AL DAKHLI PROVINCE, Azanistan --
“Corporal,” the Marine said.
I glared at him for a few seconds, knowing that wasn’t his first name.
“No, really, what’s your first name?”, I asked.
“Corporal,” he said again.
I arrived here a little past 9 a.m. and immediately the day started off bad for me. I rushed my way there, knowing the U.S. Marines are notorious for wanting to be places on time.
So stereotypical, an international female Korean freelance journalist, getting lost.
It was not a good morning. I only had a few hours at the compound. I was frustrated and crabby.
As I waved my press badge, I told the Marines at the front gate in my horrible English accent, “I’m Sung Hee Kim with Seoul International. I’ve come to write about the U.N. helping out Azanistan.”
I also wanted to see if bringing in the Marines was actually helping.
After pushing by a handful of locals, the Marines gave the lowest ranking Marine, P-F-C Brian Holbert, to escort me and the other reporters.
This wasn’t my first rodeo. My editors always pick me for these international stories. I know military rank structure. I know Marines hate being called soldiers. And I know Marines hate talking to media. The reasons are endless but the main thing is I think they’re afraid of saying something stupid.
Thank goodness there’s no PAO escort. Those guys are annoying.
The area that I was in was Fatwan Gul. There was a lack of water because of the drought, famine broke in the entire country, and almost no government control. The U.N. had stepped in to help and brought the Marines with them.
There were barbed wires separating this big stadium area and Marines securing that area inside the compound.
“That’s where we intend to distribute food and water. After they have been searched and through intelligence,” First Lieutenant Burton said. He refused to give me his first name too.
What is up with my luck today?
The locals that had already been let in seem to be very angry. You could have felt the tension brewing that made the 80 degree weather feel like 100.
Using the translator, Abraham Bushkazi said, “I have been searched THREE times! They said they were here to help. Where’s my food? Where’s my water? My son hasn’t eaten for TWO days! There are bombs going off outside. I don’t believe them. They treat us like dogs.”
“They didn’t want to go through the intelligence line,” said Lance Cpl. Dodd Jackson, native of Fort Myers, Fla.
More people seemed to have been crowding the front gate. I recognized this because the yelling and screaming escalated. Only about three Marines were guarding the front gate at first.
As the Marines were yelling to get more at the front gate, a few got through and ran in.
I didn’t know where it came from. But what I did know was that two civilians were shot, and a Marine was down. One had blood gushing out of his arms. The other laid straight down, not moving an inch. The Marine was motionless.
The nephew of the one shot was screaming, as he was getting detained by a Marine, “A Marine shot him! I saw it! All we wanted was food and water. All we wanted was help. Then my uncle got shot!”
For some reason, I really didn’t believe him. Why would Marines just shoot the civilians AND a Marine? I mean, yes, there’s friendly fire, but Marines are known for accuracy. I was a little confused.
The Marines quickly closed the front gate, immediately treated the wounded (possibly dead), and more barbed wire was being placed from the front gate to the search area, then again to the intelligence line, then to the stadium. It ended up being a for-sure way to lead the civilians where they could and could not go.
I have to go back. I have a deadline. The Marines actually did help.
The left-leaning international freelancer has turned, for now.
Editor’s note: “Role player relives NEO exercise” was written in character. The author “Sung Hee Kim was played by 1st Lt. Sin Y. Kook, deputy public affairs office. The story was told through the eyes of her character which was participating in the exercise. Kook played the part of a foreign new journalist and wrote the story to accompany the real life story.