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thedrifter
04-24-06, 03:42 PM
The Mark of a Hero
By Jamie Glazov
FrontPageMagazine.com | April 26, 2006

Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Scott Montoya, a U.S. Marine who recently returned from active duty in Iraq.

He is a Deputy Sheriff for the Orange County Sheriff's Department. He has been in the Marine Corps reserves for ten years and was activated for active duty just after the September 11th attacks. He served in operations such as Operation Nobel Eagle -- which turned into Enduring Freedom and finally Iraqi Freedom. He participated in the battle for Baghdad and was awarded the “Navy Cross” for extraordinary bravery. He can be contacted at touchofthedragon@yahoo.com.

FP: Mr. Montoya, thank you for joining Frontpage Interview. It is a great honor to have you here and to speak with you.

Montoya: Thank you Jamie.

FP: Let’s start with your service in Iraq. Can you give us the background?

Montoya: I was activated for 22 months. I was in Iraq a couple of months before the war started. We staged our gear in Kuwait and did some training in the desert. I was also part of the Regional combat team number one -- or we like to say “the tip of the spear” or RCT1.

We were attached to first Marine division. I was with the 2nd Battalion 23rd Marines Scout Sniper Platoon. When the war started I was sitting in Kuwait on the southern boarder of Iraq. We flew on a commercial air liner and landed at Kuwait international. I lived in a camp called “Camp Echelon” or, as some say, “Camp Coyote.” These names were just names we made up for them. The biggest camp was “Camp Commando.”
I was part of the battle for Baghdad.

FP: You are quite humble sir, but kindly tell us the awards you won and why.

Montoya: I was awarded the “Navy Cross” for extraordinary bravery while serving as a Scout Sniper in a combat theater. The President signed my award along with the Secretary of The Navy, the Honorable Mr. England. General McCarthy pinned my medal on me. He is the senior Three-Star General in the Marine Corps.

I helped a few fellow Marines and they thought that was brave. I received the recognition for the actions on April 8th. Theses actions were significant because we had not yet secured Baghdad. I also received other medals but the one I am most proud of is the one called The Navy Achievement Medal. I received this for teaching at the time 850 Marines Martial Arts. In the Marine Corps all Marines have to know how to fight and I was the senior Martial Arts Instructor Trainer for the Battalion. I taught while I was in Baghdad and any time we had down time in Iraq. I guess it’s my second calling. I also think Martial arts plays a significant role in my decisions over there.

FP: How exactly did Martial arts influence your decisions in Iraq?

Montoya: I think that Martial arts helped me with the commitment part of the war. I guess what I mean is in Martial arts you must be focused on the journey and not the immediate goal or belt.

In combat you know even if you win the battle the war moves forward. I would say that if it was not for my mentor, and Martial arts father, Paul Dye I would not have made it this far in life. He showed me another way of looking at life -- not just through your physical movement but by mastering the physical application that you will find the spiritual connection with yourself (i.e. your strengths and weaknesses). He taught me to be loyal and humble above all.

Like the Marine Corps he believes in service before self. He truly is my mentor and a person whom I owe a lot. In Iraq we the Marines placed the mission before ourselves. We were acting as a whole and not as individuals. Iraq taught us the meaning of a profound Scout Snipers’ motto from the 1st Marine division, which is “Suffer patiently and patiently suffer”.

FP: I can’t even imagine what you have experienced, to have the courage and nobility to put your life on the line for your country and to go to a war zone thousands of miles away – where you are not sure if you are going to live to see tomorrow.

I apologize in advance as this may be somewhat painful for you to talk about, but could you kindly talk a bit about what this experience was like? How would you describe what combat is like? And what is it that you think makes great people like you -- who put their lives in harms way not only for their own country, but for people they liberate that they don’t even know or have ever even met. What do you think made you who you are in this context?

Montoya: I am not sure what to say about combat but it’s a little like the movies but much louder and more final.

I mean when Marines get hit they go down and when people die they die. I guess I just felt like a Marine with a very special job who was part of a team. I believed in my partners and my Chief Scout and all the Snipers and Corpsman in our platoon.

I think combat is like holding your destiny in your hand yet is very slippery. Too much pressure and you will fall. Too little pressure and you will wish you did something more. I think most Marines just felt like they were doing their jobs which we suffered to practice for over and over again and now the big day was upon us.

I would have to say that being in a fire fight or combat is almost like watching a video game. Everything happens so fast then all of the sudden you have moments of clarity like recovering alcoholics would say. The smoke and the gunfire come from all directions and the artillery is so loud and you never seem to get use to the explosions.

I shot a man popping his head out of a tower window and he went down. I saw him shooting at the Marines behind me. It all happens so fast I am not sure what to say. I know his image will haunt me and I will think about it for a lifetime. I do know that his family is sad that he his dead. I am sure they feel they are on the side of the right what ever that means. It seems to me that when men try to kill each other only one thing becomes evident: It is better to be alive then dead.

