Summer 2003

Jun 7, 2012 by

Sitting in Al Kut through the summer of 2003 was endless, and the sun in southern Iraq was a merciless god. By June the heat in southern Iraq was a physical enemy. Temperatures drove upwards of 130 degrees fahrenheit. 130 plus. Anytime we left our little operating base outside of Al Kut we wore full armor, carried all our weapons. We didn’t have a lot to eat to begin with, and the heat killed our appetites. We didn’t have much in the way of a laundry, so our uniforms became so crusted in the bleach white salt from our sweat they were almost brittle, you could smack your blouse or trousers against a wall and see flakes of salt break off. We did our jobs, but there was never an end in sight. We...

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A Proposition

May 23, 2012 by

This excerpt is, again, jumping around in terms of chronology. After Tikrit we ended up in Al Kut, in the southern Iraq province of Wasit. This would be the end of our time in Iraq, but it dragged… I have lots of stories about Al Kut, too many. Nastiness, like a detainee escaping Marine custody. I’d collected intel saying he was the one who had hired a hitman to throw a grenade at the police station, severely wounding one of the American soldiers. The motherfucker cost a soldier guarding the police station his legs. He wasn’t talking in the Iraqi jail, he just professed his innocence, so I ordered him moved to a more secure facility on the Marine base across the river at the nearby airfield. His escape and follow-up investigation with his...

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Tikrit – Where We All Nearly Died...

May 15, 2012 by

the box on the right was our toilet.    Taking Tikrit turned out to be pretty easy, it had been almost entirely abandoned. We rolled into a ghost town, the night after we rescued the POWs. So, the next day, we began to explore… The palace compound stretched for miles along the Tigris River. While exploring we came upon several locals fishing in one of Saddam’s private fish ponds. Just days earlier they would have been executed for fishing there, had they been caught. We were alone, just one truck, but even so they were scared at first. Johnny jumped out and started talking as soon as we stopped, and within minutes the Iraqis were laughing with Johnny, and effusively showing their gratitude for invading and overthrowing Saddam. They had caught several monster fish,...

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Apr 27, 2012 by

Darkness in war is a combatant, and it switches sides at random. The Iraqis didn’t have night-vision equipment and we did, so in that way the night worked for us. But night-vision only lets you see if there is at least some ambient light or illumination from an infrared beam, and there are nights in Iraq so dark opening your eyes doesn’t change a thing. The IR beam from the night-vision goggles is narrow, focused, and limited to a very small area wherever it is directed. Even with technology, the Iraqi night is an uncertain friend. On one of those nights a few days after the sandstorm we bivouacked on the shoulder of the highway.  The fuel trucks had finally caught up with us and LtCol Mundy decided to have the entire battalion fuel up throughout...

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Apr 20, 2012 by

This excerpt happened prior to the rescue of the POW’s, so it’s a little out of order. J.E. On March 25th one of the largest sandstorms in Iraqi history covered half of the country, halting our advance on Baghdad. I don’t know how it affected the Army’s progress, but the entire First Marine Division was stopped just south of Ad Diwaniyah. There’s no way to adequately describe an Iraqi sandstorm, let alone a legendary one. Me and the team were focused on interrogations, so we didn’t notice the dust roll in at first. But the sky turned red in the middle of the day, and by 1500 (3pm) we realized the weather was unusual. The dust got progressively worse, and the sky became darker and darker. The landscape, what we could see of it,...

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April 13th – The Rescue

Apr 13, 2012 by

From the time we crossed the Kuwait/Iraq border with Third Battalion/Fifth Marines on 20 March 2003, Human Intelligence Exploitation Team Three (HET 3, callsign Jesuit 3) had driven with almost no sleep, fought alongside the grunts, and slogged through dozens of interrogations for almost three weeks. On 11 April we rested for a day after taking the Azimiyah Palace. There were six of us, plus our two linguists; 1st Lieutenant Nate Boaz, SSgt Matt Leclaire, SSgt Randy Meyer, Sgt Chris Kieffer, Sgt Jason Jones and myself, Sgt Joel McCollough. Ra’ad was our volunteer linguist from Kuwait, and Johnny Nano was our contractor linguist – an Iraqi refugee from Detroit.  A lot of conflicting accounts of the rescue appeared in the media in 2003, I’ve never read a completely accurate one, and I don’t claim this...

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First Interrogation

Apr 9, 2012 by

Before you read this post, I’d like to reiterate my earlier disclaimer. Not everything in this memoir is true, and some of it is intentionally distorted or altered. This memoir is intended to relate my impressions and thoughts on combat and the war in general. It is not a detailed or literal account of exactly what happened in the war. In other words, sometimes I make shit up for literary effect. enjoy, J.E. My first interrogation was the next day, or the day after, I’m not really sure. It was a junior militia fighter who gave up all his information to direct questioning. No waterboarding needed, no real technique applied, there was no time to do either, anyway. We had Marines advancing and we needed information. Force protection was the priority, which meant finding out...

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First Fight

Mar 29, 2012 by

The first real action Three/Five saw was south of Ad Diwaniyah, around March 23rd or 24th.  I wish I could remember how far south, but things were blurry and both time and distance were distorted. I had never been in the infantry, like most of the other guys on my counterintelligence team. I had been an intel geek for five years and had never done serious time in the field. After the debacle of the border crossing and the first couple of days of the war, HUMINT Exploitation Team Three (HET 3) had sorted itself out and we were back in our assigned trucks. Me, Matt, Jason and my linguist Johnny Nano were with the rear element while Nate (1st Lt Boaz) commanded the forward truck, driven by Randy with Kris and Ra’ad in...

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What War Is

Mar 23, 2012 by

    Your first war is filled with things you’ve never done, never seen, never heard, never smelled. It’s a different continent, and everyone who goes there feels like the first white man in the Congo.  It’s the world after you fuck your first girl; you were a virgin, and now you’re not.  That first morning after you’re not sure what’s changed, but there is something fundamentally different, even if it’s not visible and no one else can see it.  You know something has changed. Some think war is an experience – something bad that happens to you like a father that slapped you around too much but then you grow up and move on.  War isn’t a time period in life, it’s the end of your old life and the beginning of life after,...

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Mar 18, 2012 by

Crossing into Iraq in that never-ending convoy felt like being caught in a river’s current, we flowed across the border in an inevitable stream of war machines. In the afternoon light of the desert we poured through breaches in the berms and tank trenches on the Iraq-Kuwait border, passing long-abandoned UN border posts standing a useless watch. Further on, as darkness fell, we began to pass the GOSPs.  Saddam had ordered them set on fire, so we drove through the jets of flame spewing from the earth.  At the closest we maybe got within 200 meters of a GOSP on fire, maybe as far as 400 meters. That may sound like a long ways away, but the heat was so intense it felt like my face was melting. The hot air blasted through the open...

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