Something wonderfully awesome happened last night in San Francisco. In case you don’t recognize the guys in this photo, they are:
* Paul Szoldra, an infantry Marine who left the Corps as a sergeant a few years ago and went on the create The Duffel Blog, a satirical website that pokes fun at the absurdities within military culture.
* Retired Sgt. Maj. Carlton Kent, the 16th Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps and top enlisted adviser to two commandants.
* Max Uriarte, also an infantry Marine, and the original terminal lance corporal who created the popular Terminal Lance cartoon series. Of course, Max also contributes an exclusive strip to Marine Corps Times each week.
And in case you don’t know the significance of the gesture they’re making, consult Terminal Lance #10 “Lance Corporal Hand-Signal.”
The whole thing is even more incredible in light of last year’s Duffel Blog piece “Terminal Lance Creator Revealed To Be Sergeant Major of Marine Corps,” a faux-news report saying the controversial cartoon was secretly born at Marine Corps headquarters after Kent and then-Commandant Gen. James Conway grew frustrated with the “sh–load of negative feedback over all the safety briefs we were subjecting our Marines to.”
I checked in today with Paul, Max and the Sergeant Major, and got the gouge on how this extraordinary rendez-vous came to pass. The meeting took place Thursday evening at the Marines’ Memorial Club and Hotel, a San Francisco landmark built in the 1940s. Max and Paul call northern California home. Kent was there on business. In retirement, he co-founded KCK, an organization that works to find jobs for veterans and wounded warriors. Marine Corps Times profiled the venture earlier this year.
Max described their meeting as “one of those rare moments where the universe aligned just right.”
But how did the photo come about? Paul gets credit for instigating it, he told me over Facebook this morning, adding that “Max immediately jumped at the opportunity to get the LCpl sign, showed [Kent] how to do it, and SgtMaj was like, ‘Oh ok. No problem devil dogs.’ ”
Kent, as many Marines know, is a true man of the people, perhaps best evidenced in this profile written by Marine Corps Times former senior writer Dan Lamothe, who accompanied the sergeant major overseas during the months before he retired. As Dan’s superb story describes, Kent has always made an effort to be approachable and for junior Marines to see him as a human being. A case in point: During that trip across the pond, Kent joined a group of Marines during a night of karaoke and even belted out a rendition of the Temptations’ “My Girl.”
Indeed, Kent earned high praise within the Lance Corporal Underground after some jokesters doctored the tail end of the 2009 Marine Corps Birthday message, creating a clip known as “The Handshake”? Yes, he’s seen it and, no, he doesn’t mind it. Caution: Contains coarse language.
Those who regularly follow the Duffel Blog and Terminal Lance revel in the same brand of humor. And Kent told me that’s a good thing. “They make warriors laugh, and that’s what it’s all about,” he said during a post-PT phone call Friday morning. “When warriors are taking it to the enemy every day, they need an outlet.”
Paul and Max, whom Kent called “smart, young hard chargers,” deserve a lot of credit, he said. “They’ve seen the horrors of combat, and they truly have love for our Corps; the EGA is branded in their hearts.” And although Sgt. Maj. Kent is familiar with their projects, he said he is not a habitual viewer of either The Duffel Blog or Terminal Lance. That, of course, was before this epic photo went viral.
“I guess I’ll be looking at them more regularly now,” he said.
The Marine Corps’ annual exposition of gear, weapons and vehicles kicks off today at Quantico, Va. It is expected to draw thousands of Marines and civilians from across the country, with a special emphasis on what industry is producing for the Corps.
Marine Corps Times prepared for the expo by producing its annual State of the Marine Corps issue. Out on newsstands this week, it leverages insight from 15 general officers to paint a picture of where life stands in the Corps. If you’re on base and looking, you’ll find it available at the expo.
Highlights of the event include an enlisted awards parade Wednesday at 9 a.m. and a brief to industry involving several senior Marine officers Thursday at 11. The exhibition floor will be open Tuesday morning through Thursday at 3 p.m. A complete schedule of events is here.
Marine Corps Times and its sister publication, Defense News, have several reporters who will be walking the floor at Modern Day Marine and providing updates on our Show Scout site. Twitter also is active with updates through the hash tags #MDM and #MDM13.
Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Mike Barrett just shared the following on Twitter, in fact:
Commandant @USMC and I are looking forward to being with @MBWDC & @usmcdrumcorps tomorrow for #MDM13 enlisted awards & parade @MCB_Quantico.
Commandant Gen. Jim Amos and Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Mike Barrett visited Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore last week, intent on seeing Army Sgt. Brendan Marrocco, the first American serving in Iraq or Afghanistan to survive a quadruple amputation.
As I outlined in this feature story, the trip renewed a friendship between the commandant and the soldier, a wise-cracking infantryman with an (unfortunate) love of the New York Yankees. In December, he became the first veteran of this generation’s wars to receive a double-arm transplant, and he has pushed hard with his physical therapy since.
Marrocco doesn’t yet have feeling in his new hands, which came from a cadaver. He was glad to show how far he’s come, though. At one point, the commandant asked him to “pepper it in there” and throw a rubber ball at him. Marrocco, seated with no prosthetic legs on, responded by cheerfully snapping it straight at him.
