My battalion participated in the assault on Fallujah Iraq. Many of the memories are nebulous, with a few sharply focused moments interspersed within. Walking into the city through the traffic circle on the north side. Moving down south down a narrow street past three dead insurgents- the first real bodies I had ever seen. The ambush that I stumbled into. Making pickup on the dead Recon Marine. Relieving Alpha company at the Mayors Complex. Running headlong through fire across a soccer field. Hunkering behind a slab of concrete while unseen insurgents peppered the building I was on. The sounds of Basher as she dropped ordinance on our enemies putting me to sleep. The patrols to clear houses after the major fighting had died down. My first bag of salt and vinegar chips (really- it’s odd that this came to mind, but it’s true). Attacking the soda can factory (without a shot fired). The culmination of the assault was as anticlimactic as could be- post standing and patrols that had virtually zero excitement.
During the entire month that my battalion was in the city, I fired two magazines worth of ammo in suppression (two rounds were actually at another human being), two HEDP rounds from my 203, and I threw three hand grenades. I saw perhaps five bodies, thirty or so injured insurgents, and watched a man die through my ACOG (I wasn’t shooting- just observing). I took a shit in a Tupperware container and left it in some Iraqi’s fridge, slept on broken glass in a mosque, and had my daypack fragged by one of my Marines (it’s okay, I still love you like a brother- even if I was about to NJP your ass. And I still have that pack), and I almost lost my best friend (three frag grenades can do that- but Nate is hard to kill). There were times when I was the most terrified I had ever been, and times when I can honestly say that I was the happiest I’d ever been. They are days that, even if the exact content and order become hazy and barely readable, will never leave me. It is a time that I owe much to. That month helped me discover who I am, and what I can do, and is one of the proudest adventures that I ever embarked on.
I recently talked to that Marine who peppered my pack with a frag grenade, and he remarked that I was like a rock. I didn’t feel that way. There were times that I felt like a marshmallow next to a camp fire. During the attack I was my platoons’ point man. Before the attack, when I got that order, I consigned myself to death. The entire first week I felt like I had the Grim Reaper walking beside me and was just waiting for him to put his boney hand on my shoulder and tell me it was my turn. Looking back with so much distance, I can honestly say that I wasn’t exactly ready. But I did it anyway, the best that I could. Doubtless the men I led were more prepared and capable than I, and those lessons have followed me ever since. They served me well three years later when I went back to that city with a different battalion and conducted a different mission- one of rebuilding and not destruction. More days I can look back on with pride knowing that in some small way, I helped make lives better, even if only for a moment.
There isn’t a day that goes by where the thoughts of that month of action aren’t with me. It was only a month out of twelve that I spent in Iraq, and to think that there are men who have YEARS of such memories and experiences fills me with awe. I only really got a taste of what pure conflict is like, and those experiences have shaped me, and from time to time bring a stinging sensation to my eyes as I think of what those events truly cost. During my time with my brothers in the Corps, I carried a flag, folded up under my front SAPI plate. It made all four deployments I went on, and has been everywhere I have. When I pick it up, and feel the embroidered stars and stripes- I’m all those places at once feeling the emotions as I did then. But most of all I’m back on the streets of Fallujah, 90+ pounds of combat gear weighing me down, wondering if I’ll make it out alive.
That flag is now a sacred relic of my life, as is the pack I carried that month. Never to be given away or sold. Items as dear to me as my own wife and children, though for different reasons. Tangible links to a past that is already in the history books, that somehow I was entitled to be a part of. I miss those days, but I love the days I have received since, and the treasures that are the jewels of my chaotic and imperfect life. I only hope I can measure up to those deeds in the years to come, and remain worthy of the memory of those who have gone before.
So today, raise a glass to our fallen. And pour it out in honor of their sacrifice. For the homies.