“To someone who has never experienced danger, the idea is attractive.” – Carl von Clausewitz
There were a number of reasons why I decided to come back into the Marines and do this job, but one of the biggest ones was that I wanted to experience combat, and by combat I mean someone shooting rounds in my direction. I’d spent plenty of time outside the wire in Iraq, but I never had anyone shoot at me or my unit, though I'm confident that any veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan will tell you that the insidious IED threat is much more discomforting than the threat of small arms fire from a ridgeline across the way (though the days of Afghanistan being strictly a 'shooting war' with minimal IEDs are certainly gone for good). Walking around knowing you're being watched by men with machine guns that want you dead can be disconcerting, but I'll take it any time over driving around waiting to get blown up.
At any rate, my time in the Marine Corps simply did not feel complete without combat that I could participate in actively. I suppose the Marines must do a very good job of 'conditioning' us, as I came into the Marine Corps for the adventure, travel, and leadership experience - experiencing combat had nothing whatsoever to do with my decision to become a Marine, though at the time there were no wars going on.
Before coming over here, I’d heard plenty about what the ETTs were doing, and so I had a pretty good idea when I volunteered for this job that, depending on exactly where they sent us, I was likely to get as much or more combat that I could ever want. Since experiencing combat was a stated goal for me from the outset, I can comfort myself that I’ve achieved that one goal, though through all the TICs (troops in contact) I’ve been involved in, I’ve seen the enemy exactly one time and I’m not even 100% about that one.
I think I was lucky that in that I was eased into combat. My first TIC took place while I was on my first base a mere hour after I first arrived. Being shot at while you’re on a base and behind barriers or a big gun of your own is not that big of a deal, though it took awhile to get used to the sounds of rounds flying over my head. Rounds were regularly flying around the area while I was at my first base and those TICs were really pretty fun.
We got shot at while on patrol during my second day. Luckily, we were near an Army observation post (OP) when it happened, so we all ran behind the OP and returned fire. Or most of us returned fire, I just observed since we had plenty of other shooters and the incoming rounds weren’t very voluminous or threatening to us in our covered position. That TIC ended with a bomb being dropped on the house where the rounds were coming from. I can remember at one point poking my head over the barriers to look around and then hearing a round ping off the humvee right next to me. At that point, I incredulously thought to myself, “Really?! Are you serious? You guys are really going to shoot at us like that?!” I guess I was kind of offended in a way. However, we were in such a secure position behind the OP, and I had no real responsibility for anyone other than myself since we were still in the process of trading out with the previous ETTs, that the TIC was really pretty basic with minimal chaos for me personally.
The next big one came when we were hiking up a hill into the higher part of a town. When the insurgents starting shooting from the ridgeline next to us (they initiate most all engagements) I ran for the nearest cover and ended up stuck behind a bombed out house with ANA firing over my head from behind me and insurgents firing over my head from the other side. My trusty terp was right there next to me; we actually sat there shaking our heads and laughing nervously for a few moments before I got myself together and made a few contributions of my own to the noise.
I guess the seriousness of it doesn't completely set in till you nearly get whacked. Suffice to say, crouching behind a small tree and a pile of rocks as they get riddled with bullets is an experience I won't soon forget. We usually know roughly from where the attack will come from (the insurgents are every bit as predictable as we are) before it hits us, so we can respond quickly with direct and indirect fires (dismounted patrols kill and injure the enemy most often with fire support in the form of mortars, artillery, and helo support), and the ANA are very dedicated to immediately pouring maximum fire outward to suppress the enemy, so we're more than able to respond effectively to what the enemy throws at is, though they nearly always get the first round off.