28 | Cheek
Yeah. Guy turned around and the front of his face was missing all had was the bottom part of jaw. And this guy was so on drugs. He took a knee reloaded is a K took three steps before he dropped. And we're like wait thought we're fighting zombies when you join the marines specifically because you want to train and have that training tested. You do your best to prepare. So you can live up to the expectations. You set yourself during the eight years, he fought as a marine infantryman Stephen cheek used every inch of that training in more because for him there had to be a life after the war that he could be proud of his well, Jeremy's only nineteen years old and one of my good friends and see pitcher in the inside of his helmet of Helmand his wife on new they'd been together since high school a manages hit me right in the gut. I'll say he can't he can't die. What is true bravery? What makes a hero a hero tested by the worries of what's happening at home, thousands of miles away and the reality of what you're facing here. And now when your life is in danger every second and it's either killed or be killed and original podcast from incongruity media. This is Anthony Russo. And this. Is war? Sometimes you get an idea that you just can't shake for twelve year old Stephen cheek that idea was that he would be the first person in his family to join the military, and he would become a marine infantryman that was in the late nineties after the September eleventh attacks he was only more convinced that he needed to join fight his parents at signed him up for early entry. But his joining wasn't something. They were thrilled about or took lightly, especially as the war in Iraq started up it became the dominant theme in the cheek household, especially once I joined we as a family, sit there and watch. I remember the six o'clock news that before it became a twenty four hour news cycle. They would talk about the number of wounded and killed in action throughout the week. And sometimes they post the names on the little banner at the bottom. I don't know a lot of mixed emotions of being able to go. Join and I was nervous that the war was gonna be over very quickly. And I was going to miss out. I think my family was nervous at. The same time hoping that the war would be over very quickly. So I would miss L, but they knew my mom was made up and nothing was going to keep me from, you know, joining cheek attended his high school graduation only because his parents insisted in his head. He already was in Paris island. He trained in his spare time for his career on the ground with marines and showed up to boot camp ready for whatever they were going to throw at him. But bootcamp during wartime isn't at all what he expected and it built him up in ways he hadn't counted on. I think my experience boot count was different than maybe those a couple years before me some of my drill. Instructors had just come off. Deployments me. No. They saw the seriousness of what war was like. And so David they were more geared towards teaching us and stead of just, you know, the whole kind of harass and your break you down build you up. We still had that aspect of it. But there was more of a teaching that came along with it because they knew exactly where they were sending us. Fairly soon. Upon graduation, the marines all about history, and they're teaching you to the history of the Marine Corps. You know, you're about to play a part in that there's a war going on. And you're training for that. You know? Yeah. No one's going to probably actually remember your name, but you're going to be going down in history and phase at the Marine Corps. And this very exciting thing to think about understanding his place as part of marine history would turn out to be a huge motivator for cheek throughout boot camp. The fact that he was part of something special never was far from his thoughts. He and the rest of the recruits have been kept up to date, and what the marines were doing in the second battle of flu show, which kicked off right around the time. He got to bootcamp mostly they were worried that they would miss the war. But by the time, they got their chance. It was clear that the war was by no means over in influenza when they started opening back up the city to everybody a lot of insurgents came in and occupied the city again and due to the unit before us. Not patrolling the streets that wasn't that that security presence. So then surgency built up again when my unit took over psych, we stirred up the hornet's nest again and after a couple of weeks of observe in our tactics, and how we would patrol they began to really unleash things on us Faluja, a very very crowded area. It's not like a city that you would see in the US with him to these massive skyscrapers or anything. But since it's so condensed the streets are narrow and everything we knew something was about to happen. When we go into a heavily populated area and see that that whole area has been cleared out. And so we knew right off the bat to expect something we didn't know whether to expect an ID or an ambush, so you become super vigilant even more than what you already were. We start looking more towards the ground honestly, just expecting. And so when the machine gun bursts rips off, then you like all right? Well, it's machine gun fire. And I thought my head. As relief. Like, all right. I don't have to watch my feet anymore. Like, I gotta fight enchants. I can't I can't fight back with an eighty. But if there's