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March 31, 2006

Silver and Bronze Stars awarded to Weapons Company Marines

CAMP PENDLETON ---- The two Marines say they were just doing their jobs when they led their troops in beating back an insurgent assault last year in Ramadi, Iraq.


By: MARK WALKER - Staff Writer

The Defense Department says they did a lot more, and Friday awarded a Silver Star to 1st Lt. David Russell and a Bronze Star with V for Valor to Staff Sgt. Timothy Cyparski.

Russell, commander of Camp Pendleton's 25-member Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, was recognized for "conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity" in action after a group of 13 insurgents attacked a roadside checkpoint on May 3, 2005.

Russell, 25, was cited for having crossed a 100-yard open area to resupply one his Marines who had run out of ammunition, rescuing an Iraqi soldier attached to the unit and putting himself in the line of fire so Cyparski and the rest of his troops could mount a counter-assault.

Cyparski, 27, joined his lieutenant in helping to resupply the Marine out of bullets and in directing the counterattack and now has two Bronze Stars, having been awarded the first for a similar display of courage during fighting in Fallujah in the spring of 2004.

First Marine Division Maj. Gen. Richard F. Natonski presented Cyparski with his second Bronze Star and Russell with his Silver Star during a ceremony at the headquarters of the 5th Marine Regiment in the San Onofre section of Camp Pendleton on Friday morning. The two represent the finest tradition of the corps, the general said.

"We don't just hand these out," Natonski said of the medals. "What they did that day was incredible."

The platoon was guarding an entry way into Ramadi when 13 insurgents opened fire with small arms, machine guns and grenades.

With a single shot, Russell killed an attacker who was wielding a machine gun. He and Cyparski then saw a young Marine was isolated and out of bullets and they crossed the open area to resupply him.

Russell then drew enemy fire on himself so Cyparski and the other troops could mount a counterattack.

In the course of the battle, Russell was hit in the head with a round from an AK-47 assault rifle, with the bullet striking his helmet and grazing his skull. He also suffered shrapnel wounds to his arm and face from a grenade thrown by an insurgent, but refused medical treatment until ordered to do so.

When Russell left the battle, Cyparski took command of the unit for the next three days.

Eleven months later, they say they were just doing their jobs.

"Awards are all about being in the wrong place at the wrong time with the right people," said Russell, a 2002 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy who could have gone to medical school but opted for a posting with a Marine infantry unit. "They pinned it on me, but the rest of the unit deserves it as much as I do."

Russell said he chose the infantry to fulfill a long-held wish, and that he believes U.S. efforts to train and install an effective Iraqi army and security force are achieving success.

"It is absolutely, 100 percent working," said the native of Georgetown, Texas.

Russell's parents, Hugh and Charlotte, attended the ceremony and said they tried to keep their focus on a subject other than Iraq during their son's two deployments.

"You don't think about that knock on the door," said Hugh Russell, an immigrant from Ireland who met his wife in Tehran, Iran. He was an engineer who worked on large construction projects while his wife was teaching English to Iranian air force pilots. "The main thing is we have to support our troops regardless of what you may think about the war," he said.

Cyparski was joined at the ceremony by his pregnant wife, Alice, and 3-year-old son, Devon. He was awarded his first Bronze Star for coming to the rescue of a lost truck during a firefight in Fallujah.

"I don't go looking for fighting," said the native of Erie, Pa. "You don't think about nothing ---- just kill them."

His wife said she never worried too much during either of her husband's two deployments.

"I just always knew he would come back to us," she said.

Neither Marine is slated to go back to Iraq for a third time, but neither ruled it out.

Russell is considering his options while Cyparski said he was working to change an assignment to a job in Montana.

AP Blog From Ramadi, Iraq By The Associated Press

Todd Pitman, who is West Africa bureau chief for The Associated Press, is embedded with U.S. Marines of the 3rd Battalion, 8th Regiment in Ramadi, Iraq. : MONDAY, March 31, 2 p.m. local/ RAMADI

Fri Mar 31, 3:40 PM ET



MONDAY, March 31, 2 p.m. local


Last night I went on a night patrol with a U.S. Marine unit in western Ramadi. We spent a lot of time running down streets and taking temporary cover in the courtyards of private Iraqi homes. This was an upscale neighborhood near one of the city's most IED-ridden roads. These are villas with tall columns, flowered-yards full of palm trees. It was a moonless night.

The 3/8 Marines are relatively new. They've been here a few weeks, and they're getting used to what all troops around here call their "battle space."

The Marines entered about half a dozen villas, opening the front gates without asking the owners inside, and I was surprised that in most cases, the families didn't seem to mind. Some home owners didn't even bother to look outside, though they must have heard the Marines come in. One woman came into the kitchen to see who was around, glanced over and walked back inside. At another man looked through the window and did the same.

Others were good-natured, actually welcoming the Marines. We spent an hour with one family — a mother, a father and four sons and daughters. They were genuinely at ease, smiling, joking with their heavily armed visitors, bedecked with heavy armored jackets and night-vision goggles atop their helmets. The family's sandals were outside the door; the Marines trampled dirt-laden boots over a red carpet. One of the sons motioned at footprints on the carpet, shook his head, and smiled. One of the Marines had picked up beginning Arabic during a previous deployment outside Fallujah, and he was able to converse in simple sentences with them. In English, they said they had been watching the Oprah Winfrey show.

I asked one Marine: why doesn't anybody mind when they come bounding in? Wouldn't you be shocked to see soldiers hopping over the wall of your house? They're used to it, he said. Three years of insurgency has meant the citizens of Ramadi have gotten very used to Marines hopping into their yards for a bit of cover. The threat? Snipers and random small arms fire — you don't want to be exposed any more than you have to.

It was a quiet night, at least by Ramadi standards. Though at one house — the owner was out — the silence was broken by a loud boom. We could see a thick plum of white smoke rising about 300 to 400 meters (yards) away. I learned later that a roadside bomb had gone off as an American explosives ordnance disposal unit was arriving on the scene to disarm it. There were no injuries.

The base I am staying at is relatively small, at least compared to others. The main base in Ramadi is gigantic. It has a huge dining hall and scores of sandbagged buildings. The night I left my tent, one soldier slept in his bed with an M-16 poking out of his black sleeping bag. Another soldier lay awake reading a book called "The Arab Mind."

At this Marine base, there are guard towers along the sides, a basketball court, and lots of sandbags. There is one small internet room for the troops. I'm filing this via a laptop and satellite phone on a sun-blasted concrete ledge outside.

Yesterday, insurgents fired shots at a base watch-post, prompting the Marine stationed there to repost with three grenade rounds from a MK-19. Later, one Marine shot a man who laid a bag on a main road and started running off. A civilian vehicle stopped and picked him up afterward, apparently taking him to a hospital.

Trash is strewn along a lot of roads here, and there is always the threat that inside some of them are wires and bombs. U.S. vehicles sweep the streets constantly for them. Last night, the Marines avoided one awkward looking trash pile.

Iraqis outnumber Marines two to one here. They stay in separate quarters on the base. In a few months, they will take over this base and Marines will move elsewhere. Today they will roll out into one of the worst parts of the city for the first time in Iraqi army Humvees, with Marines close by.

___Todd Pitman

March 30, 2006

Marine Corps families Houston bound

Columbia, Mo. -- The MarineParents.com, Inc., Annual National Conference will be held in Houston, Texas the weekend of April 21-23.

The conference offers a phenomenal lineup of six guest speakers, many authors, Marines and Sailors, breakout sessions, and plenty of opportunities to meet and network with other Marine Corps and Navy parents, spouses, families and friends. Join Marine and Navy families from all over the United States for a weekend of education, friendship, entertainment, patriotism, and esprit de corps.


United States Marine Corps
Public Affairs Office
Release # 0411-06-1045

March 30, 2006

Guest Speakers include: Ret. Lt. Col. Bill Cowan, Fox News Contributor; Col. Bryan P. McCoy; Lt. Col. Benjamin S. Blankenship; Michael Phillips of the Wall Street Journal and Author of Gift of Valor; ret. Rear Adm. Stuart F. Platt, author of The Armament Tide; and Navy Lt. Carey H. Cash, author of A Table in the Presence.

The Marine Parents Conference registration includes two pre-conference sessions on Friday, four breakout sessions on Saturday, keynote speaker, guest speakers, entertainment, Authors' Hall, Marine Corps Mall and a fantastic menu of gourmet dining including dinner on Friday, breakfast, lunch and dinner on Saturday and breakfast on Sunday. The documentary Make Peace or Die featuring 1/5 Marines in Iraq in 2003 will debut at the conference. Saturday’s breakout sessions include titles such as “Deployment Discussion Panel”, “Recovering from Combat”, “Tasting an MRE” and many other educational and entertaining topics.

All conference attendees will receive a copy of the book Down Range: to Iraq and Back. The book addresses PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) for our military personnel returning from combat. Attendees will have an opportunity to attend a panel discussion with the authors Bridget C. Cantrell, Ph.D. and Chuck Dean on Saturday.

Additional authors include John Koopman, author of McCoy's Marines: Darkside to Baghdad; Nathaniel Fick author of One Bullet Away; Charles Latting, author of Once a Marine; and Deborah H. Tainsh, author of Heart of a Hawk, Eye of the Eagle.

All conference events and dining will be at the The Crowne Plaza Houston - Downtown, a beautiful hotel with all the amenities, located in the heart of the downtown district. Make reservations early to assure the special group rate.

Houston is jam-packed with attractions for every interest, ranging from museum masterpieces, downtown entertainment, and shopping at the Galleria, to NASA's Johnson Space Center. There are lots of activities and site-seeing opportunities within walking distance of the hotel.

MarineParents.com, Inc., a 501(c)(3) public charity, was founded in January, 2003 in response to parents' needs to find information and to Connect & Share™ with one another during deployments. Their free online services and connections have expanded to support and educate Marine moms & dads, spouses, families and friends and we're now offering our own Annual National Conference. We've helped over 30,000 Marine and recruit families during bootcamp, training, active duty and deployments. We've shipped thousands of care packages overseas to our Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan. We are a Place to Connect & Share™.

For more information, log on to www.MarineParentsConference.com or contact Tracy Della Vecchia at (573) 449-2003.

1st Tank's Charlie Company rolls out to Iraq

Charlie Company, 1st Tank Battalion, left the Combat Center Monday afternoon to begin their seven-month deployment to Iraq.


Lance Cpl. Michael S. Cifuentes
Combat Correspondent

Family members and friends gathered behind the battalion's command post Monday morning to say goodbye and leave them with hugs and kisses.

Faces were filled with tears for most families because it wasn't easy for them to say goodbye as their Marine or Sailor departed to help fight the Global War on Terrorism.

“This is the hardest deployment for me,” said Lt. Col. Aaron T. Slaughter, 1st Tank Battalion commanding officer, as he addressed the members of the company and their families.

“It's a very sad time to see these men go for me because I will not be here when they get back,” said Slaughter. “I remember we had a moment like this before, and that was in Iraq. This time around the feeling isn't the same. But the hard part is over. You all have made sacrifices and trained hard, and all of that is done now. Everything is just going to roll now. Even though the training is done, the intensity, vigilance and stress is not. This company is the best trained tank unit for the mission out there. You know each other and how things work out there so I know we will accomplish our mission.”

The company will be providing tank support for Regimental Combat Team 7, utilizing maneuver, armor protected firepower and shock action in Al Anbar province, said 1st Sgt. Scott E. Cooper, Charlie Company first sergeant.

“We will be acting as a Quick React Force for RCT-7,” said Staff Sgt. Ryan J. Cappadony, platoon sergeant with 1st Platoon. “It's my first deployment with this company to Iraq, and I feel really confident with the Marines I'm going with. We've been training for a long time, spending many days out in the field. The Marines and Sailors are ready for this, and they worked real hard for this day. We all are very confident and certain we will accomplish what needs to be done out there.”

Cappadony was joined by his wife and children for their final moments together as he embarked on the seven-month deployment. It's tough for his family but they are very understanding, said Cappadony, a Live Oak, Fla., native.

Accompanied by more than 20 members of his family was Lance Cpl. Estevan Ferrer, a motor transportation operator from Fresno, Calif.

“We all came out here to say goodbye to Stevie; his mother, father, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, grandpa and grandma,” said Janie Tafolla, Ferrer's aunt. “It's his first deployment, and we are very sad to see him go. But, we are very proud and we will write to him every day and we will pray for him that he is safe out there.”

“He talks to us about some of the things he does, and I know he will be safe,” said Jose Luis Ferrer, Ferrer's father. “He's going with a good group of men, and we all wish them the best of luck. I am very proud of my son and of all the men who are going with him. We will miss him, but I know he will be back.”

All who joined the company members showed a great amount of patriotism by voicing the pride of their loved one and expressing their tough understanding. Traveling from Toledo, Ohio, were the parents of Cpl. Tyler J. Beck, a combat engineer. Monday was the beginning of Beck's first deployment, and he sensed his parent's admiration.

“I've been writing Marine friends who are deployed to Iraq weekly letters for the past two years,” said Beck's mother, Laura. “Now it is time to keep in contact with my own son when he's out there. We did get to spend a lot of time with him before today, but now we're sad to see him go.”

“We wouldn't miss this deployment or any deployment our son would go on,” said Beck's father, Tim. “We are very proud of all the service members who are stepping up to deploy these days. We are extremely proud of Tyler. I know the Marines are the best trained, but it's hard to see a loved one leave for a combat deployment. I admire all the families here today who came to show love and say goodbye. As parents we will always support the Marines and Sailors here and we hope these men and women stay the course.”

The two bus convoy departed from the parking lot behind the battalion's command post, as families waved goodbye in tears.

MTACS-38 maintain operations in TACC

AL ASAD, Iraq (Mar. 30, 2006) -- A Marine's eyes stared intensely at the loudspeaker on the small talk-box, as a voice flowed through the static. Indirect fire had smashed into the starlit streets only moments ago, and the reaction plan was already in effect. The Marine then began relaying transmissions, setting up networks and stabilizing communications for the Tactical Air Command Center, as the air base came alive in the dark of night.


Submitted by: 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing
Story Identification #: 200633092026
Story by Lance Cpl. James B. Hoke

Marines with Marine Tactical Air Command Squadron 38, Marine Air Control Group 38, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, are in charge of the Tactical Air Command Center here and keep it manned full time for cases such as this.

"MTACS-38's mission is to provide the 3rd MAW (Forward) commander with a Tactical Air Command Center where he will be able to manage the 3rd MAW air assets," said Sgt. Joshua Young, air support operations operator, MTACS-38. "This is accomplished by getting liaisons from the different agencies within the 3rd MAW command and control system to man the Tactical Air Command Center and provide the commander with all pertinent information needed to effectively manage aircraft employment."

According to Lt. Col. Jeff Davis, commanding officer, MTACS-38, that's a mission that the squadron cannot accomplish by themselves.

"We need help from a lot of other units," said Davis, a Fort Worth, Texas, native. "We are part of the Marine Air Command Control System and there are a lot of people who help with that."

Help is also obtained by having Marines within the squadron with different Military Occupational Specialties.

"The Marines of the operation's section in MTACS-38 are from various air operations' MOSs, specifically air support and air defense operations," stated Young, a Yukon, Okla., native. "We operate and manage the computer system and communications assets organic within the TACC."

Being in charge of the computer systems and communications within the TACC can be a daunting task, especially when it has to be operational 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

"We have to make sure everything is up and running," said Sgt. Jason B. Morris, aviation communications systems technician, aviation radio, MTACS-38. "We are always checking the speaker box to make sure none of the radio nets are going down and that the operators are doing their jobs."

However, being in the desert environment of a combat zone also has certain effects on the Marines and their equipment.

"Sandstorms can affect communications big time," said the 23-year-old Morris. "It's hard for us to get communications to work with all of the stuff in the ionosphere and the atmosphere. It's hard to get radio waves to propagate through it all."

Even with the environmental issues, the Marines with MTACS-38 do their jobs and tasks without delay or lack of initiative.

"MTACS is lucky because we have a whole lot of really great Marines," said Davis. "Not just great, as far as doing their job, but great as far as their attitude and their desire to do their very best. It also helps that quite a few of them have been to Iraq before and this is their second or third time."

According to Davis, you have to appreciate that most of the Marines' jobs are done inside a building, so they have to concern themselves with how the occurrences outside of their office affect the deployment of Marine aviation.

"You have to put yourself in the place of the Marine out there, the pilot out there or the person who is out there, so that you can make good decisions based on what's going on," the commanding officer concluded. "We're inside a building with no windows and not feeling the sand itching our face, but we have to be able to understand what the Marines on the ground need and how to best support them with Marine aviation. That is the challenge."

March 29, 2006

Indiana reserve unit to return to Iraq

(This is 4th MLG, 6th ESB)

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- More than 100 members of an Indiana Marine reserve unit are preparing to return to Iraq.
First Sgt. Robert Rhodes said 125 members of the Engineer Company B, based in South Bend, will be called to duty on June 15, but the date they depart for Iraq has not been set. The Marines will first train at Camp Pendleton in California.


Associated Press
March 29, 2006

Several dozen more Marines from other companies will join, bringing the total number deployed to between 170 and 180, Rhodes said.

News of the deployment "wasn't any surprise," said Rhodes, adding that he had been hearing the unit would be reactivated ever since he arrived in South Bend in August 2005.

The Marines are expected to spend seven months in Iraq, where the company served in 2003 supporting a combat engineer battalion.

This time, they will be clearing routes used by coalition forces, which means they will patch holes in roads, dismantle barricades and detect and blow up mines, Rhodes said. Marines also might build schools for Iraqi children or showers and restrooms for the U.S. military, he said.

"I'm just very proud, very lucky, but at the same time, a little nervous," said Nichole Mansfield, whose husband is preparing to return to Iraq with the unit. "Your heart sinks a little bit. I hate to see him go."

Her husband, Todd Mansfield, said it helps to have a spouse who understands the Marine lifestyle.
"She married into the Marine Corps," he said. "She knows what I do, and she's very supportive."

Waterloo-based Marine unit to head back home to Iowa

DES MOINES, Iowa About one-hundred-and-ten Marines from a Waterloo-based unit are returning home after spending six months in a dangerous region of Iraq.


The Marines, part of C Battery, 1st Battalion, 14th Marine Regiment of Waterloo, have been at five locations in Iraq's Al Anbar Province since October. They provided security at U-S military camps and detention centers for Iraqi prisoners.

First Sergeant James Kirkland says the unit is expected to fly into March Air Force Base on the West Coast.

The Marines are expected to arrive sometime next Monday and Tuesday.

Kirkland says the unit is tentatively scheduled to return to arrive at the Waterloo airport on April 12th.

The units return will leave about 13-hundred members of the Iowa National Guard and Army Reserve in Iowa on active duty in Iraq and countries.

2/7 hikes Combat Center, welcomes new Marines

The sun peered slowly over the hills of the Combat Center Monday as the Marines and Sailors of 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment geared up for their first conditioning hike since their return from Iraq.


Cpl. Brian A. Tuthill
Combat Correspondent

The all-hands formation of more than 800 Marines and Sailors of 2/7's five companies staged their packs and filled the area near the obstacle course before they set out on their five-mile trek to the rocky hills over Mainside.

“This is just a short hump with only our packs and rifles, so it should be fairly easy and I expect everyone to do well,” said Lance Cpl. Jeffery L. Stevens of Headquarters Company.

The hike, or “hump,” as commonly referred to by Marines, was the first for the battalion since the War Dogs returned home Jan. 31. The unrelenting brisk pace allowed them to complete the training exercise in just over two hours.

Traversing the hills, rocks and sand while shouldering 50-pound packs, many 2/7 leathernecks understood the hump, albeit short, was merely a stepping stone for upcoming, more difficult training.

“This was short and sweet but I'm not really looking forward to the longer ones,” said Lance Cpl. Andrew Fest, a 21-year-old armorer and San Antonio, Texas, native. “My feet were killing me all morning, I won't lie about that.”

The War Dogs trotted through the hills in two columns, creating a formation that stretched more than one mile and was clearly visible from Mainside despite the overcast conditions.

“Humps like this keep us in shape and help prepare us for Iraq again,” said Stevens, a Lincoln, Neb., native. “When I was a new guy, I remember my first hump made me feel like part of the unit.”

The battalion recently welcomed nearly 200 new Marines to its family fresh from the School of Infantry. Some veteran War Dogs saw the hump as a good way to help harden and train the new additions.

“This is kind of an indoctrination for the Marines who just joined us, and it helps them to become part of the unit,” said Fest. “For the new guys, it helps them build that unit cohesion, but to some of us older guys, it's still just another hump.

Only a handful of Marines and Sailors fell back or out of the hump, which was probably because of the shorter distance and not having to carry heavy crew-served weapons, said Fest.

With the obstacle course in their sights as they came down from the hills, 2/7 ended their endeavor with a battalion formation around their commanding officer, Lt. Col. Joseph L'Etoile, who addressed his Marines on what he thought of the day and future expectations.

“This is our first hump being back, and it's a chance for everyone to get a feel for their gear, whether your socks are on right, whatever,” said L'Etoile. “This is just a tune-up. We have planned out all of our hikes until we go to [the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center at] Bridgeport this summer and we'll culminate here with a 25-mile hike. But we're going to do this smart - 5, 7, 12 miles - right on down the line and we'll slowly introduce the crew-served weapons. Nobody is trying to get anybody hurt out here, but we need to be hard again.”

L'Etoile then dismissed his Marines to carry out the plan of the day.

“This was a very good building block to go on and if nothing else, good for conditioning,” said Fest. “With so many new Marines with us, this first hump was a good test to be able to see where you and everyone else are at.”

War Dogs roam Combat Center, share stories of valor

The War Dogs of 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, returned from their seven month deployment to Iraq in January. Since then, they've spent time back home and received roughly 190 Marines, fresh out of School of Infantry, to their battalion.


Lance Cpl. Michael S. Cifuentes
Combat Correspondent

The War Dogs set out on an exercise Monday morning - a five-mile conditioning hike, dubbed a “hump,” hauling their loaded packs and individual weapons.

Throughout the five miles of the winding rocky and soft sand trails of the Combat Center's desert terrain, members of the battalion reflected on their last deployment, yet each step marked the beginning of another pre-deployment evolution.

Led by Lt. Col. Joseph A. L'Etoile, 2/7's commanding officer, the battalion operated in the city of Fallujah while deployed.

“When we first arrived to Iraq, our battle space was roughly 50 square kilometers,” said L'Etoile, a Georgetown, Calif., native. “In the span of seven months, we drew that battle space about 15 times its original size. There were two Iraqi army units operating in the city too, and they manned their own regions of the city. Together we detained a whole lot of bad guys, killed quite a few and made the city a better place. We all worked very, very hard everyday - about 18 to 20 hours a day - for seven months. There was never a break.”

Through their hard work came tragic days for the War Dogs. Thirteen Marines of the battalion were killed during the deployment, and many were wounded. But in the midst of all chaos were the stories of individual experiences.

“I remember a few close calls while patrolling in the city streets,” said Lance Cpl. Usiel Montano, a 20-year-old mortarman from Tucson, Ariz., with Mobil Assault Platoon 1, Weapons Company, as he treaded with the formation as a road guard, reflecting on the deployment. “During a mounted patrol, we turned a corner where the street was full of pedestrians. One civilian came up to the back of our high back [seven-ton] and threw a grenade into it. It fell into the corner of the bed behind some water containers. We thought it was a rock, but when we noticed it was a grenade it blew up. It stunned us but luckily no one got hurt because the fragments were smothered by the water.

“Even though the city improved, there were still a lot of bad people living there,” continued Montano. “Another time a man drove his vehicle, carrying a vehicle-born improvised explosive device, into our truck. Usually when our convoys patrol the city, the civilian cars move out of our way. This man accelerated toward us, laughing and waving at us, as he drove into our truck. He struck the driver side of the truck and exploded with his vehicle. Luckily no one was seriously hurt.”

Members of the battalion also reflected on their fellow Marines or Sailors who stood out among the many who exemplified valiance and leadership.

“Cpl. [Jesse T.] Markel is a Marine who is a big asset to our mission and showed it during the deployment,” said Staff Sgt. Matthew A. Maxwell, Weapons Platoon sergeant with Echo Company, and Rochester, N.Y., native. “He runs the biggest section in our platoon, and I've never had a problem with accountability. He showed tactical and technical proficiency. He knows his job, he knows his Marines and he knows who to employ. He gives 100 percent in looking out for each guy and accomplishing the mission. It is hard to fill that man's shoes.”

“The people who stuck out the most in my mind were our corpsmen,” said Lance Cpl. Jeremy S. Starr, a 19-year-old mortarman with Mobile Assault Platoon 3, Weapons Company, and a Milwaukee, Wisc., native. “I never once saw a corpsmen stop his rush when there were wounded Marines. Throughout the whole deployment, the corpsmen were behind us every step of the way, patching our wounds. We owe a lot to them. They also gave the Iraqi civilian and soldiers the same care as us. They saved many lives out there.”

After hauling roughly 50 pounds of gear and kicking up dust for five miles, the battalion reached the endpoint of the hump. As the War Dogs continue to move forward, foreseeing another deployment, their stories of their last deployment will not go untold or unheard.

“I have a fear of forgetting any of the Marines who fought with the battalion,” said L'Etoile. “Frankly, all of the Marines and Sailors who were with us are heroes. Our mission was accomplished, and we can do it again. We will continue to train hard as we normally do. Next time we deploy, we are going to be smarter, faster and meaner. We will go do an even better job.”

Marines keep watchful eyes on Iraq’s rural western region

JOINT BORDER COORDINATION CENTER RUTBAH, Iraq (March 29, 2006) -- Trading one desert for another, Marines based in California’s Mojave Desert have returned for another deployment to Iraq’s Al Anbar Province.


Submitted by: 1st Marine Division
Story Identification #: 2006427036
Story by Cpl. Graham A. Paulsgrove

For some of the Marines, it’s their third deployment in as many years in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The Marines, from the Twentynine Palms, Calif.-based 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, are charged with conducting continued security and stability operations in this vast desert region of Iraq.

But the Marines have an additional mission this go-around: to train Iraqi soldiers to take over the region by year’s end. The unit’s “area of operations” spans from the Iraqi-Jordanian border to more than 120 miles east into Al Anbar’s southwestern desert.

The Marines work hand-in-hand with the Iraqi soldiers, who are beginning to take the lead in more operations in western Al Anbar Province.

It’s a mission they don’t take lightly.

Block the bad guys

“We have mainly been doing cordon and knocks in the towns, route security, and manning check points with the Iraqi soldiers,” said Cpl. Jeremy D. Quackenbush, describing the battalion’s first few weeks in the region.

At the Joint Border Control Center here Marines and Iraqi soldiers maintain a heavy presence in this bermed-up city. Iraqi and Coalition Forces conduct combined operations here to screen for would-be smugglers coming in and out of Ar Rutbah – the most populated city in this barren region with 25,000 people.

In late January, Coalition Forces built an eight-foot high dirt berm around the city to help curb insurgent activity here.

Traditionally a hub for smugglers and terrorists looking for somewhere to hide out in Iraq, Rutbah now has three entry control points – the only way in or out of the city – which are manned by Iraqi soldiers. The soldiers check IDs and search vehicles in hopes of preventing smugglers and criminals from entering, and eventually leaving, the city.

The increased security measures here were put in place to help Coalition and Iraqi military forces stop criminals, blocking them before they can venture further east into Al Anbar Province, The road which leads from the Iraqi-Jordanian border also cuts through Rutbah and leads to Iraqi cities synonymous with violence – Ramadi, Fallujah, and Baghdad.

“With our forces and the Iraqi forces, we control the entrance and exit to the main city in our area of operation, stemming the flow of insurgents in and out of the city,” said Sgt. Maj. Leland W. Hatfield, the battalion’s senior enlisted.

Today, vehicles passed in and out of Rutbah - Iraq’s last populated city before reaching the Jordanian-Iraqi border - without incident. All seems quiet. The Marines keep an eye out from their post here, looking for any suspicious activity. Iraqi soldiers do their duty - search vehicles and check paperwork of people entering the city.

“We sat in elevated positions on the sides of the main road watching traffic, to see what everybody was doing,” said Yorktown, Indiana native Staff Sgt. Neil A. McKibben, 34, a platoon sergeant with the battalion. “It was pretty quiet.”

Presence equals security, stability and success

Though the area has been quiet recently, the Marines leave nothing to chance. They maintain a strong presence in the communities here, speaking with townspeople during their patrols, looking for signs of intimidation of locals, weapons caches or other insurgent activity. They talk to townspeople to ensure there is no insurgent activity going on.

For the most part, everything seems in order.

“The people were very receptive to us – a few told us that they feel safer when we are in the area,” said McKibben. “The kids smiled at us and the adults waved. Instinct can tell you a lot about a situation, and I could tell the people were being very genuine.”

Interaction between locals and the Marines was friendly, a sign of trust between Coalition Forces and locals here. A few of the interactions were humorous.

One woman jokingly referred to her husband as a ‘loser’ because he didn’t have a job and sold their car, according to McKibben.

While the Marines can’t help with locals’ marital problems, they can help the people with a safe place to live and work.

“The citizens have told us that is providing them more safety and comfort,” said Hatfield, who is from Cincinnati, Iowa.

During a recent combined counterinsurgency operation, Marines and Iraqi soldiers detained several wanted insurgents, proof that there is still a need for a military presence in the area.

Though the Marines’ assistance is still required here, Iraqi Security Forces are beginning to have an increasing role in providing their own security here and throughout the rest of Al Anbar Province.

“Everything has been running smoothly,” said Quackenbush, one of the battalion’s team leaders and a Pittsburg native. “The Iraqis are easy to work with and are eager to learn – they are here to make Iraq a better place.”

Improved Force Protection is key

Elsewhere, the Marines are busy combing their enormous area of operations – miles of open desert dotted with small towns. The Marines patrol the roads daily in their Light Armored Vehicles – large, armored, six-wheeled vehicles. They spend hours each day “outside the wire” to keep a watchful eye out for insurgent activity.

But Iraqi and Coalition military forces don’t rely solely on their presence in the region to deter criminal activity. They’ve also stepped-up security measures at both Rutbah and along the Iraqi-Jordanian border to further deny criminals free movement throughout Al Anbar Province.

Nearly 15 months ago, a suicide bomber drove a truck through the Port of Entry at Trebil – located 40 miles west of Rutbah – and into the Marines’ forward operating base there, killing two Marines and injuring six others. Since then, the Iraqi Government and the Marines have beefed up their force protection measures in the hopes of preventing any future attacks.

There’s also a new Port Director at Trebil, Iraqi Maj. Gen. Rhuda, who is credited with helping keep smugglers out of the country by cracking down on internal corruption within the Iraqi Border Patrol unit there and enforcing border control measures. There’s also a new Port Director at the port of entry facility in Walid – just north of Trebil – and Marine officials say he, too, is fighting corruption and smuggling along Iraq’s western border.

A noble mission

But there’s more to the Marines’ mission in this desolate and barren slab of desert than just keeping insurgents and smugglers out. Several weeks ago, the battalion helped one particular group of foreigners travel through Iraq – four busloads of Muslims making a religious pilgrimage to the holy city of Najaf.

The pilgrims, concerned about their safety while traveling in southwestern Iraq, traveled from Saudi Arabia and Bahrain to Trebil, where Marines linked up with them and provided armed security for at least a portion of their 370-plus mile trip.

The pilgrims arrived at their destination without incident.

“In the interest of maintaining good relations, we said we would help,” said Maj. Matt Good, the battalion’s operations officer. “Any time we can extend the olive branch, we do.”

Hopefully, the Marines’ deployment will bare more stories such as this one, and less of that seen in main stream media – daily killings, sectarian strife, political struggles within the Iraqi government.

Still a combat zone

But then again, this is still a combat zone, and the Marines and Iraqi soldiers who patrol the border ports, highways and local towns daily say they are prepared for the worst.

Before leaving California for the deployment, the battalion underwent months of preparatory training in Southern California’s desert – home to the Corps’ largest, and perhaps most sophisticated, combined arms training facilities. Marine units are required to spend several weeks there learning skills that will help them survive in Iraq: urban patrolling, how to spot and react to improvised explosive devices, convoy security and even Iraqi cultural courtesies and customs.

“The training … had a level of realism that reinforced what many Marines had learned on their first tour of Iraq and for our new Marines, it opened their eyes of what could happen,” said Hatfield.

Though the deployment means they’ll spend at least half a year away from their friends, families and homes in the United States, the Marines say they know they have a job to do here, and that their sacrifices are not in vain.

“We will continue to show the Iraqi people that we are sincere in our efforts to provide them with the freedom they desire,” said Hatfield.

Hawaii-based Marines provide security, helping hand to Iraqi town

BARWANAH, Iraq (March 29, 2006) -- When 22 year old Cpl. Jeff Globis taped a picture in his Kevlar helmet of his wife, he did so knowing it would be the only way he could see her for seven months.


Submitted by: 1st Marine Division
Story Identification #: 2006328235157
Story by Sgt. Roe F. Seigle

“I think of her all throughout the day,” said the team leader from Winthrop Harbor, Ill. “It was hard to say goodbye to her, but my Marines are my family and I can turn to them for support.”

Globis is deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom with hundreds of Marines and sailors from Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment out of Hawaii.

Globis, and the Marines from Lima Company have the duty of keeping law and order in this remote, forward operating base located along the Euphrates River in the Western Al Anbar Province.

So far, they’re doing just that.

Daily life

Life for the Marines here means daily patrols with Iraqi Soldiers to maintain a presence and dissuade any potential insurgent activity. Rifles in hand, they patrol in their Humvees, and sometimes on foot. They interact with the locals, who seem for the most part friendly to the Marines and Iraqi soldiers.

The Marines are partnered with and mentor Iraqi soldiers, who patrol regularly with the Marines to gain the necessary military skills to conduct operations on their own, which Coalition forces say will happen by year’s end.

After all, it will ultimately be the Iraqi soldiers who permanently replace coalition forces in Al Anbar Province, which has arguably housed the worst of Iraq’s insurgency over the past three years.

When they are not actively patrolling the streets, the Marines are continuously preparing for their next mission. During this time, conversations about home life, loved ones and movies they’re missing back in the States surface.

“I do not mind it here too much,” said Lance Cpl. Manuel Weiss of Crawfordville, Fla., as he put on a bullet-proof vest and snapped the straps on his Kevlar helmet before “going outside the wire” for another patrol.

“I wanted to come here,” said Weiss, 27. “That is why I joined the Marine Corps to begin with – to fight the terrorists.”

A patrol of the area

The Marines’ first few days here were spent conducting familiarization patrols of the area. According to Globis, it was a chance to “get to know the people, kids and common sights.”

But the Marines from 3rd Bn., 3rd Marines, also known as “America’s Battalion,” have worked hand-in-hand with the outgoing unit to continue security operations here. The area was an insurgent-filled hotspot seven months ago before Marines and Iraqi soldiers wiped out nearly all remnants of the insurgency here.

Now, as Marines walk the streets, children are eager to approach and shake the hands of the Marines. One Marine put a smile on a child’s face when he gave him the remainder of a small amount of black electrical tape as a toy. Several feet behind him, another Marine is busy explaining basic commands to an Iraqi soldier named “Ahmad.”

The Marines keep one eye on their surroundings, another on their Iraqi comrades to ensure they’re practicing what they’ve learned. Proper patrolling techniques and a watchful eye can mean the difference between life and death in Al Anbar Province, especially on the roads. Marines keep a keen eye open for any signs of potential roadside bombs, called improvised explosive devices, on the streets.

Since January 2005, IEDs have accounted for about 50 percent of all U.S. fatalities in Iraq, according to the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count – an organization which tallies U.S. and coalition casualties based off Department of Defense press releases.

A healing hand

On one recent patrol, Seaman Leo Perez, one of Lima Company’s Navy Corpsmen, came upon what he called “a sad sight.” Perez discovered a 10-year-old boy in urgent need of medical care. The boy was bleeding heavily from one of his heels, which was cut by broken glass. Perez immediately treated the wound with disinfectant and bandages.

“I knew it would only take a few minutes to fix his foot up, but he would probably remember that for the rest of his life and it made my day a better one knowing I helped a child,” said Perez, a 24-year-old from Burlington, Vt. “The child was being tough and trying not to cry. But I could see in his face he was relieved to have his foot bandaged up.”

The child’s parents were not in the area when Perez went to work on the child’s foot, but other children and elders in the area witnessed Perez’s actions. He believes simple acts like this will give the locals a more positive outlook on the presence of coalition forces.

“Helping the Iraqi people like this brings (them) on our side if they are unsure if they support us or not,” said Perez. “When they see actions like this, it might (turn) a future insurgent into someone that wants to help us fight insurgents.”

After taking care of the child’s wounded foot, Perez gave the child extra bandages, which the boy accepted with a warm smile.

“We have to have humanitarian concerns about these people,” said Perez. “There are a lot of people out there against us and when they see humanitarian actions like that one, it changes their minds positively.”

The big picture

Providing band aids to children and teaching urban patrolling tactics to Iraqi soldiers is all part of the process of coalition and Iraqi forces’ ultimate goal – helping the Iraqi government and people to self-sustainment.

“Everything we do out here, from patrolling the streets to convoys in and out of the city, involves the Iraqi Security Forces,” said Anderson Township, Ohio, native 1st Lt. Scott Perry, the company’s artillery forward observer.

Perry said the Marines from Lima Company were somewhat surprised at the receptiveness of their presence here. He believes the locals are tired of living under constant intimidation from insurgents.

“The locals are receptive of us and we want to keep it that way,” said Perry. “For the next seven months we are going to aggressively patrol the streets and keep the Iraqi people here safe.”

Soon, the Marines from Lima Company will assist the Iraqi Security Forces in providing security during the upcoming local elections – another milestone for this weary town. They’ll also work with local government officials to begin and continue on-going civil affairs projects to improve local infrastructure here.

“Our goal is to leave here knowing these people are safe from insurgents and we are going to do everything in our power to accomplish this,” said Perry.

March 28, 2006

SuperLetter.com, Inc. Gets the Mail Through to U.S. Marines in Iraq and Back.

ORMOND BEACH, Fla., March 28 /PRNewswire/ -- Since December 2004, over one million letters have taken a high-tech route to send free mail to U.S. Marines in Iraq, thanks to SuperLetter.com, Inc.'s (http://www.superletter.biz) highly acclaimed U.S. Marine Corps MotoMail service (http://www.motomail.us). Now deployed Marines can use the MotoMail system to send letters home as well.


Press Release Source: SuperLetter.com, Inc.
Tuesday March 28, 7:45 am ET

Although current regulations and lack of funding prohibit U.S. military personnel from sending letters via MotoMail home to family and friends for free, SuperLetter.com is now using the MotoMail system to enable deployed Marines to send "hybrid" mail back to the U.S. for just the cost of postage, stationery and printing.

Based on the award-winning e-bluey system (http://www.ebluey.com) developed by SuperLetter.com and the British Forces Post Office in 2000, the MotoMail service allows families and friends of overseas Marines to create free online accounts with their loved ones' names, ranks and unit address details and compose letters on a secure Web site. Each letter is uploaded to the server fully encrypted, where it is stored until the Postal Unit closest to that address in theater downloads, prints, folds and seals the letter on a fully integrated, secure machine. The letter's contents are never viewable by the machines' operators and are completely private. It is then hand-delivered to the recipient's unit. For those sending letters to deployed Marines, the service is entirely free.

"We hope the service will eventually be free both ways," stated SuperLetter.com, Inc. founder and CEO Christopher Schultheiss. "But this is a start. We recognize that receiving physical letters from their Marines via the U.S. Postal Service is still very important to people whose loved ones are serving overseas, so SuperLetter.com is making it easy for time-crunched servicemen and women to send those letters. MotoMail combines PCs and the Internet with good, old-fashioned printed letters and physical 'last-mile delivery' to send real mail right to the mailboxes of U.S. Marines' families and friends."

Under SuperLetter.com's current program, U.S. Marines overseas can send the first five letters for free; subsequent letters are fifty cents each to cover the basic costs of postage, stationery and printing. In early trials, letters from Iraq are being delivered to most parts of the U.S. within 24 to 96 hours. To learn more, visit http://www.superletter.biz.

IEDs no deterrent for Hawaii-based Marines in Al Anbar Province

BARWANAH, Iraq(March 28, 2006) -- Hawaii-based Marines searching a known hotspot for insurgent-placed “improvised explosive devices” say the danger posed by these deadly devices do not deter them from providing security to the local populace here.


Submitted by: 1st Marine Division
Story by: Computed Name: Sgt. Roe F. Seigle

The Marines operating in this western Al Anbar Province town had one detonate only a few feet from them during a recent patrol and search operation in this town along the Euphrates River.

When the explosion occurred, the Marines, from Lima Co., 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, were teaching Iraqi Soldiers the tactics and procedures used by insurgents who place IEDs.

Since January 2005, IEDs have accounted for about 50 percent of all U.S. fatalities in Iraq, according to the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count – an organization which tallies U.S. and coalition casualties based off Department of Defense press releases.

The IED explosion was the first hostile action against the Marines from Lima Company since their arrival here.

Despite the threat of IEDs, the Marines insist they will not be deterred from training the Iraqi Security Forces “in high military standards” while establishing a good relationship with the Iraqi people and the Iraqi soldiers they are working hand-in-hand with on a daily basis.

“I know the insurgents responsible for this attack did this to see how far they can push us and to try to make us step down from establishing law and order here,” said Sgt. Joshua Wartchow, a 22-year-old squad leader. “This just makes the Marines more determined and cautious.”

Directly after the blast, the Marines witnessed the suspected triggerman flee back into a village.

Before the make-shift bomb detonated, the Marines were teaching soldiers from the Iraqi Army the known tactics and procedures of how insurgents place improvised explosive devices. According to one Iraqi soldier, “Ahmad,” the experience was ironic and eye-opening.

Ahmad said that IEDs are a common occurrence in Iraq, but he has never had an up-close and personal encounter with one like he did March 24.

Wartchow was less than 15 feet from the device when it detonated.

“I remember it feel like I was in slow motion,” recalled Wartchow, a native of Doylestown, Pa. “I saw it explode and dust go everywhere. I felt it throw my body back from the hill I was standing on.”

He said other Marines in the area could not see him after the blast because it pushed him down the hill they were standing on.

“I did not even think about the fact that I could have been seriously injured,” said Wartchow. “I just wanted to find the triggerman.”

Although this was the first IED experience for these Marines, IEDs are not new to the Al Anbar Province, which was once a hot bed of insurgent activity. IEDs used to be part of the daily regimen for many U.S. servicemembers, until Marines and Coalition Forces wiped out the foreign fighters seven months ago.

Still, the experience was an eye-opener for some, a reminder that though locals in this small town are waving and children are greeting the Marines and Iraqi soldiers, Iraq is still a war zone.

Now, Marines have to be even more on the alert, combat complacency, and keep an eye out for potentially hidden bombs.

“I knew we had Marines in the area of the explosion,” said 1st Lt. Eric Montgomery, a platoon commander with Lima Co. “I was ready to call for a medical evacuation. I found out no one was injured when I arrived on the scene to assist.”

Still, the Marines leave nothing to chance. They will continue to maintain a strong presence here to disrupt insurgent activity. Moreover, the Marines say their kindness should be not be mistaken for weakness.

“The insurgents are going to realize that Lima Company is not a poorly-trained unit,” said Montgomery, 24. “We will continue to establish a presence here. We will also be proactive and aggressive in finding the insurgents.”

Montgomery believes the Iraqi Army unit partnered with Marines here is steadily learning to conduct independent operations and its soldiers are making bounds in progress toward relieving Coalition forces here.

“The Iraqi Army is learning quickly,” said Montgomery, a native of Cary, N.C. “As they continue to improve and the number of insurgents steadily decrease, Coalition forces will be able to withdraw.”

A $10,000 thank-you from state residents

A citizens group established to aid state military families awarded its first big grant to a young Marine injured in Iraq.


Last update: March 28, 2006 – 11:43 PM
Mark Brunswick, Star Tribune

Kyle Anderson was a former state high school wrestling champion with scholarship offers from a plethora of colleges. Instead, he chose to join the Marines out of high school.
Before leaving boot camp as a lance corporal, he set a record in the obstacle course and was named the No. 1 marksman in his platoon.

Today, Anderson's days are made up of trying to master more simple things.

In October of 2004, shrapnel from an explosive device penetrated his helmet while he was on duty in Iraq, crushing the back of his skull and penetrating the left side of his brain. His commanding officer picked up portions of his brain and stuffed it back into his skull.

On Tuesday, Kyle Anderson became the first recipient of a $10,000 grant from a citizens group whose fundraising efforts have been designed to show appreciation for members of the Minnesota military and their families. Anderson's grant will be used for reading materials and other resources for him to continue his recovery.

The organization, Minnesotans' Military Appreciation Fund (MMAF), has given out 2,000 grants since its inception. Another 500 grants are expected to be handed out in the coming months. Approximately 100 applications come in each week.

Anderson, now 20, lives with his father, Tim, and his older brother, Matt, in a one-bedroom apartment in South St. Paul. He can help with the cooking and with some day-to-day activities. He has the full use of his left arm and can make facial expressions. He does not speak but can write a few words. He can best express his thoughts by drawing.

Understanding what Anderson wants is an often tortuous and frustrating procedure for him and his father. A normal 20-minute communication can take an hour or more, Tim Anderson said.

"Our life right now? We're still trying to adjust to it. This injury is bigger than anything that's ever happened in this family. We've slowed down. We appreciate things," he said. Tim Anderson, 46, sold a small trucking company he owned to another son, and he is devoting full time to working with Kyle on his recuperation.

The Appreciation Fund was started last summer as a way to express appreciation for Minnesota soldiers who have served since September 2001. The fund has grown to nearly $4 million. Leaders say they believe it is the nation's largest-ever nonpartisan statewide fundraiser for members of the military and their families.

"We don't realize how great our fellow Americans are. The sacrifices they are making on our behalf. For us it's business as usual," said Eugene Sit, chief executive officer of Sit Investment and co-chairman of the fund.

The grants provide $250 for all Minnesota military personnel who have served in a combat zone. There are additional grants from $2,000 to $10,000 for those wounded in a combat zone, with the amount based on the severity of injury. There is a $5,000 grant to the families of those killed in combat.

Sit said the fund will continue to be important, particularly with 2,600 Minnesota National Guard troops deployed in Iraq this year.

"It is somewhat distant, unrelated, but they are basically our friends and neighbors," Sit said.

As for Kyle Anderson's future, Tim Anderson said the portion of his son's brain for speaking is gone and what's left needs to find new ways to connect. The struggle is in stimulating the vocal chords to work, which is often more difficult than getting an injured arm or leg to work.

"The brain is a funny organ. Communication is such a big part of the mental state. Kyle's brain has not forgot; it just doesn't have the pathway to it," Tim Anderson said.

A good attitude seems to help, much of it harvested from his wrestling days.

"It's like 'Kick me when I'm down,' " Tim Anderson said. "I'll get back up.' "

Kyle Anderson's medical expenses are being paid by the military. He has been retired from the Marines and will get a pension based on the extent of his injuries. An amount has not been determined yet.

Sit gave the $10,000 check from the Appreciation Fund to the Andersons on Tuesday at the Bloomington home of a friend.

"We're patriots, we did the right thing." Tim Anderson said.

Kyle gave a thumbs-up.

Marines win villagers’ trust

RECHAH LAM, Afghanistan (March 28, 2006) -- The primary mission of the 1st Battalion of the 3rd Marine Regiment is to track down insurgents and render their operations ineffective.


Submitted by: Task Force Lava Public Affairs
Story Identification #: 2006330756
Story by Sgt. Joe Lindsay

But another mission is to ensure villagers are afforded the opportunity to live in peace – so that farmers can farm, shop owners can sell their wares, and children, including girls, can attend school without fear of retribution.

The Lava Dogs, as the 1/3 Marines are known, took on these missions after arriving in eastern Afghanistan from Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, about three months ago. Their investment in Afghans’ lives has paid huge dividends in trust and in intelligence-gathering, which has led to further victories on the battlefield, said Staff Sgt. James Robertson, section leader of the battalion’s combined anti-armor team.

“Going to villages, meeting with elders and showing our support to villagers has been something we have done since Day 1, and is something we will continue to do as long as we are here,” said Powell, of Portland, Ore.

This show of support to the villagers of Afghanistan was evident on a recent mission to the tiny village of Rechah Lam, in Kunar Province.

“We get out to Rechah Lam as much as possible, because for some reason that village has been a place where the insurgents think they can control the villagers through intimidation and threats,” Robertson said. “An [Afghan National Police] outpost near Rechah Lam was attacked by insurgents, and we headed out there immediately.

“The village elders informed us that members of the Taliban had been in the village the day before, threatening to kill villagers who allowed girls to attend school,” Robertson continued. “We came back and brought school supplies for those girls and, as a result of our continuous show of force and support, the Taliban have not been back since, and those little girls are getting the education they so desperately need.”

Besides school supplies, the Lava Dogs also gave out winter clothing, shoes, blankets and basic food staples. Navy corpsmen provided medical check-ups, with an emphasis on providing care for children, said Marine 1st Lt. Carl DeSantis, the distributed-operations platoon commander.

“Rechah Lam, in particular, has been getting a lot of pressure from the Taliban to shut down the girls’ school,” DeSantis said. “We are not going to let that happen. All children deserve an education. The insurgents are steadfast against girls receiving any type of schooling. This is the type of enemy we face, an enemy that wants to keep the people enslaved both mentally and physically.”

Ensuring that schools, including girls’ schools, are left free to operate is an important element in the war on terrorism, said DeSantis, of Reno, Nev.

“In my opinion, the people we really need to concentrate on are the children,” he said. “They are the least biased, and they are not set in their ways as much. They haven’t lived through the Russian war, and they are going to be either the future leaders of democracy or the future fighters against it.”

March 27, 2006

‘You come back different’

Thousands of Marines, soldiers bear mental scars.

When he sleeps, Jesus Bocanegra sometimes dreams he is back in Iraq. In some dreams, he feels bullets piercing him. Other times, instead of shooting at insurgents, he is trying to help civilians.

March 27 2006 courtesy of http://www.marinecorpstimes.com

By Deborah Funk
Marine Corps Times staff writer

“Sometimes, you’re chasing a little kid, to pick him up, chasing a lady, trying to help them,” the former Army sergeant said. But always in these dreams, he fails.

In his waking hours, he suffers short-term memory lapses because of post-traumatic stress disorder. He keeps a list of things to do during the day to keep on track and wears his cell phone on a cord around his neck and attaches his wallet to his pants with a chain so he doesn’t lose them.

Home from Iraq for more than a year, Bocanegra, 23, still battles the mental injury he incurred there, he said.

“You come back different,” the McAllen, Texas, native said.

Bocanegra is one of thousands of veterans who have returned from the war with mental health problems.

The latest available data, through October, shows that 36,893 veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq — about 8.5 percent of the total of 433,398 returned troops — have been seen at the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Centers and received a provisional diagnosis of a mental health condition. Some 15,927 of those received a provisional diagnosis for PTSD.

Through Feb. 11, the Defense Department evacuated 1,760 troops from war zones for mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression and acute stress.

Mike O’Rourke, assistant director of veterans’ health policy for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, said the pace of combat operations and the particularly stressful type of guerrilla warfare in which U.S. troops are involved will lead to many more suffering mental health problems.

“We’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg now,” O’Rourke said.

PTSD is a condition in which people can feel detached, have sleep problems and often relive traumatic events in flashbacks or nightmares. Often accompanied by depression, memory problems and substance abuse, it can be so disruptive that it can impair interaction with family and friends and the ability to hold a job, according to the National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, part of the VA.

About 30 percent of troops who have served in war zones will experience PTSD in their lifetimes, according to the center.

To be sure, today’s combat veterans face a different situation than veterans of previous wars. The current conflicts mark the first time large groups of people have returned from war to find the VA and the Defense Department have proven diagnostic and treatment approaches in place, said Dr. Larry Lehmann, the VA’s associate chief consultant for mental health.

VA treatment programs include specialists, outpatient teams, and inpatient and residential programs. The VA’s Veterans Readjustment and Counseling Centers are adding 100 veterans from the current wars to provide counseling. More broadly, the VA and the Pentagon have been gearing up for more PTSD patients and have jointly developed screening and treatment guidelines for doctors to use.

The VA says it is pumping $100 million into mental health services this fiscal year, after committing a similar amount last year. At the end of fiscal 2004, the VA reports, it had a total of 144 specialized PTSD programs in place, at least one in every state. Last fiscal year, it funded 31 new or expanded PTSD programs.

Playing catch-up

In some ways, however, the VA is playing catch-up, according to critics who say funding has not kept pace with demand.

“Mental health has been underfunded in the VA for quite some time,” said Ralph Ibson, vice president of the National Mental Health Association, the nation’s oldest mental health group.

The mental health needs of returning troops — those who served both in earlier conflicts and today’s wars — “is unevenly met around the country,” said Ibson, a former House Veterans’ Affairs Committee staffer who also has worked in the office of the VA general counsel.

Not all community-based VA outpatient clinics offer counseling and those that do often have limited staff, O’Rourke said.

“What they do, they do well,” he said. “Could they do more? Yes.”

Bocanegra sees a VA psychiatrist for his PTSD, but only every couple of months because, he said, more frequent appointments aren’t available.

“How is that treatment for PTSD?” he asked. He thinks the periodic visits are just to check to make sure he isn’t a danger to himself or others, he said.

But even when services are available, troops don’t always seek care.

A Pentagon study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in July 2004 found many troops did not seek care because they feared being stigmatized by their peers and command. Of the troops whose responses indicated a mental disorder, just 23 percent to 40 percent had sought professional help.

Defense officials say they are striving to erase the perceived stigma from mental health care. Combat stress experts have been sent to the war zones for quick intervention; chaplains and others offer counseling; and a militarywide program has been created that offers six free and confidential counseling sessions with civilian providers.

Preventive health assessments inquire about mental health, as do post-deployment assessments done immediately before, or just after, troops return home. And in a follow-on health reassessment to be administered three to six months after troops come home, no fewer than half the questions home in on possible mental health problems. That initiative began throughout the military this year.

“This is going to be a process,” said retired Navy Capt. (Dr.) Michael Kilpatrick, deputy director of the Pentagon’s Deployment Health Support Directorate. “It has to be proven one leader at a time.”

Some scars slow to heal

Mike, a Marine Corps reservist who helped train an Iraqi army unit, is one of those who fears being stigmatized. He agreed to be interviewed on the condition that his last name and rank not be used. He fears that disclosing his identity could damage his military career and his chances with future civilian employers.

“Physically, I’m back,” he said. “But mentally, spiritually, part of me is still in Iraq. We saw a lot of combat ... a lot of close calls.”

He’s quick to startle and anger. He’s hyperattentive; he said he may swerve his car if he sees something on the side of the road, a vestige of dealing with roadside bombs in Iraq.

He suffers short-term memory loss.

“I lose time. I’ll be standing in line, and I don’t remember how I got from point A to point B,” he said.

In November 2004, during the assault on Fallujah, shrapnel from a rocket-propelled grenade hit Mike’s right shoulder, but he declined evacuation. His journal records 81 separate firefights and 36 instances of indirect fire. In the city, he saw dungeons, torture rooms and slaughterhouses.

“It doesn’t get any worse than Fallujah,” he said.

In January 2005, while still in Iraq, Mike finally saw a combat-stress expert, without telling his command. The doctor offered him medication, which he said he refused. When his Iraq tour ended and he returned home, he again was offered medication and was diagnosed with PTSD. Still, he declined the drugs.

Finally, a bum shoulder landed him at the VA in August, where a case manager picked up on his adjustment issues. In November, he agreed to take prescribed drugs: Zoloft and a sleep aid. He now says he should have done that sooner, because it’s helping.

But he said he still feels out of synch with American life and, at times, feels as if he has more in common with the Iraqis he left behind. “It’s almost like you’re ... straddling both worlds,” he said. “But if you try to be in two places at once, you go nowhere.”

Grass-roots efforts

Air Force Col. Bob Ireland, program director for mental health policy in the Defense Department’s Office of Health Affairs, said the military is above its authorized levels of mental health experts — psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and psychiatric nurses. Besides 3,300 active-duty officer and enlisted personnel, there are also civilian providers in the Tricare network, family support centers and other sources of support, he said.

But some still say significant gaps exist in the government’s ability to help combat veterans with mental health issues.

“There is a serious lack of urgency in Washington to deal with ... issues of mental health,” said Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, a grass-roots advocacy group. Reickhoff, a first lieutenant in the New York National Guard, was in Iraq from April 2003 to February 2004.

Shortfalls remain in the war zones as well, some say. Army Maj. (Dr.) Jon Dubose of the North Carolina National Guard, who volunteered for four 90-day tours in Iraq, said the forward operating bases where he served were in areas so dangerous that even combat-stress teams would not venture to them. His unit had one combat-stress expert who routinely counseled three to four soldiers a day, and another who came intermittently for two weeks at a time.

Dubose said a more permanent presence is needed for experts to develop a relationship with troops who are hurting.

“Nobody wants to talk to you about combat stress,” Dubose said. “To get a soldier to sit there and open up and tell you they’re wigging out is kind of difficult.”

Bocanegra is trying to move forward, but he said it’s tough. Seeing his sister’s children, for example, sparked memories of an incident in which he saw Iraqi kids injured when a helicopter opened fire on a house believed to be stocking weapons, he said.

But he plans to soon start job training at a local automotive school. He also continues to receive occasional VA psychiatric care and talks informally with other Iraq war veterans.

“I don’t want to stay like this for the rest of my life,” he said.

Marines helping to line up Sunnis for Iraq's army

U.S. military seeks to diversify a mostly Shiite fighting force

Qaim, Iraq -- They came by the hundreds. Iraqi men, mostly young but a few graybeards, milling about the desert or squatting in the sand with their robes tucked between their legs and turbans fluttering in the breeze.


- John Koopman, Chronicle Staff Writer
Monday, March 27, 2006

It's recruiting day. These men have come to join the Iraqi army.

They are Sunni Arabs from tribes that populate the vast desert region to the west along the Syrian border.

No one looks very happy. Some have come from many miles away. Some have never left home before. They are joining an army that is often attacked by insurgents. Some may very well die in the coming weeks, months, years.

"They come out here at great personal risk," said Capt. John Black of Stockton, an officer with 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment out of Twentynine Palms (San Bernardino County). "They can't find jobs around here, so this is the best they can do."

The 1st Battalion controls this area of Anbar province and helped with the recruiting drive, which was coordinated by the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force headquarters based in Fallujah.

It's part of the U.S. military effort to get more Sunni Muslims into the Iraqi army. The idea is to make the army more representative of Iraq's ethnic makeup than the overwhelmingly Shiite force that it now is.

To that end, U.S. military recruiting teams have been going around the province passing out flyers, making announcements over radio stations and coordinating with various tribal sheikhs and city officials.

Lt. Col. Nick Marano, 1/7 battalion commander, said the sheikhs from the Qaim region had promised to send about 1,500 men to join the army. On Saturday, nearly 400 showed up. It was the first of several recruiting days the Marines planned to conduct.

"A lot of these guys were insurgents," Marano said with a smile. "It wasn't long ago we were shooting at them. But that's OK. If they're here, they're ready to join the army. They can make some money and stay out of trouble."

It was cold when the Iraqis arrived early in the morning. The surrounding countryside is mostly desert, bisected by the Euphrates River. The recruits gathered in a taped-off square in an open field, about a quarter-mile off the main highway that runs into Qaim, and eventually to Syria, though the border is currently closed.

A gruff Iraqi sergeant major passed a handheld metal detector over each man's body. He occasionally spoke softly, appearing to offer encouragement or welcoming the volunteers to his world.

"These men good, very good," he said, a grin cracking his leathery face. "My cousin, my cousin, my cousin."

The gathering area was adjacent to a vehicle checkpoint operated by the Iraqi army and protected by a full-time Marine contingent with armored vehicles and heavy weapons.

An M1 Abrams tank stood watch, its big gun pointed in the direction of the highway where cars lined up while drivers waited for their turn to pass through the checkpoint.

Marano acknowledged he brought a lot of firepower to the site.

"This is a juicy target for the insurgents," he said. "You've seen what they do in Baghdad, drive a car bomb into these kinds of crowds. We're not going to let that happen."

It was a simple and quick recruiting drive.

The Americans taped off a pathway that led from the open field to the Marine compound, where tents were set up for the screening process. Inside, Iraqi translators checked each potential recruit. The men stripped down to their boxer shorts so they could go through rudimentary physicals. And they were given a brief literacy test.

Those who passed got an A on the back of their hands. Those who failed got an X.

About half the men were rejected. One was sent home because he had tried to scratch off his tattoos. The screeners said he had engaged in self-mutilation. They said he had a "personality abnormality." Nearly all the rest were sent away because they could not read or write.

A lot of the men who were rejected responded angrily. A number of them tried to wash away the X and get back into the recruitment line. Finally, they walked away, shouting in Arabic back to the other men who were still waiting.

Maj. Timothy Burton, who works for the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, the highest Marine headquarters in Anbar, shook his head while he talked about the rejections.

"I think we need to look at schooling these guys," he said. "Maybe the solution is to make basic training a little longer for the ones who can't read. We can teach them to read there. Otherwise, we just make them more resentful. A lot of these men came a long way to join and then got turned away."

No one standing in line spoke English. A couple of men said through a translator that they were joining to help their country and help their families.

One said he joined because his brother had been killed by an insurgent bomb.

"I want to shoot terrorists," he said, his face tightening into a hard scowl.

After a long morning of screening, those who passed were loaded onto 7-ton trucks and taken to the Marine base outside Qaim to await transportation to basic training.

Later, they were loaded aboard big CH-53 helicopters. For most of them, it was the first time they'd ever been in an aircraft.

It was a rude awakening. Many needed help just putting on the seat belt. Although it flies fast, it's a bumpy ride, almost an hour, to the air base at Al Asad. A lot of Iraqi recruits threw up into plastic bags as the heavy helicopter pitched and rolled with the wind.

Finally, they were down, waiting for another leg of a trip that would take them to Habbaniya, where the Iraqis have a basic-training facility.

They will be there for five weeks. Then, it's on to an army unit, and the war.

E-mail John Koopman at [email protected]

Iraqi soldiers go solo in western Iraq

UBAYDI, Iraq (March 27, 2006) -- Iraqi soldiers have taken their first steps toward functioning entirely on their own In this remote region of northwestern Iraq.


Submitted by: 1st Marine Division
Story Identification #: 20063272527
Story by Cpl. Antonio Rosas

More than 100 soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Brigade, 7th Iraqi Army Division conducted their first self-sustaining operation to quell insurgents in Iraq’s Al Anbar Province March 23.

The uniformed Iraqi men conducted a “cordon and knock” in this town of 5,000, providing perimeter security and searching house-to-house for signs of insurgent activity. They also interacted with the local populace, with minimal supervision from the unit’s Military Transition Team - Coalition servicemembers assigned to track and guide each Iraqi military unit’s transition to independent operations.

“They [Iraqi soldiers] were the ones knocking on doors, meeting with the people and shaking hands,” said 1st Lt. Dean A. White, MiTT team chief. “They looked strong out there.”

The operation resulted in no tangible results, such as hidden weapons caches or captured insurgents.

Still, Coalition and Iraqi military leadership here say the operation was a success, as it put Iraqi forces in the driver’s seat and allowed locals to see their nation’s Army providing security.

“They planned and executed the operation by themselves instead of us guiding them,” said Army Staff Sgt. Ken E. Miller, MiTT training officer. “They [Iraqi Army] are ready to show people that they can do this on their own.”

The 48-year-old from Hershey, Pa., credited the success of the 2nd Battalion’s recent operation to strong noncommissioned officer leadership within the ranks – corporals and sergeants leading squads and platoons. The Iraqis’ performance - especially that of the unit’s “Jundis,” or junior enlisted soldiers - was enough to impress Miller.

In the past, Iraqi soldiers conducted combined operations with Coalition forces. They’ve had to heavily rely on Coalition forces for everything from convoy security and logistics to operational planning and tactical decision making.

Now, the Iraqis are beginning to take over these types of operations while the Coalition units they’re partnered with take a backseat role.

“I am very happy with the Jundi. They did a good job and we were able to talk with the people and show them the Iraqi Army,” said one Iraqi Army captain, the unit’s operations chief. “The Americans were just here to help us.”

The 35-year-old from Basrah said the Iraqi soldiers want to establish a working relationship with the people to help stop insurgents’ intimidation of the residents along this town that borders the Euphrates River in northwestern Al Anbar Province.

“The people here are afraid of those people that come over from the other side of the river with guns and tell them not to help the Army,” said the Captain. “That is why I want to have good relations with these people.”

Meanwhile, the 1st Bn., 7th Marines – the Marine unit partnered with Iraqi soldiers from 2nd Bn. - will continue to provide security in this region near the Syrian border. Coalition leadership say the Iraqis will spearhead this mission by year’s end.

The operation allowed Miller and other MiTT staff members to identify any deficiencies within the unit before they conduct their next operation.

Currently, Marines from A Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment are partnered with this Iraqi unit. The two forces share the “battle space,” or area of operations, which encompasses this town.

“The goal is for the Iraqi unit to become an independent force, where the Marines will provide only a mentoring role,” said Miller. “This will be the most effective way of turning over the battle positions to the Iraqis.”

Last week’s operation spawned another Iraqi Army achievement when soldiers executed their first logistics re-supply to six different battle positions the night prior to the operation.

“They [Iraq Army] will be able to run their own logistics convoys from now on,” White assured.

The success here comes on the heels of other recent achievements of Iraqi military units in western Al Anbar. Two weeks ago, an Iraqi Army company from 2nd Battalion, 2nd Brigade, conducted a similar independent operation in Khaffajiyah – a village along the Euphrates River about 90 miles east of the Syrian border.

A handful of Iraqi soldiers from 2nd Brigade in Al Asad recently graduated a three-week Humvee course and received 24 of the vehicles from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense – a step up from the unarmored pick-up trucks they were using.

Whether through logistics convoys, patrolling the streets or interacting with local residents, Iraqi soldiers here are on the path to success in this remote region of western Al Anbar Province.

“If the (Iraqi) battalion continues to do this well, there is no reason why they should not own this battle space by the end of the year,” said White, a 38-year-old from Seymour, Conn.

Email Cpl. Rosas at [email protected]

1st Tanks scouts demonstrate that diligence is key in Iraq

CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq - Not every day is a “jackpot day” in Iraq, but one unit proves that a patient and persistent approach to counter-insurgency operations can be very effective.


1st Lt. Nathan Braden
1st Marine Division

Some days, Marines turn up huge weapons finds. Hundreds of mortars and thousands of small-arms rounds are commonly pulled from buried sites. Some days, though, yield much less. It's called hitting a “dry hole.”

Marines from Scout Platoon, 1st Tank Battalion, currently assigned to Company A, 2nd Assault Amphibian Battalion experienced this recently during a series of company operations north of Fallujah. The Marines from Scout Platoon are on duty in Iraq with Regimental Combat Team 5.

“The scouts are a good platoon. They take the right approach to what they are doing here,” said Capt. William J. Gibbons, Jr., 32, Company A's commanding officer from Toms River, N.J.

The first day of the operation started off when the platoon punched out of the company's assembly area shortly after sunrise in a dusty column of armored humvees.

Their first mission called for them to search a rural area suspected of insurgent activity. They bounced over sparsely vegetated fields and around irrigation ditches for a couple of hours. It was the first of a series of dry holes. The Marines discovered nothing suspicious and headed for their next objective.

“It's hard to catch people red handed,” said 1st Lt. Troy M. Sayler, the 32-year-old Scout Platoon commander from Sidney, Neb.

The work can be frustrating. Marines headed into the mission with gusto, expecting the intelligence to deliver. But sometimes, it doesn't match up. It was a pattern that followed throughout the day.

A tip from an informant suggested a local gas station may be involved in insurgent activity.

“We got some intel from a guy we talked to and Lieutenant Sayler decided to check it out,” said Cpl. Andrew Yu, 21, a TOW gunner from Orange County, Calif. on his third deployment to Iraq. “It's a good idea to check out all the tips because you never know what you might get.”

The platoon rolled directly up to the gas station compound and encircled it, preventing anyone from leaving or entering while they prepared to search the area. Half of the Marines manned the perimeter while the others entered the compound.

“The gas station was suspected of being frequented by an HVI (high value individual) and also being used as storage for stolen goods by commercial highjackers,” Sayler explained.

The Marines discovered several industrial-size generators suspected of being stolen goods, but did not have enough evidence to detain anyone or seize the property.

While Marines searched inside the compound, Marines on the cordon stayed busy outside.

“We had to ensure the trucks were in the proper place to cover our sectors,” said Lance Cpl. Matthew D. Partridge, 19, a TOW gunner from Charlotte, N.C., who was one of the Marines on the cordon.

“We controlled traffic on the road, but at the same time we were looking for certain vehicles we were told about,” he added. “We stopped a few trucks and searched them and the people, as the interpreter interviewed them.”

“The op went well, we quickly gained control of the site, searched all the buildings, questioned the five individuals inside and got some information,” Sayler said after their search was complete.

Still, nothing turned up they could act on. Dry hole number two.

The platoon mounted back on their vehicles and continued to search the area before stopping at a local restaurant to talk to locals and ask about insurgent activity in the area.

Their diligence paid off this time.

They collected several tips when the Marines used one of their more rewarding tactics, treating people with respect.

“People open up and just tell them stuff,' Gibbons said. “That leads to them developing a trust and confidence with the people at the same time getting bad guys off the street.

“They reserve the heavy hand for those guys who really need it,” he added. “Lieutenant Sayler knows how to butter people up. His section leaders are the same way.”

Although the platoon did not detain any suspected insurgents or locate any improvised explosive devices this day, they made several significant contributions during their deployment.

“We've probably done at least 50 cordon and searches,” Sayler said. “But, where the platoon has really shined is finding IEDs. We've found close to 30 of them here.”

The Marines know that dry holes are part of the job in Iraq. They understand that not every tip leads to a weapons cache. Still, they leave nothing to chance.

“The hardest thing for a Marine to do is sit and wait for something to happen,” Partridge said. “It's not in the Marine nature to sit around and wait.”

The one tip they don't act upon, might be the one that gets hundred of roadside bombs off the street or catches the insurgent making them.

“It's a good feeling when we catch a guy because I know it helps out our fellow Marines out here, plus it helps the civilians,” Yu said. “Sometimes civilians are scared to give us information and it feels good when we take someone off the street who's scaring that guy.”

Sayler said he understood the frustrations of days like these, when things don't turn out like they planned. Still, he said these are successes, and his platoon continues to push ahead because of strong leadership among his noncommissioned officers.

