Good Advice(s)


If wisdom lies in learning from the experiences of others, then I am not particularly wise. My M.O. is more of a barely-learns-from-his-own-repeated-mistakes sort of thing.

But let’s start with the piece of advice I did take when my wife and I were expecting our first children: twins. We were talking to an older co-worker of mine whose twin boys were already on the other side of college. “Let me give you the most important advice about raising twins we learned early on.”

My wife and I had by then stopped blinking, and were probably both leaning toward him, E.F. Hutton commercial-style, waiting for the nugget of sagacity soon to anoint us both.

“Don’t try to be fair,” he said.

What? That’s it? What does that mean? Luckily for us, he elaborated. “Look, you will not always be able to do the same thing with each one, or give each one the same thing or attention all the time. So, from as soon as they understand what you’re saying, tell them, “yes, your sibling got it this time, but you’ll someday get something he/she doesn’t get, and it will all work out in the end, we promise.”

That not much sounding bit of counsel turned out to be genius. While it wasn’t bulletproof (because they were kids and they still complained), when they saw that what we said was true, it saved us what is surely an incalculable amount of grief.

Now, let us flash back to 12 years or so previous to that anecdote, to a time when I was still in my teens, in that golden and idyllic time where the vast, vast majority of young men my age are what scientists call morons. Not to brag or anything, but I’d like to think that I was just a bit dumber than that.

At 18, having just come from a meeting with a Marine recruiter, I told my father that I was going to pass on the contract to be a helicopter mechanic that I’d been on the verge of signing, and that instead I would bet on a device known as an “open contract:” a magical (as it was explained to me) document allowing me to choose from a veritable plethora of military occupational specialties (, and–here came the best part–I didn’t even have to choose one until I was almost all the way through recruit training! Imagine the possibilities: Marine Force Recon; Marine Super Ultra Force Recon (I’d be in the inaugural platoon); Marine Sniper; Marine Tanker; Marine Aide-de-Camp To the Commandant; Marine Guy Who Loads Tough Looking Ordinance On Attack Aircraft, But Gets To Use A Forklift So It’s Not That Hard A Job; Marine Marine (something to do with yachts, I was given to believe); and lastly, Marine Action Film Star. This last M.O.S. required an extra dose of youthful delusion, as I don’t even have a face for radio, as the old joke goes. Mine is more of a face for print.

My father, without even looking up from his dinner, said: “never trust a recruiter.”

But dad, I said, the Marines wouldn’t lie to me! The Few, the Proud, and I’m pretty sure I heard “trustworthy” in there somewhere.

“Don’t trust ’em.”

Months later, at the end of recruit training, the Senior Drill Instructor was finally announcing everyone’s, and we were all giddy with anticipation. Those recruits who were guaranteed contracts were a lot less giddy, though. Those chumps came in knowing already what their stupid jobs were to be. Even though my last name begins with a “C”, it seemed to take forever for them to get to me, since they were going by groups of occupations, rather than in alphabetical order. But some of the jobs sounded pretty good. One open contract guy got cartography, which probably surprised him more than the rest of us, since when I talked to him later, he said he didn’t even know the Corps had cartographers. And then they began reading off who got to be the 0311s, the Marine Infantry Riflemen, Backbone of the Corps. Well, it wasn’t Marine Action Film Star, but I’d be happy to be an 03, I thought. But they finished reading the names out, and mine wasn’t among them. Finally, my moment came.

“Campbell!”, Senior Drill Instructor Staff Sergeant Gaither said. “3381.” Ooh, that number is higher than 0311–much higher. Why it’s over three thousand higher! It must be something super exotic and exciting and involving a lot of John Rambo-style killing with large caliber weapons carried impractically on the hip! Awesome. Old Blood-n-Guts Campbell, they’ll call me. The bastard child somehow of Dan Daly and Chesty Puller, with Archibald Henderson as my godfather. I’ll be a legend. Just let me at those filthy enemies of America.

But then came disaster: “I like my eggs over-easy, Campbell. Food Service,” and he flipped the paperwork at me with some combination of boredom and contempt. The final count for the 20 of us who were open contract was something like 16 grunts, one (surprised) cartographer, and three cooks-to-be.

Fortunately for me, the denouement of this story was pretty good. I found I really liked being a cook, and even earned a meritorious promotion in my service school. Plus, when I got to that veritable cornucopia of single ladies, the Marine Barracks, U.S. Naval Station, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, I even got to be on a crew-served weapons team for the year. .50 caliber machine guns are really, really fun, folks. Still, the whole drama would’ve been avoided had I listened to my dad. Having had a choice in my fate would’ve been better than letting the personnel-assignment propellerheads of Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children choose for me. Fathers: sometimes, they know things. Who’d have thought it?

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  1. Clifford A. Brown Member
    Clifford A. Brown

    Skyler (View Comment):

    Mess cooks are WAY under-rated. Or, I should say “good” mess cooks.

    If you’ve ever been in the field for weeks or months and had a mess cook do it right, it’s the highlight of your day. I remember one who while in the field went out of his way to have a humorously decorated chalk board telling us what our meal was, and went out of his way to make sure the seating area was . . . well existing. Most times in a battalion you just eat on the ground and feel damned lucky you can. It’s the little things that make a difference, and often goes unrewarded.

