As we pulled into the gate at the entrance of Camp Foster, Leora and I collectively realized that this craziness is almost over.
I have been gone for little more than a month as part of the Fall Patrol for the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit. The patrol was planned to be short (though they can always call us up and tell us to be on a ship in 24 hours – that’s part of being the Marine Corps’ quick reaction force in the area), but was shortened further by sad events in the Philippines.
A little about our trip to the PI: We went down to hone skills and work on our relationship with the Philippine military and the local populace. On the former, we did ok. On the latter, we excelled (until the last day, and that wasn’t really us).
There is a horrible ash-covered valley at the foot of Mt. Pinatubo; this God-forsaken land is a training camp called Crow Valley. Luckily for us, 3rd MLG’s Supply Battalion came in a couple weeks earlier and made the place quite comfortable with Big Tents, Air Conditioners, Laundry, Showers, and Port-a-Johns. Don’t worry, and fear that the Marines have gone soft: It was still a horribly hot place where the rain came in monsoons only to steam away moments after it dried.
Outside the base, the locals set up a little town with food vendors and merchants.
I bought a cool thing for my desk.
My RP flirted; a one-man public affairs mission.
My first time that I walked out there with him, and all I heard, from every booth was a flirty, “Hiiiii, Shawn” “Heeeyyy Shawn”.
Face meet Palm. This man is supposed to be my protection.
“You said you were only out here once?”
“Yes, sir. I’m friendly.”
“Well, after I had the lumpia at Joe’s, I brought 5 friends over there. Then at Anna’s, I brought 10 people to eat her pancakes: strawberry banana. They’re so good. You want pancakes, Chaps?”
I do love pancakes. But no.
During our time out there, RP (Shawn) was one of the first people to eat the Balut (a fertilized chicken egg hard-boiled complete with feathers, soft bones, and beak).
Almost all the Marines ate the Balut. I egged them on (I’m proud of that pun), but didn’t tell them until after they finished that I did not eat it. So gross. I’m pretty sure that several Marines (and RP) ate a cobra, and I’m pretty sure a few (maybe RP) ate dog. I ate a coconut!
Good public relations. A lot of money dropped on an impoverished community. and Good times. This was after-all why we were there.
While not as delicious, part of our mission in the PI was to connect the Marines together with Filipino Marines and the American missions that had been a mainstay out there for over a century. The CO is big on knowing your history; I offered to teach the class.
Aboard ship all the Marines attended a course on the Bataan Death March. We did the history of US presence in the PI up to the war (bad), why I hate Gen MacArthur, Battles of Bataan and Corregidor, and the atrocity of the March. The thesis of which is the atrocity of battle and subsequent war crime brought the two divergent countries back together again.
Somehow I became a tour guide and led Marines through the Memorial Site not far from where we were staying. It was pretty neat. To read more: http://www.marines.mil/News/NewsDisplay/tabid/3258/Article/509898/31st-meu-marines-visit-bataan-death-march-memorial-following-phiblex-15.aspx
In between all of this, the Marines trained with Filipino Marines. They trudged through rivers and mud. They traded uniforms and knives. It was all that we want from these experiences and more.
In all this, I also led High Holiday services on the Germantown and Peleliu, and also out in the field. I set up a sukkah aboard ship and in the field. There is something weird about setting up a sukkah, which is itself expeditionary, in an expeditionary environment (It wasn’t much different from the other tents out there, except when it rained).
The last day of the exercise, and we convoyed back to Subic Bay (where our ships would be waiting). My Marines were pooped but looking forward to liberty in town and eventually in Manila.
As of today, a Marine from 2/9 stands accused of a most heinous act. I am not going to elaborate further on what every newspaper in the world has reported, except to say that the Marine is not part of the MEU, and his reported actions are those of an individual not the Marine Corps as a whole.
The MEU was locked down to ships in the harbor for the next week. No liberty. No end in site. We just waited (and came up with incredibly legal theories: corporals are good at that). While everyone wanted leave, more were happy just to go home.
But when I got back to base: The best was waiting for me. A wonderful wife. A beautiful baby girl. (A wet-nosed highly excited puppy would be standing by dutifully at the apartment).
This was what we had all been waiting for (even if the latter two of those characters don’t know that its what we are waiting for). The downhill begins. Leora and I looked at each other as we entered the gate, and realized that we have less than two months in Okinawa.