I had a conversation with Ramirez today, and the subject came up of why I’m doing all these stories about my team. Part of it is because, as a father, I want my children to hear stories of great men of strength and skill to offset all the crap that’s on TV today, and also because I get really, really bored. So settle yourself down, grab that glass of Pinot Noir, and prepare thyself for the story of two guys who came to us as brand new Marines, but left as experienced 0317 Scout Snipers.
LCpl Bobby Cox; AKA-“The Grunt” – Cox was easily the biggest man on our team, with a face that showed his youth. A Marine of immense strength (he could do as many pullups as me, and he had a good 2 billion pounds on me), he also had character to match. He was usually silent, and it was hard to get more than a small smile out of him. Although he did smile often, and had a good sense of humor, I rarely saw him laugh out loud. Ever seen “King Arthur?” Remember that guy with the falcon that never showed emotion? That’s Cox, but with a beard. And more emotion. And a falcon.
I called him “The Grunt” because of his ability to quietly suffer through any hardship or task with no hint of a complaint. On one training location, Cox took a spill from the top of a mountain and broke his ankle. Did he cry? Nosireebob! He gritted his teeth, passed out from the pain, then woke up two seconds later without making a noise! He Chuck Norris-ed himself through the pain. A couple of months later, he was in Afghanistan with us without the cast, and showed no signs of a cracked infrastructure in his foot.
He carried the M249 with the same ease the rest of us carried our M4’s (Google it, if you don’t know what it is), and he used it effectively on more than one occasion. Typically, if we were ambushed by an enemy machine gunner, we could hear ole Coxy boy open up with his SAW, making bad guys hate life. Theoretically, if half the team was stuck on the roof with bullets impacting the walls next to our heads, it sure was nice to have Cox theoretically make bad guys stop shooting while we theoretically jumped off the freaking roof. Theoretically, right Natty?
He was one of our radio operators as well as the SAW gunner, and all I had to do was mention that we had a mission, and he was out the door getting radios set up, finding out rollover times, double checking batteries, etc. I don’t believe that there was ever a time when we did not have some form of communication on mission.
If you can’t do it in a baseball cap and cammie paint, it just ain’t worth doin.
My favorite memory of him, aside from him dodging mortar blasts while taking a dump in the desert (seriously, you haven’t laughed until you’ve seen your buddy sprinting back to your position while tugging his trousers up), was after he graduated Scout Sniper School. I was getting ready to get out of the Marine Corps, so I was handing the reigns of leadership and training to those still in the platoon. I came upon him supervising a training event he had organized with all of our newest Marines, and I asked him if he needed any help. I fully expected him to say “Yes Sgt. Coffey, I would love your expertise and years of experience to guide my little olive-drab heart.” Nope. He calmly let me know that he had it under control.
This wasn’t anything dramatic, but it’s a pleasure to watch a buddy grow from a new Marine into a man with mastery of our craft. He went from a brand-new Marine in my team to taking over the training of our newest snipers, and he did it with the same cool confidence with which he acted in combat.
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LCpl Brian Murphy; AKA-“The Irishman” – Why is he called “The Irishman?” Because his name is Brian Patrick Freaking Murphy! He couldn’t have been any more of a mick if his name was “Paddy Jameson O’Riverdance,” and his freckles played the harp. While Cox may have had a youthful face, Murphy looked twelve (I know, I know, I don’t have room to talk). He once informed me that he was the runner-up for the part of the main kid in the movie “Road to Perdition,” and I honestly think he could still try out for the part in his twenties.
See that cut on the face? I’ll explain that one later.
He was a very lean guy, and he used to have a tendency to stick his belly out a bit like a kid while standing, so naturally I thought he was probably not that great in a fight. When I first got to the platoon, we had a ground-fighting event in our training. I took one look at this kid, decided I could destroy him, and challenged him to a grappling match.
This was a mistake.
I suddenly found myself with an arm like a steel cable wrapped around my throat and jaw so tightly that one of my teeth chipped as I quickly tapped out to a freckly-faced 18 year old Tasmanian Devil. Seriously. He broke my tooth just by squeezing my face.
He was the other half of our stellar radio operator duo. Both he and Cox had been to the Mountain Communications Course, which sounds insanely boring, but it’s no joke trying to figure out HF, VHF, and UHF frequencies (again, Google them if you don’t know) when you’re surrounded but 11,00 foot peaks. It turned out to be a literal lifesaver. I think at one point, Murph made a radio out of a circular saw and a record player, rigging it to some trees as a power source, but that could have been from the movie “E.T.”
No, pretty sure that actually happened…
In late May 2010, while inserting into an area of Eastern Washir, our vehicle was hit by heavy enemy fire. The whole team faced as one and returned fire, unleashing hell with everything in our considerable arsenal. At one point during the joyous cacophony of hate, something went “BOOM” instead of “Pop Pop Pop,” and Murph was lying on his back, bleeding out of his face.
Hours later he’s eating chicken, cause slaying bodies is hungry work, and the streets don’t sleep
“Oh God, he’s down!” Everyone who saw him fall thought he was dead, including Murph, until he reached up to find his head still intact. It was a piece of shrapnel that had hit him IN THE FACE, but was not fatal. What does a pissed-off Irishman do after getting punched in the face with a bomb? Murph stood up and immediately joined the charge that went straight at the enemy, and ultimately repelled the ambush. Don’t mess around with a bad ass, freckled Irishman.