Chris Kudyk: Part 2
In Part 2 of Chris' interview, he discusses his deployment to Afghanistan and some of the highlights such as working with the Green Berets. He also discusses getting out of the military and how his military service has affected him since.
Part 1 of Chris' interview can be found here.
Interview conducted on July 14, 2015 over the phone
Present: Richard Hayden and Chris Kudyk
Transcribed by Richard Hayden
Richard Hayden: Alright. Good to go. Let’s move on to your deployment to Afghanistan. You were with 2/8 in Afghanistan, correct?
Chris Kudyk: Yes.
RH: What was the mission of your unit while you were over there?
CK: When we were over there, our mission was to provide security for Bagram air base which was in Afghanistan. There was a large Air Force base and it was a collaboration of Army, Air Force and Marines. The Marines’ job on that base was to maintain security so we had towers around the facility. We had units that would provide security in the towers. Every company rotated so for two months this company was on tower duty where you would spend twelve hours on, twelve hours off, twelve hours on, twelve hours off. The next company would be on patrol. They would go out and do patrols in the city and come back. This was continuous.
And then the third company was attached to a Green Beret unit off in a fire base that was up north in Afghanistan. Everybody rotated out. It was two months on tower duty, two months on patrol duty and then two months in the Green Beret unit. When you’re with the Green Beret unit, we provided security for the small fire base. There was three mountain points and on top of these mountain points were our observation and fire posts for providing over watch. For the entire six months that we were there, that was our mission. It was basically to provide security for both the Bagram base and the Green Beret base.
RH: Alright. Good to go. What specifically was your job within that unit?
CK: My job. Again, I was still a Corporal at the time and we were there in Afghanistan. Basically, when I came over to 2/8 we were going over. They were short eight snipers. They couldn’t get enough snipers to go with the unit. They didn’t have enough snipers to go around. So what they did was send me to their designated marksman program. Basically, you’re not a scout sniper but you’re a step below a scout sniper. When I went over to the unit, to 2/8, It was me and four other guys who were the only ones who were expert riflemen and who won multiple awards. So we were chosen to go to the designated marksman program. We went out to Nevada to do high angle shooting because we were going to be in the mountains and we had these new rifle systems, these scoped rifle systems, that we had to use. We had to use that and some of these sniper tactics of the scout snipers. So those were forty-five days of doing that before we deployed to Afghanistan. It was kind of an intense course.
So when I went over to Afghanistan I was a dedicated marksman. Basically you’re the sniper with the unit. Since they couldn’t give us snipers, each company got one sniper but they wanted a sniper for every platoon. Since they couldn’t get that, they put a designated marksman in every platoon and each company had a sniper. Since the snipers were designated for company missions, they couldn’t go out on platoon missions. So I was the designated marksman for us.
RH: Alright. Good to go. What were your initial impressions of Afghanistan like?
CK: It was very mountainous. Certainly I was in culture shock. Iraq is basically flat desert and maybe some areas had palm trees where the rivers were running through. But once you get to Afghanistan it’s just desert and high mountains. During that time of year it’s very cold. It’s almost winter. It snows. At night it gets into like ten, twenty degrees. Some nights it would go below zero but during the day it can get as high as seventy. So it was seventy degrees during the day and then at night it was fifteen degrees. [laughs] It’s kind of shocking because at first it’s like, “wow. This is not what I pictured in my mind.” I hadn’t pictured that Afghanistan was going to be this cold.
RH: You said that in one of the two month rotations you patrolled they city. What city did you patrol exactly?
CK: I don’t remember the name of the city but whatever city is right outside. I’m sure you can look it up on the map where Bagram air base is in Afghanistan. It’s going to be right outside of Bagram air base.
RH: Got it. OK.
CK: Whatever city it is right outside the air base, that was the city we patrolled.
RH: What were some of the notable events that occurred during the deployment?
