Marine Corps Week in Chicago 2009
Sgt. Grit, I?d like to send out a thank you to all of the Marines who were working at Marine Corps Week in Chicago, May 11th ? 17th, 2009 at Arlington Park Racetrack and Navy Pier. At Arlington Park, I got a little emotional when my hand found the grip and trigger of an M16 on display, just a little feeling overcoming me of great nostalgia and a little sadness, but it went away fairly soon. The rest of the time, I talked with some 03 Marines, great guys, sharing our stories, ribbing each other, laughing our tails off, etc. I was asking all the questions about how things have changed, and they had all the questions about how the Corps was 20 years ago. One Marine, a new Private First Class, was BORN a couple months before I went to Boot camp! I?m 37 years of age. That?s when I realized that you don?t have to be old to be old.
So I couldn’t believe the changes in the Corps since my day. They don’t iron their cammies anymore, because they have wrinkle-free fabric!!! Only one issue of Combat Boot, which is the tan suade, so there is no more spit shining boots!!! No more black combat boots, no more green jungle boots!
This was funny. For those readers who were never or are not yet Marines, an M249 SAW (Squad Automatic Weapon) is a small machine gun. I saw a huge SAW, and I asked them what that big SAW on steroids was, and they said it’s the M240 medium machine gun. So I said, well then where’s your M60 medium machine gun, and they all looked around at each other, then busted up laughing, and I mean REALLY laughing hard. There is no more M60 in the Corps, they explained! The M240 replaced it. Hasn’t been an M60 for many years. I said, ‘Darn, I’m old.’
NOW READ THIS. So this really built, fit young Marine complains of his back hurting. I said ‘What did you do, injure it?’ He says no, it just from Iraq. All of these infantry Marines were involved in the initial wave into Baghdad. I didn’t understand what he meant by ‘just from Iraq’, though. So he grabs the E-SAPI (Enhanced Small Arms Protection Insert) combat vests, and I put it on. It’s about 30 pounds without the S-SAPI plates inserted that protect your sides! So the group starts telling me everything they carried around every day all day. You and I put on our clothes to go to work today, but these guys were wearing between 80 and 130 pounds of gear at all times, depending on their particular job and mission!!! THEY ALL HAD CHRONIC BACK AND NECK PAIN. They went around the group, each telling what ailment they’ve been diagnosed with, and it was three lumbar disc herniations here, degenerative disk disease there, etc.! All of them! Now get this next part!!!
According to every Marine I spoke with that weekend, Arlington or Navy Pier, the Corps measured and recorded EVERY Marine’s height prior to deploying for Iraq, then re-measured and recorded upon return. They found an AVERAGE of 3/4 of an inch shrinkage across the board, from all that additional weight compressing the disks for 14-16 hours a day for months at a time! It most likely also exaggerated the lordotic curves of the lumbar and cervical spine AND the kephotic curves of the thoracic spine and possibly even sacrum. One very young Lance Corporal was measured at 6’1″ deploying, and 5’11” upon return. He said 6 months of physical therapy helped him gain an inch of that back. I couldn’t believe it. One squared-away young Marine just factually said, ‘Every (bleep) one of us is young and strong, so we live with it — but when we get older, we’re all in trouble.” That’s not even including the terrorist or combat environment — it’s just going to work every day! Gotta say, that really bothered me. It still is bothering me. Wow. I?m telling everyone I know that story.
So I went to Navy Pier the next day. One of the large displays there was a Nuclear Biological Chemical Defense display. I used to teach that stuff in Okinawa as a 5711, so I walked up and just about hit the floor. I did not recognize a single piece of equipment. Absolutely everything from my time has been replaced, in some cases two or three times! These guys didn’t even go to the same military base as I did for NBC school. My base Ft. McClellan, AL, was closed in 1999, so these guys went to Ft. Leonard Wood in Missouri. Our old MOPP gear used to be like a super thick (2″ thick?) snowsuit, with powdered charcoal as the barrier/filter that turned you all black when you took it off. The new standard stuff is like a front-zip sweatshirt thickness. Unbelievable. The FOX NBC recon vehicle that was brand spanking new in my day is being retired now. The protective field gas mask that I used and taught with (M17A2) has been replaced now three times already, with the addition of the new M50 Mask! And every change is for the better, of course, but it still stung a little. Some of the staples from my Marine Corps are long gone. As they say, you can never go home again.
A great few days overall. I learned a great deal that I didn’t know about the changes in the Corps, and it was really first-hand research for the book I’m working on about my first nine or so months in the Corps. I?d like to thank those Marines for bringing the Marine Corps to Chicago, for the companionship and the laughs. Semper Fi, Marines!
Patrick D. Clifford
LCpl / Medically Retired (that?s a story for another issue ? maybe)
PS ? Next week, I?m headed to old Ft. McClellan, AL, where I went to NBC School. It is now used by the Dept. of Homeland Security as a training facility for first responders to potential weapons of mass destruction attacks (NBC). They still use the live nerve gas chamber that I trained in for four hours one day in full MOPP. If the trip is interesting enough, I might share it some time. I?ll have to see.