Joe and Joseph Sepulveda
Joe Sepulveda served in the Marine Corps as Motor Transport and his son Joseph served in the Navy as a Corpsman. Joseph served in Iraq in 2004 and almost immediately after he returned home, Joe deployed to Iraq. In their interview they discuss their respective deployments and how it affected them and their family.
Interview conducted on January 15, 2018 in La Vernia, Texas
Present: Richard Hayden, Joe Sepulveda, Joseph Sepulveda
Transcribed by Richard Hayden
Note: Though Joe and Joseph are father and son, they are not technically senior and junior. The suffixes Sr. and Jr. have been included to clarify for the reader.
Richard Hayden: What is your full name?
Joseph Sepulveda: Joseph Anthony Sepulveda.
RH: And what is your full name?
Joe Sepulveda: Joe Anthony Sepulveda.
RH: What is your relationship?
Joseph Jr.: Father, son.
RH: What branch of the military did you serve in and what years?
Joseph Jr.: United States Navy from 2002 to 2009.
RH: OK. What branch of the military did you serve in and what years?
Joe Sr.: United States Marine Corps Reserve from 1989 to 2012. 1986 – sorry.
RH: 1986. OK. What was your rank when you got out?
Joseph Jr.: I was an HM2 – E5.
RH: OK. What was your rank when you got out?
Joe Sr.: Master Gunnery Sergeant – E9.
RH: What was your rate?
Joseph Jr.: Hospital Corpsman.
RH: What was your MOS?
Joe Sr.: Motor Transport.
Rich: What units did you serve in?
Joseph Jr.: I served with 2/7 [Second Battalion, Seventh Marines] out of California and I served here in San Antonio at DMRTI which was a Training and Readiness Institute.
RH: So over the course of twenty-six years what are some of the unites that you served with?
Joe Sr.: It was Fourth Reconnaissance Battalion, and we were deployed with Third Battalion, Twenty-Fifth Marines – 3/25.
RH: I’m going to start and go through one at a time. What motivated you to join the military?
Joseph Jr.: At the time it was college. The other half was my father was in the Marine Corps and I always wanted to go with the Marines. I always wanted to be in the military but he pushed me on the route to go to college but when it came down to getting accepted and looking at finances, there was going to be some challenges there. So I kept on begging and begging – I was seventeen and had to convince my parents to sign the waiver to join. And that’s how I signed up.
RH: And what motivated you to join the military?
Joe Sr.: I always wanted to be in the military. I wanted some discipline and something different. However, I had a trade out of high school. I had an apprenticeship job so I did not want to go full time and lose my apprenticeship time. That’s when I opted for the Reserves. Since I was joining not to learn a trade or anything, I just figured I’d do the Marines and it would be the best.
RH: Let me ask you this. When [Joseph Jr.] joined the Navy, how did you feel about it?
Joe Sr.: I felt good at the time because he wanted to join the Marines and I persuaded him to choose between the Air Force and the Navy. He joined the Navy and we felt very good until I got the phone call that he was going to Twentynine Palms [all laugh].
RH: Yeah, that’s crazy. Why did you pick Corpsman?
Joseph Jr.: [laughs] So we were at MEPS and they presented the jobs that you qualify for with your scores. Luckily I was blessed enough to have my father in there with me. One was intelligence, one was air traffic controller and then Hospital Corpsman. His response was, “Oh man. Those guys go with the Marines but they don’t do everything that they do. You just sit in the Humvee and make sure the water’s there and first aid type of stuff.” [RH laughs] The guy at MEPS was like, “Yeah. These guys are almost along the lines of EMS outside in the civilian sector.” I had aspirations of going in to be a firefighter so I was kind of like, yeah. I get the best of both worlds. I get to do some stuff with the Marines and I’m not an actual Marine so that sounds good to me. My dad was like, “Those guys are pretty good guys.” And I just went with it.
RH: OK. Where were you on September 11th?
Joseph Jr.: I was in high school.
RH: What was that like?
Joseph Jr.: I think they turned on the TV in the classroom and we saw some of it, not really knowing what was going on and then truly understanding it until the weeks after – understanding it was a terrorist attack. That’s when all the emotions and everything gelled up. That was always in the back of my mind going to talk to the recruiter because I did it behind my parents’ back. They were against it. “You’re not going into the military. You need to go to college. This is what you need to do.” But I was in high school. I was in the classroom when all of that went down.
RH: Where exactly?
Joseph Jr.: In Breckenridge high school in downtown San Antonio.
RH: OK. And where were you on September 11?
Joe Sr.: I was at work here at Braunig Lake. I remember this gentleman Jessie De La Vega. He was a big jokester and was always coming out with some far out stuff. I remember in the hallway, he was saying, “The towers just got hit. The towers just got hit.” I was like, “Jessie, don’t get like that.” He was like, “No. Seriously.” I was in the instrument department so I went upstairs and we had a little furnace camera that we used to watch the boiler fires. We had a spare one so we got some rabbit ears and started tuning in.
That was in the morning. Right around the afternoon I got a call from the reserve unit to start doing one hundred percent drills call to make sure everybody was accounted for from our unit and just to stand by.
RH: Were you eventually called up in response to it?
Joe Sr.: Not for 9/11, no. In 2003 is when our battalion started supporting the Iraqi invasion. Our Reserve unit didn’t get tapped until ’03.
RH: OK. Good to go. Where did you go to boot camp?
Joseph Jr.: I went to boot camp in Great Lakes [Illinois].
RH: What was boot camp like?
Joseph Jr.: It was different because it was my first time away from home. Obviously as a young kid, I left when I was eighteen. The hardest part was being away from family. Obviously we have a tight-knit family so the biggest challenge was just breaking away from home. Physically, no issues. I think it was more mental. The change in weather was difficult as well. I’m from south Texas. [laughs]
RH: What time of year did you go?
Joseph Jr.: I guess that leads more into [Hospital] Corps School. July through September was the time I was up there but after that I went to Corps School and it was drastically different.
RH: Yeah. [laughs] And where did you go to boot camp?
Joe Sr.: San Diego.
RH: MCRD San Diego?
Joe Sr.: MCRD. Yes. October of ’85. I was in the delayed entry so my time actually started in March of ’85.
RH: OK. What was boot camp like?
Joe Sr.: From the day we got picked up at the airport, it was totally shocking getting on the bus and getting yelled at and everything. What was weird is that was once we arrived, we were in the receiving barracks. Things started to tone down. We were like, “Man, this a’int too bad.” And then once we got picked up by our drill instructors, it turned one-eighty. It was tough. There were some long nights – especially when you had fire watch at night, just walking up and down the barracks thinking what the heck you got yourself into.
RH: Good to go. Did you serve in Iraq, Afghanistan or both?
Joseph Jr.: Just Iraq.
RH: Same question.
Joe Sr.: Iraq.
RH: OK. How many times did you deploy?
Joseph Jr.: I did one deployment.
RH: And what were the dates of that deployment?
Joseph Jr.: We left February, 2004 and we arrived [back in the US] September 18, 2004.
RH: How many times did you deploy to Iraq?
Joe Sr.: Just once.
RH: And what were the dates of that deployment?
Joe Sr.: January of ’05 to January of ’06. That was a one year deployment and we were in country from February to October.
RH: February to October. OK. So I guess you were in Kuwait for the rest of the time?
Joe Sr.: We had to do the work up in Twentynine Palms.
