Thomas Calabrese– The withdrawal from Afghanistan was a major military blunder and immense failure of leadership at the highest level. It was a national disgrace and a grievous insult to those who served, died or were seriously wounded in the conflict. Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant Spencer Quinn served five deployments in the war torn region as a Reconnaissance Marine. He luckily
happened to be on the other side of the Kabul Airport when a suicide bomber killed eleven
Marines, one Navy corpsman, one soldier and 170 Afghan civilians at Abbey Gate on August 26,
From a guard tower overlooking Kabul’s airport, two U.S. Marines spotted a man matching the
description of a suspected suicide bomber. They radioed their commanders: “Do we have
permission to engage?”
“Request denied,” Came the reply, “Too many civilians.”
Gunny Quinn heard that radio transmission and felt a chill travel up his spine. Minutes later the
ground shook under his feet and then he heard a deafening explosion. Every moment of that day
was forever etched into his mind. It haunted him and by the time he got back to the United
States, he was looking for some serious payback. He dreamed about killing everyone
responsible for the fiasco, but knew that was not an option. Spencer thought about getting out of
the Marine Corps when his enlistment expired, but so many experienced enlisted personnel were
doing what he was contemplating that many commands were understaffed as it was. Recruiting
was at its lowest levels since the Vietnam War. It was a bad situation from every perspective, but
Spencer’s love of country took precedence over his own welfare. He re-enlisted, hoping that his
expertise might help young Marines make it home alive if they were ever in armed conflict.
While stationed at Twentynine Palms Marine Corps Base in the Mojave Desert, Spencer would
take his mountain bike out on Sunday mornings before sunrise and ride through the hills and
return by 1000 hours before it got too hot. It was late May and the weather regularly reached 95
degrees before noon. The terrain on base had steeply sloped mountains and flat valleys running
northwest–southeast, with elevations ranging from 1,800 to 4,500 feet above sea level, as well
as dry lake beds and arroyos. It was a great place to get a cardiovascular workout and Spencer
enjoyed the solitude of this activity. Being out in nature helped to keep thing in perspective. He
felt smaller and naturally his troubles felt smaller too.
Spencer had taken an exhaustive ride up a hill with a steep incline and was drenched in sweat.
After reaching the top of the ridge, he caught his breath and took a long drink from his water
bottle to hydrate. While gazing down at the valley below, Spencer noticed a convoy of ten dump
trucks back up to the edge of a dry water bed. The drivers parked in a row and got out of their
vehicles. They put on their gas masks, removed the tarps and dumped their contents.
Being an astute and observant individual, Spencer had obvious questions, since these weren’t
Marine Corps trucks, who were they, what were they dumping and who authorized them to be
here on base in the first place. He decided to hold his position and see what happened next.
The drivers waited patiently for several minutes until a car drove up. A man got out, looked at the dumpsite then noticed the sun reflecting off something up on the ridge. He opened the trunk of his vehicle, pulled a pair of binoculars and scanned the ridgeline. When he saw Spencer, the man told the drivers, “We’re dumping chromium, thallium and arsenic. Even though we got permission from the Bureau of Land Management and the Department of Defense, some people still think it’s a crime. The plan is that will be years before these poisons seep into the water table and cause any significant damage. It will be years after that before a bunch of clueless politicians will start looking for someone to blame. That strategy has always worked in the past and it will work this time. Look at what happened at Camp Lejeune, the drinking water on base was contaminated from 1953 to 1982, but the government didn’t close the contaminated wells until 1985. Thirty-five years after that they get around to dealing with the victims. I’ll settle for 50 or 40 or even 30 years before they come looking for me about this contamination,” and laughed
One of the drivers quickly agreed, “Yes sir.”
The man in charge gestured with a nod of his head, “That won’t happen if somebody reports us. That is why we do this on early Sunday mornings when there aren’t any witnesses. There’s a guy on the ridge watching us. Make it look like an accident. ”
A second driver responded, “We can do that.”
Spencer was mistakenly operating under the premise that he wasn’t seen and the people doing the illegal dumping were not coming after him. These were serious errors on his part. He was riding back to his quarters when he heard the roar of trucks behind him. Spencer pulled off the pavement to give the heavy vehicles a wide berth. The first truck swerved at the last second and knocked him ten feet into the air. When he landed, another truck rolled over him and crushed his body.
