Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Fallen Brothers

Perhaps it is the mood recently, but I have been doing a lot of thinking about old memories and good friends.

The first, 'Golden Boy' was one of those guys. Equal parts disgustingly smart, athletic, and good looking. One of the few that, to me, fit the phrase 'natural born leader'. It didn't take that much in the way of imagination to know that he would go as far as he wanted, as long as he wanted, in just about anything that he did. I didn't know him through the Corps, but it came to my attention that he was going to go Marine Officer, after college. He always had quite a bit on his plate, but it only seemed to focus his ability to accomplish his goals. Had a smokin' hot sister, to my then seemingly eternal despair.

One of the few actual conversations that we had was about the nature of the Officer/Enlisted relationship. The main advice that I give those contemplating entering the military as Officers is to listen and learn from the SNCOs (Staff Non-Commissioned Officers). Most of them have been in their respective service for many, many years, and actually do know what in the hell they are talking about. Some of the best Officers that I have known were not afraid to ask for input from their enlisted leaders. On the other hand, they knew when to make the hard decisions. That is their call, and when all is said and done, that is what the position exists for. Being a junior Lieutenant is a hard, sometimes tedious, often thankless job, but one that is very important for the welfare of the platoon and professional development of the individual Officer. I was confident that he was going to be a great asset to the Corps.

The second was a Marine that we knew as 'Giggles'. Giggles was always a little boy at heart. Sometimes too motivated, he was eager to please. Smart kid, knew his job inside, outside, and sideways, always willing to help out a Marine that was struggling. A leader in the making. I ran across an old picture I have of him the other day, and it almost made me laugh/tear up out loud. We were in the middle of a brutal work-up, long, difficult days filled with training. In those days, most of us still carried around disposable cameras (and did our best NEVER to leave them unattended), for the odd 'moto' shot, group 'hard dog' mementos, and the like.

We had just gotten done with yet another hump, and I was beat. I was sitting on my pack which was parked on the deck at the end of my rack. I was putting off the inevitable pain of getting back to my feet to store my gear. He was leaning up against the wall, quietly sweating from the nights festivities. I pulled out my camera from a pocket, and noticed that I had two photos remaining. Being the cheap bastard that I am, I didn't want to waste the shots, so I told Giggles to 'strike a pose, you sexy bitch!'. He promptly stuck a couple of the road guard luminescent straps around his forehead and gave me the ever present goofy looking grin.

Both were nice guys, good friends, and great Marines.

They have both been dead for longer than I knew them.

"...you are Marines. You're part of a brotherhood. From now on, until the day you die, wherever you are, every Marine is your brother... remember this: Marines die, that's what were here for! But the Marine Corps lives forever. And that means you live forever!"

-Full Metal Jacket, 'Gunnery Sergeant Harman' R. Lee Ermey

Monday, May 28, 2007

Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Tire House

The Tire House is one name for a live fire training house. Layouts of these houses are as different as the people that set them up, different rooms, hallways, angles, etc. Some don't have roofs, and quite a few have already had the doors ripped/blown/taken off. A plethora of sand bags and tires line the outside to lower the possibility of errant rounds heading the wrong way. A very good training exercise, sometimes painfully good at exposing flaws in the training or tactics of the student.

Every time that I go through one of these houses, I mentally review the quite lengthy list of past mistakes that I have made in order to avoid them this time (One might say so that I may discover new mistakes to make). I might refer to 'One' as an asshole.

Get out of the fatal funnel.
Muzzle points where the eyes look.
Keep moving.
Shoot, move, and communicate.
Figure out where Mr. Murphy is on this training evolution. If possible, shoot the bastard.
Don't get tunnel vision.
Don't just pull the pin and toss, pull, pause, then toss. (nothing like seeing your grenade bounce off the far wall right back at your dumb ass)
Don't pause for too long (bad things will happen).
When in doubt, reload.
Anyone can call a cease fire, at any time, for any reason.

List continues ad nauseum.

The last time that I went through a live fire shoot house, it was for a civilian course in the middle of a huge ranch. Excellent training. Great instructors. Before the house, one of the instructors gave me the ground rules.

To start, one student at a time, accompanied by an instructor.
Friendlies are indicated by the white cardboard targets.
Bad Guys are indicated by tan or brown cardboard targets.
Cease fire means exactly that, immediately.

I assumed the high ready position just outside the door. The instructor took his place immediately to my rear, with one hand on my shoulder. This would let me know where he was at all times through the house, and would provide him with front row seats to critique (laugh at) my run.

No practice grenades here, ride the door in...opening...white blur in the hallway...MOVE. OUT. OF. THE. FATAL. FUNNEL...target...two shots, center mass...room clear, what say we go on to the rest of the house, eh?...in the hallway, out of the hallway...instructor right on my ass, good. Bad form to shoot him...damn, my heart is thumping...friendly standing in front of BG...quick shot...clear...keep moving...should have pissed before this run...breathe...moving...BG!...three shots, on the move...pretty good, actually...
"House clear"...no?...shit, one last room...moving...BG, two to the body one to the head...room clear, house clear, "CLEAR!!"


Movement - 'Excellent. Student was always on the move. Could possibly slow down for better aimed shots. Movement from kill zone outstanding. Not necessary to knock over friendlies to facilitate exit from fatal funnel.' I was assisting them to get down and out of the line of fire...or something.

