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mheisig 12-28-2007 12:58 PM

A Former Marine's Perspective on the War
 
I recently went on a two-day camping trip in the smoky mountains the weekend of December 15th. We had a group of six guys, all either friends or “friends of friends.” One of them was a guy I had never met before, a former Marine named Doug who had recently returned from Iraq. He’s dating the sister of a friend of mine, which is beside the point, but I had a chance to get to know him and pick his brain around the campfire one night for about three hours.

I thought I would share some of the observations that he shared with me, as I found them to be honest, insightful and completely lacking in political bias or agenda.

Just a little background on Doug: He was a Corporal in the 1st Marine Division (1st MarDiv) which was a part of the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003 along with the 3d U.S. Army Infantry Division. He was there on the front lines from day one, went into Baghdad and Tikrit, and was a part of the force that capture the Ramallah oil fields. As a Corporal, he led a machine gun detachment of (I believe) 7 or 8 men.

Our conversation took place over a flask of whiskey and a couple of good cigars, and I’ll try to highlight some of the more salient points he made throughout the evening, though it’s hard to fully replicate such a lengthy discussion. Additionally, Doug is not what I would call the “stereotypical Marine.” He’s just about done finishing his Bachelor’s of Science in Forestry management, is an avid outdoorsmen, guitar player, reader and scientist. He is knowledgeable on topics ranging from poetry to microbiology to Squad Automatic Weapons, and is incredibly articulate and thoughtful.

For starters, he is now against the war as it is currently being conducted, though he was for it when it first began. He said that during the initial invasion, the regular, active-duty military absolutely controlled the entire country. In a matter of weeks they completely swept the opposition and where in absolute control. He said that after Baghdad had been conquered it was incredibly peaceful, orderly and controlled. He believes that the real problems began when the active duty troops were removed and the national guard and reserves were brought in as a security force. He believes it’s at this point that things “went to hell.”

He is not against the war from a moral or ethical standpoint, but he has a great number of issues with the way the current occupation is being conducted. He is completely convinced that the insurgency could be quickly and easily eradicated if the regular army were allowed to do its job. He feels, essentially, that they have been hamstrung and aren’t allowed to operate the way they are capable of. He said that if the “gloves were taken off” and they could do what they were trained to do, the insurgency could be eliminated within days with little to no collateral damage.

He believes that the insurgency is allowed to continue because there is a tremendous amount of money to be made in the private sector. He mentioned Microsoft (of all companies) as a company he constantly saw operating in Iraq. His feeling is that the insurgency is allowed to continue because it’s incredibly profitable for the economy back home. It’s not a matter of not being ABLE to defeat the insurgency.

He also takes great issue with how the Marines provide for the troops, particularly with respect to body armor. They are currently issued large, cumbersome vests which are not terribly effective against the ubiquitous AK-47 (7.62x39mm rifle round). Apparently there is new body armor called DragonSkin which is far lighter, more flexible, and extremely effective against rifle rounds. It’s also somewhere around $9,000 per vest compared to the relatively inexpensive vests they are currently issued. He is extremely angry about the fact that a soldier’s life is simply not valued highly enough to warrant better armor.

Along these lines, he has a pretty low view of private contractors like Blackwater and Dyncorp, primarily because they are paid astronomically more than a U.S. soldier, and are all provided with DragonSkin and top-of-the-line equipment, all funded by U.S. government contract dollars in the billions. According to Doug, the contractors rarely did any of the “real” fighting, but ran around “playing soldier” with better gear and protection than the military would provide for its own troops. He doesn’t think the contractors are worthless, just that the money could be better spent on supplying the regular army and allowing them to do their job.

With respect to the “WMDs” he firmly believes that Saddam had them and moved them. He said that outside Baghdad is a man-made mountain about 4 miles long and hundreds of feet high, which is essentially a massive military warehouse. It is surrounded by four or five rings of fencing, and was infiltrated by a SEAL team supported by a detachment of Marines. He says he has seen numerous empty missle silos and equipment for moving large-scale missiles and warheads, but that the actual missiles themselves were nowhere to be found.

His most interesting insights were with respect to the media. He no longer watches television and despises CNN and Fox equally. His unit had both a Fox News and CNN reporter embedded with them at various times. He said they would go on a mission, fight a battle, and the next day they would watch the news report at their base and were astonished at the inaccuracies and flat out lies that were being told. He said the reporters seemed incapable of getting the slightest detail right about where they were, what they did, why they did it, and how they did it. He was adamant that virtually everything that comes across either network is nothing but propaganda based on the reality he experienced and what ended up being reported.

