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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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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)

Related articles

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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