Tuesday, September 13, 2005

To war: Lance Cpl. Stephen Sensing

By Donald Sensing

The future’s fortunes are opaque; we see now as through a glass darkly, and so live each day with fear, faith and hope.

Yesterday my eldest son, Lance Cpl. Stephen Sensing, deployed with his unit to Iraq. His mother, brother, sister and I traveled to Camp Lejeune, NC, to see him off. Cathy’s dad, from Durham, went with us also.

He was released Monday at 10 a.m. until noon Tuesday, so we had a very good visit with him. Then he and his unit drew weapons and gathered their sea bags at the barracks to await transportation. The time of departure slipped a couple of times, but not by much. They shipped out to Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, NC, on commercial buses about 30 minutes later than the originally scheduled time.

At MCAS CP they flew by chartered commercial air to Kuwait; I don’t know the route. Just as I was typing the last paragraph, Stephen called from Kuwait to report he arrived fine and there were no problems. He couldn’t talk but a moment, so that’s all the news we got, but it was wonderful to hear his voice and know all was well. He did say he doesn’t know just when they’ll move into Iraq. He does know where they will go, but I’m not going to include that here.

The standard-issue M16A4 rifle. It’s heavier and more rugged than the M16A1 I carried as a young artillery officer. Seeing this picture I am reminded somehow that when our kids were small, I never let them play with toy guns even though I taught them how to shoot the real things. Guns are not playthings but are deadly serious. There’s no doubt that Stephen knows that now.

They wear their name tapes everywhere – back of their covers, above their right breast pocket, above their right rear trouser pocket, on the sling of their rifles, on their seabags and day packs. They lace a dogtag into a bootlace, standard practice at least since World War II. The other two remain around their necks.

There were many “last” embraces, but there was one that you make count and you give it before you know it’s time to watch him run to final roll call. It’s so hard to let go; you want to make time stand still. You barely breathe and try to feel his heartbeat in your own breast because his heart will always beat in yours.

Steve’s grandfather, Col. (ret.) George D. Stephens, USA, is a World War II veteran who made eight combat amphibious assaults in the Pacific. Since those days he’s always had great respect for US Marines.

Final formation. Frederick the Great observed, “Ninety percent of a soldier’s time is spent waiting for something to happen.” So also with Marines! But the wait wasn’t long.

The battalion commander, Lt. Col. Michael L. Kuhn, came by to talk to the company and wish them well. He also read a prayer by the chaplain – why the chaplain didn’t come himself I don’t know (for all I know the battalion chaplain might already be deployed with another element, so I judge not harshly). Lt. Col. Kuhn’s talk was brief, to the point and professional – these Marines need no pumping up. Many of them have fought in Iraq before; in fact, every one of the NCOs in Stephen’s chain of command I met were already combat veterans, which reassured me greatly.

Lt. Col. Kuhn kindly dropped by our little family group after his short talk to the troops. Several families came to see their Marine off and I am pretty sure that the battalion commander spoke to every one. We had a good conversation for quite awhile. I told him what I had told my son the night before, that I was deeply envious of my son and his fellow Marines. Some people reach the end of their lives still wondering whether they ever made a positive difference in their country or the world. Marines don’t have that problem, and neither, of course, do soldiers, sailors, airmen or Coast Guardsmen.
My son and his fellows are producers of freedom, not mere consumers of it. And those who only consumed freedom will one night lie in their beds and think themselves accursed that they didn’t serve with them.
This is a repost from donaldsensing.com, the original of which  is no longer on that site. However, it is still available, with 130-plus comments, on the Internet Archive Wayback Machine, here.