Jordin Gignac // Editor-in-Chief
Their mother, who lived in America, sent them to the states in 2000 to live with her in Bartlett, Illi. Ever since they were in middle school, they wanted to join the Marines. But, it wasn’t until they were in high school that they would commit to it. Kevin said a Marine, Staff Sgt. Webb who would recruit once a month at their school, encouraged them to sign up. “He was a great guy who showed me that there was something more than just college. That there is another life to live that would make me grow as a person.”
The twins flew to Marine Corps Recruit Depot, California after graduation from high school in 2007. They had their heads shaved and described it as “chaos” with everyone yelling at them. “They treated me like I was; a recruit. They stripped me of everything I was in order to train me. I wouldn’t get treated like a Marine until I graduated basic training,” said Mike.
Boot camp was hard for Mike and Kevin, but they said they got used to it and knew that they were learning how to be strong. In September, the twins graduated boot camp and went on to infantry training through December. Infantry training was a big leap from basic training. The twins learned about every infantry weapon, spent days training and hiking in the trails at the camp while learning special skills like night operations and working with their radios. “Training is good because the more you sweat in training, the less you will bleed in combat,” said Mike.
After graduating basic infantry training, the Xu brothers were split up and assigned to different companies in the Third Battalion, First Marines; Kevin was assigned to Kilo and Mike to Lima. The twins trained with their units until July of 2008 where they would deploy to the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit out of Okinawa, Japan. There they would float around the Pacific Ocean in Southeast Asia. “We were given a few days of freedom to go out, make some friends and have fun,” said Kevin.
For seven months, Kevin and Mike trained in different conditions. They went to Japan and completed missions in the jungle. Okinawa was some of the worst conditions they had to endure. Mike said, “The jungles are miserable. Snakes and spiders the size of my head were everywhere. We were always wet and had to sleep in the rain every night. Out of everywhere I have been, the jungle was the worst place I had to operate in.”
Mike then headed over to Iwo Jima, South Korea to practice beach-landing exercises with the Korean Marines, while Kevin went to the mainlands of Japan to practice operations like hostage rescue with the Japanese self-ground defense forces. After they trained in Asia, they went back to Camp Pendleton for a year to get ready for deployment to Afghanistan.
“The only easy day was yesterday,” said the twins. “Our first firefight with the Taliban in Afghanistan was unreal. They welcomed us with bursts of bullets from AK-47s, but our training helped us overcome them.”
When asked about their most frightening experience in Afghanistan, they both said it was while in a firefight against the Taliban. Kevin was addicted to firefights ever since. The adrenaline and excitement of a firefight was what created the addiction.
14 days before Kevin’s twenty-first birthday, he got into a huge firefight with the Taliban. Kevin and his squad were completing a defensive operation in the summer on June 6. They pushed into enemy territory when they were warned about what might happen in the next few minutes after moving on from that point. “They told us before we left that they are wired,” said Kevin. “Once we exit here, no more than 500 meters, we will get shot at.”
Kevin admitted he didn’t believe what they said and decided to push to the front line of the squad. As they went on and were no more than 400 meters to enemy territory, they started hearing machine guns. Kevin immediately dropped to the ground with the rest of his squad. He saw dirt flying up around him and could barely see a thing.
He decribes this moment as the actualization of his reality. Everything he had been training for was standing in front of him, shooting machine guns.
Kevin and his squad lay there for 30 minutes with no cover and could not get any back up. Their main platoon was a half an hour behind them being sniped by snipers. With no help on the way, Kevin decided to run for cover in a ditch 12 feet away. “It was just me, my sergeant and two other Marines,” said Kevin. “This was the moment that I can remember clear as day.”
Kevin remembers the flash of light between life and death as he jumped into the ditch; a trail of bullets followed right behind him. One by one they missed him by mere seconds. “I could have died,” said Kevin.
20 more minutes and there was silence. Kevin realized the Taliban were reloading and that was his chance to get the rest of his squad covered. “I realized the enemy was reloading,” said Kevin. “My sergeant called me on the radio… I told him, ‘I’ll cover you, just run’ so he got up and ran.”
