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n my juvenile life I always wanted to be a Marine. I grew up in a Marine Corps family and have been affiliated with Marines all of my life. I learned very early that grunts (infantry) are the backbone of the Marine Corps. Everything the Marine Corps has and does is geared towards the ground effort, for without the grunts, you will never hold ground you have fought so hard to achieve. As a teenager, I always talked to many co-workers and friends of my father (as he was an active duty Marine) about going 0311 (grunt) and I have ALWAYS heard the same thing... ..."WHY?"... I have always liked the outdoors. I liked the idea that the grunts were supported by the rest of the Corps and during the heated moments, glory and pride in victory was something envied by all others you care to share a war story with.
I went to Parris Island, SC, on a hot August in 1988, enlisted as a guaranteed 0311. Not a hard accomplishment if you know the whole recruiting system. One of the reasons other Marines tried to talk me out of the grunts is where my story begins.
After the Gulf war my unit reassembled as a boat unit (Coxswain Platoon) and went back home to Camp Lejeune, NC. There we trained extensively in special operations. This particular week we concentrated on the anti-drug effort on river operations. This week I found out exactly what being a grunt was all about. One thing to understand is that, as a grunt in the wilderness, you are never alone. In other words, you are always surrounded by nature.
On one particular night, we operated deep down Wallace Creek off of New River. In the south, a creek comes off a river and a creek usually dumps into a swamp. We went into that very area... swamp. As anyone knows, swamps are full of life (Yeah, I saw Return of the Jedi!). You have to understand -- like any other "normal" red blooded American -- I have a very formidable fear of reptiles. As we approached the main road (bridge) we shut off our engines and paddled up creek for another half mile where the swamp began. I will never forget how an alligator's eyes look when the moon reflects off of them. I saw an alligator and got really nervous.
Just about fifty feet from that sighting, we inserted the raid force and pulled out. We proceeded down creek about a quarter mile for our extract sight and tied off to some trees. Then another Marine and I were designated as the liaison for the raid force to lead back to the boats. We were in waist-deep swamp. Being the expedient "field Marine" that I was, I had the cuffs to the sleeves of my utilities rolled up twice (There's a reason for everything you do in the Marine Corps... The rule, "Keep sleeves down and buttoned?" I sure showed them).
I felt an itching sensation on my left shoulder and went to scratch only to find out that something was there causing the itch. I put the death grip on it and looking down at my hand in a panic I could see a tail of a snake bouncing about in a panic as well. I got lucky and had the head in my hand. Being the hardened manly sort that I am, I proceeded to scream like a banshee!
I remember seeing about 6 moonbeams (Marine term for flashlight) running towards me as I wedged myself up against a tree. Three guys were trying to assist and I would not let go. As two Marines forced my hands to pry away from the snake the third Marine grabbed what I was holding and snapped its neck. They made an incision on my utilities where the head was and pulled it out from the newly made hole (thank God for a clothing allowance) and displayed it before me. It was a 4 foot water moccasin.
Now I knew then what life in the grunts was like and what all my Dad's affiliates were trying to talk me out of. Still, I never had any regrets about being part of the backbone of the best in the world... The United States Marines.