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A Marine grunt returns to Iraq and Afghanistan

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Christopher Martin was barely making it through a listless first attempt at college when he made a sharp turn and enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. The movement hadn’t come entirely out of nowhere; he had been obsessed with reading tales of war, especially of ancient warriors such as Alexander the Great.

Growing up as a “hoarse kid with thick glasses,” Martin said that in his small town life in the shadow of Penn State University – a teacher’s son and a teacher’s grandson – l adventure certainly did not seem to be on the horizon.

But like many young people who join the military, the excitement and adventure was just what he dreamed of – and to be part of something historic.

Where do you find adventure in the Marines, or at least the promise of such adventure, when two wars rage? That’s right, the infantry.

However, he told his worried parents that he would be in intelligence, possibly doing administrative work, a lie he maintained throughout his enlistment.

Since leaving the Corps, Martin has written a book about his experiences: “Chasing Alexander: A Marine’s Journey Across Iraq and Afghanistan.” He spoke to the Marine Corps Times about his marine life, why he decided to make a book, and how he sees this life now that he’s writing software for a company that makes detection sensors. drones.

Editor’s Note: The section below has been edited for content, clarity and length.

Q: In your book, you sprinkle short snapshots of the life of Alexander the Great into chapters before talking about your own experience. Why did you decide to write the book this way?

A: During my deployment to Iraq, I remember sitting in the Humvee next to the Euphrates and thinking, “There is so much history here. I was really delighted to see how historic this region was. I had the same thoughts in Afghanistan. The seed germinated while I was deployed. When I sat down to write the book, I was just in awe of those places where the Marines were fighting. The Euphrates and Helmand valleys.

Q: Did you read many war memoirs before writing your book? If so, what are your favorites?

A: I had read a lot of biographies before entering the Marines, but when I got out I went to school at Denison University, a small liberal arts school near Columbus, Ohio. I had a teacher, Brenda Boyle, who made us read war memoirs, war stories. We’ve read Thucydides, the memoir of President George Bush, and seen all these different ways of telling stories about war.

My favorite was a pair, “One Bullet Away” by Nathaniel Fick, a former Navy Reconnaissance Officer, and “Generation Kill” by Rolling Stone reporter Evan Wright. Wright’s book chronicles the Marines of the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion during the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Fick was an officer in the unit and the second half of his book tells this story as well. Fick’s is that kind of “meaning important from an honorable officer’s point of view.” Whereas Wright’s consists of smoking cigarettes with a corporal in a turret. It’s a bit like Tim O’Brien’s short story, “How to Tell a True War Story.” You can have a million different points of view.

Q: Not to spoil the book, you had a fairly uneventful tour of Iraq, right after the push, but a much more intense deployment in Afghanistan, which included heavy fighting around the Battle of Marjah. How might your experience have been different if you had only had one of these deployments during your single enlistment?

A: It certainly would have been a vastly different experience if I had only done one of the deployments. If I had only done the deployment to Iraq, I certainly wouldn’t have written a book about it. There was a bunch of guys around when I did my two tours who did a float push-up or two but never got a fight action tape. There’s a bit of “I wanted to do this and be in the fire, and I missed my chance.” I had planned to do a tour of the Marine Expeditionary Unit, but it was canceled and, instead, participated in both deployments. If I had done MEU and then Afghanistan, I think it would have been a similar experience.

Q: Did you plan to write a book from the start or did you do something like journaling while you were away or during your deployment?

A: I did not keep a diary but I kept all my patrol orders, all my “Rite-In-The-Rain” field notebooks. This is how I built it all together. After writing sections, I asked other guys on my team if they could check out some for me: “Is that how you remember it?” A guy, Blackwood, kept a pretty detailed diary. He would look at what I was writing and say things like, these things happened in a similar order, but this one has happened before, for example. There was also an assistant patrol leader who helped me remember the internal dynamics of the team, the conversations.

I started writing short stories about my experiences a few years later. I have no regrets about my time in the Marines, except that I would have liked to keep a journal. Even small things, like how I felt about being promoted, would have helped.

The convoy went up a dirt road. When the truck stopped, the vehicle commander shouted at us to unload our guns. I took out the magazine from my rifle and put it back in a pocket on my bulletproof jacket. I noticed my sleeves were wet; I was drenched in sweat.

… A year ago, I was a recruit at Parris Island. Now, I was a full-fledged Marine on a combat deployment.

In pursuit of Alexander: a sailor’s journey through Iraq and Afghanistan

Q: You made other style choices in the book. For example, there aren’t many acronyms.

A: It was an intentional choice to use words so that someone unfamiliar with military jargon could read it and get a pretty good idea of ​​what’s going on. Even things like ranks, most civilians don’t understand things like the rank structure. There is an understanding of what is behind these terms whether you are in the military or have served in the military. It’s easier for civilians to understand, but it also removes some nuance and depth. The scene where I was yelling at the regimental sergeant major, and he didn’t do anything wrong, a civilian might not understand, where a vet or a serviceman would be “Oh my god, that corporal just broke a handset and a shouted at a regimental sergeant major?

Q: You haven’t provided a lot of analysis or general context of world events surrounding your experience. What could you share regarding your views on events such as the end of the war in Iraq, ISIS and the recent exit from Afghanistan?

A: I know that when ISIS took control of Ramadi, it was very disappointing. When I was in Iraq, it was after the Anbar awakening. We were one of the last active duty infantry units in the country. We hadn’t really won, but things were on the right track. The police and army were mostly under control and the insurgency was all but wiped out. I felt like things were going in the right direction. I felt much less disappointed or surprised when the Taliban took control of Afghanistan last year. It never seemed like the Afghan National Army was going to be able to cling to the country. The people of Helmand province were so unhappy with the NATO forces and the military. They just wanted to be left alone, but they found themselves in a very difficult position between NATO forces and the Taliban. They would just tell us that you are going to leave, but the Taliban will never leave.

Todd South has written on crime, courts, government and the military for several publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-authored project on witness intimidation. Todd is a veteran of the Iraq War Marines.


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