Oscar Garza and Aaron Jacinto: Part 3
In Part 3 of their interview, Aaron discusses being injured in Afghanistan and the challenges he has faced since the injury. After being MEDEVACed to San Antonio, Oscar was able to help him through his recovery. They also discuss the recent suicides in 2/7 and share some of their happier memories of military life.
Part 2 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: Let’s go ahead and let’s move into your deployment. First of all, after you got out of the Navy, what motivated you to go join the Army?
Aaron Jacinto: I left active duty and I went to the reserve. The reserve unit that I went to was Forward Force Reconnaissance. Being with 2/7 I wanted to further my career and go blue side and do blue side things. I was kind of salty. I just left that place, you know? I left green side and they told me, “We’re going on deployment again.” What the fuck? [laughs] I’m not going to leave because I was going through NAVPERS, the personnel unit out there, and they were like, “You choose your rate, you choose your fate.” I’m like, “Fuck, man!”
So I did the Force Recon thing with the training and going to schools and everything else. I wasn’t doing too well transitioning. As Reserve you get two weeks to do your training or whatever unless they cut you orders to go to a school. I got some pretty cool schools out of it, I’m not going to lie. I wasn’t adjusting very well. I was just like, “Man, what am I doing here?” I wasn’t going to school. I didn’t have a job. I would do my thing and go to a school back home. That’s it. Mostly when I would feel alive is when I was with the green side. Especially being with the Force Recon unit, you have to have big balls.
I was the only Corpsman out there. There were other Corpsmen that came off of active duty and even the HM1, the E6 over there, I was the only one with an FMF pin so they were automatically, “He’s the shit hot guy. We’re counting on him.” I was like, “I can’t do this weekend thing.” It was fucking with my head. So you know what? I am going to do active duty. I tried. I tried my best. I was an HM3 at that time and I was trying my best to get back active duty and I went through the Reserve channels. It was back in 2008 and I believe it went up to an admiral and he denied it. Even though I was requesting to go to green side, that left me with a bad taste in my mouth like, “What the fuck, dude?” I did all this and everything else and I’m getting shit on a stick. So I was like, “You know what? Fuck this. I’m going to try.” Even when hanging out with the Marines that deployed to Iraq at the time, the Army units they were like a bag of dicks. [all laugh] I was like, “I just need to get back in to help.” It was mostly mentally because I missed the cohesion. I missed everything. I couldn’t go back in so I was like, “Fuck it. I’ll try for Army.”
I talked to an Army recruiter and two weeks later I was up in Fort Sill changing uniforms. The uniforms sucked, I can tell you this. Velcro, zippers – no. I despise it. I don’t despise what I did joining the Army, I was just like, “Fuck dude. I wish I was with my guys.” The whole time I was transitioning I always followed up with 2/7 from the stories you hear from the news, the stories you hear from facebook and from friends. I had orders to Korea and that was ’08, for their Afghanistan tour.
I just felt bad. I had to leave them. I did the Force Recon route which was pretty cool but I just wanted to be with my guys. It heavily affected my leadership skills because I was put in charge. As soon as I checked into my Korean unit they made me NCOIC. At that time I was a Specialist. In the Army there’s two types of E4 – Specialist and Corporal. Corporal is obviously your NCO. Specialist is like another E3. So they put me as a Specialist because the senior NCOs had to go out and do some stuff. It was lack of leadership and I was the only guy with actual combat experience. So they put me as NCOIC at the aid station. I was like, “What the fuck? You’re going to put me, E4, NCOIC of the aid station?” [laughs] I’m like, “OK, whatever.” I did my thing in Korea but I just wasn’t feeling it.
I had orders to go to Hawaii. That’s with Second Battalion, Twenty Seventh Infantry. That was a real unit. 2/27 has a real history in the military itself. They were there when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. They were the first guys to spin up with .50 cals on top of the barracks and try to shoot down Japanese airplanes. So that’s a lot of rich history from 2/27 in World War II. So what was the question again? [laughs]
RH: Actually, a broader question before we get specifically into this deployment. What were some of the cultural differences between the Marines and the Army?
AJ: The cultural differences? The different uniform. The training. I always compare the infantry side of the house, the mentality, with the Marines – especially with it being my first unit. It wasn’t all about the personal self. It was all about unit cohesion, platoon cohesion, fighting cohesion. You have people who fuck each other over but not that majorly. But with the Army, I didn’t feel that cohesion until I got checked in with that infantry unit. I was in the Army but I wasn’t really in the Army until I got checked into the infantry. The tactics are different, training is different, but it all has the same purpose – go out and find the enemy and kill him. As a medic it was different because all the things I was used to doing as a Corpsman, I couldn’t do as a medic.
RH: What do you mean, specifically?
AJ: Specifically, for instance as a Corpsman we would never fuck with vehicles unless it was a MEDEVAC van. That become obsolete very quick throughout the years. In Korea I was in charge of tracks – AMTRAKs but not really. They’re called 113s. I was like, “Are you serious?” So I’m a medic but I spent all my days trying to fix up this track to be online when it’s supposed to be in Motor T. I’m so used to it being Motor T’s job to do it, not a medic or a Corpsman, to get it maintained. Besides the aid station, you put on additional duties. You never do your job. As a Corpsman, you’re always with your guys. You bring your guys. In the Army, there are aid station guys. The platoon guys would never take their guys to the aid station. They would go on their own so you wouldn’t build up the rapport with the OIC. In the Army you have PAs instead of doctors, legitimate doctors. The only time you get the doctor is when you deploy. The majority of the time you’re dealing with the PA and I wasn’t accustomed to that and the lack of trust with medical skills. I was like, “I can do this.” I was being held back.
RH: When did you deploy to Afghanistan? 2011, correct?
AJ: 2011. Right.
RH: What was the mission of your unit?
AJ: Pretty much COIN. We already knew. The movie came out – Restrepo – so we already had an idea of Kunar province and past engagements. You hear that’s where shit goes down on the Army side of the house because you’re dealing with Pakistan and the Afghan Taliban. Not only that, you deal with AQ. It’s a melting pot of fighters and you’re just there with that, you know? It’s different, Afghanistan. Where Helmand is, it’s open desert. Afghanistan where I was was like being in Colorado – mountains and nice.
Oscar Garza: You were in the northeast?
AJ: Yeah. The northeast. You’re just dealing with the mountains. Unfortunately with the Army, their FOBs and bases and COPs, it’s always on the bottom of the valley where common sense you want to take a higher ground. So we were always getting piles dropped on us. That’s how a majority of their attacks would come up.
They do mobile patrols. Every time they do a foot patrol, shit really goes down. People get hurt. I was not accustomed to that. I would rather be on the ground walking instead of being in a vehicle.
RH: What, specifically, was your job within the unit?
AJ: Within the unit I was groomed. I already knew line medic things. This time around I wanted to take it easy. I wanted to get the younger guys to beat feet and I just gave it to them. It was my additional duty at that time.
At the beginning of the tour it was just aid station stuff. I would see local nationals. We had kids. A majority would be kids because they live on a mountain and they don’t have railings so they fall off the side of the mountain on the roof and you fall, fall, fall, fall, fall. That was in the summer, non-winter days. You would have fall cases – broken bones, broken femurs. I would deal with the local nationals besides dealing with the troops being injured. So I would see that and that fucked me up. Mentally I thought, “Oh, I’ll take it easy this time.” But no. Seeing kids all fucked up and during the winter times, because they have no central heating system, they would boil water and you would see kids with third, second, first degree burns. That would just like, “Wow.” It was a COIN operation, pretty much.
RH: Alright. What was it like when you stepped off the plane in Afghanistan?
AJ: We landed in Manas first and there were Marines there. I felt at home around the Marines. [laughs] This was different because first time around we went and we stopped in Kuwait and it was hot as balls out there. This time around they had Asian chicks that speak Russian. This is legit! [laughs] This is like, “Wow.” We land in Afghanistan and it wasn’t the same as being with the Marines. I was with the Army so we had the best gear a regular unit can get. A majority of the guys had M4s – no A4s. The best heavy weapons, precision weapons. It was just like, “Jeez.” Some of the line guys had suppressors. The only people I knew in the Marine Corps who had it was Recon or sniper team. That’s it. But some of the line guys had suppressors and I was like, “jeez.” So this is where all the money goes to. [all laugh]
When I landed in Afghanistan, we would go to different bases until I got to my main base. Everything was built up. You had Starbucks, Coffee Bean, whatever. I was like, “Jeez.” Initially I was like, “This is going to be a cake deployment.” That’s what I thought in the beginning. [laughs] This is going to be cake. I was like, “Man, I’m loving this. McDonalds!”
