This is the fourth post in an indefinite series. Everyone knows that 9/11 was the horrible mechanism that initiated our descent into a war fought by a small subset of Americans. But how well do you know the men and women who have joined the fight? Do you imagine they are wildly different from you? While 9/11 ties veterans together on a thin connective string, many more reasons drove us to join this war, and those are the ones that tie us to you. You can look in the mirror and know that a few sliding doors could have found you leaving home to wander off to the edges of the world with us. And you can see that these reasons are exactly what will help us inform a version of America we’ll all share together. These are stories about why we left to fight, and why you know us better than you think you do.
These are Charlie Moose’s Other Reasons.
Looking back, I was an impressionable kid searching for heroes that fit a mold set by my father; men who had been tested and challenged by life and always rose to the occasion. I grew up on a Marine Corps base in Hawaii. Our friends and their family all shared that same commonality. As third generation Italian- Americans, military service in my family was viewed as a traditional, patriotic endeavor that proved loyalty to the country that bestowed our freedoms, but not a necessity. My father never encouraged me to join the Marines, like he did at 17, nor did he wish it for me. In many ways he discouraged it. He had served two tours in Vietnam and saw no glory in its wastefulness. But in my father’s eyes, a man could never be a man without enduring suffering and hardship; while embracing it as his ultimate responsibility to shoulder (not discounting the hardships women face as well). To carry the burden of manhood, you not only needed to run the gauntlet of life, but thrive against the odds. I was never as tough as my dad, but I tried to be. Notwithstanding the fact that I grew up in a comfortable, middle class family with options and education, but to truly earn my father’s respect you had to suffer and face adversity head on with guts and grit. I had to find a way to measure up. I figured that a good place to start was at the bottom of the barrel; the lowest common denominator; the most hardened, vile, and insignificant being on the face of the earth, an enlisted buck private in the Marine Corps Infantry.
So, after graduating from the University of Central Florida at 24 (with a B.S. degree in Liberal Arts- literally BullShit), I joined the Marines in 2001. My family was proud of my choice to serve, while seemingly relinquishing a comfy alternative. For the first time, my father and I stood on even ground on the grinder at Parris Island as I graduated from Recruit Training. I was proud to carry on a 250 year tradition, the fifth man in my family to earn the title, Marine. Four months later, the towers fell in NYC and my world was at war. My purpose was reaffirmed. Before the Corps, I never had brothers or close friends that would put their back to the wall with me. I always fought my battles alone, suffering many a loss in silence. Alongside the brutality of infantry life, I discovered something that I had never truly known; camaraderie and brotherhood. We all shared the ubiquitous misery and earned each other’s respect. Many times, we were vulnerable to our egos and tried desperately to salvage every ounce of our pride. “The Few, The Proud, The Marines.”
Many people could not understand why, with a college degree, I wouldn’t go on to become an officer, with more money, respect, and privileges. That is exactly why I didn’t. I had this inclination to suffer in the trenches with the rest of the guys, who were all several years younger than me. This nagging itch on my character compelled me into the fray. I wanted every bit of that suffering to be earned and tattooed on my skin. I wanted people to look to me when gutsy decisions were imperative, and lives were on the line. I got my war and it was terrifying.
I was full of bravado; but I was scared of failure, especially amongst such fiercely competitive, alpha males. In late 2004, after two sea service deployments, my unit, First Battalion, Third Marines (Lava Dawgs) would find itself on the offensive in the most brutally contested city of the Iraq War, Fallujah. It was the second of several battles for control of the city and it became a main base of operations for Al-Qaeda in 2004. In the aftermath, my battalion lost 51 Marines during combat operations. The most defining moment for me in that whole experience, as there were too many to count, was when a helicopter from my company with 26 Marines, 1 Navy Corpsman, and 4 flight crew crashed in the western Iraqi desert. There were no survivors. January 26, 2005 remains the single deadliest day for American service members in the Iraq War. Four of the Marines that perished had children born during their deployment that they had never met; sons and daughters orphaned. We were flown to the farthest reaches of the Anbar Province to secure the first, free elections in Iraq in January of 2005. An election, that by all accounts, resulted in a complete failure to implement democracy in a country that had never known anything except dictatorship and tribal law for centuries. I hate to think that they died in vain and/ or were expendable to a futile cause to overthrow a regime and institute a democratic form of government to our satisfaction. That’s an imperialistic notion, but I digress.
In the end, my military service far exceeded my expectations in the sense that it showed me all the unspeakable barbarity of mankind. It clearly wiped away any innocence or naïveté that may have lingered in my early adult life. It forged bonds with guys that I hold more dearly than my own blood. I do not romanticize war or revel in loss, but I do cherish my own suffering. It’s what I sought out in the first place. Semper Fi Pop
Author Charlie Moose is a Marine Corps infantry veteran and published author. His book Lava Dawgs tells the story of his unit’s experience in Fallujah, and is a gripping read. He lives with his family in Florida and continues to write about his military experiences for other publications .