Steve served as a Hospital Corpsman with 2/7 and deployed to Fallujah from July 2005 to January 2006. While he was in Fallujah he dealt with a number of Marine casualties and wounded Iraqis. He discusses his deployment as well as some of the challenges he faced after getting out of the Navy.
Interview conducted on January 13, 2018 in San Antonio, Texas
Present: Richard Hayden, Steven Childrey and Louis Roark
Transcribed by Richard Hayden
Richard Hayden: What is your full name?
Steven Childrey: Steven Brown Childrey.
RH: What branch of the military did you serve in and what years?
SC: United States Navy from 2004 to 2006. It was the National Call to Service program.
RH: Could you just explain a little bit about National Call to Service is?
SC: From what I understand at the time, recruitment rates were really low. We weren’t getting people into the military and they needed bodies for deployments. So Congress enacted National Call to Service and it was basically you could get in and do fifteen months active duty and four years reserve then you could get out. You’d get a five thousand dollar enlistment bonus. The caveat to that was you were almost certain to be deployed which I didn’t quite understand at the time that I signed up for it. I just wanted to get in as quickly as I could.
RH: What was your rank when you got out?
SC: It was E-3. I believe it was supposed to have been brought down to E-1 but I don’t think they ever got around to the paperwork to be honest with you. [both laugh]
RH: What was your rate?
SC: I was a Hospital Corpsman.
RH: What was your unit?
SC: 2/7 – Second Battalion, Seventh Marine Regiment.
RH: What company?
RH: What motivated you to join the military?
SC: It was really a lack of motivation in all other areas of my life that led me to the military. I was just floundering around in college not doing anything – not really going to classes, even. I was just kind of stuck. Looking back, I think I was probably depressed. I wasn’t doing what I should have been doing. My parents had a long talk with me about it. They basically explained, “We’re not going to be supporting you while you do this anymore. You’re going to have to figure something out.” My uncle had suggested the military. So it was really just a need to get some kind of direction in my life.
RH: Cool. Why did you pick the branch of service that you did?
SC: It’s interesting. I actually went to the Army recruiters first because there was one there in the small town of Beeville, Texas. I went in and took the practice ASVAB with them. They said, “OK. That’s good to go. We’re going to take you up to MEPS so that you can do the real thing.” So I actually went up with the Army to take the ASVAB and I was horribly unimpressed by this one recruiter. He was unprofessional. He was saying some pretty terrible things as we were driving around and I realized that wasn’t something that I wanted to be part. It’s not that I looked down on the Army after that but I didn’t want to join under him.
So eventually I started to look into the Coast Guard. I was interested in that. I was like, maybe I won’t have to deploy, won’t have to do anything like that. I actually went into the Coast Guard office and they basically said, “We’re not looking for people right now. Go talk to the Navy.” So I’m like, “Well, OK.” So that’s what I did. I stepped into a Navy recruiter’s office and told them I was interested in joining and that I wanted to do it sooner rather than later. I had done well on my ASVAB and was offered several jobs and I was able to pick from those jobs so it was pretty cool.
RH: So why did you pick Corpsman?
SC: I initially wanted to go into something like intelligence or maybe information systems or something like that. But they didn’t have any jobs that would be shipping out. They didn’t have any openings in boot camp for those kind of jobs, or A Schools, for like a year or, sometimes even longer. When they mentioned Hospital Corpsman my ears kind of perked up for some reason.
They explained to me in there that they go with Marines. Even though I had been thinking that I wanted to avoid a deployment, it was really intriguing to me. You have in your mind’s eye what the Marine part is, with the commercials and lightning striking the cutlass, I think it’s called. So I had an idea in my head of what it meant to be with the Marines or as a Marine. The idea really appealed to me and it was shipping out very soon so that was a clincher. So, yeah. That’s why I did that. That’s why I ended up doing it.
RH: How did your family ultimately feel about this decision?
SC: As I said, ultimately they were the ones ultimately pushing me towards it but when I told them what I was going to do, I was going to be a Hospital Corpsman, they really balked at that. It was like, oh. Shit suddenly got real. They were nervous but they never said anything like don’t do it. They never tried to talk me out of it. They were very supportive. Even though half of my family didn’t agree with the war and the other did, they agreed with what I was doing, the principle of it. Things like that.
RH: Where were you on September 11th?
SC: I was a senior in high school in Pharr, Texas. We were sitting in class. I actually went to a Christian school and it was a tiny classroom that we were in. We were basically in cubicles that were set up around the wall. The principal came in and said, “They don’t know what exactly happened but a plane hit the twin towers. They don’t know if it was an accident or if it was terrorism.” Immediately a red flag went off in my head. Osama bin Laden’s name popped up in my head because it wasn’t long before that that he tried to bomb the World Trade Center. There had been the [USS] Cole. There had been all this other stuff that he had been orchestrating so a red flag went off in my head and then when the second one hit, I was absolutely sure.
I remember the shock and dismay. I thought there were going to be many more casualties than there were. Watching those towers go – I have chills just talking about it now. That’s never really gone away. But thinking about the immense loss of life happening in those seconds and you’re watching it. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to actually be there just seeing it. And the whole uncertainty of what was going to happen in the coming days. We knew we were going to war. I don’t know if you remember how pervasive the fear was in the media. “Are we going to get hit with chemical warfare?”
I was driving home from school one day and I remember having an image in my head of myself suffocating inside my car because they gassed us and it’s coming through the vents. So it was a scary time even though I wasn’t living in a place that was particularly of interest. It made the world feel smaller, you know? So that’s what I was doing then. I was just a happy go lucky kid in high school.
RH: Cool. Where did you go to boot camp?
SC: Great Lakes, Illinois.
RH: What was boot camp like?
SC: Well, terrifying at first. You get there, you’re already tired, you’re sleep deprived. I think we arrived at the training center and put our feet on – did they have a line or was it footsteps?
RH: I don’t remember.
SC: It was something like that. You get off the bus and they’re immediately screaming at you, as soon as you get off the bus. Like a fool, just as I had gotten off the plane I decide to go pee. I’m like, “It’s going to be forever before we get to Great Lakes.” They told us, “That’s the first thing you’re gonna do.” Well, OK. I should have some time. Nope!
So we got there and I still couldn’t pee. I remember having to march around in circles, drinking water every time I passed the scuttlebutt, until I could pee. I have a notoriously shy bladder anyways. So when you’ve got someone standing there screaming at you, screaming at your dick it feels like, [RH laughs] you’re like, “What the hell! How am I gonna pee?” It made it even worse.
