GUEST POST: A Marine who was there

NOTE: In honor of Iraqi Liberation Day, the anniversary of the day the big Saddam statue in Baghdad was pulled down, I’ve asked a friend of mine who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom to write a guest post for Murdoc Online. He was a Marine in the 6th Engineer Support Battalion, 4th Force Service Support Group. The photos accompanying the post are his.

The beginning of March of 2003 is a time in my life that I shall not soon forget. The affects of age and time will not play on those memories, as they will on others, as they are firmly embedded in my mind. March of 2003 saw me as a United States Marine Sergeant sitting in the desert near a border, which, when crossed, would become a testament to the fight and tenacity of the armed forces of the United States. As weird as this may sound, I miss my time there. The bonds made in extreme situations are by far the strongest. When your life is in the hands of the Marine next to you, and his in yours, instant relationships occur that may not have occurred otherwise. Strength occurs. Maturity occurs.

Now, all political manifestos aside, I’m a proud former member of the USMC having received my honorable discharge in July of this past year. All of your opinions on whether the United States was right or not setting on out this course of action will in no way deaden my resolve to be optimistic as to the future of our relationships with those member countries of the Middle East based on our actions. One cannot help but be optimistic, for pessimism will leave you with no hope at all. I would rather have hope in a flawed process run by flawed people, than no hope for a future for my children and the children of a now free and democratic Iraq.

…I still remember it like it was yesterday.

Sure Iraqi leadership is having its problems. All countries have these sorts of problems. How can we sit idly by and point the big finger at Iraq, when one look at our supposedly “model” democratic and free capitalist nation makes a majority of American citizens cringe with disappointment? I should only have to reference the latest pork-barrel spending report put out by The Citizens Against Government Waste (http://www.cagw.org) to show you that we are a selfish and bloated nation. I believe Iraq is on the other end of the spectrum right now. I once had a conversation with an individual who was against all that we were trying to do in Iraq and who made the statement, “If only they would act like us, we could get away from all that bologna?” I surely hope that never happens.

It’s been a long three years since I spent time on active duty in Kuwait and Iraq but I still remember it like it was yesterday. The flight in was amazing, coming in under cover of darkness, the heat overpowering even at 1 in the morning. Over 250 Marines, all knowing and feeling the intensity of the situation, got off the plane and on our transport vehicles quicker than I ever would have imagined possible. Within minutes we were miles in the desert. Checkpoint after checkpoint pass until we reach our staging area, Camp Coyote. Our home until the word to unleash hell was given.

While there, we trained and cross-trained. Time of day held no relevance to what we were doing. Just when you thought you had down the schedule for the day, it was changed. I specifically remember the morning of March 18th when President Bush came on the air and gave the ultimatum. Time to go, Saddam, or face the might of the caged animals sitting at your door. No one slept after that. Conversations seem to become less animated and more subdued. Get on the trucks, we’re moving up. BPW (Breach Point West) is even more desolate than our previous spot. The only break in constant brown scenery is the bermed up walls of our bivouac site.

The siren startled my platoon a bit, but I instantly gave the order to hit the berm. This was the night of the “shock and awe” campaign against Baghdad. There’s just something awesome about rockets flying low and fast over your head. I enjoy the ones that are fired from behind. The ones fired from the front have this way of creating an illusion to make you think they’re headed towards you. I’m glad I managed to pull a favor the day before and get a shower; I had no idea when the next one would come.

We were moving again. This time to LSA Viper and shortly thereafter (with an overnight stop at RRP Anderson) we made Camp Chesty and eventually 4th platoon as part of ESC, 6th ESB, 1 FSSG, 1 MEF would make it to Baghdad (albeit for only a brief stay). What a trip. I would sign up for that again in less time it takes my heart to beat. I was part of one of the largest reserve battalions ever assembled. Out of the 1600 Marines present, 4 did not come home alive:

Cpl Evan T. James, 20, LaHarpe, IL
Sgt Bradley S. Korthaus, 28, Scott, IA
LCpl Joseph B. Maglione, 22, Lansdale, PA
LCpl Cedric E. Bruns, 22, Vancouver, WA

“For those who fight for it, Freedom has a flavor the protected will never know

I can now truly understand the quote “For those who fight for it, Freedom has a flavor the protected will never know.” My family will also learn this, as much as I can teach it, as it will be a major aspect of the parenting of my 3 sons. As I reflect back on my time over there and the time the United States has been leading the charge over there I feel quite proud. Proud to be part of a country, that, while we all know it has its flaws, would be willing to put forth such monumental effort to help other people. It’s one thing to send money; it’s quite different to send the American people. I also fully believe that we, as a people, can only do so much. We can merely provide the opportunity for people to take control and begin to make decisions that would put their country on a better path. Generations of war and strife will not make this easy, as the easy route is to maintain what is already known rather than seeking the unknown.

Three years in. Hold her steady Marines. If you have the chance today, raise a glass and wish those now on their way to a new life in Iraq, a happy Iraqi Liberation Day.

Semper Fi,

Sgt J. D. Meengs, USMC
Operation Iraqi Freedom
1/03 – 7/03

This post is dedicated to SSgt Reese who I served with during the first go. He was killed by an IED during round 2. My friend. May he rest in peace.

UPDATE: Also, don’t miss Friday’s guest post by Gold Star Mother Julie Barkey.