Saturday, January 17, 2009

Things We Saw, But Nobody Will Ever Believe

These are accounts from several people:

We were doing a VCP [vehicle checkpoint, where all vehicles are searched and allowed to pass] in Mahmudiyah in the middle of the night, and we get a call over the net that there’s a black BMW that’s loaded with dudes, and they’re going to ambush us. They had just turned around and run from another checkpoint somewhere in the city.

So we start looking out for a car like that and before long, we see one coming towards our checkpoint. We run up to it, rifles up, and scream at them to stop and get out. They do, and we search the whole car – nothing at all. Not a thing. And they had the tape deck going. It was the Gun ‘n Roses album “Appetite for Destruction.” We weren’t sure if they were hostile or not, but if they were, it’d be really weird for them to come try to kill Americans listening to our own music. We sent them in for questioning, anyway, because their stories didn’t match up at all. Each one of them said they were going to a different place.

We were manning VCPs over Tampa [largest highway in Iraq, running from Kuwait too Baghdad], and we kept getting cars come up to us with strange stickers on their back windows. Like for local politicians somewhere in Missouri, or even Marine Corps stickers. I have no idea where they got them, but they were really proud of them. They’d pose with us for pictures with their thumbs up, grinning happily.

I knew a guy that had a small truck run on his position, and after the guy ignored their orders to stop, they ended up shooting him and stopping his approach. Well, when they searched the truck, they didn’t find anything. But for some reason, he had a Marine Corps sticker on his back window. Sometimes I wonder if they thought we’d let them through if they had USMC stickers on their cars. We didn’t, though. And we never figured it out.

When we were patrolling west of Ramadi, we’d frequently drive into this small town near our base in the early morning when everything was still blanketed in a layer of mist. We’d see a white donkey on the roadside all the time. I think he’d escaped and nobody bothered to catch him again. But we’d see him almost every day, just trudging along the side of the road and looking miserable – like donkeys always do, I guess.

Anyway, we started calling him the spirit donkey, because every time we’d drive through in the morning, we’d see him along the side of the road – or IN the road – and he’d always have a little bit of rope dangling from his halter. Wandering around like he was lost. One day we saw him as we rode through, but across one entire side of his body he had “USA” painted in huge, blue letters. I have no idea who did it, but I almost asked the platoon commander to stop so I could take a picture. I still regret not asking him. That would be my favorite shot from Iraq.

When I was training Iraqi soldiers, they always spoke fondly of America, mostly California and New York. They’d always ask me where I was from, and since none of them had ever heard of Virginia, I’d draw a map of the country in the dirt, point out California, New York, Florida, and then show them were Virginia was. And they were always disappointed. Then they’d ask me if I liked Michael Jackson. After I got over being incredulous that they DID like him, I would imitate some of Jackson’s early dances and they’d cheer me on. They loved that guy – and his one glove. We searched a lot of cars that had Michael Jackson tapes in the glove compartments. These guys have awful taste in music.

I was in a convoy one time and we were riding through a bad neighborhood where we got hit with IEDs all the time. Well, as we were driving, I see about three young men standing on the side of road just watching us like hawks. As we pass, one of them raises his hand in the air with something and shakes it as us.

“Stop the friggin’ convoy,” I screamed into the radio, so we all screech to a halt and a bunch of us go running back down the convoy to those guys and scream at them to get on the ground.

I spoke a fair bit of Arabic at the time, so I started yelling at them. “Show me the cell phone. Where is it?” We assumed they were going to detonate an IED with it.

They all looked me and said they had no phone. Right. We searched them, and they had nothing. And we even checked their car – no phone.

“Where’d you hide it? Where’s the phone?” I imitated the gesture that I saw the guy do. Maybe they’d figure out what I meant if they weren’t understanding the Arabic.

The little kid with them pipes up. “This?” He imitated the hand waving in the air.

“Yes. So where’s the phone, huh?”

This friggin’ kid runs to the car, digs in the glove compartment, and comes running back. He waves his hand in the air – with a Michael Jackson tape in his hand. THRILLER. That was the cell phone. We were about to truss them up and arrest them. Oops.

