GAYHEART: Like-- like I said before, um, we're here doing um, or-- oral
and obviously video interviews, um, for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.
Um, if you want to just go ahead and tell me-- give me a little brief
description, um, your name and, uh, where you're from and, uh, what
service you were in and your als-- also your age, sorry. Um, and the
wars that you were a veteran of and also what you're studying at UK.
ABNEY: Well, um, my name's Ian Abney and I'm-- I'm from Richmond,
Kentucky. And I was in the-- in the Marine Corps. And, uh, I went
to a-- Iraq in 19-- in 2003, 2004, um, and, um, once again in 2005 and
again in 2007.
GAYHEART: Okay. And you're at un-- you're at UK?
ABNEY: Yes. I'm studying, uh, Islamic studies and, uh, political
00:01:00science. I have a double major in those.
GAYHEART: Why, uh, political science and, uh, Islamic studies? How come
you chose that major?
ABNEY: Well, I plan on taking what I've already learned when I was
there in Iraq the first time and-- and the other times and kind of
compounding on it, instead of going back and working a completely
different field or something else. I already learned a decent amount
of Arabic, a decent amount of Middle Eastern culture. And so I'm just
kind of building up on that to go back and work for, um, the government
again, whether it be Department of Defense or State Department or some
GAYHEART: Has that made your studies, um, having real world experience,
as opposed, uh, to your peers, has it made it easier for you?
ABNEY: Um, well, I would say definitely. I mean if I went to, uh,
college immediately out of high school I would not have anywhere near
the same type of drive and determination to do stuff. And it helps
also being-- or at least feeling much older than my peers--
ABNEY:-- in college. Um, so I don't get really involved in what it is
that they're doing, which, at first, kind of seems like a-- it's, uh,
a problem. But after a while you just learn that, uh, it's actually
to your advantage. And, uh, you get a lot more studying done than what
you would expect.
GAYHEART: Do you feel like you're a lot more disciplined than your peers?
ABNEY: Um, for the most part. Now, I --(laughs)-- I-- I still-- I
struggle a lot with, uh, just simply going home and doing homework just
like I did in-- in high school.
ABNEY: And for sure there are, y-- several people in every class that
I have that are much better students than I am. But, uh, for the
majority of it, yeah, I would say so.
GAYHEART: Um-hm. Well, prior to enlisting, tell me about your
childhood, growing up in Richmond.
ABNEY: Well, I grew up out on a farm. Actually, uh, I-- I say it's
a farm but it's kind of, uh, just out in the country. And we had--
00:03:00uh, we had a few horses and a few cows, but it wasn't anything really
intensive. We didn't make any money off of it. But, um, I was
actually born in Lexington and then moved from Lexington to, uh, or
from Berea up to Richmond out into the-- into the country. And, um,
from there, uh, I went to high school at Model Laboratory there in
Richmond. And, um, yeah, that's about--
GAYHEART: What made you--
ABNEY:-- long and short of it.
GAYHEART:-- did you want to get out of-- ----------(??). Go ahead and
ABNEY: Sorry. (drinks)
GAYHEART: That's cool. Did you have the intentions of getting out of
Richmond when you joined the Marines?
ABNEY: Um, I had a really early memory, actually, that was brought up by
00:04:00my mother a few years ago, that-- of me playing actually on the steps
when I was three years old and I was play-- I remember playing with a--
a GI Joe. And, um, she reminded me actually that GI Joe was a Marine.
And I didn't ever think about it being a Marine or anything else,
but that's probably the first time I can think back to really being
motivated toward going into the military. And it was from then for as
long as I can remember, I've never wanted to do anything else.
GAYHEART: What was your-- growing up in high school, what-- what was
your opinion of the Marines or the military period?
ABNEY: Well, I started out not really caring about any branches
whatsoever. I just wanted to be in infantry. Um, and then as I got a
little bit older I learned more about the Marine Corps and, um, what I
believed, uh, was them being a-- a step ahead of the other branches in
the milit-- in the, uh, infantry aspect of-- of warfare. Um, and then
I had a short amount of time where actually wanted to go in the Army
00:05:00because I wanted to go and be a ranger. Um, but I act --(laughs)--
when I told my Marine recruiter that I was thinking about going in the
Army, um, she actually said, uh, "Well, come back-- inside. And, uh,
let me give it one more shot. And if you still want to-- if you still
want to go into the Army after that, then, uh, then we'll see." And,
uh, so I went back in there and, uh, she talked me back into the Marine
Corps and I went-- I went in just a few months after that.
GAYHEART: Did you go in to the military-- did you go into the Marine
Corps wanting to go over to Iraq and Afghanistan?
GAYHEART: What year did you enlist?
ABNEY: Uh, it was 2003. It was immediately after high school that I
enlisted. Um, when September 11th happened it was kind of a-- it was
kind of a deal where I already knew beforehand that I was going into
00:06:00the military. And this just kind of put another spin on where it was
that I was going. It really didn't matter to me where it was that
I went at all. Um, I certainly didn't ever imagine myself going off
to college and learning Arabic and studying Islamic studies or having
anything to do with the desert or Middle Eastern people, um, or any of
that at all. It's just that's how events unfolded. And, uh, when 2003
rolled around, and I graduated, it seemed pretty logical at that point
that I was going to head off to Iraq.
GAYHEART: Did you have an-- did you have a sense of, um, did you get a
sense of duty when the 9/11 attacks happened? Did you-- did you say, "I
have to go out now and I have to do something for my country."
ABNEY: Um, well, that's probably one of the reasons I did so poorly in
high school, actually, is because I wanted to hurry up and get through
school as quickly as possible so I could get into the fight, get into
00:07:00the military. 'Cause I always figured that's all I was going to do.
Um, and I was gonna retire in the military. That's what-- what was
in my head for the longest time. So when, um, when it came time-- when
September 11th happened as far as duty goes, I'd say that really it
was-- the only thing that changed was people started focusing more on
me because they knew that I was gonna be going into the military and
that I was probably gonna be going to Iraq or Afghanistan or one of
those two places at that time.
GAYHEART: Um-hm. Did, um, did-- are you the first generation from your
family to go into the military?
ABNEY: Um, I-- from my immediate family, yes. My grandfather though--
both my grandfathers, one of them fought in, uh, World War II and
another one fought in Korea. Um, but other than those two I'm-- I am
the only-- my-- my kid brother actually just left for boot camp, uh, to
00:08:00Paris Island yesterday. Um, so he's-- he's following up with that. Um,
but there are no other Marines in the family that I-- I know about.
GAYHEART: Did he turn to you for advice and--
ABNEY: (laughs) Um, it's-- that's-- that happened. That was pretty
interesting. The-- as soon as I got back I got completely out of
the military. He-- he's about twenty right now I think. Um, so he's
been-- he hasn't been in college, so he's been kind of sitting around
and trying to figure out what to do with his life--
ABNEY:-- in the last two years. And I've been home for two years. Um,
and when I first got back, my parents actually, basically, asked me to
talk him out of going. Um, and I did. Um, I was--
GAYHEART: What'd-- what'd you tell him?
ABNEY: I told him, um, basically-- well, the truth, that he didn't need
to go into the military to prove himself. That that wasn't really
00:09:00necessary for him to do, 'cause I had a strong feeling that that's the
reason he was going to do it, whether it be for me or to himself or
whatever reason. But he ended up, um, we ended up just basically, uh,
sitting around --(laughs)-- and he ended up sitting around for the next
two years and I kind of brought it back up to him again after a while.
I saw that, really, it's gonna be the best, uh, thing for him at this
GAYHEART: Hmm. So what's your parents or your mom's reaction to both
their sons, one coming home with three tours to Iraq, and then one that
just went to boot camp? What's her--
ABNEY: Oh, um, her reaction is pretty imaginable I guess. Uh, she's--
uh, doing-- obviously I have a different perspective this time 'cause
00:10:00I'm home and the person in the military is gone.
ABNEY: But, um, she seems to be doing pretty well. The major reaction
is usually just complete, just, worry all the time. Um, yeah.
GAYHEART: Are you scared for him?
ABNEY: You know, I've thought about that a few times. I'm not right
now, because he's in boot camp and that's one of the safest places to
be. Uh, you have constant supervision. You can't leave. You can't
go anywhere. You have-- you have to sleep six to eight hours a night.
You have to.
ABNEY: Um, so it-- right now it's pretty safe. If he gets-- if he gets
deployed there'll probably be a little bit more concern there than
there is now, for sure. But he's not in a combat arms MOS [Military
GAYHEART: Okay, okay.
GAYHEART: Um, well, speaking of that, what was your boot camp experience
like? Tell me a story about-- tell me first what boot camp's like in--
in the Marines, but-- and then tell me a specific story.
ABNEY: Well, you see-- especially people going in see a lot of different
movies, um, about boot camp. And they are pretty accurate for the most
part. But it's not quite as, um, daunting or as scary as I think that
the movies make them out to be. Um, but there's other things that they
don't show in the movies that-- that you-- that occupy your thoughts
every single day you're there. Mainly-- I went in August and so the
heat and the humidity and the way your clothes stick to your body and
all that, and the amount of insects. And you could think even, if you
saw a-- a movie on boot camp, you could-- you could think about insects
biting you and stuff. But you don't realize that you can't swat at
them and you can't do anything to get the insects off of you. So then
00:12:00you just have to stand there and-- and let 'em bite away. Um, so those
little things, uh, the-- the time that takes in all the spaces in the
movie is where you-- you know, you-- you see a montage of-- of, uh,
training going on. All the hours and days that are in between those
are really where the difficulty in-- in boot camp is. Um, as far as
stories, one, uh-- one thing I did not expect, I did not expect to do
as well in or really to be as involved as it was and boot camp, uh, was
the water, um, the swim qualification. Um, I imagined that as a Marine
you probably have to learn how to swim.
ABNEY: Um, I knew how to swim, but I didn't realize that they had four
different stages of, uh, swim qualification. And the, uh, each one of
00:13:00them was successfully more frightening as it went along.
ABNEY: I always --(laughs)-- always say that the reason that I did so
well in swim qual was 'cause I really didn't want to drown, uh, because
it was just --(laughs)-- you start out in just swim qual one, you're
doing really basic stuff. But there's also the most amount of recruits
in the water with you.
