By Featured Guest Author, Mr. Joseph Bell.
The man cub asked to take the green tic on his upcoming deployment so I pulled her down out of her resting place in the garage. She still smells like the pine forests of North Carolina, her last trip out. Her creases and stitches are stained with dirt and sand from places like Banja Luka, Mostar, Tirana, and Brazzaville. We sweated together under the heat of Africa and froze our collective ass off in Norway and the Arctic Circle. Her sides are frayed by places like Al Qiam, Al Fallujah, Split and so many others.
Faded, stained and frayed by every continent but Antarctica and she never faltered. Each blemish a remarkable story on its own. I like to think I could still load her out and hump her again because wisdom acquired with age, intestinal fortitude and a never quit attitude must surely make up for what I lack in youth. Brute strength and ignorance win every time, right?
Opening her was like opening a treasure trove of memories. Raw emotions intermingled with vivid images as a lifetime spent under her weight came pouring over her drawstrings. The upper “go bag” quick release cover still had my old name tag sewn on it from my beginnings at the Ranger Battalion. The name tapes along with the faces and places I have humped with her have changed since 1987 and I hope that I represented my name well over those years.
Donatelli -Died in Helicopter crash in California: Attached to the side in true Ranger fashion hangs an old school entrenching tool and cover. It was used to dig countless fighting positions in far reaching places under the watchful eyes of Mike Donatelli, my squad leader in Charlie Company, 1st 75th Rangers. Like me it’s a bit rusty with chipped paint but still has at least one razors edge. The cover is taped shut since the metal buttons no longer work. I am very proud of every nick, scrape, and dent on that e-tool as they helped shape me into who I am today. It pains me to remove it but I know the newer e-tools are sleeker and better designed for today’s combat. I hope it digs holes big enough to protect my son as it did me and that every nick, dent and scrape forge him into a good Marine and a better person.
Siebert -KIA Iraq: There are four very old and probably useless chem-lights rigger taped to the bottom frame of the rucksack. They are there for emergency use -one green, one red, and two infrared. In the center of the frame is a square piece of “cat eye” glow in the dark material with the following written in permanent marker:
Bell, J.P. CPL
These were placed on the rucksacks to help sort who had what bag as we haphazardly grabbed our gear and boogied out of one fighting position enroute to the next. Other than a few odds and bits each ruck was supposed to be packed the same way as any other. This was the way of things when I served with Todd Siebert. Todd would tell me I didn’t need any glow in the dark tag; everyone knew who toted the big monstrosity known as the “green tic” that was on my back. The cat eye will undoubtedly need to be changed out along with the chem-lights but what remains is the requirement for Marines taking care of their buddies in the chaos of a fight. I hope the man cub has those men around him.
McCloud -Lost his life in Iraq: On the lower outer pocket is a beat down, barely visible, laminated Camp Lejeune Special map, a plotter, and a few map pens. They’re old, like 1993 old. The math to compensate for the declination from 1993 to now will need to be done on a scientific calculator. This map planned countless patrols, plotted the destruction of numerous tank formations and “troops in the open” on the impact ranges of Lejeune and more importantly lead me home after each one. I taught many classes to young Marines and newly minted Lieutenants with these items. One in particular was 1stLt. Joseph Trane McCloud. We worked our team like dogs from forming all the way up to the end of our float. Men like Brian Ward, Matt Young, and Brian Shaw. I learned a great deal from McCloud, he promoted me to Sergeant and told me he expected great things from me. How could I let him down? I know the maps and pens will need to be changed out. I cannot know where my sons adventures over the next few months will take him. What I hope is that regardless of his route, primary or alternate, that my son and the rest of the Marines make their way home.
Spann -Lost his life as a CIA Officer in Afghanistan: There is an old radio head set inside. I doubt there is a single piece of comm’s gear in the Corps that would work with it now, the days of long wire HF shots are long gone. I used it on many occasions to call home. I would dial in the frequency of the HAM Radio station of Camp Lejeune and the operator on the other end would call my home phone. He would place the handset against the telephone headset so my wife and I could talk. It took a while for her to understand that she had to say “over” at the end of every sentence so the operator could un-key the handset and then let me talk. Captain Johnny Spann was our team leader on a return trip to Bosnia. He allowed us to use this same set up in for our calls home. Although the comm’s have changed I hope my son remembers to find the time to call home and talk to his mother, she has the lingo down pat now. Over.
Pearl -Died from wounds sustained in Afghanistan: There are three bungee cords in a small outer top pocket. Just below that in the center pocket is a worn and tattered poncho that is held together in many spots with shoe goo. This system of bungees and poncho protected some of the finest warriors and men I have ever known during massive downpours and lightning strikes on the side of a nameless hill in Sierra de Retin, Spain. They provided shelter in the blinding dusts storms that plagued us as we traveled from Camp Commando, Kuwait all the way to Baghdad. Huddled underneath on each occasion staring at a map and planning our next moves were myself, Mosh Pit, Philthy, Tony, Dirty Joe D., and Bri-Nutz. The new digital camo tarp system is pretty neat and I myself wish I had one way back when. I hope this new system protects my son and gathers under it some of the strongest men he will have the good fortune to know.
Hayes -KIA Afghanistan: The extra straps and buckles on the green tic were added to assist me in parachuting. Anyone who knows me understands my love hate relationship with falling from a perfectly good plane or helicopter. During one particular freefall jump a strap gave way and my gear shifted from under my legs and filled the slot beside me. This is a big deal when you are screaming down to earth at around 152 MPH (given my weight and my gear at the time). The only way I could control the gear was to flip over onto my back and hold it. At some point I looked up and saw my pal John Hayes above me. He recognized my predicament, waved and got as far away from me as possible, who could blame him? Now kids don’t try this at home.
When it came time to pull my rip cord I flipped over and yanked it. Boom! Chute opens perfectly and I float to the ground unscathed. When I landed I dropped trousers and peed, I didn’t stand up because my knees were shaking too badly. John came walking up behind me laughing hysterically, “Dude, that was the scariest thing I have ever seen. You’re f’n crazy.” And with that we laughed off one of the most hair raising mishaps in my life. We were pals like that, along with our buddy Jason Fav. Inseparable even in the midst of certain death, and we laughed it all off. The straps did their job, they held the kit together and in hindsight held me and my mates together. I hope they keep him and his friends together in the face of extreme danger and they come out on the other side laughing.
So as I step over the green tic that now sits on the garage floor waiting for its next great adventure I am torn between letting the kid take her or keeping her for my own selfish reasons. She provided me with some of the greatest moments in my life and I shared them with some of the finest fighting men in the entire world. I can’t describe the calm I feel when I walk into the garage and see her on her perch. Waiting. Letting the green tic go would be letting go of a very important piece of my life.
In the end I decide to let him take her and I hope Todd, Mike, Joseph, Johnny, Eden, and John watch over him while he is forward providing freedom to those of us that are now left behind. I hope he fills her pockets with his own amazing stories and I look forward to hearing each embellished one. Semper Fi.
Joseph Bell spent 20+ years in the armed forces and retired in 2009. Joseph holds a Master’s Degree in Security Management and now works as a defense contractor. Currently Joseph serves as a committee member and co-author of The Untold Stories of Valhalla, a book highlighting fallen Raider, Recon & Sniper Marines from Afghanistan and Iraq. Joseph has written for Tattoo magazine and hosts the blog Tales from Trevanion. He lives in Sneads Ferry, NC with his wife, children, & two rambunctious dogs