Don’t thank me for being a Marine.
2003–03–19 : The invasion of Iraq begins, a convoy of US Marines cross into Iraq from its southern border with Kuwait.
For twenty hours we sat in this humongous trailer; 1 of hundreds.. maybe thousands, all following someone or something so far further up the line I couldn’t tell you if it was anything at all, or perhaps we all just drove aimlessly into the abyss hoping to run into an Iraqi warlord.
There were sandbags surrounding us to provide protection but I think everyone felt they probably wouldn’t do much if a firefight broke out. The closest thing to a pillow to keep us comfortable. I kept replaying the events in my life that brought me there: Graduating school, no direction/motivation (no self-confidence), joining the military, boot camp, 3 long years of getting yelled at, 9–11. It was one of those moments that even though it made sense leading there, actually being there in the moment, I wondered how I could’ve possibly ended up in this situation. I was supposed to be coming up to the end of my 4-year enlistment. I was supposed to be half-assing, getting lazy, and daydreaming about civilian life like all the guys I’d seen get their discharge papers before me.
Here I am in the middle of a desert in some country I’ve never heard of, going someplace, and not even the battalion commander has a clue when we might go home (I know because I make sure his email works).
I was holding a M-16 military issue semi-automatic service rifle with a clip in the gun and 2 more in my pocket, sitting with a group of guys doing the same exact thing as everybody else. Trying to figure out some way to get comfortable sitting on a steel deck in an 18-wheel oversized truck that must have been designed with absolutely no shocks whatsoever, driving down an endless dilapidated gravel road.
I had been trained to use my rifle, but I don’t think I was really trained to believe that I might actually have to use it. If I had to pull the trigger, just once, would I? Should I? It was dark outside and we could barely see anything even though we had been trained to look for things like movements in the dark and spotting anyone armed who might do us even the slightest bit of harm. I was so nervous that if I had even seen the slightest movement outside the truck I might have just fired my gun anyway. When I look back on this first night and the 12 hours we drove into Iraq, I wonder if there was another guy my age outside waiting to ambush us thinking the same thing. I wonder if he was as lost as I was or if he was an evil Iraqi like everybody kept saying they all were.
There were a few songs playing in the truck but what stood out the most was the silence. It was the kind of silence that’s really deafening. Obviously you could hear the sound of the tires on the dirt and the rattle of the truck when we’d hit a bump but after about 5 hours you don’t even hear that anymore. I think, the more time you spend listening to yourself think, the louder your thoughts become. I couldn’t hear anything but my brain buzzing a million thoughts. Even if someone next to me said something, I couldn’t hear it. It was as if the thoughts inside my head were louder than anything.
I felt like I had lost control and let my life go. I’d never been good at anything, not even friendships. Heck, I only ever had 1 friend as a kid. Sure, it seemed like I had taken charge with my life and in my hands was an object that was supposed to give me power but I just didn’t feel it. I was absolutely terrified.
Every so often we’d stop. We’d all jump out of the truck if we could get our legs to work, stick our dicks in the wind and get some relief, reluctantly climb back into the truck, and go. As the sun began to rise we had the opportunity to stop a few more times. We’d found civilization in this miserable place, or the closest thing to it… clay houses, and midgets offering trinkets. Every time we stopped people would run up to the trucks and offer whatever they had.. mostly beads. Some of the soldiers began going through their MREs (field rations) and trade crackers or a meal that was too disgusting for them to put down in exchange. Some would just take what was offered and laugh. Others threw sand in their faces. I just thought.. “Why are they so small.” After a couple hours, I decided it was probably due to several generations of malnutrition and poverty.
These people were far from monsters. I thought the Iraqi people were all evil and I thought they hated Americans. These people couldn’t hurt me if they wanted to. They think I’m here to help them.
Each stop we made just compounded how ashamed of myself I felt for letting myself end up in this situation. I knew blindly following orders was a stupid thing to do. I suppose that’s why I was looking forward to my enlistment term nearing its end.
I just wanted to survive, just like these people.. trying desperately to survive, and getting spit on.
It’s been over 12 years since this day. If you asked me, I wouldn’t be able to tell you any other memories except perhaps a fragment or two related to the months I spent in Iraq and the months prior spent in Kuwait; but I will never forget how ashamed I felt and how disgusted I felt about the guys sitting around me. That memory is burnt into my soul and I don’t see any honor in my actions.