Back to Iraq
August, 2004
©Mary Geddry Less than a year after returning from Iraq, my oldest son, Lance Cpl John Fett, 24 received orders that he is being redeployed. John is attached to the 2 nd Battalion 5 th Marines and they are being sent over to relieve another battalion in their regiment that has been in Iraq for an extended period. He will be stationed in Ramadi a suburb of the dissident hotbed, Fallujah. Thankfully he received some time off and was able to make the long trip from Camp Pendleton, near San Diego to Coquille for a short visit and also to give me the use of his Jeep. As is usual when he gets leave, he made the rounds visiting his father and four brothers and both he and one of my twin sons, Alex, 19 came up to see me. Alex brought up a welder and the two of them, (Alex was the welder, John was the grinder), built me a beautiful metal gate for my garden.

While in Iraq, John was given a meritorious combat promotion and made a squad leader, he received squad leader training on his return. Since then, John and his squad have spent months and months training. While John is officially an anti-tank assaultman he has been undergoing primarily SWAT training. He tells me they spend up to three weeks at a time, training in urban warfare using a sophisticated version of laser tag called Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System 2000 or MILES Gear. The lasers and sensors allow force-on-force training using their typical weapons. John tells me that in all these mock urban scenarios, and by now, all participants are very highly trained, that at the end of each day, rarely is anyone left alive on either side in close quarter combat. ‘Pretty much, everyone is dead’, he says.

John’s training has also made him an expert with timed explosives like C-4 and they use Computer Aided Exercises or CAX to simulate tactical breaches on the enemy compounds. They often use a variation on paintball or chalk bullets while training. Once while making a charge and leaping over his ‘fallen’ comrades he took three rounds in his arm and bore the bruises for several days, flak-jackets don’t typically cover arms. They don’t train much in hand to hand combat, the premise being that if you are a Marine in Iraq and you are down to using your fists, the situation is probably hopeless.

As a mother it is difficult having a child in harm’s way and the thought of him returning to Iraq causes me to ask him if he thinks being a Marine has been good for him. ‘Probably’, he says, with some reflection, ‘yeah, it has probably been good for me.’ Still, when I ask him if he thinks any of his skills will be transferable to civilian life, he chuckles and answers, ‘No, probably not.’

John went to Butte College for awhile and had considered a career in computer science but he now thinks he would like to be a firefighter, forest fires preferably but even a city fireman seems to appeal to him. ‘Sitting at a desk all day just isn’t for me,’ he says, ‘I need to be out and moving.’ These are funny words from a young man who can finish a Tom Clancy novel in one day.

During his visit he explained that while in Iraq, as before, he will receive an extra $150 per month combat pay and that no taxes are withheld allowing him to save up a bit of money during his seven month deployment. Even so, our young warriors have to spend a lot of their own money to defend our country. John and his buddies will have a gear list waiting for them at base, personal items mostly, so many pairs of socks, razors, underwear, etc…, but totaling about $300, which when deducted from a $500 net paycheck doesn’t leave much to buy gas, pay car payments or insurance, buy phone cards or plane tickets to see loved ones before they go.

Our visit was too short and we had to head back to Mendocino where Alex is general administrator of the Stanford Inn just south of the village. We stopped to visit my parents on the way (more relatives to see before he goes), and despite John’s liberal observance of the speed laws didn’t arrive in Mendocino until almost 2:00 AM. I knew it had been a long time since I had seen all four of my sons together at the same time but I didn’t realize that they had not all been together either in some time. They were all four of them up all night, John, Gabe, who is 20, and the twins Alex and Chris, talking, playing chess, swimming and taking photographs, documenting the event while I slept.

I had booked John a flight from Oakland at 11:30 AM and at 7:00 AM after being up all night Gabe, who goes to school in San Rafael, and John were ready to go and after many tearful goodbyes from everyone they left. Gabe got John to the airport only a few minutes before his plane was due to leave and the line in front of the baggage check was horribly long. John raced up to the head of the line and apologized for cutting in but told the checker he had to catch that plane. The checker looked from John down to his seabee bag and asked ‘You got orders?’

‘Yeah, man,’ John answered, ‘I’ve got orders.’

With a knowing smile and a ‘good luck, son’, he sent John, my first born son, on his way back to Iraq.