Terry began his Marine Corps career as an Armorer but eventually trained on the machine guns. When he deployed to Iraq in 2007 with Second Battalion, Seventh Marines he drove a seven ton truck. He spent most of his deployment with Echo Company in the Zaidan, an area just south of Fallujah. After getting out of the Marine Corps, he went to college for Industrial Design.
Interview conducted on April 14, 2015 in Astoria, New York
Present: Richard Hayden and Terry Kim
Transcribed by Richard Hayden
Richard Hayden: What is your full name?
Terry Kim: Terry Kim.
RH: What branch of the military did you serve in and what years?
TK: United States Marine Corps, 2004 to 2008.
RH: What was your rank when you got out?
TK: Corporal, E4.
RH: What was your MOS?
TK: Originally I was a 2111 [spoken as twenty-one eleven] which is Armorer. And then after about a year and a half I went to a machine gunner’s course and I was with 3/11 in Twentynine Palms and then I switched over to TAD…
RH: Temporary Duty or temporary attached…
TK: Yes. And they sent me to 2/7, Echo Company.
RH: So you were a machine gunner with Echo in 2/7?
TK: So what happened is that we were formed as a truck platoon. We were licensed to drive trucks – seven tons, Humvees – and I was the seven ton driver for Echo 3C [spoken as Echo three Charlie] which is Echo Company, third squad. Third platoon, third squad. We went with the line company so it was basically infantry and I was a driver.
RH: What motivated you to join the military?
TK: A lot of things. As a kid I was always infatuated with the military – jets, fighter jets, weaponry, gear itself, the stuff that they did. I didn’t find out about the Marine Corps until later on when I wanted to joined. I wanted to become a SEAL when I was younger or an Army Ranger. Something in the special forces. And my sister’s boyfriend at the time – ex-boyfriend – he was a Marine and I didn’t even know what a Marine was. He introduced me to it.
Then my brother joined the Marine Corps so while I was in high school my brother went to Iraq, which was 2003. He was in Iraq and I guess it’s one of those things where when your brother or your friend is fighting you have to jump in. That motivated me even more. And also I was very immature. I went to a good high school – LaGuardia on the Upper West Side for art – but I wasn’t studious. So I told myself, “if I go to college now with this mindset, I’m just going to be wasting time and money.” It was perfect timing and I loved the military when I joined the Marines. [laughs]
RH: How did your family feel about your decision?
TK: They loved it. Well, my parents loved it. Both my parents said that I should have went instead of my brother because I told you I wasn’t studious. I was always hanging out. My parents are from Korea and, especially my father, he’s about, “every man has to go into the military.” So it was the thing.
RH: Where were you on September 11th?
TK: Oh man. I was going to school on the Upper West Side, LaGuardia High School of the Performing Arts. Again, I was late for class. I was getting out of the train and as soon as I got to school, inside it was just war. I got out of the train about 8:50 or 8:45 so literally minutes right before the towers got struck. That’s when all hell kind of broke loose. I got out of the train, luckily, in time before they shut everything down or I would have been stuck in there.
RH: What happened at school? Do you have any specific memories?
TK: Yes. My first time hearing it, I was just in the hallway. Since I was late class was about to end so I was just walking around the hallway waiting for the next class. I hear these kids talking in the hallway saying, “a plane hit the twin towers.” What I thought is it was one of those small propeller planes or something small. I remember back, I forgot what year, the Empire State Building a small plane crashed and nothing too catastrophic. That was the first time.
And then the loudspeakers, the dean talking. The school just stopped. They were setting up cots and informing us that we might have to sleep if the city shut down. I remember it was just, not mayhem, but everything stopped. Classes just stopped and we all formed in the gymnasium, in the hallways, just waiting to see what’s going to happen. Do we have to stay here overnight? And finally they just let us – I believe I took the train because the train started working again, certain parts, because we were on the Upper West Side. Ground Zero was all the way downtown so I guess that kind of worked out. I remember Stuyvesant High School – they had to walk all the way across the bridge.
RH: Where did you go to boot camp?
TK: I went to Parris Island.
RH: What was your follow-up training like?
TK: After boot camp I came back home for the ten day leave and I went to MCT in North Carolina for combat training. I got stuck there for a month because we were on camp guard or something like that so I got held there. After that I went to MOS school in Maryland.
RH: What does a 2111 do exactly?
TK: We learned the weapons systems that the Marine Corps uses – small arms. From pistols to sniper rifles, machine guns, mark 19 grenade launchers. The ins and outs.
RH: Did your training prepare you for deploying?
