I left a desk job to become a rifleman, and the first day of boot camp they made me the platoon scribe with a desk and an assistant. I am reminded of William Manchester in his memoir Goodbye, Darkness , "This was the first misunderstanding between me and the Marine Corps. There would be others. . . ."
I was blessed with excellent sergeants during my first (2006) deployment to Iraq—Sergeant Morris, Sergeant Fisher, Sergeant Osborne, and Sergeant Busch. These men were my vehicle commanders, my section leaders, and my strength. Together we fought our war one day, one patrol, at a time. These were ordinary men who simply did it right. I would have learned how to be a proper rifleman in just about any unit in the Marine Corps. But I might not have learned how to be a better person. These men, heroic but not heroes, these sergeants of Marines were patient, no-nonsense warriors who taught me how to control my fear and harness my rage. Their lessons prepared me for battle-and life. As a sergeant I can only aspire to the example set by them.
Lately I have been thinking of what lessons I should pass to those who follow me. And there is this unfortunate truth that needs to be shared with and understood by our young Marines: Iraq has likely set predictable patterns for the future. Our enemies know that the only Americans who can or need be beaten do not wear uniforms. A society that does not have the will to let its warriors die fighting will not long survive. A civilization that values its very being less than the dignity of its sworn enemies should be morally prepared to fail.
As a people we must disabuse ourselves of the profligate idea of civilized violence. We forget that for all of our advances imparted around the globe, America would have offered nothing to the world without the rifle and bayonet. As Marines we are ambassadors to the American public, a bridge between the necessary horrors of combat and civilian morality. As a sergeant, I will encourage my Marines to explain to their friends and families who we are, what we do, and what is required to win.
We can ride into battle with bomb-resistant vehicles equipped with weapons of increasingly precise lethality, but to win our current fight we must be prepared to put our men on the ground to perhaps die face down in the dirt. We must make ready from our vast arsenal of weapons . . . and ideas. A rifle can change a life but an idea can change the world. In our present situation, sometimes real power is not pulling the trigger.
A 2004 graduate of the University of Virginia, Sergeant Goldich was meritoriously promoted to his current rank in August. The preceding essay was submitted for his meritorious promotion board. He currently serves with 3d Battalion, 9th Marines.