ABNEY: And you're kind of swimming around, and, uh, some people really
can't swim that are in there. And so they thrash out and try to grab
onto people and, uh, try to-- and will drown and pull you down with
'em and drill instructors have to pull them out of the pool. But then
you successfully do more and more stuff in the water until you get
to swim qual one. And in swim qualification one, you, um, go out to
rescue a drowning victim. And, um, it's really an instructor acting
as the drowning victim. Of course a dr-- the instructor at the time
00:14:00is probably about 220 - 230 pounds, and I was 140 when I went to boot
camp. And you have to take that drowning victim and pull them out of
the water, pull 'em to the other side of the pool and pull 'em out of
the water. Um, so-- and it-- it-- that would be hard enough if they
didn't actually attempt to drown you, because they're acting as a
drowning victim that's frightened and doesn't know what to do, so it
grabs onto the rescuer. And, uh, so you swim up there, um, and you
tell the drowning victim to be calm. And, uh --(laughs)-- and you get
up really close to 'em, and then he'd just start splashing water in
your face. And, uh, it just makes you PUH, PUH, PUH breath in really
fast and hyperventilate. And you don't exhale because all the water's
coming up in your face. And, uh, that's when they just bring the arms
around you and sink to the bottom of the pool. Um --(laughs)-- and
while you're down there you're supposed to use the different techniques
00:15:00that they've taught, um, as far as ah, pressure points on their arms
to get them to go off you. And of course if you don't do 'em properly,
then-- then they won't let go. And I had the misfortune of actually
coming back up and violating another rule, when I got him off of me,
and pushed him away, when I resurfaced you're supposed to stay ten to
fifteen feet away from 'em when you resurface so that they don't do it
again. And so I got up and just broke the water when I heard "ten to
fifteen feet" yelled out by 'em. And then I went straight back down
in-- into the water again when he --(laughs)-- grabbed back onto me.
But I learned a lesson from that and-- and didn't drown that day. So
that-- that was good. (laughs)
GAYHEART: (laughs) Well, um, if you were to take away one thing from
boot camp, what would that have been?
ABNEY: There's a lot of, uh, talk about what goes into forming a team in
00:16:00boot camp. But what I got out it the most, I think, was really how to
rely on yourself. Um, there's kind of this idea that you really learn
how to be a part of a unit and everything. It's not so much that, it's
really that you-- you're confident enough to be able to be a part of
the unit, at least that's my experience with it. So I would-- I would
think that the type of confidence that boot camp builds in you, um, is
something that actually helps out the rest of your unit later on.
GAYHEART: Well, after boot camp, um, you went on to, uh, infantry
training. Uh, can you explain to us, uh, what your occupation was?
ABNEY: My, um, infantry training, um, after you do your, um, basic
rifling course, and that-- all that is, is, your basic infantry
00:17:00knowledge, you will, um, based upon your test scores or selection,
they probably do it differently every time, I don't know, but, um, they
break you down into different, uh, specialties or they leave you as the
general populace and you go on to be regular riflemen. Um, when I got
out of the normal course, I went on to be a machine gunner, an O3-31
is a MOS designation. But, uh, I didn't want to be a machine gunner.
Uh, when the instructors came in and gave a class, uh, showing all
the different occupational specialties, I did not want to have anything
to do with anything other than being an assault man, which dealt with
demolitions and destroying tanks. And I thought that looked like
the-- the most interesting thing. Um, a machine gunner looked like
a lot of work with a lot of heavy equipment. Um --(laughs)-- and I
00:18:00didn't really want that very much. So, when, uh, we broke down and the
machine gun instructor, uh, started calling names off and he called my
name off, I just kind of stood there. And he asked me, he's like, "Do
you want to, uh-- well, do you want to be a machine gunner or not?" And
--(laughs)-- somebody else kind of answered for me. And they-- they
asked, uh, "Well, do we have a choice?" And he goes, "No." (both laugh)
So from there I just, uh, went over and got in his formation. But
that's pretty much how it happened.
GAYHEART: And your occupation was, like, uh-- well, what was, uh, what
was it like to be a machine gunner at that point? Not just being in
training, were you like the other machine gunners or were you the
ABNEY:-- I-- I didn't-- from that point to the end of-- from that point
to the end of, um, my Marine Corps services, I was a atypical miss--
00:19:00machine gunner, I would say. Um, even though I'm six-two, I'd always
been really thin. And all of the other machine gunners or just about
all of them were really, really big guys, as you can imagine they would
be. And, um, it was, in training specifically, um, a-- it was a lot of
work because our-- our largest weapon that we-- we can carry around is
seventy-six pounds. Um, and that's an automatic grenade launcher. And
those things aren't-- even the tripod in which the machine gun sets
in is forty pounds. It's a-- it's an extra weight on your already--
all the gear you're carrying, your rifle and your pack and everything
else. Um, so it can be really intensive physically. And I was never
actually a really, really physical person or a physically strong
person, um, up to that point. So.
GAYHEART: You said you were the atypical machine gunner for the rest of
your enlistment. Did-- did your training make you one?
ABNEY: Um, well, it's-- I'm not really sure. Most of my-- the people
00:20:00that I trained with were kind of how you-- and even the people that
I served with when I got into the fleet, were all really the type of
typical machine gunners. They're really big guys. Um, they weren't
dumb, but they were really gung ho. And, uh, if you could-- you could
really easily cast them in an action movie as the machine gunner. Um,
I don't know how-- how better to put it. But I-- the way I always
approached things was, um, maybe 'cause I had to because I wasn't as
big as them, but the way I approached it was the tactical aspect of--
of setting up machine guns and learning, uh, how best to employ them
and everything else that has to go with them.
GAYHEART: Okay. Um, so you had-- you had spoke about how you wanted
00:21:00to stay in for life, um, when you first got in the military. And
obviously you're sitting here with us and you're studying at UK, um,
after four years or, uh, a full enlistment. What changed your mind and
what-- at what point did you realize that "this isn't for me?"
ABNEY: Oh, that's-- that's a good question. Um, I would say probably--
even after-- I would say one thing, the infantry school was much
harder than boot camp. And if I had to put it in a category, I think
it was-- it was much more challenging-- it was much harder than even
the deployments to Iraq. Um, not in the sense of the danger, but just
mentally, um, really draining on you. But even after that was over
with, I actually got, uh, stationed-- I-- I was in Paris Island. From
00:22:00there I went to Camp Geiger, which is in North Carolina.
ABNEY: And, uh, that was in the middle of the winter there. So it was
raining, it was cold all the time. And I got to go from there over to,
uh, get stationed at Camp Pendleton in California.
ABNEY: And so the-- just the climate change, um, was really fantastic
from-- from the swamp to the beach, basically. And, uh, so even after
all that boot camp and training and everything else, when I got to
the fleet I was still very much motivated to stay in for as long as
possible. I would say that at the end of the first deployment and
working into the second deployment is when I really started become
disillusioned with the way that the Marine Corps operated in different
stuff. And then by the time the third deployment came around I was--
I would say I was very disillusioned in general with the administrative
and training aspects, and even a lot of the leadership that went
00:23:00involved-- that was involved in, uh, um, our chain of command.
GAYHEART: Would you blame the Marine Corps or would you blame the people
that are in the Marine Corps?
ABNEY: Um, I blame both, I would say. The way that the institution in
the Marine Corps, in my opinion, the way it's set up, um, it really
provides a lot of incentive for, uh, n-- the-- the best, uh, Marines
to not really move ahead, and for them to be-- to get tired of it and
quit. And conversely, it allows for the-- the bad Marines--
ABNEY:-- to stay in and actually get promoted and then go up to
positions of leadership and-- and be in control. Um--
GAYHEART: You think they've set up a system where they suck you dry for
00:24:00four years, because they know you're good, and then they spit you out?
And, you know, the-- the ones that don't perform as well go on to be
your boss when you get out of boot camp?
ABNEY: Um, it-- well, in general terms, yeah, basically, that's what it
seems to be. And I don't think it's necessarily an intentional thing,
but I think that just, because it keeps on happening over and over, it
just keeps on perpetuating itself. Uh, to give you kind of an-- to--
to illustrate kind of what I'm talking about, if you had a-- if you
had, um, a corporeal, for example, um, and E4, an NCO, to finally get
to his rank, he would be in charge of either a fire team of four men
or maybe a squad of twelve, um, in the infantry. And when they get to
00:25:00that level of leadership, they can see-- well, they do see every day
exactly what happens on the ground. And the policies and the commands
of, uh, officers and higher ups, they can see exactly what comes
out of those. Um, and that-- the fact that there is a ten percent
reenlistment rate, um, for infantry Marines, I think kind of speaks
back to that. That they don't take care of-- don't seem to take care
of the, um, ones that really want to do well in the Marine Corps or
really want to make a difference with it.
GAYHEART: Do you think in your experience, do you feel that those guys
or men or women, um, they get out, they go on to do big things? They go
and do-- you know, are your peers ----------(??)--
CAMERAMAN: Wait a second, can we pause this real quick? (cough)
GAYHEART: ----------(??) is different.
[Pause in recording.]
GAYHEART: Can you go in at-- at a chest shot?
CAMERAMAN: Oh yeah, sure.
GAYHEART: That's good.
CAMERAMAN: Thank you. Alright. Alright, we're rolling again.
GAYHEART: Alright. Um, yeah, are your friends, your peers that got out,
are they the antithesis? Are you the-- are you the example of "man,
this guy's doing it. This guy's-- this guy's going to UK. He's going
to get his education." Do you see any of your other peers down now?
ABNEY: Um, yes, I would say, a, a small minority. I think there's three
of us that actually did three deployments, three or four maybe, that
are actually going to school or really doing anything, um, greater
00:27:00than what they expected to do in a sense. Because, to be honest with
you, a lot of us should still be in the Marine Corps right now. We
shouldn't have, uh, we chose to get out because we could and because
we felt, um, kind of mishandled. But, um, but we should all pretty
much-- most of us should still be there right now because that is where
all the experience is. I mean we have three deployments and then we
leave. Who's teaching the new generations of Marines that are coming
in there? If you have that much of-- of flight, of-- of brain drain
out of the-- of the Marine Corps, then you're-- you're losing a lot of
experience than you're even gaining from Iraq and Afghanistan. But a
lot of the guys, because the Marine Corps and, um, being a veteran is--
they believe is the best thing that they're ever gonna be in life, and
in some cases it is the best thing that they'll ever do, um, they can't
00:28:00really-- they have a hard time trying to cope with what they're gonna
do now, now that they're not a Marine anymore.
