Happy Veteran’s Birthday Marines, Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy

Ren and Stimpy - Happy Happy Joy Joy
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Happy Veteran's Birthday Marines, Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy

TL;DR  = This is a long ass rambling post about the meaning of Veteran’s Day to a veteran.

***NOTE*** Happy Happy Joy Joy, is a saying that I say often and it also happens to be the title of the Ren and Stimpy Story.

This post is a late post, I just had too much going on, during Veteran’s Day.

I apologize upfront for this being such a lengthy post. I got inspired by a post that blogger and Coastie veteran Shawn Boland wrote and wanted to give my take on what is veteran’s day.

I ran across Shawn’s post on Facebook one evening as I was sitting on the couch and I was mindlessly repeatedly swiping up on my phone. Shawn’s post was about his experiences in the Coast Guard, and it really resonated with me, and I could relate to it. He starts off talking about posting a photo of himself while he was on active duty and he said that every veteran seems to do this, but he is quick to point out that Veteran’s Day isn’t about the time you were on active duty, no, it is to basically celebrate that you are no longer in the military, you were one of the lucky ones that got through it and made it out alive. Wow, that is spot on, but I never really gave it much thought, after all each branch of the armed services has its own day.

Originally Veteran’s Day was known as Armistice Day, which was in remembrance of an Allied victory in World War I. In 1954, Congress amended the bill for Armistice Day, replacing Armistice with Veteran. Today, most civilians come to think that Veteran’s Day is the day that veterans get some freebies. I know I’m not one of those who runs from store to store and restaurant to restaurant collecting freebies for Vets on Veterans Day. Now, I’m in no way bashing the post that this Coastie wrote, nor am I bad-mouthing the military or those who collect the freebies, to each their own and there are over 16 million of us, and that is a whole lot of freebies, lol. I actually loved my time in the Marine Corps, and at times I miss it, and when I miss it, I really miss it. I miss the brotherhood, the friendships, and the comradery, I miss belonging to something that is bigger than myself.

Allies Armistice Day Celebration in Paris
Paris, November 1918 --- Yanks and Tommies celebrate the armistice. November 1918 - Image is Public Doman and part of the Imperial War Museum

Back to Veteran’s Day, how do you react when someone tells you Happy Veteran’s Day, when you know that there isn’t anything to be really happy about, with the exception that you survived? But you also know that there are dozens of friends that didn’t make it out unscathed. Some were simply a casualty of combat, those that succumbed to one illness or another, and then there are those that made it out, but they had way too many demons and they took their own lives after their military stint was over. How about those that came back, or got out and were so lost that they are now literally homeless and living on the streets, some 33,000 at last count? With so many veterans in sad shape, there isn’t anything to be happy about for most of us.

Another thing that many vets do for Veteran’s Day is to post photos of themselves, that were taken when they were on active duty. I usually skip the photo part myself, though I have a few cool photos. Somewhere there is a photo of me shooting a 50 cal on a range, as well as shooting a shotgun on another range. I’m sure someone took photos of us in a rowboat, hanging in the pond with the gators. Since I had a high-security clearance while I was on active duty and I worked in Sensitive Compartmented Information Facilities (SCIFs) pretty much the whole time, for that reason, there are not a ton of photos of me, in my day-to-day life, as cameras are not authorized inside SCIFs. Most of the cool photos were taken during the three years I was ‘swinging with the wing’ (stationed with the air wing). I have photos of me in a Humvee, some of me in a CUCV, and one of me chilling in the cockpit of an EA-6B Prowler. A bunch of me and my fellow Marines out in the town of Iwakuni, Japan, doing various stupid shit that Marines do, and little did I know now that back then, I was making memories. Of the five of us who often hung out, one has passed and I have no contact with another as his status is unknown.

