By Makani Christensen
I started Keawe Adventures and Fly Fishing Hawaii in 2008 after serving 10 years in the military. In 1998 I was accepted into the United States Naval Academy Preparatory School in Newport, Road Island. In the summer of 1999, I found myself checking into the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. This was my first experiences with the humidity, snow, and a robust academic schedule. As a Hawaiian from the rural town of Hilo, Hawaii, I was not accustom to the people, academic workload, and everything else the East Coast had to offer. I adjusted quickly and set my sights on accomplishing anything the Academy threw at me. Then, on September 11, 2001, the world changed with the attack on the World Trade Center in New York City.
I was walking out of Ocean Engineering in Rickover Hall when I saw the commotion around a television on my way to my next class. The second plane had just hit the World Trade Center. I was a sophomore in the midst of my Systems Engineering degree with very little knowledge of Afghanistan, including its geographical location. War was coming. The Academy was on lockdown and classes were cancelled. Everyone was on their phones. There was a buzz of uncertainty. We needed to talk to someone, I needed to call home, 4770 miles away, and let my parents and my sisters know I was ok. The phones lines were saturated with calls. Getting someone on the line was difficult.
Makani: “Mom, did you
see what happened?”
Makani: “Turn on the
Mom: “Oh shit, holy
moly, holy moly, Geez!”
Makani: “I’m ok everything will be fine. I love you.
Let the rest of the family know I’m ok.”
Mom: “Ok. Are you sure you are ok?”
Makani: “Yes, I’m fine. I think a bunch of us are going to play tackle football. Don’t worry! Everything will be fine. I gotta go now. Let everyone know I love them.”
This wouldn’t be the last conversation or email with family or loved ones explaining that everything was ok. But this moment, September 11, 2001 was seared into my memory. It was a surreal moment when the realities of why we were there started to sink-in. For the next two and a half years, I worked hard on academics, but my path had changed. I thought long and hard about my systems engineering major, and decided to change my major to Oceanography. There was no need for systems engineer where I was going.
My last year at the academy, 2002-2003, I decided to be a part of “the few, the proud, the Marines.” Out of a class of 1000, only 160 signed up to join the Marines. We went through many interviews just to be considered. At the time, it seemed like they were only taking the best of the Academy. I was nervous, and thought I might not get in. There was no way, I wanted to be on a ship, but I thought that would be torture, to see the ocean everyday and not be able to fish or surf. A few years later, I realized that during the time of war, enrollment into the Marines drops significantly, and the Marines may have been taking anyone willing at that time.
In 2003, I graduated from the United States Naval Academy with a Bachelors of Science degree in Oceanography. I removed my summer whites and downed the Marine Corps Dress Blues. My mother and sisters pinned my shiny new second lieutenant bars on my lapels. It was only two and a half years ago when I had the conversation with my mother letting her know everything will be fine. Joining the Marines affected them in many ways, but they didn’t show it. They knew that when the twin towers were attacked, I would go to war.
I started my training at The Basic School in Quantico, Virginia. I knew for a fact that I do not like the cold. This point was reaffirmed during our week long tactical movement through the forest of Quantico. It was early fall going into winter, and the weather started to move south. A few cold fronts had already moved through, but in Virginia the temperature would drop to 32 and back up to 70 degrees the next day. It looked like it was going to be okay.
The first and second day of the week-long exercise consisted of a 20+ mile march with our 60lb packs, Mount Training, and Convoy Operation. The mount facility is a bunch of cement buildings, where we would practice breaching the building and killing everyone inside. We simulated the exercise by converting each weapon to fire 9-mm paintball rounds. We split into teams and took turns being the aggressor and the defender. There was nothing to convoy operations! We loaded the vehicles and when someone yelled contact right, we stoped the vehicle, off loaded, and returned fire.
The third day, we patrolled all day. Walking through the forest setting up Op-Orders based on intel that our cadre would feed us. We practiced digging fox holes, we practiced navigation, we practiced hand signals. We practiced everything in the Marine Corps manual for infantry men.
With less than a couple hours of sleep a night, I found myself losing track of how many days we were in the field. We conducted live fire exercises, while moving by day and by night. This made everyone nervous. There was always a chance of some Lieutenant tripping and discharging his weapon in the wrong direction. It is a good thing we had safety instructors keeping us online. After a while, I started to feel more at ease with the live fire exercise. It started to grow on me. Having a live round in the chamber and shooting our weapons amongst a platoon of second lieutenants started to feel normal.
The next day, we started walking again. This time it started raining. We got to our objective and set up an ambush position. Everyone started to dig foxholes to set up their defensive position with their standard issued E-Tool. The E-Tool is an entrenching tool, which probably has not changed much since WWII. At this point the sky turned dark, and then we heard a crack in the air. It started pouring! You could see lightning bolts jumping all around us. Hitting trees not far from our position. The hair on my arms started to stand up. We had just survived live-fire training, now this? The lightning got so bad, that our cadre had us stack our rifles. Everything was soaked! This was my first experience with hail. Small balls of ice pelted our position for a good 5 minutes. Then, the temperature dropped. The rain turned into snow. And every puddle turned into ice within hours. Everything wet froze. I promise, leather boots are not waterproof, as they seem to be. It wasn’t long before we got our next order to move out.
During one of the final movements of the exercise, everyone was issued laser-tag equipment. Our weapons were rigged with a laser that would fire every time we fired a blank round. We reached our ambush location in the evening. The winds started to pick up. The winds were strong and it was cold! From what was reported, the wind-chill that night was minus 17 degrees. To this day, I am not a fan of the cold.
Our training at The Basic School prepared us for war and leading Marines. This is only a small portion of the training required by young Marine Officers. Each of us were soon deploying to our units around the country to be a part of the War on terrorism. Our training imbued the concept that every Marine is a rifleman. No matter your specialty, you are trained to be a rifleman first.
My job, or specialty, was Supply Officer or the Military Occupation Code (MOS) 3002. When asked by the instructor what I wanted to do in the fleet, I responded, “I want the hardest job, I want the job people get fired from.” Without hesitation the instructor responded, “Supply Office.” I’ll take it. I continued my follow-on training at Camp Johnson, North Carolina. Where I studied supply chain management. Then, headed back to Hawaii for my first duty station.
Within four months of arriving at my first unit and checking into the Third Battalion, Third Marines we deployed to Afghanistan. The four months leading up to the deployment, I worked had. This was the first time that everything I did impacted a battalion of 1500 Marines. Contracts for training in 29 palms, contracting at Pohakuloa, transportation, Sapi Plates (body armor), up armor for vehicles, and a ton of individual equipment ordered and delivered before we arrived in Afghanistan. To this point of my life, these four months were the hardest I had ever worked. We were the first Marine unit to deploy to War from Hawaii. This was the main reason I started the company in 2008.
I was back in Hawaii, but not really.