Oscar Garza and Aaron Jacinto: Part 2
In Part 2 of the interview, Oscar discusses his second deployment to Iraq in 2007 and his deployment to Afghanistan in 2008. During these two deployments he faced a series of challenges that he did not have to deal with during the 2005 Iraq deployment.
Part 1 of Oscar and Aaron's interview can be found here.
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 was the period like in-between your first and second deployment?
Oscar Garza: At that time, battalions were going in and out getting their licks in and their experiences through everything. I think when we finally went over there, because it was almost a year rotation because they were still trying to get all the training down for us and getting it all set up. We went through a lot of training. I did a lot of fucking training in Twentynine Palms with 2/7 just to get ready for the second deployment. Do you want to go into the second deployment?
RH: Yes. We’ll go through maybe from the start. What was it like the first day when you arrived on your second deployment?
OG: The first day. Well, at this time we had already gotten our boot drop, our guys, so we were the seniors going into things. We were the team leaders and some of our seniors were still there mingling around but they were getting ready to either PCS or get out so they were doing their time.
RH: Perfect. And just to clarify, you were still Golf Company, correct?
OG: I was still Golf Company. I was still in Third Platoon at that time and they put me in Second Platoon midway through the deployment. That was a little different. We were getting a little more contact because of where we were at. We were in the Al Anbar province now.
RH: Where were you located exactly?
OG: I was in Saqlawiyah for the beginning – the first half of our deployment. Midway we went to Zidon which is all farmland – way open space. That’s when we started getting in a lot of different contact from mortars, IEDs, just a lot of different shit – sniper fire. It was a lot different than my first deployment. The first deployment, obviously, in Fallujah stuck in my head. The second part of it in Al Amiriyat wasn’t really crazy shit going on for us. It started to heat up a little bit just because it was a different area but it wasn’t that – not saying regulated but it wasn’t enforced a lot there. So we got into some instances out there that were definitely life-threatening for me, obviously. Both deployments were but I had some instances where I saw some of my boys get hurt or killed.
RH: So it was Saqlawiyah first and then the Zidon, correct?
OG: Yes. It was midway.
RH: OK. Can you describe Saqlawiyah a little bit?
OG: We were on MSR Mobile. That’s the main one right there. We were right off of it between another ASR – I think it was Golden. So we were Golf Company so we were right there. Fox was across the road from us in their own little – I think it was Matilda. I forgot their FOB name or whatever it was. It was a three or four story building, HESCO barriers everywhere. It was there because we took over a unit there that I met other Marines from when I went to my second duty station in Virginia Beach. So I met a lot of guys that were there too. It was weird. The Marine Corps is a very small branch of the service so you get to see a lot of familiar faces.
Anyways, we did left seat/right seat meaning we were doing a relieve-in-place so we were getting used to our area. It’s a Main Supply Route, Mobile, so it’s heavily trafficked. Luckily we had enough space from the actual MSR where if they tried something, VBIEDs or anything, they had to go through a gauntlet – the serpentine concrete barriers and two big posts. It was like, if they’re going to try something, they’re just pretty much going to get slaughtered because Marines are trigger happy, obviously.
We did get a lot of mortars. We did get contact here and there. Plus, it’s wide open. It’s not like it’s jungle – I mean, jungle or farmland. It’s open. It’s desert out there. So you had a city and it was the outskirts of a city where we were at. We weren’t really inside of it. There were some good defining moments there.
RH: Can you describe the Zidon, actually?
OG: The Zidon, when we went to that place, that was just a shithole because we were literally taking over spots for two weeks or three weeks at a time and then rotate back to Camp Fallujah and go back out again. We would rotate back and forth, back and forth. We were constantly doing that so we were always on the move and it was a different experience. It was a lot of patrolling out in the open and having near-misses. Testing out new gear. Those were hot fucking days out there in the farmland because, obviously, it’s green. I’d never seen something as green as that because it’s right next to the, I think, the Euphrates or Tigris River so it’s just green. It doesn’t hug it but it’s right in the middle between both so it’s very fertile.
We went and engaged with a lot of Al Qaeda and I think some other revolutionary individuals that were fighting against them and us. So it was a big, bloody triangle of just fighting and moving up. Some platoons saw more contact than others. Some experienced different things, even worse things. My platoon, at that time I went from Third Platoon – my home platoon, those were my boys – to Second Platoon because incidents dictated that I had to go there. I didn’t like that platoon at that time in that deployment but the Afghan tour I was still in that platoon. That changed me on that one.
RH: So what are some of the significant events that occurred during this second deployment?
OG: Second deployment was, for sure, one that stuck out in my mind the most – actually there are two or three of them. One of them was when my Lieutenant got shot in the finger. The round – because he had his hand on the thing because he was patrolling like regular and doing his thing – he got sniped and it hit him in his finger and fucked his weapon up. He went down. He wasn’t brutally harmed besides his finger. It hit the finger so it fucked it up. It was pretty much hanging off a little strand. That was one of those things that was like, “oh shit. This is it. This is real.”
The second one, the most defining one, was when one of my Marines came to me during the training. I was a team leader for the whole training, for the whole workup, and he was underneath me. I had him, another Marine and I had a Corpsman with me. So fuck yeah. I was happy with that. I had two beast Marines with me and I had a Corpsman so I was pretty much like, “OK. Let’s go do this and that.”
We got put on patrol because at the time I was with Third Platoon and this was before I went to Zidon so this was in Saqlawiyah and we were going to a gas station run meaning we were going to go check it out and then come back. But we were patrolling on vehicles and following up on foot and we all had this weird feeling like, “man, we shouldn’t be doing this. This sucks. This is a horrible fucking idea.” Out in the open next to a very busy MSR? That sounds stupid. Why are we doing this? Hey, the command wants it. At the time our Captain wasn’t the brightest. Our CO wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed so we did it because we had to. I knew this was all fucked up.
