The Camp Riley Clear (Part One)

Part One of Three. The Camp Riley Clear mission that takes a drastic turn. A dramatic story about Marines in combat, in the southern Helmand city of Marjah. Taking place in the early days of Operation Moshtarak in 2010.

Here we are again, sitting in a briefing for a clear mission. It doesn’t seem like the barrels had cooled from the last engagement. The push ended a week ago. Seven days of heavy combat, gunfights from sun up to sundown. After we had reached our final objectives, and the convoy forces had finally pushed in to meet us. They loaded third squad up, and shipped us over here to Riley, which is Kilo company’s FOB.

We sat around for a few days waiting to receive a mission. Sometimes we would get called up to go sweep for IED’s on scout missions, but those were few and far between. The higher-ups were giving us all a cool down period. It wasn’t a long break, and they already had new plans in the works. Our squad leader had been in the planning briefs for this push, but he hadn’t told us much, just that we needed to have our gear ready to move.

Tonight was the big brief, we listened to the CO and first Sergeant. Each giving a long and drawn out briefing. Most of the company sitting around in a large half circle. Its hard to sit through most of these topics. There is very important information embedded throughout the speech, but there’s a lot of filler added that doesn’t really pertain to everyone. A lot of Marine talk gets mixed in. Like “Let’s get out there and GET SOME,” and those subtle “Rah’s” thrown in. The little one liners usually means they want a response. Generally a “OHHHRAAHH” or a “KILL” was enough to satisfy them. We had gotten pretty good at it over the last year, everyone replying in sync.

The mission was a complicated one. Marines from first squad were to be inserted a few clicks (kilometers) away, and set up blocking positions. Then second, third, and weapons would make a three pronged sweeping movement to clear a large area of ground. The object was to root out some hostile that had remained in this part of the city. Secondary to that we were to do a census on the population located in the grid we were clearing. All of this sounds simple and straight forward. But when you have an operation of this size quickly thrown together, and executed, there is always room for error.

Brett and I couldn’t wait to get back out there. We had spent the last few days making furniture out of hesco for our own little pow-wow circle. Some pretty elaborate pieces of crap. Jason also excelled at the art. Our squad leader had told us to stop horsing around many times, but we would usually continue when he would disappear. There was nothing else better to do, and we had just conquered a hostile city! It was time to do what Marines do best when not killing things. We horse ass around, and see who can come up with the funniest joke. Usually at the higher-ups or each other’s expense.

After the brief was over we made our way back to our sleeping area. Our squad leader briefed us on the details of our engineer specific duties. It was always the same for us. Provide IED detection support. Which was fancy for saying, “Swing a metal detector out in front of the infantry.” We did have some other interesting job requirements, like carry all the demolition we could get our hands on. Breaching was our specialty. Need a big hole in a wall? A door removed from its hinges? You could always count on us to blow something up!

SGT B. Finished the brief, and we all sat around and talked for a bit before hitting the rack. Revile was at 0500, we all got up and around. Went through our normal morning routines, hygiene, bathroom, and ate some chow. Then it was time to grab our gear, and head over toward the ECP (entry control point), and form up to move out on our mission.

Leaving the protection of the FOB, we immediately took a left turn, and ventured out into an unexplored part of the city. Using a fairly smooth, and traveled road, we marched in a split column. A line on each side of the road, each Marine staggered with fifteen meters of dispersion between each other. Each compound that we came too, was cleared, searched, and then a population survey was completed. Each persons name was entered into a handheld retinal scanner. It was a quick census of the local population.

We repeated this process over and over and over. After four hours of clearing, we came to a compound that was in disrepair. The walls were crumbling, there were no plants growing in the garden. Inside the compound’s run down living quarters were two military age males, both were high as kites, and couldn’t comprehend simple commands from the interpreter.

As I cleared the back room, I found bricks, and bricks of opium, and marijuana. I don’t know the dollar value, but I’m sure it was in the millions. I noticed a bag that looked as if it were deliberately hidden, under a pile of Urea fertilizer. It was a large leather duffle bag. I inspected the outside, looking for wires, or anything else out of the ordinary. Sometimes these things were booby trapped. As I started to unzip the bag, paper started to burst out of the no open seam. I got excited! It was cold hard American cash. Hundreds of thousands of dollars!

