Ray served with Second Battalion, Seventh Marines and deployed to Fallujah in 2005 and the Zaidan (an area to the south and southeast of Fallujah) in 2007. As an Assaultman, he participated in multiple engagements with insurgents and was targeted in numerous IED attacks. After leaving the Marines, he stayed in California. He continues to work with veterans.
Interview conducted on January 2, 2015 in Corona, California
Present: Richard Hayden and Ray King
Transcribed by Richard Hayden
Richard Hayden: What is your full name?
Ray King: Raymond Lee King
RH: What branch of the military did you serve in and what years?
RK: I served in the United States Marine Corps from 2004 to 2008.
RH: What was your rank when you got out?
RK: Lance Corporal
RH: What was your MOS?
RK: 0351 [Note: stated as “oh-three-fifty-one”]
RH: Which is?
RH: What motivated you to join the military?
RK: Kind of doing some bad stuff when I was a kid so I wanted to get out of that lifestyle and do the military thing. It runs in my family too.
RH: Were your father or grandfather in?
RK: My dad was in. My great-grandpa was in. My grandmother’s genealogy has us traced back, basically, almost to the Civil War.
RH: Were they in the Marines or in the Army?
RK: My dad was in the Marines. My grandpa was in the Army.
RH: Why did you pick the MOS that you did?
RK: Because it intrigued me. Explosives were something that was cool. It’s like every little kid’s dream to be able to go blow stuff up. [laughs] That’s one of the main reasons I did it.
RH: Can you talk about Assaultman a little bit?
RK: You’re a demolition expert so you work with C4, TNT, dynamite. 0351 was originally designed to take out tanks so we had a shoulder-fired rocket launcher that we used. We shot an 83 millimeter rocket that you fired from your shoulder. It was designed to take out tanks basically, but our job and focus being deployed was breaching.
RH: Breaching doors?
RK: Breaching doors, anything that we needed access into that we couldn’t deal, anything along those lines.
RH: Alright. What was your unit?
RK: My unit was Second Battalion, Seventh Marines, Golf Company.
RH: Where in the US were you stationed when you deployed?
RK: Twentynine Palms, California. [laughs]
RH: [laughs] What do you remember most about Twentynine Palms?
RK: Just being in the middle of nowhere. [laughs] It’s all desert for as far as the eye can see. [laughs]
RH: Did you serve in Iraq, Afghanistan or both?
RH: How many times did you deploy?
RH: Where in Iraq did you deploy to?
RK: The first deployment, the first half was in Fallujah. The second half was in Amiriyat.
RH: And the second one?
RK: The second one we were deployed to Zaidan. [Note: the Zaidan is rural area south and southeast of Fallujah.]
RH: What was the mission of your unit?
RK: Our mission on the first deployment was to basically go in and do cordon and knocks which were – you go in and get information about the family – basically doing a census of the area.
RH: What do you remember most about deploying to Iraq for the first time?
RK: The first time deploying was a little nerve-wracking. I didn’t get as much training as most guys did because I was out. I had kidney stones. All the workup that they did for the deployment – I missed it all. I kind of went into things blindsided but I caught onto things very quickly. First impressions were kind of crazy. A lot of people. I’d never been exposed to anything like that. It was different – definitely a learning experience.
RH: When you first got there, what was your initial impression of Iraq like?
RK: Pretty dirty. [laughs] I’m not going to lie.
RK: There was trash everywhere and construction and building.
[Note: The interview occurred in a public park and there was a truck idling nearby. The recording was paused to move to another location.]
RH: It was dirty?
RK: It smelled pretty bad – raw sewage.
[Note: the interview was paused again due to noise from a truck.]
RH: Sorry. I’ll ask again. Can you describe your AO and were there any parts of it that were particularly memorable?
RK: Our base. It was called The Palace. The Palace consisted of three buildings and then it had a little walkway to an Iraqi Army base that we would go back and forth from. It was easier for us to exit out through their base. It was nice because it kept us pretty much hidden from anybody else that was trying to watch our movements.
RH: Any parts of your AO that were particularly memorable?
RK: I can’t remember the main road, what it was called, but that was crazy. It was worse than LA traffic. I’m not going to lie. It was jam packed all the time. We had a good – in our vicinity – probably five mosques in the general area so we always had the prayer time going.
RH: And this is in Fallujah, right? In the middle of Fallujah?
RH: I should ask this question before we continue. This first deployment is from July of 2005 to January of 2006, correct?
RH: How did your impressions of the deployment change as the deployment went on?
