This may be quite long, so I apologize if you don't make it all the way through.
My story begins from the day I was born. If you ask anyone in my family, they will tell you that I was born to be a Marine. I idolize my grandfather more than anyone in the world. He was a Korean War Veteran (SSgt, 1bn, 2nd Marines, Charlie Co.) and also fellow Purple Heart Recipient. When I get to the part about how I got wounded I will tell you the irony of my grandfather's experience.
I graduated from Fork Union Military Academy in Fork Union, VA in May of 2000. From there I attended Virginia Military Institute with a Major in Physics and a Minor in astronomy. After my short stay there (I left right after the ratline, my grades in everything but physics and Calc were dwindling) I went home to Winchester, Va and worked in the medical field. When May of 2001 came around, I decided that my time had come to do what I was born to do. I called my recruiter and signed up, five days later I was on a plane headed to Parris Island, SC.
My boot camp experience was a very trying one for me. I was assigned to Plt 3070, Kilo Co, 3d Bn, MCRD. During first phase I had my first kidney stone in my life. I dealt with it and went on with my training. I made it through training all the way to our A-line (field) training when I awoke on a Sunday morning in a pain I had could not even begin to describe. I went to the doctor that Monday and they told me that they though I may have appendicitis. After several days of diagnosis, it was determined that surgery was the only option. Thursday night I had my surgery and was told that I would be placed into Medical Rehabilitation Platoon for no less than three months. Saturday morning I was released on no duty status back to my platoon. I can't really describe the feeling you get when you are told that you have to stay on Parris Island longer than intended, but let me say it is not a good one. My gut and the spirit of my grandfather instilled in me, I managed to do 17 pullups and 100 crunches in a minute and a half. Monday morning, the deciding factor on whether I would be allowed to stay with my platoon and graduate on schedule came. I had to run my final Physical Fitness Test. If I didn't pass, I was to be dropped to another platoon. I got my 100 crunches, and I managed 16 pullups (my Senior Drill Instructor made me stop), I ran 3 miles in 20 minutes and 49 seconds (once again my SDI would not allow me to go faster). After my PFT I went to the doctor for my final evaluation for training. The doctor said I was the fastest known recovery to my surgery ever recorded on PI, with a complete recovery time of 4 days. Needless to say I stayed with my platoon, went through the crucible (which really sucks) and graduated from PI as a Private first class on August 31, 2001. I had no idea what I was about to happen to my life.
I was originally scheduled to fly out of Dulles Airport to Jacksonville, NC on September 11, 2001. Thankfully that didn't happen, as I got my leave extended to perform Recruiter's Assistance. What happened that day never really hit me until I was here in New Jersey on September 11th, 2005. In order to save time I went through all my job training as a combat engineer, and was assigned to Bravo Company, 8th Engineer Support Battalion, Camp Lejeune, NC.
January 7th, 2002: We recieved a callback on Saturday morning to return to base, we were to deploy to an undisclosed location, for an undisclosed ammount of time. I returned to base and less than 12 hours after being recalled, my platoon was on a plane headed for Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. When we arrived in GTMO, we were told that it was to be the site of a prison for high-level, Al-qaida and Taliban Terrorists. These were the ring leaders, not the minions. Our mission was to build a prison to house 200-500 prisoners, code-named Camp X-ray (now a household name). Over the next 4 months we built the prison, guard housing, interrogation huts, and laid over 27 and ahalf miles of concertina (razor) wire. I saw things on that base I never thought I would see in my life. I saw prisoners that were literally just the shell of the men they once were curled in balls in a dirty prison cell with the tarantulas and scorpions that inhabited the area the prison was built. I saw prisoners attempt suicide, because they got unruly and were "broken" by the riot control. These men didn't think they were ever going to see the outside of a prison ever again, and they deserved it for their crimes. We returned home to Camp Lejeune on April 12th of that same year.
January 29th, 2003:
We had been on lockdown (standby) for 2 months. I was now working in the Armory fixing my Battalions weapons. We get the word that it is finally time to deploy again. Once again we did not find out to where until we were on the plane, but we all knew, and we knew that this time some of us wouldn't come home. We arrived in Camp Coyote, Kuwait the next day. The next month and a half we did nothing but prepare to give our lives for our country.
March 19th, 2003
It's cold, windy and we've been sitting in a hole behind a gun for the past week. We get the signal to load up on the trucks, we were moving foward. All of a sudden the sky was one gigantic fireball, scuds and patriots were the only things we could see. Surprisingly we were met with minimal resistance crossing the border. Safwan Hill was very lightly guarded and most of those troops surrendered immediately. We started to have high hopes that we would make it to Bagdhad with little to no resistance. We had no idea how wrong we were.
2 days later, approx. 2:45 AM
We had been in the back of the humvee for days, literally. We stopped for nothing, and no one seemed to remember what sleep felt like. We had just rolled into the town of Al Basra, and trhe British were engaging in a heavy battle to our east. All of a sudden, we recieve a call on the radio to shut down all vehicles, get out and pull security, and don't say a word. I comply. I am laying behind my gun with my Night vision goggles on and I feel the ground start to shake, I hear a rumbling in the distance. After a few seconds I finally see what is causing the commotion. An Iraqi tank has just stopped about 100 yards in front of me. The thoughts that ran through my head as I saw that turret start to turn my way are too obscene for this forum, but lets say I knew that I wasn't ever going to see the sun rise again. Out of nowhere, the tank explodes and molten steel rains down around us. Being a bridge battalion, we didn't have any armored vehicles, and only 4 anti tank missles in a 109 vehicle convoy. The Brits had noticed what was happening to us and and brought in heavy equipment to defend us. That was it, or so we thought.