A dust storm quickly developed and the dump trucks were engulfed. When things cleared, Spencer was driving down a picturesque road in his dream car, a metallic blue 1966 Pontiac GTO. He was totally confused at first then guessed, “This must be a dream,” and decided to enjoy the fantasy. He downshifted from third gear to second, pressed down on the accelerator and unleashed the 389 cubic-inch engine with the four-barrel carburetor and 335 horsepower. In a matter of seconds, Spencer was cruising at 140 miles per hour down the two-lane highway. It was exhilarating as the scenery whizzed by him. He took the hairpin curves like a veteran stock car drive, fishtailing into the bend then rocketing down the straightaways. Whatever this was, Spencer didn’t want it to end. Up ahead, a dog was casually walking down the middle of the road. Spencer slammed on the brakes and the GTO skidded 300 feet and eventually stopped inches from the Pitbull Labrador who showed no fear or apprehension. They made visual contact and for what seemed like a minute, their eyes did not waver. Finally Spencer sighed, “What are you doing in the middle of the road?”
The dog quickly jumped through the window into the GTO and sat in the passenger seat. Spencer revved the engine and commented, “I don’t know where we’re going, but I guess we’re going together.” then noticed a nametag on the collar, “Well Johnny, I’m Spencer.”
The dog extended his paw. After driving for a while, Spencer came to a fork in the road. To the right was a sign that read Diablo Canyon and to the left was another, Purgatory Junction. Spencer contemplated his decision and turned to his canine companion, “It’s your call.”
Johnny raised his right paw and Spencer turned down Eternity Highway. Some time passed and Spencer noticed that the fuel gauge was on empty. “We’re going to have to get some gas.”
There was a gated area with a large man standing about seven feet tall in a white uniform standing guard in front of it. It was the most beautiful resort that Spencer had ever seen with people enjoying themselves with a variety of activities. He asked the guard, “I need to get some gas.”
The guard responded with a bright inviting smile, “Absolutely! We’ve been waiting for you, Gunnery Sergeant Spencer Quinn.”
“What do you mean waiting for me…what is this place and who are you?” Spencer asked.
The guard smiled, “You’re too smart to not know what’s happening. You are dead, d…e…a…d. This is one of the gates that leads to Heaven.”
This only confirmed what Spencer felt, so his next question was obvious, “Does that mean I’m allowed to come in?”
“Absolutely…on one condition, no dogs allowed.”
Spencer looked at his canine companion and then for clarification, “Let me see if I got this right…I leave the dog, you let me in?”
The guard encouraged and enticed Spencer, “Everything you’ve ever wanted or dreamed about is the on the other side of this gate. It’s a no brainer, one lousy dog for an eternity of pleasure. You can’t pass up a deal like that.”
“What are you going to do with him?”
The guard quickly responded, “We’ll euthanize him.”
Spencer did not hesitate to decline the offer, “No deal.”
The amiable demeanor of the guard turned mean in an instant, “You’re a stupid jarhead, nobody wants you in here anyway. I was just trying to be nice.”
“My body might be dead, but my soul isn’t. I’m standing right here if you’re looking for a fight, I’m your goat roper, big fella.”
The guard turned and walked away. He disappeared behind a hill where he was met by Satan and quickly apologized. “Sorry your majesty. I did my best.”
Satan answered calmly, “These damn Marines follow a code and they seldom break it even in the after-life. It’s ironic that they call them Devildogs, but I don’t see any similarities to me. ”Lucifer touched the tall guard and he burst into flames, “I still hold you accountable because failure is not an option and I don’t deal in mercy or forgiveness.”
Spencer and Johnny kept driving until they came to a lake. A young girl was sitting on the dock and fishing. Spencer called to her, “Excuse me.”
The girl turned and smiled, “Yes sir?”
“Is there a gas station nearby?”
“Just keep going, can’t miss it. My Uncle Wally and Aunt Bee own it. Don’t forget to ask for the military discount. Tell them that Ellie sent you. They’ll take care of you.”
“What makes you think I’m military?” Spencer asked.
The young girl winked, “I’m a good guesser…you got a nice dog, Mister.”
“He’s not my dog.”
“All dogs belong to God, he just lets them take care of us,” Ellie said as she pulled out a ten pound rainbow trout out of the water then released it back into the lake.
When Spencer reached Wally’s Gas Station, a young teenage boy with a baseball cap turned to the side came out and said excitedly, “Gollee…your Gunnery Sergeant Spencer Quinn. I’m Homer Lyle.”
“I don’t have any money on me, but I need some gas,” Spencer said, “Ellie sent me.”
“That’s good enough for me,” Homer said.
After filling the tank and cleaning the windows, Homer grinned, “With your discount, your cost comes exactly to zero. The town is a few miles down the road if you want to get something to eat.”
“What town is that?” Spencer asked.
Homer answered, “Purgatory Junction.”
“Thank you for the gas,”
“Thank you for your service,” Homer said.
When Spencer reached the outskirts of town, he pulled over because he was captivated by the picturesque setting. It was like seeing a Norman Rockwell painting in 5D. What was really unusual was that wildlife of all types including, bears, deer, wolves, dogs and cats were walking among the humans. Spencer looked at Johnny and commented, “Either this is the craziest dream I’ve ever had or I’m actually dead. Either way, I’m going to take this as it comes. Let’s ride, Johnny!”