Judy, the owner of Judy's bar on bar row outside MCAS Iwakuni
Judy, the owner of Judy's bar on bar row outside MCAS Iwakuni

Throughout my time in the Corps, there were handfuls of long, miserable sleepless nights, either being on barracks duty or SCIF watch all night and then working in the morning or spending the night, talking a fellow Marine down, after they received a Dear John letter or some other bad news. Or the night talking a drunk Marine down from the barracks roof, or a Marine that is so shitfaced drunk that I and another Marine had to literally carry him back to his barracks room, lay him on his side, and wedge pillows so he can’t roll onto his back and potentially choke to death on his own vomit, checking on him every 15 minutes. Or the time that a Marine found out that his wife not only cheated on him but pretty much sold everything that was his. My roommate nearly lost it when he found out that he had contracted a fairly rare disease. I was a good Marine, I had good scores for PT and made all my promotion marks, I was Marine of the Month / Quarter regularly and I was runner-up for Marine of the Year several times. I did what I was told and I worked hard to keep my nose clean or at least not get caught doing something wrong. I had been awarded the Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal three times, which means that I was really good at not getting caught, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t go unscathed, I did get caught a few times and took my punishment and moved on.

But this post isn’t about me as a Marine, but veterans in general. I really like what this Coastie posted, in fact, I liked it so much, that I’m borrowing a part of it for my post. A service member doesn’t become a Veteran until the thing has been done and they suddenly find themselves in a world that they are no longer quite appropriate for, having been broken down in boot camp, re-built and fashioned as a tool or a weapon and pointed at or applied to something. A Veteran is someone who was specifically shaped and mentally modified to fit as a cog into one single and specific point in an incredibly vast machine. When that meat cog wears out or finishes its term, it is removed from the machine and easily replaced by another meat cog. The problem is, what is a meat cog made for war or disaster or emergencies or enforcement to do in a world that does not necessarily need such a skill set or mentality? Feeling like a cog without a machine is fucked.

Boat Parade - Miami, Florida
Boat Parade in Miami, Florida

So many active duty service members find themselves being totally lost when they get out of the military. They find themselves, with no direction, nowhere to go, and for the first time in many years, not having someone telling them what to do and when to do it. Hell, as a prisoner, when you get out, you are often required to go to a halfway house to help integrate back into society. Britannica defines a halfway house as a place where people who have recently left prison, mental hospital, etc., can live until they are considered ready to live by themselves. But in the military, it is thank you for your service, now go use your killing skills for good in the world, lol. Like many service members, I joined the Marines right out of high school, leaving behind a girl that I loved and hoped to marry someday. But I had always had a dream about becoming a Marine and I was in a dead-end restaurant job and if I didn’t leave I would likely still be in some dead-end job that I don’t like, but it pays the bills. I served in a time that was mostly peaceful in the world, from March 1988 to  June 1998. I was a young LCpl (E-3) when Desert Storm kicked off, but the U.S. didn’t deploy too many Marines in my MOS and most of those that were deployed from my MOS (2631 – SIGINT), were deployed right off the bat, and they didn’t augment those Marine too often. Two Marines from my unit got deployed to Iraq, the rest of us did our jobs like nothing was going on. However, we did have to go through all the screening processes, which meant medical checks and plenty of injections. And for the record, I did indeed marry that girl that I left behind. Mrs. Average and I have been married for 35 years this year (2023).

As a veteran, we were trained to do certain things, like running towards the sound of gunfire, however, that isn’t a very useful concept in the real world. Like many of the recruits in my platoon in boot camp, we were looking to get away from home and start our Marine Corps lives, showing our parents that we are more than just a fuck-up that they always told us we were. We made sure that while we were on active duty, our loved ones knew that we were doing well and didn’t need them to come bail us out. I had been taught how to handle pretty much any situation, and I didn’t need my mommy to come to my rescue, though I love my mom very much.

But when we get out of the military we often find ourselves waking up that first morning and not knowing what to do. See, we spent so many years, ten in my case, with someone telling me what to do, what to wear, when to do it, and what to do after that. We were told when to use the restroom, where to run, and how fast to get there, but we had our freedom and we weren’t going to allow anything to screw that up. That first day outside of the Corps, I started to grow my goatee that I have had ever since, not shaving it off once. Why, because I could, it was mine and no one could tell me that I needed to shave it off, I was exercising my freedom and I loved it.