some insurgent punk that shoot nut me, then you know, I got a fighting chance with this one people are yelling back and forth at each other trying to locate the fire and not specific since by the time. We located the fire and returned fire. Everything pretty much died off was over. None. None of us got hurt as very very easy combat experienced a slip into the for sure they weren't also easy day to day influenza marines, either we're patrolling the chaotic streets standing guard on the converted train station. They were using for bass or acting as a quick reaction force where q r f sometimes a Q r f is the same thing as having a day off, but many times, especially as the marines tried to maintain the uneasy peace influenza. There was nothing further from the case one time just complete chaos for Fortuna went into this building. And they were doing surveillance along one of the main roads. And they they stayed in the build way too long somehow there was a blind spot from where their surveillance in the building where the insurgents set up an ID on exit route that that the marines took we had navy seal team in the area that was operating. Those will when fourth petunias leaving the building they hit the I eighty couple of guys got shrapnel and a soon as that happened that the team kinda got the squad kinda got split in half. Half was across the street already in this old car lot where they sell us cars and a couple were in the street wounded, and then the other half was in the building still trying to get out. And then, you know, all all hell breaks loose. The they begin to get caught in a l shaped ambush would machine gunfire and AK fire at the same time. The navy seals got hit. They had a wounded guy. And they're trying to bring them to four platoon of four platoons calling us to come in and help them out. Our job was to get wounded out of there. We we arrive. Five and we want to set fire superiority, which means we just wanna hammered the enemy as fast as possible put as much rounds on their position as fast as possible. So we can get the wounded over to us. So for this quick reaction force. I'm not so much in a fight and forces, I just shoot as accurate as fast as I can said the wounded can get there. And then we're gone with the wounded you don't wanna be that guy that holds up the convoy because they can't find you because you ran off. So we're we're return far like that. We don't even get all the truck into the wounded is there and we'd get out to help load the wounded a less experienced headquarters platoon also had responded, but opened fire on the wrong building where the fourth platoon hold up. Cheeks squad were sitting back to back along the length of an old humvee waiting for the casualties to make it back to the truck and firing at the insurgents who had taken positions on the surrounding rooftops as part of the ambush. So we started changing fire with the enemy and the navy seals are coming back way through trying to bring their wounded. So four platoon had got some of the wounded and the center of that building, you know as pure chaos. They're they're working on the wounded in the center of the build in half of their teams outside abandoned car lot. You have headquarters shoot the marines. You had the insurgents shoot nut the marines. You have us Trond up deescalate some of this. And then here comes the navy seals wanted. Their wounded four platoon is set up a booby trap on the back door with a stun grenade in a smoke grenade. They come through the back door, which was booby trap. So they hit a stun grenade, which the first two guys, you know, they get stunned and their days. Ing fused. And they don't know what happened then they hit the smoke grenade which begins to fill up the whole entire building was smoke while they're sitting there trying to work on their wounded. And I remember the craziest seen sergeant matter was a squad leader in this dude was animal on the craziest. Toughest marines. I've ever met. Sorry matter taken shrapnel from the initial AD bless right in the face assays. He's bleeding down his face. Missed his I because he was wearing his eye protection and Coppola shot in the butt sergeant matters carrying COPA and sorry matter takes round through the guy and then around through the neck, and he comes over and drops off cove in our home V as argue matters, just laughing and we're looking at him what he's he's a lunatic. He's literally running across the street carrying cope Lee. And he's got blood pouring down his face. He takes two rounds to the body. Hey, he rips open his camby's, and he looks down at a stye. And sees you know, that the bullet missed missed his tattoo, and we're saying, you know, sergeant matter you gotta come with us your wounded and he's like, I'm not leaving. He just runs back off into the abyss. You know, back into the crazy firefight with the wounded secured in the firefight starting to turn cheek in the rest of his squad. Brought the casualties back to base. There's always some satisfaction and excitement after a firefight where the casualties were minimal guys took shrapnel on a couple got shot, but everyone was up around again in a couple of. Days as two thousand five turned into two thousand six things would get worse influenza, and they would get worse for the marines. Cheek would be reminded that hard won knowledge from setbacks is much a part of the marines history as were any acts of communal valor. But the incident from January seven two thousand six is the one