Jonathan Gerring: Part 2
After the initial interview ended, Jon and Rich got to talking about things and decided to switch the recorder back on. What follows is their conversation.
Part 1 of Jon's interview can be found here.
Interview conducted on February 28, 2015 in White Plains, New York
Present: Richard Hayden and Jonathan Gerring
Transcribed by Richard Hayden
Jonathan Gerring: When you were just talking about the Mark 19, that reminded me of when we were in Kuwait right before we went into Iraq – this is something I’m not going to forget – we were up-armoring our vehicles. This was 2004. The armor wasn’t always available and it’s not like the vehicles they’ve got now. I remember we spent night and day up-armoring our vehicles and some kits we had that we would bolt right to the side of the Humvees, or whatever vehicle we were doing, and some we would just take ballistic steel plates that we got. Our welder was just cutting them. We rolled up and our vehicles looked like something out of Mad Max. No shit. He was making panel mounts – just taking steel, cutting it, and making panel mounts. That was a little something I was surprised about too. We’re about to into this shit and we’re makeshifting armor for the vehicles? Putting sandbags on the bottom and shit like that? But yeah, we worked tirelessly on that.
Richard Hayden: So when you up-armor a vehicle, what’s that process like?
JG: I’m sure there’s a correct process for it but the way we did it was just get it on. We would get some kids from Oshkosh, one of the contractors that was working there, but we didn’t have time to send our vehicles out because we were only there for a couple weeks. We had to get our shit done. We had to get a couple other units’ stuff done. So as far as up-armoring the Humvees and seven-tons it was just basically taking plates of armor and sticking them on the vehicle. Now it’s a lot different, the armor they have on them now, and there’s suspensions on them now too.
RH: I know that one of the problems with the Humvees were, they were originally designed for their load and not as much more weight. And then putting on the armor added almost a ton to the vehicle, right?
JG: Yes. You can definitely feel the change in the ride but that’s what we had. We had a couple vehicles that looked like something out of Mad Max. It was interesting. They didn’t fail on us.
RH: I read a statistic somewhere and I don’t know if it’s true but the average life span of a Humvee in Iraq was five thousand miles.
JG: I wouldn’t be surprised. I definitely wouldn’t be surprised. The Humvees were not the vehicle to take in there. When I was a contractor I was working on the MRAPs. When were in they didn’t have those. Those weren’t out yet. I think the first MRAP came out in 2007. But they didn’t have them when we were in. When I was working with the Marines in Afghanistan – I was in there with them and their unit – they’d ask me because they never went to Iraq. These guys were young. These kids were like eighteen years old asking about Iraq and stuff, and I was like, “we didn’t have any of this shit.” Even their seven-tons. They have capsules that they are in. I remember being in the back of a seven-ton with a cloth top on it.
RH: I saw some of Steve Preiato’s old pictures and they just had the highback and it was a cloth highback. Or they had a turret and there was no turret shield. It was just them with a .50 cal in the turret.
JG: Yes. It’s funny, I’m recalling this stuff now. It’s better in a conversation. I remember being with an AMTRAK unit. We were on a mechanized patrol and I was on the rear vehicle so I was doing the rear security and I had a .240. It was just me popped up out of one of the hatches with the .240. There’s no turret. I wasn’t even in the turret. It was just that back hatch was open and I had the infantry with me because they would jump out. I stayed with the vehicle. They would jump out and do their thing and I was doing the rear security.
I remember sitting there and when I actually got to stop and think about what was going on I was like, “man, I’m fucking popped up right here.” [RH laughs] If there’s some guy on the roof I’m fucked. Seriously. [laughs] I’m like the highest point in this vehicle right now. There wasn’t a stand for me or anything. They were just like, “just watch the back.” And I’m short so I’m propped up on whatever. I’m suspending myself in the air. I’ve got my foot on something, my other foot on something else, and I’m just suspended up in the air. I’m looking around and my head is out there and I’m like, “holy shit.”
RH: I was in the rear vehicle of a four vehicle convoy and our Mark 19 gunner was like six-five. He was humongous. [JG laughs] And he always had to shrink down underneath and I felt so bad for him. I was like, “oh man.” [laughs] He was not just sniper fire but IED prone.
