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It Happened On The Way To War
In the summer of 2000, Rye Barcott, an undergraduate at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, traveled to Africa to study ethnic violence. A student preparing for a career in the Marine Corps, Barcott sought out the most dangerous locales. However, his first choice of venue, Rwanda, was denied and he was redirected to the Kibera slum in Nairobi, Kenya. There, his research was reshaped into action as he sought to elevate lives in a poverty-stricken community.
Barcott’s book, “It Happened on the Way to War: A Marine’s Path to Peace,” chronicles an eight-year period during which he served as a Marine officer and concurrently established and directed Carolina for Kibera (CFK), a humanitarian relief organization.
As a Marine intelligence officer, he deployed three times, once each to Bosnia, the Horn of Africa and Iraq, while still managing CFK.
Having been a junior officer leading troops three times in a combat zone, I could relate to wartime experiences, encountering third-world poverty and disorientation after leaving the military; at times the realism of the narrative made me cringe, cry and laugh.
Opportunity jumped Barcott during his initial trip to Kibera, a place he describes as so destitute that children defecated in the streets. Frustrated by what he perceived to be ineffective relief efforts, Barcott pursued a local approach and joined forces with a widowed nurse, Tabitha Atieno Festo, and a community organizer, Salim Mohamed, to engage the youth, promote public health and encourage local entrepreneurs. For advice and assistance, Barcott turned to the family, friends, academic mentors and alumni donors from his alma mater.
CFK’s success as a pioneer in participatory development catapulted Barcott into Harvard and other circles of influence, and triggered visits from national leaders, among them a freshman senator from Illinois with his eye on the White House.
While his civilian community of friends, family and academics seemed troubled by Barcott’s military activities, his Marine Corps leadership encouraged his charitable work. Some superiors saw his activities as congruent with understanding unconventional warfare. Others liked the idea of a Marine involved in an important peaceful pursuit, so Barcott took every inch of latitude given by his seniors to continue managing CFK, both in garrison and while deployed.
As an example, when Barcott was stationed in Djibouti, Festo became gravely ill, and Barcott felt the need to be by her side. He recently had been in an accident that cost his unit a land cruiser. He was not in a position to ask for favors, but he needn’t have worried. “What you are doing, Lieutenant, is God’s work,” said his colonel. “I think there’s something we can find for you in Nairobi for a few days.”
The book is not without flaws. The friendship of Barcott, Festo and Mohamed is central to the story, but in an effort to spread the credit for the things he and his small team achieved, Barcott overdoes the details and dialogue. So, at times, the narrative lags. That issue notwithstanding, readers will be deeply moved by a tale of a man caught in the breach of roles that many would see as contradictory: humanitarian and combatant.
Barcott comes across as a man profoundly troubled by the dark attractions and violent aspects of human nature. The pungent odor of sweat and human squalor permeate the pages of his book. He could have portrayed himself as without blemish, but instead he reveals his faults and flaws, sometimes quite literally falling on his face.
In one instance, Barcott becomes ill with dysentery. In his rush to find relief, he stumbles into the community toilet, soils himself and emerges covered in other people’s feces and his own vomit. A local girl, dying from AIDS, learns of his situation, and washes his filthy clothes. He thought he was there to serve the needs of others, and is stunned when someone responds in kind. In just a few pages, Barcott takes the reader through panic, bewildering gratitude and lacerating grief as he describes the girl’s death and burial in a mass grave.
“It Happened on the Way to War” takes readers to places so far removed from others that it seems they cannot be reconciled. Ultimately, they are, because the story is not about Africa or Iraq. It is an odyssey and one in which Barcott does not wish to be the hero. But it is his story, and it is nothing short of heroic.
Charity E. Winters
Editor’s note: Ms. Winters, a graduate of the New Mexico Military Institute and the U.S. Air Force Academy, served three tours in Iraq conducting security operations. She is a freelance writer and a graduate student at Tennessee State University in Nashville.
IT HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO WAR: A Marine’s Path to Peace.
By Rye Barcott.
Published by Bloomsbury. 352 pages.
$23.40 MCA Members. $26 Regular Price.
- Review: It Happened On The Way To War: A Marine's Path To Peace (Magazine Page)
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Today in USMC History
1968 - The 1st, 5th, 7th and 26th Marine Regiments participated in Operation Meade River in Vietnam.
1992 - Marines of 2/9 landed at Mogadishu, Somalia, to begin Operation Restore Hope. The 15th MEU, RCT-7 and Provisional MAG-16 served.
Related Story: Meade River By Herb Richardson Leatherneck Magazine (April 1969)
Historic Leatherneck Magazine Covers
Leatherneck Staff Artist, Technical Sergeant Robert Fleischauer, felt that our July cover should be commemorative of the Fourth of July. Since the members of the missile units are probably the Corps' best rocketeers, he picked them to perform a standard Fourth of July action. Whether or not the "Honest Johnny" is useful as a combat piece is a matter for debate, but you can't beat it for morale." [July 1957.]
