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When Tom (not his real name) decided to enlist with the United States Marine Corps in 2008, he had been renting a bedroom in his older sister’s El Cajon home for over a year. His room was wedged between his three-year-old and seven-year-old nephews’ bedrooms. At the time, he was 27 and out of work. It had been over four months since he had been laid off from his job at Fry’s Electronics in Murphy Canyon. He attempted to land a job as a Border Patrol agent. He passed all the tests but missed a paperwork submission deadline. He didn’t get the job. He was frustrated.

The way Tom saw it, joining the Marines was his best option. He viewed it as a way of getting his foot in the door to eventually land a law-enforcement job. That was, after all, where he wanted his life to head. His brother had served in the Army for nearly a decade and is now a cop with the San Diego Police Department. Tom picked the Marines specifically because of their reputation of being the toughest military branch.

He walked into the Marines’ recruiting office on East Main Avenue in El Cajon and signed up. He didn’t hesitate, he just did it.

“The recruiter loved me because I was the right age, I didn’t have any tattoos, have never done drugs, and I have a high school diploma. He didn’t have to try to convince me. My mind was already set.”

Tom’s mom Rita (not her real name) wasn’t happy when she learned that her son had joined the Corps. He had tossed the idea around with her, but she hadn’t realized he was serious. It came as a bit of a shock.

“I was worried,” she tells me.

“I wasn’t,” says Tom’s father Jim (also not his real name). “I think being a Marine is good for young men.”

Now, Tom’s mom has a SEMPER FI bumper sticker on the back of her Toyota Tacoma. When I last spoke with her, she had just returned from a ceremony honoring five men in Tom’s battalion who lost their lives during her son’s most recent deployment. While sitting in the bleachers at Twentynine Palms, one of the other mothers leaned over and whispered, “We are so lucky that our sons came home alive.” This rattled Rita: there was a heavy truth in that statement.

While Tom was gone on his last deployment, Rita watched the news constantly. If she heard about an explosion in the province where Tom was deployed, she imagined the worst. She would scour the internet for information. She even joined a Marine-mom website where other mothers exchanged information. The way Rita saw it, the more knowledge, the better.

“In the first three months of Tom’s last deployment I worried all the time,” she says. “It got to the point where I started getting sick. I used to cry really easily. Finally, I decided that I had to give it over to God. I had no control over the situation. That’s when I calmed down and relaxed about him being over there.”

She asked her congregation to pray for Tom.

Tom’s dad was of the opposite mindset. “I never worried about him. What good is worrying going to do? Besides, nothing bad ever seems to happen to people I know.”

During Tom’s first deployment to Afghanistan, his parents heard from him constantly. “I would look at my phone and there was Tom, instant-messaging me on Facebook,” Rita says. “He would send us email updates. It made it easier.”

“But this last deployment was different,” Jim says. “There was a lot more action. We heard from him less.”

Tom’s Facebook page lists his hobbies as: “Dodging bullets.”

Activities: “Shooting people with guns, and being shot at by people with guns.”

Tom writes: “Joining the United States Marine Corps…good initiative, bad judgment. Because doing something that makes sense, well…just doesn’t make sense.”

Tom was one of the older guys during his three-month boot camp at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego. He feels he was able to see through some of the mind games they played on the recruits.

“The worst part was three months [of] having angry men telling you what to do, when to do it, every second of every day, except when we were asleep. I knew it wasn’t gonna last forever, but it sucked at the time.”

Because of activist groups putting pressure on the military, Tom says that there are now restrictions on the way drill instructors deal with recruits. For instance, recruits are required to get a minimum of at least six hours of sleep each night; drill instructors are not allowed to touch the recruits; they cannot swear; recruits have to have three meals a day; and they are allowed to shower.

“Basically, these groups put their noses in what the military does. Because of them, the Marine Corps’ new recruits aren’t as tough as the old ones.

“Showering was the worst,” he says. “There would usually be two, sometimes three, guys per shower head. The drill instructor would command us to wet our left arm, turn off the water, lather up, turn back on the water, and rinse. That’s how we showered. It was annoying. Everything during the recruit training was timed like that, even eating.”

When the recruits used port-a-johns, drill instructors would shake them from the outside.

“Because of this, we would look around before getting into one. We would try to run in before anyone could see us going into it.”

Tom’s four-year contract with the Marines is up in April 2012, at which point he’ll do four years of reserve duty. He was deployed twice, both times in Afghanistan.

During his first deployment, from late 2009 until early 2010, Tom was a driver. He and his crew had the task of making the Marines’ presence known. They would do armored patrols, confirming to civilians and Taliban that they were there.

