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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.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Randoms

- Iran needs to watch itself. British Royal Marines aren't too different from us. I dare you to nab 15 Americans.

- I found out who started the war. The Girl Scouts of America. They are making a killing off this thing in cookie sales. Guys can't even give them away over here.

- I had the worst April Fool's joke played on me. I woke up and I was still in Iraq.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Windsor Gets Home


This is a photo Mr. Windsor sent us of Nathan arriving home on US soil in Oregon. His funeral and service were two Sundays ago.

Back on the map

We had another memorial today. It was for Windsor and Timberman. I haven't talked about Timberman's death yet. I happened about a two weeks ago now. He was from a different platoon and was shot on a patrol. I've known Timberman as long as I've been a Marine. We were in the same platoon in boot camp, and we went through SOI together. He was from Wisconsin too.

It's been a while since I've been able to communicate. It kind of went to prove why having such good ability to communicate is a bad thing. I went off the radar for 10 days because of an operation we were doing, and I come back to an inbox full of "are you okay" "I'm worried sick". The last thing I want to do is somehow make people lost sleep because of a lack of communication, but you need to realize that no news is good news in this line of work.

The operation we did was a sweep through an area called the Zaidon. We took almost our whole battalion to seal off the area and sweep through it. My platoon got tasked with a blocking position, which irritated the hell out of us because we have more combat experience than anyone in Al Anbar right now. So we spent 5 days blocking 3 bridges. We had to fortify them like the Maginot lines. Apparently a strand of concertina wire that spanned the whole thing, plus four Marines with automatic weapons wasn't going to stop one shepherd with an AK. So we had to refortify the bridge (if you want to call a 2.5 foot wide catwalk that spans a canal a bridge...) with seven strands of wire in the middle of the day. They almost actually issued us targets to hang on our chests, but that was cancelled last minute. So now we have more concertina wire than Alcatraz. But apparently we also need 8 Marines in two Humvees with .50 cal machine guns on each bridge 24 hours a day. Do you know how much sleep we got in 5 days? About 8-10 hours. Total. After making us refortify the bridge the second time, the CO came by and asked us if we slept better last night knowing we were better protected by the bridge (I didn't feel any better protected), I replied that I couldn't say because I hadn't slept in two days.

One of the nights I was working on the bridge I came face to face with about the scariest scenarios in my life. I'm tangled up completely in C wire, its cutting into about every limb on my body, and i'm leaning against a railing (built by Iraqis, not the finest craftsmen), over a canal filled with shit water. I turn to my security guy and tell him that I'm freakin out about the rail collapsing and my gear dragging me to the bottom of the canal tangled in C wire. He responds with, "yeah it's like you're in one of those SAW movies, where you have to mangle yourself to save your life". Then he proceeds to talk in the creepy SAW voice, "If you value your life..." Not great working conditions.

Overall I guess the op went well. The other platoons found about 50 weapons caches apparently, everything from AK47s to scoped rifles, to mortars and artillery shells. Fox Company also found a torture house, along the lines of what you hear of in the news when these groups kidnap each other and torture them and then dump their bodies. From what I heard it was very disturbing.

Well the other reason that I haven't been able to get on recently is because as a result of preparing for WWIII on the bridge I had about 100 small cuts all over my body, some of which on my hand decided to get infected from the shit water. So my hand swelled up and I was running a fever for the last few days, and wasn't able to come get over to the COC and get on the internet.

What else....

I filled an entire 6 hour block of post talking with Cartwright about how good a Qdoba burrito would be right now. Chicken, rice, cheese (no beans), hot salsa... that conversation also included Miller Lites.

My buddy Dave Folwell sent me season 1 of "The Office" and I have been marathoning it. I'd never seen it but that show is hysterical.

Somebody sent me Barry Alvarez's autobiography in a care package (he was my college coach). He writes exactly like he spoke. It's pretty funny to read, I actually read it and hear his voice.

The Badger loss still stings.

I have cut my hair into a mohawk, but I call it a warhawk, and I also grew a mustache, but I call it a battle 'stache or trash 'stache. It looks awful. I mean, I won't even post a picture it looks so bad, but I'm at no risk of seeing anyone who cares for 5 months, so why not?

That's all folks. Take care.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

WHAT!?!

I don't even know what happened. I really don't want to hear about it. All I know is that I am in South Camp, supposedly to get some "R and R" and I'm watching ESPN in the chow hall and I see that Ohio State made it to the Sweet 16. Wow, big flippin deal. A couple more teams are talked about, and then they flash a graphic that shows how many teams from each conference are in the Sweet 16.

