The Last Journey
September 21-24, 2010 Camp Dwyer
In a Jam
Part 4

It is now September 22 and I’m waking up early at Camp Dwyer. I will get a shower, a real one with limited running water, but not under a well spicket. The water will be cold, but not freezing and it will be able to be turned on and off with a handle. What a luxury. I am determined to clean up, brush my teeth, wash my hair, shave, and then maybe take a shower again, just because it’s available and has not been so for a while. I’m feeling guilty for doing such a thing knowing the guys at Turbett are having to pump their own water which sometimes does and sometimes does not work. After getting cleaned up, I head over to the chow hall and grab a small bite to eat and have a good hot cup of coffee.

After my early breakfast, I walk over to the 31st CSH and inquire about visiting Lamoines. This time however, I have my camera and audio recorder with me. I would like to get a photo and have Lamoines tell me in his own words what happened while it is still fresh in his mind. I will not push him to do the audio but if he is open to do it, I will jump on the opportunity to do so. I know he will want it in the years to come. This is the only reason I want to do this. It is history, and I have been calling myself an historian. I may as well practice being the historian that I claim to be.

After going through the procedure at the front desk and explaining once again who I am and why I am here and what the camera is doing around my neck, I am allowed to go and see Lamoines. I walk back there and he’s awake and I go see him. He is on the phone but has a big smile on his face and immediately says to me, “hey Jim……” I tell him I will wait down the hall until he’s finished his phone call. He tells me thanks and I tell him to take his time, I’ve got nothing but time on my hands at the moment. After I know he is off the phone, I go back to his bed and enter his area that is separated by a sheet. He is in the ICU section but is looking very good. He is also on some pain killers so that may be helping him quite a bit. I shake his hand tell him what I’m doing here. He begins to tell me what happened. I listen and then stop him before he goes any further. I tell him that I know he is tired and he’s just been on the phone for a while but if he has the energy I would like to ask him about his experience and audio record it. But, I also tell him that if he doesn’t want to do it, that would be fine with me. He immediately says he would like to do it and I tell him ok, but that I have to go get this piece of paper that is required for him to sign before I can do such a thing. This is the one time I cannot mess up or it will cost me a huge problem. I then go to the folks in charge and explain to them that I’ve been with this Marine for the past month, he’s a friend of mine, and he wants me to do an audio recording on him for historical purposes.

This send an immediate red flag up but keeping a cool head I let it run its course. It takes some time but soon the form is brought to Lamoines, the Captain reads it out loud to him, he agrees and then signs it. I then audio record Lamoines story of what happened less than 24 hours earlier that landed him right here in the combat support hospital at camp Dwyer right where I am. As I am recording Lamoines, I am thinking back to 48 hours earlier when we were on patrol and I have a great shot of him firing the 240 weapon. I still have his image in my mind looking 9-feet tall shooting at the enemy. Now, here I am listening to this 20-years-old Marine tell me how concerned he was when he got shot. The story is remarkable to me but I realize it happens on a daily basis all over the place in this war here in Afghanistan.

Lance Corporal Robert Lamoines from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is probably one of the toughest Marines I met at COP Turbett. However on this morning of 22 September he is telling me how scared he was when he got hit and did not know how damaged he may have been. He was very concerned about the area where the bullet had struck at the time of the injury, but he is extremely relieved to know that no damage was done to vital areas. In short, he has the million dollar wound and will come out of this in good order. But, he also knows that his brush with death is not a fun experience.

The audio is a record of all Lamoines told me. It’s too long to explain everything he said. The main point however on the audio is the fact that he credits his corpsman Doc Johnson and his fellow Marine Lance Corporal Herman with saving his life and expeditiously getting the medevac to him immediately. The pilot that happened to be on duty that day was none other than Captain Kinney who I had done an audio on previously before heading out to COP Turbett the month earlier. Everything seemed to be in place for me to continue writing about this particular event. I finished my audio on Lamoines and took a few photos of him in his hospital bed. I am sure he will want these photos one day and when all the dust settles, I will make sure he and his family receives them. That is what a good historian should do. It is what I will do.

I mentioned to Lamoines that they were discussing sending him to Germany. He and I then discussed me accompanying him on the flight. It was a great plan and I though the follow on of it would be good. I made arrangements with the Army at the CSH as well as the Air Force side who does the transport. All was in place. I would be going with Lamoines to Germany. All I had to do now was to go tell my public affairs folks on the USMC side what was up out of courtesy. I would be heading to Germany with Lamoines and getting off right where I began this part of the journey right in Ramstein. It seemed to simple to me. It was obvious it was all perfectly arranged.

