45. The Magnificent Bastards

The Magnificent Bastards

My cup overflows.

Psalm‬ ‭23:5b‬

The sad, inevitable day arrived when Dad left us. Not only was his time at Bangor coming to an end, he was discharging from the Marine Corps all together. I’m not one hundred percent sure why he did, and although rumors spread about his reasons for leaving, I won’t share them here. Regardless, he had a good thing going for him out in the civilian world. Captain Smith was best friends with Brian Stann1 who recently started a non profit called Hire heroes USA. Upon discharge, he would go to serve as the COO for the company.2

One of the guys brought up the idea to get Dad an engraved Colt 1911 pistol as a parting gift. Nobody objected. We each happily donated thirty bucks to the cause. Though it had to suffice, even this seemingly extravagant offering felt like it wasn’t enough to convey our gratitude. Though I wasn’t able to be there when they presented it, the guys who gave it to him said he accepted it with a warm smile. Before his final departure, he gathered the whole platoon for one last picture.

Captain Smith the leftmost Marine in desert cammies.

When Dad left, a new platoon commander replaced him whose name I don’t remember. He wasn’t a bad guy, but as I’d known from childhood, stepdads, though they may be great, aren’t the same as dads. The other reason he didn’t stick in my memory was that I only had a few more months left at Bangor. Soon I would have to depart with my RTT family and journey on to the fleet. 

My orders arrived stating my next unit would be 3/3.3 Third Marine Regiment was in Hawaii. Sure, Hawaii sounds like a great place to be stationed, however I wanted to go to Camp Pendleton again because Dust was now there in 1/1. Also, I’d never been to Hawaii yet and I didn’t want the Marine Corps to ruin it before I’d actually enjoyed the beautiful beaches. 

The Marine Corps has its way of ruining things. Back in elementary school, towards the end of the year, we had an awesome day filled with fun called Field Day. Now, field day was associated with polishing bathroom sinks for hours on end. I used to like digging holes for fun as a kid. Now during training we’d do what’s called “digging in the defense,” where we take our small shovels and spend half the day creating a foxhole deep and wide enough to fit two Marines up to their chest. Do you like hiking? Well, the Marine Corps infantry will ruin that too. Rather than taking a leisurely stroll through nature with a small pack we’d strap on all our gear with a giant rucksack and walk on dirt paths in the desert for six or more hours.

Hawaii seemed like it would inevitably be ruined, so when I heard I could request a change via emailing the Marine in charge of assigning units, I jumped at the opportunity. I respectfully asked the gunnery sergeant if I could switch my designation to any infantry unit on Camp Pendleton. His response to my email was the shortest it possibly could be: “2/4.” After a quick search I found 2/4 was stationed in San Mateo, the northwestern-most town on the base. This would work perfectly because 1/1 was close by at Camp Horno and he lived on base housing barely past Basilone gate. 

Everything else regarding my transition seemed to line up as well. Marines can take up to thirty days of leave when moving between duty stations, so I decided to take the whole month of August off. This happened to be the month when the youth group at the church I volunteered at would venture down to California to visit Disneyland. The youth pastor, Sonny, helped deck out an old school bus, cutting out some of the front and rear seats to add customized inward facing benches, adding a sound system, and painting it silver. Though everyone else would return to Washington after the trip, I could make it a one-way stop by meeting aunt Peggy to pick me up before they all headed back. So, I sold my one inheritance, dad’s old Nissan Pathfinder for a thousand bucks, threw all my belongings on the bus and joined the party bus to Disneyland. 

With rotating bus drivers pulling shifts throughout the night, we arrived at our destination within twenty four hours and we stayed at a hotel across from the Happiest Place on Earth. I’d visited Disneyland in the past, but they were only day trips where we arrived at peak hours and sweat through long lines to leave the park having only enjoyed maybe two rides. Now, for five days I was able to feast on the adventures awaiting us as I tagged along with my friends exploring different sections of the park right when it opened. These five days were filled with some of my fondest memories. 

After all the excitement subsided, and my drop-off point arranged with aunt Peggy, we headed off. We met at a parking lot beside I-5 where I unloaded all my belongings from the bus and transferred them to Peggy’s van. All the students gathered in a cluster in front of the bus, each awaiting their goodbyes.

As I looked back at all the young faces and embraced each one trying to hold back tears, I finally realized it was all over. The last vestige of my life at Bangor had come to an end, the final sunset of my most cherished season I was fortunate to enjoy was ending in this moment.

RTT was over. Captain Smith was discharged from the Marine Corps. Most of the guys I knew and loved were no longer there. My high-speed gear, EMR, 9mm Beretta, status and camaraderie of being a part of a skilled team, and most of all, my best buddies and Dad were now memories. The churches I’d attended, the youth group I volunteered at, the people I’d met, were all gone, with these few here slowly being plucked out of my clawing hands as each hug finished.

My final few hugs were tough, and although I held back tears for most of them, the final tearful teen did me in. We wrapped each other up as other eyes moistened at the sight. I gave Sonny a final hug and waved the whole crew goodbye before hopping into the passenger’s seat of Peggy’s van.

I sat quietly for a few minutes reflecting. My days had been blessed beyond measure. There were too many good times to count, too many happy memories. The friends I’d made, the team I was a part of, the platoon commander I had, the church I attended, the youth group I served at were all far better than I could have ever asked for or imagined. 

I stayed at Peggy’s house for about a week before the time came to check in to 2/4. She drove me to the exit prior to the San Onofre gate and we drove up Cristianitos road. After passing through the entrance we arrived at my new hometown, Camp Pendleton’s 62 Area. I departed Peggy with another hugging, heart-felt goodbye, changed into my Alphas uniform and checked in at the 2/4 headquarters. Once finished, I was instructed to change into my desert cammies and find the company first sergeant, First Sergeant Bala. in his office past the barracks. When I knocked on the door I was greeted by a man with cheeks as big as his smile. He motioned for me to sit down and welcomed me to my new unit: The Magnificent Bastards.

  1. Captain Smith met Brian Stann in The Basic School during their officer training and they served with each other as platoon commanders in Iraq. Brian Stann received a silver star, fought professionally in the UFC, worked with a ghost writer to write the book called Heart For the Fight, and was featured on Jocko’s Podcast episode 59.
  2. A local news station posted an interview with Nate Smith on their Facebook page regarding his role at Hire Heroes USA. Click here to watch.
  3. This Marine Infantry Unit designation means 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment. For those not familiar with such terms, a regiment is a grouping of battalions, a battalion is a grouping of companies, a company is a grouping of platoons and a platoon is a grouping of squads, and a squad is made up of teams.

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