After graduating as the valedictorian of his Hospital Corps School class, Louis was stationed in Twentynine Palms, California and attached to 2/7. He deployed to Al Assad and Fallujah in 2004 and 2005 respectively. As a Corpsman with Golf Company, he participated in operations throughout Fallujah and its surrounding areas. He currently resides in San Diego.
Interview conducted by phone on January 19, 2015.
Present: Richard Hayden and Louis Roark
Transcribed by Richard Hayden
Richard Hayden: Can you please state your full name?
Louis Roark: It is Louis Franklin McKinley Roark.
RH: What branch of the military did you serve in and what years?
LR: I served in the Navy from December 2002 until November 2007.
RH: What was your rank when you got out?
LR: I was an E4 – Petty Officer Third Class.
RH: What was your rate?
LR: Hospital Corpsman, and MOS 8404. I actually have the same questions open here.
RH: OK. I added a couple. What was your unit?
LR: 2/7 [Second Battalion, Seventh Marines] Golf Company. [voice inaudible]
RH: You said First Platoon?
LR: No. Second Platoon.
RH: What motivated you to join the military?
LR: It was a mixture of school money and being able to learn on the job experience for entry level medical training.
RH: Why did you pick the branch of service that you did?
LR: My dad was in the Army and I didn’t really have an interest in joining the Army after hearing him and listening to him talk about it growing up and experiencing that. I tried to get into the Air Force and I couldn’t get in initially so I tried the Navy and heard it was a lot better – the Navy Corpsman program. So I joined the Navy from that.
RH: Why did you pick Corpsman?
LR: I heard that it was the basic enlisted medical personnel which is what I was interested in.
RH: How did your family feel about your decision?
LR: My dad was in the Army. He had been in the Army as a career and retired. He tried to convince me not to join. He thought it might not be the best fit for me. My mom, I think, was a little apprehensive. She was glad that I was doing something that was a little easier. Everyone else was just pretty supportive. There were a few people that weren’t as eager to hear about it as I was.
RH: And you said your dad retired. What was his MOS?
LR: I don’t remember exactly. He retired as a Sergeant First Class. I know he worked on computers or something for the last few years.
RH: Where did you go to boot camp?
LR: I went to Great Lakes, Illinois by Chicago. The Naval Training Center.
RH: What was your follow up training like?
LR: It was at the same Naval Training Center and it was pretty quick. It was a pretty condensed course – kind of a crash course in really basic medicine. It was pretty quick. I did get stuck at it at the end. My orders got messed up so I had more time in a holding pattern at the end of it than I did in training. I think it was three months or something.
RH: How did they mess up your orders?
LR: I had orders to one place – to Puerto Rico – and the Command Master Chief of the hospital that the school was attached to didn’t approve of me being stationed overseas so they yanked those orders and gave me orders to Twentynine Palms with a Marine unit instead.
RH: After Hospital Corps School did you have any more training before you got to Twentynine Palms?
LR: Yes. I had field medical technician training at Camp Pendleton in California.
RH: How was that?
LR: It was a little bit more aggressive in the training. It was a little bit harder than the Navy because it was Marine Corps themed. You were getting ready to go with the Marine unit. So it was a lot more field triage and treatment than more hospital stuff.
RH: Do you feel like your training prepared you for deployment?
LR: There were a lot of times during training where I felt like there wasn’t going to be enough time or training. When I got to my unit I told I got as much training [voice inaudible]. I didn’t feel necessarily I had the things I needed and then when I actually got into the theater I felt like I probably did have as much training as I could have gotten in the short amount of time that I did. After the training you don’t learn anything until you actually apply it so it’s kind of on the job training I guess.
RH: What do you remember most about Twentynine Palms?
LR: I remember the climate, geography, the sand. Brown sand, blue skies, sage brush and Marines.
RH: What were the locals like?
LR: The locals around the actual base were pretty stand-offish and the personnel on the base are possibly a little stand-offish so it’s not too friendly and a lot of places around the base are really kind of a shanty town almost. There are a lot of people in their little shacks and stuff but outside of town there’s a larger community that is more established artistically and culturally. There are some cool areas around there.
