Since 2004, I have taken the almost entirely taken the month of November off from work. The reason I’ve done this is because it is a particularly difficult time of year for me. I use that time as a chance to reflect on the past and remember.
On November 8, 2004 after a long patrol gathering military aged males in the area to bring back and question, we heard an explosion in the distance. Nothing out of the ordinary for being in Iraq, but my squad was immediately called on for a quick reaction force (QRF). On the way out of the gates is when I was briefed by my fire team leader.
That large explosion we heard was another platoon getting struck by an IED. It wasn’t our first run in with IEDs but it was our first of this magnitude. When we got to the site of the IED, I was shocked as what I saw. The sights, and smells are still vivid in my mind today.
I could smell the metallic smell of the explosives when we got there, and the carnage of the wreckage was insane. There wasn’t much left of the truck. We pulled up and got out of our truck, and I heard that we were looking for three Marines, two were critically wounded and we were waiting on the medivac. We were tasked to find the missing three Marines, and then set up a perimeter to help with the security.
My fire-team walked around with a corpsman looking for our lost brothers, and then set up security. It was an extremely long day, and it was also an extremely emotional day. We lost great men that day, and two we were unsure of whether or not we would see them again or not.
Later that month, the night of Thanksgiving actually. November 25th, 2004 my squad was on a patrol where we were ghosting large Army supply convoys. Now when I say ghosting we basically followed the convoy keeping back a few hundred meters with our IR lights on our trucks, while the Army convoy would have all their headlights on.
At that time, the Army SOP was to just keep driving through an ambush, were ours was to push through the kill zone then attack. What we would do if the convoy ahead of us got attacked, would be to go to wherever the enemy was shooting from and kill them. That was the game plan.
We followed a few convoys up and down the Main Supply Route (MSR) and we were waiting on the next convoy heading back south for us to jump behind and head back home. We waited for a couple hours and finally just said screw it and headed back. While we were heading back the lead vehicle hit a trip wire IED.
With that one IED blast it seemed like forever, but we got word that our Platoon Guide was injured, we had another Marine that was KIA, and two more that were wounded. After some things calmed down and we got someone from the Forward Operating Base (FOB) to bring back the wounded, which were all loaded into my truck now.
I ended up having to turn the convoy around as the guys that showed up to bring us back hadn’t been off the base often, then I got into a shouting match with an E-6, when I was just an E-3. The E-6 wasn’t happy with me turning his convoy around, and me turning my lights on while inside the FOB taking the wounded to the hospital. Normal SOP was lights stay off and we have a ground guide. I did not follow that since I had wounded in my truck that needed to get to the hospital.
My First Sergeant happened to be walking around the corner while I was screaming at the E-6 and basically saved me from a whole lot of trouble down the road. That night was another rough night and I sat down and wrote my father a letter that completely changed the dynamics of his and I’s relationship since.
Now back to the entire purpose of what this blog is now that you have some background. I typically take the entire month of November to remember those brothers, and it is still emotionally draining on me. However, this year I was not able to take the month off like I normally do because of my work schedule earlier in the year. So I worked, and it was rough.
I felt as if I was just going through the motions of being there, I did my work and what needed to be done, but I could have done a better job at some of the things. I’m sure I wasn’t a real pleasure to be around at home, because I didn’t have that time to reflect and just be by myself to recharge, and just not people or adult.
Now, November isn’t a completely terrible month. In fact my wedding anniversary is on November 8th. I have a niece who’s birthday is November 8th. My best friend and brother from another mother has a wedding anniversary on November 11th. There are a lot of good things about November, but I always find myself going back to those days so it’s typically a month of depression for me.
It can be a dark month, but I have found over the years that I have been looking more and more towards the good of the month. It can be extremely difficult to pull yourself out of a dark place, when you find yourself in one. You have to find the good to get yourself out, and it can be extremely difficult to do so. I have found that my center, my purpose and how I pull myself out is my wife and kids. When I’m down, them just being there helps me. Find your happy place.