SPRAGUE: Today is August 17th, 2022. This is an interview with BrandonWinneshiek, who served in the United States Marine Corps from May 2001 to June 2005. This interview is being conducted by Luke Sprague at the Wisconsin Veterans Museum in Madison, Wisconsin, for the Wisconsin Veterans Museum Oral History Program. No one else is present in the room. Okay, Brandon, could you tell me a little bit about where you grew up?
WINNESHIEK: I was born in [XXXXXXXXXX]. I ended up moving to La Crosse at anearly age. Actually, prior to that, we moved to, my mother and I moved to California. We lived in Los Angeles for awhile and we ended up moving back to 00:01:00Wisconsin. And then we moved to La Crosse. For the most part, I was in La Crosse from pretty much kindergarten through I think it was sixth grade. I loved it. I loved La Crosse. It's a beautiful city. My mother worked for Magic Construction for 30 years, so she was constantly on the road. After sixth grade, I ended up moving to Black River Falls and I lived with my grandparents and my aunt, which was a very, oh, it's a unique experience. The reason why is because my grandfather, his name was Benjamin Winneshiek, and he was the chief of the Ho 00:02:00Chunk Nation. And there were, he was a very respected and important man. And he was constantly being asked to do all kinds of things all over the state, all over the country. So it was interesting. It was yeah. It was very interesting to where, you know, we would be here or we would be there as far as this city or that city, or this tribe or that tribe. And then, yeah, I ended up in Black River till high school and the Marine Corps.
SPRAGUE: Tell me a little bit about, if you would, what do you remember aboutyour grandfather?
WINNESHIEK: Um, well, like I said, he was, well, one, he was a veteran, combat00:03:00veteran. He was very respected in our community, in our tribe, in the state. Oh. And he was a loving man. There were times I would, I would, at the time I was too young to to realize, oh, probably, you know, the struggles that he was going through as far as PTSD, depression. And, you know, I would see him sometimes he would drink, sometimes he would cry, sometimes he would drink and cry. And I didn't at that time, you know, I didn't. I didn't. It didn't register to me, you know. Or, you know, I didn't I had no idea what PTSD was. But you know, he was. He was the chief. And he had, you know, there were a lot there are and there are 00:04:00a lot of responsibilities that come with that position, being in that position. And we were like I said, we were always busy. You know, we were always busy going to pow wows. Or we were always busy with ceremonies. And he was, you know, there were always people coming to our house whether to ask him for, you know, questions on knowledge or language or. You know, he was a, he was full of information. And yeah, we always had a full house of people coming over and visiting him. So, I don't know. There's, there's a lot. There's a lot I remember about him.
SPRAGUE: So tell me a little bit about your high school years.
WINNESHIEK: Oh, high school. High school was okay, I guess. I sort of was a00:05:00little naughty when I was in high school and I ended up oh, I ended up getting sent to a group home in Oneida, Wisconsin, and it was a group home that was run by the Oneida Nation. And so it took a bunch of native kids from from all over the state. And I was there, I think, my freshman year. I ended up going to Pulaski High School. And I don't know, it was okay. It wasn't like, but it wasn't like I wanted to be there. I was sent there. But then I ended up coming 00:06:00back to Black River, going back to the high school, and it must have been like my junior year. I heard about this program at Fort McCoy called the Challenge Program, and this was the very first year it started. I think this was 1998, 1999 or something like that. And they were like, Hey, you can come to this challenge program. It's like this military based, themed high school thing. You get your HSED and then you're done. And I was like, Oh, okay. So I had a group of friends. I think there were six Ho-Chunk, six Ho-Chunk boys that including myself. So myself and five others ended up going to the very first Challenge Academy class. And I loved it. Like I knew, I knew from a very young age that I 00:07:00was going to join the military. I knew I was gonna join the Marine Corps. And, like, it was, it was my thing, you know, I would you know, it was like that piece of the puzzle, you know, right there. It fit perfectly. And I loved it. I love the Challenge Academy. Don't remember how long it was. Maybe six months. Eight months. And I don't remember. It's been so long, but I really enjoyed it. And we all graduated in 1999. Pretty sure, I think. Anyways, graduated with my HSED over there and I wanted my high school diploma really bad. And for Black River Falls, Jackson County, they said in order to receive your high school diploma, I had to take a couple of classes at the Technical College in Black 00:08:00River, and so I took a couple classes. I don't, I don't remember what they were, but I took those and eventually I received my high school diploma. So yeah, it was. I don't know. High school was cool.
SPRAGUE: So you said that you were the Corps was a good fit for you? Yeah. Tellme a little bit more about that.
WINNESHIEK: Oh, well, this goes back or, you know, my, my decision goes back toHo-Chunk veterans. There are a ton of Ho-Chunk marines. Oh, I think it's, you know, it's that warrior mentality. You know, I mean, we. We fight. We want to 00:09:00fight. And I've had a ton of family members in the Marine Corps, including Mitchell Red Cloud, who was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Bronze stars, you know, we have Silver Stars. You know, there's tons of metals that My family members have received. And one of the things--when a Ho-Chunk passes away there's four days of wakes. And on the on the, on the, on the, on the last night we stay up all night and there are two combat veterans that tell their story. And the first part of the story, you talk about your time in service, whether 00:10:00that be places you went, you know, things you've done, funny stories, you can tell sad stories you can tell. You know, you can tell whatever you want about your story, you know. I usually do it in chronological order, and then depending on if it's a woman that passed or a man that passed or if it was a kid or if it was a veteran, you know, a lot of that dictates what I, what I talk about. I also read the room and look at everybody. And if I, if I see them getting sleepy, I'll make them laugh. If I, or, you know, if at night, I might be, I might be talking about something sad and everybody will be crying. But to 00:11:00answer, to answer your question, when I was a kid, I would go to these wakes with my grandfather and being, being a part of the family that I am from, we were tasked with taking care of a lot of the funerals and wakes. People would ask us to take care of somebody that passed away. And so I heard a lot of stories when I was younger. Most of them, you know, Vietnam stories, Korea stories, a few World War II stories. So, there were, there were a lot of veterans that have passed now. I've listened to their stories. And it was, I don't know, I just found it so interesting to sit there and listen to all these 00:12:00battles that they were in, or, you know, to go to these different countries that they've been in. And that's what I wanted to do. And not only that, not only listening to their stories, but to see the respect that they, that people gave them. I mean, it was like, you know, for most tribes, I would say, I don't know, my tribe, maybe all tribes, I don't know. I can't speak for all tribes, but for the Ho-Chunk Nation, you know, a combat veteran--just the other day, it was. What was it? Oh, we were at a funeral the other day and some guy compared it to like a totem pole, right? Obviously, Ho-Chunks don't have totem poles. But he said, you know, if there, if there were, combat veterans would be at the very top of those. You know, that's how combat veterans are looked at within the Ho-Chunk Nation and. Yeah. I don't know. I mean, listening to those stories, 00:13:00listening to family member's stories after, while they were in and after they got out, you know, that was something that I always wanted. And that was, you know, probably what made me decide to join the Marine Corps.
SPRAGUE: So, what was your, was your warrior decision--Is that why you choserifleman within the Corps?
WINNESHIEK: Oh, yeah, definitely. Yeah, definitely. I remember going to therecruiting office, Marine Corps recruiting office in La Crosse, and I remember walking in and I told him, Hey, man, I want to join the Marine Corps. He was like, Cool. What do you want to do in the Marine Corps? I said, I want to be a rifleman. And, you know, this is prior to September 11th. So, the war, there was 00:14:00no war and he was like. He was like, I don't know. I don't remember his exact wording, but it was like, I don't think we can get you in as an 03 right now. You know, you can join and do something else, but you can't be a, you know, an 0311 or any 03, basically. And I was like, okay, sounds good. And I did a about face and turned around and walked out the door and walked into the Army, Army recruiting station. And I said, Hey, man, I want to be a ranger. And they were like, All right, cool. Sit down. And I remember taking the practice ASVAB and that recruiter watched me, you know, leave his office and walk, walk, walk into the Army recruiting state's office. And he was like, Oh, shit. And, yeah, then a couple of days later, he ended up, I must've filled out some paperwork or something because he ended up calling me and he was like, Hey, Brandon. And I was like, What's up? And he was like, You still want join the Marine Corps? And I was like, Sure I do, I said, man. He said, All right. He said, Oh, and you 00:15:00still want to be in the infantry, right? And I was like, I'm not joining the Marine Corps unless I'm in infantry. And he was like, All right, cool. He said, you know, Come back. Let's, you know, fill out the paperwork. More paperwork, you know, obviously had to go to MEPS and all that stuff. But yeah, you know, it was, was the infantry or nothing.
SPRAGUE: Okay. So what was your what was your experience at boot camp?
WINNESHIEK: Oh, boot camp was. Well, I ended up going to San Diego and, Ithought boot camp was easy. It was, you know, obviously it was physically challenging. There was a little bit of homesickness, but not a lot. I think the 00:16:00worst part about being in San Diego is that you have the airport right there. So you're constantly seeing planes take off and land. Take off and land. So you're always wondering what you know, hey, one day, one day I'm going to get to jump on that plane and go home. But I, I, I enjoyed boot camp too. Boot camp was fun. When I look back on it, it was, you know, there was the dumb games that the drill instructors made you play. But one of the things that I talk about all the time, you know, I've told my story a lot at these wakes. And one of the things that I talk about all the time is. When I was, I was 19 when I joined. And at 00:17:00the time, you don't realize why the drill instructors are making you do certain things, right? You're just you're just sitting there getting yelled at and you're like, What the fuck? You know, I can't do anything right or I' m not fast enough or I can't jump high enough, or you know what. He tells me to go left and I go right. I go up, he goes down, you know, whatever it might be, you're never right. But there's, there's a reason to everything that they do in boot camp. And it's to prepare you for battle. It's for you to be able to take a take a command and follow follow it. Because if you don't, you know, there's potential for somebody to get fucked up, killed. So at that time and, you know, when you're 19, 20, whatever, 21 years old, you know, you don't you have no idea why 00:18:00they're yelling at you. But as you get further in your career or, you know, further down the line and you get to ask the why, or you get to the fleet and then you have junior marines. You know, there's a reason there's a reason why I'm yelling at you or there's a reason why if I tell you to do something, then you better do it the first time, correctly. And so here another thing that I. I talk about is how the word, the word for uncle in Ho-Chunk is Dega and your Degas are the ones that are like the disciplinarians, right? So my mom would be like, I'm going to tell Dega on you if I didn't clean my room or something, you know, or something like that. Right. So you would always you'd always be scared 00:19:00of your degas, your uncles and that's what I would compare a drill instructor, a drill instructor to was because you have those nice degas you have those mean degas and same thing going for boot camp. That's exactly the way it's set up. You know, you have the nice drill instructor who is your senior drill instructor, and then you have the green belts. And one of the green belts is a super, super mean Dega that just constantly fucks with you and yells at you. And then you have the other ones that, you know, are sort of nice to you and teach your stuff. So when I tell my story at wakes, I talk about that. That usually gets people laughing. I mean, there's more to it that I talk about, but that's that's that's what I compare it to.
SPRAGUE: Any, any memorable people in basic?
WINNESHIEK: Other than, you know, I still I still keep in contact with a couple00:20:00of guys, a couple of marines that went through boot camp with me. As far as memorable people. It was probably the mean Dega, one of the green belts. We always had a little side bet going on because we were trying to guess what his MOS was and the majority of the people, you know, were like, that dude's got to be an infantry man, you know? He's fucking mean. He was--His uniform was always fuckin' perfect. Back then we had to spit, shine boots. You know, now, nowadays, marines don't have to do that. We had to iron our camees, you know, iron your cover. And now marines don't do that anymore either. But, you know, his uniform was always, man, it was it was nice, right? And haircut, his posture, you know, 00:21:00everything about him was, wow, you know? And so everyone thought he was an infantry man and he said, You know what, he said, when you when you graduate, he said, you come up to me and you ask me. And he said, I'll tell you what I do, or what I, you know, what I do in the Marine Corps. And I went up to him. I went up to him and I asked him and he surprised the shit out of me. And so he was in the Marine Corps band. Yeah, it was.
SPRAGUE: Whoa! Oh, my God. Wow. That that would be. Well, I wouldn't havethought of that. I wouldn' t have guessed that either. Okay, so you get out of boot camp. What type of training do you do next?
WINNESHIEK: After boot camp, you know, you come home, whatever, ten days, doyour they leave. And then I went back to camp or I was then sent to Camp 00:22:00Pendleton for the school of infantry. And so this would have been. Let's see. I think I joined May, did I say? May, June, July. So it must have been like August, right? Now we're in August of 2001 and we go back and, you know, the school of infantry is the school of infantry. It's like, you know, they get more in depth of, you know, how to be an infantryman and teach your weapon systems, different formations to use, you know, in a firefight. And, what was the question?
SPRAGUE: You got it pretty much, what what the next training was.
WINNESHIEK: Yeah. So the next training was the school of infantry, and, youknow, in boot camp they teach you basic land nav. So and when you get to the school of infantry, it's learning how to use your compass, learning how to read 00:23:00maps, night land navigation, obviously learning how to shoot all the different weapon systems, how to clean the weapon systems. There's there's a lot to it. You know, a lot of a lot of people think that I don't know I don't know how to how to say it that it's easy to be infantryman or it' s for dumb people. There's there's so much math involved. There's so much, you know, especially if you're a mortar man or, you know, oh, there's a there's a lot of knowledge that that needs to be learned. And I think at that time I tried to, I listened, right? Like I was listening, but I wasn't listening as far as trying to retain that knowledge, right? I was like, yeah, yeah, yeah. Because I've had so many family 00:24:00members join the service in that peacetime era, right? Like they would come home from from on leave or they would get out of whatever the Army or the Marine Corps, and they'd be like, Oh, yeah, you know, I was an infantryman or, you know, I was I don't know what the hell they call it in the Army, but we did this and I was shooting this, and we got to go here and we got to go there. And that was another thing that, you know, lured me in was their stories of all these fun things they got to do and countries they got to go to and drinking with their buddies in this country, and the other country and girls, you know, whatever. And. It wasn't until, you know, we we I was still in the school of infantry once, so September 11th happened. And I remember sitting, we were we were in the squad bay. It was like down time. And all of a sudden there was like this panic, 00:25:00right? And there was like, or not even really panic, but there was like the drill instructor, or not drill instructors but instructors SOI were talking to each other. You know, you could tell there was something, something was going on. And here they ended up bringing these TVs into the squad bay. And we were watching the news. And, you know, we were watching the the planes fly into the World Trade Center. And it was like at that time, you know, like something clicked. Like I had to, I don't know, it was it was crazy because it, at that point, it was not if I was going to fight. It was when I was going to go fight, right? And that's what I signed up for. But at the same time, I've known so many people to join the Marine Corps. They never had the opportunity to. And now it was like now it was, you know, I knew I knew it was happening. And I remember, 00:26:00oh, Camp Pendleton went on lockdown and oh, my mom was calling my phone because she was watching the news. And, you know, my aunts, you know, family members were calling me saying, You know, did you see what happened? You know, what's going on? What are you guys going to do? And I was just 19-year-old private that didn't know what the hell was going on. And I ended up finishing the, you graduate from the school of infantry. While you were at the school of infantry you get to make a wish list of what job you want, right? And I remember I wanted to be an LAV crewman and because you would see these LAVs cruising around Camp 00:27:00Pendleton. And so an LAV is a light armored vehicle and it has eight wheels--four wheels [inaudible] It almost looks like a mini tank. And I was like, damn, you could be one of those. They're like, Yeah, you can be one of those if you want. And I was like, Well, that sounds cool. I was like, then you don' t have to hump all that shit around, right? And I was like, alright, I said, Cool, well, that's going to be my first choice. So I ended up putting LAV crewman now as my first choice. And then it was 0311, 0331. And so it was time to graduate school of infantry. And we sit down. You sit down. Everybody sits down in this room. And, you know, they pretty much tell you what you're what you're going to what you're going to be. And I ended up getting my first choice, and I got sent to LAV school. And LAV school is in the same area on Camp 00:28:00Pendleton as SOI. Just straight down, literally right, right down the road, and what I remember about LAV school is, I wasn't there very long. Prior to joining the Marine Corps, I ended up ended up getting an OWI and lost my license. And so I was at LAV school for maybe, maybe a month, a month and a half or something like that. And they ended up finding out that I didn't have a valid driver's license. So, I got called into the commanding officer' s office. And, you know, that's what he said. He was like, Hey, you know, Winneshiek, you don't have a driver's license and you need a driver's license to drive an LAV. And I was like, okay, so what? You know, what's going to happen? And he was like, Well. He 00:29:00was like, I got to, you know, make a couple of phone calls and I'll get back to you. I said, okay. And I don't I don't remember what it was. Maybe a day or two later or something. I get called back to his office and he was like, Okay, we got we know where you're headed. And I said, okay. He said, well. I said, Where am I going? He said, You're going to San Mateo. San Onofre is where SOI is. San Mateo is literally right over the hill. And at that time, also, I had no idea what the hell San Mateo was or where I was going. He said, You're going over the hill. I said, All right. I packed up my stuff and jumped in a V.A.n or, you know, I don't know what kind of vehicle it was. But they drove me literally over the hill and there I was. San Mateo, home of the 5th Marines, you know, the most decorated unit in the Marine Corps. And I checked in. I checked into 2nd 00:30:00Battalion, 4th Marines. And. That's where I ended up.
