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

The Smoke Pit

The smoke pit is the place business is conducted in the corps. Good or bad, serious or just having a laugh. It usually happens in a Marine smoke pit.

In the Marine Corps, the smoke pit is the place were all the behind the scenes business occurs. Wether it’s back home in garrison, or in a combat zone like Afghanistan. A good majority of Marines smoke, so it makes it not only a convenient location, but a practical one. Smoke pits are strategically placed all around bases at home, and abroad.

After we had been in country a month or so, civilization had started to catch up to us. We went from living in small two man tents. To living in large comfortable, and air conditioned Alaskan shelters. They sent in two full sets of gym equipment, and a tent were we could fight over computers, to get on Facebook, or Skype home. Eventually there were even showers. You might have to walk in cheap shower shoes a half a mile to get to them, but they were there.

We rarely went to these places during the day though. It was either to hot, to crowded, or our family’s would be in bed. So it made sense that these activities were done at night. My engineer unit would stay up until 4 or 5 in the morning, sleep for a few hours. Then get up and work in the morning until it inevitably got to hot. We would sleep during the hottest part of the day, then get up that evening, and finish up our work before enjoying the necessity’s that had found their way to our camp.

For myself and my closest friends. We would work out anywhere from 2 to 4 hours every night. Usually after 2am. The gym and computer tent weren’t jam packed after 2. Unless we had a mission the next day, then this schedule became irrelevant, but the smoke pit is where we would congregate between chores, or whatever else we had going. The place you could always find someone to talk to, relieving the stress’s that inevitably piled up on your shoulders. Or just find someone to talk to when everyone else was asleep or busy.

There were many smoke pits scattered around camp Hansen. We claimed one that was close to our tents. There were a dozen of these giant tents, three wide in perfect rows. On one side of the tents was the inner wall. The inner wall was a giant triangle made of hesco. It was the original base that we had moved into, before the follow on forces arrived, and the base had to be expanded. On the other side was a long mortar shelter that was made of hesco, concrete, and sandbags. In the event the base was under mortar attack, these shelters were your best chance of survival. They ran from one end of the tents to the other.

A small gap used as a quick entrance in the long bunker, also served as the back door to our claimed smoke pit. The pit was about 25 feet in diameter. In the center was a butt can. With a ring around that, made up of improvised chairs. Some were just a simple sandbag on the ground. Others were full on arm chairs made of sandbags. Even better then the sandbag chair, was a chair made out of hog wire and hesco felt. These could be so elaborate that they resembled comfy beach chairs.

My friends and I spent many nights talking about all sorts of things. The “how are we not dead” subject was popular, along with criticizing politicians, or our higher ups. A lot of the time we would reflect on those thoughts that you normally get in the shower. You know! The meaning of life! Stuff like that. There were a lot of nights we would be smoking Pine cigarettes, and watch the sun rise. We had commandeered the Pines from the bazaar, cigarettes were hard to get in country. They were Russian in origin, and very strong. The sunrise in Afghanistan is spectacular, bright reds, purple, yellows, and orange colors were brilliant. The sand and dust in the air always brought the most amazing shows. The night sky is something else too. With there being very little electricity in the country, there are no lights to drown out the stars. Adding to that, the southern provinces see almost no rain, and the sky’s were almost always clear.

Looking back, and reminiscing, really helps me deal with the bad emotional memories. I would go back in an instant. Looking past the death, and dreadful ordeals we found ourselves in. There is always a good memory that trumps it. I have never experienced anything like the comradery that I experienced with my brothers. I regrettably have lost touch with a lot of the guys that shared these experiences with me, but there are still a few that I talk with often if not daily. Its true, that saying.

No better friend, No worst enemy, then a United States Marine.

Okieschaos.com

@okieschaos

Afghan Kids have Jokes Too!

A funny story about Afghan children having some fun at a Marines expense! A small insight into the relationship between the two different cultures.

It was another scorcher in the Helmand river valley. Our patrol left the wire almost an hour ago, and traveled a few clicks (kilometers) down the MSR (Main Supply Route). The mission was to escort a civilian contractor, to a prospective bridge site, which would cross the main canal. The location was only a few of clicks from where we had landed in the middle of the night on helo’s a few months prior.

I was in the last Vic as usual, providing rear security. Brett was in the first, on the .50. Zane, and Abnet were in the trucks between us. My sector of course being the rear, made me somewhat oblivious to the scene behind me. Occasionally I would turn and look back at what was going on. The contractor, along with our Engineer Lieutenant, were standing next to the canal discussing the project. The contractor wore nice clothing, with a flack jacket and black Kevlar helmet. He also had his private security contractor with him.

