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Interviewing Nick Popaditch, the ‘Cigar Marine’

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Interviewing Nick Popaditch, the ‘Cigar Marine’

Nick Popaditch is an American hero who has spent his life in service to our country. He first enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1986, serving with 1st Tank Battalion, 1st Marine Division. During Operation Desert Shield, he served as a tank commander before being honorably discharged in 1992. In 1996, he reenlisted with the Marine Corps, and once again served as a tank commander. From 1998 to 2002, he served as a drill instructor before returning to 1st Marine Division in 2002. He rose to the rank of Gunnery Sergeant and deployed to Iraq. The 1st Tank Battalion pulled down the statue of Saddam Hussein, and his face became known in April 2003, when an AP photographer took a photograph of Popaditch grinning, smoking a cigar, with the statue of falling in the background.

He was serving in Fallujah as a tank commander when he was hit with a rocket propelled grenade in the head. Miraculously, he survived, something he attributes to the actions of the Marines serving with him. Popaditch was blinded and temporarily deaf, he was treated in Fallujah and then medevaced to Germany. He lost his right eye, his sense of smell, and hearing in his right ear. His nose was also broken, and he had to undergo several surgeries to remove shrapnel from his head, eye, and face. He was awarded the Silver Star for gallantry, and the Purple Heart. He was medically retired as a Gunnery Sergeant.

Since retiring, he’s worked on behalf of veterans, serving on the Purple Heart Advisory Board for Freedom is Not Free, and on the Board of directors for The Vet Foundation. Nick is a Veteran Representative on the VA’s Patient-Centered Care Steering Committee. He also speaks on behalf of The Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund, The Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation of the Desert Cities, and the Independence Fund. He’s also a Veteran Representative on the VA’s Patient-Centered Care Steering Committee. In 2008, he wrote a book, Once A Marine: An Iraq War Tank Commander’s Inspirational Memoir of Combat, Courage, and Recovery, which holds an honored spot on the United States Marine Corps Professional Reading program, also known as the Commandant’s reading list. He is currently finishing his California state teaching credential in social science at San Diego State University.

He’s now running for Congress in California’s 51st district. The incumbent, Democrat Bob Filner, has held the seat since 1992. He’s a conservative Republican, campaigning for limited government, a strong national defense, secure borders, and protecting American jobs. This weekend, I had the privilege of speaking to Nick about his campaign, where he stands on the issues, and the problems facing our country today. To find out more about his campaign, visit his official website.

Why did you decide to run for Congress?

Serving as a Marine, you see people in Iraq, you see people who have never known freedom, and over there fighting it made me realize that a guy like me, I’d always known it. I’ve always been American, I’ve always had freedom and liberty here, prosperity, everything that those generations before mine have built — the greatest economy on Earth, and all that freedom that I’ve been born into. So I looked at my government once I got home, and, you know, what are we going to pass down to the next generation? And I didn’t like the answer. So, I know General Mattis, he was my commanding general, and he said “You ask a Marine to move a piano, you gotta start by pickin’ up the bench”, and so I decided to get involved. I decided to run for Congress. I looked at my congressman, and I said, you gotta figure out if this is something the people want, is it constitutional, is it moral, and is it ethical? And I felt my congressman was getting the answer to every one of those questions wrong. So I decided I could do a better job, it’s the time to do it, and it’s basically the chain of custody with all that freedom and prosperity that generations before me handed down to me. What are we going to hand down to the next? If we don’t get involved, we’re not going to hand the same things down. This current administration is handing away liberty, selling out our prosperity, on a daily basis. So, yeah, it’s time to get in there and make a stand.

What would you say the biggest threats to our country are right now in Congress? What do you feel that they are doing wrong that you could do better?

Unconstitutional legislation. Too much transfer out of the private sector. Unrestrained growth of government. It’s just unconstitutional. My God, they just passed another 2300 page bill the other day! What are in all these bills? We don’t even know yet. Nancy Pelosi said we gotta pass ’em to find out what’s in ’em. I know those individuals voting for them don’t know what’s in them. It’s just despicable, it’s dirty government. I don’t think it’s acceptable anywhere.

