I sat down with Travis to talk about the 101st Airborne, what it feels like on pre-deployment, and what makes a good military leader. Check out his documentary at MeatGrinderDoc.com
Long Wars Interview with Travis Weiner
Travis: [00:00:00] So I'm a Travis Weiner. I'm from Massachusetts. Originally was born in Western, Massachusetts, and I grew up in East central, Massachusetts.
And then enlisted right out of high school I joined the army and I joined because kind of an idealist, you know, like. Became kind of obsessed about the military and I was a kid and just always wanted to join. You know, I found when I was in and through knowing other vets that there's a minority, but there are some folks that don't join for, you know, like straight or money for college or because their parents did like my buddy, Tommy, his dad, his dad.
Or, you know, cause I, you know, it was my only, you know, path out of a shitty situation. It was more just pure idealism you know? I thought you know, I can do the most, I can do some serious, good and be a part of something greater than myself and test myself and you know, those kinds of reasons
Chris: [00:00:54] Yeah, I think, I think that's a lot of people, you know you know, you definitely hear people will be like, yeah.
You know, I joined cause I needed money for college, but I feel like that's more like a recruiter kind of line, you know, most people, at least most of the guys I was with are pretty idealistic. Like, you know, they think it's an aspirational thing to do.
Travis: [00:01:14] Yeah. Yeah. And even, and even ones that maybe didn't at first, it they'll adopt that, you know, I think
I've seen that too.
Chris: [00:01:23] So what, what year did you enlist?
Travis: [00:01:26] 2004 enlisted, I enlisted in the spring right around, I think before I graduated. And then I but I didn't ship out for basic until the fall.
Chris: [00:01:37] So just, just for like historical context. Obviously a couple of years after 9/11 and the invasion of Afghanistan , invasion of Iraq was spring 2003, like March, April shit was really starting to fall apart by 2004.
So is the first battle of Fallujah was spring. '04 and then the second one was November. Cause it was right after Bush was reelected. And I feel like that was really like the, the second part of the war really kicked off. So like right around probably when you were in basic training, MOS school, like that was kind of like getting a lot more serious than maybe when you were first talking to a recruiter, does that soud about right?
Yeah. Yeah. And I remember in an infantry school, our commanding officer came in and gave a talk about what had happened during, I think that the It was a second battle of Fallujah, but something, you know, made the news about you know, civilians being killed in a house. And I remember him just talking about, you know, screw the media, never listened to this stuff and they're doing what they have to do.
Travis: [00:02:42] I remember him giving us that talk in the fall.
Chris: [00:02:46] When you got to your unit or even when you're in infantry school do most of your like NCOs, did they have combat experience or were they kind of like that post Gulf war, but like pre-Iraq war, period?
Travis: [00:03:00] Yeah. Yeah, a lot. Didn't I remember some of the, some of the senior ones had Gulf war.
But it was, I think it was early enough where some, definitely didn't. I remember, well, the, more of the more psychotic ones were combat vets in the initial invasion. But, but but a lot weren't I remember when the coolest drill sergeants, we had a new guy who. Really took the time to, you know, he knew that he had to be definitely tough, but he really kind of just, you know, talk to us kind of no bullshit on the backend.
And especially as we were getting closer to graduation, he was a recent combat vet from I think he deployed in Afghanistan with the hundred and first. But a lot, plenty work and plenty definitely weren't and, and, you know, part of it, I guess, you know, I don't know how much an individual drill instructor has a retraining, but part of, I mean, you add all that up.
I mean, there's still, you know, we were still doing World War II, era battle drills and you know, they were just, they were just trying to start to figure out how do you train, you know, to look for IEDs how do you train for urban combat, you know, all that. So, but but yeah,
Chris: [00:04:03] Yeah, no, I hear you, man. When, I mean the like most combat specific training we did in bootcamp, and this was summer of 2007.
But like it was low crawling under barbed wire, you know, it's like reenacting Pacific beach landings, like not applicable at all. And then even in a school of infantry for us, like. All, all our instructors were just like salty freaks from Fallujah and Ramadi, like initial invasion, kind of guys.
You know, it was like, you know, enough time they like enlisted like post 2001 did like three tours through Iraq and then like needed to cool off a little bit. So like, we would do like all the. You know, like the on-paper training, like, you know, gun drills, like this is a 203, this is how you throw a grenades, you know, whatever.
So you clear saw whatever. But then they'd be like, okay, like time to do room clearing drills. And just like we had like my lead infantry instructor this guy , Sgt Champagner said like wild PTSD, you know, like he's like constantly twitching. Couldn't sit still, always looking around and he would just keep us up to like two in the morning, like running upstairs, doing room clearing drills for like six hours at a time every night.
Like, he's like, I've been to Fallujah a bunch, like this is all that you need to do. Yeah. Yeah. But that like difference between, you know, the like, The guys who were, I don't know, staff sergeants and above like, you know, not really front lines guys for the invasion. And then the younger guys that, you know, trained us.
So like, or even you're part of that group, I would say, you know, just like such a different mentality, like a weird case of like the old breed being like the softer ones and the guys that are like your age and you know, that, that timeframe where like the real, you know, shit kickers.
Travis: [00:05:56] Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. It was, It was it was an interesting mix.
I mean, it was also around the time when I joined where they were, they were just realizing like, Holy shit, you know, we need a lot more people. We're going to be here longer. And so they really started to lower the bar. And so, you know, I was in, basic with some guys that should never have been let into the military and should never have been allowed to graduate.
I mean, it's just insane, you know? But they needed, I remember Like, you know, the overhearing, like some secondhand stuff from the drill sergeants and just talking about how the pressure was rolling downhill to fucking graduate bodies you know, and to get numbers up and how mad they were because, you know, senior officers and all, you know, senior NCOs up there.
They have no idea, you know, what's actually going on who these people are. And again, right. I mean, it results in you serving with people that never should be next to you outside the wire.
Chris: [00:06:51] Yup. Yeah. ASVAB waivers, you know, criminal, criminal waivers.
