June 05, 2013

War Wounds

People often remark that I don't talk about my time in the Corps.  Most folks know, at least within either the initial introduction or the first few talks that I served.  My Honey brought it up a few times after we'd been together for a while that he knew nothing of my experiences when I was overseas.  He got one or two snipits about Japan here and there and that was about it.  Basically what everyone gets, the "safe" stories.  There are things best left in the past.  That being said, I am here to bare the soul a bit and offer up a story or two, names shall be changed to protect the not-so-innocent and maintain the status quo.  Grab a beer, it might get interesting.

Many moons ago there was a young woman who was a new mom, a new wife and incredibly poor.  She drank far too much and spent too much time running behind a certain best friend who was the gunpowder to her lead.  She was adjusting to life as much as she could, broke, miserable, and feeling a bit abandoned by her youth.  Her husband did the best he could with what he had but it wasn't enough, so she sucked up her courage and went to the recruiters office after a lengthy domestic battle one drunk night.  So into the US Marine Corps she went.  The intention was to take her husband to California-- a place he'd always wanted to live, to make the money so he could finish college and to find herself and become a good person.  Well...two outta three ain't bad.  Made it to Cali, made the money....the money wasn't as good as the promised so the man never went back to school and she never really found herself....but she started a journey that would stick with her for the rest of her life.

California was magical, full of colourful people, passive hippie, beach lifestyles, and a place for new friends and experiences.  She fell in love with running up mountains, shooting obscenely large weapons at rocks and going out with people from her shop....she liked the camaraderie and the fellowship.  She worked with a woman in the hangar from the airframes shop, she wasn't overly large or anything, just a typical tall Midwestern woman.  She would take the portable hydraulic pumps and carry them up on her shoulder...most of the men couldn't do it.  But she was a mom and a girly girl when no one was looking.  There was another woman, she was from the mechanic side, she was from Michigan and loved to ride around in her car with the windows down just cruising.....she knew her way around an H-series helicopter better than most of her peers.  Any electronics mech who had been at the job more than 5 years could only produce girl children....no one knew exactly why....that's simply the way it was.  Literally, none that we knew had male children once they were in that field for 5 years or more.

USS Comstock CG 65 I lived here for 32 long days

She travelled to Japan and then to Kuwait and then back to Japan.  She did more in those 4 years that most had done in 20.  Kuwait was the most interesting and the scariest place she'd ever go. It was 2003 and Bush's war was about to start.  And start it did, while she was in the thick of it all.  Imagine being trapped on a ship meant for 300 packed with almost 600 people.  Imagine being told you can't talk to your family with any medium except written letters and poor email.  Being one of 5 women of your kind on that whole boat....male Marines afraid to talk to you or look at you, female Sailors afraid of you, period.  Your own command watching everyone so closely they will create drama just to have something to talk about. One of the funniest things that ever happened on that boat was when it had to stop in Guam with a sister ship that needed repair.  There is NO booze on a Navy ship.  You can understand why right?  Well, put almost 500 Marines on a boat, make them float for a couple weeks and then turn them loose on a Navy base for about 60 hours.  The PX and bars were empty when they left.  There was a young flightlines sergeant who was all of about 5'7" and maybe....140ish ?  Fit, strong, but small.  This  young man proceeded to get shit faced drunk, so much so in fact it took 3-4 men to physically bring him back to ship.  He fought them the whole way....we'll call it about a 1/2 mile.  Just as they were nearing the ship he got brave and bowed up to a large pilot, picture a Ken doll come to life, 6'2" easy, built, and his buzz was wearing off at this point.  Little sergeant had already passed a few licks on the other guys, he reached up and clocked the captain.  The captain had enough, punched him soundly 3 good times, the third one was square in the face, knocking this kid out cold.  He slung him over the shoulder and (literally) tossed him in the highest bunk in the berthing.  That man slept for a full day.   When he finally woke up....he was almost unrecognizable.  His face swollen and matted with blood...but he was OK.  He recovered, the captain said nothing about being hit by a (much) lower ranking man and the cruise continued.

Painting kept folks busy and out of trouble. 
Imagine being dropped off a helicopter inches from the ground, wearing full clothing, a flak vest, helmet, backpack weighing roughly 70 lbs and a rifle that is your friend.  Ever seen Full Metal Jacket?  Marines really do lay in the rack at night a recite that poem while holding an M-16A1, until it is memorized.

