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

Finding my Motivation again

I have been lost the last week or so, and I am slowly finding my motivation again.

It has been more and more difficult for me to stay motivated. Depression sets in and it ruins my day. Ive been unmotivated the last week or so, and when I push to get going again I get stuck.

I feel a lot better today. A friend and I went to the Oklahoma Historical Museum in downtown OKC. I went through this museum around a month ago. So there wasn’t much that was new. Accept for one new exhibit that opened. It had 50’s era living, some early wagons and such. It wasn’t as impressive as some of the other experiences that they offer. One of my favorites is the Steamboat exhibit.

The steam boat Heroine is there, or what remains of it. Which isn’t much. The large steel drive shafts, some pieces of the steam engine, and boiler. The boiler was blown apart, and you can see where it gave way and exploded. The boat was traveling up the red river with a load of commodities, headed toward’s fort Townson in southern Oklahoma. It is the oldest steam boat that has been recovered and studied by archeologists.

There is also a exhibit called “Welcome Home- Oklahoman’s and the war in Vietnam. Its a smaller showing, but does have some interesting pieces, including Native American uniforms, testimony from Oklahoma combat Veterans, metals and many other donated pieces from influential Oklahoma Warriors of the era. One thing that stood out was the Huey helicopter simulation. You sit in a seat and have a joy stick, along with a few other buttons that don’t really do much. You fly the helo to a supply drop point, and then have to make it back to the firebase that you left from. Good luck, its tough! I only attempted this first mission, because there were people waiting their turn to have a go. I crashed in a fiery ball and rolled down the side of a mountain when I ran out of fuel.

It was a good outing, and helped to get my mindset back to my mission. I have so many obstacles, that are already apparent to me. I must tell myself what I need to accomplish every day, and work towards it. If I don’t push myself I end up wasting a day and not accomplishing anything.

My last session with my therapist, I told him how I have been down recently, and cant seem to get out of my rut. He told me I should go back and read my own advice on my page. So here I am again! Refreshed and with a full tank. I am ready to start back on my journey. Sometimes we just need to be reminded what we can accomplish and what we have already done.

Okieschaos.com

@okieschaos

Willcornell2007@gmail.com

Getting stuck

Stuck in a rut? Take that first step to get help, and stop beating yourself up. It’s time to give yourself a break. That’s the first step toward improving your situation.

I was so hard on myself for a long time, that I didn’t think I could get help. If the thought popped into my head, I would tell myself I wasn’t good enough. That I wasn’t talented or good in social situations.

So I stayed away from those things and didn’t get help. You have first have a positive outlook, and tell yourself it can be done. I can get better! I can climb out of this dark hole I have been stuck in!

Stuck points are the easy way out. It takes time and energy. You literally have to change your life. Your routine, and the way you think. It won’t come all at once. You have to make small changes first.

I read a article today, it was about a pool of water in the desert that would fill up every so often and heal people, then go away. There was a sick man laying close to the pool.

A man arrived and knowing he other man was sick, he asked “why are you laying there, when the pool will heal you?” And the sick man replied. “I have no one to pick me up and place me in the pool.”

The man that had arrived replied “Get up and walk.” And the sick man rose, and was healed.

The sick man had been telling himself that he couldn’t do it for so long, that he no longer tried. It took the encouragement of another to get him moving.

I think we all get stuck with these thoughts, and need to just “get up” and help ourselves.

Okieschaos.wordpress.com

@okieschaos

WillCornell2007@gmail.com

Combat Trauma’s Effect on the Brain

There are many different kinds of trauma, and most of us experience one, or multiple traumatic events in our live. Trauma in combat can come from hyper vigilance for extended periods of time, or a combat experience. Seeing someone die, mass casualties, mass devastation, ad so much more. There have been numerous studies on the subject, and in recent years it has been a hot topic. Not only in the military, but in sports. The NFL changing its contact policy’s, followed by numerous other organizations.

The brain acts in two basic modes (I understand its very complex), a Learning Brain, and a Survival Brain. A normal learning brain, is learning from the environment and experiences. It tells the body that everything is ok. The brain starts building neurological pathways. These pathways effect everything the body does, and the way the mind thinks. If you grow up in a stable, mainly stress free environment. You are probably able to deal with stresses better then someone who has been dealing it with it constantly. Your pathways try to figure out why you are stressed and work through the problem.

The other mode is survival mode. This is your fight, flight freeze mode. You are constantly stressed because your pathways haven’t been built to deal with stress. They are built to live with it. Your body is always tense, and you push stressful thoughts to the back of your brain. When in this state your body is constantly pushing adrenaline on your brain. With time these things will cause physical ailments. High blood pressure, Anxiety, Depression, ,and a ton more.

