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"People Loved Us" (Marine) back in Humboldt tells what it was like
North Coast Journal ^ | September 4, 2003 | JOSH INGRAM

Posted on 09/06/2003 12:37:28 PM PDT by LadyDoc

JOSH INGRAM, 20, a graduate of Arcata High School, is a machine gun squad leader in the 3rd Battalion of the United States Marines. Like thousands of American soldiers, he's spent much of the year in the Middle East, first in Kuwait -- the invasion point -- and then in Iraq, which fell in three weeks of fighting in late March and early April.

On July 31, Ingram returned to Humboldt County to help care for his father, who is battling cancer. While here, he is working with the local Marine recruiting office and speaking to local service groups about his experiences.

Ingram is the son of Ron and Nancy Ingram of Arcata. His daughter Hannah, 3, lives in Eureka with her mother. What follows are Ingram's own words, tape-recorded by Journal staff writer Hank Sims in a recent interview.


THE QUESTIONS I GET FROM A LOT OF PEOPLE HERE ARE, "What's going on over there? Why is there so much fighting? Why do the Iraqi people hate us so much?" When I first heard that, that's when I realized that the news was not proportionate to what was going on in the country.

I was in eight or nine cities in Iraq. Starting from Kuwait, we saw pretty much every city along the river on the way to Baghdad. People absolutely loved us everywhere we went. There were big parades. We'd just roll down the streets, or sometimes be on foot patrol, and kids would run out of their houses just to wave at us, just to get a wave back from us. People would give us flowers; they'd give us flowers and gifts and Pepsi -- all kinds of stuff.

I'd have people come up to me and say, "What took you so long? You should have done this in '91!" Especially when we were in Baghdad. We were in this huge building, with a huge fence around it. I'd have a lot of people -- especially the elderly guys -- telling me, "I was tortured under this building for 12 or 14 years," or, "There's torture chambers under here." So we went down and checked it out, and sure enough, there were torture chambers under there -- basically an entire block, underground, with cells and everything else.


Right after Baghdad fell, our mission was to go straight to Karbala and start setting up there, because that's where we needed to be [Karbala is located about halfway between Baghdad and the southern Iraqi city of Basra]. But we actually ended up just going out into the middle of the desert at first, because there were so many people moving through on their way to Karbala. They were having a parade and everything. We had our intelligence unit go talk to them, and we learned that they were having a big religious celebration -- they hadn't been able to do it in 35 years. [Being Shiites, they were repressed under the rule of Saddam Hussein, a Sunni Muslim]. We wanted them to be able to do that. We didn't want to get in the way of that, obviously. We stayed out in the middle of the desert for four days, letting them have their celebration.

Our battalion was five companies. Each company was assigned to a different sector of the city. Karbala is very condensed. There are about 300,000 or 400,000 people, with a little city center with a bunch of shops. Our company found a school to stay in, but that school was opening the next week -- which was a good sign, because they were already starting to get things going again. [This was a few weeks after the main phase of the war, in late March and early April].

So then we moved into an abandoned military school. We set up security right away, then we started sending out patrols and talking to people. We scouted out the schools and hospitals. We painted the schools, we gave candy to the kids and we went to the schools and gave the kids a bunch of soccer balls. It was pretty rare for a kid to have his own soccer ball. [Photo below: Ingram in an Iraqi classroom]


If there was shooting anywhere within a few blocks of our area, we'd send out a patrol. We'd try to get the weapons, as many of them as possible. We'd set up checkpoints -- guys on either side of the road in Humvees, waiting for someone to turn around and try to get out of there. That happened the first time I did a vehicle checkpoint. I was in charge of four guys in a Humvee. We saw this guy kind of turn off into a side alley, so we chased him down. After about three blocks we caught up to him. He had just stopped. We pulled him out of the car, and there was a loaded rifle on the front seat and a bag full of rounds.

It was a long-range rifle with a round in the chamber, so we knew. He said, "I'm just a farmer. It's for my protection." It may have been for his protection -- we didn't know -- but he wasn't allowed to have that stuff. He definitely didn't have a U.S. military permit for it. So we arrested him and took him down to the police station.