Shooting - 'Good. Groups could be tighter, but most center mass. Nice distance shots.' Pistol sniper, baby, pistol sniper...

Awareness - 'Decent. White blur immediately inside doorway was a test. Not a friendly, but a BG with a revolver.' Sneaky Bastards. 'Called house clear before house was actually clear.' Damn.

Misc. - Not necessary to shoot the tan targets that are stacked in the corner awaiting the next student. Hey, I thought they were BGs getting their group lovin' on.

Over all, a decent run. Plenty of stuff to chew on for the next time.

Friday, May 25, 2007


Upon completion of a long training evolution, the Marines and our counterparts returned to the small base just off of the coast. An afternoon of their version of BBQ, drinking, and the inevitable toasts were the prelude to the night's festivities. The LtCol. in charge of their forces was the MC of sorts, and at one point had a number of his and our Officers up on the makeshift stage. There was an exchange of token gifts, to memorialize the occasion, and as the afternoon progressed (and the cerveza kept flowing), a drinking game just kind of evolved right in front of us. I don't really remember exactly how it started, but at certain points in the LtCol.'s speech, I noticed all of the host nation Officers would lift their beers, proclaim "listos para vencer" and throw back a swallow. Not to be out done, our own Officers would raise their beers as well and respond with our "Semper Fidelis".

After more than a few beers, exchanged gifts, and indigenous music, their Officers were still going strong. Ours were... not really conditioned to the high level of our hosts. A few of our Captains were still in the game, even drinking with their counterparts, mumbling their phrase if not a little bit inebriatedly "lishtos pa' vensher". It was pretty good beer, after all.

The most memorable part of the afternoon, for me (and other than watching our Officers get sloshed at 1700), was the toast at the end of the celebration. The LtCol. was emphasizing his gratitude on behalf of his forces for the successful training and that he hoped that we were able to gain valuable insight as well (we most definitely did). His toast, as remembered many years ago and translated into English, went something like this.

Today... we drink as friends.
Tomorrow... we may very well fight as enemies.
Forever... we will be brothers in arms.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007



Why I hate TV # 325,115,240...

One day several years ago, the room-mate and I were watching the boob tube. Flicking through the channels we stopped on TLC, if I remember correctly. Coming out of commercial break, we were quickly able to see that there was some sort of operation going on. The narrator was doing his thing, the doctor and nurse were crouched over the patient, cutting, spreading, etc. We couldn't make out much of the patient, due to the fact that he had that green-blue sheet over a large portion of his body, with only a small square cut out and centered over the portion being operated on. The camera was currently on close up, with only the patch of cut open skin and the doctor's tools in the picture screen.

This scene brought a few comments from us ranging from 'sucks to be him', 'I remember when...', to 'what in the heck do you suppose are they working on?'.

Thoughtful silence...

Furrowed brows...

Jeopardy theme music running through my head...

Room-mate twists his arm to get a close up comparison of his elbow to the tv...

The doctor breaks in "...right here is where we will go ahead and clip the vas deferens..."

'Yow!', 'WTF!', 'Make it stop!', and 'Oh Hell, No!!!' were the comments from the peanut gallery.

Camera pulls back to reveal the 'clippee', lying on his back and covered with the sheet to about mid-gut. The square is centered at the crotch and it looks like about 4 people are elbow deep in their work (that elbow deep thing might just be a traumatic memory thing). Patient casually reaches up and scratches his nose.

First of all, to say that we were mortified to even be forced to watch this procedure is putting it lightly. Add to that the grudging acknowledgement that yes, there might actually be a rare situation where some guy might actually allow several others to approach his tender bits with multiple sharp implements combined with the apparent proof that before the procedure one was not allowed to get liquored up or at the very least knocked the hell out, was quite disturbing.

Thank you, Marko, for bringing up that traumatic memory. I have to say, you are a braver man than I.

Monday, May 21, 2007

The Gas Chamber

NBC training is always certain for a few memorable stories, the gas chamber especially so. Just about all Marines remember their first time in the chamber, the bad Darth Vader quotes to show the others that I "aint skeered", lining up on the inside of the bulkheads, and holy hell, why is my skin feel like it's melting? Then the masks come off and the fun begins...

I distinctly remember one poor guy wigging out and making a mad dash for the hatch, only about half way through the session. Said guy got neatly clotheslined by one of the instructors mere feet from freedom. The rest of us were none too pleased by the fact that we had to stay in longer while they sorted out freako. I was just happy that I managed to hold in my morning chow until after I exited the chamber...

Really, the first time is the worst (usually), all later training sessions are more like a refresher course, designed to brush the dust off of the mental cobwebs, and to ensure that you are up to date on all gear. A typical gas chamber session might have several different variations, but goes something like this:

The platoon will stage gear and gather for a few classes. The instructor will give a class on the gas mask, types of gases, the body's reaction to gases, and what we will have to do to demonstrate proficiency in the chamber. Platoons will be divided up into squads, and enter the chamber as a squad. Other squads will continue on to take different classes related to the NBC training, while awaiting their turn for the chamber.

