Delayed Journal posts….
Joe’s Camping Trip – October 2009 – ?? 2010. Oct 7th Well, we arrived in Camp Leatherneck the day before yesterday. The C17 flight from Manas AFB to Camp Bastion was about 2 1/2 hrs long and very uncomfortable. We had to wear all of our Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and it was a crowded flight. For those that don’t know, PPE is our flak jackets with the ceramic bulletproof plates installed, kevlar helmet, eye protection, ear protection and gloves. But if there is one thing Marines can do its sleep no matter what the conditions are. So, we slept. We landed around 0800 and my first impression was “Wow, it really is cold.” Which made me happy, because I love the cold, and hate being hot and sweaty. We walked off the flight line, and then took busses to Camp Leatherneck. Old, Mercedes Benz tour busses. It made me think just about the journey those busses made and how I came to be riding on one. We got to our temporary tent, grabbed all of our gear and at that point were just on our own program until 2100. A few of us went to the deli and ate.. the food is amazingly good and the rumor is the chow hall on Camp Dwyer is the best in the Marine Corps in Afghanistan. We’ll see. Yesterday we got classes on the types of homemade explosives and different types of military mines the insurgants are using as well as our rules of engagment. Basically what the enemy has to do before we can “engage” them. I can’t go into detail about specifics, but basically I learned one thing. War is over. At least, War as my grandparents and parents know it. Somehow this “war” has turned into a winning of the hearts and minds, and everyone is so scared of hurting someones feelings we are not able to do our job the way we should. This isnt new news… As of now it seems no one has really come to grips that we are here. It’s been a short road, but a long one nonetheless. We have already had about 5 explosions outside the base, but thats the only indicator that we are not on a normal field op. We are supposed to head out to Camp Dwyer on the 9th, so unless anything amazing happens I will update you all then. Oct 8th More of the same. Yesterday I spent about 4 hours of my life sitting in a bathroom charging my PSP, iPod and netbook because our tent has no power. Hopefully when we get to Dwyer this wont be a normal thing. If so, I might have to invest in some solar powered chargers or something. Other than that I hung out with the guys, watched an episode of curb your enthusiasm and played my PSP. With this much downtime it makes sense to spend it relaxing as much as possible. As of now though time is actually cruising by and I hope it continues to do so. Oct 11th We arrived at Camp Dwyer last night via AC-130 around 8pm. The flight was only 25 minutes or so, but I was able to sleep and had a good dream. I always have good dreams during air travel for some reason. Anyways, after getting off the plane we were greeted by our first enemy. Moon dust. I had seen videos and talked to people who had experienced it before, but there is nothing like being in it to get a good understanding. Imagine a dust with the consistancy of baby powder… sometimes so deep it swallows your entire boot. It gets on everything, and sticks there. It also has a very good way of staying in the air once kicked up. Sleeping conditions are the same as on Leatherneck, but will change for the better in less than a week. Big tent, cots, lots of dust and no way to charge anything electrical. This morning we woke up at 0400, geared up in full PPE and then hiked about 2 miles out to a range so we could sight in our weapons. The “nature hike” was fairly miserable, about 100 Marines all walking in a line and kicking up all that dust. We were covered head to toe from it. Our desert digital MARPAT designed cammies were just straight desert brown. While out there at the range we were given a brief from a Sergeant who was about 2 weeks away from leaving. He informed us that out of his company 100 Marines were being awarded Combat Action Ribbons (CARs) and two Purple Hearts. You can be awarded a CAR for either being hit by an IED, or by being fired upon. Only two were being given for being fired upon. That should give you an idea about the kind of enemy we are fighting. They are a brave enemy, and also intelligent enough to harm us without being present. They will push us just to see how we react. They are ready and willing to die for their cause. Am I? No, I’m not. In the evening we met with the Marines we are going to be relieving. They detailed what jobs they did, things they learned and other general knowledge. It was very helpful, and despite being told that it’s not a matter of “if” we are going to be hit, but “when” I wanted to get out and do my job. I think that is another reason why Marines are pretty successful at their jobs. We know what the odds are, we know its not looking to good, but we still want to go out and give it a shot. That might go back to the cockiness aspect of us. Since my recent promotion I was tasked