On Saturday, Bruce Stumbo went to a University of Arizona football game with his sister. He also planned to check out new wheels and tires for his truck. "I’m going to eat a steak."
Last month was less casual for the 21-year-old Scottsdale man. He was in Karbala, Iraq, gagging in a marketplace of rotting food, being fired on by militants and wearing U.S. Marine camouflage that turned white with sweat by the end of the day.
Lance Cpl. Stumbo came home late last week after seven months of war and occupation. The 2001 Saguaro High School graduate ("It seems like a million years ago," he said.) walked around his parents’ house barefoot, drinking a Dr Pepper and talking about his experiences.
Stumbo shipped out to Kuwait in January from Twentynine Palms, Calif., where the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division is based.
The invasion was largely uneventful. Most of the Iraqis whom Stumbo’s unit encountered surrendered.
"During the war, when we were taking prisoners of war, they were telling our intelligence their commanders had told them, ‘The Marines are coming. Don’t fight, because you’re all going to die.’ Half the time we didn’t even have to do anything."
He fired at long-range targets and ducked a few rocket-propelled grenades on the way to Baghdad, but said neither event was worth noting. "We just waltzed right into Baghdad."
After the invasion, Stumbo was stationed in Karbala, which was mostly peaceful. "Sometimes you got a little nervous, but for the most part, people were just so happy to see us, it laid rest to a lot of fears."
Last month, in a Karbala slum where Iraqi convicts released by Saddam Hussein congregated, Stumbo came under fire twice. The first time he was on an observation post on a tall building when a Marine patrol in the streets was fired on. Because feuding Iraqis fight constantly, Stumbo and other Marines up above ignored the shots. Then they saw tracers and heard an American automatic weapon.
The second incident happened while he was on patrol searching houses for contraband rocket-propelled grenades. "We’re walking through this teeny little alley and out into this open area when all of a sudden we heard — it’s kind of a like a little cracking sound when a bullet goes by — phhhhew. It had been a couple of months since I had been on a patrol where we were getting shot at, so you stop for a second, then your training kicks in."
They slipped on nightvision goggles and spotted about 10 or 15 Iraqis blasting away at them with AK-47s. "They definitely need some marksmanship schools over there. They can’t shoot."
"Thank God," his father, John, interjected.
"We laid down some fire, then we shot an illumination round over there, which was pretty funny. My buddy was like, ‘I’m going to try and hit ’em with it!’ I’m not real sure if we hit anyone."
The smells were more ferocious than the fighting. He described patrolling a market where fish and slaughtered sheep lay in the sun, covered in flies. "You never got used to it."
The Iraqi people were grateful the Marines were there, he said, and sorry to see the Marines leave. "We tried to put a human face on everything we did," he said. Stumbo gave away all the candy his mother sent him to Iraqi children.
Scottsdale doesn’t quite seem real to Stumbo, and seven months of habit are hard to shake. He automatically scans everyone and everything he sees for weapons and assesses them for threat potential. His mother, Sara, noticed him unconsciously scanning people at a gas station.
But his parents couldn’t take the smiles off their faces.
"It’s almost like the last seven or eight months there’s been this tension," his father said. "Now that’s lifted."