A Letter from a Marine in Iraq
The following is a letter from a soldier in Iraq that my friend, Sarah J., sent via her brother, who is also a Marine fighting in Iraq.
I hope you’ll take a moment to read it. It’s informative, and eye-opening, and very well written…
A Marine Intel Officer in Al Anbar Shares Some Thoughts Headquarters Battalion, 1st Marine Division, I Marine
All: I haven’t written very much from Iraq. There’s really not much to write about. More exactly, there’s not much I can write about
because practically everything I do, read or hear is classified military information or is depressing to the point that I’d rather just
forget about it, never mind write about it. The gaps in between all of that are filled with the pure tedium of daily life in an armed camp. So it’s a
bit of a struggle to think of anything to put into a letter that’s worth reading.
Worse, this place just consumes you. I work 18-20 hour days, every day. The quest to draw a clear picture of what the insurgents are up
to never ends. Problems and frictions crop up faster than solutions. Every challenge demands a response. It’s like this every day. Before
I know it, I can’t see straight, because it’s 0400 and I’ve been at work for twenty hours straight, somehow missing dinner again in the process. And once again I haven’t written to anyone. It starts all over again four hours later. It’s not really like Ground Hog Day, it’s more like a
level from Dante’s Inferno.
Rather than attempting to sum up the last seven months, I figured I’d just hit the record setting highlights of 2006 in Iraq. These are
among the events and experiences I’ll remember best.
Worst Case of Deja Vu
I thought I was familiar with the feeling of deja vu until I arrived back here in Fallujah in February. The moment I stepped off of the
helicopter, just as dawn broke, and saw the camp just as I had left it ten months before – that was deja vu. Kind of unnerving. It was as if I
had never left. Same work area, same busted desk, same chair, same computer, same room, same creaky rack, same…everything. Same everything for the next year. It was like entering a parallel universe. Home wasn’t 10,000 milesaway, it was a different lifetime.
Most Surreal Moment
Watching Marines arrive at my detention facility and unload a truck load of flex-cuffed midgets, 26 to be exact. I had put the word out
earlier in the day to the Marines in Fallujah who we were looking for Bad Guy X, who was described as a midget. Little did I know that Fallujah was home to a small community of midgets, who banded together for support since they were considered as social outcasts. The Marines were anxious to get back to the midget colony to bring in the rest of the midget suspects, but I called off the search, figuring Bad Guy X was long gone on his short legs after seeing his companions rounded up by the giant infidels.
Most Profound Man in Iraq
An unidentified farmer in a fairly remote area who, after being asked by Reconnaissance Marines (searching for Syrians) if he had seen any
foreign fighters in the area replied “Yes, you.”
Worst City in al-Anbar Province
Ramadi, hands down. The provincial capital of 400,000 people. Killed over 1,000 insurgents in there since we arrived in February. Every
day is a nasty gun battle. They blast us with giant bombs in the road, snipers, mortars and small arms. We blast them with tanks, attack
helicopters, artillery, our snipers (much better than theirs), and every weapon that an infantryman can carry. Every day. Incredibly, I rarely see
Ramadi in the news. We have as many attacks out here in the west as Baghdad. Yet, Baghdad has 7 million people, we have just 1.2 million. Per capita, al-Anbar province is the most violent place in Iraq by several orders of magnitude. I suppose it was no accident that the Marines were assigned this area in 2003.
Bravest Guy in al-Anbar Province
Any Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician (EOD Tech). How’d you like a job that required you to defuse bombs in a hole in the middle of
the road that very likely are booby-trapped or connected by wire to a bad guy who’s just waiting for you to get close to the bomb before he clicks the detonator? Every day. Sanitation workers in New York City get paid more than these guys. Talk about courage and commitment.
Second Bravest Guy in al-Anbar Province
It’s a 20,000 way tie among all the Marines and Soldiers who venture out on the highways and through the towns of al-Anbar every day, not
knowing if it will be their last – and for a couple of them, it will be.
Best Piece of U.S. Gear
new, bullet-proof flak jackets. O.K., they weigh 40 lbs and aren’t exactly comfortable in 120 degree heat, but they’ve saved countless lives
Best Piece of Bad Guy Gear
Armor Piercing ammunition that goes right through the new flak jackets and the Marines and Soldiers inside them.
Worst E-Mail Message
“The Walking Blood Bank is Activated. We need blood type A+ stat.” I always head down to the surgical unit as soon as I get these
messages, but I never give blood – there’s always about 80 Marines in line, night or day.
Iraqi Police. All local guys. I never figured that we’d get a police force established in the cities in al-Anbar. I estimated that
insurgents would kill the first few, scaring off the rest. Well, insurgents did kill the first few, but the cops kept on coming. The insurgents
continue to target the police, killing them in their homes and on the streets, but the cops won’t give up. Absolutely incredible tenacity. The
insurgents know that the police are far better at finding them than we are – and they are finding them. Now, if we could just get them out of the habit of beating prisoners to a pulp…
Stocking up on outrageous quantities of Diet Coke from the chow hall in spite of the derision from my men on such hoarding, then having a
122mm rocket blast apart the giant shipping container that held all of the soda for the chow hall. Yep, you can’t buy experience.
How some people can gain weight out here. I’m down to 165 lbs.
