Sometimes when I hear a song on the radio I smile, sometimes I tear up a bit, and other times there is a feeling I cannot quite describe. In this case, I heard one from decades past that was a little bit of all three. Isn’t it funny how music can take you back to High School, make you think of a local sports team, or even your first dance at your wedding?
In early 2003, I found myself in a tent in Northern Kuwait; one of the first Marines to reach the desert in preparation for the ‘Iraqi Freedom’ invasion. I was a ‘Refrigeration Mechanic’, but let's just say there wasn’t much for heat pumps to work on at this point. I am sure everyone has already heard: Every Marine is a Rifleman. We set up the tent-city that housed the entire forward party of the the First Marine Division. I spent the better part of a month learning a bit of Arabic, training for what was thought to be an imminent gas attack, and cleaning weapons, lots of cleaning of weapons. I remember begging my command to attach me to the British First Armored Division, who was the first forward unit into Iraq in an effort to secure the Al Basra Airport, and many oil refineries on the way.
As the days counted down, and tensions started to run high, we wrote letters home and asked our comrades to deliver them if we didn’t make it. We had gas scares, constant threats, and moving almost every night under the cover of darkness and ruthless sandstorms.
The day of invasion finally arrived, and every Marine around me, plus the British Division knew it. I think we went about four hours without speaking, other than the count down orders that were expected. My squad and I climbed into the 5-ton troop carrier, and started North. The tension was so thick you could cut it with a knife. Then, as if the lowest ranking guy in the entire truck knew what he was doing, he began to sing: “You have to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em….” Without missing a beat, the entire truck joined in and I believe I was transported back home for just a moment. As I look back at this moment, it is a great reminder that sometimes a leader is not who you would plan it to be, and often times not the rank you would think either.
This was a day that transformed my life forever. There was nothing entirely epic that I did, and we didn’t even lose a single U.S. Marine the entire invasion. Of all songs to sing during a time like this, I would have never thought of The Gambler. Now this song will forever make me smile, cause me to become a bit anxious, and even tear up as it reminds me of a day that I often times wish I could forget.