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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.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

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.

21 comments:

  1. Yay Jake you're back!

    I was on the phone with mom when I refreshed your page and saw your post--I told her that there was a post and she yelped with joy and practically hung up on me.

    Internet's down at the house (what else is new) so she can't see your post--call her!

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  2. I'm so excited to see a post!! Yippy!!!

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  3. Wood-

    We thought about you on the weekend before the Fourth...definetly went to the Poop Deck. However nobody climbed on to the roof to raise the American flag like last year. Also hit up the huge beach party but no Asian Porn Stars were seen.

    Come back safe...Stoeck

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  4. Trackbacked by The Thunder Run - Web Reconnaissance for 07/12/2007
    A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the day...so check back often.

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  5. It's very good to hear from you. After you've been on an op for 10+ days, I check your blog about every hour at work to see if you've made it back safely. As always, you have my utmost respect and first dibs in my prayers each night. Stay safe over there.

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  6. Glad to see you made it back in safely, your extended family in WI keeps you in our prayers. Hurry home,a beer is in the fridge with your name on them! Literally, there is one with a label that reads BadgerJake! Everyone knows the story of that beer, and not to drink it, EVER! It's our own little homage to you! Ready & waiting for you the next time you're in WI!
    The Weber's Pretty Lake, WI

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  7. Nice to read your update...this is one of the best blogs I read.

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  8. Hi Jake,

    Glad to see you back. I was wondering if they were going to keep you guys out long enough to attack AQ with you own brand of bio terror......like socks! I know Wherry could. Anyway thanks for the post, and I hope to meet you in Ca soon. I will get Steve to introduce me. Take care!

    Stephen's Dad

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  9. Jake, I started reading your blog last week. It's awesome, no doubt. I'm actually a Sgt in the Marines, I used to be Arty, now I'm the Supply chief for a recon unit, came back from Iraq last November. Anyways, keep it up, screw that whole military members not being allowed to blog, you're lack of bias and just telling the story is great, especially with the almost sarcastic humor involved. Anyways keep it up...By the way I played high school football with Owen Daniels back in Naperville, weird little twist I guess.

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  10. That random Sgt. again...ironically enough, my girlfriend also happens to originally be from Bettendorf

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  11. Hey, Jake. Glad to see a post - we check in several times a day for updates and are glad to hear you're safe.

    Much love,
    D,E,M,J,E,C, & G

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  12. Jake-
    I'm just a random American that's been reading your blog off & on for awhile now. Thanks for the updates, and thanks for serving.
    Stay safe.
    Bill

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  13. Jake
    Thank you. Glad to hear you're doing well and are back safe! You're in my prayers.

    Wood N' Board, 2020 We see clearly

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  14. I found a story you might find interesting/amusing. there seems to be a monster badger attacking in Basra!
    www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1865219/posts

    Lori in TX

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  15. I think everyone in America should have a Badger Jake beer in their fridge.

    You and your peeps are always welcome to Texas (Austin, SA or Houston) for some real fajitas, beer, and homemade tortillas.

    I got much love for you brother!

    Deb & Zoe

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  16. Glad you're back Jake. Hang in there and keep safe. By the way... you should write a book, but I bet you've been told this before =)

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  17. You know what? I really hate that market. We accidently (I really do mean accidently) blew it up a month or two ago... I wonder if that has anything to do with the IED alley they have going now.

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  18. Jake, you are "The Shit". Burning lithium batteries for entertainment, that'll peg the fun-meter everytime.

    Casca

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  19. Dear Jake,

    Just wanted you to know that you are in my thoughts and prayers. Stay safe - we are proud of your achievements at UW, and your service to your in Iraq.

    Hope you don't mind - I'm planing to run a note about you in the upcoming Letters & Science alumni newsletter that will go out to c. 140,000 people in September.

    Would send you some Babcock ice cream, but suspect that it wouldn't survive the trip.

    On Wisconsin!
    Lucy Mathiak
    Assistant Dean for College Relations
    College of Letters & Science
    UW-Madison

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  20. Along with the rest of the comments...glad to see you back on the web. When it gets about 90 degrees here I will try your "fun game" that you play...maybe in middle the woods some where I can find some serious bugs.

    If your intersted in a good book, the Black Swan, is great. Don't know if it is available to you and if it isn't I will send it. You would enjoy some of the theories...or lack there of that are presented in the book. Let me know

    What I am glad you are not thinking about are your missions. I am amazed how well you can take extensions to your missions without letting phase you. I don't know if the rest of the guys around you feel the same way, but I can imagine that you are the one leading the charge.

    Keep your head up and keep fighting strong.

    Joel

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