Infantrymen have a pride and arrogance that most Americans don’t understand and don’t like. Even soldiers who aren’t infantrymen don’t understand. The pride doesn’t exist because we have a job that’s physically impressive. It certainly doesn’t exist because it takes a higher level of intelligence to perform our duties. It’s sad and I hate to admit it, but any college student or high school grad can physically do what we do. It’s not THAT demanding and doesn’t take a physical anomaly. Nobody will ever be able to compare us to professional athletes or fitness models. And it doesn’t take a very high IQ to read off serial numbers, pack bags according to a packing list, or know that incoming bullets have the right of way.
The pride of the infantryman comes not from knowing that he’s doing a job that others can’t, but that he’s doing a job that others simply won’t. Many infantrymen haven’t seen a lot of combat. While that may sound ideal to the civilian or non-infantry soldier, it pains the grunt. We signed up to spit in the face of danger. To walk the line between life and death and live to do it again – or not. To come to terms with our own mortality and let others try to take our life instead of yours. We have raised our hands and said, “Take me, America. I am willing to kill for you. I am willing to sacrifice my limbs for you. I will come back to America scarred and disfigured for you. I will be the first to die for you.” [Most of you will hate me anyway.]
That’s why the infantryman carries himself with pride and arrogance. He’s aware that America has lost respect for him. To many he’s a bloodthirsty animal. To others he’s too uneducated and stupid to get a regular job or go to college. Only he knows the truth. While there are few in America who claim to have respect for him, the infantryman returns from war with less fanfare than a first down in a high school football game. Yes, people hang up their “Support Our Troops” ribbons and on occasion thank us for our service. But in their eyes the infantryman can detect pity and shame; not respect. Consider this: How excited would you be to meet the average infantryman? Now compare that with how excited you’d be to meet a famous actor or professional sports player and you will find that you, too, are guilty of placing the wrong people on a pedestal. You wouldn’t be able to tell me how many soldiers died in the war last month, but you’d damn sure be able to tell me if one of the actors from Twilight died.
Yet the infantryman doesn’t complain about that. He continues to do his job; to volunteer his life for you, all while being paid less in four years than Tom Brady makes in one game.
It’s a job most Americans don’t understand, don’t envy, and don’t respect. That is why we have pride for the infantry.
On 04 JAN 02, I left the Tampa, FL Military Entrance & Processing Station for Fort Benning, GA in a 15-pack van with 11 other future soldiers. We were headed for the 30th AG Reception Station before being pushed on to the Infantry Training Brigade (ITB). Georgia had received an ice storm on the 3rd and we ended up having to spend another night in the hotel in Tampa before making the drive. It took about 10 hours to make the drive and we arrived after midnight.
Upon arrival, we could see four men in uniform, wearing BDUs and brown Smokey the Bear hats. Under the arc sodium lights outside the building, all we could see is their jaw lines. It was quiet and cold. We got our bags out of the van and once we turned around, the shark attack began. In a tone loud enough to wake the dead in another state and with words that would make your mother blush, we were rushed inside to dump all of our belongings on a table. Our personal effects were searched for contraband. The next thing that we were instructed to do was to shave our [expletive x4] faces. We got our first hair cut shortly thereafter. Fuzzy cue ball is not my favorite coif for cold weather.
30th AG is where you get your Army identity. It’s where your pay check, medical benefits, insurance, and training starts. It was a whirlwind. Let’s skip forward a week. We marched to our basic training company, C Co 2-19th Infantry, “Rock of Chickamaugua”. Our duffle bags road on a truck. Drill Sergeants can be evil bastards. This was where we first experienced unrealistic time hacks to accomplish a task and then swiftly and severely punished when we failed to meet it. The duffle bags were thrown into a haphazard pile behind the trucks. Now, you have less than a minute to find two with your name on them. It’s like trying to find a pair of needles in a stack of needles while the timer on a bomb counts down. You get it now?
I am not going to recount all of basic training. Either you’ve been there and done that or you haven’t. If you haven’t gone yet, I don’t want to ruin the fun. I will make a short list of things that I will never forget:
- 1. The Obstacle Course- You and your Battle Buddy charging through the mud and water, exhausted, but feeling completely alive.
- 2. Eagle Tower- Repelling from the top of a tall ass tower. It was pretty awesome and rather terrifying at the same time.
- 3. THE BAYONET- A 25 mile foot march, broken up with squad/platoon attacks missions along the way (one of them involving climbing a clay cliff face to attack a dug in position). It ended with use climbing up Honor Hill, the pathway going up and the top of the hill lit with torches. The hand you a pint of grog before pinning your crossed rifles on the chest.
- 4. The Steak Breakfast the next morning.
