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MARTIN: This is, uh, Travis Martin from the Combat to Kentucky Oral History Project, here today with James Owens III. James is a United States Marine Corps veteran who served from September 2005 to September 2009, active duty. His highest rank held was Corporal, and his occupation was AAV Crewman, with the Third As--Third Assault in a previous battalion, Delta Company, and Third Platoon service in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2006 and 2008. Thank you, James, for being here.

OWENS: Thanks.

MARTIN: Let's just start out with a little bit of background about who you are, where you're from. St--start out with that. Where are you from?

OWENS: Uh, I'm originally from Harlan, Kentucky, was born and raised there. Uh, I went to Harlan High School.

MARTIN: Okay. Uh, tell me a little bit about your childhood. What kind of, uh--do you remember much about growing up, or--

OWENS: --yeah, uh, I had a great childhood. I was always active, running around, riding my bike places, hiking, you know, just 1:00normal--like catching salamanders in the creek.

MARTIN: So you're a pretty active kid.

OWENS: Yeah.

MARTIN: Like the outdoors?

OWENS: Oh, I love the outdoors.

MARTIN: Um, was that or anyone or any other thing in your childhood an influence on you deciding to join the Marine Corps?

OWENS: Oh, my dad and, uh, my grandfather. They're both, uh, prior enlisted. My dad was in the Army and my, uh, grandfather, he was in the Marine Corps and the Navy, and, uh, I thought about that a lot. I used to look through my dad's old photographs and stuff and, you know, just picture myself doing what he did, and I'd run up in the woods with my little plastic bayonet and act like I was shooting people, and killing insurgents and stuff.

MARTIN: So you started training early.

OWENS: Yeah.

MARTIN: Began with salamanders, on into middle school and high school--this was a pretty prevalent theme in your childhood?

OWENS: Uh, yeah. I mean, I always liked the outdoors. Uh, I remember one Christmas I got some MREs, and I 2:00thought those were the greatest thing ever, then opened them up and ate them, and it was pretty bad.

MARTIN: So, uh, you, you didn't like the MREs.

OWENS: No.

MARTIN: No.

OWENS: No, they're terrible. Still hate 'em.

MARTIN: Okay. Um, what kind of a student were you in school?

OWENS: Uh, I was a good student? Uh, ended up, uh, I think, finishing like ninth out of like forty-something people in my graduating class.

MARTIN: All right.

OWENS: Uh, did well enough to get accepted to Berea College on a like tuition scholarship.

MARTIN: So what, what were your favorite subjects in school?

OWENS: Um, mainly history. Um, I just like learning about history, uh, geography. I was big into that. Uh, hated math. I was good at it but I hated it.

MARTIN: Uh, prior to college did you have any hobbies, special interests in high school?

OWENS: Uh, I played all three sports in high school--played, uh, baseball, football, and basketball. Was real big into baseball. I 3:00played that for like five years in, uh, high school, and, uh, I, I don't know, I was just really active and just wanted to always be out there, you know, doing something.

MARTIN: So you're really a, uh, Renaissance man of sorts.

OWENS: I guess.

MARTIN: Outdoors, sports--

OWENS: --yeah--

MARTIN: --good grades, good family life I take it?

OWENS: Um-hm.

MARTIN: Good. So at what point--you, you get a, you get a scholarship to Berea College.

OWENS: Um-hm.

MARTIN: Um, you're there, it says, for a year and a half before you decided to join the Corps. What was college like at Berea?

OWENS: Uh, it was really hard. It was a change of pace, like, uh, before that like, you know, school and everything had always came easy to me, never had to study, and, uh, once I got to Berea I really didn't have the tools to, you know, make good grades, and didn't really find much time for studying. I would rather, you know, chase girls and--

MARTIN: --right. Um, so a year and a half into your, uh, college career you start contemplating joining the Military.

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OWENS: Uh, not exactly. Uh, I dropped out, and, uh, I worked for like a couple years--

MARTIN: --really--

OWENS: --just on my own. Uh, ended up getting a job at the Kentucky United Methodist Home, and I was a youth counselor there, and, uh, really loved that job, and it was kind of like my foundation of, you know, wanting to major in psychology now.

MARTIN: So you were a youth counselor--

OWENS: --um-hm--

MARTIN: --after you dropped out of college, and, um, how old were you when joining the Marines became an option?

OWENS: Uh, I was twenty-two.

MARTIN: Twenty-two.

OWENS: Yeah.

MARTIN: Still pretty young, um, but older than most recruits, obviously. You, you go into the recruiting office, and is that the first time you met a recruiter?

OWENS: No, uh, I'd talked to 'em previously in high school, cause I wanted to weigh all my options. I talked to the Navy recruiters, the, uh, Marine recruiters, and, uh, the Army recruiters.

MARTIN: And what was it about the Marines that s-sold you?

OWENS: I just--I mean, my perception of 'em, you know, they're 5:00just a bunch of badasses, you know, just go out there, whip it on, and, uh, you know, I'd always heard that they were the best of the best and, you know, that's kind of what I wanted to associate myself with.

MARTIN: Okay. So you wanted to be--if you wanted to do the Military, you were going to do top notch service, the Marine Corps.

OWENS: Yeah.

MARTIN: Okay. So you told your recruiter that, I take it?

OWENS: I just told my recruiter, I was like, "Listen, I want to, I want to join. I want to do it soon, so, you know, I can get out there and I can, you know, get done with it and go back to school." Because I realized at that point in my life after working that there really wasn't that many options for me with, you know, just a year and a half of college, you know, under my belt.

MARTIN: So you wanted to get in fast when you decided to join.

OWENS: Yeah, I went and talked to the recruiter and probably maybe nine days later I went to boot camp.

MARTIN: Really?

OWENS: Yeah.

MARTIN: That's really quick. What happened in those nine days?

OWENS: What, what happened in those nine days?

MARTIN: Yeah, I mean--

OWENS: --a lot of drinking, you know, just, you know, having 6:00a good time, cause I was like, I'm about to, you know, sign my life away for four years, like--and just visited with my family a lot.

MARTIN: So that must've been quite a shock to just up and leave in a matter of nine days.

OWENS: Yeah. And my family was like really shocked about it, but--

MARTIN: --right--

OWENS: --you know, I told 'em, you know, it's what I wanted to do, and that's what I needed to do to get my life back on track, so--

MARTIN: So you go to a recruiter, nine days later you're in basic training. Where was that at?

OWENS: Uh, Parris Island, South Carolina.

MARTIN: Right. And, um, what did you think when you got to Parris Island? What was the first thing that happened when you got off the bus?

OWENS: Uh, there was a bunch of yelling at us. We had to stand on these yellow footprints, and, uh, at that time I had kind of long hair, and I kept it. It was about down to here, and, uh, then like we went in there and they started shaving our heads, and started shaving mine, and they told me to bend over. Just all my hair just fell down--I almost teared up.

MARTIN: Really?

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OWENS: Yeah.

MARTIN: So after they shaved your head, what kind of stuff did you start doing then?

OWENS: Uh, it was basically just like running around, yelling as loud as you can, and, uh, trying not to fuck up, really. Um, we stayed in receiving for like a couple days, and, uh, then we got shipped off to our little platoons, and, uh, it was kind of a shock at first, like a lot of times it was like, you know, what did I get myself into? But after the initial shock I, you know, found it easy, you know. I mean, I like yelling anyway, so running around and yelling at the top of your lungs, you know, really isn't that bad, and it's a good stress reliever.

MARTIN: Kind of balances everything out.

OWENS: Yeah.

MARTIN: Okay. Now, in the Marines do you have a choice over the job you're going to have?

OWENS: Uh, no, I--I actually signed up with an open contract. Uh, just basically what that is, like put me where you need me and--

MARTIN: Really?

OWENS: Yeah.

MARTIN: So you just up and decided to join the Marines 8:00with no plan. Anything kind of push you over the edge to like, "I gotta go now?"

OWENS: Uh, I was just--it was just basically like I needed, you know, to move forward and, you know, like I, as I said earlier I needed to get something, you know, going in my life besides, you know, just working, and the Marine Corps was my way of, you know, going back to school.

