HADITHA, Iraq -- Lance Cpl. Matt Calvert accepts the wound he received March 25 from a rocket-propelled grenade attack in Iraq. It comes with the territory of being a Marine in a combat zone.
The infantryman from Blue Springs, Mo., said he was unfazed by the wound, caused when insurgents attacked his unit’s patrol in western Al Anbar Province.
“I did not hear the insurgent fire the RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) until the round exploded against the wall near me,” said Calvert, 22.
Calvert was injured when shrapnel from a rocket-propelled grenade caught him in the chest and neck when his platoon came under attack in this Euphrates River Valley city.
Calvert was providing security at an intersection of two major roads in the heart of Haditha when his platoon, part of the Hawaii-based 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, was attacked. The small arms attack came as the Marines were leaving the city to return to their forward operating base here, he said.
Reflecting on the incident several days later at the Marines’ base here, Calvert credits his body armor as saving his life. If it wasn’t for the thick, armored plates in his vest, he’s certain the shrapnel could have been lethal, he said.
“I was full of adrenaline, so I did not feel any pain at all,” said Calvert, who also saw combat during a deployment to Afghanistan last year. “I remember feeling a sharp pain in my shoulder blade under my protective vest. I knew something had penetrated it.”
As he speaks, he holds his M16 A4 service rifle closely. His weapon never leaves his side, he said.
Calvert and the rest of the battalion’s Marines arrived in Iraq about a month ago. In that time, they’ve focused their efforts on disrupting insurgent activity in the “Triad” region of Hadithah, Haqliniyah, and Barwanah –three of the most populous towns in the area.
Though previous Marine units have spent more than a year combating the insurgency here, there is still more work to be done, as evidenced by the recent attack on Calvert’s platoon as well as the frequent improvised explosive devices the Marines have encountered since arriving here.
But while IEDs and occasional insurgent attacks are nothing new to Coalition Forces operating in Al Anbar Province, Calvert’s perseverance in the face of danger seems to have inspired others in the unit – a testament that one man’s actions can inspire others.
Cpl. Robert Janson, 22, witnessed the attack. He was on patrol with Calvert that day, and says he could not believe Calvert’s reaction to the attack.
“Calvert just brushed this attack on his life off like it was nothing,” said Janson, one of the unit’s squad leaders. “All he cared about was getting back out on patrol four hours later too find those responsible for the attack.”
After reinforcements were called out to the scene of the attack, Calvert’s wounds were treated and he was medically evacuated to the Marines’ base here. Though he’s still recovering, his wounds have not deterred him from helping the Iraqi people and finding those responsible for the attack, he said.
“The only thing the insurgents accomplished that day was heighten the Marines’ awareness to an even higher level and make them more determined to hunt them down and bring them to justice,” Calvert said.
More importantly, such attacks will not hinder the progress of the Iraqi Army or the growth of Iraqi communities here, said Calvert. The Marines here “are suppressing the few insurgents that remain in the area,” he said, all the more reason he can’t wait for his injuries to heal – to get back in the action.
“If you think about (the wounds) too much, that can affect you even more than the physical injuries,” said Calvert.
While his injuries are healing, Calvert added that telling his family – especially his mother – what happened was more painful than his wounds.
“She took it well,” he said. “She understands why I am out here and all she wants is for me to come home safe.”
Even though he’s injured, Calvert still keeps the sense of humor he is known for in his unit, keeping morale up with his witty banter, said Janson.
“We can still count on him to drop his one-liners that make us all laugh,” said Janson. “He is a great Marine and can be counted on for anything. He brings morale to the squad with his level of motivation and his sense of humor.”
Humor aside, Calvert takes his job, and the welfare of his fellow Marines, his “brothers,” quite seriously.
“I am focused on becoming a corporal … and leading troops,” said Calvert, whose brown eyes give away his seriousness on the subject, as does the slightly deeper tone in his voice when he speaks of the other Marines in his unit.
“Calvert is going to make a good leader of Marines,” agreed Janson.
A promotion to corporal would make Calvert a noncommissioned officer – a small-unit leader.
But for this two-time combat veteran, leadership means more than adding another stripe to the black, metal rank insignia on his collar. For Calvert, a promotion means added responsibility to protect his Marines and ensure their mission is complete before they return to their base in Hawaii later this year.
“I am not going to hold onto the fact that I was hurt; and I, or another one of the Marines, can be hurt again,” he said. “I am going to accomplish my mission here and return home to my family. That is also what I am going to make sure the other Marines are going to do.”
Email Sgt. Seigle at: email@example.com.