RH: Can you describe your AO? I know that you talked a little bit about it but maybe some of the specifics.
AJ: Specifics. We controlled some certain parts where some of the guys who got their Medals of Honor got them from. There’s COP Monti and Berily. COP Monti was the guy who won the Medal of Honor. Berily was an outpost on top of a mountain. Later in the story I’ll tell you about that. It was just like four American Army guys and a platoon of Afghan guys. That got run over. A majority of the Americans got killed. There were videos. And you had COP Monti. I mentioned that earlier. There was a specific FOB and it was named after another guy who died. It was like the wild, wild west but you felt like a tiny little mouse and everybody’s looking at you.
RH: OK. Interesting. What was the enemy like?
AJ: The enemy? You would never see them. You would see them in these videos. They would fight with dushkas, anti-aircraft guns, at ridiculous range where obviously our M4s or 240s could barely reach or not even reach at all. So the only ways you could reach them is through .50 cals or close air support. You would always get close air support and you were in conjunction with Army guys who were forward observers and would call in the Air Force planes – fixed wing Air Force – to help us out. The majority of our TICs – Troops In Contact – was from the Air Force helping us out and small arms fire or whatever we could dish out.
RH: Alright. What are some of the notable events that occurred during this deployment?
AJ: Notable events were, I guess, our first mass cal. It was from our Alpha Company. This guy, a Staff Sergeant, he was Filipino. Staff Sergeant Lorenzo. They were conducting patrols. Whenever we do our big patrols we needed to get resupply because we were so far out there that we had to have our supply routes – major supply routes. At that time we had our operation and that’s when I believe they were rolling over the side of a mountain and they landed on an IED. Everybody died except for one person who was in the back rear seat. What I remember about him is, working at the aid station of course you had the doctor on station to verify the KIA. The four bodies you see there were burned to a crisp. One guy, I could see his face. It was just broken bodies and crepitus everywhere. Another guy, he was blown up. I attempted a cric. Didn’t happen. He was gone. But Staff Sergeant Lorenzo, he was at TC – Troop Commander. What had happened was that when it blew up, he was in his seat. He was properly seated but I guess the bolt underneath the seat, it was too much pressure. It launched him off while he was attached to his seat and it hit the front windshield. When it did that, his whole face smashed. So when I saw his body, his shoulder down looked normal but from the head up, smashed in. That was the worst. Of all the casualties I’ve seen, that was the worst. Just to see a normal bottom half working and then the top half smushed like a pancake – yeah.
RH: What other significant events occurred?
AJ: Besides me getting hurt, I think that’s about it.
RH: I have one more question before we get into getting hurt. I know we talked about the kids. What were the Afghans like? We talked a little bit about the Afghans versus the Iraqis earlier.
AJ: The Afghans were just like Oscar pointed out. They were pretty illiterate. Very illiterate because you have a culture that breeds cousins and stuff like that. They’re so within their tribes. They interbreed with each other.
I’ll say this though. Besides the typical Afghan, I got to work with some Afghan special forces that worked with some three letter agency. They spoke perfect English like how I would carry a conversation with you. They were like, wow. I was very impressed. Those guys that were working with those agencies, they were on point.
RH: Any particular stories about any of them?
AJ: I have. I hate to say it but there was an incident where they were launching off 120s and then – what is it called when it’s a bad round and they explode right on the foot plate? It’s not fratricide. What it was was they were launching mortar rounds and one of the rounds just exploded as soon as it hit the primer on the footplate where it’s supposed to launch off. It killed a few guys but the rest of the guys were just mangled up. And these were the top-notch guys. I don’t know if they’re around but they’re called Vipers. They were trained by the Agency guys.
They came in and I was treating them. I was at the aid station right now and conversationally they were like, “Please don’t let me die, dude.” And I was fixing them up, getting them prepped for surgery because we had an on-site surgeon in the platoon se we were so far out there. But those guys, they smoked, they drank. They could because on the black side, yeah.
RH: Let’s talk about when you were injured. What happened?
AJ: It was November 19th. I got off from a mission but after that mission I was tasked out to do a night duty medic – a night guy. I was like, “OK. Whatever. I get fucked again.” [laughs] I did that and I was getting ready to go to bed. It was six to eight. One of my junior guys was like, “Hey. Do you want to come to eat?” I’m like, “No, dude. I’m tired. I’m dead tired. I just want to go to bed.
I go to bed and put on my PT shorts, PT gear, throw on some flip flops and listen to some music. I had my earbuds in and get into my ritual to go to bed and, next thing you know, you see dust around the little area where I slept in. I’m like, “Huh. That’s weird.” And then see another flash and more dust kicked up. So like, “Hmm. This is weird.” Do you know when you’re in an IED blast and you can taste the metal in the air? That’s what I tasted. I was like, “I know what this is. I know what this is.” And then I took my earbuds off and you hear, on the main base, sirens going off. Just incoming, incoming, incoming. I was like, “Holy shit dude!” I was freaking out and the next thing you know I was like, “Do I stay or do I leave?” I peep out my door and I look up and the building I was in had two holes in the roof. And mind you, that roof was cement and we had triple stacked sandbags on that roof and there were two holes already. I was like, “Holy shit! These are zeroed in.” I was like, “I gotta leave. I gotta make a decision to stay here and get fucked or leave and find someplace.”
So I make the decision to leave. I’ve got to say this – I didn’t have my gear. I had a shit bag NCO that wanted our gear to be at the aid station and not with us constantly. It was his first time on deployment. Anyways, I made the decision to step out, I open the door, I close the door. Next thing I heard on the right side was, “Dude! Run back in!” I’m like, “What the fuck?” And then the next thing you heard was the whistle of the mortar round coming in – that distinct whistle. You know, outgoing and that incoming? I heard that and my heart just sank like, “Fuck!” It’s so distinctive when it’s coming at you. I was like, “Alright.” The next thing you know, I wasn’t even prepared for it. Dust kicked up. I fly back. I taste more metal and I taste dirt in my mouth. I’m like, [smacks his lips]. This sucks. I got hurt. I already know I got hit. And then my thinking was, “OK. Once the dust settles I’ll go see the damage done.”
I see my right foot. Half of it’s gone. I was like, “I can deal with that. I can deal with that. That’s workable.” Expecting my left side to be amputated I looked at it. It was still there but it was bent at a forty-five degree angle. I’ve never broken bones before. I’ve just seen it. I was like, “Wow. That’s fucking freaky.” That’s not normal. My mind’s thinking, “Alright, dude. Get up. Walk it the fuck off.” [all laugh] I honestly did try to do that. I was like, “Oh fuck. I’m in bad shape. I better get up.” I tried to stand up. Nope! I put weight on the left leg and fell back down. I was like, “Nope. Not happening.” As I was trying to get up there were more mortar rounds landing around me and I was all by myself. No help. I was like, “FUCK! FUCK!” So I started screaming for help and no one came. No one came. So I was like, “Fuck dude. Fuck!”
As the rounds were landing I was like, fuck it. I’m going to take it. I’m going to chock it as a loss. This is my time. It’s my time now. You go through your checklist of denial and whatever, whatever, acceptance. I was going through my checklist. Everything is taken care of if I die. My brother is going to need to take care of my parents or whatever. So I was going through that checklist and I’m like, “OK. I’m ready to go.” So I’m waiting, I’m waiting, I’m waiting. Next thing you know I’m being scooped up by the back of my knee, both knees. I’m like, “What the hell? I was supposed to die now. Why are you taking this shit away from me, man?” [all laugh] “Put me back, dude.”
