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Firewatch

Most of the time MAP 8 (“Crazy 8”) split up firewatch, four hours on four hours off so each Marine in our vehicle served firewatch at least once per day. That meant that at no time were you asleep for more than four hours. When you did firewatch you usually stood up in the gun turret of the vehicle, the first thing you would do when you took over a firewatch from someone else was check the weapon to make sure it was in condition one, that way if you did see something on your watch the gun was ready to go. Usually firewatches happened when Crazy 8 was parked in the same location for more than an hour, but sometimes watches were setup on vehicles because we didn’t trust the Azerbaijanis that shared half of the Hadithah dam with us. There was word that they liked to steal gear, but I’m not sure that was ever true we just had to have someone on the vehicles, I think that was another thing they did just to fuck with us, I mean firewatch inside of the wire? come on now.

Night firewatch was harder to get through, I think than a day watch. Night watches I think I remember being only an hour to two hours long. We didn’t want Marines falling asleep on post because we were basically screwed if an attack happened. We wouldnt’ know what hit us. At times I’ll have to admit I caught myself a few times dozing, but normally we would just pop a few ripped fuels (before ephedra was considered illegal) or some would throw in a dip. Some liked getting woken up a half an hour before their watch just to get themselves up. I wasn’t one of those people. I freaking hated when Marines would wake me up when my watch was at 3am, they would wake me up at 2:30am and then hit the rack. Bullshit.

Another thing that was part of firewatch was an hourly radio check at the top of the hour, I think maybe sometimes twice per hour (once every half an hour). I wasn’t a radio man and I was not good with using a radio. I remember at one point I had to do a crypto change over where I basically had to switch channels and give a radio check. I was accused of doing a piss poor job, but this was by someone who was a real moron anyway so it didn’t matter much. I wasn’t a freaking radio man so I just did my best.

Areas where we did the most firewatch:

Training

Training was the biggest pain in the ass for firewatch. I can remember drawing this when I sat on the world’s longest firewatch where we were actually awake for 24 hours straight. All we would do is just switch posts from hour to hour. This was when we were training in the mock village and I think I remember it was one of the last days of the mock war we had. They basically gave us blanks and told us to have at it in so many words. Simulated situations would come over by radio like, “extremists just attacked the base and now they are hiding in the mosque, what do you do?”

Checkpoint 8 & 9

I would say that Crazy 8 did most of the firewatches at Checkpoint 8, a shitty little spot of flat ground just outside of Hadithah Dam where we would basically sit and do surveillance and ensure supplies came in and left the base. I forgot which road this is (MSR 8?) but I know eventually if you followed it, it would lead you do Route Uranium and eventually al-Asad airbase. I can remember several nights using the thermals to scope out the area. One good thing about it was you could see for miles so if anyone was coming for you it was easy to spot. The hardest thing was distinguishing hot items like rocks and other debris that stayed hot from the sun during the day, from humans etc. I know it sounds weird, like how hard can it be to distinguish a hot rock from a sheep herder? At 3am when you are wired on dip and ripped fuel, a hot rock through a black and white PAS 13 can look like something worth checking out. I think the AZ’s (Azerbaijanis) were worse at that then we were. I think at one point they even called us in to do a QRF on a rusted out refrigerator.

Combat Firewatch and Firewatches in the Cities

This sucked. Most of the time the firewatches during major operations lasted forever and you had to be alert at all times. I guess in a way it sucked less than checkpoint firewatches or training because you knew there was actually a chance of seeing something and opening up on them with the gun.

In Barwana, we actually had tanks sitting with us in the cities on watch. In this particular position we overlooked the Euphrates and large population in the city across from it. There was a cliff face where we were hidden from the rest of the city so it was a pretty good spot. I think we spent about a week there (?).

One day, during the day while I was on watch tanks and some of the guys up in the turrets observed some men walking across the cliff face and into a neighbouring town with huge bags of what looked like mortars and weapons. At that point I think we called it in while we were firing on these assholes. They never knew what hit them. At that point EVERYONE wanted to be on firewatch, I think I even got into a fight with this kid about how it was my watch. Once I got up in the turret I was marking targets with the 240 G for a type II airstrike. Eventually everything in that area was completely eradicated by either the aircraft guns, the coax guns from the tanks and our Humvee‘s guns. I heard from others, and it may be just scuttlebutt, but the following morning they went up to that area and found 6 or 7 dead enemies lying there, but I’m not sure that was ever confirmed officially.

