In the military, they all have different mission sets. Scott Huesing believes this is true for life outside of military as well. He learned all about the power of connection while he was a commanding officer at the Marine Corps. He was involved in one of the most harrowing warfare ever in Iraq and he relives his experiences during his 24-year military career. He shares that being a leader is not just about barking orders but understanding what his troops were going through, how valuable their time was, and taking the moment to understand that they really need, whether it’s an arm around their shoulder or an ear to listen to. He relates that the military is comprised of so many talented and unique individuals, and being a good leader is being able to leverage those skills and talents not only on the battlefield but in training as well.
In this episode, we have Scott Huesing. This guy is a bad-ass Marine and he was involved in one of the most harrowing battle warfare ever in Iraq. He’s got a book out called the Echo in Ramadi. This incredible hand-to-hand combat, just firefight for two years and he lived through it. He was a Commanding Officer and has an incredible tale of being in the most intense situations, fortunately for him, making his way out of it successfully. He goes back and relives that. He’s a good guy, just outstanding. He details his first-hand account of Echo Company 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines in their bloody battles in the deadliest city in the Iraq war. Just that alone would make my hair stand up, which it did. I interviewed him when I was literally moving out, so you’ll hear a bunch of background noise, but that was nothing new to him with having lived through what he did in Iraq. Let’s go talk to Scott.
Listen to the podcast here:
Scott Huesing: The Power of Connection in Leadership
I’ve got a total stud military war hero, Scott Huesing. Scott, how are you doing?
It’s great to be here on your battlefield, which is what this place looks like right now. It’s madness, but I’ve moved probably fifteen times in my 24-year career in the Marines, so I know all too well.
You live down in Temecula and it rarely rains in Southern California. Here we are, one of the rainiest days of the year, all the factors coming together. It is perfect.
It’s that indescribable pressure that comes down at you the worst moments and you don’t have any control over it, but you still battle through it. You still fight through it and it’s there.
We were introduced by a common bud and an absolute stud, Pete Turner. He came up here and we did pods on each other. I’m working on another project on Everest. Talk about a total stud, non-self serving, giving-type guy that is there to serve.
Pete called me because he’s got a book idea. I was introduced to him through Mark Valley. He’s an actor. I worked with them a little bit at the Writers Guild in LA and it’s an amazing network of veteran supporters, guys that love doing stuff and really opening up their house like you are. You open up your connections. Not a lot of people are willing to do that and say, “I want you to meet this guy. He is authentic. He’s not in it for himself.” Pete and Mark are a great example that. I’m fortunate to have such a great network with so many cool people in it.
Talk about the power of connection.
For me, it’s not just a buzz line or a bumper sticker. A lot of you want to know, “How long did it take you to write the book?” It’s really a long time.
The bestselling book, Echo in Ramadi.
As I wrote the stories, I did over 75 interviews with the Marines, the families those who supported us while we fought, and the soldiers. You look at things through a different lens when you get to a certain stage in life. There’s age and wisdom that you gain, but I noticed all these connecting points throughout the characters. They aren’t characters to me. They are real people. There was something about them that before they even joined the military, before they raise their hand to serve their country at age eighteen in most cases, and these families who raised them, there was this thing that they all had, one of these connecting points, and it was the willingness to serve others. They may have grown up and wanted to be a veterinarian or a doctor or a cop, but ultimately, they wind up in the military.
I went through all of these and that struck me in addition to how young they were as they served. It’s amazing to me to have this small segment of the American population, which is less than one half of 1% out of 330 million people in this country. Those are the people that serve in our military. The fact that the families they leave behind are still with them as they fight, they were a huge factor in our success as we fought and won in the deadliest streets of Ramadi in 2006 and 2007 during the Surge Strategy. They still remain a huge part of how we stay connected as we heal and as some of the guys go through the darkness that they still deal with from the things they’ve done, from the things they can’t unsee, and from the things that they were ordered to do at such a very young age, eighteen, nineteen, twenty years old. That’s the power of human connection. That is something that is real. Without it, I wouldn’t have been able to share the story, which is unlike anything else that has been written because it’s not about a battlefield chronology. It’s about the fighting and the friction.
What those guys go through as they fought street-to-street, house-to-house, road-to-road in the city of Iraq. It’s about how that brotherhood is true and how well they took care of each other better than anything else I’ve ever known my entire life. How our families still stay so inextricably connected to us. I always say this statement. We weren’t some high speed, elite unit fighting it for the Marine Corps. We were an infantry company and we had some specialized training, but there are plenty of guys that fought harder than us that lost more than us and suffered as is equal if not more than we did. That chemistry, that link that we had, this brotherhood is what still binds us to this day. It’s something that helped us not only fight and win the City of Ramadi and we did win. I always like to make that loud and clear. We won that fight. It keeps us connected.
