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April 30, 2006

Love, Oreos and birthday wishes from the desert by way of the Dixie

It was silly, really, this video of a Marine arranging the birthday song from Camp Fallujah.

Staff Sgt. Dan Norton stood at attention before the camera. In the background were sand-colored tents, an American flag waving. Norton called for support and four more Marines fell in behind him. The occasion? "My wife's 40th birthday," Norton said to the camera.


Cindy Corell

In lieu of cake, the Marines produced Oreo cookies, and in lieu of a party hat, Norton produced one made from funny papers.

"When I give the command to sing, I want you to sing loud and in the military manner," Norton called.


Apparently the military manner is boistrous and more than a little off-key.

Liz Norton sat in Theater 4 at the Dixie Theater Thursday night, wondering why her parents had dragged her to the movies on the night she had art class. When her husband's mug showed up on the silver screen, she put her hands to her face, wiped away tears and laughed and laughed.

"Oh my gosh," she said.

"I fully expect my wife to laugh the whole time I'm on the screen," Dan wrote me via e-mail. "I know she'll be surprised, but not as much as you'd think — she knows I'm an oddball. I think she expects me to come up with stuff like this. That's why we make such a good pair — we're both a little strange."

Liz's parents, Lila and Bill Schafer took turns watching their son-in-law on the screen and their daughter's face as she nearly howled with laughter. When it was done, Marnie Gibbs, one of the chief volunteers at the Dixie handed Liz her very own package of Oreos.

"Thank you so much," Liz said. "I can't believe this!"

Liz moved from Camp Pendleton, Calif., to to live with her parents in Greenville when Dan was deployed to Iraq in February. He didn't want her to be alone. When she had her birthday on Monday, he wanted to be with her, so he did it the only way he could — through technology.

I first learned of the plans when Dan called me, then sent an e-mail, asking me to publicly thank John Zinn for arranging the event at the Dixie. Zinn is Gibbs' husband and they, along with dozens of other volunteers, spend an inordinate amount of their time making the Dixie project work, turning it from a discount movie house to a state-of-the-art community theater.

Playing a short DVD to make a Marine's wife's day was just part of the job. In fact, Dan asked John how much this would cost:

"You are paying any cost we would charge and much more by serving in the Marines," was John's reply. "We will provide free passes to the movie to your wife and her parents. This will be done so she will not know. After the show, we will present your wife with the DVD.

"Thanks for what you are doing for all of us," John added.

Before he left for Iraq, Dan and Liz had taken a long walk in downtown Staunton. He said the idea for the DVD emerged when he remembered how much fun the two had had at the Dixie.

"At some point we spoke of a recent trip to the Dixie Theater, how we enjoyed it, and how Liz planned to see as many movies as she could there while I was gone. I'd also been trying to dream up something special for her birthday, and I guess the two thoughts came together naturally," he said.

"Liz is quite simply the love of my life," he wrote. "She is endlessly creative, and probably the most open-minded person I know. She is a very caring, selfless woman, who constantly puts the needs of others ahead of her own. She is brave and intelligent, able to face hurricanes, cars that break down, all of the bills, evil cats and needy dogs, and the endless, everyday emergencies that couples deal with — all by herself, in a strange state, for months on end.

"She loves sleeping in on the weekend, watching cartoons, and getting lost on back country roads. She has no idea what she wants to be when she grows up, and I hope it stays that way. She loves to discover new things, and has an endless appetite for the oddities, mysteries and conspiracies of our world, past, present and future. She is my Sweetie, my WifeUnit, my inspiration, and again, and always, the love of my life."

"He's loony," Liz said, standing in the lobby of the theater after the show. "I don't know what else to say.

"He's Boomer, that's what everyone knows him as. He's a wonderful husband, he's funny and good-hearted. He's a family man."

"He's a real Marine," Lila added. "I'm proud to say he's my son-in-law."

Marnie walked the family across the street from the Dixie as they exited. Turning around, Liz saw on the marquee: Thank you Dan. I love you, Liz."

More hugs and thanks from the woman holding Oreos and still a bit overwhelmed by her trip to the movies, and we all went home.

Reflecting on it, it was so much more than a husband sending birthday wishes — it was a man in love with his wife, a community theater going the extra mile because it can, a mom and dad going out of their way to ease the heartache they know their little girl is facing and a Marine far away hoping everyone who deserves it gets recognition.

Yes, it was silly, the image of this goofy Marine in a funny papers hat singing off-key but loudly, even when at the end his voice broke as he said, "Happy Birthday, Liz. I love you. I miss you. God bless."

Very silly.

So why were there tears in my eyes?

Marine invasion - for a good cause

Volunteers landscape injured Iraq vet's yard, bring him a new Harley
Dan Priestley got a home makeover, Marine Corps-style.

The staff sergeant in the Marine Corps Reserves was confused when his wife, Lisa, woke him at 7:30 Saturday morning. But the confusion dissipated when he saw retired Marines arriving on motorcycles with heavy equipment to work on the front and back yards of his Parma home.


Sunday, April 30, 2006
Angela D. Chatman
Plain Dealer Reporter

Months ago, Priestley said he wanted to fix up his yard and play with his sons.

He also planned to ride a motorcycle again, just like he did before his wife became pregnant with their second son.

But he was not able to do much of that.

Priestley, a 12-year member of the Marines, was deployed to Iraq with the 3rd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment in February 2005.

Three months later, he nearly lost his legs and died when his unit came under enemy mortar fire while patrolling north of Baghdad.

He has since had 22 painful operations that saved his legs. Two more are scheduled this summer.

Dozens of people descended on the modest Brookdale Avenue home early Saturday, including more than 20 members of the Leathernecks Motor Club International Inc., from as far away as Columbus, Lorain and Mentor. Their wives, girlfriends and children joined them, as did representatives of organizations that donated products and services to the cause.

In addition to $6,000 in landscaping work, the club arranged for the Priestleys to get a flagpole, a new patio, a stainless-steel grill, and a play set for their two sons, Garett, 6, and Tyler, 2.

But the highlight came just before noon, when Priestley took the seat and grabbed the handlebars of his new Harley-Davidson Deuce. Bedford's South East Harley-Davidson cut the price of the $22,000 motorcycle to about $17,000. Priestley's Marine friends raised money to defray some of that cost. "Rev it up, Dan," one man yelled.

"Ride it like you stole it," said another, as Priestley took a brief ride on the royal blue and chrome machine.

"I've seen people help people before, but not like this," said 84-year-old neighbor Frank Crish, who retired from the Army in 1961 after serving 22 years.

Priestley is expected to ride his Harley again today when the Leathernecks gather on Public Square for a rally for the troops.

The plan was to keep the surprises rolling, Leathernecks organizer Tim DeWolf said.

Priestly savored the friendship of his military brothers. He remains in the military and hopes to pass a physical fitness test that will allow him to continue to serve.

"That's the one reason why I stay in the Marine Corps. All these guys are outstanding," he said.

Marine recruit's test of endurance

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- At an obstacle course set amid sage and prickly pears, Marine recruits lined up to don gas masks and swing on a rope across a gravel patch representing a blown-out bridge.


By Russell Working
a Tribune staff reporter
Published April 30, 2006

In the crowd of young men wearing helmets and camouflage makeup, I couldn't pick out my stepson, Sergei.

Sgt. Alex Kras, who ran the course, tried to help. "Second from the right," he said.

"With his back to me?"

"No, right here, standing."

Thirty feet away, a young warriorstood preparing to put on his gas mask. The day was sunny, and backlight cast his face in shadow.

"Him?" I said. "Oh, yeah. Yes, you're right."

Two months into boot camp, my son looked like a Marine.

In February, Sergei--who like his mother is a Russian immigrant--had shocked my wife, Nonna, and me by enlisting. Now I was visiting this base north of San Diego to observe the Crucible, a 2 1/2-day test of endurance that is the climactic trial of Marine boot camp.

During the Crucible, recruits march 40 miles between tasks that include tackling combat assault courses and carrying ammunition boxes over log-and-chain obstacles. It ends with a 10-mile hike in which recruits lug M16A2 service rifles and 50-pound packs up a mountain known as "the Reaper."

Mine was an unusual visit. I was not only a reporter--a common visitor to Marine bases--but the father of a recruit. It is all but unheard of for a dad to look in on boot camp, but the corps agreed to my request to see part of boot camp if I was going to write about Sergei's enlistment, as I have been doing since February.

The company commander, Capt. Rich Vallee, said nothing would be done to compromise recruits' safety, but added, "You're going to see your son in some pain, sir."

Vallee seemed worried that I wouldn't get it. What might look like bullying to a civilian parent--hounding recruits to the point of exhaustion--serves an essential purpose, the corps believes. The Crucible forces men to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles by working as a team.

After all, Alpha Company 1st Sgt. Carlos Reina said, "The enemy's not going to look at you and say, `Oh, well, he's tired. I'm not going to come after him.' The enemy's going to kill you."

Spotting me at the obstacle course, Sergei grinned. Then the drill instructors marched the recruits off to the next event, urging the men to keep their ranks tight. The recruits answered in a booming dialogue.

"Tighter!" the sergeants growled.

"KILL!" the recruits answered.





It was unsettling to see Sergei roaring along with them.

Throughout the 2 1/2-day Crucible, he and the other recruits would sleep fewer than five hours a night and eat just three meals.

A cohort of sergeants would push, berate and hound the 261 recruits of Alpha Company through the Crucible. For the 45 men of Sergei's Platoon 1081, the most important figures were their own drill instructors. Since the start of boot camp, three of them had striven to mold an elite killing force out of young men who may not even have thrown a punch in a schoolyard fistfight.

There are time-honored traditions to a drill instructor's harangues. Sarcasm is relentless: "Don't worry, nobody's waiting for that," Staff Sgt. Sergio Rodriguez bellowed at a recruit lugging an ammunition box.

With civilian visitors present, the drill instructors used alternatives for more familiar expletives. ("I guess we're losing our frickin' discipline."). Sometimes a tired sergeant's voice switched to a scary croak.

Dragging 40-pound dummy

"Fred" is the collective name for dummies that represent wounded Marines. Anytime a recruit slips up, he must drag Fred up a dirt road and back. Fred weighs maybe 40 pounds, but the toil is exhausting.

Sergei crossed bridges, scaled walls, crawled under barbed wire. He and his buddies assaulted a bayonet course where Freds hung from wooden frames, like prisoners of war strung up after a medieval siege.

All day, my independent-minded son bellowed assent to every thought that crossed the drill instructors' lips, whether it was an order to clean his rifles ("AYE, SIR!") or the notion that Marines would all be in prison were it not for the taming influences of the corps ("YES, SIR!").

It was 11 p.m. Wednesday before the recruits collapsed under poncho tents pitched on a dusty plateau.

Thursday morning, their weariness showed. Sergei no longer smiled when I caught his eye but gave a look that seemed to say, "You see what I mean?" But drill instructor Sgt. Nathan Downey had no intention of letting the men forget what all this was about.

"You think you're hungry and tired, don't you?"

"NO, SIR!" the recruits roared.

"Well, it could be worse."


"Where could you be?"

"I-RAQ, SIR!" Sergei roared along with the others.

This was not an answer that would cheer Nonna. The Marines have told Sergei he will work in legal administration, but we have no idea where that job might take him.

At around noon Thursday, the recruits gathered for a round of close combat with pugil sticks--padded rods with one end colored red to signify a bayonet. They were paired off to fight two-on-two.

When Sergei's turn came, his partner was quickly dispatched, leaving him to fight his opponents alone.

I found myself willing him quickness and strength. It was only a game, but if he couldn't prevail on this field, what might happen in real combat?

The whistle cheeped, and the recruits went at it. At first Sergei fought a circling bout, keeping one opponent in the way of the other. But then a foe smacked Sergei on the helmet with the "bayonet." Killed.

The whistle blew. I exhaled.

Reaper day began in predawn blackness. The recruits were sleeping under the stars when a drill instructor pulled up to the field in a pickup truck. Then he switched on his headlights and blasted the horn. A roar arose as the drill instructors charged in to rouse their platoons. It was Good Friday, 3 a.m.

Dawn found Sergei and the rest of the company resting beside a mockup of a bombed-out village used for combat training. They gazed up at the Reaper, the mountainside green after rains earlier in the week.

Halfway up the slope, a robed figure could be seen dragging a huge cross. He was slathered in crimson paint, his brow gory and crowned with thorns. A Marine marched beside him, flogging him with a branch.

Lt. Cmdr. Scott Radetski, a Baptist chaplain, was carrying a cross the 10-mile route alongside the recruits. In church, he said, he had promised that "someone would be out here walking it with them."

A Marine spokesman said Radetski hadn't asked Alpha Company officers' permission to be there and they were concerned that he would offend non-Christian recruits. The corps is, after all, a secular institution.

The sergeants roused Alpha Company. Sergei, who had written that boot camp wasn't as physically demanding as high school football, ascended the hill with a dire look on his face. Everyone made it to the top.

Afterward, as they wolfed down a "warrior breakfast" that included steak and eggs, Staff Sgt. Brian Kiraly praised the performance of 1081. "This is the best platoon that I've ever had," he said. "Nobody ever dropped out, nobody fell behind. I can't tell you enough about how proud I am of these guys."

A rare privilege

Before I left, the Marine Corps was kind enough to grant me another rare privilege: five minutes with my son. When Vallee summoned Sergei in the barracks, my son marched up, saluted and roared that recruit Working was reporting to his company commander, as ordered.

Vallee sent us to a drill instructor's room to speak. A gunnery sergeant followed, perhaps worried that I might try to slip Sergei a cake with a file in it.

My son and I hugged. We didn't really talk about the Crucible. What Sergei wanted was news. How was Mama? How was Lyova, his 2-year-old brother? Had his aunt Ira chosen a name for her baby?

Then our time was over, and Sergei marched out. My last glimpse of him was of a bristly-headed United States Marine Corps recruit, striding away from me to his barracks.


[email protected]

April 29, 2006

On Iraqi-Jordanian border, hundreds of Iraqis seek refuge from Baghdad violence

JORDANIAN BORDER, Iraq (April 29, 2006) -- Near the Iraqi-Jordanian border, key leaders from the Iraqi Government and the United Nations met to figure out the fate of a growing number of Iraqis of Palestinian heritage who are trying to leave Iraq due to recent violence in Baghdad.


Submitted by: Regimental Combat Team7
Story Identification #: 2006429125537
Story by Cpl. Graham A. Paulsgrove

The meeting between the two organizations came after more than 200 Iraqi men, women and children took up residence along the border here weeks ago, after being denied passage into Jordan by Jordanian border officials.

The Iraqis left Baghdad to escape “violence and persecution” by insurgents, who targeted hundreds of Iraqi families there because of their Palestinian heritage, according to one Iraqi man who fled Baghdad several weeks ago and now lives with his wife and three children in this refugee camp.

“The terrorists came in, threatened us, told us to get out or ‘bang-bang-bang,’” said the refugee as he used his hands to gesture shooting a handgun.

“[My wife and I] left because it is safer for them (here),” he said, pointing to his three children.

Iraqi Government officials and U.N. representatives from Jordan held the meeting to discuss future needs and any concerns about the Iraqi refugees’ current situation, and to assess the refugees’ living conditions.

While the Jordanian Government will not allow the Iraqis to cross the border into Jordan, the refugees refuse to return to Baghdad because of the violence, they said.

Now, they live in tents and are provided food, water, medical supplies and clothing from the Iraqi Red Crescent – an organization similar to the American Red Cross.

Officials from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, based in Amman, Jordan, attended the meeting to assess the situation, but offered no immediate solutions to the problem.

“We come here with no solutions. We came here to assess the needs of the group, assess the difficulties faced by [the Iraqi border authorities], help find options for the future and establish good communication between (United Nations) and border authorities,” said Charles Lynch, a U.N. representative who attended the meeting.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi Red Crescent, an Iraqi organization similar to the American Red Cross has provided the refugees with food, supplies, tents and some medical care. But that support is due to run out in 45 days, at which time the Iraqi Border Authority will provide an additional 30 days of support to the refugees.

Beyond that, the Iraqis’ fate is uncertain.

Still, the refugees say they are happier living here in less-than-ideal conditions than having to return to their homes in Baghdad.

“The terrorism and violence was too much - that is why I left [Baghdad]. I liked my home but now all I want is to live in peace and get on with my life,” said a 29-year-old refugee.

“No solutions were hammered out in this meeting - that was expected but still disappointing,” said Vernon Hills, Ill., native Gunnery Sgt. Brian K. Yount, the team leader of 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion’s Civil Affairs detachment.

The southern California-based Marine battalion provided security for those in the meeting, and will assist the Iraqi Government by ensuring the Iraqi border patrols are “beefed up,” adding additional security for the refugees, according to Maj. Matt Good, the battalion’s operations officer and 33-year-old Andrews, Texas, native.

While the Marines have beefed up security measures, it has been the Iraqi Government; which has taken the lead in ensuring the refugees have provisions and security at the camp.

“Iraq’s got the lead,” said Good. “When we first got out there, (the Iraqi colonel) asked us what we wanted him to do, but we told him – ‘This is your show.’”

“We are here to keep everyone talking and help facilitate the next step,” added Yount. “Until [a solution is found], all we can do is to continually give humanitarian assistance and support.”

While the refugees’ fate is undecided, many have not given up hope that they will be allowed to eventually cross into Jordan, where some have family.

“My wife is a Jordanian citizen and even she wasn’t let in,” said Taha, another refugee. “Her parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters all live there.”

After refusing the Iraqis passage into Jordan, the Jordanian Government closed the port of entry into Iraq and reinforced their guard with extra troops, trucks, and tanks to prevent any crossing from happening, according to Col. Mohammad Abas, the acting director of the Iraqi Border Authority here.

“The refugees were treated poorly and insulted by the Jordanian authorities so we gave them a place to stay and some assistance,” said Abas. “It is our duty to do so.”

While many of the refugees left Baghdad to escape violence and persecution, many have their own stories to tell of intimidation by local criminals.

Through an interpreter, one man recounted his decision to move his family out of Baghdad - “Some men told us to leave or there would be hell to pay, we shrugged it off until a man who lived not far from us was killed- it was time for us to go.”

The refugees abandoned their homes in Baghdad by their own admission, but many knew their chances of entering Jordan without proper documentation was slim, according to Yount.

Instead, many of the refugees hoped to get the attention of international agencies, like the U.N., he said.

Attention was exactly what they got – the border was closed, prohibiting anyone and everything from crossing the border, to include delivery trucks and even people seeking medical help, which Abas described as an “international incident” - which is why the U.N. got involved, he said.

“Luckily, no medical emergencies occurred, because the next closest medical facility is [110 miles away] in Rutbah,” he said.

The border was opened back up, but not to the inhabitants of the refugee camp. Also, the continuous attention at the border due to the refugees’ presence requires solutions to a few problems which are hoped to be solved during the next meeting.

“This isn’t the right place for the group - it is too crowded and there are a lot of trucks coming through, this is not a suitable place especially with all of the children,” said Abas.

The Iraqi Border Authority wants to establish a new camp two kilometers away from the port of entry, so the refugees can be better protected, he said.

“I am asking for an urgent solution. Our summer season is coming up and it is very harsh,” said Abas.

The current camp, though, “isn’t that bad,” according to Taha.

“[My family and I] could use a better tent,” as he pointed to water that had leaked inside the tent during recent rainstorms. “But overall, not bad. We have a good supply of food and our water tanks are filled every day or so.”

At least some of the refugees are opposed to the idea of relocating, though. Through an interpreter, one refugee complained that if they move to the proposed location, they will fall off the Iraqi Government’s radar, and eventually be left to their own devices to survive.

For better or for worse, if a new camp is built, it would be an incentive for more Palestinians to flee Baghdad because they would have somewhere to run away from the violence, according to Abas.

“We expect about 450 people to eventually get here,” said Abas. “Because of the threat of violence and bloodshed, they are leaving. It’s not safe [in Baghdad].”

‘Suicide Charley’ mourn fallen Marine in Iraq

KARABILAH, Iraq (April 29, 2006) -- A two-time veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Lance Cpl. Aaron W. Simons was a Marine who could be counted on in any situation.


Submitted by: Regimental Combat Team7
Story Identification #: 2006531432
Story by Cpl. Antonio Rosas

“He could’ve done anything he wanted to. He didn’t have to be in the Marine Corps, but he chose to fight among us,” said 1st Lt. Richard J. Cannici, Simon’s platoon commander.

That “fight” took Simon’s life, a 20-year-old team leader from Modesto, Calif., on April 24, 2006. The infantry team leader died during combat operations near the Iraqi-Syrian border in Iraq’s western Al Anbar Province.

The Marines of Company C, 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, better known as “Suicide Charley,” mourned the loss of Simons during a memorial service at the Marines’ base here, or “battle position,” as the Marines call it.

The service was held the day after he died.

The Twentynine Palms, Calif.-based Marines, partnered with an Iraqi Army unit, have spent nearly two months now conducting counterinsurgency operations in this region and mentoring their Iraqi counterparts to become a self-sustaining force.

As fellow Company C Marines from neighboring bases congregated for the memorial, they shared photographs and stories about Simons, the details surrounding his death, which was still fresh on their minds.

“He had those qualities you look for in young Marines,” said Cannici, 26, Simon’s platoon commander, recalling the day he met the young man. “He was very bright and always challenging others to excel.”

As Simon’s platoon leader, Cannici was always impressed with the Grace M. Davis High School graduate. “He had the ability to elevate the conversation beyond my understanding.”

Others remembered Simons as the man with the aviator sunglasses, which he never took off.

“He always wore those glasses ever since our last deployment,” said Lance Cpl. Jonathan A. Humphries, a mortarman who served in Charley Company.

Those aviator glasses adorned the fallen Marine’s Kevlar helmet alongside his service rifle, dog tags and combat boots at the service – a symbol representing the fallen Marine.

Many remember him for his guitar playing and sense of humor.

“He wasn’t just good at playing the guitar, he was gifted at it,” said Humphries, from Versailles, Ind., who hosted “jam sessions” with Simons using a pair of bongo drums during the battalion’s deployment here last year.

Simons was someone who was always telling jokes and spreading laughter wherever he went, according to the Marines from his unit.

“The guy was very optimistic and funny,” said Humphries. “Every time things went bad in Iraq, he always had a joke about it.”

Company C Marines said Simons was a person who could be counted on when it was time to strap on the body armor and leave the security of the Marines’ forward operating base to conduct foot patrols through the city. Simons had done so numerous times during the battalion’s last deployment to the same area of operations.

Iraqi soldiers who served alongside Simons also paid their respects at the memorial, standing alongside Marines and shedding tears for the fallen warrior they had served with on numerous security patrols with.

"The participation by the Iraqi soldiers was very impressive," noted Sgt. Maj. George W. Young, the battalion sergeant major.

Iraqi soldiers have also suffered casualties in this region while working hand-in-hand with their Marine counterparts.

The Iraqi Army soldiers serving alongside First Team’s Marines have suffered their own casualties in recent weeks where a suicide-vehicle-borne improvised explosive device attack occurred several hundred yards from the Company C area of operations, according to battalion officials.

Following the memorial, the Marines wiped away tears and once again donned body armor to leave the security of the reinforced base. In Iraq’s Al Anbar Province, where U.S. Marines have suffered hundreds of fatalities since the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom three years ago, protection for U.S. troops here comes from not only from their body armor and weapons, but also from watching out for one another.

“You’ve got to take care of each other. You have to be physically ready for whatever comes your way,” said Cannici. “We can’t let something like this let us down.”

After a few minutes of putting on their heavy loads – body armor with protective ceramic plates, Kevlar helmets, ammunition and various weapons, the Marines piled into their seven-ton trucks and headed back to their various bases – the Marines call them “battle positions” – to continue the fight against the insurgency in this remote corner of western Al Anbar.

Before his death, Simons had an inspiration to make a unit t-shirt using a logo he designed, according to fellow Marines in the unit.

His unit will make good on their fallen comrade’s idea and complete the project upon their return to the United States, the Marines said.

“The shirt will be a way of representing the unit as well as a remembrance of him,” added Humphries, recollecting the moments he spent with Simons. “I’m really going to miss that guy. His presence always lit up the room.”

Marine is remembered for his humor and antics

He died in a flood 60 days after he was deployed to Iraq.

God must have built Lance Cpl. Eric A. Palmisano without a filter, because he would say exactly what was on his mind -- and it was always hilarious.


Rich Mckay
Sentinel Staff Writer
April 29, 2006

More than 70 of Palmisano's friends gathered with his fiancee, Claire Kohake of Oviedo, at New Life Church of God to remember their fallen friend. And they came not just to cry, but to laugh at his antics and give thanks that he was a part of their lives.

Afterward they set off to do what he loved best: to party. Maps to the location with instructions to bring booze were beside the guest book and dozens of photos of "Eric and Claire."

Although some of the service was somber, people hugged Kohake -- who wore one of Palmisano's dog tags -- and almost everyone had a funny "Eric story."

Jorge Duprey recalled a 4 a.m. escapade to Wal-Mart where they, a little tipsy, bought 30 or so cans of whipped cream and sunglasses for a "CoolWhip fight."

"The cashiers were definitely baffled," Duprey said. "We cleaned out their shelves."

They talked of his nights lingering in the bars downtown -- mostly Casey's on Central, cheering for the Bucs when they were always losing. His friend Tammy Topelski recalled that he once broke a toe cheering when his team scored a touchdown -- but part of that story is unprintable.

They talked of his kindness -- even if it involved breaking rules, such as when he sneaked a puppy into a hospital to cheer up a friend.

His friends recalled driving to countless houses for parties and lying in the bed of his Chevrolet S10 watching the sun come up while Jimmy Eat World blared in the background.

And he swore to never grow up, said his longtime friend Jackie Kutudis, who also said that she, "Claire and Eric were like three pieces of the same puzzle."

They worried about him when he joined the Marines last year. But Palmisano said he needed to find focus in his life. Taking a cue from his grandfather Bob McClauskin and an uncle who served in the Marines, he joined the corps.

In the Marines he earned top marks in the toughest of tests of physical and mental ability. He earned the designation of expert marksman -- something that career Marines say could take a decade to earn.

He earned his tan belt in martial arts and kept his sense of humor. He told his friends in an e-mail, "The world is not safe. [But] I took an oath to use my powers only for good. Or was that Star Wars?"

Palmisano, 27, died April 2 -- 60 days after he was deployed to Iraq. He was on a combat logistics mission in the Al Asad province with seven other Marines and a sailor when they were caught in a flash flood.

The fierce waters toppled the seven-ton truck. Only one Marine lived. It took nine days for the military to find Palmisano's body, and it was still in the water.

For days, his family prayed nonstop that he might somehow be found alive.

"We prayed every second, every millisecond. We didn't sleep for praying," his fiancee said.

On Friday, Marine officers delivered his personal effects to his mother, Roberta "Bobbie" Samme. The effects included a laminated card his mother gave him years ago when he was struggling in college. It said, "I love you son."

"Not many 27-year-old men carry cards from their mother in their wallets," she told the Orlando Sentinel in a telephone interview from her home in Florence, Wis.

His family had Palmisano laid to rest April 22 next to his father, Salvatore Palmisano, in Hillside, Ill. His father died of cancer in 1981 when Eric was 3.

His mother said, "He never really knew his father. He was too young. And I felt that now, he would finally be able to be with him and catch up on all the years they missed together."

She sent her well wishes to Kohake but knew that her son's friends would want to have a party without the grownups.

Kutudis remarked that even in the somber setting of the church, she felt Palmisano wouldn't sit still and would joke.

"He'd be there talking smack and say: 'Tootie [Kutudis], why are you in a church dressed in black? You gonna rob the church?' "

And Kohake shared some of his letters and e-mails with her friends, including one that showed Palmisano's deep caring and sensitive side beneath the wisecracking.

He wrote: "I miss you so much and think of you every second. My biggest fear of joining the Marines is that it will take me even further away from you (if that's possible), and I know my only chance of true happiness in this world rests with you. No matter what happens to me, or where I end up, please know that you were my one and only chance at true love."

“I have been in the company of heroes...” 2/7 memorializes 13 fallen

Before leaving home for his second tour to Iraq, Staff Sgt. Daniel Clay left a letter with his family and an instruction to open it only in the event of his death. Clay was killed in action in Iraq on Dec. 1, 2005.


Cpl. Heidi E. Loredo
Combat Correspondent

“But here is something tangible,” wrote Clay. “What we have done in Iraq is worth any sacrifice. Why? Because it was our dutyŠWithout duty, life is worthless.”

Clay and 12 other Marines from 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, who perished during their deployment to Iraq while performing their duties as Marines, were honored at a memorial service April 21 in the presence of their families and brothers-in-arms. The War Dogs deployed to Iraq for the second time in July and returned to Twentynine Palms late January.

“Every Marine we honor here this morning was a great and selfless man drawn to the Corps by a sense of duty,” said Lt. Col. Joseph a. L'Etoile, commanding officer, 2/7. “A duty they were faithfully and bravely performing when they were taken by the enemy, an enemy that attacks hope and the human spirit.”

The first casualty the battalion suffered was Pfc. Ramon Romero, 19, of Huntington Park, Calif., Aug. 22, 2005, when the vehicle he was in was struck by an improvised explosive device near Fallujah. Romero's mother said her son aspired to study criminology after his enlistment and wanted to become a police officer.

The lives of two other Marines were taken by the enemy Nov. 12 from an IED when they engaged enemy forces in Al Amiriyah. Lance Cpl. David A. Mendez Ruiz, 20, of Cleveland, Ohio, was on his second tour to Iraq. The youngest of eight children was born in Guatemala City, Guatemala, and moved to the United States when he was 6 years old.

Lance Cpl. Scott A. Zubowski, 20, of Manchester, Ind., was on his second tour to Iraq. Prior to his departure, Zubowski married his high school sweetheart, Klancey Eberly.

Disaster struck the battalion on Dec. 1, in one of the worst tragedies to occur to a Combat Center unit. Ten Marines died while on patrol from an IED fashioned from several large artillery shells.

Gone but not forgotten are:

Lance Cpl. Adam W. Kaiser, 19, of Naperville, Ill.

Lance Cpl. Andrew G. Patten, 19, of Byron, Ill.

Lance Cpl. Holmason, 20, of Surprise, Ariz.

Lance Cpl. Robert A. Martinez, 20, of Splendora, Texas

Lance Cpl. Craig N. Watson, 21, of Union City, Mich.

Lance Cpl. David A. Huhn, 24, of Portland, Mich.

Lance Cpl. Scott T. Modeen, 24, of Hennepin, Minn.

Cpl. Anthony T. McElveen, 20, of Little Falls, Minn.

Sgt. Andy A. Stevens, 29, of Tomah, Wis.

3/11 Mike Battery lights up Niland

Hailing from the harsh and barren terrain of the Combat Center, Mike Battery, 3rd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, composed of roughly 100 Marines, trekked to a similarly desolate and unwelcoming desert of southern California to participate in the four-week Weapons and Tactics Instructors course March 24 to April 21.


Lance Cpl. Michael S. Cifuentes
Combat Correspondent

The battery of artillerymen and logistical servicemen brought with them, along with their convoy, five M777 Lightweight Howitzers, crew served weapons and their infantry skills to Niland, Calif., neighboring the Salton Sea.

Their mission was to provide artillery support to Marine pilots who are going through WTI, which is basically a Marine aviation schoolhouse, said Capt. Kevin M. Stout, commanding officer of Mike Battery.

Squadrons throughout the Marine Corps send pilots to WTI for training on close-fire combat and call-for-fire missions. The pilot's mission after the four-week evolution is to return to their unit and teach the latest on weapons and tactics to other pilots in their squadron, added Stout, a Martinsville, Ind., native.

“Also from the squadrons were forward observers riding along in the cockpit with the pilots,” said Stout. “Those FOs have been trained on how to call for fire. A lot of our missions were run by them. We'd mark their targets with artillery rounds, and they'd come through air and drop ordnance on them.”

Mike Battery's mission was to provide artillery support when students needed it, said Stout. The battery fired rounds nine days in support of WTI out of the 29 days they were there.

“With only nine training days out of the 29-day evolution, you have to come up with your own things to do,” said Stout.

The battery also trained for firing missions not in support of WTI, as well as sharpened their infantry skills.

“We did three separate emergency fire mission shoots,” said Stout. “There were times when the battery convoyed down a road and the XO [executive officer] of the battery would give a fire for effect call. We'd just basically pull over to the side of the road, about 10 to 15 meters out, set up the [weapon systems] and get ready to shoot. In the final emergency fire mission, we had rounds out of the gun 14 minutes after the mission was called. It went really well considering we haven't done this before.

“From there we rolled into a hand grenade throw,” said Stout. “Each Marine of the battery received one live hand grenade and two blue bodies [practice grenades]. We spent half of the day on grenade exercises and then moved on to a 50 caliber [heavy machine gun] shoot. Every Marine in the battery fired 100 rounds of 50 caliber ammunition. We used a brand new sport utility vehicle for a target, which our Marines lit on fire after shooting the gas tank.”

The battery then transitioned into a three-day training period for squad leaders. The battery broke down into squads and trained for live-fire and maneuvering drills. They executed the drill successfully under horrible, windy weather conditions, said Stout.

“Our purpose in the field as artillerymen is to try to make timely and accurate impacts on targets, and to make targets for air support,” said Sgt. Michael E. Gilliland, a 23-year-old artilleryman with Mike Battery, from Chula Vista, Calif. “We are also trained to do infantry work. When we are not firing rounds downrange from our guns, we must be prepared as grunts [infantrymen]. We're always up for any call.”

During Operation Iraqi Freedom I, Mike Battery deployed to Iraq as an artillery unit, during OIF II, they deployed as a convoy security unit, and during OIF III, their mission was detainee operations.

“We can do most infantry tasks,” said Gilliland, “but, not anyone can be a cannoneer and do our job.”

This training evolution was very important to the battery, said Stout.

“We have a lot of time to train basically how we want to train,” said Stout. “WTI in itself is a pretty undemanding shoot for us as far as ‘need.' We shot about as many rounds for WTI that we normally would do in a two- or three-day training exercise back in Twentynine Palms. The best part about coming out here was the opportunity to train the Marines in areas we felt we needed to work on - one of them being squad live-firings.

“It's easy to say every Marine is a rifleman, but unless you practice it, that's usually not the case,” continued Stout. “With all the provisional missions artillery has been tasked with, such as convoy security, detainee operations and being a provisional rifle company, there needs to be some level of expertise in the battery to take the fight to the enemy. That's the biggest training I believe we got out of this.

“We became pretty proficient at the squad level before we went to Iraq this past year,” added Stout. “But it can be easily forgotten if you don't train. They [Mike Battery] certainly have a hard job. Infantry skills is one of the things that the Marine Corps says every Marine can do. But in reality, if you don't train for it then you won't be able to execute it well.”

12-foot oak honors Marine son, `hero, neighbor, friend'

DAVIE · The oak trees at The Ridge of Nob Hill community remained standing after Hurricane Wilma, unlike other landscaping throughout the town.


By Thomas Monnay
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Posted April 29 2006

So when the Forest Ridge Women's Club decided to honor Sgt. Adam Cann, killed in Iraq on Jan. 5, they chose to plant a 12-foot oak in hopes it will serve as an everlasting reminder of the Marine's bravery, courage and service to his country. Under the tree will be a plaque that reads: "In Honor of Sgt. Adam Leigh Cann, Our Hero, Our Neighbor, Our Friend."

The tree-planting ceremony, which coincided with National Arbor Day, was held Friday on the southwest corner of a passive park near the entrance to the development, east of Nob Hill Road and south of State Road 84.

Police Chief John George, Fire/Rescue Chief Don DiPetrillo and Mayor Tom Truex were there to pay their respects to Cann's parents, Carol and Leigh Cann, who live in the development.

"It just touched me when I found out about Adam passing away," said Patti Reid, a club member and family friend. "It will be a reminder of Adam."

Cann, 23, who was born in Davie in 1982, was killed in Ramadi when a suicide bomber walked into a crowd and detonated a vest full of explosives.

Leigh Cann said Adam, who died a few weeks before his 24th birthday, was supposed to return home this month. He said Adam Cann, who was working security at a police recruiting center, shielded two fellow Marines and his bomb-sniffing dog, Bruno, during the explosion.

"He was tough as nails. I'm very proud of him," said Leigh Cann, a production manager at the Florida Department of Transportation in Miami. "Adam was a different kid. He was very responsible and did things for people he did not even know.''

He said Gov. Jeb Bush has agreed to name the FDOT building after Adam. "I guess I will never retire," he said, saying the naming could take place in July.

Adam Cann, who joined the Marines in 2000 after graduating from Plantation High School, served in Afghanistan before going to Iraq in 2005. He was assigned to the border between Syria and Jordan, but volunteered to work in Ramadi, his father said.

"He always wanted to be where the action is," Leigh Cann said. Adam Cann received several medals, including the Purple Heart.

April 28, 2006

'Now it's time for our country to serve him'

Marine who survived two tours in Iraq now in coma due to accident hours after return

PALM SPRINGS - "Be careful."


Keith Matheny
The Desert Sun
April 28, 2006

That mother's admonition so often evokes rolled eyes from children; or a reflexive, reassuring but not heartfelt "I will" in response.

But it was a warning Jamie Woodard of Paris, Texas, always offered as she said her goodbyes with her son, Marine Lance Cpl. Ben Hardgrove.

Woodard had good reason to urge her son's caution. Hardgrove, a member of 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines out of Twentynine Palms, had served two tours of duty in Iraq, the last commanding a Humvee that patrolled the violent streets of Ramadi, in the Sunni Triangle.

On the evening Hardgrove returned home from Iraq March 29, he called his mother in Texas from Twentynine Palms.

"He said, 'Mom, I'm standing out front of the PX with civvies (civilian clothes) on. I am so happy to be home,'" Woodard said.

Hardgrove, as always, promised his mom he'd be careful. He told her he loved her. Those were the last words they spoke to one another, she said.

Today, as he has for nearly a month, Hardgrove, 20, lies in a coma in Desert Regional Medical Center. His skull is fractured, eight ribs and his collarbone broken, his pelvis shattered. He has brain damage from which he is not expected to recover.

Hardgrove was struck by a car hours after his return from his Iraq tour, as he celebrated being home with fellow Marines.

"That's something I think about daily: How could he have gone and been a combat warrior, served his country, never got hit, never got scratched, then the day he returns something like that happens?" Woodard said.
"I don't know. It's something that's beyond my ability to understand."

Hardgrove and fellow Marines celebrated that first night back at a motel in Yucca Valley. Hardgrove was always adamant about not drinking and driving, or being in a car with someone who had been drinking, his mother said.

At the motel, there was rowdy horseplay. There was drinking. And, for one moment, Hardgrove wasn't careful.

Hardgrove ran from the motel's parking lot out into a nearby highway and was struck by a car. In a cruel twist of fate, the car was driven by a retired Marine who had served in Vietnam, Woodard said.

Doctors offer little possibility that Hardgrove will recover from his persistent vegetative state. But as long as he struggles for recovery, his mother will have hope, she said.

"One thing I do is just keep going forward and fighting for him," she said. "I can't just give up on him, and take what the doctors say."

Hardgrove is Woodard's oldest child. She has five other children, ranging in age from 17 to a 6-month-old baby. Woodard came to Palm Springs to be with Hardgrove the day following his accident, but had to return to Texas April 11 to care for her other children, she said.

Angels arrive to help

Hardgrove's aunt, Susan Haeg, a retired Navy captain, has visited him at his bedside in the hospital frequently.
Also pitching in are Jim Forneris, a Palm Springs winter resident, and Ashley McGuire of Palm Desert. Both are volunteers with a group called Soldier's Angels.

The organization's members typically write to deployed military personnel and send care packages. But when Angels officials learned about Hardgrove's accident, they searched their roster for local volunteers who could visit him in the hospital and be a support for Hardgrove and his family.

Forneris said he has visited Hardgrove daily - talking to him, touching him, encouraging him to open his eyes and wiggle his toes.

"When I walked in (to Hardgrove's room) I thought, 'My God; that could have been my son lying there,'" Forneris said.

McGuire also visits Hardgrove regularly, and stays in almost daily contact with Woodard.

"It's so heartbreaking," McGuire said.

"You can't just bail on this guy. The family believes miracles can happen."

Born to be a Marine

Ben Hardgrove was literally born into the military, at Cherry Point Naval Hospital in North Carolina. Ben's father, Woodard's ex-husband, Steve Hardgrove, was also a Marine.
"From the time Ben was old enough to know what a Marine was, that's what he wanted to do," Woodard said.

As a high school junior, Hardgrove signed up with the Marines' delayed entry program, so he could begin training in preparation for enlisting upon graduation. Less than two months after being handed his diploma, he was in boot camp. From there he chose combat infantry school, his mother said.

Hardgrove's first seven-month tour in Iraq was spent primarily in Husaybah, a city near the Syrian border. He came home for a year, then was re-deployed to Ramadi last September.

During a firefight March 18, less than two weeks before he came home, two friends of Hardgrove's were killed, Woodard said.

"When he called home, he said, 'Mom, his brains were in my hands,'" she said. "It wasn't the first time he had lost friends he served with. There's no way I'll ever believe that did not affect him."

Woodard has struggled with trying to make sense of how her son's accident occurred.

"I think he just didn't realize where he was at, that it was on a highway," she said.

When she would give her motherly warnings to be careful, "Ben would always say, 'I'll be fine. I'll make it. I'm invincible,'" Woodard said.

"Part of that is youth; part of it is the mentality they had to develop to do what they did over there.

"The thing is, when they come home, they're not invincible here."

'It's time ... to serve him'

Hardgrove laid shirtless in his hospital bed Wednesday. A feeding tube gives him nourishment. Though he can breathe on his own, a tracheostomy tube is in his throat.
On one of his arms is a tattoo with the eagle, globe and anchor symbolic of the Marine Corps and the words Semper Fidelis, the Marine slogan, Latin for "always faithful."

The tattoo on Hardgrove's other shoulder reads, "Don't mess with Texas."

There are plans to move Hardgrove back to his home state next week, to a rehabilitation center in Austin. That's a more than five-hour car ride away for his family, but much closer than California.

Those who've spent hours at Hardgrove's bedside swear he shows signs of recognizing people, making eye contact, moving his toes on command, occasionally crying. Doctors, however, read less into his apparent responses, and are not optimistic about Hardgrove's long-term recovery prospects, Woodard said.

Still, she holds out hope; a mother's hope.

"He's stubborn," Woodard said. "I just find it very difficult that they would make a prognosis about the rest of his life in the first few weeks."

Hardgrove's Texas community and fellow Marines and their families have provided encouragement, prayers, food, gifts and cash donations, Woodard said. Some who've provided support are Gold Star mothers, whose sons were killed in Iraq, she said. A Marine mother Woodard never met bought her airplane ticket to come to California, she said.

"We are financially in a mess right now," Woodard wrote in a recent e-mail chain with Soldier's Angels members. "We have enough to pay bills but might need some food next week."

Hardgrove's story is more than a tragedy. It's a call to action, Fornaris said.

"A young man served his country, and now it's time for our country to serve him," Fornaris said.

"I think it's our obligation to get him the care he needs, the support he needs. And the family needs support, too."

How to Help

A support fund for Lance Cpl. Ben Hardgrove and his family has been established at a bank in his hometown of Paris, Texas.
To make a contribution, make checks payable to the Lance Cpl. Ben Hardgrove Fund and send them to:
Lance Cpl. Ben Hardgrove Fund
First Federal Community Bank
P.O. Box 370
Paris, TX 75461-0370

Iraqi Army hones combat leadership the Marine Corps way

CAMP BAHARIA, Iraq (April 28, 2006) -- Iraqi Army soldiers are paying close attention to what the Marines have to say here. They’re teaching them not just to be better soldiers, but to lead men in combat.

Marines and sailors from 1st Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 5, recently trained several Iraqi soldiers successful tactics during a ten-day Combat Squad Leaders Course. It’s an on-going effort Marines continue to run at this small base just outside Fallujah, Iraq.


Submitted by: 1st Marine Division
Story Identification #: 20065345151
Story by Cpl. Brian Reimers

“We are here to influence and train some of the future leaders of the Iraqi Army,” said Staff Sgt. John M. Joudy, staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge of the course.

A team of six Marines, one Navy corpsman and two interpreters spent their days teaching students ways to thrive on the battlefield.

“They are being taught techniques that will make them more survivable and successful out there,” Joudy, from New Milford, Conn. said “The students here get the same training the Marines get.”

Instructors were side-by-side the soldiers every step of the way to ensure they grasped the training. Exercises ranged from zeroing their AK-47 assault rifles to plotting grid coordinates.

“It is my honor to be here because the Marines teach us well and make us more confident in fighting the enemy,” said Asaad Alhasnawi, an Iraqi Army soldier and student here.

Part of that respect was due to the fact Marines are teaching the Iraqi soldiers as fellow men-of-arms.

“We treat them like Marines,” added Sgt. Donnie E. Hebert, infantryman and instructor. “I am firm, but fair with them. After the training day is over, we all hang out together and joke around just like Marines do.”

Soldiers who attended the course were picked by their command based on rank and those who displayed leadership skills.

Most students were noncommissioned officers, have some combat experience and have been in the Iraqi Army for more than two years, according to Cpl. Joseph J. Wilichoski, an instructor from Mahopae, N.Y.

“The men that come to us are motivated to be here and eager to learn,” Wilichoski said. “We give a class on NCO leadership and pick one of the soldiers to lead the men for the day. Immediately after hearing the class, they demonstrate what they have learned.”

Wilichoski said even the small gestures are sinking in and the Iraqi soldiers are mimicking their Marine mentors by, “keeping accountability, letting the other soldiers eat before they do and checking on their welfare. The things that make leaders what they are.”

Not every class gets the same training as the next. Iraqi Army commanders recommend what tactics they want their soldiers educated on during their time here with the Marines.

“We are able to change gears to accommodate what the battalions want taught,” Joudy explained.

Each member of each class was inspected by Marines for proper gear and equipment to help them succeed while training here and fighting the enemy. Weapons were inspected to ensure they operate correctly. Damaged personal armor plating was replaced and hygiene kits were passed out.

“My team is here to help and do what we can to make them better soldiers,” Joudy said.

“They teach us to be brave,” one soldier said. “I feel that this course will help my people in the army to better themselves.”

Some instructors delved into their own seabags to help out their Iraqi counterparts.

“I noticed one of my students wearing a pair of boots that were in pretty bad shape,” Hebert said. “We didn’t have any extra boots to give out, so I gave him a pair of my own.”

The team devoted to training the foreign soldiers believes in their mission and knows the importance of their role. The greatest satisfaction, though, was watching their soldiers grow.

“It feels great to see these guys perform,” Wilichoski said. “It’s nice to know that we are making a pretty big impact on them.”

