Oscar Garza and Aaron Jacinto: Part 1
Oscar Garza served as a Marine and Aaron Jacinto served as a Corpsman with Second Battalion, Seventh Marines. They deployed together to Iraq with Golf Company. After returning home, Oscar continued his enlistment with 2/7. Aaron shifted from active duty to the Naval Reserve before joining the Army and deploying to Afghanistan.
In Part 1 of their interview, they discuss why they joined the military and 2/7's deployment to Fallujah, Iraq in 2005.
Interview conducted on January 17, 2016 in San Antonio, Texas
Present: Richard Hayden, Oscar Garza, Aaron Jacinto and Louis Roark
Transcribed by Richard Hayden
Richard Hayden: What is your full name?
Aaron Jacinto: Aaron P. Jacinto.
Oscar Garza: Oscar L. Garza Junior.
RH: Alright. What branch of the military did you serve in and what years?
AJ: US Navy, 2004 to 2008, US Army from 2008 to 2013.
OG: United States Marine Corps from 2004 to 2012.
RH: Alright. What was your rank when you got out?
AJ: I was a Corporal in the US Army.
RH: Alright. What was your rate [to AJ] and your MOS [to OG]?
AJ: In the Navy I was a Corpsman, a Navy Corpsman, and in the Army I was a medic.
RH: And what MOS number is that exactly?
AJ: 8404 [Navy Corpsman] and on the Army side it was 68W [pronounced sixty-eight whisky].
OG: My MOS was 0311 [pronounced oh-three eleven], infantry.
RH: What was your unit?
AJ: I deployed with Second Battalion, Seventh Marines and when I was in the Army I deployed with Second Battalion, Twenty-Seventh Infantry.
OG: Wow. Nice. [laughs] I was with Second Battalion, Seventh Marines for my first five years and then a PCS, a change of station, to Virginia Beach, Virginia as an infantry instructor.
RH: Alright. We’ll go ahead and get each of your answers. What motivated you to join the military?
AJ: The truth?
AJ: Top Gun. [all laugh] That was as a kid but later down the road when the war kicked off and I was watching the news, especially the first push of Fallujah, I wanted to do that but obviously I was more geared toward the medical side. I already knew they used Navy Corpsmen as medics but I didn’t know the whole grasp of the Marine side besides they go off and kill bodies.
OG: What motivated me wasn’t really 9/11 which is striking to some people, it was more of I understood that it was going to be a huge thing at that time – of course it was a very immense, very powerful incident that happened to us – but personally, what motived me to go was more of history, putting my name down in our family’s history books knowing that one day if I do have kids, someday down the road they will ask me, “what did you do when you were a teenager?” And I will gladly tell them the story of what I did for them. Just something like that. Just history. Just my personal own history and experience. Life through a different view.
RH: Alright. Good to go. Why did you pick the branches of service that you did?
AJ: For me, I had family always in the military, especially in the Navy. For the Navy I just wanted to be a Chief with anchors and khakis. For me that was kind of bad ass.
OG: The branch? Good story. I was in high school getting ready to go and I had to figure out what branch. I remember in high school going up to the library because the recruiter was there. And he was a Marine, a Marine recruiter obviously reading the paper, and I was all metalhead out, long hair, smelling like weed and everything. So I went over there and went up to him like, “hey. I want to join the Marine Corps.” I was like, hey, fuck it. Do something different. I didn’t want to go Army because a majority of my family was Army and Air Force.
I asked and went through it and I had to figure out what MOS, what really I wanted to become. I had to tell my mom and that was a very interesting experience with that because she basically told me, “the only way you’re going to experience life and you actually go out there.” All the MOSes that I was choosing were all going to be either out on the front lines or with infantry units so I picked the one where you will actually see everything, full frontal everything.
RH: So your mom actually encouraged you to go as an 0311?
OG: Yes. That’s the truth. She’s the one who said, “the only way that you are going to experience this is actually if you go do it.” And this is me figuring out, “whoa.” To be honest, I was not trying to be an infantry guy. I was actually trying to go Motor T, security forces. Well, those go out in infantry too. They do patrols and everything, too. Either way I was going to go experience it so I chose wisely. My mom actually had a huge impact with me with that one. Very weird. You would think they would be like, “no. Don’t do that. No, no, no!” She was like, “go. Go fucking do it. Come back to me alive but go do it.”
RH: Right on. [to AJ] And how did your family feel about it?
AJ: Initially, they thought joining the Navy I’d never go to war but I knew because when I talked to the recruiter, I’m like, “I want to be a Corpsman.” And the recruiter, the NC1, he was like, “are you sure? Do you really want to do this?” “Yeah. Fuck yeah.” But my uncle, he was the Chief, was like, “yeah. Just go for it. I figured you’d pick something else, some kind of desk job or whatever.” But I was like, “no.” He knew I was different. I like to do things with my hands. So they were OK with it because they thought Navy. But my mom, when I was like, “hey! I want to go with the Marines,” then she started worrying. That was already after when I was in. I was like, “don’t worry about it. No news is good news.”
RH: Alright. Good to go. Where were you on September 11th?
OG: I was in Harlingen, Texas. I think I was a freshman or sophomore and going to chemistry class. I remember we were in class and at that time, I don’t know if this is still going on but they had the TVs in the classroom and they had that program for all the high school kids to watch. I think Maria Menounos was the anchor there. She was the TV anchor or whatever it was that she was doing and she was talking about current events and everything like that.
Lo and behold, breaking news, breaking news, and everybody shut up. I just remember watching it. I was literally watching everything unfold. A plane hit one of the towers and then you see the other plane coming in. They immediately shut the school down, sent everyone back home and that’s when everything started. And I remember saying, “man, whoever masterminded this thing, we’re going to after them.” I want to be a part of that. And that was one of those motivating factors to go. Very weird. Chemistry class. OK.
AJ: Initially when I found out, because I’m originally from Hawaii, I found out – of course Hawaii is probably four or six hours behind Eastern Standard Time so it happened at like six in the morning. I was getting ready for school. My mom was like, “get ready for school.” She’s saying, “New York is being attacked,” and everything. I was just confused. “What?” I didn’t really believe. I was getting ready for school and I turned on the TV and I’m like, “oh wow. That’s really happening.” Then I went to school and they didn’t shut down the school yet. They were trying to figure out what was going on. Obviously all the bases were closed and everything else. In Hawaii I lived in Oahu and that’s where a majority of the US bases are so try and imagine an island full of US bases just not operating. Everything shut down.
So I went to school and as the school day goes on until they actually finally made the decision to close down the school, teachers were commenting, “this is going to be your generation. You’re going to be going off and fighting the war.” I thought about it like, “geez. Yeah.” You know? Even though I still had one more year before I can legally join, the teachers were talking to the other students. It was a mix of freshmen within our class and a lot of them were like, “whoa,” just taken aback. We were all taken aback that day. They eventually closed down the school and just went off home. It’s shocking but it hasn’t really settled yet, you know?
RH: [to OG] Aaron talked a little bit about the mood in Hawaii. Were you in San Antonio at the time?
RH: On 9/11?
OG: No. I was in Harlingen, Texas.
RH: Ah! I’m sorry. Harlingen, Texas. Excuse me.
