Wednesday, April 26, 2006


You really take for granted the emotions a young man or woman feels when they join the military. I mean, from where we are in life, a 3-year commitment is nothing. Know what I mean, time flies by. Most of the time when a neighbor’s kid is going away to boot camp you might say “Oh Johnny, you take care and don’t let the Marines get you down too bad.” Just stop and think about what is going through this kid’s mind at the moment. It’s mixed emotions, kind of like the anticipation of dating the hottest girl in school but knowing that her big brother is about to kick your butt for the next couple of years that you are dating. The fear of the unknown, yes, but putting on a front that you have taken up the challenge to serve your country in the one of the finest fighting forces in the world. Now, when you are alone with just your thoughts, it begins to eat at you, “Have I made the right choice? Am I nuts? Oh God, I signed a contract-- what have I done???”
Yes, these thoughts went through my mind as I started working construction at the beginning of summer and the date approached that I was slated to go to Officer Candidate School located in Camp Upshur, Virginia, adjoining Quantico Marine Base. I had signed up to attend the P.L.C. (Platoon Leaders Class) which means you opt to attend for either two six-week summer courses during college or one ten-week session. My recruiter said, “Hey, just think of this as an internship for the summer where you get to keep the cool clothes if you decide not to come back.” Compounding my fears was the fact that a friends’ Pit Bull bit me on the face four days before I was to leave, tearing my upper lip in half, and I didn’t know if they would allow me to stay for training although it didn’t worry my recruiter who only wanted the credit for shipping me. The Doctor said that they couldn’t stitch it up and for me to just keep the butterfly bandages on it. To get in shape for OCS, all my buddies were out running six miles a day and hitting the gym. Do you think I did any of this??? I couldn’t, I was too tired from pushing Georgia buggies (like a wheel barrel) full of concrete as I helped build the tall office buildings in Ballston Commons in Arlington, Virginia. After running around all day in the heat and humidity of Northern Virginia, you’re set for anything.
Well the day of departure arrived and with a large farewell dinner at the Bell household, my father parted with the following sage advice. “Son, be outstanding, but don’t STAND OUT and you should be O.K.” I’m thinking that, with my busted swollen lip, I wouldn’t stand out at all. He had taken me to Henderson Hall Marine Base for a goodbye “high and tight” Marine haircut the day before, so I was set there at least. Mom dropped me off at National Airport with my little bag, a bad haircut and my crisp civilian clothes on my back. I was told to wander around and look for a Marine in uniform, and ask if he was taking the group to OCS. I found this thick, muscular Corporal standing there with a group of forty-some guys. He was very nice and all smiles as he guided me into the herd of fellow college students. The smiles went away as we boarded the bus out front and he was no longer in the view of the general public.
“SIT DOWN AND SHUT YOUR PIE HOLES,” he began as he paced up and down the bus, “MY NAME IS CORPORAL LITTLE, (he wasn’t little!!) AND YOU WILL ADDRESS ME AS CORPORAL LITTLE, DON’T CALL ME SIR YOU MAGGOTS.” This went on the whole trip down to Quantico as he explained in a very loud voice the do’s and don’ts of his bus. It turns out that half my bus was from Ohio and the other half from California. Later, this would prove to be an interesting mix.
Moving from my seat after what felt like a five-hour road trip in a big white Marine Corps school bus, we got off and were broken up into platoons for our company. In a flurry of haste, you are shuffled around into alphabetical order and told to stand on top of a pair of yellow footprints painted on the asphalt at a forty-five degree angle. This is where the fun starts. Our Platoon Sergeant, Staff Sergeant Westgrove was at least 6’ 4” and unfortunately had the face of JJ from “What’s happening,” an old 70’s T.V. show, so I kept expecting to hear out of his deep voice was “DDDDYYYyyynnnnnoooomight.”
We were all lined up and told to dump out our suitcases for a contraband inspection. The first guy in line was named Anders, a tall lanky surfer boy from Huntington Beach, California, with long blond hair that went down to his shoulders. His dad must have given him the speech about “Stand out son, it’s good for you.” The guy next to me was Barns, then me, Bell, and so forth. SSgt JJ slowly walked up and down our line inspecting what damaged goods he had to work with. He looked down at his clipboard and said, “When I call out your name, I want you to sound off like you have a pair.” The first guy on the list is Anders, “ANDERS,” still looking down at his notepad, in a loud booming voice the reply is “YOO, YEAH, HERE MAN.” I froze with anticipation of this guy getting his head cut off right there, two guys away from me. SSgt JJ just walked up and looked at our surfer boy, “Anders, you and me, we’re going to have a real good time this summer.”
Returning to his clipboard, “BARNS” (a prior enlisted guy), “HERE PLATOON SGT!!!” Easy for me to follow that lead, “BELL,” “HERE PLATOON SGT,” then he looks at my face, “WHAT DA HELL HAPPENED TO YOUR FACE, BOY? I figured that the best answer was the short one, “Bitten by a Pit Bull Platoon Sgt.” He made a note next to my name and said “YEAH, THAT’S WHAT THE RECRUITER TOLD YOU TO SAY HUH? WELL BOYS, WE HAVE A SCRAPPER HERE”. OH MAN, I’m thinking that I am so screwed. For the first couple of days after that, no one would come near me for fear that I might attack them or something.
The names keep rolling off the list till I hear “SWEET JESUS, WHAT DO WE HAVE HERE???” Out of normal reaction, I turn my head not knowing any better as I see three Marines descend on this huge Italian-looking football guy. They are holding up a huge black dildo, lots of leather and some crotch-less women’s underwear. “WHAT IS YOUR NAME MAGGOT?” the lead Marine starts into him. The red-faced, stammering two hundred and forty-pound linebacker (from USC it turns out) says “Sir, my name is DeRosa.” Oh boy, as a history major, I learn fast from others’ mistakes. First, these guys work for a living and are not called “Sir.” Next you never refer to yourself in the first person, it’s always “This Candidate requests permission to speak etc.” I learned a lot from the others mistakes right off the bat.
Now SSgt JJ, as I’ll call him, proceeds to interrogate this guy. “O.K. muscle head, you one of them funny guys from L.A., land of fruits and nuts???” “No Platoon Sgt, I just have some Jerkoff friends that...” JJ is looking down at this guy, only inches away and screams “What did we just tell you Maggot, don’t use ‘I,’ ‘me’ or ‘my’ in your sentences.” They do this to teach the rest of us who listen, what to say. The Marines are kind of funny like that. Now it’s 11 a.m. and the temperature is rapidly climbing. I’m used to it, but still sweat like a whore on “dollar night.” The funny thing is you never see these guys sweat as they run around yelling at us. They must be supermen!!! Turns out they had Scotchguard™ back then and they would spray the inside of their uniforms and trousers so the sweat just puddled up in their shoes or the towels they had wrapped around their calves and you never saw them in a pitted shirt. The other secret is that they take turns going into their office a.k.a. “Headshed” to change their shirts out. While you, average “Joe the ragman,” are running around soaking wet, they appear to be nice and dry. Mind games… I love it. Here is a shot of my bunkmate in our Sunday best. This was back before they had women out in the sticks of Upshur.
Well, that is day one, more to come…