I remember one particularly memorable NBC Staff NCO. This Marine was crusty as hell, and had joined the Corps way back when Jesus was just a Pfc. Appeared that he had spent the majority of his time with NBC, too. This guy lived for anything related to Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical warfare. Quite the motivator.

So motivated, in fact, that he had managed to up the concentration of the tear gas that we were using for the day. After initial training, I had gotten used to a greatly reduced sensation of melting skin coming from the backs of my hands and the area of my face outside of the mask. Felt more like an itchy tickling. I knew that this was going to be an interesting day when I saw the fumes fill the chamber a lot more thickly that the past few episodes, and my skin started to melt. I turned to one of my Lance Corporals and said, "No pain, no gain. More pain....more pain".

First came the head shake. The head shake is a simple exercise to make sure that the Marines had properly put on his mask before entering the chamber, and had it tightly secured on his face. All Marines were instructed to bend at the waist and vigorously shake their heads around. The gagging that followed brought a smile to my face when I realized that I was still good to go. Misery might love company, but it is always better for the other guy. Those Marines then demonstrated the proper way to clear one's mask after contamination. A couple of times.

After the shake came the pt. We ran around the walls, getting our heart rates up and sounding off to the cadence of the instructor. He was not pleased with the volume of our shouts, and told us so. After we all came to a stop, the instructor removed his gas mask, and proceeded to give us instructions for our next demonstrations of proficiency. The chamber was now fully filled with the smoke.

"All right, since you little pussies don't want to sound off while double timing with your friggin masks on, we'll just take them off and pt! When I give the order, all Marines will remove your masks and begin to double time around my chamber. The slower you pukes run, the longer we will be in my domain here. You motivate me, and I will motivate you. You fail to motivate me, and I WILL motivate you!!!" He rasped.

As the NBC instructors don't normally take off their masks in the middle of the chamber to berate us and instruct, we all figured that the gas was not as potent as we had initially guessed. We had forgotten that 1) This guy lived for the chamber. 2) He had been doing this stuff for a long time, and probably gotten conditioned somewhat. 3) To him, anyone lower than E-7 was a FNG, and he loved to see FNGs squirm.

We got the order, I removed my mask and my eyeballs promptly melted and ran down my face.

More pain...more pain.


We croaked something unintelligible.

We could hear the other squads outside the chamber roaring with laughter.

Laugh now, you bastards, you're next.

The intensity of the gas was definitely on par with boot camp, and much stronger than my last 4 times in the chamber since. To run, one had to trail one's fingers along the bulkhead, with the other hand on the shoulder of the Marine in front of you. This would ensure that you wouldn't run over somebody in the crowded room. Worked like a champ for a while, until someone about 5 bodies ahead fell to his knees. Much like a NASCAR pile up, the Marine immediately behind him slammed on his brakes, only to be bowled over by the rest of the choking, gagging, snot-flinging squad. I landed nuts first on someones heel, and the knee of the Marine behind me lodged firmly in my ass.

Not my best day.

As a last cruel tease, the instructor open the hatch to the outside, while continuing our pt on the inside of the chamber. We were forced to run past the open door, while continuing to run circles around him. Finally, he got bored with us, and gave us the okay to run outside and begin decontamination.

As always, the other squads were ready and waiting with cameras to forever memorialize our discomfort. S'ok, we would do the same to them, when their time came.

Saturday, May 19, 2007


Ah, memories.

For those not intimate with the Marine Corps boot camp experience, the video shows a hapless recruit failing to offer the proper greeting of the day to the Marine that enters the hatch. Thankfully, several Drill Instructors are there to helpfully provide him with some of the proper motivation to recognize the error of his ways, and to hopefully draw his attention to little things like maintaining a low profile, attention to detail, General Orders for Sentries, immediate obedience to orders, proper procedure, maintaining of one's bearing, stress management, tunnel vision avoidance, situational awareness, respect of rank, auditory chaos, chain of command, and last but (most definitely not least), Murphy's Law.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Scout Swimmer, Part 1

About a month before we boarded the ship for deployment, the call was made that we might have some need of scout swimmers. Not enough time to send any Marines to school, command decided that we would get all the zodiac coxwains (guess what we called 'em), first-class and above rated swimmers, and a few guys from the recon platoon together to figure out how we were going to take care of fielding swimmers, if needed.

For a down and dirty swimming course, we didn't spend all that much time in the water. It was kind of a given that anybody who was there was going to be a decent swimmer, and for the most part, everybody was. The focus of the course was to ensure that Marines from the different platoons would all know the same information, and if need be, could be considered interchangeable when it actually came to training and working joint ops. We spent a lot of time on beach clearing, signaling, and the like.

Finally, the time came to get into the zodiacs and do a number of practice runs.

As it has been said many other times in much better ways, you do not really control an area until you have boots on the ground. Technology is great, but until you have some mean looking knuckle-dragger on the ground and ready to hook and jab, its just all hot air.

Head mean looking knuckle-dragger came in the form of...well, we'll just call him Staff Sergeant Enojado. SSgt. Enojado wasn't the most cheery sort, what with his colorful vocabulary, hatred of everybody (especially Officers), and a muy fuerte accent. About the only thing that I saw give him joy was when he managed to throw off several Marines from his zodiac while attempting to set naval speed records on his boat. ¡OlĂ©!