So I’m sitting there cramping eventually. My bladder feels like it’s going to burst. I remember this [Petty Officer] First Class just walking around and just being obnoxious fucking with us. I remember him lifting up his leg and cutting the loudest, nastiest fart I’ve ever heard. I’m standing there and I don’t whether to laugh or cry. I know if I do anything I’m going to get yelled at more so I just mind my own business. Eventually someone took pity on us and let us go sit on a toilet in a stall where they could still see us because supposedly it relieves pressure on the prostate when you sit down and you can pee better. So that’s what we ended up doing. That’s how I actually succeeded in giving a urine sample. [RH laughs] But there were things like that where you have mixed feelings. You’re excited about being there and you’re also kind of scared though because you don’t fully know what to expect.
I didn’t expect the intensity of the screaming that they did. You can watch as many movies as you want about the military and it doesn’t quite give you the feel of boot camp. I think that was mostly how it was. There was always this undercurrent of, oh shit, I’m going to fuck up. Something’s going to happen. I wasn’t the most confident person in some of my abilities back then. Attention to detail, organization. Those were, and still are, pretty foreign to me. [laughs] Having to fold our towels in just such a way. Everything had to have such precision. We had to line up the fold of our sheets with our little ricky notebooks. Do you remember that?
SC: Eventually you kind of get used to it and you sort of find a routine for yourself and you kind of know what to expect. But at the same time, the RDCs – the Recruit Division Commanders – tend to back off a little bit as they start to see you grow, as they break down the civilian that’s inside you. You start seeing the sailor that could be. You start gaining more confidence in yourself as it goes on. It was a very unique experience, one that I would not want to relive, but I’m grateful for the experience. I’m glad it happened.
RH: What was your follow up training like?
SC: We went to something called an A School. That was Hospital Corps School in Great Lakes. It was right across the street from boot camp. Hospital Corps School was a lot of fun. I did a lot on liberty. We had very liberal liberty and we were able to go out and pretty much do as we pleased on the weekends. We would go out to Chicago almost every weekend and I had a blast. That was the first big city I was ever in – big, big city. It was a great time.
The school went really well for me. I’ve always been able to regurgitate facts. It didn’t take a whole lot of effort. Unfortunately, I wish I had tried harder. I still did really well – I was salutatorian. But I wish I had applied myself more than I did. Basically, once you figured out the routine of the tests, you could go into the computer lab and do the practice tests over and over again until you got all the answers right. If you could just do that, you could go in and pass the test the next day with a very high A. So I got the hang of it really quickly.
We used to have to do live action labs and stuff too. Those were a little more difficult for me because I’ve always had a little more trouble with hands-on stuff. I’m a little more cerebral than I am manual. But that was really a great experience overall. A lot of fun. I learned a hell of a lot about medicine and that’s when I really realized and really figured out that, hey, this really might be for me. Learning about the tradition of the Hospital Corpsman was great and I was very, very proud to become part of that tradition. It’s a long history. There was a poem that was written on one of the wall in Corps School. It was called, “I am the one called doc.” I always kind of got goosebumps walking by that. That was when I first started to think that this could be a reality. You could be doc. You could be the one called doc. That kind of made things start to sink in for me.
RH: Cool. After A School, did you have another school?
SC: Yes. I went to Field Medical Service School, or FMSS as we called it. That was at Camp Johnson which is just next to Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina. It was a swamp town. We went there and learned how to be Marines, essentially. It’s a less rigorous version of the Marine Corps boot camp with much more emphasis on the medical side. But we learned how to patrol. We learned how to triage. There was a lot of emphasis on that.
That school was different because it was Marine Corps side. That started opening my eyes to the Marine Corps side. Once I was there, obviously I knew I was going to be an 8404. At that point everything started to seem a little more real. Everything ratcheted up a little bit and we were preparing to deploy. We didn’t know where but basically they told us, “You guys are going to go to Iraq.” We didn’t have any orders yet or anything like that, of course, until the end of school but you just knew. You could feel it in the air. Shit was pretty hot at that time in Iraq. Stuff, I think, was pretty quiet in Afghanistan at the time. We all had a pretty good idea that we were going to end up in Iraq.
That school was a good learning experience in getting ready mentally. However, I feel the schooling itself was very, very behind the times. They were training us how to fight in a forest, swamp environment. I don’t think we even talked about urban combat at all. I was kind of disappointed with that aspect of it. It felt like they were training us for Vietnam, the way we were doing things. The way we went out into the field and had our little war games and stuff like that. We had our blanks that we were shooting at each other. It was fun as hell, don’t get me wrong, I loved every minute of it but do I feel like it prepared me for what was going to come? No. Not at all. Not an inkling.
RH: Alright. Very cool. So after FMSS at Camp Johnson, Lejeune, where did you go?
SC: I was stationed at Twentynine Palms, California. I was delayed a little bit because I thought I was going to get my vehicle and drive. Well that didn’t end up happening so they didn’t order me a plane ticket. I had to wait around for, I think, five or seven days by myself because you guys had already moved on [RH laughs]. So I got my orders to Twentynine Palms. I didn’t know anything about the place. I Googled it and saw that it was the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center and that a lot of the troops there go through specialized training and things like that. I was like, it seems pretty cool. I saw people who specialize in going into the mountains and doing stuff so I thought, hey, that’s pretty cool.
RH: Did you serve in Iraq, Afghanistan or both?
RH: How many times did you deploy?
RH: What was the date of that deployment?
SC: I believe it was from July 4th or 5th to late January or early February, something like that.
RH: So July 4th, 2005 to January, 2006?
SC: Yes. Correct.
RH: OK. Where in Iraq did you deploy to?
SC: Al Anbar province, principally in Fallujah. Our AO was pretty expansive.
RH: How long were you in Twentynine Palms before you deployed?
SC: Not long at all. I got off the plane and Chief King, then HM1 King, was the one who picked me up from the airport. He shook my hand and said, “Welcome to the battalion. We’re going to be deploying on July 4th to Iraq.” This was his greeting for me. I thought that was pretty incredible. It was like all of a sudden, the news I had been waiting for and looking to see if I was going to get was suddenly there. It was like damn, what a greeting. That was kind of ringing in my ears the whole drive back to camp.
But I don’t think it was long at all. I think we got to Twentynine Palms in maybe March or May, something like that, so it was just a couple months. They kept saying, “You’re going to go do field training before you deploy. We’ll get you out there. We’ll get you familiar with it.” Never happened. So everything was real new for me.
RH: What was the mission of your unit in Iraq?
SC: As stated, I think it was counter terrorism, counter insurgency. Something like that. Basically from what I saw of what we were doing, we were trying to expand the AO. That seemed like a big thing on the CO’s list. I didn’t know him but from everything that we were doing, it seemed like that was sort of the goal. We were trying to secure Fallujah and that’s what we went into. We took over from a battalion called 3/4. When we did, we kind of hit the ground running. There wasn’t a whole lot there as far as even a detainee center. When we got there, they were keeping them in tents and they were just on the ground. They had the actual person on the ground and I remember thinking, that looks a little barbaric.
