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Marine returns home to Victor after harrowing stint in war-torn Iraq

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Posted: Friday, April 4, 2003 10:00 pm

Daymond Geer - lance corporal, United States Marine Corps.

He's a highly trained Marine, a skilled and superbly equipped fighter who just returned from the front lines with the U.S. forces in Iraq.

Marine Lance Cpl. Daymond Geer stands with a Marine Corps flag that hangs in front of his house in Victor. (Jerry R. Tyson/News-Sentinel)

In combat he carries a M249 Squad Automatic Weapon, a hand-held light machine gun he calls a "saw." He has faced enemy fire, and has fired back.

Home on emergency leave to see his dying father, Geer, of Victor, is one of very few soldiers so far to return from the front lines who hasn't been wounded.

And even though he has fought in combat and seen men die, when Geer's mom, Jane Geer, read in an Associated Press article in the News-Sentinel on March 28 that her son was smoking cigarettes, she wasn't happy and she let him know it.

"Well, now the whole world knows that you smoke, so you don't have to hide it anymore," said Jane Geer, 44. "He told me that he had quit."

Quality time with dad

Returning to his home town, the compact, clear-eyed 20-year-old sat on a comfortable couch in the small home of his aunt, Sue Rowley, on Friday and talked about his experiences In Iraq. He displayed a small hot sauce bottle filled with pink Iraqi sand, and a wax sealer he had taken from a dead Iraqi soldier.

Geer said he feels left out of the war because the men he calls his brothers are still back there fighting.

"It feels a little weird to be left out from what we started," he said. "But it's good to be home to see my father, (Ron Geer) before he gets to his final stages."

Stricken with a blood disorder, Geer's 76-year-old father's last wish was to see his son before he died. Then his mother read in the newspaper that Geer was actually coming home.

"I thought we would just get a phone call from him," she said.

On the battlefield

Marine Lance Cpl. Daymond Geer of Victor prepares for battle in this photograph taken in Kuwait prior to his unit taking part in the war against Iraq. (Courtesy photo)

Geer is assigned to the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines, Echo Company, 1st Platoon out of Camp Pendleton.

When American troops advanced north into Iraq from Kuwait, Geer was assigned as aft gunner on his amphibian assault vehicle.

"I'm just a 'saw'-gunner laying down suppressive fire," Geer said of his combat assignment.

As his platoon moved north, they met Iraqis coming south, most - but not all - wanting to surrender.

"We got out on line, and there was a big old column of them coming down the road, with no weapons, with their hands up," he said. "They were giving up because we came in there with such a force. I said, 'Hey, what about the enemy shooting at us?' But that would come a little bit later."

For the first three days of the offensive, Geer's unit performed searches of EPWs, as he called them.

"Enemy prisoner of war," he said. "The Army calls them POWs."

His unit searched about 15 groups of prisoners a day.

They would search the prisoners for documents, weapons and fragmentation grenades.

"They'd come at us like this," he said, raising his arms in the traditional gesture of surrender. "And sometimes like this," bringing his arms down in front of him, as if holding a rifle.

"We would make an example of them, real bad," he said with the tone and manner of a combat veteran.

When the other Iraqi soldiers saw effects of his unit's firepower, they would usually surrender quickly, he said. He thinks the Marines' appearance was also a factor.

"The suits we wear make us look like robots, and we act just like robots," he said.

Geer and his unit wore bulky biochemical suits and flak jackets at all times, he said. He would even wear his suit and gas mask when he slept.

The first few days, there was a lot of surrendering, he said, but they saw a few fire fights.

When his unit did take fire, it was usually brief, he said.

"There would be a 'pop pop,' and they would pop off a few rounds and then run away," he said. "But they wouldn't run too far. Usually we would stop them from running."

Every mile or so, the unit would either come across people shooting or people surrendering.

"We would stop and take care of whatever the problem was, and then we would move on," he said.

With his 23-pound weapon, Geer - who's about 5 feet 8 inches tall and 180 pounds - carries about 90 pounds of equipment with him wherever he goes. He carries a flak jacket, chem-bio suit, leather gloves for handling concertina wire, extra drums of ammunition at seven pounds each, a K-Bar knife and, naturally, sunblock.

"It sucks," he said.

After the fighting

At the end of the day, the unit would stop and set up a defensive perimeter around its camp, where they could eat, drink some water and let their feet air out, he said.

For recreation, nicotine - cigarettes and chewing tobacco - was popular, and they would play cards, he said.

Troops can reach home via e-mail - that is, when the unit's first sergeant contacts headquarters, and delivers important e-mail to the Marines in the field.

Geer also received a package from his high school, Liberty Continuation High School in Lodi.

"It was really nice. We split up all the candy among the unit," he said.

They would sleep in or under their vehicles, or, in small trenches on the side of the road dug for protection.

But they rarely slept for more than an hour at a time, and never got more than four hours sleep in a night.

