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I have a story that I am certain every Marine can understand how exactly it was we felt. I am currently deployed with the Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines with a group of 23 Marines from 12th Marines Regiment in Okinawa, Japan. We are a small unit and don’t see any action, just supporting the command and the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police. Thanksgiving day rolling around for us means a good meal at the chow hall (one that’s not either microwaved or fried) and an extra 6 hours spent out on the road escorting some “Distinguished Visitors” from the US Congress. (I know most people probably have never heard of OEF-Philippines. But its real, Google it.)
As one of the few NCOs down here, I am proud to say that me and my Marines executed flawlessly, as we always do. It’s no Iraq or Afghan here, but spending long amounts of time in up-armored vehicles in 90 degrees with 90% humidity, along with full body armor and combat loads seems to make me think of another war in the Marine Corps’ history. We get the DVs to our compound and disembark to get some chow, hopefully a good meal. None of us rush in to get food, though, we make sure our weapons are clear and functioning and that nothing has happened to our trucks while we were out.
By the time our weapons are put up (no weapons in chow hall here) and gear and trucks secured, the party of “D.V.s” is seated and eating their Thanksgiving dinner. We walk up to the door and are turned away by an Army E-8 saying we are not allowed to eat right now. Nearly appalled (and pretty p!ssed because who in the h&ll is this hooah to deny my Marines a Thanksgiving meal!?), I ask the MSgt why; “Regular people aren’t allowed in while the DVs are in there. You guys can come back when they are finished.”
I calmly explained that we were there security escort, and as soon as they finished we had to take them back out, could we get food to go? Nope, guess not. I tell my guys to hold on, and I go find Gunny with a major WTF? Look on my face. (Note: Last Christmas in Okinawa, I recall Marine Colonels and Generals serving their Marines food, not taking over the chow hall for themselves.) Gunny gets it arranged so we can get a quick bite to go before we head back out, but on thanksgiving a turkey sandwich and a can of cranberries just doesn’t cut us. But not once, NOT F’IN ONCE, do I hear any of my Marine gripe or complain, they simply step off, suit up, go Condition 1, and head back out to our trucks
We prep the vehicles and wait for our DVs to come out, tummies with just enough in them to make a man mighty angry. Everyone’s out, missions go, we move out, one hand on my M9, one on the wheel. After a few stops at designated “Visit Locations,” the DVs are out and back on the plane. We head back to the compound, but games not over yet. We still got 15 mikes outside the wire. Our shoulders relax a little with the DVs out of the target area. We get back and all non-USMC personnel rush out of the convoy to eat for the second time.
Not my Marines. We clear our vehicles, secure hatches, check and double check our weapons. Brush off our armor, and then head to the chow hall. Almost closing time, but we make it in. Not a soul in sight in there except for our buddies the Filipino cooks. What a pleasant surprise. After hours in the heat totally tac’ed up in gear, being denied chow because we are just “regular people,” and some crazy driving through the streets in the Philippines, we Marines can sit down and eat a real Thanksgiving dinner with just each other. We go through the line sticky, sweaty and worn the h&ll out; get some cold turkey, some mashed potatoes that aren’t quite as squishy as they probably were when the hooahs got to eat, some dressing crumbs, and, well, we all know what happens to gravy when it gets cold. The cake is droopy by now, all the pies are gone, there isn’t even any d*mn ice cream left.
We sit down with each other, and I realize that as sh*tty as the end of the stick is that we got today, this makes it worth it. We don’t care about feeling important and eating with important people, it’s that every single one of us got back and are able to sit down and eat thanksgiving dinner with each other. Some days I regret enlisting, like everybody does, and I am certain that I am only doing 4 and out, but this camaraderie, this family I have developed with my Marines cannot be found anywhere else. This is what makes it worthwhile. As we finish our meals, one of the workers, who is grinning from ear to ear, comes out and sets a fresh baked pumpkin pie down right in front of us. Not sure why they saved it for us, but my advice to every Marine out there, make friends with your chow hall workers.
Today my Marines did their jobs, and they did them d*mn well. We didn’t expect much, but we didn’t expect to be denied Thanksgiving dinner because we are just regular people, but I guess that’s how the army does it. We knew we weren’t going to get a thank you or a job well done from anybody but Gunny and maybe the TF Commander (Army O-6, but he’s a h&lluva guy, for a hooah). But we did get a fresh pumpkin pie and we got to eat it together. And brothers, we are what it is all about. I couldn’t care less what a US Congressman thinks of me or my guys, because the only thing that matters were the guys eating Thanksgiving dinner with me.
Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines
SOCPAC/ 3rd Bn 12th Marines 3d MarDiv