Depression can be monstrous. It forms like a mountain of impending darkness looming on the horizon. Waking every day to start the climb, it can take a lifetime. Sometimes you can get lost. Some days you may find yourself further down the mountain than you were the day before. The shadows move to block your path. You stumble on the small rocks and debris. The world wishes you to go no further. This can be your daily struggle that no one else sees. You trudge along in hopes of conquering the darkness.
Jimmy Kalitz was a tank mechanic in the Marine Corps in the early 2000’s. He left Fort Knox after completing training to be stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. His first place of residence was with Headquarters and Service Company (H&S). He was a rude, obnoxious, overly confident jerk from New Jersey. He would talk to anyone and frequently make them uncomfortable. It was his way of breaking the ice. His abrasiveness eventually made those around him tougher and meaner. These traits were needed in order to survive the lifestyle.
Life in the barracks at this time was very depressing. The young men were paid very little, made to constantly clean, and stood guard duty day and night. The actions on September 11th caused the unit to go into a defensive posture. Roving guards took to the streets with rifles and man-packs. Men were placed at every gate and armed to protect. This posture caused all of the Marines to be on duty or a constant rotation. The monotony of inspections, weapons checks, general order recitation, and cleaning forced the men into a hole. They sank away as war loomed and the world spun on without them.
Kalitz and the other non-rates witnessed the change. The Marine Corps had not seen war at this scale in years. Most of the upper enlisted had not dealt with the actions taking place before. The young Marines looked to their leadership and found some of them wanting. The sergeant that was in charge of the shift change and inspection of the guards was less than noteworthy. It infuriated the men to be led by such a poor example of a Marine. Constant belittlement and monotony led the men to excessive drinking.
Death became an afterthought. The young men craved war. They only wished to prove themselves in the eyes of their leaders. Nothing was ever good enough. Speeches were made and forgotten as soon as the Marines left the drill field. They only cared about the ones beside them. The boots on the ground that would win the war were all that they knew. The expendable men with names that didn’t matter. Many of the upper levels of leadership never bothered to learn their names.
War came and went. The young men returned with salt in their veins. They didn’t care what their leaders wanted anymore. They had sat long nights in fighting holes with death as their only companion. They had stared out at the lights of cities in flames. Youth was stripped from them. They had been treated like animals, packed in trucks, pushed down the roads, and pointed toward an enemy. They only wished to take their anger and frustration of their lives out on an enemy that rarely ever showed. The pent up rage from ridicule and control faded into anger. Anger at the Corps, their leaders, their homes, their lives, it saturated their bones. The drinking never stopped. They would get together on weekends or weekdays. Each man would drink, fight, dance, and sometimes cry. In the barracks they would tear rooms apart when the beast inside was finally let free. They would bash each other, bruise each other, and then help each other clean up the mess before morning. They plagued Jacksonville, Wilmington, and Myrtle Beach.
The towns were just a distraction. The men came as a volatile mess. Inebriated to the point of blacking out, they would stagger the streets. They didn’t go looking for trouble. They didn’t start fights. They went out just to feel something. To feel alive. To walk away from the dark mountain. To feel normal. A normal that would never come.
Kaltiz was never really a friend in the normal sense to me. We beat on each other at a drop of a hat. We hurt, burned, and scarred each other on a daily basis. I wore a scar on my neck for about three years from Kalitz jabbing me with a hot lighter as a joke while I was trapped working in a driver’s hole of a tank. I remember hiding him under his rack one morning. He was too drunk to wake up. I put his shoes in a line in front of him so no one could see him. We all covered for him in formation. He was a funny man. He loved to joke. His morbid humor got us through our days and nights. We all took on a grim aspect after a while. As a motley crew, we took care of each other even though we hurt one another. Through pain we connected. Pain gives us strength but it will wear away at your soul. I can only imagine how weary his soul had become after these many years. He lost his way on his mountain.
The men from maintenance platoon living the dread life with Kalitz, the darkness is there. You are not expendable. Don’t let it consume you. I’m not going to sugarcoat anything about Jim. He was an asshole. He was our asshole. He wouldn’t have wanted me to trump him up as a Saint. He was a father and a good man. He tried to help other veterans. He asked me to include him in a story a few months ago. He told me to make him famous. I wrote this just for him. He will be missed and he will always be remembered.