Ryan Berg is a former U.S. Marine Corps combat infantryman and deployed twice to Iraq. In 2004, he was with 2/24 Echo company, Weapons Platoon, in Mahmudiyah, Iraq. In 2006, he served with 1/14 Task Force Military Police and was in Fallujah, Ramadi and Al Asad.
He studied rhetoric at UC Berkeley and completed his MA in Leadership Studies at Saint Mary’s College of California. He is most interested in understanding the ways that the system of patriarchy in America affects male military Veterans – and argues that this system is fundamental in perpetuating suicides in the Veteran community. He is married to his wife Nataly, and lives in Concord, CA.
It was a seemingly normal day in Iraq, in 2004, on a foot patrol alongside a dozen of my fellow U.S. Marines. We were about halfway finished and in downtown Mahmudiyah – a deadly little town that sat 20 miles south of the capital, Baghdad. Every moment of those patrols was surreal for me – I mean, I’m a 20 something year old kid really – marching around one of the most hostile places on Earth, following my best friends around, looking for “bad guys”. Scared shitless to be truthful, fighting my way through the hell-like heat, heavy gear, and musculoskeletal throbbing- confronting the extremely real possibility that something will explode underneath, or near me, at any moment.
On this particular patrol, as we were walking along, I remember several Iraqis, including women, children, and men, who approached our patrol absolutely insisting that we did not continue walking in the direction we were headed. “Don’t go, don’ go”, as they pointed ahead to an intersection about 150 yards ahead.
The local’s insistence forced us to bridge the language gap, and we did so quickly. Sadly, we learned that a group of insurgents had shot a man’s wife several times in front of him while they were in their vehicle, at which point the man was taken away and kidnapped. Even more alarming to us was the fact that there allegedly lay a large bomb in the trunk of the vehicle.
As this picture developed, we quickly began to take positions on the top of homes and behind well-covered areas that would shield us from a large blast. At this point, there was another squad we linked up with in the area who helped us cordon off the area.
We immediately radioed for our military partners to come and dismantle the bomb, or simply blow it up them selves. 5 Marines or so and myself sat atop the roof of a home, and every now and then peaked over the top to see what was going on. Despite having a plan to address the explosives, the situation was active. Insurgents would often blow up bombs remotely using their cell phones. This is why it was critical not to go anywhere near the vehicle, for that could be fatal.
As I sat up against the wall of the roof with my back towards the street where the car was, I was rocked by the most powerful explosion I’ve ever experienced. It shook my chest cavity. I passed out for a nanosecond. I then tried standing up a bit dazed, and I instinctively strapped the buckle of my helmet’s chinstrap. Immediately, I heard one of the Marines say, “there were Marines over there”. In a panicky voice, I replied, “what do you mean there were Marines over there?” As he began to explain, his voice faded, and I popped up over the wall to see what appeared to be two Marines laying on the ground, not far from the vehicle. I couldn’t believe it. How did they get there? The plan was to secure the area and wait for explosives ordinance disposal. I knew that there were car parts about to come raining down on us. As the larger pieces drifted to the ground, missing us, the debris became dust, and an explosive haze filled the area.
I then stood up after I realized what happened, and saw the engine block laying there smoldering as the two Marines lay their barely moving on the ground, with their flak jackets and helmets narrowly hanging on to them. Are they dead? I asked myself.
Apparently what actually happened is that a Marine Sergeant and Naval medical Corpsman decided to act on suspicions that the woman was still alive. Through their binoculars, they were convinced that they saw air bubbles coming from her nose. Against all protocol, they approached the vehicle, and just as they pulled the woman out of it, someone in the distance remotely detonated the bomb. Both men survived without major injuries, and were scolded by their superiors upon returning to base. They were both awarded silver stars for their actions many years later.