RH: OK. I see. So you spent a little time there. [laughs] OK. Where in Iraq did you deploy to?
Joseph Jr.: The battalion was in Al Assad Air Base and our company was out in Hit.
RH: Where in Iraq did you deploy to?
Joe Sr.: Our battalion was spread out between Hit, Al Assad and Haditha dam.
RH: OK. So what we’re going to do since your [pointing to Joseph Jr.] deployment was first, we’re going to go through your deployment and hear about it. What was the mission of your unit?
Joseph Jr.: What they called it back then when we were getting ready to deploy was SASSO operations – Stability and Sustainment operations. Basically, in a nut shell, we’re going to go play soccer with the kids, make sure the locals had food and support to make sure that the region was stable. That’s what we worked up for.
RH: You were Second Battalion, Seventh Marines, Echo Company, correct?
Joseph Jr.: Echo Company. Yes.
RH: What, specifically, was your job within the unit?
Joseph Jr.: I was a line Corpsman. I was in First Platoon as their doc. I was their Corpsman. I was only one of four in our company – one Corpsman per platoon.
RH: Alright. What was it like the day and night before you deployed?
Joseph Jr.: The day before or leading up to?
RH: I guess leading up to and then specifically the day before.
Joseph Jr.: Leading up to it was pretty insane. We were working twenty hour days with all the training going to March Air Force Base, all the rehearsals that we were doing in the backyard – what we referred to Twentytnine Palms as. Going out to the range. It was very tiring. Other than that, the couple of days and nights before we left it was making late-night phone calls to my girlfriend at the time – who is my wife now – my mom and dad and the family. Just in the barracks I would put on some headphones and try to find some peace relaxing. After those long days, they all ran together.
RH: How did you feel about Joseph deploying the night before he deployed?
Joe Sr.: Just trying to be the strong guy to my wife and assure her that everything is going to be fine. Listening to the news and seeing what was going on, seeing what area he was going to. Just trying to get as much intel as I could to keep my wife at ease because she’s the one that really took it the hardest. With myself, I just had to keep myself together so that I could keep her strong and get as much information as I could from the Marines, from my unit. We were already prepping for certain things for the war. There were things that I would pick up on that I would try to figure out – where’s Joseph going to be? What’s he doing? Who is he going to be with? It was trying to be the strong man of the family and put my wife and my daughter at ease.
RH: What do you remember most about deploying to Iraq?
Joseph Jr.: The brotherhood. Just hanging out with the guys. The lack of sleep. Honestly, there was a point of time being over there I was as happy as I’d ever been in my life up to that point because you’re just running and gunning with the boys. It’s just something that you dream of as a kid when you go outside in the back yard and you play like you’re in the military. That’s actually what you’re doing. The time with your guys, the relationships that you built out there, that’s a short time period in your life and obviously it speaks volumes because you’re brothers forever. We still talk to this day like it’s nothing. We can go a few months without talking and then it just picks back up like nothing. I think the relationships you feel in there are the most memorable.
RH: What was your AO like?
Joseph Jr.: Our FOB was right there on the river – the Euphrates river – so it was kind of hot. We were in vegetation but then you go on the other side of Route Bronze and it was all just open desert. We did everything from tactical patrols through palm groves to convoy operations out there in the open desert where you can see for miles. We also had the city of Hit within our AO so we had a lot of satellite patrolling – that’s what they called it back then. A lot of OPs sitting on top of buildings, sitting on cliffs. Depending on the mission at that time, it was very different. It could go from being in vegetation to being in the river to being in town. It was very dynamic.
RH: Are there any parts of the AO that were particularly memorable?
Joseph Jr.: I would say Traffic Circle 1. I think everybody that has been through Hit knows Traffic Circle 1. We spent a lot of time there. There were a lot of Ops. We spent hours on top of buildings. Route Bronze was a main means of transportation between Al Assad and, I think, Haditha. A lot of people were getting attacked in that area so we had a heavy presence in that area.
RH: Good to go. Walk me through a typical day for your squad.
Joseph Jr.: What we did was seventy-two hours on, seventy-two hours rotating where we did vehicle patrols, foot patrols or FOB security. Foot patrols, every day we would try to mix it up where we wouldn’t leave the wire at a certain time – it would just be at random times. All we did was get formed up right outside the gate and then take off on a foot patrol. We’d meet with the village and the people around us and get as much intel as we could from the locals.
If we were on vehicle patrols, we would obviously have to have a four vehicle patrol get ready – get our chow, water, everything loaded up. The platoon would decide what vehicles they were going to be in and come up with a plan. We would head out and just drive around the area showing a presence.
And then for the FOB when we had security, I wasn’t on security with the guys so I would help other patrols – other platoons – or just do work at the aid station with the H&S guys.
RH: Good to go. What were some of the notable events that occurred during the deployment?
Joseph Jr.: Notable events are obviously the brothers that we lost – those incidents. We also helped with other units. When they got attacked in our AO, we helped to respond. We had an LZ on our FOB so they would ground MEDEVAC them to us and we would load them up on the birds if they were wounded. Technically we don’t MEDEVAC KIAs but I think we did a couple times. Those were probably the most memorable out of the deployment.
RH: Were there any of these MEDEVACs that stick out or any times you assisted in particular with one that went well or didn’t go well?
Joseph Jr.: Yeah. One of my Marines which was – it was a second incident. So we first lost Corporal Vicente. We lost him first and then weeks after is when we lost Lance Corporal [Aric J.] Barr. At the time I was Barr’s A driver. Second Platoon had lost one of their Corpsmen. When I say lost, he got injured so he got MEDEVACed out. I covered now for First and Second Platoon. Since I was Barr’s A driver, I was going between Second Platoon and First Platoon patrols. I was twenty-fours for a couple of weeks just sleeping whenever I could – thirty minute naps here and there. I don’t know if you remember doc Maizano.
RH: I never met him.
Joseph Jr.: They brought him from Al Assad down to Hit. He was going to cover for Second Platoon. I was asleep at the time and I was going to get ready to go back out with Second Platoon that night. They said, “No. We got another Corpsman from H&S. Don’t worry about it.”
I went back to be bed and they took off on their patrol. I was out. I was tired. One of my Marines woke me up. He was like, “We’ve got guys hurt. They’re coming inbound.” So I grabbed my shit, all my stuff, run down to the aid station and I was told that there was, I think, five wounded.
As soon as the vehicle pulls up, the ambulance, we open up the ambulance and we get the wounded out. I’ve got guys that were peppered with shrapnel. We start treating them there at the aid station – a lot of shrapnel wounds. One guy Ruiz Carlos – he was our SAW gunner on top of the Humvee. Those Humvees at the time were just canvas. We didn’t have up armored vehicles. This is the beginning of the war. So the IED, when it went off, it just shredded his neck.
This was the first real incident we had from a medical standpoint on how do you treat these wounds. I was kind of stumped. He’s got a shredded neck. I don’t want to put a bandage on and choke the guy but he’s choking on his own blood. The doctor, the Lieutenant, wanted to do a crich on him. Once he wanted to do a crich, they came in and said, “The bird is going to be here in two mikes.” We were like, “Shit. We don’t have time to do a crich.” So we just did what we could, bandaged him up, got him out to the LZ and the bird landed. I got the guys’ names – I knew exactly who was wounded. We loaded them up and the bird took off. First Sergeant came and said, “Doc, how many did we get loaded in there?” I said we had four. “We had four wounded that were loaded.” He was like, “Then that makes five, total.” I was like, “What are you talking about?” He goes, “Lance Corporal Barr is KIA.” I was like, “No. He wasn’t in there.” I had all four guys there. I was going back and forth, back and forth – Ruiz Carlos, Pimentel. All these guys. I was like, “There’s no way.” I kind of got angry with First Sergeant for saying something like that.