RH: And would that be in Joshua Tree and maybe Yucca Valley a little bit?
LR: Yes. Definitely Joshua Tree. Even the lower desert. It takes about an hour and a half to get to Palm Springs and the Inland Empire and all those.
RH: Did you interact with the artistic community in Joshua Tree?
LR: A little bit. [laughs] There’s one guy Rich. No just kidding. [Note: Louis and I are friends and often hung out in Joshua Tree while we were stationed in Twentynine Palms. I am the Rich he is referring to. – RH]
LR: [laughs] Yes. There were a couple of portals into the artistic culture and the artistic community with open mics and things like that. All those galleries and shows and you can get plugged in if you want to share some projects you’re working on or see some other people’s work.
RH: After you got to Twentynine Palms, what was your pre-deployment training like?
LR: I got there a couple months before we deployed and it was pretty constant – at least five days a week and then sometimes through the weekend going to the Air Force base in the neighboring county. Doing urban training and going out into the back territory of Twentynine Palms and doing desert survival and desert training. It was pretty busy. It was around the clock doing drills and getting gear and trying to get ready and integrated as a unit before we left.
RH: What was the Air Force base that you referred to?
LR: Ah, what is it?
RH: Is it March Air Force Base?
RH: In Riverside, California?
LR: Yes, in Riverside. They have the actual base but they have an old housing on base, an old family housing unit that’s falling apart that they turned into urban training.
RH: Did being stationed at Twentynine Palms effect your deployment in any way?
LR: Hmm. How do you mean?
RH: I mean, is there anything that was unique about Twentynine Palms, say, versus Camp Lejeune or some other place that effected your deployment? I know that Twentynine Palms is in the desert so did that have any bearing?
LR: Yes. When I first got off the plane in Kuwait I was a little sleepy and I could have sworn that I was still in California.
LR: It was exactly the same. Not exactly but enough to get a full [word inaudible]. It was the same climate – similar climate, not exactly the same but the sand and palm trees. The training definitely gets you used to living in that environment. It gets you acclimatized.
RH: Did you serve in Iraq, Afghanistan or both?
LR: Just Iraq.
RH: How many times did you deploy?
LR: Two deployments.
RH: What were the dates of those deployments?
LR: The first one was February 14 to, I don’t know. Whenever seven months is after that. I don’t even remember. I think it was September or the end of September. And then the second deployment was…
RH: Sorry to interrupt but what year was the first deployment?
RH: OK. I’m sorry. Please continue.
LR: And then the second deployment was 2005, July 5 to the beginning of February or late January.
RH: On your first deployment, where in Iraq did you deploy to?
LR: The first deployment it was to Al Assad Air Base. An old Iraqi air base.
RH: What was the mission of your unit?
LR: It was infantry so it was just general security, security controls, convoy support – anybody who was passing through our AO that needed any help. The big propaganda thing was winning the hearts and minds. You come into an area as conquerors or invaders and you try to establish relations with the locals on a social level so that’s what we were told our mission was but it mainly was basic things like patrols, maintaining security on bases, and whatever little missions to find targets.
RH: What do you remember most about deploying to Iraq for the first time?
LR: The first deployment. Al Assad air base was kind of in the middle of nowhere and any time we’d drive anywhere or go on patrol or have a big operation – a couple week operation going on – it’s just the immense vastness of the desert. Just sitting on long drives and staring at landscape or being up all night freezing to death driving around the in back of Humvees. It’s kind of like [word inaudible], I remember.
RH: When you first arrived, what was your initial impression of Iraq like?
LR: My initial reaction was that there wasn’t nearly any populated towns. There was a little town called Baghdadi, a little town called Hit, that kind of followed a road out of the base. It always kind of struck me how vast and arid and almost non-threatening. On the base itself there were wrecked MiG fighters laying all over the place and tanks and stuff that had been destroyed or abandoned. So that had a feeling of the military thing going on but outside of but outside the gates it didn’t really betray how dangerous it really was in the agricultural area.
RH: How did your impressions change as the deployment went on?