But it seemed like the primary mission was secure Fallujah. Once we had done that, I don’t know if we took the fight to them or they took the fight to us in places like the Zidon and Amiriyah and those places. I couldn’t tell. I wasn’t in the loop of command. I had no idea. So I just did what I was told, went where I was told. I think that pretty much sums it up. Eventually once we did start expanding the AO, we did encounter stuff out in the rural areas, in the smaller towns surrounding Fallujah, things like that. I think that started to became the mission. It sort of seemed to evolve a little bit as the deployment went on.
RH: What was it like the night before you deployed?
SC: I remember sitting there. They warned us all not to drink before we got on the plane the next day. I peeked my head out of my barracks and there were Marines all around me drinking blatantly. One guy stumbles up to me with a bottle of Jaeger like, “Hey doc. You want this?” I was like, “OK. Cool.” [laughs] He just left it there and I didn’t touch it. I was like, no way. I’m not taking a chance because they said that they were going to be standing there with breathalyzers and stuff like that the next day. [RH laughs] No.
I don’t know if this is a false memory or not but I seem to recall there were fireworks that night.
RH: I don’t remember that but, yeah.
SC: Maybe I was just hoping there would be. [both laugh] It doesn’t really sound like a Marine thing to do in retrospect. I’ve often wondered if that was a real memory or not. You being like, “I don’t remember that,” it’s kind of, huh?
RH: So let me ask you this. You flew over to Iraq. What was your first impression when you stepped off the plane?
SC: I would say the first time that I had an impression was once we got to Kuwait. Stepping off the plane I remember it smelled like oil. That’s what I remember about Kuwait. Driving through Kuwait on our way to, I guess it was TQ. No. What was the big base we would fly out of?
RH: TQ was in Iraq. I don’t remember the name of the base in Kuwait.
SC: I don’t remember. We drove quite a ways, it seemed, once we got off the plane to go somewhere else and then hop on a C-130. Let me see if I can recall what my first thought was getting off the plane. I don’t really remember that as much as I do getting ready for the convoy into Fallujah. That’s really when I got a chance to look around me and see what was going on. I was amazed and shocked by how shelled out all the buildings were. Everything just looked like a husk of itself. Driving around and seeing blown up cars just sitting there was like, wow. This is real. This is something that’s happening. Up until then it was just this idea in your mind. You thought you knew what it was going to be like but you didn’t.
And the smell is different. It’s not the greatest smell in the world but it’s poverty and not a lot of running water in places. It could get pretty dirty. I remember HM1 Leuszler saying, “I wish I could take a picture of smell and send it home.” [both laugh] That pretty much sums that up. I was very surprised by how fucked up everything looked. That was the biggest take-away from the drive in, other than oh my God, we are such a long convoy. We are such a huge target. “Oh, don’t worry. We’ve got TOW missiles.” [laughs] OK. I guess if we come across any tanks? [RH laughs]
RH: You did touch upon this a little bit but what were some of your other initial impressions of Iraq?
SC: Once we got there and once things started to get into swing and we started moving around in the city, we went to a police station one of the first times when I was with one of the combat trains, which is a logistical support. We would do security for convoys and sometimes operate as something of a quick reaction force. Also, support other line missions and things like that if they didn’t have enough people. That was when I started to get a look at the people and started communicating with the people.
We went into the police station and they immediately brought us out plates of food and it was this really good chicken and rice and pita bread. It was just so delicious. Myself and only one of the other Marines ate it. The other Marines were pretty stand-offish. They were like, “Don’t eat their fucking food. It’s gross.” I felt bad because they were saying it right in front of the Iraqi cops who are just trying to be nice guys.
So I sat down and talked with one of them and he seemed so young. He seemed way too young to be a cop. I would have pegged him as fifteen or sixteen. He came up to us. He first asked us if we had any batteries. He said, “Duracell best battery.” Cool. I was like, “No. I don’t have any batteries. Maybe next time I come I can get you some.” “Yes, yes. You will.” And then he asked if we had, “Ma-ka-sine, fri-ky, fri-ky.” And I said, “Is that Arabic?” “Ma-ka-sine, fri-ky, fri-ky.” [RH laughs] I figured out he was saying, “Magazine, freaky, freaky.” He wanted a porno mag. They were always asking for stuff like that, the cops. They seemed like especially horny individuals. [both laugh]
But other than that, I started to get a feel for the city and a feel for the people. They were very hospitable people. I loved the people there. I want to go back someday, that’s how much I loved being there. Not in the capacity that I was at the time. I was like, this is weird. What are we doing here? The first time I heard the muezzin calls going off, we were around a bunch of mosques in Fallujah and they’d all go off at the same time so you’d have this cacophony coming from all around the city of this primal wail of praise and it never failed to move me. I know people sometimes would say, “That’s really annoying. I don’t want to hear that.” For me it added to the ambiance of the place until later when we found out that they were sometimes using that to communicate our locations. Then it took on a whole new eeriness, especially when you knew they were talking about you. You just sort of had a feeling, going over a bridge and they’d say something over the muezzin call. That would be a little unnerving.
But other than being struck by how interesting the culture was, there was fear all the time. You could feel it in the air.
RH: When you say fear, do you mean fear on your part or fear on the part of the Iraqis?
SC: On everybody’s part. A lot of people were uncomfortable with us being there and you could tell by their faces, by the way they looked at you when you passed them. Most people waved or gave you a thumbs up even though that was supposed to be some kind of offensive gesture. That’s what they told us – don’t give them a thumbs up. Well, everybody was giving a thumbs up. I guess we had passed that on and it was no longer weird. Most people would wave, give you thumbs up. Others just would stare at you and I understood. [laughs] I didn’t fault them for that at all. We were told, if they give you dirty look, you just give them a dirty look right back. Mean mug them back. That was the first time I heard the word stink eye. I thought that was pretty funny. [laughs]
RH: Cool. Can you describe your AO?
SC: It was like scrub desert. It was sandy desert but it wasn’t like when you think of the Sahara or something like that. It seemed more like dirt than sand in a lot of cases. The terrain was a little bit rocky but mostly flat. As you got close to the Euphrates though, it got beautiful. The river valley was very apparent. Once you crossed over the bridge and you started getting into the rural areas, you would see farms and stuff. Seeing the Euphrates was a mind trip for me. That’s supposedly where Adam and Eve came from – between the Tigris and [Euphrates]. I’m living in bible world. This is crazy. I’m seeing it. That was crazy.
I think fear was pervasive. They were scared of us, we were scared of them. There was a lot of mistrust on both sides.
RH: What are some of the significant events that occurred on the deployment?