For their part, the Iraqi soldiers know they will roam the streets with greater ferocity against the insurgents.

“By taking the skills that we learn from the Marines and putting them together from the experiences that we have already, we can kill the enemy a lot better,” Alhasnawi said.

1st Tanks Marines returns home after third deployment

MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. (April 28, 2006) -- Family and friends waited anxiously at the Combat Center’s Victory Field for the Marines and Sailors of 1st Tank Battalion, TOW Platoon, Headquarters and Service Company, to come home April 19.


Submitted by: MCAGCC
Story Identification #: 2006428133844
Story by Lance Cpl. Regina N. Ortiz

After waiting well into the evening, the crowd grabbed their welcome home signs and moved into the West Gym to wait as night fell over the field. Family members climbed the bleachers and shared a giant roll of tape to adorn the basketball court’s bare walls with their signs and pictures.

“We’ve been waiting a long time for this,” said Dorothy Delaroi, mother of Cpl. Ryan Delaroi, as she taped up one of two signs she and her husband made for his return.

“We’re so proud of him and we can’t wait to see him!” said Kenneth Delaroi, Dorothy’s husband.

Although the wait was long, the crowd was cheerful and friendly, and as patient as they could be, until more than 50 Marines and Sailors of 1st Tanks rolled into their arms 15 minutes past midnight.

Tess, an 11 year old golden retriever, traveled with the Sears family from Upland, Calif., to greet her best friend, Cpl. Brian Sears.

The two have been best friends since Sears was 11 years old, Sears said.

Tess’ tail wagged and she tugged on her collar when she recognized Sears in the sea of desert camouflage utilities.

This was the second return of the week for 1st Tanks. On April 17, the Combat Center welcomed home more than 100 Marines and Sailors from Bravo Company and Scout Platoon.

The Marines and Sailors who returned last week just finished a seven-month stint in Iraq for the unit’s third deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Bravo Co. and Scout Platoon served with Regimental Combat Team 7 for most of their deployment, while TOW Platoon served with RCT 5 and 8.

These Marines and Sailors conducted security patrols along some of the most dangerous main supply routes through Al Asad and Fallujah, said 1st Lt. Adam Johnson, 1st Tanks’ adjutant.

Leaving that behind to be reunited with loved ones is weight lifted off their shoulders, explained Lance Cpl. Dana Mullins, native of Jerome, Idaho.

“This is a great feeling,” he said, as he held his 4 month old son, Tegan, for the first time. “It was hard to leave my wife by herself, but even harder to leave her while she was pregnant.”

Mullins’ wife, Tessa, just began her pregnancy when he left for his third deployment with the unit.

“It was hard to see him go,” said Tessa. “He missed the birth and the first months of his life, so they have a lot of catching up to do.”

Mullins will spend the next few weeks getting to know his son and learning to be a daddy alongside his shipmates as they return to their lives at home.

Orlando Marine dies at turning point in life

"He had a brilliant mind, motivated by the heart of a child"

If you ever dined at Brio Tuscan Grille or the Black Fin restaurants in Winter Park, Eric Palmisano might have been the kid who parked your car.


Rich McKay
Sentinel Staff Writer

April 28, 2006

Maybe you were at Five Points Soccer Center near Sanford one night when he was a goalkeeper for the St. Andrews co-ed team. Or you saw him some other night downtown, sitting across the bar from you at Casey's On Central, with his black scruff of a beard and old Tampa Bay Bucs T-shirt.

Even when we don't know their names, guys like Palmisano are part of the ordinary backdrop that defines daily life in Central Florida.

The war in Iraq has brought home the tragedy of early death in many forms. There have been stories of mothers grieving for sons, of children losing fathers. There have been stories of bravery under fire and of horror at the hands of brutal mobs. Stories of shattered love and senseless loss. In all, 106 Florida soldiers have died -- 21 from Central Florida -- since the war began in 2003.

The story of Lance Cpl. Eric Anthony Palmisano has no single, great theme. It is just another sad story about another young man whom a lot of people loved, and who is now dead. It's another reminder of how a war in Iraq can rip into the social fabric of the home front -- and take away the kind of people we so often take for granted.

Palmisano, 27, blended easily into the Central Florida scene. He lived here for nine years from 1996 to 2005, attending the University of Central Florida, building a future with his fiancee and playing sports. Like so many others, he hailed from somewhere else -- Chicago -- settling into the region's service industry waiting tables, toting luggage and stocking alcohol in downtown bars.

Earlier this month -- two months after shipping off to Iraq -- he and a group of soldiers were caught in a flash flood in the Al Asad province. Palmisano was part of a combat-logistics convoy. The fierce waters toppled their 7-ton vehicle. Palmisano and two other soldiers were swept away. It took nine days to find Palmisano's body. In all, seven Marines and one sailor died.

"Eric was the best sort of dreamer and the first guy to have at your back if you got into something thick," said his longtime friend, Jackie Kutudis, 25. "He had a brilliant mind, motivated by the heart of a child."

Palmisano spent his early childhood in Chicago. In the 1980s, he and his family moved to Tampa.

He came to Orlando in 1996 to study criminal justice at UCF and play soccer.

He met his fiancee, Claire Kohake of Oviedo, in 1997, when they were both UCF undergraduates and in the same soccer league. They met at a party. Although Kohake, now 25 and a marketing and research specialist, brought a date, she instantly fell for Palmisano's charm and fierce wit.

"It was like love at first glance, electric," said the couple's friend and Palmisano's former roommate, Anthony Hernandez.

Palmisano's charm stemmed from his outspoken nature, sense of humor and down-to-earth nature. He wore hand-me-down clothes and drove an old clunker that didn't have first or second gear -- and no reverse.

His late-night escapades included sneaking into a neighbor's pool with a beer and a cigar.

He drifted through his mid-20s in a lingering adolescence of sorts, floating from job to job.

He brought his unique personality to that work. If you tipped him with coins, he might throw them in a bush. He'd say it was his wishing bush -- wishing for a better tip. One time, he was told to park a police patrol car. He thought it would be funny to turn on the lights and sirens and hit some other buttons.

He was fired on the spot.

Last year, everything changed when he told his fiancee it was time for him to grow up. He wanted to show Kohake that he was ready to be a husband and someday a father, his friends say. So he joined the Marines.

"I was crying and saying no, please don't go," Kohake said.

His friends noticed a change immediately. He lost weight and got in shape. Once sloppy, now he couldn't go to bed without properly hanging up his clothes.

He headed to boot camp last summer at Camp Pendleton, Calif. He didn't lose his sense of humor.

Palmisano declared that he loved the Marine haircut.

"Turns out I have a perfect head. Who knew?" he wrote in an e-mail.

But the serious side of Palmisano was also emerging.

He wrote in an e-mail to his fiancee: "I don't have a lot to show for the past few years of my life and I've kept my potential success bottled up for too long. This is an opportunity to prove -- mostly to myself -- that when I give something all my effort, I cannot fail."

He didn't fail. In fact he excelled as one of the best Marines in his company, Kohake said. He scored outstanding marks for conduct and duty performance.

He shipped off to Iraq in February. Friends and family didn't hear much from him because his duties kept him on the move and far from places where he could call or e-mail.

Kohake knew something had to be wrong when her phone rang about 5 a.m. April 3. It was Palmisano's mother calling with the news.

Today in Orlando, there will be a memorial service for Palmisano. His friends plan to gather at 7:30 p.m. at New Life Church of God, 2820 N. Alafaya Trail. They hope to tell stories of Palmisano's antics. Kohake said she hopes people laugh.

Palmisano wouldn't have had it any other way.

In fact, he probably would have loved to be there, himself.

April 27, 2006

Reporter's Notebook: Operation Mountain Lion, Part V , The Commander Talks…and Civilization at the Base

Cameraman Pierre and I spent our first night in a week in the luxury of a cabin with a hard roof over our heads. Forward Operating Base Asadabad is only a few miles from where we were roughing it with the Marines in northeastern Afghanistan. It’s separated by a few ranges of mountains and it’s protected by flanks of artillery.


By Greg Palkot

In fact, the base, set in a lovely river valley and surrounded by gleaming mountains and lush green riverbeds, could be some kind of resort if it wasn’t populated with troops, Special Force-types and civil affairs workers.

Certainly the chow seemed like resort fare to us after scraping by with dwindling stocks of meals-ready-to-eat and water during our time up in the mountains.

Not much time to linger over eggs, sausages and French toast, though. We had an early appointment with Col. Nicholson, the commander of Operation Mountain Lion and the Third Brigade of the 10th Mountain Division. This was the first time we had a chance to talk to him since the mission kicked off.

He seemed pleased with the progress so far. While at this point there had not been any big ferocious Anaconda-style battles, there had been contact with the enemy all around the target valley and the beginning of efforts to regain the place for the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Col. Nicholson is actually a remarkable guy. He was always very friendly and warm with us. He let us sit in on a tactical planning session and showed us his temporary living quarters, showing off a picture of himself with his family.

And he certainly has an interesting story, as I explained in my TV profile of him. On Sept 10, 2001, he was wrapping up a respectable career in the military and getting set for retirement. Then his office at the Pentagon was turned into rubble by one of Usama bin Laden’s hijacked airplanes. That’s when he decided that he had to stay, hitching up with 10th Mt. and then spending months planning Operation Mountain Lion, an attack aimed at what some reports describe as “Usama’s Backyard” because of the multiple sightings of the al Qaeda leader there.

Talk about a 9/11 payback! Nicholson made no bones about how the opening minutes of the Operation were meant to mirror the al Qaeda attack in a distinctly American way. Four helicopter assaults were planned at four different locations in the target valley, they were aimed at surprising the terrorists where they made their home. Not unlike those four hijacked airplanes whose purpose was catching America by surprise.

After our interview we accompanied Col. Nicholson on a meeting he was conducting with the Governor of the Kunar province where the mission was concentrating. Col. Nicholson thought that schmoozing with the locals was as important as fighting the insurgency. It was “hearts and minds” basically and he worked hard at it. He knows that the U.S. military is leaving this area at some point and that it will be up to the locals to hold down the fort and fend off the bad guys.

The town of Asadabad is a dusty bustling place this Saturday. We get some glimpses as our convoy of Humvees speeds away from the meeting. We head back to the safe confines of the base to work with producer Kim to get some video reports ready for later in the evening. Afghanistan is eight and a half hours ahead of New York time, so our broadcast schedule is always a bit askew.

The whole thing, of course, is fueled by ample helpings of American food fare as we replace any calories burned off in our torturous mountain treks with blueberry muffins, frozen Mars bars, and the like.

We get the word that we will be leaving the base Sunday for Jalalabad, Bagram, Kabul, Dubai and home (London) to prepare more reports from the Operation.

But there’s also the story of the mission in those rugged crevasses of Kunar. We’ve been following it since we’ve been back. One incident involving a strike on a terror hideout which left civilian casualties got some news, as well as a B-52 bombing strike against another terror den.

I was impressed by the low degree of coverage, which is probably what Col. Nicholson had in mind. While he would have loved to have rounded up or finished off a passel of bad guys, the main intent of Operation Mountain Lion was to make this corner of Afghanistan a very unfriendly place for some unfriendly folks.

Oh, and someone else made news when we got back, too — Usama bin Laden. He had issued another one of his audio postcards from…somewhere. Who knows, maybe he was even in the patch of ground we were spending time in. I know the 21-year-olds in D.O. Platoon, the “9/11 recruits,” would be more than happy to fulfill President Bush’s early proclamation of hauling Usama bin Laden in “dead or alive.” In the meantime, they’ll keep on trucking through that very uninviting Afghan terrain. Good luck to them all, and stay safe.

Military Engagement: The homecoming, finally

Back from the war, Luke and Theresa reunite just days before the wedding

TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. — Editor's Note: This continuing series has followed the lives of Luke Anderson, 25, and Daily News reporter Theresa Stahl, 28. The couple was engaged last May and they were planning an April wedding — after Luke returned from Iraq. This column runs two days before their Saturday ceremony.


By Theresa Stahl
Thursday, April 27, 2006

TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. — Editor's Note: This continuing series has followed the lives of Luke Anderson, 25, and Daily News reporter Theresa Stahl, 28. The couple was engaged last May and they were planning an April wedding — after Luke returned from Iraq. This column runs two days before their Saturday ceremony.

The waiting is over.

More than seven months after he left for Iraq, my fiancé and I were reunited last week on his Marine Corps base in California.

Luke and 110 other members of his company, part of the 1st Tank Battalion, arrived by bus here from a nearby Air Force base where their plane had landed.

I was waiting, along with Luke’s parents, that evening at a brightly lit baseball field on the base. A military band was warming up their instruments and smiling families, many with young children, gathered on the grass.

I told Luke’s mother, Carey, that I wanted to avoid the chaos when the buses pulled up. I’ve already waited this long, I thought, and I can wait a minute more so I’m not swallowed by the crowd. Plus, I didn’t know if I could pick him out from a distance, with all the guys wearing the same uniform and sporting the same haircut.

Around 9 p.m., three white buses rolled toward the field. Families started cheering and running toward the gated, chain link fence through which the Marines would enter.

When the troops started filing out, I thought I recognized Luke as one of the first guys off the bus. Immediately, I abandoned everything I had said to Carey about waiting and ran toward him.

On the way, I nearly knocked over one of Luke’s fellow lieutenants who is an usher at our wedding. He was standing in my path about the time I saw Luke.

“That’s him!” I exclaimed. Grabbing the lieutenant’s arm, I mustered a quick hello and moved him out of my way.

I ran up to Luke and threw my arms around him, hugging him so tight my neck was sore for two days. We embraced for a minute, until Luke loosened his grip so he could kiss me.

I had thought our reunion would be more of a rush of excitement, but it was mostly a relief, like all the anxiety from the past seven months was washing away.

Luke said his homecoming was surreal. Coming back after being away for so long, he was finding it hard to believe they were finally about to reach his base.

As the bus was getting closer, he couldn’t focus on the nearing reunion because the Marines had to make a stop before they were released. Luke, who is second in command of his company, had to oversee the collection of the company’s weapons before being dropped off at the field.

He said he didn’t start to relax until we had picked up his bags and were driving away from the base. After spending most of his time in Iraq with his all-male unit, it also took him a little while to get used to the woman who wouldn’t let go of his arm.

Since Luke’s return, our time together has been wonderful. We’ve gone shopping in Palm Springs, hiked through Joshua Tree National Park and even attended a church service on Luke’s base with President George W. Bush.

Despite all the activity, the best part has been the time we have spent hanging out at Luke’s apartment. While it hasn’t been anything extraordinary, it has been great to do normal things — have face-to-face conversations, cook dinner together and rent movies.

Through it all, we have had a chance to remember why we’re so good together. We’ve shared more of what has happened in each other’s lives for the past seven months (this time without a lousy phone connection), talked about our future and laughed until our faces hurt.

And with the wedding only two days away, we know that what we have now is only going to get better.

- - -

The final installment of Military Engagement will appear next Thursday. To read previous columns, go to web.naplesnews.com/special/military engagement.

© 2005 Bonita Daily News and The Banner. Published in Bonita Springs, Florida, USA by the E.W. Scripps Co.

Families welcome Marines back from Iraq

GALVESTON — One of many messages inscribed on the car windows said it all: “My Marine is home.”

Family members stood with cameras in hand Wednesday afternoon as about 30 Marines climbed out of a Trailways bus at the reserve center in Galveston.


By Kelly Hawes
The Daily News

Published April 27, 2006

There were lots of hugs and a few tears, but mostly smiles and laughter.

“This is such a relief,” La Marque resident Mike Lockwood said as his son, Matt, posed for photos.

His first sense of relief came a week ago, he said, when Matt called to say the unit had flown to Kuwait. Its members had been at Camp Lejeune, N.C., since Friday. They had flown to Houston on Wednesday before making the rest of the trip by bus.

Mike Lockwood said the family had no elaborate plans for the homecoming.

“He said he wanted some good, old-fashioned Mexican food.”

Members of the Galveston-based amphibious assault unit had been away from home for nearly a year. They spent much of the last seven months patrolling the Euphrates River near the Haditha Dam in Iraq.

“It was a long 10 months,” the younger Lockwood said, “but we did a lot of good over there.”

Members of the platoon carried out two or three patrols on the river just about every day of their tour.

“Once or twice, we were out there for 10 days in a row,” Lockwood said.

Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas was on hand with other members of the city council to greet the returning troops. She read a proclamation urging local residents to extend a hearty welcome and to offer thanks to the Marines for their sacrifices.

Joe Cleary, the platoon’s commanding officer, expressed his gratitude.

“It’s a special day for the Marines,” he said. “It’s good to be home.”

Cleary of League City stood surrounded by his wife, Kim, and three children, 16-month-old Grace, 8-year-old Jake and 6-year-old Austin. Grace, he said, had changed the most.

“She was not even crawling when I saw her last,” he said.

Like Cleary, Lockwood had some catching up to do. He and his wife, Shawna, will be getting reacquainted. They were married only weeks before he headed off for his latest deployment.

Shawna said the couple would be headed back to College Station, where he is studying for a degree in architecture.

“When I graduate,” he said, “I want to go to officers candidate school.”

Lockwood, the staff sergeant of the platoon, wants to make a career in the Marines.

“I’ve already been in for nine years,” he said. “I joined right out of high school.”

Cleary, Lockwood and about two-thirds of their colleagues were returning from their second deployment in Iraq. They spent five months there after the initial invasion.

Cleary said he fully expected to go back.

“I think we know we made a long-term commitment to the Iraqi people,” he said. “I do believe we will be back over there.”

Shawna Lockwood said she was ready for that.

“It’s his job,” she said.

Cingular Wireless to Salute II Marine Expeditionary Force Wounded Warriors With Donation To Barracks

New Sony PlayStation 2 consoles and games will help Marines and sailors injured in support of the global war on terrorism fill time during long recoveries

JACKSONVILLE, N.C., April 27 /PRNewswire/ -- Cingular Wireless, the nation's largest wireless company, salutes our nation's Wounded Warriors at 1:00 p.m., next Wednesday, May 3, with a presentation of 10 Sony PlayStation 2s to "Maxwell Hall," the Wounded Warrior barracks at Camp Lejeune. The donation reflects Cingular's recognition of the sacrifice these Marines have made and is intended to help fill the hours of what can sometimes be a long recovery process.


Thursday April 27, 6:52 pm ET

"These young service members have served their country well, and Cingular wants to recognize that service by doing all we can to keep their spirits up as they recuperate and rehabilitate before going back to their units or their families," said Alison Hall, Vice President and General Manager for Cingular in North and South Carolina.

"We continue to be amazed at the generous support we receive from the community for our wounded warriors who have given so much for the cause of freedom ... we stand shoulder to shoulder in our efforts to care for our returning heroes," said Lt. Gen. James F. Amos, II Marine Expeditionary Force Commanding General, who will be accepting the donation to the barracks from Hall.

The Wounded Warriors Barracks allows wounded Marines to be billeted together as they recover from injuries sustained in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Prior to the barracks' establishment in 2005, these injured Marines, many of them still in their teens or early 20s, would be sent back to their unit barracks or home for convalescent leave after being released from the hospital. As many of their units are still deployed, these Marines would often have been alone during long and painful recoveries. The Wounded Warrior Barracks provides a place where the Marines are able to share their experiences with others who are going through the same recovery process.

"Here they know that they are still a vital part of the team, that their Marine Corps family is here for them," said Amos.

In addition to Wednesday's donation, Cingular is also recognizing Camp Lejeune's Marines and sailors and their families by cosponsoring the May 20th Run for the Warriors benefiting the Wounded Warriors organization, which assists with transportation for wounded service members, establishes scholarships for spouses who may need to take an active role in the financial support of their families, provides assistance with specially-adapted housing, and provides respite for families as they care for wounded loved ones, as well as supporting the Wounded Warriors Barracks and the Wounded Warriors Spouses Support Group at Camp Lejeune.

Marine finds 'the good life' in desert

MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER, TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. (April 27, 2006) -- Sleeping in dusty, wind-battered tents, waking up at 4 a.m. to carry heavy packs long distances and showering with wet wipes is just a brief description of life in the field.


Submitted by: MCB Camp Pendleton
Story Identification #: 2006427122253
Story by Lance Cpl. Ben Eberle

For some, this sounds like a nightmare. For Lance Cpl. Will “Dirty” McDermott, a rifleman with Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, it sounds like a pretty good time.

The field, in fact, is where McDermott thrives, possibly because surviving with the bare minimum is something he can relate to.

“Before the Corps, I was homeless, living in a children’s home in Arizona. I saw a recruiter in front of the mall, and I joined,” McDermott said.

McDermott has a lot of “camping” to look back on, and after extending his enlistment April 9, he has a lot more to look forward to.

“I had to extend,” said the 22-year-old from Payson, Ariz. “I like to go to Iraq.”

McDermott, though seemingly unshakable, conceded that his job isn’t always fun.

One day in particular, April 13, 2004, stands out as the one day he regretted joining the Marine Corps.

McDermott added that the two-year anniversary of the event gives him a strange feeling.

His platoon was ambushed about seven miles from Fallujah, killing his friend, Pvt. Noah Boye.

“A Pavelow (alliance helicopter) went down, and we formed a quick-reaction force to pull gear from the bird,” said McDermott. “We sat there all night, and in the morning we were ambushed.”

McDermott received a Purple Heart in a separate incident during his first tour in Iraq.

On a night patrol in Al Karmah, a town west of Fallujah, McDermott’s humvee was hit by an improvised explosive device, sending shrapnel into his left leg.

“It’s funny because I was supposed to get out today,” he added, sitting in front of his pack in an Area 62 parking lot on Camp Pendleton.

He was waiting for a bus to take him and the rest of the battalion to a week of desert field training at MCAGCC Twentynine Palms.

His unique experiences and personality leave an impression on the Marines around him and nicknamed him “Dirty.”

“He likes the dirt, likes to stay dirty,” laughed Pfc. Matthew R. Tanous, a 24-year-old rifleman with Company B, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines.

“Dirty” or just “McDermott,” has proven to be a valuable member of the battalion.

“It’s important to have guys like him to keep everyone motivated,” Tanous added. “He’s about as gung-ho as you can get.”

Three things keep McDermott going through deployments and field training.

“Red Bull, Red Bull, Red Bull. I live by Red Bull. It’s a necessity – and beef jerky,” he said.

During his four years in the Marine Corps, McDermott has deployed to Iraq on three separate occasions.

He’s currently working up to deploy with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit out of Okinawa, Japan.

“It’s amazing how much some of these young kids have seen,” said Master Gunnery Sgt. Brian E. Burlingame, 1/5 operations chief. “Some have seen a lot of combat in a short time.”

Despite these incidents, McDermott believes the Marine Corps has had a positive effect in his life.

“I’d like to make a career out of it,” he said.

Andvaced weapons course offers relevant shooting fundamentals

MARINE AIR GROUND TASK FORCE TRAINING CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. (April 27, 2006) -- Ready… Aim… Fire. Those three simple words become a lot more complex if your target has a weapon.

The Enhanced Marksmanship Program provides Marines, as well as the sailors who deploy with them, valuable training on how to shoot effectively in close quarters.


Submitted by: MCB Camp Pendleton
Story Identification #: 2006427121733
Story by Lance Cpl. Ben Eberle

“You’re (rarely) 300 yards away when fighting in urban areas; you’re always going room-to-room,” said Cpl. David R. Myles, an EMP instructor with 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment.

Myles helped train 54 Marines and sailors in enhanced marksmanship techniques during a week of field training at Marine Air Ground Task Force Training Center Twentynine Palms April 9-14.

Twentynine Palms is not the only installation that offers this shooting course.

It is also available at Division Schools and the School of Infantry, Camp Pendleton.

All EMP firing is conducted in combat gear, including Kevlar helmet, flak jacket, ammo pouches and even night vision goggles.

“It’s combat, not match, shooting,” said the 21-year-old from Landover, Md.

Participants fire from 30 yards to less than 10 feet from the target, moving closer as the shooting progresses.

Shooters focus their aim on high-percentage locations, concentrating mostly on the head. Getting the shots off quickly is imperative.

“It’s something you can’t learn in a classroom, the movements and coordination. You have to do it to learn,” Myles said.

Every section in the battalion was represented, including administration clerks and corpsmen. They fired about one-thousand rounds during two days of EMP training.

It’s important that all servicemembers regardless of their military occupational specialty, hone their close-quarter marksmanship skills because they support those on the line, Myles said.

Marines receive instruction on specific scenarios they might encounter in Iraq, as well as some short classes on how to adjust gear and move swiftly and efficiently into an effective shooting position.

“Confidence is important in a close-quarter shootout,” Myles said. “You’re not shooting at paper anymore; there’s someone shooting back at you. You have to be comfortable.”

Some Marines, even those who had previous EMP training, voiced positive feedback on the course.

“This is my third time (taking the EMP course), and I still like it,” said Lance Cpl. Quinn Aboudora, a supply clerk with 1st Battalion, 5th Marines. “It’s nice to get all those rounds off.”

Hawaii Marines mourn loss of warrior, leader, father

HADITHA, Iraq (April 27, 2006) -- Staff Sgt. Jason C. Ramseyer will be remembered for the countless sacrifices he made for his fellow Marines.

Submitted by: 1st Marine Division
Story Identification #: 200642613055
Story by Sgt. Roe F. Seigle

His final sacrifice came when he was killed April 21, 2006, by an improvised explosive device while on a convoy in Haditha in Iraq’s Al Anbar province.

Ramseyer, 28, was honored by his fellow Marines during a memorial service at the Haditha Dam here April 23.

The Lenoir, N.C., native was remembered as a committed leader and devout family man by those who served with him.

“He was by far the greatest leader of Marines I have ever had the honor of working for,” said Sgt. Michael Ferguson, 23, platoon sergeant assigned to 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment.

The Hawaii-based “America’s Battalion” arrived in Iraq about six weeks ago to replace another Marine battalion conducting security operations in this region along the Euphrates River.

Ramseyer was the platoon commander for the battalion’s Forward Command Post, also known as the “Jump CP.” His job often required him to travel on Al Anbar’s dangerous roads to provide security for Iraqis and other Marines.

“The world was a better place when Staff Sgt. Ramseyer was here,” said Ferguson.

Ramseyer joined the Marine Corps in June 1996. He reported to the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment in November 2003, and deployed with the unit to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom last year.

For duty in Iraq, Ramseyer was hand-selected by Lt. Col. Norman L. Cooling, the battalion’s commanding officer, as the platoon commander for the Jump CP – a duty his Marines say he performed with consummate professionalism and unparalleled valor.

“He had courage,” said Ferguson, who was also exposed to the blast that killed Ramseyer. “He would always go to the front line and he never showed fear in doing so. He had the mentality of a true warrior.”

“He would never put a Marine in a dangerous situation he was not willing to put himself in first,” said Gunnery Sgt. Michael Kiernan, 33, company gunnery sergeant for the battalion’s Headquarters and Service Company. “His Marines respected him because he treated them, regardless of rank, with the respect and dignity they deserved. He was a great friend and a great Marine. We will all miss him.”

Kiernan also said that aside for his love for the Marine Corps and his Marines, Ramseyer was also a dedicated family man. Kiernan remembers one Christmas Eve staying up all night assisting Ramseyer assemble a trampoline for his children.

“He strived to have the perfect family,” said Kiernan. “He cherished every minute he had with his wife and children. He even named his weapons and protective equipment after them. There was nothing he would not do for them.”

Ramseyer’s past duty assignments include: 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C.; mortar instructor at The Basic School at Marine Corps Base, Quantico, Va.; martial arts instructor at the Martial Arts Center of Excellence at Quantico, Va.

Ramseyer’s personal awards include the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal (3rd Award) and the Combat Action Ribbon.

Ramseyer is survived by his wife, Amanda and his three children, Caleb, Riley and Cadence.

April 26, 2006

Reporter's Notebook: Operation Mountain Lion, Part IV

The Rains Come With a Fiery Send-Off

After a restful night in our spot overlooking the Marine D.O. Platoon’s next objective, we headed down to the town of Kandalay. This was the place that was supposed to be full of terrorists using this region as a safe haven.


By Greg Palkot

The first house we came across was chock-full of people. Just not the bad guys. Afghan men and women were dutifully grilled and searched by Lt. Desantis’ Marines and gleaned for any information they might have been holding. Some leads were obtained, some ammo was found in another house, and a few questionable folks were found roaming around the valley. But, again, the insurgents seemed to have headed for the hills. We did too, for our second try at extracting ourselves from the site and getting back to a base with electricity to send some of our video scenes back.

By the time we huffed and puffed our way up to the top of the hill we were told once again that our ride had been cancelled. The next trip out would be tonight — maybe.

In the meantime, it rained for the first time during our trip. This just added to the difficulties of dealing with this wretched terrain. Emulating our Marine colleagues, we quickly got to work turning my poncho into part of a shelter from the storm. Along with the rain came the cold. There was nothing to do but add on the layers, get under the tarps and wait out the afternoon. And listen to the Marines talk about what most 20-year-olds talk about: food, girls, sports, and family.

These guys deserved some down time. They are a remarkable bunch of people. Officials call them the “9/11 Recruits,” i.e. the folks who volunteered for the armed services in the wake of the horrendous al Qaeda hijackings. They knew what they were getting themselves into and why — two times over.

In the last two years, these guys had invaded Fallujah to root out insurgents there and then in Afghanistan. As crazy and as dangerous as Fallujah was, they seemed to look back at that clash a bit wistfully (i.e. no mountains to climb over and an enemy easily in reach).

We were low on food and water as well. We were still waiting for a supply drop so we sent our trusty interpreter out for some real Afghan fare. Three hours and forty dollars later he came back. My dinner that night: Nain bread (sort of a big flat over-baked thing) piled high with beans. Yummy.

It was Good Friday, so Pierre and I decided to do what we call “shout-outs” with the troops — the greetings and well-wishes to all the folks back home that FNC air on the holidays. I often think these things are a bit forced and clichéd, but I must say I was genuinely moved standing on that muddy mountainside listening to them. A lot of the guys wanted to say “hi” to their grandparents first, which I thought was nice. They all seemed really intent on making sure their families and friends weren’t worrying about them and that they’d get home okay. No one refused to do it, which said something about their emotional state as well.

Night fell and it was time for Pierre and me to schlep up one more hill to catch our chopper out of there — except it had been raining most of the day and the hill had turned into a mudslide. What should have taken 15 minutes in dry daylight without gear took about an hour and half with a lot of effort.

During the five-hour wait through the night for the chopper, a firefight burst out behind the next hill over between our troops and insurgents. It was kind of like waiting for a bus and you’re watching a shootout at the next bus stop over. Mortars, machine guns, tracer fire, flares and then, just for good measure, an A-10 Warthog fighter plane. This plane sounds like a mammoth buzz-saw in the air when it rips up the landscape with bullets.

As soon as the fireworks started, they ended. And a few minutes later our Chinook arrived, whisking us over a series of mountains to the Asadabad Forward Operating Base and something we hadn’t had for five days — a shower.

Afghan army officers observe training at Parris Island

PARRIS ISLAND -- For a small delegation of the Afghan National Army, the most impressive part of recruit training at Parris Island is the obstacle course. As soon as it can find the money, the Afghan army hopes to bring similar training to its boot camp outside of Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan.


BY LORI YOUNT, The Beaufort Gazette
Published Wednesday, April 26, 2006

"It's very important for a soldier to get through every obstacle he encounters," Col. Shamsurahman Shams of the Afghan National Army said through an interpreter. "If a soldier cannot manage his way through obstacles, he's failed. He cannot be helpful for his country."

On Tuesday, Shams and five of his fellow officers and noncommissioned officers observed recruits enduring the Crucible, a 54-hour final test in which recruits must complete drills together on little sleep and food.

They watched as recruits crawled on their stomachs through a course with obstacles similar to scenes in the movie "Saving Private Ryan," complete with speakers booming background-fire noise. However,
perhaps the much simpler obstacle of a high wall over which recruits have to pull each other provided the most personal and translatable lessons.

The men from the Afghan National Army and their Marine escorts had their eyes transfixed on the last lanky recruit to attempt to make it over the wall. Two of his comrades waited at the top to help him over.

One tried throwing his leg over the top for the last one to grab onto. It didn't work, and they tried pulling him up with his flak jacket, which isn't allowed.

With some interpretation and many hand gestures, the older, more experienced military men quietly discussed how they would do it. After a few excruciating minutes, everyone held their breath as the last recruit finally got a stirrup grip on his fellow recruit and pushed himself over the wall.

"That's good," one of the Afghan National Army soldiers shouted.

Maj. Rick Seagrist, a Marine reservist who volunteered to serve in an embedded training team to aid the Afghan National Army in training and combat missions, said his fellow coalition service members have a unique chance to give the fledgling army a leg up.

"It's an opportunity for all of us to work in a small group environment," Seagrist said. "We use our initiative and creativity, and it affects the micro and macro level of Afghanistan."

He lives and works with the men from the Afghan National Army and their "kandak," or battalion, and he said there is little difference between training and operations. Their kandak is stationed in Bermel in eastern Afghanistan near the Pakistan border, which Seagrist said means they spend a lot of time reinforcing defenses.

Sixteen other Marines and sailors work with Seagrist, and he said troops from other countries -- such as the United Kingdom, Germany and Mongolia -- have embedded training teams in different units in the Afghan army.

On this 14-day trip to the United States, the delegation visited Marine Corps headquarters in Quantico, Va., to observe Officer Candidate School and the Noncommissioned Officer Academy; and they visited Camp Lejeune, N.C., to see the School of Infantry, training Marines attend after completing boot camp.

They also took time to visit the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., and The Citadel, Seagrist said, and to enjoy the experiences of some firsts for the Afghan soldiers -- airplane rides, escalators, seeing the ocean and shopping at Wal-Mart.

Recruits in the Afghan National Army undergo 11-week boot camp but don't have any continued training opportunities. Shams said he hopes that changes as the army gets on its feet and finds money to implement programs similar to those they've observed in the United States.

"The problem we get is as soon as a kandak graduates, they'll be deployed in the combat field fighting al-Qaida," he said.

Afghan National Army unit checks out Parris Island

PARRIS ISLAND, S.C. - A half-dozen members of the Afghan National Army watched Marine training at Parris Island this week, hoping to bring back home some of what they learned.


Associated Press

Col. Shamsurahman Shams and five of his fellow officers and noncommissioned officers observed recruits enduring the Crucible on Tuesday, a 54-hour final test where recruits must complete drills together on little sleep and food.

They were most interested in the obstacle course, watching as recruits crawled on their stomachs through the course as speakers boomed background fire noise.

"It's very important for a soldier to get through every obstacle he encounters. If a soldier cannot manage his way through obstacles, he's failed. He cannot be helpful for his country," Shams said through an interpreter.

The Afghan soldiers watched intently as the last lanky recruit attempted to make it over the high wall as two of his comrades waited at the top to help him over.

With some interpretation and many hand gestures, the older, more experienced military men quietly discussed how they would do it.

After a few excruciating minutes, the last recruit finally got a stirrup grip on his fellow recruit and pushed himself over the wall.

"That's good," one of the Afghan National Army soldiers shouted.

Recruits in the Afghan National Army undergo 11-week boot camp but get no training after that. Shams said he hopes to change that when he gets back to Afghanistan.

But Shams said it could be hard, because as soon as his recruits graduate, they are needed to fight al-Qaida.

The Afghan soldiers are on a 14-day trip to the United States. They also have visited Marine Corps headquarters in Quantico, Va., to observe Officer Candidate School and the Noncommissioned Officer Academy, and they visited Camp Lejeune, N.C. see the School of Infantry, training which Marines attend after completing boot camp.

They have also visited the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., and The Citadel.

Wounded Soldiers Fight Off Bill Collectors at HomeCongressman Calls It 'Financial Friendly Fire'; Military Blames Payroll Errors

Hundreds of soldiers wounded in battle in Iraq have found themselves fighting off bill collectors on the home front, according to a report to be released tomorrow. The draft report by the Government Accountability Office, which ABC News obtained, said that hundreds of wounded soldiers had military debts incurred through no fault of their own turned over to collection agencies.


Brian Ross
ABC News Chief Investigative Correspondent
April 26, 2006

"Financial friendly fire," said Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., chairman of the House Committee on Government Reform. "Because their financial records are so bad, this is a friendly fire where we are hurting and wounding our own."

Army specialist Tyson Johnson of Mobile, Ala., had just been promoted in a field ceremony in Iraq when a mortar round exploded outside his tent, almost killing him.

"It took my kidney, my left kidney, shrapnel came in through my head, back of my head," he recounted.

His injuries forced him out of the military, and the Army demanded he repay an enlistment bonus of $2,700 because he'd only served two-thirds of his three-year tour.

When he couldn't pay, Johnson's account was turned over to bill collectors. He ended up living out of his car when the Army reported him to credit agencies as having bad debts, making it impossible for him to rent an apartment.

"Oh, man, I felt betrayed," Johnson said. "I felt like, oh, my heart dropped."

Payroll Errors, Says Military

And there are many more like Johnson. Staff Sgt. Ryan Kelly lost his leg in a roadside bomb attack in Iraq.

He didn't realize it, but the Army continued to mistakenly pay him combat bonus pay, about $2,000, while he was in the hospital rehabilitating, and then demanded that he pay it back.

He, too, was threatened by the Army with debt collectors and a negative credit report.

"By law, he's not entitled to the money, so he must pay it back," said Col. Richard Shrank, the commander of the United States Army Finance Command.

The Army said it moved wounded soldiers out of the battlefield so quickly its accounting office could not keep up, resulting in numerous payroll errors.

"This is no way to win a war, I can tell you that," said Davis. "You'd think after four years after fighting a war in Iraq, the government would have its act together."

But the Army said it is now trying to correct the problem. Since ABC News first reported on the plight of soldiers, featuring Johnson and Kelly in a "Primetime" investigation in October 2004, the Army has forgiven most of their debts.

But Davis said there may be thousands more whose thanks for putting their lives on the line has been a knock on the door from a Pentagon debt collector.

Lejeune Marines Conduct Operation, Prevent Insurgent Movement

AR RAMADI, Iraq (April 26, 2006) -- Marines from Company I, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, carried out a 28-hour operation April 26, setting up observation posts and conducting combat patrols in an area of the city not heavily traveled by Coalition Forces.


Submitted by: I Marine Expeditionary Force
Story Identification #: 200651512636
Story by Cpl. Joseph DiGirolamo

The operation prevented insurgents from freely moving throughout the city and disrupted enemy attacks against Coalition Forces and Iraqi infrastructure.

“This operation proved our mobility and ability to travel throughout the city,” said Capt. Brian M. Harvey, the commanding officer for Company I, 3rd Bn., 8th Marines. “We disrupted (the insurgents) ability to move around unhindered and increased our situational awareness of the battle space.”

The Marines convoyed to the southern region of the city from Camp Blue Diamond. They secured their base of operations and began patrolling the streets.

While patrolling the streets, the Iraqi people were welcoming to the Marines. Several families offered their homes to the Marines as a rest area for the night.

“The people know we are here to help,” said Lance Cpl. Steven T. Giannetto, a team leader and infantryman from 3rd Platoon, Company I.

An underlying objective of the mission was to gauge how the people and community received the Marines.

Not everyone was friendly, however. The Marines were attacked several times with rocket-propelled grenades, medium machinegun fire, and small arms fire.

“We didn’t know what to expect in that area,” said Nathan R. Beauchemen, a squad-automatic weapon gunner with 3rd Platoon, Company I. “We had sniper fire and improvised explosive devices going off all around us.”

During the patrol, the Marines reported seeing muzzle flashes from a house nearby. To prevent injury to unseen bystanders, the Marines did not return fire and instead sent out a foot patrol, which resulted in the arrest of three suspected insurgents.

The Marines confirmed the detainees were possible insurgents by testing them with an explosive residue kit. The test identifies if someone has recently handled explosives. All three suspects tested positive, resulting in their detention and the possibility of gaining actionable intelligence.

“This is solid evidence,” said Giannetto, a 25-year-old from Rochester, N.Y. “We know who we are detaining, and it’s definitely the bad guys.”

Weapons Company and combat engineers also provided security and support for the Marines on the ground during the operation.

“What led us to succeed,” said Harvey, a 34-year-old from Chattanooga, Tenn., “was the small unit leadership that conducted the patrols, the ability of platoon commanders to make decisions on the deck, and the coordination between the external agencies. All this gave us the freedom to move throughout the battle space.”

Sesame Street Teaches Military Families

WASHINGTON, April 26, 2006 - Elmo and his red, fuzzy father will star this summer in an effort to teach young military children and their caregivers how best to handle a parent's deployment in a program called "Talk, Listen, Connect: Helping Families Cope with Military Deployment."


By Paul X. Rutz / American Forces Press Service

This July, Sesame Workshop, the makers of Sesame Street, will launch the program as a DVD kit. Performed in English and Spanish, it will not air on television but will be distributed free to schools, childcare programs and family support centers, thanks to a gift from Wal-Mart stores and other sponsors.

Jeanette Betancourt, vice president for content design at Sesame Workshop's education and outreach division, said an analysis of the resources available to help children with this problem exposed a need.

"We found that although there was a wealth of information around deployment, it seemed to be targeted much more to children that were more school age, less so, materials that involved young children -- preschool -- and then even less so, Spanish language materials."

The kit is the result of analysis done by the workshop with support from the New York State Office of Mental Health and the Military Child Education Coalition. Focus groups composed of families with deployed members made up a large part of the study, Betancourt said.

The kit covers all phases of deployment -- from predeployment to homecoming -- and the unique challenges each phase poses, she said.

Sesame Workshop, a nonprofit education effort, has been doing these special projects since its inception in 1968. The group has done outreach projects on subjects like early literacy, asthma, lead poisoning, going to the doctor and school readiness.

Soon after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the workshop did a special set of TV programs called "You Can Ask," which focused on fear and grief in children under age 5. The TV programs, in English, Spanish and Chinese, were repackaged and distributed to childcare programs, mental health care programs, and the like, via the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Those programs' success helped lead to "Talk, Listen, Connect" because they developed an interest "on how we could talk about difficult topics with young children," Betancourt said. That model led to a partnership with Wal-Mart on this outreach project.

"We were looking for ways to meet an unmet need," said Mia Masten, Wal-Mart's northeast U.S. director for community relations. She said that when Sesame Workshop approached Wal-Mart, the retail giant gave $892,540 to produce the project, noting also that many of the company's employees are Reserve and National Guard members.

"It's really an extension of our long-term relationship with military families," Masten said. Wal-Mart is a member of America Supports You, a Defense Department program highlighting grassroots and corporate support for the nation's troops and their families.

Retired Marine Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden is an advisory board member on the project. He and several military members met with educators during a conference here in January and connected Sesame Workshop with the Military Child Education Coalition, which helped support the focus group research prior to taping.

Bolden said everyone on the panel agreed a significant portion of their time should be devoted to the unique problems of Guard and Reserve families. "For people in the Guard and, to some extent, the Reserve, this is kind of foreign to them, and deployments are not something they ordinarily did prior to now," he said. "Sesame seemed to have come up with a way to reach out to these kids who aren't in a military community the way that the active duty folk are, so that was one of the reasons that we felt they should be a special target for this project."

According to a 2003 demographics report by the Defense Department, 661,402 children of military members are under the age of 5. This project will produce 138,000 DVD kits, according to a press release.

Bolden and other retired military officers have offered to help distribute the DVDs "so that we reach the maximum number of families in the most critically needed areas," he said.

Although this program is targeted toward military children, Bolden said he already sees a benefit he had not foreseen when the project began.

"Military children are not the only ones who are involved in separation and deployments and the like," he said. "One of the benefits that you get by doing something like this is that you're also able to reach, say, kids from the State Department, kids from oil and gas companies, people whose parents are moving around and deploying all the time and undergo excessive absence much the same as military kids do."

Attacks arrive as if on schedule

RAMADI, IRAQ - As U.S. and Iraqi troops marched through alleyways and families retreated indoors, Army Capt. Joe Claburn glanced at his watch and predicted how long it would take for insurgents to attack.


Associated Press

"Within 15 minutes, the spotters usually come out and they'll identify your position," Claburn said at the start of a patrol in this troubled Iraqi city, explaining that guerrillas were probably maneuvering unseen in the surrounding villas.

"Within 30 minutes the weapons get brought in," he said. "And usually about 45 minutes after being on the ground, you can pretty much guarantee that you're going to get shot at."

War is often said to be unpredictable. But in Ramadi, Iraq's most dangerous city for American forces, Sunni Arab insurgents are so active that U.S. troops are learning gunbattles often come right on schedule.

Claburn, it turned out, was three minutes off.

"Forty-two minutes on the ground," he said as automatic weapons-fire snapped overhead. "It's a science."

Lt. Col. Ronald Clark, commander of the 101st Airborne Division's 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, said his units average "five or six" firefights with insurgents per day in eastern Ramadi.

That's not counting roadside bombs, mortar attacks — or the Marine-patrolled western part of town, much less the suburbs of the city, 70 miles west of Baghdad.

"It's surreal," said Clark, 39, of Leesville, La., using a green laser pointer to tick off recent engagements on a large satellite map of Ramadi.

"Here we have an enemy that does not mind coming out and fighting with us," he said. "We always have the advantage when that happens. They take heavy losses, but the bottom line is, it doesn't change things."

Estimates differ on how long it typically takes for insurgents to start shooting. Claburn's Charlie company figures 45 minutes is the norm. Delta company reckons they'll be fired at within 37 minutes, Clark said. Some Marines in western Ramadi say attacks can come in eight minutes.

Guard towers at the U.S. Army's Camp Corregidor base are shot at daily — Tuesday, one was hit by rocket-propelled grenades and small-arms fire. Ramadi is "a lot more kinetic than what we see or read about other areas. It's just very violent," Clark said. He added that even trips to check on U.S.-funded projects to refurbish schools attracted violence.

"We'll go on school visits ... and be involved in direct fire almost every time," he said. "A lot of it is based on the fact that there's ... no Iraqi police on this side of town."

Until a few weeks ago, east Ramadi had no Iraqi army units.

Clark and his commanders welcomed the arrival of a combat-experienced Iraqi brigade, hoping their numbers and familiarity with Iraqi culture could help turn the tide.

As U.S. and Iraqi forces moved in Friday for a sweep of a troubled district, residents ran inside.

"Hmmm," noted Claburn, 29, who grew up as an orphan and calls Alabama home. "You see all those people clearing out? That's usually a bad sign."

U.S. Navy SEALs and Iraqi soldiers carrying rockets and boxes of ammunition walked slowly, eyes alert for insurgents, clearing house after house.

Forty-two minutes into the operation, a man in a white sedan fired off a round from his rifle, retreating immediately under a return volley from Iraqi soldiers on a nearby rooftop.

One street over, another insurgent sprayed machine-gun fire.

Minutes later, Claburn and a dozen SEALs scrambled to the roof and began firing toward another insurgent team — four gunmen in a truck. Two Iraqi soldiers on another rooftop also opened fire.