GAYHEART: Yeah. It's like they're-- they've hit-- they-- they peaked.
ABNEY: Yeah, basically.
GAYHEART: peaked at an early age.
ABNEY: They-- they peaked and then left what-- at the end of the day, no
matter what, uh, the problem was, you could still at the end of the day
look at yourself in the mirror and say, "Well, at least I'm a Marine."
And that's a pretty high standard, um, even in the worst of it. You
can still hold that standard. But, here as a civilian, they-- they
don't have that type of, uh, uh, feeling of being incorporated I guess.
GAYHEART: So there's no nostalgia, there's no, um, even as a civilian,
these guys, you know, take me through a conversation that you have with
one of your buddies that might be in a position like that.
ABNEY: Um, well I highly recommend that they don't continue on usually.
00:29:00But if the person was-- was the type of individual, type of character,
individual that I know wouldn't do-- or I believe that wouldn't do well
out in civilian world, um, simply-- not because they couldn't handle it
in the civilian world, but because they would miss being a Marine too
ABNEY:-- then I'd kind of just let them, you know, as far as the two of
us go, I-- I wouldn't even bring it up probably. I'd just let them go
back into the Marine Corps. But most people I would say, um, I would
tell them to get out, because there's a lot of them that can do more
good outside of the Marine Corps right now as the Marine Corps is,
in general. Um, so with-- with that-- that's what I would probably
usually say to them, I guess.
GAYHEART: Did-- let's see, did you-- do you ever think about going back
ABNEY: (laughs) Yeah. Um, two months after I-- the first two months
after getting out of the Marine Corps were terrible. Um, I sat around
all day. I had no idea what to do with myself at all. I wasn't
going to school and I wasn't working. Um, and there wasn't-- it went
from high pace, lots of stress, um, constantly having something to
do, even if you didn't want to do it, you always had something to do,
to absolutely nothing. And you're not-- you don't feel like you're
contributing in any way to the fight at all. Um, so I thought about it
quite a bit, whether or not I made a mistake, uh, the first two months
that I got out. Um, but after-- as time went on and as I could figure
out a way to, um, cope with it, then I kind of just, uh, got along with
it after that.
GAYHEART: When you found out, the first time, that your unit was being
00:31:00deployed-- first off, um, where was your unit and what was the name of
your unit and what was the unit's specialty?
ABNEY: Um, my unit was India Company, Third Battalion, First Marines,
um, First Marine Division. And we are a-- we were a, uh, a, uh,
----------(??). We were a, uh, boat company. And our battalion was,
uh, special operations capable, which simply means the Marine Corps
are kind of funny, they --(laughs)-- they think that everyone of 'em
are special forces, so they don't even need to have a-- a-- kind of
a separate-- a branch, like the green berets or the rangers or seals.
So they-- they think that they're good enough that they'll just
designate certain battalions, certain infantry battalions, uh, special
operations capable and that'll be good enough. But in each, um, one
00:32:00of these battalions, uh, they basically cruise around the ocean. Any
time a, uh, emergency comes up, um, they're able to respond within
two days. Uh, and within that battalion, each company has a different
specialty and a-- ours were, uh, small boats. Um, so we would actually
deploy, um, onto a beachhead under the cover of darkness and secure
the beachhead and then allow for the rest of the force to move in
behind us. Uh, that was our designation. I never even did any of the
training actually that went along with that. Because since we're-- our
fight is in Iraq and Afghanistan, that's-- it's not really conducive to
boat operations. So we ended up focusing a lot of our training on, uh,
humvees and-- and trucks, mainly.
GAYHEART: So when you found out you were going to Iraq for the first
time, um, how did you find out and what was-- what was your reaction,
whether it was verbal or not.
ABNEY: I honestly don't even remember when it was that I knew that I was
going to go to Iraq. Uh, my-- the way I've dealt with everything in
the Marine Corps was really day by day and one day at a time. Um, so
actually when we were in, uh, the school of infantry in North Carolina,
we-- and we got assigned to our different units, um, the instructors
after-- immediately after we got assigned, our instructors came over
and told us a little bit about each one of the units and what we could
expect out of them. And I already knew that, um, at that point that I
was going into a unit that was getting ready to go deploy again. They
had just-- they were just about to get back or they had just gotten
00:34:00back. Um, and then we were-- we were going to pick up, as the new
guys, in that particular unit. So I don't remember exactly, um, how
I felt about it. But, uh, I-- I knew it was coming. It was just from
that point in time, it was just kind of, you know, how long it would be
before we'd actually deploy.
GAYHEART: So when you first deployed, um, tell me about your first
00:35:00mission, can you zoom in on a head shot?
CAMERAMAN: I'm sorry I'm--
GAYHEART: Just one second, just a head shot.
CAMERAMAN: Oh, sure.
GAYHEART: Sorry. Hold on. Uh, a little more head room. Uh, down just
a little. I think the last one was good. Okay, yeah, that's good.
So, um, tell me-- tell me about, um, the first mission and, um, what
it was like, what you experienced and what you remember.
ABNEY: We got there in June of 2004. And by that time the insurgency
had really started to pick up a lot. The, um-- one of the things that
we learned pretty soon after-- or the first few months we were there,
was that the insurgency really picks up heavily in the summer and then
it dies off in the winter. Um, probably because people are outside
more, um, and so there's more chance for interaction. But when we had
first got there, um, we drove up in trucks. And of course we were new
to Iraq, we had never seen Iraq before. And I'd say about 80 percent
of us were actually new, we were very, very new battalion at that time.
00:36:00And, uh, we would drive down the street and, um, ten - fifteen feet
away, there would just be people all over the place. And I remember
thinking that it seemed very claustrophobic, that everybody was all
around us all at one time and it didn't seem very orderly or any-- I'm-
- I'm not sure exactly what I was expecting out of it, but that's kind
of how it seemed. And, um, our first mission was basically a patrol,
we were still acclimatizing to the environment. It's amazingly hot,
um, 130 degrees. And, uh, some of the-- some of the guys that hadn't
been drinking enough water on our first patrol, um, had to take lots of
stops, um, with-- a few of them even fell down because they were just
getting so hot and, um, we have to take lots of stops, make sure they
didn't-- they wouldn't, uh, suffer from heat stroke. But, uh, we did
basically a patrol with the unit that was already there. And, uh, they
00:37:00had been there for several months. Uh, and we walked around the town
and-- just to get our-- our bearings on the town, more-- more or less.
And, um, dealt with the heat. I remember the, uh, the thing about
the, um, we stayed in a schoolhouse, it was our base of operations for
that city. And the-- the name of the city was Karmah, um, in Al-Anbar
province. And, uh, the-- the schoolhouse we stayed in was the largest
building in the town in it were four stories in the building. Uh,
there wasn't any children in session. They didn't start till October.
It, wouldn't start going back to school till October. And it was
June. So I remember get-- getting there and then stepping outside,
very alert, um, 'cause I didn't know what to expect and we were
actually in Al-Anbar province. And we knew that much. And there was
00:38:00just-- there was no protection or anything anywhere. And it felt like
every single window in the town, you-- you could see our base from--
from everywhere. And so I was really concerned about, uh, people being
able to see inside the base or snipers shooting inside the base. But,
uh, after time, we kind of realized that it wasn't really a threat, um,
in any way. So those were my first impressions I'd say of being there.
GAYHEART: What about the people? Did you feel that you had a, um, a good
cultural lens when you went over there?
ABNEY: The first time, no, I would say not. Um, we kind of took our
cues as new guys from the older guys who had actually been over during
the, uh, invasion. Uh, and--
GAYHEART: What were they like when-- when ----------(??)?
ABNEY: Uh, they-- well, if you asked me then I wouldn't be able to
00:39:00tell you. But kind of reflecting on it now, they had a much more
aggressive, um, attitude toward the local population and in general,
because they had actually traded fire with the Iraqi army when they
went in in the invasion. Um, this was much more low key. And, um,
they had to look out-- it was a completely different threat for them.
But we still took our-- our cues from them. And their inclination was
to be very, um, distrustful of the civilians. And-- and to be honest,
the civilians for the most part didn't give us a lot of reasons to be
very, um, accommodating for them. They-- they did hide, uh, insurgents
for-- there's a thousand different reasons that they should have or
did, uh, cover for insurgents and-- and the like, but um, that was, uh,
00:40:00the people-- the kids were always really-- I mean the kids don't have
any idea about the-- the political or, uh, the, uh, conflict going on
in any way, shape or form. So they're happy to see us all the time.
And they're especially happy if we're giving anything out to 'em.
Um, but, uh, the adults in-- in that area kept their distance, were
very sure not to, um, be seen, uh, helping us out in any way. Uh, if
we approached them, then the most-- uh, the usual answer we would get
is that they simply don't know. Even if it happened-- if the incident
or the intelligence we're trying to pick up happened directly outside
their house, they'd usually say that they didn't know. So that was--
that was kind of the climate that we were going into when we got there.
GAYHEART: Tell me about the first mission that you went on where you
00:41:00were engaged by the enemy.
ABNEY: Um, you know, I'm not sure. (laughs) Uh--
GAYHEART: The one that-- the first one that comes to your mind. The
one-- the most vivid one.
ABNEY: Well, we, um, we started getting into a routine where we would
literally, um, were hit by an IED, a roadside bomb, every other day.
Um, and that's just for our company. That's not our battalion. We
would drive down the road. There would be a patrol that-- that went
out every 48-72 hours and they would get hit. And sometimes there
would be casualties and other times there wouldn't. Um, usually there
would be at least minor casualties with it. Uh, as far as actual
engagement goes, the, um, one of the misconceptions I think about,
at least in modern warfare, uh, movies show a lot of action and a lot
00:42:00of drama. Um, and you see every angle on the battlefield in movies.
But in actual combat, if you look away in another direction, you can
miss the entire-- everything that's going on. Um, you don't see dust
kicking around you when-- when you're being shot at. And uh, if people
are dropping-- if the enemy is dropping mortars on your position, you--
you don't know where they're at. All you know is that the ground's
exploding all around your firm base. Um, so you get to cover and then
you see even less once you get into cover. So, um, there's a lot of
confusion. Uh, the-- for the general-- for the most part, insurgency
was very effective in keeping us on the defensive most of the time.
