Commentary: Soldiers, Marines Drive on Through Adversity

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

HIT, Iraq, June 6, 2006 - The soldiers and Marines here put up with more adversity in their deployment than most Americans will see in a lifetime. And they do it with a great attitude.

These are not some goody-goody type servicemembers. They are profane to the extreme, and expletives make an appearance in most conversations. No one takes offense.

"Busting chops" is a fine art, and people are always ready to tell or listen to a fine story that uses a buddy as the butt of the joke.

But life in Hit, like the troops' language and jokes, is hard. The town's name is spelled "hit," but is pronounced "heat," and the place is hot. The temperature now hovers around 120 degrees. It will climb to 130 by the end of the month. There is always a wind blowing in Hit, but it might as well be a hair dryer. A good way to get a feel for what the soldiers here go through is to stick your head inside a convection oven for an hour.

Now add to that the gear. The interceptor body armor and Kevlar helmet make you understand why aluminum foil around a potato bakes it faster. Soldiers and Marines carry more than 90 pounds of equipment - weapons, a combat load of ammunition, first-aid pouches, global positioning system equipment, communications gear and the like - every time they go outside the wire.

Try running down a street carrying all that, because that is what servicemembers must do here. The unit has Bradley fighting vehicles, but walking among the town's people is more effective in connecting with the local population, so soldiers dismount.

Soldiers and Marines come off patrol just drenched with sweat. If they sweat really badly, you can see the salt stains where it has soaked through the boots.

There are port-a-potties at the main camp outside town, but contractors will not go into the firm bases - or forward operating bases - in the city itself. That means that at the firm bases they use things called "wag bags" for solid waste. The user seals the bag after its intended use and then deposits it in a burn barrel.

You don't want to have an open latrine, because that would attract insects. Urinals at the firm bases are tubes driven into the ground.

There is city water and it sometimes works, sometimes doesn't. You take showers when you can, and when the water is running. Don't count on it to work when you want it to.

And then there is the danger. Some men have been "IEDed" - in a vehicle that got hit by an improvised explosive device - a couple of times. Many in the 1st Battalion, 36th Infantry, are on their second tour in Iraq, and have a history with IEDs going back to 2003.

Added to that is snipers. The unit's only death has been to a sniper. One sniper in Anbar province goes by the name "Scorpion." He has people videotape his kills and you can find DVDs showing these kills in markets in Baghdad and all over the province.

But with all this, the mood is good. Sure, the soldiers and Marines complain, but that is their right. When it comes to the mission, the troops step out and do what needs to be done.

"I know when we look back on this in five or 10 years, we won't remember the hardships, except to laugh about them," said Army Capt. Eric Stainbrook, Apache Company commander at 1st Battalion, 36th Infantry. "But I will always remember these amazing soldiers and the way they took on the mission when their country asked them to."

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