On My Mind: Journal Entries From A Georgia Boy In Iraq

meiraq

This is an entry from the journal that I wrote during my first tour of duty in Operation Iraqi Freedom as a United States Marine.  I was at the time coming out of a time of rebellion, but during this tour, the Lord started drawing me back to him.  This is just one example of the many known and unknown times God was watching over me and the Marine unit that I was with.   I hope that God may use this story to help provide any encouragement that may be needed.  Please know that God’s grace changes everything and has captured me.  I am so thankful that my hope is in Christ and what He has done and not in me and what I need to do.  God bless, grace and peace to you.

 

 

Monday, April 2, 2007         

2002 hours 

     About a week ago we had a memorial service for an MP from another unit.  Some of our guys knew the Marine.  I felt bad that I didn’t, but in some ways I was glad that I hadn’t known the young man.  He lost his life while his vehicle struck an IED.  At the memorial service they had a box with a pair of boots at a 45 degree angle, behind it was an M-16 rifle planted vertically with the barrel pointing down.  On the butt stock of the rifle rested a helmet with a pair of dog tags draped over it.  His photo was framed and placed behind the boots.  All of this was in front of a crossed American flag on one side and a Marine Corps flag on the other.  Our Chaplain said a few words as did our Captain.  After the memorial service was over all of us walked by the shrine to pay our respects.  My squad was standing around looking at each other.  They were uncharacteristically quiet and I couldn’t help but wonder if they were thinking the same thing I was.  “Will the next memorial service that we have be for me?  For someone we know? Or for one of us in the squad?”  I started to catch on as the days and weeks went by that there was always something that seemed to happen that helped reassure us of where we were at and what we were doing and how “real” things were.

Yesterday we switched from convoys to doing security patrols for the next month.  Our security patrols consisted of our 5 truck team patrolling around Camp TQ’s immediate area to search for and make contact with any potential threats usually no more than 20 miles or so out.  Most of our patrols are conducted right before night fall and last throughout the night.  I have been moved temporarily as the scout to second scout and I must say riding in a humvee is ten times better than riding in a seven-ton, my back will agree with me if you could ask it.  I loaded up all of my stuff in the truck, pinned up a rebel flag and on old Georgia flag on the dash and pulled out a brown pocket picture holder.  I opened it up and in three sections it had a picture of my dad, my mom, and my sister.  As I always did, call it superstition call it tradition whatever your fancy, I kissed the picture before we begin to roll. 

(continued on April 22)  

     Hmm I’ve been busy since I last wrote in here so if this entry seems fractured I apologize.  A couple of weeks ago I went on a security patrol, the same mission type as I described earlier.  As funny as chance is during the patrol my truck was chosen to take the lead due to the advanced technology and instruments that it carried…lets just say it was easier to navigate on the roads of Iraq with this particular piece of equipment that I was operating.  It had already gotten dark and we were patrolling down a road that we haven’t driven down before, hence the reason I was in the lead.  

     What happened next still gives me chills to this day.  A small sandstorm had already begun to pick up around us so it was becoming harder and harder to see.  My truck was rolling up to a small incline in the road when for a split second out of the corner of my eye, I saw a black shape object coming out of the right side of the road with bushes surrounding it.  I had seen trash like this before on the roads, but for some reason upon sight of the black object, every fiber in my being, every nerve coursing through my body seemed to ignite into flame, and almost faster than I could think, my voice rang out…. “Stop!”  

     As our driver slammed on the brakes and the sand from the road settled, I slowly opened my armored door and sneaked on to the road to check out the object on foot.  Unbeknown to us, we were roughly ten feet from the black object which was a culvert.  Culverts are pipes under the road placed to prevent flooding and allow rain water to flow away from the road (whenever it did rain I guess).  Culvert pipes are big enough to crawl into and are always a potential threat.  I circled around to the right of it watching my every step, my surefire flashlight supernaturally steady in my left hand, my right hand with its red rover grip on my rifle aiming in on the entrance of the culvert.  

     As I crept up to the opening of the pipe I extended my hand forward shining the beam of light from my flashlight towards the pipe.  When my eyes saw what it did I can tell you that my knees almost buckled.  Inside the pipe was a pressure plate, copper wire, and a blasting cap.  Almost complete components of materials that make up a road side bomb.  But where was the ordnance (explosives)?  I screamed back to my Marines not to move, and to radio back to our squad leader that I had found something.  I began to scan the area surrounding the culvert for anything else, ‘cause I always tried never to underestimate the Hadjis.  They had been notorious for setting up hoax IEDs along with complex attacks and possible multiple bombs that are harder to find.

     I went to the other side of the road to look inside the culvert on the left hand side.  To my surprise I saw down in a ditch next to the culvert was a metal spike in the ground with a wire running all the way to what looked like a small village about two clicks away (roughly 2,000 meters).  The significance of this wire meant that there was a possibility of a command detonated IED on the road as well, with a Hadji at the other end of the wire waiting to push a detonator with the signal running down the wire to the bomb which was literally close enough to me that I could have spit on it.  I yelled at everyone to get inside their trucks as I took pictures of it.  We set up security around the area and waited for EOD to come to detonate the possible bomb safely.  Upon detonation of the blast, the explosion was a bit larger than everyone had expected.  Apparently in the middle of the road, not inside the culvert, was the bomb, buried.  I can remember looking down at the spot where it was and not being able to see it.   The triggering device which made the bomb victim operated (means that in order to set it off someone or something would have to step on the trigger) was buried on top of it in the road.  The decision that I had made earlier not to walk any further on the road apparently was a life altering, life saving one, for I would have surely set it off.  