The SEALs' fire riddled the truck, and 40 mm grenades destroyed its engine as the gunmen fled.

Asked why coalition forces didn't pursue the attackers, Claburn said it wouldn't be prudent.

Insurgents often try to lure troops into danger, he said, exposing themselves in hopes they will be chased down a street where explosives had been laid.

"You have to out-insurgent the insurgent. You have to think about what he's trying to make you do ... and do the complete opposite," the Army captain said, riding in a Humvee along a road lined with palm trees as two helicopters clattered overhead.

April 25, 2006

Marines fire on mosque to repel attacks, 18 bodies with signs of torture found around Baghdad

RAMADI, Iraq (CNN) -- A coordinated attack from three directions on the governor's compound in Ramadi Monday left an unknown number of insurgents dead after an hourlong fight with U.S. Marines.


Tuesday, April 18, 2006 Posted: 0417 GMT (1217 HKT)

The insurgent assault -- which included car bombs, mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and machine-gun and small-arms fire -- occurred between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m., the U.S. military said in a written statement.

Militants used a suicide car bombing to attack an observation point, wounding one Marine. Two other car bombs were stopped and destroyed by Marines firing from observation posts, the military said. (Watch troops under fire in governor's compound -- 2:45)

Insurgents also fired on the compound from a mosque about 330 yards (300 meters) away in the center of the city with rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns.

The Marines called for air support against the fire coming from the mosque, but ground forces arrived first.

"The Marines returned fire but continued to be attacked from the mosque's minaret," the military statement said. "The Marines fired one 120 mm tank round and several 7.62 mm machine-gun rounds into the minaret, after which fire from the mosque ceased."

CNN correspondent Arwa Damon said she saw two tank rounds fired into the mosque.

"This is the fourth time in three-and-a-half weeks that the Ramadi Government Center has received attacks from the Fatemat Mosque," said Lt. Col. Stephen M. Neary, commander of 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment.

He said the Marines "only used the proportionate amount of force necessary."

"Coalition forces take significant measures to respect all religious sites," said Lt. Col. Bryan Salas, a Marine spokesman. "But we always maintain the inherent right of self-defense.

"When insurgents use holy places as safe havens from which to attack coalition forces, it is important that we act quickly to defend ourselves and innocent Iraqi civilians," he said.

U.S. military officials said some insurgents were killed in the mosque, but had no specific figures. The Marines also said they killed a three-man mortar team during the hourlong fight.

The governor was at the compound Monday but was not injured.

It was just another day in the restive provincial capital, where officials said the compound sometimes comes under attack four of five times daily.

Central Ramadi is the most dangerous part of the restive city, which is home to three Iraqi army brigades and what a U.S. military commander described as a growing police force.

Western Iraq's sprawling Anbar province has been the scene of some of the worst fighting in the 3-year-old Iraqi war.

Signs of torture
The violence in Iraq was taking place in a political vacuum left as politicians negotiate the formation of a unity government four months after parliamentary elections.

Iraq's parliament, the 275-member Council of Representatives, had originally been scheduled to meet Monday, but Speaker Adnan Pachachi said the session would be delayed a "few days." (Full story)

Police on Monday found 18 bodies in Baghdad, including a prominent Sunni politician's brother who had been missing about three weeks.

Taha Mutlaq, who disappeared in late March, had been shot several times in the head and appeared to have been tortured, police said.

His brother, Saleh Mutlaq, is the head of the National Dialogue Front, which won 11 seats in Iraq's parliament.

Police also found 17 unidentified bodies around the capital, all of them shot in the head and showing signs of torture.

Twelve of the bodies were discovered in Dora, a Sunni district in southern Baghdad.

Two other bodies were found in Khadhamiya, a Shiite area of northern Baghdad, and three turned up in the Shu'la neighborhood in northwestern Baghdad.

The discovery of bodies killed in similar fashion has been a regular occurrence in Baghdad since sectarian violence flared after an attack on a revered Shiite mosque February 22.

Attacks kill 4 civilians
Police said fighting between Iraqi security forces and insurgents broke out in the Adhamiya district in northern Baghdad on Monday, resulting in the deaths of three civilians.

A police station came under fire around 1 a.m., and Iraqi army units closed the area about four hours later for a security sweep.

In addition to the three civilians killed in the crossfire, eight people were wounded.

Also Monday, a roadside bomb exploded near an Iraqi army patrol in central Baghdad, killing one civilian. One Iraqi soldier and two other civilians were wounded, police said.

Embedded With Marines in Iraq By The AP

I first met Lance Cpl. Justin Sims the day I arrived at the Marine base here called Hurricane Point. He was sitting in front of the battalion headquarters on the top of his Humvee, ballistic sunglasses over his eyes, hand resting on his gun turret. He was a machine-gunner. It was a bright, clear morning, good light, good photo. I took a picture.


THURSDAY, April 20, 2 p.m.
Todd Pitman

I rode through the city with him several times over the next week. Whenever we left the relative safety of the base, it was Sims who always gave me the rundown: what to do if hit by a grenade (yell 'Grenade!'); what to do if hit by small arms fire; what to do if hit by indirect mortar fire; what to do if we roll off the bridge into the river (he'll get out first and try to pull the rest of us out); what to do if hit by a roadside bomb and we roll over (grab Sims' legs and pull him inside); what to do if we get into a fire-fight. All these things happen in Ramadi, but most times you drive out, they do not. These are safety procedures, just in case.

We drove several times to Government Center, the governor's sandbagged headquarters, a wrecked building that is a magnet for insurgent attacks. The first time I went there we drove inside the compound and I figured we were safe. I got out of the car and started to relax — I thought the dangerous part of the trip was over. I started taking off my helmet, but Battalion commander Lt. Col. Steve Neary made it clear: "Get inside, you're not safe yet." The main threat inside the compound is the occasional mortar round, and possible snipers. We sprinted the few steps across the exposed inner courtyard while a Marine stood on the corner pointing his rifle into a bunch of four- or five-story buildings to provide cover. My luggage was in the back of the Humvee. Without asking, Sims heaved my huge duffel bag onto his back, ran across and carried it upstairs.

On another morning we were to leave Hurricane Point, the trip was abruptly canceled — at least my participation in it. Three Marines and a Sailor had just been killed when multiple artillery shells buried in the pavement exploded underneath their vehicle in the city. Quick Reaction Forces were called up to provide security at the site, and Sims and his crew left, leaving me behind. I wanted to go, but was told I could not. Later, I thought better of it — why put yourself in danger? I wasn't going to press it. As they left me on the curb that day, I remember thinking they would be doing this nearly everyday for the duration of their seven month tour — another six months. As I watched them leave, I remember picturing Sims rolling out of the gate everyday manning that turret the rest of the time he was here. Whether you agree with the war or not, it takes an enormous amount of bravery to go outside here and onto these streets everyday. There is a lot of anxiety when you leave. You never know if you are coming back.

Not long afterward, one Marine showed up at Government Center and played the Marine Hymn on a set of bagpipes for troops manning posts under a ceiling of camouflage netting on the rooftop. The bagpipes seemed way out of place. A Marine public affairs officer was doing a story about it, and had asked Sims what he thought. I heard Sims recounting the brief interview later. "This guy asked me how it made me feel," Sims said, smoking a cigarette one morning outside the Humvee. I thought Sims was going to say it was ridiculous. He seemed to be setting up a joke. But I was wrong. Sims said, "I told him, what do you think? It made me feel good."

Marines deployed in downtown Ramadi cope with the constant danger sometimes by joking around. Humor can help ease the mood. One morning we picked up the governor — who is escorted everyday by U.S. Marines to his office. The governor travels in his own mini-convoy of Mercedes Benzes and BMWs. It was a long wait that morning. The driver, the vehicle commander and Sims began betting — no money involved — on what color and make the governor's small convoy would be. Two white Mercedes Benzes and a Green BMW? Or would it be all white? Maybe a blue thrown in? The governor had a bunch of different cars and usually changed them up. I think the driver won.

Like most Marines of the 3/8, Sims had been in Iraq on a previous tour of duty. He was from Kentucky. He graduated high-school in 2003 and married the following year, just before heading out on his first tour in Iraq.

Once, I asked if any of the Marines carried lucky charms with them to keep them safe. Sims told me he carried only two things: a cross and most important, his wedding band, which he wore on a neckless around his neck.

On April 15, Sims was on the way to Government Center again, manning the turret as he rolled through the city, past U.S. observation posts and destroyed buildings. As they pulled through a deep moat of sewage water just outside a gate at Government Center, Sims was on the gun-turret facing the buildings behind them, providing security for the convoy.

A rocket-propelled grenade came out of nowhere, killing him instantly. In the dark dust of that moment, time stood still.

The driver and the vehicle commander were fine. Their interpreter, a bespectacled man more than twice the age of all of them, was in a rear seat, hit by shrapnel in the arm and leg. Some shrapnel hit a pistol that was in a holster on his hip — it may have saved his life.

I had heard about the fatality that day as I was talking to another Marine about the dangers they face. We were listening to yet another raging gunbattle audible somewhere outside the base.

I didn't know then that it was Sims who had been hit. It dawned on me when I saw the interpreter, deeply saddened, sitting outside in a blue chair where he always sat at Hurricane Point.

There were bandages around his arm and leg, blood covering his boots. "He was like a son to me," said the interpreter, who can't be named for fear of reprisals. "He had his whole life ahead of him."

Justin Sims was just 22 years old. I can't say I knew him at all. But I will not forget him.

Reporter's Notebook: Operation Mountain Lion, Part III

A Ghost Town and a Haunted Evening

Cameraman Pierre and I woke up a bit on the grumpy side today. Perhaps it was because we had both been sleeping on each other’s side — on the side of a sheer-faced mountain — along with the Marines of D.O. Platoon, with whom we were embedded.


By Greg Palkot

But there was a method to what seemed to me to be the madness of the Platoon’s commander, Lt. DeSantis. The precarious resting spot put us right on top of the village of Chimchal, the first real objective of the unit’s participation in Operation Mountain Lion. The place was described as a haven for “facilitators” or “middlemen” involved with the multiple IED attacks on Americans based in the region.

After smashing our way through the brush growing on the remainder of the steep cliff (Trails? Who needs trails? Trails are for chickens), we made it to the town. The “town” is actually a bunch of wooden houses scattered around a half-mile-wide area of scenic landscape of mountains and forests. If Usama bin Laden has hung out in this neighborhood, as multiple reports have claimed in the past few years, he picked a scenic spot.

The spot is a pretty lonely one, by the looks of things. Funny, but this usually busy farm compound was a ghost town when we entered. Though there seemed to be freshly-cut wood and branches, there’s not a farm animal and few people in sight. There are not even many items inside the houses.

Also, disappointingly for the Marines, there is little in the way of stashed ammo or other tools of the terror trade they could deprive the bad guys of using. Though the platoon does come across what they believe is a meeting place for insurgents, complete with what they think are holding cells for whoever needs to be held. And again, except for an old woman and a young child discovered at one home, there is no one. Zippo. Zilch.

The platoon surmises that many in the village got word we were coming and high-tailed it out of there — or they were waiting in ambush mode. In a few hours, we would learn that later could have been the case.

But first, we had to do another one of those hikes that I was beginning not to like a whole lot. This one included a walk along a six-inch wide ledge of gravel about a hundred yards long and about a hundred yards above a narrow jagged ravine. With my heavy pack weighing me down on one side, I made it very slowly across that landscape.

Again, I was lucky to make it through another outing with the D.O. without anything untoward happening. These guys have to do this stuff day in and day out in addition to fighting their way through any battle they might encounter. Sadly, one member of the platoon on this day actually did slip down one of the canyons and had to be Medivac-ed out of the area with serious back injuries. There were other similar non-combat but painful injuries as well. The war on terror can be dangerous indeed…in all sorts of ways.

When we finally made it to the next precipice/overlook of our next objective at the town of Kandalay, the concerns of the last few days suddenly became a reality. On the heavily-wooded hillside about a quarter of a mile away, mortars suddenly burst between the trees. It was estimated a dozen or so insurgents were laying in wait for the platoon before letting go with a round of fire.

Within seconds, the entire area where darkness had just been falling was lit up with red streaks of tracer fire that came from two Marine units who were up on the hillside. This was followed by our own Marine platoon rushing out their machine guns and, careful so as not to hit any “friendlies,” letting loose as well.

After three days of slogging up and down mountains, these guys were finally doing what they came here to do — dueling with the enemy. And duel they did; assisted by high-tech laser-spotting devices and the threat of air strikes, which didn’t need to be called in because soon after the firefight started it was over. Post-battle analysis put the casualty figure at four dead and seven injured. Not bad work for one night.

Cameraman Pierre and I covered much of the action and were ready to send it out by videophone when — bane of all photographers professional or amateur — our batteries went dead. This illustrated the risks of being deeply embedded in a mission and not just on the fringes. The car battery, which should have given us a few days of juice and should have been on air supply drop the day before, never made it. We thought we could squeak by until the next drop but the cold weather did us in. The folks at home would just have to wait until we got off the mountain, which would be a little more time yet.

A planned extraction-by-chopper for us was scratched. Probably because it wasn’t the safest thing to fly into a valley just after bullets and shells had sailed through the same space.

So Pierre and I rolled out our sleeping bags and got set for luxury. It would be the first night out of three where we would actually be sleeping horizontally on relatively rock-free ground with just the odd insurgent possibly lurking nearby. Now that’s five-star treatment for our Marine hosts and us

Best laid plans of insurgents spoiled by Lejeune Marines in Ramadi

AR RAMADI, Iraq (April 25, 2006) -- Cpl. Erick L. Calkins was leading his fire team during a stormy day in Ramadi when he heard the blast.


Submitted by: I Marine Expeditionary Force
Story Identification #: 200651524617
Story by Cpl. Joseph DiGirola

“It was a huge explosion.… I knew it hit close by,” said Calkins, from 1st Platoon, Company I, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment.

A dump truck full of explosives had rammed into one of the battalion’s observation posts in another part of the Anbar provincial capitol, touching off a complex attack the Marines described as something straight out of the movies.

“It was rainy, stormy and windy, and they still attacked us with everything they had,” said Lance Cpl. Richard R. Ricketts, a mortarman with the interior guard force of the battalion’s Headquarters and Service Company.

Just moments after the initial blast, multiple mortar rounds rained down on the Ramadi Government Center, and insurgents poured on heavy small-arms fire from several nearby buildings, including a mosque. Meanwhile, at several other sights throughout the city, insurgents attacked Marines’ positions with car bombs, rocket-propelled grenades, heavy machineguns, mortars, and small arms fire.

There was only one course of action for the Marines of 3/8—they responded.

“The Marines didn’t hesitate,” said Corp. Michael F. Anziano, an infantryman attached to 3/8’s intelligence section at the Government Center. Anziano, a 28-year-old from Strafford, Conn., helped re-supply Marines with ammunition during the fight, and later took up position on the rooftop to return fire against the insurgents. “Everyone on post used accurate fire and the right weapon system for the right situation,” he said.

As the fighting progressed, the Marines observed insurgents setting up a mortar position several hundred yards from the Government Center. They immediately concentrated fire on the enemy position, killing three insurgents before they could employ the mortars.

“We disrupted their coordinated attack,” Anziano said. “We returned fire, preventing them from using accurate indirect fire and from maneuvering against us.”

Meanwhile, the interior guard force at Hurricane Point also had their hands full, as insurgents attacked their posts with small arms fire from nearby houses while mortar rounds impacted inside the base.

“We took up positions all over camp to fight the enemy,” said Ricketts, a 21-year-old from Orlando, Fla.

The fight at Hurricane Point lasted approximately 45 minutes, according to 1st Lt. John A. Dalby, company executive officer for Headquarters and Service Company.

“Our guys played a small role, but it was a vital role and they did a superb job,” said Dalby, a 25-year-old from Arnold, Md.

When all was said and done, the Marines had successfully repelled the complex attack, sustaining only minor injuries and destroying four insurgent car bombs before they could be used against their intended targets.

“It felt like the battle went on for hours,” Anziano said. “It was pretty hectic, but everything was well organized and the communication among the Marines was great.”

It was a hard-learned lesson for the insurgents that rainy April day in Ramadi: even their best laid plans won’t survive contact with the Marines of 3/8.

SDPD posthumously honors hero Marine

First came the bullets to his torso and his face. The automatic gunfire struck Sgt. Rafael Peralta the second he opened that door in a Fallujah house on Nov. 15, 2004.

Then, as Peralta lay dying, came the grenade, lobbed into the room with him and five other Marines.


Tuesday, April 25, 2006
By: TERI FIGUEROA - Staff Writer

Most scrambled for cover. The mortally wounded Peralta pulled the deadly yellow oval underneath his body.

It was his last act. The San Diego man, a Morse High School graduate, was 25 years old.

But the young Marine had wanted someday to be a member of the San Diego Police Department. So on Monday, the Police Department granted Peralta's wish, posthumously tapping him as an honorary member.

"We would have hired him the second he came out of the Marine Corps," San Diego police Chief William Lansdowne told the audience at the Bob Hope Theater at Miramar Marine Corps Air Station.

Lansdowne then presented Peralta's mother with the same type of badge worn by San Diego police.

Peralta's honors came during a San Diego Police Department ceremony at which eight new lieutenants and 20 new sergeants were promoted within the department. Fourteen others also were promoted and 29 employees and civilians were honored for meritorious service.

Peralta's mother, Rosa, and his siblings were on hand for the honor for the late Marine. Speaking through a Spanish-language interpreter before the ceremony, Rosa Peralta said she was pleased that her son has not been forgotten.

It has been 17 months since the deadly blast took him, and Rosa Peralta said that she keeps his room "as if he was still coming home."

Except now, it also holds some of his awards.

Someday, it may also host the nation's highest award, the Medal of Honor, for which Peralta has been nominated.

Peralta's Hollywood-style heroism has already earned him honors from the Los Angeles Police Department. And less than a week ago, Peralta's family was in Hawaii to accept the state's Medal of Honor, given out last Tuesday to 120 people who died in Iraq or Afghanistan and who had ties to the islands.

Also honored by Hawaii last week were: Army Spc. Ramon C. Ojeda, 22, of Ramona; Marine Lance Cpl. Mourad Ragimov, 20, of Carmel Valley; Army Spc. Glenn J. Watkins, 42, of Carlsbad; Army Spec. Mike T. Sonoda, 34, of Fallbrook; and Army Sgt. Paul C. Neubauer, 40, of Oceanside.

Peralta had been stationed on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, a part of the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment.

Rosa Peralta said she understood why her oldest child had died so selflessly.

"He had so much love for his Marines," she said, tears welling in her eyes. On her dress, she wore a pin with a photo of her late son. "I'm very proud and I'm still proud. ... He saved other lives and sacrificed his own."

Peralta's mother said Rafael came to the United States from Mexico when he was just 15. And the day after he won his citizenship, she said, he joined the Marines. He was 19.

His family soon followed him to the country and they settled in near downtown San Diego.

The young Marine had been in Iraq for five months ---- it was his first deployment ---- when he died.

"I'm extremely proud of him," Peralta's 15-year-old brother, Ricardo, said moments before the Monday ceremony. "I want to be just like him. He is my hero."

And that, the teenager said, includes a desire to join the Marines and fight in Iraq.

The boy smiled as he recalled his oldest sibling, who he said loved to dance, loved to play soccer and would "go to the gym everyday."

His older brother penned a letter to him just days before the blast. The teenager turned his head and swallowed back tears as he spoke of it.

Rosa Peralta said her son ---- a boy who loved Mexican food, who loved dancing the salsa ---- had wanted to be a policeman to bring justice to the world, and that she and her late husband taught him to respect others.

As fate would have it, Peralta spent his final moments in front of military war correspondent Lance Cpl. T. J. Kaemmerer, who penned the account of Peralta's death. Datelined on Dec. 2, 2004, the story of Peralta's heroism appears on the Marine Corps Web site.

Kaemmerer reported that he personally put down his camera that day and volunteered to join fellow Marines, rifle in hand, on a mission to clear buildings that lined the streets of the battle-gripped Iraqi city.

Kaemmerer was part of a six-man group, dubbed a "stack." Peralta was a part of the same group. Two stacks teamed up that morning, going house to house to ferret out insurgents.

According to Kaemmerer, Peralta was a platoon scout, and could have stayed behind in safety, but instead joined the house-clearing mission.

Peralta died in the fourth house the stacks hit. First the automatic gunfire, then the grenade.

Kaemmerer watched as the dying Peralta pulled the nearby grenade to him and smothered it with his body.

"I watched in fear and horror as the other four Marines scrambled to the corners of the room and the majority of the blast was absorbed by Peralta's now lifeless body," Kaemmerer wrote. "His selflessness left four other Marines with only minor injuries from the smaller fragments of the grenade."

Fire began to consume the house. The Marines escaped.

But very soon, they went back ---- facing not only flames but also threats that insurgent artillery stashed in the house might explode ---- and pulled out Peralta's body.

They later learned that another group of Marines found and killed the three insurgents.

Peralta was not married, and had no children. His father died two years before Peralta did, in a work-related accident, Rosa Peralta said.

Rafael Peralta also has three surviving siblings, two sisters (one is 25, the other is 14) and his 15-year-old brother.

He is buried at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in Point Loma.

Contact staff writer Teri Figueroa at (760) 631-6624 or [email protected]

To read Kaemmerer's Dec. 2, 2004 account of Peralta's final moments, go to http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/mcn2000.nsf/frontpagenews and enter "Rafael Peralta" in the search bar.

A direct link to the story can be found at http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/mcn2000.nsf/ac95bc775efc34c685256ab50049d458/4ef649c7ae4cfb6785256fe20049866c?OpenDocument&Highlight;=2,peralta

April 24, 2006

Reporter's Notebook: Operation Mountain Lion, Part II

I woke up after a relaxing sleep of about two hours with my Marine hosts. It was a cold and damp two hours. I under-packed for this jaunt through the mountains with the military. My pack was previously too full with 16 liters of water for each day — which you're supposed to carry — along with the TV gear, etc. I had decided I'd go a bit dry in our hunt for the terrorists — and at least lose a few pounds off my bag.


By Greg Palkot

I ate some sort of breakfast from our MRE. I think it was Cheez Whiz on dry wheat bread. I looked up from our mountaintop post and realized how high we had climbed, and how spectacular Kunar province was, filled with snow-peaked mountains and deep, narrow gorges. If Usama bin Laden was really here (as some people say he has been in the past), there wasn't a snowball's chance in heck of finding the guy.

This huge wild wilderness makes yanking Saddam out of a Tikrit-area spider hole look like a piece of cake.

After some soothingly relaxing early-morning minutes viewing the landscape ("…you're sure, Lieutenant, we can't stay and look a few moments more?"), it was off hiking again. This time downhill. Now we would put cameraman Pierre's axiom to the test. Hiking downhill with 100 pounds on your back is actually harder than hiking up.

As one veteran 20-year-old Marine confided to me, "Going up you use your muscles; going down you use your bones."

About an hour into our trek, the embargo on us reporting on the mission was over. Unfortunately, I was trying to extricate my way around a gravel-strewn stream bed. So there I was, trying to keep up, as the D.O. Platoon of the 1-3 Marines marched on to the first terror stronghold, while I juggled a Thuraya phone to break the news to early-morning FOX viewers. No easy feat.

Well, I needn't have worried about that pace. By midday, our marching was being being slowed down by some ominous radio messages our interpreters were listening to. They were apparently being relayed between insurgents who sounded like they were tracking our progress.

Due to embedment rules, I can't give you the exact details for the rebels' repartee, but they went generally like this: "Here come the Americans — Looks like there are (number) of them. We number (number). Let's wait until the boss comes before we make our move." Were these folks telling the truth? Or were they just doing their own version of terror disinformation?

Lt. DeSantis had no idea. But he couldn't take chances and go charging forward, and he also couldn't follow his Afghan interpreters' wishes: "Don't go forward." We had to get near the next objective town by nightfall — which we did, making it by sunset just a half mile short. I got the chance to knock out a few quick live shots. And, I thought, after a long day of arduous marching — time to take a break.


Lt. DeSantis' plan was to move closer to the town under the cover of night. Meaning, down a sheer slope, with our heavy packs, with no moonlight to guide the way. I suggested to the lieutenant that a sprained ankle from his embedded correspondent might slow things down a tad. He had no truck with that.

So off we went, down into a dark hole. You have to hand it to these young Marines. All I had to do was avoid twisting my leg and balance my video phone on my back while getting beeper messages from New York on my hip. These guys had to make sure we didn't get shot into ribbons by sniper insurgents.

Which possibly almost happened for the second time that day. Half way down the slope, members of the platoon started hearing voices on the side and rear of our movement. The thinking was that insurgents had started massing to attack our flank. So half of our platoon went forward, while the other half doubled around to the rear to try and surprise the rebels.

That was done, but again, the terror fish slipped off the line. The folks tracking us must have caught on to the plan and nipped away.

Which left cameraman Pierre and myself having to find a place to sleep where the unit ended up for the evening. Perched on the side of an 80-degree-angle slope, I propped myself against a tree and backpacks. That seemed to give me some assurance that I would not roll over in a fitful sleep and catapult down the gully. The problem arose when cameraman Pierre laid out his sleeping bag (above mine) he would roll on top of me at every dream shift.

Well I suppose we made out better than another Marine, who managed to lose his flak jacket and helmet down the ravine about 100 feet, forcing him go searching for them in the middle of the night.

Needless to say, it was another not-so-restful night for myself and my Marine companions. But hey, who needs sleep when the bad guys are out there?

Web site connects Marine families

Parents get cybersupport for loved ones in war zones

Steve Schulz knew where to find emotional support when he learned that a roadside bomb had driven shrapnel into his son's brain while on patrol with his Marine unit in Iraq.


April 24, 2006, 2:42AM
Copyright 2006 Houston Chronicle

Schulz, 52, a sales manager from Friendswood, went to MarineParents.com, a Web site created by a parent of another Marine whose son had gone to Iraq. On the message board, he sought prayers for Cpl. Steven K. Schulz, 21. And the responses flooded in.

His son has undergone 14 brain surgeries, but has survived.

Schulz was among nearly 200 parents of Marines who gathered this weekend at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in downtown Houston for the MarineParents.com annual conference to offer the support that only military families can give each other.

Many of the parents had struck up relationships through message boards and e-mails on the site and were meeting each other for the first time.

Some don't understand

Sue Castor, 51, of Grand Rapids, Mich., said her friends didn't understand what it meant to go three weeks without hearing from a son who was in Iraq.

One friend whose son was away at college said dismissively, "My son isn't going to make it home this week either."

Castor was incredulous that her friend could equate the two.

"The civilians just don't understand," she said.

"Nobody else knew what I was going through," said Terri Roberts, 51, of Weatherford, Texas.

When her 26-year-old son, Joseph, a Marine pilot, was flying missions from Khyrgistan, she came across the Web site.

"It was like the biggest weight lifted off me," she said.

Mom founded site

The site was founded in January 2003 by Tracy Della Vecchia, 44, a Web developer in Columbia, Mo., who realized that she knew little about the Marines.

She was at a loss when her 19-year-old son, Derrick Jensen, now 23 and a corporal, joined up.

"The questions of a mother of a son heading for war made me understand the need to connect with other families," Della Vecchia said.

The site has a chat room for parents and provides answers to questions ranging from how to send a letter to what boot camp is like.

Like Della Vecchia, Schulz's concern for his son led him to found his own Web site, www.suppliedtosurvive.org.

When his son asked him to send him a scope for his M-4 carbine, Schulz scraped together enough to buy seven scopes at $800 apiece and shipped them to Iraq.

The Web site sent $100,000 in equipment to Marines in Iraq last year, he said.

Schulz said he is trying to raise $40,000 to equip three companies, each with about 300 Marines, that getting ready to head to Iraq.

Col. Bryan McCoy, who commanded the 3rd battalion, 4th Marines while Della Vecchia's son was in the unit, said he went to MarineParents.com to post open letters to parents and "saw a true benefit to parents and that it filled a need that needed to be filled."

McCoy said families with sons and daughters in the service often live in communities that experience the conflict as a distant, abstract event.

"They can't walk out the door and see that they are in a nation at war," he said.

April 23, 2006

'If you stand still, you WILL get shot at', Speed is the rule for Marines in violent Iraqi city of Ramadi

RAMADI, Iraq (AP) -- Weapons locked, loaded and ready, a U.S. Marine platoon runs through this troubled Iraqi city's war-wrecked streets, hurling yellow, gray and violet smoke grenades to shroud their path.


Sunday, April 23, 2006; Posted: 7:23 p.m. EDT

Pausing only to train gun barrels around corners or scan rooftops for insurgents, they bound across desolate roads lined with broken glass and charred cars -- and start running again.

Standing still is rarely an option in this insurgent-plagued metropolis beset by roadside bombs, rocket fire and, Marines here say, the worst sniper threat on the planet.

"Every time we go out, we run," said 2nd Lt. Brian Wilson, a 24-year-old platoon commander from Columbia, South Carolina. "If you stand still, you WILL get shot at."

And most of the time, Marines shoot back.

Buildings around Government Center, the Marine-defended headquarters of provincial government, offer stark evidence of fighting between insurgents and U.S. forces in downtown Ramadi, a city 70 miles (112 kilometers) west of Baghdad in the heart of the Sunni Arab-dominated insurgency.

Some buildings have been blown away by airstrikes, their walls ripped open, their twisted floors collapsed. Others, including a small mosque and its tank-blasted minaret, are riddled with rocket and bullet impacts. Plastic awnings over shop fronts are shredded. Power lines hang down along sidewalks.

Marines patrolling this city on foot don't like to stay exposed too long, preferring instead to blow front gate locks off private homes with special shotgun shells to take temporary cover in walled courtyards before moving on. They don't knock first -- there is no time.

On one recent sweep, U.S. and Iraqi infantrymen climbed over walls between houses instead of risking the streets outside.

"We try to stay mobile, so snipers can't aim in on us," said 1st Lt. Carlos Goetz, a 29-year-old Miami, Florida, native. "If we walk, then it gives them more time to aim in on your head."

With 60 to 80 pounds of gear, the Marines' pace is more of a quick jog.

The enemy could be aiming
The urban environment of walled villa rooftops and four- to five-story windowed buildings keeps Marines edgy.

"You try to take cover wherever you can, but it just feels like someone's always watching you. It really messes with your head," said Cpl. Jason Hunt of Wellsville, New York.

"You look for dark windows, tiny holes anywhere," the 24-year-old said. "They could be sitting back on a bench with a scope and a barrel -- they see you, but you can't see them."

Troops from the 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment aggressively patrol the blown-out district around Government Center at all hours -- during the hazy, gritty heat of the day, and in the quiet of night, when moonlight casts buildings and villas in blue hues.

Marines say the patrols have disrupted insurgent operations. But the guerrillas operating in small teams are relentless, firing rockets, mortars and machine guns daily at Government Center, U.S. bases and fortified observation posts. Sometimes they attack the same targets several times a day.

Goetz said Marines patrol with the hope of bringing insurgents out into the open, where they are little match for the overwhelming U.S. firepower.

It usually doesn't take long.

"It takes about eight minutes from us stepping outside of the wire and getting across the street to the time that we start receiving contact from the enemy," Goetz said.

Vehicles stay on the move
The safety-in-motion logic also applies to U.S. vehicles. Drivers roll back and forth in danger zones, rather than park, to make their vehicles harder targets, particularly for rocket-propelled grenades, or RPGs.

One young Marine manning a machine gun in a Humvee turret outside Government Center was hit by an RPG and killed instantly just before the vehicle rolled inside. In recent weeks, another Marine was killed by a sniper's bullet that tore through his shoulder toward his heart.

Two Iraqi soldiers were fatally shot manning a guard post -- one as he walked out of it and one who went to save him, said Marine Capt. Carlos Barela, 35, of Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Out on the streets, troops are wary of all the spots that insurgents have used to hide bombs: heaps of garbage and rubble, mangles of wires, scrap metal, the occasional dead animal or body part.

"This is the kind of stuff that makes you cringe," said Capt. Andrew Del Gaudio, 30, of Mount Laurel, New Jersey, gesturing at a large pile of dirt near a light pole as he ran along ahead of a raid with a platoon from his Kilo Company.

Sprinting into the entrance of an abandoned building and seeing a bag on the ground with wires sticking out, the Marines quickly retreated as one shouted, "Get out! Go! Go! Go!"

One Iraqi soldier bounding between two roads this month stepped on a bomb that blew off his leg. It's easier to spot bombs when moving slowly, but speed is the rule for Marines in Ramadi.

Cpl. Scott R. Gibson, 22, of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, said his platoon had started off walking during their first patrol in the city last month, worrying about pressure-plate bombs that explode when stepped on.

They soon came under a hail of gunfire.

"After that, we started running," Gibson said. "We can't stand still here too long."

In War-Wrecked Ramadi, Marines Keep Moving

RAMADI, Iraq - Weapons locked, loaded and ready, a U.S. Marine platoon runs through this troubled Iraqi city's war-wrecked streets, hurling yellow, gray and violet smoke grenades to shroud their path.


Updated: 5:40 p.m. ET April 23, 2006

Pausing only to train gunbarrels around corners or scan rooftops for insurgents, they bound across desolate roads lined with broken glass and charred cars _ and start running again.

Standing still is rarely an option in this insurgent-plagued metropolis beset by roadside bombs, rocket fire and, Marines here say, the worst sniper threat on the planet.

"Every time we go out, we run," said 2nd Lt. Brian Wilson, a 24-year-old platoon commander from Columbia, S.C. "If you stand still, you WILL get shot at."

And most of the time, Marines shoot back.

Buildings around Government Center, the Marine-defended headquarters of provincial government, offer stark evidence of fighting between insurgents and U.S. forces in downtown Ramadi, a city 70 miles west of Baghdad in the heart of the Sunni Arab-dominated insurgency.

Some buildings have been blown away by air strikes, their walls ripped open, their twisted floors collapsed. Others, including a small mosque and its tank-blasted minaret, are riddled with rocket and bullet impacts. Plastic awnings over shopfronts are shredded. Power lines hang down along sidewalks.

Marines patrolling this city on foot don't like to stay exposed too long, preferring instead to blow front gate locks off private homes with special shotgun shells to take temporary cover in walled courtyards before moving on. They don't knock first _ there is no time.

On one recent sweep, U.S. and Iraqi infantrymen climbed over walls between houses instead of risking the streets outside.

"We try to stay mobile so snipers can't aim in on us," said 1st Lt. Carlos Goetz, a 29-year-old Miami native. "If we walk, then it gives them more time to aim in on your head."

Running around with 60 to 80 pounds of gear, the Marines' pace is more of a quick jog.

The urban environment of walled villa rooftops and four- to five-story windowed buildings keeps Marines edgy.

"You try to take cover wherever you can, but it just feels like someone's always watching you. It really messes with your head," said Cpl. Jason Hunt of Wellsville, N.Y.

"You look for dark windows, tiny holes anywhere," the 24-year-old said. "They could be sitting back on a bench with a scope and a barrel _ they see you, but you can't see them."

Troops from the 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment aggressively patrol the blown-out district around Government Center at all hours _ conducting raids and sweeps during the hazy, gritty heat of the day, and in the quiet of night when moonlight casts buildings and villas in blue hues.

Marines say the patrols have disrupted insurgent operations. But the guerrillas operating in small teams are relentless, firing rockets, mortars and machine guns daily at Government Center, U.S. bases and fortified observation posts. Sometimes they attack the same targets several times a day.

Goetz said Marines patrol hoping to bring insurgents out into the open, where they are little match for the overwhelming U.S. firepower.

It usually doesn't take long.

"It takes about eight minutes from us stepping outside of the wire and getting across the street to the time that we start receiving contact from the enemy," Goetz said at Goverment Center.

The safety-in-motion logic also applies to U.S. vehicles. Drivers roll back and forth in danger zones, rather than park, to make their vehicles harder targets, particularly for rocket-propelled grenades, or RPGs.

One young Marine manning a machine gun in a Humvee turret outside Government Center was hit by an RPG and killed instantly just before the vehicle rolled inside. In recent weeks, another Marine was killed by a sniper's bullet that tore through his shoulder toward his heart.

Two Iraqi soldiers were fatally shot manning a guard post _ one as he walked out of it and one who went to save him, said Marine Capt. Carlos Barela, 35, of Albuquerque, N.M.

Out on the streets, troops are wary of all the spots that insurgents have used to hide bombs: heaps of garbage and rubble, mangles of wires, scrap metal, the occasional dead animal or body part.

"This is the kind of stuff that makes you cringe," said Capt. Andrew Del Gaudio, 30, of Mount Laurel, N.J., gesturing at a large pile of dirt near a light pole as he ran along ahead of a raid with a platoon from his Kilo Company.

Sprinting into the entrance of an abandoned building on another day and seeing a bag on the ground with wires sticking out, Marines quickly retreated as one shouted, "Get out! Go! Go! Go!"

One Iraqi soldier bounding between two roads this month stepped on a bomb that blew off his leg. It's easier to spot bombs when moving slowly, but speed is the rule for Marines in Ramadi.

Cpl. Scott R. Gibson, 22, of Carlisle, Pa., said his platoon had started off walking during their first patrol in the city last month, worrying about pressure-plate bombs that explode when stepped on.

They soon came under a hail of gunfire.

"After that, we started running," Gibson said. "We can't stand still here too long."

April 22, 2006

U.S., Iraqi Forces Fight Ramadi Insurgents

RAMADI, Iraq (AP) -- U.S. and Iraqi forces fought an hour-long gunbattle with insurgents Saturday in this city west of the Iraqi capital, firing automatic weapons from rooftops at small guerrilla teams maneuvering around them in alleyways and an abandoned fairground.


Associated Press Writer

U.S. commanders said four insurgents were killed and two Iraqi soldiers wounded in the gunfight in eastern Ramadi - one shot through the calf and evacuated by U.S. medics, another with a minor facial wound.

As Iraqi forces swept through houses, troops from the U.S. Army's 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment entered several residential buildings, climbing to rooftops to secure the rest of the patrol.

With families of men and women huddling in rooms downstairs, U.S. gunners firing light machine guns picked off several gunmen firing at their positions.

U.S. Lt. Brett Blalock, 30, of Fernandina Beach, Fla., said four insurgents were believed killed. The body of one gunman in a white robe lay in a street beside a red trash bin.

As U.S. and Iraqi troops withdrew from the area on foot, insurgents maneuvered around them. U.S. and Iraqi soldiers provided covering fire as their colleagues ran down roads as bullets whisked overhead and ricocheted off houses.

After the Americans reached a U.S. observation post, a mortar round exploded several hundred yards away, sending a plume of gray smoke up into the air.

Gunfights between U.S. forces and insurgents occur frequently in Ramadi, a city of about 400,000 people about 70 miles west of Baghdad. Ramadi is the capital of Anbar province, a center of the Sunni Arab-dominated insurgency that includes cities such as Fallujah and Qaim.

Reporter's Notebook: Operation Mountain Lion

I've been on a lot of military embedments since 9/11. Some of them have been longer. Some of them have been more dangerous. But none of them has been as physically grueling as the one I was on recently with the D.O. Platoon of the 1st Battalion, 3rd Regiment Marines.


By Greg Palkot

It was part of Operation Mountain Lion, an effort to rid an area of northeastern Afghanistan of remnants of Al Qaeda, the Taliban and other terror groups. It is an area of mountains, ravines, and treacherous paths — one of the most rugged sections of a rugged country.

I had no connection to the Internet during the operation, so only now can I offer some notes of my time with the troops.

Tuesday Night/Wednesday Morning, April 11-12

I'm standing with my cameraman, Pierre Zakzrewski, and producer Kim Miller, waiting with the D.O. Platoon for our chopper to "insert us" into the battle space from the Asadabad Forward Operating Base. We all are carrying heavy back (and front) packs. The Marines' packs are filled with ammo and other war gear. Ours are filled with TV gear. It's getting cold.

Pep talks are given to the men. They're young; most are around 20 to 21 years old. And then group prayer. And another group prayer. Not deep and liturgical. More along the lines of, "Oh God, see us through this mission and make sure we get back to see our family and girlfriends."

The Chinook arrives, and we trundle out. The officer barks at us to move faster. Not easy when you're carrying 80-plus pounds. Then, as we stand beneath the whirring chopper blades, we're turned around and told to go back. Our bird has sprung a gas leak. We'll have to find another. Oh boy, that's a great start.

Several other choppers come and go before ours arrives and we pile in. It's about 1:30 a.m. now. Noisy. Crowded. Dark. We only have to travel a few minutes and a few miles, but it's over tall mountains. I look ahead and I can see through the front windshield. It's an incredible sight. The chopper appears ready to crash head-on into the side of one precipice after another, only to veer away at the last moment. It's disorienting, and after watching this for about five minutes, I stop.

We finally stop at our drop-off point. It's the wrong one, but we'll go with it. I was informed by Lt. Desantis, the Commander of D.O. Platoon, that we'd have to hike about 150 feet away and wait a bit. That's when I realized that nothing would be quite as fluid as it had been presented. We marched up sharp sand-shifting ground — altitude about 9,000 feet — as fast as we can. I'm not in perfect shape by any means, but I'm not completely out of shape. I've never been so winded in my entire life.

We learn that another bird had a more difficult time of it. It touched down on a jagged outcropping of rock. Teetering left and right, its blades were almost touching the ground. Some of the Marines had already gotten out. In mid-landing it had to raise its back hatch and fly off, nearly crushing two Marines in the process of disembarking.

After a few minutes of blessed break, we're off again. Pierre tells me climbing up with heavy packs is better than coming down. I suppose, but it's not that much fun when the ground beneath your feet is a shifting mass of rocks, gravel, dirt, sand and tree branches. Oh, and it's dark. Luckily, there's a full moon.

After about two hours of this, we reached our first resting point, at 9,000 feet above sea level. We roll out our sleeping bags on the rocks and stumps. Some poor guys can't sleep. They've got to stand watch. But we don't get too much sleep either. It's teeth-chatteringly cold, no matter how many layers we have on. Oh, and we also have a bite from our MRE, Meals-Ready-to-Eat. But we don't take the time to warm it up. Cold beef patty in mushroom sauce.

Snipers draw a bead on insurgents

GHARMAH, Iraq (April 22, 2006) -- A sniper team from 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment’s B Company collected several confirmed kills and spoiled an insurgent ambush during one recent day’s fighting here.


Submitted by: Regimental Combat Team 5
Story Identification #: 200642654855
Story by Cpl. William Skelton

The team stepped up to even the odds and take out insurgents when B Company ran into a series of several firefights in this small city north of Fallujah. They are on duty in Iraq with Regimental Combat Team 5.

“It’s very important to the grunts here to feel they have overwatch looking out for them,” said Cpl. Jacob D. Betts, a 30-year-old radio operator from Tyro, Kan.

The snipers watched a road in this small city north of Fallujah when the attack started. The insurgent attack, meant to kill and drive Marines out of the area, was turned on its’ heels when snipers drew their crosshairs on their targets.

“It was chaos when the explosions were heard,” said Lance Cpl. Patrick T. Nolan, the 19-year-old security team leader from Fayetteville, N.C. “People on the streets were running away from the sounds of gunfire.”

The snipers oriented themselves to the sounds of the fight when one insurgent carrying an AK-47 assault rifle ran clear into the snipers’ line of fire. The Marines shared glances and instinctively knew what had to be done.

“The first guy came in to view wearing what looked like a black ninja suit,” Betts explained. “Once he was in sight, a wave of insurgents followed.”

The team leader led the snipers’ repulsion with the first shot cracking through the air. Volley after volley echoed from the muzzles of the sniper’s rifles. Their aim was true. Insurgents were dropping in their tracks, never knowing what hit them.

“Some fell where they were, but some kept moving,” Nolan said. “Later the grunts on the ground found adrenaline and syringes where the insurgents were.”

The afternoon’s fight was hardly over. With the sound of the last shot ringing in their ear, the team of Marines spied another danger lurking. Several insurgents, armed with rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles were waiting to ambush the company’s quick reaction force with a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device.

“We saw another group of insurgents preparing what looked like a VBIED,” said Cpl. Bryan J. Calderon, the 22-year-old assistant team leader from Everett, Wash.

The snipers turned the tables on the insurgents. The team split, sending Marines off to kill the insurgent attackers while the rest remained at their posts. It was a chance to even the score.

“The insurgents usually surprise us with attacks,” Nolan said. “This time we got the jump on them.”

Marines closed in on the waiting insurgents and fired. In the melee, insurgents fled, dropping their weapons and scattering into the city.

“We did good,” Nolan said. “We stepped up the ambush.”

The team searched nearby houses to ensure they were clear. Once the fight was over, the Marines assessed the aftermath.

“When the day was done we had five confirmed kills,” said Pfc. Craig J. Bullinger, a 20-year-old team assistant from Howell, Mich. “We know we wounded others, but we didn’t find them.”

For this team of scout snipers, being patient and in the right place at the right time proved to be rewarding. Along with the insurgents killed that day, the Marines came back with several detainees and captured weapons.

“I am just glad we were there,” Nolan said. “I am glad these guys won’t be hurting anyone else anymore.”

Road to progress: California-based Marines train Iraqi soldiers in urban military tactics

JOINT BORDER COORDINATION CENTER RUTBAH, Iraq (April 22, 2006) -- fter four days of patrolling the vast deserts of southern Al Anbar Province, the revolving patrols of Marines return to their base here for a day or two of rest before going back “outside the wire.”


Submitted by: Regimental Combat Team7
Story Identification #: 200642661753
Story by Cpl. Graham A. Paulsgrove

That is, all except for two: Cpl. Jeremy D. Quackenbush and Cpl. Travis L. Cooter.

The two Marines, both assigned to 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, are charged with more than just patrolling Iraq’s dangerous roads and searching for insurgents in towns and cities.

The Twentynine Palms, Calif.-based battalion provides security in this remote city surrounded by desert. They also are charged with assisting Iraqi Security Forces in eventually relieving Coalition Forces in Al Anbar Province.

While other Marines use their time off to clean weapons, watch movies on DVDs, and converse about their lives back in the States, these two Marines are teaching critical counterinsurgency skills to about a dozen Iraqi soldiers here.

From urban combat patrolling to reacting to enemy contact and improvised explosive devices, these two Marines have spent several days conducting refresher training on such tactics, techniques and procedures deemed necessary for Iraqi soldiers to learn to effectively operate in this combat environment.

“[Cooter and Quackenbush] were chosen because these guys are good at what they do – they know their job and I knew they would do well with this assignment,” said Philadelphia native, 2nd Lt. James A. Brobyn, 27, the Marines’ platoon commander. “They have taught the info to enough Marines, so teaching a few Iraqis shouldn’t be hard.”