It’s always relevant to your own situation. You mentioned that other guys may have played harder, faster, stronger. One more battles, lost more, but you weren’t in those battles. All you know is what was real to you. It’s always hindsight when you look back on it and go, “I can’t believe they actually experienced that.” Another thing you talked about was this brotherhood. I find from my experience, and you see and hear this all the time from ex-professional sports people, where they go, “What is the gap? What do you miss most about the game?” It’s not spring training. It’s not catching the last second touchdown. Those moments were fantastic, but it’s about the locker room. It’s about the brotherhood that we all went through, all the battles, and barely making.
The entire population, just like you, only 1% of the guys are out there that can make it, but they do make it that play. It’s a special moment when you got to get out there, you actually make it through the grind, just like your grind, and then survive that. We’re talking about an apple and an orange here. We’re talking about going out and entertaining and playing for a profession and you’re talking about risking your life to protect your country. There’s a parallel. I’ve had other Navy Seals on. I’ve had other guys like Pete Turner that come on and there’s just this gap. When you come back to the States, all of a sudden, you’re going back to your normal lives. There’s a real missing point in terms of that brotherhood that you experienced in those intense situations.
It’s ironic. The analogy that I use most often to describe what we endure when we fought is a football analogy. A lot of Americans and a lot who are here have a hard time understanding it. The way I explained to them is imagine you’re a pro football player. Imagine you’re doing two days in summer camp and spring training and you’re training all week long. Then Sunday rolls around and there’s no game. How does that make you feel? For the Marines and soldiers and everybody that serves and puts on that uniform, they train for weeks and months and sometimes years on end to get to that game. When we were in Ramadi in 2006 and 2007, as an Infantry Officer, as an enrichment period, it was game day. It was like the Super Bowl of being in the Infantry to be in Iraq. It was game day every single day and the Marines were winning. We were lighting up the scoreboard because that’s where the enemy chose to fight us. It was Ramadi and it was no secret because as my battalion fought in 2004 in the City of Ramadi, we gave it back to the people that weren’t prepared to handle the city with security and no stability. The governance was bad. There was no infrastructure. The place literally looked like a post-apocalyptic nightmare. It was in shambles. The city fell again and they came back in. We had to retake the city in 2006. It was remarkable because the 50 Marines that I had that had fought in the first Battle of Ramadi in 2004 said how bad the fighting was now. It was even worse. There were more American military units fighting in the city it had gotten that much worse. I was very lucky to have those guys with me. These seasoned Sergeants, all of 22 years old now. Those were the guys that were leading all these.
How old were you?
I was 35 at the time. I’m looking at things through a different lens. I’m tasking these young kids, eighteen, nineteen years old to perform superhuman acts in the face of great danger with this complete chaos and uncertainty around them. They never let me down. They continue to perform phenomenally and attack and kill the enemy with this unbridled ferocity, but they also did it with honor. That’s what makes me so extremely proud of these guys. The leadership of those 22-year old Sergeants, those guys carried the day, because of the low-level in the absence of my presence or my leadership, to be at that friction point that critical place in any given time as we were fighting five, six, seven times a day in direct contact with enemy forces. They made the difference. They were remarkable. How well they adapted and improvised on the ground was amazing.
The book starts off where they’re at 27,000 feet. It’s chaos. Then he backs it up and goes through how these guys all got up to that point. For you, you’ve served at a 24-year military career?
24 years and over that 24-year career, I did ten deployments total. Some in Iraq and Afghanistan. One in Africa, Japan, Europe and the Mediterranean. That’s over a 24-year career in six different countries and a lot of different units.
You originally signed up as eighteen-year-old?
I just turned nineteen when I enlisted.
You enlist and then you have a five-year commitment? A four-year?
Four years. During that time when I was enlisted, Desert Shield/Desert Storm kicked off. I got back from that. I figured out the error of my ways after having a high school career. I went to college. I got my degree in three years, which I say is attributed to the discipline I learned as a young Marine, to apply that mission mindset to what I was doing in my studies. Then I came back in and got my commission as an officer and I was in the Infantry until I retired in 2013.
I was in Michigan giving a speech to a large company and the CEO asked me this question, “Do you think people are naturally born with leadership skills in terms of the way he looks at his hires of people coming in?” I said to him, “In my opinion, some people are genetically born that way and then others need to be guided and have the right mentorship.” In my case, at the University of Washington, my head coach, Don James, had taken the Pyramid Of Success, which John Wooden had created, which are these 25 different blocks on individual and team goals to get you to a successful outcome. It sounded like what you needed is to have your ass kicked, whipped up, put into a position of success, and shown how to do things the right way.
