At the age of 20, I joined the Marines wanting to make a difference in the world. The Marines were the toughest branch and I wanted to make the biggest difference. Having read the book "Marine Sniper" about the greatest sniper in U.S. history (Carlos Hathcock), I eagerly volunteered to try out for 1st BN 4th MAR Scout/Sniper PLT upon being presented with the opportunity in infantry training. Hearing the harrowing story of the selection training (rucks so heavy their frames broke on the backs of Marines, days without sleep and food, etc.) I was afraid, but determined. Nine months later, I was on a ship off the coast of Pakistan in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. I was a Corporal at that point and had earned the hallowed "Hog's Tooth"- a 7.62 x 51 mm sniper round worn with 550 cord around the neck meant to be "The bullet that was meant for you.' I was now a member of a community so select that there were fewer members than Navy SEALS, Army Rangers, and Recon Marines. After close to 7 months on a ship, I returned to Camp Pendleton, CA to train a new platoon of Scout/Snipers whom I knew would be faced with combat in the coming months. The orders came before Christmas of 2002, and after hearing my Grandmother cry on the phone as I told her I was going to Iraq, I sailed to Kuwait. After training and waiting in Kuwait for over a month with winds so fierce they toppled our giant nomad tents, we finally received the go ahead. We were glad. We were anxious. Like the Marines of Tarawa and Iwo Jima, we would assault the enemy cramped inside armored amphibious vehicles (Amtraks). But instead of a beach assault, we would spend weeks inside our metal coffins driving through the desert. Wearing our NBC suits, and occasionally donning our gas masks because of rocket attacks and land mines, we drove through the Kuwait/Iraq berm separating the two countries as jets flew overhead in route to Baghdad. I listened to the radio as Marines from Task Force Tarawa were decimated in An Nasiriyah, wishing I was there to fight alongside them, only to arrive a day too late. Years later, as I was giving a speech, I met an uncle of Marine who died in An Nasiriyah and felt the intense emotional guilt of combat veteran who feels like they should have been there alongside the fallen to fight until the death by their side. Days passed without sleep and comprehension of all that was happening. Women and children were killed. The smell of burning bodies permeated our nostrils while our eyes witnessed what brains and guts look like outside the body. Limbs laid detached alongside their owners, bodies cut in half- the evidence of 20 mm rounds from LAV's and Cobra gunships. Orders were given to shoot women and children on sight, because they posed a threat. My world changed from black and white to grey. Marines would later commit suicide because of the things they did. My platoon members, among thousands, are now doped up on anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications. "Request immediate medevac, Lance Corporal Linck has a gunshot wound to the neck." It took several seconds to realize that Linck was one of mine. I trained him. He was in my platoon. My team was on the outskirts of Baghdad. We had two team in reserve. They needed extra sniper support. I looked at my platoon commander with an expression that he knew meant "send us in." No. The SEALS attached to my platoon haven't "seen" any action so they are sending them in instead." Are you fucking kidding me? That was my Marine. These are my Marines. This is my battalion. This is my job. This must be a fucking joke. Nope. SEALS needed some action, so we were relegated to the sidelines. Their "snipers" made asses of themselves when they were sent in and one of the Marines from our battalion died. A few days later, the SEAL commander took away the right of their snipers to shoot without going through him first, because they were shooting at civilians, showing that they didn't know the basics of sniping, and making themselves look like clowns in front of us, the Delta operators who were with us, and our entire battalion. Politics. We were supposed to leave immediately after the invasion. We stayed until late September. It wasn't an occupation, it was a liberation. The waves and smiles from Iraqis turned into scowls and I.E.D.'s the longer we stayed and the longer it became apparent that there were not resources or money for reconstruction. I, a Marine Scout/Sniper, volunteered to take charge of a primary school reconstruction effort using Iraqi Dinar that we had confiscated from looters (we had no American money for reconstruction). The fairy tale was over. But I volunteered to go back a year later to fight alongside my Marines, even though I no longer believed in the Iraq War and could have gone home instead- Marines will fight until the death for one another regardless of the cause and regardless of the pain. All we have in live is each other. This is for Widowmaker 2 (Zac Palmer, James, Gobeyn, and Sean Crockett R.I.P) and all Marines who have and will volunteer their lives for their brothers.
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