MARTIN: Okay. So you're at basic training. You've been yelled at, um, but you like yelling, you like running around. What kind of training did they have you do?

OWENS: Uh, like at the first part I was kind of confused, like just like walking around with these M16s, like, you know, doing drill manual, and I was like, I didn't sign up for this. You know, I want to, you know, go through some obstacle courses, you know, throw some grenades and, you know, like shoot some guns.

MARTIN: Right.

OWENS: But, you know, I guess like the first part of the training, you know, is, drill is like they want, uh, instant, you know, willing obedience to all orders, and that's kind of like 9:00just like the first part of it, you know, being able to, you know, to snatch a rifle and pop it, you know, on command.

MARTIN: And did you get pretty good at that stuff over time?

OWENS: Yeah. Like at first it confused the hell out of me, and I was, you know, lost. I didn't--actually, even, you know, growing up in Harlan I'd never really touched a gun before, so it was like kind of confusing, like when they had us break down our weapons and clean them and stuff the first time, and I had no clue where to even start.

MARTIN: Had, uh, your father or your grandfather, either, either of them tell you anything about the Marines that you were expecting that maybe--

OWENS: --uh, well, my grandfather passed away before I was born, so, uh, my dad, you know, he just told me, you know, just like do everything that you're told and do it fast and, you know, like you'll be okay.

MARTIN: Now, was that true?

OWENS: Yeah, it was true, like, uh, during boot camp hardly ever got in trouble. I was always, you know, like one of the first people, you know, done. The only thing I 10:00really got in trouble for is drinking milk.

MARTIN: Really?

OWENS: Yeah. My, uh, senior drill instructor told us it didn't hydrate us, and, uh, I drink milk with about every meal, and, uh, so one day I decided to slip some milk, and, uh, I paid for it.

MARTIN: How did you pay for it?

OWENS: Uh, well, we're, uh, drilling one day and my, uh, kill hat, he comes over and is like, "Come on, Owens, let's go over to the sandpit." And, uh, Senior Drill Instructor's like, "What the fuck, Owens? Why are you leaving me?" I was like, uh, I was like, "Sir, this recruit drank some milk." He was like, "Okay." He's like, "You're going to go play in that sandpit." So I was over there for about forty-five minutes to an hour doing pushups, jumping jacks, putting sand down my trousers, sand down my blouse. After that I didn't drink anymore milk in boot camp.

MARTIN: Did you feel like that was a fair punishment for--

OWENS: --yeah, I mean, I disobeyed an order, and I'd saw some other guys doing it so I figured I'd be okay and, you know, like they wouldn't notice, but I got caught.

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MARTIN: So, I mean, other than that, I mean, was boot camp pretty much what you expected?

OWENS: Yeah, basically. I mean, this--it was a fun time. Yeah, I mean, like the only bad thing, like, you know, like you don't really have any freedom, but I didn't have a problem with it.

MARTIN: Is there--did you notice any changes in yourself physically or mentally?

OWENS: Uh, physically I gained twenty pounds during boot camp, like a lot of people lose weight, but, I don't know.

MARTIN: It's the milk.

OWENS: Yeah.

MARTIN: Um, so basic training for the Marines is how many weeks?

OWENS: It's, uh, I think like fourteen weeks.

MARTIN: It's fourteen weeks of just drilling and combat training, and --

OWENS: --um-hm--

MARTIN: --you had to have learned a lot of pretty cool skills.

OWENS: Yeah.

MARTIN: Um, anything that you might want to elaborate on that you thought was just neat?

OWENS: Uh, neatest thing I thought was jousting, like, uh, I don't know if you remember watching American Gladiators back in the day, 12:00those big pugil sticks?

MARTIN: Right.

OWENS: Yeah, like I loved doing that, like put helmets on and go beat the crap out of each other. That was really fun, and, uh, like I also learned some martial arts while I was there, uh, the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program, uh, learned, you know, just basic stuff, but, you know, it's pretty interesting, learning how to take people down, choke 'em out, and--

MARTIN: --and have you ever been in any fights before the service?

OWENS: Yeah, I'd been in a few fights, but nothing, you know--just maybe like one or two punches here and that was it.

MARTIN: Okay. So getting towards the end of, uh, boot camp, uh, I guess there's the final test--what, what's it called?

OWENS: Uh, that's the Crucible.

MARTIN: Crucible?

OWENS: Yeah.

MARTIN: Do you remember that?

OWENS: Yeah, it was, uh, about three days. Uh, like they like wake you up in the middle of the morning, and, uh, you go on a big, uh, I don't know, it's like eight or ten mile hike out there, go sleep in the woods, uh, then you have to do like a lot of, uh, tests, 13:00like team building that takes, you know, other people, you know, to--just like challenges that you have to do. And, uh, low crawl a lot and basically it's just, uh, I don't know, just like a high stress environment.

MARTIN: Okay. Um, graduation: how did you feel?

OWENS: Oh, I, like I was proud of myself. Um, not a lot of people, you know, like, you know, get to earn the title of being a Marine, and, uh, it's something that I earned, and it was a very happy day for me. I was, you know, proud of myself and my accomplishment and, you know, what I'd done and been through.

MARTIN: Do you consider yourself a, a different person after training, or--

OWENS: --uh, I mean, I think I still had the same personality but, you know, I don't think it changed me much, really, but, uh, I guess like I thought of myself in like a higher light a little bit, like a l--like a little bit more 14:00confidence in my abilities and, you know, what I can do and what I can't do.

MARTIN: Okay, seems reasonable. Did, um--at this point were you considering doing a career in the Marines, or just a four years obligation?

OWENS: No, I never thought about a career in the Marine Corps, like I just wanted to do four years, you know, get out, get my GI Bill, and go back to school.

MARTIN: Okay. And, um, you joined in 2005, probably finished early in 2006. There were, uh, two wars going on at that time. What did you think about that when you decided to go to boot camp?

OWENS: Um, well like prior to joining like I really wasn't a big, uh, supporter in the Iraq War, and, uh, I don't know, I kind of had like iffy thoughts on Afghanistan, didn't really know much about it, but Iraq, I didn't really support it, but I knew that, you know, when I joined that, that might be an option that I'd have to go over there and serve, and I was fine with that.

MARTIN: So you weren't so much a believer of the war, 15:00but you were willing to go do your part--

OWENS: --yeah--

MARTIN: --as a Marine. Um, did any of those ideas change after boot camp?

OWENS: Mm, not really, like I still, you know, didn't really believe in the Iraq War, but I, you know, wanted to go over there and do my part, cause, you know, there's a lot of brave men and women go there and lost their lives, and--

MARTIN: --now, is that something you can be open about?

OWENS: Do what?

MARTIN: Is that something you're allowed to be open about in the Marine Corps?

OWENS: Um, not really. I mean, you're, you're supposed to do what you're told.

MARTIN: Just kind of keep it to yourself.

OWENS: Yeah, I mean, you just keep it to yourself.

MARTIN: So after basic training you said that you were a, uh, AAV gunner, right?

OWENS: I was a AAV crewman. I went to--

MARTIN: --an AAV crewman.

OWENS: Yeah.

MARTIN: So after basic training I'm guessing you went to advanced training.

OWENS: Then went to Marine combat training--

MARTIN: --right.

OWENS: --for like I think it's like four or five weeks.

MARTIN: What was that like?

OWENS: Uh, it sucked. It was probably like the suckiest part of my training. Uh, it was in North Carolina, and 16:00I think--and we got there in early January, so it was like the middle of winter, and we're outside. I was having to shave every day, like cold shave. It was terrible, and, uh, just terrible living conditions, but, you know, you just adapt to it and, you know, get used to it after a while.

MARTIN: What kind of stuff did you learn?

OWENS: Uh, basically learned how to--like we learned a little bit of MOUT, like urban warfare, like, uh, how to clear houses, uh, learned lav--uh, land navigation, um, learned how to shoot a couple different, uh, machine guns, like the SAW and the 240 Golf and, uh, the Mk 19, and, uh, just basic skills that, you know, that you would need to know.

MARTIN: And was the training tailored specifically to the wars in the Middle East?

OWENS: Uh, yeah, I mean, ther--like there were parts of it, yeah, and, uh, I guess they tried to like integrate everything, cause you never know where you're gonna be, but, uh, there was definitely like an emphasis, you know, on urban, uh, warfare.