LR: Initially getting over the work schedule with so many hours on, so many hours off constantly and getting used to that schedule and getting over the initial fear that you’re going to get blown up every few seconds, it slowly starts to change. You start to build relationships with locals through hostile situations either being attacked by roadside bombs or whatnot that you start to not like a lot of the locals and build hostilities with them – your own hostilities versus the ones you kind of adopt that start showing up.
RH: What were some of the notable events that occurred during your first deployment?
LR: The memorable?
RH: Yes. The notable or memorable events.
LR: We had a couple of operations. One was to a little town called Rawa that was supposed to be some rival town that was controlling a pretty big bridge that went through the area. We went and camped across the city on the other banks of the river Euphrates. We took mortar fire a couple of times during the day in the morning every day. And then we got in a little firefight one day driving through there and continued to get mortared. It was kind of a little weird. It was kind of a slow skirmish that went on – I can’t remember –we were there for a week or two and that was kind of a tense situation because everybody was – we were constantly getting mortared by somebody who we could pretty much go up on a bank and see. So it was a little tense. A handful of IED’s going off were pretty notable.
Wrapping up the end of our deployment when we switched out with another Marine unit, we started – I can’t remember the name of it – some operation. The first battle of Fallujah was just starting up and we got pulled from our AO in Al Assad and driven south, southeast so many miles. It took the whole day to drive in amphibious vehicles to get to Fallujah. And then for a week or so we just drove around the city. It had been taken by some Iraqi general who was holding it for some – there was a siege going on – and that was the most notable.
RH: What were your interactions with the Iraqis like?
LR: Any time we’d be on patrol we would almost always be on mounted patrols and vehicles because of the distance from any base. We’d always pull off on our patrol of four vehicles and everybody punched out. If there were any locals hanging around – if there were shops or farmers or kids hanging by – everybody was very, very friendly for the most part, usually to our face. The kids always were. They always wanted stuff. A lot of the Marines and myself were eager a lot of the time on patrol to go and use the stores to buy stuff – some food or something to drink. But then also sometimes – certain areas where something if we’re not familiar with the area – a week ago another unit could have come through and shot somebody and their family and you’ll drive by or something could have happened during the war and in certain areas people would be really cold when you’d drive through. They wouldn’t try to hide their discontent with your presence. You’d spy kind of a stern look.
RH: Are there any particular Iraqis that stick out?
RH: Specifically, if there are any one or two that you remember.
LR: Not particularly.
RH: OK. Did you pick up any of the local culture?
LR: Just a little bit. You learn a few words. You try to say “As-salamu alaykum, alaykum salam.” Little things like that. They’re so religious and it’s such a religion that I don’t share not being Muslim that there’s not a whole lot of exchange that goes on other than food. If you’re in their house they are happy to share their food so I got to try a lot of homemade bites. If you want to exchange little things like maybe prayer beads and stuff. And if they know a little English then maybe they’ll want to try to speak their English and teach you some Arabic but there wasn’t a whole lot of cultural exchange.
RH: What do you remember about the local food?
LR: They have a couple of signature items. The kebab is a type of ground lamb, sheep or goat. They had rotisserie chicken. They cook chicken a lot. And they’re really big on bread. Like a lot of cultures they have really big, elaborate stone hearths, ovens. They cook a lot of really good bread. They have kind of a pita bread and they have all these really good rolls. Those are the main, same stuff you find at any type of Mediterranean restaurant. They’re always really good. It’s a relief from an MRE. Pretty good.
RH: What part of Iraq did you deploy to on your second deployment?
LR: On the second deployment we came to Camp Fallujah. And then we spent a couple months in downtown Fallujah. And then the last part of the tour we got sent to the place called Ferris town and I’m not sure what actual area it was. I’m not familiar with what that area was called. It was mainly in Fallujah and within relatively close driving distance.
RH: Did Golf Company have the same mission on the second deployment?
LR: I’m trying to think. I don’t know. I think on the second deployment [voice inaudible] it seemed like they kind of dropped the whole hearts and minds thing. Well, they were kind of trying to start it back up. I guess the whole resurgence in Fallujah and Ramadi and it being taken by – I can’t remember what they were called – it kind of changing hands back and forth, the mission would change from winning hearts and minds to killing bodies. Back and forth. I think we were just starting to switch back to hearts and minds again. General Mattis must be bipolar or something. [laughs] “Kill ‘em all, save ‘em!”