“Next time we meet, we’re going to sit down and have lunch together,” Amos said. “And, you’re going to be eating cheeseburgers with both of your hands.”
The visit served a second purpose, however. The commandant and the sergeant major had serious questions about treatments that are available for service members who are seriously injured by bomb blasts. The unfortunate assumption, Amos said, is that if you step on an improvised explosive device on a foot patrol, you probably lose both legs. And that’s to say nothing of the gruesome injuries someone can sustain to their genitalia, which many of us who have walked the ground in Afghanistan fear most.
Dr. Andrew Lee, the surgeon who led the operation on Marrocco, told Amos and Barrett that they the stigma to receiving a transplanted arm or hand is diminishing. As soon as a recipient can use it, he said, they claim it as their own.
The process doesn’t end with surgery, however. It takes serious work to gain maximum use of a transplanted hand or arm, and a strict regimen of drugs to make sure the body does not reject the new body part. At least one individual who received a transplanted hand later lost it, Lee said.
Still, there’s hope for a better tomorrow — and not all service members know it. Amos said he recently asked a Marine who lost a hand while serving as an explosive ordnance disposal technician if he had considered getting a transplant, and the man wasn’t aware that was a possibility.
There’s also the matter of “losing your manhood,” as troops typically put it. Lee told Barrett that a variety of research is ongoing in this regard. Johns Hopkins is researching the possibility of transplanting cadaver penises, Lee said, and other institutions are studying how to regrow tissue.
In the middle of all these conversations, you find folks like Marrocco. David Wood’s Pulitzer Prize-winning series “Beyond the Battlefield” explored the pyschological effects that major blast injuries cause, but you also find individuals who are willing to push through to find the new best “normal” they can.
Marrocco said he can’t wait to go quail hunting with his new hands, and with his positive attitude, it’s hard to believe it won’t eventually happen. He lit up with a grin when his doctors described to Amos how much he enjoys proving doctors wrong on how quickly he can recover function in his hands.
“I do,” he said. “And I’m pretty sure that on every occasion, I have.”
Commandant Gen. Jim Amos said Thursday in a video released by the Marine Corps that the Marine Corps has enough money to continue training through the rest of the year, but is still working to prevent furloughs to its civilian employees.
The video was released one day after the Defense Department’s budget for fiscal 2014 was released amid a federal financial crisis. As laid out here, the new Marine Corps budget calls for $323 million less in military construction spending next fiscal year, affecting some planned modernization and maintenance not directly associated with operational readiness.
Amos said in the video that he is still deeply concerned about whether civilians working for the Corps will be furloughed.
“The very latest information that I have is that furloughs have been delayed until mid-May, with an effective date of mid- to late-June,” he said.
Watch the whole video here:
The Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps issued a video message with some straight talk for Marines on the issue of sexual assault prevention.
Sgt. Maj. Mike Barrett told Marines in the passionate message posted Tuesday to “step in and do something.” When the Corps has a problem within its own ranks, they have to own it and fix it, he said.
“There’s never a wrong time to do the right thing,” Barrett said. “Remember who you are. … Remember who we are.”
The message introduces the Defense Department’s theme for the 2013 Sexual Assault Awareness Month, which is in April. The year’s DOD theme is, “We own it. We solve it — together.”
But Barrett tells Marines it’s a message to remember all the time. Sexual assault destroys unit cohesion and devastates Marines, he said. And a failure to act is inconsistent with who Marines are, he added.
“You are your brothers’ and sisters’ keeper,” he said. “We always always stand together and protect one another. We always remain faithful.”
There has been a Corps-wide push to tackle the issue the service’s top leaders have identified as a significant problem. The Marine Corps saw 333 reported sexual assaults in 2011, according to a report released in July. However, officials believe the number is likely much higher, as such crimes are under-reported.
Last summer, the Marine Corps’ commandant, Gen. Jim Amos, introduced a new sexual assault prevention campaign that includes training for leaders, as well as an all-hands program for Marines provided by their commanders. Amos has called the problem’s scope an “ugly mark” on the service’s reputation.
Marine Corps Recruiting Command also launched a program early this year that has recruiters teaching poolees about sexual assault prevention.
“We’re not going to tolerate it,” Gen. Joseph Osterman, who then headed MCRC, said of sexual assault when the command launched the program. “So how do we, from the very first time a person even thinks about becoming a Marine until they retire or get out of the Marine Corps, make sure that they’ve got this woven into everything they do?”
Pentagon leaders announced last week that they were rescinding the 1994 Combat Exclusion Policy that kept women out of ground combat units, raising a host of questions about what will change for rank-and-file service members.
This week, Marine Corps Times addresses many of those concerns. Our cover story is splashed across four pages inside the magazine, and includes interviews with Lt. Gen. Robert Milstead, deputy commandant for manpower and reserve affairs, Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Mike Barrett, and other senior leaders.