Would you say that your experience as a Marine has given you better experience to serve in Congress than these lifelong politicians in DC?

Absolutely, because it’s about character and it’s about making good decisions under duress. And these individuals don’t have the courage to say no. They don’t have any courage! They don’t have courage enough to say no to Barack Obama, or to say no to Nancy Pelosi, or say no to special interest groups. They’re like puppets. So I absolutely feel my background is one of leadership, morals, courage, doing the right thing even when it’s not the easiest thing to do, and of character, character-based decisions. Absolutely. I know what it’s like to fight for liberty, I know what it’s like to stand up for the right things. I think my background is ideally suited for this.

You speak about standing up for the right things. If you are elected to Congress, what will you be willing to stand up for?

Limited government. Get government out of the things it’s not supposed to be in, and put government where it’s supposed to be. We need a strong national defense and to secure our borders, get jobs back — stop creating jobs, but get out of the way so the private sector can create jobs. We need to create better conditions for the private sector so they can create jobs, such as lowering taxes. Those sorts of things. Get the government out of what it’s not supposed to be doing and put it where it’s supposed to be. Strong national defense, securing our liberty overseas. Our enemies aren’t gonna quit just because you talk nice to them, and tell them you’re gonna close Guantanamo Prison. All they think is you’re weak. It takes strength, it takes courage to stand up to these enemies, and I’ll tell you, when I was a Marine over there, they asked me, “What do you expect out of your political leadership?”, and I tell them that I at least expect them to at least have the courage to stand up for what’s right. We’re standing up for it over here, but you stand up for it too. Oh, you’re getting tired of it? Well, too bad. Get out of the way for someone else then, someone who’s got the courage to do the right thing. We need to send a message to the terrorists around the world: you come after us, we’re gonna come after you. We’ll fight on your shores, not on ours. And on that subject, secure the border. That’s one of the basic things the federal government should be doing. That’s why we’ve got this law in Arizona, because the federal government has completely failed! They aren’t securing the borders. And that’s not a white, black, or brown thing. Illegal immigration takes jobs away from you no matter who you are. Let’s protect American jobs. Of course, there’s also the terrorism aspect of it too. There’s the national security aspect. We need to secure that border and get American jobs back, back here to our shores, back here to America.

Would you support repealing Obamacare?

I would absolutely support repealing health care, but it’s not gonna happen — not like that. I would absolutely get on board, but the bill would never have enough votes to do it, not enough to overturn a presidential veto. The way we’re gonna get rid of it is to defund it. And that’s the way you’ve gotta do it. The health care bill is the biggest example of this big government. I just spoke to a lady the other day, who got diagnosed with breast cancer recently. And I asked her, where did you guys get your funding from? She said it’s from national defense funding. I said why on Earth do you get funding for breast cancer from national defense funding bills? She said, because there’s women in the military. I said, ok, that makes sense, but you don’t get it from the health care bill? She said no. There’s hundreds of pages of legislation supposedly to make our lives better, and there’s not one thing in there to fund that, so it has to be earmarked from national defense. It’s just dirty government, the health care bill is not about improving health care one bit. And I’ll tell you what. Down here in the 51st district where we have so much active duty and retired military, the rates of their insurance are going up. Tricare Prime, their health insurance rates went up. It’s going up for everybody but our active duty military. They’re trying to give health care to everyone who doesn’t earn it, and they’ve gotta take it from somewhere, so why not take it from the people who fight for our liberty. It’s dirty legislation, it’s despicable, and I can’t wait to defund it, I can’t wait to cut the life out of this thing. It’s disgusting.

Since you brought up our men and women in uniform, what would you say the biggest challenges facing the military right now are?

