Dogs of War

by Jason Arment

The trucks, three Humvees and a Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP), trundled up the main access route and through the “gate”—guard posts on each side of the road. No one came out to signal us forward. When the lead Humvee approached the fuel station, those in trace waited single file. By the time radio jammers shut down, the lead vehicle had pulled a stone’s throw up the deeply rutted road.

“After trucks are gassed, keep going to the tents behind the camp,” Crawford’s voice sounded over the radio. “I’m headed to the COC to check-in.”

In the rear Humvee, my vehicle commander and driver were the same. Turner was a Captain America, ROTC type who made Marines roll their eyes. With an easy grin, he meant well, and when he shit the bed, he had a ready excuse. Our conversation had been one-sided during our trip. Turner rambled, nervous he was a squad leader—my squad leader.

“There are two filling stations,” Turner murmured as we watched the second vehicle pull up to the first fuel pump.

It felt wrong, but I didn’t protest as Turner pulled forward and got out. The faster all the vehicles refueled, the sooner we could peel off our sweat-crusted flight suits and hit the rack. I was jonesing for a cigarette; during the trip, Turner hadn’t allowed smoking even though everyone smoked outside the wire. I remembered grumbling to our Sergeant about being in Turner’s charge. Turner was a higher rank than me—his new Corporal (E-4) chevrons to my long-held Lance Corporal (E-3). “He’s an NCO! There’s nothing to talk about,” Sergeant Prockop shouted, high on NCO supremacy.

Turner got back in the truck and cranked the engine over. The Humvee started, then stuttered, made a coughing sound, shook, and died.

“Fuck!” Turner said, then hopped back out.

Engine problems would cripple the vehicle and effectively take it out of the operation, which didn’t bode well for anyone.

“Turner. What are you doing,” Crawford’s tenor rang clear over the radio set on the dashboard. “Did you run out of gas before you made it to the pump?”

I looked at the radio like it was a snake, not daring to pick it up.

“Don’t say anything!” Turner hollered. “I’ll answer in a second.”

There was a moment of silence.

“What the fuck!” Ulrich’s voice was rich with surprise from the turret. “Don’t spray that shit on me!”

I leaned back and swatted Ulrich’s leg, trying to see what happened. He reared his boot back to stomp on my helmet.

“This doesn’t smell like gas,” Ulrich muttered, smelling his sleeve.

“What?” I shouted. Before I could say anything else, Turner hurled himself back behind the wheel.

“I think there’s water in the gas,” he said, voice hoarse but not shaky. “Crawford, this is Turner. There’s something wrong. I’ll talk to you about it in a minute. I think Big Head and Chamorro should dismount and walk up the rest of the way.”

Crawford’s voice buzzed indistinct as I swung my door open, relieved to feel the night air.




Debour wanted the John Wayne experience. He’d been the one to wear his chin-strap stretched and stuck on the brim of his helmet, and as often as not Debour would play with his M-9 Beretta 92 SF as if it were a prop for his puerile fantasies—whether he was fighting Cowboys, Indians, or Iraqis, I’ll never know.

When he started acting crazy at Lejune, I wasn’t the only one who didn’t want to share a firing-line with him. There was no way to tell where his head was at: back with his pregnant wife, or in a fantasy world all his own. More to the point, there was no way to tell where it would go, or what would happen upon arrival. When the squad talked to him, Debour kept it together initially, but then he’d start talking in circles, more and more frantic. But was it all an act? Debour was so self-serving. Either way, Sergeant Gore didn’t want him around any weapons or live ammo, and the platoon’s Staff Sergeant agreed. When we returned to Fort Des Moines, Debour transferred units. I never saw him again.




“Is that what he told you?” Mundel asked.

“He said he thought that there might be water in the gas,” I said. “Was that the problem?”

Mundel and I stood talking in a shelter the camp staged for us. The tents had enough room for beds on each side and a wide walkway down the center.

“The problem was that Turner pulled up to a water station and literally pumped water into the vehicle,” Mundel said, laughing raucously.

Most people who said literally actually meant figuratively, so I didn’t think Mundel was being literal. I learned later that, unlike fuel stations’ electric pumps, the water pump was manually powered.

“Is the chow-hall open?” I asked.

“Probably not,” Mundel said. “But if it is, let me know!”

I made my way from the bivouac site to the top of the small hill the camp was on, 50 meters away. The road lay out under the moon like some lost thing, unnatural in a landscape of sand and stone. I knew posts were twelve hours long from Marines who’d rotated up north in the past. With no one around, and the large moon hanging low in the night’s sky, I felt at peace.




Before Echo deployed, I called Debour and left him a message, just like I had with Sergeant Woods. Unlike Woods, Debour hadn’t invited anyone from the section to call him when Echo activated, but just like Woods, he returned my call with an air of sideline detachment.

“So what was the deal at Camp Lejune?” I asked. “Did you mean to cut a Marine with a room key?”

“That was an accident,” Debour said. “And I cut myself after, to make it right.”

“You had everyone pretty freaked out,” I replied.

“I didn’t think anyone cared,” he said. “Everyone was so mean to me.”

I didn’t remember it like that.

“You had a pregnant wife who was the love of your life, and she wanted you back home,” I said. “And then, suddenly, you couldn’t hack it anymore.”

“You hazed me for nothing. Nothing.”

I tried to recall the details of our time in Lejune. My memory showed me forcing Debour and others to use sponges instead of a mop, but nothing crazier than cleaning. My girlfriend was staring at me from the passenger seat, and I needed to get off the phone.