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MARTIN: So you were probably expected to deploy at this point, pretty sure--

OWENS: --yeah--

MARTIN: --any minute. Um, so after advanced training where did you go?

OWENS: Uh, I went to Del Mar, California for my, uh, school for the AAV, and like the whole time I was in MCT I was just singing like "California Dreamin'" the whole time, cause it sucked so bad there, and I just couldn't wait to get out to California and sunny San Diego.

MARTIN: What was San Diego like?

OWENS: Oh, it was nice. Uh, I'd never been to California before. I'd actually never been on an airplane like before--

MARTIN: Really?

OWENS: Yeah, like until I, you know, like flew over to my school, and that was kind of nerve wracking a little bit, but I got over it.

MARTIN: What was it like being a Kentucky boy in the Marines? Did they pick on you at all?

OWENS: Oh, like a little bit, like, uh, I get comments, like, uh, "Owens, I bet those are the like first brand new pair of boots you've ever owned, aren't they?" And like a lot of people, you know, like come from Kentucky, like they think 18:00you're inbred and retarded, and, uh, I tried my best to, you know, show 'em that we're not all inbred and retarded, that only some of 'em are.

MARTIN: Thank you for that. Um, so you're in San Diego, and this is where you're going to do your advanced training for your job?

OWENS: Yeah.

MARTIN: AAV? What does AAV stand for?

OWENS: It's a Amphibious Assault Vehicle.

MARTIN: Amphibious Assault Vehicle?

OWENS: Yeah. Basically it's a, b-basically it's like a big tank, a track vehicle that can, uh, like that the, like that the Navy can deploy from ships, and, uh, it's about 27 ton. It floats in the ocean, made of aluminum, and, uh, you can drive it almost anywhere on land.

MARTIN: Are they using these in Iraq and Afghanistan?

OWENS: Uh, they were a little bit, uh, but by the time that I got to my school they were starting to phase 'em out because, um, they're really like no armor on 'em, and, uh, it's a personnel carrier, fit about 20 Infantry guys in the back, and, uh, a lot of them were getting hit by IEDs and just like tearing the AAV apart, so that is something that 19:00initially scared me about it, because our, uh, Crew Chiefs, our instructors would show us pictures of their AAVs, and they'd just be completely demolished.

MARTIN: Really?

OWENS: Yeah.

MARTIN: How'd that make you feel to see stuff like that and know that ----------(??) probably be going to deploy for--

OWENS: --I was just like, man, it's--I hope we don't use 'em anymore over there. Yeah, it's--I didn't want to--it's just like a big, you know, coffin, just--

MARTIN: --death trap.

OWENS: Yeah.

MARTIN: Um, how long was your training for the AAV school?

OWENS: Um, it was about, it was about three months.

MARTIN: Three months.

OWENS: Yeah.

MARTIN: So what kind of stuff did you learn? That's a long time.

OWENS: Uh, just learned basically like start out like learning the components of the vehicle--uh, the engine, the maintenance of it, like what's required, um--

[Pause in recording.]

OWENS: --like Mk 19.

MARTIN: So let's try to get a visual of the AAV. I mean, its mission is to carry personnel.

OWENS: Um-hm.

MARTIN: It has three weapons systems or two?

OWENS: It's got two weapons systems.

MARTIN: And how do those work?

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OWENS: Uh, well, we have an up guns we--uh, a weapons station, and, uh, that's usually where the Crew Chief sits, and you have the driver on this side, and, uh, basically you just have the, uh, 50 cal right here and the Mk 19. You just go up there and with the guns loaded just like press the trigger and you start firing.

MARTIN: Yeah, that sounds pretty high tech. Was, uh, there anything from that training that particularly sticks out to you when you think back on it?

OWENS: Um, no, not really. I mean, it was a fun time, you know, like getting to drive a AAV straight into the ocean--it was scary at first but it was also pretty awesome, you know, driving this big track vehicle directly into the ocean. Like you wouldn't think that it would, uh, you know, float, but like you'd be surprised.

MARTIN: Okay. So after your AAV training, uh--about what year and month was this, do you know?

OWENS: This was around, I guess, April of, uh, 2006--

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MARTIN: --all right--

OWENS: --when I finished my training.

MARTIN: And then where did you go?

OWENS: Uh, Twentynine Palms, California.

MARTIN: And what was that for?

OWENS: Um, I got, uh, stationed to, uh, Delta Company. This is the only, uh, company of AAVs out there. And, uh, I originally asked to get stationed on the East Coast to be a little bit closer to my family, but I got stuck out in the middle of nowhere.

MARTIN: How did that make your family feel?

OWENS: Uh, I guess, you know, they just thought it, you know, it's part of the job, and I, you know, like I accepted it. You know, I was going to be there and might as well make the best of it.

MARTIN: So did you have anyone back home waiting on you, like a girlfriend or anything like that?

OWENS: No.

MARTIN: No. So pretty much your immediate family was who you stayed in contact with?

OWENS: Yeah, for the most part, and a couple friends.

MARTIN: Okay. So you got to your unit and, um, what's your all's purpose?

OWENS: Uh, our main purpose out there in the desert, uh, since we're the only like company out there, uh, we're responsible for, uh, joint training with a lot of the Infantry a lot of 22:00the time, uh, do like Mojave Vipers and like different workups, and, uh, we're basically always out in the field supporting other units or, you know, us out there training, you know, ourselves.

MARTIN: Training for combat scenarios?

OWENS: Yeah.

MARTIN: Okay. And you said that was 2006. That wasn't too long before your first deployment.

OWENS: No.

MARTIN: So a lot of training. You had pretty much training the whole time.

OWENS: Yeah, basically. I trained all the way up, like we basically trained like non-stop all the way up 'til round, uh, like mid-August, and--

MARTIN: --you deployed when?

OWENS: Uh, September.

MARTIN: So did you feel you were prepared?

OWENS: Yeah, I mean, like the way it was explained to me, you know, we got the best training out there and, uh, we're always training, so I was confident in the people around me and confident in training that we were receiving.

MARTIN: So when did you get your orders that you would be deploying?

OWENS: Uh, well, basically they just told me as soon as 23:00I got, you know, to the company, like, "Hey, we're going to Iraq in September."

MARTIN: Oh, so you knew for a while.

OWENS: Yeah.

MARTIN: Um, how did you picture Iraq at first? I mean, did you know what to expect, or--

OWENS: --uh, I just pictured it as a bunch of shooting and a lot of fighting going on.

MARTIN: Yeah.

OWENS: Um, you know, I just pictured it, you know, as a desert. Didn't really know what to expect, you know, fully, but, uh, we got to do some training, uh, with a couple Mojave Viper, and they actually brought like, uh, like Muslims in to be role players and stuff and, uh, to live in like this little town out there, and we'd have to like conduct daily operations out there, so that gave me kind of a good idea of what we'd be doing and what we'd be looking for.

MARTIN: So they brought actors in?

OWENS: Yeah.

MARTIN: Wow, that's pretty neat. What kind of stuff did they train you for? I mean--

OWENS: --uh, just like basic patrols, uh, like, like learning how to spot IEDs, you know, the warning signs for 'em. Um, you know, like how to, uh, deal with, you know, like, like civilian population. Um, there's a couple times like they had 'em 24:00riot, you know, on us, and, uh, that was kind of, you know, scary at first. You know, even though it was just training, you know, it's--

MARTIN: --did everyone perform up to standard?

OWENS: Uh, yeah, for the most part.

MARTIN: So you're pretty confident with your crew and your unit going into your deployment, uh, didn't know much about what to expect. Where was--how did that work? How did you get to Iraq in the process?

OWENS: Um, basically they, uh, put us on a plane and, uh, and I believe it was March Air Force Base, and, uh, we flew to New Hampshire, stopped over in New Hampshire for about an hour, and then, uh, flew to Germany, and then we, uh, flew to Kuwait, and we stayed in Kuwait, uh, about three or four days to acclimatize to the weather, and then we, uh, flew straight into Iraq on a C130.

MARTIN: And where to in Iraq did you go?

OWENS: Uh, our first place that we went to was Al Asad. We went there just to get like, uh, basically briefs 25:00about where we were going, what to expect.

