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March 24, 2005
The FewBy Greyhawk
Owen West served with the Marines in Operation Iraqi Freedom. He's now a trader for Goldman, Sachs, and aside from that he finds time to write - and to write well. The Few is the story of one of the heroes of the battle for Fallujah, and my thanks to Owen for sending it here - I'm proud to help tell this story.
Owen writes: "The sacrifice by all the Marines and soldiers in Operation Al Fajr--including those who fought in the April battle--brought extraordinary results. Fallujah has turned from hornet's nest into one of the more peaceful cities in the triangle. Indeed, the excision of the terrorists in Fallujah is directly correlated to the overall drop in violence and the spectacular election."
He's right, of course. Historians will likely see the period between the first incursion into Fallujah and the ultimate finishing of the task as the 'dark days' of the Iraq war. I can't help but echo Churchill's sentiment on a similar occasion - never have so many owed so much to so few.
The path Darrell Carver chose out of his Salt Lake City high school was similar to that taken by other overachieving classmates. He'd married his high school sweetheart when he was 20, had three wonderful kids by the time he was 27, and was leading an elite team for his company by the time he was 28, sating his mild addictions to fitness and hunting when the occasional free hour presented itself.
But Carver followed a calling imbued in just a sliver of the population. On November 20th, 2004, while most of his peers were in office parks earning money with keyboards, Darrell Carver was approaching a tin-plated door in the heart of Fallujah, Iraq, with his rifle stock held firm in the crook of a shoulder tattooed with "USMC" and two terrorists praying to end him on the other side.
Gunnery Sergeant Carver is a member of an elite slice of America that has emerged on the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq: the warrior class. Drawn from across the socio-economic spectrum by an uncommon confluence of duty, adventure, and martial spirit, this all-volunteer cadre has demonstrated that it belongs among history's elite fighting units.
That men like Carver choose to serve in combat arms, a deadly profession in which few transferable civilian skills are gleaned, says a lot about the fabric of the country. Before September 11th, America carried a soft and feckless reputation among its mortal enemies. Beyond low-risk tactics skewed toward technology-cruise missiles, invisible bombers-they concluded that America had no will to fight. Now those enemies are meeting America's core strength: young men with an innate desire to carry rifles for a living.
The ferocity and direction of the attack into Fallujah shattered the enemy's initial defensive plan. It was left to infantrymen like Carver to rip the terrorists out of closets and bedrooms were they had scattered in small packs.
On one side of the doors stood men who believed they would be judged how they lived. On the other lay men who believed they would be judged on how they died. How these two groups of men, who were more alike than different as boys, had traveled tens of years and thousands of miles to kill each other was best answered by the professional philosopher. For a professional warrior like Carver, combat was the natural culmination of moral divergence. A murderous enemy had infected Fallujah. Politicians could not excise them. Marines and soldiers could.
Fallujah had been parsed into familial nicknames. Clearing the Upper West Side had been hard enough, but when Carver's platoon was sent to help the effort in Queens, a particularly nasty corner of the city near the Euphrates that was littered with corpses of Iraqi "collaborators" who had been executed, it seemed as if a terrorist was hidden in every third house, hell-bent on dragging a Marine into the ground with him.
It was "tiring work," as Carver puts it. For most Americans, the office is a cubicle tract where conflict is limited to harsh emails. For a Marine, the office is a smoldering, stinking, ear-splitting arena filled with young men who are trying to kill each other.
The battle was an intensely personal, face-to-face fight inside individual rooms where the screams often muted the gunfire and the crawl spaces muted the American technological edge. This meant that a Marine had to burst into a room with his rifle shouldered, steady his barrel on a concealed target, then break the trigger before the screaming lunatic trying to ambush him could manage an aimed shot and a proper "Allahu Akbar!"
If anything, the madness of it just made the Marines angrier. Everything in Fallujah was upside-down. Religious leaders demanded violence. Stray cats feasted on fallen men. Zarqawi had constructed a torture chamber twenty-five feet away from a small amusement park.
