After all these years, I’ve finally found the perfect scenario to describe a normal day in the Marine Corps. Another possible title to this blog would have been: Why I Have to Get Out Before I’m Driven Insane. Here it is:

Everyone asks about a typical day in the Marines. There really is no such thing, but I can tell you that every day I’ve spent in this uniform has been an exercise in impotent frustration. For instance: a light bulb needs changing at the shop. If I was the one who noticed, I’d have gotten a light bulb, climbed the ladder, and put it in. Five minute job.

However, in this scenario it’s our Officer in Charge (OIC) that notices at 0700 (7 a.m.).  It happens to be the bulb in his office.

This officially gets the Chain of Command involved.  Being a Commissioned Officer, the task of putting in his own damned replacement bulb is beneath him, so he complains to the Staff Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge (SNCOIC), a Gunnery Sergeant.  As a Senior Enlisted, this task is beneath him as well.  This process takes 30 minutes.  It is now 0730.

So the Gunny calls a formation of everyone in the shop, and as we stand At Ease (means shut your lips, Marine), he discusses this light bulb, and somehow makes a burnt out bulb into a personal reflection of our character…how could we, as Marines, allow our OIC’s light bulb to burn out?  That’s unsat.  Army and Navy might just let their damned officers work in the dark, but we’re better than that, Marines.  What can we do to prevent this in the future?

Light bulbs only burn out because Marines are complacent.  By the way, we had to wait for every Marine in the shop to get in formation, so people had to be called back from doing actual work and this formation didn’t start until 0745.

This formation takes forty-five minutes, and ends when the Gunny passes the task onto a Staff Sergeant (SSgt) who “lights a fire under his Marines,” which generally means a lot of belittling and me getting in trouble for being sarcastic and not buying it when the Gunny inflated the burnt out bulb into a full-on Marine Corps crisis.  The biting sarcasm is the first step in me getting severely pissed off.

This second formation lasts another half an hour, and ends when the SSgt passes the task onto the Platoon Sergeant.  It is now 0900.

The Platoon Sergeant is basically a parrot.  He calls everyone together in an informal formation and repeats everything that the Gunny and SSgt already said.  I am visibly seething at this point, because I am almost 25 years old and have successfully changed a light bulb on more than one occasion.  The Platoon Sergeant doesn’t notice this, and ends his speech by looking at me and saying “make it happen.”  I give him a fucked-up left-handed salute (indoors) that he pretends not to see, and finally I am allowed to get to work.

This takes twenty minutes.  It is now 0920.  We then get the ladder and the bulb, begin climbing the ladder, and the Safety Staff Non-Commissioned Officer (SNCO) stops us to ask if we are aware of and equipped with the proper Personal Protective Equipment for the task of climbing a ladder.  We aren’t.  We thought we could just climb the ladder, like millions of people do every day.

We can’t.  The Safety SNCO narks on us to the Gunny, who calls another formation.  This takes another fifteen minutes to get everyone together, so it’s now 0935 and he’s talking to us again.  This one will take longer, and we will now be at the Position of Attention (means lock your nasty body, Marine) because he’s now pissed and embarrassed that another Staff NCO “caught his Marines acting the ass.”  This time he looks like the long-suffering father of a bunch of retarded children with whom he is losing patience.  He gets angry that we are creating “unsafe working conditions”.  We, the same Marines who ran the obstacle course in Boot Camp many times, climbing splintery wooden structures twenty to thirty feet high with no safety equipment whatsoever; we, who have done our jobs on the battlefield while taking daily incoming mortar rounds (hell, several times daily in OIF II) are creating unsafe working conditions by not wearing safety glasses and rubber gloves when changing a light bulb in the shop.  We are a disgrace to ourselves, to our families, to our Chosen Deity, and most importantly, to Our Beloved Corps.  Don’t make us have this talk again, Devil Dogs.

