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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, July 31, 2007

Some Pics

This pic was supposed to portray the massive burn pit we had just got done digging behind us.

The Beanie Baby in my arms was a set up. I swear.

Damn it feels good to be a gansta.

'Nuff said.

We're really starting to get spoiled with these safe, simple 6 day ops. I'm happy to say that we once again did not get shot at, not even once. That's not to say things are completely safe over here, there's still danger and Marines are still getting hurt. One unfortunate case happened up in Karmah with one of our other companies, Echo. There was a bomb that went off alongside a dismounted patrol, seriously wounding two Marines. One of those Marines happened to be good friends with a few guys in our platoon, and particularly with one guy in my squad. It was a rough time for him when he found out, especially since he's already lost two of his closest friends over here, Howey and Windsor, and now a third friend of his has lost his leg. It really just shows you that not all of the pain guys take away from this place are physical.

Like I said though, our six days went by very uneventfully. The first three days were pretty much cake. We were expecting that to continue the final three days, but at the midway point we were told we were going to an area called Rufush. Now I'm going to have to put this in perspective for you. Rufush is a place that we have only seen labeled on a map. All that we have ever been told about Rufush is that it's THE al Qaeda stronghold in the Zaidon. Rufush is their Berlin, their Iwo Jima and Khe San (ok, not quite that bad). The only time we had heard of Marines going through Rufush is when we had pushed an entire batallion plus through there about 3 months ago, and when we did that we found a gazillion weapons and torture houses that would make Hostel 2 look mild. Great, grand and wonderful. We are almost done with our tour, and they want to send us to Rufush. Alone. Well, we didn't have much say in the matter, so we went. What a let down. We got there and it was like the suburbs. I spent most of my time on patrol playing with little kids and Beanie Babies. Seriously. It really helped show us that our efforts and sacrifices in the area HAVE payed dividends. This place is safer and more stable than when we arrived, and that is a good feeling.

Turns out that a raid we did a few ops ago (I didn't write about it) actually produced some good results. We really didn't think much of the grab at the time, we had gotten intel that a top AQ leader in the area was having a meeting with his top lieutenants and we went to crash the party. We prepped for it like we were storming Normandy, but when we got there we kicked in about 3 doors, cleared out 3 houses only to find some big, fat, Colonel Sanders looking dude sleeping on his roof...big target found. He really wasn't the evil looking guy we were expecting. Anyways, turns out this guy's been in the terror biz since the 70's, so I guess he was a good find. I would have expected someone who had been doing this for thirty plus years to not get caught while sleeping in a yard, buuuut who am I to say?

That story kind of leads me to another funny bit about Iraq. I was recounting the story to my sister, and her response was, "So let me get this straight. You kicked in 3 doors, ran through the house screaming "clear", banging into everything, and the guy was still asleep when you got to him?"


You see Iraqis will sleep through EVERYTHING. They wake up for no man. Sometimes we will go to a house to set up an observation point, maybe to watch a road or bridge or something. We'll knock on the door, banging as loud as we can, when we get no answer we assume it's either abandoned or the family isn't waking up, so we just walk in. Normally they will be sleeping on the roof because it's so hot. We'll walk upstairs and set up security on the roof, the whole time the family is just knocked out on the ground on mats. If they do wake up, they might barely rise up on their elbows, rub their eyes, look at us indifferently, and lay back down. Sometimes, when they don't wake up, they'll get up with the sunrise and find 13 Marines sharing their roof. That can be comical. The best is when the wife starts smacking her husband because he did a rotten job of security. This last time we were out we set up at a house on the roof, with the family sleeping. I was on the first watch shift, so when the sun came up I was asleep. I awoke to, "Mista, Mista, hobus?" When I opened my eyes this little girl was holding a piece of hobus bread her mom had just baked for me. I looked over where her dad was laying and he was sheepishly eating his piece. I just laughed and started eating. There you have it, a little Iraq Culture 101.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Back on base. I'm having some trouble with my thumb drive, so I'll try and get a post and some pics up here before we head back out in a few days. Take care, almost done!

Sunday, July 22, 2007

It's starting to come down to crunch time for me to decide what I want to do with my next two years in the Marines. I was offered a slot to Squad Leaders Course, but I turned it down because I still think I might leave the company to look for greener pastures, and, although I really want to go to that school, I couldn't justify taking that training from someone else. Our lieutenant decided to send Washington instead, who some of you know (Katie and Lauren, he's the 19 year old you tried sneaking into a bar in LA, he says hello).