CK: Not a lot happened on the base. It was very quiet. We had one or two missile attacks where we actually had to go into cover but the missiles, they didn’t come close to hitting us. The most notable, we got to be with a Green Beret unit. One of the events was the Green Beret unit had gone out to do a meet and greet with the village elders outside the base and the Captain – this guy was actually bearded and we were told to call him Captain Ron. [laughs]
We all had to use their first names. He was like, “you don’t salute me. I am a Captain. You guys can call me Captain Ron. It doesn’t matter.” They had gone out to the meet and greet with the village elders and a stray dog wound up biting a kid in the ass near Ron. So he turns around to shoot the dog and misses. The bullet ricochets and hits a villager and kills him. So they had to pull back because the village was very upset about what had happened and they started digging up the main road to go into our base so we couldn’t get supplies in on vehicles. The vehicles couldn’t do anything like that. We were very on high alert because we thought that the villagers were going to rise up and attack the base. That was kind of one of the more memorable moments because all of this happened over a stray dog, [RH laughs] you know? This whole base is on alert now and we’re trying to smooth things over. We spent the next two weeks trying to smooth over the death of that civilian. We wound up paying them and the village an undisclosed amount of money. We gave them supplies and stuff like that. We actually had to send in our own engineering unit to rebuild the roads and get everything to normal again.
RH: Alright. Good to go. What was it like working with the Green Berets?
CK: It was really fun. It was really fun working with them because you expected those guys to be very uptight. They’re not. I always thought that they would treat us like we were below them but they were very friendly. They liked talking to you. They would come over, sit down and talk to us. They would go out on patrol with us. Even though they were Special Forces and we were just regular infantrymen, they treated us like we were one of them. That really amazed me because I always thought they would be stuck up. You know, “don’t talk to me. I’m not going to talk to you. You do what I tell you to do and that’s how it is.” It was nothing like that. They wanted to exchange meals, exchange magazines. “What have you guys got?” They’d sit down and talk to us about things, you know? It was really fun.
RH: Cool. Good to go. What were your interactions with the Afghans like?
CK: The Afghans were very pleasant. We had a security force with most of them working with us at the time and they were very friendly. It was always comedic in a way trying to sit down and talk to them because they all spoke very little English and it was always funny because they always wanted to see things. Everybody had Maxim magazines or Playboy magazines and they always wanted to see these magazines because they loved American girls. They would sit there and they would tell you, they’d go, “Afghani women,” they’d slap their hand give the thumbs down. [RH laughs] But they’d say, “American women,” with big smiles on their face and a thumbs up. They loved looking at all the women.
The children, they would come out and we would pay them. You give them a couple bucks and they would – we had to go up all of these mountains to the one of observation points for four or five days at a time and we had to hike up the mountain. It was a treacherous hike and you were carrying a one hundred pound pack. If you paid this kid two bucks, he’ll run that pack up the mountain in like a half hour. [RH laughs] If you give him five dollars he’ll run down the mountain and then an hour later they come back up with a big pot of stew, a pile of naan bread and this goat curry meat that they would bring up to you and it was so delicious. They were just so giving and kind to you. It was kind of like a contradiction because the people, they don’t want you in the country but they were kind of glad you were there. They always tell you, “as long as you’re here, Al Qaeda stays away.”
They were scared because they knew that eventually we would leave. They said, “we’re worried because we don’t want you guys to leave. Al Qaeda is going to come and take us over again.” It was kind of disappointing to hear that kind of stuff because they knew they couldn’t defend themselves. As much as we could give them in supplies and training, you knew that Al Qaeda would probably outmatch them and just run them over and say, “look at what did the Americans did to you. What happened to their rule? We run the city again.” You know?
RH: During that deployment what was the most challenging period: the beginning, the middle or the end?
CK: I would say the end. The end of the deployment was a challenging one because at that point they were thinking about enacting stop-loss. If you don’t know what that is, it’s when they extend you. A lot of people contract to be allowed to get out. Their contract is about to end and exit the military and they actually extend their contract by making you stay in your contract for up to a year and a half. So if you think you’re getting out in two months, they say you have another year. And so there were a lot of rumors going around. There was a lot of stress because at this point because, let’s say we’ve got three months left on this deployment, I could go home, go back to Lejeune and start my checkout process. But you don’t know any day if they’re coming to say, “do you know what? Because of stop-loss you’re going to be out here for another year.” It deflates your morale every day knowing that could come down and get you. They never did but knowing that and having that in the back of your mind that could happen was very challenging to not think about that because you’re so scared that this was going to happen.
RH: Again, on this deployment, did you have any transformative or significant events that informed your deployment?
