How I Became Anti-War

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I decided I would start telling my full story. This Rage Against the War Machine rally being hosted by the People’s Part and the Libertarian Party set me off because of the pro-war elements they included in their line-up. I feel that in order for war to be stopped, it must be condemned no matter who started it and we must work together across the globe to bring a world of peace. Unfortunately, I have war stories. It is my goal that no one else will have to bring those stories home, told or bottled up.

In 2020, I started doing a couple videos talking about my experiences in Iraq. I was using the hashtag #NoMoreWarStories to try to bring attention to the atrocities of war. One of the ways that we have to speak is from experience. We have to put the human face on war, so people understand that it isn’t something that just happens far away, it is brought home by the people you know and love. We need to listen to the people who have been and are willing to tell their stories with the goal to end more coming forward.

Before I begin, I will be forthright: I am no hero. Anything done was done simply so that I could come home and to protect the men to my left and right. I do not have any medals for heroism, and I refused to apply to get a Purple Heart when the rules changed for IED (Improvised Explosive Device) blasts that give a traumatic brain injury. I was an average Marine. I did my job to the best of my ability. I was good at my job, and I followed most orders. The orders I refused to follow were the ones that could get my guys killed.

Aside from the names of the dead, which are public knowledge, I will not be giving the names of those I served with, since they have not volunteered to participate in what I am writing today. These views are my own and may not necessarily reflect what others may feel about our deployments.

September 11th, 2001

To begin, we must go back over 20 years to the past. I was almost 17 years old when the Pentagon and World Trade Center were attacked. It’s a day I will never forget. This was the day that I decided I would be joining the military. While I had considered the possibility during high school, like many, I was more concerned about dating cute girls, hanging out with friends, and being a reckless teenager convinced they knew everything. When those planes struck, everything changed.

I was angry. Seeing innocent people dying, choosing to jump from the inferno rather than burn to death. I wanted payback.

After school, I didn’t go immediately home. I went to one of my favorite spots on a mountain trail to think. I was on track to get an ROTC scholarship and had been offered to get meetings with my congressman to be submitted as a possible candidate to go to one the the military academies so that I could be an officer in the military. However, either of those options would put me four years away and I felt the need to do something now. After a few hours of contemplation, I was ready to speak to my mom and dad.

That evening, I spoke with them about joining the military. At 17 years old, your parents are able to sign permission for you to enlist, and I would be 17 the next month. I told them how I felt that someone has to do something and that it can’t always be someone else. That I was compelled to do this so that I could make the world a safer place.

Like most parents, they were concerned. No one wants their child to go to war and that is exactly where I would be going. They asked me to wait and consider. So, I did. I waited, but I gave my case to them almost daily on new information I found, new arguments to present, and information that had been provided to me by recruiters, specifically the Marine Corps. I had been regularly speaking with the recruiters in my area, because I was dead set on joining.

In late June of 2002, after having waited almost a year, my dad took me out on a raft while on an annual trip to Bear Lake. He told me that my mother and he had decided that they would sign my papers. They could tell that I was doing this for the right reasons and wasn’t being a reckless idiot for once. He told me that out of the adult-like decisions I had made as a teenager, this was one that he and my mom were proud of.

Before Deployment

I am fast forwarding through all the medical screening, recruiting paperwork, boot camp, and infantry school training, because there isn’t much to tell. My story in that realm is nothing unique. I was able to pass all the requirements, wasn’t the best or an honor graduate, just did my training and learned to become a fighting Marine as a machine gunner.

The war in Iraq had started just before I went to recruit training, so we were constantly told that most of us, especially the infantry guys, would see combat. This mentality continued in infantry school. They weren’t going to bullshit us about what we would be facing. So, we took our training seriously.

When I graduated infantry school, we were picked up by the Company 1st Sergeant for where we were assigned. His first words when greeting us were that the unit we were assigned, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, had been given orders to head to Iraq to assist with the security and stability operations of the country. We graduated in late November and would have until January to train and get to know the men in our unit. We would be in Iraq in February.

I was assigned initially to the CAAT (Combined Anti Armor Team) Platoon as a machine gunner in Weapons Company for 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines. Training was intense, because we knew we would be in the war within three months’ time. There wasn’t a lot of time to get up to speed for the counter insurgency operations we would face. There were no longer tanks to fight, so we would be operating as a motorized infantry unit using our Humvees.