RK: I learned a lot, especially with the people. You get to know them really quick because there was, I want to say, probably an eighty/twenty split throughout the whole city. You had eighty percent of the people that wanted to help you and then the twenty percent that didn’t. Those were the ones we were always keeping an eye out on. We knew when stuff was going to happen because they wouldn’t be around. There wouldn’t be a soul in sight.
RH: You said you didn’t want to talk much about the second deployment. Is there anything you can share about the AO of the second deployment? If not that’s fine.
RK: Yes. Basically, we were based out of Camp Fallujah – the main base that was close to Fallujah. I think that we were, maybe, fifteen miles outside of Fallujah. Well, the base was located there. We would leave from there and do seven week ops into the Zaidan AO which was – from what we understood at the time that we were going in – that any other unit that was trying to get in there could only make it two hundred feet and then have to come back out. It wasn’t too bad. It was definitely a lifestyle change because on my first deployment we weren’t able to shower or any of that on a regular basis. We’d go for a week long mission out there, come back and be able to take a shower and have our clothes done. All the stuff that we weren’t able to before. It was a little bit better but still, a little more dangerous that our first one.
RH: Camp Fallujah was the main base…
RH: That had the Marine Corps headquarters and the Regimental headquarters on base, correct?
RK: They put out, basically, two hundred conex boxes and converted them into rooms for us. That was basically what we were living out of. It wasn’t bad compared to my first one where we lived in wooden houses. [laughs]
RH: So second deployment based in Camp Fallujah. First deployment in a FOB, or Forward Operating Base out in the city, correct?
RH: What do you remember most about the Marines that you served with in Iraq?
RK: Those guys were pretty crazy. One thing I can say about the guys I served with is I’d go back with them any day. I wouldn’t change a thing about it. Those guys had your back no matter what. I love those guys.
RH: Cool. What were your interactions with the Iraqis like? Were they hostile? Were they friendly?
RK: You’d get a fifty/fifty split. The main thing that I dealt with a lot were the kids out there. The kids were actually pretty friendly. They were OK. Most of the guys out there were all right. The women you never really interacted with. They were always behind the scenes. But for the most part you knew who was good and who was bad. You learn that quick.
RH: Are there any Iraqis in particular that stick out?
RK: Yes, our interpreter. Our interpreter on our first deployment didn’t last very long. Stuff happened and we ended up getting rid of him. On our second deployment we had an interpreter from Jordan and he was super cool. By that time I was almost speaking Arabic fluently and writing it and it was cool because he helped me out with that. He told me the signs of what to look for because there are three different dialects for all the different areas. He was really cool and by the end of our deployment he invited our whole entire battalion to his wedding in Jordan. [laughs]
RH: Nice! [laughs] Very cool. How did learning Arabic change or effect your deployment?
RK: You had catch onto it quick because there were a lot of barriers when it came to it. That was one of the main things our first deployment that we were trying to learn because of trying to get vehicles to stop. Not stopping would turn a harmless situation into a big situation real quick. But learning the language definitely helped.
RH: Did you have any particular time where you were happy you learned Arabic vs. not?
RK: Most of the time when we went with an interpreter what was cool is when an interpreter was talking to a family and the family would say something – this was on the first deployment with the one interpreter that we ended up firing – he would talk to the family and the family would say something that wasn’t right. Like, “you need to watch out for this,” but our interpreter wouldn’t relay that to us. He would be like, “oh yeah, everything’s fine.” It was kind of misleading.
RH: What do you remember about the local food?
RK: The local food was actually really good when you could get your hands on it. Most of the families – if we had to stay in one of their houses – usually a family would prepare us food the whole time we were there. A lot of chicken, I remember that. Our second deployment, where we were there were a lot of chicken farms so they would come in and allow us to take three or four of them. So we would take them back to base, kill one of them and have that for dinner because it was the closest thing to home that was a good a meal.
RH: When I went, at one point we were with Echo [Company] and one of the Iraqi Army soldiers said “I’ll go out for a run to the local chicken shack and get you all dinners.” And, basically, the half of the squad that was deploying for the first time said “yes,” and the half of the squad that was deploying for the second time said “no,” and we all got the runs. It was pretty horrible.
RK: Yes, I did get sick. On my second deployment I got really sick. I dropped almost twenty pounds in two weeks because I got so sick.
RH: Oh wow.
RK: Yes. That was bad. [laughs] It only takes one thing. You eat one wrong thing out there and you’re pretty sick for a good while.
RH: What was the most challenging period of each deployment: the beginning, the middle or the end?
