LCpl Nathaniel Romero entered Venezuelan waters on a clear night in the summer of 2026. He along with the rest of Fox Company, 2nd Battalion 2nd Marines, the “Warlords” of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, were about to take part in the largest combat operation of a generation. They were part of Task Force Iwo Jima, then deeply underway in what was being called in the political realm, Operation Preserving Purity.
Nathaniel, along with the rest of his expeditionary squad, were aboard an Amphibious Combat Vehicle, ACV. Moonlight danced anxiously on the Caribbean waves outside the Marines’ ACV as it trudged through the sea the night of the late July invasion. They road within for the remainder of their ocean going voyage. The craft carelessly rocked in the gentle waters of the Caribbean en route to the beach. The Marines onboard were set to disembark again soon.
His ride in the bowels of this floating tin can was nearing its midpoint for the three-hour voyage to shore. As the ship rocked back and forth in the water, sprays of ocean splashed into the gunner’s turret and collected in tiny pools flowing across the floor. They charged forward and feigned back with the waves in a constant and ceaseless struggle. Boiling away by the heat of the cab, they filled the tiny vessel with the hot, humid scent of salty seawater.
In his gut, Nathaniel felt a sinking feeling. He never enjoyed the hauls from ship to shore. The rocking of the boat with the ocean, the cramped casings with gear stacked all around him rattling about. Then there was the steady roar of the engines and the metal creaking. The sounds of the seaborne landing craft had the effect of sending Romero into a state of nausea combined with a cold panic. It wasn’t seasickness, though. The open water didn’t bother him, especially not when he had a few pills with the very specific purpose of combatting the rhythmic gyrations of the open ocean. Get him above deck and he may as well have been on dry land. This was a form of anxiety he felt only when in the cramped confines of the floating steel coffins.
It was probably the sound of the metal creaking that almost did him in. They told him it was just hot metal contracting and expanding when exposed to the chill of the water. They said that the vessel was designed to do it, and that it was completely normal. That explanation did nothing to ease his fears that, at any moment, the hull would crack open and the cabin would suddenly flood with salty seawater, pulling them all down until they reached the ocean bottom to be eaten by crabs and other scavengers of the deep. The thought wavered in and out of his mind, that the whole lot of them would succumb to a watery grave without ever reaching the shoreline. Thoughts like that made him almost look forward to the battle outside waiting for him on the beach.
This time, though, was different. He wasn’t feeling the same anxiety he had during training in similar maneuvers hundreds of times before. He never liked the ACVs, but this guttural feeling wasn’t that phobic reaction he’d had before. It was less a fear of some mechanical failure, his Corporal’s reprimands, or the fury of his Gunny in the event of a failed exercise. He was contemplating the battle in which he was about to take part; the war which had just begun only hours earlier.
Distantly, Romero could hear the sounds of war. Outside the tiny vessel, missiles launched from the ships, by then very far behind them. Their naval counterparts fired the big guns, and from their bowels heavy shells bombarded against the shoreline, resonating out across the water. From time to time, the roar of jet engines passed and then awhile later they would return, perhaps preparing to launch a second time, or perhaps a third by then. Along with innumerable air strikes racking the seascape, the world outside their vessel was an orchestra of mayhem. The symphony rippled out across the waves, reverberating in the tiny hull of the transport carrier.
Beyond the echoing of the war front, were the beaches of the north coast. This is why they had come. The Marines were tasked with creating a beachhead along the central part of the north coast of Venezuela. Following this, they would be moving inland. None of them knew exactly where they would be heading. All they knew was that they would be moving fast, and following information that would be provided en route. Heavy vegetation prevented the use of the Marines’ ACV progressing to give them a quick, if not to mention armored, means of transportation. Aerial reconnaissance also revealed what few serviceable roads in the deep of the jungle remained had been sabotaged with roadside bombs and barbed wire. That would gum up the tracked vehicles and tires of the light armored reconnaissance fleet, to the point that combat engineer crews would be needed to clear them before any combat vehicles could be useful again. Relative to the invasions of the past, this would reduce the American advance to a crawl.
All this came together to mean one thing. Nathanial Romero and the Marines of Task Force Iwo Jima were about to do something no Marines had before them in half a century. They had already disembarked to invade an enemy controlled beach. They would take it before moving toward their main objective several miles away. What was different about this invasion, however, was that they would be making the initial assault through the jungle, under the cover of darkness – and on foot.