I would always hear a couple of the good-old boys in the group let out more than a few "yeee-haws" (a la the Dukes of Hazzard) when we went airborne, always followed by muffled curses when we crashed down to the water, and then followed by swallowing several gallons of water when the Ssgt. cut hard to the flank immediately upon crash landing. Several times the 'tactical water insertion' was accomplished thusly.

On one particular nut-numbing practice run, I was holding on for dear life on the starboard side. Marines were stacked upon the inflatable 'arm', facing forward and draped over the tube to maintain a low profile, with their swim buddy on the other side of the zodiac. Theory was when you got to you drop off point, you would look over to your swim buddy, ensure that both were ready to abandon ship, and just kind of lean over into the water. SSgt. was having none of that, of course. Cruising along at roughly the speed of sound and cursing all Officers ever born, Ssgt. was in top form. I could tell he was feeling particularly nice today by the way he informed us of the upcoming drop-off. "Hold on, ju fockers, an get ready to get the fuck outta my boat! Pinche beach is somewheres over dere!". He illustrated his fine directions with a nod to a generally forward direction.

I felt like one of those motorcycle racers, when they lean waaaay over the bike, to avoid being flung off like so many...Marines on a zodiac. We were getting a lot better at holding on, much to SSgt.'s displeasure. If we had enough prior warning, we would anticipate the turn, leaning to one side or the other. Sneaky bastard noticed this and started faking us out, letting us anticipate a turn and then deftly slamming the boat in the opposite direction, promptly tossing one side or the others worth of Marines, and apparently for the Naval Marine-chucking World Distance Record. Inevitably, you would find yourself on the outside of the turn, nothing keeping you on the boat but fingernails, curses, and grit.

From the beach, you would have not noticed anything at all, just the crashing of the waves, birds calling and shitting, and the regular noises of nature. Out to sea, zodiacs would be quietly cruising along (and/or soaring through the air). Marines would depart the zodiacs by signaling their swim buddy and easing themselves off of the boat (and/or flying ass over teakettle, cursing all the way, into the water).

Back on the zodiac, I found myself on the outside of yet another turn. This hard flank was not as sharp as some of the other, probably why I wasn't immediately tossed overboard. When the g-forces get to a certain point at a high rate of speed, I don't care how many pull-ups you can do, your ass is launching. I was barely holding on, arms fully extended, fingers in a death-grip around the rope, willing myself to curl my body back atop the tube. I remember the moment when my determination to remain with the boat started to overcome the force of the turn. I managed to curl my arms and move my body about half an inch closer to the tube. That was when I knew that I had this turn beat.

That was also the moment that Popeye, immediately behind me, lost his grip and started his ungraceful exit from the boat. Apparently, his right boot had slipped from its perch and made contact with the water. Scrambling atop the slippery rubber, he reached out for any purchase he could find, and found....me.

Just as I was celebrating my victory over what turned out to be the inevitable, I was sucked off of the zodiac like I had tied a line to the pier. I caught a flailing boot to the side of my grape whilst soaring through the air, and managed to suck down about 20 gallons of sea water, as I was cursing Popey in about 3 different languages. We bobbed to the surface, exchanged a few pleasantries, and waited for the zodaic to swing around.

to be continued...

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Snippets of Wisdom...

When in the field for a training op, immediately upon completion of a grueling hump (is there really any other kind?), and after discovering that ones water supply is depleted, never ask Crusty old Corpsman for a swig from his canteen. Knowing that one of his canteens is always full of orange juice and he drinks like a fish should be a good indicator of what might be in the other canteen.

n.b. It is also considered very bad form to spew another mans vodka all over packs, other Marines, and said Crusty Corpsman. Even if it was the most hilarious event. Ever.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

My Calving & Hobbes Childhood, Why I did not Die Then, and Mom

Crazy school photos? Check
Parachuting off of the roof top with a blanket? Check (only once)
Battling fierce dinosaurs and space aliens? Check
Main cause of teacher insanity? Check
Main cause of babysitter insanity? Check
Main cause of Mom's insanity? Check
Out of control science projects? Check
Living room forts (no girls allowed)? Check
Survived super snow sled of death? Check (barely)
Multiple attempts to dig to China....in the front yard? Check
Wildly inappropriate snow figures? Check
Getting in trouble at school? Check
Getting in trouble at home? Check
Getting in trouble at church? Check (Amen)
Getting in trouble at market? Check
Late night battles with the boogey man? Check
Destruction of major appliances/furniture? Check
Attempts to jump over pond with my banana-seat Schwinn? Check
Creative new clothing alterations? Check
Creative interpretation of permissions and grounding? Check

I gave so many opportunities for my parents to have a legitimate excuse to explain why I was no longer among the living, it is unreal. I figured it was because I was invincible. Dad grumbled that he just wasn't that lucky. When mom eventually figured out that eating (most) insects, falling from stationary and moving objects, and finding new and creative ways to pass the time (resulting in another trip to the hospital) would not (usually) kill me, I think her whole outlook on parenting changed. After my childhood and by the time my siblings were of age to start running around and getting in trouble, she had relaxed quite a bit (probably due in part to extra sacramental wine).

