Carl Franklin Gulebian, 35, readily admits he was a wild child growing up in Waco. As a rebellious teen and the only white family in the neighborhood, he took to running the streets and getting into trouble. On his brother’s birthday, there was a hostage situation across the street; that’s how wild it was.
“I was a horrible child,” Gulebian said. “I grew up in a rough neighborhood.”
Despite this, he graduated from A.J. Moore Academy but ended up strung out on meth and homeless. That’s when he saw a billboard for the military and decided to join up. After all, many of his family members had joined in various branches, including both grandfathers.
Thus, Gulebian joined the Marines at age 17 but didn’t get in until he was 18. Although he had second thoughts, he found himself at the Marine Corps Recruitment Depot in San Diego in 2002.
His specialty training at the School of Infantry at Camp Pendleton originally was in infantry, but due to a shortage of mortarmen, he was reassigned halfway through.
At first, it was Gulebian’s job to set the sights and aim the gun at the target, but later he became a gunner. Moving to a different camp, he stayed a Pendleton and was “dropped in the fleet,” into at combined arms exercise at 29 Palms, California, an event that brings different branches of the service together to simulate a war. It was nerve-wracking, to say the least.
“I hadn’t even been in a year,” he said. “It was a bit intense.”
When he returned to Camp Pendleton, his unit, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, passed the time training and then prepared for deployment to Kuwait on the border of Iraq. Although Gulebian was a bit nervous, excitement outweighed anxiety. This is what he’d been trained for; it was before the invasion of Iraq.
“We were preparing for the invasion but didn’t know it,” he said.
There was much training and excitement for a good while. Everything was hurry up and wait. They would see the occasional Scud missile and have to don chemical warfare equipment for protection, just in case.
Finally, Gen. James N. Mattis gave the troops a speech and mentioned an “upcoming battle.” Gulebian said, “We’re like, what battle?”
Then there was a speech by George W. Bush declaring war on Iraq. “We’re like, okay, now things are getting real,” he said. They could see the jets flying over bombing Iraq. “Then we sat. And we sat. And we sat. It felt like an eternity,” he added.
Adrenaline plummeted and then — suddenly — they were on the move. Traveling along in AAVs (amphibious assault vehicle), Gulebian rode in the belly, which was enclosed with no windows. The troops didn’t know where they were going or what was around them.
They stopped frequently to set up mortar pits in the event they were engaged with the enemy. Other than a flare, however, they never fired one shot. “It was very anti-climactic,” he said.
Scared and petrified
Then came a big sandstorm, and being the low man on the totem pole, Gulebian was assigned to deliver a message when the communications went out. Wandering in the sandstorm, he ended up at the wrong location, but finally found his way and made it safely back to his AAV. “I was so scared. I was petrified.”
He later found out three Iraq tanks were headed his way but were taken out by the AAVs.
Finally, there was a push into Baghdad — but Gulebian missed it!
Because action was slow in coming, Gulebian volunteered for a convoy that he thought would go into battle. It turned out to be a support convoy carrying food and water, and he didn’t get anywhere near the battle. The 1st Battalion, 5th Marines did, however, and came under attack, killing Gulebian’s rucksack that had been left behind and injuring a staff sergeant.
After this, he returned to Camp Pendleton and was busy with plenty of training, adding urban warfare, among others. That included tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel (TRAP), escape and evasion and sapper training. He also became part of the QRF or Quick Reaction Force, and no longer used mortars. Instead, he carried an M-16 with a grenade launcher.
He would need it in Iraq, where he would come under major attack.
Next week: Gulebian heads back to Iraq and comes under attack. After he left the Marines, he suffered from PTSD for some time before he met and married and got the help he needed.