I’m a case study on that. My first car was a motorcycle. I ran from the cops. I fought. I was a binge drinker. I had no guidance or discipline and led a very high-risk lifestyle as a teenager. When I was introduced to the Marine Corp recruiters, these guys were the biggest group of risk takers I’d ever met in my life. I’m like, “It is a perfect fit,” and so I enlisted. You age, and you mature a little bit. You gain some wisdom along the way. I understood that if I wanted to be a real leader, even when I was enlisted, I was always taking charge and always want to be in charge of something. I understood if I wanted to make an impact or difference, I had to get an education. That’s what drove me back in to get my commission and I was very fortunate to be selected as an infantry officer, which not everyone is and be able to lead some of the best men and women at times in combat and throughout their careers.
What was that drive? You come out of college and as you take a step back, “I have a degree and I can now go do what most corporate America people do, go find a job and lead that type of life? Or I can put myself back in harm’s way?” Is there something about the military lifestyle that has a calling for you?
I’d like to say it was this lofty calling, but we talked about those. People who are natural-born protectors, that was one of those because I was trying to get into US Federal Service to the US Marshals Program or something to that nature. There’s a hiring freeze and I couldn’t wait tables and bartend for another year in my life until whatever fog lifted from the US government. A young Sergeant calls me serendipitously and says, “Sir, can you come down and run a fitness test and take a physical? I got boat seat for you in Quantico in January.” It was like a sparkle in me. I was like, “This was meant to be,” and that’s how it all evolved from there. It was a little bit of fate and also a little bit of my desire to want to give back to the Marine Corps because I was so successful in college. My GPA was much better than it was in high school. I wanted to give back and that, throughout my time in the Marine Corps and even to this day, I don’t think that my leadership has ever stopped. That’s important to me, to stay connected again. The power of human connection is something that sustains me and is important for my Marines to know that I’m always accessible. They can always get a hold of me to the point where it’s almost the last sentence in Echo in Ramadi is if you guys are in need, I’m always here. I’m only a phone call away or a short drive, but I’m always here for you.
What is the difference between an Infantry Officer, a Ranger or a Seal or those other guys?
We all have different mission sets. The Special Forces Community has a lot more seasoned individuals. They are a little bit older. They get a lot more specialized training. Each one of them is tailored for the full spectrum of operations in this special operating community. They’re very well tailored. It’s because of the amount of training where the infantry in the Marine Corps or in the Army, they receive basic entry level training. Then we have these modules of training that prepare guys for anything within this spectrum, which we call in the Marine Corps the Three-Block War, which can go from humanitarian assistance to full scale kinetic operations where we’re shooting, moving, communicating, and dropping bombs on the enemy.
That’s been our traditional mission. To locate, close with, and destroy the enemy. That’s the mission of the Marine Corps Rifle Squad. Special Forces guys are a little more finely tuned as most people know, but it’s interesting having worked with a lot of those guys even in Ramadi. I was very fortunate to work with a former Special Forces Commander Lieutenant Colonel Chuck Ferry, who was in charge of Task Force 1 in Infantry. We had Seal teams four and five. They ripped in and out. He was very cognizant of how to leverage the skills of every player on the battlefield. That was something unique and I was very fortunate to have Chuck Ferry there conducting that chaos. To be able to do that takes a special guy and as Marines, he loved his Marines, too, but he also understood what guys were good at and always fitting the right guy for the right job, for the right reason. That was important to him.
What were you good at personally?
I was good at understanding people. Understanding what the Marines needs were, what the needs of the mission were, and how to be creative. That was my talent. If I have to self-profess, it’s to be able to identify those friction points on the battlefield and figure out creative ways to do it outside of the book. Even now we’re still operating off of the best doctrine 1980 had to offer and the military has adapted. Can you imagine running plays from the 1940s and ‘50s. They just won’t be effective. We’ve adapted and we’ve had these new models of success that we’ve implemented. There’s a lot of leadership traits and challenges, but one of them that’s not listed in there is compassion. I understood that to be an effective leader, you need to understand how your Marines are feeling and what’s affecting them. Sometimes I get ask the question, “Do you think that because you were prior enlisted made you a better officer?” My answer’s always the same. “No, it doesn’t. It just gave me a better understanding of what those guys were going through, how valuable their time was, and what it meant to take those short moments to understand when they needed foot in the ass or they need an arm around their shoulder.”
That’s not something everybody understands when you’re operating solely off the playbook. It’s reading in between the lines that makes you more effective as a leader. Our military is comprised of so many talented people. They’re artisans, electricians, musicians and sometimes writers. To really understand that that’s what makes them so unique, this brotherhood, and to be able to leverage those skills was another talent that I had that were not this lock-step organization that has marching column. To leverage that not only on the battlefield but in training as well, as we made that dance back and forth.