I have found that some people look at you in a different light when they find out that you are in the Military. It's some foreign concept that you would WANT to be doing this as a job occupation. But I am here to tell you that coming from a long line of Military service, and growing up a Navy Brat were some of the best times in my life. I look back at those days in Little Creek Virginia on the Amphibious base there as the standard that all kids should have. The following are stories of joining the Marines and life as a pilot.
I always knew that one day I would join the service, which branch was a different story. I was taught that Marines were nuts, and the toughest of the different services. My Grandfather was a Naval Surgeon in the Navy during WWII and Korea; my Dad was in Danang at the Swiftboat Ops Center and served a sea tour in Vietnam; and my Uncle flew the mighty F-14 based at Oceana Airbase in Virginia Beach. So being exposed to all these different life styles made me think about my future. First of all, I don't have the patience to be a Doctor (nor the smarts) and after being bitten by the flying bug from my Uncle Bruce, I knew what I was going to do for the rest of my life.
I attempted in High School to become a Marine. It went over like a pregnant pole-vaulter. This hard charging Sgt. showed up from the Old Town Alexandria office to interview me. "Mitch, with these scores, we can make you an aircraft mechanic since you want to work in the aviation field," he said. Well it wasn't flying, but I figured that I would get there somehow. Since I was 17, my Dad was needed to sign the early enlistment forms saying that I would go to boot camp in the summer. When Dad came home, this poor Sergeant didn't have a chance to use the Jedi mind trick on my father because he had him out the door in about a minute and a half. "My son isn't joining the Marines, he's going to college, and if he did join, I'd make him go to OCS [Officer Candidate School]." Dad was very adamant with this poor guy. I still feel like a heel to this day for wasting his time like that knowing what I know about the lives of recruiters.
So fast forward to college where I'm taking Army ROTC classes because that is the only Service available to me. At the beginning of my sophomore year, the Major in charge pulled me into his office. "Mitch" he said, "I understand that you want to be a pilot and fly. I have to ask you, how do you feel about being a cannon cocker???" See, they only have one flight school slot for the grads and he was getting me prepared that if I stayed in the Army and took a commission, I might not be a pilot. So as I walked across campus, I ran into one of my fraternity brothers who had joined the Marines. "Mitch, my OSO (Officer Recruiter) is at the student Union, come say "hi" to him with me." I reluctantly went with him because, although I respected the Marines, I deep down wondered if I truly had it in me to be one. (Funny thing is, I ran into Bruce my buddy over in Iraq after 20 years, small world)

