MOS 0311: A Young Man’s Work

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 11 months ago

My son’s MOS is 0311: Marine Infantry.  It is my policy not to blog on things I learn from my son.  However, it is nice to see these things in print elsewhere, even if rather cleaned up for publication.  W. Thomas Smith, Jr., has written a great article entitled Young Man’s Work: A Snapshot of Marine Life.

Tired, dirty, footsore, slightly dehydrated, hungry, and with an aching back and shoulders, I limped toward the battalion headquarters building from where a clean, fit, and slightly younger Lt. Col. Jason Bohm — task force commander of 1st Battalion, 4th Marines — emerged. I had just returned to Forward Operating Base Al Qaim after several days operating out of one of Bohm’s battle positions up on Iraq’s Syrian border. Bohm was getting ready to head back out to be with his men.

“Colonel, this is young man’s work,? I said.

He smiled and responded, “That it is.?

Notice, I did not say young person’s work. Nor did I say simply, man’s work. Though I’ve unconsciously understood infantry work to be “young man’s work? ever since I participated in my first, fast, route-stepping distance-march with heavy equipment under a searing Camp Pendleton, California sun some 25 years ago, the conscious reality of it surfaced for the first time during my recent, second trip to Iraq.

Granted, “once a Marine, always a Marine.? But at 48-years-old, and a civilian for most of my adult life, I won’t pretend that I am as capable today of fighting, surviving, and contributing to an infantry unit in action, as I was when I was in my early 20’s. By most standards for my age, I’m still strong and quick and I certainly know how to fight. But I also know my limitations, and in spite of my willingness, my body simply cannot endure the extreme heat and cold as easily as it once did. It cannot bear the same loads that it once did, nor can it run the necessary distances at the necessary speeds, negotiate the physical obstacles, or function, as it once managed to, when deprived of food and sleep. Neither can it perform the myriad other tasks required of young infantrymen in modern war.

The fact is, beyond my ability to shoot and think, I would be a burden on any infantry force in a desperate situation in which everyone needs to pull his own load and assist others with theirs. I think this is true for most war correspondents, though many would never admit it.

Infantry campaigning is difficult, and it has been ever since man first picked up a few stones, shouldered a club, and moved against a neighboring tribe. And despite modern weapon-systems and many of the new modes of delivery — helicopter, various ground conveyances — that difficulty has not changed.

Of course, we all remember former Congresswoman Patricia Schroeder’s attempt to dismiss the physical severity of modern combat with her now-famous line: “A woman can push a button just as easily as a man.? Perhaps, if combat were limited to waiting on the unthinkable in an air-conditioned missile silo in the American West, but that’s not how war actually works.

Ground combat — including fighting, campaigning, and surviving in the wild — is a young man’s work. It means bearing heavy loads (In the modern world, much of a unit’s gear can be carried in vehicles. But because soldiers today have so much gear, a lot of it — particularly personal equipment — simply has to be borne on one’s back, shoulders, and hips.), surviving in remote environs and severe weather conditions, and maintaining a level of proper hygiene for good health: None of which are easy in an environment where men are hunting one another.

One example worth noting: During the 1st Marine Division’s epic fighting-withdrawal from Korea’s Chosin Reservoir in 1950, Marines in one of the most remote regions on earth found themselves up against some of the worst weather imaginable; Snow, ice, and mercilessly cold temperatures, which often plummeted to 30-40 degrees below zero, were among the climate elements endured. Long, black nights and lashing winds of up to 40 and 50 miles an hour sometimes dropped the temperatures even further. Everything froze: Motor oil, medicines, blood plasma, even hands and feet. Marines touching the steel of their weapons often lost skin. Everyone was bundled up as best as possible, but it was never enough. Worse, the heavy clothes caused the exerting Marines to sweat. If they stood still for any length of time, the sweat turned to ice. The severe frostbite and other cold-related injuries were staggering.

As the Marines pulled back along the narrow reservoir road, the enemy attacked again-and-again, often at close quarters with the bayonet. So the withdrawing Marines had to stay alert, healthy, and ready to respond with brute force in an instant. They also had to keep their wits about them and remain in formation.

When the Marines at Chosin needed to relieve themselves, they did so on the road. To stray from the column meant death by ambush or getting lost and freezing. They urinated on the march, and relieved themselves otherwise by stopping and squatting in the middle of the road while other troops simply passed by. It was simply a reality of the animal-like existence for infantry troops on the move in combat. It hasn’t changed in over 50 years, or a thousand.

Iraq for the infantry — particularly those in the forward-most patrol bases and battle positions — is no different in that sense.

I hope I have gotten you interested.  Finish the article here.  If you read nothing else this week, read Smith’s article.  The feminists will howl.  Their howls don’t change a thing, and Smith is still right.

This is reminiscent of Ernie Pyle’s description of the infantry.

I love the infantry because they are the underdogs. They are the mud-rain-frost-and-wind boys. They have no comforts, and they even learn to live without the necessities. And in the end they are the guys that wars can’t be won without.