He also said that he saw both sides of the atrocities that are common to war. He said he saw Marines fire into crowds of unarmed civilians just because they could. He also saw Marines run directly into the line of fire to save civilians. Baghdad was apparently overjoyed when they entered, with throngs of people throwing flowers and cheering. He also said they learned to never turn their back on the crowds. He said that countless times the guy in front of you cheering, smiling and clapping would pull a weapon from underneath a cloak the minute you turned your back.

Our conversation eventually wandered off to talk of cigars, religion, politics and education. I found Doug’s perspective to be incredibly unique, as I had never had the chance to talk to an incredibly articulate and insightful guy who had also been on the frontlines from day one.

[B]DISCLAIMER[/B]
Takes this all for what you will. The only level of truth that I can vouch for is that this is what Doug told me around a campfire one night. I have no reason to doubt him or suspect an agenda, as he comes down on both sides of the fence depending on which issue is being discussed. Perhaps the entire thing was a lie or massive stretch of the truth on his part, I have no way of knowing.

None of this is intended to be inflammatory or even spark debate. To be honest, if this does turn into a polarized debate, I hope the mods lock it don quickly. I merely pass it along as information. Read it, think it over, discard it, ignore it, do what you like.

My biggest caution would be to look at all this objectively and research things yourself, without trusting the media. I think all too often our entire worldview and “facts” are shaped entirely by the media. Whether you watch CNN, Fox, the BBC, NBC or any of the alphabet soup gang, take it all with a huge grain of salt and do your own research.

[B][I]*UPDATE*[/I][/B]
One important point I completely forgot to add with respect to oil. Doug was involved in the capture of the Ramallah oil fields, which apparently was one of the first targets after they went into Baghdad. He said he had no reason to think that they were there for the oil in particular, but that they were told that the goal was to avoid what happened in Kuwait in the first Gulf War. He said that as far as he knew, they were taking the oil fields as a strategic infrastructure target, just like electric plants, water, roads and airports.

Hog1 12-28-2007 01:23 PM

Re: A Former Marine's Perspective on the War
 
Thanx for the effort to compose the record Mheisig. I enjoyed the insight.

Daseal 12-28-2007 01:23 PM

Re: A Former Marine's Perspective on the War
 
Hey Man,

Great read. I've found that when you talk to Military folks they don't have a typical political slant that everyone at home does. Fact is, if you're not over there it's nearly impossible to understand.

mheisig 12-28-2007 01:28 PM

Re: A Former Marine's Perspective on the War
 
[QUOTE=Daseal;398176]Hey Man,

Great read. I've found that when you talk to Military folks they don't have a typical political slant that everyone at home does. Fact is, if you're not over there it's nearly impossible to understand.[/QUOTE]

Very true.

I think getting that perspective (or at least trying) really helps cut through the divisive political bullcrap and look at things objectively.

ArtMonkDrillz 12-28-2007 01:36 PM

Re: A Former Marine's Perspective on the War
 
One of my best friends was in the USMC from 2000-2005, and although he only spent a short time in Iraq and Afghanistan his views on the situations there seem very similar to Doug's.

Thanks for this post Mheisig. I am always very interested to hear people talk about their real life experiences like this, especially when the person has no explicit agenda.

Sheriff Gonna Getcha 12-28-2007 01:39 PM

Re: A Former Marine's Perspective on the War
 
Nice post. Two quick hits. First, I don't know your friend and I haven't been to Iraq, but I don't believe for a second that we are intentionally letting the insurgency fester for the sake of handing out government contracts. Skepticism of government is good and healthy, paranoid conspiracy theories are not. As for private contractors, yes they are very highly paid. But what people don't realize is (a) the contractors are usually former members of the SEALs, Delta, and Special Forces and (b) the contractors actually save the government money. With respect to the second point, soldiers' salaries comprise a wee part of the cost of fielding an army.

