MARINE CORPS AIR STATION YUMA, Ariz -- Imagine, if you will, the sweet aroma of tropical flowers wafting in on the fresh, yet salty, ocean breeze that hits your face as you get off the airplane at the Honolulu International Airport.
This is the type of greeting people receive when they arrive in Hawaii, giving them the first impression that they are in a very different place than what they may be used to.
I know, because I stepped off of the plane in Hawaii for the first time Jan. 6, 1998, feeling wonder and awe at what would be the beginning of a more-than-three-year assignment in Hawaii, at Marine Corps Base Hawaii, Kaneohe Bay.
Being stationed in Hawaii gives one the opportunity to think about the pros and cons of duty there, and believe me, I've spent many a mirthless hour pondering the subject. But for good or ill, the most illogical part of Hawaii duty is this: Why is Hawaii considered a continental United States duty station when it isn't in the continental United States?
The one thing I can say definitively about duty in the Aloha State is that, in my humble opinion, it should be considered an overseas duty station.
One of the many benefits of serving in the Corps is the chance to be stationed in Hawaii. On the Marine Corps side, just about every Marine military occupational specialty has a job for leathernecks in Hawaii. The infantry, artillery, administration, air support, and intelligence fields - to name just a few - all have Marines on duty in the Aloha State.
There's perhaps nowhere in the United States where there are more outdoor recreational opportunities with a variety of different environments: surfing and body-boarding along the beaches, snorkeling and scuba diving below the waves, and hiking and climbing among the rainforest trails.
However, despite the great aspects of Hawaii, there are some things that are drawbacks for servicemembers.
Hawaii is the 50th state in this great union we have pledged ourselves to protect. It is also an important mecca for our country's military - all four of the Department of Defense services and the Coast Guard have bases on Oahu, the state's most populous island.
But Hawaii is roughly 2,000 miles from mainland United States and takes about five hours to reach by airplane. By contrast, a Marine serving at Marine Corps Security Force Company, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is a mere 90 miles from the good ol' U-S-of-A.
Travelling home from Cuba wouldn't be so bad, but it's quite a trek to make it home to visit friends and family for the holidays coming from Hawaii. The great distance and expense of a journey from the Hawaiian islands in many cases lowers the morale of Marines serving in Hawaii.
And there are plenty of other things to keep in mind when determining whether or not Hawaii should be considered overseas duty.
For instance, when making a Defense Switchboard Network telephone call to Hawaii from Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, one must first dial a station overseas operator, whereas a DSN number to a mainland U.S. base can be dialed directly.
While the Hawaiian Islands' environment offers a kind of Heaven on Earth, for duty station purposes the Aloha State is more like Purgatory - caught somewhere between CONUS and overseas.
One must also bear in mind the cultural contrasts of the islands versus the mainland. The language and cultural differences in Hawaii make it seem very foreign, much like visiting another country.
The Hawaiian alphabet uses just 13 letters, and no two consonants appear side by side. And that hurdle is just the Hawaiian language. To add flavor to the linguistic stew in Hawaii, the local population most commonly uses pidgin, a slangy amalgamation of English and Hawaiian. For example:
"Howzit, brah? Why fo' you no can get da kine, yah?"
Which I think means, "How are you doing, friend? Why can't you get the newspaper here?," or whatever "Da kine" means to that person at that place and time.
The Hawaiian culture is a conglomerate of various Hawaiian, Polynesian and other Pacific island societies. Being able to learn more about another culture is a terrific opportunity for Marines young and old, but it certainly can be a shock for someone new to Hawaii.
The lifestyles of the Hawaiian people can seem quite alien to most people from mainland states. I mean, for Pete's sake, where else would somebody actually order Spam in a restaurant, on purpose, and like it?
Another difference is that servicemembers moving to Hawaii with pets have to quarantine the animals for up to 180 days. That's potentially six months that the pet, who is just as much a family member as a child to some households, is living in a cage and not in the home.
The purpose of this is to keep foreign disease carried by non-island animals from affecting the native animal populace on the islands. But are these furry friends of the military families really foreign? It's not like these are vampire kitties from Transylvania.
The key word here is "foreign," since the Hawaii state government doesn't recognize pets from other states, all owned by American citizens, as native. This is another example of how Hawaii is much more like an overseas duty than a CONUS assignment.
A soldier, airman or Sailor stationed in Hawaii is serving overseas, by the guidelines of their service. The Marines would never want to emulate some of the other services' procedures, but following their protocol regarding Hawaii might just make sense.
There aren't enough pages in this fine periodical for me to expound fully on my passionate belief that Hawaii should be designated as an overseas duty station. Suffice to say that for as much as Hawaii has to offer Marines, they should also be able to claim it when determining their overseas control date.
With that I bid everyone Aloha.