Big Ten...1 Team.

Well, that's not possible I thought. If Ohio State made it, that makes two teams from the Big Ten. Them and Wisconsin.

Or so I thought. Apparently losing to UNLV eliminates you???

Good. Gooooood Bo Ryan. This is exactly what I need. As if I don't have enough stress. You're gonna throw this on my plate.

I'm sorry Bo. I didn't mean it. But seriously Badger Nation. I now officially have nothing until August when fall camp starts. The NFL draft doesn't even count, because its a foregone conclusion that John "golden arm" Stocco is going to be the 1st overall pick (and probably rookie of the year), Joe Thomas is going to be the second pick, and Roderick Rogers and Zew are going to miraculously be simultaneously picked by the same team.

Friday, March 16, 2007

VICTOR!

This one goes out to my old roommate and best friend Vic Meckstroth. Happy Birthday big guy. A birthday and St. Patty's all rolled into one. Dang.

Here's my story for you. We call our humvees Vic's. And each platoon names their own and paints their design on them. Well, since your name is Vic, and your last name, Meckstroth, means "roadmaker", my vic's call sign is Vic Roadmaker. I even had a stencil made to paint Roadmaker 206 on it, but then the higher ups put an end to marking vic's because they thought it was causing units to be sought out specifically and targeted.

Nevertheless, Vic Roadmaker does its share of damage. 206 for life.

Packages

Just wanted to take a moment to thank everyone for all the packages that I have been receiving. It definitely helps to get a little taste of home every time mail comes in.

I do have one question though? Who is Mrs. Polizzi from Redondo Beach? She says she knows me through a Kelly. I have gotten two packets of letters from her Girl Scout Troops. One just came with this last mail run, they were Valentine's Day cards from this troop. It was awesome. This is how my favorite read-

Dear Warrior,
You're really really good at fighting.
Please stay safe, I love you.

Bey Bey

Haha. That one is going up on the wall.

Some Pics


This is team M.A.N., ready for a combat patrol. L to R, Me, Cpl Jeff Muir and Cpl Nick Roberts

Update- Hunt

- Something really ironic happened the other day. I was just getting on the internet and I was going to write a little update on the blog. Since everything I had been writing about lately was bad news, I decided that I would freshen things up a bit with a lighter fare. The topic I had chosen was a little bet that was made between my two best friends in the platoon Clay Hunt and Jeff Muir. On the way over here they got into a little argument over who was going to get bigger during the deployment. They decided to settle it with a bench press competition. The stakes...$500. They even went so far as to enact what came to be called the "Purple Heart Clause" which stated that no injury or wound recieved would exempt the wounded from owing the bet, if you couldn't bench you were going to pay up.

So that's the brief background. So, there I was, getting ready to start typing when the radio watch comes upstairs looking for the CO.

"Where's Captain Popowski, we just received a medevac request?"

then again,

"Where's the CO, Golf 3 Alpha just sent up a 9 line."

That's my platoon. We were only 3 days out from losing Windsor, and our first squad had just punched on a short local patrol. I about put my fist through the screen. A lot of chaos ensued in the following minutes. QRF was launched for backup and the rest of my platoon began staging for secondary QRF. We were all huddled around a man-pack radio, trying to listen in to the reports as they were being sent up, but we couldn't get who had gotten hit, or how bad.

Then I heard Wiley, "It was Hunt"

My stomach dropped right out of me. I just felt like vomiting. Within 2 seconds I thought about pretty much everything I could think of. The last 7 months going to LA every weekend with him. Sunday Fundays. The bet. Meeting his parents. His memorial. I was expecting the worst.

"He got shot in the hand"

Boom. I snapped back to the present. The hand? Haha, that poor bastard.

Roberts- "Well, looks like Hunt owe's you $500 Muir"

"Damn thats messed up. You gotta give it at least...at least a 5 minute grace period before you say something like that"

As you can see, it didn't take long for the situation to lighten. We ended up getting called out on secondary QRF. On my way out to the Vic's, Hunt was kneeling there, waiting for an airlift. He waved me over. By this point he was all hopped up on morphine.

"Wood, I love you man, I love you brother. I'm gonna be okay, but I love you man"

"Allright buddy, I hear ya. You gonna be okay?"

