THE WAR IN IRAQ
COURTESY J.R. BATES
Marine Lt. Rustin Bates shouts commands moments before shooting his 9-mm pistol at a car speeding toward this checkpoint. The seated Iraqi men are suspected insurgents. Bates recently was awarded the Bronze Star.
A day in the life
of a combat Marine
By P.T. Brent
Special to the Star-Bulletin
Editor’s note: The following contains some strong language.
Triple Zero One
>> 0001 Zero zero zero one. It is one minute after midnight Saturday. During a quiet moment on a wind-swept rooftop overlooking Husaybah, Iraq, Staff Sgt. Adam Walker looks out at the scene where his platoon lost some good men the day before. Tired but unable to sleep, he has not eaten in nearly a day. Walker writes a letter back home: “The intensity here is contagious. We have been blooded and the anger is big time. Losing is not in the vocabulary of these Marines. There is a warrior spirit here, which is hard to explain to many of you folks back home.”
>> 0100 Dogs are barking constantly … the damn local dogs are unnerving. When you’re on patrol, the dogs give away your position. They do not bark at locals.
>> 0130 Walker removes his K-bar knife from its sheath on the front of his flak jacket. He slices open an MRE pouch. Spaghetti and meatballs, served cold. The packet includes a thermal pouch, which heats the food in an inch of water. Walker takes a plastic spoon and scoops out a few bites of cold chow, remembering the sign at the base mess hall — “Great place to dine … Ten thousand flies can’t be wrong” — just as his platoon commander, 2nd Lt. Tom Prentice, arrives to pass on the latest news.
Last night at the mess hall , CNN was on TV, going on about the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Sgt. Jerry Butzen yelled, “Turn that f—ing thing off!” The Marines believe the prisoners are dangerous men who should not be back on the streets where they can plant more explosives to kill Americans.
COURTESY KEVIN REED
Marines near Fallujah, Iraq, remain watchful after fending off an attack by insurgents, while children nearby seem unperturbed.
>> 0500 Corpsman Steve Colon, a Navy guy the Marines affectionately call “Doc,” drops in to report that supplies have arrived. The U.S. Navy provides all medical personnel for Marines.>> 0530 Walker pulls out his combat notebook. Plans are for a patrol into Fallujah later in the day. He takes a few moments for personal hygiene, including a shave. Empty cartons from the MREs are often used as crude portable toilets. Baby wipes and a personal supply of toilet paper from back home are prized.
>> 0600 The door of their hardback tent keeps slamming … BAM BAM! It’s only plywood and a bungee cord … BAM BAM! Walker gets the platoon up for chow and weapons cleaning.
Staff Sgt. Adam Walker: Fear, dust, pain and prayer are all in a day’s work in Iraq
>> 1100 The radio echoes a message now seared into his memory: Marines are receiving small arms fire and mortars. Five are dead, nine wounded. The enemy has new ideas, like frozen mortars. The mortar rounds are placed in PCV pipes with water until frozen, then positioned to hit Marines later, as the sun beats down and releases the round in the tube.
Fear hits. A rocket propelled grenade passes within inches of Walker’s head; shrapnel from it cuts his cheek. He tucks his head down, wishing he could pull his helmet down to his toes as rounds hit. He hears PFC Dick Moore yell, “The f—ing Hagiis are on the roof … we need some grenades f—ing fast!” The air is thick with the smell of cordite.
>> 1500 Mail arrives as some Marines return from the Internet bunker, where each waits about an hour to check for e-mail from home. The news is filled with the prison photos and ill treatment of Iraqi prisoners. Some of the mistreated prisoners had been setting up bombs to kill U.S. troops when they were captured by Walker’s unit. “One ‘oh sh–‘ like this takes away from a hundred good things Marines do in the field every day,” a sergeant major says. Damn. Cpl. John Redmond jokes, “We can get even with these Hagiis by sending all of their women to college. Then they’ll get the same treatment American men get.”
Last week Marines rebuilt a medical clinic and a local school. Jobs have been created for hundreds of locals in their area of responsibility. Locals are turning in these insurgents by the dozen.
When the Marines are on patrol, kids come out and wave while the men just stand around drinking strong tea and staring. You wave and sometimes you get a smile and a “Haloe, Mister!” We rarely see women. When we do, they are covered except for their beautiful dark eyes gazing at us. Out of respect, we never wave to the women.
>> 1600 The squad links up with Lt. Rustin Bates’ CAAT (combined arms anti-tank platoon). Armored vehicles are firing at the squad. Under cover of his men’s rifles, Bates rushes the vehicles and drops a fragmentation grenade into each of three vehicles, making a combat roll after each drop to avoid getting hit.
>> 1630 Back at a vehicle checkpoint, a white Mercedes Benz is seen approaching at high speed. Without hesitation, Bates draws his 9-mm pistol and fires two rounds into the speeding car. The driver wisely pulls over and its three occupants are detained.
>> 1700 The Marines have some hot chow brought up in vacuum cans from the mess. Some watch movies on personal DVD players. The unit was back at its home base in the United States only four months after the initial war last year. Smarter now, most of them brought over a few creature comforts.
>> 1800 Late afternoon is spent preparing for another patrol. Maps, communications and assignments are reviewed in painstaking detail. A fire team is doing laundry by hand-shaking it with soap in old ammo cans.
The weather is picking up. The weather in this part of Iraq is like the high desert of Afghanistan where Walker served two years ago. The winds are ferocious; the fine sand permeates everything.
>> 2200 The patrol assembles. Walker believes this war will reaffirm the Corps’ reputation for fighting success or his Marines will die trying. His troops always surpass his expectations.
>> 2300 Walker gathers one of his squads around him as he kneels and prays: “Lord, we pray you will grant us success. … Please bring us all back safely.” Amen. Iraq has the same rain, dust, fear and dying that make all wars a costly waste, an experience not wished on any man.
>> 2359 One minute before midnight. Another day has passed for these men from Third Battalion Seventh Marines Regiment.
Corrections: The April 25 photo of Gen. Jerry McAbee should have been credited to Capt. Joseph Silvio.Capt. Christopher Bronzi’s name was misspelled in the first of this series, published April 18.
P.T. Brent is a Hawaii businessman and a former Marine who has been traveling with U.S. troops supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.This article is the author’s salute to Eddie Sherman, Hawaii journalist and World War II Pearl Harbor veteran.