And our-- that, added in with the command keeping us out of the loop
most of the time, we were usually, uh, pretty confused as-- as far as
00:43:00what was going on. Um, as far as close calls and everything, when we
actually went into Fallujah and we actually started taking Fallujah,
uh, I remember we-- it was in 2004 when we were doing this. So we
were still amazing, really unfunded. We did not have a lot of the
type of armor that we had by the time of our third deployment. And our
humvees, um, we put sandbags on the tops of our humvees because they
had no roof at all. Um, so we put plywood down and we put sandbags
on top of the plywood and strapped it down to the top. Um, and that
would come in-- I laughed at it, and I was making fun of it when--
when we were there, uh, prepping to go into Fallujah. But then it
actually saved my life when we turned a corner in Fallujah and, um,
I was coming back from, uh, taking a medevac outside the city to the
00:44:00railroad station where our, uh, battalion was headquartered at. And we
turned onto a route we called Route Elizabeth, um, there in town. And
just every window just kind of lit up from-- fire from all directions,
'cause we hadn't secured that area of town. We were taking a shortcut
through an area that wasn't-- that hadn't been cleared by any troops.
And, uh, the-- there was just fire coming around from all directions.
And, uh, I heard a snap and the, uh, the thing about too, few-- little
of Hollywood knows the type of sounds that you-- that you hear when you
actually hear a gun fire and rounds actually hitting very close to you.
The best way I can describe it is if you took a ruler and you slap it
on a desk. That's the best sound for a really-- very close round. Um,
but I-- I heard that all of the sudden and my ears started ringing and
sand actually came down into the-- the back of my flak jacket. And
00:45:00what had happened was a round had shot at the sandbag directly above--
and hit in the sandbag directly above my head and, uh, put a hole
through it. But it act-- had not gone all the way through. And, uh,
so that was the sand from that sandbag above me. But that was, uh, one
of the closest calls I'd say.
GAYHEART: Um, I think, you know, whether you're, uh, or in the military
or not, I think a lot of people knew the battle of Fallujah. Um, and
it's kind of become the centerpiece a lot of times for Iraq, other than
the invasion into Baghdad. Uh, explain to me leading up, 'cause when
people think about Fallujah, it's-- it's, uh, it's a big offensive, one
of the bigger offensives. Explain to me how you prepped, um and what--
what the city was like and what they did to go into the city, um, and
00:46:00what your role was in the city.
ABNEY: The-- the way we prepped for it was actually withdraw. We
withdrew from Karmah at that time. Um, I remember vaguely our, um,
regimental commander, uh, calling the entire thing a, uh, more or less
a failure. I don't remember-- I don't-- I doubt he used those exact
words. But basically saying that, uh, support and stability operations
had-- had failed, um, in Karmah. And so they were pulling us out in
order to get us ready for the offensive in Fallujah. Um, and I don't
know the larger terms of it. Uh, there are probably other Marines that
were there with me that actually have read through the books and know
what the bigger picture of it was. I haven't done any of that yet.
GAYHEART: What was the feeling? What was the mood, the ----------(??)
ABNEY: The mood was actually, uh, very eager. We were all really,
really eager to actually get in the city. Um, because-- for the most
00:47:00part, uh, a lot of the guys wanted an actual chance to get to shoot
back at the enemy. Because like I said, a lot of encounters, um, did
not involve us even seeing an enemy to shoot back, uh, against. So it
was very frustrating because the Marine Corps you're-- you're always
learning a way to react to the enemy or to inflict some type of harm or
damage or kill the enemy themselves. But when it comes down to, um, to
counter insurgency operations in Iraq, they're attacking us a lot more
than we are them and-- and we never see them. So a lot of the guys
were really, really amped up and ready to go into Fallujah, um, because
we had there a perfect opportunity to take out a huge mass of the
insurgency. You know, even while we were there, the interesting thing
about, um, the schoolhouse while we were there in Karmah, we could see
Fallujah from the schoolhouse. And it was on the horizon and it was
00:48:00pretty small. But we always knew that all of-- we knew from, uh, intel
reports and we knew from guys that, uh, were on the street that let us
know, that all the insurgents came from Fallujah. And then they would
just use that as an operating base and then come out to each individual
town and create a cell and just cause havoc. So we're really ready to
get back at those guys, um, finally. So we were all really excited to
finally get to do something as Marines that we were actually intended
to do, and that was to take down an enemy target. Um, so we-- we spent
a few weeks getting everything together, um, going through drills. Uh,
we did some live fire ranges, um, outside of Fallujah, um, to get ready
for it. And, uh, when the actual operation went down --(laughs)-- this
is the other thing that-- that's never shown, but, uh-- or even written
00:49:00about in books 'cause it would be utterly boring and nobody would buy
them, but there's about 48-72 hours where you're on standby and you're
simply waiting to leave. And you're not doing anything at all, um,
except for eating and sleeping and doing last minute checks and doing
last minute checks and last minute checks over and over and over again.
And that's the majority of the time. And then the-- there's a smaller
amount of time that's actual combat. Um, so it's like three hours for
every two minutes of combat, three hours of sitting around for every
two minutes of combat. And, uh, so we pulled up outside the city and
we staged, um, there. And we actually started digging fighting holes.
Um, I'm not sure why. But word came down to start digging fighting
holes. So we started digging fighting holes. And meanwhile the
air assault had already begun. And so while we're digging fighting
holes in the dark we would see, uh, hornets come in and, uh, take
on different targets. Uh, and during that time a reporter who later
00:50:00become pretty famous named Kevin Sites, uh, was embedded in our unit,
came over to me and one of my buddies while we were eating, and, uh,
he had a camera and he-- he just set it down over there and focused it
in on us and he's like, "Don't mind me. Don't mind me." (laughs) And
we're just sitting here eating at-- on the edge of the humvee. And I
remember him asking, um, that-- if we were really apprehensive about
going into the city. And then-- and he-- and we would tell him, "No,
we're really ready. We're really excited about going in." And he would
just kind of keep on coming back and saying, "Well, aren't you in the
least bit concerned that since they've been building up their forces
because they've known you were gonna attack for two months, that,
uh, you're gonna meet heavy resistance?" And we went, "No, no. We're
pretty good. Pretty ready to-- to go into the city." Um, so I remember
that part of being really eager to go in, but not so much that, uh,
00:51:00that we didn't know what we were getting ourselves into at that point.
We knew-- we didn't know it was gonna be as big at that-- right before
we went in, as it was. But we expected for us to see the-- the most
heavy resistance that we had seen before, for sure.
GAYHEART: And then when you went in?
ABNEY: Um, it was really, uh, almost disappointing, to be honest. I
remember we were very disappointed the first six hours, if you can
believe that, but that's kind of how Marines are. Um, really eager
for combat. So we drove in, probably we started driving probably four
a.m. And we only had to drive a mile. But at four a.m., And then by
twelve or by, I'd say, about seven- seven a.m. we were probably just
getting into the city. Um, and there was nothing there. There was
no one. There wasn't a single soul anywhere. Um, by around noontime,
00:52:00I'd say, the only thing I had seen was an abandoned, uh, enemy machine
gun that was sitting on the side of the road somewhere. And that was
it. We hadn't heard any shots fired. And we-- and we were the front
troops going in. There wasn't anybody in front of us, except for maybe
a-- a MARSOC [Marine Special Operations Command] or special forces or
somebody. But, um, there was nothing going on. It-- it was completely
dead. And we would check every house very thoroughly and there would
be-- there wasn't-- there was no civilians there either. They had, uh,
uh, several times where the military dropped, um, leaflets letting them
know that we were about to-- to go in.
GAYHEART: What did those leaflets say?
ABNEY: I-- you know, I-- I didn't see one-- well, maybe I did. But
I don't remember exactly what they said. But generally they were
saying "If you, um, if you're not with the insurgency, then leave the
town because we're going to come in to destroy the insurgency within
00:53:00Fallujah." And throughout the-- the rest of the time we were there, I
saw, probably, one family of civilians, and that was it. And the rest
were, um, military age males, um, and most of them were-- were fighting.
GAYHEART: Yeah, um, so, you know, what's these stories about AC/DC
playing and kill cards and, um, you know, uh, all the dogs, um, can
you explain to me-- you know, and-- and-- I wasn't there. And I've
just been explained, um, you know, you think-- you know, you think, uh,
think it's pretty intense. So, you know, kind of explain some of those
ABNEY: Um, well those three things you mentioned, um, probably weren't
constantly going on. But they were kind of, uh, side stories to the
00:54:00general-- general combat that was going on. The, um, with the AC/DC
playing, um, when we went back, when we had to actually go back on
one of the days and re-clear an area that we had already cleared, um,
and then even when we took the city over, we used, um, uh, sci-ops
that were there with us to play a recorded message. And the recorded
message was basically, "Come out where you're-- from wherever you're
hiding from and surrender to us," more or less. And, uh, and then
within downtime of that, there was AC/DC, there was a lot of other rock
music, heavy metal music, that was being played, um, when we were going
in and clearing other houses. Um, the dogs were rampant. If you've
been-- if you've been to Iraq, the-- the stray dogs run in packs. Uh,
it's-- it's pretty crazy. And there's probably-- there can be twenty
00:55:00dogs in a single pack and they have no, um, no owners at all. And
they run around. And the reason that, um, we had to-- we-- we shot a
lot of the dogs that were there is because they were actually eating,
uh, on the bodies that were there in the streets. So we didn't want
them spreading a lot of disease around. And then the kill cards, I
heard about people using kill cards and I think that it was-- it--
it-- I wouldn't doubt that it had been done. But, uh, I think that's a
throwback to, uh--
GAYHEART: Old films.
