Wednesday, October 31, 2007



Started a number of posts recently, with all attempts coming to the same conclusion. Most times the stories will be moving along nicely, with me chuckling at my memories of thinking at the time, "I rule!", only to have the inevitable entry from left field to crush me, yet again. Unfortunately, what seems to be frequent recently is the inability to tell the story without running into some self-imposed 'no bloggie' rules. Other times, I'll be merrily writing, tippitytappity, when I'll get the sense that the story is flowing almost... like... I've written it before. Checking a few locations web and pc - wise will confirm it, already written, copied, pasted, edited, and posted.

Combine that with long hours and busy off days, and... bah.

Oh yeah, that reminds me,


Hmm, wonder if the ads in question are for Christmas 2007 or 2008?

Monday, October 29, 2007

A Rude Awakening

Anyone who has spent more than a little time outside can tell you that a little forethought goes a long way. As much time as we spent telling old sea stories of wine and women, when it came to the field, alot of those conversations turned to bathroom & sleeping topics.

This is a short story about sleeping tips.

First of all, just as in real estate, it's all about the location, location, location. Flat ground is nice, but sometimes you can make do with a slight incline. Grass is great, tufts are not. Dirt is doable, rocks, not so much. Wide open spaces are nice, wide open vehicles driving around sans ground guides are most definitely not.

Sometimes you don't really have a choice.

Sometimes you are out to the field for extended periods of time, and you bed down when and where you can. Sometimes you're in the vehicle for 17 hours out of an even longer day. Sometimes the Platoon Sergeant beds you down in a very slight valley, right before the rain. Sometimes, at the top of a rocky hill & in the middle of nowhere, a F-150 still runs right over your tender lil' tootsies.

One conversation that I had as a young Lance Corporal had run the gamut of locationary tips. We has spoken of wind breaks, rain water troughs, and the like. The talk came to comfort and heat.

Some guys lived the theory that, as sleeping bags were designed to trap and retain heat, the best way to get that bag full o' the warm and sleepy was to disrobe. Completely. As in bare-assed nekkid. Most of those guys went butt-naked, anyways, any chance they got.

Me, I always hated the fact that there wasn't enough time in the mornings. Heck, there wasn't any time in most mornings. I'm the kind of guy that likes to at least yawn, stretch, scratch anything that needs scratching, and contemplate the day. I especially disliked having about 30 seconds to get all of my crap together, stuffed into my pack, and be on the move to the next training evolution. Naturally, I never felt that there was enough time in the mornings.

What I usually did right before nap time was to lay out my insulating mat on a somewhat level piece of ground. Those things did wonders to keep some of the cold from coming up from the deck. I would then lay it down to find some of the hidden rocks. Then, usually with a gloved hand, I would reach underneath the mat to scrape away some of those stones, usually catching a few thorns in the process (hence the glove). I would arrange my re-closed pack at my right side, blocking some of the wind. I would arrange my flack, kevlar helmet, and load-bearing vest on my left (hopefully blocking some of the wind from that side). This also helped because it put all of my gear really close by, in case I needed to get to it in the dark. I would lay out my sleeping bag, (and after one particularly freezing night with no bag I always had the full bag), and get ready to commence rack ops.

In training, I always took off my boots and placed them in a water proof bag that I had acquired from... somewhere. No creepy crawlies were going to make their home in my boots, my pack, or anything else for that matter, while I snoozed. It was a bad way to wake up, for the both of us, should I interrupt his little rack ops with my nasty feet. This is also why, even after taking the boots from the bag, I shook them upside down, just in case. If I was taking off the cammies, I would generally shake them out, fold 'em up, and place them inside the layers of the bag. This would keep them from getting too wrinkled, keep them somewhat warm, and most importantly, keep any unwanted visitors from making a home in my trouser's crotch (muy importante). I would then crawl into the bag, snuggle up to my rifle, and rack out.

One cool morning, at the beginning of another long day of range fire, I awoke not particularly happy. The fire watch had woken me up three times during the night, looking for their relief. Sometimes all those sleeping bags lined up in platoon formation can look kind of similar, I guess. I was also woken up a couple of times by sleepy Marines, stumbling their way in the dark to the head call area (the area designated by the platoon's doc as where you would go take a leak). I wondered if they couldn't make it outside of the platoon without stepping on anyone, would it be too much to ask that they stumble while doing the deed and piddle down their legs, just once?

At the call of 'Reveille', and the nearly obligatory 'Wakey, wakey, hand off snakey', I sat up, still wrapped up in my bag, to give the chilly morning the evil (if not eye-booger filled) eye. I looked around to my immediate left, to glare at some Marines that were doing their best to hit the snooze button on life. I hated them for the extra 20 seconds of sleep that they got over me. I turned my head to the right, wondering when my brain would actually wake up and kick into gear, when I saw...

There are few things in life that will wake you up faster than a good, hot, tasty cup of coffee.

Realizing that; libo expires in 30 minutes, you are 10 miles from the base, drunk as a skunk, and due for a PFT (physical fitness test), is one.

Incoming mortar and rocket fire in Iraq (or anywhere else, really) is another.

... that the Marine two feet from my right had risen from his rack to contemplate the wonders of the day. He woke and stood right up, exposing himself in all his glory to the platoon and mother nature. Did I mention that he was one of those that always got nekkid whenever and wherever possible? Yup, me sitting down still wrapped up and cursing the day, him standing up and doing trunk twists, placed his crotch... well, let's just say that we were seeing eye to eye, and not in the good way.

Apparently, getting an unexpected eye-full of early morning Marine crotch is the holy grail of rapid and rude awakenings.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

No Pressure...

Mark has recently asked me to come onto his show. Apparently, he doesn't really like it anymore, and wants me to come on so that BTR will magically crash and burn into oblivion.

Kidding of course, but... Murphy's Law, anyone?

Listening to posts is something that I only recently have gotten into, heck Blogging is something that I am still relatively new to, but I have to say there has been some interesting stuff on his show. I particularly enjoyed putting a voice to some of the bloggers that I enjoy reading. I still think that there are some much more interesting folks out there [my eyes wandering to screen left - oh hey, look at that, there's still some folks I've left out, dangit...], but if he wants to work some bugs out of the system with me, then I suppose I'm cool with that.

Schedule wise it kind of appears (pending his okay of course) that more often than not Wednesdays or Thursdays are probably going to be the evenings that I will be available for public amusement and/or ridicule in That time of the year is fast approaching when schedules get filled up with all sorts of work, family, and other obligations, combine that with any schedule that he already has, and it might be a little while before we actually get me the green light. Further e-mails will be forthcoming, and I am sure that he'll probably put something up when it's time for me to go on his show. I might even have something on here, as well.

Why I Don't Complain...

... As Much... -er-, As I Used To... -um- .... Anymore... Mostly.

Long title, I know, but it kind of works.

So, after awhile in most tend to realize that there are somethings that are going to happen that are not... good. Marines are going to piss and moan, of course, that and talking trash is something that is just done. Always has, it seems, always will.

I seem to only vaguely remember some quote something along the lines of 'as long as the men are complaining, everything is as it should be', or somesuch...

I guess that I complain about as much as the next guy, but I'm very careful to not carry on too long, or even begin to approach the arena of whining, because 1) Whining is disgusting, and 2) Excessive complaining dares the gods to do their worst.

Couple of years back. Late in the evening, out in the field & freezing my ass off...

[I slip, fall, and crack my crack on a rock]

ME: Boy howdy, this sucks the big one.

['wind a-blowin']

ME: Can it get any worse?


ME: Kidding! Just kidding! No rain, go away!

[pouring rain]

ME: Crap.

Naturally, this comes after a week of chilly but not cold weather. Winter was finally winding down, and warm weather was around the corner. I still had all my cold-weather gear, because well... read the blog title, I'm sure that it's pretty evident. So winter decided to give one last huzzah, before giving up the ghost. What had been only chilly weather in the mornings back on the block and perhaps somewhat overly enthusiastic short-sleeve weather in the afternoons turned into friggin' Arctic weather training once out in the field.

On the other hand I was pretty excited due to the fact that for the first time in a long while, I didn't have to stand watch that night. Anytime the Marines were bedded down out in the field, there are Marines up and standing guard on rotation, and tonight, I wasn't one of them. I would be doing my best bug-in-a-rug impression, in my bag. Life was (somewhat) good.

So after the rain started, the suckage increased.

No catastrophic bag failure for me that night, only woke up once when I realized that my nose was frozen solid. See, I'm one of those types that can't have anything covering my face when I sleep. I dunno why, it just is. I'll have the bag zipped, snapped, and draw-stringed up tight, with only my nose or mouth sticking out from a small hole near the top (referring to it as a 'blow hole' might be amusing. Once.). Reaching one arm through the face-hole in the sleeping bag, I reached over and propped my nearby pack at an angle. Sticking my head in the lee of the pack to block most of the wind and rain, I dozed back off to sleep...

To wake up in the morning covered in snow. In SNOW! Now, anybody who has spent more than one winter in the northern states will undoubtedly scoff and call us a bunch of wussies, but for most of the guys, the 1.5 inches that we had that morning was all but a blizzard.

I sat up, still buried in my sleeping bag, angling my face around to ogle the world with one sleepy & eye-booger filled incredulous eyeball.

ME: Oh. Hell. No. ... Can it possibly get any worse?

