Since September 11th, routine deployments ceased to exist. Going to combat was a certainty, it was only a matter of what country and for how long one might be deployed. The Corps began to measure its deployment tempo using a “dwell time ratio” - a metric of how much time was spent overseas compared to at home training to deploy yet again. Some units got down to a 1:1 ratio. Many fared little better. Seven months in country would be rewarded with nine months back, during which the unit had to consolidate, reorganize, train, and get back into the fight. The heavy tempo takes a toll on the equipment, the Marines, and their families.
Civilians may think of the military as a well-oiled machine; certainly one that could predict when and where a Marine was to deploy with a certain amount of accuracy. However, this is rarely the case. Top level commanders, planners and force providers are juggle units around until the last moment in an effort to optimize the force. This yo-yo effect compounds the further down the chain of command one goes.
The Marine family is left wondering which night will be their last together. Family dinners are spent in quiet anxiety, fear, and sometimes dread. Couples fight and kids bicker. The family just wants to rip band-aid off and get on with life. Marines, however, are usually anxious to go. We look forward to the fight- to the game we spent so long training for. For the combat veterans, there is less excitement and more quiet contemplation. A stoic moment of reflection pondering just how many lives we have left.
Today’s packing and our last dinner reminded me of the deployment cycle that once felt so routine. We avoided conversation about the void that would be left in my absence; the summer scout camps, surf lessons, and retirement ceremonies I would miss. We were reminded of a time when we endured for a greater cause.
I am recreating that sense of purpose in my life. I spent time with fellow Marines today, and in typical grunt fashion, we allowed dark humor to mask any concerns. My buddies wanted to know when they could raid the tool chest, who had dibs on my Yeti cooler, and whether I should try to film the inevitable bear attack. Short answer- Absolutely! ....The patrol is about to leave the wire.
P.S. The bags are packed, the bike is boxed, my passport arrived just in time. I am concerned about the weight of my gear, especially all of the batteries for today’s modern “necessities”. It is said that when packing for an expedition, we tend to pack our fears. If that is true- I must be terrified of running out of hot coffee and gps batteries.