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“Pete, my vehicle commander, was sitting in the passenger, bitching about the positions of the trucks. One of them, our Saber truck, was positioned next to trees, where its powerful optics could distinguish every detail on a leaf but nothing else. It was useless.”

All the dismounts got out of the trucks. Tom stayed behind with the dog. Single-file, the dismounts headed into the grove, then stopped. They called Tom out of the truck.

“We had higher-ups with us. My lieutenant thought it would be a good idea to have the dog, possibly to make the higher-ups feel more comfortable. I had to walk all the way by myself. I made my way to the front, and we started moving.”

Tom’s dog was happy to be out of the truck. It ran around and ignored commands. The men had moved forward 100 meters or so, when they heard gunshots.

“Our section leader’s reaction was, ‘Those trucks are armored. They have big guns. They can take care of themselves.’ At the time, he didn’t realize that our Saber truck was stuck in a ditch and that Pete was dismounted, trying to help. A few seconds later word came over the radio that someone was hit.”

According to Tom, they took off running in a dead sprint through the grove, which was clearly covered in IEDs.

“When there’s a Marine that is hit, other Marines will do crazy shit. A reinforced squad from Kilo Company even ran over a mile in full battle gear when they heard someone was shot, and it was over 100 degrees out.”

When Tom ran out of the grove, shots were being fired in his direction. He put the dog back in the truck. His lieutenant yelled that their .50-cal truck was low on ammo.

“While I was passing ammo up to the gunner, my lieutenant jumped into the truck. Over the gunfire, I heard him say that Pete was a fallen angel. That was the first I had heard who it was, and that he was already dead.”

Pete was 23. He was married and had a young son. If he had survived, he would’ve gotten out of the Marines a few months after returning from that deployment. Pete died after ordering the Saber truck to switch positions with another truck, but the Saber got stuck in a ditch. He’d walked over to help. That’s when a sniper got him in the face.

“Even though we were in the middle of a firefight, our corpsman ran out to try to save him. That’s why Marines love their corpsmen so much. It was no use, though, because he was probably dead before he hit the ground. The bullet went in under his eye and out through his brain stem. The guys that were trying to keep him alive carried him to our truck. I reached down, grabbed him by his shoulders, and pulled him into the truck.”

When Tom retells the story his voice is steady, but there is frustration in his tone.

“At least that time we had people to shoot back at. When Carl stepped on the IED, we didn’t have anyone to shoot at. That was worse.”

When they took Pete back to base, the medical officer pronounced him dead. All the guys got into formation. They put an American flag over Pete. His body was carried past the men in formation, and they all saluted him. When the Marines on the chopper took the stretcher with Pete’s body, they also saluted. Tom tells me this in a voice heavy with pride.

After Pete’s death, Tom was asked to replace the gunner in the fourth truck. The other guys mentioned that the previous gunner had been keeping his head down while shots were being fired at Pete.

“The other guys were pissed,” says Tom. “I don’t know if the gunner ever figured out the reason why I replaced him, [but] I loved that job. Being a gunner was the best part of my deployment.”

Tom called home and told his dad that Pete had died. “Your mother doesn’t need to know yet,” said Jim. Rita didn’t find out until weeks later.

Even after hearing that Tom had lost a friend, Jim remained calm. But he admits that if something had happened to his son, he would not have handled it well.

“I am just so glad that nothing happened to Tom, because I think it’s a wasted effort over there now. It would be one thing if your son got killed during World War II, but to be killed in Afghanistan, where in maybe a year we’ll pull out and have really accomplished nothing, you would feel like it’s a waste of a life. We shouldn’t even be there.”

Rita wrote President Obama what she terms an angry letter during Tom’s first deployment. “It was after the president agreed to release photos of our guys torturing Iraqi soldiers. He’s our commander-in-chief, and he is going to do something to lower morale amongst the troops and anger the enemy. I was ticked off! I wanted to let him know that as a Marine mom I was angry.”

Don’t ask, don’t tell was repealed while Tom was deployed.

“It didn’t really have an effect on us,” Tom says.

However, Tom does mention that, after it was repealed, a gay Marine was accused of filming another Marine in the shower.

“It was a big deal,” Tom says. “He had to have an NCO [noncommissioned officer] escort with him at all times after that. The reason for this is because people wanted to kick his ass. When the guy figured out he was being filmed, the gay guy hid in a bathroom stall and locked the door. The other Marines were trying to beat him up. He was shunned afterward. He is getting an NJP [non-judicial punishment].”

Tom admits that the rules of engagement while in Afghanistan frustrated him.

