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Marine Sergeant Edgardo V. MAG
Many people love the United States, but how many are willing to defend it with their life? Imagine spending three months in a foreign country where the only thing you know is your mission and the people you came with. Twenty-three-year-old Sergeant Edgardo Vega was stationed in Iraq with the Marine Corps Reserves from May to July 2006. According to speaker.gov, since 2001, more than 1.6 million U.S. troops have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. This is Vega's wartime experience.
Why did you join the Marine Corps Reserves?
I was originally going to do active duty so I can't tell you why I joined the Reserves since it was something I just did [at the spur of the moment]. I've been in the Reserves for six years now.
I had the opportunity to go to school because I was in the Reserves. I have an associate degree in history, and I'm working on a four-year degree.
You have served only one tour of duty, correct?
[Yes.] I've been lucky. Several units have been deployed numerous times. We are currently working on orders [to be] deployed to Afghanistan next, but we don't have a definite date yet.
What did you miss the most about home?
The Spanish cooking of my mom and dad.
What was it like to leave your family?
My family was upset. I was okay since I knew that I was coming back. It didn't bother me as much as it did them.
How often were you able to speak to family?
While in Fallujah, Ramadi, and Baghdad, it was hard to communicate with my family because we lived in abandoned buildings. On the base, I spoke with my family at least once a week [since] I was usually busy with missions.
Out of those three cities, which was the most dangerous?
Fallujah, Ramadi, and Baghdad are all different. I spent most of my time in Fallujah. Most people say that Baghdad is the worst when it comes to fire fights and improvised explosive devices, or IEDs.
What did you discover about the culture in Iraq?
When I was in Fallujah, I learned many things from the Iraqi police. I picked up some Arabic and could even sustain a very small conversation. I learned a lot about the culture. They pray five times a day. Their prayers are like songs which sound pretty cool. The women have to cover themselves, and Iraqis consider dogs immoral. We used to have a puppy named Jundi, which means “soldier” in Arabic. We spoke Arabic when playing with him, but the Iraqis told us they could not play with our puppy because they would become unclean.
Describe a typical day in Iraq.
At 5 a.m., we awakened to the sounds of people praying to Allah coming from the mosque [the Muslim place of worship]. We would then get our gear ready, if we had a convoy scheduled. For the most part, convoys would go out around 2 a.m. to avoid being hit by IEDs set by triggermen.
Around 6 a.m., we ate morning chow and got ready for whatever mission was planned. While in the city, we were often attacked by mortar and occasional sniper fire that came from nearby buildings. If we were lucky, we would get to sleep by 11 p.m. [If we] weren't as lucky, we would be stuck trying to clear the road of IEDs. Then we'd hardly sleep at all.
When you and the other Marine Reservists did not have a mission, what did you do?
We did a lot of fun things. [For instance,] we often played jokes on each other.
What was your worst day in Iraq?
My worst day was when we were being mortared and a suicide bomber had just blown himself up near the North Gate, exterminating several of the Iraqi police. Another suicide bomber in a truck was trying to get in near the same gate. Then we started to receive fire from different locations. Many people were shot that day. A couple of our guys were shot in the shoulders and legs. I still remember helping out the doc [a Navy servicemember enlisted as a nurse or a doctor] by bringing the wounded Iraqi policemen inside.
What is it like in combat?
When you are in combat and someone goes down in front of you, you don't have time to think. You have to react quickly and try to save your life and others'. But once it's over and you have a chance to think, that's when it hits you and you start realizing what you might have done differently.
During your tour of duty, did any of your friends die?
A lieutenant died when a roadside bomb exploded under his Humvee. He was burned alive.
With everything you witnessed, especially the death of your friend, how were you able to get through every day knowing that your life was on the line at any moment?
As you said, I never knew when it was going to be my turn. So whenever I could, I would pray to God to keep my boys and me safe.
When your tour of duty was completed, how did your family react when you came home?
They cried for joy. I never told them the things I went through in Iraq. I didn't want to worry them. They were proud and they prayed for me every night.
Has the war changed your outlook on life?
It has made me not trust anyone. Other than that, I haven't changed much.
However, some soldiers are worse off. One Marine came home and killed himself after he found out that his girlfriend had cheated on him. Others started using drugs to cope. It affects everyone differently.
In your view, has there been progress in Iraq?
We have made a lot of progress in Iraq. Things are good now. I think they love us over there. We have liberated them from oppression, and we are trying to form a democracy now. Who knows if it will work. But one thing I can tell you, if we leave now it will be a disaster.
What advice would you give someone considering enlisting?
I tell people all the time that if you join the military, you will probably go overseas. So if you're not ready for war, don't join. However, it isn't that bad now. Things have changed.