ABNEY: Yeah. Uh, Apocalypse Now. Um, so that's-- that's probably just
Marines, um, just doing that. I don't have any particular story, uh,
to impart about that. For the rest of-- the majority of Fallujah was
house as house fighting. And they-- the insurgents that were there
00:56:00didn't really, uh, have anything to lose. The-- the particular type of
enemy we were fighting, we weren't ready to fight. We had learned, uh,
some thing-- we had spent a lot of time training, uh, in we-- what we
call a MOUT, which is Military Operations in Urban Terrain. Um, it's
a fancy word for learning how to fight inside a house and how to take a
house down. But, uh, during MOUT, you're fighting-- everything that had
been written about MOUT beforehand had been fighting individuals who,
uh, wanted to still live. So you-- it was a whole different enemy once
we got into the actual houses. The, uh, the places where insurgents
would hide, they would hide, uh, in the corners of rooms and simply
aim at the doorway when they saw light-- they saw a light coming in
00:57:00from the doorway. And then whenever any light was broken from a shadow
of a Marine coming in through the door, they would simply just spray
the door. And it was amazingly effective, uh, because we would throw
grenades in. We shot houses, uh, with tanks with insurgents inside
of 'em. Um, but they wouldn't be injured enough to give up, 'cause
they had no-- they didn't care about giving up. Um, a lot of guys we
found had, uh, surgical tubing around their joints, just above each
one of the joints. And what they would do is if you threw a grenade
into the room and you hit, uh, uh, their leg and they started bleeding
out from the leg, they would take those ties that were already around
their-- above their joints and they would just tie them out and then
that would be a tourniquet basically. And obviously they're not gonna
live through that. But it's gonna keep them fighting for a little bit
00:58:00longer. Um, and then they used a lot of drugs too, they were there.
Uh, one time we were about to enter a house, and, uh, what ended up
happening is we kind of caught each other off guard, the insurgents
inside the house didn't expect to see us, and we didn't expect to see
them. Um, so the first guy that came to the door, uh, that started
shooting at us was immediately killed. And then we backed out of the
courtyard 'cause we weren't ready to actually enter the house. So we
left the courtyard and went outside and there's a-- a lot of houses
in Iraq, in the city, you have walls just, uh, just, uh, rock walls
that surround each one of the house, and they're probably about, uh,
six or seven feet high, some of the bigger ones. Um, so we went back
outside of the courtyard on the outside of that wall and we had a tank
with us. And we, uh, shot two tank rounds inside of the house. And
then we threw grenades inside of the house. And even then when we went
00:59:00back inside the house they were still moving around inside. So that--
they used a lot of drugs, they used a lot of different techniques and
they knew that they weren't going to sur-- to survive the actual, um,
assault of it-- whatever house it was that they had stood up in. But,
they would just keep on fighting for a little bit longer and a little
bit longer. And the tactics they used, we really didn't have an answer
for in a lot of places. So, oh, that's when our battalions started
using, uh, D-9s. D-9 is a-- the technical designation for a very, very
large bulldozer. I don't know how else to explain it. But the-- the
blade on the bulldozer itself, um, is probably seven or eight feet, uh,
tall. Um, and we used them in houses that actually had insurgents in
them that were firing at us, because the attrition rate was so heavy
when we'd actually go inside of the house, we would take too many
01:00:00casualties because they-- they'd literally find a hole in the wall,
and people don't realize this either, that Iraqi houses are-- they're
not like American houses. They're all built out of stone and they're
very, very solid. Um, you would think that they'd just kind of crumble
and fall over, but they're actually really solid. And insurgent could-
-to-- could-- pick a hole in the wall, about that big, and then stick
a weapon through it and aim at the front door. And then meanwhile he
has cover from the entire wall, because the entire wall is three or
four inches of concrete. And then there's nothing you can do in that
situation. So that's when we started using D-9s to actually push the
houses over on houses with insurgents inside of 'em. Um, and we had to
use that technique quite a bit in, uh, our particular area of the city.
GAYHEART: How did that make you feel thinking that, you know, you're one
of the toughest warriors in America and you're dealing with guys that
01:01:00have the strongest will to kill?
ABNEY: It was, um, it was kind of a-- it was-- the-- I-- in a fight
for life and death, people, I-- I think that the common idea of it is
a very clean, um, at least American idea of it, is a very clean, this
guy's over here, he shoots at this guy. This guy either dies or kills
him first. Um, but in reality it's much more like a wrestling match,
on the ground, and you're actually trying to kill the other person.
It's teeth and nails and eye gouging and every-- anything you can do
on the most basic survival-- survival-- the-- most basic idea of how to
survive is really portrayed, um, in that combat. So when it actually
01:02:00comes down to it, the-- it is basically kind of how you said, it's a
battle more of wills than anything else. And theirs is very strong,
because they had absolutely no desire to live. Um, and the Mari--
United States Marines might have a very strong, uh, desire to kill the
enemy. But at least at the very end of the day, you wouldn't really
expect a-- every Marine to go on a suicide mission or to do something
that they knew there was no chance of them coming back from. So in
that sense it was in their favor.
GAYHEART: Did you have-- tell me about some of the times where you had
to go into a house and you had to use your machine gun or use a grenade
and, you know, eliminate somebody's will.
ABNEY: Um, I-- the way I was situated for most of the time was in
driving or operating a machine gun, usually driving on the streets.
When our, um, units would move up, um, they would take a house. So
you'd have a squad of twelve guys and they would go inside of to-- of
a house, and they would clear it. And, um, on the other side of the
street you'd have another squad doing the same thing. Um, and then in
the middle of the street you would have a truck, a humvee, and in the
back of the humvee you would have a mounted machine gun up there. Um,
for most of the time what I was doing was driving that front truck and
leading the machine gunner in the back of the bed, and then the truck
behind us, down the street, slowly increasing, uh, and cutting off
anybody that would have come from down the street up to our position
01:04:00and-- and come up on the squads that were actually clearing house. The
times that I did go inside of the house, there were, um, there was,
n-- not any real time that I can remember where we actually-- where
I actually, um, got that close to, uh, to, um, see any of the, uh,
the, um, battle for wills, um, so to speak, inside of the house. If
I was-- if I was going in, it was usually, uh, third man in a stack.
And it just-- that's the way it just kind of happened to be. 'Cause
when I did start clearing houses and I was a front man, the first man
going in, I didn't walk in a single house, uh, that had anybody in it.
So that's kind of the story of the entire, uh, three deployments in
01:05:00Iraq. By the time that Fallujah was over, our company had two-thirds,
uh--two-thirds of the company had purple hearts. And-- and I was one
of the people that didn't have a scratch on 'em. So I don't know how
that happens. I guess that after a while, if I did it enough that I
would eventually had a-- a pretty good chance of getting injured or
something. But I was always, it seemed like, to-- to be in the right
place where we weren't-- where I wasn't face to face with anybody.
GAYHEART: Where you ever with, or surrounded by some of those, uh,
Marines that weren't so lucky?
ABNEY: Um, just about all of 'em. I'd have a harder time thinking of
which ones of us didn't get hit than I would that, uh, that did. Um,
it seems like everybody at one point in time either took shrapnel
01:06:00from IEDs or took actual rounds from, uh, shooters. Um, it just never
happened to be me.
GAYHEART: Yeah. What about, um, can you recall a, uh, a particular time
when, one being, you know, the worst time, uh, that you can think of
where a Marine took shrapnel or took, got shot, or was hurt, can you
ABNEY: Um, I can't think of a worse time. There were a lot of times
that were-- well, I'd say the-- the worst ones were when we actually
had KIAs. Um, but--
GAYHEART: What was that like?
ABNEY: Well, the first experience we had with it, it wa-- for most
of the company it was hearing about it. We didn't, uh, we weren't
actually there. There was only one platoon-- see, we operate-- we
01:07:00break out in platoons and then go separate, uh, all throughout the AO
[Area of Operations]. So we're in different places at different times.
And like I said earlier, if you--in actual combat, if you look away
for a second, you can miss everything. But, uh, the first attack where
we took actual-- where we had, uh, Marines actually get killed was at
a, uh, traffic control point. And it was outside of Fallujah. And,
uh, all we were doing was checking cars as they came back and forth
and make sure they weren't carrying contraband or explosives. And what
happened with that was the insurgents had learned that if they slowly
drove a car up, um, that we as Marines wouldn't immediately shoot them
because they weren't posing a-- an immediate threat to us. And that we
would assume that this was an Iraqi that-- and that we weren't getting
01:08:00through the language barrier. That they didn't understand really what
was going on.
So they figured that out and what they did was just slowly drive the,
uh, uh, vehicle IED into the TCP and then detonate it there, um, to
the two Marines that came up to it. Um, and then we heard about that
kind of in the midst of a lot of other stuff going on. But it took
a pretty big, uh, a pretty big toll I think on a lot of the Marines
that were there to begin with. It was the first, uh, casualty that--
real casualties that they had seen, uh, before. And none of us had
experienced it. Even the guys that went through the invasion, the, uh,
more seasoned Marines, they hadn't had any, uh, people killed during
the invasion. So it was kind of a-- it was kind of a eye opening
experience in that. And then each time it seemed like that-- that you
01:09:00had, um, another Marine get killed, it was bad for all of us, but there
would be a few individuals that really knew that Marine well, and then
those people it took, uh, a harder hit on, as you-- you can probably
GAYHEART: You didn't lose anybody close?
ABNEY: I did. On the-- I can't remember exactly which day it was. We
had, uh, uh, probably the second day. We had pulled up and stopped,
and we had to actually go back and re-clear during Fallujah. We
actually had to re-clear, um, an area. And I was actually driving
the truck down the street, just kind of creeping up for most of the
time. And there was a lot happening around me that I really didn't
know exactly what was going on with it. But what it-- was going on
was the different squads were, once again, clearing the houses up in
front of me. And, um, the squad had gone inside and they had-- I'm
01:10:00not sure, they had either hit a booby trap or a grenade was actually
thrown at them. But a grenade went off and it killed the first man
that went into the door. Um, and so I had no idea. All I heard was
an explosion. And then the Marines pull, uh, a body out-- out of the
door. And, um, I still didn't have any idea who it was. And then,
um, the, uh, platoon commander said over the radio, you know, "We have
a, um-- a KIA." And so then at that time I knew we actually-- somebody
had actually died. And so then it was kind of a question like, "So who
is it?" You know? Who have we lost on this one? And then, uh, um, he
said his name, he said, uh, "We have one KIA, McCleese." And there's
a reason that you can really see at that point in time, why you don't
01:11:00ever mention actual names on coms, on-- on communications because
it can immediately have an effective over the entire unit, you lose
somebody, um, that's, especially somebody really popular like he was.