There’s nothing that you can ever replace experience and wisdom. It gives you these other tools because everything’s not new. You’ve been there, you’ve gone through the war. You start to understand what these other guys are all about and what they’re going through. There’s a guy that I had interviewed a couple of weeks ago, Lee Tomlinson, and he has nothing to do with the military. He had everything to do with Hollywood, the crazy life, and getting cancer and overcoming that. One of the common themes that he was talking about when he got into the hospitals was this lack of compassion. That word runs true through so many different genres of things that people do. At the end of the day, we’re all humans and we go through different things at different periods of times of our life. You need to take that word and understand what your fellow mankind is going on. The more intuitive you are, it sounds like you were, you could identify those guys that needed that, the better off leader that you’re going to be and a better person.
It’s integral to success. This isn’t exclusive to me. There are plenty of Marine Officers and plenty of Marine-enlisted Soldiers that lead the exact same way. The ones that are not great at it are very few and far between. Just like in the NFL, those guys, they eat breakfast pretty fast and they’re shown the door. That’s why for the audience who don’t understand what goes on in the military, those that are hesitant to let their sons and daughters enlist, they are led by the nation’s finest. These men and women that are leading these members who raised their hand and swear and taken oath, they go through an entire year of training before they’re entrusted to stand in front of a platoon of Marines. That’s how long it takes them to get to that point. Throughout their career, they’re continually trained, mentored, and educated so they don’t repeat the mistakes of the past. That’s something great that is exclusive to the US Military. That’s why all the bumper stickers in the cars that say, “America Number 1,” it’s not just a bumper sticker.
I was invited to go down to Tanzania with Chris Long and he and another fellow from your side of the street Green Beret, Nate Boyer, form this organization called Waterboys. What we did is we raised a bunch of money. There are six NFL guys and four war heroes. We all went down there and built water wells. We didn’t personally do it, but we raised the money so that it can happen in these different villages of the Maasai Tribe throughout the Serengeti. It was incredible. We also climbed Kilimanjaro. I did that for a second time. The thing that was so cool was that there are four or five different Green Berets, Marines that were on this track. Three of them, Kirstie Ennis, she was above-the-knee amputee, there was another guy and he had his calf shot, so he had that amputated. There’s another guy that had had shrapnel blow up on him and lost his vision. They are these great examples of the human spirit and you could see they’re gritty and tough.
They are survivors. Kirstie and Nate are a great example. They’ve seen both of our worlds. We were many guys in our network where you’re pen pals for a while and Nate and I are in Bravo 748. We showed up in LA at a Christmas party and we were at the golf tournament or something. It’s such a small world of people who are willing to give up themselves and help other people. You nailed two of them right there with Kirstie and Nate.
He’s in it for the right reason and all those guys are. It was very inspiring to not just myself but the other NFL guys, too, to raise that money and see the giving that we were able to provide for these different people. All the stories going up the mountain and as much as they want to know more about the NFL stuff, it’s a crisscross of information share going back and forth. It was very uplifting and probably one of the most rewarding expedition type trips I’ve been on. It was really cool.
People are very emblematic of what a lot of veterans and a lot of people that deal with trauma throughout their life. I don’t care what type of trauma it is. I’m not saying because we were killing bad guys and kicking doors in Ramadi, my trauma is any better than your trauma if you’re in a car accident. We don’t discriminate. These people, when they go through trauma and they compartmentalize it and they have to press through that trauma to be successful by giving and helping others, is the best way to heal and heal at the right rate. Sometimes it’s giving a little and then you learn to give more, but really getting out and performing some outreach to help others is the best way. A lot of people will ask me, “How long did it take to write the book? Was it a healing process for you?” I always say, “No.” It wasn’t some catharsis where I hit the end and I was like, “Thank God. I feel healed.” I’ll tell you where it comes from. It’s not from the endorsements from seven-star generals or celebrities or public figures. It’s from my Marines and those that understand what we went through. It comes from my Gold Star families. These extraordinary human beings that can lose so much and continue to love so much despite their loss. It’s remarkable how connected they stay to us having lost a son or daughter and carry that torch to bring light into the lives of so many guys that are still dealing with the darkness from having seen some of the worst things in humanity. That connection and the validation of writing the story about Echo in Ramadi is a bit of play on words.
Because you’re an Echo Company?
