Tag Archives: usmc

Photography to benefit wounded British soldiers

The bookstore at the Ampleforth Abbey in the United Kingdom sells my photography as greeting cards, with the proceeds going to help wounded soldiers in the U.K.

Featured photographs (clockwise from the top): In Dress Blues Alphas, By the Beach, Mixed Messages, Marine Corps Ball, Jack, and Captive Audience.

Photographs kindly sent to me by Friar Jeremy Sierla.

A fellow Tumblr blogger, Logically Positive, suggested that I write my recollection of Iraq. I suggested that I would begin by republishing some of my firsthand accounts while I was deployed there. Below is a compilation of blogs I posted while stationed at Combat Outpost Rawah in the Al Anbar province in Iraq.

Happy Birthday, Dear Aheram

March 15, 2007

I had the night post last night with Patrick (my model-in-training). We were talking candidly about “girls with huge knockers.” (For someone that has been in service for a while, in fact, a combat veteran from OIF II, Patrick’s discourse is devoid of the regular profanities and vulgar language that are the characteristic of a Marine’s.) I checked the time and became silent as the minutes ticked closer to midnight.

He noticed my sudden silence and turned on his flashlight. As my face was illuminated, he asked, “What is wrong?” I muttered, “It is almost midnight. I will be 23 soon…” He seemed to note the sadness in both my face and my voice. “I have always celebrated my birthday, you know,” I informed him.

I went down from the post to relieve myself, but when I returned, he had placed a matchstick from an MRE (Meals Ready-to-Eat) into an Otis-Spunkmeyer cupcake (double chocolate chip). He grinned as he lit the match and started to sing: “Happy Birthday to you, happy birthday to you…” Once he was done singing, I blew out the flame from the burning matchstick and we split the cupcake between us. He turned off his flashlight and we ate in the dark.

It was the best birthday party I ever had.

The next morning: I spent the entire day being with just myself and I enjoyed it somewhat. Only two other people on this base were aware that it was my birthday. One is Patrick and the other is Nicholas, both exceptional people. I talked to my sister on AIM during one of my 30-minute internet sessions (there is a 30-minute limit for each session; no limits on how many sessions) and she asked me how I was going to spend my day. “Work,” I told her and then my session ended.

A fellow Tumblr blogger, Logically Positive, suggested that I write my recollection of Iraq. I suggested that I would begin by republishing some of my firsthand accounts while I was deployed there. Below is one of the emails I sent to my stepfather while stationed at Combat Outpost Rawah in the Al Anbar province in Iraq. This is the fourth and last email published here.

Photographs by Jayel Aheram.

The White Fluffy Dog, Mortars, and Rain

October 13, 2006

Butts the Mangy Mutt was the unfortunate victim of a pack wild dogs that roam the open desert around this base. At night, I could hear them howl and bay at the moon and sometimes laugh and cackle like hyenas. And while I was on post during the night, I would see their silhouettes against the night as they slink in and out of the shadows. But I have never really seen what they looked like until today. One of them, a very white and fluffy mongrel with a medium upturned and curled tail, seems to be the leader of his pack. He somehow led his pack through the wires undetected into a fairly large water retention pool for a little bit of dip (in the entire history of this base thus far, his pack would be the only locals that managed to repeatedly enter the base unauthorized and undetected). His pack consists of a gangly-looking Dalmatian, a very agitated brown dog, and a rather menacing looking giant rat (at least, I am ready to be convinced that it was a rat for it certainly looked like it). I am assuming that this is just a small part of his pack, unless there are other packs of wild dogs. Anyway, his pack is known to occassionally venture at night to feast on the MRE trash left unattended by Marines at the base of the guard towers. But at this moment, they were happily drinking and splashing in the water of the retention pool. Of course, being the leader, White Fluffy Dog did not take part in the canine merriment, but instead posted himself guard on top of a sand dune overlooking the retention pool. I stared at him and he stared right back. And then I realized what these filthy mutts were doing. “Great,” I sighed, “they are splashing around in what will be my shower water.”

Mortars, while not hitting the base, are a daily life here in this base. Everytime I am on post, I would not fail to hear the Marine manning the radar station screaming “COUNTERFIRE! COUNTERFIRE!” from the radio. If this does not happen at least three times in that eight-hour post, it is a slow day for insurgency. Nearly most of the time, however, the mortars are aimed at targets within the city. While regular, mortar attacks aimed at the base are infrequent. Also, a few of the mortars are duds. They would fall harmlessly into the desert sand and not explode. These we would find during our patrols (we actually found one yesterday) which we would contact EOD (explosives ordnance department/division) about. They would come in and cart it off somewhere for a controlled explosion. The only problem with EOD is that they are lax about notifying our company about these controlled explosions and when they do a controlled explosion, many of us invariably swamp COC (command operating center) with excited reports about an explosion.