CK: For this deployment nothing really happened that transformed anything for me. I basically was already set into my ways of getting out and my decision had been made to leave.
Actually, to think about, there was one time. There was one incident with our platoon Sergeant. What had happened was we were at the point where some of the newer guys had just got promoted to Corporal and the Lieutenant wanted us, our senior guys, to mentor them. There was a new squad leader so they were nervous. So I was mentoring – we’ll say his name is Steve – he came into the meeting and asked me, what should he tell everybody take up to one of the OPs for, I think, five days? I told him – we had these ballistic plates – I told him, “I’m only taking one plate up. I’m not carrying the extra pounds. You can do whatever you want, it’s up to you, but I’m only taking one plate up.” He said, “OK.” He basically told the squad to take one plate up.
We were up there for about a day and a half and the Staff Sergeant had gone through the little hut down there and saw that we had left plates down there. We saw him coming up the hill, he was coming up the mountain, he reaches up there and he starts yelling at Steve and asking him why they left the plates down there. What got me about that was the hypocrisy of this man because the attire for whenever you’re off base is full combat attire which is your flak jacket, your helmet, your rifle and any other weapons you may carry. He only came up there with his pistol. He didn’t have a flak jacket on. He didn’t have a helmet. He was with the Lieutenant who was in full combat attire and he was just in his regular fatigues and he had his pistol on his hip. I remember standing there and him looking at Steve and saying, “what kind of leader are you?” to him. “What kind of leader are you to leave those plates behind? Somebody could get killed up here.” And I’m thinking that this guy has the nerve to yell at you when he’s not even in proper attire! That’s in my mind.
After he was gone Steve was very depressed and thought he was going to get fired as a squad leader. I told, I said, “hey. Fuck that guy.” I said, “he’s going to sit there and tell you that you’re a horrible leader and he’s not even in the right uniform? Don’t listen. Don’t believe anything he says.” I go, “he’s a horrible leader. He shouldn’t even be in position that he’s in.” I even questioned how he got promoted. I kind of talked him down from the point of extreme stress, you know? That was one my times of “this is why I’m getting out.” I can’t put up with this kind of stuff, you know? People getting treated like this, people like you.
RH: Good to go. Before we move onto transitioning out of the Marine Corps, anything that we left out of Afghanistan?
CK: No. Everything is good. I would say the deployment kind of went by pretty fast, believe it or not. We were out in the wilderness for six months. I would say that even though the safest point of the deployment was on base, the most fun I had was I was with the Green Berets. Even though we got into several firefights at the base with the Taliban – I think the entire team once we were out there got maybe two or three firefights a week – it was probably the most dangerous time but it was the most fun I ever had.
RH: Good to go. After you got back from Afghanistan, how long was it before you got out?
CK: We came back in the middle of May and I was getting out in the middle of June – actually, the beginning of June. June 5th is when I was getting out. It was maybe May 15th.
RH: Oh wow. OK.
CK: In three or four weeks I was back at base we spent the majority of time turning in our equipment, getting checked out, and by the time it was time to go I had my car packed up and I said, “arrivederci,” to all my buddies. I made sure I had all their contact numbers so we could stay in touch. I was gone and I didn’t look back.
RH: After you got out, where did you end up?
CK: When I got out I went back home to New York and I spent about six months in New York. I came out to California in January of 2005. So I got out in June of 2004 and I was at home from June to January and then January I moved out to California.
RH: How has your military experience shaped your life since you got out?
CK: You know what? It has defined me. For some of the troubles that I’ve had, you look back at it and the bad things about the military, you don’t think about them as much as you think about the good times – looking out for the person next to you, doing what you can to help them, meeting new people. Before I was in the Marine Corps I was a very shy person. I wasn’t very sociable. I was kind of quiet and the Marine Corps showed me how to be with more sociable people. I can walk up and talk to people. I was nervous at first. You’d have to come up and talk to me before I would connect with you, you know? Now I can just walk up to people and say, “hey! How’s it going?” As far as commitment and teamwork, all those things that the military has built in you, those don’t ever go away. They last forever and they’ll probably last until I die.
RH: Alright. Good to go. Do you still communicate with anybody from either of your units?
CK: I’m sorry?
