A Grover by Another Name

He’s 19 or 20 years old and a Marine Rifleman fighting in Iraq. His hair’s cut “high and tight” and he’s muscled, weighs about 150 pounds on average. He’d get carded in a bar and in six or seven years he’ll be old enough to rent a car. Tomorrow, when his parents may get a call, “With the deepest regrets…”

He couldn’t have gotten into Grove City College. Maybe the local community college. ITT Tech’s a possibility. NOT. Afternoons over the past four or five years were spent “shootin’ hoops” or fixing up his ten-year old Camaro. He hung out in the evenings. Studyin’s for geeks.

He graduated high school last May…or the May before…there were no awards. Still, his parents videoed his shuffle across the stage…his friends whooped and somebody yelled his name…he grinned, waved. The principal rolled her eyes. “That one won’t amount to much. Why do I do this?”

“Whazz up?” “Fer swezzel me neezel” The “freakin poop” rocks or listens to hip hop…maybe rap. Hamlet wasn’t his thing but he knows what “get your sierra together” really means and was up at 0600 on Thursday doing just that, but spent much of the day getting into and out of his chem/bio suit and donning his gas mask while SCUDs passed overhead. He would have loved to have hit the rack when the cold desert night closed around him, but he moved out instead…headed for border. You wonder if he’d have trouble getting to an eight o’clock class. By nine he was in Iraq. His first firefight stressed him big time.

His high school term paper came back dripping red ink. Later today a helicopter might haul his broken body to a MASH unit dripping a different kind of red. Writings not his thing but field stripping his M-16, unjamming it, and getting it back in firing order in sixty-seconds …in the dark…”hoorah.” When his unit stops to rest, he knows how to set a defensive perimeter…and how to move to an attack mode in a flash. He knows the active voice. “Move out”…”hit the deck”…”incoming” …”cover fire”. Those words convey meaning!

He chows down on MREs…”meals ready to eat”…tuna casserole, spaghetti and meatballs, chopped ham and potatoes. A burger at the Gee would be max cool right now. He’ll drink four quarts of water today and every day he’s on the move; but he’d share his canteen with a thirsty buddy. He carries twenty clips of M-16 ammo but in a firefight, if the Marine next to him cries out, “Give me a clip” he’ll toss one over.

This kid puts in twelve hour days…stateside. He went 36 hours without sleep before he did his first firefight. What the Corps pays him this year won’t cover the cost of tuition, room, board and books…even at Grove City College. He knows four ways to kill and he also knows how to stuff a wound, give mouth to mouth resuscitation…and he wouldn’t hesitate to do it…to another guy…no matter how thick the lips or what color the skin. He knows how to jam a needle into his arm or leg…not to get high but to administer nerve-gas antidote. He can…and will…cry when a buddy dies.

His great great grandfather charged up San Juan Hill, his grandfather fought in World War II, his dad “did his thing in the Nam.” He may not know it, but because he’s doing what he’s doing someday, when they’re 19 or 20, his son or daughter might be a Grover.

Earl H. Tilford

Earl H. Tilford

Dr. Earl Tilford is a military historian and fellow for the Middle East & terrorism with The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. He currently lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. A retired Air Force intelligence officer, Dr. Tilford earned his PhD in American and European military history at George Washington University. From 1993 to 2001, he served as Director of Research at the U.S. Army’s Strategic Studies Institute. In 2001, he left Government service for a professorship at Grove City College, where he taught courses in military history, national security, and international and domestic terrorism and counter-terrorism. Email: [email protected]

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