The OSO was standing there with his booth covered in cool pictures of Marines doing various things. I told him I wanted to be a pilot and he said, "Well, if you take the aviation test, and pass it, we can offer you a slot at flight school." What he didn't tell me was there were ten contracts for each pair of wings awarded down in flight school. See you have to pass the test, then the physical, then OCS, then graduate from College, graduate from TBS (The Basic School), have perfect 20/20 vision, then complete 18 months of flight school. If you do all this, then yes, you will be a winged Naval Aviator.
He had me sold, so I took the test and somehow passed. Questions like "Johnny's pool is 20-feet wide, 30-feet long and 16-feet deep, what is the cubic space of Johnny's pool?" Hell, all I'm thinking about is how many chicks from Tri Sig Sorority I can fit into Johnny's pool. Well, after he gave me the good news that I had passed the test, I signed up to attend Officer Candidate School in Quantico Virginia. I called my folks from the Captains office and braced for the worst. "Hi guys, its Mitchell, hey what do you all think about the Marines?" They both gave me their answers and then asked "Son, where are you calling from?" Hmmmm what do you say "Dad, I took Aviation test for the Marines and guess what? Your-history-major-I-can't-stand-math-boy passed." He takes a deep breath; I'm sure the pause of WHAT THE HELL HAS MY SON DONE NOW-type breath as he collected himself. "Son, did you sign any papers by chance???" "Yes," I reply with an instant explosion on the other end of the phone. I can hear my Mom wailing, "Oh my God, my son has joined the Marines" with my Dad saying, "Mary, get off the phone," Mom crying, "Oh my God, my son is going to be a Marine." and Dad again, "Mary get off the phone." This goes on for a couple of minutes, and then he asks me to put the recruiter on the line. Captain Barker nods his head a lot, I heard a bunch of "Yes Sir, Yes Sir, I understand" and after what felt like 20 minutes, he says, "Sir, the bottom line is your son is over 18 and can do what ever he likes without parental permission."
Thus began my career in the Corps. Those were a couple of tough months with the folks till I graduated from OCS that summer and now, you would think that my Dad retired from the Marines and not the Navy. Why??? Well, President Reagan summed it up nicely, "Some people go through their entire lives wondering if they made a difference, Marines don't have that problem!!!" I'd say that both my folks are very proud of their boy, understatement.
Next stop, OCS, till then, remember... where ever you go, there you are.
Semper Fi,

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Mil Blog weekend

Washington D.C. in the Spring is one of the most beautiful places in the world. Actually, driving over to my folk’s house in Arlington with all the azaleas blooming along with the dogwoods brought back instant memories of growing up. I traveled from Texas to DC this weekend for the first MilBloggers conference, and I must say that at first I didn’t know what to expect. “Capt. B” from “One Marines View” drove up from North Carolina and I figured that we would get together; tell war stories, drink some beer, smoke cigars, and rant and rave about our time in Iraq. It was all that and more! This was one of the most professional, well-orchestrated conferences I have ever attended. Andi, from “Andi’s World” must have slaved 24/7 to pull off such a flawless show.
Things started when we drove downtown for happy hour at Fran O’Brien’s, the steakhouse that donates the dinners for the wounded troops. What a great crowd there! Of course, with many beers, some shots and two cigars, it’s a bit hazy. I did indeed wear my kilt Friday night and, as a couple gals found out, I wore it traditional. Ha!! It was very cool to put faces to screen names of other Bloggers who showed up. My mom has been into blogs in general (especially keeping up on the Swiftboat forum during Kerry’s attempted run) and all the MilBlogs of the guys over in the Iraq theater. She is the one who would tell me to read up on this guy or that.

