Jonathan Gerring: Part 1
Jonathan deployed to Fallujah, Iraq in 2004. During his time there he performed maintenance on LAVs and other vehicles and provided combat support when necessary. After leaving the Marines, he spent a number of years in the United States before heading to Afghanistan to work for the military as a contractor. He continues to fix vehicles.
Interview conducted on February 28, 2015 in White Plains, New York
Present: Richard Hayden and Jonathan Gerring
Transcribed by Richard Hayden
Richard Hayden: What is your full name?
Jon Gerring: My name is Jonathan Gerring.
RH: What branch of the military did you serve in and what years?
JG: United States Marine Corps, 2001 to 2005.
RH: What was your rank when you got out?
RH: What was your MOS?
JG: 2147 [spoken as twenty-one forty-seven].
RH: Which is?
JG: It’s LAV technician.
RH: What was your unit?
JG: My first unit was in California at the School of Infantry. The unit I was with trained the drivers and I maintained the vehicles that they trained on. And the second unit I was with was the maintenance battalion of MSSG 31 where we then in turn deployed with the 31st MEU.
RH: What motivated you to join the military?
JG: Ever since I was a kid I knew I was going to do it. I was always attracted to the Marine Corps even when I was a kid – running around in camis and stuff and, you know, playing like kids do. But I always knew that it wasn’t just a game for me. I was going to join. I entertained the idea of going to school after high school but deep down inside I knew it was Marine Corps or nothing.
RH: Why the Marine Corps?
JG: I don’t know. I felt like it was a good way to test myself just like any young guy who wants to be what he thinks is the best. And I thought that the Marines were the best so that’s what gravitated me to it.
RH: Why 2147?
JG: I’d always been interested in being a mechanic. I always liked tinkering with cars and fixing stuff. I thought that I could get the best of both worlds. I could join the Marine Corps plus I could be a mechanic at the same time. They put me in the LAV field. I didn’t ask for the LAV field. I just wanted to be a mechanic so they said, “OK, we’re going to put you in that field,” but the specialty is going to be designated whatever they wanted it to be. So that’s where I ended up being.
RH: How did your family feel about your decision?
JG: They were very supportive. Obviously they were worried but they were very supportive, my mom and my dad. There was military in my family anyway so everybody kind of knew the story. But they supported me.
RH: Where were you on September 11th?
JG: I was in Parris Island, South Carolina in boot camp.
RH: What happened at boot camp when the twin towers were hit?
JG: I remember that day distinctly and I’ll never forget it. We were down there getting trained as you do in boot camp and in the middle of our day, I forget what time it was, they had our whole platoon gather into our squad bay. We thought that it was going to be another instruction or ass chewing or whatever but our drill instructors came in and they weren’t flying off the handle like they usually do. They came in with pretty serious looks talking like I’m talking to you right now, which was strange because they don’t do that. And they told us what happened. It was probably the only time in boot camp where they were actually talking to you, not at us. They were saying, “this is what happened,” and they explained it. They didn’t show us any video or anything but they told us. And anybody who may have had family there, they actually let make a phone call. They said, “this is it. We’re not training for an ‘if’ any more, you’re training for a ‘when.’ You are all going to war. Every one of you. We’re not just preparing here, this is going to happen. Shit is real now.”
RH: Did the tone of the rest of your time in basic training change after that?
JG: I would say yes because boot camp is obviously something you take seriously but it’s almost like now there’s more of a purpose involved with it. Now we’re even more so because we know what’s going to happen. We’ve got to value our training more. It’s not just for college money. It’s not just for the notch in your belt. We’re actually training to do the thing one day.
RH: What was your follow-up training like after Parris Island?
JG: It was MCT I went through after that. But that’s in the regular training syllabus of Marines – Marine Combat Training for non-infantry people. The infantry people went to ITB. It was the same thing. Obviously it was still fresh about the war that’s going to happen and everything intensified after that. But after that then I went to my MOS training in Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland. That’s where all the LAV technicians went. I think the Marine Corps welders were there and a few others. It was a small Marine Corps detachment they had on the base. And then from there I went to my unit in California.
RH: Where were you stationed exactly in California?
JG: In Camp Pendleton.
