SGT Rudy Reyes (Marine Recon, OIF, OEF Veteran)
I was a young Specialist getting ready to deploy to the Iraq theater, and I was admittedly stuck in a rut. I was moving too slow, not keeping up with the demands in training, and having a constant pity party. In short, I was being a poor example of soldiering. I wasn't utilizing the training I'd learned long before at Fort Knox and my basic soldier skills were being used poorly. I felt like a robot stuck in a certain dynamic where I had to behave a certain way. I wasn't myself. I was outgoing, artistic, and I felt different from the rest of the guys. I didn't feel like I belonged at the time. I didn't feel like I had the soldiering mentality. One night I was up late watching a DVD I'd borrowed and it was about the invasion into Iraq. In it, there was a Marine Recon unit deploying to Iraq. The series (Generation Kill, winner of three Emmy's) thrilled me but even more thrilling to me was the example of one hard-charger. He was a savage but different from what you would think of in a typical Marine. When it was time to go to work he was all about the business, but when there was downtime he was very unique. Something about this guy really resonated with me. Let me be very clear on this. I'm no Rudy Reyes and I would never claim to be. But the transformation for me was unquestionable after seeing this example. I realized that I could still be me and get the job done when it was time to work. From that point forward, I enjoyed my time in the Army a lot more. I started to pick up the pace and went from back of the pack to a place where I enjoyed being given responsibilities and tasks to carry out. I remember one thing in particular in my PT score. I'd finished in the middle to lower part (PT tests) of my infantry company before we left for Iraq. By the time we were leaving country, I was scoring well over 300 on the PT test and finishing near the top in my company in all three categories. I have Rudy Reyes to thank for that.
I really immersed myself in the study of Rudy for this project and that's because he allowed it. I always get as much coverage for the story as I can, because I want to get to the very core of that veteran. Rudy treated me as a brother. I hung out with him and his scout sniper buddy Andy for a couple days time, ate with them, covered their workouts, and at the end of the day we spent time in immersive conversations (we call it "broin' out"). These conversations were indicative of the brotherhood we are all a part of. After it was all said and done I came away with some great insight into Rudy Reyes the veteran. I believe that Rudy fights for love. He authentically has a heart for people. I saw the man at dinners reach across and strike up conversation with complete strangers, wanting to know more about them and who they were. I saw Rudy surrounded by brothers that idolize him, and he consistently treated them as family. He listened to them, asked how they were doing, inquired into their experiences in service. He spread knowledge when he could, but Rudy also listened. I saw a vast amount of tenderness and compassion, for most of all his brothers, as well as civilians in many cases. Yet none of this tenderness left me with a softer impression of Reyes. I consistently saw the traits that make him one of the most deadly men alive. An unstoppable work ethic, a mind-numbing intensity, constant observation of every scenario and expertise in all areas of combat. Speaking of observation, I'll never forget when I was interviewing him in a crowded place. He was listening to me intensively and answering my questions without missing a beat. But, his eyes were everywhere. I remember my first interaction with Rudy Reyes about six months ago ended with his sign off of, "Stay deadly." I know that in that moment I was interviewing him he was constantly assessing every situation and the possibility of threats. Rudy Reyes is one of those men you will never confuse for another. He is unique in almost every way, and unless you're around him it's hard to understand how deep the well goes. Individuals like him are what I'd always imagined our special operators to be. I've gone on long enough though. Here's Rudy.
What's different about that Special Forces brotherhood?
RR: First I'll say that the difference between a Special Forces unit's brotherhood and a line company brotherhood in the Marine Corps is not a major one. The brotherhood, the camaraderie, the humor, the absolutely positive mental attitude disguised in a completely sarcastic, crude package is actually a beautiful package. The sarcasm and irony and what seems "Semper-Stupid" is actually, big picture "Semper-Perfect," because by doing something over and over again you are breaking down someone's will to question and creating shock troopers that will locate and destroy the enemy without question. Even through oncoming machine gun fire and heavy arms assaults we will still commit to the infantry's specialty of charging up that hill to destroy the emplacement. We charge those mountains, charge those hills, without fear in the darkest moments of battle. Our amphibious assaults and cliff assaults are what we are known for in the Marines and I believe that those are the most complex battle movements.