Being 54 years old now, I wish that I would have not done some of the things that I did. Today, I have bad feet, my knees are trashed and always in pain, locking up and grinding and popping when I flex them too much. My shoulder on the right side of my body is all sorts of jacked up, and I have some crud in my lungs that at times makes it difficult to breathe. Not to mention all the autoimmune disorders that I suffer from, which are very likely related to my time in the Corps, but not according to the Veteran Affairs (VA). I did things to my body, like pretty much any young male in their early 20’s, we were “young, dumb, and full of cum”, back then, and today, I’m paying for all those dumb choices. When you are young and told that you are nearly invincible (I had a SgtMaj who said we were made of Kevlar), you tend to throw your body into situations that you normally wouldn’t. Bootcamp is really nothing more than brainwashing and indoctrination into the cult. Add the Marine Corps into the mix and the stupid shit that we do or were made to do and you have a recipe for pain. Every time we deployed, it was pretty much SOP to have a seabag on your back and one on the front, or maybe an All-Purpose Lightweight Individual Carrying Equipment (ALICE) pack on the back, and a seabag in each hand. On the surface, it sounds like nothing, but you have 70-80 pounds in each hand and 50-60 or more on your back, and your back, shoulders, and knees are going to get damaged, the human frame is not meant to hold that much wait, at least not for long periods of time. Never mind the weight of a normal combat load for a Marine, often outweighs the Marine themselves.

Marine Corps issue ALICE Pack
Marine Corps issued All-Purpose Lightweight Individual Carrying Equipment (ALICE) Pack

We would load up in the hanger, and then take the 500-600 yards or more walk to the barracks, then up a flight or two of stairs, and with all that weight and you are asking for it. But you have to then add the fact that we are Marines, and we are “indestructible” then we don’t complain about what we just did to our body. Some 30 years later, my knees hurt all the time, they crack, pop, and swell at the slightest movement. The meniscus, which is the c-shaped pad of cartilage that acts like a shock absorber between your knee bones, was shredded to the point that it had to be removed. My right shoulder has what is called a winged scapula, which is likely from swinging too much weight on and off my shoulder. My feet are shot, one had a stress fracture from boot camp, and wearing combat boots pretty much every day all day, then these types of injuries will never heal. The combat boots of the 80s were not much better than those of the decades before and certainly not like the boots they have today, after wearing them all day, you wake up the next morning and often literally stuff your foot into the boot, and tie it as tight as you could which really helped with the pain.

We really never went to see the doctor, unless it was something serious. The Marines and Navy, have sick call hours, in the morning, where you could go if you were sick. The bad part is that if you had something like a head cold, or maybe a sinus infection and you felt like an ass, and you simply just wanted to recover for the day, you had no choice but to go to sick bay and see the doctor, that got you out of PT and maybe work for the day. The problem is that there are some Marines (all services have these) that are called “sick bay commandos”, which were those that went to sick bay on the regular. So many of us never or very rarely went to sick bay, and what does all that mean, you ask? Well, if you are actually sick, and you choose to just suck it up and tough it out, that is fine, until you are out of the military and working on your VA disability claims and you don’t have any records to make it ‘service-connected’. That is something I’m facing now, I can clearly remember the problems while I was on active duty, but without records, I’m screwed. And to make things worse, when I requested a copy of my records, I got back six freaking pages and they were all messed up and unreadable. If you were a “sick bay commando” it eventually pays off, go figure.

It seems that today, everything is PTSD and everyone has it. PTSD, wasn’t really talked about back then, it’s not that it didn’t exist, it was called other things, like “shell shot”, “combat fatigue” or “soldier fatigue”, and most people, simply thought that the person was crazy and working on a “section 8” (Army term, made popular by the TV series M*A*S*H). It has officially been called PTSD since the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual version 3 or DSM-3 was published in 1980. But it surely existed and it wasn’t, popular like it is today, solely caused by combat. Let me clarify this for a second. It seems like every civilian who had a hangnail, seems to claim that they have PTSD. But for those in the military, you were treated like you were looney toons.

M*A*S*H Cpl Klinger bucking for a section 8
M*A*S*H Cpl Klinger bucking for a section 8

In short, PTSD is anytime the brain can’t handle something, you kind of zone out with that “thousand-yard stare”. You actually are suffering from PTSD, and for some people it is short-lived, and for others, it can be a lifetime. My point is, if you served in the military, then you likely have some experiences that “Joe Civilian” might not be able to handle. It isn’t that those in the military have any special trait or skill to deal with it. It is part of the military culture, where it is weak if you talk about it or seek help, and it is also partly that some of us just get numb to all of the fucked up shit that goes on in the military, Everything from combat, to hazing (and yes, hazing existed back then and still goes on today), to sexual abuse to the high suicide rate in the military and with veterans. 