So I walked back to the aid station and, not even knowing, opened the front door. As soon as you opened the front door, there was this little room and then to the right was where you walked into our bay where we did all the treatment. We had four cots. As soon as I opened the door it was curtained – it was closed. I never saw, never noticed. As soon as I went in and pulled open that curtain, he was draped with the trauma blanket. I could just see his eyebrows and his forehead and his hairline. I was like, “That’s definitely Barr.” That’s when I went outside and had a hard time dealing with that because, again, I was his A driver. I was supposed to be with him on that patrol. Doc Maizano got wounded. He got shrapnel through his ear. All the survivor’s guilt – what most veterans go through. That was one of the toughest ones because I was a part of that patrol at one point. The first time I didn’t go was when they got hit.
RH: Alright. Are there any other significant events on this deployment that stick out?
Joseph Jr.: There was another event where we had our three engineers. They were right outside the FOB and someone found an IED. I think Weapons Platoon, Mortar Platoon was out there with them. I think doc Puckett was out there with them. I was on the FOB and I think we were out smoking and joking out there in-between patrols. All of a sudden an IED goes off. It’s right outside our FOB so we feel it. We were like, “Holy shit. What the hell was that?” Then we see people running in and out of the COC. We were like, “OK. Something went down. Weapons Platoon just got hit.” In my mind, I hope it’s not Puckett or Reyes or one of my boys. I’m thinking of my Corpsman guys. Obviously I don’t want anybody to be hurt.
I come to find out that that was our engineer team. We had three engineers attached to us – they were from Pendleton. They were trying to detonate an IED and it took out all three of them. From the standpoint of a Corpsman, they brought as much of them back to us in the ambulance. And us as Corpsmen, we had to gather as much was we could and organize who was who within what body bags. The leftover body parts that we couldn’t identify, we just put in an MRE box with a trash can liner.
Those were guys I just got done talking to the day before. As a matter of fact, one of the engineers – we have the MWR room with the phones and computers and they limit us or something like that each time we go in there. He was up and Corporal Nicholas was on. For whatever reason, he was like, “I’m up but you go ahead. You’re the doc. You go.” I was like, “No man. I’m good.” He was like, “No, no, no. You take my spot.” That was one of the last memories that I have of him. That was the day before this happened so here I am now, putting these guys in body bags.
And then we had to ground transport them back to Al Assad to the morgue. I get to the morgue and our battalion Chief [Petty Officer] at the time came out – I can’t remember what he said but he made a comment that was about the MRE box with the pieces that we couldn’t identify. He made a comment like, “Why would you do something like that?” Or “Why is it like this?” I just pretty much told him, “You dig through yourself and you try to figure it out.” He kind of realized what he had said and then it hit him and he was like, “Are you all are OK?” I was like, “All the Corpsmen are good.” But that one hit home because those were guys that were attached to us and they were really good guys.
RH: Any more? Any more significant events?
Joseph Jr.: There’s a tons of them out there. All the mortars, the rockets. Those were some of the bigger ones that stay highlighted in my head.
RH: Good to go. What was the enemy like?
Joseph Jr.: Oh man. [laughs] That’s one thing we always struggled with. We never saw the enemy. To me the enemy was the local population. You couldn’t trust anybody. You didn’t know who was who. We would find weapons in guys’ houses and they would act like they didn’t know it was there. To be fair, we never got to know the enemy. We just knew IEDs and mortar rounds. We would have patrols to go search for the mad mortarman – that’s what we called him. They would shoot from the palm groves. The guys on post would be able to see the puff of smoke come out of the palm grove and they would just light ‘em up in that general direction but not seeing the true target. So for my deployment, we didn’t really have Operation Phantom Fury. We didn’t have a direct enemy to shoot at. Our deployment was primarily getting hit with the IEDs and not knowing who the hell just blew us up. That was probably the most frustrating thing on our end. It’s like you’re getting hit from behind and you never get to see who’s hitting you. It’s an unfair fight. That was a huge challenge.
RH: Alright. Good to go. What were your interactions with the Iraqis like?
Joseph Jr.: We would do a lot of patrols in the village and they were always trying to offer us the chai tea and food and whatnot. From my perspective, for me, I was just a junior doc. I didn’t have much interaction with them. I just remember seeing the platoon commander always there trying to chat him up and trying to get something out of them. I only came in at times when we did a raid or somebody would go snag somebody and get them out of there – make sure they were safe in the vehicle. We went to the FOB and I never saw them again.
Other than that, we had the police department that we would always go and chat with. Those guys, you couldn’t trust them for anything. All of them were crooked. I remember driving through the villages and through the towns. The women would come out and crack a door open just to curious see. They would stare us down – not in a bad way but just staring at us and watch us as we drove by. Other than that, that was about it.
RH: What was the most challenging period of the deployment: the beginning, the middle or the end?
Joseph Jr.: Man, the most challenging? I think the most challenging had to have been the middle. That’s when, physically, everything starts to set in. All the things when you first got there, that first month or two, you’re running off of straight adrenaline. It’s non-stop. You’re new to it. You want to make a difference. As a Corpsman, you want to be involved and you want to help your guys. You were waiting for what’s next. And then you start learning, OK. We’re getting blown up, we’re losing guys – half a platoon from shrapnel wounds and getting sent to the rear. We’re getting new guys in.
So in the middle of the deployment, we’re getting new guys come into our company that we never trained up with so the trust is not there. You’re fatigued at that point. You’re at the halfway point where you know you’re going to get home but at that point you’re starting to not give a shit. At that point you’re like, “I don’t care.” Whatever patrol is next, let’s just get it done and get back. To think of that clearly, I would say the middle part was probably the toughest.
RH: What was the most challenging non-combat aspect of deploying?
Joseph Jr.: Missing family. I guess in how you communicate on the phone. To me everything is combat related in a sense but when you call home, you can’t talk about what’s happening. One, OPSEC. The other one is that you don’t want your family knowing that, hey, your buddy just got blown up yesterday and you out him in a body bag. That’s not the information that you want to pass on home. So trying to be strong in the communication back home.
Other challenges in addition to that was chow. Chow for us was tough, eating T rats all the time. Our FOB was away from the air base so we didn’t have the food and the commissary and PX that they had over there. Probably the third thing, from a Corpsman standpoint, was having a lack of medical supplies. I mean, you talk about running off of just band-aids and cravats. We didn’t have shit and we were seeing some of the most gruesome injuries at that time. That was kind of disappointing.
RH: Aside from some of the stories that you already told me, did you have any transformative or significant events that occurred on the deployment?
Joseph Jr.: Aside from what I’ve shared, probably not. Other than those events, the transformative part of my life would probably be just the actual patrols we conducted with our Marines and the challenges we had to overcome some obstacles. Everybody had to step up and pull their own weight whether it was driving, foot patrols, carrying their own things. We did operation just kidding – what we referred to the first Fallujah push as. That alone, just being in the tracks for that long with that many Marines – we were over capacity in each of those tracks – man, I wanted to go crazy.