MARTIN: What did they tell you?

OWENS: Uh, it was basically--they--like basically they split our company up, and, uh, each platoon in our company went to like different areas, and so, uh, we learned bas--about the area of operations that we'd be, you know, maintaining.

MARTIN: And what'd they tell you?

OWENS: Uh, they told us it was a pretty rough place, you know, to expect, you know, contact and to, uh, you know, be vigilant, and as long as we did that, you know, all of us would come back.

MARTIN: So what kind of place was Al Asad?

OWENS: Al Asad is--uh, basically it's just a big like Air Force base over there. It's just, uh, I guess like a big central base in the Al Anbar province.

MARTIN: So you had spent some time in the American desert. Was that comparable to what you experienced when you first got to Iraq?

OWENS: Yeah, for the most part. I mean, you know, there's sand. Like there wasn't that much vegetation, though. You know, basically all the vegetation was just along the Euphrates River, and after that it was just brown everywhere else. At least, uh, 26:00in the Mojave Desert you have, you know, bushes and stuff to kind of break up the brownness of it all.

MARTIN: So Al Asad, that was probably an Army or Air Force base.

OWENS: Yeah.

MARTIN: What was it like working with people from other branches of service?

OWENS: Well, uh, we only stayed there for a couple days, and then, uh, and then they flew us out to Haditha.

MARTIN: Haditha?

OWENS: Yeah.

MARTIN: Okay. And, uh, your mission there was to do what?

OWENS: Basically, uh, our mission there was to, uh, conduct, uh, like some security patrols, and then we're also, uh, in charge of maintaining, uh, two different checkpoints, uh, just out there near, uh, I believe it was Haqlaniyah, and, uh, another one is like in the middle of nowhere, like along, uh, MSR Bronze, one of the main highways.

MARTIN: So you did security patrols and basically, uh, operated at checkpoints.

OWENS: Yeah, basically, like we did vehicle checkpoints, uh, you know, searched vehicles, stuff like that.

27:00

MARTIN: Okay. So you must've come in some pretty direct contact with the locals, I would imagine.

OWENS: Yeah, uh, actually like my first patrol out we got shot at and--

MARTIN: --oh, really?

OWENS: Yeah.

MARTIN: First patrol.

OWENS: Yeah.

MARTIN: So tell us about that patrol. Take us back to, you know, you're at Haditha and you're about to go on mission, and what does a, what does a Marine do at that point?

OWENS: You know, you just make sure, you know, all your, like your weapons system, you know, was operable, make sure you have all your PPE, like your protective equipment on, uh, make sure that you have--basically just make sure that you have everything that you need. And, uh, my heart was racing. You know, I was, I was very nervous--

MARTIN: --right--

OWENS: --the first time.

MARTIN: Had you heard things from other people who'd been on patrol already?

OWENS: Yeah, uh, like a few of the guys, you know--uh, actually the company that we relieved, they had lost a couple guys--

MARTIN: --really?

OWENS: Yeah, from, uh, IEDs and stuff, and, uh, they did a good job training us up and telling us what to expect, and, uh--but, you know, I was still like really nervous, and like no matter how much you train or, you know, like how much 28:00you do, you're still a little bit nervous, you know, first time you go out.

MARTIN: So you're pretty nervous, as it is. You go out on your first patrol and there's contact.

OWENS: Yeah.

MARTIN: And what happened?

OWENS: Uh, basically it's like--I was up in the turret, and, uh, I was looking for, you know, who shot us or like who shot at us, but we're in a urban setting and we couldn't find them, so we just pushed on.

MARTIN: So after that, I mean, looked like a lot of the stuff you probably heard had come true, you know--

OWENS: --um-hm--

MARTIN: --the place is really dangerous.

OWENS: Yeah.

MARTIN: How did your nerves react for the next bit of your deployment?

OWENS: Um, I mean, like eventually like you get used to it, but, you know, there's still, you know, moments where your adrenalin gets going, your heart's pumping.

MARTIN: And driving through the city it was a pretty common occurrence to get shot at?

OWENS: Uh, yeah, for the most part, and finding IEDs along the road, stuff like that.

MARTIN: So what was it like to encounter your first IED?

OWENS: Uh, well, it, it was nice because we didn't hit it.

29:00

MARTIN: Right.

OWENS: I mean, we found it and, uh, I was just like, you know, I was thinking, you know, through my head, I was like, these people really don't like us. They don't want us here.

MARTIN: Right.

OWENS: And, uh, but I, I don't know, I, I tried--wanted to convey to them, you know, that I'm just over here, you know, trying to do my job. I, you know, I don't want to hurt you people. But you really can't do that.

MARTIN: Obviously, I mean, not all of your interactions with the Iraqi people were combat situations. What was it like communicating with them on a peaceful basis?

OWENS: Oh, it, it was nice. I mean, we got to, uh, work side by side with the, uh, Iraqi Army.

MARTIN: Really?

OWENS: Yeah, and, uh, we got to help them train, you know, like trained them in patrols, like contact drills and stuff, and, uh, like a lot of them were like really nice, you know, and, I mean, you basically find out, you know, they're, you know, just a person just like me or you.

MARTIN: Were you, uh, at all prepared for the niceness? I mean, were you expecting them all to be the enemy, or--

OWENS: --uh, I expected a few to, you know, be nice, 30:00but, uh, like from like just my first few times out, just out in the city with the civilians, like, uh, they didn't like us so much.

MARTIN: Yeah.

OWENS: Yeah, so I just--

MARTIN: --how could you tell they didn't like you?

OWENS: They would like flip you off, blow kisses at you. I don't know what that means, but, you know, and they would just like stare at you with like an evil stare, even the kids, and, uh, we'd try to throw candy to the kids. They wouldn't even take it.

MARTIN: Huh. So you tried to be as nice as you can, but it didn't seem like the people in Iraq wanted you there.

OWENS: Yeah.

MARTIN: Did that confirm some of your doubt about the war?

OWENS: Yeah, I mean, a little bit. You know, I s-still, you know, thought, you know, like, What am I doing here? You know, what are we doing here as a nation?

MARTIN: Was it hard to stay motivated?

OWENS: Uh, little bit, yeah.

MARTIN: Um, how about the other Marines in your unit? Were they--did they think along the same lines as you, or were they pretty much pro-war and--

31:00

OWENS: --well, it was--I would say it's about half and half.

MARTIN: Really?

OWENS: Yeah.

MARTIN: That much. So you guys still did your job, obviously.

OWENS: Um-hm.

MARTIN: Um, what was day to day life like on the, uh, base you were on?

OWENS: Uh, basically, uh, at Haditha we would, uh, wake up, go to our vehicles, like check out our weapons and stuff, um, go out on patrol or go like on a like resupply to one of the checkpoints, um, come back, uh, eat chow--it was terrible, uh--

MARTIN: --what kind of food did you eat?

OWENS: Uh, a lot of MREs.

MARTIN: Really?

OWENS: Yeah.

MARTIN: This was in 2006?

OWENS: Yeah.

MARTIN: They didn't have hot chow?

OWENS: Uh, they had some but it wasn't that good. Usually like they had like one, uh, meal open. It was usually dinner.

MARTIN: Right. So you were probably on a smaller base.

OWENS: Yeah.

MARTIN: Um, what kind of security did the base have?

32:00

OWENS: Uh, our base--we actually stayed in the Haditha Dam.

MARTIN: You stayed inside a dam.

OWENS: Yeah. And, uh, we had, uh, the Azerbaijan, like they had their, uh, little army there, and, uh, they were basically in charge of the FOB security. They, uh, did the vehicle checkpoints or the like entry control points.

MARTIN: This was another country in charge of all the security?

OWENS: Yeah.

MARTIN: How'd that make you feel?

OWENS: Uh, I'd rather, you know, our own country be in charge of our security, but they seemed like they did a pretty good job, so.

MARTIN: Did you get to interact with them at all?

OWENS: Yeah, uh, like we named one like Paul Wall(??). He had a big gold grill.

MARTIN: Okay.

OWENS: I don't know, he's, he's, he's crazy, like, "Oh, United States!" Just--

MARTIN: --so he was obviously pro the war.

