They may not be in Iraq, but they are consistent protectors of American values.
Two weeks on a Marine base is a motivating and inspirational experience. There is an energy, a sense of purpose, that is not often duplicated back home in America.
I spent two weeks in April visiting the Marines of Bravo Battery, 1st Battalion, 10th Marine Division. Their home base is Camp Lejeune, N.C., but they were sent to Camp Hanson in Okinawa, Japan, last December, for a 7-month deployment. These Marines are young, mostly 19-to-24 years old. They come from cities and towns up and down the East Coast; ranging from Maine to Florida, and as far west as Kentucky. Almost all of the Marines I met, like Lance Cpl. Kyle Arsenault of Lewiston, have already served one combat tour in Iraq, and a few have completed two. Most, like Arsenault, have volunteered to go back for another.
Although the day officially starts at 8 a.m. with the playing of both the American and Japanese national anthems, a Marine’s day typically starts before 6 a.m.; although it’s just possible to see the platoons of Marines jogging past the barracks in the dark, you can easily hear them counting cadence on their way to the athletic fields for early morning PT. They’re finished long before the sun rises and burns the dew off the thick tropical grass.
Then the Marines go to the rifle range, or the artillery gun park, where they work on the maintenance of their deadly howitzers. Or they go to class, where they learn the theory and skill sets on which their fieldwork is based. There’s plenty of real-time fieldwork also; from mid-January through mid-April these Bravo Battery Marines were deployed into both mainland Japan and South Korea, where they trained in joint live-fire artillery exercises with their Japanese and South Korean counterparts.
But when their work is finally done, it’s time to be a normal American male again; the baseball fields are busy, as are the soccer fields and the skateboard parks. The base library stays open late, as the Marines use the library computers to stay in contact with their girlfriends and families back home. And yes, they check out a lot of books.
While the Marines in Okinawa don’t get the “pub” of their brother Marines fighting and still dying in Ramadi and Fallujah, they are as actively involved in the defense of America as anyone fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan today. There is a saying in the Marine Corps, of Marines being “No better friend, no worst enemy.” While the Iraqi insurgents and Afghan Taliban learned long ago about the “No worst enemy” part, these young men in Camp Hanson are actively practicing the “No better friend” segment.
These young men are amazingly effective representatives of the values that America represents. They’re all volunteers. They believe in this country with the enthusiasm of youth, but tapered with the experience of their combat tours in Iraq. They’ve rebuilt schools and hospices by day, and fought insurgents that same night. They’re the ones who got airlifted to Indonesia for the tsunami relief last Christmas, along with the Philippino mudslide rescue mission in March.
We took a tour of Peace Park in Naha two weeks ago, where groups of Japanese and Okinawan high school children cautiously approached us to practice their English and take photos together. As the Marines adjusted in surprise to the friendliness of the young students, they immediately were caught up in the good spirits of the day as they laughed, bowed slightly, and shook hands with the students; their responsive and affable actions did more good for American-Japanese relationships in the next generation than any politician on TV could accomplish.
As their battalion commander, Lt. Col. Samuel Studdard, told me “we are fighting in many ways and across many venues. Except for Iraq and Afghanistan, most of our war is passive; we have to convince the undecided populations of the world that there is hope, and that we can help them have a better life for themselves and their children.”
It is these Marines on Okinawa, like Arsenault, who are making this better life happen. Their success working with those undecided populations of the world will go a long way to counteract the continued mindless violence in Iraq, as well as that of the London, Madrid, and World Trade Center bombings.
Andrew Lubin is an editor for the Military Family Network and is the author of “Charlie Battery: A Marine Artillery Battery in Iraq.”