Randall Martin of Port Charlotte,Fla. joined the Marine Corps because he wanted to be part of the best. He went to Iraq on Super Bowl Sunday 2003 and served three tours there as a member of the 7th Engineering Support Battalion.
“We gave the people of Iraq the right to vote. But the most important thing we did was to make them free,” the 29-year-old “Leatherneck” explained. “A lot of the hate and displeasure we receive from the people in Iraq has to do with money. Saddam Hussein’s government subsidized many of his people and all of that’s gone now that he’s gone and they’re in pain.”
The most amazing thing that happened to Martin and his engineering battalion while they were in Iraq: They were tooling around in the desert somewhere south of Baghdad and north of Hillah and came across an ancient brick city buried in the sand for eons. A crew of archeologists paid by Hussein had been working to unearth the remarkable find for decades.
“It was the biblical City of Babylon,” Martin said.
“On my first tour I flew into Kuwait City International Airport. We bunked in some dirt hole near the Demilitarized Zone between Kuwait and Iraq until the last week of February 2003,” he said. “I was a basic combat engineer. I was a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none.
“We did construction, demolition and handled explosives. We didn’t handle IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) we found them. Because this is a country that has been at war for 40 years they’re very effectively-made roadside bombs out of munitions and detonated them with any type of electric signal,” he said.
“The biggest problem we faced over their during my first deployment was from friendly fire. But most of the time we were alright because we were behind our own lines,” he said. “We ended up in Diwanya. It was a city of some 50,000 people, we were living in a dormitory at the local college.
“We did a lot of reconstruction. In August 2003 they were bringing in American money to a local bank in Diwalyah and we helped them put up a fence around the bank. We built a concrete base and used rebar every six inches to make the fence.
“We also rebuilt a playground. We went back two weeks later and every thing we had put into the playground was stolen,” Martin recalled with a smile. “You gotta expect that in in Iraq. You put brand new chains and lumber into the playground and of course it’s gonna be gone.
“What made living in Diwalyah nice was we were interacting with the locals. We ate lunch at the little shop next door. It was different,” he recalled. “In this city at that time they were receptive to the Marines and what we were doing for them. It seemed like they trusted us more than they did the Army. I think it was because we were living with them.
“Sometimes it was crazy over there. One night in Diwalyah mortar rounds and AK-47 fire erupted all over the city. It was like a Fourth of July celebration,” he said.
“What all the celebratory shooting was about, we had killed Saddam Hussein’s two sons. We stood on the roof of one of the buildings in the town and watched the celebration.”
After 8 1/2 months in country his first tour was over. He returned to his home base in San Diego, Calif. to a boring job he didn’t like.
“I wasn’t doing anything in California in the Marines. However, I felt like I was accomplishing something in Iraq. That’s why I volunteered to go back a second time.
“Within a couple of days I found myself aboard a freighter as part of the armed guard headed for Kuwait with a boat load of vehicles for the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. I met my battalion at Camp Victory in Kuwait. We got on C-130 transport planes and took a very long ride to the city of Falluja in Iraq.
“I took part in both Marine assaults on the city. The First Battle of Falluja started in April 2004,” he said. “It was a big city and some of the locals told our people they could police the place without help from us. When it became obvious they couldn’t do it we took over.
“We threw a ring of Marines and Army units around Falluja and started squeezing them. The insurgents inside the city were trapped. Mostly they weren’t Iraqis – they were Jordanians, Syrians and other people who didn’t like us,” Martin said.”
Unfortunately American forces weren’t successful in controlling the city during their first attack. When they quit fighting there were still plenty of insurgents inside the huge old city located along the Euphrates River.
His contribution to the first attack was constructing guard posts to control traffic going in and out of the city. Martin didn’t see any direct action with enemy forces. They set up shop at “Camp Falluja,” a couple of miles east of the city.
“In November 2004 the 2nd Battle of Falluja started. It was a much larger battle than the first one. We brought in 30,000 or 40,000 more troops,” he explained. “In this second battle we told the locals: ‘If you don’t want to be in the fight, get out of town.’ When the Marines went into Falluja all the civilians were gone.
“We completely surrounded the city. There was no getting out. We squeezed on the insurgents until we punched them out. We hit them with bombs, tanks and artillery. You either surrendered or you died,” Martin said.
“During the first night of the battle our battalion set up additional security for a medical transport site. Then we started working in the city while some of the fighting was still going on. “We built a humanitarian aid site where food, water and money could be distributed.
“The fight for Falluja seemed to go on forever. Weeks after it started we were driving through the city in our Humvee and went by two American tanks laying waste to a building down the road. However, most of the major fighting for the city was over in a few days.
“My third tour in Iraq was from Sept 2005 to March 2006,” he said. “I went back to Falluja with my construction battalion and we built a lot of stuff. We did road repair from time-to-time and we built shelters for people. On an irregular basis the insurgents were still shooting mortars and AK-47s at us.
“Mostly we built facilities for the Iraqi Defense Corps. We built a camp on the south side of the city for 100 Iraqi forces.”
After he returned home from Iraq at the conclusion of his third deployment in 2006, Martin attended the University of Florida and graduated in 2010 with a degree in Math and Sociology. He got a job as a water plant operator with the Peace River Manasota Regional Water Supply Authority that provides drinking water for Charlotte, DeSoto and Sarasota Counties.
Name: Randall William Martin
D.O.B: 14 July 1984
Hometown: Port Charlotte, Fla.
Currently: Punta Gorda, Fla.
Entered Service: 11 June 2002
Discharged: 23 October 2009
Rank: Sergeant – Combat Engineer
Unit: 7th Engineering Support Battalion
Commendations: Rifle Expert Badge (2nd Award), Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal, Combat Action Ribbon (Iraq), Sea Service Deployment Ribbon (w/3 Stars), Iraq Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal (Iraq), National Defense Service Medal, Presidential Unit Citation-Navy, Letter of Appreciation, Meritorious Mast, Certificate of Commendation (x2)
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, July 8, 2013 and is republished with permission.
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