SPRAGUE: Okay. What, after you get in to San Mateo. We talked a little bit aboutthis in the pre-interview. Where were you sent next?
WINNESHIEK: So I checked in to 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines. So the 5th Marinesconsist of 1/5; 2/5, 3/5 and 2/4. And I checked into 2/4. And I remember walking in. And when you check into a new unit, you have your service outfit on, the the green uniform. And I remember walking in and there were, you know, some privates 00:31:00in front of, privates in front of me. And, you know, we all looked fucking lost. We don't know what the hell we were doing. And we were standing there. I remember getting to, you know, we're standing in a line. And when I when it when I got to my turn to be at the front, there was a marine sitting there, and he was like, I remember getting to the front and he was like, Do you know how to swim? And I was like, Yeah. And he was like, okay. He's like, You're going to you're going to Fox Company. And I was like, okay. Once again, I had no idea what the fuck Fox Company was or what the hell that even meant. And I was like, All right, cool. Sounds good. And so there I was walking over to Fox Company, or being escorted over to Fox Company, and they were like, you know, just a new day. And it turns out Fox Company was a boat company. Echo Company was a helo 00:32:00company and Gulf Company was a truck company [inaudible]. These were all part of 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines. And so we were, I was part of a boat company. Once again, I had no idea what the hell that meant either. And but it turned out to be probably one of the coolest things of my life to this day. You know, I'm 40 years old now, and my time in the Marine Corps, my time in a boat company was probably one of the cool, probably the coolest job I've ever had. So in a boat company, we have these little rubber boats called Zodiacs and eight marines per boat. And we you know, we take these little boats off of large Navy ships and we 00:33:00do boat raids. And I had the opportunity to, you know, swim in waters all over the, all over the world and just being, you know, I was in the water almost, not constantly, but a lot compared to anybody else in the Marine Corps, I think. And so I was part of 2/4, Fox Company. As soon as, it didn't take very long, I was there probably, I don't even remember. I didn't it didn't seem very long. Maybe a month. Who knows? Maybe I was less than a month or a couple of months. And I was picked, I was chosen to go to Scout Swimmer School in Coronado, California. I assume, you know, where Coronado is? So, yeah, so we, we were bused down to Coronado for Scout Swimmer School. Oh, this was, you know, a pretty cool 00:34:00opportunity. Oh. Oh. You know, one called the Navy SEALs, you know, [inaudible] training is there, all the recon guys go down there. And it was, you know, it was it was cool to go over the Coronado bridge and you see San Diego right there. And so we were, you know, I got sent to Scout Swimmer School. And what I remember about Scout Swimmer School is we were either running or we're swimming. There was a lot of running and there was definitely a lot of swimming. If I wasn't in the pool, I was running somewhere. Oh, one of the things that, that--What I really enjoyed about being there was my uncle. His name was Howard Swallow, and he was a retired marine and he would tell stories of them doing 00:35:00these runs, swim runs, these beach runs right on Coronado Beach. And it turns out, you know, there I was, I was running on the same beach as him. And this, you know, my uncle was one of the--You know, he totally inspired me. You know, he, he was a Marines marine, another person very well respected in our community. And--
SPRAGUE: So his name is Swallow.
WINNESHIEK: Swallow, like swallowing. Yeah.
SPRAGUE: Okay. And he served in the--
SPRAGUE: Vietnam. Same unit or different unit?
WINNESHIEK: I think he was the 1st Marines.
SPRAGUE: Okay. Okay.
WINNESHIEK: I believe. I can't remember [inaudible]
SPRAGUE: Did you? What was that like swimming with with full combat load? How00:36:00did you do that?
WINNESHIEK: Well, one, you have to be physically fit. Obviously, the people thatwere picked to go to Scout Swimmer School were part of the upper echelon, I guess I would say, for physical fitness in Fox Company. It was it was very, very physically demanding. Like I said, if, you know, I'm not kidding when I say if I wasn't running, I was swimming. So it was, you know, your physical fitness had to be up there. You know, everybody was first class [inaudible]. It was it was difficult. But, you know, that goes back to to me running on the beach. We would 00:37:00do these they're called run, swim runs. And you're basically, you know, you're doing this large circle. So you're, I don't remember how far it was. It was far. You know, you couldn't see, you could barely see the end of running down the beach and then you swim out past the surf zone. And so when I when I tell this story at wakes, a lot of people don't know what the surf zone is and the surf zone is, you know, that's where the waves start building, and then, you know, finally they come in and crash. So you got to swim past the surf zone and get out into the open water. And then we would swim parallel along the beach and then come back down and come back in and you would just be constantly running and swimming. One of the things that I will always remember about Scout Swimmer School, too, is, you know, this is the Pacific Ocean that we're swimming in. 00:38:00This is Southern California. And the thought of, constantly I did, I assume everybody else did too, was sharks, right? Like what, you know, what the hell is below me? What? We're all past the search zone. And a lot of times we would be, we would be swimming. Well, it's not even swimming. It's called finning, actually. So you got fins on and you're kicking with your legs. You have your, you're almost like using the side stroke. That's what you're using, basically. But you always, majority of the time we'd be carrying a pack too or you'd be dragging, dragging, pulling a pack in the water. And in that pack, you would have, you know, simulating ammunition, food, dry clothes, water. And so you 00:39:00would have your LBB, you'd have your LBB on, you'd have an inflatable life preserver on, and then you'd have your, you know, your ammunition grenades, your M-16, and then pulling this pack behind you. And I always made it, I always made sure I was in the middle of the pack. You know, you don't want to be the guy in the front. You definitely don't want to be the guy in the back, because that was that was the thing that I was concerned about was this fucking great white coming and chopping my leg off or something like that. And in Scout Swimmer School, you know, oh, you, you have a dove knife, right? You have a dive knife on your ankle or your, or your leg, and the dive knives don't have tips on them, 00:40:00right? Because you don't want to puncture a hole in your Zodiac. And so we always I would always laugh. Like, so you have a dull-assed point tip, right? And you're wondering, I always wonder, what the hell am I going to do with this fucking knife if a fucking shark comes? Right. So they're you know, they're telling you, you know, basic, basic maneuvers to do if this the shark comes right. You're supposed to, you know, punch him in the nose or poke him in the eyeballs. But I'm like, come on, let's get serious. Like, your legs chopped off. That's the last thing I'm going to be trying to do. Another thing was killer whales, right? And they were talking about if if a killer whale comes, you're supposed to get into the fetal position. And I don't exactly remember why, but I 00:41:00thought it was the dumbest thing because I was like, Well, then you're just making yourself like a bite, bite-size, right? Like they're going to fucking swallow you whole if you get into this fetal position. And I always like, I never I never understood that part. Like, I was like, maybe, you know, you're like I said, maybe you just get it over with, right? You just get in the fetal position and they swallow you whole and cry and shit yourself. But I don't know. But I don't remember how long Scout Swimmer School was, maybe a few months or something like that. But it was difficult. It was very difficult. We were always on our--Like I said, we were running, we were swimming, but we were on our boats. Oh, there's there are marines sent to Coronado to be coxswains. So they 00:42:00were the drivers of the boats. So at the same as Scout Swimmer School there was coxswain school for the, our drivers. So they were learning how to, you know, work on engines and drive through the surf zone, and, you know, all the stuff. But they were, you know, it was it was cool because we got to do like boat raids on Mission Beach. You know, Mission Beach is one of the main beaches in San Diego. And it was like I think it was pretty sure it was in the daytime 'cause, yeah, I'm pretty sure it was in the daytime we did our boat raid on Mission Beach and you know, all these civilians and tourists are out there. These marines come in on their Zodiacs and they're like, What the fuck? But no, I, once again, you know, I it was cool. I loved it. I loved the experience. I loved the opportunity to, you know, to have that training, to run on the same beach as as my uncle did. And then just the, you know, the the history the history of 00:43:00Scout Swimmer School and BUD/S and Navy SEALs and Recon and, you know, all these all these different units that trained down there. So I don't know. That's cool.
SPRAGUE: So if I understood you correctly, your next, you next went to Oki--Okinawa?
SPRAGUE: No. Okay.
WINNESHIEK: So after, after Scout Swimmer School, we go back to Camp Pendletonand it wasn't very long. We were probably back, maybe it felt like maybe a week, maybe it was a week, maybe it was two weeks. But all of a sudden they came back or, you know, we got word. They're like, hey, pack your shit, you're going to Assault Climber School. And I was like, What the fuck is Assault Climber School? Okay, whatever. And we packed up our stuff and we ended up going over the hill 00:44:00to Camp Horno. And Camp Horno was the was where the first part of Assault Climber School was. And. The first part of Assault Climber School is physical fitness, right? Because your like, it was running. We were running all the time and we were running. Have you had the opportunity to go to Camp Pendleton?
SPRAGUE: I have, but I was never stationed or served there.
WINNESHIEK: So we would run. So you pull into. Well, it depends what, what exitor what entrance you come in on. But anyways, there's Camp Horno and then there's San Onofre and then go over the hill and there's San Mateo. So we were only a couple of camps from our, you know, from our home barracks. But while 00:45:00while at Assault Climber School we would cos, you know, we would run from Camp Horno to Camp Onofre, San Onofre. And on any Marine Corps base, there's going to be pull up bars. There's pull up bars everywhere. And we would run, you know, whatever it was, 5 to 10, 15 miles a day, all, and we would run to all these different pull up bar stations, right? And so we'd run from Horno to San Onofre. When you get to San Onofre, we would hit up every single pull up bar. So you get on the pull up bar and you'd do, I don't know, it's like five. And sometimes there's ten pull up bars connected to each other. So you do five pull ups, get down and then just cut, you know, all the way down the line. And then while you' 00:46:00re you know, this is a group of us, I don't remember how big the group was, but we started out as a big group, maybe, I don't know, 40, 50 marines. Right. And I just I just remember it was a lot of physical fitness. The other thing that I remember is when you're driving, if people have ever driven from San Diego to Los Angeles, you drive past Camp Pendleton and you see the helicopters and you see the barr--you know, all these barracks, different Marine Corps buildings. One of the things that you see when you look when you look to your right, if you're driving from San Diego to Los Angeles, is you see these large hills and all those large hills you see you see these what look like roads, right? Or there's these, it's like grass. And then all of a sudden it's like this wide 00:47:00open area of dirt. And you're like, I always wondered what those were when I you know, when I was when I first got out there. But they were, you know, for fires, wildfires, right? They were fire breaks. And so you look so when you're driving from San Diego to Los Angeles and you see these big ass hills to your right and you see these these fire breaks on these hills, at Camp Horno that that was one of the things that we constantly we ran up or wheelbarrow. So you you'd be on, on your hands and somebody would have your, have your legs. And, you know, you' d be wheel barrow, wheelbarrowing up these hills. And the first you know, the the first the primary goal of that is to work on your upper body strength, to prepare you for the next phase, which is the climbing phase, right? So 00:48:00obviously, you need upper body strength to be successful. So there was a lot of running, there was a lot of pushups, there's a lot of pull. You know, it was just we were constantly thrashing ourselves and. I don't remember, but there was these different tests we had to pass. I'm trying to remember what the first one was. I think it was a knot, a knot test. Learning how to tie knots. I remember there was a board or like a plywood sheet, and it had all these different knots nailed into it, right? Like a square knot or, you know, all these. I don't remember [inaudible]. You know, there all these different knots that we had to learn. And I don't remember how many there were exactly. Maybe 15 or 20 years or something like that, different knots that you had to learn. And this was and we 00:49:00always you always had a sling rope. So a sling rope is like a climbing rope, but cut into sections, right? So you always had your sling rope with you because you were constantly practicing for this knot test that was about to take place. And I think I don't remember how long we were there, maybe a month or a month and a half of like the first part of physical the physical part of it. Learning how to rappel and stuff like that. But the end of that first part was the knot test. And that's where, I don't remember what the, the success rate or whatever the hell that word's called, um, the dropout rate.
SPRAGUE: Dropout rate, yeah.
WINNESHIEK: Dropout rate of Scout Swim--or Scout Climber School. But it's, it's,it was high, right? Like people were dropping left and right now not only to the physical fitness part but a lot of people didn't pass the first part, which was 00:50:00the knot test. So we're constantly working out. You're constantly practicing your knots. And the day came for the knot test and they, they stretch out a piece of rope and they tie it on both ends. And it's about waist high. And so there's a marine. So I'm standing here, you'd be standing next to me. Another guy, another guy, another guy, another guy, right? And then all the instructors are on the other side. And they tell you to walk up to the rope, walk up to the line, and they're going to say, All right, we're going to a square knot, right? And so you're standing there and you have to do this blindfolded. And the reason why you have to do it blindfolded is because it's not always going to be perfect light, right? You're not always going to be in that, have the luxury of lights and daylight and moonlight and sunlight. Might be, it might be pitch dark. It 00:51:00might be in the jungle. You might be somewhere. So we had to do this test blindfolded and we had to get all of those knots correctly, done correctly. And this is where a lot of people failed. A lot of people didn't pass that that first test. And I. I did. And after that, we oh, we went down somewhere by San Diego. I don't remember where. You know, I was such a young Marine, such a boot, that I had no idea where the hell we were going. You know, I just knew that we jumped on. I remember we were down by like this, let's see, where the Chargers play, somewhere around there. I remember climbing down there and that's where we first started climbing. And that part of the school was to teach you how to 00:52:00learn how to use all of your pro is what it' s called. You know, when you see rock climbers, they have all that shit dangling from their belts. So you have to learn how to use all these pieces of protection that you put into the wall. You know, there's different techniques of how you put it into a crevice or a crack or, you know, whatever, all these different handholds that you have to learn how to do. Oh, which was really cool now that I think back on it, because, you know, at that time, back, back, back in those days or 20 years ago, whatever it was, you know, Marine Corps was teaching us how to rock climb, and, you know, civilians were paying out thousands of dollars to, to, to have the equipment that we had and to climb where we were climbing. So anyways, we were down by San Diego and we started climbing there. And then from there we went to Joshua Tree. 00:53:00So Joshua Tree is, you know, I don't know, world-renowned climbing area. Out by Twentynine Palms on the desert. And that was where the second second test was, second and third. The second test was learning how to use all these different systems as far as how to get supplies and marines from the bottom to a top of a hill or a cliff and vice versa. How to get casualties from the cliff down to the water's edge, right? To get them into our boats or get them into trucks or whatever. How to get supplies, ammunition, food, because that's the whole point of Assault Climber School is, when we were going to, when Fox Company or any one 00:54:00of our companies, when we would run into a cliff or, you know, some sort of obstacle while we were doing combat operations, we have to have marines to know how to climb stuff and set up these different systems to get equipment and personnel up and down. Yeah. So that was, you know, that's the whole point of Assault Climber School. And so we got out to Joshua Tree and there's all these different. You know, you have to build a A-frame out of, you know, like four by fours. And that's in order to send equipment down or marines down even. How to build suspension bridges. Like I always compared it to a cliffhanger. You know when they're going across on a piece of rope, you know, there's all--So that was you know, those are just a couple of examples of of things that we had to do. So 00:55:00that was the next test you had to test out. You had to test out on that to make sure that you had all that shit done correctly. Oh, we passed that and now, now, you know, we started out at like whatever, 60 or something like that, and now we're down to like maybe 20 or 15 marines. And the next part was the actual climbing, the climbing part of Assault Climber School. And what I remember about that is, oh. You had to pass at the easy, medium, and hard, right? That's the easiest way I can describe it. And you could only use a certain number of equipment and a certain kind. Have you ever--Are you familiar with climbing gear?
SPRAGUE: No, I'm not.00:56:00
WINNESHIEK: Okay. So a lot of guys like to use these things called cams and theysort of like, they're like, these half-moon shape things because you can just stick them in there and but they're easy to use. But once again, all of this was like simulated to simulate combat action. You might not have cams, right? You might have other pieces that you have that you're stuck with. Certain climbs you could only use certain types and certain number of pieces. And. Oh, yeah. I think everyone everyone but one because one got sick. But all of us that went ended up passing all of our climbs. After that, we went back to Camp Pendleton and that's when we started to get ready to go to Okinawa. And by then, you know, 00:57:00now, you know, now we're, this must have been, we're into 2002. So the war, you know, obviously the war is starting.
SPRAGUE: One quick interruption here. That's a lot of training. It seems to me.