to get to know my Marines. Not a problem for me because I have been trying to do that since I joined. I think it brings people closer if you are able to indentify with them and know their background. It helps me understand why they react the way they do for one. Not an amazingly deep belief, but its something I have been doing for over four years now. Unfortunately because of the my rank the higher ranks believe it is easier to lead by not having that bond with the Marines. It puts me in a moral delimma. Not so sure how I am going to keep everyone happy on that one. Oct 29th On the 15th we left for out first mission, in fact it was the first mission of our company being ran solely by us. We were tasked with security while Engineers and Heavy Equipment operators made a road. The first day was a complete disaster. We were supposed to leave around 0900 and didnt end up leaving until 5 that afternoon. Meaning our first convoy was a night convoy. The most dangerous kind. I started the convoy out in my normal position as the gunner. We were rolling in a 6×6 MRAP and I had the 240G. At one point we got stuck, and the convoy left us. Our driver with the aide of his infared camera and our A-Gunner were able to catch back up, but not after literally barrelling through the desert in a area that had not been swept for IEDs. Lucky does not begin to describe it. After it was all said and done our convoy of 24 miles took 10 hours. The next day we left. On the way there we encountred children asking for food and water. The gunner in front of me tossed out a MRE and a few waters, but there were lots of kids so I tossed out a couple MREs myself. One little girl in pink will always stick with me. In the desert her clothes stuck out obviously, but everyone else was dressed in drab dark clothes. She didnt get a water and we didnt really have the waters to give away, but she kept running right beside the truck. I ended up throwing her my extra water. She caught it on the bounce, kept running, smiling and waving. Eventually we arrived at our destination. Our job is simple. Provide security. In this mission that security means sitting in a gun turret in a truck providing overwatch while the Marines did thier job. We stood 4 hrs of watch and had 8 off. It wasnt bad really. I had the noon to 1600 and midnight to 0400 shift. Our camp site was a bermed up area with one security truck with a 50. cal. As I mentioned earlier because of my promotion to Corporal the higher ranks wanted to see a seperation of myself from the lower ranks. After a few days I figured out a way to do it my way while attempting to keep both parties happy. On a majority of my off time I spent it with the other NCOs and our LT, but every other day I would eat with the troops and BS with them. The troops know I am being told to separate, I can only hope they realize the steps I am taking to stay close to them. Time will tell on that one. Sadly I didnt take very good notes while I was out there, so this mission will be short as far as entries go. One night our translator bought a sheep from a farmer and cooked it in a stew. Ive never been a fan of lamb before, but wow was it good. Right after we finished eating about 2 miles away a 240G started firing from a distant outpost. All us security guys were excited, cheering and standing up on the berm, I looked over my shoulder and the engineers were getting fully geared up and basically cowering in the corner. It was comical to me for some reason. There are so many different jobs and walks of life in the Marine Corps and that was a prime example. Shortly after a helicopter joined the fight and took two strafing runs at the area the machine gun from earlier was firing on. We heard later they captured four suspected terrorists. The next day EOD found an IED in that same area and detonated it. It felt like someone kicked me in the chest. I was on post around 0200 when I saw a huge fireball, followed by small explosions and then another huge fireball explosion. It lit up the sky and was a good three to four miles away. Turns out it was two Marine helos. They were caught up in a hunt for some terrorists on the ground and collided with each other. 14 Marines died, two survived. Throughout the time there we interacted with the children more so than the adults. I took the opportunity to wave at the adults and was greeted with mixed results. Sometimes a smile a nod, or a wave and thumbs up. Other times a very cold stare. I understand why though, so I dont hold it against them. The children are the best though… since this is a “hearts and minds” mission the kids are the key to winning. All the kids want something for free, and some want to make a little money on the side. Soda, smokes and the hats off their heads are what they are selling. I got hustled once buying a pack of smokes for a friend, but I imagine some of the kids get a beating for not making money from their parents, so whatever. We ended up spending a total for 14 days outside the wire and came back today on the 29th. We rode in on a CH-53 helo