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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.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day

Normally, come Memorial Day and July 4th and all those other 24 hour windows of opportunity provided to Americans to show their appreciation for their country and their country's heroes, I try to write something long and thoughtful, either dwelling on what the day means to me, or what it should mean to you.

Maybe I'm being lazy, but I don't feel like that today. I'll just give you a homework assignment. Go find a veteran's mother and thank her. The strength and bedrock of this country is found in the women that raise men who appreciate what they have and are willing to fight for it. Go find a mother who raised her son with love and compassion and selflessness, and then selflessly watched him march off to war, with nothing more than a whispered "I love you", only to never see him return.

Thanks Audrey.

That's that. Now, moving on. My good friend Dave Folwell sent me this article recently.


He said he was a little worried about sending it, didn't want to give me any ideas or rekindle my strange love affair with Iraq and Afghanistan. The writer is an Army vet of Iraq. It discusses just how addicting war can be. He's right. It really is like a drug, an itch that you need to scratch. No matter the horrors you see or the innocence you lose, regardless of the risk you take, you never feel more alive, you'll never feel closer to God, you'll never feel more LIKE god.

Read it. I couldn't have put it better myself.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Sendoff to Afghan

This past Friday I was invited to a BBQ by a friend of mine from the sniper community. It was a going away party for his unit, which is soon deploying to the same general area of Afghanistan that I operated in a year ago.

In all honesty, the event was pretty difficult for me to handle. This was a unit that I had the opportunity to join for the deployment but obviously opted not to. I don't regret that decision in the least, however, standing on the sidelines and watching these guys drink beers and talk about what they were about to do was hard. No matter what my situation in life from this point on, it will always be hard for me to watch guys prepare to go off and fight the same fight that I have trained for. I didn't know everyone that was there, and even after being introduced to every last one of them, I couldn't recite more than two names, but for the next seven months each one of their faces will be scanned into my memory, and every time that I check the papers on base, I'll scan the photos of our casualties, hoping that I don't recognize one.

There were a couple of things that made it particularly hard. The Marine that invited me is a good friend, but more importantly someone that I respect on a professional level as highly as anyone in the sniper community. He greeted me at the door with a huge grin, and when I asked him what the grin was all about, all he could get out was that he'd just found out he was going to be a father. This is a three time combat vet, a hero of the battle of Fallujah, who has been trying to have a child with his wife for about 3 years, of course fate decides to inform him his wife is expecting only days before he goes on his fourth deployment, to arguably the worst and most dangerous area in the world. Don't think he let it get him down though. Between having me recount stories of Taliban firefights to his teams and pounding Coors Light, he was sneaking away with his sloppy grin to pick his wife up with a hug. Knowing where he was going it was hard to watch. His wife, obviously not ignorant of what her husband was about to embark on, refused to let the obvious 800 lb gorilla sour the mood. I wondered where she got her strength.

Later in the evening he would corner me and tell me that I had been one of his favorite students. He said that last year he read about what myself and my platoon were doing in Afghanistan, and that he'd 'allowed himself to believe that we were having success because we learned something, anything from what he had taught us the year before'. Almost with embarrassment, he said that he convinced himself that we came home alive because he had the chance to impart his acquired knowledge from prior deployments to us. He asked, over and over again, for me to reenlist and go instruct at the school house. He told me that I had the ability to save lives, that I should go and pass on the knowledge and lessons I've learned.

I smiled and laughed a little, shrugged off the seriousness of the talk, and, with something nearing shame, swallowed the lump in my throat and told him, "Eh, I don't think so man, I think I'm going to get out."

I don't know what the next chapter of my life holds, but I do know that I'm ready to move on from the Marine Corps. I will never regret joining, and I will take the lessons I've learned with me wherever I go, but I know that there's something else out there for me to move on to (I just have no idea what it is yet). I'm sure I'll live with a lot of 'what-ifs', what if I had volunteered to go back to Afghanistan (the what ifs in this case are probably mostly negative), what if I had reenlisted to instruct at the school house, or what if I had made it a career. The only what if I wont have to wonder about is what if I'd gotten out after four years, with all my fingers and toes.

I wish these guys all the best. I pray they are as invincible as they claim, that they've been trained as well as I was. I pray that they tread lightly and never make that step that goes boom. I trust that they'll shoot straight and true, that they'll take the fight to the Taliban. I hope that they all come home, consciences clean. Almost everything in me worries for you, but a small part of me envies you. Good luck.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Week in Review

A lot has happened since the last time I got on here to write. For starters, I never did make that Saturday rally I wrote about last. I fell into a Nyquil induced coma and awoke to see Manny highlights on ESPN... I may reevalute my thoughts on being able to last a round with him.

Sunday I woke up feeling pretty fresh. I had gotten plenty of sleep the night before and was ready to prematurely celebrate Cinco de Mayo (Tres de Mayo style) down in the South Bay with nothing less than some Poncho's karaoke. Well, 8 margaritas later I woke up Monday morning, having slipped into a state of major cold/flu withdrawal. Contrary to popular belief, tequila does not, I repeat, does not provide the final push to getting over sinus problems. Monday turned into one of the more miserable sick experiences I've had in recent memory (excluding of course the two bouts of giardhia I fought in Afghanistan...nasty story). Basically my Monday and Tuesday turned into a Blockbuster/chicken soup marathon. I can think of better ways to spend a week of leave.