I was on a big mission one time, a cordon and knock [completely surround an area and search every structure within it], and we were reinforcing an ING post [Iraqi National Guard – predecessor to the Iraqi Army]. It was still dark when we got there, and as the sun came up, more ING guys came out of their bunker, relieved the guys on post, and started talking with us.

This huge guy comes out. He looked like a wrestler. Just big and stocky. He soaks his hair with a water bottle, slicks it back, and looks up yelling. “Me crazy!” he tells us. Yeah, that’s for sure.

But then he says, “America good.” Yes it is.

“America good. Michael Jackson bad. He viki-viki little boys.” Viki-viki isn’t something I need to define. You can figure it out. I guess at least one guy in Iraq doesn’t like Michael Jackson.

Whenever we found weapons caches buried in people’s yards, or search bodies of insurgents, we frequently found LBVs [load bearing vests – with magazine pouches for ammo]. While some of them were old Iraqi army shit or even Russian stuff, a LOT of them were Ralph Lauren or Tommy Hilfiger. I know they weren’t actually made by those companies, but who the hell decided to put that logo on it? And, where were they made? We never figured it out.

For whatever reason, literally half the cars in Iraq are white Opals, and nearly all of the other half are small, blue “Bongo” trucks – with rear tires smaller than the front. They were all pieces of crap, but I don’t know where they were made. Some of our guys thought they were great trucks.

Almost every day, we’d be out on a mission and they’d call over the net that we should be on the lookout for a white opal or a blue bongo truck loaded with insurgents and guns. What are we supposed to do? Stop and search everything? We didn’t have the time. After awhile, we just started ignoring the alert. If they shot at us, we’d shoot back. Simple. But when they blew up, it was a different story. Only a few did, though. White Opals every time. Well, one guy I know got hit by an Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme – one of like the four in Iraq.

During the initial invasion, the Iraqis were all terrified of Marines. They knew that the heavy gun teams had trucks loaded with huge machine guns and missiles. They called us “little trucks with the big guns.” Or, because we always roll up our sleeves and you can see the much lighter interior fabric, they’d call us “men with the white sleeves.”

But they also thought we were nuts. Some of them were so convinced we were lunatics, that they started telling the other Iraqis that in order to be Marines, we had to eat our parents, or babies, or kill off entire your family – depends on who you ask. No shit. They actually told people this. We found this out when they started doing the interrogations.

Another rumor that went around about Marines in the first year of the war was that our sunglasses were magic. If we wore them, we had x-ray vision. We would see through their wives’ clothing. Seriously. When we found out, we started taking off our sunglasses whenever we talked to them so they’d calm down a little bit. They were firmly convinced we were staring at their wives.

We patrolled one town all the time where there was a retarded boy that would stand on the shoulder and wave to us every time he saw us. He’d stomp his feet and clap his hands and cheer. We felt sorry for him, so we always greeted him right back, which was pretty neat.

But then, we’d drive across town, and he’d be there again somehow. Miles away, within minutes. We knew he didn’t drive, so we had no idea how he did it. We started calling him the Amazing Teleporting Retard. It sounds insulting, but we were pretty impressed with his special skills, no pun intended. The town we were in had NO insurgent activity at all. So we started thinking it was the Teleporting Retard that kept them away. Whatever.

We were doing LPOPs one night [listening post/observation post] and what we’d typically do is patrol for awhile, then knock on some random peoples’ door and tell them we were going to sleep on their roof and watch observe the area when the sun got up – and hopefully nobody would know we where there. We did this all the time, and we were always really nice to the people, so it usually went okay.

Well, one time, we knocked on a door and some guy answers. He has a HUGE head like a basketball – it was freaky. And behind him, he had a bunch of kids with pinheads. And they no power in there so we just saw it with flashlights, which made it even more disturbing. We’re talking like horror movie stuff – the movie “Freaks.” It looked like a circus. My buddy turns to me. “Man, we can’t stay here. These people are scary.” We all stumbled out of there and never, ever searched it again, even though it was in an area that was known to be full of insurgents. It was one of the most horrifying things I saw.