Brother figures letting the neighbor girl cut his hair, trim his eyebrows & eyelashes, and apply make-up would be a neat way to get ready for first grade? Not a peep from mom.

Sister decides to deposit some change at the bank in her tummy? A call to the doc to verify, and then...nada

Sister has her new car (?!?!) for a week before the first dent? Dad raised holy hell, but mom...silence.

When my brother came downstairs for his first formal dance with a girl, he had a Mohawk that nicely complimented the bright-orange braided and nubbly 'do of his girlfriend. They both wore formal attire, he in a tux and she in a dress. They wore matching combat boots. Mom took lots of pictures. When asked why she was only taking pictures and not hitting the roof like she would have for me, she mumbled replies of "evidence for the courts", and "blackmail for when you cretins have kids".

Mom had it all figured out.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Personal Thoughts

Don't remember where I first heard of this, and I am sorry to say that I don't know who to attribute it to. It is a quote that I think of often, and when will-power, rage, thinking happy thoughts or all the rest of the usual personal motivators are not quite doing the trick, this one makes me pause, think, and get back to work.

"Somewhere a True Believer is training to kill you. He is training with minimal food or water, in austere conditions, training day and night. The only thing clean on him is his weapon and he made his web gear. He doesn't worry about what workout to do - his ruck weighs what it weighs, his runs end when the enemy stops chasing him. This True Believer is not concerned about 'how hard it is;' he knows either he wins or dies. He doesn't go home at 17:00, he is home. He knows only The Cause. Still want to quit?"

Something that I think that people tend to overlook is that a True Believer can and will be anywhere.

Ft. Dix, anyone?

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Murph was a....Pilot?

That would ruin my day.

Friday, May 4, 2007


Camp Cupcake, Iraq.

On an interior wall of this one chow hall on Camp Cupcake past the salad bar, ice cream bins, and dessert display, was the big screen TV.

Yes freaken' way.

The tube was usually turned to a big name news network, and was always on during the meal times. Occasionally, one would find that it would be turned to a European news channel, or a game in progress. One day, I went in for the evening meal, and found that a European music video station was on. In the country where 'seeing a little T 'n A' means 'Toes 'n Ankles', and after long, long months of not seeing curvy loved ones, this was playing. For those 2:58, not a word was said, bite of food taken, hell, I doubt anyone blinked.

Afterwards, I shit you not, standing ovation.

The chow hall was packed from then on.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

The Power of the Trash 'Stache

After a couple of months in Iraq, we were good to go. We just about knew all the roads, definitely knew where most of the bad stuff was (most of it we found prior to detonation, some we found the hard way), and were continuing our proficiency in our performance. At the time, I had not completely developed my perspectives on convoys nor (then) Gunny Murphy of Murphy's Law's fame, but it was coming. A story from one of my Corporals illustrated to me a little bit of both subjects, and helped to develop the theories on the two.

I guess that I had been pissing and moaning a little bit much about convoys, enough so that I was given orders to perform what else, a convoy escort. Typical story, too many vehicles to allow for mobility in the event of attack, not enough assets to respond to an attack, soldiers too new to the country to have learned all of the nuances of immediate action in the event of an attack, and yet another set of gray hairs for moi, attack or no. I was running around pulling out my pathetic little excuse for a trash 'stache in my doomed attempts to haul just about everything, and everyone, kicking and screaming I might add, to an acceptable level of competency.

A word, on the trash 'stache.

Just like everything else, the Corps has regulations on facial hair. A mustache will be within acceptable grooming standards, length, width, and extension from the mug all measured out. The mustache will be allowed to grow for a set period, if it ain't there in two weeks, it's not coming in brother, time to call the time of death and shave it off. They are actually not terribly common, in the states and/or garrison. In the field / combat however...

Perhaps one of the top contenders for the best leader I know had a 'stache. He started to grow it out in the pre-deployment training, and I really wouldn't be too surprised to learn that he did not trim it. At all. Not even once. This thing was out of control. Wildly beyond regulations, he started to bear a strong resemblance to an old, grizzled walrus. Mustache wax? I think it was the brand named Copenhagen. Reading lips? Uh-uh, no way, we learned to read the mustache twitch. One one pre-raid brief, the Captain concluded his otherwise deadpan orders with, "if there are no further questions at this time, I would just like to let everyone know if you need any motivation for these trying times, I will let you touch my mustache."

Twitch, twitch.

Needless to say, about a month later EVERYONE started to grow a trash 'stach. Even the females.

Ok, maybe not.

Certain types, like the above mentioned Marines, didn't have the proper gender and / or heritage to grow a truly impressive nose beard (Thanks, Dad!). I already knew that my facial hair was somewhat sparse due to some distant South American Indian connection, but what I didn't know was, in addition to sparseness, enough of my maternal side came through in the form of about 15 blond 'stache hairs (seemed to be about 30% of the total). Made for some funky looking whiskers, even when I wasn't pulling them out in frustration.

Back to the convoy...

Eventually, I had dispersed enough radios to pass for a mediocre communication ability, gotten an accurate head count (true definition of herding cats, that one), and successfully imparted my intent for immediate action in the event of attack (just get out of the way and let the Marines handle it). We were ready to make the trip.