Have you ever gotten a massage, and the person performing the work tells you that you are tense, and that you have knots? That’s a sign of stress. Your muscles are constantly flexing. You most likely don’t notice, but they are. That fight, flight, freeze, controls your reactions to events. You can become aggressive, when confronted. Lashing out, or even fighting. Or the brain may tell you to flee. Ever been in a uncomfortable conversation and all you want to do is get out of there? Or in that conversation, your mind just goes blank, and you don’t know what to do? That’s the survival part of the brain working.

You can change the way your brain thinks, believe it or not. You begin by challenging the ideas that are making you stress. If you start feeling stressed stop. Take a breath, and think. Why am I stressed? Or what is bothering me? Are you in a crowded area? Is the area noisy? Is someone reminding you of someone that annoys you? Identify exactly what it is that is stressing you. Then challenge it. Why do I not like crowds? If the answer is something like, I don’t like crowds because it was bad news in a combat zone. Then ask yourself are you still in the combat zone? Are these people dangerous? Maybe. But not as dangerous as the people outside the wire. I most likely have nothing to worry about.

By working through problems in this way, your brain will start to retire those survival pathways. Eventually that switch will flip, and your brain will work in a normal, learning way. What makes humans different from animals? Reason, and emotion. We experience emotion, but you can learn to control those emotions. Start challenging your negative thoughts, when you are stressed, anxious, or any other time you don’t feel normal, and you will start to feel better. More level. If this article was helpful, please leave a like, comment, and don’t forget to follow!

Okieschaos.wordpress.com

Twitter- @okieschaos

E-mail- WillCornell2007@gmail.com

Excerpt from the chapter “First Contact” of the book I am writing

This is an excerpt from the book I am currently writing. It details My experiences with Marines from 3/6 in operation Moshtarak in the 2010 troop surge. We were dropped into the city of Marjah in the early morning hours. Marjah is a large city in the southern Helmand province of Afganistan.

First Contact

The sun was coming up and it was quiet, only the sound of Marines moving around. We were sitting and waiting for what the day would bring. A few hours earlier we had moved a couple of compounds down the road, closer to our objective.

It was a tall walled compound that was inhabited by a small family. It looked like something from a medieval story. Tall walls made of mud and plaster. The color of our desert camouflage, but darker. The walls all had buildings attached to them, almost all the way around the inner perimeter. It hosted a steel gate as its main entrance, and a small wooden door on an adjacent wall. Just off center, in the middle of the scene was a small outbuilding with a thatch roof. It was the donkeys home.

We hadn’t been shot at yet, but could hear other units trading rounds with the Taliban within ear shot. There were Marines on the roofs of the buildings, leaning against the walls, facing out toward the city of Marjah. The Marines on the opposite side were facing endless poppy fields. The same fields we had landed in the night before. Watching and waiting. It must have been about 2 hours after moving from our last pause. (A pause is the last location we were stopped at with security.)

That’s when I heard it for the first time. The “CRACK” of an AK round as it passes by your head. The hair stood up on my neck and arms. My brain went blank for a moment, and I froze. Then it becomes clear, I was being shot at. Anxiety and excitement filled me, and I got the first shot of real adrenaline. Imagine the most amped up you have ever been.. Then increase it by about 1000. It’s a high, and I have craved it ever since.

A Marine on the wall starts yelling a direction and distance, before he squeezed the trigger. The squad leader on the ground jumped into action. Yelling orders, and directing Marines and their fire.

The radio cracked to life, reporting that there was a group of military aged males with weapons heading our way. The squad in an adjacent building was sent out to close with and destroy the enemy fighters. The intensity of incoming fire started picking up. “Crack, Crack, Crack” every few seconds.

A machine gunner on the wall with his SAW (Squad automatic weapon) started engaging, laying down a wall of hate in controlled bursts. The designated marksman were placing accurate shots on target at the same time.

The squad that was sent out called back by radio requesting the mortar team that was in our compound to get in the fight. They had been sitting with us engineers, waiting to do our thing. The excitement shown on their faces is almost indescribable. They lit up and were yelling “get some” and “oohhraaww” and other things us Marines say.

A RPG (Rocket propelled grenade) went over the compound, leaving a white streak. A split second later a second followed it “whooosshhh”, both crashing in a field behind the compound. The mortar team set up their tube. Just the tube, baseplate, and sight. With a marine acting as the bipod.

They dropped a round down the tube, and “bang”. You could watch the round fly upward for what seemed 100s of feet before it disappeared into the sky. Several seconds go by before the boom. The Marines in the field radio back congratulating the mortarman, and told them to fire for affect.

The confidence of the mortar team was obvious to me. Not using a bipod on the first mission of the deployment, and to hit the target was a long stretch. They shouted more “oohhraaahs” and “Semper Gumby’s”, before dropping three more rounds on the Taliban’s heads.

If you enjoyed this piece of my book please let me know! I would love to hear your comments and constructive criticisms. Also please feel free to share with your friends or anyone who would enjoy my writing. My stories are from a very prominent time in my life and it’s therapeutic for me to put them into words. Though it is very hard at times, I really enjoy discussing the things I have been through. So, again. Please Like, Comment, and Share!