Monday, February 27, 2012

Day Six: Twentynine Palms “Day Off”

Photo: Arm patch right off of an Air Force general and a Coin of Excellence from a Marine Corps major. My treasures.

Thus far my sore throat hasn’t progressed very much.

Up and fully dressed by 8 a.m.—and I mean fully dressed by wearing a dress—business casual—for a pair of speaking engagements at Twentynine Palms Junior High and Twentynine Palms High School, followed by lunch at the officer’s club on base, another speaking engagement to newly-graduated from boot camp Marines, and then a “what do you want to see” tour of the base.

Jeremy spent time on base—specifically the semi-isolated, self-contained Ft. Nelson—before he was deployed to Iraq.

Kelly O’Sullivan, a civilian communications specialist for the base, met us in the motel parking lot. She was our personal chauffeur for the day—the base did not allow our vehicles of caravan on base, so Jeremy, Wesley, Heather and I climbed into Kelly’s borrowed mom van.

The first stop, at Twentynine Palms Junior High, was a group of students who were exploring the military as a career. The kids ranged from eager participants to kids who were put into the program because they’d gotten into trouble. Again the guys made their presentation, and then opened the floor for questions.

I was genuinely surprised at the football-related questions asked by some of the boys. It was as if all they’d heard of Jeremy’s talk was “NFL.” But Jeremy’s a trooper and answered the questions—no, I don’t know that guy, yes we beat that team.

Afterwards a line of kids asked Jeremy for his autograph, and he happily obliged.

Next, a quick trip to a mom-and-pop taqueria for breakfast burritos for the guys. Then we were off to the junior high—a group Jeremy most enjoys, at-risk kids.

As the kids entered the small classroom, you certainly could tell these kids needed plenty of guidance. Some of the girls dressed provocatively; the boys spoke loudly and schlepped in as if they’d rather be anyplace else.

After the talk Jeremy remarked about one girl in the audience who wore heavy make-up and a crop top. Part of Jeremy’s talk is directed to young women—you have more power and influence than you think: get your education, go to college, be self-sufficient and rely on no man. He could tell she was not only hearing but also listening, taking his words to heart. Perhaps she will be the one kid his talk saves on this day?

We were then off to the Combat Center at Twentynine Palms for lunch with the second-in-command major and base sergeant major, and the communications specialist. I was astonished at how nice the officer’s club was, and how good the food was. I had spicy shrimp tacos. Yum. The conversation was great and I learned lots about the military way. I also received my second on-the-road treasure.

When I was a kid, Ft. Hunter Liggett in south Monterey County and Ft. Ord in Marina/Seaside were both open. Both were Army bases; today Ft. Ord is a California State University location and Hunter Liggett is a minimally-active base. Located in the Santa Lucia Mountains at the edge of the Ventana Wilderness, Hunter Liggett is a dusty rural post—I don’t recall seeing the equipment being gleaming clean. At Twentynine Palms, also a dusty place, the equipment is clean—trucks, artillery, even parked tanks.

As we drove up to the next location, we noticed a group of around 100 young soldiers sitting on the asphalt in 80 degree weather. Jeremy called the group BOOTS—an acronym for Barely Out Of Training. This talk was slightly different—the message, take your training seriously, seize the opportunity and be proud of the family you now belong to, the USMC, a very selective family with a 250-year tradition. A short question-and-answer session followed, and off we went for a base tour.

Jeremy wanted to visit Ft. Nelson. He remarked that it had grown quite a bit since he’d been there. It’s build to resemble a military outpost in a desert environment. I am sure he felt pride and the eagerness of a child who gets an insider look at something that was important to him. Once a Marine, always a Marine.

We expected to be done early in the afternoon—best-laid plans but I wouldn’t have missed a minute. Back to uploading photos, and to bed in preparation for the 100-mile ride the next day.


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