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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.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

The Worst Ten Days

Just got back from maybe the most miserable 10 day stretch of my life. I’m not sure I’ve ever quite had this combination of misery, thirst, heat, humidity, fatigue, lack of sleep, work, shot-at’s, mortar attacks, suicide bombers, bugs, spiders, heat rash, prickly heat, filling sand bags, carrying sand bags, stacking sand bags, diving for cover, headaches, adrenaline rushes, fire-team rushes, hunger, sun, sweat and aches. But now I’m back.

We were only supposed to go out for 6 days, we got extended to 8, and then extended to 10. Since we only packed for 8, we really started running low on water. Running low on water in Iraq, in 110 degree heat, with stagnant pools of canal water evaporating around you is like a bar in Madison running out of beer during happy hour. Nobody was happy. At one point my squad had to insert into a location to watch a critical intersection in our area. We were going to be there for 24 hours before getting relieved, so we had to pack in all of our water. I humped in a full case, but only managed to get 3 bottles because everyone else was running low. At one point I had to pee incredibly bad, which I though was weird, because I was sweating gallons but only drinking tea cups. I went to pee, and it was close to the color of Coke. Not trying to be gross, but that’s some serious dehydration. I’m not sure that I have ever gone 10 staight days where I never once stopped sweating, but that’s how it was out there. You would lay down to sleep and you would just start dripping sweat. Your pillow would soak straight through, there was definitely no "cool as the other side of the pillow" effect. Combine that with the bugs. I felt like I was in a "Feed the Children" commercial where they show all those starving kids with flies crawling around their mouths and eyes. I used to always watch that and think "how can you not swat at them???" Well I figured it out. It’s a combination of lack of energy and not being able to tell the difference between a fly and a bead of sweat rolling down your skin.

What else made this a pretty bad 10 days?? Well al Qaeda decided they wanted to come out for a few rounds. The first few days were pretty mild, except for all the stories we were hearing from people in our area. It seemed that every household you talked to had a horror story about what al Qaeda had been up to in the area for the past two months. Then around the fifth day, we were at a patrol base when about 6 of them decided to start unloading some AK fire into our house. I of course was sleeping, and awoke to the incredibly loud crack that rounds make as they snap past the air around you and impact cement. We ended up repelling that attack pretty easy with the machine guns mounted on our trucks.

A couple days later, at a different PB, second platoon had some dumb terrorist try and hit them with a suicide car bomb. He drove past their patrol base, which was about a kilometer away from us, realized that he couldn’t get past their security measures, and just blew himself up about 30 meters away from their house. It was so big it rocked us into thinking we were getting hit. What an idiot. This illiterate ass probably sucked at life, got duped into thinking he could get a ticket to heaven, got a class on some boom boom, was told where to find us, drove there and wasted himself on a fireworks show that hurt no one and pretty much damaged nothing. Turns out he sucked at jihad too.

Let’s see what else. One of our squads got fired on from a mosque. Real classy al Qaeda. Fire from the one building we’re not allowed to engage. That one only last a few minutes. Second platoon was fired on from a house and a car on a patrol, I watched them call in air support from the rooftop of our PB, once again jealous that someone else was getting to do it. But I only had to be patient…

I think it was the next day. I was on patrol with the squad, on a mission to go sweep for IEDs along a road. We were walking towards a market place that is a pretty big trouble spot for us. When we got about 300 meters away, we were opened up on from about 3 different machine gun positions. This trumps all for the scariest moment of my life. I’ve been shot at numerous times over here, and I’ve been in a major firefight, but the difference here was the enemy had tracers. That means that I could SEE the rounds coming in at us. It was a classic ambush and the squad was right in the kill zone. The worst part was we were out in the open, and there was NO cover. We all dove into some waist high grass. I was sure that we had taken at least 3 casualties in those opening seconds but miraculously we took none, a real miracle. As we were organizing our response in the grass you could hear rounds impacting all around you, and you could hear them ripping through the grass over our heads, they were practically mowing a lawn with the amount of fire they were throwing at us. We got our bearing and started firing back. Our machine gun team did an awesome job, got set up and started putting a lot of accurate rounds at them.