OG: It was a shock. Everyone was in shock about what was going on. We were getting attacked. We haven’t seen that since Pearl Harbor. I wasn’t alive but at that time that’s how it felt. What the hell is going on? Family, everybody was just out of it. They were in disbelief, major disbelief.
RH: Alright. Good to go. So where did you go to boot camp?
AJ: Boot camp? I went to Great Lakes. It was an interesting story, boot camp in Great Lakes. Being in Hawaii, with the time change I was the very first person out of the whole group for that night to show up. And so the RDCs, I believe it was for six hours, they made us lay our heads on the table, on the desk. Six hours. You could hear more people coming in and the whole thing. “Say your name. Say your social in numbers. Not oh, zero!” [laughs] That kind of thing. Oh man. I was like, “this sucks,” I guess, you know? Just everybody was like, “uh,” and I tried to play it cool.
I did my boot camp in the Navy but going into the Army there was no boot camp for us because I was prior service and did time with the Marines. They told me I had orders cut to Fort Sill and I waited there until I got orders to go to Korea and that was my Army transition. It was kind of cool but I didn’t have to do boot camp again because it sucks. [all laugh] It sucks.
RH: [to OG] Where did you go to boot camp?
OG: I went to MCRD San Diego.
RH: OK. What was boot camp like?
OG: Man, that is just another experience in itself man. They made sure that you are taken out of your element bad. Basic Marine boot camp is where they break the civilian out of you and build you up to what they want. And this is the height of the war. When I was going through boot camp in 2004 until November of that time, because it’s three months long I got to see and get firsthand accounts of the battles going on, the battle of Fallujah and all that stuff, the first battle. And it was just amazing to see that. “This is where you’re gonna go to! You better get nothing else!” So they put that fear in you and everything. Of course you have to do better. It was an experience. I just remember a lot of things going through it and it was good. It was honorable to finally become a Marine and get ready to go, ship out. And then you transition to your schooling and then you go to your unit. In that year timeframe I had schools and then went into combat. Those were fast.
RH: And what was your follow up training like? Immediately following boot camp.
OG: The School of Infantry. Again, I was still on the west coast, Camp Pendleton, and just the course. I forget how many months that one was – maybe two and a half, three, I think. I don’t know. Infantry school, that’s where all the infantry cats go to go get their schooling and go ship out to their units. It was kind of lax. They kind of relaxed a little bit because we were Marines so they can’t treat us like boots or anything even though we were extremely boot. We did our schooling and once I got the word where I was going – because they get in alphabetical order – the A’s and B’s and all that stuff went to other units and then they got to my name. The Gs and all, we were going to 2/7. Then that’s when I was like, “what the hell is 2/7?” I googled it, saw all these records that 2/7 was going to. There were a few guys that I went from boot camp to SOI to the fleet and Iraq and Afghanistan all together the whole time. It was a different experience. It was a different experience, I’ll tell you that. That was during the invasion so it was a lot of hype. It was a lot of growing tension – we got hurt, we’ve got to send more bodies out there.
RH: What was your training immediately after boot camp like?
AJ: Immediately after boot camp I graduated in August or September and I checked into A School in Great Lakes. That’s where the real Corpsmen come from. [OG laughs] But in all seriousness, I had orders to go to Great Lakes and it’s literally across the street from boot camp so I really didn’t go anywhere. The cool thing about A School is we got phase three libbo immediately off the bat.
RH: Which is?
AJ: Phase three libbo is you check in and you have your weekends off. You can wear civilian clothes and everything else. I was one of the last classes to be treated like that. So it was like I was under the stars. The moons aligned. I was like, “whoa! Awesome.” I had orders because I already knew I had a C School immediately right after.
I had orders to Twentynine Palms. I didn’t know what unit I was in but we were going down the line and a majority of the guys got orders to FMSS. FMSS is Field Medical Service School. Some guys got east coast in Camp Lejeune and some guys got west coast in Camp Pendleton. I got east coast and I had to do east coast but we asked the instructor, “what’s Twentynine Palms? I’ve only heard about Camp Lejeune and Camp Pendleton and Okinawa and Hawaii. That’s all the Marine bases that I know.” Because I already knew I was going to be with the Marines. And then the guy’s like, “oh.” [OG laughs] With a drop of the face like, “oh.” He knew. “I’m sorry for you. You poor bastard. But do you know what? You’re going to get the best training.” He told me, “within four months or six months, you’ll be deployed.” And he was right. He was right. Honestly, if I didn’t go – I hate to say it – any other units between coasts like Hollywood, you can goof off a lot out there. And then the east coast? I don’t want to say the west coast is better but yes, the west coast Marines are better. [all laugh]
OG: I totally agree!
AJ: I finished A School which is your beginning training of being a Corpsman and it’s equivalent to a licensed vocational nurse or practical nurse. I had orders to report to FMSS in mid-January in Camp Lejeune. That was an eye-opener. Of course they lost your baggage when you checked in so I was in my dress blues because you have to check in in your dress uniform. I don’t know why for every command. So I was in my dress blues for about a week like, “damn. I stink.” [laughs] But they found my luggage and everything.
We’re going through the whole Marine training – how to act and be like a Marine and care under fire. I learned a lot. I just knew that I was going to be some medical but now I had more of an idea of what I’m going to do with the Marines medical-wise and everything else. We graduated in March and I checked into 2/7 in California that same month.
RH: This is March of 2005, correct?
AJ: 2005. Correct. And then as soon as I checked in obviously, I forgot who it was but it was one of the seniors. [to Louis Roark] Roark? No. It wasn’t you. It was one of the guys. It was a taller gentleman – Southerland. Do you remember Southerland?
Louis Roark: Oh yeah.
AJ: Yeah. It was Southerland. He brought me to NAVPERS and brought me around. I can’t believe I remember his name! [laughs] But he brought me in and he was schooling me. It was me, McKinley and doc Reed. It was just a few of us and we were just mind blown because I just knew we were going to get fucked with. [laughs] I just knew first day we were going to get fucked with. Southerland did his thing and got our gear and then we talked to – it was Chief Crane at the time. Like, “hey! Welcome. We’re deploying in a few months and since you all got your gear, some of you are going to go straight out into the field.” So within the first couple of hours of checking in I am straight in the field [laughs] getting ready for war.
OG: Get some! [all laugh]
AJ: Get fucked. Get the dick. [laughs] That was in March. It was constant training, training, training, training because we deployed in, what, July?
OG: Yes. July 5th we were in country. July 4th we were up in our barracks getting hammered. Pissing poop.
RH: So let me ask you this Oscar. What was your immediate impression of Twentynine Palms like and what was the first week or so when you arrived like?
OG: Alright. This is perfect because this is exactly what happened to me. We were done with SOI. Yeah! You know? I finally got our unit. I finally got to see our First Sergeant. I did not know this but every time a group of SOI Marines graduated, their First Sergeant comes from whatever unit from the west coast because I was in SOI west coast. Whatever units are there, they go there and they pick up their recruits. They’re like, “hey. This is what’s going on. This is where we’re going to go. We’re going to this unit. You’re coming with me. I’m the First Sergeant for this unit.” And they actually take them back. They take them with them. They just have a meet and greet and then the First Sergeants go and they get on busses and head on out and everything. Very interesting. I don’t know if they still do it today but this is what I remember.
