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US Marine says he was ‘systematically trained to kill’

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A US Marine who once fought for three weeks ‘without sleep’ has spoken of how he was ‘systematically programmed to kill’ and desensitized to violence in a BBC documentary series about the Iraq War.

Sergeant Rudy Reyes, 48, of Kansas City, Missouri, was part of a small group of elite ‘Recon Marines’ sent ahead of the 2003 invasion in order to ‘clear the path’ to Baghdad, making it easier for the regular US Army to reach the city.

Speaking in tonight’s episode of BBC2 documentary Once Upon A Time In Iraq, Reyes explains how he was shown real-life footage of targets having their heads blown off by sniper rifles as part of his training. 

He also reveals how recruits are ordered to say the word ‘kill’ instead of ‘yes’ during boot camp training as part of their ‘program to kill’. 

A US Marine who once fought for three weeks 'without sleep' has spoken of how he was 'systematically programmed to kill' and desensitized to violence in the first episode of a BBC documentary series about the Iraq War. Pictured, Sergeant Reyes in the documentary

A US Marine who once fought for three weeks 'without sleep' has spoken of how he was 'systematically programmed to kill' and desensitized to violence in the first episode of a BBC documentary series about the Iraq War. Pictured, Sergeant Reyes in the documentary

A US Marine who once fought for three weeks ‘without sleep’ has spoken of how he was ‘systematically programmed to kill’ and desensitized to violence in the first episode of a BBC documentary series about the Iraq War. Pictured, Sergeant Reyes in the documentary

‘In our boot camp, do you know how we say the word “yes”? It’s the word “kill”. It’s the only way you can say “yes”,’ he explains. 

‘Then we go into ballistics. Then we’re watching real world: head shots, footage of sniper kills. And then they’re slowing it down in slow motion, head expanding three times the size, then vacuum collapse, then brains and skull. 

‘When I saw that I looked at myself inside and I said: “I don’t know if I have what it takes to do this.” Because there was still some human in me.’ 

Reyes, who left the military in 2005 and is now a TV personality and martial arts instructor, describes the Marine Recon as the ‘Jedis’ of the US Marine Corps.  

Recalling the Iraq deployment, he says: ‘We went three weeks straight with no sleep, straight fighting. No armor, no doors, no roofs. Just very capable violent professionals. Sixty men spearheading the blitzkrieg to get to Baghdad. That’s immense. 

He continues: ‘Our mission was to destroy any capacity they had for artillery or mortars. And also, of course, the NBC: nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.’ 

Sergeant Rudy Reyes, 48, of Kansas City, Missouri, was part of a small group of elite Recon Marines sent ahead of the 2003 invasion in order to 'clear the path' to Baghdad, making it easier for the regular US Army to reach the city. Pictured, US Marines in Iraq in March 2003

Sergeant Rudy Reyes, 48, of Kansas City, Missouri, was part of a small group of elite Recon Marines sent ahead of the 2003 invasion in order to 'clear the path' to Baghdad, making it easier for the regular US Army to reach the city. Pictured, US Marines in Iraq in March 2003

Sergeant Rudy Reyes, 48, of Kansas City, Missouri, was part of a small group of elite Recon Marines sent ahead of the 2003 invasion in order to ‘clear the path’ to Baghdad, making it easier for the regular US Army to reach the city. Pictured, US Marines in Iraq in March 2003

Reyes, who left the military in 2005, tells how killing 'was not an issue' because it was something he had been 'systematically trained' to do. Pictured, in the documentary

Reyes, who left the military in 2005, tells how killing 'was not an issue' because it was something he had been 'systematically trained' to do. Pictured, in the documentary

Reyes, who left the military in 2005, tells how killing ‘was not an issue’ because it was something he had been ‘systematically trained’ to do. Pictured, in the documentary

Describing the scenes he witnessed, he says: ‘Incoming and outgoing artillery, small arms, machine guns, birds and rotary wing and the sound of all the engines, and the radios going non-stop, word going back and forth. 