WINNESHIEK: You know, it was you know, this is, and this is right after theschool of infantry, you know, you know, right after boot camp, you know, it was just like bam, bam, bam, bam, bam. It just felt like there was, like, constant schooling. And so this goes back to. This goes back to not if I was going to go fight. It was when I was going to go fight. And I made it, I made sure that I asked questions. I made sure that I retained as much knowledge as possible, 00:58:00right? Because I wanted to, I wanted to be a good marine. I wanted to be able to accomplish the task, task that was given to me. So. And this goes back to, you know, getting yelled at. Oh, there's a reason. There's a reason for every single thing in the Marine Corps. And even though you might think at the time that this is dumb or why is he making me do this? There's a reason. You know, there's absolutely a reason for everything.
SPRAGUE: Okay. So then at that point, you deployed to Okinawa?
WINNESHIEK: I did.
SPRAGUE: Okay. And where did you go to on Okinawa? Remind me--
WINNESHIEK: We were stationed at Camp Hansen in Okinawa. What I remember about00:59:00Okinawa. Same thing. You know, like I tell in my stories at the wake is first thing I remember is how green, green it was. I remember the humidity. We flew commercial there and I remember the doors opening up, or no, I remember coming in for the landing and I remember looking out the window and I just remember seeing the canopy, the jungle canopy, right? And I was just like, wow, dang. You know, just this, you know, that's the other thing I talk about is in boot camp, boot camp's a lot of physical fitness, but it's also Marine Corps history. And they teach you about all of the battles that the Marine Corps has been a part of. And Okinawa was a big fight, right? Okinawa was a big part of the Marine 01:00:00Corps. And looking down from the airplane windows and seeing the canopy, you know, I was a kid from Black River Falls, Wisconsin. You know, I've never seen no jungle before. And yeah, I just remember how green it was. I remember the doors opening up and I remember getting off the plane and how humid it was. I don't remember the month. I don't remember what month we got there. But I remember, I think we just must've jumped on buses from the airport and they took us to Camp Hansen. And I remember driving on the wrong side of the road. We were on the wrong side of the road, and I was like, You're looking up at the signs and, you know, they're all in Japanese and English and, you know? So one, it was 01:01:00hot as hell, humid. We were driving on the wrong side of the road and there was jungle everywhere. And we get to Camp Hanson and we were lucky, 2/4 was lucky that year, whatever it was, 2002 I think, because we these brand new barr--these brand new barracks just got built and we were the very first ones in those barracks. So it was cool, you know, I mean, I don't know, every time you talk to a non-veteran or non-marine and you tell them about the Marine Corps, you know, and where you live, they're you know, you compare them to dorm rooms. I mean, basically, that's what they are. So we got there, we got got into these new barracks and--There's so much training over there. Monday through Friday, you 01:02:00know, we'd be in the jungle and I remember there's, there's so much I remember about it. How dark the jungle can be at night. When I when I do talk about it, you know, it was so dark you could have your hand in front of your face waving it and, you know, you couldn't see anything. There was there was no star light. There was no moon light. It was just darkness. We would be Monday through Friday. You know, you're practicing night land navigation, daytime navigation to even the heart of the jungle. Oh. And patrolling, you know, different formations 01:03:00to use in the jungle. And one of the things that I remember about patrolling is that we would be patrolling through the jungle and we would stumble across these craters in the ground. And I'd always sit there and I'd be like, What the fuck is? You know, how and where did these big ass things come from? And this goes back to the Marine Corps history, right? Like there's all these huge craters all over the jungle where these bombs were landing. And yeah, so that was, you know, that was, it was like, I, that was something I always thought about. Was who, who was walking through the jungle before me, you know, who walked through here or who died right here or what, what battle took place right here? So that was 01:04:00like, I don't know. I found that super interesting. And one of the things I always did was I carried a camera with me. And back then, there were no digital cameras. We had [inaudible] What were those things called?
SPRAGUE: Kodak disposables.
WINNESHIEK: Yeah. Kodak disposables. I always had one or two of those in mybackpack and I would take pictures of, you know, us patrolling. I would take pictures of us chillin', eating MREs, I would take pictures of us setting up camp. I would take pictures of us. You know, I always had a camera with me. And yeah, Monday through Friday we would be in the jungle. Friday would come around and we'd either get--the helicopters would come and fly us back to Camp Hansen 01:05:00or else, you know, five times or seven times come pick us up and we'd get trucked back and the first thing I always did and everybody always wanted to, was jump in the shower. Seven days in the jungle. You know, you just want to wash your ass and wash your nuts and wash your face off. You had cammie paint all over and, you know, just take a hot ass shower. And that's what that's the only thing you want to do. After that get some chow,'cause you're sick of fucking MREs all week, and cold drinks and cold beer with your friends. I said, you know, [inaudible] something I'll always remember. Oh, I have so many pictures of us drinking out in town. And, you know, that's something that every now and then, I'll go look at my pictures and just sit there and reminisce and, 01:06:00oh, you know, look at buddies. Because a lot of my buddies ended up getting killed in Iraq. And, you know, I would just sit there and look at those pictures and remember how young, and, how young we were. And how much fun we were having, and it was, you know, I don't know. It was, it was nice being, yeah, just this young boy playing marine, you know what I mean, like playing playing soldier, you know what I mean, like, it was something most boys do when they' re five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten years old and you're running around with, you know. Back when I was young, I'm not sure, it doesn't seem like that anymore, but we didn't have PlayStations, we didn't have iPads and we didn't have, you know, for for us, it was you know, we were out playing outside until either we got hungry, 01:07:00hungry, or we got cold or the, you know, the lights came on and the street lights came on and we had to be, you know, in the house. But, you know, we were out there with a toy, sticks, and we were playing cowboys and Indians. And, you know, we were, you know, playing cops and robbers, playing war and throwing pine cones at each other as grenades. And there I was, you know, I was doing it for real and, yeah, there was, Okinawa was, it was, it was supposed to be a six-month deployment. And it ended up turning into a year-long deployment because the unit that was supposed that was supposed to replace us ended up getting sent to Iraq. And I remember a lot of my senior marines, I was still a 01:08:00junior marine at that time, and a lot of my senior marines were bummed out, right? They were bummed out because they knew they weren't going to get the chance to go fight in Iraq. And six months of Okinawa is enough for anybody.
SPRAGUE: For the reader, really quick, can you explain to them, for the viewer,the difference between a junior marine and a senior marine?
WINNESHIEK: Sure. So, a junior marine is somebody that just got into the MarineCorps, right. That just, that just graduated, you know, whether it be SOI or MCT--I think that's what it's called--Marine Combat Training. So if you're going to be in the infantry, you go to SOI, any other job, you go to Marine Corps Combat Training and then you go to your school after that, whether that be a truck driver or cook or, you know, whatever you're going to be. After your schooling is complete, then you go out to the fleet, you get out to the real 01:09:00Marine Corps or, you know, your permanent job. And that, that is, when you get there, you're a junior marine, you're a boot, they call 'em. And the guys that have been in the Marine Corps for, you know, like, two years by now they're lance corporals, corporals, sergeants. Those are your senior marines. So, the junior marines are the PFCs, privates. Maybe a lance corporal or two.
SPRAGUE: One other quick question. Kind of wrapping up on Okinawa. You mentionedoutside. I'm assuming it's outside the gate, outside the gates of Camp Hansen.
SPRAGUE: Is it Kenville like K-E-N or Kin--?
WINNESHIEK: K-I-N. K-I-N.
WINNESHIEK: So it's, it's called--marines call it Kenville. But if you look on amap, it's Kin, K-I-N. 01:10:00
SPRAGUE: Okay. Okay. So tell me about--
WINNESHIEK: Well, there's a lot more to--
SPRAGUE: Oh, sorry. Go ahead.
WINNESHIEK: There's a lot more to Okinawa. So, I mean, that's just, you know, Ijust talked about us being in the jungle. What I did. You know what, what also happened is we jumped on ships. So part of going to Okinawa, it's called the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit. The 31st MEU takes care of that that area of the world. So one thing I think a lot of civilians don't understand is the difference between the Marine Corps and any other branch of the service. So the Marine Corps, let's see, this is how I describe it to people, is the Marine Corps is like the president's own little army. So the president can send marines 01:11:00wherever he wants to. In order for the president to send any other, any of the other branches of service, you know, he needs permission, right? You have to have Congress or Senate, you know, give approval before he can send soldiers anywhere. And that's why the Marine Corps is stationed where they are. The Marine Corps is strategically, strategically stationed all over the world. And, well, I guess a lot of branches are, but the Marine Corps, the 31st MEU, takes care of so, like, Southeast Asia. And so there's always, 31st MEU is always out there. It just, you know, people take turns, units take turns. And so it was our turn to go on this MEU. And so, while [inaudible], while you're in Okinawa, there's also an obligation to jump on a ship and to patrol that area. So while I 01:12:00was over there, we jumped on a ship. We jumped on a few, a couple of ships. The first one was the Fort McHenry, I believe it was called. Oh, there was the Essex. And we jumped on, jumped on another ship. I don't remember the name of it, but anyways, we jumped on ships,right? And the Navy, the Navy also has to do their training. So, while on ship, the Navy has to, you know, practice refueling. The Navy has to practice getting equipment from one ship to another. They have to--I'm sure they have different formations, battle formations that 01:13:00they practice, fire drills, you know, you name it. I'm not, I wasn't in the Navy, so I can't answer all those questions. But I know they had a lot of training that they have to complete. So we were on ship for let's see, I was, it was a yearlong deployment. I'd say we were on ship for probably three or four months of those, of that year. Oh. One of the places we went--So we ended up jumping on a ship and we went to South Korea and we did this, we, the Marine Corps trained with the ROK Marines, the Republic of Korea Marines. And, you know, we we did live-fire exercise exercises with them and, you know, showed 01:14:00them different battle formations, you know, all these different formations that, you know, that we use. There was a lot of live-fire ranges and that was another, that's another really cool experience because, once again, this goes back to Marine Corps history. And I don't remember what month this was, but I remember how cold it was, and we slept at this live-fire range for a few days. And being a junior marine, you get stuck on firewatch. So I guess for people that don't know what fire watch is, is all of the senior marines get to sleep all night and all of the junior marines have to take turns making sure people are safe and 01:15:00then taking care of the radio and doing your radio check-ins. So as a junior marine, I don't remember what it was. I think it was one hour. We would take turns. And you'd have to stay up for, you know, an hour. Get out of your, get out of your nice warm sleeping bag and put your, all of your clothes back on and patrol, and do radio watch. So, like, okay, so I was talking about how cold it was. So this goes back to Marine Corps history, right? And you, and I thought about how cold I was. And this is me in cold weather gear, right? We had cold weather gear. I don't remember. We had gloves, we had hat, beanies, we had masks. We had, you know, jackets, Gore-Tex. Wool socks. Long johns And to think 01:16:00about the frozen Chosin and to think about how many marines died in Korea and how many marines froze to death. And we had, you know, we had a shitload of memories, I think about people starving and injured and, you know, just being in the worst condition possible. I remember being, it was my turn for radio watch, and they woke me up. They're like, Hey, Winneshiek, wake your ass up. I said, Alright. And I'm sleeping in my tent, laying in my sleeping bag. And I remember looking up at the top of our, it was a two-man tent and the top of our sleeping bag, or top of our tent was just full of like, these little crystals, right, 01:17:00from condensation and breathing, and looking up everything was just all white. And I remember [inaudible] fucker. Like, you don't want to get out of this sleeping bag, right? I was like, All right. So you get up. Do your thing. And you're just sitting there walking around, waiting for that hour to go by so you could jump back in your sleeping bag. And that's, you know, that's what I would think about while I was outside, you know, I'd be smoking a cigarette, just thinking about, you know, Damn, you know, how it fucking sucked to be here. It wasn't the middle of winter when we were there, but it was fucking cold. So I was thinking, you know, Oh my God, man, that'd be crazy to be fighting in this and to not have long johns and not have clothes and, you know, to not have all this gear and, you know, but yeah, you know, it's crazy the, the places that you get to go to and then to think about the history of these places is amazing. And 01:18:00once again, you know, I had my camera, took pictures of the people, the Korean people. Oh, something I remember about that is the kneeling or crouching. Right? Like when they--Here in America, if you see somebody relaxing, they're sitting in a chair, and over there they're squatted down and they would come sell us noodles, like soup, and they would sell us bottles of Coke, Coca-Cola, and they would just be squatting there like for hours. Right? And I remember, I remember trying it and, you know, if I were to get down right now, I betcha I could squat for like 30 seconds. I'd be in pain, but these people would just sit there and 01:19:00squat all day. And I was like, What the--that's crazy. But it was around this time. So this must have been like 2002, I think. I saw these marines and they had this camera and I went over to them and there they were pushing these buttons, right? They're pushing these buttons on their cameras. And all these pictures were, we're going through. And I was like, I was like, What the heck is that? And they were like, Oh, there's this. This is a digital camera. And I was like, What? I was like, Where the fuck did you get that from? They're like, They're over at the PX. And I was like, What? And the next time I went to the PX, I was like, Man, I'm fucking get one of these things, fuck these disposables. And I bought Fuji. Fuck, I don't remember what it was. I had it until like a couple of years ago and I somehow I lost it maybe when my wife and 01:20:00I bought our house or something. But I had this camera for well, until a couple of years ago, and it was this Fuji something. But I bought it at the PX and I kept, I had that thing everywhere with me. I had it in Okinawa, I did in Iraq. But yeah, I ended up buying my first digital camera at the PX on camp Hansen, and I took so many pictures with that thing. Some of my, you know, the best pictures that I remember having I either lost or I gave away. But I still remember, you know, the images. I remember taking them. I remember looking at them. I remember staring at them after getting out of the Marine Corps. And I remember, you know, I'd be drinking and I'd be crying looking at these pictures. 01:21:00And yeah, so I had this camera in South Korea. I took a lot of pictures of being in South Korea. After a bunch of training with the Korean Marines, we flew back to the ships in helicopters. Helicopters came and brought us back to the ships. And then we got liberty. And liberty for people that don't know is you get to go in town and relax and, you know, do whatever you want, basically. Well, not whatever you want. But we had liberty and I don't remember what what what Korean city this was or where exactly we were. But I remember going out in town and once again, you know, we're, we're, we're sick of eating MREs. You just want to go in town and find some good food. And we saw a Pizza Hut, and I was like, what, Pizza Hut? I said, Man, let's go get some pizza. And me and a bunch of my 01:22:00buddies ended up going to Pizza Hut, ordering a bunch of pizzas, drank some beer, and then we just walked around, you know, that city that we were in, and being Native American, we're very lactose intolerant. And pretty soon that pizza kicked in. I'm like, Man, I' ve got to take a shit somewhere. And so I was looking for this bathroom [inaudible] right? And I finally, finally found one. I don't remember what the fuck it was, if it was a bar or what, but probably was a bar. And we walk into this establishment and I had to go take a shit and I remember walking into the bathroom and that was the first time I, I looked and there was no toilet, right? There was no toilet there. There was just like a porcelain hole in the ground. And I was like, Oh fuck. Like I pulled out my 01:23:00camera and I took a picture of it real quick and I was sitting there trying to figure out like, what I just told you, I can't squat. I can't squat for shit. And I was trying to figure out how the hell I was going to use this thing. And I was just sitting there laughing and but I had to shit really bad, but I ended up figuring it out somehow, you know, I got my shit down that hole, but I still have, still have that picture and I still talk about, you know, the first time I seen a South Korean toilet. And. Yeah. Oh, another cool thing that I got to do. We jumped back on the ship and, you know, we went somewhere. Went somewhere else. I don't remember. Because we were in the ship, right? And even when we did go out, when we did go out, you just see water anyways, right, because we're out in the middle of nowhere. And I ended up turning 21 when I was on the ship. And 01:24:00I just remember going out out on the deck and smoking a cigarette. And I was just wondering what, you know, I was thinking about home and I was wondering, wishing I could, you know, I don't know. I was wishing I could celebrate my 21st like everybody else. But there I was. I was stuck on ship. You can't drink. You can't, you know, party with your friends and loved ones like most people do. And another cool experience that we had was we got to go to Iwo Jima. And once again, you know, this goes back to Marine Corps history. And I remember then over the intercom or loudspeaker or whatever the hell it's called on ship, 01:25:00they're saying, Hey, you know, we're about to pull up to Iwo Jima. You guys come on out. Took us out. And I remember climbing out of the ship and getting, you know, getting on deck and looking. And you could see the island right where, there was a bunch of Navy ships circling the island. And I'm like, dang, because, you know, you know, we've seen mo--you know, we've seen all the movies. You've, you've, you've learned about it at boot camp. All, you know, this battle that took place on this island. And there we were, you know, everywhere it was right in front of us. And not only that, but, you know, we were we were going to go check it out. And so we took turns, like one company went one day and another company went another day. So we had a whole day of, you know, getting to explore the island. And what was cool was that we took our Zodiacs off the ship and we 01:26:00drove our Zodiacs onto the beach, right? And one of the first things they told or prior to leaving the ship, they're like, whatever you do, you know, don't fucking touch anything. Don't fucking try to take anything. Don't fuck and grab any black sand. And everybody was like, okay, yeah, okay. Sounds good. First thing everybody did when they hit the beach was fucking fill up their canteens full of black sand. But yeah, getting, taking the Zodiacs off the ship and driving them, riding, riding at the front of these, scout swimmers always were at the front of the Zodiac, so I always had the front row view and laying down on the gunnel tube of that Zodiac and riding, you know, this rubber boat towards 01:27:00Iwo Jima. You know, you just think about all of these different thoughts of, you know, wow, this is what it looked like. Or, you know, it just what, you know, under heavy machine gun fire, you know, this is what they were staring at, getting to the beach, looking at the color of the sand, you know, the black sand beaches of Iwo Jima. Everybody secretly, but not so secretly, trying to fill up their canteens full of the sand. Looking from the beach, from, you know, just standing in the water, you know, knee deep, pulling our boats out, looking at Mount Suribachi was amazing. You know, it was so, like, so surreal to be looking at it. You know, you see it on TV, you see it in movies. And one of the things 01:28:00that I found interesting about well, the whole island was interesting, but one of the things I find interesting about her, about she was how steep it was. And, you know, in movies you see guys running up it or, you know, but it was so steep, you know, you had to bear crawl, you know, get on your all fours, you know, go up the side of this thing, and to, to think about being under heavy machine gun fire, sniper fire. And, you know, you know, who knows cannons, all of this different ja--you know, Japanese people trying to try to kill you, and to think of how many people died on that island, right? On that beach itself. Oh. It was kind of an amazing experience. Now that, you know, there's a road, a 01:29:00paved road that goes to the top of it. And we walked, walked, walked up that paved road. And when we got to the top, there was this like, there was like this monument. And you could see on both ends of this, like, I don't know if it was granite, but they just large granite like rectangle. And on both sides of it, there's these large eagle, globe, and anchors. They're probably about, you know, probably I don't know about that big. So it was like the size of a small, small hula hoop or kids hula hoop.
