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This blog exists only as an archive. It is a journal that serves as a window into my life as a Marine combat veteran serving in Iraq and Afghanistan; it was written with no filter, no politics and no agenda. Please feel free to follow my journey from beginning to end. Welcome to my life.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Start runnin'


Two Good Reads

Just wanted to let you guys know about two books that I just recently finished.

The first book is Warlord: No better friend, No worse enemy. It is the story of Ilario Pantano, a Lieutenant with the Marine Corps, who was originally an enlisted "special marksman" during the Gulf War (yeah that one we fought about 15 years ago). After that war he got out of the Marine Corps, graduated from an Ivy League school, worked on Wall Street, in film, was a producer and started numerous businesses. He was walking through downtown NYC on September 11th and witnessed first hand the attacks on the World Trade Center. He immediately walked into a barber, got a haircut, went next door and got a USMC tattoo. He then went home and told his former model/wife that he was joining the Marines to go fight. He went to OCS and and became an officer in the infantry, deploying with 2/2, the Warlords. While in Iraq he found himself in the Fallujah offensive, and on one particular day he was searching two suspected insurgents. The two men made a sudden and threatening move in his direction and he killed them both. A few weeks later a disgruntled Marine of his (a total shitbag as the defense would prove) accused him of murder with regards to the incident. Lt. Pantano was later exonerated of all charges.

The book does an excellent job of weaving his life story with the actual transcripts of the trial. His writing style is excellent, his accounts of Iraq and the rollercoaster of emotions that one goes through are expertly portrayed. The whole book is really inspiring, just knowing that there are people out there with the courage to do whats right, even when it could be the most difficult thing in the world to do, like leaving a supermodel wife, great job, new baby son and an unborn child to go fight for what you believe.

This book also really strikes home because the rules of engagement in Iraq are really beginning to handcuff American forces, and this example only illustrates how our public is more willing to hang one of our own that it is to give us the tools to effectively and safely fight this war and return home to our loved ones in one piece. I talked about this more a couple of weeks ago in a post here Rules of Engagement.

The second book is Night, by Eli Wiesle. It is this man's version of the Anne Frank diaries. It's very short only about 130 pages, but the whole account is stunning. I had a lady recommend it to me in the airport store, she said it was one of the best books she had read in a while, that it had really touched her. I can see why. Mr. Wiesle was only 15 when he and his entire family were taken from their home in Hungary and shipped to the most famous of Germany's killing camps, Auschwitz. There he and his father did everything they could to survive. The book has a lot of themes-faith, humanity, father-son relationships, survival. It was really hard to read this book without pausing just to dwell on natural state of man, but that is a topic that is waaaayyyy to deep to get into at 4:32 in the morning (I'm on duty by the way, I have to be on for a 24 shift, hence my post at this time)

My suggestion- you should at least read Night. I don't expect all of you to get interested in Warlord, although I really do think that this man's story should be known because ittruly does represent what we should all strive for in ourselves and also what role American politics is playing in the hampering of US forces. But Night should be read by everyone in my opinion, it would be a crime against everyone that rotted in those places if their memory faded away.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Last Push

In other news...

This is my last week before my batallion starts its Mojave Viper training package. Mojave Viper is a month long training event that every deploying Marine unit has to take part in before leaving for Iraq, and it takes place here in 29 Palms. Starting October 2 I will be completing it until November 2 (after which I will hopefully be going to the Wisconsin-Penn State game).

This is really the last thing that we are doing before we deploy to Iraq. It consists of multiple training evolutions that will test each company's readiness for different combat scenarios. Many of the things that we will be doing are things that we have already done and that I have written about on this site.

A whole month though...you know what that means? I have to miss four weekends of college football. This is like bootcamp all over again.

The weekend

First things first.

Yes, I saw the Wisconsin game. No, I don't want to talk about it. If you would like to provoke me, I will happily send you to the grave early. I'm not kidding. At all.

(We're going to the Rose Bowl)

Next, the UFC fight was awesome. Most of the fights on the undercard were pretty good, but the main event, Matt Hughes' title defense against BJ Penn was amazing. The crowd was going absolutely nuts. I'd say most of the crowd was behind Penn, who is the only fighter to ever beat Hughes, but the entire arena was going ballistic regardless. It was pretty sweet to see every fighter come in to either some rap or heavy metal song, and then you have Hughes, who calmly walks in, looking like he just rolled out of bed, to the sound of a slow, twangy country song. After all, he is a good ol' midwest boy fighting out of my hometown in Iowa. He go in the ring and all he did was pace back and forth, shooting his now famous glare over at Penn's corner, no antics, no hype. And then he just destroyed him.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Big Ten Season

Hey there Badger fans! This weekend kicks off another BigTen Season for the Wisconsin Badgers football team, and who better to open it up with than Michigan. I know there are some doubters this year. People who say we're too young, or too small, or don't have any playmakers. Well, we're gonna make some plays all over Michigan Stadium and celebrate something we can all agree on, and that is that Ann Arbor is a whore!

Monday, September 18, 2006

UFC Tickets

Best news I've gotten from my command in a while. Seems like our Company landed 20 tickets to the UFC pay per view match this weekend out of Anaheim, CA and I was one of the lucky ones chosen to attend. Matt Hughes is going for revenge against BJ Penn, who is the only fighter to ever beat him. Its gonna be crazy, and I'm gonna be there!

Here's the kicker. Matt Hughes is trained by Pat Miletich, who is from my hometown in Iowa, and who I used to work out with at Ultimate Fitness. So, I'm gonna try and call him up and finagle my way into the locker room, now that would be bad ass!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Rifle Requal

Well my rifle qualification score will no longer kill my awards and promotion chances. For those of you who don't know, I choked on qualification day at boot camp for the rifle range. I shot the lowest award, Marksman, and it cost me getting Company Honorman. Then I was put up for a meritorious promotion board recently to get Corporal, and was eliminated based on that same score.

