Navy-Marine Corps Camaraderie


April 17, 2002; Jacksonville, Florida

Today I was reminded of how much I’d forgotten about how great it is to be in a Navy or Marine Corps aviation squadron. After a day spent outprocessing and demobilizing from Navy Reserve activation orders at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, I went down to the club to get a cold drink and sit by the St. John’s river, on the nice deck they have there, to enjoy the sunset and fresh breeze at the water’s edge, the tide lapping at the rocks below. A good book, some club popcorn, a cold drink, and tranquil sailboats to gaze out when you need to re-focus your eyes – there’s a combo hard to beat.

I was enjoying myself immensely, lamenting the fact that the sun was heading west for the night, when I finally had to go back inside to the bar to replenish my drink. I’d head back out for a vanilla cigar, I thought, to enjoy by the moonlight. But at the bar I spotted the large plaques on the bulkhead, the ones the squadrons sometimes have made after their six-month deployments. All the officers’ names are on them, usually carved nicely in hard wood, and painted up with the squadron’s logo, and all the places all over the world where the ship went on that deployment. The best part about the plaques is reading all the call signs of the pilots and officers – the ones that they assign you when you arrive at the squadron, if you don’t already have one. There were names like Ed “Van” Whalen, John “Fast” Lane, Bob “Biff” Krause, Edward “Red” Baron, and simply “Mooch” up there. I had to laugh. I didn’t write down which squadron those guys were from, but it doesn’t really matter. Whichever it was, and whoever those guys were, they were out there accomplishing the Navy’s missions: keeping the sea lines of communication open, projecting power abroad, protecting merchant shipping, and preserving the Constitution of the United States — against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

Reading those names made me smile, making me think of all the great guys my old squadron, VMFA-323, the Death Rattlers, or the “Snakes”, for short. I could never really understand the big picture about how it all worked when my dad would talk fondly about his days with VA-75, the Sunday Punchers, holding his coffee mug with his call sign on it – “Infinite I”. He used to have all the intelligence the pilots needed, so they called him the infinite “eye”, and the eyeball painted on the mug connoted that he saw all, knew all, and provided all intel to his squadron mates, so they could rule the skies, in the name of freedom. Neat stuff. I guess you have to be a part of it to understand it — the feelings, the camaraderie, the pride, the tough times, the deployments, the port calls, the fun on liberty, the hell during work ups, exercises, and extended combat flight operations. It’s all rolled up in our selective-memory minds, minds that tend to remember only the good things, if we maintain the right attitude. And those memories become the pride, the passion, the friendships, the loyalty, the I-wouldn’t-trade-it-for-anything feelings, the esprit des corps, the honor, courage, commitment, and willingness to pay the ultimate price for freedom — because you know what you’re doing is noble, and even though you hate the long days, the grueling hours, the endless demands on your time, your sanity, your leadership capacity, and your bearing, deep down you know you love it.

And so that’s what I thought there, in the club, as I nursed that Coke. In a certain way, I had pitied myself back in 1994-95 for the hell I went through as an ensign on that WestPac deployment. I hadn’t known what I was getting myself into, and it was nothing like the geo-political or diplomatic or attaché-type of work I’d hoped it would be and joined the Navy for. But now, understanding what it’s all about, and being so thankful for the opportunities I’ve had, the lessons I’ve learned, and the absolutely brilliant, brave, dedicated, selfless people I’ve had the privilege of working with for the last eight or so years in the military, I can’t imagine not having had such experiences. They’ve enriched my life in ways that the vast majority of civilian work can never hope to equal. And, in a certain way, I kind of pitied the guys who never had a chance to experience all of those things.

I wondered if any of the other fellas having a good time at the bar that night ever thought about it like that.

Written by Glenn Yeck | Comments Off on Navy-Marine Corps Camaraderie