“I'm very luck to have a platoon with intelligent and professional Marines and strong NCOs,” Sayler said. “The vast majority of the missions are lead by the section leaders, a sergeant and a senior corporal. Both have led over 100 patrols.”

The Marines has developed their tactics into methods that work for them.

“We did good today, we've defiantly developed since we've been out here,” said Sgt. Christopher J. Fortin, 22, 1st section leader from Lakeland, Fla. “We are at our peak performance after six months of refining our operations out here. We are as good as we are going to get without becoming supernatural.”

Scout Platoon is comprised of TOW gunners, Marines trained to fire wire-guided anti-tank missile systems. The platoons are typically assigned to tank battalions and employed as forward and flank protection for tank formations.

1/14 leaves Combat Center, joins War on Terror

After spending nearly three months aboard the Combat Center training for a deployment to Iraq, 1st Battalion, 14th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division, began their departure over a two week period beginning March 15.


Cpl. Evan M. Eagan
Combat Correspondent

First Battalion, 14th Marine Regiment, is a reserve artillery battalion based in Alameda, Calif., and is reinforced by an active duty artillery battery and a reserve military police company.

The battalion deployed under the auspices of Task Force Military Police, and will conduct detention operations, assist the Iraqi police in operational matters, and conduct other military police missions in Al Anbar province.

Having recently concluded Mojave Viper, the month-long training evolution consisting of range training and military operations in urban terrain, the battalion has made the transition from artillery to military police.

Because they spent an extended period of time at the Combat Center, training and getting acclimated to the desert environment, many members of the battalion are anxious to get to Iraq.

“They are ready to get out of Twentynine Palms and over to Iraq,” said Gunnery Sgt. Ron King, platoon sergeant, 2nd Platoon, Charlie Company, and Dayton, Ohio native. “We had a long and hard work-up and they're ready to get over there and do their job.”

Although this is the first deployment for nearly 80 percent of the battalion, King said, the training they received while aboard the Combat Center was some of the best he's seen.

“We are very prepared,” said King. “This is my 3rd deployment and this was by far the most extensive training I've received. It really benefits the Marines in the long run.”

For junior Marines in the battalion, nothing compares to the experience they gained at Mojave Viper.

“The training here prepared us unlike any other training I've ever received,” said Lance Cpl. Greg Dennie, a military policeman with 2nd Platoon, and a 20-year-old Columbia, Ky., native. “Boot Camp and MCT [Marine Combat Training] can't compare to the training here.”

First Battalion, 14th Marine Regiment, is scheduled to be in Iraq for a seven-month deployment.

‘New England's Own' heads to Al Anbar

First Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division, arrived at the Combat Center Jan. 4, to train for their upcoming deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.


Cpl. Evan M. Eagan
Combat Correspondent

Like all ground units deploying to Iraq, 1/25, a reserve unit based at Devens Reserve Forces Training Area, Mass., came to the Combat Center to take part in the Mojave Viper training evolution, which facilitates exercise force training in the core competencies of combined arms, urban warfare and intelligence driven operations.

Having spent the greater part of this year training in the California desert, the Marines of 1/25 are more than ready to get to Iraq.

“I don't know why I'm not there yet,” said Cpl. Brad Blais, a machine gunner with the personal security detachment, before he boarded a bus Tuesday to begin the battalion's deployment. “This is my third time around. I'm ready for it.”

Blais, one of the more experienced members of the battalion, served his first two deployments as a member of 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment. Now as a member of 1/25 his experience will be vital for the battalion, who is directly supporting OIF for the first time.

Many members of the battalion feel they gained a lot of experience and are much more prepared for the deployment, having completed Mojave Viper.

“This was the most training we've done at one time,” said Lance Cpl. Shaun Powers, a rifleman with Bravo Company, and an Albany, N.Y., native. It was really good, especially the MOUT [Military Operations on Urban Terrain] town. The last few days of Mojave Viper were the most realistic. I think it was good because it is what we will be experiencing in Iraq.”

While in Iraq the battalion will spend its time in western Iraq's volatile Al Anbar province. They will be tasked with conducting counter-insurgency patrols, presence patrols and training Iraqi Security Forces, among other things.

“I'm excited to get over there,” said Powers. “It's been a long time coming. I think we're all really motivated to get over there to help the Iraqi people, and win hearts and minds.”

Lt. Col. Bob Underwood, an augment to the battalion from Marine Air Group 41 based in Ft. Worth, Texas, said he was impressed with the Marines' desire and motivation leading up to the deployment.

“These guys came out here motivated from day one,” said Underwood, the forward air controller for Bravo Company. “They always had a learning attitude and they took everything serious, whether it was a lecture or a field exercise. I'm very impressed with the way things went.”

The battalion is scheduled for a seven-month deployment.

VMU-1 welcomed home after 7 months in Iraq

Georgine Thompson laughed restlessly with friends and fellow spouses as she waited for the arrival of her husband. Victory Field had filled with more than 150 anxious family members, friends and fellow remain behind element Marines in anticipation of Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 1's return to the Combat Center Monday.


Cpl. Brian A. Tuthill
Combat Correspondent

Over the blaring loudspeakers and the harmonies of the MCAGCC Band, the crowd listened to updates on the progress of the white buses, which whisked their loved ones away on the first day of their deployment months ago, and now would return them home again.

As voices and shouts surged together with the sounds of wailing sirens, Thompson grabbed her family and her camera as the buses hissed to a stop and spewed Marines onto the field.

Moments later, she held her husband, Staff Sgt. John Thompson, in a long and tearful embrace for the first time in seven months.

“It's so good to have him home,” Mrs. Thompson said through smiles and tears.

Many of the 141 Marines and Sailors of VMU-1 were welcomed home in similar fashion after their deployment to Iraq's Al Anbar province.

“Pretty much our whole family came out here for this,” said Mrs. Thompson, who resides in Twentynine Palms but was joined by other family members from Texas and Los Angeles for the event. “We have his mom, sister, brother-in-law, niece and our two sons.

“This deployment has been good,” she continued. “We were able to keep in touch more this time because he had internet access and sometimes was able to use the phone. Our kids took it much better this time because they were able to talk to him.”

VMU-1 departed the Combat Center in August to support II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) units. The squadron is one of only two units in the Marine Corps that operate unmanned aerial vehicles, which serve as a source of near-real-time tactical aerial reconnaissance for ground commanders.

While the band played and other families reunited on the field, the Thompson family took group photos to commemorate the happy moment of their hero's reurn from his third deployment to Iraq.

“It feels great to be back and see everyone again,” said Thompson, the squadron intelligence chief. “I just want to take this break to spend as much time with my family as I can.”

Other Marines who did not have the support of families present were not left out as Marine Corps Community Services and Key Volunteer Network “Official Huggers” swarmed them with warm welcomes.

“My family is not here, but I got my share of hugs,” said Pfc. Jose Cruz, field radio operator, who wore lipstick on his cheek from the attention he received after stepping off the bus. “We all certainly feel very welcomed.”

Through the carnival-like atmosphere, many Marines said the thought of their next deployment is something they can't help shaking.

“I'm looking forward to the deployment just as much as anybody else is,” said Cruz with sarcasm in his voice. “We just got back and we'll be going again soon.”

VMU-1 has been deploying back-to-back with the Camp Lejeune-based VMU-2 since Operation Iraqi Freedom began because of the unique nature of support the squadrons provide to combat units.

“After we settle in again we'll start preparing for the next time we have to head over there,” said Thompson.

The Thompsons helped their Marine carry his pack and sea bags and loaded up their car as the smiles and commotion at Victory Field began to fade.

Other VMU-1 Marines helped take down the signs, banners and streamers that adorned the area as the event drew to a close.

Marines and loved ones cleared the field and headed for home for well-deserved rest and leave where they could finally put their families first after the long months apart and their return journey from nearly halfway around the world.

Tank-infantry team denies insurgency near Fallujah

DRA DIGLA, Iraq (March 27, 2006) -- Insurgents no longer have free reign in the rural farmlands north of Fallujah.


Submitted by: 1st Marine Division
Story Identification #: 200632812616
Story by Gunnery Sgt. Mark Oliva

A platoon of Marines from D Company, 2nd Tank Battalion, joined with a reinforced squad from Company E, 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment to scour the area north of Fallujah for insurgent activity in Operation Mesopotamia II. The several-day operation took place in the Northern Regimental Security Area and disrupted insurgent activity, keeping terrorists from using the sparsely populated region as a staging area to launch attacks in Fallujah.

The combined tank-infantry team is serving in Iraq with Regimental Combat Team 5.

“We came out here to interdict anti-Iraqi forces and provide a secure environment for the Iraqi people,” said 2nd Lt. Jim A. Neville, a 32-year-old tank platoon commander from West Newfield, Maine. “It’s not a permanently occupied area for us, so there’s always something new for us.”

Marines conducted a series of cache sweeps, cordon-and-knocks and snap vehicle checkpoints, searching for hidden weapons and insurgents on wanted lists. Marines searched abandoned chemical factories, squatters’ huts, farms and roadside stores. At least two were detained for matching descriptions of wanted individuals and several weapons were confiscated.

The operation marked just one smaller operation in a string of efforts north of Fallujah. While most Marines work in the more densely populated areas of Falllujah, Saqlawiyah and Ameriyah, the task-organized infantry-armor teams made the most of their small-unit flexibility and imposing force of the M-1A1 Main Battle Tank.

“The people up here sometimes feel neglected,” Neville said. “They feel they don’t get the security they need against anti-Iraqi forces who intimidate and steal gas.”

Tanks led the convoy of humvees and a seven-ton armored truck, loaded with Marines. They selected a site to search and tanks pushed out to cordon the area, main guns swinging back and forth as gunners searched for threats. Meanwhile, Marines dismounted and rushed to secure the buildings, moving all military-aged males out and checking rooms and cars for contraband items.

The operations lasted sometimes for hours, as Marines questioned the men for information that could lead them to insurgents frequenting the area. Answers led to a trend of information and a few names.

Other missions had engineers sweeping berms for weapons caches, hidden in the dirt. And still, others had Marines stopping suspect cars that matched the description of cars suspected of being used by insurgents.

Neville estimated Marine questioned and searched more than 350 military-aged men in less than three days, creating a disruption of insurgent activity. Rolling the 70-ton tanks through the small towns sent the signal Marines were here for business, denying insurgents free use of the area.

“The intimidation factor is there when you use tanks,” added Staff Sgt. Zachary Dona, a 29-year-old platoon sergeant for the reinforced infantry squad. “Tanks integrated with infantry shows good presence and a lot of force.”

The presence of repeated missions to the area by tanks, infantry and crews of amphibious assault vehicles recently has paid off, Neville explained. Engineers swept miles of berms, farmland and enormous gaping wells scraped from the desert floor, known areas for hidden weapons. They turned up little, a sign Neville took as encouraging.

“It shows the efforts of the tanks and AAVs is paying off,” he said. “Six months ago, you could throw a stick and find a cache.”

For the infantry, the chance to work alongside tanks was a boost in confidence. They relied on tankers with their heavy armor and weapons to provide protection while they finished their searches and questioning.

“I was confident they knew their job,” said Cpl. Joshua J. Frazier, a 22-year-old fire team leader from Destin, Fla. “They intimidated anybody who wanted to mess with us.”

Frazier worked with tanks in the past for training, but this was his first chance to operate alongside them in a combat operation. He was impressed by the effect they had on his Marines to complete the mission and the local population.

“They helped us to remain focused,” he explained. “We don’t worry so much about outside security. The reaction of the people was more calm. They knew we were there for business.”

Neville said despite not maintaining a permanent presence, Marines were having a lasting effect in the area. Insurgents didn’t have free movement through the villages and the villagers themselves grew more trusting of the Marines’ intent.

“We know they have to adjust to our efforts,” he said. “We’re creating a time for the people to get established and the insurgents have to adjust around that because we have a good idea of what they’re doing.”

Several Hundred Marines Head For Iraq

Several hundred Marines from the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing are headed for Iraq.


Mon Mar 27, 8:26 PM ET

Aviation specialists from Marine Corps Air Station Miramar checked out weapons and said their good byes Monday morning.

Though they'll be gone for months at a time, communication back home is greatly improved.

"You get a little down time. You can call home and e-mail. It's not like you're out in the field with no contact with the outside world. It's not that bad," said Cpl. Holly Parker.

Some are making their second and third deployments and will be gone at least seven to eight months.

Tribute Paid To Fallen Marines In Marshall County

KILO Company gives tribute to four men who gave the ultimate sacrifice to their country last year.


Posted 3/27/2006 09:47 AM
Story by Steve Mazure

Staff Sgt. Joseph Goodrich, Cpl. Joseph Tremblay, Cpl. Bryan Richardson and Lance Cpl. Ryan Kovacicek were killed in action last year in Iraq. A large plaque show-casing all four men and their dog tags, along with an American flag that flew at their base in Iraq and the Marine Corps seal was unveiled. Also part of the ceremony was a motorcycle, built by Cpl. Tremblay's father, Lawrence and his company, RPM Choppers. It's adorned with Marine Corps buttons, a sword, a soldier's cross and the hand-painted portraits of the four men it honors. The plaque will now hang inside the drill center for future generations of Marines to see.

Copyright 2006 West Virginia Media. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Extra armor cuts mobility, Marines say Equipment issued 'to make people back home feel better.'

HUSAYBAH, Iraq -- Extra body armor -- the lack of which caused a political storm in the United States -- has flooded into Iraq, but many Marines here promptly stuck it in lockers or under bunks. Too heavy and cumbersome, many say.


Article published Mar 27, 2006

Associated Press Writer

HUSAYBAH, Iraq -- Extra body armor -- the lack of which caused a political storm in the United States -- has flooded into Iraq, but many Marines here promptly stuck it in lockers or under bunks. Too heavy and cumbersome, many say.

Marines already carry loads as heavy as 70 pounds when they patrol the dangerous streets in towns and villages in restive Anbar province. The new armor plates, while only about five pounds per set, are not worth carrying for the additional safety they are said to provide, some say.

"We have to climb over walls and go through windows," said Sgt. Justin Shank of Greencastle, Pa. "I understand the more armor, the safer you are. But it makes you slower. People don't understand that this is combat and people are going to die."

Staff Sgt. Thomas Bain of Buffalo, N.Y., shared concerns about the extra pounds.

"Before you know it, they're going to get us injured because we're hauling too much weight and don't have enough mobility to maneuver in a fight from house to house," said Bain, who is assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment. "I think we're starting to go overboard on the armor."Since the insurgency erupted in Iraq, the Pentagon has been criticized for supplying insufficient armor for Humvees and too few bulletproof vests. In one remarkable incident, soldiers publicly confronted Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld about the problem on live television.

Hometown groups across the United States have since raised money to send extra armor to troops, and the Pentagon, under congressional pressure, launched a program last October to reimburse troops who had purchased armor with their own money.

Soldiers and their parents spent hundreds, sometimes thousand of dollars, on armor until the Pentagon began issuing the new protective gear.

In Bain's platoon of about 35 men, Marines said only three or four wore the plates after commanders distributed them last month and told them that use was optional.

Top military officials, including Secretary of the Army Francis Harvey, acknowledge the concerns over weight and mobility but have urged that the new gear be mandatory."That's going to add weight, of course," said Harvey. "You've read where certain soldiers aren't happy about that. But we think it's in their best interest to do this."

Marines have shown a special aversion to the new plates because they tend to patrol on foot, sometimes conducting two patrols each day that last several hours. They feel the extra weight.

In Euphrates River cities from Ramadi and Romanna, lance corporals to captains have complained about the added weight and lack of mobility. But some commanders have refused to listen. In the former insurgent stronghold of Fallujah, for example, commanders require use of the plates. End of story.

The Marine Corps has said a total of 28,000 sets of the plates, officially called small-arms protective inserts, or side SAPIs, will be in combat zones by April. The Army has said it is hoping to have 230,000 sets of plates in the field this year.

Last year, a study by the Armed Forces Medical Examiner said dozens of Marines killed by wounds to the torso might have survived had the larger plates been in use."I'm sure people who ... lost kidneys would have loved to have had them on," said 2nd Lt. William Oren, a native of Southlake, Texas, who wears the plates. "More armor isn't the answer to all our problems. But I'll recommend them because it's more protection."

Some Marines have chosen to wear the plates, particularly those in more vulnerable jobs such as Humvees turret gunners or those who frequently travel on roads plagued by roadside bombs.

But many Marines -- particularly those who conduct foot patrols also carrying weapons, extra ammunition, medical equipment, night vision goggles, food and water -- say the extra armor is not worth it, especially when the weather becomes unbearably hot.

"When you already have 60, 70 pounds on and you add 10 pounds when you go patrolling through the city or chasing after bad guys, that extra 10 pounds is going to make a difference. You're going to feel it," said Lance Cpl. David Partridge from Bangor, Maine.

Many Marines, however, believe the politics of the issue eventually will make the plates mandatory."The reason they issued (the plates), I think, is to make people back home feel better," said Lance Cpl. Philip Tootle of Reidsville, Ga. "I'm not wishing they wouldn't have issued them. I'm just wishing that they wouldn't make them mandatory."

AP Blog From Ramadi, Iraq By The Associated Press

Todd Pitman, who is West Africa bureau chief for The Associated Press, is embedded with U.S. Marines of the 3rd Battalion, 8th Regiment in Ramadi, Iraq. MONDAY MARCH 27- RAMADI


MONDAY, March 27, 11 p.m. local


Today I went with Iraqi and U.S. troops to an abandoned glass factory that was converted into an army recruiting center for the day. This marks the first time the army is trying to recruit in Ramadi — a dangerous place to live that is crawling with insurgents. It's a tough place to find guys to join up.

This same glass factory was hit in January by a suicide bomber during a police recruiting drive. Dozens were killed and dozens more were wounded. You'd think that would stifle anybody's urge to join up, but several U.S. officials said some people actually stepped over body parts to get back in line that day.

Iraqi army and police recruiting centers have long been a favorite target of insurgents; they were being hit even before the handover of authority to the Iraqi government in June 2004. I was always amazed that they would line up again and again, knowing they could be targeted. Many do it simply to get a job.

The recruiting drive in Ramadi ended with only 31 people coming through. U.S. military officials had hoped for hundreds, but said even this small turnout was a step in the right direction. It is Ramadi, afterall, a heart of the insurgency.

Iraqi army officers said they'd find it hard to trust these new guys. They suspected them of being insurgents, or at least, some of them. Two other men who came by were suspected of trying to scope out the glass factory instead. They were detained, blindfolded, inspected and later, cleared and released.

In Ramadi, the recruits I spoke to said their main objective was getting a job. You have to support your family. But they also mentioned something else: they wanted local people patrolling Ramadi; they don't want U.S. troops doing it, and they don't want the Iraqi army battalions already deployed here doing it because they see them as foreigners, too. Most of the Iraqis deployed around the glass factory for example, were Shiite Muslims from Baghdad or southern Iraq. Ramadi is a mostly Sunni Muslim city.

Security was stepped up because insurgent attacks were expected. And they came, though by Ramadi standards, they were insignificant. A roadside bomb struck an Iraqi army humvee, and small arms fire followed. A gunman on a rooftop popped up, sparking a hail of return fire from both U.S. and Iraqi forces. Some anxious U.S. troops who wanted to get in on the brief gunfight were actually told by their commanders to hold back, and let the Iraqis do the return firing. Both did. Later, there was a loud boom nearby. A soldier told me a mortar round smashed through the building next door.

In Ramadi, at least outside the glass factory, there were no casualties I heard of. To the northeast near Tal Afar, though, a suicide bomber wearing a vest of explosives killed 40 people and wounded 30 others at an army recruiting office.

There is a lot of talk about progress in training this army, and I have to say, progress is definitely being made. I saw Iraqi troops training a year and a half ago in Tikrit. The guys I saw then were just starting out, fumbling with their guns, clearly not too interested in the duty ahead. U.S. advisers were rolling their eyes. A lot of the Iraqis quit.

But a lot of them stayed with it, and to see them today, you see a new level of professionalism. They're building the army from the bottom up. It's not easy, and there's clearly a long way to go. They need leadership. They need more training. And they need more equipment. Members of the Iraqi battalion I spoke to told me they still lack basics. They share flak vests. They either don't have, or don't have enough of: sniper rifles, mortars and night-vision goggles. These were the same complaints they made when I patrolled with them in Baghdad in 2004. Back then they complained insurgents had heavier weapons than they did.

Today, these guys said the same. Though they operate independently in some areas in Ramadi, they rely on U.S. forces for just about everything else: medical support, logistic support, firepower support. It won't be easy to fill all those gaps. One Iraqi soldier told me that if the Americans left, so would he.

___Todd Pitman

At long last, Marines wrap up final mission

DRA DIGLA, Iraq (March 27, 2006) -- Cpl. Jeffrey M. Roberts scratched his stubbly chin with a dirty, crusted dry hand. He couldn’t help but smile. He just finished his last operation before he heads home to Camp Lejeune.


Submitted by: 1st Marine Division
Story Identification #: 2006330188
Story by Gunnery Sgt. Mark Oliva

“It’s glorious,” Roberts said. “I can’t wait to get home and see my wife.”

Roberts was basking in the afternoon sun in the wide expanses of desert north of Fallujah. He just finished a six-day mission, called Operation Mesopotamia II. The 22-year-old from Destin, Fla., is assigned to E Company, 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment serving with Regimental Combat Team 5 in Iraq.

In a couple weeks, Iraq will be a memory. He plans to try to make up for lost time with his wife, Krisse.

He owes it to her, he said. She’s stood by him through four deployments, including Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I can’t wait to hug my wife and touch the ground,” Roberts said. “It’ll be good to take this burden off my shoulders and know that I’m safe.”

It hasn’t been an easy tour for the Marines in Roberts’ battalion. They’ve served in the heart of Fallujah, walking patrols daily down crowded streets. They’ve dealt with improvised explosive devices, insurgent snipers, random grenades being thrown over walls and sporadic small-arms and mortar fire.

Roberts had concerns as the end of his tour drew near, too. He said he wasn’t nervous or scared to go outside the wire – Marine jargon for leaving the safety of the forward operating bases. It was more for his Marines.

“Safety has probably been my biggest concern,” he explained. “I’ve got one married Marine who needs to get home to his wife. They’ve never been scared, but I’ve got to keep them moving, even when it doesn’t seem to make sense.”

Lance Cpl. Bradley R. Windham is a 20-year-old from De Ville, La., in the same unit with Roberts. He said it “feels good” knowing he’s headed home within a couple weeks.

He’s got reason to feel good too. He left his wife Rebecca in Georgia with his two children, three-year-old Jacob and eight-month-old Raelyn.

“I got to see her born,” he said of his young daughter. “I left a week later.”

He’s also done tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, he wants to spend a little more time getting to know his growing family.

“There’s a lot of time lost,” Windham explained. “My wife … she’s the meat and potatoes. If I didn’t have her, I’d be in a lot of trouble.”

Windham knows the tours in combat zones have changed him. He’s more appreciative of the smaller things in life and takes heart in simple pleasures he’ll soon enjoy again.

“It’s made me appreciative of exactly what I have,” he said. “I see how hard the Iraqis struggle. I’ve got it pretty good.”

Lance Cpl. John S. Hayes is in a different situation than his fellow Marines. He’s single. But instead of thinking about summer beach parties or drinking a cold beer, the 22-year-old from New Tripoli, Pa., wants to get back to his girlfriend, Erica. She’s waiting for him back in Pennsylvania.

He plans on spending his entire post-deployment leave with her.

“I feel better because it’s done,” Hayes said. “We’re one step closer to going home.”

But the closer he got to going home, Hayes said it’s been a bit tougher.

“You have to work to not get complacent,” he said. “But if you’re alive now, you’ve been doing something right all along.”

Roberts said it wasn’t always that way with his unit. They went through a cycle of learning in the seven months they were deployed to Iraq. They started out asking why they were in Iraq. Later, he said, they understood the mission more clearly and toward the end, they’ve yearned to do things better than ever.

Roberts said he counted success in that he and his Marines didn’t treat all Iraqis with disdain. They figured out that most Iraqis were living in fear of insurgents and want peace and security. They wanted school for their kids and clean drinking water. They wanted a better future.

“We were not here to kill everybody,” he said. “We were here to separate the good from the bad. We did that.”

But it hasn’t been easy. They’ve suffered their share of wounded Marines. And killed. They’ve grown tighter together than they ever thought they could and know that a little piece of them will remain here in Iraq.

“Losing Marines has been the toughest,” Windham said. “It did bring us closer.”

The losses didn’t slow them down either.

“A lot of the Marines wanted to get out of the wire more often,” Roberts said. “My Marines wanted to get out and get something done.”

Now that the prospect of returning home is changing from a distant idea to a reality, the Marines can’t help but smile.

“Three months home with my wife … man, that’s going be a vacation,” Windham said.

Hayes said he doubts the Marines will stay apart long though. They’ve blurred the lines of just being friends to warriors who share a kindred spirit.

“We all talk about going home,” Hayes explained. “We realize, though, after a week, we’ll all be bored. We’ll be calling each other up.”

But there’s big changes down the road. Roberts is getting out of the Corps soon after he returns. So is Windham. He’ll have six months left on his contract. It’s a new chapter in life he’s looking forward to.

“I’m going to go buy a house,” he said. “My wife and I are going to pick it out together.”

And they’re not sure to tell others what this tour meant to them. For those who haven’t walked the streets, dodged the gunfire, wept at a memorial for a fellow Marine killed, there’s not much to say.

“I survived,” Hayes said. “That’s all I can say.”

March 26, 2006

Congressional Delegates visit troops at Camp Fallujah

Camp Fallujah, Iraq (Mar. 26, 2006) -- Elected officials from nine different states sat to meet with service members from their states at a dining facility during a command visit here Sunday.


Submitted by: I Marine Expeditionary Force
Story Identification #: 2006326141239
Story by Cpl. Jon C. Guibord

Led by Arizona senator and former Vietnam prisoner of war, John McCain, the congressional delegation stopped in Baghdad on the first day of their two day trip to Iraq to meet with Gen. George Casey, Commanding General, Multi National Forces - Iraq as well as the American Ambassador to Iraq. The congressional delegation on the second day of their tour met with Multi-National Forces- West staff. They also made it a priority to have lunch with Marines, sailors and soldiers from their home states. During this time discussed topics from the war in Iraq, to the weather back in their home state.

“I think it is pretty cool that they are representing the state back home, but they are also taking the time to visit us and show they support,” said Lance Cpl. Geoff R. Clover, 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, security platoon driver, from Afton, Minn.

The purpose of the congressional delegation visit to Camp Fallujah was twofold: the delegation spoke with MNF-W senior staff about the progress of the transition since the battle of Fallujah, and also requested to meet with the Marines, Soldiers and Sailors from their home state. Both objectives were met according to the I Marine Expeditionary Force protocol officer.

“MNF-W clearly articulated the advancements, improvements and new challenges of our mission since the first battles of Fallujah,” said Capt. David J. Cote, Protocol Officer for I MEF.

Cote also expressed what he thought to be one of the highlights of the tour for the delegates.

“The delegates delighted in connecting with Marines from Arizona, Wisconsin, South Dakota, Illinois, Michigan, New Mexico, Minnesota, Alabama and Utah over a meal at the chow hall. Several delegates even exchanged personal phone numbers and addresses with the Marines,” said Cote.

According to Cote, the delegates, on behalf of the American people, expressed their complete support of the service members in Iraq.

Among the distinguished guests were, Sen. John McCain, from Arizona, Sen. Russell Feingold, from Wisconsin, Sen. John Thune, from South Dakota, Rep. Mark Kirk, from Illinois, Rep. Joe Schwarz, from Michigan, Rep. Tom Udall, from New Mexico, Gov. Tim Pawlenty, from Minnesota, Gov. Bob Riley, from Alabama and Gov. Jon Huntsman, from Utah.

Combat ready

FORT PICKETT - As Lance Cpl. Michael Tocci shows the new Marines in Company C how to put together a machine gun, they laugh nervously.

“You’ll be living and eating weapons,” he explains.


Dionne Waugh
[email protected]
Sunday, March 26, 2006

He begins to tell them a story from his time in Fallujah, Iraq, last year, but stops suddenly.

“Oh, I forget this piece,” he says, picking up a long, black spiral and slipping it into the top of the gun. “I don’t multitask very well.”

The men chuckle again.

He’s teaching the new Marines of Lynchburg’s Company C, 4th Combat Engineer Battalion, who will be shipping out to Iraq for the first time in a few months. It’s the second deployment for the Hill City-based reservist company in two years.

This recent weekend is the first training the men have done since getting the official activation notice earlier this month.

They’re practicing using two different types of machine guns at Fort Pickett, located about 90 miles southeast of Lynchburg.

Tocci has volunteered to return to Iraq for a second time.

“It’s been about a year since I was over the first time. I feel like if there’s a fight out there, I want to be in it,” said Tocci, 22. “Plus we’ve got some young guys going. They need someone to look out for them.”

The unit lost five Marines during its last tour of duty in 2004-2005. Bradley Arms, 20, of Charlottesville, was the unit’s first fatality. He died in November 2004 from small arms fire. Four members, including Liberty University graduate Jesse Strong, 24, were killed Jan. 26, 2005, during an ambush and intense firefight.

Nine veterans, including Tocci, will return to Iraq with 35 new guys going for the first time.

Brookville High School graduate Lance Cpl. Matt Turner, 19, is one of the freshmen. He says this training feels different than it did before.

“I’m now trying to soak as much up as possible and pay more attention to details.”

Turner, who went to boot camp in October 2004 and joined the company in April, is anxious about going to Iraq.

“I really want to go. I’m anxious because I don’t know what to expect. We get a lot of training, especially from the Marines who’ve been there, but I still don’t know what’s there,” he says.

“I think Company C’s going to do just as good, if not better, than last time.”

Though it’s sunny out this Saturday afternoon, the cold wind blows constantly, often drowning out Tocci’s voice. Except for a few green trucks, there’s no shield from the wind as the group sits in the middle of a grassy field off a dirt and gravel path miles from the main road.

The 45 Marines deploying to Iraq wear tan camouflage gear and most sit with their backs against their packs as they listen to Tocci.

Two other groups of Marines wearing dark green camo have been to Iraq before. They sit, lounge and talk loudly nearby, paying little or no attention. After the classes, the Marines will practice shooting targets nearby.

Tocci tries to explain why it’s important the men bond with their guns.

“Naming the gun connects you with the gun and it helps personalize it,” he says.

If you take proper care of your gun, it becomes less heavy to carry, he explains. While in Iraq the first time, Tocci named his M249 Squad Automatic Weapon, or SAW, “Christine” after his sweetheart back home in Scottsville, he says.

This time, he’s got a different type of gun - an M16.

“I’ve yet to connect with this one. Lizzy and I are still getting acquainted,” he said. Lizzy is Christine’s middle name.

Covered green military trucks rumble down the gravel and dirt road, spewing white smoke and rocks into the air behind them. As the drivers pull in and begin to unload, the Marines gather for a safety lecture before shooting practice.

“If you lose control of the weapon, there’s no reason to panic. The worst thing you can do is panic,” Staff Sgt. Butch Dreany of Fredericksburg said.

He explains that they’ll be using a smaller than usual range for shooting.

“There are tanks in the distance. They aren’t targets, but they may shoot back,” he jokes.

“I want to hear a six- to eight-round burst. A lot of you guys will fire a short burst. I’m gonna yell at you,” he bellows. “I want to hear these guns sing. That’s what they’re made for. Hoorah?”

A deep chorus of the Marine battle cry “hoorah!” comes in answer.

In groups of four, the Marines lie on their bellies in the dirt and scoot up close to the machine guns. A more experienced Marine is stationed with each gun and instructs the younger Marine how he wants him to fire or clean the weapon.

“Spread your legs out as much as possible to stable yourself,” one instructor says as he kicks a Marine’s feet apart.

“Ready on the line!” the instructor yells. “Fire!”

The casings spit out by the second, littering the ground like cigarettes. The rat-ta-tat-tat of the machine guns punctures the silence of the countryside and echoes for nearly half a minute after the men stop shooting. The sky fills with grayish smoke and the mechanical smell of spent cartridges wafts through the air.

For the most part, the men hit the targets, but they also take out some dirt as well.

The machine guns have the ability to fire more than a mile away.

Lance Cpl. John Eppes, 21, a Jefferson Forest High School graduate, walks away from shooting with a big grin on his face.

“It’s indescribable,” he says of the experience. “It feels powerful and invigorating.”

Eppes is excited about going to Iraq in late summer and says he plans to use this time to make some decisions on a few things in his life.

“The shock hasn’t hit me yet. I’m still out here with my boys,” he said. “I’m hesitant because I’m getting married in May, but it’s all for the better. What better thing to do than to fight for your country?”

He said he feels secure going overseas with the nine veterans who went before because of their knowledge and experience. The men’s skill and dedication motivates him to be better, he said.

Capt. Matthew Hoh, 32, who’s also been to Iraq before, will be leading the company. He calls the young Marine reservists a remarkable group for their ability to voluntarily leave school, work and family life to go to Iraq.

“They’re people who have tremendous hearts and want to do things that are different than anyone else,” he said. “They want lives that matter.”

Navy ‘Docs’ focus on keeping Marines, Iraqis alive

AL ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq (Mar. 26, 2006) -- Saving lives. These two simple words sum up one vital endeavor for the sailors of the Alpha Surgical unit here.


Submitted by: 1st Marine Logistics Group
Story Identification #: 200632611545
Story by Cpl. Daniel J. Redding

Whether it’s injured U.S. service members, Iraqi Security Forces or civilians from the local populace, this medical unit in western Iraq is fully prepared to provide treatment to those in need.

Alpha Surgical is usually the first stop for Marines who are seriously wounded fighting insurgents in places like Hadithah, Husaybah and Al Qaim - towns in the northwest corner of Iraq that continue to be hotspots of insurgent activity.

Since they assumed command in late February, the unit has handled nearly 200 patients including members of the ISF and several insurgents.

The majority of injuries Alpha Surgical has treated have been from improvised explosive devices, said Lt. Cmdr. Ben A. Powell, an en route care nurse with the unit.

In the surrounding area, Alpha Surgical is the primary provider of extreme and timely care, said Powell, a 38-year-old native of St. Libory, Neb.

If Alpha Surgical was not here, a patient’s chances of survival would diminish exponentially, he said.

There are five levels of medical care for service members in Iraq, beginning with level one, which is provided by battalion-level aid stations and ending with level five care that is provided back in the States.

Alpha Surgical provides level two medical care, the highest level of care outside of the Combat Army Surgical Hospitals at Baghdad and Ballad.

The flow for such vital care was uninterrupted as the current crew that just arrived in Feruary had a seamless transition with the staff they replaced, said Navy Lt. Joseph A. Gomez, a critical care nurse with the unit.

Even with the guidance from those who have been here for the past seven months, and their intense medical schooling, the new medical personnel here know they still have much to learn.

“Nothing prepares you for this environment; experience is what is getting us through,” said Ensign Maria G. Kennedy, 29, who recently helped a 10-year-old boy from a near-by village who had suffered a serious head trauma.

With each additional case the nurses are getting more proficient at providing care not only on the ground, but in the air as well.

Alpha Surgical provides a service that no other medical unit in the surrounding area can offer – patient stabilization during helicopter medical evacuations from Al Asad to higher-level medical facilities elsewhere in Iraq, Powell said.

Every nurse assigned to the ‘Forward Resuscitative Surgical Suite’ has handled multiple cases of en-route care, said Kennedy, a native of San Diego.

To date they have performed 17 medical evacuation flights.

Sailors like Petty Officer 2nd Class Keith J. O’Brien, an operating room assistant, find a sense of satisfaction in their role in this conflict.

O’Brien also works in the FRSS, which works hand-in-hand with the shock trauma platoon to stabilize patients, prepare them for flight and provide in-flight care.

Unfortunately, that sense of satisfaction only goes so far; the trauma that O’Brien has seen will linger in his mind for a long time to come, he said.

“I’m not going to lie to you, some of the stuff that I have seen here, just in the past month, still haunts me,” he said.

O’Brien’s father, a physician’s assistant and former corpsman, has also seen the horrors of combat and has spoken with his son about what he would see in Iraq.

“He’s been doing it a long time, and he’s told me how to cope with it,” he said. When his father returned from Iraq, O’Brien saw his father cry, a rare occurrence.

For father and son, dealing with the emotions of handling trauma care is something they work together on.

The best thing corpsmen can do is talk it out; getting the experiences off their chests helps the sailors deal with the burden they all carry, O’Brien said.

One Iraqi civilian O’Brien helped treat was a two-year-old boy who had been badly scalded after falling into boiling water his family was using to wash clothes.

After all of their resources failed, the family brought the boy to Alpha Surgical; his father simply said, “Help me, please,” O’Brien said.

“That’s our job, to help people. We treated and saved his son,” said O’Brien, who has a son roughly the same age.

The child was returned to the family better off than when he arrived, but O’Brien wasn’t sure if the child survived after leaving the base.

“I’d be surprised to hear that he didn’t make it,’ O’Brien said. “The health-care providers here are phenomenal.”

A seasoned operating room assistant, O’Brien said that in light of what he has experienced in Iraq, he feels as if he just arrived out of the Navy’s Field Medical Service School.

“It’s a really different task that we do out here,” he explained, comparing what he does stateside to the care they provide here.

Back in the states, O’Brien was in charge of training for the unit, making sure all the Marines and sailors in Alpha Surgical were properly prepared for their deployment.

One particularly useful course the sailors experienced was the month-long Naval Trauma Training Course with one of the busiest hospitals in the U.S., the Los Angeles County Hospital.

Although it’s next to impossible to truly prepare for experiencing trauma firsthand, the wounds the sailors saw at L.A. County were an eye-opener, O’Brien said.

“A lot of the stuff experienced at L.A. County really equates to what we see here,” he said.

For the sailors of Alpha Surgical, providing such necessary and urgent care is a mission that is never thankless; even if they never get the chance to hear their patients thank them personally.

“There is a lot of self satisfaction and a lot of pride in what everybody does here,” Gomez said. “To see someone leave here in a better condition than they were, it’s a feeling no one can ever explain.”

Company That Lost 16 Marines In Iraq Deployed Again

Hard-Hit Unit Gets New Assignment

UPDATED: 10:58 am EST March 26, 2006

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A hard-hit Marine company that lost 16 members in Iraq last year will be deployed to Chad, an African nation dealing with rebel violence within its own borders and in neighboring Sudan.


The reservists of Lima Company regrouped at their Columbus headquarters Saturday for the first time since their return to Ohio in October. They were told that they would be deployed next year.

"Wherever they send us, we will be there 100 percent to defend each other," Gunnery Sgt. Shawn Delgado said.

It was a mixed mood as troops settled in for a "drill weekend" and were reunited with families of fallen Marines. Parents and widows shared emotional embraces with their sons' comrades. Some carried the child a father never not got to hold.

Nine members of the 140-member company -- a branch of the 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines based in Brook Park, Ohio -- were among the 14 Marines who died Aug. 3 in the deadliest roadside bombing of U.S. troops in Iraq.

"What this family of Marines in Columbus have endured on behalf of their country is remarkable," said Major Gen. Douglas O'Dell, commanding general of the 4th Marine Division.

O'Dell presented the families of Sgts. Justin Hoffman and David Kreuter a posthumous Navy Commendation and a posthumous Navy Achievement award, respectively. Both men died in the August explosion.

"It's really an honor," said Carole Hoffman, Justin's mother. "We wish Justin could be here to accept it."

As troops checked in to receive their equipment and undergo medical exams, Delgado said Saturday's drill signified a return to work.

In the next couple of months, the troops will go through rifle and machine-gun training as well as training with the Columbus SWAT team.

"They still have much on their shoulders and we pray them well in their futures," O'Dell said.

Previous Stories:
February 10, 2006: Fallen Marine's Scholarship Fund Helping Local High School
February 2, 2006: Briefing Confirms That 3/25 Marines Were Not Betrayed
January 13, 2006: Report On 3/25 Marine Deaths To Remain Classified
January 4, 2006: Marines Answer Questions About Brook Park Marines' Deaths
January 4, 2006: Kucinich Says He Wants Truth About Deaths Of 3/25 Marines
January 4, 2006: Information Suggests 3/25 Marines May Have Been Betrayed
November 25, 2005: Funeral Services Held For Local Marine Killed In Iraq
November 11, 2005: Brook Park Marines Hold Veterans Day Ceremony
October 14, 2005: Marines Welcomed Home With Ceremonies In Cleveland, Akron

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

In Marines' Deaths, a Friendship Is Born

TUCSON — Elena Zurheide was sitting on her in-laws' couch, cradling her infant son, when an achingly familiar story on the television news grabbed her attention. Another local Marine had been killed in Iraq — meaning another young widow, another fatherless newborn. And another wake.

In an instant she made a decision. She would attend the wake for Cpl. Jeffrey Lawrence, who, like Zurheide's husband, had been on his second tour of duty.


Losing their husbands in Iraq shortly before giving birth to their first children gives two women a special bond.

By Tony Perry, Times Staff Writer
March 26, 2006

She did not know his widow, Celeste, but felt an immediate bond because of their shared tragedy: Each woman had been days away from giving birth to her first child when her husband was killed in Fallouja.

"I didn't want her to go through this alone," said Zurheide, whose husband had been stationed at Camp Pendleton, of that day in 2004. "I knew the pain and suffering she was feeling. It just seemed so right that I go."

With her infant son, Robbie, in her arms and accompanied by an aunt for moral support, she went across town to the tiny chapel.

After waiting for the right moment, she approached Celeste Lawrence, who was sitting apart, looking dazed. Zurheide reached out to hug her, then slipped a small piece of paper into her hand.

Dressed in black, her eyes puffy from crying, still weak from giving birth, Lawrence was startled and said nothing.

"Call me," Zurheide whispered in her ear. "Any time."

Lawrence, holding her baby girl in her arms, was taken aback. The chapel was crowded with people mumbling vague offers of help and sympathy. And then came this note from a stranger.

"I was sitting there and she came up and gave me a hug and said her husband had been killed in Iraq too," Lawrence recalled.

"I just wanted to be left alone. I felt I was the only one who had ever lost a husband like this."

Zurheide knew better. "We were just alike."


Celeste Lawrence had known she would be alone when their baby was born. Jeffrey, her high school sweetheart, quarterback of the football team and her husband of 16 months, had left for Iraq when she was five months pregnant.

"We were still in the honeymoon phase when you're talking about your lives together," she said.

On July 8, 2004, she was two days overdue to give birth. In the oppressive humidity and heat of a North Carolina summer, she had never been so uncomfortable and yet so happy, in anticipation of the baby and her husband's return in the fall.

Then came the knock on the door of her Camp Lejeune apartment. A Marine, a chaplain and a Navy corpsman told Lawrence that her husband had been killed when his vehicle hit a hidden roadside bomb.

The words jolted her.

"I thought I'd have the baby right there," she said. "I didn't cry, I couldn't cry. It was like I couldn't breathe."

Cadence Freedom Lawrence was born two days later. At first gaze, Celeste recognized those eyes, that serious face. Jeffrey's face.

The new mother had decided on the middle name Freedom in honor of the Operation Iraqi Freedom mission that had sent her baby's father to war. She learned to breast-feed while making funeral arrangements and fielding phone calls that brought both condolences and congratulations.

"The only time I had to cry was when the baby was asleep," she said.


Lawrence, 23, and Zurheide, 22, are among nearly 1,000 wives of U.S. service personnel killed in Iraq since the war began three years ago, depriving more than 700 children of a parent.

No military base has lost more personnel in Iraq than Camp Pendleton, where Lance Cpl. Robert Zurheide was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 1st Regiment, 1st Marine Division. Lawrence was part of the 2nd Marine Division at Camp Lejeune.

The Marine Corps prides itself on "taking care of its own" and surrounding grieving families with support, including a casualty assistance officer to help with the complexities of death benefits and medical and dental insurance. A surviving spouse is permitted to live in military housing for one year after the death. The military picks up the tab for moving costs.

Generally, surviving spouses are entitled to a $100,000 death benefit. Also, they are eligible for up to $400,000 in life insurance if the service member had paid monthly premiums.

Still, it's all so much to deal with.

One afternoon about a week after her husband's funeral, after Lawrence had put the baby down for a nap and had a break in the tasks of mothering, grief overwhelmed her. She rummaged in her purse and found the slip of paper that the well-meaning widow had pressed into her hand.

She made the call.

The two women talked for hours. Their lives were so similar — the good times and the bad.

Each had grown up in Tucson and married her high school sweetheart. Elena and Robert Zurheide had eloped to bypass parental opposition. Celeste and Jeffrey Lawrence had had a small wedding.

Zurheide had been living at Camp Pendleton when her husband was killed April 12, 2004. A mortar fired by a Marine had fallen short and landed in the courtyard of an abandoned schoolhouse where Marines were hunkered down during a battle.

When she was notified, Zurheide began cursing and ordered the Marine, the chaplain and the corpsman to leave. On May 1, she gave birth.

Each woman had moved back to Tucson to be close to family and friends — and to their husbands' graves. But the friends they had left as post-high school brides now seemed immature, unable to relate to their tragedy.

"Celeste and I had to grow up — like this," said Zurheide, snapping her fingers. "These girls may have children, but it's not the same. They still haven't had to grow up."

Zurheide and Lawrence have bought homes and sport utility vehicles. Zurheide drives a new Dodge Durango; Lawrence, a Cadillac Escalade. Zurheide lives outside town on a four-acre spread where she keeps horses, goats and dogs. Lawrence bought a tidy four-bedroom home in a new subdivision.

Recently, each became more conscious of her appearance. Both lost weight. Zurheide got braces; Lawrence had breast augmentation.

"I wanted to do something that made me feel young again," Lawrence said. She is seeing someone.

When the two are together, much of their conversation is the usual chitchat of young mothers — naps, feeding, teething, etc. But on a cold, windy day recently, the exchange turned to the raw facts that had brought them into each other's life:

"Have you seen your husband's autopsy report?" Lawrence asked. "They won't show me mine."

"Yes," Zurheide said, her voice suddenly hard and angry. "They told me to make sure someone was with me when I read it. I read it alone."

Lawrence is not sure she wants to see the report. "My husband was sitting over the gas tank, so there really isn't much left of him," she said.

Zurheide remains angry that it took weeks for the Marine Corps to officially confirm that her husband had been killed by friendly fire.

Still, she remains supportive of the U.S. mission in Iraq. "We've got to finish things," she said. "I don't want Robbie to have to go over there someday and finish it."

Lawrence is more ambivalent about the war.

"My husband died a hero, I know that," she said softly. "But President Bush mentioned bringing the troops home soon, but it's two years later, and they're still there. I just don't know."

In late August 2004, about a month after meeting, the women decided they deserved a break and traveled to San Diego for a Toby Keith concert.

When the country-western star sang his trademark "American Soldier," it was as if he was singing directly to them:

When liberty's in jeopardy,

I will always do what's right.

I'm out here on the front lines,

Sleep in peace tonight.

Lawrence said later, "It made me feel alive again."

The two mothers and their toddlers have spent birthdays and holidays together. They talk by phone and go shopping. They went recently to a roadhouse to enjoy some music.

They don't need to be in constant contact; just knowing the other is there is enough.

"We're sisters now," Lawrence said.

March 25, 2006

Marines patrol Army territory near Abu Ghraib

ABU GHRAIB, Iraq (March 25, 2006) -- Marines expanded their area of operations to assist U.S. Army forces recently.


Submitted by: 1st Marine Division
Story Identification #: 20063291594
Story by Cpl. William Skelton

Marines from C Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment working with Regimental Combat Team 5, conducted patrols in the area surrounding the Abu Ghraib prison. The area was until recently, part of an Army division’s area of operations. Their forces were realigned to boost security in Baghdad and Marines backfilled the region.

Abu Ghraib is located 20 miles west of Baghdad in the Al Anbar Province.

“Our Marines are performing a large variety of functions in the area,” said Capt. Brian S. Middleton, the 30-year-old company commander from DeSoto, Texas. “They are conducting near constant security patrols and maintaining hard bases in the area.”

C Company and two Mobile Assault Platoons from Weapons Company are based on and around the prison providing security in the surrounding communities.

They are uncovering improvised explosive devices and buried weapons and reaching out to the Iraqis in their new area. For the most part, the Marines have been busy learning their new surroundings.

“The Marines conduct mounted and dismounted patrols, IED patrols, cache sweeps, cordon-and-knocks and raids,” Middleton said.

Marines from C Company conduct several types of patrols routinely throughout the area. On a typical morning, one platoon conducted security patrols around a power plant, near the prison. They worked on stopping, listening, looking and smelling, a jingle the Marines refer to when they’re learning their surroundings.

“We conducted your standard security patrol in the area,” said Sgt. Jesse B. Auten, a 23-year-old squad leader from Lowry City, Mo. “The Marines performed SLLS and kept eyes on the area.”

The Marines took periodic stops and sat listing to their surroundings for suspicious activity. It’s a job of patience and keen observation. It’s also a role they know reassures the local citizens and reminds insurgents in the area that there is no safe haven.

“We stop and just provide a presence for the community to see and for the insurgents to see too,” Auten said. “We let them all know we are here.”

Afternoon missions called for another platoon to conduct security patrols, but also performed a survey for the local residents. The Marines handed out sheets of paper with questions written in Arabic for the local community.

“The sheets we passed out were questioning the Iraqi people on our activities in the area,” said Sgt. Jose L. Alicea, a 25-year-old squad leader from Bronx, N.Y. “We basically were asking them how we’re doing and to see if there is anything they need.”

The change of scenery didn’t call for Marines to completely revamp their tactics, though. They knew that the same traditional roles would be needed, but in a denser environment than the rural areas they had been working in north of Fallujah.

The Marines welcomed the opportunity to move to an area that is more dynamic. So far, their constant presence in the communities is paying off. Insurgent activity is less than what many expected.

“I knew coming into this area that we weren’t going to be performing any real offensive work,” Alicea said. “But not seeing a lot of insurgent activity isn’t a bad thing.”

The Marines are constantly moving out, making the area safer for the people of Iraq. Running constant foot patrols is what it takes to keep the insurgents at bay.

“The Marines patrol anywhere from 50 to 60 miles a week on foot,” Middleton explained. “They go out, conduct operations then return for a rest and then do it all over again.”

It’s exhausting work. Marines perform the mission wearing their combat load of body armor and push throughout the rising temperatures. It takes a toll, but is part of the every-day routine for the infantrymen.

“We are all just here doing our job,” Alicea added. “Changing up the AO just moved us around. We are still doing the same mission.”

Keeping the insurgents from attacking the prison is high on the agenda for the Marines of the battalion, said Middleton.

“When the insurgents successfully attack the prison it’s a morale victory for them,” Middleton said. “We’re here to stop those attacks from happening.”

1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment will maintain their expanded area of operations for the foreseeable future.

March 24, 2006

Marines trade everyday jobs for guard force

AR RAMADI, Iraq (March 24, 2006) -- At Hurricane Point, the Marines of 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment work around the clock planning, executing, and refining operations in western Ramadi.


Submitted by: I Marine Expeditionary Force
Story Identification #: 20064253958
Story by Cpl. Joseph DiGirolamo

Day and night, a select group of Marines fortify positions surrounding the camp allowing fellow warriors to work, live and rest in relative security as they accomplish their missions.

These Marines have a mixture of different military occupational specialties. However, today they are united together to carryout one job in particular -- the interior guard force.

“We are called the guardian angles of the camp,” said Lance Cpl. Dux A. Lopez, an administrative clerk for Headquarters and Service Company, 3rd Bn., 8th Marines.

The battalion deployed last year to Fallujah from January 2005 to August 2005. Now the Marines and sailors have returned to Iraq to participate to conduct operations in western Ramadi.

The Marines of the guard force keep a watchful eye on everything that goes on in the city around them, constantly on the lookout for suspicious activity.

Before they could stand post, the new sentries went through a rigorous five-day training evolution.

Their training covered areas such as escalation of force procedures, weapons conditions, the purpose of each post, and how to use the new Multi-Functional Agile Remote Control Robot.

“The main challenge is making sure the Marines learn and understand the knowledge taught to them,” said Sgt. Antoine M. Beasley, the sergeant of the guard responsible for the Marines on post. “The other challenge is getting the guys familiar with their post and surrounding area.”

Unit cohesion is also important. Since the Marines come from all different sections of the battalion, they must quickly learn how to operate as a team, said the 27-year-old from Augusta, Ga.

“The purpose of guard is to provide a constant over watch of Hurricane Point to ensure the safety of the Marines and sailors inside,” said Cpl. Joshua C. Myers, a 23-year-old motor transport operator with the guard force. “We are the main line of defense between the insurgents and the Marines.”

Standing post for hours at a time can be challenging; however, the Marines know with certainty that staying sharp could be a matter of life or death.

“They have to be observant and pay attention to every detail, they can’t get complacent,” said Lance Cpl. Richard R. Ricketts, a mortar man for the company.

The Marines observe everyone and keep an eye out for anything suspicious, such as people potential IED’s or other kinds of explosives, said Lance Cpl. Joel J. Fuller, a Nuclear Biological and Chemical Defense specialist with the guard.

The sentries keep a continuous watch for their fellow Marines and hopefully, everyone inside camp can conduct their missions with a little peace of mind. The battalion lives by the motto “everyday is day one.” This is especially true for the guard.

“Without the guard force, Marines simply couldn’t sleep at night,” said Beasley.

Combat engineers unearth 500-plus weapons caches, save lives in Iraq

HADITHA DAM, Iraq (March 24, 2006) -- Iraq’s roadways are a bit safer, thanks to a platoon of Marine combat engineers here.


Submitted by: 1st Marine Division
Story Identification #: 200632474550
Story by Cpl. Adam C. Schnell

Marine combat engineers from C Company, 1st Combat Engineer Battalion, have discovered more than 500 weapons caches in the area, the most discovered by a single unit in the massive western-part of Al Anbar Province.

The unearthed caches, found over the past six months during the unit’s deployment to Iraq, contained a variety of explosives and ordinance, ranging from bullets, to anti-tank mines and artillery and tank rounds. The explosives are used by enemy forces to make roadside bombs - commonly called ‘improvised explosive devices’ – the number one killer of Coalition Forces in Iraq in the past year.

“As combat engineers we are always expected to be an inch deep and a mile wide,” said 1st Lt. Christopher D. Troughton, the combat engineer platoon commander. “What I mean by this is that we are expected to be able to do a lot of different things but never really get a chance to become experts at one thing.”

When the engineers began their deployment here more than six months ago, they weren’t sure what to expect while working with 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment – the infantry unit assigned to provide security in the “Triad” region of Haqlaniyah, Haditha, and Barwanah.

“Without the combat engineers around, we would never find as many caches as we do,” said 2nd Lt. Charlie Loya Jr., a Lamirada, Calif., native and a platoon commander for the battalion’s I Company. “They really know how to use the metal detectors.”

Historically, combat engineers are called upon to perform a number of tasks, such as constructing buildings, demolition, emplacing barriers, beefing up installation security measures, sweeping for mines and hidden weapons caches.

The platoon’s 40 Marines did it all.

As the engineers rid the area of enemy bomb-making material, they also helped to save Marines’ lives by constructing hardened shelters, such as those found at the various firm bases and entry control points throughout the region. They built more than 40 hardened structures, which provide shelter from enemy attacks.

Each post was built for a specific purpose, to serve a specific mission for a specific unit.

The engineers say no two structures are exactly alike.

“When I build something I always think of the people that will be using it,” said Cpl. Kurt Gellert, a combat engineer from Atlantic City, N.J. “They are the ones out there and I need to make sure that what I built will protect them in any circumstance.”

Although new to the “Triad” region when they arrived here last year, most of the platoon’s engineers are not new to deployments in Iraq. The platoon heavily relied on their Iraqi Freedom veterans to provide expertise when searching for caches in Iraq’s volatile Al Anbar Province.

“Some of the Marines were experienced operators and were able to provide good knowledge to the newer Marines,” said Troughton, a Torrington, Conn., native. “They knew finding caches was one of the things we do, but no one expected us to find as many as we did.

Though metal detectors are a “very useful tool” to discover hidden munitions, the platoon’s success came from the Marines’ experience and a keen eye, according to Troughton, 33.

Some of the engineers say they had to “put themselves in the enemy’s shoes and think like an insurgent” when combing Iraq’s roadways, towns and open desert.

“You kind of get an eye for it,” said Pfc. Grant B. Jewell, a combat engineer and Denver native. “The metal detector is really useful, but usually the insurgents will leave a clue letting us know where they are hiding the caches.”

With their deployment winding down, Marines from 1st CEB will soon reunite with family and friends when they return to their base at Camp Pendleton, Calif.

They can do so knowing they’ve made a difference here, and have saved lives.

Their next mission: to pass on what they’ve learned and experienced here to the next wave of combat engineers who will rotate into Iraq.

“This deployment has been nothing but a positive experience and victory in the [area of operation],” said Troughton. “The Marines rose to every occasion and gained many experiences that will help them in the future.”

Joint Operation Seeks to Disrupt Insurgents, Operation Northern Lights seeks to disrupt anti-Iraqi forces in the Abu Ghraib area west of Baghdad.

BAGHDAD, March 24, 2006 — Iraqi army and Coalition Forces, approximately 1,400 personnel, kicked off Operation Northern Lights March 22 to disrupt anti-Iraqi forces and to find and destroy terrorist caches in the Abu Ghraib area west of Baghdad.


By 1st Brigade Combat Team,
10th Mountain Division

The joint and combined operation began with 3rd Brigade, 6th Iraqi Army Division, and 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, moving to blocking positions by ground before soldiers from 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, air assaulted onto the objective to conduct a cordon and search.

By late afternoon, approximately 400 soldiers from the 3rd Brigade, 6th Iraqi Army Division, discovered five weapons caches, containing a machine gun, a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, three AK-47 assault rifles, 2,200 PKC machine gun rounds, two boxes of gunpowder, an RPG rocket, an Iraqi police jacket, 18 106mm tank rounds, 400 blasting caps, 40 artillery rounds, 17 pressure plate initiators, 20 Motorola radio initiators, and thousands of .50 caliber machine gun rounds. They also detained a suspected terrorist near one of the caches.

At another cache site, terrorists attacked Iraqi soldiers with small-arms fire, wounding one Iraqi policeman and an Iraqi child caught in the crossfire.

Iraqi soldiers returned fire, wounding and capturing a terrorist. All of the wounded were treated by Coalition Forces personnel.

Iraqi Army soldiers from 3rd Battalion, 6th Iraqi Army Division secure weapons and ammunition seized in Operation Northern Lights. U.S. Army photo by Maj. Robert Krenzel

Another cache found consisted of seven RPG launchers, 12 RPG rounds, 14 82mm mortar rounds, two 120mm mortar rounds, ten 155mm rounds, a mortar bipod and 2,000 small-arms rounds, some of which were armor-piercing rounds. A suspected terrorist was detained at the site.

The combined forces continue to search for terrorists and bomb-making materials. So far through the operations, Iraqi and Coalition Forces have detained two persons of high-value interest and 16 suspected terrorists.

The operation is based on intelligence, including tips from local Iraqis, that terrorists are operating in the area and are stockpiling roadside bomb and truck bomb making materials to prepare for future attacks in Baghdad.

California-based Marine battalion starts second tour in Iraq’s Qa’im region

CAMP AL QA'IM, Iraq (March 24, 2006) -- Marines from 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment never thought they’d see the Al Qa’im region of Iraq again when they departed their military camp here in March last year.


Submitted by: Regimental Combat Team7
Story by: Computed Name: Cpl. Antonio Rosas
Story Identification #: 2006325121438

One year later, the Twentynine Palms, Calif.-based unit has returned to this remote forward operating base here, located just east of the Syrian border in western Al Anbar Province, to continue to keep insurgents at bay and provide stability in the region.

But this time, they’ve got a new mission — assisting an Iraqi Army unit to eventually take control of the area.

The battalion has integrated Iraqi soldiers into daily operations, such as patrolling, responding to improvised explosive devices, manning security posts, and interacting with the local populace in this once insurgent-heavy region of Al Anbar Province.

The battalion’s deployment to Iraq is part of a regularly scheduled rotation of forces in western Al Anbar Province. More than 23,000 Marines and sailors of the Camp Pendleton, Calif.-based I Marine Expeditionary Force have replaced the Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based II Marine Expeditionary Force.

Last year, the battalion participated in a variety of major combat operations to quell insurgents throughout Al Anbar Province. This year, however, it’s the Iraqi Security Forces who will eventually take the lead while the Marines assist them.

But as the Marines advise their partnered Iraqi Army battalion how to conduct - and eventually take the lead in - counterinsurgency operations, the Iraqi soldiers offer their own unique abilities in the fight against terrorism, according to Lt. Col. Nicholas F. Marano, commander for 1st Bn., 7th Marines.

“By patrolling and operating with the Iraqi Forces, it will give our company commanders better intelligence and cultural awareness,” said Marano. “The Iraqi Army soldiers can tell the difference between someone local and someone from outside the area.”

Distinguishing between local townspeople and insurgents is harder for the Marines because they don’t have the same cultural familiarity of Iraq as the Iraqi soldiers.

Marano noted that an integral part of continuing Iraqi progress in the region is for Iraqi and Coalition forces to work with the local populace to integrate the Iraqi police back into the community.

“The implementation of an effective police force and supporting judicial system is an essential ingredient in the counterinsurgency fight because it bridges the gap between military action and local civic control,” added Maj. Mark D. Dietz, the battalion’s operations officer.

But while the Marines now have a battalion of Iraqi soldiers to help share the responsibility of security operations in this region, atmospherics in the Qa’im region “are at their highest levels and remain on the upswing,” according to Dietz.

“The battalion was fortunate in returning to an area that a high percentage of the Marines, particularly their junior leadership, are familiar with,” said Dietz. “However, the dynamics of the AO (area of operations) have changed dramatically since (we) were here last.”

In an effort to keep insurgents out of the Syrian border area, Coalition forces established multiple battle positions after last November’s Operation Steel Curtain, the largest counterinsurgency operation to date in western Al Anbar Province. During the 18-days of “Steel Curtain,” more than 2,500 Marines, sailors, soldiers and Iraqi soldiers cleared the cities of Husaybah and Karabilah of anti-Iraqi forces, often fighting insurgents house-to-house. The operation resulted in more than 250 killed or captured insurgents.

But once Iraqi soldiers and the Marines left the area, the “bad guys moved back in,” said Maj. Stanton L. Chambers, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment’s acting executive officer.

The Marines and Iraqi soldiers found a solution, though – they created several new, permanent battle posts to further prevent any free movement by insurgents back into the area once the Marines left, said Chambers, from Grand Prairie, Texas.

In short, the battle positions allow Coalition forces to keep a watchful eye on the region, discouraging insurgent activity. But establishing the positions was an achievement unto itself, according to Chambers.

The 36-year-old said that just several months ago, the region proved to be a hotbed of insurgent activity and home to some of the most “hellacious firefights,” according to Chambers.

Some of the battle positions took daily enemy fire, he recalled. But the Marines held their ground, and the results of the Marines’ and Iraqi soldiers’ efforts are now apparent: less insurgent activity, more cooperation from locals, and a securer environment for local leaders and the national Iraqi Government to operate in.

In addition to beefing up the Coalition’s presence in the area to keep insurgents out, Iraqi soldiers and Marines also regularly met with leaders and sheiks to address locals’ concerns.

“The Iraqi Army leaders know much of the tribal and municipal leaders and they are naturally going to work together,” said Marano. “I am enthusiastic about working with them and after meeting with the Iraqi Army leaders, they are enthusiastic to assume control of the battle positions.”

In addition to providing security here, Marines and Iraqi soldiers are also working close with the Iraqi Government to restore the local infrastructure. They’re working closely with local communities here to keep schools open, water treatment plants running, health clinics open and provide monetary assistance to those citizens whose homes have been destroyed from previous battles.

As 1st Bn., 7th Marines assumes control of the area, they are working hand-in-hand with the Iraqi soldiers to continue the progress that’s been made in the region over the past year.

Though Marano’s Marines are no rookies to the region on conducting counterinsurgency operations, the turnover between the two battalions was critical to a successful transition between the two units, as it provided invaluable information to assist the California-based Marines with advising the still-developing Iraqi Army unit here.

“IA (Iraqi Army) progress, particularly in the Al Qa’im region, has shown remarkable improvement since our last deployment,” said Dietz. “The IA Brigade is fully partnered with the Marines down to the squad and platoon level. All operations are planned and executed jointly with the Iraqis assuming the lead role at a progressive rate.”

“They (Iraqi soldiers) have their own standard operating procedures although they try to mimic the Marines. Once they learn what they need to know they will be alright,” said Staff Sgt. Robert A. Bridges, a machine gun section leader from Lima Company, 3rd Bn., 6th Marines - the Marine unit "1/7" has replaced.

The 34-year-old from Virginia Beach, Va., has spent six months working with Iraqi soldiers, including during major combat operations last November. He said he is confident the Iraqi soldiers will continue to progress with the new Marine unit.

A handful of the 1st Battalion’s Marines will be part of the local Military Transition Team – a group of Coalition servicemembers assigned to logistically assist and guide each Iraqi military unit’s transition to independent operations - and will have a more direct impact on the Iraqi soldiers’ development.

“Our goal is to teach the Iraqi Army soldiers until they can handle [operations] on their own,” said Lance Cpl. Mario B. Cia, 23, a squad automatic weapon gunner from Baker Company, 1st Bn., 7th Marines.

Though Marines from Baker Company have worked with the Iraqis for just a few days, they’ve already begun to notice progress.

“Some things that we teach them, such as weapons-handling procedures, they are getting it right the first time,” said Lance Cpl. Brandon M. McKinney, 23, another machine gunner from Baker Company. “Regardless of what happens here in the future, I know we did our best to train them.”

By year’s end, Coalition forces say Iraqi Security Forces will be operating independently in western Al Anbar Province.

But while Marines here are set on putting Iraqi Security forces at the forefront here, there is still work to be done, security to be provided. Prior experience from past deployments – especially from the battalion’s junior leadership – has given the Marines corporate knowledge that will allow them to extinguish any remaining pockets of the insurgency.

“A counterinsurgency is won and lost at the squad and platoon level where our greatest strength and experience lies,” said Dietz.

Marines sharpen skills with Carolina K-Bar

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION BEAUFORT, SC (March 24, 2006) -- The lead vehicle in a convoy has just been severely damaged by an improvised explosive device during combat operations and all the experienced Marines are unable to repel further enemy assault.


Submitted by: MCAS Beaufort
Story Identification #: 200632410515
Story by Pfc. Jason D. Mills

With F/A-18’s screaming by, AH-64A/D Apache helicopters loitering overhead and ground forces anxiously awaiting air-support, the successful coordination of lethal firepower lies in the hands of a junior Marine.

This scenario was one of many practiced by several Marine Aircraft Group 31 Hornet Squadrons and Marine Wing Support Squadron 273 during Operation Carolina K-Bar recently.

“This exercise has definitely helped me,” said Sgt. Andrew Gordon, a supply clerk from MWSS-273. “During my six years in the Marine Corps I have never got to do anything like this before.”

The training exercise, held March 10 through today, was designed to provide Marines with the skills needed to conduct offensive air support operations in both urban and non-urban environments, integrate with actual ground forces and joint aviation assets, and focus on real-world execution of expected combat missions.

“The whole point of this exercise is so the Marines can get some hands on action,” said Staff Sgt. Dy Siboura of MWSS-273. “It really gives Marines the information to know what they need to do and the confidence to do it.”

The exercise allowed Marines on the ground to talk directly to aircrews, an opportunity that most Marines may never experience. Which is all part of MAG-31’s intent to provide meaningful training evolutions that mimic operations that are presently being conducted in forward-deployed environments, according to Col. Robert S. Walsh, the commanding officer of MAG-31.

“In the past, the majority of our training occurred to our east over the Atlantic Ocean, simulating air-to-air combat. Our training focus now is to prepare our squadrons to support the wide range of ground operations currently being conducted in Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Walsh.

The training was held at several locations, to include the Townsend Bombing Range in Georgia; Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C.; Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C.; Pope Air Force Base, N.C.; and the special use airspace overhead Beaufort County.

“The world has changed and now these (convoy operators) are finding themselves in the front lines of the war because of IED’s in Afghanistan and Iraq,” said Air National Guard Lt. Col. Jim O’Brien, the commander of Townsend Range. “We want to make sure that they understand that they have air support available to them and to let them get more familiar with the interaction with air support, so if something does happen they know they have someone looking over their shoulder to provide immediate assistance.”

Although it is not uncommon for the Marines of Fightertown to participate in training exercises, this one was unique, according to the exercise coordinator Maj. George Rowell, a MAG-31 training officer. The exercise’s primary focus was on the air-to-ground fight, yet at the same time the focus was on close air support, forward air control (airborne) and convoy escorts.

“Our pilots know that we lose more Marines and soldiers to IED’s and eliminating the enemy is their number one goal,” said Rowell.

The exercise wasn’t just for the Marines on the ground, it was a training exercise for the aircrews of MAG-31 as well. The MAG-31 squadrons flew more than 180 sorties throughout the exercise. After being called in for air-support one section of jets would fly over the convoy to simulate real air support while other jets would simultaneously fly over Townsend range and drop ordnance.

“We do a lot of large force exercises,” said Maj. Scott Creed, a MAG-31 training officer. “But we wanted to focus on the air to ground fight; the supporting of the Marines on the ground.”

The intent of this exercise was to prepare its participants for a possible deployment to the Middle East, according to Creed.

“The exercise was an attempt to train for the environment we are currently in, such as Iraq and Afghanistan, and try and use the exact same tactics, techniques and procedures that they use overseas in preparation for when we deploy,” said Creed. “We are attempting to incorporate the latest procedures that are coming out of Iraq.”

The elements that made this training exercise unique was the use of Marine, Army and Air Force assets and the opportunity for air and ground forces to interact directly with each other just as they would in the field.

“No one service is going to do everything by itself. We all have to work together,” said O’Brien. “We are a total American fighting force and that’s how we go to war.”

Combat engineers unearth 500-plus weapons caches, save lives in Iraq

HADITHA DAM, Iraq (March 24, 2006) -- Iraq’s roadways are a bit safer, thanks to a platoon of Marine combat engineers here.


Submitted by: Regimental Combat Team7
Story Identification #: 200632474550
Story by Cpl. Adam C. Schnell

Marine combat engineers from Company C, 1st Combat Engineer Battalion, have discovered more than 500 weapons caches in the area, the most discovered by a single unit in the massive western-part of Al Anbar Province.

The unearthed caches, found over the past six months during the unit’s deployment to Iraq, contained a variety of explosives and ordinance, ranging from bullets, to anti-tank mines and artillery and tank rounds. The explosives are used by enemy forces to make roadside bombs - commonly called ‘improvised explosive devices’ – the number one killer of Coalition Forces in Iraq in the past year.

