It shocks no one who has ever worn a uniform that not all deployments, missions and assignments are the scenes depicted on recruitment posters or commercials. But orders are orders.
From such less-than-poster-worthy duties comes the long tradition of “embracing the suck” since complaining won’t do any good and refusal is not an option. So service members are forced to just deal with it.
But pulling the short straw for those duties can transform into some of the most memorable missions with time and distance. Such is the case with two veterans; one found himself part of a history-making mission (at what was first considered a dead-end post), while another remembers every detail of his honor guard duty for a fallen brother.
Air Force Colonel Dick Muri
“Sometimes in a person’s military career, you get an assignment that you really, really think you’re going to hate, but it turns out to be your best,” said now-retired Air Force Col. Dick Muri. “I got one of those in 1989.”
Muri, a major at the time, was stationed at Travis Air Force Base in California and had just lined up a dream assignment as a military liaison officer to the Army at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii. The Air Force had other plans.
That assignment dissolved and Muri received orders to report to serve as the director of Airlift operations for a support squadron at Incirlik Air Base in Turkey. Everyone told him it was a dead-end assignment as he sought a promotion. It also couldn’t compare to the fun in the sun the beaches that Hawaii could offer, particularly for his wife and four children.
“It was, in my mind, an austere location where I believed that my wife and kids would not have a good time and have the necessities to make life pleasant for them,” he said, noting that he was eventually very wrong.
“When I got there, I found out it was a very nice place for kids and for family and the Turks were wonderful people. Nothing much was going on military-wise, and yes, I was in a dead-end job.”
That dead-end assignment, however, changed quickly halfway through. The Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and President George Bush Sr. responded with Operations Desert Shield, Desert Storm, and Operation Provide Comfort. The otherwise sleepy assignment turned busy almost overnight for the acting commander, who helped the largest non-combatant evacuation order in the nation’s history.
“My family evacuated to Lakewood, Washington in January 1991, and I eventually joined them in August 1991,” Muri said. “Surprisingly, I was selected for promotion to lieutenant colonel, and I now look back at that assignment as the best two years of my 22-year military career.”
Not all less-than-ideal assignments end up becoming history making, but they can be just as memorable. Retired Marine George Hilbish’s career started with one of his most memorable missions. He remembers the day 36 years later.
Marine Staff Sergeant George Hilbish
It was Oct. 23, 1983. Hilbish was at the Marine Corps Staff NCO Academy at Quantico, Virginia. He was preparing for finals week and taking breaks by watching television. Then the duty desk’s phone rang — it was a call that would rock the Marine Corps.
“That was when we found out the Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon had been attacked and 241 service members had been killed,” retired Staff Sergeant Hilbish said. “For the second time in my military service, I was put on a graduation hold, meaning I could not go home.”
The class received word to report to transit barracks and await orders. Their mission was of utmost importance: to escort their fallen brothers home to their families.
Class members trickled away over the passing days as the remains of their brothers were identified, and Hilbish’s classmates received their orders to report to Dover Air Force Base for escort duty.
Hilbish waited two and a half weeks.
“Once I received my orders, I had to report to HMX-1 for transportation. For those of you who don’t know, HMX-1 is the helicopter squadron that flies the President of the United States.”
Hilbish was in his uniform a half hour before his car arrived for the trip to the mortuary to receive the remains of his Marine brother for escort home via a drive to National Airport.
“I was driven right to the cargo area, unloaded and waited for the flight down to Jacksonville, Florida,” Hilbish said. “I supervised the loading; yeah, I watched from the tarmac. Then I boarded the flight. Most everyone expressed how sorry they were for the loss of my Marine brother.”
He arrived in Florida in the late afternoon with the Marine’s family and a Marine Corps escort detail waiting for him and his Marine brother.
“More paperwork for the funeral home and the CACO to sign, and then I was released from my duties, but I was asked to stay for the services, which would be the following afternoon down in Gainesville. I have been to many military funerals, but I was still moved to tears, particularly when Taps is sounded after the volley of three.”
“I made it home to San Diego about three weeks later than I was supposed to, but I feel that my wife and command understood. To date, that was the most honored duty I have performed for another Marine, and I would be so honored if asked to do it again.”
Every soldier, airman, sailor or Marine will have those missions they hate or just don’t look forward to carrying out. But orders are orders; they must get done. Some missions will simply be unpleasant, boring or unnecessary. But opportunity to improve, learn something or make history could be waiting among “the suck.” Embrace it.