Travis Kiser: Part 1
Travis deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan with Second Battalion, Seventh Marines. As a SAW gunner with Fox Company, he went on numerous patrols, attended to mass casualties as a combat aidsman and spent a good deal of time in Twentynine Palms, California.
In Part 1 of his interview he discusses his deployment to Iraq in 2007.
Interview conducted on February 13, 2016 over the phone
Present: Richard Hayden and Travis Kiser
Transcribed by Richard Hayden
Richard Hayden: What is your full name?
Travis Kiser: Travis William Kiser.
RH: What branch of the military did you serve in and what years?
TK: I was in the United States Marine Corps from 2005 to 2009.
RH: OK. What was you rank when you got out?
TK: I got out as a Lance Corporal.
RH: OK. And what was your MOS?
TK: 0311. [pronounced oh-three eleven]
RH: OK. What was your unit?
TK: Second Battalion, Seventh Marines.
RH: What was your company?
TK: Fox Company.
RH: Fox. OK. Good to go. What motivated you to join the military?
TK: Well, a lot of things. I had a family history of being in the military. My great granddad, my grandfather’s brothers, were in the military. They had served, some of them in World War II. One was killed in Korea and I was always just kind of drawn to the military as an adventure. It seemed like a cool idea. After I graduated high school, I went to college for a year at Texas A&M and did really, I didn’t really focus on my studies so I had to figure something out to do after because it wasn’t working out. What I was doing at the time was not going to be effective. I wasn’t going to be graduating, I guess. I wasn’t going to be focused on my academics as well so something had to change.
RH: Why did you pick the branch of service that you did?
TK: Well, you know, that’s a very interesting question. Sometimes I wonder why I did too but I guess what initially drew me to the Marines with trying to figure out what I was going to do is their uniform, I guess. [laughs] Their dress blues were snazzy looking and there’s just that attitude, that mentality that the Marine Corps comes with where we are the best. Why would you join the Army and be an infantryman when there’s Rangers or Special Operations? Whereas in the Marine Corps, infantry is the top notch. Now they have Recon and all of those things but it felt different. You felt special. You felt like you were walking with your head a little higher after you said that you were going to be a Marine. So I guess that’s what drew me to it. I thought about going into the Army and I had done ROTC in college and in high school. The Army was just kind of like you were another person. There wasn’t anything special about you but being in the Marines and even now I see it too. You really are a unique individual and you stand out being a Marine so that drew me to it.
RH: Alright. Good to go. Why did you pick the MOS that you did?
TK: Why did I pick 0311? Well, the honest answer is I’m a dumb white kid from Texas from the middle class who wanted to have adventure and wanted to shoot guns and blow stuff up and that sort of thing – camp outdoors. I had never been camping until the Marine Corps and that’s honestly what it was. It wasn’t like, “oh, I want to go off and fight in the wars,” or anything. It was, I want adventure. I want something that I did not have when I was growing up in Bryan, Texas living the suburbs.
RH: Alright. Good to go. How did your family feel about your decision?
TK: My dad didn’t really talk much about it or say anything. I kind of got the impression that he wanted me to do that because he, too, agreed that I needed to change my life. My mom was worried that I’d die. She was being a typical mother. She was worried but I think all mothers are that way too. They just care and they just worry about things and the dad is just like, “let him go. Let him go off and be a man,” kind of thing.
RH: Alright. Good to go. Where were you on September 11th?
TK: I was in high school. I actually teach at the same high school now and I tell my students the same story. I walked into class – I was always one of the first people in class – I got into class early and the TV was on. The news headline was “Plane Crashes into World Trade Center.” I thought it was one of the crop dusters, like a little plane. It wasn’t a 747. And then we watched it in class. That’s the only class I remember all day. I can remember other things and stuff like that but I remember watching it happen on TV in Spanish class on Blue Campus. It’s on this side of the building.
I point that room out any time I’m on Blue Campus and I’m on that campus with other people. I say, “that’s the room I was in when 9/11 happened.” I was a history major in college so I’m kind of a nerd when it comes to, “oh, this happened here on this day,” kind of thing. I can always say that and I tell that to my students, too.
RH: Good to go. What were some of the reactions throughout the school and maybe amongst some of the other students?
