MARINE CORPS LOGISTICS BASE ALBANY, Ga. --
When asked, he didn’t really recall how many times he and the convoys he rode in encountered improvised explosive devices. “It seriously got to the point where there was an explosion in the convoy at the other end and, it was kind of like, there’s another one I survived,” said Sgt. James C. Barber Jr., purchasing contract specialist, Contracts Division, Marine Corps Logistics Command.
Barber was honored by Maj. Gen. Willie J. Williams, commanding general, LOGCOM, at the 3rd Annual Marine Corps Logistics Command, Headquarters, Employee Recognition Ceremony which was part of LOGCOM’s Employee Appreciation Day. Barber was presented with a large, American flag quilt for what the general said was surviving several IED explosions in Iraq.
Barber was sent to Iraq for his first tour as part of the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines Expeditionary Force, I Marine Division from March in 2003 to May in 2003. When he was first assigned to the Division, he said he thought “it would be a good billet.” Then he learned that the 3rd battalion was in Iraq. “That’s cool,” he said. “That’s cool. Just throw me in there.”
It turned out that this short tour was “the most bored I’ve been in my life,” Barber said. He said he came in at the end of the unit’s deployment and missed 99 percent of the combat. He said, “A lot of the guys were pretty much burned out. They were on stop-loss.” He said there were guys who hadn’t seen their families and homes more than 25 days in the last year.
Barber did say, though, that even though the deployment was boring, since there was no action, “The people were great.” He said they wanted to completely engulf him in knowledge which allowed him to get to know the other men and the situation quickly.
Still, Barber said, “I thought I’d get off the place and just start shooting.” There were a couple of scares, but nothing significant, he reported.
His second deployment was with the same unit to Fallujah. “That was a doozy,” Barber said. He reported that they originally set up a small base just outside the city to let the residents know they were there. “The first day we were there, it got real,” Barber recalled. He said they had two checkpoints on a road checking cars. He was up on a rooftop catching some sleep, having been up all night, when an explosion occurred. He said two Marines, who he knew well, were killed. Another friend was injured but lived.
“When that happened,” Barber said, “I saw the look on the first sergeant’s face. … It was like something I’d never seen before, like everything he was made of just escaped from him. He looked so empty from the inside. But he came back from it so quickly and said, ‘These guys aren’t going to get away with this s—-.’”
Barber said of the first sergeant, now Sgt. Maj. Scott Samuels, “Until the day that I die, I will have the utmost respect for that man.” He said Samuels said when they were getting ready to deploy that “a bunch of you will probably get injured, but I’m going to bring every one of you back alive even if I have to put my own life on the line for you.”
Barber recalled something similar with his captain, Capt. Brett Clark, now a major. “I never saw him sleep. That guy was a tank, too. Those two together were a force to be reckoned with.”
Barber added, “And we had a gunny that was unstoppable, also, and an XO. I mean, these four guys, if you saw these four guys walking down the street, you would just want to turn the other way.”
Another time, Barber was in a schoolhouse which was being used as a headquarters when a rocket propelled grenade “blew up the stairwell going to the second floor.” He said he was on the first floor. No one was killed in that attack, but one Marine, he observed, “ended up picking fragments out of his legs and stomach.” A corpsman, he said, got his left arm taken off “right about at the elbow.”
After that attack, Barber said, they were getting mortared heavily.
“The worst one for me was when we were doing a patrol right outside our ferm-base,” Barber remembered. “We had four to five humvees and a bunch of Marines on foot.” Barber said that he was in the back of one of the humvees and was just turning around. “I saw the explosion,” he said. “The explosion went off but it was weird. It wasn’t for a second or two that I heard it.”
Barber said he saw two Marines near the site of the explosion. One was severely injured by shrapnel in the leg and the other was not really injured. He said, “The one closest to the explosion ended up with just a damned scratch on his lip.” He said that after that they started calling him Superman.
Barber told the story of Cpl. Alexander Sargent who survived an explosion inside a house. Barber reported that Sargent was severely wounded, but when being carried into medical insisted that “‘I’m fine. Take care of my guys before you touch me.’” Sargent had a large gash in his leg and another in an arm. Barber reported that the doctors were able to save both of Sargent’s limbs, but the other two Marines from the explosion died.
Barber said of Sargent, “Out of all my deployments and everything I’ve done in my life, I’ve never seen the level of courage and level of discipline and level of selflessness that I had seen in Corporal Sargent that day.” Barber said,
“Sargent just sat there—himself being blown up.” Barber added, “He didn’t scream, he wasn’t crying. He just said you work on my Marines before you work on me.”
“I was wounded, I think, in November,” Barber said. He reported that he was part of a casualty evacuation team and was trying to get back to medical when “we got caught up in an explosion so we were, like, bumper-to-bumper in the humvees.”
Barber continued, “There was an insurgent who started shooting at my humvee. When I leaned out to shoot back, I think it was a grenade dropped down and I was hit with frag in my face, ear and neck. The impact of it pushed me from the side and I went down inside the humvee. I was out for just a second and when I came to, I could hear Matt yelling, ‘Barber got shot in the head. Barber got shot in the head. Barber’s down. Barber’s down.’ I looked back up and he said, ‘Never mind, Barber’s alive.’”
Barber stated, “It really didn’t register that I got hit. I thought it was just the impact that got me. Then I started burning up … started rubbing my neck and it was covered with blood.”
“Then,” Barber said, “HM1 Cordova yelled, ‘You just got hit in the face.’” Barber said he asked, “Really? You got a bandage?” “Yea,” Barber said Cordova replied. Barber reported that he then told Cordova, “Well, bandage me up, I’m trying to shoot.”
Barber said that after a while, the adrenaline went down a little bit and I thought, “S—-, this really hurts.”
Barber recalled that when he got wounded, it sounded like tit-tit-tit against the armored door. He said, “So, if I didn’t have that door, I would have been jacked up a lot more.”
“I was able to escape medical treatment,” Barber recalled, “when the gunny came by and said to just leave. So, I left. Four days later I peeled the bandages off, looked in the shaving mirror and started popping out frags.” He added, “I still have a piece in my jaw and a piece in my ear.”
About his time spent in Iraq, Barber said, “Nobody wanted to be there, but at the same time, there was nobody who didn’t want to be there.” He added, “They didn’t join the Marine Corps not to go into combat.”
Barber added, “I joined the Marine Corps because I wanted to go into combat. There’s not a draft anymore so you can’t say everybody does it. If it was easy, everyone would do it.”
His long-term plans are not defined as yet, but he did say, “I don’t care what I do in the Marine Corps. I just love being a Marine. At the end of the day, I go to bed a Marine and I wake up a Marine.”
Concerning his work at LOGCOM, he said, “The people here who do the armor and do the logistics and get everything over to those guys, they’re not recognized as much as the guys fighting over in Iraq, but these guys here are heroes. If you don’t get the stuff made here, we’re screwed.”
Finally, Barber summed his feelings. “The Marine Corps has made me realize what is really important in life.” And about Iraq, he said I would go back to Iraq “in a heartbeat.”