We go through our mountain leader course and then to our MEUSOC (Marine Expeditionary Unit, Special Operations Capable). We go through those gut check training iterations where we prepare for the real damn deal. We insert via Zodiac (small boat), go subsurface on a combat dive mission, five of us into San Clemente Island. There are these massive rocks facing us, no beach, and we've got to get up these rocks, change over gear with all our climbing equipment; and setup these lanes on the cliffs. Before the sun comes up we have to bring in the grunts and then we assault the objective. It is heavy duty. There is brilliance in the basics and all that hard work. It is hard, hard, hard work and there's nothing sexy about it. The sexiness is when the mission is over and you look at your brothers and you're like, "Hell yeah, we just did that." War fighting is war fighting. RECON is just the grunts grown up with a few more capabilities; a sniper contingent, an extract from ocean contingent, and better communication. Therefore there are longer range communication possibilities so that we can go deeper behind enemy lines and locate and destroy the enemy; or we can locate and report to higher. RECON is essentially infantry 2.0. We maintain humility because first of all, we were the bastard children of the special operations community for a long time. Now we are the new kid on the block and everyone is happy to have us on mission, but back in the day we were the bastard children. We were the one stop shop, the best bang for the buck, the rubber meets the road type of warrior, and a lot more expendable then a twenty million dollar SEAL Team because we were cheaper. So like I was told by my instructor Sergeant Sparks, a legend in the RECON community (also the most decorated Para Rescue operator of all time). You look up Roger Sparks and Bull Dog Bite and you'll see the caliber of man that helped create me. He says to me, "Hey big daddy, the best whores get fucked the most." That's the RECON attitude.
Why did you join the Marine Corps in the first place?
RR: Well, there was a war going on in Kosovo and I saw a documentary about an orphanage. All these children's parents had been caught in sniper alley, and they'd been murdered because of the ethnic cleansing. Because of that, there was no limit to the violence and I experienced that first-hand in Afghanistan and Iraq. I saw this documentary on Kosovo and I saw these people being murdered and I thought, "Wow, I've got to do something about that." The political climate was one where the word on the streets was that we were going to Kosovo to fight Milosovec's forces and put a stop to the ethnic cleansing. We waited 'til the zero hour with the Jews in World War II and six million people lost their lives so I thought, "Not on my watch." So I set out to join the Marine Corps. Word on the street was that we were going to go fight on the ground. I didn't know what service to join. I just heard and thought that the Marine Corps was the hardest. I didn't think about Spec Ops (Special Operations). I didn't even know about that because it wasn't a part of my culture. I thought, "If I'm going to join, I'm going to do something hard." I took the aptitude tests and they told me, "Hey you can be an aircraft mechanic, intel, because I had an aptitude for those specialties." I said, "No, I want to be infantry." They asked me if I was sure and I said, "Absolutely." That's how it all started.
How old were you what MOS and what units?
RR: I was 26 years old and I joined as a 0300 open contract infantryman. I was with only one unit that morphed into another. I was with 1st RECON Company and it turned into 1st RECON Battalion.
What was that first deployment like and where were you?
RR: Before we were rockin' and rollin', flying straight in and out of Afghanistan and Iraq, I was a part of a MEU (Marine Expeditionary Unit) within a MAGTF (Marine Air Ground Task Force). We had aircraft, Harriers, rotary wing, a Marine Platoon, a battalion of grunts and that's a dangerous thing. A grunt battalion is a very dangerous thing. Probably the most dangerous monster on the face of the planet is a grunt battalion. 19 and 20 year olds with mortars and machine guns will absolutely waste shit. We had artillery, HUMINT (Human Intelligence Teams), and basically we were a small, one stop shop for incursions. We were doing something called NEOs to protect and secure embassies that were being attacked. The stuff that was supposed to happen at Benghazi. There were supposed to be Marines that could rapidly deploy and destroy enemies, secure the location, and get those guys out. Well, they were so bogged down in wars and we had everyone tasked out; so there was really no more NEO mission. I trained up for those missions for four years and I was in the Persian Gulf when the towers fell. I went straight into Pakistan and Afghanistan after that. First deployment was straight into war. I was fighting in Pakistan first.
First time I heard that prayer call in an urban environment I just thought to myself, "Holy shit..." I was wearing my shemagh in the swampy urban areas of Jalalabad (Pakistan) and we were doing counter-recon, counter-patrols, counter-sniper missions. Is that heavy or what? We were carrying heavy rucks and all our gear in 100% humidity in this urban part of Pakistan. It was absolutely crazy, it was intense, and it was also thrilling because I knew I was on the cutting edge of some massive world event. This was a world event that would be a part of our history, and I knew that I would now be a part of that history. I felt honored to represent the United States of America in a world event where we were fighting to bring those to justice who hurt our innocent citizens.
Can you talk about the complications of fighting wars against terroristic threats?