Travis: [00:06:56] Oh God. Just, just, I mean, you know, raging addicts and, you know, psychopaths and, you know, that's part of the, I mean, you know, the guy in my sector, my first tour, our first battalion to South East, That was where that guy, Steven Green you know, raped that girl killed that family burned the house down, blew the sector up, you know, made the international news.
And it, it literally blew our entire area of operations up because it, it, you know, the population and that, you know, got them to the insurgent side. And of course, you know, I mean, and again, right. I mean that you can trace a direct line to like letting him in a guy like that in. Any, any, you know, history and this is all documented and books on him and.
Chris: [00:07:38] Yeah. Yeah. And that was, this is what the like counter-insurgency handbook that came out with when Petraeus took over, it was like 2007-ish. And like, one of, one of the big points was like, you know, First do no harm like the medical, you know proverb. So like, if you go out, if you, you know, burn down, if you killing civilians, you know, you raped a girl, like, of course everyone's going to turn on you.
And it's like a no brainer. Like, and any one of us would do the same thing if that happened to one of our neighbors or a family member, like just, yeah, that's clear really the problem with like letting in criminals and stuff like that.
Travis: [00:08:18] Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I will also say this about. Petraeus though. I mean, you know, I mean, obviously, you know, brilliant guy obviously probably saved some lives on both ends with his approach, but, you know, bottom line is a guy like that, you know, never had to walk.
You know, patrol after patrol day after day as a line Lieutenant getting blown up, getting his guys blown up and adhering to his rigid COIN, you know, do no harm philosophy. So, I mean, I'll say that about it. Right. And it's like, cause it's like, you know, it's, it's easy to, to say it, you know, and again, like, I, he, he's not wrong.
The PR my thing's always been, just been like, you know, it's so hard, like what is harder than, you know, applying his COIN principles and winning hearts and minds while you're getting blown up while you can't figure out who's an insurgent, who's a civilian. And so that can, I guess, you know, to me feeling like, you know, people, you know, him and above like seriously betrayed all of us by putting us in that situation to begin with when it didn't have to be, you know, for sure.
Chris: [00:09:26] I remember , like being a boot and they're like, you know, positive identification, you like have to have eyes on someone shooting at you. Yeah. And like, man, that, it's not a real thing. Like. You you can like tell you're getting shot at, you know, from a building or like from this treeline, but like that, you know, this idea that like a lot of off, you know, I'll say it's officers are just like, you need to see someone standing there with an AK and like bro that's not a thing.
No one, no one does that. Those guys died a long time ago.
Travis: [00:09:56] Yeah. Yeah, exactly. And a line lieutenants not going to, you know, not going to say, I mean, you're never going to, you know, like I said, you hardly, you know, Depending on your AO, right? It's like you, when, when can you wait? It's so rare to get eyes on an actual enemy fighter firing, you know, vast minority of guys that you know, saw any combat over there, I would say.
Would say that, right? I mean, pretty sure it, you know, but.
Chris: [00:10:24] Let's circle back a little bit. So you know, you graduate high school, you enlist, go to basic training, go to infantry school, and then what happens?
Travis: [00:10:34] So then I got the assigned to the hundred and first. I got to go home for remember the name of the stupid program, but it was funny.
I got to go home to do like to help the recruiter for like two or three weeks. It was like extended leave, but I got to help the recruiter. And I remember this, right, because my recruiter piece of shit that he was was, I mean, piece of shit, but I was naive idiot because he was a cook and he talking all about, you know, what, you know, the infantry is going to be like deployment, blah, blah, blah.
And he has no idea what he's talking about. And then I go, I remember I went back and he's all. You know, acting all strict and everything. And even then, even then I was just like, well, I have a blue of three, four, and you don't. So I don't really give a fuck what you have to say, but yeah. So I did that.
And then and then I went, moved out there when did I get to my unit? I think like March of ' 40 or March of '05 and then And then we quickly, quickly went down to a JRTC at Fort Polk, Louisiana and went to train down there. And
Chris: [00:11:34] what's JRTC?
Travis: [00:11:36] JRTC's this huge it's like one of the main army. I think you guys have one in California in the desert, right? Yeah. That's like our East coast version. So it's like a huge, it's like half of the base is Training for combat operations and these huge, you know, like you go into like a week long simulation, all that. And so we did that. And then you know, came back and, you know, train some more and then we deployed again October that year.
Chris: [00:12:02] Yeah. That's I mean, everyone had pretty like fast and furious op-tempos for like the whole Iraq war.
Travis: [00:12:10] Nine to 12 months off and back on and off and on.
Chris: [00:12:13] And so, yeah, I so our, our like pre-deployment training out in California is at a 29 Palms. It's like in the Mojave desert and they ha they've like built this huge fake city out of like shipping containers.
And hired a bunch of like Arabic speakers to walk around. And so there'd be like, you know, you're like on patrol, you know, notionally on patrol, like past the wedding and an IED goes off and like, you know, it's pandemonium and like, it was good training, but like, is that, is that what you guys are doing?
Were you doing more conventional stuff or ah?
Travis: [00:12:45] Yeah. Yeah. They, they had I think, I think I I've heard that you guys have it a little more, little more realistic. Like we were doing some of that, but it was also like some Woodland stuff. Mixed in with some some MOUT stuff. So like running convoys and patrols to doing, doing like air assaults on on villages.
I just, I just remember I was so new and I'm just, you're just like running around. I like no idea what's going on, you know, trying to keep up, you know, just having a NCO is yell at you all the time and just, ah, man. Yeah, I remember that. I like. I like lost like some batteries to my night vision. So I spent like a week with like everything tied down to myself.
Like all my, I was like as like a trapeze artist.
Chris: [00:13:27] Oh yeah. Just like take parachute cord and like tie it to your body.
Travis: [00:13:31] Yeah. Yeah. But But, yeah, I just I just remember how, I mean, one way it was good training is like, you know, we'd go on these. I mean, just like the summer in Louisiana, right. And we'd go on these like air assaults and guys are just like passing out from lack of water.
