A VISIT TO TWENTY-NINE PALMS, MARINE BASE
On Friday, Sept.25, Along with my son and his wife and daughter, my wife and I set out for Twenty-Nines Palms, Calif. My grandson Jeremy, was just finishing up his five week desert warefare pre-deployment training. He had been in contact by text message with his father, my son, and indicated that he might be able to have visitors Friday evening. So as a group we planned to drive the 140 miles from L. A., in hopes it would be allowed. The plan was for us all to meet at a favorite restaurant at nine a.m. for breakfast. When we were all assembled my son told us that the grandson had just text-ed us that the unit would be working all day but his Sgt. said he might be released later for a few hours. The mother-in-law of my son had decided to join the trip, this made too many for one vehicle. Knowing that I am not yet driving since the stroke in April, and that my wife’s endurance is not great, the son volunteered to drive us in our car. The daughter-in-law his daughter and the other grandmother would follow in the other car.
So started a long day we were on the road about 11 a.m.. With the mandatory pit-stop in Banning, and getting fresh water, then back on the road. On to the turn off just past the Morongo Casino, and on to Yucca Valley. In Yucca valley my son who is a Harley rider had to make a stop at the Harley dealer-ship. I thought it was justto look at the bikes. But soon discovered he had made a brief stop earlier this year on a ride with his cousin and had not had the time to really enjoy the visit. The owner is a man of many adventures and has collected memorabilia from all over the world. He was also a WWII motorcycle dispatch rider. He had on display a WWII Harley like the one he had ridden in the Army complete with the Tommy-Gun in the scabbard on the forks. And people I know guns pretty well and it looked authentic.(maybe it has been rendered un-operable but it was real.) He had framed photos of himself and others in uniform and action from the area. He also had Photos of him and his bikes from all over the world. Even on from Nepal with his sportster suspended from the side of a elephant at a river crossing. The stop was enjoyable.
Then back to the vehicles and stops at several antique stores as a reward to the females for their reluctant Patience. Finally on to a unique Rib restaurant for a need replenishment of energy. What made the joint unique was in the larger dinning room the celling was a almost teak looking wood that flowed in large ripples it was really something to see.
Then back on the road for the last 29 miles to Twenty-Nine Palms. In town we hit another three or four antique stores and gassed up the vehicles so we would be ready for the trip home. I have to confess at this time I was getting pretty tired, getting in and out of the SUV is like work for me and I was wore out and had set out the last three stops. Finally about 5:30 the grandson texted his dad and said we could come in.
Stopping at the gate and checking in and providing registration and insurance on both vehicles we entered the base. It had been51 years since I had been on that huge sand box. His instructions said to travel to the first stoplight and turn left. On the way in we could see a sizable on base housing area, and we passed a sports field where very young dependents were being taught soccor. Making the left at the light we proceeded to get sight of the Marine part of the base.
Row upon row of concrete barracks were lined up of the right of the road. When I was on base in 1957 every thing was in metal buildings, all single story, and in a much smaller area. these buildings were all four story Hugh structures. and there were even four story parking buildings provided through out. These sat off of the road a ways and in between were large open sided garages with row after row of Abrams tanks, Light Armored Vehicles(LAV”s) and in another heavy 7 ton trucks with covered artillery pieces in tow, all lined up with perfect military precission After that came rows of hugh garages and repair shops. Finally we found our-selves past all sign of habitation just sand and a occasional weapons range or a set of bleachers for class instruction. The grandson had told us to travel to the end of the road approximately 5 miles.
finally the road came to a end at a secure facility of some kind with signs stating only authorised vehicles were permitted entry. A crisp young guard with side arm came out and asked us what we needed. after explaining, our son was told he could not help us, but that a area just behind and to the right of us was a training facility. Our grand son had told us to meet him in the front and the guard had no idea what he had meant about that.
So both vehicles backed up and turned around began to try to find the front of the place. We found a dirt turn off that seemed to lead to the area. finally finding what appeared to be a Pxwe asked some young Marines where the front of the place was and they were confused by the question, none knew of a front. Back tracking to the main road, we found another dirt road that seemed to lead into the complex. turning down the road we began to approach the buildings which were old Quonset huts like I remembered but the first two were unoccupied, with doors hanging aja rmissing some hinges. Once again I thought we were of course when My wife asked “is that Jeremy?” A young Marine was coming toward us with his rifle across his chest. I said “No that is probably a guard coming to chase us out.” She said, “No he has red hair!” It was indeed Jeremy and we were in the wrong place, Justdown from the PX was where he had meant. We had not been able to get him on the text because there was no coverage in the area, they had to move out of the area because there were jamming devices in use. The reason for that we learned was some of the vehicles were equipped with jammers to try to block cell phone signals used to detonate IED’s. If a vehicle still had its jammer on it closed down much of the area.
