War on Iraq

A Soldier Speaks: David Grimm

A Florida National Guardsman learns how to survive and protect his men in a war zone – without body armor.
David Grimm signed up to join the Florida National Guard in 1999. The former Marine, who'd entered the military straight out of high school, was glad to answer the call of duty when he was called up for combat duty in Iraq in December, 2002. But the veteran of U.S. operations in Somalia was in for a rude shock when he went into a war zone, this time as a member of the National Guard.

He found that in the Iraq War, there were separate rules for the reservists and the soldiers on active duty. Before long the 32-year old and his fellow guardsmen were writing home, asking for essential equipment that the Pentagon simply refused to provide for reservists. David's parents had to send him batteries, and even radio equipment from Wal-Mart to make up for supplies that was missing or broken and not replaced. Night vision equipment amongst the reservists was in such short supply that soldiers had to take turns using it. Worst of all, guardsmen like David were expected to perform the same dangerous missions as regular soldiers, but without any body armor.

After his stint in Iraq – where David served as an infantry squad leader assigned to security operations and vehicle patrols – the 32-year old returned to his hometown of Pensacola, Fla., where he works as a wildland firefighter.

He spoke to AlterNet about what he learned from the ten long months he spent in Iraq.

Is there one memory from the war that still stays with you?

Yeah, there are several things that I think about often. One of them is the sense of camaraderie that you can only find when you're in a tough situation. We got some low days when we had some injuries. We had some high days when everything was just fine.

We had an incident where two soldiers were wounded very badly. It was during a raid. One was shot in his face and the other in his stomach and legs. It happened on Dec. 23, 2003 – two days before Christmas – and they weren't expected to live.

And what really upsets me and really pisses me off about it is that the military unit we were with did not want to call his family until after the holidays, because they didn't want to upset them.

We were going through a really strenuous time then. We were taking a lot of casualties. And we were doing raids almost nightly in our sector. And it really upset me that the leadership didn't want to own up to the fact that they had to say something to the parents.

So my platoon sergeant took it upon himself to make a call to the fathers of the two soldiers that night after we got back. He took a lot of grief for that because he'd stepped over the line. The thing that sticks out in my mind is that after we got back and talked to the families, they really supported him making that call.

They wanted to know. It was the only right thing to do. You can't hide something like that, especially if someone is on his deathbed.

When you look back, how has this war changed you?

It's made me stronger person in the sense of being able to hold up to my responsibilities. Over there, I was responsible for nine other guys as a squad leader. And being in a situation where you don't have all the equipment that you might need or you don't have the support that you might need, you have to go the extra mile for your soldiers. You have to maintain their security as well as your own.

That was probably the biggest life-changing experience for me – taking care of someone who is bleeding badly or dying right in front of you. And you just watch the color run out of their face. You have to think about what you have to do to pull everyone back together and keep them focused.

What are your hopes and fears now that you look at the future?

My hope is that I never have to do this again. Though if they asked me to, I would do it willingly.

And I'd like to start a family again some day soon. I'm single and don't have any kids. I have a fear of not so much failing, but of not finding anybody – of being alone.


If you had five minutes with the president – whomever it may be on Nov. 3, George Bush or John Kerry – what would you say to him?

[laughs] I've been thinking about that question quite a lot.

As most people in America teach their kids, if you're the big kid, you don't need to be the bully. Sometimes you have to stand up for what's right and not fight.

But if you are going to fight – and that is the only way to resolve the problem – go out to win. Don't hold back. Don't tie the hands of the soldiers. Fighting is not the best solution but if we are going to fight, then the soldiers need to be equipped properly.

We got our call up orders in Dec. 26, 2002. When we went to our mobilization site in Georgia – and as we were being issued all the equipment we were supposed to take – they refused to issue us body armor.

The military was told that since we were National Guard, we weren't going get body armor. It was our state's responsibility to send us with body armor. The state of Florida said, "No, you're now on federal active duty. It's the federal government's job to supply you with body armor."

We went to Kuwait in April. We were there for almost a month. All the other units at the camp had body armor. We didn’t get body armor until after we were in Baghdad for two months. And it took two soldiers being shot before we got body armor. Soldiers were writing home to their parents and begging them to send body armor.

To put it in perspective, when we left Iraq to come back to the United State, before we flew out of Iraq, we had turn in our body armor so they could ship it back down to Kuwait. There wasn't enough body armor for the soldiers coming in.

The fact is that they sent us into the battle zone without proper equipment.

So that's what I would say, "If we're going to go to war, then we need to fight as soldiers not as politicians."

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Lakshmi Chaudhry is senior editor of AlterNet. This profile was made possible with the assistance of Operation Truth and Patricia Foulkrod, the producer/director of The Ground Truth.