Opening story by Robert Stark
“Perspective, Marines!” was the famous saying of our platoon commander, Lt. Iversen. Any time we thought we had it rough, he was immediately ready to give us a huge dose of perspective with a 10-mile run in the unforgiving heat of a North Carolina summer. “Life can always be worse, Marines. You have it pretty good.” I can still remember those words to this very day. At the time as a 21-year-old Lance Corporal, I just thought he was a sadistic jerk who enjoyed seeing his platoon suffer, but there was wisdom in his approach that I couldn’t see initially.
I served in the United States Marine Corps from 1998 – 2003 ending my enlistment with the invasion of Iraq in 2003. A trip to Iraq will very quickly give you some fantastic perspective on just how good we have it in the United States. Our team was attached to 1st Marine Recon Battalion based out of Camp Pendleton, California. We were desperately short of food and had been engaged in a firefight to secure an airfield. The Iraqi army knew we needed it and fought us tooth and nail to keep it. At that time, I had not eaten in 4 days and was keenly aware that we needed that airfield to have supplies airlifted to us.
After dark, our unit finally secured the airfield and the nearby town. I was ready for some much-needed rest. Our team was sent to the town to find an abandoned house to sleep in that night and finally eat some food. We needed the break. As we were entering the town, I had one of those life-changing moments of perspective. This was a town of mud huts that would have looked like it belonged in the 12th century, not the 21st. What made the huts very peculiar were the satellite dishes attached to the sides of them. It was dark at the time, but in the morning, I foolishly realized that I made my bed in the part of the hut where the animals were kept. Nobody wanted to be around me because of the smell!
I remember thinking as I saw that town just how blessed we truly are in America. That place made me miss my home. It’s sometimes easy to forget that. We are so wealthy, we live in a country where we’ve built houses for our cars called garages. We have so much food, we have to worry about ways to lose weight rather than gain it. We have machines that do our laundry and dishes for us! I’m not saying that America is perfect. Not by any stretch. But we live in a fantastic country where the poor among us would be counted as tremendously wealthy by the standards of the rest of the world.
This story teaches us to appreciate the foundations of capitalism that our Forefathers set in motion to make the American Dream possible. This freedom allows us to pursue our dreams, fail, and get back up to try again. This opportunity to pursue our dreams is not limited by the town we grew up in, who our parents are, or what we have been through. That spirit of the American Dream is still alive and well, all we have to do is push towards it one step at a time. Everyone has a different starting line, a different mountain to climb, and different obstacles along the way, but in America, we all have the freedom to use our talents to reach our fullest potential. In this time of uncertainty and unrest, let us not forget the foundations of our great nation which include life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all people, that are created equally under God.
Our Declaration of Independence famously says:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”