OWENS: Yeah. I mean, he was pro-United States. I don't know, he was--

MARTIN: --all for it.

OWENS: Yeah.

MARTIN: Red, white, and blue.

OWENS: Yeah.

MARTIN: Any other interesting characters? It sounds like you had a lot of contact with, uh, people from other countries and stuff for the first time in your life.

33:00

OWENS: Yeah. Uh, well, after Haditha--we stayed up there for a couple months. They, uh, shipped us down to Baghdadi and, uh, we were--our little FOB was right in the middle of the Iraqi police, uh, barracks place, whatever you call it, and, uh, we got to interact with them a lot. We did a lot of security for them, and, uh, the kids that were in Baghdadi, they were like pretty funny, like they loved us cause we always gave them candy, but, uh, I had to keep a slingshot in my turret, to keep 'em away from the vehicles so we didn't run over 'em, but I'd slingshot 'em with hard candy, so--

MARTIN: --that happened quite a bit, kids get run over?

OWENS: Uh, not with us, but, you know, I mean, they were just--I mean, they would still, you know, try to run in front of the vehicles, and there was a couple times that we almost hit a few of 'em, so I usually just tried to just use my slingshot and just propel candy like farther out away from the vehicles so that we wouldn't end up running over any of 'em.

MARTIN: Did you have any interactions with the kids?

OWENS: Yeah. Yeah, actually the, uh, kids, like our, uh, 34:00first day down there, you know, they surrounded our vehicle and they're talking to us and stuff, and they're like, "Hey, what's your name?" I'm sitting up in the turret, and, uh, I didn't want to tell 'em my real name, you know, operational security, so I, I was just playing around, I was bored. I was like, "Hey, my name's Penis." And, uh, so they started calling me Mr. Penis after that.

MARTIN: How long did that go on for?

OWENS: Uh, probably about four, about four months, and, uh, other units that would come into our little area and, uh, I'd overhear 'em like, "Who's this Penis guy?" And, uh, the, you know, the kids loved it, and I gave them candy and everything.

MARTIN: So Mr. Penis was pretty popular. (laughs)

OWENS: Yeah. Yeah, I mean, one day, uh, you know, these kids will tell the, I mean, tell their kids, you know, about the Americans, and hopefully, you know, they tell them about Mr. Penis.

MARTIN: (laughs) Can only hope. And did that catch on with your unit? I mean, did they start calling you Mr. Penis, too?

OWENS: Yeah, I mean, there's still some guys today, you know, over on Facebook or something, they'll just type on my wall like, 35:00"Hey Mr. Penis, what's up?" You know, just--

MARTIN: --do you regret the decision of that name?

OWENS: Oh, no, I mean, it was fun at the time. You know, there--really not a lot to break the boredom and the monotony of the day to day operations.

MARTIN: In thirty years from now when people are still calling you Mr. Penis, you're going to be okay with that?

OWENS: Yeah, I mean, I'll be happy--I mean, it'll, you know, bring a smile to my face and, you know, I'll picture those little kids asking me for candy.

MARTIN: Maybe even be in Iraqi history books.

OWENS: Yeah.

MARTIN: Um, so yeah, it sounds like there was some, some levity to the situation. Uh, any other funny events, stuff like that that you would do to pass the time, or--

OWENS: --uh, well, I was like, uh, I was like one of the last people to get to my unit, so I was like the lowest ranking guy, and, uh, so I was on trash detail, getting to burn trash all the time, and, uh, we'd go out there and we'd shoot flares to light the trash on fire, and, uh, this one time we're out there doing it and I found this unmarked flare, and I was like, Well, it looks like, 36:00you know, this red popup, and I shot it off and it was a red smoke flare, so this big, red smoke plume just came up, and, uh, I got in trouble for that, but.

MARTIN: You get in any other trouble?

OWENS: Uh, no, not really.

MARTIN: What'd they do to you when you shot the smoke flair off?

OWENS: Uh, basically they just yelled at me, you know, told me to be a little bit smarter next time.

MARTIN: But you like yelling, so--

OWENS: --yeah, I mean, it didn't really bother me, you know, getting yelled at. Everybody gets yelled at, so--

MARTIN: --so you were, you were in charge of trash detail. Was that, was that around a burn pit?

OWENS: Yeah.

MARTIN: So I mean, you've probably heard about people coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan around burn pits.

OWENS: Yeah.

MARTIN: You experienced any problems like that?

OWENS: Uh, I haven't really experienced any problems, you know, myself personally, but it is something that I noted, you know, before I got out that I was work--that could possibly, you know, be a health concern in the future.

MARTIN: You worried about that at all? Did you inhale a lot of smoke?

OWENS: Uh, n--a little bit, but, you know, like if anything happens in the future hopefully I can get it taken care of, if it's not too, uh, harsh.

MARTIN: OK, so this is your first deployment. Um, is 37:00there anything else that you remember from that deployment that you'd like to share?

OWENS: Um, we, uh--well, we were also the QRF for a little FOB, like, uh, my squad, and we'd get called out like all hours of the night, and, uh, we were always doing patrols, like we'd at least do two, three patrols a day, so we were just operating, you know, basically like 24/7, and, uh, there was one time we were up for about 22 hours straight, like we, you know, went on a few patrols and we had to go out and watch this bridge for about ten hours, and then we're on our way back and it's raining, it's cold outside. We're just all, you know, like, "You know, let's get back, you know, hit the rack, you know, catch some sleep." Maybe about 500 meters from the base I'm sitting up there in the turret and, uh, I just see this car just swerve over toward the Iraqi Police, just see this big flash, and I was like, "Oh shit," 38:00and my Crew Chief is like, "What's going on?", and then he heard the boom. And, uh, I got pretty mad about that. It's just, you know, we had to be out there, you know, a few more hours. But, uh, that guy, he was trying to kill like the head Iraqi, uh, like Policeman. His name was, uh, Colonel Shaban (??). There was like a couple attempts on his life. But, uh, he detonated himself a little bit early.

MARTIN: So he ran a, a vehicle borne IED--

OWENS: --yeah--

MARTIN: --through the, uh, Police checkpoint?

OWENS: Yeah.

MARTIN: And I imagine it hurt some people.

OWENS: Uh, actually, he just--the only person he hurt was himself. He, uh, detonated himself like, I guess like a couple seconds too early.

MARTIN: Had you seen a vehicle borne IED before that day?

OWENS: I, I'd seen 'em, you know, just like in training videos and stuff, but I'd never seen one like up close.

MARTIN: Was it considerably larger than the regular IEDs--

OWENS: --uh--

MARTIN: --explosion.

OWENS: Yeah, I thought so. I mean, it was---and then like we would set up our cordon around it, and, uh, we end up seeing like half of his face just sitting there on 39:00the asphalt, and you see like an arm like over there, and--

MARTIN: --so you saw the body up close?

OWENS: Yeah.

MARTIN: And does that image haunt you at all?

OWENS: Uh, you know, I mean, I, I can still picture it, you know, fresh in my day, I mean, I mean like today, you know, just, you know, it's like fresh in my mind, but, you know, it really doesn't haunt me. You know, it's, you know, just, I guess, you know, just part of war, I guess.

MARTIN: So you consider that to be in the past?

OWENS: Yeah, I mean, for the most part. I mean, that's about it.

MARTIN: Um, where, uh--obviously your unit was engaged with the enemy on multiple occasions. Was anyone ever hurt, maimed or--

OWENS: --um, luckily, uh, our unit was one of the first combat units to be out there every day, and, uh, to come back with everybody, you know, still intact and alive. We did have one casualty that got sent back to the States, uh, from 40:00like another platoon. Uh, he hit, hit an IED and crushed his elbow, but other than that like our unit, we, you know, all came back together.

MARTIN: That's obviously a good thing.

OWENS: Yeah.

MARTIN: Um, so you ended up that second deployment pretty well. It sounds like--

OWENS: --um-hm--

MARTIN: --you did your job and nobody got seriously hurt too bad, other than that suicide bomber. So you ended that deployment, and where did you go?

OWENS: Uh, we came back to, uh, California--

MARTIN: --okay--

OWENS: --and, uh, I went on leave for two or three weeks, bought me a car with all my spoils of war from the government.