WINNESHIEK: There's these large Eagle, globe, and anchors. And from a distance,you could see there was something hanging or there was something odd, though. And so I'd say, What the hell is that? So you get closer and closer and closer 01:30:00and closer to it. And finally, I could see that they were all hundreds, if not thousands of dog tags hanging on these eagle, globe, and anchors. So it was. [inaudible] I thinking of? It was, you would, you would take one of your dog tags off and you would add it to the stack, right? So you look at all those dog tags and, you know, I would assume those are, you know, all the people that were there that have visited that site. And it was, it was so cool. I took pictures of that, too. I have pictures of that. So to get the view, the view from the top of Mount Suribachi. But the cool part of it, I don't know, the whole thing was amazing. But to be standing on top and to look around. Well, one, you look out 01:31:00at the island itself and realize how small it is and realize how fortified it was, right? The Japanese had all this time to fortify this island and to prepare for battle, and to look at how small this island was and to think about how many people died on this tiny little island. The view from Mount Suribachi was amazing. It was breathtaking. And then, after looking at that, I remember looking out into the water. And there is all these Navy ships circ--You know, the Navy ships were still circling around us. And to get that perspective, that Japanese perspective of, Holy fuck. Look at all these ships. Like if you look at 01:32:00all these Marines coming to get us, right? Like that's the other thing I thought about was the Ja--you know, what would, what would it have felt like to be a Japanese soldier? To see all these ships coming towards you. And then to be on top. And to look down at the beach. And to think. Of what it would have looked like, what it would have felt like to be looking down the sights of your rifle and to be aiming at a marine or a Navy corpsman or, you know, whatever. You know, the the the advantage or the view that you had up there. They had these concrete-like pillboxes, right? These concrete bunkers up there. And we climbed 01:33:00inside of them. And I remember taking pictures from that point of view. And, you know, that's where it was like, oh, shit, you know, this is what it would have looked like if I had, you know, whatever millimeter machine gun they used to be firing down on these marines. So I, you know, I took a bunch of pictures up there and we and we just sat down, you know, we just sat up there and looked and took pictures and talked about, you know, what it would have been like to, to get to the top, what it would have been like to to be running, to see your buddy get fucked up, to go over there and try to help him, to be, try to get to the top to try to get to the top of this hill while being fired upon and the courage 01:34:00that these guys must have had, you know, the the love for one another, because that's what it, you know, that's what it comes down to. A lot of people don't know that, you know, it's like marines are fuckin', are going to die for each other. You know if, if a marine's hurt, that marine will fucking die for that other marine no matter what, to try to save them. And that Navy corpsman would do the exact same thing. And it's the love for one another. It's not, it's not, you know, it's not, we weren't fighting for oil. We weren't fighting for this, or, you know, for, for, for the president, you know, we were fighting for each other. And to think about how steep this hill was, to see the, the, where these pillboxes were placed, you know, how strategically planned, fortified this island was. And it was, it was amazing what those guys did. You know, it it it 01:35:00doesn't surprise me that there were, you know, all these Congressional Medal and Congressional Medal, the Congressional Medals of Honor, awarded for what happened on that island. For all of the, you know, citations that were given out, Bronze Stars, Silver Stars. You know, it's if, if, if, if the random Joe Schmo, a civilian, had the opportunity to go there and see it, they would be like, damn, you know it, it's, it's crazy what those guys went through. So we ended up getting, you know, everybody took all the pictures they wanted to and we got down. We walked down the road and then we had the opportunity to walk the island and to see that that, you know, Mount Suribachi was cool, actually really, really cool. But that the rest of the island was amazing. The, the 01:36:00complexity of these tunnels and caves that the Japanese had dug was--They had these huge cannons dug into the ground. You know, I don't know what size cannons these things were, but, you know, these, these things were designed to, you know, take out battle, you know, battleships. They were dug into the ground and you couldn't even see. You could be walking in the grass and you wouldn't even see this giant cannon that's barely sticking out of the ground. But then you would get closer and closer to it and find that you'd be up, you know, near it. 01:37:00And you would see how they carved it into the ground and how well it was hidden. Holes, you know, holes all over the place. They had these caves all over the place. And these caves were different sizes as far as like, well, the whole the whole cave itself. Some were small, some were large. Some of the entrances were so small, you know, we had to get down and army crawl on our, on our stomachs to get in. Some of them you didn't, you know, crouch down and some of them you could just walk right in. And the complexity of how, how they dug these, these caves, there were, they had hospitals, they had like chow halls. They had like bunk beds dug in to the ground. And and the other part that I found really interesting was all of this equipment was still there. Right? There's still 01:38:00shoes, there' s still guns, there' s still swords. So, you know, there's all these all this Japanese military equipment still laying there. And, you know, that was something that we definitely didn't touch, you know, that would have been disrespectful to, to touch it or to be disrespectful to it, but to to see it, that it's still there, to see that. You know, that's just goes back to the movies we've watched and the history that's being taught in boot camp or in the Marine Corps or high school or. Um, yeah, it was Okinawa, or not Okinawa. Iwo Jima was amazing. Another place we got to go to was Guam. Guam was more of a 01:39:00liberty port, but, so I think we had like four or five days of liberty and the whole time we just got drunk and ate, went swimming. But there's a, there's a, there's an old Air Force base on Guam. I don't remember, I don't recall the name of it. But we started, even when we were training with the Korean Marines, we started mount training preparing to fight in the city because we, because that was the word that we were getting back from Iraq, was look at the type of fighting, the type of fighting that we should expect. So when we were in South Korea, we were, you know, practicing learning how to, how to clear out all these different types of buildings, you know, multi-story buildings and basements and, 01:40:00you know, whatever, you know, how to move from one block to another block. And when we got to Guam, you know, we got to play for a little bit and relax. And then it was time to get back to work. And I remember we were on this, ah, this old Air Force base, and there were all these barracks that were, you know, being used for training. And, you know, that's what we--And it was hot. I remember it was so, so hot in Guam and humid. And it was just like, oh, you were constantly sweating. And I tell this I tell this one story about Guam. So I had this buddy, his name was Albert Pretrick, and Pretrick was from Micronesia. And he's, you know, he's a marine. And Albert spoke really broken English, like, Hey, 01:41:00motherfucker, he said, I'm going to beat your ass. But that's how he would talk. And when we were in Guam, there was these coconut trees. And I remember we were all looking up at these coconuts, really. We were throwing rocks at ' em and we were fucking throwing sticks up there and trying to knock these coconut trees down. And here in fucking Albert comes and we we're we were telling them that we want to get those coconuts. And he was like, all right, watch this. And he fucking takes it off and takes his socks off and he gets up to that coconut tree. And he was just like [sound]. And I always thought he was fucking, you know, 20, 30 feet up in the air, fucking pulling off these coconuts. And I was like, What the fuck? [inaudible], you know, how he positioned his feet and used his legs and you know, the way he got up that tree was absolutely amazing. And, 01:42:00so, he was the coconut man, and he threw it out. He threw all these coconuts down. And next we looked like a bunch of frickin' gorillas or chimpanzees trying to bust these things open. And he was laughing at us because we're sitting there bouncing them off the ground and trying to smash these things open. And I guess there's a technique to that, too. You know, there's a certain spot that you can hit on these coconuts. They, you know, they bust open or they're easier to op--to, to peel. And then you get to the the hard coconut itself inside. But yeah, I'll never forget that. Being on ship or so we were there for I don't remember a couple of weeks or so and then we'd jump back on ship. And all that goes back to Pretrick, I guess. So being from Micronesia, they have this drink 01:43:00called kava kava. And it's a fruit that they pulverize or beat or I don' t know what they call--what's the word I' m trying to think of, but they turn it into a powder. And so he would get this kava kava sent to him because it's more, he would say it's used for like spiritual religion type shit, but we just used it to get fucked up. And so he'd get this kava kava sent to him and you would put it in a nylon and then he would get a bowl of water. And you sit there and you just, you know, you fucking squeeze that, squeeze that kava, kava, that powder then turns into this tea, sort of [inaudible]. And you drink it. And it has this 01:44:00intoxicating almost getting high or getting drunk off of it. But if you drink too much, then you get, then people were throwing up and. Oh, yeah, I remember that, too. Oh. Oh. So we were on ship. What I also remember about being on ship was how big they were, right? Like, it's a floating city, basically. You know, there's the Navy has all these different jobs on there. You know, there were cooks, there were I don't even know how many different jobs there are, but there are different levels of a ship. And like when it was time to eat, I remember 01:45:00when when it was chow time, the line, it was like this huge snake that went through the city or through the ship. You'd go up this ladder then you'd go down this hallway and you go up this ladder. You know, it was it was it was crazy to see how long that line would be sometimes and but how efficient the Navy was at getting all these marines through the chow line was pretty cool to watch, too. I remember it was, I tried to make friends with all the Navy cooks because if you were friends with Navy cooks then you could get extra portions of, you know, this or that or--When we' d come back on ship from liberty, it'd be, you know, whatever, two or three in the morning. And you could go with the Navy cook and he'll make some bacon egg and cheese sandwiches or, you know. But yeah, so there 01:46:00were a lot of, there were so many different experiences of being on ships. Sleeping. Sleeping on a ship, Navy ship. Oh, we had these coffin racks they're called. And the reason why they're called coffin racks is because they're about the size of a coffin. First of all, they're about shoulder width. You know, I'm six, six-foot, then I was 170 pounds. But, you know, they're as wide as your shoulders. Stacked, you know, four or five high. Oh, they open up. And the inside of it is where, you know, you put all your your clothes and other gear and they come down and you lay on top of it. I always make, I always made sure I had the top one because you didn't want to get that like awkward middle one because you had to like jump into it. You didn't want the bottom one because you had to lay on the floor and then roll into it. So I always made sure I had the 01:47:00top one. Plus, if you had the top one, you could sit up all the way, because if you were on any of the other ones, you could only sit partially, you know, halfway up maybe. So it was yeah, it'd be super awkward to have one of those. Oh they had these straps on the side of your coffin rack and that's when we first got on ship, we didn't exactly know what the hell those were for, but we found out, you know, you know, you put those straps up when heavy seas and so you don't, you know, go falling out of your bed. There's a oxygen thing at your feet, a little oxygen tank. So if the ship was going down, you know, you grabbed your little oxygen tank. Frickin' if you need to, you know, breathe out of it and hopefully get, you know, get out of the ship. Oh. Girls. There were some girls. In the Marine Corps, in the infantry, you' re never going to see any gir--Well, actually, now there's girls in the infantry, which is totally 01:48:00frickin' weird. But back back in the day, there were no girls. There was never any girls. We, we would never see girls. When we would see girls, we'd be hootin', hollerin' at 'em. But there were Navy girls on there. And I remember, you know, you could just smell, you could smell a woman, you know, it was like, plus there was, fuckin', I don't know, 50 of them, and just shampoo or deodorant or, you know, you could smell women. Oh, I don't know. You know, it's it's all those things. All those things I think about. After after we got off ship, another thing for Okinawa was JWTC. JWTC was the Jungle Warfare Training Center. And that was, that was a whole another experience. That was so cool. I don't 01:49:00know, I guess maybe some people wouldn't think it was cool, but I thought it was cool because, you know, you, you were taught to fight, fight in the jungle, you know, different, there is all these different things that we had to learn about jungle, you know, jungle survival, what plants you could eat, what fucking snakes were out there and what you know, what, how to, you know, how to get water, how to fish, how to, you know, how to fight--Obviously, one, how to fight in the jungle, what booby traps were used, most common booby traps that that we would probably use.
SPRAGUE: How long was jungle warfare?
WINNESHIEK: I don't remember. Maybe a few weeks, I would think, but I don'tknow. There's a lot more I could talk about in Okinawa, but I mean, that was the gist of it.
SPRAGUE: Okay. Why don't we take a quick break?01:50:00
SPRAGUE: Okay. This begins a segment two with Brandon Winneshiek. We had wrappedup, we were talking about jungle warfare center training. And go ahead, Brandon. We were going to talk about going back to California.
WINNESHIEK: Yeah. So my six month Okinawa deployment turned into a year becausethe unit that was going to replace us was sent to Iraq. So. So I had the opportunity to do all these cool things in that one year. And now it was time to go back to California and. Oh. Earlier I talked about my senior marines and them being bummed out that they weren't going to get the chance to go to fight. And 01:51:00as soon and sure and sure enough, as soon as we got back to California, a lot of them were getting out of the Marine Corps, a very few of them that I know of, re-enlisted, stayed in. A lot of them got out. And that's where we became senior marines. And we started getting all these new guys. Oh, you know, these are all 18, 19-year-old kids. We were only 21, 22 or 23. But we started to get these, you know, these, these, these fresh kids right out of high school, right out of the [inaudible]. And it was our job to get them up to speed because we didn't have very much time and we were going to go to Iraq. I don't remember the, the date of our first boot drop, meaning when we first got our first batch of junior marines. But our boot drop came and a bunch of 18-year-old boys came to us. And 01:52:00we had to teach these young men everything that we knew in a short amount of time. And it was a lot of, you know--What I remember, it was just a lot of making sure they were physically fit, making sure they knew basic movements, formations to use. We ourselves were still learning to fight in an urban environment. So it was a lot of on the job training, teaching these, teaching each other and teaching these junior marines what it could be like. What we hear is going on and. Oh. We didn't, like I said, we didn't have much time. But now 01:53:00it's 2003, probably, I'm thinking. Yeah, right. You late 2003, early 2004. And it was time to go. And we ended up deploying to Ramadi, Iraq, in March of 2004.
SPRAGUE: How did you get to Ramadi?
WINNESHIEK: We flew from California to, I think, Germany or from maybe from.Anyway, so I don't fucking remember. We flew and we landed in Kuwait and we stayed in Kuwait for maybe a week or two, maybe two weeks, to acclimatize. And 01:54:00then, you know, at that time. Yeah. Two, one, acclimatize to the weather. That was probably the biggest thing because it was hot. And, I guess, for the, for the officers and the commanding officer to figure out who, what, where, when, how, why. But we soon found out that we were going to be taking over the city of Ramadi from, from an army unit.
SPRAGUE: And that is a, this is OAF2?
WINNESHIEK: Shit. I don't remember.
SPRAGUE: Okay, no worries. Just curious. Do you remember the name of the army unit?