I called for Colbert, my radio operator, and told him to get over to me. Now I need to talk for a second about Colbert. I love this kid. He’s a Choctaw Indian from Oklahoma. Nobody can understand a single word he says, and he falls flat on his face on every patrol I mean flat on his face. He never braces himself, he never hits his knees first. He falls like a tree. But he is never not smiling and he works harder than anyone in the squad. He also, being one of the guys that carries a radio, dreams of calling in air. And before we left on this patrol, he turned around and said, "Hey Corporal Wood, I’m rolling with the radio on air tac cuz we got it on station, hopefully we got to use it." (of course it didn’t actually sound like that, and it took me a while to translate what he said)

So here he is running across the road. I’m watching him as he’s running, tracers hitting asphalt all around him. For the first time he’s not smiling, and for the first time he doesn’t fall. He dove down right next to me, looked up, smiled and said "We gonna call in air???"

I got on the radio and tried reaching air.

Maverick Maverick this is Golf-3-Charlie

I called for them about 10 times, before a forward air controller got on and said that our air was not scheduled to be on station for another 25 minutes.

Shit

The FAC asked me the situation.

We’re pinned down on two sides by automatic machine gun fire. Casualties unknown. Need immediate air support.

The FAC said he’d scramble some support right away. He got back on and said that he was scrambling some fighter pilots, but they were 120 miles out, and our scheduled helo support was launching early to bail us out.

Roger

I then heard the fighter pilots get on the tac.

Golf-3-Charlie this is (blank) we are 120 miles out from your pos, ETA 5 minutes.

About 30 seconds later they said the coolest thing I’ve ever heard.

Golf-3-Charlie, we are super sonic.

The only thing that would have been better is if we had pulled out some serious Top Gun lines like "We’re too close for missiles, switching to guns" or if I had said "5 MINUTES?!? This thing’ll be over in 3!!"

At this point in the firefight I unfortunately had to pass the radio off to another member of the squad because we were beginning to get flanked to the south. I really can’t even give a narrative from this point because so much started happening. The fight was over just as air got on station (they should have launched Maverick and Goose on ready 5), which I’m not going to complain about, because like I said, it was the scariest thing I’ve ever encountered.

Well enough about that one. Well actually not quite. After the firefight we returned to the patrol base, where, like Bill Lumbergh from Office Space, we were told "Ummm….Yeah…we’re gonna need you to go back out and finish that mission." Awesome.

I finally got some sleep that night. About 7 straight hours, which felt like 20. Got a good wake up call too. It was a mortar landing about 5 feet outside the wall of our house. Right after, machine gun fire started pouring in through the windows…and then more mortars starting falling. The machine gun fire was so loud that you couldn’t even yell and get people organized, well that and some of the people had busted ear drums from the first mortar. I threw my flak and helmet on, still just in my underwear, and ran to a doorway to see what the hell was going on. This is gonna go down as my second scariest moment, sneaking right ahead of the Wizard of Oz and the time a spider landed on me in the shower. Everyone in the house honestly thought we were about to get overrun. I honestly thought as I pointed my rifle out the door that I was going to be aiming in on about 50 insurgents charging with bayonets fixed. VERY luckily, that did not happen. This attack did raise some serious questions though. If you die in your underwear, do your buddies tell anyone? Also, one of our Doc’s was using the restroom when the first mortar hit, very close to where he was. He had no gear with him. He dove onto the ground and was faced with a major dilemma. Do you wipe before you run for your gear?? Or do you just go? He opted for wiping, which, lying down, I’m not even sure is anatomically possible. My buddy Muir was brushing his teeth when it happened. He dove onto the ground and grabbed his rifle. About 2 minutes later he realized that he was still holding his tooth brush. He thought, do I drop my toothbrush on the ground?? I mean, we still have a couple of days left, and I’ll need to brush my teeth. He must of dropped it because we never found it.

Once again, we were lucky. We only had to medevac one guy, he was on post on the roof, right above where the first one landed and was knocked unconscious for about a minute and a half. He must have torn his tempanic membrane because we was in complete vertigo when he came too, he couldn’t walk and had no idea what was up and down. A bunch of other people got
concussions and some scrapes and cuts from shattering glass, but overall like I said we were lucky.

What else…
-I dominated a few games of Uno. Unfortunately the number of games I won was vastly overshadowed by the number I lost.
-I’m terrible at Soduku, so don’t bother sending anymore of those books.
-It is possible to sweat so much at night that you honestly cannot tell when you wake up whether you wet the bed.
-A cow will pee on a patch of grass and immediately turn around and eat that same grass like it’s something Miles Davis would do. Seriously, I saw this about three different times on security halts.

