Have you ever felt like life put you in the right place and at the right time? Growing up, I had fun playing hose fights and chucking water-filled grenade balloons at family members. I remember being a little kid sticking my thumb over the copper-brown business end of the hose and spraying everyone in close proximity, as the hose felt like it was my Super Soaker machine gun with an unlimited supply of ammo. We had one of the greenest lawns in the block by virtue of our battlefield. My weapon of mass destruction was my Life Saver-green water hose that had a max effective range of fifty feet.
Fast forward to April 7, 2004, at the battle of Fallujah (also known as Operation Vigilant Resolve). I was with Combined Anti-Tank Team II, which is a fancy name for death squad on wheels. I manned a fully automatic forty-millimeter grenade launcher, a Ma Duce .50 cal and a 240 Golf, just in case things got out of hand.
On this particular day I was real surgical with the Mark 19. Our mission was to push back the enemy insurgents that had a strong foothold on the edge of the city’s perimeter. We crossed the line of departure mid-day. We pulled up on the streets and were face to face with our enemy. One of my senior Marines, Scotty too Fuckin’ Hottie, was screaming over the com that he was taking small arms fire and needed some help. I could hear the plea in his voice. All the Texan came out of him: “I could use some help here.” I shot a glance in his sector of fire and had a clear sight of his position. I could see and hear the rounds impact next to him. I closed in with my Mark 19, and with the first three rounds the threat was a pink mist. He quickly found refuge underneath some Iraqi trash.
The firefight wasn’t over; the platoon commander made a fantastic call to push us back 500 meters and use our weapons systems more effectively. This allowed the gunners to get a better picture of the battlefield, so our platoon was able to provide support for our line companies to flush the enemy out. I used up all my Mark 19 ammunition, which was about five hundred rounds, and switched to the .50 cal. I had a little over five thousand rounds on deck, so needless to say, I had an abundance of armor-piercing incendiary rounds to feed all my enemies. The sounds of the .50 were so amazing that just the thought brings a smile to my grill; even though my ears were pulsating at the end of those five thousand rounds, it was a young man’s dream come true.
During that fight I had an Anti-Tank missile at my disposal, so I yelled to the vehicle commander, asking if I could fire it at an orange and white Toyota mine truck taxiing supplies to a corner house. The insurgents must have had a big stash of weapons and ammunition, because we were taking small arms fire from inside that house all day. He Rogered up and said what sounded like “Goat head,” but I’m pretty sure that he said “Go ahead.” So I switched positions with my A-gunner and sprinted to a better location, and while I was running through an open field I could see the rounds skipping all around me. I kneeled down behind a berm and aimed at the tailgate of Toyota, and then I shouted, “Blast all clear!” The next thing I knew, I felt the blast of the rocket and heard the deafening ringing of the sound waves. It felt like I was hit in the face with a rubber tire going eighty miles an hour; talk about a rude awakening! The front seal flew and hit me in the face and it felt like I was slapped with sulfur in the mouth; what a taste.
All in all I have to say that I loved this experience and will always cherish this significant physical and emotional test of combat. I felt like I was born to be a warrior, and looking back I struggled with striking a balance between how much I enjoyed doing my job and seeing that I had more in common with my so-called “enemy” than those who sent me to fight.
Eric Perez is a student at UC Irvine, and he served in the United States Marine Corps for three and a half years. He is also a husband and father of three boys. He loves being alive.