Training Journal Entries

A few entries from a journal written while training for Iraq:

Nov. 13th, 2008 - Camp Horno, Camp Pendleton, California.

Well, we are settled into our barracks, a squad bay that will be our home for the next two months. It has good head facilities and washer machines, plus some drink fridges and microwaves, so it could definitely be a lot worse.

Today we woke up at 0645 and hoofed it over to the chow hall. After chow we ran through some hip pocket classes about det. cord ties, improvised explosives, and claymore mines. We went to afternoon chow at about 1100 and when we came back, we cleaned the head and squad bay. I caught some sleep after reading the Constitution for a bit... no surprise there.

I was awoken [sic.] when we had to run over to the parade deck for a battalion formation... 847 of the men we will be deploying with. After a motivational speech by the CO of [Battalion name redacted], we were dismissed for chow.

After evening chow we made our way back to the squad bays and 2nd squad got changed over into boots and uts. and we headed up the nearby mountain on a fire trail. We made it up about 3/4 the way before some of the guys got too tired and we started back down. It was a fun little jaunt... good team building, camaraderie promoting exercise.

I am now sitting in bed, listening to helicopters passing over head, and thinking about this path I have laid out before me. I never knew it would feel like this. The rosy hues of my childhood war fantasies didn't include being away from my family and most of my whole life for a year. But I suppose it will be a good thing, if I choose to make it so.

This mandatory detachment from the hum-drum routine and getting by that characterized my prior existence can be a good thing. I must remain, however, on the offensive to ward of the attack of sloth while I am in this period of my life. There will be a lot of down time through out this whole process, but it would be a waste if I were to not use this shaking up of my existence to grow.

Nov. 14th

Today went well. Reveille went at 0600, and aside from getting our weapons and other gear issued, the day was unremarkable. We went to chow, we came back and ran through some classes, then went to chow again, then came back and ran through some more classes.

Tomorrow we are headed out with the grunts to a range where we will be doing some breaching and clearing trenches. Our goal is to demonstrate to the grunts our capabilities and training so that they will be able to effectively utilize us in-country.

My hygiene and eating habits have improved dramatically over the past few days. No longer a bachelor, I am Marine who is proud to maintain a smart appearance and whenever possible, smell good. I imagine that I could very easily live this way indefinitely. I can see how people can do it. But not people with dreams, goals, and ambitions.

I aim to be the master of my own fate, so to speak. I don't like answering to men that I wouldn't otherwise have to answer to if they were not nominally placed in positions of authority without actually meriting it.

There is not a whole lot a Marine has time to do or be except be a Marine and do the things that we do. It's not a bad life, but it is not a life I could willingly accept as my future permanent lot, knowing full well as I do that the world is much bigger and more exciting than what we see in our day to day existence.

There has been a question that I have asked myself, bringing to account the different strengths and weakness that my paths have shown within me. One of the paths I have considered is law enforcement leading into a career in the intelligence field. Could see myself leaving behind the self-centric, self-expressive lifestyle of an artist for the opportunity to serve others.

I believe that I could leave behind the softness and depressive weakness that defines my life when I yield to my artistic tendencies, and adopt a common-sensical approach to life. But this path always seems much to narrow, and even though it would be a stable existence, it would perhaps be a waste of the different aspects of myself that were hardwired into me at my creation. Even now, I become a hard man to adapt to this lifestyle, stoic and accepting of whatever comes my way.

But is this the way a man was meant to live? Are we not meant take in as much as we can? How can a man call his live well lived if he did not experience the keen hunger for life, at least in his early years? I am not fighting this experience or who I am becoming, because it is essential for me to retain my sanity and be effective in my day-to-day life in the Marines, but I cannot allow this attitude to determine my choices for my future paths.

Nov. 15th

Today was a good training day. We woke up at 0445 and beat feet over to the Parade Deck about 3/4 of an hour later. After a while of waiting for the rest of "E" Co. to get things in order, and scarfing down a MRE for morning chow, we stepped.

We were attached to Echo Company for the whole of the training exercise today. We stepped from the Parade Deck in a staggered column at about 0730, with Team Ramrod (my fire team) providing rear security. We hit our first hill a short time later and for the rest of the next two and a half miles we climbed up the steep grades of a fire trail.

The Com guy got broke with a couple of minutes of stepping off, so we traded off carrying the pack in front of us for the rest of the time. It wasn't too bad, but I had to carry it more downhill than up, which meant my shoulders suffered, rather than my legs. After a four mile patrol, we arrived at our "range" which was really just an area in the middle of nowhere that had some concertina put in random places and trench[es] seemingly dropped from nowhere.

We rested and had an afternoon chow MRE at about 1030, and pretty much sat and rested for a while. Then as the grunts began their breaching exercises we made our way to the training area to observe their activities. They had received basic instruction already from some of our [Company's] Marines in clearing with grappling hooks and bangalore placement, so they performed these task with relative proficiency, however we were able to comment and advise on how to further improve themselves.