JG: It’s anything. You’re just like, “there’s nothing around me right now.”
RH: He had a shield but also, to turn the turret there was a lever that he had to turn.
JG: A hand crank.
RH: Yes! But it was slow. I was like, “if anything’s moving…” He has to turn with one hand and fire with the other which is impossible. Knock on wood [RH raps on the table] we never had a real crazy situation so we never had to do it too much but I was like, “oohhh…” [spoken ominously]
JG: Some of the vehicles now – some of the MRAPS and stuff – they have a system where the weapon is outside the vehicle and someone is inside with a joystick.
RH: Oh wow. Interesting.
JG: I think it’s called the CROW system.
RH: Is it electronic?
JG: Yes. It’s electronic. There’s somebody in there that can fire from inside the vehicle and I’m like, “you guys got it fucking easy, man.”
RH: I remember we were still on MySpace in Iraq [JG laughs] so this fancy, high-speed shit now. Pretty soon they’ll just be teleporting into Afghanistan. [laughs] Cool. Since you are the first mechanic I’ve spoken to, is there any other fun mechanic stuff that you want to talk about?
JG: As a mechanic you always run into funny stuff. Like the way the drivers treat the vehicles. Sometimes a guy would come in and one of his wheels would be gone and I’m like, “how’d that happen?” and he’s like, [affecting a lumbering voice] “uhh, I don’t know. It’s just gone.” Wheels don’t just get gone. Drivers beat the shit out of the vehicles.
As a mechanic you hurt yourself all the time. I remember I was working on an LAV and I had some diesel in a bucket that I was draining out of the tank. I had it in the back of the vehicle on the ground and, not thinking, I was stepping out of the vehicle and I was stepping backwards and I stepped right into a bucket of diesel [RH laughs] and I had athlete’s foot at the time.
JG: [laughs] My foot was on fire. I was in the States when it happened. I had to run back to my room and wash my foot off. It burned.
RH: That sucks. I remember we got the ballistic glass put in and it was thick. It was like two inches thick. Each pane probably weighed seventy, eighty pounds at least. The first time I lifted it up I had no idea. So we had a couple Marines who decided that one Marine would no-balls another Marine to punch the ballistic glass as hard as he could. And that’s the first time I saw a boxer’s fracture. I was still kind of boot. I was still a new Corpsman and my senior Corpsman was like, “there’s only two ways in the world to get a boxer’s fracture. Number one: boxing. And number two: to punch something stupid. This Marine is not a boxer so he punched something stupid.” [JG laughs] And the Marine was all proud of it. He was like, “yeah man. I got no balls’ed but I didn’t puss out of it.” I was like, “alright.” [RH and JG laugh]. Don’t punch the ballistic glass.
JG: All of our pastime had to involve something like that – fighting. We fought all the time, you know? Practice our MCMAP training on each other.
RH: I was stationed out in Twentynine Palms, actually.
JG: Twentynine Palms? I trained there a couple of times. That place sucks, man.
RH: It’s OK. I lived in Joshua Tree which is right next to it so I kind of got to get away every night. But we’d be out in the field and Marines – you just start throwing rocks at each other. [laughs]
JG: Oh yeah.
RH: Towards the end right before I got out, the iPhone came out and people had the iPods with the screens so you could watch stuff. The first night or two out in the field, everybody would have batteries and then they would go dead and then we’d get to the rocks. [laughs]
JG: It was like if we were in a smoke pit. If you stick us in a smoke pit for too long with gravel, people would start throwing rocks at each other.
RH: Right before I got out, 2/7 was going to Afghanistan and they sent me out into the field to train with them like two months before I got out. I had a little pellet gun. It wasn’t a BB gun but I had a little pellet gun and I shot one Marine and caught him square on the nuts. [JG laughs] He went down and I went and caught him right in the temple and he was like, “ah, Doc! What did you do?” I let him off after that. Yeah. We all did dumb shit.
Even though I’m glad I’m out, I definitely miss some parts. I miss all the people, you know what I mean?
JG: Yeah, the characters and having all these people from different parts of the country and different walks of life, coming together and interacting with each other.