Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Notes From Down Range

Marine Corp Ball Speech 2010

West Palm Beach, FL

By: Cpl Blake M. Benson

First I would like to say thank you for letting me speak to you all tonight. This is by far one of the greatest honors ever in my life, Thank you!

Joining the Marine Corp has always been a dream of mine. This is thanks to my grandfather Sgt. Earl G. Piper United States Marine Corps. Shortly after the Korean War had ended, my Grandfather left the Marine Corps to work for Ford in Michigan where he retired. Even though my grandfather left the active fleet Marine Corps, he could never forget what they had taught him and continued to live his life with honor, courage and commitment. He would always be a Marine and uphold the values the come along with that title. This was my only experience with the Marine Corps throughout my childhood and it would have the greatest impact in my life still to this day. After joining the Marine Corps in his honor after his death I realized a lot of things that I had no clue about before.

The Marine Corps is not just an elite fighting force, it is a brotherhood based on tradition and loyalty to each other. Being a Marine is not something you can just turn on and off at will. It is who you are until the lord sees fit to bring you home. Being a Marine is representing more than just yourself but representing your country and every man and woman that is or has worn that Eagle Globe and Anchor. The Marine Corps is one place that everyone is equal no matter where you are from, your religion, ethnicity or your past. All of what makes you who you are before boot camp is slowly destroyed, so they can make you into the truly honorable people everyone sees today in these uniforms. As General Krulak once said, “For over 235 years our Corps has done two things for this great nation. We make Marines and we win battles.”

A great example of what the honorable General Krulak said can be seen with the Second Battle of Fallujah in 2004. I had the honor to serve in this battle with some of the most amazing men I have ever met. Men like Sgt. Wells, Cpl. Marku, LCpl. Holmes, and LCpl. Lucero just to name a few, may God bless them all, lord knows how myself and the rest of my fellow marines miss them. During the Battle of Fallujah my battalion lost 23 marines and had even more wounded, but we still managed to move forward and win the worst battle ever seen by an American force in Iraq. I was in Fallujah with the battalion from November 8th (when the battle kicked off) until November 25th (Thanksgiving Day). I was forced out of the city on Thanksgiving Day due to injuries I received after I and four other marines were ambushed. Even after I left the city the battle continued well in to the month of December. As one marine that served with me once said, “If Fallujah is not hell then it’s the next worse place imaginable.” This rings true still to this day in my opinion.

After leaving Iraq and going to Bethesda National Naval Medical Center I experienced things that would fill me with pride and things that would give most people nightmares. Seeing Marines missing arms and legs truly brings a new point of view on life. With the fresh memories of Fallujah on my mind I could not help but to want to go back and finish the fight with my guys. Unfortunately this was not in the cards for me to do. This fact that I would not see my brothers again til they got home made life even harder on me. This is where I owe my thanks to organizations like the Wounded Warrior Project. This organization did everything they could to welcome the wounded home and made sure we didn’t need anything with the help of other organizations and private donors. This was all surprising to us Marines seeing as how the only news we heard while overseas was how everyone opposed the war and the military involved in it. To know that people actually care about you and what you have done really made things easier on us all. I would like to take a moment and thank the Wounded Warrior Project for everything. Please keep up the amazing work you all have done.

After about a year and a half in the hospital it was decided I could not stay in the Marine Corps and I was medically retired with an Honorable Discharge at this point. This was extremely hard for me to take. I fought with the Marine Corps every step of the way, I called Generals, I offered to change my MOS to a non combat job, I even offered to go reservist. Nothing worked in my favor, so I left the Marine Corps on June 28th 2006. Now I had no job and no idea what I wanted to do with my life. The one thing I wanted to be didn’t want me anymore, I was damaged goods. (cont. from Newsletter:) So after a year of fighting for benefits and working a dead end factory job I decided I wanted to go back to school (something I swore I would never do after barely getting through high school). While in school and seeing how my friends where being tormented from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), I figured out where I belong, and where I could do the most good for my brothers in arms. I was going to be a mental health professional. To explain how I came to this decision I will use a quote from General William Thornson US Army, “There are only two kinds of people that understand Marines: Marines and the enemy, everyone else has a second hand opinion.” I full heartedly agree with General Thornson on this statement and feel as if I would be the best man for the job when it comes to helping them when they get home with the mental scars of war.

Though I have not quite met this goal yet I am making significant strides to getting where I want to be. I will have my BA in Psychology come December from Wayne State University and I will be starting graduate school at Nova come January. These are the first two steps to being able to make the impact I want and I will not rest until I have accomplished my goals.

But enough about me and what I want to do, this is our birthday and we still have brothers and sisters overseas fighting. Let’s not forget the sacrifices that young men and women are still giving as we speak. These men and women continue to win every battle, and continue to move this country towards victory over a desperate enemy. The marines have always led from the front and will continue to do so. As 2nd Lt. Richard C. Kennard once said, “My only answer as to why the Marines get the toughest jobs is because the average Leatherneck is a much better fighter. He has far more guts, courage, and better officers… These boys out here have a pride in the Marine Corps and will fight to the end no matter what the cost.”

The Marine Corps has the richest and most noteworthy history out of any military in the world. We Marines have put fear in every enemy we have ever faced. Karen Aquilar once said while at the embassy in Somalia, “They told (us) to open up the Embassy, or “we’ll blow you away.” And then they looked up saw the Marines on the roof with these really big guns, and said in Somali “Igaralli ahow,” which means “Excuse me, I didn’t mean it, my mistake.”” This is just a small example of the legacy we have throughout the world. We have been called black boots by the Somalis, yellow legs by the communists in Korea, and Devil Dog by the Germans in World War One just to name a couple. As long as we keep making marines the world will always have something to fear. Rear Admiral Jay R. Stark said “Marines I see as two breeds, Rottweilers or Dobermans, because Marines come in two varieties, big and mean, or skinny and mean. They’re aggressive on the attack and tenacious on defense. They’ve got really short hair and they always go for the throat.” With this all being said Marines have always been the one thing every young man and woman have looked to be like.

“Some people spend an entire lifetime wondering if they made a difference in the world. But, the Marines don't have that problem.” President Reagan said this of the Corps. This stands true for all of us in this room. We have all raised our right hand and swore the oath to defend the Constitution, and that pride that comes from being the few can never be taken away from any of us. We are looked up to by everyone that has looked in from the outside. Presidents, Army, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard officers, Congressmen, Senators, and the average Joe on the street have all been in awe of the Marine Corps. I have never been prouder of my Corps. We have made the changes but still maintain who we are. You look at other branches of the military and they have made compromises that have cost them their identities, the Marine Corps has not and never will.

In closing, I would just like to thank Gunny Rob McKenna and the Wounded Warrior Project one more time for making this possible, and I would like to say to the rest of you Semper Fidelis Marines and Happy Birthday!!! Thank you!


Submitted by Karen Fredrickson

Down Range, the words refer to those military men and women serving in a geographic area of conflict, a combat zone. I have asked three amazing women to write the Down Range columns the summer QOV newsletters. I hope that these columns will inform, educate, and personalize the experiences of military families.

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