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February 11, 2007

A Marine in Iraq
Posted by Teresa at 12:49 PM * 43 comments

“A Marine in Iraq” was first published in September 06 in Larry Johnson’s weblog No Quarter. He vouched for it thus:

Received this today from an old Army buddy via a mutual friend who was both a Marine and a CIA ops officer. Seems legit. Points are spot on.
For what it’s worth, it sounds real to me.* It’s as if Sam Watkins had written a condensed high-points-only version of his memoirs.

There’s a more reader-friendly version of the piece in the archives at Dan Feidt’s Just scroll down a few clicks and ignore the bit about the page being obsolete and moved to Drupal. Larry Johnson reproduced the text verbatim, which I respect; but Dan Feidt added a bunch of missing punctuation, regularized the line breaks, and boldfaced the section headers. (He also boldfaced some passages for emphasis, but I’m leaving that out.)

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 Déjà Vu - I thought I was familiar with the feeling of déjà 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 déjà 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 miles away, 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 that 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.”…

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 out here.

Best Piece of Bad Guy Gear - Armor Piercing ammunition that goes right through the new flak jackets and the Marines inside them. …

Greatest Vindication - 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. …

Favorite Iraqi TV Show - Oprah. I have 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.

Biggest Hassle - 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.

Biggest Outrage - 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.

Saddest Moment - 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.

Biggest Ass-Chewing - 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.

Worst Sound - 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.

I left out a lot. Go read the real thing.
Comments on A Marine in Iraq:
#1 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2007, 03:49 PM:

I was reading this while listening to remixes of "Code Monkey". They are expressions of remarkably similar emotion.

Were it not far, far too easy in these days to seem disrespectful to the troops, I would attempt a pastiche.

(And, of course, if I weren't so damned tired.)

#2 ::: Martin Wisse ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2007, 05:19 PM:

Didn't this get linked to earlier on Making Light, in a particle perhaps? In any case, I read it before and it is good.


Next year, "a marine in Iran"?

#3 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2007, 06:16 PM:

He sounds like a decent fellow stuck at the bottom of a latrine by his bosses.

#4 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2007, 06:18 PM:

Fragano @3
Thus the code monkey link.

#6 ::: Bryan Catherman ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2007, 11:28 PM:

This is some good reading. Thanks!

#7 ::: Alex ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2007, 08:25 AM:

This has been reblogged to exhaustion, but the guy is Colonel Pete Devlin, who was the G2 officer (head of intelligence) for the Marines in Anbar. He later hit the headlines after one of his assessments was leaked to the press, which essentially said "we're fucked."

#8 ::: John ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2007, 10:26 AM:

After reading that (from an officer too, not a non-com or private), I'm not surprised so many servicemen (and women) return to the US and proceed to abuse their spouse/children, or commit suicide. Bush is rapidly turning our military into a shell of itself, and creating another crop of ex-military with emotional, physical and psychological scars they'll carry the rest of their lives.

#9 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2007, 10:45 AM:

If I recall correctly, the military was trying to nip the post traumatic stress disorder problem in the bud. Something like one-third of all personel returning from Iraq were getting various forms of counseling.

#10 ::: John ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2007, 11:21 AM:

Maybe they are, but if so, then there's still plenty of men and women coming back from deployment to Iraq/Afghanistan that are falling through the cracks. Living here in NC, with two of the bases men are being deployed from nearby (Camp Lejeune and Fort Bragg), the media seems to report monthly about someone who killed/abused their spouse/child after they came home.

#11 ::: BigHank53 ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2007, 11:57 AM:

From Theresa's particles, here's a photo of one of our marines.

Rot in hell, George Bush.

#12 ::: John ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2007, 12:50 PM:

I can't express in words what I felt when I saw that photo. I just can't.

#13 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2007, 01:52 PM:

You might want to take a look at these troops too, since MSM isn't allowed to cover them:

bitter fruit

#14 ::: John ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2007, 02:08 PM:

Yep, all that happens down here is the news announces "yet another Fort Bragg soldier died yesterday in Iraq", gives his (or her) name, and then they move on to the next story.

The Washington Post has an article today that says the Army is STILL trying to get all their Humvees up-armored, and have sent assurances that more armor kits will be sent out by mid-year.

Humvee Armor

#15 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2007, 04:08 PM:

Biggest Hassle - High-ranking visitors.
I have a distinct memory of a Kipling short story in which an early-20th-century Indian civil servant complains about visiting VIPs from England in much the same terms. Plus ça change, plus c'est pareil...

#16 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2007, 05:03 PM:

My dad (USMC 1963-1967) sent that to me when it first surfaced. I never doubted the veracity of it.

As for the PTS counselling people are getting, unless it's gotten better than what I got, it's cursory, unless the troop really wants to get help.