Mixed signals from our government. When President Obama took over, what was one of the first things he said in the war on terror? “Well, we’re not sure the Taliban is our enemy.” Are you kidding me?? You’ve got Americans dying fighting the Taliban right now, you’re not sure they’re our enemy?! That is just recklessly irresponsible. I think he’s a disgrace as a Commander-in-Chief, and our troops are not political pawns. He needs to support them because we need to win. We need to win in Afghanistan and we’re gonna win with a troop surge. That’s how we won in Iraq, it’s how we won the Cold War, it’s how we won in WWII, every time we win, it’s because of a troop surge. We outproduce you, we outman you, and we use our American exceptionalism. You’ll quit before we will. American exceptionalism is what wins. They told Reagan you’ll never beat the Soviets. What did he do? He basically did a troop surge, we outproduced them and we won. What did George Bush do in Iraq, when Harry Reid and John Kerry were saying “this war is lost”, and “wrong war, wrong time, wrong place”? Troop surge and we won. There is this myth that our enemy is unafraid to die. It is ridiculous. I’ve seen a lot of those guys over there, I’ve fought a lot of them and I’ve killed a lot of them, and I’ll tell you what, this myth that they’re not afraid to die is complete baloney. They are afraid to die and the one thing they understand is a troop surge. When they know that their death is coming, they pack up and they leave town. They go fight somewhere else. They’ll be the ones who say “wrong war, wrong time, wrong place”. But I look at our political leadership and it turns my stomach. Our enemies should be the ones saying that.

Well, and my husband is a Marine who is going to deploy to Afghanistan.

Semper Fi.

Thanks! One of the things that worries me is that my husband, and all of these other troops, are going over there to fight, and Obama is giving our enemies a withdrawal date. Do you think it emboldens them, to know they just have to hang on for another year?

Absolutely. It’s another example of why I say he is recklessly irresponsible as a Commander-in-Chief. He’s worried about, let’s repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, let’s reenergize our base. You’re in the middle of a war!! You’re at war with an enemy who has the ability to hide among the regular population, and you’re going to give them a withdrawal date of when we’re leaving? A child would know that that is dumb, everyone does except this Obama administration. Look, if you really care about our troops, support them like you’re supposed to, equip them like you’re supposed to. This is one that really bothers me. “Oh, we support our troops,” well, good. Let’s send them some more money, try to expand those numbers so that guys aren’t going over there for five or six deployments. We need to grow those numbers so the same guys and gals aren’t going over there for back to back deployments. Let’s grow our force because we’re suffering right now. Let’s support them and let’s let them win. Too many good people have died over there to just cut and run. That’s not what Americans do. They believed in it, they fought for it, and now we should win.

Well, and since you brought it up, what are your thoughts about the DADT debate?

Well, I think it’s a ridiculous thing. It’s a political thing. It’s being done solely for political experience. It was ridiculous to open up DADT now. How does that help us win this war? Just shut up. Next issue. It’s not something we should even be dealing with right now. But, if it is, you know, I like DADT. It takes the politics out of homosexuals in the military. For me, I love serving this nation. And it’s very hard for me to tell somebody no who wants to serve this nation. That’s why I think DADT works. If you want to serve our nation, you’re allowed to. We’re just not going to force somebody else to accept your way of life. Our military families, our moms and dads, they trust us with their children. They trust us with their kids. This is one of the things one of my first NCOs said, he said, “America’s gonna give you their best, they just want them back when you’re done.” Our military is not for political experiments or anything like that. DADT worked, I don’t know why we feel the need to investigate. I think most folks in the military would agree with that, and honestly, it’s a discussion I never had, it was never really an issue until somebody decided to politicize it.

All good points. And now to go in a different direction from the military, you’d briefly mentioned the Arizona immigration law. Do you support it?

Yeah, actually, what I really want to do is make it irrelevant. I mean, I’m not running for an office in Arizona. I think it’s a shame, though, that the citizens of Arizona have been so failed by the federal government that they have a need to create their own law. And the Arizona law mimicks federal law, almost down to the letter. But I want to make it irrelevant. I want to complete that border fence, and increase our border patrol, so that people are safe. Honestly, we have a 60% lower crime rate in San Diego than they do in Phoenix. We’ve got a fence here, and it works. They need a border fence, they need border patrol, they need an actual border that’s enforced. And they’ve got the kidnapping rate over there in Phoenix like it’s a third-world nation! Are you kidding me? This is the greatest nation on Earth, and that’s what we’ve got going on over there? And once again, President Obama decides, “Well, who can I sue over here?” This guy is so reckless and irresponsible as a leader that it turns my stomach.

