August student blogger of the month and former Marine Robert Maniak (3L) recently wrote a powerful, moving post called Rules of Engagement that appeared on this blog. This morning, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and ran that post as an opinion piece. Congratulations to Robert. Be sure to check out Robert’s other blog posts here, here, and here.
Afghanistan was hot. An almost indescribable amount of heat meant that you were constantly sweating as everything you wore became soaked, so that you were never truly dry. I was there in 2014 as part of, what we thought at the time, was the U.S.’s withdrawal from the country. The unit I was a part of had the impossible task of maintaining the operation of Camp Bastion’s flight line, providing all the logistics that kept the aircraft and crews happy, while also keeping them safe.
Contrary to public assumption, and most recruiting commercials, the U.S. Marine Corps isn’t made of just infantry and aircraft units. There is a whole ecosystem of support jobs which keep everything moving along. My job was one of the less glamorous, less flashy, less likely to be publicized ones. I maintained air conditioners and refrigerators. And the unit I was assigned to wasn’t all that exciting either. We were a support squadron of the aircraft squadrons. We did not have any aircraft to maintain. Rather, we were supplied all the less glamourous logistics for the units that did fly.
Part of that logistic support was security. After the disastrous 2012 attack which killed two Marines and destroyed millions of dollars of aircraft, the airfield, which was nested inside the larger base, was subject to increased security protocols, limiting access to only those who had business there. This meant that in addition to doing our daily jobs, like vehicle and heavy equipment maintenance, we would also be tasked to stand post at the entry points for the flight line or be on stand-by as a quick reaction force in the event that someone breached the base fence and made the one-kilometer trek to the flight line.
As you might have calculated, we returned to the U.S. on that Saturday that the world saw those crazy pictures at O’Hare after the President’s announcement to shut down the U.S. [Nothing like hearing from him that “no one from Europe” will be allowed back to the U.S. and taking 2 hours from 1:30 a.m.-3:30 a.m. to confirm that the rules were actually not applying to U.S. citizens nor to flights from Ireland!]
And the end of our trip was definitely informed by the fact that we were coming home to a world quite different from one we left. Our fun travel story included several long lines (luckily in Dublin for customs and not Chicago); a plane that finally took off with no luggage on it (!) since they couldn’t take the time to sort the bags between those who made it through customs and those who were detained; and then another 2 hour line at Aer Lingus to fill out a form to claim our bag! Now that we can confirm all bags have returned home and, more importantly, all participants have remained safe and healthy, I can comfortably say this was just another layer to our memorable trip. I am truly grateful that we were able to have this last trip before we all came home to lockdown.
This trip and experience provided an avenue to understand Irish culture in a way that few can.