Fire for Effect

My first unit after basic and infantry school was with Marine Corps Reconnaissance.  Not the special ops Force Recon, but with a division level reconnaissance battalion.  I was a basic Marine Rifleman (MOS 0311) and part of the training cycle for newbies was to be placed in an reconnaissance indoctrination platoon.  We were all hopeful 0321’s and were learning the skills necessary to attend Recon School and hopefully pass and return to the unit.  We would often head to the mountains and practice tactical movements, or run around the HQ with a zodiac, or tie knots.  Man, we tied a lot of knots.  One time we were invited to Ft. William Henry Harrison in Helena, MT to train with a group of Army Tankers.  They had Bradley and Abrams’ tanks and were the Army’s go-to OPFOR trainers.  We spent the weekend snoopin’ and poopin’ trying to get into position to call for fire on the tanks before they spotted us.  We were taught the skills necessary for a reconnaissance-man to successful identify, target, and destroy enemy tanks.  I remember being on the range practicing and getting the concepts down rather quickly.  In fact, my best showing was when I nailed a target tank with my spotting round on the unknown distance range.  It was then a simple command over the net, “Fire for Effect!”  That is the command given when you have confirmed coordinates and are asking for all fire support missions to open up.  It is difficult to put into words what the massive arsenal that our Armed Forces have looks like in action.  You see the explosions before you feel and hear them.  It is truly awesome, and the biggest tactical advantage that we have.  To be able to coordinate fire support and ground forces movements keeps us in the fight and gives options that few other military’s can utilize.

This morning I was reading about the effects that our individual choices have on our lives and on those around us.  I started to think about how the things that I do affect my wife and my children.  Yesterday, I wrote the word sleep with an asterisk.  I meant that to signify that in fact I did not sleep.  Like many veterans, I struggle with getting sleep.  I often feel exhausted and agitated all day because I just can’t seem to get rest.  It is no surprise that I often am irritable and have some anger issues.  Often about the stupidest things.  The other evening I yelled at my 6 year old at the grocery store because he held a container of cupcakes in such a way that some of the icing smeared on the top.  In front of everyone.  He began crying, my wife looked at me (not happily) and said, “You embarrassed him.”  That is just a small example of the many times that I have reacted in anger towards my family.  I imagine that my irrational anger is like sitting on a hillside and just randomly yelling out coordinates and then asking for “fire for effect.”  Talk about a dangerous and ineffective situation.  Not knowing where the impacts are going to be or where they are coming from?  Horrific.

I won’t pretend to have had some amazing breakthrough or found some new technique that makes everything better.  But I think that using some of the skills that I learned could be useful.  There was a lot work that went into calling for fire.  The first thing was that I had to hump a long way to get into position.  Then I had wait, sometimes for quite a long time, for everything to come together.  Then I had to coordinate my target with my position and with the available fire missions so that when I called for fire it would converge on the target from different areas at the same time.  This took patience, it took fortitude, and it took focus.  So how do I apply this?  I remember that when I was on the hillside and the stress and excitement was starting to build that I would close my eyes and take a slow deep breathe.  That sounds really stupid, but truly it would calm me down and help me to focus on reacting to the information I was seeing in a way that would eliminate the target.  Then I would just get to work.  I think that trying anything to break that cycle of un-aimed chaotic fire around the lives of my wife and children has to help.  I won’t pretend that I won’t still get angry or that I will react in the best way possible, but perhaps the first step here is finding a way to coordinate and direct the fire into a safe vector, preferably away from those I love the most.

Splash Out,







17 years ago I was a young Marine at the School of Infantry in Camp Pendleton, when I found myself in the field training for over two weeks.  We had only been eating MRE’s and had been living out of our packs for the entire training cycle.  Finally, we got hot chow one afternoon.  I remember being served meatballs with gravy, mashed potatoes, salad, fruit, and smashed on top of it all was a piece of chocolate cake.  The instructors were serving us dinner that day and they thought it was funny to mix all the food together.  As per Marine tradition, no one ate until all were served in my Platoon.  I didn’t even care that I was dirty and smelly, or that my food was all mashed and mixed together, I was just so happy that I wasn’t eating out of a pouch that I had carried around all week.  So, as soon as I got my salt and pepper shaken onto my meal, I started to dig in.  No sooner than, the instructors started throwing artillery sims into our chow circle and more instructors started knocking the food out of our hands and screaming for us to get to cover.  As an older, wiser, and more mature person now, I can see the training value of what they did.  But at the time, I was so upset by my missing portions.  Seriously, after that incident, I ate food at Olympic-record speeds.  I was NEVER going to miss a hot meal again.  17 years later, I still have to will myself to slow down when I eat…that is how important getting my daily portion became to me.