They brought me back and it was the same building but a different room on the other side, on the other end of the building. I’m laying down on a hallway and you see a whole bunch of infantry dudes just looking at me in the dark as rounds are still landing. You can see it in their eyes – they’re scared shitless. They are scared shitless. They were like, “What the fuck?”
OG: You can smell the fear.
AJ: You can smell the fear. Then the adrenaline kicks in and the pain kicks in like, “Holy fuck. This really hurts. This really, really hurts. Broken bones sucks. There’s a Staff Sergeant there. There are guys that were working on me. There were other medics. They were just working like, “Dude, I got you! I got you! I got you, Corporal J! Don’t worry buddy.” And then I’m looking at this Staff Sergeant like, “Fuck this. I don’t want to die, man.” I don’t want to die in this shitty hell. I just had that sense of, “I might make it now. I just might have a slight chance of making it.” I didn’t know the extent of my surgery but I had my guts hanging out and everything. Jeez. I was in bad shape.
They lift me up and they put me on a stretcher. At that time I had really long hair because I could do that with the unit I was in. I had long hair. I was running – I wasn’t running, of course. They were running to the aid station and it was probably a hundred feet from where the building was and my leg is flopping. I was like, “Whoa, dude. Slow the fuck down, man.” [all laugh] “Walk or something. Slow the fuck down.” It hurt. And then the junior I trained up looked at me like, “It’s OK Corporal J. Your hair still looks good.” [all laugh]
I remember the double doors and them bringing me out of the double doors. You see my whole platoon that was right there just shocked that it was me. The likable guy. The one likable medic there. I get hurt and you see just the shock in the face. The next double doors is the surgical team like, “Wow. It’s this guy. I know him. It can’t be this guy.” They put me on the stretcher and I’m getting prepped for surgery and you see tears coming down. I’m like, “Dude. Don’t cry. I’m going home.” [laughs] Why are you crying?
OG: Alright. Don’t want to keep you there, bro.
AJ: Yeah, you know? Everybody was saying their good-byes and one of the cool NCOs that was there, Sergeant Nistler, we had a bet prior to going. Which of us would go back home first? And then we had another bet – because there was a hot surgeon doctor there – between both of us, which would she see our penises first? [all laugh] So I’m saying good-bye like, “Hey dude. I guess I won both bets. I’m going home and she’s going to see my penis.” They were saying good-bye and I told the other guys, “Contact my brother,” because he was a contractor at that time and he was in Bagram. Eventually I ended up there but I was saying my good-byes and they put me out.
Next thing I woke up and I was kind of groggy. I was really fucked up. I woke up in Bagram in a room full of guys who were way far worse than me. So I was like, “What the fuck?” I tried to get the nurse’s attention and tell them, “Hey. My brother’s here. Can you contact him?” She didn’t believe it. My brother comes by and, on the tube, I’m really not there but I’m there to say the important stuff. He comes in and he thought it was all a joke but the nurse brought him there. I was at the far end of the bed so he had to walk and see all these guys all fucked up worse than me and he sees me. He’s like, “Holy shit.” Shit’s real. It was my six month mark and I just got back from R&R so it was like [sighs]. I had just seen him two, three weeks prior on the transition. So he sees me and he’s like, “Fuck dude. Alright. We’ve got to make some calls.” He did some drug deals and he got to come home with me. He got to take pictures and document everything – the ride and all the way back up here to Texas. That was the other incident.
RH: When you got back to Texas, where did you go exactly?
AJ: From the point of injury I went to Jalalabad. I was done. I was under. I was in a medically induced coma. From Jalalabad they put me to Bagram. From Bagram they moved me to Landstuhl, Germany. I was there for about five days because of complications to my stomach.
RH: You weren’t in a coma at this point?
AJ: No. As soon as I got to Bagram I was wide awake. From Germany, Landstuhl it was a toss-up for us guys. I was, of course, not the only guy that was hurt. The Air Force pilots were like, “I don’t know where we’re going to go.” They were going to go to Bethesda or Texas. They opted to go to Texas, I guess. And I came here on Thanksgiving Day, in Texas.
RH: Where did you go exactly in Texas?
AJ: BAMC. Right now it’s San Antonio Military Medical Center but at that time it was Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas.
RH: How long were you in here for?
AJ: From the 25th of November, 2011 to my retirement which was December, 2013.
RH: What was your treatment and rehabilitation process like?
AJ: Rehabilitation, obviously we’ve got to get the surgeries done. I was on an ex fix to make my left leg straight again. My right foot, too, was cut off straight. They had to curve it out because it was too straight. And I had complications in my stomach where even the nurses were taking bets I wasn’t going to make it. It usually doesn’t happen but the nursing staff, the civilian nursing staff, they take bets like which one is going to make it, which one’s not. I heard exact word of mouth from a nurse, they didn’t think I was going to make it. A lot of guys, they get back but usually they die from the injuries when they get back.
So from November, December, January I was in the hospital. I had to come back in March because of my stomach. I was in the hospital for a good few months. Less than six but a good few months. After that, at BAMC they have a center for us amputees and burn victims to go to rehab to – the Center for the Intrepid. It’s in San Antonio. That’s where I did my rehab just to be able to live life again.
OG: When he told me he was in BAMC, I think it was when you first initially got there.
OG: I actually got to go see him. I think it was Thanksgiving time, right?
AJ: Yes. I think, I don’t know, I facebook messaged or called you or something?
OG: One day you contacted me and I was there for a good time being. What time was it? When was the year?
OG: 2012 I think I was already separated out. Yeah, I think I was already separated out.
RH: What was it like when you saw him for the first time?
OG: It fucking broke me. I cried. I did the same thing when I saw Bryde because the only one that survived was Bryde. So I got to see him and then I saw him afterwards.
AJ: It didn’t do you good.
OG: It didn’t do me good at all. I fucking cried right in front of him, too. I was just losing it because it’s my friend, you know? We went to Fallujah together then he went to go do this and it’s fucking amazing. It’s heartbreaking and amazing seeing that he survived it but it hurts. It hurts when you see your friends like that in that predicament when they’re back home finally from the war and they’re all fucked up. So it was a good for me, a good thing to have a little settlement right there and finish that. He’s home. So when I saw that and heard about that I was like, “Fuck dude. I didn’t need to hear that.” So I got to see him and bullshit with him and I think he was a little drugged up because he was talking about some, “Man, my nurse is fucking hot!” [all laugh]
AJ: Not myself! I was not myself. [laughs]
OG: He was a little drugged up. I don’t know.
Louis Roark: It was a dude standing there.
OG: It was good. It was very heartbreaking but it was also good to see him because I saw a lot of my boys when they come back from their deployment and when I got back from mine and got to see them again – Vill, Piram, all those cats. It killed – it destroyed me. It takes a lot of your humanity out of to see brothers hurt like that in that way.
AJ: Did you see them prior?
OG: Do you remember how they were? Before and after, man.
RH: Let me ask you this. Since you’ve been wounded and since you’ve been going through the rehab process, what has been, number one, the most challenging part and, number two, the most positive part?
AJ: The positive part was that I was alive and there’s going to be another life after being taken care of. I was at a place, I was being taken care of, I’m still alive.
The challenging part was I was robbed. I felt robbed. Do you know how in Forrest Gump when Lieutenant Dan brings Gump down like, “You fucking robbed me! I was supposed to die!” That’s how I felt. And then I was made in the beginning months because I was going surgery, surgery, rehab, surgery, and the shitty part of the stick was it takes time for you to recuperate to get to where you’re at. There was a one year anniversary I didn’t talk to you about. I talked to Roark about it. I had a failed attempt. I was amongst other friends and then that one year anniversary sucked so I took my gun, racked it, pulled the trigger. Nothing happened. The guys wrestled the gun with me and they looked at the gun. The marker was struck. I guess there was no load powder in there.
The day after I checked myself into the base psychiatric ward. Man, it made me realize I’m not that fucked up. [laughs] Compared to the guys who were actually there, they really needed to be there. I was there like, “Dude. This is not me.”
OG: You have to understand, people deal with that situation way different from other people and it’s a struggle. You go through that daily just because it’s just something different. Everybody reacts differently to those experiences and handling it.