SC: So the first one that comes to mind in probably the most detail is the first time that our combat train got hit by an IED. The really interesting thing is that I got a feeling in my gut before it happened. It wasn’t just a feeling. I saw something that was out of the ordinary. There was a little post sticking out of the ground and it had a Gatorade bottle on top of it. The Gatorade bottle was empty and I just remember thinking, that looks really odd and out of place. Just as I’m finishing the thought, I hear a loud BOOM and it just – you feel it in your gut. I was amazed by how fast it happened. Immediately after that I said, “What the hell was that?” It was so shocking to me that it had happened. I was in the back of a high back Humvee with, I think his name was Andrews. He was a Marine. He was a nice guy. I liked him.
We both jumped out of the high back and we went to go set up positions because a lot of times they would try to shoot at you after an IED would go off. We went to go set up a defensive perimeter. We were close to our FOB at the time and I remember thinking, we’ve got to get out of here. We’re like sitting ducks. Andrews had run and dove into a pile of concrete, not mixed concrete, and he was covered from head to toe with white powder. They told us, “Forget it. Just get back in. The lead vehicle is OK. It’s not disabled. We can move it.”
So we got our asses back inside the wire as quickly as we could once we had mounted up again. We all got off and they kind of lined us up, making sure everybody’s there and everybody’s OK. Our turret gunner in the lead had taken a little bit of shrapnel but nothing too significant. He had a few minor, superficial cuts around his neck. I treated him for that. What was really scary was that I saw where something, I don’t know if it was shrapnel or what, had hit the windshield of the lead vehicle, and it had almost broken through the glass. I remember thinking, we are not safe.
It turned out to be a small IED, relatively, but it really stuck out at me. It really sticks out to me today as one of the most salient moments of the deployment – that moment and the fear that I felt when I dismounted. It didn’t stop me from dismounting and doing what I needed to do but I sure wasn’t happy about it. I can remember thinking that bullet’s going to come any minute, right into my head. That was a scary feeling to have but afterwards, everything happened so quickly and we were laughing again in minutes.
Once we got back into the FOB, our Lieutenant – Lieutenant White – was taking stock of us. He walked up to Andrews who’s still covered from head to toe with white cement, looks him up and down and goes, “How’s it going dough boy.” [both laugh] So we all just died laughing. That’s what was really amazing to me, how quickly you would bounce back from stuff like that. Make a joke, crack a joke and everything is cool again.
I think another really significant moment is I was at the SIMOC. We were –
RH: Quick question. What was the SIMOC?
SC: I’m not sure what the acronym stands for. Nobody would give me a straight answer on that but it seemed like a city council building. That’s where we had a lot of meetings. It was in the middle of downtown Fallujah. We had a lot of meetings. That was when I was with the Civil Affairs group. We would go to a lot of the city council meetings and things like that because that’s primarily what the Civil Affairs group was trying to do – get the lights back on and the roads built soon. We were there to kind of pave the way for that.
So anyways, we’re at the SIMOC and we’re sitting outside smoking. They had an uncovered patio in the middle of it. We hear the crack of a rifle. We all jump up and we’re trying to figure out where it came from. We get a call on the radio that someone in the observation tower has been shot. I come around out the rear of the building. The tower was at the front of the building. I had to run quite a ways to get there and I remember that run and thinking, my God. If he’s still up there, I’m dead. I’m toast. I don’t know how bad it is. I think at the time we were aware that there were snipers working in the area. There were rumors that some of them were Chechen.
I got up to the top of the tower and there was already another Corpsman up there. He was an HM1. I don’t remember what unit he was with but he was a really nice guy, really cool guy. He was already on the Marine who’s down. I get there and I look and I see he’s been shot in the head. He’s got blood running down all over his face. His body’s kind of trembling. We got his kevlar vest off, got his SAPI plates out of the way, started CPR we tried to stop the bleeding. But we knew there was nothing we could do about this.
We walk back down, quietly, because they told us to go inside. We didn’t know where the sniper was. After we reported that we lost him, they basically said, “Get out of there.” So that’s what we did. We came back down and the HM1 had blood all over his hands. He just had this look on his face. Everyone ran up to us and said, “What happened? What happened?” He just broke down in tears and said, “I couldn’t save him. I couldn’t save him.” He threw his helmet down and that was the first time I had really seen a huge emotional display like that from somebody. That was his Marine. He knew him. That stayed with me. That was hard for me to see that and to be utterly helpless, not being able to do anything.
I got back to H&S Company not long after that to do a little rest and recovery there on Camp Mercury. I remember trying to open up in the BAS about it. I think there were a couple of senior guys in there. I was hoping somebody would be like, “Hey man. We’ve been there. We understand. It happens. You’re going to be alright.” But nobody said anything. Anything! That really was like, am I a pussy for feeling this way? He wasn’t my Marine but he was
a Marine. That was the first combat loss that I had and it was pretty devastating at the time. I remember I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Just the fact that nobody was able to validate those feelings was kind of frustrating, [laughs] more than a little frustrating.
That’s two. I’ll give you one more and I would say it’s the night that Fox [Company] got hit by the pressure plate [IED] in the soda factory. I remember we were back. We weren’t on any runs. I think I was with CAG at the time. But we weren’t out on any runs. We had come back to base for the night and we started getting radio calls in, “We’ve got inbound to you, wounded in action.” OK. We don’t get any details further than that. Then all of a sudden we get, “KIA coming your way.” More WIA. More KIA. I remember just checking off the tally in my head as they’re going down. At the time, we didn’t know who any of them were. I’m worried about my friends. I had friends that were Corpsmen there with Fox.
RH: Let me pause you for a second. What exactly happened?
SC: From what I gathered later, I don’t know exactly what the Marines were doing but they were in the soda factory which, from what I recall – I was only there once – was a shelled out building and there was nothing really there anymore. It was semi-open, if I’m thinking of the same place. They apparently stepped on a pressure plate which activated a massive cache of IEDs.
I wasn’t responding to the actual scene but we were receiving some of the casualties, some of the less serious ones. We started getting people in maybe an hour, maybe an hour, maybe a little longer after the event had occurred. My sense of time of that night is a little warped and I think has gotten a little creaky over the ages. It was shortly thereafter but it seemed like forever and it seemed like they kept saying, “Such and such KIA, such and such KIA.” It was adding up and adding up until I realized we had hit ten KIA. I think we had thirteen?
RH: It was ten.
SC: I remember thirteen. Was it three wounded?
RH: It was thirteen [killed] for the entire deployment.
SC: That’s what I’m thinking of. You’re right. Really, I didn’t have any firsthand contact with it but just hearing it, and when one of the Corpsmen came back, I don’t recall the guy’s name, he was kind of short, Hispanic dude. I don’t remember his name. But anyways, he came back on and he had been there and he was just crying. They apparently were just obliterated, I heard. That was the other significant event that wasn’t mine firsthand but it definitely left its mark and it made things a lot more real. Ten guys in one sitting? What the hell.
RH: What are some of the other significant events that happened during the deployment?
