This past weekend I had the enormously good fortune to attend a wedding. Not just any wedding, mind you, but a full-blown military wedding with swords and dress blues and the whole nine yards.
Military weddings happen all the time, but this wedding is significant for me because it was my first as a non-uniformed guest. I have hoisted my sword many times in honor of the stalwart groom and blushing bride, but not since I was a teenager had I been un-uniformed at such an event. I did wear a tuxedo, which is nice, but not nearly as dashing as a Dress Blue uniform adorned with a Sam Browne belt and Mameluke sword.
I was privileged to be invited to the wedding by a Marine with which I worked during my last tour of duty. We had served together in Afghanistan and had kept in touch after I moved on. I was delighted to be invited to his wedding these many months after we parted company, and not just because I like weddings. The invitation was a validation of sorts that I was still part of the community.
The community of Marines (and Soldiers and Sailors and Airmen too) is a close one, but can also be a closed one as well. When you are in you are in by the very nature of your service; the camaraderie and commitment of purpose bring everyone together as they travel through the adventure of active duty together. Sharing the hardships and the esprit de corps is what makes it close, but that is also what can make it closed. Just as when you are in you are in, when you are out you are out. You can only come back in by invitation.
And my invitation came in the form of a chance to rejoin the community at the most joyful of celebrations: a wedding.
I was thrilled to be able to attend, but as my wife and I walked up to the gathering wedding party I was more than a little trepidatious. Would it be awkward? Would I be welcomed back into the fold or politely tolerated as an outsider? Would people remember who I was?
It sounds a little silly in retrospect, but those thoughts rocketed through my mind as we closed in on the crowd outside the church. The doubts and concerns vanished, though, as I caught the eye of a few Marines who were having their picture taken. Broad grins greeted my pensive wave, and in an instant we were shaking hands and catching up. It was like a reunion that I never really expected, but now that it was happening it was a wonderful experience.
I was not alone in my non-uniformed appearance. I saw other compatriots from the past, and they too were embraced by the brotherhood of those still wearing the cloth of the nation. I caught up with friends who are making the best of themselves now that they are out; a student at Gonzaga, a newly graduated lawyer, a successful businessman- every one of them following a new path but still welcomed back into the brotherhood. I chatted with others who are still in uniform and fresh from the fight as they plan their next career move in between cocktails and trips to the dance floor with their beautiful ladies.
I saw many Marines and Sailors and Soldiers in uniform that day, and I was intensely proud to be counted as one of them despite my departure from the rigors of active service. It was tremendous experience to be welcomed back into the fold, if even for just a few hours before we all parted company and headed back down the paths of our lives.
To Rob and Kelsey- congratulations on your wedding!
And thank you for inviting me. It meant more than you know.