The next day still came, no one had even fired a shot in Basra, and we recieve a new mission. Rescue Jessica Lynch. The Marines job was simple, stage a firefight on the south side of An Nasyria, and pull all the enemy troops away from the hospital. I won't go into detail with that, it's a memory I choose not to unearth even in my own mind.
Finally we move to Numiniah, which was supposed to be our final stop in our advanced, as 2d tanks had taken Bagdhad. By this point we had slept once in a week, and still have not had a hot meal, or a shower. A day after we were told that we would sit at SA chesty, we were back on the road.
Now to Al Kut and the worst part of my first tour. We sit in Al kut for about a month. Still no hot food or showers. Finally a hot meal arrives. Then a shower. After 2 and an half months without those things, hot shoe leather would have tasted good. Showers came just in time, we had just gotten out of our chemical suits, and dysentary was spreading like wildfire. We all eventually got it. Sleep was still lacking. My post was from 6 PM to 6AM on the city side of our camp. By 6:30 AM it was too hot to sleep. I hadn't slept in about 2 weeks (time becomes a blur when that happens) and I am on post, just me and my assistant gunner. 3:00 in the morning, a platoon of 25-30 Iraqis decide to open fire on our post. 15 minutes and 400 rounds later, they are all eliminated. The sun begins to rise and I see the sandbags that were my cover are beginning to empty. I have never valued my life more than that day.
Thats the exciting stuff of OIF I. Now the only thing that really happened on OIF II.
August 26th, 2004 Karbala, Iraq 3:00 AM
I am with a new unit. The 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit. We are in the heart of the Sunni Triangle and have been taking a hefty ammount of Mortars and Rockets for about a month. Attached to us is 1bn, 2d Marines (remember my grandfather?). I am now the chief weapons custodian for MSSG-24. We had a mission that morning. A simple, and very straight foward mission. Go to Fallujah, pick up these 8 trucks and get the H back. Nothing new, we did this all the time. Little did we know how very wrong it would go.
I was in the lead vehicle, an up-armored MTVR (medium tactical vehicle replacment, aka a really big truck), along with 13 others. To my left was my friend J.R., from Boston, Mass. And to my right was my buddy Bart, from Havertown, PA. Both were MP's and were simply on the convoy to drive vehicles back from Fallujah. We leave FOB Kalsu and head on the road, our eyes peeled for anything suspicious on the roads, as IED's (more commonly known as roadside bombs) were becoming very hazardous. It is dark and cold. We drive for about an hour and stop at a small base just outside of Bagdhad to drop some people off and get some chow. Myself and J.R. decide to take a whole box of muffins for ourself, as eating was our favorite pasttime. We begin to leave the base. That's the last thing I remember before it happened.
August 26th, 2004 somewhere near Abu Gharib Prison, Iraq
All I remember is hearing a "THWACK". I awake and I am being placed on a helicopter. I am on a stretcher, and I can't move my legs. There is blood everywhere and my mouth is filled with rocks. I hear someone yell " oh my God! Pontiff (my last name) is alive!". I had been called in as Killed in action, and there were 2 Marines that were seriously wounded, J.R. and Bart. We get to Bagdhad hospital and I get the worst news of my life. I was told I would never walk again. J.R. and Bart were in Surgery, we had all sustained signifigant shrapnel wounds. As I am coming down off the Morphine I was given on the Helo, I ask the doctor how the guys are. J.R. had very massive surgery, but is now in recovery. That's all he said. I reiterated that there were two others, and, reluctantly, he told me that Bart had died in Surgery. The shrap had hit an artery and they could not stop the bleeding. I broke. I cried for hours, between puffs of cigarette after cigarette (I smoked 3 packs in 6 hours). I went to O.R. recovery and told J.R. that Bert had died, it didn't register with him until he got to Germany.
When I got to Germany I decided I was sick of being in a hospital and sick of being in a wheelchair. I was going to walk, I was going to be an outpatient. I did just that. I grabbed my cane, walked to the charge nurse's desk and said send me to Kleber (the outpatient facility). Never was I to be in a wheelchair on American soil.
I arrived home in mid September, to the tears of My mom, sister, and wife (fiance at the time, ex-wife now). I spent the rest of my time in the Marines recovering from having broken every vertebrae in my Lumbar Spine. J.R. made a full recovery, and after a shoulder replacement and replacement of the humerus bone in his arm, is still serving on active duty. I have some, but little contact with him. Barts family still lives in Havertown, Pa, and I plan to make a visit soon. The only physical scars I have are a small entry wound behind my right ear, some small scars on my back and a complete lack of an ear drum in my right ear. I was awarded the Purple Heart on March 1, 2005.
I will never forget my good friend Barton R. Humlhanz and I pray he rests in peace. As for me, I am now fully recovered and plan to pursue a career in Law Enforcement.
Gizmo, thanks for asking me to tell my story. While it is a story I do not like to tell, it helps me to talk about it.
Her Name is NESSA....
Conceived October 27th, 2005
My two Quotes with the help of Gizmo:
In the Solstice there is only one direction, straight ahead.
You're never lost in a Solstice, you're simply taking the long way
Ah Nessa, mi corozone es perdido en ti.