As part of my continuing efforts to honor veterans, I recently interviewed Marine Captain Dan Grazier. Captain Grazier, who served as a tanker in Iraq and Afghanistan, had an interesting start. He began his career as a reporter but left that field at the age of 27 to serve his country after the attacks on 9/11.
Where were you born? (And/or what was your hometown?)
I was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania but my family moved to Ashburn, Virginia when I was still young. Since I settled again in Ashburn after I left the Marine Corps, this is definitely my hometown.
When did you serve and where? Also rank attained.
I joined the Marine Corps in January 2005 and left in 2015 as a captain. I served with 2d Tank Battalion in Camp Lejeune, the Marine Corps Detachment at Fort Knox, and 1st Tank Battalion. I deployed to Iraq in 2007 with B Co., 2d Tank Bn, and to Afghanistan with RCT-7 in 2013.
Who was your childhood hero?
This will probably sound like a bit of a cliché, but my father. He is still the best man I know.
What made you want to join up?
I joined a little later in life at the age of 27. Growing up, I wanted to be a television reporter and did that for several years after college. Like all Americans, the September 11th attacks horrified and angered me. I joined after that to do my part.
Tell us some of the big lessons you learned from serving.
1 ) You will amaze yourself by what you can accomplish if you don’t quit.
2 ) There are great Americans from all corners of the country.
3 ) The only people impressed by the words “military grade” in an advertisement are those who have never served in the military.
What was your most harrowing experience, that you’re willing to share?
The scariest moment I had happened during the last mission I went on in Iraq and it didn’t even involve enemy contact. My tank platoon was on a patrol in an agricultural area driving along a road on top of a canal retaining berm. The edge of the berm began to give way and our tanks started to slide toward the water. The year before, all four members of a tank crew from our battalion died when their tank fell into a canal.
I had visions of this happening to us for a few terrifying moments before the driver quite skillfully recovered the slide and we were able to get out of there.
What do you wish those who have never served better understood?
The military is full of great young Americans. The only way to gain a real appreciation for this is to serve with them in difficult situations.
Are there any service members that you know, or served with, that you’d like to honor their sacrifice by naming?
There are far too many to name.
What piece of foreign or domestic policy frustrate you to no end?
The current efforts to hype the imminent military threat posed by China frustrates me a great deal. Neither side stands to benefit from a war between China and the United States, but plenty of people here stand to benefit financially and professionally by preparing for one.
Tell me the most heroic thing you ever saw, if you can.
A patrol found a very large truck full of explosives and rigged up as a vehicle-borne IED in the middle of a neighborhood in the southern part of Fallujah one morning. The battalion in charge tasked my tank platoon to cordon the area as we figured out what to do with it.
The engineers estimated the truck had 10,000 pounds of explosives inside and if we attempted a controlled detonation, we would end up leveling several city blocks. The only thing for us to do was to tow it out into the desert and blow it up there.
The bravest act I saw happened when the mechanic crawled inside the cab of the truck twice to rig the vehicle for tow, knowing that anything inside that truck could have triggered the bomb.
I didn’t get his name at the time and have always wondered if he received the recognition he deserved for that.
What are your thoughts on the Marine Corps getting rid of its tanks?
I was really disappointed when I found out about it. I understand the strategy, I understand the idea behind it. However, I’m not fully convinced that is the next war we’re going to fight. If and when the Marine Corps has to go fight someplace else in a different scenario, I worry that the Marine Corps is not going to have the necessary capacity to deal with that kind of situation and is going to be doing a lot of scrambling to adapt a very specifically tailored force to something that it’s not designed to deal with. If the war they anticipate is the actual war we end up fighting, then that was really good planning on their part. But I’m a military historian, and I know that the war that you expect is rarely the one that you actually fight.
During my deployment to Iraq in 2007, my tank platoon would often go out and support the attached engineer platoon as they were setting up T-barriers to cordon off the city and funnel traffic. The missions weren’t very exciting. We would just sit there for a couple of hours as these guys were doing their work, but because we were there, they were able to get that job done on time without any enemy interference. If it was just them out there, they would have basically had to set out half of their engineers to provide security. But instead I would take two of our tanks and park on either side of them as they were working, and because no one wanted to tangle with two tanks, no one messed with them — we kind of jokingly refer to these missions as blanket-of-freedom missions.
I really fear the day when a Marine is in a really tough spot and looks around for a tank and does not see one — and that day will happen at some point.
Share with us a story of a leader who inspired you while you served.
I have worked together with a number of truly great leaders. The one that impacted me the most was my company commander, Tim Doran. He showed me how to lead and get the job at hand done with compassion and good humor. He also showed by example how important it was to lead our Marines with respect for them as individuals.
What do you wish for the country?
I wish all Americans could figure out a way to live and work together the way they do in the military.
I wanted to thank Captain Dan Grazier for sharing just a small slice of his service to our great country. As I’ve said before, I really enjoy spotlighting the great sacrifice that so many have made for this country.
And in that line of thinking, I need your help. If you know a veteran you’d like to have honored, then please email me. Veterans seem to NEVER nominate themselves. lol. So, if you have a father, mother, brother, sister, friend, family member, etc, please reach out to me and tell me about them.
You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stan R. Mitchell
P.S. Comments are open below. I love hearing from everyone, but if you attack someone, say something stupid, etc, I will delete your comment with a quickness. Sorry. My bar. My rules.
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