Im November 2007 beschrieb unser Mitarbeiter James Hagengruber in einer Reportage das Leben der Zwillinge Robert und Matthew Shipp aus Idaho, USA. Er hatte sie auf ihrem Weg von der High School zu den Marines, einer Einheit der US-Armee begleitet. James’ Geschichte endete damit, dass sich Matt Shipp von seiner Frau verabschiedete und, wie sein Bruder Robert, in den Nahen Osten aufbrach. Kürzlich nun ließ sich James „embedden“ und besuchte die Zwillinge auf dem Schiff „U.S.S. Germantown“ und im Irak. Für jetzt.de schreibt er in einer Kolumne über seine Erfahrungen und darüber, wie es den Brüdern ergeht. Sie erscheint in der Originalversion, als etwaige Übersetzungshilfe hier ein Link zu LEO, einem Deutsch-Englischen-Wörterbuch.
I came to the Middle East to follow the story of 20 year old twin brothers in the Marines: Corporal Matthew Shipp and his brother, Lance Corporal Robert Shipp. For nearly three years, I have followed Matthew and Robert in their quest to finish high school in a rural, conservative Rocky Mountain town and go to war with the smallest and toughest of America's military forces. I was with the twins when they finished high school, when they started and completed Marine basic training, when they got married and when they kissed their families and wives goodbye before embarking on their tours to combat zones.
But I am not a war correspondant.
My specialty is writing about environmental and indigenous issues in the American West: declining grizzly bear populations, warming winters and bark beetles, diabetes in the Crow tribe, companies that dump chemicals into trout streams. The Shipp story interested me because I had so many questions about why my country was fighting this war and why 180.000 young Americans continue to volunteer each year to help in this fight. I hoped I could find answers by following two 'typical' American soldiers from the end of the childhoods to combat. But just as Matthew and Robert were leaving for war, the newspaper in Washington State where I worked announced job cuts. Blame the Internet, blame the Bush economy, blame Wall Street. I don't know.
Leaving the job was not so bad, but I was depressed about ending the story on the twins just as it started to get interesting. The brothers were now at war and I was at home. So I decided to go to Iraq.
The Shipp twins endured 13 weeks in grueling basic training and another year in advanced infantry training in California's Mojave desert to get to Iraq; all I needed to do was fill out an application, wait several weeks for approval, and then get myself to the Kuwait International Airport. Before the U.S. Department of Defense would consider allowing me to join their campaign in Mesopotamia, I also had to supply my own body armor and helmet, promise that I had the ability to run and I had to sign a 7-page contract agreeing that I would not bring alcohol or pornography to the war and I would not take photographs showing a prisoner's 'recognizable face' etc., etc.
That's how I ended up on a foot patrol last month in Rutbah, Iraq beside Cpl. Matthew Shipp and aboard the U.S.S. Germantown a month earlier with his brother. Their experiences have been dramatically different.
Matt is stationed at a tiny military fort in western Anbar province. He is one of about 120 Marines of India Battery of the 3rd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment serving at Combat Outpost Norseman. Every day he spends time patrolling the nearby town of Rutbah, which sits at a crossroads near Iraq's borders with Jordan, Syria and Saudi Arabia. At night, if Matt has the chance for a few hours of sleep, he rests on a cot behind rows of razor wire and piles of sandbags. Although the fighting has calmed in most of the other parts of the Sunni-dominated province, attacks are still common in Rutbah.
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The town is an important smuggling route for weapons and fighters, according to one of Matt's commanders, Lt. Hamilton Ashworth. That's why insurgents don't want to give up. „We're in the wild, wild West“, Ashworth told me, shortly after I arrived for a weeklong stay.
The Marines hope they can bring some order to this town before their seven-month tour ends. This has the infantry grunts, as they are called, patrolling day after day without a break trying to keep the town secure while their commanders help train the local police force. Matt feels like he is making a difference and that he can help bring about a new Iraq. He and his brother both signed up for four years in the Marines. Matt hopes to return to Iraq at least once to see what he expects will be progress. „I'd come back in a heartbeat“, he said.
Lance Corporal Robert Shipp, meanwhile, is with the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment aboard the U.S.S. Germantown. Their job is to serve as a floating backup force – they can move at a moment's notice to any hot spot in the region. So far, Robert Shipp and his fellow Marines have spent their time training and waiting. They are bored young men, desperate for a taste of combat in Iraq or Afghanistan. „Why did they spend so much money on training if they're not going to use us?“ Robert said, as he passed another long afternoon in his platoon's dark, cramped berthing area. Sprawled on the floor next to Robert's triple-stacked bunk were his platoon mates. They watched action movies on laptops, played combat-themed video games or practiced flicking open their knives.
The twins from Idaho believe they could fight back and make America safer. Matt is happy to be in Iraq. Robert is unhappy to be missing the action, but he thinks he will have another chance to get in the fight.
„You can't end a war on terrorism“, he said.
Text: james-hagengruber - Fotos: James Hagengruber