Actually, not exactly. There was one time we were patrolling and suddenly I see a man GALLOPING at us like a dog – he had stumps for legs and arms. I was like, “Holy shit; it’s Wolf Man!” I started to raise my gun. Then he just gallops up to me on his stumps, sits back, and says, “hello mista.’” It freaked me out.

When we were leaving out of Iraq on my first tour, we had to drive in a huge convoy from the center of Iraq all the way south into Kuwait. It was usually a two or three day drive. We were almost into Kuwait, and we pulled off the highway onto an overpass to head to a base, and I looked back onto the highway below us. There, with each letter larger than a car, I saw the following message:

“America, Fuck Yeah.”

It was a great thing to see as we put Iraq behind us. I flew over it at least four more times, but I never saw it again. I’ll bet somebody made people go out there with cleaners and brushes and scrub it off. And probably not the guys who did it. I wish it was still there.

Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw
All Rights Reserved

Friday, January 16, 2009

We Could Have Won

We got ordered to do one of the worst missions possible – an all-night patrol through the crappiest streets near the “ghetto,” which was an area behind us that had enormous apartment buildings. That area was notorious for surprise attacks, ambushes and sniper fire, so we weren’t really excited about it. Or being out all night. They told us we were going out to do a counter-mortar and counter-IED patrol, just to see if we could spot anybody trying to lay in IEDs or mortar the base. But honestly, I don’t think we EVER got hit by mortars at night. Whatever.

We headed out the back gate from base, which was ridiculous. Not only did we have to wade through a field of elephant grass well over our heads and hope not to get lost, but then we came to one of the biggest canals in Iraq – a trench more than 100 feet wide, deep, with a raging torrent below. tI flowed directly out of the Euphrates and fed many of the littler canals to the south. The only way we could cross it was to either tiptoe across on a big pipe and try not to fall in, or climb up this rickety old staircase with no railings and inch across on a bridge – which bounced up and down the whole time. If more than one of us went across at a time, it might have collapsed, sending us a good forty feet into the roaring water. And with all our gear on, we would have definitely sunk and drowned in seconds.

Anyway, we get across okay and get onto one of the roads on the way to the ghetto. It was late March, so the mud was just starting to harden up with deep ruts everywhere. If we weren't slipping, we were stumbling and falling down. We looked like a bunch of retarded clowns with guns. If anybody saw us, they’d probably laugh, not be afraid.

When we got to the ghetto, we slowly patrolled around its perimeter to the base of a hill on the far side. We were supposed to set up an OP [observation post] near the top and keep eyes into the town.

The hill was huge, and because it was still muddy, we crawled up like toddlers, weighed down with machine guns and ammo. I had it worst because I was carting the SAW [M249 lightweight machine gun] and over 800 rounds of ammo. It was really dumb.

We eventually get mostly to the top and set up a position – by just sitting down in the dirt. We’d be there all night, just watching, bored out of our minds, as dogs below poked through the fields of trash and rusted hulks of cars.

Before long we got the order that we could go to 50% [when a unit remains 50% alert while the other half sleep], so I curled up, freezing cold in the dirt, and went to sleep. About an hour later, we started hearing gunfire everywhere around us. Everywhere, 360 degrees. “Oh, shit", I’m thinking. "This is it. They’re staging a massive attack on us and we’re going to bite it right here. They’re everywhere.”

We got on the radio and called back to base that we were completely surrounded and that we need reinforcements immediately, or extraction. Something. We weren’t going to make it. And we weren’t the only ones calling in. Nearly everybody other unit outside the wire was calling in the same distress call. It looked like a massive attack – and we were all going to die.

But none of the fire was accurate, and didn’t really even hit anywhere near us. It was just everywhere around us. We weren’t even sure they were shooting at us. The COC on base told us that we should only shoot back if they were engaging us, so we just waited. If the fire got more accurate, we’d fire back – at whatever we could see – if anything.

