Our intern fought in Fallujah: one Marine's story

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Editor's note: As always at the beginning of a college semester, we have a new crop of interns, and this year it seems like we got pretty lucky. (Hey Shannon! Hey Fred!) Today, Fred came in and mentioned that he had some feelings about the fact that Fallujah was just retaken by al-Qaida because, well, in fact he fought there in 2004-5.

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We feel pretty lucky to have such capable hands on staff. Here's Fred's story.

 

I spent every major holiday in Iraq at least once when I was a young Marine, so it’s natural that I ponder the war during those times of year. The winter holidays especially stick out in my mind, since I was a rifleman in Fallujah through late 2004 and early 2005.

I thought about Fallujah a lot this past New Year’s, not least because al-Qaida-linked militants seized the city earlier this month in what could be called “spillover violence” from Syria.

But I remembered standing post in a rooftop bunker one night in early January. It had only been 2005 for a couple days, and the city was eerily quiet for months after our kill-crazy assault that past fall.

I was posted with an Iraqi soldier who chain-smoked like a cokehead, and I made him stand on the opposite side of the roof, lest a sniper accidentally brain me while aiming for the red glow of his cherry.

Then gunfire erupted a few blocks away. An orgasm of cracking rifle reports and orange tracers lit up the night, and I got on the radio to report what was going on.  Nobody at the command post could tell me what was up. We didn’t have any Marines out there.

I found myself pretty satisfied about having fireworks for the New Year. Tracers ricocheted into the sky for the rest of my post.

When my relief showed up, I asked what happened, and he said that it was Iraqi soldiers and cops. They nervously bumped into one another out there on their respective patrols, and apparently they had no radio communications or coordination with one another. So they slugged it out by accident – for an hour and a half.

That was nine years ago, but I still think about that episode of friendly fire whenever I see bottle rockets or Roman candles shooting off on Independence Day or New Year’s Eve. Fireworks represent battle, and vice-versa.

For me, it was much more than a light show; it illustrated the harsh task in front of Iraqi forces once professional Western armies left for good. That challenge has now reared its head to reveal a mouthful of jagged teeth.

Even though al-Qaida militants are once again landlords in the City of Mosques, I’m not stuck in “What did I fight for?” despair like a lot of my war buddies on Facebook. I realized the futility of the entire war years back.

When we consider the situation in Fallujah today, we shouldn’t point fingers as Americans usually do. War has always been fluid, random and ruthless, and there’s not a damned thing anyone can do about changes in the weather, least of all Americans who said goodbye to that senseless conflict in 2011.

Make no mistake – the Iraqi army will eventually retake Fallujah. Let’s just hope there aren’t too many accidental firework shows in the process.

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