MARTIN: Pretty good bank account at that point?

OWENS: Uh, I mean, to me it was. Like I'd never, you know, had more than $2,000 in my bank account, so, you know, come back with like $12,000 in your bank account, it's pretty nice.

MARTIN: So you bought you a car.

OWENS: Yeah.

MARTIN: Um, what else did you do to celebrate coming home?

OWENS: Uh, got me a girlfriend.

MARTIN: Really?

OWENS: Yeah. And, uh, that didn't last long.

41:00

MARTIN: Why not?

OWENS: Uh, it's just long distance, hard to have a girlfriend in Alabama and be stationed in California?

MARTIN: How'd you get a girlfriend in Alabama.

OWENS: Uh, actually like, uh, she had e-mail me like almost every day when I was in Iraq, and, uh, she was a friend of my sister's, and seemed like a really nice girl, and, uh, came back and decided to be boyfriend and girlfriend.

MARTIN: The long distance thing didn't work out?

OWENS: No.

MARTIN: Whenever you first got back to your unit, what kind of responsibilities did you have?

OWENS: Uh, well, like, uh, I was still a crewman, but, uh, this time, uh, we got back on our AAVs and started training back on them, and, uh, I got promoted to Crew Chief, and so that gave me a little bit more extra responsibility. Uh--

MARTIN: --were you promoted in rank, too?

OWENS: Uh, well, I got promoted to Lance Corporal when I was in Iraq. I was a PFC when I first went over, but, uh, I got back I was still a Lance Corporal, and, uh, I was like one of the only Lance Corporal Crew 42:00Chiefs, so I took pride in that.

MARTIN: So you went from Iraq back, right back to training.

OWENS: Yeah, basically, because we had been training for urban warfare, and we were basically a provisional rifle company, and, uh, we'd trained on the ground, and we had to--got back, we had to get back on our vehicles and basically relearn our job.

MARTIN: Okay. And after that first deployment, um, you have any problems adjusting back to normal life?

OWENS: Uh, s--I'd stay up late, you know, and like the first couple weeks I'd wake up and I'd look for my rifle and kind of be freaked out at first, you know, when I didn't see it there, but then I'd snap back to and be like, Okay, I'm, you know, I'm in States. I don't have my rifle with me.

MARTIN: Other than that everything was pretty--

OWENS: --yeah--

MARTIN: --uneventful? Um, how did your family feel to have you back?

OWENS: Oh, I mean, like they were happy, you know, they were glad that I made it back safe.

MARTIN: Proud of you, I'd imagine.

OWENS: Yeah.

MARTIN: So how long was it before you went on your 43:00second deployment?

OWENS: Um, it was basically about--let's see, we got back in, uh, May of 2007, and we went on our next deployment I guess about a year and a half later.

MARTIN: Anything happen in particular in that year and a half that you'd like to talk about?

OWENS: Uh, we just did a lot of training, uh, on the vehicles. I got to go to Korea for twenty-eight days.

MARTIN: Okay. Let's talk about that for a minute.

OWENS: Okay.

MARTIN: What did you do in Korea?

OWENS: Uh, basically we, uh, trained with the, uh, Korean Marines, and, uh, it's part of this, uh, training exercise called Operation Foal Eagle--

MARTIN: --okay--

OWENS: --and, uh, it basically like simulates like, uh, I guess like an invasion by North Korea, so this is just like a joint exercise with the Infantry and, uh, you know, like Air Wing, whatnot.

MARTIN: What'd you think of the, uh, Koreans?

OWENS: Oh, they were nice guys. Those are some tough guys, too.

MARTIN: Really?

OWENS: Yeah.

MARTIN: Did you, um, learn anything in particular about Korea that 44:00you still carry with you?

OWENS: Uh, I learned that I didn't like kimchi.

MARTIN: Kimchi?

OWENS: Yeah.

MARTIN: What's kimchi?

OWENS: It's like a spiced cabbage, like fermented spiced cabbage.

MARTIN: Oh, okay.

OWENS: It's terrible. But there's some people that did like it, but--

MARTIN: --but not you?

OWENS: No.

MARTIN: Okay. So after your Korean operation, you go back to California?

OWENS: Um-hm.

MARTIN: And then from there you deploy again.

OWENS: Yeah.

MARTIN: And this time to--

OWENS: --Iraq again--

MARTIN: --Iraq. And still same attitude about the war? Um, am-ambivalent, um--

OWENS: --well, at this point, like, uh, my first tour, you know, like we did a lot of good work over there, and we were able to establish like a City Council in, uh, the town of Baghdadi, and I got to see a lot of progress that was being made, and, uh, that's like part of war that's never like shown on like Fox News or CNN, you know, like the good things that happen.

MARTIN: So you feel like you were making a difference.

OWENS: Yeah. And, uh, after being over there for my first time and experiencing that, you know, and just the different experiences, 45:00you know, that I'd been through, I was like, you know, if we're going to be over there, you know, you might as well finish the job, you know, do the best that we can.

MARTIN: Right. So you go on back to Iraq. This time you got higher rank and you're, got more responsibility. Um, what were you expecting from your second deployment?

OWENS: Uh, I wasn't expecting much, like I, you know, I was like--like by that point in time the War in the Anbar province had like pretty much slowed down to a crawl, and, uh, there wasn't much activity going on, and, uh, we were sent there to be the QRF [editor's note: quick reaction force] for Al Asad, and, uh, they hardly ever get attacked, so.

MARTIN: Right. And where's Al Asad at, geographically?

OWENS: Geographically? It's in the Al Anbar province. It's probably in between Al-Qa'im and, uh, Ramadi.

MARTIN: Yeah.

OWENS: So.

MARTIN: So you were in, uh, Western Iraq, um, things had 46:00calmed down a lot, you said--

OWENS: --yeah--

MARTIN: --in terms of QRF. What did you do most of the time?

OWENS: Uh, most of the time when we were over there my second deployment, uh, we did a lot of training and drills, cause, you know, even though they're, they hardly ever get attacked you still have to be ready and you have to still, you know, be on top of your game. So we drill almost daily or, you know, run through our own--like we'd set up our own little courses that we'd go through, and, uh, that was basically about it.

MARTIN: Was the mentality any different over there?

OWENS: Uh, a little bit, because like we weren't doing much, and we were just training the whole time. There was a lot of guys, you know, getting disheartened and, uh, you know, just like, you know, "Why are we over here? You know, we're not doing anything."

MARTIN: So you just pretty much train. Any missions?

OWENS: Uh, for like our first four and a half months we just basically trained the whole time, and, uh, then we got 47:00moved to, uh, Ruba, which is near the Syrian border, and, uh, we got stationed in a place called the Korean Village, and, uh, we did like a few patrols there and like a few re-supply missions, and basically I just tried to work out a lot, you know, pass the time. I read a lot. I was trying to get myself, you know, ready for college again, so I probably read, I'd say, about forty books while I was over there on my second tour.

MARTIN: What kind of stuff did you read?

OWENS: Uh, I read everything. I read philosophy books. Uh, you know, just like, you know, some of the classics, you know, some like contemporary literature, like Slaughterhouse Five. Uh, read some Karl Marx, uh, just, you know, trying to get my mind, you know, back in shape, you know, for going back to school.

MARTIN: So you got a Marine reading Karl Marx in Iraq. That strike anybody as odd?

OWENS: Yeah, uh, I got a--like I caught a few, you know, like a little bit of flak from it, but, you know, 48:00it's--it was my decision, you know, like I need to, you know--I mean, there's nothing wrong with learning anything, so--I mean, even though, you know, you may have opposing views, you know, against his, it's still best to know like what his views actually, you know, stand for and--

MARTIN: Right. So you were growing a lot intellectually and obviously you were maturing more about your views of the world. I mean, do you think the, uh, second deployment to Iraq was like a turning point for who you became later on?

OWENS: Uh, yeah, I mean, I'd say a lot. I mean, uh, the--I applied to Eastern, you know, my second deployment when I was in Iraq. That was kind of hard, you know, just waiting for, you know, you know, a package to get over there, like an acceptance letter. It seemed like it took forever, but I was able, you know, to apply, you know, to Eastern and, you know, get everything in line for when I did get out.