‘Imagine seeing the freaking Cobras criss-crossing above you and the bass of the boom, boom, boom, boom… It was god-like.’  

Asked if he thinks his time in Iraq was ‘worth it’, Reyes adds: ‘Yes, it’s worth it. I think it has to be worth it. What’s the alternative?’ 

Once Upon a Time in Iraq offers a closer look at the War and life under Isis. 

Since his time in the Marines, Reyes has spoken out about the devastating mental impact ‘heavy combat’ had on him, explaining in a piece for Medium in 2019 that he struggled with depression after returning home.   

‘After all that heavy combat, some of the worst suffering I went through was when I got home and had nobody around anymore,’ he said. 

Reyes, pictured while still on active duty, has previously opened up about the devastating mental impact that leaving 'heavy combat' had on him - explaining that he suffered from depression

Reyes, pictured while still on active duty, has previously opened up about the devastating mental impact that leaving 'heavy combat' had on him - explaining that he suffered from depression

Reyes, pictured while still on active duty, has previously opened up about the devastating mental impact that leaving 'heavy combat' had on him - explaining that he suffered from depression

Reyes, pictured while still on active duty, has previously opened up about the devastating mental impact that leaving 'heavy combat' had on him - explaining that he suffered from depression

Reyes, pictured while still on active duty, previously opened up about the devastating mental impact that leaving ‘heavy combat’ had on him – explaining that he suffered from depression  

In a piece for Medium, the former US Marine said that 'some of the worst suffering he went through' was when he returned home and was no longer fighting alongside his 'brothers'

In a piece for Medium, the former US Marine said that 'some of the worst suffering he went through' was when he returned home and was no longer fighting alongside his 'brothers'

In a piece for Medium, the former US Marine said that ‘some of the worst suffering he went through’ was when he returned home and was no longer fighting alongside his ‘brothers’

‘I knew it wasn’t just me because I saw that all of my best friends from the combat war communities were falling apart too.’ 

For Reyes, and for others who fought alongside him, the loneliness and lack of focus that they experience after leaving active duty can lead to a host of mental issues, including suicidal thoughts. 

‘We’re facing an epidemic of suicide and I’ve been there myself, so I understand how people can succumb to suicide because they believe there is no hope,’ Reyes explained. 

‘Some of us who had to see bodies and destruction understand the hard truths behind war. The depression that manifests when you have no mission to believe in and no brothers around is more dangerous than anything we see down range.’

Reyes said that one of the biggest issues he and his fellow soldiers can face is their inability to ask for help, something that comes from being taught early on in their military careers ‘that you don’t show weakness and if you’re hurt, you don’t say anything’. 

‘In combat that’s great, but in day to day life that’s not the way to go about it because we need to learn to ask for help,’ he said. 

Once Upon A Time In Iraq: Episode 1 airs tonight at 9pm on BBC2 

30 YEARS OF U.S INVOLVEMENT IN IRAQ – AND COUNTING

1990

August 2: Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein invades Kuwait

August 6: First U.S. forces are ordered to in Saudi Arabia including elements of the 82nd Airborne, starting a massive build-up

1991 

January 17: George H.W. Bush orders the start of Operation Desert Storm, to remove Saddam’s forces from Kuwait. Baghdad is bombed, the first U.S. military engagement in Iraq

February 15: First U.S. ground engagement in Iraq: 1st Cavalry Division tanks hit Iraqi forces just north of the Saudi-Iraqi border to the west of Kuwait. On the same day Bush urges Iraqis to force out Saddam themselves. Eventually U.S. forces will defeat Iraqi troops across the south-east of Iraq, almost reaching Basra

February 28: Ceasefire is ordered. Combat operations are over and Kuwait is liberated

March 1: Bush renews call for Iraqis to remove Saddam and quickly Kurds in the north and Marsh Arabs in the south rise against Saddam. Days later the first U.S. forces start flying out of the Gulf; the U.S. officially has no intention of staying

