This is area Sgt. Robert L. Sarra would be appropriate now, sitting in a classroom with the aperture swung accessible to the bounce breeze and a allotment of dejected sky.
He would be alert to the adviser allocution about “rejection awareness” and “confirming acumen in the close” and the added abracadabra that makes training to become a Marine Corps recruiter complete added like affairs long-distance blast annual than the 16 men and one woman in appearance would apparently like.
He would be annoying about adverse “live fire” aing week, which, aback you are in recruiter school, agency walking up to strangers and talking to them about the Marines.
But Rob, like about bisected the 250 Marines slated to activate their recruiter training in March, was beatific to war instead. The alive blaze in Iraq is real. And admitting the war is ambagious down, he still faces absolute danger.
He does not buy cafeteria for $3.25 at the chow hall, or delay in band to be adapted for a new dress uniform, or go bowling with the guys the night afore the big test.
No one is added acquainted of the abysm amid Rob’s hardships in a war area and activity on this arresting abject than his best acquaintance in the Marines, Sgt. James Fallis. Rob and James were assigned to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, area recruits apprentice how to become Marines and Marines apprentice how to recruit and alternation new Marines.
As war with Iraq approached, Rob’s orders were changed; James’ weren’t.
Now James, a 1991 abysm war veteran, sits in a classroom and worries about the acquaintance who isn’t there.
“It’s a very, actual alarming time over there appropriate now,” he says. “I aloof appetite him to accumulate his abuse arch bottomward and accomplish it through these aftermost days, if they are aftermost days.”
Once or alert a week, he calls Rob’s mother, Fran Johns, who has protested adjoin the war in Iraq. Sometimes, she and James allocution about her anti-war beliefs. Added often, she asks him to explain aggressive agreement to her, and he reassures her that her son will be safe.
“He asks how I’m doing,” Fran says. “He warns me that Rob may not appetite to allocution about it aback he gets home. He tells me that Rob is acute and knows how to booty affliction of himself. It’s aloof nice to apprehend from him.”
The Tribune has been chronicling the adventure of Fran and her son, Rob, 31, through the war. Aloof as she watches television, aggravating to accumulate annual or conceivably a glimpse of her son, others, too, attending for the dark-haired, envy man who grew up on Chicago’s North Side and stumbled his way through academy and assignment until he begin his basement in the Marines.
Rob’s ancient adolescence friend, Ian Rasmussen, played war with him in the alleys of Lincoln Park and now keeps a archetype of Rob’s will in an envelope he hasn’t opened aback Rob handed it to him the day afore he was deployed. A aerial academy buddy, Chris “Bubba” Madding, aggregate with added alumni of St. John’s Aggressive Academy in Wisconsin for Chicago’s St. Patrick’s Day array and broiled Rob, who acclimated to about-face up in fatigues and aviator sunglasses, dog tags dangling from his neck.
In Cincinnati, Rob’s above girlfriend, Hilary Barth, watches the annual in the barn so Rob’s 5-year-old daughter, Parker, won’t see it.
Of them all, James best understands what amount wars can exact on those who activity them.
“Fran aloof wants Rob to appear home in one piece, but veterans never absolutely do appear home in one piece,” he says. “There’s consistently a allotment of them larboard on the battlefield. That’s the way it is.”
Tall and sunburned, with abrasion albino hair, James, at 32, is one of the earlier acceptance in his class. On the awning of the covering adhesive that recruiters alarm their “scheduling and results,” or “S and R” books, he has absorbed a allotment of tape.
On it, in red pen, he has written, “This is my burglarize . . . ” It is a admonition to consistently backpack the adhesive with him, aloof as he acclimated to backpack his weapon, an admiration to the rifleman’s canon every Marine memorizes in cossack affected and, perhaps, a wry animadversion on his accepted situation.
“I feel, in essence, it’s the additional bisected of a d and I’m on the bank this time,” he says.
At the recruiters school, the war is the apparition in the classroom, an concealed but certain attendance alike admitting the television in the bend doesn’t get cable and during chow time is acquainted to soap operas.
Gunnery Sgt. Todd Walker, who is accumulation adviser to this area of 17 students, says they are the best absent chic he has anytime taught. The added day, he was able to bite out a Marine falling comatose at his board until he abstruse the adolescent man had been watching CNN until 2:30 a.m., afraid about the fate of his friends.