SPRAGUE: Okay. No worries. You got what, when you got to Ramadi, what were your impressions?01:55:00
WINNESHIEK: Well, first of all, we convoyed from Kuwait to Ramadi. I don'tremember how long of a ride it was, but the, the amount of personnel and the amount of trucks that we had was incredible. Oh, I got pictures of this, too. And the, the, the, the, the length of the convoy, you couldn't see the front, you couldn't see the end. So this is, you know, a battalion, so this is a thousand marines plus our escorts. Oh, you know, security. The security team. But a battalion of marines cruisin' down the road. You know, it's, it's a lot. And the--Witnessing that was something I'll never forget was the length of that 01:56:00convoy and the amount of trucks that were that we were going, that were going down the road. What I remember about that convoy was one, the length, and two, what we were talking about. You know, the, we were still, I still think, even though we were heading from Kuwait to Iraq, I don't think it like it really hit me yet, right, that what we were about to get ourselves into. Prior to, prior to leaving California, I remember being told that we were going to, it was more than likely that we were going to take casualties. Right. And I had no idea what 01:57:00we were driving into or what ended up happening. And I remembered, or, it was on the convoy to Ramadi was when we first took, what is when we first took our first enemy fire was, in order to get to Ramadi we had to go around like the suburbs of Baghdad. And that was where we first took enemy fire. And what I what I remember about that was how quickly we we we reacted to the fire from the enemy was it was like a light switch had been switched. It was like. Instant, instantly. The truck stop instantly. We knew exactly, you know, contact right, contact left, whatever it was, wherever it came from, and how fast the marines 01:58:00got out there out of these trucks and were ready to do what we were taught, you know. We were, we were there to kill the enemy. You know, that's what we had trained for this entire time was fire and movement. And it was incredible to see how quickly and efficiently we got out. And it didn't last very long. You know, we shot back a couple of times, but it was, you know, sniper fire or machine gun fire. Nobody got injured. But it was like it was that that at that moment, it was like, wow, this is you know, this is real. You know, this is the real deal. And I remember pulling into Ramadi, and for people that don't know, so Ramadi has a population of well, it did then, of about 400,000 people. And we were, 01:59:00we--2/4--was taking over this area of operation from the Army unit. And like I said, we're about a thousand. So there was a thousand marines covering this city of 400,000 people. And what I remember, the very first thing I remember, and I talk about this in my story when I tell it, is listening to them pray from the mosques. It was like, it was so, like, beautiful. I definitely, I definitely knew I wasn't at home. I wasn't in Southern California anymore, to hear them 02:00:00over the loudspeakers coming from the mosques. It was like you knew that you were somewhere. You know, I mean, like we were there. It was time for us, and this army unit that we were taking this area over for--I remember the first thing that I remember, or not the first thing but one of the biggest things I remember, was that they patrolled the city in Bradleys. And I thought that was so strange. Like I. I remember when we got there, they took us out. Some of us [inaudible] marines got to go with the Army guys and, you know, go over the main roads. And they were showing us where they had been hit before and police, you 02:01:00know, where the police departments were, where the government buildings were, you know, where, you know, these are poor areas of the city where, you know, whatnot. But we had all these questions for them like, we we just found it so odd that they patrolled in Bradleys. And that was the very first thing. Oh, better commanding officer changed Iraq, one, Marine Corps doesn't have Bradleys, but he said, you know, and I'm not sure if you had a chance to watch those videos I sent you, but that was, you know, that was one of the very first things he says in one of those videos was we immediately wanted to make sure that that we knew that the Marine Corps was there. And we immediately went out there and started foot patrolling. And, you know, this was this was 2004. This was way 02:02:00before there was, I don' t even know what they're called. Are they called MRAPs or--Oh, you know, we didn't, we didn't have we didn't have any of that. We had regular Humvees with homemade armor that the, that the armory or the motor p guys were welding on to the side of our Humvees. We had sandbags, we had, we didn't have, we didn't have these IED sweeping machines. You know, we had we had a guy out there with a metal detector and that's it, you know, I mean, there was no, there was no crazy body armor. You know, they, you know, those those suits that you see, the IED or the EOD guys wearing, you know, they didn't have, they didn't have that on. There was a private lance corporal out there, PFC, with a metal detector looking for IEDs. But that was the very first thing, that was the most important thing for us, was to make sure that the enemy knew that the Army 02:03:00was gone and the Marine Corps was there. And we constantly were patrolling. We, day and night, we had patrols out.
SPRAGUE: So within Foxtrot Company, or Fox Company, what platoon and squad wereyou in?
WINNESHIEK: I was in--Fox Company, 1st Platoon.
SPRAGUE: Any particular squad or did it change?
WINNESHIEK: I think I was in 4th, 4th Squad.
SPRAGUE: Okay. What was your role in that squad?
WINNESHIEK: I was a team leader, that's what.
SPRAGUE: Okay. For the listeners and viewers, what does a team leader do on a02:04:00marine squad?
WINNESHIEK: In a Marine Corps squad, typically, there's 13 Marines. There's asquad leader. There's three team leaders. Each team leader has an automatic rifleman, an assistant automatic rifleman. And, ah, what's it called? Do you know what it is?
SPRAGUE: Grenade launcher?
WINNESHIEK: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I don't know, can't remember.
SPRAGUE: That's okay.
WINNESHIEK: That what it is? Yeah. [Inaudible] 203.
WINNESHIEK: So, yeah, I think--Does that answer your question?
SPRAGUE: It does.
WINNESHIEK: So there's 13 Marines. One squad leader, three team, three teamleaders. Three, three machine guns. Three guys that carry, help carry ammo for that machine gunner. And then a 203.
SPRAGUE: Do you happen to remember--and this is more administrative stuff--who02:05:00is in your, who is in your chain of command going up if you can remember? Maybe you don't.
WINNESHIEK: I can't remember my platoon sergeant. Actually, I remember his name,Staff Sergeant Shelton. I don't remember his first name. I can't remember his first name. Platoon Commander. Some boot. I don't know. Some red headed boot. Like some second lieutenant. Captain Carlton was our company commander. Sergeant Major Booker was the battalion commander. And then Lieutenant Colonel. Should I know this one, too? I'm sure I can't remember his, I mean, it's on the tip of my tongue. 02:06:00
SPRAGUE: I'll come back. No worries.
WINNESHIEK: He's a general now.
SPRAGUE: What, what, what was the mood of the unit going into Iraq? You kind ofanswered this, but I--Do you have a sense of what it was?
WINNESHIEK: Yeah, I think. You know, I gave you those videos to watch. Mm hmm.And one of the the very first things that we were told were that we were going to be conducting SASO--S-A-S-O--missions. And that was stability and, do you remember what it was?
SPRAGUE: Stability, support
WINNESHIEK: Or yeah, maybe.
SPRAGUE: Basically security.
WINNESHIEK: Maybe stability and support operations. I think it's what it standsfor. And basically what that means is that we were there to help rebuild this. You know, we were going to help. We were there to help. We were there to help 02:07:00the government. We were there to help the kids. We were there to help the communities rebuild. We were there to support basically what I just said, support and, security and support. That didn't last very long. We got there in March and April 6th was the date. April 6th was the date that everything changed. On April 6th, there was a squad of marines from Echo Company. Echo company was on the--Echo and Gulf company were on one side of Ramadi. Fox Company was on the opposite side by ourselves, and then H&S Company and Weapons 02:08:00Company were not too far away from us. On the morning of April 6th, there was a squad of marines that were out on patrol and they ended up getting ambushed and they were called for help. And this was a planned strategic attack on us. These marines ended up getting stuck in a building, and the building was probably about the size of this room that we're in now. And they were surrounded. They were calling for help. And when you call for help, you're asking for help from the QRF, which is the quick reaction force. I was on QRF that day, as well 02:09:00as--They have QRF--They were calling for all help. They were. They were getting fucked up. Marines were dying. Not only that, but they were running out of ammunition. And, on this day, I remember that when you are on QRF all of your shit is in the Humvee. Your, your, your weapon, well, no, your weapon's with you, but your flak jacket, all your ammunition, your water. Everything's ready to go, just in case. And sure as shit, these guys were getting fucked up and they needed help. And I remember jumping in the Humvees. I remember leaving the snake pit. That's where Fox Company was in Ramadi. Oh, we left the Snake Pit and 02:10:00we started cruising down this road called MSR, Michigan. That was the main [supply] route in Ramadi. And we were heading towards where the squad was getting fucked up. And I remember there was this, they had these orange and white vehicles. They were used as taxis. But there was this orange and white taxi on the side of the vehi, or on the side of the road. And. One of the scariest things, the only thing I was scared of was IEDs, IEDs and VBIDs [vehicle-borne improvised explosive device], right? I don't care if I got shot. I just didn't want to come home all fucked up with my legs gone or eyeballs gone or jaw or something like that. And I remember, I remember, I don't remember how 02:11:00many vehicles were in our QRF team, but there must have been at least six, six, seven Humvees. And I remember I was in the second Humvee and as the first Humvee went by, and as my vehicle wasn't passing this vehicle on the side of the road, it exploded. And I remember the sound. I remember the fire, the fireball. This road that we we were on, that we called MSR Michigan, was like a four lane. I call it an interstate, if you needed something to compare it to. So you imagine a vehicle on the side of I-90, I-94, and it explodes and the fireball went from one side of the road all the way to the other side of the road. And we drove 02:12:00through it. And my ears were ringing. I remember I didn't lose conscious, consciousness, but I remember my ears ringing. I remember the dust and the convoy stopped, we dismounted, we got out of our vehicles. Luckily, nobody was injured, but we couldn't sit there and investigate because people were dying. We jumped back into our vehicles and we made it down to where these guys were getting fucked up. And there were hundreds of enemy fighters that were--you know, April 6th. You know, you'll watch videos on it, but it was a, it was a 02:13:00very well-planned ambush. And for the next four days, we fought day and night. That day that squad of Marines ended up dying. 12 Marines died that day. They ran out of ammunition. They were overrun. And for the next four days, I said, we were just fucking people up. I don't remember the exact count of marines that were killed. I know it was those 12, but maybe it was a couple more. But, you know, we you know, we killed, we killed hundreds of people within those next four days.
SPRAGUE: Anything in particular during that, those four days that you care to share?02:14:00
WINNESHIEK: What I remember about those four days is the sleep deprivation, thefatigue, marines were fucking falling over from dehydration and heat stroke. I think what a lot of civilians don't understand was how hot it was. And the amount of water that needed to be consumed to not die. The amount of ammunition that needed to be carried, the weight on your, on your legs, and your hips and 02:15:00your knees and your ankles, your back. Just the amount of what a combat load consists of. So from what I remember is, is the sleep deprivation, the fatigue, the making, the need, being concerned, making sure that my junior marines were hydrating, that they were changing their socks, that they were eating when we did have time to eat. And just making sure I took the time to, to have that one on one time with them and to make sure that, you know, they were okay. You know, you have to remember, these are 18, 19-year-old kids that are taking other people's lives. Fresh out of high school. And these guys are looking down the 02:16:00barrel of their rifle and killing the enemy. And at the time, like I said at, for me at the time it was, it would, I guess it was, it was easy. It was easy for me to kill somebody for the simple fact that I wasn't going to let any of my marines get hurt. I wasn't going to let any of my marines, any of my brothers get hurt. That's the, you know, that's, that's, that's how you look at each and every one of your, your marines and your, and your Navy corpsman is that they were your little brother or they were your big brother and--Yeah. I just made 02:17:00sure that I had that one-on-one time with them. I made sure that they were eating. I made sure that they're hydrating, made making sure that they were mentally okay. Oh, but I think you talk to, you talk to any other infantry, infantrymen or any other any other person that's been in firefights, you know, you're going to do what you were taught to do, you're going to do, but at the same time, when there is downtime, you know, some people were struggling with what they did.
SPRAGUE: There were some references in some of the other interviews about thebattalion being shorthanded enough that they had put up some cardboard cutouts with uniforms on them in some of the guard posts on the perimeter. Do you, can you speak at all to the fact that the battalion was stretched that thin? 02:18:00
WINNESHIEK: I guess, I've, I've never seen that happen. Were we stretched thin?Yeah, we were stretched very thin. Like I said, there was approximately a thousand of us trying to take good care of a city of 400,000. Not only that, not only were we, not only were we patrolling day and night, but we were, we were holding security on different buildings throughout the city, whether that be a government building, hospitals. Schools. Oh. But then, if you weren't, if you weren't patrolling and you and if you weren't holding security on one of these buildings then you were on QRF. So there was no downtime. Your downtime was QRF 02:19:00time because you sort of got to chill out and relax. But at the same time, if they needed you, then you were to get out there. At the Snake Pit there were, there were marines constantly on post holding security for the ones that were, were resting and sleeping or, you know, taking showers, you know, doing trying to get laundry done. When we were out on the government posts, you know, we had to, it was a squad, one squad would be out there and you had to, you know, take turns sleeping, you'd have to take turns being on post. So, I don't, I don't recall anybody using any cardboard cut-outs.
SPRAGUE: Okay. Um, did you find it in your experience, were you doing more nightfighting because you had night goggles or was it a mixture of both in those four days? 02:20:00
WINNESHIEK: Oh, during those four days, it was it was both. Obviously, we hadthe tactical or we had the advantage of having night vision goggles, obviously. But I don't know. I don't think we killed anybody with any night vision that I, that I remember. But yeah, we definitely had the advantage at night. One of the things I talk about to you is so we had, we had support from the army, right? We could get helicopters, we could get or the Marine Corps, our Marine Corps Army helicopters. We could get artillery. So, I remember at night we would be asking for loom rounds to be shot over certain grid squares, right? And that's, that' s, you know, that's one of the coolest experiences to behold. I don't know. It was, it was pretty neat. It was pretty neat to be able to call for fire. And we 02:21:00would, we would call for these loom rounds right? And you could hear them being shot from, fuck, I don't remember. There, there was the big, The Big Red One is what the army unit is called. They had a base not too far away from us and we'd call for fire. And you could hear these, you know, huge artillery, artillery rounds, you know, being shot. And it would take a while and all of a sudden it would, you know, these, these loom rounds would go off and it would turn nighttime to daytime. But, you know, that's how bright these things were. And from what I recall, I thought I remember a single loom round could fill up, could, could, could give enough light for one grid square on your map. So it was like it, it, it, it would literally turn from, like, nighttime to almost 02:22:00daytime. That's how bright these these loom rounds were. And for them to, you know, they're all these little parachutes, they would just be floating in the air. And I don't know. It was, it was, this goes back to, like, when I was talking about playing, playing army, right? Like, that's what we were, you know, I felt like that's what we were doing out there. But it was for real this time, you know, it was you shoot them before they shoot you, because chances are, you know, you might get fucked up or you might die. So, I don't know. I don't even know what the question was, but--
SPRAGUE: No, you got it. That's it. Yeah. Do you remember by chance, thehistories talk about after those four days, the marines going out and taking megaphones, and daring the insurgents to come out? Do you remember any experiences like that? 02:23:00
WINNESHIEK: Oh, yeah. We had, we drive around with dead bodies on the Humvees.The dead bodies of our enemy would be on Humvees. And, you know, we, we were out there literally looking for a fight. They're called, you know, movement to contacts. And we would we were we were we would purposely walk through, you know, looking for a fight in the most notorious, dangerous neighborhoods of Ramadi. And at that time, they didn't want to fuck around. They knew, they knew if they were going to fucking come fight, fight face to face with us that we were going to fuck 'em up.
SPRAGUE: So. How Iraq had changed from before April 6th. Can you give me a senseof that or, you've talked about it a little bit. 02:24:00
WINNESHIEK: How it was prior to?
SPRAGUE: Yeah. Versus--
WINNESHIEK: So. Yeah, I could. I have these, once again, I had my Fuji camerawith me and I would take these pictures, we'd be out on patrol and we'd, we wouldn't always have them, but sometimes we would, but we would have coloring books and we would have soccer balls. We would have toys for the kids, markers and crayons and, you know, things just to hand out for the children. And I have so many pictures of us with these kids and chocolate. We'd hand out chocolate to these kids. And the faces, I remember the smiles on the faces of all these kids. And the parents were, you know, obviously we weren't able to communicate, but, 02:25:00but the parents knew that it was okay, you know, it was okay for their children to come up to us and to accept the gifts that we were giving out, and these little girls and little boys would be bringing us flowers. And, you know, I'd put it in my flak jacket or put it in our helmet, and we'd stop and I'd take all these pictures with these kids. And I have, you know, to this day, I have a pretty good amount of pictures of a bunch of Iraqi kids. And it was like, so to answer the question, it was, it was friendly. You know, it was, there was women, there was children outside. They were playing in the streets. They were playing soccer in their little soccer fields that they, that they had. I guess I want call them soccer fields, but clearings that they had, you know, they would be 02:26:00out there kicking their soccer balls around and riding bikes. And it almost seemed like prior to April 6th, it almost seemed like any other city in the world, you know? I mean, like people were living their lives. People were going to work. People were living their lives, you know, their daily lives, doing things kids do, doing things parents do. But we noticed a change, right? You noticed. We, we would notice on days when things did happen it was the exact, exact opposite of what I just described. There were no kids playing outside. There were no women. You would see only men. So those were, those were, you 02:27:00know, key indicators that either they left or they're hiding or they know, they know something is about to happen. And I would say, you know, 90% of the time it was accurate.
SPRAGUE: Anything else that you want to cover about the April 6th through the 10th?
WINNESHIEK: You know, besides the fact that we lost a whole squad of marines.Other than that, you know, not really. The enemy found out that they couldn't go toe to toe with us. We took casualties, but, you know, we inflicted so much damage they knew they couldn't, couldn't go toe to toe with the Marine Corps. So, no, I don't think there's anything else to talk about. 02:28:00
SPRAGUE: Okay. Tell me about May 3rd.
