Cpl. Ben Mauser earned Purple Heart serving with 7th Marines in Anbar Province
A 2000 graduate of Burnsville High School in Burnsville, Minn., Ben Mauser enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps that same year. He was a Hollywood Marine, doing boot camp in San Diego, Calif. He eventually deployed to Iraq with the 1st Marine Division, 1st Battalion, 7th Marines and served with convoy security for the regimental commander out of Al Asad Airbase in Anbar Province, at the time the deadliest province in the war zone.
The former home of the II Marine Expeditionary Force, Al Asad is situated 100 miles west of Baghdad and ranks as the largest U.S. Air Force base in Iraq, according to Wikipedia, and has two runways, 23 hardened shelters and a 15-mile perimeter.
“We rode in Hummers before they were up-armored, covering the entire province,” said Mauser, who did his combat tour toward the end of his four-year enlistment, reaching the rank of corporal. “My duties varied. On some missions I would drive and on others I would man our Hummer’s machine gun turret.”
The High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle, aka HMMWV or Humvee, is the military version of the civilian-use Hummer. Manufactured by AM General, the four-wheel-drive Humvee took over the workhorse role of the smaller, historic Jeep. The Humvees originally deployed in the Iraq War lacked the armor to protect occupants against lethal attacks from explosively formed penetrators, or EFPs, and were later up-armored with FRAG kits. Today, the Humvee’s role in combat zones has been supplanted by Mine Resistant Ambush Protected, or MRAP, vehicles.
Mauser was trained on a number of weapons, including the M240 Golf 7.62 caliber mounted machine gun, M2 .50 caliber heavy machine gun and the Mk 19 fully automatic 40 mm grenade launcher. Convoys faced threats from remote-detonated roadside bombs, also called IEDs or improvised explosive devices, rocket propelled grenades, or RPGs, and mortar attacks.
On the mission that he was wounded, Mauser was part of a seven-Hummer column protecting the regimental commander. He was manning a 240 Golf in the turret of a Hummer behind the commander’s Hummer, which was the target vehicle of a powerful IED, in this case a 155mm artillery shell hidden inside a 55-gallon drum.
“We believe that the enemy detonated the bomb using a garage door opener,” said Mauser, who was struck in the face by shrapnel, blowing off his prescription eyeglasses. “The training kicked in and I was able to function, but there was a ton of blood. I couldn’t see and didn’t know how badly I was hurt. I manned the gun until somebody popped up and took over for me.”
As it turned out, Mauser’s glasses deflected a large chunk of shrapnel, leaving glass shards in his face, but also saving his eyesight and most likely his life. A Navy corpsman was in the same Hummer and was able to quickly administer medical care. Mauser pointed out that troops today are equipped with Wiley X tactical eyewear, which offers significantly greater protection from projectiles and flying debris.
“Two of our guys were knocked out by the explosion,” Mauser said. “The colonel and sergeant major took shrapnel.” The colonel was the regimental commander and the reason for convoy security. Sergeant majors are the highest ranking non-commissioned officers in the Marine Corps.
During a ceremony while he was still deployed in Iraq, Cpl. Mauser was awarded the Purple Heart as a member of the U.S. armed forces wounded in the line of duty. After returning to Minnesota, Mauser decided to take advantage of the G.I. Bill and enrolled in GM ASEP at Dakota County Technical College. Knowing that modern automotive technicians require a laptop computer as a primary diagnostic tool, he searched online for possible grants that could provide the needed funds.
He found the Minnesotans’ Military Appreciation Fund, a nonprofit and nonpartisan statewide fundraising initiative has given more than $6 million in grants to more than 10,000 soldiers deployed in combat zones such as Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom as well as to the families of soldiers killed in combat. Mauser received a $5,500 cash grant and was able to purchase a new HP laptop. He was surprised to remember that he had made a donation to the MMAF at an earlier date.
“When I first got home, I dealt with post-traumatic stress disorder as well as short-term memory loss that seemed linked to a traumatic brain injury I received from the IED’s concussion wave,” Mauser said. “I did okay making the transition to civilian life, but I bottled up my feelings. When you get back, you have to get on with your life.” He added that vets returning from overseas deployments don’t have time to gradually settle in. “You’ve got to go,” he said. “This is where you’re going—have at it.”
With assistance from the Department of Veterans Affairs, Mauser worked through his PTSD and is looking forward to a bright future with his wife Courtney, someone he’s known since the seventh grade, and the couple’s three children, Mikey, 8, Benny, 2, and Andy, 1. “Eventually, I would like to own my own shop,” he said, “but right now I want to make a living and earn benefits for my family.”
He’s also looking to do more specialized work for himself, building motors and focusing on motorcycles. He owns three, a Suzuki, Buell and Yamaha. “I’ve been a motorcycle guy forever,” he said. “I’ve got motorcycle repair training, but the short riding season in Minnesota means that mechanics need a lot of experience to find work.”
In the meantime, Mauser, now 27, is getting into life as a college student. He enjoys diagnostics and likes the idea of interning at a GM dealership. He’s scheduled to graduate spring 2011 with an 87-credit A.A.S. degree in automotive service. Early on, he wasn’t sure what career path he wanted to pursue—nursing, teaching or automotive technology. “My wife and I once talked about what I would do if I ever won the lottery,” he said. “We decided that I would go to school to become a mechanic because I wouldn’t be happy just sitting at home.” With a little help from GM ASEP at DCTC, Ben Mauser is striding toward his goal.