Um, so he was a really popular, really outgoing guy. And, um, so we
all took that really hard. But that was probably the closest guy that
I had to me. He always wanted to get me to, after we got out of the
Marine Corps, to, uh, uh, he had a sister in the Secret Service. And
so he'd always talk about how we were gonna go in the Secret Service
and, uh, as soon as we got out, uh, and do that whole deal. And he
kept on talking about the academy and everything. So it was really
hard right then, it was pretty hard. But even later on that night,
when you realize that, you know, he had all these types of plans and
none of it was gonna happen. And your plans even, that you had with
him, they were never gonna happen again. So.
GAYHEART: Well, how did that-- how do you-- how do you feel now about
01:12:00going through some of those parts of theatre that laid to rest so many
guys and so many people were injured and you walked away unscathed?
ABNEY: Right. Um, well, there-- it's a pretty legitimate question
'cause there's a lot of people that have a lot of problems with it.
It could have-- I take solace in the fact that it-- it could have
easily been anybody else. I mean it could have been me. It could
have been somebody else. It could have been me that got killed, where
McCleese lived. Um, and to try to kind of figure any of it out, uh,
nothing can really ever-- good can ever really come of that, in that
sense. It is the way it is. And personally I felt safe the entire
time I was in Fallujah for-- for the most part I felt really safe. And
that's because of my faith, I would say. Um, I really never felt in
01:13:00danger at any one of the times. And if you take into kind of a larger
perspective, the way I look at it is that there was a reason that some
of us died and some of us lived. Um, I couldn't explain to you exactly
why that is. We just have to keep on going and figure out what it is
that we have to do, what we have to contribute. But, uh, McCleese's
time was-- was then. His time ran out then. Um, there are a lot of
guys, a lot of friends I have that do feel really guilty about making
it through when everybody else didn't or a lot of other friends didn't.
Um, but it doesn't do any of the-- our-- our fallen comrades any good
for them to go to the bottle and to really sulk in it really hard,
01:14:00because all that's doing is it-- it's two casualties instead of one.
It's-- now you have, um, a dead Marine on one hand and you also have
a broken Marine on the other. And it doesn't-- it doesn't help out in
any way, um, the mission or yourself or anybody else around you.
GAYHEART: So when you all-- you all got back after Fallujah, what was--
what was everybody's mood? Did you-- did you-- did your fellow-- fellow
Marines seem different prior to going in than they did coming out? Um,
did anybody seem hardened or cold or different? Or did you?
ABNEY: We got in-- we got a lot of experience on our first deployment.
For some of the guys, the older guys, obviously that was their second
one. But even they said that the combat aspect of it was much harder
and much more intense than the first time they went up through there.
But, uh, there was-- I don't know if some of us got really-- I think
01:15:00that probably what it was is that the thrill and excitement of being
home kind of overshadowed anything that we might of felt about, um, any
deep reflection that we had about, uh, whatever happened over there.
Um, and then it probably wasn't till later on when we had more time
on our hands and, uh, nothing else to do that we really started to sit
back and start to thinking about all that stuff and kind of turning our
characters more into the-- the darker side, I guess.
GAYHEART: What things do you-- what things did you immediately reflect
GAYHEART:-- when you had that time?
ABNEY: Mainly that, um, I was really happy to be home. Aside from the
combat and everything else, the continuous work, day to day work in
01:16:00the heat, um, is really not a whole lot of fun in any way. And since
that happens so much more often than any type of combat or any type
of glory seeking or anything else you imagine when you go into the--
in the Marine Corps, um, it really takes its toll after a while. So,
uh, I was personally really happy to be home just to be done with the
deployment and to get a break finally.
GAYHEART: Did you-- did you have any --(laughs)-- adverse effects? When
you came home, did you sleep different? Did you, uh, party harder? Did
you, uh-- did you see people different?
ABNEY: Um, you really-- when you join the Marine Corps you kind of get,
uh, an experience over other people, other civilians and everything
else, that don't, um, that they-- where you see a little bit more
01:17:00than what they do, I guess is the best way to explain it. You can
see what's really important and what's not really important. And then
combat just make-- just exponentially builds on that and makes it a lot
of things that seemed like they were important before, just completely
worthless and completely worthless of your time. Um, and so we all had
our experiences, I guess, when we got back. And then each one of us
decided to deal with it differently, a little bit differently than the
other person. For some people it was family. And then other people
it was, um, alcohol. Um, and then, uh, other people it was just being
around other Marines twenty four/seven. Personally I didn't-- I tried
being as, um, uh, circumspect as I could about it and take all of the
01:18:00lessons that we learned from it and get ready, because it wasn't too
long after we got back we actually got new Marines coming in. And
so all of the sudden, once again, we didn't have time to sit down and
really reflect on everything that happened. We had to train up the
next guys and we had to show them exactly what you should and what
shouldn't-- what you shouldn't do, um, based on what we learned.
GAYHEART: Do you think, uh, do you think a lot of the Marines' timetables
are designed to not let you, uh, think about some of the things?
ABNEY: I would-- I would certainly hope so. I mean that, in of itself,
is-- is, uh, definitely a strong point if it's intentionally used
by Marine Corps. Um, 'cause you should always be training. You
should always be getting ready for the next fight. I think, um,
really the problems that I had with the way it was set up was that
we were preparing for the wrong fight. Um, we weren't preparing for
01:19:00a counterinsurgency in Iraq, we were preparing for, um, World War
I, uh, in most aspects. So if they did intentionally keep up the
training cycle fast paced, it's probably for the best I would say
psychologically speaking. Because, um, you have to move on to the
next, uh, you have to move on to the next mission, more or less.
GAYHEART: Yeah. Um, so then your next-- your next deployment, um, tell
me about--you know, tell me about that. Where it was and who you were
with and, uh, what your role was.
ABNEY: Um, our second deployment took place seven months after we got
back from our first one. So it was just enough time to teach the
new guys and then we were off again. And of course this one was a
different perspective for us because we had our first generation,
01:20:00basically, of Marines, our-- our children, so to speak, uh, beneath us.
And it was really a test of how much we had learned and how well, uh,
we had disseminated it and put it into our new guys, um, brains so that
they could actually operate. But we were sent, once again, to Al-Anbar
province, just below, uh, just south of Lake Tharthar. And, um, uh,
Haditha was our second deployment. And between Hadi-- between he--
Haditha and Haqlaniyah, we kind of moved around during that deployment,
um, doing the same thing we had done in Karmah, um, before we went in
Fallujah during the first deployment.
GAYHEART: You might coming out on a-- a neck shot?
CAMERAMAN: I was just gonna ask you, it's--
GAYHEART: Is it-- it--
CAMERAMAN: It's about 6:30 right now.
GAYHEART: Is it 6:30 right now?
GAYHEART: Okay, so--
CAMERAMAN: (coughs) if you wanted to take a-- a five or--
GAYHEART: Okay, yeah, we can do that. We can do that.
[Pause in recording.]
GAYHEART: -On your first deployment about riding in cars, or riding in
the humvees, in humvees--
GAYHEART:-- and the ----------(??).
CAMERAMAN: We're rolling.
ABNEY: Um, well, rolling down the road in-- in the first deployment,
the biggest fear up until Fallujah came around was, like I said, we
would hit-- we would get hit by IEDs, uh, about every other day. Um,
and so at a certain point you almost come to expect it. Um, you-- it
can be completely dark and you can be in the back of the humvee, and
the humvees, um, aren't like they are now. Uh, now they have ev--
everything is almost IED proof. Uh, lots of times people can get hit
by IEDs and-- nowadays and there might not be any more casualties other
than getting your bell rung. But back then you had about a-- a one
inch thick, um, metal sheet, um, as armor that went on either side of
01:22:00the humvee, um, in the back. And it was basically a-- a flatbed truck.
You could sit six guys, three on either side, looking at each other in
the back of the humvee.
And, um, you'd have the-- the armor plates that are supposed to protect
you from artillery shells, multiple-- artillery shells that they put
in IEDs, uh, and they of course don't go all the way up past your head.
So you're sitting down in the back of the-- of the humvee and you're
looking at your buddy across from you. And the armor protection--
and the armor plating goes to your shoulders basically. So the most
important part of your entire body is completely uncovered from IEDs.
Um, so you get to a point where it can be dark outside and you will
memorize the turns that your driver has taken. And you know when you
01:23:00get to an area that's been used a lot because they use the same areas
again and again and again for IEDs, they just put 'em on a different
side of the road or hide 'em differently the next time. But there
are certain areas in each-- on each road over there that is really
hard for us to monitor, either through patrols or we don't drive by
there very much or maybe we do drive by there a lot, but we're not
paying any attention. Um, so they use the same areas over and over
again and set up the IEDs in those areas. And you learn that the S
turn, for example, um, has had five IEDs go off in the last two weeks.
So when you take off in the middle of the night driving down the
road, your driver's going literally as fast at the humvee will go to
increase the chance of, um, the insurgent not being able to detonate
01:24:00the IED correctly. So if you're driving by at fifty miles an hour in
the humvee, and the insurgent sees you coming or hears you coming and
they're gonna detonate it at a certain point where the IED is setting.
If you're going fast enough, the-- the idea is that you'll be able
to get just past the IED and not actually be on top of the IED when
it goes off. 'Cause if you're actually on top of it, then you're
basically incinerated instead of just catching shrapnel. The-- the
funny thing was, is that, uh, in the first few months of our first
deployment, we didn't even have doors on the backs of the humvees.
And so our-- if you drove past the IED, um, it could actually explode
behind you and then shrapnel would be sent up into the back of the
humvee, there'd be absolutely no protection at all. So we would drive
down in the middle of the night and going fifty miles an hour kind of
01:25:00hunched over and just wincing, and just almost expecting it to happen.
And we would know, okay, we made two lefts and now we made a right,
and-- alright, now we're at the S turn. And everybody'd just kind
of stops looking around with their NVGs and just kind of closes in on
themselves and just waits for it, um, the explosion to go off. But
that's-- that's kind of the idea of-- of the helplessness you kind of
feel when you're dealing with IEDs, um, when driving down the road.
GAYHEART: Um, you had talked about your second deployment, it was just,
um, more of, training and is there any, uh, speak about one mission,
um, that-- that you can recall from your second deployment that you--
that you recall pretty often.