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Ohio Veteran’s Memorial Wall

The Wall

The Ohio Veteran’s Memorial Park (OVMP) is a newly constructed memorial park in honor of all Ohio Veteran’s that fought and died in all wars. It is truly pretty amazing. The memorial park is located in Clinton, OH, and recently this past weekend, the names of the fallen were added from the Beirut Bombing, Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

I am thankful for individuals like this, who put together and organized the funds to construct this wall. It’s a great testimant to our brothers killed in 3/25. Steve Cripple invited me to speak at the event as well as some other really great speakers. One of the speakers there, Jason Dominguez was with Lima Co. and Edie Deyarmin was there (Gold Star Mom of Nate Deyarmin). I’m not into speaking that much, but I think someone had to tell it like it was, tell everyone that there are people out there that pretty much take life for granted. That’s fine, but after the close calls myself and other Marines had, every day is a blessing.

I met some other really great people there including C.M. Hayden, a Marine in Vietnam who wrote a book called “A Veteran’s Journey” about his time as a helicopter pilot, but mostly about the time when he came back, having to struggle mentally through the public outcast of Veteran’s after the war. He said he would have to hide his uniforms and grow his hair longer because he was sick of getting spit on and disgraced. I guess I can’t even imagine what that would be like and I’m glad that the public has a great respect for military, especially those who were at the event and those that donated and were involved in the construction of this memorial park.

They called him, Sgt. Mau Mau in Vietnam. An old salty dog from the old Corps. I noticed his moto bumper stickers such as Happiness is a Belt Fed Weapon. He motioned me to come over to his truck and took something out of the front seat. “Check this out” he said. “It’s an M1. Some of the pieces are from when I was in ‘Nam, I brought them back and bought the M1, then took those pieces off and put these ones on.” We shared some stories and he gave me his motivating business card. The card lists a number of things the Marine Corps. have done including; hearts & minds won, wars fought, revolutions started, governments run, assassinations plotted, uprisings quelled – then on the right hand side; bars empired, huts burned, etc.

The Marlboro Volunteers are a volunteer traveling military display. Among the many weapons they have from wars past, they have a full line of old rifles from WWI, WWII, etc. It is amazing, a friend of mine and I would have stayed in there all day talking to the guy if we had a chance.

The wall is near completion but there are a few things they will be adding such as a “Gold Star Father” statue and they will be mounting the helicopter’s near the rear of the memorial. Over half of the proceeds I received from my book signing and display are going to an 8X8 brick near the front of the wall where I plan on listing those of the fallen Marines who I knew from 3/25.

-Wojo

Roger That

Listen to Call to Prayer

Islamic prayer call is offered  five times per day, a most recent schedule is from the area nearest to Haditha called An Najaf, Iraq;

Date Day Fajr Sunrise Dhuhr Asr Maghrib Isha
1 Tue 3:47 5:16 12:00 3:40 6:44 8:08

The recording (prayer call) is taken just outside of Barwana (that I remember?). I do remember taking the recording, but it has been about seven years. I can pinpoint that it was recorded just after I was sent an MP3 recorder in one my care packages, which I believe was right before Crazy 8 rushed to a QRF just outside the city and ended up doing snap VCPs and over watch of the city for about a week straight. The photo, however, is taken in East Village, a small village near the Haditha Dam.

I also have a cassette tape of prayer calls that I took from a mansion near Haqlaniyah, but I haven’t listened to it in quite sometime (I don’t even own a cassette player).

One of the major things I remember about prayer calls was our paranoia with them. Sitting just outside a city prior to a major operation, it was always a big rumor that the Muj were using the minuets as a kind of “early warning” announcing prayer and then followed by, “get out of the city the Americans are coming”, but I’m not sure that I believed it. There was one time where the prayer did sound a bit different and I’m not sure what the reasoning was. Prayer times also seemed to coincide with violence, but again nothing to back that up just our observations. Muj would seem to come out to provoke us if the weather was nice, and just after prayer.

I can remember watching TV with a group of INGs (Iraqi National Guardsmen) in a small hut that belonged to a farmer in the area. They were all sitting around on cushions that you would normally find on some outdoor patio furniture. They were drinking tea out of those Chai glasses and eating sunflower seeds. “5 minute American, 5 minute Arabic” referring to the TV. We would watch 5 minutes of some Arabic TV, like normally al-Jazeera or Arabic M-TV, then switch back to some BBC or some other station. The whole situation was so incredibly odd. Here we were sitting in a mud hut on some farmer’s property, watching satellite TV in the middle of nowhere. Prayer call was also announced via TV as well similar to the linked video. The 5 minute American / 5 minute Arabic didn’t carry on after we left, in fact we heard a few gunshots after the ING fought over what TV station they wanted to watch.