TK: Yes and no. I knew the weapons systems. I could take them apart beyond just field stripping. So yes, I had that confidence in the weapons but I only did it for a year and a half and then they sent me to Japan. When I came back is when I got attached to 2/7. What really trained me was machine gunner’s course.
I guess so. It was like a chain of events. I learned the machine gun pretty thoroughly and then got sent to machine gunner’s course. So yes. Even when were with 2/7 when we were on post after we got to a patrol house out in the city or villages, me and my other Marine friend – unless you are trained on the automatic weapons, on the machine guns – nobody else was allowed to man them. So yes. It all played out and the training prepared me. That was my first firefight on the machine gun.
RH: Alright. Yes. We’ll get there. So where in the US were you stationed when you deployed?
TK: In the US I was in Twentynine Palms.
RH: Did you serve in Iraq, Afghanistan or both?
RH: OK. When did you deploy?
RH: How many times did you deploy altogether?
TK: Combat tours or just deployment tours?
RH: Just deployments.
RH: Two. And the first one was to?
RH: What year was that?
TK: That was 2006, the year before.
RH: Where in Iraq did you deploy to?
RH: Let’s talk about that deployment. What was the mission of your unit?
TK: I believe it was to take over or the cities or the surrounding cities of Camp Fallujah. The companies would stay out in FOBs – forward observing bases – or some of them would have forward observing bases. Echo Company where I was with, we actually just stayed out there and took over an Iraqi person’s house. Obviously we gave them a reprimand, is that it? [laughs]
TK: Obviously we would give them compensation. But we made that into our patrol house and lived there for three days. I don’t know if it was standard but I know our platoon commander, we didn’t stay there more than three days. If we had to stay there four days we did but the longer you stay there in that one house, the more likely it is that you’ll get attacked. So we would move at least two houses in one.
So we would stay out there for at least seven weeks, go back to Camp Fallujah for about a day or two if we were lucky, shower, eat, call home and then ammo up, re-gear and come back out do the same thing.
RH: Were you in Fallujah or the areas outside of Fallujah?
TK: We were in Zaidan. I did get to go to actual Fallujah. I got off Echo Company near the end of the deployment and I also went to other cities to help out other companies. We did a run for the security – I forget what they were called – we had to drive some kind of supply so I did get to go into actual Fallujah. It was quiet. Everything was locked down there. You see bullet holes from the past battle of Fallujah. There was nobody allowed, from what I know, at a certain time nobody is even allowed to drive in that city. It was dead.
RH: What specifically was your job within Echo Company?
TK: From Camp Fallujah we had to go out to the villages. We took out two seven tons and everybody else convoyed in Humvees. That seven ton carried the remaining troops that weren’t in the Humvees. The other seven ton driver carried, I believe, sandbags and MREs. I would carry troops. If not, everybody was in the Humvee with water pallets and MREs.
That was just to go out and that was the only time we drove. Once we’d get to the patrol house that we’d select, my job was with Echo 3C. Whenever their rotation was to go out and patrol, I would be part of the team and part of the squad. When we first started it was six on, six off, six on, six off. Six on as it was a six hour patrol and then come back. It doesn’t have to be in this order. You either had six hour rest or be on a six hour watch on the roof of the trucks. Then another six hour something else.
RH: What were your initial impressions of Iraq like?
TK: It was like Twentynine Palms. [RH laughs] It was the same thing. It was just desert. The air smelled different. What I thought? I thought it was scary, I guess. It felt scary because when you were in Camp Fallujah in the main base you felt safe. Because out there, I didn’t know what was out there. Every time if you’re out the wire, it was a really dangerous place. Granted, it is. After going out and getting used to it my initial impression is a total change from mid-deployment and at the end of deployment. It was a totally different place.
RH: Can you describe your AO and are there any parts of it that were particularly memorable?
TK: Zaidan was very farm-like. Open areas, tall grasses. A lot of ditches and, not canals but…
RH: Yeah, canals.
TK: Uneven ground. It was just dirt and farmland. It was almost a farm but a little less maintained. [laughs] More village-like than the city.
RH: You talked about this a little bit but how did your impressions change as the deployment went on?
TK: Well first of all, scared yes. I guess my fear went down a little. I became more numb later on. I guess through just experiencing and also just being used to it. Just being hot as hell too made me more angry or miserable, that factor, you know? [laughs] It was more numbing and being more used to that lifestyle. Now, this is it. Wake up, patrol, go on guard, you know? I had no appetite throughout the whole deployment. I don’t know. It was just the numbness.