SC: I think that those are the ones that I want to keep it with. I think those are three of the most significant ones that happened to me. Other things were less severe in most cases and they were similar events to the other things. IEDs here and there. We got shot at constantly. I was kind of lucky, I guess, because they didn’t seem to be people who knew how to shoot very well – the ones that we were fighting. That’s the interesting thing. I don’t know if we were going to segue into this eventually but I just wanted to comment about the enemy a little bit.
RH: We are going to get to that. There is one incident that I want to ask you about. I don’t know if you were the Corpsman there. Were you there on scene after the general spoke and there was the ND? Were you the Corpsman?
RH: What happened?
SC: Are you talking about when the guy got shot through the wrist and into his leg?
RH: So what happened?
SC: I was laying in the bunk and I think it was Juarez. He was one of our medical augmentee program members. He was MAPed out to us from San Diego. He came in and he said, “Get your gear and come out. Somebody got shot. For real.” We’re inside the wire at Camp Mercury and that’s fucking odd. Part of me thinks it’s a drill or something and then the other part of me thinks there’s a sniper somewhere.
I get out there and there’s a Marine on the ground and his arm is bleeding. He had a through and through. It went in through his wrist and he was shot, basically, in the groin. It was pretty close to his nuts. I remember running up there. I think J – Juarez – and I were the first two Corpsmen to get there. So J starts an IV and I start curbing the bleeding and applying gauze and pressure bandages and such. The guy’s so worried about his nuts.
RH: What did he say?
SC: He’s like, “Doc! Are my nuts still there? ARE THEY STILL THERE?” I can remember a line from the dumb movie 8 Seconds when he gets stepped on by a bull and says, “Is my dick still there?” And the guy says, “It’s hanging on by a thread.” That popped into my mind. I thought, don’t say that. You don’t even know this guy. [all laugh] I was like, “Man, you’re fine. You’ve been shot in the leg. You’re cool.”
So what had happened is they were doing dumb Marine stuff. They were throwing rocks at each other for some unknown reason. If memory serves me correct, they were sitting in a high back and he was out on the ground. I think they had carried him out. They were throwing rocks at each other and apparently one of the Marines pulled out his pistol and pointed it at the other Marine and was fucking around. The other Marine put his arm in the way and, in the process, the weapon discharged. I believe the bullet entered from the top of the arm and it went through and through on the wrist and, like I said, lodged itself right in. So he basically shot him. It was an accident, obviously, and he felt horrible. But yeah. That’s crazy. That was right after the general. I forgot about that. They were stressing that stuff to us all the time. I’m sure he spoke about it.
RH: I want to add a little bit to this story. The First Marine Division General had come to us. This was about a month before we were supposed to leave. This moto general comes in and says, “Listen. This is the last month. It’s the most dangerous part of the deployment because you start to get complacent and dumb shit happens.” And then, right after, right as he’s rolling out the gate, there was this ND. [all laugh]
SC: Oh yeah. That sounds like us.
RH: In the version of the story I heard, you were treating him and he was like, “I can’t lose my balls. I’m a virgin!”
SC: I don’t remember that, man.
RH: That got added in later. [laughs] Probably by Louis.
Louis Roark: I have a cool IED story.
RH: Wait, I want to hear it later. Not to cut you off. But please continue.
SC: That’s pretty much the end of the story. Like I said, I could have been wrong about the details of how it happened because that was second hand information but that’s what I heard and that was what, I believe, was written up.
RH: OK. So what was the enemy like?
SC: It’s hard to say. We never knew who the enemy was. There were always different rumors about who we were fighting. Some people said it was Saddam loyalists, some people said it was Al Qaeda. Both were there, both were present, but it was hard to tell. It was also hard to tell how much sectarian violence was going on around you because the Iraqi police and [Iraqi] soldiers were constantly getting into firefights. They called the enemy “Ali Baba.” I would even have kids fucking with their friends and pointing to the friends saying, “Ali Baba, Ali Baba!” as if that was supposed to be funny [all laugh] trying to get his friend shot. What a lark.
But man, it’s really hard to say. We detained a lot of people but I never really saw anybody first hand doing anything. I think you said, the triggerman disappeared. When we did get shot at, it was from heavy cover and we couldn’t see them. So we’re firing back blindly. It’s crazy to think about. But I often wondered, who exactly we were fighting. Are they The Terrorists – capital T. Are they an insurgency who are not happy with us being there. And I think it was a little of column A, a little of column B.
It seemed a lot like most of the people that were fighting us were pissed off that the Marines had destroyed Fallujah. That was kind of a sense that I was getting. I don’t know how much of that was my own narrative because I don’t really have any evidence of that. It’s more like a gut feeling. Also, I don’t know what I expected, to see a T on their forehead if they were a terrorist, but they never seemed like it. Then there were people I knew that were innocent that got detained. Unfortunately it happens. If you’re in the area, that’s really the only way to gather intel.
So as a Corpsman that was pretty cool because I got to get my feet wet with a lot of different medical issues.
RH: What were some of the medical issues that you treated?
SC: We were always having patients coming in who were sick – people with diabetes, people with,
RH: And these are Iraqis?
SC: Yes. Dude with a colostomy bag one time. He didn’t have a replacement and apparently we didn’t either. I said, “Alright. I’m going to go spoon it out and clean it out.” I took it off and Lieutenant Handojo steps up and he’s like, “No. I got it.” I thought that was awesome. He scored big in my book when he did that. He’s scooping shit out of a colostomy bag into the toilet.
That was sort of cool, getting to see things like that and getting to be the first person to be there to do vitals, full physical exam. Things like that. That was cool.
It was weird though. You knew that out of the people that were in there, some were innocent and some were guilty. You didn’t know who was who. I’ve wondered that for years and I should probably do some research on it and find out who we were fighting. There’s a lot of good info that I’ve looked up since then about where we were. There was this cool article about Farris town. I didn’t know what that was about. Why does it have an English name? The article calls it Al Farris and it’s F-A-R-R-I-S and it was supposedly one of Saddam’s experiments in socialist living. It was Soviet-style and it was built to house the workers of a then defunct weapons factory. So finding out little cool facts years later, now that I’m able to face it again, has been pretty cool.
RH: You talked about this a little bit but what were your interactions with the Iraqis like?
SC: The language barrier was very real. I tried my hardest to learn Arabic but it was difficult because they didn’t seem to understand anything I was saying when I tried to pronounce it the way the pronunciation guide said them. [laughs] I don’t know if I was way off. I probably was.
That was the first thing that stood out to me and how there’s not much room for personal space in their conversation. Men like to get close to you and talk to you. That was very different to me but I think I adjusted pretty well. And I liked talking to the locals. It was a cool experience. I wanted to do it as much as I could.
