MCB Camp Lejeune covers 246 square miles. I think we drove through about half of it yesterday afternoon trying to figure out how to get to the house where the after party was being held. You know you are in a different world when your directions include landmarks like the BOQ (bachelor officer's quarters), an ammo storage facility and Tactical Landing Zone Goose! The buildings have names and numbers, but the numbers often aren't sequential. It's a lot like trying to find an address in Tokyo, actually--the streets have names but good luck finding the right number.
The change of command ceremony was beautifully done. Our friend handled himself with dignity and spoke well and made us proud. It was a lovely day, sunny with just enough breeze to make the 50 state flags arrayed between the two massive helicopters flanking the ceremony area on the flight line sway gently and to cool off the men in their suits or camo. (As a female, I was very happy to be in a sundress in the heat.) The color guard presented the colors, and a Marine band played. As a former marching band player myself, I admit that I focused a lot of my attention on this group during the ceremony, because I know enough about how hard it is to play and stay in formation that it was very apparent how good they are. It was seriously cool. They march column-style (check out a Texas A&M band video on YouTube sometime for an example of this.) The rest of the Marines in this group performed drill maneuvers at various points during the ceremony in the back by the flags, and marched in a long column before the dignitaries present at the end of the ceremony (a process called passing in review.) I was irrationally happy to see that one of the platoons was commanded by a woman. And a small blond woman at that.
There was a formal luncheon afterward at the Officer's Club. I spent most of it trying to figure out how to distinguish rank by insignia. I finally got all the Marine officer levels straight, but was defeated by the Navy. Their system is absolutely crazy. The whole idea actually reminded me a little of taekwondo, since our belts serve the same function as their insignia: if you are familiar with the system, you can tell at a quick glance where you rank relative to everyone else in the room. The military version is a lot more complicated, though. The other thing that struck me at the luncheon was how short most of the men in the room were. At 5'10", I am taller than almost all of them, which was an unfortunate flashback to high school for me, but there is a good reason for it here...helicopter cockpits just aren't that big and tall guys don't fit.
In between the O club (where good behavior is expected) and the after party (where it is discouraged!) we had to go back to the hotel to change. As Himself drove, I found myself looking at the businesses that immediately surround the base. Barbershops. Pawn shops. Bars. Gentlemen's clubs. Stores that sell cheap furniture, expensive electronic equipment, and shiny tire rims. Tattoo parlors everywhere. Gun stores and military surplus stores and every fast food joint imaginable. And charmingly, an abundance of billboards advertising the services of breast-augmenting plastic surgeons. This surprised me, given that this is generally not a population known for having a large amount of disposable income, and my impression would have been that boob jobs are relatively expensive. But the billboards wouldn't be there if the demand wasn't.
In the morning, I saw the absolute best of the Corps. Outside the base, the underbelly is a lot more apparent. An interesting dichotomy.