You just can't drink enough water. The one thing I remember is we went to we went to, at the end, we got to go to this park and we had this huge crawfish boil. And I'd never had crawfish before, but the guys from the South were like killing it. And all the, all the rest of us were like ruin a crawfish.
We'd break it wrong. And then we'd like, break it on the wrong. He'd get like one crawfish per ten. And we threw the captain and Lieutenant in the Lake. I remember.
Chris: [00:14:07] Nice. So, so when you say air assault, are you talking like rushing out of a helicopter or like, how does that work? That's like what the a hundred first does, but I don't really know like what it is.
Travis: [00:14:18] Air mobile, basically. Yeah, it's just it's just usually Blackhawks sometimes, sometimes a Chinook you just hit a you know, usually like if you want to hit a house or a village, you just land right outside it or hover right outside it, you know, jump in and, and go off and then have them pick you up on the, on the way out.
We just, that's what we call it.
Chris: [00:14:35] Okay. Do you like a lot of like fast roping out of the helos
Travis: [00:14:39] We didn't do too much. It's funny. It's, it's one of the many things that are just. Really funny and stupid and ridiculous about the regular army, the regular military. Like, so we all go to air assault school where you learn how to do that, but there's so they were so like risk averse to it.
Like they they're basically just like you want me to, I had to be like, yeah, as you special team and specially qualified is really dangerous. I'm like, we're all getting our limbs blown off and you're worried someone's gonna fall down on a rope. Some people said it was like the Blackhawk Down effect because the one guy fell off the rope.
But yeah, I mean, we go to this, we go, we all go to the school where we do it. We learn how to repel. We, you know, we learn how to go down the rope but, the vast majority of the time we'll get the, the bird, won't it go like completely down. It'll just hover and we'll just jump down and they say it's cause like, if it, unless you're landing, I guess usually unless you're landing on a rooftop or unless you need to land on like a street corner where it's necessary.
There's no reason to do it in like a farm field basically. But yeah,
Chris: [00:15:44] nothing. I mean, I've, I've never jumped out of a Hilo. They always landed for us. Yeah. Yeah. Not, not that high speed, but like jumped out of the back of plenty of seven tons, you know, five tons. And like, you know, you've got flak jacket, helmet, water, ammo, like backpack full of gear.
You know, you've got like 50 to 70 pounds of stuff and like jumping from a couple of feet up. Is also like, one sucks for your knees, but two, like the number of people who just completely eat shit when they hit the ground is, is always so funny.
Travis: [00:16:16] Oh yeah. Oh yeah. I mean, I mean, my first deployment, I had these memories of, you know, I mean, it's just so stupid.
Like we land in these you know, we hit these targets. And we'd land in these like farm fields. Right. That they're all where we were, it was irrigated off the Euphrates. So they're all muddy as fuck. And so we just land in spark and make the 240 gunners are just like, okay, lucky we weren't fighting the Germans to make.
Cause you're just fucking maskers. It's like 240 gunners are literally just like turtles. There's like, you know, we're just like, you know, it's just ridiculous. It's just ridiculous.
Chris: [00:16:52] So your first deployment, where, where were you?
Travis: [00:16:56] So we were I guess it was technically the Baghdad area of operations, but like, think about it like a County.
We weren't in the city, we were on the outskirts of Baghdad and we were Southwest Baghdad province in a rural area called the, well, basically the Euphrates river Valley and the the like Yusufiyah, Mahmoudiyah, Latifiyah. Like going, if you go like Western Baghdad, like maybe like 30 miles from start to hit the Euphrates, follow the Euphrates down Southeast, you hitting these river villages.
So our second battalion was around Yusufiyah, Mahmoudiyah. And then as you kept going down to Iskandariyah is like more directly South of I think Baghdad. So rural farm village area near the Euphrates. Yeah.
Chris: [00:17:42] You know, fun fact, Iskandariyah founded by Alexander the Great .
Travis: [00:17:46] Oh yeah. I forgot that.
Chris: [00:17:48] It's a, that one, Kandahar, Alexandria, Egypt, whole bunch of them.
Travis: [00:17:53] It couldn't conquer it. And neither could we, I mean, for good.
Chris: [00:17:58] Yeah , so I was in Ramadi, like a little ways down, the Euphrates there to the West. And like, it definitely is just like an agricultural country, you know, like obviously Iraq has a lot of oil, but like, I mean, you know, there are a couple of big cities, Basra, Baghdad, Mosul, Taji, I guess.
But definitely like a farming country, which I didn't really realize at the time it's like a lot of farms, but it's also like, Black asphalt highways with like streetlights illuminating it, it was like a weird mix of like, I dunno, like a hundred years ago in the United States with like modern amenities, you know, high rise, apartment buildings with air conditioners.
Travis: [00:18:39] Sure, sure, sure. Yeah. Yeah. I remember that, that you remember that too. I mean, it was so I remember how funny, how strange it was because in our area it was like pretty poor. You know, if the house had, you know, you know, regular electricity running water, it was like, you know, like a mansion. And everyone has a cell phone, even back in 2006, seven, everyone had a cell phone, especially like dirt shack and cell phones that played movies, you know?
Chris: [00:19:04] Yeah. And I mean, maybe you remember this too, like, I feel like everyone had a cell phone and everyone had like a little tin full of SIM cards and they'd be like like I have one phone, but I have like six phone numbers, you know, family, business, like my mistress, you know, all kinds of stuff.
Travis: [00:19:24] And DVDs, to sell 'ya that don't work. I remember the I'd get the DVD at the at the market. And it's like some guy like filming it. You know, at the movie theater and it was like, it could be like bad quality can be good quality and you're in, you're watching it and you got like a good quality one it's almost cinematic quality, like amazing.
And then right before it ends, like the guy knocks the camera or somebody finds him in the theaters or something, you know, you're like, nah,
Chris: [00:19:50] It was the Wolverine movie . I think it was called Logan, like the one where it's like him and saber tooth fighting over time. So we like bought a bootleg one you know, at a Souk, like in a market.
