Many speak of the debt created in dying for a cause: “So and so died for this country.” But it is much more difficult and strenuous, to fight and live for one.¬† I am convinced that many of the vanquished would agree. Nobody embraces dying for a cause. Many will not live for one either. It seems honor is something increasingly rare in our commoditized culture. Have a look around. How many people do you see daily, whose moral compass swings by virtue of the gravitational pull of a situation, not being directed by word nor duty?
A pastor of all people, asked one time: “How about you, will you die for what you believe in? Would you live for it?” He was crucified shortly thereafter. So I hold duty, and honor in high regard. I would not want to do what a Law Enforcement Officer does, or a Surgeon, or a Court Justice, or a Soldier. I am indebted they went, and spared me, and my own sons. To say I am grateful is an understatement of grand largesse.
We all have heard the famous quote by General George Patton, which paraphrased, says that no one wins a war by dying for his country, but by making the other poor bastard die for his. But what strikes me is this quote:
You cannot be disciplined in great things and indisciplined in small things. Brave undisciplined men have no chance against the discipline and valour of other men. Have you ever seen a few policemen handle a crowd?
- General George S. Patton Jr, May 1941.
A colleague of mine has a very unique position in the workplace. They (the company) are a civilian contractor, who on a regular basis trains military personnel.
What this means is that a government has seen fit to outsource for an expert to supply people whose bodies belong to that government, training which increases operating efficiency, and may help to keep them alive in the pressure cooker of human endeavor, that is warfare. The task carries a weight of responsibility with it that would be daunting for most people.
Shawn Alladio is a 48 year old personal watercraft specialist, Ocean Rescue Instructor, PWC racer, and master of training psychology. She is a 48 year old woman. Her hero(ine) is Joan of Arc. But unlike Joan, I truly believe Shawn is fire resistant. The number of hits she has taken is staggering. Harrowing, vast, incomprehensible endeavors, that are far past legend. They are in the realm of fairy tales. But having been involved in some, I assure you that they are real. I am one competent SOB. But I remain convinced that were I to have swapped places with her, I may have perished in some of her escapades. I consider myself to be on the receiving end more often than I would like, being a member of her K38 team. She gives. That is Shawn.
But it is not luck that has this middle aged woman with the physique and mindset of a Spartan, staying alive and thriving. It is conditioned response, education, and training. When you look at Shawn, behind the facade of the flirty, attractive, joke spinning female, is the eye of a hawk, and heart of a lion. I have never met anyone quite like her. So I spent a few years. I got inside her head. What I found was a capacity for service and a moral and ethical compass that could not point anywhere but true North. She will never die for a cause. She wages war. She lives for it. Shawn Alladio is as relentless as the Sea, and a perfect example of how love is far stronger as a force, than any entity in existence.
I slammed the boot of my car closed, having off loaded my gear into the Jeep of Mike Arnold, who had come to meet me just inside the gate of the Camp Pendleton Marine base. Mike had been in active duty as an infantryman and had been a drill instructor. His long list of service accomplishments were unknown to me. But I did know that he was a Tactical Safety Specialist now. The title meant chops, where they counted. Everything about Mike was measured, calm and precise. As I watched big paws slip across the wheel of the jeep as we headed off in search of the First Recon group that Shawn was working in the surf, Mike and I slowly got to know each other a little bit. Shawn’s phone was off, so she was in the surf.
An hour later, as Mike and I wrapped a quick walk and reconnoiter, not having found the group, I asked him something pointed: “So out of all your years of service, what do you have the strongest memory of?” The crunch of beach sand¬† and rumble of surf, played counterpoint to his answer. “I was in the first group to go into Afghanistan.”¬† He went on to describe the 79 day tour. “It was 98 degrees when we landed, and made camp. We lived on one liter of water a day and two rations.”¬† The 120 pound pack with all his gear for the tour in it was a constant companion. “By the time we left, we had seen 105 degrees and it was¬† 18 degrees. It was just suffering. I don’t know what Hell is like, but if it is anything like that I am never going there”
I felt I knew what sort of man this was. They never snivel. Things just are what they are. The aspects implied, yet unspoken, of what this man had done in those 79 days bore elements of true deprivation and a discipline and dedication to duty that one rarely experiences in any civil occupation. I was humbled that he shared this. He could not know it, but he had just won me. I have a deep respect for a person being able to bear suffering without complaint.
