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Fate, God, and Coincidence

Who knows what the future holds
Not me that’s for sure
A brush with death is enough to make:
Me pause and reflect
Tony Northover

That’s my Gunner, he Stays with Me

When MAP 8 first arrived at FOB Hit, a small shitty outpost just outside of Hit City, Iraq, our accommodations were severely lacking. The gear we had fallen in on from the previous unit was absolutely terrible, particularly the vehicles which had little to no armor and a high back that had no attached gun turret. The funniest experience that I remember was getting there and looking at the vehicles we would be riding around in for our tour. Do you remember that scene in that Chevy Chase movie, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation where the family is out in the woods and Clark Griswald finds the perfect Christmas tree only to have left the saw back at home?  I could hear that sound they play and felt my heart sink into my stomach when the Humvees rolled out and the previous unit was going to conduct left seat right seat missions with us, where the driver from 3/25 would take instructions from a Marine from 3/2 in the passenger’s seat.

So the gear and Humvees were so awful we had to just laugh at it all and eventually we adapted and overcame like Marines do. It seems like Marines are always put into these situations and in some ways it makes us harder, stronger, and extremely pissed off. Somehow MAP 8’s high back, where I was assigned was able to attach a crude “gypsy rack” atop of a canvas that covered the gunner and a gunner inside. From there, we just started taking pieces of junk from an old scrap yard. For any of you who are married, its kind of like when you go to pick out stuff at the Bed Bath and Beyond or some store like that, and she says oh hey that would look nice in the kitchen wouldn’t it? I guess it would! At this Cpl. Bray started singing the tune by Stealers WheelStuck in the Middle with youIt seemed more than fitting, as I though we were just a bunch of jokers, and the joke was on us.

Within a few weeks we settled into the hacienda style FOB (Forward Operating Base) and were ready to go out on patrols. LCpl Brian Montgomery and I were SAW gunners, somehow we got roped into training on a SAW, and although an M-249 SAW is a bad ass weapon it was literally our cross that we had to carry for the entire tour there while others carried a much lighter M-16 A4. Since the unit before us didn’t leave a whole lot in the way of guns like the 240-G or even an earlier version of that weapon, the Vietnam style M-60, I of course had to bungee cord a SAW on top of a scantily clad high back.

At the time, Sgt. Jenkins was MAP 8’s patrol leader. He was rebellious, renegade style Marine who I did not know very well, but he seemed to conduct himself and our patrols well. When it came time to go out on patrols, half of us stayed back in the rear and built up our fortress of bedding from the lumber lying around in the scrap yards, that and fill sand bags to prepare for the next barrage of Muj mortar fire that was a frequent occurrence near Hit. I can tell you even now that I would rather go out on a patrol than stay back in the rear. Even though the prospect of a good bit of sleep sounded great, it never turned out that way because there was always some bored-off-thier-ass NCO who wanted to send us on working parties the entire day.
The sun beat down on MAP 8 as we gathered our gear for another 8-12 hour routine patrol, although it was still quite cold in Iraq at the latter part of March. For whatever reason, I was chosen to stay on that shitty Humvee and patrol some of Iraq’s most IED infested roads. I can tell you right now, I think about a few of these moments all the time.  I was about to throw my SAW up onto the makeshift turret of the high back, when a Marine from one of the sniper platoons came out and was talking to Sgt. Jenkins. He said he needed a SAW gunner for one of the MAKO teams. “No” Sgt. Jenkins replied, “we need Wojtecki in the high back, he’s my gunner”. At that point, there was no way of knowing what would transpire over the next several months

A Game of Backgammon

Crazy 8 sat quietly in the middle of the open desert in a tight 360. Smokin’ and jokin’ while others were vigilantly on watch in the gun turrets. It’s now about July and we have been in Iraq for several months now. Better Humvees with at least a little armor. I’m now the driver of the first Humvee; Sgt. Carr, LCpl. Ross, LCpl Gurgol and LCpl Perry were sitting around. Sgt. Carr was playing a game of Backgammon with LCpl. Perry and Gurgol. I guess he got it in one of the care packages we got. All of a sudden a distress call comes over on the PRC, “QRF needed a MAP platoon (i forget which one?) was hit by an IED on route Uranium, we need you to provide support!” “Roger that, Crazy 8 out”. Soon we were Oscar Mike with me driving the first Humvee.

This wasn’t the first time we drove down Route Uranium, this was probably the hundredth time, I wasn’t counting. Every time I drove down this damn road I always got a sick feeling. Maybe it was the nearby train station and sparsely populated Iraqi huts that littered the area, or the numerous craters that were left from previous IED explosions. The survival instinct you have is 100% real. God only knows what it is or how it works, but tucking my left leg underneath me while driving, Gurgol’s crouching down into the Humvee turret were some of those things that we didn’t know why we did, but we were later thankful for doing them. I drove down the IED laden road, one second I’m cautiously driving down Uranium, the next I see this glitter in the corner of my eye and before you know it a large explosion envelopes the entire vehicle. I thought for a second I was fucking dead, dust and smoke were billowing out of the Humvee. All of a sudden I hear Sgt. Carr, “Wojtecki, shut off the vehicle!” I kept switching the Humvee switch on and off and nothing was happening, so I put my head out the window and the entire front of the Humvee is gone! It was a very close call for the first truck that day indeed. All of us made it out alive, with Sgt. Carr having some hearing problems and Gurgol some shrapnel in his legs.

It seemed like this was a reoccurring theme throughout the tour. Close call followed by close call. If you believe in God, or fate, or whatever higher power out there I can tell you that time and time again these events were so rare that it seems like there was no way they could be a coincidence. After being back from Iraq for seven years now I can tell you that these daily encounters with death bring a whole new appreciation for life for me everyday. Whether it is fate or God that helped me through, I know not to waste life, because we only have a limited time on this earth. Appreciate what you have everyday, be happy and live life to the fullest.

-Wojo

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One thought on “Fate, God, and Coincidence

  1. Jake Arnett on said:

    Nice…I wish I could remember stuff from back in 05 as well!

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