Naturally, about 30 minutes into an otherwise uneventful escort, one of the convoy trucks goes tits up. Even more naturally, I don't hear about it over the #$%@!&* radios until I am about 5 miles up the road, unaware and alone (I had about 6 convoy vehicles, so yes, I was essentially alone). I had to stop, get out of my truck, go to each vehicle driver and ask if they knew why there was a big gap in the convoy, and why they had not passed that information onto me, 'cause I just might be curious about that. Then I had to guide each driver in the movement we eloquently called 'flipping the bitch', or turning an element of vehicles around, to drive off into another direction. While I was enjoying myself thus, Cpl. Weirdo experienced the following...

Curious as to why the convoy had stopped and why I had not come over the radio to announce a reason for said delay, Weirdo passed the radio off to one of his Marines, and stepped out of his vehicle to conduct some urgent business. Buttoning up his fly, he re-checked the shoulders of the road in the immediate vicinity (a sixth time couldn't hurt) and started trudging to the head of the convoy, to see what was shakin'.

A quick description of Weirdo, and to tell the truth, just about all of us. Lack of showers, laundry facilities, pxs, and the ever increasing patrol lengths had combined to produce some...interesting..fragrances / appearances. To put it blunt, we were pretty dingy. Just about all bore proud trash 'staches of varying levels of pride, shaving was usually done after a looong laundry list of other, higher priorities, and I think probably about 3 Marines had any sort of rank insignia left on their uniforms. On the plus side, our vehicles were as tip top as they were going to get in their current condition, our weapons were friggin' immaculate, and I knew, for a fact, that most of my Lance Corporals had the stones to pick up the ball and run with my position, should I be...unavailable.

Weirdo, being the Marine that he was, had taken to smoking the occasional stogey to cut down on his natural man musk, and to test the limits of authority. Walking up to the downed vehicle, he saw that it was for the time being, out of commission. The industrious leader of the soldiers, a Lieutenant, was already taking the time to place out his soldiers in defensive positions for the anticipated wait. Noticing my Corporal walking up he said, "well sir, the vehicle is down, I got my boys set up, what do you think about their positions?"

Twitch, twitch, went Weirdo's 'stache.

Apparently, the Lt. had seen the cigar, lack of immediately noticeable enlisted rank, wildly out of regulation trash 'stache, combat elan, and assumed that he was speaking to a higher ranking Marine Officer. Weirdo, for his part noticed that there were a few, better covered positioned spots that the soldiers could be occupying for the purposes of security, and told the Lt. as much. "Roger that, sir, will do" was the response.

Weirdo wisely chose to attend to business elsewhere before anyone discovered why you (and especially Army Lieutenants, new to Iraq and working with Marines) should ever A-S-S-U-M-E.


Especially with Marines.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Convoy WTF? Collection 1, Volume 1, Section 1, Chapter 1.

With the sky starting to lighten up in the horizon, I knew that our all night patrol was coming to an end. Just a few more checkpoints, a short security halt, and we would be on our way back to the base. A long, uneventful night time patrol on semi deserted roads had come up with nothing but the fact that we seriously needed to upgrade our night vision capabilities. I suppose that it is safe to say, several years after the fact, that we were woefully under-equipped. No IR capabilities, no up-armor, hell, for a while there, the most powerful weapons we had were a couple of saws, a middle finger, and bad breath. Straining one's eyes for hours at a time will result in the mother of all migranes, let me tell you. It essentially boiled down to two options.

At night, drive with your regular...

1) Lights on. This would allow you to spot (some) land mines, and possibly avoid them.
n.b. nothing better for Mahmoud on the hillside to gauge your position at night than by your headlights. If he was using an IED, you were screwed.
2) Lights off. This would allow you to (hopefully) sneak past the above mentioned Mahmoud and his nasty little toys. If he had put out any land mines, however...

I decided to call for a short halt before we returned to base. We pulled off the road, circled the wagons, and killed the engines. Marines got busy doing their extended sweeps, making sure that there was nothing in the immediate vicinity that warranted our attention. I got on the radio with company to inform them of our current position, status, and future intended action. Pulling out the map, I blinked...snort....mrph....jerked my head up to hear Lcpl. Schnozz yelling something in the distance.

'What the hell ever happened to noise discipline?', I though. I looked around. Sand and a whole lot of nothing else everywhere. Marines sitting in the turrets, standing guard. Marines spread out on the perimeter, standing guard. One Lcpl. taking a deuce behind a pitiful bush, giving the finger to another guy taking a picture of him.

Turning my attention back to Schnozz, I could make out ....looks li...[garbled]...mine...base..

Looks like Schnozz had sniffed out the companies first land mine.

Walking over for confirmation, it was pretty clear that it was some sort of anti-vehicle mine. As I am most definitely NOT a member of EOD, that was the extent of my analysis. I instructed the Marines to pull back to the vehicles, and to re-check the ground immediately around the Hummers. I didn't want to find another mine the hard way when we pulled back out to the road.

Looking around in the area where the mine had been planted, I could make out the faint outlines of a trail. Didn't really make too much sense for a 'road' to be here, as the terrain was pretty level. I understood why someone would not want to drive on the paved road, due to the number of explosions, but we had been trained to not drive the same route, if possible, when going off road to avoid setting up a predictable pattern for enemy attack. Perhaps the trail was etched out by the previous Battalion, or by locals traveling to another village out to the east. I very cautiously picked my way out of the area, and returned to the vehicles to make my report.