My first impression of finally getting on the bus and going to Twentynine Palms – because I think it’s maybe a two hour, two and a half hour drive I think south of Camp Pendleton. I didn’t know anything about Twentynine Palms but it sounded cool. We got there in the middle of the night and my best explanation for that scene, when I was a full boot with my cammies on and my duffel bag – you guys have seen the movie Jarhead obviously, right? It’s about 2/7. You’ve all seen that part where they’ve got the new crew coming in and the new Marine coming in and they’re all hanging on the top of the stairwells looking down on them? That’s exactly what happened to me in the middle of the night! [RH laughs] And the crazy thing is – this is how Marines think and behave – it was Friday night going on Saturday, early Saturday morning or whatever. They were like, “hey. It’s libbo. Everybody’s out doing their thing getting messed up.” Just out there, right? Only the few that were there, the barracks rats, all the guys who didn’t go out anywhere, they just stayed there and they stayed sober for that one reason which was to wait for their boots. Wait for the boot drop. [RH and AJ laugh] So it was just like that movie scene. We just walking up scared as shit. At that time it was daytime, for me it was nighttime.
I got to meet my seniors and they weren’t yelling at me off the bat or anything but they were very stern. They were telling me, “wait until Monday. We will fucking get you on Monday.” And they did. [RH laughs] They did. Of course it was night so I didn’t see everything in Twentynine Palms until the daytime.
Good quick story about that. Just real quick. You remember Captain Downey, right? He was an awesome Captain, one of the best ones I’ve ever worked with. I got the chance when it was still the weekend and he was out in the PX and he was shopping for something real quick and picking something up. I was like, “hey! What’s going on sir?” Because we actually got to meet him, too, I think that next morning or whatever. We got to see each other because he introduced us. “How are you doing, sir? How are you doing today?” He was like, “hey, how are you doing Marine? Good job! I will give you this quick advice. When you get the chance, get the fuck out of Twentynine Palms and get away from everybody before they get you.” [all laugh] So he literally put that in to get the hell out because this is still, again, right before that huge hazing and jumping to conclusions about hazing and all that and making everybody pay for it and all that shit. So this is like right at the cusp of it and we were right up in that because hazing, to me, I’m OK with it as long as it’s not derogatory or belittling the guy. It’s more like teaching but we can go into further details.
AJ: Yeah. As long as there’s no broom going up someone’s ass. [laughs]
OG: Exactly. [all laugh] I’m cool with it but no broom in my ass. [laughs]
AJ: You can put that.
RH: I should have asked this earlier but what company were you each assigned to in 2/7?
AJ: We were both Golf Company, gunfighters. [AJ and OG high five]
RH: And that was a high five afterwards for future posterity. [all laugh] OK. Let me ask first Aaron. Did you serve in Iraq, Afghanistan or both?
AJ: I served in both. 2005 to, I guess, the beginning of 2006 was Iraq and then Afghanistan was 2011. Usually the Army deploys for a year but I just got six months and I was done. [laughs] That’s for a later question.
RH: OK. And Oscar, did you serve in Iraq, Afghanistan or both?
OG: I served in both.
RH: OK. And what were the dates of each deployment?
OG: It’s seven month deployments – right? – for the Marines so I know I did my first seven 2005 to 2006. Yeah. And we actually had almost a whole year in-between that deployment. I remember that. We had almost a whole year and then I went on my second one which was – oh God, I don’t remember. I always forget about this one. I remember I re-enlisted July 7th so it was either August, I think, or something like that. That was my second tour – 2007 to almost the end of 2007. So it was another seven months.
RH: Was it approximately January to August 2007?
OG: I would have to reconfirm with you that information but yes.
RH: Alright. So early 2007 to late-ish 2007.
OG: Yes. And then after that we got, I think, five months back and then we got the word, “hey, we’re exiting Iraq. We’re going to Afghanistan. You’re going to be one of the first units in southern Helmand. Get fucked!” Yeah.
RH: And what were the dates of the Afghanistan deployment?
OG: Afghanistan was April 2008 until December. We actually got extended in 2008. I remember that. We were actually there a little longer than need be.
RH: OK. For each deployment, where did you deploy to? We’ll start with the first two Iraq deployments.
OG: First deployment, me and my boy over here [points to AJ] went to Fallujah, Iraq. This is right, right after – maybe a couple of months after – the big Al Fajr push, the big operation. We were there right after them so it was still kinetic. We were one of the few units that actually got to see Fallujah before everybody else did. Nobody else saw it after.
AJ: No, none. After us? No.
OG: I think another one but that was it because they relieved us.
AJ: They were east coast Marines.
OG: I went to that and then from there we went to Al Amiriyat. That was the first tour. I ended my first tour with Amiriyat which is a small little river town.
AJ: A dinky town.
OG: Yeah. It wasn’t a huge hotbed. They just put us there for security reasons to cover something. The second tour we went to Saqlawia. I remember that one. Saqlawia for the first three months the rest of the time we went to the Zidon. So Al Anbar province was our home for a while, for a good time. Very kinetic too, still IEDs were very abundant. Not a lot of contact for my end. We did get into some – maybe a couple ticks.
RH: We’re going to get there. Where did you go in Afghanistan?
OG: I went north, midway Farah province to Helmand province area. We were all scattered to the wind with 2/7 because 2/7 is very well known for battle space. They put the units out there and that was the whole time I was out there – the whole time. We were about, maybe, two and a half to almost four hours away from other units, other friendly units. So we were literally alone and unafraid out there with not too much support.
RH: OK. And Aaron, when you went to Afghanistan, where did you deploy to in Afghanistan?
AJ: It’s called Kunar province. It’s very familiar. It’s where, I don’t know if you’ve seen that movie – that Army movie where they’re in the valley.
AJ: Restrepo. Same province, different valley. That’s where a majority of the medals of honor, besides in Helmand. Besides Helmand, ninety percent of ordnance was dropped on that province alone because of the border line. Right over the mountains is Pakistan. So our job out there is to stop the influx from the Pakistani Taliban to come over. We’re just trying to stop their train of supplies and everything else. I was out there in Kunar province. That time around, I just wanted to be an aid station NCO because I did my time walking and running. But it’s a total different fight compared to Iraq because, you know, in Iraq it was a city. At that time people were going on leave and they needed me to go on this mountaintop.
RH: We’re going to get there.
RH: Perfect. I want to take it deployment by deployment so let’s start with the 2005 deployment to Fallujah. What was the mission of your unit?
OG: I think it was more of COIN – counterinsurgency. Just covering.
AJ: We didn’t know that term at the time but later. It was the whole deployment.
OG: Yeah. Sustainability, holding it down, taking care of one of the main MSRs which was Henry and Fran. That ran throughout the whole of Fallujah so we were holding it down. It wasn’t really like go out, seek and kill, destroy. It was more of sustaining the area, presence. Like that. We would still do our patrols and everything but it wasn’t out fighting and getting contact.
RH: What, specifically, was your job within the unit?
AJ: Within the unit. People don’t know, a Navy Corpsman is pretty much a medic for the Marines because the Marines don’t have medics. They use Navy guys. It’s been like that since the start of time in the Marines. So my main job was to take care of guys in my camp. We were in the same platoon [referring to OG]. My main job was to take care of him. It wasn’t only me. We had another Corpsman Morgan. He’s a great guy. Sharing a workload with him off and on, it was great.
RH: What, specifically, was your job Oscar?
