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Veteran Oral History - Christopher Randazzo

  • War/Conflict: Gulf War
  • Veteran: Christopher Randazzo
  • Organization: US Marine Corps Reserves
  • Date: July 17, 2015
  • Interviewer: Carol Fowler
  • Summarizer: Michael Achimov
  • Editor: Professor Melissa Ziobro, Monmouth University

Christopher Randazzo was born in Passaic, New Jersey in September 1960. In August of 1980, he enlisted in the US Marine Corps Reserves. While he had no family history of Marine Corps service, his father had been in the Army National Guard, and his grandfather had served on a draft board during World War I.

Randazzo decided to enlist in the military because he felt he was underperforming in college. He considered the Navy, but ultimately ended up selecting the Marines. At the time, according to Randazzo, the Marines were desperate for recruits and willing to accept anyone. He was enlisted with an open contract and assigned the military occupational specialty of infantry mortar crewman. Within three days of signing up, Randazzo arrived at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD) in San Diego, California, where he would spend the next thirteen weeks in boot camp for basic training.

Randazzo described his basic training as an extremely grueling process for which his years of discipline in Catholic school helped prepare him. The drill instructors were tasked with molding individuals into a cohesive unit through a three-step process. Recruits were acclimated to service, then given field experience, and finally organized into a functioning cooperative unit. Each instructor tasked with achieving this transformation had his own role: the father figure, the teacher, and the hammer.

Christopher Randazzo (right) and his son, recent USMC basic training graduate, Timothy Randazzo (left).

Christopher Randazzo (right) and his son, recent
USMC basic training graduate, Timothy Randazzo (left).

On his twentieth birthday Randazzo was punished by the “hammer” and forced to repeat an exercise multiple times. On another occasion, he was hit in the face by an instructor just for laughing. He found, however, that the training not only left him physically prepared, but mentally tougher than he had thought he would become. The latter quality, he noted, is important, because even when a person is physically exhausted, mental endurance can keep him going. On October 31, 1980, Randazzo graduated from boot camp. His family flew in from New Jersey for the occasion, and he was able to finally leave MCRD.

One week later, Randazzo reported to Camp Pendleton in San Diego for Infantry Training School. For the next eight weeks, he was trained in mortar gunnery. The instructing staff was largely composed of Vietnam War veterans, and they provided him with what he recalls as an invaluable learning experience. The veterans had been through the crucible of war, and they knew exactly how to communicate the skills they had acquired to the young Marine trainees. They were serious -- once when Randazzo was again laughing during a training exercise, an instructor said “…individuals [who are not serious can] get you killed.” These lessons reinforced the basic training regimen of unit cohesion, and the principle of fighting for the Marines on your right and on your left. After completing his infantry training Randazzo returned to college, but remained in the reserves to complete his six year contract, which included drills one weekend a month, and two weeks of annual training a year.

In 1981, Randazzo was accepted by the Marine Officer Candidate School in Quantico, Virginia. Unfortunately, although he received excellent peer evaluations, he felt mentally unprepared, and superior officers considered him disrespectful; so, after six weeks of the ten week program he was asked to leave. At this point, the Marines offered to release him from the rest of his reserve contract, but he agreed to stay in and was promoted to Lance Corporal.

Randazzo returned to school at Carlton College, and transferred his reserve duty to nearby Fort Snelling in St. Paul, Minnesota, where he served in a Military Police Company. The company’s annual training, in amphibious warfare, was conducted in Coronado, California. This World War II-like instruction involved rappelling down to landing craft and riding them in to shore.

Randazzo graduated from Carlton College in 1983 and came back to New Jersey, where he was reassigned to Fort Monmouth as a reserve administrative clerk in the 6th Motor Transport Battalion from September 1983 until November 1984. Randazzo was promoted to sergeant. In 1984 he was transferred to the Individual Ready Reserve, a component that did not involve monthly drills or annual training.

In December of 1988, Randazzo got engaged and then married his now ex-wife. At the same time he decided to reenlist in the Marine Reserves, and he joined the Weapons Company, 2nd Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment, located in Waukegan, Illinois. Eight years after he received his initial infantry training he was finally assigned to a unit where he would actually be part of a mortar crew. Although he retained his former rank, he lost time in grade credit.

Randazzo’s battalion was called to active duty following Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in August 1990. The unit was initially assigned to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina and then shipped out from there to Jubaiyal, Saudi Arabia, landing on New Year’s Eve, 1990, to participate in Operation Desert Shield. The battalion was assigned to secure the rear area of the base. Operation Desert Storm began on January 17, 1991 with the bombing of Iraq and Kuwait.

Randazzo could see the planes leaving on their bombing missions flying overhead. His company was split up, and he was moved to Ras Al-Mishab, a Saudi port on the Persian Gulf. The Gulf was covered with oil from the 400 million gallons the Iraqis spilled in hopes of preventing an American amphibious assault. Randazzo recalled members of his company having to euthanize a bird covered in oil.

Randazzo’s company was finally reunited in Al-Khanjar, Saudi Arabia in February 1991. He remembers this as a very special time, because he was able to actually call home to his wife on Valentine’s Day. It was also a very nerve-racking period for the deployed Marines. Since Allied ground forces had invaded Kuwait to eject the Iraqis on February 24, a fear that Saddam would use chemical weapons was omnipresent, and they had to always carry their protective gear, along with syringes of atropine, a nerve gas first aid remedy. They also had nightly “coyote drills” in which the company performed physical training, often running through a haze of insecticide spray in the dark.

As the war wound down (it officially ended on February 28, 1991), Randazzo’s company was assigned to guard over 10,000 enemy prisoners of war. During the five days that they performed this duty, the Marines were trained in POW procedures, from extraction from combat zones to searching and feeding their captives. Many of the Marines interacted with and often traded souvenirs with the prisoners, and Randazzo acquired an Iraqi officer’s beret.

Once the prisoners were moved from Khanjar, Randazzo took a “field trip” into Kuwait to Ahmed Al-Jaber Air Base. The fighting had since passed this area, but the residual carnage and destruction was still all too real. Randazzo recalled that the smell of death permeated the air, and that the ground was littered with body parts. It was, he remembered, a memorably sobering experience.

By Easter, Randazzo’s company had returned to the United States. In retrospect, he dubbed his deployment a “Holiday Tour” since it had lasted from Christmas to Easter, and the Marines had even celebrated St Patrick’s Day with a parade around Ras Al- Ghar in Saudi Arabia.

In January, 1995 Randazzo was promoted again, this time to Staff Sergeant. A year after that he was transferred to his battalion headquarters in Chicago, a big step up the chain of responsibility, because he was now part of the operations shop: “the brains” of any battalion operation. During his tour with headquarters he assisted in establishing an Operations Center.

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