Luckily one of my boys had the video and he was like, “I don’t feel good about this. I want to record this shit.” Luckily our squad leader was like, “hey man, someone needs to take out the .240. We need to take out the .240 because this doesn’t seem right.” And, unfortunately, our feelings were very true. About, maybe, half a klick away from the FOB – our COP, I mean – we had a little shack there, a little abandoned home, so we went to that. That was our halfway point before you go to the gas station. The gas station, area right there was already a hotbed for activity. If you go there you’re probably going to get some contact because they didn’t like the Marines there. We would go there just to fuck with some shit, stir up the hornet’s nest and see what they are going to do. Most of the time they didn’t do shit, sometimes they did. We fucked them up though. Obviously they had spotters and lookers and like, “hey, we’ve got a Marine Corps unit coming out. They’re going into the shack then proceed to the MSR and ASR.” Come on now. Makes sense, right? “Let’s fuck with them.”
So we went there and the head shed – meaning the squad leader and the three team leaders – were like, “hey, kick everybody out. Designate their AOs. We’re going to hang tight before we move out again.” So it was just a security patrol stop, stay there for maybe ten minutes or whatever and get ready to pop out again. I went to go get my team to the designated area and call them back up.
After I do that, maybe a couple of minutes after I hear a SNAP and then you hear somebody crying like, “ah! I’ve been shot!” And that was our Marine. I remember that. I heard that shit like, “oh shit!” Then we started hearing it more and more, the shots that were going at us. Obviously people started opening up doing what they had to do, doing what they’re trained to do, and he’s over there screaming through the top of his lungs. He got shot through the arm because he was in the prone with his SAW and the guy was trying to aim for his head but he miscalculated and shot his arm instead so he’s fucking lucky, you know? So me and doc, we ran up there and we were getting shot at too. They already know the tactics. If somebody gets shot, they’re going to have a first responder go out there and get him.
So I was hearing the snaps and whizzes [motions bullets going past his head] and there’s me and here’s doc behind me just running at full speed, right behind this Marine like, “oh shit!” So we go there and I was like, “hey! Get the fuck down, doc. Take him and get the fuck out of here,” and I start covering fire and we were just laying lead, dude. We were shooting everything that fucking moved which was good. We got the small pocket to get the fuck out of here. We called QRF. QRF comes up there and handles everything. Obviously it dies down because once Marines get that first initial shot, everything fucking dies. We start laying down lead on everything. And that was one of my Marines that I trained. We butted heads a lot, too. We didn’t like each other in the beginning but we broke that barrier and became good friends. It just fucked with my head for a little bit, you know?, because it was like, “fuck!” It sucked. He got shot in the fucking arm. Luckily it wasn’t in the face or anything like that.
Funny story is that doc actually put some morphine in him because he wanted some and then he started tripping out. The morphine kicked in and he was all woozy and everything. He goes, “Oscar, I love you, man. I love you!” I was like, “what are you doing?!” [RH laughs] “You’re not dead. You’re OK.” Me and my boy – one of my other team leaders, he’s my boy – he accidentally hits him in his arm and he’s like, “AHHH! Hey, but I still love you, man.” “It’s OK. You’re tripping balls off of this shit, dude.” He gets into the Humvee and takes him out.
What I didn’t know was the CO bumbled something up and– I have video of this – my boy literally had to run up to the helo to get taken out because nobody was escorting him out or anything. Either he wanted to go run, go up to the helo and get a MEDEVAC out or they just didn’t do it. So I have video of him, “hey, there’s the MEDEVAC. Go to it!” And it’s just him, one Marine fucked up in the arm, trotting along going that way and that was one of those instances. I remember that one clearly.
The second one was when we got into a big tag, when we lost – not Howie – Windsor.
Aaron Jacinto: Windsor.
OG: Windsor. Yeah. Doc wasn’t with us at that time. He was one of our boot drops. This was right after we were doing our two week OP and we were getting ready to punch out and go back to OP Viking. That’s what we called it, OP Viking. That’s our base. Lieutenant and the team leaders came together like, “hey, what do you guys want to do about the little gas station here? I’ve been hearing a little chatter about this shit. We need to go hit it. We need to go check it out and it’s on our way out. Are you guys OK with that?” I was like, “fuck yeah. Let’s go do it.” Marines are going to be all about that shit. I have pictures of it too before we went into that shithole. And this wasn’t the same gas station where we took contact the first time. It was a different one. It was a little one outside of the FOB on the south side.
It was a two week-old OP so we are outside of the OP area and some of the little housing, the development bullshit. A lot of them were actually pretty well-built houses. Anyways, we did our thing there. Going back to the FOB – the OP, I mean – we went in there hard as nails, dude. We stopped the vehicles, put everything in and just started fucking gathering people and putting them on the ground. “What the fuck? Shut the fuck up!” Little did we know that an HVI was with them, the one that we’d been looking for for a while. We didn’t know that. We did not know that until later on like, “you guys had him.” The fucked up thing was somebody got on the cell phone, “hey, we need support,” one of the Al Qaeda guys. And they came! They came with some fucking support. [laughs]
We got flanked by both sides. We started getting attacked from the Humvee side and then we started getting contact from the other side with the Marines on the ground. So we were flanked but they came out of the ambush area and they were giving it to us. The bad thing is how it started was one shot. It wasn’t an IED or anything. It was one shit and it was a sniper. They weren’t aiming for the turret gunners because they knew the Marines would pop out put it out there so they had somebody on the ground. My boy Wheeler got to see all this. He did an Afghan tour, not with me but a different unit. He witnessed everything. He saw how Windsor got shot. It wasn’t the chest or anything. He literally got shot in the neck with an AP round. That thing went through everything. He shot him right in the neck like BOOM. And Windsor – I didn’t see it, obviously. My boy who saw him showed me. All he saw was him get shot and POOF. The kevlar and that soft armor just popped out. He was gone within minutes. He died right there. He died in my boy’s hands. That was it. That was game on after that and everything went to shit. The guy ran away because we didn’t handcuff him because we were taking contact.
That was a pretty bad incident right there because before that we lost somebody else too but that was to an IED and I wasn’t there for that. I was QRF. It was another shit show but that one stuck out a lot because we saw everybody that reacted do what they had to do. We started getting losses in that deployment. Timberman, Windsor. It wasn’t a great deployment. It just sucked. It just sucked all around.
RH: So you were a squad leader at this point?
OG: No. I was a team leader.