RH: Do you still communicate with anybody from either of your units?
CK: Yes I do. I have several buddies that I served with and we still communicate. I have their phone numbers. We text each other once in a while. We’re constantly trying to plan a reunion and it’s just getting the timing down right where everyone has some free time. One of my buddies, he lives in Riverside, California so that’s like an hour from me. I have a couple of beers with him every once in a while. We reminisce. Most of the other guys, they’re spread out throughout the country. Some of them are on the East Coast. A couple of them are on the West Coast. But we still talk to each other. We’ll send a text message now and again. It was one of those things where you’re friends for life. If they ever called me and needed me for anything, give me a call. I’ll be right there.
RH: Good to go. I have a couple of questions about Iraq and Afghanistan currently. How do you feel about the rise of ISIS and the current direction that Iraq is taking?
CK: To be honest with you, I kind of predicted that this was going to happen. It was in the back of my mind. Do you know what? There’s only so much we can do as a country to help them out and to get rid of everything. I tell my buddy, “it’s not long after we get out that they’re going to come right back and take over because the people that we put in charge are not strong enough to fight them.” These people like ISIS and these radical groups, they prey on the fear and the corruption of the government people. So you’ve got political officials who are taking money. You’ve got other ones, all they’ve got to do is they kidnap your family or they assassinate them and go right back into power. I saw this. I was like, do you know what? It kind of feels like all we’re doing is going all for naught because the minute we pull out, it could be a powder keg.
RH: How do you feel about the drawdown and the ending of US combat operations in Afghanistan?
CK: I believe it was a long time coming. I think that we’ve done all that we can over there. I don’t think we will never ever – no matter how long we were there – would ever truly push Al Qaeda or the Taliban out of the country. Russia – the Soviet Union – tried it for years and couldn’t do anything. My thoughts were, “if they couldn’t do it, what’s to think we can do it?” They keep putting people’s lives on the line and our own American troops are sending lambs to the slaughter because they are never going to give up. They’re going to keep fighting and the best thing we can do is just draw back and just try to slowly give them – the security forces – more power and they need to govern themselves because we can’t be everywhere. As much as we try, we can’t be everywhere. I think we really need to focus more on our problems at home than the problems of other countries. Everyone kind of looks to America to be the problem solver and we need to solve more problems for our people. Them first, you know? The drawback should have happened a long time ago. It took way too long. The way it is right now, I hope we don’t get to the point where we’re sending hundreds and thousands more troops back over again to try and stabilize but it’s never going to get fixed.
RH: Alright. I have a couple of spiritual questions and then I’ll start wrapping it up. Has deploying changed your perception of life and death and, if so, how?
CK: I was raised by my parents to be Roman Catholic. As I grew older and wiser, I kind of distanced myself from religion and from God and stuff like that. I was never very religious in the military but I still believe that our time here is a designated time and everyone has their own time of when they’re going to go. Whether that be fifteen years or you last a hundred and three years, once that time is up you only get a certain amount of time and that’s where it ends. It makes you think, “why am I alive and he died? That could have been me. How could this happen to him?” You know? So those are the questions I ask. Our time here on Earth is predetermined, not by any kind of spiritual being but just through revolutions and clashes and stuff like that.
RH: Alright. And actually, this question ties into that a little bit. Has deploying affected you spiritually and, if so, how?
CK: By the time I got into the military, by the time I was in, before I even deployed I was becoming less and less spiritual. To see what was going on over there even furthered my distance from religion and from God. From being on the spot and seeing all the stuff that was going on, I said, “if there were a higher being like a God, why would He allow something like this go on?” Again you’ve got those hardcore people who say, “it’s a cleansing or His test. He’s testing the will of the people. It’s His will.” I always thought that was a bullshit excuse and a cop out because for stuff like that to go on and there to be no divine intervention is uncalled for to me. It’s like, “how could you not intervene in a situation like this?” If you’re turning water into wine, you can’t come down and save this little girl? You know?
RH: Alright. We’re going to switch it up a little bit. What are some of the happiest memories of the entire time you served?