The battalion took control of their area of operations, spanning from the Jordanian and Syrian borders to 120 miles east and has been working alongside Iraqi forces to maintain security and stability in the region, to include manning the checkpoints surrounding the main city in the region, Rutbah.

Working through an interpreter, the two Marines explained basic patrolling formations, how to react to sniper fire and improvised explosive devices, as well as reacting to a complex ambush, according to Cooter, a 20-year-old from Denver and platoon team leader.

“They were all quick learners – I was impressed,” said Cooter.

After a few hours of classes, the two Marines watched the Iraqi soldiers practice what they learned at the joint Coalition-Iraqi base here.

For the most part, the Iraqis learned the techniques quickly, and demonstrated they understood what they were taught, said Cooter.

“The majority of [the Iraqi Soldiers] are combat vets from Hit, Haditha and Baghdad, so they are pretty good,” said Cooter. “We’re going to be out there with them, so it is nice that we are not starting from scratch.”

While the practice patrols ran smoothly, it wasn’t completely free of problems. The two Marines said the Iraqis still need to work on communication techniques, but that will come with more practice. The language barrier between the Marines and the Iraqis also presented a unique challenge.

“The language barrier is a large obstacle, but we have a good interpreter,” said Cooter. “It was difficult to get all the commands passed, because we only had one interpreter and a lot of guys in the formation, so a few people didn’t know what was going on.”

Despite the cultural and language differences, a common bond was made between the Iraqi Soldiers and the Marines, according to both parties.

“These guys are just like me — they’re doing their part to help,” said Quackenbush, a 28-year-old from Pittsburgh. “The small unit training, such as refreshing a platoon of Iraqis on basic tactics, plays into a much larger role regarding the country’s future.”

By helping the Iraqis become more tactically proficient, the Marines’ efforts are helping the Iraqis progress toward operating independent of Coalition Forces’ assistance, according to Stafford, Va., native 1st Lt. Joseph R. Shusko, 25, the executive officer for the battalion’s Company A. “By making sure these soldiers are up to our standards, the training will help get the Iraqis to complete missions with just our supervision and make them the main effort.”

Currently, the Iraqi Soldiers working around Rutbah rotate to a different part of the country every three weeks, but the area is slated to receive a fixed unit of Iraqi Security Forces sometime in the near future, according to Brobyn.

“These guys are serious — they want to make Iraq better,” concluded Brobyn.

April 21, 2006

Pride marked gunner’s final days

RAMADI, Iraq — Eyes hidden behind sunglasses designed to protect against flying shrapnel, Marine Lance Cpl. Justin Sims sat proudly atop the gun turret of his Humvee as the sun rose on morning over a dusty Marine base called Hurricane Point.


April 21, 2006
By Todd Pitman
Associated Press

Wrapped in a heavy flak jacket with side armor plates for extra protection, desert camouflage pants tucked neatly into his boots, the young machine-gunner was waiting as he always did to go out on a mission through Ramadi, a city crawling with insurgents west of the Iraqi capital.

Before every trip “outside the wire,” he knew what to do if something went wrong or if he got into a firefight, and went over a memorized list with an Associated Press reporter who traveled with him through the city several times.

• If a grenade is thrown into the truck? “Yell ‘Grenade!’ and get the hell out, even if we’re rolling,” Sims said. “If you jump out and break your arm or leg, you’ll be better off.”

• If we are hit crossing the bridge and plunge into the river? “I’ll get out, and I’ll pull you out.”

• If we get hit by a roadside bomb? “If your legs are still there, yell ‘I’m good,”’ Sims said. “If we roll over, try to grab my legs and try to pull me inside.”

Many of these things happen in Ramadi every day. But they don’t happen every time you go out. These are safety procedures — just in case.

Over the last few weeks, Sims and his crew — a driver, a vehicle commander and an interpreter — went on many missions in Ramadi, a city of tall palm trees, villas, and war-wrecked buildings. Sometimes they went on several a day.

One of those mornings, April 2, was a bad one: three Marines and a sailor were killed when artillery shells buried in the pavement exploded underneath their vehicle in the city center.

As the destroyed Humvee burned, insurgents up the road took potshots at Marines with automatic rifles and filmed the blazing wreckage.

Quick reaction forces were called up to provide security at the site, and Sims was among them.

Marines here are keen to do their duty and carry out their mission, but there is anxiety. Leaving the relative safety of their base, they never know whether they’ll be coming back.

Sims would spend a lot of time hanging around in front of his Humvee, getting ready to go, cleaning his gun, listening to music and joking with his crew, smoking cigarettes. He laughed easily.

Sims and his crew often escorted the provincial governor to work. Marines are tasked with keeping the governor alive and defending his office at a wrecked compound of buildings called Government Center. The compound comes under fire from small arms, rocket-propelled grenades or mortars just about every day.

The center’s roof is stacked with walls of sandbags and has a ceiling of camouflage netting and several Marine observation posts. If you wait long enough at those posts, there’s usually plenty to see: small groups of men in ski masks maneuvering among buildings that bear the scars of months of war.

At the compound, mortar fire and snipers are a threat when you walk outside. Whenever Sims and other Marines would arrive, they usually sprinted across the exposed areas while another Marine provided cover by pointing his rifle at nearby four- and five-story buildings.

Inside, Sims often kicked his feet back on dusty black sofa seats in a darkened downstairs corridor and hung out with his buddies.

Soon after the April 2 blast, a Marine showed up at Government Center and played the Marines’ Hymn on a set of bagpipes for troops manning posts on the roof.

A Marine public affairs officer was doing a story about it, and asked Sims what he thought. Sims recounted the brief interview later. “This guy asked me how it made me feel,” Sims said, smoking a cigarette one morning outside the Humvee. He shook his head, and seemed to be setting up a joke. “I told him, ‘What do you think? It made me feel good.’ ”

Marines deployed in downtown Ramadi sometimes cope with the danger by joking around — that is, when they have the time and there’s no shooting. Humor can help ease the tension.

Like most Marine gunners in Ramadi, Sims usually kept his head down below the Humvee’s gun-shield, sitting on a belt-like jump seat. Because of Ramadi’s severe sniper threat, it’s not a good idea to stand in the turret, as other U.S. gunners in Iraq can do.

One morning Sims was traveling with a Marine detachment picking up the governor to escort him to his office. The governor travels in his own mini-convoy of Mercedes-Benz cars and BMWs.

The driver, the vehicle commander and Sims began betting — no money involved — on what color and make the governor’s small convoy would be. Two white Mercedes-Benz vehicles and a green BMW? Or would it be all white? Maybe a blue thrown in? The governor has many cars and varies which one he rides in for fear insurgents will try to assassinate him.

Like most troops of the 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, Sims had been in Iraq on a previous tour of duty. The Covington, Ky., native graduated high school in 2003 and married the following year, just before heading out on his first tour in Iraq.

Some Marines carry “lucky charms” with them to keep them safe. Sims said he carried only two things at all times: a cross and most importantly his wedding band, which he wore on a necklace.

“It didn’t fail me last time I was in Iraq,” he said one day this month, turning the wedding band around and around in his fingers, just a few weeks into his second deployment.

On April 15, Sims was on the way to Government Center, manning his turret as he rolled through the city, past U.S. observation posts and destroyed buildings flattened by U.S. airstrikes or shot up by insurgent weapons fire.

As they pulled through a deep moat of sewage water just outside a gate at Government Center in the lead Humvee, Sims was on the gun turret facing the buildings around them, providing security for the convoy.

Just before they entered the compound, a rocket-propelled grenade came out of nowhere, killing him instantly.

In the dark dust of that moment, “time stood still,” said an Iraqi interpreter who was with them at the time, a bespectacled man more than twice the age of the Marines. The interpreter declined to be named for fear of reprisals for working with Americans in Iraq.

The driver and the vehicle commander were fine. The interpreter, sitting in the back seat, was hit by shrapnel in the arm and leg. Some shrapnel hit a pistol in a holster on his hip. The pistol may have saved his life.

Hours later, deeply saddened, the interpreter sat against a wall in a blue chair near where Sims’ Humvee was often parked at Hurricane Point.

There were bandages around his arm and leg, blood covering his boots. “He was like a son to me,” the interpreter said. “He had his whole life ahead of him.”

Justin Sims was just 22 years old.

'Seaelks' train with Iraq in mind

CAMP BEUHRING, Kuwait (April 21, 2005)–With Iraq only a few miles away, Marines and sailors from Medium Helicopter Squadron 166 are training as if they were going into combat tomorrow.


Story by Staff Sgt. Sergio Jimenez

“That’s the way we train back in the US and that’s the way we train here,” said Cpl. LoydScott “Big Worm” Wormell, gunner and crew chief, UH-1N “Huey,” HMM-166, 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) Camp Pendleton, Calif. “We have to train with that mentality so that we do not become complacent.”

Wormell is not the only Marine who has turned things up a notch or two.

Sgt. Ivan E. Sahagun, CH-46 Sea Knight crew chief and weapons and tactics instructor, from Tustin, Calif., said just as the Kuwaiti heat turns up every morning, so does the intensity of his Marines when they show up to work every day. Sahagun said he has seen Marines and sailors up and down the chain of command take the training more seriously.

According to Sahagun the Marines and sailors have responded to the weapons and tactics classes he has been teaching with enthusiasm due to the realization that they may have to use those skills in battle some day.

Some of these classes include crew served weapons firing, conducting emergency procedures and marksmanship improvement techniques.

According to GySgt. Rodney G. Cantrell, flight line chief and CH-46 Sea Knight crew chief, from Manchester, Conn., although he does not expect his unit to be called to action in Iraq, he has noticed that many Marines are moving with a sense of urgency.

On the floor, maintenance is no longer routine. “Birds could be pushing North [into Iraq] at any time, so we have to have all birds mission capable just in case,” said Cantrell.

Cantrell said he is amazed by the dedication of everyone in the squadron, from the mechanics, avionics technicians, logistics personnel, right down to the administration Marines.

Through the increased operational tempo, everyone has come together as a team to make sure all aircraft are operational and ready to launch, said Cantrell.

These Marines are committed to not “dropping any launches,” said Cantrell. When a bird goes down, “their professionalism and pride takes over and they will troubleshoot until the problem is found and fixed. Even if it means working through chow or staying after hours.”

According to Cantrell, the Marines know the important role they play in the success of the mission. They understand, that if that bird doesn’t get fixed, it will not be able to provide the close air support or troop transport to those Marines on the ground; Support that is critical to mission accomplishment.

“Some Marines will work 12, 14 and sometimes 16-hour-days, not because they have to, but because they want to,” said Cantrell.

“To see this, all you have to do is look to see how many day and night-crew Marines stay after hours to finish a job that started in their shift,” said Cantrell.

Working in the desert heat and in a camp where everyone carries a weapon with them wherever they go, Sahagun said he and his Marines are fully aware of what’s at stake now.

Make no mistake, said Sahagun, “we are here to prepare for war.” Or at least for the possibility of combat, he said.

“We talk about it all the time. We tell all our young Marines if they don’t know something, to ask,” said Sahagun. “Because the question they get an answer to, may be the one that saves their lives.”

April 19, 2006

Crowd blocks grieving family from protestors, Marine killed in Iraq laid to rest

Hundreds of people blocked a grieving family from protestors at funeral services for a fallen Marine Wednesday morning. Lance Corporal Philip Martini was killed in Iraq earlier this month. He was buried in South Holland.


April 19, 2006

Martini, 24, was shot and killed by a sniper in Iraq on April 8. A graduate of Thornton Fractional South High School, Martini was involved in a combat operation and was headed to help another platoon when he died.

The handful of protestors, who are all related and members of Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, have tried to disrupt funeral services for hundreds of military personnel in the past year. They believe American servicemen and women killed in action show God's wrath against the U.S. for tolerating homosexuality.

"We're here to remind these people that there's a God. He set his standard in the earth and He expects his creatures to obey it. If you will obey the commandments of the Lord your God, He will bless you, if you will not obey the commandments of the Lord our God, He'll curse you, his promises are as good as gold," said Shirley Phelps-Roper, protester.

Hundreds of people turned out to counter the demonstrators by lining the streets with their motorcycles and American flags to shield the family's view of the protestors. Some of them are part of a group called the Patriot Guard Riders, who travel from funeral to funeral of fallen military personnel.

"When this group did start protesting some of these funerals, the biking community said, you know what, we're going to step up and let the family know there might be a couple out them but there's hundreds of us," said Michael Devlin, Patriot Guard Rider.

Other counter protestors just wanted to show their support.

"I'm on the side of the street, because I want to support the family. I don't know the young man, but when I heard what was going on, I felt like I wanted to be out to support the family," said Bonnie Brink, South Holland resident.

"This is a service for the family to remember their son, who gave his life for this country. He volunteered. You know, we don't have the draft. This man volunteered. And for anybody to come out here and show disrespect to the family or that soldier -- it's without excuse." Said Devlin.

The South Holland Police Department kept the Phelps at a distance of 200 feet from church property so the protestors were several hundred yards from the sanctuary where the service was held.

On Wednesday morning, the Illinois House Judiciary Committee unanimously passed a bill restricting protestors at military funerals to stay at least 200-feet from church property. The bill, which may be ready for the governor's signature next week, is sponsored by Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn.

"Every family has a right to grieve with reverence and dignity without harassment or heckling by a hate group ," said Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn, (D) Illinois.

"It's fitting that they're doing that today," said Phelps-Roper. "That they have no respect for that first amendment because they have no respect for the Lord their God."

The Phelps family left after speaking with media and before the Martini funeral ended.

Fallen Marine was anxious to meet his son for the first time

CAMP TAQADDUM, Iraq (April 19, 2006) -- “All the stories and memories him and I have, I’m going to carry with me for the rest of my days,” said the young Marine, emotion gripping his voice, tears welling up in his eyes.

Remembering the life and legacy of his best friend was a difficult task as so many experiences filled the short two years and seven months he knew Lance Cpl. Darin T. Settle.


Submitted by: 1st Marine Logistics Group
Story Identification #: 2006425155018
Story by Cpl. Daniel J. Redding

“(We’re) going to miss all the little things that mean so much,” said Lance Cpl. Christopher E. Hoffa at a memorial service held April 19 here.

Settle, 23, of Henley, Mo., died April 14 from injuries sustained in a non-hostile motor vehicle accident in Al Anbar Province, Iraq. He was deployed here as a machine gunner with Transportation Support Company, Combat Logistics Regiment 15.

Hoffa, a native of Martinez, Ga., described his best friend as the kind of guy that he could have a good time with just sitting around and talking to, or if they did go out, he would definitely have a story to tell the next day.

Hoffa, 21, lightened the mood for a moment during his tribute with a fond memory of his best friend that, if only for a moment, brought a smile to some of the attendants’ faces.

Settle hoped to work in a family waste management business, often commenting on the unpleasant smells he would come across in Iraq.

“‘You smell that boys?’ he would say, ‘That’s money,’” said Hoffa.

The memorial was attended by hundreds of Settle’s fellow service members. During the remembrance, several Marines remembered him as a fearless man who was passionate about his job as a Marine.

“(Settle) was one of those Marines who really loved his job and believed in what he was doing,” said Lt. Col. Joseph P. Granata, commanding officer of CLR-15. “He was one of my Marines who worked hard each and every day to get the job done and ultimately made this regiment look so good.”

“He wasn’t scared of dying,” said Lance Cpl. Bradley K. Sheely, a 22-year old native of Porter, Ind. and another close friend to Settle. “He wasn’t really afraid of anything.”

For Granata, a 44-year-old native of Chautauqua, N.Y., the Marine’s loss is a solemn warning to the dangerous environment U.S. forces face in this region – known as the Al Anbar Province of Iraq – as they aid the Iraqi Security Forces in defeating a volatile insurgency.

“(His death is) another reminder of just how dangerous it is out here, even when it seems like you’re doing everything right,” said Granata, currently on his third deployment to Iraq.

“In this business, tomorrow is never guaranteed,” said Maj. Maria J. Pallotta, Settle’s company commander.

During the service, Pallotta recited ‘A Soldier,’ a poem by Robert Frost that she explained meant that even though the body may die, the spirit will endure and go on to a higher calling. The poem ends with the following verses:

But this we know, the obstacle that checked
And tripped the body, shot the spirit on
Further than target ever showed or shone

Following the remarks by Settle’s friends and coworkers, a 21-gun salute was fired to honor the fallen Marine who was serving his second tour of duty in Iraq.

Settle is survived by his son, Wesley Arvin Gage Settle and his parents, James and Ruby Settle.

Settle missed his son’s birth and couldn’t wait to return home and see his newborn, said Hoffa.

“He was always happy to show off pictures of his son and we all agreed that the two looked exactly alike, right down to their big, friendly smiles,” said Pallotta, a 35-year-old native of Cuyahoga, Ohio.

Although they were still mourning the loss of Darin, James and Ruby sent a message through Sheely to their son’s former brothers-in-arms.

"If they were here right now, they would shake every one of our hands, because they know that what we we’re doing over here is making their life better… and they’re never going to forget that,” said Sheely.

April 18, 2006

President to visit soldiers' families in 29 Palms

TWENTYNINE PALMS - President Bush is expected to visit the families of U.S. Marines and Navy personnel Sunday at the end of a three-day trip to California, a White House spokesman said Monday.


Andrew Edwards, Staff Writer

The president is scheduled to attend church services in Twentynine Palms before a lunch meeting with military families, White House spokesman Alex Conant said. Exact details on Bush's trip were not provided.

"A lot of this is still coming together," Conant said.

Twentynine Palms is near the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, and Mayor Kevin Cole said he's counting on the commander in chief's visit to boost the spirits of those whose loved ones are at war.

"I'm glad that he's coming out. It's something that's good for the morale of the families in Twentynine Palms," Cole said.

Bush is scheduled to arrive in San Jose on Friday to discuss his "American Competitiveness Initiative," Conant said. Proposed in Bush's State of the Union address, the initiative would invest federal money in research and development efforts, and emphasize math and science learning in schools.

Bush's Saturday itinerary includes a visit to West Sacramento to visit the California Fuel Cell Partnership, a group of auto, oil and technology firms and government agencies formed to bring hydrogen-powered autos to the market. The same day, the president is set to travel to the Palm Springs area for a Republican National Committee event. He is expected to stay in Rancho Mirage while in Southern California.

Specifics regarding the president's visit with the Republican organization are still pending, RNC spokesman Tucker Bounds said.

Bush most recently visited the region in August. During that trip, Bush stopped in Rancho Cucamonga to promote the administration's Medicare policies. Sunday's visit would mark the president's fourth visit to the area

Six Marines, sailor mourned at memorial service in Iraq

AL ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq (April 18, 2006) -- Six U.S. Marines and one sailor who died as a result of a vehicle accident earlier this month were memorialized during a service at the Marines’ base here.


Submitted by: 1st Marine Logistics Group
Story Identification #: 2006425144824
Story by Staff Sgt. Jim Goodwin

Memorialized were:

* Cpl. David A. Bass, 20, of Nashville, Tenn.
* Lance Cpl. Patrick J. Gallagher, 27, of Jacksonville, Fla.
* Cpl. Brian R. St. Germain, 22, of Warwick, R.I.
* Petty Officer 3rd Class Marcques J. Nettles, 22, of Beaverton, Ore.
* Lance Cpl. Eric A. Palmisano, 27, of Florence, Wis.
* Lance Cpl. Felipe D. Sandoval-Flores, 20, of Los Angeles, Calif.
* Staff Sgt. Abraham G. Twitchell, 28, of Yelm, Wash.

All seven were attached to the Twentynine Palms, Calif.-based Combat Logistics Battalion 7, which provides logistical support to more than 5,000 U.S. troops in western Al Anbar Province.

These service members, and one other from a different unit, were killed when their 7-ton truck rolled over in a flash flood while out on a combat logistics convoy near Al Asad April 2, according to Marine Corps officials.

Appropriately held inside the unit’s fenced-in garage, where dozens of the unit’s humvees, 7-ton trucks and other vehicles are maintained, hundreds of U.S. service members and civilians attended the memorial service.

Standing atop the backside of a large, military flatbed truck behind a wooden podium, Lt. Col. Drew T. Doolin, the unit’s commanding officer, spoke of the Marines’ sacrifice and offered words of encouragement to those in attendance.

“We honor them best by remaining steady in our resolve, in our professionalism and in our faith in each other,” said Doolin, whose comments opened the hour-long ceremony. “They will not be forgotten.”

A memorial service for the eighth Marine killed in the same accident, 21-year-old Victoria, Texas native, Cpl. Andres Aguilar, of the Hawaii-based 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, was held at the Marines’ base in Haditha last week.

Within a day of the accident, six of the eight deceased U.S. service member’s remains were accounted for.

Two of the men – Nettles and Palmisano – were initially reported as “Duty Status – Whereabouts Unknown” following initial recovery operations, according to Department of Defense press releases.

U.S. and Iraqi troops spent weeks searching the accident site and surrounding areas for Palmisano and Nettles. Palmisano’s remains were recovered April 11, while Nettles’ remains were identified April 21.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with their families and many friends who grieve their loss,” said Doolin.

Nestled underneath an open, steel-roofed area where normally a large, military truck would be, Marines and other attendees sat and listened as Marines and sailors took turns speaking of the fallen Marines and sailor.

Each spoke while standing on the flatbed truck, just a few feet from the military memorials used to represent each of the dead – rifles mounted, bayonet first, into a wooden base. Placed at the base of each rifle - a pair of tan boots, the same many U.S. service members wear in Iraq. Kevlar helmets were positioned on top of the rifles. Hung from each rifle were dog tags engraved with the ranks and names of the fallen.

“They died doing what they love, and they are deeply missed,” said Capt. Carrie M. Pendroy. Three of the deceased Marines – Twitchell, Bass, and Nettles – were from Pendroy’s unit, Headquarters and Support Company.

Staff Sgt. Abraham G. Twitchell

A true professional, Twitchell, an armorer, was a Marine leader who could be counted on, and liked doing things one way – the right way, according to Gunnery Sgt. Guy W. Dixon, who spoke of Twitchell during the service.

“He wanted Marines to take pride in their job, just like him,” said Dixon, company gunnery sergeant for CLB-7’s H&S; Co. “He led by example. He was always smiling and making jokes to lift people’s spirits.”

The legacy Twitchell left behind was more than just his proficiency as a Marine and armorer, but also his love for his family, said Pendroy.

“He was an outstanding Marine for almost 10 years, but most importantly, he was a phenomenal husband and father,” said Pendroy.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Marcques J. Nettles

Always the one to find good in any situation, Nettles was recalled by fellow Navy corpsmen at the service, a person who “never backed away from a challenge,” and was always willing to help a fellow Marine or sailor.

“He made me realize that there is still good in the world, you just have to look around for it,” said Hospitalman Jorge Arreola, who worked with Nettles at CLB-7’s medical clinic. “If you were searching for hope or just a piece of mind, all you had to do was look at his smile.”

“If someone came back from a convoy in a foul mood, he’d be the one to greet him with a smile and ask, ‘Do you want to talk about it?’ offer a drink, and let the guy vent,” said Petty Officer 1st Class David A. Pope, who also worked with Nettles at the battalion’s medical clinic. “By the end of it, they’re both laughing and things are good. He was a good man and friend.”

Lance Cpl. Eric A. Palmisano

The oldest in his platoon at 27, Palmisano was remembered by fellow Marines as the “old man” of the group, according to Lance Cpl. Christopher R. Leppert, who spoke of both Palmisano and Sandoval-Flores during the service.

“When Palmo was wearing acid-washed jeans and listening to Poison, 90-percent of second platoon was still in diapers,” said Leppert. “By far, me and all who knew Palmo saw him as a father, or at least a big brother.”

Lance Cpl. Felipe D. Sandoval-Flores

Soft at heart, Sandoval-Flores was a good-natured person who often “put on a hard front,” but made people laugh, said Leppert.

“We all talked about what we would do with our money when we got home, whether it was buying a car or getting a tattoo. Sandoval wanted to get his grill pimped out,” said Leppert, who imitated Sandoval-Flores’ “bow flex pose” he was known for. “No matter how mad he made me, he always made me laugh.”

Cpl. David A. Bass

Also noted as a reliable, go-to Marine, Bass, a disbursing clerk, had an “unsurpassed ability to always see the glass half full,” said Pendroy.

“He never said a cross word about anybody,” said Pendroy. “He sincerely loved people…and often spoke of his beautiful wife.”

“I can go on for days about Cpl. Bass,” added Cpl. Michael J. Wagaman, who served with Bass at the base disbursing office here. “He put a smile on your face even during the times when we all feel a little down. I’m still trying to understand why someone so young, so ambitious, so bold, could leave us so soon.”

Lance Cpl. Patrick J. Gallagher

Another person who joined the Marine Corps later in life, 27-year-old Gallagher, a mechanic, was another “old man” of his platoon, and someone who couldn’t stop talking about his family.

“In the rear, when his wife used to make him lunch, he’d give me his chips and anything else he didn’t like, but was too afraid to tell his wife,” said Lance Cpl. Christopher R. Yohe.

Yohe also recalled the time Gallagher swore to Yohe that one of the military vehicles the two worked on together back in the States was not working properly. Yohe and several other Marine mechanics argued with the older Gallagher that the vehicle was working just fine. An instance that highlighted Gallagher’s character, Yohe said Gallagher wouldn’t back down from the argument.

“Even though we went out there three different times, he still swore it was dead,” said Yohe, who added that he later determined that the vehicle did indeed need a new air filter. “He was a great Marine, and a great friend.”

Cpl. Brian R. St. Germain

Cpl. Elena M. Nevels, a bulk fuel specialist with CLB-7, said she didn’t care for St. Germain when she first met him, but that all changed when she began to know the Marine with “a raspy voice.”

“He was overly confident, quiet and somewhat arrogant,” said Nevels. “But over the two years I’ve known him, he grew on me and had an impact on my life.”

A martial arts enthusiast, St. Germain could “talk for hours” about the subject. In the garage, the 22-year-old mechanic always seemed to find a way to get himself dirty, even performing minor jobs on vehicles, said Nevels.

“At the shop we all joked that he just rubbed grease all over himself to make it look like he was working harder than he actually did,” she said. “I would give anything right now to see him completely covered in grease from head to toe.”

The ceremony ended with several biblical readings, a live rendition of “Amazing Grace,” rendition and the playing of taps.

“We will remember them forever as heroes,” said Navy Lt. Diana Lantz, CLB-7’s chaplain. “Men, who as sons, fathers, husbands, and brothers, spoke to us and their smiles and their professionalism and their enthusiasm for life…will be remembered.”

The seven deaths are the most casualties the battalion has suffered at one time since arriving in Iraq nearly two months ago. Despite the loss, the battalion must continue with its mission, said Doolin.

“We must continue to provide the best combat logistics support available and possible to the finest fighting force on the earth,” said Doolin. “That’s what we do, and that’s what these warriors did. They would want us to do no less.”

Following the memorial service, Marines who attended, many in tears, approached the rifle display to pay final respects and give final, silent ‘good-byes’ to friends lost. Some took photographs from afar of the memorial display, while others touched the boots or gripped the dog tags – eyes closed and heads bowed – to offer silent prayers.

Some consoled one another with hugs and whispered words of encouragement, while others still, like Pope, stared at the memorials from a distance in silence.

“I was thinking, ‘What a tragic loss, to lose eight good men,’” said Pope, a 36-year-old from Joshua Tree, Calif. Pope also knew Twitchell, and said he briefly knew the other fallen service members from their visits to the battalion’s medical clinic.

“I was thinking of the rest of my corpsmen and how this (tragedy) will impact the rest of their lives and this deployment – how I must show them the way to move past this and get the rest of them home alive,” said Pope.

CLB-7 is part of the Camp Pendleton, Calif.-based 1st Marine Logistics Group, which provides logistical support to more than 23,000 U.S. troops and other Coalition Forces operating throughout Al Anbar Province, to include food, ammunition, mail and water.

U.S. Marines repel insurgent assault in Ramadi, Political process stalls over Sunni, Kurdish objections to Shiite candidate

RAMADI, Iraq - U.S. troops repelled an attack Monday by Sunni Arab insurgents who used suicide car bombs, rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons in a coordinated assault against this city’s main government building and two U.S. observation posts.


Updated: 12:32 a.m. ET April 18, 2006

The fighting in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, provided fresh evidence that the insurgency is thriving in Sunni Arab-dominated areas despite last month’s decline in U.S. deaths.

In Baghdad, U.S. and Iraqi forces fought an hours-long gunbattle with about 50 insurgents in the Sunni Arab district of Azamiyah, the U.S. military said. Five insurgents were killed and two Iraqi troops were wounded, the U.S. said.

There were no reports of U.S. casualties in the 90-minute attack in Ramadi, the second in the past 10 days against the government headquarters for Anbar.

The latest attack began when two suicide car bombers sped toward the government building, known here as Government Center, using a road closed to civilian traffic, Marine Capt. Andrew Del Gaudio said.

U.S. Marines fired flares to warn the vehicles to stop. When they refused, the Americans opened fire with .50 caliber machine guns from the building’s sandbagged rooftop. The vehicles turned and sped away but exploded on a main road, sending a huge fireball into the sky and triggering a shock wave that damaged the U.S. post, Del Gaudio said.

Flurry of fire
As part of the assault, other insurgents fired mortars and rocket-propelled grenades at Marine positions at the roof of the Government Center, which includes the office of the Anbar governor, and at another observation post, Del Gaudio said.

A U.S. Army tank fired a 120-mm shell at a small white mosque where about 15 insurgents were shooting at the Government Center, Del Gaudio said. The round damaged part of the minaret and the firing ceased, he said.

Lt. Col. Stephen M. Neary, commander of the 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, said it was the fourth time in the past 3½ weeks that insurgents had used the mosque to fire on the government building.

The total number of insurgent casualties was unknown. But Lt. Carlos Goetz said Marines killed at least three insurgents firing mortar rounds toward the Government Center.

New fighting in Baghdad
In Baghdad, fighting erupted in Azamiyah before dawn when an Iraqi army patrol came under fire, a U.S. statement said. Four hours later, gunmen attacked a U.S.-Iraqi checkpoint in the area, prompting the command to send American and Iraqi reinforcements. The U.S. statement said clashes continued until early afternoon.

The attack in Ramadi was the biggest since April 8, when insurgents besieged the Government Center until U.S. jets blasted several buildings used by gunmen to fire on the Marines.

U.S. officials had been encouraged by what they described as a relative lull in Anbar, suggesting it was a result of weariness among ordinary Sunni Arabs who were turning against al-Qaida-led insurgent groups.

Last week, Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch told reporters in Baghdad that insurgent attacks in Anbar were down to an average of 18 a day — compared to a daily average of 27 last October. At the same time, U.S. deaths for March numbered 31 — the lowest monthly figure since February 2004.

U.S. casualties on upswing
However, U.S. deaths have been rising this month. Of the 47 American service members reported killed in Iraq so far in April, at least 28 have died in Anbar.

Anbar was largely spared the wave of sectarian violence that has swept much of Iraq since the Feb. 22 bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra — largely because the province is overwhelmingly Sunni.

Most of the sectarian violence has occurred in Baghdad and other religiously mixed areas. A Shiite cleric was killed Monday night in southwest Baghdad during a drive-by shooting, police said.

In order to quell sectarian unrest, U.S. officials have been urging the Iraqis to speed up formation of a national unity government of Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds. The process has stalled because of Sunni and Kurdish objections to the Shiite candidate to head the new government, Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari.

Prospects for a quick end to the stalemate were in doubt Tuesday as al-Jaafari’s Dawa party pledged to support him for another term as long as he wants the job. Al-Jaafari has refused to give up the nomination, which he won in a Shiite caucus last February.

Parliament had been set to meet Monday to try to break the deadlock, but the session was postponed after Shiite politicians gave assurances they could reach a decision on al-Jaafari themselves without a bruising parliamentary fight.

One option floated called for replacing al-Jaafari with another candidate from Dawa, one of the seven parties in the Shiite alliance.

Al-Jaafari adamant
But Ali al-Adeeb, a top Dawa official whose name has been mentioned as a possible replacement, said Monday that the party would not put forward a new candidate unless al-Jaafari decided to step aside, suggesting further delays.

“Dawa cannot present any candidate unless al-Jaafari decides to step aside,” al-Adeeb told The Associated Press. “So far his position has not changed.”

Shiite officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the issue is sensitive, said some Dawa figures were willing to see al-Jaafari go in favor of either al-Adeeb or Jawad al-Maliki. But the party resented outside pressure from Shiites representing other parties as well as from the Americans and British.

The Shiites won 130 of the 275 parliament seats — not enough to govern without the Sunnis and Kurds. Those groups oppose al-Jaafari, saying he has failed to stop the recent surge in sectarian bloodshed, and neither side has enough votes to force a decision.

Another 17 bodies of people believed victims of sectarian reprisal killings were found Monday, including one in Basra and the rest in Baghdad. They included the body of Taha al-Mutlaq, brother of leading Sunni Arab politician Saleh al-Mutlaq, who was found in a Shiite area of west Baghdad.

April 17, 2006

On The Front Line In Iraq

(CBS) For an hour and a half on Monday, Sunni rebels went at an Iraqi government headquarters and two U.S. military outposts in the town of Ramadi. They used everything they had — suicide car bombs, rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons.


RAMADI, Iraq, April 17, 2006

U.S. troops finally turned them back, and there were no reports of American casualties. But the battle underlined the fact that the insurgency is alive and well in that area west of Baghdad, which is why CBS News Chief Foreign correspondent Lara Logan went there and filed this report.

As you head into downtown Ramadi, you're left with no doubt that this is enemy territory for U.S. forces. The Marine commander in charge calls it, "the toughest piece of dirt in Iraq" — so tough that every time his Marines leave their base, they know there's every chance they won't make it back.

Just days before one patrol, four men did not. They were killed by a roadside bomb. The unit had only been on the ground a month.

When they're on patrol, the Marines take cover from snipers where they can — and constantly keep moving.

Capt. Andrew Del Gaudio is only 30, but he's a 13-year Marine and is in his third tour of duty in Iraq. That experience counts as he leads his men along tense streets to a house where they believe a suspected insurgent lives.

The family doesn't seem at all surprised when their home is suddenly invaded by the Marines … it's something you have to get used to when you live "on the toughest piece of dirt in Iraq".

"Any weapons we can take off the street, it's always gonna be OK for us," Del Gaudio says. "The last thing we want is to get shot with it later."

While the Marines search every room in the house, Jeffrey Gurski, a 21-year-old private who's in his first tour in Iraq, is pulling guard duty on the roof.

But does he know who he's fighting?

"Yes and no," he says. "You have some guy shooting at you — and five minutes later, the same guy could be walking on the street like a regular civilian … and you would never know that this guy was shooting at you."

Inside the house, the Marines are trying to calm two young boys they've brought here from the house next door after detaining their father. Nothing the Marines do seems to help. It's only when the boys join their Iraqi neighbors in the next-door room that they finally fall silent.

The Marines know every minute they spend here exposes them to possible attack. "Everything here is a damn threat — snipers, machine gunfire on a regular basis, rockets and IEDs," Del Gaudio says.

They face all those threats as they head out, knowing they still have to make it back to their base at the local government center. As they finally approach the gates, the Marines throw smoke grenades to mask their movements.

They may be home — but even here they're not quite safe. They regularly get attacked inside the base, where the local Iraqi government is housed. But on this day, at least, the Marines of Company K were able to breathe a sigh of relief.

April 16, 2006

Return of the Gunfighters

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. (April 16, 2006) -- Patriotic balloons, brightly colored signs and more than one hundred people filled the hangar, anxiously awaiting the return of their loved ones. As the convoy of buses arrived, cheers mixed with sighs of relief as Marines, Sailors and their families rushed to meet each other.

The "Gunfighters" were finally home.


Submitted by: MCB Camp Pendleton
Story Identification #: 2006426144743
Story by Cpl. Paul Robbins Jr.

The Marines and Sailors of Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 369, known as "The Gunfighters," returned from a seven-month deployment to Operation Iraqi Freedom Sunday.

Their homecoming was held in Hangar Seven of Marine Corps Air Station, Camp Pendleton.

Returning from their second deployment to OIF, the Marines and Sailors of the squadron were excited about the turnout.

"It's exhilarating having everyone here," said Gunnery Sgt. David L. Houston, a maintenance control chief for the squadron. "I appreciate and love everyone who showed up today."

Friends and family were just as excited, some showing up hours early to await their servicemembers.

"I was very nervous," said Jennifer E. Wade, who showed up with 25 members of the Gunfighter Motorcycle Club for the welcome home event. "We've been gathered since noon to wait for this."

In addition to their happiness with returning home, members of the squadron shared a feeling of relief in knowing the often hectic schedule of deployment was behind them.

"We flew a tremendous amount of hours out there," said Cpl. Doug R. Johnson, fire control technician for the squadron. "We hit the ground running and finished up running; it was non-stop."

HMLA-369 flew more than 9,600 combat flight hours in the seven months they were deployed in the Al Anbar Province, including the Syrian border — a large amount compared to the typical 5,000 flown during a year of training.

The squadron flew missions in support of various infantry units of the Coalition Forces, escorted casualties to nearby hospitals and flew security for supply convoys.

Aircraft from the squadron also flew support for Operation Iron Fist and Operation Steel Curtain.

The tempo sustained during the deployment is a reflection of superior efforts by the squadrons maintenance Marines, according to Maj. Ricardo Martinez, executive officer of the squadron.

Despite the Squadron’s superb efforts, two Marines were lost during combat operations.

Major Gerald Bloomfield II and Capt. Michael Martino were lost Nov. 2, 2005, when their aircraft was downed by enemy fire. Both were Cobra pilots for the squadron.

Martino was posthumously promoted to major.

April 15, 2006

Iraqi soldiers join search for missing U.S. servicemember in Iraq’s Al Anbar Province

AL ASAD, Iraq (April 15, 2006) -- Iraqi soldiers joined dozens of U.S. troops in the search for a sailor who has been missing since last week due to a vehicle rollover accident near the Marines’ base here April 2.


Submitted by: 1st Marine Division
Story Identification #: 200641584239
Story by Staff Sgt. Jim Goodwin

More than 25 Iraqi soldiers from the Al Asad-based 2nd Brigade, 7th Iraqi Army Division, joined dozens of U.S. Marines, sailors and soldiers in daily search operations to recover several missing U.S. servicemembers from the accident.

The accident occurred when a seven-ton truck, part of a Marine combat logistics resupply in Al Anbar Province, rolled over during a flash-flood, according to a Marine Corps press release.

The accident took place along a “wadi” – a gully which usually remains at low levels unless rain waters fill the gully – near the Marines’ base here.

So far, two of the three missing U.S. servicemembers’ bodies have been recovered. A U.S. sailor – Petty Officer 3rd Class Marcques J. Nettles of Beaverton, Ore. – is still missing.

Iraqi soldiers spent three days combing miles of shoreline on foot in search of the two missing people. All together, seven U.S. servicemembers are confirmed dead as a result of the accident, which is currently under investigation.

Their efforts seemed welcomed by U.S. troops who had already about a week searching the accident site when the Iraqi military arrived to help.

“There are still people missing …so the more eyes the better,” said Lance Cpl. Anthony Rasmussen, a 20-year-old radio operator from Big Bear Lake, Calif., who spent several days providing mounted security in a Humvee for the various search parties. “I’d want all these people looking for me, if it was me missing.”

Clad in body armor and Kevlar helmets and armed with AK-47 assault rifles, the Iraqis patrolled several kilometers east of the accident site, where some on-scene personnel suspect the flash flood may have carried the bodies of the missing U.S. servicemembers.

After three days of searching, the Iraqi soldiers were able to find indiscriminant clothing and equipment – gloves, a watch, a pair of safety goggles – all found thousands of meters from the sight of the accident, evidence of the flash flood’s torrential strength that night.

“We feel so sad because their families are waiting on them; sad because we haven’t found them yet,” said Pvt. “Ahmed,” following the first day of two hour-long foot patrols in 90-degree temperatures and over rough terrain.

“I was so glad because I thought we were going to find them, but we didn’t,” said Ahmed, who was on the patrol when a U.S. military-style glove was found along the wadi’s shoreline by an Iraqi soldier.

The search effort was the first large-scale, joint operation between Iraqi soldiers from 2nd Brigade, 7th Iraqi Army Division and multiple U.S. military units, said Capt. “Raseed,” the Iraqis’ on-scene commander.

“This is our strongest mission, more than any other,” said Raseed.

The operation was especially important to the Iraqi soldiers since many of them have families of their own, he said.

Furthermore, 2nd Brigade has lost five of soldiers in the past six months, so the Iraqi soldiers sympathize with the families of those lost, said Raseed.

“This is a very humanitarian mission,” said Raseed. “Even before this mission, we work as one team, one family.”

The Iraqis’ efforts came nearly a week into the search, which has continued for more than 10 days now.

While the Iraqi soldiers searched along one side of the Wadi, Marines and U.S. soldiers from Al Asad used everything from heavy equipment tractors to shovels and even digging by hand to carefully search through tons of water and sediment in hopes of finding the missing Marine.

They even used metal detectors in hopes of finding Beaverton and lost equipment.

One Marine engineer on scene said he received nearly 200 hits on his metal detector, the majority of which proved to be nothing more than false readings – rebar, concertina wire, soda cans and other metal objects buried in the wadi’s sediment.

“It’s frustrating,” said Cpl. Scott Shoptaw, a 20-year-old combat engineer from Cabot, Ark., who has spent days now searching the wadi’s waist-high waters. “You want to find them more than anything.”

With each passing day of the search, the waters became shallower, making search efforts easier, according to several Marine combat engineers on site.

While the Iraqi soldiers found several items along the wadi’s shores, U.S. troops discovered several items as well, to include U.S. military body armor, night vision goggles and several rifles.

“It’s good to find pieces to guide you towards, hopefully, something larger in this illogical nightmare,” said Shoptaw, taking a break from wading through the wadi’s brown waters.

By the end of the second day of their search efforts, the Iraqi soldiers had similar results – they’d found just a handful of items presumed to belong to the accident victims.

“We have frustration, but we think we will get them,” said Sgt. “Salah,” a 40-year-old Iraqi soldier who added that the search efforts were even more important than combating insurgents in Rutbah, which he participated in last year.

Despite seemingly endless foot patrols through rugged terrain, swarms of mosquitoes nipping at their exposed skin, and sweltering heat, the Iraqi soldiers’ priority was finding the missing Marine and sailor, said Salah.

“We don’t care if we have to stay longer; I’m used to the weather,” said Salah, who wanted to stay beyond the scheduled three days to continue the search. “Everybody wants to find them to help their families.”

“Maybe they have kids,” interrupts another soldier, one of several who gathered around Salah as he spoke. “We know because we have families and we know how they would feel if this happened to us.”

Raseed said that his soldiers worked tirelessly to search the area for the missing servicemembers. Some even volunteered to strip off their boots and search the waters, instead of along the wadi’s shores, he said.

“They are searching the river by themselves,” said Raseed, who added that he is proud of his soldiers’ initiative to search the waters. “Already some of the soldiers have volunteered to go into the water to look for the Marines. They are all heroes to me.”

A handful of Marines from Regimental Combat Team 7 assisted the Iraqis with their three-day search. The Marines are part of 2nd Brigade’s partnered Military Transition Team - groups of Coalition servicemembers assigned to track and guide each Iraqi military unit’s progression towards independent operations.

Transition team members for 2nd Brigade have evaluated and mentored the unit’s 300 or so soldiers for more than three months now.

“Three months ago, they would not have been able to conduct sustained operations like this,” said Maj. Jonathan P. Dunne, operations officer for 2nd Brigade’s transition team. “When we got here (to Iraq), their focus was very limited.”

In the past three months, the Marines say the Iraqi soldiers have made steady progress, learning everything from basic marksmanship to administrative processes and the tactical decision-making skills they’ll need to operate on their own, which Coalition officials say will happen by year’s end.

The brigade’s ability to coordinate and conduct the search efforts was another step in that progression, as it was the first true test of the Iraqis’ ability to plan, coordinate and conduct a sustained operation away from their camp at Al Asad.

Now, the Iraqi soldiers are beginning to understand how to conduct the basic fundamentals required for a military unit to sustain itself, said Dunne, a Flossmoor, Ill., native.

During the recovery operation, the Iraqi soldiers provided their own security, coordinate logistical support, and establish a base of operations from which to coordinate the search efforts.

The Iraqi soldiers coordinated their efforts with adjacent Marine and U.S. Army units searching the area, which required advanced, detailed planning – a stark improvement from three months ago, said Dunne.

“They understand the importance of finding (them),” added Staff Sgt. Jasper K. Key, the transition team’s communications chief. Key was one of the Marines assisting the Iraqis with search efforts.

Though the soldiers still have more progress to make before they can relieve Coalition Forces here by year’s end, the Marines say that the Iraqi soldiers “are getting better” and beginning to understand the in’s and out’s of soldiering.

“Many initially said they joined for the money, but after talking to them, they say they’re in it for a better Iraq,” said Key, who spent three days assisting the Iraqi soldiers with search operations. “They want a better Iraq.”

Key knows all too well the importance of finding missing servicemembers’ remains. In 2000, the 33-year-old was part of a joint task force which recovered the remains of two U.S. pilots in Vietnam. At one of the pilot’s funerals, the family was quite appreciative of their efforts, said Key, an Oxford, Miss., native.

“It’s a big relief for families once their sons or daughters are returned,” said Key, who led several of the foot patrols with Iraqi soldiers to search for Beaverton. “It does mean a lot.”

Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Krishnna J. Reyes, the transition team’s medical corpsman, also accompanied the Iraqi soldiers during their search efforts. The 16-year Navy veteran, who said he’s met the missing sailor – a fellow Navy corpsman – agrees with Key’s sentiments.

“If I was one of those family members of one of the missing, I’d look at it like this: everyone out there (searching) is making an impact,” said Reyes, resting in the back of a humvee following a two-hour foot patrol along the wadi. “I wouldn’t care if he was American or Iraqi, purple or green.”

Editor’s Note: The names of the Iraqi soldiers featured in this article have been changed to protect their identities.

Team of Marines mentor Iraqi soldiers on path to independent operations

HADITHA, Iraq (April 15, 2006) -- Arguably the most important mission of Coalition Forces in Iraq is assisting Iraqi Security Forces with eventually spearheading all security operations in Iraq.

The transition between the two military forces in Al Anbar Province will occur by year's end, according to Coalition officials.

Submitted by: 1st Marine Division
Story Identification #: 200641592928
Story by Sgt. Roe F. Seigle

In this Euphrates River valley city, the task of guiding Iraqi Army progress falls on the shoulders of a handful of Marines here who live, eat, train and fight with the Iraqi soldiers.

The group is appropriately dubbed a “Military Transition Team.”

Transition Teams, which are partnered with Iraqi Army units throughout Al Anbar Province, are tasked with advising the Iraqi military in such areas as marksmanship, counterinsurgency operations, intelligence gathering, and other military skills crucial to providing security here.

