RUNews_An interview with a Marine; Life, Blood and Reality
To start the new year right, we have a special treat for you. We have a new
writer on board, by the name of (to be announced). He is a former Marine
(once a Marine, always a Marine) who has many experiences to share
with you. It is our hope to give you a soldiers eye view of conflict
and military life.
He will also be our military consultant to help unravel some of the
issues and groundless stories deriving from the seemingly now eternal
"war on terror."
We will reveal his name in the near future. We begin his stint as an s6k writer with this introductory interview.
-) Can we start with having you discuss where you came from and what
the area was like?
I grew up in a very typical single parent suburban household in Northern New Jersey. My older brother and I were part of that big wave of latch key kids in the 70's, when all those really bad marriages of the sixties fell apart. We had a really nice county park nearby where I spent a lot of time trolling around in the woods. I was an unathletic, bookish, nature-minded kid.
-) What opinions did your family and friends have about military service?
I come from a very long line of Naval tradition. On my father's side, only one deranged great uncle had served with the Marines in WWI. Everyone else was either in the U.S. Navy or the Merchant Marine at one time or another. On my mother's side, there are a couple uncles who were pressed into service with the draft for Vietnam. If their experiences there and upon returning home had been different, they might've been able to articulate to me why the military is not always a great idea.
-) What led to you entering the Marines?
There are a variety of reasons but the overwhelming one would be that I thought I had something to prove to myself and others and also, I had then and still have a strong sense of duty to others, service for the greater good. The Boy Scout in me didn't picture setting up ambushes, learning how to strangle someone with a piece of wire, etc. I unrealistically saw myself in sepia tones saving children from some catastrophe, liberating the oppressed. The recruiting machine is well oiled and efficient in getting fresh meat for the grinder and the enlisted men charged with recruiting really make it seem like an adventure. The basic reason could be summed up by simply saying; I was younger and dumber then.
-) How did your original perception of military life match the reality?
As soon as I'd landed in South Carolina and found myself confronted by four extremely large Sergeants, bellowing incomprehensible orders in the middle of a civilian airport, I questioned my sanity. Nothing I did or saw in my four and a half years with the Corps was as I'd imagined it would be. I had a lot of good times, made some lifelong friends and learned some very valuable lessons. Along with those good memories are the ones I'd just as soon forget.
-) What are the positive aspects that derived from military life?
I learned discipline and self-reliance, traits I was sorely lacking. I learned what my body and mind could handle. I shed many fears I had, including heights and deep water. I saw parts of the world I might not have gotten to otherwise and I've seen some things most people never will. As I'd mentioned earlier, I have deep friendships with several of the guys I served with over twelve years ago, some still active in the military. As a young man, it was great in many ways. To be paid to be in shape, to train hard and drink hard, to perform Hemingwayesque feats of derring-do. We should bear in mind that Hem shot himself, too. I digress. It was a lot of fun until my boot camp programmed brain was overtaken by free-thinking self.
-) What did you learn from military life that you wish you hadn't?
Nothing. My time in the Corps started me on the path to peace that I walk today. Without my horrific combat experiences, without seeing how the government wastes lives and money and resources, I wouldn't be typing away right here and now. Those years cracked my brain and my heart open wide and made me think, really think, about the world around me. Shoulda', woulda', coulda', if......if wishes were horses, beggars would ride. I'd like to have my buddies back. Many of the guys who died around me died, quite literally, for nothing.
-) We've talked about you being in Desert Storm. Can you tell us what
your first experience was in Iraq?
Just after crossing into southern Iraq, across the northwestern corner of the then devastated and looted Kuwait, the small convoy of hummers I was in came across a pair of trucks that had been 'lit-up' by our helicopter gunships. They'd been strafed with machine gun fire, rocketed. We'd see the same type of thing again and again; fleeing Iraqi soldiers were to be annihilated. If they surrendered, give them a donut and a pack of smokes, smile a lot. Some of the younger Marines with us had never seen a crispified human being and had to really work hard on their composure. Everything in the desert is surreal with the thin, parched air and the intense light on the never changing landscape. It's a really alien environment even compared to our Southwestern deserts. Charred human is not a good smell.
