Last week I made the trek back to Quantico for the first time since I got out of The Basic School (a six-month harassment package with the purported purpose of teaching new Marine lieutenants the basics of leading an infantry platoon) and high-tailed out of Dodge back in 1990. Most Marine lieutenants get the hyakah from Q-town, and are not anxious to come back any time soon.
I was no different. So, it took me 17 years to get back.
But it was pretty special being back. I drove to Officer Candidates School, and I was shocked ... yes, shocked to find that it looked essentially identical to how I remembered it ... the obstacle courses, Brown Field (where we allegedly learned Close Order Drill), Bobo Hall (where I ate the only two helpings of liver that I have eaten in my life, and during the same meal), the squadbays, the places where we hit the trails and the hills, etc. There were a few new buildings, but it was basically the same. Incredibly so.
I even recognized the trees ... the cedar trees that border Brown Field. Once, I tried to jam a shirt in one of them on the way out to the trails to run, only to get caught by the sergeant-instructor.
On the day of my return, new officer candidates were starting the whole process over. A new class was underway. I could tell by the hair (the presence thereof). Also, they were in formation outside the barber shop, which was, of course, where it has been since the dawn of time. Or so it seems. I could have walked right to it, and gone straight to the chair. The barbers were always somewhat pleasant (relatively so).
It was a great day to be there, in this place of great challenges, laughs, anguish, and triumph.
Every Marine lieutenant who has been killed in Iraq earned his bars at this place.
Every Marine lieutenant who served in the first Gulf War became an officer here.
Every junior Marine officer since WWII was trained at Quantico.
Every commissioned Marine officer who served in Viet Nam got their start here ... like my uncle did.
Standing there on Brown Field, I sensed the presence of all of them. And it was humbling all over again to have the same title as they did and do -- "Marine".