“The Iraqi soldiers have their minds set on becoming independent of Coalition Forces,” said Staff Sgt. Mike Wear, 28, intelligence chief assigned to the MTT here.

The team’s task is to prepare the young Iraqi Army to take over the job of securing its own country, which Coalition Forces say will happen by year’s end.

In Baghdadi, a small city nestled along the Euphrates River in western Al Anbar Province, Iraqi soldiers are becoming independent, said Wear.

The Iraqi soldiers have recently lost two of their comrades in attacks by insurgents. A major was killed while on leave at his home in Baghdadi and another was killed by a suicide bomber here.

According to the commanding officer of the local Iraqi Army unit here, the soldiers’ motivation to fight insurgents is steady despite the loss of two of their own comrades. During a memorial service for a fallen soldier, the Iraqi commander of 2nd Battalion, 2nd Brigade, 7th Iraqi Army Division, assured his soldiers they were performing well and encouraged them to continue to listen and learn from the Marines.

“I want the soldiers to continue to do the job they are doing,” said the commanding officer, who wishes to remain anonymous. “We need the Marines’ support and they are very professional when it comes to training my soldiers.”

According to Wear, the Military Transition Team here “has formed an unbreakable bond” with the soldiers assigned to 2nd Battalion by working with the soldiers night and day. Wear says this is important because the Marines and soldiers need to trust each other when they conduct joint operations in the Al Anbar province.

“We care about the Iraqi Soldiers like they were our family,” said Wear. “We work day and night with the soldiers. When we see them succeed, we go to sleep that night with a sense of accomplishment.”

Wear, a native of Port Saint Joe, Fla., ensures soldiers have plenty of food, water, equipment and basic logistical necessities to conduct combat and peacekeeping operations in the cities that make up the Al Anbar Province of Iraq.

Recently, Wear and the rest of the local Transition Team here, observed Iraqi soldiers from 2nd Battalion conduct an independent operation. The soldiers set up vehicle control points and stopped any vehicles from entering or leaving the city of Sakran West while Marines searched for insurgents. Independent operations conducted by Iraqi soldiers are becoming more commonplace as they become more capable of operating without the assistance of Coalition Forces, said Wear.

“They (Iraqi Soldiers) not only performed well on their first independent mission, they did it with confidence,” said Wear as he took pictures of several soldiers at an Army outpost in order to make military identification cards for them.

“Getting the identification cards has been their biggest request since we started training the soldiers in February,” he said.

“We need identification cards to show we are soldiers and not insurgents when we go home on our time off,” said “Aaref,” one of the battalion’s soldiers.

According to Lt. Col. Owen Lovejoy, the senior advisor of the MTT and a 23-year Marine Corps veteran from Brookville, Fla., the Marines treat the soldiers just like they are Marines – with dignity and respect.

“Some of these soldiers fought against us in the invasion,” said Lovejoy after visiting with the commanding officer of 2nd Battalion to discuss future operations in the Al Anbar province to reduce insurgent activity. “They have no hard feelings towards us and they are only interested in serving their country.”

By establishing good rapport with locals, Iraqi Soldiers are using “Iraqi solutions” for “Iraqi problems,” said Wear. Concocting their own solutions to problems brings the Iraqi soldiers one step closer to stability, said Wear.

“Even if the soldiers do not come up with a 100-percent right answer to a problem, it is going to be better for them in the long run than American forces coming up with an answer to the problems at hand,” said Wear.

To further enhance the soldiers’ tactical abilities, the Iraqi Ministry of Defense in Baghdad purchased seven Humvees for the Iraqi soldiers here.

Now the Iraqis can provide their own convoy security, as the Humvees – the same used by Coalition Forces – are armored, according to Wear. Soon, more of the vehicles will be purchased by the Iraqi Government and distributed to Iraqi Security Forces, said Wear.

The vehicles’ armor provides a crucial defense to the soldiers on Iraq’s deadly roads, which are laden with roadside bombs known as improvised explosive devices, added Wear.

“We will give these soldiers everything in our power to help them succeed,” said Wear. “We are facilitating their success, but this is ultimately their success.”

April 14, 2006

President Bush to visit the Coachella Valley

President George Bush is set to visit the Coachella Valley and the Marine Base in Twentynine Palms April 22-23, after a trip to Northern California to meet with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.


Kakie Urch and Keith Matheny
The Desert Sun
April 14, 2006

In the valley, Bush plans to attend a Republican National Committee event at the Toscana Country Club in Indian Wells and will spend time in Rancho Mirage.
Indian Wells Mayor Ed Monarch learned of the president’s plans to visit the city through The Desert Sun’s inquiry today.

“We’re certainly glad to welcome President Bush to our city,” he said.

Bush can expect a warm reception in Indian Wells, Monarch said.

“We have a lot of committed and interested Republicans and I think it’s something that people here will welcome,” he said. “They are big contributors so it’s a natural to have a fundraiser here.”

Developer and former Indian Wells mayor Dick Oliphant was excited at the news of the president’s visit. Bush made two stops in the Palm Springs area while a candidate, but this will be his first visit as president, Oliphant said.

“It’s quite an honor to have the President of the United States come here,” Oliphant said.

Elle Kurpiewski, president of Democrats of the Desert, said Bush should take in some additional sights while in the area.

“Instead of just seeing Indian Wells and Rancho Mirage, our wealthier communities, it might be good for him to take a look at what’s going on down in Coachella with the immigration issue,” she said.

Kurpiewski noted there will be virtually no opportunity for most local residents to interact with or even hear the president.

“It’s a continuation of (Bush) going to give speeches to pre-selected audiences. He is living in a bubble,” she said.

Kurpiewski said she would like to question the president on the justification for going to war in Iraq, domestic wire-tapping, the leaking of Valerie Plame as a CIA employee and other issues.

“Like so many Americans, I have a lot of questions I would like to ask this man,” Kurpiewski said of Bush. “But the lower- or middle-income person is never allowed to ask those questions, and we’re the ones most affected by his policies.”

The local visit will follow time spent in Sacramento with Schwarzenegger, who will show Bush the California Fuel Cell initiative project, one of the state's many contributions to environment-positive energy research. Schwarzenegger, a Republican, seeks re-election to governor in the November election.

Bush will then visit Marines

After spending the evening of April 22 in the Coachella Valley, known for its more than 125 golf courses, he will travel to the Marine base at Twentynine Palms, about 60 miles from Palm Springs.

Capt. Chad Walton, public affairs officer at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms, said Marines there are as surprised as anyone else about the president’s impending visit.

“Obviously it’s not something that happens every day,” he said.

In fact, no longtime Marines on the base could remember a presidential visit to Twentynine Palms, Walton said. The closest thing in recent history was a visit by then-First Lady Barbara Bush, wife of former President George Herbert Walker Bush and the current President Bush’s mother, in or around 1990, he said.

Few Marines know yet about the president’s upcoming visit, said Walton, who himself learned about the visit only this morning through the White House’s release of Bush’s upcoming itinerary. Many Marines have left the base for an Easter weekend leave, he said.

“I think people will be looking forward to it once (news) gets around a little more,” Walton said.

Bush’s schedule calls for him to attend a morning church service at the base, to have lunch with Marine Corps and Navy families and then attend a military training session.

“It’s going to be a good opportunity for the base to show how important the Mojave Viper training we are doing is,” Walton said.

Mojave Viper is the Marine Corps’ name for its training exercises undertaken by Marines before deployment to Iraq, Walton said. It consists of urban terrain and a “small town” of multiple story mock buildings, a pseudo-mosque and more than 250 role players “to make it as realistic as they can to represent Iraq,” he said.

Training includes paint-pellet and some live-fire activity, Walton said.

“It trains Marines to recognize IEDs (improvised explosive devices), do security types of patrols and get assimilated as close to the real thing as you can without actually going to Iraq,” he said.

“The importance of it is, every Marine unit that deploys to Iraq comes to Twentynine Palms to go through this.”

Security at the Marine base will be heightened prior to and during the president’s visit, Walton said. And Marines will work in the week ahead to spiff up the place, he said.

“I’m sure we’re going to try to present our best face,” he said. “Obviously, he’s the commander in chief. It’s an honor to have him come out and see all of the work we’re doing out here.”

Twentynine Palms is home to many of the Marine outfits that have been on the front lines of the War on Terror, with several units having served three tours of duty since the 2003 start of the Iraq War. Marine troops shipping out to Iraq are able to use the base's unique urban combat training facilities and its desert terrain to optimize their readiness for actual battle.

While in California, the president also plans to visit Cisco Systems, a California leader in the digital economy for a meeting of a group focusing on American innovation.

Marines Suffer 2 Dead, 22 Wounded in Iraq

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Two U.S. Marines were killed and 22 wounded — two of them critically — in fighting in western Iraq, the U.S. military said Saturday. It was the biggest number of American casualties reported from a single engagement in weeks.


Associated Press Writer
Fri Apr 14, 8:52 PM ET

A U.S. statement said the casualties were suffered Thursday as a result of "enemy action" in Anbar province but gave no specific location or details of the fighting.

One Marine was killed "at the scene of the attack," the statement said. Another Marine died at a medical facility in Taqqadum, it added.

Eight of the wounded were flown to the main U.S. hospital in Balad. Two were listed in critical condition and six were reported as stable, the statement said. The others were taken to a U.S. clinic at Camp Fallujah, where four were hospitalized for observation.

"Our hearts go out to the families of the dead and wounded Marines," said Marine spokesman Lt. Col. Bryan Salas. "Our wounded Marines are receiving the best care available, and we look forward to their speedy recovery."

U.S. casualties have begun to rise this month following a sharp drop in March, which saw the lowest number of American dead in Iraq since February 2004. Last month, 31 U.S. service members died in Iraq, but fatalities in April have already passed 40.

Meanwhile, dozens of Iraqi police remained missing and nine were dead after insurgents ambushed their convoy Thursday evening as they left a U.S. base where they had picked up new vehicles, Iraqi and U.S. officials said.

Brig. Gen. Abbas Maadal complained that the Americans refused to allow the police to spend the night at the base, just north of the capital. But U.S. spokesman Lt. Col. Barry Johnson said no such request had been made and that the Iraqis had not asked for American troops to guard the convoy.

The attack, the deadliest against police here in months, began about 7:30 p.m. Thursday as a convoy of 109 police was traveling through a sparsely populated area near the Taji base heading back to Najaf, 100 miles to the south, Maadal said.

Police heard cries of "Allahu akbar," or God is great, and "long live jihad" broadcast by loudspeaker from a nearby mosque, Maadal said. Suddenly insurgents, including some women, opened fire and triggered a roadside bomb.

Maadal said 37 policemen returned to Najaf late Friday and about 20 more were en route. About 40 remained unaccounted for. At least nine policemen were killed and three of the 12 vehicles were heavily damaged, Johnson said. One insurgent was wounded and five were arrested, he added.

Although no U.S. troops were with the Iraqi convoy when it came under attack, Johnson said American forces responded with helicopter gunships and ground troops.

"Once the attack occurred we did respond," he said. "We helped engage and brought this situation under control."

A U.S. patrol had passed along the same route shortly before the Iraqis and called for help when they heard the firing, Johnson said.

It was unclear why the insurgents allowed the Americans to pass by without attacking them. In recent months, insurgents have shifted their attacks to Iraqi forces, which have less firepower than the Americans.

The overwhelming majority of police in Najaf are Shiites, and the area where the attack occurred is populated mostly by Sunnis.

Sectarian violence has worsened in Iraq since the Feb. 22 bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra. At least 11 people were killed Friday, including four who died in a pair of roadside bombings outside two Sunni mosques in Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, police said.

One civilian died when a suicide bomber targeted a British patrol south of Basra, wounding four Britons, police and British authorities said. Two brothers were also gunned down in front of their elderly mother, who was wounded when assailants stormed into their home in a mostly Shiite area of Baghdad, police said.

In the northern city of Mosul, at least seven people were wounded in another suicide car bomb attack on a police station, police said. Police saw the vehicle coming and fired at the driver, preventing him from entering the compound, an official said.

The others died in bombings and a shooting in Baghdad and Mosul, police said.

Delays in forming a new national unity government four months after parliament elections has sharpened sectarian divisions.

Sunni and Kurdish opposition to the Shiite choice of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari for another term has blocked progress toward a new government.

Leaders of the Shiite alliance, the dominant bloc in the legislature, said they would attend Monday's parliament session, called to break the political logjam. Shiite politicians had earlier suggested they would boycott the session unless the dispute over al-Jaafari as well as other political posts that require parliamentary approval were resolved first.

But Shiite leaders said Friday they would attend even if no agreement had been reached on al-Jaafari or the other posts.

"We will meet Saturday and Sunday to discuss the matters of the prime minister nomination and the distribution of key posts," said Sabah al-Saedi, a Shiite politician. "We are going to attend Monday, regardless of what happens at the internal meetings."

Ridha Jawad Taqi, a leading figure of the biggest Shiite party, also said the alliance plans to attend Monday's meeting.

In an interview Friday with a British television station, al-Jaafari repeated that he would not step down.

"I was the legitimate and democratic choice," he told Britain's Channel 4 News. "I wouldn't have accepted the responsibility if I thought it was against the will of the people. I don't see how I could repay my people's faith in me by letting them down."

Although the parliament session may produce no deals at all, it is seen as a sign that the parties are committed to forming a unity government. Boycotting it would make the Shiites appear obstructionists.

Voters chose the 275-member assembly on Dec. 15, but the legislature met briefly only once last month. The lack of progress has frustrated Iraqis, especially as steady violence — much of it sectarian — continues to claim hundreds of lives and threatens to push the country into a large-scale civil war.

U.S. Military Buys Back Stolen Flash Drives With Sensitive Data in Afghan Shops

BAGRAM, Afghanistan — Shopkeepers outside U.S. military headquarters in Afghanistan said Friday that American investigators have paid them thousands of dollars to return stolen computer drives, many of which contained sensitive military data.


Friday, April 14, 2006

But dozens of the memory sticks were still on sale in shops outside the base and the shopkeepers let an Associated Press reporter review about 40 of them on a laptop computer.

Most were blank or did not work, but three contained data that appeared to have come from inside the base, including a soldier's military discharge certificate, troop resumes and photographs of Air Force One during a visit to Afghanistan by President Bush last month.

The surfacing of the stolen computer devices has sparked an urgent American military investigation to discover how security was breached at the base.

Military spokesman Lt. Mike Cody said he could not comment about the military's methods to recover the flash drives because an investigation was ongoing.

One shopkeeper, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of fear of retribution, said soldiers went around the market outside the base Thursday carrying "a box full of afghanis (the Afghan currency), buying all they could find."

He said he sold about 50 for $2,000, roughly about $40 each. A day earlier, he was selling them for about half that price.

"They said they wanted them all and price wasn't important," the shopkeeper said.

The troops hadn't returned to the market by Friday afternoon despite dozens of the flash drives still being available.

Included on some memory drives seen by the AP earlier this week were the Social Security numbers of hundreds of soldiers, including four U.S. generals and lists of troops who completed nuclear, chemical and biological warfare training.

None, though, had classified military secrets as reportedly seen by a Los Angeles Times journalist, who in an article Thursday said he saw maps, charts and intelligence reports that appeared to detail how Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders have been using southwestern Pakistan as a key planning and training base for attacks in Afghanistan.

Marine Unfazed by Sniper Shot to Head

Sniper Shot to Head, and Back on Duty: One Marine's Close Call in Iraq

RAMADI, Iraq - The young Marine had just shot a suspected insurgent and was walking back across the villa's rooftop when he keeled over from a terrific thud to the back of his head.


The Associated Press

A sniper had fired a single, well-aimed bullet that tore through the top of Lance Cpl. Richard Caseltine's helmet, traced a path along the edge of his skull and buried burning bullet fragments in the back of his neck.

Less than a minute later, the 20-year-old from Aurora, Ind., was up on his feet crouching, shaking and miraculously, still alive.

"You expect when somebody gets shot in the head, they're dead," the soft-spoken Caseltine told The Associated Press in an interview, cradling the battered camouflage helmet that saved his life Saturday. "I consider myself very lucky."

Caseltine was among two squads from the 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment's India Company moving through the rocket-blasted streets of downtown Ramadi on a joint foot patrol with the Iraqi army.

Caseltine and several others were tasked with providing "overwatch" finding a place from where they could watch over the rest of the patrol.

They entered the front gate of a two-story villa and herded a man, his wife and their children into a room.

Four Marines then climbed the stairs to a rooftop enclosed by shoulder-high walls, each taking positions in separate corners to scan adjacent buildings and streets.

Half an hour later, Lance Cpl. Benjamin Congleton, 22, of Lexington, Ky., spotted a man in a black T-shirt crouching on the ground near a light pole. He was fiddling with a tangle of wires and looking from side to side.

Congleton called Caseltine over for a second opinion. They agreed the man was trying to plant a bomb.

Congleton fired his M-16, but missed. The startled man tried to stand up. Caseltine fired his M-4 Carbine, hitting the man in the leg. Congleton then shot the man in the head as he tried to flee down an alleyway, apparently killing him.

Caseltine took three or four steps back to his position in the rooftop corner when he felt something strike the top backside of his helmet.

"It felt like somebody came from behind and punched me in the back of the head as hard as they could," Caseltine said. "It just rocked me. I went forward and my ears started ringing really bad. I couldn't hear anything."

It wasn't clear at first if one of the Marines had misfired one of their weapons. But in a split-second, they understood the sole shot had not come from them.

Ducking to the ground, they rushed to Caseltine's aid.

"He was yelling, 'I got hit! I got hit!' Congleton said.

A cursory check revealed blood at the back of Caseltine's neck but no serious wounds.

Caseltine was still conscious. Able to walk, he got up and, crouching, moved to the relative safety of a room downstairs, where a Navy medic examined him.

The back of his neck burned, but he was fine otherwise.

"He had this big smile on his face," said Lance Cpl. Jefferson Ortiz, 21, of Miami. "He knew he'd gotten very, very lucky."

As troops popped smoke grenades, a Humvee arrived to evacuated the wounded Marine.

Congleton said he believed the sniper had been providing "overwatch" for insurgents planting bombs in preparation for a major assault on the Marine-protected provincial government headquarters. The attack began the minute the rest of the squad exited the villa.

"We were taking fire from every street corner," Congleton said. "It seemed like we were fighting the entire city."

Bounding across rubble-strewn intersections nearby, one Iraqi soldier was hit by a bomb that blew other Iraqis into the air. Some got up and kept running, but one soldier lay writhing and bloodied one of legs was partially detached. A couple Iraqi soldiers began dragging him by his clothes, but a Marine lifted the soldier onto his back and carried him away, Congleton said.

Caseltine, meanwhile, was flown to a military medical facility at nearby Balad air base, where medics removed fragments from the bullet that were lodged a quarter-inch into the back of his neck.

"They said I was lucky it didn't go in deeper. My luck was running pretty good that day," Caseltine said. "If I had bought a lottery ticket, I probably would have won."

On Tuesday, three days later, Caseltine was back on base, hours away from rejoining his squad at an outpost elsewhere in Ramadi. Sitting outside his sandbagged tent, he pulled out a photo that showed him cradling his wife. It had been ripped in two by the bullet right down the middle.

Caseltine had stuffed it into the netting inside the top of his helmet, known as Kevlar for the protective material, "so my wife would be with me."

"They always tell us not to throw our Kevlars around or bang them on the ground. I usually do, but I ain't gonna' be throwing my new one down," Caseltine said. "I ain't gonna' take it for granted anymore because I know they work."

April 13, 2006

Improved food service raises morale in Iraq

CAMP KOREAN VILLAGE, Iraq (April 13, 2006) -- Life becomes simple while serving in a combat zone. Trips to multi-story malls for designer clothing are replaced by quick stops at an improvised convenience store for green undershirts. Service members watch movies on small, portable DVD players instead of large-screen cinemas.


Submitted by: 1st Marine Logistics Group
Story Identification #: 200654134529
Story by Lance Cpl. Stephen J. Holt

One thing that hasn't been compromised is the quality of food.

"Marines fight on their stomachs. They can go days without showering, but they can't go days without chow," said Warrant Officer Joseph C. Brown, 1st Marine Logistics Group food service officer.

Marines here at this forward operating base near the Jordanian and Syrian borders employ a versatile food service system to ensure their fellow service members stay well fed.

The Field Food Service System replaces an entire kitchen like the ones found at dining facilities on larger bases.

Set up in a renovated building previously used by Saddam Hussein's army, the FFSS here provides a welcome relief from eating the military's equivalent to a brown bag lunch - the Meal, Ready to Eat.

The MREs come with individually packaged crackers, peanut butter, candies and main courses that are heated in a water-activated plastic sleeve. If troops are in a rush, the MREs can be eaten cold.

"One very nice perk is coming to a hot chow and not having to eat an MRE after being on the road all day. It's definitely a morale booster when you get to fill your stomach up," said Army Pfc. Chris Clayton, infantryman with the 1st Battalion, 115th Infantry Regiment and native of Frederick, Md.

Another option service members have while away from main bases is tray rations - precooked food portions that feed roughly 18 servings per pan and are reheated by boiling water.

In comparison to MREs and tray rations, the FFSS offers a greater variety of food and facilitates cooking in greater quantity.

Tray rations can only be reheated in small amounts but the FFSS is capable of feeding 850 people in four hours with selections ranging from General Tso Chicken, spaghetti and meatballs, and cheese omelets, among others, said Brown.

"There is more of a variety of food you can serve (with the FFSS)," said Staff Sgt. Leann E. Dixon, mess hall officer in charge at Camp Korean Village.

The system also reduces the chance of a service member getting sick because of food poisoning.

"(The FFSS) is a more effective way of cooking, especially in the field. The contamination factor goes down because it is enclosed," said Dixon, a 35-year-old native of Fort Myers, Fla.

The FFSS, which requires 16 people to run, consists of three shipping containers - two for cooking and one for sanitizing the food preparation equipment - and can utilize local food to customize meals.

Service members eating the food have quickly become accustomed to having good food and have high praise for the cooks preparing the meals.

"I think they're doing a fantastic job and I can taste the quality of food. They had chicken parmesan one night and it was really good," said Clayton as he smiled over his hot plate at the Korean Village chow hall.

For the cooks using the system in Iraq, it provides them with a kitchen space that rivals those found in the United States.

"It's like being back in a galley in the rear. It's more convenient and you can feed so many more people (compared to tray rations). There's more equipment (to use), it's larger, and heats (the food) better," said Cpl. Kurt Abarquez, a 21-year-old from Sacramento, Calif., and a cook with 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division.

The FFSS has another benefit besides providing better chow to service members - it lets the food service Marines practice their culinary art with more than 20 different meals to choose from.

"The cooks are cooking rather than reheating prepackaged food and are capitalizing (on) the skills they were taught," said Brown, a 35-year-old native of Cullman, Ala.

As Marines continue to use the FFSS, service members operating at this remote base will continue getting a meal where they need it most - in the combat zone.

3/2 supply Marines look out for their own

MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. (April 13, 2006) -- When Marines are ‘beaten,’ ‘broken’ and trudging in from a long day of training for deployment, there’s one group of Marines they can count on.


Submitted by: 1st Marine Division
Story Identification #: 2006413215427
Story by Lance Cpl. Ray Lewis

The supply Marines of Headquarters and Service Company, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, assure their Marines have what they need whether in training or in a foreign environment.

In this case it’s Mojave Viper – the Marine Corps top notch month-long pre-deployment desert training.

“It’s vital that we support our (infantry) companies with the things they need to accomplish their training mission,” said Cpl. Robert E. James, a supply warehouseman from Roanoke, Va., who will deploy with the unit later this year.

The battalion’s supply chief knows firsthand how important his shop is to Marines.

“The other day, the Marines of India Company went to the (firing) range,” said Staff Sgt. Donald R. Williams, from New Orleans. “The Marines were training in the field, and they had not eaten since noon. When they came back, supply was here at 11:30 p.m. to make sure they had chow.”

Supply doesn’t only provide their Marines with goods; they also guard their warehouse 24 hours per day.

Even at the darkest hours, onlookers can spot Marines patrolling between their warehouse and a barricade laced with concertina wire.

“We have a lot of gear that the battalion needs,” said Lance Cpl. Jeremiah Heredia, a supply warehouseman from Lions, Kansas, with Headquarters and Service Co., 3rd Bn., 2nd Marines. “We have chow, tents and weapon gear, so it’s important to guard it so we can accomplish our mission here and in Iraq.”

Although his Marines work around the clock, Williams said they are glad to be there for another Marine.

“No matter if it’s two or three in the morning, there always someone here on duty,” Williams said.

3/2 Marines attack Mojave Viper

MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. (April 13, 2006) -- After a seven-month deployment to Iraq last year, the Marines of 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment are going back to Iraq, but not without embarking in some of the best training the Marine Corps has to offer.


Submitted by: 1st Marine Division
Story Identification #: 2006413214927
Story by Lance Cpl. Ray Lewis

Last week, the North Carolina-based unit comprised of more than 1,000 Marines and Sailors packed their sea bags and headed here for Mojave Viper.

The month long pre-deployment desert training is designed to prepare Marines for combat situations when they are deployed.

“Out here you can focus one hundred percent on training,” said Sgt. Derrick A. Popham, a rifleman with Company K, 3rd Bn., 2nd Marines. “You don’t get distracted with everyday life or family issues. It’s also an opportunity to build camaraderie with your Marine unit.”

While here, Marines and Sailors receive extensive training on a variety of subjects, from improvised explosive devices to foot patrols in urban environments to convoy operations, all while in a live-fire in environment.

After the training, the battalion will deploy for a second time in support of Operation Iraq Freedom.

Although it may be the second deployment for some Marines and Sailors, for many, it will be their first.

“It’s my first time going to Iraq,” said Lance Cpl. Jeremiah Heredia, a supply warehouseman with Headquarters and Service Company, 3rd Bn., 2nd Marines. “Mojave Viper gives you that experience; what to expect when I deploy.”

The Marines traded their humid climate for a hot and dusty one, but the Marines say the trade was well worth it.

“It’s a good thing,” said Staff Sgt. Trevor S. Wargo, an infantry staff noncommissioned officer for Company I, 3rd Bn., 2nd Marines. “You never want to go to Iraq unprepared.”

April 12, 2006

It's the soldiers' rap: straight outta Iraq, Military personnel tell their stories with hip-hop flair

Some American soldiers relieve wartime stress in the weight room. Some unwind over meals. Others immerse themselves in letters from loved ones.


By Sandy Cohen
April 12, 2006

But for a dozen young fighters featured on a new CD, rap is the route to stress relief.

“It's all a way of venting,” says Marine Sgt. Kisha Pollard, 22, who left Camp Pendleton this month for a third tour in Iraq. “You're stressed and you can't be violent or do anything bad. Freestyling (rap) is a big relief, and everybody will come around and listen.”

Pollard and other amateur rappers serving in Iraq contributed their war-driven rhymes to “Voices From the Frontline,” a CD that hits stores April 25. Some hope for music careers after finishing their military service. Others simply were seeking an outlet for their thoughts on fear, family and fighting abroad.

“This ain't for a paycheck. This ain't for us to be known,” Army Sgt. Christopher Tomlinson says on the CD's introduction. “This is for somebody to understand a soldier's life.”

That's what Joel Spielman wanted to do when he came up with the “Voices From the Frontline” concept in 2004. Inspired by a documentary about soldiers' letters home, Spielman, president of punk label Crosscheck Records, wanted to create something similar in song.

“My vision was to have it be an audio documentary,” says Spielman, 33. “I wanted people to actually hear the voices of the soldiers.”

He posted a call for contributions on military message boards and called Army bases around the country.

Frankie Mayo of Operation AC, a nonprofit group that provides care packages to military personnel overseas, responded. Her son, Tomlinson, won military talent shows with his poetic skills.

With Tomlinson and Mayo's help, notice of Spielman's effort spread through the cyphers – rap wordplay circles – that spontaneously spring up at military camps in Iraq.

There's ample rap talent in the war zone, says Tomlinson, who also goes by the name Prophet. Troops get together and create impromptu raps over beats played on laptop computers, CD players or Xbox consoles. Sometimes it's a competition, other times it's just to cope.

“We rhyme for hours upon hours about anything and everything,” Tomlinson says on the CD. “All your emotions can come out and everybody's equal. Ain't no ranks, ain't no sergeants or privates. Everybody's the exact same.”

He adds that he can express feelings in rhyme that he couldn't in conversation.

“Rap music became my diary,” says the 24-year-old, who now works as a recruiter for the National Guard. “We've been given a gift to get to speak our voices for those that don't get a chance to.”

Pollard, whose rap name is Miss Flame, speaks for female fighters in her song “Girl at War.”

“I could get shot, too, just as well as a boy,” she raps. “You look me up and down 'cause you're thinking I'm weak, until you see me in Iraq, patrolling the streets.”

Pollard, who joined the Marines at 19 because she “likes the uniform,” started rapping in elementary school. She used to rhyme about “life and everything with growing up,” she says. Now she focuses on her experiences in the Middle East, with the hope of educating listeners and improving her prospects for a career in music, modeling and acting.

Marine Cpl. Michael Watts Jr., who goes by the rap name Pyro, has been rhyming since he was 10. Back then, it was about “fancy cars, money and women,” he says. Now it's all about Iraq.

His songs help fill in what news reporters might leave out, Watts says.

“They know what it's like to be in Iraq, but they don't understand the brotherhood,” the 21-year-old says. “I want everyone to understand what we go through over there. We have it so easy here in the U.S.A.”

Once the soldiers returned from Iraq, they each spent a day recording their songs at studios throughout the United States.

Spielman says the best thing about the CD is its authenticity.

“It's as real as it gets,” he says, from the soldiers and their rhymes to the skits between songs. Dialogue and live sound from the war zone precede each of the CD's 12 tracks.

“Voices” doesn't glorify violence and isn't sexist or political, Spielman says.

“This CD is not anti-war and it's not pro-war,” he says. “It's a journal from each of these individuals. There are some buoyant moments, but a lot of it is tragic and sad.”

Personal accounts of wartime experiences help counter negative depiction in the media, Army spokesman Maj. Nathan Banks says. Under the first amendment, he notes, troops are free to express themselves however they like. Still, Banks says the military isn't likely to endorse “Voices From the Frontline.”

“The wording is something we'd never support,” he says, referring to the CD's plentiful profanities. “That's not the image we like to portray.”

Spielman says the CD will be carried by Army, Marine and Navy stores, as well as major retail outlets such as Tower Records and Wal Mart. Five percent of the proceeds from each CD will benefit Operation AC.

Tomlinson says he's “proud” and “blessed” to be a part of “Voices From the Frontline.”

“I know America was wavering with what their standpoint on soldiers were,” he says. “I feel like this CD gives the world a better perspective of what our life is like.”

Clothes Off Limits to Marines Outside Bases in Iraq

CAMP TAQADDUM, Iraq, April 12, 2006 – Marines conducting operations outside forward operating bases and camps in Iraq can no longer wear synthetic athletic clothing containing polyester and nylon, Marine Corps commanders have ordered.


By Lance Cpl. Stephen Holt, USMC
Special to American Forces Press Service

A hard crust results from a burn test conducted by Navy Capt. Lynn E. Welling, the 1st Marine Logistics Group's surgeon, in an effort to study how polyester materials, commonly found in high performance wicking material, react to fire. Wearing polyester materials, which includes some types of Marine Corps-issued clothing and undershirts, is now prohibited off forward operating bases in Iraq. Photo by Lance Cpl. Stephen Holt, USMC (Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

The ban on popular clothing from companies like Under Armour, CoolMax and Nike comes in the wake of concerns that a substantial burn risk is associated with wearing clothing made with these synthetic materials, officials said.

When exposed to extreme heat and flames, clothing containing some synthetic materials like polyester will melt and can fuse to the skin. This essentially creates a second skin and can lead to horrific, disfiguring burns, said Navy Capt. Lynn E. Welling, the 1st Marine Logistics Group head surgeon.

Whether on foot patrol or conducting a supply convoy while riding in an armored truck, everyone is at risk to such injuries while outside the wire.

"Burns can kill you and they're horribly disfiguring. If you're throwing (a melted synthetic material) on top of a burn, basically you have a bad burn with a bunch of plastic melting into your skin, and that's not how you want to go home to your family," said Welling.

According to Tension Technology International, a company that specializes in synthetic fibers, most man-made fabrics such as nylon, acrylic or polyester will melt when ignited and produce a hot, sticky, melted substance. This can cause extremely severe burns.

For these reasons, Marines have been limited to wearing clothing made with these materials only while on the relatively safe forward operating bases and camps where encounters with fires and explosions are relatively low, officials said.

These products have risen in popularity in the past few years and are now sold at military clothing stores. Some companies have come out with product lines specifically catering to military needs. This makes polyester clothing readily available to servicemembers, said Welling.

The Under Armour company, a favorite among many servicemembers here, advertises that the fabric used to make their garments will pull perspiration from the skin to the outer layer of the clothing. This, the ads say, allows the person wearing it to remain cool and dry in any condition or climate.

While these qualities have been a main reason for Marines to stock up on these items, the melting side effect can be a fatal drawback, said Welling.

This point was driven home recently at a military medical facility at Camp Ramadi, a U.S. military base on the outskirts of the city of Ramadi, arguably one of the most dangerous cities in Iraq. "We had a Marine with significant burn injuries covering around 70 percent of his body," said Navy Cmdr. Joseph F. Rappold, the officer in charge of the medical unit at the base.

The Marine was injured when the armored vehicle he was riding in struck an improvised explosive device, causing his polyester shirt to melt to his skin. Even though he was wearing his protective vest, Navy doctors still had to cut the melted undergarment from his torso. His injuries would not have been as severe had he not been wearing a polyester shirt, said Rappold.

Burns have become a common injury in Iraq as the enemy continues to employ IEDs and roadside bombs. Currently, these hidden explosives are the No. 1 killer of servicemembers in Iraq, said Welling.

For years, servicemembers with jobs that put then at a high risk of flame exposure, such as pilots and explosive ordnance disposal personnel, were kept from wearing polyester materials because of the extra burn threat. Now, with so many encounters with IED explosions, the Marines are extending this ban to everyone going outside the wire, officials said.

With the approach of summer, temperatures during some days are expected to hover around 130 degrees Fahrenheit. These blistering temperatures spur many to wear the the moisture-wicking, quick-drying clothing in an attempt to beat the heat and stay cool.

"I understand it gets to be 150 degrees in a turret during the summer time," said Welling. "My goal is not to make it more uncomfortable or harder on the servicemembers. My job is to make sure that when they hit an IED and are engulfed in flames, they have the best protection possible and the least risk of something (going wrong) that could have been prevented."

The directive is straightforward and simple, Welling said. "The goal is not to bubble wrap the warrior going outside the gate. The idea is to minimize the (hazards) we have control over," said Welling.

Commanders have expressed concern that troops will downplay the problem of wearing wicking materials in combat settings because they think their body armor or uniforms will protect them.

The camouflage utility uniforms are designed to turn to ash and blow away after the material is burned, but the burn hazard remains, said Welling. She recommends wearing 100 percent cotton clothing while on missions.

So far, Marines have been responding well to the new regulations.

"The policy is good because it's designed for safety and is about keeping Marines in the fight," said Cpl. Jason Lichtefeld, a military policeman with the 1st Marine Logistics Group, who plans to ensure his Marines comply with the new rules.

Even Marines who never venture off base should be aware of the risks associated with wearing the wicking fabrics, officials said.

For example, a Marine's high-performance undershirt recently started smoking when an electrical current shocked him. Fortunately, it didn't catch on fire or melt, but the potential was there, said Welling.

Officials acknowledged that high-performance apparel may be the best way to stay cool when working in a low-risk environment with a minimal chance of exposure to flames or intense heat. "We've got a great piece of gear, but when you put it in the wrong environment, it could cause more problems than it's worth," said Welling.

(Lance Cpl. Stephen Holt serves with the 1st Marine Logistics Group.)

Marine Staff Sgt. Jonathan B. McClary, a combat engineer, wears a polyester T-shirt with moisture-wicking technology in an attempt to stay cool during hot days in Iraq. But wearing these polyester materials off forward operating bases in Iraq is now prohibited because of the burn hazard. Photo by Lance Cpl. Stephen Holt, USMC
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In war-torn Al Anbar, Marines, Iraqi soldiers keep city streets safe

HADITHA, Iraq(April 12, 2006) -- The windswept streets of Haditha are lined with stores and houses pocked with bullet holes that tell a story of a community once plagued by fear from insurgents and terrorists


Submitted by: Regimental Combat Team7
Story by: Computed Name: Sgt. Roe F. Seigle
Story Identification #: 200641263443

Now, those stories are fading memories and new memories are being formed. The buildings in the city of approximately 30,000 are being rebuilt and children are free to play safely in the streets guarded by United States Marines.

“The Marines are our friends and have been a gift from God,” said “Josem," speaking in French, a language he learned while studying at a university in France. Josem has seen first-hand the damage insurgents can do to a family’s life. He lost his brother in an explosion caused by insurgents in Haditha.

“They (Marines) have made life here much more peaceful for us since they arrived last year,” he said.

Sgt. Jody Stroud, 28, a machinegun section leader assigned to the Hawaii-based 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, strongly believes in the mission he and his Marines are accomplishing everyday in Haditha. Known as “three-three” for short, the battalion provides security to the thousands of Iraqis who live in this region along the Euphrates River in western Al Anbar Province.

“We (the Marines and Coalition Forces) gave our word to the Iraqi people that we would free them from insurgency and help them build a new government,” Stroud said as he washed his camouflage utilities in a mop bucket in India Company’s forward operating base in the heart of Haditha. During moments like this, Stroud thinks about his father who served in the battle of Iwo Jima and received a Purple Heart for injuries he received in the Korean War while wearing a Marine Corps uniform.

“My dad would never talk about the wars he served in,” said Stroud. “All I remember him telling me is there are two ribbons I do not want you to have to earn; those are the Purple Heart for injuries and the Combat Action Ribbon.”

Now Stroud is in a situation where both of those ribbons can be earned, he said.

A hotbed of insurgent activity less than a year ago, Haditha’s streets are now patrolled daily by the Marines and Iraqi soldiers to maintain order and disrupt would-be insurgent attacks. The constant presence, along with several key counterinsurgency operations last year to quell insurgents’ ability to run amuck here, has helped calm the region in recent months. Now, it is bustling with Marines and Iraqi soldiers that serve side-by-side with the Marines from India Company as they learn the tactics and techniques necessary to conduct operations on their own.

“The American people need to know that they are not seeing the whole story on TV,” said Stroud. “They do not see the schools being built and a new and fair government being established.”

Stroud, a native of Annapolis, Md., says the Marines are treated with hospitality by the citizens of Haditha, which in turn leads to trust between troops and the Iraqis.

In Haditha, India Company Marines have been patrolling the streets daily with the Iraqi soldiers, and say the uniformed Iraqis are becoming more proficient with operating on their own. The Marines’ mission is two-fold in the Al Anbar Province – protect the Iraqi people by suppressing any remaining insurgents and continue to build the capabilities of the Iraqi Army unit here to eventually relieve Coalition Forces in this area.

Still, this city in Al Anbar Province bordering one of the country’s larger lakes, remains a combat zone. Frequent reminders plague the Marines and Iraqi soldiers in the form of improvised explosive devices and small-arms fire attacks.

The remaining insurgents in Haditha test the Hawaii-based Marines’ tactics and responses to attacks, cited by at least one Marine officer here as to why Coalition Forces have seen a slight increase in attacks recently.

“They want to test us and see if we will over-react,” said Capt. Andy Lynch, one of the Marines’ company commanders here.

The battalion arrived in Iraq about a month ago.

Most recently, insurgents ambushed Marines near a high school here in a drive-by style shooting. Though no one was injured, Marines or civilians, Marine leaders here say the act was typical of insurgents.

Lynch believes the insurgents attacked the Marines in front of the high school in hopes the Marines would fire indiscriminately and injure non-combatants. The 30-year-old from Chicago has commanded India Company since June of last year, and is serving his second tour in Iraq. In his opinion, the Marines used “discipline and good judgment” when they returned fire on the insurgents – they avoided civilian casualties by thinking before pulling the trigger and returning fire, he said.

The recent attacks and ambushes against the Marines are also ways for the insurgents to probe the Marines’ tactics and techniques – a way to test the waters of the new unit, who arrived in Iraq last month, said Lynch.

In another incident, insurgents ambushed a Marine patrol with small-arms fire – AK-47s, pistols and other weapons. Though one Marine was injured, he was treated and “back in the fight” within hours, a sign to insurgents that “three-three” will not be deterred by the insurgents’ attacks, according to the Marines here.

“The attacks against India Company really do not have any effect on the Marines,” said 1st Sgt. Chuong Nguyen, India Company’s senior enlisted advisor and 12-year Marine Corps veteran.

“The Marines are going to fight back,” said Nguyen, a native of Santa Ana, Calif. “When they go out on patrol, they are taking … Iraqi soldiers out with each squad and they (Iraqi Soldiers) are learning all the tricks the insurgents try to pull as well.”

Nguyen, who served in Afghanistan with the unit last year, says his Marines are well aware of the dangers they face everyday in the area, but are still pressing hard to stop the remainder of the insurgency by maintaining a consistent presence in local communities.

“The Marines are giving their max effort everyday and are quickly learning how the insurgents are operating,” said Nguyen, who added that the Marines’ and Iraqi soldiers’ vigilance are key to keeping insurgents at bay.

During patrols through this town of 30,000, Marines and their counterparts in the Iraqi Army are welcomed into homes of citizens and are told of atrocities committed by insurgents. Offered tea, food, sometimes even cigarettes, the Marines kindly thank the Iraqis for their hospitality, but decline the invitations.

Instead, the Marines seem more interested in assessing the town’s security environment by seeing what locals have to say about insurgent activity, and to find out if insurgents are intimidating the local populace.

Back inside their fortified base, the Marines try to put the day’s work behind them, and take a few hours to sleep, eat and chat about home life before going “outside the wire” again.

Though they are half a world away from their loved ones, the Marines have plenty of amenities here to help make life a little easier during the deployment, said Lynch.

“Things like the gym and the cable TV take the sting out of the physical discomforts of hours of patrolling,” said Lynch. “All the Marines are going through it (deployment) together and they have their brothers right there with them.”

Lynch’s calm demeanor turns a little more serious as conversation turns from talks about the creature comforts on the Marines’ base to talks about the insurgency in the region. The insurgents, he said, have no chance of success against “a company of well-trained infantry Marines.”

For the remainder of their deployment, the Marines from India Company say they look forward to making history here by helping Iraq develop a well-trained police force and military capable of maintaining law and order on their own.

These Marines see the progress their Iraqi counterparts are making every day, and say they want the rest of the world to know it, too.

“There is still a threat out here and we are going to eliminate it,” said Stroud. “We gave our word to these people to help them and this is what we are going to (do). We have to keep our word.”

Coalition Launches 'Operation Mountain Lion' in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON, April 12, 2006 – Coalition forces, in cooperation with the Afghan National Army, began "Operation Mountain Lion" yesterday to establish security, deter the re-emergence of terrorism, and enhance the sovereignty of Afghanistan, military officials reported today.


American Forces Press Service

Afghan and coalition forces killed six insurgents today while conducting offensive operations in the Marawara district of Afghanistan's Kunar province.

Military officials in Afghanistan said Operation Mountain Lion is part of the coalition's ongoing series of offensives that aim to disrupt insurgent activities, deny them sanctuary and prevent their ability to restock.

"This operation is helping the government of Afghanistan set the security conditions so democratic processes can take root," said Air Force Maj. Gen. Allen Peck, deputy air component commander for Combined Forces Command Afghanistan. "Our job is to bring airpower to bear on the anti-Afghan forces and support the coalition troops on the ground."

Operations today began with predawn air-and-ground assaults in the Pech River Valley, an area notorious for terrorist activity, Combined Force Command Afghanistan officials said.

Soldiers from 3rd Brigade of the Afghan National Army's 203rd Corps are fighting alongside servicemembers from the coalition's Task Force Spartan, made up of soldiers from the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 10th Mountain Division and 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment Marines from Task Force Lava.

More than 2,500 Afghan National Army and coalition forces are involved in the operation.

"We're taking the fight to the terrorists in their own backyard," said Army Command Sgt. Maj. James Redmore of Task Force Spartan. "They gave their victims no sanctuary. They'll receive none from us."

Coalition leaders described the operation as a comprehensive effort to kill, incapacitate or capture terrorists operating in the region. It will continue as long as necessary, they said.

"Together, with our ANA brothers-in-arms, we're eliminating the enemy's remaining sanctuaries in Kunar province," added Army Col. John Nicholson, Task Force Spartan's commander.

U.S. Air Force F-15s, A-10s and B-52s are providing close-air support to troops on the ground engaged in rooting out insurgent sanctuaries and support networks. Royal Air Force GR-7s also are providing close-air support to coalition troops in contact with enemy forces. U.S. Air Force Global Hawk and Predator aircraft are providing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, while KC-135 and KC-10 aircraft are providing refueling support.

"Our objective is to assist the coalition forces and Afghan national security forces in defeating the Taliban and al Qaeda," Peck said. "The coalition employs airpower every day to support Afghanistan's democratically elected government in establishing regional stability and long-term economic and political development."

Anti-terror efforts like this will extend the reach of the Afghan government, allowing legitimate governance to perform valuable work on behalf of the people in this region, Nicholson said. Stability and security will, in turn, permit nongovernmental aid and reconstruction organizations to work more efficiently.

Marines return to Miramar and loved ones

MIRAMAR ---- A jumbo jet carrying about 260 Marines taxied to a terminal at Miramar Marine Corps Air Station on Wednesday morning, as cheers roared through a crowd of hundreds of friends and family members waving American flags and homemade signs to greet loved ones returning from a seven-month deployment in Iraq.


By: STACY BRANDT - Staff Writer

"Welcome home dad," read the sign that 9-year-old Nick Hansen held for his father, Staff Sgt. Nathan Hansen.

"I feel really excited that he's coming home," Nick said, as the Marines started to leave the airplane and walk across the tarmac to an anxious and teary crowd at the San Diego air station.

The troops, who were deployed to Iraq in September, are part of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, most of them from the wing's Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 466, officials said.

Mechanic Stephen Stone was returning from his second deployment to Iraq. He had served there for seven months about two years ago.

Stone said he missed his wife and 3-year-old daughter, but was proud of what had been accomplished in the war-torn country.

"I believe in what we're doing over there," he said. "We're keeping the terrorists out of here."

Stone's wife, Amber, said she was also very proud of her husband, though it was difficult having him away from home since his daughter was born.

"I don't think you can be a military spouse and not be proud," Amber Stone said.

When she asked 3-year-old Bella if she was glad to have her father back, the child's shy smile was answer enough.