AJ: But I’m in there. You see guys that failed out of Air Force boot camp like, “I can’t handle it!” I’m like, “Are you fucking shitting me? Are you fucking shitting me?” [all laugh] I can’t have shoelaces on my shoes because they think I’m going to hang myself and you’re telling me? Oh man. I was in the psych ward for a good two weeks. I was like, “Fuck me.” I should have never done this. [laughs] But, yeah. That was the bad part.
RH: When did you move to San Antonio?
OG: San Antonio was my little hub for all my post-deployment and pre-deployment stuff. My sister lived here so I would always come here because my family was from Harlingen but they moved up to Corpus [Christi]. So Corpus and San Antonio were about an hour and a half, two hour drive depending on traffic and how fast you drive. So it was right there. I would always go to San Antonio because it’s a big city and had a lot of things to do to keep my mind preoccupied. Plus, it’s my sister and I like to go back to my family a lot. I grew up so I kind of just always would go back to my family. So I moved here, I officially moved here after I got out which was like September of 2012. I finally finished and stayed here.
RH: So you were able to be with him throughout this whole time?
OG: Yes, I was. I was with him a lot for his time being and potential. Of course, everybody had their own thing and they were out and everything. But it was good. It was good to be around. I had other battle buddies that were here from 2/7 – the Afghan and from the original Iraq tour. I saw a lot of good guys here so we’d just hang out, bullshit, talk. It was pretty interesting.
RH: Good to go. So I’m going to ask you both this. How has – this is a very big question – how has your military experience shaped your life since you’ve gotten out?
OG: Oh man. It never leaves you. It will never go away. There’s a lot of good things that stay with you and a lot of bad things that stay with you. The baggage of your memories, your thoughts and everything like that, that will always go with you no matter what.
My military indoctrination and how I am now, there’s a lot of good uses to it. My ability to handle different things at the same time, multitasking, stress issues, stuff like that with work. Not with personal stress issues. When I go to work it’s not hard enough. I have to talk to these regular civilians now who complain and whine about certain things. I tell them, “There’s harder jobs out there.” Whatever job I’m at, this is ten times easier than what I’ve done. So I take that into account. It shows. They recognize who you are real quick. Both jobs I’ve had they knew that you’re in the military. You have to be. I’m like, “Yeah, I was.”
“Who were you?”
“What did you do?”
Once you say you were a grunt or infantry it’s just different stigma. It was like, “Oh, shit.” And unfortunately it carries on to everywhere you go. You’re probably messed up in the head which is very true. I am. I have certain things I deal with and it’s not like it’s a troubling issue but it has defined me and I’m glad for that definition. I’m glad to be one of the few of my generation to experience active duty war and gone through that. Not like what’s going on now but just to go through and experience different things and bring them back to reality, back to being home.
AJ: For me it’s still challenging because, I hate to say it, I’m still in the transition mode. I got out and I went to Las Vegas. I wanted to go to Las Vegas because I just wanted to get away. I wanted to enjoy. But when I was in Las Vegas I wasn’t going anywhere. I needed some support structure but I didn’t have any support structure. That’s why I moved back to Texas. I had guys down here like Garza within reach, guys that I grew up with in the Marines that I can honestly trust. It wasn’t only Garza. We have Wilson.
OG: He’s a big supporter out of our group because he only did one tour and he regrets every –
AJ: Just leaving.
OG: Just leaving really early. But he did it for his own circumstances and he’s OK with that. We have a lot of good support here just because a lot of the Marines from Third Platoon are Texas veterans so we’re all around each other. Some kind of far. Some still stay very much stay in contact a lot. And meeting new Marines here from new units, being good friends with them too.
RH: Good to go. I want to talk a little bit about some of the suicides in 2/7. Just for future historians, there’s been recently some articles in the New York Times and there’s been some gathering attention to the large number of suicides of veterans from Second Battalion, Seventh Marines. I just wanted to know your feelings on that, if you have anything to contribute to the conversation.
OG: I know a lot of Marines who have attempted, including doc here. I remember calling him and talking about that. “What the fuck are you doing?” Actually helping him out with that one. And then the other ones just destroyed me hearing. Like, “You’re fucking kidding me.” There’s a couple that stick out in my mind very clearly just from my company – not from Echo or Fox. They have their amount too. There’s a lot, actually.
The two that stick out in my mind the worst with the suicides because it’s a lot – it’s surprisingly a lot for that one unit for that timeframe – are Clay Hunt and Joseph Gellings. Both from 2/7, both from Golf Company. Joseph Gellings was with me from boot camp, SOI – actually, from the plane flying to MCRD San Diego going through the yellow footsteps together, boot camp together, school of infantry together and then Iraq – all three deployments together and making it out together almost the same timeframe. That was one of them. That was a huge one right there when I heard about him killing himself.
The other one which was one of my Marines, one of the personal ones that I had direct interaction with every day, was Clay Hunt. That one sticks out in my mind every fucking day. It’s one of those things where you don’t know if you had any indirect, if you kind of pushed that onto him or you were too hard on him or something like that. It’s a shock, when it happened, to me. It was a very bad day knowing and finding out that he committed suicide because he was on the right path. He was actually taking care of other veterans about suicide prevention and awareness. And what happened to him, it was just a tragic story about it. I just come to realize that it doesn’t matter the timeframe or how you deal with it. It never goes away. And it will come back to you.
AJ: It doesn’t matter how successful you are, too.
OG: It does not matter. Watching certain documentaries about PTSD and understanding it from different vets. I think I watched a documentary about the Frozen Chosin, the Marines from that time frame during the Korean War. These were guys who were fucking hard charging warriors of men, just fucking bad asses fighting against a way superior number of Chinese and North Korean enemy forces and dealing with it and taking care of it and doing what they were supposed to do – Marines and Army at that time. Watching that documentary seeing that twenty, forty years down the road they were finally dealing with their PTSD and some of them succumbing to it and losing it. Some of them were like, “It took me that long to finally realize. It finally emerged.” Some people suppress it. We suppress. Some of us suppress it very well. Some of us don’t. I did for an extended amount of time until it finally reared its ugly head just this year. Just bad memories – finally breaking down. Crying. Calling people like, “Hey. I’m fucking losing it. I’m losing my fucking mind.” It’s a work in progress, I’ll tell you that right now. It is definitely something that every combat veteran deals with. Not every combat veteran, everybody that goes through that crazy experience –
OG: Lifestyle, yeah. It’s just a horrible fucking experience, man, to go through that. And try to do that with a significant other at the same time – they don’t understand. They will never understand just because they do not grasp the concept of your baptism under fire. Because it’s true. You do, literally, get changed in combat, right away. You start losing brothers to an invisible enemy which you have hardly any control over.
There’s been a lot of discussion and some anger with the suicides. I recently went through a good argument – [to Aaron] I think I remember talking to you about that.
OG: Where a couple of good friends of mine from the same platoon – one from the same platoon, another one from a different company but we met with each other again – decided to shun –
OG: – those guys who attempted or did do suicide.
RH: What do you mean exactly?
OG: They just got fed up and they got tired because they kept hearing about the suicides or attempted suicides. Of course we do what we can. We’ve got a specific group in our facebook where all 2/7 Marines – past and present – can be in there together and talk about their issues. It’s a private group where you can only be invited into. Every month we’ll get something like, “Hey, I’m worried about this guy. Here’s his phone number. Give him a call.” It’s a good, good thing to be into and be a part of. You can see the intent there, the huge intent, to tray and bring everybody in like, “Hey. Who’s in this area? Go get him. Go check up on him. Call a cop or do something.” And these guys were getting fed up and I understand it. Everybody reacts differently to –
RH: I’m sorry. They were getting fed up with the calls for help?
OG: Yes. And seeing the issues of the guys dealing with it.
RH: They were being like, “Don’t do this here. Go someplace with this.”?
OG: From their opinions – you know, I respect them. They’re battle brothers too but they just have a different view on it which I personally do not fucking agree with at all. But I can sense the anger and the sadness and the hate with them because they –
AJ: They’re tired of it.
