Almost one year ago, I attended my first ever Marine Corps Ball.
These events are extremely formal and center around the celebration of the birthday of the Marine Corps itself.
The ball I attended was held in San Clemente, California and marked the first “re-union” of Colin Archipley’s battle buddies from Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines. These are men who fought, among other places, in the Battle of Fallujah. Although not the only unit involved in this particular conflict, they were among the most involved.
The Battle of Fallujah epitomized the seeming impossibility of missions we ask our Marines to handle. About a year and half after our initial invasion, a group of violent resistance had integrated into one city—Fallujah—and the request of our Marines was that they drive, fly and walk into that city and do as little damage as possible to the buildings and its non-violent occupants, while confronting those hidden among them intent on killing Americans and Iraqis.
This is a job very few among us would ever consider especially after reviewing the rules of engagement that restricted air support, rifle caliber and other nasty bits of the Marine Corps arsenal. Our leaders were telling us this was a “nice” war, remember?
The Fallujah Pause
Our policy makers in Washington authorized the initiation of the conflict in the fall of 2004 during the Bush/Kerry election battle. The “go” order was quickly followed by an order to “pause” in place mid-invasion.
This is like asking someone to stand in the middle of your town’s busiest intersection and wait for a call with instructions on which way to go. After days in a position no Marine would normally hold for more than minutes, the “Fallujah Pause” ended with the decision to retract our invasion. Our Marines were asked to retreat after days of being shot at while stuck in neutral with no authorization to advance or retreat.
A few months later, “The Second Battle of Fallujah” was fought as a sort of “do over” of the previous invasion, “Fallujah Pause,” and retreat. Casualties for both sides were high and the battle is regarded as the bloodiest of the entire war. The bloodshed was certainly higher than it would have been without the “Fallujah Pause”.
What struck me about meeting these men, who hadn’t seen each other since leaving Iraq in 2006, was how young and strong and full of life they all were.
I thought about all of my personal issues with our past 10 years of war. The 1 percent who did the fighting on our behalf. The utter lack of mission clarity. The resulting recklessness and inconsistences of all the decisions surrounding the war.
Then I looked around and felt the utter lack of resentment among the very men on whose behalf I was battling on air and in conversations both public and private.
In fact it was Colin and Liz Perez , a Navy veteran who survived the bombing of the USS Cole, who showed me a much better use of the energy I had been wasting on raging against military policy decisions.
Their applied philosophy is simple. Use your time, passion, and power to help. Help to create a sustainable system of food, fuel and water…Help a friend move their couch…Help yourself get over the self righteous indignation of the sleights we all face.
Be useful, not resentful. This was the message of their actions as they worked to create a culture of unoffendablilty and comfort with uncertainty.
Perhaps only those who have faced death in such an intimate way can truly know the value of such concepts. Regardless, I’m thankful for the lessons these warriors have taught me and continue to teach others.