At this point, Marine Week St. Louis is well underway. Leathernecks are out and about in the Gateway City, promoting the Marine Corps’ values, performing community service and answering questions about the military. All should be right with the world.
Unfortunately, there’s a public relations snag today. Lt. Col. Shane Tomko, commander of the task force leading Marine Week, performed an on-air interview last night during a Phillies-Cardinals game. An apparent die-hard Cards fan, the salty head of 3rd Battalion, 24th Marines, out of St. Louis, made an observation about Phillies ace pitcher Roy Halladay that has blown up the Internet today.
Numerous sports blogs have picked up on it, including Crossing Broad and the nationally known Yahoo! blog, Big League Stew. You can watch the video here, but here are the quotes that have drawn interest:
Lt. Col. Tomko: I’ll tell you what, with that M1A1 Abrams [tank]we got across the street, if Halladay keeps on pitching well, we can fix that with one round pretty quickly.
Announcer: – awkward laughs – I’m sure you could. I don’t know if we should say that, but you just did.
Lt. Col. Tomko: I can say whatever I want because I’m a war fighter, and this is the Cardinals Nation the last time I checked.
Sigh. Somewhere, there are Marine public affairs officers banging their heads on a table, especially since a primary purpose of Marine Week is to reinforce the perception that the Corps is accessible and friendly. Call me crazy, but a battalion commander joking about being able to “say whatever I want” probably isn’t helping in that regard.
Predictably, bloggers have jumped right in. Yardbarker, a national sports blog chain, even posted a finger-wagging entry today with the headline, “Jarhead Jeers Halladay, Jokes About Murder.” For all their sensitivity about Tomko’s comments, the use of a derogatory nickname for Marines was apparently acceptable at Yardbarker.
This is kind of an old theme. Gallows humor in the military is about as common as turkey on Thanksgiving. It can be a big help downrange, but… well… you have to know your audience. Add in that plenty of sports fans are nuts about their team, and it draws widespread interest.
For what it’s worth, Tomko is listed as “hometown Marine” of note on the Marine Week website. He’s an infantry officer who has served 28 years in the Corps. Based on this CNN transcript, it appears he was the commanding officer of a company of Marines involved in the initial 2001 invasion of Afghanistan.