LR: So we were – it was pretty much the same thing. It was holding. I think it was just a stability thing, really. The mission for most of our deployment was getting a little bit of stability and it was about maintaining it.
RH: OK. How was Fallujah different than your AO on the first deployment?
LR: Fallujah’s not a giant city but it’s a pretty good-sized town and we were downtown in it so it was definitely a bigger hotspot for insurgent activity. A lot of the areas of Fallujah had been razed from tank and artillery activity during the long engagement that had gone on there. It was a lot more populated. There were a lot more involvement with Iraqi police and the Iraqi army. And the training of the Iraqi army – I think it was one of the larger training centers around Fallujah – so we were more engaged. And at this point some of the missions had changed in that we were really trying to hand over the reins to the Iraqis more. It had gotten more serious. And then – just the violence. It was a lot more violent and a lot more unstable in Fallujah. There was more potential for anything to happen.
RH: Did your impression of the deployment change as the deployment went on?
LR: I might have gotten a little bit more comfortable as it went on. I was scared shitless when we first got to our AO in downtown Fallujah. Every single patrol was terrifying. Getting ready for the patrol was horrifying. It was just constant terror. We had this medieval thing where you had this little fort thing and they open the gates and we kind of all come out. We were vulnerable inside the gates let alone outside the gates. I think as time moved one I started to get used to that a little bit but I do remember when we did leave downtown Fallujah I was ecstatic to leave because I was so freaked out about it. But then a little bit less.
RH: What was the most challenging period of the deployment: the beginning, the middle or the end? And, if you could, answer that question for both the first and the second deployment separately.
LR: OK. On both deployments it’s definitely not the end of it that was the worst. It seemed like the longest but yet there was some sense of hope. It’s a toss-up between – it’s probably the beginning. I think the beginning is probably worst. The first deployment you’re just getting settled in and you’re finding out what’s real versus what you’re anticipating or assuming. But also for me personally, my personal relationship with my girlfriend fell apart and there was no way to really deal with that. I didn’t have time to deal with that because it was constant patrols. That was my first case of the home life – having trouble back at home while on deployment. That was really uncomfortable and really hard to deal with. And the middle part is probably the second worst but you do get in a rhythm so at least you have that.
And then for the second deployment I think it was the same thing. We showed up in a town really freaked out. The same thing was happening again. [laughs] I had a girlfriend at home and it wasn’t going well and it just wasn’t – both times I ended up breaking up with the person I was with. Well, personally I didn’t have a choice so I was able to deal with just being on deployment. And then, again, the middle part of it was kind of somewhat of a pattern. And then the end of the deployment was always the best for me.
RH: As you gained more experience, how did you change operationally?
LR: That’s kind of a broad question. You mean operationally how I worked with…?
RH: As a Corpsman, maybe as you became more experienced, did you change anything? Did you notice that you found some techniques were more effective than others? Or did your outlook on it change at all, on your job?
LR: The biggest thing for me that changed as everything went on is the ability to do the really basic things which is assessing the situation and also treating patients while giving the assessment out which involves almost dictating to somebody on a radio or somebody in command while providing treatment. I definitely got a lot better at it. At first it was hard to juggle because I was trying to focus on treating patients and I had a Gunny or a Sergeant yelling at me for information about the patient when it was information I didn’t even have yet. So I got better at getting how important it was just to quickly get vital signs and have a number that you can give them if anything because it’s their responsibility and their job to pass all that information through the radio. That was probably one of the hardest parts.
As far as the non-Corpsman parts, I think you just learn – it was probably through the first deployment before I finally felt natural with the Marines and Corpsmen and people of higher rank to where I could just do my job comfortably without feeling like I was still in training or still at school and still having somebody scrutinizing everything I do. So that’s huge, to be able to hang out with people and not be scared shitless of everybody helped out everything and made everything go smoother too. That finally happened towards the end of the first deployment and by the second deployment I was a lot more comfortable socially around everybody.
RH: What was the most challenging non-combat aspect of deploying?