WINNESHIEK: May 3rd. Oh, there was a, oh, there was an island in the EuphratesRiver. So people that don't know there's a, the Euphrates runs through the city of Ramadi. And we were getting intel. Excuse me. We were getting intel that the enemy was using this island, using a island as a weapons cache, and that there was, they were also shooting mortars on this island. And prior to May 3rd, it 02:29:00must have been like May 1st, May 2nd. You know, this is when we started to get this intel that, well, what, what, what we heard, what we--because I never, you know, I didn't see it. But this is what I was told was, was being done on this island. And so we came up with the plan that these Gulf swimmers were going to swim out to this island and we were going to want to clear the island of any enemy. And then we were going to collect any weapons that were out there, seize the weapons, you know, kill the enemy. And so the morning of May 3rd, 2004, you know, was a date that, you know, haunts me. Myself and five other marines, all my closest friends and company gunnery sergeant, we jumped in or we walked. It 02:30:00was a battalion wide operation. The battalion was out there, not the entire battalion, but Gulf and Echo Company were out there holding security for us. Fox Com, or Fox Company was up there, obviously, Weapons Company was up there. And the plan was to, the plan was that the six of us were to jump into the water and swim out to this island. Clear the island. And then we were going to set ropes up, a rope system so that the rest of our help could come over and, you know, help us out. And this was in the early morning hours. It was still dark out, you know. And I remember, I remember getting to the river's edge. And I remember, I 02:31:00remember looking out into the water. And one of the things that you that we learned, we're taught how to do at Scout Swimmer School was to estimate the speed of the current. And I just remember looking at the water and you could see that the current was moving so fast, and the moonlight, starlight was lighting up, it was lighting up the water. And I remember looking out into the water and there were all these whirlpools. You know, you could just see this, the swirling water was out there and it ended up being in this book. The book is called Blood 02:32:00Stripes. I can't remember the author's name. But the way that it's described in the book--and at this time of year, something about like the fuckin', the water, the speed of the water picks up because of, you know, I don't know, fuckin' ice is melting wherever the Euphrates starts or, you know, something happens like that, or that's why that the water is so dangerous this time, that time of year. And so I'm sitting there. I remember looking at the water. Oh. And in that book, so this, this, this, this author or somebody that he interviewed, this person--I don't remember how the hell it was, I have the book at the house. But I haven't read it in a long time. But they, they, they described, they described the water 02:33:00as the perfect drowning machine. I think that's exactly the exact words were. The perfect drawing machine is what they called it. And I'm like, so back to that morning. The speed of the current was, was crazy. The the whirlpools were everywhere. You know, it just looked, it fucking looked crazy. And we, we huddled up and we, we all agreed that due to the current being so fast that we should probably move farther upstream knowing that the current was going to, you know, fuckin', fuck everything up post downriver. And so we moved up. We started walking up, and for some reason--So on our, our, our inflatable vests, right, 02:34:00our inflatable vests our life, life, life, life jacket type thing there's a, you can pull a cord. I think most viewers have seen their dad wear a, or, you know, somebody out on the lake wear them. But anyways, they're, they're pretty much the same, a little bit different in the Marine Corps, but same, same idea. So there's a cord that you could pull. If you pull the cord, your vest blows up, or there's a tube by your, by your collarbone here and you can fucking blow into it and you can manually inflate your, your vest. In all the times that I've swam in water all over the world, I never blew air into my vest. And that morning, for some reason, I decided to do it. And I remember I didn't fully inflate it, but I 02:35:00put enough air into it that I could like, if I put my head back, like, I could feel, you know, I could feel it bouncing or I could feel it, you know, I could feel the pressure of the the air in my, in my vest that morning. And when you do these these type of operations you swim with a swim partner. That's another thing they teach you at Scout Swimmer School. And the purpose of that is if something should happen, let's say you and I are swimming, or finning together, if I were to cramp up or if you were to cramp up, I would be, we would be there to help each other. Or if I get stuck in seaweed or fucking, you know, who knows? Who knows what might happen. But, you know, that's that's the purpose, is that you guys, is that we, we fin face to face and one arm's distance away from 02:36:00each other. That morning when we jumped into the water--One of the big differences this time, compared to any other time, was that we didn't have any fins on. So we just had these little booties on. These booties would go into fins, but for some reason, I don't remember why, we didn't have fins that that morning. And that turned out to be a, you know, shit show when there was an investigation and what I'm about to tell. But that morning, my my my swim partner was Corporal Jeffrey Green. Jeff was from Dallas, Texas, and he was this in the book, Blood, Blood Stripes. They described him as a mixture of Will Smith and Muhammad Ali. And if you can imagine those two, you know, put them together. 02:37:00That's exactly what he looked like. And he was a great marine. He was, he was a team leader, 300 PFT. He was a really, really nice guy. He loved to smoke Marlboros. Him and I were in the same squad together ever since I got to 2/4. So, you know, him and I were really, really, really close friends. We were. Jeff and I were roommates when we were, when we were in California, which wasn't that long, because we it seems like we were in Okinawa for more than the time we were in California. Him and I were in the public schools together. But long story short, him and I ate, slept, everything together. So Jeff was my swimming 02:38:00partner, Corporal Craig Adkins and Corporal Jeffrey. Corporal Dustin Schrage were swim partners. Gunnery Sergeant--I can't remember his name on it for some reason. And Pretrick were swim partners. Albert Pretrick. Damn, I can't remember [inaudible] his name. Anyways. So we jumped into the water, right? And immediately, immediately the current fucked everything up and you, you sidestroke. That' s the method, that's the technique that you use and this is 02:39:00with a for real combat load. I think, I don't remember off the top of my head, but you must've had maybe eight magazines on your LBV, a couple of grenades, your M-16, and obviously a magazine in that. Oh. And I think that the--I don't think I had any canteens on there. But anyways, that's, you know, that's, that's what we saw on. And, you know, as soon as we jumped into the water, the current totally just messed everything up. Marines were everywhere. Everybody got separated and we started upstream from the river and the moonlight and starlight 02:40:00lit everything up. And I could see. I could see the island and I could hear--At the time, you know, by then, maybe we were halfway across and everybody was all, all stretched out. Some people were farther downstream, some people were farther upstream then they were supposed to be, definite, definitely not arms distance. And I could hear Jeff. I could see Jeff for every now and then. But at that time, I was concentrating on my breathing. I was concentrating not kicking. I was concentrating on, you know, I think, if there's any swimmers out there, you know, there's a technique to to swimming. And I was swimming for my life. And I 02:41:00remember I probably got from here to the wall. That wall right there, I don't know, was that 15, 20 feet away from the island. And I told--Jeff was still there at the time--And I told Jeff I was going to try and touch. And I stopped swimming and I put my foot down and I couldn't touch and I said, Oh shit, and I kept swimming. And I get, I get, I get to the island and I pull myself out. I turn around and I look for Jeff and he's not there. And we still, at this time, we, you know, we still have to be tact, tactful, tactical and not yell. You 02:42:00know, we still think there's enemy on this island. And so I'm saying, Jeff. you know, Jeff! And I'm scanning, looking out there and, you know, the same thing. You just see fast moving water and you see whirlpools. And I look up stream and I see somebody getting out the water. And it turned out to be Pretrick. And Pretrick and I walk towards each other. And we asked, you know, we asked each other if we were okay. We said, yeah. Then we asked, you know, where's your partner? Where's your where's, where's, Dustin? Where, where's Jeff? And I was, like, I don't fuckin' know. And, you know that Tiger Battalion is on the other side of the water, waiting for us, watching us and so it's my friend Albert and I are standing there and we're wondering what, you know, what the fuck do we do? 02:43:00And him and I, we decided that, you know, one, we need to secure this island. You know, we need to make sure there's nobody here to fucking kill us. And there was, the grass was tall. The grass was, you know, by neck high, chest high. And I remember him and I, I said [inaudible] you go you go over there and I'll go over here. You know, let's, let's go. Let's clear this island. And, you know, it wasn't very big. It was probably the size of--I'm trying to think of something to compare it to. But it, it wasn't a large island. Wasn't small, either. Medium-sized island. That makes it if that helps anybody but Predrick and I make sure that there's nobody on this island. There was, there was nobody on the island. When we get to the end of the island we find, we find two marines. It 02:44:00was Atkins and the gunny. And they're hanging on to the grass. The grass of the island. They're trying to pull themselves out of the water. But the current was so strong that, you know, they were trying to pull, but they couldn't. And I remember we, you know, we stuck our rifles out and pull these guys out of the water. And we asked them, you know, where's, where's everyone? There was two missing. Dustin and Jeff were missing. And by then, everything was all fucked up, you know? Our concern was, where are these two guys? And we ended up, everything was all fucked up. We ended up, there was nobody on the island. We ended up yelling across and saying, you know, hey, you know, something's wrong. You know, we're missing two guys. And so this was May 3rd. And we ended up 02:45:00spending the next, I think it was three or four days looking for them. And during one of those days that we were looking for them, I ended up getting hit by an IED. This one, I don't even remember, this one I had to be told about. And apparently there was a cow, a dead cow on the side of the road, that I don't know how it, actually, I do know how--I have multiple traumatic brain injuries--but there was a cow on the side of the road and we were looking, so we were looking for Jeff and we're looking for Dustin. And we had hoped that they had floated downstream and they were hiding somewheres and that we were going to go--they were just sitting still and we'd come find them. And so we had, you 02:46:00know, everybody, the whole battalion was searching the river, riverbanks, building outbuildings, you know, the outbuildings. One of the things that a lot of people, I guess, don't, don't realize either is how green the vegetation around the Euphrates is. You'd, you would think when somebody tells you they were in Iraq that it was desert, right? And don't get, don't get me wrong, there's a lot of desert. But along the Euphrates River the irrigation that they had, it almost looked like, to me it looked like, a comparison would be Vietnam, you know, walking through these rice paddies. They had these, I don't know what type of vegetation it was or, you know, what type of vegetables or what the fuck it was. But they had these green fields all over the place and we were walking through these fields looking for these guys, and we were walking out this road. 02:47:00It was called Nova, that's what we called it, MSR Nova, Main Supply Route, Nova. And it was notorious for IEDs and that's where that cow was. And we walked past it and nothing happened the first time. But as we were walking back, that's when it exploded. And I went flying across the road. Saw stars. Everything went black. The ringing. I remember the ringing in my ears. I remember the dust. I remember getting up off the ground. And my my M-16 was slung, so it was hanging, it was hanging on my side. And I remember getting up and I was, I looked down at my legs to make sure my legs were there. And I was looking at my, you know, rubbing my arms to make sure I wasn't bleeding. I was touching my face. And I 02:48:00remember, and I was looking at my buddy and his name is John Oysten. And I was looking at John and I was like, I was like, is my face fucked up? And he said, no. He said, No, you're okay. And I said, okay. And you know, we made sure nobody, no one, no nobody died that day. But that was one of what, well that the second IED, second of four. But we ended up--so the Marine Corps ended up calling in like Navy divers. We, you know, I think even civilian, some civilian divers came out to look for these guys, and I had this gut feeling of where Jeff was. And I was telling everybody, you know, Jeff was--I saw Jeff before I tried to touch and then however long it took me to get from, you know from here to 02:49:00there, he was gone. And sure, shit, they found him pretty much exactly where I said, you know, last time I saw him. He pretty much went straight down and it would fuck me up for a long time. And it still, it still really bothers me was, you know, the day that we found them and what they look like. I remember going up and looking at them and the, the survivor's guilt is what, is what really, really, really bothers me. You know, I questioned myself for almost 20 years now if there's something I should've done differently. I always wonder if I should 02:50:00have jumped back into the water or I wonder if I should have, you know, told them to put some air in his vest, or I wonder if I should have stayed by his side or--For years, years I've contemplated suicide. I've wondered if I should have done something different. Would he still be alive? I've talked to his sister. I've talked to his mother. And, you know, I. I don't. I don't know. The one thing I do know is that, you know. You know, it wasn't. It wasn't an easy 02:51:00swim and I, I could have very easily drown that morning too. But I didn't. And, you know, Dustin, Dustin was probably my best friend, actually. And Dustin ended up drowning that morning. Dustin was Dustin Schrage was from Indian Harbour Beach, Florida. He was the first and only Jewish kid that I ever knew. Always used to laugh because I told him, I said, Man, I don't fucking know any of fuckin' Jewish people from Wisconsin. And he was, you know, him and I were always together. Him and I would go out drinking in California. He was, he was a 02:52:00little bit younger than me. Oh. But you know, I'd get him all fucked up when we were in Japan. And it was so funny watching him drink and, you know. You know, those are the things that I think about. It's. It's all the good times that we had. And. You know, they were great marines. They were great, great marines. And if they ended up drowning, you know, on May 3rd, we found them two days later and. Yeah. You know, I think it's the, it's the survivor's guilt that gets me the most and wondering if I should have done something different. Yeah. I'll never forget that day. 02:53:00
SPRAGUE: Do you want to take a break, or are you good? WINNESHIEK: No, I'm fine.
SPRAGUE: Okay. What did that investigation that you mentioned, what did, didthey find anything out or--
WINNESHIEK: There, there was, was fucking--They were wondering why we jumpedinto the water without fins. Oh, you know, they're asking the battalion commander what the fuck he was doing. I don't know. I just remember talking to, a few days after it happened, you know, they had, I don't know who the fuck it was, but we had to go to the--We were at the Snake Pit, we had to go into the company commander's building. They had people questioning us. I don't know exactly who, who they were, but, you know, at the time, one, I was all fucked up. Two, I didn't really give a shit, but I told them what happened and I don't 02:54:00remember the outcome of the investigation. I know they made some sort of decision because I remember talking to Jeff's mom and sister as they, obviously, they want to know why and how and what happened. So, I know there was an investigation. I don't, I don't recall the exact results of it.
SPRAGUE: Okay. Is there anything else with that experience that you want toshare with us?
WINNESHIEK: You know, other, I guess, other than my, my best friend's dying andme almost fucking getting killed looking for them and. Oh. You know, I don't 02:55:00know. I think I described it pretty well.
SPRAGUE: Did you, how did the platoon, the squad react? What did they do, whenyou got back to the Snake Pit?
WINNESHIEK: Dustin was a squad leader, so we had to move, you know, seniormarines around and figure out who was going to take that spot over. Obviously, now we're down two senior marines. So, both, all of us, everybody that jumped into the water was a senior marine. So now we were down to senior marines in 1st Platoon. All of the swimmers, all of the scout swimmers are in 1st Platoon. So 1st Platoon, we were down two senior marines. We had to figure out how we were going to reorganize the squads and who was going to take over what. But, you 02:56:00know, Tommy or Tommy, Jeff and Dustin were very well-liked in the company, not only in our squad, or not only in our platoon, but in the whole company. You know, everybody loved them. Everybody, you know, knew who they were, obviously. Yeah, it was, it wasn't, it wasn't a good thing.
SPRAGUE: You mentioned two other IED experiences. Do you have any--In thesequence of events, did those follow or when did they happen?
WINNESHIEK: Oh, if I had to guess, I think they, they followed that because,02:57:00like I said, April, April, April was fucking fighting. May, well, actually, though, April started the fighting, and then it was a lot of fighting. May was that incident. I guess if I had to if I had to guess, you know, I can't remember, but I would have, I would guess that the two other IEDs were after.
SPRAGUE: Let me just go ahead with a couple dates here.
