Posted Tuesday, January 22, 2008 2:05 PM
David Botti

Both the Army National Guard and the Marine Corps had recruitment ads before the previews at the movie I saw this weekend. The National Guard ad in part depicted post-Katrina-esque scenarios where guardsmen went to the aid of civilians. The filming was sweeping and highly dramatized. The Marine Corps ad offered not so much long scenes, but quick clips of intensity as infantry stormed houses and drill instructors marched recruits. They were both obvious sales pitches. The mere fact you could see two military recruitment ads before a Sunday matinée gave a nice little reminder of what kind of times we're living in.

It did another thing. It made me feel for a fleeting moment like I had to get the hell out of there and reenlist.

Recently my good Marine friend thought about doing just that. On inactive reserve, he signed back up to rejoin our old unit for one very specific reason: the scuttlebutt says they'll be heading back to Iraq soon, and he wanted to be with them. The unit was both of ours for six years. We were mobilized with its Marines and still feel the pull of bonds we'd cemented there.

He arrived to find just a handful of Marines left whom we'd known in the old days. They all asked the same thing: why the heck are you here? They told him he had a good thing going in civilian life, and that'd he done his time in the Corps and with the unit. Even the officers thanked him for offering to return, but said it wouldn't be the best thing for him to do. So, that was it. He left the headquarters never to return. Still, it was only by going to see these Marines face-to-face that he could be sure that chapter in his life was over.

I'm certain most of the Marines I've known have contemplated "re-upping" at one time or another. Each man has his own personal reasons why he did or didn't go through with it. I've also seen the same phrase uttered over and over again by friends and family trying to dissuade their Marine from going back to war: "you did your time." That one phrase can grate at your own thoughts already conflicted over having to make such a difficult decision. But it wasn't until my friend was told he'd done his time by Marines themselves it suddenly became valid.

With a war still on it's difficult to think that you will never wear a uniform again--even if you have no real intention of ever doing so. Even seeing over-dramatized recruitment ads in a movie theater can make you feel guilty for sitting there instead of in a patrol base. I've often wondered if veterans of wars long since gone feel the same way. My father, a Korean War veteran of the Air Force, still insists he'd strap himself into a fighter jet if they'd let him. How much do they see of themselves in the young veterans coming home, and what have they learned since their own homecoming that today's vets don't know?

In the end there's nothing much one can do except offer support, look at old pictures, and tell war stories with your friends--and think with faint jealousy of that young image of yourself, pulling up to the gates of boot camp totally scared sh*tless.