RH: Team leader? Alright. On the second deployment, how did you change from the first to the second deployment?
OG: Maturity started kicking in a little bit. Just a little bit, not a lot. [laughs] I became a team leader at the end of my first deployment and I stayed that way for a long time. When I was there and I was a team leader, you’re dealing with other Marines and other people who have more experience with life – not with combat but with life – so they’re stubborn. They’re like, “hey, don’t fucking talk to me like that,” and all that shit. I had a little power in me so I was like, “you’re wrong, I’m right.” Bullshit like that. It was direct teachings from my seniors. That’s how I thought it was like. No. It wasn’t like that. It was a struggle. It was a struggle growing up real fucking quick because you’re a young Marine – here’s a weapon, go kill shit. It changes your mindset on everything, every aspect of your life.
AJ: Especially when you’re put in a leadership position and you have to deal with, now, other people’s personalities and how to deal with them.
OG: So I take all that stuff very seriously now because it shows me what kind of aspect of a person I could become and what I did. I will say now, I’m not very proud of some of the stuff I’ve done. I could have done a lot better but lesson learned. Experiences. I did grow up a lot, immensely, when I became a squad leader in Afghanistan. Of all places to become a squad leader now, that’s much more fucking intense, much more shit you’ve got to worry about but I’ll tell you more about that later.
RH: OK. On this deployment, what were your interactions with the Iraqis like? Was it similar to the first or different?
OG: Yeah. It was similar to the first. They were very accommodating. They didn’t really give us a lot of shit. We did do a lot of walking, more than we did in Fallujah just because we were limited to eight people in certain areas. We were doing a lot of mobile patrolling in our Humvees. Humvees are death boxes. They suck. I’m glad we got rid of those pieces of shit now. They were not meant to be taking direct IEDs at all. At all. None, whatsoever. We learned our lesson in Afghanistan from that one too.
But their fighting was different – a lot more intense. They showed up. They showed up with their willingness to fight for their own beliefs. And it was good. It was a good test, a very good test. Of course we fucking won but besides losing – fuck, I don’t know how many we lost on that deployment for our company. There’s Timberman, there’s Windsor and there’s Howie. Those are the three KIAs I remember the most from our platoon.
AJ: It was mostly from your platoon.
OG: Windsor and Howie were from ours. Timberman was from First. And then we lost some other guys from other platoons. I know Lieutenant Blue, one of the Lieutenants for the Weapons Company guys. It was bad. IED. Done.
Just a little thing with him, Lieutenant Blue. Well-liked within the company and the battalion so everybody liked him. I didn’t meet him a lot. I wasn’t really in direct interaction with him because he was a different company. You don’t really get to see a lot of them from different companies until you pass by on different patrols.
This one day, I’ll tell you, one of the fun things about it was, since I was such a huge impact with Third Platoon just interaction-wise, all my boys were on that one, we used to communicate every time we would change post or change OPs with each other. We’d pass by and I would talk to them, “hey. What’s your frequency for your PRRs?,” – personal radios. That would turn into, “hey, hey, hey! What’s up guys? It’s Oscar.” “What’s up Oscar? Garza! Hey piece of shit. How are you doing?” [RH laughs] I was like, “Let me talk to Vill real quick.” He was my boy. Me and him were in the same squad, same room, roommates for a long time. I was like, “hey man. How are you doing dude? Hey bro. I miss your ass.” “I miss you too, man!” That was one of my favorite moments, being able to talk to them, talk to my old platoon. I had to go to a different platoon so it wasn’t like whole time I was with Third Platoon. So I have love for Third and Second.
RH: Alright. Good to go. So before we move on to Afghanistan and the third deployment, is there anything else that I left out that was significant?
OG: I think that was my first time ever hearing about an Army from – what’s the good mountain unit?
AJ: Tenth Mountain?
OG: Yeah. I think one of them fell asleep in his Humvee, got kidnapped.
RH: Oh Jesus.
OG: That was big. That went over to all units. Everybody find this fucking soldier. I forgot what happened. Yeah. He was Tenth Mountain. Some guy got yanked, snatched up. Horrible fucking feeling to hear that. I don’t remember what happened to him. Either he got killed or they found his dead body later on or some shit like that. That’s not a way to go, man. That’s not a fucking way to go.
AJ: I want to add something before you guys go to Afghanistan. With this deployment it was their first deployment and I left. I left and I’m pretty sure Roark left too. I felt bad. I really felt bad because I left them behind. But people leave for personal reasons, for their career or whatever, but I honestly felt bad. I wanted to stay there but for me to grow as a person, I had to go. I just, honestly, felt bad because I wanted to be there with the guys.
OG: And that’s what gets you. That’s what fucking gets you. I had to have a Gunny tell me, “you are fucking done. You need to get the fuck away from the infantry. You are done.” He was the same Gunny that took me to Virginia Beach. He warned me, “hey, get the fuck out of here. I know you are good but if you keep going, you’re going to lose your fucking mind.” And it was true. He was right. I was starting to get to the point where I’m not safe. My mind wasn’t doing good. That was the Afghan tour. A lot of things changed out there too.
AJ: When he goes into it, I’ll interject into Afghan because I, yeah.
RH: Did you reenlist in Iraq the second time?
OG: Yes. The second time it was July 7, 2007.
AJ: Free money! [laughs and rubs his hands together]
OG: It was a lot of fucking money and I blew it all! [all laugh] I blew it all. I was happy I did that. Even my mom gave me props like, “you blew a lot of money but I’m happy for you.” Thank you. That’s all I needed. I didn’t have anything to show besides experiences but I’m OK with that. Yes, you learn your lesson and don’t do that again. But I reenlisted just because I didn’t know what the fuck I was going to do. I just don’t know. They don’t fucking train you when you get out of the Marine Corps what you’re supposed to do because you get so institutionalized. It’s almost like prison. You’re there twenty-four/seven doing this and this and this and you get used to it. You get used to being that way. You get used to not sleeping right, always on guard. It’s like a fucking prison. It’s like a prison mentality. Not like where you’re getting fucked in the ass or anything like that [laughs] but it was like, “fuck it. Let’s do another five. Let’s see how this goes.” The only way I was going to do it is if I tried out a different side of the Marine Corps and if I like it, I’ll stay. If not, I’ll fucking go.