RH: What were some of the notable events that occurred during your deployment?
TK: Notable as in good, bad?
TK: Everything? Firefights. That’s one of the biggest things. Getting attacked, IEDs. I guess that’s a given. I guess one of the notable events is first seeing a dead person and the light-headedness. That’s my notable, what I remember, which is pretty crazy. Not a lot of notable events. I remember the heroism and the courage, I remember. I think back and it seemed like we were old, or the other Marines that I was with. Especially when it was time to do our job. The maturity was through the roof. When I think back I sometimes think of them as being old but, really, we were just kids. We were twenty, twenty-one. It’s more notable how responsible and mature and professional. Aside from when we were not working and it was time to relax and play, they could be very childish. [TK and RH laugh] It could be black and white. If I think back on how crazy it went, from black and white. There was no grey area.
RH: Any acts of heroism that were good?
TK: On my behalf I don’t think. I’m not going to even say. But I know one of my other Marines – I think he was with Golf – one of the Marines got shot in the neck while they were getting attacked. And this is from their awards. I wasn’t there personally but at the end of the deployment in Iraq Colonel L’Etoile, Lieutenant Colonel L’Etoile, was it him? Or the company commander. I forgot who it was but giving out the commendations. I’m pretty sure it was lower than Lieutenant Colonel but that’s when they were reading it off.
My buddy, one of the Marines got shot in the neck and while the doc was working on him, the seven ton was getting fired on and shot at. So what he did was pull up his seven ton – because he was a seven ton driver too – to block the way so they could work on him. He got up on the turret and started shooting because that turret in that truck didn’t have a machine gun on it. He got up in the turret and started returning fire. I find that very smart and heroic at the same time.
RH: What were your interactions with the Iraqis like?
TK: Awesome! I loved them. They were very nice. They fed us food all the time – not all the time – but sometimes our neighbors would bring dishes of rice. Having a home-cooked meal instead of an MRE or potato chips was awesome. It was delicious. And then we’d do morning patrols. We’d do reconnaissance, or intel, or surveillance or just be bait – walk around and just get shot at, waiting for someone to attack us.
But we’d go knock on doors in the morning which was kind of nice. It was pleasant. It was a nice, cool morning and it was nice and cool instead of the day time which was hot as balls. I remember Iraqi breakfast and it was good. We all hung out on the porch with the father and the mother. I believe the wife was inside. Two or three kids would be sitting out there snacking on food for breakfast. And it was just like that. Everybody was just trying to live peacefully, obviously in a war zone.
RH: Any Iraqis in particular that stick out?
TK: All of them were always generally nice. When we would go and check the houses and search the houses. Searching – that was one of the missions. Either you were searching or going out and asking questions, or just making your presence. They would give us tea and chai. Anyone that specifically sticks out?
I remember one time we were coming back and we were in a convoy and this family was outside and they were waving us down. I guess one of the elders had a heart attack and died. Just regular people.
RH: Did your Corpsman respond to that?
TK: Yes. That time when we were coming back it went from an actual mission from Zaidan. It was actually a run, security or something, for one of the convoys and the Corpsman responded to that. I heard when he came back, he came back and the other Marine started laughing and was like, “Doc is nuts now, he’s totally numb,” because the gentleman passed away due to a heart attack. Doc was just like, “I can’t do anything.” The way they described it to me, I was out there by the trucks, but the way it was described to me is he had no emotion. To me it was understandable. To some other people that hadn’t been – they had been out the wire but they hadn’t really seen what was out the wire.
RH: In your words, what’s it like driving a seven ton through Iraq?
TK: Ah! I felt powerful! The seven ton was pretty much, I want to say, the safest vehicle. Better than the Humvee, I’ll tell you that much. It was just that one cab with the bench but underneath it was just fully armored all the way through on the top, side, bottom. The bottom plates I had the most confidence in. It stood up high off the ground. It was pretty safe. I actually was in an IED too and my truck? Nothing really. Just some burn marks. But the Humvee next to me – we were making a U turn and our seven ton, two or three Humvees passed already and made a U turn. And Pathfinder – EOD or whatever – they cleared the road too. We were towing a Humvee, my truck, so two or three Humvees passed that were waiting for them. Then the Humvee – the driver happened to be vehicle commander – I was just kind of guiding him and he was doing good. I was a Corporal at the time so I was making sure he was doing good, making sure he was not going off the road because there was a ditch. There was a convoy so the Humvee was waiting for us to make a full turn and as we were passing it – a seven ton is a lot heavier than a Humvee – I guess we set off a daisy chain and the Humvee that we were passing got destroyed. One of the Marines passed away unfortunately. We did call in air but he died on the way back to base. But we felt pretty confident in the seven ton.