that gave him the greatest amount of perspective about his place in the marines. And the marines of mission in Iraq. We were going back to camp bar Horea where they had some satellite phones, we're going to be able to use. And I and third squad. We're going to go out and patrol that morning. And then, you know, we're all going to rotate, and as we get their remember them saying, hey, we're going river city and river city is someone is either been hurt or killed in the area a member start at Ray. Pulls up in a humvee, and he comes running out and he's Intel he's kinda crying a little bit. And he comes up with my squad leader. Hey, we gotta go. I'm like, all right. He says I I tune or I squad third squad. They've been hit. They take some casualties going out there. And we're going to go help them. We're in the back of this high back home V open-top. I don't really know. What's going on? We're speeding down the road. I mean, we're trying to blow through checkpoints on camp bar RIA, you hear fire. Just intensifying the closer that we got. And then right before we're about to get their member. Commanding officer called us all things said no comeback to base stats aren't race stops the humvees and this alley where mad where we're trying to understand like why we getting called off this is our platoon. I so we get back in there actually there by this time. So I'm seeing one of my best friends. We still talk every day to this day Jonathan I remember seeing him. Teared up a lot of lot of senior guys who you think, you know, as a junior guy, you think they're invincible, and you see these guys, you know, just huddled up crying. And then that's when it kind of hits you like all, right? You know, it's a lot worse. Some what maybe we thought. Then then he start noticing guys aren't there? See, you know, my friends like Jared, Jerry Jacobs's and their wares. Jared was just staring at me with a blank face. That's not until coupla hours later when you give these guys their space that you start finding out what really happened no amount of satisfaction after victory compensates for losing guys. Even when you gain extra experience and knowledge as cheek would it is a paltry payoff worse. There is no good solution, a retaliation only anger to be tucked away for next time. January two thousand six and with the war now turning into something that looked a lot more like an occupation attacks on US forces increased as he Al Anbar province continued its descent violence hearing the story of how the fight went down. Did nothing to take the marines minds off of just how dangerous emission they had taken up. We face a lot of sniper fire on on that deployment. And that was the worst. We had this this sniper tame that is kept harassing us and the entire deployment. And as they were Petroleum corP Strom was shut bus Knipe, and he he was killed instantly. He fell down into the middle of the street, and as a as the squad trying to gather their barons trying to see what happened, you know, everyone just darts you move and take cover and they'd found a found a door that opened up to a house the marine start running into that house and trying to set up. Security and start making a plan to grow and go grab lunch from as they're doing that Kearns on a couple of other guys starts laying down bass afire. Jared goes out there to go. Grab lunch. Stroman Jerry get shot as he's as he's trying to drag on Jared is killed as well. And then our doc doc Ingles goes out there. And he he starts dragging wanted the guys, and he gets shot his will goes through his right arm comes out his arm goes through his chest comes out his chest and goes into his left, arm and comes out. And luckily it was so far forward. It just went through all muscle. And this by this time four foot tune came out there as a quick reaction force third squad was trying to reach them. But third squad got pinned down with a sniper farm machine gun fire. They were only a couple blocks away. And they were they couldn't reach him for platoon comes out, there is cure f-. And as they're coming out there. PFC Brown was coming around the corner. Corner nother sniper shot him and killed helmet Stanley as well said four platoon get stuck and they're they're trying to loan him. And and one in the vehicles, and that vehicle get shot and disabled and this the same just pure chaos marines trying to get closer and closer to the marines that are down. And this one squad of you know, eight guys been dwindled down to four year. You know, corporate Erickson got shot in his sappy plate a know. Your entire squad gets cut in half within thirty seconds. Then you can hear the fight all around you this, you know, this build enough and no one can reach. You didn't even take that long? Whole battle was over very quickly. All that was left for cheek in the rest of his platoon was anger and outrage and dealing with that took effort and perspective. Our captain calls off patrols for the rest of the day and marines were very very mad about that. Because all you won't. Revenge. I mean to be quite honest. You just wanted to Nollie the city. You don't care you. You just won't revenge. You won't someone to pay. And and retrospect looking back not as a nineteen year old kid anymore. I think the captain made the right call because he knew exactly what we wanted to do when we didn't have the upper hand at that point. And I think that's where all the anger came came from as you know, we're marines we trained for this. We we overwhelmed. The enemy we