RH: Alright. You got back from Iraq the second time. What was the period in-between the second Iraq deployment and the Afghanistan deployment like?
OG: It was the same thing that happened between the first and second one – training and everything.
RH: And real quick, you were in Twentynine Palms for this?
OG: Yes. Still in Twentynine Palms, still with Second Battalion, Seventh Marines, Golf Company. I was with Second Platoon now on that deployment. A lot of the seniors were still there. We didn’t mesh well because I was from Third Platoon. I showed my shitbagness in that platoon. I did, I really did because I felt betrayed. I felt abandoned, kicked out and it was because of my attitude and everything. I kind of feel bad. Circumstances, yes, said I had to go because they were spreading out the experience among different platoons which was stupid. But at the time I didn’t like them until the seniors started assessing me as one of their own and engaging with that stuff.
The training was good but it wasn’t complete. They got the word that, “hey. You are going to be one of the first major units to go to that part of Afghanistan. No Marines have gone there before.” Other units have – Army and Spec Ops guys – but there hasn’t been a presence of Marines there.
AJ: Because a majority of it was British controlled.
OG: Yeah. British controlled and they had to do a lot. Fortunately it was whoever it was in their command but they didn’t do a lot of patrols. They stayed in their FOB and they stayed there. And the Army, there’s some Army units out there.
AJ: The Army’s like that. I’ll elaborate later.
OG: Yeah, the PMT. So we were doing our training and then midway we had some downtime for a week or so and at the time we had Lieutenant Bohn. Awesome fucking Lieutenant. Awesome Lieutenant. He was a new Lieutenant. We broke in all our new Lieutenants and a lot of them succeeded but some, eh, not so. They were there but they were just like, “uh.” I have different stories from different varying Marines talking about how intense they were. He was a good one. He was a good one. He got the short end of the stick because he and the CO didn’t see eye to eye and was just like his platoon: fiery, stubborn and knew their shit and they’re not going to take no for an answer. So he was like his platoon which was good. You wanted to make sure that the Staff Sergeant was good to go. Our Staff Sergeant wasn’t that great but our Lieutenant was. He soaked in as much as we soaked in from each other. So he was down for the cause. He was down to do whatever the fuck was necessary to get shit done which is good. We liked that.
RH: What was it like, your first impressions of Afghanistan, as soon as you arrived?
OG: To backtrack real quick, before we went to our Afghan tour – and I’ll tell you more about that – we got told, “hey. Iraq got cancelled. We’re going to Afghanistan. Prepare for training.” Training was not fully formed. We were still doing Iraq, OIF tactics still. That’s how ass backwards a lot of shit was because it was so bad. We go the word, “you’re going in five months. Shut the fuck up. Go.” Usually it’s a year. That’s what they want you to do. At least six, seven months back and then you pop out and do it again. No. 2/7 got the short end of the stick bad with supplies, arti, air –
AJ: Any kind of support.
OG: Air support was foreign. That was a fucking trip. So we really got fucked with that because we were, again, the guinea pigs for every single tactic and everything – from body armor to tactics and everything. Unfortunately we were test dummies and we suffered for that.
Now going to your previous question, how was my first impression of it? Fucking wild, wild west. It was just game on. We already knew game the fuck on. We were about to get into some shit and we did. We did. Every single platoon got tested by the Taliban by either ground to ground combat or them engaging the FOB’s security and testing out their defenses. And I heard every single report because at that time I transitioned from team leader because I didn’t want to take anything more at the time. I was like, “nah. Do you know what? I’ll be a platoon RO.” I’ll have more interaction with the head shed and see everybody and do my thing and let the young bucks do theirs. It was more like a transition thing where I had to let them take it over because I can’t just be a team leader the whole time so I let them do it. That obviously changed about the beginning of deployment – it really did – because circumstances had to happen. But that was it.
We trained fucking hard, especially when we were in country because we stayed at Camp Bastion. Just Bastion. It wasn’t Camp Leatherneck. Camp Leatherneck was not even a fucking thought at that time. It was British controlled airspace. They controlled that landing zone because it was Bastion and – what’s the other main Air Force base there? The nice one? Bagram.
AJ: Bagram. Yeah.
OG: And then you had – what’s the other one? There were three.
OG: Yeah. I went to Kandahar. Kandahar’s a fucking joke. There’s so much shit there that you can just live off. They have TGI Friday’s, McDonald’s, all that shit at the boardwalk area. It was such a huge Air Force base. So we went to that one first. I never went to Bagram. I only went to Kandahar and then I went to Bastion. So we went to Bastion and that was fucking far, far as hell. [laughs] That was the furthest south Air Force base that there was and it’s still there but now it’s Afghan patrolled. They gave it up to them a couple years ago.
My impression of it was just huge. We were finally tested properly than when we were in Iraq. I will say this, Iraq deployments do not compare – for me, for my time – my Iraq deployments do not compare to what I experienced in Afghanistan.
RH: What was the enemy like in Afghanistan?
OG: Highly trained. Obviously they fought the Russians before so they know their shit. They weren’t stupid. They weren’t like just regular Joe Schmo Iraqis spraying and praying. These were guys that knew. Some of them were Chechen so they were an organized military.
AJ: School trained.
OG: Yeah. They knew their shit and they knew it very well and they tested us. They tested us very much and we felt the brunt of that.
RH: What are some of the significant events that occurred during the Afghanistan deployment?
OG: Shit, man.
AJ: Do you got some time? [laughs]
OG: The major convoy to all our individual FOBs was almost two hundred fucking trucks. It was just a huge line of Marines going to their fucking FOBs and the enemy knew that and they were not going to test that shit, dude. [laughs] There were so many guns there everywhere. They knew, OK, there’s a challenge here.
You immediately felt the presence of them. They didn’t want to attack major convoys. It was just stupid. It was just dumb. There was too much air support, too much armor. No. Don’t fucking do it. But whenever we went to those towns – because it was a drive going through those towns – you’ll see one platoon going off one way, one platoon people going off that way. Whenever you get to towns, you see the looks. It was dirty. You felt the hatred there. They did not like us there at all. Some Afghans were OK but they were fucking afraid, man. They were scared out of their minds. A lot of them were backwater idiots and just didn’t care so it was weird. That’s when I actually felt like, “shit. This is not fucking right, dude.” I felt scared finally. I finally felt that fear in you like, “fuck.” It proved to be right. So that’s one of them.