But it was the like non CGI one. So it's like people from strings on a green screen. Like I have no idea where they got the copy of this movie from just like Hugh Jackman, like flying through the air in front of a green screen.
Travis: [00:20:17] That's amazing.
Chris: [00:20:18] Yeah. All right. Let's see. So your first deployment, you just like a riflemen where you SAW gunner, you know, a team leader, what were you doing for the most part?
Travis: [00:20:27] I was a SAW gunner for the for the first deployment.
Chris: [00:20:30] Nice.
Travis: [00:20:31] Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah.
Chris: [00:20:33] It definitely sucks the hump around a SAW, but they're a ton of fun to shoot.
Travis: [00:20:37] They are. Yeah. They I remember we would do these night raids where it'd be like raining and I didn't even, I remember I didn't have a fucking pindle yet, for the turret, and I was like Sgt.
Chris: [00:20:48] So you're just free handing it, the whole time?
Travis: [00:20:51] He's like, put your, put your, a pistol grip in there and it's going to break off. And so I got in there and it's raining and this is early in the deployment before we knew the AO, there's like a car rushing at us.
He's like shoot, shoot. You fucking idiot could be a VBIED. But I could, like, I can like barely hang on. It's fucking raining. And I'm trying as hard as I can. And I just like shooting fucking tracers. I can't, I can't even, I can't hit the car. I'm like trying to fire a warning shot on fucking fire and into the treeline it's fucking stupid.
Chris: [00:21:20] Yeah. The escalation of force, like, so I guess, '05, was it like pretty settled then? There's like you like wave a flag, shoot, shoot a flare. Like, was it standardized at that point? Or was it still just kinda like, Oh shit, there's a car coming.
Travis: [00:21:34] I mean, it was we're where we were at man. Sometimes I wonder if differed by the unit, right?
I mean, it was so we were spread so thin that I feel like individual NCOs has had just so much discretion, you know? So like our first week or two, we were, we were ripping with this national guard unit. This is like a great story of the war too. Right. It's like, On the one hand, right? It's not, I get it right.
It's not fair to ask a bunch of guys from Georgia that joined the fucking national guard to do a combat deployment in Iraq. And they've been, they've been cut up and there, they literally just like once they started getting hit, they like hunkered down. On the other hand, they did not handle their area well. And so we were ripping out with them. We would like, I remember we like when, and we like took over this this like. A pop-up like checkpoint. It was just, it was just a couple of Humvees, just burning a couple of canals. Right. And we got told they know like the locals know that they can't drive down this road.
They can drive down this road and it's like, okay, how the fuck do you know that? And there's no signs or anything. And so I remember it's like my first week in sector what we would do is, you know, if a car drove down the road was supposed to be at. You know, our you know, like the Sergeant would pop off a couple of morning shots with the M-14 and it usually it worked then.
And then, you know, few days later it is like just cars, just like driving down, pop off a couple of drinks, shots just keeps driving down. It was not headed to, to us. So it's, there's basically like, I don't know, like 50 yards between our road and the canal road, it's going that way. It's not headed towards the patrol. I mean, it's head towards patrol base, but it's that you can't get there or we're still not allowed to let him through.
So my sergeant's like light them up. And I think the only reason I didn't hit him was because my buddy's SAW was in the turret and it had the optic and I was used to hiring sites. I never, I never fucked with an M-145 on a SAW, that little scope thing. And so I was aiming to hit him. I missed, I definitely must've came close because as soon as I fired a couple of bursts, they slammed on their brakes all the way in reverse.
And I'm thinking I'm, I'm lucky, right? Because what are the chances? Those are two insurgents. I mean, it wasn't a fucking VBIED because they couldn't have guys, it's just like a tiny, tiny example, of the idiocy, the insanity and the stupidity of everything we're doing over there, every fucking thing we're doing, you know what I mean?
Because it's like, what happens like. I didn't hit him, great, now, but they're fucking family confused, probably a confused family, scared shitless, right. Hates us now. And that's best case worst case. I kill him and now I just made their entire family are just going to be like, well, I'm going to be suicide bombers now, you know?
And, and again, it's just cause it's stupid Intel and bad info that we had to know. And how, what can we, what can we do? You know? And I remember that
Chris: [00:24:31] I think two. Like pre-surge days too, you know, the, when they still had the whole idea of the light footprint. So like you're replacing a national guard unit and like you say, you're spread super thin.
And like that's what the, that was the strategy. That was the plan. Yeah. And like, I'm sure it was like you know, it was probably pretty cool to be like, you know, a 21 year old corporal or like a 23 year old Sergeant. And like, you're kind of like the King of a neighborhood. But like that shouldn't, it's not how it should be.
And like, there should be more, more guidance and like, be like, this is what we're trying to do. Instead of just like throwing, you know, a squad into like a hopeless situation like that, where you're like, maybe they're bad guys. Maybe they're not, no one really knows. Like they don't know what we're doing.
Yeah. It's just an impossible situation for everybody.
Travis: [00:25:19] Yeah, yeah, yeah. It is. I mean, you know, I mean, you know, you know, right. You got, you know, a lot of officers, senior NCOs they're doing their time. Right. They know it's bullshit. They'll never admit it, but they want, you know, the deployment under their belt.
They want the promotion or whatever. And it's like, man, I mean, on my deployment right at the end, can't think of anyone I knew that was like, We did good here. Like it was worth it, you know what I mean? Like it was worth it, you know? Yeah.
Chris: [00:25:46] Did you guys have up armored Humvees by that point? Or was it still like putting sandbags on the floor?
Travis: [00:25:52] No, no, we, we we had just started to get them they were, they were like, first-generation like crude and they, they, it was, it was such that like, a big enough IED would still obliterate like at like 155s, you know, strung together obviously. But it could protect against like a smaller one, so the guys would get injured for sure.