Back into the jeep and off onto the south end of the beach, we came across a truck and three men who watched over a gaggle of PWC’s running in and out of a 3-5 foot surf. As Mike and I trudged up the beach, I spotted a PWC tracking seaward at speed, straight at a four foot line of whitewater. “Oh man, watch this Mike. This is gonna be good” Mike gave me a puzzled look. Seconds later the impact with the whitewater had the boat upside down and men in the water. From the sidelines I saw Shawn doing her energizer bunny dash to them , and I knew what she would be saying. It made me smile. They had the boat upright and all aboard in short order.¬† As an operator, I knew what they had just learned. That is what Shawn was there for.
Setting up a long lens, I caught Shawn smiling at me as she flew up and over a line of white water, mother henning another boat as they worked inshore. In a few minutes I was lost in the ballet of it all. I scarcely noticed the quiet guy who was suddenly standing next to me. He was a Navy Corpsman.¬† I saw a backboard stowed nearby along with a pack and pelican case. The “when shit goes down guy.” A medical officer assigned to the group.
As I reeled off a series of images that illustrated the diorama offshore, I shifted my attention to this obviously calm and handsome guy. We began to chat. In short order I found that he had wound up heading into the military at the behest of a Mom who really did not like the fact that he spent way too much time surfing. We talked about girls. A pretty normal subject if you are on the cusp of testosterone overload, created from lots of physical conditioning. He told me a funny, albeit hair raising story about showing off for a girl and doing a back flip off his board and missing, striking his head. He broke his neck. The gal wound up saving his life.¬† I could see where his¬† Mom had been going. Into the military he went, and medical training was his modus.
As the sun began to drop, the surf training for USMC 1ST Recon came to a close. In short order we were all back in the Marine storage compound and I watched as the group serviced their boats methodically. Shawn had been busy. The men knew exactly what they were doing and it did not take long before assembly and final debriefing.
I like watching Shawn. She has a line of questioning she uses, which in a subtle manner, locates each person, spirit, soul and body. She files the information away and uses it as advance reconnaissance on operations, as training intensifies. That is how K38 does things. The training is layered much like the strata in a geologic formation.¬† The trainee on Monday is unrecognizable by Friday, such is the load they carry with increasing proficiency. I have found myself surprised after a session with K38. “Wow I cannot believe I just did that” becomes a daily refrain. And that is how it all works. Shawn is the catalyst and layered stress, is the refining fire. At the end, you have discipline of spirit, mind, body and boat. A modus is created that limits risk. In rescue, risk assessment is the name of the game.
To better understand the scope of watching a forty eight year old woman training fighting men, you may want to have a look at this link which explains exactly what First Recon is and does, if you poke around a bit. It gives one an idea of the warrior ethic, and mindset. Many of us liberal sorts, would never know otherwise. It is an idiosyncratic world to which Shawn has dedicated herself to serve. The job requires her as a leader, to do what her trainees do, plus go one step or more beyond. That is just one of the basic tenets of leadership. Think crucifix, and you will comprehend my point with greater alacrity. Discipline starts at the top.
A quick shower with the men (you read that right) and we were all off on dinner break at o dark thirty. Into Oceanside, Shawn and I went to a quick meal at a Mexican food takeout joint. As we got up to leave, Shawn asked if I had any extra small cash. She pointed out a gaunt man who had been standing around and busing the tables in the little greasy spoon. Social detritus, trying not to be that thing. I had not noticed, having never seen it before. But Shawn had and left some money at the table. Out the door and through dingy glass, I saw the man bus our table and pocket the cash. Shawn just gets it better than most, she sees, and always does.
Back on base, SSgt Fabre told me that my boat was ready for night ops so I went to my car and readied my gear, figuring I would be shooting from a PWC all night. Wetsuit, waterproof case, helmet, PFD, fin belt, etc.. I knew the drill. Checking in a little later, I asked which boat I would be using and saw Shawn’s sly smile. My first thought was: ooookay what is she going to do to me? (she is sort of notorious for jokes). “Hey there’s your boat” she said, pointing at one of the gleaming aluminum, red and white giant RHIB’s with two magnificent Mercs hung on the stern. I had been admiring the Zodiac built expeditionary craft earlier, and dreamed a little. My heart rose, then fell. Shawn smiled again and turned away.
I was afraid to ask. In short order my helmsman arrived and had me get aboard for a tow to launch, with my gear. In my mind I was Kenny from Southpark with the biggest Southpark smile. A little Southpark voice inside, kept going: “Really? Really? Noooo, really?” But I never showed it. Oh my God, they were letting me play with their toys, er tools. The Navy medical corpsman joined us, and in short order we were on the water.
