Being a Female Marine Attached to a Grunt Unit
When my friends or acquaintances ask me about my time in Iraq, usually I try to change the subject or be very vague about it. They especially want to know all the grueling details if I ever got shot at. For years and years, I would tell people that I did not go outside of the wire, which means I never left the perimeter of the base. I am a horrible liar, and it is completely obvious that it would be nearly impossible for me not to have ever left the wire, and not be ever shot at during my time in Iraq. I was a motor transport operator, which is essentially a combat driver. It was basically my job to be shot at on a pretty regular basis. I was deployed during the begging of the war, a few months after the initial invasion in Iraq. I bet it says on the fine print of my enlistment package *Must be shot at least 6 times per week to maintain rank.*
My platoon was located on the very back side of a huge base, away from everyone else. We were located on that side to protect that side of the base. We were mortared ALL the time, usually once or twice a day. Sometimes we got a few days off, especially during Ramadan. My full blooded brother was deployed to the other side of the base, and he was in a separate unit. It was really hard for me to focus on my work when in middle of the night I see that the other side of the base is being mortared, and there is nothing I can do but wait. For those who have seen "Saving Private Ryan", which is ironic since my brother's name is Ryan, they stopped doing the who sibling thing during World War I. I wasn't as valuable because I am a female, and I do not carry on the last name.
When you get mortared, you hear these loud air sirens and announcement that says “All hands, report to your duty station, Incoming, All hands, report duty station, Level 3, Incoming”. Each base, from what I can tell has their own codes for incoming fire. When you receive a code, it basically means grab your gear, and go find your platoon. If you are in a port-a-john, you should get out now. If your in our make-shift tent gym, you should get out. If your eating, drop your plate and leave, you have one minute to form up and do a head-count with the rest of your platoon. Plus, you should never be a few feet away from your partner, We never spent too much time in the port-a-john in Iraq because it is kind of like being on a plane, you really do not want to die in there.
Marines within our own ranks are separated between POG and Grunts.
A POG (the way it is pronounced doesn’t rhyme with hog or log, but rhymes with the “hoag” in a hoagie sandwich), it stands for Person Other than Grunts. In the Marines, you are a grunt (which is some one in artillery or the infantry), or, you are a person other than grunt. I was one of the first females to ever be attached to a grunt unit. Even still, no matter how much action I saw, I still would never be a grunt. A bunch of my grunt friends made-up certain challenges for me to accomplish, which I did, and I became an honorary grunt; at least to them.
Grunts are a very proud, loud, and tough bunch of Marines, they have my respect. We always laughed when we got mortared and the POGs (I say this cautiously because I am still a POG) would announce for their platoons (mostly aviations units) to report to their assigned tents to weather the mortar attacks. It does not take a genius to realize that a tent will not protect you from a mortar attack. So we all laughed, as we ducked for cover with actual objects that would protect us from a mortar shell.
To be fair, nome of us ever got injured from a mortar shell on my side of base. Usually the insurgents, just point the RPG in the air and shoot. I have personally watched them from a guard house drive up to the wire in these white Mercedes pick-up trucks, which had two people in the back, and aim and fire willy-nilly. It was amazing how many times they hit our chow-hall in middle of the night, thankfully when no one was there. It just pissed us all off worse because, no one wants to deal with a hungry Marine.
I was fortunate, I was on the A-team, even if I was just an honorary hanger-on. They were combat-tested, and they knew what to do, even when I had no clue. While I make fun of the aviation Marines, my brother is one, and he is a Marine I would never want to go against.
However, aviation Marines are looked as being the weaker Marines because they are responsible for the air, and we are the one's fighting in trenches. Marines can make fun of ourselves like this, but if a civilian, or even worst, a person of a different branch were to make fun of an aviation Marine, there will be blood.
I was shot at outside of the wire while I was driving, especially since I was a teenage female. This article is hard for me to write about and I know now that I will have nightmare about everything since I am writing about right now.
I had a few close calls, not including when my truck hit the improvised explosive device (IED). I tried to hide the fact I was a female by putting my hair up on a bun on the very top of my head then wearing a knit cap down low and put some brown camouflage paint on my face. I looked like a homeless drifter who got a hold of some poor Marines uniform.
Women were prime targets, and the fact that I have bright red “Wendy's” hair made me stand out like a soar thumb, hence the reason for the knit cap. I would have dyed it, but we were in Iraq for seven to twelve months. and showers were far and few between; it would have faded in all the sand storms.