Listen to Radio Call 2

One of the things that happened every 3 or 4 hours was a check in / radio check. You can hear in the recording a call from command “Bulldog” to Tiger 3, which was our tanks. At one point the security at the dam was heightened and battalion actually brought in a few tank platoons. One guy I can remember, his name was Gunny Laden, a big muscular bald guy. His occupation as a tanker suited him well. I can remember nights where we were in the city, surrounded on all sides by buildings and the potential enemy threat was high. All of sudden Gunny Laden and his tank platoon role in next to our Humvees, Gunny pops out of the first tank and throws out an empty Redbull container, then proceeds to get back in the tank and fire the coax gun on some Muj assholes digging almost a mile away across the Euphrates River. The next time I ran into the guy was on the 13th deck (I think that was the floor?) the Gym bench pressing >200. I can’t tell you how many times they saved our asses.

Listen to Radio Call 3

Map 8 spent A LOT of time on checkpoints 8 and 9, two small key areas; one just in the vicinity of route Uranium (checkpoint 9) and a major transport road just outside of Haditha Dam (checkpoint 8). CP 9 I can remember was basically a truck hulk graveyard. Old trucks and vehicles just left behind and rusted from God knows how many past wars. CP 9 was also heavily mortared. Sometimes I thought the Muj had their mortars already preset to that intersection.

There was always a platoon assigned to CP 8, which I would say was the most boring spot in Iraq, but a major route where trucks would transport food, mail, weapons and troops to major bases in the area, so pretty important. Anyhow, The radio call was from a rotation between our platoon (Kaybar 8) and another platoon (Kaybar 5). Normal rotation periods were 24 hours. We would either go out on another patrol, or most likely just switch up between CP 8 or CP 9. There were times where Crazy 8 would just go out and do random snap VCPs looking for ordinance and other happenings. I think that’s where we would run into the most shit, although there was the occasional guy stopping off by CP 8 to dig something, in which case a few bursts of the 240 – G go them up and moving right away. Several patrols resulted in arrests and confiscation of ordinance such as weapons, explosives, etc.

Listen to Radio Call 4

About mid-July of our tour, intelligence and other sources in the area had alerted command of a possible “threat to the dam”. The story went that the Muj were going to storm the dam. A butt of many jokes while we sat in our Humvees cleaning weapons and smoking awful Iraqi cigarettes. despite several Muj mortar attacks (a daily occurrence) we were preparing for a full-scale attack. I remember extra caution was taken to where we would park our Humvees during our limited time inside the wire. Instead of going through the main entrance, we ended up having to go all the way around to a back entrance which took us up to the 10th deck. Don’t ask me why the 10th deck is a better place to park Humvees, but whatever that was a long time ago, I’m sure there was a good reason for it, maybe having to do with changing up our routine.

Rotation periods at this point in July were increased to three days on 24 hours off. Marines were getting really edgy. In fact, I remember snapping at people for no apparent reason. “Hey Wojo, you call your old lady?” “Hey shut the hell up man, don’t fuckin’ talk to me!” I remember our radio man getting on our nerves and I remember almost throwing him out of the Humvee.

Kaybar 8 do you copy over?

Kaybar 8 copies just waitin’ here to get some.

Iron Man has no comment on getting some, over. 

[end of transmission]

Listen to Radio Call 5

While on it seemed like endless watches and patrols, one of the things we would overhear were some of what other platoons were doing. For example in this call, I believe (from what I can remember) we were sitting on a watch position just outside of the dam by the large manmade lake where Saddam’s half-brother used to fish. We overheard the call about some insurgents that were hiding out in a nearby building and there was a suspicious looking blue tarp outside in the back yard, which was later confirmed to be hiding a mortar system. One of the guys on a nearby watch position calls in and asks, are you gonna send someone down here to chase these guys? I’m not sure what eventually happened, but I believe they just ended up calling in air on the insurgents.