I am still juggling my options. Coming back with the squad would be great and a solid choice, but I can't help but think I can get somewhere else. I'm very seriously considering taking that. Recon is still on the table, they're hurting for bodies bad. MARSOC looks like it could be more challenging than I originally thought to cross over to (although I did get my secret clearence, thanks for keeping all those skeletons in the closet for me).

Not sure how it's all going to play out, but the bottom line is I'm probably gonna be back here in Iraq before too long.


I forgot to mention below that you can still continue to send Motomail, those get here instantly. Instructions are on the right hand side of the site.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

No more packages

It pains me to say it, but the time has come to stop sending packages. If you've already sent them, they should get here to me, but if you send them now or any later, there is a chance that we won't receive them before we go home.

With that said, thank you to all of you who have supported me this whole time with packages and snail mail, the support was overwhelming, beyond anything that I ever could have imagined. I hope to repay you in some why on my return Stateside. Take care!
Well we're all back safe and sound. Only out for six days this time, so we finally got to know what that feels like. I got back to Camp Fallujah and didn't even know if I was supposed to take a shower because I wasn't making myself nauseous yet ( I opted for the shower).

We really didn't do a whole lot this op. We stayed in one village for three days that we had never been to and the people there were so nice. If we needed to stay in there house for a while they would stick around and try and chat instead of leaving for another family member's place. They'd bring their children over and have them play with us (the candy bribes helped with that too). I think a lot of it had to do with the area not being as traditional when it comes to the Islamic culture. The women there weren't covered and were allowed to speak, and that usually translates into a much lighter mood.

The last three days were pretty much just as uneventful with one exception. I was manning an entry control point with 5 other guys at about 1:30 in the morning when we suddenly noticed that the lights in a Humvee that was being used as a blocking position had been turned on. Now, you have to have driven a military humvee to know that turning the headlights on is not an easy task the first time. Anyways, it didn't make sense at all, it was 200 meters away, surrounded by open field to the south and a canal to the north, and no one was around it. So we call on the radio to see whats going on. They of course didn't know anything about it.

Great, insurgents AND ghosts. Freaking ghosts.

I took a team down the dirt road towards it with the following running through my mind, allright Jake, it's either someone playing a trick on you (not funny), an insurgent luring you into a trap and every step you take from here on out is going to be on a land mine, or its a ghost, probably a terrorist ghost, out terrorizing shit.

I got about 50 meters from the truck, tried inspecting it with a flashlight, which didn't work. I then posted a machine gunner on it at that position and took another guy around south in the field to inspect closer. I got about 30 meters from it on the south side and could see underneath it. Still nothing. Nada. I leave the guy behind with strict "if you see a ghost, scream like a girl and get help orders" and walked up by myself. At this point I'm singin 'Jesus Loves Me' and hoping it didn't get booby trapped. So this is how its going to end for me, inspecting ghost pranks, I deserve better, or at least extra ghostbuster pay. I got up to the passenger door, looked through the window expecting to see something, I don't know what. Nothing again. Check the driver door, no visible booby traps. Walk around to the passenger door, at which point I flip out because I realize that there's probably a shooter across the canal with a rifle trained on the door waiting for me. Sprint back to the other side. Work up the nerve to walk around again. Open door. Turn off lights. Walk back to the ECP at a really fast pace.

Back at our truck we start talking about it. We all decided that if any of the other humvee's turned on we'd run all the way back to base and grab garlic and wooden stakes.

That's it. That's my six day op. Happy kids and scary ghosts.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Happy Birthday

A very special Happy Birthday wish goes out to my awesome sister Meghan, who will be turning 22 this week on the 17th. It's number 22, which isn't a big deal to many, but in true Wood fashion she will bring down the house like it's her 21st. Wish I could be there sis, much love.

The Random

Who needs the beach? Honestly?

It doesn't do it justice, but this is me drowning in my own sweat.
Being stupid. Looks natural.

The Flag

The Dog

Thursday, July 12, 2007

I actually did some constructive things with my time in the field and got through some very good books. I started the op reading Good Muslim, Bad Muslim, a nonfiction that plots the rise of Islam in the world of politics and documents America’s involvement in the development of radical Islam. I’ll spare you with a term paper on the books argument, but I’ll try and provide a brief synopsis.

After a heavy introduction distinguishing the roles of Islam in society and politics throughout history the book dives straight into the west’s ethnocentric policies during the colonial period. It explains how western nations (namely Britain and France) were some of the first nations to use terrorism to pursue policy, the major case being the South African/Angola affair. It then focuses on America’s use of covert operations and funds to wage proxy war’s in nations around the world, notably Laos, Nicaragua, Iraq/Iran and finally Afghanistan. The major focus of the book is on America’s involvement in the Afghan war against Russia, when American CIA agents helped Pakistan open training camps and religious schools that would produce radical Muslim extremists recruited from around the globe who would fight Reagan’s ‘Evil Empire’ of the Soviet Union. The book asserts that the CIA warped the meaning and purpose of the Jihad in order to serve its purpose. Claims of the CIA’s involvement in the opium trade as a source of funding are also made.

