CAMP AL QA’IM, Iraq -- The two Marines with 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment fought side by side, taking cover on a little rise that separated the city of Husaybah, Iraq from Syria in April, participating in a fierce firefight with insurgents in April.
Corporals Ryan Fitzgerald and Nathan G. Hart, both 21, are Marines from Windlake, Wis., and despite being thousands of miles from home, they found themselves fighting insurgents together along with elements of Regimental Combat Team-2.
The Marines, sand and sweat on their faces, fought the insurgents off in a barrage of gunfire. They were bonded by more than being Marines and being from the same small town in Wisconsin. They are classmates, who became “brothers” through a series of strange coincidences.
Fitzgerald and Hart thought about what brought them to that point in Iraq. The two realized the story itself was what they simply called -- “pretty amazing.”
Fitzgerald, a rugby player, graduated from Muskego High School in 2002 while Hart was beginning his senior year there. Fitzgerald joined the United States Rugby (under–19) team, played in the Under-19 World Cup in March 2003 and continued playing until August that year.
Meanwhile, Hart joined the Marine Corps’ delayed entry program in August 2002 and was prepared to go to recruit training after he graduated high school in 2003. He was slated to go August 25.
After Fitzgerald finished his rugby tour, he planned to attend college in New Mexico on a rugby scholarship, but due to the timing of when he got back from the tour and a rough financial situation, he wasn’t able to go.
Instead he decided to join the Marine Corps. So he went down to the local recruiting office on August 25, the same day Hart arrived at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego.
“I signed up that day and I was supposed to go to boot camp in October. But someone else who was going the next day was disqualified for some reason and I decided to take his place instead. I ended up in Hart’s boot camp company,” Fitzgerald said.
“I had no idea that “Fitz” had joined, let alone came to boot camp the same time I did,” Hart said. “I thought he was off at college in New Mexico, until the second day of boot camp.”
On the second day of boot camp, the recruits of Fitzgerald and Hart’s company were in formation to conduct one of their first morning physical training sessions.
“I was looking around for Nate the whole time because I knew he was somewhere in that company,” Fitzgerald said. “Once I found him, I just stared at him, because we weren’t aloud to talk to any other recruit.
“I was kind of glancing around the company and I just happened to look in his direction. “And when I saw him, I was just shocked and excited to see him there,” Hart said.
Throughout their three month training evolution, Hart and Fitzgerald communicated through letters in the mail because they couldn’t talk to one another due to the intense training cycle.
After they graduated recruit training, the new Marines went to Marine Combat Training together for a month -- again ending up in the same company. Toward the end, the two found out the jobs they would have during the rest of their four-year enlistment.
Hart joined to be a field radio operator and found out at MCT that he got his wish. Fitzgerald joined on an open contract, so based on the needs of the Marine Corps, he was given a job at random that fit his qualifications.
“I found out I was going to be a field radio operator too,” Fitzgerald explained. “Out of all the military occupational specialties in the world they gave me the same one as Hart; unbelievable!”
So the two Windlake natives went to communications school together and this time ended up in the same class and platoon. At the end of their school, the Marines had their pick of their first duty stations. With four open spots at 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment at Camp Lejeune, N.C., the two naturally picked the same unit.
“We both wanted to go to an infantry battalion, because that’s where we knew things happened,” Hart said. “So we talked about it and picked 3/2.”
On March 25, 2004, Hart and Fitzgerald checked in to 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines in the battalion’s communications platoon. The two often traveled home together during their leave time and four-day weekends. And they found themselves becoming better friends because of the Marine Corps.
“This guy is like a brother to me now,” Fitzgerald said. “In high school we didn’t really hang out that much because of our grade level difference, but now we have definitely become good friends.”
Later on that year, Hart was selected for the battalion’s security platoon, but it wouldn’t be the last time the two “brothers” were together. During a Headquarters and Service Company training evolution, Hart, Fitzgerald and two other Marines were on the same team for an exercise.
“The exercise was a team effort to climb a one story building in under two minutes,” Hart said. “Our team was the fastest so they had us demonstrate for the whole company.”
Both Hart and Fitzgerald were pulling up one of their teammates when Hart took the Marine’s rifle and slung it on his back to help him up.
“At this point, as we were pulling him up, the rifle on Hart’s back swung around and smacked me right in the face,” said Fitzgerald.
“Fitz let go, fell back, and I was stuck there pulling our teammate by myself right there in front of the whole company. It was just another one of those crazy moments that we found ourselves in,” Hart said.
Those crazy moments continued up until the two Marines found themselves in their first deployment together at Camp Gannon in Husaybah, Iraq fighting off insurgents.
“I wasn’t thinking it at the time, but later I thought, ‘Wow, who would have thought that two Wisconsin boys from the same small town and same high school would be in Iraq together in a firefight,” Fitzgerald said.
While Fitzgerald stayed at Camp Gannon until August, Hart joined with 3rd Platoon, Company K as their radio operator, participating in various operations throughout their area of responsibility.
Now as the two Marines prepare to return home after their seven-month deployment, their minds are set on what will be waiting for them when they return.
“Our parents are throwing us a party when we get home together,” Fitzgerald said.
“They’ve been communicating with each other while we have been gone and developed sort of a support network,” Hart said.
The two discussed the proximity of their lives back home and realized that they were closer than they thought.
“My fiancée, Krista, lives two houses down from Hart and I live about two minutes away from him and here we are in Iraq together, having spent our two years in the Marine Corps together,” Fitzgerald said.
Hart and Fitzgerald both agreed that the way they ended up together in the Marine Corps was “completely crazy,” but now they are close friends.
“It has made time go by a lot quicker and has made life a lot easier than it would have been without him,” Hart said pointing to Fitzgerald.