The Taliban had taken over the village and they had no choice but to shoot grenade launchers, machine guns and an M16 in order to move safely.
Mike’s experience was a tad different.
Kevin and his squad were elite in some major operations while in Afghanistan. He got into many gunfights, but the one he would remember the most would impact him forever.
“We got into a complex ambush with the Taliban,” said Mike. “We were taking casualties when my sergeant was shot.”
Mike’s sergeant, Sgt. Rankel, was bleeding profusely. Mike and a corpsman tried to aid Rankel. Since they were in the middle of a complex mission, calling in a helicopter was not an option. “Luckily I was trained medically to assist his wounds,” said Mike.
They continued to hear firing above their heads as Rankel bled. Out of rage, Mike got up and started shooting back. A bullet shot from the enemy, came hurling towards Mike’s rifle. The bullet shattered his sling, and the pieces flew at his face causing some wounds. “It ripped my gun out of my hands,” said Mike. “Everything happened so fast and I didn’t hear the bullet coming.”
Mike then ran over and picked his rifle back up. Mike focused and found his target. Before they knew it, the enemy was neutralized. His squad could finally get a helicopter in to take Rankel to better medical assistance. “We carried [Rankel] into the helicopter,” said Mike. “He was the only person who didn’t make it out alive that day.”
Later, the Marines found out there were over 20 Taliban fighters; there were only eight Marines that day. Mike said the combat would’ve lasted up to an hour more if they would have stayed no more than 10 minutes. They would have been facing up to 45 Taliban fighters and less likely to make it for another few hours.
While in Afghanistan, they would find themselves in more firefights, patrolling villages to protect the locals and clearing roads of IED bombs and other treats. They also built schools for the boys and girls of the villages. “We made friends with all of the village kids and brought them candy and toys like soccer balls that they got to keep,” said Mike.
“One day I saw a little girl die from an IED explosive. My squad escorted her body to the grave sight and it broke my heart because the body was so small.”
That was not the only time they had seen something so traumatizing. Kevin said after he almost got shot in his first huge firefight, the platoon was assigned to sit in the compound to conduct a patrol operation to locate any enemy strongholds in the area until their main effort could get to position on foot. For six days, Kevin and his unit had to survive on grapes and dirty water while trying to shoot down the snipers as they waited.
“We started to suffer from diarrhea, dehydration and starvation. One of the six days we were stranded, I was laying on a rooftop, looking through my riflescope when I saw a father and his daughter walking down the road. It was odd seeing any locals around that time. I zoomed in the get a better look at them and before I could finish zooming in, they blew up. They stepped onto an IED that was planted by the Taliban. That was one of the roads we hadn’t gotten to clear yet,” said Kevin.
“The Taliban want to kill and they don’t care who gets caught in the crossfire.”
Kevin and his unit were able to get out of the village by the sixth day to return to camp. Kevin and Mike said the desert had harsh conditions with an average of 130 degree weather and bugs like sand mites that would bite any part of their body that wasn’t covered.
The conditions in Afghanistan were unbearable at times, which made them appreciate basic human needs that most take advantage of. “The hardest thing about being an infantryman is the food and the hours allowed to sleep. I love sleep and food very much, but I never knew how much I’d miss either until I joined the Marines,” said Kevin.
Kevin and Mike left after seven months in Afghanistan in 2010. They would return home to their family members and later enroll at COD in the criminal justice 3+1 program with Lewis University.
Aside from being a COD student, the twins both work side by side in the veteran services office where they help incoming veterans. They also have two other jobs outside campus working as an armed security officer for different companies, and work places that hire them and training at the Marine reserve near Chicago. The two plan to continue to work at the reserve even after their contract is up while they finish their fourth year at Lewis.
Mike and Kevin said that their experience in the U.S. Marines was one that shaped them, Mike elaborates:
“The impact the Marines had on me was to appreciate everything! Air, food, water and everyday freedoms that we take advantage of today. I loved being a Marine because there was a sense of belonging to something greater. Throughout my training and experience, I have pushed my body and mind over the limit and learned as long as your mind is strong enough to push, your body will follow.”