I first read those words on the back of a kevlar helmet in Kuwait, sometime in February of 03'. It was only two and a half years ago, but it seems like a very, very long time to me.
When I first joined the Marine Corps, it wasn't out of a sense of patriotic duty, or a desire to kill. It wasn't even for the money. I was just, well... bored. College was boring, my friend Luke had just got home from boot camp and he said the Corps was tougher than shit. Well, I thought I was pretty goddamn tough at 18. Had a couple tattoos, did some skateboarding, drank bad malt liquor at parties, shit, I could handle boot camp. Bring it on. I was bored and this looked exciting.
At precisely the 30-second mark after stepping off the bus and onto the yellow footprints, I realized that yeah, the Marine Corps was pretty tough and whatever else I may have been, tough wasn't on that list.
Well, 30 seconds down, five years, eleven months, twenty-nine days, twenty-three hours and 59:30 to go.
The next 13 weeks, which were agonizingly slow, seemed a blur in retrospect. Then I graduated, went to MCT (Marine Combat Training), and finished Engineer School. At long last, I was back home, on "active reserve" status. If anyone had told me I would be going to war in a couple years, I doubt I would have believed them. And yet, in January of 03', that is exactly what happened.
As I said earlier, I didn't have any strong sense of patriotism, but after I got back home from my first tour, I felt different. I don't know how or where the change occured exactly, just that I only noticed it after I returned to the States. Maybe it was that new flavor of freedom. But I take anything written on a Kevlar with a grain of salt. You're as likely to find true wisdom there as you are to find an ex-girlfriend's phone number & measurements. However, that saying stuck in my head as I surveyed the many wonders of a civilized society. Clean sheets, cold beverages, hot showers, washing machines, good food, I was awestruck. I imagine that this sense of wonder had less to do with "fighting" for freedom and more to do with being deprived of it.
In the months that passed after my return home, not a day went by when I didn't think "Hot damn, this is nice.", about at least one aspect of my life. Every single day. And then my dear old Uncle Sam asked me for one more favor.
As you know, I'm back "there" again. And in spite of the heat, and all the complaints I can (and often do!) make, I know I'm doing a good thing. Despite the fact that our invasion has been criticized from day one (and I wasn't 100% behind it either), the point has become moot. We're here now, and all we can do is try to fix things.
On this fourth of July, I'm a long way from home. But I can't think of any task more noble than ensuring a lasting freedom to strangers. Yeah, I sometimes wish that we could have liberated a more uh...comfortable climate, but I'm honored to have this opportunity.
Happy Independence Day.