This morning, I arrived at work after a horrible night’s sleep* and read my morning devotional.  This verse out of Lamentations was in the study: ‘I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”’  Obviously, I have tied together my story of my missing meal – which, silly though it may seem now, I had placed so much value upon – with Solomon’s statement.  I think about how often I get so impatient for things and how important I make things that aren’t really so.  Even back then, as soon as we got to cover, I just dug into my pack and pulled out a pouch of Peanut Butter and squeezed it over a cracker.  So, I still ended up with food, though honestly, MRE’s suck.  Solomon said that the Lord was his portion, and I started to think about what that really means.  Back in my infantry days we would be given our daily portion to carry around with us.  We would usually field strip them which entailed taking out the parts that were bulky and getting rid of the wasted space.  Oftentimes we would trade for our favorite combinations.  Mine at the time was White Rice and Peanut Butter…low weight, high calories.  We would then have to figure out when and where we could eat our daily portion while still maintaining our tactical situation.  My daily portion was about 1800 calories that I could carry in a cargo pocket.  

But look again at what Solomon said.  The Lord was his portion.  The Lord?  How big is He?  What is His nutritional value?  And what would His MRE packet say?  GOD, LORD ALMIGHTY with gravy?  I can’t even begin to think of a way to even comprehend how large and how majestic God must be.  The times that I have gained some understanding of Him pale infinitely with who He actually is.  Elsewhere the Word talks of His love for us that is so great that He chose us over His own Son.  I can’t fathom that.  I would chose my own children over anyone else, no hesitation, because I love them more than I can express.  But God loved us, you and I, to the point that He made the choice I wouldn’t.  So God, who is unable to be described – unable to be measured – unable to be denied – unable to not love us, is our portion.

I once was so devastated by the loss of a portion of food that it actually changed my behavior.  Think about that for a moment.  That portion was so important to me that I took steps to NEVER miss it again if I could at all help it.  Solomon writes that the Lord is my portion.  I want to feel about God the way that I felt about that meal.  I want to be so desperate for His love that it changes my behavior so that I will NEVER miss it again.  The key, I think, comes from the therefore in the verse.  When you see ‘therefore’ it really means ‘since what I just said is true, then’.  Solomon said ‘I will wait for Him.’  That can seem confusing because English is so imprecise.  When he says ‘wait,’ it is easy to think of standing on the sidewalk waiting for a taxicab to arrive: “Where is it already!”  In truth, it is more like when your squad reaches the rally point and deploys just waiting to move in on the mission.  You sit, waiting, ready to move until all the pieces are in place and the order is given.  When we wait on the Lord, it is not an impatient “where is He?”  But it is a still, collected, and prepared “ready to receive.”  He is our portion, and since that is true, then we are ready to receive.



The most important piece to building a home is in ensuring that the foundation is strong and true.  Strength comes from the materials that the foundation is built with, being true means that the building upon it will be level, straight, and able to bear up to life.  When foundations are not strong and true it would be described as being a weak base.  I have heard this example given my whole life but to be honest it just doesn’t become real for me.

See, I am not a builder.  I can appreciate the truth in the example but it is just not my experience.  A better example for me is found in rifle marksmanship where I do have some practical experience.  In rifle marksmanship having a weak base results in not knowing where your shots will end up or hitting what you are aiming at, a potentially deadly situation.  I know what it feels like to fire with a good and stable foundation, and I also know what it feels like to fire with a sloppy one.  I have seen the effects that a good foundation has on impact and accuracy, and I have also experienced the frustration and failure of sloppy mechanics.

I know without question that the best foundation for people is one that is built upon Christ.  The way I understand this to be lived out practically is based on my experience with rifles.  When a rifleman’s base is stable the rifle and supporting arm are locked together…where the arm and the rifle movements are joined as the same instrument.  The legs are wide so as to limit any movement and to absorb any recoil.  The cheek is welded to the stock so the eye and the barrel look to the same thing.  When all the mechanics are utilized properly the natural point of aim between the rifle and the shooter is exactly the same.  No Kentucky windage necessary, because it is zeroed in on target.