March 3: General Norman Schwarzkopf warns any Iraqi aircraft will be shot down by the U.S.A.F. But on the ground defeated Iraqi troops go back into action against rebels who had expected U.S. assistance.By March 7 it is clear helicopters will be allowed in the air. In the south, largely Shia rebellions are dealt with brutally by Saddam; in the north the Kurds are plunged into a refugee crisis

April 5: Rebellion is declared over

April 17: U.S. forces take control of parts of northern Iraq in Operation Provide Comfort to build refugee camps and effectively keep them safe

July 15: U.S. forces leave north of Kurdish-held territory. It is the end of operations in Iraq other than no-fly zone monitoring as part of Operation Provide Comfort

August 22: Bush announces a new southern no-fly zone enforced by, among others, the U.S.A.F. meaning it is now patrolling in two parts of Iraq. Five days later Operation Southern Watch begins; the patrols will go until 2003

1993 

June 27: Bill Clinton orders cruise missile strikes on Baghdad in revenge for an attempt to assassinate George H.W. Bush

1996 

September 3: Operation Desert Strike is launched with cruise missile and air strikes on Saddam’s forces to stop Saddam launching a massive offensive on the Kurdish city of Irbil 

1997 

January 1: Operation Northern Watch begins, taking over no-fly zone enforcement from Operation Provide Comfort

1998 

December 16: Operation Desert Fox sees four days of bombing jointly with the UK amid a disarmament crisis and fears of WMD manufacturing being expanded

2001 

February 16: U.S. and British aircraft bomb six targets, but miss a majority, setting off a period of weekly attacks from the ground and retaliatory bombing

2002 

September 12: George W. Bush tells the U.N. General Assembly there needs to be action against Saddam over WMDs and a month later Congress authorizes him to act against Iraq ‘by any means necessary’

2003 

March 20: The start of the shock-and-awe bombardment that is Operation Iraqi Freedom: Tomahawk barrages hits Saddam’s Baghdad palace, and the next day combat troops storm into the south of Iraq

April 9: Baghdad falls, and Saddam’s rule is over. But as the government falls, wide-spread looting spreads throughout the country 

April 15: Tikrit, the last point of resistance falls and the war is effectively over – or so it seems

May 1: President Bush lands on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln and declares major combat operations ‘have ended.’ Behind him a banner says ‘mission accomplished.’ There are 150,000 U.S. troops in Iraq and deaths total 104. The Coalition Provisional Authority under a civilian, Paul Bremer, takes command of Iraq. Its first major order is to dissolve the Army and the Ba’ath Party, setting off a period of intense governmental chaos

July 2: Bush says ‘bring ’em on’ to those challenging U.S,. troops; later that month Uday and Qusay Hussein are killed by special forces

August 7: Car bomb hits the Jordanian embassy in Baghdad, the first of the occupation. Total future car bomb numbers are unknown. Later that month the U.S. HQ is targeted, killing its top envoy, and a leading Shia cleric is bombed separately

October 27: Simultaneous suicide car bombs are used for the first time in Baghdad; the attacks become a common tactic. In November U.S. casualties go above 80 killed for the first time. Violence spreads 

December 13: Saddam is captured, dragged from underground hiding place by special forces. Deaths tick down to 40, troop numbers go down to 130,000

2004 

March 31: There is mounting tension in Baghdad and Basra with Shias, the poorer majority ethnic group. But then four Blackwater contractors are killed and hanged from a bridge in Fallujah, prompting the Battle of Fallujah, with Marines launching a bloody assault against Sunni insurgent fighters to ‘pacify’ the city. So fierce is the fighting that British units are moved from the south to a more peaceful area to let more U.S. forces take part. The battle in Fallujah sets off fighting across central Iraq, with Shias joining in too and the Mahdi Army – backed by Iran – emerging as a potent force. 148 U.S. deaths are recorded in April, 27 in Fallujah alone. Troop withdrawals are reversed and only fall below 150,000 once in the next six and a half years