TK: The teacher had a reaction while we were watching the video. We were watching it live and I remember distinctly there was a point where you had seen the World Trade Center, you saw it hit again, the second plane hit live, and then there was another couple scenes later where people started jumping out of buildings and you could, all you heard was this lady. I remember it vividly, this lady screaming, and screaming that, “they’re jumping! They’re jumping!” This blood curdling scream. And our teacher ran over and turned the TV off and I think she said something to the effect that, “this is a sad, sad day.” I walked after class down the hall and took a right and went down some stairs and this girl, she was like, “we’re going to war! We’re going to war!” And she was laughing about it. That struck me as very odd. Even to this day when I see that girl, I just remember her making those comments so lackadaisical because it was over there but I was like, “this is something different. This is sad.” I mean, because, yeah.
I don’t remember what my dad’s reactions were. I don’t remember many people’s reactions.
RH: Do you remember your mom’s reactions by any chance?
TK: Well see, my parents were divorced so my mom travelled a lot at that time. She flew a lot for work. I was worried but I was just hoping that she was OK. It wasn’t like I knew that she was in New York or anything crazy like that. It was things my mom did, is my mom safe right now, wherever she’s at. And her reactions, I remember that she told us that she loved us. I hope that every parent did that day – went home and they hugged their kids and they told them that they loved them. I feel like that’s what happened with my mom and I. I’m almost positive that’s what her reaction was – tell us she cared and stuff like that.
RH: Good to go. Where did you go to boot camp?
TK: I went to boot camp at MCRD San Diego in August of 2005.
RH: Alright. What was boot camp like?
TK: Boot camp was a culture shock. I never knew what a Tongan was, somebody that was Samoan, until I went to boot camp. It was weird that I remember that. It was definitely a culture shock. I had never been away from home that long. I had never gone that long without being able to talk to my parents. I had never been pushed that far. I had been an athlete in high school but I had never been physically pushed that hard.
RH: What are some of the memories of some of the recruits that were there with you?
TK: What do you mean, memories?
RH: What were some of the recruits, some of the guys that were around you that were going though boot camp along with you?
TK: Well this guy, his name is Ben Lanford. He became our platoon guide and he was the honor graduate. I think he was honor graduate – I’m not sure. But later on we were in 2/7 together in the same company. There were a lot of other guys that were there. There was a couple that went onto 2/7 with us. A lot of people in that whole training company ended up in 2/7. I do remember one guy that we went to boot camp with, this big, tall red headed guy, he ended up dying in Iraq. He got blown up in an AAV. I remember that.
Some of the other guys I’ve kept in touch with through facebook but I’m a joker. I like to have fun. You’ll hear more stories like that. I would always try to make people laugh. So I had this group of guys. We would always be the class idiots but we never did enough to where we got everybody in trouble. We just got each other in trouble kind of stuff, you know?
RH: Any good examples of something like that?
TK: [laughs] So I was taking a shower one night and when the drill instructor calls out for a recruit, to come see him, you can’t talk with anything in your hands and you have to stand at attention. And I was showering. So I come running out with a towel wrapped around me and I’m holding it with one hand and the drill instructor calls for me and all the recruits scream my name, “Kiser! Get out here.” And I come running with one hand holding my toiletries and the other hand holding onto my towel to keep it together. Well, I remember looking at Lanford on the sly and smiling because they were like, “Get in here Kiser!” They banged on the hatch and were like, “get in here Kiser!” I remember looking at Lanford and smiling as I drop the toiletry bag and I drop the towel, I’m butt naked, and I run into the duty hut. And the drill instructor, whatever he was going to tell me, he forgot about it. It was like, “get the hell out of here Kiser!,” and he started laughing so hard. I laugh and I ran out – I was butt naked – I put my towel back on and went about my business, you know? [RH laughs] Stuff like that.
RH: What was the follow up training after boot camp like?
