MCFSC Pays Tribute to Marine Dads this Father's Day:
By Charlie Carter
In my life I've had the opportunity to watch many sorts of conflicts,
both small and large, from two or three people arguing over a
seemingly trivial matter, to world powers arguing over nuclear
proliferation, to conflicts between nations, including our own, that
grow into full military engagement. Through them all, I've had the
luxury of observing them from afar, usually making some sort of
judgment as to who is right and who is wrong, but from a comfortable
distance. This essay is not about world conflict on a global scale;
it is about conflict at the micro level. To describe as best as I
can, what it is like for the people who hold the honor of being
parents to the men and women who don't talk about the world's
problems, they go solve them. To describe what it's like to be the
proud parents of a U.S. Marine.
It is a well known fact that one's perspective changes depending on
their personal involvement in the issue; when you have, as they
say, "skin in the game". When Brad called me in the spring of 2006 to
tell me that he signed an intention to join the Marine Corps, I
almost burst with pride. He had actually been listening all those
years when I talked about things like achievement, hard work, and
making a diifference. In one quick sentence, he proved it. "I joined
the Marines Dad." Over the next several months while Brad was
preparing his body, Debbie and I were preparing our souls. Like it or
not, Brad was becoming a Marine, and Marines go to war.
Gradually we grew to know other parents who also have children in the
Marine Corps, as well as meeting many current and former Marines (I
know, there are no ex-Marines) and began learning the never ending
language of acronyms and alternate verbiage such as portal for door
and cover for hat. As the son of a sailor, I was already somewhat
familiar with military family life, but this was different. Marine
families are tight with each other, and passionate about the work
their family members do. We learned about the process of boot camp
and what to expect when your child finishes with it, and what
graduation day will be like, but none of it prepares you for what you
actually see. I watched Brad leave for Parris Island as an insecure
adolescent, and met him again on April 11, 2007 as a fully matured,
self confident man. As we walked together from the parade grounds to
his barracks to retreive his things, it struck me that our
relationship had just evolved from parent-child to a much more
complex one, in less than a 2-mile walk. He'd done it. He'd grown up,
and my job had shifted. I was now there to cover his back while he
covered the rest of ours; and to be his friend.
The next step was that he reported to Camp Lejuene for Infantry
School, and then to his more permanent position as a SAW operator for
the 2nd LAR (more acronyms), and this gave us a few months to come to
grips emotionally with what was about to happen. He was going to
Iraq, and to war. We got frequent phone calls to talk about what his
training was like, discussed his finances, we made arrangements for
vacations. He had a couple of block leaves, so he came to Columbus
for a couple short trips, like Christmas. Well, almost Christmas. We
had Christmas the week after Christmas because of a unique
timekeeping system that's used in the military that seems to have
little relationship to standard calendars. In January, he headed out
to California for desert training and then one quick trip to Columbus
before heading back to Lejuene for final deployment preparations.
March 18, 2008 was a day like every other day but for one thing. I
was scared. Really scared. Brad was deploying that afternoon. I tied
a small yellow ribbon around the tree out front, and tried to go
about my day, but the fear was there no matter what I did. I tried
not to show it because I knew that Debbie was having an even tougher
time with this than I am, and I didn't want her to think anything was
unusual. I didn't want her wondering why I was afraid; or thinking
that I knew something she didn't. Brad called two or three times that
day, and even had his picture taken by some supporters in Maine which
they sent to us, but then he was gone and we wouldn't hear from him
again for a few days. Once in Kuwait, we got the call from him to let
us know that he was there safely and would soon be heading into Iraq
on a helicopter, and we probably wouldn't hear from him for a week or
so. I think the few days between Kuwait and Iraq were some of the
worst. This is the period where I really started to adjust to
deployment. Wondering how and how often we would be able to
communicate, wondering if he had everything he needed, jumping every
time an unfamiliar car drove down our street, hoping that they would
Then, in mid-April, while driving in my car, the words that every
military parent dreads to hear came across the radio. "Central Oho
Marine killed in Iraq." My stomach flew into my throat and I nearly
threw up. That sentence and the events of the next several hours
define for me what it's like to be the parent of a Marine. The rest
of the day was spent in abject terror, waiting for the Department of
Defense to release the name of the Marine. My mind was consumed with
trying to put together pieces of the puzzle. "Brad called yesterday
from Korean Village, 150 miles away from the suicide attack, is it
possible that he could have made the trip to that area since the call
or is he probably still at KV?; Possible, but not likely, I decided.
It didn't help. "Brad enlisted in Pennsylvania, while staying with
his uncle, is it possible that they still have that as his address?
No, I changed his permanent address to Columbus several months
ago. "Why aren't they releasing the name? I knew the answer to that
one already of course; we were waiting for next of kin to be
notified. I also prayed that no strange cars would make their way
into the neighborhood that day. Please God, no dress blues today.