That's when the first snow ball hit me, followed closely by a conspicuously un-Marine like titter.

ME: Crap.

[rewind, to the previous evening]

The Forward Observer team exited the vehicle, threw their packs on their backs, and started humping their gear to a designated observation hill aways from & on the flank of the mortar range. Come morning, they would be the Marines that would search for targets on the range and practice calling in fire to the gun line. Until the range went hot mid-morning, their duties were somewhat limited. A short perimeter check, maybe checking out the available targets while the light still held out, and that was about it. They bedded down for the night, all four of them with their sleeping bags tucked up close to a large bush on the top of the hill. They also decided not to set out a fire watch.

[back to me getting an icy morning wake up call]

The range observer finally showed up, interrupting the necessary but somewhat routine classes that we did every time we went to the range. As it turned out, he was a Marine that a number of us had first met on float, so some of the guys gathered around and passed some scoop on who was where & doing what, rumors of future deployments, and to talk some trash. Eventually he left to go check out the forward observers' position.

Taking care to drive up the almost-never snow-covered road leading to the FOs hill, he was moving slow when the F150 topped the hill. He arrived at the top and didn't see any Marines, only snow covered... everything. I imagine that he probably wanted to stop the truck, check some maps, and probably get on the radio to inquire, 'WTF?'. Steering the truck over to the one bush on the top of the hill, there was a suspicious 'thump-thump, thump-thump, thump-thump'. He found our Forward Observers, all right.

At about this time I was down on the range, still freezing my ass off, miserable. Some industrious Marine had created a 6 inch tall snowman and perched him on the empty sight-case. I was looking forward to a long Fire for Effect mission, because after enough rounds, the barrel would warm up and I would probably be on that bad boy, with no shame at all, to warm up. We were scheduled to begin fire missions shortly.

The call came over the radio, "Gun Line, this is FDC. The range is cold, the range is cold (no shit, I'm freezing here!). All team leaders get your numbers (of Marines, serialized gear, and ordinance) and report to the FDC." As all my Marines were looking at me with a 'WTF?' look on their face, I knew that I had all my bodies. The ammo was likewise out and prepped near the gun, minus the 'WTF?' look. After a quick check of the serialized gear, we started getting word that there had been an 'incident'. Hearing the choppers zoom by shortly after confirmed it. "Sucks to be them", "Hope those guys are warm, at least" and other comments were given while we killed time on the gun-line, still oblivious to who was involved.

To hear the story later from one of the unfortunate 'speed bumps' (and yes, they all survived) he admitted that they were in the wrong with the whole no fire watch thing. About the only 'good' thing was the fact that all of them had slept with their heads underneath the brush and only the foot ends of their sleeping bags sticking out any distance from the foliage. Hearing him relate how he went from dreaming about some little hottie to getting wrapped up underneath the truck, still wrapped up in his sleeping bag was... well, it was a relieved laughter, that's for sure.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Snivel Gear & A Wake Up, Part 1

I remember when we got issued the new sleeping bags.

It's not that the old bags were junk, it's just that they were quite old and decrepit, long overdue for replacement. Well mine was junk, I think at one point I was suffering a 50% bag failure, and that makes for a miserable night! I kind of think that the new stuff was scheduled to come down the pipes and the powers that be didn't want to issue out any more new (actually old) sleeping bags when the new, Goretexified stuff was... soon to be issue- er, hold on... scheduled to arrive soo- um, just a sec... delayed but to be issued sometim- aw hell, gonna get here sometime.

Eventually we got the new bags, to mixed review. Most guys liked the heck out of the fact that they came in a three part configuration, with a thin green sleeping bag for cool weather, a thicker black bag for cold weather, and a goretex outer liner fastened to the green and black bags for the 'oh my poor, frozen, nuts' - freezing. Others complained that the whole assembly was larger and heavier than the old bags, and that the zippers and snaps were like honey to the Murphy-bees.

As long as the thing kept me warm at night, I was willing to give it the benefit of the doubt.

The first night that we used the sleeping bags, amazingly enough, was a huge goat-rope. I forget what the exact situation was (probably traumatically repressed, or something), but I distinctly remember the Platoon Sergeant saying, "Fuggit, bed 'em down! Reveille goes in 5 hours, set the fire-watch, post comm-watch, long day tomorrow, stand by, gents!" As we were in for a short night and a long day, all of us not shafted -er- scheduled to stand guard that night were moving with a purpose to test out those new sleeping bags.

A description of a bivouac (sleeping area) site for our platoon.

It kind of depended on the Officer, what the plan was for sleeping out in the field. Some wanted us to be tactical at all times out in the field, so we would usually sleep as teams, sleeping bags tucked up alongside or under foliage, or camouflaged with the smaller nets that we took with us in the Hummers. Others were concerned with a vehicle accidentally hitting a speed-bump when driving at night (read: a Marine having a Really Bad Night), so they wanted the platoon to sleep in an admin mode, or that is to say with all Marines lined up on the ground in a rough platoon formation, with chem lights strung around the perimeter of the platoon. Regardless of the plan, there was always a night watch. If there were any Marines around (and I suppose that we would qualify, technically, as 'any Marines'), somebody had to make sure that there was a minimum of mischief going on at night.

That night we were sleeping in an admin mode, so I didn't get to pick my spot to sleep. Of course, along with the cold and the wind, mother nature decided that we really needed a good test run of the new bags and decided to send us some drizzle, as well. Awesome.

I was remarkably warm that night.

I woke up a couple of times just to savor the sensation of being toasty warm and comfy. It was ridiculously nice. It wasn't so nice that I stayed up very long, just enough to note the pleasant change in sleeping status.

I woke the next morning freezing my buns off. I don't remember if I was more ticked off that I had woken up 20 minutes before reveille (wakey-wakey time), or that I had yet another bag failure. Apparently, the cold temps, wind, and now driving rain had combined to ruin my morning. Again. I heard the muttered curses of nearby Marines as most of us woke up to the same situation.

Still secured in my sleeping bag I rolled over only to discover...

When we had bedded down in the darkness of the night, we had done so in a very subtle ground depression. The rain had soaked the ground and puddled on the surface, right where we were sleeping.

...that when you are sleeping in what amounts to a semi-frozen puddle of water, once that icy-cold water floods into the bag, you are in for another long and miserable day.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Know your limits...or else.

Four or five of us were gathered in an Admin back classroom, trying to make up our minds. What we were doing was going through a platoon roster and selecting a super squad (or two). Our 'dream team' was going to be voluntold to go and compete against other 81mm mortar teams from the Battalion, and everyone in our chain of command up to and including the Commanding Officer was keen on a top showing. We had the pick of the litter from the platoon to attend the competition, and some of it was difficult to decide.

We tried to keep gunners and a-gunners together as a general rule.

On the 81mm mortar system, if a platoon went with a 2 man gunning system, the gunner and a-gunner learned to work together very well. The more time spent learning the other's subtleties, the faster they could get. Some pairs could get scary fast. They would have the gun up and ready to go just about as fast as the commands could come down over the radio. The problem was there was more to the competition than just shooting. When we would consider one pair of Marines, one or the other would have some serious potential problems in other areas of the 'Comp'.

Running through the roster sounded somewhat like this. "Ok, Jones and Smith, or Smithe and Jonsey. Thoughts?" "Jones can't go three minutes without losing a vital piece of gear. How in the hell is he going to pass the inspection?", or "Smithe can hardly spell his name, how is he going to pass the written test?". We eventually narrowed the platoon down to about 20 candidates, and then made a list of every Marine's pros and cons, as it related to his ability to compete.

One of the last Marines to make the cut was a guy we'll call 'House'. Lance Corporal House was an outstanding gunner, probably one of the best in the platoon. He was pretty smart, knew his stuff forwards and backwards. On the gun he was the man, no doubt. He was also more than just a little bit out of shape. After much discussion and a little debate, most of us agreed that his contributions to the team on all other aspects of the comp would more than outweigh any potential issues that he would have on the hump. A few of us suspected that we would live to regret this decision...

Humps were considered one of my strong points. It wasn't that they were easy for me, it was just that I had learned early that the best way to never have any problems was to always keep up. When you start slowing down and giving in to the pain, even a little bit, things get real interesting real fast. After a while I fell into working as one of those guys that was constantly running back and forth, hustling the 'weak bodies' from the rear all the way to the front. When you are constantly worrying about getting others to the front and focusing on not letting them fall back or pass out, it tends to keep your mind off of your own pain.

The hump.

We were staged for the hump, our team divided into two lines, all Marines sitting on their packs on either side of the dirt road. All we were waiting on was the call over the radio that the preceding team was far enough on their hump for us to avoid interference. Our packs were full (the gear inspection was the event immediately after the hump), and all of our mortar components were either strapped to the packs or more common, ready to carry by hand.

Finally we got the word to gear up. To put on a heavy pack the most common way is to situate the pack on the ground, the side with the straps facing up to the sky. The Marine will then situate himself so that he is standing with his feet closest to the top of the pack. Grasping the frame bars with his hands, he will then squat down a little and lift/heave/grunt the pack overhead, to land on his shoulders and back. From a bent over position the pack infantryman will then adjust and tighten the straps of the pack for the best fit. As House was putting on his pack, I noticed that he had opted to strap the base plate to the outside of his pack.