RH: So you guys were going to push into Fallujah? If I’m not mistaken, in 2004 you were going to make a push but then you were called down?
Joseph Jr.: Yes. That was all with General Mattis. I forget what book I read that gave me the big picture that I didn’t understand. But General Mattis, he knew that there were bad guys in Fallujah. We were getting ready to go in there and we did go in there but everything just kind of died down and nothing happened. There were some firefights and some flare-ups and all that but it wasn’t a true Phantom Fury like there was in October – in the fall [of 2004] when they did the second push. We went into Fallujah in April and that was about thirty days of being away from our FOB as a battalion. Multiple battalions went in to Fallujah to do the offense.
RH: And did not much happen?
Joseph Jr.: No. Like I said, we got a few mortar attacks, a few flare-ups. We were at camp TQ and I remember some helos firing off some rounds a few times but nothing developed. We had the whole speech from the BC on top of the Humvee, “Look to your left, look to your right. Some of you are not going to come back.” We did all that and it just did not unfold the way that we thought that it would. It was an all-out effort from the Army, Marines – multiple battalions. Recon was involved. The SEALs were involved. Everybody.
RH: Alright. Good to go. Before we move on from the deployment, is there anything that I left out that you would like to address about the deployment specifically?
Joseph Jr.: No. There are other events that occurred but those were the ones that are highlighted in my memory. That pretty much touches it all.
RH: OK. You came back in 2004. What was it like coming back afterwards?
Joseph Jr.: It was different. I remember when I was deployed being, “I know something’s changed in me. I don’t know what it is but I know I’m not the same guy coming back.” I had a hard time. The nightmares and [I started] seeing the doc. They put me on Ambien and Zoloft. The Zoloft I never really got into, I never really took it, thank God. But the Ambien I took a few times to help sleep. And a lot of drinking, a lot of anger and a lot of hate – just like any of us, most of us, came back with.
RH: When did you guys first meet for the first time after you got back?
Joseph Jr.: When we left for post-deployment leave, he was there at the airport to pick me up. They had a family gathering at my house at that time. They had the family there to welcome me home. Two weeks after we got back – I forget what the period is when you start post-deployment leave after you get back. That’s when I first saw them.
RH: What was it like seeing him for the first time?
Joe Sr.: it was incredible. We were hoping – we had a fifteen year-old birthday for my daughter and we were hoping he would make the flight. Somehow he got hung up at March Air Force Base and he couldn’t make the event. Just seeing him and starting to ask questions and get as much information I could from him because I knew we were fixin’ to go over.
RH: Alright. That’s the perfect transition. So you deployed in January 2005?
Joe Sr.: Right.
RH: So how did you feel knowing that your dad was going to go in 2005?
Joseph Jr.: It sucked man. Knowing that you just went through that deployment knowing what exists over there and the dangers and the evils that exist, it’s just like anybody would feel. You worry, you know? You just worry. But I tried to provide as much feedback. My thing was I wanted to provide as much information that I learned. That way it would hopefully help somebody else out, whether it was him or any of his guys or the Corpsmen, or whatever.
RH: So what was the work up to the deployment like?
Joe Sr.: It was the same thing – going to March Air Force Base and doing the training there. I was Motor T so I was focused on the convoy operations and procedures and everything else – making sure that we were going to go in there with our heads all together. It was nothing compared to when we got there. The work up was totally off base. We were looking at videos and looking out for small Coke cans as best you can. Those are your IEDs. When we got there it was nothing like that.
RH: Before we jump into the deployment, what was it like the night before you deployed?
Joe Sr.: We had our RCT Colonel who I knew from Fourth Recon. He was a Captain back then but now a Colonel. He gave us a big speech in the bleachers and I remember him saying the area we were going to – we were going to the [Haditha] dam – he referred to the dam as almost a recreational area. It was like, “Hey guys. You all are going to the dam but hopefully,” – I remember him saying this – “hopefully a couple of bad guys will go your way and you can get some action.” So I kind of felt like we were just going to sit there at the dam and nothing was going to happen. That was way off.
RH: And you flew out from March Air Force Base?
Joe Sr.: Yes.
RH: Were you able to see him the night before you left?
Joseph Jr.: No. Not the night before he left but during his work up, he went to Twentynine Palms before they went to March. We spent some time while he was up there. Not the night before but a couple weeks leading up to.
RH: Were you a Gunny when you deployed?
Joe Sr.: Yes. A Gunnery Sergeant.
RH: What unit did you deploy with?
Joe Sr.: Third Battalion, Twenty-Fifth Marines.
RH: 3/25. OK. What was the mission of your unit?
Joe Sr.: Same thing. 1/23 had relieved 2/7 and we were relieving 1/23. But our AO was a lot bigger. India Company was in Al Assad providing security. We had Kilo Company at Hit and then we had Lima Company and H&S at the dam and Weapons Company split between the dam and Hit.
RH: What company were you attached to?
Joe Sr.: H&S.
RH: What do you remember most when you first arrived in Iraq?
Joe Sr.: The dam. The lake was pretty and the river was pretty. As much junk as they told me about those rivers had, I can’t not mention how clean it looks. It actually looked pretty clean. I was surprised. We were at the dam with Iraqis working at the dam because part of the power plant was working still. So I was kind of impressed with the facility.
RH: What specifically was your job?
Joe Sr.: I was a Motor Transport Operations Chief. My job was to oversee all the drivers, the operators, Motor T mechanics, maintenance and drivers. So I was overseeing all the drivers. I had to split up the – well, the battalion H&S had to split them up – we had to send a group to Hit and then keep a group at the dam. We did a bunch of convoys back and forth from the dam to Al Assad. I was convoy commander on most convoys.
And we also set up – I’m getting ahead a little bit – we were so shorthanded that our PSD who was made up of H&S Marines that were supposed to drive the Colonel and the Sergeant Major around, we were so shorthanded in Weapons Company that they actually turned them into a MAP, mobile assault platoon. So our convoys didn’t have any security details so we made up our own convoy support detail out of another group of drivers. I pretty much rolled around in the PSD most of the time.
RH: OK. Can you describe your AO?
Joe Sr.: The dam?
Joe Sr.: It was a huge lake. The dam, where there was a power plant, still had a couple of generators running. You had the Euphrates river. We had Haqlaniyah right next to us. It was just desert. We were getting mortared at least twice a day.
RH: What were some of the notable events that occurred during the deployment?
Joe Sr.: March 25th  was the first one. It stands out because we were 3/25 and it happened on March 25th and we suffered our first KIA. It was Corporal [Bryan J.] Richardson. I think that’s when everybody’s eyes opened. It was like, wow. I thought we were going to be at the dam and there would be no bad guys over here. We lost him. That was March 25th.
Then April 7th, our motor pool got hit with a mortar. We suffered a very, very minor injury. They called it minor trauma. I still got MEDEVACed up to the medical tent.
RH: I’m sorry, you got MEDEVACed out?
Joe Sr.: Not MEDEVACed. The motor pool was at the lower end of the dam and our BAS was at the top of the dam so they transported us up there. One guy ended up getting shrapnel and he got flown up to Al Assad. That was April 7th.