“As combat engineers we are always expected to be an inch deep and a mile wide,” said 1st Lt. Christopher D. Troughton, the combat engineer platoon commander. “What I mean by this is that we are expected to be able to do a lot of different things but never really get a chance to become experts at one thing.”

When the engineers began their deployment here more than six months ago, they weren’t sure what to expect while working with 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment – the infantry unit assigned to provide security in the “Triad” region of Haqlaniyah, Haditha, and Barwanah.

“Without the combat engineers around, we would never find as many caches as we do,” said 2nd Lt. Charlie Loya Jr., a Lamirada, Calif., native and a platoon commander for the battalion’s Company I. “They really know how to use the metal detectors.”

Historically, combat engineers are called upon to perform a number of tasks, such as constructing buildings, demolition, emplacing barriers, beefing up installation security measures, sweeping for mines and hidden weapons caches.

The platoon’s 40 Marines did it all.

As the engineers rid the area of enemy bomb-making material, they also helped to save Marines’ lives by constructing hardened shelters, such as those found at the various firm bases and entry control points throughout the region. They built more than 40 hardened structures, which provide shelter from enemy attacks.

Each post was built for a specific purpose, to serve a specific mission for a specific unit.

The engineers say no two structures are exactly alike.

“When I build something I always think of the people that will be using it,” said Cpl. Kurt Gellert, a combat engineer from Atlantic City, N.J. “They are the ones out there and I need to make sure that what I built will protect them in any circumstance.”

Although new to the “Triad” region when they arrived here last year, most of the platoon’s engineers are not new to deployments in Iraq. The platoon heavily relied on their Iraqi Freedom veterans to provide expertise when searching for caches in Iraq’s volatile Al Anbar Province.

“Some of the Marines were experienced operators and were able to provide good knowledge to the newer Marines,” said Troughton, a Torrington, Conn., native. “They knew finding caches was one of the things we do, but no one expected us to find as many as we did.

Though metal detectors are a “very useful tool” to discover hidden munitions, the platoon’s success came from the Marines’ experience and a keen eye, according to Troughton, 33.

Some of the engineers say they had to “put themselves in the enemy’s shoes and think like an insurgent” when combing Iraq’s roadways, towns and open desert.

“You kind of get an eye for it,” said Pfc. Grant B. Jewell, a combat engineer and Denver native. “The metal detector is really useful, but usually the insurgents will leave a clue letting us know where they are hiding the caches.”

With their deployment winding down, Marines from 1st CEB will soon reunite with family and friends when they return to their base at Camp Pendleton, Calif.

They can do so knowing they’ve made a difference here, and have saved lives.

Their next mission: to pass on what they’ve learned and experienced here to the next wave of combat engineers who will rotate into Iraq.

“This deployment has been nothing but a positive experience and victory in the [area of operation],” said Troughton. “The Marines rose to every occasion and gained many experiences that will help them in the future.”

'Raging Bulls' depart Iraq, head back to sea

USS NASSAU, At Sea (March 24, 2006) -- The flight line at Al Asad Air Base was a flurry of rotor blades and wrench-toting men and women while Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 261 (Reinforced) was in Iraq.


Submitted by: 22nd MEU
Story Identification #: 200632422654
Story by Lance Cpl. Peter R. Miller

Night and day for months, these mechanics, avionics and air frame specialists and a myriad of other supporting personnel of HMM-261 (Rein) enabled the squadron’s 1,845 sorties of more than 3,000 combat flight hours. Even though those on the flight line rarely saw the direct benefits of their job, their hard work kept Marines throughout Iraq safe.

“We delivered a lot of bullets and Band-Aids,” said squadron operations chief, Gunnery Sgt. David P. Eidem. “And, we also took a lot of Marines into combat on tactical insertion missions and raids,” said the Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran from Omaha, Neb.

According to Eidem, the squadron transported over 184 tons of cargo and 5,380 troops, including both the Commandant and Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps.

According to Capt. Greg Dono, a UH-1N Huey helicopter pilot, the squadron was always busy.

“We usually supported the MEU [22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable)] by providing route reconnaissance, convoy escorts, and close air support to keep an eye on any land the ground forces couldn’t see,” said Dono.

Besides providing added situational awareness for ground commanders, the squadron benefited ground pounding grunts in another way.

“We’re also a morale booster,” said the Huntington Station, N.Y., native, “because we’re a deterrent for insurgent activity. While we were overhead, they [ground forces] were never hit by an IED or small arms fire. We tend to keep the bad guys inside,” said the OIF veteran.

Marines labored around the clock to keep pilots like Dono airborne. They worked 43,000 hours to complete 8,700 maintenance requests. That means, on average, each hour of flight time required about 14 hours of maintenance.

“Each man puts in at least 12 hours a day, seven days a week,” said CH-46E air frame mechanic Cpl. Anthony L. Booth, an Eastridge, Tenn., native. “The shop runs 24 hours a day, and it takes everyone lending a hand to get the job done.”

“If it wasn’t for us, the squadron would fall to pieces,” added another CH-46E air framer, Sgt. Evan R. Woods of Tucson, Ariz. “In the rain, when it’s cold at night, we’re there any time a bird takes off just in case something goes wrong,” said Woods, also on his second Iraq tour. “Usually we change out the component on the spot and let the pilot continue the mission.”

Another OIF veteran, AH-1W Super Cobra and UH-1N Huey air frame mechanic Cpl. Daniel C. Landin, of Ozona, Texas, said after every 200 hours of flight time, they'd tear the birds apart for a phase inspection.

The one to two-week project allows the mechanics to fix rivets, inspect the hydraulic systems that control the bird, repair broken fiberglass and swap out “high-time” components, said Sgt. Jason J. Kramersmeier, a CH-53E Super Stallion air frame mechanic from Altoona, Iowa.

The squadron’s component administration shop keeps a close log of every aircraft’s parts to make sure they’re replaced on schedule, said Landin.

While air framers inspect hydraulics and fiberglass, avionics specialists monitor electronic systems and do their part to help keep them free of rust.

“Here in the avionics shop, we do the wire repair, electronic troubleshooting and corrosion control,” said avionic systems specialist Lance Cpl. Schuyler A. Ferdinandson, of Mahopac, N.Y. “After crossing the Atlantic [Ocean] on ship, the salt water had rusted everything. Every shop donates people to a special shop that constantly busts rust and paints. When there’s nothing to do, there’s always corrosion control.”

Besides working side-by-side to keep aircraft free of rust and looking mean, the shops also combined their talents on a daily basis to divide up the workload and learn something new, said Woods.

“It’s been a learning experience, seeing how the other shops are run,” he added. “We have twelve 46s, four 53s, four Cobras, two Hueys, and six Harriers; so everyone’s had a hand in doing something new.”

Because of their hard work, the squadron fulfilled more than 500 aviation support requests. HMM-261 (Rein.) also remained on-call for emergency casualty evacuation missions as an ever-present secondary duty.

“A helicopter casevac is the quickest way to get the patient from the front line to the next level of care,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Clint M. Day, a casevac-qualified corpsman from the 22nd MEU (SOC) Command Element.

“We had a corpsman who received severe trauma to his legs from an explosion in Hit,” said Day. “Within 30 minutes, he was in the air and on his way to Al Asad [Medical Clinic]. Because of the helicopter, he was able to receive the direct benefit of a skilled surgeon. They had to amputate his legs, but it saved his life.”

Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 261 (Rein.) accomplished life-saving casualty evacuation missions, provided close air support on MEU operations like Koa Canyon and Smokewagon, and ensured the safety and morale of many Marines over the previous two months. The Marines on the flight line rarely saw anything besides the constant influx of work demands, but their hard work made great things possible.

The squadron returned to the ships of the Nassau Strike Group and is working for the 22nd MEU (SOC) along with Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 2nd Marines and MEU Service Support Group-22. For more information on the 22nd MEU (SOC), visit the unit web site www.22meu.usmc.mil.

‘It’s been a long seven months’

“I just know they’re coming soon,” said Amber Sawyer, a bunch of balloons clutched tightly in her hand. “My heart is starting to beat fast, and my chest is hurting.”


March 24,2006

Sawyer, the wife of Staff Sgt. James Sawyer, has the usual homecoming jitters. It’s a strong case of the excitements with a few symptoms of nervousness.

“It’s the waiting, the anticipating,” she said as she played with her 2-year-old daughter, Jocelyn. “The excitement. It’s like being a newlywed all over again.

She wasn’t the only one with nerves Thursday as hundreds of Marines with 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines returned to Camp Lejeune from a seven-month deployment to Iraq’s western and chaotic al Anbar province. The entire battalion, about 900 strong, has been returning to Lejeune in groups over the past week.

The battalion is one of the last of the 2nd Marine Division’s infantry units returning from Iraq — 2nd Battalion, 6th Marines is due back sometime in April — and 3/6’s Marines will add to an area already swelling with thousands of leathernecks who have put in their time in the war zone during the last year.

“It’s been a long seven months,” said Michele Wallenta, the mother of Sgt. Sean Wallenta. “He’s our only child. I’m just elated, totally elated. And very, very blessed.”

This is not Wallenta’s first deployment — he’s been in the Corps since 1997 — but his mother said it doesn’t make it any easier. While worry always nagged at her, she said it’s important to have faith.

“In order to be able to function, you have to remember he’s doing his job and doing his job well, and he’ll be okay,” she said.

During the deployment, the battalion engaged the enemy and helped train Iraqi soldiers. They also provided security during last year’s crucial votes for the Iraqi constitution and the elections.

Eight Marines were killed and 67 were wounded in Iraq, said 1st Lt. Barry Edwards, a 2nd Marine Division spokesman.

One of those wounded was Cpl. Jamie Shirley, 22, from Sumter, S.C., who has been waiting for months for the rest of 3/6 to come home.

Shirley was shot in the knee Nov. 5 at the beginning of Steel Curtain, a large-scale operation to hunt down insurgents and weapons caches. He was pinned on a roof by gunfire, trying to protect himself behind a wall. Then a bullet broke through the wall and lodged itself in his leg.

“This will be good,” he said. “I can’t wait to see them. I’m glad I can be here when they get here.”

While he’s excited to see them, he said its been hard sitting back in America.

“It’s hard leaving your guys over there, knowing they have to go through all that crap and you’re sitting back here in the safe world,” he said.

But Shirley wasn’t sitting alone for long. Sawyer’s premonition proved correct as a line of buses was soon cruising up the road and being met by shaking signs and happy shouts.

Tears welled up in Sawyer’s eyes when her husband hopped off the bus and walked over to her with a grin on his face. He hugged his wife, looked at his daughter and smiled.

“Hey you,” he said.

Contact staff writer Chris Mazzolini at [email protected] or 353-1171, ext. 229.

Wounded (1/1) Marine back home--Grenade attack near Fallujah, Iraq, left Lance Cpl. Shane Chambers' right leg paralyzed

Two weeks and two days after Lance Cpl. Shane Chambers was wounded during an attack near Fallujah, Iraq, the Marine was greeted by his family Thursday as he returned home.


Friday, March 24, 2006
By GUY BUSBY, Staff Reporter

The 21-year-old 2003 Fairhope High graduate's right leg was paralyzed after he was hit by grenade fragments during an ambush while on patrol in Karma, Iraq, near Fallujah. He arrived Thursday at the Mobile Regional Airport for a 30-day leave before returning to duty with the Marine Corps for more medical treatment.

"It's good to be back," he said. "Great to be here."

Chambers had been in Iraq for about two months and had seen little heavy fighting before the attack. "Just a few skirmishes, mostly just people taking pot shots at us," he said.

March 7 started as a normal day, he said. He was a grenadier -- a Marine assigned to use an M-203 grenade launcher -- with a unit checking an area near Fallujah.

"We were out on security patrol, which was one of the things we did and we took some grenades, a couple, over a wall," he said. "Me and my buddies took cover and some of the guys returned fire."

Chambers said that as Marines scrambled to pursue the insurgents, he found that he'd been hit in the back of his right leg.

"They medevaced me out to Fallujah and from there determined that my injuries were severe enough that I'd need more treatment. They shipped me to Germany and then wound up sending me home," he said.

He later learned, he said, that witnesses told other Marines that the insurgents who had attacked them hijacked a car and escaped.

His mother, Kathy Chambers, said she learned of the attack when Shane called after being injured.

"When he called from the hospital and said he'd been hurt, my heart just dropped, but then he said he was OK," she said. "It was just a phone call that no parent wants to receive, but it's just great to know that he's OK and he's going to be here with us for a while."

Chambers said doctors told him that the paralysis may be due to shock to the nerves caused by the grenade blast. "They said that it can take six to eight weeks for the nerves to wake up," he said. "After the initial blast, they shut down pretty much."

He said that if the paralysis does not go away on its own, doctors may operate to restore the function in his leg. Until then, he said he is relying on crutches to get around.

Chambers was on his second tour of duty in Iraq when he was hit.

After graduating from Fairhope, he joined the Marines in December 2003 and graduated from basic training in March 2004. He joined the Marines for the opportunity to get a college education and to see the world. Enlisting several months after the start of the war in Iraq, however, he knew he would probably be sent to fight in the Middle East.

"I was pretty well prepared for that," he said.

Before being sent to Kuwait and then Iraq, his unit, the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, also served in Sri Lanka where they were sent to help after the tsunami hit the region in December 2004.

During his first tour, Chambers' unit was primarily assigned to patrolling rural areas in Iraq.

When he returned in January, he was part of the 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Division, which was assigned to train Iraqi security forces in the Fallujah area. "Until then, I'd never been part of working in an urban environment," he said.

Chambers said that when his leave is up, he will continue with physical therapy. He said he doubted that he would be returned to Iraq before his enlistment expires in 2007.

He said he hopes to go to college when he returns permanently to civilian life. "I've been looking at the University of Alabama," he said. "I'd actually like to become a chef some day."

Born in Illinois, Chambers and his family moved to Fairhope in 1998.

His father, Darren Chambers, said the family had been waiting for word that his son would be coming home after being wounded, but received a pleasant surprise Wednesday.

"We found out last night that he was coming home today," Darren Chambers said Thursday.

Kathy Chambers said the family has made no plans for the coming weeks while her son is home.

"We're just taking it one day at a time and letting him take it easy," she said. "He's just so glad to be out of the hospital."

Chambers is the second Eastern Shore veteran to return home this month after being wounded in Iraq. Army Sgt. P.D. Rains returned to Daphne on March 11 after being injured by a bomb in southern Baghdad on Jan. 3, according to previously published reports.

© 2006 The Mobile Register
© 2006 al.com All Rights Reserved.

March 23, 2006

Marines' families welcome heroes home from Iraq

MIDDLETOWN — When a State Police escort led the charter bus through the Newman Springs Road intersection onto Half Mile Road on Wednesday, a cluster of people waved signs and flags and cheered like they were greeting visiting rock stars.


Posted by the Asbury Park Press

"Here comes the bus," yelled Shawn Pearce of Farmingdale, and the crowd started cheering and waving.

The 14 people on board were better than rock stars to Pearce and the others gathered. They were husbands, sons and nephews in the Marines' 6th Motor Transport Battalion, on the last leg of their journey home.

Pearce's son, Corey Lynch, 19, was the third Marine through the door at the Monmouth Armed Forces Reserve Center. He greeted his mother with a heartfelt hug and a kiss. She held his 4-year-old brother Heath Pearce, who had a big open-mouthed grin at the sight of his big brother.

"You missed me? How much?" Corey asked. Heath replied with a hug.

"He was the first thing I wanted to see," Corey said.

The center was a roomful of heartfelt reunions Wednesday afternoon.

The men of the 6th were based in Fallujah and had the dangerous job of moving convoys of fuel, water and troops in Iraq.

Tom Winemiller, 21, of Wall hugged his sister and his brother, kissed his little sister and hugged his smiling mother, Sherry.

"We missed you," she said.

"Your hair got long," joked his older sister Amanda.

Then they showed him the signs they made — "Welcome Home Tommy" and "My hero's back from Iraq."

Their bus was delayed close to two hours after encountering snow in Virginia.

"It was pretty cool, I haven't seen it (snow) in a couple of years," Winemiller said. "It feels great (to be home). I'm glad to see my family."

Winemiller joined the Marines in 2004 and said he knew he was Iraq bound.

"I had a good idea I'd be there, I didn't know where or when," he said. "The first thing I want to do is eat dinner with my family, relax and not do anything."

Troops said they missed the little everyday things in Iraq. For Winemiller, it was going to Wendy's. For Lynch, it was going grocery shopping with his family, even thought he hates it.

Winemiller said conditions in Iraq are better than the negative aspects seen in the news media.

"Kids come up to us and talk in broken English — we know what they're saying, that they're happy we're there," said Winemiller, also a driver in the 6th.

Being in Iraq is like being in the Bill Murray movie "Groundhog Day," where Murray's weatherman character is trapped reliving the same day, Lynch said.

"It's always Wednesday, there are no weekends," said Lynch, who turned 21 while there.

On his list of things to do is to catch up with friends and to drive and work on his car, a 1987 Mustang GT. What he didn't know was his mother already had the work done.

"We painted and fixed up his car, it will be a big surprise when he pulls in the driveway," his mother said. "He wanted me to bring it."

Her challenge was keeping his younger brothers and sisters from giving away the surprise.

"I want him to take a long shower and use up all the hot water," Pearce said. "I want him to be happy and OK, that was my mission for the last seven months."

The homecoming celebration at the center was arranged by American Recreation Military Services, which has sent boxes of items to troops and provides Christmas presents for children of service men and women.

Coming home felt like a dream come true for Diego Angel of Elizabeth.

"I missed my family, my environment, my freedom, and I missed homemade Colombian food, the kind my grandmother makes," he said. "The first thing I want to do is eat a good home-cooked meal and sleep."

The two best reasons for Lenny Distaso of Jackson to be home ran up to him and hugged his legs: his son, Troy, 2, and daughter, Claudia, 4.

"I love you daddy," said Claudia and Troy alternately.

"It's a huge relief having him back," said his wife, Janet.

This was Lenny's third tour to Iraq as operations chief. He's a Jersey City Fire captain.

"There is no way I could have done it without my wife. She took care of the kids, which relaxed me to do what I had to. It's harder for them than us," he said of the families at home. "I had other kids to worry about," he said about Marines in his battalion.

In the beginning, he thought the war would be over fast, but realized more had to be done.

"It's getting easier. We're moving out of certain base camps, and Iraqis are doing their part," he said.

The first thing he wants is a glass of wine and a pizza.

Frank and Robin Woglom of Cranford were there to welcome home their son, Joseph.

"It's awesome, we all feel complete," Frank Woglom said. "The last six months, we've had a lot of support from friends, church and people at work."

The first thing that Matt Waters will do is go motorcycle shopping, said his father Mike Waters of Riverside, who was there with his wife Julie and daughter Jessica.

"The cold won't stop him," Mike Waters said. "We're happy, we're glad (he's home)."

Families, friends cheer Marines' homecoming

The breath that Richard Jacobs had been holding since his son left for Iraq last year rushed from his lungs in a relieved and elated whoop Wednesday.


By Dogen Hannah

"Yeah! Woo-hoo!" the Pittsburg resident shouted to his son and 14 other Marines who arrived at the Concord Vet Center after spending some seven months at war. "Welcome home! Welcome home!"
A crowd of family, friends, military veterans and other well-wishers greeted the Marine reservists with grins, hugs, handshakes and more than a few tears of joy.
"They put their lives on the line," said former Marine and Antioch resident Larry Stiles, 66, of the Marine Corps League. "The least we can do is turn out and say thanks."
The 15 Marines, members of the Concord-based 3rd Longshoremen Platoon, left home in June and arrived in Iraq in September. Their job was mostly to help run helicopter landing zones at bases in Fallujah and Ramadi, restive cities west of Baghdad.
Only one of the Marines had served previously in Iraq, and all now are free from being sent back for at least a year. While in Iraq, some of them received awards for outstanding performance, said Tim McWilliams, the platoon's commander. The group completed its Iraq tour with no casualties.
That was an enormous relief to the Marines' friends and family, who had tried not to dwell on the dangers of war in the past seven months. By Wednesday, almost all they could think about was seeing their loved ones, finally home safe and sound.
"I didn't eat dinner, and I didn't eat breakfast because I forgot," said San Jose resident Catrina Anchondo, 22, who stayed up almost all night Tuesday, eager for her husband's return. "I have butterflies."
Friends and family of Hercules resident Richie Ngo were just as excited to see the 19-year-old corporal. About 18 of them were on hand for his homecoming and planned to treat the college student to a barbecue and snowboarding trip later.
"He's very homesick," said sister Vicky Ngo, 23. "We're really relieved that he's back."
Pittsburg's Andre Jacobs, a 21-year-old lance corporal, was just as relieved to be back from war. He was looking forward to picking up where he left off with his girlfriend, returning to his construction job and "just taking it day-by-day, just trying to get back to life."
Wednesday's welcome appeared to be a great start.
The Marines left the Middle East for Camp Lejeune in North Carolina last week, but not until the group rolled into Concord did Jacobs feel as if he had returned home.
"It's amazing," he said, minutes after embracing his parents, niece and girlfriend. "It's a feeling that you've waited for for so long. You never think it's going to come."

Marines escort pilgrims across western Al Anbar during religious pilgrimage

CAMP AL ASAD, Iraq -- Marines operating in western Iraq provided a security escort Sunday for several buses of travelers making a religious pilgrimage across the Middle East to the holy city of Najaf, Iraq.


Public Affairs Office
Regimental Combat Team 7;
Capt. Mike Alvarez
March 23, 2006

The pilgrims traveled from Saudi Arabia and Bahrain to the point-of-entry crossing at Trebil, Iraq, along the Iraqi-Jordanian border in southwestern Al Anbar Province.

Marines from 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, based out of Twentynine Palms, Calif., were asked by the Trebil facility’s director to “please do this favor for him by escorting these pilgrims to Nukhayb and they can get to Najaf from there.”

Furthermore, the pilgrims were concerned about their safety while traveling through western Al Anbar Province.

Najaf, a holy city of about 500,000 people, is located in An Najaf Province, about 370 miles east of Trebil.

“In the interest of maintaining good relations, we said we would help,” said Maj. Matt Good, the battalion’s operations officer. “We sent an element to pick them up at [Port of Entry] Trebil and escorted them to Nukhyab - an eight hour drive.”

After arrangements were made, the Marines escorted the pilgrims without incident. The escort allowed the pilgrims to avoid traveling through more dangerous parts of western Al Anbar Province, and encountering any potential run-in’s with insurgents.

“Any time we can extend the olive branch, we do,” said Good. “The only better course of action would be to have Iraqi Security Forces do the escort, but that will happen soon enough.”

The Marines will continue to work closely with the Iraqi military and border patrols here to provide security and stability throughout the area.

Motorcyclists ride to aid of families, Patriot Guard shields troops' grieving kin from Phelps pickets

When Kansas minister Fred Phelps and his church began picketing the funerals of fallen soldiers and Marines, a handful of Kansas motorcyclists decided to fight back.


By Myung Oak Kim, Rocky Mountain News
March 23, 2006

In mid-October, the Patriot Guard Riders were born. Today, the volunteer group says it has nearly 20,000 members nationwide and is growing every day. The deputy executive director of the group is from Windsor and almost 600 members live in Colorado.

The group, composed mostly of military veterans, keeps track of funeral services for soldiers and Marines killed in Iraq or Afghanistan. If they get permission from the mourning family, dozens if not hundreds of Patriot Guard volunteers stand outside the services to hold American flags, acting as an honor guard.

They attend the services both to support the families and to shield them from the Phelps pickets.

The members stand with their backs to the protesters and refer to them as "uninvited guests" rather than by name.

The main Web site of Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church attacks the Patriot Guard, calling them "biker cowards" and "necromancers."

The Phelps protesters appear at about a third of the military funerals, according to Patriot Guard Riders deputy executive director Jason Wallin, of Windsor.

Many Patriot Guard members see their work - which they refer to as "missions" - as a way to serve their country and fix past mistakes.

During the Vietnam War, "Nobody got thanked when they lost a son," said Gus Quist, a Fort Collins motorcyclist who serves as the group's Colorado captain. "They got called names.

"Enough is enough. We need to make sure these families know that we care for their loss."

Members of the Patriot Guard Riders do not have to be veterans or motorcyclists.

"The only prerequisite is that you have respect for what these soldiers are doing," said David Hall, the Colorado Springs ride captain.

March 22, 2006

After seven months of battling insurgents, restoring security, North Carolina Marines near end of tour in Iraq

CAMP AL QA’IM, Iraq (March 22, 2006) -- After spending seven months of routing out insurgents and stabilizing the Al Qa’im region in western Al Anbar Province, Marines from 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment say they’re leaving the region in better shape then when they arrived last year.


Submitted by: 1st Marine Division
Story Identification #: 20063224817
Story by Sgt. Jerad W. Alexander

The Twentynine Palms, Calif.-based 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment will replace the Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based unit, commonly referred to as “three, six,” in the region as part of a regularly scheduled rotation of U.S. forces in Al Anbar Province.

Known as the “Teufelhunden Battalion,” 3rd Bn, 6th Marines have spent more than half a year providing stability to the people of western Iraq by training Iraqi Army soldiers and ridding the region of anti-Iraqi forces, thanks to an aggressive counterinsurgency campaign.

The Marines’ battle space here encompasses the Al Qa’im region – a once insurgent stronghold in the northwest region of Al Anbar. The region buttresses the Syrian Border at the Euphrates River, starting with the city of Husaybah and moving east to encompass Karabilah, Sa’dah and Ubaydi among other smaller towns.

The key to the Marines’ success in the region has been counterinsurgency operations and an increased presence of Coalition Forces here, according to 35-year-old Maj. Christopher P. O’Connor, operations officer.

“We needed to go after the enemy; we needed to take back the terrain,” said O’Connor, a native of Johnstown, Penn.

The results: a severe decrease of insurgent activity and a more secure area for local government to blossom.

Operation Iron Fist

Operation Iron Fist, which began Oct. 1, 2005, was the clearing, from east to west, of the cities of Sa’dah and Eastern Karabilah. Companies I, K, and L worked alongside each other, moving house-to-house through the cities, and drove the enemy from them. The week-long operation resulted in an estimated 51 insurgents killed.

“We met some indirect and direct fire resistance initially,” said O’Connor. “During the operation, sporadic hard-core fighters would stay and fight; otherwise it was a delaying action. The biggest challenge was finding the IED’s and mines that they had put out.”

“We thought we were going to get contact constantly,” said Cpl. Benjamin S. Hanenkratt, an anti-tank assaultman for Company K, and Toledo, Ohio native.

Hanenkratt was one of dozens of Marines who led the sweep through region. To his surprise, Hanenkratt said the Marines ended up finding more weapons caches than involvement in actual fire-fights with insurgents.

“Clearing houses, though, is intense,” he said. “You never know what is around each corner.”

But where Operation Iron Fist ended, Operation Steel Curtain began. Another of the Marines’ major offensives to disrupt insurgent activity along the Syrian border, Steel Curtain put the Marines face-to-face with daily engagements with enemy forces. In the four weeks between the two operations, an estimated 154 insurgents were killed.

Upon clearing the area, the battalion built battle positions in Sa’dah just south of the Emerald Wadi, a natural dividing line between Eastern Karabilah and Karabilah. These battle positions served as the battalion’s foundation for future security operations.

The Emerald Wadi

Following the completion of Operation Iron Fist, the battalion positioned itself along the ‘Emerald Wadi,’ which is about 1,400 meters long and 600 meters wide. The Wadi became, in sorts, a “no-man’s land” reminiscent of World War I, where U.S. Marines are positioned on one side, insurgents on the other, with an open area in between.

Insurgents fired upon the Marines nearly daily, who responded with the combined arms of tanks, amphibious assault vehicles, snipers, dismounted infantry and airpower to eliminate scores of enemy.

Sgt. Scott M. Royal, one of the battalion’s scout-snipers, recalled the daily exchange of sniper fire between coalition and insurgent forces across the Wadi.

“It seemed like every morning the insurgents would start off their attacks across the wadi with rockets, then snipers would shoot at us off-and-on all day whenever they saw movement,” said Royal, a native of Rochester, N.Y.

Operation Steel Curtain

Due to the Marines’ consistent presence across the Wadi, insurgent forces reinforced their position along the Wadi. The move was a feint by the Marines – they wanted the insurgents to believe they would simply move across the Wadi and into the enemy’s path.

“We made them think we were coming across the wadi. Instead we moved through the desert, coming in behind them without them knowing it all,” said O’Connor.

On Nov. 5, 2005, with more than 150 insurgents dead as,a result of their first major offensive, the battalion launched Operation Steel Curtain – perhaps the Marines’ largest offensive to date in the region. The Marines cleared the cities of Husaybah and Karabilah during the 18-day operation, working with several other Marine and U.S. Army units to sweep the cities clear of anti-Iraqi forces. Approximately 2,500 Marines, sailors, soldiers and Iraqi Army soldiers swept into the city, fighting insurgents house-to-house.

“[Steel Curtain] was the coolest thing I ever did,” said Hanenkratt. “It was like a tidal wave,” he added, referring to the numbers of Coalition personnel who overwhelmed insurgent forces.

“We saw a lot of sniper and [rocket propelled grenade] fire, especially on the first day,” said Chardon, Ohio, native Lance Cpl. Shane M. Cocchi, a 20-year-old rifleman with Company I, 3rd Bn., 6th Marines. “It was fast, intense… we kicked down a lot of doors. It was just awesome.”

The operation saw an additional 250 suspected enemy dead and provided the Iraqi populous in the region an insurgent-free place to live and work, according to the Marines.

“We're able to progress now with getting consistent (electrical) power, free and clean running water for all the villages up there, as well as starting to rebuild the hospitals and the schoolhouses that have suffered over the last three years,” said Col. Stephen W. Davis, who commanded all Marine forces in western Al Anbar Province for the past year, during a Pentagon press briefing last month.

Bringing in the Security, Reconstruction

Upon clearing the major cities in the Al Qa’im region and Ubaydi – a town about 15 miles east of the Syrian Border – last spring by the Camp Pendleton, Calif.-based 2nd Bn., 1st Marines, the Marines and sailors of 3/6, along with their Iraqi Army counterparts, were able to integrate themselves into the towns to interact with the local populous in order to keep insurgents from reentering the region, according to O’Connor.

With the enemy removed from the cities in the region, key democracy-building events occurred, namely two elections that occurred in mid-October and again in mid-December.

The local elections contributed 500 votes in the first election and a larger 23,000 votes in the second, something that was not possible in the past. In addition to a democratic voting process, introductory humanitarian assistance and government infrastructure rebuilding has been possible with the help of the 6th Civil Affairs Group.

The 6th Civil Affairs Group was able, as a result of the towns being cleared, to come into the cities here and begin reconstruction efforts – buildings damaged during fighting were repaired, basic utilities such as water and power were restored, and key government municipal buildings built. Schools were opened after nearly a year of inactivity.

Afghanistan experience paid off in Iraq

The battalion’s senior enlisted member, Sgt. Maj. Scott L. Theakston, summarized the Marines’ and Iraqi soldiers’ success in this region in one word: “Professionalism.”

“Everything we’ve done over here we’ve prepared for,” said Theakston, a 40-year-old Pittsburgh native. “We trained for what we wanted to accomplish.”

The Marines’ success in this western Al Anbar Province region stems from the lessons they learned during combat operations in Afghanistan, said O’Connor. Many of the unit’s Marines serving in Iraq deployed in 2004 during Operation Enduring Freedom. The battalion spent roughly seven months in Afghanistan, where they conducted operations against Taliban and Al Qaida forces, which gave the Marines an understanding of operating in a combat environment.

“Our [noncommissioned officers] are smart and mature. They’ve seen operations in Afghanistan, they understood coming in overly aggressive [here would] have a detriment on success,” said O’Connor.

Nearly half of the battalion’s Marines – about 500 - are Enduring Freedom veterans.

“The insurgents in Afghanistan were tougher fighters than those here,” said Hanenkratt, a veteran of Afghanistan combat operations. “Out here it’s all [Military Operations in Urban Terrain] whereas in Afghanistan it wasn’t. Out here, you have to beat the IED.”

As the Marines prepare to redeploy to Camp Lejeune, N.C., they’re beginning to look back on their tour in Iraq and are realizing the impact they made here.

“I feel a lot better about myself,” said Cocchi, who is looking forward to visiting with family in Ohio after he returns to Camp Lejeune. “I feel I’ve done something important. I have a lot more pride in my country and in myself since coming here. But am I glad to be heading home soon? Oh yeah!”

The battalion’s redeployment to the U.S. is part of a regularly scheduled rotation of forces in Al Anbar Province. More than 25,000 Marine and sailors from the Camp Pendleton, Calif.-based I Marine Expeditionary Force are replacing the Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based II MEF.

Corporal Kielion Drive

A street was named Saturday in honor of a local marine killed in Iraq. Close to 200 people gathered to pay tribute to Corporal Shane Kielion.


Family, friends, veterans and fellow marines gathered in an even which made sure Kielion's sacrifice would not be forgotten.

"I don't think they name streets for ordinary people," said Kielion's high school coach, Jay Ball. "They name them for extraordinary people."

Kielion was killed in an ambush in Iraq on November 15, 2004 -- the same day his wife, April, gave birth to Shane Kielion Junior.

"Corporal Kielion gallantly gave his life to his country, reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest tradition of the Marine Corps of the United States Navy Service," said U.S. Marine Corps Captain David Millen.

"He was just an average kid, who was doing the right thing," said Shane's father, Roger Kielion.

April Kielion managed a smile when the street name was ceremoniously revealed -- knowing her son will some day see what a hero his father was.

"Hopefully, it will be an honor for him as well," she said. "When you see a turn-out like this, with the community and close friends and those that are not as close friends, it touches your heart. Because it shows they haven't forgotten."

What was once known as 33rd Street in south Omaha will now be known as CPL. Shane Kielion Drive. It's the street he grew up on and his parents still live there

Marines Return Home To Lubbock From Iraq

It was a happy day for several families on the South Plains as six local marines came home from Iraq.
More than 30 people showed up on Wednesday at the Lubbock Preston Smith International Airport to welcome home the marines who just spent the past six months in Iraq. The soldiers say they`re proud of the work they did in the Middle East. Their families say they`re glad to have them home.



"I`m really happy to have my dad home," said six-year-old Hannah Leyendecker, whose father, Lance Corporal Christopher Leyendecker, returned home.

Lance Corporal Leyendecker`s wife, Crystal, says it`s the simple things she missed about her husband.

"It was the little things, like watching TV together," she said. "I`m glad he`s home."

Lance Corporal Leyendecker says it was hard being away from his family for so long, but volunteering to go to Iraq was just something he had to do.

"I had seen others were going, putting their time in and stuff and I had the same old job, I felt I had to put my time in, too," he said.

Leyendecker wasn`t the only one who volunteered to go to Iraq. The other five soldiers who came home also volunteered. They say they accomplished alot.

"When I first got there schools were in ruin," said Leyendecker. "Eventually things started coming together, people started making money. It was pretty cool watching it."

The Leyendeckers say now that Chris is home, they can`t wait to get back to a normal life together.

"I`m just so happy he`s home," said Crystal. "It was an answer to our prayers he`s here."

All of the marines and their families say they agree with what the U.S. is trying to accomplish through Operation Iraqi Freedom. All of the marines say they volunteered to go once, they`ll be happy to go back to Iraq again if they`re needed.

Marines teach Iraqis humvee maintenance

CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq (March 22, 2006) -- Marines are making knuckle-busting, wrench-turners out of Iraqi soldiers.


Submitted by: 1st Marine Division
Story Identification #: 200632352642
Story by Cpl. William Skelton

Marine from 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment working with Regimental Combat Team 5, are teaching Iraqis the in’s and out’s of humvee maintenance.

Mechanics from the battalion’s Headquarters and Support Company are training Iraqi Army soldiers on maintenance and operations for humvees. The Iraqi soldiers received their new humvees less than a week ago.

“We are teaching the Iraqis the basics,” said Sgt. Laurice Kelly, a 36-year-old motor transport operations chief from Copperscove, Texas. “We are teaching basic maintenance and functions of the humvee.”

Marines designed a down-and-dirty two-week course week, including evasive driving techniques. It’s a grease-under-the-fingernails, oil-stained session to get the Iraqi soldiers prepared to take out their new humvees.

“I took them out to a mile-and-a-half course here on Camp Fallujah and taught them how to drive in sand and on the hardball,” Kelly said. “Most of the Iraqis are very good drivers and picked it up quickly.”

Kelly and his fellow instructors tied-in the training with realistic scenarios, including hard braking during emergency stops.

“Once they had the concepts of the driving techniques, I showed them how to stop using both the brakes and the gears to slow down,” Kelly explained.

Iraqi soldiers already came with some of their own know-how. All had time turning wrenches before they crawled under the vehicles.

“The men chosen for the course already had some mechanical experience,” said Iraqi 2nd Lt. Raad Marda Idan, a 34-year-old transportation platoon commander with the 1st Battalion, 4th Brigade, 1st Iraqi Army Division. “But the skills they are learning in this course are very important.”

The second week of the training covered the major things the Iraqis need to know in order to keep the humvees running, Kelly said.

“We cover in a little more depth, the fluids that need to be changed and other maintenance issues that should be checked on a regular basis,” he said.

One of the toughest challenges the Marines encountered during the course was the language barrier. Two Iraqi officers aided in bridging the gap, but instructions were short and concise, making it easy to understand.

“Not speaking their language and them not speaking ours is definitely the hardest obstacle we have in the class,” said Cpl. Nicholas R. Campbell, a 23-year-old maintenance chief from Allen, S.D.

Another obstacle was the conversion from English measurements to metric, of which the Iraqis are accustomed.

“Converting quarts and gallons to liters is the main issue we hit today,” said Cpl. Christopher L. Gaytan, a 21-year-old mechanic from Garland, Texas. “We want to make sure that they understand the right levels to put in the humvees so that they can properly maintain them.”

Marines knew the effort they put in to teaching the Iraqi soldiers brought them one step closer to being self-sufficient.

“We are teaching them to replace us,” Kelly said. “This is just one of the many steps necessary in order for the Iraqi people to gain control of their country again.”

The Iraqi servicemembers were anxious to learn as much as possible from the Marines. With programs like this in place, the Iraqi Army will have more opportunity to become an independent, viable military force.

“This is very good training,” Raad said. “It will help our mechanics to keep our humvees running.”

On war's anniversary, a family mourns, another worries

As he sank into the couch in his parents' Freemansburg home, the shrapnel scar visible behind his ear, 21-year-old Lance Cpl. Tony Gilliard clicked through an electronic photo album of the guys he spent nine months with, fighting side-by-side in Iraq.


Liberty grad killed in Iraq last winter; injured schoolmate yearns to return to combat.

By Matt Assad
Of The Morning Call

He'd grown to regard many of them almost as brothers. As he moved from page to page he matter-of-factly ticked off the grim details of how his extended family had shrunk so quickly.

''That's Kenny, he got hit with a [bomb], and Ramone here got torn up by one, too, but at least he's still with us,'' Gilliard said, clicking to another page. ''Cabino and Chevy are dead, and Herbert here, he lost sight in his eye and his jaw is pretty torn up, but he's alive. This guy right here, that's Doc Vega. He's the guy who saved my life.''

Through at least 10 major firefights and more roadside bombings than Gilliard can count, he said, more than half of the 47 members of his Company G, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines have been killed or injured in battles near Fallujah — a place that remains one of Iraq's most unstable regions.

The Marines are among the more-than 2,300 American troops who have been killed and the more-than 17,000 who have been injured since the Iraq War began three years ago today.

Gilliard has seen so much death that he's come to regard it as part of the job. And it doesn't stop him from wanting to go back to the Middle East.

Crosstown in Bethlehem, the family of Gilliard's Liberty High School friend, Kyle Grimes, is still trying to come to grips with one death.

Grimes, a 21-year-old corporal, and 30 other U.S. troops were killed in a helicopter crash west of Baghdad in late January 2005. Grimes' death not only brought a feeling of loss to the tight circle of friends at the Monocacy Field & Stream social club in Bethlehem, where his and Gilliard's parents are members, but it also brought a sense of heightened anxiety. Even as Liberty's Grenadier Band played ''Amazing Grace'' in Grimes' funeral procession in February, Tony Gilliard was training to leave for the war.

Pursuing a dream

Kyle Grimes was the senior who had dreamed of being a Marine since he was 4 years old. Gilliard was the gung-ho freshman who also had a lifetime dream of becoming a Marine. Both also liked wrestling and dreamed of getting into the FBI.

Mary LeVan, who now lives in Baton Rouge, La., remembers her son Kyle's wide-eyed reaction when he playfully tried on his grandfather's Marine uniform, and how he had made up his mind, almost in that instant, that he would one day be a Marine.

Kyle Grimes wrestled and played football at Liberty, but his single-minded focus on his goal helped him become an expert marksman in the Corps, and ultimately it put him on that helicopter that day when LeVan's worst nightmare came true.

''People ask me if it ever gets any better, and I can honestly say, no, it never does,'' LeVan said. ''You learn to live with it, but that horrible feeling never goes away.''

Robert Grimes still can't talk about his son's death, and Kyle Grimes' grandmother, Kathleen Grimes, is finding late winter particularly difficult. With the one-year anniversary of his death came well-wishing e-mails from military families from across the nation. With each e-mail came a reminder of the loss, along with comfort that others share their pain.

''February will probably always be a difficult month for us,'' Kathleen Grimes said. ''Kyle had his heart set on being a Marine since before he could spell Marine. We didn't want him to enlist, but you can't tell a kid he can't pursue his dream.''

Tony Gilliard's mother, Monique Fetter, and stepfather, Angelo Fetter, are dealing with that dilemma now. On Christmas Eve as Gilliard lay unable to move, with pieces of shrapnel searing into his flesh, he never reconsidered a decision he had already made. He will re-enlist, he says, despite all of the close calls, the loss of his high school friend and even the anxiety it brings his family every day. Much as it was for Kyle Grimes, being a Marine has been his lifelong dream.

''I'm not afraid,'' Gilliard said. ''They [Marine doctors] keep asking me how I feel about all this, but I don't want to answer their questions. I just want to do my job. Why would I want to quit a job I like?''

Monique Fetter sees a lot of reasons, many of them contained in the pain she sees the Grimes family enduring. At the Monocacy Field & Stream social club a picture of Kyle Grimes hangs behind the bar just a few paces from the Marine Corps flag Angelo Fetter waved from the back of his Harley-Davidson in the funeral procession.

And she sees plenty of reasons not to enlist in that photo album her son keeps on his laptop computer.

A call home on Christmas

Company G spent 10 months hunting insurgents, in some cases doing home-to-home searches, in the unstable areas near Fallujah. At least 10 times the company was engaged in firefights that lasted 30 to 60 minutes against attacking insurgents, and it hit several roadside bombs. Gilliard, without emotion, recalls the day that an Iraqi woman approached him. Anywhere else it may have appeared as nothing more than a woman with a question, but not in Iraq.

The woman had a grenade tucked in her left armpit and she was trying to get close enough to kill as many U.S. troops as possible. She was subdued before she could detonate the grenade, Gilliard said.

Lehigh Valley Local Links
''When we're approached by an Iraqi woman we know something's not right,'' Gilliard said. ''They don't talk to other men, especially American soldiers, or they face consequences at home.''

He excitedly recalled when, after spending weeks traveling the countryside in search of insurgents, his company assumed control of one of Saddam Hussein's palaces with its marble floors and gold-plated toilet seats.

Gilliard's luck ran out on Christmas Eve. He was playing chess with a fellow soldier when their base in Fallujah was attacked by insurgents armed with pistols, rifles, rocket propelled grenades and machine guns. They attacked the base, Gilliard theorized, because it was in the same building as the Iraqi police station and the insurgents wanted to discourage police from helping American troops.

Gilliard grabbed his M-16 rifle and his 9mm handgun and ran to the roof with an Iraqi officer. Minutes later a grenade went off a few paces away, dislocating his shoulder and driving hot metal into both legs and the side of his head.

''I could feel my knee burning, but I never thought I was going to die,'' Gilliard said. ''I couldn't move, but I just kept thinking, 'Get up and get your rifle.'''

That's when medic Jayson Sepulvedavega grabbed him by the back of his vest and dragged him to safety. The vest had a spray of bullets across the front, but none of them reached Gilliard's body.

When the battle was done, seven American soldiers were injured, 14 insurgents were dead, and Gilliard was in an Iraqi hospital.

Gilliard called home Christmas morning, asked for his stepfather and made him promise to wait a day to tell his mother about the injury. He didn't want to ruin his mother's Christmas, but sometimes a mother just knows.

''I knew something was wrong when he wouldn't talk to me, and it bothered me all day,'' Monique Fetter said. ''It's scary, and now he's going back.''

Unfazed by injury

For all of their similarities, there is one area where Grimes and Gilliard differed. In contrast to Grimes' Marines-first attitude, in the days before his helicopter went down he wrote eerie letters home, telling of his fear that he could die in battle at any time, and regretting that he might never get a chance to marry and have children. By then he had toured the campus of Louisiana State University during leave and he had decided he would not re-enlist. He was fighting to get to the end of his tour, he told his mother.

Gilliard, however, is fighting to get back to war.

Gilliard is going back to his unit — or at least that's his plan. After recovering at home in Freemansburg for about a month, Gilliard left last month to rejoin his unit at Camp Lejeune, N.C., where it has been stationed since returning from Iraq in February. But when tests taken at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda showed he still suffered memory loss from his injury, his plans were delayed.

He says he'll keep taking the test until he passes because Company G will soon begin training to go to Afghanistan and Gilliard plans to be with them. When the time comes in a few months, Gilliard — if he's deemed healthy — will re-enlist for another four years.

Unlike his friends, he enjoys the running and training, and he can't pass up the $30,000 enlistment bonus being offered. And unlike Grimes, he has not been jolted by his mortality.

For his mother, that means four more years of worry.

''Part of me wants him to fail those tests because then I won't have to worry so much,'' Fetter said. ''But on the other hand, it's his dream going down the tubes, and I don't want that. It's terrible to be so torn.''

The Grimes family knows that feeling. In the months before his son was killed last year, Robert Grimes would tell his friends at the social club that he feared going home because he was afraid Marine officials would be there with bad news. He knew his son had dreamed of wearing the uniform since he wrote ''I want to be a mreen'' for a first-grade school assignment, but still the worry never seemed to subside.

Monique and Angelo Fetter remember the day that bad news came. They remember it most because Tony Gilliard was just a few days from shipping off to Iraq.

''Bobby told us 'don't worry the way I did or it might happen,''' Angelo Fetter recalled. ''But how do you not worry? People are dying over there.''

[email protected]


March 21, 2006

Sharp corners, crisp creases

Funny story about the American flag that arrived unfolded after flying over the Iraqi city of Fallujah.

To be displayed in a case at the real estate office where she works, Nedi Trodden knew the stars and stripes would need to be properly folded.


By: JOHN HUNNEMAN - Staff Writer

Nedi, 23, took the flag her husband, Marine Staff Sgt. John Trodden, 27, had mailed home, to the local Marine Corps recruiting office to be folded properly, but no one was there. So she went next to the Army recruiting office and asked for help.

The soldiers there were more than willing to accommodate. She returned to her office with the flag folded neatly with sharp corners and crisp creases.

Perfect in every way, except one.

"When my husband found out, he called the Temecula Marine Corps recruiting office from Iraq," Nedi said.

It didn't take long before several Marines arrived at the real estate office on Winchester Road in Temecula to fold the flag, as Nedi said "correctly ---- by Marines."

That flag and a certificate of appreciation hang in the Coldwell Banker office near The Promenade mall, a thank you from Trodden's Marine Corps battalion currently on duty in Fallujah.

Before the holidays the agents at that office shipped boxes of books, razors, gum and other nonperishables to the reconnaissance battalion.

"They acted like little kids at Christmas when the packages arrived," Nedi said.

However, mindful that not every Marine hears their name shouted at "mail call," the packages were turned over to the chaplain for dispersal.

In this case, it was truly the thought that counted.

"So many people forget about them," Nedi said. "They get really excited when they find out that people do care."

John Trodden is every inch a U.S. Marine.

"He loves the Marine Corps, he believes in the Marine Corps and he loves what he's doing," Nedi said.

Sgt. Trodden could have come home a couple of weeks ago ahead of the rest of his unit, but turned it down.

"He told me 'I've got 300 men here and I'll come home when they come home,'" said Nedi.

Trodden's unit is scheduled to return to Camp Pendleton in mid-April.

The couple have a 4-year-old son.

"He tells people his daddy is at work fighting the bad guys," Nedi said.

Nedi said she's gotten a lot of support from her neighbors on their Temecula cul-de-sac.

"My husband knows everybody and they all know him," she said. "They always come over to ask how he's doing."

Three years in, polls show Americans' support for the war in Iraq has waned. We need to remember ---- whatever our feelings ---- there are real heroes still in harm's way.

Many have families here in Southwest County who love and miss them.

Our brave military men and women continue to be the best part of America and, amid all the politics and shouting, they should not be forgotten.

Contact columnist John Hunneman at (951) 676-4315, Ext. 2603 or [email protected]

Reporter's Notebook — Camp Fallujah: First Impressions

BAGHDAD, Iraq — Camp Fallujah is enormous. Nearly 20,000 Marines, soldiers and airmen make their home here or at any of the numerous, but smaller forward-operating bases. They live in the most volatile and critical part of Iraq: the guts of the Sunni Triangle.


Reporter's Notebook — Camp Fallujah: First Impressions
by Bill Hemmer for FOX Fan Central

On our third day, it’s impossible to understand the complexities of this country in such a short period of time. Anyone who talks, acts or believes otherwise is kidding themselves.

"This is like three-level chess," explains a Marine Brigadier General. "It’s complicated."

Short of unraveling the nuances at the political, military, social and religious level, suffice to say, the Iraqi onion is shrouded in layers.

Morale appears to be outstanding. That's not to say these Marine men and women prefer being here rather than home, but repeated conversations with Marines at every level lead you to one conclusion: they are committed to the job. And what a job it is.

For three days we have talked their ears off trying to grasp the reality of Iraq today, but our tour has taken us to only three locations: Baghdad, Fallujah and the small town of Garmah, nearly six miles from base. Clearly, we can't speak to the entire country, but everyone here talks of progress.

The persistent question is how you measure that progress and on whose time frame. These Marines believe they can help Iraq, but they need time, support, and patience from every side (the Iraqis, the American people, the politicians in Washington, DC and the Iraqi government) to make decisions and chart a course of direction and leadership.

But in the end, nearly every discussion here takes you back to the same point and central theme: the decision to transform this country into a stable and peaceful society lies in the hands of the Iraqi people. If they don't have the will, they won't get there.

Not since the beginning of humankind have two countries with such vast differences tried to merge their common interests for a better future.

Did I mention it’s complicated? You bet.

March 20, 2006

Canton, Mich., Marine brothers cross paths in Iraq

CAMP AL ASAD, Iraq (March 20, 2006) -- After enlisting in the Marine Corps more than a year apart, two brothers from Canton, Mich., have crossed paths in Iraq, while deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.


Submitted by: 1st Marine Division
Story Identification #: 200632004030
Story by Staff Sgt. Jim Goodwin

Lance Cpl. Ian L. Eichel, a 23-year-old motor transportation mechanic with Regimental Combat Team 7, said he was pleasantly surprised March 17, 2006, when a gunnery sergeant drove his brother, 21-year-old Lance Cpl. Aaron J. Eichel to the motor transportation lot here to put the two brothers in touch.

“I was just going on duty at the motor pool when he drove up in a Humvee and said, ‘Hey, Eichel – I’ve got a surprise for you.’ That’s when he (Aaron) jumped out of the truck,” said the older Eichel brother, who has been in Iraq now for nearly two months.

The younger Eichel, a field radio operator with the Hawaii-based 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, arrived in Iraq “just a few days ago” and happened to be in transient at Camp Al Asad while his unit awaited transportation to their forward operating base in western Al Anbar Province, Iraq.

Both are graduates of Salem High School in Canton, Mich. Ian graduated in 2001, Aaron the year after. In true brotherly fashion, the Eichels are very competitive with one another, despite their one-year difference of time in the service.

“I beat his rifle score at boot camp,” said the older Eichel, as Aaron shakes his head and smiles.

Back home, the two Marines compete in a different fashion – whoever can catch the biggest fish.

“We only see each other once a year,” admits Ian, who is based out of the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, Calif., with the rest of 7th Marine Regiment. “I saw him during his pre-deployment training for Afghanistan last year.”

While both enlisted in the Corps for their own reasons, both wanted to deploy in support of the Global War on Terrorism. Ian will be in Iraq for a year, Aaron for seven months.

“This is a good experience,” said Ian, who has recently spent several weeks assisting Iraqi Security Forces to learn the ‘in’s’ and ‘out’s’ of performing maintenance on High Mobility Multi-wheeled Vehicles (Humvees). “This gives me a chance to save up some money, too.”

“This is where I wanted to go,” added Aaron, who says he misses “hanging out with the guys” back in Michigan. “I wanted to see combat, and I have in Afghanistan. But this is the place I wanted to go. “

Both brothers miss their parents and other family and friends back home, but add that they’ll be home soon enough. Before deploying to Iraq, their mother told them she was worried about them, but understood that the two Marines have a job to do, said Ian, who added that the events of “9/11” influenced his decision to enlist.

Both Marines and their units are part of the Camp Pendleton, Calif.-based I Marine Expeditionary Force, a 23,000-plus command of Marines, sailors and soldiers who are currently replacing the Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based II MEF as part of a regularly scheduled rotation of U.S. troops in Al Anbar Province, Iraq.

The Eichel brothers’ youngest sister, 19-year-old Andrea, is also a Marine. She is currently undergoing Marine Combat Training at Camp Geiger, N.C.

The Heart of a Marine

Yellow Ribbon Week
Saluting the soldiers in Iraq and their families back home

The Heart of a Marine

(Georgette & Roy Frank on their son Phillip Frank)


We're writing this letter to talk a bit about our son, Phillip Frank.

As far back as we can remember Phillip was always the protector. He would be the kid who would step between the bully and the small child being teased. Phillip grew up to be everything we could have wanted in a son, and more. He was gentle, loving and warm, but he was also courageous and fearless. He had a great sense of humor, an avid interest in history and music. He also played ball, wrestled in high school and studied martial arts.

On 9/11 we lived in New Jersey. On that day we stood side by side and watched the World Trade Center burn. The next day Phillip told us that if the United States declared war, he would join the first branch of the military that would take him. Georgette told him that he would have to finish school first.

We moved to Illinois in 2002. Our son had moved here about six months prior to secure a job and to be with Georgette's family whom he adored. He loved Elk Grove Village.

We always believed that the military was something that would eventually attract him; he always had wanted to be a soldier. Well, we got the call he had decided to join up, and we were not to waste our breath trying to talk him out of it. After several days of consideration, he chose the Marines.

Roy remembers one quiet moment when he asked, "Phil, why did you join the Marine Corps?" He said, "Dad, I joined to fight." Playing to him in a humorous vein, Roy said, "Phil, everybody joins the service to go to college for free, and you, you joined to fight?"

He reached out putting his hand on Roy's shoulder, and with a very serious look in his eye said, "Dad, I fight today, so you don't have to fight tomorrow." We hugged, but Roy never forgot Phil's intensity, nor his commitment to the Marine Corps and our great country. Yes, he was a patriot who believed in what we were doing in Iraq, and wanted to go there to, as he put it, bring the kind of freedom to the Iraqi people that we here so take for granted.

He was deployed to Iraq in February 2004 with his beloved Marine Corps. On April 8, 2004, we sat in the family room, and were told by two Marines in full dress blues along with a Navy chaplain, that our beloved Phil had been killed in action outside of Ramadi near Fallujah. No words ever written in the English language can express that feeling of loss we experienced, and still experience today. Through many months of grieving and sorrow, we came to believe that Phillip's death was a part of a much greater plan, God's plan. With this in mind, we have channeled our energies into the forming of The Heart Of A Marine Foundation. Phillip had always told us that all members of the military are his brothers and sisters, and that made us their Mom and Dad. With his giving and caring spirit in mind, the Foundation will look to improve the quality of life for members from all our military branches, whether they are recruits, deployed or veterans. That is our continuing goal and our pledge in our son's name.

Proud parents
of a Fallen Hero,

Roy & Georgette Frank

Elk Grove Village

To Iraq and back for Marine soccer player

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (March 20, 2006) -- American football great, Vince Lombardi, once said, “Winning isn’t everything, but wanting to win is.” For Cpl. Gibran H. Rodriguez, 22, assigned to II Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group, II MEF, the desire to win and be the best soccer player he could possibly be was his life’s pursuit and passion. So much, the Aurora, Ill., resident, made his way into a foreign soccer league shortly after leaving high school.


Submitted by: II Marine Expeditionary Force
Story Identification #: 200632015236
Story by Cpl. Ruben D. Maestre

“I pursued professional soccer in Mexico,” said the trained radio operator, whose parents are originally from there. “I was with a professional (soccer) club called Atlas Futbol Club based in Guadalajara, Mexico.”

Before his soccer goal dreams could take off, Rodriguez, a U.S. citizen by birth faced the bureaucratic hurdles of working as a professional soccer player south of the border. Frustrated, the athlete returned home to his native United States.

The United States was embroiled in a fight against terrorism in Afghanistan during the same time. Rodriguez felt he owed his country something back for everything it had done for his family.

Warned by his Marine recruiter he would most probably deploy for a combat tour, the high school soccer and track star was unfazed, joining the Marines in October 2003.

“I remember when 9/11 happened, I wanted to do my part in the fight against terrorism on behalf of my family,” said the class of 2002 graduate from East Aurora High School. “Later, I ended up joining the Marines because I owed the United States for giving the opportunity to my family to become Americans, to excel and become something when they had nothing.”

Rodriguez didn’t go to Afghanistan, but he did deploy to Iraq in the beginning of February, 2005. It was there he participated as a radio operator with 2nd Fleet Anti-terrorism Security Team Platoon and Motor Transportation Platoon, II Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group, II MEF (FWD). He assisted by helping maintain lines of communication between armored vehicles through more than 100 convoy operations everywhere between Fallujah, Iraq, and the Syrian border.

“I remember receiving hostile fire, seeing tracer rounds going past us in front of our vehicle,” Rodriguez said, describing one particular mission. “I was like, ‘are they shooting at us?’ And my (gunnery sergeant) said, ‘Yeah they are shooting at us!’”

Completing the job, as countless of other Marines have done during their deployment to a combat zone, Rodriguez returned to the states in early 2006. As he comes closer toward the end of his enlistment, soccer dreams come to mind.

Teammates on the base soccer team take note of his attitude as a Marine and of his versatility and skill as a soccer player.

“I know him to be a squared away Marine, from the way he talks and carries himself,” said Sgt. Alan E. Quintanilla, 31, a teammate assigned to 8th Communications Battalion, II Marine Expeditionary Force. “He runs everywhere during a game which makes him hard to stop. When he has the ball, he’s quick and sends the ball exactly where it needs to be at. He’s the guy who makes the plays happen.”

Even if Rodriguez leaves the Marines after his enlistment, he said he will never forget his time on active duty and the reason he joined.

“I wanted to do something else that made a difference,” the war veteran said. “I wanted to make a difference not only in my life but the lives of others.”

As countless of others before him, this young man with sports aspirations has made a difference through his service to others in the Corps.

Please feel free to publish this story or any of the accompanying photos. If used, please give credit to the writer/photographer, and contact us at: [email protected] so we can update our records.

Matthew Palacios: Picking Up the Little Pieces, He saved lives by intercepting a live grenade, and took shrapnel for his trouble. Recovery has been bumpy, but this Marine is ready for action.

March 20, 2006 issue - Cpl. Matthew Palacios, the wounded Marine who saved his comrades by hurling away a live grenade, is still pulling out the pieces of shrapnel. Usually an eighth of an inch in diameter, the grenade fragments are easier to leave in his body than remove. But over time, the shards eject themselves, pushing their way up through his skin. Palacios can feel them surfacing, usually on his right side, where he took the brunt of the blast. One was working its way out of his calf as he spoke to NEWSWEEK, more than a year after the battle. "I can kind of squeeze it out," he says.


By Martha Brant

From Jadick's aid station in Fallujah, Palacios, 20, was sent to an Army hospital in Baghdad, Balad Air Base in northern Iraq, Ramstein Air Base in Germany and then to Camp Lejeune, N.C. Finally, after about two weeks, he was sent home to Lorraine, Ohio, outside Cleveland. But he couldn't get Fallujah out of his mind. Driving at home in Ohio, he found himself scanning the roadside, looking for wires on the ground or freshly dug earth. He was looking for roadside bombs. Sometimes, he would drive down the middle of the road, straddling the center dividing line, just as he did in Fallujah to avoid IEDs.

Palacios's arm, wounded by an insurgent's bullet, has recovered. He can do pull-ups again, but if he lies for too long on his right hip his whole side will fall asleep, tingling and stinging. He feels lucky to have made it home, but maybe a little too lucky. "I feel guilty," he says. He would have preferred to stay in Iraq and gone immediately into battle after recovering. Instead, he is eagerly awaiting his next tour of duty, possibly back in Iraq.

US visit aborted in cyclone's path, CYCLONE Larry has cost Townsville millions of dollars before it even hit the coast.

The USS Peleliu, USS Ogden and USS Germantown with 4000 servicemen on board were due to berth in Townsville yesterday.


By Linda Souter and Rachelle Chapman
March 20, 2006

But the ships, forming the Expeditionary Strike Group Three, battened down their hatches and did a quick about-turn to steer clear of the path Cyclone Larry.

"The marines and sailors of the Strike Group are enormously disappointed that we won't be able to enjoy, first-hand, the vaunted warmth and hospitality of Townsville and the Australian people," strike group Commander Brigadier General Carl Jensen said.

More than 4000 marines and sailors had planned to check out the Townsville region's tourist attractions, bars and restaurants yesterday staying until tomorrow.

Instead they spent Saturday packing up to leave Townsville about 5pm.

The three vessels were sailing out to sea, believed to be headed for Singapore.

Townsville's hotels, bars, restaurant and tourism operators have been left high and dry with most expecting to be fully booked from yesterday.

Townsville CBD Licensees Safety Association spokesman Greg Pellegrini said the sudden departure was a huge disappointment for the Townsville hospitality industry.

"People were preparing staff, stock, perishable items - for some of the restaurants it will be terrible with (the waste of) all the extra perishable items," Mr Pellegrini said.

He said the US defence force contingent of 4000 people would have been a great boost for Townsville.

"Several hours of preparation had already happened ... this is disappointing for the whole hospitality industry," he said.

"Townsville is very much in need of a visit of this nature as our tourism stream isn't as strong as Airlie Beach and Cairns."

Mr Pellegrini said he estimated each marine and sailor would have spent a conservative $500 over the three days - meaning around $2 million of expected revenue would not come.

Townsville Chamber of Commerce president Mick Reilly said the premature departure represented a significant short-term loss for Townsville's tour and tourism operators, accommodation providers and bar and restaurant operators.

"Sunday, Monday and Tuesday aren't big days normally so it would have been a good boost," he said.

"But with the military there's always a chance of them getting called away at the last minute."

Mr Reilly said Townsville did reap some economic benefits from the US visit through the ship provisions, food and support provided during the 11th Marine Expedition Unit training exercise.

March 19, 2006

An unlimited future; an unfinished story

1 Marine lost, many lives changed
No one can quite remember if young Chris Dyer chose the viola or - as sometimes fatefully happens - the viola "chose" him. But the match-up between the quirky stringed instrument and the independent, individualistic teenager seemed a perfect fit.


"There was a little bit of a Renaissance man going on in Chris," said his Princeton High School orchestra director, Robert Monroe. "When you think of a viola player, you don't think of a Marine - and then you factor in that he was an athlete and potentially a brilliant student."

Chris liked a challenge, and he liked the slightly offbeat. He picked the viola over the more popular violin, dropped football to take up diving and mixed designer shirts with loosened ties and scruffy beards. In high school, his humor was dry, his interests varied, his appetite bottomless and his motivation just occasionally lacking.

"It had to do with his brain power," Monroe said. "He was three miles down the road from the rest of the kids."

But when Christopher Dyer stopped back to visit his alma mater before shipping out for Iraq in early 2005, the Princeton staff could see the man being formed out of the raw-edged boy they'd sent off. "He had changed physically and in intensity. He was focused," Monroe remembers. "I remember looking in his eyes and thinking, 'There's a different guy here.' "

Chris spoke of his orders with calm and with pride - no regrets and no complaints even though he knew he was in one of the toughest infantry units going into battle.

Eight months later, Monroe watched a late night newscast that named four Marines killed in a roadside bombing. Just before signing off, the commentator added a fifth name - Evendale Marine Reservist Christopher Dyer.

"That was the moment when my connection to the war went from the abstract to the personal - a kick in the stomach," Monroe said. "The tragedy for me, besides a young man being taken, was that there was so much unfulfilled promise - a good kid who never got to fully grow up, a story that wasn't finished."


Had Christopher Dyer come back from the Iraq war, one place he would have surely come back to was Janet and Robert Hertlein's house in Evendale.

Best friends with their son Mike from elementary school - and planning to room with him at Ohio State after he returned from Iraq - Chris was a regular presence in the family life, the "other son" that the Hertleins were sure would periodically call or visit for the rest of their lives.

"We know that, had this not happened, for all of his military career, at OSU, always, always, he would have had a tie to us," Janet Hertlein said. "We will never get over his death."

The mom of a best friend has a special vantage point as a child grows up. Janet Hertlein watched Chris streak through the cafeteria at Evendale Elementary when she volunteered, braking for a hi and a hug. She remembers his rare charm with adults, his self-confidence, his direct gaze, his gift for conversation.

"I remember the first time I met him," she said. "I was a room mom, there was a first-grade field trip and Chris was sitting in a seat by himself. I said, 'Mind if I sit next to you?' and for the rest of the trip, he asked me questions."

The evening she heard news of Marines killed in the region of Iraq where Chris was stationed, Janet Hertlein got in her car to run an errand - and drive by the Dyer house. "I told myself if I saw a lot of cars in the driveway, it would be horrible news."

Five houses before she reached the house, she saw a packed driveway.

"He had such a bright future. The sky should have been the limit for him," she said. "Who can say what Chris could have done?"


here 4ya always

That's the sign-off Chris Dyer used in his last e-mail message to his friend Geneva Raabe.

Geneva was a freshman at Georgia Tech in Atlanta. Chris was a Marine fighting thousands of miles away in Iraq. Eleven days after his message, he was killed in a roadside bombing.

What Geneva, who dated Chris in high school, remembers most about him was that he was truly there for her.

"Even if he had things bothering him, he always wanted to comfort someone, he always wanted to help," she said. "If you had a problem, he wanted to talk about it - even if you didn't want to talk about it."

On a surface level, Chris had more than his share of charm. He could fall asleep in a high school class, then strike up a congenial conversation with the teacher on his way out the door. "Even if he didn't turn an assignment in, they always loved him," Geneva remembers.

But beneath the good-natured charm was a real desire to serve, to help, to intercede. "He was kind of tough. He was a protective kind of guy," she said. "If I could picture anyone going to Iraq and doing what he did, it would be Chris."

But, as he told her in his last e-mail - "I'll be com'n home in one piece, can't wait to see you" - Chris fully expected to make it back, enroll at Ohio State University and get on with his life.

"He definitely had visions of a future for himself, of going to college, graduating, getting married and having a family," she said. "He would have been a fun dad, like the community soccer coach - not only a dad for his own kids, but for all the kids in the neighborhood."

BECOMING A MARINE Challenge, hardship and pride

This couldn't be our son Sergei.


By Russell Working
a Tribune staff reporter
Published March 19, 2006

Perhaps the Marine Corps had found an impostor to phone us, some Russian-speaking sergeant whose voice had been sanded to a rasp by chain-smoking, sipping whiskey and roaring orders at recruits.

Two weeks after our son shipped off for Marine boot camp in San Diego, he called just as my wife, Nonna, and I were putting our 2-year-old to bed.

We hit the speaker button, and Sergei--who, like his mother, is a Russian immigrant--jabbered in this newfound growl, cramming as much news as he could into the two minutes allotted him.

He was doing fine. Missed us. Had lost his voice because they're always shouting cadences and roaring, "Aye, aye, sir!" He was pleased to note that the drill instructors aren't allowed to beat recruits, unlike in Russia.

But some guys were taking things pretty hard. After lights out in the barracks, Sergei reported, he could hear men weeping in the dark.

And then, 2:01 minutes into the conversation, he had to go. The line went dead.

Many parents lament the distance they feel from sons and daughters in Marine boot camp. You can't call your children. They don't have access to e-mail. If there's a family emergency, you have to contact the Red Cross, as though the recruit were away on a foreign battlefield.

By all accounts, the early weeks are the toughest for the recruits. The first night, the would-be Marines aren't allowed to sleep. The 17-hour days that follow overwhelm them with commands, information to memorize, push-ups meted out for infractions, lessons on bayonet and hand-to-hand combat. Drill instructors bellow in their faces, spittle flying.

Communal identity is all. First-person voice is banished. When posing a question, one must state, "Sir, this recruit wishes to know ..."

Even the language is different: Recruits must say "deck" instead of "floor," "bulkhead" instead of "wall."

Ten percent of recruits who enter Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, where Chicago-area male recruits go, drop out, officials there report. (Women, and men from eastern states, train at Parris Island, S.C.).

Kept at arm's length from their children, parents reach out to each other. They trade news on Web sites and tick off the days until graduation--in our case, May 12. After I first wrote about Sergei's unexpected decision to join the Marines, I received 85 e-mails, most from Marine and other military families.

I am grateful, if a little overwhelmed. It was like slipping into the back of a church you really don't want to join. You planned to sneak out after the last hymn. But instead you are surrounded by people who hustle you to the fellowship hall and hand you a cup of coffee and a couple of cookies on a napkin. You're wondering how to escape without being rude to these good folks.

Then they start telling you their stories, and you are moved. Some remember fighting in Vietnam. Others share the shock or the pride they felt when their own children signed up. Most of those young people are thriving in the armed forces. One of them isn't alive anymore.

Dan Uhles of Downstate DuQuoin lost his Marine son, Drew, 20, to a roadside bomb in Iraq. Another son, Neil, is serving there now with the Illinois National Guard, despite his father's objections. Uhles, whom I had interviewed for a past story, sent me an e-mail saying that he was sure Sergei would do well.

"I know you'll back him to the max," he wrote, "and this will bring you closer together than you've ever been in your lives."