ABNEY: Um, it was-- we had started to learn more about, um, the
insurgency by the second deployment, we learned more about how it
operates. And we were able to use our reputation as Fallujah Marines.
01:26:00And that's what the locals would call us. Uh, they knew about
Fallujah and they heard that we were the Marines that had been in
Fallujah. And that helped actually keep control of the populace. It--
it actually went pretty far in, um, intimidation, uh, enough for the
insurgents to go somewhere else, uh, for the most part. So we didn't
see a lot of attacks in Haditha and Haqlaniyah, I would say because of
that, um, 'cause an insurgent doesn't want to hit a hard target. He
wants to hit a-- a softer target. But one particular mission that I
remember going on, uh, we would go on patrols all the time throughout
the city. And we'd probably see nothing that was going on. It was
just simple, you know, go in, talk to people, um, be friendly with them
and try to, over time, get them to trust you and to come over to our
01:27:00side was the eventual goal. But one guy's house we stopped in all the
time. Um, he was kind of an elderly man. He had-- he was a veteran
of the Iraq-Iran war. And, um, he had a pretty decent sized house.
And we would come in his house all the time. And, uh, sit down, and
he would bring chai out and serve it to us and we would, uh, talk to
him and he'd-- he spoke pretty good English. And we would talk to him
all the time and drink-- drink chai. Um, it was kind of-- and smoked
cigarettes in his house. And, you know, it was actually a lot of fun
going to these people's houses and getting to-- a chance to talk to 'em.
So it was pretty, uh, amazing one night when we were actually doing
something called QRF. QRF is quick reaction force, and you sit around
in your firm base and you wait for something to happen, uh, whether
01:28:00an IED blows up and a patrol-- or a patrol needs, um, extra security,
what have you. When you get the call to go, you can immediately get
in your, uh, trucks and drive out to the scene. So we were on QRF,
and, uh, we got a call to go out and pick up a detainee, um, an EPW,
uh, enemy prisoner of war. And we were told the coordinates of the
house. And we were-- it was in the middle of the night, so we were--
weren't thinking about where it was we were going. So we just found
the coordinates and we headed straight to that house. And we pulled
up outside of the old man's house. And we're like, "Well, what's
going on here? We don't understand." Come to find out everything, the
old man had been, um, recording our patrols in a journal inside of--
in the house. And, uh, he'd also been, uh, laundering money for the
insurgency and tracking our patrols and everything else that we did.
01:29:00And we had been going to his house all the time. And I'm sure we
never really talked about lots of technical stuff or sensitive stuff,
mainly 'cause we didn't know any, but we-- we didn't talk about that
kind of stuff while we were there inside the house, probably wanted to
talk about anything other than work. But, uh, still he-- we had been
there in his house and he had been, at any time, able to, uh, set us
up for an ambush or anything he wanted to. Um, so that kind of-- that
trust in, uh, in the, uh, locals of the time kind of went down a little
bit after that incident. And the Marine that-- that found this book
with all this information in it, uh, had just happened to find-- look
on the shelf and-- and pick one up and-- and look through it.
GAYHEART: I could imagine what happened--
GAYHEART:-- when he got a hold of that.
GAYHEART: Um, well tell me about experience, um, on your third
01:30:00deployment. Uh, you know, that-- that might of had, uh, um, involved
a lot of-- or engaging in-- with the com- with the enemy, or, uh, being
involved in some-- some heavy combat.
ABNEY: Our-- in our third deployment we, um, went back to Al Karmah.
Um, the place we had been in our first deployment, and by that time we
had-- we had Marines from our second deployment that we had trained up.
They now had their own Marines. So we kind of had three generations
of-- of Marines there. That's just how we kind of conceptualized it.
It was kind of like our grandchildren, our-- our-- the Marines we
trained up, it was their turn to train up their Marines. And, um, the
situation for the whole war at that time had started to, uh, dissipate
01:31:00as far as attacks go and as far as the virility of the in-- insurgency.
Um, and the-- the biggest thing we had to worry about there were--
there were still some IEDs. It was nothing like the, uh, every other
day attacks that we experienced when we were there in 2004. Um, but
they employed snipers much more heavily. A, um, we actually found out
later when we captured 'em, a Chechen had been, uh, training Iraqis,
uh, insurgents there in the-- in the area how to shoot and how to snipe
and then how to take shots, um, from vehicles, uh, as they drove down
the road at, uh, US forces. So we-- we had a few KIAs from that too.
We had a few that were killed by snipers and we had a few that were,
um, or had one that was shot, but it was-- it hit him in the-- in the
GAYHEART: Were you, uh, were you on patrol with him when that happened?
ABNEY: I-- I actually was. He was in another platoon that was back
behind us. But, uh, we had gone in response to something else, some
other type of, uh, mission that we were already doing there at the
time. And when you stay there long enough, eventually the insurgents
get wind that you're out on a patrol, so it enables them to drive by
at, about, you know, four or five football fields from a road and stop
the car and shoot out of the window of the car with a-- with a scope,
a scoped weapon, and then drive on, because they know that we can't--
first of all we're not expecting it to come from the car, but we also
can't catch them. We can't catch their vehicles in our humvees that
we have. The third deployment, they're much more armored, but they're
very underpowered. So that the top speed's like thirty five - forty
miles an hour. And then you have these smaller, lighter Iraqi vehicles
01:33:00that can completely outrun 'em.
GAYHEART: If you were to very briefly talk about, um, the difference
between your first tour, your second tour and then your third tour, uh,
how would you-- how would you describe it?
ABNEY: The first tour was, uh, as you imagine, we didn't know what we
were doing for the most part. We weren't-- we had trained some for
counterinsurgency operations, but most of our training was brand new
and it was-- it was straight out of, um, uh, World War II, um, type
of methods. We learned, as machine gunners, how to fire on the enemy
from different positions and all the technical aspects of it. But
we didn't actually know anything about the insurgency or how it was
operating. So the first deployment we made a lot of mistakes, um,
and we learned a lot and we took a lot of casualties. Uh, then by the
01:34:00second deployment we were able to use everything we had learned and
really did much better. Out of all three of 'em, I'd say we did the
best, um, overall job at-- at keeping the insurgency pretty repressed.
Um, and then by the third deployment the-- it was such a night and
day difference between, uh, actual combat that we didn't even recognize
Karmah when we went there for the-- for the second time. It was just
really, uh, uh, placid, except for, you know, the occasional attack,
the occasional, um, IED. But, uh, the-- I'd say the leadership also
kind of started to get more and more thinned out, um, as far as really-
- really good leaders as we went along on those three deployments.
GAYHEART: Um-hm. Um, so when you-- when you started, um, when you were
done with your third deployment, uh, how soon did you come back home?
Did-- how soon were you, uh, discharged?
ABNEY: I-- I came back in November and I left in December. So you're
supposed to have actually, I think, it's six months to a year [phone
rings] of training-- six months to a year of training, uh, of classes
rather, that you're supposed to go to when, um, you learn how to
readjust to society again. Um, and that's supposed to take place way
before you ever get out. But, uh, obviously we didn't have enough time
to do that by the time our third deployment was over. So we went to
a very abbreviated course that lasted two days, three days or so, and
01:36:00that was it.
GAYHEART: What about-- what about, um, you said you spent the first, you
know, two or three months, not doing anything. What was that like?
GAYHEART: Did your-- did your-- did you seem-- were you not able to run
around with your friends or hang out with your-- your family or was
it just something that you wanted to be by yourself? Or is it just you
didn't have anything to do? Kind of explain-- explain that-- that two
or three months to me.
ABNEY: Well, there wasn't-- there weren't really any friends when you
got back. I mean for-- I had stayed in the Marine Corps for about
four and a half years at that point in time. Um, and I was also from
Kentucky and I was stationed on the west coast. So that's kind of a
rare thing. That doesn't usually happen very often. Um, so none of
the guys that I had met weren't-- none of the friends that I had in the
Marine Corps, when they went back home, none of 'em went to Kentucky.
01:37:00And the closest person I've got is in Minneapolis, I think. So it
was kind of that, and then all of my high school friends, um, they had
actually graduated college by then, most of them, and all finished with
their undergraduate degrees. So there wasn't really anybody there, um,
when I got back. So that just kind of compounded the type of boredom
and type of tediousness of not really having a whole lot to do.
GAYHEART: What do you think could have-- could have been there to thwart
that? To change that?
ABNEY: I'm not really sure. Um, if I had-- if I had known somebody
from Kentucky, I would say, um, there in my unit and we had finished
and gone back together, and even if there was just one other person,
it'd be a lot easier to, um, figure everything out, I would say, to
readjust, because the ability to bounce your ideas and your thoughts
01:38:00and reflections off of somebody else that had-- has been there, um,
and done all of that is pretty much priceless. Because you-- you go
off and you do three deployments and you have this entire mindset. You
get back home, it's impossible to try and tell other people about that,
because they have-- you'd have to start back from the very beginning
and tell the entire story. And you can't just go-- you can't just look
at, um, people back home, uh, regular civilians, even family members,
and just say, "Well, you know what I mean about this," or, "You know
how I feel about that." Um, they're just, uh, it's just too hard to
communicate with them, I'd say.
GAYHEART: So that was-- you know, that was your life for four years.
That was, uh, your, uh, lifestyle. And it was a different way to
talk, a different way to dress, a different way to-- to-- to, um,
communicate. And so, you know, what have you done to change? What
have you done to talk different, dress different, act different, speak
ABNEY: Um, that is --(laughs)-- that started back, um, in-- toward the
end of the deployment, I mean toward the end of my Marine Corps career.
I was lucky enough, I guess you could say, to get stationed in, um,
southern California. And so we would spend a lot of time, uh-- I lived
out in town, actually, um, uh, the last year that I was in. And, uh,
living out in town and trying to blend in with the regular populace,
and southern California is probably the hardest place you can possibly
do that as a Marine. Um, you-- your haircut's a dead giveaway. But
you try to learn-- uh, we tried to learn, and then, you know, how to
go somewhere and not act like a Marine when we were there, so that we
wouldn't get a type of--
GAYHEART: What's that?
ABNEY:-- stigma involved. Well, um--
GAYHEART: What's not acting like a Marine?
