Back on my last deployment, I had the… pleasure… of having to attend the Department Head’s meeting every night, which consisted of the aforementioned leaders/managers (depending on the person…) of the various departments of the ship (Deck, Operations, Engineering, etc.) getting together with the Executive Officer (the second-in-command for the ship, generally abbreviated to "XO") and talking about what they accomplished today, what was on the agenda for tomorrow, and discussing long-term goals. Once we embarked our Marine detachment, the commander of our particular MEU (Marine Expeditionary Unit) unit – a colonel in charge of a Force Reconnaissance element – also attended the meetings, mostly as an observer since the Marines were generally just marking time below decks (when they were not stabbing themselves in the legs… another story for another time).
But, as soon as our ship got northwest of 10N 68W, something about the Marine colonel changed – he started carrying a sidearm.
Now, for you civilian / non-squid types out there, I guess I should clarify – once a Navy ship is underway, pretty much no one carries firearms. If we were in a certain area (say, the Persian Gulf, for example), then some topside watches were diverted to manning a few of the fixed weapon emplacements on the ship (just .50 M2s, in our case), and if we were to go to General Quarters ("Red Alert", for you Star Trek aficionados), then the rest of the emplacements would be manned and a few other folks would be sent topside with firearms, but even then, 90% of the crew would remain unarmed. Even in-port, only the topside watches carry guns, and not many at that (and mostly in Condition 3, which is yet another post for another time).
So, yeah, a firearm on a person on an underway ship was something a bit out of the ordinary, especially since the firearm in question was a 1911 clone of some type, and not the military "standard" M9 (it was probably a MEU(SOC) M-45 upon which the Kimber Desert Warrior is loosely based). But the officer in question wore it damned near everywhere I saw him on the ship (I never saw him carrying it while on liberty (taking a break in friendly ports), but, obviously, that does not mean he was not), and no one really cared because he was a Marine, he was in a designated Combat Zone, and that is just what Marines do. I mean, seriously; I am not going to say all Marines are automatically above reproach, but you would have to be an idiot to ask a Marine to surrender his weapon in a combat zone.
Which, I guess, says a lot about Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta:
Around 200 troops who had gathered in a tent at Camp Leatherneck were told "something had come to light" and asked abruptly to file outside and lay down their automatic rifles and 9mm pistols.
"Somebody got itchy, that’s all I’ve got to say. Somebody got itchy – we just adjust," said the sergeant who was told to clear the hall of weapons.
Major General Mark Gurganus later said he gave the order because Afghan troops attending the talk were unarmed and he wanted the policy to be consistent for all.
"You’ve got one of the most important people in the world in the room," he told the New York Times, insisting that the decision was unrelated to Sunday’s killings. "This is not a big deal."
However, US troops often remain armed even when their Afghan colleagues have been asked to lay down their weapons and the incident is believed to be the first time they were stripped of guns during an address by their own secretary of defence.
Hell, we were on a ship, in the middle of the ocean, outside of even the most optimistic cruise missile ranges in the world, and our full-captain Captain trusted the Marines with their own weapons. SecDef Panetta, however, does not appear to trust the Marines.
And regardless of whether or not he actually does trust the Marines and regardless of whatever his motivations were for wanting the room cleared of weapons, that appearance is exactly what will be driven home to the troops – the second-highest individual in their chain of command does not trust trained and experienced Marine Corps veterans with their own firearms in a hot combat zone. As OldNFO (the person who brought this to my attention) said, "This crap is going entirely TOO far, if they don’t trust our own troops, the stay the F**k away from em…"
If there were a better way to destroy morale and the troops’ faith in their leadership, I will be damned if I know what it is.
Of course, the Secretary of Defense seems bound and determined to piss of the military, what with his blatantly unconstitutional belief that all he needs for military actions, up to and including war, is "international permission". Never mind that pesky "Constitution" thing, or that whole "Congress shall have the power… to declare war" bit.
"Who allowed the inmates to take control of the asylum?" is becoming an increasingly poignant question…