“Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everyone you meet” — General James “Mad Dog” Mattis, 2003
Let me start the reason I chose this quote for today with some personal background. I wasn’t raised in a military family, and other than a distant uncle who served four years in the Army and cousin who spent five years in the Air Force, I’ve never really known many people who served. But I’ve always loved and respected the military for the character, their discipline and most of all for their willingness to die for my freedom.
My wife and I have been blessed with two of the best boys anyone could ever dream of having (yes, my kids are better than yours). Our oldest turned 18 last month, a senior in high school. He’s always walked to the beat of a different drum, somehow becoming more conservative and even more patriotic than I am. At eight years old he would be watching Military History channel instead of whatever silly cartoons the other kids watched. He and his younger brother were, for a time, heavy into Airsoft. There’s a local facility that hosts pretty serious and intense Airsoft competitions, and at 12 and 13 he was out there leading groups that included older teens and a few adults. (To give you an idea of how serious, there’s former military and current police and SWAT officers that regularly attend.)
We’ve known for years of his intense interest in all things military. He’s fascinated by older military weapons. His first real gun (not including the .22 rifle) purchased when he was 14 years old was a 1943 Mosin-Nagant we picked up for $149. All he wanted for his 18th birthday was a Hungarian AK, which of course we purchased for him. When I asked him why not an AR, he said everyone has one.
Over the past couple of years, his talk of enlisting became more serious. He’s not the academic type, so college holds no interest to him. Earlier this year he was talking about enlisting in the Army with an Option 40 contract which gives him a shot at joining the 75th Ranger Regiment if he made it through Ranger Assessment and Selection Program. In our many conversations about his motivations for enlisting and his selection of branch and specialty, his desire has remained constant: he wants to be on the front line kicking in doors and shooting people.
As you can imagine, this was a tough fact for his Mom and me to process. And I’ve pushed him hard to make sure this desire isn’t born from some romantic notion of war while knowing he’s just not that kind of kid. He’s incredibly grounded and he’s always been more serious and mature than his friends. This is just the only thing he’s ever wanted to do; it’s his calling.
As the past six to nine months passed, he ruled out the 75th Rangers because he didn’t like the risk of something happening and being stuck in the “big Army.” He started working out with the Marines, and spent all summer, every morning five days a week, working out with a group hosted by the local Marine recruiting office. This has motivated me to learn a lot more about the Marines, to seek out and talk to Marines, and learn as much as I can to help guide him through this decision. I’ve talked with the recruiter, Sgt. Keating (who is all of 5’7” but could tear down a house with his bare hands) learning about the different MOS’s, basic training, and as much as I could pull from his brain. I’ve watched the videos of basic training, learned about the Crucible and all the while discussing and questioning my son to make sure this is really what he wants to do.
Last Thursday, the decision was made. He’s formally starting the process for delayed entry, and currently is scheduled to ship to MCRD San Diego next August. So we’re going through the medical background (have to have his elbow x-rayed again to show that the screw put in when he was seven doesn’t affect anything) and other initial paperwork. At the same time the reality of the decision is hitting my wife and me. This Thanksgiving and Christmas will likely be the last holidays we spend with him for a while. The next 10 months will go by quickly, and we need to make the most of this time.
All this being said, I’ve grown to appreciate Gen. Mattis in a way I never did before. My son thinks he’s a hero, and I agree. He’s a Marine’s Marine, an incredible leader of men who doesn’t sugar coat or use nice political speak when talking about fighting and defeating the enemy. And that quote, as much as many others, represents what our Marines are all about.
I’m still not sure about having a son who lives up to that quote, but I’m proud beyond words that he has chosen to.