This weekend has opened my eyes on the future of Blogs in general. They are no longer daily journals, but the voice of the average guy on the street, telling you about a situation that the mainstream media just won’t cover. Whether it’s due to the owner’s agenda at the station, or the networks’ bias towards a person or group. Take for example Africa. There are countries engaged in a civil war where brutal dictators kill thousand of people monthly and no one even bats an eye. Maybe that nasty gal from “All in the Family” Silly Sally Something ruined it with her high-pitched annoying voice as she enlisted the help of all the couch potatoes to give their monthly beer drinking money to feed the children. A local example is the grass roots efforts to save Fran O’Brien’s Steakhouse from closing. It was posted on someone’s Blog, then pick up by another until it hit the news desk at Fox, and was written about in The Washington Post and The Washington Times. Crazy how fast something can spread.
I started sending updates into when I first arrived in Iraq, because I was told the Marines didn’t like Bloggers. I shamelessly used poor Marty Horn as my Webmaster to post my views of life in general in Iraq until “Capt B” helped me get my Blog up and running. The thing that burned me up the most while over there was how CNN and the others would run a six-word ticker at the bottom of the broadcasts about a bombing in Baghdad. What they didn’t show you was that our boys/gals in uniform over there were flying all these wounded civilians to our hospitals in and around Iraq, calling for walking blood banks [what is a walking blood bank? A soldier?] if they were short of a certain type of blood to help save the Iraqi lives. Why doesn’t the news cover that?

No, they don’t want to show the big bad U.S. doing something productive and helpful to the fledgling democracy. They could do a wonderful positive human interest story on the sixty lives saved after some Islamic terrorist bomber just blew himself up at the market place with a C4 vest and tons of little BB’s. Instead they televise the death and mayhem it caused. Why not focus the attention where it belongs? First on the people responsible and second on who we saved in the aftermath of the bombing. Can you imagine the pressure the press could exert on these terrorist groups? Maybe causing the Iraqis to standup and say “enough is enough” ???
That’s where I see the future of our young Marines/Soldiers out there, reporting to you the things that national news just won’t cover for fear of it all stopping. They would then have to go back to covering who is sleeping with who in Hollywood. What would everyone’s attitude be towards terrorists if they made them out for what they are; bad guys with an agenda to kill all non-Muslims.
While in Iraq, I had endless material to write about, but now I’m back to the grind of flying all over the country, playing with the family, and that chapter in my life is slowly closing. I’m thinking about writing stories that have happened to me over the course of almost twenty years in the Marines. I don’t think I have the clout to ponder the bigger picture of the war, and I don’t think my opinions would gain me any favor among the brass in the Military or the Liberals. I heard one statement this weekend that rang true, “write about what you know.” I can tell stories--love to tell stories, and I think that is the route I will go with in the future.
For those Marines and Soldiers out in the Sandbox, please keep sending the truth out to our folks back home. Never give up and if you have to, type it up and save it for later because the moment of clarity will pass after months and begin to cloud. If you are worried OPSEC, then just hold on to it till later when it would be right to send out to the world, and you won’t put any of your men in jeopardy.
Well Gang, on my next layover, I will put some thoughts down, and you tell me what you think. Thanks again for everyone who worked the conference this weekend, to my folks for putting up with two Marines, and to my wife for letting me go…
Semper Fi,

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

"The New Deal"