There’s also the Echoes of War that resonated long after we left the battlefield because of the effects of post-traumatic stress. Some of the guys we’ve lost in suicide, unfortunately. The positive things that come through in the book that are common to everybody are the leadership, the team building, the survival, and the power of human connection. The best example I had that warmed my heart that I want to share is it was from an Army Staff Sergeant who fought at Task Force One in the Infantry. I got an email through my website and he said, “Sir, I’m probably sure you don’t remember me. I was a Staff Sergeant in the S1 shop with one in Infantry I remember the night that Corporal Libby was shot. Corporal Libby was one of my squad leaders who was killed on December 6, 2006 in a five-hour firefight. I remember that call when it came across the radio. I raced across route Michigan to the combat outposts, the aid station. I remember the vehicles of your convoy rolling in through the chem lights and the dust cloud around them. The squeal, the breaks and I remember your Marines carrying Corporal Libby out of the vehicle. I remember your face. I remember everyone’s face and every single step that you took as you tried to press into the aid station when you’re first sergeant stopped you.” At the end of his email, he said, “Yes, we made a difference. We did something that made a difference.”I ‘m getting a little emotional just telling the story. That’s the type of validation when you hear people tell you a story, when I saw it one way and he’s looking at the reflection and seeing what was on my face, seeing what my Marines were doing as we raised the aid to save one of our guys who had been fatally shot. It meant everything to me. I wrote him back and said, “Can I share that story?” He said, “I’d be honored if you shared it.” That’s a real example of how people that go through so much and I probably passed this guy 100 times the months we were in Ramadi, and years later, he said he hadn’t thought about those events in almost ten years. It was really amazing.
So often, it’s interesting that the world that we see from inside out can either be the same or different from the way the world sees us back. When you’re appreciated like that, it’s a powerful thing. I want to talk about the book and I want to frame it up first for all the people who don’t know what the Battle of Ramadi was all about. Why don’t you set that up? Why were you there? Why did it get so intense?
It’s a historic battle and it was important for me to tell the story of Ramadi because I was concerned that it was going to fall under the shadows of other Green battles. The Fallujah that made the headlines. Baghdad, Nawzad, Helmand Province, and Afghanistan. The war in Iraq had been boiling over in 2004 and there were these little offshoots and the insurgency were gaining momentum. It became this giant game of whack-a-mole up until about 2005 and 2006 where we would hammer the insurgents down in one city. They’d go to the ground and they realized they couldn’t go toe-to-toe with us. Then they bleed out. They move to a different city and they try and occupy that to get a stronghold. Then we hammer them down again. Ultimately, they pop back up. When President George W. Bush and General David Petraeus ordered surge, to flood the battlespace with tens of thousands of additional troops, my unit was part of that with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit. We were thrust back in.
As we did that as the Coalition Force, we were essentially trying to hammer down on every one of those pockets of resistance. That’s why we were sent back into Ramadi. It was to retake that city. It was interesting. I’ve talked to Pete about this. I’ve talked to a good friend of mine, Mike McNamara, who runs All Marine Radio who fought in Ramadi, which was one of the toughest battles in the war. We make no bones about it and it’s never my battle was tougher than yours. Everybody fights. Everybody does their part. You don’t get to say, “I’ll go to Ramadi. I’m going to pick this or I’m going to Fallujah tour.” It’s not how it works. The Battle of Ramadi is a two-year fight. At the time in ’04, I was Company Commander. We did a balance study and what we’re trying to do is figure out how we tie that together as a two-year fight because it was. The reason that it was is we won in ‘04 but we gave it back as I stated earlier and then we had to retake the city.
One of the things that we haven’t learned in the Middle East that has set this fight apart is none of us sit around and say, “It’s me. Did we win? Did we lose?” None of us were Gypsies and we didn’t need a crystal ball to figure, “If we don’t plant a flag in one these cities, if we don’t have a base here, if we don’t establish some physical presence, we’re going to be back and turn back to your history dowel to May 2015.” Where did ISIS pop up? Ramadi. Because it was the capital of Al Anbar Province. It’s a key terrain. That’s why they wanted that city. Here we find ourselves again fighting in Ramadi. We’re fighting in Al Anbar Province. That’s important to everyone who may not see that in mainstream media. That’s why I love doing podcasts and shows like yours is that gives you an opportunity to let listeners know we are still fighting. There are still Marines and soldiers in Iraq. They are still in Afghanistan. They’re still in the part of Africa and doing our nation’s bidding. Although they’re not blasted on mainstream media, they’re still there and we need to remember that. We need to remember that those men and women are fighting. We also need to remember that for every guy or girl that’s down range, they leave a family behind, a Blue Star family. Those Marines and soldiers who are still losing, those Gold Star families are there. You need to reach out to them and find a way to connect. It’s a challenge I like to throw out there because athletics or in the military, we’re big on challenging each other.