The insane firing continued for a couple more minutes sporadically, and then it just stops – silent. Nothing. We called it in to base, as did everybody else. Nobody knew what the hell just happened, but everybody was okay.

A few minutes later, we get an all stations call on the net [a report meant for all operating units] that the fire we’d received wasn’t even anybody firing at us. They were celebrating. The Iraqi Olympic team had just scored a point in the semi-finals. And people were shooting all over the city to celebrate, and then dancing in the streets. They lost the game later on, but it was amazing.

If the Iraqi Olympic team ever made it to the Olympics and then won, the war would end that very hour. I mean, they score one point in the semi-finals and everybody is celebrating in the streets. Shiites hugging Sunnis. Tribal infighting forgotten. Everybody was ecstatic. Over one stupid soccer goal. I wish they hadn’t lost, because the war would be over, and we’d all be home. We should have let them win. It would have been worth it.

Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw
All Rights Reserved

Thursday, January 15, 2009

We Ate & Hurled

You know, so many stupid things happened while we were deployed. Stuff so ridiculous that I can’t believe we didn’t hurt ourselves permanently. Well, maybe we did and we just don’t know it yet. For some reason, though, a lot of it had to do with food.

We had eating contests all the time. We were all so damn bored that even the platoon leaders got into them. The section leader, and believe it or not, the platoon commander. A freakin’ officer out there with a bunch of privates and other non-NCOs joining in an eating contest.

We were living in a hole in the middle of nowhere for awhile, but for some reason they brought out cooks and they set up right next to us. Usually we hate them, because we’re grunts [infantry] and they’re POGs [persons other than grunts], but we were starving to death out there, so it was nice that somebody would actually feed us now. So, we made friends with them and they’d give us food all the time. Or we’d just steal it. Nobody seemed to notice.

So one time we decided to have a race to see who could eat a four pound can of peaches first. It was that awful crap from the T-rations that they served in the chow halls. Whatever. The rules were that you had to eat all of it. You were allowed to puke, but you still had to finish everything in the can. We should have predicted it was going to be a mess.

Well, three of my buddies started eating, and the platoon commander was in on that one, too. They ate like maniacs for about three minutes, but then you could see they were starting to slow down. Those cans were huge, lukewarm and absolutely disgusting. They never taste good. But here they were eating as much as they could. By the way, there was no prize. You just got to say you won. It was pathetic.

So soon one of my friends starts to look sick. And then he gags a couple of times. But, like an idiot, he keeps eating. I couldn’t believe it. Well, then he pukes all over the place. The guy next to him is so grossed out that he starts puking, too – into his can of peaches. Then they all start to puke for a moment. On themselves, into their peaches, and on the ground. Half of us got sick just watching. It was positively vile. Ralf gurgling out of their noses and dripping off their chins. But you know what, when they stopped, they kept eating. Seriously. One of them stopped puking, looked down and said, “well, I gotta eat this.” Unbelievable.

There they were, tears streaming from their faces, clutching their guts with one hand, and shoveling peaches into their mouths with those cheap plastic MRE spoons. And in the end, most of them couldn’t even finish. The lieutenant won. I’m still amazed he even participated. And he was puking, too.

We had a salsa chugging contest one day. Large squeeze bottles of medium Picante sauce. I came in second – killing two whole bottles in 19 seconds. I was pretty annoyed that I lost, because I drank salsa all the time anyway. I mean, 19 seconds? I didn’t think anybody would beat it, but they did. I felt pretty sick for awhile.

Somebody got the bright idea one day to do the same thing with five-pound cans of peas, which was just as stupid. I’m surprised nobody’s stomach exploded, too. And then nobody could even finish anyway, so it was declared a draw.

I think the very worst was when we had the gravy-eating contest. It was the T-rations stuff that comes in the big pans. That white gravy with chunks of unidentifiable meat swimming in it. The crap that all southerners put on their biscuits every breakfast. It was hideous. And once again, no prize. Just the honor of saying you won.

