21 Apr 2006

Letter From a Marine Officer in Iraq

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From Free Republic (where readers sometimes post these kinds of letters from the front):

To Everyone,

I just wanted to let you all know that I’m still doing well and have been blessed with the Lord’s protection every day. I finally got back to the ‘rear’ where I could get on the computer to email everyone. I don’t have a lot of these opportunities, so if I get a second while I’m out operating, I’ll write what I can and save it for when I can email it.

That’s what I’ve written below – an Easter weekend message. I hope you enjoy the update and I hope you enjoyed your Easter!

To everyone,

I am writing to wish you a wonderful Easter weekend (a bit late). It’s about 0300 the day after Easter right now and I’ve got a few minutes to write an email to all of you to update you. I’m writing this email on my “Toughbook” computer, one of the ones we bring out to conduct tactical communications and planning….it’s a really awesome piece of gear. Yep, I’m “outside the wire” right now, typing up an email to send later! Hard to believe isn’t it? Well, I haven’t had more than a few minutes to eat, or sleep over the past four days, so this is my first breather to be able to write, and I know that as soon as we get back “inside the wire” we’ll be prepping to turn around and come right back out…so that’s why I’m writing you an email from out here.

You’re probably wondering how I have power to run a laptop. We have power converters in our humvees that we run extension cords from, and just start the trucks every so often. This powers our computers, a single light for my platoon “ROC” – Recon Operations Center, and various radio equipment. Of course, we can operate without power, but it makes everything easier. Without going into great detail on our tactics, I’ll explain where I am. I’m currently in the house of an Iraqi family. Yes, it’s a shame, but we have to kick them out of their houses for periods of time in order to have a secure place to operate. Most of them know the deal by now, so it’s not too hard. I’m provided with lots of cash to compensate and I usually leave the place much cleaner than we found it and with some money waiting for the owner. We quickly turn a house into a defensive position and can operate out of it for long periods of time if required. If you’re wondering what the conditions are like I’ll paint a picture. This is the house of a self proclaimed doctor. There are pills and needles everywhere and rotten food all over the house. We consolidate as much of the crap as we can and move it into an area where we set up a “portable-crapper” – a collapsible toilet seat and a bunch of trash bags. That’s the same place we store all our “piss bottles.” You see, we don’t go outside unless we need to, and we’re in full gear ready for a fight. We keep cans of Lysol around and lots of hand sanitizer to keep disease down, but it’s hard when you’re sleeping on the floor of an Iraqi house and you’re dragging in animal feces on your boots, etc. No telling what kinds of diseases the occupants had when you kicked them out either. ( I guess that’s why we get so many shots all the time.) The Iraqis have electricity off and on for a few hours a day, so we shut off the breakers (if we can find them) to prevent lights from coming on, etc. Of course, there is no A/C, etc. This place where we live, once we’ve hardened it, is called our “firm base.”

Life in the “Firm Base” – once again, without getting into the details that I don’t want the bad guys knowing, I’ll fill you in on a common day. My platoon rotates Marines through guarding the firm base, conducting patrols, and being ready as part of the “QRF – quick reaction force.” As you can see, rest is not in the schedule. For a very small platoon (can’t talk numbers over email) to accomplish all of this, is pretty difficult. Rest occurs when you’re on QRF….if you don’t have to react to something. I spend most of my time in my ROC, receiving and passing on information, analyzing information, and planning offensive and defensive actions. At times I will get out to visit local sheiks or people to gather information from, usually in the middle of the night. My Marines usually get about 4-6 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period, but it’s usually 2 to 3 hours at a time. Depending on how much offensive or defensive action is taking place, I may get between one hour and 6 hours of sleep per 24 hours, never at more than 2 to 3 hour lengths. It can get tiring, but you get used to it.

So far, I’ve been impressed with my platoon and their level of motivation and competence. Already they have been tested under fire and have performed well. I literally have to reel them in when we’re engaged in a firefight, which is much better than having to tell someone to stop ducking and shoot back. The enemy has taken notice to my boys’ aggression as well, and have lately scaled back on their overt action against us. The first time they hit us it was with multiple machine guns at close range and they were quickly overwhelmed. Fortunately for us, after their first few inaccurate bursts, they had to fight the rest of the time by sticking the barrels around the corner and firing – which is generally inaccurate. Unfortunately for us, that makes them hard to hit. I was mad when we couldn’t find any blood, but understood that we did the best we could.

The people we’re fighting here are truly evil people. Many of them have lost every bit of humanity that a normal person possesses. They habitually kidnap and execute Iraqis for reasons varying from religious differences, to robbery, to vicious retribution for helping give us information, etc. This makes it very difficult to find these bad guys because they have such a grip on the people. (Although one platoon did recently rescue a hostage who was surely about to be killed – talk about a good feeling…KNOWING you saved someone’s life!) As for the bad guys, imagine the MOB operating without the threat of any law enforcement and with every weapon and explosive they want at their disposal and the financial and moral assistance of fundamentalists and probably even other governments from around the globe. It’s a tough fight, but we’re winning. It’s just slow. As tired as I am of living the dirty life of an infantryman and having to constantly worry about the safety of my Marines, I still know that I’m doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing in ridding the world of these evil people. If these people weren’t here trying to kill us, they’d be figuring out a way to get over to American and kill us there. The proliferation of the ideals that these people dedicate themselves to, present as great a threat to the world as those of Hitler. It’s too bad many people don’t realize that and the same Marines have to return time and again to the same places to kill these people instead of an entire generation standing up to fight evil. I can’t complain though, because even if there aren’t lines at the recruiting stations, at least we’re getting all the stuff we need out here and we know we have the support of the majority of the population back home. That makes all the difference in the world!