RH: Did your training prepare you for deploying?
JG: Yes. Definitely.
RH: What do you remember most about Pendleton?
JG: I remember being out in the field and training out in the field going on training exercises. I don’t know why but That sticks out a lot in my head.
RH: Did you interact with some of the locals around Pendleton often?
JG: Not really often. I met a couple people out there but not too much.
RH: Did you serve in Iraq, Afghanistan or both?
JG: Both. In the Marine Corps only Iraq.
RH: When did you deploy to Iraq?
JG: We went underway from Okinawa in 2004. I forget exactly what month. Yes. It was definitely 2004. I don’t remember what month it was. We went underway out of Okinawa and we went straight to the Persian Gulf. We went into Kuwait. And then from there we up-armored our vehicles. Then we unloaded the ships, up-armored the vehicles and then went to Iraq.
RH: When did the deployment end?
JG: The deployment ended in 2005, April I’m pretty sure. It was when we went back onto the ships and sailed back to Okinawa.
RH: Where in Iraq did you deploy to?
RH: And you said you were in Afghanistan as well?
JG: Yes. I was a contractor in 2010.
RH: So let’s talk a little bit about Iraq first and then move onto Afghanistan and your contractor work. What was the mission of your unit in Fallujah?
JG: As the maintenance battalion we did the maintenance on pretty much all the vehicles that were part of our MEU. And the units in our area that we were supporting too. We were a mixture of different maintenance elements. My section was an ordnance unit. Me and my partner did LAVs. We had artillery mechanics and optics technicians and, what else?, AMTRAK technicians. And then in the other sections in our unit we had Motor T guys and everything. So basically our unit was a maintenance combo – a small maintenance hub. We stayed on Camp Fallujah most of the time. Vehicles would come in and we would fix them or we would go out sometimes as a contact team and go assist some of the mechanics that are out with the vehicles and sometimes we would go out with them. I really depends on what the situation was because we were doing third and fourth echelon type maintenance. And a lot of the mechanics that were on the vehicles, they were doing the day to day repairs.
RH: What’s the difference between first, second, third and fourth echelon?
JG: First echelon maintenance is like an operator type of maintenance. If you’re the driver of the vehicle, you’d be doing first echelon maintenance. It would be like hitting the grease fittings or cleaning. Stuff like that. The second echelon maintenance would be like your basic mechanic stuff – replacing a starter or an alternator. Things like that. And third and fourth echelon, they kind of get mixed together. It’s doing rebuilds, more having to do with the components of a vehicle. It’s a specialized thing, like working on the turrets, too. And there’s the fifth echelon but that’s where they rebuild the vehicles. They send those out.
RH: What’s the difference between working on civilian vehicles and military vehicles, specifically the LAVs?
JG: To be honest with you, the way I’ve always looked at fixing stuff is it’s all really the same. It’s just that the vehicles are set up in different ways. They have some different systems in them. Some of the electrical systems may be more in-depth than others but you carry the same principles no matter what you’re on. It’s just that somebody may be good at working on something better than somebody else because they’ve dealt with that specific vehicle a lot. But if you’re spinning wrenches you can do it on anything. Military vehicles, they may have some specific systems on them that civilian cars don’t like communications systems and stuff like that but, really, it’s all the same.
RH: What do you remember most about deploying to Iraq for the first time?
JG: I’d say the first thing would be, to start from the beginning, it would be sleeping on a ship in the berthing areas, packed in there like sardines. That was a charming experience. That somehow always sticks out in my head. But actually being in Iraq, it was cold when I was there. It was real cold. I remember that. I remember being out and my feet being cold and not being able to get them warm – even if I was in a vehicle. I got put with an AMTRAK unit for a short period of time because they were short some guys or something. Now I’m not an AMTRAK mechanic but I’m a mechanic so a lot of times they were like, “you’re a mechanic. Go with these guys.” That brings me back to the principles about working on stuff.
