MARINE CORPS BASE TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. -- Camouflage netting hangs overhead, shielding the Marines underneath from the relentless battering of the sun while their instructor discusses the finer points of the M-249 squad automatic machine gun in a makeshift classroom here.
“Everyone deploying to Iraq should be comfortable handling a machine gun,” said the instructor, Cpl. Paul B. Hodge, a machine gunner with 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division. “I explained that situations might happen where it will be their job to protect other Marines around them. If someone is incompetent with a weapon, it could potentially result in unnecessary loss of life.”
Hodge is nearing the end of his enlistment. However, before entering the civilian sector, his time here at Mojave Viper to ensure the Marines outside the rifle companies are educated on the weapons they’ll use during their upcoming deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Like many other Marines, the Baltimore native raised his right hand and enlisted after the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001.
“My grandfather fought in World War II and my father in Vietnam,” he admitted. “I knew after the events of 9/11 our country was going to be thrown into war head first. And like my father and his father before him, I knew that the right thing to do was enlist. All good men should go to war for their country.”
After attending the School of Infantry at Camp Geiger, N.C., he made his way up the road to Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, his first and current duty station. Once arriving, he went to Camp Schwab at Marine Corps Base Camp Butler in Okinawa, Japan, for the Unit Deployment Program.
“I enjoyed the island a lot because you are just being absorbed in a completely alien culture than our own,” he said. “Whether the Okinawan’s hated or loved us, it was just a rare experience that you don’t encounter when you are stationed in the states.”
In Okinawa, Hodge and a number of Marines with Company F became the unit’s Anti-Terrorism Force Protection Company. The Marines trained and became proficient in the use of non-lethal munitions for any worse-case scenarios that could arise anywhere throughout Southeast Asia, Hodge explained.
After returning stateside, Hodge began pre-deployment training, including Mojave Viper’s predecessor, Combined Arms Exercise, to prepare for a deployment to Iraq in September of 2005.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” Hodge admitted. “I was skeptical like everyone else, but I also know that Iraq was the reason I signed up in the first place.”
Helping Marines gain experience and a better understanding of the war, he explained, is where he draws satisfaction in his duties. He said he wants them to know not only the moving parts of machine guns, but general survival in a territory unknown to many Marines who are mere months away from stepping foot on Iraqi soil
“Sure, being in Iraq is a hairy situation. It is that reason that I am proud of all the Marines around me. They joined voluntarily during a time when our country needed them most, knowing full well they would be going to war,” he said. “They are this generation’s heroes.”