How I Started Writing - Part 1 of 3
I did a lot of reading in grade school but I didn’t find my way back to books until my first deployment in the Marine Corps. Boredom in the barracks got the better of me and I wandered into the Camp Hansen Library in Okinawa, Japan looking for something to read. I have a vivid memory of scanning the shelves for any title that looked familiar. My eyes landed on The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. In high school I remembered my debate class teacher handing out flyers for an essay writing contest about the book. I was far too lazy of a student to read it or enter the contest but the flyer stuck in my head. I figured, if there was an essay contest about the book, it must be decent.
I don’t remember much about The Fountainhead but it got me back into reading. I spent the rest of that deployment on a Navy ship. We went from Okinawa to Australia and back. What do Marine Corps grunts do on a Navy ship? They wait. That’s what Marines do, we wait. It takes practice but after a while you get good at it, or at least learn to tolerate it. There were a few others in the platoon that read books. To kill time for the rest of that deployment we traded James Patterson and John Grisham books.
After that deployment, books went away, the terrorist attacks on 9/11 happened and the waiting started again. This type of waiting was different. Anxiety filled our time spent waiting. It wasn’t relaxed waiting where you could sit on your pack and read books. The waiting involved gear inspections, practicing close quarters tactics and a lot of drills. Drills for everything. Drills to pack all you gear, drills to get on the trucks to the airport, drills to get on a plane … you get the idea, a lot of drills.
A few months before our Battalion led the way across the border from Kuwait into Iraq at the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom, my platoon was training in the Arizona desert. We were working on basic small unit infantry tactics at night. To train at night we were working on a reverse schedule, train all night and sleep during the day. If you’re in sleeping in a barracks, a reverse schedule probably works out fine but we weren’t in a barracks. We were outside, in the middle of the desert, trying to sleep in one hundred plus degree heat, in the middle of the day. It was not a pleasant experience.
Our platoon commander didn't think we were working hard enough, he ordered all the squad leaders to read a book, Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield. I was a squad leader but I didn’t read the book. Mostly because I didn’t have the time and partly because I thought the idea of reading a book while we were training out in the field was stupid. I skimmed enough pages to know what it was about but I certainly didn’t read it cover to cover. That book and my failure to read it stuck in my mind. This was my first introduction to Steven Pressfield. I didn’t know it at the time but my platoon commander’s order to read Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield kicked off a series of events that led me to start writing fifteen years later.
Next week, Part Two, The College Years.