The Marine Corps seems to have anticipated that recruits might write desperate letters home. Apparently in an attempt to ward off panicked phone calls from parents, the commanding officer, Col. W.M. Callihan, sent us a form letter saying that physical abuse isn't tolerated and that we ought not be disturbed by any grumbling we might hear from "discouraged or unhappy" recruits. In case a recruit seems seriously depressed, the letter included the telephone numbers for the chaplain.

In Sergei's case, at least, Callihan need not have worried. Our son's letters have all been optimistic.

He has been acting as a squad leader in his platoon, and during a run was selected to lead Alpha Company while carrying the guidon, a small military flag. Often this is considered an honor. Best of all, he has found unanticipated rewards in the service of his new country. He hadn't had time to do his laundry, so he had shattered his previous record by going for two weeks without changing his socks.

The usual punishment for mistakes, he wrote, consists of exercising while "yelling as hard as you can, and being yelled at at the same time."

Boot camp has enriched his English vocabulary with a helpful lexicon of unprintable names for exercises.

"Since I became a squad leader," Sergei wrote, "[one drill instructor] started to punish me physically. He is trying to test how much I can take, and constantly asks, `Aren't you tired yet?'

"I continue to do push-ups and jump and do the rest, and I tell him, `No, everything is fine.'

"And then he says, `Jump faster!' So I jump faster."

Because of Sergei's stamina, he wrote, the DIs have taken to calling him "the Russian warrior."

He has been fascinated to read printouts of some of the e-mails I received in response to the first article, but he waved away praise for his patriotism in signing up.

"It was great fun reading how people react to my decision, but all this patriotic stuff is not too close to reality so far," he wrote.

"Am I proud of what I've done? That is a big part of my resistance--not to [become] arrogant. ... Yes, this is not easy here, but I know I can do more and I don't let myself become proud."

One night he stood watch for two shifts and missed breakfast with his platoon. A drill instructor tried to get him to eat afterward, but he refused and went out with his platoon to martial arts training. By his account, he performed pretty well on an empty stomach, pummeling his opponent.

Drill instructors tend to maintain a Zeus-like remove from recruits and other lower species. But that morning, a sergeant led Sergei into the instructor's room, sat him down and gave him a sandwich, Sergei wrote.

"Hey, Working," the drill instructor said, "you're going to eat with me."

You would almost think our son was suited for military life.


[email protected]

Southeast Texans Reflect on Iraq

You don`t have to look very far to find a full spectrum of opinions on the war in Iraq. Right here in Southeast Texas there is ample evidence that this is a divided home front.


( Air Date: 3/19/2006 )

A Beaumont business transformed into a care package operation Sunday.

"[We`re] sending Girl Scout cookies to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan," says Jana Callahan, whose son is in Iraq. "Hopefully they`ll get to enjoy them."

Military families - members of MarineParents.com - say shipping more than 88,000 cookies is a small way to say thanks.

"It`s not about [politics], it`s about showing our appreciation for what they do," says Greg Green, whose son is a Marine.

But for some Southeast Texans, it`s difficult to keep politics out of such a controversial issue.

"I think the mission they were sent on was one of deception and falsehood prepetrated by this administration," says T J Geiger, a member of Southeast Texans Organized for Peace (STOP).

About twenty people gathered on the steps of the Jefferson County courthouse Sunday night to protest the war in a candlelight vigil organized by STOP.

In the end, war protesters and military families have something in commmon.

"Hoping and praying and caring that they`re [overseas] and wanting them home," says Penny Heisler, a member of MarineParents.com.

Local families lose sons, gain support

They are a band of mothers and fathers, now brothers and sisters, united in grief and healing.
Three years ago, none of them knew each other.
Then, one by one, they lost their sons in war.

By Jim CarneyBeacon Journal staff writer.

Now, these families who have all experienced the horror of hearing the ringing doorbell and then seeing Marines or soldiers standing on the porch, are close friends.
It started with one Gold Star family reaching out to another.
Three months after they lost their son, Richard, in February 2004, parents Julie and Jerry Ramey read in the paper that a fellow Stark County soldier, Jesse Buryj, had been killed.
``She called me because they were going to be out of town during the funeral,'' said Peggy Buryj, Jesse's mother. ``I recognized the name immediately. She told me we weren't alone.''
Julie Ramey called again after they got home.
``We talked on the phone at first,'' Mrs. Ramey said. ``That was an important thing.''
The Rameys and Buryjs became instant friends.
Reaching out
Two months later, when Michael Barkey of Lawrence Township was killed, the Buryjs and Rameys went to calling hours together and met Hal and Julie Barkey.
Richard Ramey's casket just five months earlier occupied the same spot at the funeral home.
The three couples began to go out to dinner periodically.
``Having these dinners once a month really helped the guys,'' Julie Ramey said.
Then in May 2005, when Aaron Seesan of Massillon was killed, the three couples reached out to Tom and Chiquita Seesan.
Bob and Marla Derga of Lake Township were also at the Seesan calling hours. Bob's son and Marla's stepson, Dustin Derga of Columbus, had died just two weeks earlier.
The Dergas introduced themselves to the Seesans as fellow Gold Star parents. While there, the Dergas noticed Julie and Jerry Ramey walk in wearing Gold Star pins.
The five couples began meeting each month.
Then in August, the nation received word of more than a dozen Ohio deaths from the 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines, based in Brook Park.
So the group grew more.
Not alone
On Thursday night, parents of eight soldiers and Marines who died in Iraq gathered at the Derga home.
They brought desserts and snacks and hung out in the kitchen all evening, sharing stories and catching up.
The house was full of laughter and chatter.
Edie and Dan Deyarmin of Tallmadge, who lost their son Nathan in August, had met some of the other parents last fall at a Canton memorial service for those killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
``Sometimes you feel all alone out there,'' Edie Deyarmin said. ``Everybody went back to normal but here you are and it's not normal. With the war going on, you are still hearing the same things and it weighs on you constantly.''
Being part of the group helps, she said.
``I need to come for my soul,'' her husband said. ``It weighs on my mind when I get up in the morning and I think about my boy and when I go to bed at night and I think about my boy.''
Deyarmin said ``it helps being around others'' who have shared such a loss.
Two members of the group are mothers from Cuyahoga County who live a mile apart but were strangers until their sons died.
Marlyon Garmback of Brook Park, who lost her son Joseph in July 2004, heard about the group from Julie Ramey.
She had met a lot of other Ohio families at the Faces of the Fallen exhibit at Arlington National Cemetery last year.
When Marine Cpl. Brad Squires of Middleburg Heights died in June 2005, Garmback came to the calling hours and gave Donna Squires two metal hearts.
Squires put one of the hearts in her son's casket and kept the other. Soon the two mothers began attending the monthly gatherings.
In May, many of the families plan to go to the Washington Monument for A Time of Remembrance, a tribute to the men and women who have died in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The ladies in the group have become such good friends that some have planned a June trip to Amish country in Holmes County.
Group still growing
Though the gathering Thursday drew eight families, other area families of the fallen have attended other gatherings. And they continue to reach out to other parents.
Bob Derga, 51, who works at Diebold, took two weeks off work last summer just to attend Marine funerals. He and his wife have gone to 18 military funerals since then.
Marla Derga, an artist, has painted tributes to her stepson and others in his Marine unit, giving the pictures away to help herself and others.
At the meetings, the mothers and fathers share a meal, tell stories, tell jokes, laugh and cry together and recommend books that they have read.
They rarely talk politics.
Between meetings, the new friends call each other for support.
``We have kind of become a family,'' Julie Ramey said.
Jerry Ramey said he knows he has gone through much healing, and hopes new members to the group will see that healing does take place, even though the hurt remains.
``They can look at us and say, `Maybe there is a light at the end of the tunnel,' '' he said.
Tom Seesan, 56, superintendent of the Stark County Board of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, said that at first the meetings were raw with emotion.
But as time has passed and friendships have been made, the Seesans feel better knowing they aren't alone.
``We belong to a club nobody wants to belong to,'' he said. ``As it gets bigger, we cringe, because you don't want it to get bigger. Unfortunately, it does.''

Jim Carney can be reached at 330-996-3576 or [email protected]

Salute to a Marine; A story of how Christopher Dyer's death in Iraq changed many lives

As of Friday afternoon, 2,314 American troops had died in the Iraq war. As the war approaches its third anniversary Monday, the U.S. death toll approaches the lives lost in 9/11. Cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has surpassed $400 billion.

But for thousands of American families, the war has come at a far more private and painful cost.


Sunday, March 19, 2006

The family and friends of Christopher Dyer, a 19-year-old Marine reservist killed Aug. 3, 2005, feel that pain - both in what once was and now is lost, and also in what will never be.

They mourn the clever, restless youth-becoming-man who did not return with his battalion in January.

They mourn the Ohio State University honors program Chris did not enter, the pilot's license he will not earn, even the backyard barbecue to celebrate his return - flush with the salmon and metts he hungrily requested - that did not happen.

"I'll be stateside and prolly won't get to see you until late late sept or early oct," he wrote in his last e-mail to his father, John Dyer, in July.

Less than two weeks later, he and 13 other Marines were killed in the war's deadliest roadside bombing.

Here, in broken pieces and from broken hearts, is what the world lost that day.


From the start, camouflage was the color of Chris' future.

In latchkey programs at Evendale Elementary school, he was the little boy who played with GI Joes.

By 11, Chris and his best friend, Mike Hertlein, would stock up on flea-market military garb and deploy themselves on missions throughout the neighborhood.

Temporarily distracted by high school studies and female classmates, Chris made a sober pact with himself in his senior year to join the Marine Reserve right after graduation.

Friends and family say that commitment satisfied a hunger Chris had had all his life: The chance to excel at something, and to find out, and live out, his purpose in life.

Before he left for Iraq in March 2005, Chris and his father, John Dyer, met in Las Vegas for what would be their last reunion.

"I couldn't be happier with where I am in my life than where I am right now," he told his dad. It was his way of saying he had no regrets.

In Iraq, Chris was a Marine's Marine, a Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW) gunner on four-man "fire teams." He carried 90 pounds of artillery, could set off 800 rounds of weapon-fire per minute and watched his buddies' backs on building-by-building searches.

He survived the dangerous foot missions, but was killed with 13 other Marines on Aug. 3, when the amphibious assault vehicle they were riding in was hit by a roadside bomb.

"To some extent, it seemed like his life to that point was getting prepared for something, and then he had crystallized into somebody with such a bright future," his father said in his Evendale home, surrounded by pictures of Chris and boxes of letters from friends and strangers. "It's hard not to have watched how that future played itself out."

Chris planned to enter Ohio State this January. In his memory, his family has donated his Marine death benefit and life insurance to the Princeton Scholarship Fund.

To contribute, make checks payable to the Princeton Scholarship Fund, note "Christopher Dyer Scholarship" in the subject line and mail to Princeton Board of Education, 25 W. Sharon Ave, Cincinnati, OH 45246.

Bush signs Dunham bill: President: Scio man's death was ‘not for naught'

ROCHESTER - History was changed Tuesday in a quiet VIP room at the Rochester International Airport when President George W. Bush signed a bill to rename the Scio post office in honor of Marine Cpl. Jason Dunham.


By KATHRYN ROSS - Wellsville Daily Reporter

It was a “secret, secret,” to everyone involved, but the likelihood the event would take place in New York state with Dunham's family present was high, after the bill was passed by the U.S. Senate less than two weeks ago.

The resident met privately with the Dunham family, talking with each member and expressing his feelings with a quiet “Oh my,” after learning that Kyle Dunham plans to follow in his brother's footsteps and become a Marine after graduation from Scio Central School.

“He related to us, as a parent who understands what it means to lose a child. He was warm and funny, comfortable to be with, and easy to talk to,” said Deb Dunham.

After speaking to the Dunhams for several minutes, the president brought the group back to task.

“He was moving chairs and getting everything ready, saying we have a bill we need to sign,” she said.

After the signing, the Dunhams received the pen the president used and three presidential coins. When the Dunhams asked a bodyguard to take a photo with their camera, he joked, “ ‘What do you think, I'm not going to send you the photos' ” she said.

While they couldn't take the actual bill signed in Rochester home, the Dunhams were told they will receive a copy of the document, along with their pictures with the president and in front of Air Force One.

Dunham said she came away from the experience with the feeling that while they were at first intimidated by the Secret Service and the idea of meeting the president. “He's a nice person, very friendly and concerned.”

The President is concerned, she said, because of the lack of news coverage telling about the good things happening in Iraq.

“I've heard from Jason's friends that some really good things are happening now, and I told the president I was frustrated that no one is hearing about it. Without condemning anyone he said he was too,” she said. “We're still in contact with Jason's unit (which has been deployed for a third time in Iraq). They say the schools are open, water services are up and running and that the Iraqi soldiers are buddying with U.S. soldiers. They've got each other's back now, and they trust them - that's something that wasn't happening. That's a positive step. It's a major step. Our soldiers are there, but the Iraqis are starting to take over,” she said.

Dunham said that the president gave the family his condolences and assured them that Jason's death was “not for naught” and that he “intended to see the war through.”

Dunham died in April 2004 after sacrificing his life to protect his fellow Marines by throwing himself on a grenade. His life, heroism and death are described in the book “The Gift of Valor,” by war correspondent Michael Phillips. The Dunhams gave a copy to the president who said he will read it.

“We were briefed that we shouldn't touch him, so we weren't sure what to do, but he reached right out and shook everyone's hand,” Dunham said.

As for the renaming of the post office, Congressman John R. “Randy” Kuhl, who was at the signing, jubilantly told the Daily Reporter, “The bill's been signed.”

Kuhl initiated the bill in December 2005 and said there will be an official ceremony at a later date. Kuhl said he was pleased the bill had been signed, reiterating that he feels it's a fitting tribute to the sacrifice Dunham made.

Dunham has also been nominated for the Congressional Medal of Honor, which typically takes up to two years to award.

According to Deb Dunham, they have heard little about the process because, “The military doesn't like to talk about it, but typically they award the medal no less than two years after the event and sometimes much longer afterwards.

However the Dunhams are happy with the renaming of the post office.

“The family will always remember Jason,” said Deb Dunham. “You wake up every morning and look in the mirror and think I don't have him any more, but now when our kids are grown they can look at the post office with their children and say, ‘That's my brother.' Jason's story will go on.”

Spouses of the wounded pull together for support

For members of Camp Lejeune's newest support group, it was a phone call, not the dreaded knock at the door, that upended their lives.
"Honey, I've got some news," said Sgt. Karl Klepper, 32, calling from Iraq.

"OK," said his wife, Becky, shaking off an afternoon nap.

"I won one of those damn medals," he said.

A Purple Heart.


Jay Price, Staff Writer

He didn't tell her that doctors had already shoved a protruding bone back into his left leg. Or how the bomb had flipped his Humvee atop him in the canal, pinning his ankle, or how he could barely contort his body enough to raise his head above water to breathe.

And he didn't tell her -- because he couldn't have known -- how his wound would change her life. There are elaborate support groups for the families of deployed soldiers, but there was no such network for the spouses of wounded troops.

Now there is.

Becky Klepper and two other wives of injured Marines, Shannon Maxwell and Alison Sturla, have started the Wounded Warrior Spouses' Support Group. It's a little more than a month old and so far has a handful of members. But the potential for growth is huge. The Marines are the smallest service branch, but about 5,500 have been wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The group held its second meeting Wednesday, opening with a presentation from a Navy psychologist on post-traumatic stress disorder and then moving into a closed session for the spouses.

The three organizers hope the concept will spread to the rest of the military. They have already fielded calls from spouses with West Coast Marine units.

"When your spouse is first injured," Klepper said, "you're inundated with information, and we want to help them process that information and be a resource if they have questions or need advice."

Early on, Maxwell said, "You eat, sleep and dream their care."

Somehow, the spouses have to learn such skills as how to navigate the military's medical bureaucracy, how to deal with the board that determines whether their Marine can stay in uniform, how to recognize post-traumatic stress disorder, how to cope with being the family's sole driver, with delivering their wounded Marine to his or her job on the Marine schedule -- say, 5 a.m. -- while riding herd on kids living by the civilian clock.

"Your roles change, sometimes briefly, sometimes permanently," Maxwell said. "Now the main provider is having to be taken care of, and that can be difficult. Children have to get used to the idea that maybe Daddy can't play like he used to."

A big problem is simply learning how to deal with the stress.

"I knew I wasn't the only one going through the emotions I was going through," Klepper said. "The losses you feel for things like the role you used to have -- you're no longer being taken care of, but you are now in the role of being a caregiver. The stresses no one else can understand unless they have been in your shoes."

Katherine Ellsworth, whose husband injured his ankle in Iraq in a helicopter accident, said it wouldn't have been right to turn to her normal confidantes, spouses of men in her husband's unit. When your husband is deployed, she said, you have to believe that no harm can come to him. Sharing her problems would destroy the other wives' defenses.

"You can't really talk about it to your civilian friends, and you can't really talk to the other wives from unit, whose husbands are still there," she said. "So there's really nobody left except wives who are going through the same thing."

Involving kin in care

Maxwell began to get a sense of her new life when her husband, Lt. Col. Tim Maxwell, was recuperating at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.

A mortar shell had landed outside his tent while he slept in a western Iraq camp in October 2004. Shrapnel pierced his skull, tore into his jaw and broke his left elbow. Doctors in Baghdad removed a section of his skull temporarily to create an outlet for the pressure as the injury swelled his brain. Then they cut into his abdomen and placed the parts of his skull there to keep them alive until they could be reattached.

She flew to Germany to meet him at a military hospital, and within a day they flew back to Bethesda for more surgery.

There, the staff quickly involved her and other relatives in his care so they would have a good sense of his medication's schedule and side effects. She was allowed to live in his room, and, along with his mother and a sister, helped him eat, wash and go to the bathroom.

Back home, she had to drive him to endless rounds of therapy. Most of that is over now. Maxwell, a former triathlete, is able to run again and lift weights. He still occasionally sees a speech therapist, though, and gets mentally fatigued easily.

From the first, though, he has been determined to do what it takes to stay in the Marines. So have the other Marines whose spouses are in the support group.

Sometimes, relatives tell the spouses that the wounded Marines should leave the service. "You get a lot of comments like, 'He's done his job, he's served his country, now it's time to get out,' " Maxwell said.

There are no comments like that at the support group's meetings.

Last week, Lt. Kevin Park, the psychologist who spoke on post-traumatic stress disorder, told the group that a crucial part of treatment is giving patients a safe environment to talk candidly about what they're thinking and feeling.

"Do they have post-traumatic wife stress?" Brandee Mortimer asked jokingly.

"The people who help also have to be helped," Park said.

Anyone can come to the presentations on practical issues that begin the meetings, but then everyone leaves except the spouses of wounded Marines. In these closed sessions, they sometimes talk through problems and share advice.

"We talk about a lot of emotional issues," Maxwell said, "the guys' feelings, our feelings, what's going on, how the children are doing, how to reconstruct the family, basically."

Sometimes the topics themselves aren't what matter most.

"Just to be able to sit with people who know what I'm going through, sometimes just being able to sit in their presence is enough," Klepper said.

Salute to a Marine

A story of how Christopher Dyer's death in Iraq changed many lives
As of Friday afternoon, 2,314 American troops had died in the Iraq war. As the war approaches its third anniversary Monday, the U.S. death toll approaches the lives lost in 9/11. Cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has surpassed $400 billion.

But for thousands of American families, the war has come at a far more private and painful cost.

The family and friends of Christopher Dyer, a 19-year-old Marine reservist killed Aug. 3, 2005, feel that pain - both in what once was and now is lost, and also in what will never be.

They mourn the clever, restless youth-becoming-man who did not return with his battalion in January.

They mourn the Ohio State University honors program Chris did not enter, the pilot's license he will not earn, even the backyard barbecue to celebrate his return - flush with the salmon and metts he hungrily requested - that did not happen.

"I'll be stateside and prolly won't get to see you until late late sept or early oct," he wrote in his last e-mail to his father, John Dyer, in July.

Less than two weeks later, he and 13 other Marines were killed in the war's deadliest roadside bombing.

Here, in broken pieces and from broken hearts, is what the world lost that day.


From the start, camouflage was the color of Chris' future.

In latchkey programs at Evendale Elementary school, he was the little boy who played with GI Joes.

By 11, Chris and his best friend, Mike Hertlein, would stock up on flea-market military garb and deploy themselves on missions throughout the neighborhood.

Temporarily distracted by high school studies and female classmates, Chris made a sober pact with himself in his senior year to join the Marine Reserve right after graduation.

Friends and family say that commitment satisfied a hunger Chris had had all his life: The chance to excel at something, and to find out, and live out, his purpose in life.

Before he left for Iraq in March 2005, Chris and his father, John Dyer, met in Las Vegas for what would be their last reunion.

"I couldn't be happier with where I am in my life than where I am right now," he told his dad. It was his way of saying he had no regrets.

In Iraq, Chris was a Marine's Marine, a Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW) gunner on four-man "fire teams." He carried 90 pounds of artillery, could set off 800 rounds of weapon-fire per minute and watched his buddies' backs on building-by-building searches.

He survived the dangerous foot missions, but was killed with 13 other Marines on Aug. 3, when the amphibious assault vehicle they were riding in was hit by a roadside bomb.

"To some extent, it seemed like his life to that point was getting prepared for something, and then he had crystallized into somebody with such a bright future," his father said in his Evendale home, surrounded by pictures of Chris and boxes of letters from friends and strangers. "It's hard not to have watched how that future played itself out."

Chris planned to enter Ohio State this January. In his memory, his family has donated his Marine death benefit and life insurance to the Princeton Scholarship Fund.

To contribute, make checks payable to the Princeton Scholarship Fund, note "Christopher Dyer Scholarship" in the subject line and mail to Princeton Board of Education, 25 W. Sharon Ave, Cincinnati, OH 45246.

Gold Star Families talk of losing relatives in Iraq

'The worst pain imaginable'


Advocate staff writer
Published: Mar 19, 2006
Advocate staff photo by JAMES CHANCE

Marybeth LeVan signed permission when her then-17-year-old son, Lance Cpl. Kyle Jason Grimes, wanted to enlist in the United States Marine Corps.

Pictures around LeVan’s living room show a strikingly handsome young man in his dress blue uniform.

“Sept. 11 hadn’t happened yet. I think I might have had doubts. At the time, I was thrilled that he had that kind of direction at such a young age,” LeVan said.

For the last year, LeVan has turned such thoughts over and over.

A 21-year-old native of Pennsylvania, Grimes was among 30 Marines and one Navy hospital corpsman killed Jan. 26, 2005 aboard a U.S. helicopter that crashed in a desert sandstorm in Iraq. According to news reports, the CH-53E Super Stallion was carrying Grimes and the others on a security mission in support of Iraq’s elections when it went down about 1:20 a.m. near Rutbah, about 220 miles west of Baghdad.

LeVan is also a Pennsylvania native but has lived in Baton Rouge for five years. Her son planned to attend LSU after he got out of the Marines.

While many families choose to grieve privately, LeVan has been open with media, allowing reporters and photographers into her home and granting interviews several times over the last year.

She has said that’s because she is grateful her son is not forgotten.

After her son died, her earlier interest in the movements of the Iraqi war has dimmed.

“I skim the headlines. That’s about it,” she said.

She does believe two things, though: One is that the war has lasted longer than anyone anticipated. But more disturbing is that she thinks support for the troops is fading.

“It’s important that we should support the troops,” LeVan said.

Growing up in peacetime, LeVan said she never had a true appreciation for Veterans Day.

“It was just another reason to have a picnic,” she said.

She sees it differently now, and feels that patriotism is important. She also said she’s found herself angry reading about Cindy Sheehan, whose son, U.S. Army Spc. Casey Sheehan, died in Iraq in April 2004.

“She upsets me. What would her son think? He chose an honorable path,” LeVan said.

Renewed patriotism and political conscience aside, LeVan is a mother who lost her only son. She’s not sure that how the loss came about makes much difference on the emotions.

“It’s the worst pain imaginable,” she said.

For months, she was obsessed with her son and her grief.

“It’s gotten better. I still feel incredibly sad, but I can be with friends and do things now,” she said.

LeVan dreams about her son frequently. They’re different. In one, he is grown, but she carries him like a baby. There’s one constant in her dreams, though.

“He always gives me roses,” she said.

March 18, 2006

For Amtrac Marines, finding weapons caches is well worth the effort

CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq (March 17, 2006) -- Searching for weapons caches in Iraq requires hard work, patience and an eye for details.


Submitted by: 1st Marine Division
Story Identification #: 200631914736
Story by 1st Lt. Nathan Braden

Marines from 1st Platoon, Company A, 2nd Assault Amphibian Battalion proved they have all of the above, plus a little extra.

“Every platoon has sort of developed a specialty since we’ve been out here. For 1st Platoon, it’s discovering weapons caches,” said Capt. William J. Gibbons, Jr., the 32-year-old Company A commander from Toms River, N.J.

First platoon has found more than half of the 60-plus weapons caches the company discovered since deploying to Al Anbar Province in the fall of 2005.

The platoon chalked up several more finds March 15 while looking for caches north of Fallujah.

“We were given a search area, told to talk to people, get a feel for the area and look for caches,” said 1st Lt Matthew A. Ross, 26, 1st Platoon commander from Denver.

The platoon started the search at the break of dawn, moving out of the assembly in a dusty column. The vehicles from 1st and 2nd section lurched purposefully towards the assigned search area. Marines from the 3rd section left their vehicles at base camp and served as dismounts for the operation.

Searching for caches required dismounted Marines to walk for hours looking in, under, behind and on top of anything that looked suspicious. In addition, Marines stopped by homes and spoke to residents.

“It can be monotonous,” Ross said. “It’s a slow and steady search, looking meticulously, but the Marines understand the importance of this mission.”

Early into the day, 1st section discovered an AK-47 and two SKS assault rifles wrapped in plastic and buried about a foot beneath the surface of a small mound of dirt in a large field.

Around mid-morning, a crackle came over the radio. Second section discovered 49 125 mm tank rounds and a hand grenade. The Marines from the section discovered the munitions while searching near a well with metal detectors.

“We’ve found a lot of caches with these metal detectors,” said Staff Sgt. Jayme J. Gibbs, 27, the 2nd section leader for 1st Platoon from Campton, Ky. “They’re good, we’ve found down to an individual small-arms round in a berm.”

The Marines used a combination of electronic metal detectors to aid them in looking for weapons.

“We use a couple of different kinds,” Gibbs explained. “Engineers have their own kind, but we also use off-the-shelf versions.”

Insurgents tend to bury caches around ground wells because they are easy reference points for finding them again and there tend to be easy escape routes away from the wells, Gibbs added.

“I like looking for caches because I’m hyper and I like to get out and work around and look for stuff. When we find stuff it’s worth all that walking,” said Lance Cpl Scott D. Bartow, 19, a crewman from Apex, N.C.

Bartow discovered an entire anti-aircraft gun system the day before near a well using a metal detector.

“I just wave the metal detector back and forth and listen for the beep,” Bartow said. “It went off and I started digging. I saw a wooden knob so I keep digging.”

After the discovered tank rounds were laid out and counted, explosive ordnance disposal technicians were called out to reduce the munitions.

“The weapons caches are all used for IEDs, that’s their only purpose,” Gibbs said. “We’ve been hit with enough IED’s to appreciate the fact that we are getting rid of some of them.”

The platoon spent the rest of the day combing the search area. Pvt. Curtis W. Simmons Jr., a 23-year-old from Gulfport, Miss., joked about spending the entire day walking the countryside looking for weapons caches.

“We were all going to join the infantry, but we figured they didn’t walk enough so we joined Amtracs,” he said.

Charlie Co. hones skills 'Down Under'

TOWNSVILLE, Australia (March 18, 2006) -- Marines from Company C, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, Camp Pendleton, Calif., conducted a four-day weapons-training evolution in the desolate outback here, March 13-17.


Submitted by: 11th MEU
Story Identification #: 20063185497
Story by Cpl. Ruben D. Calderon

Battalion Landing Team 1/4 and the MEU Service Support Group 11, another element of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, (Special Operations Capable) came ashore from the USS Peleliu, USS Ogden and USS Germantown to conduct training here.

For Charlie Company, training on live-fire assaults and maneuver exercises in an environment and climate different from their home back in Camp Horno, Camp Pendleton, proved beneficial to the Marines.

“The company is very fortunate to be able to train here,” said 1st Sgt. Kenneth M. Hasbrouck, company first sergeant. “There is some different and creative terrain here that the Marines aren’t accustomed to.”

Being used to training in mock-urban environments, the mountainous area and rocky hillsides initially challenged the Marines and the humid temperatures also took some getting used to. However, just as Marines have been doing for ages, the Marines and sailors of Charlie Company adapted and overcame.

“We got used to the environment quickly,” said Sgt. Richard Martinez, guide, 1st platoon. “Once that was out of the way we focused on the training such as squad movements as well as getting some shooting time with our weapons.”

Charlie tested out its arsenal of weapons by setting up ranges in different locations throughout their training site.

The Marine were glad to be off the ship and in a training environment larger than the flight deck of the Peleliu, said Staff Sgt. Arturo Cisneros, platoon sergeant, 1st platoon. “Here we have a lot more room to focus on the fire team maneuvers with live rounds.”

As with any training evolution, safety was always on the minds of the Marines. Prior to performing the exercises, every squad would rehearse and do a walk-through before doing it with live rounds.

According to Hasbrouck, the command’s intent was making sure everyone left Australia in one piece and that they returned home safely from this deployment.

Thanks to the safety measures, there were no injuries and everyone left the training area grateful for having the opportunity to become more knowledgeable and proficient in their occupational specialty.

“It’s great to have the opportunity to train out here in Australia,” said Cisneros. “We’re always striving to be the best. We’re always pushing to be the best. This type of training helps us accomplish this.”

Iraqi soldiers roll in armor, thanks to Marines

CAMP HABBINYAH, Iraq (March 18, 2006) -- Iraqi soldiers in Fallujah are rolling in armored humvees, just like their Marine counterparts.


Submitted by: 1st Marine Division
Story Identification #: 2006319143244
Story by Gunnery Sgt. Mark Oliva

Iraqi soldiers from the 2nd Brigade, 1st Iraqi Army Division took delivery of 10 new armored humvees, complete with their unique paint scheme and Iraqi flags painted on the sides. It was a significant step forward in increasing the capabilities and confidence of Iraqi soldiers to carry out their own independent operations.

Until now, Iraqis patrolled the streets of Fallujah in Nissan pick-up trucks, decked with armored doors and blast shields along the bed.

“This is very important to the soldiers,” said Gunnery Sgt. Herbert J. Kennedy, a 36-year-old assistant supply officer liaison to the Iraqi 2nd Brigade. “This is something they were looking forward to. It’s a very good day.”

The humvees were bought by the Iraqi Ministry of Defense and fitted and painted by contractors and soldiers from 1st Battalion, 110th Infantry Regiment.

“Now they can actually feel protected,” added Kennedy, from Beaumont, Texas. “There’s a better sense of pride.”

Pride was apparent among the Iraqi soldiers as they looked over their new vehicles. The opened every door, popped the hood and inventoried parts as Marines gave quick refresher classes to make them familiar with all the controls.

Iraqi soldiers said through an interpreter, they were pleased with the delivery. They praised the “high technology” and said that with the added protection, they could “destroy the terrorists.”

“We’re very excited,” one Iraqi soldier said. “We can’t wait to go into the city of Fallujah with these cars. The terrorists will be more scared and will take more consideration before attacking.”

The new humvees are more than just better protection for the Iraqis. It’s also a visual reminder of their growing capabilities in the eyes of their own citizens.

“They’re a status symbol,” explained Capt. Jon J. Bonar, a 31-year-old from Los Angeles who serves as the senior logistics advisor to the 1st Iraqi Army Division. “All the soldiers take their picture in from of the humvees.”

Kennedy agreed, adding the unique paint scheme with Iraqi flags sends a message both friends and foes.

“There’s a definite distinction between their humvees and ours,” he said. “Its’ camo pattern won’t be mistaken. When they’re conquering an objective, they’ll be identified by their colors. It’s a great honor. It shows the Iraqis are taking the lead in the fight.”

The Iraqi soldiers added they’re excited about the residents of Fallujah seeing their own army’s humvees rolling through the streets.

“The people see we have modern weapons and will be more encourage because they will see we can protect them,” one Iraqi soldier said.

“I believe this is the best military vehicle in the world,” another said.

Lance Cpl. Brent E. Driskill, a 20-year-old motor transport mechanic from Hot Springs, Ark., said the new humvees are just about as good as they get.

“They have the new up-armored kits,” said Driskill, assigned to Regimental Combat Team 5. “They’re equipped with turbos on the engines. Everything’s built up. The turrets they have are more armored than ours.”

Driskill added that with regular maintenance, the vehicles should last seven to eight years.

“It’s amazing how much of a step up it is for them,” he added. “They have more than twice the amount of weight and twice the amount of armor. They’re pretty well protected.”

The Iraqis drove with Marines from Fallujah to Habbinyah and back. For the mission commander, it was his first time working directly alongside Iraqis. He was encouraged by what he saw.

“We made the assumption that they were not very experienced,” said Capt. Jason S. Freeby, a 31-year-old from Houston, serving as commander of Headquarters Company, Regimental Combat Team 5. “I think we saw an example of the human spirit. No matter what culture, everyone wants to be successful. Iraqi’s do too.”

The Iraqis folded inside the Marine convoy for movement, making the move to and from Habbiniyah smooth. Freeby credited it to the burgeoning professionalism of Iraqi soldiers.

“It was like Christmas morning for those guys,” he said. “They’re excited about being successful. They have some good leadership and it filters down to the younger guys.”

Iraqi soldiers said the new humvees also speak to the trust between Marines and their forces. They know that Marines won’t be around forever and saw the addition of armored vehicles to their ranks as a step forward to complete military independence.

“It’s a very good collaboration between the Iraqi Army and Marines,” an Iraqi soldier explained. “I consider them as friends, especially Marines. It will be a memory of a friend, because some day, U.S. forces will leave.”

More than 70 Valley Marines to be deployed to Iraq

Once again, Wabash Valley Marines will have to part with their families as more than 70 Marines will leave for imminent deployment to Iraq.


Published: March 18, 2006
By Laura Followell
The Tribune-Star

Marine Reservists of the Company K, 3rd Battalion, 24th Marines, at the Marine reserve office on Fruitridge Avenue are training and preparing for their departure to Iraq early this summer for a yearlong deployment, 1st Sgt. Troy Euclide said.

“They’re all looking forward to it, and they’re motivated,” Euclide said. “They’re the ground pounders that kick the doors in and save the world.”

Euclide, who lives in Terre Haute, is the family readiness officer in conjunction with the Marines’ Key Volunteer Network. KVN is a program supported by Marines’ wives and mothers that helps and supports Marines and their families before, during and after a deployment with things such as paperwork preparation, rumor control and sending care packages, Euclide said.

“It lets their minds be at ease that everything is covered,” Euclide said.

One-third of Company K will be augmenting other Marine infantry units, so it will be a full-strength battalion in the western province of Anbar, Iraq.

Company K will assume various missions as assigned, Euclide said. Lt. David Sackett, Bloomington, Ill., said his unit will be “providing security for installations and convoys, hunting down, capturing and eliminating terrorists and building relationships with local Iraqi people and getting them ready to defend their own people.”

“We’re curious about what we’re going to be doing over there,” he said.

This is Sackett’s second time being deployed to Iraq, and this time he volunteered for the mission.

“This is something big to be a part of and something to be proud of for the rest of your life. We have a particular commitment to our Marines, and see to it that they’re led well,” Sackett said.

Sackett’s second deployment might be more difficult, he said. Sackett and his wife, Laura, have to prepare to tell their 4-year-old son, who now understands the concept of time, that his dad is leaving for many months.

Sackett has been in the Marines for more than 12 years and part of the unit in Terre Haute more than eight, he said.

Maj. Randall Hoffman is the inspector-instructor of the 200 Marines in the Company K Battalion and said that many people living in Terre Haute aren’t aware that there is a Marine reserve center in Terre Haute.

“The support is always great everywhere we go,” Hoffman said. “The Marines here, including the staff, are proud to do what we’re doing and we believe in the mission that we’re sent over there to do. We appreciate the continued support here in Indiana.”

Hawaii-based unit, 'America’s Battalion, arrives in Al Anbar Province

CAMP AL ASAD, Iraq (March 18, 2006) -- Just eight months after their deployment to Afghanistan, Hawaii-based Marines from 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment departed Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, recently to begin their seven-month deployment here in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.


Submitted by: 1st Marine Division
Story Identification #: 2006318115348
Story by Sgt. Roe F. Seigle

Now, all of the Marines from the unit – known as “America’s Battalion” – have arrived in Iraq’s Al Anbar Province, which they will call home for the duration of their stay.

After months of training in Hawaii and southern California, the battalion flew in from their home base over the past several weeks to replace the Camp Pendleton, Calif.-based 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment.

These Marines will be operating in the “Triad” region of Haditha, Haqliniyah, and Barwanah along the Euphrates River in western Iraq, where they will pick up where their predecessors left off – working hand-in-hand with Iraqi Security Forces to conduct counterinsurgency operations on their own and eventually take control of Al Anbar Province.

This latest deployment in support of the Global War on Terrorism comes just eight months after the battalion returned from a combat tour in Afghanistan. About 55-percent of the battalion’s 1,000-plus Marines and sailors deployed with the unit to Afghanistan last year.

The Marines, both veterans and first-time deployers alike, are eager to be here. While waiting for flights and convoys to their destination in Iraq, the Marines’ talk to each other about home, the Marine Corps, what daily life will be like, and a multitude of other subjects to include their mission of assisting the Iraqi Security Forces.

During their down time, the Marines write letters home and talk about their loved ones. In the evening, they receive refresher classes on the rules of engagement, levels of force protection, and other subjects designed to keep them alive and within the laws of war.

All of them seem to be in high spirits considering they are in a combat zone.

“I came here to Iraq to do my part,” said Staff Sgt. Ronnie Torres, 29, Weapons Company platoon sergeant and a native of Pembroke Pines, Fla. “I want to help the Iraqi people settle and have an easier life.”

“I want to be here,” added Lance Cpl. Riley Carter, an intelligence analyst with the battalion. “This is what I came in the Marine Corps to do. Being in Hawaii was nice, but it is time for me to leave paradise and do my part for my country.”

Carter and Torres’ demeanor seem commonplace throughout the battalion’s ranks. In fact, the unit’s commander, Lt Col. Norman Cooling, says the Marines are “motivated and ready to train the Iraqi Security Forces.

“The Marines have trained exceptionally hard for this deployment,” said Cooling. “They have tremendous faith in their leadership and they know that they have had the best training possible.”

“I have no qualms about leaving my life in the hands of my Marines,” said Torres, who said good-bye to his wife, Marcy and their two daughters just days ago.

Prior to arriving in Iraq, the Hawaii-based Marines spent a month and a half of pre-deployment training in southern California’s Mojave Desert – a combined arms exercise appropriately dubbed “Mojave Viper.” The six-week long exercise was a culmination of a multitude of infantry, urban warfare and cultural training for the Marines in preparation for Operation Iraqi Freedom.

From countering improvised explosive devices to patrolling and interacting with Iraqi role players in a mock-Iraqi village, the Marines were put in scenarios similar to those they’ll face in Iraq.

“The Marines are ready for this,” added Cooling. “It takes a very special man to sacrifice his comfort and the comfort of those who he loves most in order to make a difference to his country. That’s the kind of men that serve in this unit – in ‘America’s Battalion.’”

In addition to preparing Iraqi soldiers to eventually take control of security operations in the battalion’s “battle space,” Cooling’s second mission is to ensure he gets his troops home safely. Minimizing casualties is a priority for Cooling, who added that doing so stems from realistic training, having the best equipment available, superb leadership, and keen situational knowledge of the operating environment.

While the infantry unit — called “three-three” for short — has received the best training, equipment and leadership possible, it’s up to individual leaders to ensure they and their subordinates keep up to date on current and future operations, said Cooling.

In a combat environment, staying in the “know” could mean the difference between success and failure, and even life and death.

“That is why a good relief-in-place is so critically important,” said Cooling, who added that his unit’s experience from Afghanistan will play a critical role in the Marines’ ability to effectively help the development of the Iraqi Army.

“We have eight months of practical experience in training a foreign military,” said Cooling. “The 55 percent of the Battalion that remains from Afghanistan knows how to work around language and cultural differences and create a cohesive team with foreign soldiers.”

The battalion has shown they can successfully work side-by-side with other militaries and is capable of training newly-formed forces, said Cooling. The Marines conducted several combined operations with the Afghan Army during their deployment last year and “performed superbly,” he said.

“They (Afghan soldiers) were a significant combat multiplier because the local population recognized them as fellow Muslims with the same language, culture, and to a certain extent, national identity,” said Cooling, a native of Baytown, Texas. “I suspect that the same will be true with regard to the Iraqi soldiers here.”

For some of the unit’s Marines, the next seven months will be their first deployment to Iraq, and for many, the longest time they’ve been away from family and friends. For others, the deployment offers a new experience – the chance to conduct combined operations with foreign militaries.

“It takes spouses who are willing to raise children alone for extended periods and children to go without one of their most important life mentors,” said Cooling. “It’s (deployment) a real sacrifice that few are willing to make. “

The battalion’s deployment is part of a regularly scheduled rotation of forces in Al Anbar Province. More than 23,000 Marines and sailors of the Camp Pendleton, Calif.-based I Marine Expeditionary Force are replacing the Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based II MEF.

Delta Company, 3rd AABn., dismount from AAVS, storm MOUT facility

According to the 3rd Assault Amphibian Battalion's Web site, the mission of an amphibious assault battalion is to land the surface assault elements of the landing force and their equipment in a single lift from assault shipping during amphibious operations to inland objectives and to conduct mechanized operations and related combat support in subsequent mechanized operations ashore.


Along with their mission, they are to provide direct and indirect fire support as required within the capability of their weapons systems during amphibious operations ashore.

Delta Company, 3rd AABn., exercised a different, yet equally valuable role March 9 as they stepped out of their amphibious assault vehicles and stormed Combat Center Range 215 on foot.

The company returned from Camp Schwab, Okinawa, serving with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, Dec. 12, and are expecting a deployment to Iraq later this year.

The company kicked-off their first training exercise since their return from the Western Pacific, executing maneuvering drills, and more recently, military operations on urban terrain.

“We normally do not get to perform a lot of infantry training,” said Staff Sgt. Garret Robinson, section leader with 1st Platoon, Delta Company, and an Airville, Pa., native. “We usually support an infantry unit when training here, but now it's our turn to take a shot at this MOUT facility.”

According to the company's Web site, they are tasked with supporting 1st Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, “New England's Own” reserve battalion, as they partake in a month long pre-deployment training evolution dubbed Mojave Viper. However, since Delta Company will also be deploying to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, they too are partaking in Mojave Viper, said Robinson.

Throughout the second week of March, the company was educated and trained on urban warfare. Capt. Christopher E. DeAntoni, commanding officer of urban warfare training center teams, Tactical Training Exercise Control Group, taught classes on clearing houses, patrolling cities, and maneuvering AAVs through the MOUT town streets.

“Cordon searches are vital when patrolling the streets in Iraq,” said DeAntoni during a class with Charlie Company, 1/25, and 1st Platoon, Delta Company, 3rd AABn. “This is what we do to gather important information about Iraqi cities.”

After morning classes, the units performed their lessons in the MOUT facility, interacting with role players who dwell on the range.

“This is the best set-up I've ever seen,” said Staff Sgt. Jared Hoversten, a section leader with Delta Company, and an Iowa Falls, Iowa, native. “This facility is the best way to train for any circumstances we may encounter during our deployment. These tasks we execute here are tasks AAV trackers aren't necessarily used for, but it's always a possibility we might have to perform. We usually don't get this type of training so we are definitely taking advantage of it.”

Delta Company's first platoon broke into two sections during these training exercises. They performed vehicle block drills, personnel detail searches for weapons, building entries by permission, building entries by force, reaction to improvised explosive devices, city patrolling and reaction to snipers.

The training was new to all AAV crewmen, even though some had prior deployments to Iraq.

“This was a great learning experience,” said Sgt. Jerome Griego, an assistant section leader with Delta Company and an Albuquerque, N.M., native. “I've been with the company for almost three years and this is my first time patrolling this terrain. It's a great way to prepare for Iraq, especially in a mental sense. The role players made me feel as though I was in an actual situation. Training with the simunition rounds was an eye-opener. It let us know where we stand, and what we need to do.

“I expect to continue this type of training,” continued Griego. “The more we train this, the better we will become with these situations. We are taking in a lot right now. We all pay close attention so we can hit these exercises hard. Being on foot is very different from what we're used to, but soon that will change.”

Delta Company is known for their vehicles and weapons systems, said Griego. Even though the vehicles were made for the ocean as well as land, the company feels more skilled on land, because of their vast training area aboard the Combat Center.

“We are very proficient in our military operational specialty,” said Cpl. Joshua L. Waters-Jackson, an AAV crew chief with Delta Company, and a Des Moines, Iowa, native. “Now it is time to excel on our infantry training. A lot of us found the training really interesting. We have a new way to look at combat scenarios. There are many new Marines in our unit and not too many Operation Iraqi Freedom veterans. We usually train to proficiency, and that's what we will continue to do. We have high expectations around here, so we will get the best out of our pre-deployment training.”

Hawaii-based unit, 'America’s Battalion, arrives in Al Anbar Province

CAMP AL ASAD, Iraq (March 18, 2006) -- Just eight months after their deployment to Afghanistan, Hawaii-based Marines from 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment departed Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, recently to begin their seven-month deployment here in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.


Submitted by: 1st Marine Division
Story Identification #: 2006318115348
Story by Sgt. Roe F. Seigle

Now, all of the Marines from the unit – known as “America’s Battalion” – have arrived in Iraq’s Al Anbar Province, which they will call home for the duration of their stay.

After months of training in Hawaii and southern California, the battalion flew in from their home base over the past several weeks to replace the Camp Pendleton, Calif.-based 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment.

These Marines will be operating in the “Triad” region of Haditha, Haqliniyah, and Barwanah along the Euphrates River in western Iraq, where they will pick up where their predecessors left off – working hand-in-hand with Iraqi Security Forces to conduct counterinsurgency operations on their own and eventually take control of Al Anbar Province.

This latest deployment in support of the Global War on Terrorism comes just eight months after the battalion returned from a combat tour in Afghanistan. About 55-percent of the battalion’s 1,000-plus Marines and sailors deployed with the unit to Afghanistan last year.

The Marines, both veterans and first-time deployers alike, are eager to be here. While waiting for flights and convoys to their destination in Iraq, the Marines’ talk to each other about home, the Marine Corps, what daily life will be like, and a multitude of other subjects to include their mission of assisting the Iraqi Security Forces.

During their down time, the Marines write letters home and talk about their loved ones. In the evening, they receive refresher classes on the rules of engagement, levels of force protection, and other subjects designed to keep them alive and within the laws of war.

All of them seem to be in high spirits considering they are in a combat zone.

“I came here to Iraq to do my part,” said Staff Sgt. Ronnie Torres, 29, Weapons Company platoon sergeant and a native of Pembroke Pines, Fla. “I want to help the Iraqi people settle and have an easier life.”

“I want to be here,” added Lance Cpl. Riley Carter, an intelligence analyst with the battalion. “This is what I came in the Marine Corps to do. Being in Hawaii was nice, but it is time for me to leave paradise and do my part for my country.”

Carter and Torres’ demeanor seem commonplace throughout the battalion’s ranks. In fact, the unit’s commander, Lt Col. Norman Cooling, says the Marines are “motivated and ready to train the Iraqi Security Forces.

“The Marines have trained exceptionally hard for this deployment,” said Cooling. “They have tremendous faith in their leadership and they know that they have had the best training possible.”

“I have no qualms about leaving my life in the hands of my Marines,” said Torres, who said good-bye to his wife, Marcy and their two daughters just days ago.

Prior to arriving in Iraq, the Hawaii-based Marines spent a month and a half of pre-deployment training in southern California’s Mojave Desert – a combined arms exercise appropriately dubbed “Mojave Viper.” The six-week long exercise was a culmination of a multitude of infantry, urban warfare and cultural training for the Marines in preparation for Operation Iraqi Freedom.

From countering improvised explosive devices to patrolling and interacting with Iraqi role players in a mock-Iraqi village, the Marines were put in scenarios similar to those they’ll face in Iraq.

“The Marines are ready for this,” added Cooling. “It takes a very special man to sacrifice his comfort and the comfort of those who he loves most in order to make a difference to his country. That’s the kind of men that serve in this unit – in ‘America’s Battalion.’”

In addition to preparing Iraqi soldiers to eventually take control of security operations in the battalion’s “battle space,” Cooling’s second mission is to ensure he gets his troops home safely. Minimizing casualties is a priority for Cooling, who added that doing so stems from realistic training, having the best equipment available, superb leadership, and keen situational knowledge of the operating environment.

While the infantry unit — called “three-three” for short — has received the best training, equipment and leadership possible, it’s up to individual leaders to ensure they and their subordinates keep up to date on current and future operations, said Cooling.

In a combat environment, staying in the “know” could mean the difference between success and failure, and even life and death.

“That is why a good relief-in-place is so critically important,” said Cooling, who added that his unit’s experience from Afghanistan will play a critical role in the Marines’ ability to effectively help the development of the Iraqi Army.

“We have eight months of practical experience in training a foreign military,” said Cooling. “The 55 percent of the Battalion that remains from Afghanistan knows how to work around language and cultural differences and create a cohesive team with foreign soldiers.”

The battalion has shown they can successfully work side-by-side with other militaries and is capable of training newly-formed forces, said Cooling. The Marines conducted several combined operations with the Afghan Army during their deployment last year and “performed superbly,” he said.

“They (Afghan soldiers) were a significant combat multiplier because the local population recognized them as fellow Muslims with the same language, culture, and to a certain extent, national identity,” said Cooling, a native of Baytown, Texas. “I suspect that the same will be true with regard to the Iraqi soldiers here.”

For some of the unit’s Marines, the next seven months will be their first deployment to Iraq, and for many, the longest time they’ve been away from family and friends. For others, the deployment offers a new experience – the chance to conduct combined operations with foreign militaries.

“It takes spouses who are willing to raise children alone for extended periods and children to go without one of their most important life mentors,” said Cooling. “It’s (deployment) a real sacrifice that few are willing to make. “

The battalion’s deployment is part of a regularly scheduled rotation of forces in Al Anbar Province. More than 23,000 Marines and sailors of the Camp Pendleton, Calif.-based I Marine Expeditionary Force are replacing the Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based II MEF.

March 17, 2006

Manteca woman blazes trail in Marines, Iraq vet among few women to lead copter crew

MANTECA - Anything but a desk job.

Jennifer Vollbrecht wanted action. And she found it in the Marine Corps.


Alex Breitler
Record Staff Writer
Published Friday, Mar 17, 2006

The 20-year-old Manteca woman returned earlier this month from her first stint in Iraq, where she served as a helicopter crew chief - one of only a handful of women in the Marines ever entrusted with that job.

Vollbrecht had little time to relish her role in history. She worked 14-hour days on CH-46 dual-blade choppers shuttling injured troops in and out of battle zones. She faced the constant threat of being gunned down.

All this for a woman who, prior to boot camp, had rarely set foot outside Manteca.

"I don't really know what made me join," Vollbrecht said. "It wasn't for my family or anything. I just wanted to get out and see the world."

Women make up just more than 6 percent of the Marine Corps, up from 1 percent about four decades ago, according to the Women Marines Association. The nationwide group represents thousands of current and former female Marines.

Not only are the numbers of female Marines growing, but so is the range of duties handled by women, said 59-year-old Lynn Giaudrone of Stockton, president of the association's local chapter. She said she had goose bumps when she learned about Vollbrecht and her achievements.

"I'm amazed," said Giaudrone, who drove a forklift during the Vietnam War. "It's really important what she's doing. She is trailblazing for those behind her."

Vollbrecht's work also earned accolades from a retired lieutenant general who once served as president of the women's association.

"It's quite an accomplishment," said Lt. Gen. Carol Mutter of Brownsville, Ind., who 10 years ago became the first female Marine to wear three stars.

Women in the Marines are still prohibited from infantry, armor and artillery duties, Mutter said."But I think we have quite a few females who would volunteer for those jobs," she said. "They don't go into the Marine Corps to just sit behind a desk. You want to get out there and really make a difference."

Vollbrecht spent most of her life in Manteca, where she was home-schooled and attended church regularly at the Christian Worship Center.

She met with Marine recruiters and told them she wanted excitement. But she had to work for it. She trained for a year and enlisted on her 18th birthday, said her mother, Kim Lewis of Manteca.

"The Marines appealed to her," Lewis said. "They were the best of the best."

Vollbrecht endured boot camp and went through a year of schooling to become a helicopter crew chief. She said she was told at graduation she would be the sixth woman to do that job.

Officials with the Marine Corps couldn't confirm that, but a spokesman did say statistics broken down by gender suggest only a few women have held that position over the years.

Vollbrecht was responsible for careful inspections of helicopters and the loading and unloading of cargo and passengers. Many of the injured troops were flown to hospitals in Baghdad.

She said she was respected by her male colleagues.

"But it didn't just come," she said. "I had to earn it."

Vollbrecht married her husband, Nathan, in July, about a month before she shipped out to Iraq. For six months, the couple shared only e-mail and weekly phone calls.

That made her homecoming this month all the more joyous. Her mother, three of her four siblings and her husband met her at the airport.

After a quick visit back home in Manteca, Vollbrecht returned to San Diego, where she's training for a possible second deployment to Iraq.

Her mother hopes that day never comes. But if it does, she knows Vollbrecht is where she's wants to be: with her fellow Marines, both men and women.

"That so suits her," Lewis said. "She doesn't care if somebody says that's not a girl's job. She's going to go out and do it."

For Amtrac Marines, finding weapons caches is well worth the effort

CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq (March 17, 2006) -- Searching for weapons caches in Iraq requires hard work, patience and an eye for details.

Marines from 1st Platoon, Company A, 2nd Assault Amphibian Battalion proved they have all of the above, plus a little extra.


Submitted by: 1st Marine Division
Story Identification #: 200631914736
Story by 1st Lt. Nathan Braden

“Every platoon has sort of developed a specialty since we’ve been out here. For 1st Platoon, it’s discovering weapons caches,” said Capt. William J. Gibbons Jr., the 32-year-old A Company commander from Toms River, N.J.

First platoon has found more than half of the 60-plus weapons caches the company discovered since deploying to Al Anbar province in the fall of 2005.

The platoon chalked up several more finds March 15 while looking for caches north of Fallujah.

“We were given a search area, told to talk to people, get a feel for the area and look for caches,” said 1st Lt Matthew A. Ross, 26, 1st Platoon commander from Denver.

The platoon started the search at the break of dawn, moving out of the assembly in a dusty column. The vehicles from 1st and 2nd section lurched purposefully towards the assigned search area. Marines from the 3rd section left their vehicles at base camp and served as dismounts for the operation.

Searching for caches required dismounted Marines to walk for hours looking in, under, behind and on top of anything that looked suspicious. In addition, Marines stopped by homes and spoke to residents.

“It can be monotonous,” Ross said. “It’s a slow and steady search, looking meticulously, but the Marines understand the importance of this mission.”

Early into the day, 1st section discovered an AK-47 and two SKS assault rifles wrapped in plastic and buried about a foot beneath the surface of a small mound of dirt in a large field.

Around mid-morning, a crackle came over the radio. Second section discovered 49 125 mm tank rounds and a hand grenade. The Marines from the section discovered the munitions while searching near a well with metal detectors.

“We’ve found a lot of caches with these metal detectors,” said Staff Sgt. Jayme J. Gibbs, 27, the 2nd section leader for 1st Platoon from Campton, Ky. “They’re good, we’ve found down to an individual small-arms round in a berm.”

The Marines used a combination of electronic metal detectors to aid them in looking for weapons.

“We use a couple of different kinds,” Gibbs explained. “Engineers have their own kind, but we also use off-the-shelf versions.”

Insurgents tend to bury caches around ground wells because they are easy reference points for finding them again and there tend to be easy escape routes away from the wells, Gibbs added.

“I like looking for caches because I’m hyper and I like to get out and work around and look for stuff. When we find stuff it’s worth all that walking,” said Lance Cpl. Scott D. Bartow, 19, a crewman from Apex, N.C.

Bartow discovered an entire anti-aircraft gun system the day before near a well using a metal detector.

“I just wave the metal detector back and forth and listen for the beep,” Bartow said. “It went off and I started digging. I saw a wooden knob so I kept digging.”

After the discovered tank rounds were laid out and counted, explosive ordnance disposal technicians were called out to reduce the munitions.

“The weapons caches are all used for IEDs, that’s their only purpose,” Gibbs said. “We’ve been hit with enough IEDs to appreciate the fact that we are getting rid of some of them.”

The platoon spent the rest of the day combing the search area. Pvt. Curtis W. Simmons Jr., a 23-year-old from Gulfport, Miss., joked about spending the entire day walking the countryside looking for weapons caches.

“We were all going to join the infantry, but we figured they didn’t walk enough so we joined Amtracs,” he said.

1,000 more sailors expected to join ground forces in Iraq

Three years after Baghdad fell, the Navy is poised to dramatically increase the number of sailors in Iraq and Afghanistan, filling gaps in Army and Marine Corps units.

The seamen, called "individual augmentees," support ground operations thousands of miles from the nearest port, in deployments that can be far different from the Navy's traditional role.


By Alex Fryer

Seattle Times staff reporter

Last year, about 400 sailors from naval bases at Everett, Whidbey Island, Bangor and Bremerton were called to fill specific jobs ashore. Most involved security, communications, construction and administrative duties, on yearlong deployments. For example, some helped staff prisons and others drove trucks.

New requests for Navy personnel in the Middle East and Afghanistan are coming in weekly. There are 4,000 sailors in Iraq — a number that is expected to increase to 5,000 in the next few months. It is unclear how many more sailors will be called to serve ashore by the end of the year.

"Ground forces have been in a very tough rotation over the last several years, and if we can pitch in to help relieve some of that, we're going to do that," Adm. Michael Mullen said during a recent interview with reporters. "We are replacing some of the Marines and soldiers who are on the ground. ... I couldn't tell you exactly what it's going to grow to."

The sailors do not perform raids or attack insurgent positions. But some of their missions, particularly defusing homemade bombs, can be dangerous.

Though most sailors sent to Iraq and Afghanistan volunteer, Navy officials say everyone should be prepared to serve.

"If you're wearing a uniform, you're a volunteer for whatever the military needs from you," said Lt. Trey Brown, a Navy spokesman. "We want to take the people who are more eager, but everybody has got to be ready to go."

Not all sailors are enthusiastic about the Navy's support role.

A Naval Academy graduate based in San Diego received orders on Wednesday to report to another base in 12 days and ship out to Iraq, even after he specifically turned down a request to volunteer. To him, the program refutes pronouncements by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that the Army is "battle-hardened" but in good shape.

"Rumsfeld says the Army is not stretched too thin, but you have sailors relieving the Army," said the officer, who wished to remain anonymous. "A little straightforwardness goes a long way. We'd like the same from the folks on high."

There are 356,429 Navy personnel on active duty; about 36,500 are deployed around the world.

Requests for naval manpower in the region come from Central Command, which oversees all military operations from the Horn of Africa to Central Asia. The requests pass through Fleet Forces Command in Norfolk, Va., where it is determined which naval regions will be asked to draw sailors. Navy Region Northwest includes facilities in Washington, Alaska, Oregon and Idaho.

Selecting officers and enlisted personnel from ships and shore duty is a delicate balancing act, said Brown, the Navy spokesman.

"They don't want to decimate a certain area. We want to manage this so we don't inhibit the Navy's mission at sea."

The Navy asks for service members with specific training or skills such as electronic warfare officers. But the call also goes out for "Any Rate" sailors with indeterminate skills.

"They need a body to fill a spot," said Petty Officer Dustin Hill, who is assigned to the USS Alabama, a ballistic nuclear submarine homeported at Bangor.

There is a lot of talk on base about going to Iraq, he said, but so far, most submariners aren't worried that they will be selected against their will.

"People feel like they're safe," Hill said. "We trained to be on submarines. It just doesn't make sense" for the submariners to support combat operations.

Master Chief John Gross, stationed at Naval Station Everett, volunteered to go to Afghanistan from October 2004 to April 2005, joining an operations center that followed the movement of ground forces and summarized daily events.

For him, the duty offered a unique opportunity to participate in war.

"It's a slice of life I would have never gotten to experience if I hadn't put my arm in the air to volunteer," he said.

When a Navy vessel heads out to sea, the sailors on board have trained with each other. But when sailors deploy to land combat, they often go alone and serve under a different branch of the military.

Gross said he worked well with the other services, but there is evidence not all deployments have gone smoothly.

In January 2003, nine medics assigned to Naval Hospital Oak Harbor left to serve with the 1st Marine Division in Iraq.

During an interview with Navy Criminal Investigative Services, which was investigating a report of prisoner abuse by the medics, one corpsman said the Navy guys were not well-liked among the Marines.

"I cannot say I was well-received by the Marines with which I was assigned," said the medic, whose name was blocked out in the file. "I believe they think of us as lazy [Navy] Corpsman who do not do a thing."

Investigators later determined the allegations of abuse were false.

Christine Wormuth, senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., said individual sailors risk being the "odd man out" when they integrate into other units.

Over time, she said, the stress of such deployments could erode the attractiveness of the Navy, and present a recruitment and retention problem.

The Pentagon "is trying to find ways to put Navy personnel in jobs that are muddy-boots-type jobs," she said.

Gross said volunteers at Naval Station Everett were easy to come by, particularly for general deployments that appeal to lower-ranked sailors.

Depending on their pay rate, service members can double their salaries by working in combat zones, though it's not money that motivates most volunteers, he said.

"You can read something in a news article or see something on TV, but there is no substitute to actually being immersed in a 360-degree view with all the sights and smells," Gross said.

"Money is money. The experience overrides it."

Alex Fryer: 206-464-8124 or [email protected]

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

'I'm going to miss him'

Mar 17, 2006 — Even after losing her son in Iraq, Julie Snyder doesn't regret giving him permission to join the Marines.

When Matthew Snyder was a senior at Westminster High School in Maryland, he called his mother at work, said hi, and added, "I just enlisted in the Marines!"


"What?" she said.

He answered, "I just enlisted in the Marines, and I need you to sign for me."

She told him they'd talk about it when she got home.

Later, she and Matthew's father, Albert Snyder, gave their blessings for him to go into the Marines at 17. After graduation, he went to boot camp in 2003.

"He was a determined kid," said his mother, who lives in Westminster, Md. "He always knew what he wanted to do."

Earlier this month, U.S. Marines Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder volunteered for a gunner assignment. He was killed March 3 in Al Anbar province in Iraq after the Humvee he was riding in rolled over in a crash. He was 20.

His family buried him a week ago. This week, his mother said, "I'll never look at the word 'devastated' in the same light because now I know what devastated is."

Albert Snyder looked that way as he walked through the living room of his Spring Garden Township home Thursday evening. He ran a hand over a collage of pictures used at Matthew's funeral last week, staring down at them with sad eyes.

Next to the photos was an American flag that accompanied Matthew's body, neatly folded in a triangle box his father picked out this week. Around Albert Snyder, baskets of flowers and fruit were marked with notes of condolences.

The family has received more than 200 sympathy cards, he said.

"In one, someone said they showed Matthew's picture to their sons and told them, 'This is what a real hero looks like,'" Albert Snyder said.

Matthew's family has been comforted by the outpouring from their communities.

"They've made the most horrible time of our lives at least a little more bearable," Julie Snyder said.

At Matthew's funeral in Westminster, Md., about 50 bikers from the Patriot Guard Riders, a veterans' group, shielded the family and church from a group of Kansas protesters spewing anti-gay and anti-soldier messages.

Albert Snyder said the human shield worked. His family didn't know protesters attended until they saw and read news reports.

"(The Guard Riders) are wonderful," he said. "To me, they're angels who were sent there to help us through this."

As the funeral procession left St. John Catholic Church, students from its school lined the driveway, each waving an American flag. On street corners along the 15-mile drive to the veteran's cemetery where Matthew was buried, police officers stood and saluted the procession.

At the local fire station, the fire trucks had their flashing lights on, and the firefighters honored Matthew by putting their hands on their hearts.

On the marquee of his former elementary school, it read, "We'll Miss You Matt."

"I was just shocked," Albert Snyder said. "It was so amazing to see all these people paying tribute to Matthew."

With all the love shown to them that day, it was no place for the Kansas protesters, Matthew's parents said.

"I won't even comment on them. They don't deserve comment," Julie Snyder said.

This week, Matthew's family remembered his great sense of humor, his smile and the way his ears stuck out from under his U.S. Marines hat.

They recalled how he enjoyed spending time with his family, playing soccer and watching the "Blue Collar Comedy Tour" comedians. He liked to laugh, tell jokes and plant whoopee cushions in people's seats.

For a small guy, he was tough and athletic. Matthew reveled in his weeks of basic training, his family said.

"This child loved boot camp," his mother said. "He said there were tough times but told me, 'I would do it again.'"

Matthew's aunt, Bonnie Snyder, said his death broke her heart. The 48-year-old doesn't have any children of her own, and Matthew was her only and favorite nephew, she said.

"He gave me the happiest 20 years of my life, and I'm going to miss him," the Halethorpe, Md., resident said. "He was just an all-around good kid."

At 20, Matthew had accomplished his dream of being a Marine and serving his country in war, said his sister, Sarah Snyder, who lives in Hanover. He made his family proud.

"Not many people have the guts to stand up for something they really believe in, and he certainly did," she said.


Name: Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Snyder

Age: 20

Military branch: Marines

Enlisted: Oct. 14, 2003

Unit: Combat Logistics Batallion-7, Twentynine Palms, Calif.

High school: Westminster High School, Maryland

Graduated: June 2003

Family: Parents Albert Snyder and Julia Snyder; sisters Sarah Anne Snyder and Tracie Lynne Snyder

Three years in Iraq force dramatic military changes

WASHINGTON — Before the war in Iraq, counterinsurgency was another word for quagmire.

But three years of fighting door-to-door in Fallujah and defusing roadside bombs from Basra to Mosul have forced the Pentagon to embrace this form of warfare that it had sworn off of as Vietnam collapsed 35 years ago.


By John Yaukey
Gannett News Service

Modern insurgents attack military, economic, social, political and religious targets to convince the enemy's decision makers that their cause is ultimately too costly to pursue.

Insurgency is the only form of warfare that has ever defeated a superpower, most notably the United States in Vietnam and the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

"The Army got out of the business of counterinsurgency at the encouragement of its own culture, the political leadership and the American people," said Andrew Krepinevich, a West Point- and Harvard-educated military analyst and retired Army officer. "Now it finds itself back in a strange environment it left decades ago."

The signs that the Pentagon has deeply committed itself to counterinsurgency capability are evident from Taji north of Baghdad, where the Army recently opened a counterinsurgency school for field officers, to Fort Leavenworth, Kan., where prospective senior officers study terrorism, intelligence gathering and defusing homemade bombs.

Enlistees learn hit-and-run combat, convoy protection, urban warfare and training foreign forces as well as winning over local populations and working with militias rather than fighting them.

Special Forces troops are learning how to build bridges rather than just blow them up and how to supervise elections and protect political leaders.

The Pentagon's 2007 budget now before Congress adds billions of dollars in new funding for language training, psychological operations, cultural intelligence gathering and other tactics once considered merely supplements to traditional large-scale warfare.

All of this represents a dramatic shift in military emphasis with a message to the American people: The United States is now in the messy, expensive and sometimes futile business of nation building.

President Bush underscored that in his National Security Strategy, a 49-page concept document released Thursday that stressed the kinds of strategic themes that led to the war in Iraq: pre-emptive attacks when necessary and nurturing democracy in troubled regions.

New challenges

Much of the time counterinsurgency is highly counterintuitive. Traditional warfare stresses force protection. Counterinsurgency demands risk.

"You have to get out of the bunker, take your helmet off and talk to the people," said Nathaniel Fick, who served as a special operations Marine officer in both Iraq and Afghanistan. "A lot of times that's when you get killed."

Fighting in small groups against a shadowy enemy has forced major tactical decisions down the chain of command to younger, less experienced warriors.

"This is a very decentralized kind of warfare," said Conrad Crane, a West Point graduate, former officer and lead author of the Army's new counterinsurgency manual. "To wage it effectively, you have to empower down to the lowest possible level because there simply isn't the time to run up and down a long chain of command."

Because counterinsurgencies are about winning hearts and minds, officers must be able to juggle what's called the "three-block war," fighting insurgents in one block, tending to wounded locals in another, and building a schoolhouse in the third.

"People are the terrain," said Stuart Lyon, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who teaches counterinsurgency at Fort Leavenworth. "You can lose because you lose the people."

Future wars

Developing proficiency in counterinsurgency was less of a decision for the Pentagon than a necessity.

"Much of the rest of the world has already decided that this irregular type of warfare is the way to fight because it plays to our weaknesses," said Marine Corps Col. Thomas X. Hammes, author of "The Sling and the Stone: On War in the 21st Century." "But this is the kind of warfare we're going to be facing in the future."

Perhaps the most daunting characteristic about insurgencies is their staying power. It typically takes a decade or longer to defeat one.

Americans fought for 11 years in Vietnam before leaving. The French gave up an eight-year campaign in Algeria in 1962. The Soviets ended their futile decade in Afghanistan in 1989.

Enough support?

Despite the sea change in thinking at the Pentagon, some military analysts claim American ground forces are not getting the kind of support they need for their new mission.

Bush's 2007 defense budget calls for keeping the size of the active-duty Army at roughly 500,000 troops rearranged into smaller, more agile units. Some lawmakers concerned the Army is overstressed by the war in Iraq want to expand it by 30,000 to 100,000 troops.

What's more, as the Pentagon has stressed counterinsurgency, it has not relieved the military of its responsibility to be capable of fighting two simultaneous traditional wars.

Two recent reports, one contracted by the Pentagon, concluded the Army is under severe stress because of the war in Iraq. The Pentagon report said the Army risks "breaking" its forces through recruitment losses.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has said "the Army is not broken," rather it is "battle-hardened."

But for the first time since 1999, the Army has missed its recruiting goals. Army manpower is about 10,000 troops short of the 502,000 slots authorized by Congress.

"The Army has truly distinguished itself over the last several years adapting to some very difficult circumstances," said Michael O'Hanlon, a defense analyst with the Brookings Institution. "But the fact is the troops are tired now and a lot of their equipment is in the shop."

Contact John Yaukey at [email protected]

March 16, 2006

A Mother Drives Her Son's Memory Home

(CBS) One military mother is going to extraordinary lengths to pay tribute to her fallen son. Jerry Bowen reports on her journey in the fourth part of the CBS Evening News special series, "The Iraq War: Three Years and Counting."