But either way they put me with an AMTRAK unit and I rode out with them to a small town, I forget the name of it, to take the AMTRAK unit there to help an infantry unit. They were securing a spot for elections. And I went out with them and the night before we drove out there I remember we were out getting the vehicles ready and it was so cold. The whole ride over to this spot I was just real cold. We were inside the vehicle too and we were still real cold. We got to where we were at we slept in an old building. It was all jacked up. We were sleeping on the floor in makeshift beds. It stuck out with me how cold it was because I was wearing a beanie too and I never thought that being in Iraq. Before you go there you think that it’s just hot there constantly but that’s not the way it is. And all that damn clay sticking to your boot after it rained.
RH: Can you describe your AO? Are there any parts of it that were particularly memorable?
JG: No. Like I said, we were in Camp Fallujah most of the time. I was on base most of the time. Most of my experience there was actually pretty boring. There are little blips of action here and there but a lot of the time it was just me waking up and fixing something or just twiddling my thumbs. Really our AO was just that area. Like I said, unless they sent us out to go do something because sometimes they would send us out as a contact team or I was on a recovery vehicle once to go recover a vehicle or something like that.
RH: What were some of the notable events that occurred during your deployment?
JG: A rocket into our maintenance area one day. Nobody got hurt, luckily. There is something I’ll remember, the sound of it flying in. I had never heard something like that before. I remember the guy I was standing next to. I remember that we looked at each other as if to say, “that actually just happened?” You think about it and then your first experience with it, you don’t know what to think. But like I said, luckily everybody was OK and it wasn’t really a big deal.
RH: Were you there during the big battle?
JG: Yes. I was there but I wasn’t in the city.
RH: Were they bringing in trucks to be repaired?
JG: Sure. We’d get trucks to be repaired or trucks that we would salvage – salvage for parts and stuff like that.
RH: Was the mood on base different during the battle? Did it change at all?
JG: No. It stayed pretty steady.
RH: What were your interactions with the Iraqis like?
JG: I didn’t have any interactions with the Iraqis. If anything I’d see them but I didn’t interact with them at all. It really wasn’t my place to. I had no business to be doing anything with them anyway.
RH: What do you remember most about the Marines that you served with in Iraq?
JG: Just the way everybody jokes around with each other. I remember people messing with each other and things that we do to pass the time, just keeping each other sane. Even if it meant people were getting pissed at each other. People messing with each other. That was always something I’ll remember.
RH: How was the relationship between the Marines and the sailors when you were being shipped over?
JG: I think it was alright. The sailors there were used to having Marines on board. I’m sure they would rather us not be on board because when we are, the chow lines are all long and stuff but I don’t remember any bad blood or anything like that. When we got back on ship leaving Kuwait, they received us when we came on the ship. They were all lined up and clapping as we walked in and I thought it was the shit. That was pretty cool.
RH: From Kuwait did you fly into Iraq or did you drive in?
JG: I flew in. Some of the guys drove in. Some of us flew in. I flew in.
RH: What was the most challenging period of the deployment: the beginning, the middle or the end?
JG: The middle. I’d say that was the most challenging because in the beginning there was a lot to do in the beginning, a lot of work and a lot of things going on but that’s probably why it wasn’t so challenging because you were busy all the time. You were doing stuff and you were anticipating what was going to happen. And at the end you were just trying to get the hell out of there but in the middle you’re like, “when are we going to be out of here?” Because obviously they’re like, “we’re leaving the next month,” but then we’re leaving the month after, or the month after and it you’re just kind of dealing with the uncertainty of what’s going to happen.
RH: I know I asked earlier about significant events that occurred. Did anything that you’re comfortable talking about happen to you that was significant or unique or anything like that?
JG: Yes. When you asked about during the fight if we’d get vehicles in, we got this one vehicle in that had been struck by an IED and they wanted us to salvage it for parts – or certain parts that we needed – and to clean it out because the driver had been killed in it. I remember they wanted a couple of guys to do it, some Lance Corporals, and one of them, he couldn’t do it. He didn’t want to do it. It’s a nasty sight. So I was like, “I’ll do it.” It’s fine, don’t worry about it. So me and my partner we did it. We had to pick out some remains to send back to medical to send it back to the family. There’s not much of the guy left anyway. So I don’t know if I can say that shaped the deployment for me but it is one of those real events, I guess, for me at least. And then the idea of doing that not only for the purpose of getting this guy’s parts out but we needed the parts of the vehicle. But that’s how it goes.