The book was very compelling and the arguments we’re backed up with about 60 pages of citations and footnotes at the back of the book. I’ll hold my judgement on the argument the book makes for your sake.

The next book I read was A Thousand Splendid Suns, by the same author as The Kite Runner. This was the perfect book to read next because it dealt with the lives of two women as they lived through the wars in Afghanistan, first the revolution, then the Soviet invasion and then the mujhadeen revolt and the Taliban takeover. After having lived in a Muslim nation for seven months similar to Afghanistan and seeing what the lives of women are like in a traditional Islamic society, it was an awesome book. Very much on the depressing side, which, if you’ve ever seen a woman wearing a burqa getting smacked by her husband you would understand. But I would certainly recommend it to anyone who wants a glimpse at this culture or the recent history of Afghanistan. The author is amazing, I had read The Kite Runner about a year ago and fell in love with his style.

Towards the end of the op the pickin’s on books started to get slim. I kept eying this Clive Cussler novel sitting around, but I remembered that I had promised myself never to read a Clive Cussler novel. Finally sheer boredom won out and I picked it up and started reading it. 364 Dirk Pitt adventure filled pages later I remembered why I had sworn that I wouldn’t read that crap.

Back in the Land of the Living

Well, here I am, sitting behind a computer screen on day 13 of what was supposed to be a 6 day op. How does that happen you might ask? How do we end up staying out here more than twice as long as we were scheduled? That is a mystery even to us. We will be at Camp Fallujah prepping to leave for an op and we’ll be told to prep for 6 days. No more. We’ve been over extended too much lately. Six days max. Translation: "We’re gonna go ahead and let you head out there thinking six days, but on day four we’re going to extend you three more, and then the next day we’re gonna smack you with another four days…suckers."

Luckily these 13 days haven’t been too bad. Now understand that I say that in some serious context. We saw the end of June turn into July, which means God turned up the heat on the oven. We missed the Fourth of July dinner we were supposed to get back at South Camp. We ran low enough on water at one point that we were not allowed to brush our teeth or shave (no one complained about not shaving, but the fuzz on the teeth was a little annoying). The water we did drink felt like it came out of the microwave. We had to live in a house with dirt floors.
BUT, the patrol schedule was pretty easy, we never actually ran out of chow and water, everyone got through a bunch of books, we saw two pay periods come and go, we threw a bunch of batteries on the fire and had a homemade Fourth of July, and we didn’t get shot at, not even once.

It’s pretty hard to sit here and try to recount what happened at the beginning of this op. Two weeks is a long time in the field. If you’ll recall the last time we were out our rotation ended with us getting in a little 3 day tiff with al Qaeda. Well after we left the area, AQ decided to line the road they retreated down with about a baker’s dozen worth of IEDs. So the first night we came down to the Zaidon, our Route Clearance unit hit 4 IEDs within about a 500 meter stretch (luckily they roll in virtually indestructible vehicles, so they were okay). Because of this, we couldn’t reach where we were trying to go, so we went firm and tried to push down the road again the next night. Boom, boom, boom, boom and boom. They hit 5 more IEDs the second night. Hmm, this is like trying to push open a door labeled ‘pull’. Our platoon ended up just staying in the vicinity of the road that had all the IED’s on it.

About the most exciting patrol I had to do in 13 days involved going into the market to help cordon an IED that 4th platoon and the Iraqi Police had found when sweeping through. Yes, this is the same market that tried to kill me and my squad about 4 weeks ago when we got ambushed. Walking back to that thing was a complete head trip, everyone was a little itchy going back in. We got to the north side, and we had to link up with the IPs. We had brought an interpreter with us, but this guy was new to the job, and well apparently in the interpreter screening process they don’t ask if you speak English, because this terp spoke English about as well as my dog. After linking up with the IPs I actually sent him away because his lack of English was just making things worse. Explosive Ordinance Disposal ended up rolling up on scene and wanted to speak to someone who had actually seen the IED. Well that person wasn’t me, so I was trying to get this IP guy to explain where the bomb was. This became difficult because two IPs explained about 4 different bombs in about 7 different locations down the street. Finally, one of them just grabs a flag, runs down the street, kicks over a tire, points to a bomb lying there, drops the flag on it, and runs back. The Staff Sergeant from EOD and I just sat there with our jaws dropped. That guy was lucky he didn’t turn into a pink mist. Have you ever heard of the Darwin Awards? It’s a compilation of stories about people who die doing things like smoking while pumping gas and effectively control the outbreak of the ‘stupid’ genes in the human genetic code. I think this guy locked up a spot for himself in the Darwin Awards.