38 comments:

  1. Sounds like I'm missin' out on all the fun- Oh. wait a minute- I'm the one with a beer in one hand and a remote control in the other- my bad. See ya in a minute-

    Oh- and tell Muir to cut his hair- his head's funny looking enough as it is...

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  2. Terrific writing, Jake. Hard for anyone to imagine what it is like to be in such a situation, but you definitely paint a picture that gives chills and the unexpected laughs that come with living such a dangerous life.

    I told you in a recent comment that I'm a NYC firefighter, down there on 9/11, and having been through quite a few pretty terrifying moments since... (though none quite so terrifying as a spider falling on me in the shower). So, I think it's great that you point out the humor that people find even in the midst of hell.

    The other day we were called out for a "jumper down". He had dove off the roof of a ten story building and landed in a courtyard garden. The guy looked like he had laid down and the garden got filled in around him, like the ground was so soft that it had caught him in a perfect mold of his body. He almost looked comfortable, planted into the ground like that. And as disturbing as it was, we couldn't help laughing back at the rig when my boy Chris said, "Talk about taking a dirt nap!"

    Keep making us proud, Jake. You may not feel like it, but you truly are a Hero.

    Rich

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  3. Same Rich as above:

    PS. I don't think you can access my account, since I'm somewhat of a computer dimwit, but if you ever feel like exchanging words, my e-mail address is atlanticsailboat@gmail.com

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  4. Great post. I admire everyone over there and what you are doing so that I can live a peaceful life here in the US. Thank you.

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  5. Jake!! I am so happy to see a new post from you! It sounds crazy over there. I'm so glad you're safe.

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  6. Jake man, you are doing both an amazing job out there but also keeping your sanity which I imagine is hard for one in your situation. I check your post daily man, telling all my co-workers about it. Keep it up man, can't wait for you to come back to we can get some brews together.
    much love brother,

    Tarpein.

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  7. Jake.
    This is the account I meant to comment from before (2nd comment on this post)...
    Take 'er eazy out there.
    Rich

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  8. Jake! GREAT to hear from you! Hope you get to call while you're back at base, I will not let my phone leave my side!

    Love you lots.

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  9. Jake- Great post. I'm a disabled vet. Like Rich I'm from New York. My son is in recruit training at Parris Island. Just finished his 6th week. Do you remember that far back? He's contracted for MP school in Missouri after MCT. I read and feel every word you write. Not the same experiences but certainly the same feelings. I've spent mucho time "puckered" in the tall grass. Ya got my prayers guy.

    Neil

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  11. Jake, good to hear from you again.I can't BEGIN to imagine what it feels like to be in the positions you are in at times. Your writings are helping me to understand a little of what all of you go through everyday. Your courage and the courage of those around you will never cease to amaze me! Glad to know you are well.Remember, our love and prayers are yours and those around you>

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  12. Hey Jake - great to see a new post. Hang in there; I can't imagine the conditions you are living in. I think about it when I am complaining about being too hot or tired and it really puts things in perspective as to how great we have it here in the U.S.

    I had to laugh at the Wizard of Oz reference; those darn flying monkeys!! At least they fdon't have THOSE in Iraq!

    Stay safe!

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  13. great to hear from you again. i can't believe the crap you guys go through. thank you.

    oh yeah, the wizard of oz used to scare the crap out of me, too.

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  14. Your blog is GREAT and I try to read it everyday. As a college student in madison right now, I cannot even imagine being in your situation right now. Your blog helps me understand what friends and family have experienced in the military.

    Keep up the great work and most of all stay safe.

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  15. Yours is one of my favorite blogs to read. Keep up the good work. As a Vietnam vet myself I can relate with a lot of the things you discribe in your accounts. As for the bugs, we had what we called bug juice issued to us. It's a clear insect repellant. Do you guys have access to it? It's good for about 4 hours and really keeps the bugs away.

    Do you have iodine pills for when you can't get fresh water?

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  16. I hope I don't offend you, but I was laughing through all of the movie and sportscenter quotes. I am sure at some point you have to make jokes to keep your sanity, but it was funny. When you return home you might think about the title of your book, "Wipe or get your gun?" It makes you think about a little about some of the more interesting decisions when crazy people and guns are involved.
    Stay Strong!

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  17. You don't know how much your blog means. Actually, you don't know how much your bravery means to us back here in the States!! We pray for you and your men (and all of our soldiers) every day. It's good to see that God's angels really are watching over you!