RH: Let’s shift a little bit to coming home. Can you talk a little bit about your immediate post-deployment experiences?
JG: Like when we got back to Okinawa?
RH: OK, let me ask you this. You went from Kuwait back to Okinawa, how long were you in Oki for?
JG: After the deployment I was in Oki for three or four months. And then I went to SEPS in California and then I got out.
RH: So you got out almost immediately after you got back from Okinawa?
RH: So your transition from Iraq to civilian life was relatively quick then?
JG: Yes. I only spent a couple more months in the Marine Corps and I was out.
RH: How was the transition back to civilian life?
JG: It wasn’t really easy just because you’re like, “what do I do?” And back then – this is 2005 – they have more now for the guys that are coming out but then we went to classes or something like that that were useless. I didn’t pay attention to anyway. [laughs] Perhaps I should have. We’d get back here and I was like, “what do I do?,” except for get drunk.
RH: Did you come back to White Plains?
RH: You said you eventually became a contractor, correct?
RH: When did you become a contractor?
JG: In October 2009.
RH: Can you talk about it a little bit?
JG: I had been here for a couple years after the Marine Corps and I had actually just got laid off from a BMW dealership that I was working at and again I was at a, “what do I do?” kind of point. I started looking online and I kind of wanted to work overseas. I wanted to do something different and stretch my legs again. I came across the job posting for Honeywell being what they called a Shipboard Mechanic and I said, “you know what? I’ll do that.” The pay looks decent. So I applied and they hired me and I started in October, 2009. I went down to Florida where I trained there and then they put me on a ship out in the Indian Ocean. It was a cargo ship that held Marine Corps vehicles which Honeywell had the contract for to have maintained.
RH: And what vehicles, exactly?
JG: Actually, I did ordnance vehicles so I was doing LAV’s again. I was doing tanks, AMTRAKs and Howitzers.
RH: You have to forgive me because I know nothing about this part of it. So they would send you vehicles to be repaired to the ship and then ship them back to Iraq or Afghanistan? How did it work?
JG: The ships held vehicles in readiness, just to have these vehicles there if anybody needs them. There were ships with a ton of vehicles on them. We just kept them good, kept them running. So the vehicles didn’t get used all the time.
RH: When you went to Afghanistan as a contractor, what were you doing?
JG: I was a mechanic on MRAPs, mine-resistant vehicles. That was with a company called ManTech. I had applied with them while I was working at Honeywell because I wanted to go to Afghanistan. I never went while I was in the service so this is a good way to do it. ManTech had the contract with the Army or the DoD to staff a lot of the bases with mechanics for MRAPs.
RH: Where in Afghanistan were you working out of?
JG: I was in Kandahar, Camp Dwyer and Camp Leatherneck.
RH: Was it the same thing? Were you repairing vehicles that had gotten damaged or were destroyed?
JG: Yes. We did a wide range of services for them. At one shop I was at we prepped the new vehicles to be issued and at another shop we would do what was called sustainment. That’s just regular repairs. They would bring a truck in to get it repaired then bring it back out. Then I was at another place where they would rebuild vehicles that got blown up, or salvage them or junk them.
RH: What’s the difference between doing that kind of work with the Marine Corps while you’re in and then doing that work as a contractor?
JG: You get paid more as a contractor. [laughs] The money’s a lot better and you don’t deal with half the bullshit, you know? It’s really just like a job. It’s like a job that you can’t escape. [RH laughs] We’d get up in the morning and we had long days. Our contract was written that we had to work twelve hours a day, seven days a week, and this is for six months straight. In Afghanistan I did that for about two and a half years. I would do six months on, one month off, six months on, one month off. So I was doing it back to back for a couple of years until I just couldn’t take it anymore.
RH: When were you doing this work from in Afghanistan?
JG: In Afghanistan I was there November of 2010 until April 2013.
RH: Were the living conditions for the contractors any better than for the Marines?
