Improvise, Adapt, Overcome

As promised, conditions were austere. Many things were left behind. In Kuwait, there had been Portajohns. As soon as we crossed into Iraq, those no longer existed. Going to the bathroom in the field required digging “cat holes” and then burying the waste left behind. Maneuvers, like sitting on the side of an entrenchment (E) tool, became advanced skills to master. Ammo boxes became makeshift toilets that were coveted by those who didn’t have boxes. With the mass movement of an entire headquarters element, slit latrines had to be implemented. These consisted of a long ditch dug with the intent of straddling it to defecate or urinate, filling in the area with dirt afterward to consolidate and isolate human waste.

One of my Corpsman woke me shortly after we started the invasion, “Doc, you aren’t going to believe this.” The Corpsman had taped an area where they had dug a slit trench. There were no flashlights, so it would prevent walking into or tripping on human waste. The Marines had apparently decided the tape merely marked a target area. The Corpsman laughed as he showed me the mounds of feces inside the tape but not in the trench. We had missed something in our rehearsal.

The headquarters leapfrogged forward. We were moving quickly into Iraq. Briefings occurred at least twice daily in the COC if we were not moving. During one of these briefs, the CG called for the Surgeon. He said in a firm voice, “Doc, I need to have all the Marines on Cipro by the end of the evening.” I stood shocked by his order. I tried to tell him that there was no indication for starting Ciprofloxacin. After all, we hadn’t been exposed to Anthrax.

I reminded him that Cipro was the antibiotic used for treatment after exposure and that no cases had been reported. The CG told me that he well understood that Cipro was not for prophylaxis, but he would only consider another action if his first warning sign of an infection was not the death of one of his Marines.

We only had a few doses of Cipro for each Marine. Resupply was not anticipated for weeks if not longer. Before I could say anything else, he told me, “Tonight!” The CG stared at me. General Kelly, the Assistant Division Command (ADC), pulled me aside by the neck and whispered, “This is not the place to argue with the CG. Tell him ‘Yes Sir’ and let someone else higher in the chain of command tell him no.” I complied, “Yes Sir, I’ll coordinate with Group and MEF.” I knew their answer would be no, but that would come from a more senior warfighter, not a junior staff officer.

General Mattis was a practical man. I was in his office when the Navy Sea Bees started to install screen doors on the building we temporarily inhabited. He said, “Thank you gentlemen, but you see all those other buildings where all the other Marines are living? They need screens first. I’ll be happy to have some after they all have them.” He then turned to me, “Doc I think we need to spray for mosquitoes.”

I started to tell him that we had already sprayed and the life cycle of the mosquito would not be affected by spraying again so soon. Before I could finish a few words, he interrupted me, “Doc, I don’t want to hear more about the mating habits of mosquitoes. I’m a simple man. I’m going to go hang outside at night, naked. If I get a bite, we spray. If I don’t, we don’t.” I knew better than to let him conduct his experiment. We sprayed.

I felt the CG trusted me, but I was never sure about the Chief of Staff (C/S). One day the C/S came to my tent and yelled, “Doc Moore, come here!” I had no idea what was happening. I followed him to the COC. I heard him mumble, “one of the regimental commanders has been relieved. As a Marine, I would rather die than be relieved in combat.” He gave me no details. His interpersonal skills were worse than usual. “The General wants you to talk to him to make sure he is ok.”

I was told little more than get my stuff and get in a Humvee. I was then on a helicopter, flying to one of the Regimental Headquarters. I was informed that the ADC had been at the unit trying to help the Regimental Commander return to the fight after one of his units had been ambushed and sustained casualties. I was told that the Colonel seemed to be improving but subsequently was found in his rack during combat operations. The efforts had failed, and the CG had no option but to relieve him. The ADC told me, “The Colonel is a good man and the General wanted you to make sure he is ok.”

Both generals trusted my opinion. I had offered for the Division Psychiatrist to do the assessment, but was quickly told, “We don’t know him, Doc.” The psychiatrist had failed in his role of gaining credibility with the line leadership and the role defaulted to the Surgeon, who also happened to be a psychiatrist.

The Colonel made the evaluation easy for me. “Come on in, Doc. I know why you are here. I know the General is worried. There is no need. I always knew that someday the Marine Corps would break my heart. It might be because I didn’t make rank or get an assignment. It might be that I wasn’t selected Commandant or it might be that it is time to retire. Today is that day for me. Don’t worry doc. Tell the General not to worry. I knew this day would come. I have alternative plans.”

I briefed the ADC, who then briefed the CG. I heard that the ADC sent a note to the Colonel’s wife. It reassured her that this is in no way a reflection of the quality of this man. Rumors of conflict and betrayal later circulated. I only know I saw noble officers dealing with being human in extraordinary circumstances.

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