About 30 minutes after the troops got off the plane, Amy Demers said that welcoming back her boyfriend, Marine surgeon Alex Galifianakis, still seemed surreal.

"I'm glad he's home," she said.

Galifianakis said his experience in Iraq was much better than he expected.

"I think I'll continue to look back at the seven months that we were gone pretty fondly," he said.

Galifianakis said frequent e-mails from his loved ones helped him get through his deployment. That sentiment was echoed by many of the troops at the homecoming.

Matt Scardino, who returned home three weeks ago after a six-month deployment in Iraq, said he attended Wednesday's event as a way to show support for the war and the troops.

"I just hope America knows that we're doing our job," he said. "And we're doing it for them."

Scardino said he could empathize with the troops who were seeing their loved ones for the first time in months.

"Even though it's not me getting off and seeing my family," he said, "it puts tears in my eyes seeing those guys get to hug their wife and kids."

For Marines who didn't have any loved ones to greet them, there was a group of "official huggers" on hand, courtesy of the Marine Corps Community Services program.

"It's very heartwarming," said June Russell, one of the volunteers who offered hugs to any returning Marine who wanted one.

The volunteers said attending the homecoming was a way of showing support for the troops and their mission.

"It's fabulous because, my dad, when he came back from Vietnam, he just wanted a hug and affirmation," Theresa Dimapilis said. "These young kids are sacrificing a lot. To say 'thank you' means so much to them."

Sgt. Maj. William Winters, who was in Iraq with the Marines, said he was especially proud of those who were deployed for the first time.

"They worked hard, they worked a lot of hours and they never lost focus of the mission," he said. "When they see a reception like this, it makes it all worthwhile for them."

April 11, 2006

Fort Detrick Marines prepare to head to Iraq

FREDERICK -- Marines stationed at Fort Detrick spent Monday morning in the base's Henry O. Tuell Dome, getting acquainted with IVs and bandages as part of a combat lifesaving course. The Bravo Company, 4th Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, will deploy to Iraq in September.


By Alison Walker
News-Post Staff

The 120 Marines earned a certificate in combat lifesaving after completing last weekend's course, which included skills such as evaluating a casualty, treating chest trauma, controlling bleeding and requesting a medical evacuation.

"They're all training in the event of someone getting injured, so they can take care of their buddies," said Agustin Hernandez, a civilian medical training coordinator who led the course. "The bottom line is taking care of each other when you go to war."

On March 31, the Marine Corps confirmed the Bravo Company's deployment. The reservist unit was warned in December it could be deployed and has spent weekends since training in infantry tactics, marksmanship, insurgent operations and physical readiness.

Cpl. Jeremy Cheshire, 26, said he looks forward to training and deployment.

"It's what we joined the Marine Corps for," said Cpl. Cheshire, who joined the Marines in February 2002.

Beginning in May, the Marines will train at Fort Leonard Wood, Miss.; Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland; and Camp Lejeune, N.C., to become a small-craft company, patrolling and securing Iraqi waterways near the Euphrates River.

Ongoing training

Throughout their training, the Marines will practice the skills they learned during the lifesaving course, Mr. Hernandez said.

"You don't learn IVs in one day," he said. "But just being able to feel comfortable with your skills and knowing the tools to save someone's life is an accomplishment in itself."

Using their lifesaving skills, Marines can serve as an extension to trained medics. A unit of several dozen Marines may contain as few as one medic, Mr. Hernandez said, and the training will decrease preventable deaths during combat.

About 15 percent of combat deaths could be prevented if more troops knew how to treat injuries, including controlling bleeding, alleviating pressure buildup in lungs and clearing airways, Mr. Hernandez said.

Sgt. Marc Christ, 30, deployed to Iraq with the Bravo Company three years ago. The intense training before deployment will help calm any fear among the unit's Marines, he said.

"It's not really that people get scared," he said. "(Fear of) the unknown is a better word. We can get away from as much of the unknown as possible, and the more things you're prepared for, the less scared you are."


Two Marines have been killed during Bravo Company deployments.

During the 2002-2003 deployment to Iraq, Lance Cpl. Gregory MacDonald was killed and two Marines injured when the road under their vehicle crumbled and they rolled into a canal.

In the early 1990s, the Bravo Company's Lance Cpl. James M. Lang was killed during the company's deployment to the Persian Gulf.

Bravo Company's commanding officer, Capt. Michael Stolzenburg, returned from Iraq in February after a 10-month deployment.

Capt. Stolzenburg said he's been talking with the company's Marines about his own deployment.

"The things I saw, heard about, experienced -- I'm preparing them mentally, emotionally, for what they need to do over there," he said.

Though the company previously deployed to Iraq from February 2002 to September 2003, about 75 percent of Marines in Bravo Company are new to the Corps and have never deployed before.

"Of course they think about getting killed or hurt," Capt. Stolzenburg said. "But that's why they're all here to train hard. And they are all training hard."

Local Marines Come Home

They've been in iraq for seven months, many serving in dangerous frontline roles in the war on terror. But tonight a group of Marine reservists based here in Reno came home, and were met with cheers, tears and open arms.


Pat Hambright

Ii'm just excited, I can't wait, I can't wait to see my son," said one anxious mother.

Anticipation hung tight in the air as friends and family members of the 4th Force Recon Marine Reserve unit gathered for a surprise welcome.

The dozen returning marines came off the plane in a group, smiling ear to ear, soaking up the hero's welcome that each one of them has earned.

One of the Marines told reporters, "We walked off the plane and its nice to see all my family and friends. Support really matters. All these people sent care packages and I've kept in touch with almost every one of them and its nice to see they all showed up."

Everywhere you turned there were hugs and smiles. The tense waiting and worrying past, loved ones home safe and sound and very greatful for all the attention.

CAMP LEJEUNE--2/6 Marines, sailors return Wednesday

Approximately 900 Marines and sailors from 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, will return to Camp Lejeune Wednesday from a seven-month deployment to Iraq.


The battalion aided in training Iraqi Security Forces, conducted combat operations, assisted in securing voting areas for the Constitutional Referendum and National Elections and performed counter-insurgency operations in Al Anbar province.

April 10, 2006

Popular clothing off-limits to Marines in Iraq

CAMP TAQADDUM, IRAQ (April 10, 2006) -- Under direction of Marine Corps commanders in Iraq, wearing synthetic athletic clothing containing polyester and nylon has been prohibited while conducting operations off of forward operating bases and camps.


Submitted by: 1st Marine Logistics Group
Story Identification #: 200641013040
Story by Lance Cpl. Stephen Holt

The ban on popular clothing from companies like Under Armour, CoolMax and Nike comes in the wake of concerns that a substantial burn risk is associated with wearing clothing made with these synthetic materials.

When exposed to extreme heat and flames, clothing containing some synthetic materials like polyester will melt and can fuse to the skin. This essentially creates a second skin and can lead to horrific, disfiguring burns, said Navy Capt. Lynn E. Welling, the 1st Marine Logistics Group head surgeon.

Whether on foot patrol or conducting a supply convoy while riding in an armored truck, everyone is at risk to such injuries while outside the wire.

“Burns can kill you and they’re horribly disfiguring. If you’re throwing (a melted synthetic material) on top of a burn, basically you have a bad burn with a bunch of plastic melting into your skin and that’s not how you want to go home to your family,” said Welling.

According to Tension Technology International, a company that specializes in synthetic fibers, most man made fabrics, such as nylon, acrylic or polyester will melt when ignited and produce a hot, sticky, melted substance causing extremely severe burns.

For these reasons, Marines have been limited to wearing clothing made with these materials only while on the relatively safe forward operating bases and camps where encounters with fires and explosions are relatively low.

The popularity of these products has risen in the past few years and has started being sold at military clothing stores. Some companies have come out with product lines specifically catering to military needs. This makes polyester clothing readily available to servicemembers, said Welling.

The high performance fabrics work by pulling perspiration away from the body to the outside of the garment instead of absorbing moisture like most cotton clothing.

The Under Armour company, a favorite among many servicemembers here, advertises that the fabric used to make their garments will wick perspiration from the skin to the outer layer of the clothing allowing the person wearing it to remain cool and dry in any condition or climate.

While these qualities have been a main reason for Marines to stock up on these items, the melting side effect can be a fatal drawback, said Welling.
This point was driven home recently at a military medical facility located at Camp Ramadi, a U.S. military base on the outskirts of the city of Ramadi, arguably one of the most dangerous cities in Iraq.

“We had a Marine with significant burn injuries covering around 70 percent of his body,” said Cmdr. Joseph F. Rappold, the officer in charge of the medical unit at the base.

The Marine was injured when the armored vehicle he was riding in struck an improvised explosive device, or IED, causing his polyester shirt to melt to his skin. Even though he was wearing his protective vest Navy doctors still had to cut the melted undergarment from his torso.

His injuries would not have been as severe had he not been wearing a polyester shirt, said Rappold.

Burns have become a common injury in Iraq as the enemy continues to employ IED’s and roadside bombs.

Currently, such hidden explosives are the number one killer of servicemembers in Iraq, said Welling.

For years servicemembers with jobs that put then at a high risk of flame exposure, such as pilots and explosive ordnance disposal personnel, were kept from wearing polyester materials because of the extra burn threat. Now, with so many encounters with IED explosions, the Marines are extending this ban to everyone going “outside the wire.”

As the summer months in Iraq get closer, temperatures during some days are expected hover around 130 degrees Fahrenheit. With blistering temperatures like these, many will be wearing the moisture wicking, quick drying clothing in an attempt to “beat the heat” and stay cool.

“I understand it gets to be 150 degrees (Fahrenheit) in a turret during the summer time. My goal is not to make it more uncomfortable or harder on the servicemembers. My job is to make sure that when they hit an IED and are engulfed in flames, they have the best protection possible and the least risk of something (going wrong) that could have been prevented,” said Welling.

A concern among commanders is that servicemembers will down play the problem of wearing wicking materials in combat settings because they think their body armor or uniforms will protect them.

The camouflage utility uniforms are designed to turn to ash and blow away after the material is burned, but the burn hazard is still present, said Welling, who recommends wearing 100% cotton clothing while on missions.

So far, Marines have been responding well to the new regulations.

“The policy is good because it’s designed for safety and is about keeping Marines in the fight,” said Cpl. Jason Lichtefeld, a military policeman with the 1st MLG, who plans to make sure his Marines comply with the new rules.

Even Marines who never venture off their base should be aware of the risks associated with wearing the wicking fabrics.

Recently, there was a case where a Marine’s high performance undershirt started smoking when he was shocked by an electrical current. Fortunately, it didn’t catch on fire or melt, but the potential was there, said Welling.

When working in a low risk environment where exposure to flames or intense heat is minimal the high performance apparel can be an optimal option for staying cool in the Iraq heat.

“We’ve got a great piece of gear, but when you put it in the wrong environment it could cause more problems than its worth,” said Welling.

The directive is straight forward and simple.

“The goal is not to bubble wrap the warrior going outside the gate, the idea is to minimize the (hazards) we have control over,” said Welling.

Corps’ top officer says Marines, sailors are winning the war on terror

HADITHA, Iraq (April 10, 2006) -- The Marine Corps’ top officer recently stated he was confident Coalition Forces were going to win the Global War on Terrorism.


Submitted by: 1st Marine Division
Story Identification #: 2006413133532
Story by Sgt. Roe F. Seigle

During a visit to Marine units throughout the Al Anbar Province of Iraq April 10, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Michael W. Hagee, told Marines and Sailors of the Hawaii-based 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, or “America’s Battalion”, that they “stepped up to the plate when their country needed them most.”

“I have never seen a better Marine Corps than I have today,” said Hagee, to the Marines and sailors on the top of the Haditha Dam, overlooking the Euphrates River. “You always accomplish the mission you are tasked with.”

During the visit, Hagee entertained Marines’ questions on a number of topics, to include the future of the Marine Corps and new guidance on earning the combat action ribbon.

Hagee was accompanied by the Corps’ senior enlisted advisor, Sgt. Maj. John L. Estrada, Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, during the three-day tour throughout Iraq’s Al Anbar Province.

Per the General’s new guidance in a message to all Marines last month, Marines and sailors are eligible for the combat action ribbon if they are in a vehicle convoy that is struck with an improvised explosive device and they “take appropriate action during the detonation of an improvised explosive device.”

A recent debate regarding the combat action ribbon was sparked after thousands of Marines and sailors were denied the ribbon even though they were exposed to the roadside bombs, commonly referred to as “IEDs,” during combat operations.

Now, Marines and sailors who encountered IEDs in the past who may now be eligible can be submitted for consideration for the award. In the past, the award was given to those only involved in combat involving the exchange of gun fire.

“Either you initiate contact with the enemy or the enemy initiates contact with you, and you react properly,” said Hagee, speaking to hundreds of Marines and sailors. “Some Marines believe contact has to be initiated by rifle fire and you have to return rifle fire and that is not true.”

Hagee also spoke of a possible reduction of Marine battalions in Iraq as the Iraqi government continues to stabilize. A year ago, nine Marine battalions were deployed to Iraq, he said. Now, there are only six, due in large part to the progress Iraqi Security Forces have made and the combined efforts Coalition Forces have made to keep Iraq moving towards self-independence.

In Al Anbar Province, I Marine Expeditionary Force units are partnered with Iraqi Army units to conduct counterinsurgency and humanitarian-type operations in the volatile area. The Marines and sailors of “America’s Battalion” have spent more than a month now conducting joint operations to rid the area of insurgents.

Furthermore, the battalion’s Military Transition Team is advising and mentoring Iraqi soldiers in the region as they progress towards fully independent operations, which Coalition Forces say the Iraqi military will be ready for by year’s end.

“This is a tough fight and you are the center of it,” said Hagee to the Marines, referring to the progress they have made battling the insurgency.

Before departing, Hagee ended his visit by handing out several personalized “coins” to several of the battalion’s Marines and sailors who have made significant achievements during their deployment since the battalion arrived here last month. The general also took time to pose for photos with the Marines and sailors.

“It is an uplifting experience to see the Marine Corps’ senior advisors because it gives a chance for individual Marines to talk to him face-to-face about issues pertaining to the Marine Corps and the Marines lives,” said Cpl. Rory Chapin, a 27-year-old intelligence analyst from Waldwick, N.J. “Marines deserved to be recognized for their accomplishments when they are out here in the fight.”

The battalion is part of the I MEF, a force of 23,000-plus Marines and sailors deployed to Iraq’s Al Anbar Province. The Marines will return to their base in Hawaii in early fall.

Iraqi Troops Start Rolling Out in Ramadi

RAMADI, Iraq - The troops didn't go far, the mission didn't last long and the neighborhood wasn't the most dangerous in town. But when Iraqi army troops moved out on a recent patrol in central Ramadi, they took a crucial step forward, rolling out in their own armored Humvees for the first time.



Until now, this unit has mostly patrolled their small, relatively quiet slice of downtown on foot, leaving the worst parts of the turbulent city center to better-equipped U.S. troops.

American commanders want Iraqi units to operate independently in the more dangerous downtown areas of Ramadi, about 75 miles west of Baghdad. But they lack equipment - especially proper transport. Though they have their own trucks, they rely heavily on U.S. forces to move around.

In recent weeks, that's begun to change.

The Iraqi Defense Ministry has begun distributing armored Humvees to Iraqi units that look nearly identical to their tan-colored U.S. counterparts. The Iraqi vehicles are equipped with bulletproof glass and radios, painted outside with the Iraqi flag and chocolate chip camouflage markings.

"This is a huge step," said Marine 2nd Lt. Ryan Hub, who accompanied Iraqi troops on a foot patrol Friday while the Humvees provided back-up.

Tracing a finger along a satellite map of central Ramadi, Hub circled a roughly one-square-mile area near the Marine base which the Iraqis patrol. He then pointed to other Marine-controlled zones he hoped Iraqis troops would soon patrol in Humvees.

"It means we can extend their battle space," said the 25-year-old from Sumter, S.C.

On Tuesday, the Humvees proved useful as Iraqi forces evacuated a soldier shot in the leg, said Lt. Col. Steve Neary, who commands the Marine's 3rd Battalion, 8th Regiment. Previously, such tasks would have been carried out by the U.S. military.

On Friday, an Iraqi 2nd lieutenant named Ahmed was in the first Humvee of a four-vehicle convoy leaving a U.S. Marine base. Marine commanders asked that his full name not be used for fear he could be targeted by insurgents.

Taking a drag off a cigarette a few blocks on, Ahmed was startled to see two of his own vehicles - they had taken a wrong turn - coming in the opposite direction. "Follow me!" he yelled into the radio. "Follow me!"

Soon, all four Humvees were circling the block in unison, passing rusted-out cars, blown-out apartment blocks and children raising their fists in the air to show support.

Unlike other joint missions, only the Iraqis were radioing their minute-by-minute progress back to base.

Ahmed's role was to provide back-up support for the foot patrol, which swept the apartment complex with several Marines in tow. Ahmed said if need be, his Humvees could evacuate casualties, or open fire with heavy machine guns.

Such support has traditionally been the job of the U.S. military. Marines weren't taking chances Friday, though, and had a separate supporting patrol that halted traffic so the Iraqi convoy could move unhindered.

The Iraqis didn't go far. The base's barbed-wire-topped wall was often visible as the Humvees repeatedly circled past it. Following the Marines' advice, the Iraqi gunners kept their heads down in their turrets to avoid snipers. Less than two hours later, Ahmed was back on base.

"It's baby steps," said Marine Capt. Carlos Barela, commander of Lima Company. "They're nervous, but that's good. If they weren't, they'd be careless."

It was a quiet first trip out, though it might not have been. Insurgents, apparently, had been watching. A Marine in a watchtower spotted a man planting a roadside bomb one street over from where the Iraqi Humvees had been circling.

Ahmed praised the newly arrived vehicles, but expressed a deep concern for lack of other equipment. Although his men had uniforms, kneepads, and aging Kalashnikov rifles, they have no mortars, sniper rifles or rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

Capt. Jabar, an Iraqi commander who directed Ahmed's movements from base, agreed.

"The insurgents are better armed than us," Jabar said. "The Humvees will help. And we can still fight them, but we depend on the Americans for everything" - medics, logistics, firepower, air support.

Jabar said his 90-man company had only two sets of night-vision goggles. Another Iraqi commander, who made similar complaints about equipment at an army recruiting drive in Ramadi last week, said his unit had to share armored vests to go on patrols.

Barela said American commanders were aware of the complaints - and Iraqi soldiers' concerns over pay - but ultimately, those were issues for the Iraqi Defense Ministry to overcome.

"We could solve all their problems for them, but if we do it all, that's going to make them dependent," said Barela, 35, of Albuquerque, N.M. "We're standing up a military from scratch. There's going to be growing pains."

A lot more training will be needed before Iraqi forces can stand on their own. In central Ramadi, for example, only Marines are going out on night patrols.

The U.S. command in Baghdad says the Iraqi army numbers about 111,000 troops, and is expected to reach full strength of 130,000 next year.

But they are struggling to retain those who've already joined up. Some quit because of the hazards of duty, others because of low pay.

Iraqi troops deployed here get one week of vacation after every three-week stint. "Every month, two, three, five members of each company don't come back," Jabar said. "At this rate, our companies will be reduced to single platoons."

April 9, 2006

Marine serenades Ramadi with ‘Marines’ Hymn’

AR RAMADI, Iraq (April 9, 2006) -- Cpl. Matthew E. Bucceri has something to pipe about. He’s played his bagpipes for the entire city of Ramadi.


Submitted by: 1st Marine Division
Story Identification #: 200641042721
Story by Cpl. Joseph DiGirolamo

Bucceri, a 29-year-old infantryman, made his way onto the roof of the Government Center, one of the most dangerous spots in Ramadi, and played the “Marines’ Hymn” through the building’s loudspeaker system, April 3.

His music could literally be heard across Ramadi.

“I’m all about playing the bagpipes anywhere,” said Bucceri, from East Rutherford, N.J. “I love playing the instrument and I especially love playing for the Marines.”

Bucceri worked as an electrician all over the Garden State when he was introduced to playing the bagpipes. Intrigued by the opportunity to do something different, Bucceri joined a pipe and drum band started by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, a local work union.

Today his passion for Scottish tunes has taken him places he never thought he would go.

“Lots of people want to play the guitar or other music instruments like the flute growing up,” he said. “I just always had a passion to play the bagpipes.”

Bucceri was passionate enough to play the pipes in the New York City Saint Patrick’s Day Parade, along with several Veteran’s and Memorial Day parades. Soon after, he began to get invitations to play for weddings and memorial services.

Bucceri also performed at the inauguration ceremony for Jim McGreevy, former New Jersey governor.

After witnessing the attacks of Sept. 11, Bucceri felt he had to do something for his country. He traded his kilt and bagpipes in for camouflage utilities and a rifle.

“When I joined the Marine Corps I wasn’t planning on quitting the bagpipes, I just planned to play again when I finished my tour,” he added.

He was reunited with his music during his third deployment to Iraq while operating in Gharmah in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2005.

“While I was deployed, my wife Liz started a bagpipe fund with my family, friends, and co-workers,” Bucceri said. “She bought it behind my back and sent it to me as a surprise.”

Bucceri said Elizabeth sent him the bagpipes to pass time in Iraq and to boost the morale of his fellow Marines.

The battalion’s Marines all appreciate Bucceri’s “jokester” personality and enjoy being treated to his music.

“He’s a funny guy. He keeps the platoon laughing no matter what’s going on,” said Lance Cpl. Justin D. Sims, a 21-year-old from Covington, Ky. “He always has something to say.”

In fact, it’s Bucceri’s talent for the bagpipes that caused his command to play lasting tributes from Marines fallen in battle. He was asked to play his pipes at memorial services.

He agreed to do it, not just for the Marines but for their families as well. He said he feels his music adds a more personal touch to the ceremony then a song played from a recording.

“I started playing for the Marines’ memorials last year and everywhere I go I keep the memorial service programs with me,” he said. “I set them inside my carrying case as a reminder of their sacrifice.”

Bucceri, now on his fourth deployment to Iraq, continues to keep his fellow Marines morale as high as his music is loud.

Lt. Col. Stephen M. Neary, the battalion’s commanding officer, asked Bucceri to play his bagpipes from the Government Center as a remembrance for the recently fallen of the battalion and to send a message to the insurgents.

Neary, is not only Bucceri’s boss, he was the officer-in-charge of the Marine who recruited Bucceri into the Corps some four years ago.

Bucceri played the Marines’ Hymn flawlessly, despite wearing a full combat load of equipment, body armor, ammunition and other supplies.

The Marines standing on post on the roof of the government center were initially shocked to hear the Marines’ Hymn but once Bucceri finished, they all began to cheer.

“It was really cool,” said Pfc. Beamer B. Dyas, a 19-year-old from Memphis, Tenn. “Sitting on post you see and hear the same thing over and over, you don’t expect to hear something like that every day.”

“This is to let the insurgents know that they can place as many IEDs as they want and try to do whatever they wish, however, they’ll never break our spirits or take away our morale,” Bucceri said.

Flying Nightmares target terrorism with new munitions system

AL ASAD, Iraq (April 9, 2006) -- Sweat slowly drips off of the Marines as they carefully raise the 500- and 1000-pound munitions to the weapons carriage on the AV-8B Harrier - the Flying Nightmares are readying for action.

Marine Attack Squadron 513, Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, is the first Harrier squadron to employ the Joint Direct Attack Munitions in a combat zone.


Submitted by: 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing
Story Identification #: 2006410145330
Story by Lance Cpl. Brian J. Holloran

"With this new feature on our jets, we will be able to hit targets more accurately, therefore making us a more effective squadron," said Lt. Col. Willis E. Price, commanding officer, VMA-513.

The previous laser guided precision munitions were completely dependent on a continuous laser spotter being directed at the target until immediately before impact by another aircraft or by a Marine on the ground.

The JDAM is a global positioning system guided munition that is all-weather capable. The JDAM weapons need to only know the GPS coordinate of the target and it will navigate on its own until impact.

"The JDAM is essentially a 'fire and forget' weapon," said Capt. Benjamin K. Hutchins, squadron weapons and tactics officer, VMA-513. "Once the target is identified and the GPS coordinates are entered, the pilot can forget about that target and focus on the next target."

According to Master Sgt. Marc A. Senecal, aviation ordnance chief, VMA-513, the JDAM is a guidance and control kit added to regular munitions and turns them into guided smart bombs.

"The JDAM versions we can fly on the AV-8B are the 500- or 1000-pound, general-purpose bombs with a JDAM tail fin that houses a GPS guidance system, control fins and a receiver antenna," said Senecal, a native of Kissimmee, Fla. "There is also a small strake kit added to the front of the bomb to provide stability in flight."

The new JDAM system is also more reliable than prior guidance systems used by the Harrier.

"This new system isn't affected by weather conditions or bad communication signals," said Hutchins, a native Raleigh, N.C. "If the weather was bad, with the old system, the pilot may not be able to locate the laser designator and if communications were bad, then the ground Marines wouldn't be able to call the pilots in and thereby making the air support nearly useless."

By adding the JDAM system to the Harriers arsenal, they have become more capable of handling dangerous situations on their own.

"With the JDAM system, our jets are less reliant on having either another aircraft or an infantry Marine on the ground to mark the targets with various laser designators," said Senecal. "The Harrier is now able to pick out the target and employ the munitions needed to destroy the target without the assistance of other aircraft or ground Marines."

With all of the improvements the JDAM provides over its predecessors, the most crucial improvement is felt by those Marines on the ground and the front lines.

"The most important aspect of the JDAM system is that it means that the Marine rifleman in contact with the enemy can count on our bombs being on target and knowing that help is only a radio call away," said Senecal.

With the new JDAM system, one thing is seamlessly clear; the enemies of VMA-513 will find out why they are called the Flying Nightmares.

A heartfelt welcome for Marines

Families greet unit that recently returned from 7-month duty tour in Iraq.

Already bright-eyed at 5:30 a.m., 7-year-old Brandon Tuite dashed around the Marine Reserve Center gym, drop-kicking a worn volleyball. It wasn't cartoons or promises of Easter candy that had dragged him and his siblings out of bed three hours earlier — it was something even better.


By Michael Duck
Of The Morning Call

''A tap on the shoulder — 'We're going to get Daddy!' — and they jumped out of bed,'' said Brandon's mother, Michele Tuite of Sterling Township, Wayne County.

The Tuite family and dozens of others from the Lehigh Valley and beyond gathered hours before dawn Saturday at the Marine Reserve Center in Hanover Township, Lehigh County, to welcome their fathers, husbands, boyfriends and sons back from a seven-month tour of duty in Iraq.

Brandon's father, Gunnery Sgt. Kevin Tuite, and 22 other Marines in the 4th Maintenance Battalion deployed to Iraq last summer with the 6th Civil Affairs Group to help with reconstruction and setting up local governments.

''They [were] there to help rebuild the infrastructure,'' said Chief Warrant Officer Eugen Lipp. ''Where the rubber meets the road is where these guys work.''

All 23 Marines returned home safely, Lipp said.

Michele Tuite, the volunteer who helped coordinate the families, said some drove 21/2 hours to get to the early morning arrival. The Tuites and a few other families were especially tired, having just returned from an early visit with their Marines at Camp LeJeune in North Carolina.

After returning from Iraq, the men debriefed at Camp LeJeune for several days before getting on an Allentown-bound bus about 7 p.m. Friday, Lipp said.

As the sky began to brighten about 6:30 a.m. Saturday, word spread that the bus was getting close. The crowd inside the reserve center surged out into the cold, windy morning, straining to see the flashing lights of three state police cars escorting the bus.

The state troopers blasted their sirens as the bus pulled up, and the Liberty High School Bagpipe Corps struck up the Marines' Hymn. The cheering, flag-waving crowd surged forward as the men filed off the bus.

Sprinting ahead, 9-year-old Kayle Alcott launched herself into the arms of her father, Master Sgt. Ralph Alcott of Richland Township.

''This proves that the job we're doing is worth it,'' said the proud dad, glowing in his family's support.

While helping with rebuilding in Al Anbar Province, the unit assisted with national elections, helped establish 11 city councils and helped set up and run two ''displaced person camps'' for more than 5,000 people, according to a news release.

''He's very proud of what they did over there,'' Kelley Neyhart of Kutztown said of his stepson, Cpl. Guillaume Plante.

The local scale of the work made it easy to relate, Neyhart said. ''They were able to restore things to towns the size of Kutztown.''

Al Anbar proved relatively safe, but fighting has dragged on in other parts of Iraq. More than 2,300 U.S. military personnel have died since the start of the Iraq war in March 2003.

But while grim news from Iraq often makes families worry, Alcott pointed out that the concern often goes both ways.

''We catch that glimpse in the chow hall, [a] quick CNN flash or something'' about a shooting or fatal car wreck close to home, he said. ''You know your family's there.…Are your family members safe? Are they not?''

The prospect of finally catching up kept the Marines far too excited to be sleepy, despite their all-night bus trip.

''We've had to be so flexible for the past seven months that this little bit of running around for the past week or so [was] really no big deal,'' Plante said.

Some families quickly fell back into familiar routines. A few minutes after the men arrived, 4-year-old Kaitlyn Tuite ran up to her father. ''Dad, can you open this?'' she asked, handing him a package of goodies tightly tied with a ribbon.

Kevin Tuite said the family will soon go to Florida to catch up on some quality time.

The Marines aren't home-free just yet, Lipp explained: The men have a few more months of active duty, though most will be splitting that time between leave and service at military facilities in the United States. The men don't expect to be sent to Iraq again.

But for the Alcott family, the reunion will still be cut short: Ralph Alcott's son, 26-year-old Marine Cpl. Jason Alcott, is to be deployed to Iraq this summer.

''I'm actually excited to go. It's dangerous, but it's going to be a good life experience,'' the son said.

''Plus, I can't let my dad get all the glory,'' he added, smirking.

About 7:45 a.m., the returning Marines formed up under Ralph Alcott's command one more time. After thanking the families for their support, Alcott gave the men one last order:

''You will go to your families and enjoy the day.''

April 8, 2006

Marines mourn the loss of a light-hearted friend

CAMP TAQADDUM (Apr. 8, 2006) -- “He could take the worst job in the world and make it ok,” said Sgt. Nicholas Cunningham with a somber look and grief in his eyes.


Submitted by: 1st Marine Logistics Group
Story Identification #: 200641016206
Story by Lance Cpl. Stephen Holt

Cunningham is just one of the many Marines mourning the loss of Cpl. David A. Bass who was killed April 2, 2006, when the vehicle he was riding in rolled over during a flash flood in western Iraq near Al-Asad Air Base.

A memorial service for Bass, complete with a 21-gun salute, was held here April 8, 2006, in the main chapel of Camp Taqaddum.

Bass, a disbursing pay agent who paid military contracts and servicemembers in Iraq, is remembered as the guy with a big heart, even though he only stood around 5 feet, 3 inches.

“He was the guy who would bring a smile to your face and could turn anything into a joke. He also made sure no one was left out of the group,” said Cpl. Charles Lovern, who has served with Bass every step of his Marine Corps career, from boot camp to this deployment in Iraq.

A native of Nashville, Tenn., Bass used the Marine Corps to gain life experience, travel, and blend in with the natives of southern California.

“When we first got to Camp Pendleton (Calif.), he wouldn’t stop talking about surfing so he bought a $500 surfboard. Only after he strutted down the beach and jumped in the water, did he think of buying a training board. The first time he surfed he couldn’t even get his knee onto the surfboard and kept wiping out. My wife never let him live that down,” said Lovern.

Bass’ character touched everyone, not just his friends. The commanders he worked for appreciated his demeanor and professionalism on the job.

He always wore a genuine smile and was known for having a positive attitude, along with a quick-witted sense of humor. He was a true professional and was quick to help anyone regardless of rank, said Bass’ commanding officer, Capt. Lisa Doring.

Not only was Bass good at his job, but handling large sums of money seemed to be the right job for the Marine.

“He always talked about how he wanted to be a millionaire and have a huge house just like Hugh Heffner. I guess disbursing was the perfect job for him” added Lovern, budding a smile on his face.

Just as the Marine Corps trusted him with thousands of dollars, his friends trusted him with their closest treasures.

“He never had any bad intentions, I’d trust him to watch after my 19-month-old daughter Alyssa,” said Lovern.

Bass is a graduate of John Overton Comprehensive High School in Nashville, Tenn. He joined the Marines in 2003 and graduated boot camp at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island in November that year.

After attending the Marine Corps’ financial management school he was assigned to Camp Pendleton’s disbursing office, was promoted to the rank of corporal on January 1, 2006, and deployed less than two months later to Al Asad Air Base where he provided disbursing support to Marines in the Hadithah area.

He is survived by his mother, Tammy Delle, father, John Bass, and brother.

Congress pushing to limit protests at veterans’ funerals

By Leo Shane III, Stars and Stripes
Mideast edition, Saturday, April 8, 2006

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers supporting a bill to limit protests at some veterans cemeteries said Thursday they’ll speed up the legislative process in hopes of getting the measure signed into law by Memorial Day.

To continue reading:


April 7, 2006

Iraqi Soldier Allegedly Kills U.S. Marine Fri Apr 7, 7:20 PM ET

BAGHDAD, Iraq - A U.S. Marine was shot and killed allegedly by an Iraqi soldier at a base near the Syrian border, the U.S. said Friday. The Iraqi soldier was then wounded by another American Marine.


The shootings occurred Thursday near Qaim, 200 miles west of Baghdad, the U.S. statement said.

"An Iraqi army soldier allegedly shot and killed the U.S. Marine on a coalition base" near Qaim, the statement said. "The Iraqi soldier was shot by another U.S. Marine."

The incident is under investigation and no further details were released, the statement said.

An earlier statement said the Iraqi was evacuated to a U.S. military in Balad, 50 miles north of Baghdad. The soldier's condition was unknown.

"Just as we as American military men and women trust one another with our lives, we also trust our Iraqi counterparts, and that trust has not wavered," the statement added. "We will not let this isolated incident deter us in our mission to train and mentor the Iraqi security forces as they progress toward independent operations to ensure the security of their nation."

The U.S. command also reported three other deaths among American troops.

One service member died Friday of wounds suffered while on patrol in western Baghdad, the U.S. military said. The statement said the victim's patrol had come under small arms fire but provided no further details.

A soldier from the Army's 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team was killed Thursday when his combat patrol struck a roadside bomb near Beiji, 155 miles north of Baghdad.

A Marine was killed in "enemy action" in Anbar province west of Baghdad, also Thursday, a third statement said.

Names of the victims were withheld pending notification of kin.

At least 2,349 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.


The real McKoy: Recruiting’s leading lady wasn’t always so successful

MARINE CORPS RECRUIT DEPOT SAN DIEGO(April 7, 2006) -- Female Marines have progressed extensively throughout their military history. For 63 years they have continually served their Corps and helped “free a man to fight” during both world wars.


Submitted by: MCRD San Diego
Story by: Computed Name: Lance Cpl. Kaitlyn M. Scarboro
Story Identification #: 200646173329

During World War I, although women were unable to vote, they served the Marine Corps at recruiting stations across the country and at clerical jobs at Headquarters Marine Corps.

With 23 years of service under her belt, Master Gunnery Sgt. Yolanda J. McKoy, Western Recruiting Region operations chief, has outmatched the accomplishments of many previous female Marines. As a career recruiter, she has exceeded the general expectations of her fellow Marine population.

At her first recruiting duty station, McKoy was faced with disheartening challenges because female Marine recruiters were stereotypically unsuccessful in the recruiting field. As McKoy put it, females weren’t expected to last long at any one duty station, so the males generally considered them not worth training.

When McKoy was handed her letter of probation after failing to fulfill enlistment quotas for the first three months of her tour as a recruiter, she gave herself an ultimatum.

“It’s either me or these kids,” she told herself. “It’s either open up or you fail.”

Failure in front of her peers and in front of so many male Marines was unacceptable for McKoy. She originally enlisted in the Marine Corps because she needed to follow her own path. This was her opportunity to prove she made the right choice.

McKoy is one of only five active-duty female career recruiters and the only female master gunnery sergeant in her field. Meritoriously promoted to staff sergeant while on recruiting duty, McKoy has been awarded three Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals and is a single mother to her 12-year-old daughter Kayla.

McKoy has had to triumph over pre-existing stereotypes throughout her career. McKoy’s struggles didn’t falter when she came to the depot as one of the first female instructors at Recruiters School.

“They had to build a bathroom for me. They built me a changing room with a shower and a bathroom,” said McKoy.

As the highest ranking female Marine in the career recruiting field, McKoy has had the opportunity to experience the traditional trials of nearly every enlisted rank the Marine Corps has to offer.

“I think one of the challenging things as a female Marine is that even though you’ve obtained a rank, you have to prove it when you get to a new unit,” said McKoy.

McKoy explained that as she progressed in rank and billet in the career recruiting field, she still had to earn the respect of the male Marines under her command.

“I think she is an excellent example for female Marines that not only aspire to be master gunnery sergeants, but also for those who may consider being a recruiter or a career recruiter,” said Master Sgt. Isaac Ford, Western Recruiting Region assistant for officer procurement chief. “I think she’s an inspiration for female Marines, not only in the Western Recruiting Region, but throughout the entire recruiting command.”

McKoy prides herself in setting an example for younger Marines and making her mark on the Marine Corps through the applicants she enlisted.

“I feel I am obligated to go out there and talk to female Marines about recruiting, just to be an example that if you hang in there and push, you can be successful as a guy or female. I didn’t have anyone to ‘be like.’ I had to develop myself, although there were people along the way who assisted in training,” said McKoy.

She has put in enough time to retire, but McKoy said she still feels like a kid in the Corps.

“I don’t feel like I’ve been in even 20 years,” she said. “It feels like only 10.”

McKoy has progressed, through the Marine Corps, into a self-proclaimed lioness of strength and confidence. She has overcome outdated perceptions of the typical female Marine and proved her strength as a Marine and recruiter. She said she enjoys her job as a career recruiter and Marine as well as the opportunities the Corps has afforded her.

When asked when she plans to retire, the answer is simply “in a few years.”

Back from Iraq, safely and joyously

SEAL BEACH – For Craig Thomas Jr., it started with a high school pact that led him to the Marine Corps and then to Iraq. Thursday afternoon, the Laguna Niguel resident was back home, his family's long history of wartime service extended by another generation.


Friday, April 7, 2006
The Orange County Register

When the lanky 20-year-old lance corporal saw his parents, his eyes brimmed with tears. He scooped his mother into his arms and spun her in a circle. He couldn't help but smile a wide, toothy grin as his family swarmed him.

Amid a sea of homemade banners and American flags, friends and loved ones welcomed back 125 Marine reservists to the Seal Beach Naval Weapons Station. For six months, the unit had guarded detention centers in Al Anbar, one of the most contentious regions in Iraq.

Everyone in the 5th Battalion, 14th Marine Regiment returned safely. There was only one injury - minor - during the six-month tour of duty.

It was the first time the entire Seal Beach battalion had been deployed in more than 60 years.

"The nation hasn't needed us since World War II," Maj. Wade Feller said. "We were glad to have the opportunity and that we're able to bring everybody home."

About 120 Marines arrived Monday night in Seal Beach.

For months, families and friends waited - sometimes during sleepless nights and sometimes in agony - for e-mails and an occasional telephone call.

"I've missed him so much. I can't wait. I can't wait," said Cheryl Brooks of Torrance, fighting back tears and clenching a ball of tissues as she awaited her son's arrival.

As the Marines got off buses, foghorns blared and families let out deafening cheers. There was unrestrained joy as husbands, sons and brothers were showered with bear hugs, flowers, balloons and silly string.

Lance Cpl. Franco Hernandez of Duarte cradled his 3-month-old son, Travis, for the first time and said, "Right here - this little guy kept me going."

Six months stretched into an eternity for some of the homesick soldiers.

"It's surreal," Thomas said. "It was a period in my life that seemed like forever. It's finally over!"

Thomas and two friends from Aliso Niguel High School joined the Marines together. One dropped out for medical reasons and the other, Kyle Russel, is in Iraq.

Thomas comes from a long line of military service. His father, Craig, served in the Navy during the Vietnam War. His grandfather was in World War II. His great-grandfather served under Gen. John Pershing during World War I. And, his father said, one ancestor fought in Lexington during the colonial days.

And now, his sister, Kristen, 18, has enlisted in the Marine Corps and will start boot camp this summer.

Thomas has four years left with the Marines.

His mother, Susan, said he will probably have to deploy again, "and we realize that. He wanted to have a job that would make a difference. A lot of men wonder if they make a difference, but Marines never have that problem."

1st Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment arrives in Iraq

CAMP BAHARIA, Iraq (April 6, 2006) -- Marines from “New England’s Own” are walking the beat in Fallujah.

Marines from 1st Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment arrived here recently and took control of a large portion of Fallujah. They will be focusing on training the Iraqi Security Forces and conducting counter-insurgency operations for Regimental Combat Team 5.


Submitted by: Regimental Combat Team 5
Story Identification #: 20064731130
Story by Cpl. Brian Reimers

“There is a tremendous enthusiasm in the Marines here,” said Sgt. Maj. Bradley E. Trudell, the battalion’s senior enlisted Marine. “We are looking for every opportunity to do good things, from pursuing bad guys to handing out candy and soccer balls.”

The battalion is taking over for Marines from 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, who are preparing to return to Camp Lejeune, N.C. They’ve been on duty here for seven months and in the last few days, passed off key lessons to the new operating forces.

“The turnover process has been great,” said Sgt. Robert S. Stone explained, the battalion’s communication’s platoon sergeant. “The Marines have taught me everything I need to know to be successful while operating here.”

No matter how much training the Marines have received in the past, coming to a new place opened new doors in operating and obstacles that may lye ahead. The 29-year-old Stone, from Nahant, Mass, said they’re learning the hazards of working in Fallujah and how to counter insurgent activity. They’re also learning to use some of the Corps’ latest innovations in troop protection.

“One big thing has been learning about the new up-armored vehicles the battalion is using here,” said Gunnery Sgt. Jesse R. Nelson, the battalion’s motor transport maintenance chief. “The Marines have been showing me what to look out for and problems areas they have faced while working on these vehicles.”

Still, working in the region isn’t foreign to all Marines in the battalion. Some veterans served tours with the battalion in the Middle East during Operation Desert Storm. They know, though, that this is a new type of warfare.

“Today’s war is very different – from the ammo to the vehicles and new equipment” said Sgt. Mark A. Sabourin, a radio supervisor with the battalion’s Headquarters and Support Company. “I definitely feel a lot more comfortable and better trained this time.
“I feel good about being here,” Sabourin added. “I’m here to help the Marines accomplish their mission and to help the Iraqi people get what they deserve.”

Both veterans and young Marines alike know that there’s a challenging tour ahead of them. But they don’t discount the value of their service to their fellow Marines and Iraqi citizens.

“We know the mission will be tough, but worth while,” explained Trudell, from Mexico, New York. “We are looking forward to making a positive impact here.”

Darkhorse moves to new camp, better facilities

CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq (April 7, 2006) -- It’s not plush, manicured lawns and neatly-designed suburbia, but Darkhorse Marine are stepping up their standard of living.


Submitted by: 1st Marine Division
Story Identification #: 200641035545
Story by Cpl. Mark Sixbey

The Marines of 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment recently made a new home for its headquarters elements, leaving Camp Mercury behind and moving into newer accommodations here on Camp Fallujah. The move comes as the battalion approaches its halfway point in the deployment.

“I think the move came at the right time,” said 1st Sgt. Scott Boyer, Headquarters and Support Company’s senior enlisted Marine. “It gives the Marines an opportunity to make the camp their own. Usually, you take over a camp that’s already there. This time, we get to create something.”

He said South Camp, which took months to prepare for the battalion’s move, was designed for the Darkhorse Marines’ needs.

“The staff is innovative, creative and truly about the Marines,” he said. “They want to give them everything we can possibly give them.”

The new camp has larger, more centralized headquarters buildings, giving the Marines more space to do their jobs.

“Now the Marines have space to put their gear and weapons,” said Staff Sgt. Eric Brown, the motor transport platoon sergeant. “On Mercury, they had to keep all their gear in their living spaces, which were cramped already.”

Even the creature comforts got an upgrade. At Camp Mercury, Marines relied upon each other for haircuts. Not anymore.

Camp Fallujah has professional barbershops, a post exchange, gift shops and other amenities found only on larger military bases in Iraq.

“There’s convenience,” added Boyer, a 38-year-old from Reading, Pa. “Everything is more convenient. It’s giving them that normalization, getting away from that isolation from being alone.”

Even the new battalion aid station is nearly twice the size of the one left behind on Mercury.

“Everyone likes it,” said Navy Lt. Thomas Kelly, the battalion’s medical officer. “The main thing we enjoy is we’ve got twice as much space and are centrally located so the Marines can find us.”

Not only can the Marines find them, the BAS at South Camp is a 10-minute ride from Fallujah Surgical. The 28-year-old doctor from Cincinnati explained that in an emergency, now the corpsmen don’t need to form a convoy and drive from Mercury, which has cut medical evacuation time in half.

During the first half of the deployment, the Marines grew accustomed to 20-man squad bays and using portable plastic rest facilities. South Camp sports trailers with four-man rooms, air-conditioned shower and rest trailers and a dining hall with a wide variety of foods served fresh for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

“It’s a lot better than what we were living in,” said 29-year-old Brown, from Englewood, Fla. “Good showers, toilets, three good meals a day and now a better PT program because we can actually run somewhere on asphalt instead of running in circles on loose rocks.”

“The new chow hall is amazing and the selection is incredible,” said 21-year-old Lance Cpl. Dave-Stefan Mandeng, a small-arms repair specialist for Combat Trains. “I’m really happy about the move. I’m in trailer park heaven.”

Plans to build a new Internet center, phone center and improved gym are already underway, opening up a gamut of activities to the Marines and Sailors of Darkhorse to relax and decompress their minds between outings.

According to Boyer, the move goes beyond better living conditions and convenient logistics, citing the big picture of America’s presence in Iraq.

“We’ve been making great strides toward improving the security of this country and training the Iraqi Forces,” he said. “Just by closing Mercury, that’s a stride too. We’re giving that property back to the Iraqis, and coming one step closer to eventually turning this area over to them so we can go home.”

New Marine gave up home, lived in truck for choosing to serve

MARINE CORPS RECRUIT DEPOT SAN DIEGO (April 7, 2006) -- Sometimes he went to the recreation center nearby to take showers, but if he didn’t get off work in time, it was bath time in a local river.

Private Bryan A. Smith, Platoon 3075, knew the military would play a role in his life, but he never expected it would leave him in the back of a pick-up with his cousin. Arguments at home about his decision eventually led to his mother telling him to leave the nest.


Submitted by: MCRD San Diego
Story Identification #: 20064617341
Story by Lance Cpl. Dorian Gardner

At age 15, it became clear to him the Marine Corps was the only service that fit his wants and needs.