Even the smoke settled strangely. In his first firefight on November 20, Carver charged into a room behind a grenade. The acrid dust had climbed the walls and spilled across the ceiling, broiling in the top half of the bedroom instead of falling. He heard the terrorist shuffle toward his men. Instead of dropping into a firing position that might have exposed him, Carver leapt up into the smog and onto a bed. He ended the threat.
In the second house, the door swung open and there were two terrorists lumbering toward Carver like zombies in some horror movie. He and the other force reconnaissance Marines had honed their shooting skills over hundreds of hours and thousands of bullets. Four bullets did the trick.
The day was an hour old.
The Marine team crept down the hallway of the third house in a human centipede stack bristling with rifles. Carver had moved into point position and now he stood outside another door wondering what the hell was waiting for him inside. Hundreds of doors opened already. Hundreds more to go.
He opened the door with his left hand, keeping his front sight post moving with his eyes. Someone coming out of a closet, firing an AK-47. The flat, booming report reverberated under his body armor. Carver had to shoot the terrorist several times before he flopped onto the spent casings.
Now more firing from behind the door on his left. Two rounds slammed into his thigh and another passed clean through his calf. They felt more like baseball bats than hot needles. Carver wheeled to maintain his balance and center his weapon. Saw smoking holes in the door. Another bullet popped through and smacked his shoulder, ending any hope of remaining on his feet.
It was an enemy grenade that saved him. Without it, Carver would have tumbled inside the room, into the kill zone. Instead the grenade came bouncing out toward his boots, as mesmerizing as a giant wasp, and blew him clear out of the room.
Twenty-one minutes later Navy doctors were plucking dozens of fragments from his body and sewing the four quarter-sized holes. Twenty-one hours later Carver checked out of the field hospital with a crutch in his armpit instead of a rifle and the hazy memory of a phone call to his wife, Holly.
Holly got the call in the afternoon. "Honey I got hurt," her husband told her. Of all the casualty notifications given to family members, a phone call from the wounded warrior is the best. Phone calls from doctors or officers are bad. Doorbells are the worst. Darrell was now one of the twelve thousand casualties in Iraq. One of the lucky ones.
The untold story of war is the burden shouldered by the families. Devotion to their soldiers is well known. But the hidden buttress of an all-volunteer war is devotion to the cause. Families are serving the country every bit as fervently as their soldiers. Without their commitment to the war, second and third deployments to Iraq would be zero sum decisions for soldiers. "If he had to go back (for a third tour), I support him," says Holly. "It is worth the sacrifice of separation to help the people of Iraq."
The costs of the war on terror may not be spread wide, but they are deep. Families like the Carvers are willing to shoulder the costs of the national interest for the lowest risk-adjusted wage in America and zero fanfare. In other societies, warriors are motivated by externalized power. Ours are motivated by internal duty. Geopolitics aside, the country should be thankful that it has cultivated a tiny warrior class that can dominate an overseas battlefield while upholding its best values.
Posted by Greyhawk / March 24, 2005 10:36 PM | Permalink
Mudville Gazette A damn good piece of writing about a damn good man. Sgt. Carver is one of those who puts the lie to the claim Americans don't have what it takes. Some claim we will have to reinstate the... Read More
Mudville points us to the tale of Gunnery Sergeant Darrell Carver, USMC, by Owen West. Be thankful this country has men like Gunny Carver.... Read More
Owen West wrote the history of Gunnery Sergeant Darrell Carver, USMC. Greyhawk posted this story from Owen West (Bing West's Son, and Leader of Marines) That men like Carver choose to serve in combat arms, a deadly profession in which few transfe... Read More
November 26, 2010
I think anyone who's ever pondered the "comment" option - once only available on blogs and bulletin boards, now ubiquitous on almost any web site - will appreciate this:
The so-called faculty of writing is not so much a faculty of writing as it is a faculty of thinking. When a man says, "I have an idea but I can't express it"; that man hasn't an idea but merely a vague feeling. If a man has a feeling of that kind, and will sit down for a half an hour and persistently try to put into writing what he feels, the probabilities are at least 90 percent that he will either be able to record it, or else realize that he has no idea at all. In either case, he will do himself a benefit.
