Sooooooo that story I wrote on Cpl Claudio Patino somehow went viral. I think that’s the term, but I’m not a computer guy. Anyways, it got over 11,000 hits in just over two days, and I decided that the world could also stand to learn about the rest of the guys in 3rd Battalion, Seventh Marines Scout Sniper Platoon Team Two. Our call sign was simply Shadow 2, and it was the coolest team I had ever worked with. I came there ready to take over the reigns of leadership in a Scout Sniper team, but when I got there I realized that these dudes were already as good as, or better than me.
Know what I did? As a good friend of mine in the contracting business says, “I just rode the wave of success they created.”
Cpl Ramirez, AKA “LA Looks” – His nickname came about because he was honestly the best looking dude on the team. That’s not being gay, it’s just a fact.
Even after a multi-day mission, he could take off his kevlar and still have perfect hair. Honestly, he looked more like a SEAL than an infantryman sometimes. After he got out of the Marine Corps, he became a competitive fitness model. I didn’t even know that was a thing, but he became one of those guys on magazines who are carved out of rock, then airbrushed. He looked like that in Afghanistan.
Exhibit B…holy crap I can’t look at it…too glorious…
He had the hot temper and emotions of his Latino heritage, but there was also the side of him cool enough to achieve the “High Stalker Award” in Scout Sniper School. If you don’t know what “stalking” is in the sniper world, go watch the movie “Clear and Present Danger.” Remember that scene where the sniper was crawling through the weeds while instructors and other soldiers walked around looking for him? Picture like twenty dudes doing that, and Ramirez was the best of them.
He had that look in his face of a very strong man carrying a very heavy weight. He was a man who seemed to have many burdens in his life, but he was a master of all of them.
My favorite memory of his actually had nothing to do with his prowess on the battlefield, his stealth, or his enemy kills, even though he had those things in abundance. It’s what he did when he came back home. The death of Patino affected him quite a bit, and he struggled for a long time with the emotions that often go along with those situations. He was on the four-man element with Patino when he died, and was right next to him. I recall the rest of us sprinting to where they were, and I saw Ramirez with tears in his eyes and the SAW in his shoulder. Even through the stress of the moment, he didn’t stop laying down that vital suppressing fire.
Fast forward a few months when we were all back in the US. When he needed help and his leadership didn’t help him (myself included, I’m ashamed to say), he turned to his brothers. When he left the Marine Corps, he turned what could have become Post Traumatic Stress Disorder into Post Traumatic Stress Growth. He did many things, and succeeded at them all. College degree and footbal player, father, MMA competitions, fitness model, Pro card in Physique. Ramirez is a definite success story.
Natty Small, AKA “The Berserker” – If you’ve ever watched “The Two Towers,” and remember the epic battle of Helm’s Deep, you might recall an Uruk-Hai that fought with a bare chest, a helmet drenched in blood, and a berserker rage. That’s Natty.
When I first met Natty, I thought he was a powerlifter or an MMA fighter. Turns out… he was a powerlifter and an MMA fighter.
He was my best friend in the deployment, as well as the only member of the team to directly threaten me with an ass kicking. I keep in touch with him the most now that we’re all out. I don’t know what it was, but it might have something to do with all those times we would sing Aladdin’s “A Whole New World” to each other. That happened…more times than will admit in public.
He was a weird dude. Not like “I believe in Harry Potter” weird, but more like “I give a first and last name to every object in our tent” weird. He was always coming up with business ideas and new inventions to patent. Now that he’s out, he’s owned a few businesses, so it all worked out for him.
He always wanted to be pointman, even if we were going to cross a reported minefield. He was a skilled shooter as well, with the ability to pick off an enemy fighter on a moving motorcycle from 600 freaking yards. Let that sink in. He was like Jeremiah Johnson with a suppressed rifle, and many of our meals were due to his ability to scrounge up watermelons, onions, and goat meat. Natty would be firing his rifle one minute, and the next somehow frying up the most delicious goat steak I’ve ever tasted. His ability of find food and water kept us supplied during operations when vehicles couldn’t get to us, and was one of the reasons for his Bronze Star medal with a Valor device.
The most intense memory I have of him came in May of 2010 in Eastern Washir, Afghanistan. We were literally chasing some enemy fighters out of a village, where they had ambushed a platoon from our supported company. They ran away from us into the desert where they ran down into a cave and tunnel system. After posting an overwatch, we found the tunnel entrance. Natty and I stood at the entrance to the tunnel for a second, mostly in disbelief that we were actually about to do this. He looked at me and said, “Do you know where my death letter to my wife is?”
I replied, “Yup. Do you know where mine is?”
After posting rear security on a second tunnel entrance “So we don’t get shot in the butthole” (his exact words), we went in.
In the next installment; The Snipers of Shadow 2 Part 2; The Pigs