The Tribe by Johnny Atkins
One was less than a week from departing Iraq, his tour finished. The other was learning the ropes, arriving in Ramadi just a few days before.
While touring their assigned post, all hell broke loose. They stood their ground. They immediately recognized a threat and acted aggressively to counter it. They died with their boots on, weapons blazing, stopping the enemy and saving lives.
“Because That’s Where Marines Need To Be.” Period.
We are compelled to move to the sound of the thunder (as General Gray put it), and if there are Marines in a fight… well then by God, that’s where every good Marine wants to be, helping his brothers. Helping the Tribe. It’s not simply a matter of diving into every shootout, or accomplishing mundane yet necessary tasks like watchstanding or burning shitters, sitting on some FOB. It’s a matter of continually wanting to be there and do your best when and where you can, because you’re part of a Tribe that’s bigger than your self.
Those two fine Marines made an impression that day. Not only on our nation, or the legacy of the Corps, or on me personally (trust me – I’ve spent a bad, rough year in Ramadi myself). They made a difference where it counted: among one of their own. That they each were awarded the Navy Cross for their actions that day doesn’t matter – though it does affirm the uncommon valor of their actions. In plain language, that is simply what Marines are supposed to do!
Cpl. Nicholas G. Xiarhos, who was there in Ramadi that day – his own life saved by Yale and Haerter’s sacrifice – understood that, probably better than anyone. He bore witness to something profound and magnificent and admirable beyond description. There’s no justification in this comparison, but I like to imagine that Cpl Xiarhos, like myself, looked at the sacrifice and steadfastness of those two Marines and felt obliged to “move to the sound of the thunder” when his Tribe – his fellow Marines – needed more help, thousands of miles away.
Upon returning from Iraq, Xiarhos sought and was granted reassignment to Weapons Co., 2/8 , 2d Marine Division prior to their deployment to Garsmir Province in Afghanistan. He remembered what he saw in Ramadi, and still chose to get back into the fight instead of remaining stateside.
“Because That’s Where Marines Need To Be.”
I weep as I write this, having learned a short while ago of Cpl Xiarhos’ death on the 23rd of July this year after being struck by an IED during combat operations in Afghanistan.
Less than two months after he left on his third combat deployment, he was lain to rest near his Massachusetts home.
He was 21 years old.
I never knew any of these Marines or had the privilege of serving with them. Yet I could not be more heartbroken, nor more proud, for our Corps – and this new “Greatest Generation” – as I am right now.
When anyone asks “Where do we find men such as these,” I can look to my left and right, knowing the answer. The loss of Xiarhos, Yale, Haerter, and countless others makes my Tribe stronger.
For that, I am eternally grateful.