Thursday, August 16, 2007


Glancing out the window of the Lufthansa flight I was taken aback by all the green I saw, after months in the desert everything seemed so alive with color from my view headed into Dulles Airport. I sat back and thought about my whole experience and how in an hour or so I would be joining my family again and heading north back to Maryland.

The moments leading up to this were still fresh in my mind of helo and C-130 flights to get me out of Iraq to Kuwait and to the big staging camp of "Liberty" at Ali Al Salem air base in Kuwait. I would be here a few days before putting on civilian clothes and boarding a commercial flight back to the U.S.A.

I turned in my weapon and ammo in Kuwait and felt odd, for so many months I always had a pistol with me wherever I went, no flack jacket or helmet here either. I walk around thinking I am missing something as all of those things were such a part of everyday life in Iraq. I noticed a lot of the other services walk around this base in PT (Physical Training) gear consisting of shorts and a tee shirt, The Marines always wear their uniform making them easy to spot in the crowds. This whole place seems odd to me, it is a large area of approx 200 12 to 16 man tents, this is a transit area for people heading into Iraq and Afghanistan as well as those headed back to the states. You will see the inhabitants of the tents change literally on an hourly basis. There is a McDonald's, KFC and Pizza Hut with folks always lined up at them...maybe I am just an old guy but I continued to eat at the Govt facility.

At the designated time I change into my civilian clothes and make my way with pack on my back to the manifesting area for the bus to Kuwait International Airport. I notice my clothes are very loose, I would guess I lost about 10 to 15 pounds in the months I spent in Iraq, One more reminder of where I have been. We ride out into the night and I gaze at the desert landscape of Kuwait and have trouble thinking this is all ending soon, I see signs of western civilization, neon lights, cars on the freeway and into the hustle and mass of people at the airport, my mind trying to grasp the changes...36 hours ago I was in I am in civilian clothes and heading to commercial airplane. A quick stop in Germany and now back to my seat on final approach to Dulles airport in Virginia. I think back to when I used to ask in my interviews for people to describe their Iraq and combat experience, I now struggle to answer that question myself as I know I will be asked.

The journey reaches its high point when I exit the international arrivals and see the big smile of my daughter..... I am home

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Are you Ready?

Are you ready? That’s the question I have asked myself over and over. From the moment I accepted to go on this deployment, to my first night in Kuwait when I could not sleep and spent the long night staring at the ceiling of the tent. To each day waking up here in Iraq… are you ready for what may come today? I have traveled all throughout the Al Anbar Province and the Marine Corps area of operations. I have experienced a wide range of emotions from cursing at the current situation with words I was even surprised came out of my mouth, to swallowing hard and pushing on… Are you ready?

In my travels as a historian I have had the opportunity to talk with hundreds of Marines and have seen things I will never forget. Doing an interview is mostly a one on one meeting between me and a fellow Marine, behind a closed door on most occasions. I have seen hard as nails combat veterans break down and cry when telling me about the loss of a fellow Marine or seeing a child killed; I am most likely the first Marine who has asked them to tell me their story, sometimes making them relive horrible memories. I have heard stories of incredible bravery and of self sacrifice to “Duty, Honor and Country” words that for some are not a cliché, but truly have meaning. Those moments are burned into my memory….Are you ready? I have tasted my own fear being outside the wire and riding in a convoy with weapons loaded and at the ready, the mental preparation for that is something to experience…Am I ready to do what may need to be done?…Is there an IED in the road? Will we take fire? Is there a sniper out to kill us? If it does happen what will they tell my daughter about her father?… Am I ready?

In my job as the historian the stories and pictures I have captured for future generations of Americans so that we will not forget what has happened here will remain with me. I have them all in my head, each interview, the words, the faces; I have images in my memory that will be life long. Am I the same man who left Maryland months ago? I have continued to push on and keep focused, I have found strength here that I had long ago forgotten about: “Remember your roots Mike, you are a Marine I tell myself”, the time is here and now. I will always remember my days as the “Gunner” here in Iraq. There are few things in my life that have made me prouder than what I do today. I will hold firmly onto the memories of the times my uniform said it all SEARS……U.S. MARINES…Was I ready?

There will be a day shortly when I will no longer be the Gunner. I will put my pack down for the final time and walk off into retirement. A quarter of a century from when I first showed up at the gates of Parris Island not sure what I got myself into. But I will leave with the knowledge and pride that I have served with the finest America has produced. My Corps is in great hands with the Marines I have had the privilege and honor to serve with here in Iraq, This is the Corps’ future leaders, and they are ready.

In a few days this journey will start to move towards its conclusion, I will board a plane bound for Kuwait and ultimately the United States and leave Iraq behind me or will I always carry part of iraq with me I wonder? The full realization of where I have been and what I have experienced is starting to set in, it seems like April when I left Maryland was a lifetime ago. .. Are they ready for me back home?

Thursday, August 2, 2007


I am jolted by the Soldier walking past me who snaps a salute and says “Good Morning Sir” I wonder what the hell is he doing? I have been in Iraq since May and we Marines do not salute in a combat zone. I am seconds away from asking him ‘Do you know where the hell we are” I salute him back and think where the hell am I? A salute out here is recognition of who the officers are, a great target for snipers or anyone else trying to find out who the leaders are... things are different here at Camp Liberty in Baghdad I learn.

I feel like I have stumbled back into civilization on this sprawling base full of Army, Navy, Air Force and yes a few Marines. There are also coalition forces from Poland, Australia, the UK, Korea just to name a few. There is fast food, a large stateside size exchange; I see lots of SUV’s and other cars and lots of civilian contractors. I begin to realize where I have been these past months and it starts to sink in.

I am in Baghdad to have a meeting with my boss, Col Michael Visconage about my time here in Iraq and to pass copies of my collection efforts with the Marines out in the Al Anbar province to him at the Joint Historical Office. I get the unique experience of seeing the higher headquarters of MNC-I the place where Gen Petraeus commands from, the Al Faw palace. The Al Faw palace of Saddam Hussein is now the command headquarters, the coalition has taken over this place and it is now the nerve center for conducting this war.

I have to take the obligatory tourist pictures of the palace, and I think how drastically different my life and experience has been out west with the Marines. I have a good day with the Colonel and he actually turns the tables on me and interviews me…. Strange being on the other side after so many months of being the one asking the questions.

I continue saluting all day and walk in a haze as I feel so out of place here. My boots are covered in the lunar dust that is all outside the wire, my uniform is a bit dirty and sweaty and lived in compared to the staff of the Al Faw, I feel relieved to be back in my flack jacket, helmet on and walking in the darkness that evening to the Marine CH-46 that will take me back to Fallujah... Back where I belong.

Pics of the post, me sitting in Saddam’s former throne in the Al-Faw, a gift to him from Yassar Arafat formally of the PLO.

The other is of me outside the Palace to give you an idea how large it is.