The Great Unknown

Arizona, the Marine Corps, Sponge Bob—and what they have in common.

“Wherever you go in the world, if you see an EGA, you’ll have a friend for life.” That’s what they told us in Boot Camp. I thought that was one of the coolest things I had ever heard. Over the years, I have found that those Drill Instructors weren’t lying.

If you don’t know what an EGA is, let me tell you. It’s an Eagle, Globe, and Anchor. The emblem of the United States Marine Corps. I have never tired of seeing one anywhere. In fact, it was one of those EGA’s—and where it was spotted—that inspired this week’s post (for better or for worse).

If you don’t know who Erich is, then you probably are new to this blog. That’s just fine. Thank you for stopping by this week. Also, feel free to peruse other tales and maybe consider subscribing. And, even if you do recall who Erich is, I was going to provide a quick reminder anyway. Erich is one of my oldest friends. We have done (and survived) things that most people can’t even imagine. Now, this may seem off-topic. And, you may be wondering what any of this has to do with Sponge Bob, Arizona, and the Marine Corps. Well, let me tell you.

Not too long ago Erich’s only daughter was married. The wedding took place in the state of Arizona. So, in order to attend, my family had to travel there. It was 102°. You read that correctly, 102°. Fahrenheit. Yes, I have been in much hotter and drier climates than that weekend. Still, It was not the kind of weather I have become used to in the latter part of my life.

I’ve tangented. Sorry.

At some point during the drive about the place (Arizona), I needed to make a left-hand turn at a four-way intersection. This put me in the middle turning lane. Behind a truck. A truck with two remarkable stickers. One got my attention due to its size (large). The other, due to its familiarity.

In the larger, center, rear window pane of the truck’s cab, there was a white peanut shell sticker with the words ‘Goofy Goober’ right next to it. Those letters were also large. Then, off in the upper left corner of the truck’s rear window was a circular sticker with the Marine Corps eagle, globe, and anchor. I had a buddy!

Sponge Bob and related materials are owned by Nickelodeon. Or so I’m told.

Not only were they a Marine (we’re brothers by cause), but, he also liked Sponge Bob well enough to get a Goofy Goober logo, with peanut, to put on display—for all the world to see—on his truck. That’s gutsy. Now, I don’t love Sponge Bob to the point of insanity. Still, I enjoy the cartoon quite a bit. Everybody in my car was happy for me. My wife said something like, “Hey, you have a new best friend.” Honestly, I wanted to hop out of my car, run up to the truck, and introduce myself. The only reason I didn’t was because I didn’t know how long the stop light was going to last.

Author’s note: We were there long enough that could have done it—three times. It was a very long stoplight.

For additional support on this instant-friend-through-shared-brotherhood of The Corps, let me quickly relate to you an incident involving two brothers (biological—to each other, not to me) from my unit.

After one of our unit’s training exercises, it was very late, the brothers were very tired, and didn’t feel like risking the hours-long drive home. Their solution: Find a nearby park, a couple of benches, and crash for the night. Honestly, it made sense. They are both combat trained. They had all the right kind of warm sleeping gear. There were two of them to watch out for each other. Not really a bad plan—overall. About ten minutes into their sleepy-sleepy time, they were woken by what they assumed was an police officer. The waker was in fact a Marine. He had seen the Marine Corps sticker on the back of their vehicle, spotted them on the bench, and thought, “Nope. Not on my watch.” (his words)

This Marine took my buddies home and gave them a hot meal and a place to rest for the night. In the morning: Breakfast, hot showers, and a, “Semper Fi.” upon their farewell.

An instant friend for life, anywhere in the world. It’s true.

In the short time that I have become more involved with social media, I have been fascinated with how quickly veterans just gravitate toward each other. And how we just look out for each other. While we might harass each other over which military branch is better (the Corps), if anyone messes with one of us, they mess with us all. Plain and simple.

There are things that only a veteran will understand. It’s almost like we all have been gifted with the largest collection of inside jokes and empathy for each other, even if we have never been there or done that. Because really we all have.

If a veteran and a civilian were sitting around discussing what they did over the weekend and one said, “I shot a few rounds of golf. How about you?” The other might say that they did too, and they still could be talking about two very different things. I’m gonna let you figure out (via friends or internet) why that might be so—and why it’s funny.

For those who are civilians, you won’t understand. That’s just a fact. Maybe, if you played sports, that whole ‘team spirit’ thing might help you sort of understand. But, it’s still not the same thing. Sorry, you just won’t fully comprehend it. It is a totally different thing. It just is.

I have buddies in different parts of the world. We chat. We share. We harass. We also look after. Check up on. Care for. And help each other. It has become one of the greatest forms of therapy I never knew I needed.

Some of the mental dilemmas I deal with from events I did or did not partake in still anger me in ways they shouldn’t. (I know what I wrote)

I once had a therapist tell me I suffer from survivor’s guilt. I was like, “But, I did survive anything!” Meaning—in my head—I would have had to have been in the danger and not die. Not just not die. My company was deployed after 9/11. I was not. My contract ended just before the incident and their deployment. To this day I just… How was I to know?!?!!

To me, I wasn’t there to survive, so, no survivor’s guilt. The therapist just stared at me. I should have been there…

Maybe he was right. I don’t know.

Also, do you know what it’s like to be considered a veteran and still not be by the very government that used you for military service? Hmm? In a reserve unit, you do not collect points at the same rate as full-time active military members do. However, certain circumstances will overwrite those rules. So, because I was a reservist, and had served in active duty during a wartime conflict (received a medal for such service—it’s like a participation trophy, but still…), but, spent most of my time in reserve status, I am not considered a veteran in the sense that I can receive veteran benefits but, am considered a veteran because I served in the U.S. military. The same government I served discounts me! The hypocrisy angers me so very much! Yet, I would do it all over again without question.

Some of my favorite things to do are, to thank veterans when I see them. I love encountering vets and just letting them know how I feel. I also love helping out with the Marine Corps Toys for Tots at Christmas time. Where I live, we have a good crew of veterans that are always there. They never judge my status. I am one of them. I love seeing other Marines and giving them a simple nod of the head with a quiet, “Oorah.” It’s always followed by a smile and an, “Oorah.” back at me. Brotherhood.

I used to think that I was good. That I really didn’t struggle with things that I didn’t know were there. Because I didn’t know they were there. I now find peace in finding brothers and sisters around the world who all understand how I feel because they feel the same. While each one of us has experienced things at different levels and to different degrees of intensity, we still all get each other in ways nobody else can. Not even those closest to us. It’s a different kind of mindset we live in each and every day. Don’t get me wrong, spouses and family love and support, but it is not the same thing. It just isn’t. Civilians just can’t understand.

That Goofy Goober in Arizona, he gets me—and we’ve never even met.

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