Who has time to eat?
Second Biggest Mystery
If there’s no atheists in foxholes, then why aren’t there more people at Mass every Sunday?
Favorite Iraqi TV Show
Oprah. I had no idea. They all have satellite TV.
Coolest Insurgent Act
Stealing almost $7 million from the main bank in Ramadi in broad daylight, then, upon exiting, waving to the Marines in the combat outpost
right next to the bank, who had no clue of what was going on. The Marines waved back.Too cool.
Most Memorable Scene
In the middle of the night, on a dusty airfield, watching the better part of a battalion of Marines packed up and ready to go home after six
months in al-Anbar, the relief etched in their young faces even in the moonlight. Then watching these same Marines exchange glances with a similar number of grunts loaded down with gear file past – their replacements. Nothing was said. Nothing needed to be said.
Highest Unit Re-enlistment Rate
Any outfit that has been in Iraq recently. All the danger, all the hardship, all the time away from home, all the horror, all the frustrations
with the fight here – all are outweighed by the desire for young men to be part of a ‘Band of Brothers’ who will die for one another. They
found what they were looking for when they enlisted out of high school. Man for man, they now have more combat experience than any Marines in the history of our Corps.
Most Surprising Thing I Don’t Miss
Beer. Perhaps being half-stunned by lack of sleep makes up for it.
Porta-johns in 120 degree heat, and that’s 120 degrees outside of
I don’t know exactly, but it was in the porta-johns. Needed to re-hydrate after each trip to the loo.
High-ranking visitors. More disruptive to work than a rocket attack. VIPs demand briefs and “battlefield” tours (we take them to quiet
sections of Fallujah, which is plenty scary for them). Our briefs and commentary seem to have no affect on their preconceived notions of what’s going on in Iraq.Their trips allow them to say that they’ve been to Fallujah, which gives them an unfortunate degree of credibility in perpetuating their fantasies about the insurgency here.
Practically anything said by talking heads on TV about the war in Iraq, not that I get to watch much TV. Their thoughts are consistently both
grossly simplistic and politically slanted. Biggest offender – Bill O’Reilly -what a buffoon.
Best Intel Work
Finding Jill Carroll’s kidnappers – all of them. I was mighty proud of my guys that day. I figured we’d all get the Christian Science
Monitor for free after this, but none have showed up yet. Talk about ingratitude.
Having the battalion commander from 1st Battalion, 1st Marines hand me the dog tags of one of my Marines who had just been killed while on a
mission with his unit. Hit by a 60mm mortar. Cpl Bachar was a great Marine. I felt crushed for a long time afterward. His picture now hangs at
the entrance to the Intelligence Section. We’ll carry it home with us when we leave in February.
10 July immediately following a visit by the Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister, Dr. Zobai. The Deputy Prime Minister brought along an American
security contractor (read mercenary), who told my Commanding General that he was there to act as a mediator between us and the Bad Guys. I immediately told him what I thought of him and his asinine ideas in terms that made clear my disgust and which, unfortunately, are unrepeatable here. I thought my boss was going to have a heart attack. Fortunately, the translator couldn’t figure out the best Arabic words to convey my meaning for the Deputy Prime Minister. Later, the boss had no difficulty in conveying his meaning to me in English regarding my Irish temper, even though he agreed with me. At least the guy from the State Department thought it was hilarious. We never saw the mercenary again.
Best Chuck Norris Moment
13 May. Bad Guys arrived at the government center in the small town of Kubaysah to kidnap the town mayor, since they have a problem with
any form of government that does not include regular beheadings and women wearing burqahs. There were seven of them. As they brought the mayor out to put him in a pick-up truck to take him off to be beheaded (on video, as usual), one of the bad Guys put down his machinegun so that he could tie the mayor’s hands. The mayor took the opportunity to pick up the machinegun and drill five of the Bad Guys. The other two ran away. One of the dead Bad Guys was on our top twenty wanted list. Like they say, you can’t fight City Hall.
That crack-boom off in the distance that means an IED or mine just went off. You just wonder who got it, hoping that it was a near miss
rather than a direct hit. Hear it every day.
Second Worst Sound
Our artillery firing without warning. The howitzers are pretty close to where I work. Believe me, outgoing sounds a lot like incoming
when our guns are firing right over our heads. They’d about knock the fillings out of your teeth.
Only Thing Better in Iraq Than in the U.S.
Sunsets. Spectacular. It’s from all the dust in the air.
It’s a tie every day, watching my Marines produce phenomenal intelligence products that go pretty far in teasing apart Bad Guy operations in
al-Anbar. Every night Marines and Soldiers are kicking in doors and grabbing Bad Guys based on intelligence developed by my guys. We
rarely lose a Marine during these raids, they are so well-informed of the objective. A bunch of kids right out of high school shouldn’t be
able to work so well, but they do.
Well, it wasn’t in Iraq. There are no truly happy moments here.
It was back in California when I was able to hold my family again while home on leave during July.
Most Common Thought
Home. Always thinking of home, of Kathleen and the kids.
Wondering how everyone else is getting along. Regretting that I don’t write more. Yep, always thinking of home. I hope you all are doing well. If you want to do something for me, kiss a cop, flush a toilet, and drink a beer.
I’ll try to write again before too long – I promise. Semper Fi