always win. And that day, we didn't have the upper hand. And as a very humbling experience, I'm still hot about it. Now, if makes any sense, you you also know that they're they're people in that city that needed our help, you know, we we interacted with the civilians a lot, and then surgency was Driss just as cruel to them, but they can protect themselves. Like we could than it have training. They have weapons, you know. So you don't blame them. We were there to protect an. To help them. No. You don't make stupid decisions like that. No one ever did you won't to. But at the same time, you realize it's not gonna do any good. It's not going to bring anybody back. So they waited they did their jobs, and then the marines were finally floated to go home. Although cheek didn't believe he was going home until his feet touched American soil, Yuna focus on going home. Because even though you're three days away. You gotta you gotta make it three more days. And if you start getting in that mindset and drop your guard, then you're not going home. Therefore, you have no decompression time. We go straight from fighting on our very less day to an America couple days later, and we turn a weapons and that the armory and they got us and formation, and we're marching down the road to this field house where all of our families are at in the streets are line, and they're holding up signs for you. And you hear people cheering and. You feel proud and guilty. I mean, you're proud that you get to come home, but you're guilty because you came home and others and guys that didn't come home their families there too. And they know their sons aren't there? But they're they're still support us a very hard to see some your friends parents there when your friends aren't aren't the ones coming home. I went back to South Carolina went home, some parents than some family, and you know, they want they wanna know what's going on. And they've been watching the news. And it's not that they're desensitized to it. But they don't. It's a whole different story watching on the news and seeing the numbers, and the names come across the screen than it is you know, that number name was was your friend that was laying in the street. You know, really fillet talking about it at that. Tom side grew up a grew up a preacher's kid and lived a pretty conservative life, never drank before my life. And that's that's how spent my time off was alcohol use by massive amounts of alcohol with your friends and try to process things. So you just you just try to focus on these guys didn't make it. And for some reason. I did Anita get as much life in as possible for the both of us his at the same time. You know, you're going, you know, you're the point again right back to it. There were a couple of upsides on the new deployment. I he was a senior guy. Now, a squad leader who could help orient the new marines to the reality of twenty first century warfare. Cheek was proud of an impressed by the senior marines during his first deployment. But the reality was that they were in many cases using Vietnam era tactics that were situated some place between ineffective and counterproductive. For example, rather than using suppressive fire to retrieve the dead or wounded marines now relied on massive amounts of smoke. Canisters? The Iraqi police also were a new wrinkle, although they were nowhere near as well trained in quipped as the US forces cheek found them enthusiastic about fighting off the insurgency more important. They played a significant part in what would turn out to be one of the biggest wins for the marines on cheek second, deployment and Sassari. Ray says hey, said there's a factory in the heart of Luger, they're making, you know, vehicle born eighties, and we're gonna go hit this factory. And so the whole plan was our little six. Man, marine team was going to go hit this guard shot supposedly there was an insurgent guard shot like about a block away a lookout that was supposed to blow. This factory if marines or coalition forces came near it while like everything else in the marines. The intelligence is always wrong. So we get to this compound instead of it being the guard shack, it is the actual factory that they sent my team to at first we don't know that we are actually walking into a major ambush the massive compound had seen better days. Three buildings were laid out in anelle shave with an unguarded gate in the front and a hole in the rear from a previous incursion. The six-man man marine squad split up into three teams Chee-Chen Kearns staff. Sergeant Ray in Hudson and gain in Campbell more than enough for the trigger man, but woefully underprepared to run into the more than dozen insurgents inside the factory as they were walking around cheek in Kearns noticed wires coming out of an old donkey cart and leading into the building. When they went. A follow the wire all hell broke loose as I look up to the rooftop this three story building. I see about six or seven insurgents lean over with a case. And I can't even get the words out to give corns a heads up before. They just start raking far down on us. Take off running to the corner of the building a c Kearns take off running right beside me. I hear car and scream. Hey, falls down by this time. I'd made it to the corner the bills like I gotta go back form. I don't have a smoke grenade or anything homemade to cover my movement. And I'm separated from everybody says that turned the corner to go back for Kearns a make it about five or