I had so many questions! I brought the bag outside, and showed my SGT. He was also amazed at the sum. It wasn’t uncommon to find American money here. This was unordinary though, so much money in this run down Afghan home. The men wouldn’t tell us where it had come from, so we confiscated it to be handed over to the proper department at a later date. The two men were detained, and would be questioned further later. A fire-team of Marines was left behind to guard the detainees until we came back later, and linked up.

We pushed forward, continuing our task in the extreme heat. I was on point again, and as we left the compound the surrounding area opened up into flat, open desert. About 500 meters to the next compound, with a large canal splitting the whole area in half. I called out the open area, and was told to push on. The road was hard packed, and there were no signs of any recent disturbances to the soil. My pace was faster then normal for that very reason. I made it to the canal, and had just crossed it when CRACK.. CRACK. CRACK.. The air around me exploded with hot lead. Dust rose from the ground as rounds crashed all around my feet. I froze for a split second, then hit the deck! There was no cover. I mean not even a blade of grass. My SGT was to my left behind a small pile of dirt. I got up and sprinted as fast as my legs would carry me.

Diving down behind the dirt pile. Screaming at my SGT. “Where are they?” “Who’s shooting?” He replied with a hurried “I Don’t f*cking know!!” We got down as best we could. The dirt pile was a foot high, and about three feet wide. Just enough to get a small barrier between us, and the incoming rounds. I looked back over my shoulder to see where everyone else had ended up. LCPL Diaz was laying halfway in the water of the canal along with several other Marines. The back half of the column was still back at the last compound, behind those mud walls that are a foot thick. They were doing what they could though, returning fire, and calling in for support.

SGT B and I began firing at anything that could hide the enemy, murder holes, and the brush that we could see. There was no definite sign of the enemy. No dust from a muzzle, no muzzle flashes, no nothing. Just the constant barrage of incoming rounds. I still had my day pack on, it was loaded with half a satchel of C-4, and det-cord. Along with an MRE, water, and a couple of extra magazines. A round hit my pack, I yelled to my SGT telling him something hit me. He did a quick triage to make sure I wasn’t wounded. In a firefight, you cant always tell if you are hit. There’s so much adrenaline pumping that it masks the pain. I hadn’t been wounded, just shot up a bit. Then another round hit my pack. I screamed “THIS IS BULLSHIT!!” While firing rounds into possible enemy locations.

Let me know what you think of “Part One” of this three part story! This has been a tougher one for me to write about, and I always appreciate the support. I will be publishing “Part 2” in the next couple of days!

Okieschaos.com
@okieschaos
WillCornell2007@gmail.com

Happiness

What is happiness? I explain why I don’t think I have ever been truly happy. Let me know what you think it means, and how you have achieved the feeling.

I payed down last night around 11pm, and my mind raced. I thought about my past, and all the things I had accomplished, and all the failure that I have endured. If I was to make a list, it seems they would be even. An even list of the negatives, and positives that I have experienced. I eventually thought about what true happiness was. Had I ever really experienced it? Is it just a perception that we as people label events that we experience? Is it just a fleeting feeling that we have in the moment?

I’m sure it can be all of these things and more. I know I have experienced happy moments in my life. My son being born, and spending time with him. Watching my siblings achieve greatness on many levels. Moments with the person I loved intimately. I think a lot of people tie happiness to pleasure, and yes it probably is associated in one way or another. When does a person achieve true happiness in their day to day life though?

Ive thought about it most of the day today, even as I sit here in the VA chow hall. Are these people around me happy? Not just today, or right now. I guess what I’m getting at is that I don’t know what truly being happy is, or means. I don’t know that I have ever been happy for more then a moment or day. My life has taken so many drastic turns that it is hard to pinpoint a time I was happy longer then a day or two.

I hope one day I will know that I am a happy person, living life, and actually enjoying it. That time is not now. I am getting better in many ways mentally. Finding out more about myself and who I am. I’m not sure I will ever get there or even be able to comprehend what that would feel like. All I can do is try my best. I do know one thing, I want the people I care about to be happy, and experience the world in a pleasurable, meaningful, and happy way.

Tell me what you think happiness means. How do you personally achieve happiness in your daily life? I would surely like to know.

Okieschaos.com

@okieschaos

WillCornell2007@gmail.com

The Female Army Officer

A female Army Officer give a couple Marines a show in this funny tale from Afghanistan.