I know, looking back, I could have used more than I got, and I had no trouble making the counsellor think I was just fine (coping as well as can be expected, was one of the comments; it all boiled down to , "fundamentally stable" which was true, but far from complete).

#17 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2007, 06:47 PM:

Re #11: More photos of that Marine, including some Before shots of him and his fiancee.

#18 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2007, 09:41 PM:

Oh god. What the photos at Jim's link (17) make clear is that Ty Ziegel, the burn victim, only has two fingers and a thumb on his right hand, and his left hand has been amputated several inches above the wrist.

#19 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2007, 09:53 PM:

What's striking about that photo is that there are two faces in it. One of them is horrifying. The other is unforgettable. And you know which is which.

#20 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2007, 10:58 PM:

It just became painfully clear to me how much the cost of this fking war has been swept under the rug by those who want others to keep fighting it.

That showing pictures of US dead and wounded became "unpatriotic" was an amazing win for the Ministries of Peace, Truth, and Love.

#21 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2007, 11:51 PM:

John, abuse of spouses and kids doesn't necessarily come from being in war. My father first threw me at the wall when I was three and he wasn't on Ranger off the coast of Vietnam until I was eight. There've been studies done of military violence to families during peacetime, as well as war, and while violence increases during war, it's still there during peace.

#22 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 01:56 AM:

Marilee @21
I know it's not germane to your point, but your post made me want to go upstairs and put my arms around my three year old daughter.

#23 ::: John ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 06:44 AM:

Marilee, I understand what you're saying, but when men (and women) do not exhibit these tendencies, go off to war, return and then do, there's something going on.

#24 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2007, 09:20 PM:

abi, #22, people are always surprised when I smile at noisy kids in restaurants. Oh, they could probably use some more parenting, but they aren't sitting stiff upright, silent, moving their fork in a rigid rectangular pattern from the plate to the mouth and back, and blanching when their parent looks at them. Some people who know what my childhood was like think I should still care about my father. They clearly don't grasp the experience.

John, #23, how do you know they don't have those tendencies? Abuse isn't always talked about outside the house.

#25 ::: Jason ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2007, 11:01 AM:

I feel for the guy, but I'm really glad that his fiancée was still willing to marry him.
And as for the awfullness of war, what else is new? We've spent the last few thousands of years learing how to better kill and maim our fellow humans.

Such injuries were suffered trying to liberate the death camps of Nazi Germany. Does that make it any better than the current fracas? Did that end justify these sorts of prices?

#26 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2007, 01:08 PM:

Jason, if you don't understand the differences between the USA's involvement in WWII and the treasonous activities of the Bush Administration which lead to the debacle in Iraq, I don't think anything I can say will be a satisfactory explanation.

Marilee, been there and experienced something similar -- but I think your family situation was worse than mine and for mine it WAS peacetime at that time.

#27 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2007, 07:31 PM:

Lori, I think the fact that my folks were fundamentalist Christians made it worse. Mother really didn't believe she was allowed to stop him or leave him.

#28 ::: Jason ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2007, 12:33 PM:

You seem to have missed my point entirely. These sorts of maimings happen in war, every war. For causes good, bad and indifferent. Does that make a difference?

As for the current affair, I can accept debacle, although my definition is likely different than yours, but treasonous? Not by any definition.

#29 ::: Sica ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2007, 01:23 AM:

As for soldiers coming back from Iraq and being not quite right in the head afterwards. A friend of mine got attacked by a few of them here in Scotland.

It was reasonably late and they were before him in an ATM queue and the one of the ATMs was broken, my friend went and used the other one and then commented to the soldiers that the machine they were trying to use was broken, i.e the "out of service" message flashing on the screen was why it wasn't working for them.

He got immediately punched in the jaw and nose, he managed to stay on his feet so after that they got friendly and offered to buy him a pint and said they'd just hit him to see if he'd stay on his feet.

My friend was more concerned about going to the nearest hospital and having his possibly broken jaw looked at.

Who knows, this might have nothing to do with the guys having just returned from Iraq a few days before but they were definately not right in the head.

#30 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2007, 06:08 PM:

And for soldiers coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan, Walter Reed is a problem. They weren't expecting and are not designed to handle so many casualities so some of the housing is substandard and the soldiers are being neglected.

#31 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2007, 09:18 PM:

And the follow-up today plus an article for tomorrow about Walter Reed starting to fixing up Building 18.

#32 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2007, 10:19 PM:

Marilee, thanks for the unlocked story. It's only gotten worse. The army fscked my brother over and the VA compounded the damage (a doc gave him a limitless prescription for librium, which he proceeded to abuse the hell out of, and it made him schizophrenic.... unti he was finally incarcerated and dried out).