Pete and I are trying to put this together, to bring war vet heroes, like yourself and Pete, together to do the fourteen to seventeen-day trek from Kathmandu up to the base camp of Mount Everest. It’s going to be awesome. It’s blending those two former players, NFL players and also war heroes together because there is so much common brotherhood. An apple and an orange in terms of the things, but just the commonality of we battle together. We went out in completely different ways. There’s a lot of time between the two and we want to come together and see how we can make that a successful adventure. As you’re telling me this story, it’s a two-year battle and it just the curiosity to me. We’re in Hermosa Beach, one of the most beautiful areas in the world. It’s calm. It’s tranquil, but there are no bullets flying by and craziness and helicopters and planes dropping bombs. What is that like and what’s that do to your soul when you’re living in that constant stress?
I’ll describe it again as friction. In Echo in Ramadi, it is an entire paragraph, friction. It’s such a dynamic environment. It is such a fluid environment and it’s rapidly changing. When you’re fighting an asymmetric war, this irregular war, we literally lived amongst the people. As we fought street-to-street, block-to-block, house-to-house, it was very difficult to identify a uniformed enemy. The frontline is literally everywhere. Every corner you turn, every street you walk across, that’s the front line. I don’t think people can grasp that. When I wrote the book, I tried to describe that and how that was seen through the individual Marine’s eyes and what the emotion was that they experienced. That’s something that sets this story apart is that I didn’t mince any words. When I did the interviews, I wanted to capture the feeling, that emotion that these guys had every time they had to make life and death decisions on the battlefield at such a young age with so little information.
You become desensitized. You understand that three-year training, you’re going to have to do certain things. That friction, the explosions, the roadside bombs, and seeing the destruction that the insurgency left behind through murder and brutal beheadings and scraping dead bodies off the street that they left behind just to get their ruthless ideology across, they used people as human shields. It’s not urban legend like you see in Scott McEwen, American Sniper or in the film. This happened. This was our reality. This is what we had to process. Your process is in a way that you put it away, so you continue on the mission and you survive in that type of environment where it becomes more than training but survival.
For such young guys, it was important to me when we landed in Iraq and we were about to be thrust into the City of Ramadi, it was very important to me when I sat those 200 plus Marines down and told my Senior Enlisted Tom Foster, who’s the equivalent of like the Defensive Coordinator. He is the Assistant Coach. I said, “Get them all out there. I want to talk to the boys and take a picture.” They’re all complaining, “I don’t want to take a photo op, Sir,” and then they all want the copy of the picture. The Marines are happy unless they’re complaining, but I told them I want to talk to them. It was important for me that they understood that what they’re about to do for most of the guys, they’d never seen before, especially the scale of death and destruction they are about to see for these young eighteen, nineteen year-old guys that had never been there. The Marines do a lot of things well. They shoot the rifles straight in any one of the battlefield. They attack and kill the enemy with this unbridled ferocity, but they also follow orders.
When I sat them all down, I told them, “You will have to go into combat and you’ll have to kill the enemy and I am ordering you to kill the enemy.” Combat is not a natural event. Humans create war, but you will kill the enemy because when that singular moment occurred, when they had to make that split second decision to squeeze a rifle and feel that recoil as they look through their sites to take another human life, I never wanted them to hesitate. I wanted them to do it because I was telling them to do it. I was ordering them to do it. When they left that place, it was important that they knew it was my decision, so they could leave the battle space with a clean heart and do what they had to do under my orders with honor and with pride. All those pieces of trauma that they brought with, maybe that made it a little bit easier for them. It was validated as I looked out in the sea of sturdy faces in those vets, the salty sergeants of mine, all 22 years old shaking their heads in approval.
I understand that and that would make sense to me in terms of helping to justify why you’re there, so people aren’t questioning what their morals are as they value whether human lives. You don’t naturally grow up wanting to kill somebody. All that aside, this is Mark the civilian talking now. When fireworks go off on the 4th of July and these loud explosions, I jump. I sit back. To have that day in, day out would make me like feel frazzled. Certainly there’s been, maybe it’s not you, but there’s been several of your brothers who’d been out there that had to come back and deal with a lot of stuff. Going back to Nate Boyer, he had invited me up to an organization that he runs once a week where there they bring in former athletes and former military guys and it’s that crossover between ending their career and then starting what’s next. There were a lot of guys in there that had a lot of stuff going on. There’s a couple of athletes that were sitting there but there’s a whole lot of military and they were from homeless to drugs to this to that. Part of it is the gap and part of it was their electrical system had been so fried that they’re trying to reemerge back into the society.