-) Have you ever personally seen the aftermath of "collateral Damage?"
"If you want to make an omelet, you have to break a few eggs" This was a very common saying in the old Corps. (Every Marine's personal 'Corps' is the old Corps.) Now, with clearer, cleaner eyes, fat, dumb and happy back here, I can say what a tragedy things are in Iraq now and such. When you are on the ground with no CNN, no hot chow or showers, home is a billion light years away, people are shooting at you and you are. literally, a highly trained killing machine with lots of bullets and grenades, you will unhesitatingly kill anything that stands between you and getting home. I have participated in actions where everything was neutralized. Buildings, vehicles, livestock, civilian houses, businesses, schools. War is primal and to survive one must become an animal. It's horrific. Yes, I have seen random fire incidents and their aftermath.
-) What was it like the first time you were in a situation that you
were forced to shoot at or kill another human being?
The Corps has trained young men from all walks of life to become Marines for 229 years and they are masters of psychology and of rebuilding bodies to fit the uniform. It is a foreign concept to run towards gunfire, explosions, those intent on harming you. Jumping out of perfectly good aircraft, carrying heavy loads for days over rough terrain, reveling in pain and misfortune, these things grunts do. The Corps demands and receives "instant willing obedience to orders" because you have practiced each motion a thousand times over. The first time I was fired upon I had returned fire instinctively, my mind and body of one with a solitary purpose. Later you have to deal with what you've done, maybe. In the moment there is only the training. Hesitation is death. I am here now because of the dehumanizing training I went through. It's nothing like the movies. There is a noise and a taste and a smell that I could never translate to anyone who hasn't been in it.
-) Do believe the indoctrination process of the military made you
callas to the tasks you were given?
Absolutely. There is a machismo, a bravado, a swagger instilled in each and every young Marine. "Yea, though I walk though the valley of the Shadow of Death I shall fear no Evil for I AM THE BADDEST MOTHERFUCKER IN THE VALLEY!" Every little boy's war game childhood fantasy of 'let's play army' has come alive. You get the uniform and the gun and way you go. The enemy is a faceless entity that wants to rape your mother and your sisters, wipe his ass on the stars and stripes, destroy all that is good and pure. I can recite for you now the history of the Corps in detail, facts drilled into my head over a three month period in 1987. The heroic deeds of Lewis B. "Chesty" Puller, John Basilone, Smedley Butler and a host of others are drummed into each terrified man-child at Parris Island and San Diego to establish identity, forge esprit-de-corps and make you ask yourself again and again and again; am I good enough? Did I earn this uniform and the right to be called Marine? Will I fight that same fight?
There is a very high level of competition even between the U.S. Armed Forces. Marines (Jarheads, Leathernecks, Devil Dogs) hate Navy (Squids, Swabies) hate Army (Doggies, Parkies) hate Air Force (pogues, Flyboys) and everyone is pretty scornful of the Coast Guard since they are DOT (Dept. of Transportation) and all the rest are Dept. of Defense. We steal from one another, fight one anther in peace-time, demean each other and generally don't get along. then the shit hits the fan and we all need each other and then the ENEMY (fill in enemy of the week here) is our target.
-) How much do you think the US population honestly understands about Iraq?
Little or nothing judging by the recent elections. Bringing democracy to a nation that is based on hundreds and hundreds of years of tribal warfare and might makes right is a novel idea. Also, the war was ran horribly from the get-go (let's just sidestep the invasion of a sovereign nation unprovoked for now, as GW found so easy) and snowballed further with each passing day. 'Quagmire' is the official term I'd use. Do you recall when the Iraqi populace was looting Baghdad on national television just after the 'liberation' of Iraq? U.S. military personnel stood idly by while the citizenry gaily looted governmental offices, storehouses and Saddam's former residences. That was really interesting. How about Saddam looking like Walt Whitman in his spiderhole? I for one remember a man who considered himself a savvy military strategist and had a huge ego BUT also knew how to keep himself safe with several doubles, strings of deception, multiple layers of bodyguards and escape routes aplenty. There he is in a spiderhole with an old Russian pistol? Hmmmm. Interesting.