So they all go to town on these pans, and of course some of them start hurling all over the place, and then everybody else gets so grossed out that they do, too. It was an amazing display of human retardation. But they kept eating until one-by-one, they all started to give up. My section leader won that one, but he hadn’t barfed at all, so he just curled up in a ball whimpering. Before long, he was begging for somebody to shoot him. He felt that bad. But, I guess he won, though. These were our leaders, mind you.

The worst one that I was involved in was a maple syrup chugging contest. One of our guys had just watched a movie where they tried it, so he figured we should, too. Idiot. And we did, myself included. But holy damn it was gross. I was always good at chugging beers, so I figured I’d do okay at it. I finished two bottles in about two minutes, which wasn’t bad.

But then I had to go on post right after that. I didn’t feel too badly at first, but all the sudden, I started heaving like I was giving myself a hernia. It hurt horribly. It was so thick that nothing was coming up. So I drank both my canteens, hoping that the water would make me feel a little better. Nope.

I started projectile vomiting over the edge of the tower and onto the ground. Everybody down on the ground was cheering, which was stupid. I begged them to bring me up some more water, and one of them brought up a 5-gallon jug of water and I just started drinking water and puking it all back up. I wanted to die. I puked at least twenty times up there. It was one of the stupidest things I’ve ever done.

You know, man, I’m amazed we didn’t kill ourselves with all the stupid things we did. Stretching our stomachs, blowing our guts when we retched. Here we are, supposedly the fiercest fighting force in the entire United States infantry, and we’re destroying our bodies out of boredom. It’s a good thing we didn’t stay longer than seven months over there each time. We might have tried to fly or something. Or shoot things off of each others’ heads. Actually, I think a few people tried that, too, but I didn’t know them. That’s just crazy.

Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw
All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Here Still Now

When I hear the stories from Iraq. When I remember my own. When I write them down and I am there again. I think. I think.

I remember putting my arm around the guy next to me after our first firefight. I was thrilled to be alive. I was thirsty. When I saw the truck in front of me disappear in a fireball, I remember wondering if I just watched my buddies die. I remember wondering when one would hit mine. I just hoped it wouldn’t hurt much.

I remember riding in the first truck and sitting there with my feet as far apart as possible. Maybe an IED would only take out one leg instead of both. I remember practicing with a tourniquet one-handed, just in case I’d lost the other.

I remember getting screamed at because my hair was too long, or my Marines had holes in their uniforms. Or because I had my hands in my pockets. I remember them telling us that if we look good and we smell good, we must BE good. And that it didn’t matter if we died, so long as we looked good doing it.

I remember wishing we’d get in firefights because it’s what we’d trained to do, but then getting in them and using none of my training. I remember guys who just didn’t want to do it anymore, but did it anyway.

I remember waiting. Sitting idle. Sleeping anywhere we had a few moments of peace. In trucks, on trucks, on the ground, in piles of gear, in cots and in beds. We spent most of our time waiting. And being angry that we weren’t doing anything. But then doing something and wishing it was over.

I remember wanting not to leave some days, and praying the next to go home and be out. Long conversations at night, sitting in the front seat watching for enemy that never came, and talking about what we’d do when we got out. I remember being afraid to get out because I didn’t know what to do with myself. But hating being in, too. Most of what we did was stupid.

I remembering sleeping on the floor so the bed stayed perfectly made for inspections, and having six unused full sets of clothing that I bought brand new and used for nothing but uniform inspections. I still have them, too.

I remember breaking down all the time, on base, in the parking lot, in Iraq. In the middle of nowhere, and wondering why we could never get the batteries, trucks and even fitting gear we needed. I remembering being angry half the time, and exhausted for the rest. I see pictures of myself and I look like I was haggard and starving. Maybe I was.

And I regret things, too. Not being a better leader. Not advocating my troops more. Cowing too much to subordinates that did things to just undermine me. I remember hating them just as much – because they made life difficult for me simply because they thought they could.

I regret not being more alert and more responsible. Not seeing more enemy and killing them. Not being a better shot. Not being in more firefights. Not staying in and trying to change things.