LR: I think waiting places. Waiting for anything. Waiting in line for everything. Waiting for a day or two to come around to go do something. Waiting. Waiting for mail. Not having control over where you go or what you’re doing or anything.
RH: Did you have any transformative or significant events that informed your deployment?
LR: I’m sure I had a ton. I can’t think of anything right offhand but I did have a lot of mortality moments, or fears of mortality moments that would get so intense that I felt I got to learn things about myself, how I deal with, or how I really [laughs] feel about living, I guess. I don’t know if that sounds stupid. And that’s it. Nothing offhand. It’s something I would have to think about.
RH: Alright. If you think about it and want to talk later that’s absolutely fine. So we’re going transition a little bit and talk about coming home. Can you talk a little bit about your immediate post-deployment experiences?
LR: The first time I got home – it’s still a little hard to separate the two – you get off the plane, you get off a bus, you get to a room and your stuff, all your belongings, are in cardboard boxes. You dig through and put on some of your stale clean clothes.
LR: I think there was a day or two after both deployments where I was really kind of in my head, shocked that I was back home and shocked to be driving in a civilian car and shocked to hear the radio playing in the United States. I was really introspective about the whole experience and about what it meant. I think both times I had an emphasis on what it meant to be home. Did it mean I was safe now? Was everything OK? It was exciting but also very introspective.
RH: What was the best and worst part about coming home?
LR: The best part about coming home is definitely being home. Actually going on leave, seeing your friends and family that have been actually writing you and supporting you the whole time. And I think the worst part, I think that worst part is just kind of moving on from and just getting back to normal life because it is kind of an event when you come home, you know?
RH: Uh-huh. [affirmation]
LR: At least in your mind or from your perspective it’s like a parade in your honor and everybody’s so excited that you feel really special. And while that’s part of the good part it also – it doesn’t feel really real. You know it’s not real life. I remember thinking that this was going to go on forever and it doesn’t. It doesn’t go on very long at all. And dealing with that. Nothing comes to mind that’s terrible about it. Not “I wish I was back in Iraq,” you know?
RH: [laughs] You went back to Twentynine Palms both times, correct?
RH: What were the Marines and sailors like that you served with?
LR: The Marines and sailors that I served with were, for the most part, relatively the same age. A lot of them were younger actually, people just coming in. I was twenty-one in boot camp so I was a couple of years older. They seem like kind of a cross-section of America’s high schools went out into the military. With the Marines, a lot of them were athletes who watched too many movies and wanted to become even more bad-ass. And then a lot of them were people, kids [laughs] who got picked on and watched too many movies and were like “I want to be that so nobody ever picks on me again.”
LR: They’re all pretty much – they give each other a lot shit. Their comradery is based around farting in each other’s faces and teabagging each other…
LR: …and it not being that big of a deal. On the Navy side it’s cool too but it’s a little different with the whole rivalry between braches of the military. The Navy and Marine Corps are more close than other branches but they’re still pretty different. Sailors are usually looked at as pussies by the Marines. [laughs] Just not the same value on testosterone, I guess, as Marines might.
RH: Did the Marines and sailors that you were around change after the first deployment and, if so, how?
LR: Yes, a lot of them changed. That was my first actual unit I was with and then the first deployment you’re with a lot of guys who are in the same boat you are. They’re just sitting there new to this. They’re boots. They catch a lot of shit for, kind of, getting there before they get – there’s no hazing anymore really or anything but they still get treated like shit. And watching them kind of come around and gain experience I saw a lot of that. So by the end of the first deployment a lot of these guys were getting ready to turn around and fuck with the new boots that were coming in.
The same is true with the Corpsmen. A lot of the Corpsmen – you’re not really anybody until you’ve been on at least one deployment with the unit so there’s a lot of condescension among the ranks. But once you do start to get some time with it and you start to feel like you’ve earned some of that status you kind of see how the whole machine is worked and is greased. So yes, I saw a lot of the sailors and Marines kind of grow up. And some of them from the first deployment, I still see their pictures on facebook. They’re still in the Navy. People who were boots are now officers and, if not, [Petty Officer] First Class pay grade or they’ve become Chiefs and things. If they’re not already Chiefs, at least First Classes.