"Yeah man, just fightin' for those dollar beers man"

Well Hunt, congratulations. You're going home. I know you'd rather be with us, but you did your part. We'll share those beers back in the States in five months.

Much love. $1 beers in '07.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Prayers

Yesterday my platoon lost another brother. We were conducting a platoon sized raid on a known insurgent meeting place. We came in fast and wrapped up 60 detainees. We had been there for a little over an hour, tearing the place apart looking for weapons caches and doing initial interrogations on key suspects.

I was with a fire team on the roof of a house about 150 meters away, trying to establish radio communication with COC when I heard a single snap ring out. I looked down and saw Lance Corporal Nathan Windsor go down. Immediately our platoon was under fire from about 4 automatic weapons positions. I got the RO to call in a 9 line medevac request and then myself and my machine gunner started firing on a vehicle that was being used as a mobile platform. After the radio call was sent up, I took my team off the roof and made the dash across the field under the cover of of our turret gunners.

By the time I got to Windsor he had been stabilized by our docs. He had been shot in the neck.

Our turret gunners were firing pure hatred out of their barrels. We expended over 5,000 rounds of ammunition, launched over 30 high explosive grenades and were still under attack. The people that came after us were not Iraqi. This was a complex ambush that only foreign trained fighters could have pulled off.

When I carried Windsor onto the bird he was still alive. Unconscious, but alive. Sometime after that God decided to take him from us.

He was 19. He was Blake Howey's best friend. We called them 'the twins'. They have been reunited.

We managed to get some of his murderers. Between 4-6 of them went down. But probably 10 got away.

Our platoon has been hit hard. This is the second brother we have lost in 3 weeks. Three others have been sent home for their wounds. Please keep praying for us. Windsor and Howey were good friends to a lot of the younger guys here. I knew Windsor since the School of Infantry, I was his Guide there. He was my first roommate when I got to the fleet. I am handling it okay, but others are struggling.

We few. We precious few. We band of brothers. For he who sheds his blood with me shall forever be my brother.

Lance Corporal Nathan Windsor
Selflessly gave his life on 11 March 2007
May he rest in peace

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Blood Striping

So I'm going to give you all a little history lesson on the Marine Corps. Marines take great pride in their uniform, especially their dress blues. Everybody that has ever joined the Marines joined because they saw those awful commercials when they were young of some dude running through Pan's Labrynth and then slaying some stupid dragon with a sword and then...poof...he's wearing dress blues.

Well everything on the uniform has some historical significance, right down to the number of buttons on the blouse. One of these things is the red stripe worn down the pant leg of all Non-Commissioned Officers and above. This red stripe is called a blood stripe, and is worn to signify the enormous number of NCO's and above that were slain in battle at the battle of Chapultepec.

So I just became an NCO. But I had to 'earn' my blood stripe. That means that anyone NCO and above that has seen me the last two days has tackled me and beaten my legs senseless. It's a little 'tradition'. It's actually pretty funny, but I am walking like a 95 year old man. I guess its better than when they used to take a board lined with nails, put it up against your legs and take turns smacking it, literally giving you a blood stripe. Maybe I should stop complaining.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

It's been a couple of days, here's a little run down of what has been going on.

- On Sunday my platoon memorialized Howey. The ceremony is something that is beautiful to watch because it really shows how much the toughest guys in the world care for one of their own, but I hope that I never see another one for as long as I live. I read Ecclesiasties 3:1-11. It was an excellent verse, it speaks of how there is a time and place for everything. A captain from another company was there and played Amazing Grace on the bagpipes, that's where a lot of guys lost their composure. By far the worst part is when the platoon commander calls roll.

Lance Corporal Disbro
"Here Staff Sergeant"
Lance Corporal Garza
"Here Staff Sergeant"
Lance Corporal Hilbert
"Here Staff Sergeant"
Lance Corporal Howey...

Lance Corporal BLAKE Howey...

LANCE CORPORAL BLAKE H. HOWEY...

and then taps sounds off in the distance.

Walking up to his memorial, with his rifle stuck bayonet down in a block of wood, with his helmet resting on top, his boots at the base, and his dog tags around the pistol grip was difficult, but it helped.

As soon as the ceremony ended, we put our gear on, loaded our weapons, pulled up our vehicles, and went out on a 3 day op. I guess thats how you honor him, just going out and doing it all over again.