Then our biggest event that I will never forget was May 7th. I lost two of my H&S Marines. They were on the PSD which they turned into a mobile assault platoon. There was a firefight across the river and our QRF was in Barwanah. So we had to send another QRF to Haqlaniyah and that’s when we sent our PSD MAP platoon. There were tracks and they were going to the city and a suicide vehicle borne IED came out and killed four of them instantly. Well, it killed three instantly. We got word of the event, I went up to the BAS and I see that Marines were coming back. One of my good friends Sergeant Cepeda, I want to say he was still alive because he was not in the bag yet. I was up there with him, trying to talk to him. By the time the surgeon came in, they pronounced him dead. That was May 7th.
And then June 9th we had another mobile assault team get hit in a Humvee in the intersection there in Haqlaniyah. Our CSD got dispatched to provide mortuary support. Everything was scattered. We found the engine block of the Humvee two hundred yards away. The crater it left in that intersection was incredible. So just helping mortuary affairs pick up anything they could, putting them in bags and stuff. That happened on June 9th which was my birthday so I’ll never forget that event.
Sometime in July we had an IED go off in the dam from one of the dam workers. He turned a little fire extinguisher into an IED. Nobody got hurt but that’s when, you know, you couldn’t trust anybody.
And the last day in July our snipers got compromised. They weren’t all snipers – I think it was just three snipers and the rest were supporting the snipers but they got compromised. One of my Marines, he was an H&S NBC guy, he was out there with them. The Warrant Officer said, “Do you want to go out there with them?” They got compromised and they all got killed except one. They took him into Haqlaniyah and we knew about it. So Lima company had just come in from an operation and we dispatched the whole company out to find the Marine. They were going through Barwanah and they were in tracks. The second track hit an IED that turned the amtrac into a tuna can. It went down the hill and killed all sixteen on board. It had two other Marines from an outlying company from Fourth Recon in the amtrac. That was probably the worst event of the deployment, losing sixteen Marines because we were looking for one Marine who was compromised with those snipers.
RH: Did that one Marine who was compromised by the snipers, did he get back safely?
Joe Sr.: No. He was dead already. We did retrieve the body.
RH: Any other significant events?
Joe Sr.: No. That was it. March, April, May, June and September.
RH: Alright. What was the enemy like?
Joe Sr.: We didn’t know who they were. We had guys at the dam, Iraqis at the dam. We had the hajis that would come get the trash. You just didn’t know who was who. During our convoys between the dam and Al Assad, you had Route Bronze which was not protected. And then we had, on the opposite side of the train tracks, we had Route Uranium. So every time we’d go through there, we’d provide security for the convoys and still run across folks. I remember having my M16 against a twelve year-old kid who had his parents who had some sheep. We’d just get our interpreter to talk to them and then make the decision to let them keep going and let them know to not be on this road here.
I remember one time we had a guy on a motorcycle and he just had the weirdest face – not trustworthy – like this guy’s bad. But we couldn’t find anything on him and we couldn’t do anything so we had to let him go. Letting him go, that whole day you’re thinking is that bad or good?
And of course we had to transport all our detainees as well. As our MAPs are out there patrolling and stuff, anybody who they see or suspect, they pick him up and bring him to the dam and then we transport them from the dam to Al Assad. They all stunk. I mean, they were just bad. Not so good people. We never knew who was good or who was bad.
RH: To piggyback off of that a little bit, what were your interactions with the Iraqis like?
Joe Sr.: Even as a motor transport, I stayed at the dam quite a bit as well. I had an electrical background so I fixed all the electrical for all the Marines in the barracks and stuff. So I had to interact with the Iraqi guy who was the maintenance guy. I actually met the power plant director and had tea with him. You start trying to develop a friendship but knowing that you can’t even trust them. But I interacted with them at the dam doing maintenance work for the Marines there.
RH: Aright. Good to go. What was the most challenging period of your deployment: the beginning, the middle or the end?
Joe Sr.: The end.
RH: Why is that?
Joe Sr.: The IEDs were just getting bigger. We did not have the up armors when we first got there. We started getting the up armors and it seems like they noticed that and their IEDs just got bigger. They got to where they were using oxygen acetylene tanks as IEDs.
RH: What was the most challenging non-combat aspect of deploying?
Joe Sr.: I think keeping the key wives in line. [RH laughs] My wife would go to the meetings and she would hear certain stuff. Of course, for Fourth Recon family support was H&S and Charlie [Company]. Charlie deployed at the same time and they were encountering none of the action that we were encountering. Yet, all the focus was on Charlie and all the H&S moms and wives were like, “How about our guys?” Trying to keep the lines of communication open and saying what we could say to try and keep the other wives and moms up with the latest information that we could give them.
RH: Since you were a reserve unit, were all the wives and mothers located here in Texas?
Joe Sr.: Yes. San Antonio. For Fourth Recon, we had H&S and Charlie which is out of San Antonio. We had a company out of Albuquerque, Alpha company, and we had a company out of Billings Montana, Bravo company. But each company had their own Family Readiness Officer in the unit so we had ours here in San Antonio.
RH: Aside from what you told me about some of the events that you just discussed, did you have any transformative or significant events that occurred on your deployment?
Joe Sr.: I think you just develop the attitude that if something’s going to happen, it’s going to happen. Don’t try to hide under a shell the whole time. I remember one of the mortars hit in the armory and supply. It knocked the power out. And just being out there looking for where the broken wire was even though the mortars hadn’t stopped. Just trying to get the job done keeping the lights on for the Marines that plugged in too much stuff. I had to make up my own pieces for the power panels there because that material was not in use, or I could not get parts for the equipment they had there.
RH: So Joseph, while he’s over there, what are you and your family going through
Joseph Jr.: For me, it was a lot of phone calls with my mom in the evenings consoling her. She would cry just to cry. To wrap it up in a nutshell it was just talking to her to keep her sane.
RH: And you were still in Twentynine Palms all the time? You were not in Texas, correct?
Joseph Jr.: Yes. So funny story, I should have been deployed which, I think, should have been your first deployment. I was the Remain Behind [Corpsman]. Unknowingly, while in Twentynine Palms, he went and spoke with Chief Crane and requested for me to stay back. He put a little word in his ear and I think with maybe that talk to Chief Crane along with the PTSD treatment that I was going through there at the hospital, I guess that’s why the leadership decided to make me the Remain Behind. I think that’s how I developed into that role. It’s probably one of my biggest regrets in life but I’m not mad about it because anything could have happened differently on that deployment where I wouldn’t be here today. So I can’t be made at it but I wish I was there on the second one.
I was in Twentynine Palms still. I was hearing of things going on over there, communicating with my mom to be her support, and trying to communicate with him. There was a point in time where I got back and he was getting ready to go that he was upset that I went first. He was a Marine and he wanted to go get action. I tried to make it clear to him, “Dad, it’s not like that over there. You’re fighting ghosts.” I clearly told him that, “You’re fighting ghosts.” It’s not like you’re going to get some like you think of, like a Clint Eastwood movie. I don’t think he liked that. As a Marine, as a Corpsman, I want to go get some. I’ll never forget the night he flew in to, was it North Carolina?
Joe Sr.: To Maine.
Joseph Jr.: It was on the east coast at the Marine Corps base, he told me, “Promise me one thing.” I said, “What’s that?” He was like, “Never tell me ‘I told you so.’” [all laugh] I promised. I understood. It’s something you had to go through. It’s OK. But I was primarily up in Twentynine Palms just trying to support my family.
RH: Alright. Good to go. So you got back and came back to March Air Force Base in Twentynine Palms?
Joe Sr.: No. We went to North Carolina, Camp Lejeune.