You can’t un-see those things that you’ve done or witnessed or heard. This is another one of my favorite stories. It’s a great analogy and it’s not mine. It’s from a great friend of mine who wrote an article called the Postcombat Residue. He likens it to a story that he shares with me when this young Marine walks in his office. He is a Gunnny at the time and the Marine sees a coffee cup sitting on his desk and he’s like, “Gunny, that coffee mug is disgusting.” He goes, “Why don’t you wash that thing?” He’s like, “I’ve had this coffee mug since I joined the Marine Corps. It’s been on my desk and I get coffee every single day. I can scrub it as hard as I want and try and clean all that residue out of there, but that residue is the result of years and years of serving its intended purpose.” He says, “I’m not going to throw the coffee mug away because every day I come to work, it still gets me my coffee. It still serves its intended purpose.” That’s how he likens this post-combat stress to Postcombat Residue.
It’s part of our game. It’s part of our job. Just like first responders. If there’s anybody that has a resume builder and listing posttraumatic stress on it should be a bonus. How you grow from it is the question we need to start asking ourselves and how that makes you a better war fighter. How it makes you a better a first responder? Those are the types of people that we want that level of experience. The way Adam framed it with the coffee cup analogy was remarkable because he’s right. There’s no way you can ever get rid of that resident. You can’t un-see those things. You can’t wash them away. It doesn’t make people broken. It doesn’t make them weak. They still are effective, and we still value them. That’s an important message that comes across in his article.
That makes sense to me. I saw some videos of you in Ramadi where it was intense fire coming at you. You were there for a long time. I’m going to ask you a question that that’s got multiple answers. You might say like, “Mark, what was your favorite catch or something?” When I was a Receiver, I cut the ball a lot. What was one of the most intense firefights that you found yourself in?
December 6, 2006was the roughest we’d seen not just for my company, but the entire combined Task Force in Ramadi. It was a complex coordinated attack. Maybe some of the videos you saw may have been from December 6. The firefight lasted for almost up to five hours. It redefined what we knew is fighting in that city. To be in a firefight for a couple of minutes or a shootout is one thing when you’re on a patrol and then you press on. To be constantly engaged by what was obviously a complex well-planned, coordinated attack on multiple hardened US positions throughout the city, it wasn’t exclusive to what our area of operation was dealing with our brothers next door we’re dealing with. Task Force 117 armor was dealing with it to the West. 19th Infantry was slugging it out down by Eagle’s Nest and they were crushing it. If you can imagine, it’s like a 4th of July fireworks show on steroids boiling over.
The city literally was boiling over with explosions and gunfire and you didn’t know if it was friendly or an enemy. The sky was lit up with bright light and tracer rounds whizzing through it. The worst part was as soldiers and Marines, you’re fighting and you’re blasting into enemy positions, but if you’re missing the intended target, there was a thing we call spillover where friendly rounds don’t hit the enemy. We we’re fighting block-to-blocks. There could be another unit over there, but there could also be enemy in between us. If we’re fighting, you had to always know where that round was going to land. It was at that night on December 6 was absolutely the most intense fighting we’d seen where we brought everything to bear from small arms to hand grenades to machine guns to airstrikes to Apache helicopters. I was very fortunate to have rocket battery Fallujah, these army studs I called in some GMLRS rockets and these things fly twenty miles away at 40,000 feet. Then it comes down on top of his house and suck the life out of it.
You guys are calling out GPS coordinates? Is that how it works?
We have a grid map system in place that allows us to call for effective and safe supporting arms, whether the sporting arms are aviation ordinance or surface ordinance from conventional artillery or from rocket strikes. We didn’t do a lot of mortars and things like that where you drop down the tube. It’s a ballistic thing because we’re very concerned with collateral damage because we’re sitting here. There are families living around us. We always had to be conscious of that and we never took that for granted. Unfortunately in war, there are people that die. There are civilians that die that get caught in the crossfire. You talked about the Marines, how you react to that, that jumpiness or how do you react to that in a sustained environment day in and day out. What I witnessed was the local Iraqis who wanted peace, they were kind, peace-loving people. They wanted stability, but they had been immersed in this chaos for years and years and they’d become so desensitized to it.
The only way I could explain it is we were literally in the middle of a firefight at one part of the city. I’m getting shot at, I’m returning fire and I see a kid and his mom standing on the side of the road as if it was some spectator sport, like they were at Qualcomm Stadium watching the game that day. I’m thinking, “Get inside your house.” To them it was, “It’ll be over soon and I’ll go about my daily business.” It was that type of surreal observation that made you think how bad these people had it. Certain sides of the aisle will squawk about how were we shouldn’t be occupying certain countries is no one was going to take care of these people. Their government certainly wasn’t. At the end of the day, the Marines were doing what the Marines did best and that is taking care of those that can’t take care of themselves. That’s our mission and we don’t fight policies. We don’t fight politics or strategies. We fight the enemy. That’s what the Marines are trained at and that’s what they’re great at and they were doing it day in and day out the entire time we’re in Iraq.