OG: They’re tired of it. I don’t blame them. I don’t blame them but for me as a human being, as the one that we fought together as a cohesive group – brothers pretty much – I cannot shun them. I will never alienate anybody who thinks about PTSD. In the beginning I did. In the beginning I thought it was weak. You do that? Fuck you. You’re done. But once I – I haven’t told you this – but once you have a loaded gun and put it in your mouth, it changes your perspective real quick about shit. It’s sad and then you start realizing, unfortunately there’s no understanding why they do that, why they get into that mindset. When you start realizing that and understanding about suicide, it’s a whole different ballgame for combat infantry Marines and people who’ve been through combat. You start realizing.
RH: Before I go on, Aaron, do you want to contribute to that?
AJ: No. We’re roommates. We both have the same discussion. We both carry discussions, “What are you doing about this? What are you doing about that?” Yeah. He hit it right on.
RH: What are some of the tools that you use to deal with some of this stuff?
OG: At first it was self-medicating with alcohol. Horrible idea. We already established that fact real quick. Just trying to talk to people about it. Family. For me you should just not involve the family too much in your PTSD issues. It’s good to open up but it’s a different kind of medication you need. Family will try to be there and be supportive. That’s good. That’s what they’re meant to be there for, give you love and support. To really properly understand you, talk to your battle brothers who we have right here. For a while I didn’t know what kind of good therapy was. I’m finally going through my steps with my PTSD and my issue with the VA and going through what I can claim with disability and all that stuff. Surprisingly for me, what works – what puts me at ease – is cooking. Fucking cooking food, dude. It’s the weirdest thing I ever thought. I thought video games were but that’s just a little outlet for me to escape reality. But to actually embrace and confront it? Just cooking food, dude. It puts me at ease and gets me quiet. It’s a good therapy session for me.
Of course, talking to your boys, sitting around drinking beers and crying it out like, “Hey, I’m fucking dealing with this.” That’s good too but that can actually only get you so far until you get to seek professional help. That’s what I mainly want to put out there. Having your battle buddies can be good to whoever – everybody reacts differently to that. If it helps them then awesome. Good. For me what I notice is that I need to talk. I need to be social. I need to be out there and this is what I’m doing now.
RH: Alright. Good to go. We’re going to switch it up a little bit. Has deploying affected you spiritually and, if so, how?
RH: Alright, I’ll expand this. Maybe your entire military experience which would include deploying, maybe your healing experience or otherwise?
AJ: I used to be religious growing up Roman Catholic. Now I don’t believe in it. Even though people say when I got hurt, “God must have saved you.” I just agree but I really don’t. I don’t. I’m just like, “No, dude.” It happened. There’s no mathematics or whatever. And then you hear people, “Oh, God saved you.” No. God didn’t save me.
OG: Your buddies did.
AJ: Yeah. My buddies did. The guys that pulled me out and did the surgery on me. Not one bit did God part the seas or whatever. [laughs] No. He didn’t do that shit for me. But it kind of hurts my mom because she’s very religious. Put it this way, I haven’t stepped in a church since 2005. I’m like, “No! Not for me.”
OG: Deploying and doing all that experience and everything, fuck yeah. Fuck yeah it changed me. For the good or for the better, I do not know. But I do know that what it did to me and what I experienced, What I keep putting out there is it defined me as the man I am today sitting here talking. Unfortunately when you interact with different people from back home – not from your regular group – they know the sadness in your eyes. They see the storm that brews inside of you. It did what it had to do. It’s war. Either you break –
AJ: You come out of it or you don’t.
RH: I’m going to switch gears again. How do you feel about the rise of ISIS and the current direction that Iraq is taking?
OG: [sighs] I can see where the anger is with the service members who went through the area and fought for that territory and losing it back but then again, it is war. It’s never meant to be permanent. It will switch hands many a times. Yeah, it’s a slap in their face that certain areas got taken over by ISIS and everything. Who made them? Where do they come from? I do not know and political agendas and that other side, I don’t really get too involved because other people have different information – different things. ISIS is just a horrible –
AJ: It’s like another machine.
OG: Yeah. It’s another horrible gear in this weird conundrum we have in the United States, Russia, Syria and all that other bullshit.
AJ: Just like how we’re believing we’re fighting in the right, they have their own opinion that they’re fighting in the right too, do you know what I mean?
OG: It’s just a shit sandwich and everybody’s biting on that thing pretty bad. For a good while – and this is for me when I was watching some of their beheadings and shit like that, I watched it all – I was just so angry with myself. I was like, “I need to be there. I need to go fucking kill these guys. I need to go do that.” But what purpose does that serve? I mean, you’re just one man. You don’t do a lot. You don’t fucking do a lot. I’ve seen those videos of some of the Americans going over there or whoever joining up and fight with the [thinks for a moment] –
RH: With the Kurds?
OG: The Kurds. Right.
AJ: There’s one 2/7 guy that actually went off.
OG: Yeah, but he was a struggling meth addict too. He got put in for drug abuse – not in the military or anything. It was actually his own private thing. He was dealing with that, either meth or crack or whatever the fuck it was.
AJ: There’s one 2/7 Marine that went off. He posted it in our group, “Whoever wants to come with me, come.”
OG: And he did.
RH: The Peshmerga. That’s what it is.
OG: Yeah! And they’re not just good either. They’ve done some bad shit too so they’re one of the lesser evils there.
RH: I think it’s a great idea until they give you a musket from 1845 and three bullets and they’re like –
OG: Yeah. They’re fighting for their land of Kurdistan. The Kurds don’t fuck around, I know that. The Kurds do not fuck around. They’re pretty sturdy people.
It’s just a bad situation and hearing the threats they’ve been doing, the bombings and what happened in California and recently what happened in New York and Paris and all that shit. It’s out there. They are out there. They are willing to go to extremes to kill innocent people.
AJ: I hate to say it but the shit we were talking about as we initiated when we started, we were doing it because we don’t want that shit to come home. It’s already in our homes. It’s already here on our soil. It’s either we can adjust and deal with it or treat it like the big elephant in the room.
RH: I know that there are still some US troops over there but how do you feel about the drawdown in Afghanistan and the eventual end?
OG: We can’t be there as an occupying force for that long.
AJ: There’s a reason why we’re broke now. We couldn’t do it. Financially, we couldn’t do it.
OG: That and I’m glad it’s more of an operator/advisor-geared thing than it was a full on invasion force – occupying force. Marines are tasked out to go fucking kill shit. That’s what we’re mainly there for. We kill shit and then let the Army take over and occupy the area and get it stabilized or somewhat stabilized. Obviously that doesn’t fucking work. Iraq is a horrible fucking example – I mean a good example – of how bad that shit went down. Afghanistan’s coming there too. So it’s very interesting. It’s a very interesting dynamic of what we got into and then the pay because it’s expensive dealing with dead service members. It’s expensive. The government has to front that bill, a lot of money into that.
AJ: On top of that, training for pre-deployment and then coming back. That’s a lot of money.
RH: Are there any lessons that you learned while you were over there that are relevant to the current situation in Iraq or Afghanistan?
RH: I mean, very much big picture lessons.
OG: I think the government. I think the government’s been teeter-tottering throughout the whole time we’ve been out there the whole ten plus years for both. I think the lesson is just that never underestimate the will of the people and how they want.
AJ: It’s like Vietnam. Yeah. They was just an insurgency and not as high tech as us, the US military.
OG: We’re in a situation where this war is being defined as our presence there for countless generations where we fucked up on how we did it.
RH: Now I’m going to switch it up again on you. We’re almost done. What is your happiest memory of the entire time you served?
AJ: Was it watching One Tree Hill? [all laugh]
OG: That was our escape.
AJ: We would come back from patrols and in Al Amiriyat, we had this living room and we had two couches, one stacked over on another platform, We would just as a platoon –
OG: Actually, it carried over from Fallujah into there. We were watching One Tree Hill in Fallujah and then we’d go do our patrols and come back. The funny thing is were on patrol and still talk like, “Man, I can’t believe he did that to her!” “I know. Fuckin’ A, man! What a dick.” [all laugh] It was dumb shit like that. That’s the shit. You remember the funny shit.
AJ: That could have been the beginning of Netflix.
OG: And interacting with some of the kids was fun too. It was good times. I remember they were asking, “Mister, Mister. Chocolate!” Chocolate, right? You would throw them chocolate.