“Since they invited us in, the rules are different than they were in Iraq. We have to see them holding a weapon before we are allowed to shoot. We have to be certain that there are no civilians around. If Taliban go into a house with weapons, we can’t go in unless we are invited in. It’s crazy.”

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Javajoe25 March 18, 2012 @ 5:20 p.m.

Oh, Tom will be scanning for IED's for awhile. Then he'll start scanning for some justification for what he went through; something that will show him the lives he saw lost and the lives he took and the risk of his own life was all worth while. But Tom won't find it.

Maybe Tom will become an upstanding citizen and a proud Veteran of the military. Or, maybe Tom will not feel so good about the people that were killed and the puzzling explanations the counselors give him, and just maybe Tom will develop problems. Problems that result in alcoholism or drug abuse or all out mental instability and maybe Tom will decide to kill some more people because he is so upset about what has become apparent to him: he was used. He and a lot of others were used as expendable material on behalf of who-the-hell-knows what. Just like in Iraq, and just like in Vietnam--we were told we had to kill these people; that the communists had to be stopped. This boogie-man or that boogie-man, has got to be stopped or they'll destroy our way of life!

And then you find out that maybe they don't. Maybe the communists aren't so bad after all and in fact, maybe we should just put them on the "Most Favored Nations" trading list and do lots of business with those wonderful folks who we had to kill or be killed by. Because the fact of the matter is, it's all business and poor Tom and thousands like him will be killed and slaughtered and have their lives turned completely upside down, and families will be shattered and children will be fatherless and now, motherless; mothers and fathers will become childless--all in the cause of big business; Big Important Business.

But always under the flag; under the red, white, and blue. It's your patriotic duty, Tom. You've seen the movies. You have to serve; it's the right thing to do. And the benefits are wonderful. Just try not to think about it too much. Try not to remember those faces and those mangled bodies and don't think about the fact that it really was all a bunch of bullshit. And the ones who will really benefit will never be there with you. They're out on their yachts; putting away on the green. There's no mangled bodies on the seventh hole, Tom. That's for you to deal with. That's for vets like you and me to wonder about. What was it all for, Tom? What did they have us do? How could we have been so goddamn stupid?

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SurfPuppy619 March 19, 2012 @ 9:40 p.m.

javajoe, that was intense, if you wrote that you are one of the smartest persons I have ever come across.

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Robert Hagen March 19, 2012 @ 9:43 p.m.

I'm in favor of a quick move out on Afghanistan, and I'm comfortable saying that in view of the many remarks of others.

I don't want to dump the troops, though, and I fear that is what may happen, as the power cores you referenced sweep events out of the public eye.

There are legal issues here too, which have been long belayed, and actually continue to accumulate.

I'm just like you man, I want a soft landing and return to yesteryear, but it doesn't look like the hand that's been dealt, and I don't have anything else going for me, so I say

'Great- we're honestly discussing the situation that be fronts us.'

Maybe the situation resembles the 1960s in the sense that the Feds are clearly worried about people telling them to go f themselves, but it's a lot more fluid and dynamic and prospects exist in 2012.

I'm a proud Democrat, I intend to support Obama to the fullest, and I'm a died in the wool progressive. My thing is really green, sustainable economic environments.

That said, I understand that what's called the war on terror has become something that merits discussion. Real, sincere, honest, non fearful discussion. Maybe we've come to a better place on this. As an American, my bias is to simply bring the boys home where they belong, and then let the chips fall where they may. I'm not an expert, nor privy to the inner workings of what the Pentagon has previously labelled 'the long war'.............

What I've found, JavaJoe25 is that the situation is increasingly complicated, and I want to reverse that trend. Also, I'n happy to be back on Reader web site:)))))))))):))))))) :)

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Javajoe25 March 19, 2012 @ 11:44 p.m.

If you meant that, then thank you Surfpup. I wrote it alright.

Could have written a lot more. Makes me mad to see what is going down. Young (and old) lives being wasted again. These military folks will come home and the magnitude of what they just went through will start to sink in, and that's when it will hit them. Hopefully, they will cope, but if you look at cases like the guy who is up on charges for shooting a bunch of civilians in Afghanistan for no apparent reason, it starts to become clear that this is not 1945 and this is not as clear cut as WWII was.

I also think things have changed a lot since WWII and the young people going over to these war zones now are considerably more sensitive (you could say civilized), in spite of the intense training they go through, and when they experience the insanity that killing others requires, they don't quite get back to being themselves when they come home. It's a weird thing about being in a war; it's very hard to describe because it is like nothing else you've ever known. And it's hard for someone who hasn't gone through it to understand and appreciate what it is like because..well, it's just so far from anything that they might know.

