These excerpts, brief passages, and select quotes from Echo in Ramadi (work) are provided by Scott A. Huesing (author) for use by Havok Journal as a bonafide reviewer of the work for online publication in connection with The Havok Journal (Havok Media). The author shall retain all copyrights exclusively. This first appeared in The Havok Journal January 27, 2019.
They tell us from day one as an officer that we should never have favorites, or at least not show that we have preferences in our unit. But I would be lying if I said Corporal Libby wasn’t one of my favorites. He was one of many, I suppose.
He had a cool, nonchalant attitude about him, yet he exuded confidence well above his years. Libby was as even-tempered as they came. He wasn’t timid in any endeavor—this included engaging his superiors in conversation.
I showed up at the barracks late one evening. Libby stood on the catwalk leaning against the metal railing. He was a good-looking kid with blonde hair—wiry 160 pounds at five-ten. He was shirtless. I read the Old English style letters “USMC” tattooed across his stomach, about four inches and centered above his belly button. Tattoos were badges of pride that many Marines wore.
I had none.
I had come close on a couple of occasions as a lance corporal—drunk and waving a fistful of cash at a local tattoo artist in Oceanside and both times denied service.
Libby politely struck up a conversation as I approached his room. Like British royalty asking me to sit down for tea, he had a beer at the ready and asked if I would care for one. I didn’t decline.
It was times like those that my relationship with Libby developed. From then on, I always counted on his honesty, opinions, and loyalty to the Marines he led. His force of personality was something that made Libby indispensable to the men of his squad and made his leaders depend on him. When rounds are flying, they don’t distinguish between rank, age, color, or religion—Libby understood this intrinsically. We were all brothers thrust into the chasm, and we took care of each other better than anyone else we’ve ever known.
My lieutenants were in their final stages of IOC when I was introduced to them. Their squad advisor, Captain Brian Chontosh, escorted John McLaughlin, Jay Grillo, Pete Somerville, and Seth Nicholson over and introduced them to me. They looked beat up. From the looks of their tired, gaunt, sweaty, and begrimed faces as they stood in front of me, the Infantry Officer’s Course was obviously still the unrelenting bastion it had always been.
But behind the grime and sweat that covered their faces, there was excitement in their eyes. They had that fire that all new lieutenants have. They were ready to lead. They had spent a year of their lives in Quantico, preparing for the chance to step in front of a rifle platoon as its commander.
During IOC or under my command, I made them train as if it were the last day.
They undoubtedly had heard a lot about being an officer at The Basic School—that training period that all Marine officers go through at the start of their careers—and IOC. But, I was their commander, and I had my own philosophy, and I made them listen.
I told them. “There is no such thing as combat leadership—just leadership.”
I never subscribed to the idea that because one had been in combat, shot at or injured it made them a better leader. Leaders lead in any condition, although some shine a little brighter under chaotic conditions—real leaders control the situation even in the absence of chaos. Training for restlessness and boredom is not a mission-essential task, but something a good leader has to deal with to keep Marines sharp when the madness begins.
As a former enlisted Marine, I knew that officers who really cared, or at least made an effort to care, were the ones you could trust.
During their training period, I imposed on them the importance of what good officers do. There were a few bad examples of what “wrong” looked like throughout my career insofar as leadership went. I never wanted to be “that guy” to my lieutenants or my Marines.
It was always the little things that mattered the most, and I wanted my officers to understand what a difference they could make. Never intending to portray myself in the image of a Marine poster-boy, I’m the first to admit that I was no Boy Scout, but I tried to lead by example.
I was usually at the barracks on the weekends and at night (probably much to the chagrin of the boys at times) to check on them. In training or combat, I was always right there with them. If there were sandbags to fill, I had a shovel in my hand. If there was shit to move, I moved it, and shoveled it on occasion, right alongside the Marines.
If there was a patrol, I was on it.
If there was a firefight, I was in it.
I never subscribed to the notion or adage that, “Officers need to know their place.” Suggesting that officers shouldn’t be seen doing menial tasks only enlisted Marines would have to do. I was part of a team—my place was always with my Marines doing what they were doing.
I explained to my lieutenants, “Every infantry officer is expected to know how to lead a platoon. I know you can lead a platoon. That’s what IOC produced. My job is not to train you how to be platoon commanders. My job is to teach you how to be company commanders.”