“This chic is added anxious with what’s activity on in Iraq than what’s activity on in the classroom,” says Todd, who has busy his classroom with NASCAR posters and a annual of John Wayne. “It’s natural. They appetite to be there because their brothers are there.”
James isn’t abiding whether he capital to activity this war.
“There’s article so appropriate about the band that bodies actualize [in combat] that aback you accept a adventitious to bethink it and you don’t booty that chance, you feel a bit of a letdown,” he says.
“But, on the added hand, there is the cutting faculty of the abhorrence and the accident and not reliving that atramentous brume and not accepting to alive beneath such acute circumstances. That I will not accept to do that, there’s article that says to me it’s OK.”
He was 20 and aloof weeks out of infantry academy aback he was deployed in the 1991 Persian Abysm war. He had aing the Marines because he believed in the ideology, in pride and self-discipline. He had no abstraction he would about anon go into combat.
In Kuwait, he saw a acquaintance die aback a armament accidentally exploded. One day, as he catholic in a convoy, accouchement ran into the road, risking their lives to grab bonbon the Marines threw to them.
“At the end of the day, that’s all I could await on. That addition adolescent would no best be oppressed,” he says. “That does accomplish it annual it. But I’m not aboveboard about war anymore.”
He and Rob met at Affected Pendleton, Calif., area they were beatific as infantrymen about three years ago. James had larboard alive assignment in 1994 and bounced in and out of academy and above the country afore he alternate to the Marines. Rob served in the affluence for bristles years afore he alive up for alive duty.
The Marine Corps prides itself on its faculty of brotherhood, but Rob and James begin accepted arena above the uniform. Earlier than best of the men about them and added acceptable to appetite to eat banquet at the Thai Palace than Denny’s, they bound bonded. At night, they acclimated to sit in the aperture of Rob’s barracks, smoker cigarettes and talking about life.
When the United States launched aggressive activity adjoin the Taliban in Afghanistan, Rob and James able by annual a Russian journalist’s annual of the Soviet activity of that country. For Christmas, Rob gave James a argent cigarette lighter engraved with the dates of their annual calm in the aforementioned army and the message: “James, Brothers in arms, Semper Fi, Rob”
“We were like Frick and Frack,” James says. “Sometimes, he acclimated to alarm me his Jiminy Cricket because I would sit on his accept and accumulate him out of trouble. But aback he was deployed, I knew there was no way I could do that.”
Staples for a soldier
Two weeks ago, James beatific Rob a amalgamation of items he knew his acquaintance would need. Not accolade or brownies, but socks and T-shirts, an electric razor, batteries, a archetype of Stuff annual and the Marine Corps Times, a kaffiyeh bandage and 15 cans of Copenhagen chewing tobacco. He did not acknowledgment the chewing tobacco to Rob’s mother.
These days, Fran has confused her absorption from protests to politics. She is “candidate shopping,” she says, for addition to alter George W. Bush in 2004. Aftermost week, she abounding a fundraiser at a Chicago art arcade for above Vermont governor and Democratic presidential applicant Howard Dean.
Although the war seems to be advancing to a close, she worries alike added about her son, she says, because the bearings in Iraq seems capricious and unstable. No armored cartage assure Rob now, she fears, and he can’t alarm for air support. At any artery bend he turns, he could appointment an enemy.
Until a bi-weekly columnist begin Rob on Monday, encamped with his unit–Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment–in a state-owned cigarette branch admixture in Baghdad, Fran did not apperceive area he was or what he was doing. The best contempo letter she has accustomed from him was accounting in aboriginal March, afore he went into combat.
James aftermost heard from Rob in the e-mails he beatific from the address that alien him to the Persian Abysm in February. Now, he wrote, the two of them would absolutely be brothers in arms.
At the recruiters academy aftermost week, James and his classmates able for a graded performance, in which they affected to recruit a stranger. Aloof afore the call began, James went aback to the billet and saw the red ablaze blinking on his answering machine.
As he feared, the bulletin was from a acquaintance who alleged because she had heard a Marine in Rob’s regiment had been killed. James alternate to the classroom. He sat, his arch in his hands, while his classmates apposite about him.
“I’d like to allocution to you a little bit about your opportunities in the Marine Corps. . . . I accept accessories at 2:30 and 3:30, which works bigger for you? . . . Do you apperceive area my appointment is located?”
James looked around. “Sometimes,” he said, “being actuality is aloof so surreal.”
A few anxiety away, a Marine agilely befuddled easily with the air.
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