The Gunny lets us go to complete our task.  It is now 1035.  We are dispatched to find the proper safety gear.  We find it.  We come back and prepare to mount the ladder.  Enter the Sandbag.  I call him the Sandbag because he is a man who slows down the entire unit with his dead weight.  The Sandbag is a man who somehow gravitated to the rank of Sergeant without any qualifications whatsoever, mainly by having been in the Corps for at least 7 years; he thinks he’s the world’s foremost expert on everything; he firmly believes that his plan is better than mine; and the worst part is that the Marine Corps says that, because he is a Sergeant, his plan, no matter how horrendously stupid, IS better than mine because I am a Corporal.  The Sandbag, to justify his existence, wants to “Op Check” the bulb before we use it.

“You wouldn’t want to go to all the work of putting it in only to find out it doesn’t work.”  With a superhuman effort, I stop myself from striking him dead where he stands, and I insist that the bulb just came out of the box.  And he almost realizes how stupid his idea is; it was there in his eyes for a moment, that glimmer of self-awareness.

 Then his mind rejects the possibility that he could ever have a stupid idea, and his counter-argument is: “Yeah, but still…I’ve seen it happen before in OIF I, before you were in the unit.”  All kinds of crazy shit apparently happened back then; then I joined the unit and for some reason all the crazy shit just stopped…so weird.

It is now 1100.  We have to test the light bulb by bringing in another light, plugging it in, and fitting it with the bulb.  To the surprise of no one but the Sandbag, it works.  But my body is now shaking with absolute homicidal RAGE at this level of stupidity; it is all I can do to unclench my fists.  As such, when I get the damn bulb unscrewed, I drop it.  It breaks. The Sandbag chimes in with a “Good to go, Devil Dog,”  to which I look him dead in the eye and promptly respond, “Fuck you.”  This leads to “What’d you say, Corporal?”  He is now addressing me by rank for two reasons: 1) To remind himself that he outranks me;

2) To piss me off even further, to the point where I am forced, in the best interests of National Security, to cave in his face. Surely this man would be downright dangerous to have on the battlefield, so it is my duty as a responsible Marine to take him out of the equation. My right hand is already preparing to do so when my buddies take me away to run to the store to get a new bulb. We get it and bring it back.

It is now 1145.  Chow time.  We just want to fix the light and have done with it, but the Sandbag insists we go to chow.  The Sandbag does not ever miss chow, because he’s also fat and lazy.  We have lunch.

I’m so angry that I eat my plate.  We come back.

It is now 1300.  The light has been out for six hours.

We grab the light, put on our protective equipment, mount the ladder, screw in the bulb, and bam!  Fiet Lux!  And there is light, and it is good.  It is now 1330.  Our Chain of Command has caused this process to go on for SEVENTY-EIGHT TIMES the length of time it would have had they been exempt from the process.  We can now START doing our actual work for the day, having resolved the light dilemma.  This means that we’ll end up staying well past the 1630 end-of-the-day for everyone else, to which the Gunny will smile and say “Small price you gotta pay for being the world’s finest.”  Indeed.

The worst part, my civilian friends who know how I like to tell stories, is that this is believable enough that my Marine friends will actually ask me if this really happened. It truly and honestly did.

So that’s kind of a normal problem.  Whenever something goes drastically wrong, especially in Afghanistan, the Chain of Command is conspicuous in its absence, so we do whatever needs to be done immediately and then tell them what we did later.  They (who disappeared because 1: They don’t know how to do the job; 2: They can’t take blame if we screw up if they’re not around and 3: They don’t come to work in the field because it is beneath them)  will inevitably take credit for the expeditious battlefield resolution.

Later, we will stand in a Battalion Formation in the States and witness them pinning on Medals and Ribbons for simply staying out of our fucking way and letting us work. I don’t mind this; in fact, I like it. It reminds me not to re-enlist.

I found this in an email I had written to a friend on December 14, 2010. It made me laugh…and yes, I’m glad I didn’t re-enlist.

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