Even if you don’t know all the unit names that are deployed to Iraq; even if you don’t know much about the war itself, chances are you know about Fallujah. It’s where Sgt Rafael Peralta saved his fellow Marines after being mortally wounded by reaching for a grenade and tucking it under his torn and battered body. In a perfect example of “small world”, I was “introduced” recently via the web to Corporal Aaron Kuck, a Marine who serves with Charlie Company, 1st Bn 3d Marines, 3d Marine Division. In Iraq, his unit was the Ground Combat Element for the 31st MEU; Charlie was the first company of 1st Bn Marines in Fallujah. Aaron spent 75 days in Fallujah occupying the city. I had a chance to talk to him tonight for a while.
“Tell me about the initial assault,” I say. “There’s a lot of footage floating around the internet, a lot of bits and pieces. What was it like for you?”
His first answer is quick. “Dark.” I’m not sure whether he’s making a joke, so I wait. “I wasn’t super nervous, just…ready, I think. We’d been waiting [outside] the city all day, so we were ready to do anything. It was kind of a let down, in a way. I’d expected a fighting entry, but we walked through the minefield and rallied on the edge street. That’s when the shooting started.” When asked how hard it is to stay focused, I can almost see him shrug. “Not difficult. Your training reacts for you…it helps that you can’t see how close all the bullets are,” he jokes.
Aaron, who’s 23, has a handsome, young-looking face; and a wife who “started smoking a lot” while he was gone. He says she handled it better than most wives; which sounds like a pretty big compliment in context; especially when you consider the casualties that the 1/3 took.
I bring up the horrible chopper crash that killed 26 Marines from his company in January, and he takes a moment to answer. “That was my company and a lot of my good friends. I’d flown on the same helicopter earlier. It was night and there was bad weather…I have no reason to disbelieve what I was told caused the incident.” Eight 1/3 Marines were killed in a suicide car bombing on Oct. 30 as well, and another 11 were killed in Iraq, mostly in Fallujah. I don’t ask him about these.
We move on then, to something a bit easier, perhaps; the media’s perception of what happens every day in Iraq. Aaron says he doesn’t analyze what the networks say and “try to skim the truth”. I ask if there were good deeds that went unnoticed from his unit, and he chuckles.
“It would be unfair of me to try and place our own accomplishments above those of the other units involved,” he says. “It was common to see things everyday of the initial fighting that made you damn proud to know the men around you. Amazing acts of bravery were shrugged off as ‘doing the job.’ That’s how it was for us and I’m sure that’s how it was for other companies.”
He points that out often while we talk – that he was just another Marine, doing a job. I tell him that people need to hear stories about Marines just doing a job. I think he’s patronizing me, but he seems to accept it. Aaron doesn’t think that he has anything to say about Fallujah or the war that anyone would want to hear.
Later, though, while we’re talking about the American Heroes section of the blog, he mentions that “Doc Woods might need to go up there”. HMC Julian Woods, 22, was shot and killed Nov 10, 2004, when he “ran through a hail of gun fire to the aid of a fallen Marine with his medical bag in one hand, and his pistol in the other,” Aaron says. “Pretty standard….amazing, though.”
Aaron took some good memories home with him too. He tells me about last year’s Marine Corps Birthday with a mixture of brash cockiness, youthful excitement, and the reverence that every Marine feels about his Corps.
“It started really crappy; it was the second full day of battle and we’d taken our first two casualties. Each platoon had been involved in fire fights all day. It was towards evening, and we were in position in a house, with the machine gun teams and some DMs [designated marksmen] on the roof. Eventually, everyone who wasn’t guarding a post on the first floor wandered up, because the evening air was cool.
“Suddenly, the Marines Hymn starts playing over the city…our Battalion SgtMaj had the [psy-ops] trucks driving around playing it as loud as possible. It was great for spirit. Everyone was yelling, and I knew the insurgents heard us and I hope it made them shake with fear. We blew up the building next door and set another one on fire in a firefight shortly after that,” he says. “Best MC Bday ever.”
I hadn’t planned to ask, but I find my curiosity winning out, and so I finally ask him what he thinks of the war.
“While I feel that Saddam needed to be removed from power, I think it may have been better to have focused more on Afghanistan at first,” Aaron says. He follows that up quickly, though. “Now that we’ve taken this course of action, I believe we should stay the course and follow through until the newly elected government is capable of sustaining itself. I don’t think anything negative about war in general, it’s a part of the nature of humanity, and a necessity.”
Almost as an afterthought, he tacks on a disclaimer. “I should add that my opinions on any of these matters can not be taken as official and representing the Marine Corps as a whole.” I laugh at that, and he cheekily says he’s a “well-trained and intelligent tool of government policy.”
Aaron plans to reenlist in November, but he’s looking to go to a non-deploying unit such as the Weapons Training Unit at Quantico, in the hopes of eventually landing a federal job.
Just before he leaves, I ask him if there is anything he wants me to add to the story.
“I’m nothing special,” he says. “Add that.”