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Javajoe25 March 18, 2012 @ 5:20 p.m.

Oh, Tom will be scanning for IED's for awhile. Then he'll start scanning for some justification for what he went through; something that will show him the lives he saw lost and the lives he took and the risk of his own life was all worth while. But Tom won't find it.

Maybe Tom will become an upstanding citizen and a proud Veteran of the military. Or, maybe Tom will not feel so good about the people that were killed and the puzzling explanations the counselors give him, and just maybe Tom will develop problems. Problems that result in alcoholism or drug abuse or all out mental instability and maybe Tom will decide to kill some more people because he is so upset about what has become apparent to him: he was used. He and a lot of others were used as expendable material on behalf of who-the-hell-knows what. Just like in Iraq, and just like in Vietnam--we were told we had to kill these people; that the communists had to be stopped. This boogie-man or that boogie-man, has got to be stopped or they'll destroy our way of life!

And then you find out that maybe they don't. Maybe the communists aren't so bad after all and in fact, maybe we should just put them on the "Most Favored Nations" trading list and do lots of business with those wonderful folks who we had to kill or be killed by. Because the fact of the matter is, it's all business and poor Tom and thousands like him will be killed and slaughtered and have their lives turned completely upside down, and families will be shattered and children will be fatherless and now, motherless; mothers and fathers will become childless--all in the cause of big business; Big Important Business.

But always under the flag; under the red, white, and blue. It's your patriotic duty, Tom. You've seen the movies. You have to serve; it's the right thing to do. And the benefits are wonderful. Just try not to think about it too much. Try not to remember those faces and those mangled bodies and don't think about the fact that it really was all a bunch of bullshit. And the ones who will really benefit will never be there with you. They're out on their yachts; putting away on the green. There's no mangled bodies on the seventh hole, Tom. That's for you to deal with. That's for vets like you and me to wonder about. What was it all for, Tom? What did they have us do? How could we have been so goddamn stupid?

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SurfPuppy619 March 19, 2012 @ 9:40 p.m.

javajoe, that was intense, if you wrote that you are one of the smartest persons I have ever come across.

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Robert Hagen March 19, 2012 @ 9:43 p.m.

I'm in favor of a quick move out on Afghanistan, and I'm comfortable saying that in view of the many remarks of others.

I don't want to dump the troops, though, and I fear that is what may happen, as the power cores you referenced sweep events out of the public eye.

There are legal issues here too, which have been long belayed, and actually continue to accumulate.

I'm just like you man, I want a soft landing and return to yesteryear, but it doesn't look like the hand that's been dealt, and I don't have anything else going for me, so I say

'Great- we're honestly discussing the situation that be fronts us.'

Maybe the situation resembles the 1960s in the sense that the Feds are clearly worried about people telling them to go f themselves, but it's a lot more fluid and dynamic and prospects exist in 2012.

I'm a proud Democrat, I intend to support Obama to the fullest, and I'm a died in the wool progressive. My thing is really green, sustainable economic environments.

That said, I understand that what's called the war on terror has become something that merits discussion. Real, sincere, honest, non fearful discussion. Maybe we've come to a better place on this. As an American, my bias is to simply bring the boys home where they belong, and then let the chips fall where they may. I'm not an expert, nor privy to the inner workings of what the Pentagon has previously labelled 'the long war'.............

What I've found, JavaJoe25 is that the situation is increasingly complicated, and I want to reverse that trend. Also, I'n happy to be back on Reader web site:)))))))))):))))))) :)

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Javajoe25 March 19, 2012 @ 11:44 p.m.

If you meant that, then thank you Surfpup. I wrote it alright.

Could have written a lot more. Makes me mad to see what is going down. Young (and old) lives being wasted again. These military folks will come home and the magnitude of what they just went through will start to sink in, and that's when it will hit them. Hopefully, they will cope, but if you look at cases like the guy who is up on charges for shooting a bunch of civilians in Afghanistan for no apparent reason, it starts to become clear that this is not 1945 and this is not as clear cut as WWII was.

I also think things have changed a lot since WWII and the young people going over to these war zones now are considerably more sensitive (you could say civilized), in spite of the intense training they go through, and when they experience the insanity that killing others requires, they don't quite get back to being themselves when they come home. It's a weird thing about being in a war; it's very hard to describe because it is like nothing else you've ever known. And it's hard for someone who hasn't gone through it to understand and appreciate what it is like because..well, it's just so far from anything that they might know.

