View Full Version : Middlesboro Marine heading back to Iraq

10-31-05, 10:15 AM
Middlesboro Marine heading back to Iraq

Corporal Todd Smith's unit had been ordered to secure a route heading into Fallujah in October, 2004.

Other Marines and soldiers would be taking the city, but Charlie Company, 24th MEU, 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines would be holding the door open, or closed as the situation dictated. Smith and some others were playing cards atop a bunker when they heard what sounded like a mortar. “The first round was a dud, but not the second,” he said.

The Marines took shelter in their bunkers as the barrage began.

His bunker survived two direct hits.

Soon the mortars were joined by rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire.
While Smith's bunker protected him and the other men, a Marine manning a tower was taking heavy fire.

Smith said he and some other Marines moved to cover their embattled comrade. They took shelter behind a road embankment and began efforts to suppress the fire being directed at the Marine in the tower.

It was then that the RPG hit.

According to Smith, the explosive round detonated on the other side of the road bank, just high enough to pepper the Marines with red hot shell fragments.

“I remember the heat,” Smith said.

The blast had been so intense it instantly chapped his lips and put tiny fragments in his face and lip as well as just above his eye. He lost consciousness briefly and when he woke, he couldn't blink his right eye.

The efforts to save the Marine in the tower was successful, but the blast had wounded Smith and some others.

The Middlesboro native was evacuated later that day and spent two days recovering from his wounds at a base camp before returning to duty.

A 2000 graduate of Middlesboro High School, Smith said he joined the U.S. Marines in 2003 after promising a friend that he would join if the fellow passed the military's ASVAB test.

“My father had been a Marine in Vietnam,” he said.

It had been something he'd always thought about but never contemplated seriously until his buddy decided to join.

The man passed the test, and Smith kept his word.

“The list time I saw him was in SOI (Marine School of Infantry). That was in May 2004,” said Smith. “They said they wouldn't separate us, it was even in the paperwork.” He shrugs.

His friend, Brian Coots, is also a native of Middlesboro and currently serves with the 1st Marines, a unit normally based in California. Smith's 2nd Marines are based in North Carolina.

Unlike Army and National Guard units, Marines rotate to Iraq for six to eight-month tours.

Smith was deployed to Iraq less than two months after finishing SOI. His first tour was from June 6, 2004 until February. He is slated for a second deployment this year.

He leaves Middlesboro for North Carolina on Monday.

During his first tour, Smith received a Purple Heart Medal for his wounds. He says he's more proud of the Combat Service Badge, “A Purple Heart just means the enemy can shoot well,” he says grinning.

Although he's proud of serving in the infantry, being a “grunt” isn't an easy job.

Being a Marine grunt in Iraq was far from a safe occupation.

During his time in Iraq, Smith endured wounds, blistering heat in the summer, bone-chilling cold in December, the constant threat of improvised explosive devices and the never ending buzz of activity of patrols that allowed only four to five hours of sleep per night.

The most trying of trials, however, was in the loss of a close friend, a Marine named Jonathan S. Beatty, of Streator, Ill.

Beatty had been killed during a mortar attack when Smith was on patrol in the Babil Province of Iraq.

“When we got the call that someone in Charlie Company had been killed we all got quiet,” he said. “All we thought about was getting back to find out who it was.”

When it was discovered that it had been Beatty, who was a very popular Marine, the entire unit was stunned.

“No one talked much for a few days after that,” he said.

Beatty had been the smiling type. He was 22 and had been looking forward to going home. He died mere days before his unit was to ship out.

Other than the rigors faced by every infantryman in combat, Smith said dealing with the Iraqi people provided a mixed bag of experiences.

In many places, the people would stand, bow or relay praise or gratitude to the Marines through the unit's interpreter.

In others, primarily towns that once supported bases for the former Iraqi Army, the reception was different.

“Little kids would show you the soles of their feet, which is an insult or something. They'd also do this,” he said dragging his thumb laterally over his throat.

Other than their day-to-day interaction with the Iraqi people, the Marines also protected voters during January's elections. The turnout exceeded the wildest expectations of the Marines, who had expected few to participate, as Iraqis braved death to cast their votes.

On his second tour, Smith said he expects to do similar duty.

“Hopefully we can help the people there have their election so that the future of their country can get underway,” he said.

However, Smith said he doesn't foresee the election bringing an end to the insurgency.

“There are so many people there who aren't from Iraq. Once the election is over, it's pointless for Marines to keep dying,” he said.