RH: How long were you in Camp Lejeune for?
Joe Sr.: We were there for about a month, I think. I came on the advance party and started to set everything up for the main body to come in. Once the main body came in, we did all the classes?
Joseph Jr.: Oh. When you get back, all the debriefing – don’t beat your wife type thing. Don’t do drugs. [laughs]
RH: So when did you guys first reunite after you got back.
Joseph Jr.: When he flew into San Antonio. I took leave and I came home. They had a welcome for all the families at the Reserve center that were with Fourth Recon. My mom, my sister and me were all there with the other families and they drove us to the busses.
RH: Let me ask you this. What was it like, since you were in the Reserves, transitioning back to life here in San Antonio?
Joe Sr.: I remember the training we did prior to the war and it was so lax. Now being in combat and having to wear all your PPE, it’s just so much different. When we got back and continued drilling at the Reserve center with the Marines who hadn’t been deployed, it was just letting them know the importance of don’t stop and take your helmet off because you’re tired. Leave your helmet, leave your goggles, leave your flak on. There were even times when we would go train and some said, “We don’t need our weapons. It’s such a hassle getting them in and out of the armory.” But, no. Stressing the importance of we’re taking our weapons, we’re taking everything. So I was able to provide the Reserve center some good training for those who hadn’t been deployed that were getting ready to deploy.
RH: One thing I always wonder since I was active duty as well and when we came back we were surrounded by military culture, in the Reserves is it challenging to go right back into civilian life? What is that transition like?
Joe Sr.: It wasn’t as challenging. The hard part about it as a Reserve unit coming back, one of the hardest things I dealt with was the families – Sergeant Cepeda’s. They were actually at the Reserve center when we rolled up in the bus. Knowing you’re getting off that bus without their Marine. So the family portion of that is constant. I still see his wife, we still see his kids. We celebrate May 7th every year. So I’m not going to say it’s tighter than an active duty unit but, whether we want to be tight or not, it’s here in San Antonio.
One thing I want to mention deploying with Reserves I think was also great. I had plumbers, I had welders, I had electricians. We had skills from all over the place and we were able to build our FOB into a nice, decent area. Some of those active duty units don’t have that. They get stuck with whatever they got.
Joseph Jr.: Especially a bunch of knuckle draggers. [RH laughs]
Joe Sr.: We were up armoring our vehicles when we got there because we had nothing. We were just getting the metal that we could and were just welding it to the Humvees.
RH: Good to go. This is going to be a question that I’m going to ask you both. Did the sailors and Marines around you change after you got back and, if so, how?
Joseph Jr.: Yes. [laughs] One of my Marines, we came back in September and he ETSed in December. He was one of my closest brothers. When he ETSed he didn’t tell anybody bye, didn’t check in with any of us. He just rode out into civilian life and no one ever heard from him. I talk to him now but there was a period of time where he just vanished. He’d go from being a tight brother to where it’s like dude didn’t even tell me bye.
Another one of my buddies, it wasn’t known back then but TBI now is a big thing. I’m pretty sure he had TBI back then because he was in a Humvee that hit a land mine and lost an A driver. He was in the back of the vehicle so I’m pretty sure he had severe TBI. Deployment or not, Marines or Corpsmen, if we go out there and go to a bar and get in a fight. It seemed like even more so when we got back. No matter where we went all together, someone was going to get in a fight. Emotionally, everybody was very delicate, I guess is the word. Thinking back on it now, anything could set someone off real quick. And even on each other. We would be in the barracks and an all-out fight would just happen in our room between two Marines.
Everybody was different. Some guys would completely shut down. They wouldn’t respond, they wouldn’t communicate. Then there were a bunch of guys that were just fine. Nothing really changed. That’s what I saw.
RH: And same question. Did the Marines that you deployed with change after you got back and, if so, how?
Joe Sr.: I’m not going to say they changed. One guy that was close to us, Sergeant Garza, that guy was with Cepeda and Graham when they got killed. He’s still able to function today, almost like he wasn’t there. He was on the Mark 19, shooting everything off he could. He’s a good guy. Like I said, the ones that we deployed with, we all stayed in contact. We get together every May 7th and, if anything, we’re just more mature. When we were training after that, it’s just the importance of training. How you train is how you’re going to act when you’re over there. So if you’re going to train with your helmets off and flaks off, you’re going to do the same thing over there.
Just assuring those Marines who haven’t been deployed – trying to explain to them as much as we can what it’s going to be like when they get over there.
Joseph Jr.: I think that’s good for reservists, like he said. You can’t run from it. The families are here. They guys are here because they’re all local. Like he says, he’s able to see the good that Garza’s turned his life into and the achievements that he’s doing. For me, I’ve got to rely on facebook and see who’s doing what. Hopefully I make a phone call and hopefully somebody answers. I’m sure there are guys on my end now who you look back on and say you’re doing pretty good in life. I think that’s one thing I kind of envy on my dad’s side. I go to his get-togethers with those guys and I’m good friends with them as well but I don’t have that on my end. That’s really hard.
RH: So I’m going to ask a couple questions about Iraq’s current state and what’s going on. We always start with [Joseph] so we’ll start with Joe. How do you feel about the rise of ISIS and the current direction that Iraq is taking?
Joe Sr.: From what I see in the news, it looks like the Iraqi army is doing a pretty good job in maintaining those guys. That’s another reason we were there, to try and help the Iraqi army better themselves. I see a lot of improvement in the Iraqi army themselves in containing the ISIS guys. I don’t read a lot but from what I can tell, I think the Iraqi army is holding their own.
RH: And Joseph, same question. How do you feel about the rise of ISIS and the Iraqi state?
Joseph Jr.: I think the rise of ISIS was due to poor leadership on our end. But to not really hear as much now, I think that the biggest benefit our country has achieved is having General Mattis up there as our Defense Secretary. I think he’s allowing the leaders to make the decisions on having a plan and executing that plan. We haven’t heard too much but, again, I’m just an average day civilian now where I’m not reading too many books or too much in the news. But from just a general aspect, you’re not seeing much talk of the war is a good thing to the everyday American citizen. That danger’s been contained.
RH: Alright. Good to go. I’ve got a couple of spiritual questions for you guys. Has deploying affected you spiritually and, if so, how?
Joseph Jr.: Yeah, most definitely. You know, I had a lot of trouble with the guys that we lost coming back for I don’t know how many years. Part of it was that I was mad at God. A lot of anger. That led into a lot of things in my life. The decisions that I made just carried that burden, that weight. Just recently, I luckily got led to an organization called the Christian Warrior Retreat. I attended a retreat and experienced some good things. I was able to hand over all those burdens and things that I’ve been carrying. Lance Corporal Barr was a big situation, a few other situations that we had. I’m a lot closer to God today than I have ever been in my life. I was raised Catholic, I went to church, but to really have that relationship with God now has grown more than ever due to that retreat. It was all veterans put on by veterans from Vietnam to Desert Storm to the Iraq war. It’s helped me understand that my time in service and my time being deployed is a piece of who I am but it’s not my identity. It’s not who I am. I’m a man of God. I have my two girls and my wife. That’s my identity. Man, I lived with it since the war until last year. I carried with those burdens. I carried that anger. So spiritually it’s been a roller coaster but luckily, by the grace of God, I’m in a better place mentally now than I’ve been in the past.
RH: Alright. Good to go. Same question – has deploying affected you spiritually and, if so, how?