I remember one time I was with CAG and we had gone to a place somewhere in the middle of Fallujah – I don’t remember where it was – but there was this little boy that came up to me and his leg looked like it was melting, basically. It was covered in dead skin and was swollen. There’s flies landing on it. He walks up to me and I think we had one of our ‘terps, I think his name was Roy – his ‘terp name. He came with me to treat this kid, to at least provide something. All I could do was put bacitracin on it and tell his family, “You need to get him to a hospital because he could lose that leg or he could die.” That was one of the cooler ones because it didn’t end badly. [laughs] I hope the kid got help. I’d like to think he did.
But, yeah. My interactions were mostly limited. There were security issues too but sometimes you were in places where you could avoid it. There was a milk factory in the middle of town that we used to go to. We would just set up a perimeter on the outside of that and I remember the guys from the milk factory offering us milk. [laughs] We’re like, “No, thanks!” I don’t know how becoming it would have been to have a milk moustache when you’re being shot at. [RH laughs] It does a body good.
But no, it was fun. It was interesting. I really enjoyed getting to know another culture. Even though I just scratched the surface, again, I’d really like to go back again someday.
RH: So let me ask you this. What was the most challenging period of the deployment: the beginning, the middle or the end?
SC: I think for me it was the end because by then I had fallen into the complacency that everybody talks about. You are suddenly resigned to the fact that you might die and you sort of just get used to it in a way. But with the finish line coming up for the deployment, it was like God, I’m so close. But we still have so much shit to do and we’re still pushing into new AOs. We’ve got to turn over to the other battalion. That’s going to be a challenge. They like to test out the new battalions. So I think the end for me was the most challenging simply because the mental game was so rough.
[laughs] I was having dreams about going to the liquor store on base because I would finally be twenty-one. I told Leuszler that and he goes, “I had the same dream. You know what, Childrey? I think we’re alcoholics.” [both laugh]
RH: That’s funny. What was the most challenging non-combat aspect of deploying?
SC: That’s a good one. For me, part of it was that I got rotated around to a lot of different aspects of the unit. I did CAG. I did combat trains. I went with trucks. So I was constantly on the move and constantly having to get to know new guys – which was a challenge but it was fun too. Because once Marines get to know you, man they’ve got your back if they respect you. I mean, regardless, they’re going to have your back but once you know that you have their respect and they’ve told you that because you’ve performed well or whatever the case may be, that feels really good. But it’s challenging to get that with every single unit that you go with because you’re not always there long enough so sometimes you’re just the baby doc who came through. Granted, when I got to Iraq, I was baby as fuck. But I did a lot and learned a lot and matured a lot over there as a Corpsman. So I didn’t feel that way towards the end of the deployment. But I think that was the biggest challenge for me – unit hopping.
RH: Alright. So aside from what you already told me, did you have any transformative or highly significant events that occurred during the deployment?
SC: As far as transformative goes, like I touched on earlier, just becoming a better Corpsman. But also coming close to death often was an eye-opener because you learn a lot about yourself. You figure out that you’re going be scared shitless when stuff goes down but you’re going to perform anyways because that training kicks in. I took that out of the service with me. I’ve worked in the medical field pretty much ever since I got so I took that with me and there were always situations where I had to jump into Corpsman mode – and I will never not think of it as Corpsman mode. I think that was the biggest transformation for me. It gave me an identity. Like I said, my motivation for joining partly was that I was directionless but that was a real big identity builder. I didn’t acknowledge that for a while.
RH: Before we move on from the deployment, is there anything about the deployment that we left out that you’d like to address?
SC: Not anything specific. If I could just give closing thoughts on it, it was the experience of a lifetime. A part of me regrets that I didn’t go back – a very small part of me. There’s definitely something like survivor’s guilt but there’s definitely something like getting out and not seeing what else could have happened, you know what I mean? Knowing the fate of 2/7 has been eye-opening. I’ve only recently started looking into that.
People ask me, what was it like? I usually just say hot and dangerous and that usually is enough [laughs] for most people. It was those things, definitely. If you had to do hashtag, that’s what it would be.
RH: Hashtag hot and dangerous. I like that.
SC: Please don’t make a hashtag. [RH laughs]
RH: Alright. Can you talk a little bit about your immediate post-deployment experiences?
SC: Yeah. So we came back to Twentynine Palms and I remember going on leave for quite a while. I think it was close to thirty days, if not a full thirty days. And having money in the bank and seeing my family. Everything still felt pretty good. I still felt OK. The thrill of getting back was pretty awesome. I kind of rode that high for a little while but eventually I had to go back to work. I got back and I had, maybe – when did we get back?
RH: January of ’06.
SC: OK. January of ’06. I was due to EOS in August of ’06 because I was National Call to Service. So there was this anticipation of getting out and a big part of me sort of checked out mentally which is unfortunate because there was a lot of stuff going on that I could have taken advantage of, a lot of stuff I could have done. But I didn’t really do a whole lot other than drink in my room the first couple of weeks. I didn’t know a whole lot of other guys other than my immediate unit. I just went to work at the BAS during the day, came home at night and passed out to sleep. That was rough. I got to know you and Louis. We had a lot of adventures in Joshua Tree, Yucca Valley, San Diego, Los Angeles. I regret that we didn’t get to go to Vegas together.
SC: Or Northern California. I regret that. But we did a lot of really fun things. We connected on a deeper level. It wasn’t just a superficial friendship. We had each other’s backs and we sort of understood each other. We were really tight like brothers really quickly. I know you guys kind of knew each other and I sort of knew you before. I didn’t know Louis at all before and I think you’re actually the one who told me that he’s really cool. I think at that point I may have attempted to talk to him.
Actually, the first time I ever saw Louis, he was in the BAS and he was suturing up some guy’s eyelid. Do you remember doing that, Louis? He had a laceration on his eyelid. It was like right there. [points to his eyelid] You were doing this really complicated double suture technique from inside and outside.
RH: I actually do remember that because you had this very intense look.
RH: You were super, super nervous but like this was the most intense video game you had ever played in your entire life.
LR: I try to recall people’s faces. I can’t remember that one.
SC: Yeah. You kept doing it and I remember being so impressed by you. I was like, “Holy shit!” I think after that we kind of started talking. I remember we had that little unit event at the barbeque. They did a barbeque and crab boil.
LR: We got shitfaced.
SC: Yeah. That happened a lot. [imitating Forrest Gump voice] That’s all I have to say about that. [all laugh]
RH: Did the Marines and sailors around you change after the deployment and, if so, how?
SC: Yes. I started to see anger coming out. It was always alcohol related. You started to see people getting really different – just angry. There was a lot of anger amongst a lot of people. We were very emotional. Looking back on it we were very moody, all of us, it seemed like. I don’t really remember seeing much in the way of too much change simply because I was out eight months later so I didn’t get to see another deployment with you guys or anything like that. I didn’t get to see people after they got out. I don’t know. I did see changes and I think I touched on those but the changes that I was making apparent happened after I got out. They weren’t really happening while I was still in. Or if they were, maybe I wasn’t aware. That’s probably more likely, honestly. You yell at the XO and don’t think there’s going to be consequences, there’s something wrong in your brain. It’s not just the alcohol you drank the night before.
