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10 Years Later…

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Then…

In 2003, America began its first initial push into Iraq. I remember I was still in college at the time, taking courses at Kent State University for business. Shortly before September 11, 2001, I enlisted in the Marine Corps. Since I was still 17, my parents had to sign an underage waver giving me permission. I remember getting ready for boot camp at the recruiting center in Ravenna, Ohio. I was lucky enough to have a little more than a year to get ready and prior to June 2001 I left right after high school ended and while others were walking across the graduation deck, I was in Paris Island South Carolina getting screamed at by muscular drill instructors who taught me how to survive in combat, breaking me down and then building me back up the Marine Corps. way. The things that stuck out for me at recruit training were the swim qual and of course the Crucible. A lot of people ask me if boot camp was physically demanding, I would say yes but not as much as it is mentally demanding. Imagine 3 drill instructors waking you up at 3am and telling you to carry all of your shit and your bunks and remake them outside in the sand pit, or being told to throw the contents of your footlocker into the middle of the room and mix them up with everyone else and then go find all of your shit before the DI counts to zero. The crucible was three days of no sleep and obstacles along with a 25 mile hike with full gear. I graduated from boot camp and was assigned to 3rd Btn. 25th Marines as an 0341 (Mortarman).

When 9/11 happened, it was just a matter of time before our unit got its orders to be deployed to Iraq. I was trying to finish up college and got until my last semester when we got the call. Prior to that, I was waiting on the edge of my seat for almost 4 long years until they called me, it was very nerve-wracking to say the least. Some days I wished they would just freaking call me up already. So in January 2005, 3/25 was activated and order to go to Iraq. We spent 3 months at 29 Palms in California and then left in March 2005. After my tour in Iraq, in 2006 I wrote and published a journal style memoir about my time in Iraq called Every Other Four and recorded the events that 3/25 Marines experienced day-to-day.

Some Americans wonder whether going to Iraq was worth it and if we are safer since prior to going to Iraq. In my opinion, I think we are safer from a strategic standpoint in that Iraq harbored terrorists including al-Qaeda and mainly the Mujahideen (Arabic: مجاهد‎ muǧāhid, nominative plural مجاهدون muǧāhidūn, oblique plural مجاهدين muǧāhidīn “strugglers” or “people doing jihad”) network joined by mostly disgruntled Bath party members and other radical Muslims. A recent poll was conducted and found that 58% of Americans think that America is now safer having gone into Iraq in 2003 10 years later. Personally, I feel that our units efforts had made a significant difference to our lives and to life in the Middle East. Most significantly, 3/25:

iraq-map_un1996

Map of Iraq

•3/25 secured Syrian Border

• Confirmed Enemy Kills: 125

• Detained and Captured: 39+

• Seized numerous weapons caches containing, IEDs, machine guns, rockets, mortars and various other explosive devices

•Trained Iraqi Army to secure democracy in the region

•Promoted peace and stability in civilian areas

46 Marines and 2 Navy were killed

Now…

It’s been about eight years since our unit got back from Iraq. I have been hearing stories about vets having trouble adjusting to life after their tours like Marine Corps Corporal Jason King (10 Years Later – Marine Corps Corporal Jason King) and Marine Seargent Litz. Cpl. King came back from Iraq, lost his job, house, wife, kid, and basically everything he had before the war. I also had some trouble adjusting and I am currently attending bi-weekly support group meetings called Warriors Journey Home and a Wednesday group at the VA in Akron, Ohio. Some of the problems I had were not being able to stop thinking of what happened while we were there and still even eight years later there are still little things that I notice, like being on guard, black and white thinking, being too passive and blindly following orders. Still, things are better than when I first returned in 2005, I remember driving without my headlines, snapping at people for no reason, irritability, trying to sleep more than 4 hours at a time, feeling numb and isolated. Not that I don’t feel some of this now, but I can say things are getting better just because I have learned how to cope with them. I am grateful to all who still remember our sacrifices in Iraq, to my family and wife Angela Wojtecki and for my Vet brothers for helping me through.

If you are feeling some of these things and are having some trouble adjusting you are not alone. PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is common among many combat vets. In fact, one in five Veterans that came back from Iraq have it.  It’s been on my back for several years now, just keep moving forward and remember to take things one day at a time, do rely too much on self (there are people who want to help you), and talk about things with people you care about, they will understand.

-Cpl. Wojo

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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.

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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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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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

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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