49:00

MARTIN: I--CKV to, uh, Al Asad is a pretty dangerous route. Any bad things ever happen on the second deployment?

OWENS: No.

MARTIN: No? So Anbar was pretty much calm, no bad occurrences?

OWENS: Uh, I mean, you'd hear like a--you know, find an IED every once in a while, but for the most part it was pretty calm.

MARTIN: Certainly that was welcome calm--

OWENS: --yeah--

MARTIN: --I would imagine. So you ended your second deployment. You applied to school while you were there.

OWENS: Um-hm.

MARTIN: I guess why did you choose EKU as a school?

OWENS: Uh, well, I wanted to go to a smaller school. Um, I wanted to, you know, be able to, you know, speak with my professors, be like in a smaller environment, and, uh, EKU, you know, fit the bill for me, and geographically, you know, it's around the area that I grew up, so, I mean, it just kind of, you know, fit, you know, for what I was looking for in a school.

MARTIN: Okay. And how long after your second deployment was it before you got out?

OWENS: Uh, let's see, we got back in May of 2009, and, uh, I took leave in August of 2009, so I was 50:00back for maybe about three and a half months.

MARTIN: And what kind of stuff did you do in those three and a half months?

OWENS: Uh, like a lot of the guys, you know, that we got stationed altogether at one time, like right before our first deployment, you know, we had all grown to be, you know, great friends, and, uh, so we partied a lot, drank some beer, you know, just pictured, you know, the future and getting away from the desert, and, uh, made plans for the future, made plans to visit each other in the future, you know--

MARTIN: --those plans come to fruition?

OWENS: Yeah. I mean, I still keep in contact with, you know, a few guys that like they were in my unit. Uh, my best friend lives in Illinois and, uh, I probably get to see him once or twice a year, so.

MARTIN: Good. Um, what kind of stuff did you do to prepare yourself for, uh, separation?

OWENS: Um, I just got basically like, uh, all my finances in line, um, tried to do some apartment searching. It was kind of hard cause I didn't really have, you know, like a 51:00way to like, like look at apartments while I was in California, and, uh, just basically just tried to prepare myself, you know, for going back to school and--

MARTIN: --so you got out in September 2009?

OWENS: Uh, that--

MARTIN: --or August--terminal leave, I mean? (??)

OWENS: Yeah. Um, I was discharged in September, but I took--I believe I had like forty-five days of terminal leave.

MARTIN: Okay. ----------(??). Came to EKU. What did you decide to study?

OWENS: Uh, psychology.

MARTIN: Why?

OWENS: Um, I've always been interested, you know, in helping people, you know, that are struggling, and, uh, you know, after being in, you know, like there's a lot of guys, you know, that came back in our unit with PTSD, and, uh, if--and if I'm able to, you know, help them at all, you know, you know, my brothers, you know, you know, something I want to do.

MARTIN: What was it like--do you remember the first time you encountered one of your friends with PTSD?

OWENS: Um, yeah, I mean, it was--he was just like really 52:00anxious, and I really didn't know what to, you know, do, you know, for him. And, uh, there's kind of a culture in the Military about PTSD, you know, like a lot of people say that, you know, you fake it, but--

MARTIN: --did you have any problems after your second deployment?

OWENS: Uh, I had pro--I had like problems sleeping, uh, like a little bit of insomnia, staying up, you know, way too late, just kind of felt on edge a lot, but those feelings, you know, kind of subsided after a while and I was able to deal with it.

MARTIN: Did you get any help from the VA or the Military?

OWENS: No, I just, uh--

MARTIN: --took some time.

OWENS: Yeah, I mean, it was just time. You know, time to wind down, for me. I, I mean, everybody's different, so.

MARTIN: But some of your friends obviously had it worse.

OWENS: Yeah.

MARTIN: Did--was there any one incident or anything that kind of precipitated your desire to be a psychologist?

OWENS: Um, well, just kind of going back to before I joined the Military, working with, uh, at the youth home with, uh, 53:00kids and, uh, I worked with a lot of kids with anxiety disorders and, you know, I loved my job there while I was at the youth home and helping them, and just kind of carried on into the Military, you know, like seeing, you know, guys that have problems. You know, I'd like to help them and help them live a better life.

MARTIN: So veterans are who do you want to work whenever you get your degree eventually.

OWENS: Yeah. I mean, that's the plan. I--hopefully I can get a job at the VA, VA Hospital, and, uh, you know, help facilitate, you know, some, you know, action that or treatment or whatever they, you know, they need.

MARTIN: So you're not too far off from getting your degree now. You mentioned that you were, didn't have too much direction when you were a student at Berea.

OWENS: Um-hm.

MARTIN: Has being in the Marine Corps increased your, uh, performance as a student?

OWENS: Yeah, I mean, uh, I have a lot more discipline. I show up to class. I show up to class early, pay attention, take notes, and, uh, you know, I just kind 54:00of, you know, have to thank the Marine Corps for that, you know, my discipline, you know, that I have now.

MARTIN: Okay. And I guess I'll ask this question: Having described everything about your experience and what's going on in your life, if I asked you if you had to do it all over again, would you?

OWENS: Uh, I'd say yeah, do it over, over again. I mean, I met some great people and I have some great friends, you know, friends for life, and, uh, have good, you know, good experience, and now I'm re--you know, like reaping the rewards, you know, from my service. I get to go to school for free and, uh, you know, I would do it over again. It was, you know, like a life changing experience really.

MARTIN: Do you feel like you made a difference in the Iraq War?

OWENS: Uh, I think so. I mean, I didn't make a huge difference, you know, by myself, but, you know, our company and--you know, we made a real big difference over in Baghdadi.

55:00

MARTIN: So what's next for you, immediate future?

OWENS: Well, hopefully, you know, I graduate next spring with my, uh, bachelor's degree in psychology, and hopefully I can go to UK and, uh, get my master's in social work.

MARTIN: Okay, and is there any, uh, lifelong lessons that you gleaned from your Military service that you'd like to share?

OWENS: Uh, go hard, you know.

MARTIN: Go hard?

OWENS: Yeah, just work hard, play hard, you know, do everything to your fullest. You know, it's kind of cliche, but, you know, I mean, it works.

MARTIN: Um, all that being said, do you have any parting words?

OWENS: Not really.

MARTIN: Okay, well, this is, uh, Travis Martin from Kentucky to Kentucky Oral, or Combat to Kentucky Oral History Project with, uh, James Owens, signing off. Thank you, James.

OWENS: Thanks.

[End of interview.]

0:00 - Introduction / childhood and interest in the military

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Partial Transcript: This is, uh, Travis Martin. Um, the Combat to Kentucky Oral History Project.

Segment Synopsis: The interviewer introduces Owens and gives some basic information about him. Owens describes his childhood, his early interest in the military, his educational interests, and his early hobbies.

Keywords: 3rd Assault Amphibian Battalion; AAV; AAV crewman; active duty; assault amphibious vehicle; athletics; baseball; Berea College; childhood; corporals; fathers; geography; grandfathers; Harlan (Ky.); Harlan High School; hiking; history; influence; Iraqi freedom; meals ready to eat; MREs; outdoors; sports; students

Subjects: Education. United States. Army. United States. Marine Corps. United States. Navy.


GPS: Link to map
Map Coordinates: 36.84314, -83.32185

3:21 - Berea College / work as a youth counselor / joining the marine corps

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Partial Transcript: So, at what point... you, you get a scholarship to Berea College...

Segment Synopsis: Owens discusses his stint at Berea College, his dropping out, his work as a youth counselor and his reasons for joining the marine corps.

Keywords: dropping out; girls; grades; job options; Kentucky United Methodist Home; recruiters; studying; working; youth counselors

Subjects: Berea College. United States. Marine Corps.


GPS: Link to map
Map Coordinates: 37.56869, -84.29632

5:47 - Family reaction to Owens' joining the military / basic training

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Partial Transcript: I went and talked to the recruiter, and probably maybe nine days later I went to boot camp.

Segment Synopsis: Owens talks about his family's reaction to his joining the military. He shares what he did in the last few days before he was sent to boot camp. He also describes his experiences in basic training in detail.