“I was never really interested in flying, so the Air Force was out, and the Navy … I didn’t want to be on a ship the whole time,” said Smith.

“I guess it was when I first heard ‘The few and the proud,’ instead of the Army’s ‘Be all you can be,’” said Smith.

Before he made it to San Diego, Smith had to survive hardships in Colorado.

Though his parents divorced before he could remember, Smith lived with his mother, and saw his father once a month.

During his senior year at Basalt High School, Smith and his mother moved into a house where they house-sat for another family. During that time, Smith studied architecture while managing the house.

He performed tedious tasks like hanging Christmas lights on roof drains. He also maintained the back yard and organized all exterior work done on the property.

His teacher noticed his potential in a home design Smith created for his class and was astonished with his abilities. This design afforded Smith a scholarship in architecture to Roger Williams University.

“I was debating going to college and making (my mother) happy, or joining the Marines, which I’ve been wanting to do for so long,” said Smith.

Because Smith’s brother is a Marine, he knew what to expect during training.

Soon after his decision to join the military, Smith received his diploma and left the house at age 18.

He moved in with his cousin until he left for boot camp. The two lived in the back of his cousin’s pick-up truck for months. Because the pick-up was their home, Smith had to bag up his clothes and leave them in the back of the truck while he was at work.

“It was a small, beat up 94’ Ranger,” said Smith. “We had to take all my stuff out of the back and put it underneath the truck. There weren’t any pillows; just barely enough room for us to sleep side-by-side in two sleeping bags.”

For six months, they slept outdoors. Eventually they made their way from a truck to a camper; Smith said it wasn’t very warm but it kept their things dry, for the most part.

In January, Smith boarded a plane for San Diego. Worries about training never crossed his mind.

He said making the decision to go to boot camp wasn’t hard. More than his need for acceptance in the Marine Corps, he waited for his family to accept him. Through correspondence with them, he began to get issues resolved.

“I just wanted my family to be proud of me,” said Smith. “Now that I have talked to them through letters, I know they don’t think any less of me. When I got here, I think (my mother) really started to appreciate what I was going through.”

During the first phase of training, recruits are introduced to the Marine Corps lifestyle. Drill instructors concentrate on breaking old habits so that recruits may succeed in training.

“He was quiet,” said Sgt. Joe Saltas, drill instructor, Platoon 3075. “He blends in more than he stands out. As far as physical training goes, he never had a problem.”

With more than 50 other recruits to monitor, Smith maintained his spot in the crowd by following orders and moving fast.

“I was nervous, but the hardest thing was how it seemed that time was dragging,” said Smith.

Not knowing whether his family supported him was on his mind, but Smith didn’t have much time to ponder on the events going on at home.

He enlisted to become an infantryman. Recruit field training taught him many infantry basics, which gave him a look at the life he wanted to live.

During the second phase of training, recruits are taught how to fire the M-16 A2 service rifle. Smith qualified as a rifle expert.

Before recruits returned to the depot for third phase, they concluded field training along with the Crucible. Smith’s senior drill instructor noticed his enthusiasm during this demanding evolution.

“He was one of the kids who came here and wanted to be here, so he picked up what we were teaching him” said Sgt. Jesse Saltzman, senior drill instructor, Platoon 3075. “I noticed he was very effective when he took control of his squad and led them through the obstacle.”

With the Crucible and field training behind him, Smith was encouraged he had gotten so far and believed he would succeed in the field of infantry.

“I knew I could do it and be good at it,” said Smith.

Upon his return to the depot, Smith had to confront the only thing that rattled him about training: the swimming pool.

“Coming back, I was worried about swim (qualification),” said Smith. “My brother was one of the top swimmers in his company, and I didn’t want to go home and have him make fun of me.”

By the end of swim qualification, Smith wasn’t worried about ridicule. He qualified at Combat Water Survival level two, which is the highest level for recruits to qualify at.

Sending new, well-trained Marines into the fleet is important to every drill instructor aboard the depot.

“When put in a position to lead, I have full confidence that he is able to do so,” said Saltzman. “He won’t have a problem adjusting to the fleet and completing his missions.”

Once escaping the restraints of living in a pick-up truck, Smith earned the respect of self and family members by completing what he set out to do – become a Marine.

The real McKoy: Recruiting’s leading lady wasn’t always so successful

MARINE CORPS RECRUIT DEPOT SAN DIEGO (April 7, 2006) -- Female Marines have progressed extensively throughout their military history. For 63 years they have continually served their Corps and helped “free a man to fight” during both world wars.


Submitted by: MCRD San Diego
Story Identification #: 200646173329
Story by Lance Cpl. Kaitlyn M. Scarboro

During World War I, although women were unable to vote, they served the Marine Corps at recruiting stations across the country and at clerical jobs at Headquarters Marine Corps.

With 23 years of service under her belt, Master Gunnery Sgt. Yolanda J. McKoy, Western Recruiting Region operations chief, has outmatched the accomplishments of many previous female Marines. As a career recruiter, she has exceeded the general expectations of her fellow Marine population.

At her first recruiting duty station, McKoy was faced with disheartening challenges because female Marine recruiters were stereotypically unsuccessful in the recruiting field. As McKoy put it, females weren’t expected to last long at any one duty station, so the males generally considered them not worth training.

When McKoy was handed her letter of probation after failing to fulfill enlistment quotas for the first three months of her tour as a recruiter, she gave herself an ultimatum.

“It’s either me or these kids,” she told herself. “It’s either open up or you fail.”

Failure in front of her peers and in front of so many male Marines was unacceptable for McKoy. She originally enlisted in the Marine Corps because she needed to follow her own path. This was her opportunity to prove she made the right choice.

McKoy is one of only five active-duty female career recruiters and the only female master gunnery sergeant in her field. Meritoriously promoted to staff sergeant while on recruiting duty, McKoy has been awarded three Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals and is a single mother to her 12-year-old daughter Kayla.

McKoy has had to triumph over pre-existing stereotypes throughout her career. McKoy’s struggles didn’t falter when she came to the depot as one of the first female instructors at Recruiters School.

“They had to build a bathroom for me. They built me a changing room with a shower and a bathroom,” said McKoy.

As the highest ranking female Marine in the career recruiting field, McKoy has had the opportunity to experience the traditional trials of nearly every enlisted rank the Marine Corps has to offer.

“I think one of the challenging things as a female Marine is that even though you’ve obtained a rank, you have to prove it when you get to a new unit,” said McKoy.

McKoy explained that as she progressed in rank and billet in the career recruiting field, she still had to earn the respect of the male Marines under her command.

“I think she is an excellent example for female Marines that not only aspire to be master gunnery sergeants, but also for those who may consider being a recruiter or a career recruiter,” said Master Sgt. Isaac Ford, Western Recruiting Region assistant for officer procurement chief. “I think she’s an inspiration for female Marines, not only in the Western Recruiting Region, but throughout the entire recruiting command.”

McKoy prides herself in setting an example for younger Marines and making her mark on the Marine Corps through the applicants she enlisted.

“I feel I am obligated to go out there and talk to female Marines about recruiting, just to be an example that if you hang in there and push, you can be successful as a guy or female. I didn’t have anyone to ‘be like.’ I had to develop myself, although there were people along the way who assisted in training,” said McKoy.

She has put in enough time to retire, but McKoy said she still feels like a kid in the Corps.

“I don’t feel like I’ve been in even 20 years,” she said. “It feels like only 10.”

McKoy has progressed, through the Marine Corps, into a self-proclaimed lioness of strength and confidence. She has overcome outdated perceptions of the typical female Marine and proved her strength as a Marine and recruiter. She said she enjoys her job as a career recruiter and Marine as well as the opportunities the Corps has afforded her.

When asked when she plans to retire, the answer is simply “in a few years.”

MCMAP demo helps instructors advance

MARINE CORPS RECRUIT DEPOT SAN DIEGO (April 7, 2006) -- A Marine Corps Martial Art Instructor from the Mobile Training Team in Quantico, Va. visited the depot this week to teach depot martial art instructors advanced techniques and training.


Submitted by: MCRD San Diego
Story Identification #: 200646173652
Story by Pfc. Charlie Chavez

The five-day course is an emphasis on combat engagement patterns, which includes knife and bayonet tactics, maintaining a combat mindset and in-depth knowledge on combat movement.

“I’m thoroughly enjoying this course,” said Staff Sgt. Brent A. Smith, staff non-commissioned officer-in-charge, Martial Arts Facility. “The instructors have maintained a comfortable pace without making the work monotonous. The depot is very lucky to get this training, and it will help those who participated to stand out among their peers.”

The techniques in the course are a prerequisite to earning a 2nd degree MCMAP black belt, and they help Marines maintain a continuous combat mindset when engaging the enemy, according to Capt. Matt Murray, commanding officer, Instruction Training Company.

The instructors also helped to remind the students of the moral and ethical parts of MCMAP and the key points of character development.

“These exercises re-instill all of the principals that MCMAP has had since it has started – honor, integrity and good ethics,” said Hunter “Chip” Armstrong, martial arts expert to the military. “That is the difference between the Marine Corps’ martial arts and other services and nations.”

The Marines who spent the week poking, prying and stabbing one another walked away with more knowledge and experience to share with other Marines.

Marriage enrichment class provides “bouquet” of knowledge

EMERALD ISLE, N.C. (April 7, 2006) -- Famed lyricist, John Lennon, once wrote, “All you need is love.” For some couples with 2nd Marine Logistics Group, their love for one another brought them together to seek the never ending task of improvement.


Submitted by: 2nd Marine Logistics Group
Story Identification #: 200647102319
Story by Lance Cpl. Wayne Edmiston

Coordinated by the 2nd MLG and II Marine Expeditionary Force chaplain’s offices, a Marriage Enrichment Day was held at the Trinity Retreat Center April 6 to help strengthen marriages and improve relationships, according to Robert Cooper, 2nd MLG deputy group chaplain.

The event, organized by II MEF, set aside dates to encourage couples of respective units to attend and learn ways to further develop their relationship.

“The class is based on a book by William F. Harley called, ‘His Needs, Her Needs,’” Cooper said. “The author has focused on the top ten emotional needs of a couple.”

These needs were broken up into five female needs and five male needs which were touched upon in the class. The seminar discussed how those emotional needs could be met on a daily basis.

“Everything we do is either going to put into a relationship or take away from the relationship,” said Alan M. Hansen, the II MEF deputy force chaplain and instructor of the course. “We always seek to improve the love relationship we have with our spouse.”

The day was originally designed for spouses and servicemembers returning from Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom but was open to any military couple interested.

The class was held off-base in a neutral place for both couples as well and run on a first name, no rank basis.

“It’s very important to hold it away from the military setting,” Cooper explained. “It lends itself to couples so they can be relaxed and comfortable with each other.”

The day included many interactive sessions such as listening to music and “alone time” where couples were encouraged to discuss the lessons learned throughout the course.

This course is designed to improve relationships but through this improvement it also helps morale and readiness for the families.

“Family readiness is essential to mission success,” Cooper said. “Good family readiness ensures we are properly equipped for any battle.”

At the end of the session, couples were allowed an hour of personal time where they could walk along the beach to simply enjoy each other’s company.

This Marriage Enrichment Day was one of many planned for Camp Lejeune couples. Projected dates are April 18, May 3, May 23, May 24, June 16, June 20 and June 27, Hansen said.

For more information on the course or to schedule a date contact the II MEF chaplain’s office at 910-451-8533.

Marines Attempt to Stabilize Syrian Border

QAIM, Iraq - U.S. Marines along the volatile Syrian border have largely abandoned big bases to fan out over a dozen smaller outposts within cities — part of a resurrected Vietnam-era strategy to live among civilians and mentor local soldiers.


Fri Apr 7, 4:42 AM ET

Hundreds of Marines now live in 13 "battle positions" in five riverside cities, near where the Euphrates River enters Iraq from Syria. The new positioning allows them to launch more patrols — especially foot patrols — but also increases their exposure to attacks because they travel in smaller numbers.

The strategy, implemented after a large-scale U.S. and Iraqi offensive in the area last November, is in part a reaction against a common U.S. military tactic in Iraq of relying on patrols that depart from sprawling bases on the edges of cities.

"You've got to be in the towns, live among the people, eat with them ... until the people start telling you where the bad people are," said Lt. Col. Julian D. Alford. "If you live on the (bases) outside the city and come in for patrols, you're not going to win this."

But the new strategy also illustrates how the situation in Iraq varies dramatically from region to region. As opposed to most areas of Iraq where U.S. troops are starting to hand over bases to Iraqi troops, this majority Sunni far western portion of Anbar province lags behind — with sufficient numbers of U.S. and Iraqi troops having just arrived.

U.S. commanders view the border region as key because they say foreign fighters coming from Syria can be intercepted here before they reach more populated parts of Iraq. Suicide bombings in Baghdad and other cities have dropped because of this strategy, commanders say.

Alford, who commands the 3rd Battalion, 6th Regiment that oversees this area, says the strategy of "spreading out" was modeled after the Vietnam-era CAPs program, or Combined Action Platoon. That program based small groups of Marines inside villages to train South Vietnamese soldiers who gradually assumed greater security responsibilities.

Alford said he decided to implement the plan during a predeployment trip to the area last year. "It's worked to a 'T,'" he said.

Marines say the constant local presence helps with outreach efforts to local tribesmen who only recently actively supported the insurgency.

Marines now hold regular meetings with tribal leaders and have started their first major reconstruction projects, beginning with a project that paid local workers to clean up debris from the November assault.

An Iraqi army brigade that arrived in October with about 2,000 soldiers has been dispersed across the area, and Marines have begun training the Iraqi soldiers — some fresh out of boot camp and most from the Shiite south rather than from the Sunni areas around here.

So far, however, the Iraqis remain largely dependent on U.S. forces to lead missions and provide critical supplies such as food and ammunition.

In the city of Husaybah, Marines try to a have a foot patrol on the streets at all times, usually made of an equal number of Marines and Iraqis. They roam neighborhoods littered with rubble left over from fighting, and operate from two bases, including a U.S.-Iraqi base within an abandoned train station.

Alford asserted that with additional training the current Iraqi soldiers could soon largely control the area with fewer American troops — as long as U.S. logistics support, airpower and reinforcements continue.

In addition to the Iraqi soldiers put here, police recruiting drives have drawn hundreds of local residents in recent weeks, part of plans to establish a force of at least 600 officers.

Insurgent attacks in the area have sharply decreased since the November offensive, but violence still flares on occasion. One suicide car bombing last month killed two Marines.

And near one American outpost in Husaybah, a rocket was recently found on a school rooftop and pointed at the Americans' location.

"There hasn't been that much activity since the operation, but they're trickling back," said Lance Cpl. Daniel Turner of Laurel, Md., as he searched other nearby schools.

With the wide dispersion of troops, greater responsibilities have been delegated to young Marines who oversee their platoons on bases miles away from their commanders.

Alford says his job is just to make sure the Marine outposts have food, water and general guidance.

"This is a sergeants' and lieutenants' war — they're the ones who are going to win this thing," he said.

April 6, 2006

Study shows scope of mental health risk

Nearly one-third of Iraq troops sought care on return

A newly released study shows that nearly a third of all soldiers and Marines who served in Iraq sought mental health care within a year of returning home.

April 3, 2006

Courtesy of http://www.marinecorpstimes.com

By Kelly Kennedy
Times staff writer

The study, reported in the March 1 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, also revealed that 19.1 percent of soldiers and Marines returning from Iraq “met the risk criteria for a mental health concern” during mandatory screenings, and 12.1 percent of the returnees were later diagnosed with a mental health disorder.

Charles Hoge, a doctor in the division of psychiatry and neuroscience at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, said he was not surprised by the study’s findings, which showed those serving in Iraq were much more likely to report health concerns than those serving in Afghanistan, Bosnia or Kosovo because they’re more likely to have participated in combat operations.

Research showed that 31 percent of soldiers and Marines returning from Iraq sought help from a mental health clinic within a year of returning home. However, complaints reported during those visits included not only nightmares and other possible symptoms of combat experience, but also concerns about marital problems, worries over other family members and other issues not necessarily related to warfare, said Hoge, who headed up the study.

Early help

After decades of watching war vets suffer the long-term effects of post-traumatic stress disorder, including alcoholism, depression, drug abuse or problems with family members, doctors say the results of the study could be valuable in cutting the incidence of PTSD and other mental health conditions.

“Our hope, of course, is that by getting soldiers to seek help early, we’ll prevent some of the long-term consequences that we’ve seen in the past,” Hoge said. “It was most important to find out, ‘Did soldiers use the services within the first two months?’ That’s exactly what we’re encouraging them to do.”

Since the beginning of the war in Iraq, returning military personnel have been required to fill out a mental health survey within a week of their redeployment.

Hoge said it took a little bit of time for everyone to get on track with the mandate, but researchers were able to use the reports from 303,905 soldiers and Marines screened between May 1, 2003, and April 30, 2004.

They used only soldiers and Marines because they were more likely to have faced combat than airmen and sailors.

The combat vets were asked about alcohol and drug use, nightmares, re-experiencing trauma, emotional numbing, avoiding talking about what they saw or did at war and exaggerated emotional response to routine situations — issues pertaining to PTSD — as well as whether they were interested in receiving help or whether they had thought about hurting or killing themselves or others. They were not asked about prior trauma, which is significant because several traumatic events can compound the effects or trigger the onset of PTSD.

‘Not surprising’

They were also asked whether they had seen anyone killed or wounded, if they had fired their weapons during direct combat, and if they ever felt they were in great danger of being killed. They found that 19 percent of those in Iraq screened for a potential mental health disorder, while those in Afghanistan screened at 11 percent and those in other areas were at 8.5 percent.

“Nineteen percent is significant,” Hoge said. “But it’s not surprising.”

Researchers then tracked the soldiers and Marines for 12 months to see who sought help through military health services, who was diagnosed with a mental health disorder, who went back more than once, and who sought help immediately as opposed to several months after returning.

Researchers did not track those who went to their chaplains or to employee or family-assistance programs, or those who mentioned problems while seeing a doctor for an issue other than mental health.

They found that almost 17 percent of those soldiers and Marines left the service within a year of their return; that National Guard and reserve soldiers were about 2 percentage points more likely to screen positive; and that of the 21,822 soldiers and Marines who screened positive for PTSD, 80 percent reported seeing someone being killed or killing someone themselves. About 50 percent of 200,798 people who screened negative for PTSD had been in similar situations.

In search of early warnings

Service members returning from combat have long reported mental health concerns, but in the 15 years since Operation Desert Storm, attitudes toward the disorders have changed.

“The mental health issues were not studied until years or even decades after wars in the past,” Hoge said.

“There’s a lot more awareness in the military, as well as awareness of mental health issues in general. There was certainly more awareness after Desert Storm, but there still was not the level of research.”

“It’s the first time during any war that they’ve had mandatory screening,” he added. “It’s part of a national effort to see how we’re doing.”

By taking care of problems early, the government may save itself money by preventing cases that, in previous wars, popped up 30, 40 or even 50 years after the war ended. The JAMA study also looked at how long it takes people to realize they have a problem.

A recent study cited in the JAMA article showed that service members are more than twice as likely to report mental health concerns three to four months after returning from deployment, compared to when they first arrive home.

“We found in some of our surveys that people don’t report any concerns when they get back, but three to four months later, they do,” Hoge said.

“A lot of soldiers are excited to be home and excited to be out of the war zone, so it’s not until they’ve been home for a while that they realize some of the problems are persisting,” he said.

Hoge said mental health professionals learned of the delay from the Vietnam War, but that “the reality is most people develop problems shortly after returning home. They just may not realize it’s a problem that needs help.”

Though Hoge said it’s important to get soldiers into treatment quickly, the report also questions whether the Defense Department’s health care system is capable of handling so many cases.

Out of every 1,000 soldiers and Marines in the study, about 118 sought mental health care.

The study may help the Defense Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs estimate what services will be needed in the future.

The study also showed that while 19 percent of Marines and soldiers screened positive for a mental health issue, only 7.6 percent were referred to a clinic to get help.

The others went on their own.

“Presumably, in many instances the symptoms were considered sufficiently mild to be managed conservatively either through routine primary care or through re-evaluation at a later date,” the report states.

The report shows that screening might be good in predicting who’s not well, but not in determining who will seek help.

Awareness training

Defense Department officials have to get a handle on the situation not only to prepare the health care system, but also because mental disorders — both combat- and non-combat-related — are the leading reason people leave the military, according to a study cited in the JAMA report.

Hoge said soldiers and Marines are not required to be screened a second time within three to six months of their return from combat zones, but some new programs have been put into place to train soldiers to be more aware and look out for other service members.

“We certainly want to get the word out to soldiers and their family members early,” Hoge said.

“That’s what’s different in this war from past wars.”

Kelly Kennedy covers the Army.

AP Blog From Ramadi, Iraq By The Associated Press


AP correspondent Todd Pitman is embedded with U.S. Marines of the 3rd Battalion, 8th Regiment in Ramadi, Iraq.
THURSDAY, April 6, 10 p.m.

Sitting outside a sandbagged palace from the Saddam Hussein era that's now a U.S. Marine base, I set up my laptop and satellite phone and check e-mail. A sandstorm swept through a few hours ago, but it is clear again. It is a luxury to be able to check e-mail at all. There have been times in the past week that Marine commanders have temporarily cut off internet access for their troops. This happens when Marines die. It is vital that families are notified of deaths officially by the military, not by e-mails leaking back home.

I see a translator who I've ridden with through the city several times and we talk. He kneels next to me. "What is life but a vapor that appears for short while and vanishes away?" he says. "Life is very short. It is so precious. You learn to appreciate that here."

This interpreter, an American citizen born in Iraq, was with me when I rode over here in a small convoy for the first time. He had an M-16. I've never seen a translator with an M-16. "My life is precious, too," he told me, explaining he would only use the weapon in self-defense. Interpreters, especialy those who are born in Iraq like this man, keep their identities secret to prevent reprisals.

To put this level of danger in perspective, I have been asked by Marines - they were joking, of course - four separate times if I wanted to carry a weapon, a pistol at least, or an automatic rifle. I've been embedded both with U.S. troops in Iraq and in Afghanistan, and I've never been asked that question, even in jest.

Ramadi is perhaps the most dangerous place in Iraq. I don't know if the statistics back that up, but that is certainly the impression among all the Marines I've spoken to here, and myself. Everyday there are IED blasts, small arms attacks, snipers taking potshots. The level of violence seems leagues beyond the rest of the country. Everytime I have walked outside to set up my equipment at this spot, I have heard machine-gun fire. An aquamarine bridge along the edge of this base, now occupied by Marines, was firing yellowish flares last night to warn somebody to keep back.

Whenever we take a ride in Humvees out of the base, the gunner must brief me on what to do in case we are hit: by a grenade, by an IED, by a mortar round, by small arms fire. Each procedure is different.

Despite the violence, much of Ramadi is nevertheless normal. It is a functioning city. People sell fruit, appliances, air conditioners in the roads. You see children in the streets. Business goes on. Life goes on.

The center of Ramadi, though, is clearly a combat zone. Buildings have been shot up, torn through by rocket-fire, splattered with bullets or shrapnel, collapsed by 500-pound bombs.

In this area is the Government Center, a compound housing the governor's office. It looks more like a military base with Marines deployed along the rooftop in sandbagged posts covered with camouflage netting. Marines are here to keep the governor alive. Inside, industrial cables lay across the floor. Marines rest on cots in darkened hallways. Radios squawk with rumblings of operations outside. This place is attacked virtually every day by gunmen lurking in abandoned buildings surrounding it. They are no real match for the Marines' firepower, but they are relentless. One mortar round blew a hole in one of the wings of the building while I was there, but it didn't seem to bother anyone - though one police recruit was injured and taken to a hospital. The goal of such insurgent strikes is clearly to undermine local government. The commander of the 3rd Battalion, 8th Regiment, Lt. Col. Steve Neary, pointed out that despite such violence, the governor comes to work everyday.

Not all tasks are easy though. Insurgents burned down or blew up Ramadi's cell phone towers, and with them, the landlines. The city has no phone service. A team of foreign technicians was in Ramadi this week to try to fix that. Lt. Col. Neary was arranging air power and a Marine unit to accompany the technicians who were to inspect the site - it would have been foolhardy to do so unprotected. But a vehicle in their convoy was hit by an IED blast. That, combined with some mortar explosions, sent the team packing. Today, the Marines sent one of their own engineers, a Marine reservist, to the site.

I've gone on several Marine patrols and raids outside Government Center. Nearly all the buildings around it are abandoned. It's an eerie place. There are burnt out shells of cars. There is a lot of trash. Each pile of garbage, each stray bag, each pile of dirt could be an IED. It makes you cringe. Today we saw the carcass of a bloated black cow. Even that could be an IED. On many of the walls, there is black spray-painted graffiti. I take photos, and now I ask the interpreter if he can tell me what one of them says. In the photo, a Marine is standing on a corner with eyes on the scope of his rifle, providing cover as his colleagues run across the street. Behind him, on the wall, are the words in Arabic, "Long Live the Mujaheeden." Another we passed several days ago said, "Kill traitors before the Americans."

"There is so much hate here," the interpreter says. "You get a different look at life when you come to place like this."

-Todd Pitman

Four Camp Lejeune Marines killed in combat

CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. - Three Marines based at Camp Lejeune were killed the same day when an improvised bomb detonated as their Humvee, the last in a convoy, drove by, authorities said.


Associated Press

One of the Marines was from Atlanta.

A fourth Marine died earlier from wounds he suffered during combat in the Anbar province, the same area where the other three Marines were killed. Anbar, located immediately west of Baghdad, is the center of the Sunni insurgency.

"It's a tragedy to have even one Marine killed, but it's a huge blow when four names come in," said 1st Lt. Barry Edwards, a spokesman for the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Lejeune.

The men's units were attached to a larger force of California-based Marines. All four were members of the expeditionary forces' 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division.

Killed Sunday in the Humvee were: Lance Cpl. Kun Y. Kim, 20, of Atlanta; Staff Sgt. Eric A. McIntosh, 29, of Trafford, Pa.; and Cpl. Scott J. Procopio, 20, of Saugus, Mass., the Defense Department said Wednesday.

Lance Cpl. Jacob W. Beisel, 21, of Lackawaxen, Pa., died Friday from wounds he suffered during combat.

Beisel joined the Marines in September of 2003, a few months after graduating from high school. He had just started his second tour in Iraq when he was killed, Camp Lejeune officials said.

"He was just a really fun, fun-loving kid," said Amy Newcomer, 21, Beisel's friend since kindergarten and president of their high school class. "A goof ball who got along with everybody. It didn't matter what clique you were in."

"I think he's the kind of student that everyone wants to have," said Joann Hudak, Beisel's principal throughout middle school and high school. "Quiet, went about his business, respectful, a really solid young man from a good family."

Hudak, principal of Wallenpaupack Area High School, said Beisel planned to attend college after leaving the military.

Beisel is survived by his mother, father and a younger sister. Funeral plans were private.

McIntosh, who joined the Corps in 1996, was an infantry unit leader and the most experienced of the four, Edwards said.

McIntosh and his wife, Cynthia, talked of having children once he finished his second deployment was finished, said his older brother, Richard, of La Vergne, Tenn. He planned to make the military a career.

McIntosh shared his father's sense of humor, Richard McIntosh told The News & Observer of Raleigh.

"You could tell either one of them a joke, and they'd remember it 20 years from now, he said.

Survivors include his wife; brother; mother, Elizabeth; and sister, Lisa.

Procopio, 20, was already on his second Iraq tour. Relatives said he was in the Humvee's machine-gun turret when the bomb detonated.

Procopio, who had married in September, planned to join the family's construction business when his enlistment was up, said his brother, Michael. He had enlisted in 2004.

"He always wanted to be the best at whatever he did, and he just sat down and figured out what service was the best. Then, he walked into the recruiter's office," Michael Procopio said. "He said 'I don't want to hear your spiel, I want to be in the infantry and I want to go to Iraq.' And he did."

Among his survivors are his wife, Kristal; his father, Kevin; mother, Mary and brothers Michael, 22, Greg, 17, and Mark, 14.

Some Waterloo Marines back in U.S.

WATERLOO --- The first contingent of Waterloo's Marine Reserve unit has returned to the United States from Iraq.

About 35 members of Waterloo's C Battery, 1st Battalion 14th Marines are back, with the rest of the contingent expected to arrive shortly, unit spokesman and 1st Sgt. James Kirkland said Tuesday. He is in Twentynine Palms, Calif., where C Battery members are returning.


By PAT KINNEY, Courier Business Editor

Once all 120 C Battery members are back in the U.S., Kirkland said, a charter will be arranged for the unit to arrive in Waterloo next week. He has said C Battery is expected to return next Wednesday. "That can always change," he cautioned.

Kirkland will be relaying word on unit members' Waterloo homecoming to family members through volunteer support contacts once those arrangements are made.

The C Battery Marines have spent the last six months in Iraq guarding prisoners and performing military police work, Kirkland said. They have been in Al Anbar Province in Iraq since October. Some unit members also served in what was then Delta Battery in Kuwait during the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

Kirkland also confirmed that Waterloo's C Battery is disbanding sometime in September as part of the federal Base Closure and Realignment Commission's recommendations. Members will have the opportunity to join other Marine Reserve units. They will be informed of their options following their return later this month. But Kirkland said that getting home from Iraq is the first thing on battery members' minds, and spirits are high.

Waterloo has had a Marine Reserve unit since the end of World War II, with a long history of service. Several of its members, many of them World War II veterans, were called back to active duty in the Korean War and served in combat.

In the 1991 Gulf War, Waterloo's Delta Battery was the first U.S. field outfit to enter Kuwait during the Allied invasion to retake the oil-rich country from Iraq. They confronted Iraq's most trained combat troops, and performed so well they were allowed to bring back a Chinese-made Iraqi howitzer, still located at the Hultquist-Fry Reserve Center on Burton Avenue. Battery members were among the lead units in the 1991 My Waterloo Days Parade.

"It's a long history of Marines around the area," Kirkland said.

Air traffic controllers keep eyes on skies in Al Anbar Province

CAMP KOREAN VILLAGE, Iraq (April 6, 2006) -- The eyes of the controller search the dusty and overcast horizon, to locate the incoming aircraft and guide them safely to the ground below.


Submitted by: 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing
Story Identification #: 20064652051
Story by Lance Cpl. Brian J. Holloran

This scenario happens thousands of times throughout a deployment.

The Marines with Marine Air Control Squadron 1, Marine Air Control Group 38, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, are responsible for these aircraft and may have one of the most stressful jobs in the Marine Corps. With the safety of hundreds of aircraft a day resting on the shoulders of a few Marines, it's easy to see why.

MACS-1's mission, while deployed, is to control all air traffic in the Al Anbar Province and also provide the aircraft with any information they may require while in flight.

"Controlling all the air traffic in the province is a huge responsibility," said Master Gunnery Sgt. Richard L. Williams, sergeant major, MACS-1. "Responsibility is something that we teach our Marines to deal with and to prepare for."

As proven daily by the Marines assigned to MACS-2, MACS-1, responsibility is just a part of the job.

"Air traffic controllers need to be able to deal with stressful situations," said Cory D. Allen, air traffic controller and native of Detroit. "Knowing so many people are relying on us is a huge responsibility, but it feels good when we get those aircraft to touchdown. I know that we are the ones that brought them in safely."

MACS-1, MACS-1 and MACS-2 have had a constant presence in Iraq since July 2003, said Maj. Darry W. Grossnickle, commanding officer.

"Air traffic control units are one of the few units who remain in Iraq for every rotation," he continued. "The MACS units merely rotate ATC detachments in and out of Iraq."

With MACS-1 and MACS-2 being deployed, many of their Marines feel comfortable in Iraq.

"Being deployed isn't that big of a deal," said Allen, who is on his third deployment to Camp Korean Village, Iraq. "Deployment is a great experience, regardless if it's your first time or your third."

Due to their continuous support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the Marine Corps Aviation Association presented MACS-1 with the Commandant of the Marine Corps Aviation Trophy 2005 for the best aviation unit in the Marine Corps. They also were the recipients of the Air Traffic Control Association's Earl F. Ward Memorial Medallion, for the most outstanding unit in military or civilian air traffic controllers over the past year.

Even though these Marines have one of the most stressful jobs in the Marine Corps, they are still motivated and ready to do their part, said Grossnickle, a native of Laurens, Iowa.
"The Marines are proud to be in Iraq," he said. "They are dedicated to providing the very best in air traffic control and they understand the important role they play to ensure that Marines on the ground are continually supported with Marine aviation, regardless of the weather."

No Formal Order for Marines, Body Armor

WASHINGTON (AP) - The U.S. Marine Corps is not planning to prohibit Marines from wearing commercial body armor, but troops headed to war will be expected to wear military-issued gear.


By LOLITA C. BALDOR, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - The U.S. Marine Corps is not planning to prohibit Marines from wearing commercial body armor, but troops headed to war will be expected to wear military-issued gear.
Gen. Robert Magnus, assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, said Thursday that while companies are trying to market lighter or better armor to troops and their families, Marines are already receiving the "most modern body armor that has been approved for wear.''

He added, "We're probably not going to come out with an enforceable policy that prevents Mom from sending her son a pair of ballistic goggles. ... Prohibiting them from going out and getting something they don't need is probably something we don't need to do.''

While there is no specific order, the Marine Corps said Marines will be expected to wear the armor they are issued.

The Army last week announced that soldiers cannot wear any commercially bought body armor. The order, said Army Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Sorenson, was prompted by concerns that soldiers or their families were buying inadequate or untested gear from private companies.

In other comments, Magnus said he'd like to see the Marine Corps continue to be funded for 180,000 troops, not reduced back to the 175,000 level proposed in a recent Defense Department planning document. The extra 5,000 or so Marines are currently being funded through emergency supplemental legislation, and he said to drop back to 175,000 would reduce either the number of units or the capabilities of the Corps.

About 25,000 Marines are in Iraq and the Corps can sustain that level indefinitely, he said.

"We're doing this about as well as anybody could have imagined.... We're still concerned about making sure that we don't break the Marines and their families and we don't break the readiness of the Corps,'' said Magnus.

He added that he doesn't think the Iraq war will be continuous, but "if we need to have 20,000 Marines in Iraq for the next 'x' number of months, they'll be there.... If there is another major war that pops up in the middle of this, it will take a bit longer to get them there, but they'll be there.''

Overall there are 132,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. In Afghanistan, there are about 1,100 Marines and a total of 23,000 U.S. troops there overall.

Dragoons swoop in for action

NORTHERN REGIMENTAL SECURITY AREA, Iraq (April 6, 2006) -- The concepts of speed and surprise are as old as warfare itself, and one unit proves they are still as effective as ever.


Submitted by: 1st Marine Division
Story Identification #: 200641343259
Story by 1st Lt. Nathan Braden

The Marines of D Company, 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion used these concepts to conduct a cordon and search operation in the vicinity of the Thar Thar Dam April 6.

“We are going into the enemy’s rear area for a raid-style cordon-and-search in a typical, traditional LAR mission,” said Capt. Hunter “Ripley” Rawlings, the company’s commanding officer while briefing his men prior to the operation.

Reports of insurgents waging a murder-and-intimidation campaign against residents in this rural area north of Fallujah prompted the operation.

“The violence undermines the new Iraqi government and our mission here as well,” said 1st Lt. Patrick H. Murray, the 26-year-old company executive officer from Charlottesville, Va. “It’s important to gain the confidence of the people and let them know we are here to protect them and keep them safe.”

The area lies far to the north of major population centers and has a sparse coalition presence.

“We bring to the fight the ability to just show-up with ease with lots of firepower and let people know we are taking care of bad guys,” Murray said.

The company left Camp Fallujah the day before the operation to spend the night closer to their objective. Marines awoke before dawn, loaded their vehicles and were ready to roll out of the assembly area at first light.

The company headquarters established a forward command operations center while 1st and 2nd Platoons cordoned the objective area and searched for insurgents and weapons caches.

Two AH-1W Super Cobra attack helicopters flew a pattern above the area during the operation as a show of force and to provide observation from the sky.

The operation resulted in the detention of eight suspected insurgents and the discovery of a weapons cache consisting of four AK-47 assault rifles.

“I saw some guys standing around when we came down the dam,” said Pfc. Jonathan G. Almeida, a 20-year-old scout from Beeville, Texas. “We searched them, they had fake ID’s and thought they could possibly be insurgents.”

Marines carefully filled out detention paperwork to fully document the circumstances of the detentions. The paperwork will be used by higher headquarters to review individual detention cases and ensure there is enough cause to keep them detained.

“We have to process them properly to ensure they don’t get away with what they’re doing,” said Lance Cpl. Andrew M. Honer, a 20-year-old armorer from Phoenix.

The mission was one of the first company-sized operations the Marines have conducted since arriving in Iraq last month.

“We definitely disrupted their movements, so I consider that mission success, not to mention all the detainees we got,” said Rawlings, a 34-year-old from Boulder, Colo. “Everybody did a great job. In fast, out fast, kicking ass in the middle, that’s the Dragoon style.”

“It was done the way it should have been done,” Almeida added. “Everything went smoothly and nobody got hurt.”

Marine from Missouri unfazed by combat injuries in Iraq

HADITHA, Iraq (April 6, 2006) -- Lance Cpl. Matt Calvert accepts the wound he received March 25 from a rocket-propelled grenade attack in Iraq. It comes with the territory of being a Marine in a combat zone.


Submitted by: Regimental Combat Team7
Story Identification #: 20064653426
Story by Sgt. Roe F. Seigle

The infantryman from Blue Springs, Mo., said he was unfazed by the wound, caused when insurgents attacked his unit’s patrol in western Al Anbar Province.

“I did not hear the insurgent fire the RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) until the round exploded against the wall near me,” said Calvert, 22.

Calvert was injured when shrapnel from a rocket-propelled grenade caught him in the chest and neck when his platoon came under attack in this Euphrates River Valley city.

Calvert was providing security at an intersection of two major roads in the heart of Haditha when his platoon, part of the Hawaii-based 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, was attacked. The small arms attack came as the Marines were leaving the city to return to their forward operating base here, he said.

Reflecting on the incident several days later at the Marines’ base here, Calvert credits his body armor as saving his life. If it wasn’t for the thick, armored plates in his vest, he’s certain the shrapnel could have been lethal, he said.

“I was full of adrenaline, so I did not feel any pain at all,” said Calvert, who also saw combat during a deployment to Afghanistan last year. “I remember feeling a sharp pain in my shoulder blade under my protective vest. I knew something had penetrated it.”

As he speaks, he holds his M16 A4 service rifle closely. His weapon never leaves his side, he said.

Calvert and the rest of the battalion’s Marines arrived in Iraq about a month ago. In that time, they’ve focused their efforts on disrupting insurgent activity in the “Triad” region of Hadithah, Haqliniyah, and Barwanah –three of the most populous towns in the area.

Though previous Marine units have spent more than a year combating the insurgency here, there is still more work to be done, as evidenced by the recent attack on Calvert’s platoon as well as the frequent improvised explosive devices the Marines have encountered since arriving here.

But while IEDs and occasional insurgent attacks are nothing new to Coalition Forces operating in Al Anbar Province, Calvert’s perseverance in the face of danger seems to have inspired others in the unit – a testament that one man’s actions can inspire others.

Cpl. Robert Janson, 22, witnessed the attack. He was on patrol with Calvert that day, and says he could not believe Calvert’s reaction to the attack.

“Calvert just brushed this attack on his life off like it was nothing,” said Janson, one of the unit’s squad leaders. “All he cared about was getting back out on patrol four hours later too find those responsible for the attack.”

After reinforcements were called out to the scene of the attack, Calvert’s wounds were treated and he was medically evacuated to the Marines’ base here. Though he’s still recovering, his wounds have not deterred him from helping the Iraqi people and finding those responsible for the attack, he said.

“The only thing the insurgents accomplished that day was heighten the Marines’ awareness to an even higher level and make them more determined to hunt them down and bring them to justice,” Calvert said.

More importantly, such attacks will not hinder the progress of the Iraqi Army or the growth of Iraqi communities here, said Calvert. The Marines here “are suppressing the few insurgents that remain in the area,” he said, all the more reason he can’t wait for his injuries to heal – to get back in the action.

“If you think about (the wounds) too much, that can affect you even more than the physical injuries,” said Calvert.

While his injuries are healing, Calvert added that telling his family – especially his mother – what happened was more painful than his wounds.

“She took it well,” he said. “She understands why I am out here and all she wants is for me to come home safe.”

Even though he’s injured, Calvert still keeps the sense of humor he is known for in his unit, keeping morale up with his witty banter, said Janson.

“We can still count on him to drop his one-liners that make us all laugh,” said Janson. “He is a great Marine and can be counted on for anything. He brings morale to the squad with his level of motivation and his sense of humor.”

Humor aside, Calvert takes his job, and the welfare of his fellow Marines, his “brothers,” quite seriously.

“I am focused on becoming a corporal … and leading troops,” said Calvert, whose brown eyes give away his seriousness on the subject, as does the slightly deeper tone in his voice when he speaks of the other Marines in his unit.

“Calvert is going to make a good leader of Marines,” agreed Janson.

A promotion to corporal would make Calvert a noncommissioned officer – a small-unit leader.

But for this two-time combat veteran, leadership means more than adding another stripe to the black, metal rank insignia on his collar. For Calvert, a promotion means added responsibility to protect his Marines and ensure their mission is complete before they return to their base in Hawaii later this year.

“I am not going to hold onto the fact that I was hurt; and I, or another one of the Marines, can be hurt again,” he said. “I am going to accomplish my mission here and return home to my family. That is also what I am going to make sure the other Marines are going to do.”

Email Sgt. Seigle at: [email protected]

Shooters display marksmanship aboard Camp Pendleton

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. (April 6, 2006) -- The best of the West displayed their marksmanship skills during the Western Division Competition-in-Arms Program at Wilcox Range here March 13-31.

More than 100 of the best pistol shooters and riflemen west of the Mississippi River strived to outshoot each other in the competition. Most of the participants were Marines, but reservists, retirees and civilians also competed, said Staff Sgt. Scott K. Jones, utilities chief at Marine Wing Support Squadron 372 here.


Submitted by: MCB Camp Pendleton
Story Identification #: 200646181816
Story by Lance Cpl. Ben Eberle

Jones competed in this year’s individual pistol and rifle matches, finishing first and third, respectively. He also won the Eastern Division M-9 service pistol match at Camp Lejeune, N.C., in 1998.

Jones says a positive attitude going into the competition is essential.

“I tell myself I can shoot well,” said the 39-year-old from Heber Springs, Ark. “Then I apply the fundamentals, which in turn starts to increase my belief that I can shoot well.”

The shooters competed only three days during the three-week program. They spent about two weeks familiarizing with the shooting course and sharing valuable marksmanship knowledge.

“My mission in competing is to become the best marksman I can possibly be. Marines are always ‘riflemen first,’” said Sgt. Kelly R. Wakefield, a primary marksmanship instructor for Weapons Field Training Battalion.

Wakefield won first place in the M-16A2 service rifle match and took home the rifle high-TYRO (first-time competitor) award.

“The purpose of the Combat-in-Arms Program is to provide intensive marksmanship training in a competitive environment,” said Capt. John T. Schwent, officer-in-charge of Marine Corps Mobilization Command in Kansas City, Mo. “The competitors can take all that knowledge with them and reapply it back in their commands.”

The competition program might sound like a break from everyday work for some Marines, but it’s not all fun and games, said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Leonard S. Garcia, officer-in-charge of the Marksmanship Training Branch.

“The perception from folks not in the competition is that the competitors come out here and shoot just to have fun,” said the 40-year-old from Phoenix. “It’s very hard to come out here, carry all that equipment from yard line to yard line, take what the weather gives you, and then sustain a high level of performance. It’s physically and mentally demanding.”

Indeed, the weather played a factor. The shooters hit the range every morning at 7 a.m., and it started raining during the final day of competition. The team match went on as scheduled, and the shooters adapted to the wet conditions.

“That’s why they keep their data book,” said Garcia. “Competitors will have different zeroes for different shooting conditions, and they’ll make adjustments. They need to keep that data book.”

All shooters performed at a high level, with scores averaging around 270, but MCRD Scarlet, “The Purple Cobras," dominated the range, winning both team matches and the individual rifle match.

Those who finished in the top 10 percent move on to the All-Marine Championships at Camp Lejeune April 10-28.

Labor of love; Father keeps memory alive through Marine Corps museum

MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. (April 6, 2006) -- Greg Medina awoke in the early morning hours of Nov. 12, 2004, with an intense, shooting pain in his side. Clutching the ache, Medina was unable to cry out; he could hardly breathe. After several agonizing minutes the pain subsided, but was replaced with a haunting sense that he had lost his son, Lance Cpl. Brian Medina, an infantryman then serving with B Company, 1st Battalion, 3rd Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, in Fallujah, Iraq.


Submitted by: MCB Quantico
Story Identification #: 2006469520
Story by Cpl. Jonathan Agg

Medina went to his job as usual that morning at the construction site of the new Social Security Administration building in Washington, where he worked as a mechanical inspector. Early in the day, he mentioned his premonition to a coworker who tried to reassure him. But he was unconvinced. After work, he found reasons not to go home. He went to the gym. He ran errands. At 11 p.m., Greg Medina finally returned home. Relieved not to have received dreaded news about Brian, he prepared to settle into bed for the night. At 11:45 p.m. came the knock on the door.

As a junior Marine stationed at Kanhoe Bay, Hawaii, Brian Medina repeatedly requested orders to Iraq, essentially fighting his way onto deployment. According to Medina, his son’s enthusiasm earned him a reputation among his peers. Before deploying from Okinawa, he reportedly chastised a number of Marines in his unit for bemoaning their mission to Iraq.

“He essentially told them to pack their gear or go home. He told them, ‘We’re Marines and this is what we do,’” Medina recalled a later account from one of Brian’s squad members. Once in Iraq, Brian continued to lead from the front. The citation for his posthumous Navy Marine Corps Achievement Medal with combat distinguishing device states he “consistently performed his duties as a rifleman in an exemplary and highly professional manner … at a greater risk to his own life, he enthusiastically assumed point-man duties for his squad and occasionally his platoon.”

It was on point that Brian was fatally wounded Nov. 12, 2004, in the courtyard of a home in Fallujah two months after landing in country.

After clearing a number of houses in a search and attack mission near the company command post, Medina and fellow squad member Lance Cpl. David Branning came upon a locked gate. The two Marines bravely kicked open the gate and led their fire team inside. Medina entered first and broke left followed by Branning who went right. Both were immediately ambushed with a barrage of armor-piercing machine gun fire. Branning died on the scene and Brian later died enroute to a field hospital.

Since that day, Medina has come to understand Brian’s life in the Corps as best he can, developing relationships with his son’s friends to come to terms with his own loss and to keep the memory of Brian close.

