Blick unter Deck. Robert, Zweiter von Vorne, spielt.
The mission of these Marine Expeditionary Units is to act as something of a foreign policy ambulance – they float near the world’s hot spots and are ready to act whenever trouble arises. This could mean providing earthquake and tsunami relief, or the mission might involve racing ashore to help out in combat. Sometimes, after diplomatic dustups, Uncle Sam shows his annoyance by parking a Marine Expeditionary Unit off a country’s coast.
“It’s a constant state of unknown,” said Robert’s executive officer, first Lt. Austin Adams. ‘We don’t know what we’re doing or where we’re going. We’ve got to watch the news to find out.”
Luckily, a deployment with a Marine Expeditionary Unit also typically includes frequent stops in ports, where the Marines blow off steam and combat pay on $12 burgers and $8 mugs of beer at the closest American-style bar (Hardrock Cafes can be found almost anywhere). During a shore leave late last year, one of the lance corporals spent $1,000 – about a half week’s pay in a combat zone -- in a single night at the Hardrock Café in Manama, Bahrain.
The visits ashore are rare. Mostly, the Marines just train and wait for a crisis. Adams said they all struggle to remain focused on the importance of their work.
“Everybody joins the Marines to fight,” Adams said. “We all hope for a real world contingency. It doesn’t matter what it is. We really want to be able to put out skills to use. We’ve got a lot of sweat and blood into this.”
With the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan now entering their sixth years – and with more than 4,000 U.S. service members dead – the young Americans who volunteer for the military do so knowing they are joining a tough fight. This is especially true for Marines, Adams said. Of the four military branches, the Marines are the smallest and arguably the most likely to be sent to combat.
“After 9/11 the guys are all focused,” Adams said. “They want to go fight for their country. What’s getting hard for them to realize is for the most part, the fighting is over. The big gun battles are over. Now, it’s nation building. Now, it’s just the rebuilding.”
50 Männer teilen sich eine Toilette - mehr zum Leben auf der U.S.S. Germantown auf der nächsten Seite.
Robert knows his tour with the Marine Expeditionary Unit is important. But he and his brother joined because they believed their bravery would help make the country they love a safer place, not unlike their Marine heroes did during World War II.
The nearest Robert came to seeing combat was in January and February when he was training in Kuwait – he has spent most of his deployment stuck inside his small, smelly room inside the Germantown’s hull. His platoon’s space is about as large as a typical American motel room. It would be comfortable, perhaps for a single night for four tired travelers. But the room has become quite small for Robert and for his 25 platoon mates.
Robert’s private refuge aboard this ship has been his bed. He has been assigned to bunk number 23. There is another bed above him and one below. In between the triple-stacked bunks are small patches of floor, which vibrates from the ship’s massive, 34,000-horsepower diesel motors.
The room reeks of sweaty boots, dusty canvas and mint chewing tobacco. But it smells like a perfume shop compared to the bathroom across the hallway. The toilet is shared by at least 50 men. At any given time during my weeklong visit, at least half the toilets were plugged and overflowing. They are all messy – aiming is difficult when the ship is being rocked by high waves.
Stinky and small as the quarters can become – picture 26 men sharing a single-bedroom apartment -- the Marines managed to make a home there. Most of the men have their own laptops, which are jammed with enough gigabytes of action movies and pornography to show a different film every minute of their seven month tours. Sometimes, the men gathered to watch movies on a 42-inch plasma screen television carried onto the ship by one of their compatriots.
One evening, they watched the newest Sylvester Stallone “Rambo,” movie, which entailed Stallone traveling through hostile territory in Burma to rescue Christian missionaries. Like other Rambo movies, this one included lots of battle scenes. This made the Marines very happy.
“Shrapnel and blood and bodies,” Robert said, shortly after the movie ended. A wad of chewing tobacco bulged from his smile.
One of Robert’s platoon mates and close friends, Lance Cpl. Roy Aeschlimann, of Georgia, nodded in agreement. “It was just an all around good movie.”
“I’m watching it again,” Robert declared.
The shelves in the platoon’s berthing area are loaded with junk food, beef jerky, popcorn (one Marine received 13 cases of microwave popcorn for Christmas), vats of body-building protein powder and candy. There are bags and bags of candy: toffee, chewing gum, chocolates, suckers and licorice. Each mail call has the Marines resupplied with countless pounds of additional sweets from home. They appreciate the gesture – especially when the candy and cookies are accompanied by letters and photographs -- but the men also complain that all the sugar only makes them go even more stir crazy in their limited quarters.
Robert enjoys the beef jerky and chewing tobacco, but he avoids the candy. Candy makes it hard for him to enjoy his favorite pasttime aboard ship: sleeping. Whenever he has more than an hour off between training or formation, Robert tries to catch a nap.
“If you think about it, if you sleep 12 hours a day, you sleep away half your deployment,” he said.
Boom! Du bist tot! / Die Einführungsgeschichte auf der jetzt.de-Printseite in der Süddeutschen Zeitung.
We`re in the wild, wild West / Teil 1 der Irak-Kolumne auf jetzt.deText: james-hagengruber - Foto: Brian Plonka