We flexi-cuffed him, put him in the back of the truck and took him down there. There were Army MP's and Iraqi police there, working together. We took him in to an Army MP, had him write down his name and what happened. I wrote a statement. They put him in a cell.

I don't know what happened to the guy, honestly. He may have gotten a fine. I don't know how it works. The court system was pretty busy all the time, I know that. I heard a couple of days ago that we set up 600 courts in Iraq, just to keep the legal system going. My friend, who used to live in Iraq, said there was no real law. The government was the law. Here we have the law and we have the government -- there, it was just whatever the government said, went. Saddam's party was the law.

We confiscated his weapon. We created an armory of a bunch of Iraqi weapons that we eventually turned over to the Iraqi police.


We gave about 12 weapons to the hospital, so the security guards could have them. That was our biggest concern, that hospital. It was one of our main missions, and it was a huge success that we were able to turn it around.

When we first got to the hospital, there was no security at all. The doctors would tell us about having to perform surgery at gunpoint or knifepoint. The gangsters would come in with their buddy, who was shot up or something -- they're not going to pay for it, obviously, particularly if they have a gun in the doctor's face.

The doctors feared for their lives every day. There was so much revenge going around. If something happened, if someone died in the doctor's hands, they would blame the doctor.

We were at the hospital for about two months. We'd do patrols, and we camped out in this hospital, the main hospital in Karbala. It was really a big hospital -- it had about 600 inpatients and about 400 outpatients. The emergency room was constantly flowing: gunshot wounds, explosions, all kinds of stuff.

Just about all the doctors there spoke English. They would take us into their houses. They have living quarters right next to the hospital for just about 15 doctors. They'd talk about things that were going on and they'd cook meals for us. We just loved it, because we got a lot of their culture and they got a lot from us. It was really interesting to see how they thought.

Every one of them was completely against Saddam. When we got there they were making $2 a month, which was less than the guy working in the cafeteria was making. That was their salary. The story they told me was that Saddam, when he was younger and kind of a thug, he got shot in the leg. He went to a surgeon and the surgeon wouldn't help him because he knew who Saddam was. So Saddam had a grudge against doctors ever since, and the money never came to the doctors or the hospital.

The hospital was in just horrid shape. They had beds and emergency rooms, and that was basically all they had. They had some drugs, but they didn't have anything else to work with. It was pretty difficult.

It was mostly smaller-unit leaders who made the decision to set up the hospital security. That's the good thing about the Marines -- we develop our small-unit leaders. You can give a guy the opportunity to make decisions. We were the biggest platoon, so they took our whole platoon and told us to set up the security. Me and a couple of other guys took charge of it. We made sure the shifts ran smoothly.


Our translators and the administration at the hospital started putting the word out, throughout the city: "We're hiring. We've got 60-some positions for security we have to fill. Come to this location at this time and we'll start training."

So we had about 80 guys come into our compound. We started with the physical part of training. We ran them, we made them do push-ups and pull-ups. Each Marine took a group of them and ran them through a course. We taught them some martial arts training. We made them sweat, to test them. We told them, "If you can't do this, you're not going to pass."

We had a little fun with it, too. We'd wrestle around with them, have fun with it. I had a joke with a lot of the guys. While they were doing push-ups, I told them to shout "Mustashfa!" -- the Arabic word for hospital. It kind of came back to get me, because after these guys were trained I'd walk around the hospital and hear "Mustashfa! Mustashfa!" everywhere I went.

There were a lot of good guys there, funny guys. There were these three brothers, and they were all about 6-4, 6-5 -- really tall, really wiry. I met them at one of the doctor's house, eating lunch -- these guys came in, because they were the doctor's cousins or something. I was looking up at them, you know -- then they showed me their black belt cards. They were all black belts in karate. I was like, "Yeah, we need to hire these guys. Make sure they're there tomorrow for the training." They'd mess around all the time, put on a little show -- no one would mess with them.

We did background checks on the recruits while we trained them. The first thing they'd do is sit them down with a translator and our platoon commander would talk with them, interview them. Then they'd kind of go through the town -- because pretty much everybody knew everybody -- and find out about people. It took a couple of weeks to get everyone trained, and by the end there were a few people who were dismissed because they had a bad past.