In order to be able to handle something like combat, you need to be able to compartmentalize things in your brain. As well as being able to just ignore some really bad shit. I can’t think of too many meals that I had in the chow hall while on active duty, that didn’t have some type of horrid story about blood and guts being told by someone at the table. It was just a cultural thing and I, like many others, never gave it a second thought.

What I’m saying here is that you don’t need to be in combat or have been in combat to suffer from PTSD. I was the barracks NCO on my second deployment to Japan, and during that six-month deployment, I had been exposed to some pretty fucked up things. Marines trying to kill themselves, like jumping off the roof or someone being so drunk ass shit-faced that I spent the night making sure they didn’t aspirate on their own vomit. I spent countless weekends helping and mentoring junior Marines. During my first deployment to Japan, my first roommate would sleep until after 12 noon on the weekends, so I asked to be moved, my second roommate found out that he had a serious medical condition and I was instrumental in keeping him from going off the deep end. He is my brother and I will have his back at all costs, period. At my final duty station I was an instructor and one morning for Company PT I was missing a Marine. You never want to be that Marine who has someone his not accounted for. I had to tell the Colonel that I had one student unaccounted for. The rest of the Company took off running and the Master Gunnery Sergeant held me back and asked me to explain. I told him that my student was supposed to be back from her weekend liberty, but never returned. I was told to find her, so I went back to the office and called the Provost Marshal’s office at her home duty station, and they went to look for her. I had to call the state police as well, because of her security clearance. I got a call back from the MPs at her home duty station that they found her and she was dead in the bathroom of her house on base. Yep, talk about a curveball, that one was way out in left field. I hot-footed it to my car and hunted down the Master Gunny and filled him in and then the real fun started. That one left a little mark on me, as I had known her before being her instructor, and she was my student for over two months. And my other students were all from the same unit that she was from, so there were some very emotional days going on dealing with all this. It wasn’t until later that I found out that the investigation turned up that she was murdered and all of my students and I all had to provide statements. I was teaching when the Chief Warrant Officer came into my class with four SPs (Shore Patrol, or Navy cops) and we were told to provide written statements and not to talk amongst ourselves, we were all pulled out individually to provide videotaped oral statements.

Sadly, the military seems to have a culture of sexual abuse towards women and when they report it, they are often given the run around while the perpetrator seems to just get away with it. I know of at least four such cases while I was in the Corps. In every case the victim was forced out of the Corps and the perpetrator was usually reassigned to a new duty station. I guess, kicking the victim out, is the Corps’ way of stopping it from happening, well at least to the victim while they are in the Corps. It is really shitty and the Corps still today looks the other way. Every one of those victims has PTSD today for sure.

I have been witness to some harsh hazing incidents that were taken way too far. And I’m sure that those who got taped up under the wing of an airplane and left there for several hours have some level of PTSD from that event. But the real problem is the suicide rates for both active duty and veterans. And the military simply looks the other way for some reason.

No two journeys in the military are the same, and that makes it hard for those who didn’t serve to understand what we are going through. You spend your early adult years in an institution that is not like anything thing else on the planet. Getting up at 0430 to go run 5 miles in the down pouring rain isn’t something that most civilians will do or understand. Most would simply say, that it is raining, why didn’t you just go back to bed or maybe they will just visit the gym that day, as if you actually had that as an option?

This part makes me laugh because there is always that “tough guy” in every crowd, who runs off at the mouth when you tell them that you got up at 0430 to run in the rain. They usually say something like, I would walk up to that Sgt who is telling you to do it and just kick his ass. These are the same asshats, who say that the first thing they will do in boot camp kicks their drill instructors’ asses. And my answer to that dumbass is always the same, “Sure you would”. You can walk up to your Drill Instructor and hit them in the mouth, and the next thing you will see is the bottom of his boot as he is smashing it into your face. Even if you managed to knock him or her out, they are very seldom alone (for a reason) and you will find your ass in the brig (jail) in no time fast. The military does not work that way, you simply just can’t get away with punching someone who is giving you a lawful order.