I was given the order to secure the area and await the arrival of an EOD team. This kind of put a kink in the much anticipated rack-ops. See, while the EOD team was notified, prepared themselves, and hit the road, we had to stay on site. I wasn't too worried about an ambush, being in the middle of nowhere, but we had been up all night, and looked like we were going to be stuck here for a few more hours. One of the other squads had to return to the base, pick up EOD, and then escort them to where we were. ETA was given at 1.5 hours.

Approximately 4 hours later...

My northernmost-posted Marine rogered up on the squad radio to announce another convoy traveling south to our location. The last two announcements had actually been regular resupply convoys, and not the EOD team that we were waiting for, so I wasn't getting my hopes up for this one, either. All of my drivers were sleeping, if they could, simmering as they were in sweat. (I had no desire to finish an extra long patrol only to have one of my vehicles drive off a bridge 15 minutes from the base due to a sleepy driver.) The rest of us were rotating watches in the turrets of the vehicles, keeping an update of how many lizards came around to check us out. I turned down a request to sharpen pistol skills on one particularly sneaky lizard we named 'Ahmed'.

After about 10 minutes of watching the convoy gradually come closer, it pulled up to our position and came to a stop. A huge number of EOD personnel, Army, if I remember correctly, dismounted and came up to our vehicles, about 40 feet off of the paved road. They asked who we were with, noted our recent arrival in country, and immediately assumed that we had called in a paint can lid.

There are some that will call in EOD for anything suspicious, and that is ok. Better safe than sorry. I suppose that EOD gets somewhat peeved the 56th time that they have to come out to clear an old pillow filled with trash, but that is what they get payed the big bucks for. I am happy to note that every time we called for EOD, they earned their money.

They were pleasantly surprised to discover that we had an actual, no-shit Italian land-mine on our hands. As they had their security element with them, they assumed control of the scene and set about training some newer soldiers on proper mine-sweeping ops. We mounted up, notified company, and set off back home. Not more than a few miles into the trip, one of the vehicle commanders came on the radio to announce that he definitely had a flat tire.


An already looong patrol was getting incrementally longer, and I was not a happy camper. We pulled up to an old, abandoned, and mostly destroyed Iraqi National Guard checkpoint, and stopped for the tire change. Some goat herders who lived in one of the nearby tents saw our vehicles, wandered over, and proceeded to chat. They offered us some grapes, we gave them some bottled water and MREs. We both practiced our rudimentary language skills. I was pleased to note that they understood the majority of what I was trying to say in Arabic. They were shocked to find that we had a Muslim Marine (not myself, a Staff Sergeant that had come out on patrol with us). We gave them some smokes, and all was well in our little corner of the world.

The tire change was not going as quickly as it could have, due to the number of semi-professional back-home-car-tinkerers that we had in our squad. Too many chiefs, not enough indians sort of thing. I excused myself from the herders, and started back to the vehicle in question to find an ass to boot. When I was about half way there, in the distance to the south, I heard a muffled 'fwumpfwupmpfwump...fwumpfwump..brattbratt...fwumpfwump'. As the sounds of gunfire were coming from approximately where we had left the EOD team, it got my attention in a hurry. I yelled at the Marines to fix the tire or I would leave them behind. I dunno if they thought I would actually leave them, or they were determined not to miss out on the action, but they suddenly turned into the USMC / NASCAR tire-changing crew. Had that puppy off, tossed, and replaced in a heart beat. Marines were leaping into the vehicles, the vehicles were turned around, and the herders moseyed back to their tents.

As I jumped into my vehicle, Eagle Eyes flipped the switch on the speaker. The radio traffic filled the hummer. "...this is...[static]...taking...[garbled]....small arms...machine guns...[unintelligible]...north to...[something]...riendlies in the area, over?"

Sleepiness was forgotten and we hauled ass back to the EOD teams. 'Hauled ass' is a relative term, being as we were in old and decrepit vehicles, loaded down with all the ammo and sundry toys that we could carry, but we were moving as fast as safely possible. On the way, and in our rush, we forced a convoy traveling to the north onto the shoulder. Normally, the convoy would have the right of way, having a larger number of vehicles and a greater importance to the grand scheme of things, but when we saw them heading in our direction, we just flashed our lights, waved them over, and kept the pedal to the metal. As we had traveled the road not more than 20 minutes earlier, we could be reasonably certain that the roads were safe for the convoy to park for a minute as we passed. As far as I was concerned, providing support to an ambushed friendly unit held the highest priority, waaay above convoy priority. At the time, I didn't even think to question why the convoy hadn't stopped.

We arrived at the land mine site to find the EOD, worried about...us. For them, the gun fire had come from the north, as well as the same garbled radio traffic. Putting both accounts of the radio traffic together resulted in a little bit more understandable radio message.

"this is convoy 'ass nugget', we are going to take a minute to test fire our small arms fire and machine guns. We are traveling north to Camp Cupcake. Any friendlies in the area, over?"

Instead of making this announcement BEFORE opening fire, and what the hell, ensuring that there was actually nobody in the area, they just sent the traffic whenever, which turned out to be as they were firing.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Doc B.