CK: Oh man. Just the time with all my buddies, you know? Going out, the clubs and hanging out with them and taking a road trip sometimes. We would go out to concerts and spend time together. Going out to the field and cracking jokes right next to each other. And being in that whole barracks, it’s like you’re one gigantic family. Someone’s always there to help you. I challenge you to find somebody in the military, find somebody who will not go out of his way to do whatever he can to help you. It’s not that everyone likes each other – there are people who hate each other, of course, and who don’t like each other and don’t get along. There’s still racists and stuff like that. But not too many people are. If your next door neighbor came over to you and said, “hey, let me borrow your car.” Would you throw your keys to him? Probably not. You’d say, “no man!” But you’d tell them to come next door and go take the car for a ride to go pick up some beer or, “I have to go pick up my girlfriend. Let me borrow your car.” You’d throw him the keys without even thinking about it. You’d say, “it better come back with gas in it.” Everybody was looking out for one another. We’re all brothers, you know? That’s the happiest moment, knowing that is always someone is there for you. You never have to look far.
RH: What are some of the funniest stories you have?
CK: Oh boy. [laughs] Oh man. Let’s see. One guy in our unit, he was a Filipino guy and he had a very thick accent. We used to call him Moto because of his last name but we used to call him Moto. Whenever he’d come out and he’d try to talk to us, there was always an instance where something would happen. His words would get confused because he didn’t know what he was saying because of his accent. [RH laughs] I remember one time we were at the PX and one of the chicken joints was called Carolina Chicken or grilled chicken or something like that. He asked the lady, he goes, “can I get the chicken thighs?” But his thick accent made it sound like, “hi. Can I get some fried chicken.” [RH laughs]
And the lady goes, “we don’t serve fried chicken here, sir.”
He goes, “no, I don’t want friend chicken. I want the chicken thighs.”
“Yeah, I understand but we don’t serve fried chicken. We only have grilled chicken and thigh chicken.”
“That’s what I want! Chicken thighs!”
And she goes, “Oh! Thighs!”
And he goes, “that’s what I’m saying!” So it was kind of made up from different words. He was like a booby trap, you know? [both laugh]
There was another time when they would send the five tons to come pick up from the field sometimes. And he came up to us on our eighth day and goes, “I got some good news for you guys. Gunny said he’s going to bring out the python.”
We look over and say, “the python? What are you talking about?”
He goes, “yeah. We’ve been waiting this whole time to go pick up the python.”
We were like, “what are you going to bring a snake out for?”
He said, “no, the trucks. He’s going to bring the trucks out.”
We said, “oh! The five ton.” [RH laughs]
“That’s what I said! The five tons!” [laughs] So he used to crack us up man. He was always like, “fuck you guys. You don’t know what I’m saying!” [RH laughs]
That was always funny. Then there was another one, one of our guys, he went out to eat at this restaurant and he got one of the waitresses’ numbers. At the end of the night he was like, “you guys go back to base. I’m going to go home with her.” OK, cool! We were like, “if you need anything give us a call.” He comes back the next day and he was white as a ghost. We were like, “what’s up man? What happened?” He goes, “oh, you don’t even want to know.” We were like, “what? Tell us!” He says that they were coming back to base and she was driving a BMW at the time. He’s kind of thinking, “why is this chick driving a BMW? She’s a waitress.” She goes through the gate to go drop him off and the guard salutes her.
CK: He was like, “what the hell?” He goes to her, “why did he salute you?” And she goes, “oh! That’s because my husband’s a Major. [both laugh] He’s like, “ohhhh!” He didn’t know this whole time. He’s like, “aww!” She’s like, “don’t worry, we’re separated.” He was so freaked out and the whole time we were just like, “oh man!” Every day we’d get to the point where it was just like, wow. That was probably one of the funniest.
One last one, I had a roommate in Okinawa. There were three to a room. One of the roommates was OCD, extreme OCD. So we used to have fun with him. He’d go out running and we’d take all his stuff and rearrange it. [RH laughs] And he’d come back. We’d put his pillow at the top of the bed and he always had his shoes lined up neatly in order. We’d reverse the order of them. We’d sit there and he come in and he noticed it immediately. He was like, “What did you guys do?” And we would play stupid the entire time. “What are you talking about?” He goes, “you changed my pillow, you changed my shoes.” We were like, “hey man! We didn’t touch it.” We used to fuck with him all the time. That was always fun. Playing pranks on the guys, that was always nice.