“The Join Up on the Nick” by Major Alex Durr, USMCR, a member of the History Division, Marine Corps University, Quantico, Va.
Hospitalman Daniel T. Bobic, assigned to Headquarters and Service Company, 3d Battalion, Second Marine Regiment, rappelled at the Jungle Warfare Training Center in Okinawa, Japan, in late April, 2002.
The oldest post of the Marine Corps, Washington, DC, is celebrating 200 years of excellence. Posed near the Barracks main gate were members of the official Color Guard of the United States Marine Corps (left to right): LCpl Joseph N. Keough, rifleman; Sgt Blake L. Richardson, Color Sergeant of the Marine Corps; Cpl Gerardo A. Guajardo, organizational color bearer; and LCpl Gregory A. Serwo, rifleman.
GySgt Verlando Frazier, East Coast Food Service Management Team, looked ready to dig into some of the new items included in MREs.
This photo by Sgt Earnie Grafton of Marines from Fox Co., 2/4 shows varied emotions as they greeted the coalition forces outside Kuwait city.
A fleet of trucks was needed to transport Dr. Felix de Weldon’s original model of the Iwo Jima flag-raising statue from the sculptor’s home in Newport, R.I., to the grounds of the Marine Military Academy at Harlingen, Texas. After the statue’s arrival, a nearly around-the-clock effort by skilled workmen was required in order to have the memorial reassembled and ready for dedication ceremonies on April 16, 1982.
In April this year (1981), two squadrons of AV-8A “Harriers” sailed for the Mediterranean aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Nassau. Purpose of the cruise was to demonstrate the Navy/Marine Corps team’s capability to augment naval forces in any area of the World on short notice and to provide at-sea training for Marine Harrier pilots.
The cover of Leatherneck’s Bicentennial issue is an oil painting by the late Colonel Donald L. Dickson, USMCR. The painting depicts General George Washington’s Colonial troops at Gadsby’s Tavern in Alexandria, Va., during the French and Indian War.
Sightseeing tours for the men of the Marine Barracks, San Juan, Puerto Rico, include a trip to the El Morro Fortress. San Juan is now retired as a Post of the Corps.
The Marines in Vietnam have found that the programs which work best are those which operate close to the people. Our July cover is a mixed media (acrylic and charcoal) by Art Editor James L. Hopewell. It catches the spirit of Marines who enjoy their relationship with the Vietnamese around them.
In Naples, Italy, Marines are responsible for the internal security of the Headquarters of NATO’s Southern European Command, while the elite Carabinieri Corpa provides external security. PFC Robert M. Mallard’s NATO shield was admired by a Carabiniere as the two men prepared to take up their side-by-side posts at the entrance of the imposing NATO Headquarters, which appears in the background of this cover.
"We've Fought In Every Clime And Place": Stamping out the Caco Insurrection in the Republic d' Haiti.
January 2002: The Marines engraved another mark in the rich history of the Corps when they came from more than 400 miles offshore to establish a forward operating base south of Kandahar in the war on terrorism. The Marine CH-46 helicopter on the cover, photographed by PH1(AW/SW) Greg Messier, USN, fought in the desert sand to land and resupply Marines such as the ones (inset) photographed by Sgt Joseph R. Chenelly.
January 2001: This firefight during the Frozen Chosin Reservoir Campaign of 1950 was painted by “Chosin Few” veteran Jack Cannon, who served with Company B, 1st Battalion, Seventh Marine Regiment and resides in the warmer climes of New Mexico. The cover was part of Leatherneck’s 50th anniversary salute to the Korean War veterans.
January 1992: This cover photograph of runners during Marine Corps Marathon XVI in Washington, D.C., was photographed by Sgt Deirdre Hallett.
January 1991: This month’s cover by Ross Simpson captures the Marines’ waiting-but-ready posture in the Middle East.
January 1982: Participants in the Sixth Annual Marine Corps Marathon presented a colorful spectacle as they began the 26-mile, 385-yard run in Washington, D.C., November 1, 1981. The cover photo, by Tom Bartlett, was taken from a bridge overlooking Highway 50 about a half-mile from the starting line.
January 1981: Nearly 7,800 runners participated in the Fifth Annual Marine Corps Marathon held in northern Virginia and Washington, D.C. The oldest finisher was 78; the youngest was 10. Leatherneck staffer Ron Lunn pre-positioned himself near the Nation’s Capitol to photograph runners during their 14th mile of the 26-mile, 385-yard course.
January 1972: This month’s cover, by Marine Combat Artist Peter Gish, shows members of the New Corps sightseeing in the Old World. While on liberty in Athens, Greece, the 3d Bn, Eighth Marines, were able to tour the Erektheon Porch and Cariatides. The water color is from the U.S. Marine Corps Combat Art collection.
Originally Published December 1983 -- Something tells us that we could date the cover without knowing when it was published.
Originally Published December 1972 -- We're not sure what's more interesting, Santa or the old style gas pump.
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This November 1992 article in the Marine Corps Gazette looked at the uniform regulations of 1859 and the attempt to standardize uniforms within the Corps. Read the story and see more pics.
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