RH: We’re going to switch over to civilian life. Can you please repeat, when did you get out?
LR: November 2007.
RH: How has your military experience shaped your life since you got out?
LR: Man. Me, I tried to disassociate from the military when I first got out but there were still a lot of things that remain with me. The first couple years I kind of remained pretty mobile – able to keep my belongings low. Pretty much not more than I could really carry in my car. I sort of kept my med bag with me so I was trying to disassociate from being a part of the system or whatever but then I still had a lot of habits that I had or held on to. Just about everything. Oh, God. Even from the way I clean my house. I don’t field day it anymore but I definitely get around to all the cracks and nooks and dust bunnies that I might have overlooked before the military.
RH: What were some of the challenges that you faced when you got out?
LR: I was under the impression when I got out that I – I got out with a medical discharge – that I was going to have certain benefits to pretty much live off of post-military and it was not nearly as easy. I was under the impression that I was pretty much going to get out and I was going to sign up for these benefits that I was entitled to and I would get them relatively soon. And that relatively soon turned out to be about, to get the benefits I was told I would receive, five years. I got some benefits initially – a little bit of financial and healthcare. The healthcare was really nice but it took a really long time to get that.
RH: Have you used the GI Bill?
LR: Yes. I’ve been using the GI Bill for years now. I was almost actually mixed up in [word inaudible] for a year and a half post-deployment.
RH: Has the VA been helpful?
LR: The VA has been pretty helpful. I’ve used two different regional facilities. Up in Washington, Seattle we have the Puget Sound VA. I used that for the first couple of years and the veteran population up there is a lot lower so it seemed like there was more intimate care – more one on one or just faster processing times or appointment times. And then I moved down to San Diego where there’s a huge veteran population and it’s a little bit more backed up. Everything takes a little bit longer. Disability is a lot more jammed with veterans of all ages but it’s been pretty good. They’ve covered all my medical and psychological stuff and mental stuff. Everything has been dealt with any time I needed anything. Especially the dental. I do have dental with them and generally I’ve got a two or three month wait to make an appointment but other than that it’s really good.
RH: In your opinion is there anything that the VA isn’t doing that it could be doing? And this is a very broad question.
LR: They’re trying to do everything they can. I really see both with my interactions with them and also in the media that they really try to process claims through claims processors and things. That’s the most obvious one that everybody always talks about and reassuring everyone that they’re working on. I don’t know. It seems pretty good, the treatment I’ve received so far but I haven’t had any real serious ailment either so I have to experience that before I really can be convinced.
RH: In your opinion what is the VA doing well?
LR: They seem to hire a lot of people who really want to help and really care for the most part. And they seem to work really hard to not let anybody slip through the cracks and to network to do whatever it is to get whatever help for services that a veteran might need for them. So I think the dedication is definitely there.
RH: How have civilians reacted to you and your experiences?
LR: Kind of a mixed bag. Some people don’t think really about – I feel like they don’t consider the person and they ask me questions, of course, like “have I killed anybody?” That’s pretty much the only question most people are interested in. A lot of people also have family or they’re just kind of aware or are sensitive to it will be really sensitive in their questioning about experiences or listening. Most people are pretty good. Some people are just a little oblivious or naïve. I never really had a bad experience, you know, being called baby killer or anything.
RH: Do you still communicate with anybody from 2/7?
LR: Umm, you. [laughs]
RH: [laughs] Aside from Richard Hayden. [laughs]
LR: [laughs] There’s a couple guys. I haven’t been in real big contact with them lately. But this one guy Michael Truax who lives up in Yucca Valley, I hung out with his family. And then a couple of guys that live in San Diego that I’m friends with on facebook and I think that just because facebook is there that’s why we don’t really communicate that much or hang out. We still see each other online on a regular basis so there’s no real sense of urgency. But there’s a couple of guys here.
RH: OK. We are almost done. Just a couple more questions left. How do you feel about the rise of ISIS and the current direction that Iraq is taking?