Is that the reason why you’ve gone back again and again? Is it because there’s this vacuum that’s created? It’s not necessarily we want to occupy these countries, but when you evacuated like we did because everybody wants to pull the Marines out, then these guys come roaring right back in you got chaos again.
I use another great football analogy. I say that we punted into the grand stands of life by not establishing a presence over there and not being good students of our history like we were in the Pacific theater after World War II, in the European theater. Maybe it takes 50 years for it to take a root, but we haven’t even planted the seed. We haven’t even begin to cultivate that relationship in the Middle East and I don’t know what the apprehension is, but I wrote an opportunity-ed about this and I wrote pieces on it before the political system or the industrial system in concert with the military, needs to go over to Iraq or countries like Iraq and show them what right looks like. I’m not talking about imposing our Western culture on them. I’m not trying to change their 5,000-year history. I’m saying, “Show them what right looks like because we’ve done tons of money, tons of people, spill plenty of blood in that country and they’re not willing to progress or they don’t know how to do it the way it will enable us not to go back every ten years.” I don’t think any Americans want that. I know we don’t want that. The Iraqis want stability, but I’m not quite sure that they’ve got their own playbook for how they’re supposed to do it.
From a non-military standpoint, a civilian, which a lot of times, there are these hotspots and then we view them as the game’s over, just like we watch a football or basketball game or baseball game. When the game’s over, everybody goes home and that’s not the way it works in your world.
We still have troops fighting over there. We need to figure out what winning is. I was talking to Pete about that because Pete was over there and he worked a lot of different levels of command as well. I told Pete, “How do we define winning? How are we as the guys who fought, slugged it out in the ground? How are we going to define winning? We know what winning is on the ground at the tactical level, but how do we come up with a metric of what winning is at the operational or strategic or political level, that top level. How do we figure that out? Who are the guys that fought there that understand the ground game? How are they going to present that to our political and elected officials so we do get it right?” I don’t think we know the answer yet. Maybe me and Pete and a couple other guys get it.
It’s awesome you’ve written this bestseller book, Echo in Ramadi, about these intense firefights that you had in particular in 2006. Where can people find this book?
You can find it on Amazon. You can find it in Barnes & Noble. You can find at Costco. You can go to my website, EchoInRamadi.com. On my website, you can also order the book, but you can also see some pictures of the Marines. There are no pictures in the book. I didn’t want to give it away. You can see some pictures of these real-life heroes. They’re the real heroes and you’ll see pictures of them. You’ll see some videos. As the Executive Director of SaveTheBrave.org that helps vets with PTS. A portion of the proceeds of the sales from Echo in Ramadi go to help vets with PTS. I know that for a fact because I’m the Executive Director and it’s on the back cover of the book and that’s how dedicated a lot of the guys and women and we know that you get first and then good things seem to follow. A lot of people often say, “How do I help a vet?”I said, “Thanks for your service, but I want to do more.” Here’s a start. Say thanks for your service. That’s a great start. You can buy a copy of that book and a portion of the proceeds go to help veterans. You’re getting great story and you’re helping support a great nonprofit that’s dedicated to connecting vets with PTS through outreach programs.
I’d like to say thank you for serving. Those aren’t just words, those come from my heart. I’ve now been able to be very fortunate to meet a bunch of you guys who were brave souls, who have stuck your neck out there, and have safely come back. I can’t imagine, eighteen years old, I was on a scholarship ride at the University of Washington playing football. That was my battle and that doesn’t compare anything to what these eighteen-year olds have to go through. It’s been going on for centuries. To not just go there on your own, it wasn’t like there was a forced draft and then to actually want to re-enlist again and keep going back and back in your case, 24 years is incredible. Thank you so much for that. Is there any social media, Facebook or Twitter, anything else that you have?
Scott, thank you so much for driving all the way up from Temecula on this crazy day of rain and also me moving.
Good luck up in Sun Valley. It’s given me a great excuse to visit a state I have never been to.
You are always welcome to stay with me here. Thank you.
Resources Mentioned in This Episode:
- Scott Huesing
- Echo in Ramadi
- Pete Turner – previous episode of the podcast
- Lee Tomlinson – previous episode of the podcast
- Bravo 748
- All Marine Radio
- Postcombat Residue
- Echo in Ramadi on Amazon
- Echo in Ramadi on Barnes & Noble
- @EchoInRamadi – Scott’s Facebook
- @EchoInRamadi – Scott’s Twitter
- @EchoInRamadi – Scott’s Instagram