View Full Version : Jokes help Washington grad escape war's brutality

09-01-05, 07:11 AM
Jokes help Washington grad escape war's brutality
Thursday, September 1, 2005

Johel Woodliff tipped the portable restroom, laughed and returned to the battlefield.

Since February, the 2003 Washington High graduate has engaged in combat in one of the most deadly regions in Iraq.

He fights lonesomeness, the sight of bloodshed and war with practical jokes and pranks.

And the 20-year-old also fights growing up.

“Before I was only concerned with partying and having fun,” Woodliff said in an e-mail. “The fact is, I really didn’t want to grow up at all and then I’m thrown into a hostile area where I’m surrounded by death, killing, violence, etc., day in and day out – stuff an average 20-year-old will never experience.

“I’ve always watched movies about war and I’ve listened to experiences of my friends’ fathers who served in Vietnam, but I never saw myself here,” he said.

Two days after graduating high school, Woodliff flew to Parris Island, S.C., to begin Marine Corps recruit training. His unit was activated Jan. 4 and left for Iraq in February.

Today he is serving in the western province al Anbar in the Sunni Triangle, one of Iraq’s deadliest regions. His brother, Jason, a 2000 Washington High graduate, joined in 2004 and is also serving in Iraq.

The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, inspired Woodliff to join the Marines, despite his family’s religious opposition to the war and the military.

“After Sept. 11, 2001, I knew that I was going to join the service,” he said. “I was at the beginning of my junior year, but I knew.”

Woodliff supports the United State’s invasion and occupation in Iraq because many Iraqis are suffering from poverty.

“We’re opening (Iraqis’) eyes to a world that they’ve never seen before,” Woodliff said. “I’ve learned to appreciate life and what I have more. This is basically a third world country and the quality of life here is so minimal. They have farm animals living in their houses, feces just out in the open, homes made from mud, etc. – nothing like any Americans are used to.”

Marines pass out toys to Iraqi children on patrols and hear warm responses in return, Woodliff says.

“We pass out toys to the children and they are always saying in English with an Arabic accent, “America good! We like America!” he said.

But there is a flip side, he says.

Marines and other troops face the threat of drive-by shootings, mortar fire and road-side bombs from insurgents.

Woodliff, guarding a bridge in the desert, once got word that six Marines in two of his unit’s sniper teams had been killed. He was good friends with four of them.

“They were guys that I’ve sat down and had dinner with, had a beer or two with, went through this deployment with so far,” he said. “There was nothing I could do about it. I just had to sit there and cope with it. Our rules of engagement do not allow us to just go out and beat someone. We treat all Iraqis – detainees and all – with the respect all human beings deserve. But I just felt completely numb.”

The “brotherhood” Woodliff has formed with other Marines is the most valuable experience he’s gained from being in Iraq. He points to a Bible passage in John 15:13 that reads, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

“You have guys from all over thrown into a war zone together and they’re forced to share the same experiences as you,” he said.

Woodliff, like any average 20-year-old guy, goes to college, enjoys reading and likes girls. To escape the grim face of war, he watches movies, writes letters, plays poker and plays pranks.

“We are always playing jokes on each other,” he said. “That’s how we keep smiling. We’re always laughing here.”

Woodliff and 2002 Jackson High graduate Seth Dunlap knocked over a portable restroom with their buddy inside.

“After a good, two solid minutes, Seth and I ran full speed at it and threw our bodies into it,” he said. “It went flying over and our buddy inside came out soaked and not too happy. Everyone laughed and eventually he warmed up to it and laughs about it now.”

Woodliff’s unit will leave its base in mid-September and then fly from Kuwait City to Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, N.C. He expects to arrive home the first week of October, but “nothing is set in stone.”

“I talk to my friends in Massillon and they complain about being bored there,” he said. “One of the few pure things in this world anymore is home. Being able to just be with your friends and family at your home is one of the most beautiful things that life has to offer. I’ve learned a lot, but I’ve learned to not complain.”