MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- When most Americans get behind the wheel, they practice a certain amount of precaution due to the dangers of the highway. But if you add roadside bombs, suicide vehicles and buried mines to the mix, the precautions taken become a lot more in depth.
For Cpl. Anthony G. Zoccano, a 21-year-old driver with 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, driving a vehicle in a combat zone in Iraq gave him a new appreciation for driving back home in America.
The Buffalo, N.Y. native was in Al Qa’im, Iraq, an area approximately 20 miles from the Iraqi-Syrian border, from February- September 2005. There he drove a vehicle for the battalion’s operations officer and gunner.
Zoccano explained that the biggest threats against American troops in his battalion’s area of operation were mines planted in the open desert and suicide vehicle- borne improvised explosive devices (SVBIED).
“It’s a whole different mindset when you’re driving in Iraq,” explained the 2002 Cardinal-O’Hara High School graduate. “You are constantly aware of everything that is going on around you. It’s a whole different procedure you use when preparing your vehicle that you wouldn’t do with a civilian vehicle.”
He said that for the most part, he stayed off the roads in his area driving in the open desert, but when he did drive on the road, he would drive faster than normal and would have to watch out for potholes, upturned soil or concrete and roadside trash.
The most important thing he kept in mind while he was driving was that along with his own life, he was responsible for the lives of the other four Marines in his vehicle.
“For the most part, I tried not to think about it all the time, but I was definitely more cautious than I would be if I was back home driving alone in my Honda Accord,” he explained. “It’s a lot of responsibility to have.”
Things were put into perspective for the young Marine noncommissioned officer when he was going to travel down a road that turned out to have a mine planted in the street that struck another vehicle instead.
“It made me realize that the dangers are very real out there, and it put things into perspective,” he said. “I realized that driving is probably one of the most dangerous jobs in Iraq right now.”
When Zoccano returned from his seven-month long deployment, he said that it was a little difficult to transition from driving in the combat zones of Iraq to driving in the U.S. However, he said it felt great to be back home.
“It was a huge relief not having to worry about roadside bombs or SVBIEDs,” he said. “The whole experience in Iraq was a huge learning experience for me since I was new to driving for the Marine Corps. It was my first time in the desert, and it was a constant learning process.”
After turning over the keys to his High Mobility Multi-purpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV) and getting back into his Accord, Zoccano explained how Iraq has helped him in life and to prepare for the future.
“Being in Iraq under that amount of stress and pressure will absolutely help me in the long run,” he said. “It has helped prepare me for any challenge that might be thrown my way later in life.”