Have you ever heard the story of how around a thousand Marines wore green for St Patrick’s Day in Iraq? NO?!? Let me tell the story of one of the oddest days of the GWOT.
A great many years ago in a land quite far away… 2007 to be exact… I was deployed to the Iraqi desert in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. This wasn’t my first rodeo, (one has to wonder how many rodeos is the correct number) so I had a general idea of what to expect.
This information is useful in a myriad of interesting and unforeseen ways, from the obvious of where we’re going to the less obvious of what sniffle gear and tobacco products to bring. There is always the issue of weight and space; you can only pack so much, and your command will require a list of items be included, so what can you afford to live without? What can you get away with not bringing? (Looking at you, six giant safety pins.)
A clever Marine can cut a lot of weight and space from the command’s packing list when they know what they are doing, especially since 45% of that packing list is probably from the late 1990s anyway. Some things, on the other hand, cannot be jettisoned. Enter the Woodland MARPAT uniform.
Remember how I mentioned we were in the desert? Don’t misunderstand, there are places in the desert that contain green, both from nature and from mankind trying to manipulate their environment, but for the most part it’s brown. All manner of brown.
Many various and varied forms of dusty colors in a quite literally earth toned palette. Luckily the US Marine Corps has two primary combat uniform designs, called MARPAT (Marine Pattern), the woodland and the desert. I’ll leave you, dear reader, to decide which one is the appropriate color for the deserts of the Middle East.
The credit of good sense is given to the reader but likely was missing in the command that required that we carry one full and complete set of woodland combat uniforms. Just in case. And if it had been the case that we were operating from an oasis or area with vegetation, it would have been an entirely justified measure.
As I’m sure can be guessed, this was not the case. An easy bet to make is that our Battalion Commander had Irish heritage, and thought that going through the absolute nonsense of switching everything over… twice… was perhaps supposed to boost morale? Who knows what goes through the minds of field grade officers? The world may never know.
So it came to pass that on 16 March 2007 in the open deserts of western Iraq the order was sent out that on the following day all of the battalion would switch to woodland combat uniforms.
Included in this was that each of us would have to remove, flip inside out, and reapply the reversible fabric covers for our ballistic helmets to the green side. This is not a difficult task, to be fair. It is however a tremendous and annoying one. Like trying to put thread through a needle while on a Ryan Airline flight in a storm. This switch was to be for one day only, the 17th day of March. Saint Patrick’s Day.
Yes, that is correct. We changed a battalion’s uniform color for Saint Patrick’s Day. Only Saint Patrick’s Day.
Over one thousand Marines making up a strange sort of modern art exhibit, six-foot Christmas trees bristling with grenades and rifles wandering the landscape. Not quite to the level of surrealist art, to be fair, but absurd in the extreme.
I have heard it said that troops bond in the field so tightly because of shared traumatic experiences, going through hardships together that others have difficulty relating to. While being a tree in the desert was low on the general list of miseries my fellow Marines and I experienced, it wasn’t the bottom.