You know, concussed, you know, ears whatnot. But it would, you know, they wouldn't die. But yeah. Yeah, the doors, yeah. I remember the doors were like
Chris: [00:26:21] 5,000 pounds. Yeah.
I remember we like rolled up one time and like kind of parked on the side of the road. It was like a raised shoulder. So the whole Humvee's tilted, I don't know, just a couple of degrees, but enough that like the guy to my I'm in the back seat on the left. And like I opened the door and it just flies open, you know, there's hundreds of pounds door like rips me out of the Humvee, the guy on the other side, can't get out. He's like inside, like trying to like push the whole thing up above his head. "I can't get the door back open".
Travis: [00:26:56] Oh God. The way they would get stuck in the, in the rainy season, it would get stuck all the fucking time, the amount of time we spent digging them out.
Yeah. I mean, we're just, we're just like destroying this village road, you know? Like what, what the fuck were we doing?
Chris: [00:27:11] Yeah, yeah. Yeah. So I guess you said you were there like October of '05 and like, so how long, how long was your first deployment?
Travis: [00:27:21] It was, it was he was 12 or 13 months. Same as the second.
Chris: [00:27:25] Okay.
Travis: [00:27:26] Yeah.
Chris: [00:27:27] So do you it's like in the Marines we had, shorter's like seven months. Typical rotation was like seven months on seven months off, like real rapid turnover. You guys are doing longer pumps. Did you get that like two weeks of RNR time in the middle? Or was that just like from more like a office worker kind of, th ng?i
Travis: [00:27:48] They scattered it, so they staggered it.
So I think like somebody has got like. I don't remember if it like came in priority, but some guys got to like, choose. You could like try if it was available. You could pick, like, I want to go on my, you know, two weeks leave, like towards the beginning or the end. I remember mine was right in the middle.
But yeah. Yeah, you get I think you got like two, two and a half weeks with with travel time to go home.
Chris: [00:28:11] Did you just like go back to Massachusetts or what'd you do?
Travis: [00:28:16] Jesus, what did I do the first time I, I did go back you know, I obviously like went out partied. I remember my dad was late driving me to the airport on my way back.
And he, I thought with our, we're gonna miss my flight and I was like, dad, you're gonna get me UCMJed. I like, if you want to do it, I mean, did it on purpose? You want to send me to Canada? You know, just do it. But, but yeah. I remember my second leave a little better than my first, but you know, obviously a lot of drinking and, you know, carrying on,
Chris: [00:28:44] I at least, you know, the deployments I did, like you go home on predeployment. leave and like. I feel like it's a lot of running around trying to see everybody, you know, cause you're like, you know, kind of see all my friends. Like I don't want to leave someone hanging, like have some family time lot of drinking. And by the time, like it's time to leave. I'm just like, you know, I'm sick of this.
Like I just want to go, like, I want to go hang out with my friends. Like I'm ready, you know, I'm ready to go deploy. But like the idea of you're going home by yourself. And then being like, now I have to go back to a delpoyment says, sounds like a whole different kind of ballgame is like, psychologically. Like I assume it's harder, but like what, you know, do you remember it being like different or similar, you know, what do you think?
Travis: [00:29:27] I mean, I remember the first year was worse than the second and I just remember that. Yeah, I remember the first one. It was like I mean, literally the thought is like, You know, going voluntarily going back.
Chris: [00:29:42] Right.
Travis: [00:29:43] You know, I think it was, it's kind of like analogous to, you know, some guys that kind of quit, you know, fake a mental health issue, you know, quit. It's like bottom line, Greg, it's a machine. You can't stop it. And the guy next to you can't stop it. And so if you quit. That just means the guy next to you has to pull two times twice the missions, twice the security, and he wouldn't do that to you.
So, and that, you know, it's such like a cliche. Right. But that's really it. I mean, fucking, I bet that others felt similarly, right? It's like, you're not going back because you're like, I got to go back and finish the job. Like what fucking job, what are we doing there? You know, you're, you're going back. Cause you, you know, you don't leave your buddy like that, you know?
Just how they get there. That's how they get us to do it. You know, it's just like, but yeah, I remember that feeling. I, I vaguely remember that feeling of like the last day of leave or something last couple days, and just being like such a mix of emotions. Right. Because on the one hand you're like, you know, you're going back, but it was just like, God, I don't want to do this.
You know, like, I, I really don't want it. Like I just, I mean, it just You know, especially if it was, you know, middle towards the earlier part, cause you know, you got six more months or whatever. So, but yeah.
Chris: [00:31:07] Yeah. I got to say all, like I think a lot of people assume, you know, like the worst parts of deployments is like getting shot at getting blown up and I'm not saying that's a good part, but it's yeah.
It can be better than standing post, you know, you stand post for like 12 hours in a row. You're exhausted. Like you haven't, you know, you haven't slept in a couple of days. You're hungry. You're just like, I haven't taken a shower in a week. Yeah.
Travis: [00:31:37] The boredom, I mean, I mean, you know what you remember when you like.
You start to hate each other because you know, everything that's ever happened in your entire life, you've heard every story, a million times, you know everything about everyone. Cause there's talking talk to everything to death. Cause you're fucking, you know, you're standing guard on posts all the time and he's like, you know, yeah, yeah.
Chris: [00:31:59] Yeah. I remember, I remember like walking around at night, you know, like getting on or off post and like seeing, like you could hear someone walking and know who it is. Cause like, you know what the sound everyone's footsteps make, like just been hanging out with like the same 15 people, 24/7 for months.
Travis: [00:32:21] Yeah. It really separated too. I mean, man, we had the dichotomy between some of our best NCO and some of our worst NCOs, I mean, you know, from like a lazy, sadistic pieces of shit NCO's to, to, to like the best, I mean, just, just the absolute best community people that, you know, kept me alive. I mean, literally, and, and like our Lieutenant, you know, one of my favorite all-time people officer's like literally brand new Lieutenant.
He like, you know, the third time he got blown up, he took point for me, because I was bitching about going on patrol and we just come off a like an OP and yes, and then I remember I was like, argue with him. He's like, I'm a Lieutenant. I want to do your job, take your spot on patrol. And I take it.
