[Marinir] Marine Life: Marines are still living -- and dying -- in
Iraq's most unforgiving province
Yap Hong Gie
ouwehoer at centrin.net.id
Sun Dec 18 11:59:34 CET 2005
Posted by Kevin Sites
on Tue, Nov 15 2005, 9:06 PM ET
Marines are still living -- and dying --
in Iraq's most unforgiving province
November 10 is the U.S. Marine Corps' 230th birthday. And regardless of
where they are at the moment, this is how they celebrate: with a cake. The
first slice is eaten by the commanding officer, the second by the oldest in
the unit, the third by the youngest.
For Golf Company, of the 2nd Battalion, 6th Marines, based on the outskirts
of Falllujah in al Anbar Province, the oldest Marine is a 37-year-old
sergeant. The youngest is an 18-year-old private.
Both of them, along with about 150 other Marines, live in a primitive
satellite outpost they call a "firm base." This one is a battered five-story
building that used to be a dormitory for a nearby technical college.
The Marines have made it their own -- the way Marines seem to do -- with
large wire barricades filled with rocks and dirt surrounding the perimeter
and green sandbags piled high at the entrance and covering all the windows.
Everyone here knows how necessary this kind of protection is. In late
October two Marines were killed by an insurgent mortar that somehow
perfectly cleared the barriers and landed in the back courtyard where they
"I don't trust any of the Iraqis," says Pvt. Carl Gaskin, 29, of Knoxville,
Tenn. "I joined the Marines after seeing the Nick Berg execution," Gaskin
says of the 26-year-old U.S. contractor who was beheaded in Iraq in 2004. "I
saw it on the Internet and it just infuriated me. I thought the least I can
do is give four years of my life."
Gaskin was a brick mason before he signed up a year ago. He says he didn't
even tell his wife first. Though she was upset, he still feels he did the
"It was my duty," he says, "even beyond my family. God, country, family --
in that order."
But now he's learned his wife has melanoma. Six years earlier, he witnessed
her go through another bout with cancer.
"I try not to think about my personal problems too much here. I can't think
about it too much, otherwise I'll get people killed," Gaskin says.
He goes outside to have a smoke.
On the ground floor hallway to the left, captured weapons have been proudly
hung: a nickel-plated AK-47, a carbine with a fixed bayonet, a
rocket-propelled grenade launcher.
In another area is the living room/chow hall. It's packed with a mishmash of
cheap, stained couches. Here the Golf Company Marines get their one hot meal
Tonight, for the Marine Corps' birthday, they feast on steak and lobster.
It's a welcome meal, but one that seems out of place in a building that has
no running water. If the Marines do want to take showers, they use a few
cold-water stalls outside the building. But they're available only from 8
p.m. until 6 a.m. And with the weather already cold at night, most choose to
clean themselves with baby wipes until they can get to a base with hot
water, which is only once a month.
The entrance to the building is a constant blur of movement of Marines and
Iraqi Army soldiers (who also live in the building) going in and out. Those
going on patrol or convoy runs pull on their flak jackets and Kevlar
helmets. Those finishing up, pull their gear off as they trudge up the
stairwell to crash on their cots. Marines are packed nine or ten to a room,
in spaces meant for four or five.
For Chuck Segal, a 23-year-old private from Rhode Island, the space is fine.
He says he was struggling before joining the Marines; he had dropped out of
high school and was couch-surfing at friends' homes.
"I was having lunch in a park one day when a Marine recruiter walked up to
me and asked me if I needed a job. I did," he says.
With a GED, but no high school diploma, he was just barely accepted. It's
given him some order and discipline in his life, he says, and some powerful
"You get really close to people in circumstances like this. The guys I've
known here in just two months I'm probably closer to than a lot of guys at
That can happen in a place so rustic that it has no toilets -- not even
portable ones -- and Marines have to defecate in plastic bags, which are
then collected and burned.
Lance Cpl. Tim Spier, 20, of Detroit, agrees the physical hardships are part
of the bonding experience, but even more so is the potential of dying here.
"You don't know who you're fighting," Spier says. "You do a patrol down the
street, a man says hello, then jumps behind a berm and starts firing an
AK-47 at you."
One luxury item does exist on the Golf Company base: a large plasma screen
TV connected to a satellite dish. Marines not on duty slink low on the
couches, watching everything from cartoons to Harry Potter films. It's a
welcome escape from the hours spent patrolling the streets of al Anbar
The other entertainment option is the company "health club:" a room
scattered with rusting weights and homemade benches that somewhat resemble
medieval torture racks.
Marines who have spent the day in heavy body armor toting weapons and
ammunition now raise and lower the rusty barbells. Metal weights clang on
the concrete floor when they finish their sets.
A green duffel bag filled with sand hangs in one corner, waiting for Marines
to pound out their frustrations, anger or nervous energy.
But for some, doing the work is the only way to forget. Gaskin finishes his
cigarette outside, but is still thinking about his wife.
"I think the hardest part for me," he says, "is that I can't be there for
her. I've always been there for my wife."
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