-We went out on a 3 day op like I said. We headed to a part of our AO that we had not yet been, and that we suspected was housing alot of insurgents. To be safe, we had a dismounted team sweeping in front of our vehicles the whole way out there, looking for road side bombs and trigger men. After about 3 hours, it was my team's turn to sweep. We got out there and relieved the other guys, and about 400 meters down the road one of my guys yells out, "Wood, I think I have one".

"one what?"
"An IED"
"You sure?"
"I have copper wire leading from the canal and then it gets buried under the road"
"shit"..."back up"

We called it in and EOD (explosive ordinance disposal) came out about 2 hours later and did a controlled detonation for us. About 5 hours later, we finally got to our patrol base.


-The last big thing to write about. Last night I was checking some emails when my company commander and company 1st Sergeant came out and yelled at me to get outside. I thought I was in some kind of trouble, so I got outside and immediately stood at attention. Then the 1st Sergeant starts reading off a Meritorious Field Promotion Warrant. They had gotten permission to promote me to Corporal. It was awesome. My warrant is actually signed by the Commanding General of the 1st Marine Division.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Wow. Internet two days in a row? No wonder we haven't won the war yet. Joking of course. I'm joking because I was trying to win the war last night in a freezing torrential downpour. I really did not expect to run into those over here....

Oh well. I did check one thing off of my to do list last night though. I managed to have hot chai with a Sheikh. We ended up patrolling to a house that looked big enough for our squad to get inside and escape the weather. We found out that a Sheikh lived there and he was not too happy to see us, but we didn't care and stayed anyway. It was cold afterall, and we were wet.

We also went sat down with one of the local teachers. He confirmed for us that there are many forces at play right now in our AO. We have a buffet of bad people. Al Qaeda is definitely back here, we also have Syrian and Iranian militants, along with Jordanian amateurs. On top of this, a vigilante group has formed to fight them. These guys are just as bad as anyone, but for the time being it appears they are on our side. I say this because they went to one of our trouble spots last week, nabbed 5 bad guys and cut off their heads. I'm not sure whether to fear them or send them a gift basket. I'm probably just gonna try and avoid them for the moment.

Well, love you all. God bless Bo Ryan and the Wisconsin Badgers.
Not too much new over here. We went out for about a 9 hour foot patrol last night. It didn't start out to well. We got inserted by another platoon, and as we were dismounting the vehicles, one of the other team leaders comes up to me with some copper wire. Copper wire is what the insurgents use to command detonate their bombs, so whenever we see it, we pretty much know one is nearby. Well, Roberts, the guy that was showing it to me, loves his pranks, so at first i thought he was just joking around. He finally convinced me that his vehicle had parked right on top of the wire. We immediately started moving vehicles and finding cover. A few minutes later we convinced ourselves that no one was watching us waiting to push a button, so we came out and I was the poor unlucky one who started following the wire. We followed it into an open field for about 800 meters, until it finally stopped at a detonator switch. Everything turned out okay, but just seemed like a bad way to start a long patrol. The rest of the patrol was pretty uneventful, until one of the guys in my squad got attacked by a rabid dog and he had to shoot him. That's one of the things about Iraq. There are dogs everywhere. EVERYWHERE. You can't walk 20 feet without having a wild pack of dogs around you. None of them are pets, and ALL of them are rabid.

I've been getting alot of care packages from everyone. Thank you very much. A lot of the stuff is for the kids, and its a good feeling to hand it out to them. Almost all of the time they take it and cant get the smile off their face. Sometimes the adults will take whatever it is from them and look at us suspiciously until we leave. Either way, its probably worth the effort.

There are some things I am really starting to miss. Like showers. I actually don't remember the last time I took one. The only saving grace is that everyone smells the same, and we still all smell better then the Iraqis. How about flushing toilets? I haven't used one of those in a month. I will never fear a port-a-potty again. Brushing your teeth in a sink. Changing socks. Not wearing the same flight suit for 3 straight weeks. Being able to sleep at night. Not having to eat chow with a rifle between my legs. That's a biggie. We got a big upgrade when two people moved out of our room. Now I share it with 8, but its still the size of the room I had in college all to myself.

Howie's memorial is in 2 days. Everyone is ready for that to come. We patrolled past near where we got hit that night. Brought back some weird feelings. You look at all the houses in the vicinity and try to discern which one was responsible, but its so hard to know because you really have to catch them in the act. We'll get them though. We still have 6 months to find them.

One more thing. Badgers are going to win the Final Four. Period. End of questions.

Until next time.