Listen to Radio Call 6

I think that Call 6 continued the pursuit of the insurgent mortar team in call 5. Crusher 6 and Kaybar 5 coordinate with Bulldog (command) to call in an F-18 airstrike on the nearby Muj mortar team. Kaybar 5 then switches to a different channel to call in air. I think at the time Crazy 8 was not far from the strike so we could see plumes of smoke and explosions coming from just off the horizon. There were several other times where Crazy 8 called in air. One time was just after the death of snipers at an assault on the city of Barwana coordinated with 3/2 (?) where we basically sat inside the city and were calling in targets from across the Euphrates River. One in particular was a team of Insurgents that thought that no one could see them walking just by the river bank with mortar equipment and AKs, but they didn’t stop and look across the river where we were sitting. Gunny Laden and his tank platoon (Tiger 3?) were also there with us, but Crazy 8 marked the targets for air. At that point, fights actually broke out on who was doing firewatch. We later heard that at least 6 dead insurgents were found just across the river in the bushes and in the water.

-Wojo

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A Chronicle of Heroes

A Tribute to [20] Ohio Marines

Did you feel the wave of sympathy

Surging across the Pennsylvania line

And out to you,

The families left behind? 

We know. 

For we saw your boys

Here among ours, 

In our streets jogging

In cars, in shopping malls, 

In our churches, at picnics, 

And High School proms, 

And not too long ago

On the Fourth

As lads on Main Street

Watching soldiers pass, 

And even then they straightened

When the flag unfurled.

We saw them at gates

Embracing parents, wives and families

Grandparents too

And friends who couldn’t let go —

Turning then to leave

Yet looking back

At the ramp,

One last time. 

Twenty, they reported, had fallen —

Snatched from us,  from us now so far. 

We weep with you

For yours are ours. 

Chronicle Index

The Send Off – 2,000 Pack Gym for Send Off; Marines Say Goodbye after Answering Call (1, 2, 3)

Everyday is a Fight for Independence – Sgt. Teddy Wisley, Jr., Maj. Steven White, 1st Sgt. William Sowers, Cpl. Matthew Brooks, Cpl. Jason Ross, LCpl. Brett Dinkelman, LCpl. Matthew Wojtecki, Cpl. Nate Ickes, Sgt. Matthew Bee, LCpl. Daniel Deyarmin (4, 5, 6)

Guardians of Freedom – Akron Based Marines Share Thoughts from Iraq on Holiday, War – Cpl. Billy Lott (7)

Recent Offensive in Iraq Leaves Few Unscathed – Ohio Based Company are Both Physical, Emotional after Operation Killed 9 Marines (8)

Akron Residents Eulogize Marine – Cpl. Michael B. Lindemuth (9, 10)

Officers Say Arms Can’t Win Iraq War – Shiites, Sunnis Must Find Solution to Insurgency, US Commanders Warn (11, 12)

3 Die in Akron Marine Unit – Roadside Bomb Kills 5 US Servicemen in Iraq Ohio in Jan. – LCpl. Thomas Keeling, LCpl. Devon Seymour, Cpl. Brad Squires, Cpl. Dustin Burch, LCpl. Daniel Chavez (13, 14)

Hundreds Honor Slain Middleburg Heights Marine – Cpl. Brad Squires (15, 16)

In Loving Memory – LCpl. Thomas O. Keeling (17, 18, 19, 20)

Ohio Unit Hit Again; 14 Dead (21, 22, 23)

Ohio Marines Killed – Cpl. Jeff Boskovitch (24, 25, 26)

In Memory – LCpl. Daniel “Nate” Deyarmin (27, 28)

United in Mourning – Loved Ones, Strangers, Officials Come Together to Honor 14 Slain Marines (29)

Ohio Marine Laid to Rest – LCpl. Brian Montgomery (30)

Thousand Attend Memorial in Cleveland – Tallmadge Residents Share Family’s Grief  (31)

Ohio City Mourns Saddest Moment – Citizens Pay Respects to Marines who Died in Iraq, Brookpark Mayor, Congressmen say Residents Taking the Tragedy Hard (32, 33)

Marines in Iraq Stay Focused Day After Attack – Grieving Platoon Mourns, Searches Area Houses. [Iraqi] Prime Minister Announces New Security Program (34)

“Our Fallen Heroes” – Monday 8 August 2005, Cleveland IX Center (35, 36, 37)

3/25 Homecoming (38, 39, 40, 41)