And I wish I was still in touch with more of my buddies. That we were closer. That I’d better befriended my buddy who killed himself. That I’d prayed with more of my guys. That’d I’d done more, trained them harder, kept our relationships more professional and exhibited better leadership for them.

I remember leadership being lonely.

I remember loving it. The uniform, the sword, the short haircuts and physical fitness. And I still miss it. And loathe it. Remember it fondly, but also in grief. I wish I’d done more, seen more. Accomplished more.

I still miss it sometimes. I still hate it sometimes. I wish I was still in, but I’m glad I’m out. I wish I was satisfied with what I’ve done. And I wonder if I ever will be.

Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw
All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Paul's Incidents

We were pulling outer cordon [outermost security] for some bigwig meeting at a police station in town once. There wasn’t much room, so were stacked on top of each other like rats. Four trucks covering one avenue of approach. It was ridiculous.

Over by my team [two trucks], we were so bored that we started flirting with the Iraqi girl who kept peeking out of her window in a big house to our right. She was absolutely gorgeous. I was more mesmerized with her looks than anything, but my buddy wanted her to give us some food. I have no idea how he got her to do it, but she did. He stood on the outside of the wall and she would run across the yard, hand him some food, and run back inside. If she was caught by her dad, he would probably beat her. Or maybe even kill her.

It was a really lame mission, but whatever. We got some free food out of it. I wasn’t even facing down the road after awhile. There just wasn’t anything happening. And it was blocked with signs and concertina wire, anyway.

Suddenly, a car starts driving around the barrier like they were going to attack us. It was crossing in front of us and headed directly towards two more of our vehicles. We were yelling at him to stop, but I don’t think he even heard us. He just kept driving. A moment later, we started firing. We couldn’t get the .50 up in that short a time, so we all opened up with rifles or light machine guns [M249 SAW]. Three of us started firing with rifles, and one with the SAW. I jumped off the truck and started moving to the left, sighting in on the driver’s head. When I stopped a second later, I fired about ten rounds into his window. From 60 feet, there’s no way I missed. The guy with the SAW tracked the so well that he shot off our antenna on the humvee. We stole another one later so we wouldn’t get in trouble.

Meanwhile the squad leader from the other post comes running up and starts screaming at us. I guess he didn’t think the car was a threat – even though it was driving right for their position. As he was screaming at us, another Marine ran up and opened the door to clear the car. He yanked out the driver with one hand and started searching the car. Nothing. Not even in the trunk. No weapons, detonators, rounds, wires, nothing. Not a thing.

We run over and just stand there like idiots. Staring at him. He was missing the back of his head. From the front, he looked pretty normal – like he was sleeping. We got yelled at again to go man our positions, so we ran off.

The battalion JAG officer [judge advocate general – legal officer] walks up and asks what happened. I was terrified. If he thought it was a bad shoot, we’d get charged with murder. It had happened before already. When he told him about, he just said, “don’t worry about it.” I was relieved.

Some of our highers started doing some research and found out that this guy’s brother was a cop – inside the station where they were having the meeting – while meanwhile we’re outside killing his brother. I have no idea what they told him, but I imagine they gave him some money. I think they get $800 for dead relatives. I guess they gave some to his family, too.

Most of our incidents were like this – at least the ones at vehicle checkpoints. People just don’t stop – for some reason. They think they can just drive through. Like checkpoints only apply to bad guys. I have no idea. But it always left us in a tough situation. We had to choose – don’t shoot and hope they weren’t going to kill us, or shoot and hope they were really enemy. But most of the time, they weren’t. They were just stupid. Now they’re dead, and we’re left thinking about it for the rest of our lives. This guy was killed by my bullets. And he wasn’t a bad guy at all.

Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw
All Rights Reserved

Sunday, January 11, 2009

RPGs By Night

There was one night where somehow we got some intel [intelligence reports] that said something was going down in the town near us, so they sent us out to basically drive around and see what we could see – or get exploded.

I don’t remember what time it was, but another unit was actually told to go out first, but they dragged their asses so much that the COC [command center] got annoyed and sent us out instead. We always got out here fast, even though the other guys didn’t.