But, there would be a problem. And it would cause me to once again lose faith in the system that seems to propagate people who refuse to see things past the end of their own noses. Why so many people have such a hard time thinking creatively and outside the box never ceases to amaze me. It also breaks my heart from time to time. It is always a matter of someone in control saying, “I’ve never seen it done so it can’t happen”. This is where I get an attitude and high blood pressure sets in. Just because someone else has not seen it before doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened before. And therein lies my dilemma always.

What I need to explain here is that on the very days all of this is transpiring, there is a major change of command taking place. Regimental Combat Team 7 is being replaced by Regimental Combat Team 1. At the very time all of this is happening, which further complicates thinking for people who never usually think outside the box. Lt. Reney is handing over the reins to a Lt. Lim. Reney knows the system. Lim is just coming in. For some reason he takes over my situation and runs it up the flag pole to camp Leatherneck where a brand new female Major named, Gabrielle Chapin has just come on board and refuses to hear the WHOLE story. She has placed me in a category of “media” and does not listen to what is going on. Lt. Lim is now new guy on the block and has made a critical error in going through the wrong chain of command bypassing the one step that would have secured me travel on the medevac flight into Germany. He messed it up and Maj. Chapin will not take my calls. Lt. Lim refuses to give me the contact number for Maj. Chapin. I now spend the next 18-hours trying to salvage the situation. Getting me Germany is my final destination where I have my return portion of my ticket back to New Mexico awaiting me.

In the next 18-hours I get on the email lines of traffic and request assistance from Lt. Boyle, Capt. Zepeda both in Turbett and Major Pitchford at FOB Marjah. All three of them write detailed letters requesting that I be allowed to get on the flight and accompany their Marine, Lance Corporal Robert Lamoines to Germany. This one act by three officers in the Marines serves to me as a confirmation that what I had done in Turbett with Fox Company was by far the best piece of work I had ever done in my life. These men, these Marines saw it and got the picture of what I’m about and why I do the things I do. However, by now the time was pretty much running out. The female Major down at camp Leatherneck was not hearing any of it and had gone away from her desk for the day refusing to listen to anything about my situation. I had lost this battle. However, the fact that three officers in 2/6 attempted to assist me with putting in a good word for me made all of it a good situation from what was rapidly turning into a terrible situation, at least for me.

Later that night I had contacted Lt. Reney and we met at the MWR and talked at length about things. He and I both walked over to the CSH and he listened to the situation and got the picture. He and I then walked back to our area and he tried once again to make it happen. He came over to my tent late that night, while I and Lance Corporal Mitchell were talking late into the night about things, and informed me that it was not going to happen. I accepted his words and thanked him for trying. I had lost, but 2/6 had come to my assistance but the system was jammed up by bureaucracy back at Camp Leatherneck where most there just have to worry about whether the water in the showers is hot, or just lukewarm. I determined after this entire experience that I am only understood by the infantry and by helicopter units. No other sections really understand me. In the long run, I like it that way. I know where the real people are. I know what it’s like now to do things the hard way because, I’ve always had to do it that way.

This journey has taught me that Army infantry units and Marine infantry units understand me and I understand them. Chinook helicopter units and medevac helicopter units also have no trouble understanding me and I them. Most of my experience in dealing with other entities that are not these ones, seems to issue in real headaches for me from time to time. But that is ok. I have learned to adapt, improvise and by all means overcome.

Lt. Reney told me this night that he would be able to space A me to Kandahar and that I was to be at the front gate at 1130 hrs. I would take the bus to the flight line and I should have no problem getting out, one day ahead of my original ASR to Kandahar.

Mitchell and I talked for a while longer after Reney left. We had midnight chow together and then we went our separate ways. I had enjoyed getting to know Mitchell a lot better and was completely impressed with the things he had done so far in his career in the USMC. Lance Corporal Mitchell has a bachelor’s degree from college. After obtaining his education, he enlisted in the USMC as an infantryman as his father had done and others before him. He was keeping up the family tradition. He had no other reason to join up other than “it’s what members of his family do”. He has spent almost two years of his career at the place in Washington DC called 8th and I. He was a member of the team that performed funerals at Arlington. He also was on some other impressive functions. Then, he came to the war in Afghanistan as the 0311 that is in his blood. He and I went on many a patrol and we became good friends. But that night in my tent at Dwyer we talked about many, many things about how things are. He is a good Marine and he is ready to finish up his enlistment in March and get on with his life in Michigan and helping his father in the family business. Mitchell is the typical backbone of America.

We parted ways and shook hands and bear hugged one another. It had been a rough day and a good day all in the same 24-hours. I felt even closer to the Fox Company than I had before. I was still upset about not getting on the flight to Germany with Lamoines, but there will be another way to get home. That battle is for the next days ahead.

At the end of this night I went to sleep mentally exhausted and prepared to leave Dwyer on September 23rd. I was still in a jam and it was about to get even worse. But on this night, this how the day ended for me on September 22, 2010 at Camp Dwyer, Afghanistan.

Jim Spiri