He parked in front of Harry’s Hofbrau and walked inside with Johnny. The ambiance was friendly and inviting. Spencer sat down and Johnny found a carpet to stretch out. Spencer picked up the menu and three men walked over. One of the men suggested, “Get the Semper Fi omelet, it has six eggs, mushrooms, tomatoes, spinach, avocado, peppers and three types of cheese.”
The second man added, “It’s so good that you’ll think you died and went to Heaven.”
Spencer recognized the three legendary Marines from photos that he had seen, “John Basilone, Dan Daly and Leland Diamond.”
“After you finish your meal, there’s somebody who wants to talk with you,” John Basilone said.
The three Marines acknowledged Johnny on the carpet and left. Spencer finished the best omelet he ever had and leaned back in his chair. Lt General Lewis Puller sat down and commented, “You served honorably in combat then got killed on the side of the road in the desert by a dump truck. It doesn’t hardly seem right for a warrior like you to go that way. All that I can suggest is that you put your trust in the Ultimate Commander-In-Chief. He works in mysterious ways, but always has a plan and he won’t let you down.”
Spencer smiled, “The longer this goes on, the more inclined I am to think that this may not be a dream. Permission to speak freely?”
“Granted, I know it’s a lot to take in. Take your time, you’ll get used to it. You know what they say….death happens while we’re busy making other plans,” Lewis said.
“I thought it was life that happens…I guess it works both ways. My question is; what was that place down the road?” Spencer said.
“That was one of the portals to hell. The Devil is devious and always looking for weak-minded individuals who are willing to place their own welfare above others. He’s an equal opportunity predator and pulls that same scam on everyone. Good people never forget that dog is God spelled backward.”
“What do I do now…just hang around?” Spencer asked.
Lewis answered, “Don’t you like it here? Most people are pretty content, but if you have any suggestions on how to improve things, I’ll gladly submit them through the chain of command. Nothing is written in stone around here except the Golden Rule.”
“I wasn’t a complainer when I was alive, don’t figure now is a good time to start,” Spencer said, “Is it common for people to feel restless when they get here?
Lewis explained, “Some people feel that they’ve suffered enough, did enough or lived long enough and were ready to leave the material world behind. Then there are people who were killed or died in accidents that never got to the chance to do the things they wanted, but when they got here, they found peace and tranquility. It sounds to me like you don’t fit into either one of those categories.”
“What does it sound like then?” Spencer asked.
“Like a warrior in search of a mission,” Lewis said.
When Spencer opened his eyes, he was lying on the side of the road. His crushed bike was in perfect condition. Spencer looked at his watch and it was only 90 minutes from the time he left his quarters. He got on his bike and started riding. From out of nowhere, Johnny came running. A military police car pulled alongside and the M.P. said, “Hey Gunny, how are you doing this morning? Did you have a good ride?”
“I did…a really good one, the best I ever had.”
“I see Johnny found you.” The M.P. said.
“You know this dog?” Spencer asked.
“He’s a therapy animal assigned to the Wounded Warrior Barracks. We caught him once when he ran away but he escaped. Ever since then he comes and goes as pleases. He’s way too smart for us.”
When the next caravan of dump trucks arrived to drop off their poisonous cargo, Spencer was waiting for them. His statement was clear and concise and left no room for discussion or ambiguity. “This area is closed for dumping.”
One of the drivers protested, “We are authorized to be here.”
“That authorization has been revoked by a higher authority,” Spencer replied.
Another driver interjected, “Are you here by yourself?”
Spencer answered, “Just one of me and ten of you.”
The drivers huddled together, discussed the situation then got weapons out of their vehicles and surrounded Spencer. Thunder rolled and lightning flashed overhead.
The man who ordered the drivers to eliminate Spencer entered his posh office on the 26th floor of a high rise in downtown San Diego. He was startled to see Spencer sitting in the corner with Johnny next to him, “Who are you? What are you doing here?”
“I’m here to make you an offer,” Spencer said.
A few minutes later, the man took a swan dive off his balcony and landed face forward in a construction dumpster.
The truck drivers and the man who jumped off the balcony were standing outside the gates of hell. Satan came out to greet them, “Welcome to eternal damnation, pain and suffering. I’ll have to send a thank you note to Gunnery Sergeant Spencer Quinn for sending you my way.”
Back at Purgatory Junction, General Puller complimented Spencer for a job well done and the Marine responded, “I gave them a choice.”
General Puller agreed, “I’m not upset, we’re big supporters of personal responsibility and accountability. Decisions have consequences.”
I guess you’re finally ready to enjoy Purgatory Junction while waiting for your promotion.”
Spencer smiled mischievously, “I guess so…unless you have another mission for me.”