August: Battle of Najaf sees pitched battle with the Mahdi Army of Moqtada al-Sadr; Iranian officers are reported to be involved, 13 U.S. troops are killed. A ceasefire allows drawdowns to go ahead as planned but then are rapidly reversed. Violence spreads across the country. Troop numbers creep up for another year

November: 140 Americans killed; second worst total of the conflict, with another battle in Fallujah and one in Mosul fought simultaneously

2005 

November 5: After a year of unremitting violence U.S. troops start Operation Steel Curtain to try to stop the flow of militants into Iraq; in Anbar Marines kill 24 unarmed civilians starting a scandal which will end six years later in one Marine being punished by a reduction in rank and a pay cut, to the disgust of Iraqis. 88 U.S. dead that month

2006 

May 20: Iraq has its own government independent of the coalition. Violence is not going down. The next month Operation Together Forward is launched to cut violence in Baghdad and troops begin to fall below 150,000 -only for the summer to become more violent and numbers to go back up

2007 

January 10: Iraq troop surge is announced: troop numbers head towards 200,000 with six Army brigades deployed, General David Petraeus is put in charge in Iraq, and as the year goes on, casualties go up – but by July they start to fall. Troops are supposed to win hearts and minds and create alliances with Sunnis to isolate the insurgency

2008

November: U.S.-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement, stipulating that U.S. troops will be out of Iraq by the end of 2011, is approved and ratified by the Iraqi Parliament

2009 

December: Zero combat deaths of U.S. troops, for first time ever

2010 

August 18: Combat operations end; the last combat brigade makes for the Kuwaiti border. 50,000 troops remain to ‘train and advise.’ A day later Operation Iraqi Freedom is declared over by President Barack Obama

2011 

October 21: Target date for full withdrawal. Marines guarding the Embassy should be the only combat troops. In reality, the deadline is missed 

December 15: End of U.S. mission in Iraq; 500 soldiers leave three days later 

2013 

Drone surveillance missions begin in the air over fears of a growing Islamic insurgency

2014

June 5-June 11: ISIS conquer huge portion of northern Iraq

June 15: Dozens of U.S. special forces are sent to Iraq and Obama says a total of 275 will stay in Iraq ‘until no longer needed’ under Operation Inherent Resolve. Secret manned air patrols are ordered

August 8: Obama orders airstrikes on ISIS targets near Erbil. As the ISIS conflict intensifies, troop numbers rise, mostly special forces and units protecting U.S. bases

2016 

October 22:  Master Sergeant Joshua Wheeler is first U.S. combat casualty of ISIS in Iraq and first American killed in action in Iraq since November 2011

April 18: Total troop numbers hit 4,087

July 2016: 560 troops including engineers and logistics experts are sent to a recaptured airbase. In September 600 more go to help liberate Mosul, in November they are reported to be on the front line while the 101st Airborne has engineers looking for IEDs

2017 

October 1: Soldier is killed by IED not seen for six years and thought to be made in Iran; Shia militants demand U.S. forces leave as ISIS is declared to have lost all its Iraqi territory

2018 

February: Trump’s administration says troop levels in Iraq will come down; they are acknowledged to be above 5,000. Tensions mount with Shias

December 26: Trump and Melania Trump visit Al Asad Air Base

2019 

October: Troop numbers estimated to be 6,000

December 27: U.S. defense contractor is killed in rocket attack on K-1 Air Base in Kirkuk Province

December 31: Iraqi protesters storm the U.S. embassy after an airstrike hits the Kata’ib Hezbollah militia who were blamed for the K-1 rocket attack

2020 

January 1: More than 100 Marines are dispatched to the embassy 

January 6: Shock as apparent withdrawal of all U.S. troops is communicated to Iraqi government then called a mistake within minutes. 6,000 estimated troops have been reinforced with emergency assistance from Marines    
   

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