San Diego, California, March 16, 2006

It's family day at the U.S. Marine Corps boot camp in San Diego and all eyes should be on the graduating class. But, there is a tricked out Hummer that is drawing all the onlookers.

Karla Comfort, the SUVs driver, is posing for pictures.

"You know it's not me they're drawn to," she says. "It's the vehicle. It's the power of what happened."

What happened is that 10 members of Fox Company, 2nd battalion, 7th Marines died in Falluja last December. They were killed by an improvised explosive device – a roadside bomb. John Comfort died there, and that is where Karla Comfort's odyssey began.

"If you don't agree with the war, you still need to respect and honor the men that are doing their jobs," Comfort says, "and that's what these guys were doing."

The journey began in Arkansas where the Hummer was painted with a life-to-death montage (video). It went all the way to her home in Oregon. She stopped along the way at Camp Pendelton where her son trained.

The Marines on the base appreciated her dedication. "It's very impressive. It's a great tribute and I'm glad this woman did this," said Lt. Amanda Freeman.

For some it is a reminder of the costs of war. "It's just a reality check," said Staff Sergeant Thaddeus Williams. "It’s the stuff a lot of people don't see. The realities; the costs.

True to life pictures of tanks and helicopters are on the passenger doors of Comfort's tribute vehicle. Portraits of the ten Marines killed in Falluja are on the rear windows – so are coffins in the hold of a cargo plane.

"This is just a phenomenal piece of work," Marine Chief of Staff Robert Knapp told Comfort when he saw the Hummer.

She thanked the officer, but said, "It doesn't replace my son. It sure is something positive to focus on. We miss him everyday."

For the new Marines in San Diego and their families, it is hard to look past the names painted on the rear window – they are listed as K.I.A. That is what caught Gloria Ayala's eye.

"It's sad to see all those young lives taken away for out country," she said, standing next to her 20-year-old son. "They look like babies."

Comfort doesn't disagree. "I look at these guys and I would hate to see them end up where my son did," she said. "They're so young and they don't have that vulnerable feeling yet. They have so much strength."

But she thinks the new recruits have to be that way. "It's good they have that because they probably wouldn't have a Marine Corps if they had a lot of older people enlisting. They understand that life if very sensitive and you can lose it in a second."

Comfort says her favorite part of the Hummer is a small mural of Marines guarding the gates of heaven. She believes her son is one of them.

As for herself, Comfort is driven to see that none of them are forgotten.

©MMVI, CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.

U.S., Iraq Launch Massive Air Assault

BAGHDAD, Iraq - In a well-publicized show of force, U.S. and Iraqi forces swept into the countryside north of the capital in 50 helicopters Thursday looking for insurgents in what the American military called its "largest air assault" in nearly three years.


By STEVEN R. HURST, Associated Press Writers
1 hour, 4 minutes ago

There was no bombing or firing from the air in the offensive northeast of Samarra, a town 60 miles north of Baghdad, the U.S. military said. All 50 aircraft were helicopters — Black Hawks, Apaches and Chinooks — used to ferry in and provide cover for the 1,450 Iraqi and U.S. troops.

The military said the assault — Operation Swarmer — aimed to clear "a suspected insurgent operating area" and would continue over several days.

Residents in the area of the assault reported a heavy U.S. and Iraqi troop presence and said large explosions could be heard in the distance. American forces routinely blow up structures they suspect as insurgent safe-houses or weapons depots. It was not known if they met any resistance, but the military reported detaining 41 people.

The attack was launched as Iraq's new parliament met briefly for the first time. Lawmakers took the oath but did no business and adjourned after just 40 minutes, unable to agree on a speaker, let alone a prime minister. The legislature set no date for it to meet again.

Still, the session marked a small step toward forming a unity government that the Bush administration hopes will calm the insurgency and enable it to begin withdrawing U.S. troops.

Operation Swarmer also came as the Bush administration was attempting to show critics at home and abroad that it is dealing effectively with Iraq's insurgency and increasingly sectarian violence.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan denied it was tied to the new campaign to change war opinion. "This was a decision made by our commanders," he said, adding that President Bush was briefed but did not specifically authorize the operation.

The U.S. military forces have been trying to build up the Iraqi army so that it can play a leading role in fighting the insurgents.

The operation appeared concentrated near four villages — Jillam, Mamlaha, Banat Hassan and Bukaddou — about 20 miles north of Samarra. The settlements are near the highway leading from Samarra to the city of Adwar, scene of repeated insurgent roadblocks and ambushes.

"Gunmen exist in this area, killing and kidnapping policemen, soldiers and civilians," said Waqas al-Juwanya, a spokesman for provincial government's joint coordination center in nearby Dowr.

Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Barry Venable said the operation was the biggest air assault since April 22, 2003, when the 101st Airborne Division launched an operation against the northern city of Mosul from Iskandariyah, south of Baghdad.

Many operations in Iraq since then — in such cities as Fallujah, Ramadi and Najaf — have included far more troops. But none has involved such a large force moved in by air. Some 650 U.S. and 800 Iraqi troops were participating Thursday.

The Pentagon said there were no reporters embedded with U.S. troops, and it released video and a series of photos of preparations for the assault. The images showed soldiers receiving a preflight briefing from a UH-60 Blackhawk crew chief, soldiers and aircraft positioned on an airstrip, and helicopters taking off over a dusty landscape.

But Gen. John Abizaid, chief of the U.S. Central Command, sought to downplay the uniqueness of the raid.

"I wouldn't characterize this as being anything that's a big departure from normal or from the need to prosecute a target that we think was lucrative enough to commit this much force to go get," Abizaid said.

In recent months U.S. forces have routinely used helicopters to insert troops during operations against insurgent strongholds, especially in the Euphrates River valley between Baghdad and the Syrian border.

Samarra, the largest city near the operation, was the site of a massive bombing against a Shiite shrine on Feb. 22 that touched off sectarian bloodshed that has killed more than 500 and injured hundreds more.

It is a key city in Salahuddin province, a major part of the so-called Sunni triangle where insurgents have been active since shortly after the U.S.-led invasion three years ago. Saddam Hussein was captured in the province, not far from its capital and his hometown, Tikrit.

Presidential security adviser Lt. Gen. Wafiq al-Samaraei said the operation was targeting "a bunch of strange criminals who came from outside the country and among them a bunch of Iraqi criminals who help them."

Iraq's interim foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, said the attack was necessary to prevent insurgents from forming a new stronghold such as they established in Fallujah, west of Baghdad, until they were flushed out by U.S. forces at the end of 2004.

"After Fallujah and some of the operations carried out successfully in the Euphrates and Syrian border, many of the insurgents moved to areas nearer to Baghdad," Zebari said on CNN.

Hours after the assault began, Iraq's new parliament was sworn in behind the concrete blast walls of the heavily fortified Green Zone, with political factions still deadlocked over the next government and vehicles banned from Baghdad's streets to prevent car bombings.

Adnan Pachachi, the senior politician who administered the oath in the absence of a parliament speaker, spoke of a country in crisis.

"We have to prove to the world that a civil war is not and will not take place among our people," Pachachi told lawmakers. "The danger is still looming and the enemies are ready for us because they do not like to see a united, strong, stable Iraq."

As he spoke, Pachachi was interrupted from the floor by senior Shiite leader Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, who said the remarks were political and inappropriate.

Even the oath was a source of disagreement, with the head of the committee that drafted the country's new constitution, Humam Hammoudi, protesting that lawmakers had strayed from the text. After consultations, judicial officials agreed the wording was acceptable.

Acting Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari told reporters after the brief session, "If politicians work seriously, we can have a government within a month."

Marines build relationships in local Iraqi community

GHARMAH, Iraq (March 16, 2006) -- It was the sort of patrol Marines dream about – lots of kids and no problems. It’s also one of the most important things Marines do here. They talked directly to Iraqi citizens hearing their concerns during a brief stop along their patrol route.


Submitted by: 1st Marine Division
Story Identification #: 2006319131240
Story by Cpl. William Skelton

Marines from Company A, 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, serving with Regimental Combat Team 5, conducted security patrols March 16, near Gharmah, a village outside Fallujah.

“Basically we just went out to engage the public in the area,” said Sgt. Neal L. Renwick, a 27-year-old squad leader from Walla Walla, Wash. “We see how the people respond to us and if there is anything we can do to help them.”

Marines started out from small firm base, venturing out into a local village. Adults and children alike walked out to talk with the Marines upon their arrival.

“We try to meet with the sheiks in the community,” Renwick said. “They are like the community leaders and are usually aware of any needs or thing out of the ordinary that’s going on.”

Some of the Marines took time to play with the local children once proper security was established. Others spoke with village leaders.

“Normally I try to talk to the kids more than the adults in the community,” said Cpl. Travis R. Caskey, a 27-year-old assaultman from Fort Mill, S.C. “I have a soft spot in my heart …especially kids.”

The children in the community were eager to learn and explore the new faces they found near their homes. They came up to the Marines to “trade words,” Caskey said.

“Through hand gestures and objects lying around, the kids will teach you an Arabic word and we do the same for them in English,” he explained.

The interaction of the Marines with the local community solidified the mission that they are there to help, Renwick explained. They didn’t allow the attacks from insurgents to cloud their view of common Iraqis. They knew they wanted peace and security in their villages, just as Marines and Iraqi soldiers.

“There is a small group that make them have a bad image,” said Pfc. Jonathan D. Anderson, a 19-year-old machine gunner from Paris, Ark. “As a whole, they are pretty good people.”

The Marines gained confidence in their mission here by the faces they saw.

“The communities have told us they like having us here,” Renwick said.

The Marines took time while on the patrol to pass out gifts to children. The children were eager to get a hold of the dozens of presents from the Marines.

“We passed out coloring books, crayons, pencils and notebooks to the school-age kids,” said Renwick. “We also passed out a few soccer balls.”

Rapport between the community and the Marines was growing. Each time Marines took the moments to speak with village elders and joke with kids, they knew it built trust with the locals.

“It makes me feel like we are making a real difference,” Anderson said. “The smiles and the laughter tell the whole story.”

Darkhorse Marines deliver new wheelchair to Iraqi girl

CAMP SMITTY, Iraq(March 16, 2006) -- An Iraqi family had just set the noon meal on the table when some unexpected visitors knocked on their front door.


Darkhorse Marines deliver new wheelchair to Iraqi girl
Submitted by: 1st Marine Division
Story by: Computed Name: Cpl. Mark Sixbey

Marines from Regimental Combat Team 5, I Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, delivered a brand new pediatric wheelchair to the family of a disabled little girl in the town of Al Hasa, March 16.

“We knew we had to help out in some way,” said Staff Sgt. Charles Evers, a platoon commander for Company I. “We don’t have a miracle cure, but we can at least give her a new wheelchair.”

The girl’s condition came to the company’s attention in January, during a routine patrol of the area. When her family brought her outside, Marines saw she had an old, rusty wheelchair, built for an adult.

“The girl was injured in a car accident two years ago,” said Evers, 27, from Lewiston, Idaho. “When we were there the first time, her father showed us x-rays of her spine. It’s actually separated.”

The girl’s parents, brothers and sisters greeted the returning Marines with smiles and hello’s even before they presented the new wheelchair.

“They seemed pretty happy about it,” said Cpl. Matthew Rivera, a squad leader. “When we first came in they looked surprised. Then we brought in the chair and their faces lit up.”

Moments after the Marines presented the gift, the girl’s father lifted her out of the old chair, placed her in the new one, shook the platoon commander’s hand, and said “Thank you.” He was so overjoyed, he repeated twice more.

The Marines left the home almost as quickly as they arrived, boarded amphibious assault vehicles and returned to Camp Smitty.

“I hope we make a difference with them, and left some kind of impression on these people,” Rivera said.

The battalion’s mission goes beyond maintaining security in the area and fighting the enemy, said Navy Seaman Yem Sophat, a hospital corpsman assigned to I Co.

“Besides combat, we help a lot of unfortunate people in this country,” said Sophat, 25, from Pomona, Calif. “I wish we could do more.”

“I wish I could give that little girl new legs to help her walk again,” said Rivera, 21, from Hereford, Texas.

“She’s adorable,” Sophat added.

Marines Return Home as the 3 Year Anniversary of the War in Iraq Approaches

This weekend marks the third anniversary of the war in Iraq.

There are several ways to measure the time that has passed. You can do so by the number of casualties, the number of schools built, or by what it means to the family's of those that serve.



For many troops, the war has also meant two or three deployments to the war zone.

Twenty-eight Marines from the Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 774 returned home Tuesday.

This was the second deployment for the group of Marine reservists, and it lasted seven months.

During the deployment the squadron was kept busy ferrying troops in the air, because the ground is still dangerous to travel.

Some of the Marines say it has gotten safer on the bases.

The rest of the squadron, which is about 250 Marines will return to the United States next month.

Enough snags to sink a US warship

JARHEADS love their sausages.

So much so, they take delivery of one tonne of Home Hill IGA Italian-style bangers in Townsville today.

The US marines, called Jarheads because of their flat top haircuts which give their craniums a jar-like appearance, are ready to chow down on Home Hill's latest and greatest export - sausages.



Home Hill IGA snagologists Noel Farry and his son Brad don't know how they came to get the one tonne order.

"It just came out of the blue. An agent for the US defence force put in the order. We just put it down to our reputation for having high quality sausages," Noel said.

There's 15,000 Italian sausages to the tonne and they were made yesterday morning in three hours using a hydraulic sausage maker.

The snags will feed marines on board American warships expected to berth in Townsville later this week.

Noel believes that good sausages are like good pies and that word gets around.

"If you've got good ones people talk about them," he said.

"We had a truck driver who heard someone talking about our sausages on the radio in Western Australia. Next time he was coming through Home Hill he called in and got some."

The Farry's make 30 different types of sausages, but say it's the plain Aussie beef and not the fancy-pants Italian bangers that are their best sellers.

Noel doesn't mince words when he talks about his beloved bangers. He says they're 90 per cent beef and not 70 per cent like most snags and that the balance of the ingredients is binder, meal and the skin.

Being snagologists gives the Farry's particular insights into sausage behaviour. They can feel their joy, so to speak. And they can can feel their pain.

"The test of real sausage comes when you put it on the barbie," Noel solemnly explains.

"You should have no skin splitting and no shrinkage. If you put a kilogram of sausages on the barbie, you should take one kilogram off, not 750 grams."

And if you're wondering about those Italian sausages and what goes into them, it's a mix of pork, beef, salt and pepper, wine and garlic.

Those marines are going to think they've snapped their hobbles and arrived in Jarhead heaven.

VMA-513 Nightmares ready to strike fear in the enemy

AL ASAD, Iraq (Mar. 16, 2006) -- An AV-8B Harrier screams loudly as it slowly lowers itself to the runway. Four other Harriers circle above, waiting for their turn to land - the Flying Nightmares have arrived.


Submitted by: 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing
Story Identification #: 20063167848
Story by Lance Cpl. Brian J. Holloran

While the main body of Marine Attack Squadron 513, originally from Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz., arrived here a few weeks ago, the actual aircraft arrived March 7 to a unit ready to get to work.

"The main body arrived prior to the aircraft in order to unpack and have the work centers established," said Gunnery Sgt. Travis A. White, quality assurance chief for VMA-513, Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing. "We have been ready to fix and fly jets since we set our boots on the ground at Al Asad."

The Nightmares are here for approximately seven months, during which their main mission is to provide the ground units with close air support.

According to Lt. Col. Willis E. Price, commanding officer, VMA-513, the Flying Nightmares are here to continue the high standards set by the departing squadron, VMA-223, MAG-26, 2nd MAW.

"We will be doing our best to complete the job assigned to us, and we will give every bit of our effort to meet or exceed the expectations laid upon us," said Price, a native of Little Rock, Ark.

According to Price, this is the first deployment for many of the Marines with VMA-513, but they are ready to get to work.

"I am excited to be here," said Lance Cpl. Norma Valadezmagno, a flight equipment technician for VMA-513. "It's a completely new environment and I know I will experience many new things out here."

While many of the Marines are on their first deployments, there is a lot of experience in the squadron, as a few have been deployed to the combat environment a few times.

"We have Marines on their second and third deployments with us," said Price. "A few of my Marines have been deployed in support of (Operations Iraqi Freedom) one and two."

Regardless of past experiences, the Nightmares came here to accomplish a job and that is the most prominent thought on the Marines' minds.

"Our Marines are more than ready to work on the jets," said Gunnery Sgt. Christopher Evans, maintenance control chief for VMA-513. "We've gone through many training evolutions, such as Desert Talon, before we deployed. We went through an inspection of the maintenance department that was conducted by 3rd MAW shortly before we left and we passed with flying colors."

Much has changed for the Nightmares since their previous deployment in support of OIF. They have a few new pilots, a new commanding officer and the Joint Direct Attack Munition.

The JDAM is a guidance kit that converts existing unguided free-fall munitions into accurately guided smart weapons.

"The JDAM increases our abilities to accurately target threats from the air," said Price. "We tell the bombs where to go and that's where they go. Before JDAM we had to physically line the shot up."

With these improvements, along with the high morale and motivation of the squadron, the Flying Nightmares plan to jump right into their jobs and help support OIF.

"The Marines are excited about being here," said Evans, a native of Pasadena, Texas. "Our job remains virtually unchanged from back home. The only difference is we are not flying any training ordnance. All the jets go out with live bombs to directly support the ground combat effort. My Marines are chomping at the bit and are ready to make history."

The face behind 'The Boot'

MCRD/ERR PARRIS ISLAND, S.C.(March 16, 2006) -- While retired Master Sgt. Eulas "Jody" Talley Jr.'s name may not be immediately familiar, his face is more famous than many Marines aboard the Depot would guess.


Submitted by:
MCRD Parris Island
Story by:
Computed Name: Lance Cpl. Heather Golden
Story Identification #:

Talley, a former Parris Island drill instructor and series gunnery sergeant for 3rd Recruit Training Battalion, is the nameless, screaming face that adorns the front page of every issue of The Boot.

"[Dad] mentioned that the commanding officer [of the Depot] at the time was looking to have new stationary and letterheads for the base," said Kenneth Talley, Talley's son and the school resource officer for Celebration High School in Osceola County, Fla. "I don't know how my father was chosen to have his image used for this purpose, [but] I remember he came home very excited that he was selected for this honor. I remember he brought home several black and white photographs of himself in various poses."

The image, drawn by an artist from a photograph, was used on Depot memos and letterheads and somehow made its way to being used as the official logo for The Boot, said Kenneth.

The artist's rendering of Talley Jr. first appeared in The Boot on Oct. 7, 1983 and continued to represent the paper until Dec. 21, 1984. After this issue, The Boot was changed to The Tri-Command Tribune and Talley's face disappeared until Jan. 11, 2002, when The Boot once again resurfaced as the Depot's official newspaper.

Talley's Marines knew him as a tough disciplinarian and an outstanding example of what a Marine should be.

"We idolized him. He was a Marine's Marine, a drill instructor's Marine," said retired 1st Sgt. Oscar Hernandez, a former drill instructor for 3rd RTBn., who worked directly under Talley for two years. "He instilled discipline in his drill instructor corps. His standards were very high, and we wanted to keep it that way. It was enjoyable working with him. Tough, but enjoyable."

Talley's leadership was a directly reflected in the high caliber of Marines he put out into the Corps, said Hernandez.

One such former Marine is Tim Fischer, a detective with the Kissimmee Police Department in Florida and former recruit under both Talley Jr. and Hernandez.

While Talley may have had his hard side, he also cared deeply for the well-being and safety of his Marines.

Fischer recalls a memory of Talley forcing the senior drill instructor, who was feeling ill, to go home and get some rest while Talley covered for him.

After serving 22 years as a Marine, which included two tours in Vietnam and nine years on the drill field, Talley retired from the Corps and became a corrections officer for Osceola County Sheriff's Department.

Though Talley passed away in 1991 at age 41, his snarling face will continue to live on in the pages of The Boot.

The Pentagon Reports On The Progress Of Operation Enduring Freedom

Bagram, Afghanistan (AHN) - U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Benjamin Freakley briefs the Pentagon on the progress of Operation Enduring Freedom, five years into its inception.


March 16, 2006 10:04 p.m. EST

Matthew Borghese - All Headline News Staff Writer

General Freakley, took command of the Joint Task Force 76 in Afghanistan last month, and says he can see "significant accomplishments."

Freakley says, "While there's still a great amount of work to be done, we think that also this nation of Afghanistan clearly is moving forward every day."

"The Combined Joint Task Force is focused in three major areas. The first is security. In the security mission, we have about 21,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines in the Combined Joint Task Force."

Gen. Freakley adds, "The keys to this security pillar that we're working is partnership with the Afghan National Army, the Afghan National Police, and the Afghan Border Police."

He continues, "We are fighting daily with the Afghan army in our operations here throughout Afghanistan. We're also partnered with the Office of Security Cooperation Afghanistan, which has the mission to train the Afghan army and the Afghan police. And we're also joined with - or led by Combined Forces Command Afghanistan, which gives us military direction in our work."

He adds, "The second pillar that we're focused on is governance. And you know about the provincial reconstruction teams, that are comprised of a military portion, State Department, United States Agency for Internal Development, as well as United States Agriculture Department."

"This is where the inter-agency [cooperation] happens in Afghanistan. And these great provincial reconstruction teams are out with the local governors, with the local police force working on developmental plans to further the infrastructure and governance internal to each district and province that makes up this country."

The General continues, saying, "Thirdly is with reconstruction, our third pillar following security and governance, and that's where we are working with USAID, nongovernmental organizations and contributing nations to the reconstruction - or construction, in many cases - of Afghanistan."

General Freakley notes, "As you realize, the infrastructure here is very embryonic. It's tough infrastructure. And with infrastructure improvement comes security, and with security comes reconstruction."

National Marine Corps museum takes steps toward completion

MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va.(March 16, 2006) -- The National Museum of the Marine Corps’ glass rotunda and steel mast shines above the tree line along Interstate 95 as it nears completion.


Submitted by:
MCB Quantico
Story by:
Computed Name: Pvt. Andrew Keirn
Story Identification #:

The museum’s architecture is a dramatic design by Curtis Fentress of the architectural firm Fentress Bradburn, representing the raising of the flag over Mount Suribachi at Iwo Jima. Upon opening day the museum will have around 100,000 square feet with the possibility for expansion up to 230,000 square feet.

The construction of the museum is about 85 percent complete.

The skylight is done, the scaffolding is at the top of the mast, and the mast will soon have its stainless steel cladding, said retired Col. Joseph Long, deputy director of the National Museum of the Marine Corps.

“In two months, the cladding will cover the entire mast from the floor beneath the skylight, ascending 210 feet to the museum’s pinnacle,” Long said.

The museum’s marble stonework is about 70 percent complete and is on track to be finished in April. Installing the terrazzo floor for Leatherneck Gallery, the main display area, will begin this week and is expected to conclude at the end of a 10- to 13-week process.

On the second floor of the museum is the mess hall, kitchen, and a replica of Tun Tavern, Pa., where the Marine Corps was born. These areas are slated for completion by the end of May.

“The entire inside of the building is on schedule to be finished by the end of May,” Long said. “The construction will then be concentrated on the outside paving, landscaping, and sidewalks until opening day on November 10.”

Construction is also underway on Semper Fidelis Park, which will house a series of trails and walkways lined with the bricks sold by the Heritage Foundation. A brick can be bought for $300 to pay tribute or memorialize a family member or friend’s name.

After the end of May, when the focus of the construction is on the surrounding outside areas, the National Museum of the Marine Corps will begin to bring the inside to life with the detailed exhibits of the history of the Marine Corps.

They will hang more vehicle exhibits in Leatherneck Gallery along with more than 1,700 photographs and text graphics throughout the museum. There will also be audio visual displays, flat screen TVs and theatrical lighting.

Charles Paul Barker, a subcontracted muralist working on numerous exhibits, finds himself reconnecting with his past when working on this project. Barker joined the Marine Corps near the end of the Vietnam War. He had just finished college and became an infantry officer.

“Many of the exhibits are on Vietnam, so I am able to draw from memory to make them accurate in detail,” Barker said. “There’s definitely a lot of nostalgia here for me.”

Barker is painting several other murals including scenes from Quang Nam, where Barker spent time in Vietnam, Peleiu from World War II, Korea, the Tet Offensive at Hue City and another, depicting Marine life during the Korean War.

“I’ve spent most of my time on the Hill 881 scene,” Barker said. “It’s going to be a complete environment and has to be really accurate since there are close to 400 survivors who will be able to recognize at once if the scenery is incorrect.”

In researching for the project, Barker took time to contact veterans to obtain accurate descriptions of what it looked liked to be there.

“Contacting all the veterans was truly memorable,” Barker said. “They brought a great deal to my work.”

James Sturgill, a steelworker working to complete the museum, plans to bring his three teenage boys on a trip to the museum for opening day along with the estimated 30,000 opening day visitors.

“One of the best parts of the job is being able to know I was part of creating such a great building,” Sturgill said. “It’s totally awesome. The Marines should be truly proud of this building.”

A Mother Drives Her Son's Memory Home

Karla Comfort Takes Her Tribute To Her Marine Son On The Road

(CBS) One military mother is going to extraordinary lengths to pay tribute to her fallen son. Jerry Bowen reports on her journey in the fourth part of the CBS Evening News special series, "The Iraq War: Three Years and Counting."

Click on the above link for photos and a video

San Diego, California, March 16, 2006

It's family day at the U.S. Marine Corps boot camp in San Diego and all eyes should be on the graduating class. But, there is a tricked out Hummer that is drawing all the onlookers.

Karla Comfort, the SUVs driver, is posing for pictures.

"You know it's not me they're drawn to," she says. "It's the vehicle. It's the power of what happened."

What happened is that 10 members of Fox Company, 2nd battalion, 7th Marines died in Falluja last December. They were killed by an improvised explosive device – a roadside bomb. John Comfort died there, and that is where Karla Comfort's odyssey began.

"If you don't agree with the war, you still need to respect and honor the men that are doing their jobs," Comfort says, "and that's what these guys were doing."

The journey began in Arkansas where the Hummer was painted with a life-to-death montage (video). It went all the way to her home in Oregon. She stopped along the way at Camp Pendelton where her son trained.

The Marines on the base appreciated her dedication. "It's very impressive. It's a great tribute and I'm glad this woman did this," said Lt. Amanda Freeman.

For some it is a reminder of the costs of war. "It's just a reality check," said Staff Sergeant Thaddeus Williams. "It’s the stuff a lot of people don't see. The realities; the costs.

True to life pictures of tanks and helicopters are on the passenger doors of Comfort's tribute vehicle. Portraits of the ten Marines killed in Falluja are on the rear windows – so are coffins in the hold of a cargo plane.

"This is just a phenomenal piece of work," Marine Chief of Staff Robert Knapp told Comfort when he saw the Hummer.

She thanked the officer, but said, "It doesn't replace my son. It sure is something positive to focus on. We miss him everyday."

For the new Marines in San Diego and their families, it is hard to look past the names painted on the rear window – they are listed as K.I.A. That is what caught Gloria Ayala's eye.

"It's sad to see all those young lives taken away for out country," she said, standing next to her 20-year-old son. "They look like babies."

Comfort doesn't disagree. "I look at these guys and I would hate to see them end up where my son did," she said. "They're so young and they don't have that vulnerable feeling yet. They have so much strength."

But she thinks the new recruits have to be that way. "It's good they have that because they probably wouldn't have a Marine Corps if they had a lot of older people enlisting. They understand that life if very sensitive and you can lose it in a second."

Comfort says her favorite part of the Hummer is a small mural of Marines guarding the gates of heaven. She believes her son is one of them.

As for herself, Comfort is driven to see that none of them are forgotten.

March 15, 2006

Marines fired up about indoor shooting range in Iraq

CAMP SMITTY, Iraq (March 15, 2006) -- The sound of gunfire rips through a long building, bouncing off walls and resonates throughout the entire Marine base near Ferris Town. No one even raises an eyebrow.


Submitted by: 1st Marine Division
Story Identification #: 200631741653
Story by Cpl. Mark Sixbey

The sound has repeated itself hundreds of times each day since February, when I Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, converted one of the base’s many large buildings into an indoor shooting range, giving the company a unique training tool.

“Gunfighting is especially useful in an urban environment, when you may constantly engage targets less than 50 yards away,” said Lance Cpl. Sean Alan Moore, a 21-year-old mortarman from Claremore, Okla., assigned to Weapons Platoon.

Beneath the shade of the ceiling and behind the protection of thick concrete walls, Marines shoot weapons ranging from the 9 mm pistol to the M-240G crew-served machine gun. They also practice with foreign weapons, like the AK-47 to become familiar with the enemy’s firepower.

“It’s nice to have indoor shooting,” said Staff Sgt. Felipe Brachetti, platoon sergeant, Weapons Platoon. “I haven’t heard of other indoor ranges in Iraq.”

The biggest advantage, according to the Marines who frequent the range, is the location. It lies well within the perimeter of Camp Smitty.

“If we go outside the wire, we run the risk of taking indirect fire,” said Sgt. Keith Pelton, the company police sergeant.

Aside from keeping their marksmanship skills sharp, regular range time gives Marines the ability to make sure their sights are properly adjusted and ready to kill, should the need arise.

“I try to take them as often as possible, because we rely on a proper battle sight zero to engage the enemy,” said Brachetti, 36, from Colton, Calif.

Spray-painted lines on the concrete floor indicate the 7, 10, 36, 50 and 100-yard lines. A row of wire-caged barriers filled with sand and a wall of dirt stop bullet impacts with a blast of dust and dirt hundreds of times a day.

Lance Cpl. Josh Alfredson, assigned to Weapons Platoon, has no complaints about firing his weapon on a regular basis.

“It’ll keep us up to date on our gunfighting skills,” said 21-year-old Alfredson, a mortarman from Sioux City, Iowa. It helps them to stay sharp “to quickly engage multiple targets, shooting from different positions and running through different scenarios.”

One shooting drill scenario that’s a favorite is the “Pat Rogers drill,” where Marines practice close-encounter scenarios from the 25-yard line and closer.

“You’ve just entered the room – he’s got a gun!” the instructor yelled. Marines respond with rapid fire, change magazines and shoot again.

The only thing missing on this range are orange range flags, which indicate wind value. Here though, there’s no need courtesy of the concrete walls.

Iraqi soldiers on track for independent operations in Al Anbar Province

CAMP AL ASAD, Iraq (March 15, 2006) -- Iraqi soldiers are right on schedule with training requirements that will allow them to eventually relieve U.S. military forces in western Al Anbar Province, according to Marine officials here.


Submitted by: 1st Marine Division
Story Identification #: 200631504153
Story by Staff Sgt. Jim Goodwin

Soldiers from the 2nd Brigade, 7th Iraqi Army Division - one of two Iraqi Army brigades in western Al Anbar Province - have spent months now learning the administrative and decision-making processes they’ll need to function as a military headquarters element to the three Iraqi infantry battalions which will eventually be under their charge.

Partnered with a Military Transition Team - groups of Marines assigned to track and guide each Iraqi military unit’s transition to full control - the Iraqi soldiers here are learning the skills required to operate as a command staff, such as administration, logistical procurement, command and staff relations and tactical decision making.

Marines from Regimental Combat Team 7, who arrived in Iraq about a month ago to relieve the Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based Regimental Combat Team 2, have spent the past 30-plus days here evaluating, training and mentoring the Iraqi soldiers.

Progress is steady

So far, the Marines are pleased with what they’ve seen.

“In that month’s time, we’ve seen big progress,” said Lt.Col. Jeffrey J. Kenney, who spearheads the Marines’ military transition team for the 2nd Brigade. “There are a lot of things they couldn’t do before that they can do now. It’s a sign they’re really doing better.”

The progress of Iraqi military units is not limited to just Iraqi soldiers here. The top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. George W. Casey, Jr., told reporters at a recent press conference that the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police both performed well overall during recent sectarian strife, quelling violence in eight provinces in Iraq.

“This demonstrates a maturing capability to cooperate and operate effectively in providing domestic order, and we saw this in several places around the country,” said Casey.

“The men who attacked the mosque (in Samarra) want to make a civil war between Iraqis. We will not let this happen,” added Chief Warrant Officer Zahra Ar-Raheem, 41, who added that he is fed up with violence caused by insurgents. The recent sectarian violence around the country has reinforced his will to serve in the Iraqi Army, he said.

On the path to independent operations

In eight of the 18 provinces in Iraq, there was little to no reaction to the (Samarra mosque) bombing, to include Al Anbar province, said Casey. While the General praised Iraqi Security Forces elsewhere for operating independently during the recent violence, Marine leaders here are confident of Al Anbar-based Iraqi Army units to do the same.

In fact, the 2nd Brigade, as well as its subordinate Iraqi infantry battalions throughout Al Anbar, will be operating independently by the end of the year, said Kenney.

Furthermore, the three Iraqi battalions in western Al Anbar have been conducting counterinsurgency operations alongside Marine and U.S. Army battalions for more than a year. In the Haditha “Triad” region, which consists of several towns along the Euphrates River just north of here, Iraqi soldiers have operated side-by-side Marines on nearly a dozen counterinsurgency operations, resulting in more than 200 insurgents captured and 350-plus weapons caches discovered.

“We have a permanent combined presence with Iraqi and American forces now in 15 towns throughout the region, where we had none when we came here a year ago,” said Col. Stephen Davis, who commanded Marine forces in western Al Anbar for more than a year, during a Pentagon press briefing last month.

“You will not confuse them (Iraqi soldiers) with United States Marines, but they are making good progress when you consider what it takes, especially to stand up a nation’s military essentially from scratch in the course of a year, year and a half,” said Davis.

Marines here plan to turn over full operational control of western Al Anbar to Iraqi units by gradually pulling out of the limelight and allowing Iraqi forces to take the lead, according to Kenney.

“The (Iraqi) staff guys (here) are getting better and better with the training and they’re showing a lot of enthusiasm,” said Kenney, a 48-year-old from Harvard, Conn. “They’ll be able to handle their own battle space.”

Enthusiasm aside, the Marines say progress is steady. The Brigade’s training regimen includes long days of classes and practical application. Staff officers here are learning basic operational planning, command-staff relations and tactical decision making. The enlisted soldiers – known as “Jundis” (pronounced “JUNE-dees”) - are busy learning basic marksmanship, convoy operations, counter IED measures and plenty of other skills they’ll need to survive on the road and allow them to support the Iraqi infantrymen throughout Anbar.

Some Iraqi units, like the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Brigade in Rawah, located along the Euphrates River about 215 miles northwest of Baghdad, have been participating in daily patrols and even combat operations for several months now with their U.S. counterparts.

Maj. Anthony M. Marro, the team leader for the Military Transition Team in Rawah, has spent two-plus months working with Iraqi soldiers in Rawah. In that time, he, too, has seen an improvement in the development of the Iraqi military there in several critical key areas, such as leadership, command and control, interacting with the local communities, and planning operations.

“Their individual movement techniques and skills are … improving,” said Marro, a 15-year Marine Corps veteran and infantry officer. “A lot of the soldiers genuinely want to learn and get better, so that's very promising. If that trend continues, this alone will be a large factor in allowing them to operate independently.”

Marro, an Ilion, N.Y., native, says the Iraqi soldiers’ leadership is competent, but still needs more practice “being in charge and making their own decisions.”

Confidence, experience and self-reliance will come in due time, he said.

“We've also seen a gradual improvement in the autonomy they are willing to give some of their better junior officers and senior NCO's (noncommissioned officers),” said Marro, who is on his third deployment to Iraq. “They have also started to interact with the local people while out on patrol and passing out candy to the kids. They wouldn't even have thought about doing that a month ago.”

Iraqi soldiers’ goal: a terrorism-free Iraq

Inside one of the dozens of aircraft hangars of this barren airbase, Iraqi soldiers have spent days getting their hands dirty working underneath the hoods of High Mobility Multi-Wheeled Vehicles, or “Humvees.” They’re learning how to conduct basic maintenance on the military vehicles – changing fluids, replacing parts, checking basic vehicle operations.

Soon, the Iraqis will be receiving their own Humvees – an upgrade in protection from the small pick-up trucks and other commercial vehicles they currently use for transportation.

Huddled in groups underneath the hoods and bellies of the Humvees, which bare a spray-painted Iraqi flag on the doors, the soldiers speak frantically to one another in Arabic, and resemble a group of surgeons on deadline to perform life-saving surgery.

Though most say they’ve joined the Iraqi Army to “kill the terrorists and free Iraq,” some have been affected by insurgent attacks firsthand.

During a soda break from working under the hood of beige Humvee, Iraqi Warrant Officer Fatima Muhammed, 24, recalled several occasions of violence near his home, such as random shootings, bombings, kidnappings and thievery. His friendly demeanor turns quite serious on the subject.

“The terrorists are just like Saddam,” he said. “Explosions, killing, robbery – all terrorism. If I had authority, I would kill the terrorists directly.”

He said most of the Iraqi soldiers here are truly dedicated to the new Iraqi government, and are not part of Iraq’s new Army “just for the money.”

“We are all eager to serve Iraq and be a part of Iraq’s future,” said Muhammed, who added that voting in last year’s national elections was a freedom he never thought he’d live to see in Iraq. “I was afraid to show my (ink-stained) finger because the terrorists, they could kill me.”

“Only thing we want is safety. I want my family to walk down the streets without any guards or any protection,” said Muhammed. He said he is anxiously waiting for that day, but for now, Iraqis “don’t have that freedom.”

A family affair

But while some of the soldiers are still weary of insurgent threats against their families and friends, many are beginning to exude confidence and pride of their service in the Army, despite any threats of retribution for their service. These soldiers see their progress as a sign of an already free Iraq, one in which they control, not terrorists or sectarian leaders.

“Even our families have asked us to be hard workers in the military,” said Ar-Raheem.

Undeterred by insurgents, Ar-Raheem” spoke of a photograph he took while holding an M16 rifle of a U.S. Marine; a photo he proudly shows his families and friends in his neighborhood as proof that he is serving in Iraq’s Army.

Hassan Al-Saheeed, an Iraqi private, agrees with Muhaymin. The 40-year-old said that the country is now safer since the 2003 fall of Saddam Hussein, but more importantly, his family is safe, and he and two of his five sons now freely serve in Iraq’s military.

Al-Saheeed said he is less concerned with terrorist threats against his family for his service in the Iraqi Army than he is with taking care of his family while he undergoes training “so far away” from his home. His family relies on him to provide food and to bring the children to the local hospital when they’re sick, which is hard to do when he’s not there, he said.

But his family’s sacrifices for his service are for an important cause, said Al-Saheeed.

“Until the country is safe, I try to make protection for all the people,” he said. “My family told me, ‘Go and help the country.’”

Key to progress is training, dedication

At one of the base’s small arms firing ranges, a platoon from 2nd Brigade spent the afternoon firing at silhouette paper targets, a way for them to get what the Marines call “trigger time.” While Marines were present, two Iraqi officers – a captain and a first lieutenant – ran the show, giving commands to the soldiers and critiquing them on their shooting technique.

The Marines assist only when needed, usually to help the Iraqi officers evaluate and plot the soldiers’ shot groups on the paper targets and ensuring range safety rules are followed.

Some of the soldiers have more experience shooting the rifles, as evidenced by the number of shots they place inside the target’s black bull’s eye center. Others are still learning the proper way to hold the rifle, and how to apply basic marksmanship skills so bullets meet paper.

“Some of them have never held a weapon before, but they’re getting better,” said Maj. Jonathan P. Dunne, operations officer for the Military Transition Team here. “They’re hearts are in it and they’re excited about doing their own missions.”

After several strings of firing, one soldier, Pvt. Kdr Muhaymin, says his accuracy behind a rifle is improving. Pointing to his target, he eagerly awaits for either his captain or lieutenant to make their way to his target to evaluate his shot group.

“Now I’m very good – just take a look at how I shoot,” said the 25-year-old, holding up seven fingers to indicate how many shots he put in the target’s center black ring. Like many of the Iraqi soldiers here, Muhammed is from one of many towns south of Baghdad.

More work needed

While Marines here admit that there is still more work to be done before 2nd Brigade is ready to take operational control of its subordinate battalions, progress is consistent, and the Iraqis are beginning to receive more equipment, such as the Humvees, to go along with their training.

For the Iraqi soldiers here, the progress they’re making marks the start of an envisioned Iraqi-led military force in Al Anbar. Though they agree that the new Iraqi Government, with U.S. support, has provided new found freedoms for Iraqis, they too understand that there is still more work to be done – more days at the rifle range, more time in the classroom and behind the wheel of a Humvee – before they are ready to fully take the operational reigns from their U.S. counterparts here.

“Now I am working serious and accomplishing something,” said Hussein Al Fattah, 18, who told his parents last year that he was “joining the Army to serve his country.”

“We are doing good and have all the help of the U.S. military, (but) we still have to get better, learn more,” said Muhaymin, one of the more proficient marksmen during the afternoon’s rifle training.

“They (Americans) are helping us, but we will be in full control (soon),” added Ar-Raheem. “When we control everything, we will succeed. Our efforts will be in the right direction.”

Contact Staff Sgt. Jim Goodwin via email at: [email protected]

March 14, 2006

On Call in Hell

He left a desk job for the front lines of Fallujah—and a horror show few doctors ever see. How Richard Jadick earned his Bronze Star. (1/8)

March 20, 2006 issue -

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?" And I said, "Here I am. Send me!"
—Isaiah 7:8

Richard Jadick was bored. The Navy doctor was shuffling paper while Marines were heading out to Iraq. Once, many years before, Jadick had been a Marine officer, but he had missed the 1991 gulf war, stuck behind a recruiter's desk. Now he was looking forward to leading a comfortable life as what he called a "gentleman urologist." Jadick, with a Navy rank of lieutenant commander, was 38—too old, really, to be a combat surgeon.

But then a medical committee searching for help came knocking on his door. Because of an acute doctor shortage, they were having trouble finding a junior-grade Navy doctor to go with the First Battalion, Eighth Marine Regiment (the "1/8"), to Iraq. Jadick at the time was one of the senior medical officers at Camp Lejeune, N.C. "Who could we send?" they asked. Jadick thought for a moment. "Well," he said, "I could go."

His friends told him he was crazy, and his wife, a pediatrician nine months pregnant with their first child, was none too happy. But in the summer of 2004, five days after the birth of his child, Commander Jadick shipped out for Iraq. On the plane, he sat behind a gunnery staff sergeant named Ryan P. Shane. A 250-pound weight lifter, the massive Shane turned in his seat to look at Jadick. Slowly taking the measure of the 5-foot-10, 200-pound Jadick, the gunnery sergeant said, "So you're our new surgeon. That's one job I wouldn't want to have with the place where we're going." That night Jadick e-mailed his wife, "What have I gotten myself into?"

The place they were going was Fallujah. In Sunni territory west of Baghdad, the city seethed with insurgents. Jihadists had strung up the burned bodies of American contractors in the spring of 2004, and chaos had reigned ever since. By November, the United States was tired of waiting for the enemy to give up or clear out. "Over the past five months, [we] have been attacked by a faceless enemy. But the enemy has got a face. He's called Satan. He lives in Fallujah. And we're going to destroy him," said Marine Lt. Col. Gary Brandl on the eve of the attack. Jadick's regiment, the 1/8, was ordered to take what was, in effect, the Main Street of the city. For Jadick, who speaks in a gentle, matter-of-fact voice, occasionally strained by memories of the men he saved and lost, it was to be a journey to the other side of hell.

The night before the assault, Jadick hopped into a command Humvee taking a reconnaissance mission from the headquarters base outside the city. He wanted to see what he was up against. In treating traumatic injuries, there is something known as the golden hour. A badly injured person who gets to the hospital within an hour is much more likely to be saved. But Jadick knew that in combat the "golden hour" doesn't exist. Left unaided, said Jadick, the wounded "could die in 15 minutes, and there are some things that could kill them in six minutes. If they had an arterial bleed, it could be three minutes."

Jadick knew that helicopter evacuations were out of the question: there was too great a risk the choppers would get shot down. Casualties would have to be driven out of the city. It took Jadick 45 minutes to drive from the base hospital, where he would normally be stationed, to the city. Not close enough. Jadick wanted to push closer to the action.

Jadick, along with 54 Navy corpsmen, his young, sometimes teenage medical assistants, moved to the edge of the city as the assault began; the night sky was lit by tracers and rocket fire. The next morning a call came over the radio. A Navy SEAL with a sucking chest wound needed evacuation. A weapons company was heading in to rescue the man. Lacking much military training, doctors normally stay back in the rear area. But ex-Marine Jadick decided to go to the fight. As shots rang out around them, the weapons company ran and dodged down narrow alleyways toward the building where the SEAL lay wounded. Jadick was armed only with a small 9mm pistol. He thought: "If anyone actually gets close to me, I'm going to have to throw it at him." He felt slightly ridiculous, remembering a "MASH" episode in which Alan Alda tried to scare away the enemy.

In the rubble of a shot-up building, he found the SEAL conscious but bleeding badly. "Get me out of here," the man said. Helping to carry the man on a stretcher down the stairs, Jadick could hear rocket fire and shooting. The air was thick with fine dust and a familiar smell: cordite, from gunpowder. He had smelled cordite before at rifle ranges, but never like this. "It just hung in the air," he recalled.

The radio squawked. Two Marines had been wounded in an ambush in the center of the city. Jadick wanted to get his wounded SEAL back to base camp. But the voices on the radio were insisting that the two men down in the ambush were in even worse shape. It was Jadick's call. He loaded the SEAL into an armored ambulance and set off in the vehicle toward the scene of the shooting. He could hear the firing intensify. Jadick wondered, anxiously, if a rocket-propelled grenade could punch right through the ambulance's metal sides.

The ambulance stopped and Jadick peered out at the first real fire fight of his life. There were not two wounded men, but seven. As a middle-class kid growing up in upstate New York, Jadick had avidly read about war, and even applied to West Point. But he flunked the physical—poor depth perception—and went to Ithaca College on an ROTC scholarship instead. He had served as a communications officer in the Marines, but left the corps after seven years, bitter that he had been left out of the fighting in 1991. Attending medical school on a Navy scholarship, he had never seen or experienced real war—the kind of urban combat that can leave 30 to 40 percent of a unit wounded or dead.

"I can't tell you how scared I was," he recalled. "My legs wanted to stay in that vehicle, but I had to get off. I wanted to go back into that vehicle and lie under something and cry. I felt like a coward. I felt like it took me hours to make the decision to go."

But he got up and went. He felt as though he were "walking through water." Desperately seeking cover, he ran to a three-foot wall where the most badly wounded soldier lay. He lifted the man over the wall to safety. "I put him down on the ground, and he was looking at me," Jadick recalled. The man had a gaping wound in his groin. Jadick tried to "pack" the wound, stuffing sterile gauze packages into the hole torn by an AK-47 round, but he couldn't stop the bleeding. Jadick was forced to make the first of a thousand wretched decisions. "I knew I had six other people that I had to work on. So I don't know ..." Jadick paused in the retelling. "I stopped and went on to someone else." It was Jadick's first experience in battlefield triage—forget the mortally or lightly wounded, save the rest—a concept easier to philosophize about than to practice.

Bullets were hissing around him. Afraid of dying, more afraid of failing his comrades, Jadick managed to treat the wounded, to stabilize them and stop the bleeding. As he began loading men into the ambulance, an RPG screamed in—and glanced off the roof without exploding. A second RPG slammed into the wall next to them; it didn't go off, either.

One of the wounded was Ryan Shane—the massive gunnery sergeant Jadick had met on the plane. Shane's abdomen was all shot up. Jadick was unable to lift him, so the sergeant had to crawl into the ambulance by himself. "I made room for him underneath the stretchers," Jadick recalled. But he had to turn away another Marine who had been shot in the foot. There was no more room.

As a urology resident at an inner-city trauma center in Baltimore, Jadick had spent a three-month rotation handling gunshot wounds. But the inside of the darkened ambulance, bathed in red light and blood from the wounded, echoing and rattling with the combat close by, seemed far away from the sterile, scrubbed world of a hospital ER. Working with a medic, Jadick pumped Hespan (a clear blood expander) into veins and tried to pack wounds. One man was dead already. His body, on the top rack, was bleeding all over the patients below him and Jadick, too—"down my neck, everywhere," Jadick recalled.

Jadick was covered with gore by the time the ambulance reached a transfer point. People standing around the medical tent were staring at him, so he rubbed sand on his uniform. "It made it go dark," he said.

It was not yet noon on Jadick's first day in combat. A Humvee rolled up and a big, husky young Marine from Louisiana, Joel Dupuis, jumped out and began rambling on that his friend, Pvt. Paul Volpe, was going to die. Jadick ran with Dupuis to find a young Marine slumped over on the back hatch of the Humvee. Hit in the thigh, Volpe was "fluorescent-light white," recalled Jadick. His pulse was thin and weak; shock was setting in. Jadick figured the Marine had lost more than half his blood.

Jadick looked at Volpe and thought of the Marine who had died and bled all over him. "I can't let this happen again," he thought, "or there's no point in me being here." Turning to a young Navy doctor, Carlos Kennedy, Jadick instructed, "Pack him like you've never packed a guy before." Kennedy used his boot to stomp in the gauze stuffing. Meanwhile, Dupuis, who was a corpsman, found a vein to insert an IV, and a liter of Hespan started pumping into his unconscious friend.

"All of a sudden, it was the most amazing thing," recalled Jadick. "It was like Frosty the Snowman come to life." Volpe opened his eyes, looked up and asked what was going on. When he saw Dupuis's anxious face, he joked, "I'm all right, I can see your ugly-ass face."

Jadick felt the need to get still closer to the battle. Even though Volpe had reached Jadick's aid station on the edge of the city, the Marine had almost died. In effect, Jadick wanted to set up an emergency room in the middle of the battlefield. Loading up two armored ambulances, he convoyed into the city in the dead of night to establish an aid station in the prayer room of an old government building. The night was quiet, save for the drone of a C-130 gunship searching for prey. Jadick and his men found some metal plates in the street, cleaned them and draped them with sterile gauze as trays for his scalpels. They stacked sandbags by the windows. As the sun rose, the silence was broken by sniper fire.

The casualty runs began arriving in the morning, depositing their grisly cargo. Bodies stacked up. At times Jadick couldn't sterilize his instruments fast enough. "You'd just have to throw some alcohol on the stuff and use it again. I didn't get a chance to wash my hands a lot. I wore gloves as much as possible, but they'd get all torn up and my body would just get covered in blood." Jadick was still afraid. "We were still getting shot at, and there were mortar attacks. But now it was OK somehow. Maybe I had gotten used to it, or maybe just calloused."

Kneeling over a wounded Marine, Jadick was startled to see a muzzle flash from a water tower about 50 yards away. He could clearly see a sniper, his face wrapped in cloth. For a moment, Jadick, the former Marine captain, replaced Jadick, the Navy doctor. A truckload of Marines had just pulled up. "Please go kill that guy," said Jadick, and their commander sent them out to silence the man. Jadick had a fleeting struggle with the Hippocratic Oath ("Do no harm") but thought, "At some point, it's either kill or be killed."

Jadick grew close to his young corpsmen, who were frightened, like him, but cared for the wounded like brothers. "If it would help, they would hold a guy's hand. They did those things to provide comfort, and they weren't afraid to do it. That's not something I taught them. They just did it," Jadick said.

Sometimes the corpsmen behaved like the 18- and 19-year-olds they were. Jadick was miffed at one young clerk, in charge of keeping proper records, who had apparently wandered off. Unable to find the man, Jadick began cursing him, when the clerk appeared around the corner. "Where were you?" Jadick angrily demanded. "Well," the clerk said, "some guys were trying to come across through the open gate, so I shot them." Jadick laughed as he recalled the story. "That's a pretty good excuse, so I'll let you go this time," he told the man.

On the third or fourth night, a vehicle pulled up with a badly wounded Marine named Jacob Knospler. A corporal with a rifle company, Knospler had dragged the shot-up Gunnery Sergeant Shane out of harm's way a few days before. Now, fighting house to house, he had been hit in the face with grenade shrapnel. There was a hole where his mouth and jaw had been. He was conscious and crying and trying to paw at his face. "We had to hold his hands and give him a lot of morphine, as much as he could tolerate," said Jadick. Unable to put a breathing tube down his throat, Jadick worried that Knospler would gag and suffocate on his own blood, tissue and mucus on his way to surgery. He jumped into the ambulance with the wounded corporal and, working with a female medic, kept suctioning the man's horribly wounded face. After 30 minutes, they arrived at a transfer station to hand him over to a new doctor. When the doctor saw the wound, his eyes bulged. "Are you going to be OK with this?" asked Jadick. The doctor said yes, and Jadick headed back to the inferno.

That was a bad night, Jadick recalled, but not the worst. A Marine came in shot in the head. Though he was still breathing, his skull was fractured and his eyeballs were hanging on either side of his face. When Jadick removed the Marine's helmet he could feel the plates of the man's skull moving. There was a distinctive, nauseating smell—of gray matter, brain tissue.

The man died, and so did many of his wounded comrades. But there were some remarkable survivors. A Marine walked over to Jadick and said, "Doc, I've got a headache." Jadick saw with a start that there was a hole in the guy's helmet. Gingerly, Jadick removed the helmet—and saw that a bullet had, in effect, scalped the young Marine, separating a flap of skin at the hairline, but not penetrating his skull. "You're pretty lucky," Jadick said. As both men laughed, Jadick stitched him up. "You don't need to be here anymore today," he told the man, and sent him to the rear.

The laughs were few and far between. A Marine arrived with a chest wound. Jadick had seen the man, Lance Cpl. Demarkus Brown, a few days before, when he showed up with a lip sliced by shrapnel. "Doc, do I get a Purple Heart for this?" Brown had asked. Jadick had assured him that he would, sewed up the lip, and sent him back to the fight. Now the man did not seem too badly wounded. He was breathing and his eyes were open. Still, Jadick was unable to get a breathing tube down his throat. For a moment, Brown seemed to perk up when Jadick inserted a needle in his chest for a tube, but suddenly the blood began to pulse out. A major blood vessel had ruptured inside him. The man's blood pressure was so low that Jadick couldn't get an IV line working.

Jadick talked to the man. "C'mon, Brown, don't give up on me," he gently pleaded. The young man died. He had been an especially well-liked leatherneck, tough but cheerful. "To this day, he's the kid I can't get out of my head," said Jadick, as he was interviewed two years later for this story. "It was one of those things ..." Jadick paused and began to weep quietly.

For 11 days, Jadick worked night and day at his forward aid station. In late November, as the area around the government building quieted, Jadick moved his team to an abandoned pickle factory in an industrial area where fighting was still going on. The weather had turned bitter cold, so the corpsmen dug holes in the floor and built fireplaces out of rubble. Jadick worried that the IV fluids might become so chilled that the wounded would go into hypothermic shock. To try to warm the fluid to body temperature, corpsmen had the idea of taping pints to their legs and carrying them inside their cargo pockets.

The wounded kept coming. One hero was Matthew Palacios. Injured, he saw a grenade land beside him. Somehow, he had the presence of mind to fling it back, saving the men around him. Increasingly, the wounded were Marines ripped by booby traps and suicide bombers. The KIAs (Killed in Action) were so mangled that Jadick decided to build a morgue, so his young corpsmen wouldn't have to see the shattered bodies piling up.

The one injury Jadick did not see much of was posttraumatic stress disorder. One Marine had to be sent to the rear, and plenty of men complained that they didn't want to go back out and fight—but they did. The PTSD, Jadick knows, will show up for some men only after they're back home, safe but haunted by flashbacks and memories. "We all had PTSD at some level," said Jadick, who nevertheless has not sought treatment.

By mid-December, Fallujah was secured. It had been the worst urban fighting involving Americans since Vietnam. At least 53 Marines and Navy SEALs died, as did something like 1,600 insurgents. By mid-January, Jadick was home: there was an opening for a urology resident at the Medical College of Georgia. Jadick was eager to see his baby daughter and wife.

Jadick was awarded a Bronze Star with a Combat V for valor. (The medal, pinned onto Jadick in January, is the only Combat V awarded a Navy doctor thus far in the Iraq war.) His commanding officer, Lt. Col. Mark Winn, estimated that without Jadick at the front, the Marines would have lost an additional 30 men. Of the hundreds of men treated by Jadick, only one died after reaching a hospital. "I have never seen a doctor display the kind of courage and bravery that Rich did during Fallujah," said Winn. Jadick still owes the Navy a couple of years as a doctor. He's thinking of staying in beyond that. "Being a battalion surgeon is one of the greatest jobs there is," he says, in his low-key way. "So, sure, I would do it again, yeah."

© 2006 MSNBC.com

Marines bring computers, web access to Iraqi schools

CAMP SMITTY, Iraq(March 14, 2006) -- Marines and Soldiers attached to 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment recently made a special delivery to the future of Iraq – the children.


Submitted by: Regimental Combat Team 5
Story by: Computed Name: Cpl. Mark Sixbey
Story Identification #: 200631621327

The 6th Civil Affairs Group, Detachment 4, Team 3, also called the “6-4-3” distributed 30 computers between one high school, three primary schools and three elementary schools in Ferris Town, March 12.

“There was a very, very good response from the teachers,” said CWO2 David Stabenaw, officer-in-charge of 6-4-3. “As soon as they found out about the new computers, they were very happy.”

Each of the seven schools in the Ferris Town area received at least four computers, a color laser printer, hardware and software ready for Internet access.

“Thirty brand new computers was a pretty big deal,” said Sgt. Rich F. Litto, a 48-year-old military policeman from Boston assigned to 6-4-3. “It’s an education aid for the teachers and students there.”

Alumni from Strayer University, located in Alexandria, Va., donated the computers, along with $5,000 to buy monitors, printers, networking hardware and software.

“This was a special donation through the foundation I started to collect money for school supplies for Iraqi children,” explained Stabenaw, a 38-year-old from Fort Mill, S.C. “The university ran a story in their alumni newsletter in January, and the chairman and CEO of the university read it and decided to do something.”

Originally, the university offered $15,000 for school supplies. Stabenaw asked that they spend it on computers and mail those instead. The university bought the computers and added a $5,000 check for accessories.

The 6-4-3 is no stranger to the neighborhood. The team supervised refurbishment projects with four of the schools over the past several months, fixing windows, repainting and repairing buildings, even adding a water tower to one school to give the students clean drinking water.

The day was unique in another aspect for Litto and Stabenaw, who came to the battalion in October 2005.

“I think what stuck out the most was dealing with the teachers, many of whom were women,” Litto said. “It was the most interaction with Iraqi women we’ve had in the months we’ve been in the country.”

Litto said one woman kept saying “Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful,” when she saw the PCs.

“We were very professional in dealing with the cultural differences, not shaking hands, not taking pictures with them,” Stabenaw said.

The Marines also gave the students several boxes of school supplies and solar-powered radios.

Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class William Reece, a hospital corpsman assigned to Company I, stationed in the area, noticed the people’s response to the gift while on patrol a few days later.

“I was in Ferris Town this morning, handing out candy to some kids and this 18-year-old guy came up to me saying ‘Thank you, thank you for the computers,’” said Reece, 23, from Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Navy's bumpy landing

IT wasn't all smooth sailing for the US Marines yesterday.

The marine in charge of monitoring the Townsville tides must have made a timing misjudgment, with one of the Landing Craft Units (LCU) stuck in mud close to the bank of the South Townsville beach for most of the afternoon.



The vessel, LCU 1617, became stuck about noon and had to wait several hours until the tide was high enough before it could be moved.

The LCU was carrying troops and light equipment when it became bogged.

The vessel measures more than 40m long and can weigh more than 340 tonnes fully loaded.

Is it a boat or is it a tank?

The Landing Craft Air Cushions (LCAC) are both and they made for an impressive display as they emerged from the water and travelled across Benwell Rd at South Townsville beach yesterday.

The LCACs were used to transport military vehicles including transport trucks, tanks, light armoured vehicles and marines.

They are in Townsville as part of a nine-day US Marine training exercise involving 1500 marines.

Several locals turned out to watch as the LCACs easily made their way from sea to land.

Commanding Officer of the 11th Marine Expedition Unit (MEU) Colonel John Bullard said the training exercise would give marines the opportunity to finetune live fire and patrolling skills and polish basic military skills.

Marines will use the Mount Stuart and Townsville field training areas.

Col Bullard said the 11th MEU would continue on to the Middle East after completing the Townsville exercise.

He said the training exercise had been in the pipeline since August last year after the Marines decided to conduct an exercise in Australia.

"It was either Townsville or Darwin, and because of the wet season we chose Townsville," Col Bullard said.

He said the US Marine Corps had co-ordinated the training with the Australian military, Townsville officials and environmental agencies and were confident the environmental impact would be minimal.

"Townsville residents can expect very little impact once we get out to the training facilities," Col Bullard said.

The marines currently in Townsville were based on three naval ships, the Peleliu, the Ogdon and the Germantown.

All three ships are docked off the coast of Townsville for the duration of the exercise.

Marines and their equipment were being transported to shore by LCACs and Landing Craft Utilities (LCUs), with both these vessels making several trips from ship to shore yesterday.

The training exercise starts today, with the marines expected to leave the city on March 22.

March 13, 2006

Pay & Benefits, Money advice for the wounded

WHAT’S UP: To help wounded service members and their families deal with pressing financial issues and get their finances on track, volunteers from the nonprofit Financial Planning Association are giving presentations and providing financial counseling at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, where the bulk of service members wounded in combat zones are treated. The effort, which kicked off Jan. 31, is being coordinated with Army Community Services.


WHAT’S NEXT: The group especially wants to help those who have received or will receive the new traumatic injury insurance payments, to help them make the best financial decisions with that money, which ranges up to $100,000. After a one-hour presentation by certified financial planners, wounded troops and family members can schedule one-hour individual meetings to discuss their financial goals and options. This free assistance is provided by the FPA’s National Capital Area Chapter. Officials are using this as a test before possibly rolling it out for wounded service members in other areas.

The Military

Hunting for an unseen enemy

WHAT’S UP: Environmental health professionals have been busy in Iraq and Afghanistan analyzing more than 4,000 air, water and soil samples since January 2003 to see if U.S. troops there are being exposed to harmful substances, said David S.C. Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness. “These samples were taken at 274 locations in Iraq, 28 locations in Afghanistan and from other sites across the world,” Chu said.

WHAT’S NEXT: Screening has two purposes, to detect current threats and to look for contaminants that might cause future health problems. There have been no reports of health problems similar to the Gulf War illnesses reported after the 1991 Persian Gulf War, but defense health officials intend to continue the screening in order to be prepared if problems arise.


Adapting homes for disabled vets

WHAT’S UP: Rep. Stephanie Herseth, D-S.D., wants to increase government assistance for disabled veterans who need to modify homes to adapt to their disabilities. Under her proposal, grants for severely disabled veterans would increase by $10,000, to $60,000, while grants for those with lesser disabilities would be $12,000, which is $2,000 more than current rates.

WHAT’S NEXT: Herseth, a member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee that is considering her proposal, said she wants to increase grants and to establish a mechanism for regular future increases. “While building costs have risen considerably faster than the general rate of inflation in recent years, the limit on adaptive housing grants has not increased since 2004,” she said.


Hill twist: ‘Please stop funding’

WHAT’S UP: “Congress gave the Bush administration a blank check for a war based on lies — stop payment immediately,” the wife of a National Guard soldier told House lawmakers at a March 1 hearing. While 22 other witnesses representing various advocacy groups spoke about new or continued funding for programs to benefit the service members and veterans, Stacy Bannerman demanded that funding for the war be stopped. “You took an oath of office and declared yourself a leader — be one,” she said. “Bring the troops home now. Take care of them when they get here.” Lawmakers reminded her in a polite exchange that they have pushed to address the health needs of returning war veterans, especially mental health.

WHAT’S NEXT: After the hearing, Bannerman and other members of Military Families Speak Out, along with members of other anti-war groups, visited offices of House and Senate lawmakers, but did not come away with much hope of thwarting the war effort, said Nancy Lessin, co-founder of MFSO. “Their concern is more connected to the November election than the human lives that are being lost and shattered,” she said. Still, the group says it is gaining momentum. “It has never been a politician that ended a war,” Lessin said. “It’s been social movement. We’re building a social movement.” MFSO claims 3,000 families in its membership.

Monument of the Week

Artful fete of draft dodgers

Peace activists in Canada are reviving plans for a large sculpture to serve as a monument to U.S. draft dodgers. A Reuters report says organizers of a July reunion of Vietnam-era draft dodgers who fled the U.S. also are drawing up plans for a sculpture to commemorate their decision.

Plans for the activists’ monument, to be placed in Nelson, British Columbia, were first announced in 2004, but were dropped after complaints from conservatives in the U.S. and Canada and a major public relations campaign by U.S. veterans groups, particularly the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

The monument would have an American man and woman crossing the border and being greeted by a Canadian. It is meant to symbolize the estimated 125,000 Americans who fled the U.S. to avoid the Vietnam-era draft, and would not have anything directly to do with the estimated 200 U.S. service members whom activists say have gone to Canada to avoid deployment to the war in Iraq.

Yellow Ribbon Week: Aaron Richter



Send a shout out to her and congratulate her on Aaron :)


Grandson of Jean Herrmann, Elgin

His name is Aaron ...

I was there when he was born 19 years ago and I held him in my arms shortly thereafter.

Here he is, my very first Grandson ... So small, so helpless and so innocent.

I watched him grow ... First day of kindergarten ... so scary for him then on to the "big boy" school, middle school and high school.

Now my firstborn Grandson is in Iraq fighting for his country. ... He is a man.

At times like this you sit back and wonder "Where did the years go?"

At times like this a Grandmother cries and can just pray her "baby" will be safe and out of harm's way. This is the worst of times for his Grama.

How did the baby I held in my arms get to Iraq?

Before he left, I bought him a St. Michael medal to wear around his neck. St. Michael is the patron saint of the Marine Corps and I told him "when you feel scared take hold of your medal and squeeze it ...

he will be there to ease your fear."

I hugged him and I kissed him and said "see ya" to this little boy who is now a Marine in Iraq.

- This week, The Courier News is honoring the men and women of the Fox Valley who are serving their country with a series of essays and photos from their friends and loved ones.

Iraq war veteran takes on challenge of beginning the healing process

"Psychological scars always heal more slowly than the bloodier variety," Jeff Key tells the audience at the New Conservatory Theatre Center. The specific scars Key is talking about are those inflicted by the American war in Iraq. His "The Eyes of Babylon," which opened Saturday at NCTC, is a first step in what is certain to be a long national healing process.


It's even more important as a document than it is effective as a play. Based on the journals Key kept as a Marine lance corporal in Iraq, "Babylon" may be the first documentary drama to emerge from the war. Judging by the number of Vietnam plays that continued to come out long after that war ended, it won't be the last.

The sights, sounds, heat, sand and adrenaline rushes of the war zone spill from Key's pages onto the stage. So, too, does the evolution of his thoughts and feelings -- from his zeal to go into action against Osama bin Laden after the Twin Towers fell, through his confusion at the still-inexplicable change in the military's mission ("One night, while I was asleep, someone switched the enemy") and the doubts raised by his tour of duty, to his decision to resign from the corps.

That decision -- recited from his letter to his commanding officer and replayed in a screened CNN interview with a somewhat flustered Paula Zahn -- was partly prompted by Key's inability to continue playing the military's don't-tell charade. Though his love of his country, the Marine Corps and the troops is as fervid at the end of the piece as at the beginning, as a gay man he could no longer cooperate in being treated as a second-class citizen.

As staged by Israeli director Yuval Hadadi (and co-produced by American Junction Productions), "Babylon" is stripped down to tour. Which is what it's been doing since it opened in Los Angeles two years ago, to red states as well as blue. With his good ol' boy Alabama accent, down-home-style patriotism and Bible Belt professions of faith, Key is a peculiarly apt advocate for both gay rights and a more sensible foreign policy. (He's also head of the Mehadi Foundation, a support network for American Iraq war veterans that also raises funds to help Iraqis rebuild their communities.)

He isn't, at this point, a particularly polished performer. On opening night, Key's delivery was rushed to the point where he couldn't convey the underlying emotional reality of some scenes. But his strong stage presence and the depth of his convictions carry the show. Working on a neutral gray stage, with a few well-chosen slides and music cues -- and John Kelly's lights painting the blazing heat and ominous shadows of the war zone -- Key vividly depicts the fervor of the Marines, the tension of a night mission, the tedium of waiting, the odd charms of desert insects, bonds with other troops and the confusion and frightening surge of bloodlust from rushing into a battle that doesn't take place.

He didn't actually see combat, though he came close, before a work-related injury sent him home. But he did see a good deal of the war's impact on his comrades and on Iraqi civilians, from the death of friends and the plight of children he befriends to the casual cruelties indulged in by some of his platoon mates. Part of what makes "Babylon" an important piece, in fact, is the idiosyncrasy of Key's experiences, the honesty of his observations and the contradictions they contain.

As packed as it is with information, there's nothing of the screed or position paper about it. The story unfolds naturally, as Key moves from desert camouflage (and brief nudity) to civilian clothes and Marine dress blues. The message emerges from the details, muted but inexorable, until a solemn rendition of "Taps" -- to slides of the flag-draped coffins coming home -- sadly conveys the human cost of this unnecessary war.

E-mail Robert Hurwitt at [email protected]

To serve, to become

FORT COLLINS, Colo. (March 13, 2006) -- A Twenty-nine Palms Marine participated in a United States naturalization ceremony, along with 33 other people from 20 different countries, more than 60 students here in Fort Collins and political representatives from the national, state and local levels.


Submitted by: 8th Marine Corps District
Story Identification #: 2006313152625
Story by Sgt. Matthew O. Holly

Corporal Artyom N. Dutchak was born in the Ukraine and moved to Sterling, Colo. in 1999 when he was 14 years old along with his sister Alyoha and his mother Nataliya Nickels. Shortly after graduating from Sterling High School, Dutchak took the oath to become a United States Marine.

“I have always had the desire to serve my country,” said Dutchak. “In order to vote I have to be a citizen. That is why I felt it was important."

For Dutchak’s mother Nataliya, Artyom's citizenship means everything to her because she cares for and has faith in this country.

Dutchak’s sister expressed how proud she was of her brother shortly after the ceremony.

“It was a very proud moment for me when he received his citizenship. It was the same feeling I had when he graduated boot camp, but he’s more relaxed now,” said Alyoha with a smile.

During the ceremony, which is hosted annually by the students and faculty of Dunn IB World School in Fort Collins as part of a civics lesson, the crowd came to their feet when they announced Dutchak’s name as he approached the podium in his dress blue alphas.

