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In addition to an admiration for the individual men with whom he went through combat, Wright also gained respect for Marine culture in general. "I had been embedded a year earlier in Afghanistan," he explained, "with a unit of the 181st Airborne Division, which is sort of an elite unit within the Army, roughly comparable to First Recon, who are elite within the Marines. There is such a world of difference between Marines and Army personnel. Marines tend to be very opinionated, outspoken. This is all my anecdotal experience, but they tend to have funny senses of humor. Really, when I was embedded with the Army, I was with these guys in the Army for weeks, and it was hard to draw people out. You never have to worry about drawing out a Marine. Marines will start talking and saying crazy stuff."

Wright believes the cultural difference he experienced in the two branches of the Armed Services can be seen in their television advertising. "The Marine Corps doesn't sell recruits on college education," he said. "They sell them on becoming a warrior. Even in the 'Army of One' ads, you will notice that they always focus on Army technology, like cool tanks and helicopters. The quintessential Marine ad is the one where a young guy fights a dragon, and as he sheathes his sword, he morphs into a Marine in dress blues. In the Marine Corps, they really sort of sell you on the fantasy: 'You will improve yourself and become the ultimate warrior.' So I think you get a different type of person. People in the Army tend to be much more sort of institutionalized in their outlook. The paradox is the Marine Corps in their training initially brainwashes recruits much more heavily than the Army does. But in the end, I think individual Marines tend to absorb that brainwashing but then reemerge as very sort of individualistic characters."

As a consequence of that, Wright said, most Marines he came into contact with in Iraq and in subsequent visits to Oceanside want to be where the fighting is. Sergeant Kocher, for example, despite having a wife here and despite his arm being severely wounded when his Humvee exploded, is itching to get back to Iraq. For four days in June, Wright went to Oceanside to visit Kocher, Espera, and other Marines he spent time with in Iraq. His take on wartime Oceanside: "It is a company town. I felt like I was in a company town, and business was booming. Because all the Marines you talk to, they are really excited because they are getting deployments. I mean, Marines are really sort of schizophrenic about this. On the one hand, they always complain about being sent away for six months on floats, as they call them. But at the same time, there is a war going on, and a lot of them joined because they actually wanted to go to war. So they are very excited about that. And the other interesting thing is, the Marines who are getting out, a lot of them are getting these insanely lucrative job offers to work [in Iraq] for private security companies. When I was in Oceanside, we went to the Semper Fit gym on Camp Pendleton, and people were really excited about business. We went out to dinner to Applebees and some other restaurants, and everybody in these restaurants was a Marine. And a lot of people were talking about the deployments they are going on, the deployments they have been on, or about their buddies who got out of the Corps and now work for private security companies and how they are making, like, six-figure incomes. Some guys in the unit that I wrote about have gotten out, and they are making, like, $120,000 going back to Iraq and guarding hotels and stuff like that."

Wright added, "As a writer you are always thinking of stories you are going to do, even if you end up not doing them. Well, while I was there, I had this story in my mind, 'Oceanside: Business Is Booming.' " n

Next week: An excerpt from Generation Kill.

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