As far as helping people I never meet I guess I look back on my mother and my Martial arts instructor who told me that people are the same no matter who they are. The only difference is how you perceive them. I looked at the civilians I helped as humans who needed help not as the enemy. In my opinion there was enough killing for one day. I think they were not sure why all this was happening but I guess that’s the nature of war. It is born of two fathers.

FP: Could you share with us some specific incidents and feats of courage you performed in the war and the awards/medals you have received?FP:

Montoya: I received the Navy Cross for action while we were taking Baghdad. I have received other honors but for the most part I was just doing my job and was lucky to be recognized by my peers. I feel very humbled by the whole experience.

FP: You confronted a completely different culture in the war. What were some of your impressions and thoughts as you faced people that live and think so much differently than we do? Or are we really that different? Did you have some experiences that stand out in your mind?

Montoya: I think men at war are different in the first place. Coming from a martial arts culture you realize war is in the nature of all men. I believe the Iraqis have lived with war a long time and are different than us in many ways. Mostly, I think the Iraqis’ belief system -- specifically religion -- is a major difference. Though I do believe Marines/soldiers are who we are. We suffer from the same things: missing our families and the constant threat of death during a battle. For the most part I think our training and discipline was a major factor.

One significant thing I can remember about the people there is that they want the same things as us. Which is to worship and live the way they want. I think there is very little difference in the children: they like candy and they are as innocent as can be. I remember sharing food with them and the children looked at me amazed that I was actually sharing food with them. In that respect, I think we all share a little humanity relating to one another.

Having said all of that, Iraq is also very different -- the country is just riddled with war and death. These things seem to be normal. Most of the locals are just farmers. They raise goats and heard sheep. They live in a time long past Western civilization and culture. They do not even have televisions and some barely have radios. The buildings are just shacks and are made of poor construction and running water is a luxury. They have water wells that are placed in even increments at the road side of each so-called community.

Most Iraqis, of course, are grateful to us that Saddam is gone and they reject the terrorists. That is why they showed up to vote in such overwhelming numbers. At the same time, many Iraqis seem to be very scared of us. They mostly save up enough courage to ask us for food and smokes. Our enemies, naturally, want us dead. They fly black and red flags over there homes to show support for Saddam and his regime. We drive by and see them flying over many houses. During the liberation, some of the civilians looked at us and what we were wearing and the type of equipment we had. I think they reported back to Saddam's army on our numbers and capabilities. I was part of regional combat team number one or the “Tip of the Spear”.

I think when the Marines or soldiers come after us they will wonder how we rolled through a country in just over a month. I believe it’s the aggressive intent of the commanders and ultimately the Marine general disposition to kill everything we see.

FP: Can you tell us a memory of an incident?

Montoya: A young Marine shot this man in town and it left a stain on my soul that will not be cleaned by time. While we were in this town we were told to set up a blocking position which consisted of blocking off all the intersections and placing the snipers or us to the high points in the city as the over watch while the commanders and vehicles get service and updated orders.

We shut down what little traffic they had. They had no traffic lights, stop signs, lane dividers or concrete curbs and so on. Just drive where you want. Anyway the Marine was in charge of the north south part of the intersection. He was sitting on top of his humvee. There were four other Marines which were watching over the east-west parts of the intersection and we were watching them.

While they were in place two cars approached the intersection. The Marine aimed his 50 caliber machine gun which was mounted atop his humvee at the two vehicles. This seems to be a clear sign to the drivers to not come any closer. Both vehicles stopped as they should. The Marine waived his hand at them as if to tell them to turn around. One car immediately turned around but the second car just sat there as if he was contemplating what to do or in this case building the courage to move forward. Then all of the sudden the car sped towards the Marine sitting on top of his vehicle. The Marine attempted to fire his 50 cal. Machine gun but it jammed. The Marine without hesitation picked up his M16 and shot about five shots at the driver through the windshield.

You are probably thinking: did he live? The story tells itself. The driver was hit in the head through the windshield and the car came to a rolling stop. We immediately adjusted position and got eyes on the target but he was already laying flat on his stomach across the seat of the vehicle. As time past I was relieved from my position by another sniper and started to walk down the street towards the vehicle. As I approached I noticed some Marines were looking inside the vehicle and when I arrived they walked away as if they had seen all they wanted to.

When I arrived at the vehicle I noticed the man laying on his stomach across the seat gasping for air. It was the type of labored breathing you hear when people are struggling to hold onto their life. He was struggling and obviously on his way out to Allah or whoever he believed in. I got a little mad that everyone was just watching him die. While I was standing, their Corpsman came up to the vehicle beside me. I asked the Corpsman to help him but he said he could not do that while he was in the vehicle. I took that to heart. I opened the car door and dragged him out of the vehicle by his feet onto the ground. He was in even worse shape then I pictured in my mind. He was still bleeding and gurgling on his own blood.

