A Chemlight for Marvin – Full Chapter


A story: A man fires a machine gun for about a year, and then goes to war. And afterward he turns the M60 in at the armory, but keeps a pocketful of chemlights. And no matter what else he might do with his hands, love a woman, build a house, change his son’s diaper; his hands remember the chemlights and how they made Marvin fucking glow.” ~ Bravo Charles

I don’t know, but, somebody told me this…. I’ll just tell it from the 1st person like I was there. But, so we’re clear, if anyone asks, I wasn’t. Just sayin’……..wink, wink.

It’s also important to note that the following incident was “encouraged” by the spooks in the area.

Interrogation in a combat zone can be a challenge to say the least. For starters, you usually don’t speak the language of the person you’re interrogating and it’s likely that they don’t speak yours, so an interpreter is normally required. Secondly, there must be some compelling reason presented to the subject of the interrogation that will make them give you the information you’re interested in. The compelling reason must also be enough to ensure that the veracity of the information provided is reasonably reliable. I suppose the last hurdle worth mentioning for someone in my position is that I have no training in interrogation techniques, none of us did, nor did any of us have any specialized training in PsyOps (Psychological Operations). However, I believe this story highlights one of the many reasons that the US Army Infantryman is readily referred to as a “Jack of all Trades”. One last caveat of interrogation is that as US soldiers, we have limits to what we are willing and/or allowed to do. We do not harm prisoners. Since we don’t harm prisoners, we get pretty damn creative when the situation dictates.

This month would be a very busy month for us as we built up security in the area after leaving the areas around Mogadishu. We controlled access to and from the area with checkpoints, while E-87  (Provisional) patrolled the roadways in both directions. The engineers had begun building us a base from which to operate, though at this point it was still pretty rudimentary, having no roofs on most of the buildings, and only the most basic of facilities.

The port was always a challenge due to the fact that even though it was surrounded by concertina wire and had several fixed and built up positions form which it was guarded, there was also the Indian Ocean to consider. A person could literally swim onto the beach, which was mostly clear of concertina and obstacles due to the nature and purpose of a port: to unload boats. We would rotate approximately 2-3 days of checkpoint duty, 2-3 days of port duty and one or more days of other types of missions including: air assaults, ambushes, patrols and QRF (Quick Reaction Force) missions, among others. Then the companies in the Task Force would rotate and we’d be given bigger missions. We never got downtime, not ever. I do not ever recall ever getting a complete night of sleep for my entire deployment, nor one full day of rest.

The cargo of the boats was normally unloaded onto the beach; just 15 to 25 meters beyond the where water would go at high tide, possibly less. There were almost always numerous large stacks of rice bags and several dozen drums of oil on the beach at any given time. This provided a challenge because once on the beach, a trespasser could easily maneuver their way around almost freely if left unguarded, which it never was unguarded. Even then it was especially challenging. Especially for a 16-man platoon guarding an area probably best secured by a company of light infantry. We were spread extremely thin to say the least, with just two men responsible for probably 500 meters of beach front access to the port as well as the entire beach for the most part. And it was extremely common at night to catch Somalis trying their luck at swimming in from the ocean and trying to breach our security, sometimes armed, other times not. What to call an armed Somali swimming in from the ocean? A Somali SEAL? I think “Shark Bait” is likely more appropriate, and these waters were full of sharks.

Though “Skinny” is the most broadly known term for the Somali people due to Hollywood, our platoon had a name for them which I preferred much more; Starvin’ Marvin. SSG F and SPC Mangold had coined the term, and it stuck. And on this particular night, Marvin was starvin’ enough to take his chances with us. A most unwise endeavor as he would soon learn, especially when a Ranger happens to be lying in wait on the beach. Marvin would have had better luck with sharks, me thinks, but certainly not as much fun.

It was 0’dark-thirty on this typically windy night at the port. A gentle 60 knot (actually 20) wind in our faces ensured we had to be extra alert while on guard, because right away we are robbed of one sense: hearing. You couldn’t hear shit unless you were standing right next to someone, especially on the beach due to the breaking tide. SPC Anonymous, a Ranger, was one of the two people guarding the beach. After watching some Somalis poking around outside the wire (apparently doing their Shark Bait recon), SPC Anonymous and his companion decided to take up less conspicuous positions on the beach and cease their patrolling. To be blunt, they were bored as fuck and had figured out that Marvin was planning some shit and they wanted in on it. While interrogation may not be a skill often attributed to our trade, camouflage and ambush are definitely skills mastered by the infantry, and perfected as an art by the Ranger.

Now disguised as rice, the Ranger and his companion, SPC Dude, lay in wait as two unsuspecting Marvins made their way out of the water. Creeping and crawling like the highly trained Marvins that they were. There’s nothing more funny (other than what I am about to tell you) than watching people sneak around, believing they are completely unseen, their eyes as big as baseballs, their movements awkwardly animated as they crept up the beach with their knives at the ready. They had some Mission Impossible shit going on for sure. Like, literally…..it was impossible; there was no hope for success, as they would soon find out.