OG: I was at the time, since I was the new guy and getting trained on everything, for a while I was a SAW gunner because I was a shit bag. [laughs] I had an attitude and everything like that but I improved myself and they were like, “hey, you’re not fucking up a lot so we’ll put you as an operator,” which I was really good at. And that actually, being radio operator, comes around for the Afghan tour but we’ll talk more when we move onto that. It’s interesting.
RH: Alright. What was it like when you stepped off the plane in Iraq for the first time?
OG: Heat. It was like an oven because we landed in one of – it wasn’t Kuwait but we were in?
OG: TQ? Because there was TQ and there was Al Asad. We never went to Al Asad.
AJ: It was some Army base, a major Army/Air Force base that we landed.
OG: I think it was TQ because I remember always going to Camp Taqaddum. I think we actually flew on the C-130 to somewhere else but I don’t recall where it was. It was just immediate heat. It was right in the beginning of the hot months and fucking bad.
RH: What do you remember about getting out of the plane for the first time?
AJ: Getting off, obviously we don’t do troop transport during the day so everything is conducted at night. My thought is like, man, my things I were carrying were heavy. It’s a big clusterfuck but it’s a controlled clusterfuck. At night people were constantly, “hey! Go here, go there.” Oh wow. Just running around like chickens without their heads, pretty much. But it was controlled and you know where to go because of the advance party that was out there.
I just remember landing down like, “man. This is it!” [RH laughs]
OG: It was like that. It was game on.
AJ: Yeah. It was game on.
OG: Training became highly looked at and it was like, “thank God we got that training.”
AJ: I’m pretty sure you got this in your head: don’t fuck up. [laughs]
OG: Yeah. If you fuck up you’re going to hurt yourself or somebody else.
AJ: So that was my thing, “don’t fuck up, don’t fuck up.” [laughs]
RH: Can you describe your AO and are there any parts of it that are particularly memorable?
OG: Our AO, I would say, we were at the palace which got cleared out by, I think, 3/1 at the time when they did their push. So they made that as a little HQ. It kept changing hands to the Marines so every unit that got that area took care of it and they switched it off.
RH: And just briefly, what was the palace exactly?
OG: It was maybe a good, less than a klick away from the actual main MSR. It was some rich Iraqi at that time before the war made that little mansion.
AJ: I believe he was an Olympian, an Iraqi Olympian. We just took it over.
OG: Yeah. We just took that shit over. But I remember that because that was the main AO we used for a while and then the pizza slice which was just a shit show in itself.
AJ: The pizza slice, it’s on the History Channel and everything.
OG: It was a multiple story building, room clearing. Very intense and very scary because you don’t know if somebody has a little PKM nest right there waiting to let it burst out and chew up your guys. So it was an intense thing because we actually had to clear that one a couple days. I think doc Roark remembers that bullshit.
OG: Yeah, I remember that.
RH: So I think we’ll start with Aaron. What was a typical day for a Corpsman like in Fallujah?
AJ: Pretty much for a Corpsman, I wanted to be moto and go on every patrol. LT Clevenger and Staff Sergeant Gomez were like, “you want to be super doc but you can’t be. You’re going to have to send some guys without a Corpsman out there.” So what I do is make CLS bags – combat lifesaver bags – for the Marines who took medical training prior to deployment. I made sure those guys had IV bags, blow up kits. Hmm, I’m trying to remember incidental things. Chest tubes, tourniquets.
AJ: Chest seals because I was worried about gunshot wounds. The whole IED thing, I really didn’t know how until I asked Roark or Rocero, the senior Corpsmen, “what do you do?” Kerlex is your best friend. You just wrap it up and bandage to stop the bleeding. But you spread load the medical equipment because it becomes taxing on you as a medic.
OG: Plus you’re a target, anyway. You’re always going to be a target.
AJ: Yeah. Look for the guy with the big backpack. [laughs]
RH: What was a typical day like for an 0311 in Fallujah?
OG: Woo! Oh man.
AJ: When you’re in trouble or not in trouble? [all laugh]
OG: Fortunately I was one of the few that had a really good character about things. For a while I didn’t say one thing that would piss off a senior. For a while I just kept my mouth shut because I knew. My cousin, he was the one that told me, “when you get in there the best thing to do is just don’t say a fucking thing and just go with the flow. Don’t be an individual that voices his opinions on stuff.” Because then you’re going to get more shit on, you’re going to get more trouble and all that crap. But eventually I broke away from that. Some things I just didn’t like and I would tell them. This was still in Twentynine Palms and when I go as a Marine, a combat infantry Marine in the shit, you have to have a brotherhood. You can’t just be like, “oh, I don’t like this guy. Even though he treated me like shit in the US, now I have to be better than that here.”
The typical day would be get up, let’s get the fuck on, let’s get on this patrol. Man the fuck up. Let’s do this, guys. We weren’t doing what they’re doing now with thirteen man patrols. I think we talked about this earlier. We were doing eight man patrols and that – in a concrete jungle which was Fallujah that was still very kinetic but not as bad as what other Marines went through with the pushes – we were just suckin’ the fuck up and doing it. We were just waiting for that time where some little kid with the backpack throws a grenade or something or a sniper from the rooftop like that. So you were always on edge. You had to be because it’s their territory, not ours.
AJ: I remember because he didn’t have that outlook. As a Corpsman, when they got back from their patrols obviously they would do their thing. The first month I would always see them cleaning weapons. Always. If not, then maintaining radios. Maintaining –
OG: PCCs and PCIs were constant.
AJ: Maintaining the sleeping area and trying to improve our shitty lives. [laughs]
OG: We did a lot of cleaning and a lot of maintenance but that’s always a given when you’re in the infantry mindset – especially when you have an actual set Forward Operating Base.
AJ: I just want to say this, lying does not pay.
OG: Lying does not pay. [laughs]
RH: [laughs] How so? Give me an example. Elaborate please.
AJ: Alright. So I’m not going to say his name but they had a nickname for him. Pizza face.
OG: He was the resident owner of being the shit bag. There’s always one in each platoon that’s just a turd, that does not know how to handle certain things. Unfortunately this individual got the –
AJ: Bright idea.
OG: Well, he got the brunt of all the hatred and mocking because Marines, unfortunately, are like sharks and if they smell that blood in the water, they go after it, man. Once you show a little bit of weakness, they make sure they jump on you. Honestly, it’s really stressful times and you can’t have one person not in the zone. You can’t have him all out there, “I don’t know what I’m gonna do, I don’t know what I’m gonna do,” because that causes hesitation, that causes freezing up and that causes somebody to get killed or him killed and then it’s a burden on everybody.
I don’t think he was ready, really, mentally for what we were experiencing – IEDs, contact, calling in, shit like this. Mentally he wasn’t prepared. Physically he was pretty good. He was a strong motherfucker.
AJ: He had a bunch of emotions but mentally he wasn’t there.
OG: Mentally he was not it. But lying doesn’t pay. I think he lied about something or some shit. I forget the actual specific thing that he did wrong but I know he lied about it and he got the ire of all the seniors and they fucking went at him.
AJ: I honestly felt bad for this kid. I wanted to cry for him. Just to name a few. I saw him in full gear filling up sandbags, building a fighting position and then moving the fighting position. That’s only one part of it. The other part is throwing his weapon in the dirt.
AJ: Do you remember that?
