Some background: Al-Asad was an Iraqi airbase, and pretty big, too. Here, about an hour away from Al-Asad, is the city of Hit, which I've been told used to be the Iraqi Army's infantry school, which is why there are all these fighting holes dug up everywhere and an abundance of weaponry.
The unit in charge of the Area of Operations around Hit is 1st Battalion of 23rd Marine Regiment, or 1/23. They're a reserve unit out of somewhere in Texas and they're completely worthless.
I don't know what it is about reservists that makes them so lame, but I have a few ideas. For one thing, they train on only one weekend out of each month or something. For another, and this might sound a bit morbid, they simply have more to go home to than active duty Marines. They've got real jobs as productive members of society, real paychecks, houses or apartments, real civilian lives, while we have only more of the same, the barren desert waste and barracks life waiting for us.
My sense is that reservists have a very different mentality than active duty Marines. Reservists think of deployment like a prison sentence; they just want to serve their time and go home to their real jobs. For us, this is our real job. This is exactly what we signed up for, exactly what we've trained so hard to do.
I think it's simply a very different kind of person that joins the reserves. It's the kind of guy that thinks about signing bonuses, benefits, paychecks, civilian careers or schooling. A reservist is as different from an active duty Marine as a non-infantryman is from a grunt.
What this amounts to is that 1/23's modus operandi in this AO has been one of disgusting passivity. Our day to day routine consists of observation posts that almost never observe anything, and when they do, they don't do anything about it, "security patrols" that amount to driving around until we get blown up by a mine or an IED, and once in a while, a "Deep Reconnaissance Platoon" will do a raid in the city during which they'll either fuck something up and abort the mission, or find no one and learn nothing.
The immediate action drills handed down from 1/23 for taking fire all involve breaking contact. Mostly what they'll do is call in for reinforcements to cover their egress. Which is completely fucking ridiculous. There have been multiple instances in which we took sporadic small arms fire and were ordered to break contact. United States Marines. Running, tail tucked, from some fucker with a rifle. Horseshit.
In this atmosphere, it's unsurprising that there has been a buildup of insurgents and weapons caches in the area, so for the elections, someone higher up in a moment of uncharacteristic lucidity sent 1/23 packing up to Haditha, bringing in 1/3 (out of Hawaii) up from Ramadi to replace them here. Our company (of LAR) went with 1/23, except for one platoon, ours, which stayed as an attachment to 1/3.
Suddenly, we were under the tactical command of a real unit, a straightleg battalion of active duty Marines with combat experience from Ramadi, which had been on of the hottest zones in Iraq for a long time. In the days leading up to the election, we participated in raids, recon in force, and dismounted patrols through the city. It was like coming up out of deep water into fresh air.
On January 30, election day, 1/3 received some intel about a possible IED on ___ ____ __ ____ _____ _________ ______ ___ ________, right in the middle of the city, and we were available to go check it out.
Upon arrival, we scouts dismounted and searched along the ____ ____ ___ __ with no results. Something was spotted _____ __ _____ in the median, and a team of scouts was deployed to check it out.
I couldn't really tell, but they say the first explosion was from an RPG, and the second was from the IED. Suddenly there were loud cracks going by my head and impacts at my feet, and my team leader was already returning fire. I joined him as soon as I saw where the shooting was coming from _____ ___ ______, and we both took cover and covered the scout team that was hauling ass back toward us. Pretty soon our vehicle opened up with the 240G machine gun and HE 25mm.
Once the scout team was safely back __ ____ ____ __ ___ ______, we mounted back up. Excited as hell, I was popped up looking for something to shoot at. I looked behind me and saw White 4's scouts dismounted, waiting behind the corner of a building there, and I wondered what they were doing. I turned back around and BOOM, I was deaf. I looked back at White 4 scouts and saw only a giant cloud of dust exactly where they had been standing. Four scouts. An IED. In a spot I had been standing not ten minutes prior.
Just when I was sure they were all dead, I saw movement, I could hear faint shouting, and all four scouts were mounting back up and we were on the move, back to our AA about ten minutes outside the city.
Back at the AA, it turned out no one was even hurt, one scout had been hit by a brick on the back of the helmet, but there was neither scratch nor bruise on him.
Twenty minutes later we were headed back into the city to secure the area. The vehicles took up position at a traffic circle about 500m down the road and our scout section dismounted to patrol through the palm grove between the traffic circle and the ______.
When we got to the _____, we spread out and took position along the _____ to observe ___ _____ ____. Two of the scouts in my team took a rooftop position to the North and my team leader and I started moving North to look for a better covered position. When we couldn't find one, we started back toward the rest of the scouts. About halfway there we started taking machine gun fire.
We ran into some cover with rounds impacting at our feet the whole way, and we all began to return fire.
The rest kind of blurs in my memory. Two of our 25s and the AT variant pulled up abreast of us pretty soon and we began putting serious firepower downrange. Despite the fact that we about levelled an entire neighborhood, they just kept shooting at us. At certain points, from all the muzzle flashes it seemed like the whole city had taken up arms against us. We took RPG fire the whole time and toward the end of the engagement we were bracketed by mortars.
In the end, because we had the best position, our vehicle and our scout team expended the most ordnance. The other 25s fired four or five 25mm each while ours fire 160. Our scouts put 20 times the 5.56mm rounds downrange, and I personally emptied eight 30 round magazines, at one point having to run back to the vehicle for more ammo to reload them. The AT variant launched two TOW missiles ______ ___ _____, and at one point air showed up, putting down minigun fire and even a hellfire missile.
The whole thing lasted something like two hours, the two quickest hours of my life, and when it got dark they either left or we killed them all.
Amazingly, not a single one of us got hurt. Two hours of mayhem, we were taking all kinds of fire the whole time, with rounds impacting all around us, ricocheting off the vehicles, RPGs landing no more than fifteen feet away, and an IED that went off right under a whole scout team and no casualties whatsoever.
With the elections over, 1/3 has left, done with their deployment, 1/23 is back in our AO, and I finally have the opportunity to use a computer. While the overall voter turnout for the whole of Iraq, from what I've heard, was an amazing 60%, here in Hit, only something like seventy Iraqi police officers showed up with only a single civilian.
My first no-shit combat experience was like nothing else. I am overwhelmingly proud of my platoon and our performance under fire. 1/3's CO told our platoon commander that he was extremely impressed with us, especially our scouts. Death stared us in the face that day, and we smiled back. In those moments, we were at our best: calm, unflinching, extremely proficient and deadly. The only time I felt the slightest twinge of fear was when mortars were incoming and all we could do was wait for them to land. There were several instances in which we were cracking jokes back and forth with bullets whizzing by our heads.
I now feel like a Marine Corps infantryman in more than just name. I feel truly deserving of the title, proud of the uniform, I feel like I've lived up to its history and traditions. Suddenly all the bullshit I've put up with throughout my enlistment is absolutely worth it, to have performed my function so well, and to have learned what I have learned about myself, about what kind of a man I am.
Today, a week later, my left ear still rings; I fear I've incurred permanent hearing loss. I will never hear anything so clearly as I heard the sounds of battle that day.
*This post has been edited for opsec reasons.