JG: No. [laughs] I’m sure there were some contractors that had it made but we didn’t. We had the same. We slept in tents. We slept in those big circus tents and the big dome tents. I slept in a container for a while too but our living conditions were the same as the service members. Because also, one of the shops I was at there was only a couple of us and we were embedded with a Marine Corps unit so we worked with them hand in hand. We lived in pretty much the same areas that they did and did everything that they did.
RH: Did you mostly stay inside the wire when you were a contractor?
JG: Yes. In Afghanistan it was strictly in the wire unless I was travelling, which was by air. Either I would go fixed wing or rotary but that was the only time. We weren’t allowed to go outside the wire.
RH: Do you still communicate with anyone from your unit?
JG: Sure. Last year I was at a wedding for one of the guys that I was in the Marine Corps with. I was in his wedding. I was one of his groomsmen. I talk to couple guys here and there but not too many. It’s been so long.
RH: How has your military experience shaped your life since you got out?
JG: It had a big effect on my life. Definitely. If I didn’t do it I would have regretted it. It definitely gave me certain disciplines and it also gave me perspective – not just the Marine Corps but the experiences I had while I was in the Marine Corps. It was just living a different life, a different type of life. Seeing how other people live and things like that. The perspective that I’ve gained from it definitely has done me well I think. I learned not to sweat the small shit, you know? Things can be worse.
RH: Definitely. Have there been any challenges after you got out of the Marine Corps or after you finished as a contractor that you faced, employment-wise or otherwise?
JG: Do you mean like in my daily life?
JG: I like being back here but living life here you don’t have much of a purpose. When you’re in the Marine Corps or the military or a contractor you have a goal. You have a purpose, you’re useful. Living here it’s nice, it’s fun, you enjoy the luxuries of living back home or back in the US but sometimes it gets boring. I think what I did to myself – and I did this to myself I’m pretty sure – I think some other people experienced this too and maybe they don’t realize it but when you’re gone or when you’re away or when you’re in those situations and a lot of the times you think about, “when I get out of here it’s going to be great. When I go home it’s going to be great. When I’m out of the military, when I’m not contracting any more, go home and everything is going to be good.” You picture this life that you’re going to have but it doesn’t happen.
You get home and then you have to get into learning how to live in society or in this life. And it’s not how you think it is. It’s almost like a childish way of thinking when you’re away. You have this hope that everything is going to be OK. When you get back everything’s not OK. There are challenges here. They may not be as severe as the ones that you’re used to in the military but they are challenges and they’re different. You have to develop different instincts. You have to come back here and adapt. You have to become a part of life here whether you like to or not. That’s one thing I had to come to terms with, that everything’s not hunky-dorey when you get out of the shit. I may not be in Iraq anymore and it’s nice to not be there but life here isn’t always – it’s good, and always I’m thankful of it, but it’s not easy street. I’m not set for the rest of my life.
RH: So we’ll shift a little bit and talk about Iraq’s current state. How do you feel about the rise of ISIS and the current direction that Iraq is taking?
JG: I think ISIS was inevitable. Something like that happening is inevitable. Whoever in our government can’t be surprised about what’s happening there. They can’t be. Because you have to think, this war kicked off thirteen years ago, twelve years ago. You have all these people that live over there that literally grew up in a warzone. And what’s your average soldier? Eighteen to thirty years old? They were kids when this kicked off. So now you take ISIS for example, they’ve got a plethora of young, poor, pissed-off people that they can attract to their cause. It’s going to happen. Obviously they’re not economically stable so what are you gonna do?
RH: Are there any lessons that you learned over there that are relevant to the current situation? And this could be either Iraq or Afghanistan.
JG: How do you mean?
RH: I mean is there anything that we could have done different? Are there any lessons that you learned?
JG: That may have changed what’s happening now?
RH: Yes. Or anything that’s still applicable.
JG: Anything that I experienced? No. When I was in I didn’t really have anything to do with the people or anything like that. But as far as my own opinions go, I don’t know. I’m not going to say that the place is hopeless but I’m not surprised that what’s happening there is happening there. And to prevent it? I don’t know if that would even be possible.
RH: I’m going to ask a couple of spiritual questions. Has deploying changed your perception of life and death and, if so, how?