People dropped out, because they didn't know what they were getting themselves into, but most guys made it through. We gave them uniforms -- blue shirts and dark slacks, with a stitching that said, "Al-Hussein Hospital, Trained by Marines" -- so that everyone knew who these guys were.

Once they passed, we said, "All right, you're going to have a job. Come into work at this time." We had three or four Iraqi guys following a couple of our Marines at the front gates, a couple in the lobby, and we'd make them do the job. We'd make them open the gate, search people -- we'd just supervise.


So many people flooded into this place, every day. There were so many patients up there -- their families would bring them food and such. We just had to check them. During visiting hours we'd check them and let them through. The rest of the time we'd have to say, "No, you can't come in now." It was a big problem, because of the language barrier.

The security guys just started growing balls, though, basically. They'd start dealing with these people, saying, "No, this is what's happening."

It was a huge success when it came together. It really was. These two other guys and I ended up getting medals for it. It was such a big gold star for the battalion. They had asked the doctors there and the security to give them a couple of names. The doctors told them about me and these other guys because we were the higher-ranking people.

We completely turned this hospital around. There were some doctors who were going to leave -- they completely did a 180 after this.

Thinking on your feet -- that's what it is. That's why, when I come back here, everything seems easy to me. It honestly does. I can't wait to start going to college, because I know that I'm just going to fly through. I can't wait.

TOPICS: Culture/Society; Extended News; Foreign Affairs; News/Current Events; War on Terror
KEYWORDS: aftermathanalysys; arcata; goodnews; iraq; usmarines; usmc; waronterror; welcomehome
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Thanks for the headsup via Chris Sherman via InstaPundit.

Stuff you never read in the NYTimes or CNN.

1 posted on 09/06/2003 12:37:29 PM PDT by LadyDoc
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To: LadyDoc
Read this too, via InstaPundit also:

'They did not want us to leave whatsoever'

Iraqis welcomed U.S. troops, local Marine says

Times Staff Writer

KOUTS -- On a peaceful rural porch overlooking a broad stretch of cornfield, with silent hummingbirds hovering at a feeder, Pfc. Jacob Cristea shows photos of blown-out tanks, himself assembling shrapnel grenades and the grim discoveries in a mass grave.

Cristea has blood and guts war stories from his six months in Iraq and Kuwait, but he says the last thing he wants to do is to tell them. Instead, the Marine prefers Americans see beyond the fighting and dying in Iraq and know the good he and his comrades-in-arms have brought to that country.

"What's important to me is that my country knows the good we did for (Iraq). You see stuff every day on TV. What they don't hear is the progress we've made over there."

That progress, according to the 1999 Valparaiso High School graduate, includes bringing law and order, government services and freedom.

"We did so much for those people."

Cristea, who returned to his base at Camp Pendleton in California in mid-August, is on leave, visiting his parents in Kouts for several weeks.

"We're thankful, thankful, thankful he's home," his mother, Debi, said,

Cristea wants to counter the prevailing media view of the reception U.S. troops have received in Iraq.

"All you hear is negativity. Ninety-five percent of the population in Iraq, in my experience with the locals -- they had nothing but good to say about us.

"A lot of them would come to us with information, a lot would come to thank us."

Kids jumped up and down when they saw his convoy, Cristea said. In Baghdad, Iraqis would crowd the barbed wire perimeter of his unit's compound and call out "USA! USA! Bush! Bush!"

"Whenever we drove anyplace, it was like we were in a parade," he said.

The 22-year-old machine gunner seems like a stereotypical Marine. He's muscular and short-haired. He peppers his speech with "sir" and military acronyms like MOPP, LOD, CAAT and MRE. He smoked and drank coffee almost non-stop during a three-hour interview.

But the hardened, battle-tested grunt also is reflective about his role in the war in Iraq. Cristea thinks about and doesn't think about the killing his unit did as they raced from Kuwait to secure oil facilities in southern Iraq at the start of combat and then on to Baghdad.

"We all thought about that," he said. "It wasn't a good feeling knowing that you killed somebody. It's really pretty sad."

But like a good soldier, Cristea never let this knowledge get in the way of his job. He doesn't regret the killing of Iraqi soldiers he took part in.