Other ones were major firefights. Major losses, too. Hearing over the net a lot of my friends getting blown up, burnt to a crisp. One of the docs getting pinned underneath the Humvee and we just couldn’t get him out so he just burned alive. Horrible fucking way to go. I don’t know the specific dates. I wish I did. I actually made a journal, an Iraq and Afghan journal, so I have that with the times and everything.
Being an RO at those times, you hear everything. It wasn’t like months apart. They were weeks apart, a couple weeks, so it was straight hearing. I think the first one was hearing the guys in Bakwa. It was my original, Third Platoon, and they were getting fucked up, dude. They were just getting fucked up. IEDs were just killing them. We lost Washington that day and he just died. Blew up. Killed instantly. I almost lost some of my best friends like Vill – Villareal – the one I was talking to in Iraq passing by. Those guys were burned on seventy percent of their body. Vill was seventy percent burned and the other one was sixty-something. I cried when I finally saw him. I broke down and cried and I felt so bad because I couldn’t go there, I couldn’t be there. I was trying so fucking hard, too. I was telling my boy Metcalf because he was a platoon Sergeant there. I was telling him, “hey dude. Get me over there right now. I want to work my way to get over there.” I was trying. I was literally trying to go back to my platoon. Little did I know that destiny was telling me to stay there and I learned. I felt some of the brunt of their pain on my hand in this platoon. Just the losses. We lost so many, like twenty-something.
We lost some of our guys too, man, in my platoon. Just hearing that shit gives me chills just talking about it because I lost so many of my friends. Burnt or shot in the fucking neck or head. And talking to them before they went. Talking to them and not knowing that they’re not going to come back the next day.
RH: You talked about this a little bit but, maybe, what were some of the differences between Iraq and Afghanistan? Actually, let me ask this. What were some of the differences that you experienced? What were some of your transitions from the two Iraq deployments to Afghanistan?
OG: The biggest transition was me becoming a squad leader in country. An incident happened where one of the Marines had a very personal mental breakdown really. His wife was having a kid. He couldn’t be there. He wanted to go. They were like, “fuck you. We are low on men.” This is right after our KIAs. We were like, “no.” We actually got combat replacements. It was a Marine Corps-wide issue, any able bodied Marines willing to go to Afghanistan to help 2/7. It was kind of embarrassing at the time but it was actually well needed because we lost a shit ton of people real quick.
AJ: Before you go on I just want to reiterate. Before any other prestigious battalions went to Afghanistan, 2/7 paved the way. They paved the way for everybody else. I hate to say it but we were the forgotten battalion.
OG: We paved it with blood and bodies. And, yeah, we kind of feel forgotten because we didn’t get a lot. Other battalions after us the Marine Corps –
OG: Yeah. 3/5. They made a special brigade of Marine units to go do this shit and they were getting everything from support to arti and – I don’t know if AMTRAKs went out there – and dedicated air. We didn’t get any of that shit. Where we went, where I went which was Bala Buluk, we took over an Army PMT COP and that was out in the fucking middle of nowhere. The COB we were at was in a place called Shewan. It was a major city, a little township over by mount Safrak. It was a good mountain. You can look it up. It was right there. That’s where a major event happened with our platoon. One of our Marines got a Navy Cross, the second highest award.
It was just so many different things developing – me as a squad leader, me as experiencing these things. It was so much. It happened so quickly. It was just growing up real quick and manning the fuck up. After that incident with the Marine, I was the first choice to take over because no other squad leaders took it over. Guys who actually went to squad leader’s course took over and they were all the same peer group and they all fucked up in different ways doing certain things. And they got shit canned, got shit canned. That squad was labelled the “turd squad” because they kept fucking up until I took over. It was a life changing event. It really was because I got to experience a huge loss.
RH: You talked about this earlier but what was the difference between the Iraqis and the Afghans? And not necessarily the enemy but the culture.
OG: Lazy. I think the Afghans were lazy as shit. You had some that actually were OK and did things but I just think they were just fucking lazy. They didn’t care. They didn’t give a shit about their economics or what’s going on with their country. They didn’t give a fuck, man. They just want to live and be alone which is sad because we’re trying to help them and they just spat at our feet and in our faces like, “fuck you. Fuck the Americans.”
AJ: They’ll take your money, though.
OG: Oh yeah. They’ll take your money and your help. If you want to help them make a well, they’ll be all happy and then after that say, “fuck you.” They don’t give a shit. I mean, the ‘terps were amazing. They did what they had to do to help us out and they were all about it, too. You had your small groups of people that were actually cool but the majority of the time, I didn’t give a fuck about them. I did not give a fuck about them.
RH: You also talked a little earlier about Afghans that were prior mujahedeen. Did you have interactions?
OG: Yes, I did.
RH: What were those like?
OG: One of the main ones that stuck out in my head was Major Kadaja. I don’t know if I’m butchering his name right or wrong but he was actually a former mujahedeen, fought the Russians. A warrior of a man, you know? Small little guy, graying beard, real thin frame. You wouldn’t think, right? This guy was all about it in the ‘80s just killing Russians, just fucking them up. And he specifically said, “I hate the Taliban.” Since he was the police chief – he was the Afghan police – they were the good guys surprisingly. The Army were the shitty ones. They were the ones that you wouldn’t trust. He was all about it. He would always lead the patrols because we were there to survive. We weren’t there to go push out and slay bodies. We were there to survive because they showed up in numbers. We were always under it – two against one. Always. The odds were always stacked against us, the Taliban. Because they knew they had the numbers and each platoon was by themselves, alone and unafraid, by themselves so they had to do what they had to do.
Luckily for my COP, we were co-located with the Afghan police. We had them. They were doing their security. It was a big FOB, or COP, and we were inside that in our own little area and they had theirs. Every time we went on patrol, he was always the first one in the forward truck with their .50 cal equivalent – the dushka. He was always there with the dushka.