The weird part was that everyone was scared -- you could feel it in the air like a thick fog. I started to get mad because nobody was helping him and in my mind he was now a non combatant. I asked the Corpsman to help him but he said the only thing he could do was to open his airway with a tube and bandage his head. It was now like everyone was feeling the war: my girl, my family and horses. The man was now lying in the middle of the street dying.

I had my camera and had never seen anything like that before so I let the doc check him out and then I took a picture of his face while he was barely alive. The doc told me to turn him on his side so he would not choke on his own blood. What a terrible gasping and gurgling sounds he was making – it made me sick to my stomach. Though I knew I could not show the other Marines, I was now in a battle with my own humanity and the forces of right and wrong were upon me. I just kept calm and asked the doc if there was anything else we could do for him.

All of a sudden, like a huge storm and black clouds covering a small valley it got ugly. The Marines, of whom there were now approximately about fifteen standing around me, said “f--k him, do not waste your supplies on him. We could use the supplies on the Marines that might get hurt.” Though they were right and we were just in the beginning of the war, something inside of me said to stand up for him. It continued with some other Marines saying “Let him die”. Like a son born of two fathers, one telling me to let him be and the other saying you know what is right. I just got a blanket out of his vehicle and covered him hoping he would not slip into shock. Secretly I was hoping some Iraqi would come out of their home and help this man by treating him.

I ended up walking away from him and he was left lying there in the street. Later in the night some docs went back to him and injected him with morphine to slow his respiration and help him die. The Marines protested and said the docs were wasting supplies. The man looked like a middle-aged man who drove a taxi cab. He was a little overweight and was wearing grey pants and a light blue button up shirt. Some Marines said that later they searched the vehicle and found a military ID and an AK-47, some 60 MM mortar rounds in his trunk and some photos of executions. Don’t ask me what that was all about, but I guess it was the nature of war.

I do not think this story would be complete if I did not mention we were invading his country and more closely his city. As Marines we are tasked with holding the sector of security so other Marines can rest or whatever they need to do. I think in the middle of war you make decisions based on the amount of information you have and you have to act on the underlying reasoning of self-preservation.

FP: This incident seems to have affected you very much.

Montoya: I think I lost a piece of my humanity that day. I try to block it out, but it seems to play again and again in my mind. The other Snipers in my platoon chastised me for helping him. I just pretended that I wanted a photo. It’s sad that this type of environment produces the best and worst in people. I did not look at him so much as a soldier or even an innocent person. I just looked at him as a human being who needed help. God help me it’s so hard there.

FP: I am not sure what you are allowed to say in the context of the war itself, but in general how do you think the U.S. is doing in Iraq? What is the best way we will be able to prevail against our enemy? Will we prevail?

Montoya: I think the US is doing an outstanding job. From the administration to the ground troops they have really done what no nation could do. I mean they brought freedom to the oppressed and gave them the right to vote and dictate their own future. Nothing can replace the taste of freedom.

The country as a whole has moved forward so fast. Much faster then the US when we were fighting for independence. The best way to prevail is to not lose our nerve. I think the American people should stand behind the President and tell the other countries that do not have the nerve for this fight: take your toys and depart. For they will think themselves lesser men for it. Stay strong and focused on the mission. Do not lose sight: this is a noble and worthwhile cause. With that in mind, we will prevail.

Lastly, I think the American people who supported out troops should get a big pat on the back. I am maybe only one Marine, but I want to thank you for your support from the bottom of my heart.

I only wish my uncle who came back from Vietnam could see the great sprit of the American people.

FP: What are your future plans?

Montoya: My future plans are to find the “One Girl” of my dreams and start a family.

Any takers?

I really would like to be married and turn the page by starting a family. I hope the Lord shows her to me.

I will continue working in patrol in the city of Stanton, California and patrol the streets to make them safer. I also plan on sharing my story with anyone who wants to know what happened while we were there.

FP: Scott Montoya, thank you for joining us today. I hope your dreams come true.

It was a true honor and privilege to have you in our company.

Motoya: Thank you Jamie, I think I have been blessed to meet such a talented and sincere person. Thank you for the hospitality and mostly the friendship we have developed in a short time. I look forward to talking with you again soon Jamie.
FP: Thank you for such kind words, sir. It means a lot coming from a person like you.

The feelings are mutual.

An individual who puts his life on the line not only for his own nation, but for the freedom of people he does not even know, this is the mark of a true hero and warrior.

For all of us here at Frontpage, Scott Montoya, we would just like to say to you: thank you. Not only for what you have done, but also for just being who you are.

We have all the time in the world for a unique and admirable individual like you. Take care for now my friend.

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Ellie