The Returning Warrior Brief

Upon returning from our 2007-2008 deployment to Iraq all of us were subject to what we call a returning warrior brief.  The idea is to prepare the Marines minds for the transition from a combat zone back to civilization.

I remember sitting in a theater in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii blandly listening to a parade of subject matter experts brief us on their particular cottage industry. The fact I can’t remember anything they talked about is a testament to the impact of their subject matter and their method of delivery.  Most of the people speaking were civilians, few were military, none were even from our battalion. I later remarked to our battalion SgtMaj it would made more of impact if the battalion leadership had given most of the classes.

Two speakers from that week of classes stand out in my mind. The first was a local civilian gentleman who lectured the Marines about not coming back with the 1000 yard stare.

“You’re home now. You’re safe,” he admonished us. He almost seemed angry.

He was immediately followed by a Honolulu Police Officer who briefed us about local crime and recent spat of sexual assaults on service members. A taxi driver was injecting drunken service members who got in his cab and would have his way with them.

This contrary news irked me and I wanted to stand up in the middle of the theater and shout: “The guy before you said we were safe!”  As it was I had to content myself with merely smacking myself on the forehead with a combat boot.

Imagine young Marines grappling with the hypocrisy of being told their combat mindset needs to be shut off back home yet remain Marines 24 hours a day. We tell them to conduct themselves as ethical warriors at all times yet only apply their warrior skills in combat. What nonsense.

After a few days of listening to this stuff I held a company formation and let the Marines know my personal opinion on the matter. I reiterated the nuggets of good information which were passed and I also noted the falseness of being told they were safe yet to keep an eye out for threats within the same hour. I reminded them the terrain had changed from the battlefield as well as the form in which threats presented themselves, but how we evaluated a threat did not. We couldn’t respond with pen flares and machine guns but the mental tools were still there to use. 

“Maybe I’m screwed up,” I said drawing my pocket knife. “But don’t think I don’t walk around evaluating whether or not I’ll have to use this on someone.”

Ball tickets, check. Dress Blues, check. Switchblade, check.

The average civilian will read that and quite possibly be horrified there are Marines on the street who think about possibly using violence on a daily basis. I tend to disagree considering the number of predators prowling the streets right now with the full intent of committing an act of violence.  Having some well trained good guys around seems like a good idea to me.

 It offended me Marines with a bias for action were being told to stuff their vigilance in their cargo pocket. We always tell Marines there is no distinction between a “field” Marine and a “garrison” Marine. If that’s the case then using tools hammered into them in order to survive a combat deployment are the same they can use to survive weekend liberty without incident.

I’ve since encouraged my Marines to use those tools daily and have found it tends to have a positive result both on and off duty. Go figure.

Semper Fidelis!
America’s SgtMaj

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1 Comment

  1. I attended the Commandant’s Marine Corps ball here in DC a couple of years ago. The party favors were mini- K-bars intended as letter openers, but which looked rather multi-purpose to me – perhaps he had the same idea?

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