Now, the base plate is the circular looking 30 pound hunk of metal that basically prevents the barrel of the mortar from burying itself into the deck when firing. It has plenty of space to get a good grasp, but it can be kind of awkward to carry, especially over long distances and at speed. This being a competition hump, it would be more of a fast shuffle than a fast walk.

The first mile went great.

Starting at about the 1.5 mile mark, House started to have some issues. I was already in the back, motivating a Marine that had rolled his ankle. It wasn't a bad sprain, he was one of our 'no problems humpers', so I wasn't too worried. I told him to take it easy, and gradually make his way back up to the platoon. Working our way to the front, I yelled ahead for one of my Sergeants to fall back and help out House. He cursed, grabbed another motivator of Corporal persuasion, and fell back to where House looked like he wanted to keel over.

One of the things about competition humps was that the penalty for a Marine failing to complete the hump was so severe that we decided to remove permission to fall out to anybody from our team.

No failures, no exceptions.

It was in this light that the Sergeant and Corporal that fell back with House eventually motivated him enough to almost catch up with the platoon. As the main body had only slowed from the good-paced jog to a medium paced shuffle, it rapidly became apparent that he was going to have a hard time catching up without passing out. No good.

The Sergeant told him to drop his pack.

*zwrip, zwrip... thud*

Straps were loosened, and the pack hit the deck. The Sergeant and the Corporal then 'beer-coolered' the pack and base plate between them, and House was advised that he had better appreciate the significance of two Marines not only carrying their own full packs and gear, but his as well. He was forbidden to pass out, die, or in anyway shape or form cause any more issues. Ever. For the rest of his life.

Shortly thereafter, the Sergeant and the Corporal realized that they were now falling further and further behind.

Running back and forth, I finally got the last straggler up to the group and noticed an odd sight. We were two bodies short, and House wasn't wearing his pack. Hmmm...

I stopped in my tracks and let the platoon pull away from me. I was breathing hard but wasn't especially worn out. I was feeling pretty good, actually. Looking to the rear and just coming around the bend of the road, I noticed that the Sergeant and Corporal were not looking too hot. Walking back to them, I noticed that the constant motion of one Marine on either side had loosened up the straps to the point that the base plate was starting to separate from the pack.

Finally they got tired of fighting the unbalanced weight and dropped it to fully separate the plate from the pack. I offered to take the pack. The Sergeant accepted my offer.

Damn. That's what I get for being motivated.

Now he and the Corporal were switching off the base plate and making much better time. I was actually keeping up pretty good, considering the two full packs I was carrying. House's pack couldn't fit ideally on my back of course, so it was just kind of situated on the very top of my own. The result was that it leaned against the back of my head, forcing my gaze down. This helped, somewhat, in that I couldn't look to see how far ahead the platoon was from the three of us, all I could do was keep looking down and put one foot in front of the other.

We plodded on, nearing the rest of the team. The Sergeant handed off the base plate to the Corporal so that he could run ahead and let the Staff Sergeant know that all hands were accounted for and NOT declared a hump drop (Boo! Hiss!). The Corporal and I were switching off the base plate now. (Boo! Hiss!)

At this time, carrying two packs and a base plate, I wouldn't have said that I was peachy keen frolicking in a field of roses or anything, but I was still doing ok. Ok enough that I was able to talk some trash to a Marine that was starting to suffer under the weight of his mortar barrel.

Not getting an immediate expletive from his direction, I glanced sideways at him; he looked like clammy death, personified.

Not good.

All the other 'hump motivators' were having a hard time and preparing themselves for the final mile or so.


Craning my neck around at him I asked him if he was going to survive the hump. No answer, just panting. I told him that there wasn't too much I could do in the way of help, as I was kind of occupied, myself. After about 100 yards he told me 'take the barrel while I puke, dude.' He then tossed the barrel to me.

Close to the very end of the hump there was a huge boulder right on the shoulder of the road. One of the instructors for the competition had dismounted from his vehicle, climbed on top of the rock, and watched the majority of our unit pass by him on the final stretch. The end was well within sight of the boulder. Lagging somewhat behind the main body he saw a sight that prompted him to exclaim with an apparent abundance of motivating spirit, "OORAH, DEVIL DOGS!!! GET SOME!!! OORAH!!!"

I never did find out what motivated him, whether it was the poor bastard trying to stagger under his pack and puke at the same time or the poor dumb bastard that thought it was somehow possible to carry two full packs, a base plate, a mortar barrel, and various smaller miscellaneous mortar gear. I literally staggered across the finish line and didn't even pause to drop the gear and lower my pack. I just keeled over to my right once the last inch of boot leather passed the line.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

So the news stories from parts northern of the Marine Corps run high school reminded me of a few Marines and a parade.

Best part of the reports for me is the few folks out there that get their tighty whites in a wad about the military in schools, and they're just talking about a few recruiters on a medium to large sized university campus. I wish I could see their faces when 'Marine Corps' & 'High School' are used in the same sentence. Now that would be priceless. But maybe that's just me...

I actually knew a few Marines who attended a military type high school. Up to that point, I wasn't even aware that there was anything out there more than the JROTC programs. One of the guys had some pretty good stories from his time there, and while they weren't quite to the caliber (or occasional depravity) of a good sea or war story, some of the tales were pretty funny. He lamented the intrusion of regulation that was creeping into his old school, but unnecessary regulation and discipline can be perceived as very different things when it comes to the kiddos, depending on one's age perspective.

Except for me, of course, I knew everything. (Har!!)

So one year a bunch of us had either not escaped from the Gunny fast enough or had gotten caught doing something relatively minor and had been voluntold for parade duty. Honestly though, parade and funeral details never really bothered me, save for a few times. It was always a pleasure to speak with ye Olde Corps vets, and equally so to render final honors.

Rendering honors for Marines that one knows personally is a duty & honor, but it gets old. Real old, real quick.

Veterans Day parades were interesting for a number of reasons. Firstly, they were usually held in the mornings after an evening of liberty. It was quite funny the number of times that you would see Marines show up to the parade muster location with coffee, dark shades, pounding headaches, and low, quiet tones.

Those mornings when I was feeling the after-effects of a rather vigorous night, not so much.

Older (former) Marines would wander up on occasion with some words of wisdom, or even more appreciated, a few cups of coffee. Once out of the Corps, the former Marines might vary quite a bit in their appearance, with different sizes of guts, length of hair, styles of clothes & whatnot, but they all seemed to have that same gleam in their eye and a few salty stories of their own, once they got warmed up. I'm afraid we got more than one former Marine in trouble with their spousal unit upon their return, because a slip of the tongue is real easy to do when hanging out with Marines.

So this one parade that we did we arrived to notice that our place in the parade just happened to be located right up against a platoon from a Marine high school. It was interesting to note that their dress blues uniform were for the most part, exactly like ours. There were no combat action ribbons on their uniforms but if I remember correctly, not too many of us had ours yet, either. So the ribbons were different, and they had a school-related patch on one shoulder. Enough to make some of us do a double take, especially those that always commented on the state of the 'young punks' that seemed to join the beloved Corps, year after year.

The Commanders of the high school platoons reminded me of Scout Troop leaders. Some were vets themselves, others struck me as filling more of a chaperon kind of billet, meaning that they were probably parents of one of the lads. No uniforms worn nor military experience, but a healthy concern for the kiddos and an interest in most things military. It was one of those gentlemen that came over to our platoon where we were staged, trying not to pass out or toss (too many) cookies, to strike up a conversation with our Staff Sergeant.

GENT: Hey dude, how's it going?

SSGT: [somewhat growling] Good morning, Sir.

Apparently the good man though we were from another school.

GENT: Sun sure is bright this morning, iddn't?

SSGT: *sigh*

The Staff Sergeant was probably regretting his recent promise to clean up his act...

GENT: So, y'all gonna be spinnin' dem rifles 'round, 'n such?

SSGT: F... uh, no Sir, we're not. We might do a little s...omething here and there, but nothing too fancy.

GENT: Say now, what school'r ya from?

Yup, definitely thought we were kiddos. This should be interesting...

SSGT: School? ... ... We're from the School of Hard Knocks.

I would have preferred an answer more along the lines of the University of S&M, California, but the Staff Sergeant's response did the trick. The guy paused, glanced down at the conspicuous lack of school patches on our platoons' shoulders, and shortly thereafter retreated to his own platoon.

Ah, I Get it...

Unpublished drafts are posted to the blog from the date they were started, not the day that I finally get offa my lazy bum and post it...

Learning something new every day.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Language, Self Control & Improvement, and a Human Counter

I had a Staff Sergeant back in the day that decided to turn over a new leaf. Attempting to do this while still in the Corps was an admirable effort.

Some might say futile, but admirable nonetheless.

I want to say that the reason for the new outlook on life was that he had 'found Jesus'. Good for him, I say, but the transition from the guy that we all knew and loved to the 'new & improved' Staff Sergeant made for a few interesting moments.

Before going out to the field one day, and as an addendum to the training ops brief, he announced that he was going to stop cursing.

'You gotta be fuckin' kidding me', was the universal response from the platoon.

He was serious, and as a show of his intent, he assigned a PFC the additional duties of counting the number of times that he let the bad words slip by.

You could tell that the man was struggling when it came time for the final head count before leaving garrison. Most of the platoon already had their packs staged and were just hanging out, waiting for the word to load vehicles. The sooner we take off, the sooner we get back, sort of thing. The Staff Sergeant walked up to where we were waiting and asked for the gun team leaders.