As for the war in general, I was opposed to it regardless of whether SH had WMDs. SH kept the radicals in check, albeit brutally, and I didn't think he threatened the U.S. But, I am equally opposed to withdrawing the troops prematurely. Even if we have a long way to go before we can declare "victory," things are looking better. People used to chuckle when generals said the surge was working and/or accuse them of lying. Now, just about everyone in Congress (save a few reps in the House) agrees that the surge is working and we are making progress. General Petraeus' "clear, hold and build" strategy appears to be working.

mheisig 12-28-2007 01:46 PM

Re: A Former Marine's Perspective on the War
 
[QUOTE=Sheriff Gonna Getcha;398190]Nice post. Two quick hits. First, I don't know your friend and I haven't been to Iraq, but I don't believe for a second that we are intentionally letting the insurgency fester for the sake of handing out government contracts. Skepticism of government is good and healthy, paranoid conspiracy theories are not. As for private contractors, yes they are very highly paid. But what people don't realize is (a) the contractors are usually former members of the SEALs, Delta, and Special Forces and (b) the contractors actually save the government money. With respect to the second point, soldiers' salaries comprise a wee part of the cost of fielding an army.

As for the war in general, I was opposed to it regardless of whether SH had WMDs. SH kept the radicals in check, albeit brutally, and I didn't think he threatened the U.S. But, I am equally opposed to withdrawing the troops prematurely. Even if we have a long way to go before we can declare "victory," things are looking better. People used to chuckle when generals said the surge was working and/or accuse them of lying. Now, just about everyone in Congress (save a few reps in the House) agrees that the surge is working and we are making progress. General Petraeus' "clear, hold and build" strategy appears to be working.[/QUOTE]

With respect to the first point, I'll agree I'm not totally convinced myself. I do find it very odd, however, that we can completely conquer and dominate (in every facet) a country in a matter of a few weeks during the invasion, yet somehow we're at a loss as to how to handle a "pesky" insurgency? Strikes me as a little odd at the very least. I don't think he was really suggesting a conspiracy really, just that the regular military (not the reserves or guard) was not being allowed to do it's job. It's like they got 95% of the way there, and left before the job was finished.

With respect to private contractors, I agree they do save money overall and definitely serve their purpose. I think Doug was a bit too bitter simply cause they were well paid and equipped and he wasn't, though if I were in his shoes I'd probably feel the same.

Blackwater and Dyncorp being comprised of largely ex-special forces is actually a bit of a misconception. Doug said that, by and large, the contractors he ran into were guys who probably wouldn't cut it in the regular military and wanted to play Rambo. He said he did run into a few true professionals who were ex-special forces, but they were few and far between.

Doug's overall viewpoint seemed to be that if we WERE going to go in, we needed to go in and do the job right, which he feels is not what's being done right now. He thinks they're basically "half-assing it." As to why that may be, who knows.

Sheriff Gonna Getcha 12-28-2007 01:57 PM

Re: A Former Marine's Perspective on the War
 
[QUOTE=mheisig;398192]With respect to the first point, I'll agree I'm not totally convinced myself. I do find it very odd, however, that we can completely conquer and dominate (in every facet) a country in a matter of a few weeks during the invasion, yet somehow we're at a loss as to how to handle a "pesky" insurgency? Strikes me as a little odd at the very least. I don't think he was really suggesting a conspiracy really, just that the regular military (not the reserves or guard) was not being allowed to do it's job. It's like they got 95% of the way there, and left before the job was finished.[/QUOTE]

Our military can kick the crap out of any regular army. Fighting insurgencies is a tricky matter, just ask the French, British, etc. I have no doubt we could wipe out the insurgency overnight if we wanted to, but I don't think we could do so without compromising our values. We could do what Saddam did and simply wipe out entire cities/villages sympathetic to the insurgency, but it's not going to happen.

Mattyk 12-28-2007 03:38 PM

Re: A Former Marine's Perspective on the War
 
[quote=mheisig;398163]I recently went on a two-day camping trip in the smoky mountains the weekend of December 15th. We had a group of six guys, all either friends or “friends of friends.” One of them was a guy I had never met before, a former Marine named Doug who had recently returned from Iraq. He’s dating the sister of a friend of mine, which is beside the point, but I had a chance to get to know him and pick his brain around the campfire one night for about three hours.

I thought I would share some of the observations that he shared with me, as I found them to be honest, insightful and completely lacking in political bias or agenda.