RH: How has your military experience shaped your life since you got out?
SC: Like I said, it was part of the founding of my identity. I think that I try to build upon my career in the military. I think that’s what I’m always trying to do. I’m always trying to become a better Corpsman event though I’m not a Corpsman. Yeah, that’s it.
RH: What are some of the challenges that you faced when you got out?
SC: Finding a job. That was the first thing. I had a lot of misinformation. I guess I should have looked – well, I absolutely should have looked into it. People were saying, “In Texas you can challenge the LVN board and you can become a licensed vocational nurse.” Or an LPN as they call it in some states. And I was very disappointed to find out that was not true in Texas at the time. So I was really disillusioned. I started working security and that was boring as hell. I was just guarding various places at night, sitting in my car doing things I shouldn’t be doing [laughs] – staying up all night and just sitting there thinking. Ruminating on things. That was a bad job. [laughs]
Getting out and transitioning back to the civilian world, I completely left the military behind, or tried to, and came back to Texas and tried to pretend like it didn’t happen. That was really effecting everything. I was drinking way too much, getting into drugs. Thankfully, there were people in my life who recognized what was going on and got me help. The VA has been very positive for me. They’ve helped me get benefits. I’ve been diagnosed with PTSD and depression. I’ve been treated for both and currently it’s manageable.
The whole transition was challenging. It’s a totally different culture and you try to lean on things that you did before in the military and they just don’t seem to make sense in the civilian world. So in a lot of ways I felt like a foreigner. I was thinking about it way too much, too. I think that I built up in my mind that there was more of a wall between me and people than there really was. It was a tendency to come back and resent things and think, what can any of you know about suffering? [laughs] You know? That was a hard attitude to get rid of. It’s still in there somewhere. But as you get older, or as I got older, I realized that you grow up and you start to look on things differently. The transition is still going. I don’t know if it’s ever going to be done.
RH: This sort of piggybacks on that a little bit. How have civilians reacted to you and your experiences?
SC: Mostly positive. I can’t really think of really any negative responses from anybody despite what I may have thought people were going to do. Everybody was mostly supportive and I didn’t have to be as defensive as I was. I slowly started to realize that – that maybe people didn’t understand but they were definitely sympathetic.
It has been mostly positive in terms of jobs. It’s helped me with that immensely. When I came to San Antonio, I started working in the medical field because here I could. People just hired me based on military experience whereas in the valley I found that very difficult.
RH: When you say the valley, what valley do you mean?
SC: The Rio Grande valley. This is a small, well maybe not so small, metropolitan area down on the Rio Grande river stretching from Rio Grande City to South Padre Island. That’s where I grew up and that’s where I moved back to after I got out of the military. That was cool.
RH: So I have a couple of questions about Iraq’s current state. How do you feel about the rise of ISIS and the current direction that Iraq is taking?
SC: It’s really frustrating to see. I guess now ISIS is starting to become a little less solvent. A lot of the people that are actually fighting against them are starting to win. It’s really interesting to see that we’re starting to get control back. We have control back of Fallujah now, I believe.
RH: I’m not a hundred percent sure but I believe so.
SC: I know that was contested for a while and that was very frustrating to see because things had been somewhat under control up to that point.
RH: In your opinion, throughout the entire war, not just the period after you were there, should the US have done anything different?
SC: I don’t want to play armchair general but I’m going to anyways, I guess. I would think that they should have drastically reduced the number of boots on the ground before they did. There’s a lot of success touted for the push – the troop surge that we did – but to me, I think people just went into their holes because it seems like when they came out they were stronger. Because, yes, nothing happened much while we had the troop surge going on.
To me it seemed like we were using infantry way too much. Now I’m obviously not a tactician but the fact that we were just patrolling around places and we are getting bombed, it seemed like we have so many people here that have no idea what’s going on. Why can’t we get more special forces involved. I started to feel strongly about the military itself gearing itself into more elite troops. I didn’t really always feel like that was the case with us. A lot of times I just felt like we were just boots on the ground. And it didn’t really seem to be winning the war. Obviously, I put a lot of my experiences and prejudice into that viewpoint but that’s what I’ve said over the years and my view on that evolves from time to time. But I think, more or less, that’s currently where I’m at.
RH: Are there any lessons that you learned while you were over there that are relevant to the current situation in Iraq?
SC: Not that I can think of and I’ll tell you why. [laughs] It’s because your experience is so granular when you’re in a place like that. It’s very limited to what you do and see. A lot of times you don’t know what’s going on within the battalion. Especially being brand new to the military, brand new to the Marine Corps, that was different for me because I had to learn all of that on the fly. So I learned a lot as I went.
RH: Now I have some spiritual questions for you. Has deploying affected you spiritually and, if so, how?
SC: I think it sort of solidified views that were already taking shape for me. I had been questioning the existence of God for a while and to me that was sort of the nail in the coffin. Seeing people’s random suffering, that was my first exposure to that. So those were my already evolving views and I think it sort of cemented that.
RH: Has deploying changed your perception of life and death and, if so, how?
SC: Absolutely. When you’re living around death a lot you’re really scared a lot of the time at first but you start to get used to it and you start to live with it. It’s not hot death on your heels anymore. It’s just part of life. It’s something that you deal with. It’s made me a lot less afraid of death. There’ve been a lot of situations, dangerous situations, that I’ve been in since then where I had kind of a numb view of it. That was a major change but then another paradigm shift happened when I became a father. That’s unrelated. You start getting scared of death a lot when you’re a father, I’ll just say that – and not your own. [laughs]
I will say, being a father is related because it’s sort of woken up a lot of feelings that I haven’t used in a while. Sometimes I feel like I’m their safety Corpsman. [laughs]
RH: Now that we are a few years out, how do you feel about the war?
SC: I’m less angry about it and a little more understanding of the circumstances that brought us there. At first I was really pissed and I wanted a scapegoat and that scapegoat was President Bush. I no longer feel as strongly about that as I do that he was maybe manipulated. I was pretty angry at George Bush for a while but eventually I was able to soften my views on that. I’ve become a little more accepting that it happened rather than being angry about it. I’ve sort of put it behind me now but I was not in favor of the war in Iraq, still not. I wish we could do things radically different in the Middle East – everywhere in the world, really.
RH: What do you think the US did well and what did it not do well?
SC: I can’t really comment on that. I think policy-wise, the reasons for OIF were very contrived, and disingenuous. That is not to detract from the hundreds of Marines, Sailors, and Soldiers who executed their duties faithfully, and ethically. I will always have a huge spot in my heart for servicemen and women, but the Marines especially are the best in the world at what they do, and I would again entrust my life with them in a heartbeat.