"I need all fu-er- all NCOs up here right now!", he bellowed in his customary voice. Once we were assembled he asked if we were up on bodies, gear, and weapons (all numbers of personnel, serialized gear, and weaponry matching what he had on paper). "Ok gents, do we have all our go... ...ll-darned mortars ready yet? No? Well why the fuck - damn - why not?" (One mortar had a problematic sight and we were arguing with the armorer to issue us one that actually worked). "Ok, ok, I can deal with that. Tell all your Marines to get their shit - shit! - stuff together, load the vehicles, and stand by to stand by."

After a short time we had loaded all of the packs and Marines on the vehicles and were... standing by. One Marine had launched into a particularly lurid accounting of the previous weekend with a particularly dirty (and affectionate) stripper of questionable intelligence. As the Marine was getting to the 'climax' (Har!) of his story, the Staff Sergeant came around for some last-minute instruction.

"All right, all right. Shut yer pie holes and listen up! We're gonna be bustin' our balls during this evolution ... better see y'all move with a purpose... not any assholes gaffing off the training... so, when we get to the range I want all Marines to get their crap... shit. Fuck! *sigh*... [pause] Hey, where's my lackey?" "Lackey, Staff Sergeant?" someone asked. "Yeah, you know, my human cuss counter." The PFC responded from down the way.

PFC - Here, Staff Sergeant!!

SSGT - What's my count right now?

PFC - The whole thing, Staff Sergeant, or you want the count for 'fuck', 'cocks', 'shit', 'sweaty balls', 'grab-ass','crap', 'mother fu-

SSGT - The whole thing, damnit!

PFC - Wait one, Staff Sergeant... ... ...

*rustling of paper, pencil scratchings, and... was that a calculator?*

SSGT - Well? I ain't got all fucking day, you know!!

*one last pencil scratch*

PFC - 55, Staff Sergeant!

SSGT - 55?!

PFC - Roger that, Staff Sergeant!

SSGT - [under his breath] Fuck...

PFC - 56, Staff Sergeant!

While most laughed, I thought that it was kind of remarkable that the Staff Sergeant had made quite a significant dent in the average of his colorful commentary in the few hours since making his announcement...

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Good Times at the Gun Range

I was pretty well indoctrinated in my early days in the Marines. I'm sure that on some level I knew that they didn't know everything, but I guess you could say that the 'immediate obedience to orders' thing really stuck with me when it came to the Officers. This could set the stage for some interesting situations, at times...

One afternoon we were on the gun range working through some live fire exercises off and on when the Captain came up to my gun. I was a fresh Lance Corporal, trying to refresh the other Lcpls on the finer art of one man gunning.

See, in the Infantry Training Battalion, they teach both the one and two man method of mortar gunning, but what seemed to happen the majority of the time in various units was the two man system. Without periodically refreshing oneself on the one man system, the skills needed would inevitably deteriorate, practically guaranteeing a situation where all hands are temporarily busy thereby demanding one man gunning skills. I happened to keep my one man skills sharp, so I was the defacto coach.

When the Captain came up he had company. He brought with him one Officer and a pair of crusty old Staff NCOs. He informed me that the trio were compadres of his from awhile back & another unit and they wanted to get some gun time. He asked me if they could shoot on my gun.

Not even really a question as really they were the Captain's guns...

Normally whenever a Marine gives a lesson or demonstration to another Marine with little to no experience in the field, he has a set pattern for the class. Briefly, my lesson plan for the 81mm mortar was to cover the responsibilities and duties of the assistant gunner (the guy who drops the rounds), things to watch out for, things to NEVER. EVER. NOT EVEN ONCE. do, and the like. The Officer, leading the way like most good Officers and shooting first, pre-empted my usual spiel by announcing that he was more than adequately prepared for the mortar fire, and, as long as I hadn't screwed up the dope (deflection and elevation numbers dialed on the sight and used for aiming), the mortar would display a magnificent demonstration of accurate fire blahblahblah....


Thus ended my attempts at the niceties. He was a Officer, right? Officers know their stuff, right? It seems that spending some time as a weapons platoon commander... of machine guns... many years back... doesn't qualify one for expertise on the 81mm mortar. Amazing.

The Fire Direction Control (FDC) team announced an upcoming mission.


PLATOON SERGEANT: (in the distance) GUN 6, GET THAT KNUCKLHE- er, a-gunner behind the line!

ME: Sir? Sir! He's talking about you, Sir. You need to be behind the muzzle of the barrel from here on out, Sir.


FDC: DEFLECTION...12..34!!! ELEVATION...07..12!!! ONE ROUND, HE...CHARGE 3!!!

OFFICER: Huh? Oh, thanks. [steps back] What are they saying?

ME: Nothing to you yet, Sir. Just some stuff for the gunners and ammo men.

My gunner was hurriedly entering the information on the gun and, amazingly enough, doing some darn good one man gunning aiming in of the mortar. My ammo man completed his checks of the mortar round and handed it off to the Officer.

AMMO MAN: One round, Sir, HE, 3 charges, safety still in. I'll be prepping the other rounds...

OFFICER: Uh, thanks.

Was it me, or was the man a little bit nervous?


At the command of 'Half-Load', the assistant gunners on the gun line were to insert the mortar round halfway into the barrel and wait for the command to fire. It is usually strongly recommended to NOT drop the round before the command to fire, but if it is done, you never want to try to 'catch' the round. Trying to do so will result in the loss of whatever is in front of the barrel of the tube. Think - Very. Bad. Day.

ME: Uh, Sir? We're gonna fire pretty soon, now would be a pretty good time to remove the safety.

After his look of befuddlement, I reached over and plucked the safety half-moon lookin' metal bar from the nose cone of the round, rendering it live.

The Officer was definitely breathing heavier, now.


Upon a question from one of the Staff NCOs, I turned and told him to standby for a sec, or until we shot off the round. Turning back I heard...


The Officer was somewhat half-loaded, with his right hand clasped around the very top of the round. In his nervousness, the mortar round was shaking so hard it was rattling against the interior of the barrel.


More than ready my left - er- yeah. I tried to squeeze in some last minute instruction.

ME: Remember, Sir, when I give the command to fire, just open your hand holding the round, bend over and immediately touch your boot. Drop your hand straight down, or yer gonna lose it. If the mortar does not fire for any reason, it most likely is a misfire. It probably won't kill us all, just keep your head down and I'll take over from there.



He opened his hand thereby dropping the round, bent over and grabbed his boot, picture perfect.

The Mortar didn't fire.

From his position bent over, hand clutching his boot, he noticed the suspicious absence of any rounds getting sent down range from the gun.

OFFICER: [muffled & kinda squeaky] Misfire? Misfire!

I definitely heard some subtle chuckles behind me, from the direction of the Staff NCOs. This was because the Officer had failed to properly half load the round into the barrel. The round was trapped at an angle in the muzzle of the barrel and 'caught up', as we say. Just as the FDC and the Platoon Sergeant started to make their comments, I reached over the folded Officer and tapped the round to straighten it out and send it first down the barrel to then travel down range. As I was bending over I had to place a forearm on the Officer, because he was straightening up to see what was going on with the offending round.

More chuckles from the Staff NCOs.

After that volley and the subsequent decline in more gun time from the Officer, I nodded to one of the Staff NCOs to come up to the gun. "Shot any mortars before? That's nice. Welcome to my m252 81mm mortar. When you are on my gun you will listen to my instructions at all times. Today you will be dropping rounds from the a-gunner position..." He didn't seem to mind one bit getting instructed by a relatively FNG Lance Corporal.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Hello, Mr. Flash Bang!

Flash Bangs are essentially grenades without the shrapnel. Lots of sound and light with little to sear through any of your tender bits. Lest anyone get the wrong kind of idea, it is definitely not a good idea to hold on to one of these whilst it makes the pretty colors or noises, but you can be relatively close to it with little harm. They will scare the bejeezus out of you, even if you are expecting it, though.

My first experiences with these neat little devices came in training. Towards the end of one of my work-ups, we had the opportunity to do some simunition training with them. Simunition is basically 9mm paintball-on-crack, but that is entirely another story.

One memorable incident was when I had the opportunity to watch one squad leader develop the mother of all attack plans, violating the KISS principle that I had already learned the hard way. Naturally, everything went awry just about at the word 'go'.

The plan (as I understood it) was that the base of fire would lay down covering fire while the assault elements would take up positions around the building. With not enough radios, the squad leader would coordinate with the base element, and they would begin throwing 'grenades'. As soon as the flash-bangs went off, the base element would cease fire, and the assault team would make entry. [Mistake #1, probably a better idea to have the actual assault team toss the flashbangs]

What happened was that the three different assault elements discovered that there was only one way to access the building [Mistake #2, Intell? We don't need no stinkin' intell!]. That way was currently being 'covered' by the base of fire team, so it was a no-go. Therefore, the three elements congregated in a nice tight group right in one of the kill zones of the building [Mistake #- Aw, heck, you get the picture]. The instructors started tapping Marines on the head, screaming 'SNIPER, YOU JUST GOT SHOT, ASSHOLE!!! LAY DOWN!'.

