Sunday, January 18, 2009

Andy Gets Exposed

I knew some guys once that were occupying a small fire base at an intersection in the town north of us. They didn’t get attacked very often, but they did get IED’d all the time whenever they went out, so they were on edge.

In the middle of one night, some dumbass fires like two rounds at the base. They didn’t hit anything, but pissed everybody of so badly that they all just started firing back – and anything and nothing. Just unloading every rifle and machine gun they had – into the dark. They even started firing mortars. They had 60s [60mm mortars] on the base, so one guy gets on the gun and just starts throwing rounds down the tube. He’d drop one, it’d fire, he’d make a small adjustment to the sights, then fire another. He went through a LOT of rounds like this, just lobbing them into town, I guess. I know he wasn’t aiming.

His platoon sergeant comes out and scream, “What are you doing?!” at him, and he screams back, “I don’t know!” and keeps dropping rounds down the tube. “Stop doing that!” the platoon sergeant yells at him.

“Okay,” he says, and drops ONE more round, which blasts off to who knows where, and then he walks away. All that for two potshots…

He was good guy, though, and ended up getting hit badly later on in the tour. He was taking a nap in the tent on base, and a mortar round came through and blew up inside the tent. It killed the guy next to him, and peppered his legs and torso with shrapnel. Another guy got burned badly. The one that died was a friend of mine. Actually, all three of those guys were.

Being shot at makes you forget stuff, though. Basic stuff. I remember the first time I was in a firefight, I couldn’t see anybody shooting at me, so I just provided suppressive fire where I THOUGHT they might be. And I forgot to take cover. I just stood there in the open firings. I know we were taking hits, since a lot of the vehicles had ricochets on the turrets, but I never actually SAW any of the shooters.

And then we had to put a casualty in my truck, so I had clear off a seat in the back for him. But it was loaded with gear, food, water, and a HUGE stack of mail. I’d just collected a whole pile from the platoon and I was going to stop by the post office and mail it for them. So when I went to rip everything off the seat and throw it into the road, I ended up heaving mail all over the ground – like dozens of letters.

So there I was, in a firefight, walking around in the middle of the road, and picking up all the mail I’d just thrown onto the ground – like an idiot. Amazingly, I didn’t get shot. In fact, nobody did. They all missed. The only casualty we took was a guy hit by shrapnel from the IED that started off the ambush. He was hit pretty bad, too. Almost lost his arm. As is, he still can’t bend it. The fused it together where his elbow used to be. I think he spent more than two years in Walter Reed trying to get it healed up and rehabilitated enough that he could to home. I never saw him again, but I’ve run into a few guys that says he’s okay, got married and rides a snowmobile a lot. He actually told the doctors to fuse his arm in a position so he could still drive one of those things. He’s a raging alcoholic still, though. But that isn’t new. He was when I first met him. I don’t think I saw him completely sober for months. Maybe almost a year.

Another time, we had just finished interviewing the lady that lived in a house southwest of Ramadi. It was a really quiet community. We’d never actually been to it until that day. They said nothing ever happened down there. No attacks, nothing. “Nobody as ever shot at Americans here,” she said. Well, that’s nice.

So we get outside and start to drive away, and we get shot at, from right behind her house. The heavy guns open up, and I jump out and start maneuvering towards the source of the fire. Eventually we get over there and start pushing through the area on foot and with the trucks. We never found out who it was that shot at us, but we ended up spending the next several hours hunting for a shooter.

We’d drive down some back roads until the disappeared into the trees, then usually get stuck trying to turn around. My driver wasn’t driving too well, at least in my opinion, so I was yelling at him and he was yelling back, and we were always backing up and trying to find a way around to where we were trying to go.

We ended up going down this really narrow alley, which wasn’t too bad, until we got to a rock pile that somebody had dumped into the road. It was too narrow to drive around it, so we sort of just crawled through the rocks on one side, and scraped a long rock wall on the other. The wall hit my door so hard that I had to beat on it just to get it open. But, we got down there, and so did a couple other trucks. A couple miles later, I decide I’m lost, so we do a foot patrol, find nothing at all, and turn around to go back – there was no other way, since we weren’t even on a road that the map showed. My navigation skills completely failed that day.

So we get back to the rock pile, and we have to do the same thing again. My side of the truck is already scraped up from rubbing the wall, and this time, the other side gets scraped, too. Actually, it rips off the exhaust pipe. When we got back through, I had to zip-tie it back together just so it wouldn’t fall off. I think we broke a mirror, too. Strangely, all the other vehicles got through okay, too. Actually, my door was so bad, that I later I had to jack it up with the truck jack and beat on it with a sledge hammer. The Iraqis that watched us probably thought we were nuts. They were probably right.

Anyway, later that day, I started noticing that my driver, a good friend, wasn’t even talking to me. He was ignoring me like he was super pissed. I mean, we always yelled at each other, so I wasn’t sure what set him off. So I asked.

“Well,” he told me, “when you get out of the truck to fire back earlier today, you left the door wide open. If anybody had fired on the truck, it would have gone right inside and hit me. And then the door behind me got left open wide, so I couldn’t even get out if I’d wanted to. I was freakin’ stuck in the truck and you didn’t even bother to close the door behind you. THAT’s why I’m pissed.”

I felt really badly about it for a long time, and always made certain that I shut the door each time I got out. I didn’t want him to get hit an it be completely my fault. That wasn’t something I could live with.

Yeah, people forget their brains when they get shot at. But they give them back when you get out of the Marines.

Copyright © 2008, Ben Shaw
All Rights Reserved


  1. Infantry deployed to jungles in Vietnam would have a "manic moment" at the end of each mission. On signal they would all point their weapons toward the jungle and open up until all the ammo was spent. This was accompanied by screaming at the top of their lungs. Helped decompress the troops and would certainly be a source of concern for anything or any one wandering by.

  2. When raising children, there is no mention in any baby book on how to teach your children to be responsible adults under incoming gun fire.