Identity theft

Marines are prideful to the point of arrogance. Our uniforms are impeccable, our weapons pristine, our marksmanship deadly, and our courage unmatched. It is why we are hated, revered, and envied by airmen, sailors, and soldiers alike.

The Corps is a brotherhood. I don’t look across a battalion formation and see legal clerks, supply supervisors, cooks, motor vehicle operators, or infantrymen. I see Marines. A Marine’s unit loyalty is secondary to that of the Corps.

It’s good to meet a Marine half way around the world who has been in my shoes, done the things I’ve done, and operated in ways I know intimately, but it is even a greater honor to simply meet another Leatherneck amid a sea of soldiers. The conversation inevitably touches briefly on what unit we come from, how long we’ve been in country, and where we call home, but always ends up naming the countless things that makes Marines stand out above the rest.

In boot camp we are recruits. We are not Privates, soldiers, or anything remotely as appealing. We are not Marines. We are the lowest form of scum on earth, crawling from the depths of a meaningless civilian life towards glory as did our brothers in arms for over 229 years. Our identities are discarded, as is our hair, personal belongings, and civilian mindsets.

Everyone is the same, down to the white, Hanes underwear with our names stamped centered on the front, just below the waistband. Time ceases to exits. Training day after training day is lost in endless urgency. Making Marines is a business that never closes.

But there’s a moment in boot camp that any recruit can pinpoint: being presented the coveted Eagle, Globe, and Anchor and becoming a Marine. The Eagle, Globe and Anchor is the most widely recognized emblem of any branch of service worldwide. It can be found on almost every uniform item a Marine owns, most notably embroidered on the left breast pocket of the cammie blouse, just over our hearts. It’s not coincidence. It stands for everything that we Marines hold most dear. Navy Corpsmen are the only other service members in the world to have the right to wear our EGA. They fight and bleed and die side by side with us, forgoing their safety to protect our lives. They deserve it.

Army Staff Sergeant Burwell, fellow IIF 3rd Company team member and all around good guy, expressed his interest in wearing the Marine Corps uniform during his tenure with us. In addition to its functionality, clean lines, night vision scattering ability, and sexy good looks, having all team members wear Marine Corps cammies would promote uniformity as an example to our Iraqi counterparts. I agreed in his reasoning, but gravely conveyed my dislike in others donning my EGA. My recommendation was to remove the pocket with the EGA or simply cover it up, thereby disassociating Army personnel with Marines. SSgt Burwell understood my concern; I’ll give him that much credit.

The likelihood of our Army team members actually wearing our uniforms, for whatever reason, is small. Supply is short and Iraqi soldiers are easily confused. I rest somewhat easier. But the unthinkable happened recently.

There are a dozen or so Iraqi soldiers participating in specialized training with a Navy SEAL unit on Camp Habbaniyah. They run on an independent schedule set by the SEALs and grind out hour after hour of intense physical training. Truth be told, I’ve never seen Iraqi soldiers perform to that level. But that is beside the point.

And one day they returned to the barracks, exhausted, muddy, and disheveled, and disappear into their rooms to change for chow. In a matter of minutes they emerged – in brand new Marine Corps uniforms! I literally gagged at the spectacle. My stomach heaved. My head spun. My guts wrenched. I felt as though someone has eaten my food, stolen my woman, and kicked my dog. These were not American soldiers or Navy Corpsmen or even, God forbid, airmen. They were not Marine Cadets or Midshipmen or even Boy Scouts. These were imposters, parasites living off hundreds of years of tradition, pride, and war fighting glory.

They’re leeches of the respect and awe the uniform commands. They do not deserve the honor of wearing my Eagle, Globe, and Anchor, much less any uniform items of my beloved Corps.

Simply having a piece of Marine Corps gear isn’t my problem. They make great souvenirs. But the wearing of that same gear by anyone other than a scarlet and gold amphibious warrior from the sea makes me ill. When I see it among my Iraqi soldiers, I correct it immediately. As a fighting force they must develop their own collective identity and their own proud history. Not steal ours.

A Marine can spot a fake in a heartbeat. A Marine knows our step, our posture, and can see the killer’s eye a mile away. But others are not so lucky. Others see our uniform and assume “Marine.” This is a grave mistake in today’s environment when seemingly anyone can wear my EGA without first destroying and rebuilding themselves through thirteen weeks of Marine Corps boot camp. There are precious few exceptions to this rule. Iraqi soldiers cross training with Navy SEALs is not one of them.

I’m upset. I’m pissed. I’m violated. What if someone confuses them with real Marines? What if someone sees them, strolling casually about in my uniform and acting like a turd, and thinks that’s the way Marines are? The Corps is not just a uniform in itself, but our uniform is what instantly sets us apart from everyone else in one, quick glance. The Corps is a collective identity for those who have earned the title. Our identity is not for sale, loan, or rent. It is ours, by God, and no one else deserves it.

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One Response to “Identity theft”

  1. Sean says:

    Happy (belated) Veteran’s Day. I was thinking about you yesterday, so when I saw this: http://www.thesmokinggun.com/archive/years/2009/1111091medals1.html

    earlier and it reminded me of this post, I figured I’d drop you a line. Hope everything is well.

    -Sean

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The author.Born in the year of the Dragon, the author grudgingly accepts the fact he has too many interests and not enough time. A cyclist as long as he can remember, an avid yet inconsistent writer since age eleven, and a U.S. Marine since age twenty-one, the author also adds peak bagging, diving, snowboarding, and computers to his list of interests. Incidentally, he is aware of his inability to make a living from any but the Corps. The author accepts this as fact and remains optimistic. Feel free to drop him a line.

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