By Tim F.
My whole life, I’ve been a devoted United States citizen, Marine, husband, and father. As a citizen I felt my role was to serve in one way or another to support and even defend my country. I watched the twin towers fall when I was twelve years old. I remember I was getting ready for school when I crossed my parents’ door and saw my mother crying. She was glued to the small television, leaning forward and muscles tense. She was on the phone calling family, panicking about anyone of draft age in the family. At the time we all lived in California, far removed from ground zero. Being twelve at the time, the reality and consequences of what just happened were out of my mental grasp. Little did I know, seven years later I’d be enlisting in a Marine Corps entrenched in two separate wars with no end in sight . . .
I remember my drill instructors imparting a sense of admiration for us mere recruits. Obviously this was after the many hours if not months of holding that M16A2 by the front sight in our finger tips and other discipline-building “activities” (7.78 pounds feels real heavy after a while when fully extending and locking your arm while repeatedly singing the Marine Corps hymn). The admiration was born out of our decision to enlist into a corps with a deep and storied history of combat across the globe during a time of conflict. In particular, a conflict that was not popular by that time, and was a bloody struggle as our forces faced a ghostly enemy using guerrilla and terror tactics.
I remember the feeling of it really sinking in. It was towards the end of my time in boot camp, the struggle was almost behind me. In front of my platoon was the beginning of a dangerous career. Our senior drill instructor told us to look around, those friends we made in our struggle together might not live to see their families and friends grow old.
The world was a dangerous place, and we all volunteered and fought to be in harm’s way as the tip of the spear for American diplomacy. But even those that never fought and bled in places like Fallujah and Helmand understand that the danger doesn’t stop when that plane touches down inside the US after a combat deployment.
Even when walking around a secure forward operating base, you’re rarely ever disarmed. Even “persons other than grunts” are armed. Joint forces deployed to combat zones in the pacific fighting rebels are always armed. Even if it’s only an M9 on the hip to help when transitioning in and out of vehicles, the principle is the same. Every Marine a rifleman, that’s the creed that separates us.
The Marine Corps realized that there will be times when any Marine may see combat and trained us as such. The Marine Corps even recognizes troubles Marines may face when home. Just today I sat through the annual “hundred days of summer” safety stand down. Rip currents: check. Fireworks: check. Frying frozen turkeys: check. Hydration: check. A new class was even added about properly securing firearms in the house.
For all the emphasis on the potential risks during the summer, it seems personal protection was seemingly absent. We’re told to never travel in our uniforms as it paints us as a target. Though the usual new guy high-and-tight is a dead giveaway, too but there’s no rule against looking like a “boot” when traveling. But that’s pretty much it.
Every year I’ve heard about how we lose more Marines to motorcycles than to combat. The Marine Corps trained me to set up and run improvised firing ranges in foreign countries, the rules and regulations of making such a range, and how to train my brothers and sisters in effectively employing small arms up to 500 yards. Forward deployed, Marines are always armed and ready. It saves lives out there.
But why, and I emphasize why, am I disarmed coming on base where I live and work during the times I’m not deployed? It seems like such a capricious rule. Marines hold each other’s lives in their hands under the worst circumstances. Yet I can’t defend my own family on base if a terrible scenario does happen.
It’s already happened, from the shooting spree at the shipyard to “work place violence” at Fort Hood. As much as people who oppose my views just call me paranoid, we all know that it’s better to have and not need than to need and not have.
A personal scare for me happened just last week. My family and I were at the naval hospital on base in the emergency room (after some bone-headed shade tree mechanics went awry), when the PA system loudly squawked and announced a code silver. The announcement called that a large man in possession of a naval security badge was last seen in the emergency room and called for all duty sections to muster and lock down the hospital.
I quickly Google-fu’d a code silver on my phone to read, “A combative patient with a lethal weapon is on the loose.” I was in uniform with my three-year-old daughter and my wife. I saw supposed security personnel appear and disappear, yet the description given was a man with a security badge. I tried not to appear panicked as I continuously scanned the room. I remembered that I had a blade in my back pocket, which could help or could make things worse. Scenarios played in my head, where is the safest position to move my family to in this lockdown? How many avenues of approach are there into my area? My family has never felt more vulnerable. And I never felt more helpless.
Fortunately God answered my prayers and no one was hurt, the situation seemed to play itself out without incident. But I can’t help but feel how much safer we all would’ve been if this was an aid station forward deployed. A room full of Marines, guarding their families no less, should scare the daylights out of anyone meaning them harm, not be a room of potential targets and victims.
The state recognizes my ability to responsibly carry a weapon either concealed or openly, yet the Department of Defense would rather I leave my family’s lives in someone else’s hands, someone who may or may not be there when we need them. We as Marines take pride in our commitment to fight and die for each other in the gravest of circumstances, and as a husband and father, I wish I could do the same for my family. But I’m left defenseless on a base that’s home to an organization that calls itself the “gun club.”
I know not every military decision makes sense and I feel the federal government should let the Department of Defense solve its own issues and not use a magical wand and force changes that not all law makers may understand. But this issue needs to be addressed. The Navy shipyard shooting should have been a wakeup call to let us defend ourselves even when stateside. And Fort Hood should have done the same.
But those of us who defend our Constitution and act as the spear of diplomacy abroad are left targets where we should feel safest. And just as our very own hymn proudly proclaims that we have fought in every clime and place where we could take a gun, I now fight in a place where I cannot. And I fight to change that.