The Mercs throbbed, and our bow sliced inky black, star and moonbeam strewn waters. In short order First Recon joined us and recovery drilling commenced. I used my Canon 5D M2 on a high ISO setting and used my strobes as little as possible, not wanting to destroy night vision for the Marines who diligently settled into work mode. we worked inside the harbor mouth.
After awhile I saw the boats raft up, and could hear Shawn give her echelon instructions. Offshore we went, as the moon sailed through a fog that seeped in on a faint salt laden southerly breeze. Every once in awhile as I stood at the rail of the RHIB at part throttle, I would see Shawn accelerate a bit. She was testing. Watching to see what the echelon would do, who would stay, who fall off. Recon work again, she filed the information away. Know your team.
Here is the thing about Shawn: she is fast. Having a background in racing and winning, she reads water at speed better than anyone I have ever met. A lot like a drag racer. She was soft peddling. I have seen her light it up, made her do it the first time. She is amazing to watch when she throttles the 250 KZ and hooks the pump up, and keeps it in the water, converting all the ponies into forward motion.
Into the night and miles offshore, First Recon worked and the dolphins decided to join us. Pretty special. Part of the night’s deal apparently. The medic and I had some time to chat.¬† He told me about chasing pirates off Somalia. The soft spoken man described a rescue his group had accomplished, reclaiming a boat full of refugees, abandoned by their captors, left at sea to die, who were in the last stages of dehydration.
He spoke with increasing enthusiasm about his onshore African work with his group, building support systems for impoverished villages. I heard the story of his entourage of kids, who would follow him around. “Each day I would get a lunch with two sandwiches. In all the time we worked on relief I do not think I ever ate one. I would separate them and give them away, and the kids would follow me all day long. If I ever make a lot of money, I know how how I will spend the rest of my life.” And there it was: servitude. Honor. Grace. I am not going to mention this guy’s name. I do not think that he would want that. But his heart for his country and being an ambassador of our Constitutionally mandated moral code, was not what the uninitiate, myself included, would ever expect.
Later back in the Marine yard, First Recon broke it all down again, boats were left clean, fueled and ready for service. We headed to Ryan Levinson’s condo where his wife waited up. It was 2 am.
Dawn came quickly and we met with Michael Arnold again for some breakfast. Shawn eats. On the table in the midst of the post meal carnage I saw a pocket US Constitution. She always has it. Go figure. Perfect. She is so used to me holding a camera I doubt she realized I had captured her. The image is below in the gallery.
We went back on base, to turn in her paperwork and there was a muster. Marines stood around on a yard. As we followed a staff officer to the office from out of the group came a taunting voice: “Hey, are you giving your parents a little holiday tour?” Being an older brother I recognized the taunt and laughing I immediately wanted to tackle the guy, and give him the wedgie from Hell. Shawn simply spun around looked at him and exclaimed: “F you, I will kick your fing ass right here right now in front of everybody.” I was teary eyed, stifliing myself so hard I thought I was going to pop. The yard was quiet. On we went.
Soon I was in my little Speed 3, turbo gliding towards the 405 and holiday traffic. Tomorrow was the Fourth of July. Independence Day. Imagine being on a boat, headed towards a strange land, a new world. Now imagine you may need to kill all that stand in your way, yet be strong enough to adhere to your strange special code, that truly does make you a minority in our civilized world. Would you die for that code? Would you live for it?
I am glad I do not have to answer those questions. I mean I do, but I don’t, truly. Neither do you most likely. But in a society that has turned everything into dollars, will you choose to take a stand and live by the laws others lived and died for, out of duty and honor? Would you enforce those laws in word and deed in your own community, if you saw others endeavor to violate them? Do you love this country? Really? Lets see. Because somewhere right, now a forty eight year old mother with a tattered US Constitution in her pocket, shows us all, how to be a patriot.
The following video is a long one. It says a lot about honor to me, and gratitude. I made myself watch the entire thing and my perspective changed. I am a surfer from California. I needed to see this. Just as I needed to see and hear the things I had on Pendleton. My mind raced with all that I had just experienced in 32 hours, as I spun through the holiday traffic and lines of motor homes, headed to beaches everywhere. I cannot imagine what a Marine knows. But I am going to try.
This piece says a lot. I heard it played at my Father in Law’s funeral. He was a Marine. I get it now. Twenty years later, I see. I hope you don’t take as long to get it as I did.¬† I value peace in a deeper way now.
Thanks to Tony Luna for passing thing to me. A good thing.