six steps. And I bumped chest with them. He he had just fallen down hit tripped. And screamed when you get trip scared me the death and at the same time other insurgent start porn out the back of the building. We're gonna Ray in Hudson. We're out and has gone. He ran Hudson or turn in the corner. They bump chest with two insurgents like literally bump chess with them. And then sergeants their guns jammed and gunny Ryan Hudson shot shot these guys. Probably about twenty times piece right in the chest me and corn start fighting our way back over to where they're at the compound backed up to eight hundred meters of open trash field and the insurgents made for the broken part of the wall. They're intending to escape they had the marines dead to rights outmanned two to one with the element of surprise and the high ground, but they were also drugged up on qat a leaf that had kind of an amphetamine effect and probably were way too jumpy to think that clearly so they started to egress across the eight hundred yard eight hundred meter trash-filled. And we just picked them off. I remember we're laying beside two of the dead bodies that gunny Ray in Hudson has shut foreign on the rest of their friends, but all these guys were on cut. And this one guy was running across the field and cars were shooting them in the bottom of the back. And then the back of his legs and member gain walked up machine gun bursts, straight from the bottom of this guy spine to the back of his head. Barely clearly see and my scope this guy turned around and the front of his face was. Missing. All he had was the bottom part of his jaw remembers specifically just seeing his teeth. And that's all I can see. And this guy was so on drugs. He took a knee started unload his AK reloaded his AK took three steps before he dropped. And we're like we we thought we fighting zombies. The two bodies that staff. Sergeant Ray in Hudson originally shot and what the heck was going on. They were reaching for something pocket. We shot him. Again, they called fire and come to find out of the twelve bodies. We covered seven of them had suicide vest on and one of our trace around call called his vest on fire. So that Raqi police came in and it up being one of the largest vehicle borne suicide factories found in Iraq to this date. It was a huge victory for the marines or at least for their morale. The Iraqis got credit for the mission. But they wouldn't let the marines take the bodies opting instead for public display of jus-. What the new Faluji was going to be like if they had any say about it. The Iraqi soldiers gutted the twelve dead insurgents and hung them from the street posts. It didn't do a lot to quell the violence influenza. But it didn't courage the marines by showing them just how fed up the Iraqi army was with the insurgency. so much of the time between battles waiting that. It's easy to lose track of how much danger really is out there. But even when you're in the middle of a city wracked by violence, doing your best to set aside the threat in your mind for just a couple minutes at a time is an important way to stay sharp without getting over raw. But influenza in two thousand and seven those minutes were few and far between we had this one building that we all keep in the center palooza. It'd be a whole squad of us thirteen or fifteen marines. I was a team leader at this time. And I remember one of my guys my team Jeremy thing fee was relieving meal and post I'm coming down off the roof to go play cards with some of the guys staff sergeant Ray and some of the other guys downstairs and not fifteen twenty minutes past them. We hear loud smack sound like a bullet just hit the wall right beside me. And then remember here in machine gun on the roof star opening up and start yelling that Jeremy was hit. Then having gear on ran upstairs with corporal matter. And we start crawling across the roof and Jeremy's trying to crawl dust a little bit. He's kind of reaching out a drag down off the roof. Drag them down the stairs to the story that we were on a began cutting away as close and the first thing we do is we take off his vest, and we see a hole in this plate. So I'm looking around, and I don't I don't, you know, he's he not even really bleed in much at all and see a little and dention in the top part of his chess a little bit of blood not much at all. I mean wouldn't even feel like a cap to cope, and I'm telling them, I know there's the bullets in him, then they don't believe me and a sees tournament pill to consensus was that a piece of his plate had been shipped off in the Jeremy just had had the wind knocked out of him. But that didn't feel right to cheek first off. There was bulletproof glass. On the rooftop lookout. Second marine should have started to come around by. Now, if it was just a minor injury already halfway through his second tour and flew cheek had seen a ton of gunshot wounds. Entreated a bunch of people in the field. He cut open the man's vast saw that there was a hole in the sappy plate and no exit wound. Jeremy's back and knew what he had to do a search treating for a second chest wound. His chest starts weasing went to a few of the medical classes and think as long was starting to collapse. So a starting doing what they say to do taking plastic enough put over his wound start taping it off. And as I'm doing I'm trying to trying to keep them calm. It takes off his helmet while I'm working on as throws his helmet on the ground or someone those helmet on the ground