Well, this last week I was given the chance to requalify on the range and I improved my score by 15 points, making Sharpshooter and only missing Expert by three points. Which I probably Should have had since I missed three shots outside the black from the 300 yard rapid fire, which I'm normally spot on at.

Bottom line is that this will probably help me get promoted within the next few months to Corporal, which is the first Noncommissioned Officer billet, and would provide for me the opportunity to take over my squad when my current squad leader leaves the Marine Corps halfway through our next deployment in January.

Monday, September 11, 2006

September 11

I'm sure all of you have an email inbox full of September 11th chain letters. I'm not here to add your typical "Remember our heroes" pass along. Those letters are not a bad thing, they just seem real cookie-cutter to me, written in the anonymous glow of a computer screen. I would assume that most of the people that read my blog know me personally (I don't pretend to have a growing legion of fans across America), and therefore most people know that I am pretty passionate about what I do and what I believe. That said, here are my thoughts on September the eleventh, five years after the attack.

I can still remember waking up that Tuesday morning. I had skipped class, which had become a bad habit pretty early in my college career. I was walking through the basement of the Towers Residence hall, on my way to the cafeteria, probably to stuff my face with french toast, which had become the custom. As I was walking by I noticed that something was playing on the theatre screen, which was unusual at this time of the day. The image on the screen made me initially think it was an Arnold movie that I used to watch, but the name escaped me at the time. I kept walking right by a group of huddled students, who were staring at the screen speaking to each other in Chinese. Weird I thought. Chinese students don't watch Schwarrzeneggar flicks. Fifty more steps and I was in the cafeteria. Funny, they're showing the same movie in here. I didn't even register that what was on screen was being shown to me in real time until the crowds of students standing in front of the screen struck me as odd. I drifted over and was watching over shoulders, listening to expressions of "Oh my God" and "I can't believe it". Still a little in the dark, I asked the person beside me what was happening. "Someone flew a f*(king plane into the World Trade Center man."

Boom. What kind of dead-drunk airline pilot is bad enough to fly a fly a jetliner into a some of the world's biggest buildings? It hadn't even occurred to me that this was an act of violence. Then the second one hit. Then the Pentagon. Then towers were collapsing. Something about a plane being on its way to the White House. Fighter jets were scrambled, military members everywhere holding their collective breaths, anticipating those four words "We are at war".

It was all so weird to watch. I remember getting that sore throat feeling in the back of your throat that only comes at your most emotional moments, when you see something that makes you want to break down, but you are so rocked with a thousand thoughts that tears are impossible. I remember one of my teammates crying because his stepdad worked in one of the Trade Center towers, and he couldn't get ahold of him. I remember going online and requesting a packet of information for joining the Marine Corps. What would I do? I had always wanted to join the military, now I actually had a reason. My country had been attacked, Americans had been killed, how could I hear the call to arms and stand idly by?

I don't know why I didn't enlist that week. It may have been cowardice, I may have simply rationalized that, hey, I'm a Badger football player, someone else will fight the war. Maybe for once I took my dad's subtle advice. I remember talking to him on the phone in the days following the attack, he never mentioned the military, but I remember him saying "Don't go do anything rash." I remember thinking to myself, "I'll finish college, and then I'll enter the military as an officer." But in the back of my mind, I think maybe I was hoping the war would be over by then, and that call to arms would have been silinced.

But over the next three and a half years the fighting increased and when I came to that point in my life, the point where the road forks and you have to choose your direction, I was torn. Ultimately I projected myself forward 20 years and looked back on yet to be lived life in which I had chosen to start my professional career in the business world, and when I looked back it looked empty. Full of brave words and passionate ideals, but lacking in any proactive action. It came time for me to determine if all my bravado and idealistic patriotism carried weight, if they really meant to me what I had convinced myself they did.

I didn't join the Marine Corps so that people would call me a hero. I didn't join the Marine Corps to win medals or ride in parades. I didn't do it as some self-righteous attempt for hometown newspaper clippings. Sometimes I don't even know why I did it. There are times when people ask why I joined that I say I joined for the bumper stickers, it's because I don't really like to talk about it. I don't want my motivations, whatever they are, to be judged. In reality, I joined to find something out about myself. It was the only path that would shed light on who I am as a person, as a man, even as an American.

But now that I am here, now that I watch the news and see my fellow Marines, my brothers, being killed on television, now as I watch replays of that day five years ago, I realize things about life. A lot of what I aspire to in life was inspired by my Grandpa Bauer. And one of his greatest qualities was that I don't think he believed in evil, or man's capacity to be TRULY evil. While this may have been what led him to be one of the kindest, most compassionate men I knew, I think he was wrong. There are evil men in this world, I have come to learn this undoubtedly. In our training we are shown things that happen in Iraq that a human mind should never be forced to comprehend, let along justify. The people we are dealing with truly are evil, I now realize this. Throw out religion, this isn't about that. Religion will always be a variable in mankind, but I would hope that conscience would be a constant. But with these men it is not.

I hope that this September 11th you reflect precisely upon what happened five years ago and the men that did it. I want you to think about that, about how you felt then, and how you feel now. And I want you to be honest with yourself. Has time dulled your emotions? Has five years buffered the pain and shock? I look at America and I see a diminishing resolve to eradicate terrorism, and I look at terrorism and I sense that they see the same thing, and it strengthens them. Remember your firefighters, remember your police officers, remember your emts, your troops, and all your heroes, just don't do it in practice, do it as you remember doing it five years ago.