They were probably shocked to hear this, and some may have falsely assumed that IOC gave them their learner’s permit and I would be the one handing them the keys to the car along the way. That wasn’t the case. I expected them to be able to drive in the fast lane when they showed up.
It is not easy to kill another human being. Not for anyone—no matter how it is portrayed in fiction, on television, or in movies—there is nothing romantic or cavalier about it. It is horrific. Life-changing. Killing is what happens, and Marines are trained to kill. But in war, destruction is everywhere. It eats everything around you, and sometimes it eats you. It is an unnatural act.
It starts with the enemy fixed in the scope. The breathing is controlled, but the heart races, muscles tense and eyes adjust sharply. Slowly, deliberately, the finger slips onto the trigger of the rifle and then presses smoothly. A piercing crack. The gentle recoil. The small bullet, no bigger than the tip of a pencil, crosses space in an instant. It penetrates flesh and tears through the body. As the small projectile searches for the path of least resistance to exit the body, it shatters bone, explodes organs, severs veins and arteries. Crushed and mangled inside, the enemy falls. With a small, seemingly simple movement, executing one conscious decision—it is then you know you have killed.
Marines are masters of their art—but they do it not only with lethality, but also with honor knowing that they are fighting for a greater purpose.
It would be the last photo we all took together.
After the picture, they were restless but quieted down as I walked in front of them. Some took a seat and placed their rifles between their legs. I looked out into the sea of sturdy faces fixed on me. The majority of the Marines had shaved their hair down to the scalp—some ritualistic way of preparing for battle.
As my Marines fought in Al Anbar Province, I wanted the physical movement associated with killing to be instinctual. I never wanted them to hesitate when it mattered most or have them feel remorse for doing their duty. To do so, they needed to know that, in the end, I would bear the burden, the inescapable burden of command. I spoke in a forceful, confident tone and encompassed much of the advice I had accumulated over the years from my mentors.
“This is the first time in combat for most of you. You will have to fire your weapon at the enemy. You will have to kill. I don’t expect that this will be easy for anyone. It shouldn’t be. But know this. I am ordering you to kill. You will kill, and when this is all over it will be my responsibility. It will be my burden to carry because I am ordering you to do it. We are Marines, and we follow orders. You’ll kill the enemy but you will leave this place without regret, and we will win. Is that understood?”
The senior NCOs nodded their heads in approval during my address. They knew everything I said to be true—having walked the same streets of Ramadi only twenty-four months ago.
I yelled with impotent frustration at the lieutenant. Neither of us could hear each other. Finally, I yelled at the top of my lungs, “Lieutenant, open the fucking hatch! Now!”
His eyes widened as if he’d had an awakening. He cracked the hatch [of the M-1 tank] open slightly and cocked his helmet to one side, exposing his right ear but he still stayed tucked down inside the vehicle, like a rabbit in his hole.
A couple of rounds cracked sharply on the tank, and I heard the ricochets distinctively. “Hey! They’re down there—to the south. Do you see the muzzle flashes?”
He replied, “Roger that, sir.”
I said, “No, not roger that. Get that coax in gear and start giving us some suppression on that shit while we move out.”
Again, he replied, “Roger that, sir.”
I was still uncertain if the urgency of my request sank in with him to use the coaxial .50 caliber machine gun aligned with the tank’s 120mm smooth-bore cannon against the enemy to the south.
I began to slide backward on my belly to the rear edge of the tank—my Marines shouted at me as I slid off the side and jumped down. Yelling, Marines waved me over to the convoy. As I prepared to make the dash, a string of automatic enemy fire laced the tank from front to back. I crouched down by the tracks trying to reduce my silhouette as much as I could. I wanted to be small. I heard the enemy rounds ping in rapid succession off of the tank. Seconds later, the M1-A1 blasted out several long bursts of fire from its .50 caliber machine gun. Music to my ears.
Pushing off the track with my right foot, like a sprinter out of the starting blocks, I raced toward the convoy and hopped in the back of my vehicle.
As we drove back, beads of sweat stung my eyes. So I could wipe my face clean, I took off my Kevlar helmet, setting it in the center of the Humvee.
