Spring Break Iraq 2003
OIF 1, Just getting there…
A quick timeline: November 25, 2001 enter boot camp, March 2002 enter School of Infantry (0341), May 2002 report FMF 2/8 G Co Wpns Plt, Dynamic Mix, all sorts of fun field oops in Camp Lejeune swamps, MWTC Bridgeport Sept-Oct 2002, then the day we go on Christmas leave we get a country brief about Iraq…‘we’re not going, we just need to be prepared.’ Get called back a couple of days early from leave to arrive at a semi-hectic battalion office. 5 days later, Jan 9, 2003 we were on the USS Saipan floating over the pond, truck company. Boots on ground in Kuwait Valentine’s Day, a month acclimating to the desert.
GP tents and sand for over a month. And I think we got 2 showers…maybe 3 during that time. My birthday. Sand table briefings and battle plans for securing some bridges on a supply route. I recall being in my tent, after sunset and dark, listening to President Bush declare war on Iraq. Time to go earn free college.
We trained and drilled in our gas masks and MOPP gear so much, even on the drive to the Iraq border we had our masks on and off. The night before we crossed, my A-gunner and I were making noise and we got chewed out by the CO. ‘Have you ever heard incoming artillery!? Me either, and I hope we don’t!’ Roger, sir.
Later, from the horizon behind us, these beautiful white streaks of light were streaming almost straight up into the sky. Then we could hear the flight motors of the missiles flying overhead towards their targets 🙂
That was so chill.
In the morning we are on the Osh Kosh 7-tons, back-to-back down the center, weapons outboard…then it’s slinky, drive fast, slam on the brakes, turn engines off, back on the trucks and drive a mile and then stop…I think it was an exercise to increase our anger before combat. We FINALLY cross the border, it’s a really long and tall C-wire fence and tank pits. Woohoo. And then we drive until near dark, stop and dig fighting holes.
Up early, on the trucks, and happy when we get on pavement. Parked on a highway, we see pairs of Cobra’s headed one way armed, and returning with no missiles. Then we see smoke on the horizon. The trucks move closer and stop. A Huey landed next to us because it had been shot. We start hauling ass then slam on the brakes, the leadership meets in the center of the convoy, then Gunny turns around and yells, ‘Y’all ready for some M.O.U.T.!?’
Of course we cheered.
Our 7-tons began moving and gaining speed. We pass an artillery battery from 10th Marines that was laying hate on targets in the city. Big right turn and we are driving into the suburbs of Hell…and there is seriously a ‘Welcome’ sign. T-52 tanks lined the sides of the road, smoldering from Cobra Hellfires…hoorah.
Off to the right there is a huge oil storage tank on fire. In the middle of the road on the near side of the South bridge, a highly motivated person parked a fuel tanker truck attempting to block the road. It was on fire and Mr. Motivator got stiff and crispy about halfway out of the driver window. We drive around that, through that viscous, black smoke, onto and over the bridge. Gunfire, brakes slam, ‘Rifles dismount!’ Holy fucking shit, plummeting off the side of a 7ton in MOPP and gear is so much fun. I’m prone and aimed at 3 guys standing outside a house. ‘Mortars! Let’s go!’ My machine gunner bro, callsign Ketchup, lays down next to me with his M240G and smacks me on the shoulder. I’m up, Doc Appleby hands me my gun system, 60mm mortar with bipods, and I’m moving around the truck linking up with my squad. Machine gun fire erupts behind me, I later find out that one of those 3 men presented an AK and wasn’t quick enough on the draw.
There is a drainage ditch big enough to sustain trench warfare lining the road that we get to leap over. Power lines, we can’t shoot mortars under them, so we are sprinting to get past them to begin our support. On the sprint, a Cobra flies overhead from behind us, sending missiles into the tree line we are running toward, causing a huge fireball explosion. After the boom, a Huey banks over, door gunner leaning out the side and shooting almost straight down with his minigun, obliterating a bunch of whatever the fuck needed it.
Also during this sprint under the power lines, I’m hearing church bells, I mean LOUD church bells. Like, what the fuck? I look left and a few hundred yards away is white phosphorus artillery air bursting and spreading the warm embrace of that high casualty producing incendiary agent. All the while I’m realizing we are surrounded by palm trees and thought, ‘damn this is just like a Vietnam movie!’
After some time, less than an hour maybe, a 7-ton drove into the field behind us and parked under the power lines. A platoon sergeant and some drivers were on the near side of the truck talking when I saw an Iraqi man dressed in white speed walking towards the truck from the other side carrying a plastic grocery bag, unseen by the group of Marines. I yelled for their attention and could not be heard, but when I aimed my rifle at the Iraqi and yelled some American at him, he stopped hands in the air and dropped his bag that carried his Republican Guard uniform. Later I heard he was a low ranking officer and gave some intel. Oh yeah, the Iraqi military were walking around in civilian clothes and carrying uniforms in bags.
Gunfire was the background noise until dark. My 60mm mortar section laid the gun line behind the only house in the field we were in. The next day we were attacked. The far tree line, maybe 200m away, began barking fire at us. The first couple of rounds caught our attention because they were aimed at us. My section leader told me to direct lay and drop rounds onto the closest building. It was 100m away . I got on target and told my A-gunner to drop 2 rounds.
As I leaned forward to brace the bipods I remember asking, ‘God, please don’t let me hit any Marines.’
Splash, splash, both rounds hit the front of the building, fuck yeah. ‘Let’s GO!’ Staff sergeant Whisky Charlie (we will call him) motioned his hand for us to join him at his position for the firefight. I picked up my entire mortar system and a daypack of high explosive rounds M888. I reached a low point next to a raised driveway, basically I was behind a very short berm. Since I had the entire system, I began direct laying on muzzle flashes.
Before I could drop a round, Whisky Charlie yells, ‘go handheld!’ Oh. Fuck. Yes. We trained for this.
I spun the locking collar off the cannon, dropped the bipods in place, and with a handheld 60mm mortar and a daypack of rounds ran through open ground under fire to better position myself to engage. On the run, it felt like a crawl, every step got heavier with the tar-mud, and I kept telling myself, ‘you’re not gonna get hit.’. Slow motion tracer rounds, like Star Wars in light speed, and one I saw I was going to run into it. No bullshit. I stutter-stepped and watched this round fly right in front of me.