War (in) Pieces, Part 5

Our Battalion Commander LtCol H. parked his truck in the CO’s parking spot at the HQ and then had his wife drop him off and pick him up at work so it looked like he was always working. That wouldn’t have bothered me so much except he would make his staff and the Marines be on deck at 0600 every day. He would roll in later and since he lived on base about two minutes down the street it was bullshit- fakest leadership I ever saw.

At the first Officer’s call we went to Onslow Beach was the first of many worthless O-calls that became mandatory fun for the battalion. At the first hail and farewell he made us sing our college song-which I never knew. Somebody said I dropped an f-bomb at the beach party. He said never let the troops see you running. That doesn’t mean anything…and I definitely ran to save my Marines under fire. He also always talked about Beirut and seeing the elephant. He may have seen some combat but he didn’t have a clue how to lead a battalion. He eventually got relieved after his first month in Iraq.

The only cool thing LtCol H. did was hired some Hooters’ girls to come out to AP Hill to bring some chicken wings to one of the training areas. That was a nice change from the shitty hot AP Hill bullshit. I almost got heat stroke during that work up when I had to run a few miles back to camp to find the company then when we got to the range we went right into a company assault. I never got my internal thermoregulation right again…which sucks in the desert.

At the end of the day at LeJuene or when we got back from the field I loved to drive back to Emerald Isle to swim, eat and go to the bar. I liked to play pool and watch sports. After humps the best thing was to take a swim to clean up my feet and relax my back. Sometimes while I was swimming I would see dolphins and I would try to swim out to them. Sometimes I think they would hang around me and play. I never understood how anyone could live on base when they could live out here at the beach twenty minutes away.

I watched the Super Bowl between Carolina and New England at my place because I didn’t want to hear somebody talk shit about the Patriots in Carolina. I stayed home and got hammered with Doc K. and watched Janet Jackson’s titty pop out during the halftime show. I told Doc K. it happened but he didn’t believe me. The next morning while I was driving in to work for 0500 PT I was listening to ESPN and Janet Jackson’s titty was the only thing they talked about on all the morning shows.

One Friday LtCol H. made us go to the mandatory O-call while C Company weapons platoon was still on a hot mortar range. I wasn’t the duty officer but I was not drinking and we got a call that PFC B. had blown his thumb off. I had to drive Lt C. to the hospital and wait to see PFC B. A few weeks later Lt. C got hooked up for DUI at another O-call. We had O-call every Friday so people would start ducking out of the office early on Fridays. I didn’t want to get busted on base so I would drink a coke and drive back to Emerald Isle and drink as much as I wanted.

On a patrolling exercise we set up a patrol base in the only stand of trees we could find. We went to sleep and when we woke up the next morning we heard a rattling sound. We looked around and saw hundreds of baby rattlesnakes. We had set up in a rattlesnake nest. They had moved in while we were sleeping. I told the squad leaders to wake everybody up get their shit together and move quietly out of the snake pit. Nobody got bit.

Our company nickname was “Circus company.” Our company song was the Barnum and Bailey’s circus theme Dat da dada, dat da dada, dat da dada..

At a BBQ at Capt A’s house on his back porch he called out Capt M. and said,

“Does your mom know you are playing Company Commander?”

I got my nickname during the first part of the workup when the AAV’s our platoon were riding in launched out to the ARG during stupidly high seas. I didn’t want to puke in front of my new platoon but as soon as the first Marine puked everyone else in the back started puking our guts out. We sat in the sloshing sea water and puke waiting to go down. I wondered if the rear hatch would still open if we went completely under water?

Because there was so much sea water inside the AAVs the dye packs on our life jackets exploded all over us. When we finally got to the boat we almost had to turn around because the seas were so rough the AAV’s couldn’t land on the well deck. I could see the hundred ton well deck ramp slamming up and down. The AAV lieutenant made the best call of the work up when he decided to chance landing the tracks on the boat and not going back to the beach. We never would have made it back. Landing on the Carter Hall was rough but he said fuck it revved up the engines and we went for it.