RH: What do you remember most about the Marines that you served with?
TK: The professionalism. It seemed like they’d been doing this. For some of us it was our first time, a lot of them. Maybe a few vets that had been there twice or maybe that’s their second or third deployment. Even my squad leader. I didn’t know until later that this was his first time. He just came off of Security Forces up in Bangor Washington, I think. The way he was leading the squads, it seemed like this is what he had been doing since high school. And again, if I think back I think that he was only – we were the same age – twenty, twenty-one. We were kids. It was crazy. It made me look at them as if they were older than me but we were the same age.
RH: What was the most challenging period of the deployment: the beginning, the middle or the end?
TK: Oh man. I don’t know. The most challenging? It was a challenge throughout the whole deployment. In the beginning you just didn’t know what was going to happen. The fear. It was slow and scary. You couldn’t show it. You couldn’t really show it, not in front of everybody else. I’m pretty sure other Marines were pretty scared too. We just never showed it. We never showed each other that we were tired.
In the middle it was just miserable. You just kind of wanted to get shot or injured so we could get sent home. It became like that. It was miserable. And then the end, for me, was challenging because first of all, just the anticipation that we were about to go home. It’s just a few weeks and whatever the countdown was. And then as we didn’t have any more missions, I don’t want to shit on the Army but one of the cities that we handed over to the Army, I believe they got overran. They started getting attacked more and more. So I went out with Fox Company and the first day we went out there we got into a firefight and I only had a week or two weeks left, something like that, before we went to Tent City.
So I was kind of pissed. I had just survived with Echo the whole deployment and now I don’t know where I had to go. So that was a mental change. Most of it is a mental challenge because now I’m thinking, “this is it. This is how I’m going to die,” at the end, you know? You get there in the beginning thinking about death and that you might die. In the middle, you kind of want to die. Then you survive everything and now you’re going to die at the end after surviving all that? [laughs] So that was a mental challenge.
RH: What was the most challenging non-combat aspect of deploying?
TK: OK. I’ve got a list. [laughs] Opening doors. The food, obviously. Missing home. Friends. Home in general, meaning the girl I was talking to at that time drove me nuts, you know? [laughs] The food. I don’t know why I bring up food a lot. I want to say you worry less about home. For me, I did, particularly. Maybe because I had so much on my plate and everything seemed like Heaven at home. It can’t be that bad at home. I kind of didn’t worry because I was thinking the biggest problem at home was my parents, was that their son was in Iraq. I didn’t even tell them that I was with the line company. I told them that I never left base. They found it kind of odd that I only called once every ten days. They were like, “why haven’t you been calling?,” and I was just like, “I’m busy.”
So that was one of the things that I thought about. It would suck if I did get hurt or if I died. And then I lied to my parents. Stuff like that. But besides the comment thing, I would say food. Food and just the heat. [laughs] The food and heat. The cleanliness, I guess. [laughs]
RH: Yeah. It was a little dirty. [laughs]
TK: I have OCD, you know? I guess that was a real challenge for me. Being in the Marine Corps was a challenge for me. As much as I got dirty – I rolled in the mud, I did everything – that was a big challenge. Especially, I remember – I always remember this – Marines, when we go to a house you take those mats, the Iraqi mats. Do you remember those? They were just laying on them in their boxers. It was not gross, I guess it didn’t gross me out but since my OCD kicked in it was like there’s so much dead skin on there and it’s dusty and you’re just laying skin to skin on that. I don’t know. I found that very – and that’s is coming from this Marine – people found that weird. Even my friends, they’d laugh about that. Either that or you’re thinking about the cleanliness. I always put my sleeping bag on top of that but it’s weird stuff.
RH: Did you have any transformative or significant events that informed your deployment other than those that you’ve already mentioned?
TK: During the deployment that changed me?
TK: I think the biggest change was death. Seeing people die. Friends die. Fighting. I fought on the streets in New York. I fought on the streets since I was young a lot, brawls and whatever. But there was nothing that’s more traumatic than actually, not throwing a fist, but actually using your weapon with the intent to kill. Giving death and receiving. Seeing death, giving death and thinking that you’re going to die.
RH: Before we go onto coming home is there anything that we left out of deploying that you think is significant?