     I would be told later that where I was initially standing in the road, that I was literally inches away from my own death.  The blast, if my fellow Marines and I were inside our vehicle, would have ripped through our trucks armor, sending shrapnel and napalm like substance inside, disintegrating what was left of our bodies if the initial blast hadn’t finished us off already.  If the actual explosion didn’t kill us the fire from the bomb would have cooked us alive anyways.  When all of this knowledge hit me all at once, I almost got sick, but I was able to calm down and continue the mission.

     Oh reader, as you sit where you are now reading this, let my words be a conviction in your soul.  The tug, the jolt of alarm that went coursing through my body causing me to stop my vehicle, was in my firm belief that it was the Holy Ghost screaming at me to stop.  If ever a true word or fact of my life has ever been uttered from my lips it is this declaration that I make now; God is real!  He hears our prayers, he watches over us.  Whether we realize and praise Him for it or not, out of His love He does it anyways.  He doesn’t do it for awards or praise that we as humans might expect and desire for ourselves, yet He does it simply because He…..loves us.  That kind of love from a higher power in my mind and heart erases any thought in why I should seek Him in my life and love Him more with no equal.  The Creator of everything that we can comprehend and understand of existence loves and is interested in you!  My life and the lives of my fellow Marines in Evil Eye 1 were spared in the sands of Iraq because of His love for us and because of all of the prayers of loved ones back home.  If you reader, were one of those who prayed for me while I served in Iraq please except this humble and heartfelt thanks and appreciation that I give to you, and know with conviction in your heart that you can always say that God has answered a prayer of yours.  

     After the EOD team scanned the area themselves after the blasting of the IED, they told our squad that the wire wrapped around the spike ran to a particular house in the small village that was to the North of us.  Our squad leader got permission to go check out the house for possible insurgents.  I can remember the excited look from me and the rest of the Marines in Evil Eye 1.  Wow, clearing buildings and hunting the enemy down in a small Iraqi village, this was definitely the stuff we had signed the dotted line for.  We made a plan of attack and began our new mission.  The sun was beginning to slowly come up and then something really odd to me happened…it began to rain.  It rained harder than I ever thought it would in the desert.  We approached the small village in our trucks and drove up to its outer wall gates.  I was one of the four to be chosen to enter the city gates first.  [My Marine Friend, name omitted] was also among the four of us.  This was a very small village but it had several buildings that we were going to have to check out.  

     As we dismounted from our vehicles I took the lead and we rushed the first house.  I stood next to the door as the rest of the Marines stacked up behind me.  “United States Marines, open up!” I yelled.  No answer, I felt funny after yelling it because I thought; A) If they were insurgents they probably wouldn’t answer and B) what were the odds that they understood English and even knew what I was saying?  With my rifle aimed in on the door I kicked the door in as hard as I could with a loud bang.  I entered the room and cleared the corner that I was assigned to.  Our training was incredible.  We had trained days, weeks, months, some of us even years for situations like this.  Our hands, feet, eyes, ears every fiber of our being moved on trained instinct.  Just like a guitar player’s fingers know where to go, which strings to pick without looking and thinking, so did we move as a unit, we moved as Marines.  My sector was clear, and there was no one inside.  The rest of our squad dismounted and began to rapidly clear buildings as well with no results.

     As [my Marine Friend, name omitted], two other Marines and I crept up to the next house we were getting soaked from the rain.  The only sound that I could hear was the rain splattering on the sand and on the rooftops of every building. The rain hitting the sand has a muffled or cushioned sounding pitter patter.  Our every footstep echoed a splish splash as we tactically maneuvered through watery puddles and moist sand throughout the village.  “Someone is in the window!” one of the Marines yelled.  [My Marine Friend, name omitted] shined the green laser that was mounted on his rifle through the window, its beam bouncing off all of the walls inside.  Slowly, two men came out of the door with their hands raised.  After clearing the rest of the village with every heart pounding, adrenaline flowing, war movie like moment, we came to learn that oddly these two men were the only ones here, which raised some flags and eyebrows.  The two men told our interpreter that they did not live here and were just passing through seeking shelter during the night.  When we asked them if they had heard the explosion from the IED we had found earlier they told us no, which was undoubtedly a lie.  We could see the road from where we were standing, easily in hearing distance of the blast.  I can remember how scared and nervous they had looked, adding to my suspicion about them both.  Our command requested that we detain them and bring them back for questioning.  So we cuffed ‘em and stuffed ‘em and called it a day. 

     After getting back to base we learned later that one of the men was a member of the terrorist group Al Qaeda and was a known executioner.  Our squad high-fived and cheered each other.  It was a small victory but a victory none the less for us.  I wondered if the families of the people that this man had beheaded would ever learn that we had captured him and that they would not have to fear him anymore.  Justice had been served and it felt wonderful to be a part of it.

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Zachary James Cole

Born in Atlanta, Georgia. Living in Atlanta, GA. Well kinda, in a city NE of Atlanta in Metro Atlanta called Sugar Hill, but everyone close to ITP just says they are from Atlanta. Marine Veteran. Simul Iustus et Peccator. The verse that could best sum my life...Galatians 2:20...I am blown away by the Grace of God. What Jesus did for me just leaves me in awe and in thanksgiving...It was all Him...and the peace that comes with that is liberating...now I am free to lose everything because I have everything in Christ.

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