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310 million Americans, 202,000 Marines. Remember those numbers.
Today is the 235th birthday of the Marine Corps. Happy Birthday Marines!
I want to thank you, active-duty Marines, for your service, for your deployments and for your future deployments. You retired Marines — your past service is part of the tradition and history being honored today. And let's not forget the families of our deployed Devil Dogs — the spouses, the parents, the fiancés and the children. America doesn't have a clue as to the sacrifice the families — especially the children — make during a Marine's deployment, so give them a big OOH-RAH!
This past weekend, the Marine Corps sponsored dozens of Birthday Balls throughout the United States and at every embassy overseas. These are formal occasions; the attire of the evening includes Mess dress, Blues, evening gowns and formal wear. That's the way it should be; this is the Birthday Ball. It's the day when Marines and their families throughout the world are attending celebrations and galas in honor of their Corps.
But it's important to remember that November 10 isn't necessarily a formal occasion. All over the country, fathers are taking their Marine sons or daughters out for the evening, or a son will be sure to take his old man out for a few drinks. You see, tradition isn't built on dining and dancing; it's built on the remembrance and recognition of those who came before you.
In many cases, being a Marine is a family tradition. There are many Birthday Balls where sons, daughters, fathers, mothers attend en masse — a family fire-team or a 155-mm gun crew, if you like — and they'll tell you that becoming a Marine was something they'd wanted to do since they were little.
It's hard to know what came first, the mystique of being a Marine, or the history and the traditions that built the mystique. Regardless, these young men and women grabbed it and never let go. Maybe they liked the way Dad carried himself, or maybe the stories of Tarawa, Chosin Reservoir, or Hué City resonated. Becoming a Marine was part of you, part of your reason for being.
Some careers come with their own lasting dignity: hard jobs like steel worker, policeman or Marine. Careers where by the end of the day I-beams have been produced, drug dealers arrested or villages cleared of insurgents. Careers where sweat, effort and dedication are considered more important than your grade point average or which fraternity you joined.
There is an unusual aspect to these jobs: those who have them look at life in moral instead of economic terms. Those who have them tend to ignore income levels, job titles and frequent flyer miles. Instead, they rank each other in terms of who can provide for their families or who has the courage to dash out into the street under fire to drag a wounded buddy to safety. I know you by the way you look me in the eye, and by the way you carry yourself.
So today is your day, whether at home or deployed. Be it at a formal dinner or in the dust and sand of those nasty FOBs in RC South-West, Marines will celebrate the birthday of the Corps with the oldest Marine cutting the cake for the youngest Marine.
Cutting and sharing the cake represents Marine tradition being passed on. The message is clear. "You are one of us. You are part of an organization that is older than the United States itself. The courage of your predecessors is part of your heritage. You are one of us — now go and pass it on."
"Youngest Marine."After eight years of war, the term "youngest Marine" is a misnomer. With many Marines overseas on their third, fourth or fifth deployment, this generation of combat veterans rivals the experience and courage of World War II's "greatest generation." And in doing so, you made a difference in the world today. Think about it: while you were deployed, how were your civilian friends spending the last few years?
When your friends went to Panama City, you patrolled Sadr City. When they went to Nantucket, you took An-Nasiriyah. When they went to Miami, you cleared Marjah. When your friends read history and studied national policy, you made history and you implemented national policy. America is not at war, the Marine Corps is at war; America is at the mall buying a Wii. You made history, and you make a difference today.
In Ramadi, in Fallujah, in Marjah, I've seen your courage, and the courage of your generation first hand. I know you're the next "greatest generation." You have the strength and the perseverance to fight successfully in the most austere conditions, you have the intelligence to succeed at COIN, and you have the moral courage to succeed at whatever task is presented. I watched you awaken the tribal leadership in Ramadi with your courage, and you're doing it again in RC Southwest.
Make no mistake: Fundamentalist Islam hates us, and if you weren't fighting them overseas, we'd be fighting them here. After 9/11, and especially after the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, those who enlisted knew they would see combat right away. Yet in the darkness of Ramadi and Fallujah, Marine recruiting numbers skyrocketed with those who wanted to fight.
But never forget the Marines who fell in Iraq and Afghanistan who are unable to join us this year. Today is their day, too. They paid the ultimate price — please add them to your prayers.
310 million Americans; 202,000 Marines — that's 0.00065 of the population. How's that for being special! But being special is more than an ability to simply shoot straight. The young men and women who graduate boot camp have a spirit and a set of moral bearings that make them the envy of society today. It's "Yes, Sir." "Can do, Sir." "Mission Accomplished, Sir." What a refreshing difference from those weasels in Washington and on Wall Street.
You are the most ambitious, the most entrepreneurial and the most vibrant members of society today. From active-duty Marines, you return home to become pillars of your communities. You make a difference every day.
If you take away nothing from your celebration except a massive hangover, remember this: that the world is made up of two types of people: those who are Marines and those who wish they were. Now wear that distinction with honor and pride as you remember your brothers in An-Nasiriyah, Fallujah, western Anbar and Afghanistan and live your lives accordingly.
I thank you for your Honor, your Courage, your Commitment. I thank your families for their sacrifice, and I want to thank my again-deployed Marine son for his. Happy 235th, Marines — and Semper Fidelis!
Embedded journalist, author, and father of a Marine
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