TK: So after boot camp we went to the School of Infantry. We got in at a weird time. I guess that they were full. Infantry school was getting full and they were getting backlogged with recruits. So I got there in November and then, of course, there was a huge time where the school was not going to be taking kids. We were in that little window right before where they were like, “we’re not going to have any SOI drops for a while,” because it was a holiday. So you’d have Christmas and New Year’s which the military was off during those time periods. So we got there and for like a month we didn’t pick up with a unit. We didn’t pick up with a training cycle so some of my buddies got stuck on guard duty so they got stuck patrolling the base, standing watch. Really stupid stuff. But I lucked out because I stayed back in the barracks in a fire watch. I was making sure somebody wasn’t stealing stuff. They all had to leave and go downstairs and they told them, “get all your stuff. You’re going to guard duty.” And I was just kind of stuck behind. So it was like five of us. We were there for two or three days. We had no supervision and then a whole group dropped with us, a whole other training group came in and then we got a month off for leave. I took a month off, came back in January and then picked up in late January with the School of Infantry and we started doing infantry stuff.
It was very different. It was fun but very, very different. It was what you join the Marine Corps to do – shoot things, go on hikes, you know? You weren’t getting yelled at. You weren’t being treated like a recruit. You were treated like a Marine and it was a good feeling. And then we went through training. We did a lot of MOUT training. We fired almost every infantry-sized weapon. I didn’t fire the big machine guns – the .50 cals or anything like that, or the Mark 19s. I never shot those but we shot pretty much every other type of gun that the Marine Corps had. We took classes and were taught how to build defenses, those sorts of things.
RH: Alright. Good to go. Where in the US were you stationed when you deployed?
TK: I had the pleasure of being stationed at Twentynine Palms, California.
RH: What do you remember most about Twentynine Palms?
TK: Well, it is a desert. [laughs] It is the bleakest spot on the Earth, in my opinion. If anybody was ready to go to Iraq to get out of Twentynine Palms, it was Twentynine Palms Marines. It was just very different. Twentynine Palms is about four hours from known civilization of San Diego, LA and Vegas. It was like in a weird little Bermuda Triangle that’s right there. Palm Springs is an hour and a half away but Marines didn’t really go there because all that was there were other Marines, older women and homosexuals. That’s what we were always told so we rarely went there unless you were going to the airport. There weren’t women there for us and we didn’t have Tinder back then so you’d always have to find somebody at home or you’d have to go out and venture to other places. But Twentynine Palms was just hot, nothing to do, constant training. It’s the best place in the world for infantry training because pretty much every range can be a live fire range and it’s one of the few that you can have tanks and helicopters and jets dropping ordnance and shooting things at the same time. But it was a lot of misery and sand.
RH: [laughs] Alright. Any special Twentynine Palms memories in particular?
TK: Range 400 – one of the most miserable ranges that has been known to existence. Every unit in the Marine Corps has to go through the CAX exercise – the Combined Arms Exercise – and they run range 400. Well, the Twentynine Palms Marines get the pleasure of running it two or three times more than any other people, the other Marines. So Range 400 stands out in memory because it’s a long sprint that you have to run through to assault these bunkers and stuff like that. And I also remember they had this hill right behind the back of the base, in the very back of the base, on the opposite side of what was known as Lake Bandini, that was called Sugar Cookie. It was a really fine, sandy hill. When I was a boot, a new guy, all the senior Lance Corporals would take us and they would run us up the hill at night. They’d be drinking, they’d make us drink, we’d run up the hill, come back down, do all sorts of stupid stuff and run to our barracks. And then there’s Lake Bandini which was right next to our base, right next to our barracks. You could always smell it. It was the open sewage system that was at that base so it was basically a poop lake and you would open your door in the morning and I would always tell people you could smell what was for breakfast yesterday. [RH laughs]
It was really one of the most miserable spots because if you don’t have a vehicle, you’re stuck there. They try to make it nice by having a movie theater there that would show movies for a dollar and you’d get a free soda. They have a big PX. I remember going and playing pool at the Zone or whatever it was called. It was called the Zone because it was next to the Taco Bell. We’d go play pool. They’d have arcade games, you’d play them. And then at night one of our buddies would go to the E Club like he wasn’t supposed to do. That’s where all the POGs hang out – the Comm School kids and the kids that weren’t grunts, that weren’t infantrymen. They’d all hang out there and there’s alcohol and there’s like four women and a hundred men in there and, lo and behold, somebody would look at somebody the wrong way or somebody would accidently bring their girl and their girlfriend would smile at some other guy and they’d have a fight. So we’d all get the call, “hey, Lance Corporal so and so went to the E Club like an idiot. We gotta go out there and rescue him.” So we’d run out there. He would come out and say, “hey, I’m gonna bring this guy out. Let’s jump him.” So a brawl would start anyways so we would run in and randomly punch somebody in the mouth and then run off. [laughs] it is what it is.