AJ: It was a .50 cal.
OG: He was there. So you see this guy with a big ass fucking dushka and that was like, “yeah!” [RH laughs] It’s fucking hard. That’s some good shit right there.
AJ: Dushkas are made to take down aircraft. Let me put it that way. [RH laughs] Dushkas are made to take down aircraft.
OG: Actually, they have bigger rounds than the .50 cal. His story was sad, too. He would explain to us, he would tell us that he lost a couple of sons to the Taliban because they found out he was police chief or whatever and they just murdered his sons in cold blood. He lost his shit. He was like, “fuck the world. I’m killing Taliban.” And he killed some Talibs, dude. He was not fucking there.
AJ: He was not a happy camper.
OG: No. He was extremely agitated and angry with that and he showed it. Whenever we captured some – which we didn’t but the police did – you would hear the screams and the crying and shit. And again, this is their country. We were like, “we’re not going to touch that. You touch that. It’s your problem.” They did that with the most hate towards their captives because the Taliban weren’t nice to the other guys, too. We would get reports of how they would capture police, cut their heads off, cut their dicks off and throw them in their mouth. Major insult in that country obviously, in many things. They would do the same.
There was another Afghan, we called him Rambo. For all intents and purposes, his name really stuck out the most too because he would do the same thing to them. He didn’t care about armor or anything. He’d just go out there, snatch them up and start stabbing them. He’d kill them. Well, OK. So that’s how it’s going to be. You died a horrible death. Get fucked. There was no remorse. We did not have any mercy which was good. I’m happy with that fact, that I didn’t show any mercy to these fuckers.
RH: Alright. What was the most challenging period of the deployment: the beginning, the middle or the end?
OG: I don’t know. Challenging? The whole time was a crazy challenge. Just going through it. I have one big incident that just defined me as an individual. That’s the one thing I can say with the most certainty was the one that fucked my head the most. It was as squad leader. I was doing my patrols in the Humvee. It was so far a walk that we can’t walk everywhere. There was a shitty little rinky dink town net to us so we can do those patrols but if you wanted to go anywhere further, you had to be in trucks – MRAPs. This is when the MRAPs were starting to come out. Finally! After so many fucking years of fighting we finally get some armored trucks.
It was a night patrol. It was close to the end of our deployment – October 22nd. I remember that very well. We were doing the police checkpoints – there were two of them – and this was in Shewan territory where we actually had big firefights. We had the whole Navy Cross recipient – my boy Brady Gustafson. Did his thing. Amazing. That’s a good story too. This one stuck out in my mind the most because it had the most impact because I was directly involved with every single individual Marine.
We were doing a left seat/right seat with the Army PMT and they were taking over that spot which is good. We had to show them around the AO and this is our AO. It’s two checkpoints. Anywhere further and we get into contact, we were SOL because communication sucked ass there. You had a huge mountain and when we went past a certain area, it’s usually green coms and Motorolas. It’s a direct line of sight always. It’s not like we have a dedicated satellite to our comm. No. It’s a direct line of sight and when you passed the mountain, comm went dead always.
So it was a late night and I remember in this incident we hit the first checkpoint. We passed a couple of known IEDs that were just right there, obviously. You pass a patch of road, it’s the same old road and, oh look, it changes. Same old road. Obviously that’s a fucking IED there. Obviously. So we had our lights on always. And we weren’t going to get attacked out in the open because had night vision and had .50 cal, Mark 19s and all that shit. So who’s going to try shit, right? Usually they don’t attack at night because we have the superior equipment and everything to handle that so they always did during the day.
Unfortunately on this run, before I went on the patrol, before everything else, before we went to this situation, this all started that same day in the morning. Before I go into further detail about what happened to me that day, I have to talk about the beginning of the day.
OG: I’m sorry about that but it has to be said. I did a Delaram run meaning I had to drive about two and a half hours to drop off our company Gunny and our XO. My XO was my Lieutenant who got shot in the finger in my second tour in Iraq so we had a really good relationship with each other. So he was always joking with me. “Hey, Sir. How’s your finger?” Because his finger was literally locked like this [extends index finger halfway so that it resembles a hook] always.
RH: And this is his pointer finger?
OG: Yes. His pointer finger. So whenever he did this [extends his finger again], it was always sticking out all crooked. We were always like, “hey, Sir. Where do I go? I don’t know where to go.” [all laugh] “Fuck you, Garza! That’s not funny anymore.” We always gave him shit about that. Lieutenant Lindsey. I think he was about to become Captain Lindsey.
We did our drive through and it was a pretty long drive through a lot of underpasses where they can put an IED there and blow it. They were not doing two 115s, they were stacking that shit high to where it can flip a fucking truck. So we obviously had to do, every time we’d go by, check it out. This was kind of a test to me as a squad leader, a new squad leader. I had my Guns and my XO there watching me doing things, doing the routes, doing what we gotta do and they didn’t say anything. This is the same Gunny that wanted me to go to another unit with him.
So I did the Delaram, dropped them off. He was like, “hey, I’m very proud of you. Good job.” Nothing happened, thank God. I was like, “yeah. Thankfully, yeah.” We went back and we were specifically told, I want to say this, were specifically told, “you guys do this run, you guys are going to have the rest of the day off and we’re going to send whoever else to go do the patrols. You earned that.” But, of course, it’s our job to man the fuck up or do whatever. We come back, the guys are relaxing, doing their thing, playing volleyball – because we had a volleyball court, a makeshift one. That’s our little relaxation thing. We had enough space for that. I got the short end of the stick again because I was a new squad leader and I was a Corporal. The other ones were Sergeants. They said no to it. They were like, “hey, Garza. You’ve got to go, man.” I was like, “what the fuck? You said so.” “Hey, you’re going to fucking do it.” I fucking complained to them. I told them, “this is not right. It’s not fucking fair. Why are you saying one thing and not doing it?” “Hey fuck you. You’re going on patrol.” Fuck! So I had to relay to the guys, “hey. The other guys got lazy. We have to pick up the slack.” I fucking hate picking up other people’s slack which is one of the reasons that I hate this so much because this is what led to the incident.