After this various marines and I began teaching classes to the grunts in order to familiarize them with basic procedures and our capabilities in assisting them with breaching obstacles and urban mobility breaching. I taught an APOBS class to most of the company in several different sessions, as squads and platoons finished their infantry exercises. I also assisted Cpl. [H.] in teaching a Line Charge class and Urban Mobility Breaching.

We finished and at about 1830 we got picked up in a 7 ton and were brought back to Camp Horno. We turned in our weapons at the armory and took quick showers, got in our civvies and headed over to the rec. center at about 2015, where we ended the day with some Subway and relaxation.

Now I sit in my rack reflecting and writing. Keeping a good attitude makes all the difference in long marches and other demanding exercises. They say the mind gives out long before the body does, and I have found this to be very true. I have always had trouble with not giving over to the defeatist, lackadaisical attitude, but for some reason I remained in high morale throughout the entire day, even though my shoulders ached from the highly uncomfortable pack and my feet and legs hurt from the long patrol. Overall, this whole week has felt like a turning point in my approach to life.

Nov. 16th

Today is Sunday, so reveille went at 0645. We ran through knowledge on Urban Mobility Breaching so that we were all up to speed for teaching the grunts. Then, after cleaning the head, we headed over to the chow hall for a somewhat late morning chow. After chow was finished, we hit the PX where I bought a laptop cover and a "Don't Tread On Me" sticker for my laptop.

At about 1230 we headed over to the armory and cleaned weapons for almost an hour, then headed back to the barracks and changed over to PT gear, then headed over to the Gym. To pumped [sic.] some iron, and did some grappling on the mat there. After about 3/4 of an hour, we headed back to the barracks and I showered and we changed over to cammies for chow.

After chow we came back to the barracks and had down time for the rest of the evening and headed over to the Rec. Center from about 1830-2100. Now I am sitting in the rack, waiting for SSgt [H.] to come brief us so we can finally hit the rack. We are supposed to do HEAT (Humvee roll-over training) tomorrow, but there are some problems getting it locked in.

Nov. 17th

Today we did HEAT Training... it was supposed to simulate a Humvee rollover, but it was more like a really bad carnival ride. But it was it wasn't hard or stressful. It seems like for some reason none of these phases of training are phasing me. I have been focusing on keeping a positive mental attitude. For the first time I have broken the hangdog approach to training that I learned in Boot Camp. The harder the training the more enjoyable the challenge. Life is a matter of perspective.

Nov. 18th

Today was a good day. After morning chow we hit the PX and then did a thorough field-day on the squad bay. After that we hit the Gym for about 1.15 hours, pumped some iron and rolled a little on the pads. After that we went to afternoon chow and went back the squad-bay to do classes and down time for the rest of the day.

Tomorrow we are doing a hump 4.2 miles up and down mountains with a fairly heavy pack load, then after doing tables #3 & #4, we are humping 4.2 miles back. Most of the guys are somewhat dreading it, but I view it as a good challenge. Something is driving me. I can't tell just exactly what, but I haven't felt sorry for myself, nor am I planning to at any point. The greater difficulty, the greater the reward, both in this world in the next.

I know I need to be tougher mentally and physically, and I could ask for no better way to improve myself than to participate in activities that I have dreaded in the past and take them in stride. I cannot express how grateful I am to God for the continuance of mercy He has shown me in giving me a good attitude. I know that I cannot get through this without His grace.

So, anyways, I'm just sitting here compiling a playlist and wrapping up the day in the best way I know how. I've never felt so sane.. it's strange.

Nov. 19th

Well, today was the long awaited day. We humped out to the range for tables #3 and #4, about 4.5 miles through the rolling California foothills. We carried our main packs stuffed with our new flak jackets, along with our kevlars and various other items of equipment. It was good stretch of the legs.

[K.] and I lead the two columns, and the engineers of 2nd and 3rd squad lead the formation, followed by the H&S element of [Battalion name redacted] and we made it out there in about 1 hour and 20 minutes. We BZO'd our weapons, then did table #3 which was comprised of shooting from different yard lines, different stances, and while moving.

Then night came and we did the night element, table #4. We used our Night Vision Monocles and the IR beam pointer, PEQ-15. Then after making final preparations and counts, we stepped at about 20:00 to head back to Camp Horno. We made the hump in under an hour, and the detachment definitely was pushed a lot harder, but we arrived safe, sound, and in full numbers at the Parade Deck.

After turning in our weapons, we made our way back to the squad bay and showered and compiled a huge order for Dominoes. I'm a little sore, my feet hurt a little, but I am relatively no worse for the wear. We had quick class to prepare us for tomorrow's training evolution, the Gas Chamber qualification, and now we are sitting around waiting for the pizza order.

Nov. 20th

Today was a full training day. I am exhausted and tired, and I am getting up tomorrow at 0430 to head into the field, so I cannot write long. I just need to write a little to put some things to rest.

I truly hope that someday I will be a good man. I don't like who I am, but I am not in rebellion against who I am. I am who I am for a reason, and I stay this way for a reason. I am here to protect my family, and somehow I've discovered that the only way I can protect them is to lose them. I won't be with them for a long time, and those short times that I am, I fear the terrible potential for me to be a poor influence upon them.

God, please [make] who me who you need me to be, I don't want to be me.

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