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Cigarettes in Iraq

Pulling four on four off fire watches, staying awake all hours of the night or just bullshitting, every Marine has a special memory of making do with some of the shittiest cigarettes in the world. When the smoking lamp was not lit, most Marines throw in a dip; Skoal, Copenhagen or whatever was sent in care packages. One of the most surreal things for me is seeing some of these cigarettes among different small towns of the al-Anbar Province such as East and West Village and the surrounding areas. Whether you liked it or not, everyone was a smoker in Iraq. I suppose it was a relief to some of the stressful situations, such as driving through treacherous IED laden terrain at 0300 hrs with NVGs on. Or, at times when sitting on post, smoking was a way of passing the time, despite what many civilians may think, war is days even weeks of extreme boredom followed by a few minutes of the most stressful traumatic activity where you either survive or do not. It is this very feeling I think was the most stressful, knowing that at any moment you could lose your life.

“Riding the Pine” was an expression we used when we would conduct vehicle check points and find cartons of Pines. We would offer 2 or 3 dollars to the Iraqi’s for the carton. I could not imagine a more tasteless and stale cigarette in my life. Packages of Pines and other cigarettes (most imported from South Korea) claimed to be “American Tasting” such as the ever popular Mikado’s, a knock off of the popular American brand “Marlboro” tasted absolutely nothing like it. You could smoke an entire package of Mikados and it would be like sucking a straw. Our MAP team would roll through a village, attempting to win hearts and minds, and at some point we would pick up a carton of Mikados for two or three dollars. Searching vehicles it seemed like the only English Iraqis seemed to know was, “American Cigarette?”, “Pine, Miami?” followed by of course, “No Ali-baba in Iraq, Shwaya”. If you were really lucky you could get your hands on the more prestigious of brands Craven A‘s which had kind of an unspoken rebellious appeal due maybe to rarity or just because they were slightly better than Mikados. Having not been a heavy smoker, it is safe to say that in order to really appreciate  American cigarettes you have to experience something more awful, Pines or Mikados perhaps. It’s literally like inhaling stale sand with little to no tobacco taste.

One of the larger operations our MAP team participated in, we were assigned to provide over-watch and search vehicles just outside of the city. At this point we had been sitting here for three or four days at least and our supplies were running out. Cigarettes and tobacco were fresh out, followed by MREs and then water. We were becoming pissed off and agitated. After about the third day, our VCP (Vehicle Check Point) was compromised by a white vehicle that did not stop and kept going into our position despite our rules of engagement and multiple warning shots. Finally, we lit up this vehicle with machine gun fire and watched it roll off to the side of the road, the driver lifeless and slouched over the steering wheel. Highers came rushing to our POS along with much-needed supplies. Several of us approached the vehicle and checked the trunk for paraphilia, however all we found was the most awful feminine version of Miami cigarettes simply called “Pleasure Lights”. Grabbing the carton of Pleasures we were able to survive another couple of days until we moved to another nearby village. I suppose that at this point, we were like death row inmates. Why would we care about dying from smoking when there was such a risk that none of us would make it passed tomorrow?

-Wojo

Souvenir Gallery

All photography by Sgt. Daniel Dmytriw, Marine Veteran of Weapons Co. 3/25.

Bayonet

The story is known all to well. A man walks for days in the desert. Tired, exhausted and thirsty he comes to grips with the fact that he may not make it to nourishment alive. Suddenly a river of water appears on the horizon. The man uses the last ounce of energy he has to reach it, but the last hope he has, just within reach does not exist. This is kind of like the feeling that came to mind when our Mobile Assault Platoon (MAP) team traveled to a distant “Oasis” in the desert, a 20-30 square mile stretch of farmland in the middle of an otherwise barren desert of Iraq. It was the third or fourth day of searching the area for weapons and ordinance. The residences there, scarcely spread out over the island like mirage, mostly housed farmers. It is still a wonder how the inhabitants of this area sustain themselves with no other resources in site, aside from wheat fields, sunflowers and the neighboring Euphrates River. Everyone was now bitching up a storm, morale was low, especially among the 03’s who had to hump the entire stretch of land,  leaving no stone unturned and finding numerous weapons caches. The operation know as “Cache Sweep” was dragging on and on; the ability to call home and get a shower just within reach but never making it.