You get in the turret, you know, it's just kind of guy, you know, a guy was, and you still, like our first Sergeant was fucking piece of shit. And you know, most new lieutenants are scared shitless the first Sergeant, but he wasn't, he'd be like, Nope, my guys aren't doing that. They're not doing that.
Chris: [00:33:23] That's that's super rare.
Travis: [00:33:25] Yeah, yeah, yeah. He was, he was, yeah.
Chris: [00:33:29] The like good NCOs that NCOs is because the military is a weird place where like you know, there, there's this idea in America that the States are the laboratories of democracy. Like every state does a little bit different. You can kind of see what works, what doesn't.
And like the military is like that for leadership. Know, like every squad, every fire team, like team leader, squad leader, some are good. Some are average, some are bad. And like, but you can see all of that. And like you do see inspired leadership. And like you said, you do see just absolutely sadistic people who should never be in charge of another person for the rest of their life, because like they just take glee and like abusing people.
W what do you, do you have like I dunno, maybe some examples of like really good leadership or like, you know, maybe a story about that and maybe one about bad leadership?
Travis: [00:34:21] Yeah. I mean, I mean, the lieutenant's a great example like that the fact that he would, you know, when we, we would rotate at, platoons would rotate out of this house over this canal and run checkpoints on either side of it and run patrols out of the house.
And the NCOs, would, would not pull guard shifts, you know, they just, they just take turn and Sergeant of the guard and, and we were all doing, you know, 50/50 or, or, you know, 75/25 and the Lieutenant would, he would just, he just would, and, and, you know, similar to that, you know, like I said, he would take point on patrol.
He literally, and it's such a basic thing of leadership that, you know, a bunch of them, you know, seem to have forgotten. And just, you know, just literally if, if, if they could get away with it, right. They were going to take less on, you know, and that's like the opposite of what you're supposed to do as a leader.
You're supposed to do more. It's supposed to show that you can do everything that the lower guy can do. You know? And my my first team leader he was a guy that used to be Ranger battalion came over here. He really, I mean, I was so young and so immature, but he really you know, he was like tough, but he was like, I'm never gonna, he, he would never do any of that.
He would never be in a position where he would just do something just to be sadistic. And it wasn't like a teaching moment, you know? Or he wouldn't you know, like be lazy like that, you know? Yeah, I mean, it's, it's, it's I like a bunch of them were written about it with like the officer core, right.
Because it's like, The military has to change how they basically reward these, like cowardice ass kisser, like yes men, who like jumped that they, they like, no, they get promoted because there's, they don't want to piss anybody off and they kiss the ass and, and, and that, you know, the, the junior officers that are like my lieutenants, for example, he's like, 'no, fuck you, that's stupid.'
You know? They're not going to get promoted. Right. But it's, it's funny. Cause that's like the opposite of what it's supposed to be, or you should be rewarding, you know? Junior leaders for telling the chain of command for demonstrating chain of command. And they don't give a fuck about getting promoted.
They care more about their guys, you know, and we all know it. Right. But that's the, that's the one, those are the ones that get out. It should be the opposite, you know, it should be the opposite, but you know, is what it is.
Chris: [00:36:29] Yeah. Yeah. I, I personally I guess just from my experiences, didn't meet a lot of good officers.
My, my second platoon commander. He's a former enlisted guy. He's a Marine recon. So he's like, you know, real cool guy he's like talking about his first appointment was to like Bosnia or Serbia, like the Balkans war. He was like, he's like, I was 19, you know, like fresh out of recon school. And they just gave me a Claymore and a radio.
And they told me to like, go set up an OP in a house by myself. And he's like, I put the Claymore, like, you know, at the top of a stairway and he's just like sitting there with his radio, watching out the window to like, you know, call in tank movements. And he's like sitting there. He's like, what am I going to do if people come? Like, I guess I'm going to jump out this window into a tree and run away? Where am I going to? I don't know. But so like he was, you know, he's a great infantry officer. Cause he like, you know, he's like, I've stood posts. Like I understand what it is. Like, you know, trying to like keep things even.
Yeah. The vast majority of the officers I dealt with, I just feel like didn't give a shit, like don't really care. They're all careerists, you know, it's not you're right. Something needs to be done. I don't know what it is, but Certainly certainly an issue.
Travis: [00:37:56] Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah, it's definitely something I, I noticed too it's which is like too bad.
I mean, you got to change so many things to change that. I mean, I remember when I first got there, I remember my Lieutenant that we had hadn't deployed yet, and he was always like telling stories about ranger school, you know, and then the, the guys that had already deployed on the initial invasion, you know, under their breath or he was listening and be like, 'Oh, that's, that's interesting. Well, when I was in Iraq', you know, like totally oblivious, you know, he was just like, thought that like, you know, he was more qualified or something like that. Excellent.
Chris: [00:38:29] That, Oh, man, I forgot about that. That is like 'well, when I was in Iraq,' like any, you know, anyone who had done one or more deployments, I feel like automatically, like in the relative status of people, you know, you could just be like shit bird, you know, private third time award winner, but you're like, yeah, I went to Iraq twice and people will be like, all right, this guy's legit, you know, over some corporal or Sergeant that's never been anywhere.
Travis: [00:38:54] Yeah. Yeah, yeah. Yeah.
Chris: [00:38:58] All right. So getting back on track here a little bit so you did your first deployment Southwest of Baghdad for your second one, we in the same area, were you somewhere different?
Travis: [00:39:07] We were, we were like we were different. We were, we were more interior. So still, still kind of like village area, but less less close to the Euphrates.
I think we were like, we were, we operated at a FOB Kalsu for awhile. Before pushing kind of North into these patrol bases, we were basically like, yeah, like 20 or 30 kilom--, clicks South to Southeast of Isk--. Excuse me of Iskandariya. I know Iskandariya was like West to Northwest of us. So we, so basically like we were right out, we were right off of of Tampa MSR, Tampa.