RH: Good to go. We’re going to switch it up a little bit. What’s the happiest memory, or some of your happy memories, of the entire time you served?
SC: Definitely being back in Twentynine Palms after the deployment and going out to Joshua Tree. Kind of getting back in touch with nature. That was one of the most fun times. Boot camp was fun when I look back on it. It’s sort of fun in retrospect. I had a lot of fun in the military but it was difficult to sometimes see that because I was angry a lot of the time. But I did things that I never would have done otherwise. To me it’s a net positive now. I didn’t feel that way at first. But now that I’m older and wiser, it was one of the most transformative experiences of my life and was one of the most important. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about it. Service and Iraq. There were a lot of fun times. A lot of bad times, too.
RH: Alright. What was the best MRE?
SC: I’m weird in this aspect but I actually liked their weird burrito that they had. Do you remember that one? I used to just put Tabasco on it.
RH: The enchilada?
SC: It was supposed to be a burrito, I believe, but it was more like an enchilada. Really, I can think of more individual things that I liked out of the MREs. Like the snack bread – actually liked that. I put the jalapeno cheese on it. and the spread. That was rare, though. It was hard to find that. I remember that I liked how, if you weren’t going to use a condiment or something, you just put it in the box so usually there was a box of condiments somewhere and you could find what you needed or some snack bread or whatever. That was pretty cool.
LR: I kind of like snack bread. [all laugh]
RH: What was the best chow hall stateside and the best chow hall in Iraq?
SC: You know, I didn’t see a lot of stateside chow halls but one of the ones that really sticks out was actually Camp Lejeune. I actually visited the Marine base over there and their chow hall was pretty banging. I liked Twentynine Palms too. I think it was the Comm side that we used to go to all the time. It was good. I liked the salad bar that they had.
I remember when George [W.] Bush came through, President Bush, and I think it was you who told me [pointing to Louis] one of your Marines was next to him and he was like, “Hey, hey! You better get you some salad!” [all laugh]
RH: That’s a good one.
SC: He was concerned that his Marines weren’t eating enough salad. [RH laughs] I remember they asked me if I wanted to have breakfast with him. Chief King asked me. I was like, “No, Chief.” I regret that though. If I could go back and do it again, I would have breakfast with him. Shit. I could have had stories to tell.
RH: What are some of the funniest stories that you have?
SC: The one I just told you. Also, I remember there was a rumor about someone mooning President Bush when he landed. When his chopper was landing at Twentynine Palms, someone was standing on the roof and mooning him. I believe he worked in the armory. Supposedly the Secret Service tackled him but I don’t know how true that is or not.
Of course I heard the saved by the dick story as well. That was pretty hilarious. I was telling you guys earlier about the donkey cart race that I had. That was pretty funny. We unfortunately had to detain some kids for a brief time because they had been looting, I guess, chunks of concrete and putting them on their donkey carts and having their donkeys pull them away. They were warned multiple times not to do it so I guess we were supposed to detain them to teach them a little lesson. I don’t know.
So we took the kids and were like, “What are we going to do with the donkey carts?” We ended up getting on the donkey carts ourselves. Corporal – I won’t say his name [RH laughs] – actually told me to hop on the other donkey cart and was like, “Hey! Let’s have a race!” He was like a big kid. So we hop onto the donkey cart and I’m like, “Yeah!” I had no idea what I was doing and the donkeys, luckily, they did. They just went haulin’ ass down the street and I’m just terrified that the cart is going to flip over or something like that. I look over and the Corporal is having the time of his life. He’s got a huge grin on his face.
RH: Didn’t the theme from [the TV show] Cops, Bad Boys, come into that?
SC: I think we were singing it as we got near the finish line for some reason. Was it on videotape or something?
RH: The version I heard of it was when you guys came up to the donkey cart, this Corporal in question hopped out, saw the kids and –
SC: You’re right! You’re right! He did. He ran up to the kids and they had no idea what was going on.
RH: So what happened?
SC: You’re absolutely right. We came up to the kids and the Corporal jumps – I’m even more glad I didn’t say his name – he jumps out of the Humvee and just runs at them. He was a big dude and he was basically getting fat over there. He comes running at the kids and he goes, “Bad boys, bad boys. What you gonna do? What you gonna do when they come for you?” And the kids were terrified. They were looking straight ahead and they were just like, “Mista! Mista! No!” Yeah, you’re absolutely right. I had totally forgotten about that. [all laugh] Did I tell you that story?
RH: Yeah. I think you did.
SC: Gosh. Thanks for reminding me.
RH: [laughs] Alright. Last couple of questions. What are some of the common misconceptions that the average American might have about the conflict?
SC: I think just a lot of people have forgotten that it’s even ongoing. Looking back, it was pretty controversial all along but it depended on what part of the country you lived in, too. In certain parts of California, it was very normal to be anti-war whereas here in Texas, not so much. So that was difficult and challenging for me at times.
RH: If you could communicate something to young Marines and sailors who will be fighting the wars of the future, what would it be?
SC: Good luck, for one thing. It’s hard. It’s life changing but if you’re gonna do it, do it to the best of your ability. Don’t fuck around. Don’t be a shit bag. Get your shit together and do your job. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. And that’s not just limited to any issues that you might be having but while you’re still serving, ask the people around you. If you’re a Corpsman, get as much knowledge from your seniors as you can. Try to get to know what you’re going to be experiencing before you do it by talking to a lot of people, getting all kinds of information. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there but don’t be too hasty to be a hero. Do your job. If shit happens in the right way and you do your job the right way and it doesn’t go wrong, you’ll get labelled as a hero. [laughs] It’s going to come to you. You don’t have to go looking for it.
RH: Before I ask my last question, is there anything that I left out that you would like to address?
SC: No. I think you did a pretty good job interviewing. I think I’m pretty good.
RH: Alright. Last question. What specific accomplishment are you most proud of during your service?
SC: Definitely becoming a Corpsman. Getting my caduceus. Like I said earlier, it was a really proud and long tradition, dating back a long time. I was proud to be a part of that. I was proud to be that rate, specifically.
Getting my FMF pin was a big deal. I did it in Iraq. I think I was one of the junior-most who had ever gotten it. I was a HA at the time. I was one of the junior-most to have it. That was pretty cool. I was proud of that. It was just memorizing a lot of facts, regurgitating it. I don’t remember much of it these days. Did you get yours?
RH: I did. Yes.
SC: That was pretty cool. I like the way they handled that. We knocked it out. You go before your board and they ask you questions. That was really cool.
RH: Alright. Anything else before we wrap it up?
SC: I think we’re good, man.
RH: Well thank you very much! I appreciate it.