“I hate that fucking dickhead.”

Swede’s eyes deadened as he tracked a Corpsman walking by.

“How the fuck do you even know him?” I asked.

“Remember when me, little Smith, and Chaney were sent up here to stand post for these lazy bastards?”

I shrugged.

“It sucked. Long shifts and bad chow,” Swede continued. “Dogs were the only good thing in this hellhole.”

“Dogs,” I repeated.

“We adopted one as a pet,” Swede said. “And that motherfucker killed it.”


“He shot it,” Swede said. “How the fuck do you think he killed it?”

“Poison, like we do with coyotes back home,” I said, being honest instead of disengaging. I’d known Swede for years, gone through the School of Infantry together. He was distraught.

“Where the fuck would he get poison?” Swede asked.

“The old antifreeze in ground beef trick,” I replied, cocking an eyebrow.

“There is that. Would’ve been the easy way. Instead, he shot them.”

“How did he get away with it?” I asked.

“Get away with it? He asked the First Sergeant,” Swede said, “and was issued a Mark-12 because the shots would’ve been too loud.”

“That’s pretty good thinking,” I said.

“Yeah, when it’s not your dog,” Swede said.




The Marine Corps issued the Mark-12 to Designated Marksman (DM). Turner made for a great DM. He’d been to sniper school, but washed-out like so many others. DM was a far cry from a sniper, though. To snipers, we were Professionally Instructed Gunman (PIGs), and they were Hunters of Gunman (HOGs). Machine gunners had no love for them, being one of our primary threats throughout modern warfare.




I mean-mugged the doc whenever I saw him. It rubbed me the wrong way he’d killed the pups. The doc was short, about three-fourths the size of a regular Marine, and childlike compared to larger Marines. He skulked about, casting glances over his shoulder; never with any friends besides his Mark-12, nearly as big as him.

It was never about dogs for me. I’m a hardhearted son of a bitch. The dogs could have been anything: snitching on a gambling ring, breaking the comm center, or reporting Marines for bringing drugs in from the ville: it was all betrayal. The doc had gone to the 1st Sergeant and said the cull would stop the spread of disease. But there was no disease before we arrived. Between Marines and some dogs, which were more likely to carry disease?

Maybe it wasn’t all that strange, and the doc had good reason to hate us. Marines made it easy. We could be dumb and mean-spirited, and Iraq brought out the worst in people. Normal men turned craven Marines in the desert kiln, sense and dignity sandblasted and sun-beaten. When Swede recounted the cull of his beloved animals, I wasn’t surprised. This, too, was taken.




“You need to cool it,” Lowery told me.

“What?” I feigned indignation. “I haven’t even done anything yet.”

“You’re being intimidating,” Lowery said. “I’ve watched you stalk him around the base.”

“We happened to be going the same way.”

“Who knows what this puppy killing psycho is capable of,” Lowery said. “What if he shoots one of you dumbfucks in the back?”

Lowery had a good point. Although it seemed unlikely that the Corpsman would turn on Marines, it’s a strange man who knowingly and willingly bears the mantle of most hated; stranger still with so little payoff—killing a few mongrels. The dead dogs were soon forgotten, as they always are during wartime.




I’m honestly not sure if Swede found out before, during, or after it was over. I think he slept through it and woke up to a world without his canine friends. I don’t know when Debour decided he wasn’t playing along anymore. Desperate men become erratic when coming to an end. They cut themselves with keys to escape training and deployment, follow an armed man around camp waiting for the right moment, and grieve dogs while hunting men. I never considered washing out of the Corps. For me, the only way out was through.




Our stay at the small outpost wasn’t feasible. Within a few days of arrival, NO ECHO MARINES hung on the chow hall door. We couldn’t help but move through their resources like locusts. Initially, we were just in the confines of their football field-sized vehicle staging area—a few MRAPs and a half dozen Humvees. Our element was the lead, and follow-on forces would arrive in a few days. After the Company rallied in its entirety, we went bomb-maker hunting.

It was just like they said it would be in all those stupid briefings, about terrain models and bomb paraphernalia. When Echo hauled in the bomb-maker we’d traveled so far for, he wept long into the night, perhaps remembering his lover, firstborn, or last IED. I don’t know what I would have thought about, on my knees with my hands zip-tied behind my back and sandbag over my head—tears without end.




The small pond behind FOB Riviera had a name which translated from Arabic to English on Google Maps to read “Lake Salty Eye.” The name wouldn’t have meant much to us, except how we’d found it was particularly memorable. Some of the parents of Marines had looked up the FOB where we were slated to be stationed, and more than a few had seen a small explosion on the nearby Main Supply Route (MSR). Google Maps had snapped a picture right as an IED had detonated as an Allied truck passed. Battalion never made it clear if any Marines were injured, but rumors circulated it had been an Iraqi Army gun-truck that had been hit—word about KIAs.

“Why am I supposed to care about this,” Prockop said when we showed him the digitally frozen blast.

If we’d known anything about the war and things to come, we would have fought back tears. After everything, now I see the lake’s prophecy: there would be pain. Now that the war in Iraq has amounted to nothing, maybe that was all there was. We left Iraq to the descendants of the dogs we couldn’t kill, and as ISIS swept through the region and the world marveled at such unbridled hate, no Marine was surprised. If there is one thing every Marine knows well, it’s hate.

Jason Arment served in OIF as a Machine-Gunner in the USMC. He’s earned an MFA in CNF from VCFA. His memoir, Musalaheen, stands in stark contrast with other narratives about Iraq, in both content and quality.