We’d been in the AO for about a month and a half without any major incidents. It was a pretty quite place, except for one platoon in another company that was constantly “finding” themselves engaged by an overwhelming force – the pursuit of whom, incidentally, always necessitated them leaving their scheduled route and venturing into somebody else’s. But then they’d get screamed at – over the radio, actually – and eventually would wander off and sulk. They all thought they were heroes, but everybody else just thought they were idiots.
My LT had actually warned us all to avoid their platoon commander. He was reckless, needlessly endangering his unit, and at least twice engaging civilians for no other purpose than he was utterly convinced they were hostile. They were, of course, not, and my unit ended up going outside the wire on MORE than one occasion to conduct investigations into his “firefights.” His boys had successfully attacked some farmers – and killed them. He was an absolutely retarded, useless as an officer, and his platoon sergeant was just as bad. We stayed as far away from him as possible. I had no doubt that he’d fire on us, too, because he clearly never took the time to properly identify his target. I hope he’s been relieved since then, but I imagine they promoted him. Maybe gave him an entire company to recklessly endanger. He had no business being in the Marines, though. I still remember his name, though I’m not going to say it. If I did, that asshole would probably sue me for defamation of character. I have a hunch that people who are chronically insecure would do that – fueled by the same sort of chronic insecurity that drove him to make up incidents and shoot innocent people just to feel important.
Aside from a couple poorly-placed IEDs and occasional pot shots, the whole AO was pretty darn quiet, though. Only one unit got hit all the time, and none of them ever got hurt. They just broke their LAVs all the time [light armored vehicle from light armored reconnaissance battalion].
One night, though, one of our companies got hit horribly. I wasn’t at the place, so I can’t be certain of the details, but basically, the insurgents had dug a huge hole in the center of the road and packed it with explosives. I’m not sure how they detonated it, but however they did it, the thing went off right under the humvee, completely destroying it. Nobody survived.
I ran into a friend of mine who was first on the scene that night, and what he told me was absolutely awful. The blast was so powerful that it immediately set off a lot of the ammunition inside the truck, which sprayed at least one or two of the guys. One was still alive when they found him, though he was missing most of his face. Somehow, the corpsmen worked on him and got him evacuated. But two of the other guys, they couldn’t even find them at first.
They started searching in the ditches and the sides of the road, and eventually they spotted one lying in a ditch some distance down the road. He was utterly mangled, and dead. The third guy was even harder to find.
I’m not certain, but I think he was the gunner, so he was propelled from the turret to who knows where. Where did they end up finding him? On the roof of a nearby building – and also dead. What bothered me was that when my friend told me about it, he didn’t seem to show much emotion at all. Like none. This was so gruesome I figured he’d at least tell me it was hard. But he didn’t. How do Marines deal with this stuff? I don’t think they do. They just ignore how terrible it was.
Rumor had it that the MEU commander [Marine Expeditionary Unit] was overheard in the COC saying that, “I didn’t take this deployment until these men died.” I don’t know of it’s true, but the number of times I heard it certainly suggested it could be. And I’d spent enough time with him to determine that this was the sort of person that he was – completely self-serving.
The fact is (at least to the best of my knowledge), we weren’t even supposed to BE in Iraq. We were only supposed to sail around in the gulf for awhile, then sail back through the Suez and hang out in the Mediterranean. How do I know this? Because a number of higher-ups told me this. And when sailed into Kuwaiti Naval Base, almost every ship had a high-ranking Kuwaiti general come on board and demand to meet with the captain of the ships – to ask “why are you here in my country?” They all brought a pile of plainclothes goons with them. Huge Arabs with little earpieces rammed in their ears that glared at you if you so much as looked at them funny. They were all acting like their general was the president or something, which was stupid. Who’s going to attack them on a US Naval vessel? Nobody. I’ve seen generals travel with less protection in Iraq. Whatever. Maybe it’s just how they operate – constantly paranoid.
But the whole disorganized and unwelcome way we landed, the way we always struggled for equipment and gear, certainly suggested that we weren’t even meant to be there. It explains why we had no maps, not enough ammo, not even parts to fix the humvees. We had nothing but crappy, outdated trucks that blow to small pieces when they’re hit by IEDs. And three guys paid for the arrogance of our MEU commander.
As a MEU colonel, his next step was to pick up general. If he didn’t, he’d probably be forced to retire. I guess he figured he could earn his star by sending his unit – the entire freaking MEU – into Iraq. Nevermind that meant sending more than 2,000 men and women into harm’s way. He clearly didn’t give a damn.
I was comforted, however, to learn that the commandant choppered into our base one day and met with him personally. And when he left, the MEU colonel was not a general. Rumor, once again, said that the commandant had flown in to tell the idiot personally that he was NOT going to get his star. Good. Men like him, who pursue career success at the total expense of their units, are not men at all. They’re children, and this one cost three men their lives, and countless millions of taxpayer money. Three years later, though, he’s somehow, gotten his star, and he’s still in, too. I want him out. And I’d like to see how he justified putting personal ambition over the interests of the United States Marine Corps. I hope those deaths haunt him forever.
Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw
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