JG: I guess yes. Everybody knows that you’re going to die but seeing it or having it happen to somebody you know or somebody close to you, it actually makes it real. That’s why I’ve said that when I learn to not sweat the small shit, I could bitch about a lot of things but I’m still alive. I’m still here. And that’s how I get myself to shut up sometimes: “is this really that big of a deal? Is it really a problem?” So being there has helped me to appreciate those things that I should be appreciating and that I am alive. I made it out alive and there are people who didn’t.
RH: Has deploying effected you spiritually and, if so, how?
JG: I was never a very spiritual person anyway but if anything I think those experiences solidified how I already felt. I guess maybe I choose not to be too spiritual. I like to deal with what I’m dealing with here, you know? I guess I take more of a prosaic approach to life. As far as spirituality goes, I’m not saying there’s nothing out there or anything like that but this is what I’m dealing with here. I’m on planet Earth and I need to deal with planet Earth shit.
RH: So now that we are a few years out, has the memory of your experience changed at all?
JG: My memories?
RH: Your memory of the experience. Has it changed at all?
JG: I’m sure I’ve forgotten a lot. Since I’ve been out, I try not to revisit it too much. I like to keep moving forward. That was an experience in my life, it’s a part of my story but that’s what it is. I don’t want to live in it. The war, the Marine Corps, the contracting, that’s not who I am. It’s something I did and I try to keep that as a part of me. It’s not me, it’s a part of me and I don’t really revisit it that much. Actually, the only time I do is if someone wants to talk about it. I don’t really bring it up too much, not because I’m uncomfortable, but because I’d rather talk about what I’m doing now. I don’t want to be that old drunk at the bar still talks about his glory days in the military. I like to keep on adding to my life.
RH: What’s the happiest memory of the entire time you served?
JG: The happiest? Probably getting out and coming home. I was twenty-three at the time. Just getting out, coming home and just going bonkers. I knew I wasn’t going to make the Marine Corps – I know I wasn’t going to be in there for life. I wanted to do an enlistment and then get out so I was happy to get out. Not that I hated it, I was just glad to be out. I was thinking I could just do whatever the hell I want now. That was a good feeling but also because I was received back here by a lot of friends and family. That was always such a great thing. There’s something that helped form me, which is the relationships I had back here and how supportive people were. Those are always good memories.
RH: What, if anything, do you miss about the military?
JG: The sense of purpose.
RH: Has your opinion of the war changed and, if so, how?
JG: To be honest with you, I never really had much of an opinion on it. I never really burdened myself with carrying the weight of the war. I was a cog in the machine and I did what my purpose was. Why I was there, to be honest with you, I could really care less. I never did. A lot of people did. They talked about it, “we’re not supposed to be here. This is bullshit.” It’s like, just do it. That’s it. That’s just me though. Actually, I don’t talk like that to a lot of people because then people get angry. People say, “oh, what did you fight for?” I fought because that’s what we do.
I didn’t join the Marine Corps because I believed in liberating anybody or spreading democracy or anything. I joined the Marine Corps because I wanted to be in the Marine Corps and I went to war because that’s where I wanted to be. I asked to leave Camp Pendleton to go to Okinawa so I could deploy because in California we weren’t going to deploy. Because I wanted to deploy. I wanted to do it. But that’s just me. Good or bad, some people may think differently on that but to be real honest with you, at that time I could care less why we were there because I don’t know why. Nobody knows why we are actually there so don’t think about it. Just do what you gotta do.
RH: Alright. I’m going to shift it up a little bit and maybe get some less heavy questions. What was the best MRE?
JG: [laughs] Chili mac.
RH: Chili mac? Why?
JG: I don’t know. I liked the chili mac. It had a lot of substance to it. I know I could get a full belly on that. And I think you could always rely on either pound cake or peanut butter being in it, I forget which one. We’d be trading anyways so I always liked that because I know I could have that. If I didn’t wolf it down in one shot, I could save it for another meal so I would be full.
RH: What was the best chow hall in Iraq and the best chow hall stateside? And maybe I’ll open it up too since you were in Oki, the best chow hall in Oki?