which was a nice little exclamation point to the end of the mission. We have moved into much smaller brand new tents equipped with power outlets between the cots as well as AC and heat. There is a chow hall just a 2 minute walk and showers less than that. All in all, it is pretty nice. I was also greated with my first package which came with my Contour HD helmet cam. I can write about our job until my fingers fall off, but now, you guys will get to see it in video format. Nov 1st Well, yesterday was the first really bad day for us here. It was all a very surreal thing how it all played out. I woke up around 0800, went to the head and on the way back ran into a friend of mine. He was all geared up and he said the other section in his platoon got hit, so they were headed to the motor pool. About 20 minutes later we were told anyone with O positive blood needed to head up to give blood. After that rumors started flying and we werent sure what to think.We knew it was an IED hit, and the Marine was on foot when he was hit. Around noon we were told the news. Sgt Ruiz was on a sweep team, searching for IEDs when he stepped on an anti-personal mine. Everyone did the best they could, but the damage was too extensive and he died. He left behind a wife and a 14 month old son. He was an IRR Marine, meaning he served his contract and when Bush did the “back draft” he was recalled back to duty. Sgt Ruiz was a great man, and very well respected. I really don’t think anyone could say anything bad about him. When we came back from our mission he was the first person I saw from Security Co. He greeted us with handshakes, saying how glad he was that we made it back, asking how it was, etc. I never saw the man not with a smile on his face. A memorial is planned for next saturday. Less than a month, and one Marine dead. Six months to go? Nov 5th Been a few days since I have written anything, but we havent been too busy. We had a mission the other day up to a place called Deli, just a simple one day escort mission. Big 31 truck convoy consisting of us security trucks and the rest were Afghan National Army (ANA) and the Brits. As always we were rear vic and I was gunning with the 50 cal. I had mounted my helmet cam, so I was pretty excited to get some sort of good footage. The first 30 minutes were pretty slow going, so I switched it off. Not 5 minutes later I hear “ROLLERCOASTER” from my driver. I was facing to the rear of the truck and by the time I realized it, it was too late. We hit the bump at the bottom of the gulley just as I grabbed the 50 cal with my left hand and my M4 with my right. I flew up, came down on the 50 itself and knocked the wind out of myself. My left leg was killing me as well as my elbow. I dropped out of the gun and the Assistant Gunner got up there. A little bit down the road I got back up, and could tell my pants were wet from blood. When we got to Deli I had Doc check it out and it was a big fist sized abrasion. Hurt like crazy, and I have no idea what I hit it on. We hung out while the ANA did their resupply and talked to a British soldier. Its always cool to get to work with other countries armies. Anyways, we headed back to Dwyer around 1800, and got back around 2330. Our LT likened taking the ANA on a convoy to hearding cats through a minefield, which is pretty accurate. Of course, if they hadnt been smoking hash on the stops it is possible that they wouldnt be getting stuck all the time. After the walk back to the tent I took my pants off and checked out the damage. Imagine a 8 inch by 6 inch bruise on the back of my left thigh. Doc checked it out and said I needed to go to the BAS so they could look at it more. So, the next day I limped up there with him. Pretty much everyone looked at it, and they determined it was looking infected where the abrasion was, and it was possibly showing signs of cellulitis, which is a infection in the muscle. If it gets bad enough I will have to medevac out to Camp Bastion. Doc scrubbed it out and I was given a shot in the butt, to hopefully stop the infection. If I have to miss any missions or get medevaced I will lose my mind. Nov 6th Yesterday the same section that was out when Sgt Ruiz was hit got hit by a 200 pound IED. They were in the 2nd security vic and it exploded near the rear on the passenger side. It launched the truck 10 feet up and rotated it 180 degrees. The axle was found 150 yards away, the tire, 300. No one was seriously hurt amazingly. I saw the gunner in the chow hall and he had some scratches on his face and his knees were messed up, but overall he was fine. He said when it happened, he heard the explosion and thought it was off in the distance. Pretty lucky all in all. Other than that it was same old, same old. The bruise on my leg has gotten bigger, but the color is going away. However it still hurts to walk, so whenever possible I don’t. We are on standby today, but the chance of us going on a mission is slim to none. I’m hoping we dont go out on a mission because I don’t want to miss any missions our section goes on.