Keywords: boot camp; combat training; drills; drinking; education; family; fathers; fights; hair; haircuts; lack of freedom; M16 rifle; M16s; martial arts; milk; open contract; orders; Parris Island (S.C.); platoons; punishment; running; sand pit; senior drill instructor; skills; training; weapon maintenance; weapons; weight gain; yelling

Subjects: Basic training (Military education) United States. Marine Corps.


GPS: Link to map
Map Coordinates: 32.32875, -80.69479

12:34 - "The crucible" and graduation / thoughts on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan

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Partial Transcript: So, getting towards the end of the... boot camp... uh, I guess, there's the final...

Segment Synopsis: Owens briefly discusses the last test of basic training, known as "the crucible", and his graduation. He also gives his feelings on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Keywords: "the crucible"; careers; challenges; GI Bill; graduation; hikes; team building; tests; wars

Subjects: Operation Enduring Freedom, 2001- United States. Marine Corps. War on Terrorism, 2001-2009.

15:36 - Marine combat training / training in California

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Partial Transcript: So after basic training... you said that you were a, um... AAV gunner...

Segment Synopsis: Owens discusses the training that he received, both in North Carolina and California.

Keywords: "California dreaming"; AAV; advanced training; assault amphibious vehicle; Del Mar (Calif.); land navigation; M240 machine gun; M249 light machine gun; machine guns; marine combat training; Mk 19 grenade launcher; shaving; training; urban warfare

Subjects: United States. Marine Corps.


GPS: Link to map
Map Coordinates: 32.95949,-117.26531

17:45 - Stereotypes about Kentucky / amphibious assault vehicles / Twentynine Palms, California

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Partial Transcript: What was it like being... a Kentucky boy in the marines?

Segment Synopsis: Owens discusses some of the negative stereotypes about Kentucky. He talks in great detail about amphibious assault vehicles, his training with them and the hazards of using them. He also talks about being stationed in Twentynine Palms, California.

Keywords: AAV; AAV school; advanced training; amphibious assault vehicle; crew chief; death traps; Delta Company; family; friends; Kentuckians; Mk 19 grenade launcher; oceans; personnel carriers; stereotypes; Twentynine Palms (Calif.); weapon systems

Subjects: Improvised explosive devices. Kentucky. United States. Marine Corps.


GPS: Link to map
Map Coordinates: 34.13556, -116.05417

21:49 - Training in the desert / deployment to Iraq / "Mojave viper"

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Partial Transcript: So you got to your unit, and um... what's your all's purpose?

Segment Synopsis: Owens talks about the training that he did before his deployment to Iraq, including the "Mojave viper" program. This program was meant to simulate conditions in Iraq as closely as possible.

Keywords: "Mojave viper"; actors; combat training; deployment; deserts; IED's; infantry; joint training; patrols; preparation; riots; training

Subjects: Improvised explosive devices. Iraq.


GPS: Link to map
Map Coordinates: 34.13556, -116.05417

24:25 - Journey to Iraq / Al Asad Airbase / Haditha, Iraq

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Partial Transcript: How did that work? How did you get to Iraq in the process?

Segment Synopsis: Owens talks about coming to Iraq- specifically to Al Asad Airbase and Haditha, which is where he was stationed there. He also discusses his responsibilities during his deployment.

Keywords: Al Asad Airbase (Iraq); area of operations; briefings; checkpoints; deserts; Euphrates River; Germany; Lockheed C-130 Hercules; MSR Bronze; New Hampshire; patrols; platoons; security patrols

Subjects: Hadithah (Iraq) Kuwait. United States. Air Force.


GPS: Link to map
Map Coordinates: 34.13333, 42.38333

27:00 - Owens' first patrol in Iraq / encounters with improvised explosive devices / the Iraqi people / daily routine in Hadithah

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Partial Transcript: So, you must have come into some pretty direct contact with the locals, I would imagine.

Segment Synopsis: Owens talks about his first patrol in Iraq and why it was nerve-wracking for him. He also discusses improvised explosives and the Iraqi civilians and military. He also shares his misgivings about the Iraq war at that time and describes his typical duties in Iraq.

Keywords: adrenaline; Azerbaijan; candy; casualties; checkpoints; contact drills; danger; food; Hadithah Dam; Iraqi army; Iraqis; meals ready to eat; MREs; nervousness; patrols; protective equipment; security; training; urban settings; wars; weapons system

Subjects: Hadithah (Iraq) Improvised explosive devices. War on Terrorism, 2001-2009.


GPS: Link to map
Map Coordinates: 34.13333, 42.38333

32:54 - Al Baghdadi / Iraqi children / humorous stories

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Partial Transcript: Any other interesting characters? Sounds like you have a lot of contact with, uh...

Segment Synopsis: Owens talks about being transferred to Al Baghdadi. He shares humorous stories about Iraqi children and about shooting a smoke flare on trash detail.

Keywords: Al Baghdadi (Iraq); boredom; candy; children; flares; FOB; forward operating base; Iraqi police; monotony; nicknames; smoke flares; trash detail

Subjects: Khan al Baghdadi (Iraq).


GPS: Link to map
Map Coordinates: 33.84531, 42.56217

36:25 - Encounter with a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device / casualties

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Partial Transcript: So you were, you were in charge of trash detail... was, was that around burn pits?

Segment Synopsis: Owens relates a story about encountering a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device, which accidentally detonated too early and only hurt the driver. He also talks about the few casualties in his unit.

Keywords: burn pits; casualties; Colonel Shaban (??); corpses; crew chief; FOB; forward operating base; health concerns; IEDs; injuries; Iraqi police; patrols; police checkpoints; QRF; quick reaction force; rain; sleep deprivation; vehicle-borne IEDs; war

Subjects: Improvised explosive devices.

40:13 - Returning to the United States / training in South Korea

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Partial Transcript: Um... so you ended up that second deployment pretty well. It sounds like...

Segment Synopsis: Owens talks about returning from his first deployment and his being stationed in California. He also talks about an American/South Korean joint training exercise that he was a part of.

Keywords: AAVs; assault amphibious vehicle; bank accounts; California; cars; crew chief; deployments; email; family; girlfriends; joint exercise; kimchi; Korea; Korean Marines; lance corporal; leave; long distance relationships; Operation Foal Eagle; PFC; private first class; provisional rifle company; South Korea; suicide bombers; training; urban warfare

Subjects: United States. Marine Corps.

44:19 - Second deployment to Iraq / daily routines / reading habits

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Partial Transcript: So, after your Korean... operation... you go back to California?

Segment Synopsis: Owens discusses his second deployment to Iraq and what he did while he was there. He talks especially about the reading that he did to prepare himself for returning to school later.

Keywords: "Korean village"; Al Asad Airbase (Iraq); Al-Qa'im; Anbar province; city council; deployment; drills; expectations; Karl Marx; news; patrols; progress; QRF; quick reaction force; Ramadi; rank; reading; school; Slaughterhouse Five; training; war; working out

Subjects: Iraq. Khan al Baghdadi (Iraq). Rutbah (Iraq).


GPS: Link to map
Map Coordinates: 33.43183, 43.31150

48:21 - Preparation for school / Eastern Kentucky University

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Partial Transcript: So you were... you were growing a lot intellectually...

Segment Synopsis: Owens tells how he applied to Eastern Kentucky University while he was still in Iraq. He also shares his reasons for wanting to attend that school.

Keywords: acceptance letters; Al Asad Airbase (Iraq); CKV; college applications; colleges; future plans; Illinois; leave; parties; professors; studying

Subjects: Eastern Kentucky University.

50:46 - Preparation to attend college / psychology and post-traumatic stress disorder / future plans

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Partial Transcript: Um, what kind of stuff did you do to prepare yourself for, um, separation?

Segment Synopsis: Owens describes his preparations to attend college again and talks at length about why he chose to study psychology there. He also shares his plans for the future. The interview is concluded.

Keywords: anxiety; anxiety disorders; apartments; California; discipline; finances; graduation; insomnia; military culture; preparations; psychology; social work; terminal leave; VA; VA hospitals; veterans; Veterans Affairs; youth home

Subjects: Berea College. Eastern Kentucky University. Post-traumatic stress disorder. University of Kentucky. War on Terrorism, 2001-2009.

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