JG: The best chow hall in Oki was at Camp Schwab because they just had a shitload of food. The base sucked but the chow hall was good, and they were open a lot too. The best chow hall in Iraq had to be the one on Camp Fallujah although I didn’t really experience a lot of them over there. The chow hall on base was pretty good. I’m also not a big food guy so I’m not really the best to make good comparisons. As long as there’s plenty to eat I’m happy. The best chow hall on Camp Pendleton? I don’t remember. Actually I tried not to eat on base as much as I could.
RH: What’s the funniest story you have?
JG: The funniest story? [laughs] I forgot to mention this before. When we were leaving Iraq, or when we were leaving Kuwait after coming from Iraq, we got on the ship and on our way back to Okinawa we stopped in Thailand. We stopped there for four days and that was a lot of fun.
I was out in town one of the days and it was me and three other guys. One guy, he had been drinking – we all had been drinking – [laughs] he walks off with this girl. The bartender who was an Australian guy – he moved there years ago and opened up the place – he leaned over to us and he was just like, “hey. You know your friend just walked off with a guy, right?” [RH and JG laugh] We were like, “holy shit! Are you serious?” He was like, “yeah.” So we look over at his libbo buddy and we’re like, “go get him.” [RH laughs] So this dude takes off down the street and luckily he got him in time.
RH: [laughs] That’s pretty good.
JG: It was great. They can fool you though, man. Some of them pull it off.
RH: Nice. Any others?
JG: Right before we were going to deploy to Iraq and Okinawa we had been told on short notice, [snaps his fingers] “we’re outta here.” We had a couple of days to load the ships. So the night before we’re supposed to leave, I was a Corporal at the time and I’m going to my guys’ rooms to make sure that everybody’s got their shit packed. I’m almost done with all the rooms and one guy comes up to me and he’s like, “Corporal Gerring, there’s a problem with so-and-so.” I’m not going to say his name. I was like, “alright. What’s the problem?” He said, “you just gotta come in.” So I walk into this guy’s room and he’s hammered drunk in his tighty-whities and his shit’s all over the place. We’re supposed to be all packed up by then. I’m not even chewing this guy’s ass because he’s so drunk and I need to deal with the situation because my Staff Sergeant’s about to come through and do the final check.
I’m freaking out. I grab two guys and I’m just like, “throw all his shit in his bag.” And there’s another guy in the head and I hear water running. In that barracks for some reason we had bathtubs and showers too. I walk in there and he’s filling up the bath tub and I’m like, “what the fuck are you doing?” and he’s just like, “I was just filling the bath tub in case he wanted to dunk his head into it.” And I’m like, “and fucking drown?” [RH laughs] So I drain the fucking water and I’m like, “you actually thought that was a good idea?” [laughs]
RH: That’s a Marine Corps way to solve the problem.
JG: I know, right? [laughs]
RH: That’s a pretty good one. So we’re almost done. I just have a couple more. If you could communicate something to young Marines who will be fighting the wars of the future, what would it be?
JG: Worry about what’s right in front of you. Don’t burden yourself with more than you should. Do what you gotta do, you know? Worry about the guys to your left and right. Don’t worry about no bullshit, just worry about what you’ve got right in front of you and get that done. Don’t be a fucking hero. Heroes die. Do what you gotta do. If you want to win, then you’re going to do it with your unit, you guys working together.
RH: Is there anything that I left out that you would like to address.
JG: Nothing I can think of off the top of my head.
RH: What specific accomplishment are you most proud of during your service?
JG: Just doing it, you know? Like I said before, I would have regretted it if I didn’t do it. I did it and I’m happy I did. Even for any of the negative effects that it may have, or did, or whatever, I’m still glad I did it and I’ll always have that. That’s mine. I own it. It’s just an accomplishment in itself for me. I respect myself for doing it. I’m not trying to pat myself on the back too much but I joined when I was nineteen years old, working up the nerve to do it. I’m happy I did it because obviously there were times when it was like, “uhh, I don’t know.” But just doing it and getting through it. And keeping the good things about it. Holding onto that and not letting the negative things really bring me down.
RH: Any final thoughts?
JG: No. I actually wanted to thank you for doing this, man. For getting people’s stories out there.
RH: Well, thank you. Thank you very much for saying that. I appreciate it. Alright! That’s it.
Part 2 of Jonathan's interview can be found here.