AJ: They were hiding the parts for it and now he had to go clean it.
RH: Oh man.
AJ: That’s just the tip of it. That’s just the tip of it.
OG. Yeah. I mean, I don’t really consider it hazing because it was a learning experience and he had to learn. You have to be on your game because when you’re over there, fuck no. I’m not going to take any kind of weakness, dude. I need you to be sharp. I need you to be there. Because if not, then you are a liability and we cannot – Corpsmen and Marines – we cannot have an issue like that, especially in the forefront of that. Tip of the spear! Tip of the spear! [RH laughs]
AJ: Just the tip though. [all laugh]
RH: What are some of the significant events that occurred during the deployment?
OG: For me, one of the few – there’s a lot. But the one that sticks out in my mind was – and this is before we actually got into our FOBs and everything or to our designated Area of Operations – was the night drive. It was for the whole company so it was a couple seven tons and we were in Humvees and everything so it was a big convoy. It was nighttime and [to AJ], you remember doc, we all went together on Fran and Fran was dead. It was nighttime. Nobody.
AJ: Dead silence.
OG: Nobody was out. That was in the middle of the night and they know that if you’re out, you get fucking shot because of the push and the leaflets and all that shit. It was the most intense thing I’ve ever met besides firefights because you’re going to war. Now you’re actually in.
AJ: You’re outside the wire.
OG: You’re outside the wire. That was my first time every being outside the wire was in that and going down that road by yourself and just going there like, “man, I’m freaking out.” Everybody was quiet. None of the seniors were fucking with people or anything because they knew be ready because this is it. If something happens we gotta be on game. I mean, obviously when we got off we got yelled at and everything like, “hey boot, go do this and that,” and all that crap. That was one moment that stuck out in my mind, for that. There was just that, just going into the palace in the middle of the night finally outside the wire, finally being vulnerable.
RH: Aaron, what are some of the significant events that occurred during the deployment?
AJ: I hate to bring this up but we all talked about this as Corpsmen. It was the first time that Golf Company in that palace got a mass cal. It still messes that way with me because it was a good friend.
OG: I know it does.
AJ: One of the Corpsmen that got hurt, Chuck. I was talking to him because my grandma just died. I had a Red Cross message. So I had nobody to talk to and I talked to Chuck and it was early in the morning and the next thing you know, he had to go on patrol. They went on patrol and twenty minutes later, not even that, you know?
OG: It wasn’t twenty minutes later. It was like that [snaps fingers]. When they went out, BOOM!
AJ: I think some people heard the explosion from where they were at.
OG: The craziest thing is me and Villareal, we were the gate guards holding the front gate. We heard that and were like, “what is it? What’s going on? I don’t know. Do you hear that?” And we heard the chatter and we were like, “Get the door! Get the door ready – the gate ready!” Yeah. I got to see them, see all those guys coming in. Fucked up, fucked up.
AJ: So what had happened was, after the explosion people came to me. “Hey, get ready, get ready.” Me, Roark, Rocero, Leyva, Ronquillo, we were all ready. I didn’t expect anything. I just wasn’t sure. And then as casualties came in, they just came in one by one. One by one, one guy, you know? I saw Evil Johnson – I don’t know if you remember Evil Johnson.
OG: [laughs] Yeah, I remember him.
AJ: He was OK but looking at him – just his cammies all soaked in blood. It wasn’t his but it was just like, what the fuck? Then you see a Staff Sergeant with his arm coming in and you see – I forgot his name – he had an eye injury. He just came in covering his eye. The next thing you know you were seeing one of the other Marines, supposedly he got his helmet. It was a mass cal and everybody was working on everybody. The next thing you know you see a Corpsman you train with prior and he’s a really cool guy. You see him and it’s always, his face his shot. I can’t believe this is happening. He’s just walking in disbelief. And the next thing you know all the Corpsmen, all the able-bodied Corpsmen, were just working, working, working, working.
I remember, out of the shitty situation, I remember I think the Chaplain was by. No, it was our First Sergeant. It was our First Sergeant [OG laughs] and he mentions to our Staff Sergeant, he’s like, “do you know Staff Sergeant? Why are you fucking hurt?” And our Staff Sergeant was like, “with all due respect First Sergeant, suck my fucking dick.” [all laugh] As we’re working, you could see everybody had that little chuckle. It was a bad situation but –
OG: It made it bearable.
AJ: [nods in agreement] It made it bearable. It made people laugh.
OG: When I got changed over I got to see you guys. I walked by and saw you working. It’s an experience to get to see your brothers getting obviously hurt. It’s also another good experience to see you got other people helping out taking care of them, trying to help and get there to them. Watching my Corpsman and many other Corpsmen doing their job, that made me feel safe. That made me know that I, even more so, made it an established emotion that he’s there. They’re there for you. Yeah, I know it’s a shitty situation seeing your friends that you talked to twenty minutes later and then they’re all fucked up. There are some stories I can tell you that fucked my head up for a while and still do because of that shit. But seeing him doing his job and seeing, actually, all the Corpsmen doing their job was fucking amazing.
AJ: Luckily no one died but I believe that was the first mass cal before Weapons Company. Remember how Leyva? No, Patton got his shoulder messed up.
AJ: That was the first mass cal of the battalion before Weapons Company got their mass cal.
RH: What was the enemy like?
OG: I think with them, obviously it wasn’t the Taliban or anything. It was Al Qaeda at the time is what they were saying. It’s obviously an insurgency. It’s not conventional warfare. It won’t be. They knew the area better than we do. That’s their home. It had some moments. We had some little firefights here and there but this was the start of the IED idea of plating stuff and IED mines and all that shit. It wasn’t more prominent – I mean, it was way more prominent in Afghanistan but here was just the start. This is where they got their stuff and this is how they did it. It was, I wouldn’t say weak or anything like that. It had its moments but it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough to actually properly challenge us. I think the only thing that really scared everybody was that sniper, the sniper that was picking off everybody. At the time his name was Juba, if I remember. Do you guys remember Juba? You know that infamous sniper that was shooting from the cars inside the trunk and picking off people?
I have a friend I went to SOI with and boot camp with also. He was in Echo but he’s the one that got shot in the head. Luckily, that story.
RH: Actually, will you elaborate on this story?
OG: OK. This story, I got it from the man himself, word for word. This is how it went. He was from Echo. I won’t say his name. [laughs] He went on his post because we do patrolling, post and sleep. It was always changing between squads and platoons so it was always like that. There’s always going to be a platoon on post, there’s always going to be a platoon on patrol, there’s always going to be a platoon on QRF – QRF meaning have your rest time, downtime, whatever, whenever you can.
So he was on his post duty in his squad, his platoon or whatever and he goes up there with one of his buddies. It was a two man post which is ideally what you want. At that time I don’t think they had the bulletproof glass up there yet.
AJ: No. Not at the palace.
OG: He was in a different area than the palace. He was across the river on the other side of it. He was on post. He was up there doing the Marine thing talking to his buddy, bullshitting, whatever. Doing what Marines do, just lose their mind on post because you stand there for eight hours. Anyways, to break up the monotony, his friend starts playing. I guess he was well known to whip out his dick and like, “hey! Check this out!” And the guy is like, “AHHH! WHAT THE FUCK!” and do that, right? So he did that and I guess he had it out for a little bit and his post-mate – I forgot the other guy’s name but I know his name, my boy who got shot – he looks down and right when he looks, the sniper was aiming right in his face with a kill shot. So right when he looks and turns – you know how the kevlars are, the first gen?
