Before I got out of the Marine Corps my biggest fear was losing the friends I had made there, because I knew that most people moved back to their hometown and moved on with their lives once their service was over. Once I got out, though, I had a different feeling. While my friends did move away, something deep down told me that if I needed them, they would be there for me. There is an object that represents our bond, but it is not one you would expect. It’s not an American flag, or dog tags, or a uniform. It’s a pirate flag. I was a helicopter mechanic, and in our shop we had a pirate flag that bore the image of the Jolly Roger and the motto, “Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves.”
I learned to appreciate the truth of that saying when I participated in a training exercise in Thailand, called Cobra Gold, alongside the Thai military. The days were long. We started work at six in the morning and did not finish until eight at night. Growing up in Kansas, I was used to heat and humidity, but Thailand was another story. It didn’t matter if you were assigned to work in the sun or the shade – either way you’d be so soaked in sweat by the time you were done so that you looked like you had jumped into a pool with your clothes on.
However, working together in the heat is where I learned about the people in my shop and bonded with them. While we were doing maintenance on the helicopters, we would ask each other questions like, “Where are you from?” and “What made you decide to join the Marine Corps?” We would exchange stories about boot camp and helicopter repair school and complain about how the higher ups spent their days sitting inside the air-conditioned room that we were only allowed to enter to refill our water bottles.
Talking to each other kept our minds off of the heat and made the days go by faster. As for the motto “Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves,” the sun did beat down on us, making us miserable and wet, and our morale did in fact improve. It created a bond that lasts to this day, and every time I see a pirate flag, the Jolly Roger takes me back to Thailand, and I cannot help but smile to myself as I remember one of the most miserable, yet meaningful times of my life.
Dalton Mullinax served five years as a helicopter mechanic in the Marine Corps and left as a Corporal. He transferred from Palomar College to UC San Diego and is a political science major with an emphasis in international relations. He enjoys helping fellow veterans through his job at the campus veterans center.