Thoughts from the Marine Corps Ball

by Ian Tuttle

Perhaps I don’t travel in sufficiently well-heeled circles, but I doubt there is any birthday bash quite like the Commandant’s Marine Corps Ball, held Saturday evening at the Gaylord Hotel, overlooking the Potomac from the Maryland side. I had the opportunity to attend in the company of colonel recently returned from a year’s deployment in Afghanistan, along with 3,300 Marines in evening dress and dress blues, dignitaries domestic and foreign (at our table an Australian general), spouses, family, friends, “and lovers of Marines,” as current commandant, General James Amos, said. “Because what’s not to love about us?”

It’s a memorable experience any time — the U.S. Marine Drum & Bugle Corps; the cake cut with a mameluke sword; the humble (and humbling) remarks of the night’s guest of honor, Staff Sergeant Joey Jones, a double above-the-knee amputee who spoke on behalf of the Corps’ wounded warriors — but the night takes on a special gravity in the light of last Tuesday’s election.

Benghazi earned a mention in the commandant’s video, aired to Marines worldwide: a montage of news clips reminded viewers that a Marine “ready-response team” was the first unit on the ground after the spontaneous movie review got out of hand.

The video then turned to Guadalcanal and the Marine landing in 1942 that helped to shift the war in the Pacific. The Japanese never broke the line.

That contrast, for me, characterizes the evening. If debt-reduction talks fail during the lame-duck Congress, a sequestration is set to go into effect in January, reducing projected growth in America’s defense budget by almost $600 billion over the next decade.

But it’s not the financial cuts that are the problem. Far worse is the lack of moral capital — not in the men on the ground, but in their commander-in-chief. American military forces were within 500 miles of Libya, but 19 hours passed between the attack and the arrival of the first U.S. soldier. The means and opportunity to save American lives were available, but the commander left those forces on the sidelines.

Our ballroom Saturday night was fiercely patriotic, filled with men and women eager to serve and defend their country. The ubiquitous shouts of “Oorah” were as loud as ever.

Across the globe on November 10, Marines pause to commemorate the Corps’ birthday, whether they are at the 8th & I barracks in Washington, D.C., or in the mountains of Afghanistan. At every celebration they hear a message from General John A. Lejeune, first delivered in 1921. The general declares, “The record of our corps is one which will bear comparison with that of the most famous military organizations in the world’s history.”

Indeed. Our men and women in uniform are more than willing to lead. They deserve a commander-in-chief willing to do the same.

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