But what bugs me the most about all this is that we are once again left with the question of what is this war being fought for? Bin Laden is dead and most of his crew were from Saudi Arabia--a so-called friendly. Most of the current Taliban are people who signed up because they are pissed at us because we killed friends or family. And we probably killed them by mistake! You have no idea how many people get killed by mistake in a war zone.

It's just a real mess and nothing that can be called a victory in any shape or form is in sight and so we will have to tuck out tails between our legs again and exit as gracelessly as we did in Nam and then pay a couple of hundred billion to clean up the mess and the only people who are going to benefit are the same bastards who make out well with every war: the munitions guys; the contractors; the oil companies and every other bloodsucking pig bastard who could care less if their money comes home soaked in blood. The red can run forever just as long as the green keeps coming home. This is why this country has become such a disgrace in the eyes of so many in this world. We've become a country that apparently can only thrive on death. Isn't that just Jim fricken dandy?

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David Dodd March 20, 2012 @ 1:38 a.m.

I also thought your original comment was well-meant. I don't necessarily see it the same way you do, but I understand. I think the problem is with the politics of war. I don't think there should be any.

My son did two tours in Iraq. I saw it change him. But he's okay, he's the same kid he was before he went in, now he's just 6 years smarter. And he lost pals there. And it sucked.

The worst part was having to try and explain how the Army works to his mother. He's over there in some hellish desert and meanwhile she's reading about soldiers being tried for killing people there. That's what soldiers are trained to do. They are not there to throw picnics. There is no such thing an an innocent person getting killed in a war. They're either all innocent or none of them are.

I'm sure I never was able to explain that point adequately to her.

I don't know much about waging war, I never served. I would have, if there would have been a war, but there wasn't one, Vietnam was over and by the time Iraq happened I was too old. But what I can't understand, and I never will, is why when the U.S. decides to wage war it doesn't really wage war anymore. I would rather them not wage it at all, but if they feel they must, it isn't fair to send our boys and girls into harm's way and make rules about what they can and can't shoot at.

That's not war, it's suicide.

I thought about that every minute my son was over there. I never shared it with his mother. I can't imagine how any parent feels if they lose a child in that situation. I'm glad I didn't lose mine. I don't think I could have found the words to try and explain that to his mother.

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Javajoe25 March 20, 2012 @ 11:21 a.m.

Refried: I hear that. Glad your boy made it home okay. Hopefully, he will be able to just file those memories in the back of his head somewhere. The problems start when they can't. And of course that nagging question of "why?" Why did his buddies die? Why did we have to bomb those people? I think WWII was the last good war, if war can ever be considered good. The objectives were clear; the enemy was clear; all the soldiers wore uniforms. It was a lot easier to tell where things were at.

Now, the justifications are not clear; the enemy is undefined; and there are no permanent front lines or territory taken. When someone who has been through it, gets to thinking about these things, he starts to doubt who we are, and who he is, and what we stand for. Killing another human being is the most inhumane thing we are capable of. And regardless of how much you hate them, you can't help but realize they were probably somebody's boy too. It just goes against every fiber in your being to do such a thing; and it can stay with you.

The military has always been a fine and noble tradition; but those who direct them and those who send them off to fight, may not have such fine and noble intentions. We do have people in this country that will send our men and women off to die simply to improve their business prospects. They're able to file things in the back of their head too. I sometimes think this war business will not stop until it is our warriors themselves who say "enough." Enough with the killing; enough with the dead women and children. There just has to be another way to resolve our differences. I think this is why some countries have military coups, as much as we frown on such things. It's just that politicians can be more deadly than the military--especially when they are controlling them.

America is the greatest country in the world; but we have to get out of this business of death and destruction. We should not be the largest dispensers of arms in the world. We can, and have, lead the world in so many ways. Look at Microsoft; look at the Segway; look at the R&D going on in the medical professions. Surely we can lead when it comes to peaceful coexistence. Having the ability to kill people better than anyone else is not something we should be striving for. We can do so much better.

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Javajoe25 March 20, 2012 @ 4:16 p.m.

Diego, Did not mean to ignore your comments--they are most appreciated. As you said, the situation is complicated...and yes, welcome back.

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Robert Hagen March 27, 2012 @ 1:59 p.m.

Thanks Joe and hi RF G,

Im concerned too about the outworkings of the whole war on terror thing.

I mean Id like to see the boys come home, sooner rather than later.

Thats where Im at on it. I cant change things myself, but I hope to suitably influence public opinion. Im Occupy too.

It may cost me in the short run, but benefit me in the long run. But to be fake about it aa just isnt my style. Ill leave, dont get me wrong, but you know....

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