11/16/04 — Soldiering, then and now, compared

View Archive

Soldiering, then and now, compared

By Sam Atkins
Published in News on November 16, 2004 2:01 PM

When Matt Marino and Dominic N. Pietrangelo of Goldsboro got together recently they talked about wars -- the war in Iraq, which Marino is in, and the Revolutionary War, which Pietrangelo re-enacts.

Specialist Marino with the U.S. Army's 1st Infantry Division served in Iraq for nine months before coming home two weeks ago to Goldsboro for rest. He has been in the division for two years and returned Thursday to Iraq for another three months of service.

While home, he visited with his neighbor Pietrangelo who is a history re-enactor with the nonprofit Northwest Territory Alliance. He is one of 15 men who travel to five states on the weekends and participate in mock battles with British soldiers in an authentic Revolutionary War setting.

His role is an officer in the 2nd Virginia Regiment of the Continental Line. The regiment sets up camp, making sure everything is historically accurate to the late 1700s, and answers questions from the public.

Marino's role is to try to keep peace in Tikrit, Iraq, along with 32 other soldiers in his platoon, by patrolling the streets and protecting around their base, which is in one of Saddam Hussein's palaces.

There have been no casualties in his platoon, although he has been close to conflict. He recalls conducting a traffic checkpoint when the vehicle in front of his was hit with a rocket-propelled grenade.

Marino also goes on curfew patrols to make sure Iraqi civilians in the city are in their home by midnight until 4 a.m. He travels to other palaces to help train the Iraqi army on raiding and clearing houses, how to do traffic checkpoints and how to search vehicles. The goal is to help the Iraqi army work together with the Iraqi police, he said.

In the 1700s, Pietrangelo's regiment would have focused on keeping the camp running and always preparing for the next battle, which would occur week-by-week or month-by-month, he said. The Revolutionary War lasted eight and a half years, from April 19, 1775, to Oct. 19, 1783.

Equipment and food

Marino has about 40 pounds of gear, including a helmet, body armor, gas mask, goggles, a camel pack with water, a backpack, a handheld computer map system, radios and other communication devices.

He carries 210 rounds for his M-16 and a knife. The vehicles have armor to protect them from rocket-propelled grenades.

If Marino is not in the field, he eats in the "chow hall" where chicken, steak and other food are served.

While in the field, he eats MREs, or "meals ready to eat," which are in packages. Soldiers sometimes trade food and games, but nothing that has to do with combat. If something breaks or malfunctions, they get a new one. He generally wears desert camouflage.

Soldiers wear glasses if they need them. Marino has a set to wear during the day and at night. They are not allowed to wear contacts, because there are so many sandstorms.

Pietrangelo said soldiers during the Revolutionary War would carry a cartridge box with 15 paper cartridges with black powder and a lead ball, a tool to keep the musket flint sharpened, a sack with tools and other belongings like a handmade candle, soap, compass and a sundial to keep time.

They would also have a button mold to make buttons and a bullet mold, an iron mold to melt lead to make bullets; a bowl to eat in; a combination spoon and fork; a wooden canteen filled with water or rum; a neck stock to protect the neck during battle; and a "housewife" with scissors, needle and thread.

He has a 1763 Charleville musket. He also has a Charleville pistol and knife. His clothing is made of canvas and wool, and he wears a regimental coat at all times to signify his rank.

Soldiers would carry all their clothes at all times, said Pietrangelo. Soldiers traded and were very resourceful. For example, if a bayonet broke, they would use it for a lantern holder.

The supplies are criss-crossed with leather bands in front to protect the heart from a bullet. Soldiers would not wear spectacles even if they could not see well, because it was a sign of weakness, he said.

Soldiers would get food whenever they could, because rations were limited. It would average out to two meals per day of usually chicken and eggs, which they cooked. They would get water from a nearby spring.

Women would eat once a day and would have to share their ration with their children until the children were old enough to work in the camp, he said.

The winter months were the toughest, and soldiers would be forced to eat whatever was available, including the soles of their leather shoes, just to have something in their stomachs. The biggest cause of death was famine and disease, not battle, he said.

Living conditions

Marino said his conditions are better than it was for the soldiers who arrived first in Iraq. Some of them would sleep on the ground or on top of their vehicles.

Marino is based in one of Hussein's marble palaces. There are 30 soldiers per room, and the separate quarters are divided with plywood. There are four soldiers in each area in bunk beds.

There is electricity and central air conditioning, a big screen TV in the main palace lobby, TVs in each living quarter, a gym next door in the battalion headquarters, and a phone and computers.

Pietrangelo said there were six men to a canvas tent during the Revolutionary War. The higher a soldier's rank, the farther inside the tent he slept. This was especially important during the winter.

Marino said his salary is $1,350 every two weeks. A soldier of Pietrangelo's rank back then made $2.50 per month.

Fighting tactics

Marino said soldiers find cover and take a knee to find out where the fire is coming from.

"The lower you are to the ground the better chance of not getting shot," he said. The Iraqis are not up for a fight; they shoot and run, he said.

Pietrangelo said soldiers during the Revolutionary War used some guerrilla tactics, firing at the enemy from hiding places. Their main tactic of firing would be a company of men shoulder-to-shoulder firing within 75 yards of the enemy.