Squad leader, realizing that this was somewhat less than ideal, tried to establish communication with the base of fire element by waving his arms. Those guys, recognizing the pre-arranged signal, started chucking the flash bangs. The assault elements started taking flash bangs to their group, and attempted to force their way into the building. The instructors were pissing themselves with amusement at the picture definition of the phrase, 'goat rope'.

Sheeeit, I would never be caught in THAT situation....

When we got in country, the unit there before us had a few established standard operating procedures. They ran a lot of convoy ops, stayed mainly on the road, and didn't worry about civilian traffic in the convoy. They had never really been hit by a suicide vehicle-born improvised explosive device (SVBIED). After some new intel, a couple of bad days, and a little common sense, we figured to put a stop to civilian vehicles weaving in and out of our convoys, but we needed a way to communicate with the locals, and a means to discourage the stubborn and the stupid.

We started to talk to the local imams and mayors, telling them to pass the word that we would not allow civilians to approach our convoys. We also started handing out pamphlets in English, Arabic, and in pictures for the locals to stay away from us when we were on the road.

After a while, the new SOP became standard, and most in the area would avoid getting too close. Eventually, some info from another area drifted to our ears. Someone was passing the word that if local-Joe was driving along lost in his own thoughts, a way to get his attention and strongly suggest that he keep away from us was with flares and flash bangs.

They managed to get EVERYONES attention.

We wrote it into our SOPs for machine gunners. If a vehicle approaches too quickly, or at a high rate of speed, make every effort to; signal for them to stop with hand and arm signals or verbal commands. Shoot flares or flash-bangs. Use your weapons. Everyone was very clear that everything other that opening fire on a suspicious vehicle was if there was enough time.

There were more than a few memorable incidents with the flares and flashbangs. It definitely get the heart going pitter-patter when you watch one of your vehicles turn a corner or crest a hill when all of a sudden, you hear BOOOOM!!!! Every damn time I thought that they had hit another IED, but it would usually turn out to be that the gunner had to throw a flash bang.

At one (yeah, *snort*, just one) intersection there were these little children that always came running out to beg for candy. 'Meester, meester, candy meester!!!' Those little buggers could run pretty fast, too. Marines would sometimes save candies or unwanted MRE components to give to the them.

One afternoon there was not enough time to stop to chat with the kiddos, we had to blaze home for some reason or the other. Approaching the intersection, I was on the radio with higher, and keeping an eye out so that we didn't squish any of the crumb snatchers. Running at an angle to the hummer was this really pretty little Iraqi girl, begging for candy. 'what the hell, might as well', I thought to myself as I extended the half-eaten bag of M&Ms to her. My gunner atop the Hummer had a higher perspective and was able to spot a vehicle seemingly disregarding all of the other stopped traffic to approach us from the cross road at a high rate of speed. Just enough time to do something, but apparently not enough time to advise me, he shot off a flare...and a flash bang or two.

Flares make a really loud whooshing sound, especially when the sound is reflected off of the turret armor.

Girl - Meester, Meester!!!

Me - Here you go, salaam!

Girl - Thank you meester, than-


Me - Fuck Me! RPG!! RPG!!

Girl - AAAaaahhhh!!!

Me - Aaaaaahhhh... .... ....?

Remember how I mentioned that we were approaching the intersection?

Well, after the gunner tossed everything he had up there, we had just enough time to get to the intersection before the second and third flash bangs went a distance of about 3 feet from my door.

It had the desired effect, in that it got noticed by EVERYBODY, and the driver of the civilian vehicle decided that it might be a good idea to stop lest the Marines stop being so nice.

I'm for the moment blind and deaf, the gunner is about 1/10000 of an ounce of trigger pressure away from making this guy have a Really Bad Day, and the little girl is probably traumatized for life. I didn't even mind screaming exactly like that little girl, I was just happy it wasn't actually an RPG.

Dating Follies: A Continuing Saga...

Early one evening, sitting at home navel gazing, when-


Aha! Somebody loves me!

ME: [muy suave] 'Lo?

Kinda Hot, Definitely a Little Bit Freaky, and Currently Available Girl (KHDLBFCAG): Hey! You're home! Listen, *giggle* I was having a little get-together tonight, and um...

This was where I started to have delusions of grandeur. I knew that this meant that my days of hopelessly making an ass of myself in new and creative ways were OVER! Heck, they're calling me up now, baby....

KHDLBFCAG: ... knew you were a bartender, so I was wondering if you knew how to make a White Russian?

ME: Da, of course... [starting my saunter...] What you're gonna need is vodka, Kahlua, & cream... [wandering by the mirror, looking at that handsome devil, ... and me!] Of course you have all the ice, glasses, and whatnot, right?

KHDLBFCAG: Yup! Great, got it! Thanks, bye sweetie!






Thursday, October 11, 2007

A Funny Feeling In My Tummy

So, Iraq can be a dangerous place, at times.

Pipe down y'all!

It can be made more... interesting at times, due to the nature of the mission at hand.

There are things that you do in the interest of lessening some of that danger, or at the very least to lessen the consequences of the wort possible scenario. A big part of planning for the worst was distribution of... everything.

Ammo was divided just about equally, save for those vehicles that at times had the only particular type of larger weapon.

We had two guys on our squad that had been volunteer firefighters in a previous life. As tight as they were, they understood my decision to separate them into different vehicles, and not seated with the doc.

Noncoms were distributed amongst the vehicles, not just for the leadership value, but for the continuation of the squad's chain of command, just in case.

Every vehicle had stretchers, fire extinguishers, and tow chains/straps. (Not if, but when...)

Because we were in vehicles, we had the advantage of the thought that if there was something worth putting in one vehicle, chances were pretty good that we could beg/borrow/acquire/pilfer/appropriate/etc. that same item for the other Hummers, without a great likelyhood that we would have to hump our gear back to the FOB.

Dangerous Missions.

I don't really think there was any other type, really. Indeed, the company probably took more casualties from the everyday 'boring' patrols than the Hollywood sexy raids.

Even the chow hall Dr Pepper raids were dangerous, in their own way.

One of the types of patrols that made life interesting were the escorts. Escorting wasn't too bad, in concept; just fill one boat space, take one or more Bubbas from spot A to spot B. Adding rank to the equation wasn't even as much as an issue as I would have imagined, at least most of the time. A few exceptions aside, most Officers or higher ranking Marines recognized that while they did outrank me, I had the experience. I was always happy to listen to advice, but while out in the middle of something was not the place to play 'Who has the bigger pe-pe' game based upon rank.

So, back to and from the title, what gave me the funny feeling this particular story was not the hot chow from the previous night, nor the food of questionable freshness contained in my last care package (Thanks, Mom!). The source was the higher ups (up to and including the Company Commanding Officer) riding along with my squad.

I wasn't afraid of my guys 'getting caught' doing something wrong, or at least not too much. My guys might have gotten me into some stuff when in the rear, but outside the wire, for the most part, they were good to go and did their job. I wasn't even afraid of the Staff or Os finding something wrong in my tactics. I'm one of those types that know there is always something to improve, and welcome criticism on just about anything I do.

What did kind of bother me was that we would have a good portion of the Company's chain of command contained within one squad, for most of one afternoon. This is not an everyday occurrence, and for good reason.

I don't care how hot one squad is, we all know that anything can happen, at anytime, for any reason.

I think there is a law about that somewhere...

At least the C.O. was agreeable to distributing the Staff NCOs and Officers amongst my vehicles. He did insist on taking out another vehicle, and while it wasn't in the greatest shape and would require some creative maintenance and squad personnel distribution, it would add another platform for a big gun.

The reason that the chain was riding along with us was that, if I remember correctly, an Officer was returning to Iraq from the States. He had had either a really bad day and/or a really lucky moment some time earlier, and after the recovery and ok from the docs, was cleared to rejoin the company. He was a great guy, and everyone wanted to get in on the welcome back party.

Everything went fine on the pick up, he was looking good, all got to ooh and ahh over his new scars, and word got passed regarding the guys here and the guys already sent home for recovery. As an added bonus, we even got some how chow out of the deal. Score!

Naturally, this meant that the return trip would get interesting. Sure enough, one of the Hummers died on the return trip.

Give ya a clue as to which one, it wasn't one of my regular Hummers, and was added to my squad just before the patrol...

I had in my squad a couple of tinkerers of the automotive inclination, and those guys could do wonders under a hood. I'm not the most mechanically minded type (stop laughing, you!), but I knew enough to know that if my two vehicle yodas were at a loss for why a vehicle was down, you might as well put a bullet in her and call it a day.

After enough of a delay, I had enough and told my guys that we would tow the dead vehicle to the FOB. It was about this time that the C.O told me that he was going to have a spitball meeting in his vehicle on the remainder of the return trip.

I thought that he was talking about getting together with another Officer. When I realized that in one vehicle (the one getting towed!) we would have numerous Staff NCOs and Officers, driving down the road popularly known as 'the gauntlet' for it's isolation and number of enemy activities, to me, that's the equivalent to thumbing one's nose at Lord Murphy (never a good idea, especially with my squad).

I wandered over to where the First Sergeant was, scowling at pretty much... everything. Nodding over in the direction of the C.O.'s hummer, I asked him, "Hey, Fir'Sergeant... uh, you heard about-" He turned his glare to me and responded with, "Yup".

I don't remember the exact words, but we had a brief conversation regarding who would be the likely candidates to fill the leaderships' spots after what was generally agreed upon as too much temptation for the cruel gods of convoy ops.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Gear Issues

Some lessons learned over the years, as related to gear:

Cold weather + old sleeping bag + rain = Catastrophic Bag Failure

New, high-speed, water-proof sleeping bags, aren't.