- 5. Graduation Day- Standing on that field with your fellow baby grunts, ready to make your way to Airborne School or to your first Duty Station. You can feel the change in you. You stand taller, you are mentally and physically stronger. It was a proud day.
I am going to start writing about my journey in an effort to help someone prepare for what they are about to face. Things have changed in the last 12 years, but a lot of things haven’t. I hope you learn from these lessons, DR. If you’re willing…
To be continued…
Three weeks from coming home, N.C.-based soldiers die in Iraq.
Spc. Marc S. Seiden
Died January 2, 2004 Serving During Operation Iraqi Freedom
26, of Brigantine, N.J.; assigned to 2nd Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, N.C.; killed in action when his convoy was ambushed by the enemy who used an improvised explosive device (IED), small arms fire, and a rocket-propelled grenade, on Jan. 2 in Baghdad.
Army Spc. Solomon C. Bangayan
Died January 2, 2004 Serving During Operation Iraqi Freedom
24, of Jay, Vt.; assigned to 2nd Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, N.C.; killed in action when his convoy was ambushed by the enemy who used an improvised explosive device (IED), small arms fire, and a rocket-propelled grenade, on Jan. 2 in Baghdad.
We were three weeks away from coming home. It’s one of those days in my life that I will never forget. I couldn’t tell you what I had for breakfast that morning or even what time I woke up. I can’t even tell you the exact time the call came in over the radio, but that is when the memory starts.
I was part of the company mortar section back then. Being a part of the company headquarters section often meant making runs to battalion or the support area for meetings, supplies, meals, etc. I remember that we’d just rolled back in the gate at the oil refinery we were living in from one such trip. We’d gone to pick dinner up for the company. We hadn’t even shut off the trucks yet when we heard the call over the radio.
Our third platoon had two trucks on patrol to the south, down on River road. I don’t even remember exactly what their mission was down there at the time. I do remember the sound of the voice on the radio saying that an IED had detonated under one of our trucks and there were casualties. We tossed the mermites full of whatever food we’d picked up that evening onto the curb, jumped back into our trucks and hauled ass.
I remember worrying about my best friend at the time. He was the RTO in 3rd platoon. I didn’t know if he’d gone out with them. In reality, it was a short drive, I barely even remember it looking back. I just remember how at the time it seemed that we weren’t moving fast enough.
Once at the site, certain images, scents, feelings and actions can never be forgotten. They’ve crawled into that protected hard drive space in my brain that will never be erased until the lights to out.
Four 105mm artillery rounds had been set off under the truck. It had ripped the right side of the truck off, killing Marc instantly. At the same time, he explosion at launched the truck into the air, causing it to barrel roll down a hill. Bang (Bangayan) had been in the turret and had been thrown free, but the concussion of the blast had killed him. I remember when I first saw him, lying on a stretcher. He could have been asleep, there wasn’t a scratch on him.
My best friend’s roommate, Dave, had been thrown from the truck as well. When we arrived, he was down the hill, with his leg pinned under the rear right tire. The truck was sitting on a very steep incline, with all of its weight resting on the side Dave was pinned under. I remember six of us grabbing the frame of the truck and lifting with all of our might. It was the heaviest thing in the world at the moment, the side with the armor still intact, but we had to move it. We had to get Dave out from underneath the tire and get him to the incoming medevac.
I remember helping to set up the HLZ and then going to perimeter security. And when the bird landed, I was sent to help carry Bang to the helicopter. I remember the myriad of emotions I felt. I remember thinking just how fucking unfair it was that these guys got injured or killed just three weeks before we were supposed to come home. I remember seeing my best friend at one point and feeling a guilty sense of relief that he was okay.
I don’t remember much else about that day after that. We pulled security, EOD came and did crater analysis and we went back to the company eventually. The next three weeks until we went home are lost to the sands of time.
I do remember the day that we caught the guys who set the IED. I remember riding in the back of the truck, pulling security while we took them to the detention center. I can’t speak for anyone else in that truck, but I remember wanting to put my Beretta to one of the guy’s skulls and sending him to whatever god he believed in. That was the justice I wanted to give my brothers. It was dark and cold when we arrived at the support area and handed them over. I remember the fences and bright lights they had set up, but I didn’t go inside.
It’s amazing what my mind does remember of that day, 10 years ago. I was a 19 year old kid, on the end of my first tour to the sandbox. So much life has happened since then. I still keep in touch with a lot of the guys who were there that day. I’m sure each of them could give you a variation of the same story from their own point of view. You don’t forget days like that. Even 10 years later.
So now it’s 0217 in the morning, January 3rd, 2014. Today is my 12 year anniversary of joining the Army.