RH: Just let me clarify, they’re round.
AJ: It looks like a Nazi helmet. [RH laughs]
OG: Right when he turned, the sniper fired and it hit him directly on the kevlar and obviously it made a huge indentation and fucked his head up. It didn’t kill him but it just bruised him real bad. So he got saved by his post mate’s dick. [all laugh] Literally, looking at a dick it saved him. He can never let that down. Once I heard that, I was losing my shit. I laughed. I was like, “you got saved by a dick. How do you feel about that?” “I feel great! I’m alive dude, alright?”
AJ: Because of his dick.
OG: Because of his dick. There’s a lot of moments like that where it’s funny. We get mortared and somebody’s in the shitter running out with their pants still on the ground. “Oh crap! Oh crap! We’re getting mortared!” Shit flying everywhere. Just goofy stuff like that in war time that you’d just be thinking, “that’s fucking insane. I wouldn’t be laughing.” Man, you have to laugh at some of the shit that we get to experience.
AJ: Being deployed is like ninety percent boredom.
OG: It’s a lot of boredom. It’s a lot of patrolling and cleaning but when you do get into –
AJ: The very few minutes when we do actually get to do our jobs it is, “woo!” [RH laughs] It is adrenaline!
OG: When you get a taste of combat, it’s the best rush you’ll ever have – better than sex, better than rollercoasters, skydiving, all put together.
AJ: I agree.
OG: I, hands down, I think it’s an addiction when you actually finally do your job which you’re mean to do as a Marine, as a Corpsman.
AJ: Well, not as a Corpsman. Just to do stuff like Marines it’s pretty cool. [laughs] I can shoot a weapon.
OG: Every time I got into contact, I always laughed. What can you do? You can be stoic. You can be like, “let’s go!” Moving this, doing that. All that crap. That’s not for everybody. Everybody handles that stressor in a different way. For me it was laughing and just enjoying the moment. “Fuck yeah! I want to kill some bad guys! Brrrrr!” Just doing that shit and hearing your boys suppressing, you moving and doing this stuff. It’s amazing. Yes, there’s moments where you’re freaking the fuck out because it could be your last and like, “oh shit, that guy was pinned. FUCK ME.” But those? It’s amazing.
AJ: I know for a fact, I have some videos hidden away of Weapons Company, no Weapons Platoon Golf, on that combat outpost. We were having fun just shooting across the river.
OG: Combat outpost. That was on the, I think, Euphrates river.
RH: Are there maybe any adrenaline-drive moments or stories that you remember in particular?
AJ: November 1st. Remember that whole contact with their platoon? I was with snipers and then we were in front of Henry. It was during the elections.
OG: Oh! Yeah. That was from when the Iraqis held their first democratic elections. Everybody, every swinging dick from the Marine side was out there – special ops too, from Navy SEALs flying the Blackhawk helicopters, flying low just circling everything. That was one of my first tastes of a huge, major op I got to do. It was just constant adrenaline. You were just moving always. It was a two day op or whatever. It was elections and then we were guarding the election areas where they can go. They had some sporadic firefights but it wasn’t intense because obviously there was so much air and you’ve got tanks and everybody out there doing their thing. They didn’t do shit a lot. For me, I will say this that my first two deployments were not as intense as what it was in Afghanistan and how I felt as that moment. That one I can tell you some fucking shit right there.
RH: Alright. We’ll get onto that. We’ll start with Aaron, what were your interactions with the Iraqis like?
AJ: It’s funny because the news from the prior deployment, you get fed the news and then people are like, “scum of the Earth.” They’re just like regular people. Yeah, everyone’s got their shady side but generally, man, they’re just poor. I’m looking at it in a Corpsman sense and they’re just trying to live life in a war torn country and you’ve got to make due. We had a way of thinking and, I remember Roark bringing this up with a couple others, they had their way of thinking. You can’t really fault them. It’s just culture differences.
OG: It took me many years to finally realize these people, that the enemy had their own specific way of thinking and doing things. They were fighting for their own process and family and kids. They were doing the same thing that we would be doing but the roles were reversed, obviously. Way reversed.
My impression with Iraqis as a Marine, combat infantry Marine on the ground, I think they were actually pretty intelligent human beings. They’re good. They know their shit. They were a well-established society. It’s not like they were some kind of backwoods, back country idiots. I would rather have Iraqis to fight with and fighting against whatever than having the lazy ass Afghans.
AJ: Yes. Put this down. Iraqis are better than Afghans.
OG: I think that the Iraqis, because they have such a huge pride for their country obviously, at the beginning it was kind of like, “I don’t know about them. They’re stupid,” and all that kind of stuff. But later down the years and seeing how everything is progressing with them, they take their shit in stride and they go with it. Just current events watching what’s going on in Ramadi and all those places where Marines fought and died and now they’re giving away, they let it go and now Iraq is taking control, I’m happy with that because you get to see what they’re really made of and they’re doing it.
Now on the Afghan side, fuck those guys because they suck. The few Afghans – and this is different culture, I’m not going into the history of combat yet – watching the Afghans, the only ones that actually were legit were the ones that fought the Russians and were original Mujahedeen. The original ones.
OG: They were all about their country and just slaying all the bad guys. It was just – we’ll go into more detail about that.
RH: Perfect. Are there any Iraqis in particular that stick out?
AJ: I was with snipers and we were on an ECP.
OG: Was it ECP 6?
AJ: That was one of them where the platoon was. I was at ECP 7 at the other end, the end of the road. As snipers we had to maintain eyes on that MSR because we were getting hit by IEDs on that MSR. It was Henry, right?
OG: [nods in agreement]
AJ: I was tasked out to snipers and we had to keep eyes on. There was this one Iraqi out there. He spoke English. Very few did. He had a wife and kids and he was part of the Iraqi Army Airborne Corps before the whole fall of the Iraqi Army during the invasion and whatnot. He was just out there to make a living. There’s obviously two different kinds – Sunni and Shi’a – that are out there. We were out basically among Sunni. What distinguished him with the others was – because it was a manned Iraqi post and we were the only Americans out there, the only Americans there – he took care of us. If we needed something, some cigarettes or some haji food, some chicken or something like that, he would get it. He took care of us like a good host, I guess.
OG: There’s one in particular and it wasn’t in Fallujah, it was in Al Amiriyat and he was Iraqi National Army. His name was Rambo. Do you remember Rambo? And Kung Fu.
LR: Oh yeah. [all laugh]
OG: These guys were super motivated like, “ah! Marines my friend!” [all laugh] He would get really into clearing rooms and doing that thing all weird and backwards.
AJ: He loved the term Rambo. We nicknamed him Rambo.
OG: Me and him grew really close. He was a good friend of mine. He was legit. He was all about doing what he had to do for his country and for his city. He was about it. He was good to go. All I know is that he continued doing what he had to do. I don’t know whatever happened to him. I forgot his name and everything like that too, his real name. But everybody called him Rambo and he used to do a lot of ops with us because we had to integrate with the Iraqi Army or police. The Iraqi police were corrupt but the Army was all about fucking shit up. They didn’t give a fuck, dude.