After a round of hug’s and greetings he wanted to move us closer to his hooch which was down from the PX where we had been. Climbing into the SUV with us he directed us back to the PX area so the women could go to the bathroom. On the way he pointed out one of the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles he had been training in (MRAP). This is a heavily armored personnel carrier that is supposed to be resistant to the Improvised Explosive Devices that kill and maim so many of our guys in the HMMWV (humve”s). It is a large armored truck that set’s high of the ground and has heavly armored bottom shaped much like a boat bottom the idea is to deflect the blast from the bottom to the sides. It has a capacity of 12 men. The Marine Corps has not nearly enough of them for service. While developed for the Marine Corps the other services have expressed interest in them also.
Jeremy got us situated then had to report back to his unit right away and said he would return. Upon leaving we soon saw him coming back with his best friend in the unit. He said his Sgt. told him to return and spend some time with his family. We later found out from his section leader that Jeremy was the only guy in the unit from the west coast. All the other guys were from the east coast. They said the other guys would have the chance to try to see their people upon their return to Camp LeJuine, in the following weeks.
Good God, the young man who was a Cpl. was 24 years old and looked sixteen, was married and has a baby on the way next April, and has been to Quate. He was very serious young man While Jer. was talking to the women he proceed to show and demonstrate his rifle a M16 Carbine. Same as the M16 but the stock slides in and the barrel is a couple inches shorter that the regular rifle. He is issued it because he is the TOW Missile gunner on one of the vehicles, which he proudly admitted he had never missed a target. He began to deliver a lecture, like you would give a recruit on the weapons capabilities. Rate of fire , range how it cycle’s and all. What I found interesting was when he showed me the sighting reticule of the scope, there is a little red “V” in there when it is on target that is where the bullet will go if fired then. after it became dark I was shown the night vision sight picture, Lord no wonder these kids are so deadly it is like green daylight at dusk. I saw it on the HBO mini series “Generation Kill” but thought it was just Hollywood.
While at the PX Jeremy’s Lt. came buy and was introduced to us and spoke to us for a short while reassuring us that Jer. was receiving the best training, and how good he was in his radio communication skills. Jer. told him that I was a old Marine when he introduced us and he thanked me for my service, as I did him for his. Jer also told him that I had participated in the Manhattan Project. I had to correct that that happened when I was about five. I was in the Operation Hood Test in 1957. We spoke briefly about that then he excused his self and left. I will say this this Lt. seemed to be very competent and I believe Jeremy will be in good hands with officers of this caliber in command.
As I said we spent a hour or so in the patio area of this Px. We saw numerous young men clad in their desert Cammi uniforms. Each of them had their rifles with them every where they went the firearm was with them, even when they went to the head (toilet for those of you not famiular with Marine Corps jargon).
Now here I get to make one of my side rambles. I subscribe to several Marine news lettersand, I have read stories by various non-military personnel, contractors and such in Iraq, and they state you never see a Marine without his weapon on his person, whither it be the head or the mess hall, the gun is there. I saw a special on Drew Carey and a bunch of comedians on a USO tour in Iraq, in one scene he was relaxing in a chair behind the stages or some where and three young female Marines were talking to them, wearing off duty clothing (looked like spandex bike shorts) and all three had their rifles slung across their backs.
These young men would approach the PX and there was a weapons check station. Each would approach it (a wooden frame with sand bags on three sides and insert the muzzle of their weapon and break it open to check the chamber to insure the weapon did not have a cartridge in the chamber. Then they would proceed on into the Px. All without fail were respectful and polite. Once again they were so young, but mature looking at the same time. I remember when I had just graduated boot camp in 1956 and were lined up waiting to board buses for Camp Pendelton the next day ( at that time graduation was not open to families and we did not get leave until we reached our duty stations). Anyway we were in formation by platoons, the whole battalion of us. At ease we could lookaround and it was the first time I could see us as a whole. Some four hundred of us in all. As I looked around all I could see was mostly 18-19 year old kids, and I thought good God this is what is defending our country! I had grown up with the WWII movies and there was one or two kids in with a bunch of men. I thought I would be the kid with the older guys to guide me. T’aint so Joe, us is all kids. Well it still looks much the same today, Thank Goodness for the Officer and NCO structure the Marine Corps has in place to lead and guide these young guys.
Well back to the visit withthe grandson. It was soon dark as only it can get in the desert. With the suns departure the temperature became more bearable. and we needed to move down the line of huts so Jeremy could check in with his Sgt.. He was soon back with a couple more friends. Soon his section leader joined us, a Sgt. who spent a good 15 to 20 minutes talking with us about what their mission to Afghanistan would be and the training he had received. In the course of talk I asked him about care packages we intended to send Jer while deployed. The Sgt. told us to send sugar cubes for the village elders, because they always start every meeting off with the serving of tea.