July Fourth came and went. Not without protest, but it came and went. On July 3rd ev
eryone was still holding out hope that we would be headed back to South Camp and would partake in the steak and lobster dinner that would be served. Those hopes were crushed. We tried to make the best of it. We obviously didn’t have access to any professional pyrotechnics, but hey, "adapt and overcome" or something moto like that. We saved up all our radio batteries, got our burn pit going, tossed them in and sat back. It was a nice Roman Candle/Black Cat combination, with an added element of ‘dodge the random burning piece of lithium battery screaming at your face’. Everyone talked about what they had done on last year’s 4th. Mine was spent at the beach in Hermosa and will go down as one of the all time greatest four day weekends ever. For four days it was wake up, cold beer, grimace, grab pounding head, glass of water and aspirin, cold beer, walk down to grocery store, buy new Styrofoam cooler and beer, walk down to beach, drink, swim and party all afternoon, walk home, shower, bbq, walk to the pier, go to the bar, come home, repeat. Last year’s Fourth saw us pioneer going to a bar called the "Poop Deck", where we played flip cup on the table and Joe and I climbed up on the roof, a college style keg party in Bodine’s garage, complete with beer bong, nights at Union, days at Dragon and the drunk man’s triathlon. I’m pretty sure I wrote a post following last year’s fourth, it’s probably in the archives, and when I get back to South Camp, I think I’ll read it and relive it.

We adopted a dog from the first house we stayed at. We pulled in and the house was abandoned but it had this little puppy chained up outside. The thing was filthy but we gave it a little shower and took him in. This little guy probably ate half our food in the first couple of days. Everyone loved the little guy, even though he wasn’t exactly house trained and he like to pee where we slept. Having him around reminded a lot of us of back home. When we moved houses three days later we took him with us. He was always waking us up to play in the middle of the night, biting guys on the ear or licking feet. The best part was he ate all the MREs that none of the Marines like, the thing was a little garbage disposal. Unfortunately, he followed one of the squads outside the wire when they were leaving on patrol and chased something into a field and never came back to them, so we haven’t seen him in 3 days now.

The house that we stayed in last was a complete dump. Dirt floors, a roof with a giant whole in it, hens and roosters that think they own the place, lots of bugs (including one that we have zero clue what it is, it’s about 3 inches long, looks like a cross between a grasshopper, a locust, a scorpion and an alien. We call it the Land Lobster), spiders and bats. At first we thought the bats would make really bad roommates because they made a lot of noise at night and were constantly flying around, not to mention they’re nothing but rats with wings. Then we realized that they hunt the bugs and mosquitoes, so we formed an unholy alliance with them. No one was allowed to kill the bats. The rooster, on the other hand, was fair game. That guy would constantly launch sneak attacks on us when our backs were turned and then retreat through open windows to safety.

We did manage to invent a new game on this op. It’s pretty lame and not a whole lot of fun, but it helps pass the time. Here’s how it goes. During the day (and night) it’s so hot that you are literally swimming in your own sweat. You will lay down and just sweat as if every pore in your body is a garden hose. On top of the sweating, the bugs are constant. The bats were just too undermanned and underfunded to effectively control the bug population. So here are the rules. You lay down and try to go to sleep. You close your eyes and succumb to the misery of the heat. You work up a killer sweat, until its running down your body in little rivers, you also stop swatting away all flies. Then every time you feel the hairs on your skin tickle you try and determine whether it’s a fly landing on you or sweat tickling you on its way down. That’s it, that’s the game.

Really, looking back on the last two weeks it wasn’t too bad. The time actually went by fairly fast. Two paychecks come and gone. By the time we come back out here again July will be halfway over. Guys have started talking crazy like, "if we come out for two weeks ever time, we only do two rotations per month!" Yeah, awesome and you only get about 3 days off per month, no thanks. But, in reality, I’ve stopped caring. Being in the field sucks, but everyday, no matter where you spend it, is one more day closer to going home. Closer to my family and friends, closer to sharing a cold beer with my dad and talking about being here, closer to sitting around a fire that’s not a burn pit full of trash and human waste, closer to the Badgers in Vegas, closer to the beach. So long as the clock keeps ticking, I’ll let it pass wherever.