RR: There are so many factors in fighting terrorism. There are economic factors, secreterian factors, tribes, families, blood-feuds, poverty, and a lack of education. I would be willing to bet that the root of the problem is the lack of education of the populace. That's why they're so easily manipulated and so easy to control. It's convoluted because much of the funding for these terror groups is from one of our allies in Saudi Arabia. So imagine your friend in the oil business is funding those bastards trying to kill you or killing our guys. Those guys chopping innocent people's heads off for shock factor and terror are being funded by some of our own citizens. That's the reality. Those are our allies that are behind it. Yet, our allies aren't behind it because they really want to be.
They feel that if they don't appease their community of extremist Sharia Law Muslims, there will be major problems. It's such a two-faced, fucking liar's code. Besides the Kurds and some Indonesians I know, the rest of these dumbasses are lying to themselves that they are pious and holy. All of them are just looking for loopholes to do horrible shit. You can't control a human being by locking their art down, their sexuality down, and take away rights of women without an aberration busting out somewhere else in the human psyche. This is a fact. So these scumbags from Saudi Arabia come to America, sleep with our women, spend money on our drugs and alcohol, they rip it up at the discos, have fine cars in Dubai, and they go back home and play the role of the pious Muslim. They use their money to fund these terrorist organizations so they can look like these pious zealots fighting the infidel, when they're the infidel themselves.
What was the most memorable moment where you felt like you made the biggest impact?
RR: Well I definitely made a major impact by killing a lot of people. That's not one that I'm really proud of or anything but it was definitely a difference maker. The only positive thing that I see now looking back with a scope on that time was that my rounds were sharp and true, that my geometry of fire was correct, and my calmness under duress kept me from losing control of the battlefield so that I could bring as many of my men back home alive as possible. My last time in war was off-the-chain bedlam. It was the Wild West of Fallujah and Ramadi. I took absolutely every suicide mission I could and that's part of what kept the guys on my team alive. Aggression, hatred of the enemy, and an operation tempo, an OODA Loop, that no enemy could top. So the impact was that I could bring my people home. I mean I wanted to help people over there and I did help some, but eventually most of them were slaughtered by those bastards when we left. Nobody really got out of that better off. My losses in combat are felt and carried with me daily. The anguish and the emptiness that follows those losses is actually a drive to the light for me.
What's the hardest part of returning from that environment?
RR: I'm still not home! Just look at my crazy ass (laughs). The homecoming is a process. The homecoming is a process for me and it is for all of us. Even my buddy Andy here sitting with us looks like he's home on the outside, but he's not completely home. I mean are any of us completely home? It's a process but what I will tell you what works is us helping each other through it, staying physically fit, keeping open communication with our brothers, and repairing bridges with our families.
What's the hardest thing about being over there?
RR: Probably just the cumulative toll of seeing people being torn apart by people like me, and the grave knowledge that turning people into meat is actually necessary for our economic system. Everybody in our society benefits off of our hardest killers and young men, that albeit may be ignorant as to what they are doing and the ripple effect of tyranny and empire. We have our own tyranny and our own empire as well. We just don't do it by cutting off people's heads necessarily. But is that just mankind? It's not a cop-out when someone says if it wasn't them, it would be us. It's actually true and it's kind of sad. I'm a humanist and I always side with the underdog against the bully. But, when you look at the world scope the United States is kind of a bully. However, we have to protect our own and although we are a bully at least our women have rights. Our children can go to school freely. It may not be completely right or perfect, but it's the best we have right now. That's the complexity of all war.
An example of bad things starting with good intentions was Nazi Germany. The Germans, why they went high and to the right in WWII, was because they were absolutely crucified at the Treaty of Versailles after World War I. They didn't start the war. They just happened to be the baddest dudes on the battlefield with minimal manpower, that just rock n rolled but eventually their side lost. They were forced to pay restitution and they were robbed of all their funds. The number one resource during the 20's and 30's in Germany was prostitution. All the men were horribly disfigured because of war. There was no economy so they really had to create one through vice. That was the only way to bring in money. The Germans didn't want that. They are a very proud people. Hitler came in and said not only, "No," but "Hell no." He re-instituted pride, but that absolutely spun out of control in a horrific way of course. We (USA) are a form of an empire, but we aren't en-masse turning people into dogs so that they can easily be exterminated. Are we corrupt in how we treat the world nations in regard to leveraging their resources and exploiting our power for consumerism and capitalism? Yes. But we aren't putting men and women in ditches, and setting them on fire. We are not perfect. Conquest is really a technique of defense because of how things are in this world. I'm not one of these big-brained guys like a president or general. I'm a RECON Marine but I'm just telling you that it's hard for me to even work through the complexities of our geo-political nature.