SIA pitcher out of his helmet. Jeremy's only nineteen years old and one of my good friends and pitcher in the inside of his helmet of Helmand his wife on new they'd been together since high school Amana just hit me right in the gut off. He can't he. He can't die. So I'll take that picture out of his helmet. A hand at toll. I tell them just just focus on the cure f- gets there with a medivac convy, Jeremy guess, putting the home v. I guess he flatlined on the ride there. Then he flatlined again when he went into surgery, he ended up making it he had a couple of surgeries how to have part of his lung taken out. He still deals with a ton of problems right now at the moment, you're just all training training and adrenaline. You're sitting there, you know, you're not thinking about this is your friend. You're not thinking about what's going to happen. You're just focused on the problem. That's a hand. But when I saw that picture full news and became real. And so you try to put in the back your mind. I mean, heck half the reason I handle the pitcher. So I didn't have to look at it. I keep my months straight to get it out of my view. So he can look at it, Chico. Ready had had something of reputation for field medicine. So sometimes he was referred to as an honorary Corman. Immorality, though, it just tied back to the seriousness with which he performed his duties. He says he just happened to be lucky enough to be paying attention when they learned about sucking chest wounds in combat medical training. But the truth is deeper than that cheek liked being marine any liked being good at it. When he had the chance to go to Afghantistan as an adviser helping another unit train up the Afghan national army. It was just another challenge to relish buzzed very excited about this deployment. We're finally getting to go to Afghantistan. I was gonna be a fourth tour received were patrolling around, and we get caught in L shape down Bush as starts off with our PG's getting fired at us and then machine gunners. Open enough on our flanks and it was during the rainy season. It was terrible man's light Tron to fight on a stairmaster. You're just flooded fields. And you got you got mud pass your ankles, you know, halfway up your shin. There is no cover. You're just an abandoned cleared out filled. There about ditches every fifty yards and you're trying to. Make your way to a ditch. And you're trying to high step it through this mud while you're being shot is just as miserable. The ambush dies off really fast. Only lasts a couple of minutes. So we're walking back to the base. This kid in front of me once COPA rack on it Nome on most of these guys. I just got attached to kilo once couple rack install stepped on a booby trap de right in front of me a member. Everybody wanted to rush tool right off the bat had to tell them. No. You don't wanna rush up to them because these little toe Popper ides's where everywhere a slowly workup Iraq in thal, and he's missing the bottom part of his right leg right off the bat part of his right arm. Barely hanging on his left legs barely hanging on a so I'm trying to put Turner kits on them. And normally goes like this suffering that much trauma. They lease be passed out. But Racquetball wasn't pastel. He sitting there screaming and the whole time while he's all screaming. His four is a Dr Pepper is the weirdest thing in the world. I guess it's just the. Trauma, put four five Turner kits on rack and bowl. The stop all of his bleeding is the whole time. He's yelling. He's like give me a f- Dr Pepper right now. You know, just Cussing at me screaming for Dr Pepper sitting there trying to tal- tone. Dude. There's we'll have a freaking Dr Pepper Mantelet. We're in the middle of Afghanstan. He's got blown up like there's no freaking Dr Pepper, so far some ever saw the dude in this last time I ever saw the only conversation we ever had was you know, I'm scared. He's about to be a triple amputation ease. Yelling at me for Dr Pepper on to some guys who keep in touch with them. And he's doing good Afghanistan was a completely different animal from Iraq. The enemy state to fight more often in the soldiers were more experienced on both sides working with the N A was a dicey proposition though, especially for cheek as an adviser. He had fought alongside some of the best the Anna had to offer but working with that army could still be something of a crap shoot. Not only. Do you have to train them in? In your life and their hands, and they don't speak your language, but you're also trying to keep the peace between the Afghan army and the marines. There are some guys in the Afghan army that they weren't the best. And I'm about to go do a mission with my buddy Jonathan's platoon. I think he was second platoon, and I had suspicion of this Afghan army platoon commander because normally I wouldn't tell anybody I would set up patrols, but as part of training them I had to start showing the platoon commander how to plan out patrols and patrol routes and everything and wants to started doing that always got ambushed. So I tell that marine platoon commander like, hey, I'm pretty sure my a platoon commanders Taliban. So we set up Trump we made up a fake patrol route. And he says we're going to actually go a different way and see if he said of ambush force and see if we can come in behind that Taliban and everything, and so I tell him this is the route that morning before we go to step out. I was like, hey, the marine Lieutenant changed up things and