I mean, to this day, one of my fellow teachers hung out around a lot of Marines because she’s from California. She would tell everybody and she would tell me too that I’m a typical Twentynine Palms Marine. I can talk to anybody about anything and I will probably bitch the entire time I’m talking. That’s just what I do. I will. Twentynine Palms Marines can talk to anybody about anything and they will complain about everything. It could be perfect weather but it could be like, “man, but it’s going to rain tomorrow.” Or something like that. You find something wrong and you complain and I guess it just made us a special breed of people afterwards.
RH Alright. Good to go. Did you serve in Iraq, Afghanistan or both?
TK: I served in both.
RH: OK. How many times did you deploy to each?
TK: Once to each.
RH: OK. What were the dates of those deployments?
TK: The dates of those deployments were, we left January 29th of 2007 for Al Anbar province, Iraq. We came back like August 25th, I want to say, of 2007. And then about six months later we went to Afghanistan. We deployed in April. Yeah, April we deployed to Afghanistan. Came back – we were in California before December 1st. December 1st we were at our base.
RH: Got it. Perfect. So Iraq was late January to late August of 2007 and Afghanistan April 2008 to right about December 1, 2008, correct?
TK: Yes. Afghanistan was an eight month deployment. Iraq was a seven month.
RH: Perfect. OK. So let’s go ahead and let’s talk about the Iraq deployment first. What was the mission of your unit?
TK: Our mission was basically to locate and close with the enemy. We were to perform counterinsurgency operations in urban areas and in rural areas. We were to try to win hearts and minds and we were to basically impede whatever that enemy was called. Now we have hindsight but we all called them AQI [Al Qaeda in Iraq], anything, but now you would call them anti-coalition forces. Some of those guys were just basically gangsters not affiliated with Zarqawi or anything with what was going on in Baghdad. Our mission was basically a surge. We got sent during the surge and we were to clear out the pocket of our little AO in Al Anbar province and basically help the locals, help the police and things like that.
RH: OK. Where, exactly, was Fox located?
TK: Fox Company was located in Saqlawiyah, Iraq.
RH: Saqlawiyah. OK.
TK: It’s about ten to fifteen kilometers from Fallujah. We could see the minarets of Fallujah right off of route Mobile, right along the Euphrates River.
RH: Got it. Good to go. What, specifically, was your job?
TK: I was an infantry rifleman. I carried an M249 SAW – Squad Automatic Weapon. In my squad I was the number two man so when we would patrol, I’d be the first person on either the right or the left hand side and the other guy who was the one man, Stifler, he would be either the first guy on the right or the left hand. It was just to provide support and then when we went mounted, when we got vehicles, I was in the turret.
RH: Alright. Good to go. What was it like the day and night before you deployed?
TK: The day and night before I deployed. Well, we had packed up. I think my mom came to town. I think she did. Yeah, she did. She came and we went. This is going to tell you more about how great Twentynine Palms is but we had to drive forty-five minutes to the nicest restaurant to eat and the nicest restaurant was Applebee’s and that was in Yucca Valley. So we went and ate and she was staying at the hotel. We hung out and just not really did anything. We just hung out. At night it was just basically packing stuff up and making sure that everything was packed and repacked, rosters were filled out. Everyone was good to go and then you slept in the barracks and woke up early.
RH: What was it like when you stepped off the plane for the first time in Iraq?
TK: When we stepped off in Iraq, we first flew to Kuwait and we were there for a couple days and then flew to Al Assad. Then I don’t really remember that much because it looked just like a base. It looked like what we had been at in Twentynine Palms, like a military base. It was all built up. It was people running around doing things, military stuff, walking around. And then we had to take a convoy to Fallujah, to Camp Fallujah. I remember that the most because it smelled. It smelled like burnt barbeque. It stunk so bad. It could have been the big burn pit that was right outside of Camp Fallujah but I just remember the smell. It smelled like trash. It was chilly. It was cold and cool. It wasn’t like a desert like I thought. It was just like Twentynine Palms. It was mild during the day and cooler at night.