Just a little background on Doug: He was a Corporal in the 1st Marine Division (1st MarDiv) which was a part of the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003 along with the 3d U.S. Army Infantry Division. He was there on the front lines from day one, went into Baghdad and Tikrit, and was a part of the force that capture the Ramallah oil fields. As a Corporal, he led a machine gun detachment of (I believe) 7 or 8 men.

Our conversation took place over a flask of whiskey and a couple of good cigars, and I’ll try to highlight some of the more salient points he made throughout the evening, though it’s hard to fully replicate such a lengthy discussion. Additionally, Doug is not what I would call the “stereotypical Marine.” He’s just about done finishing his Bachelor’s of Science in Forestry management, is an avid outdoorsmen, guitar player, reader and scientist. He is knowledgeable on topics ranging from poetry to microbiology to Squad Automatic Weapons, and is incredibly articulate and thoughtful.

For starters, he is now against the war as it is currently being conducted, though he was for it when it first began. He said that during the initial invasion, the regular, active-duty military absolutely controlled the entire country. In a matter of weeks they completely swept the opposition and where in absolute control. He said that after Baghdad had been conquered it was incredibly peaceful, orderly and controlled. He believes that the real problems began when the active duty troops were removed and the national guard and reserves were brought in as a security force. He believes it’s at this point that things “went to hell.”

He is not against the war from a moral or ethical standpoint, but he has a great number of issues with the way the current occupation is being conducted. He is completely convinced that the insurgency could be quickly and easily eradicated if the regular army were allowed to do its job. He feels, essentially, that they have been hamstrung and aren’t allowed to operate the way they are capable of. He said that if the “gloves were taken off” and they could do what they were trained to do, the insurgency could be eliminated within days with little to no collateral damage.

[B]He believes that the insurgency is allowed to continue because there is a tremendous amount of money to be made in the private sector. He mentioned Microsoft (of all companies) as a company he constantly saw operating in Iraq. His feeling is that the insurgency is allowed to continue because it’s incredibly profitable for the economy back home. It’s not a matter of not being ABLE to defeat the insurgency.[/B]

He also takes great issue with how the Marines provide for the troops, particularly with respect to body armor. They are currently issued large, cumbersome vests which are not terribly effective against the ubiquitous AK-47 (7.62x39mm rifle round). Apparently there is new body armor called DragonSkin which is far lighter, more flexible, and extremely effective against rifle rounds. It’s also somewhere around $9,000 per vest compared to the relatively inexpensive vests they are currently issued. He is extremely angry about the fact that a soldier’s life is simply not valued highly enough to warrant better armor.

Along these lines, he has a pretty low view of private contractors like Blackwater and Dyncorp, primarily because they are paid astronomically more than a U.S. soldier, and are all provided with DragonSkin and top-of-the-line equipment, all funded by U.S. government contract dollars in the billions. According to Doug, the contractors rarely did any of the “real” fighting, but ran around “playing soldier” with better gear and protection than the military would provide for its own troops. He doesn’t think the contractors are worthless, just that the money could be better spent on supplying the regular army and allowing them to do their job.

With respect to the “WMDs” he firmly believes that Saddam had them and moved them. He said that outside Baghdad is a man-made mountain about 4 miles long and hundreds of feet high, which is essentially a massive military warehouse. It is surrounded by four or five rings of fencing, and was infiltrated by a SEAL team supported by a detachment of Marines. He says he has seen numerous empty missle silos and equipment for moving large-scale missiles and warheads, but that the actual missiles themselves were nowhere to be found.

His most interesting insights were with respect to the media. He no longer watches television and despises CNN and Fox equally. His unit had both a Fox News and CNN reporter embedded with them at various times. He said they would go on a mission, fight a battle, and the next day they would watch the news report at their base and were astonished at the inaccuracies and flat out lies that were being told. He said the reporters seemed incapable of getting the slightest detail right about where they were, what they did, why they did it, and how they did it. He was adamant that virtually everything that comes across either network is nothing but propaganda based on the reality he experienced and what ended up being reported.

He also said that he saw both sides of the atrocities that are common to war. He said he saw Marines fire into crowds of unarmed civilians just because they could. He also saw Marines run directly into the line of fire to save civilians. Baghdad was apparently overjoyed when they entered, with throngs of people throwing flowers and cheering. He also said they learned to never turn their back on the crowds. He said that countless times the guy in front of you cheering, smiling and clapping would pull a weapon from underneath a cloak the minute you turned your back.