AJ: They didn’t care. The Iraqi army, what they did was pull different people from different provinces and put them in a certain province that they’re not living in because obviously if they found out they were working for the army, they were going to get slit, [makes motion of knife across his throat] their throat slit. So they got to do whatever the fuck they want because that’s not where they’re from. [laughs]
RH: Alright. Is there maybe anything that you remember about the local culture specifically? Maybe not the IA but the local culture.
OG: I think in Fallujah the culture was just shattered, man. You had two major pushes through there so it was just all fucked up. But, I will say that they still treated us respectfully. The few Iraqis over there were obviously pissed off their city got demolished but a lot of them were upstanding citizens and they had to do their jobs and had to make a living.
Culture-wise from being in the city and then going out in the country on that same deployment, they still treated us respectfully. You know, you had the ones that were just mean-spirited and did not like Americans because of whatever propaganda they got fed. But I met a lot of good Iraqis that actually treated us well, let us come into their home. Sometimes we had to do patrols and you had to take over a home. It doesn’t matter. You do not care if they’re a family of four or whatever. Fuck that. You take it over and control it for a day or two or whatever.
I never really encountered a very hostile Iraqi and if I did, he probably would be dead. But they all were very generous. “OK. Yes mister. Take it.” We’ll let them call clear, make sure they don’t have weapons or anything like that. They were just, “Hey. You do whatever you gotta do. Just stay right here. Our translators will come and help us.” And we’ll just go from there. I didn’t really encounter a lot of animosity towards being down there because they knew. They knew what we were doing.
AJ: Yeah. You mentioned it earlier. We didn’t really know what we were doing but it was a COIN operation.
RH: And what were your ‘terps like?
AJ: I don’t know. I didn’t work with ‘terps too much.
OG: Our ‘terps were, obviously, local Iraqi citizens that man the fuck up because they know that if they do that, they are blacklisted and given death sentences – for Iraqis and Afghans. This is the thing that does not compute in my head. They did their time with us, why don’t we bring them back? A lot of them are getting hunted down.
AJ: Murdered and slaughtered.
OG: Yeah. I met many of them. Almost every one of them had either a family member killed, murdered, put up for ransom and all that crazy shit. When you think of what the cartels do, this is exactly what they do over there too.
The Iraqis? The only one that stands out to me, his name was Frank. He wasn’t Iraqi, he was Jordanian and he was on my second tour. He was pretty damn good and he hated Iraqis. [laughs] He hated Iraqis but he did it just because he wanted to do something for his country too because obviously Jordan’s our ally out there so he jumped on that boat.
AJ: I do remember one ‘terp. He was actually an American from Chicago or something or Illinois. But he was on the balls of this one Sergeant or Staff Sergeant – the intel guy in Al Amiriyat? Do you remember him?
OG: Yeah. [laughs]
AJ: That guy was some guy just trying to make his life legitimately. He went out there so he could get enough money to buy a gas station.
RH: In the US?
AJ: In the US. And buy a store. He just did it so he can start off. Good luck owning a gas station, obviously.
OG: But the Battalion Commanders always had the best fucking ‘terps.
AJ: Oh yeah.
RH: Actually, I’ll tell you about our ‘terps afterwards. He was good to go. He was like my favorite guy on the deployment. What do you remember most about the Marines and sailors that you served with on deployment?
AJ: You know, when people say, “oh, you join the military to kill people?” No. “You’re doing it for following orders.” No. Honestly, the truth, we do it for our friends. The people. You have your dirt bags and you have your great friends. I guarantee you everybody else – especially with your first unit – that’s the best time ever.
OG: You do your training and you become a cohesive unit like me and him. I have a picture up there [points to the refrigerator and a picture of himself with AJ] of when we went to the field together and it’s been like that since day one – me and a small group of real close friends. I only have a few close friends that I lean on as brothers and it’s always been like that. Yes, I have facebook and I finally caught up with a lot of the platoon, my original platoon and everything like that.
AJ: Yeah. Me and facebook. It’s the only reason we still have facebook – is to communicate. [all laugh]
OG: Yeah, to communicate and see how they’re doing. It’s a brotherhood, it’s a brotherhood. On the Marine side it’s a brotherhood and it’s one of those things where we both went to the same experiences, saw the same things. Once we go through that baptism of fire, either you’re good to go or you’re not in combat. Once we find out that we’re all in the same mindset, it’s unbreakable. It’s almost like we’re together because we’re that close to each other.
AJ: Peas and carrots, like what Jennings says.
OG: It’s like that – especially with our Corpsmen, especially with our Corpsmen.
RH: Alright. So let me ask you this. What was the most challenging period of the deployment: the beginning, the middle or the end?
OG: I think for me, it was the beginning because that deployment was Fallujah. I remember going down on Fran patrolling and walking the same steps Marines prior to me fought and died for. So it was just a history lesson right there. I’m going down the same path as them. And going down Blackwater Bridge where they had those contractors get killed. I went on that bridge and it’s fucking eerie as shit too. From that day on, whenever we went out there we knew. We were on edge. It’s very intense.
AJ: History makers.
OG: I remember watching that. I remember seeing it on the news. I saw the bodies get hung and burned and all that shit. The burn marks are still there. The trucks were still there, burned out. I think the beginning deployment of that one was the most intense for me, the most memorable and everything. The Amiriyat one, it wasn’t like we were constantly in firefights or anything. It was here and there. Here and there maybe we’ll get a tick or two but it wasn’t as intense. It was more of sustained, move up, do your things, control, presence patrols. That’s it. But I think that first part because that’s when we all got tested. That’s when we all got experience of what an infantry Marine and what a Navy Corpsman would be.
AJ: It’s the first few months, the beginning part. Because obviously the insurgents are going to test the new unit. But the first time, in the first beginning part we were getting the first casualties. Everything was your first time. It was just challenging. And then it’s not like we got complacent like, “oh, OK. This is how it’s going to be.” Everything was just brand new. The first time, because when you’re a boot to combat, you’re just soaking it in, all the information.
OG: Luckily I had some good seniors. Not all of them but we had some that were really dedicated to the job and teaching us and showing us this is how it’s going to be. “We’re passing this knowledge onto you because you will be in our shoes.” Which we were, which I was, being a team leader and a squad leader leading Marines into combat. It’s such a mind fuck. That’s the Afghan tour, though.
RH: Alright. What was the most challenging non-combat aspect of deploying?
OG: It’s the monotony. You being away from home for the first time. I was away from home for the first time in my life. I flew in a plane for the first time and we were riding in a plane the first time and everything. At this time you’re young. You feel invincible and nothing is going to happen to you. When you experience stuff of that nature where you’re losing good friends and people are getting hurt that you know from other platoons, it wears on you. After a while you start realizing that you had some pretty close calls. The challenging thing was not being able to not relax.
AJ: And not knowing when.
OG: Not knowing when and not knowing how to relax. I didn’t know how to. Sleep was basically me finally shutting down because I was so wired throughout the day. It just didn’t really help me out in the long run in my other deployments and still being a Marine at the time. I think that was it, just not knowing how to accommodate my issues.