RK: I would say, mainly the beginning and the end. The reason I say the beginning is because, if it’s your first deployment out there, it’s like a whole new world. You build up to go on a deployment but I don’t think anything will ever totally prepare you for a deployment. Going out there and having to just constantly watch your back and worry is one of those things that, as a veteran, I don’t think is ever going to leave me. I’m sure there’re other veterans out there that can say the same because that first deployment and that first mission you go on, you’ll probably remember that your whole life.
And the end? The end of the deployment sucked because you’re so close to going home and you’re like, “Man!” You’re just so ready to be done but you can’t let your guard down. If you let your guard down that’s when bad things usually happen.
RH: As you gained more experience did you change and, if so, how?
RK: Yes. I became more wise as to what needed to be done. When you’re on your first deployment you’re kind of clueless on what you’re expected of. By the time you get to your second deployment or, actually, during your first, by the time you’re almost done, you pretty much know everything that needs to get done and what’s expected of you. Going on a second deployment and having new guys was a blessing because I could tell those guys “Hey. This is what you need to keep an eye out for. This is what you need to do.”
RH: How did your general outlook change?
RK: I would say there was a lot of questioning after our first deployment. A lot of us would sit around drink and be like “why were we even there?” A lot of us felt that we didn’t accomplish a whole lot. And now looking back at it and seeing all the differences that we made – if you make a difference with one kid out there it’s like “wow!,” So, you know? I miss it. [Note: voice inaudible and trails off.]
RH: What was the most challenging non-combat aspect of deploying?
RK: [laughs] I would say, probably, having the necessities like you would have at home. Not being able to have running water or a toilet or any of that. That’s a big thing to adjust to – being somewhere where you’re halfway across the world away from your family. Other than that it was good because we had a great squad. All the Marines that I served with are great. Without them I think it would have been a lot more challenging.
RH: Cool. Maybe you mentioned this a little earlier but what was more challenging, your second deployment or your first deployment and for what reasons?
RK: I would say my second deployment was probably my most challenging. We did more fighting in that one than in our first deployment combined within the first two weeks of being in our AO. It was quite different because we were used to not really fighting so much. Our first deployment we would run into caches of small arms and explosives and rockets and mortars. Our second deployment was more like, we’re getting shot at! [laughs] It was a constant, twenty-four/seven be on the lookout.
RH: I think the thing that was a little frustrating for me is we’d get hit by an IED and then, poof!, there was nobody there. There was nothing. The triggerman just faded away or if it was at night…
RK: Well, we had that incident on our first deployment towards the end where the Iraqi Army got captured and they got tortured. Three of the guys did and we had to send out search parties to find them. That right there kind of solidified it for me.
RH: How so?
RK: They’re brutal. I’m not going to lie – I want to put it as a jihadist. There are fighters out there. They tortured three guys for over a week and it was pretty gruesome when we did find the bodies. Pretty bad.
RH: Can you talk a little bit about coming home?
RK: Yes. Coming home my first deployment my family was there. I wasn’t really seeing anybody at the time. I was going it alone and I had fifteen grand in the bank and I was like “yes!,” you know, “rich!” [RH laughs] That money goes quick! [laughs] But it was good. My dad – he’s in the mental health field – and I got home because they give you thirty days leave. So when I got home I knew something was wrong when my dad was bugging me to go to sleep. It was just like, “eh.” I’ll go to sleep when I go to sleep.
[Note: Interview paused because of noise in the park.]
RK: I think my mom was still kind of in the dark. My mom didn’t really want to accept what I had gone through. I basically told my mom some of the pre-cursors. If I fall asleep, don’t wake me up. I don’t want to have anything bad happen. My [twin] brother, on the other hand, I didn’t get to see much of him. When I did see him we usually fought because I thought he needed to get his life in order and whatnot. So that was after my first deployment and that was the last time that I saw my brother. And then I went on my second deployment but in-between that I lost my twin brother. That hit home to me because I didn’t really go up and see my family that much. I would always hang out on base and just hang out with my friends. After I lost my brother it really kind of honed into me that I have two families and I need to set aside time for both. But everybody was pretty accepting of me coming home.
RH: What was the best and worst part about coming home?
RK: The best part was being able to see everybody. Just seeing all my friends and everybody having a good time. Probably the worst part about it was kind of feeling lost. There was a moment in time where I felt like I didn’t have anybody around me even though I had my family there. Getting so used to being around guys that have your back twenty-four/seven – getting away from that’s like “wow.”
RH: How did civilians react?
RK: I didn’t really deal too much with civilians. On the bus ride back from March Air Force Base after our first deployment we had some guy when we pulled into Twentynine Palms kind of boo at us and give us a thumbs down but we were like “whatever dude. You’re one out of two hundred people that are probably here.” So not too bad. I didn’t deal too much with civilians too much until after I got out. That was a big adjustment. [laughs]
RH: Since you got out, how has it been adjusting?
