Dear Mom, by Johnny Atkins
I know it’s been too long since I’ve written – just like always – but I wanted to make sure you know that I’m doing well and having a blast on yet another crazy, miserable, unpredictable and exciting deployment.
You’ve probably been a bit confused since I told you months ago that I was heading to Africa, but then I called you from Haiti. Surprise! We were in Greece two weeks ago, and now I’m sitting in Estonia trying not to freeze my nads off. This all might seem odd, but the Marine Corps has a history of sending us where we’re needed most at the drop of a hat, especially when we’re on a boat like this. It’s nothing new or unusual. Besides, you shouldn’t worry about me – I’m one of the few who was smart enough to actually pack my long johns and cold weather gear. I knew you’d kick my ass if I tried to go outside without a jacket in this weather!
This deployment has been pretty fun. This is the longest I’ve ever been on a ship, and the one we’re on isn’t so bad – even though it entered service a few years before I did. I know you always worry when I go somewhere, but it was probably a relief knowing I wasn’t going to be anywhere that people would shoot at me this time around. The most danger I faced was the possibility of damaged buildings falling over in Haiti, but don’t worry, we slept in tents the whole time. Not that a tent would stop a falling building from crushing us, of course. This also was only the second time anyone in our family has been to Africa, and that alone made it significant for me. It was even hotter than Iraq and twice as humid as Camp Lejeune, but I loved every minute of it.
Being a nurse, you’ll be pleased to know that I have eaten my weight in anti-malaria pills for the past five months. I also got to feed plantains to monkeys, and I saw birds that can swim, fish that can fly, and Spanish dolphins swimming and chirping right alongside the ship. I know they were Spanish because they said “Hola” when they jumped out of the water. I trained or worked with soldiers, commandos, and Marines from about a dozen different countries. The Marines form the US Embassy even brought kegs of beer out to our camp out in the middle of nowhere for St. Patrick’s Day! I think you’d be proud of how well I was able to do my job and take care of the Marines in my unit like they were family. I don’t think you’d be as proud of how I was able to chug an Irish Car Bomb in Spain after one of my fellow Staff Sergeants spiked it with tequila, but you’d love the entire leg of jamon I staggered back aboard the ship with later that night! You’d also be disappointed about the time I was wretched hungover in Ghana and projectile-puked pure water on the Marine sitting in front of me on the tour bus. The guy across the aisle from him thought it was a hilarious and impressive display of Marine marksmanship! I also learned the hard way that I am no longer the soccer player you love and remember from years ago when dad was stationed in Germany. Two or three matches against Ghanaian and Togo soldiers showed me very clearly that I am much older and slower now! Not only did they beat us in the World Cup, but mopped the field up with our asses too.
While I don’t have any real regrets from this deployment, the time away has caused me to miss a few things: Mother’s Day and half of Arsenal’s season. We recently held a Memorial Day ceremony here on the ship that you would have been touched by. I made a point to personally put together a soldier’s cross for display in front of the formation, and I was very careful and exacting to make sure it looked just right. Nobody noticed or even gave me credit for doing it and that’s the way it should be. I did it as a personal tribute to people I’ve never told you about. People like my friend Tony and the other four Marines I knew that didn’t come home. Other people I’ve heard stories about and respected all my life – John Basilone, Lance Sijan, Randy Shugart… literally millions of others. If anything could make up for missing a few of the things I did back home, it would be spending that day among hundreds of Marines & sailors who truly appreciate sacrifices made by those who’ve gone before us.
Right now is the toughest part of any deployment, in my experience: we’re less than three weeks from returning home, so that’s on everyone’s mind right now. I’m doing my best to stay focused on our mission every day and plan ahead for future tasks and requirements, but it does take some effort. If there’s ever a chance of something going horribly wrong, someone getting badly injured or severely punished through gross stupidity, it’s on the tail end of a long deployment. There has been some friction between those of us who’ve been on this tin can since January, and it shows. More and more frequently, I find myself wanting to walk up to one of the sailors loitering outside the ship’s store, punch them square in the mouth, and scream “It’s a PASSAGEWAY, not a “Standageway”, you dumb sonofabitch!” I’m also trying not to be distracted by daydreams of what I’ll do for the 4th of July, the work I need to do on the GTO, or how I’ll be ending the months of nonstop horniness… but it’s tough. I just know that nobody can stop time, and the day will come when I do finally get off the ramp of this rusty floating pickup truck once and for all.
I hope everything’s going well on your end. Tell everyone I send my best, and that we’re out here doing a great job and upholding the Marine Corps’ reputation as you’d expect in every way. I love you and I’ll be home soon.
Your favorite jarhead,