I had this one fucking kid that came up to me one time and I thought that I was going to get killed because I thought he was going to run up and just detonate right next to me. But it was some kid on a bike and comes up next to me and I’m like, “Oh shit! What the fuck is going on here?” He was like, “Hey mister! What’s going on? Give me a Playstation 2,” because this is when the Playstation 2 was out. “I don’t have a fucking Playstation 2 on me right now and if I did I wouldn’t give you one, anyways. Get the fuck away from me now!” [all laugh] He was like, “OK. Bye mister! Playstation 2 next time.” I was like, “What are you doing, weirdo?” And on a bike too, of all things. There’s a lot of funny, goofy, weird shit like that.
RH: My next question is, what are some of the funniest stories you have? This could be the entire time, not just deploying.
AJ: Hazing? [laughs] The funniest story? I’ll let you go.
OG: I mean, there’s a lot from the time where we were boots and we were all doing a PT run through the whole platoon. Of course, “Go do road guard real quick.” So we’d go to that section of the road, stand there and hold traffic up. I remember one day when we were doing that and me and Vill were racing each other. We were being moto like, “Yeah! I’ll be the first. We’re strong,” showing off. Vill takes a tumble because he’s fucking fat and he has a really goofy stance when he runs so he tumbles and falls down. We do that and come back and then we get together with all the seniors and do an initiation process. “Hey, you guys are doing good. You’re brothers so you bleed together.” We all kind of made each other bleed and we kind of punch each other and do something stupid. Well, fat ass gets bruised up really bad and they get in formation and they see him in his PT gear because everybody was PTing. I think the CO saw him.
AJ: No, no, no. We did a run and then you remember Vill took a tumble?
AJ: He took a tumble and he was bleeding from his knees and Staff Sergeant was like, “Take him to the aid station!” I go in and I’m writing up the SOAP note for this guy and it was Handojo –Lieutenant Handojo. I bring him down and he’s in PT shorts and PT shirt with his whole humerus –
OG: Yeah, that’s right.
AJ: The whole entire arm of his humerus – bone to bone, tip to tip – was purple. It was purple. [laughs]
AJ: So I was with him and Lieutenant Handojo was like, “Hey Vill. How did you get your arm?”
OG: And he’s a horrible liar.
AJ: Then Lieutenant Handojo asked me, “How did he get his arm this color?” “I don’t know, Sir.” [laughs] I really didn’t know. I was a dumbass baby Corpsman. I was like, “I don’t know what happened. They’re Marines!” Whatever. I took him in and got his leg fixed and later on I had noticed and I got talked to by LT [pronounced L-T] and Staff Sergeant, “There’s an investigation going on.”
OG: I remember that day. It was into the hazing incident. It wasn’t really hazing because they weren’t doing anything.
AJ: There was no seniors touching juniors, put it that way.
OG: Our seniors were highly intelligent with that kind of shit. [all laugh] You can attest to how smart they were with that shit. But they knew how to cover their tracks and it wasn’t like they were hazing us because they were fucking with us. It was more of a camaraderie building thing which it really was. It really was. You get the whole platoon together and you duke it out and settle your while shit together as men. So it’s more of a group building exercise with pain. He got labelled a shit bag for a little bit.
AJ: Who? Payne?
OG: No. Vill. He did but it was just one incident. It was one incident of funniness.
RH: So what was your story?
AJ: Before I go onto me, you need to tell him about the Wheeler story. This is the Bronze Star recipient. This needs to go on record.
OG: Yeah. This is our future Bronze Star recipient Tony Wheeler.
AJ: This is the same guy that witnessed Windsor.
OG: Yeah. Same guy that witnessed Windsor get shot in the neck.
AJ: I was there. I saw it. We were doing pre-deployment training and we had stations of grenades.
OG: It was grenade training so what happened was – every Marine gets their grenades and that’s why you do grenade training for a day or two.
AJ: For a certain extent.
OG: Yeah, for a certain extent. But when you go to the fleet, they want to get you accustomed to having live ordnance on your body. So we do the grenade range which is fucking fun. It’s real cool. Of course it’s kind of hyped up because you actually have seniors on your ass like, “Don’t fuck up!” So you’re all scared at the same time.
So we’re going through the thing and everybody throws their grenade once. One guy and goes again, one guy and goes again. So basically what it is, you get your grenade and you do it at an angle so it will bounce into a room and stay around there somewhere – hit a corner and you get the most effective blast radius with whoever’s in there. So you do that – boom. Everybody gets down, breathe out, let the concussive blast go. OK, cool. Do that a couple of times. Well, Wheeler was one of the last ones and you can tell he’s nervous because he starts [breathes rapidly and heavily] kind of breathing a little bit, right? This is Wheeler – Bronze Star recipient with a Combat V Wheeler. This is before all that crazy shit. He gets in there and I think he hits it at a sweet angle and it bounces over the protective walls [RH laughs] and lands next to a group of Marines. We all hear, “EVERYBODY FUCKING DIVE!” And everybody dove out of there. I remember getting fucking yanked out I just hit the ground and you feel it – da-doom! It was in an open area now. It wasn’t in that little area where the concussion can be somewhat subdued. It was actually where you felt everything and prepped for everything. Luckily nobody got hurt. Everybody got some dust on them but that’s about it. It was a laugh but, man, they hazed the shit out of us. They fucking rode us for that one.
OG: They kept it in house. That’s just one of the many things that I experienced because you have to laugh about certain incidents. Getting into a firefight like, “Man, that was a close one!” [makes bullet noises] Flying past you and there was a lot of, “I think they’re still on us.” “Just let them sit for a little bit. We’ll return fire afterwards,” but we were just laughing. You’re having that humor put you into a good state of mind because every day you’re serious and then once something funny happens like that, it really made me laugh.
RH: Was that your funny story?
AJ: No. My funny story was, like any kind of military, we get together and talk about our experiences. For me I don’t think I really have a funny story.
RH: A second ago you were just like, “I got one.” What was it?
AJ: It wasn’t really mine. It was [Corpsman A]’s.
RH: [Corpsman A] with the?
AJ: No. It was a different one. So it was our second deployment. This is not my story now. Credit goes strictly to [Corpsman B] and [Corpsman A] because they were there. [laughs] It sort of ties into what happened to me. So there’s this Marine and he had a varicocele. A varicocele is when you walk around too much and you run and your nut sack twists in a bind. It just twists up instead of being normal. It got so bad that this Marine had to go to one of those main bases to get seen. Lieutenant Handojo and Lieutenant Lund couldn’t deal with it. He went, and of course it was [Corpsman A]’s guy, so he brings him along and the doctor was in her mid-thirties – a hot, pretty doctor. They haven’t seen women for a couple of months now. At time we were saying this guy is well-endowed. For a white guy he is really well-endowed. [OG laughs] Jeez, you know?
The story was he’s at the aid station and the Marine, just before, he got a huge boner. [all laugh] So this guy was probably the size of my forearm or something because that’s how [Corpsman B] and [Corpsman A] were describing it to me. This guy has a huge dick. I’m not gay but that’s a huge dick. He’s got a raging hard-on and the doctor comes in and is like, “Let me see.” So she gets down on her knees and she’s going around like moving her head around this Marine’s dick – look left and look right. [Corpsman A] is right there looking just laughing inside, laughing inside. When she was messing with his balls once she got to see that Marine’s dick, she got real big eyed. Whoa, that’s a big one. [laughs] So after he gets proper treatment they go to the smoke pit and [Corpsman A] is just dying laughing, just dying laughing. He’s like, “What’s up doc? What’s going on? What are you laughing at?” “If she was there and she told you to go left face or right face, you could have just bitch slapped her face.” [all laugh] He had a raging hard-on. The Marine was like, “Yeah, yeah. I could’ve.” [Corpsman A] was like, “Wow. WOW!” It’s not my story but the stories of Marines that are your friends.
RH: I never heard that one before. That’s a good one.