In my understanding, a building is static.  It does not move.  The example of building upon a strong foundation for me seems too simplistic and not real life.  Again, I appreciate the truth in the example, but in practical observation in my life I just don’t see that we build a home on the foundation of Christ that forever does not move.  We are not castles, we are people.  And as much as I wish that I was static and unmovable, I know that is just not the truth.  As a rifleman, I know that the proper way to fire is in utilizing the proper base AND in maintaining it.  But I also know that when you get tired, it is easy to loosen up.  That when you get overwhelmed with moving on multiple targets that you let a piece of the technique to fall away.  And as all these start to add up, you become less accurate and the situation can become more deadly.  See there are several keys that are important to understand that affect us in practical ways.  There is very much a measure of discipline to maintaining a stable foundation.  You have to focus on it…you have to take steps to remain there…you can return to it if you have slipped.  There is also a measure of muscle memory as well.  You have to practice…you have to repeat…you have to live it.

It is the same in our walk with Christ.  We have to maintain our stable base and it can be hard, it takes work.  But we don’t have to go alone, He is there to help us.  Today, I began reading a yearly devotional called “Foundations” and just like in marksmanship it will take discipline and muscle memory to remain consistent.  But reading the Word daily and thinking about the truth and peace found within it is like spreading the legs wide and tucking that arm back under the rifle, closing your eyes and letting out that clearing breathe, taking aim, and knowing that when you open up, you are dead zero.

To misquote the Rifleman’s Creed: “There are many lives, but this one is mine…”


The utter East…

My favorite author is C.S. Lewis and in his book “The Dawn Treader” the character Reepicheep makes the comment upon reaching the destination of their journey that they were now at “the utter East.”  It was meant not as a conclusion of the journey, merely as the attainment of the end of the beginning, and in as such the beginning of a new adventure.

I recently returned from my final tour with the US Army and with receiving my DD214, I have found myself at my very own “utter East.”  The times that I was able to serve with brothers and sisters in uniform have been some of the proudest moments of my life.  I had opportunities to see places and events that I never in my wildest dreams would have thought possible.  I won’t glamorize or sugar-coat my own service, for it was neither the experiences of Platoon or American Sniper.  I served in mostly support roles, working as hard as I could to live up to the best that I had it in me to attain and as my Marine brethren would sing, to “keep my honor clean.”

There was a time when I was very aware of my path, one where my devotion to family and to my God were the driving force in my life.  I have never been perfect, far from it actually, but have been relatively focused on what truly matters in life.  I was once the pastor of a small church, and I preached from that pulpit that the only right and proper way of looking at life is to put our priorities into God first, others second, and ourselves a distant third.  Today I can’t even remember the last time I read the Bible or prayed…and I know that is the wrong answer.  But somehow, this last tour just hurt and throughout the time it seemed to just get worse and worse.  I knew that I was in trouble before I even left, but what was I supposed to do?  Call someone up and say, “Hey, I think this is a mistake.”  I probably should have.  But that kind of thing is one of the things that I am most afraid of, that everyone will find out that I am just scared and that I can’t handle it.  It’s like this time I was diving off a high dive in front of everyone, just to show them that I was unafraid.  The whole time, I was terrified, but I just kept diving and maintaining to all around that I was unafraid.  Well, I am afraid and I am hurting.  But it is not just me that is afraid and hurting, for the decisions of my life have affected those closest to me, and we are all afraid and hurting…

“The utter East.”  That’s where I am now, the arrival of the beginning of a new chapter in my life’s walk.  I honestly don’t know where it is headed, but I do have direction and I am seeking guidance.  I have titled this blog “A Veteran’s Walk Back” because it is my goal that I am going to walk.  To move.  To pick my pack up and hump out.  I am sure to have success and setbacks, but my intention is to shoot my azimuth on God, rely on family & friends, and if need be shoot a back azimuth from time to time to stay on course.  I commit here and now to being honest, even if it hurts.  I commit to documenting truthfully and moving with the same focus that I used to take so for granted.

To the journey…