“The Marines always look sharp in their blues,” said Frank Nickels, Dutchak’s stepfather. “There are many people here that don’t even know him, but because of that uniform, they will stand up and give him the respect he is deserves- the Marines really stand out.”

Dutchak has just returned from his second tour in Iraq, serving as a scout on the sniper team and was decorated with the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal while with 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, I Marine Division. He plans on attending Colorado State University as soon as his enlistment is over.

For more information about becoming a naturalized United States Citizen, visit www.uscus.gov.

Twin Brothers From Peru Heading To Iraq

A Couple from Peru just said goodbye to twin sons who are being deployed to Iraq


TBA - Tires Batteries Accessories

Rick and Marilee Colpitts two oldest boys, Tyler and Matthew joined the Marines after high school, and are now in their final month of infantry training. They will be going to Iraq together.

The Colpitts say despite having two sons in harms way, they're glad they're together.

Marilee says, "The comment that had come up originally was what if one twin went and the other didn't what would happen, and I would think I really want both to be together because they work together, they do the buddy system, and I would feel strange if one went without the other."

Rick Added, "There's a piece of mind that they're together because they can support one another and that's been true in their training," said Rick Colpitt. "When one is down the other is there and we feel comfort knowing the other is there to build them back up," Colpitt said.

According to the Colpitts, even though the boys will be in the same unit, they will not be paired up together on the same details.

US Marines train in north Qld

Fifteen hundred US Marines have started arriving in north Queensland for eight days of training.


The troops from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit have been at sea for the past month aboard the USS Peleliu, USS Germantown and USS Ogden.

The Marine Corps liaison officer to the Australian Defence Force, Major Alec Bain, says the troops will be doing sustainment training at the Mount Stuart and Townsville Field training areas.

"From small arms training to practising coordinated training with helicopters and jets - we normally do this in the Darwin region but mother nature doesn't really cooperate during the monsoonal season up there, so for the first time we're actually doing this here in Townsville," he said.

Meanwhile, the next wave of Australian soldiers bound for Afghanistan leaves Townsville today.

A total of 110 troops from the Fifth Aviation C Squadron will be deployed for the international anti-terrorism effort, Operation Slipper.

Defence Minister Brendan Nelson and the Chief of Army, Peter Leahy, will farewell the troops this afternoon.

The federal Member for Herbert, Peter Lindsay, says the Chinook helicopter squadron will be flying a support role to ground troops.

"They'll be wearing their disruptive patterned desert uniform which they don't normally wear in Australia as they're farewelled by the Minister for Defence and the Chief of Army on their mission to Operation Slipper in Afghanistan," he said.

Vietnam-era deserter arrested

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. (AP) - A man who deserted the U.S. Marine Corps in 1968 was being held at the military prison here following his arrest as he tried to enter the country from Canada, officials said.


Allen Abney, 56, was arrested Thursday when he and his wife tried to cross into the United States from their home in Kingsgate, B.C., for a trip to Reno, Nev..

His daughter, Jessica Abney, said he had crossed into the United States hundreds of times without incident. But officials said a routine computer check this time disclosed an arrest warrant.

Allen Abney was born in the United States but grew up in Canada. He retained his American citizenship and enlisted in the marines in 1968, soon after his younger brother received a draft notice.

Abney was sent to boot camp at Camp Pendleton but fled to Vancouver after receiving a weekend pass to visit Mexico.

Marine corps officials said his case will be reviewed by the current commander of his former unit. Deserters face punishment ranging from discharge to five years in jail, officials said

Fort Wayne-area Marines returning from Iraq

Seven of the approximately 29 members of Detachment 1 Communications Company, Marine Corps Reserve, scheduled to return to Indiana on Monday are from the Fort Wayne area. The company has been deployed for five months in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.


The Marines are being bused from North Carolina to Grissom ARB and were scheduled to arrive between 3:30 and 5 p.m.

The company’s mission is to install and operate a Combat Service Support Operations Center in a tactical environment. Included are single channel and tactical satellite radios, worldwide computer networks, and digital switch network telephone communications.

Camp Lejeune Marine awarded Silver Star for valor

CAMP LEJEUNE — Last May, the members of 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines, fought a hard battle in the name of Iraqi freedom — and under the name of Operation Matador.

To seize a key bridge in Iraq, the platoon led by 1st Lt. Brian Stann endured rocket-propelled grenades, machine gun fire, improvised explosive devices and suicide vehicles from the enemy.


March 13,2006
Joe Miller View stories by reporter

For his heroics, the 25-year-old Marine from Scranton, Pa., received one of the highest medals for valor, the Silver Star, the military’s third-highest decoration for valor.

“Stann’s platoon held the battle position on the Euphrates River for six days, protecting the Task Force flank and isolating foreign fighters and insurgents north of the river,” according to the citation.

But Stann, a second lieutenant at the time, doesn’t accept the award just for himself.

“It’s about my guys,” he said. “That award just represents what they did, what we did as a platoon.”

What they did was battle foreign fighters and insurgents to secure the bridge north of Karabilah, Iraq, as part of an operation to hunt for insurgents near the Syrian border.

“This bridge was a piece of key terrain and a spot that we knew the enemy heavily defended,” Stann said. “Blocking that (bridge) meant they couldn’t escape.”

The Marines dealt with days of intense fighting. During that first day, a Marine tank struck an IED. Three injured Marines had to be evacuated from the scene.

Eight of the Marines were hurt in the six days of intense fighting — some serious.

One now has a prosthetic leg. One has already had two brain surgeries.

But none of the 42 Marines in Stann’s platoon died.

“I told my Marines I wasn’t there to be their friend,” he said. “I’m there to make sure they’re ready at all times and accomplish their mission.

“The only medal I care about bringing home is the one that says ‘42 out of 42’ — bringing all those boys back.”

Maj. Gen. Richard Huck, commanding general of the 2nd Marine Division, presented Stann the Silver Star, calling him a strong young leader.

“It’s indicative of your character and will certainly be with him on his record for the rest of his life,” Huck said.

The award caps off a good week for Stann. The Marine just got married three days ago.

For Stann, there’s no doubt that the U.S. military will continue to prevail as Operation Iraqi Freedom continues.

“These guys over there are nothing compared to a Marine,” he said.

Marine killed in Iraq is second dead son for Modesto family

MODESTO, Calif. - A Marine who yearned as a little boy to be a soldier was killed in Iraq when a suicide bomber drove a truck filled with explosives into a building he was guarding.

Lance Cpl. Bunny Long, 22, died Friday near Fallujah.


Associated Press

Long wanted to be a soldier and begged for an army uniform when he was 6 years old, said his brother, Bunna Long, 31.

"We always felt like we needed to give something back for all the things we've received," he said.

Bunny Long, who was born in the United States and graduated from Modesto High School in 2002, was the son of immigrants who arrived here after their first son starved in a Cambodian labor camp in the mid-1970s.

Sim Long, 60, and Yen Chea, 51, left Cambodia with three children after years of war and hardship in their country.

"Life was really hard for them," said their daughter, Sokha Long, 26. "To have gone through all that and to be able to come to this country, and now my brother passes away."

After a year in Afghanistan, Kaiserslautern support unit comes home

By Steve Mraz, Stars and Stripes
European edition, Tuesday, March 14, 2006

KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — Brig. Gen. Scott G. West, commander of the 21st Theater Support Command, briefly teased friends, family members and loved ones of the 70 soldiers with the 29th Support Group who had just arrived home after their yearlong Afghanistan deployment.

To continue reading:


Greeters Give Troops a Taste of Maine Patriotism

BANGOR, Maine -- It was 2 p.m. on a winter Wednesday at Bangor International Airport -- home to just five commercial carriers, 20 flights a day, and two of the last non-chain airport concessions in America, "Coffee Shop" and "Lounge."


By David A. Fahrenthold
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 13, 2006; A02

The greeters were waiting.

They were about 30 strong on this day, milling around anxiously in a crowd full of gray hair and caps that said "veteran." One man had a sweatshirt on that said, "Not as Lean, Not as Mean, But still a Marine."

For a long time, they kept an eye on the empty runway outside.

Finally, a white jet touched down.

They're here, somebody in the crowd said.

The greeters formed themselves into two parallel rows. Then they waited again for a few more minutes, flags at the ready. Somebody said this one had 269 onboard.

Then, the first light-brown desert camouflage uniform appeared at the end of the hallway, and the greeters started to cheer. When the men got close enough, they got hugs and handshakes of the you-just-won-the-state-championship type.

"Good afternoon," greeter Joanne Black, 68, told them when they came to her place in the line, "and welcome home."

Thus began the fast, eventful and entirely typical visit of the Marine Corps' Combat Logistics Regiment 25 to Bangor. After traveling from Iraq's Anbar province to Kuwait to Frankfurt, Germany, they had reached a place that takes very seriously its role as the first place many returning U.S. troops touch American soil.

Very seriously. Black said this was the 993rd time she had helped greet a military plane here.

"Every time they come around that corner up there, I get goose bumps, and the hair stands up on the back of my neck," she said.

Bangor's far-northeast location means it gets an unusual share of military traffic: On average, at least two flights a day stop in here on their way to or from destinations overseas. The planes are here mostly for fuel and minor repairs, giving the troops onboard just an hour to an hour and a half of free time.

The airport and the greeters, of whom there are about 80 in total, do not want them to waste any of it. After the receiving line, they start handing out 41 free cell phones for soldiers to use in the terminal, and offer directions to food, beer, bathrooms and a place to smoke.

A few minutes after they landed, the "Lounge" -- which offered a military special, Bud or Bud Light for $3 a bottle -- had a long line outside. A few minutes after that, "The Marines' Hymn" broke out inside. Young men in camouflage and at least one veteran stood straight-backed and sang, "From the halls of Montezuma/To the shores of Tripoli . . ." and finished with a "Hoo-rah!"

In the terminal, in the middle of talking to a reporter, Cpl. Mikail Ransom bolted for the lounge when he heard them singing.

"We see, like, people actually care," Ransom said of the reception in Bangor, after the song was over and he had returned. "This is my first time seeing somebody actually show support."

Lt. Commander Timothy Hogan, a Navy chaplain, said he'd been surprised to find anybody waiting for them in Bangor. Because the unit is based at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, he figured that if there was any reception, it would be down there.

"Nobody expected anything" in Bangor, he was saying when a greeter passed by.

"Bud?" the greeter asked the chaplain, a Catholic priest. "Corona?"

Hogan thought for a second.

"Budweiser, please," he said.

An hour passed with cell-phone calls and conversations and snacks from the Coffee Shop. Even as the atmosphere in the terminal calmed down, Marines were still talking about how it had felt to come through the receiving line.

"It makes you feel like you've done something important by just being in Iraq and getting the beat-down from the military," said Lance Cpl. Achique Coyaso, of Hawaii, who said he had convoy duty every other day or more in Iraq.

"I thought maybe one or two" people might show, said Master Gunnery Sgt. Daryl Johnson, of Lansing, Mich. "Then when we walked out, it was like we were the president."

They left with presidential fanfare, too. When the boarding announcement came over the loudspeaker, the Coffee Shop began putting burgers into carryout containers, and the greeters formed another line. Now that everyone knew each other a little better, there seemed to be more hugs than there were on the way in. (The greeters' rules caution that "kissing is best left for the family to administer.")

"Thanks for your service," the greeters said.

"Thanks," many of the servicemen replied.

Finally, the last Marines came by, the greeters applauded, and then it was over. The dry-erase board in the troop greeters' office read:

"Since May 2003

FLIGHTS -- 1502

TROOPS -- 270,036

14 DOGS"

By 4 p.m., the little airport was quiet again. But not for long, because the next flight was already on the schedule.

"We've got one tomorrow morning at 2:45 a.m.," said William "Bill" Knight, a leader of the greeters. He said they'd be there.


"A partnership between Regimental Combat Team 5 and the Iraqi Army here was cemented when commanders from the coalition shook hands yesterday."

Operation Iraqi Freedom was intent on spreading democracy, though naysayers broadcast it was an invasion. Those endorsing the Operation regard the motive being a liberation.


By J. Grant Swank, Jr.
Mar 13, 2006

The Operation has been hampered by dark surprises. One is that the nation is not monolithic. Instead it is fiercely separated by long-standing factions. Further, it is steeped in Islam which is both politic and religion—a theocracy.

Nevertheless, those originally known as the US-led Coalition, now referred to as the multinational forces, committed themselves to planting freedom in a previously despotic bloody rule under Saddam Hussein. Lives from freedom nations have been laid down to provide an Iraqi liberty base.

Now that time has passed, stark reality confronts those who signed up for the long-term. The Islamic factions plus a religion more a killing cult than a legitimate "faith" hamper the establishing what others in a genuine democracy appreciate. Therefore, a gradual phasing out of multinational forces will take place, the country hopefully secured by Iraqi security and military forces trained by multinational forces.

"Every day we will do less than the day before," Col. Larry D. Nicholson, RCT-5 commander, said. "Every day the Iraqis will do more than what they did yesterday."

The turn over is visualized in the shaking of hands. Nicholson shook hands with Iraqi Brig. Gen. Abdulla Abdulkareem Abdul Satter, commanding officer of 4th Brigade, 1st Iraqi Army Division.

"One of my first priorities is to meet with each unit working with the RCT in order to get a clear understanding of their issues and build good working relationships," Nicholson said.

"The purpose of the partnership with the Iraqi brigade is to increase the brigade’s capabilities and confidence. In the long term, both Marines and Iraqis plan on transferring complete military authority to Iraqi forces, independent of U.S. support," according to 1st Lt. Nathan Braden reporting from Camp Fallujah.

When Operation Iraqi Freedom began, many in the West assumed Islam to be a "peace religion." However, it has revealed itself to be anything but. Its purpose is murder and mayhem, according to the killing passages of the Koran. There are those Muslims who contend that non-Muslims misread such Koran verses; however, when researching the book, there is no other conclusion that can be reached but that Mohammed was bloodthirsty for slaughter. The symbol of the cult is a sword. Devotees regularly walk the streets displaying proudly their weapons.

Today there are those Muslim parents who state to worldwide media that they willingly offer their children as human sacrifices in suicide attempts. It is no secret. It has become a daily mantra among the zealots.

Those who leave Islam for another religion are to be slain. Those Muslims who are cowardly in refusing to kill infidels are to be slain. This is according to the Koran, a so-called "holy book."

Women count for nothing in legalistic Islam. It is a male-dominated culture, such being so severe that women who are considered dishonorable are murdered for brining disgrace to the clan, even when such "disgrace" is imagined. Muslim females are to be draped from head to foot—no personal identity, no personal legitimate pride, no feeling of self-worth.

Little Muslim girls’ genitals are mutilated by the family.

Muslim children are taught from birth to take up the weapons to kill non-Muslims. Such scenes of children carrying rifles and wearing suicide belts are daily fare, such carried by global newsfeeds. Muslim TV telecasts children’s programs teaching them how to slay and hate. They are encouraged to offer their lives in suicide. None of this is hidden; however, before Operation Iraqi Freedom the Muslim demonic eccentricities were fairly confined to their own Muslim borders.

Since Operation Iraqi Freedom, it has become a culture and moral shock to non-Muslims now to realize the horror inbred in Islam: killing, torturing, dehumanizing and so forth. Slowly the words "peace religion" are being put aside. Some nations have become so fearful of Muslim immigrants that the citizenry has accepted "self-censorship," that is, not saying anything negative about Muslims for fear of Muslims turning on those native to the country. That is unfortunate for slowly Muslims could take over a nation.

There are European countries where local police will not do anything about societal discord (riots) instigated by Muslims for fear of Muslims attacking the police persons’ families and homes.

In America Muslims propagandize their wares via various web sites. They also have made numerous visits to Washington politicians with the purpose of convincing these powerful persons that Islam is truly peaceful. Muslim organizations such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) have offices in Washington for the express purpose of commiserating with politicians. These emissaries claim that fanatics have kidnapped a peace faith. Of course, now the intelligent peace-persons realize this to be a front. However, even the US President believed that so as to speak of it in some of his addresses. In his recent State of the Union address he called Islam a "noble faith."

Those who witness women shot in the head in the name of Islam’s "honor killing" do not regard Islam as noble. Those who see women accused of adultery, then buried in pits up to their breasts, only to have their heads bashed in with rocks the size prescribed by the Koran conclude Islam is not noble.

Further, when telecasts show Muslim boys and girls wearing suicide belts because their parents tied them to their waists, the conclusion is that Islam is not noble. Then when mothers preach to crowds that they are giving their sons as suicide offerings to Allah, sane persons regard such as insane and inhuman.

Slowly the peace world is understanding that the planet is infested with a demonic cancer—Islam. There are those who say "We have met the devil and he is Muslim." Devilment in hellish forms scamper all over Islam. It is shown in tribal conflicts as well as Muslim professorships on American campuses where lecturers carry on the Muslim propaganda. It is replete in their literature handouts and student organizations on American campuses.

Islam carnage is broadcast daily in newsfeeds, though liberal press hesitates to call any of it "Muslim" or "Islamic." It is always "insurgents" or "terrorists" in order not to expose the truth about the cultic practices. What these newsfeeds don’t seem to realizes is that masking the cult is simply adding to its broadening. Therefore, in place of a democracy plant in Iraq there is a cultic spread globally, perhaps even in Iraq once the multinational forces move out completely.

US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld stated several days ago that multinational forces will not remain forever in New Iraq. Instead, they will hand over the nation’s security to the Iraqis, not being participants between warring factions. Most Americans don’t believe that US militia are there to be human shields between, for instance, warring Sunnis and Shiites. If the Muslim factions want to kill one another, there is no reason for peace forces to stand in the middle, being slain in the intertribal cultic conflicts.

That is why now on the official site, US CENTRAL COMMAND, the transfer of power is mentioned in numerous articles such as "RCT-5 partners with Iraqi brigade," submitted by the 1st Marine Division.

"We are working with 4th Brigade to help them become a more capable force, and they are improving every day," said LtCol. Doug Anderson, the 39-year-old Military Transition Team Leader for 4th Brigade. "We will continue to focus on the areas needing improvement that Gen. Abdullah prioritizes."

"Abdulla invited the Marines to attend an awards ceremony for one of the 4th Brigade battalion commanders after the meeting and a dinner of grilled fish and lamb kabobs in honor of the new partnership."

And so the partnerships continue. The ceremonies continue. The dinners continue. It’s all in the process of "handing over" control from multinational forces to Iraqi personnel.

Will the latter be able to hold the nation together? Will factions be able to form a united government? Will the work of Parliament translate to the streets where till now boys and girls, teen-agers and young adults have warred against one another as Iraqis.

In other words, it is not so much the multinational forces warring against Muslim murderers as it is Muslims warring against one another. That is their custom as can be realized in other nations where tensions run high. It is an outgrowth of the cultic mindset. When children are taught killing from birth, it becomes a lifestyle.

For instance, in recent elections in Egypt the authorities in power warred off their own Muslim Brotherhood voters, prohibiting the extremist legalists from gaining power in the Parliament. It was an obvious example of Muslims opposing Muslims on the grounds that there are some Muslims who are simply too bloodthirsty, intent on disturbing even the Islamic power that holds control.

Yet killing still becomes widespread as lifestyle approved. Teen girls accused of sexual license are hung in the village square. Teens are flogged for one so-called crime or another. It is not uncommon for instance for Iranians to walk through a town and see another Iranian strung upside down from a rope, the body a corpse.

When youngsters see this every day, what is abhorrent?

And when adults tie children’s hands to vehicle steering wheels, the youngsters equipped with suicide belts, only for the scene to end in an explosion, life is indeed cheap in an Islamic country. That has been so for centuries. Of course, it is all endorsed by Koran, mosques and clerics as well as theocratics in political power.

Mohammed, instead of being a revered prophet as Muslims claim, was a madman given to slaughter, molesting children, rape, thievery and overcoming his foes by leveling them all. From his demented life came the devilish Koran, the latter being placed for the first time by Mr. Bush in the White House library at a winter banquet for Muslims leaders in America.

It was encouraging to many Americans when there was a grassroots uprising opposing the UAE intrusion into US ports. In other words, Congresspersons as well as the Oval Office were informed that the grassroots has become rightfully educated regarding the killing cult. If some in Washington officialdom remain naïve, grassroots is not.

Yet at the same time the US Congress and executive branch invited over 7000 Muslims into US citizenship, providing houses and furniture and pensioners’ benefits. These Muslims have come from Russia and now reside outside Philadelphia. Philadelphia, like Detroit, will become known as a Muslim province.

It appears that some at the "top" in American politics have yet to see the facts about the cult "Islam." The grassroots is more aware of its dangers than some holding political office. Therefore, there is still much to be accomplished in educating those making the laws for America.

Could it be that as multinational forces move out of Iraq, Muslim forces will move into America for the Islam world rule. Already there are many knowledgeable Europeans fearful for their individual nations’ security and future because of the Muslim immigrants breeding havoc.

Canada’s Liberal Party leadership just weeks ago welcomed Muslims to that country, saying that Muslims hold the same "values " as Canadians. That is far from the truth; nevertheless, that reveals the ignorance of such high level. politicians in a democracy. It has its parallels in America, sadly enough.

Copyright © 2006 by J. Grant Swank, Jr.

Email: [email protected]

Copyright© MichNews.com. All Rights Reserved.

Photo Essay: Marines land in Australia for sustainment training

TOWNSVILLE, AUSTRALIA (March 13, 2006) -- The Marines and sailors from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, (Special Operations Capable) caused a sensation with the locals here when they rode their Landing Craft Air Cushioned from the sea right into the Port of Townsville. Entire families came out to enjoy the sunny day and witness and photograph the rare sight of an LCAC maneuvering off the shore, crossing a major street and landing in a nearby field. (11th MEU)


Submitted by: 11th MEU
Story Identification #: 2006313215422
Story by Staff Sgt. Sergio Jimenez

The Marines and sailors of the 11th MEU (SOC), Camp Pendleton, Calif., came ashore from the USS Peleliu, USS Germantown and USS Ogden to conduct scheduled sustainment training here that is necessary to maintain mission readiness and enhance war fighting skills. The three ships are part of the Expeditionary Strike Group 3 and are on a six-month deployment through the Western Pacific and Persian Gulf.

Marines and sailors also came ashore on Landing Craft Utilities. The LCAC and LCU’s not only transported landing forces but also transported various vehicles, tanks and light armored vehicles ashore.

March 12, 2006

Hate has no place at a soldier's funeral

Funerals are different. Funerals are for private grieving. And, therefore, funerals, at times, should be off-limits.

Especially to a warped organization such as the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., which goes around protesting at funerals, jeering and waving signs that say "God Hates You."


March 12, 2006


The folks from Westboro -- 75 people in the congregation -- have been doing this for years, especially if the dead had some homosexual connection.

But now they are focused on U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq. Not gay soldiers. Any soldiers. They recently came to Michigan, to protest the funeral of a soldier from the Flint area. And they had plans, as this column went to press, to be in Flushing over the weekend for another soldier killed when his Humvee hit a land mine. He was 26, with a wife and daughter.

Here is how the Westboro people referred to him on their Web site: He died "from wounds the Lord his God inflicted upon him. ... (He) volunteered to serve a nation that hates God. ...What more evidence do you need to tell you he's in Hell?"

'God's weapon of choice'

I spoke last week during a radio interview with Shirley Phelps-Roper, the church's attorney and the daughter of its pastor, the Rev. Fred Phelps.

"Our position," she told me, "is that this nation has sinned away her day of grace ... that the wrath of God is pouring out on this nation. ... You turn this country over to the fags, now your children are coming home in body bags."

When I asked why funerals, she said that roadside bombs in Iraq were "God's weapon of choice" and therefore her group must protest dead soldiers' funerals "to help you connect the dots."

Personally, I don't need help connecting the dots. It's a pretty straight line from hate to stupidity.

But it's a crooked path from rights to right. The protesters' rights to free speech -- which, by the way, is part of what our soldiers fight and die for -- don't supercede the right of a family to bury its child in peace.

So I am all for legislation that limits funeral protests to a certain time before or after the service. Personally, I would feel no loss if protesters were banned altogether from funerals. It would only be decent. But we've already seen decency swept away by the broom of free expression.

Now it's done in God's name.

'A lying false prophet'

Phelps-Roper told me "the bottom rung on the depravity chain is the people who ... say it's OK to be gay." When I asked her about President George W. Bush, she called him "a filthy pervert and a lying false prophet."

And when I said, "Surely, there must be better places to protest than funerals," she answered this way:

"You don't get to decide where the word of God is to be preached."

Apparently, only she does.

If you need me to explain how hateful and sick this woman's philosophy is, I can't help you. But even she can teach us a lesson. Many Christians, upon hearing about Westboro, rush forward to declare "all Christians don't feel this way." They claim this church actually is violating Christian basics.

Well, much of this is mirrored by Islam. When suicide bombers claim their murders are blessed by Allah, other Muslims race forth and insist "this is not the Muslim way."

They are frustrated by the perception.

Likewise, the more the Westboro people stalk soldiers' funerals, the more harm they do their religion. And the more backlash they create. Recently, a band of motorcyclists has begun rolling to the same funerals as the Westboro protesters, cheering for the soldiers to drown out the jeering.

Honestly, folks. At the moment that God is taking a soul back to grace, do you really think He wants to hear any of this?

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or [email protected] Catch "The Mitch Albom Show" 5-7 p.m. weekdays and "Monday Sports Albom" 7-8 p.m. Mondays on WJR-AM (760).

Marine from Okinawa-based III MEF is killed in Iraq

Stars and Stripes
Pacific edition, Sunday, March 12, 2006

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — The death of an Okinawa-based Marine who was serving in Iraq was announced Thursday by the Department of Defense.

To continue reading:


Hecklers harass families of US soldiers killed in Iraq

Five women sang and danced as they held up signs saying "thank God for dead soldiers" at the funeral of an army sergeant who was killed by an Iraqi bomb.


Sun Mar 12, 7:21 AM ET

For them, it was the perfect way to spread God's word: America was being punished for tolerating homosexuality.

For the hundreds of flag waving bikers who came to this small town in Michigan Saturday to shield the soldier's family, it was disgusting.

"That could be me in that church," said Jackie Sandler whose son Keith is currently serving his second tour of duty in Iraq.

The fringe group of fire and brimstone Baptists from Kansas has been courting controversy for more than 15 years, traveling the country with their hateful signs and slogans.

The Westboro Baptist Church first gained national notoriety when they picked the funeral of Matthew Shepard, a Wyoming student who was murdered in 1998 for being gay.

They have since picketed the funerals of Frank Sinatra and Bill Clinton's mother, celebrated the terrorist attacks of September 11 as an act of God's wrath, and have even targeted Santa Claus and the Ku Klux Klan.

But it was the callousness and cruelty of harassing the grieving families of soldiers at dozens of funerals across the country that has sparked a grassroots movement of bikers determined to drown out the jeers and taunts.

In Flushing, Michigan they turned their leather-clad backs to the five women and held flags and tarps up so that mourners walking past wouldn't see the signs saying "God hates fags," "fag vets" and "America is doomed."

Many found it hard to hide their anger when Margie Phelps, the daughter of Westboro's founder, called out "All this for little old us? Oh, you shouldn't have. I feel so special," before she started singing "the Pope, the Pope, the Pope is on fire. He don't get no water let the heretics burn" in front of a Catholic church.

The glee with which the women hurled insults made John Franklin, 64, sick to his stomach.

"This guy's family deserves a peaceful funeral. It's not right what they're doing," said Franklin, who fought in the Vietnam War. "The only reason they're able to walk around like that is because the veterans fought for their freedom."

While Westboro's congregation remains stable at around 100 people - most of whom are the extended family of founder Fred Phelps - the ranks of the Patriot Guard Riders has swelled to more than 16,000 in just a few months.

The protests come at a time when many Americans think the war in Iraq was a mistake but are anxious to show their support for the troops.

Four states have enacted legislation barring protests at funerals and a dozen more are in the process of introducing bans. But it is unlikely that the bans will stand up to legal challenge.

The group is careful to protest in public spaces and is well aware of its constitutional rights - 11 of Phelps' 13 children are lawyers.

"This nation is poised to trash the first amendment just to stop my preaching," Fred Phelps said in a telephone interview. "I'm kind of honored."

Phelps said he and his congregants are targeting the funerals because God's way of punishing an "evil nation" of "fags and fag enablers" is to "pick off its children."

"I don't have any sympathy for these parents. They're all going to hell," Phelps said. "The family's in pain because they haven't obeyed the Lord God."

The group is so outrageous that some among the extreme-right have speculated that Phelps is a plant aimed at giving the anti-gay movement a bad name, said Mark Potok, the director of the intelligence project at the Southern Poverty Law Center which tracks hate crimes.

"I don't think they have any constituency beyond their own members - even the Nazis aren't interested," he said.

Phelps' virulence and frequently graphic condemnations of anal sex could mask a deeper issue than a radically literal interpretation of the Bible, Potok speculated.

"This man probably thinks more about gay sex than any other person in the United States of America and one can only guess at what that means," he said. "Many of the most homophobic people are deeply afraid that they might be gay."

Copyright © 2006 Agence France Presse. All rights reserved. The information contained in the AFP News report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of Agence France Presse.

Copyright © 2006 Yahoo! Inc. All rights reserved.
Questions or Comments

March 11, 2006

Norwalk Marine Wounded In Iraq

Parents Plan To Meet Son In Capitol
DES MOINES, Iowa -- An explosion in Iraq injured one of two Norwalk brothers serving in Iraq.

The brothers are just one year apart, and they're both Marines serving overseas.

It was the younger brother, Joel Klobnak, 19, who was injured earlier this week.


POSTED: 4:58 pm CST March 11, 2006
UPDATED: 5:24 pm CST March 11, 2006
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His injuries are not considered life-threatening, but he is on a ventilator and has been moved to Germany.

His parents, Wes and Lisa Klobnak, are hoping he will soon be in Washington, D.C., so they can be with him.

Jeremy and Joel Klobnak have endured more than most.

“They've always been close, but when you go through an ordeal like Marine boot camp, it just really joined them at the hip,” Wes Klobnak said.

They even left for Iraq at about the same time, serving in different units.

Joel had only two weeks of Iraqi service left when something went wrong Monday.

”One of the arming pieces touched the ammo that he had in his lap and it exploded on him,” his father said.

The accident burned the Marine’s hands and shattered his legs.

On Friday morning, his parents phone rang, and it was Joel.

”He wept and says, ‘Mom’ what he could say is, ‘If--- I'm alive today because of God's protection,’” his mother said.

“So he said he could have-- it should have just blown me apart,” Wes Klobnak said.

Now, all they can do is wait. Their bags are packed and as soon as they get word their son is on his way to Washington, D.C., they're heading there, too.

”I want to touch him. I want to know he's OK. I want to hold him. I want to-- I just need to be with him,” Lisa Klobnak said.

Joel’s parents aren’t the only ones who want to be with Joel. Jeremy also called home Friday.

”He was very emotional, and they're doing everything they can to get him to D.C. so, they need to be together. That will help Joel, yeah. That will help,” Lisa Klobnak said.

As soon as Joel gets transferred on a medical plane from Germany to Bethesda Naval Hospital, his parents are supposed to be notified. That’s when they plan to travel to the nation’s capitol.

Memphis Marine stands above the rest at 31st MEU

ABOARD USS ESSEX(Mar. 10, 2006) -- For some, the Marine Corps is a lifelong dream. For 23-year-old Lance Cpl. Herlando M. Gwynn, an administrative clerk with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, it was a way to better himself and provide a better future for his daughter, Destaynee.


Submitted by:
31st MEU
Story by:
Computed Name: Cpl. Will Lathrop
Story Identification #:

"I was stuck in a lifestyle that wasn't good for me, my family or anybody I knew," said Gwynn, a Memphis native. "Between being mixed up with some bad people and some brushes with the law, I knew I had to be a better provider for my little girl."

Even before joining the Marine Corps, Gwynn had started making changes to his lifestyle. After graduating from Ripley High School in Ripley, Tenn., in May of 2000, he attended the Memphis campus of ITT Technical Institute, earning his Bachelor's degree in Computer and Electronic Technology June 3, 2004.

It was during his senior year that Destaynee was born, giving new purpose to his life.

"When I saw Destaynee for the first time, I knew I had to get farther away from my old ways," Gwynn said. "There was no way I was going to let her grow up in the environment I was living in at that time."

Gwynn came to the MEU last June, after graduating from boot camp and completing administration school. As soon as he arrived, he fit right in with the fast-paced lifestyle that becomes normal for members of the only forward-deployed MEU in the Marine Corps.

"The section is vastly more organized, with a better flow of information since he arrived," said Capt. Kate I. Germano, the MEU adjutant. "I have no administrative chief (on ship), so he is my right-hand man."

Gwynn has taken his responsibilities as a Marine seriously, really pushing the rest of the Marines in his section to excel at their duties.

"Enthusiasm is contagious. Gwynn is always a pleasure to work with because he maintains a positive mental attitude no matter how much pressure is on him," Germano explained. "He can be relied upon to take charge of any task, even if he doesn't normally work in that area. He is a work horse, and thrives on learning new skills."

Gwynn has voiced his plans on making a career out of the Marine Corps, and is currently looking into becoming an officer.

"By already having my degree, and I enjoy being an enlisted Marine, I would very much like to become an officer to demonstrate my leadership skills," said Gwynn. "I think it will be a great experience doing 20 years in the Corps."

Gwynn and the rest of the MEU are embarked aboard the Sasebo Forward Deployed Amphibious Ready Group, which recently conducted humanitarian assistance/disaster relief operations in Southern Leyte, Philippines after a disaster landslide destroyed the farming village of Guinsaugon.

Doctor brings trauma experience to Naval Hospital, helps to heal Marines again

MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif.(March 10, 2006) -- Growing up in a small Pennsylvania town nestled in the Pocono Mountains and dreaming of becoming a doctor, Joe Strauss would have never predicted he would be the lead resident physician at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., during one of the Marine Corps’ bloodiest battles in Iraq.

Doctor brings trauma experience to Naval Hospital, helps to heal Marines again
Submitted by:
Story by:
Computed Name: Cpl. Brian A. Tuthill
Story Identification #:

Now a Navy lieutenant commander and an orthopedic surgeon, dealing with musculoskeletal injuries at the Robert E. Bush Naval Hospital, Strauss said his past experience helping wounded Marines allows him to better serve Marines and Sailors aboard the Combat Center.

“Right when I became the lead for the trauma service is when Fallujah was,” said Strauss about the Battle of Fallujah in Iraq in November 2004. “That was when Bethesda saw the highest volume in its history of patients returning from war. From November until I left in July 2005 we must have treated over 300 Marines with complex upper and lower extremity injuries and fractures.

“Now with Kevlar, more people are surviving and the injuries are the extremities that are exposed,” said the 34-year-old Nesquehoning, Penn., native. “Because of that, over 70 percent of the injuries coming back to us were orthopedic-related.”

Strauss was commissioned a Navy ensign in January 1994 through the Navy Health Professions Scholarship Program. After he graduated from the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine in 1997 and completed undergraduate work at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, Strauss made his first visit to Bethesda Naval Hospital as an intern for a year.

From there he went on to Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, as a flight surgeon before transferring to NAS Willow Grove, Penn., from 1999 to 2001.

“My orthopedic residency at Bethesda began in July 2001,” said Strauss. “When Operation Iraqi Freedom began, we learned a lot about IEDs [improvised explosive devices]. We learned how IEDs work, the different types and things like that.

“These injuries are amazing in the amount of soft tissue and bone abnormalities that can occur with them because it’s just putting shrapnel into a bomb. Nothing has been written like this before in any text book on how you need to manage these patients. It’s really just learning as you go, so to speak, and developing procedures,” he said.

Working with the injured Marines was a source of personal inspiration for Strauss as he constantly saw wounded warriors who wanted nothing more than to get back in the fight.

“The morale of Marines there was very inspiring,” he said. “Marines were still trying to get back despite having severe upper and lower extremity injuries. I think just the motivation that the Marines have is very impressive.”

Helping Marines get back in the fight is still a primary goal for Strauss at Twentynine Palms. Coming from the place where injured Marines came back from war to the place they train prior to deploying is a twist of fate he revels in.

Because of his skills gained from handling those severe cases at Bethesda, Strauss said he feels more prepared to help patients aboard the Combat Center without deferring them to other facilities.

“I think the confidence I gained in dealing with the complex surgeries and developing confidence in your own abilities that you are able to tackle the more challenging cases,” said Strauss. “That has helped me in coming out here, is when there are trauma cases that do occur on this base, we are able to handle them here vice sending them out to another hospital. All the book knowledge isn’t as powerful as the actual surgical experience which helps foster your growth. We are able to manage some of the more complex injuries without referring them elsewhere.”

Strauss’ interest in medicine began early in his youth as he built relationships with local doctors in a town of about 5,000 people.

“I grew up in a really small, rural town where community and family medicine was key,” said Strauss. “I had a good rapport with some of the doctors there and kind of inspired me to go into medicine. Working with them and seeing how one individual can really impact the community had an affect on me.”

During surgeries, Strauss wears his Pittsburgh Steelers head wrap to show support for his favorite team, is a self-proclaimed die-hard sports fan, and even plays basketball for the hospital during the intramural season.

“My career in athletics and my multiple sports-related injuries sort of led me to get into orthopedics,” he said.

Lt. Scott Schoeb, an orthopedic surgeon, said working alongside Strauss at the R.E. Bush Naval Hospital for the past six months has been both rewarding and challenging.

“We have a great working relationship,” said Schoeb, whose orthopedic residency was at a civilian hospital in New York. “Our training and experiences compliment each other well here. It doesn’t always work out this way in the field where people have so many things in common.

“He’s seen a lot more trauma than I have so it’s certainly nice to have him around to do certain procedures,” continued Schoeb about working with Strauss in one of the busiest clinics with over 400 patients seen monthly. “It’s nice for me to have someone who has that experience to help me learn. It helps things get done better and improves patient outcomes.”

Although a possible permanent change of duty station next year may land Strauss at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Fla., he has mixed feelings about leaving the Marines and his fellow staff at Twentynine Palms.

“I’ve got another year and might be stationed at NAS Jacksonville,” said Strauss. “It’s hard because my 4-year-old-son, Logan, lives in Maine. Being stationed on the east coast next would be good so I can see him more.

“The other side though is that I love working with Marines,” continued Strauss. “There is nothing quite like it. You see how they really take care of their own, and that is great. I just don’t know if I’ll have another opportunity quite like this again. It’s been extremely rewarding.”

II MHG sounds mail call

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C.--(March 10, 2006) -- More than 65 percent of the approximate 27,000 Marines who deployed with II Marine Expeditionary Force, in support of the Global War on Terrorism, have completed the redeployment process. As Marines return to their families and loved ones, so does their mail. Care packages intended for use in the Iraqi deserts have been routed back to the rear in anticipation of the recipient’s relocation.


Submitted by:
II Marine Expeditionary Force
Story by:
Computed Name: Sgt. Tracee L. Jackson
Story Identification #:

“Our mail room in H-24 is about to blow up,” said II Marine Headquarters Group company first sergeant, Gunnery Sgt. Thomas Kapla. “It’s important that every section sends a representative, or even two, to the mail room every day for mail call because our clerks are swimming in boxes.”

With post-deployment training, leave, liberty and lost time to make up, Kapla reemphasized the importance of claiming individual property.

“Checking in with the mail room should be a daily event for those returning from Iraq. Chances are they have several weeks’ worth of mail trickling in,” he said, referring to stacks of boxes that touch the ceiling of the small MHG mailroom.

Registering a change of address should occur any time an individual returns from extended temporary duty, school, or changes duty stations, just as if one would with the U.S. Postal Service, according to II MHG adjutant, Maj. Elaine Hensen.

Department of Defense requires mail to be expediently delivered to recipients via a designated mail officer. However, the responsibility doesn’t end with the mail clerks. Every unit should send a representative to the mailroom every workday.

“This regulation is especially important right now. It eases the stress levels of our postal clerks,” said Kapla.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T The tie that binds the NCO corps

The transition to noncommissioned officer, and later, to senior noncommissioned officer can be a daunting experience for any Airman, but Chief Master Sgt. David Popp, Air Combat Command’s command chief has a few words of advice for those who make the journey.


Blackanthem Military News, LANGLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Va., March 11, 2006 13:42

The key to success, Chief Popp says, is respect - not only earning it and keeping it, but also understanding the fundamentals behind the word itself, and it’s a message he delivers regularly to newly minted NCOs and SNCOs:

R = Responsibility
"Winston Churchill once said, ‘The price of greatness is responsibility.’ The "R" in the word "respect" stands for Responsibility. As an NCO in the world’s greatest air and space force, we expect you to stand up and step up to your responsibilities," the chief said.
"It is your responsibility to ensure the Airmen are housed properly, trained properly, equipped properly, and ready to deploy to carryout the mission."

E = Example
"What you do speaks so loudly, your Airmen may not hear what you’re saying! Gen. George S. Patton once said, ‘Troops, you’re always on parade!’

"You’re an example to your fellow Airmen when you’re in the shoppette Saturday night when you’ve got your earring in and are purchasing those three cases of Miller Light. You’re an example to your fellow Americans when you deploy to fight the hurricanes, floods, or forest fires," Chief Popp explained. "And you’re an example when you wear this uniform overseas, driving that convoy or working at the Camp Bucca Interment Center. To earn respect, you must set the right example."

S = Standards
"If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything! If you don’t enforce the Standards, then who will? Never, never, never apologize for enforcing our high standards. When we don’t enforce the technical orders, the AFIs, the General Orders - Equipment gets wrecked, people’s lives are placed in jeopardy, and our fight to win the GWOT gets set back. To earn respect, you must stand up and enforce the standards."

P = Performance
"There is no second place in war; you either win or you lose! NCOs are responsible for their individual performance, their team’s performance, and the overall outcome of the mission. This war on terrorism is much bigger than Iraq or Afghanistan. When you put on our team’s jersey, this is a joint fight - that’s why it says, US-AF, US-Army, US-Navy, US-Marines.

"Many NCOs now are familiar with 15 straight years of deployments to Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Operations Northern and Southern Watch, Operation Iraqi Freedom I/II, and Operation Enduring Freedom. As we move into Phase IV we will be asking all Airmen to step up and perform at 100 percent of their ability. To earn respect, you must continue to perform."

E = Evaluate
"How do you evaluate those daily crisis’, issues, and problems brought to you?

"I believe every NCO shows up to these fiery situations with a bucket in each hand. In the left is a bucket of water and in the right is a bucket of gasoline," the chief said. "Which one do you use? The water to extinguish the situation or the gasoline to get it roaring out of control? I challenge NCOs to get the facts before they use either bucket -- evaluate the situation before you empty one of those buckets. To earn respect, you must evaluate before you take action."

C = Communications
"I have found that Airmen are always down on what they are not up on. How well do you share the ‘big picture’ with your Airmen? How well do you provide your performance expectations to your Airmen? Do you share with them: the Who, the Where, the When, and most importantly the Whys? To earn respect, you must keep the lines of communications open."

T = Taking car of the Airmen

"Your Airmen do not care how much you know -- until they know how much you care about them!

"If I asked you to tell me about your Top 3 performing Airmen, could you? Could you tell me their: Date Arrived Station, family status, hobbies, goals, their CDC score, or their PT Score? Could you tell me what they did last weekend?

"Sadly, what I routinely find across our Air Force are supervisors who can only tell me these things after a suicide, a fatality, or serious accident has occurred.

"To earn respect, you must know and take care of your Airmen."

By Master Sgt. Mark Haviland
Air Combat Command Public Affairs

WWII Marine hopes Iwo Jima visit will wash away memories

By Fred Zimmerman, Stars and Stripes
Pacific edition, Saturday, March 11, 2006

IWO JIMA, Japan — Sixty-one years have passed since George Nowacki last set foot on this island — years filled with daily memories of what happened here. He thought maybe, just maybe, if he visited, those memories would fade.

To continue reading:


Family remembers selfless Marine killed in Iraq as a humble patriot

Gunnery Sgt. John D. Fry was due to return home from Iraq to his wife and three children on March 15, just days before the three-year anniversary of the start of the war. But the diligent Marine who specialized in defusing explosive devices was killed Wednesday after he volunteered to disarm a bomb in Iraq's war-torn Al Anbar province.


By Katy Moore Tribune-Herald staff writer

Saturday, March 11, 2006

The shy 28-year-old Lorena native planned to return to his family at the Marine base in Lejeune, N.C., for six months before another tour of duty in Iraq in September. The unit to replace his group had already arrived in Al Anbar, while Fry's unit awaited return flights home.

"He believed in what he was doing," Malia Fry said of her husband. "He was protecting his country, and he was doing his job because he didn't want his children to grow up with people blowing up buildings . . . How he felt about the conflict was that he was doing his job."

As an explosive ordinance disposal technician, Fry disarmed hundreds of bombs during his six-month stint in Iraq.

Although his hitch in Iraq was almost over, Fry volunteered Wednesday to defuse one more bomb, family members said.

Relatives said that despite his best efforts to disarm the device, he was killed in an ensuing explosion.

"He laid down his life so other Marines would be safe, and he did it willingly," Malia Fry said. "Every EOD tech that is over there does the same thing a hundred times a day, and they don't think about themselves. They think about the Marines . . . They think about the children that are over there."

Fry's death brought to at least 2,304 the number of U.S. service members who have died since the beginning of the war, according to a count by the Associated Press.

Fry was assigned to the 8th Engineer Support Battalion, 2nd Marine Logistics Group, II Marine Expeditionary Force.

He served in Iraq's largest province of Al Anbar, a desert area stretching from Baghdad to the borders with Saudi Arabia, Syria and Jordan. It has been battered with frequent insurgent attacks.

In interviews, Fry's family described him as selfless in his work, protecting both his comrades and Iraqis from explosive devices.

Both his wife and his mother, Beth Fry of Lorena, described an incident in which the Marine answered a call to disarm a bomb and played a game of hide-and-seek with a young Iraqi boy before sending the youngster away from the site and out of danger.

On another occasion, John Fry arrived at an Iraq home to find a bomb strapped to a young mentally retarded Iraqi boy. The Marine disarmed the bomb and saved the child's life.

"He was so proud to be there doing what he was doing," Beth Fry said of her son. "Not just the war part ... but the Marines and all the military people that are there have restored power, built schools, built hospitals and they have running water. Those are the things that nobody talks about and that nobody hears about."

In October, family members said, the soldier suffered a serious hand injury and could have gone to Germany, as the severity of his injury could have provided him a virtual ticket out of Iraq. But his mother said her son wouldn't leave. Instead, he continued working seven more hours to finish disarming an explosive.

"(The military) wanted to give him the Bronze Star for his injury, and he wouldn't accept it," she said. "He said what he was doing was what he was supposed to be doing and what everyone else was doing."

Family members described Fry as shy, quiet and often deep in thought.

The graduate of Waco Christian Academy was happy to be salutatorian of his high school class because he didn't like speaking in public and didn't want to give a speech at his graduation.

Relatives said Fry will be remembered as a devoted father and a humble patriot.

Family members said he had no second thoughts about returning to Iraq in September and served with the thought of his children's freedom in mind. The Marine left behind three children: Kathryn, 9; Gideon, 7; and C.L., 2.

"He was a person who knew exactly what he wanted to do and was willing to make the sacrifice to do it," Beth Fry said. "And he realized the cost."

[email protected]


Iraqis, troops share food, discussion during training

NORFOLK — As steam rose from a nearby tray of rice and lamb, an Iraqi sheik huddled with a three-star general at Norfolk Naval Station.

From a cushion on the floor, the sheik made a simple plea in Arabic: Help us help ourselves. Give us jobs and you will have security in Iraq.

“Just employ the people,” the well-dressed man said through a translator. “Empower them.”


By LOUIS HANSEN , The Virginian-Pilot
© March 11, 2006

It was a training-over-dinner session one night this week, but the Iraqi, Adulamir al-Jaber, carried a certain cache. He had returned from his country just three weeks ago, where at home in southern Iraq, al-Jaber is a sheik and leader of a community of 35,000.

The general and a half-dozen other Marines listened but made no promises.

As the Iraq war approaches its third anniversary, Marines have begun to incorporate more Arabic language and cultural skills into their training. From officers to grunts, for those starting their first, second or third tours, they’re expected to be ambassadors for their country.

Lt. Gen. James F. Amos said the need to improve cultural understanding becomes more important as they work closely with natives to build and train an Iraqi army.

Amos, commanding general of the II Marine Expeditionary Force, expects that to be a focus for his troops during future deployments.

“It’s exactly what we need to be doing,” he said after the training.

Iraqi expatriates feel a duty to train U.S. troops about the culture in their fractious country.

Twenty-five of them work for a San Diego-based contractor, Strategic Operations, which stages training events for the military at bases across the country.

The sheik and Basim al-Shamary trained the Marines Thursday night.

Al-Shamary, 36 , grew up in southern Iraq and his elderly parents still live there. He moved to San Diego as an adult, where he raises his family in the region’s large Iraqi-American community.

Al-Shamary, dressed in black robes and a gr ay and black headdress, has traveled across the country training Marines and soldiers.

He hoped his native country would find a better political compromise and include all parties in the new parliament. He said young Iraqi men in particular needed more job opportunities to keep them from joining the insurgents.

“They need freedom,” al- Shamary said.

Al-Jaber agreed.

He said U.S. troops need to focus on the regions most troubled by foreign fighters. For the peaceful, native Iraqis, he said through a translator, “be courteous and be nice.”

Both men said the security in southern Iraq is improving, unlike in Baghdad and Fallujah, plagued with regular fighting. They want the majority Shiite population to share more power in the new government with the minority Sunnis, who led the country under Saddam Hussein.

Also, they hope lessons learned from this night’s training will make their country safer for the Marines and countrymen.

Col. Ronald Johnson, commanding officer of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, has served two tours in Iraq. It’s likely his 2,200-member unit from Camp Lejeune, which is training for two weeks in Hampton Roads, will head back in June.

Johnson said much of his effort in the country was meeting and forging alliances with local sheiks, who serve as patriarchs to large, extended families, and have great influence in their communities.

One favor Johnson did for a group of local sheiks allowed his Marine unit to attract more than 1,000 recruits to the Iraqi army, he said.

Johnson said he learned a lesson: “Respect their opinions.”

During the feast, Amos and the other Marines sat with three Iraqi men on the floor mats and cushions.

The Iraqis and the general held pipes connected to a hookah burning sweet Apple Jack tobacco. Between puffs, the men took turns talking and listening. Mostly, the Marines sat quietly while a translator rattled off the sheik’s desires and complaints about insurgents and U.S. troops.

“We need to work together as powerful families,” Amos told the sheik. “We have that ability and strength as Marines but we cannot do it alone.”

By the end of the evening, the acting stopped. The men dug their fingers into the steaming plate of bread, rice and meat, and complimented their hosts.

After cups of hot chai tea, they embraced again.

Al-Shamary hugged the general, smiled and said, “We need to see you again and again and again.”

Reach Louis Hansen at (757) 446-2322 or [email protected]

Bush visited Afghanistan

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN (AP) -- President Bush, on an unannounced visit to Afghanistan, said Wednesday he remains confident Osama bin Laden "will be brought to justice" despite a so-far futile five-year hunt. Bush also suggested that the United States and India, where he was headed yet, have still not reached a deal over U.S. help for India's civilian nuclear program.


"People all over the world are watching the experience here in Afghanistan," Bush said as he stood side-by-side with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Bush's entourage flew into the city from Bagram Air Base in a flotilla of heavily armed helicopters. Two door gunners on a press helicopter fired off a short burst of machine gun fire at unknown targets as the aircraft flew low and fast over barren countryside.

Bush arrived safely at the presidential palace where he was greeted by Afghanistan's leader Hamid Karzai. The two men walked down a red carpet past a military honor guard to begin their meetings. "Welcome the president to Afghanistan," Karzai said as they paused for photographs.

Eight weeks ago when Bush signed off on the India-Pakistan visit he was presented with the option of also going to Afghanistan, said White House press secretary Scott McClellan. The White House closely guarded the secret, but there was widespread speculation that he would make the stop in Afghanistan. "This is an opportunity to show our support for a good friend and ally and emerging democracy," McClellan said. "We stand firmly with the people of Afghanistan as they are charting their own future."

While Bush and Karzai met, their wives, Laura Bush and Zinat Karzai met over lunch with other women. Bush also was to preside over a ceremonial ribbon-cutting for the U.S. Embassy.

Before leaving Afghanistan, Bush was to get a pep talk to troops back at Bagram Air Base. It was Bush's second visit to a war front. His first was a secret trip to have Thanksgiving Dinner in 2003 with U.S. troops in Iraq.

Speaking of secrecy concerns, McClellan said, "There are security precautions that were taken and we are confident in the security precautions that have been taken. One of those was not informing you of the trip until now."

The United States invaded Afghanistan after the terrorist attacks of Sept 11, 2001, to unseat the Taliban regime that harbored Osma bin-Laden and his terrorist training camps. Despite intense manhunts and a multimillion dollar reward, bin-Laden remains at large, believed to be in hiding in the rugged border area of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The president and his wife Laura stepped off Air Force One at the air base under a bright, sunny sky against a background of snowcapped mountains. Secret Service agents were deployed around the plane with automatic weapons.

There are about 19,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has said the number will be reduced to about 16,000 by summer. It was Bush's first trip to Afghanistan, but Vice President Dick Cheney has been here.

Bush flew into Afghanistan on what was supposed to have been a flight to India, where tens of thousands gathered in New Delhi to protest his visit. The United States and India were bargaining over the terms of a landmark nuclear agreement even as Bush made his way to New Delhi for the first visit there of his presidency.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said sticking points remained in the way of an agreement and singled out one particularly contentious subject. "The one thing that is absolutely necessary is that any agreement would assure that once India has decided to put a reactor under safeguard that it remain permanently under safeguard," she said.

Rice and national security adviser Stephen Hadley briefed reporters on Air Force One as Bush flew from Washington to a refueling stop in Shannon, Ireland. The provision Rice cited would prevent India from transferring a reactor from civilian to military status and thus exempting it from international inspections.

Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh signed an agreement in July that would provide India with nuclear fuel for the country's booming but energy-starved economy. But the pact, which faces some political opposition in both countries, hinges on determining how to separate India's civilian and military nuclear facilities. Rice said she was uncertain whether there would be an agreement during Bush's trip but said the success or failure of his visit wouldn't be determined by that.

"We're still working on it," she said. "Obviously it would be an important breakthrough" for the United States and India. "We very much would like to have a deal," she said. "We are continuing to work on it."

She expressed confidence that if no deal results from this trip, the U.S. and would get one at a later date. During the refueling stop, Bush shook hands and posed for pictures with U.S. Marines on their way to Kuwait. The young men, in camouflage uniforms, lined up to shake hands with the commander in chief.

Rice said that India's neighbor and nuclear rival, Pakistan, would not qualify for the same sort of nuclear treatment as New Delhi. "Pakistan is not in the same place as India," Rice said. "I think everybody understands that."

The United States says India has an unblemished record on nuclear proliferation and has not sold its technology to any outsiders. Pakistan, on the other hand, has acknowledged it has secretly sold nuclear technology to a number of countries.

Posted by AEB

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

For the troops

TWIN FALLS -- Three hundred and sixty four days a year, Twin Falls residents send the troops their appreciation. On Friday, residents took that support a step further by sending their blood.


By Cassidy Friedman
Times-News writer

Other drives have collected blood in the name of Marine Cpl. Travis Greene. But on Friday, all blood collected was destined for the military.

Greene, 24, a 1999 Twin Falls High School graduate and a star on the Bruin track and field team, lost both legs in an explosion Dec. 7 in Ar Ramadi, Iraq. He is now recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

"The young man's family is friends of mine," said Terry Fletcher, 57, just before he sat down to give blood. For years, Fletcher has ridden motorcycles with Greene's parents. Now, he follows their son's progress on the family's CaringBridge Web site.

The Greenes' group of friends has steadily increased in size since December.

Take Ron Black, 62, who has three kids in the service. One of them attended school with Travis Greene. He said thoughts of his children and the injured soldier's story motivated him to come.

"I check the Web site on a daily basis," he said.

Sgt. Mario Rivera of the Armed Services Blood Bank Center said the blood drive is really about supporting military families.

"When we say 'military family,' we mean: Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines," he said.

Twin Falls was the third and last stop of a statewide blood drive initiated by Gov. Dirk Kempthorne.

The first two drives exceeded their goals, collecting 60 pints in Boise; 104 in Mountain Home. The drive in Twin Falls fell 5 pints short of its goal of 50 pints, in part because 20 donors failed the screening.

"It's been a tremendous ordeal for Terry and Sue," Fletcher said. "But there has also been outstanding support on the Web site from across the nation."

Keeping in touch

Marine Cpl. Travis Greene is now at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and his parents provide daily updates on their son's condition on the family's CaringBridge Web site. To read more, or to leave a message, go to the Web site at http://www.caringbridge.org and click on "visit." In the first box, type "travisgreene" and click again on "visit."

Ex-NFL player graduates from Marines boot camp in San Diego

A former college teammate of Pat Tillman is following his footsteps by leaving professional football to join the military.

Pfc. Jeremy Staat, a former NFL defensive lineman who played for the Pittsburgh Steelers and the St. Louis Rams, graduated from the San Diego Marine Corps Recruit Depot on Friday.


- By DAISY NGUYEN, Associated Press Writer
Saturday, March 11, 2006

(03-11) 00:01 PST SAN DIEGO, (AP) --

Enlisting "is probably one of the best decisions I've made in my life," Staat, 29, told The Associated Press after his graduation ceremony.

Tillman, who played defensive back for the Arizona Cardinals, was killed by friendly fire near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border in April 2004. The Defense Department is investigating allegations of a cover-up, including failure by the U.S. Army to tell Tillman's family for several weeks that he had been killed by gunfire from his fellow Army Rangers, not by enemy fire as they initially were told.

Staat, who also played for the Los Angeles Avengers Arena Football team in 2004, said he was compelled to join the military after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks but Tillman advised him to stay with professional football until he qualified for retirement benefits.

"He told me, 'You're a good player, you need to get good play.' Then four months later, at his wedding, I learn he's going to the Army," Staat said. "I joked to him, 'You stole my idea,' and he said it had been in the process for a while."

Tillman's death gave him "more motivation" to enlist, said Staat, who was born in Bakersfield but resides in Scottsdale, Ariz.

"I should have been there for him," he said, adding he was disappointed that Tillman's enlistment drew wide attention because he gave up a $1.2 million NFL contract to join the Army Rangers.

"People missed the whole concept. It wasn't about the money," he said. "He was there to help liberate a country.

"I never felt right about making the money I was making," Staat continued. "We pay millions of dollars to professional athletes and entertainers, yet we pay military service people pennies to a dollar, and they're the ones risking their lives."

To enlist, the 6-foot-5 player said he dropped from 310 to 260 pounds. He said going through three months of rigorous, boot camp training gave him a deeper appreciation for team camaraderie.

"It's about looking out for your fellow soldier, and being ready to take a bullet for someone," he said.

URL: http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/n/a/2006/03/10/state/n204336S75.DTL

Tenacity wins Marine a medal

It was 5 a.m. when 2nd Lt. Brian M. Stann got the word.


The other platoon hadn't reached a bridge just north of Karabilah, Iraq, near the Syrian border. But somebody had to get there fast or Operation Matador -- a major sweep by U.S. forces along the Euphrates -- would fail because enemy fighters could escape across the bridge.

It was just 2 1/2 miles, but dozens of insurgents were dug in, and men died in U.S. units that had tried to move through earlier. What the 42 Marines in Stann's platoon didn't know was that they'd have to run that gantlet six times over six days, braving rocket-propelled grenades, roadside bombs, mortars, machine guns, assault rifles and four suicide car bombs.

"I think they probably tried to spit on us, too, but we killed them first," Stann said Friday.

In a ceremony Friday, Stann -- a 25-year-old former linebacker for the U.S. Naval Academy who volunteered for Iraq -- received the Silver Star, the military's third-highest medal for valor.

The battle for Ramana Bridge started May 8, 2005. Stann, a native of Scranton, Pa., got a half-hour's notice that his 2nd Mobile Assault Platoon might have to fight, and he and his noncommissioned officers started telling the men about the mission.

They would be fighting mostly in town, with buildings at the road's edge giving the enemy cover. There was also a ravine where insurgents were likely to be dug in.

Outright battle

Sure enough, the platoon quickly found itself in 360-degree fighting, the kind of outright battle that the Iraq war has seldom produced. They fought to the bridge, secured the area and then were relieved by the platoon originally assigned the mission.

As they fought back out, a tank hit a roadside bomb, and three wounded had to be evacuated.

The next day, Stann's platoon was ordered to resupply the unit holding the bridge. They went in at night with little trouble but were hit again on the way out. Again, they fought their way clear.

On the third day, they were told that they needed to relieve the platoon guarding the bridge. They loaded up for another run.

It turned out to be the worst. The Marines weren't the only ones getting used to assaults through town; the insurgents had gathered for a huge ambush, one that Stann said was so well-organized that foreign fighters had surely planned it.

More rocket-propelled grenades, more incoming mortar fire. This time, though, the insurgents had devised not one but three suicide car bombs. The Marines killed the drivers of two before they could get close, but the other rammed a Marine vehicle. Five men were badly wounded.

They fought on, though, with Stann calling in air strikes and directing tank fire.

When they reached the bridge this time, they stayed for three days, calling in more air strikes to take out buildings from which the insurgents were shooting. By the sixth day, when Operation Matador was over, the Marines were taking only sniper fire.

Maj. Gen. Richard Huck, commander of the 2nd Marine Division, had been monitoring the operation and had heard about the fighting near the bridge.

On Friday, Huck pinned the medal on Stann and afterward called what the young lieutenant had done a tremendous accomplishment, particularly because the battle went on nearly a week.

The medal "speaks not just to his strength and character, but to the persistence and endurance of what he did," Huck said.

Stann, still built like a linebacker, removed the Silver Star as soon as he walked off the field where the ceremony was. The decoration was more for what his men had done than for him, he said.

"These guys are just 18, 19, 20 years old," he said. "But there's no sight like it when you see these Marines fight. They don't get scared, they get aggressive."

Three Marines earned the Bronze Star in Karabilah.

Among the eight wounded in the fight, one lost a leg, one was paralyzed, another's legs were shattered and another has had brain surgery.

None of Stann's Marines died.

"That means everything," he said. "The only medal I care about is bringing back 42 out of 42."

Now Stann has a bigger challenge. He was promoted to 1st lieutenant and commands a company of 182 Marines. They deploy to Iraq this summer.
Staff writer Jay Price can be reached at 829-4526 or [email protected]

U.S. soldiers connect with residents in small Iraqi town

Diyara, Iraq -- The elderly mother is beside herself with grief. Her son was kidnapped a year ago. She's heard nothing about him since.

It's hard to tell her age. She wears all-black robes and a black scarf over her head, showing only her face from mid-forehead down. Her face is puffy and lined.

She speaks in Arabic, hands gesturing wildly, and little moans escape between sentences.

"She says, 'I die a little every day,' " an interpreter explains.


John Koopman, Chronicle Staff Writer

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Soldiers with Alpha Company of the Army's 2nd Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment, out of Fort Hood, Texas, were passing through the region on a routine meet-and-greet, looking for information without offending the locals when they came upon the woman's farmhouse. The mother and her other son greeted the soldiers in the doorway to the big, squared-off structure and invited them in.

It's rare for American soldiers to speak to an Iraqi woman in situations like this. Normally, the women stay in the back, or outside, while the men do the talking. But this woman has no time for such traditions. If the U.S. Army can help find her son, she'll do whatever is necessary.

Unfortunately, there's not much to go on. She gives them her son's name and a brief description of what happened. He had been driving to a local job, and some men stopped his car. They made him get out, and they took him away.

The family heard a rumor he was in jail in Basra. Someone who had been held there said he'd seen the son, although the tipster didn't have the son's name quite right.

Now, the family was hoping the Americans could drive them to Basra to check it out.

Staff Sgt. Logan Griffith, a psychological operations specialist with the unit, explained that the U.S. Army doesn't have the resources to drive the people that far. But he said he would check the name against lists of detainees in Basra and get back to the mother.

"This is a sad fact about Iraq -- almost everyone has a family member who is missing," Griffith said, as the unit pulled out.

Diyara, a town of approximately 1,000 people before a car bomb struck the local market late last year, lies in a lush agricultural area about 30 miles south of Baghdad. In Saddam Hussein's time, it was a place where generals and Baath Party officials came to retire.

There's a Sunni part and a Shiite part of the region, which for the most part has experienced relative calm. That is until the local market was destroyed in November, driving away many of the residents, who lost their sole source of income.

On Wednesday, five unexploded mortar rounds dropped into the middle of town. Twenty minutes later, a nearby Iraqi army checkpoint was hit by rocket-propelled grenades and machine-gun fire from a car. Iraqi soldiers returned fire, prompting the car to speed away. Spotted a short time later by a passing U.S. patrol, the attackers jumped out of the vehicle and took off on foot.

The Americans and the Iraqi Security Forces work well together here, said Capt. Dave Zaino, commander of Alpha Company. Any time there is a need to chase down insurgents or go on an operation, they try to do it together.

"It's a joint effort; that's the exit strategy," he said. "This is our piece of that."

As the conflict in Iraq approaches its three-year anniversary this month, tactics and procedures are changing. U.S. soldiers and Marines try not to muscle their way through an area the way they used to, knocking down doors and kicking people's belongings aside looking for weapons.

Today, the favored approach is softer. Soldiers still go through homes and stables, but quietly. They smile. Offer a "Salaam Alaikum." Try not to be too intimidating.

Approaching one farmhouse, the men move through the tall grass silently, fanning out around the fringe, setting up security and looking for signs of weapons.

"What's up, dude?" one soldier asks a sweet-faced calf tied to a stake in a yard.

The soldiers approach a scared-looking young boy, maybe 14 or 15.

"He says he is afraid of Americans with guns," the interpreter explains to Griffith.

"Tell him there's nothing to be afraid of," Griffith responds. "The Americans are here to help the people of Iraq."

The boy offers a nervous smile and nods.

The troops found nothing.

The next day, Capt. Ben Simms goes to Diyara for his weekly meeting with the local imam.

The imam, a Sunni, is a gentle man in his 30s. Tall and balding with a full, short beard and kind eyes, he laughs easily. But he prefers not to be identified. He serves Arabic cola to the American soldiers who take off their heavy body armor and helmets in the imam's sparely decorated house. They lean their rifles against the wall.

The main topic of discussion is, as usual, water. Diyara is at the hind end of a canal system, which means the water is nearly stagnant by the time it gets here. The salinity in the water is hard to filter out, said Capt. Keith Burns, who heads the Army's civil affairs unit in the area.

Simms tells the imam that the U.S. Army is finalizing a contract to build a water pumping station in the town, so the people will finally get better, fresher water to their homes.

"The people here have had bad water even in the Saddam regime," the imam said through an interpreter. "People have been dreaming about it. This will be a good thing for them."

The imam likes that the Americans get things done. He's concerned that these kinds of projects will go away once the people have to rely on the bureaucracy in Baghdad.

The imam says that Sunnis and Shiites get along here. The town is largely Sunni, but he says he has members of both sects in his mosque. Reportedly, Sunnis and Shiites guarded each others mosques during the bloody sectarian violence that swept parts of the country in the aftermath of the Shiite mosque bombing in Samarra last month.

"The people who make violence do not fight for religious reasons," said the imam. "They do it for the money. They are cowards because they don't fight face to face. They don't care who they hurt."

After about 45 minutes with the imam, the soldiers say goodbye. Outside, Iraqi kids swarm the soldiers, seeking sweets, money, pens, sunglasses.

They literally hang off of Sgt. 1st Class Michael Taylor's arms and legs after he produced a whole bag of candy.

"The children know who are the fighters and who are the civil affairs soldiers," the imam said, laughing.

E-mail John Koopman at [email protected]

Texas Marine killed in Iraq

LORENA, Texas Gunnery Sargent John D. Fry could have left the dangers of Iraq after injuring his hand last fall. But his family says the 28-year-old Marine continued working for seven more hours disarming an explosive.
Fry was working to disarm another bomb when he was killed Wednesday in the Al Anbar province.


The explosive ordinance disposal technician was assigned to the 8th Engineer Support Battalion at Camp Lejeune, N.C.

A graduate of Waco Christian Academy, family members described Fry as someone who was often deep in thought, shy and quiet.

He planned to return from Iraq later this month before returning for another tour in September.

Fry is survived by his wife, Malia, his mother, Beth, and three children: Kathryn; Gideon; and C.L..


Information from: Waco Tribune-Herald, http://www.wacotrib.com

Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Mother reflects on son who was 'Marine' first

James Bryson Jr.'s mother remembered him as someone who loved the U.S. Marine Corps above all.

The 27-year-old had served in Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. Then he went to Iraq, supporting combat operations in the tumultuous city of Fallujah. He was promoted to staff sergeant Feb. 1 after volunteering to extend his tour of duty with the Marines another six months.


The Post and Courier

"They were his first family, I came second, and I understood that," said his mother, Alissa D. Bryson of North Charleston. "You may have a mother and a sister back here, but do what you want to do. Experience life."

Bryson survived war zones overseas. But he died March 3 from a close-range gunshot wound in Havelock, N.C., The Daily News of Jacksonville, N.C., reported. Authorities there are investigating his death as a homicide.

Bryson was a member of Marine Air Support Squadron-1. He had returned to the U.S. on Feb. 13, having served 13 months in Iraq, The Daily News reported.

Bryson graduated from Dreher High School in Columbia in 1997 and joined the Marine Corps almost immediately afterward.

In addition to his mother in North Charleston, he is survived by his father, James S. Bryson, and a sister, Marie Bryson, both of Columbia; and a brother Maurice Trapp of Fredericksburg, Va.

Funeral services will be today at New Hope Baptist Church in North Charleston and burial will be at noon Monday at the National Cemetery in Beaufort.

His awards include the Combat Action Ribbon, two Marine Corps Good Conduct Medals, the Presidential Unit Citation, Navy Meritorious Unit Citation, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal and Iraqi Campaign Medal.

His mother said parents should make sure that the last thing children hear from them is pleasant.

"That's why the last thing I always said was 'I love you' because that's how I wanted him to remember me," she said.

Reach Noah Haglund at 937-5550 or at [email protected]

Marines carry six-pack attack

CAMP MERCURY, Iraq(March 9, 2006) -- Arnold Schwarzenegger is going to want one.

Marines with Regimental Combat Team 5, based in Camp Fallujah, test-fired the latest in the Corps’ arsenal of weapons’ improvement, the M-32 Multiple shot Grenade Launcher. It’s a six-barreled, 40 mm beast of weapon that has just about enough attitude for Marines.