I wish you could see just one of the ineradicable pictures I have in my mind today. In this particular picture I am sitting among clumps of sword-grass on a steep and rocky hillside that we have just taken. We are looking out over a vast rolling country to the rear.

A narrow path comes like a ribbon over a hill miles away, down a long slope, across a creek, up a slope and over another hill.

All along the length of this ribbon there is now a thin line of men. For four days and nights they have fought hard, eaten little, washed none, and slept hardly at all. Their nights have been violent with attack, fright, butchery, and their days sleepless and miserable with the crash of artillery.

The men are walking. They are fifty feet apart, for dispersal. Their walk is slow, for they are dead weary, as you can tell even when looking at them from behind. Every line and sag of their bodies speaks their inhuman exhaustion.

On their shoulders and backs they carry heavy steel tripods, machine-gun barrels, leaden boxes of ammunition. Their feet seem to sink into the ground from the overload they are bearing.

They don’t slouch. It is the terrible deliberation of each step that spells out their appalling tiredness. Their faces are black and unshaven. They are young men, but the grime and whiskers and exhaustion make them look middle-aged …


You are currently reading "MOS 0311: A Young Man’s Work", entry #737 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Marine Corps,Women in Combat and was published September 1st, 2007 by Herschel Smith.

If you're interested in what else the The Captain's Journal has to say, you might try thumbing through the archives and visiting the main index, or; perhaps you would like to learn more about TCJ.