RH: Alright. Can you describe Saqlawiyah and are there any parts of it that are particularly memorable?
TK: Saqlawiyah? What’s memorable about it?
TK: There’s tons of things. What would you like to know that’s memorable? We had to go from Fallujah to Saqlawiyah. From there we operated and Saqlawiyah’s not a big city. It was not a big city so you could walk around the city and go up and down every street in about four hours walking. We drove all over the place there. There was Saqlawiyah proper which is the city version of the city and then you had the pocket which was part of Saqlawiyah and it was just thick farmlands. We called it the Riveria. It was a four story government building that was our FOB. Each group has their own floor, things like that. There was a mansion that was said had been Saddam’s mansion or something like that right before you got to the pocket. It had a big boat in the back with a lake. There were a lot of other memorable things, I just don’t know what you’re asking. What specifics?
RH: I guess if you could just, you did a pretty good job. Maybe just describing it and, kind of, what it looked like.
TK: It’s a very typical Iraqi city. In the city part you had your markets. You had your open air markets and then you had houses. Then you got out to the pocket and you’ve just got farmlands and date palms everywhere. Then there was the river. There was the Euphrates River that ran through it. Then we have what we call Big Saq and Little Saq. Big Saq was the big part of the city and then you had Little Saq which was right next to it. It was just off of a different street and that’s where it was sort of connecting to Fallujah.
RH: Alright. Good to go. What was a typical day for an 0311 like in Saqlawiyah?
TK: It depended on what your rotation was. We had a rotation going with the platoons. You had one platoon which would be out in the pocket and they would be doing the same kind of rotation but on a platoon level, at the squad level. You had one that was a guard platoon. In a Marine Corps platoon, you have three squads. We had three squads so if you were on guard, you would have one squad that would be at the actual FOB Riviera standing post. Then you’d have another squad out at a post at the IP station – the Iraqi Police station – and then you’d have another squad that would be standing post at 286. If you were on guard, you would have a rotation that was very similar at all three places which is four hours on – where you would be standing post or sitting post watching or preventing attacks, behind a machine gun observing things – then you’d have four hours off. Four hours on, four hours off. Four hours on, four hours off. You’d do that for a month and then you’d take two vehicle patrols. You’d take the vehicles and then you would drive around for four hours. Four hours patrol, four hours off. Four hours patrol, four hours off.
We did a lot of presence stuff – presence patrolling – letting the Iraqi people in that town know that we were there and letting the bad guys know that if they even so much as farted in the wrong direction, we’d smell it. We’d be out there. So you had a vehicle mounted patrol route platoon and then after that you’d have a dismounted patrol group and you would launch patrols. The only reason with the Humvees that you’d do four hour rotations is because you’d have to do maintenance on them. You’d have to fill them up with gas and things like that. But when we did the foot patrols, you could be out for fifteen, sixteen hours or you’d be doing night patrols from nine o’clock at night until seven AM. Stuff like that. So I mean, it varied. You’d wake up and you’d try to get some food in you, get all your stuff together and depending on what rotation you were on, you would go about your business, bring food with you and eat during the patrol or something like that. You’d come back, try to eat again, maybe go make a phone call home if the phones were working. It was a constant rhythm of things.
RH: Alright. Good to go. What are some of the notable events that occurred during the deployment?
TK: During the deployment, eventually we went out to the pocket. That was pretty early because I remember it being April. It was the beginning of April when we were in the pocket. We found huge weapon caches and we blew up a house. We had sniper incidents where snipers would shoot at us. They hit one of our guys. It just went through his flak jacket. And then we started getting suicide vehicle attacks but that wasn’t our platoon. I remember sitting on post one day and they took a truck and they loaded it up with explosives and they blew up one of our other outposts. I remember sitting on post seeing it happen. Nobody died. They just got wounded. Of the Americans, they just got shaken up pretty badly.
