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Don’t Worry, Be Happy, and Carry a Machine Gun

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This You Are GovX member profile is about our friend Travis Pike, Marine veteran, writer, and GovX blog contributor. You may have seen him shoot the hell out of a plate carrier, put an automatic knife to the test, or give a little advice for surviving the apocalypse. But what makes this Marine tick? We threw a few questions at him to find out.

Would you give us a brief rundown of your service history?

I served in the USMC as an Infantry Machine Gunner MOS 0331. I served between 2008 and 2013.

My first deployment was in 2009 to the Helmand district in Southern Afghanistan. I served as both a light and medium machine gunner and got back in early 2010. We had a very high operations level, pushing hard for all seven months, making a huge difference in terms of bringing peace and stability to the region.

When we arrived, the local Taliban fighters were still firing machine guns at the combat outpost. And the locals? They wouldn’t say a word to us.

In the last few months, the Taliban fighters who were so keen to shoot at us were either dead or dispersed. The locals were willing to give us information, trust us to act on it, and it allowed us to pull a lot of bombs out of roads. We had done so much that in the last weeks before we departed, we were bored.

My second deployment was with the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit where we acted as a force in readiness. It was nowhere near as exciting as the first deployment, but I did get to see the world, and do and see things I would have never imagined possible. At 10.5 months, we actually broke a record for this MEU due to its length.

What was your motivation for joining the Marine Corps?

I’d love to say I joined because I wanted to protect and serve my country. But I don’t think any 18-year-old kid knows what the hell that means. I craved adventure, to go see and do things. I wanted to know if I could hack it as a Marine. I chose the USMC because I read their boot camp was the hardest and longest, and I knew I could never purposefully choose the easier option.

I used to watch tons of History Channel as a kid and before it was about pawn shops and aliens, it was basically twelve hours of WWII documentaries every day. I used to watch WWII vets talk about the war and I would feel both envious and guilty. Envious that they got a great adventure, and guilty I had never done anything nearly as worthwhile as them.

I’d love to say I joined because I wanted to serve my country. But I don’t think any 18-year-old kid knows what that means.

I used to watch tons of History Channel as a kid and before it was about pawn shops and aliens, it was basically twelve hours of WWII documentaries every day. I used to watch WWII vets talk about the war and I would feel both envious and guilty. Envious that they got a great adventure, and guilty I had never done anything nearly as worthwhile as them.

What’s it like being a machine gunner? What’s the experience like of being behind a weapon with that much power?

There is a certain satisfaction you get from having the biggest dick in the squad. Without a machine gun to provide suppression fire, the squad isn’t moving. The machine gun can be a real fight stopper as well. Once you get two guns talking, the psychological effect on your enemy is very real. It’s demoralizing to be on the wrong side of that weapon.

Firing the guns are a blast, and a challenge to do correctly. Part of the fun is being able to control these guns and keep them on target. Machine gunners in general are very proud of their MOS. There’s pride in being strong enough to carry a nearly 30-pound gun, and nearly 30 pounds of ammo right alongside riflemen armed with eight-pound rifles and seven pounds of ammo.

What’s it like serving alongside others in an infantry unit?

Most people talk about a sense of brotherhood you form with the rest of the guys in your unit. Those family bonds are real. And it’s not just brothers. My platoon Sergeant was more of a dad than a brother. There is a bond I think all infantryman share, regardless of the branch of service you’re in.

What a lot of people don’t mention is that, like any family, sometimes you just hate them. You argue, you fight, you bitch and moan at each other. But at the end of the day you depend on each other. You may have a fist fight with a squadmate in the morning, but come noon, when the gunfight with the enemy comes, none of that bullshit matters anymore.

Here’s a short video I made about my first deployment that gives a brief look at what it was like:

If you had to choose a motto for your life, what would it be and why?

“Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.” – Marcus Aurelius

I used to be—and sometime still am—someone who worries a lot. I started pretending to understand philosophy and reading a lot from the stoics like Aurelius, Seneca, and Epictetus. A lot of people view stoicism the wrong way. If you could really wrap it all up, it’s not about suppressing emotions and being a tough guy. It’s really closer to the concept of, “Don’t worry, be happy.”

Do you feel like you have now done something as “worthwhile” as those WWII vets you used to watch on TV?

It’s a combination of yes and no. I could never compare what I did to what they did. I fought a bunch of backwater guerillas armed with 60-year-old Russian small arms while being protected by Apache gunships, modern rifles, optics, and more. And who did they fight? They fought two massive, evil empires that used basically the same kind of weapons and tactics that they had. I can’t compare my experience to theirs in that respect.

But that guilt and envy that I mentioned? I don’t feel that anymore. I fought the war of my time, just like they fought the war of theirs. That’s worth something.

I doubt I’ll ever wind up on the History Channel, though.