New, high-speed, water-proof sleeping bags do a heck of a job keeping water in, once wet.

New, high-speed, water-proof sleeping bags are a mother to carry on a hump, when wet.

Any new pack (MOLLE *cough, cough*) that comes with a video tape to demonstrate assembly is a bad sign of things to come.

When your pack's frame (MOLLE *cough, cough*) snaps EVERY. FRIGGIN'. TIME. you take off the pack, that too, is a bad sign.

The camouflage pattern on military packs is so good, it gets lost on the return flight to the states.

Newer, larger packs can fit more (and heavier) stuff. This is painfully demonstrated on the first hump with the new pack.

When it take more than one Marine to lift one pack, you might want to revise the gear list.

Bees can fit in the water tube of a camel back.

Bees do not taste good.

Camouflage nets are attracted to uniform buttons. And rifles.

New boots have no place anywhere near humps.

OJ and vodka are not officially authorized liquids for use in issued canteens.

Everyone will have Hollywood Sexy gear compared to your own.

Military vehicles can be repaired with zip ties, boot bands, duct tape, and curses.

Issued tents do a decent job of keeping some bugs out.

Issued tents do an amazing job of keeping body stank in.

When driving military vehicles through mud, the red-neck from Texas is a great asset.

ALL vehicles can get stuck in mud. Even when driven by red-necks from Texas.

You can snap rifle hand guards on your shin. It's not highly recommended, though.

As a general rule, new field gear will inevitably be larger, heavier, and less field-worthy than the perfectly good, well used, and definitely older stuff you had to turn in.

Be happy with the newer, larger, heavier, and less field worthy stuff you just got issued lest you get issued even newer, larger, heavier, and less field worthy crap for your troubles.

Deadly force is authorized for use against the PFC who asks the Platoon Sergeant if X item of gear needs to be carried on the hump. (This was usually gas masks, but on occasion was items more cumbersome, heavy, or actually unneeded for the remainder of the field training.)

If given a choice, the amount of cold weather gear left in the rear will have a direct effect on the amount of drastic drop in temperature during the night. (More gear in the rear, more of a drop)

Bringing excessive cold weather or rain gear is the only way to guarantee that it wont be needed.
It will also almost surely tack on another 4 to 5 miles to the hump.

The better the temperature when in the rear during the days leading up to a field training op, the worse it will be in the field.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Cultural Differences, Suspicions, and A Song

Think this is going to be a long one, so pop the top, kick back, and get comfy. Drinks should be good until 'Suspicions'. Hope you like bathroom and ass-humor...

Cultural Differences.

Before we left, we had numerous classes on the cultural differences that we could expect to see in country.

Much of it we already knew more or less, like the position of women in the social structure, bathroom practices, and inadvertently insulting a host by refusing gifts. Most of was details, such as never look at, speak to, or even acknowledge a woman or girl unless specifically introduced or okayed by a male family member. Of course, it was made clear that mission came first and if it came down to it we would have to deal with them, but when it came to females, they made sure that we took every precaution and made every effort to be sensitive to their culture. Other specifics was that if we were offered food or chay (a sweet tea served quite hot), we should thank them profusely and if we could, offer them some food in return... with the right hand, lest we offer any (additional) insult.

The instructors also mentioned personal space. It is a common practice there that if a man and woman are walking down a dirt road, the man will be in front and the woman, behind (because we all know that the ladies never do a booty check). If two guys are walking together, often times you might see them holding hands, or walking arm in arm. They stressed that this was not anything unusual to the rural Iraqi, but just a sign of friendship. They also told us that if they saw any Marines walking hand in hand, it was too late to get out of the deployment, so don't even try it... Seriously though, the concept of personal space to the average Iraqi (like many others, actually) is a lot more close than one is used to here in the States.

They told us about little things like removing your shades before initiating a conversation, or leaving them on if you were a part of a security detail (this might signify to the locals that you were not the one to talk to, they should look for the designated 'talker'). They stressed learning small Arabic phrases, 'thank you, food, water, yes, no', and the like. Have some candy for the kiddos, but make sure that they aren't helping themselves to your pack when your back is turned. They told us the kids were very inquisitive, friendly, and some of them would speak decent English. They noted that if the kids ran away when we arrived in a village, that was never a good sign, or a really good sign that word had gotten out that the Marines were about to get hit and that all children should make themselves scarce.

They told us that most of the stuff we were learning in the pre-deployment work up was to be considered a sort of guide-line, and that we would learn the details when we got to our actual deployment site, from the guys that we replaced.

The Forward Operating Base.

Once we had been in country for a few months and pretty much gotten ourselves situated, we would up at a Forward Operating Base (FOB). The FOB was also an Iraqi National Guard (ING) training center. I'll go into some of the details of the particular adventure that was training Iraqi soldiers at another time. For now just note that the FOB was a small little outpost situated next to a decidedly unfriendly town. Another way of saying this was that our FOB was well within reach of rockets and mortars.

Living with Iraqi solders was an interesting experience. We would eat chow with them, practice one anothers language, and on occasion, train & do missions. We were not the primary point of contact when it came to training the ING, that was left to other Marines, but we did have our moments.

I was able to see that the soldiers were a lot like many of the other nations soldiers, sailors, marines, and commandos that I had trained with before. A lot of differences, of course, but much in common.


As the FOB didn't have running water more than a slight trickle, someone had set up port-a-johns at various locations. The hills and Hesco barriers (think huge, mesh, sand-boxes) protected the johns from incoming, 'cause who wants to arrive at the pearly gates not from the glories of the battlefield, but the indignity of dying on the shitter?

One day a turd was noticed, not in the port-a-john reservoir, but on the shelf supporting the seat.

This was a delicate situation.

Most knew that the Iraqi solders naturally squatted when... taking care of business, and some suggested that one might have thought that the proper procedure was to secure the door, climb up on the seat, squat down, and do their thing. Improper 'sight alignment, sight picture' could possibly account for why the turd missed it's intended target. I don't know if anything was communicated the first time, probably just cleaned up and brushed out of mind.

When the poos continued to make their appearance, well, something needed to be done.

The first thing that happened was humor, of course.

Walking into the command center to get a brief for my next patrol, I noticed that the Administrative bubbas had treated the mystery of the shitters as a mission intel 'dump'. Someone had taken photos of the offending deposit, posted it up on the wall, and included it in the incoming data information table. With a pen, some had likewise created an 8-digit grid, including the likely Point Of Origin (POO, get it?) and Point of Impact (POI). Like some of the BOLOs (Be On LookOut) that we had running around in the neighboring villages, the Mad Bomber, the Rocket Man, etc. whomever was doing the dirty deed needed a name. I'm not sure who suggested it, but 'The Mad Shitter' was suggested, and it... uh, stuck (Har!).

I think this time the Gunny, prompted by the CO, wandered over to his counterpart in the ING and suggested that the ING Soldiers might take a little more care when in the johns.

A done deal, right?


After another deposit, the CO was starting to get pissed. There were rumors of securing the heads at certain times, or placing a guard on them, 24/7.

Late one night or early one morning, we returned to the FOB from another uneventful patrol. We were driving lights out and with our NVGs, so when we pulled around the FOB to hit the fuel station, I noticed a curious sight. I saw what looked like a number of chem lights suspended in the air in a circle around the shitters.

I told my driver to stop, instructed my second to get the vehicles cleaned and fueled up, and the Marines started on weapons maintenance. I told him I was going to check out the shitters, go do the debrief, and get some word on our next patrol.

Walking up to the johns, I noticed that there was one Marine, just kind of hanging out, like.

He was the shit-house guard.

No shit, neither.

As I approached, he gave me the greeting, asked 'One or Two?'. Apparently, the johns now had designations, for ease of guardianship. I politely inquired, WTF? He informed me that the Mad Shitter had stuck again, the CO was pissed, and his platoon had mounted a guard, indefinitely. All persons had to have the guard inspect the johns post use for the time being.

At the risk of repeating myself, WTF?

I did my business (damn that evil MRE Cheese!), got my port-a-john inspected, and continued on with the plan of the day.

Despite the barbed wire, armed guards, and inspections, the Mad Shitter somehow struck again.

This was when he became somewhat of a... not quite a folk hero, but there was definitely a sense of respect for the drive of whatever nasty sumbitch it was, doing the dirty deed against all odds.

Odes were written, lyrics were created, whispered suggestions as to the identity of the culprit (or culprits?) were bandied about. It was a work in progress, for a while, because...

The Army (God Bless'em, everyone of those stinkin' buggers) had decided to install shower tents at the FOB. We had gone for so long without decent regular showers that when they started to set up tents and the rumor spread that we would actually have hot showers soon, I instantly took back every bad thing I had ever said, thought, suggested, insinuated, spray painted, joked about, etc about the fine organization that is the most honorable United States Army. I have never been more excited about washing my crack, that's for sure. That lasted for all of two days, but it was memorable because...

After the excitement of the shower tents wore off... yup, you guessed it, the Mad Shitter stuck again.

This kind of pissed me off. No, when the shower tents were secured (closed for use, as punishment), that really did piss me off. There were those however, that continued to admire the guts (courage, not what they produced) of that sneaky, dirty, bastard with Ninja-like prowess of the night that was the Mad Shitter.