As the two crept close to the Ranger’s rice-clad position, I imagine they were feeling pretty pleased with themselves for having penetrated our security unseen. And now they would reap the pay of their success (what they planned on doing with 50-100lb bags of rice I can only speculate as the rice likely weighed more than they did) as they lightly chuckled amongst themselves. Then suddenly……SURPRISE! You’re a pretzel! Ranger and Dude seized their prey simultaneously from behind with a series of hand-to-hand and takedown moves as the pair shrieked in absolute terror. That is, prior to the proper application of some “Ranger Chokeholds” followed up with some 5-50 prussic cuffs. They had shrieked so loudly that I actually heard them from the normally muffled beach and through the ever present gale force wind of the port. My first inclination was that some women were being raped as I headed expeditiously towards the beach when I was then met part-way by the Ranger and Dude, along with two others now, proudly toting their hogtied prey as though they were on their way to a pig roast.

“HA HA HA HA! WTF?” Mangold exclaimed in glee as the two were set down in front of a group of us.

“Caught these fuckers creeping around the beach!” Dude said as he displayed the knives the pair had been carrying.

“There’s probably more nearby outside the wire, make sure everyone on guard is alert.” Dude ordered.

“Mohammed, ask these fuckers if there’s more of them out there.” Someone said to our interpreter, who complied.

Neither Marvin answered Mohammed.

“Ask them again and tell them if they don’t answer, there’s going to be trouble!” Ranger demanded.

Again, there was no answer, no response. Suddenly, Dude whipped out a chemlight (basically a “glow-stick” in the civilian world), shook and snapped it, causing it to light up brightly, and then cut the top off.

“Tell this motherfucker to answer the question or I’m going to melt his face off!” Dude said as he demonstrated by splattering some of the glowing Cyalume (which is completely harmless by the way) liquid onto a wall.

Still no reply. Suddenly, Dude grabbed another chemlight and started to repeat the process. Except this time, he positioned himself directly in front of one of the two Marvins as he was fastened to a utility pole and looking a little nervous. “Tell him that I am going to pour all of this ‘acid’ on his friend if they don’t start talking!” Dude exclaimed before proceeding.

Then, in very dramatic fashion, he began spattering Marvin with the contents of the chemlight as Marvin shrieked in a way that would make you think someone was cutting his balls off had you heard it. As he shrieked, it almost looked as though he had managed to partially climb the utility pole backwards at one point, as his hands were fastened behind it as he danced about the pole wildly, as though he were on fire. He didn’t even slow down enough to realize that the Cyalume was doing absolutely nothing to him.


Suddenly, the Marvin next to him began ‘singing’ like a bird, talking so fucking fast that it seemed Mohammed even had trouble understanding him.

“He said they have friends further down on the beach!” Mohammed announced as he pointed to where Marvin had also pointed.

“Go check it out.” Dude told someone.

Dude quickly turned his attention to Marvin number 2, and began splattering him wildly with the contents of yet another chemlight. As the first Marvin began to calm down and notice that he felt no pain, and other than glowing in the dark he was totally fine, we sat back and enjoyed another few minutes of a girl-shrieks and glow-stick dancing. I lit a cigarette and offered one to Mangold while the group of us quieted down to mere chuckles.

As we smoked our cigarettes, the brothers Marvin soon stood there glowing like a pair of Halloween decorations. Their faces now very solemn with a strong hint of bitterness, like they had just eaten a big bowl of shit, as they realized they were both fine. This despite the fact that they were brightly glowing neon yellow and green, like they had just been bukkaked by a Martian. They appeared to be around the age of twenty or so, about the age of most of us in the platoon. We untied them and found something to clean them up a bit before leading them over and handing them to the local MASF for their probable incarceration.

The last I saw of the brothers Marvin they were disappearing into the dark streets of the city on their way to the local jail. Except that they didn’t disappear. They couldn’t have, not for the next several hours anyway. Those skinny little motherfuckers led the way brightly into the darkness; their heads still glowing like brightly lit jack-o-lanterns as they walked out of the vicinity of the only street light. I waved goodbye slowly to my new friends, with a sense that we had all shared in something very unique and very special together. And now I could say I had a new skill. Interrogation.

glowstickdancingHaving no prior training in handling an EPW, no one really knew what was ok, and what wasn’t. While no one was harmed in this incident, it’s pretty clear it was the wrong way to have handled the situation. I guess. However, the possibility of our lives being in danger existed, further compounding the lack of training and the urgency behind needing information. I would also like to add this is something that our commander was probably completely unaware of; the spooks that frequented the port actually encouraged and taught some of the techniques such as this, though I can’t say for sure this specifically. This made it seem legit, though it may not have been.

Disclaimer: No glowing fuckheads were permanently harmed in the writing of this chapter.

Click here for more excerpts from the book.

~Bravo Charles

Copyright© Bravo Charles & Behind the Gun 2016


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