Finally the DOD posted the names on their website of the Central Ohio
Marine and two others who had been killed with him by a suicide
bomber. I stared at the short list for what seemed like an eternity.
Brad's name wasn't on the list. What do you do with that information?
What is the proper emotion to feel when you're relieved that your
child is alive, but someone else's is not? I cried...hard.
Afterwards, I tucked the emotions away as deep as I could into my
soul, then prayed again. This time for the fallen Marines and their
families, who I would never meet, but with whom I have so much in
common; and then I began to prepare myself for the next time this
would happen, because it will. That, I think is the essence of having
a child at war. All the world's conflicts and difficulties are
reduced to their most basic element with two words: "Marine
Killed..." That is what it's like to be the proud parent of a United
After writing this essay, which was originally intended to give a
sense of what it is like to be a military parent to someone who is
not, I was asked if I could expand on it a little for families who
are new to having a child make the decision to join the military, or
even those who are a bit more "old hat" as to how I try to deal with
things on a day to day basis while my son is deployed. I can only
speak from personal experience, and even some of the things that are
hellpful to me are not helpful to my wife. Different people deal with
stress in different ways, and I think that the most important thing
that I can do is try to recognize that and be respectful of it. My
wife also has a child at war, and my two other children have a
brother at war, and it affects them all differently Talking about it
openly is important, but recognizing the different ways we cope with
it, I think is the key. My wife doesn't like war movies right now and
I do, for instance. So I try to turn them off if she's around. I'm
not perfect, but I try.
The next most important thing to do, I think is to really try and
understand your Marine. He or she had a reason for enlisting and it's
probably deeper than you think. They may not even have discussed it
before, but it's there. Understanding their motivation is a big part
to developing a deep and permanent relationship with them. They have
taken the first step on a major journey in their life, and you have
been invited. You may need to spend some time looking at things
through your child's eyes. They are also forging bonds right now that
you will never fully be a part of and that will outlive you. "Once a
Marine, Always a Marine" is not a catchy statement, it's for real.
You don't need to feel threatened by that, just know that it's there.
I stated earlier that the Marine family is tight and I would urge you
to take advantage of the support that is available. All Marines and
their families, past or present, are considered to be part of this
family. That's part that you can share, and it is an amazing family.
Any Marine or Marine parent will answer just about any question that
you can ask, openly and honestly. I can't tell you how many
conversations I've had in parking lots and shopping centers with
total strangers who wore veteran hats or t-shirts.
Get involved! One of my favorite activities in the world right now is
going to MCFSC HQ on the Wednesday night before packing night and
getting items ready for Friday's big night. I always think of The
Waltons and how that community came together to help each other
during the dark days of World War II. Okay, that's fiction, but I've
spent enough time talking to my grandparents to know that's what
happened in real life too. Guess what?! It's still happening and we
need people to help If you really want to help your Marine, help
other Marines. He or she has a bond with them, remember? There is
plenty of stuff that needs to be done, and all you need to do is ask.
You'll feel better, trust me. I also like to get really involved in
my Marine's personal affairs as much as I can. I manage his finances
and bills for instance. When he mentions he needs gloves or a K-Bar,
I just go buy it. He got dress blues for his birthday, stuff like
that. They have enough to worry about and they don't make much money,
so it's one more item off his plate. I also call his girlfriend and
check in on her from time to time. She's a part of the family too,
and she needs to feel as welcome in my home as Brad.
Learn the language. MOS, MEU, LES, E-3 and MCMAP--what does it all
mean? Where is Lejuene, Pendleton or Korean Village? Why can't I say
Hat; and when the hell is 1315? Marines, as a rule, do NOT speak
English. Most of the time, they don't even speak words. They speak in
acronyms and codes when they're really happy, they grunt and make a
sound like Ooh-Rah! The more you learn, the more fun you'll have in
your new family. Yes we have fun. We're all carrying a heavy load,
but as a group, we can handle it and even let our hair down a little.
Just don't let Roger near a Kareoke machine!
Be proud. Be very proud. There aren't too many kids who have the
courage to do what your Marine is doing. "The Few, The Proud" is
another one of those catchy slogans that actually isn't just a catchy
slogan. They are serious about that, and you should share that pride.
The history of human beings has been one bad guy after another. My
grandparents had the Kaiser and Hitler. My parents had Hitler and
Stalin, we grew up under the threat of nuclear holocaust, and our
kids have terrorism. The cycle just keeps repeating, evil rises, evil
is conquered, and it is unlikely to ever stop.
But, thanks to your child, it it unlikely to come HERE!
SLEEP WELL AMERICA, OUR MARINES HAVE YOUR BACK