Submitted by: 1st Marine Division
Story by: Computed Name: Gunnery Sgt. Mark Oliva

Story Identification #: 200631023356

“I thought it was pretty bad the first time I saw it,” said Cpl. Jason H. Flanery, a 23-year-old mortarman from St. Louis, Mo., assigned to RCT-5’s Personnel Security Detachment.

The M-32 MGL looks like something straight out of an action movie or a weapon ginned up by designers of futuristic video combat games. It’s a bare-bones, shoulder-fired weapon with a bulging six-barreled cylinder. There’s no bones about it. This thing’s all business when the trade is knocking out bad-guys at a distance.

“You can put six rounds on target in under three seconds,” Flanery said. “I thought this thing was sick.”

Sick might be right for the insurgent on the other end of the sight. The M-32 MGL is step up from the M-203 grenade launcher Marines have used since post-Vietnam days. It fires similar 40 mm grenades and at similar distances. It just puts more rounds on the bad guys faster.

“The ‘203 has been around since the ‘60s,” explained CWO4 Gene A. Bridgman, the regiment’s gunner, or weapons expert. “It keeps improving. This is a progression in the weapons system.”

Flanery put the comparison of the two similar weapons in more simple terms.

“It makes it obsolete,” he said. “It’s that much better.”

The idea to bring M-32 was the brainchild of Marine gunners across the Corps, explained Bridgman, a 43-year-old from Garden City, Kan. During an annual symposium, they decided an improvement was needed over the M-203. One option was to bring back a rifle-grenade. The M-32, won out, however, and now each Marine battalion will field them as an experimental weapon.

Bridgman added the M-32 isn’t a new idea altogether, though. Brazilian, Italian and South African military have carried them in the field for years. Marines, though, took it one step further.

A fore-grip was added and a scope was mounted to the top, eliminating the old leaf sights like that of the M-203. The scope allows a Marine to follow the grenade to the target and immediately adjust and follow up with a lethal volley of indirect fire.

“The ‘203 was on shot at time,” Bridgman said. “The ‘203 became a signal weapon. This is more of an offensive weapon. With this, you shoot, adjust and fire for effect.”

The average Marine said it’s just about that easy to shoot. Lance Cpl. Alexandro R. Raymundo, a 20-year-old from Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., isn’t an infantryman. He’s a network administrator by trade. He shot the M-203 before during initial training, but this was his first time picking up the M-32 MGL.

“I thought it might be like the ‘203,” Raymundo said. “But is shoots more rounds, faster. It’s really simple. I had ‘hands-on’ once. I picked it up really quickly.”

As far as how it felt shooting it, Raymundo said the weapon was about as beefy as it looks.

“I felt like there’s more recoil than the ‘203 and the trigger’s a lot heavier” he explained. “It’s heftier than the ‘203.”

His likes about the weapon included the small scope added to the rail-mount system on top of the weapon.

“The optic was nice,” he added. “It’s a lot easier to sight in.”

Of course, there’s the part about lots of things going “boom” downrange too.

“My favorite part was being able to fire out so many grenades and not have to reload between each shot.”

Sgt. David G. Redford, a 35-year-old from Kennebunkport, Me., has more practical experience when it comes to what grunts like in the field. He’s an infantryman by trade and has logged in his own hours carrying the M-203.

“I didn’t know what to think about it before we came out here, but it’s nice,” Redford said. “It’s easier to shoot. You don’t have to constantly load. If you run into something, you’re already loaded.”

Redford predicted that most infantry Marines will welcome the addition of the six-pack attack weapon.

That’s exactly the reaction Bridgman wants to see. Adding the M-32 MGL could realign the way Marines operate at the small-team level. Fire teams could become more lethal, more mobile and more independent. The idea of a dedicated grenadier might just be reborn.

“Now you have your own indirect fire support right in the fire team,” Bridgman explained. “You have someone who can lay down (high explosive rounds) against someone in a trench. It would be used against enemy in fighting holes or behind cars, because of the indirect nature of the weapon. It’s the only weapon aside from mortars,” at the small team’s disposal.

Still, Bridgman stressed the weapon is only experimental. Marines will be gathering data about its’ effectiveness and durability from experiences on the streets of Fallujah.

For Flanery, though, the M-32 is already welcome.

“I think it’s one of the most simple and effective weapons systems,” he said. “I just want buckshot rounds.”

March 10, 2006

Donation from Boston keeps Shreveport, La., boxer swinging

CAMP MERCURY, Iraq (March 10, 2006) -- Marines of 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment have a new way to blow off steam at the end of the day. All they have to do is strap on a set of gloves and take a swing at another Marine.


Submitted by: 1st Marine Division
Story Identification #: 200631264633
Story by Cpl. Mark Sixbey

The battalion recently received a load of brand new boxing equipment from a donor in Boston.

The shipment included a heavy punching bag, bag gloves, hand wraps and focus mitts to practice speed, form and agility. Half of the equipment will go to the Marines of L Company, headquartered at Firm Base Black near Fallujah.

“They’re stuck out there and don’t have as much exercise equipment,” said Sgt. Rich F. Litto from the 6th Civil Affairs Group attached to the battalion. “It’s top brand stuff right now, highest quality as far as boxing gear goes.”

Cpl. Sebastian B. Price, from Shreveport, La., boxed with the Camp Pendleton Boxing Team for five months before deploying with the battalion in January. He said he plans to rejoin the team when he gets back to California, and the donated equipment will help him stay in shape in Iraq, preparing himself for his goals in boxing.

“I’m trying to go to Golden Gloves, win and fight in the Panama, which is a world-wide competition,” said Price, 21.

Two former professional boxers from Boston, Tom Dogan and Danny Long, support a different charity every year, and donated the equipment to support the Marines in the fight against terrorism, Litto said.

“Both give countless hours donating time to the Boston community,” said Litto, 48, from Boston. “When I asked them for this equipment, they were almost tripping over themselves trying to help.”

Long has a son enlisted in the Navy and Dogan has a brother in the military.

“South Boston is a patriotic town,” Litto said. “We lost more Marines per square mile than any other city during the Vietnam War.”

Dogan works for a major furniture distributor, and Long trains South Boston kids the art of fighting, Litto said. “Both are hardworking men, great family people. These guys are true friends and heroes of the community.”

The new equipment came as a welcome addition to the physical training tools the battalion has on hand.

“Now I’ve got a practice tool instead of shadow boxing all the time,” Price said. “The PT aspect keeps me in shape, doing something I want to do. It helps you put an effort into it if it’s something you enjoy.”

Price, whose regular job in the Corps is a cook, is currently assigned to the battalion’s Quick Reaction Force. He practices his form between sleep time and watching his post. He said the benefits of training go beyond getting into the ring and staying in shape.

“I have become calmer since I started boxing,” Price said. “I don’t feel like I have to prove myself because I know I can fight. I don’t have a short fuse anymore.”

He said he doesn’t have a favorite boxer, but eventually wants to have footwork like Ali, punches like Tyson and speed like Maywether.

After 26 years of honorable service, Marine Corps retires leader

MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif.(March 10, 2006) -- Every Marine past and present is an honored part of the Marine Corps family, responsible for handing down its values and ideals. From oldest to youngest, America knows “once a Marine, always a Marine.”


Submitted by:
Story by:
Computed Name: Lance Cpl. Michael S. Cifuentes
Story Identification #:

It has been 26 years, six months and 13 days today since one of the Combat Center’s most distinguished leaders, Col. Anthony F. Weddington, Combat Center inspector and safety inspector, and the officer-in-charge of the Reserve Support Unit, has been serving in the Marine Corps and executing the Corps’ mission.

Weddington has been aboard the Combat Center since September 2002, two months after being promoted to colonel. After serving many billets in the Marine Corps on both active and reserve duty, he will retire from his honorable service in the Corps today on the commanding general’s parade field at 3 p.m.

Weddington was born in Moses Lake, Wash., but was raised in Burlington, N.C. His father was an enlisted Airman and ended his service in the Air Force as a staff sergeant after 10 years.

Weddington graduated from Hugh M. Cummings High School in 1975. He continued his education at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, and achieved a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1979.

During his time at UNC, his younger brother went to Officer Candidate School through the Marine Corps’ Platoon Leader’s Course. Weddington was so intrigued by his brother’s experience that he made it a point to meet with a Marine recruiter, who he saw walking through his campus.

“I walked up to the campus’s recruiter, who was a Marine captain, and I was very impressed with him and what he had to offer,” said Weddington. “I was probably most interested because my father and some relatives served in the military before me.”

Weddington went to OCS in January 1980, graduated in April and went to The Basic School the following week, after having a weekend to relax, he said. The week after he completed TBS, he went to Infantry Officer’s Course, concluding his initial training in November 1980.

“Being an infantry Marine was an independent decision for me,” said Weddington. “I initially joined the service to become a bombardier, but that did not work out. I had the choice to walk away, but I felt that if I couldn’t fly, I would be an infantryman.”

Weddington reported to his first duty station, 2nd Marine Division in Camp Lejeune, N.C., in December 1980. He was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, as a rifle platoon commander, then as a weapons platoon commander, he said. His first deployment was to the Mediterranean Sea during the time the president of Israel was assassinated. His battalion was part of a Marine Amphibious Ready Group, or a force in readiness.

After three years serving in Camp Lejeune, he was assigned to serve at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., as a series commander for 2nd Recruit Training Battalion. He later became commanding officer of Delta Company.

“My duty in Parris Island was the most memorable experience in my Marine Corps career,” said Weddington. During his service as series commander in October 1983, a recruit died while asleep due to heart failure. “Recruit Hurst was a 17-year-old recruit, and he had only been on the island for three weeks. I was a first lieutenant when he died, and I took my duties very seriously. There were 15 drill instructors I was in charge of and roughly 250 recruits under my command. The experience changed my life. I realized a bit more that day, that as a Marine officer, I must always be conscious of what’s going on with our procedures and our people because I’ll never know when lightning will strike.”

Weddington served three years at MCRD Parris Island.

“It’s an incredible thing to witness, the amount of time drill instructors put into recruit training,” said Weddington. “It’s a phenomenon watching drill instructors turn American citizens into Marines and form them into units where they will fight alongside each other. The drill instructors really leave their mark. If a recruit or Marine falls short, it’s the drill instructors at fault. They make sure they are ready for anything they will encounter in the fleet. Everything is done by the numbers in boot camp, and that is why I feel that MCRDs are the purest environment in the Marine Corps. There is never compromise in training. The Marines today are every bit as good as I first encountered. Officers and staff noncommissioned officers couldn’t have been more proud to witness this.”

After serving at MCRD Parris Island, he was sent to the University of Mississippi as a Marine officer instructor in the Naval Science Department. He was tasked with training and counseling midshipmen who would later become Marine officers.

After three years of instructing at the university, Weddington resigned his active commission and became a reservist.

“I wanted to take the time to pursue something that I always wanted to since I was a kid,” said Weddington. He painted pictures and started a gallery of portrait, landscape and still-life paintings. “It became a strong business for me. It worked out well, and I made a lot of money.”

As a reservist, Weddington became a combat artist for Headquarters Marine Corps. He was tasked to create several hundred drawings of recruit training at Parris Island, he said.

In the spring of 1996, Weddington was introduced to the Active Reserve Program and later was reassigned to Manpower and Reserve Affairs in Quantico, Va. In 1999, he was assigned to Marine Forces Reserve in New Orleans as director of reserve Marine Corps Community Services programs, determining their budget and requirements.

In September of 2002, Weddington checked in to the Combat Center.

“My time here at the Combat Center has been really enjoyable, and it’s good to be with Marines that are training to carry on the Marine Corps mission,” said Weddington. “I really enjoy the professional relationships and camaraderie among my colleagues.

“I had no idea I was going to be in the Marine Corps for this long,” he continued. “I was obligated to serve one term, and 26 years later I’m retiring as a colonel. It has gone by really fast.”

Weddington will continue his hobby in the painting business from his Yucca Valley home, living with his wife, Linnea.

“He’s definitely excited about continuing his business in painting and playing golf,” said Linnea, who has been married to Weddington for 20 years in May. “I’m glad the time has come, and I am very proud of him. He has certainly served his country.

“As his business manager and his number one critic, I know he’s ready for this day. He’s a man with a lot of integrity and a great sense of humor, so I know he will continue to be happy,” she added.

Weddington’s reason for coming back to active duty was he missed being around Marines, he said. He really has no intention of leaving the Marines, just the service.

“Throughout my career, I loved being around people who made a conscious decision to volunteer and be a Marine,” said Weddington. “It’s only something Marines can understand and appreciate. You like Marines because they want to do well and you cannot pull wool over a Marine’s eyes. They will tell it like it is and go through great lengths to get the job done. You can tell a Marine what you want done and get out the way, they will surprise you. I never knew a Marine who gets up in the morning and says ‘I’m going to fail today.’ It’s impossible. Marines will always make the Marine Corps look good. There is no correlation between rank and intelligence. That’s why we have faith in the Marine Corps.

“When you are able to lay your head down at night and go to sleep, you know you’ve done the right thing.”

Battle Color Detachment parades at depot ceremony

MARINE CORPS RECRUIT DEPOT SAN DIEGO(March 10, 2006) -- The Silent Drill Platoon, “The Commandant’s Own” Drum and Bugle Corps and the Color Guard of the Marine Corps visited the depot Saturday during this year’s Battle Color Ceremony.


Submitted by:
MCRD San Diego
Story by:
Computed Name: Lance Cpl. Kaitlyn M. Scarboro
Story Identification #:

Marines, sailors, civilians and recruits sat amidst Shepherd Memorial Drill Field and Pavilion to watch more than 80 Marine musicians perform precise drill movements while they played martial and popular music in a program they call “Music in Motion.”

The band, each member wearing a red jacket and white pants, marched across the parade deck in continued unison moving into varied formations. Their left shoulders each bore a scarlet and gold breastcord that was originally awarded them by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt for their presidential support during World War II.

“The precision movements executed during the ceremony were none other than that of Marine Corps style,” said Cpl. Aaron A. Rapp, a Marine Band San Diego trumpet player. “They’re the best at what they do. They are the best at showing how Marine Corps bands should perform. The hours of practice put into their shows always pay off.”

After a few selections from the Drum and Bugle Corps, they stepped aside to allow the 24-man Silent Drill Platoon to step forward for a 10-minute drill exhibition without verbal commands.

Marines fixed bayonets on their 10 and one-half pound M-1 Garand rifles and executed a unique rifle inspection after showcasing superb rifle handling and drill movements.

Those gathered to watch let out applause at the completion of the drill.

“It’s great – all the families that we touch. It’s amazing what a performance can do for somebody,” said Lance Cpl. Rafael Navarrete, an infantryman serving a ceremonial tour with the Silent Drill Platoon.

Originally from San Diego, Navarrete’s family was able to attend his performance at the depot. When his former senior drill instructor from boot camp congratulated him on his accomplishments in the Marine Corps, Navarrete was even more grateful for his opportunity to perform at the depot.

“I think the recruits appreciate us more for doing this. I know when I was a recruit I wanted to do this,” said New Orleans native Lance Cpl. Matthew Corey, also an infantryman serving a two year stint in the Silent Drill Platoon.

The Silent Drill Platoon marched to the side opposite the Drum and Bugle Corps as the Color Guard of the Marine Corps carried the Battle Color of the Marine Corps forward for the playing of the National Anthem and Marines’ Hymn.

On the Battle Color are 54 streamers, which represent more than 400 awards and campaigns the Marine Corps has earned and achieved.

The hour-long ceremony concluded as the Marine Corps Battle Color Detachment marched past Brig. Gen. John M. Paxton Jr., commanding general, MCRD San Diego and the Western Recruiting Region, Col. Terry M. Lockard, commanding officer, Marine Barracks, Washington, D.C., and the guest of honor Jerry Sanders, mayor of San Diego.

Parents of Marine Killed in Iraq Speak

This is how those who loved Justin Martone knew him best, in uniform, proudly serving his country.

Justin's parents tell us as an explosive technician in the Marines, he was fulfilling his childhood dream.


By Melissa Martin / WSLS NewsChannel 10
Mar 10, 2006

Paulette Martone, Justin's Mom: Justin has accomplished every single thing he has set out to do in his entire life. This is all he wanted he wanted to be a Marine since he was a child.

We spoke to Justin's parents from their home in Arizona, but Justin grew up here in Bedford county, where flags fly at half staff and at Staunton River High School, where Justin played football his freshman year and graduated in 1993.

Teachers here at the school tell me they remember Justin well. They said he was always polite, and the one thing they'll never forget is that Justin wore camouflage and even then, talked about wanting to join the military. Justin's dad tells me he enlisted right after graduation.

Justin left in February for his second tour in Iraq, and tried to ease his parent's fears.

Justin's Mom: He said to us over and over again, you've got to find the good things. We are doing a lot of good there, we really are. He absolutely believed these people needed their freedom, they needed democracy.

And even while in Iraq, he was a great provider to his wife Renee who he met while he was in high school in Bedford county.

Justin's Mom: He wanted to be everything that anybody could ever want. He did what ever was necessary to give of, to give of himself.

Even if it meant fighting in Iraq and paying the ultimate sacrifice.

Justin's Mom: I could not have more pride, than what I have today, I couldn't.

Justin also loved to fly and got his pilot's license at Falwell Aviation. His flight instructor tells us Justin got his license faster than any other student. Funeral arrangements have not yet been made but Staunton River plans to pay tribute to Justin on Monday.

Marines deactivate experimental Special Operations unit

CAMP PENDLETON ---- In a simple ceremony Friday, the Marines deactivated a 3-year-old experimental unit that helped establish a national Marines special operations program.

By: BARBARA HENRY - Staff Writer

The Camp Pendleton unit was essentially a pilot project ---- the Marines' first contribution to the U.S. Special Operations Command, an elite fighting force that is sent in to handle special, high-risk tasks. The Navy, the Army and Air Force have contributed to the force for years, but the Marines have resisted, saying they didn't want to lose control of their top fighters.

However, after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Marine's position shifted and the Camp Pendleton unit was established as a trial program.

"We were proof of a concept," said Col. Robert J. Coates, the unit's commanding officer, after Friday's ceremony in which the unit's flags were lowered and then covered with long, olive green bags.

Lt. Gen. John F. Goodman, commander of the Corps' Pacific region, praised the 85-member unit for accomplishing what he called a "pretty robust task" in an "extraordinarily effective" manner.

During their deployment in Iraq, the unit known as Detachment One handled efforts to reduce insurgent attacks and provided security for high-ranking Iraqi officials, including the country's prime minister.

Within nine months of the unit's creation, it was deployed into battle. Goodman said the unit was ready to go amazingly quickly, and Coates said the proof of how well the unit worked can be told in one simple story.

He then described how two members of the unit ---- Staff Sgt. William Parker and Gunnery Sgt. James Crawford ----- fought off an attack by a mass of Iraqis in northern Baghdad in August 2004. They were atop a building when the attack began, and "at the end there were 30 men dead at the bottom ... and the others had fled," he said.

Speaking after Friday's ceremony, Parker said he and Crawford were on a mission at the time with four Navy SEALs and a squadron of Army Special Forces. Their goal was to reduce insurgent activity in the area and they were paired with a regular patrol as it made a sweep.

"When they withdrew they left us behind ... so we could look and listen for the bad guys in the neighborhood," Parker said. "While we were there a police station was attacked."

Then, the insurgents came back and discovered the Special Operations fighters. The U.S. force found itself fighting people on all four sides of the building, Parker said.

"It got a little crazy," he said simply.

Parker was injured ---- fragments from a grenade launched by a neighborhood kid hit him "everywhere my gear didn't cover" including into one eye. He wasn't surprised that a child was responsible for his injuries ---- the insurgents regularly paid children $50 for each grenade they were willing to toss, he said.

The U.S. military sent in tanks to provide backup and the Special Operations group was able to leave the building, but Parker and the others returned to the area two more times that night. Things calmed down after a soccer game broadcast began ---- "everybody was watching that," he said.

Detachment One served in Iraq until October 2004. A year later, the Defense Department agreed that a permanent Marine special operations component should be established within the U.S. Special Operations Command.

With Friday's deactivation ceremony, Detachment One was folded into that permanent group. Based at Camp Lejeune, N.C., the group includes some 2,600 Marines.

Parker won't be reporting there, though. A communications specialist who speaks Arabic, Parker said he is headed to the military's language training facility in Monterey to learn the Persian language Farsi.

"I'll be there a year, and then we'll see what happens," he said.

Contact staff writer Barbara Henry at (760) 901-4072 or [email protected]

March 9, 2006

Fricke earns medal for combat valor

MOUNT PULASKI - Twenty-one-year-old Cpl. Matthew Fricke is a hero - not just to his dad, but to the whole U.S. Marine Corps. (3/7)


Published Thursday, March 09, 2006

On Dec. 28, the Department of the Navy awarded Fricke, the son of Bill Fricke of Mount Pulaski and the late Kris Fricke, with a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal with Combat Distinguishing Device.

The accompanying certificate explains the reason:

"On 3 October 2005, in Ar Ramadi, Iraq, while on post, Corporal Fricke's section was attacked with small arms, machinegun and rocket propelled grenade fire while manning Entry Control Point One at the North Bridge.

"Corporal Fricke, whose section had just been relieved, ordered his men to return to the entry control point's supplementary positions.

"While inside the command center, he observed the enemy positions across the river and that Post Nine was not engaging the enemy. Without regard for his own safety, he maneuvered to the post and discovered that the Marine(s) could not identify the enemy.

"He took over the post and delivered a heavy volume of machinegun fire that broke the squad-sized attack. Corporal Fricke's initiative, courage and devotion to duty reflected credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service."

His 2nd Marine Division commander, Major Gen. R.A. Huck, signed the certificate.

Bill Fricke says his son has always been an achiever.

He earned a Boy Scout Eagle's rank, as well as attaining the Vigil of Honor in the Order of the Arrow. He was also named the honor graduate from his class of 13 students in the Marine's Forward Observer Course.

In Iraq, Fricke has had three Humvees in which he was riding destroyed. He received a Purple Heart when a bullet entered the first vehicle through the windshield and injured his hand.

One of the Humvees slammed into a stone wall and the rear axle came crashing down beside him.

"Any one of those things could have killed him," said his worried father, who lost Matt's mother in an automobile accident shortly before Matt enlisted at age 17.

"I'd trade places with him if I could.

"He will be 22 in May. He's spent several birthdays over there and this last year, Thanksgiving and Christmas. He went to Iraq two weeks after boot camp."

Between tours of duty, Matt spent five months in the U.S. His father expects him to serve a third tour because of his specialty as a forward observer.

Bill Fricke said forward observers go into enemy territory to give coordinates to their command.

"And he's part of a rescue mission team," he said. "They go in and help out when things are tough - as a last resort."

Matt Fricke is scheduled to come home to Mount Pulaski around the middle of May, and his dad and 15-year-old brother, Erik, are planning a party.

"He sleeps in a sleeping bag all the time," Bill Fricke said. "When he comes home, he said he wants to sleep in a bed that has sheets instead of a sleeping bag."

New scope proves worth with Darkhorse snipers

CAMP MERCURY, Iraq (March 9, 2006) -- Marine snipers here put the Corps’ latest sniper optic to the test and it proved to be spot-on. Proof is one less bad guy planting roadside bombs.


Submitted by: Regimental Combat Team 5
Story Identification #: 2006312142256
Story by Cpl. Mark Sixbey

Snipers of 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment proved the 3x12 variable-powered Schmidt & Bender M-8541 Scout-Sniper Day Scope’s usefulness in January when they killed an insurgent planting improvised explosive devices near Fallujah. It was the first recorded combat kill with the new optic.

“It was kind of a big deal with the sniper community to get the first kill with the new scope,” said Gunnery Sgt. Paul Starner, platoon sergeant for the battalion’s Scout-Sniper Platoon, who squeezed off the shot. “After the kill, we did a picture-perfect extraction. They didn’t even know we were there.”

The scope’s ability to allow Marines to target insurgents wasn’t a one-time stint, though. Marines in the platoon reaffirmed the scope’s combat utility seven times since then, according to Starner.

The new scope came into service in November 2005, but the battalion’s snipers didn’t get them until December, giving the platoon just one month to learn how to use it before the battalion deployed in January. The Schmidt & Bender scope replaced the aging fixed 10x Unertl scope Marines have used for decades.

“Right away, they said to learn on it, train with it, then deploy,” said Starner, 33, from Kansas City, Mo.

He said snipers in the Marine Corps had been asking for a variable scope for years, and the new scope was selected from a number of different models through field-testing by Marine sniper instructors in Quantico, Va., last summer.

Not every scout-sniper was initially impressed with the scope. Most of the shooters are tried-and-true gun nuts and convincing these Marines to part with proven products of the past was tough. Still, after seeing it in action, they have a new love.

“I was opposed to this scope for the simple fact that it’s metric and most Americans are used to yards,” Starner said. “But now that we’ve got it, launched it and used it, it’s an outstanding scope.”

He said snipers got around the difference in measurement standards by using a simple formula to convert yards to meters.

“I carry a calculator with me everywhere I go,” Starner said. “It’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks.”

The new Schmidt & Bender allows better positive target identification, according to 2nd Lt. Jake Cusack, Sniper Platoon commander. The Schmidt & Bender scope has a greater light-gathering capability, boasting a 50 mm objective lens and illuminated mil-dot reticle pattern, better adapted to drop insurgents at a distance in low light conditions as well as daylight.

“The scope allows them to make more precise adjustments,” Cusak explained. “The variable power lets you look at multiple targets or moving targets and pick one then zoom in.”

The new scope is more durable than its predecessor, as well. It handles better in the field. Marines are rough on their gear and need equipment that can stand up to bumps and bruises expected in tough combat environments. So far, the new scope demonstrated less risk of losing sight alignment. It held a battle-sight zero through a variety of combat applications.

“With the old scopes, you’d lose the zero if you bumped it,” Starner said. “I haven’t had any problems with this one keeping its BZO.”

“It gives them more confidence in the placement of their shots, even if they’ve been out operating for a month or so,” Cusack said.

That confidence will aid the Marines’ mission, providing overwatch for patrols and interrupting IED emplacement in the area.

“On the battlefield we’re in right now, the sniper and his rifle is the most precise weapon system available to the commander,” said Cusack, 23, from Detroit. “With all of our concerns with rules of engagement, discrimination and engaging targets, the sniper can guarantee that he’s applying one 7.62 mm bullet to one very specific target.”

“We’re here to find the enemy and kill him, and that’s what we’re doing,” Starner said. “Any time you make them think twice about what they’re doing, you’re doing your job. I want it in their heads that we’re watching them.”

Every Marine in the platoon has at least one deployment under their belts, and all but two are formally-trained snipers.

The match of superior weapons, optics and highly-trained professionals is proving to be a boon for the battalion.

“It’s almost unheard of,” Starner said. “We’re the only platoon in the country with that many school-trained snipers. I’ve got numerous honor graduates, Instructor’s Choice, all quality Marines, hand-picked.”

They are veterans with cool-nerves of steel and practical experience behind their weapons. That spells nothing short of a death sentence for insurgents.

“I’m confident this is one of the most veteran and trained sniper platoons in the country right now,” Cusack said.

II MEF FROs break down the numbers for force preservation and family readiness

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C.--(March 9, 2006) -- Family Readiness Officers from II Marine Expeditionary Force gathered at Marston Pavilion March 9, to put a new emphasis on old policies. With 65 percent of II MEF back from combat tours in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and the rest slated to return shortly, “family readiness” has taken a new tone to address stateside issues.


Submitted by:
II Marine Expeditionary Force
Story by:
Computed Name: Sgt. Tracee L. Jackson
Story Identification #:

“Normally, our meetings have a broader context,” began Lt. Col. Robert C. Michaud, II MEF FRO. “This meeting deals more with what could be called force preservation issues,” he said.

The motivation to reiterate force preservation and emphasize the practice of safety training is a proactive step to rededicate Corps-wide efforts to reduce mishaps by 70 percent before fiscal year 2008, said Michaud.

A presentation given by Lt. Col. Mike Miller, Deputy II MEF safety officer, reflected a sobering statistical analysis - 27 II MEF Marines have died in vehicle-related deaths since the beginning of the fiscal year in October.

Miller continued to say at the current rate, with a little more than half of the fiscal year ahead, 2006 could have higher numbers than each of the past five years.

Miller emphasized that while service members may overlook the inherent risks of operating a car, truck or motorcycle, nothing about safety is cliché.

“It’s beyond saying ‘you’ll put an eye out,’” he added. “This is about mitigating the severity of hazards by using (Operational Risk Management).”

ORM consists of identifying the hazard, assessing the risk, making risk decisions, implementing controls, and supervising, said Miller.

“According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics, every motor vehicle operator will get into a significant collision every fourteen years,” said Miller, pointing out that 42 percent more fatal crashes occur in rural than urban areas, highlighting Camp Lejeune.

Miller pointed out that it’s not always a life that’s on the line when it comes to vehicle crashes. Other repercussions of unsafe driving include citations, property damage, physical disability, and an expensive or embarrassing legal process.

“It’s easy to have no (driving under the influence) charges or speeding tickets when you’re in Iraq,” said II MEF commanding general, Lt. Gen. James F. Amos. “In the rear, it’s something quite different.”

The FROs of II MEF are fighting the statistics with an aggressive force preservation campaign which includes workshops, lectures and mentorship programs designed to make safe practices a stronghold within the Marine Corps down to the small unit level. By spreading education throughout the Corps, unsafe practices can be mitigated, said Miller.

Campaigns are ongoing throughout the units within II MEF. Any service member or concerned party can learn more about the MC fight against vehicular deaths by contacting the Marine Corps Community Services safety division at (910) 451-5725.

Marines reservists training downtown

March 9, 2006 - Expect to see men and women in uniform and their Humvees in Toledo over the next few days.


For the second time this year, members of the 1st Battalion, 24th Marines will hold training exercises in the Toledo area. The Marines are from Lansing, Michigan and Perrysburg, Ohio. They were also in Toledo at the beginning of February.
The Madison building downtown will serve as the staging area from Thursday morning through early Sunday morning. City officials say this drill will be larger in scope than previous exercises, and will also include other areas in Lucas and Ottawa Counties. The city says downtown visitors shouldn't experience any disruptions.

The Marines consider the training important in preparing for deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. The drill is scheduled to begin around 6:00 p.m. Thursday and end at 3:00 a.m. Sunday.

1/7 deploys to Iraq for third time

More than 900 Marines and Sailors with 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, began their seven-month deployment to Iraq during the final three days of February.


Lance Cpl. Michael S. Cifuentes

Combat Correspondent

The unit departed the Combat Center in three waves from Sunday to Tuesday morning, boarding buses at the Del Valle parking lot.

Family members of the servicemen joined the battalion on their final day at the Combat Center to say goodbye and wish their loved ones a safe return.

The battalion has been training since their return from Operation Iraqi Freedom 2 in March 2005, focusing on stability and support operations and maintaining their overall combat readiness.

This will be the battalion's third deployment to Iraq in support of the ongoing global war on terrorism.

According to the battalion's Web page, 1/7 began its march toward Baghdad during OIF 1 in March 2003 and saw significant combat action along the way and in the streets of the Iraqi capital.

In August 2004, the battalion deployed to western Iraq in support of OIF 2. There the battalion conducted security operations in cities and roadways along the Euphrates River and Syrian border.

Upon arriving to Iraq this time, the battalion will be split up into smaller units operating in different cities in western Iraq, again in Al Anbar province.

They will be tasked with conducting operations with Iraqi Security Forces in support of OIF.

Some battalion members are familiar with combat deployments, such as 22-year-old Lance Cpl. Andrew D. Surovec.

Surovec, an infantryman with Baker Company, deployed to Iraq twice with 1/7 and is eager for his third and final deployment, he said.

"I feel like I am more than ready for this deployment," said the Millhall, Pa., native. "I've been on two deployments with this unit and I'm comfortable going into this. I know it won't be like our last two, but I'm sure I won't see anything that I haven't seen before. My unit is ready for any situation that we get into. I trust the men I'm going with from the most senior Marine to the junior Marines.

"We trained hard for this day," continued Surovec. "We raided military operations in urban terrain facilities here. We had a combined arms exercise evolution that I've never seen in all my years here. We had every combat element training with us. We are well prepared for the deployment and have the ability to be successful out there. I'll miss home and talking to my parents but our camaraderie is definitely an added bonus. We're going to Iraq to do what we do best, which is win fights and take names."

Other members of the battalion haven't had the experience of a deployment, such as 19-year-old Pfc. Luke N. Doty, a machine gunner with Baker Company. His older brother, Jordan Doty, came to the Combat Center to say goodbye to him and show him support before his first combat deployment.

"I told my brother how proud of him I am for doing this," said Jordan. "This is his first deployment and I know he's ready for it. I'm going to send him plenty of e-mails to cheer him up a bit. I have been trying to spend weekends and hang out with him before he goes. I'm very proud of all his friends here and the Marines and Sailors who volunteered for this."

After the buses departed from the parking lot and exited the Combat Center's main gate, family members walked away with tears, longing for the day they will hug their Marines and Sailors again.

"Right before he left I asked him not to be a hero and make sure he just comes home," said Kristin Pereyra, wife of Staff Sgt. James C. Pereyra, a platoon sergeant with Baker Company. "I told him he was already a hero to his family. It's a heartbreaking day. These deployments never change for our family. We'll write him everyday. Byron [Pereyra's son] and I snuck a few letters in his pack already."

Eleven-year-old Byron comforted his mother as they walked away from the parking lot after the battalion left.

Marines Bring War to VA

NORFOLK -- "Bam, bam, bam," barked the Jordanian sniper's AK-47 from a second-floor window.

Twenty yards away, a squad of Marines ducked behind mud-colored huts in the Iraqi village. Eyes and M-16 rifles scanned nearby windows and doorways.


Media General News Service
Thursday, March 9, 2006

"Man down!" The sniper's bullets had struck Lance Cpl. Scott Tate.

Squad mates grabbed Tate by his flak jacket and dragged him 50 yards away while firing their rifles. Several women screamed curses in Arabic.

But the bullets were blanks; the huts plywood, the women actors and the wounds make-believe.

Tate and his fellow Marines were getting some practice before their expected deployment to Iraq this summer.

During the past two weeks, 2,200 Marines and sailors of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit have invaded the Hampton Roads region, conducting practice raids in residential neighborhoods from Franklin to Virginia Beach, inspecting trucks and cars entering Norfolk's port terminal and patrolling a makeshift Iraqi village near abandoned barracks at the giant Norfolk naval base.

It's the first time the Marines have conducted combat training in the Norfolk area.

The troops can't get urban training at Camp Lejeune, their North Carolina home base, said Capt. David Nevers, the unit's spokesman.

Despite its unlikely location on the nation's largest naval base, the village is a bucolic scene.

Iraqis kicked a soccer ball. A sheik held court in front of his hut. Laundry hung on clotheslines. An Iraqi flag flapped in the brisk March wind.

A dozen Marines warily walked through the quiet village.

But lurking in the windows were snipers. Rocket-propelled grenades and improvised explosive devices -- IEDs -- awaited.

Within seconds, all hell broke lose. "Ka-Boom!" -- an IED blew up. Insurgents and Marines traded bursts of machine-gun fire. Smoke and noise assaulted the senses.

It was like the real thing ... or the movies. The flash, bangs, blood and guts were thanks to a team of Hollywood producers, actors, special-effects masters and make-up artists.

Many of the villagers are Iraqi-Americans or from the Middle East, recruited by Stu Segall, a California television producer who runs Strategic Operations, a side business that trains Marines and law enforcement agencies.

The 40-person crew has costumes, make-up, props and pyrotechnics -- all the elements of Hollywood magic -- to make the training as realistic as possible.

"This is the best training we've had," said Lance Cpl. Tate. "There's more moving parts and realism."

The make-believe is very believable, said Cpl. Chason Smith, who has completed a combat tour in Iraq. The firefight in the village was so intense, Smith admitted his adrenaline was pumping.

"It's an eye-opener," Smith said. "There's just so much we can tell (the new Marines) but having it happen to them, they'll learn better."

Sgt. James Parker, a two-time Iraq veteran who led his squad through the fake village, said the training gives a taste of Iraq and the proper mindset.

"I'd rather make mistakes here," he added.

Tate, who has not yet been in combat, is hopeful the training will help.

"I'm not sure how I'll react (in Iraq). I'd like to think I'll react as well there as I did here," Tate said.

Some of the training has taken place in residential neighborhoods, miles from the naval base.

On Monday night, a platoon of Marines stormed an old National Guard armory across from a Presbyterian church near the Virginia Zoo. A few days earlier, several Marine officers visited hundreds of homes and apartments in the neighborhood to warn residents about the exercise. Police blocked nearby intersections.

The Marines were told IEDs were being made at the armory.

Waiting inside were 17 Marines and sailors acting as armed insurgents. Firing guns loaded with "sim rounds," paint-filled ammunition, the Marines and terrorists battled for 20 minutes as the troops searched the building.

Pfc. William Weaver, a "terrorist," was hiding in a room when the Marines broke in.

"I got off as many rounds as I could before they wasted me," he said. "I think I got one of them."

Unlike paintballs, the "sim rounds" sting despite the bulletproof vests the Marines wore.

"It doesn't hurt at first because your adrenaline is pumping," Weaver said. "But, once you're dead, the pain comes on."

For neighbors, the training was painless.

A few ventured out to see the Marines, but most stayed inside.

"I thought it was neighborhood watch," said resident Brian Jackson, after the Marines left.

Jackson said having the Marines train in the neighborhood was all right with him. "We need the Marines to be as sharp as possible," he added.

Conducting the training in a city is important, Marines said.

"The variety is the key," said Capt. Ralph Hershfelt, Bravo Company commander. "This isn't Lejeune or Twentynine Palms (a Marine Corps base in California). This is a no-kidding urban environment."

While the danger of being blown up by a roadside bomb is very low in Norfolk, the problem of driving unfamiliar streets is real. On the way to the practice raid at the armory, the Marines made a wrong turn and got lost. That can happen in Iraq.

James W. Crawley reports from Washington for Media General News Service.

3/4 Mourns loss of Marine

Saddened Marines and Sailors aboard the Combat Center gathered at the Protestant Chapel Feb. 24 for a memorial service mourning the loss of a Marine with 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment.


Lance Cpl. Michael S. Cifuentes

Combat Correspondent

Pfc. Richard Keith Weaver II, who was an infantryman with India Company, 3/4, died Feb. 22 during a morning physical training run with his platoon.

The 19-year-old Muskegon, Mich., native joined the battalion Feb. 17, enjoyed the 72-hour President's Day liberty period, and began his occupation in the fleet Feb. 21.

The Protestant Chapel was filled with service members who came to celebrate the life of Weaver and share sorrows of his loss. Pfc. Thomas H. Bertram, another infantryman who joined the battalion from the School of Infantry, Camp Pendleton, Calif., with Weaver, spoke of him during the service.

"Pfc. Weaver was my best friend - I knew him from SOI," said Bertram. "He was a good person. He was very easygoing and a fun person to hang out with. I have a few memories with him, one of which when we spent a few days in San Diego. He was talking about going to Sea World one day, and I mentioned there was going to be a hockey game in town. Immediately he said 'Cool, let's go to the game.' And that's what kind of person he is. He'd just rather spend time with a good friend, doing something that would just be a good time. He was always around to help other people and always there to talk.

"It's going to take a while to face that my best friend will no longer be here training alongside me anymore," he added.

Lt. Matthew Weems, the battalion chaplain, spoke during the memorial service as well. He spoke to Weaver's mother before the service to comfort her and explain the incident. Weems said his mother was at first confused how a Marine could die when they're not in combat or deployed. She still understood why it could happen, said Weems.

"She [Weaver's mother] told me he died doing what he wanted to do since 10th grade," said Weems. "We think these things are only supposed to happen in the battlefield, but it doesn't. Weaver was just following the plan of the day. He was doing his job and trying to achieve the goal of his unit. We don't know why these things happen. It's unfortunate.

"He was known to be a shy, young man, yet steadfast," continued Weems. "If he was here today, he would tell us to keep going. He would ask us to not look back and focus on our future."

The ceremony concluded with the playing of "Taps."

HMM-268 takes over CASEVAC and aviation support missions from HMM-161

AL TAQADDUM, Iraq (Mar. 9, 2006) -- In what has become a familiar routine, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 161, Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, passed responsibility for casualty evacuation and general aviation support missions in Iraq Feb. 25 to HMM-268, MAG-16, 3rd MAW, ending another successful deployment to the newly democratic nation.


Submitted by: 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing
Story Identification #: 200639113237
Story by Cpl. Jonathan K. Teslevich

"I was amazed at how smoothly things had gone here considering the extra flights and maintenance required for the mission. We had no aircraft suffer a mechanical breakdown and saved over 400 lives," said Lt. Col. Robert M. Brassaw, commanding officer, HMM-161. "Not only did we save American lives, but also Iraqi, who are stepping up to the fight. The deployment has been rewarding in that regard. We accomplished a mission that was more than anticipated as our mission morphed into so much more."

"I set a very high benchmark for my Marines and I could not have asked for anything more than they performed," said the Cape Corral, Fla., native.

Brassaw's senior enlisted leader, Sgt. Maj. William F. Fitzgerald III, echoed his commanding officer's glowing remarks on the performance of the Greyhawks in a slightly different manner.

"I'm not sure who coined the phrase 'swing with the wing,' but from what I've seen and learned from each one of the Marines out here, that person does not have a clue," declared Fitzgerald. "There is certainly no swinging around here."

According to Brassaw, part of the transfer of authority had the Greyhawks making sure each department head passed guidance to their HMM-268 counterpart. This impartation of knowledge made sure the Red Dragons were better prepared than the Greyhawks were upon their arrival.

"The Greyhawks have been gracious hosts. Whether it is our pilots, aircrew or maintenance Marines, all have been treated well during the turnover," said Lt. Col. Patrick A. Gramuglia, commanding officer, HMM-268. "We have been here before, but there are new nuances to the base, the workspaces and missions that the Marines with HMM-161 have passed down to us during the turnover."

The great turnover was to be expected from the top Marine medium helicopter squadrons in 2004 and 2005. The two squadrons performed their first turnover of responsibility in August 2004 and had always had a good professional relationship, commented Fitzgerald, a Big Rapids, Mich., native.

"The experienced pilots with HMM-161 have been flying with our experienced pilots, showing them the routes, key land features and approach patterns," said Sgt. Maj. Donald C. Miller, HMM-268 sergeant major. "Also, the crew chiefs have been training up HMM-268 crew chiefs on the obstacles at the landing zones."

In addition to the pilots and crews, the squadrons' maintenance Marines picked up their toolboxes and wrenches side-by-side to keep the aging helicopters flying right.

"We have integrated each shop, and it's working out really well," said Cpl. Travis N. Ladegast, a flight line mechanic with HMM-268. "For the experienced Marines in the squadron, the ones that are old hands and have been out here before, performing aircraft maintenance in this environment is no big thing."

The time deployed to Iraq will be a good learning experience for the junior Marines with the Red Dragons, indicated Ladegast, a Rockford, Mich., native.

"We will teach them the by-the-book way to do things, but also the way to do things out here, to get the job done right and on time," stated Ladegast, a veteran of multiple deployments to Iraq. "They will learn a lot out here. There are fewer distractions than back home. No worrying about what to do at (4 p.m.)."

The experienced and junior Marines with HMM-268 know the mission ahead, and are hungry to get in the fight and give HMM-161 a break, explained Miller, a Lawrenceville, N.J., native.

"Now, we are more than ready. We have trained with the gear to support the CASEVAC and ground missions," stated Gramuglia, a San Diego native. "But, make no mistake about it, this place is not home. It is still dangerous. However, the Marines are motivated in their mission to support the Marines and soldiers on the ground."

March 8, 2006

Marine engineers ‘dig’ broad mission in Iraq

CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq (March 8, 2006) -- Whether they’re sweeping for improvised explosive devices, reinforcing outlying posts or joining foot patrols, combat engineers with 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, stay busy.


Submitted by: 1st Marine Division
Story Identification #: 200631442330
Story by Cpl. William Skelton

“When it comes to being an engineer, our field is so broad,” said Gunnery Sgt. Anthony J. Easton, the 30-year-old engineer platoon sergeant from Saint Cloud, Minn. “We really focus on survivability, mobility, counter-mobility and things of that nature.”

The engineers support the battalion in a variety of ways. Recently, engineers fortified the Iraqi Police station in Gharmah against attacks by insurgents, Easton explained. Improvements there made the station easier to defend and more survivable. It’s a constant mission, one that calls for continuous vigilance.

They provided construction of barriers and other forms of protection for the Marines around Fallujah. Engineers also provide critical support daily for detecting weapons that could be used to create improvised explosive devices.

“We seem to focus a lot on cache sweeps,” Easton said. “There aren’t too many days that we don’t go out and not find something.”

Teams accompanied platoons on patrol and supported them by performing cache sweeps. The engineers carried metal detectors to search munitions.

“We use metal detectors that allow us to sweep over areas of terrain to find different types of weapons,” said Lance Cpl. Luis J. Acosta, a 19-year-old engineer from Sacramento, Calif.

Lance Cpl. Fernando Barajas, a 20-year-old combat engineer from Memphis, Tenn., said they search nearly everything, but have a good idea of where they’re likely to find buried munitions.

“We search large sand dunes near abandoned houses or wells near crop fields,” Barajas explained.

Acosta added that the weapons caches often have tell-tale signs as well. The ground appears to have been dug and repacked. Marines patrol areas often enough to recognize when such sites look out of place.

“Usually they look fresh, like the sand has been disturbed recently,” he said.

The effort to find and retrieve these buried weapons and munitions is invaluable to the Marines and Iraqi soldiers. Many of the caches are used to manufacture IEDs, used to target roving patrols or as bombs hidden in vehicles. Cutting off the supply of these tools is vital to starving the insurgents of their resources to conduct attacks. Combat engineers are uniquely qualified for this sort of work.

“Combat engineers are a resource that cannot have a measure of worth placed on them,” Easton said. “The range of services they provide are immeasurable if they are used efficiently.”

That added value to the infantry isn’t lost on the average Marine. They know that with each buried bomb engineers find, another Marine’s life was saved.

“We wouldn’t be able to do our jobs thoroughly without the help of the engineers, said Cpl. Paul A. Bennett, a 21-year-old squad leader with Weapons Company from San Diego.

It’s the variety of skills the combat engineers harbor that enable them to flex to the adapting environment and work find a role in nearly every mission.

“When graduated from boot camp I really didn’t know what exactly I would be doing most of the time,” Barajas said. “I thought I would be doing mostly construction.”

Nearly every day, combat engineers are unearthing buried weapons or building improvements for force protection. It’s a job they see tangible results and know their work keeps Marines safe.

“Every day we have the opportunity to get weapons out of the hands of insurgents or make some building a little safer to work in,” Barajas said. “It makes me proud to know I am helping to save Marines lives.

Protesters target next funeral

As mourners arrived for the funeral of Pfc. Allan Morr, a protester's sign read, "God hates you."

There were just four protesters, one of them a child. But their presence - as family and friends said goodbye to Morr, 21, who was killed while serving in Iraq - still sent an angry chill through the community. Local residents called their message and tactics offensive.


Wednesday, March 08, 2006
By Marjory Raymer

Now, the protesters are planning a return visit. This weekend, about 10 protesters are expected at the funeral of Spc. Joshua Youmans, 26, who died last week after fighting for more than three months to recover from severe burns he sustained when his Humvee hit a land mine while on patrol in Iraq.

Now, the protesters are planning a return visit.

This weekend, about 10 protesters are expected at the funeral of Spc. Joshua Youmans, 26, who died last week after fighting for more than three months to recover from severe burns he sustained when his Humvee hit a land mine while on patrol in Iraq.

The protesters are from Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan. The church and its pastor, the Rev. Fred Phelps, have gained national notoriety for their condemnation of homosexuality, abortion and what they consider to be America's lax morals.

Their methods - purposely shocking - combine slurs and name-calling with quotes from Scripture at emotionally charged events. Funerals have become a favorite venue.

"We were there because our job is to cause America to know her abominations," said Shirley Phelps-Roper, Phelps' daughter and the church's attorney, in a telephone interview. Her daughter attended Morr's funeral.

The deaths of soldiers like Morr and Youmans are part of God's wrath on America because of all its sins, Phelps-Roper said.

And members of the church oppose the war itself because, "Our position is that this nation was duped," she said.

Some of their signs read, "You're going to hell" and "God is America's terror." Another said "fag vets" and displayed stick figures having gay sex.

Their presence Monday at Morr's funeral sparked outrage.

"I find it incredible and appalling that people professing faith in God would attack a family in mourning," said Maryion Lee, chairwoman of the Progressive Caucus of the Genesee County Democratic Party.

"Although I have always been opposed to this war, I only have the utmost respect and compassion for those who have been ordered to war and for their families who are suffering the life-altering loss of a loved one."

John Nickola, an Army veteran and frequent protester of the war in Iraq, puts things a bit more bluntly. He calls them "cuckoo."

"It's mean. It's cruel and it's nonsensical," Nickola said. "You can oppose the war - and I do - and you can oppose these fine kids being killed.

"To do this (funeral protesting), desecrates the family."

The protesters potentially face a legal backlash for their actions.

State Rep. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, plans to introduce legislation to ban protests within an hour of the start of a funeral and two hours after, as well as keep protesters 500 feet away. Violation would be a misdemeanor.

"It certainly in an un-American travesty that someone would protest a veteran's funeral," Jones said. "Demonstrating in front of a funeral is the same as inciting a riot."

At Morr's funeral Monday, the Rev. Larry Walker of Bristol Road Church of Christ passed out coffee to the crowd gathered outside. One of the protesters across the street called him a "whore."

"I've never been called a whore before. I guess if you are going to be one, be one for God," Walker said.

While Walker's church also believes all sex outside of marriage, including homosexuality, is a sin, it also teaches that God loves everyone, he said. He called the protest and its message "unfortunate."

"They are misguided and they evidently don't feel the love of God in their heart," Walker said. "I don't understand those people. I just know God loves them."

He warned church members about the upcoming protest and encouraged them to have a positive attitude.

"The man that died, died for them to have the right to do that," Walker said.

Approximately 45 members of the Patriot Guard, most of whom are bikers, also attended the service for Morr. They attend military funerals nationwide - at the family's invitation - in part to shield them from protesters with a wall of flying flags.

"We hide the signs with Old Glory. We're not counter-protesters.

The flag is a show of support," said Bob "Tater" Smith, of Sandusky, Ohio, who attended Morr's funeral. "We're just Americans trying to do the right thing."

There were at least six uniformed and an unknown number of plainclothes police officers at the funeral, although there were no major confrontations.

The protesters at Morr's funeral had packed up and left by the time the funeral was over.

Westboro Baptist Church members have protested more than 100 funerals since June, Phelps-Roper said.

They were in Michigan one other time, in Constantine near the Indiana border.

Now, in a matter of one week, they will come twice to Genesee County.

"We try to get to all of (soldier's funerals), but that's not possible because we are a little group of people and we have a lot to do in a day," said Phelps-Roper, who schedules most of their funeral protests.

They decided to come again "to get the attention" of people in Michigan and because they saw Youmans' funeral being held so soon after services for Morr. About 10 members are planning to attend Saturday's funeral, all of them women so far, Phelps-Roper said.

At Youmans' funeral, tentatively planned for Saturday, the protesters will stand across the street or wherever police tell them to stand, Phelps-Roper said. They will stand on American flags and hold up their signs.

Such actions provoke shock and anger, emotions not lost on Phelps-Roper.

"I don't care. It's not our job to make them listen. They are not going to change their ways. It's too late for this nation," Phelps-Roper said.


©2006 Flint Journal
© 2006 Michigan Live. All Rights Reserved.

3/8 Marine ready for 3rd deployment

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (March 8, 2006) -- Families and friends gathered with their Marines, helping them with their packs and giving them that one last hug for the seven months they’ll be apart. Hugs and kisses from families to Marines seemed synchronized as if there was a cue card letting them know when to do it.


Submitted by: 2nd Marine Division
Story Identification #: 2006381370
Story by Lance Cpl. Lucian Friel

And for Lance Cpl. Ron G. Kramer, a Marine with 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, this was an all too familiar scene having been deployed three times in the last two years.

The Pittsburgh, Penn. native deployed to Haiti from March to June in 2004, then to Iraq from January to August 2005 and is returning to Iraq after being home for about six months.

“I’m a little anxious, but I’m used to being deployed, so for me, it’s not that big of a deal,” explained the 2003 Montour High School graduate.

During all three deployments, Kramer has been with the same battalion. His last deployment was to the city of Fallujah in the Al Anbar province of Iraq, where he was a team leader in the battalion commander’s personal security detachment.

Kramer’s job was to provide security for the battalion commander during every operation, escorting him from point A to point B. He was also responsible for setting up the mobile combat operation center (COC) during these operations and conducting cordoned searches and raids.

Although Kramer’s location in Iraq will be different, his job has not changed.

“I’ll be doing the same thing I did the first time out there,” explained the 21-year-old veteran. “I just have to not be complacent when I’m out there and be open to learn new things even though I’ve ‘been there and done that.’”

Upon his return from his third deployment, Kramer will only have six months on his current enlistment contract. He has high hopes and big plans for both his deployment and the end of his enlistment.

“During my deployment I hope to get some time to lift weights, go on patrols and get some bad guys,” he explained. “When we get back from Iraq I hope to get promoted again and then I’ll probably get out (of the Corps) and go onto college at the University of Pittsburgh.”

As Kramer stepped onto the bus to head out for his flight, his thoughts naturally fell to his loved ones back home in Pittsburgh; his mother Barb; father Ron; two sisters Mara and Michel; and his girlfriend Hollie. He said although they are used to his deployments, they are never comfortable with them.

“They know that I’ll be safe and that I’ll keep in contact with them,” he said. “Hopefully this will be the last one they have to go through.”

Kramer is scheduled to deploy for about six to seven months, but he is confident that his prior experience will get him through it.

“I definitely have a lot more confidence this time than I did the last time, but that just comes with knowing what to expect,” Kramer explained.

Kramer originally joined the Marine Corps to “develop a sense of discipline” in his life. And after three combat tours under his belt and four years of active duty he said he definitely believes he accomplished that.

Bikers plan ride to help group that assists injured Marines

PEQUANNOCK -- A motorcycle club has pledged to help a Pompton Plains group that aids injured Marines.

California-based Rebels With a Cause has pledged half its proceeds from an upcoming cross-country trip to the Family & Friends for Freedom Fund, which helps families of Marines hurt in action with unexpected expenses.


Bikers plan ride to help group that assists injured Marines

Wednesday, March 8, 2006


The Sturla family started the fund in January 2005, after a grenade severely injured Staff Sgt James Sturla's arm and hand in Iraq. He is on the mend after a series of surgeries.

To date, the family's efforts have raised $70,000 for 15 Marines and their families, said Paula Sturla, James Sturla's sister-in-law. They've helped families purchase plane tickets and gas money and donated money to make a house wheelchair accessible.

Rebels With a Cause pledged its support after a Sacramento-based biker and former Marine nicknamed "Viper" found out about the Sturlas' work.

"We really feel that the approach they [the Sturlas] take -- providing direct resources -- was as strong a gift as you could give," said Kathleen Moore, a founder of Rebels With a Cause. The group hopes to donate $10,000 to the Pompton Plains group.

Sturla also is arranging a bikers' ride on May 27. The group will set out from Kinnelon and travel to Maryland, where they will meet the California bikers. The two groups will then travel to Washington, D.C., to attend Rolling Thunder, an annual bikers' gathering that honors prisoners of war and soldiers missing in action. Proceeds from the trip also will benefit the Family & Friends for Freedom Fund.

Bikers who want join the Kinnelon group can call Paula Sturla at (973) 831-9899. The cost is $300 per person, and includes two nights of accommodation, breakfasts and a T-shirt.

E-mail: [email protected]


Mobile soldier tribute coming to Lancaster

LANCASTER - Rising Park will be the setting during St. Patrick's Day weekend for a mobile memorial to Ohio's fallen soldiers from the Iraq War.

"It's one of the most moving memorials you will see," said Andy Leavitt, one of organizers and a board member for the Ohio Flags of Honor Foundation.


The Eagle-Gazette Staff
[email protected]

The memorial was established originally as part of the ceremony welcoming home the U.S. Marines Reserve unit from Lima Company, 3rd Battalion/25th Regiment, who returned to central Ohio after serving eight months in Iraq. They had lost 22 soldiers, 16 from Ohio.

American Legion Post 164 and Leavitt set up a tribute of flags at Rickenbacker Field, south of Columbus. Each flag represented one of the fallen.

"There was a surge in patriotism because Ohioans were taking a licking right then," Leavitt said. "When someone fell, it felt like one of our own family."

The flags drew so much praise, Leavitt said, he found people asking if it could be displayed in other cities.

So a nonprofit organization was formed and the flags went on the road.

On March 17, the display will be set up in Lancaster.

There are 294 tribute poles to veteran's organizations representing the people lost in previous conflicts, and there will be 106 flags mounted with the name, rank and branch of service of all Ohioans killed in action from Iraq and Afghanistan.

"We are lucky to have this tribute coming to Lancaster," Mayor Dave Smith said during a planning meeting last Friday. "It is an honor for this moving tribute to be here."

Leavitt said the opening ceremony will include veterans from the conflict, family members and a patriotic salute - including a 21-gun salute performed by the Lancaster American Legion Burial Honor Detail. A reception will follow.

Veteran's organizations, along with Scouting organizations, and law enforcement agencies will participate.

"It is our way to let the families of the fallen know we stand beside them and can show we recognize their loss," Leavitt said.

Originally published March 8, 2006

Marines train Nigerian troops

CAMP TAHOUA, Niger (Mar. 8, 2006) -- A company of Milwaukee, Wis. based reserve Marines taught Nigerian soldiers the basics of security and stability operations (SASO) during exercise Shared Accord 06.


Submitted by: Marine Forces Europe
Story Identification #: 200631063024
Story by Cpl. Enrique Saenz

The Marines of 2nd Platoon, F Company, 2nd Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment, held a SASO seminar March 8th, where they taught a platoon of Forces Armees Nigerians soldiers basic search procedures and compliance techniques as part of the exercise, which runs March 5-18.

Two Marines led the class, Lance Cpls. Brandt M. Foltman and Pat J. Vanderwal, as they demonstrated the proper way to approach detainees during searches. The Marines stressed the importance of using the proper amount of force on a detainee, and the value of staying alert during searches.

"The Nigerians are being taught the fundamentals of searching a subject," said Staff Sgt. Michael T. Connolly, platoon commander, 2nd Plt., F Co., 2nd Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment. "Searching an individual without degrading them is very important in real-world situations, like in Iraq, and they're learning to determine when a certain amount of force is necessary."

Most of the company’s Marines are Operation Iraqi Freedom veterans and are well versed in the critical skills involved with SASO operations.

"(SASO) operations are important to practice to maintain security for the sake of the local infrastructure and to maintain continued security for the local populace, so they can continue on with their day-to-day lives without having to be afraid of terrorism," said Lance Cpl. Michael J. Finley, a rifleman with 3rd Plt., E Co., a platoon attached in support of the exercise.

Meeting the Nigerians was an interesting experience to some Marines.

"I didn't know what to expect from (the Nigerians) at first," said Lance Cpl. Kyle P. Blades, a rifleman with the battalion. "But as soon as they saw what we were teaching them, their enthusiasm to learn took over and were anxious to try the techniques on each other."

Marines teamed up with the Nigerian soldiers after the class in order to practice search takedown techniques, a skill necessary to handle non-compliant or hostile detainees.

"The Nigerians are getting almost exactly the same training Marines get before deploying to Iraq," said Connolly. "Before this training, according to one of their officers, their troops hadn't received any sort of search training before."

One of the biggest obstacles in teaching the French-speaking Nigerians was the language barrier. The Marines quickly overcame the obstacle using their Iraqi experiences.

"We had the same problem with the Iraqi National Guard," said Blades. "But luckily, the Nigerians spoke a little English and we spoke a little French, and we met somewhere in the middle. After we showed them physically what to do and how to do it, everything ran smoothly."

Shared Accord 2006 is an exercise that improves the overall planning and operational capabilities of the Trans-Sahara Counter Terrorism Initiative, a U.S. government program designed to help develop the internal security forces necessary to control borders, combat terrorism and other illegal activity.

March 7, 2006

VMM-263 ready to write next chapter in Osprey program

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION NEW RIVER, N.C. (March 7, 2006) -- The future of Marine Corps aviation took a large step forward as hundreds of Marines, Sailors, Airmen, Soldiers and family members gathered to watch a ceremony in which the first operational MV-22 Osprey squadron was activated here March 3.


Submitted by: MCAS New River
Story Identification #: 2006379528
Story by Lance Cpl. Samuel D. White

“Commissioning (Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron-263) is a historic day for the ‘Thunder Chickens,’ for our Corps and for our nation,” said Maj. Gen. Thomas L. Moore, 2d Marine Aircraft Wing commanding general. “We have introduced a transformational aircraft into our nation’s forces with the ‘Thunder Chickens.’”
A transformational aircraft because it capitalizes on both the best aspects of the rotary wing and the best aspects of the fixed wing turbo-propeller, Moore explained.

“The (Osprey) is much more survivable than the (CH-46E ‘Sea Knight’) because of it’s range and it’s speed,” said Moore. “It’s a much more capable aircraft and we expect it to perform (excellent) in battle.”

A capable aircraft that has been in the making since the early 1960’s, some feel the delay has produced the best result.

“I have to tell you, waiting for something this good has been worth while,” said Gen. Robert Magnus, assistant commandant of the Marine Corps. “This is a tremendous aircraft. While we are at war, it is a tremendously more survivable platform for the Marines who are in the fight.”

VMM-263, home to more than 150 Marines and the successor to Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron-263 which cased its colors in June 2005, will carry on the proud name, “Thunder Chickens,” and also the legacy of the former CH-46E “Sea Knight” squadron.

Honored to carry on the name, “Thunder Chickens,” the Marines of VMM-263 are thrilled by the chance to become the first operational Osprey squadron, said Sgt. Maj. Grant VanOostrom, VMM-263 sergeant major.

“They are very excited because they see it as a culmination of those who have gone before them,” said VanOostrom. “They just happen to be the chosen ones who get to bring it into its current existence; we get to reap the rewards of others.”

And VMM-263 can be expected to reap the almost countless rewards, such as being able to travel at speeds of nearly 300 mph, twice the speed of any current helicopter, have up to five times the range of travel and carry three times the payload.

“The Osprey will allow us to self-deploy these aircraft from New River, or (Air Station) Miramar, across the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, to anywhere this great nation wants to plant its flag within two to three days,” said Magnus.

Uncertain of the exact date when the Osprey will be supporting ground forces overseas, the squadron feels assured that it will be in the near future.

“We expect VMM-263 to be deployed within the coming year,” said Moore. “We can’t give an exact date, because we aren’t 100 percent sure.”

“There are two things the American people should know about this aircraft,” said Gen. Michael W. Hagee, 33rd commandant of the Marine Corps, during his visit to Marine Corps Air Station New River Feb. 24. “One, it will change the way we fight; it’s faster, larger, air refuelable and the technology is state of the art. Two, it’s the safest aircraft in our inventory. It’s been tested and proven ready to perform.”

And though tremendous efforts will have to made by the “Thunder Chickens” before the first Osprey squadron is ready to deploy, a sigh of relief can be breathed by the Marines, families and friends of the program who sacrificed so much to get to where the stand up could be possible, said Moore.

“We are bringing forth the new capability to replace what has been the backbone of Marine aviation in the CH-46,” said Moore. “With that capability, we take rotary wing assault support, now tiltrotor wing assault support, ahead into the future and assure the success of Marines in battle. We are committing the Osprey to the gunfight.”

3/8 saddles up once again for fight

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (March 7, 2006) -- The bags were being loaded and the emotions ran high as the Marines of 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment were getting ready to ride back into Iraq to continue the fight on the Global War on Terrorism as they left here March 6.


Submitted by: 2nd Marine Division
Story Identification #: 200637143655
Story by Cpl. Athanasios L. Genos

Many of the Marines in the battalion returned last year in August from a seven-month-long deployment in Fallujah and Karmah, Iraq. The experience and knowledge of what is taking place there is a part of many men’s preparation for what they’ll be getting back into.

“The short turn around for us has been a challenge to the families, but has kept our proficiency at a high level,” explained Capt. Mark Liston, Weapons Company Commander.

The Marines began gathering their things as they stood with their family members one last time before loading the buses and heading off to catch their flight. Although the Marines have not been home for very long, they know what their mission is, explained Liston.

The doors opened and the Marines climbed in as they waved one last time to their fellow Marines and family members there seeing them off for another successful tour in Iraq protecting the freedoms of the United States.

The first leg of the battalion made their way out of Camp Lejeune to meet the Marines they will replace. Their missions may have changed slightly from their previous deployment.

“The basics are what will keep us going over there,” Liston said. “That’s what composed most of our pre-deployment training.”

Liston and all the Marines are prepared to adapt what they have already learned about this enemy, and combine it with the other Marines knowledge of what is happening now to close with and destroy their enemy.

“The combination of our high proficiency and all the recent training has made us ready to accomplish the missions to which we will be tasked,” Liston explained. “The unit we are replacing has had much success and we will incorporate what they have done with our past success to overcome the enemy.”

As the night drew to a close, the families wiped away their tears as they watched their heroes depart for the next chapter in their lives. The streets were cleared and the Marines of the battalion had started their voyage to a far off land where they will fight not only for their families and friends, but also for those in Iraq.

Company C headed back to Iraq

The Lynchburg-based Marine reserve unit that lost five members during its tour in Iraq last year has been reactivated.

The Company C, 4th Combat Engineer Battalion, which has about 150 reservists, will send 45 Marines to Iraq in early summer. The group will train in California before deploying.


By Dionne Waugh
[email protected]
March 7, 2006

Of the 45 Marines, nine who deployed in 2004 volunteered to return. The rest are Marines who have not previously been to Iraq.

“We’re a force in readiness. We’re always prepared to deploy in support of Marine forces,” said Capt. Jamie Wagner, the company’s inspector-instructor.

Company C lost five men, including Lynchburg’s first death in the Iraq war, during its last tour.

Sgt. Jesse Strong, 24, a Liberty University graduate originally from Vermont, died Jan. 26, 2005, along with three other company members when their unit was ambushed during an intense firefight in Iraq’s Anbar Province.

Two other company members - Cpl. Mark Miller, 21, of Forest and Cpl. Timothy Franklin, 25, of Lynchburg - were among four men also injured in the attack.

Miller is one of the Marines planning to return to Iraq.

The company’s first fatal casualty occurred in November 2004 when Bradley Arms, 20, of Charlottesville, died in Fallujah from small arms fire.

The new six- to seven-month activation comes one year to the month after the unit returned from Iraq last year. The company was activated in June 2004, shipped to Iraq in September 2004 and returned March 31, 2005.

Wagner said it’s not uncommon for the company to be reactivated this soon.

“We try to maximize their time back here at the home training site,” he said, “but there’s no set ‘You will not deploy for this amount of time.’ ”

Wagner said several other Marine reservist units have also been deployed several times.

Company C’s skills are in high demand, Wagner said. The company is trained to locate and destroy mines and improvised explosive devices; find and destroy weapons and ammunition caches; conduct mechanical and explosive breaches of obstacles such as buildings; and quick construction of roads, fighting positions and temporary shelters.

When they leave, the 45 Company C Marines will join 35 Marines from Company D, 4th Combat Engineer Battalion, out of Knoxville, Tenn.

Cpl. Mike Detmer, 25, who deployed to Iraq with Company C in 2004, said the Marines should pay attention to their training.

“When I got there, I don’t think I could’ve been trained any better,” he said.

Detmer said the mix of returning Marines and new ones is a good combination.

“The guys going (back) are really good at what they do,” he said. “The new guys are in really good hands.”

Regimental Combat Team 7 wraps up counterinsurgency disruption operation in Al Anbar Province

CAMP AL ASAD, Iraq -- Regimental Combat Team 7 concluded a five-day long disruption operation dubbed Al Asad (Lion) Sunday morning.


The purpose of the operation was to seek out anti-Iraqi forces who have sought refuge in the Jubba/Baghdadi area, which is nestled along the Euphrates River in the western Al Anbar Province, approximately 130 miles west of Baghdad.

The operation further denied insurgents the ability to use the Baghdadi region for refuge and significantly reduced the number of weapons and munitions available to anti- Iraqi forces.

Partnered with Iraqi Army soldiers, Marines, sailors and U.S. soldiers from RCT- 7 discovered 80 weapons and munitions caches, a total of more than 62 tons of material. Sixty-five suspected insurgents were detained as well.

The discovered caches contained multiple types of weapons and ordnance to include: automatic rifles, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, rocket-propelled grenades, hand grenades, 120mm artillery rounds, 130mm artillery rounds, mortar tubes, 60mm mortar rounds, high explosive anti-tank rounds, 122mm rockets and various other projectile-type munitions, which are commonly used by anti Iraqi forces to kill Iraqi civilians, Iraqi Army and coalition forces.

The Iraqi and coalition forces’ presence was well received among the local population.

“I spoke with one man and he invited us in for cold water,” said Col. W. Blake Crowe, commanding officer, RCT-7, recounting his visit to the area assessing the community’s needs. “He invited us back and said his village welcomed our presence.”

Two insurgents were killed as a result of the operation.

Two Iraqi soldiers were killed by a vehicle-borne suicide bomber while manning a security checkpoint near Hit, Iraq, during Operation Al Asad.

No Coalition servicemembers were killed as a result of the operation.

Iraqi Army soldiers and RCT-7 will continue to maintain presence and persist in our efforts to provide a secure environment in western Al Anbar Province.

NEW RIVER AIR STATION HMM-266 troops set to return today

More than 180 Marines and sailors with Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron-266 are returning today from a seven month deployment to Iraq.


March 07,2006

The Marines participated in seven named operations during their deployment, including October’s Operation “River Gate,” an effort to push insurgents and foreign fighters out of the Euphrates River Valley. They also provided security for the elections during Operation “Liberty Express.”

Another 275 Marines and sailors assigned to 2nd Marine Logistics Group are scheduled to return home Wednesday after seven months spent supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.


Marine escapes

on the way to brig

A Cherry Point Marine in custody for desertion escaped Friday en route to the Camp Lejeune brig and still had not been found by Monday afternoon, air station officials said.

Onslow County and Jacksonville law enforcement agencies were told about the escape Friday, said Sheriff Ed Brown and Police Chief Mike Yaniero.

The Marine, identified as Pvt. Corey Byrd, 20, got away in the Midway Park area between Jacksonville and Swansboro.

Byrd is not considered a threat to the public. He was not handcuffed while he was being transported to Lejeune, said Capt. Joshua Truesdale of the Cherry Point public information office.

