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What have been some of your most harrowing experiences?

I've had a few--IED attacks, ambushes, small arms fire, being shelled, and so on...our base has been shelled a lot. That can wear on ya a bit. Or feeling a bullet wiz right by your head. Or watching an RPG [rocket propelled grenade] fired at ya skip under your humvee and slam into the hill behind ya, or watching another RPG hit the back of your buddies' humvee and bounce off into the street because it was a dud. I guess you could call some of that harrowing. One that stands out at the moment was the second IED attack our platoon took earlier this year. We were driving out to a meeting between our platoon leader and one of the sheikhs that ran one of the villages in our AO. We had just crossed a bridge and were driving up a steep hill. I was in the back of a cargo humvee pulling security with two other men in my squad. I remember passing what looked like a large hole that had been covered up on the passenger side of the road, and one of the guys with me said, "Ya know, that would be a good spot for an IED." About 5 seconds later a rather large IED just happened to go off from that very spot and scored a direct hit on the humvee behind us. It disabled the humvee, and the concussion from the blast knocked out the driver and the front seat passenger. By some miracle my friends in the back of that humvee (and keep in mind they had virtually no protection or armor plating at all to hide behind) suffered no more than a few scratches and popped eardrums. The way the bomb was buried, the majority of blast had gone straight up instead of out and that probably saved their lives. When it went off I remember saying, "Ah shit, we got another one" and then thinking that all of my friends in that humvee were just killed and that there was no way they coulda survived that blast. The crater was big enough you could drop a full-sized humvee into it.

What most surprised you about how the war is covered in the news?

There wasn't too much surprise really. Everyone here knows that the news doesn't cover shit as far as the war goes (grin). For every story you hear on the news about everything that goes on over here in Iraq, there's 100 more ya don't know about. All the big networks, they only go to Baghdad or Fallujah it seems, so of course that's all ya hear about. It's rough there, no doubt about it, and I got a lot of respect for the soldiers and Marines stuck in that hellhole, and there's a lot of action there that the networks are gonna want to cover. But you never hear about the smaller battles and skirmishes that go on in at least some spot in this country every single day. And what they do report is never 100 percent accurate, either facts are left out on purpose because it's considered classified, or the details have been twisted to fit the story. Or it's just flat-out misinformation. I was skeptical about the news before being deployed here, now I'm of the mindset that you're getting a generalization at best. Better off getting the details from someone who was actually there and involved, ya know?

How is Baghdad like Dallas? How is it different?

From what I've seen it's not too different from every other shit-hole in this country. It's just bigger and there's more of it.

What is your impression of your mission?

Let's put it this way: Officially we were sent here to liberate the Iraqi people from Saddam's rule, and then to establish the peace and to secure and rebuild this country, and to get their government back on its feet, in such a way that will benefit the people who live here...What we have to do to ensure that that happens isn't what I'd say would leave a good "impression" on the soldiers having to do it. However, it's what we do, because our country needs us to do it, and I sure as hell didn't sign up to not serve my country. So there ya go.

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Mark Stuertz
Contact: Mark Stuertz

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