MAP 8’s (or as we liked to call ourselves “Crazy 8”) Humvees stopped next to a small farmer’s house and dismounted the vehicles for a routine sweep for weapons. Only a Marine that has been to Iraq would understand the mentality and demeanor of some Iraqis. It was as if though the guy had thought we were aliens coming to abduct him with our highly technological equipment, body armor, Kevlar and M-16’s. Two kids run out of the house and start approaching the high back where I am sitting. All of a sudden our gunner LCpl Rick Turner starts trying to talk to the kids, “Do you know what a frisbee is? FRISBEE, DO YOU KNOW WHAT THAT IS? Here!” Turner shouts as he looks as his military issued Arabic to English dictionary.

LCpl Turner throws the frisbee and the kids watch it whiz by, absolutely clueless about what it is. There is a strange-looking Iraqi man, probably one of the brothers of the house, who was standing off to the side talking to one of his other brothers. They both were dressed in American cloths. A strange combination of sweat pants with early 90’s flannel shirts. From their body language they looked pissed off that we were there. All of a sudden Cpl. Stalker and others in Crazy 8 walk out of the house with some AK-47 rifles, grenades and other weapons, “Do you need these grenades for sheep herding?!?” Stalker shouts.

One of the items that we confiscated from the farm was this bayonet for an AK-47. I’m not quite sure what these Iraqi farmers were doing with it, but I would have to guess at one point, along with the majority of other Iraqis, were in the military and it was probably something the guy just hung on to. We could only dream of what they needed all this shit for. The guy still had the deer in the headlights look, “Why did you lie to us?” Stalker said in his thick southern accent. The truth was we could have arrested the Muj brothers, but we were so far from our base that it would take days to get these knuckleheads to processing, so we took their weapons including the bayonet and moved on, sweeping the rest of the area for ordinance and finding quite a bit over the next several days.

Today, the Bayonet sits on my shelf. I pull it out every once in a while and feel its dulled blade, smell the sand on it and play around with its pliers the blade and the sheath made designed for cutting concertina wire. A constant reminder to me of that story you always hear of that hopeless man in the desert.

HEDP Round

Shortly after a tank was blown up by an IED outside of Haqlaniyah, MAP 1 was assigned to overwatch positions within range of the crash site. I was assigned to the Humvee next to a mansion which was equipped with a MK-19 automatic grenade launcher. Having just experienced one of the most awful things in my life, witnessing the death of the Marines in a Humvee explosion, I wasn’t exactly feeling very well. I asked the Doc to give me something, anything to get my mind off things. He of course handed me a Motrin and some water. I swear to God my fucking arm could have been blown off and he still would have handed me a Motrin and water.

I was now up for firewatch. I got up into the turret with the MK-19 and PAS 13 (thermal scope). From my position I could see the mansion to the rear of my POS, just to the front was the crashed tank, its hulk still smoldering.  They were saying it was the type of IED to deliver an extra explosive impact due to the fact that the Muj used a combination of PE4 (like C4), oxygen tanks and old artillery rounds. To my 11 o’clock was the abandoned concrete factory that we just got out of hours earlier.

About 30 minutes into my watch, I was doing a routine scan of the area and saw a white Nissan car / truck (I forget which one) approaching. “Shit!” I yelled. The vehicle commander and others ran over after I described the car. Two MAM’s (Military Aged Males) got out of the vehicle and started fucking with the crash site. I suppose they were hoping to steal some shit from the tank in hopes of selling it. We ended up calling it in to battalion and got the go ahead to go hot. “Light um up!” I heard a voice say from the driver’s side. I racked back the MK-19 and got a round into the chamber. “BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM!” The MK-19 fired 4 or 5 rounds in the general direction of the crash site. I kept trying to look for bodies or a crashed vehicle. I don’t think anything was ever confirmed but if I didn’t kill them I sure as hell scared the living shit out of them. One of them got into the vehicle and tried to drive away “BOOM BOOM BOOM” three more rounds. The vehicle started smoking. I picked up one of the empty shell casings,”I’ll keep this to remember”I thought as picked it up and felt it was still hot.

The HEDP round sits in a box with some of my other memorabilia. It is amazing how well you can remember the event just by picking it up, holding it in my hands, reading the writing on the outside of it. Gripping the round extra hard in my hands, I can almost feel the recoil of the MK-19.

Ring Holder

What the hell is this? I thought as I picked up the silver finger welded to the embossed plate. Later I found out it was a ring holder. I imagined what kind of rings were thrown onto the small item maybe near to a large amount of jewelry. Before I took it, it was probably used to hold an Iraqi ring or something similar. I try to imagine what type of person the owner was. Obviously rich and powerful, maybe a woman used it to keep some more important pieces of jewelry. Today it holds my Marine Corps graduation ring. The silver ring holder is tarnished, although I tried to use some silver polish to clean it up a bit a few years back. It looks so out-of-place on my dresser, but its a constant reminder of how different it was over there to say the least.