The deception cloaked under nationalism is incredible. The Patriot Act, Bush's Thanksgiving visit to the troops (plastic turkey prop) , etc. We all know that there are very few people interested in the truth if it prevents them from spending their weekends in front of the tube, purchasing durable goods, living well. I'm sure we all know one or more persons that has every sport related statistic memorized, every celebrity detail digested, who knows nothing about the world beyond their own backyard and revels in that ignorance. These are the people who poured French wine down the drain early in this war, who have little faded flags and ribbons on their giant SUVs.
-) Gulf War Syndrome hasn't exactly been front page news lately, which
has allowed the issue to slip from what MLK referred to as, "the 3-day
masses." Can you tell us why the issue is a bit closer to home for
From the time I separated from the Corps in late 1992 until approximately June of 2002, I suffered many of the symptoms of Gulf War Syndrome and still suffer others. Almost every fellow grunt I knew had serious intestinal disorders, stomach and bowel problems. I basically had the shits for ten years, no matter my diet or lifestyle. That has changed dramatically but I still suffer the short term memory loss, headaches and joint aches associated with the illness. The Clinton Administration's study of the disorder attributed it to stress only. The most recent CDC report attributes the disorder to the anti-nerve agent pills we were ordered to ingest (more on this later) and the Army Corps of Engineers habit of detonating every chem weapons depot they found. For safety? To destroy evidence that U.S. military and civilian manufacturer's had supplied Saddam's chem weps? That's a matter for discussion.
I'm one of the lucky ones. I know several Army Rangers, Spec Ops guys and Marine regulars who are crippled or blinded from chemical and biological exposure. The baby boom which comes after every massive deployment had a terribly high 10%-11% crop of malformed and mentally deficient offspring. the government's response? That was a national average for birth defects.
-) How supportive has the military, or other government entities, been
with your illness?
There wasn't even recognition of the illness from valid medical sources until recently. Now the Veterans Administration is starting to process claims. How long before Agent Orange was finally, officially declared Vietnam's culprit?
-) As we talked, you seemed very centered and focused on enjoying your
life, even though you've been through the fire. Can you tell us about
your experience from leaving Iraq to the person you are today?
It has been a really laborious process to fit back into society, deprogram myself, reinvest myself in values and ideas that were peaceful and community minded. I honestly spent the first few years out of the service suffering from post traumatic combat stress, drinking, fighting, doing menial jobs poorly and getting involved in disastrous relationships. About six years ago I found my head so far up my ass I had to crowbar it out and take a look around. I was in a very bad way. Only by getting involved in the arts, reading again, listening and paying attention to the world around me instead of the one inside me, did i get back to "here".
I'm working at a steady job, live in a cozy little house, have a wonderful woman who has agreed to be my wife. I'm healthier in body and mind than ever before and I owe a lot of it, believe it or not, to a rediscovery of the wells of discipline and survival training inside of me. I now use the training instilled in me to fight what I really consider the most important fight, the loss of our rights and liberties to the corporate sponsored government. Disgust has led me here to say what I can about the horrific conditions in Iraq and elsewhere.
-) What can our readers expect from you in the future?
I am a thirty-six year old former Marine Sergeant, an 0331, machine gunner, who had some time in Nicaragua, Panama, The Persian Gulf, Haiti, The Philippines, Egypt, Japan, etc. I am not a college grad, but pretty well read. I know the grunt perspective, the man on the ground. We've been the same dirt-chewers since the Roman Legion and the best I can do is offer my opinion of the events we're seeing. A lot of tactics, equipment and sentiment has changed since I did my time but the foot soldier's perspective can always be told. I've been in a few firefights, I've gotten my share of medals and ribbons and would trade them all to speak with those guys again, to have an hour with fallen comrades. Hopefully I can answer some questions, make some of the quagmire clear. I'll give it a whirl.
-Maureen Dowd said, "The minute you settle for less than you deserve, you get even less than you settled for."
-Edgar Allan Poe wrote, "All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream."
-) Thank you and we'll be looking forward to reading more from you.
Peaceness and Sledgehammers,
Darryl Hell Current Mood: ecstatic