“We’re treating it like any unauthorized absence case,” Truesdale said. He did not elaborate.

According to reports, Byrd was described as black and about 6 feet, 7 inches tall.


Vaccinations for dogs, cats offered

Safe Harbor Farm’s mobile Kindness Clinic will sponsor a spring vaccine clinic for dogs and cats on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.at the Maysville Fire Department on U.S. 17.

Combination rabies and distemper vaccines will be offered on first-come, first-served basis. Cost for both vaccines is $15 per animal.

On April 1, Kindness Clinic volunteers will be back at the Maysville Fire Department for a heartworm awareness clinic for dogs.

Both clinics are open to the general public.

The clinic also has low-cost spay-neuter surgery appointments available for low-income and multi-pet households in March.

For information on the clinic, visit www.safeharborfarm.org on the Web or call (252) 422-6770.

RCT-5 partners with Iraqi brigade

CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq (March 7, 2006) -- A partnership between Regimental Combat Team 5 and the Iraqi Army here was cemented when commanders from the coalition shook hands yesterday.


Submitted by: 1st Marine Division
Story Identification #: 20063843240
Story by 1st Lt. Nathan Braden

Col. Larry D. Nicholson, RCT-5 commander met with Iraqi Brig. Gen. Abdulla Abdulkareem Abdul Satter, commanding officer of 4th Brigade, 1st Iraqi Army Division for the first time. Nicholson recently assumed control of the region from North Carolina-based Regimental Combat Team 8. The Marine regiment and the Iraqi 4th Brigade are partnered in security operations for the greater Fallujah area.

“One of my first priorities is to meet with each unit working with the RCT in order to get a clear understanding of their issues and build good working relationships,” Nicholson said.

The purpose of the partnership with the Iraqi brigade is to increase the brigade’s capabilities and confidence. In the long term, both Marines and Iraqis plan on transferring complete military authority to Iraqi forces, independent of U.S. support.

“Every day we will do less than the day before,” Nicholson said. “Every day the Iraqis will do more than what they did yesterday.”

Battalions from the 4th Brigade are currently operating in the cities of Fallujah, Gharma and Nasser Wa Salaam.

“We look forward to continue to build on our relationship with the Americans to the benefit of both countries and both militaries,” Abdulla said. “The brigade has been here 18 months and we have been able to overcome the difficulties so far by working closely with the Marines and cooperating with each other.”

Several officers from the RCT-5 staff attended the brief, meeting their counterparts at the 4th Brigade and offered future assistance.

The 4th Brigade leaders raised several issues during the meeting, including a desire for additional communications gear and spare parts for their vehicles.

Nicholson promised assistance in working with the brigade issues. Additionally, he offered to provide enhanced training packages to brigade soldiers in close-quarters battle, combat first aid and vehicle maintenance.

In addition to the partnership with the Marines, 4th Brigade has a U.S. Army Military Transition Team assigned in direct support of the brigade. The MiTT – a team of specialized military advisors – has worked with the 4th Brigade since August 2005.

“We are working with 4th Brigade to help them become a more capable force, and they are improving every day,” said LtCol. Doug Anderson, the 39-year-old Military Transition Team Leader for 4th Brigade. “We will continue to focus on the areas needing improvement that Gen. Abdullah prioritizes.”

Abdulla invited the Marines to attend an awards ceremony for one of the 4th Brigade battalion commanders after the meeting and a dinner of grilled fish and lamb kabobs in honor of the new partnership.

Abdulla awarded Col. Abdullah Mnahi Najm, commanding officer for 1st Battalion, 4th Brigade, the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with combat “V” for valor in recognition of his efforts during the past year.

Najm’s battalion conducted more than 1,000 counter-insurgency missions between Aug. 5, 2005 and Jan. 14, 2006. His battalion was the first Iraqi battalion to assume independent battle space in the region.

Najm explained the medal was a reflection of his soldiers’ dedication and performance.

“It is not just for me, but in recognition of the hard work of the whole battalion,” Najm said. “Our success is a result of good training, especially from the Marines.”

Najm viewed the award as recognition for achieving a benchmark of success. Still, he planned for greater accomplishments from the battalion.

“I want to expand our operating area, increase our patrols and work on conducting intel-driven operations to go after specific targets,” Najm said. “We will continue to serve the Iraqi people.”

The brigade awarded two Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals to Iraqi soldiers, but this was the first Navy Commendation Medal to be awarded.

“It symbolizes a successful partnership and the fact that this Iraqi army leader is admired by servicemembers from two nations,” Anderson explained. “In short, it means the Iraqi army is succeeding.”

Marines from RCT-5 are currently partnered with the 2nd and 4th Brigades from the 1st Iraqi Army Division, headquartered in Habbinyah, Iraq. The Iraqi Division is partnered with the I Marine Expeditionary Force (FWD) in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

March 6, 2006

You rate the CAR

It’s one of the most deadly and frequent enemy attacks against Marines in Iraq, and now it qualifies under new guidelines to receive one of the Corps’ most coveted — and controversial — awards.


By Christian Lowe
Times staff writer

Marine Commandant Gen. Mike Hagee recently clarified the rules for awarding the Combat Action Ribbon to Marines and sailors who have been subjected to an improvised explosive device ambush, making clear what constitutes enemy fire in a formal instruction to commanders in the fleet.

What’s more, the new guidance also allows Marines, who were previously denied a CAR after an IED attack, or who were not recommended for one, to be reconsidered for the award. It is unclear how many Marines could qualify, but the Corps has awarded nearly 68,000 CARs since the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.

The new rules come several months after Lt. Gen. John Sattler, former I Marine Expeditionary Force commander, forwarded recommendations to Hagee suggesting the criteria be broadened to include actions other than firefights.

“It’s important that eligibility requirements are not too stringent and that they are being evenly applied,” Sattler said in mid-August.

To qualify for a Combat Action Ribbon, a Marine “must have participated in a bona fide ground or surface combat fire-fight or action during which he/she was under enemy fire and his/her performance while under fire was satisfactory,” Marine Corps regulations state.

But many had argued that the instruction was unclear, and some Marines might have been denied a CAR because IEDs didn’t count as enemy action.

The commandant agreed, drafting a new all-Marine message stating, “I consider exposure to a detonated IED as being under enemy fire. Therefore, Marines who take appropriate actions during such an engagement meet both CAR eligibility requirements.”

The commandant’s message, a draft of which was obtained by Marine Corps Times, went on to say that Marines denied the CAR since Oct. 7, 2001, will be reconsidered based on the new rules. He charged Marine Forces Central Command, headed by Sattler, to be “responsible for coordinating a review of those individual cases previously submitted but not approved for the CAR.” The message was expected to be released Feb. 25.

Changing battlefield

The rules for awarding a CAR have changed over the years as the battlefield has evolved. The regulations were tweaked in 2000 to incorporate rules of engagement that were meant to avoid civilian casualties in Kosovo and Somalia — that’s where the “satisfactory performance” under fire was added.

Later, the criteria were modified to include sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen in riverine or coastal operations, those assigned to areas subjected to “sustained mortar, missile and artillery attacks,” forces in clandestine or special operations “when the risk of enemy fire was great and expected to be encountered” and shipboard personnel “when the safety of the ship and crew were endangered by enemy attack.”

It is under these criteria that nearly 1,500 crew on the amphibious assault ship Kearsarge and dock landing ship Ashland were submitted for the CAR after a rocket flew over one of the ships in the port of Aqaba in Jordan last summer. No damage was sustained and no personnel were wounded.

The Marine Corps declined to submit recommendations for the CAR for any of the nearly 800 Marines assigned to the ships at the time. However, sailors who were aboard the ships received the CAR.

The unclear criteria “can only create animosity and a little bit of envy and a lot of potential frustration,” Sattler said in November.

The specific addition of IEDs to the criteria applies to sailors who are assigned to Marine units or Navy units under Marine control, Corps officials say.

And while the guidance recognizes the new threat of IEDs, the message is not meant to be a blanket authorization to award CARs indiscriminately.

“This does not mean that every Marine in the general area of a detonated IED should rate a CAR,” said Marine headquarters spokesman Maj. Doug Powell. “In addition to understanding the intent of this clarification, leaders at every level must recognize the continued need for judicious application.”

Though considering IEDs as “enemy fire” could give many more Marines the opportunity to wear the coveted CAR, they will only be authorized one CAR per operation, officials say.

Powell also said that the guidance on sustained mortar, missile and artillery attacks from the instruction stands; those Marines are still eligible to receive the CAR.

Powell said additional guidance on how unit commanders should retroactively apply the new rules will be issued soon.

“This is likely to be a complicated endeavor, given that many Marines have either moved on or left the Corps,” he added.

“Regardless, it is the right thing to do, and the procedures for retroactive submission are being worked.”

Law eases gift rules for wounded troops

Charitable organizations say they are relieved they can continue helping wounded troops without fear of getting into trouble, thanks to a new law.

As seen at: http://www.marinecorpstimes.com

By Karen Jowers
Times staff writer

As part of the 2006 Defense Authorization Act, Congress ordered defense officials to draft regulations that make it clear that wounded troops can accept gifts from nonprofit organizations, private parties and other sources outside the Defense Department, except for foreign governments and their agents.

The law, which took effect Dec. 30, covers service members with combat-related injuries or illnesses suffered while serving in designated combat zones or operations. The law specifies that the regulations are retroactive, covering those injured on or after Sept. 11, 2001, and applying to the active-duty and reserve components.

“It shouldn’t be a concern that we could get them into trouble by helping them,” said Peggy Baker, president and co-founder of Operation First Response, a nonprofit group that helps fill transportation and other needs of recuperating troops and their families at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.

“That’s been our concern, that we could make an already tough situation even worse,” she said. “I certainly respect the reasons the regulations were put into place —bribes, or getting something in return for a favor, could be an issue. But that’s not the case here.”

The issue originated from a Sept. 27 meeting in which Walter Reed officials told representatives of 20 charities that donations valued at more than $20 must undergo military legal review to ensure they conform to government ethics rules.

Defense Department regulations, based in law, generally forbid service members from accepting gifts worth more than $20 either from prohibited sources such as contractors, or which are given because of the recipient’s official position. The regulations are not new, but some charities were unaware of their existence.

A Pentagon spokeswoman said new regulations have been drafted and are being circulated for review within the Defense Department and the services. The law requires the regulations to be finished no later than March 31, a deadline that officials expect to meet, the spokeswoman said.

The Army, recognizing the potential problem for troops, asked defense officials for permission to change guidelines for wounded troops who accept donations of clothing, food and other items from charitable organizations or individuals.

John Gonsalves, founder of Homes for Our Troops, said many donors want to give more.

“People are wanting to give nice items like computers, DVDs. … I would think that, as a country, this is what we should be doing,” he said.

His organization would far exceed the $20 limit. It has helped build or remodel six homes for wounded troops, making them accessible for those with physical disabilities, and five more houses are in progress.

Walter Reed officials emphasize that they were not saying gifts worth more than $20 could not be accepted. Regulations simply require certain gifts to be covered by a written ethics opinion.

The regulations haven’t caused serious problems, Baker said. “But we know it’s out there.”

Study: PTSD not more likely in severely wounded troops

Other deployed vets experience issue at similar rate

Rates of post-traumatic stress disorder among troops who are severely wounded in combat do not appear to differ significantly from the rates for combat troops who did not suffer traumatic injuries, a new military study has found.

March 06, 2006 Courtesy of http://www.marinecorpstimes.com

By Deborah Funk
Times staff writer

The study looked at 613 of the most severely injured combat troops treated at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., from April 2003 to October 2004. Most were soldiers, but the group also included airmen and Marines.

Because severe wounds have been shown to increase the risk of PTSD, researchers believed the rates of mental health problems for these troops would exceed those of other combat veterans, although they did not predict a particular rate of increase, said Navy Capt. (Dr.) Thomas Grieger, who led the new study of severely wounded troops .

One month after being injured, 4.2 percent of the Walter Reed patients had PTSD and 4.4 percent were depressed. At four months, 12.2 percent had PTSD and 8.9 percent had depression. At eight months, 12 percent had PTSD and 9.3 percent had depression.

Those results closely tracked the findings of a 2004 military study of a broader group of Operation Iraqi Freedom veterans. Four months after returning from deployment, 12 percent of those troops screened positive for PTSD and 7 percent for depression.

Grieger said researchers were surprised that the rates of mental health problems among that group were lower than expected. Grieger is a senior scientist at the Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress, part of the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences, and also serves as associate professor and assistant chairman of the university’s department of psychiatry.

Although he could not definitively pinpoint a reason for the minimal differences in rates of mental health problems among the two studies, Grieger noted that one mitigating factor for the severely wounded troops may have been that they all “received absolutely top-notch medical care” and were assessed by a psychiatry liaison team.

That team takes a proactive approach, meeting with severely injured patients without getting a referral from another doctor, and initiates treatment as necessary.

Grieger also noted that some of the severely injured troops in need of mental health care might not have received it had they been required to get a referral from their primary care provider.

The patient would have had to bring the problem to the primary care provider’s attention, who then would have had to determine whether a psychiatry consultation was called for.

Dr. Robert Ursano, chairman of the university’s psychiatry department and director of the Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress, presented a summary of Grieger’s findings at the annual Tricare conference in January in Washington. Grieger first presented his findings last year at a scientific meeting of the American Psychiatric Association.

The fact that rates of mental health problems rise over time both for severely wounded combat troops and other combat veterans reinforces the idea that anyone who has served in a war zone should be monitored for an extended period, Grieger said.

This year, the Defense Department is starting a program that surveys veterans of operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom three and six months after they return from combat to inquire about their physical and mental health.

Troops already are initially surveyed when they leave the war zone or very soon thereafter.

The new program takes into account the idea, reinforced by Grieger’s study, that mental health problems may take a while to surface or be recognized after troops leave a combat zone.

What not to bring to bootcamp

9TH MARINE CORPS DISTRICT (March 1, 2006) -- During processing, the deck of the receiving barracks at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego is littered with a variety of personal items recruits should not bring to recruit training.


March 1, 2006; Submitted on: 09/01/2006 12:44:42 PM ; Story ID#: 200691124442
By Sgt. M.P. Shelato, 9th Marine Corps District

“Just about everything you could think of, I’ve seen come through the yellow footprints,” said Gunnery Sgt. Timothy G. Walker, chief drill instructor for night processing, Receiving Company, Support Battalion, Recruit Training Regiment, MCRD San Diego.

Walker said recruits either hand-carry or bring bags full of additional personal objects that slow the receiving process. Civilian clothing, cell phones or other contraband items are not needed during training and are sent to one of four warehouses on the depot.

Gunnery Sgt. Richard R. Mortensen, Recruiting Station St. Louis Military Entrance Processing Station Liaison, said a recruiter should do just about everything short of a physical search of the applicant before the trip to basic training.

“The Ninety-Six-Hour Pre-Ship Brief is probably a good time to go over with them what items they won’t need,” said Mortensen. “It’s up to the recruiter to make sure applicants don’t have anything they aren’t supposed to.”

According to the Military Personnel Procurement Manual, Volume 2: Enlisted Procurement, recruiters should inform all enlistees that civilian clothing and personal effects will be placed in storage for the duration of recruit training.

Possessions causing the most annoyance to the receiving drill instructors are the expensive, battery-operated devices the average 17- to 24-year-old can’t seem to live without. MP3 and compact disc players are becoming more common among the items dumped in the red bins, creating extra paperwork; custody of receipt forms must be completed and signed before items can be stored.

“We process about 300 recruits in a night,” said Walker. “In that time we’ll see about 30 different MP3 or CD players.”

Some of the obvious contraband to avoid bringing are:
• Knives, guns, brass knuckles or anything that may be used as a weapon
• Dice, playing cards or anything that may be used to gamble
• Magazines, books, crossword puzzles or any other media that is not of a religious nature
• Cigarettes, chewing tobacco, lighters or any other tobacco products
• Large photo albums (a few photos are permitted but space is limited)
• Material that is pornographic or can be considered questionable
• Any over-the-counter medications to include vitamins and supplements
• Aerosol sprays of any kind (hairspray, deodorant, starch)

Official lists of what to bring and what not to bring to the recruit depot can be found in the MPPM and in The Making of a Marine handout, located in the poolee Welcome Aboard package. Walker, however, has compiled his own list of optional things to bring to boot camp:
• Recruiter’s business card
• Picture identification
• Social Security card
• Proof of college completion
• Bible or religious material
• A few appropriate pictures
• Small address book, or better yet, a sheet of paper with addresses
• Book of stamps
• No more than $10 in cash
• Wear trousers with a belt and a shirt tucked in.

Less is better than more.

“If a Recruit shows up with nothing, the recruiter is doing his job,” said Walker.

Action! 24th MEU goes ‘Hollywood’

NAVAL STATION NORFOLK, Va. (March 6, 2006) -- Marines and Sailors with Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, were “Hollywood Marines” for a day during their participation in cultural and combat immersion training here March 5.


Submitted by: 24th MEU
Story Identification #: 200637114637
Story by Lance Cpl. Jeffrey A. Cosola

Explosions, Iraqi-American extras and small-arms fire created the “hyper-realistic” environment catered by special effects technicians whose primary focus is generating illusions for movie projects, said Stu Segall, president and owner of Strategic Operations, a tactical training off-shoot of his Hollywood production business.

“We try to make it as realistic as possible to make it feel as though they were ‘in-country,’” explained Segall. “This is stress inoculation – we want them to train in combat without having to actually be in combat.”

The training came as part of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, Battalion Landing Team’s Training in an Urban Environment exercise, or TRUEX, taking place throughout the Hampton Roads, Va., area. Each rifle company in BLT 1/8 – the MEUs Ground Combat Element – as well as members of MEU Service Support Group 24 undergo a three-day, intelligence-intensive evolution culminating in a company-sized cordon-and-search raid at a simulated Iraqi village.

“This is set up so they can make the mistakes here and not ‘in-country,’” said Cpl. Trevor D. Ihlan, an instructor at the exercise and part of the Urban Warfare Training Center at Marine Air Ground Task Force Training Command in Twentynine Palms, Ca. “The realism really gives the Marines a good shock of combat.”

During the training mission, the Marines began executing a cordon-and-search mission at an Iraqi village when a series of explosions – beginning with a massive blast from a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device – disrupted the operation. Marines were surrounded by casualties elaborately dressed by make-up artists with authentic-looking wounds and Iraqi role players who invaded the area and utilized enemy weaponry and blank rounds to simulate small-arms fire.

“They really put on an awesome show,” said Staff Sgt. Michael J. Simon, the staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge of the instructors from the UWTC. “The best part is the realism of the training. So much is thrown at them that they really have to work their language and tactics training.”

After dealing with casualties, outraged locals and insurgents setting new IEDs, Marines began searching the village for intelligence, weapons caches and high-value targets. The process incorporated the use of interpreters, cultural interaction and security maintenance, said Lt. Col. Chris A. Ross, the deputy director of the UWTC.

“This is more than just a tactical battle – it’s more than locate, close with and destroy the enemy,” said Ross. “Just like in theater, there are so many dynamics. It adds stress to the squad leaders; it’s not only a kinetic fight, it’s also about dealing with the population.”

“It was great to be able to deal with the role players and interact with the local population,” added Lance Cpl. Cody S. Allen, an assaultman with Alpha. Co., preparing for his first deployment. “This will definitely prepare us for what we might face overseas.”

With each phase of the training – including a mass casualty evacuation with air support from Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 365 (Reinforced) – the Marines and Sailors were given an insight into the difficulties of combat, said Capt. Nathan T. Perkkio, Alpha. Co. commanding officer.

“You can always learn something from every exercise,” said Perkkio. “This was good training because of the role players and the realism this exercise gives to the Marines. They did a good job today. We’ve come a long way – we need more training like this.”

The training operation succeed in its key mission of training the Marines to make decisions under fire, communicate on the battlefield and react properly to the community. Marines left the exercise learning the necessary lessons that will keep them alive during scenarios they could each face in the coming months, said Cpl. Peter S. Ramos, a senior instructor with UWTC.

“No matter how many times they’ve been to Iraq, there are still benefits to this training,” said Ramos. “The feedback they receive here is a substantial building block toward their deployment.”

The TRUEX is the premier training event during the MEU’s six-month pre-deployment workups that kicked off Nov. 30. The exercise involves each of the MEU components: Command Element; Battalion Landing Team 1/8; HMM-365(Reinforced); and MSSG-24.

The 24th MEU is scheduled to deploy this spring to the European and Central Command theaters of operations.

26 MEU readies for road ahead

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (March 6, 2006) -- It’s been about six months since the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit last returned from abroad and a quick glance at the headquarters at Building H-23 might lead the casual observer to believe that not much is going on in the unit.


Submitted by: 26th MEU
Story Identification #: 200636151824
Story by Lance Cpl. Jeremy T. Ross

A closer look, however, reveals that the MEU is moving at a blistering pace preparing for the coming training cycle that will prepare the unit to deploy in support of the Global War on Terrorism.

Slated to depart in early 2007 as a part of the Bataan Expeditionary Strike Group, the MEU is using this time before the pre-deployment training cycle begins in June to augment its current contingent of 93 Marines and Sailors with individual training courses, said 1st Lt. Shawn A. Rickrode, 26th MEU training officer.

"The training and preparation never stops," said Rickrode. "We train like we fight."

Across the MEU, personnel are attending, or are scheduled to attend, a variety of training evolutions including shallow water egress training, urban combat skills training, advanced marksmanship and HUMVEE driver training.

This is also the time when the MEU staff members hone their crisis planning skills and ensure the unit is administratively and logistically sound.

For everyone, it is a time to focus on annual training requirements such as rifle and pistol qualification and nuclear, biological and chemical training.

Many of the MEU's enlisted leaders are improving their skills by attending resident courses such as the corporal’s course and the career course. Rickrode said the education the non-commissioned and staff non-commissioned officers are receiving will pay dividends to the MEU in the form of the tactical, technical and leadership experience they will bring back to the unit.

Rickrode also noted that MEU Service Support Group-26, which will serve as the MEU’s combat service support element during the coming deployment, has provided MEU personnel valuable slots in courses such as urban skills, convoy leadership training and advanced marksmanship. These quotas can be hard to come by for smaller units such as the MEU Command Element and will provide its personnel with training that otherwise may have been unavailable.

The MEU’s data and communications section, or S-6, is an example of the continuous activity happening in the unit right now.

The shop currently has eight of its 24 troops attending various training courses including Arabic language training, convoy leader training, corporal's course and HUMVEE driver training, said Sgt. Corey C. Reyes, radio supervisor and S-6 platoon sergeant.

"Each Marine from our section who attends these schools will act as a force multiplier for us," said Reyes. "One Marine learns something new, and he or she can pass it on to the rest of us."

Reyes also said that his section is scheduled to conduct a communication training exercise in the field each month before the MEU stands-up.

All the preparation is in anticipation of "chop day," when the MEU will balloon to over 2,000 troops overnight. Once that happens, the focus of the unit will turn toward tactically preparing the MEU, with its major subordinate elements, for deployment.

Those MSEs will include a ground combat element, an air combat element and a combat service support element. The ground element will consist primarily of the “Warlords” of 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment.

The air combat element will be the "Black Knights" of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron-264, reinforced with Harriers and attack and heavy-lift helicopters, and the combat service support element will be Combat Logistics Battalion-26, currently designated as MSSG-26.

So while the 26th MEU may seem quiet at this stage of the game, the reality is that it is one of the busiest times for the now small unit.

When the curtain goes up in June, the real show will begin. That is when the MEU anticipates its current preparations will have formed the foundation for a successful training cycle and deployment

March 5, 2006

Marines hit the beach

GULFPORT - Standing on the beach in Gulfport on Saturday under clear, sunny skies, both the hurricane and the war in Iraq were a distant thought for some of the Marines - such as Cpl. Zach Schudrowitz - of 3rd Platoon, Alpha Company, 4th Amphibious Assault Battalion.


By JOSHUA [email protected]

For Schudrowitz, it was good just to see his old friends back in action.
Schudrowitz has spent the last several months in a burn unit in San Antonio. He was recovering from injuries received when his amphibious assault vehicle, or Amtrac, blew up last May, killing eight Marines who were from a different company being transported by this group.
Schudrowitz was incredibly glad to see his friend, Staff Sgt. Dennis Woullard. Woullard had pulled him from the burning Amtrac that day and was injured himself in the process, taking shrapnel to his head and getting several burns.
The two men embraced warmly when Schudrowitz arrived late in the morning and they chatted while looking out over the glistening water as their comrades sped around in circles in their Amtracs.
Woullard said he was also injured three days prior to saving Schudrowitz when he was shot in the back while on foot patrol. He said his Kevlar vest saved his life.
Schudrowtiz said he was full of admiration for his comrades, who all have dealt repeatedly with difficult situations in the last several months.
"Despite all the bad news, they sucked it up and moved on," Schudrowitz said.
Most of the Marines of the 3rd Platoon have spent a large portion of the last two years in Iraq. Specifically, they were in the Al-Anbar province near Syria conducting some of the most dangerous operations of the war.
There isn't a lot of water in the Iraqi desert for this group, equal parts fearless and jovial, to practice what they are the best at: amphibious assault.
So Saturday was the first day in almost two years these Marines, stationed at the Naval Construction Battalion Center in Gulfport, really got their feet wet, said Warrant Officer Takafumi Wince.
On a day filled with bright sunshine twenty or so Marines took turns driving four of their 26-ton Amtracs, in and out of the Gulf of Mexico from the beach just west of Gulfport's port, to the delight of a curious crowd of 50 or so people.
Wince said this was part of the normal weekend training schedule for this company, which is mostly made up of reservists. They were practicing here in the calm, shallow waters of the Mississippi Sound in preparation for a two-week series of maneuvers in the Pacific Ocean near San Diego this summer.
Many of the Marines said they were just happy to be out and about. It seemed as though the experience was cathartic for many of them, as they are just a few short months removed from both combat and the shock of coming home to a hurricane-destroyed region.
Most of the Marines of this platoon come from the area, and arrived here from active duty about a month after the storm.
"You spend your whole time out there thinking about coming home and while you're out there you hear about the biggest natural disaster that ever hit," said Cpl. Christian Adams of New Orleans.
Many Marines of the 3rd platoon said it was hard to come back from a war zone and see the destruction where they lived. Adams said he believed a handful of Marines lost their homes, too.
Some members of the platoon, like Lance Cpl. Brett Cuevas, were here during the storm. Cuevas, of Slidell, said several of the Marines who stayed behind drove out of the Seabee base with two Amtracs in the early afternoon of Aug. 29 and made their way to the Van Duc Buddhist Temple in Biloxi where they met up with Biloxi police and began rescuing people.
The next day, Cuevas said, the Marines drove along the beach through Pass Christian and then went across the bay to Waveland, where they assisted a search-and-rescue team from Virginia for a couple of days.
Today, though, there was no rescuing to be done and no patrol to go on. Just a lot of circles to be driven in the welcoming waters of the Gulf.

Reservists answer call to Hot Zone

While American military units have shuffled in and out of Iraq for the past three years, a Marine reserve unit headquartered in Alameda has sat quietly by, waiting to be sent into the fray.
Until now.


The men and women of the 1st Battalion, 14th Marine Regiment were called to active duty in December and are awaiting a trip to the restless Anbar province, home to Fallujah, Ramadi and the wild west region bordering Syria. They'll leave in the next couple of weeks.

Meantime, they live in the Mojave Desert and train almost constantly for their new mission.

"This will be the first deployment for most of our Marines," said battalion Sgt. Maj. Enrique Borgzinner. "We've always known we'd get the call, so it didn't really come as a shock to anyone. If you've been in the military since 9/11, you know you're going to have to go overseas."

The battalion consists of about 1,000 Marines and sailors. They come from all over the United States, but their headquarters is in Alameda, and many of the Marines come from the Bay Area. Borgzinner is a correctional officer for Santa Clara County, for example, and many of the reservists work as police officers, firefighters or medics.

It's a tough time to get the call for duty in Iraq. Sectarian violence has been flaring between Shiite and Sunni Muslims, causing fears of a broader civil war. Amid all of this, suicide bombings, roadside bombs and the occasional insurgent attacks on American bases or convoys are still occurring.

Still, the mood among the Marines training in Twentynine Palms (San Bernardino County) is remarkably upbeat -- at least by civilian standards.

Sgt. Jonathon Ginn, an active-duty Marine assigned to the reserve battalion, said most people in the military have a strong sense of duty. And they try not to question whether the conflict is right or wrong.

"I think we all joined to serve our country," he said. "Beyond that, we want to help people. Everyone is a product of his or her environment, and we're no different. I don't know why we're that way, but we are.

"For me, it's all about helping your fellow man. I want to give the Iraqi people a chance to live in peace, to have what I have. It's as simple as that."

Ginn wasn't the only one to express that opinion. Everywhere, Marines in high-and-tight haircuts and digital camouflage uniforms shrugged when asked about their mission.

"I'm looking forward to it," said Sgt. Joe Duran of the Kern County town of Tehachapi. "I'm good to go."

Some Marines expressed concern over the violence in Iraq. Concern for their families and how those at home will worry. Concern for their fellow Marines. Concern about whether they will be able to do their jobs and not let anyone down.

But there's little time to reflect on these things. The Marines put the reservist through a punishing training schedule at Twentynine Palms. With deployment imminent, they have been working among the rocks, sand and lizards north of the base through a schedule known as "Mojave Viper."

Mojave Viper attempts to replicate daily life for a battalion that is based near an Iraqi village and is responsible for its security. The Marines have built two fake villages out of metal shipping containers. Iraqi Americans and others of Arab descent are hired to play the parts of villagers and shopkeepers. One village is Sunni and the other Shiite. Iraqis play the part of the mayors and police chiefs. Another takes on the role of mosque imam, and a loudspeaker sounds the call to prayer five times a day. Just like in Iraq.

Combat-veteran Marines, playing insurgents, set up improvised explosive devices in and among the fake homes and snipe at the Marines as they patrol the area. The reservists have to learn how to communicate in a potentially hostile environment and how to deal with village officials, attend meetings and make use of their people skills.

Afaf Daoud plays the village shopkeeper and schoolteacher. She's Catholic, originally from Basra in southern Iraq, and she's had the job for more than a year.

"I want to help the Marines and help my people stay alive," she said. "I have family still there, and I worry about them a lot."

Dler, a Baghdadi, and Salim Al Jumaaily, a Kurd, also play shopkeepers. They said they spend most of their time teaching the Marines about Arab culture and language.

"For example, you must learn about gestures," said Dler, who uses just one name. "If you make a slashing motion on your throat, it means in the U.S. to stop, but in Iraq it means to behead."

The training culminates with a 72-hour exercise in which insurgents launch an attack against the American forces, and the Marines have to figure out how to successfully quell it.

Nerve-wracking as it may be to go to what is now the most dangerous place on Earth, that feeling is compounded by the fact that most of the Marines in the battalion won't be doing the jobs they were originally trained to do. This is an artillery unit, and most of the Marines were trained to fire the big guns. They're known as "cannon-cockers." But there is little use for artillery in present-day Iraq, so most of the Marines have been cross-trained as military police. They will patrol cities and military bases, as well as help run detention centers.

But it's important work, said Lt. Col. Rob Roslawski, the battalion's commanding officer, considering the well-publicized abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison.

Roslawski said his men have been learning their new skills for more than a year. He said learning security work is not a huge stretch, since it incorporates many of the skills they learned as basic Marines.

"They also understand this is a high-visibility job," he said. "They know they're going to have to make the right decisions at the right time or there can be serious repercussions."

Maybe it's a Marine thing and maybe it's a public safety mind-set, but there are many stories of Marines who actively sought to join 1/14 after learning that the battalion was headed to Iraq.

Cpl. Bret Reed joined the Marines in 1993 right after graduating from Terra Linda High School in San Rafael. For four years, he was a hard-charging machine gunner. Then he got out and tried his hand at firefighting, eventually landing a job with the Larkspur department.

Last fall, after being out for nine years, the rangy 6-foot-4-inch Reed rejoined the Corps so he could go to Iraq.

"In 2003, I had this real strong feeling that I wished I was with my old unit," he said. "I felt left out a little. As the war went on, it was painful not to be a part of it. It affected my mood. I snapped at people a lot.

"It came to me one day that I need to be a part of this and step up for my country."

Reed had some trouble dealing with the reserve Marines. They're not as hard-core and hard-charging as his old infantry unit, the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines. But he felt his infantry background would help the other guys in training and in the real thing in Iraq. He volunteered for one of the more dangerous and difficult duties, serving with the Personal Security Detachment, the Marines who protect generals and Iraqi officials, and serve as a rapid response force for any combat activity.

"It's the kind of job where you really have to have your head and ass wired together," he said.

A lot of the Marines on security detachment work in public safety. Reed's buddy, Cpl. Eddie Zamora is a 35-year-old correctional officer from San Jose who works with the sergeant major at the Santa Clara County Jail. Zamora was out of the corps for 13 years before rejoining for this expedition.

The toughest thing for Zamora is leaving his 11-year-old son, Alexander, behind.

"I feel terrible about that," Zamora said. "He's my pride and joy, and he needs a father figure. I do pretty well over the phone, but I want to get back to him as soon as I can."

Sgt. Alejandro Ortiz, a 29-year-old San Jose police officer, was out for two years, and he, too, joined the reserve unit so he could go to Iraq.

"I think I've got the leadership and training to help keep these guys alive," Ortiz said. "At the San Jose PD, we do more in one day than most people see in a lifetime, so it's not exactly new to me."

Then there's Staff Sgt. Arnold Borgen, a San Francisco police officer. He had been working out of the Bayview Station. He said he's not all that worried about the violence in Iraq after having worked the tough streets of San Francisco.

"I know an officer who was with the Army over there, and when he got back, he said he felt safer in Iraq," Borgen said. "In Iraq, if you get in trouble, you can call in air support. Can't do that if you're a cop."

At 40, Borgen is one of the older guys in the unit. And his pals rib him for it. Ortiz wondered if Borgen would be issued a Marine Corps walker for foot patrols. Reed suggested he get a "Little Rascal" personal scooter.

"Get a little armor on it and you're good to go," he joked. "They say those things will go anywhere you want to go."

E-mail John Koopman at [email protected]

Logistics Marines keep Forerunners on the move and workspaces in repair

AL ASAD, Iraq (Mar 5, 2006) -- Issues Marines face on a daily basis, which can lessen their quality of life and hinder their mission, include downed power generators, lights not turning on, mud bogs created by standing water and gear or personnel needing transportation.


Submitted by: 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing
Story Identification #: 20063664529
Story by Cpl. Jonathan K. Teslevich

The Forerunners can turn to five talented, multi-tasking Marines with the logistics section of Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 16, Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, to solve these and other miscellaneous problems and tasks as they spring up.

"We are responsible for the maintenance of five barracks, six hangars, the base ordnance building and our headquarters," said Lance Cpl. Pranil K. Shankar, a logistics/embarkation and combat service support specialist, MALS-16. "We work on lighting, heating, water, painting and power problems to maintain a certain level of comfort for the Marines."

While requests to the section are varied, one above all others fills their logbook more than any other.

"Generators go down all the time, so most of the problems we work on are electrical," said 1st Lt. Randolph C. Chase, logistics officer, MALS-16. "Logistics is a world where if everything is going smooth then nobody notices us, but if not, then we're the first ones called."

According to Shankar, a log is necessary to track the amount of requests for maintenance coming in.

"I have records from 2005 showing where and when stuff was worked on. Now, I am reconciling those past requests with current ones," said the Sacramento, Calif., native. "Now I can prioritize and know which requests are important and need to be done."

Helping the logistics Marines accomplish some of those maintenance tasks are government contractors, third country nationals and Marine Wing Support Squadrons.

"The contractors have been pretty good and MWSSs have been great in support," stated Shankar.

In addition to shouldering the squadron's facility maintenance load, Shankar and the logistics section also handle the embarkation of the Forerunner's gear and personnel into and out of Al Asad.

"There are embarkation representatives for each of the 16 divisions within MALS-16. I train all of them on the proper embarkation procedures," commented Shankar. "This means, I have to know how to transport each division's gear, whether it is a helicopter blade or a Pettibone crane."

Following proper embarkation procedures for gear becomes especially important when it is hazardous materials, because the Air Force has specific regulations regarding their transport, explained Shankar.

Even though the Marines in the MALS-16 logistics section are trained embarkation specialists and logisticians, their duties draw upon their ability to adjust to the different tasks to be done.

"The embarkation of gear, fixing of broken buildings, motor transport, accurate counts of MALS-16 weapons, all are our responsibilities. We like to call ourselves 'jacks-of-all-trades,' but masters of none," said Chase, a Johnstown, Pa., native.

According to Shankar, although they face a constant string of broken lights to be fixed and hundreds of pieces of gear to be embarked, the logistics section still has a clear mission ahead.

"Our ultimate goal is to provide solid logistics service throughout the deployment and then smoothly turn the squadron's facilities over to the next aviation logistics squadron better than we received it," stated Shankar.

Marines take refuge in Bull Pen to keep in touch

CAMP MERCURY, Iraq (March 5, 2006) -- Marines sit patiently on wooden benches and wait their turn to call home. A voice calls “Computer five, time’s up!”


Submitted by: Regimental Combat Team 5
Story Identification #: 200631275736
Story by Cpl. Mark Sixbey

The morale, welfare and recreation center on Camp Mercury, also known as the “Bull Pen,” serves as a window to the outside world for the Marines of 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment.

Calling home is a rare treat for the infantry Marines. Their mission around the city of Fallujah usually keeps them far from camp facilities.

“We’ve been back four days for every eight to fifteen in the field, depending on what’s going on,” said Pfc. Armin A. Huerta, an infantryman with Company K.

Huerta, 21, from Rio Hondo, Texas, said he uses the phones and Internet about equally during his time on camp. He said phone and computer privileges are a big motivation when they get back from a long mission.

“The first thing you think about is getting to the Internet center, hoping it’s open, that you don’t have to wait in a long line,” said Pfc. Gene R. Landrus, an assaultman assigned to Company K. “When we get in, there’s a lot to take care of with the vehicles and weapons. You get it all done quickly to try and be the first one in here.”

Twenty-two-year-old Lance Cpl. Jed T. Ellenson, an infantryman with Company K., described his routine when his platoon returns from the field.

“The first thing I do is take a shower,” said Ellenson, from Mukwonago, Wis. “Usually, we get word, get mail, hit the rack, then we come here first thing in the morning.”

Given the variety of e-mail and personal services available online, Marines spend their time at the Bull Pen in different ways.

“I like instant messaging, but the time difference conflicts with that, so e-mail is the best way,” Landrus said.

He added that he spends almost no time checking the news online, so he asks his family and friends.

“I really don’t know what’s going on in the rest of the world,” said the 25-year-old from Clarkston, Wash. “I know the weather back home and what’s going on with my family.”

“I’m computer inept, but I know how to check my email, write a few back, that’s about it,” Ellenson said. “They take the time to write to me, so I’m going to take the time to write to them.”

Yet, some Marines, like Lance Cpl. Carlos A. Cummings, an infantryman with Company K prefer the old-fashioned method of communication to computers.

“Most people like to email, especially the younger crowd,” said Cummings, 19, from Memphis, Tenn. “But when I was younger I didn’t use the Internet because it gets you in trouble, so I never set up an e-mail address,” he explained.

“I prefer to talk to a person one-on-one instead of typing letters,” Cummings said. “It’s not the same as when a person can hear your voice.”

He added that he still uses the Internet for online Marine Corps Institute courses.

“Now that I have a calling card, I use the phone and Internet evenly,” Ellenson said. “Both give you a good chance to get in touch with your people back home.”

U.S. Marines Wall in Iraqi City With Sand

RUTBAH, Iraq (AP) - U.S. Marines used to patrol the streets of this city near the volatile Syrian border. Now they've penned it in with a wall of sand, leaving only three ways in or out.

While causing discomfort to the townspeople, the military says it is an effective barrier to insurgents and frees up troops for use in other parts of restive Anbar province in western Iraq.



March 5, 2006

The Marines ringed Rutbah with a 10.5-mile-long berm, seven feet high and 20 feet wide, in mid-January and reduced their presence to checkpoints at the three entrances that also are manned by a few dozen Iraqi soldiers.

The move was forced by a major U.S. effort to make the former insurgent stronghold of Fallujah a showplace of American-Iraqi cooperation. That leaves fewer Marines to patrol a region with close tribal and economic ties to neighboring Syria, which Washington has accused of letting militants slip over the border.

The sand wall is only "an intermediate solution," said Marine Lt. Col. Robert Kosid, whose 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion is responsible for Rutbah and several thousand square miles of desert around it.

"I think the long-term success of Rutbah involves a permanent presence in the city," said Kosid, who was also based here on his previous tour in Iraq.

But there aren't any Iraqi forces available now. Rutbah's corrupt police force was disbanded last year, and hundreds of Iraqi soldiers that had been in the area were moved north in November for a joint U.S.-Iraqi operation around Qaim.

Sitting 230 miles west of Baghdad, Rutbah joins Tal Afar, Mosul and Samarra as cities where the U.S. military has tried to block outsiders and impede insurgent mobility by erecting large sand walls with bulldozers.

So far, the berm has been a tactical success, helped by rainstorms that have turned the surrounding territory into impassable mud. Roadside bombings sharply dropped from 29 a month to just five since the wall was built, Marines say. Military supply trucks using a nearby highway have been relatively unmolested lately.

Rutbah's streets are lined with impressive villas even though the town is devoid of natural resources and arable farmland. Its 20,000 people have thrived by taking a cut from smugglers moving goods along ancient routes that snake through Iraq from Jordan and Syria.

Though attacks in the city have been relatively low by comparison to other parts of western Iraq, the Marines suspect some of its smuggling income is being used to finance insurgent operations throughout Anbar.

Some Marines say the checkpoints are effective at weeding out insurgents without resorting to force.

"It's a more methodical way to use (checkpoints) to clear towns instead of going right in to sweep it," Sgt. Spencer Biegel of Albany, Ore., said as he helped inspect cars at a checkpoint.

More than a dozen wanted suspects have been caught at Rutbah's checkpoints, he said.

"In the long term it cuts down on Marine and civilian casualties," Biegel said.

But residents face big headaches getting in and out of town, routinely having to wait one to three hours because of bottlenecks at the checkpoints.

About 500 vehicles pass through the busiest checkpoint each day, and Marines cut traffic from two lanes to one whenever there is a roadside bombing.

"As insurgent activity rises, we have to put on stringent controls," said Capt. Phil Laing of Seligman, Ariz., who commands the Marines manning the checkpoints. "The intent is not to punish Rutbah."

In response to civilian complaints, the Marines moved the berm to put a local gas station within the wall. They also regularly usher water trucks and medical vehicles to the front of inspection lines. A U.S.-funded hospital for the city is just weeks from completion.

Marines survey people entering town to find out about their needs, and to ask for tips on local insurgents.

As for the town's suspected role in financing insurgent operations, Kosid said there is little the Marines can do until Iraq's government establishes a security presence.

"If Rutbah is the financial center that we think it is, it's going to be hard to peel the onion on that one," he said. "To be really effective with the smuggling aspect, you need more of an investigatory capacity where you can peel the layers back."

War moms' pain, pride

One by one, the parents of eight soldiers sent off to war, some for the last time, braved the cold Saturday to share their stories amid dabbed tears, choked sobs, clutched American flags and a determination to set aside the political strife over the war in Iraq.


They came from throughout California and Texas to the windswept City Hall plaza in San Jose, each with their own views on the war but united by the sadness of seeing a child go to war and the uncertainty of wondering if it was their son or daughter caught in the latest attack.

Some have suffered the loss that often comes with war, while others have felt the joy of seeing their child return home safely.

They did not come to debate the merits of the war, but to celebrate the soldiers sent there and the families left behind.

"We need to tell stories -- we need to talk of their courage and sacrifice and remember their devotion to us," said Deb Saunders, president of the East Bay Blue Star Moms and the mistress of ceremonies for the event, which preceded Saturday night's world premiere of the documentary film "My Child: Mothers of War."

Nearly 150 friends, family members and supporters looked on as the moms stepped up to speak one at a time.

In the audience, an old soldier in a scarlet Marine veteran's cap and a gray-haired woman in a lawn chair dried tears with tissues. A military dad wore a giant Uncle Sam hat and held an oversized flag. A woman wore a T-shirt showing a headstone bearing the name of a soldier.

Simi Valley residents Larry and Susan House, who lost their son, John D., in a helicopter crash in Iraq last month, held one another in the front row.

One by one, the mothers told how their children had died.

Jesse Mizener of Auburn was killed in January 2004 when his maintenance company came under mortar fire.

Cory Geurin of Santee (San Diego County) fell to his death from the roof of Saddam Hussein's palace in ancient Babylon, having tripped on barbed wire after taking leadership in a firefight when the ranking officer was cut down.

Michael D. Anderson of Modesto -- a born soldier, his mom said, and the desert-fatigue-clad poster child for the movie -- was killed in the Fallujah offensive of December 2004.

Though some cried, Lorrie O'Connor of Millbrae stood at the back, smiling. Her daughter, Marine Sgt. Lisa O'Connor, just came home after finishing her last tour.

"Let me tell you," she said, "I've had a wonderful week."

Some mothers read from notes. Others ad-libbed on the spot. All struggled with the conflicting emotions of attachment and letting go.

They spoke of the pain of seeing their children go off to war, often for the last time, and the pride of knowing their sons and daughters heeded the call and grew up under fire to become the people their parents hoped they would be.

The film, which premiered at the Cinequest Film Festival at the California Theatre in downtown San Jose and will show again today at noon, was directed by Angeliki Giannakopoulos. It was her idea to hold a rally where those with opinions on both sides of the Iraq war could put aside their differences for the moment and unite behind the troops' mothers.

"I never knew what support was in my life till the last year and a half," she said. "I've been meeting moms around the country, and the definition of support is about 15 pages in my book.

"America's heart is bleeding, and America's heart is the moms of this country -- and they're going through a hard time right now."

Debbie Katsounakis, president of the Modesto and Central Valley chapter of the Blue Star Mothers, recalled how angry she was when she learned her son was going off to war as a military police officer. But her anger, she said, changed to acceptance as time passed and she took a step back.

"I was being incredibly selfish in my thinking," she said. "Then I was faced with the question, 'Why not?' All I could do was love them, have faith and accept what would be. As mothers, that's all we can do."

Jennifer Tyson of Modesto said her son graduated from boot camp just before Sept. 11, 2001. She marveled at the atmosphere at the gathering

"Lots of love here," she said. "This is real. Can't get any realer than this."

Marie Bonilla shared what her son wrote from Iraq after she asked if there was anything he had to say to his mom. He said he would protect her and declared that he was at home among his fellow Marines.

"Because of my (Marine) brothers and me, you're able to love and hate," he wrote. "We have a whole new family. Don't cry for me -- we are at home right now. If you cry, cry because soon you will welcome us home."

"He's in Iraq right now, doing his job like every other Marine," Bonilla said.

Dennis Geurin's story was among the most poignant.

His son, Cory, helped keep convoy lanes safe during the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and received a battlefield promotion for his leadership under fire.

Although he was killed falling from a rooftop, Geurin said his son would have climbed back up there if he'd had the chance. His son, he said, was a natural leader, even if he never realized it.

"I love you, Cory," he said. "If America didn't know this was hard, they do now."

E-mail Rick DelVecchio at [email protected]

March 4, 2006

Governor signs funeral protest bill into law

OKLAHOMA CITY - Gov. Brad Henry signed a bill into law Friday that restricts when and where people can protest at funerals, setting the stage for a possible clash between law enforcement and members of a Kansas church who have picketed the funerals of Oklahoma soldiers.


TIM TALLEYAssociated Press

The measure, which was given final approval by the state House on Thursday, went into effect immediately and will be in force when the family of Army Spc. Joshua Pearce, killed in Iraq on Sunday, gathers on Tuesday for funeral services in the Oklahoma Panhandle city of Guymon.
House members hurriedly approved the Senate-passed funeral protest bill and sent it to Henry for his signature to challenge members of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., who may picket at Pearce's funeral, lawmakers said.
"This measure protects the dignity and privacy of Oklahoma families and ensures that they can peacefully lay their loved ones to rest," Henry said after affixing his signature to the measure.
The Rev. Fred Phelps, pastor of Westboro, said church members may be in Oklahoma for Pearce's funeral.
"The chances are good that they will, especially since they passed that law," Phelps said. "This would be a good opportunity to test it."
He said the church plans to picket soldiers' funerals in Indiana and Michigan on Monday.
Pearce was killed when his Army vehicle struck an explosive device near Baghdad.
Anti-gay protests have been conducted at military funerals in Oklahoma and other states by members of Phelps' church, who chant and carry "God Hates Fags" placards thanking God for improvised explosive devices, a major killer of soldiers in Iraq.
Church members claim soldiers are being struck down by God for fighting for a country that harbors homosexuals.
"They turned the country over to fags. They're coming home in body bags," Phelps told The Associated Press. "God is punishing this evil nation because they've turned it over to the homosexual agenda."
The protests have angered the families of fallen soldiers as well as veterans groups, who say they defile the memory of soldiers who sacrifice their lives for their country.
Oklahoma is among at least 17 states that have considered legislation this year restricting protest activities around funerals. Although Phelps and his followers are not singled out in the bill, it was prompted by their protests at soldiers' funerals in the state.
Missouri enacted a law banning funeral protests last week that may be challenged by the Westboro group on Saturday at the funeral of Army Pfc. Christopher L. Marion, killed last week by a roadside bomb in Iraq, in Anderson, Mo., south of Joplin in the southwest corner of Missouri.
The Oklahoma measure, by Sen. Mary Easley, D-Tulsa, and Rep. Wade Rousselot, D-Wagoner, prohibits protests within 500 feet of a cemetery, church or mortuary from one hour before a funeral until one our after a funeral. Violations would be a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $500, a 30-day jail sentence or both.
In addition, a district court could award damages, including punitive damages, against those convicted of protesting at a funeral.
"These Oklahomans paid the ultimate price for our freedom," Henry said. "Our words can offer only so much solace to grieving families, but our actions today can protect these families from disruptive and disrespectful demonstrations."
Phelps characterized the new law as "a bit of cheap demagoguery" and suggested the church will challenge it in court.
"It's unconstitutional and their own constitutional authorities have told them so," Phelps said. He said it is illegal to restrict First Amendment free speech rights.
"I'm telling you that this is finger lickin' good," Phelps said, adding that the church won $170,000 in legal fees when it challenged a Kansas funeral protest law that was found unconstitutional 10 years ago.
"This is blatantly unconstitutional. You can't target a church," Phelps said.

Turret simulator keeps Marines on top of training

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (March 3, 2006) -- Marines from 2nd Assault Amphibian Battalion are moving ahead into the 21st century with new computer simulators to help refine combat skills and get more hands-on training.


Submitted by: II Marine Expeditionary Force
Story Identification #: 20063311106
Story by Cpl. Rose A. Muth

The new turret trainer virtual simulator program was recently installed, but previous models were field tested by Marines from Alpha Company, 2nd AA Bn., 2nd Marine Division, prior to deploying to the Middle East in September 2005.

With three vehicles in a formation and only 150 meters of separation between them, the newly acquired technology helps simulate what Marines will be doing on a convoy or other mission.

“Last March we received a prototype and we had Marines use it and give their input on what they liked and didn’t like, and what we could make improvements on,” said Staff Sgt. Michael P. Connors, battalion gunner, Headquarters and Support Company, 2nd AA Bn.,. “The prototype program ended in July and Lockheed & Martin came up with the final design. The simulators were just installed and now we’re running a three-day trainer course. Then the Marines will come in and start using it.”

Just arriving back from Iraq in October of 2005, Staff Sgt. Brian L. Sears, crew chief course instructor, Headquarters and Support Company, 2nd AA Bn., is going through the three-day trainer course and acknowledges the benefits of getting the necessary training before deploying.

“We might not always be able to get a range, so this is something we have in our backyard that we can use,” Sears said. “We’re not using the simulator to replace the range in any way. We just want the Marines to be prepared for combat and any other situations that might get thrown their way.”

Having the new indoor trainer will make field training more productive and factors such as weather and range availability won’t make an impact. According to Connors, Marines can practice a wide range of scenarios on the simulator and carry that knowledge over to field training exercises.

“Marines can practice different skills, formations and tactics with the simulators and see how their decision making skills worked or didn’t work for them,” Connors said. “The simulator can also calculate your accuracy on each weapon.”

This is just one way that this new technology is helping AA battalion amplify all of their skills, according to Connors.

“Having the three new turret simulators will help us integrate all the elements used out at a field exercise in one room and allow the crewman and the chief section leader a chance to refine their skills on all levels,” Connors said. “There are two different weapons on the Amphibious Assault Vehicles and switching between these weapons take skills. This also gives a junior Marine who hasn’t had a lot of experience with weapons a chance to get a feel for the turret and get familiarized with the systems before they go out for a field training exercise.”

Although the turret trainer is being used by Marines who work with AAVs at all times, a third crewman course is offered to help cross-train Marines and Sailors attached to the unit.

“We offer a course for Marines or Sailors to get familiarized with the turret and the weapons systems to be prepared for anything that might come their way just sitting in the back of the AAV during a deployment,” Connors said. “That person will be prepared and will know what to do if stuff ever goes down and they have to take charge.”

With the new turret trainer program being set up on other bases as well, the $2.2 million program is already a huge success with Marines throughout the Corps.

“I think this is a great program to use for training and I’m glad that we were the ones who got a chance to test it out and see what the programs were simulators are made of,” Connors said. “It’s just another great training tool to use to be prepared for when the time comes to actually use the skills we do have and we’ll know that we are ready to take the challenges head on.”

Families unite behind Arlington trio in Iraq

Three military men, all from Upper Arlington, graduated from the same middle school. They traveled to Iraq on the same Navy ship, in the same unit. Now, they’re preparing to come back to the United States on that same ship. Although Navy Lt. Tim Burkhart, Marine 1 st Lt. Antonio Agnone and Marine Pfc. Bob Lane are all members of the 22 nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, they have never been together. But their families have. This week, their brothers, fathers, mothers and sisters gathered at Da Vinci Ristorante at Henderson and Reed roads and talked for hours.


Saturday, March 04, 2006
Kevin Kidder

They handed around photos. They talked about whether the men were already on the USS Nassau for the trip home. Burkhart and Lane were; Agnone is expected to join them before the ship comes home around May. They talked about the phone calls they get early in the morning, the only time the men can use the phone.

"Of course, the ultimate would be if all three of them could be here," said John Burkhart, father of Lt. Burkhart, a flight surgeon.

The families were brought together by Hastings Middle School teacher Bill Richards, a Navy veteran who discovered that the three men were together in the 22 nd.

He e-mailed all three, who traveled to Iraq last year, to tell them about the coincidence.

"It was beyond cool," Richards said.

He then called the families and organized a gathering, joining them for dinner Tuesday.

One of the first questions bandied about over salad and bread: How did these guys end up Marines and a sailor? And how did they end up in the 22 nd, which has been based in Iraq’s restive Al Anbar province?

Pfc. Lane, 18, had been eager to be a Marine, his mom, Dorothy Lane, told the others. He was so eager that his parents signed early enlistment papers when he was 17. He graduated early from Upper Arlington High School in January 2005 and went straight to boot camp.

"Bob is a very patriotic person," Mrs. Lane said.

Others had similar stories. Lt. Burkhart, 29, wanted to fly since he was 5, his father said. His mom, Maureen, said she explained to him before he enlisted that "lots of things can happen," not all of them good.

Joining the 22 nd was an easy decision for him.

"He didn’t want to sit behind a desk, and he didn’t want to be stuck on a ship," Mr. Burkhart said.

Lt. Agnone, 26, wanted "the toughest service," his mother, Charlie Agnone, recalled. He found it, as a recent television report made clear.

In January, Agnone and his platoon discovered more than 500 rockets, tank rounds and bomb parts in an Iraqi graveyard. Insurgents had hidden them in graves.

As they discussed all that their sons and brothers have experienced, the family members also thought about what they have gone through. The recent death of Marine Pfc. Jacob Spann, of Westerville, and two of his comrades in the 22 nd panicked Mrs. Agnone.

"I just came home and sat, and fell apart for a few hours," she said. When a neighbor knocked on her door to ask about a lost dog, she freaked.

"I was scared to death it would be something bad."

Other family members nodded in agreement.

As the meal ended, everyone agreed to keep in touch. Phone numbers were exchanged. Then they went into the lobby of Da Vinci’s for a group picture.

The photo will be e-mailed to Lt. Burkhart, Pfc. Lane and Lt. Agnone to enjoy as they sail back to America.

[email protected]

Marines & Sailors Return from Deployment

SAN DIEGO, CA - (3-4-06) In two separate homecomings Saturday, 350 marines and sailors returned home from deployment.


200 Navy Reservists from two units assigned to Naval Coastal Warfare Group One (NCWG-1) returned to NAS North Island around 8:30am. Then, later in the day, more than 150 Marines and Sailors from the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing and the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force returned to Marine Air Station Miramar. Some of the Marines and Sailors had been deployed for a year.

Dunham bill finally on way to president

SCIO - The bill to rename the Scio post office after Jason Dunham is on its way to the desk of President George W. Bush.



Late Friday afternoon it was announced by U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., had passed the Senate. The measure to rename the Scio post office in honor of Marine Corporal Dunham originated in the House of Representatives under the hand of U.S. Rep. John R. “Randy” Kuhl, R-29th.

“It's great,” Kuhl said Friday evening at the Republican Winter Fest in Cuba. “It's such a wonderful honor for such a terrific American.”

Marine Corporal Jason Dunham was 22 and serving in Husaybah, Iraq, with the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, Kilo Company, when his patrol was hit with a live grenade. Dunham shielded his squad members from the blast, but was severely wounded and thought to be dead.

At a medical unit later in the day emergency surgery was performed after a nurse saw signs of life. Dunham was flown to Germany, and a few days later was flown to Bethesda Naval Hospital outside of Washington, D.C., where he was joined by his parents. He died April 22, 2004.

The self-sacrifice and valor Dunham showed by throwing himself on the grenade to save his fellow Marines is being considered as the basis for honoring him with the Medal of Honor. He already was awarded a Purple Heart.

Last Fall, Kuhl approached Dunham's parents, Dan and Deb Dunham, of Scio, with his wish to further honor the Scio Central High School graduate by renaming his hometown post office in his honor. The Dunhams went to the town board, which approved the idea.

Kuhl said he planned to call the Dunhams with the news on Saturday.

“They're such gracious people I am sure they will be very pleased,” he added.

Prior to the Senate approval Kuhl said once a bill reaches the President's desk he has several days in which to review and sign it into law.

“I'm sure he'll have no problem with it,” he added.

Kuhl brought the bill to the House in early December 2005, and within a week all 29 of New York's congressional representatives had signed on. It passed the House shortly afterward and was sent to the Senate where it languished for more than two months.

Although it had the support of both Clinton and U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., from the start, Kuhl learned the reason for the holdup stemmed from U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, R-R.I., who “put his thumb on bill for his own personal legislation.”

“I am so pleased the Senate passed this important bill that is a fitting tribute to a true hero,” Clinton said Friday. “Renaming the Scio Post Office honors Corporal Dunham's noble sacrifice on behalf of his Nation and the Marines with whom he proudly served. Corporal Dunham's actions in Iraq are truly humbling and worthy of the greatest honor.”

Kuhl thanked Clinton for her hard work and assistance in moving this bill through the Senate.

“The story of Jason's heroic actions in Iraq are truly inspiring, and I look forward to seeing Jason's name up on the post office very soon,” Kuhl said.

March 3, 2006

Sweat Hogs rotate in, out of Iraq

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION BEAUFORT, SC (March 3, 2006) -- Units throughout the Marine Corps are continuously rotating into Iraq and Afghanistan, with one group of Marines replacing another so they can take a break from the high operational tempo. But, the Marines of one Fightertown squadron have taken very few breaks in between their deployments in support of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.


Submitted by: MCAS Beaufort
Story Identification #: 2006338187
Story by Lance Cpl. Zachary Dyer

Since the start of the Global War on Terrorism, the Sweat Hogs of Marine Wing Support Squadron 273 have been providing constant support abroad. On Feb. 24, the Sweat Hogs said farewell to another group of Marines, and welcomed a returning detachment Tuesday.

A detachment of 72 Marines left the Air Station for a seven-month deployment to Camp Al Asad, Iraq, where they will be attached to Marine Wing Support Squadron 274 and will help support the units stationed there, according to Gunnery Sgt. Brian Akers, the detachment staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge.

"We have everything from engineers to supply Marines," Akers said. "We can do a variety of things in direct support of MWSS-274 who in turn support the whole air base."

The Sweat Hogs have proved to be successful on their previous deployments and Akers believes that this one will yield the same results.

"I think we are going to do awesome," Akers said. "We have a great group of Marines going."

This detachment will replace the Sweat Hogs who are returning from their own seven-month deployment in support of OIF. The Marines returning were attached to MWSS-272 and provided basic motor transport, limited engineer repairs on structures and rapid runway repair.

"The Marines have had their hands full, but were very successful," said Lt. Col. Jeffrey Hooks, the Sweat Hogs' commanding officer. "They are all home and that is the first sign of a good mission. The Marines were out there providing everything from basic support to fueling airplanes for 150-200 sorties a day."

The Marines were happy to be back with their families and with their fellow Sweat Hogs.

"It feels good to finally be back," said Sgt. Martin Metzger, an engineer equipment operator with the Sweat Hogs. "My experience was good, although I stayed on base a lot, what I saw made a difference."

The Sweat Hogs are no strangers to having detachments of Marines or augments on deployments to Iraq or otherwise. The Sweat Hogs have continuously had Marines deploying to countries ranging from Bosnia to Afghanistan, according to Hooks.

"The squadron deployed (as a whole) in February of 2004," Hooks said. "Since then, MWSS-273 has had Marines deployed somewhere. To Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom, or something else."

Having Marines constantly deploying does have its benefits for the Sweat Hogs, according to Hooks. The frequent deployments translate into vital experience.

"I have a lot of veterans in MWSS-273 right now," Hooks said. "With this next deployment in August, we will be the first MWSS to deploy twice to Iraq."

The Sweat Hogs are gearing up to deploy as a squadron and replace MWSS-274 in August. While in Iraq, the Sweat Hogs will have a two-fold mission, according to Hooks.

"The first part is aviation ground support, which is just the principle (military occupational specialty) skills, engineering and mechanics," Hooks said. "The second part is non-traditional aviation ground support, which is things like (explosive ordnance disposal) response, convoy security and aircraft and vehicle recovery."

Although many of the Marines have taken part in multiple deployments, the Sweat Hogs take their mission and their deployments in stride.

"It's our job as Marines," said Sgt. Andrew Nyser, an aircraft recovery crewmember on his second deployment with the Sweat Hogs. "It's what we have to do."

'War mothers' to tell what it's like to wait for word from Iraq

Rarely do opponents and supporters of the Iraq war agree on anything about the conflict. It's even rarer for them to share a stage -- but that much at least will change this weekend in San Jose.


Ten women under strict orders not to mention politics will speak at a rally Saturday afternoon. They are being asked just to share their personal stories, and the emotional bond and anxiety they share as mothers of U.S. service members stationed in Iraq.

Each has spent dark, lonely hours after midnight staring at a computer, waiting for an e-mail from their soldier child. They've all felt that paralyzing fear every time there's a knock at the door, thinking it could be word of their child's death. They all instantly wonder, "Is it him?" after hearing news reports of an unnamed "U.S. soldier killed in Iraq today."

They keep baby pictures of their boys and girls on the mantle.

Saturday's 1 p.m. rally is in support of "My Child: Mothers of War," a documentary premiering at 6:30 that evening at San Jose's Cinequest Film Festival.

Director Angeliki Giannakopoulos took painstaking care not to politicize the movie. In an era when many documentaries are thinly disguised polemics, Giannakopoulos tried to balance, frame for frame, the mothers' political comments and confined them to roughly seven minutes of the 94-minute movie.

She hopes to start a national dialogue on the war's effect on families at home by showing the film at house parties, community centers and places of worship. "My Child" doesn't have a distributor yet for theatrical release.

Giannakopoulos' desire for depoliticization is one reason she didn't seek to interview the nation's best-known mother of a U.S. soldier, Berkeley's Cindy Sheehan, whose son, Casey, was killed in Iraq in 2004. She also did not invite Sheehan to speak at the rally.

"I felt that she is too politically charged," said Giannakopoulos, 42, who has made two other documentaries. "I wanted to hear from other moms who we haven't heard from before. New faces."

Soon after the United States invaded Iraq, Giannakopoulos began saving newspaper stories of soldiers killed in the war, moved by the raw pain their mothers expressed. The clips sat in a file for more than a year and a half, until Giannakopoulos concluded there was an emotional connection between the mothers that crossed political boundaries and hadn't been told.

"I know this may sound sexist, but there's a different connection that mothers feel to their children. For one, they carried them for nine months," said Giannakopoulos, who does not have children. "While the fathers I would interview would always talk about how brave their sons were, the moms would talk about more spiritual things -- how their children were feeling about going over there."

She reached out to 150 mothers, many through Web sites such as www.marineparentsunited.com that cater to military families. She cold-called dozens of other families. Some parents hung up on her, their pain still too raw. Even some who agreed to be interviewed were wary of her motives -- several, she said, asked whether she was going to make "a Michael Moore movie."

After Giannakopoulos interviewed one mother, she said, the woman's husband told her, "If you make our boys look bad, I'll hunt you down and cut your throat out." She didn't use that footage.

Giannakopoulos eventually interviewed 60 mothers on camera, winnowing them to the 15 who appear in the film. The style is unadorned -- the women are shown in tight focus, the shots interspersed with still photographs of them holding their children as babies, and of the future soldiers as teenagers.

The cast includes everyone from a conscientious objector and his mom to mothers whose boys have returned home from Iraq -- some psychologically damaged, some missing arms, legs or eyes.

And some whose sons didn't come home. Many of the moms in the film cry as they retell everything from the first moment they held their boys to the moment they learned of their death.

"When Angeliki first called me, I wasn't sure if I was ready to talk," said Darlene Geurin, who spent 12 years in the Navy herself. Her son, Cory Geurin, was a Marine who died in July 2003. He called her hours before he was killed, just to tell his mother how much he loved what he was doing.

"Right after he died, I wasn't talking to anybody," she said. "My husband. My therapist. Anybody."

But Geurin, a 49-year-old elementary school health technician in suburban San Diego, said she talked for the movie because "I want people to realize that my son, and the people he was over there with, believe in what they're doing. And so do I.

"That doesn't mean I necessarily support the war or support (President) Bush," she said. "This isn't about politics. It's about living, breathing people like my son and the other sons and daughters over there."

And, she said, "I want people to know what it's like to have your heart ripped out of your chest."

Geurin said she wouldn't have a problem sharing the stage Saturday with a mother who firmly opposes the war, such as Vickie Castro, whose son Jonathan was an Army corporal who was killed by a suicide bomber attack in December 2004 in Iraq.

Castro describes in painful detail in the movie what happens when that knock comes on the door. Like Geurin, she'll be proud to be onstage with military mothers who disagree with her about the war.

"Every mother who supports the war has the right to have those feelings -- just as I have every right to have my feelings," said Castro, a 48-year-old math teacher who lives in Corona (Riverside County).

When people tell Castro that her opposition to the war is an insult to her son's memory, she said, "I tell them that I support the troops with every fiber of my body. But that doesn't mean I have to support the war.

"What I'd like people to realize when they leave this movie is that, unfortunately, there is a relatively small percentage of us who are shouldering this burden," Castro said.

Marie Bonilla refuses to live in fear as her son, Anthony Vidales, serves with the Marines in Iraq. Giannakopoulos followed the two until the last hug Bonilla gave him before he was deployed to Iraq in October.

Every day, Bonilla rises at 4:30 a.m. and exercises while listening to the song her son chose to play at his funeral, should he be killed. It's not strange, she said. It's a way to honor him.

"All of us mothers do something different when our sons are over there," said Bonilla, 42, who lives in San Dimas (Los Angeles County). "Some of us don't eat, some of us eat a lot, some of exercise, some of us lay on the couch. What's important is that we all love our sons so much.

"It used to bother me when I'd see people protesting the war on TV," Bonilla said. "But then my son told me, 'Why am I here, Mom? For your freedom and just yours? I'm here to protect everybody's freedom.' And that made me feel differently."

If you go
The mothers' rally will be at 1 p.m. Saturday in front of San Jose City Hall at 200 East Santa Clara St. "My Child: Mothers of War" will screen at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at the California Theatre, 345 South First St., San Jose, and at noon Sunday at the San Jose Repertory Theatre, 101 Paseo de San Antonio, San Jose. Admission is $9 general, $5 for students.

Bloated Osprey flies

WASHINGTON - Way over budget and way behind schedule, the first squadron of V-22 Ospreys will finally be activated today, with future operations of the Marine Corps riding on the controversial aircraft's tilt-rotor design.
But a mission in Iraq for the $74 million hybrid - which takes off and lands like a helicopter but flies like a fixed-wing turboprop - is not immediately in the works.



The innovative V-22 Osprey is behind schedule and over budget.

"We estimate that within a year, the Ospreys will be ready to deploy" overseas, said Cpl. Steven Sawyer, a spokesman for the Marine Corps Air Station New River, N.C. A combat zone mission "is probably farther down the road," Sawyer said.

The nine Ospreys of the new Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron-263 will carry the "Thunder Chicken" call sign to honor the famed Thunder Chicken helicopter squadron during the Vietnam War.

Lt. Col. Paul Rock Jr., of Baltimore, commander of the new squadron, and his troops "decided they were going with the name, and they hold proudly to it," Sawyer said.

Members of Congress, top Pentagon officials and other dignitaries will be on hand for the New River ceremony that will formally introduce the Ospreys, but Vice President Cheney will not be among them.

As defense secretary under the first President George Bush, Cheney tried three times to scuttle the Osprey, which he called an overpriced "turkey" in private.

The Osprey can travel more than 500 miles at speeds greater than 300 mph without refueling. It can fly more than twice as fast and carry more than double the load of the workhorse CH-46 twin-rotor helicopter it eventually will replace.

But the four crashes that killed 30 troops since the aircraft left the drawing board in the early 1980s raised concerns about whether the Osprey could be maintained and flown in a combat zone.

"The Marines are really rolling the dice with this," and will be left without the ship-to-shore assault primacy that defines the Corps if the Osprey fails, said Lawrence Korb, a defense analyst at the Center for American Progress.

"There's just so much riding on this thing," said John Pike, a GlobalSecurity.org analyst.

With the Osprey as the centerpiece of a whole new generation of surface ships, "there's an enormous amount of money driving this forward," Pike said.

Originally published on March 3, 2006