Hope kills. Don’t believe me? Read some history. It is replete with examples of people that have been slaughtered as they hoped. Hoped for rescue. Hoped for change. Hoped for salvation. They hoped. And hoped. And hoped. And they died.
Hope: the feeling of wanting something to happen and thinking that it could happen.
Read that definition again. Conspicuously absent is any mention of physical work and belief in one’s own abilities.
I care little for hope. I like action – deliberate, well planned action, and hard work. They guarantee results.
I had somewhat of a rocky start in my first 2 years in the Marine Corps. An ultra self-assured and confident 2d Lieutenant who had, what some would view as, “pretty extreme”, training methods and conflict resolution techniques (apparently choking out Marines was not the way the Corps wanted me settling problems), my fate was unclear when I returned from my first deployment. Luckily, Major General W.L. Miller (then a Lieutenant Colonel), the new Battalion Commander, saw something in me and gave me a shot. Instead of shipping me off to an obscure duty station to become someone else’s problem, he assigned me as the Executive Officer of Headquarters and Service Company for some, “refinement”. Some infantry officers would have seen that as the death knoll of their career. I saw it as opportunity.
Headquarters and Service Company (H&S Co) is the largest and most diverse company in an Infantry Battalion. Comprising of all the service units that keep an infantry battalion functioning, and each of the units led by a Lieutenant, these “cooks, bakers, and candle stick makers”, are the behind the scenes heroes that keep their unit in the fight. With over 250 Marines of every Military Occupational Special (MOS) except infantry, these mechanics, drivers, heavy equipment operators, computer specialists, radiomen and radio repairmen, cooks, supply clerks, administrative and legal clerks, nuclear – biological – chemical weapons specialists, and logisticians primary responsibility is not fighting.
After 3 months of keeping my nose to the grindstone, and having been recently promoted to 1st Lieutenant (the promotion is not an accomplishment – it is virtually guaranteed to all 2d Lieutenants so long as they haven’t killed one of their Marines or lost a rifle) Major General Miller pulled me in to his office. He informed me I was going to take command of H&S Co, a billet typically reserved for the most senior infantry captain in a battalion. Further, he charged me with making them a, “combat ready”, H&S Co, one that could not only keep the battalion in the fight, but also provide its own security, and even lead the charge when needed.
Smart enough to recognize the monumental, though daunting, opportunity presented to me, I set upon it with drive and enthusiasm. I remember being told by more than a few of my peers, “Better you than me. Good luck. I hope you do well”. I knew that neither luck nor hope would have anything to do with my success or failure, and that it was far better me than they.
6 months later I was proud to listen to my Battalion Commander praise my Marines for being the first ever H&S Co to not only participate in, but to pass the Marine Corps Combat Readiness Evaluation (MCCRE) for Crew Served Weapons (think machine guns, weaponry, and infantry tactics and skills) – a week long field event that tested the combat readiness of a unit.
Getting there took a deliberate, well thought out training plan notably absent of hope and luck. Nothing was left to chance. There was only sweat, toil, and suffering. For every conceivable contingency there was a plan. We drilled, we marched, we fired our weapons, we constructed fighting positions, we conducted patrols, we PT’d, we studied, and we worked until all hours of the night in order to be ready to achieve what everyone before had found impossible. Soon the disbelief and rebellion gave way to enthusiasm and conviction.
Corporal Cheers was one of my many standouts. Rather than shrink from the challenge, this motor transportation Marine embraced his new found responsibilities as one of my Medium Machine Gun Team leaders. I still remember his big, toothy grin when I told him he was going to lead a machine gun team. He was absolute hell on his Marines. Day in and day out he had them on that M240G (an amazing medium machine gun that fires 7.62 cal rounds). They brought it with them everywhere. He’d have them take it apart and put it back together countless times, day in and day out, until they could do it seconds, blind-folded – literally. They practiced clearing jams, both type 1 and type 2, until it became pure instinct and muscle memory. They brought it with them when they were PTing. They brought it with them to the chow hall, one of them posting watch on it outside while the rest of the team ate. They constructed fighting positions, after hours, in the dirt behind their barracks. When I say fighting position I’m talking about full-blown, shovel-dug, armpit-deep, 3-man fighting positions. They lived and breathed that machine gun until they knew it like they knew themselves. It became an extension of their persons. The look of pride on Corporal Cheers’ face, and the faces of his Marines, when they represented H&S Company in the crew served weapons portion of the MCCRE was memorable. I think they all stood a few inches taller that day.
3 or 4 years had passed since that MCCRE and my time leading H&S Company. It was sometime in 2004 or 2005 when I heard the news. Now a Sergeant, Cheers, was being awarded a Navy Commendation Medal with a Combat V for his actions under fire. Long assigned to another unit, he was, “just a motor transportation Marine”, in another H&S Co in another infantry battalion. Serving as a driver on a machine gun truck, his team came under fire. The M240G machine gun jammed and the Marine up in the turret couldn’t clear the obstruction. Under fire, Sergeant Cheers left his position of relative safety (the HMMWV he was driving was armored), commanded the gunner to hand him the machine gun, cleared the jam, and proceeded to fire upon the enemy killing several and driving the rest back.
I’ve seen the look on the faces of untrained men, under fire, trying to clear a jammed weapon. I’ve seen their look of hope, their look of helplessness. They all looked like condemned men. Sergeant Cheers saw that look on the face of the gunner that was fumbling helplessly with the jammed M240G . The gunner, I’d wager to great relief, saw the look of a trained Marine when he handed Sergeant Cheers the weapon. I’m not sure the enemy saw the look of a trained Marine in Sergeant Cheers’ eyes, but I’ll guarantee you they felt it.
Hope isn’t going to serve anyone trying to attain his or her goals any better than it did the Marine that couldn’t get his weapon firing. One can hope for the best and wish for the best. Self-improvement can be talked about, dreamed of, and contemplated. It can be analyzed, discussed, prayed for, and daydreamed about all day. It comes down to training and action. Don’t hope for improvement. Train for it. Once one has mastered the ability to create positive change in one’s life, one can then become the change that this world so desperately needs.
I always told my Marines that there was no such thing as good or bad units. There were only the untrained, and the trained. Trained units do what they want. Untrained units hope. Similarly, there are untrained athletes, and there are UNLEASHED athletes. The untrained hope. The UNLEASHED change the world.
Semper Fi, Coach Robby