AJ: So, the whole nut distortion thing. I don’t know if you remember but when we got back from the deployment and me and [Corpsman C] were living together. Don’t you dare tell [Corpsman C] though. [laughs] It’ll be on record but don’t you dare tell doc [Corpsman C]. I was honestly watching porn and beating my dick. [all laugh]
OG: The truth! [laughs]
AJ: So I was beating my dick and the next thing you know [Corpsman C] comes in like, “Whoa!” I had to play it off like, “My shit’s sore. Take me to the hospital.” I had to go to surgery for that and I had to skip some humps for that. In all actuality, I really had something wrong with my nuts. All that walking around with gear and everything, it was the beginning stages of varicocele.
LR: You got a hernia in your balls?
RH: They twist. The tubes twist.
AJ: The veins. I guess [Corpsman C] saved my balls. [all laugh] [Corpsman C] saved my balls by catching me beating off.
OG: I have one more and this is a platoon one. I got the whole platoon together. Remember [Marine A]?
AJ: [Marine A]?
OG: Yeah. [Marine A]. We were in-between our deployments and we were in our training gear. I think it was the year that we were there. We were in the country for a year before we went on our second deployment. So we had a weekend and had some downtime between training sessions and training workups and everything. So it was the weekend and I didn’t have a car or anything so I’m going to go to the PX and get some food, relax and play video games or something. I go off to the PX, go grab my stuff. Coming back I had some food and going up to our building was the 1412 barracks. I remember them. I’m walking by and I hear some moaning, somebody getting it on like, “Ohhh yeahhh!” Let’s see what’s going on, you know? [all laugh] I pass by and it was [Marine A] and [Marine B]’s room. Both were roommates. [Marine B] went off for the weekend somewhere so it was [Marine A]. This dumb ass, this fucking idiot, left the blinds open. So I’m like, “What the fuck? Is he watching porn?” Let me go see what this guy’s watching.
So I look down and he’s butt-ass fucking naked, jerking off to porn, [RH laughs] going to town. I think it was infomercial porn or something. So I’m there like, “No fucking way!” I’m losing my shit. I didn’t want to interrupt so I do the conscientious human thing, I drop off my food and I start telling everybody. “Hey, come on.” [RH laughs] I start knocking on everybody’s door. “Come over here, come over here.” And we gather. We gather and we watch my boy beat his meat for a couple of seconds. They were like, “Wow. He is going to town, dude.” One of our squad leaders was like, “OK. I’m done.” And then he looks out the window like, “WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING? AHHH!” [RH laughs] Runs to the bathroom [AJ laughs] and comes out like, “What did you guys see? I wasn’t doing anything.” [all laugh] We were like, “We caught you jerking off!” It was just a funny moment where the whole platoon was happy together. Just beating his meat like there’s no worry – like there’s no tomorrow. We still talk about it. We still pick on him about it because it was so funny.
RH: Heaviest question of the entire interview, what’s the best MRE?
OG: Oh fuck. I think right now from what I remember was the chili mac. I think that was, for me, that was the best MRE just because they had the most goodies and stuff in it. The other ones you had that meat patty and chicken patty – chicken tetrazzini and stuff like that. I think chili mac was the best one.
AJ: I would have to agree with you but I didn’t necessarily eat the meals. I mostly ate pound cakes. [all laugh] The pound cakes and the peanut butter and crackers. That’s about it.
OG: The most recent MREs I had was back in 2013 – no, 2011. Sorry, 2011. They had the breakfast ones. They have breakfast ones where they have the granola shake. So they have granola things that you can eat and that was pretty good. The breakfast thing blew ass. It was like C ration eggs, remember that? The square eggs? Eww, I don’t want to touch that. But that little snack was the best one, I think. And they had the protein shakes and all that crazy shit but the meal itself? I think that was the best one.
AJ: Yeah, chili mac.
RH: Alright. Good to go. Last couple of questions. Actually, excuse me. Before I get there, there is one question for Aaron specifically. Was the food better in the Army or the Marines?
OG: Not MREs.
RH: Yeah. Not MREs. Just chow halls.
AJ: Chow halls and everything, I want to say it depends. I was in two stations in the Army. I was in Korea and I was deployed. Garrison or deployed?
RH: Both. Just overall.
AJ: Alright. I’m going to break it down. Garrison, I’m going to go with the Marines. The chow hall that was next to the – it wasn’t the trackers – that new chow hall that we had.
OG: It was the infantry side and the POG side chow halls. The POG side one had the best chow hall. The best looking and the best –
AJ: They had comm girls – school of comm girls. That’s in garrison. Of course, deployed I was at the FOB. I had tits, man. [laughs]
OG: Yeah you did.
AJ: I was holding it up. I had, like, eggs to order. Sometimes we had sushi night. Every Friday steak and lobster night.
OG: You guys got lucky, dude. We were just barely getting by with air drop steaks and chicken breasts.
AJ: That’s what I remember. That was my decision factor when they asked me, “Do you want to be senior line or do you want to be aid station?” Ah? [laughs] Nope! No, no, no, no. Stick me in the aid station, man.
RH: Perfect. Alright. Last couple of questions. What are some of the common misconceptions that the average American might have about the conflict?
OG: About the ongoing conflict?
RH: Actually, let me put it like this. What are some of the common misconceptions that the average American may have had about Iraq and Afghanistan in the time you were there? Not necessarily what’s going on today.
OG: OK. The time I was there I think they thought we were just –
AJ: It’s still going on?
OG: It was still going on. Some people didn’t even recognize, “Is it even going on still?” Yeah, motherfucker. But I think the biggest one was that we were looked at as murderers and baby killers and shit like that. For me, the Marine side of the house, we had a lot of incidents where that group of snipers that peed on the bodies of the Taliban. I totally agree with them doing that because earlier that day one of their guys got killed by that same group so it was revenge. Fuck that. I don’t give a shit. You do not have any kind of morals when you go into war. You shouldn’t have any.
But I think their misconception and the PR aspect of it all, we were getting a lot of heat and a lot of people did not really agree with the whole war and why we were there. Which, you know, to tell you the truth I did not really know why we were in Iraq. Afghanistan I kind of knew – presence of mind and push them out – but Iraq I had no fucking clue why, really. I did not know. And I guess I’m OK with not knowing that until somebody informs me why we were really there. I think the general misconception with a lot of people was, why are we still fighting? We should take our boys out. It’s not that easy.
AJ: No. Especially if you’ve been out there and spent more than ten years in the country fighting a war that the local nationals should have been doing in the first place. Of course I’ve run into people like, “It’s all Bush’s fault.” [to RH] You’re from New York and I wasn’t a witness but there’s people you lost. And Afghanistan, yeah. The main thing is, Iraq, I try to keep politics out of it. I really, honestly, try to do it for the guys. I always got the question, “You do it for oil or the minerals?” No. When it comes down to it, yeah, we follow orders but I’m there to make sure that my guys come home and I get home. It’s just a job.
OG: Just the experience. Be there for your boys.
RH: Alright. Good to go. Oscar, this question would be for Marines and Aaron the question would be for Corpsmen. If you could communicate something to young Marines and young Corpsmen who will be fighting the wars of the future, what would it be?
OG: For the Marine side of the house with infantry, history repeats itself. You need to understand history and educate yourself with whatever conflict you’re about to go into and the populace and the prior wars they’ve been into. Educate yourself. The sooner you learn and understand where you go for the following wars, the better off you are.
AJ: There might be women Marines now.
OG: Women infantry, that’s a different topic. I’m OK with them learning and everything like that. I think it’s trust your gut, train as hard as you can. Take out all that hesitation and bury that shit and learn how to work as a cohesive unit. You have to understand that one day you will have to transition from being just a sheep dog to into an actual wolf and go out there and do some of the dirty shit that some of the people are not willing to do. Most civilians do not understand. To catch a devil you have to be a devil. You have to do shit that takes you way out of your fucking comfort zone and into a different territory where you do not become human anymore. You become what you need to do to survive and do things. I told that to many of my young Marines when I was coming out, “This is what’s going to happen. You’re going to learn it. You’re going to learn it real quick.” Some things are not what they seem and when you start looking at the bigger picture of things and understanding it, you will be far off better and take less of an impact on you mentally. So that would be my advice to the future generation of Marines – both male and female infantry. Understand your history.