TK: Probably. [laughs] A lot happened. One thing I did want to say before about the people I was with, not just their professionalism but how at times there were times that it was fun. You kind of forget that you’re in a war zone. When we were at the patrol house, everyone was just in their skivvies and everyone is hot as hell in that room and trying to play with the Iraqi TV. Trying to get reception with that little bit of electricity that they get every fifteen minutes. [laughs] What’s funny is that at those times when we were on our little breaks, you could call it, it was fun talking with them. It was funny. There were some funny-ass people. I made them laugh too but the camaraderie is awesome.
RH: Alright. So let’s go ahead and let’s transition to after deployment. Can you talk a little bit about your immediate post-deployment experiences?
TK: I remember landing in Maine, first of all. Or just being out of Iraq or the Middle East, let’s just say. I don’t want to bring it too far. But going to the Middle East we stopped by Ireland but it was nothing compared to actually landing in Maine, in Bangor. Right?
RH: I think so. Bangor. I think it was.
TK: That little airport which they have a documentary of on Netflix, you should check it out, about those old people, the elderly.
RH: That give the hugs?
TK: Yes! They’re volunteers.
RH: Actually, after we’re done remind me. I have a funny story about the huggers. [laughs]
TK: I just remember being home and coming out of the airport to smoke a cigarette and that smell was back. It was just America smell, I guess. I don’t know what it was. Every state and every city has a different smell but it was nice and fresh. Especially Maine.
But anyways, it was just really good to be back in the US. Coming back to Twentynine Palms on the bus, my parents moved to California from New York for about a year because my brother got reactivated, training now for his third deployment. So I was coming back and he was going again. For my brother it was his third time. So I think about my parents and the toll of stress that they had. Two of their boys, only sons, going to war that many times. Especially my brother.
I’m guess like everybody else I was excited, smiling before even getting off the bus. You’re still driving and thinking, “holy shit!” That was the good time, I guess. But after that’s when I started going to the doctor. I wasn’t sleeping. I wasn’t sleeping at all, or barely. I started breaking out. I went to the BAS and asked the doc. I never had acne. Never had it. I had one pimple here and there, especially in Iraq too when I was dirty. I would get two or three dirty pimples from not washing but I was breaking out a little. It’s different from not showering, because I was showering. So he asked, “have you been getting sleep?” On my record it shows that I deployed and he asked me all these questions. That’s how I started getting initially diagnosed with PTSD. It was kind of downhill from there. [laughs] And then up!
RH: Did the Marines around you change after the deployment and, if so, how?
TK: The Marines around me? At that time, no. I don’t think anybody changed. I didn’t change. But then coming back to New York and home, people like my sister and friends said I changed. I changed totally in the way I react to things and stuff like that, my mannerisms. Everything. So after being out and getting treatment and stuff like that, looking back and you asking me this maybe they didn’t notice that I didn’t change because at the time you think that everything is the same. Nobody really changed to me. But if I really have to compare when I first met them to after the deployment, yes I would have to say it changed. It was always kind of rowdy so I can’t really [word inaudible].
RH: Before we move onto civilian life, how long was it between when you returned from Iraq and got out?
TK: I came back near the end of 2007 and got out early 2008, April. So it was about six months. In that time I got laser eye surgery and the [tries to remember the acronym]…
RH: I want to say TDAP? Whatever the transition is.
TK: No. Not TAD. [laughs]
RH: PTAP or something like that.
TK: We’ll figure it out. I was going through that, really just in checking places at the shop, just ready to get out. But also, 2/7 was getting ready to go to Afghanistan and at that time they were really heavy on reenlistment, so bonuses and even extensions. I was really contemplating going to Afghanistan with 2/7 but I guess the forces led me back to New York. [laughs]
RH: So after you got out you came right back to New York?
RH: What were some of the challenges you faced when you got out?
TK: Oh man. Adjusting. I don’t know how it was for you but I remember the first morning that I woke up at home and I just didn’t know what to do. I had no Staff Sergeant telling me where to go or what formation to go to. I really felt lost. I look back on it and I was just lost. Whatever those classes, transitioning or whatever, didn’t do squat. [laughs] Those classes were good just got get out of work. But yeah. I was just really lost. I had no idea what to do. I would call my buddies back in Twentynine Palms to see what they were doing, you know? I had no idea what to do. So I found myself drinking a lot, going out.
RH: What did you eventually go to college for?
