesterday the Protocol Officer called and invited me to breakfast this morning.

With the Commanding General.

Let’s see, I have to get an early core workout in at 0600, make sure everyone shows up to Morning Colors at 0800, attend a required PME (Professional Military Education) session by the Colonel at noon, and a going-away party for the Physical Fitness Director at 1600.

Sure, why not.

Unbeknownst to me, every graduation week, the General has a breakfast for the PRO (a term I learned today that stand for “Parade Reviewing Officer”). They go around and invite various officers and enlisted guests from various ranks to attend and I guess my name made it on the list this time.

I showed up at the General’s Quarters at 0850 for the 0900 breakfast and found myself the only one there. I stood out front wondering if I had the right place and waited for the door to open and me be caught in an awkward situation explaining to the General why I was hanging around her front lawn.

I remembered I had my cell phone with me so I called the Protocol Officer and he told me he was on his way. I relaxed and thought that rather standing there like a goon, I would take the opportunity to call Carrie who was invited but was taking the kids to Disneyland today. They’ve been out all week for their mid-Winter break.

Talking to Carrie, I saw a car driving up and thought it contained the Protocol Officer, a fellow Captain, so I continued to talk to Carrie. They pulled up right in front of me and all of the sudden, the General popped out with the Depot Sergeant Major.

And I was still on the phone.

Shit.

I said “Gottagocallyoulater” and slapped the phone shut while coming to attention and popping a salute while my other arm was still falling to my side.

The General returned the salute and kind of smiled.

“Ma’am, it was my wife.”

“Is she coming?”

“No Ma’am, she and the kids are at Disneyland.”

Then the Sergeant Major piped in “I wish I was at Disneyland.”

Then they disappeared into the house and left the door open. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to go in but I was the only one outside.

After about 30 seconds, the Sergeant Major shut the door without looking at me and I felt much better.

Just then, the van showed up with the Protocol Officer, the PRO, and his wife. I was standing out there like a Wal-Mart greeter and got the salutes out of the way before following them into the house where I saw that Sergeant Major Spadaro (a friend of mine), a Major I knew, and a Lieutenant Colonel I knew were already in the house.

We all took our seats at the dining table that was set formally. In front of each chair was a printed name card, a menu, and a list of those attending. It was just about as formal as you could imagine and everyone was on their best behavior. I soon realized this was like a scene from a movie and that THIS was going to be what most people envision the formality of a General-level official function was like.


(I think I’ll refrain from going with “Angie” and “Bobby” this morning.)

To my immediate right was the Depot Sergeant Major who, after a bit of conversation, I found out was good friends with my Senior Drill Instructor, Sergeant Major Wertjes.

To his right at the end of the table was the General and next to her was her sister who lives with her. Next to the sister and immediately in front of me was Sergeant Major Spadaro (among my favorite people on the Base) and to his right was a First Sergeant waiting in the wings to take over the duties of Battalion Sergeant Major when SgtMaj Spadaro leaves this summer.

Next to him was LtCol Scott and then on the other end of the table, Colonel Cianciolo, the Parade Reviewing Officer. Then his wife was next to him and then a Major I’ve written about in a blog when I first arrived at MCRD.

The first portion was a fruit cup where I picked out all the stuff I wanted and left the other crap items I was not as interested in. The General brought up the fact I was on the promotion list and congratulated me. I found this a little surprising since there were a lot of Captains on the base and all eligible made the list.

Once we were done with the fruit, the Enlisted Aide took away the cups and replaced them with a plate of chocolate waffles, scrambled eggs, and sausage. The Enlisted Aide is a Staff Sergeant and serves the General as her chef. This Aide served the Commandant and in a strange twist, he swapped positions so that the former Enlisted Aide is now serves the current Commandant. For their troubles, they get sent to high-level, coveted culinary schools.

During breakfast, the subject of family came up and the General explained to us that her elderly mother lived with them and despite the CG being a General, she was still a daughter in her mother’s eyes. She explained some humorous misinterpretations with her mother, now in her nineties, who thinks that if the General plays golf too much, she is going to be fired and kicked out of “government housing.”

I told the General that if she ever goes to Oklahoma City and runs into my mother to tell her we are fellow Generals because she’s been telling her coworkers that for years. I told the general that’s why it wasn’t big news to my mother that I was getting a promotion: she can’t tell anyone because it would actually be a demotion.

I also announced to the General that this wasn’t the first time I had eaten at her table but the first time, she was not even there. She knew most of the story but I told her we felt like Goldilocks eating at her table and then leaving without cleaning up.

After breakfast, we drank coffee and talked some more. I expressed to her my gratitude for inviting me because coming from being a Recruit in 1987 to a Major-Select eating at her table was an indescribable journey that wasn’t lost on me.

Within 6 minutes of leaving her front door, I was in my office dealing with Company business. It was a jolt to go from ultra-military formality to Marine Corps leadership of the mundane. I caught up as much as I could and was at a dead sprint until lunch when the Colonel gathered everyone in the building for a PME.

The theme was Samuel Adams and after some introductory comments, he played a documentary on the Founding Fathers that PBS had put together. It took about an hour and I had a weird flashback of being in high school again. We all sat there and “watched a movie” on a Friday and then discussed it afterwards. I know of no other organization that would take time out of a busy work week to gather everyone from the CEO to the mailroom clerk to watch American history and discuss it.

By the end of the day I tried to button up work before heading to the Locker Room for a going-away party. Chrissy the Physical Fitness Director and friend of mine was moving to Virginia (better her than me) and everyone gathered to say farewell.

I am not a frequent face at the Locker Rom which is the unofficial E-Club for the base. All ranks are allowed but it’s kind of known to be the enlisted hangout since it’s the only place that serves alcohol, has pool tables, and even houses a bowling alley, game room, and computer lab.

Most of the time it’s not a place you want to make a habit of hanging out all the time, especially as an Officer. I thought this was to give the enlisted a place to let their hair down but after tonight, I see other reasons.

What shocked me the most was that the majority of people there were not Marines, at least active duty. I asked people I knew “How are all these civilians getting in and why are they here?”

The answer was simple.

“All you need is a driver’s license to get on base.”

Why these people chose to come to this club on the base when they had so many hoppin’ spots around San Diego is beyond me, other than the fact that there was no cover charge.

I also saw in inordinate number of bar flies which makes sense. Wouldn’t a bar fly want to be in the most target-rich environment she could find? A Marine base with lonely Marines; steady income, healthy drug-free bodies, etc. I was as fascinated as I was disgusted.

We were there to say goodbye so I stayed in a close little group eating lumpia and once the karaoke started, I made my exit. I said goodbye and good luck to my friend and drove home to spend another exciting Friday night getting ready for my big run tomorrow, reading, and crashing by 10:00 PM.

Another day. Another week. Another day that felt like a week. Thank God all I have to do tomorrow is run 16 and a half miles.

Free Advice for Today: “Wear a shirt and a tie to job interviews, even for a job unloading boxcars.”

- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

3 Comments - Join in the conversation below

  1. I saw that PBS special on the New York station last night. Was looking for you, and actually learned a lot I never knew. Very interesting.

    Comment by Jennifer — February 26, 2007 @ 11:03 am

  2. Actually w are talking about two different shows. this one was a documentary on the Founding Fathers. the one you are thinking of was a special about Marines. I’ve TiVoed it but haven’t watched it yet.

    Comment by Jason — February 26, 2007 @ 10:46 pm

  3. It’s pretty good. They stay true to the subject. I was surprised at first but then saw that the Heritage Society helped to fund it so…

    Comment by Jim Burke — February 27, 2007 @ 10:08 am

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