That's wisdom from the past, captured for posterity at the US Naval Institute, shared via the web on the institute's 137th anniversary.
From their about page:
"The Naval Institute has three core activities," among them, History and Preservation:
The Naval Institute also has recently introduced Americans at War, a living history of Americans at war in their own words and from their own experiences. These 90-second vignettes convey powerful stories of inspiration, pride, and patriotism.
Take a look at the collection, and you'll see it's not limited to accounts from those who served on ships at sea, members of the other branches are well-represented.
I'm fortunate to have met USNI's Mary Ripley, she's responsible for the institute's oral history program (and she's the daughter of the late John Ripley, whose story is told here). She also deserves much credit for their blog. ("We're not the Navy nor any government agency. Blog and comment freely.") We met at a milblog conference - Mary knew (and I would come to realize) that milbloggers are the 21st-century version of exactly what the US Naval Institute is all about. Once that light bulb came on in my head, I mentioned a vague idea for a project to her - milblogs as the 21st century oral history that they are.
"Put that in writing," she said (of course - see first paragraph above!) - and here's part of the result.
Shortly after the first tent was pitched by the American military in Iraq a wire was connected to a computer therein, and the internet was available to a generation of Americans at war - many of whom had grown up online. From that point on, at any given moment, somewhere in Iraq a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine was at a keyboard sharing the events of his or her day with the folks back home. While most would simply fire off an email, others took advantage of the (then) relatively new online blogging platforms to post their thoughts and experiences for the entire world to see. The milblog was born - and from that moment to this stories detailing everything from the most mundane aspects of camp life to intense combat action (often described within hours of the event) have been available on the web...
And et cetera - but since you're reading this on a milblog, you probably knew that. And you know that milblogs aren't just blogs written by troops at war, that many friends, family members, and supporters likewise documented their story of America at war online in near-real time, as those stories developed.
The diversity in membership of that group is broad, the one thing we all have in common is the impulse to make sense of the seemingly senseless, and communicate the tale - for each of us that impulse was strong enough to overcome whatever barriers prevent the vast majority of people from doing the same. Everyone at some point has some vague idea they believe should be shared - we were the people who, from some combination of internal and external urging, found and spent those many half hours persistently trying to write it down.
But where will all that be in another 137 years? Or five or ten, for that matter. That's something I've asked myself since at least 2004 - when I wrote this:
Membership in the ghost battalion has grown in the years since, and an ever growing majority of those abandoned-but-still-standing sites are vanishing. Have you checked out Lt Smash's site lately? How about Sgt Hook's? If you're a long-time milblog reader you know the first widely-read milblog from Operation Iraq Freedom and the first widely-read milblog from Afghanistan are both gone from the web. If you're a relative newcomer to this world you may never even have heard of them - or the dozens upon dozens of others who carried forth the standard they set down.
If you have a vague notion that something should be done about that, (a notion I've heard expressed more than once...) then you and I and the good folks at the US Naval Institute are in agreement. Preserving the history documented by the milbloggers is just one of the goals of the milblog project, the once-vague idea that we're now making real.
And it's a big idea, if I say so myself - too big to explain in one simple blog post, so stand by for more. Likewise, it's too big a task to be accomplished by just one person. So if you're a milblogger (and exactly what is a milblogger? is a topic for much further discussion on its own) I'm asking for your help. All I'll really need is just a little bit (maybe just one or two of those half hours...) of your time, and your willingness to tell the tale.
We've already made history, it's time to save it.
(More to follow...)
The Mudville Gazette is the on-line voice of an American warrior and his wife who stands by him. They prefer to see peaceful change render force of arms unnecessary. Until that day they stand fast with those who struggle for freedom, strike for reason, and pray for a better tomorrow.
Furthermore, I will occasionally use satire or parody herein. The bottom line: it's my house.
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