When we got into the well deck we saw that only a few AAV’s had made it to the boats. I was the senior 2nd Lieutenant by a few months so I got to be the Commander of Troops on the Carter Hall. That became my nickname from then on. I had to eat in the CO mess in an orange uniform because they were stained from the dye packs. I didn’t sleep in the COT berthing since it seemed obnoxious. The rest of the company showed up the next day. I heard they ordered pizzas and drank beers on the beach.

I got hurt pretty bad during the work up. We were doing MOUT at the Camp LeJuene urban mock up facility. I was carrying a “wounded” SAW gunner out of a building and we fell about six feet in the dark and when I hit the ground I thought I was paralyzed.

I worked on getting healthy so I could deploy. My back has never been right since. A few years after the Corps my back gave out completely. Both discs ruptured but it happened just as they were trying to send me back for a third tour during the “Surge.” Bastards. My back injury might be the reason I’m still alive. When they tried to send me back a third time as a staff officer to make coffee for Generals that was the surest sign the “Surge” was bullshit.

C Company was eventually assigned as the helicopter company on the MEU. During one raid exercise a CH-46 nearly landed on me while I was setting up the LZ markers. On the final raid exercise we were flying in another CH-46 from the boat to the shore. When the crew chief called out feet dry the helo screeched from around 100 knots to a hover almost instantly. We were lucky to make the beach and we landed on the sand.

The crew chief came around to the back ramp and acts like its no big deal and asks if anybody has any duct tape. Cpl W. did and gave it to the crew chief. We found out later that the pilot’s windscreen latch had broken off in flight. If the windscreen had torn off it would have been sucked up into the rotor blades and we would have crashed in the ocean. The crew chief duct-taped the windshield and we flew on to the raid site. A two-dollar windshield clip almost crashed a multi-million dollar helicopter and killed a dozen Marines…lowest bidder bullshit. The Marines almost killed me twice before I went overseas.

CHAPTER XX-Thanks of an Ungrateful Nation-

Private Eightball: Now you might not believe it, but under fire Animal Mother is one of the finest human beings in the world. All he needs is somebody to throw hand grenades at him the rest of his life. Full Metal Jacket- Stanley Kubrick

We established our firm base in house across the street from the school building. The only people at the school were three dead hajis-maggot face and his two buddies. We caught sniper fire all day from the west and north and friendly fire from the north and east.

After we cleared up who’s who and what’s what we figured out that the sector the school was in hadn’t been cleared. We got hit from every direction that night and from several buildings that were higher than the two-story schoolhouse. The building was built like a three-sided rectangle or an E without the middle. A walkway on second floor let us move between rooms and provided some cover. I ordered the Iraqis that unless we were being directly engaged and could ID the enemy we had to sit there and take it.

On the next day an IIF soldier got shot in the helmet. A sniper from the west hit him and opened up the Kevlar helmet like a Mohawk. He showed everybody. He ran over and showed us where the shot came from. I returned fire on what I thought might have been the sniper. I saw the top of a head wrapped in a black towel sticking up above the roof and I shot at it and I thought I hit him. We tried to fire mortars on the building but the request got denied. Then the dude shot at us again. We figured it was two dudes. We had an IIF RPG gunner line it up and he hit the doorway where dude had been more than 300m away. SSGT R. and I took a squad to clear that building. We didn’t find any bodies but we did find RPG’s, weapons, beds and food. It looked like they had just bugged out. I snatched a sweet mounted mongoose and cobra and brought it back to the schoolhouse.

All night and the next day A Company and B Company continued moving south and C Company re-cleared the mayors complex and the buildings on Fran. We cleared the buildings on our street and the streets behind our house and along the water tower. We found some families living in some of the houses. I thought for sure in the first few nights someone was going to drive an IED right through our front door and and blow the house apart. I got stuck sleeping in the front room on a couch. I figured if the IED showed up I was the most fucked.