TK: As soon as I got out I enrolled to Queens Community College and I went there for about two years or a year and a half for Business Administration. I was doing good. I had a 3.7 GPA but I wasn’t happy. I actually met my wife at that time. We just met. She does advertising design. I didn’t know what that was. [laughs] She knew that I could draw. One of our first dates she asked me this – and no one really asked me this, “what are you doing?,” are you studying business, are you studying finance, bla bla bla – she asked me, “are you happy?” And I remember thinking, “I’m not happy,” which is pretty crazy. So I told her, “I’m actually not happy.” And I don’t know if she was referring to me personally, my life, me right now emotionally, or happy with business administration. [laughs] But for me I was just like, “I’m not happy with everything.”
And then she was like, “why don’t you go into industrial design, or product design?” And I was like, “what the hell is that?” At the time I was looking at the best school – it’s actually number one in the world which is Art Center – and I got in.
RH: Art Center out in Pasadena?
TK: Art Center in Pasadena. I moved out to California because New York was killing me. [laughs] It was too many people, my friends would drink too, we’d get into fights all the time so I left New York. It was either I stay here and go to prison or die. It was a great thing moving to California. California’s awesome.
RH: Do you still communicate with anybody from 2/7?
TK: Not really. I stopped talking to everybody, you know? I think one of my buddies that I was with throughout my whole career, almost my whole career, a couple of buddies throughout my whole career. I did at one point on facebook but then I got rid of all my social media at one point. That literally disconnected everyone else.
My buddy who was with me, I don’t know if I can say his name but, I kept in touch with him but he hung himself. I’m not mentioning names. I didn’t know this but he was an environmentalist too. We were in the same squad and I was pretty cool with him, I was a brother to him. What’s that, Johnson and Johnson? I think they’re in Detroit or Ohio. I don’t know. Some Midwest state. It was a secured building and they actually – they were like eco-terrorists. I don’t want to call them eco-terrorists. That’s definitely not the word. They were environmentalists. They cared about that company Johnson and Johnson or one of those companies. Those kinds of companies. They were doing something bad to the environment. Oh! They were killing tigers. And they hung this big banner in their building. It was huge. Somehow they rappelled and did all these things. It was on the news and everything.
Later on I don’t know what happened. He got sentenced to, I don’t know how much time. He was charged in the head court and took his own life which is sad.
RH: Alright. [TK and RH go back and forth wordlessly, acknowledging the unfortunate situation]
TK: I guess it was just pretty crazy.
RH: Let’s move into Iraq’s current state. How do you feel about the rise of ISIS and the current direction that Iraq is taking?
TK: When I left, 2/7 was like, “victory!” I don’t know how other units did it but I want to say we changed it. I don’t want to sound cliché or cheesy but we actually changed it. We didn’t fix it, we didn’t cure it – the region or our AO – because I don’t know if it’s possible in the timeframe but we made a big difference, I want to say. After that nobody was coming to Iraq. The Commandant came. I think Bush came after we left because it got better. We handed it over to Iraqi police too. We were doing a coalition with the Iraqi army. It was good.
And then I left so I don’t know how it was in real life but you hear stuff on the news. It’s still a piece of crap situation. But then also we withdrew and if you don’t hear it on the news that doesn’t mean it’s not happening. That’s how I believe it. So I don’t know what’s actually going on.
But with the whole ISIS thing, it’s the same story. I think they’re the same people but changed their name. [laughs] It’s like being Bloods and then changing their name to Crips. It’s bullshit, you know?
RH: Are there any lessons that you learned while you were over there that are relevant to the current situation?
TK: Is it relevant? Everything was relevant. With ISIS especially or at that time we were fighting Al Qaeda, we’re more experienced now. Or we should be. I don’t know how different they are. I hear ISIS is more funded, I guess. More power. They’re all still animals. What was the question?
RH: Are there any lessons that you learned over there that you think are relevant?
TK: To now. Damn. [laughs] I’m sure there’s troops there now. There’s boots on the ground. They don’t say it but I think two Marines in Iraq recently. I want to say that. An expeditionary unit. If there’s boots back on the ground it’s the same lesson as every war. Make sure you do the mission, survive, try to bring everybody back home.
RH: I have a couple of spiritual questions and actually you already kind of answered this one but I’ll go ahead and ask it anyways.
TK: [laughs] Maybe my answer will be different.
RH: Has deploying changed your perception of life and death and, if so, how?
TK: Oh yeah. Major change. The perception of life and death, I find that before I was scared to die. When I was younger all the way up to even when I was in the Marines. But when I went to Iraq and after, after I was ready to die. I wasn’t more ready to die until after coming home. I didn’t fear death after I came back, you know? That was one of the perceptions. To a certain level that could be bad but also the way I look at it now is that you appreciate it more, life. You get ballsy. You’ve got to gear that in a better direction, to the right direction because if you gear that to the wrong direction it can turn out bad for you.