26th MEU (10)
Abu Muqawama (12)
ACOG (2)
ACOGs (1)
Afghan National Army (36)
Afghan National Police (17)
Afghanistan (675)
Afghanistan SOFA (4)
Agriculture in COIN (3)
AGW (1)
Air Force (28)
Air Power (9)
al Qaeda (83)
Ali al-Sistani (1)
America (6)
Ammunition (13)
Animals in War (4)
Ansar al Sunna (15)
Anthropology (3)
AR-15s (34)
Arghandab River Valley (1)
Arlington Cemetery (2)
Army (34)
Assassinations (2)
Assault Weapon Ban (25)
Australian Army (5)
Azerbaijan (4)
Backpacking (2)
Badr Organization (8)
Baitullah Mehsud (21)
Basra (17)
BATFE (44)
Battle of Bari Alai (2)
Battle of Wanat (15)
Battle Space Weight (3)
Bin Laden (7)
Blogroll (2)
Blogs (4)
Body Armor (16)
Books (2)
Border War (6)
Brady Campaign (1)
Britain (25)
British Army (35)
Camping (4)
Canada (1)
Castle Doctrine (1)
Caucasus (6)
CENTCOM (7)
Center For a New American Security (8)
Charity (3)
China (10)
Christmas (5)
CIA (12)
Civilian National Security Force (3)
Col. Gian Gentile (9)
Combat Outposts (3)
Combat Video (2)
Concerned Citizens (6)
Constabulary Actions (3)
Coolness Factor (2)
COP Keating (4)
Corruption in COIN (4)
Council on Foreign Relations (1)
Counterinsurgency (214)
DADT (2)
David Rohde (1)
Defense Contractors (2)
Department of Defense (114)
Department of Homeland Security (9)
Disaster Preparedness (2)
Distributed Operations (5)
Dogs (5)
Drone Campaign (3)
EFV (3)
Egypt (12)
Embassy Security (1)
Enemy Spotters (1)
Expeditionary Warfare (17)
F-22 (2)
F-35 (1)
Fallujah (17)
Far East (3)
Fathers and Sons (1)
Favorite (1)
Fazlullah (3)
FBI (1)
Featured (160)
Federal Firearms Laws (14)
Financing the Taliban (2)
Firearms (247)
Football (1)
Force Projection (35)
Force Protection (4)
Force Transformation (1)
Foreign Policy (27)
Fukushima Reactor Accident (6)
Ganjgal (1)
Garmsir (1)
general (14)
General Amos (1)
General James Mattis (1)
General McChrystal (38)
General McKiernan (6)
General Rodriguez (3)
General Suleimani (7)
Georgia (19)
GITMO (2)
Google (1)
Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (1)
Gun Control (187)
Guns (517)
Guns In National Parks (2)
Haditha Roundup (10)
Haiti (2)
HAMAS (7)
Haqqani Network (9)
Hate Mail (7)
Hekmatyar (1)
Heroism (4)
Hezbollah (12)
High Capacity Magazines (11)
High Value Targets (9)
Homecoming (1)
Homeland Security (1)
Horses (1)
Humor (13)
ICOS (1)
IEDs (7)
Immigration (32)
India (10)
Infantry (3)
Information Warfare (2)
Infrastructure (2)
Intelligence (22)
Intelligence Bulletin (6)
Iran (169)
Iraq (377)
Iraq SOFA (23)
Islamic Facism (33)
Islamists (37)
Israel (17)
Jaish al Mahdi (21)
Jalalabad (1)
Japan (2)
Jihadists (70)
John Nagl (5)
Joint Intelligence Centers (1)
JRTN (1)
Kabul (1)
Kajaki Dam (1)
Kamdesh (8)
Kandahar (12)
Karachi (7)
Kashmir (2)
Khost Province (1)
Khyber (11)
Knife Blogging (2)
Korea (4)
Korengal Valley (3)
Kunar Province (20)
Kurdistan (3)
Language in COIN (5)
Language in Statecraft (1)
Language Interpreters (2)
Lashkar-e-Taiba (2)
Law Enforcement (2)
Lawfare (6)
Leadership (5)
Lebanon (6)
Leon Panetta (1)
Let Them Fight (2)
Libya (11)
Lines of Effort (3)
Littoral Combat (7)
Logistics (47)
Long Guns (1)
Lt. Col. Allen West (2)
Marine Corps (229)
Marines in Bakwa (1)
Marines in Helmand (67)
Marjah (4)
MEDEVAC (2)
Media (22)
Memorial Day (2)
Mexican Cartels (20)
Mexico (24)
Michael Yon (5)
Micromanaging the Military (7)
Middle East (1)
Military Blogging (26)
Military Contractors (3)
Military Equipment (24)
Militia (3)
Mitt Romney (3)
Monetary Policy (1)
Moqtada al Sadr (2)
Mosul (4)
Mountains (9)
MRAPs (1)
Mullah Baradar (1)
Mullah Fazlullah (1)
Mullah Omar (3)
Musa Qala (4)
Music (16)
Muslim Brotherhood (6)
Nation Building (2)
National Internet IDs (1)
National Rifle Association (13)
NATO (15)
Navy (19)
Navy Corpsman (1)
NCOs (3)
News (1)
NGOs (2)
Nicholas Schmidle (2)
Now Zad (19)
NSA (1)
NSA James L. Jones (6)
Nuclear (53)
Nuristan (8)
Obama Administration (204)
Offshore Balancing (1)
Operation Alljah (7)
Operation Khanjar (14)
Ossetia (7)
Pakistan (165)
Paktya Province (1)
Palestine (5)
Patriotism (6)
Patrolling (1)
Pech River Valley (11)
Personal (17)
Petraeus (14)
Pictures (1)
Piracy (13)
Police (102)
Police in COIN (3)
Policy (15)
Politics (133)
Poppy (2)
PPEs (1)
Prisons in Counterinsurgency (12)
Project Gunrunner (20)
PRTs (1)
Qatar (1)
Quadrennial Defense Review (2)
Quds Force (13)
Quetta Shura (1)
RAND (3)
Recommended Reading (14)
Refueling Tanker (1)
Religion (72)
Religion and Insurgency (19)
Reuters (1)
Rick Perry (4)
Roads (4)
Rolling Stone (1)
Ron Paul (1)
ROTC (1)
Rules of Engagement (74)
Rumsfeld (1)
Russia (27)
Sabbatical (1)
Sangin (1)
Saqlawiyah (1)
Satellite Patrols (2)
Saudi Arabia (4)
Scenes from Iraq (1)
Second Amendment (134)
Second Amendment Quick Hits (2)
Secretary Gates (9)
Sharia Law (3)
Shura Ittehad-ul-Mujahiden (1)
SIIC (2)
Sirajuddin Haqqani (1)
Small Wars (72)
Snipers (9)
Sniveling Lackeys (2)
Soft Power (4)
Somalia (8)
Sons of Afghanistan (1)
Sons of Iraq (2)
Special Forces (22)
Squad Rushes (1)
State Department (17)
Statistics (1)
Sunni Insurgency (10)
Support to Infantry Ratio (1)
Survival (9)
SWAT Raids (47)
Syria (38)
Tactical Drills (1)
Tactical Gear (1)
Taliban (167)
Taliban Massing of Forces (4)
Tarmiyah (1)
TBI (1)
Technology (16)
Tehrik-i-Taliban (78)
Terrain in Combat (1)
Terrorism (86)
Thanksgiving (4)
The Anbar Narrative (23)
The Art of War (5)
The Fallen (1)
The Long War (20)
The Surge (3)
The Wounded (13)
Thomas Barnett (1)
Transnational Insurgencies (5)
Tribes (5)
TSA (10)
TSA Ineptitude (10)
TTPs (1)
U.S. Border Patrol (4)
U.S. Border Security (11)
U.S. Sovereignty (13)
UAVs (2)
UBL (4)
Ukraine (2)
Uncategorized (38)
Universal Background Check (2)
Unrestricted Warfare (4)
USS Iwo Jima (2)
USS San Antonio (1)
Uzbekistan (1)
V-22 Osprey (4)
Veterans (2)
Vietnam (1)
War & Warfare (210)
War & Warfare (40)
War Movies (2)
War Reporting (18)
Wardak Province (1)
Warriors (5)
Waziristan (1)
Weapons and Tactics (57)
West Point (1)
Winter Operations (1)
Women in Combat (11)
WTF? (1)
Yemen (1)

about · archives · contact · register

Copyright © 2006-2014 Captain's Journal. All rights reserved.