Surfing for Dolphins


I never really got why so many people like Mattis. While I was in, guys that I knew that were under his command loved him for his “guardian angel” policy. I pointed out that we had overwatch before he gave it a different name, but I guess that doesn’t matter.

At one point when I was stationed in the aimpit of the marine corps, Mattis visited us and gave a speech. In honor of him, our commands decided that we would set up overwatch, ahem guardian angels, and do a little demonstration.

For the life of me, I can’t remember much of the speech or the demonstration. But I remember two main things from this event.

For part of the demonstration, the role players playing the baddies would attack using a POV. In this case, the personally owned vehicle was a guy’s truck. To simulate when they are defeated, the plan was to set off a smoke grenade in the bed of the truck. To prevent damage to the truck, a large ammo can (something like a 40mm or mortar can) was staged in the back of the truck and the last dying opfor would toss a smoke in it. That way the audience could see smoke billow from the truck after it was lit up by the good guy’s blanks.

Smoke grenades can do weird things in confined spaces. As the chemicals inside burn and create smoke, they can displace air, and cause people to suffocate in confined area like indoor rooms. In even smaller areas, the confined smoke, still hot, will continue to burn.

Tangent Story

I was attached to a different unit for a while that was training people. One of the tasks we would do is assault though a clearing firing blanks, throwing blue body training grenades, smoke grenades, etc. While tactically, we wouldn’t normally assault though a clearing like this, it was a perfect way to demonstrate the concept and process for the students.

Fucking gophers. Or maybe moles, I dunno, but something would dig holes and tunnels in this field, and when we did this demo, we often were rolling our ankles on gopher holes.

After one of these demos, and the class had left, our group were still along the edge of this clearing. I think we were about to dump our remaining ordinance so we wouldn’t have to turn it back in to the ASP.

Someone had a smoke grenade left. I suggested throwing it in one of these gopher holes and caving in the hole. I hoped that the smoke in the confined area would kill them, and maybe save our ankles in the future. The guys were willing to give it a shot, the smoke was chucked in a hole and we quickly filled it in.

I never would have expected what happened next, and would not expect to be able to reproduce it.

Small jets of fire popped up from around the field.

My hypothesis is that the smoke from the smoke grenade was not able to completely combust in the tunnels, so as the expanding gasses reached various gopher holes they would get enough oxygen to finish burning. That is why we had a bunch of little jets of flame shooting up from these holes.

It gets better, on the edge of the clearing there was a tree with a hollowed out core. I don’t recall if it was dead or the center rotted out, but apparently, it was attached to this tunnel network. For that brief moment, flames were shooting up and out of that hollowed tree. Here is a stock photo of such a tree.

Now where were we?

Oh yea, ol’ swamp liberal Mattis was visiting our base and giving a speech. I was part of the overwatch guardian angels. We had a bunch of marines set up in various location to provide security for the event.

None of us had any real ammo, of course, no one seriously believed in guardian angels, overwatch, or force protection, what ever you wanna call it.

Some of the marines were put on roofs to be visible overwatch guardian angel elements. There was going to be a mock attack where some insurgents would attack, some of us would respond with blanks, and and it would end with that smoke grenade set off in an ammo can.

We finally are getting close to the point of my story.

It was decided it would look better of the overwatch guardian angels on the roofs had scopes. But we didn’t actually have scopes. So it was decided that we would take toilet paper tubes and paint them black. Then electrical tape them to the carry handles of the M16A2 service rifles. Ladders were used to get marines up onto various roofs that didn’t have normal roof access.

Gotta keep up appearances.

Anyways, the event went well. Mattis gave a completely forgettable speech. What was best, was that when that smoke grenade got set off in that confined space of a large (mortar or 40mm) ammo can in the back of that insurgent truck, it made a column of fire upwards that was rather spectacular.

Yeah, that was cool.

The command also forgot to have anyone go around with a ladder and let the overwatch guardian angels on roofs off the roofs. It was the evening of that day before someone remembered to get them down.

There is probably a lesson to be learned somewhere in this story, but I certainly didn’t learn anything from it.


  1. In Shake ‘n Bake skool at Fort Benning many decades ago, the instructors were always harping at us to “do it just like the real thing.” Much efforting and drama was put into this. Then one day, they came around and said “don’t do it just like the real thing anymore.”

    It seems that during a night road ambush problem, the candidate patrol leader had spun the gas cap off a 5/4 ton Jeep, pulled the fuse on a grenade simulator and dropped it in the gas tank.

    Foom ensued, destroying the truck, along with other hilarity. He was in another company and I never heard if they hung his ass or not, but he did indeed do it “just like the real thing.”

  2. Ask the guys from SAODA-574 how they like Mattis:

    “Well, if they’ve taken fire,” said the general, “and you can’t tell me definitively how they got all scuffed up, I’m not going to send anything until you can assure me that the situation on the ground is secure.” ”

    Excerpt From: The Only Thing Worth Dying For: How Eleven Green Berets Fought for a New Afghanistan. “Eric Blehm.” Apple Books.

    They sent Helos from hours away to evac the dead, dying and wounded guys. Ask the current SECDEF.

  3. A couple of things:

    – Smoke and puffs out of gopher holes/tunnels: there are commercial products sold to smoke out gophers and moles. You can find them online, and they’re not a “restricted” pesticide. They sometimes work well, sometimes not. Much depends on the soil type. The idea of stuffing a smoke grenade down into the hole(s) was a valid one. Farmers/ranchers do something similar all the time, just with a commercial product.

    – Smoke is often highly flammable in the right concentration. Firefighters have to deal with this all the time on structure fires. You can search for this on Youtube and other video sites as “smoke explosion.” Smoke explosions are more like a rapid deflagration (ie, they don’t exceed the speed of sound velocity), but they can cause such rapid expansion of the confined gasses that they blow out windows/doors/etc.

    – Mattis: Where I started to become dubious of Mattis is when he took a seat on the Theranos board of directors. What did Mattis know about medical testing? Nothing. His imprimatur was used to market Theranos goods to the military, and these sales, and the mention of them in SEC filings, appear in legal findings of investigation into the Theranos fraud.


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