The contractor was a spectacle in itself. He wore tennis shoes, and a Hawaiian style collared T-shirt, sported kakhi shorts, and Oakley sunglasses. All under his plate carrier and black high-speed Kevlar helmet, complete with a go pro. I guess he had been on the golf course when the mission had popped up. His weapon of choice was a AK with a collapsible stock. He sported a super high speed leg harness. His sidearm was almost down at his knee, I’m sure it was a .40 or .45, but I don’t recall. He walked with confidence, and authority, always on the contractors hip like a puppy seeking approval of his master.

We sat there for what seemed like hours. I’m sure it had only been 15 to 20 minutes, but it was hot sitting in our turrets. There were a dozen or so kids playfully swimming in the canal to my right, and slightly behind me, just out of view. They would holler in their native tongue at us, trying to get our attention. When we would look, they would jump off the bank into the canal. Doing flips, and cannon balls, some of them with an actual talent. Apparently I wasn’t giving them enough attention at one point. So the older boys in the group took action.

When I hadn’t been paying attention for awhile, they decided a more aggressive approach was necessary. One of the boys found a large rock and chucked it at my turret. Hitting the thick armored plating on my right side. Now I had been shot at in these turrets before. They offer great protection all the way around, and rounds hitting the armor made a specific “TING” sound when they hit the armor. Well it just so happens a rock does the same thing, and almost perfectly mimics a rifle round’s sound.

I hastily started searching for where the shot came from. I called over my radio that I had taken a pot-shot. Zane replied that he hadn’t heard the report of a rifle. After searching for awhile, I calmed down, but was still vigilant. A few minutes later it happened again! This time Zane saw the rascals throw the rock at me, letting me know over the radio. Since they had almost made me piss my pants twice now, I decided to return the favor. My turret was electric, and would move really fast with enough pressure on the joy stick.

So I swung it around really fast. When I was pointed in the culprits general direction, I half racked my 240B Medium machine gun. Never locking the bolt to the firing position, just enough to make the sound. The kids faces lit up with surprise, and they began scrambling to run! I laughed along with Zane. Of course I had no intention of firing. I just didn’t want to have the crap scared our of me like that. I’m surprised they weren’t walking on water, the way they ran.

I gently turned my turret back to the rear facing position. The kids walked back with big smiles on their faces, giggling, and talking amongst themselves. I threw them a few bottles of water in good faith. They laughed and went back to swimming. A few minutes later the contractor and his party returned to the Vic’s, and we sped off down the road, and headed for home. Never receiving any “real” contact, we made it home safe.

okieschaos.com

@okieschaos

I would rather be in Afghanistan

How I am learning to challenge negative thoughts. Battling the PTSD symptom of avoidance.

Some days are definitely harder then others. Today has been a rollercoaster. Have you ever heard a veteran say “I would rather be back in “insert foreign place?”

That’s me today, and many days in the past. “I would rather be back in Afghanistan.” There’s a lot of reasons we say these things. There’s stress, but it’s a different kind. You worry about your friends and yourself. Occasionally worry about what’s going on at home. What your significant other is doing.

It was easy to deal with things there, your bills were being taken care of. I saved a ton of money, 1. I was getting paid more, and 2. I wasn’t spending anything for months and 3. It was tax free money! So money wasn’t a worry.

Of course we worried about dying , but it wasn’t that difficult to push it to the back of your mind, and keep rolling on with whatever task you are doing.

This saying is an avoidance. I say it to avoid thinking about what I should be. The stresses that pop up, that I don’t want to confront. So I look for other things to think about. Afghanistan has a strong presence on my mind.

Avoidance is a symptom of PTSD. We avoid things in many ways. We avoid people, places, and things that remind us of a traumatic event or something that puts stress on us. This is a very unhealthy coping mechanism.

I am learning to confront my demons in therapy. Work through the thoughts and come up with a plan of action to take on whatever it is I am worried about. This is he only way to defeat your demons. Avoiding them and letting them build up lead you down a road of depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Which can all lead to me physical illnesses.

Thank you for reading! I hope I can impact your life in a healthy, meaningful way! Please comment, I would love to hear from you! Also, please share this! It may help someone! Most of us hide our mental problems, this could help them if they are struggling.

Okieschaos.wordpress.com

@okieschaos

WillCornell2007@gmail.com

Just a side note! I am working on getting a professional URL, and many other features to come!