RK: It’s had its ups and its downs. For the first few years after I got out I didn’t do anything. I just kind of took a break for myself to try and readjust. I ended up getting a job. I didn’t keep it very long. I got into a few fights because I was drinking and one thing led to another. Other than that my wife has kind of been my rock. She’s been helping me quite a bit to readjust. Now I go to the veteran’s group twice a week and that’s been helping. I’ve been doing that almost for the past year.
RH: I guess you just talk? Is it a support group?
RK: Yes. We mainly talk about things to help us get through the week. My second group that I do – I do two: one Wednesday and one Friday – my Wednesday group is basically a PTSD support group. It’s been quite helpful.
RH: Now that we are a few years out has the memory of your experience changed at all?
RK: It’s still pretty much the same. I can almost recall everybody that I was with. I still keep in contact with a few of them. But, other than that, I think that everything to me – that and all the other stuff that’s been going on out there with the recent stuff in the news. That’s kind of bugged me.
RH: You mean the recent stuff with ISIS and the Islamic State?
RK: Yes, ISIS and all that stuff. When it first started to hit I was like, “you know what? I would go back there in a heartbeat if they let me,” because I know the way the city works and how those guys work. I kind of felt frustrated at the same time too because it made me feel like all the hard work we did put into it was almost for nothing. I was there when they were implementing the elections and doing the constitution so to me it was like “wow!” For us to be able to accomplish that and then to have it fall to what it is now it was like, “wow! Is this really going on?”
RH: What are the happiest memories of the time that you served?
RK: Just being with all the guys I was with. I wouldn’t change that for the world. [laughs] Those guys were awesome. They were all kind of unique in their own ways but push come to shove we all had each other’s backs and that’s what was important.
RH: Do you see any on a regular basis?
RK: Smith, he lives with me – Sean Smith. He was in with me. And then Eli – Eli Schultz. He just moved out not too long ago and we kind of hang out. Other than that I haven’t really seen much of anybody. Ryman I was supposed to see a couple of weeks back but it didn’t work out. I’m sure I’ll see him later on.
RH: What, if anything, do you miss about the military?
RK: The camaraderie with all the guys. Somebody having your back and it doesn’t matter what it was. They’d have your back no matter what.
RH: Cool. So now I have some more lighthearted questions. What was the best MRE?
RK: [laughs] I’d say the meatloaf one because it came with that chili powder packet. You’d mix that up. I kind of liked that one. [laughs]
RH: This is a two part question. What was the best chowhall in Iraq and what was the best chowhall stateside?
RH: And stateside could be any chowhall in the Marine Corps. Or in the Navy, as a matter of fact. Any base you’ve been to.
RK: I’d say that the best chowhall in Iraq was the main base one – the one out at Camp Fallujah. On our first deployment we didn’t really get that much so when we did it was like “ah!” [laughs] because we were always eating MRE’s. The best chowhall I would say – I would probably say the communications side at Twentynine Palms. They have one of the best chowhalls there.
RH: What’s the funniest story you have or do you have some funny stories that you would like to share?
RK: We called this guy Evil Johnson because we had two Jonhsons on our deployment. Evil was called Evil because he was different. The other Johnson was good. He was a good Christian boy. He was just funny. I remember our first deployment before we left, Evil had got a girlfriend and he was all super excited. So we get out there and she sent him a teddy bear and all this stuff for Christmas because we spent Christmas out there and then three days later she broke up with him.
RK: So me and him went out and took teddy bear and put it on a spike and burned it in the middle of our burn pit. [laughs]
RH: Right on. Cool. Is there anything that I left out that you would like to address?
RK: Not really. We pretty much covered everything. I just miss all my guys. I miss everything about it.
RH: What would you say to future Marines and Corpsmen who are going to deploy in the future whether back to Iraq or to wherever the next war is?
RK: If you’re going to deploy, listen to your gut because sometimes that’s the only thing that’s going to save you out there.
RH: Right on. What specific accomplishment or accomplishments are you most proud of during your time in the military?
RK: I would say, when we went over and we were doing the constitution and the election for the Iraqi people. I think that was something, unless you were there and were a part of it, was a big deal to me. Basically, the Iraqi people had nothing and nothing to look forward to and here they were. I mean, hundreds to thousands of people were showing up to do these elections and vote. It was kind of a monumental thing for us.
RH: Alright, cool. Those were all my questions. Unless you have anything else?
RH: Well thank you very much!