I’d like to spend a little bit of time in today’s blog telling you about a Marine Brother who I spent the weekend remembering.
I met Chris in the spring of 2009 when I became the Commanding Officer (CO) of Battery M, 3d Battalion, 14th Marine Regiment. As background, an artillery battery typically has two platoons. One of the two platoons is called “Guns Platoon” and it is the platoon with all of the men who man the six M777 155mm cannons (Disclosure – there are no women in Artillery Batteries). They are a grand lot of men – unforgiving, fiercely competitive and feisty strong. They are a group of men who are not for the faint of heart or for those with sensitive ears – they are equally at ease slinging 100 pound projectiles over their shoulders as they are stringing together a strand of expletives that makes The Wolf of Wall Street seem as tame as the movie Frozen. And that’s when things are going smoothly… you should see them when they are mad.
Chris led these men for me, which brings me to my story. For those of you who know me, there is always a story, but this one is special.
When I arrived to take command of the battery (known as “Mike Battery” by most, but as “Mike Battalion” by a few who are in on the joke) there was a lot of turnover of personnel due to natural attrition after returning from a combat tour in Iraq. There was also the fact that I had to let some senior people go. By the time the weekend ended and we had our roster of who was staying, Guns Platoon had no one above the rank of Corporal, of which there were nine. To put that into perspective, a platoon is led by BOTH an officer and a senior non-commissioned officer who usually has about ten years of experience, of which I had neither remaining. It is unheard of for a Corporal to be in charge of a Guns Platoon.
I was the new CO. The first couple of days after taking command are pivotal – no one knows you and everyone is judging. Because Marines don’t like change and a new CO almost always brings change, things are dicey. After reviewing the status of the remaining platoon, I walked out to where they were gathered working to go over the options. The looks of the men all conveyed the obvious, “Oh man, here comes the new CO, this can’t be anything good…” and that was probably the clean version.
They work in an area called a Gun Park. This is a place where at the end of the day, the men are always dirty and the equipment is always glistening. It was around 1630 in Marine language, 4:30pm to most everyone else. I gathered up the nine Corporals and said “I just fired your Staff Sergeant and your Sergeant checked out, that leaves you nine Corporals as the senior men in the platoon. Which of you is the most senior?”
From the back row, a dirty greasy arm went into the air and Chris answered “I am sir.”
Chris turned to the remaining eight Corporals and, in a way only an artillery Corporal can string together a sentence (probably ten total words in length with seven F-bombs), told them all to get back to work.
From that moment on, Chris, with barely four years of experience led over 60 of the toughest men you could ever imagine through the remaining time of my command. I never replaced him with a senior Marine. To a man, the men he led were completely unforgiving – mistakes on the gunline kill in the blink of an eye. One oversight on his part would have led to horrible consequences. There is a video below where you can see some of the howitzers in action. You will see what I mean.
For the entire 2 ½ years that I had the honor of leading the Marines of Mike Battery, Chris was there. One year, our battery won a coveted Top Gun Award for the best battery in the Battalion. It’s only given out once a year. Pictured is Chris and I with the Top Gun plaque we won when he led Guns Platoon to victory that year. He was never without a big dip of Copenhagen as you can see in the picture. It was after the picture was taken he turned and told me “Sir, this is the proudest moment of my life.”
It was for me too, Chris.
Mike Battery legend has it that the Top Gun award was stolen under the cover of darkness from the headquarters building and was placed in his coffin, held in his arms. It was always his award, so I’m glad that the other Corporals he led made that daring raid on the headquarters building to ensure it would always stay with him. Leading your peers who share the same rank is the hardest task given to any Marine, and they revered him for his successes.
Chris left us on March 16th of 2012 and I think about him every day. Some of the guys visited him yesterday in Chattanooga, TN and I’m sorry I missed saying hi too.
While the language is nowhere near that of The Wolf of Wall Street, there are some “XYZ-bombs” in the link below, but if you have 5 minutes to spare to watch a video of the men of Mike Battery, please see the link below. Chris and I can be seen at 3:55.
If you recognize the guy plugging his ears at 2:55…well, yeah, I’m in there too. Bonus breakdancing is seen at 3:28. All the men you see in this video miss Chris very much.
As for a blog about the market, well, I think everyone who read this far will understand I just don’t feel like writing about that today.
I hope you remembered someone this weekend and if you care to raise one later this week to my friend Chris, he won’t mind it being a little late, I promise.
Semper Fidelis, Chris. Wherever you are, tell them you are The King of Battle – Rounds Complete, EOM, K.