The military is a brotherhood (and sisterhood) that most from the outside just can’t seem to understand. I will give any sailor a ration of shit about anything and I mean anything, but if someone outside of the military attacks them, you best know that I have his or her back in a heartbeat and without question. Being a Marine, we are some arrogant sons of a bitches, and we will give anyone from another military service some major shit. But we are there when they need help. Back in the 90’s you could go to the local mall, and if you got into a fight, it was like Marines just came out of the woodwork to help a fellow Marine out.

Homer J Simpson appearing from the bushes
The Simpsons - Homer J Simpson appearing from the bushes

In a world before the internet, we lived for letters from home when deployed. During my first deployment, we didn’t have email, while during my second time, we had limited email connectivity, we had to dial into a BBS (Bulletin Board System), where you connected via dial-up and the BBS was basically a self-contained environment, that was not connected to anything outside of itself. However, during my first deployment, the BBS did not have any connections in Japan. But on my second deployment, we could connect to an access point in Japan and download any emails, to read offline, as you had to pay by the minute and it was very pricey overseas. You didn’t dare send any type of attachment via email, as you were connecting at such slow speeds that it would take upwards of 20-30 minutes to download a standard image of any decent quality. It was nothing at all like it is today with high-speed internet everywhere.

Having email meant that I no longer had to wait 7-10 days for a letter to get from the US to Japan. This usually helped with communication, but there were times that you called your loved one (my spouse in my case) and has some concern which was resolved over the phone, just to receive a letter in a week that is flaming hot with her being pissed at you for the same thing. This is why we always numbered our letters so we knew what order to read them.

And if waiting for a letter wasn’t enough, packages arrived twice a week and it was great going and picking up your mail and packages. Some bases had individual mailboxes for each military member and others handed out your mail as you were in a formation at the end of the day. But as I said, packages from home were something entirely different. Once my wife sent me a Christmas box, and customs opened it and unwrapped all the presents, leaving the paper in the box of course, and even opened my metal tin of Christmas cookies, leaving the damn lid off, and if that wasn’t enough, they opened up a dozen pouches of Kool-Aid, and the colored Kool-Aid powder made a huge mess in the box, staining everything, and to top it off, the damn cookies were stale by the time I got them. Customs could really be some assholes. I brought it up the SgtMaj, who talked with customs, who apologized, but little did that do me now. One time, my wife was sending me VHS video tapes of television shows, so me and my friends could watch some of our favorite shows. Back in the 90s, you had one TV channel and that was AFRTS (Armed Forces Radio and Television Service), or ‘A Farts’, which was a military TV channel, so videos and movies from home were a huge thing back then.

I have done some pretty cool things in the Corps, and I was just a ‘POG’ (Person Other than a Grunt). Being a POG didn’t bother me while I was on active duty, I always thought my job was important, and on many levels it was important. The Corps needs POGs, it needs “Beans, Bandages and Bullets” and it needs Intel, which is where I came in.

As ‘Joe Civilian’, I struggle with being a POG. While I was in the Corps, like I said I did some pretty cool things. I really loved flying in a helicopter and learned that I don’t have to worry when it is leaking hydraulic fluid, but I do need to worry when it stops leaking. It is not a joke, some of the birds that I road in, literally have 100MPH tape (Duct Tape) holding them together in spots, now that is scary. I learned how to repel while in the Corps and I got to repel from some pretty cool structures and heights, I really love repelling. I got to fly in a C-141 escorting classified cargo and being able to watch it refuel was bad as hell. But guarding classified cargo while being unarmed is a pointless concept.