He had gone into the military to have a career at it like papa, I think he at least got an honorable discharge but I'm not sure. We don't talk about mental illness in my family.... (my mom is the queen and my father WAS the king of denial--'don't talk about it and it doesn't exist...'). His first Viet Nam tour was a piece of cake, he was a missile specialist. the second tour he was a Huey pilot and was traumatic in ways that he didn't/doesn't talk about. I lost my brother, the older guy that I talked to and sang with and respected and loved with all the joy a 10-years-younger sister can manage. And learned to hate war more than I had before (I always thought it was a waste).

This whole adventure in Iraq has just been such a waste of everything, I cry about it at least once a day. But the guy who's sending them has no conscience and no heart, and really does not give a damn about anything except the profits his trust fund (and Mr. Dickhead's trust fund) is accruing. And until/if there is an election we can't do much else except protest.

#33 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2007, 10:32 PM:

War is, of its nature, so terrible that it must only be engaged in for the very best, most compelling reasons.

The reasons we were involved in WWII were both good and compelling.

This Iraq adventure: the reasons we are there are neither good nor compelling.

As to Walter Reed: we used to have a joke: Nothing's too good for our boys in uniform. It's just that Congress hasn't figured out how to give us less than nothing.

#34 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2007, 10:51 PM:

I'm just sayin' they've been shorting the vets for a long time. And the VA is getting stuck with trying to do more for more people and getting less money. Who's going to suffer? The vets. It sucks all around and I don't know what more I can do besides protest.

Because of our familial history of denial, I'm certain that the VA did nothing to help my brother, because he didn't ask (well, except keeping on taking that librium). In fact, because he as a BS in psychiatry, he made sure he didn't get diagnosed until he started acting out in an illegal way and he had no control of his problems. (sorta long story, short trip to Larned, KS where they have the hospital that takes care of the criminally mentally ill in Kansas... he's done okay since he got released, but he is not the person I knew once upon a time).

#35 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2007, 11:42 PM:

Awww, come on! The only real way of showing support for our troops is to uncritically accept every mission they're sent on. If you don't buy into it, you may as well be getting in line with the hippies to spit on guys coming home from the war.

That and magnetic yellow ribbons.

If Bush is ever impeached and convicted, a suitable punishment might be getting kicked in the groin with every prosthetic foot he made possible.

#36 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2007, 10:41 AM:

Jason, you don't call outing a covert operative and destroying the counter-proliferation divsion she worked for treason?

This was done deliberately to enable the current Mis-Administration to lie about the nuclear capabilities of other countries.

Bush lied to get us into this war, and his master, Cheney launched an attack on those who told the truth about the situation.

Acts of honorable men? I don't think so.

#37 ::: Jason ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2007, 10:54 AM:

Valerie Plame wasn't covert, fer Chrissakes, she was only an analyst. And I don't know about what happened to the division she worked for. But treasonous, by the Constitutional definition, not by any means.

Bush lied? About what? WMDs? Unfortunately pretty much everybody else, like the British, French and German intelligence services, agreed with the Administration's belief that the Iraqis had WMDs. So I'll have to pass on that particular lie.

I'm far more concerned about the mismanaged conduct of the war than anything else. The total failure to plan for stability operations is scarier to me than all the other BS that the KOSsacks are up in arms about because that process isn't supposed to be political. Such incompetence in our professional military is frightening.

#38 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2007, 11:03 AM:

Jason @ 37

You blew your whole argument in your first sentence.

If Valerie's employment weren't classified and covert, the CIA wouldn't have sent the case to the Justice Department, because they wouldn't have thought that a crime had been committed.

That's what Libby was trying to hide. Lying to keep it a secret is what he's on trial for.

#39 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2007, 12:26 PM:

Jason -- go spend the day reading a blog called FireDogLake, or better yet, check out a book entitled "Anatomy of Deceit." (It's available at

In case you haven't been following the Libby trial, the evidence demonstrating Libby's commission of perjury also shows that Dick Cheney was the driving force behind outing Valerie Plame and her cover company, Brewster-Jennings.

What makes it even more ironic is that Cheney is the one who requested that the CIA check out the Niger info in the first place...and when it didn't produce the result Cheney wanted, he and the rest of the Administration lied about that.

#40 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2007, 05:00 PM:

To finish out the Walter Reed articles, a story on Richard Twohig who was not only injured in Iraq, but had to fight to get his disability.

#41 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2007, 06:45 PM:

Jason, the military tried to plan for stability operations: Rumsfeld said he'd fire the next person who brought the subject up. This is not incompetence: it's deliberate; it's malign.

#42 ::: Michael ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2007, 07:40 PM:

There is now a video clip available about the Ty Ziegel, the badly wounded marine, whose girlfriend stood by him after he returned with horrible injuries (excellent pictures by Nina Berman)

#43 ::: Michael ::: (view all by) ::: July 06, 2007, 07:40 PM:

There is now a video clip available about the Ty Ziegel, the badly wounded marine, whose girlfriend stood by him after he returned with horrible injuries (excellent pictures by Nina Berman)

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