    I get annoyed when people denigrate those support MOS’s, but those cooks are often in harms way as much as anyone in the battalion, but even that isn’t the standard.

    General Al Gray visited my squadron when we were in Iwakuni and he told us that he didn’t like the division of the Marines into “infantry” and “support” as is often done by the infantry. Every MOS and every unit supports the MEB/MEF commander, from cooks to aircraft mechanics to infantry.

    Agree all, from an Army perspective, and I would add that a mark of a great cook, from about E-3 up, is pride in really making the best of the available ingredients. Even if it is a big tray dunked in a big can of hot water (heated by a fuel-fired immersion heater), a good cook can do things, even it just means pulling out a spice rack and seasoning the opened tray. 

    This conversation is part of our Group Writing Series under the February 2020 Group Writing Theme: “Advice.” Stop by soon, our schedule and sign-up sheet awaits.

    Interested in Group Writing topics that came before? See the handy compendium of monthly themes. Check out links in the Group Writing Group. You can also join the group to get a notification when a new monthly theme is posted.

    • #31
  2. Victor Grant 1865 Coolidge
    Victor Grant 1865

    Archibald Campbell (View Comment):

    JoelB (View Comment):

    It gets tough when friends get into the mix and one sibling gets invited to a special event while the other does not. Equal is not always fair and fair is not always equal.

    ShaunaHunt (View Comment):

    I have two children, a boy and a girl. They are as different as can be! I tried to be fair, but it doesn’t work because their needs are so different. Good advice. Thanks for sharing it!

    I like the old line “We have three kids – one of each.”

    Man, is this ever true. We have three kids, and they are as different from each other as can be. It’s terrifying as a parent that you can raise them in exactly the same way, but you have less influence on the final outcome than you think.

    I was actually talking to a young family about this the other day. My mom had my oldest sister and two sets of twin boys, all within less than three years. We were all about the same age, raised in the same house, same parents, yet every single one of us is so different from each other. I read a book about birth order that seemed to resonate with a lot of truth. I am technically the youngest by 10 minutes, but have all the typical traits of the youngest. My oldest sister is definitely the over-achiever, person-pleaser, etc. The younger of the older set of twins and my older twin are both middle-children. The only aberration seemed to be my older brother, who considered himself the oldest male, so he was in charge. It definitely created a unique child-rearing environment. The other thing I found interesting is that my relationships with my siblings really haven’t changed since we were fairly young. You’d think as you mature and gain experience/perspective you would have closer/stronger relationships with your family, but, alas, the family dynamics are pretty much the same.

    • #32
  3. Victor Grant 1865 Coolidge
    Victor Grant 1865

    Archibald Campbell (View Comment):

    Victor Grant 1865 (View Comment):

    Wow, this hit home on two fronts; I was a twin and I was “open contract” when I left for Marine Corps boot camp. I can attest to the advice you got, because, even though we were twins, my brother and I were completely different. My “open contract” story ended a little differently because as I was interviewed by a major at the Military Enlistment Processing Center (MEPS) just before I went to the airport. He said, “so, how do you like the Marine Corps so far Private Smuckatelly?” Because I hadn’t received any training at that point, I told him I thought it sucked. He asked me my story of woe and I told him I had guaranteed computer operator and radio repair with enlistment bonuses, both of which were cancelled while I was on the delayed entry program. He was able to “hook me up” with a 6-year contract in aviation electronics with some incentives, but I could have easily been a cook had I said, “Marine Corps, good.” Fortunately, I was able to help my son navigate the Army recruiting process and get him IT and a $40,000 bonus; none of which the recruiter actually offered. I found out about these programs by searching online with my son before we went to the recruiter.

    That is great that you were able to get those things, both for you and your son. I served before the general public, at least, could really look anything up on a computer. And I’m not sure I ever talked to an officer during my enlistment process, other than a doctor, and maybe one who administered the oath of enlistment. One thing that did bother me about my lot was that I thought I did OK on the ASVAB, but either I didn’t, or the Corps just needed what it needed that month, and I didn’t score as well as cartographer guy, and maybe the grunts. But some things are best not dwelled upon.


    I have a feeling you probably did fine on the ASVAB and they just had certain jobs that needed to be filled that month.  It is amazing how that recruiter can change the entire course of your life based on their professional need to fill a certain boat-space in a certain month.

    • #33
  4. OkieSailor Member

    Arahant (View Comment):

    OkieSailor (View Comment):

    “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”

    ― Mark Twain If only we could all read and believe that earlier in life.

    Suspect that’s apocryphal. Twain’s father died when he was twelve.

    Twain was as much comedian as author, meaning he made stuff up a lot, in both occupations. He did have a way with words though.

    • #34
  5. Arahant Member

    Victor Grant 1865 (View Comment):
    The only aberration seemed to be my older brother, who considered himself the oldest male, so he was in charge.

    Frank Sulloway has written a bit about the subject. Since he was the eldest male, it’s expected, not an aberration.

    • #35
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