Well, and a lot of the criticism of the Arizona law is solely that it’s racist. And those same people often call the tea parties racist as well. What would you say to that?

Well, let’s start with the border issue. I live on a border. I live right here on a border with Mexico. And I can tell you, I can walk anywhere in my community, and my community has every race imaginable, and I can walk anywhere in my community and ask anyone, “Do you think a secure border would protect American jobs?”, and the answer would overwhelmingly be yes. And those jobs have no color. They’re not white, black, brown, those jobs are every color. So to say it’s racism, this is a trick the other side uses because they want to divide us as Americans. That’s their vision of Americans, is all of us divided. United we stand. Saying it’s racism is just another smokescreen for them to avoid doing their job. They’ve gotten away with not doing their job for too long. And honestly, if that’s the best defense they have for not doing their jobs, then good luck in November. Yeah, keep pushing that message. I don’t even understand how they can say it’s one race doing something wrong, and not be racist themselves. Now, as far as the tea party goes, I’ve been to numerous tea parties, and I’ve never heard one racist statement at any of them. I like the tea party movement. I tell you what, if you’re that afraid of Americans getting out and voicing their opinions, shame on you and the government. That’s part of the First Amendment, to publicly assemble and address grievances, and if that bothers you, if that’s racist to you, you need to pack your stuff and get out of this country, because that is what our government is founded on. That First Amendment is a powerful thing. To just smear one side and call them racist, you know, good luck. See how far that gets you in November. All the tricks of the left, they’re all out in the open now, and it’s amazing. It took them forty years, since the 60s, to convince the majority of the people that their ideas were good ideas, and it only took Obama and Pelosi a year and a half to make the nation think, “What the hell were we thinking to have fallen for this?”.

I saw a poll that was taken earlier this month that said just barely over 50% of Americans are proud of their country today, that believe it’s the best country on Earth, which of course it is. What would you say to those people who don’t believe that America is the best country on Earth?

Well, the first thing I would say is, I don’t believe that poll. I’ve never been polled in my life, I’ve never met a pollster, and whenever someone tells me about a poll, I always ask them, “Have you ever been polled in your entire life?”, and I’ve yet to meet the person who’s said yes. So I don’t know who the heck they’re talking to with these polls, I never believe them, and honestly, I think the left maybe made these polls up! I honestly have never met a pollster, and I’ve never met anybody who has ever been polled. So, for one, I don’t even buy it. But if you aren’t proud of this country, I think that’s a shame. I think you’re missing out on the greatest nation on Earth, and, you know, that’s your loss. This is a great nation. I think in my neighborhood, when I walk around and talk to people that love this nation, I talk about winning the war on terror, and I hear cheers of support. I talk about securing our border for the American dream, because it’s just ridiculous, we have a higher unemployment rate here in California than the national average. And you’re talking about an open border? Are you insane?? We need to protect Americans, and protect American jobs. And that’s for any color. And then once we can secure that border, once we can control that illegal immigration problem, then we can open it up to the American dream. We can expand so that more people can come here and live the American dream. People love that. People love this country. Why are so many people trying to get here? It’s the greatest nation on Earth! I’ll tell you, in college classrooms they may not believe it, but it’s their loss.

Well, and now to go back a couple of weeks, there was a cartoon that was written about you —


— and it ended up being a pretty big controversy. What do you have to say about that?