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  18. "Ummm….Yeah…we’re gonna need you to go back out and finish that mission."

    Now THAT IS SOME GREAT WRITING!!!!

    Keep it up, stay safe, and get some bad guys!

    -Scott Malensek

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  19. Geez. What a crappy 10 days. Hope you got a little rest when you got back. The point is, you got back. And that is a very good thing.

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  20. Jake-
    Thanks for the update, this post is absolutely amazing. I hope you and your brothers stay safe and keep kicking some terrorist a$$. Most importantly, try to stay safe while facing the most evil and demented beings in the history of mankind. Fuck them (al qaeda) all up, and let allah sort them out.

    Semper Fi

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  21. He thought, do I drop my toothbrush on the ground?? I mean, we still have a couple of days left, and I’ll need to brush my teeth. He must of dropped it because we never found it.

    He might want to go for some xrays, and see if he swallowed it.

    ;-)

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  22. Great post. Just found your blog and I'm hooked...

    Stay safe.

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  23. Thanks for taking the HEAT for us- in every way possible.

    You and yours get my prayers today.

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  24. Goes without saying that we here "back in the world" (I got that from some old Vietnam movie) will never really understand what you're experiencing right now, but we can thank you.

    So thank you. You didn't have to do this. You're the freedom-meister, dispensing and protecting liberty. Pretty amazing job.

    Stay safe.

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  25. Dude,
    Your blog is awesome - the absolute shit and right on the money. I did Iraq and the Stan, now I'm stateside, blogging too.
    I will check your blog often, it is fuckin' real.
    Here's mine, if you're interested.

    http://bunker-chatter.blogspot.com/

    Rock on!
    Rick

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  26. Dude,
    Your blog is awesome - the absolute shit and right on the money. I did Iraq and the Stan, now I'm stateside, blogging too.
    I will check your blog often, it is fuckin' real.
    Here's mine, if you're interested.

    http://bunker-chatter.blogspot.com/

    Rock on!
    Rick

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  27. Wishing you a safe & speedy return home and that this "stuff" is over soon!

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  28. Wow -- what a great story. Thanks for all you do for those of us at home. We are amazed by your battlefield antics, and would like to hear more! Please know, we are all behind you and the mission, and think of all our soldiers and what they're going through everyday. Stay safe.

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  29. Awesome post. As much as is possible, you give a feel for what those 10 days were like. Coke colored pee, and then it got worse from there.

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  30. Wood, you're a character. Once upon a time, I was in G 2/7, and I have a son with 1st LAR. I also have a good friend who is a former Badger football player, and retired Marine who lives down the street. You've got friends in San Diego. Accept our hospitality when you get back to the stumps. We'll see that you're properly fed and watered. I'll be in touch.

    Casca

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  31. great post as a retired USA Viet vet. I know what being under fire is like. I want to give you guys there all the support I can.
    The liberal fuzzy wussys are dead wrong. Al Quida is our enemy, they wanted to kill us before 9-11 still do they will not quit if we leave Iraq, we will be fighting them over here then.

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  32. Jake,

    Just found your blog - great writing.

    My son is Marine Air, F/A-18D, and you and your people should know that they live for calls from you guys. I was a ground Marine in Viet Nam and we had our own opinions about the Air Wing - the softer side of the Corps. I'm guessing that attitude is still the same. But I now know that they are totally focused on the mission of keeping the guys on the ground alive. That's how the air crews define their reason for being. So give them a call anytime.

    Semper Fi
    Ken

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  33. wow. crazy 10 days. the toothbrush and asswiping made me laugh. . .at least it was not the same guy doing both at once.

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  34. Jake, you are a fine leader and have a true gift for humor and writing. I love your attitude - continue the great work and you and your buddies stay safe. By the way, the Badgers are my favorite Big Ten team and I hate Michigan.

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  35. Be safe......I had a friend from TEXAS who fought with these terrorist in iraq..... I havent heard from him for a very very long time. I hope he is safe and you be safe too

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  36. Jake,
    Us Air Force Guys are glad to help out when we can, hopefully if you end up in a tight spot again your air support will be a bit closer. Keep your head down bro - my prayers are with you guys.
    Matt

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  37. I just found this blog today and I really enjoy your writing. Easy to read and funny and still scary at the same time. I can't imagine what it is like there. Stay safe.

    Oh, the best line from that entry: "Ummm….Yeah…we’re gonna need you to go back out and finish that mission." Classic.

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