LR: It’s pretty frustrating to watch. I think what a lot of people anticipated happening. The whole area, when you’re there, feels pretty lawless and whoever has the biggest dick is in charge and in this case it seems like the extremists are back. It’s getting really rowdy and kind of undoing what we did while we were there but just in general it’s not a very humane environment. So I guess it kind of feels like it’s probably intended to be insulting that they can do whatever they want now that we’re gone or, I don’t know, trying to thumb their noses at us or something. But I get upset about it watching it on the news and I – at times I’ve even fantasized about if I could go back or whatever but those incidents are pretty fleeting. But for the most part I do feel like something needs to be done. I feel almost more passionate about stopping what’s going on now than I necessarily did about what we were there for, what I was there for, because it seems like a bad environment for a lot of innocent people. It’s very frustrating. I’ve got to stop watching and hearing about it.
RH: Are there any lessons that you learned while you were over there that are relevant to the current situation?
LR: This time it’s going to be tricky because even when we were over there in force and these things like ISIS would break out, seeing it with my own eyes it was hard to get the actual intelligence on what was going on and even with superior firepower they were a problem. So I just feel like I do know that it’s not going to be easy no matter what we do. It’s going to be a really sticky situation. It’s not easy just sending people back and kicking ass.
RH: So now that we are a few years out, has the memory of your experience changed at all?
LR: It’s hard to tell, I guess, about memory. [laughs] The more and more years go by I can get a better perspective on who I was as a person and where I was in my development when I experienced that. I realized that not only did I have the experiences I had, I had them as a young adult and how a young adult would handle that. And now I’m still processing it a few years later so it is changing.
RH: What’s your happiest memory of the entire time you served?
LR: The happiest moment I served? I think when I was in Corps School after boot camp. I worked really, really hard – even making valedictorian – all the time. And that really inspired me. [laughs] Unfortunately that inspiration went from “I can do anything in the Navy,” to “you’re going to Twentynine Palms.”
LR: And here’s your reward for that. At the time it happened I was really proud of myself. I’d been questioning whether I could pull off being in the Navy at all let alone a Corpsman. When I was valedictorian it kind of validated a lot of that. I was proud and excited. That was probably the best point.
RH: What, if anything, do you miss about the military?
LR: Hmm. I do think about this. Man. I guess I miss the stability of it and the stability of having the job and everything but also the structure. Sometimes you don’t really have a choice in the military. [laughs] If you get all depressed and start slipping somebody is still going to hold you upright and you’re going to have to be in good form no matter what versus a civilian life, there’s nobody watching, really. So you can really let yourself go sometimes.
RH: Alright. I’m going to switch it up a little bit. What was the best MRE?
LR: Oh man. My favorite MRE was turkey with gravy and potatoes from Texas. I’m pretty sure it was the Texas one because there was the – you know how there’s the twenty-four menu items from Texas and then there’s the same one from, I think it’s like, Pittsburgh or something?
LR: The Texas turkey and potato was great with the salt packet. For some reason. [laughs] It wasn’t everybody’s favorite but it was mine for some reason.
RH: What was the best chowhall in Iraq and the best chowhall stateside?
LR: Man, Iraq had really good chowhalls. Man, I can’t remember. There were some really good ones. I think Camp Fallujah had a pretty good one I think. God, I can’t remember which – probably Fallujah for that. And then stateside, I don’t know. I liked the chowhall at FMSS. It wasn’t the biggest thing in the world but they made – if it was five in the morning and there wasn’t a big line and you had time they made a little omelette station. They’re making omelettes and I always thought that was the most delicious thing in the world.
RH: What’s the funniest story you have?
LR: Funniest story I have? [laughs] I guess the funniest story I have is the blown up Humvee story. First deployment we were kind of in the middle of nowhere and they called it the ammunition checkpoint or something at – God, what’s it called? – do you know what I’m talking about?
RH: No. Describe it.