"It had to be done. Afterwards, I regret the decision they made. If that guy would've just put his weapon down, made another decision, he'd be at home right now with his family."

Cristea, a member of Weapon Company, 2nd Battalion of the 5th Marines Regiment, 1st Marine Division, drove a three-man humvee equipped to fire anti-tank missiles. The machine gun mounted on top could hit targets a mile away, so much of the death was far away.

In Baghdad, though, where the fighting was in closer, he said, "You could hear their screams."

Some of Cristea's encounters with enemy soldiers were surprising, even humorous. At times, so many wanted to surrender, that the Marines -- not wanting to be slowed on the drive to Baghdad -- simply disarmed them, made sure they didn't pose a threat and sent them on their way.

"It's funny seeing the look on these people's faces," Cristea said. "We let them go and they just couldn't believe it."

Most captured prisoners expected to be killed outright, Cristea said, and were surprised when they were fed and clothed instead.

"We didn't go over there to kill people," he said, but to oust former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. "Every chance to walk away, we gave it."

After major combat ended, Cristea's unit took part in raids to root out Saddam loyalists in Baghdad. They then went to the Euphrates River towns of Samawah and Rumaythah to help set up police, security and government services for the towns.

Law and order did not exist when the Marines arrived in Rumaythah, Cristea said, but the crime ended within about a week. By the time they left three months later, Iraqi police patrolled the town on their own.

That was just one of the improvements Cristea said the Marines made before handing the town over to Dutch forces.

"They actually protested a few times while we were over there (about Iraqis proposed for leadership positions) and thought it was the coolest thing. They've never been able to do that before."

The transition from war to occupation was difficult.

"It was really weird to flip the switch, to go from a war-like attitude to helping people," Cristea said. "It was easier during the war because you knew who your enemy was."

Aware of the ambushes and regular killing of American soldiers, Cristea tried to put it out of his head and block his emotions.

"You're always on the lookout, constantly aware of your surroundings. Everyone's a possible threat, from a 4-year-old boy to an 80-year-old elder," he said.

"You wish there's something you could do. I wish I could have been there for that ambush, maybe there's something I could have done to prevent it. At the same time you're thankful it wasn't you."

In southern Iraq, Cristea's unit provided security for a forensics team excavating a mass grave with hundreds of bodies, thought to be Kuwaiti opponents of Saddam's. Cristea shows photos of blackened skulls and bones dug out of the hard dry earth.

"It's about time that it ended," he said, "time to put a stop to it. Saddam was a sick man."

Of course, Cristea has his share of hardship stories -- temperatures as high as 134 degrees, losing 40 pounds, camouflage shirts caked with salt stains from his sweat, taking only three showers over his first three months -- but he takes them as just part of the job.

"(The heat) is frustrating, exhausting, but, you know, you're a Marine. You're trained to do a job. Regardless of the conditions, you get it done."

A prolific correspondent, Cristea sent more than 200 letters home to friends and family. His wife Jennifer has collected his letters to her into a scrapbook.

"When we have kids someday," Cristea said, "and they're learning about (Operation) Iraqi Freedom, I'll say 'Don't read that -- sit down and let me tell you what really happened' and I'll bring out all the notes."

Cristea is proud of what he and his comrades accomplished in Iraq. At the same time, he is sobered by the experience. "War is a terrible thing because people die," he said.

"It was basically overall a miserable time, but I love my country, my family and my friends. That's why I was over there. I'd do it all over again without a second thought."

Brian Williams can be reached at or (219) 762-4334.
2 posted on 09/06/2003 12:40:32 PM PDT by LadyDoc
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To: LadyDoc
Stuff you never read in the NYTimes or CNN.

Eureka is a hot bed for peace activists and t, so I am kind of surprised it is being printed there. I think it is Eureka where they even passed laws forbiding any city or county employees in helping the feds with fighting terrorism.

3 posted on 09/06/2003 12:44:05 PM PDT by Always Right
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To: LadyDoc; Poohbah; aculeus; general_re; BlueLancer; ErnBatavia; csvset; Temple Owl; ...
Wow, a Marine from Arcata. There is hope for us yet.
4 posted on 09/06/2003 12:48:00 PM PDT by dighton (Go Angelyne Go!)
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To: LadyDoc
What an awesome young man. I couldn't tie my shoes properly at 20 compared to this guy.


