December 17, 1990 was a typical Monday. A letter I wrote home stated, “I had a pretty good day today up until 1600. We had to run 5 or 6 miles in our “boots and utes.” My knee is bothering me, too. I put some Bengay on it and took an Advil. I hope it gets better.”
I go on to say that “my roommate moved out today. He’s on his way to the big sand box to play.” It was corporal Gray. They had deployed marines with the U.S. Naval Forces Central Command (ComUSNavCent) as the 4th Marine Expeditionary Brigade (4th MEB) under the command of Major General Harry W. Jenkins Jr. The brigade included two battalions of 2nd Marines from Camp Lejeune where I was stationed. A Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) is a Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) of approximately 14,500 Marines and Sailors constructed around a reinforced infantry regiment, a composite Marine aircraft group, a combat logistics regiment and a MEB command group. A Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU, pronounced "Mew") is the smallest MAGTF in the Marines. The Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) is the largest MAGTF.
In recent history of the Marines, the 2nd Mar Div had been mostly used as reinforcements to the 1st Mar Div. Only during the Vietnam war did the Marines deploy two divisions in it's MEF as full combat units. This would be the second time the 2nd Mar Div would be committed to combat as a division for the first time since World War II.
Saying goodbye to Corporal Gray left me with mixed emotions. I guess I felt more like family and friends did when they had to say goodbye to me. Was this the last time I would see him? I tried not to think about the worse case scenario. It just made me that more anxious to get over there myself. I was ready to get over there and get this party started. I don’t like to start fights, but I sure don’t mind finishing them. He was going by ship which, at the time, didn’t make any sense. We originally thought we were all going by ship but the latest news was we were flying out. Still didn’t know which day though, but I knew it had to be real soon.
I made my first tape today. Several of us had the idea that we would record messages and send them home. It’s faster than writing and it gave loved ones a chance to hear our voice again. I don’t know where all the tapes went that I made, but I do have one with me. I haven’t heard it yet as I don’t have a cassette player.
Home Sick Home
Today I got six letters from home. Two letters were from my grandmother that arrived the same day, one was from my aunt, one was from my mom, one from my church back home that I grew up in, and a Christmas card from someone but don't remember who.
The letter from my aunt stated that she had taken my place in the gathering of Toys For Tots at our home church. I wrote back that I was very happy to hear about that and to keep up the good work.
Getting mail is one of the biggest pick-me-ups we could possibly get. It was the same way in boot camp. I remember one day in particular. It was not the worst day, but one of the worst days of boot camp. It was a very long and difficult day. I got several letters from home all in one day. It’s exciting when you hear your name called out, “Private Lovell!” again and again and again. It was like a kid getting Christmas presents. Plus, it was close to Christmas so I figured letters from home would be my Christmas presents this year. Boot Camp in 1986 and my pre-deployment to the Gulf in 1990 were the only two times I couldn't be home for Christmas.
Anyway, back to that particular day in Boot Camp, we only had so much time to shower and shave, shine our brass and boots, and get ready for our nightly inspection. The Drill Instructors (D.I.) would go up and down each aisle and check us out, including our uniforms. The time left over is free time but there isn’t much left. We usually had to get in “classroom” formation at the front which is basically sitting around the D.I. Indian style and listening to him rant and rave about something. On a side note, there is always a reason why we had to do what we did. Indian style was the only way they allowed us to sit, even though it was difficult for some to do. The reason behind that was to prepare us all for our range qualifications. We had to shoot in four positions, Prone (lying down), Sitting (Indian style with elbows on both knees), Kneeling (Elbow on one knee), and Standing (using a Loop Sling).
There was no way I could read all of my letters in one night, but I was going to read a few. Even though we were not supposed to, I read one with my flashlight under the covers after lights out. I would have been in big trouble if I was caught.
As I read the letter, it made me homesick for the first time. By that time I was in boot camp for about six or seven weeks. It was the first time to be away from home ever. I have to admit, I wanted to cry. But I held it together, turned out my light, and eventually fell asleep.
“Heart thoughts are profound, hindsight aches and hope is obscure.
I'm craving a great adventure -- one that leads me back home.”