LR: Well anyway, I was out for a run, we were outside the wire so we had to have a Humvee and it had to have a corpsman which was me but we could put all of our gear including our protective gear in the back of the Humvee. So we’re running and I have all my gear in the Humvee – my medical bag, my weapon – I’m down just to taking off my t-shirt so I’m naked from the waist up. And then I have boots and stuff on when a mile or two away we hear an explosion. We don’t have good radio contact so the Humvee takes off and leaves me and another Corporal by ourselves in the middle of nowhere…
LR: …with all our gear. So me and the Corporal start running back towards the main base, our little area, when another Humvee kind of comes up to us. No – I get back to the area where the platoon was and one Humvee came up that was kind of heading out on another patrol and there’s two Marines in it and they were going to go see what happened. We still didn’t understand what the explosion was for – whether somebody was shooting mortars at us or what. So I begged the Sergeant to let me go with this Humvee because he didn’t want to let me go because I’m standing there half naked…
LR: …without any weapon, without any gear or anything. I thought that I should go to wherever this Humvee’s going because if somebody’s hurt they’re going to need me there. I jump into the back of the Humvee, we’re flying to where we see the smoke, I don’t have a weapon so I reach down and I grab the Rifleman’s M-16 with a 203. So here’s my skinny ass in the back of a Humvee getting ready to Rambo it. We’re going to this Humvee where the explosion went. We show up and we draw up on a ridge and we can see a Humvee on fire. Nobody’s around. The driver didn’t want to go down to the Humvee where it was burning because we didn’t know what was going on but I told him I outranked him so I was like “just tell everybody I did it, you know. It’s not a big deal.” We drive up to the burning Humvee and inside I can see rifles burning and kevlar vests and helmets. So I start freaking out thinking that the entire squad got killed or something and on the horizon I can see a bunch of people standing and they’re kind of waving their arms. So two Marines get in the Humvee and they’re driving towards everybody and I have too much adrenaline. They tell me to jump into the Humvee but I have just way too much adrenaline so I’m just running next to this Humvee still holding this rifle…
LR …so we get out to my Staff Sergeant, my platoon Sergeant was there, and I’m still standing there like an idiot trying to be Rambo and he starts yelling at me like “what’s wrong with you doc? Are you trying to get yourself killed?” I flipped out on him and started yelling at him that I thought everybody was dead and everything. I didn’t get in any trouble for it. Other people got in trouble. [laughs]
RH: [laughs] So what happened to the Humvee? Why was it on fire?
LR: I actually wouldn’t want to say because of the whole legal thing with that. [Note: This incident was investigated and the Marines involved were disciplined. Louis did not want to give names or more details because he did not want to further embarrass the Marines involved or speak about legal issues that he was not a party to. Nobody was hurt in the incident. – RH]
RH: Got it. Understood. If you could communicate something to young Marines and sailors who would be fighting the wars of the future, what would it be?
LR: Oh man. Do your best. [laughs]
LR: I don’t know. I think all the young sailors, soldiers and Marines of the future will figure it out on their own when they’re actually, you know, the need calls for it. And that the most important thing you usually discover is that it’s kind of a far off idea fighting for your country and your family when they’re so far away and that you’re actually, kind of, taking care of each other is more important. The best way to get through it – the military in general – is to work together and take care of each other and it’s not until it’s life and death where you’re kind of glad to do that. But I think it works best to try to strive for that the whole time. Just everybody doing everything they can to help each other out makes everything run a lot smoother, efficiently and safer.
RH: Alright. Is there anything I left out that you would like to address?
LR: Not that I can think of.
RH: OK. Alright. And last question, what specific accomplishment are you most proud of during your service?
LR: What situation or…?
RH: What specific accomplishment are you most proud of? Is there something that you did that you are most proud of?
LR: I think after becoming a Corpsman and being with the Marines and knowing the whole time through boot camp that I was going to be a Corpsman and finding out after that I was going to be an FMF Corpsman. I was always seeing the Corpsmen wearing the FMF badges and I thought it was really cool. It took forever to get that thing but by the time I finally got the FMF warfare device I was pretty proud. I had finally rounded out my credentials as a Corpsman by getting that. And I still have all that useless knowledge in the back of my head when I’m bugging [my wife] Sarah [laughs] with useless information. A helicopter flies over and I’m trying to tell her armaments and crew capacities but I don’t think she really cares.
RH: Cool. Alright! Well, that’s all I have so thank you very much!
LR: You’re welcome.