RH: Good to go. Now the most important question of the entire interview. What was the best MRE?
CK: Ohh! The best MRE? Probably the best MRE was raviolis with meatballs. It was actually a pretty good meal heated up and it always came with jalapeno cheese and crackers. The jalapeno cheese spread was the most desirable cheese spread in the MRE kit. So you’re getting a really good meal plus the jalapeno cheese spread and the crackers. Sometimes they would come with the Gatorade drink in there too so that was the best meal because it always came with the best stuff that actually didn’t taste bad. What they have nowadays, they have turkey and gravy, spaghetti and meatballs. I’m like, “yeah.” They didn’t have that stuff when I was in.
RH: What was the best chow hall in Iraq, the best chow hall in Afghanistan and the best chow hall stateside?
CK: There was only the one chow hall in Iraq. Iraq had no chow hall. We were just moving from point to point and we ate MREs the entire time. So no chow halls out there. In Afghanistan we only had one chow hall and it served decent food – breakfast, lunch and dinner. The best was the breakfast because you could get pancakes, French toast, eggs, sometimes they had biscuits and gravy. Breakfast was the best meal at the chow hall. As we were leaving though they were building a Subway and a Burger King there. In Japan the best chow hall was across the street from our barracks. It was the USO club and it was like this Japanese little restaurant that served traditional Japanese food. They had the most delicious chicken yakisoba ever.
RH: Ohh. Good to go.
CK: Yeah. We would go over there every night and get the yakisoba meal. That was the best chow hall in Japan. In Cuba I would say the best chow hall wasn’t actually a chow hall. It was a little Jamaican jerk chicken and jerk pork stand out in we called it base housing, next to the NCO club. You could go out there and get served Red Stripe beer and authentic Jamaican jerk pork and jerk chicken. You could get a combo meal. That was probably the best meal I have ever had. Some of the best food I ever had was the Jamaican jerk pork. That was the best.
RH: And stateside?
CK: Stateside? The best chow hall was over in the Motor T area. They had probably the best food but you had to drive all the way over. We only went over there once but they had really good food. They had the fountain drink, the powered soda system. They had a desert area and a grill where you could get banquet type food like mac and cheese and fried chicken. Or you can go and order grilled food, either hot dogs and hamburgers or grilled chicken. Yeah, that was the best. You had to drive about two miles to get there but it was the best food.
RH: Nice. Good to go. Alright. Last couple of questions. If you could communicate something to young Marines who are going to be fighting the wars of the future, what would it be?
CK: The one thing I would say to them is trust the person beside you. They are – man. It’s difficult what I’d say to them. I’d just say, you know what? You only live one life and this is the life you chose. Make the best of it. Trust the guy next to you because this guy is your brother. He’d do anything for you and you never know. Treat every day, especially if you’re going to be fighting the wars of the future, treat every day as if it was your last day and never have any regrets.
RH: Alright. Good to go. Is there anything I left out that you’d like to address?
CK: No. I think that’s it.
RH: Alright. Good to go. My last question is, what specific accomplishment are you most proud of during your entire service?
CK: I would say, I received a letter of commendation for Iraq for when we had to go tend to the dead. The tracks got ambushed over by Charlie Company and they wanted us to go back and collect the wounded and the dead. So we sped down there and were collecting, there were no wounded. There was like four dead Marines and a tracker. We put three of them inside the track and one, we had to put one of the guys on top of the track to get out of there. I saw my buddy struggling to get the guy up there and I was in cover so I ran out from cover and I jumped on top of the tank and grabbed the guy and pulled him up top, not even thinking that I was leaving the cover, leaving my safe position. I exposed my entire body. I could have been shot or blown up or anything like that. I just completely did it. I was struggling and I felt like something.
I didn’t even think about it until we were on the ship coming back and I was getting this award. I was so proud of it, truly, and everyone else who witnessed this fight, they wondered why I didn’t get the Bronze Star. I told them, “I’m happy with what I’ve got. I’ll never forget what we did.” I said, “I’m just happy that someone was there and someone spoke up and recommended me. I could have gone unnoticed,” you know? And that was probably one of my proudest moments, to receive that award.
RH: Alright. Good to go. Anything else?
CK: Nope! That’s it.