SPRAGUE: So you, in thinking about this, there was, one of those IEDs, in thehistories it talks about a seven story building that got hit with an IED. And you mentioned something about it, too, and I think you provided a picture. Was that maybe the third or fourth IED, maybe in August of '04, just before you came back? 02:58:00
WINNESHIEK: I mean, so, a seven-story building that we used for an LP/OP,listening post, observation post did get hit, but I wasn't on that one. I was on a four-story building and in this four-story building--So there was a four-story building not too far from the Snake Pit. And we use this building as LP/OP also as well as the seven-story building. So this four-story building, which wasn't too far away from the Snake Pit we used as a listening post, observation post, and we would take turns going out there watching MSR Michigan. MSR Michigan was probably the main supply route and that led from headquarters at the Snake Pit to where Echo Company and Gulf company were, which was the combat outpost. MSR 02:59:00Michigan was notorious. Just, just as, just as bad as Nova was for IEDs and BBIEDs [vehicle-borne improvised explosive device]. So, marines were getting killed and getting fucked up. Our Humvees were getting fucked up by IEDs. And so we used that four-story building. We used the seven-story building as a LP/OPs. And one day when we were out there--This building was sort of big. It was a four-story building, and it had two stairwells that went up to the roof. And it was, it was occupied. It was, people lived in this building. Families lived in this building. And we became friends, I would say, with the tenants of this building. The kids we would give shit to all the time. And one squad would go 03:00:00out there at a time. But we soon found out that the building was too big for one squad to cover by themselves. Meaning to cover all four corners of the building, to cover both stairwells and multiple, you know, all the entrances into the building was too much. And so we decided to put concertina wire up and down one of the stairwells and then to put some Claymores up there. And we thought that that would be sufficient, that would, you know, that that would be enough protection for us, that we wouldn't have to really watch that stairwell, ah, 03:01:0024/7. And so, I don't remember the date, but it was our turn to be out there, and my squad leader, his name was Joseph Alarid. Alarid was up on top of the roof with some marines and they were watching. And this is daytime. It was daytime, I remember. They were watching the MSR Michigan, they're watching the road. And, you know, we constantly have eyes on the road. Binoculars and scopes, you know, watching, watching people, seeing if they were planting IEDs or, you know, dropping off a VBIED at the side of the road. Vehicle borne IED car bomb. And Alaric was up on the roof with some marines. I had my team watching the 03:02:00entrances to the building, so they were like on the second, second and third floor. Or second or first floor. I was on the third floor, and I just went down, I checked on my guys, asked if they were okay and making sure they were eating and drinking water. And I had, I was sitting down. I sat, I sat down and it was me and my, my Navy corpsman. And we were sitting there and I took my, my Kevlar off. I took my helmet off, and I set it down next to me. I had, had my rifle. I put it down, put it down on my Kevlar. And I was, you know, open up my flak jacket so I could, you know, breathe, breathe, let my, you know, fucking just, 'cause you're constantly drenched in sweat. And I remember I opened up my, my, 03:03:00my flak jacket and I put my feet up. I was sitting on a chair and I put my feet up on this other chair and I put my hands up. And I was sitting there like this. And, you know, we were just bullshitting. We were just talking. And all of a sudden it was just this huge blast. And I remember, the only, what I do remember is the once again, the ringing in my ears was just loud, the, the explosion, the blast from the explosion blew me off of that chair. And I went flying across the room. And the dust, I couldn't see anything. And I, everything went black and I saw stars. And I remember laying on the ground and the ringing in my ears was 03:04:00just so loud. And I remember standing up and same thing as, you know, the other one, I looked down to make sure I had both my legs and touched my arms and I was checking my body to make sure I wasn't bleeding or, you know, something impaled me or something, and same thing. Touched my face, make sure I wasn't, you know, missing my jaw or something. And I yelled out for Dr. [inaudible] he was the, the Navy corpsman. And he said, he answered me, and I asked him if he was okay and he said, yeah. And I, I grabbed my, you know, I was looking around. It was so dusty you couldn't, you, I was just feeling around for my, my rifle? And I was looking for like my, my Kevlar. And I found, I found it and I put my, my Kevlar back on, my helmet back on, and I ran down and I was, I was yelling for 03:05:00my two new marines. So I was asking, well, you know, calling out their names. And I was asking if they were okay. And they both answer me and they were okay. Then I yelled out, you know, I was I was I was yelling out to Alarid at the top and making sure those guys were okay. And yeah, they ended up putting this fucking bomb on the stairwell that we thought was okay and tried to fucking blow up our building and they blew it up, but, you know, they're high hope that the whole thing would collapse, but pretty much just that that side, that stairwell, that side of the building sort of collapsed.
SPRAGUE: You want to take a break? Are you good?
WINNESHIEK: No, I' m good.
SPRAGUE: Oh, okay. And that and that four-story building. Do you remember aboutwhen that was?
SPRAGUE: Okay. And, Alarid, how do you spell Alarid?
SPRAGUE: Okay. Got it.
WINNESHIEK: His first name is Joseph.
SPRAGUE: Okay. Okay. I'm going to just go through a couple of dates that I havehere and see if you have anything for them. June 21st, some scout snipers killed on a rooftop. Remember that at all?
WINNESHIEK: Yeah, definitely. Tommy. His name was Tommy Parker, Jr. And Tommy,prior to becoming a sniper, scout sniper, was in Fox Company, 1st Platoon, 4th Squad. So Tommy and I were together that entire time in California and in Okinawa. Tommy and I were roommates the entire time that we were in Okinawa. And so, once again, another one of my friends that I was constantly with, you know, 03:07:00eat, sleep, shit together, was killed. So Tommy, Tommy was from Arkansas and he was fucking straight-up hillbilly. And he was a, he was a great marine. It was in Okinawa was the scout sniper indoc. And he said, I'm going to try, I' m going to try and be a scout sniper. He said, Come with me. And I was like, No. I was like, like I always wanted--One, I didn't want to be a sniper because you got to be a boot all over again, right? You get hazed like a motherfucker. But I wanted the opportunity to be a senior marine, and so I wanted to stay. Stay where I was. Tommy wanted to be a sniper, and he tried out for the indoc when we were in Okinawa. He made it. Oh. So he ended up going to H&S Company. And so we deployed 03:08:00to Iraq. Tommy's with scout snipers and H&S Company. And Tommy was out at combat outpost. And, you know, Tommy was my, Tommy was my brother. And it was cool because he would catch the, the chow, the chow train, we called it, you know, they bring hot food every now and then too, you know, that was early, too. We didn't have no, we didn't have no Internet. We didn't have no phones. We didn't have, you know, none of that shit that that the guys had later on. But we'd get hot chow every now and then and they'd bring us, you know, water, beads, bullets, water. They'd bring us a chow or ammunition, mail, the mail truck. And every now and then, Tommy would jump on, jump on the mail truck or the, you know, the chow line. And he would come and come visit us. And I remember it was, 03:09:00it wasn't long before he ended up getting, or it wasn't long before he got killed that he stopped. And there were, there were five of us in our room that I shared a room with, two bunk beds and a cot when we were at the Snake Pit. And he knocked on the door and I thought it was some boot junior marines. I said, What the fuck do you want? He was like, What the fuck did you say to me? I was like, You know, I immediately recognized his voice and I opened up the door and I was like, Hey, what's up, man? He came in and I was like, you know, you know, we would, it wasn't, it wasn't unusual for him to to stop by. And it, it, it wasn't unusual. It, it just, it just wasn't often. So it was nice to see him, and when we would see each other, we would talk about, you know, what the fuck happened in the last couple weeks or you, know how, you know, how it's--I'd ask how his wife's doing. He had a baby girl when we're, the girl was born when we 03:10:00were in Okinawa, I think. So she was only, you know, one or two year old when we were in Iraq. So, I'd ask him how his baby was doing. I'd ask him how his wife was doing. I'd ask him, you know, how his mom and dad were doing, and I'd ask him how, you know, he was doing. Oh, I heard, you know, there was, heard you guys got in a firefight, you know, a couple of days ago. How'd that go? You know, so we'd sit there, and we' d shoot the shit and catch up. And I remember the last time I saw him, you know, he was sitting there and we were talking and it was time for him to go. And we got up. We hugged each other, told each other we loved each other and, you know, told him to be safe. So, he ended up going out. It was him and another sniper. And they took two [MOS] 0311s with them, two infantry guys with them and they ended up going out to this LP/OP. And they were supposed to be watching something. And he--One of the common things that would 03:11:00happen on an LP/OP when you're out there for a long time is that you go to 50%, and when you go to 50%, that means two guys go to sleep and two guys stay awake. And apparently, from what I heard was that they [inaudible] fell asleep and somehow they got, you know, they got surprised and they ended up getting fucking stripped down, executed and then they were videotaped and it was put on Al-Jazeera or whatever the fuck the news was called at the time. Their bodies were, you know, were shown. Oh, yeah. He was, you know, he was another one of my very, very good friends was, his name was Tony Parker, Jr. Yeah, he was killed. 03:12:00They ended up, you know, they took all their weapons, took all their night vision, you know, took all their ammunition, night vision, you know, all that, all that, all the stuff that they had, all their gear, stripped them down. But it's crazy because they ended up, they ended up finding his rifle like, it was like three years later or something like that. They found his rifle in a totally different city too. They killed some sniper that ended up being Tommy's rifle and now I think it's at the Marine Corps museum or something like that.
SPRAGUE: It must have been tough to deal with.
WINNESHIEK: It was. Yeah, it was. Yeah. I mean, at the time too, you know, Imean, like, I didn't have time to, I don't think anybody had time to, to grieve. You know, you didn't have time to think about what the fuck was going on because you had to worry about the task at hand and making sure that shit was being done correctly. If you didn't, well, people were going to get fucked up.
SPRAGUE: July 21st. Wicked Wednesday. Captain Carlton, RPG attack.03:13:00
WINNESHIEK: Oh, yeah, yeah.
SPRAGUE: And L.T. and an RTO.
WINNESHIEK: Yeah. Fuck it. That was another firefight. I sort of, you know, Imean, I don't know. They all, they all sort of just mix together. There were so many of them. I don't remember. I don't remember the exact number of, you know, combat missions that we were on. Hundreds. I don't know. I don't frickin' know. But, uh, yeah, Captain Carlton ended up taking a fucking RPG to his neck. He didn't leave. He didn't want to leave. The fucking battalion commander was telling him to get the fuck out of here. You know, you got your Purple Heart. Go home. But he was like, Fuck that. He was like, I'm not going anywhere. So he ended up sticking out the whole thing, but, yeah, he almost got his fucking head blown off.
SPRAGUE: August 8th. Lance Corporal Collins. Small arms fire.03:14:00
WINNESHIEK: Yeah. I sort of get a, you know, I sort of get them all mixed upbecause we had so many. So, we had 34 marines were killed in action over this seven-month deployment and over 270 Purple Hearts were awarded. So you figure a third of our battalion was either killed or injured. And to remember. To remember, well, first of all, my brain's all fucked up, so I can't remember anything really. But no, I mean, yeah, I don't, I don't remember the exact day or how he died, but, um, yeah, I mean, from, from my understanding, from what I've been told or what I've read is that, you know, we, we took more casualties 03:15:00than any other unit during the Iraq war. So.
SPRAGUE: No problem. Sounds good. Yeah. I'm just asking you these to see if youhave any, you know, if you remember anything or have anything there or can add anything like you did with the first one. Tell me just before you left, August 17th, Lance Corporal Powers. Foxtrot Company. While on guard duty.
SPRAGUE: It's okay.
WINNESHIEK: Powers was in 3rd Platoon, and I don't remember exactly what LP/OPhe was on, but he was a senior marine. He was a, he was a great marine. But, you know, that was another hard one, him being in another platoon. Obviously, I knew who he was. I drank with him. I called him my brother, but he wasn't as close to me as the others. But yeah, he definitely. 03:16:00
SPRAGUE: What kind of missions were you running out of Snake Pit?
WINNESHIEK: Like I said, there was like this routine, you know, if you weren't.So you'd have one week of doing patrols, then you'd have one week of doing, oh, LP/OP. And then you'd have one week of camp guard/QRF.
SPRAGUE: Any, any interactions with friendly civilians after April 6th? I'mguessing not.
WINNESHIEK: No. I mean, there was, there, like I said, the women and childrenwere still there for, for the most part. You know, from what I remember, though, is that, like I said before, is that you knew that shit was fucked up or you knew something was going to happen when you did it and see the women and you didn't see the kids playing outside. But yeah, I mean, I mean, they were still 03:17:00there and you'd be surprised how quickly, you know, they can, the city could go from friendly to hostile to where the kids were outside playing again.
SPRAGUE: Rules of engagement. How did that play out?
WINNESHIEK: The rules of engagement at the time were you cannot fire unlessfired upon. And it was even if they were pointing weapons at you, we weren't allowed to, to fire. I think in the heat of battle, you know, it was fucking, you know, no rules at all. But, yeah, I mean, like I like I said at the beginning of being there, March, we're conducting SASO [Security and Stability Operations]. So, you know, there were pretty strict on rules of engagement. But, 03:18:00you know, the farther into the deployment after, you know, 20 KIAs, 25 KIAs, 30 KIAs, you know, it was like, if you want to fuck around, you know, come fuck around and find out. So.
SPRAGUE: What, tell me your thoughts on the insurgents.
WINNESHIEK: As far as what?
SPRAGUE: What, uh, what you thought of capabilities. If there's a generalgeneralization that can be made.
WINNESHIEK: So, I think the first thing we realized, they realized, was afterApril 6th, they couldn't, they couldn't fight face to face. You know, they couldn't, they couldn't go toe to toe with us because they found out real bad that we fucked them up. Ah, you know, they found out, they found out if they fucked around that they were going to get fucked up. And that's where this whole, that's where the IEDs come from. And they, they realized that an IED was 03:19:00way better than trying to fight, fight us face to face. And they inflicted so much damage with the IED, whether that be the VBIED or any other plain IED. And they got so good at hiding them. So that goes to the fourth IED incident. And. It was myself, another non-sniper and two snipers. So there was four of us. Two snipers and myself and another marine. We went out to this building between the Euphrates River and MSR Nova where I almost got blown up, you know, whatever, a 03:20:00month or two before. And our job that evening, it was a night, you know, we went out there at night, as soon as it got dark out, we took off. And our job that evening was to watch Nova, to make sure there was no IEDs being planted because Humvees were just getting demolished out there. And we sat out there all night, took turns sleeping. Oh, nothing happened. We didn't see anybody. Nothing happened. And we got on the radio that morning and we said, Hey, you know, We're, we're heading back to the Snake Pit and we leave this building. And it's like in those rice paddies that I was talking about. And there were these, like, little trails that went through 'em, you know, like these, that the people walked on to get from one side to the other or from the river to, you know, the road. And we were walking out on this little trail and we get to Nova, we get to 03:21:00the hardtop, the blacktop. And there were two marines in front of me, than me, and then another guy behind me. And I remember getting to the road and I looked down and there was a stick or a bone. And I can't remember if I, if it was a stick or a bone. But there was something sticking out of the ground. I mean, it wasn't a wire. So I was like, I just looked at it. I remember seeing it and I was like, What the fuck? I was like, that's odd, but I just, I don't know if I just wanted to get back to the Snake Pit and I didn't say anything or I didn't, you know, but I just remember, I remember seeing it. I remember walking past it and I get on the blacktop and we're walking. So the two guys in front of me, and as soon as I pass it, the marine behind me gets to it. And it turned it, it 03:22:00turned out to be an IED. And, so, my thoughts on it were somebody was obviously, somebody was obviously watching us. And this one was a daisy chain, meaning there was multiple IEDs connected to each other. So when it went off, multiple IEDs go off. And this one same thing, we fuckin' go, I go flying across the road, end up on the other side of the road. Stars, black, blackness. I get up, ears are ringing. Same thing. Fucking dust everywhere. Same, you know, same thing all over again. I get up, fucking look at my legs, make sure I have my feet, my legs, touch my arms, touch my body, touch my face. Make sure, you know, just make sure I'm okay. The, the two guys in front of me got hit. They were all 03:23:00pelted with rocks. And, you know, their face was, their face was all bloody from, you know, the rocks hitting them. One guy got more injured than the other. One of them was just fucking shooting. He was shooting all over the fucking place because he was the one, he was the one that got hurt more and he was just shooting everywhere. He was fucking pissed that he got hurt. And then the guy behind me, he was, he ended up getting fucked up. He lost his eye. He was crawling out of the ditch. We called for QRF and those guys came out, you know, picked us up. But. So back to your original question. You know, these guys, these guys became very proficient in placing IEDs. They knew they couldn't, you know, fight face to face, but they came, they, ambushes and IEDs is what they 03:24:00became very proficient at.
SPRAGUE: Okay. Moving ahead. I'm a little concerned because of this band that'swarming up out there. And I'm hoping that we have at least 10 minutes before they start playing, to be quite frank. But not to force you along, but try to move things along. Did you have any experience working with the allied Iraqi forces?
SPRAGUE: Okay, did you have any sense of if the Iraqis were able to take overthe security of their country? At that point?
WINNESHIEK: What was the question? That I have, that, that I think the Iraqis could--
WINNESHIEK: --take care of themselves?
WINNESHIEK: No. Hell, no.
SPRAGUE: Okay. Okay. Do you have anything else you want to cover about Iraq03:25:00while you were there? I know there's a lot to cover.
WINNESHIEK: Yeah, there's, I mean, there's, there's, you know, there's, there'sso many, so many patrols that we went on. There's so many, there's so many more stories I can tell. But I think the important part of my story is. I don't know. I don't know what the most important part is, but. It was probably the funnest, scariest time of my life. I enjoyed it, but, at the same time, I hated it. It was probably the biggest adrenaline rush that I've ever had in my life. I can't 03:26:00describe the amount of adrenaline that runs through your body when you're fighting for your life and killing bodies and seeing your friends get injured. Gunshot wounds. IED wounds. It's, it's, it's crazy, craziness. But at the same time, it it's almost beautiful because of how, how well we train our, our marines. And that goes back to the mean Degas. You know, the mean, the mean uncles. That goes back to the games that are played. You might think, well, why the fuck is he telling me to run up and down the stairs ten times when I, when I think I did it right the first time. But there's, like I said, there's a reason for everything. And if I were to if I had the option of knowing that everything 03:27:00was going to happen, would I do it all over again? Most definitely. If it wasn't for the Marine Corps, you know, I wouldn't be who I am today. I wouldn't have the friends that I have today. I wouldn't have had the experiences that I've, that I've had in my life. And, you know. I don't know. I, I absolutely loved you' re the Marine Corps.
SPRAGUE: Okay. Do you want to continue with the interview or would you like to--
SPRAGUE: --stop at this time?