By now, it seems safe to assume that nearly all of our readers are aware of the announcement Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, made on Thursday. Therefore, I took a decidedly second-day approach to the story. I asked about what the Corps will do this year to prepare, which military occupational specialties will be affected and how the service will go about deciding what to keep open to women.
“None of these MOSs will be immediately opened to female Marines,” Milstead said in an exclusive interview at the Pentagon on Thursday. “That’s just not what this means. To simply just open up all MOSs to our female Marines would be irresponsible. We’re not going to just push them in there. We’re going to do that deliberate, measured responsible research to make sure that we can responsibly and safely get them into these MOSs.”
This week’s issue also has a flashy spread outlining what the Corps’ next generation of flame-resistant uniforms will look like. Staff writer James K. Sanborn addresses why the new version will be better than the existing Flame Resistant Organizational Gear, or FROG.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey announced yesterday that they were lifting the 1994 Combat Exclusion Policy that bans women from serving directly in the infantry and other ground combat units. The move has been greeted with mixed reaction, with some hailing it as a victory for equal rights and others saying it will weaken the U.S. military.
I’ve spent most of the last 24 hours working on a full-length cover story that will be published soon addressing what the change means for Marines. In particular, Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Mike Barrett and Lt. Gen. Robert Milstead, deputy commandant for manpower and reserve affairs, sat down with me yesterday afternoon to discuss it.
For now, here’s a video of Barrett that the Corps released last night addressing the change:
The country lost a legend on Friday with the death of Sgt. Maj. Henry Black, the service’s oldest surviving sergeant major of the Marine Corps. As noted in an obituary I wrote Monday, Black served in combat in both Korea and Vietnam, even earning a Silver Star for heroism as a junior Marine.
It’s his leadership that Marines miss the most, however. Retired Sgt. Maj. Carlton Kent, the Corps’ 16th sergeant major of the Marine Corps, recalled Black as a father figure and mentor when I spoke with him Monday. Sgt. Maj. Mike Barrett, the Corps’ current top enlisted Marine, weighed in through email yesterday. His thoughts:
SgtMaj Black was a stalwart Marine. I was privileged to spend time with him over the past 15 months. Last Monday I visited with SgtMaj Black, and all he wanted to talk about were the Marines in the fight and how they were holding up … their spirit, morale and welfare. He was talking and thinking about the Marines until his last breath. Like SgtMaj Kent, I valued and relied on SgtMaj Black’s wise counsel and breadth of experience. SgtMaj Black was a selfless servant leader … the Corps has lost a great Marine.
In the photograph above, Barrett is seen this morning presenting the U.S. flag to Black’s family. The sergeant major was buried with full military honors at Quantico National Cemetery.
Sometimes, the boss comes long ways to check in on his people.
That was the case yesterday in Afghanistan, where Commandant Gen. Jim Amos and Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Mike Barrett dropped in on six bases and outposts, fielding questions from Marines and thanking them for their service.
There are at least two accounts of their travels published. A Marine Corps news release said the brass visited Marines at Camp Leatherneck, Forward Operating Base Payne, FOB Geronimo, FOB Jackson, FOB Zeebrugge and Combat Outpost Shir Ghazi. That means they traveled from Kajaki district in northern Helmand all the way down to some of the southernmost positions the Corps has there.
At COP Shir Ghazi in Musa Qala district, Amos presented a Purple Heart to Sgt. Shane Fredericks, an infantryman with 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, who sustained a traumatic brain injury after his vehicle struck and improvised explosive device. A report by embedded journalist Gretal Kovach said the blast occurred May 12 in Now Zad district, and was generated by 120 pounds of explosives.
Barrett also delivered the Marines with 2/5 a stern warning about staying safe when the return to the U.S. this fall. From Kovach’s report:
“You’re not going to overindulge and then jump on a crotch rocket and slam into a stinkin’ telephone pole,” Barrett said.
“You go outside the wire every single day, and you go hunt down the bad man, you fix him in place and you kill him! That’s your job,” he said. “You’ve already proven yourself. You’ve got nothing else to prove. Go home, be aggressive … but be aggressive without being reckless. Live your life right and to its fullest.”
No mincing words there, right?
The Marine Corps hosted the inaugural Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl on Jan. 3 in Phoenix.
The competition pitted the East against the West in a game featuring 100 of the best high school football athletes from across the country.
On Jan. 4, official B-roll surfaced from the East’s locker room, revealing the pep talk given to players by Maj. Gen. Ronald Bailey, commander of 1st Marine Division, and Sgt. Maj. Mike Barrett, the Corps’ top enlisted Marine.
While the West would go on to beat the East, 17-14, Barrett had some strong words to pump the players up.
At about the 3 ½-minute mark, Barrett tells the team:
Your quarterback is your platoon commander. Do everything as a team. Everything you have …all your means…all your talents…all your fiber…leave it out on the battlefield today. Everything you have, leave it on the field today. You should walk back into this room at the end of the game with nothing left. If you can come in here and jack around and do nonsense, you did not give it all!”
In the West locker room, Brig. Gen. Joseph Osterman, commander of Marine Recruiting Command, and Sgt. Maj. Michael Logan, also of Recruiting Command, led the pep talk. Footage of their speech was not immediately available.