Doc B. was an interesting fellow. He kind of struck me as one who, while he thoroughly enjoyed his position and duties, might have easily been a grunt in another life. Smoked like a chimney, cussed like a sailor, and knew his stuff.

To explain,

The position of Corpsman, what others call 'medic', is one that is not found in the Marine Corps. Corpsmen, like Chaplains, are provided to the Corps via the Navy. In training, they can usually be found in a safety vehicle, back from the firing line, waiting with a good book, in the event some hapless Marine discovers why it is not a good idea to stick ones finger in a bolt that is closing, dangle from a second story balcony before dropping to concrete, or learning why a particular plant in the jungle is named 'Black Palm'. Corpsmen throughout the Corps are usually named 'Doc', to his Marines. Some are there to finish reading the latest adventures of Conan, others are there because as a sailor, they normally don't get to do all the 'fun' stuff that we get to do. Doc. B was one of those.

He was quite knowledgeable in his area of expertise, and was eager to impart this knowledge to others. He was the one that in training in California that insisted that we should have at least two Marines per squad that knew as much as they could in regards to Doc's job. If he went down in Iraq, he didn't want to have to wait 20 minutes for the bird or for another squad's Corpsman to respond, he wanted someone to know how to do anything and everything to save him. He did let us know that for him personally, the first check to an unresponsive Doc. B. was to check 'the little Admiral'. "If he's gone, might as well zip me up, boys, no use bringing me back then, is there?"

One memorable class that he gave was the period of instruction on IVs and QuickClot. He gathered the platoon around him, got everyone where they could see his demo and proceeded with the class. This got him credit from me, as we had been at the old semi-abandoned Air Force base for about 3 weeks at the time, and wouldn't you know it, there were no showers anywhere. To say we were a little ripe in the hot Cali sun would be an understatement. Back to the class...

While hitting on basic, basic medical info for the Marines, he reached back into his little bag o' goodies, and pulled out this little rubber tube. He mentioned that like shooting a rifle, one had to have some modicum of focus and control when doing an IV. Especially in combat. ESPECIALLY if it was him we were going to be working on. He tied off the tube on his arm and proceeded to insert the needle into his vein. Made it look easy. While his demo was in process, he continued to instruct the Marines on the relevant information that the medical personnel were going to need back in the rear. "Those guys aren't going to have the foggiest as to what happened to put that Marine or Corpsman on their table, but believe it or not, the more information that they have, they better chance that you and I will have when it comes to treatment."

He withdrew his needle and ejected some of his blood on a disposable plate. "Now for the QuickClot. I'm not going to get into the details of this stuff, because honestly, I am not the expert on this. I do know, and you can think of it this way, is that this powder will help stop the bleeding on a traumatic wound. This is issued by the goverment, so you know it is good stuff." A few groans from the class. "For most wounds, a bullet hole, piece of shrapnel, just patch it up and tie it off. If it continued to bleed through, put more bandage on it. Those that are going to be in my First Responder class will get some more detailed training, but for the majority of youz guyz, that is all you will have time to worry about. This stuff", he said, shaking the bag of QuickClot for emphasis, "is to ONLY be used for emergencies like traumatic amputations, is there any other kind? huge wounds that won't stop spurting, etc."

He turned to the plate with his blood in it. "Normally, the blood is moving through your body, we'll just call it 'circulating around' (Har). When it exits the body for whatever reason, it maintains its liquid form for a little bit." He swirled the plate to demonstrate. Most of the guys were pretty into this class, but I noticed Lcpl. Cherry, over in the corner, looking a little green. "The reason that you only want to use this stuff as a last resort is because of this" he said as he poured the QuickClot on the plate of blood. Nothing happened for a few seconds, and then wisps of smoke started to curl from the plate. Then the plate started to bubble and curl, itself. To my layperson eyes, the blood 'cooked' and holy shit, dried up real quick. Doc. B. took the plate, turned it over, and all saw that no blood dripped down to the dirt. "This stuff will hurt like hell, but it will stop the bleeding. Besides, if you are looking at your legs across the road, you will already be in a world of hurt, don't ya think?"

"Now, for the practical application of the class." Pointing to an enthusiastic PFC., "No, asshole, you ain't gonna get to use the QuickClot on anybody for training, I was talking about the IVs. Any volunteers?" In true Marine Corps fashion, he locked on to the least motivated Marine of the group and voluntold him to 'get yer ass up here, boy'. Cherry was an interesting shade of pale green at this time. Hee hee.

Doc B. then patiently talked Cherry through the process of inserting an IV for the group of Marines. He rolled up his own sleeve as the test dummy. He explained where he kept the needles in his bag, and how to get to them. He explained the purpose behind using the rubber ties, strips of cloth, or whatever was handy to search for the vein. He noted several alternative veins that one might be able to get to, should the arms not be a good point of access. He stopped several times to explain to Cherry that if he went any further, he would poke the needle through his $%^#@ arm, bone and all, and pin in to his chest. "Stop, son. Breath. Goddamn! Missed it again! Pull that bad boy out and try it again." After Cherry had completed a needle insertion to his satisfaction and without passing out or tossing lunch, I was starting to wonder if Doc was going to need some of that QuickClot stuff, after all.