When we get into town, we start driving slow, just looking around – and we didn’t see a thing. But then, an RPG [rocket propelled grenade] goes flying right in front of truck in front of me and explodes on the far side of the road. For some reason, we just sort of ignored it and kept driving along. I have NO idea why. But they didn’t fire anymore from that alley as I drove by – thankfully.

About ten seconds later, the front humvee in the column gets hit badly and everybody starts shooting – at anything that moved, and didn’t move, actually. There were a bunch of street and porch lights on all over the place, so we took them out too, since they were illuminating our position. My gunner didn’t warn me or anything, but heaved a grenade into one of the nearby courtyards – what a friggin’ racket. They startle us just as much as anybody else.

People started running up to help the front truck and the gunner is fine, but he’s hopped out and he’s wandering around like an idiot – giddy. I guess he was giddy just to be alive, but they were yelling at him to get back on the gun – so he did – and started rocking the .50 on the dead truck. I’m not sure if he did it or getting hit by an RPG did it, but the trees and building next to them were on fire. I thought it was pretty funny.

Anyway, we took a few small arms and shot everything up, but as usual, they wouldn’t let us pursue. It’s the stupidest thing in the world. Whenever we get hit, they tell us to just defend, shoot any enemies we see, and pack up the casualties and leave. It’s retarded. There’s no way in hell we’ll kill off the insurgents if we have a defensive stance – but they were afraid we’d just run through the city shooting things up. Well, we might have, but we would have been careful about it. I didn’t want to blow up the city. Just the hajis [insurgents].

The front truck was completely messed up. They got a direct hit on it with an RPG. It went right at the base of the front passenger’s door and then RIGHT under the seat – like inches under the guy’s ass, and then it detonated in the transmission, blowing a fireball back out the entrance hole and charring the passenger. The driver - he didn’t get charred, but he got shaken so badly that I think it dislocated his shoulder. Three years later, the Marine Corps still wouldn’t let him go because his shoulder was so messed up.

Days later, I accidentally walked up to him and clapped him on the shoulder. He glared at me and said, “don’t ever touch me again.” I didn’t. I felt badly.

So our sister unit gets spun up to come help us out (again), but they took their sweet time. Meanwhile, we’re sitting in the middle of the city, at night, just waiting to get hit again, especially since they wouldn’t let us pursue whoever it was that shot the RPGs at us. Eventually they get out there, and then we hear them on the radio complaining that they have to help us out and loan us one of their gun trucks to replace ours. I couldn’t believe it. Either they were afraid that they were going to get hit, or they were just lazy. I’d say they were afraid. It wasn’t the first time we’ve had that problem with them – or at least their commander. He was terrified of getting hit. I heard a rumor he spent almost all of his first tour hiding in hole just to stay safe. Everybody knew he was a wimp. So what did they do? They promoted him.

We got back that night without any more problems, though I think some other units pushed through the city to pursue the guys – who were, of course, by this time long gone. We would have gotten them if they let us. But no…of course not. They’d send the other guys. Nevermind we had the most weapons of any unit in our battalion. I remember the day for once – November 10th, the Marine Corps birthday. We got into a bunch of firefights the next day, too, which sucked.

Here’s what really burns me about that firefight. We found out later that our sister unit were the ones that got called out before us, but their commander took his sweet time getting the unit ready to go. I have a hunch that he thought it was dangerous and dragged ass on purpose. So then they called us and WE get blown up. And then they got called out anyway as backup right after we left.

But you know what he did? He drove the guys about halfway there and just parked on the side of the road. One of my buddies in his truck said that when we got hit he could hear it clearly. They weren’t more than a couple clicks [kilometers] away. But he just sat there, hands folded in his lap, while he heard heavy machinegun fire, grenades, and RPGs. Then, when it all gets silent again, he gets on the radio and asks if we need any help. My friend watched him do it. He was a combat coward, and he ruined the reputation of his whole unit. Everybody hated him. He was the one that got promoted. I know at least one person that swung his helmet at him, but missed – barely. I wish he hadn’t.

Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw
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