When I reached for it to put it back on, the Marine sitting next to me was fiddling around with it and examining it.
He looked up at me. “Fuck, sir. You just get this? You’re lucky as shit, sir.”
I saw the tan digital camouflage fabric helmet cover had a long shred in it. When I peeled it back, there was a fresh scar of bristling Kevlar fibers in the skin of the helmet. A round had grazed the top of my helmet and engraved its signature across the top.
I cursed that piece of gear and the weight of it on my head on a daily basis.
Not that day.
What makes us good, what makes us great, is the brotherhood.
It’s not that the individual Marine is the most lethal weapon on the battlefield, nor how straight they shoot, or how they attack and kill the enemy with an unbridled ferocity that makes them so great. They’re not just warriors—they’re artisans, musicians, poets, comedians, and yes, sometimes writers.
When we lose one of our own, we understand that the entire Marine Corps has lost someone special. Being part of that brotherhood, that tradition, is nothing short of amazing, and seeing it in action, we understand that the world has lost one of its best.
A Marine I knew grabbed me and said, “Hey, Scott, man. Come here. You’re bleeding, brother!” The gash on my nose had come open again without my knowledge, and blood was trickling down my face. Hindsight being what it is, I guess maybe that’s why all of the Marines gawked at me.
After I got patched up, I went to see the 15th MEU operations officer, Paul Nugent. He was one of the coolest and collected guys I’d ever met, and I was glad he was willing to listen to the events before I met with the boss. I knocked on his thin door, made out of a piece of plywood, that was already half-opened. He told me to come in. His first concern was if I was OK. I told him I was fine, just tired.
He asked me about the previous night, and I explained in detail all of the decisions. Major Nugent said, “Sounds good, Scotty. I think the Colonel just wants to talk to you.”
He escorted me into the CO’s office. The Colonel was calm. He was tall and physically fit with salt-and-pepper hair, cropped short. He spoke in a low, relaxed voice for such a large man. Everyone called him a “soft talker.” I never knew if that was really his nature or just the way he made sure that everyone was actually listening to him.
I went through the events in detail with the CO. I admitted that I decided on my own to hit all three mosques based on the reliable information, and the fact I had Marines positioned ready to strike.
There was a short silence. I was certain the CO was about to drop the hammer on me for deviating from his orders.
Instead, he said, “Scott, don’t worry. You did the right thing. I made the call, not you. You got it?”
I was relieved. I felt fortunate to have such loyal leaders taking care of me. I still felt like the whole night was replaying like a movie. Fast-forwarding to certain parts in my head in no specific order as a result of the sleep deprivation I was fighting off.
After McKibben had watched Sanchez carried out of Building 500, he went to his squad on the first floor. “Hey, I need someone to volunteer to get up on the roof now and take over Sanchez’s post.”
Without delay, Lance Corporal Andrew Matus chimed up. “I got it, Corporal.”
Who does that? What kind of person unhesitatingly jumps to the task and challenge of assuming a post where another Marine has been shot? What kind of character do young men have that drives them to go in harm’s way without a second thought?
McKibben walked with Matus over to the wall on the back side of Building 500, almost exactly where Sanchez had been shot. Matus was armed with his M16-A4 with M203 40mm grenade launcher fixed to the bottom. The wall was too high for Matus to see over. He found an ammo can and slid it close to the wall to use for a step so he could view his sector of fire that McKibben laid out for him. He placed a hand on the edge of the cinder block wall and pulled himself up for a peek.
McKibben said to Matus, “Keep your eyes open. There’s a lot of windows and doors out there, brother.”
Mckibben took five or six steps away when he heard a strange noise, like the sound of a hammer cracking the bottom of a frying pan. McKibben turned back towards Matus, and, as he did, he saw Matus standing facing the wall, almost floating. He fell backward, slowly, as if someone was behind him waiting to catch him in a game of Trust.
“Doc! Doc! Get over here!” McKibben shouted in panic.
Matus lay on the roof motionless. His eyes were bloodshot, and he wasn’t breathing. His face began to swell, and he was limp as the other Marines quickly moved him onto a blanket to get him off the roof as fast as they could.
It was a strange day. The sky was overcast as rain came down sporadically when a fourteen-man squad from Nicholson’s platoon went out on a dismounted security patrol.