The final product, more or less, of the admiration of the Marines to the still-unknown Mad Shitter, battling the forces of decency, basic cleanliness, risking the ire of all Staff NCOs and Os, and escaping under the cover of darkness to continue the fight another day, went something like the following.

The Mad Shitter
(sung to "When Johnny Comes Marching Home")

The Mad Shitter struck again today,
Hoorah, Hoorah! (x2)
The C.O.s pissed and he's gonna find out,
who's been shitting around and about.
And the Corporal says we'll see him,
never again, no more!

The Mad Shitter struck again today,
Hoorah, Hoorah! (x2)
Well he left a pile, steaming hot.
When he gets caught, he's gonna get shot.
And the Sergeant says we'll see him,
never again, no more!

The Mad Shitter struck again today,
Hoorah, Hoorah! (x2)
He dinna' come to steal and loot,
only to leave a wee lil' poot.
And the Staff says we'll see him,
never again, no more!

The Mad Shitter struck again today,
Hoorah, Hoorah! (x2)
The wire is laid and the guard is set,
the house is open, taking bets.
And the Gunny says we'll see him,
never again, no more!

The Mad Shitter struck again today,
Hoorah, Hoorah! (x2)
In the middla night and past the guard,
he left his stinky calling card.
And the Cap'n says we'll see him,
never again, no more!

The Mad Shitter struck again today,
Hoorah, Hoorah! (x2)
Well he shit in the showers
and now they're secured.
No more bathing on account of a turd.
And we all say we'll see him,

Amazingly enough, I don't suspect that that one is ever going to realize inclusion on the military music CDs or cadence call rolls anytime (ever) in the future...

Monday, October 8, 2007

Humps, Creative Motivation, and Patience

Popeye was this one Marine that developed my near superhuman patience. His name here is Popeye, because that is what he looked like. He had mentioned once that his Drill Instructors, noticing the resemblance, had given him standing orders to do the Popeye laugh on command, for the entirety of boot camp. He could do it pretty good, too.

I don't really remember meeting Popeye for the first time, it just kinda seemed that he was catching hell from the beginning. He wasn't a shit-bird (our name for the Pvt. Pyles of real life), but he had his moments. Good hearted, a little bit naive, a nice guy deep down, but the boy could seriously test my patience at times. A number of times...

One of his particularly memorable moments came during a training hump.

During the course of this particular hump, I found myself in the standard situation. We, as the crew-served weapons platoon were at the rear of the formation. I guess it was meant to shame any riflemen that fell beck far enough to see us suffering under the weight of additional crew-served weapons components. Being at the rear also meant that as the formation naturally contracted and expanded while traveling the back roads and dirt trails, we found ourselves fast-walking or actually jogging down the trails in our effort to stay up with the rest of the company and maintain proper platoon dispersion.

With the condition that we were in (tired), the pace of the hump (kinda fast), and the additional weight (Ung!), it wasn't long before a few Marines began to fall back. I would then slow down until the platoon passed me up and I was on line with the Marine lagging. I would then take his additional weight and advise him that I was going to run to the front of the formation. I figured that if I could run faster than him, with his assigned additional weight and mine, I would then store said additional weight in his butt-hole.

The guy falling behind would usually find the motivation to get to the front, at least just before I did. I would then give him his stuff back, caution him about falling back again, and then go back to the rear to do it all over, with someone else.

Sometimes I would mess with any riflemen that had fallen back. These were the guys that were usually not carrying anything more than a full pack and their rifle.

I would start this by running one of my Marines up to the front of the platoon, hand them back the mortar tube or base plate, and then just... stop.

The platoon would keep on marching.

Just about everybody knew what I did on the humps, so nobody thought I was slacking off or falling back. When the platoon was a little bit up the road, you could see individual Marines that had fallen back from twisted ankles or poor conditioning, struggling to keep up. I would wait until I could see the last Marine from my platoon, or the vehicle that would always trail the hump formation (if one fell back far enough, you had to get in the vehicle. This was only sometimes legit if you had actual bone sticking out of your body. Anything less than that... stand by, the Gunny wants a few words with your poor, pathetic, soon to be dead ass.) As my last bubba would pull up along side with me, I would hold out my hands, and they would hand off their component(s). We would begin to jog to the front of the formation. As we would pass other Marines, I would offer words of encouragement to the other weapons platoons Marines, talk some trash to other guys playing the part of motivators, or down right threaten guys who were continuously falling back. As we would pass some of the riflemen, I would quickly grab another mortar component or two (or three) and run past him, not saying a word, just giving him the stare down as I jogged past him carrying a full pack, one 81mm mortar tube flung over the top of my neck, a base plate in one hand, and with the hand used to balance the tube, an A-bag dangling for extra effect. I would glare from under the mortar tube forcing my head down at his little pack, rifle,.... (and nothing else) and just snort. Sometimes, it actually motivated them enough to speed up and catch back up with their platoon.

Towards the end of the hump, everyone was hurting. The amount of time needed to run people up to the front of the platoon had greatly increased, and I was sucking wind. Falling back once again, I noticed Popeye and another Marine trading off a mortar component. At first I thought that perhaps Popeye had fallen back to help out his team-mate, like I was doing. On another pass I realized that while that might have been the original intent, they were both now falling back more and more. I then fell in step with them and took the mortar part, to help them out.

At this point in the hump there was no way in hell that I was going to be able to run, a fast walk was about all I had in my tank. It was usually at this time of any hump where you just had to grit it out, take it one step at a time, and keep moving. Thankfully, the pace of the whole unit had slowed to that of a casual stroll, albeit one with a full pack, feet fulla blisters, and sleep deprivation.

As we approached the outskirts of the base, everyone began to pick up the pace, in anticipation of finishing this damn hump.


Needing to rest my shoulders, neck, and just about everything else, I look at the other Marine. This guy barely looked alive, just plodding along. When I turned to Popeye to see if he could spell me, but he was nowhere in sight. I actually stopped and turned around to see if he had passed out on the road and nobody had noticed as we were literally at the ass end of everything. Where the hell had he gone?

As I did this I heard Popeye, from THE FRONT OF THE PLATOON FORMATION start yelling out "Come on, Cpl., get up here!! You can do it! Don't quit on me now!!!"

The little fucker had left us, literally, in the dust.

When I had taken the mortar piece and slung it over my shoulder he had taken off like a shot. No more extra weight for him!

As he was trying to 'motivate' me to get back with the rest of the formation, one Marine tripped (or passed out and died, whatever) and went flying. As his mortar, weapon, and/or miscellaneous crap hit the deck, a number of my buddies confessed to me that they heard the sound and had a mental picture of me listening to Popeye, finally snapping, and just throwing my shit down so I could free up my hands to strangle the little bastard.

Hmm, a pleasant daydream at times, sure....

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Old Farts & A Tribute

Helluva post about bars & their workers, buddies, and the memories they would create here.

"But when we came ashore on liberty, we would rub shoulders with some of the finest men we would ever know, in bars our mothers would never have approved of. Saloons that live in our memories forever."

Pretty much sums up the majority of my thoughts on bars & buddies. Makes me think I should take up blogging about underwater basket weaving or something...

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Bull in the Ring

When grunts are hanging out with nothing in particular to do, they tend to get into some trouble. Just one of those unwritten laws of the universe, I suppose.

'Bull in the Ring' was something that we used to fill that time.

Essentially, it is just modified ass-kicking. The platoon will form a circle and a predetermined number of Marines will get into the 'ring'. At first, the objective was to physically toss your opponent(s) from the ring, but as the Corps got more into the martial arts, winning or losing started to be reflected in if one guy tapped out, passed out, or it looked like someone might be killed.

We were able to rationalize this by saying it was not outside the realm of possibility that Marines might have to use some sort of hand to hand, especially when the situation, for whatever reason, does not call for utilizing a .50 on gramps, during some sort of riot or something.

In the beginning, there really wasn't too many guys with traditional fighting/training experience, so myself and some others were defacto teachers. We basically had it covered, I would teach most of the chokes and small joint manipulation, there was a guy with some really good grappling skills, and one kick-boxer in the group. I really liked getting my ass kicked by the wrestler, because I always learned something neat. Painful, but neat. The kick boxer on the other hand, was just painful.

One afternoon out in the field, the Platoon Sergeant decided that we needed training in how to properly construct a mortar pit. With the issued entrenching tools. In the middle of the friggin' summer.


To explain, a mortar pit is ideally dug out with a backhoe/bulldozer. It needs to be fairly large, with a number of characteristics to prepare for the possibility of all kinds of nasty situations. By hand, you will be digging roughly... forever, especially with the foldable, around three foot long small shovels that you carry in your gear.

The Platoon Sergeant actually had a method to his madness, though. He wanted to tire us out so that when we did get into the ring, we would have to use more technique than brute strength. After roughly 5 hours (the terrain was a bitch!) we finished the pit. The Platoon Sergeant got up on an empty crate and announced the rules for this particular bout. All grappling, no strikes. Chokes are permitted, throws are not. Submission is decided by physical removal from the ring, a tap out, or by the Captain's decision. Anyone can call anyone else out. Limit of 10 Marines in the pit at once (i.e. team vs. team)

Remember that part about anyone can call anyone else out?

The Platoon Sergeant was the first one called out.

The Captain was the second man called out.