He told us of the very large Iraq, now Afghanistan village they have built out in the desert. It has traditional houses and shops and a Mosque. There are also destroyed buildings and burned and bombed vehicles in the street. The Marine corps hires Afghanistan nationals to serve as villager’s and elders. they inter-react with the Marines just like they would at home. Some play The elders who you must try to deal with for information and to interact with other villagers. You never look at a woman or speak to her without a mans permission. Sometimes the villagers riot. The Sgt. asked us to send small toys and clothing for 3-13 year olds. as gestures of good will he said they did not need to be new just in good condition. As to stuff for Jer. he said personal hygiene products soap, toothpaste and the such. As to food stuff he said any thing that did not spoi,l canned goods, he mentioned Ravioli as a example. said chocolate was prone to melt. He told of on unit due to supply mix ups who existed on Blueberry tarts for three days.
He said it would be winter season when they get over there, and the unit would be issued two pair of new boots, one cold weather gear. All in all he was very informative and gave Jeremy glowing reports as to his communication skills. Said Jer had been the back bone of the units radio utill just recently and they had finally got a new man in that area, and Jer was working to bring him up to speed. Then to Jer’s embarrassment he said he had a tendency to nod off while the vehicle is in motion. Said he will look over and see his head nodding and will say “—– you monitoring the radio? his head will snap up and say “yes Sgt.” My wife laughed and said he gets that from his grandpa and Dad they both can sleep anywhere. Then he told us that Jer. is good on the Machine gun. Said he did not have much trigger time, but all are familiarised with the gun on top of the vehicle, and Jer shows a natural ability to handle it. Didn’t tell him the kid grew up on the video games on the computer, had natural hand and eye coordinatetion, but was good to hear.
After the Sgt. took his leave, the vehicle driver came around and was introduced. By this time I had to retire to the vehicle as my feet were hurting so bad I could hardly stand. Jeremy went into his spiel on how much he was learning from this Sgt. and so forth. I laughed and asked this Sgt. if he thought Jer. was going to be able to wash all that brown off his nose. The guy laughed and said he didn’t know he was wondering the same thing. One thing never changes put two Marines together eve if one is 70 and out of uniform and the other is serving there is still a kinmanship that a civilian will never know. So here it is
When you decide to enlist, you can’t wait to get in.
When you get in, you can’t wait to get out.
When you get out, you wish you were back in.
There is few of us old farts who would not pick up a gun and stand beside one of these kids if the need arose. And thats a given fact, ask any old Marine you come across, they put something in us in boot camp that you cannot incise out.
To finish up this ramble, We had been seeing some of the big 7ton trucks these kids herd around in place of the old 2 1/2 ton duce and half we had. One pulled in to the compound across from where we were located. My son expressed amazement at its size, Jer. took off at a run and approached the driver, then called his dad over to see it. The driver climbed out, that is no bull the damn thing is so high you litterly climb in and out of it. I would have loved to see it, but was so wore out I did not make the effort. Just trying to get my left foot in and out of the back seat of the SUV was a chore. My son later told me the thing was huge . We have 19 and 20 year old kids driving these thing around, they are sitting up as high as a simi driver. Just a year ago they were maybe pleading for the keys to dads car. Hell these same kids are driving those Abrams tanks I saw parked row after row. On the way out off the base we wound up following two of the behemoths down the pitch black road. The bed sat so high of the ground our head lights did not reveal the forty of so Marines riding in the back, only when they turned off under a street light did we see them.
Well we had bid the grandson and buddy’s good bye, and finally exited the base. A stop at a McDonald’s and a pit stop and the long 2 1/2 + trip home was started. By the time we hit the populated areas it was late so traffic was light. We made it home a Two am. After taking care of our neglected cats who expressed their displeasure at being abonded for so long. I fell into bed with my badly swollen feet propped up. The son and family made the trip again the next day . As for me it took almost a week for me to recover.
But I am proud of my grandson and all the Marines, and all the other services as well who serve and sacrifice for us. May who ever you pray to look after them all and protect them for us.
OK my final rambel
I got a phone call the other night about 9pm some volunteer wanting to take a political survey. I cut him off and said you just listen and draw your own conclusions.
I’m a 70 year old Marine, I fly the American and Marine Corps Flag from the front of my house every day. I remove my hat and place my hand over my heart when the flag passes by. I stand at attention for the National Anthem. I am proud to be American, Now you figure out how you think I am going to vote! and hung up.
and like Porky Pig used to say
ththththat’s all folks.