Perhaps the thing that makes the most difference is the prayers of everyone back home. I thank you for your prayers and I know that’s why my Marines have been kept safe so far. This past Easter weekend has been a time of lots of little miracles, and I’m sure that they’re do to all of the prayers from all of you back home. Personally, I look forward to future Easter weekends when I can watch kids running around hunting for Easter eggs instead of big kids running around hunting bad guys and looking for IEDs! In the meantime, I appreciate all your prayers, so that we can bring all these big kids home safe!

If you’re wondering what kinds of stuff we’d like to have out here, I’ll tell you that it’s different than the last two deployments. In the past we needed socks and batteries, and razors, and stuff that we couldn’t get out in Afghanistan or in the city of Fallujah. Well, because we’re stationed in a large camp this time (for the short periods of time that we’re actually in it) we have access to pretty much everything we need. Things that are great to have though, are those types of snacks from back home that you don’t get in your supply system and that don’t come in MREs. Some of these are: beef jerky (any kind), packs of tuna (esp. the different flavored kind!), sunflower seeds (There’s a really good “Jim Beam / BBQ” flavored variety out there!), protein bars or protein powder, multi-vitamins, cashews, dried fruit / trail mix, etc. You can see that this list is pretty healthy – we’re all out here trying not to let our bodies get too skinny and nasty while we’re out running around in the heat. We’ve got a set of 25 lb dumbbells my guys stole from the base gym – that’s our platoon’s workout equipment….that and a deck of cards (you do the amount of pushups for the numeric value of each card, for ½ a deck or a whole deck each day). It’s kind of funny how when you go to war, it’s all the non-infantry people who come home looking like studs (or completely fat) and all the infantry guys and Recon guys who come home like skinny little weaklings.

There’s a certain amount of jealousy that we who leave the wire have for those people, every now and then….only every now and then. You see, the big fancy bases around Iraq and Afghanistan are referred to as a “Forward Operating Bases” or “FOBs” and throughout this theater of operations, the infantry have come to name the two types of people who occupy these FOBs – “FOBBITS” and “FOB GOBLINS.”

You see, a FOBBIT is a person who is a happy little being, who is completely content, knowing that every day he’ll get up, take a hot shower, go to the chow hall where he’ll request eggs over easy, or maybe an omelet with whatever he wants, or maybe anything from a wide array of donuts, pancakes, waffles, fruit, yogurt, and pretty much anything he could ever hope for in a chow hall. He’ll eat that food with a grin, knowing that if he wants, he can have any variety of Baskin Robins ice cream for dessert after every meal! Then he’ll go to work in an air conditioned trailer for however many hours his schedule says, and then go back to the nice chow hall, the nice hot shower, and the tidy little air conditioned FOBBIT-den that is his home, where he’ll get his scheduled FOBBIT beauty rest. His gut will never churn with fear nor very rarely from diarrhea. Yes, the FOBBIT lives the good life, and almost always, he lives. Perhaps he is the smartest of us all!

Now, the FOB GOBLIN is a different being. He is the guy who might be an infantryman, might be a “meat eater” of sorts, but for some reason, his current billet puts him in a position where he must endure all of the luxuries of the FOBBIT, when all he wants to do is get outside the wire and bring death to his nation’s enemies. For this sad state of existence, he is forever frustrated and jealous of both the FOBBIT and the guys who live outside the wire. This is perhaps the worst condition one might face….yes, the FOB GOBLIN gets a certain amount of sympathy from his brother meat eaters who get outside the wire.

So, as I close this email, I thank the Lord to have placed me in the privileged position of being one who lives outside the wire, letting me live the life of the FOBBIT for maybe a day or two every few weeks, and never relegating me to the frustration of the FOB GOBLIN. I thank you for the daily support and prayers you provide that give us our daily miracles and make our lives outside the wire as safe as they can be. I hope that you enjoy an email update every now and then and I hope to have a few more opportunities to write in the coming weeks and months.

NOTE:

About 8 hours after I typed this message, we got attacked again and were fortunate enough to get one of the bad guys. He (or someone else helped him) got into a car and got away, but probably didn’t live too long judging by the blood trail. We were blessed again, as one of my Marines (one of my very few Catholic Marines) was actually praying while standing guard and had the first round of the firefight pass 8 inches from his head and lodge in the wall behind him. Those guardian angels have been working hard for us. We appreciate all your prayers that have been keeping us safe. I miss everyone and hope to be able to write to you all again next time I get back “inside the wire.” If you would like to write back, please do so, eventually I will be able to read it and hopefully have a chance to write back.

Semper Fi,

(name withheld)

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