Question: Why did you join the Marines?
Eric Kocher: I think the commercials got me. Maybe I was watching... I think for as long as I remember, I wanted to join the military, not specifically the Marine Corp. I went and actually looked at all of them. The Navy, the Air Force. I was originally, actually going to join the Navy for their Nuclear program, and it was a $60,000.00 signing bonus, and it sounded all sexy and high-speed, and then I went over to the Marine recruiter, and they offered recon, which at the time, I had no fucking clue what it was, and they offered me a $3,000.00 signing bonus, which sounded so much better than the sixty. So I signed the paperwork. The next thing you know, I was in recon. I signed up when I was 18 for like delayed entry, and I actually didn’t go until I was 19.
Question: Was boot camp tough?
Eric Kocher: It wasn’t. I thought it would be a little more physical than what it was, but it was definitely great. Now, I look back, I mean boot camp’s... it hasn’t changed for decades, because it’s designed so perfectly to kind of break you down and then build you back up, and you see the quality of Marines across the generations, and it really starts at boot camp. Boot camp, it kind of strips you down as an individual. It starts like teaching you how to work as a team and build you up that way and just start engraining like discipline. I always say the biggest thing they teach you, which, to most people, wouldn’t matter, is like, you gotta tie your shoe...your boot laces left over right. They teach you all the little small details so that that’s what you pay attention to.
Question: Why do those small details matter?
Eric Kocher: That’s what you think, “What the...why am I wasting my time tying my boot laces?” but they teach you to be precise on everything you do, and it’s kind of some of the stuff that you don’t really see in like the Army, the Navy, boot camps and everything. The Marine Corps starts at the smallest detail and then works up to, you know, the bigger picture, and that’s why the level of troops that you see from the Marine Corp I think are, you know, are totally different, because the Marine Corp, it’s a 24/7. It’s a lifestyle. Where like the Army, it’s a 9-5 job, the Navy, 9-5 job, fuckin Air Force. I don’t know what they do. <laugh>. I think, you know, Full Metal Jacket is like a perfect window into what boot camp is. It still hasn’t changed. The squad bays are the same the way the early army depicted it. It’s still the same for the past, you know, lifetime in the Marine Corp, and it’s probably always going to stay that way. So I don’t know how bad the stereotypes are with boot camp, but it’s the rest of the Marine Corp. A lot of people think people are mindless, you know, crazed individuals that, you know, aren’t independent thinkers. They’re not critical thinkers, and you’re not seeing that. A lot of these guys are a lot sharper than they’ve ever been that are serving in the military today.
Eric Kocher: I did my first tour in Afghanistan. It was kind of strange. We were still peacetime military, and we didn’t have big budgets. That’s why you see a lot of stuff in like the series where people complain about batteries and not having equipment. Afghanistan, our team, we had one set of night vision for the entire team. We went over there with a Spotting Scope. It’s called M49 Spotting Scope. The thing was built in 1949. We just got M4s. That was new equipment we had, and we were happy as shit to have those. But we didn’t have plates. We didn’t have <inaudible>. We didn’t have helmets. We had the bare minimum gear, but for us, we had everything we ever needed, you know, and we started doing reconnaissance. A place called Camp Rhino, and just punching out doing perimeter security, and kind of, I guess, really getting our feet wet to what we were going to do, but it was truly so very peacetime military, and we’re just executing what we’ve trained over the past multiple years.
Question: When was the first time you saw combat?
Eric Kocher: The first time I really saw combat was probably Iraq. I mean, Afghanistan-- our true job is not to fire a weapon. We observe. We report. We call in air strikes, and we did do a lot of operations up in Kandahar that included that, but our first time we’re actually engaging, the enemy was Iraq.
Question: When was the first time took fire?
Eric Kocher: The first time I think we really saw it was in Nasiriyah, the bridge scene, but it was kind of weird for me. It was like- it’s actually- it’s funny, a lot of people refer to watching a Vietnam movie. I think it’s ‘cause Bravo, my company, we were stuck inside. We couldn’t fire, and we were getting hit by artillery, mortars, and incoming rounds, but we were surrounded by friendly. So we were in a position where were forced to punch in Nasiriyah and medi-vac people, and so it was kind of very surreal. It kind of felt helpless. We had to just sit there and couldn’t return fire. We’re punching up a canal to actually like kind of do a feint into Al Garaf. We pushed up along the canals, and you could tell the locals- everyone was disappearing out of the
cities, and right away I had that intuition that, you know, we’re going to be in it up here in a little bit. The locals were telling us that it was an unfriendly city, you know. Everything was saying there was going to be fire fight up ahead. Right when we rolled into the city just gunfire erupted. My driver got shot in the arm. It’s pretty much... it’s kind of like chaos, because it wasn’t a conventional military that were fighting. It wasn’t red versus blue. It wasn’t these guys that were even very well trained. They were just shooting from the hips spraying everywhere, and I mean, if you really look at the distance that they’re engaging us, and we took one guy got hit, and I think it from a ricochet, it was just very untrained military just trying to shoot us, and it was kind of... we were almost... we didn’t stop and engage. It was almost... for us it was just a drive-by, and we drived. The only difference is we are pretty good shooters, especially at the distance we were engaging at, at 30 yards roughly. We were hitting what we wanted to hit, and they were hitting nothing. For us though, every... it’s funny, ‘cause every fire fight you survive, it’s kind of like a snowball effect. After we survived that, it was like, “Wow! They can’t hit us,” and you just kind of feel more bulletproof and more confident in your training, and that’s how for us for the progression of that deployment, which was roughly about seventeen pretty sizable fire fights where we really didn’t lose anybody, and it just built that confidence that, “Hey, our training is worth a damn.”
Recorded on: 7/17/08