And then it was the incident at outpost 286. Outpost 286 was like an overpass over a highway and there was a post on top of it that we took over from the Marines that we replaced. We had a squad of Marines there and they took a dump truck – the AQI or whoever it was, the insurgents – took a dump truck with three thousand pounds of explosives, drove it underneath it, right underneath the post, and blew it up.
That was day two. The day before I remember sitting in the room, talking to some guy laying on the floor and the insurgents drove a dump truck into the Iraqi Police station. That was a big mass casualty but it was all civilians. It was all Iraqis. I had done a lot of combat aidsman stuff. I was probably the most highly trained combat aidsman that my platoon had. I liked it. It was kind of cool. I liked doing all the medical stuff like IVs, burn treatment, stuff like that. So I ran down and I helped out. We had kids come in that were messed up. We had people come in that were messed up. Things like that. We had to patch them up and then we had to set up a perimeter around the incident. We had different squads go out there and man it and watch to try and keep people from coming in. The next day is when they drove the dump truck underneath the bridge and blew it up with eight Marines on it and a sailor.
It blew up and they all lived but I remember when they all came in and I can remember each one of them very clearly what they looked like. The first guy I remember working on, it looked like somebody took a meat tenderizer and just bashed his knee in. His leg was laying all weirdly and he lost his leg. They had been blown off the bridge. Some of them were two hundred yards away. They all lived but they were all really messed up. Our Corpsman – God bless him, doc Thompson – he had a traumatic brain injury. He is paralyzed. I don’t want to say, I mean, he had a TBI but I’m not knowledgeable on what he is. I’ve seen him since and his body is there but you can’t tell if he knows that you’re there. It’s like, you can’t tell if the lights are on in the house but he’s breathing and he’ll make noises and stuff like that. His wife’s doing an excellent job of taking care of him and her son. But that happened. I remember he came in and he was just lifeless.
So 286 was a big deal. We had an Iraqi come in. He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time and his brains were coming out the back of his head. We were trying to stick an IV in him and brains were in my lap kind of thing. That was weird but all that seemed fake to me. Movies overdramatize gore. Like, blood splatters everywhere. It really doesn’t. It’s really slow. Your body’s in shock and it doesn’t realize what’s happening to it. And then when it does it’s just like, “oh shit, oh shit.” Panic mode hits. That’s what your body’s going through when you get hurt like that.
That was 286. April 19th was the IP station and the 20th was the 286 incident. Then the rest of the deployment was pretty, it had some events. We got hit by an IED. We were in a vehicle convoy and an IED went off hitting the rear vehicle. I was in the front. Things like that. Our first contact will always stay with me. Iraq was fairly boring. It really was. It was a lot of observing and stress and worrying. They had snipers and they were trying to kill us. [laughs] They would put a piece of wire into a piece of cinder block and lay it in the road knowing that we would see it and react to it and stop. They were just waiting for a turret gunner – I was a turret gunner – to stand up and then shoot him. Things like that. I never personally got shot at in Iraq, to my knowledge. I don’t remember ever getting shot at. I remember explosions and IEDs and stuff like that.
RH: After the attack on outpost 286, in the days and weeks that followed, how did Fox react to it and what were some of the things that you and some of the other Fox Marines were going through?
TK: We were reacting really well. Everybody lived. Well, we did have one guy that died but that was later on. I remember that. It’s a shame. Olsen, he got shot. I remember when he died, it was different. I was out in the pocket. I don’t remember it that much.
After 286, our CO was a great man. He shut down the city. He told all the Iraqis, “don’t come out. You’re not allowed to be out. Don’t approach Marines. Don’t come out until we say you can.” He pretty much put the city on lockdown. And we carried on as Marines do. We went about our job. We did what was asked of us. We grieved, we called home, we got it out of our system and we put our gear back on and we continued about our business. We were a little bit more wary about dump trucks for obvious reasons. We were wary of dump trucks and if the insurgents’ mission was to get us to go away, it definitely didn’t work because we went out there looking. We went out there like Marines do and we did our job. We weren’t going to let what happened hurt us, do you know what I’m saying? So we continued about our business. It made the war really real. It made you realize, hey, this is for keeps. This is for keeps so we went out.