Joe Sr.: Yes – thanking God for everything. I don’t see myself in a closer relationship with Him. I pray and everything, I don’t go to church every Sunday, but I have that relationship. Even Joseph tells me, “Just pray, dad. Just pray.” I like to pray on my way to work when I’m by myself. Just doing those things and thanking Him. Every time I walk outside in the mornings, it’s a beautiful morning, you know? Then there are times where you just stop and think about those days in Iraq. It’s incredible how much we have now and I just thank God every day for what He’s given us, not only me but our family. It’s more one on one between me and Him.
RH: Alright. Good to go. So let me ask you this. Has deploying changed your perception of life and death and, if so, how?
Joe Sr.: I’m going to say yes. I’m not afraid of dying. You see all these scenarios. When we go to the restaurant, we try and place ourselves in the back. Things like that they taught you before deployment. You hear about these shootings that went on at the church. What would I have done there? I’m thinking that I’m going to be that guy that’s going to try and jump on a grenade. I’m going to do everything that I can because I’m not afraid of dying. From what we saw in our battalion, we lost forty-eight Marines in a six month period.
RH: I’m sorry, how many?
Joe Sr.: Forty-eight.
RH: Forty-eight were killed?
Joe Sr.: Killed, KIA.
RH: Oh wow.
Joe Sr.: We were one of the first battalions to have combat replacements. So it was bad. Any situation, I have a feeling that I’m not going to be the hero but I’m going to do anything I can to contain the situation.
RH: Good to go. Same question. Has deploying changed your perception of life and death and, if so, how?
Joseph Jr.: Yes. I was eighteen, nineteen years old when I was over there. Seeing so much death at such a young age in that type of manner was definitely an experience that not many people should normally experience at that age. Seeing lives cut short every day and every week – you get up and take on the plan of the day with the family or whatever – like my dad said, it just comes into your mind. I can’t just take this day for granted. There’s a reason why I made it and they didn’t and I’ve got to live for my brothers. I have to do something out of the ordinary. I’ve got to be on top of my game in their name, in their honor. I don’t want to be slumming it and doing things that are not producing towards society here. I want to be part of the good in their name.
As far as being afraid of death, like my dad said, and being closer to God, it’s like there’s a plan and my name’s going to be called. Until then, I know that there is an end. I need to raise my girls right and I want my wife to know how much I love her and how much I love the girls. I’ve been blessed to have this life with them and I want to teach them as much as I can about life. That way, when my name is called, they know where daddy is, they know what daddy was about.
When you’re that young, people know about death but you don’t know. Now I’ve seen it happen to my buddies and I see their families grieving and wanting them back. Now you’ve seen the end. You know what’s going to happen to you. You know at some point you’re going to be gone. So I have a chance between now and then to do as much as I can for the family. Like I said, I want the girls to know who their daddy is and what he’s about and how to live life the right way in God’s name.
RH: How has the military shaped your life since you got out?
Joseph Jr.: Since I got out? To be fair when you ask that question, the military shaped my life since I was a young kid. My dad being in, I’ve dealt with the time of him being away. So learning how to deal with, one, the military life and the sacrifices, a lot of Americans take that for granted on what this country is built on. The way it has shaped my life is to not take anything for granted. The opportunity that you and I are having right now, for you to fly from California down here, these feelings that we have is nonexistent in other countries. I don’t take that for granted. If I have the time, if I have the money to do things with my family, we’re going to do it. I’m not going to hold back.
So my time in the military has really helped shape our everyday life now on the house that we live in, the things I do with the family, the things I do with the girls, how I communicate with the girls. The military has been in my blood. It’s been in my childhood. It’s everything. Friends of mine, coworkers of mine, they’ll say I’ve got OCD. It’s all for a reason. There’s all these things you learned in the military to do things the right way and I still try to live my life in that manner.
RH: Good to good. So same question. How has the military affected your life since you got out?
Joe Sr.: It has had a great impact on my civilian job. I had two goals in life, one was to become an E-9 and one was to become a manager at work.
RH: What do you do for a living?
Joe Sr.: I work in a power plant. I was a maintenance manager. I thought when I made maintenance manager, I’m done. This was my goal and I made it. Since then I’ve been promoted to senior manager and now I’m currently overseeing outages as we shut down the units and do the work. I think right now there’s a good chance that I could be looking at another position, the next step, director. I have to give most of the credit to the military, the Marines, just in what they’ve taught me and how I instill that at work in getting the job done and getting it done right.
RH: Alright. Good to go. So I’m going to switch it up a little bit. We’re going to start with you Joe. What is the happiest memory of the entire time you served in the military?
Joe Sr.: The happiest memory of the entire time?
RH: If you want to narrow it down, what’s your happiest memory of the period you served in Iraq, those couple of years?
Joe Sr.: One of the happiest one, being a Spurs fan, was listening to the game early in the morning and hearing the Spurs win the championship in ’05. That was happy. Other than that, I still remember coming in the bus to the reserve center for the first time after seven months. Seeing everybody, again, being the senior enlisted, I was the last one off the bus to make sure everybody got off to see their families. Being the last one off and seeing my family there, I’ll never forget that day.
RH: Good to go. Alright, same question. What’s the happiest memory of the entire time you served?
Joseph Jr.: I kind of mentioned it a little earlier, I’ll never forget waking up one morning in Iraq, coming out of our hooch and getting the vehicles loaded up. It just felt like I was content with my life – what I was doing and what I was about. I was with the Marines. I’m a doc. I got my A bag. It just felt like, man, this is awesome. The sense of pride that I had up to the point in life and what my life was about then is a weird feeling that I had. It’s just weird. I’ll never forget it. I’ll never forget that morning. I remember it was cool out. I had my beanie on and everything. It just felt great. Aside from that, coming home from Iraq was by far one of the happiest times.
RH: Alright. This is going to be the hardest question of the entire interview. What is the best MRE?
Joseph Jr.: [laughs] The best MRE for me was the country captain, or captain country chicken. What was it called?
RH: Oh, what was it called? Something like that.
Joseph Jr.: So the actual meal sucked, the main meal. But it had buttery noodles and it had the pack of cheese spread. So you heat up the buttery noodles and you put that cheese spread in. It was like macaroni and cheese. That was my favorite. My Marines knew it because everybody hated the meal but I always wanted it because of the buttery noodles. Every time we opened up a box of MREs, they always threw that one on the side for me.
RH: Alright. Good to go. Same question. What was the best MRE?
Joe Sr.: I don’t know if you remember this because they were from the first batch of MREs that came out back in the day but the ham slice.
RH: Ham slice. OK. Yeah, those were gone by the time we got there. [laughs]
Joe Sr.: Yeah. You can’t go wrong with the ham slice. [laughs]
RH: Alright. What is the best chow hall in Iraq and the best chow hall stateside?
Joseph Jr.: Oof. The best chow hall in Iraq. So again, I only ate in one chow hall in Al Assad one time. It was actually what they called midrats. We went over there to drop off something and we ate and came back. It was on Al Assad. I had cheeseburgers and it was pretty damn good.
Stateside was working out here at Camp Bullis as part of the cadre. Next to us was the Air Force security forces, the students, that come school there. Their chow hall was right next door to us. We would walk over there and pay the money but it was phenomenal. The Air Force guys are dressed as chefs. It was like walking into a resort. You sit down and eat your meal and you don’t even pick up your tray. They have the staff come and pick it up for you. That was probably one of the best chow halls I’ve been in.