So fast forward to what happened. I was already in a bad mood anyways but hey, we’re Marines. We suck it up and do what we gotta do. Adapt and overcome. Which we did and it’s going to be an easy patrol anyway. So we did it. Before we went out I had to talk to my team leaders and tell them what was going on. “A checkpoint run. Fuck. That sucks. It’s so boring. Yeah.” You’re watching for IEDs. You already know where the points of that – by that time we already had our combat replacements. My second team leader – my first team leader was Hughbanks and my second one was Robles and the other one, fuck. I forgot. He was another Marine. I forgot. They were all like, “hey dude.”
My boy Robles, Adrian Robles, he was my team leader. I was grooming him to be the team leader before I got out of there. I wanted him to be the squad leader when I got out of there. I wanted him to be the squad leader. He was really good. Everybody liked him. He was a good Marine. He didn’t bitch. He did his job and he did it very well. So I was grooming him to become and he actually talked to me like, “hey, Oscar. I was wondering if you could be my roommate,” which is a huge fucking thing. If somebody comes up to you like, “hey man. I want you to be my roommate. I really like you,” that’s good. It means you guys are good friends. It’s kind of like, I don’t know how to put it right, but it was just a really good feeling when he asked me like, “I want you to be my roommate when we get back. I want to go party with you. I want to be good friends with you.” That’s good. I like that.
So anyways, we had a guy named Sanderson. Nothing wrong with him, he just had bad eyesight. His depth perception wasn’t really good and he wore glasses. He volunteered to come out there for that, all motivated for that. I loved it. Good job. Thank you. We needed the help. And I told my team leader, “hey man. I need you not to be driving. I can’t have you driving.” “But hey, he sucks at driving. He can barely see.” “Look man, this is it. This is the word. If we get into contact with them, I need you to be on your game. I need you be there.” It’s not fair that he has to step up. I don’t care about driving. Driving’s easy. It’s a Humvee with lights on. “I need you to be there for me if something goes down.”
I go into where we were RTB back because we already did a run. I introduce all the checkpoint commanders to see each other, to the Army Captain. We’re going back and I drove. I drove the MRAP because I have always led from the front. Every patrol, all that shit. I was always the first one. I’ve never let my guys know that I’m going to be back. I’m not going to hang out. Fuck that. I was always taught to be up there and be a leader. Show that a leader follows with them. They go with them the same amount, not to be in the back. I’ve always made sure they saw that because it’s one of those things that’s always ingrained in their heads that I would do the same thing as you do.
First truck misses the IED and then the second truck misses it. The third truck hits it direct on. It was a HME, big old HME, because you just saw the explosion and everything. It happened at, like, 8:30 at night there. That was my first experience with that, with an IED, personally involved with it. It was just fucking bad. Deep in my stomach I fucking felt sad. I was like, “fuck. This can’t be happening, this can’t be happening. Hey, stop the truck. Get communications,” and I was fucking running. I ran because we were spaced out pretty well. It was about a hundred and fifty meter run because we can’t be having too close spaces. One hit and it could fuck up everything. We made sure we were kind of spacing each other out.
It was the most horrible feeling running up. The other truck was like, “hey, what’s going on?” “I’ve got it. Just keep your security going.” The last truck which saw every fucking thing, I ran up there and I ran by a big image on the ground and it was San Sim. He was immediately dead. He was burnt to a crisp. He was the driver so it hit the left side of the truck so it immediately just tore open all that shit. His body was intact but rigor mortis had already set in so he was already crisp. He was just dead. It wasn’t the first time I smelled a dead body and what it smells like, what a human being smells like burnt. I saw that and glanced and kept moving. It didn’t register until I saw it. I got down. I was like, “what the fuck?” Everything was in flames. I saw one of my Marines pulling out Adrian because he was my VC – Vehicle Commander – for that truck. He had actually had the strength, the fucking strength, to pull himself out of the vehicle because the vehicle was already engulfed in flames. He pushed himself out and crawled a little bit. That’s when they picked him up and put him away and that’s when he let go. He was dead. He was burned.
It was so fucking surreal to see his body because everything was burned around here [motions to his body] but his face looked like he was asleep, like he was peacefully sleeping, but everything else was burned. It was so weird to me. Samson was the driver, Robles was the Vehicle Commander, Bryde – my boy Bryde – he was the up gunner. He was the one with the Mark 19. That was his pride and joy. Unfortunately that was the heavy, the explosive truck. It had all the rockets, all the Mark 19 ammo. So I was waiting for that to start going off. The crazy thing is, our Corpsman Magsayo, he was supposed to be in that truck but he switched to the last truck. So he escaped that one. And unfortunately one of the Army guys, Deon Taylor, was in that truck. He was immediately engulfed in flames and dead. Dead on the spot.
So what happened was a majority of the Humvees, when they hit an IED of that kind, the only person that’s going to survive is the up gunner because he gets shot out. Literally, shot out. Bryde got shot out twenty feet in the air and landed. His leg was all fucked up. It immediately started swelling because the pressure and blood and all that shit. So we got him out and put him on one of the trucks that was free. I was like, “get the fuck out of here. Go. I’ll take care of all this shit.”
It was one of those moments where everything clicked together as Marines. I’ve never seen something like that besides in combat. All emotions shut off and training kicked in. It was just precise. Everybody was doing their job. I have to say that. I’ve only rarely seen that a couple times – during combat and that incident where you saw the human element just go away and, instinctively, training kicked in and people did what they had to do to survive and push out and get the people out of there. Only one person survived and that was Bryde and he is now a double amputee. I visited him when I got back, when I got out, and did my post-deployment leave. I saw him immediately. To this day he still calls me squad leader. He does not call me anything else. He calls me Sergeant or squad leader. I told him, “you can call me boot piece of shit, faggot, whatever you want to call me, dude. You earned that right. You’ve earned that right to call me whatever the fuck you want.” “Yes, Sergeant.” He does not get away from that.
But that defining moment was very intense because you saw the heartache on everybody’s face. I had to fucking man the fuck up and tell everybody, “settle down. Get back in your fucking trucks, hold the security and wait until we get reinforcements.” QRF came, did what we had to do, pulled the truck out, all that shit. When we got back, that’s when everybody finally let go. The Army soldiers did what they had to do because they lost one of their own. It was hard. It was hard for me, very hard for me, to actually hold that shit together. That’s the most intense moment of my life to where it defined me. After that it defined me as a human being, that moment, right there.
