Gunny's Corner: Delete "insurmountable"

This is not an admission of guilt. None of the events in this article are reflective of anything that actually might have transpired in 2005 on Camp Fallujah, Iraq right after the Marine Corps ball. This is a complete work of fiction and any possible links between actual events identified by close friends of mine are a mere coincidence. All names have been removed to protect the innocent.

Drunk people in a combat zone are dangerous.

It’s the reason alcohol is banned by every tier in the chain of command. No one is allowed, even via gift from a local leader, to consume alcohol. On one special occasion this order was lifted for a 24-hour period in celebration of the Marine Corps birthday. The command sergeant major, future Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, found a sponsor to purchase enough beer for every Marine in country to have two drinks with their meals.

Drunk people are also funny.

The 2005 Marine Corps ball was by far the fondest ceremony of my entire career. The Chief of Staff played the role of Master of Ceremony and heckled the Commanding General’s entire staff. An informal comedy show of funny stories ensued, which turned into a roast of the General and Sergeant Major. The mood was lively. People ate well. Beer tasted better than it ever had and we drank as slow as possible to prolong the experience. A few discreet circles passed around water bottles holding whiskey and bourbon, dubbed 'care packages.'

The end of night is where the fuzziness begins.

Specific events happened in flashes. The order is uncertain but the images are burned into my memory. (1) A group of Marines fed a pair of stray Iraqi cats banana milk from the chow-hall. (2) A Marine decided to take a shower to sober up and walked about 200 yards back to his tent from the head trailers wearing a shower shoe, dog tags, and a beanie, with nothing but a towel wrapped loosely around his neck. (3) I ended up in a trailer with a group of civilian truck drivers for a logistics company, drinking Jameson and Gatorade. (4) The Gunny, two Staff Sergeants, and I smoked cigars and a hookah with a couple of locals (no, I don’t remember where they came from and why they were on base, but I do remember the peach flavored tobacco). (5) We stopped to listen to a Marine calling cadence to himself in a port-a-john. He made it through four songs before he started a running cadence and we decided he needed privacy.

What happened next was such a profound moment of insight that jumping straight into it may have degraded its value. We needed the drunken obstacle course for perspective.

The Gunny stopped to relieve himself on the side of an up-armored tractor. We joined in. Staring at the desert sky under a bright moon gave the night a themed backdrop of star-like pinholes in a large velvet blanket.

“You know who I’d like to throw off of a bridge?” Gunny asked.

“Hey, I haven’t snored in three days.” I said.

“Not you,” Gunny said. “I’d like to take the guy that penned the term ‘insurmountable’ into our vocabulary, and place him in front of a firing squad.”

“And this guy did what to you, exactly?” I asked.

“He has single-handedly weakened our society and it’s effecting my Corps,” he slurred. “People like him must be made an example of and burned alive.”

Meaningless rants of a drunken old man normally don’t hit my radar. I was about to chalk it up to the Gatorade. Something pinged my curiosity.

“Most Marine language is filled with acronyms, grunts, and f-bombs,” I said. “How can a single word make you want to kill Webster?”

The two Staff Sergeants laughed. Not sure how much water the bladder can hold, but I was convinced that we were circled around the back tire of this truck for at least ten minutes.

“When you give a name to thing, you give it life, and bring something new into the world. Insurmountable is the same thing as failure, impossible, can’t, and all those other weak-shit words that make my butthole itch.”

“You sure that’s not a hemorrhoid?” I asked. “You’re that age now.” He didn’t laugh.

“When someone believes that the impossible is actually impossible, they make it so,” he said. “Why in the world would we teach that to kids, let alone follow it as adults. Insurmountable shouldn’t exist in our language.”

That was all he said on the topic. It was enough to change my way of thinking when I evaluated my goals. Nothing was out of the realm of possible if I was willing to devote the attention and time it would take to accomplish it. This realization may have appeared somewhere in an inebriated stupor, but the message was so clear, and I can’t imagine living differently.

Have you felt like something you’ve chased for so long is impossible, or a goal you’ve dreamed about but never approached because you thought it inconceivable? Why? Who told you that it couldn’t be done? If impossible and insurmountable were real words, we’d have never landed on the moon, mapped the human genome, built the internet, developed vaccines, or found a way to mix Jameson and Gatorade.

We should always view problems in measurements of time. Not assessing if it can be done, but more so how long will it take to accomplish that goal. Period. No other method of thinking makes sense for anyone who believes in the possible. The how will reveal itself once the work begins.

We stumbled away from that water-logged tire that night laughing about the events of the evening (that obviously could not have happened) and wondering if we really saw a scarlet and gold painted duck. The thought that we experienced a lesson so profound that it would change our lives never crossed our minds, at least not until later.

Speaking to others of the group that night, all of us later remembered Gunny’s rant. We have incorporated that philosophy in our day-to-day lives, regardless of the profession. Whether you are a teacher, a plumber, an electrician, a mechanic, a businessman, or a Marine, understanding that possibility is only measured in units of action instead of achievability, changes the way you view the world. It simplifies it.

Can you simplify your world? Of course, no need to ask such a stupid question. We may not have the ability to delete words out of the English dictionary but we do have the power to remove them from our vocabulary.

Semper Fidelis

People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it.” – George Bernard Shaw