And so if, if we drove MSR Tampa, North for like an hour, we get to Baghdad. So yeah, just South of that.
Chris: [00:39:47] Okay. Did you, do you feel with the green zone at all?
Travis: [00:39:51] So when my first appointment, we, we at first for the first, like two or three months, we operated out of we operated out a by, out of the airport, which I guess technically is not the green zone, but it's like, it's part of the massive, massive compounds.
So then we pushed out the sector. Then there was a couple of times we would go onto the green zone to like get equipment or like once or twice an RNR to go to like the massive like Walmart, you know, fucking fucking you know Jesus. I forgot. What what are our, what are our shops called again?
Like I forgot or yeah, fucking PX, Jesus Christ. And but then the second time too, like once or twice we drew up there to do it.
Chris: [00:40:27] Good. Go to the DFAC, get like some lobster tails or something like that.
The the food on all those big bases was pretty wild. It was funny too. Cause like, you'd see guys who are like, you know, out in the bush, so to speak. Like dirty, you know, ripped up, you know, cammies like scraggly looking lost a bunch of way. And then there'd be just like really like fat people walking around in uniforms on like the main bases, you know, eating steak and lobster tail and stuff.
Travis: [00:41:01] I remember that. I remember that we I remember. After we had this, like mass-casualty and like you know, some guys got it back from the country. Some guys we just went to the cash or they were just like, you know, got patched up, came back. We didn't have our weapons. And we were trying to get into the DFAC and the the DFAC guard was like, you can't come in without your weapons.
And we were like trying to argue with them about how, like, our weapons got blown to pieces. And then one of our sergeants was like, 'I'm going to kill you. I'm I'm literally going to kill you if you don't let these guys in right now. So what are you gonna do?' Hey, and then the guy was just like, Oh yeah, yeah, yeah.
Chris: [00:41:44] Yeah, I, we, I had a similar thing in Afghanistan. We'd been out like in the field for it's like five and a half months. And I came back into like still a pretty Spartan base, but there's still like an internet center, you know? And there's like the line out the door. And my guys just like, we all just walk up to the front of the line, like, you know, fuck you.
Like, I haven't touched a computer in almost six months. And this kid is not a kid. He was a Lieutenant. He's just like, Hey, you gotta wait your turn. And one of my guys just turned around and he's just like, 'what are you going to do about it?' and walked inside. I was like, that's right. Fucking E-3's like telling off lieutenants, like it's a different, it's a different world when you're deployed.
Travis: [00:42:26] Yeah. Yep. Yep. Exactly. Exactly.
Chris: [00:42:30] So your second pump, they're pretty much the same stuff. Like a lot of, you know, like cordon and knock raids, vehicle checkpoints, or like any, any kind of different mission really?
Travis: [00:42:42] Second deployment was a lot. Different. It was, it was right during the kind of beginning, middle part of the surge, you know, and the Petraeus thing, and we had the Sunni militias on our side.
And so it was a lot it was a lot better in that respect. We did a lot more just kind of. We got a patrol base. We did a lot more like supervising and training of the Iraqi army and the militias doing these like, you know, dry missions with them where they just, you know, fire their weapon whenever they want it, you know, fall down and start crying.
But but yeah, it was, it was it was, it was, it was definitely more of that. Sure.
Chris: [00:43:20] You know, those like British comedy is where it's like, I don't know what it's called, but they like play the music's like and it's like people running around in circles like that there, I didn't do too much work with the, like the Iraqi army, but the Iraqi police reminded me of that.
Like a huge cluster of people just like running back and forth and then like they come back across a screen and a dog is chasing them, you know, like, yeah, that's what I always thought working with them.
Travis: [00:43:48] I yeah, I remember I mean, you know, they, I mean, a lot of it was there like special operating operations units, but man, I mean, they, what they had left, like really pulled together and really were amazing, like driving ISIS out, but I know '05 - '06 and then again, '07 - '08.
I mean, I just remember your mass-casualty, how they became combat ineffective and they just, you know, cried. They couldn't do aid. And, you know, the on patrol, they're holding their weapon backwards, negligents discharges, cleaning their weapons with fucking gasoline. You know, I remember there, I'll never forget this, my second tour, there was this huge, you know, mission like clear this whole area, you know, like the fixed wings, like bombed it beforehand and, and.
Vast majority, the insurgents classically. They're like, okay, I'm outta here. And so, but you know, I want to make it a big show. So, you know, the Iraqi army is like walking in a line through this whole village and we come across this this home where obviously, you know, somewhat invaded, right? Cooking fires, still going.
There's a motorcycle. And I think the motorcycle was like on or something like that. And this this I-soldier just opens up on the motorcycle, going cyclic with his AK right there. So it just starts firing him. And I grab him by like the, the front I was a Sergeant at the time. I'm just like yelling at him.
And then the Iraqi captain or no, no. Then the, the whoever the Iraqi officer was like yelling at me and the translator was like, He's saying like, you know, he ranks, you he's like ordering you to stop. And I, I got, it was like this huge, like we've gotten this like huge shot in my shoulder, this flag outbreaks your dumb ass, you know, blah, blah, blah.
And it's just, but it was just like a moment, just like you, can't you. I try to tell people, it's like, you can, you can throw all the money and all the equipment and all the hours at any group of people in this world that you want, you can't make them care. And you can't give them, you can't buy a heart, you know what I mean?
And you can't get around the fact that like, you know, again, right, this was a fractured society before we fucking invaded it. Right. It wasn't like one nation where Saddam goes and then they all want to fight for country, tribe, right. Clan tribe, you know, like way more than this country right now. And so when we're pretending, like we're just gonna, you know, Build up this fucking Iraqi army and every single one of them is going to be devoted to the ''new Iraq, you know, over their fucking tribe.
My second tour too. I remember the the Sunni militia came and was like protesting at our base, like, you know, many months in. And I was like, what the fuck going on? And then, and then I was a captain's radio guy for, for a while. I think I still was then. So I, I got like the inside scoop at that time. And why is this like, apparently the sheik.