But what bugs me the most about all this is that we are once again left with the question of what is this war being fought for? Bin Laden is dead and most of his crew were from Saudi Arabia--a so-called friendly. Most of the current Taliban are people who signed up because they are pissed at us because we killed friends or family. And we probably killed them by mistake! You have no idea how many people get killed by mistake in a war zone.

It's just a real mess and nothing that can be called a victory in any shape or form is in sight and so we will have to tuck out tails between our legs again and exit as gracelessly as we did in Nam and then pay a couple of hundred billion to clean up the mess and the only people who are going to benefit are the same bastards who make out well with every war: the munitions guys; the contractors; the oil companies and every other bloodsucking pig bastard who could care less if their money comes home soaked in blood. The red can run forever just as long as the green keeps coming home. This is why this country has become such a disgrace in the eyes of so many in this world. We've become a country that apparently can only thrive on death. Isn't that just Jim fricken dandy?

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David Dodd March 20, 2012 @ 1:38 a.m.

I also thought your original comment was well-meant. I don't necessarily see it the same way you do, but I understand. I think the problem is with the politics of war. I don't think there should be any.

My son did two tours in Iraq. I saw it change him. But he's okay, he's the same kid he was before he went in, now he's just 6 years smarter. And he lost pals there. And it sucked.

The worst part was having to try and explain how the Army works to his mother. He's over there in some hellish desert and meanwhile she's reading about soldiers being tried for killing people there. That's what soldiers are trained to do. They are not there to throw picnics. There is no such thing an an innocent person getting killed in a war. They're either all innocent or none of them are.

I'm sure I never was able to explain that point adequately to her.

I don't know much about waging war, I never served. I would have, if there would have been a war, but there wasn't one, Vietnam was over and by the time Iraq happened I was too old. But what I can't understand, and I never will, is why when the U.S. decides to wage war it doesn't really wage war anymore. I would rather them not wage it at all, but if they feel they must, it isn't fair to send our boys and girls into harm's way and make rules about what they can and can't shoot at.

That's not war, it's suicide.

I thought about that every minute my son was over there. I never shared it with his mother. I can't imagine how any parent feels if they lose a child in that situation. I'm glad I didn't lose mine. I don't think I could have found the words to try and explain that to his mother.

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Javajoe25 March 20, 2012 @ 11:21 a.m.

Refried: I hear that. Glad your boy made it home okay. Hopefully, he will be able to just file those memories in the back of his head somewhere. The problems start when they can't. And of course that nagging question of "why?" Why did his buddies die? Why did we have to bomb those people? I think WWII was the last good war, if war can ever be considered good. The objectives were clear; the enemy was clear; all the soldiers wore uniforms. It was a lot easier to tell where things were at.

Now, the justifications are not clear; the enemy is undefined; and there are no permanent front lines or territory taken. When someone who has been through it, gets to thinking about these things, he starts to doubt who we are, and who he is, and what we stand for. Killing another human being is the most inhumane thing we are capable of. And regardless of how much you hate them, you can't help but realize they were probably somebody's boy too. It just goes against every fiber in your being to do such a thing; and it can stay with you.

The military has always been a fine and noble tradition; but those who direct them and those who send them off to fight, may not have such fine and noble intentions. We do have people in this country that will send our men and women off to die simply to improve their business prospects. They're able to file things in the back of their head too. I sometimes think this war business will not stop until it is our warriors themselves who say "enough." Enough with the killing; enough with the dead women and children. There just has to be another way to resolve our differences. I think this is why some countries have military coups, as much as we frown on such things. It's just that politicians can be more deadly than the military--especially when they are controlling them.

America is the greatest country in the world; but we have to get out of this business of death and destruction. We should not be the largest dispensers of arms in the world. We can, and have, lead the world in so many ways. Look at Microsoft; look at the Segway; look at the R&D going on in the medical professions. Surely we can lead when it comes to peaceful coexistence. Having the ability to kill people better than anyone else is not something we should be striving for. We can do so much better.

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Javajoe25 March 20, 2012 @ 4:16 p.m.

Diego, Did not mean to ignore your comments--they are most appreciated. As you said, the situation is complicated...and yes, welcome back.

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Robert Hagen March 27, 2012 @ 1:59 p.m.

Thanks Joe and hi RF G,

Im concerned too about the outworkings of the whole war on terror thing.

I mean Id like to see the boys come home, sooner rather than later.

Thats where Im at on it. I cant change things myself, but I hope to suitably influence public opinion. Im Occupy too.

It may cost me in the short run, but benefit me in the long run. But to be fake about it aa just isnt my style. Ill leave, dont get me wrong, but you know....

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