On the second day in the schoolhouse one of the IIF soldiers led us to a huge weapons cache in the field around the water tower at the end of our street. There was a burned out bus and a municipal building that was abandoned. In the shipping containers in the field under the water tower there were literally thousands of missiles, rockets, RPG’s, grenades, ammo, det cord, bomb parts, wire and all of it just sitting there. The stuff was mostly Soviet era. It was a good spot for a cache because the water tower could be seen from everywhere and haji would just have to tell each other to get to the water tower for re-supply. I was surprised it wasn’t booby-trapped. It was probably worth millions. The shipping containers were form the States and had American tracking numbers.

We called EOD and when they got there and saw the size of the stash they just asked us to post security because they were going to have to call lots of trucks to haul it away. It took like eight 7-ton trucks to remove all the stuff. We put out security at the cache and kept clearing other buildings in our sector.

The next day water began flooding the streets between our CP and the schoolhouse. We didn’t think much of it at first and we could still walk on the sidewalks. We thought the sewers were blocked or a water main pipe was broken or the water tower was all shot up and leaking. I think the flooding it was a combination of all three. We discovered later that the pump system that keeps the Tigris river out of the city had been shut off or stopped working.

Wading through the streets in swamp water was foul. Even when they got the pumps working- which I think happened because our haji platoon found the pump houses and reported that they were turned off. The floods left sludge on everything about a foot deep.

We were supposed to secure route Frank and keep the area south of the water tower cleared. We used foot patrols and the only HMMWV we had to clear our sector. Walking patrol on a street nearby a huge explosion rocked the building right in front of us. EOD had detonated a cache next to us but didn’t tell anybody what they were doing. A few more feet and a few seconds earlier and we would have lost half the haji platoon to stupidity.

Also while we were working south of the water tower some enemy had gotten north of us between our base and the mayor’s office. We set in the guys and got right back to the firebase thinking maybe they were hitting us there since we had to leave it unguarded.

I was ordered to back to FOB Fallujah for a command briefing. Our battalion CP had returned to the FOB and since I was acting as the IIF company commander de facto. I reminded everybody I was only a liaison officer.

At the meeting some guys smoked cigars and the staff briefed us on Operation Deer Drive. This was supposed to be a clearing operation throughout the entire city of Fallujah starting in two days. We would clear from Henry to Ethan supported by tanks, AAV’s and D-9 bulldozers. Until now we only searched and cleared buildings that were open or unlocked or we had contact from. Operation Deer Drive meant we would have to go into each and every building and clear them all.

We had a new advisor join us at the schoolhouse. Sgt S. was a Marine who extended his tour and volunteered to join our unit. He was from Boston so I liked him right away. We divided our zone into northern and southern sectors. SSGT R. and Sgt S. would take one platoon in the north and I would take one platoon in the south. A CP would remain in the middle of the zone for C2.

The scheme of maneuver would have the AAV’s travel with my platoon and the D-9 would accompany Sgt S. Any locked gates or doors would be run down or ripped open by the AAV or the D-9 to ensure the first thing going into any gate or house was a huge fucking tank and a machine gun. B Company lost many Marines on this operation because their Company Commander was a douche and wouldn’t do the same. B Company’s sector had a lot of enemy resistance but he kept sending Marines through the doors instead of armor and getting them hurt and killed.

Our method was working and keeping troops alive. Immediately in almost every house we kicked in we discovered weapons, ammo, RPG’s or shells. The caches were all different sized and everywhere in the houses. The caches were inside and outside or on the roofs. They were hidden in the closets, under beds, in furniture, in the walls or buried underground with big sheet metal covers. Since we couldn’t destroy all of it or take it with us we started making maps of where shit was found. We also uncovered a bunch of dead insurgents. We marked them as well.

The homes with civilians were marked and searched. CAG spoke to all the civilians we located. We found one dude with gunshot wound through his ankle. He said he was housesitting but I knew he got fragged or shot.