Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Camouflage Effect

Marines take great pride in their uniform. They are taught from the start of their relentless training the value of honor, courage and commitment, a value embodied in one sense by their unwavering dedication to excellence. One such display is the attention given to the care and presentation of their uniforms... and you have to admit, they wear them well.

The sight of someone in uniform may bring about differing responses from the American population, but it’s a sight that rarely goes unnoticed by those of us who love someone who serves. We who are connected to a Marine take great pride in and have a unique bond with that uniform. We know what it took for our Marine to attain the honor of wearing those colors and representing the Corps. We also know what that sacrifice and service requires of them today and what it could portend for their future. For us the sight of camouflage, service alphas and dress blues is likely to elicit a bit of emotion. Some of us have to rein ourselves in and remember not to hug strangers in uniform. Others swell with personal and national pride, snap to attention, honored to say a word of thanks, give a word of encouragement or even just tip our hat, so to speak, with a nod or a salute in recognition of the dedication manifest in their voluntary service to our nation.

However, the same camo that gives our men cover so they can blend into their surroundings and which keeps them out of the line of fire may unfortunately be what keeps them off of the American citizen’s radar as well. Camouflage equals disguise, and the ones who give the most and who have been, and still are, standing in the line of fire seem fairly invisible to the nation at large, in part I believe, due to what I call, the camouflage effect.

As a Marine parent, I get that. I understand, and I raise my hand to humbly admit I can be counted among those duped by the camouflage effect. It’s happened to me. They look alike, dress alike and have the same haircut. Their distinct personalities are cloaked by the grave task at hand wrapped up in the usual news of the week that offers little in the way of insight into the man behind the uniform. To us that uniform sings “pride, a personal story, appreciation and emotion” but it can cause another’s eyes to glaze over, unable to make out the character hidden within the sea of sand colored cloth. The visual offered via screen and print provides little variety by way of narration and illustration to elicit much else.

Americans seem to view the struggle our Marines are engaged in as a fictional TV action story or drama, or a political sticking point...that is, if they ever think of it at all. If it does manage to intrude upon their consciousness, it might be a distant tale of a faceless group known collectively as "the military", "the troops", and "soldiers". It’s a foggy image at best, and one that some feel should just be kept that way. The visual we are often given is typical stock footage of a group of guys in camo, covered in gear, walking in single file through an ancient Afghan village to make the political point about the news story of the day. To me, it shouts, “No new insight here, people, move along!”

The collective perception is at odds with the personal reality hidden within that shot. Why would Americans back home living the free life think beyond that narrative without someone to tell the gut level, real-life stories going on within that frame on behalf of their own personal liberty?

Rarely are the scenarios behind the desert camo given air and print time despite the fact that reporters are, in some places, embedded with our troops. News of Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom is minimal, and glimpses of the lives behind the uniforms even more obscure. An explosion in Afghanistan may have just changed forever the life of that friend your son went to high school with or that boy from your church youth group who always made everyone laugh doing crazy stuff, or the neighborhood kid who always managed to show up just about the time you pulled a sheet of hot, chocolate chip cookies out of the oven.

Does the average American understand what has been relinquished on their behalf by these nameless people in uniform? Do they have a sense of the individuality of those who volunteer their one and only life? Can they get up close enough to make out the real faces of the unique characters or has that been erased by the camouflage effect?

Whether they are aware of it or not, America’s citizens have a stake in the life of those who serve. Some of us are painfully aware of it, others haven’t a clue. Either way, the case can be made that there is a vast and under-served audience out there waiting to read or hear the stories of these rather extraordinary individuals.

Last year, Fox and Friends did a story on the NYT photo of the soldier in his boxers, and Fox had his mom on the show to give us a glimpse into who this young American is and the story behind the photo. Literally stripped of the camouflage that keeps these defenders of freedom off our radar, we stepped into an alternate reality where a kid in "I (heart) New York" boxers and a pack and helmet was fending off the taliban. It was a rare, consummate insight reminding us that there are young Americans with a personality and a history behind that uniform, and parents and grandparents back home a world away nodding a "that's my boy" response...we saw that these are young Americans, and we as a nation, are sadly in many ways uninformed about them as they are well-disguised with generalities. Yet how compelling an insight the story of Specialist Zachary Boyd! Just the thing to cause a viewer to step back and rethink who and what is on the line and the families and friends back home connected to those who serve who are making sacrifices of their own.

We love freedom and know first hand its value and the high price required to maintain it. We don't want to see the little boys we taught to pray and who blew us kisses from the stage of the school play and who did things we'd rather not discuss when they were teens GIVING ALL AND THEN SOME in vain. We don’t want to see the father of our new baby girl glossed over as another “one of the troops” as he misses out on the first year of her life.

So how do we help each other grasp the very unique hearts and personalities beating inside those uniforms? It’s time to make it personal. It’s time to tell a tale or two and offer a few visuals and give some inside scoop into exactly who it is walking that road in our place in the Hellmand province, rifle at the ready and life in the balance.

It’s time for us to share the story line and the images the culture hasn’t been privy to. It would be only fitting to shed some light on the persona enveloped within that desert camo and high time we honor our young men... while we still have them in our grasp.

Lance Corporal Nicholas Hand
Lance Corporal Jonathan Taylor

These 2/2 Marines served our nation faithfully,
paying the ultimate price on our behalf with their young lives
while serving the United States of America through
Operation Enduring Freedom.

May their work live on and their memory endure.

If you would like to provide a unique look at the life and personality of your Marine or Sailor, serving with the 2nd Battalion/2nd Marines, please contact Liz at Stories should be up to 800 words and include around five photos if you like. I'm flexible on that. Be creative, and give us a portrayal of his personality that we would never see from just a photo of him in uniform. Why did he join, who is he really, what is his day like in Afghanistan that you know of? Share something funny or touching about him that we might never know. Paint us a picture with your words. Include a short video clip if you like, or just tell us a story about him. It doesn’t have to be the history of his life. Just help us to grasp who these Marines and Sailors are beyond the camouflage veneer.

Stories will be posted as they come in. I do, however, reserve the right to edit content if I deem it necessary. If so, I will contact you in that regard prior to posting. So get going. I know you have someone to brag on. And we are all ears.

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