May 6, 2011
Through the Ranks: Private First Class
GARMSIR DISTRICT, Helmand province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan — Quiet, muffled conversation leaks from a guard tower, but only one Marine can be seen inside. His mouth moves in sync with both sides of the discussion. He has stood in almost the same place for an hour, but his eyes have been on the move, intensely scanning. He shifts his weight to a different leg, bringing the conversation to a resolution, and pinches smokeless tobacco into his bottom lip. He’s been standing post for two hours. Pfc. Clark Kirkley has four more before he gets to “hit the rack.”
“Your feet start hurting, and you just want to sit down, but you can’t sit down,” said Kirkley, a sentry with Guard Force Platoon. “It’s just really uncomfortable. But it’s important because you’re keeping the security of the base.”
The blue-eyed, Knoxville, Tenn., native isn’t insane for talking to himself; it’s a common way Marines pass time on post. And for Kirkley, standing post will be one of his main duties for the next seven months.
“Staying vigilant on post can be hard,” Kirkley said. “I just try to keep myself occupied. Sometimes I’ll talk to myself or just put a dip in. That usually helps.”
He didn’t expect to deploy a short six months after graduating from Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, N.C. Kirkley didn’t know what to think. Scared and nervous are two words he used to describe how he felt, but there isn’t a Marine Corps order on the proper emotions when deploying.
Being the only private first class in the Guard Force Platoon with Hotel Company, Kirkley is at the bottom of the totem pole. His main concern rests on what order the next highest-ranked Marine gives him. Every Marine lives somewhere within the rank hierarchy, but Kirkley, who is at the beginning of his career, hangs on the bottom rungs. He is well-accustomed to following orders.
As Kirkley put it, in a slight southern drawl, “Following orders isn’t a question it’s my job. I concentrate on just doing what I’m told, getting it done quickly and learning more about my job. I guess I’m here as a working body, but every one has their purpose and each person is important.”
Kirkley joined the Guard Force after arriving in Afghanistan in mid-April, having originally belonged to 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment Communications.
Although Kirkley’s Marine Corps experience has had many unexpected turns, that’s part of life for a private first class. Kirkley’s job is to selflessly fill the needs of the Corps.
On an average day, he wakes up between 4 to 6 a.m. He has an hour to eat, shave, shower and prepare his gear before standing post. After being relieved of his post, he has the afternoon to himself, which is usually comprised of a nap and food. After dinner, he has another post duty, after which he sleeps. Kirkley wakes a few hours later to start the process over again.
“It makes me realize how precious things like sleep can be when I’m back home,” Kirkley said. “But I have a big role as part of the Guard Force. I have a lot of responsibility. The rest of the Marines are relying on me to make sure nothing bad happens.”
Along with standing post, Kirkley is obliged to answer to his squad leader throughout each day, handling any miscellaneous tasks that come up.
“The first thing that comes to mind is just to get whatever they need me to do done as quickly as possible,” Kirkley said.
For Kirkley, post and answering to his squad leader are a just couple parts of his deployment. Finding time to e-mail or call home is the other part. Checking in on his fiancé and family is very important to him, especially since this is his first deployment.
“Wanting to get back home keeps me getting up every morning,” Kirkley said. “It keeps getting closer and closer, even though it’s still more than half a year away, but I constantly think about home, my family and fiancé.”
Kirkley’s plans to marry his fiancé, have kids and start college after the deployment. He decided to join the Marine Corps after two stagnant years following his graduation from high school. He still hasn’t decided whether to stay in the Corps or get out.
Right now, Kirkley says he’s just proud to hold the title of Marine.
Editor's Note: ‘Through the Ranks,’ is a recurring commentary about a day in the life of a deployed Marine from 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment. Each commentary will highlight an individual’s personal experience through the perspective of his rank.