Michael D. Fay held the the position of combat artist for the United States Marine Corps from 2000 through January 2010. He was deployed several times to Iraq and Afghanistan. He is currently in the Kandahar region of Afghanistan working as a war correspondent embedded with Marine units. His blog is Fire and Ice.
In 2006, Mr. Fay was a contributor to The New York Times’s Frontlines series, in which he described the orders he followed as Marine Corps artist: “Go to War, Do Art.” He is now retired from the Marine Corps, but is currently in Afghanistan working as a correspondent embedded with Marine units in Afghanistan.
Excerpt from Drawing Fire: Into Ubaydi
For two long days, the 14th and 15th, the insurgents had tried to make a stand in the streets of New Ubaydi against a full Marine battalion. New Ubaydi (the town is divided into new and old sectors), in complete contrast to the other towns, was almost entirely a modern community of pre-fabricated homes, with schools and mosques laid out with geometric precision. Once the home to well-heeled government technocrats supporting a vast enterprise exploiting the mineral wealth in Western Al Anbar, it was, after two days of door-to-door fighting, reduced to pock-marked rubble and burnt-out vehicles.
Marine A1 Abrams main battle tanks — with nicknames like “That Luv’n Feeling” and “Wargasm” painted on their main guns — had prowled up and down perfectly straight streets, rotated massive turrets and fired directly into the front doors of homes from which Marines were taking fire. Marine grunts rushed these freshly pounded homes and picked their way carefully through devastated gardens, rooms of buckled prefab walls and up narrow stairwells onto flat, exposed roofs. Grenades were tossed down rooftop entrances, C-4 plastic explosives duck-taped to doors, sheet metal water storage cubes methodically peppered with rifle fire and vehicles left parked with doors closed stitched stem to stern with a prophylactic stream of machine gun rounds. T.O.W. missiles were launched into large vehicles abandoned in intersections and the firing of any number of weapons into anything suspect was preceded with the cry of “fire in the hole.” Across the cookie cutter roofs of Ubaydi danced a macabre ballet of Marines, ducking and rising with each new obligatory warning and partner explosion.
At the end of the second day, Nov. 15, the Marines stood poised on the edge of the older, more rural end of Ubaydi. At midday I asked and received permission to leave Second Platoon and embed with Third, which was experiencing more resistance than the rest of the battalion. It was shortly after joining third that I received my shrapnel wound. Despite the violence, these first two days, as the insurgents fell back through well-prepared fighting positions, produced only minimal casualties on both sides. The real fight lay before them amongst the ancient irregularity of the older section of Ubaydi.