- - Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Twentynine Palms, a  remote Marine Corps facility in Death Valley, Calif., was my home for three weeks each year. I remember the days and nights vividly — the intensity, the danger, the camaraderie.

It is where I learned that my death or that of my brother is not some abstract event, fodder for movies and novels.

It is where young soldiers receive the training to prepare themselves, physically and mentally, to charge into a hail of bullets on the beaches of Normandy, screaming their defiance, daring the enemy to threaten their homes, their families.

It is where a young Marine learns what a Marine truly is.

Live-fire training — including traveling through live-ordnance impact areas, both on foot and in vehicles — is just a part of the intense training required to prepare a Marine for what may come. It is the only way to prepare a Marine to be the warrior his country needs in its time of need.

Being a Marine has more meaning than most will ever know: It is not only the ability to storm that beach or take that hill. It is having the discipline, physical and mental, to overcome that most basic of instincts — survival.

Had I never before felt the explosions and been blinded by white phosphorus grenades during training, had I never known that a step in the wrong direction could very well end my life, I could not tell you honestly how I would have reacted when the lives of those I count as brothers to this day needed me to do what only live-fire training could prepare me for.

My heart goes out to the families of the seven brothers I lost in Nevada late Monday.

There is no denying the tragedy of the loss, but one must know that it was not a senseless, avoidable tragedy. It was Marines, making the ultimate sacrifice for that which they valued above even their own lives: ours.

Mike Shortridge is a former Marine who served in the Middle East.

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