Something wonderfully awesome happened last night in San Francisco. In case you don’t recognize the guys in this photo, they are:
* Paul Szoldra, an infantry Marine who left the Corps as a sergeant a few years ago and went on the create The Duffel Blog, a satirical website that pokes fun at the absurdities within military culture.
* Retired Sgt. Maj. Carlton Kent, the 16th Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps and top enlisted adviser to two commandants.
* Max Uriarte, also an infantry Marine, and the original terminal lance corporal who created the popular Terminal Lance cartoon series. Of course, Max also contributes an exclusive strip to Marine Corps Times each week.
And in case you don’t know the significance of the gesture they’re making, consult Terminal Lance #10 “Lance Corporal Hand-Signal.”
The whole thing is even more incredible in light of last year’s Duffel Blog piece “Terminal Lance Creator Revealed To Be Sergeant Major of Marine Corps,” a faux-news report saying the controversial cartoon was secretly born at Marine Corps headquarters after Kent and then-Commandant Gen. James Conway grew frustrated with the “sh–load of negative feedback over all the safety briefs we were subjecting our Marines to.”
I checked in today with Paul, Max and the Sergeant Major, and got the gouge on how this extraordinary rendez-vous came to pass. The meeting took place Thursday evening at the Marines’ Memorial Club and Hotel, a San Francisco landmark built in the 1940s. Max and Paul call northern California home. Kent was there on business. In retirement, he co-founded KCK, an organization that works to find jobs for veterans and wounded warriors. Marine Corps Times profiled the venture earlier this year.
Max described their meeting as “one of those rare moments where the universe aligned just right.”
But how did the photo come about? Paul gets credit for instigating it, he told me over Facebook this morning, adding that “Max immediately jumped at the opportunity to get the LCpl sign, showed [Kent] how to do it, and SgtMaj was like, ‘Oh ok. No problem devil dogs.’ ”
Kent, as many Marines know, is a true man of the people, perhaps best evidenced in this profile written by Marine Corps Times former senior writer Dan Lamothe, who accompanied the sergeant major overseas during the months before he retired. As Dan’s superb story describes, Kent has always made an effort to be approachable and for junior Marines to see him as a human being. A case in point: During that trip across the pond, Kent joined a group of Marines during a night of karaoke and even belted out a rendition of the Temptations’ “My Girl.”
Indeed, Kent earned high praise within the Lance Corporal Underground after some jokesters doctored the tail end of the 2009 Marine Corps Birthday message, creating a clip known as “The Handshake”? Yes, he’s seen it and, no, he doesn’t mind it. Caution: Contains coarse language.
Those who regularly follow the Duffel Blog and Terminal Lance revel in the same brand of humor. And Kent told me that’s a good thing. “They make warriors laugh, and that’s what it’s all about,” he said during a post-PT phone call Friday morning. “When warriors are taking it to the enemy every day, they need an outlet.”
Paul and Max, whom Kent called “smart, young hard chargers,” deserve a lot of credit, he said. “They’ve seen the horrors of combat, and they truly have love for our Corps; the EGA is branded in their hearts.” And although Sgt. Maj. Kent is familiar with their projects, he said he is not a habitual viewer of either The Duffel Blog or Terminal Lance. That, of course, was before this epic photo went viral.
“I guess I’ll be looking at them more regularly now,” he said.