Wednesday brought a significant change in fortune though, because at about 6:45 I received a call from Indra's brother in law asking me if we wanted to meet them at the Staples Center for the Laker's playoff game. That took approximately two seconds for me to answer for the both of us. Obviously getting the call at 6:45 gave Indra 3 minutes to get ready (who knew Laker games were a big deal?) and it gave me about 30 minutes to make the drive from Pasadena to downtown LA. Difficult, but possible with proper motivation. We arrived a little into the 1st quarter and found out that these seats were located 4 rows up from the floor right behind the announcers. Hard to complain when you're down the row from the Red Hot Chili Peppers and asking Dustin Hoffman to move his head (correction, I found out he's only about 4 ft tall, so it wasn't a problem...). The game actually turned out to be really good, with the Lakers eventually pulling away for the win. And, since they held the Rockets under 100 points, everybody got free Jack in the Box tacos. Indra wouldn't be denied her tacos, so that provided a nice little cap to the night.

Then there was Thursday. AKA Clay's Wedding Eve, aka rehearsal diner, aka open bar. With Clay and Robin set to tie the knot the following evening on Friday, the rehearsal dinner took place in Manhattan Beach on Thursday. A few pints short of a case later I found myself with a microphone in hand, in front of about 50 friends and out of town guests. I decided to entertain them with a story. I told them of the time in Afghanistan when Clay lost a 'manhood challenge' to me, which subsequently gave me sole possession of his manhood. I spent the majority of the deployment carrying his man card, at times trying to barter it to the Afghans for things like a block of ice or a case of Pepsi. Eventually, when I found out Clay's manhood had a street value akin to left-over pizza, I threw it in the Helmand River and watched it float away to Goreshk. Well, being a good friend, I gave Clay his man card back Thursday night. I figured he'd need it at some point Friday evening.

Friday found Jeff Muir and I passed out on two full beds in some Hermosa hotel room, late night fast food carnage strewn everywhere. We eventually cleared out heads and set out to take care of the most important item on our to-do list... booze cooler for the wedding party limo. We obviously bought bottles of champagne for the ladies, and 40 oz bottles of Miller High Life, the Champagne of Beers, for the guys. Hey, that's what you get when you send the two of us on a mission like that. We also purchased a 12 pack and drank that at Joe's, pre-getting dressed time, hey, it was a stressful time for us. Fast forward a few hours, the ceremony was beautiful, over looking the ocean and all that, the limo ride was getting nasty, and the reception was a whole lot of fun.

My speech for that night revolved around how the first time I met and hung out with Clay all he could talk about was how excited he was to be single, and how he couldn't wait to be the ultimate bachelor combo with me (at this point I was getting some "don't go there gestures from Joe, Mike and Dell...). But how on the second weekend we hung out, he met a girl at a bar, danced like an idiot, and confessed to me on our weekly Sunday drive back that he was "in love". Tires screeched, I screamed, "get out of my car," but the rest is history. Now Clay and Robin are lying around on some beach in Antigua, sipping on Mai-Tais.

A cloud still fogs most of my Saturday morning. I know I woke up on Joe's couch, and I know I didn't move from that position for a very long time. Later in the day though I received some bad news. Turns out my family dog, Husker, finally decided he'd had enough time chasing his own tail and passed away. He was pretty old, and we knew it was only a matter of time, but he'd been in the family for 13 years, so it was still pretty hard to stomach. Later Husk-man.

Now I find myself back in Pendleton, back in the grind. We have another course on deck right now, so that takes up most of my time. Today the Marine Corps finally allowed me to see a podiatrist for my foot. If you have never seen me in flip flops, I can't really describe to you the grotesque nature of the 'hump foot', but its an injury that I suffered my senior year in high school, and the arthritic bump on the top of my foot has become more than I want to bear. I've been complaining about it for a while, but since 29 Palms didn't have a podiatrist, the doctors there decided that Motrin pills would take care of the problem (fyi, Motrin is not a doctor, and does not perform surgery to remove arthitic bumps and fuse joints). Well, turns out now I have to have surgery in July, which sucks, but will probably make a lot of the pain more bearable. For some reason though, crutches don't sounds like they'll mix with sandy beaches too well.

Time to take a breather.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Saturday Rally

I've been battling some sort of bug for the past two weeks, it's actually been going through our entire instructor staff. I thought that I had it beat this week, until we began running our end of course missions, and I had to sleep outside for a few nights in 45 degree weather. That kind of set me back a few steps on the road to recovery. I did what I thought was a relatively mature thing last night and stayed in, something I'm attempting not to repeat tonight. I'm digging deep to beat this swine flu into submission so I can enjoy the Bulls game and the Hatton-Pacquiao fight tonight.

Speaking of the Pacquiao fight, I'd like to discuss an argument I had with my buddies down here. During the last Pacquiao-Hatton fight in November, an argument began about whether I could last, no, survive, ONE ROUND against Manny Pacquiao. Note that I do not claim that I would WIN this single round, only that Pacquiao would not be able to knock me out. Don't get me wrong, he's pound for pound one of the best boxers in the world, but he is only 140 pounds. I 100% think I'd get bloodied pretty good, but considering I have about 11 inches of height on him, 100 pounds of weight, I think I could keep my gloves up and absorb enough of his blows for 3 minutes to make it out alive. Let me know, what do you think? If anyone knows Manny, Joe said he's willing to bet $10,000 on it, so let's set this thing up...

Really? This guy is going to beat me in one round?

Okay, this is slightly more impressive...