Friday, November 28, 2008

A Humbling Experience...

I went down to the beach today on my lunch break. I often enjoy taking in the view as a way to relieve the stress my job causes. As I chewed my cold Philly Cheesesteak and thought about how dirty my jeep was and how much my lower back was hurting, I saw a young man walk past my jeep and stop at the guard rail.

He was dressed in a fatigue cap, green Marine Corps T-shirt, fatigue pants, and combat boots. He stood at the rail for a moment, as if admiring the view, and nodded briefly. Then he turned around and walked back towards the parking lot.

Odd, I thought to myself, that he had only spent a moment enjoying the view. Why come down at all if you're only going to look for a few seconds?

My question was answered when this young Marine walked BACK past my jeep towards the beach again, this time carrying a large bundle and a helmet. He set the bundle down and unwrapped it, revealing a suit of combat armor. He dressed himself in this cumbersome armor, donned his helmet, and took a run down the beach, through the small stream that divided one half of the beach from the other, down a ways, and back again. When he got about 300 feet from the parking lot, he stopped, and did sit ups, crunches, bicycles, and push ups.

He then grabbed a log that was laying in the reeds, and dropped it in the sand. He walked another 50 feet closer, and placed a piece of driftwood in the sand. He did this again with a clump of seaweed 50 feet later, and another piece of wood 50 feet after that.

Then he went back 50 past the log and laid on his back. After a few seconds of laying there, this Marine sprung to his feet, sprinted to the log, and dove for cover. He took something out of his gear, slapped it, and placed it on the ground. Then he got up and sprinted to the driftwood, and repeated the maneuver. He then went to the seaweed, and the other piece of wood, each time taking an item from his gear and slapping it before dropping it into the sand.

After the last item was placed, he got up, brushed himself off, collected the items, and went back to the start. He did this about a dozen or so times, sometimes belly crawling from the log to the other locations, sometimes sprinting.

After this impressive display of endurance and stamina, he dropped to his knees in front of the log and pressed it into the air over his head several times. Then he hefted it back into the reeds, collected his gear, and began trekking back towards the parking lot.

I got out of my jeep. I felt compelled to say something to him.

"Excuse me," I said, stepping towards the guard rail.

"Yes sir?" he said, as if I wasn't the one who should be calling him sir.

"I hate to bother you," I said, "but my name is Kenn Beck."

"Mike Coble," he said, shaking my hand. His grip was strong and confident. (The spelling of his last name is conjecture on my part.)

"Mike, I just wanted to say 'Thank you.' "

I was trying to think of the best way to explain why I was thanking him when he simply said "You're welcome." You see, this guy knew exactly why I was thanking him.

"I saw you doing the drills, and I was impressed," I said.

"Yeah," Mike said, "It's tough, they just cleared me to do PT (physical training) so I wanted to get my butt back in gear."

"Oh?" I said.

"Yeah," he said, pointing down to his left leg. "I was in Iraq and my Humvee blew up. Busted up my leg pretty good."

"Wow," was all I could muster. "Are they sending you back?"

"Yes," he replied, "They're doing a redeployment to Iraq. Iraq was easy, we got lucky over there," he said. "They're redeploying us to get our gear. I don't know if I'm going back for that one, but they're pulling all our gear and troops over to Afghanistan. It's like the Wild West over there."

"What did you say your name was?" I asked him.

"Mike Coble," he replied.

I shook his hand. "Be safe, Mike, and thank you again."

He smiled and said "you're welcome" again.

I got back in my jeep. Suddenly, my job wasn't so stressful. Suddenly, my cold Philly Cheesesteak was a banquet compared to the rations this guy lives off of when in the field. My jeep was dirty; his ride BLEW UP BENEATH HIM. I don't like doing my physical therapy exercises because my back is sore; this kid is SPRINTING THE BEACH IN FULL COMBAT ARMOR TO REHAB HIS LEG WHICH WAS BUSTED UP IN AN EXPLOSION.

I started my jeep, full of a bizarre mix of shame and pride. I am shamed by the fact that I have never done as much for my country or fellow man in 34 years as Mike Coble has done, and if this guy is over 25, I'd be surprised. And I am proud that I had the chance to meet and thank a guy like Mike Coble, who stands up for his beliefs, and has the courage to fight for those who are unable, and in some cases, unwilling to fight for themselves.

Please keep Mike Coble in your thoughts, and hope he and his brave fellows make it back safely to the U.S.