AJ: For me, obviously I second what Oscar said but yeah. It’s like that but for me personally, on both deployments same exact thing: nobody wrote to me. So I would see guys get care packages and I was like, “man. I wish someone would send me a care package.” [all laugh]
It was so bad I remember Staff Sergeant Gomez, I guess he got a Red Cross message for me. Staff Sergeant Gomez was like, “doc, why don’t you call your mom?” So she had to Red Cross message me just to get a hold of me. In Iraq I was like, “uh?” I didn’t know I was supposed to call my mom. [laughs]
OG: The thing was, that was my relief. My mom and my girlfriend at the time, they would send me packages and all that shit which is good. I fucking loved it. It was like a Christmas present every day because it takes two weeks to get out there.
AJ: Asshole! I didn’t get shit! [laughs] They would share everything.
OG: Of course we would. I think that was the best non-combat thing. Also, the best thing, not the worst, but the best thing was getting a phone call and a chance to call home. No internet obviously but the satellite phones were always given to us.
AJ: For me, that was the worst non-combat. It was like, “fuck dude. I didn’t get no packages? Nobody loves me.” [laughs]
RH: Alright. Good to go. Did you have transformative or significant events that informed your deployment, maybe aside from some of the stuff we already talked about?
RH: No. Transformative. Maybe transformative or significant events that informed your deployment.
OG: By transformative?
RH: Yeah. Maybe very significant or transformative events that happened while you were there, if there is one.
OG: Oh. While I was there.
RH: Yeah, while you were there.
OG: OK. I think the best one for me was finally getting into combat, finally using my skills and everything that I needed to be doing and proving myself to my peers and my seniors that I ain’t no bitch. I can handle this. I can’t specifically say which time. We did get into a couple ticks in Fallujah but I think that was most transformative, when you finally get tested. It’s not like, “hey, yeah! Good job! You did it!” No. It’s more of like these seniors looking at you like, “alright.” Just that silent recognition and that acknowledgement like, “OK. We know you now.” Because honestly, when you go into combat the first time, you’re still green. You’re in country and then they finally check you to see what kind of man you are and if you’re able-bodied. I think that’s what opened my mind and my eyes about, OK, this is it. This is how it’s going to be. Later down the road it did. It showed me again. It peered up its head again. It was a different experience for me being in the front lines and now me being kind of the squad leader. Training does help and training did kick in both times. But that was the most transformative for me.
AJ: For me it was after the mass cal in Fallujah. It kind of validated that, yes, I can do my job. I got props from the Marines like, “hey. You actually did a good job.” I was like, “whoa, shit.” I was like, [deep voice] “I’m a man now.” [all laugh] I’ve gone through puberty or something, you know? That was on the Corpsman side.
But for me, I never got to shoot my weapon until the elections. Everyone got to shoot their weapons. The other Corpsmen got to shoot their weapons. When I actually got to use that weapon out of anger, that was the best feeling in the world. It was like, “wow. I think I got him but I’m not sure.” It was pretty far off. Everybody followed suit. I started shooting and then everybody started shooting like, “yeah!” [laughs]
RH: What happened exactly? If you’re comfortable.
AJ: It was during the election and it was the starting of the sun going down. There was a guy who threw a grenade on a patrol of Iraqi guys. “What the heck? You guys didn’t see that?” I told one of my Marines, I was part of snipers, “you guys didn’t see that?” “No. What did you see?” I just pointed my weapon, “there’s a guy up there. He threw a grenade.” And the next thing you know one of the Iraqi patrols tried to pick it up and it blew up. The other guy was like, “what the heck?” “Yeah, the guy is up there in the window. I can see him.” Everybody else is like, “oh. OK.” Everybody else used their weapon and just started shooting. [OG laughs] I was like, “yes, I noticed that. Yeaaaah! Score one for the doc!” [all laugh] You know? Ah! I’m a man now. That was very transformative. Besides me doing my job, I think I can hang.
RH: Alright. Good to go. Before we move on from this deployment, is there anything from this deployment that is significant that I left out?
OG: I think for me, one of the biggest things is finally getting the word that we’re going home. It was my first time hearing that and everything. When you’re getting on that freedom bird flying back home, and just acknowledging that everybody made it out safely. For my platoon, the only person that actually did get injured was one of our seniors but it was a mortar spray. Luckily he didn’t get hit directly. He got the splash from it. But he was a certain distance away so it didn’t really hit him, the shrapnel and everything. He just got peppered a little bit. So that’s the only real injury I remember.
But just acknowledging that nobody got killed, that’s a given. That’s a good thing. And then just finally getting told, “hey, we’re going home now.” I was like, “man, fuck yeah! Finally. Finally!” Come back home and just go do it again a year later. That for me was my biggest thing, just finally getting told that.
AJ: Same here but on the Corpsman side of the house. Yeah, we’re going home. It didn’t really set in but it was the fact that, with Roark being here, nobody died under our watch. People got hurt but no one died out of our company which I guess kind of jinxed us for later. Ugghh. But I was glad that no one got hurt on our watch. That was the main thing.
OG: And our seniors acknowledged that, “you fucking guys did good. You did amazing. Good job.” You still had your shit bags but when we got back, it was, “welcome to the party now, boys. You guys are men now.”
AJ: You guys are seniors now, or will be a senior.
OG: Yeah. I got to experience that in all its awesomeness.
RH: Good transition. Can you talk a little bit about your immediate post-deployment experiences from this deployment?
OG: Post-deployment man? I went home and just fucking drank my fucking ass off dude.
AJ: Wait, you did the loser walk, did you?
OG: What loser walk?
AJ: We got off the bus and everybody went to their families.
OG: Oh yeah! [AJ laughs]
RH: OK. What’s the loser walk? [laughs]
OG: I had – and this is fucking sad – but I had nobody there for me after the deployments besides my Marine brothers and all the stuff like that. Honestly, I had nobody there. My family couldn’t make it there every time. That right there, that’s probably some of it why I am the way I am right now. The significant thing about the post-deployment – of course I’m drinking finally, I’m old enough to drink – the sad thing, the unfortunate thing when you become a combat veteran and you go home and try to talk to your family, they won’t fucking understand you. You change immensely, personally and mentally. You just react differently to everybody and this is when you start finally getting into your PTSD and all that shit because you’re trying to shut down that switch. Especially being a young Marine it’s hard and it rears its ugly head later down the road, I’ll tell you that much. That’s the one thing that was significant to me, was trying to relate to your family but you can’t.
AJ: Besides being the loser, I remember now. We had just got off the plane and we were going through hugs and everything and it was at March Air Force Base and we were on the bus and all the seniors – and you hear about this from the previous deployment – girls would be lining up on the side of the road flashing their tits or something. I was waiting for that. I was waiting for that! [RH laughs] But no one. I was like, “where are the girls?” [laughs] Dude, man! I wanted to see some titties.
That was the funny part but the realization that, for me, I didn’t have nobody welcoming me back home. Everyone else in the platoon had someone and then some of us did the loser walk home. They got their friends out there and then some guys get their stuff and make their way to the barracks and get released and as soon that happens, you stop by the seven day store and pick up something. And that night, I remember that night some guys went off and I remember one of the guys I served with in snipers was blitzed out his ass. And I was like, “man, dude. You’re pretty drunk dude.” I’m a lightweight. I’m not going to lie. At that time I was like, “wow. That’s it? Combat is over. That’s it.” That was my realization: combat is over. [laughs]
OG: Another drunk Marine walks by. Yup, combat is over. [all laugh]
Part 2 of Oscar and Aaron's interview can be found here.