I have been in several parades as part of the color guard, and I have been on the local news several times for being in a color guard. I watched the space shuttle launch at night from the rooftop of a listening post some 5 miles in the Everglades, now that was cool as hell. I also got to meet several Presidents while in the Corps. I got to have a two-week all-expenses paid tour of the National Security Agency (NSA) for being “Marine of the Year” runner-up. I got to learn and see some pretty badass things due to having a high-security clearance. I got to meet some really cool and nice people along the way too. I got to meet General Alfred M. Gray, who was the 29th Commandant of the Marine Corps (CMC), as well as the CMC when I joined the Corps, he was my kind of Marine. I got to meet SSgt Ronald Lee Ermey, a.k.a. ‘The Gunny’, (from Full Metal Jacket fame) who was a guest of honor at one of the Marine Corps balls that I attended. I got to watch the Navy Blue Angels Flight Demonstration Squadron perform almost daily during their off-season as well as see the inner workings of some rather impressive Navy ships. But I was just a POG, and never saw combat, so am I really a Marine? I mean I served in the Corps and that isn’t in question, but since I didn’t see combat, am I honestly a real Marine? That is a question that I struggle daily with, in fact, a fair number of years ago, I stopped wearing my Marine Corps hat and shirts that my family got me over the years. I stopped wearing them, not because I didn’t like them, not because I love wearing them, but because I stopped for a period of about 3 months because I struggled with being a Marine.

R Lee Ermey - The Gunny - Full Metal Jacket
R Lee Ermey - The Gunny - Full Metal Jacket - This Is My Rifle, This Is My Gun

I struggle with many things in life and most all center about me having been a Marine. In the Corps, we say ‘Once a Marine, Always a Marine’ and that is something we live by as well. But when you are no longer in the military, you are losing your purpose and for some veterans (22 a day) that is too much and they end up taking their own lives. A few years ago I lost a Marine that I served with and mentored, to suicide. That is why I troll Facebook, looking for Marines who need someone to talk to or need a helping hand. I try to be there for them. Like I said before it is a brotherhood/sisterhood. I got to hang out with some good Marines, like Scott, Randy, Mark, John, Lonnie, Nathan, Jerrilynn, Beetle, Dave, Robin, Bryan, Chris, Elliot, Greg, Robert, and Rob to name a few.

Most of us leave active duty and are so lost when we get out, that is why there are so many veterans in jobs like police and fire or as a commercial pilot. Those are skill sets that we learned, plus more importantly, it helps us with our insatiable need to help and give back to our community. It isn’t enough that we gave up 10 years of our lives for the military, we often get out and then give more of our life to helping those that need help. I seriously considered being a reserve police officer in Fredericksburg, but at the time, I knew I would struggle to pass their physical as I was having early complications with all my medical issues. I even thought about joining the Corps again, several times.

Another big thing for many veterans is envisioning themselves as radically different from what others see them as. I’m extremely guilty of this one, as I often think the world is looking down on me for some minor mistake that I made. It is like I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop and for good reason, I might add. I was raised in a household where the kids were blamed for everything that went wrong and then I joined the military, which is full of what is known as “Blue Falcons” or “Buddy Fuckers“. Blue Falcon is a person who will find a way to make themselves come out of any situation smelling like a rose, regardless of what they did or how they were involved. Basically, they will fuck you over in a heartbeat and do it with a smile.Bryan

Blue Falcon - Being A Buddy Is Just Half Of It - patch
Blue Falcon - Being A Buddy Is Just Half Of It - patch

As a veteran, I know that I just need to go and unfuck myself and things will be better, but I just can’t manage to get that last part completed. I always feel like I’m being looked at, being compared to, being judged. And from I have been able to gather from my fellow veterans that I work with, I’m not the only one in that boat.

Being a veteran is really about what happens after you get out of the military, I guess I will just say, “Happy you made it to the other side day.” Veteran’s Day isn’t a ‘Happy‘ day, period, and end of that story.

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Average Joe

Welcome to the Average Joe Weekly blog. This is basically my place on the web where I can help spread some of the knowledge that I have accumulated over the years. I served 10+ years in the Marine Corps on Active Duty, but that was some 25 years ago.


  • Average Joe

    Welcome to the Average Joe Weekly blog. This is basically my place on the web where I can help spread some of the knowledge that I have accumulated over the years. I served 10+ years in the Marine Corps on Active Duty, but that was some 25 years ago.

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By Average Joe

Welcome to the Average Joe Weekly blog. This is basically my place on the web where I can help spread some of the knowledge that I have accumulated over the years. I served 10+ years in the Marine Corps on Active Duty, but that was some 25 years ago.

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