The citizens of the town had been affected too. From the attack on the IP stations they had been affected so they were right there with us. If anything, I felt like it brought the town and the Marines a little closer because they have families. They didn’t want that to happen anymore either so it kind of, I don’t know. We carried on after that.
RH: What was the enemy like?
TK: The enemies. To my knowledge they were just thugs. We didn’t really see them. There were some times, I remember running into a guy that was on our list. The FOB didn’t get back to us and let us know that he was a bad guy until we had already let him go. I remember him and his look was just kind of like he was nervous when we saw him. The other enemy guys, they just were average people. They weren’t – you couldn’t pick them out of a lineup and be like, “that guy’s a bad guy. That guy’s a bad guy.” They were middle aged men, military aged men and I don’t know how else to answer that question.
RH: Alright. Good to go. What were your interactions with the Iraqi civilians like?
TK: We went into the houses and they would bring us tea sometimes, food sometimes. The kids, we loved having kids around because nobody wants to kill a kid. So we loved when the kids would come around. I have a picture that I saved of a group of kids. I had a sharpie and I drew little chickens on their hands and they all were so excited about it. So I felt like the interactions were great. There were some instances where, OK, a Marine ran over somebody’s goat or whatnot – and this is an example – and they would be upset. But it wasn’t like they hated us. They cared that we were there and we would hear stories about how it was under Saddam talking to them. They genuinely wanted us to be there and they wanted us to help and we were there to help them. I never once thought that the locals did not care about us. I mean, they may not have liked us waking them up in the middle of the night kind of thing. They may not have liked us always being around or the possibility of danger happening because we’d be there. Afghanistan was different. Iraq, the civilians either genuinely wanted us there or they were indifferent.
RH: Alright. Good to go. Did you work with the Iraqi Army or the Iraqi Police very much?
TK: No. Not really. I would stop by the Iraqi Police station and we’d resupply them but we never interacted with the IPs. We never really interacted with them at all.
RH: Alright. What were your ‘terps like?
TK: The ‘terps were fun. We developed relationships with them. We talked to them a lot. On patrol they’d chitchat with us. It was just a breath of fresh air to talk to somebody who was from another country that could speak your language. They were either from different parts of Iraq or they were, like, from Kuwait. But they were great. They hung out, they went on patrols with us, they slept in the same rooms as us. They just didn’t stand guard or carry a gun but they were pretty cool.
RH: Are there any Iraqis in particular, whether they be civilians, interpreters or Iraqi Army, that stick out to you?
TK: No. Not really. Not with Iraq. We patrolled so much and ran across so many different people. I remember that they have – this is kind of a screwed up story but I guess they don’t know how to deal with mentally handicapped people. They chain them to the trees or they chain them to the ground at night in their houses. That’s what stood out. I still tell people that today. They would chain down mentally handicapped people in their houses. There was a hook on the ground and they would chain them to it or they would have them chained to a tree outside during the day. That was really weird. That was like, the interactions are very vivid. I remember one time we went on patrol at night and we came into one of the houses and this kid was sitting on the floor chained to the floor looking at me. I was a stupid twenty year-old kid so I turn around and I tell my squad leader, “hey Corporal. This guy’s giving me a retarded look.” “That’s because he is retarded.” That’s when I was like, “oh.” It dawned on me. Mentally handicapped people get treated very differently in different countries than in America. That interaction was different.
And then we’d have interactions where it’s just like in America where people do people things. We’d walk in on people having sex or doing stuff in the shower. Things like that. [laughs] Those interactions are vivid because you’d have one guy walk in and he’d come out and be like, “there’s people having sex in there.” And we’d be like, “oh. That’s gross. Let’s not go in there. Tell them to put clothes on and come out.” [RH laughs] Stuff like that.
RH: What was the most challenging period of the deployment: the beginning, the middle or the end?
TK: The middle. The middle was always challenging because you had to try to stay on your toes. That’s when complacency steps in where you get used to not having contact. You get used to not doing things. The enemy’s not watching you for a little bit and they’re just waiting and it got really stressful. Everybody realizes that you’re in the deployment. The newness has worn off and it’s not quite counting down the days until you go home. It’s just kind of like, “we’re really here.” That was the most challenging and you just had to soldier on, I guess.