Our conversation eventually wandered off to talk of cigars, religion, politics and education. I found Doug’s perspective to be incredibly unique, as I had never had the chance to talk to an incredibly articulate and insightful guy who had also been on the frontlines from day one.

[B]DISCLAIMER[/B]
Takes this all for what you will. The only level of truth that I can vouch for is that this is what Doug told me around a campfire one night. I have no reason to doubt him or suspect an agenda, as he comes down on both sides of the fence depending on which issue is being discussed. Perhaps the entire thing was a lie or massive stretch of the truth on his part, I have no way of knowing.

None of this is intended to be inflammatory or even spark debate. To be honest, if this does turn into a polarized debate, I hope the mods lock it don quickly. I merely pass it along as information. Read it, think it over, discard it, ignore it, do what you like.

My biggest caution would be to look at all this objectively and research things yourself, without trusting the media. I think all too often our entire worldview and “facts” are shaped entirely by the media. Whether you watch CNN, Fox, the BBC, NBC or any of the alphabet soup gang, take it all with a huge grain of salt and do your own research.

[B][I]*UPDATE*[/I][/B]
One important point I completely forgot to add with respect to oil. Doug was involved in the capture of the Ramallah oil fields, which apparently was one of the first targets after they went into Baghdad. He said he had no reason to think that they were there for the oil in particular, but that they were told that the goal was to avoid what happened in Kuwait in the first Gulf War. He said that as far as he knew, they were taking the oil fields as a strategic infrastructure target, just like electric plants, water, roads and airports.[/quote]

That doesn't surprise me at all.

Thanks for sharing this story.

saden1 12-28-2007 03:39 PM

Re: A Former Marine's Perspective on the War
 
Nice story. I think it's implicit knowledge that soldiers believed in what they were fighting for in the initial stages of the war but like everything else in life time and experiance change people. You start seeing things as they are rather than as they are packaged and presented.

As for Microsoft, you can't build a nation without Microsoft. How do you think they've managed to have a monopoly in the software business for so long? It doesn't surprise me one bit they are there given our government's open wallet policy and odious accounting.

BleedBurgundy 12-28-2007 03:53 PM

Re: A Former Marine's Perspective on the War
 
Re: Dragon Armor

I think CNN or 60 minutes did a special on that a while back and when they tested it, there was no noticeable performance advantage compared to conventional armor. I know, I know, insert biased media conspiracy theory here...

mheisig 12-28-2007 04:46 PM

Re: A Former Marine's Perspective on the War
 
[QUOTE=BleedBurgundy;398281]Re: Dragon Armor

I think CNN or 60 minutes did a special on that a while back and when they tested it, there was no noticeable performance advantage compared to conventional armor. I know, I know, insert biased media conspiracy theory here...[/QUOTE]

I think it was something on NBC, too. Apparently the company that makes it and the Army have been in a bit of a dispute over testing the armor for some time now.

Some private research firms and testers have found it far superior, but the Army claims it's inferior and "failed catastrophically."

Who knows what to conclude when one "independent research group" claims one thing, and one claims another.

Here's a link about the tests:

[URL="http://www.military.com/NewsContent/0,13319,136293,00.html"]Army Refutes Dragon Skin Claims[/URL]

[URL="http://www.pinnaclearmor.com/20061005-pr.php"]Pinnacle Dragon Skin SOV-2000 Test by Dr. Gary Roberts, LCDR, USNR, Stanford University Medical Center[/URL]

[URL="http://www.pinnaclearmor.com/20061207-pr.php"]Pinnacle Dragon Skin SOV-2000 Test by SWAT, Coast Guard, and Navy Personnel[/URL]

drew54 12-28-2007 04:50 PM

Re: A Former Marine's Perspective on the War
 
As for the Contracted Military, I have heard that anyone from anywhere can join, but they have to swear the same oath to the United States as our military does.

Obviously they only bring in people they feel are certified, but that could be a soldier from any nation.

dmek25 12-28-2007 04:55 PM

Re: A Former Marine's Perspective on the War
 
this is a good read. i hope its not like the letter about health-care, that came from someones "aunt"

Mattyk 12-28-2007 05:09 PM

Re: A Former Marine's Perspective on the War
 
[quote=dmek25;398346]this is a good read. i hope its not like the letter about health-care, that came from someones "aunt"[/quote]

LOL I love it when someone falls for those chain e-mails.


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