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There were many explosions from IEDs but far less enemy fire on his first deployment.

“We got used to the explosions. As soon as one went off, we’d say, ‘There goes another one.’”

In October 2011, Tom returned from his final deployment. That time, he was gone just over seven months.

He says that one of the worst aspects of his last deployment was being responsible for a dog. He had been volun-told (military-speak for being ordered to do something) to be a dog handler. Prior to leaving for Afghanistan, he was flown from his base at Twentynine Palms to South Carolina to train with a black Labrador for five weeks.

“At first, I thought it would be cool.”

He’d been told that, while in Afghanistan, all the dog handlers would be on foot. This meant Tom would see more combat, a prospect he welcomed.

“I’m an action junkie,” Tom admits. “Imagine you have a pit bull in a cage, and you’re poking it over and over again with sticks. All of a sudden you let it out, and it’s all pissed off. That’s like a Marine on deployment. You join the Marines because you’re slightly crazy. We want to see action. That’s what we are trained for.”

The dog’s job would be to detect IEDs. A week before Tom left on his deployment, the higher-ups told him he might be mounted instead. This meant that Tom would remain in a truck with his dog.

“We had no idea what was going on, which is normal for the military,” Tom says.

Once in Afghanistan, Tom’s dog proved to be a nuisance, mostly due to the heat, and to the fact that they were always in a truck. In total, the dog only went on five dismounted presence patrols.

It was difficult to get the animals to work. Temperatures registered over 100 degrees, and the dogs would cover (lie down), indicating that there was something there, such as an IED, when there wasn’t. They did this so they could stop working and rest.

Some of the guys in Tom’s section were happy to have the dog as a morale-booster, but the Labrador was useless as a bomb dog.

his section leaders requested a few times that the dog be taken away, and it was assigned to another handler whose dog had been sent back to the U.S. because it freaked out during combat situations.

“It just wasn’t a good environment for the dog,” Tom says. “For the first half of my deployment, I was stuck in the back of the truck with it. I barely got to see any action.”

Still stuffed in Tom’s wallet is the laminated card his battalion commander gave to each man in his unit. It lists 11 codes of conduct.

Tom hands it to me. He points out the ones he finds the most ridiculous.

Be prepared to win the gun fight every time
Do no harm
Treat others as you would want to be treated
It’s going to be frustrating, don’t get frustrated
Get comfortable being uncomfortable

“It’s stupid,” he laughs. “Most of it doesn’t even make sense. It’s stuff you would say to a kindergartner, not a Marine.”

Tom admits he wishes his battalion had been more proactive. “A lot of things could’ve been different, but politics got in the way. I hate politics.”

Tom talks about a building from which they frequently received heavy fire. “We asked to blow it up. It took the higher-ups several months to give us the okay. Who knows what’s going on in their minds?”

He recalls the day his friend Carl stepped on an IED. Carl’s section was occupying a position known to be covered with them. The Marines had asked for a bulldozer to clear the area. They were told it was occupied elsewhere. Carl was walking between trucks to get a battery when the IED went off. Other guys had walked the same path dozens of times, and nothing had happened to them. But Carl lost his legs.

“Either he stepped off the path a few inches, or he was just unlucky. Of course, magically” — Tom’s voice is heavy with sarcasm — “the bulldozer showed up the next day!”

Carl was stable when he was placed in the medevac chopper, but his condition worsened after he was flown to a hospital in Germany. “They flew his parents out to Germany, so they could see him before he died. I think that’s the least they could do.”

Tom admits that, for the first two months of his deployment, the closest he got to a shower was a scrubdown using baby wipes. For toilets, they used wag bag waste bags. You can Google the term. Campers and backpackers use them in the wilderness — enough said.

“If we were lucky, we got one that had a few pieces of toilet paper in it. That’s how grunts have it on deployments. The POGs [people other than grunts] have a makeshift bathroom, better chow, access to a gym. They get to sleep on cots in tents, and some even have air-conditioning. They had access to the internet, and most of them don’t do foot patrols.”

When he first arrived in Afghanistan, Tom’s CAAT (Combined Anti-Armor Team) set up an overwatch position on a plateau. The outer four trucks provided security for the inner four trucks, which is where the guys could relax a little and take off their gear. Every couple of days, they would rotate positions. The guys on the outer perimeter dug out sleeping areas and covered them with cammie (camouflage) netting. They reinforced the sides with sand bags for protection against enemy fire. Tom says his two months on the plateau was the easiest part of his deployment.

“There were no injuries while we were there, and we were far from any higher-ups.”

A few months into his deployment, Tom lost a really good friend.

The death took place during a BDA (Battle Damage Assessment). Tom’s section was sent out to a grove to check for weapons and bodies from a morning firefight. Tom was in the first truck. They were traveling in a group of four trucks.

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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?


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.


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:)))))))))):))))))) :)


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?


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.


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.


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.


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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