Did you feel stigmatized or detached at all when you got back?
RR: Yes, I felt extremely detached and I'll take responsibility for that. I detached myself from everyone else. I had a ton of rage at everyone that's just too damn casual over here. Everyone just walks around way too chill. I was conditioned in another way and sometimes this world just doesn't make a lot of sense to me. It's too easy. Look, I bet we are the only ones talking about warfare right now when war really is the bedrock of human civilization. We've got ISIS and ISIL rockin' and rollin' back in regions that we took. Our children will be going back to fight those wars. Mark my words.
If you could tell a civilian one thing in order to help how you are perceived what would it be?
RR: If I could tell a civilian one thing it would be that you better be grateful for your security, and in giving thanks you need to develop a deeper understanding of the privilege given to everyone who lives in this country; due to men and women fighting for our country and defending our national interests.
What does it mean to you to be a Marine?
RR: It really boils down to the essence of our code or motto "Semper Fidelis, always faithful." I take that seriously with my brothers, with fighting, with how I represent myself to the rest of the veteran community. Also, that has to do with not freaking sleeping with your friend's women, it has to do with treating your brother's mother with dignity and respect. It means stepping back in certain situations when some dumb kid talks trash and not destroying him with violence. Instead maybe mentoring that kid on how he can be a better man. That to me is, "Always faithful." Notice it's not "Always hubristic" or "Always arrogant." It's, "Always faithful." It's not "Semper I." It's "Semper Fi."
You're very into the mental side of combat. How do you prepare to pull the trigger?
RR: First of all you don't prepare to pull the trigger. You ARE prepared to pull the trigger. We go back to the ethos of the Samurai sword and look at that. Fired in the coals, smashing it, firing it, smashing it, firing it, folding it, creating all these layers, then cooling it, and polishing it. That's what you do with your character. If the sword of your character is correct there will never be an issue with pulling the trigger.
Can you talk about the superhero mantra attached to soldiers? What do you think about that mantra?
RR: I look at Joseph Campbell's methos in, "Hero of a Thousand Faces: The Power of Myth." This is human culture and maybe in the human DNA to need heroes. Why? Because throughout the ages we see pantheons of heroes and the ethos of good versus evil. It's been engrained in us. Why do they still ring true? It's in us at the soul of our humanity. That's why we are celebrated and exhalted as young titans, young gods on the battlefield. It's beautiful because how many of us die as young gods on the battlefield at 21 or 22 years old? We are seen as timeless and eternal. What's skewed though is this. Most Americans don't have a real, intimate understanding of pain or sacrifice. They turn us into cartoons and not true heroes. They turn us into comic books, and not real heroes. Heroes have pathos the rest of their lives. Heroes go on journeys finding themselves and sometimes die on that journey. Odysseus in the Odyssey was just trying to find his way home. He was a hero. We are heroes. The superhero myth is in some ways a cartoon and belies the dignity and strength that we put into our service.
What about martial arts is therapeutic to your condition and who you are as a man?
RR: Why I find martial arts healthy and holistically balancing for our total health is because it bring us back to our ethics that we started with in the Marine Corps. When we were pure empty slates our individuality had been taken and then we were able to write in these ideals. It is about character, honor and commitment. You can't lie in martial arts. You can't lie in your technique. Your technique tells the truth all the time and it tells the truth that it's either good and effective or it's not. So, it's honest and true. And by sweating, breathing hard, and contesting with honor and not pure violence it again strengthens character, resolve and humility. Sometimes you'll lose and that makes you a stronger man in your humility. That's why I love martial art and why it's part of my every day. My physical fitness is martial art, my work is martial art, my modeling, my acting, my speaking is martial art. I leave myself absolutely, courageously vulnerable for all comers. I love it and I won't live any other way.
What made you decide to go the RECON route in the USMC?
RR: I didn't decide to go RECON. I was shamed into it. I was an infantryman and because I did so good at SOI (School of Infantry) and boot camp I was given the chance to tryout. I couldn't swim very well and I was scared to death of the unknown but my teammates and squad mates said, "The karate kid can do it! He's going to smoke that." I was like, "Aww, shit." I was hiding behind the racks of course. They were like, "Guide where are you at? C'mon guide!" So that's how it all happened. Good thing was the water portion was at the end of the indoc. I was so dominant in the ruck run, the PFT, the O Course, that they saw the raw material. So, they destroyed me in the pool but not nearly as much as the weak bodies. They were crushing the weak bodies because they were looking for character and to find if they had the will to not give up later. That's how it all started for me.