Oh, come on. I’m a Marine gunnery sergeant. A cartoon’s not gonna hurt me. But that cartoon came on the wake of a five-hour townhall meeting in that community, and the campaign had agreed to make it a townhall debate. And we were sitting there all set to debate the incumbent, and then a few days prior, the incumbent backed out with no reason given. And so we went and did it anyway. That’s what democracy’s all about. And I went out there and answered questions for five hours, out there in Imperial Valley, and the next day I heard they ran a cartoon, and I thought, “Oh, jeez, I wonder what I said that didn’t fly very well.” And then I found out it was just poking fun at the way I look, so I thought, OK, that’s good, there wasn’t anything, not one single issue, that anyone took exception to. So actually, I took it somewhat complementary, that I had done that well at this townhall meeting. So, you know, if that’s the best you got for me, that just emboldens me. If the best you can do is poke fun at the way I look, then I must be sharing a pretty good message. I wasn’t afraid to go into enemy fire while serving this nation, I’m certainly not afraid to be called names. That’s certainly not gonna hurt me!! You know what they say, though. If you could see the backlash that came from that article, the backlash was immediate, and it was constant, and it was overwhelming. And there was backlash for two reasons. And God love ’em for both of them. And the first reason was, they said you know what? Whether or not we agree or disagree with this guy, he’s a veteran, and we don’t allow anybody to poke fun at our veterans, and especially not for that sort of thing, for their wounds. So it’s beautiful that the nation and my constituents reacted in that way. The other thing is people are tired of dirty politics. You know, if you disagree with the guy, say what it is you disagree with! We can debate again and I’ll answer any question that anybody asks. Please. Let’s have at it. It’s just dirty politics, poking fun at appearance, or things like that. That’s just dirty. And the public just overwhelmingly rejected it.

And Americans are tired of the dirty politics, the backroom deals, the hiding, the lies.

That closed door thing that happened during the health care debate? I dare them to lock me out once I get on the hill. And when I see that, I think, where’s my representative on this? Who the hell are they locking the door on, that Americans are locked out of? Whatever happened to draining the swamp, most transparent governmnt ever? The answer is that this is the most shameful, back door, dirty politics and it is disgusting, it is flat-out disgusting, and I don’t even know how many times I can use the phrase “turns my stomach” in one conversation, but I think that sums it up pretty good. And I’m certainly not alone with that assessment of the Pelosi congress.

Well, is there anything positive about President Obama?

Yes, there’s something very positive. The Founding Fathers were brilliant. These guys were just flat-out right. They planned for this 210 years ago. 210 years ago, when they wrote that constitution, they didn’t want a king then, and they don’t want someone trying to be one now. So they can try all these tricks, but fortunately, we’ve got the constitution to protect us. And the truth is always going to find its way to the surface, and that constitution’s gonna protect us. They can try. But they’re not gonna be able to get any of it, none of it’s gonna stick, it’s all gonna be struck down. Like once we can find out what’s in this 2300 page financial bill, the monstrosity it is, and we’ll get rid of that one too. Just like we’ll get rid of the health care bill once we find out what’s all in there. These things aren’t gonna fly because they’re unconstitutional. And I tell you, the beautiful part is, look around. Look at how engaged the public is now. You know, Jimmy Carter gave us Ronald Reagan, and this guy’s gonna give us another great leader, too. See, people, they were trusting. We trusted our government, and maybe a little bit too much here, and this kind of was a nice wake-up call. We are a strong and brilliant people, and we’re a great people, so a lot of great things will come out of this. I heard a quote the other day, and I think it originally comes from Thomas Jefferson, I’m not really sure the source of it, but it says, “Never underestimate the people’s ability to comprehend, recognize, and understand the truth.” And that’s it right there. You’ve just awakened the nation to the fact that we need to be more involved with our government. And we’re going to emerge with a far better government than we had before.

Any last thoughts?

Oh, God Bless America. I love my country, and I am proud to be an American.

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  • Marty says:

    Outstanding Cassy, and thank you for bringing attention to a wonderful story and a great man. The man lives by his core values of honor and commitment. Great post!

  • Larry says:

    I am fortunate enough to live in Gunny’s district, but first saw him at a book signing a couple years ago in northern california. He is really something special. I suggest everyone read his book Once a Marine ( and you will know everything you want and need to know about who he is. Then send him a few bucks, regardless of where you live. Let’s take back our country!

  • PFC Mike Lowry says:

    Semper Fi, Gunny! Can’t wait for you to go clean house! Yut!

  • MilitaryHistory says:

    Thank you for a posting a great interview with Nick Popaditch. Nick is an honest, conservative, old-fashioned, pro-American, combat-decorated US Marine. He believes in a strong military, strong borders, low taxes, smaller government.

    If anyone wants to learn more about Nick, I recommend his book “Once a Marine” ( It is all about his values and character, and will tell you everything you need to know.

    For information on his bid for congress, check at You can go to his live endorsement page to add your name at

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