 Did I mention this was in 120 degree weather?  When the troops found their "tent city", they discovered the women were in one section and the men in another.  The tents were beautiful with tapestries inside, they were huge.  The Palestinians were still hooking up the shower trailers when the helo landed, it took them 2 more months to work out the kinks.  The women were eventually moved to the smaller tents the men from their command stayed in, the CO was concerned for their safety (so he said).  Some of the women worked night crew, our girl was one of those, she'd mastered the trick of coming off shift for around 8 am, get back to the tent, strip down and sleep till it got too hot or a Palestinian man woke them up while working in the tent.  More than once she woke up to a man standing over her cot because she slept right by the electrical outlet.  "It's OK! It's OK!  I do electrics!!" he'd say, seconds after he saw her reach for the K-bar under her makeshift pillow or the M-16 leaning right by her head. After a couple months they learned to knock.  One gloriously hot evening she needed a shower, it had been days and the shower trailers were on the fritz as usual.  Up to this point she hadn't used the shower tent much because it was timed and usually full.  She took her chances that afternoon, shower gear in hand.  The shower tents water was provided by a water truck and it only ran when there was enough men or women to use it,typically once a week and they were strictly timed.  When she got there the truck was about to shut it down and open it up for the men.  She was the only woman who'd made the trek.  One of the drivers must have either seen how tired she was or got a good sniff, either way, he said, "Go ahead, I'll stand watch for you, take all the time you need."  It was the most amazing 6 minute shower of her life.  Hot water, water pressure and no camel spiders to battle.  

Ali Al Salem, Kuwait. circa 2003

They were shelled everyday for one full month, she took to sleeping in her gas mask and M.O.P. suit for the first few days.  Her friend and confidant "Amanda Jo" was in a shower trailer one afternoon, they'd had a few hours of peace and she desperately wanted a good shower.  When the raid hit A.J. was just about to get under the water.  She was so terrified and ran so fast she could barely get into her underclothes and had to have a fellow Marine help dress her on the run to the bunker.  She dove in still fastening all the Velcro tabs on her suit.  She was hysterical and could barely breathe through her gas mask.  The panic in that little woman still insights panic in our girl.  The first raid that happened, went off during the middle of the day....the women weren't sure what the "Big Voice" had said and assumed it was another drill.  They looked out, saw some people running and others not, they went back to bed.  No mask, no M.O.P. suit, just delirium.  The second raid, one of the men came to get them....it was the most terrifying thing she had ever experienced.  To this day she hates to see someone in a gas mask or half face respirator.  Once the raids slowed down to one a day or night, they became almost complacent about them.  Walking one night from the blown out bunker that was her Tool Room to the Admin tent, she looked up and saw an explosion overhead, she realized a S.C.U.D. was fired and took out an enemy missile....right over where she was standing.  She stared for a minute then threw her mask on just as she heard the "Big Voice" come on and sound the air raid.  2 minutes later they sounded the "all clear".  Even the people who were supposed to be watching the radar had gotten comfortable.

There were sand storms that were blinding at least once a week, followed by a calm and a rain that made one almost forget they were.  She had a pregnant yellow cat that visited her tent almost every day.  She had 2 books, a plain brown beaded Rosary, safety wire, puzzle books and cards to keep her busy.  She got into a lot of trouble, boredom does that to people.  There was work, there were egos, there were hurt feelings, blind emotion, and waves of sadness and anger that weren't easily conquered.  She was waging her own war while fighting another.  Her marriage fell apart then, it was haphazardly sewn back together a few years later, only to fail completely at the end of a decade.

The sound of an air raid or town siren still makes me tremble, and fireworks take about half an hour before I stop twitching.  I have a new outlook on confined spaces and my fight or flight response is nonexistent.  Some people tell me I'm brave. Some tell me I'm crazy.  My ex tells me I'm a P. O. S. for cheating on him while I was in hell.  Do I have memories?  Yes I do.  Are some of the good, yes they are.  Are some bad....yes, some are very bad.  But they have molded me and not broken me, for that I am grateful.

Semper Fi ya'll.

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