Room Clearing Training (CQB) at March AFB

After a whirlwind of training, we began the final paperwork before we were to deploy. At 19 years old, I was filling out a will, designating where my life insurance would go, and where I wanted to be buried if I died. Reality was starting to set in for me. In just a couple weeks, I would be in a foreign country where people would try to kill me and in order to not have that payout go to my parents, I would need to kill them first.

Our leadership didn’t blow smoke up our asses. Many of the senior enlisted guys had been to war before during Desert Storm. We also had some Marines that volunteered to deploy with us that had been a part of the invasion in 2003. They told us that we needed to prepare that some of us would die. To ensure that we would kill the people we would be facing, we watched hours of beheading videos. We were told that if we were captured, we would be “Al Jazeera Superstars.”

Beyond watching the violence during our training, more dehumanization of the people we would face was going on. We referred to them as sand niggers, camel jockies, desert rats, goat fuckers, and many other names. The reason they do this is that it is easier to kill when it is put in your head that the people you fight are not quite human. That they are lesser than you. It is something I regret participating in, because I would eventually see their humanity once I was in their country.

The First Deployment

On February 14, 2004, my unit landed in Kuwait to begin our acclimating to the Middle East. We would stay at Camp Victory for about two weeks before driving to Al Assad Air Base where we would operate from. During this time, it was mostly physical fitness. Just before we arrived, I had been switched platoons to be a part of the Mortar Platoon, since they needed machine gunners to watch their backs. So, a large part of what I was doing was to try to get to know the people I was going to be working with.

We did gear checks constantly, morning PT every day, and went over our training for how we would respond to enemy contact situations. It was during this time, I was advanced in rank to Lance Corporal

Pushing through the berms into Iraq where the invasion had taken place was surreal. Less than one year prior, coalition forces began their push in to take on the Iraqi Army, and here I was following the same road. We had Apache helicopters escorting our battalion’s convoy, as well as LAV’s (light armored vehicles) screening our flanks. In all the wisdom of the military, they had determined that each of us would only be issued enough ammunition for three magazines for those with an M1 and one drum of 100 rounds for those carrying the M249 SAW.

It was within a few hours riding in the back of the Humvee, I witnessed the first short battle I would see on this deployment. From the distance, it appeared that one of the LAV25s was ambushed by small arms fire. I will never forget hearing the machine guns start firing back and the 25-millimeter canon start plugging at targets. It was official: I knew I was in a warzone.

The remainder of our travel up the main highway was mostly without incident. Mostly, it was boring. However, I had to correct myself of that thought because I knew that I only had a few dozen rounds if we actually weren’t bored. We rounded some rock formations and came across the first town within our assigned Area of Operations, the city of Al Hit. It stunk of rotten eggs, as I would later find out there was a sulfur plant in the industrial area. Lot’s of people came out of their homes to view these strange men in giant trucks drive by. We had been informed that most of the area was considered “unexplored” by US forces, so aside from when the base was taken, there had been little to no military interaction. We would quite literally be the first to begin security and stability operations in the area.

We had no idea where most of the troops had disappeared once coalitions forces took over the base. It was assumed that many just blended back into the population. We were briefed that there was a great likelihood that these units were still operational and mounting possible insurgency fighting to defend their country. So, we kept our eyes open as we passed by a whole lot of waving kids, adults watching us apprehensively.

Once we arrived at the old Iraqi Air base, passing by old Migs that had been blown up by American pilots, were given our assignments for bunking, then learned what our jobs would be. My platoon was going to be rotating squads through the QRF (Quick Reaction Force), Battalion Call, and patrol. Battalion Call just basically meant we would be there to do escorts to Forward Operating Bases, take EOD our to investigate possible weapons caches, etc.

81 mm Mortar Platoon.2nd BN/7th MAR WPNS Co. March 2004

First Deployment: First Contact

After a week of Battalion Call, then a week on QRF without incident, we started another cycle on Battalion Call. It wasn’t long before we had our first mission. Echo Company had found a possible IED (Improvised Explosive Device) and we would need to escort out EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal) to investigate, and if a bomb, disable it. This was our first time for this, but it seemed pretty straightforward. Escort them to the bomb, bomb goes boom after they blow it up, we provide security while they work. We’d already heard that the other squads did just fine.

