Very few people will ever go to a trade show where the major selling points for most of the products offered are either how lethal they are or how good they are at preventing the user from becoming a casualty. The Marine Military Expos are just that kind of show, and I am at the 2008 Marine West Expo, sponsored in part by our client the Marine Corps League, aboard the US Marine Corps Base at Camp Pendleton, CA.

With palm trees dotting the dry landscape and many of the housing units built in the classic Southern California Spanish style, large parts of Camp Pendleton, CA, look like most other small California coast towns. There are shopping centers, McDonalds restaurants, Starbucks, a paintball range, fire stations, signs for dances and other events at the Staff Non-Commissioned Officer Club, little kids with moms in tow walking on the sidewalks to playgrounds.

But there is a sense of purpose and intensity here you don’t find in most small towns. Most of the Marines here have either done at least one tour of a Middle Eastern combat zone, or are training for their first deployment, or getting ready for their next. All of them want to take the best gear they can into the fight, to do unto the enemy and keep the enemy from doing unto them.

That’s the purpose of these expos, to bring the people who make military gear – from socks to rockets – face to face with the Marines who use the products – more than use them, whose lives depend on them. The Marines are not shy about expressing their approval or complaints, nor about offering suggestions to improve the item. And the vendors are eager to hear – many of the representatives here are retired Marines or veterans of other services. Their knowledge helps their companies, and meeting their fellow warriors keeps that knowledge fresh.

What, you may wonder, do socks bring to a military operation? Ask any ground-pounding infantryman – feet are subject to a world of woes. A seamless-toed sock that wicks moisture away from the feet, cushions sensitive areas and even fights foot odor can make a difference in how effective a grunt is, how fast he or she can move, and thus, in whether they come home ok. Don’t even get me started on boots …

And Pendleton’s Marines know about pounding ground. Now in its 66th year as a Marine Corps Base, Camp Pendleton, CA, sprawls over hundreds of thousands of acres of what would otherwise be prime, overly developed California coastline. Originally part of a gigantic ranch when Spain controlled California, Camp Pendleton became US Marine turf in the early days of WWII. After training in its sere, rugged hills and surf-whitened beaches, tens of thousands of Marines embarked for battles that are part of Corps legend – Guadalcanal, Peleliu, Tarawa, Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

Today it trains Marines for battles in the Middle East, and for missions around the world, including humanitarian efforts such as the aid to Bangladesh after Cyclone Sidr tore through that nation.

The two-day show will be attended by an estimated 3,000 Marines, from privates to generals. The local newspaper, the North County Times, covers Camp Pendleton closely and has an interesting article about the show. As one general said today, his peers don’t buy much – they wait to hear from their corporals, sergeants, master sergeants and gunny sergeants about what’s worthwhile and what’s not. If the Marines want it, I want one, too.