It might shock you to learn that Marines are competitive, especially among themselves, and every unit from platoon to division boasts that it’s the best. So Marines who train at the home of the 1st Division aboard Camp Pendleton, CA, must endure the brickbats of being called “Hollywood Marines,” since the northern reaches of the 125,000-acre camp lie near Los Angeles.

With beaches that developers drool over and vast stretches of nearly untouched coastal terrain, Camp Pendleton basks in the Southern California sunshine much of the year. During the 2009 Marine West Expo held 4-5 February, the region was abloom with flowers, from roses to the exotic bird-of-paradise. Daytime temps hovered in the 70s, while USA Today reported that 90 percent of the rest of the nation was below freezing.

But 1st MarDiv Marines don’t get a lot of time to enjoy the weather, though their counterparts aboard Camp Lejeune, NC, along the humid Atlantic coast would likely swap places in a minute. With deployments behind and ahead, these Marines spend days and nights training to keep skills honed. The rotor beats from the 3rd Marine Air Wing’s choppers echo almost continuously from the hills, and the crump-bang of weaponry and ordnance carries from remote firing ranges.

All of which made an appropriate setting for the Expo, co-sponsored by our client the Marine Corps League and the Marine Corps Systems Command, which coordinates development and deployment of most everything a Marine takes into harm’s way.

The Marine West Expo, now in its 14th year, brings active-duty Marines together with the people who make their gear, vehicles, aircraft, software, uniforms, boots and other items. Marines are encouraged to speak frankly to the suppliers – not that they are shy! – and vendors are even more pointedly encouraged to listen to what may sometimes be a highly critical appraisal of some item. The goal – make it better, faster, stronger, more comfortable, lighter, safer, deadlier – whatever it takes to keep Marines alive and victorious in the field.

For the second year in a row, the visiting Marine Corps Leaguers visited the headquarters of the Wounded Warrior Bn.-West, where about 55 Marines – many suffering from Post Traumatic Shock Disorder or Traumatic Brain Injury – work hard to try to return to active duty at some post in the Corps, or, failing that, to a meaningful job outside.

UPDATE: The groundbreaking was held 27 February.

Companies that offer services or devices to help defeat roadside bombs have been a major presence at the Expo for several years. One company, The O’Gara Group, had a kitchen table set up at its booth, filled from edge-to-edge with beakers, glass bottles and various compounds and liquids.

Several young Marines stopped to examine them. “What are they cooking here?” one asked with a smile. “Bombs” was the answer, and the young Marines instantly turned somber, remembering – and perhaps anticipating – their journeys into harm’s way. This was no longer Hollywood.

(Click here for more photos from the Expo)