But if you gear it in a good direction – I think that sixty percent of entrepreneurs are veterans. Studies have shown that we are more prone to risk. I started my own company. What people see as risk, now I see as just a reason. If that doesn’t work out I’m just going to start back at where I started from. For other people it would be the end of the world. Trust me, we’ve been through worse. So that’s my perception of life and death now. You live once and you have to live it the way you want to and respectfully, I want to say.
RH: Good to go. Did the religious nature of the Iraqis affect you at all?
TK: Religious nature? Not really. At that time I didn’t really care about religion. I’m Catholic but it didn’t really matter about religion. It was just about frame. We’re all in this situation regardless of whether they are military or civilian, enemy or friend. Everybody was in that situation so I don’t think religion itself effected in that sense. When you ask that I also think about when we had detainees. We would have to let them pray when it was time in whatever religion they were. It was mostly Muslim. It doesn’t really change anything or bother or affect me, I guess.
RH: Has deploying affected you spiritually and, if so, how?
TK: Spiritually? I’m trying to think about it, how it was. I grew up Catholic, I went to Catholic school from kindergarten to eighth grade and I was very religious. Spiritually, well, no. I don’t know because you know what? After I got out there was this absence of faith and spirit or spiritual relevance because I was just a maniac. I was numb. It was like nothing. It was like a demon inside me. If anything spiritual or religious it was because of the demons I had. And that was it.
Not until later when you get mind straight through therapy or whatever and you talk about it more and time goes by I guess I focus more on being thankful to God, thankful about everything that we have. We appreciate it more and you work more and you try to get more.
RH: Alright. We’re going to shift it up a little bit. What is your happiest memory of the entire time you served?
TK: The happiest memory of the entire time I served? Wow. I think that’s a tough question because there’s so many times. The slightest thing could make me happy because it was so miserable. [laughs] The happiest time? There’s so many times. They all had their equalness of infinity, I guess. They were all on the same level because they were just really happy. Even starting from boot camp when we’re about to graduate and stuff like that. That was one of the happiest times. Going back home.
I went to SERE school one time up in Bridgeport, cold mountain warfare training. That was one of the worst times but I guess since it was one of my worst times, when we were leaving – we weren’t eating, I was eating ants the whole time – we were eating and coming back after we got rescued. The helo came and dropped us off and we got back to our squad bay and showered, we went to this little restaurant diner on the mountain. I ordered everything. I guess that was one of the happiest times. I don’t think anybody was talking. Everybody threw up. Everybody got sick. [RH and TK laugh] You know? After not eating. I guess that was one of the happiest times.
Travelling I think was really happy. Going to Japan, Okinawa, Thailand. OK. That was one of the happiest times, when I went to Thailand. [laughs] We stopped in Thailand for about a month and trained. When we had libbo, I guess that was one of the happiest times in Thailand. And getting out, [laughs] which also was sad. I don’t know. It was a hate and love situation. It was definitely sad too at the same time.
RH: What, if anything, do you miss about the military?
TK: Camaraderie. Right off the bat. The people and then also you don’t have to worry about anything. You have a phone bill. That’s all I had. I had a cell phone bill. It was the only thing I worried about. Obviously I stressed. I acquired things to stress because I had nothing to worry about. You wake up to PT, get told what to do. There’s nothing to worry about. Then coming into the real world I got hit with bricks. I don’t know. It’s the real world stuff. But the military is PT. It was great. You worked out all the time, your endorphins are running all the time. I had a great time. That’s what I miss, the lack of stress. There’s always stress, there’s good stress, but the concern and stuff.
Obviously some Marines did it differently though. They had bills up the ass for some reason. They lived paycheck to paycheck. I don’t want to say it was bad but it was dangerous.
RH: What was the best MRE?
TK: The best MRE? Man! I was going to say chili mac but you’ve got to prepare it in a certain way. I think the go-to one is chili mac. But the way you mix it up is you have to put the cheese in and all that stuff. I hate MREs but at one time – I mean, I love the chili mac but that gets daunting. Another MRE I found from another Marine, he was Indian so he didn’t eat meat or beef because it was against his religion, he was eating the grilled chicken. I don’t know if you saw that.
RH: Yes. With the – I know what you mean. [laughs]
TK: Yeah, it was probably not chicken. [laughs] That alone was kind of nasty but it had jalapeno ketchup and the way he was eating it, he was heating it up, taking a little bite then adding a little. I think the jalapeno ketchup was really good. If I think about it, it was disgusting. [laughs] If I think about it now it was pretty disgusting. I think those two are my favorites.