RH: What was the most challenging non-combat aspect of deploying? Aside from combat, what was the most challenging thing that was not dangerous?
TK: We had to tear down our post. We had to tear down the pocket outpost. That was the most miserable I’ve ever been. We patrolled all day, came back and then we started. The other squads had been tearing down the post and you each had working parties that you had to do and we just worked at tearing sandbags up, putting things in this, destroying parts of the walls. It was miserable and then we were going to be the last squad to leave and you had to have somebody standing out in the turrets of the Humvees to keep post. I remember staying out there for four hours coming back and they’re like, “OK. Bed down for thirty minutes and then get back up and we’re going to go. We’re going to patrol back. The Humvees are carrying a lot of stuff. We’re going to patrol back.” I remember laying there under my poncho liner and all the fleas came out. The fleas that had been kept outside or in the sandbags or whatnot, the bugs just came. I remember itching all over and I could not stop shivering. I was cold laying on the hardwood floor. That was probably the most challenging aspect on a day basis, a single event. But overall it would probably just be dealing with the same people for months on end. Seeing the same person’s stinky feet every morning. That kind of thing.
RH: Did you have anything transformative or very significant that happened to you that sticks out?
TK: The 286 attack. The two suicide bombings back to back, it just transformed me. The fact that I was working on these people that were civilians and even the Marines and it made you realize that war, there’s a cost. Seeing your buddies bleeding on the floor or seeing little kids, he’s got shrapnel on his back. He’s going to be OK but he’s bleeding a little bit and he’s pissing all over himself because he’s so scared. You felt like, “I’m sorry. I wish I could just tell you I’m sorry that you had to have this happen to you because I’m here.” That changed me. I started smoking cigarettes after that for a little bit, you know? I stopped smoking after I got out of the Marine Corps – I never bought packs of cigarettes when I was in the Marine Corps, I just bummed cigarettes – but I started smoking cigarettes right after that because, one, you would talk to each other which I find very, very valuable and then, two, you would get a little buzz and you would feel good for a little bit. Those events changed me because it just made the war really real.
RH: Alright. Good to go. Before we move on from this deployment, is there anything else that’s significant from the Iraq deployment that we left out?
TK: Not really. No. Not that I can think of. I mean, there are so many events that happened. Significant-wise, not really.
RH: Alright. Good to go. What was it like the day before you came home?
TK: It was excitement. We all got excited. Everybody was looking forward to being home. On the way back home we stopped in Ireland and we got wasted. [laughs] We had an unlimited tab at the Dublin airport and got hammered so we were happy. You couldn’t believe it. Once you got to Kuwait you were like, “is this really happening? Am I going to get out of here?” There’s not going to be a mortar round coming in to end my tour, end my life, at any moment. You’re just relieved, and just anticipation of being home.
RH: Alright. Good to go. Can you talk a little bit about your immediate post-deployment experiences right after you got back?
TK: We got leave when we got back and it was, I don’t really remember much of it. I mean nothing really stands out to me but it was just different being back and then when we got back to the base after our post-deployment leave we went right back into training. So it was really a quick turnaround. It wasn’t a lot of downtime. I mean, we had a month off but during that month I don’t really remember doing much.
RH: OK. After you got back, did you notice the Marines or Corpsmen around you change at all and, if so, how?
TK: There was camaraderie. You still had Lance Corporals and people that were in charge of you. Some people were getting out. You were more close. The bond was deeper because you had gone through, I hate to be cliché, but the trials of war and you came back unscathed. Everybody in the platoon and the company went through serious experiences so we all kind of were closer, I guess that’s a good way of putting it.
RH: Alright. Good to go. How did your family respond after you got home?
TK: They were glad I was home. That’s pretty much it. I was glad I was home, you know? Yeah. I’m sorry. I don’t have anything crazy with that. I don’t recall them being – Afghanistan was different and so it kind of overshadows what happened after the Iraq deployment. The Iraq deployment, people got on with their lives. We thought we were going to go back to Iraq so we prepared and we did what we did before deployment except I had deployed before. So I kind of knew what was coming.
Part 2 of Travis' interview can be found here.