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An Open Letter to the Modern Military On Cell Phone Use

It was perhaps day 4 or 5 of a CAX sitting under the sweltering sun of 29 Palms, California. CAX, of course, stands for combined arms exercise but I believe they might have changed it in latter years to Mojave Viper or something like that. Either way, just don’t touch the desert tortoises and you’ll be fine. If you have never been to this fine Marine Corps installation, it’s landscape resembles something along the lines of Mars. Rocks, dirt and more rocks. Circa 1999 or 2000, I had decided to pass the time by stacking small rocks in the dirt as I sat there sweating my cajones off. Feeling proud of my tower, it all came to an abrupt end as another Marine decided to pass the time seeing if he could throw pebbles and knock down my tower. I responded by building higher walls. He in turn responded by trying to dig under it and I responded by digging rocks deeper into the sand. Someone then started a conversation about the origins of the universe until another Marine started ranting about the benefits of dating obese women. This was life in the military prior to cell phones and I liked it that way. Welcome to grumpy old veteran edition of you modern military kids and your stupid cell phones.

The Good Old Days

It was recently revealed that the popular fitness app, Strava, which users could turn on to track their runs has had some unintended consequences. When they published their heat map showing all the activity of its users some very distinct patterns emerged. Long story short, military bases throughout the world were mapped out in detail along running routes. Not a big deal for most major military installations, but personnel doing PT in the horn of Africa, Indian Ocean islands and other secret locations were pretty much mapped out for the average Joe to see. Gunny Highway, is not pleased.

I’ve been out of the military for nearly 15 years now and apart from a remarkably benign trip to Iraq in 2003, it wasn’t that remarkable a service. I joined in the blissful peace of the 1990’s because I thought Dress Blues looked cool and I wanted to kill a fire dragon. I’m nothing special, but what I am now is old and old Jeff doesn’t like this cell phone in the military nonsense. The 18-year-old Privates fighting in Iraq today were 4-years-old when I was there. I listened to Linkin Park during my war and when I read about last night’s Grammy participants making their political statements I didn’t know who 80% of them were. What’s a Kendrick Lamar?

Basically as the rise of the smartphone has taken place while I have been chilling in the 1st Civ Div and I guess I’ve always hoped there was some smart person in the military thinking about all this cell phone business. Never did it dawn on me that special ops guys on some obscure base in ButtCrackistan would be tracking their runs around a small base with a cell phone. Dear Lord, can you only imagine if the invasion of Normandy were taking place in this modern generation and Snapchat started blowing up with D-Day selfies hours before our troops hit the beach. “Getting ready to hit the beach, hopes I totes don’t get killed, send nudz before I die ladies!” Back in my day the post office had to deliver pictures of your girlfriend. Yes it was slow and it came in a big yellow mail bag, but that’s the way it was and we liked it that way.

The Modern Military is Young

I didn’t have a cell phone until after I graduated college in 2001, but by the time I was back in 29 Palms in 2003 working up for Iraq I did. However, the best you could hope for was a rousing game of snake before the battery went dead. Back in my day we Marines had to do this thing called field talk to pass the time. Oh field talk, if there is one thing I miss about the Marines it’s the field talk. Where only the emotionally resilient would survive and nothing, literally nothing, was off limits. Granted, you could tune it out if you happen to be able to afford enough AA batteries for your Sony Walkman CD player, but most of us enjoyed it.

There are many things I don’t miss about the military, but Field Talk, yeah I miss that. The origins of the universe one minute and your fat girlfriend the next, it was all discussed. Some of the greatest roasts in the world did not take place on Comedy Central my friends, but rather they took place in the field. I fear cell phones kind of ruin on that as even if you don’t have service you have access to an amount of media in the field of which Chesty Puller would not approve. Yet, you cannot stop progress, technology or age. I get that, I’m an old veteran and I like it that way.

But don’t we have some smart POG sitting somewhere in an AC trailer thinking about problems like this. How is it that in an age where your cell phone can tell you what part of the house you are in that no one thought to ponder if tracking your running routes on a secrete clandestine base could reveal your location to the world? Across the globe these locations have been revealed via these fitness heat maps. Meanwhile, National Guard bases throughout the country are like incognito. Apart from a hot streak between the barracks and the Dominos, those places have virtually gone dark.

In Conclusion

I don’t blame the grunts. It’s not because I am a grunt, it’s just because I know the desperation of a grunt for the occupation of your time. I can’t stress enough that this article began with me telling you how I built a rock tower and a friend tried to destroy it. That was like half a day outside the 400 series ranges at 29 Palms. If I had a cell phone that worked, I certainly would have used it. But then, wouldn’t have the rock story to tell my Grandkids now would I.

As far as the Opsec stuff and this fitness app, grunts gonna need some POG to be thinking about this stuff ahead of time. What else you got to do? Marine Grunts are gonna do what they gotta do to get through a deployment. Just ask any self aware conscious port-o-potty that told itself, “nah, there’s no way a Marine can pull this off in here.” As a citizen, taxpayer and older veteran I am entirely disappoint some smart POG didn’t see this coming.

You guys are like my kids and have been on devices since before you could write. If the USS Iwo Jima gets blown out of the water because some Marine was sending a dick pic in the middle of the Pacific to his girl back home that’s on you. Cell phones provide a fascinating risk to the modern military and someone needs to figure this out. However, I will still submit that the biggest risk is no different than it poses to modern kids about life in general. If you leave the military and you have a million snapchats and no field talk, did you even military bro? Kids today have sleepovers and when the parents break into the room to catch them on their shenanigans a group of 10 teen girls are sitting there beside their friends on their cell phones. I promise you that you will miss your military experience ever more so once it is gone than you ever imagine. Put down the phones kids, and talk trash to your fellow Marines in the field. Sincerely a message of love from this all-leather Cadillac spit shining, ALICE humping, and Iron Sight Marine. Yes, that’s how we did it in my day and the boots were uncomfortable, the pack hurt the back and the iron sights, were lovely, but we liked it that way.

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Jeff Edwards

One Comment

  1. Absolutely loved this one Jeff ! I remember many of those days you mention, in the heat and rocks of the Stumps, where the talk would go from solving all the world’s problems to topics that would shock many civilians (and confirm many of their opinions that Marines just ain’t right in the head). I loved those times! It is also kind of shocking to think that no one thought that using these programs was a security risk.

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