We drove out the gate and got down just outside of al Hit with EOD and met up with the Echo Company patrol for them to show EOD where they suspected the bomb. My squad set up a perimeter and blocking traffic so the device, if found, could be safely detonated. I was in the fourth truck, so we were stopping traffic on our end. We regularly switched who went in the turret, except for QRF, so this time I was on foot.

From the previous week, we had all gotten pretty used to the deal. EOD would go out, if there was a bomb they would rig it, then give a shout over the comms before blowing. As we were waiting, traffic wasn’t building up, so it seemed like it would be a pretty easy mission, no irritated drivers trying to tell us they lived “just over there.” EOD came over comms and let us know that there was an IED present and would need to blow it.

After about five minutes, without warning, two large BOOMs were heard, the shockwave hitting a bit. I was thinking what everyone was: “where the hell was fire in the hole?” About three seconds later I hear “INCOMING!” called out, followed by more explosions. We were under a mortar attack.

I dove into a ditch near the side of the road, my truck’s gunner jumping out of the turret to the other side, and all we could do was try to make ourselves small and become one with the dirt. My heart felt like it was in my throat and time seemed to slow down. I could hear lots of yelling in between explosions. I did my best to peek out because this was accurate mortar fire, bracketing our squad and Echo Company’s, which told me that whoever was attacking us had a forward observer. I didn’t see anything.

Then, as if nothing, the mortars stopped. It was almost too silent. We remained in position, wondering if there was going to be small arms fire. All of us gripping for the possibility of our first firefight. Nothing came, but we were wide awake to the possibility that there were people out there who wanted us dead.

Miraculously, no one was seriously injured. It wouldn’t stay that way long.

First Deployment: The First KIA

On March 19th, 2004, our battalion was hit with its first death. Corporal David Vicente, from Massachusetts, was killed in a mine strike while patrolling in a Humvee outside of Al Hit. My squad was still on Battalion Call.

We rolled out the gate to assist in securing the site, as well as to recover Corporal Vicente’s body. Since my vehicle had the Corpsman, that meant we would be up close with the young man who had just passed away. As we loaded the 25-year-old into the body bag and into the back of our Humvee, things were starting to become very real for me: more people are going to die. We had only been in country for a couple weeks and the insurgents suspected to be in the area had begun to test our capabilities, resulting in several wounded and now a KIA.

When we got back to base, our vehicle traveled on to the morgue so that David could be returned home. It was hard not to think what his mother or father would be thinking getting the notification of their son’s death. As I assisted in getting his body onto the gurney, wrapped in the nylon bag, I whispered under my breath a “Semper Fi brother,” placed my hand where his head was, and the techs from the morgue wheeled him away.

The First Deployment: April Fool’s

April 1st, 2004 would bring the first person I knew well to pass away and another person seriously injured. Private First Class Dustin “Dusty” Sekula was killed in action during a firefight in an ambush while his squad was escorting EOD to a possible IED site. While we were both in the same platoon, it was his squad’s turn on Battalion Call. Before they left on the mission, I remember having told him and some of the other guys I would see them when they got back.

I personally didn’t witness what happened, since it was one of the other squads, but I wanted to tell you what my friends told me happened, so you understand the kind of person Dustin was.

When the ambush started, the driver of the vehicle Dustin was in took a bullet through his arm. Sekula, knowing that the truck was in the kill zone, began to return fire from the back of the Humvee. Due to the flash from his barrel, the gunmen shooting at our sister squad began targeting Dustin and hit him, knocking him into the Humvee. Dustin, knowing that the other men needed to dismount and get to cover, rather than staying down after being shot, stood back up and drew fire from those in the ambush position. The next burst found its mark, shooting him through the head and killing him.

Due to those split seconds Dustin provided, the rest of the truck was able to dismount, find cover, and coordinate in a counterattack. He saved their lives.

My friend was 18 years old when he was killed that day, ignoring his wounds and saving others. The young rancher from Texas, who was probably the nicest person you could ever meet, was gone. I will never forget how religious he was, and I couldn’t understand how someone so faithful could be taken like that. He honestly was probably the best of us out there in Iraq.

Our whole platoon was shaken with the news. It was like a really bad joke. Lance Corporal “C” also being shot took two of our guys out of the fight. We were frustrated and angry.

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