AJ: With that said, you know they are going to start deploying female Corpsmen too. Not only male but females, too. What do I tell the newbies? Listen to your seniors in taining. The only reason why I got to be the Corpsman I was in and now is the training. I know I would have never gotten that same training if I would have gone to Pendleton or Lejeune because in the desert, there’s nothing else to do but train. Listen to your seniors. If there’s something wrong, speak up. Speak up to your Platoon Sergeant. Don’t always suck up. Listen and listen to your guys because you’re not only there for medical, you’re there for psychological as well. Just listen to your guys. Just be there. Even after you get out, be there. Always be there. Keep in touch. After it’s all said and done, eventually when the time comes for us at the end, just be there for each other.
OG: The caveat with that is you’re there for a reason. You’re there to be a cohesive unit. You’re there for your brothers and your sisters. Do the job you’re meant to do. Whatever battlefield you go to either tropical, desert or mountains – whatever the fuck you go to – you have to always understand that your training is going to be paramount. Safety is too but in the end it’s going to be the mission objective and see what you’ve got to do. Understand the people, understand your training, understand what you have in front of you and you will succeed.
RH: Alright. Before I ask the final question, is there anything at all that I left out that you would like to address?
AJ: This is going on the record, right?
AJ: Anything? Anything?
RH: Anything at all. Anything with the military.
AJ: Anything in the military or anything in general?
RH: Anything military. If you want to talk about the football scores –
AJ: No, no, no. [laughs] I’ll probably say it after but you’re going to get a kick. Go Navy, beat Army. [all laugh]
RH: That’s appropriate. Alright. My last question throughout your entire experience from the moment you started boot camp until now, what specific accomplishment are you most proud of?
OG: From my whole time being in the Marine Corps, the proudest I’ve ever been in my life and those most defining was being a squad leader in Afghanistan and finally putting my knowledge, my actions, and my way of life at that time in direct reflection of my young Marines and them teaching their young Marines. That was the proudest time of my life in the Marine Corps. Everything else inside the Marine Corps was secondary to that point and I will always hold that as the most defining moment of my life right there. Because circumstances happened and what happened to me and my fellow Marines, that will always put me right there in that spot.
AJ: For me it’s, with the good or bad, it’s making lifelong friends like with you all. It’s been ten years since I’ve seen you and we just carried off from where we left off. That’s the best thing, just making lifelong friends. It’s indescribable. Normal people can’t do that.
OG: They go through that situation. I’m not saying that one moment was everything but it is a good thing to realize what we have here currently right now at this table is something will never be broken because we just went right back into it talking to each other, remembering old stories. That is something that is very rare to find in our human history – just being together in a battlefield and understanding it and helping each other cope and go through things.
RH: Alright. Good to go. Before I wrap it up, Louis, anything to contribute?
LR: It’s dinnertime. [all laugh]
OG: Very true!
RH: Alright fellas. Thank you very much!
Obituary entry for Joseph Scott Gellings – April 17, 1985 to November 2, 2014 – from the Barnett Family Funeral Home website: Joseph Scott Gellings, 29, of Lawrence, died Sunday, November 2, 2014, at his home in Lawrence. He was born on April 17, 1985, in Topeka, the son of Robert Joseph Gellings and Kimberly Joe Beasley Barnett. He was a 2003 graduate of Oskaloosa high school. Joseph joined the U.S. Marine Corps in August 2004, he served with the 2/7 Weapons Co., he served in Iraq and Afghanistan, serving till August 2008, as a mortar man- CPL-E4. Joseph worked for ABC Supply Company as a sales manager, he worked for the Oskaloosa Lumber Company, and electrical work with Tracy Cross of Oskaloosa. He is survived by his parents Robert J. and wife Lela Gellings and Kimberly J. Barnett. Other survivors include one son, Hayden Joseph Gellings and Hayden's mother Jenna M. Passio, both of Lawrence, and one brother, Cody R. Gellings, Ozawkie, Maternal Grandparents, Jim and Sandy Malloy, and Paternal Grandparents, Leo Sr., and Barbara Gellings all of Ozawkie, Cremation is planned. Memorial Services will be at 10:00 AM, Friday, November 14, 2014 at the Barnett Family Funeral Home (1220 Walnut/Hwy 59), Oskaloosa. Inurnment with full military honors, will be at 2:30 PM, Friday at the Leavenworth VA National Cemetery. Memorials are suggested to the Hayden Educational Fund or to the Wounded Warrior Fund in care of Barnett Family Funeral Home, P.O. Box 602, Oskaloosa, KS. 66066.
Obituary for Clay Hunt by T. Rees Shapiro, Washington Post, April 17, 2011.
Clay W. Hunt, a decorated combat veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan who became a prominent advocate for troops suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after he left the Marines, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound March 31 at his apartment in Sugar Land, Tex. He was 28.
Mr. Hunt separated from the Marines as a corporal in April 2009 and went on to help earthquake victims in Haiti and Chile with Team Rubicon, a humanitarian aid organization founded by a fellow Marine.
“I was able to walk through a rubble-strewn, just destroyed city,” Mr. Hunt said in a Team Rubicon video. “It looked like it had just been carpet-bombed, and I didn’t have to worry about my own safety. I was there to do a job, to help people. And I had a renewed faith in humanity.”
He appeared in a television public-service announcement promoting mental health and awareness sponsored by the Ad Council and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, a veterans’ support group.
Mr. Hunt also helped lobby Congress on behalf of veterans’ rights and participated in races with Ride2Recovery, a charity organization for wounded veterans.
He was by many accounts a model for helping other service members overcome the invisible wounds of war. But he endured a private battle with post-traumatic stress, depression and survivor’s guilt.
In 2007, Mr. Hunt was serving in Iraq with the 2nd Battalion of the 7th Marine Regiment when his bunkmate was killed in action. In the days after, Mr. Hunt began sleeping in the fallen Marine’s bed, as he later wrote, “to be closer to him.”
About a month later, he was driving a Humvee in Anbar province outside Fallujah when his patrol was ambushed. While the unit was under fire from rocket-propelled grenades, another friend was shot in the throat by a sniper, right before Mr. Hunt’s eyes.
He later told his family that the scene of the mortally wounded Marine being loaded into a helicopter often replayed in his head as he lay in bed, unable to sleep.
Days after the ambush, a sniper’s round missed Mr. Hunt’s head by inches and struck him in the wrist. He was flown to California to be treated and later received a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder.
He recovered and, after becoming a Marine scout sniper, served in the Sangin district in southern Afghanistan in 2008. Two more of his friends were killed.
After Mr. Hunt left the military two years ago, he sought help for his problems with depression and stress. He suffered memory loss and panic attacks and told his parents he had suicidal thoughts, according to a profile of Mr. Hunt that appeared in the Houston Chronicle last week.
He saw multiple doctors and got medication for his mental ailments. But he struggled to get disability payments after his paperwork was misplaced.
“You fight for your country, then come home and have to fight against your own country for the benefits you were promised,” Mr. Hunt told the Los Angeles Times in 2010. “I can track my pizza from Pizza Hut on my BlackBerry, but the VA can’t find my claim for four months.”
In recent months, Mr. Hunt’s life began to crumble.
He had attended classes at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles but quit when benefits checks did not arrive on time. A two-year marriage ended in divorce.
“The message I’ve been trying to convey to people is that if this can happen to Clay Hunt, it can happen to anyone,” Paul Rieckhoff, president of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, told the New York Times last week. “He was involved. He had a supportive family. He was going to the VA. He was doing the right things. And it still happened.”
Clay Warren Hunt was born April 18, 1982, in Houston. After graduating from high school, he attended community college before enlisting in the Marine Corps in 2005.
Survivors include his parents, Susan Selke and Stacy Hunt, both of Houston; grandparents Bill and Muriel Knotts of Huntsville, Tex.; a sister; and four stepsisters.
On his arm, Mr. Hunt had a tattoo that quoted a poem by “Lord of the Rings” author J.R.R. Tolkien: “Not all those who wander are lost.”
In his apartment outside Houston, Mr. Hunt had a shadow box on his wall. In it were pictures of his four deceased friends and his medals, which included the Purple Heart.
“In my mind, he is a casualty of war,” Mr. Hunt’s mother told CNN this week. “But he died here instead of over there. He died as a result of his war experience.”