Matt served four combat tours. Two in Iraq, and two in Afghanistan. If you’re looking to understand the nature of deployments, his words might resonate with you.
I served in the 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion with the USMC for ten years as an LAV crewman. The LAR Battalion conducts recon, security, and economy of force operations, and within its capabilities, limited offensive or delaying operations that exploit the unit’s mobility and firepower. In other words, the LAV kicks ass. It’s an eight-wheeled vehicle with two M240 machine guns, one 25mm Bushmaster chain gun, a driver, a gunner, a vehicle commander (me), and six riflemen in the back.
I remember rolling up the highway from Camp Pendleton to 29 Palms. A convoy of 20 LAVs sharing the road with civilians. Folks would slow down and honk and wave, and this warm, prideful feeling would move over us; Seeing this patriotism, this American pride from the people who are essentially your employers gave me a great sense of honor to live in this nation.
When I wasn’t training, alternating time between Pendleton and 29 Palms, I was deployed. I traveled twice to Iraq, and twice to Afghanistan. The other deployment was with a Marine Expeditionary Unit where I basically hung out on a boat in the Persian Gulf. But the four combat deployments I had obviously stick with me the most.
First, I was in Rawah, Iraq, where we conducted dismounted patrols daily in the city, disrupting Al Qaeda’s operations, and in '08, I deployed to Sinjar mountain in the northern part of the company, where we basically lived out of our LAV for seven months.
Rumor on the street is both these places are now run by ISIS unfortunately.
I can point out a number of differences between Iraq and Afghanistan. Iraq benefits from paved roads and electricity. People have televisions in their homes, and there seems to be more money around. Afghanistan, on the other hand, is an entirely different beast. It’s a rocky country with little infrastructure. Homes aren’t powered, and life is more agrarian there.
The other differences are in the people. I always felt like the Iraqis were more civilized and would work with us when we tried to help them out. But the Afghans wanted nothing to do with us. When I would walk through a bazaar in the Stan, I would get the sense that every man that looked at me wanted to tear my head off. Which they probably did. But I didn’t get that level of hate from most guys in Iraq. Another difference is in the women. Iraqi women would chat us up regularly, but Afghan women were like ghosts.
My third and fourth deployments were to the southern part of the country to the Khanashin District, doing daily mounted and dismounted operations to disrupt Taliban operations.
…aaaand rumor on the street is that the Taliban has regained control of that area too. Seeing a pattern here?
Being in the Corps was great during wartime, in my opinion. Sure, 75% of the time was spent being pretty bored, but 10% of it was pretty cool, and the other 15% was spent in full-blown adrenaline rushes. And with that rush came a sense of pride, if you can believe that. A pride that cannot be matched anywhere else.
But you know what’s crazy? Through four combat deployments and one MEU, I never once fired my rifle at the enemy. Two wars, and no confirmed kills. It feels unusual, especially considering how I basically joined the military so I could fight the enemy. And yet, a friend of mine was just two weeks into his very first deployment when he took contact. I’m in for years and I never shot at the enemy. He was in for two weeks. Crazy how things play out.
I did encounter the enemy with his IEDs planted all over the place. Hearing small arms fire is one thing, but when bombs go off, that really makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up. The raw power and deafening sound of them stays with you. I once met the district governor of Khanashin. I shook his hand, looked him in the eyes, and hung out with him. Then he hopped in his truck with his Afghan police buddies and headed down the road. Five minutes later we heard a boom, and he was gone. That’s one of the moments that stuck in my mind. How quickly things can take a turn for the worse.
Deployments are great … if you don’t have a significant other. When you’re just taking care of yourself, deployments can be incredibly worthwhile. You save a ton of money, you feel better because you’re not drinking alcohol, and you don’t deal with bills or other responsibilities … you’re just hanging out with your buddies. You get exercise every single day, hauling your gear on patrol, and you experience different cultures. It’s like a cleansing of the body and mind.
Since the wars ended and the deployments trickled off, I noticed things starting to change around the unit. I told myself it was time to move on. I did the math and I realized I’d spent over six years sleeping on rocks. It was time to get out. And I’m happy I made that decision. I’m able to focus on school, and on my steady relationship with my girlfriend. I know some shit hot Marines who were poised to be the next Sergeant Major of the Corps, itching for every single deployment they could get their hands on, but even they ended up getting out after eight or ten years.
Family comes first. The Green Machine will continue marching on without us.