Veterans taking their own lives comes up often in our community. What do you think the problem stems from and what do you think we need to do to fix it?
RR: I think the main factor is depression. Depression, depression, depression. Depression is not something that can be easily pinned down to one source. It could be endocrine system burnout, it could be TBI, it could be PTSD and a spiritual injury. When you see children in pieces as some of us did that can jack you up. When you have to kill in the ways that we've done it, it will mess you up.
How do you remain optimistic in all that you've seen in combat and all the hardships you've face back home?
RR: Well, the positive mental attitude or PMA as we called it in SEARS School (survival school) is your lifeline that is the essence of survival. In a positive space things feel attainable and that there are always possibilities. There are solutions for every situation, and the sun comes out every day. The stars come out every night and through that simple contentment we can dispel the fear or letdown of real life. Really it's just majestic to even have consciousness and be born. Already as human beings we are at the top of the spiritual totem pole. We lose it as we go along in life. Not that we didn't have the emotional wisdom or that we have to learn it. We have it from birth but this modern society and life conspires to steal our joy and really turn us into robots. I stay in that space of positive mentality in order to stay alive. I was celebrating life in the middle of death and combat.
Can you talk about the difficulties you've overcome in your young life and how those have shaped you into the man you are now?
RR: Yes, the difficulties would be mirrored and would come up in my life in later years just the same. I think being abandoned at a young age or feeling less than my very best are things that I felt as a veteran as well. I dealt with those things as a little boy. When I was a little boy growing up in the boys home I could learn how to fight the good fight emotionally and look for solutions for practical happiness. If I could do that as a child then why could I not do it as an adult? I look back at the little boy Rudy Reyes and he was a courageous badass. Sometime later in life the older version of me forgot that. He was overwhelmed with his shame and fear. The older Rudy, the so-called badass RECON Marine warrior was strung out on drugs and alcohol and poor relationships. He had absolutely horrible self-esteem he was going through hell with no support. He decided at some point to embrace the younger Rudy Reyes and the hero mindset and he made it. I look back at that little guy and I'm proud of him.
What are you most proud of in your life?
RR: I'm most proud of raising my two brothers in the boys home when we were young, and now having a great relationship with both of them. I'm also proud of being in the greatest family in the world, the United States Marine Corps. I'm proud of my children as well and being a father to my two kids, Bella Donna and Dylan.
Can you tell me about the hard days and who lifts you up in those times?
RR: I'm so fortunate that in those hard times everyone calls me! I'm so blessed in that. Little do they know how much it helps me out. They call me. They don't even know it. They either feel a disturbance in the force and want to check on me, or they're needing help. By them reaching out to me though it gives me the freaking permission to open up to them and through that we help each other. We also have our special online, private network that's for snipers, RECON Marines, and our medics. We check in on each other daily. There's no one left behind in our community ever.
I've seen your training motor. How do you keep that operational tempo going at all times?
RR: I keep going at a breakneck pace due to my passion. That's due to loving what I do. When my boy Andy has his 8541 (scout sniper) shirt on and I'm around the company I keep, I know I'm one of the best of the best. Nobody can ever take that from me and I've got to keep that represented. I can't look back like my best years are behind me. I've got to bring that forward and freaking keep living it. I have to embody that. When we were younger going through selection and the blood, sweat, and tears and absolutely getting our asses kicked you had to know how bad you wanted it. I would always say to myself, "I want this. I want this." That's how I felt in my workout today. I was sucking buttermilk on the shuttle runs but I just kept saying to myself, "I want this. I want this. I want this."
I love that the interview ended with, "I want this. I want this. I want this." That's what I think of when I think of Rudy Reyes. Never stopping, the hardest of chargers, and an undeniable will to take on all challenges. These men are the tip of the spear, the born-to-be Spartans, the surgical hell-raisers. I thought one of the most powerful moments in our interview was when I asked Rudy what he considered his most powerful achievements in this life to be. Rudy didn't mention him playing himself in an Emmy winning HBO miniseries, he didn't mention his roles in upcoming blockbuster movies, he didn't mention the survival shows he's starred in such as Apocalypse Man, he didn't mention being a 10 time Jun Woo Grand Champ (only American born male besides Bruce Lee to do so), and he didn't mention his successful companies. He talked about his kids, raising his two brothers in the boys home, and his pride in the brotherhood of the Marine Corps. That speaks to Rudy Reyes' character. I would like to extend a major thanks to Rudy for his time and energy. I'm absolutely elated to have brothers that were ready and willing to charge into the darkest of nights, destroying whatever evil resides in that darkness, then come out the other side and do it all again.