It has been raining here for a while. And apparently, when it rains in the desert, it pours. There had been reports of flash floods occuring around and about. And the “empty river beds” that crisscross the desert around the base are no longer empty and are happily gurgling along towards the Euphrates.

A fellow Tumblr blogger, Logically Positive, suggested that I write my recollection of Iraq. I suggested that I would begin by republishing some of my firsthand accounts while I was deployed there. Below is one of the emails I sent to my stepfather while stationed at Combat Outpost Rawah in the Al Anbar province in Iraq. This is the third one published here.

Iraqi Soldier, Food, and Sunset

October 10, 2006

“Post 1” in this base is an access control point between the Iraqi Army compound and the rest of the American-military controlled compound. SOP (standard operating procedures) of this post is to make sure that no Iraqi Army personnel leaves their compound unless accompanied by an American military personnel. This, of course, excludes the IA officers who are authorized to come and go at whim without an American escort. Opposite of Post 1, about 50 feet away, is the Iraqi Army’s control point, which is manned by usually sleeping Iraqi soldiers (if manned at all). They probably realize the redundancy of their post and realize that Post 1 is the one that really matters. Now, about these Iraqi soldiers. They are generally cordial and when they are passing through my control point, they make a point to wave and smile at me. But when they are not passing through my control point, they are all business. Because, apparently, Guard Post 1 is known to the Iraqi soldiers in this base as Trading Post 1. When they are not sleeping in their post, Iraqi soldiers in their spare time operate a booming black market business with the Marines that often guard or pass through Post 1. DVD players for 150 dollars? No problem. Bring dollars tomorrow. Want some cigarettes? What brand? No problem. 12 dollars for a carton. You need not to trade for money either. They are willing to part with their cartons of cigarette for good ol’ American pornography. A magazine filled with dirty photos of American blonde infidels with artificial breasts is worth about five packs of cigarettes. If you have the movie in DVD, even better! I have heard that one Marine managed to part with his “MOTO” for a couple of cartons.

But once in a while, they will surprise you with their generosity. One night while I was manning Post 1, an Iraqi soldier came to my post bearing three platters filled with local food. It looked pretty good, too.

More about Butts the Mangy Mutt. I learned that she is a veteran in patrolling the dangerous streets of the city near this base. She often accompanies Marines when they are on foot patrol and was credited in saving many a Marine’s life when she alerted them to mines, IEDs, and a few snakes. And she had been a casualty of war as well! One time, she was hit by a shrapnel from an exploded IED. This bitch has seen more action than most of the Marines in this base it seems.

Last night, I had the pleasure of watching the most amazing sunset I have ever witnessed in my whole life. The combination of clouds, desert dust, and smoke billowing from the city conspired that day to create a sunset that is meant to awe and inspire. Hues of purple, blood red sun, streaks of orange in the sky. I joked to my post buddy that we might have very well caught a glimpse of the face of God in that sunset. He joked back that while we were watching the sunset, five insurgents might have crept in.

When you have eight hours to kill and nothing to do but talk to each other, Marines end up talking about the weirdest of things.

A fellow Tumblr blogger, Logically Positive, suggested that I write my recollection of Iraq. I suggested that I would begin by republishing some of my firsthand accounts while I was deployed there. Below is one of the emails I sent to my stepfather while stationed at Combat Outpost Rawah in the Al Anbar province in Iraq. This is the second one published here.

Butts the Mangy Mutt

October 6, 2006

Before actually experiencing it first-hand, I too had this same question in my mind: how do you go about sending a company of armed Marines (sometimes dual-armed with both the M16A4 service rifle and the M9 pistol) into a combat zone? Well, it starts with a long bus ride.

Then a very long 28-hour plane ride (chartered from the nice folks of RyanAir) with fuel-stops in Indiana, Iceland, Germany (I asked a German lady if she calls “German Pretzels” just “pretzels”), before ending up in Kuwait. In Kuwait, a very tense bus ride from the airport to an Army base with a chow hall better than any the Marine Corps has to offer. We stayed there for a few days before making yet another tense bus ride back to the airport. From there, a C-130 rolled down the strip with Marines onboard. It ended up in Al-Asad, yet another awesome Army base with a chow hall three times better than the one in Kuwait. It also has a Burger King and a Pizza Hut and a place that sells stereos for your car. Yes, car stereos in Iraq. You might be dodging IEDs, but at least you will be pimping with the latest in audio technology. All of these places staffed by smiling Iraqi nationals (but then you wonder if they are really fantasizing about slitting your throat as they serve you yet another serving of filthy, unclean pork). But we were only there for a few days before we finally shuffled, Marine Corps shuffled, into a large helicopter and landed in our area of operations. The helicopter ride was surprisingly… smooth. I thought I was going to feel every bob and dip, but I did not even feel the take-off! Next thing I knew, we were in the air. I fell asleep instantly… That is how smooth it was.

