A Marine’s life

“Tactics are easy. Logistics are hard.” — General Michael Hagee, 33rd Commandant of the Marine Corps

After thousands of years, war is still far from being normal. I sat with my fiancée in the car and as usual struck up a conversation about the war with Iraq. After a few minutes of hearing me rattle endless facts and opinions about the War on Terror, she calmly looked over and said, “Can we please talk about something normal?”

I didn’t think anything of her statement at first because I am used to it, especially when I talk about politics. After a few minutes of thought, however, I responded by claiming, “The war is normal because it is my life.” This statement rings true for all members of the military after September 11. Marines live with the fact that they could be deployed anywhere in the world at anytime. This story briefly summarizes my involvement in Operation Iraqi Freedom from March 25 to October 16, 2003.

Realities of war

My first hour at Camp Fox will forever be etched in my mind, as I stood next to my gear in a confused trance trying to gather my thoughts. I had never been in the desert before let alone in a war. After a few more minutes of mindless thought I began loading my gear onto a Humvee. Then it happened. I did not recognize the sound at first and I stood dumbfounded until another Marine grabbed me, pulling me toward the bunker. He yelled for me to get my gas mask on and follow him. I reached into my gas mask carrier and pulled out a piece of equipment that I had hoped I would never use and struggled to put it on as I ran toward the bunker. After I got the mask on I had a difficult time catching my breath. I finally reached the bunker after what seemed like an eternity and dove head first into the concrete structure. As I sat at the far end of the bunker, I thought about what just happened and what could happen. I had been at Camp Fox for about an hour and my life was already threatened. How would I survive t his whole campaign?

I began to breathe harder and could not stand it any longer; I secretly cracked the seal on my gas mask and savored the fresh cool air. I gasped for air and realized that in a few minutes my life had changed dramatically. I began to think about my family and fiancée back home and wondered if I would ever see them again. After about a half hour we were called out of the bunker and told to head to the rallying point. Later on I learned that the Scud missiles did not hit anywhere close but it definitely opened my eyes to the realities of war.

More of a tent city than an actual camp, the Marine Corps erected Camp Fox about 30 miles south of the Iraqi border and there the 2nd Force Service Support Group (FSSG) set up operations. Getting to the camp required a five-mile trip through the desert on a makeshift road.

I began my tour with the 2nd Maintenance Battalion, Alpha Company, Heavy Equipment Platoon as a heavy equipment mechanic. During the war we did not have much equipment to work on considering our location in the rear and my day consisted of working on what little gear we did have and digging bunkers to dodge the Scud missiles. I experienced what most Marines experience during war: pure boredom.

On 30 April, I was assigned to go on a contact run up to Camp Coyote, about 45 minutes away. I had been at Camp Fox a little over a month and this was my first time off the base. The second night after our small convoy arrived, I witnessed an event that has plagued all military units since the beginning of warfare. I had just made it back to our tent when there was a loud explosion. Apparently a Marine from Military Police Battalion (MP) had unexploded ordnance in his cargo pocket that exploded while he made his way back to the bivouac area. The explosion blew his leg off and shrapnel lodged in another Marine’s brain. A sergeant who witnessed the event quickly put a tourniquet on the Marine’s leg and treated the other Marine for shock. Both Marines survived, but the Devildog who received shrapnel wounds will spend several years learning to talk again. It was an unfortunate situation that never should have happened; accidents claim the lives of more Marines than enemy fire.

After a week at Camp Coyote, our contact team made its way back to Camp Fox and after two more weeks with Alpha Company I volunteered to join the Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force (SPMAGTF) and began work with them on 15 May.

Our mission proved to be just as important to the war effort as any other: heavy equipment repair for the Marine Corps Maritime Prepositioning Force (MPF). MPF is a fleet of Navy ships that carries over 60% of the Marine Corps’ equipment and can dock at any port in the world ready to support a war.

The repairs proved to be a daunting task for our platoon of 38. We worked in substandard conditions with temperatures averaging well over 130°; working seven days a week, 12 to 14 hours a day with little complaint. In total we repaired over 1,300 pieces of heavy equipment in four months.

While on the SPMAGTF I had a staff sergeant who remains one of my favorite Staff NCOs. Almost daily I would beg him to send me to Iraq and finally he got the word to send a contact team to Camp Edson, Iraq. This trip we would be traveling by helicopter instead of a convoy and, once on the helicopter, I wished we had taken the convoy. The trip took us three hours and in that time I managed to throw up at least 15 times. When I finally got off the helicopter I could barely carry my own gear!

Reason for war

We settled in and then took a ride over to 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines (3/5) to deliver some communication wire and I will never forget what I saw on the way: the Iraqis cheered for us. I felt like a famous actor and it reminded me of WWII when the Allies liberated Paris. I had never experienced anything like it in my life. It was difficult to believe the news that reported most Iraqis did not want us there. I also remember the pure poverty that most Iraqis live with; the worst neighborhoods in Detroit looked better than the neighborhoods I saw in Iraq, and the children did not have proper clothing or shoes. Seeing the Iraqi people was reason enough for why the Marine Corps fought this war. It did not matter if there were terrorists; giving the Iraqi people the help they needed was enough reason for the United States to get involved.

My tour of the Middle East ended on 16 October 2003 and extended from the shores of the Persian Gulf to about 20 miles southeast of Baghdad. Like most Marines who were there, I did not see combat. I did, however, do everything the Marine Corps told me to do and feel I have served my country honorably. In September 2004, I will more than likely be shipped to Fallujah, Iraq, to serve as part of the occupation and stabilization force.