Nicholson was with the patrol. Most leaders, including myself, made it a point to go out on at least one patrol, if not more, during the day in order to gauge the atmospherics of the town and to see how our Marines were performing.
I’d often get strange looks from other Marines when I’d tell them I’d go out on patrols with my Marines. In response, they’d delve into stories about how their COs had “never left the FOB” or never came out from behind their computers. I always took these stories with a grain of salt—maybe these guys had an ax to grind with their COs—but if there was an ounce of truth to the stories, I found it detestable.
I have an unequivocal distaste toward any commander who would not lead their Marines from the front. It seemed an abrogation of the heavy responsibilities of leadership and an insult to their Marines, as if sharing in the dangers they faced was somehow beneath them. I always felt it was my place to be with my Marines. Even more so, I felt privileged to be with them. I like to think they welcomed it, too. Nicholson was cut from the same bolt of cloth in this regard.
Those dark echoes resonate with all of us who served. Some still don’t hear them. They are only a fraction that represent over twenty veterans that take their own lives every day.
Echo Company stays closely bonded. It’s our chemistry that flows through us perhaps, interconnecting us, as only Marines will know.
Marines who served under some of the worst conditions at a time when there was great uncertainty, and most certain danger.
We’ll never lose the permanence of what we saw—never being able to “un-see” some of the worst actions of humanity, never ignoring the echoes of what was heard. But Echo Company will always have a sense of pride that we helped so many who could not help themselves—the true spirit of what Marines do.
Quote 1 | Prologue | Page 13
It would be a deployment that would test us and take the best of us.
Quote 2 | Chapter 2 | Page 34
The combat Echo Company experienced was frequent, intense, and probably quite similar to what thousands of other operators on the ground dealt with during their time in Iraq. Nonetheless, it is best described as periods of extreme boredom, followed by episodes of inexplicable chaos.
Quote 3 | Chapter 4 | Page 37
It is not easy to kill another human being. Not for anyone. I don’t care how romanticized or cavalier as portrayed in fiction, on television, or in movies. It is a horrific, life-changing action for most. But in war, killing is what happens. Marines are trained to kill. But in war, destruction is everywhere. It eats everything around you, and sometimes it eats at you . It is an unnatural act.
Quote 4 | Chapter 3 | Page 45
Echo Company was unescapably not an elite unit, but undeniably a very extraordinary team of Marines with remarkable chemistry.
Quote 5 | Chapter 14 | Page 190
Chance plays a significant role in war, but so does experience. We were all learning as we went along. There were no standard operating procedures for dealing with the unknown and the massive amounts of chaos and uncertainty laid in front of young men.
Quote 6 | Chapter 14 | Page 190
Ramadi proved to be an unforgiving place. It was a dark battleground that taught them while they fought, and they did it extremely well.
Quote 7 | Chapter 19 | Page 226
There are so many variables that can occur in battle that it is unfortunate, but true, that sometimes, innocent people die. It’s not just a statistic that winds up on the news, but a reality that the Marines who fight have to live with for the rest of their lives. It’s a terrible fact to experience and live with.
Quote 8 | Chapter 19 | Page 226
For the insurgents we battled, killing their own people—local Iraqi citizens—was business as usual. They did it with wanton disregard and for nothing more than to get their hateful point across. Civilians were mere obstacles that hindered their objective. Time and again, we encountered this palpable disregard for human life as we fought to crush the enemy.
Quote 9 | Chapter 22 | Page 268
As a commander, especially within the infantry community, it was not a challenging task to give a nineteen-year-old some training and a machine gun and expect him to go from zero-to-sixty and employ his weapon and kill the enemy. It’s a whole different story after weeks and months of intense, daily fighting to get them to go from sixty-to-zero.
To reiterate, these excerpts, brief passages, and select quotes from Echo in Ramadi (work) are provided by Scott A. Huesing (author) for use by Havok Journal as a bonafide reviewer of the work for online publication in connection with The Havok Journal (Havok Media). The author shall retain all copyrights exclusively. To purchase this book please go to Amazon.com. A portion of proceeds from the sale of his book goes to Save the Brave – a reputable non-profit to help veterans with PTS and our Gold Star Families.
Below are ways you can connect with Scott A. Huesing.
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