ABNEY: Not acting like a Marine is, um, there is a certain type of dress
01:40:00code that every Marine has when you have to go out on liberty. And the
furthest away you can get from that dress code, probably the better off
you are in general. Um, your haircut is almost always a dead giveaway.
So sometimes you wear hats. But you never have, uh, your shirt tucked
in with, uh, with a belt on, if you can help it, because that is-- you
know, you see the haircut and then the type of regulation uniform with
civilian clothes, you know immediately that's a Marine. So we try
avoiding all that so we wouldn't immediately get treated a certain way
because we were Marines, whether it be good or bad.
GAYHEART: Do you talk different, act different at UK? Or do you feel
ABNEY: I-- I don't really know. I don't really know. I assume that I
act like myself. Um, I don't try to do things specifically for other
01:41:00people's way of thinking, I guess to say. I try to fit in the best
way I can. Um, but, uh, for the most part I just take it as it comes,
GAYHEART: What's different between you and a classmate?
ABNEY: Um, it seems like about thirty years actually --(laughs)--
about thirty years of difference. But the classmate, you can see
how much-- how far you've come from when you look at your classmates
as a veteran. Um, 'cause I look at a classmate and the classmate's
worried about what they're gonna do on spring break, what they're
gonna do this weekend, what friends they're gonna hang out with. Um,
in some instances they're really, really worried about keeping their
4.0. And from my perspective, a lot of that is really, really trivial
01:42:00stuff. Um, grades are always important, but to the level that some
people take it is-- seems to me like a-- a real waste of time. And
then you'll have, um, other people that care about even more trivial
things than, um, like exactly what type of clothes they're wearing,
where it is that they're planning on doing, um, that type of stuff. It
just seems-- you can see how young they are and how little they have
experienced through where their priorities are in life. And-- and the
whole thing with college is that I come back here, I enjoy college to
be honest with you. I-- I've seen what the normal every day life is
out in the world. And in college you get to go and-- and learn for
your job, basically. And a lot of the-- the peers in class who are
really young, um, they-- they are trying to rush through it, just like
01:43:00I rushed through high school, as fast as they could go, um so they
can get on to the next thing. Where they should actually enjoy it and
actually, uh, take an interest in what it is they're learning.
GAYHEART: Do you ever get angry about anything?
ABNEY: Um, I would guess that I kind of get angry about-- I used to
get pretty upset and frustrated with, um, the type of people I just
described. They-- the type of, um, younger people that don't really--
haven't experienced as much and so they don't know as much. But,
um, there's not really any way that they could know. There's not
really any way that they could experience those things. Um, and I
probably would have acted the same way. So, looking back on it now,
I don't really get real angry about the type of obliviousness to the
world, 'cause that's kind of how I see it, is a lot of them, as well
intentions as they might be, go through their daily life and they're--
01:44:00they have no idea what's going on in the world around them. And have
no way-- no idea about how that affects other people.
GAYHEART: Well, what was the biggest challenging in transitioning into,
to-- to college life or-- or purely from Marine to--
ABNEY: The-- I would say the most difficult thing was, um, really
having to buckle down and work in the areas that you knew have no, um,
effect on where you're going with your life. Because-- because you're
a veteran and you've seen stuff, maybe you have a drive to go to a
certain place. And you really want to get to that goal. You know, or
you believe you know anyway, what you don't need along the way. And
01:45:00there's a lot of classes that you-- you take in college that you don't
feel like you need for the degree you're getting or something like
that. And to kind of divert attention away to those smaller classes
that don't-- that seem like a waste of time and a waste of money, um,
is probably the hardest thing, to really focus on those and still do
well in those along with where it is that you're going with your, uh,
GAYHEART: So it's just not fast-- is it-- is it the pace?
ABNEY: The pace is really slow to begin with. But then after a while
you get used to the slower pace. And it depends on where you're at
too, I'd say. Um, the pace of some of our guys going to New York City,
and they're probably about right-- right about the same. Uh, you come
back to Kentucky and the pace is ten times slower. Um, even in civilian
world, people in Kentucky seem to do everything, uh, just a fraction of
a second slower than everybody else. And so-- but eventually you get
01:46:00used to the-- the type of pace where you do everything right the first
time and then you don't have to worry about later.
GAYHEART: Well, do you feel-- well, what do you feel the university, uh,
when you first came, has done to make things different, better for a
veteran, if any? You don't have to even--
ABNEY: The-- I would say-- well I haven't-- I've only been here for
about two years now. Um, well, it'll be-- about a year and a half I
guess. But, um, from the minute that I found out that there was a UK,
uh, MVA here in U-- at UK, it was, um, there's a lot of support that
01:47:00I didn't know-- at first think there-- there was there. Um, when I
first got here I didn't know anything about, uh, the UK MVA, and so,
you know, I just went on thinking that I'm adjusting back to civilian
life and civilians don't necessarily have to adjust to me. So that's
fine, I'll just take it as it comes. And, uh, to find out that there
is so much going on, um, with UK MVA and there's so much support in it,
um, it's pretty amazing actually. Uh, that's probably one of the first
things that any veteran should know, is that that group is there, as
soon as they come in, because there might be, um, several people like
me that immediately go out, transition out of service and into civilian
life that could use other Marines or other service members there with
them, um, they can bounce stuff off of.
GAYHEART: Um-hm. Well, do you-- do you carry around any stress? Do you
carry around any stress about your experiences?
ABNEY: Um, no, I wouldn't-- I-- there's an im-- immediate stress
probably with the pace, going back to the pace again, that might be
kind of lingering over from-- from combat, where it's just you feel
kind of hurried and everything seems very severe, where-- um, because
you can't forget your weapons, you can't forget your equipment. Um,
and if you're in a leadership position, you have to make sure that
all of that's there for all of the people below you. So that type
of transition over into, uh, civilian world, uh, can actually keep,
uh, going for a while afterwards. You-- you think that you have to
manage your family, like, uh, they're Marines. Um, but as far as
01:49:00actually combat stress or, um, post traumatic stress, I haven't really
experienced that. I've known guys that have, um, and then I probably
know a lot of them that, um, use it to their own advantage in some
ways, unfortunately. But, uh, I haven't experienced that myself, no.
GAYHEART: Okay. Um, are you proud of your service?
ABNEY: When I look back on it, people ask me that, and of course my
brother was kind of wanting to know how I felt about it all. But, uh,
I am proud of having served, for sure. Uh, I wouldn't go back and erase
any of it. I wouldn't go back and take any of it back. Um, I really
enjoy having served and everything that entails, good and bad. Um,
01:50:00but, uh, I'm out right now. And I don't really plan on ever going back
in. So it was kind of one of those things where I'm really glad that
I did it, but I-- I probably, unless there was a severe catastrophe, a
major war, I probably wouldn't be going back in again, I'd say.
GAYHEART: What are your goals?
ABNEY: Um, what I'm looking into now is building up off of what I've
already learned in Iraq. Um, and taking the different lessons that
we learned over there and translating some over-- somehow over into
strategy, into tactics that could be used, uh, in future wars, in
future counterinsurgency wars. The fields that I'm focusing on are
kind of, uh, locked in time, I guess I'll say, because I'm focusing
01:51:00on Islamic studies, Arabic and political science. And that's just
where the fight is today. That's just the theatre where the fight
is today. That's not to say that somebody couldn't come in and
learn another language, another culture, and then end up using that
later on, um, to expand on our knowledge about warfare and especially
a counterinsurgency warfare, because we really have just come up
against it in the last ten years. And we don't seem to have very much
information about it or how to successfully, uh, pursue it.
GAYHEART: Is that your response, because you think things are so messed
up over there, that you need to go back and fix 'em?
ABNEY: I'm one hundred percent sure that's the reason. I actually
started writing, uh, lots of notes on what I saw were problems, uh,
during my third deployment. (laughs) And, uh, all the buddies, my
buddies keep on asking me, you know, when's the book coming out. I'm
01:52:00not actually- writing any type of book. And if I did, I don't know if
I would want to publish it out there in front of everybody. But there
are a lot of specific, um, ways that we went about things that need to
be corrected, um, and I don't see a whole lot of that being reabsorbed
back into the, uh, the higher military command.
GAYHEART: Well, um, you know, if you don't-- what-- couple last
questions, kind of - wrap it up. Um, um, what's your opinion on our
ABNEY: Um, that's kind of a --(laughs)-- open ended question. What do
GAYHEART: What's, uh--
GAYHEART:-- are you-- were you happy to see, uh, the things that he's
01:53:00doing or proud to see that he's in-- he's in office?
ABNEY: When I-- the summer after I first got back, I was actually
very-- I knew a guy from high school that was helping, uh, progress
his campaign there in our area. Um, and I was really excited about him
because of the focus he took on, uh, the focus he took on terrorism,
the focus he took on counterinsurgency. Um, it seemed to be a much
smarter way of doing-- doing business. Um, he-- I-- he was telling
me that, uh, the military was gonna focus a lot more on Arabic, they
were gonna focus a lot more on the cultural type of knowledge that
they could then use in a counterinsurgency war. Um, and I was really
excited to hear about all of it. I haven't seen anything, um, in the
past year, in general, that has made me really put a lot more faith
01:54:00back into the way we're-- we're conducting business over there at all.
GAYHEART: How do you feel about the Marines leaving Iraq now?
ABNEY: Um, there-- that's a-- the thing about the Marines, unless their
entire type of-- unless the entire institution has changed around,
um, in its-- in its focus, um, it doesn't really have business doing
counterinsurgency warfare. Because it's not-- when you go into boot
camp, you learn, um, the word kill. And you just-- that's what you
focus on, is the word kill. Because you spend a lot of time, uh,
learning how to kill people, how to, um, focus on combat arms and
everything else. But that's not really what counterinsurgency is
about. It's much more police type of action. And if you take a
sword into surgery where you need a scalpel, the results can be pretty
01:55:00bad. Um, if the Marine Corps changes its ideas about how to fight
counterinsurgency around, then it would be, uh, very effective, I would
say. One of the most-- the most effective branch, um, to use in a
counterinsurgency. But, the way that it is now, um, I don't think that
it's necessary for Marines to really be in Iraq anymore, as-- if-- if
the goal is counterinsurgency, I would say.
GAYHEART: Well, [shuffling papers] um, I don't have any more questions
unless you have anything to say or anything we might've left out. I
think we're good. I appreciate it.
[End of interview.]