Who the head sheik, who we've been like delivering money to like pay your guys, your pay, your guys. He had just been pocketing it for like four or five months or some shit like that. Yeah, no problem. And so all the they're like, Oh, they're going crazy. And like, where the fuck's our money? Where the fuck this dude in the pocket, my commander was like, beside himself, I'm like, well, what the fuck do you expect?
You know, like.
Chris: [00:46:50] I don't remember the job, like the money guy's job. I forget what there's a word for it. Like, you know what I'm talking about? Like the guys who out cash. Oh, dispersing dispersing. And just like, they would show up at our FOB with like, $5 million dollars in like American hundred dollars bills to like pay out to the different sheiks, you know, to provide security and stuff like that.
Travis: [00:47:11] Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Chris: [00:47:13] So they get, it's a real money that you're talking about when they're like, they're not getting paid, like it's a sh you know, hundreds of thousands, millions of dollars that someone's just like thrown in their pocket.
Travis: [00:47:23] Yep.
Yeah. It's man. The the amount, the amount, the stories like, you know, I mean, I never, I never cared on cash, like everything, but the stories about the, just carrying around pallets of cash, you know, just.
Chris: [00:47:38] I'm sure. There's more than a few Americans who are able to nick a little bit on the way back, but, Oh, here's a question for you. So like when you're, when you're coming home, you know, like both times I like, or like go in and out of Kuwait, I assume you guys did something kind of similar, like you know, like fly from Baghdad to Kuwait on your way out, chill for a little bit, then fly back, you know, back to your home base.
How, how thorough was like, you're checking in to see if you were like bringing back war trophies or like, you know, hand grenades, like how's that?
Travis: [00:48:12] If memory serves right, they, they couldn't check every bag. And I, I think my, I remember mine getting like checked thoroughly. I didn't have anything. When we got to ship stuff back, I remember this and I shipped something back I accidentally had like some five, five, six rounds in the bottom of the thing. And I got, I remember this, I got this letter. It was so funny. It was like 2006. And the letter was from like a, like an IG, like a Colonel or something. And he was literally like, you have violated the regs. You're a big shit motherfucker, your in big shit.
And we could fucking slam you. We could slam you if we want, we're not going to, we can say it was like a 20 page it, like a report. It was like, here's the route and the x-ray here's right after I'm like, yeah, yeah, that was my, that was my master plan. I'm a smuggle four rounds of .556, in a sock.
Cause I can't get ammo in the United States and you got, you got me, you know, but I saw on my team leader, it was like, Holy shit, dude. But we, we had guys they smuggled, they smuggled, they AKs back disassembled best mobile baggers, fucking sword, you know, money, all that, all that shit. They couldn't, they couldn't catch him.
It was just too. It was too, man. It was, it was. like the drug cartel going at the border through my channel. Yeah. Yeah.
Chris: [00:49:32] Yeah. I remember some guys like the AK bayonets were a real hot item. You know, you like buy one off of an Iraqi police officer.
I never brought anything back. I really wish I would have brought back some maps.
I've like buddies who like, you know, kept their laminated patrol maps. Like I wish I had those.
Travis: [00:49:51] I wish I had too. Yeah, because yeah, you can't duplicate that.
Chris: [00:49:54] They have some like nice MGRS grids on the wall, like that doesn't hurt anybody.
Travis: [00:50:00] Yeah. Seriously.
Chris: [00:50:04] All right, man. Yeah. Thanks. Thanks for chilling with me here. Is there, is there anything that you want to talk about?
Travis: [00:50:09] So yeah, we are making a documentary called Meat Grinder. We have a YouTube channel and a website MeatGrinderdoc.com The idea for it we feel is pretty unique. The, the, we were cranking in, we had a huge funding infusion, you know, we were filming, but the virus kind of put a stop to that.
We're going to start again. The idea is to film, combat vets of Iraq and Afghanistan from all the services from, you know, every race, every gender, but, but the commonality is, is kind of it's and, and we asked them a lot of questions, asked them a series of questions. You know, everything from, you know, why did you join? What did you expect? What were you told them? What did you expect about your deployment? What was your deployment like? Did it match your expectations? How do you feel about that? The reason we're making it is because we feel like the amount of vets that may not be, gung-ho proud of what they did.
They may be angry and feel like they're a little betrayed by their leadership, by their military and civilian leadership. And feel like the media and the public and the culture don't get the real story. We feel like it's a gap, you know, because the Pew Research Center came out with a poll like a year ago, showed that what was it, 65% of us do not believe, 65% of the Iraq and Afghanistan, vets don't think it was worth it. Right. Didn't make a fucking blip. We feel like it's not a coincidence it didn't make a blip because hearing vets talk about, you know, I know that I didn't have anything to do defending your freedom.
It's a lie and you need to wake the fuck up ignorant, populous. That's, that's something that we, we, we need more. And so you know, there've been, you know, documentaries and shows about, you know, combat vets in the combat experience. Right. And there've been. Some more like political anti-war documentaries, but we're not aware of one that really combines the two because they can't that the idea is that the message will be strong enough where it's like, you know, what are you going to say?
You know, then there's some anti-war documentaries and there's some in the anti-war and where it's like, well, you're not a combat that, you know, you, you, you didn't even deploy. Well, if we've got, you know, 25 vets that are Iraq and Afghanistan from, you know, different years, different areas. And they're all saying the same thing, which so many of them are.
I think that would be pretty powerful. So we're hoping to make it. And then, you know, obviously we use the, you know, a lot of the footage from them stills know you know, news clips, stuff like that. One of the filmmakers Tommy Furlong is also my, my buddy was kind of our joint idea to do it.
He's also a musician. He went to Berkelee, he likes to say he's the only Marine officer that probably ever went to Berkelee school of Music . Well, but ahh, he'll do a lot of soundtrack and plug it into the rest of it. And and yeah, so we're, but we're always looking for, you know vets to film.