Dear Gang,
The reactions from folks who find out I was in Iraq are varied but there are a couple of questions that they all ask me. Number one is “Are we winning the war?” I think that depends on what front. Are we beating the snot out of these Holy Jihad terrorist? Yes!! For every American wounded, we are killing about ten of them. Now I can’t show you that number on paper, but it’s more like what we call a SWAG (Scientific wild ass guess). I would say that we are doing much better then the Russian’s did in Afghanistan in the 80’s, but there will be a time when we will have to hope Iraq is stable enough to survive on it’s own.
There is so much going on around the world that I wouldn’t wish my worst enemy in President Bush’s spot. Just think, you are trying to deal with finishing a project in Iraq to make a beacon of freedom there in an area where the others don’t want that to happen. Iran is next door saying that the world must accept them into the Nuclear club, (oh by the way, we want to wipe Israel off the map). You have to figure out a way to appease the leaders there so they can call off all their insurgents in Iraq, to allow for the U.S. to make a peaceful honorable withdraw.
Then, spin the globe around and you have the morons in N. Korea saying they can lob a Nuke over to the shores of the U.S., so now you must appease China by making them a favored nation status so they will keep their thumbs pressed on Korea from doing something they would regret. All the while, trying to stop Taiwan from pissing off the mother land next door causing the invasion of 2 billion Chinaman. See this would be a problem for us as well since we have pledged our military to help the fledging democracy that was formed so many years ago.
Now on top of that, our country has been invaded by an army of over 12 million Mexicans and the only shot fired was that of all the gangs roaming around the border cities. My buddy just went back over to Iraq for his third tour and he is going to be on the border of Syria and Iraq trying to plug the holes there as future fodder filter across the desert plains to wage war on innocent Muslims and the “infidel” Americans. Tom actually trained with our border guys down in Arizona and was just amazed at how messed up our country truly is. They have caught gangs smuggling explosives across the desert for future operations by terrorists. We have problems here guys when that happens.
Now, I pose a question to you…what would it take to change us back to a country where we were a melting pot again? Here are some ideas for a better America, most aren’t mine and most are too radical to ever happen but I think it would make life better in the long run.
1. All 18 year olds must do some form of service, either a two year stint in the one of the branches of the Armed Forces, or a new C.C.C. (conservation corps like in the 30’s) building new bridges, roads, planting trees etc., or the U.S. Peace Corps going into the inner cities of our own country teaching folks to read, write etc to get them above the need to join a gang or be on welfare. Then finally, your other choice is to join the U.S. border Patrol plugging the gaps on our nation’s porous states.
2. Rescind the right to be a U.S. Citizen if you are born here from illegal parents. Just because they broke the law shouldn’t mean we give you our freedoms and rights. This is unpopular but if you come here, you should be learning English, speaking it and using it. It gets old to hear “For Spanish press 1, for English, press 2”.
3. Make prison hard again. I mean if you are there, make it so bad that you don’t want to come back…ever again. West of the Mississippi, you go to Roswell NM and break big rocks into little rocks, fill sand bags all day, chain gangs, fill sand bags and live in tents. Just make that Sheriff out there “Joe” something, the national prison warden. If you are east of the river, you will clear brush out from under the swamps of South Carolina. It’s too easy now.
4. If you really want to make things interesting, offer prisoner’s the chance to work off their sentence by going to Iraq and clearing the IED’s and trash on the side of the road!!!
5. Make a flat tax on everything. That way if you aren’t going to get rid of all the illegals, at least they are paying taxes to support the hospitals, schools and roads that they all enjoy.

I know that I’m preaching to the choir, but in a perfect world, this is the path I would like to see happen. Now back to Iraq since you got me off on my tangent, the cause will be won and we will leave when Muslims across the globe say enough is enough with all this senseless killing. Are we in a Holy War again? Like the Crusades so many years ago? Well, I didn’t see any insurgents wearing a uniform from a nation, but they were fighting because of their religious beliefs. So you make your own opinion on what is happening in that department. I think our guys and gals are doing a great job over there, better then what is reported in the main stream news.
Change 2
I’m heading up to DC this weekend for the Mil Blog conference with my Folks and Capt B IS ABLE TO MAKE IT. Sorry Regina, I'm not sure it would be the best weather to wear my Kilt. I am looking forward to meeting everyone there and if you have the chance to come and you are local, come on out. Friday night, we are going to the open bar followed by bashing some Pinko's at Walter Reed hospital. I regret that my company won’t give me the time off to attend the cruise in NY harbor at the end of the month. If you get a chance, that would be a blast to attend!!
Well, you all take care and I’ll talk to you soon.
Semper Fi,