Brass Plate

One of the items I grabbed when we explored the mansion in Haqlaniyah was a brass plate. I just basically looked around the house for anything that looked valuable and although the house was well picked over, the brass plate stood out to me. What the hell does it say? I wondered as I put it into my cargo pocket. I tried applying some Brasso to it to make it shinier and that seemed to help. Later on that day I showed it to one of the terps (Iraqi interpreters). “Be Patient and Allah will Bless You” he said. Wow, that’s kind of cool, but at the same time kind of ironic. I’m here sitting in this shithole and some plate that I take from some Republican Guard asshole says, Just be patient and you’ll be okay. Okay, it’s a little odd and I think goes along with the whole superstition thing. But, for the rest of the deployment the words rung true. I still keep it as a reminder. Don’t get too worked up about things, keep calm, be patient and God will bless you.

Horseshoe

Shortly before our unit deployed to Iraq in 2005, I kept in touch with a fellow I used to work with from Russia. He used to design security and camera systems during the Soviet Era (I would only guess for the government). The man became good friends with my Dad. They used to hang out in the basement of my parent’s house, sip on Russian Vodka and talk about engineering and technical things above my knowledge level. My Dad ended up recruiting him to assist him at the University where my Dad was a professor. Yurik worked with me at a computer store, where I worked part-time while in high school and my freshman year of college. When Yurik heard of my deployment to Iraq he wanted to come over and have dinner with the family. After a filling meal my Dad, Yurik and I adjourned to the basement where my Dad showed off our proud military family. Portraits of my Uncles and other relatives lined the room. Yurik was truly impressed. He gave my Dad a bottle of Russian Vodka, the kind with the Russian writing on the label, you know, the good stuff.

Yurik reached into his coat pocket and pulled out this horseshoe. He said in a thick Russian accent, “this will bring you luck. Good luck Matthew.” I kept the horseshoe with me, along with other small items as it seemed that the farther into the deployment I got, the more superstitious I became. Don’t take showers after chow, keep your left leg tucked underneath you when you combat drive, keep a rosary with you on the dash, sleep with a bible were among the many odd things that we did that some how attributed to me surviving. Whether it was the horseshoe, the rosary, the St. Michael medallion, pure luck, or coincidence I managed to make it home alive.


-Wojo

FIRAS ABDULLAH

09 June – 11 June 2005 K3 District

I keep thinking what a fucked up couple of days that was. Cpl. Squires, Keeling and Seymour; three great Marines I know did not make it when a fatal IED attack devastated their Humvee. I remember being so incredibly pissed off, having been in that Humvee just minutes before it exploded. I was guarding three detainees we had arrested outside an abandoned concrete factory. I can remember them and they just stared at me, almost as if to say, “hahah they got what they deserved, hahah your next”. It took a lot of self-control and discipline to get through that night. Almost seven years later it’s still pretty fresh in my mind, it scares the shit out of me sometimes, that life is there one minute and the next it’s gone. Today, I think about how unreal it all is.

The Mansion

Shortly after the explosion we escorted the detainees to a nearby mansion at the edge of the city. Things were funny here because there was always one or two gorgeous mansions outside of absolutely terrible living conditions. The story that we got was that the owner was a wealthy republican guardsman that owned the factory here and they used to have parties here for Saddam and other RG. One picture I saw inside the house was a photo of the man sitting by a Hookah with Saddam Hussein. Every few seconds you could get a whiff of the lavender fields in the distance just adjacent to a vineyard. The guy was obviously at one point very loaded, although I also heard that he was killed fighting and his sister inherited this, but had a much more extravagant residence in the green zone in Bagdad. Walking around the house it looked like it had been pretty well looted. All the valuables, jewelry, designer cloths and amenities had been most likely all stolen. I laughed to myself when I went into the bathroom area. Marble floors, very nice silver and brass sinks, a hot tub and then a single “hole” in the ground where the toilet should have been. It just seemed funny to me. The other thing I remember was that one of the infantry companies had been there (Lima Co. I think?) and a bunch of them had been huddled around a large safe. A basket of keys were scattered about on the floor and as everyone lounged around, someone would go up to it and try one of the hundreds of keys that sat there hoping to unlock what we could only guess would be inside. I remember living the good life for a while, a temporary escape from the horrors outside. As we left to go back to our over watch positions I took a number of items, including a strange looking notebook. It was a light reddish color and it was mixed in with other novels, books and torn pages, all in Arabic.