The Platoon Sergeant was the third man called out.

The Captain was the fourth man called out.

They were good sports about it and even did pretty good, but before it could get out of hand the Captain decreed that anyone over E-6 only had to fight twice. After some grumblings my team got challenged by another team.

Starting out 4 vs 4, it was a fairly even match. It went back and forth for a while, but eventually Marines got tossed and it came down to one on one, me and 'Conan'. He was a younger guy, and looked like he had spent some time in the gym. Just a wee bit. No traditional training, but he was a quick learner. I was developed like a nine year old girl compared to this guy. By the time it got down to only he and I left in the pit, we had been going for a while so the Captain called a temporary reprieve, told us to get out and rest, and sent some other teams in the ring.

Much sooner than I really would have liked, the other teams were finished and it was time to get back into the ring. Immediately after the re-start, I dropped to my back. He came charging into my guard, and I almost got him in a choke. Not quite able to finish him off, I remembered back in the day getting my ass kicked by this one judo guy, and tried one of his old moves.

Still on my back, with both of our arms tied up at his neck & struggling, I raised my legs, wrapped them high around his ribcage, and SQUEEEEZED.

Now, I have been playing soccer for most of my life, joined the swim team in high school, and was even a fairly good runner, once upon a time. You could say that my legs were pretty strong. This was evidenced by a slight bulging of his eyes and a garbled 'Oh, shit'! His hands went immediately to my legs, but they were not moving an inch.

"Who's the beyotch, now?"

The only problem with the squeeze is that it does take a huge amount of energy to keep doing. It is not actually too common to see someone finish a match this way against someone who has even a little training. As this guy was all gym beef and no mat experience, I figured that I just might pull it off.

He was still struggling, trying to reach behind him to unhook my ankles, but that wasn't working. I could smell the end of the match when he fell over on his side, me still doing my best python impression. He was turning a quite pretty shade of red in the face, but as he was still actively fighting, the match wasn't called. Tap out, you ass! Or die, just do something, my legs can't take much more of this!

Did I mention that this guy spent a lot of time in the gym and what he didn't have in technique he definitely made up in brute strength?

Did I mention that he was supposed to be tired out from digging all day?

In what I can only describe in a 'Oh. Fuck. Me!' move, he gave up on trying to unlock my ankles from around behind his back. Pushing up off of the ground and still making those delightful wheezing noises, he managed to get to his knees... get one foot on the ground... reach up and got a good grab of my cammies lapels, and physically lift me slowly off of the ground, only to SLAM me bodily down on the return trip.

Now we were both in a 'world of shit'.

His face was a quite pretty shade of purple by this time, but I wasn't even really seeing it through all of the pretty tweety birds that were obscuring my vision. I somehow managed to hold on through three more body slams before someone noticed that we were technically on the edge of the ring, and therefore he won the match. When the fight was called, he kinda rolled out from my legs onto the ground, and we just laid there, me breathing heavy & him happy to be breathing again, for the longest time. We were both so physically wiped out that we were pretty much useless for the immediate future.

Moral? Technique is good. Correct technique is better. Sometimes, the best thing is to power through and slam that bastard (moi) hard. Multiple times. Repeat as necessary.

Should have kept going for the choke...

Friday, October 5, 2007

Pucker Factor, Trust, and A Fast Run

Many of the roads in Iraq are old, cracked, and pot-holed. Same with the bridges. In our area this was a result of a combination of old explosives blasts and poor maintenance & repair. If you were out on the road for any amount of time, it got to the point where you developed a great interest in anything out of the ordinary road-wise. Consequently, when I got back to the land of the great PX, I HATED potholes and bridges (too many options for the bad guys to hide stuff). Hell, I saw a wire alongside of the highway and damn near flipped my car!

Anyways, I'm better now, at least that is what the voices tell me!

Driving in and out of the villages one day, Eagle Eye (and no, his last name was not Cherry) called a possible IED. As I was not currently flying through the air, and no other vehicle seemed to be having a Very Bad Day, that usually indicated that he had spotted another one, pre-detonation. This guy was good. Somehow, sitting in the back left seat of a Hummer he was able to talk some shit, man the radio, and spot an IED on the RIGHT side of the bridge!

As my vehicle was just south of the bridge, I deployed the vehicles and Marines in that area, the other Sgt. took the north. I grabbed Mouth, and instructed him to climb to the top of the hill overlooking the road to provide over watch. My orders were, 'when in doubt, interrogate by fire'. The road had been completely blocked off from traffic and people, so anybody in the immediate vicinity besides ourselves was not going to be girl scouts selling cookies or anything. As it was going to be my ass he was covering, I wanted to make sure that he knew that if he felt the slightest inkling that he might need to take the shot, he had my full, unconditional, I'll be your shower-buddy later, support.

From a ways away, I got on the horn with Eagle Eye, and attempted to locate the IED. Couldn't see it. Got some binos...Nada. As I had issued out ACOGs to just about everyone but me and the doc, I moved forward a little bit, borrowed a rifle...same thing, nothing. He described it pretty good, but as his vehicle was now north of the bridge, and the bridge was temporarily out of order, he had to describe it from memory. I was starting to think that this might be a false alarm... I told him to stay on the radio, grab some binos, and talk me onto where he thought he saw the IED.

I really hated to call EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal, or the guys who actually get paid to 'blow shit up') for a false alarm, as I knew that it involved rousting a QRF (Quick Reaction Force, or the guys who besides being on call for 'Oh Shit!' situations, provide security for the EOD team) that just got bedded down. It also involved avoiding some good-natured ribbing, but more importantly, I wanted to make sure that I wasn't the reason that QRF took longer to get somewhere they were actually needed just because I mistook a pillow for a boom-boom.

After checking the hill to make sure that Mouth was in position, I advanced a little closer. Eagle Eye advised me that I was somewhat less gifted than Stephen Hawking, for getting too close. I advised him that today was the day he might have struck out. Never-the-less, I moved to the right side of the road to get a different angle. Still nothing.

The road itself was on a short berm, about 3 or 4 ft high. The shoulders of the road were dirt, and gradually sloped down to the fence-line of some houses. I got up to the piled-rock fence, scanned the shoulders all the way to the bridge and My spidey-senses were not even twitching, so I got a little bit closer. I was almost to the bridge, and the stream that ran beneath it, when a number of things happened all at once.

All vehicular traffic had been stopped for about 30 minutes by now, and the lines of trucks and cars were starting to back up. A white pick-up with two males approached the area from the north, saw the lines, and decided to take some back roads to avoid the traffic. Before this, the Sgt. north of the bridge had committed a slightly tactical error. When he directed his vehicle to pull off to the left side of the road, it was because it was in a good position. Good fields of fire, a little bit of cover, over all a good choice for employment. When he sent out his dismounts though, he placed them on the right side of the road, in a likewise decent position. The problem was actually the relationship between the vehicle mounted machine-gun and the dismounts, with the road in between.

The pick-up returned to the road, and bypassed the last of the waiting vehicles. Apparently without noticing the numerous Marines armed to the teeth, they continued towards the bridge. The Marines on the bridge were unable to open fire because there were now too many civilians directly behind the pick-up. The Hummer wasn't able to fire because now the truck was directly between the Hummer and the dismounted Marines, who were by that time doing a fairly decent impression of Superman, flying through the air, if only for the short trip to the ditch. They were unable to exit the lane of fire though, before the pick-up was on the bridge.

Meanwhile, I was stumped. I had finished checking out the shoulders and was walking back to my Hummer. I was already planning out the shit-talking I would give Eagle Eye for getting my heart rate up when I happened to glance down. About 6 inches in front of my boot was a little bit of thin, blue and white twirled wire. I must have uncovered it upon my approach. You could just make out the wire as it traveled to the fence and disappeared through a crack near the bottom. Following the trail of the wire to the road, I discovered that I was in the perfect position, the only position really, to see that it traveled up the shoulder, and ended up wired up to the nose cone of a HUGE. FRIGGIN'. ARTY. ROUND. that just barely peeked out from where it had been hidden.

This was professional work. Nothing is Murphy proof, but this was a great job at Murphy-resistant. Fuck-nuts had broken up the road, dug the hole, placed the round, and then like a puzzle arranged the road top back on top of the IED. All you could see was about 3 inches of the top of the round, hidden amongst some rocks and brush. Really, really 'good' job.

It was also at this time that the pick-up was speeding across the bridge. Mouth politely inquired as to the reason why the gents felt that they couldn't stop at the road-block and requested that they stop their vehicle with his USMC issued M-16 universal translator. He never had that much in the way of Arabic classes, but he got his point across quite nicely. They decided it might be a good idea to stop. Of course, it took longer for me to type the words on the screen here that it actually did for me to go from mph 0 to BALLSTOTHEWALL, answering in my own way Eagle Eye's constant questions over the radio of, 'see anything yet?'.

Guess what my motivational war cry was while running? Not that you would have heard it, because I think I actually broke the sound barrier in my run for cover. Not a retreat, mind you, more of a tactical attack to a position of better cover. Or something.

EOD was requested most ricky-tick.

When they got there, the IED was disabled and moved to a safer local for detonation. When they pulled that fucker from the ground, it looked about as long as my leg. Of course, I was watching all this far away, through binos, and behind both Hummers, their expertise be damned.

It had been prepped and ready to go.

We never did find the guy who left this particular forget-me-not.