5 posted on 09/06/2003 12:48:25 PM PDT by melsec (One God, One faith, One Baptism.)
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To: dighton
Ah..."The Eye" again! Time for Batavia to get caught up on some laughs.
6 posted on 09/06/2003 12:50:23 PM PDT by ErnBatavia (40 miles inland, California becomes Flyover Country!)
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To: LadyDoc
We love you here too!
7 posted on 09/06/2003 12:53:54 PM PDT by trustandobey (ONWARD CHRISTIAN SOLDIERS)
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To: LadyDoc
Marines can do!
8 posted on 09/06/2003 1:07:31 PM PDT by semaj (" their fruit you will know them.")
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To: tet68; Ragtime Cowgirl
Oops, forgot you in the first batch of pings.
9 posted on 09/06/2003 1:15:27 PM PDT by dighton (Go Angelyne Go!)
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To: LadyDoc
Well done Marines.
10 posted on 09/06/2003 1:25:53 PM PDT by RJL
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To: LadyDoc
If these American soldiers think they are well liked where they have been,(in the mid east), they should come over to my house and see the feelings my family have for each and every one of them.
May GOD bless each and every one of them and their families.
11 posted on 09/06/2003 1:40:53 PM PDT by Joe Boucher
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Great stuff...just very hard to read when you have those "tears of joy" in your eyes!!

Congrats to all our soldiers for all their work and bravery!!

12 posted on 09/06/2003 1:50:54 PM PDT by Sacajaweau (God Bless Our Troops!!)
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To: Always Right
Spent several days in Eureka last month (husband was raised there)on way to Oregon. Most of the residents are just average people with no particular ideological differences from the rest of CA. Of course, it leans to the left - but most of CA does. I saw several American flags on houses and cars (maybe even more than down here in SoCal). One of the biggest influences there, however, is the proximity of CSU Humboldt in Arcata. It is way over the edge to the left. Arcata probably is because of the student and faculty population. The activists have destroyed the timber and fishing industries and as a result, has created a huge welfare and dependent population. The job losses have created a lot of problems economically and it seems to be a fairly depressed area.
13 posted on 09/06/2003 1:55:39 PM PDT by csuzieque
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To: LadyDoc
Semper Fi Pfc. Cristea.


14 posted on 09/06/2003 2:04:02 PM PDT by Lurker ("First get the facts right. Later on you can distort them any way you please." Mark Twain)
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To: LadyDoc
What inspiring stories! I am so proud of these young'uns.
15 posted on 09/06/2003 2:10:02 PM PDT by shezza
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16 posted on 09/06/2003 2:10:46 PM PDT by shezza
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To: LadyDoc; Ragtime Cowgirl
Great stories!
17 posted on 09/06/2003 5:23:56 PM PDT by concentric circles
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To: Tribune7
18 posted on 09/06/2003 5:32:21 PM PDT by Temple Owl
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To: csuzieque
Sound like Humboldt is like ne of those Muslim schools in Pakistan, except it is run by 6os style professors.
19 posted on 09/06/2003 8:07:47 PM PDT by RobbyS
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To: LadyDoc; dighton; concentric circles; MJY1288; Calpernia; Grampa Dave; anniegetyourgun; Coop; ...
Thank you so much for the post, LadyDoc. Thanks for the pings, dighton and c.c.. Glad I didn't miss this one.

Our Marines training security forces, learning about the rough life as a doctor under a vengeful Sad-dam, winning hearts and minds.

People dropped out, because they didn't know what they were getting themselves into, but most guys made it through. We gave them uniforms -- blue shirts and dark slacks, with a stitching that said, "Al-Hussein Hospital, Trained by Marines" -- so that everyone knew who these guys were.

If you want on or off my pro-Coaltion/anti-wanker ping list, just Freepmail me. Warning - it's a high-volume ping list.

20 posted on 09/07/2003 11:07:22 AM PDT by Ragtime Cowgirl ("The time is long overdue to stop taking the media, as well as the UN, so seriously." ~Thomas Sowell)
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