Garrett, USMC

I’m met an interesting character on the way back from my San Jose trip last week.

He was about 20 years old, a US Marine, and he was on leave to visit his family and girlfriend in Tacoma. I saw him in the San Jose airport – the particular variety of shaved head he sported could only mean one thing.

I mentioned it to him, and he laughed, and told me that he had signed up with the US Marine Corps about half a year ago. He had blown out his knee in his senior year in high school playing football, after he had received a scholarship offer from at least one reasonable-sized college. Since school was no longer a viable option, he joined the Marines.

He was idealistic: he knew that joining now was fairly atypical, while there’s a shooting war going on. But he felt that he should bear part of the burden. That’s something to be respected, I told him. Garrett knew this was an unusual, perhaps even an unpopular opinion, but you have to admire someone who believes in his convictions enough to potentially put himself in harm’s way.

Also, his father had been in the Navy – a signalman of all things, who spent the last 15 years of his career in various roles, being replaced, as Garrett told me, by people who could push buttons on a radio.

After basic, he attended – and is still attending – Arabic school. He’ll be in the school for another 9 months or so, learning to speak, read, and write Arabic from native speakers – some from Iraq. It’ll be a valuable skill even after he’s out of the Marines, Garrett said, citing a woman he knows who is now “making 6 figures” after leaving the Army after training and serving as a translator.

It’s an odd thing, but whenever you travel these days you’re bound to see more than a couple of young men in uniform (or obviously in civvies). I have to say I feel a little strange, perhaps even embarrassed, when I see these boys. They’re willing to fight, risk their lives, while behind them here in North America, millions of us are laughing, working, playing, earning, and otherwise “getting ahead.”

I hope they know that they are valued, and appreciated, and respected. I told Garrett as much, and told him that if he gets sent over to Iraq or Afghanistan to not be a hero.

Do your job. Help your buddies.

And especially, come home.