In the winter of 2005, I was in a Scout Sniper team with Echo Company, Second Battalion, Seventh Marine Regiment (E Co. 2/7). During the balmy last months of the year, we were languishing in a little section of Iraq called The Zaidon. Not “Zaidon,” it was “The Zaidon.” I still have no idea why.
Compared to the sweltering 120+ degree temperatures of the city of Fallujah we had recently left, the 20 degrees Farenhiet was a nice change, except for the whole part where it wasn’t.
In addition to the drastic temperature change, we also had to deal with the endless tedium. Our boring missions consisted of the whole company rolling through rural territory in wild bands of Humvee convoys, taking over houses, searching for enemy fighters, living off of the supplies on our backs and the land itself, and generally behaving like a Mad Max movie.
Ok, so maybe it was pretty awesome. My team would spend the days in hide positions, exfil at night, and spend the nights with the rest of the company. Inevitably someone would have a concoction of potatoes cooking that he dug out of the ground, a chicken or two, and massive amounts of Chai.
As with all groups of people, trash was accumulated, and while Marines have no problems dropping warheads of foreheads, leaving behind piles of garbage while kicking Mother Nature in the kidneys was deemed a very bad thing. Go figure.
This trash would have to be collected at the end of the day and burned in a pit, which is somehow greener than the alternative.
I was ambling along one fine evening with nary a care in the world, when I came upon my good buddy LCpl Darrensberg attempting to light this particular pile of evil on fire with matches and a splash of gasoline. Seeing me approaching, and I assume wanting to ruin one of my rare good moods, he motioned for me to join him. Still having no idea of my impending doom, I approached my friend next to the glory/hell hole.
“Hey dude, I’ve got gasoline all over my hands, and I just need someone to light the match for me. Can you help me?”
Persuaded by the apparent innocence of the situation, I agreed and took the matches into my hands. I lit one, single, solitary match, and let it fall into a puddle of gasoline the size of a small dinner plate.
It went out.
Still suspecting that my safety was guaranteed, I then lit a second match, and dropped it from a full arms-length away into an even smaller puddle of gasoline. I say again, from a full arms-length away, I dropped it into a smaller puddle. That’s when it happened.
Here’s what the uninitiated reader needs to know about our group. For all of our discipline and refined skills in the arts of war, the Marine Infantryman is, at his deepest level, a big raging savage. Those big raging savage Marines created big raging savage piles of garbage, and it wasn’t just candybar wrappers and Kleenexes. Remains of MRE’s, animal bones, and WAG bags were the least of the horrors. (A WAG bag is pretty much a ziploc bag for Marines to pinch off loaves into in leiu of toilets, and a company plus of these healthy males create a large amount of poo bags. In fact, I’m pretty sure that all 14 different body fluids were somehow represented in these trash piles, and yes, I mean that fluid too. Don’t ask, you’re not ready) In short, if Pandora’s Box were to drop a giant Cleveland Steamer into Zaidon, it would contain the horrors in these trash piles.
Keep all this in mind for the rest of the story.
The ignition was akin to what NASA creates during a rocket launch. The evil of that garbage combined with the fossil fuels to create a spell which resurrected the ghost of Anton Levay, and the first innocent soul he saw was this guy. The ball of fire literally did a column left and hit me full in the face and neck.
It’s not so much that I was burned, it’s that my face was LITERALLY ON FIRE. How do I know this, you ask? After the initial flash, I found myself thrown to the ground with Darrensberg using his hands to gently pat out the fire on my flesh. Did I say gently pat out the fire? More like slap. A little slap slap slaperoo…
Remember when I said all Marine Infantry were savages? That trait goes into every action, and this was no exception. Darrensberg was hitting me like he was Chief Big Pimpin Slappy McGee of the Slapaho tribe, and I was one of his disrespectful tricks. Now, I know he was truly concerned after my face-torching, but there were three things I could recall from those first few moments;
-Searing, blinding pain,
-Getting punched right in the pain,
-Darrensberg dying laughing as he pimp smacked my soul. I’m not talking a couple of guilty giggles, I’m talking full-on belly laughing (which is surprisingly hard to do while performing open-hand strikes on a victim of Satan’s fury).
Once the flames consuming my face, eyebrows and eyelashes were out, I lay on the ground for just a minute more. Of course Darrensburg was still laughing, but he managed to gasp out one word; “Corpsman.”
YES! The Corpsman (the medic assigned to Marines) was inside the little house we were occupying, along with my salvation and the end to my pain! He would have some beast drugs, maybe some morphine, and he could do his magic and return my poor face to it’s original youthful appearance! Everyone knows that “Doc” can fix all the boo-boos!
Here’s the problem. Our Corpsman, while highly skilled at medicine, was also highly skilled at poker. He made hundreds of dollars a week duping us poor dumb knuckle draggers out of our hard-earned blood money, and by the time I managed to stagger into the house, he was in the midst of a particularly great hand.
Now I’m not sure what I looked like at that particular moment, but I know it wasn’t good. I had just been face-humped by Smaug the Magnificent, and it was obvious that I was in a considerable amount of pain. My skin had changed colors and tightened to the point where speech become, to put it lightly, a bit of an issue. I could gasp out, “Gock, I gneed helf…owee owee…”
Doc looked at me.
“Oooo it huts weal vad, Gock…”
Doc looked at his cards.
Doc looked back at me,
and then this came out of his mouth;
“Psht, MAAAAN, there ain’t nuthin wrong wit him!” and the card game resumed.
“HUCK HYOO, GOCK!!!”
I was still laying on the floor writhing around, but I remembered how much he had been winning, and I can’t say I blamed him. Anyhoo, luckily for me, another Corpsman had been attached to us for the week, and he took pity on me. That’s right, I got some good “Doc Lovin,” in the form of Ibuprofin, water, an icepack, and a fresh pair of socks. Seriously.
At that point, I would have been excited about getting tea bagged by a snowman.
By the time the next morning had rolled around, my skin had turned black, and cracked all along my cheeks, jaw, and forehead. I have a prodigious forehead, so that equalled a lot of burned surface area. Later my “skin” started oozing stuff, to the point where I looked like a Balrog suffering from the later stages of syphilis. Doing missions was interesting, but at least I didn’t have to put on cammie paint, as my face resembled the inside of Apollyon’s itchy bunghole.
The moral to this little tale? Oakleys can save your eyes, kids.