RH: Nice. What was the best chow hall in Iraq and the best stateside?
Joe Sr.: Iraq was RCT 5 in Al Assad. That was the best. Stateside I would say Anchorage Alaska, Elmendorf Air Force base. In fact, we got in trouble. We were asking for directions to the chow hall and the guy said, “We don’t have chow halls here. We have dining facilities.” [all laugh] And it was a dining facility.
RH: That’s not bad. Good to go! Alright, last couple of questions. We’ll start with Joe. What are some of the common misconceptions that the average American might have about the conflict?
Joe Sr.: One of them is that it’s not a war like Vietnam or Desert Storm where the front line troops are hitting it. It’s an urban war. Whether you are a communicator, Motor T, a medic, a Corpsman, a supply guy – everybody is in the same danger. It’s not like you have front troops and all your infantry coming in. I think that’s one thing they don’t really capture. Anybody going into Iraq is in danger.
RH: Alright. Good to go. Same question. What are some of the common misconceptions that the average American might have about the conflict?
Joseph Jr.: I would probably say the misconception of the enemy. Multiple times when I came back, I got the question of how many guys did you shoot? Stupid questions like that and it’s kind like you have no idea, man. There’s no enemy in front of you. You’re fighting ghosts. I think the average American probably does not understand that.
RH: Alright. Good to go. So, if you could communicate something to young Marines and sailors fighting the wars of the future, what would it be?
Joseph Jr.: Trust God. Yeah. Read the bible.
RH: Alright. If you could communicate something to young Marines and sailors who will be fighting the wars of the future, what would it be?
Joe Sr.: Train, train, train. Take training seriously when you’re working up to head over there.
RH: Alright. Good to go. If you could communicate something to a parent who is deploying – somebody who is deploying who’s got kids – from a son who has lived through it and something you would want them to know regarding their children or just their experience, what would it be?
Joseph Jr.: Trust God and the bible. [RH laughs] You’ve just got to revert to that. There’s only so many things that we can control as human beings. Your son may not come home and make it. It’s just the nature of it. This is their job that they volunteered to do. We have excellent leaders in our country and we have the number one military in this world so you have to trust in that. Outside of that, you have no control. Build that relationship with your child, build that relationship with God, put your trust in Him, and know that there’s a plan forward for them. And just have faith in that.
RH: Alright. Good to go. If you could communicate something to a kid whose parent is deploying and might be worried about their parents going over there, what would it be?
Joe Sr.: Be supportive. Be supportive. Communicate. When I mean be supportive, do not do anything that’s going to put an extra burden on them while they’re gone because they’re going to have enough on their plate. So be supportive and do as much as you can to make their deployment less stressful from being away from home. So do everything they can to make their deployment where they can focus on the deployment and not things back home.
RH: Got it. If you could communicate something to a parent who has deployed and is coming home how to deal with their children or how to explain and comfort their children, what would it be?
Joe Sr.: Take it one day at a time. Be patient. You’re not in a combat zone anymore. You’re not a warrior anymore – you’re back in civilian life. Take the time to adapt to everything.
RH: Alright. Good to go. Before I ask my last question, is there anything I left out that you guys would like to address?
Joseph Jr.: No. I mean, the only thing that I would comment on is the fact that you’re here, being able to do this interview here with my dad, man! I think both of us are truly blessed to have the relationship of a Navy doc and a Marine Corps father and I don’t know of many relationships out there like. I know they exist but they’re far and few. I’m very appreciative of this relationship that I have with this man right here because, one, awesome dad and, two, awesome Marine. Seeing the respect that he got from his Marines has been amazing. It’s been an amazing ride. Looking back on our history, it’s a beautiful thing and I’m very excited to share our history with my daughters and our future family that’s going to continue to grow.
RH: You might have just answered this question but is there anything that I left out about your relationship or what you guys went through as father and son that I may not have addressed that is significant?
Joe Sr.: I think there’s some therapy that goes on between us that we probably don’t even know has happened. It’s been over twelve years and to this day we still talk about certain events and certain things out there. I have a big map of Iraq still on my refrigerator in the shop with the AOs, Route Bronze and [Route] Uranium. It’s there. As time goes on, we don’t talk about it as much as we did the first few years but the memories are still there. I think the therapy between us goes unnoticed.
Joseph Jr.: Just to add to that, that’s probably the roots of our barbeque. [laughs] As he’s saying this, I’m kind of thinking about it in my head. A lot of preparation goes into smoking those briskets.
RH: Let me just ask you this question. For people that may not know, when you say your barbeque, what do you mean, exactly?
Joseph Jr.: Recently I’ve been selling briskets on the side just to friends and family and posting stuff on facebook and whatnot. We do a lot of barbeques for family and everybody knows of Joe’s and Joseph’s barbeque. He’s been barbequing for years and I got into it after coming home and grew into it and it became a competition. Just as he is a Marine and I’m a Corpsman, we’re very competitive. The barbeque just started taking off and growing and growing and growing. He would outdo me and I would outdo him and try to get the family’s opinion. It’s just been a thing that naturally has just kind of grown. Like I’ve said, there’s a lot of preparation that goes into it. If I’m going to smoke briskets on the weekend, Thursday night I’m at his house at his shop where he’s got the refrigerator with the big Iraq map. He’s got a sink. We wash off the meat, we rub it down. We put it in the fridge and we drink beer. We drink beer, we prepare. Once it comes time to cook, we drink more beer. We talk. We talk about life in general whether it’s current things going on with our families or the war, the media or sports or something. That’s our bond. He’s got the big Marine Corps flag in his shop. The military is there. It’s in our blood, it’s in our family. That’s what our relationship is built off of.
Joe Sr.: In his civilian job, there are similarities between his civilian job and mine so we can talk.
Joseph Jr.: I’m in oil and gas and he’s in the power plant. In those sectors there are a lot of similarities. The relationship is definitely something different, something special that I treasure and our barbeque sprouted from that.
RH: Alright. Good to go. My last question and Joe we’ll start with you. What specific accomplishment are you most proud of during your service?
Joe Sr.: Reaching E9. That was one of the happier moments while I was in when I was selected for E9. I remember I was going down 37 when I heard the message. It’s a great accomplishment.
RH: And Joseph. What specific accomplishment are you most proud of during your service?
Joseph Jr.: You know, I didn’t retire, I didn’t stay in, but one thing that sticks in my head and it’s something silly: the FMF pin. I took that for granted. Everybody’s pressuring you to get your pin, to get your PQS done. They happened to do ours in Iraq and they force you to do our PQS on patrol, studying and everything. We were getting mortared as we did our exam then when we were coming back home is when we did our board, right before we came back stateside. We passed it there. At the time I was like, “Man, this is so stupid. I’m not worried about this right now. I’m worried about saving lives and keeping my Marines safe.” But looking back on it now, the things that I did to accomplish that and the things leadership forced me to do, I appreciate it now. A lot of junior guys might see it as cheesy like it’s a stupid pin. For me, it’s something that I keep on my night stand because it’s something that means a lot, that I accomplished during one of the hardest times in my life. So I treasure that.
RH: Good to go. Anything else before we wrap it up?
Joseph Jr.: No sir.
Joe Sr.: Just a heck of a career in all of the Marine Corps. The majority of his was with the Marine Corps so I’m proud of him.
RH: Alright! Well, thank you both very, very much. I appreciate it.