the platoon commander got very upset. Very mad at us that he was out of the loop that things got changed up. And sure enough man, we snuck up behind this ambush, the has four. So when we get back confront him. And he gets very mad. He pulls out a pistol. And he's pointed at me in the marine platoon commander some of the marines raise their rifles at him. And the other don't know go on what's going on. So a couple of them raise their rifles at the marines. And we're like this, you know, Mets can standoff everyone's got gun just pointed at each other. But some of the AMA knew that he was Taliban one of them snuck up behind him and hit him over the head knocked them out. We arrested them he know by that time to other a when they saw their own guys do that they put their weapons down. We told them. What was happening? I never had a problem. We all had a good working relationship. After that. We ended up finding out that he was high level Pakistan, Taliban that came over to Afghantistan to f- trait. The and they you know, I'd had other I'd been shot at multiple times. And you know, I'm cleared houses. And. Delusion stuff, but to be held up like that. No. I'd never had something like that happen. There's a little bit of fear. But the fear comes afterwards when you look back on like man at any point Tom that do could have shot me. But the same time your initial reactions just anger you like man this dude is going to try to shoot me. Like, this is messed up like, yeah. That's not a fun situation. Cheek was in Afghanistan again as part of his re up which was a combined effort to be able to earn a living again as the US economy collapsed in two thousand eight and to keep his marriage together the second aspect of that plan failed. And by two thousand twelve cheek was no longer married. In fact, he wasn't going to be marine much longer either. I was going to stay in and be a drill instructor. But in two thousand twelve a lot of marines weren't allowed to stay in the Marine Corps anymore. They just didn't let us reenlist solid known since I was eighteen a wanted to do at least for twenty years retire. It was tough at first. But then as soon as I got out and tasted freedom os. Okay. With. With it. My house over in Afghanistan applied to a college and and got accepted and big career change. So I went from eight years deployments. Marina intrigue to a mess. OC pastor now at a church here in Louisiana. So my my undergraduate degree was an Christian ministry. And honestly, my faith is what got me through five deployments to. I'd walked away from God. Especially during my first and second deployment trying to reconcile things and yet heavy into alcohol for a couple of months there. That's definite. What a held onto especially when I got out. And I see friends struggling a lost twenty seven friends close friends during those deployments. And I'm almost close to that number right now with how many friends have committed suicide from the marines as well. I really try to reach out to guys and let them know like there's more out there. There's no sense in it struggling with depression or PTSD, anxiety, suicidal thoughts. Like, you know, you have to be proud of your. Service. You have to appreciate what you did. But at the same time, we all knew it we're signing up for like I joined the marines to fight on join to protect America. You know? Yes. When I saw the twin towers and tenth grade get attacked, I was very angry about the same Thomas be realistic that people from Iraq weren't gonna come over here on big warships and invade America. And started battle over here. I joined the marines to fight I trained, and I wanted that training to be tested because I wanted to know if I could handle it when I was over there fault for the guys to the right into the left of me known was going to north Augusta, South Carolina and killing Stephen sheiks family, and I've fought so my brother and my sister or kids later down the road one half to fight you do it. And then you go back into the shadows. We're not owed anything, I don't see any point. And dwelling all my past services in the past. I keep the memories of all my friends that died I keep those memories alive. But the best years still ahead of me. I'm not gonna live another sixty years ago when an reminisce on the days of when I was twenty two years old. That's a sad life to live because I've met so many guys that moved forward and done even better and greater things with their life. To people often. Join the military to get a sense of being part of something larger than themselves. But it is the attitude of service the spirit of excellence that makes up that something larger Stephen cheek is working on his doctorate of ministry and continuing to strive to stay part of something bigger to strive for personal excellence and to serve something larger. Next time on this is war, and it wasn't one or two. It was the tire. Billy was coming out onto the street. And I'm running down the middle of it. They were closing in around me. Are you a combat veteran or do, you know one with a story to tell reach out to us at stories at this is war dot com with your dates and branch of service, and a brief description of the experience that you'd like to share. This is war was written by me, Anthony Russo and produced by incongruity media, if you like to show you can help support us by visiting our sponsors or by leaving a five star review wherever you're listening right now, you can also follow us on social media at this is war.