RH: What were some of the reactions of the Golf Company Marines?
OG: For that incident?
RH: For that incident. Yes.
OG: It was like, “why so late in the game?” Two more months and we were out. We were so close. Robles was very well liked, very well like with the platoon. It still holds very heavy on me, on my heart and everything. I stay in contact with the families. Of course I feel directly responsible for all of that shit. What if? You always “what if” it. Survivor’s guilt kicks in with that. It really should have been me. I didn’t have a lot going on for me but it’s the circumstances of war when you get involved with that. You have to try to realize that it’s an evil fucking game and you are bound to lose. Some day or another, you will lose something very dear and that was it right there.
That showed me a lot about my character. I grew up very quickly. I literally changed my shit bag ways. Before that incident I told my guys, “I will be the last one to sleep and the first one to wake. I don’t give a fuck how many hours of sleep I got. I will be there to make sure you guys see me.” And I changed. I had to change. It was a good change. All my boots, the boots – you wake up early with me and we’re going to go do working parties and get the supply trains unpacked and go do that. I made sure they saw me every fucking day doing that, busting my butt. I made sure of that.
I am proud of that but I’m also extremely distant from my own emotions and people because of that issue of dealing with the loss of having, going into combat and losing people underneath your supervision, your command that you don’t have any say in. You don’t have any say and that still troubles me today, just dealing with that. Of course everyone has their own war time experiences and losses, more immense and powerful, but that’s me. That’s me in a nutshell, losing that much.
RH: Alright. What was the rest of the deployment like?
OG: After that it was more everybody staying on guard, trying to finish it up and getting it ready to go. We got it extended another month to December because circumstances dictated that. We were one of the few units that got extended.
After that the deployment sucked. It really did. It blew ass. It weighed heavy on everybody’s conscience. So that was not a good deployment. It sucked. Again, it fucking blew.
RH: Before we move on, anything else about it?
OG: No. I’m just still experiencing with the good guys, the guys that lived through that. It’s good to see some of them still OK. Our Navy Cross recipient Gustafson is doing very well. You never really thought a Navy Cross guy when you meet him. You know, super moto, bad ass when you meet him. He’s just some goofy SAW gunner that had very extraordinary circumstances happen to him. And a lot of other people stepping up to their game and doing what they had to do. That’s mainly what we had to do as Marines, step up. Our Corpsmen did an amazing job out there. We even had a bigwig Corpsman up there. I forget what they’re called – LTC or something like that.
OG: IDC. Yeah. He was out there with us too. It was good. We had a lot of support there. I mean, people support.
RH: Anything else from that deployment before we move on?
OG: No. Just hearing my boy [Clay] Hunt. He became a scout sniper. He graduated Scout Sniper school which is very hard to do. Extremely hard to do. He graduated and he and a couple other buddies were actually on the Scout Sniper team slaying Talib over there in – shit. What was the main one where Fox was? They were getting a lot of contact. I forgot the name of that area before it got quiet. It wasn’t Sagin. Sangin was Echo and that was still very highly fought over, if you’ve been hearing the news lately with Afghanistan. But I was very proud of him, very proud of Hunt. And Jake Wood, if you guys know who he is. They both went to Scout Sniper school and became some bad asses. I was extremely proud of those guys. That was one of the few good things I encountered during that.
RH: Alright. How long was it before you transferred to the next battalion?
OG: My last instructor billet?
OG: I think, let’s see, December – I think February timeframe I left.
RH: Of ’09?
OG: Yes. I popped out of there. I got orders to go to this brand new unit so I wanted to start up a unit. I got the chance to go do that. It was immediate, too. I think they were starting to do, they were going to go for two weeks to California to train with the Japanese Defense Force which was very rare. We were going to do AMTRAK training. They wanted me to go and I was like, “fuck that! I’m done. I’m going on leave and I’m getting the fuck away from 2/7.” It started changing. Everything started changing because it started becoming a different Corps at that time. 2008 was a big housing, economic downfall. Everything was changing. The budget was really tight. The mentality was different about the wars. My Gunny, the same Gunny I went to combat with – awesome figure in the command and battalion – he got me out of a lot of shit, both emotionally and financially with some stuff. He pretty much saved me to go to my new unit. I owe him a huge debt about that because he told me straight up, “you are done being a grunt right now. If you keep going, you’re liable to get fucking killed, bro.” Because every time you go, the percentage goes up. The rate goes up. Every time it gets closer and closer because I’ve been nearly killed many times – grenaded, mortared, IED, all that shit all put together. I’ve been close. Many times, just like everybody else. So it’s only a matter of time before they actually hit me.
But that new unit was OK. It was good, relaxing, trying to cope with my PTSD, trying to deal with those demons. And it was hard, those three years.
RH: Alright. So What I want to do is speak to Aaron and then talk about post-military life as well. But before we get into post-military life, anything else about your time in that we left out?
OG: I think one of the most defining ones was when I got my DUI. I got orders to go to I&I back home back in Harlingen which is amazing. I got hooked up. I reenlisted, got this money, I got the orders to go but what happened was I got a DUI the day I got my orders given to me. Classic Marine, right? Classic Marine tale where you get orders to go home but I got a DUI that same night. The next day I was supposed to fly out so I totally screwed the pooch on that bad, dude. Bad, man. So I was about to leave. I wasn’t going to be there for the Afghan tour. I got a DUI and it was like, “fuck you!” SNAP. There goes your contract. You’re staying here.
But I will say this, I am proud to have that DUI underneath my belt. It put me into that direction of the Afghan tour. I stayed because of that. I stayed. It was either I finished and stayed and then go off and do whatever your process with it or say fuck it. Go on a deployment. Obviously I chose the latter. I was like, “fuck this. I’m going to deploy with my boys.” I had to show my presence in the platoon. I had to start from square one in the platoon, in the company, actually. I was labelled a shit bag. I had to work my way back up. That’s when I became a platoon RO and I learned.
Part 3 of Oscar and Aaron's interview can be found here.