WINNESHIEK: It's up to you, I guess.
WINNESHIEK: I mean, if you have any more questions, you can continue, but--
SPRAGUE: I do. And I'll. But I'll tell you--03:28:00
WINNESHIEK: How about we go till the band starts.
SPRAGUE: Yeah, that's my concern. Or if I. That's my primary concern. That's it.
WINNESHIEK: All right, that's cool.
SPRAGUE: Okay, so one of the things that I'm going to ask you is. What was itlike coming back to the States?
WINNESHIEK: It was hell. Not that it was like Vietnam veteran hell or, you know,that we were being, or that we weren't thanked or people weren't spitting on us or anything like that. For me, I think it was finally dealing with the trauma. You know, finally the, the survivor's guilt. That was, that was probably the most difficult thing, and then just, just transitioning out. In the Marine, you know, in the Marine Corps, you're told what to do, what to do, how to do it, and to become a civilian isn't, you know, wasn't easy, isn't easy for most, most of 03:29:00us. And oh, yeah. Between the survivor's guilt, depression, PTSD, and the not knowing what to do. Not knowing. Not willing to accept the fact that I needed help. Or I think that's, that's one of the biggest problems that I've had as far as V.A. compensation wise was in the Marine Corps, the infantry, you're told to shut the fuck up and do your job, right? Suck it up. And now that I'm out, well, I'm 100% now. But it took me a while. And the hardest part was proving service. Proving service connection. Or proving this injury or that injury. If I would have went to BAS [Basic Allowance for Subsistence] and had it documented, it 03:30:00would have helped me. But then it was like, Oh, my back hurts, or, oh, maybe I have a traumatic brain injury or, you know, any one of my 20-something service-connected disabilities. If I would have done something about it while I was in, it would have been a lot easier to get service-connected. But it's been, you know, the V.A. claims process, like any veteran knows, is, is a pain in the butt. So, between depression, PTSD, what I say, survivor's guilt, uh, V.A. claims, alcoholism, uh, you know, I tried to drink myself to death. I tried to contemplate suicide for, you know, ten plus years or 15 years. You know, it wasn't until I met my wife that, you know, I finally sort of snapped out of it, which made me go after V.A. compensation and, um, but, you know, it was, the 03:31:00transition was very, very hard for me. So. I became a police officer and I'm quitting my job because of the PTSD and depression. So, I don't know. It was it was hard.
SPRAGUE: Yeah. You talk about in one of the documentaries that's done with theTBI, Traumatic Brain Injury, about not being diagnosed, misdiagnosed. Yeah. If you could just touch on that a little bit. That, that was quite, quite a deal.
WINNESHIEK: No, I mean, it still is. You know, we still I still have--SenatorTammy Baldwin is helping me. Congressman Ron Kind is helping me, currently, 03:32:00right now. But, so I just described four IEDs that probably should have killed me. And I walked out. I walked away from them. Should I have, have, should I have had four Purple Hearts? Probably. But there I was. I continued to fight the rest of the deployment, and I came home when I knew something was wrong. And it wasn't until I got out in 2005. 2011, I went to the Minneapolis V.A. for a TBI assessment. And in 2011, they said, Yes, you do have a TBI. But then ultimately it, it somehow ended up getting denied. In the, in the DBQ--a DBQ is a 03:33:00Disability Benefits Questionnaire, that's what' s filled out when you go to these examinations. In the DBQ it says TBI. But then I ultimately ended up getting denied. And at that time I was trying to, I was self-medicating with alcohol. And one of the last things I could care less about was the V.A. claim. So I ended up letting it go. And I ended up getting a letter in the mail. Well, actually, no, that's not what happened. A.J. So, A.J. Lagoe. He was the reporter that I sent you the news clip. A.J. Lagoe, he works for KARE 11 News out of Minneapolis. A.J. heard from, heard from somebody that the V.A. was conducting 03:34:00TBI examinations by people that weren't qualified. And so, he was like, hmm, I better look into this. And the more he started digging, themore he started finding out. And come to find out, there were over 300 of us veterans from the--that were seen at the Minneapolis V.A. And we were all given a misdiagnosis by people that weren't qualified. So he did his thing. And this, this, this report came out and it was all over the news. This was in 2015. This was all over the news. And it ended up going nationwide. And what ended up happening because of of AJ's report, the V.A. was like, okay, you're right or he's right. A.J. is right. We fucked up in Minneapolis. But if we fucked up in Minneapolis, I wonder if we fucked up anywhere else. So the V.A. does this, or Office of 03:35:00Inspector General does this national investigation. And it turns out they were doing it everywhere. And there were over 24,000 veterans misdiagnosed for TBI, 300 of us in the [Twin] Cities, and 2016, 2015. So A.J. does his thing. I get a letter in the mail. Once the V.A. finds out they fucked up they're like, Oh shit. We ought to send Brandon to go get another TBI assessment. So, I get a letter in the mail that says, Hey, now, now we're sending you to Tomah. I said, okay. So I go to Tomah and this is 2015. I go to Tomah, to Tomah neurology, and I see this Doctor Lan--Mary Jo Lanska. And what was odd about this assessment was that I was in and out of Tomah [V.A.] Hospital in 30 minutes, and that is 03:36:00absolutely impossible. To diagnose someone for a traumatic brain injury is, it's impossible. And on her DBQ, Disability Benefits Questionnaire, it even says, it says that she, she doesn't do any neurological testing. She doesn't do, she doesn't do much. She does this thing called MMSE, Mini Mental State Exam. The only reason why I remember any of this is because I was fucking fighting for my, I was fighting so hard to prove her wrong. And, so, she does this examination, which is like, what's your name? What's today? What's. You know, it was super simple. And she was like, All right, you don't have a TBI. Get the fuck out of here. And I was like, Well, she didn't say fuck, but basically that's what I felt like she said. So I leave Tomah V.A., and once again I' m denied, 2015. And 03:37:00I leave it alone. I did. So I'm like, well, fuck it. They told me twice and I knew, you know, I knew something was wrong. 2016 comes, after the investigation--the V.A. does their nationwide investigation--they find out there's 24,000 veterans misdiagnosed. The secretary of the V.A. grants equitable relief to all 24,000 of us. And this is huge because equitable, equitable relief is only granted, usually on a case by case basis. This is the first time the V.A. has ever granted equitable relief to such a large cohort of veterans. And equitable relief is when the V.A. fucks up and they say, okay, we fucked up, but we're going to go back to the original date that you, that you filed. You're going to get reassessed. And if our misdiagnosis was, or if if our diagnosis was 03:38:00wrong, we're going to grant you service-connection back to the date that you filed and we're going to back pay you everything that we owe you. I didn't know about equitable relief at all. The V.A. states, they say, they're saying that we sent you a letter in 2016 and I'm like, no, you didn't, or else I would have did something about it. And that's where I'm at now, is because, also 2016, 17, 18, 19 go by and I complain to the red team at Tomah V.A. that something's wrong. And I keep requesting to go to neurology and they're like, fine, you go to neurology, but guess who's in charge of Tomah neurology now? Dr. Mary Jo Lanska, the same doctor that misdiagnosed me or said, no, you don't have a TBI back in 03:39:002015. So Mary Jo Lanska refuses to see me and she says, You don't have a TBI. I told you that back in 2015 and I'm not going to see you. But if you want to be seen, you can go out in town and use your private insurance. So now I'm furious because I know there's something wrong. My memory's all fucked up, my balance is all fucked up, my ears are all fucked up. And I go to my counselor at the the Veterans Center in La Crosse and I tell him what happened and I tell him about the letter that she wrote me. And then I go to the La Crosse County Veterans Service Officer, and I tell him the same thing. And I said, What are my options? What do we do here? And they said, Well, if your insurance will cover it, fuck it, let's just do it. And so I go to Gunderson and La Crosse in 2020, I believe, 03:40:002021. All my dates are all mixed up. But anyways, I go to La Crosse, Gunderson, and I see all these Gunderson Neurology and I see like four different doctors and all four of them come up with the same diagnosis that, Brandon, you have multiple traumatic brain injuries, and I ultimately end up getting service-connected for it. But they only went back, the V.A. only went back to 2021. And what I'm saying is that you misdiagnosed me twice and the secretary promised to make this right and he didn't and you guys haven't. So, one, I'm thankful. I guess I'm thankful that I'm service-connected for it now. But the V.A. owes me hundreds of thousands of dollars. And it's not even about the money. It's about making sure that things are right, not just for me, but for, 03:41:00for 24,000 of us. How many of us, how many of the other 24,000 service members got denied? So yeah, I don' t even remember what the question was, but--
SPRAGUE: That's okay. You answered it.
WINNESHIEK: So yeah. So back to that. We're in the middle of this appeal whereSenator Baldwin and Senator Tammy something, from Minnesota, are in the process of fighting back.
SPRAGUE: Tell me about what you're doing now.
WINNESHIEK: I work at a veterans supportive housing building. It's a ten-unit03:42:00apartment building for veterans that are either homeless or at high risk of being homeless. It was built by the Ho-Chunk Nation in Black River Falls. And originally it was for Ho-Chunk veterans only, but we've opened it up to any Native Americans, veterans. Some of my job is I'm the building manager/case manager, so I help veterans get back on their feet, whether that be getting them to treatment, get, get their license, get into school, help, you know, get them a job. I would help them if they don't have a vehicle. You know, I take them to Walmart or the bank or dentist or, you know, whatever they need. So, I sort of do pretty much everything assisting them that they need. Taxes.
SPRAGUE: Okay. Can you tell me a little bit about the 2/4 Marines Association,03:43:00the reunion at the [Wisconsin] Dells?
WINNESHIEK: Yeah. So the 2/4 Association I didn't know about for the longesttime. There's a gentleman by the name of Donald Greengrass. He was in the Marine Corps and he was in 2/4. He's a tribal member, Ho-Chunk Nation tribal member. And he was the one, I think he was the one that introduced me to the Association and he was like, hey, you know, we have this, this reunion every year and just, you know, they bounce around the United States. And I went to, or maybe that was the first year I went, but anyways, Donald, Donald said, Hey, why don't we host one here in Wisconsin? You know, we have you know, we have all these casinos. He said, Why don't we, why don't we raise our hand and volunteer this year? I said, All right, yeah, that sounds good. So we ended up hosting, what did you say, 03:44:002016 or--
SPRAGUE: I didn't actually say, I couldn't--yeah, it was a couple of years ago.
WINNESHIEK: I think it was. Yeah, it was quite a while ago. I think it was 2016,2017. We had, we had 2/4 Association come to the Wisconsin Dells and they came here and visited here. We took them golfing. We took them--they brought their families. It was in the Wisconsin Dells. So all the kids got to go to the, you know, Noah's Ark or, whatever, jet boats or whatever they wanted to do. But, yeah, it was fun. They had a good time.
SPRAGUE: Do you have any involvement in any other veterans organizations otherthan doing what you do every day?
WINNESHIEK: I do, actually. As far as involvement, it was my wife and thecounselor at the La Crosse vet center that got me into working with veteran nonprofits. And in 2019, the, my counselor at the Veterans Center, he said, Hey, 03:45:00do you want to go on a snowmobiling trip? And I was like, sure, when? And he was like, January, I think it was. I was like, Where? West Yellowstone, Montana. I was like. I was like, How much? He was like, It's for free. I was like, Sure. I was like, What do I do? And he said, Just fill out this, fill out this application. Turn it in. And, you know, you'll probably get to go. And I filled it out and I went and it was an amazing experience. Well, obviously, you know, snowmobiling is fun, but what was really eye-opening was that I didn't know that there were so many veteran nonprofit organizations out there that help veterans. And over these last few years, I've had the opportunity to go snowmobiling. I've shot a moose. I've shot an antelope. I have gone whitewater rafting down the Colorado River. I've gone, I'm going on a--I went to Iowa for, you know, a 03:46:00whitetail hunt. If anybody knows anything about whitetail hunting, you know, Iowa is the Mecca of whitetail hunting. This year, I'm going to Illinois to, for a bowhunt down in the Golden Triangle, it's called, which is another, you know, I don't know, world-renowned bowhunting place, you know, in southwest Iowa, or Illinois. I'm going to Texas for two whitetail hunts this year. Josie and I, my wife and I just passed on a couple's rafting trip because I'm trying to, there are so many opportunities out there that I'm getting asked to go on. You know, I have to, I really have to pick and choose because of work and leave, figure out which, you know, which ones I really want to go on. But all of these, all of 03:47:00these events are cool. Like, like I said, who wouldn't have fun shooting a moose, or I can't even think about all of the cool things that I've got to do these past couple of years. But what, what, what I enjoyed most about these trips is after the day is done, after skiing in Aspen all day, oh, you, you go out to eat with, with all these different veterans and their their spouses. And you sit down and you share stories and you share resources. And, you know, it's a whole 'nother level of networking. And it's been absolutely amazing. The tunnels to towers right in New York City, you know, was another cool experience that my wife and my wife and I have gotten to do. But there are so many veteran nonprofits out there, everything from scuba diving to hiking to--a bunch of my 03:48:00friends just went and climbed Kilimanjaro in Africa a couple of months ago. You can go scuba diving in Guatemala. You can go fishing in Alaska. You can you know, you name it, there's something out there. And it's, it's absolutely amazing that there's so many wonderful people out there that love veterans. And I had no idea that there were so many organizations out there.
SPRAGUE: How, what's Memorial Day like for you?
WINNESHIEK: Um, for me, me, it is a time of--together with my family. And thereason why I say that is because every year the Ho-Chunk Nation has a pow wow at 03:49:00Black River Falls. So it's time for my family and I to get together, you know, have a, have a nice extended weekend where we cook out, camp at the pow wow grounds in Black River. Once, earlier in my story, I talked about how combat veterans are, you know, are held in high esteem. And, you know, it's a, it's a weekend to recognize the ones that have passed and. Yeah. I don't know if you've ever been there before, but, you know, all these American flags get flown and it's a beautiful weekend. It's a fun weekend. Good food, good friends. I try to invite as many people as I can, that have never been there before to come check it out. And so that's where, you know, due to COVID, these last couple of years 03:50:00have been different. But, um, I think we're up to this year. Oh, I don't know. We didn't have one this year. Labor Day. Labor Day same, is the same. Usually Memorial Day and Labor Day, if you're ever in the area, you know, go to Blackwater Falls and there's always a pow wow that weekend.
SPRAGUE: Okay. I think I've been to the pow wow grounds. Not in the, it' s not,the one that I was at wasn't in Black River Falls, it's like northeast of Black River Falls. I don't remember what grounds that is, but.
WINNESHIEK: By the casino?
SPRAGUE: Yeah, I guess the tribal headquarters was over there and [inaudible]
WINNESHIEK: Yep. Yep. Yep.
SPRAGUE: Yeah. Is that the one you're talking about? Yeah, I wasn't there duringa pow wow yet. But I might take you up on that offer, you know.
WINNESHIEK: Yeah. Come check it out.
SPRAGUE: Absolutely. Yeah. Now, that's. Yeah, that's great. It's good stuff. How03:51:00do you think service affected your life, being in the Marine Corps?
WINNESHIEK: Totally. Totally affected my life. Good and bad. Bad as in I wantedto kill myself numerous times. Best friends getting killed. Oh, but the good, the good definitely outweighs the bad. It made me the man I am today. And I am, one, I'm happy to be alive. I'm grateful to be alive. I have a beautiful family. I have everything that you can think of or want, right? I have the, the house with the white picket fence, and Chocolate Lab, boat, toys. Great friends, great 03:52:00family. I have an excellent support system. And it took me a long time to, to, to, to love and be loved again. I've said that numerous times, too. You know, I've, I've hated myself. I've hated everyone. I didn't want any, and I didn't want to, I didn't want to be here anymore. But, at the same time, you know, it took me, it took me years to to, to ask for help and to realize I needed help, that I couldn't do it on my own and--What was the question?
SPRAGUE: Yep. You got it. It was how being in the Marine Corps affected yourlife. Good and bad.
WINNESHIEK: Yeah, I became a police officer, and that was easy, you know, easy,job. I enjoyed it. I was good at it. And the respect I have in my community. I 03:53:00have kids coming up to me all the time and asking me questions about the military and what I liked about it. You know, what I got out of it. And to this day, you know, last week I had a kid joined the Marine Corps Friday. I have another one joining. But it's constant, you know, it's almost constant where I have kids coming up to me and asking me questions about this or that or, oh, you know, what job they should do or not, you know? But the respect that I have in my community is, like I said, you know, very, very respected in my community. And now it's time for me to, to, to give back to my community. I mean, so that's why I am where I am as far as job-wise, my culture, ceremonies. You know, I try 03:54:00to try to be there for my uncle, who is now the chief of the Ho-Chunk Nation. Yeah, I don't know. I wouldn't be where I am. I wouldn't have what I have if it wasn't for the Marine Corps. I don't know what, I don't know what, what would have happened, but--
SPRAGUE: Okay. Then on that note, we're going to go ahead and conclude theinterview. Thank you for your service.
WINNESHIEK: You're welcome.