The Notebook

The notebook sits on my bookshelf years later. Yesterday I decided to pull it out and take a look at it. Honestly, it scares the living shit out of me. Take a look at some of the entries. At first, when I found it, it looked more like some Iraqi‘s school notebook with math problems scattered about, some occasional doodles here and there and a couple of pages of practicing how to write your name. But I look at it more in detail —and maybe it’s just my own paranoia— but some of the drawings look like diagrams for how to design bombs and IEDs or at least some educated pieces on how circuits work. If we follow this logic, what other reason would this guy need to draw these types of pictures? Some of them, when I look at them, I think of several of the explosions where mines were strategically placed with metal bars and saw blades to double the explosion power. What if this was the scribbling of a crazy muj asshole? I don’t know, I’m just saying it looks that way to me now that I have pulled this thing out years later. But, having this notebook and not knowing what it means drives me nuts. Maybe eventually I’ll take it to someone who knows how to read this chicken-scratch.

-Wojo

 

Jason Casarez

Casarez Footage: OIF 3 Iraq footage compilation- ’05

A few months ago I was packing up my things to move and I came across a pocket notebook. It was beat up and falling apart. The pages were stained with sweat causing the ink to run. Clearly this was a notebook that accompanied me in Iraq. There were only a few pages worth of recognizable entries. Another one of my failed attempts at a journal…

April 7 2005

  • Met the Commandant & Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps.
  • Shot at a dead sheep (thought it was an IED)
  • Mortars hit our base, landed inside the wire.
  • Searched for the insurgent mortarmen through the palm groves of S. Dam Villiage
  • IED was detonated on our position
  • We detained an oil worker. Seemed innocent. We just wanted to ask more thorough questions with an interpreter. He ended up spilling his guts and telling us that he has worked with insurgents and he himself had placed at least 20 IED’s. Good catch. “Texas good, Iraq no good.”

April 8 2005

  • Went to Al Asad
  • Started patrol late at night. Caught flares at train station village. We stop and scan. Zito and I wonder how many “muj” were watching us. We point as if we can see them watching us. Then we wave hello.

April 20th

  • While in an OP heavy traffic comes over the comm. Red 1 is being engaged. .50 cal fire is heard during transmissions. We rush to their pos. We are met by small arms fire and RPG’s. We return small arms fire as the TOW is prepped.
  • We fire 3 TOW missiles. Small arms fire continues. Cobras and F-18’s are on station. Abrams are called. Tinian is hit by an IED while en route. RPG’s are fired again and land dangerously close. Crazy day. The building we hit with the TOW missiles is on fire.

S/F

-Jason Casarez

Jason Ross

Jason Ross

Almost at the end of our ropes, I remember I was sitting in the first truck of MAP 8 looking out over the barren desert. We were frustrated as all hell; lack of s end of sleep, watch every four hours, and nothing to shoot at. What the F***k were we sitting on this checkpoint for? To keep that stats low? Ross described the ROE procedures to me again, as if I had forgotten or as if he was talking like the whole world would someday hear him, “First we pop a flare and yell at cars to stop, then maybe, occasionally we may fire, if we’re lucky.” Ross’ nickname was, “Spider” and I’m not sure why that was but I’m sure if you saw him you could ask him. Watching the sun set and another day pass by I got up in the gun turret and watched Ross draw in his sketchpad. The drawing read:

I can’t remember anything
Can’t tell if this is true or dream
Tied to machines that make me be
Cut this life from me.

 

 

1,826 Days

Hello, my name is Cpl. Matthew Wojtecki and I am a former US Marine with 3rd Battalion 25th Marines Weapons Company located in Akron, Ohio. My book, Every Other Four is a journal style memoir about my time in the al-Anbar Province Iraq in 2005. Like many, thoughts, photos and scribbles of the war are scattered about in journals and notebooks that many have not had time to finish; now just gathering dust. Fellow Veterans, I hope you will be able to share some of your experiences here in this site, not only those Marines from 3/25 but anyone who has not yet felt the urge to tell someone about their own personal story.

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Semper Fi,

Matthew Wojtecki

 

 

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