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Laura Kessel is managing editor of The News-Herald in Willoughby. She writes a weekly column and shares her thoughts here.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Arrival, and deployment of the 'troops'

Finally, the south.

So, this is what grass looks like. There's ground under that snow, ladies and gentlemen.

At least if you're in South Carolina.

Upon arrival at 2 p.m. Wednesday in Savannah after two flights and two canceled flights, we headed to a bus for an hour drive to Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort across the border in South Carolina.

There, we met Lt. Col. Glenn Klassa, an 18-year veteran Marine who described his career path and how he moved from college to the Marines and found his true calling in life as a military pilot.

He then introduced us to six of the young Marines stationed at Beaufort. They held a variety of jobs and arrived in the Corps from even more varied paths.

Speaking to the teachers, they described their various responsibilities and how they will be using the many educational opportunities available to those in the military today.

We heard from those who work locating explosives such as IEDs; in aircraft recovery; as a personnel clerk; as a transfer clerk who relocates Marines to deployments; a martial arts instructor; and an infantryman.

They listed terms of service from seven years to just 18 months, and many said they plan to be what the teachers termed "lifers," or career Marines.

We then headed to a hangar for the chance to check out an F-15 and learn from a pilot about what it's like to fly them, ascending stairs to the cockpit and climbing in for a up-close look.

Then it was time for dinner at the officer's club, where peeks inside are permitted, but not through the lens of a camera.

Every bar in Northeast Ohio should include what we found to be the most interesting feature -- a wall where patrons are permitted to blow off steam by chucking an empty beer bottle.

Standing at a marked line, you heave the bottle against a wall with a mural painted with the faces of Osama bin Laden, Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini and Kim Il Jung.

Needless to say, on a military base where men and women are deploying regularly, the center image of bin Laden is the one that's seen the most action.

The teachers didn't necessarily target any of the images, instead just heaving it to ensure it broke, because house rules call for those who skip a bottle off the wall to buy a round for anyone who witnesses the miss.

Today's agenda will be strictly Parris Island-based. A 6 a.m. bus will take us to the Island, where we'll start with morning physical activity with the troops and get a chance at the obstacle course, before lunch with the recruits in the mess hall.

After two days worrying about flights and whether we'd actually get here, the 4:30 a.m. alarm suddenly seems so much more worth it.


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