I have heard of Butts even before I met her. She had the reputation of being equally the most ugliest and the most sweetest dog you will ever meet. She came to the Marines and sailors on this base at her most pitiful. There are wild dogs that roam the desert around this base and apparently, she had an unfortunate encounter with a few of them. The Marines and sailors on this base pampered her and nursed her back to health. They gave her the name “Butts” for her tendency to snack on cigarette butts left around by the nicotine-addicted Marines on their very frequent and unhealthy cigarette breaks. I finally met Butts the first time I was posted guard in Post 1, which was located between the Iraqi Army compound and the main American military compound. She had the mangiest fur I have ever seen on a dog. Post 1 was a bit different from the other posts in such that it was only manned by a single Marine. That night, I volunteered for that post, thinking I will have the chance to practice my Arabic. It was silly, of course. There would not be many chances for me to “practice my Arabic” as I had hoped in the 2100 to 0500 shift that I had. Being alone, it was a struggle to keep awake, but fortunately I had Butts to help me along. She sat next to me or near me the entire time I was on post. I would scratch her behind the ears or rub her tummy. As post companion, she was perfect. She remained vigilant, if not a bit too enthusiastic in her role as guard. She would occassionally cross the wire and harass the Iraqi soldiers by barking at them if they get too close to my post.

We moved in to a new tent since the unit we were relieving just left. I was fortunate enough to have snagged extremely prime cot space. I have two sides of a wall, a mattress on my cot, and it is right next to an air-conditioner in an extremely hot tent. My cot space is equivalent to a penthouse, basically. The better tents were taken by the NCOs and staff NCOs (they have working air-conditioners, TVs, refrigerator). I suppose since they spend most of their times in these tents anyway, better to let them have it.

A fellow Tumblr blogger, Logically Positive, suggested that I write my recollection of Iraq. I suggested that I would begin by republishing some of my firsthand accounts while I was deployed there. Below is one of the emails I sent to my stepfather while stationed at Combat Outpost Rawah in the Al Anbar province in Iraq. And yes, I am aware it is filled with various typographical errors.

Musings from the Desert

October 4, 2006

I am not really sure what the date is today. I think it is the 4th of October and Wednesday, but I could be wrong.

You might have questions what is it I am currently doing in Iraq. Well, my unit is in charge of this base’s security. We man the defensive positions around the base’s perimeter as well as go on frequent patrols to make sure that the enemy is not setting up positions amid the many sand dunes and hills that surround this miniscule base. Dangers to this base is limited, but of course not exclusive, to infrequent mortar and RPG attacks. Infrequent, because patrols done by previous units in charge of security have done a successful job of neutralizing enemy positions that do crop up around the base. It is now up to my unit to keep that up.

Now, for the area itself. The base is located a few miles south of a city of 30,000 people near the Euphrates river. This is a true desert if I ever seen one. I thought the Mojave Desert is a desert, but they are nothing compared to this. The Mojave Desert at least is teeming with life. Joshua trees, bushes, cactuses, and wildlife of all kinds. This desert seems to be a barren wasteland, devoid of life. Just sand and bare rock as far as the eyes can see…

But I was wrong. While it is not as blatantly obvious as it is in the Mojave Desert, life does survive in spite of the harshness of this clime. When we went on patrol yesterday, we were to familiarize ourselves to the terrain. That means I have to observe everything, to take in the details, to learn what is “normal” in this terrain. That is when I discovered that this desert was not in fact a barren wasteland that I thought and heard it was, but rather the opposite of that. Everywhere I looked where signs of life succeeding amid the shifting sands. The most inspiring of which was a bird with a plume of shocking red feathers. I will admit, it was a bit unnerving to see such a defiant display of color in the middle of this apparent wasteland. It was the opposite of what I was doing. Me, in my desert digital, my tactical tan gear. I was trying to be part of the desert, to blend, to disappear into the endless desert background. But here is a native to this land who, instead of going with its life quietly, invisibly, chose to shatter the eerie silence of the desert with its song; and with its bright red plume, defy the overwhelming conformity the desert seems to demand (and got from me).

I do not yet hate this place. The conditions we are living under, while not desperate (we do have three meals a day, a place to sleep under, a cot to sleep on, things to entertain us, showers, Internet, free laundry service, 80-dollar Army whore…), have made a great many to despise the desert and everything and everyone in it. I do not know if it is possible for me to hate a place where the stars are allowed to shine.

When I first saw the video of Lt. John Pike spraying UC Davis students with what seems to be an orange mist, I was incredulous, “Did he just used OC spray on these sitting kids?” Turns out, he did. What the hell.

Back in 2007, I underwent non-lethal training. As part of the course, we were sprayed with military-grade “oleoresin capsicum.” I described my experience:

It feels like someone stabbed a searing hot and rusty knife into my eyes then scrubbed it with a sandpaper soaked in hot sauce.

I was not exaggerating either.