Kevin McCullough

The night after Christmas I sat down for a homemade tamale dinner in Southern California with a newly appointed U.S. Naval Officer, and his best friend - an enlisted Marine. My time with them was as enlightening as it was enjoyable. It was a moment I wish our nation had been able to witness.

Both men were out of uniform, both were home for a few days of leave. Best friends since they were kids, the two were of course at ease with each other and the other assembled guests. Though the Marine has been in longer, there was some good natured ribbing about who would be required to salute who if they had both been in uniform. Their conversation style was polite, both of them often responding to questions with a slight smile usually followed by a "yes sir."

Much of the discussion centered around the theaters of service the Marine had just returned from, and comparing notes with what officer candidate school had been like for the newly crowned Naval Aviator. When on occasion, I would raise a question that would begin to have political ramifications to it and even though both were off duty and completely free to respond, their restraint always kept them from immediately jumping on even the easiest of targets.

When I asked what they felt about John Kerry's comments regarding the general intelligence level of the men and women who serve today, the Marine just grinned, leaned in a little and nearly whispered, "It’s not true you know?"

In very humble terms he went on to talk about how nearly intimidating it is. As a newly appointed platoon leader he overseas a handful of men who all enlisted (as he did) but because most of them went on to college prior to joining the marines, many of them were older than himself. Because of his record he has also been promoted faster than many of the class he enlisted with. He also recounted some of the very technical operations his platoon had been assigned in the last two years - literally spanning the globe - and in some cases serving as instructors to our allies. His experience also disputes John Kerry's "stuck in Iraq" theory because though this Marine was only one year removed from being able step down from service he had yet to even be in Iraq.

That will change soon however. Even before the President has decided on whether to up the numbers of our military in Iraq, this Marine's unit was slated to be headed there in early 2007.