"We're up every night with our NVGs (night vision goggles), make sure there are no black silhouettes," Geer said.

Sometimes they would see some goats, and would send out a fire team patrol to make sure the camp was safe.

Enemy encounters

The unit's main concern was a special branch of the Iraqi forces, the Iraqi Special Security, or ISS.

"They're the crazy ones, who usually strap bombs to their chests," Geer said.

The unit's personal interaction with Iraqi troops and civilians was very limited. He had learned a few basic phrases in Arabic: Stop or I'll shoot. Lie down. Don't move.

The basic phrases, he said, the ones that count.

At one point they came upon a small convoy of five trucks carrying civilians, including women and children. Though the trucks were heading north, Geer's unit directed them to go south where it would be safer, he said. His sergeant notified trailing U.S. troops to expect the group, and to search them more thoroughly, he said.

The civilians he saw seemed to be heading east into Iran, north to Turkey and west to Syria - and all of them away from the American advance, Geer said.

"They didn't know where we were, because we were everywhere."

Losing a friend

Geer was also the first to come upon the body of Lance Cpl. Jose Gutierrez, one of the first American casualties of the conflict.

Geer got to know Gutierrez, who came from Los Angeles, in Kuwait, where they had hung out. Gutierrez had even stayed in Geer's room for two weeks. There, they talked, played games and spent time together.

Geer took in a deep breath before starting the story of finding his friend's body on the battlefield.

"My fire team leader sent me to see what a bunch of rubble was, like a pile of gear sitting in the middle of the desert," he said.

The unit had just finished clearing out a building.

"My partner said, 'Hey check it out, it looks like somebody laying down - go wake him up.'"

Geer went over and saw Gutierrez lying on his side, his face half hidden. But he could see Gutierrez' name on the back of his pack.

"I said 'Gutierrez, hey, dog, are you OK?' But I had heat exhaustion or something, it didn't click to me," Geer said quietly.

Geer called his staff sergeant over and told him that a Marine was down.

"This is the hardest guy you can see," Geer said of his sergeant. "He never gives an inch, and his face just dropped."

The sergeant took Gutierrez' arm and tried to move it. "You could just hear it popping 'cause it was so tight," Geer said.

"He (Gutierrez) got shot three times in the back by friendly fire," he said. "He was dead, and we Medivac'ed him out of there."

Gutierrez had been shot about 30 minutes before Geer found him.

"It was kind of weird, just seeing him lying there, just stiff." Geer said. "I still remember the sight, too - his face and everything."

A fellow Marine saw Gutierrez get shot, Geer said.

"He said, 'Hey there's an Iraqi running,' and just when I got up there, the guy just fell," Geer said.

From that distance, about 150 meters, American troops looked just like the Iraqis, he said.

Gutierrez had somehow been left behind by his platoon, Geer said.

"He should never have been there," Geer said. "He should have been with his platoon."

Keeping a close eye

Geer said he follows the events in the war constantly, on television at friend's houses, or when he walks by a bank of TV sets at a department store.

"I keep my eyes glued to it, to see if I can see my brothers out there," he said, leaning forward and clasping his hands.

As he spoke, television war coverage murmured in the background. His mother watches it more than he does, and she lets him know if he's missed anything, Geer said.

On the way to Iraq, they played music. Geer said unit's favorite was the song "Bodies," by Drowning Pool. The lyrics to the song's final stanza are:

Skin against skin, blood and bone

You're all by yourself, but you're not alone

You wanted in, now you're here

Driven by hate, consumed by fear

Let the bodies hit the floor.

Geer is dismissive of anti-war protests in the U.S. and around the world.

"I think they're dumb," he said. "Seriously, they don't know what they're protesting against. They don't read the newspapers and they don't listen to Bush. We are liberating Iraq, freeing the people, and they don't understand that. They're just a bunch of tree-huggers."

A family affair

His mother said she has conflicting feelings about the choices her son has made.

"It fluctuates between pride and fear and concern," she said.

Although she knows he would like to be back with the Marines in Iraq, neither of them knows what the situation will be when he is ready to return, Jane Geer said.

He could be here on a 15- or 30-day leave, depending on his father's condition.

She is thankful he has come this far and is still safe.

"A lot of mothers won't be able to hug their sons," she said. "But he has a job to do."

As much as she is concerned about his safety in Iraq, she is also worried about the man he will be when he returns, Jane Geer said.

"I wonder how it will change him," she said. "He is sensitive, and I hope he doesn't have to go back."

Geer said sometimes he was scared.

"You just have to know that God's on our side," he said. "I believe we're doing the right thing. We take it that if it's your time to go, it's your time to go, and let fate decide. That's how we take it about dying."

Geer offered some words for parents whose sons and daughters are serving in Iraq.

"Keep them in your prayers," he said. "Know that they are safe with the soldiers and Marines that they are with, because they take care of each other."

And then he added: "Keep your head up, and know that they will be home shortly."

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