Friday, November 16, 2007

Combat Action

A Gunny I once had described the Marine Corps as a big penis. He likened the head as the infantry, i.e. those that do all the up-close and personal interaction. Everything else in that region is pretty cleverly designed to aid and support the 'tip of the spear' to do its job. Not the description that I would have chosen, but it did do a remarkable job of illustrating a point. Here I am, almost 10 years later, remembering and describing a snippet of a 30 minute conversation.

The point that he was trying to make was that the infantry isn't going to get anything done without its administrative and support peeps. Despite the amount of shit that is said from the infantry to everyone else, it is very true. Thankfully, the admin guys that we had were good to go, and most went out of their way to help us out in whatever way they could.

One of the ways that we would say thanks was to take some of them out on patrol every once in a while. Some of the guys were cooped up in the rear for loooong hours every day and wanted nothing more than to go out on patrol and see what there was to see. Some of them had skills that could be easily used on patrol and were an asset to our mission.

Sitting around, blissfully wasting away an afternoon on a very rare day off, one of the admin guys barged into our quarters and proudly announced that he had now earned his combat action ribbon.

The combat action ribbon is one of those things that most Marines look forward to earning. You wouldn't believe the amount of time and mental powers that were spent pondering what actions earn it, who does and does not rate it, etc ad nauseum. I understand that the confusion has been somewhat cleared up by now, but at the time it was still one of the raging debates. I figured 'We're in Iraq. Patrolling the roads. If we DON'T get the CAR somehow, someway (and about 5 times over), that'll be a friggin' miracle.'

His story follows thusly.

Out on a patrol with one of the other mobile assault platoons, Admin Stud was taken as an extra dismount. His job would be not too extensive, he was there to cover any additional danger areas that might pop up, and to take photos if needed. As the sun set over the horizon, the patrol leader got an additional order to check on the power-line security tent in the area. A number of years ago a security department was set up to guard the power-lines. Locals would earn a wage, do something useful, and we might possibly have an extra set of eyes and ears in the area. Of course, the enemy might have an extra set of eyes and ears in the area as well, but that is just part of the whole party.

Back to the story. As the patrol was gradually making its way across the dunes to the tents, in the main tent under the power lines there was a little fiesta going on. The two man teams from both the tent to the north and south had gathered at the main tent to socialize, eat some grub, and perhaps to get their drink on. The after action report states that one of the Iraqi guards heard some vehicles approaching their position. When they heard the revving of multiple engines and saw no lights, they immediately assumed that it was a caravan of insurgents coming to pay them a visit.

They unloaded with their issued AKs at the Marine patrol to scare off what they thought were insurgents. Imagine their discomfort when they possibly thought that the insurgents were now fighting with our machine guns, grenade launchers, and rockets!

On the other side of this unfortunate firefight, the Marines performed almost perfectly. Following their contacts SOPs, they assumed their positions and returned fire. Admin stud recounted his admirable performance that no doubt was going directly into his commendation or award decree. Speaking with the squad leader later, turns out that Admin Stud actually did fairly well, but he did mention that he was 'slightly occupied' at the moment and did not have any more time than to ensure that Admin Stud wasn't getting himself killed.

The Iraqi guards must have very quickly realized the error in their ways, so they abandoned their positions and crawled into the wadi immediately behind the tent. They spent the next twenty minutes getting intimate with the sand at the bottom of the wadi, examining in microscopic detail every granule of dirt that was present. Their weapons were hastily flung into the scraggly bushes near the entrance to the tent.

Completing the immediate action drill for contact, the squad swept the area and investigated what was left of the tent, the guards' gear, and their vehicles. The guards themselves were completely intact, if only a little bit shaken up and quite sandy. Explanations were offered, apologies were made, and new gear was requested for the very lucky guards.

Was a mistaken ambush from a 'friendly' local unit enough for a combat action award? I don't know, and I don't really care. What I cared about was that no Marines were injured or killed, they learned valuable lessons relating to movement under fire, returning fire, good communication, and that the trigger happy locals were somehow spared. I know of others that have gotten higher awards for less, and a few that should have gotten a lot higher awards for definitive heroic actions, but didn't.

Besides, I was in the middle of a much deserved nap.

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