It was just another extremely hot and arid day in the Afghan desert. Well over 115 degrees. Most of our platoon were in the tents cooling off. Brett and I had stayed at the engineer area we named Yazzie’s Yard, after LCPL Yazzie. He was the only member of our platoon killed throughout our deployment. Shot by a sniper on the second day of the push, while providing cover fire for the engineers installing an expedient foot bridge across a large canal. So in his honor we named our area after him.

We shared our area with supply, but they kept mostly to themselves, unless we were hosting a poker game in the middle of the night. They had a small tent in the corner, and the entire battalions supply would pass through this little corner of our yard. There were twenty or more pallets of different items essential to keep us in Afghanistan spread out in front of the tent. Our CP (command post) was in a corner across the big yard, sharing the same base wall. The hesco wall made a big rectangle around the area, with a large opening to get our vehicles in and out, and a small opening on an adjacent wall, that acted as a shortcut for us to get to our tents. Next to this “shortcut” entrance were five PVC tubes that stuck out of the ground about three feet high, and at a 30 degree angle.

These were our own private “piss tubes” that we had installed, so that we didn’t have to venture all the way to the other side of the camp to take a leak. The smell of over-bearing ammonia always present, and closer you ventured to them, the more potent the horrible smell got. Especially on hot days, getting so bad it would make your eyes water. They were installed in the first days of the camp, and went down about 10 feet into the hard Afghan soil. There was a foot of gravel at the bottom, the rest was filled in with dirt. The ground was so hard at the bottom of the hole, that the urine wouldn’t absorb into the soil. It basically just sat there in the hole, with the tubes acting as perfect vents to the outside air.

Anyway, an army convoy pulled into the base to refuel. This was a somewhat common occurrence. They wouldn’t stay long, just long enough to fuel up, and be on their way. Their vehicles were had some great additions, that we would never acquire. They sported RPG cages, that went all the way around. You see, an RPG’s fuse is right at the tip of the rocket. So when it hit the cage, and explodes. The blast is a good distance from the vehicle, and has a large area to dissipate, making damage minimal.

The trucks also sported automatic 50 Cal turrets. So instead of having a soldier in the turret, they were controlling the gun from inside the vehicle, on a small handheld screen. Absolute protection, compared to us Marines that manned our turrets, and the only protection we had was the armor of our vehicles. All of this comes down to budget, the Army has a huge budget, and can spend money on these things. Marine budget comes from the Navy, and is much smaller. We get a lot of hand-me-downs from the other branches.

The soldiers would generally hang out around their vehicles while they were fueled. They were returning to one of the large bases with a store, where they could buy just about anything. Monster energy drinks, TV’s, Xbox’s, candy, and whatever else they fancied. So they didn’t have much of a reason to explore our tiny, primitively base. The only time they would leave their vehicles was to use the bathroom.

Well the convoy commander was a female Lieutenant, and she needed went looking for a bathroom, and ours was closest. She must have seen the tubes when they pulled in, they weren’t visible from anywhere else. So she walked over in her full gear, and I know she saw us. Two marines standing there watching her walk over. A female was a rare sight for us out in the middle of the Afghan desert. She walked right over to the tubes, right in front of us. Pulled down her pants, almost to her knees, hiked up her leg, and let go. Now we were 20 yards from her staring. She didn’t pay us any mind, she just did her thing. I’m sure our jaws were in the sand, standing there not saying a word. We never saw any of her private parts, she was facing away from us.

She finished up, pulled up her pants, while she turned to look at us. She smiled at us, and winked! Brett and I almost hit the ground we laughed so hard. She just shook her head with a big grin and walked back to her vehicle. They soon finished refueling, and headed back out of the wire. Brett and I laughed and joked about what we had just experienced. Telling all the guys our story back at the tent later that evening. Most of them didn’t believe us. Now I know, I know. None of this is a big deal, I just thought it was a funny story to tell you guys. How Marines think when we don’t see a female for months at a time, then this female Officer does that in front of us. It was a big deal to us back then.

I hope you enjoyed our shenanigans, and thank you to that female Army Officer for brightening a couple Marines day. The small things are what kept us going. Do you have any funny stories like this? Let us know in the comments! We would love to hear about your experiences!

okieschaos.com

@okieschaos

WillCornell2007@gmail.com