Woman's life transformed by service in Marines, Iraq

USMC Lance Cpl. Katherine L. Davis.

CONYERS -- Rockdale County native Katherine Davis admitted to being a "spoiled brat" growing up, but her life changed after high school she became a Marine.

In June 2005, Davis boarded a Marine bus at Ft. Gillem for Parris Island, S.C. "My mom cried," she said. "I asked myself, 'Katherine, what have you done, girl?'"

Davis recalled Parris Island. "I'd never been screamed at so much in my life, and I don't remember seeing a bed for two days. The training was rough and crude, but I wasn't going to quit, I wanted to be a marine."

Ironically, her peaceful moments came on the rifle range. "Nobody messed with you there, they couldn't. I had time to collect myself."

With a fear of heights, the rappel tower was her biggest challenge. "I remember the drill instructor, a woman I swear was bipolar, yelling, 'Davis, you're going to hit the ground,' but I made it, and finished my 13 weeks of basic."

After combat training at Camp Lejeune, Davis was sent to Ft. Leonardwood, Mo., to learn the ins and outs of the 7-ton truck, the Humvee, and a dragon-looking hydraulic beast called the LVS. Her first duty assignment was Camp Pendleton, Calif. There she joined Combat Logistics Battalion 15 and received her first "float" (sea duty).

She recalled, "I sailed on the assault carrier USS Boxer escorted by two other ships. We're called a MEU, marine expeditionary unit. We're at the president's beck and call. We go where needed."

Ports-of-call like Hawaii, Singapore and Australia were preludes to Kuwait, and a war called Iraq. "We anchored off Kuwait and took hovercrafts into the beach where we formed a truck convoy. The drive into Iraq was my last cry, fully understanding I might not see my mom again. But I'm a marine; I had a job to do."

They drove for 21 straight hours in 20 trucks, doing whatever they could to stay awake. Destination: Camp Korean Village in Anbar Province.

For over two months Davis transported needed supplies into the Iraqi city of Rutbah, a 40-minute drive amid IEDs (improvised explosive devices). "It was chilling," she said. "We made 'long' security halts, meaning we got out and looked. A 'short' security check meant we stayed inside the truck doing a 5 and 25, that's looking 5 meters front and rear, then 25 meters to the sides."

The driver is the 'commander" regardless of rank. On one "short" security check Davis spotted white and blue wires sticking out from a guard rail post. "The white wire was clean, no dust or sand on it. We were in trouble."

Davis tried to communicate with the convoy via radio, but couldn't get through. "We were parked next to an IED and couldn't warn our convoy, it was maddening. I asked the staff sergeant sitting next to me what to do. He said, 'You're the vehicle commander, it's your call.' Well, OK then. If it was a remote control IED the enemy would detonate it when we started to move, but if a pressure plate IED was beneath us it might detonate, too. I decided we'd move with the convoy. Thank God, nothing happened."

They called in the ' coordinates; a demolition team checked it; and indeed the devise was remote controlled. Davis said, "A Humvee may have unknowingly jammed the IED, or the trigger-man was too far off. Either way, it'll make your heart skip a beat or two."

Davis also served five months at Camp Wallied on the Syrian border. She was the only female. "The guys were very protective and conducted themselves like gentlemen. I got a few catcalls. A marine is a marine, but I'm a lady marine, and we were trained to remain so."

Davis requested one incident be reported above all others. "We were walking the perimeter on security detail in Rutbah guarding our commanding officer as he conducted political business. A little girl ran up and kept staring at me. My neck gator was pulled up (a cloth the lady Marines use to cover their faces because Iraqi men do not want their women to see other women in positions of power) but I pulled it down and smiled at her. She didn't speak a lick of English but lit up like a Christmas tree, grabbed my blouse and didn't let go for two hours."

"When we began our pull-out she suddenly ran back into a refugee building; then returned a minute later. Someone had taught her three words in English. When I leaned over she said, 'I love you.' I told her, 'I love you, too,' then we were gone. That made four years of duty and training and war worth the price."

Several marines from Davis' unit received traumatic brain injuries during combat in Fallujah but the unit suffered no fatalities. She returned to Camp Pendleton, sailed on one more "float" aboard the USS Pearl Harbor, and ended her service at Camp Pendleton advising new marines under deployment.

Recently interviewed for a position in an attorney's office, Davis was told the law firm held their employees to a higher standard. Davis told the interviewer, "Ma'am, I'm a United States Marine. I'm already there."

Pete Mecca is a Vietnam veteran and author of "A Veteran's Story," a regular feature of the Citizen. Contact him at aveteranssstory@gmail.com.

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