RH: What was the best chow hall in Iraq and the best chow hall in the US? And I’ll open it up to this too, what was the best chow hall in Oki since you were out there?
TK: Air Force base in Okinawa. It was good. If we were ever out in that base for some reason you got to go to that chow hall.
RH: Do you remember the name of that base?
TK: I want to say March but…
TK: It was the only Air Force base in Okinawa. We could look it up. It had a Chili’s there too. That base was awesome. The Air Force? They had everything. [laughs] I don’t think we even had to clean up our tray after. I mean, we did but their base was awesome. The food and everything.
The best chow hall in Iraq? In Camp Fallujah there was a couple of chow halls but I always went to this – there was this midnight rations chow hall and it was DFAC Two or something like that. And there was DFAC One, the big man chow hall. They were both the same to me. Again, in Iraq I didn’t have that appetite so even when I was hungry and everything looked good, I would load up my plate and take a few bites of something and was like, “I don’t want to eat nothing.” I don’t know what it was but I did lose a lot of weight too in Iraq.
The best chow hall? I think the midnight DFAC. When we’d come back, we’d normally come back at night and we had to make it in time before the chow hall closes and we’d all race to shower and we’d all go there to eat. I guess that was the best one because it was the hot meal.
RH: How about in the US?
TK: Man. If I have to say, there’s two. I don’t know if it was because I was so hungry in boot camp in Parris Island but I can’t count that one because we were starving throughout the whole training, throughout the whole thirteen weeks. So I can’t consider that one but it was delicious. I enjoyed every meal. I’m not going to count that one but the best one I think I had was in Twentynine Palms, the Naval Hospital.
TK: You know about it! Obviously you’ve been there.
TK: It’s the small, tiny one. Do you know why? They actually cared about it, you know? We had Marines cooking in the main chow hall and who knows what they did to it? There’s no pride in that one, I would say. Maybe some cooks do but the one in the Naval Hospital was small and their portions, they didn’t mass produce. They mass produced but it was still a small scale for that hospital. It was just for that little chow hall but it was good. It seemed like the cooks there had a little more care, more heart. And it was always good to be there. [laughs] I remember they stopped letting Marines in there unless you had an appointment because we used to just go there to eat instead of the main chow hall and they caught on after a few years.
RH: Every time we wanted to escape Marines, if we needed a Marine-less lunch, we’d go up there. [laughs]
TK: We’d always go there. We’d deliberately drive out to there. It was the best.
RH: What’s the funniest story you have?
TK: The funniest? Man! I mean, boot camp alone was hilarious, you know? It was just hilarious the way they act. The way they say things and their military bearing. It makes everyone more funny and then you can’t laugh. I want to say that was pretty funny. Just the stuff that happened. If I say it now it might sound stupid but at the time, just remarks that they’ll say. It was hilarious. Because the recruits are stupid too. We are stupid. We don’t know any better and what I didn’t know is drill instructors, they laugh when they put their hat down. It seems like they’re pissed but they’re actually laughing under their hat because they can’t show anyone seeing them smile. I would say that’s the funniest experience.
The funniest thing that ever happened? People are so funny, the Marines. People in the military are hilarious. I can’t think of just one. Every time it wasn’t serious, there was always somebody making somebody laugh.
RH: If you could communicate something to young Marines who will be fighting the wars of the future, what would it be?
TK: Don’t cut things short. Just give it your all, even the moments you’re scared. Have more confidence, or faith. I don’t know. Give it your all. I don’t think being lazy or tired – there has to be zero percent of laziness and tiredness. Regardless, you will get tired and you will give up at points but at the same time try not to either, and fight through it.
RH: Is there anything that I left out that you would like to address?
TK: No. I think that’s it. I went on a rant sometimes. [laughs]
RH: That’s alright. Rants are good. [laughs] Rants are good for oral history.
TK: I went off-question on some of the things I was talking about. If I do think of something I’ll let you know.
RH: That’s fine. My last question is, what specific accomplishment are you most proud of during your service?
TK: Oh man. Going to Iraq. Fighting in a war, being there and just participating. I guess an overall – even SERE school, stuff like that. People quit, failed – just accomplishing everything I had to do. Even morning PT runs. Not falling out and stuff like that. I guess the most is being in Iraq with those Marines, those heroes. And past heroes, being part of that. From past heroes to future heroes, I think. Just being a part of that.
RH: Anything else?
TK: I think that’s it. [laughs]
RH: Alright! Thank you very much!