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 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

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

Old Man River Attacks the Hill

A short story about my friend Jason, on our tour in Afghanistan. Jason charges a hill while a friendly base is being attacked. We all thanked the Lord when he returned. I hope you enjoy, please let me know what you think.

It was another scorcher in the Afghan desert. Well north of 110 degrees this afternoon. So we were all in our air conditioned Alaskan shelters to escape the heat of the day. Dirty, filthy, tired, we were all lazily laying around in our racks. Brett and I had been working on a carpentry project for some of the brass in the CP (Command Post). The two of us would keep busy on the mornings we didn’t have another mission. Usually by building desks or bookshelves. It was our way to pass the time. Working until the heat was unbearable.

Just a normal day for us, evading the heat and upper management. Brett and I were always the first to volunteer for almost any assignment. Accept when it was that hot. So we relaxed and had a movie going on one of our laptops. The other marines in our tent were doing the same. Some were sleeping, others were going over gear or reading dirty magazines. Two of the four squad leaders, who were all sergeants, slept by the door. I was about halfway down on the same side.

Laying there. Half naked, and half asleep. I had my PT shorts on, watching the movie. Then I heard it. The sound of the Sergeant Major yelling. Over and over. “STAND TO! STAND TO! STAND TO!”. This was a pretty common occurrence for us. Each unit had a specific spot to defend the FOB if we were to be attacked. Sometimes it was just a drill. If it was “for real”, it was usually an IED blast that was close, or a pot shot or two.

Brett Surles (Right) Jason Shriner (Center) Bobby Stone (Right)

This time was different. An extremely small Patrol Base that watched the main supply route to India company was under a heavy barrage of small arms fire. We where about four clicks up the road from them. Separated by a large hill with a radio tower on top. The hill was an oddity being the only measurable elevation in sight. It stuck out in the landscape. They were being hit with AK and RPG fire.

In the tents we figured this was just another drill. You know. To inconvenience us lower ranking Marines. I looked over at my squad leader and he hadn’t moved. So I followed his lead. We sat there for about 3 minutes, and the door busted open! Our platoon Sergeant pushed the door open with a crash and started yelling at us to “GET OUR ASSES UP” and “STAND TOO, MEANS YOU STAND TOO MARINES!” I felt like I was in boot camp again. The way he was coming at us. He had a T-Shirt, and shorts on, boots untucked, and had his gear to top off the outfit.

Now i’ll admit I was still moving slow for about the first 30 seconds. I lazily started putting on my pants. Putting them on as he got in my face and yelled “FORGET THAT SHIT! GET YOUR GEAR AND GET OUT THERE!” So I threw on my gear and boots, grabbed my weapon and ran out the door. Marines filing out of the tents in a unorganized gaggle. Half dressed and getting excited now. I could hear the brewing fire fight a few clicks out. I passed a civilian reporter, he yelled “GET SOME MARINES!” That got me going! We hadn’t had a good fight in a month or more.

We ran over behind BAS (Battalion Aid Station), and onto the berm that surrounded the base. Facing out into the dessert. Ready to take on the hoards of the Taliban should they attempt it. That’s when I got that twisted, butterfly feeling in my stomach. It usually comes before a fight. Maybe it was because I hadn’t been in a fight in over a month, I don’t know. I was ready none the less. Sitting there, the feeling starts to go away, and slowest turns into that “this is BS” mentality.

The Firebase called in an air strike over the radio. The jet on station was an A-10 Warthog. It came in low and dropped flares over the enemy first. The Angel formation of the smoke left behind is pretty spectacular. Normally it is enough to strike fear into the screaming fanatics. This time the enemy kept on shooting. The jet was called back, only this time he wasn’t shooting flares. First I heard the engine of the jet come in and then BBBRRRRRRRRRRRRTTT—- BRRRRTTTTT—BRRRTTTT. That’s the sound of the Gatling gun that sits in the nose of the plane, laying hate to the enemy, and chewing up anything the exploding rounds reach.

That got them! Losing their will to fight, the cowards didn’t fire another round. The Sergeant Major called out for all Marines to Stand-Down. I got up and went over to the huddle of engineers that was forming a few meters away. Our squad leader began counting us, so that he could report we where all accounted for. Soon realizing Lance Corporal Jason Shriner wasn’t among us. He sent Brett to the tent in a hurry, to see if he was there. Brett returned after a few minutes and reported that Jason wasn’t there. A few minutes went by with panic brewing. Our squad leader was about to radio in that we had misplaced one of our Marines. Which would be very bad.

When with a giant Shriner smile, He comes trotting up to our now organized formation. Our squad leader yelled “SHRINER, FALL IN!! Then commenced to laying in to the 5’6” skinny Lance Corporal. Asking him where he had been, and why he wasn’t at our boring, but designated spot. Of course his version was much more colorful and lacked the word boring. Jason, now in formation and standing at attention replied “there were some guys running to take the hill! I thought we were attacking so I went with them!” The sergeant just looked at him with a blank stare, reaching for the words to destroy this perplexed Marine. After several seconds of staring, the Sergeant relented. He then gave the command for us to fall out. With that, we all returned to our tents. Asking Jason about his adventure as we walked.

Jason had fearlessly charged the hill with almost no support, looking for a fight! If that doesn’t describe the courage he possessed, then nothing will. Looking back, it could have been a complex disaster, but Jason was alive with a great story to tell. He would have stepped in front of a bullet for any one of us. The higher ups didn’t reprimand him. They just explained why he should have been with us. Realizing they to were at fault for not properly explaining the details.

Jason Shriner (Left) Jason's Brother (Right)

It makes me smile to think back on the work we did. Jason Shriner was one of my closest friends I made while in the Marines. He was 6 years older then me. He claimed the name “Old Man River”. Wearing the title proudly, complete with a tattoo in Japanese on his back. He was a character, and always had a smile on his face. Always projecting positive vibes, even when the situation sucked. Jason battled PTSD and took his own life fall of 2016. Myself and a dozen other Marines flew in to Phoenix, Arizona to attend a service, and spend time with his family.

In memory of Corporal Jason Shriner.

February 20, 1982 – October 17, 2016

I know I will see you when I get to heaven. Guarding its streets with a warm smile.

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