He has been comforted by Brian’s comrades, many of who he traveled to meet in Hawaii after the unit’s rotation home. Like adopted sons, he listens to their war stories, stories he will never hear from Brian, and he reassures them that they did everything they could for his son. He is grateful for the love they shared for Brian and irrefutably demonstrated through their own acts of heroism and sacrifice.

Cpl. Andrew Ethridge attended Brian’s funeral on crutches and wept over his casket as Greg Medina wrapped an arm around his shoulders and comforted him. Andrew was shot in the leg while running to Brian’s aid as he lay dying in the courtyard. Andrew still blames himself for not being able to save his friend’s life. Cpl. Alexis Ayala, Brian’s fire team leader, was decorated in part for retrieving Branning’s body, helping to carry Brian to safety, and returning to the fire-swept courtyard a third time for a medical bag so a corpsman could continue to try to save Brian.

There is a strong military tradition in the Medina family. Greg Medina served 20 years as a Navy Seabee, his brother retired from the Air Force as a lieutenant colonel, and his father was a captain in the Army.

“I’m grateful it wasn’t drugs that killed him, or a drive-by, or a drunk driver,” Medina said. “He was killed doing something he truly believed in. The guys believed in what they were doing, and he believed he was making a difference.”

The spring following Brian’s death, Greg Medina’s employer, Jacobs Facilities, offered him a mechanical inspector position at the future site of the National Museum of the Marine Corps. He jumped at the opportunity.

He said he took the job not to serve the Marine Corps or even Brian, but for himself.

“This keeps Brian alive for me. So it’s not for Brian, it’s for me,” Medina said. “I always have a place to go, south or north. I can go to Arlington or I can come here. This is close for me. I can spend a lot of time here.”

When he visits Arlington, Medina notices how the older graves lack the fresh flowers found on the more recent plots.

“On all those new graves there is always something fresh there,” Medina said. “I just don’t want to ever have Brian’s site left bare. To do that is to forget.”

The permanence of the National Museum of the Marine Corps will never let Medina forget. But just to be sure, other safeguards are in place, too. Medina keeps a disk of photographs documenting Brian’s Marine Corps service: early pictures of Brian with perfect, post-boot camp posture to pictures of Brian posing with his squad members in Iraq. One photo taken shortly after he killed a man for the first time, shows Brian sitting against a wall in combat gear looking despondent. A later photo from another angle shows Brian unmoved, perhaps still considering the gravity of his earlier combat action.

And then there are the memories: a trip to the Quantico Marina when he caught a ridiculously small fish and, posing for a humorous photo, Brian mockingly pushed up on his father’s arm, helping him hoist his monstrous catch into the air; a surprise skydiving trip with Brian two Christmases ago, and his last view of Brian alive, disappearing in the rearview mirror as the Marine walked through the doors of Reagan National Airport.

Greg Medina has never been able to explain the sudden pain he felt when Brian was killed in Iraq, but he believes he has received another message through a more recent dream.

Greg Medina is on a sailboat with his son at the helm. Brian is wearing a favorite, orange baseball cap turned backwards, a cigar between his teeth. The sky is dark and overcast, and the first spattering of a light rain is beginning to fall. Medina is surprised to see his son manning the rudder with ease.

“Brian, where did you learn to sail?” he asks.

Brian does not answer the question, but gives his dad a confident smile.

Suddenly, Greg Medina is in the water behind the sailboat as Brian continues to cut through the waves toward the horizon.

“Where are you going?” Greg Medina wonders aloud, the boat now out of earshot.
When he wakes, Greg understands.

“He’s in a better place,” he said. “He is going on with his journey.”

Marines and Iraqi Forces find caches in Operation Hastings

GHARMAH, Iraq (April 6, 2006) -- They dug up the buried weapons by the truckload.


April 6, 2006
By Cpl. William Skelton,
Regimental Combat Team 5

Marines from 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment’s engineer platoon along with soldiers from the Iraqi Army, discovered several weapons caches northeast of Fallujah during Operation Hastings.

The operation combined Marines with soldiers from 1st Battalion, 4th Brigade, 1st Iraqi Army Division. The goal of the joint operation was to take weapons out of the hands of insurgents.

“We linked up with the Iraqi Army to search for weapons caches and to basically show them what the engineers do,” said Pfc. Ryan C. Freeman, a 19-year-old from Stockbridge, Ga.

The operation began April 4, with the Marines picking up a platoon of Iraqi soldiers from their base at Camp Delta. The combined forces spent the next three days combing a large area in the battalion’s area of operation.

“We are covering a lot of ground,” Freeman said. “It’s not as far as we normally cover, but we are utilizing the Iraqi forces and training them this time.”

Iraqi forces took perimeter to provide security while the engineers searched through mounds of dirt and around abandoned buildings. The Iraqi soldiers also searched houses and spoke with local villagers.

“It’s a good sign that the Iraqis are adapting and that their training is coming along,” said Lance Cpl. Gabriel H. Garza, a 19-year-old electrician from Willcox, Ariz. “They seem to be functioning well, and interacting with the community.”

The Marines and Iraqis didn’t find any huge caches with large amounts of munitions, but more than 15 smaller caches were found. The yield varied in amounts of weapons and munitions.

“We have found a little here and a little there,” said 2nd Lt. Ahmed Nasser Hussin, the 30-year-old Iraqi platoon commander from Al Nasiriyah, Iraq. “But, put it all together and we found a lot.”

The Marines and Iraqi soldiers found two heavy machine guns, two AK-47 and four SKS assault rifles, two rocket-propelled grenade launchers, a sniper scope, four grenades, 10 sticks of PE4 explosive, more than 20 AK-47 magazines and more than 15,000 rounds. In the mix they located various weapons parts, mortar rounds and artillery rounds that could be used to make improvised explosive devices.

“I thought the operation worked out well,” said Gunnery Sgt. Anthony J. Easton, the 30-year-old platoon sergeant from Saint Cloud, Minn. “This is the first time I have worked with the Iraqis. They are a lot more disciplined than I expected.”

Marines and Iraqis worked diligently during the three days to ensure the countryside was no longer a haven for insurgent stockpiles.

“The insurgents hide munitions everywhere,” Freeman said.

Recovery and war vie in Iraq

HUSAYBA, Iraq Last August, under daily attack from car bombs and mortars, the Marines took down the only bridge over the Euphrates River for miles around.

Now they are trying to rebuild it.


By David S. Cloud The New York Times

With the bridge down, marines say, insurgents and foreign fighters can no longer infiltrate as easily into this town near the Syrian border in western Anbar Province, the heavily Sunni Arab area that has formed the heart of the insurgency. But Iraqis who live on the river's northern bank grumble that they have no easy way to get to town to buy and sell goods or to see the doctor.

"The biggest complaint I hear is that we took down the bridge," said Lt. Col. Nick Marano, commander of the Marine battalion here. "We have to replace it and we will."

The shifting priorities illustrate the trade-off between combat and reconstruction that the American military is still grappling with, but especially in remote regions like this one, where the Iraqi government is still almost nonexistent.

The Marines' effort is also a test of the Bush administration's declaration that it will focus this year on holding and rebuilding Iraqi towns, rather than departing after military operations and allowing insurgents to return.

Though the orders from Washington are to clear, hold and build, accomplishing that on the ground is proving difficult.

The centerpiece of the nationwide effort, announced by the State Department last year, was supposed to be 18 provincial reconstruction teams in cities and towns around the country. But security conditions have limited the number created to only four so far, in Hilla, Mosul, Kirkuk and Baghdad, although two more are scheduled to open in about a month.

[In Washington on Wednesday, a senior United States government official attributed the delay in expanding the program to reluctance by the American military to take on additional duties guarding the provincial reconstruction teams and their headquarters in the field. "One can understand that, that they want to focus on their own principal duties, which are in war fighting," the official said. "So the program has had a lot of growing pains."]

In Husayba, the Marines are the only reconstruction team around. They use local labor as much as possible, but Colonel Marano is not sure he will be able to find a company that can handle the work.

In addition, the bridge project has not been budgeted by the provincial government, several marines said.

Hoping for an interim fix, Colonel Marano inquired recently about moving a little-used pontoon bridge installed by Army engineers miles down river. He was told that the unit was to rotate back to the United States soon, and would be taking its bridge back.

For now, small boats ferry residents across the river.

Another major project - to rebuild the Iraqi customs building at the border crossing with Syria, which was destroyed by three car bombs in a huge explosion last year - won't begin until June or July. Trade with Syria, both legal and illegal, has long been the mainstay of the economy here, and Colonel Marano said the 17 Sunni sheiks in the area lobby him constantly to reopen the crossing.

Colonel Marano said he was spending $14 million on smaller projects around the region, fixing roads and schools, removing rubble and installing water treatment facilities. He said he told the sheiks, some of whom aided the insurgents last year, that they would see an economic payoff if they demonstrated their loyalty.

"I have told them it's a performance-based relationship," he said. "As long as the security situation remains good we will work the infrastructure improvements and provide jobs for their tribes."

He added, "The moment there's an attack against marines or Iraqi soldiers, I expect them to provide intelligence about who did it."

Last year, American commanders were describing Husayba and several neighboring towns, known as the Qaim region, as a major insurgent haven. Some of them were foreign fighters who crossed over the Syrian border, but others were Iraqis who had been forced out of Falluja and other cities closer to Baghdad and taken refuge here, he said.

Husayba then "was like a Wild West border town," recalled Lt. Evan Lopez, who was stationed here on his first Iraq tour in 2004 and 2005 and is now back. Insurgents lobbed mortar shells and rockets every night at the small Marine outpost. Patrols were attacked so regularly by roadside bombs and sniper fire that they were eventually abandoned, he said.

With the American forces stretched thin throughout western Iraq, it was not until last November that 2,500 marines, along with Army units, mounted an operation to clear the city.

Most of the town's residents had fled, their houses taken over by insurgents, some of whom fought back fiercely, marines say. The Marines estimated that they killed 250 fighters in the 18-day operation.

Col. W. Blake Crowe, the senior Marine commander for the region, said the operations had reduced the flow of foreign fighters crossing from Syria to a "trickle." But he said insurgents had shifted their operations to towns along the Euphrates River closer to Baghdad, including Haditha.

With Husayba largely cleared of insurgents, "Haditha's really the hub" of insurgent activity in western al Anbar now, he said.

But keeping a large presence along the border here has that meant Colonel Crowe's other forces - two Marine battalions and a portion of an Army Stryker brigade - are stretched thin trying to cover Haditha and other areas in western Anbar province. Even with increasing numbers of Iraqi troops, Colonel Crowe said his regiment lacked the manpower to cover the 40,000 square miles is his area. In January he ordered a 20-foot-high berm built around the desert town of Rutba, to limit access to the remote haven for smugglers and free troops for operations elsewhere.

Rather than clearing Husayba and leaving, the Marines have left an entire battalion in the area, and the Iraqi Army has blanketed the town with troops. Three Iraqi battalions are also stationed in the area, part of a recently formed division that was deployed in Anbar last October.

To soothe local sensibilities, the officers are largely Sunni Arabs from the Qaim area, and the unit's commander says his soldiers are 27 percent Sunni - one of the highest percentages in the largely Shiite Iraqi Army.

"We have the sheiks of the area on our side, and most of the people are tired of the insurgents," said Colonel Ishmael, the Iraqi commander, who declined to give his full name. His Marine adviser says the colonel and his family have been threatened for cooperating with the Americans.

Husayba itself is slowly coming back to life. Tucked between the vegetable stands and metal shops along the town's main street is a freshly painted police station, which has been refurbished with American funds after it was attacked by insurgents.

Many stores remain closed, though. Rebuilding the bridge and opening the border, if those projects can be completed before the battalion rotates home in September, "will be two of the most important things we do here," says Colonel Marano.

April 4, 2006

New Battle on the Home Front

This is part three of a three-part series entitled "The Lifeline" where LA Times Reporter David Zucchino and photographer Rick Loomis follow five wounded troops through a system of military medical care more advanced than in any previous conflict. This series is not for the "faint of heart" and is very graphic, as are the accompanying slides and interactives that can be seen by clicking on the original link. Kudos to these reporters entering this touchy area and at the same time letting us meet, firsthand, another group of military heroes--the medics, the surgeons, the orthopedists, the opthmalogists, and all the rest of the medical staff that are there to take care of our boys.

part one is found at: http://www.marine-corps-news.com/2006/04/bringing_back_the_wounded_with.htm
part two is found at: http://www.marine-corps-news.com/2006/04/the_journey_through_trauma.htm

New Battle on the Home Front

When wounded U.S. troops return from Iraq, nearly everything has changed. Except, for many, the drive to keep on fighting.


By David Zucchino
Times Staff Writer
April 4, 2006

The vision in Vincent Worrell's left eye was blurry. The hearing in his left ear was bad. Two of his upper teeth were missing. There was a hole in his left shoulder, a surgical scar on his lip, shrapnel in his face and a metal pin in his left thumb.

Still, it was a very good day. He found a simple joy in being able to push his 5-year-old daughter, Indra, on a park swing. It was a blessing to hold hands under the trees with his wife, Jayme.

Just five weeks had passed since a roadside bomb blew shrapnel and grit into Worrell, an Army staff sergeant, as he walked on patrol Nov. 6 in Iraq. Now his little girl clung to his arm, as if she were afraid he would evaporate if she let go. That week, she had drawn ink spots on her hand and wrapped it in a white towel to imitate her father's shrapnel wounds.

"Daddy's girl," her mother said.

About 500 miles north, in Manheim, Pa., snow crunched underfoot as Marine Lance Cpl. Ryan Buchter, 20, struggled to walk on his wounded leg without a cane. On Nov. 8, an insurgent's grenade ripped apart his left leg and sent shrapnel whistling into his nostrils.

He was pacing outside his parents' small-frame house, which was filled with fruit baskets and letters — some from strangers — welcoming him home. From time to time, he would pick shrapnel out of his leg. His girlfriend, Erin Culley, used her fingernail to scrape tiny slivers of metal from his face.

Ryan's father, Douglas Buchter, 41, an Army National Guard sergeant whose unit is scheduled to head to Iraq in the fall, predicted that his son would heal in time to serve there with him. Despite Ryan's wounds, Douglas said he believed the Marine Corps was the best thing that ever happened to his son.

"He left here a boy," he said, slapping Ryan's shoulder, "and he came home a man."

When the wounded come home from Iraq, nothing is as it once was. They look different, of course — pocked with shrapnel scars and surgical incisions, sore and tentative, and carrying the memory of that moment, just before the blast or bullet, when they were still whole.

Their families are different. Mothers and fathers and girlfriends and wives become nurturers and caregivers, their daily routines upended and their relationships forever altered. They change bandages, fetch medication, drive to hospitals, and walk their loved ones through months of physical therapy and rehabilitation.

Aggressive and driven in Iraq, the wounded become dependent and distracted back home. Hometowns and living rooms feel different. Friends have moved away. Children have grown. Iraq was terrifying and dangerous, but it became fulfilling and familiar.

The wounded are relieved to be back with their families. Though thankful to be alive, they're burdened by a sense of unease. Vincent Worrell felt it, and Ryan Buchter too. So did three others wounded over a four-day period in November — Marine 2nd Lt. Mike Geiger and Marine Lance Cpl. Francisco Ponceherbozo in California and Army Spc. Joshua Griffin in Texas.

They call it RTD — return to duty. They couldn't wait to get back to Iraq.

At 11 p.m. on Veterans Day, Douglas and Tracy Buchter drove three hours from Pennsylvania to Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington, D.C. They had been told to meet their wounded son at the airport.

They stood on the tarmac at 2 a.m., waiting for Ryan to be taken off a military plane from Germany. Instead, a flight surgeon told them that he was being flown to a hospital at Camp Lejeune, N.C., for more surgery.

The Buchters climbed back into the car and drove eight hours to North Carolina.

They had been agonizing over their son's condition since Ryan called and told his father: "Pop! I've been … fragged! The freakin' Iraqis fragged me! I'm in so much freakin' pain!"

The phone connection was so distorted that Douglas didn't learn how seriously his son was hurt. The last thing he heard was: "Tell Mom I have 10 fingers and 10 toes."

After hours of trying, Douglas finally reached a nurse at the U.S. military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, who told him something he did not want to hear: Ryan's badly swollen leg might have to be amputated. Douglas began making arrangements to fly to Germany.

Then Douglas got another disturbing call, from a Marine officer at Camp Lejeune who said Ryan had been wounded in both legs. Cut off from information, thousands of miles away, Douglas and Tracy felt helpless and confused.

"The worst thing was knowing he was in that much pain and we couldn't be there to do anything," Douglas recalled later. "At the point they said he was going to lose his leg — that's when it hit me the most."

Now, as the Buchters were escorted to their son's room at the Camp Lejeune hospital, Douglas told his wife, "Look, just be prepared for the worst."

Then they saw him. Ryan's leg was heavily bandaged and his face was bruised and swollen, but he was smiling and alert. His other leg was fine. For the first time, the Buchters let themselves believe that their son had been returned to them nearly whole.

Two days later, surgeons operated again on Ryan's leg. Afterward, they told his parents that his leg would heal.

Three days after that, the Buchters drove their son home.

In Pennsylvania, rumors were spreading about Ryan Buchter's injuries. He was something of a local celebrity around Manheim — a returning war hero and the star defensive end on a state championship football team two years earlier.

There was talk that Buchter had lost his leg, or foot, or hand or eye. He was already walking on his injured leg. He decided to set things straight by walking, without his cane, into the locker room of his former high school team before a Friday night game.

He let everyone see that he still had his leg, hand and eye. He thanked them for their cards and fruit baskets, and told the players to go out and win the game. They did.

For many weeks after that, Buchter hobbled up and down the stairs, exercising his damaged leg. He did squat thrusts too. On some days, shrapnel broke through the skin and Buchter plucked it out with his fingers. He would have to pass medical and physical boards to return to active duty.

Those boards are less demanding now than in previous wars. Confronted by the largest number of wounded since Vietnam, and by troop shortages due to low recruiting and retention numbers, the military has eased restrictions on the wounded returning to duty.

Soldiers who would have been medically retired in previous wars are now returning to combat units or to administrative jobs. A few soldiers and Marines with prosthetic arms or legs have returned to combat in Iraq. In all, 54% of wounded troops have returned to duty.

At the same time, more soldiers are surviving their wounds than in any previous conflict in American history. With four high-tech combat hospitals on the front lines and medevac helicopters on call 24 hours a day, no wounded American in Iraq is more than 30 minutes from the finest medical treatment in U.S. combat history.

The Buchters were confident Ryan would recover full use of his leg and pass his boards. He was progressing rapidly through physical therapy.

"They gave him a cane, but he hasn't hardly needed it," his father said. "He just uses it to swat at the cat."

As his leg grew stronger over the winter, Buchter stayed in touch with his buddies in Iraq through e-mails and phone calls. He knew he would not return to duty before his unit got back home. But he also knew the unit was scheduled to redeploy to Iraq next year. Surely, he thought, he would be ready by then — and return to serve alongside his father.

He longed for his buddies in Iraq, where he had turned 20 the day he arrived last summer. They were like family. His platoon leader had broken down when he thought the roadside bomb had killed Buchter.

"When we're actually over there it's not, 'Oh, I'm fighting for my country,' " Buchter said. "It's, 'I'm fighting for the guy next to me.' "

Hanging on his bedroom wall was his No. 57 football jersey, next to the Marine Corps colors. There were piles of letters from schoolchildren at his old elementary school, and a colorful "Get Well Ryan" poster.

He wanted to go back for them, he said — and for his parents and his fellow Marines and everyone in little Manheim who looked up to him. "I want to be a role model," he said, and began another clumsy workout up and down the stairs.

Last week, Buchter was back at Camp Lejeune to greet his buddies as they returned from Iraq. Two had been wounded in the same grenade attack that felled him. Everyone compared war wounds, and all agreed that Buchter's were the worst. "Oh, man, that's a nasty scar," Lance Cpl. Francisco Devila said of Buchter's leg; Devila was wounded in the shoulder by some of the same shrapnel that tore through Buchter's body.

Buchter was elated to be reunited with his friends and living with them in the barracks. Even so, he felt anxious and isolated. Still limping, he was unable to join them in morning PT — physical training — or pickup football games. Because he was not back on duty, he could not wear his Marine uniform.

And because Buchter was undergoing physical therapy, he was not eligible for leave. All of his friends were getting 30-day leaves. Devila was begging him to fly home to Miami with him.

There was just one way to get leave, Buchter figured: He quit going to physical therapy.

Vincent Worrell's wounds required him to visit four specialists at Womack Army Medical Center on the sprawling Ft. Bragg reservation in North Carolina. He saw a dentist for teeth implants, an orthopedist for his hand, an ophthalmologist for his eye, and an ear, nose and throat specialist for his ear.

He was working hard to be whole again — for himself, for his family, and for the men he left behind in Iraq. Being a soldier defined him, ever since he joined the Army to escape a dead-end job as a restaurant cook in a little Wisconsin town, where he and Jayme had been high school sweethearts.

"I don't want to sound like a psychopath or anything," he said, "but I like having a rifle in my hands and doing my job. I like being a leader, leading soldiers, making a difference in the world."

He glanced at his wife. "It drives me nuts that I'm here and they're still over there in harm's way," he said.

Jayme understood. Her husband had quickly returned to duty after earning his first Purple Heart in 2005 for being shot in the leg. She knew he would find a way to go back this time too. She believed in the mission in Iraq, and in Vincent.

"That's where he needs to be right now," she said. "It's not if he gets deployed again, it's when. And they need him there."

For now, she appreciated every minute he spent at home. After three tours of Iraq, he was home for the holidays for the first time in three years.

Worrell, 25, was struck by how fast he had healed. The instant he was sent flying by the roadside bomb, he recalled, "I honestly thought I was going to die."

But now, after surgeries in Iraq, Germany and the U.S., plus his ongoing therapy, he thought he would come out fine. "It's just amazing," he said. "My lips got sewn up. All my teeth are capped. I'm getting [teeth] implants. My hand's great."

By last week, shrapnel had been surgically removed from his hand. He'll need surgery in May to seal a hole in his eardrum. The teeth implants will take months, beginning with bone grafts, then steel pins, then new teeth.

Jayme was still recovering from the terrifying, and baffling, day in November when she first heard that her husband had been wounded. Like many spouses, she had received fragmentary and contradictory reports, compounded by rumors that he had lost an eye or a hand.

It wasn't until she got the official call from a lieutenant at Ft. Bragg that she learned the true nature of his injuries. He had not lost an eye. His ballistic goggles had saved his vision.

"Once I learned he was alive and coming home, there was no call to be upset. It was wasted emotion," she said.

After two ordeals in 11 months, she had inured herself to trauma. With her husband now healing, she was able to joke about it. The first time Vincent was wounded, she said, a neighbor baked lasagna for her. This time, a friend sent a floral basket.

"So we figure the next Purple Heart, I'm going to get some steak knives and work my way up to the encyclopedia set … and then the Ford Bronco," she said.

"Or a brand-new Expedition or something," Vincent said.

In February, the couple did receive a prize of sorts. They found out that Jayme was pregnant with their second child.

"Our Purple Heart baby," she said.

In Vista, Calif., outside Camp Pendleton, Mike Geiger, 24, used crutches to navigate his two-story apartment.

His right foot had been broken in several places when his Humvee hit a land mine in western Iraq on Nov. 7 as Geiger handed out leaflets advising Iraqis how to avoid being killed at U.S. military checkpoints.

As he lay bleeding, he said, he never stopped believing that he would not only survive, but also recover and serve again. He had endured seven surgeries on three continents, and faced months more of physical therapy. A piece of shrapnel was still working its way through his lip. He fully intended to rejoin the platoon of 38 Marines he commanded. He longed to complete an unbroken tour in Iraq.

But he was suffering now — not from pain or physical therapy, but from a peculiar form of guilt.

"I'm home with my loved ones, living the good life," he said, picking at a plate of fresh fruit. It was a gorgeous winter day in Vista, and brilliant morning sunshine lighted up a wall of photos showing Geiger and Navy Ensign Kate Shawhan, his fiancee, in uniform. "I just have this anxious feeling that I'm letting my Marines down while they're in danger."

Dr. James Geiger understood his son's compulsion to return to the place where he was nearly killed. He's a former military medical officer who trained Special Forces medics.

"The first time Mike's commander in Iraq called to check on him, Mike was asking if he could get back to Iraq with a cast on," James said. "That's my son."

James said he and his wife, Patricia, were uneasy about their son's return to war, but they supported his decision. It took a while for Patricia, a retired nurse, to recover from the shock of her son's wounding, her husband said.

"But after that," he said, "she wanted to kill whoever did it."

Shawhan, a Navy nurse, surprised Mike by greeting him on the tarmac when he arrived at Andrews Air Force Base from Germany. She accompanied him on a military transport back to Camp Pendleton, where she worked on a ward one floor below Geiger's hospital room.

He was an outpatient now, returning for physical therapy three times a week. Because of the pain in his foot, he had developed a limp that he was working to eliminate. He was off crutches most days, but still needed a walking boot and a crutch to walk any significant distance.

Iraq was never far from his thoughts. Nine days after he was wounded, he got bad news from the front: Sgt. Jeremy Murray, a platoon mate who had helped treat Geiger minutes after he was wounded, had been killed by a roadside bomb.

Murray's widow visited Geiger in the hospital at Camp Pendleton. They tried to console one another. "I told her he died doing what he was meant to do — leading Marines in combat," he said.

Murray's death made Geiger all the more eager to return, to lead his men again, to protect them from danger. Often, he stared at a snapshot of Murray on his laptop. It showed the sergeant grinning, holding his weapon across his chest and posing with Geiger and other Marines a few yards from where Geiger was later wounded.

Two weeks ago, Geiger was walking well enough to qualify for light duty. He began wearing his Marine uniform again — just in time to greet his buddies when his unit returns from Iraq this week.

Geiger did a few calculations: He expects to have surgery next month to shave down a damaged toe bone that causes pain and prevents normal heel-to-toe motion. Once free of pain, he figured, he would soon learn to walk normally.

He was certain that by April 2007, when his unit is scheduled to return to Iraq, he would be a fully healed, battle-ready Marine combat commander.

In Pasadena, Francisco Ponceherbozo lay on a daybed in his parents' bungalow, staring at a hole in his left foot. It had been the size of a silver dollar when an explosion knocked him off his feet Nov. 5 as his unit cleared farmhouses of insurgents in western Iraq.

The wound bled so much and hurt so badly that he feared he would never walk again, but now the hole had healed to the size of a dime. Ponceherbozo was tracking the healing by taking periodic photos of his foot with his cellphone.

He was walking on crutches. A shrapnel wound in his shoulder had healed. The ugly, black-framed military glasses he wore at the hospital in Iraq had been replaced by stylish spectacles, a Christmas gift from his mother.

The corporal's Marine uniform and cap were stuffed into a bedside basket, next to a clumsy silver brace and boot he must wear when he walks. On his bedside was a plastic pill jar containing the dark gray shrapnel that surgeons in Iraq had removed from his foot.

He was determined to rejoin his unit when he is able to walk normally. He did not consider himself a victim, or even a particularly unfortunate young man. Twelve members of his battalion died in Iraq during his month there.

"I'm lucky," he said, dabbing at his puckered wound with a saline solution. "I could have no foot at all right now."

He had been surprised by the speed and efficiency of his medical care in Iraq. Medics treated him moments after the explosion, and he was loaded onto a medevac helicopter right away. He spent a day at the Air Force hospital in Iraq, a few days at a military hospital in Germany, and then he was back home.

"My medical care was outstanding," Ponceherbozo said. "I felt like a king in the hospital — anything I wanted, I got."

But he felt cheated out of his combat tour. In Iraq for one month, he was just minutes into his first combat operation when he went down. He felt somehow incomplete, as a man and a Marine.

Now, with his doctors predicting it would be another six months before he walked normally again, he realized that his unit would be home long before he was fit for duty. But he was certain he would recover in time for the next deployment to Iraq. He had time. He was only 20 years old.

His parents were not pleased with his desire to return, but they supported his decision, just as they reluctantly supported his decision to join the Marines rather than go to college.

Ponceherbozo's stepfather, Larry Whitley, a former Army National Guard captain who works as a credit manager, has doubts about the war in Iraq.

"I have my misgivings — whether the war was necessary — but I don't let it conflict with what Franco needs to do," he said. "It's his job, and serving is what he wants to do. We don't really feel good about it, but we have to let him go, with our blessings."

The military had treated the family well, Whitley said, except for the call they received from a Marine officer informing them that Ponceherbozo had suffered a "minor mishap" and had returned to his unit. Their son was actually undergoing surgery in Iraq at the time.

Ponceherbozo's mother, Ana Maria Whitley, said she lost 10 pounds the week he was wounded. She was still racked with worry — for her son's health and for her daughter, Elsie, 23, a Marine lance corporal who didn't return from Iraq until last week.

Ana Maria and her children were born in Peru and have lived in the U.S. for 12 years. She had barely heard of the Marine Corps before her children enlisted. Now, despite her fears for her children's safety, she loved the Corps. She was relieved when her daughter's commander, after hearing of her brother's wounds, told Elsie that she would no longer have to go out on dangerous convoy runs.

"My kids are proud Marines," she said, "and I'm a proud Marine mom."

She feared that as soon as her daughter came home, her son would be working his way back to full-time duty and, eventually, to combat.

"It's in his blood now," she said.

For now, Whitley loved having Ponceherbozo around the house on weekends, when he came home from physical therapy at Camp Pendleton. Without his battle fatigues and weapon, he was just her son again: a young man with a sore foot, working his cellphone, watching TV, hanging with his friends.

"He may be a Marine," his mother said, "but he's still my baby."

In San Antonio, Joshua Griffin limped through the lobby of a guesthouse at Brooke Army Medical Center. His jaw was held together by three plates and 12 screws. A rod and four screws held fast his broken right leg. A bandage covered burns on his cheek. Two bottom teeth had been knocked out.

A roadside bomb made from three 155-mm artillery shells had upended the armored Humvee that Griffin was driving on Nov. 6. The sergeant in the front passenger seat was killed. Griffin's convoy had been moving from town to town, handing out teddy bears and soccer balls to children.

Griffin survived grueling surgeries in two states and two foreign countries. He'd had ample time to think about all that had befallen him. He harbored no particular enmity, he said, for those who had built the bomb that shattered his life at age 18. But his memories of the attack were still vivid, and he struggled to push them aside.

"I try not to think about it as much now," he said, his voice still hoarse after a month with a tracheotomy tube in his throat. "I'm trying to adapt to the future and not dwell on the past."

Griffin rubbed the rough burns on his cheeks. He is tall and rangy, with a broad, open face. He was satisfied with his treatment, he said. He paused and added: "But it's not a part of my life I'd care to repeat."

The only thing he cared to remember was his sister's face when he arrived from Iraq at the U.S. military hospital in Landstuhl. Army Pvt. Megan Griffin, stationed in Germany, had rushed to meet him, and her presence at his bedside was a balm to him.

Inside the hospital guesthouse, Griffin sat down stiffly at a bank of computers reserved for wounded soldiers. He pulled up photos of his red, bloated face taken by a nurse at the hospital in Germany.

"Oh, man, I'm looking pretty ragged there," he said.

He looked much better now. Even with his wounds, he looked athletic in his jeans and T-shirt; he turned 19 two days before Christmas. The pain in his shattered leg was tolerable now, and his doctors told him he was on his way to recovery.

Still, Griffin could not shake the memory of Sgt. 1st Class James F. Hayes, who had been beside him in the Humvee's front seat when the bomb exploded. It haunted him that the sergeant had died while he had survived. He had always intended to make the Army a career. Now he wasn't so certain about signing up again when his enlistment ended in two years.

His wounds gave him time to think about what it meant to be in the military in a time of war. It wasn't what happened to him that really mattered, he decided. It was what had happened to the sergeant beside him and what, at any moment, could happen to all those he had left behind.

He was uncomfortable being so far from his fellow soldiers in Iraq — men he had come to love like brothers. Griffin had wanted to be a soldier since he was 5 years old. He signed up at 17, prompted by the Sept. 11 attacks, which he had watched on television in his school library.

"I always loved my country, always wanted to defend it — with my life if necessary," he said.

From the hospital guesthouse, Griffin phoned his sergeant major and asked about rejoining his unit in Taji, in north-central Iraq. The sergeant told him that as soon as he healed and passed his medical boards, he could go back. The news lifted the soldier's spirits, and even with his wired jaw and burned cheek, he was able to smile.

By early March, Griffin was well enough to fly to Ft. Campbell, Ky., where he had been cleared to prepare to rejoin his artillery unit in Iraq. He had not yet told his mother that he was going back; he was trying to figure out the best way to break it to her.

Every other day, Griffin sweated through physical therapy at the Ft. Campbell hospital, strengthening his weakened quadriceps muscle so that he could run normally again. Soon, a military dentist will drill holes into his gums and replace his two missing teeth.

Within a month, he was certain he would be healthy enough to pass his final physical exam, the last barrier to his redeployment. In a few short weeks, he believed, he would be back at war — a split-second from danger but never more than 30 minutes from salvation.

Iraqis show little surprise as U.S. Marines take cover in their villas

RAMADI, Iraq -- Darting through the shadows of this insurgent-plagued city, U.S. Marines zigzagged down the street, past ornate columned villas and palm trees silhouetted against the night sky.


Tuesday, April 4, 2006
By: TODD PITMAN - Associated Press

RAMADI, Iraq -- Darting through the shadows of this insurgent-plagued city, U.S. Marines zigzagged down the street, past ornate columned villas and palm trees silhouetted against the night sky.

Pausing at a black gate, a Marine knelt and another stepped onto his back, hurtling over to unlock it from inside. There was no polite request for entry. The threat from insurgent bombs, snipers or small arms fire was too great.

"We apologize for the inconvenience," 31-year-old Staff Sgt. William Brooks of Houston said as a man, his wife and two children came to the door to watch Marines take up positions in their courtyard. "We're just stopping by. We'll be on our way soon."

Most people would be shocked to see a dozen heavily armed troops taking cover in their front yard. But after three years of near-daily skirmishes between insurgents and U.S. forces, folks in Ramadi are used to it.

After a six-month deployment outside Fallujah last year, the 3rd Battalion, 8th Regiment of Camp Lejeune, N.C., are back in Iraq for a second tour. Commanders said they are getting to know their "battle space," patrolling neighborhoods and entering houses.

During one recent night patrol, a Marine unit entered half a dozen villas in three hours. Nobody appeared surprised or seemed to mind. One woman came into the kitchen to see who was around, saw Marines through the window and casually walked into another room. Another man, perhaps woken up by the clank of automatic weapons bumping into his front gate, did the same.

"There's a tolerance for what we're doing out here. They realize we're here to help," Brooks said, adding he had expected a more hostile reception. "I've been pleasantly surprised."

Other Marines said reaction to the domestic interruptions varies.

"Sometimes they don't talk to you at all. Sometimes they're scared of us," said Lance Cpl. Ryan Walblay, 20, of Bowling Green, Ky. "Sometimes they're scared that after we leave, insurgents will threaten or kill them."

Both U.S. and Iraqi troops have burst in on homes to use them as makeshift "strong-points" during firefights. While on patrol, they often move quickly on foot down streets, taking cover inside villa walls.

"We prefer to move courtyard to courtyard because of the sniper threat, especially during the day," Brooks said.

At House No. 1 on the recent patrol, a Marine handed two children a palm full of candy before quickly moving on.

The second and third houses were empty, with lights flickering inside and some window glass broken. They weren't searched.

As Marines stood in House No. 3's courtyard, a massive blast suddenly pierced the air. The Marines crouched briefly and watched as a huge plume of grayish white smoke rose above buildings perhaps 400 yards away.

A U.S. patrol had just rolled by and they thought it might have been hit. They didn't run after it. Insurgents are known to detonate roadside bombs only to set the stage for a larger ambush. The Marines learned later an explosives ordnance disposal team was moving in to disarm the bomb when it went off -- probably detonated by remote control. Nobody was wounded.

At House No. 4, Marines unlocked another gate and stepped inside. A father, a mother, two young daughters and two teenage sons living there keep their sandals outside the door. The Marines marched in, stepping onto red carpets with boots caked in dust.

They stayed for an hour, setting up a temporary post. They studied satellite maps of the neighborhood, and scanned outside with night vision goggles to be sure nobody was following them. Lines of U.S. Humvees rolled down the streets, patrolling with their lights off. A lone helicopter clattered overhead.

The family was kept in the living room while the house was lightly searched. "We have to keep an eye on them, especially the men," Walblay said.

Several Marines sat with the family, who appeared genuinely at ease, curious and smiling. They joked in broken English with the Marines sitting on their blue couch.

The sons and daughters stared at their equipment with wide eyes. Each Marine was crammed into a full set of heavy armor, clutching an automatic rifle. Night vision equipment was on their camouflaged helmets.

There was no serious questioning. A couple of Marines appeared simply to be getting to know the family.

The family was surprised that Walblay speaks basic Arabic, which he picked up from a translator last year.

Speaking broken English, one of the sons, Issa, said "we were watching the Oprah Winfrey show."

Mustafa, the father, said they don't go out after 7 p.m., four hours before curfew.

"Ramadi, good, not good," Mustafa said, mimicking the sound of explosions. "My daughters ..." -- he wrapped his hands around his arms, pretending to shiver in fright, explaining the girls fear the war.

The sisters smiled, bashfully.

Inside, one Marine sat on a stairwell with his helmet off, smoking a cigarette.

One Marine asked if they family has seen any insurgents.

"If I know, I say to you," Issa said. "You love your country, we love our country."

Several villas later, the troops were back at base.

In Ramadi, an Up-Close View of Skirmishes

RAMADI, Iraq -- Darting through the shadows of this insurgent-plagued city, U.S. Marines zigzagged down the street, past ornate columned villas and palm trees silhouetted against the night sky.


Associated Press Writer

April 4, 2006, 1:54 PM EDT

Pausing at a black gate, a Marine knelt and another stepped onto his back, hurtling over to unlock it from inside. There was no polite request for entry. The threat from insurgent bombs, snipers or small arms fire was too great.

"We apologize for the inconvenience," 31-year-old Staff Sgt. William Brooks of Houston said as a man, his wife and two children came to the door to watch Marines take up positions in their courtyard. "We're just stopping by. We'll be on our way soon."

Most people would be shocked to see a dozen heavily armed troops taking cover in their front yard. But after three years of near-daily skirmishes between insurgents and U.S. forces, folks in Ramadi are used to it.

After a six-month deployment outside Fallujah last year, the 3rd Battalion, 8th Regiment of Camp Lejeune, N.C., are back in Iraq for a second tour. Commanders said they are getting to know their "battle space," patrolling neighborhoods and entering houses.

During one recent night patrol, a Marine unit entered half a dozen villas in three hours. Nobody appeared surprised or seemed to mind. One woman came into the kitchen to see who was around, saw Marines through the window and casually walked into another room. Another man, perhaps woken up by the clank of automatic weapons bumping into his front gate, did the same.

"There's a tolerance for what we're doing out here. They realize we're here to help," Brooks said, adding he had expected a more hostile reception. "I've been pleasantly surprised."

Other Marines said reaction to the domestic interruptions varies.

"Sometimes they don't talk to you at all. Sometimes they're scared of us," said Lance Cpl. Ryan Walblay, 20, of Bowling Green, Ky. "Sometimes they're scared that after we leave, insurgents will threaten or kill them."

Both U.S. and Iraqi troops have burst in on homes to use them as makeshift "strong-points" during firefights. While on patrol, they often move quickly on foot down streets, taking cover inside villa walls.

"We prefer to move courtyard to courtyard because of the sniper threat, especially during the day," Brooks said.

At House No. 1 on the recent patrol, a Marine handed two children a palm full of candy before quickly moving on.

The second and third houses were empty, with lights flickering inside and some window glass broken. They weren't searched.

As Marines stood in House No. 3's courtyard, a massive blast suddenly pierced the air. The Marines crouched briefly and watched as a huge plume of grayish white smoke rose above buildings perhaps 400 yards away.

A U.S. patrol had just rolled by and they thought it might have been hit. They didn't run after it. Insurgents are known to detonate roadside bombs only to set the stage for a larger ambush. The Marines learned later an explosives ordnance disposal team was moving in to disarm the bomb when it went off -- probably detonated by remote control. Nobody was wounded.

At House No. 4, Marines unlocked another gate and stepped inside. A father, a mother, two young daughters and two teenage sons living there keep their sandals outside the door. The Marines marched in, stepping onto red carpets with boots caked in dust.

They stayed for an hour, setting up a temporary post. They studied satellite maps of the neighborhood, and scanned outside with night vision goggles to be sure nobody was following them. Lines of U.S. Humvees rolled down the streets, patrolling with their lights off. A lone helicopter clattered overhead.

The family was kept in the living room while the house was lightly searched. "We have to keep an eye on them, especially the men," Walblay said.

Several Marines sat with the family, who appeared genuinely at ease, curious and smiling. They joked in broken English with the Marines sitting on their blue couch.

The sons and daughters stared at their equipment with wide eyes. Each Marine was crammed into a full set of heavy armor, clutching an automatic rifle. Night vision equipment was on their camouflaged helmets.

There was no serious questioning. A couple of Marines appeared simply to be getting to know the family.

The family was surprised that Walblay speaks basic Arabic, which he picked up from a translator last year.

Speaking broken English, one of the sons, Issa, said "we were watching the Oprah Winfrey show."

Mustafa, the father, said they don't go out after 7 p.m., four hours before curfew.

"Ramadi, good, not good," Mustafa said, mimicking the sound of explosions. "My daughters ..." -- he wrapped his hands around his arms, pretending to shiver in fright, explaining the girls fear the war.

The sisters smiled, bashfully.

Inside, one Marine sat on a stairwell with his helmet off, smoking a cigarette.

One Marine asked if they family has seen any insurgents.

"If I know, I say to you," Issa said. "You love your country, we love our country."

Several villas later, the troops were back at base.

Heat injury a factor as mercury rises in Iraq

CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq (April 4, 2006) -- Outdoor temperatures sore above 130 degrees Fahrenheit during the summer months here, so personnel will need to take proper precautions in order to keep themselves from falling victim to the dangerous side effects of heat injury.


Submitted by: I Marine Expeditionary Force
Story Identification #: 2006446156
Story by Cpl. Jon Guibord

Everyone is susceptible to a heat injury. Luckily there are multiple steps that can be taken to prevent the potentially lethal threat from striking.

“A lot of people have the misconception that all you have to do is drink a lot of water or Gatorade,” said the leading petty officer of the I Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group Aid Station, Petty Officer 1st class Virginia M. Mayo.

According to Mayo, your body uses a mixture of water, electrolytes and sodium to maintain and without a good mixture of all of them you can still become a victim of heat casualty.

There are several different types of heat injury. The first and most common are heat cramps, which occurs when your body has an insufficient amount of salt.

“You probably have enough water, but not enough salt intake,” said Mayo, of New Port Richey, Fla.

Heat cramps usually go away whether you do anything or not. Drinking a product such as Gatorade can also assist in the healing process.

The second type of heat injury is heat exhaustion. Heat exhaustion is the body’s inability to supply the increased blood volume needed by the brain, skin and the muscles in extreme heat. This results in dizziness, weakness, and fainting.

The third and most dangerous heat injury is heat stroke.

“Heat stroke is when your body’s core temperature reaches above a certain limit, roughly 106 degrees,” said Mayo. “Your brain begins to fry, causing possible brain damage or death.”

It doesn’t take a corpsman to treat heat injuries. If someone shows symptoms of heat injury, the first step is to move them to a cool area. Remove clothing to allow the body to release some of the heat. Pour a small amount of water on their head to reduce the core temperature. The person should then be seen by a medical professional so they may get a core temperature to ensure heat stroke is not occurring. This process of checking the core temperature rectally is referred to as receiving a “silver bullet,” among Marines and sailors.

There are several telltale signs if some one is suffering from a heat injury.

“Marines usually complain that they feel hung over, but they didn’t have the fun the night before to cause it,” said Mayo, who has been a corpsman for seven and a half years.

Other indicators of heat injury include generalized weakness, headache, dizziness, low blood pressure, elevated pulse, and temperature elevation.

There are several preventive measures to reduce the risk of heat injury. There are numerous water bottles located around the camp, three square meals a day are available and enough opportunity to get the proper amount of sleep, but it is up to the individual athlete to ensure their body is prepared for strenuous activity in the heat.

April 3, 2006

The Journey Through Trauma

This is part two of a three-part series entitled "The Lifeline" where LA Times Reporter David Zucchino and photographer Rick Loomis follow five wounded troops through a system of military medical care more advanced than in any previous conflict. This series is not for the "faint of heart" and is very graphic, as are the accompanying slides and interactives that can be seen by clicking on the original link. Kudos to these reporters entering this touchy area and at the same time letting us meet, firsthand, another group of military heroes--the medics, the surgeons, the orthopedists, the opthmalogists, and all the rest of the medical staff that are there to take care of our boys. part one is found at:

The Journey Through Trauma

U.S. troops who survive the critical 'golden hour' after being seriously wounded in Iraq owe their lives to a fast-acting team of battlefield medics, pilots, nurses and surgeons.


By David Zucchino
Times Staff Writer
April 3, 2006

As Lance Cpl. Ryan Buchter lay bleeding in the Iraqi desert, his fate hinged on the efficiency of a medical lifeline that stretches halfway around the world. From that moment forward, hundreds of strangers would work to save him.

Buchter's platoon was in a village called Husaybah on Nov. 8, searching for the enemy. He was standing in the doorway of a farmhouse when an insurgent inside rolled a grenade at his feet.

The explosion shredded Buchter's left leg as superheated shrapnel tore through muscles and tendons. More shrapnel crushed his right hand and sliced into his nasal cavity.

Buchter groped for his nose but couldn't feel it. He thought it had been blown off. He leg was so shattered that he was certain he would lose it, and he imagined being left crippled at age 20.

"And not once did I cry," he recalled later, "until I thought, like, I was going to lose my leg and stuff."

A Marine applied a pressure bandage to Buchter's leg, trying to stop the bleeding. Another wrapped his hand and pressed gauze against his pulverized nose. The Marines quickly loaded Buchter into an armored vehicle, which delivered him to a medical aid station nearby.

Buchter survived the "golden hour" — the 60 minutes following a serious battlefield wound, when the speed and competence of emergency treatment can mean the difference between life and death. Ordinary fighting men teamed with doctors, surgeons and nurses to keep him alive.

His fellow Marines — what the military calls his "battle buddies" — were able to stanch his bleeding by putting their combat lifesaving training to quick use. Exsanguination, or bleeding to death, is the leading cause of death for American troops in Iraq.

As a military doctor examined his leg inside the aid station, Buchter was alarmed by the concerned look on the man's face.

"If I lose my leg, I'm coming back to get you," he told him.

The doctor assured Buchter that his leg would be saved. "You've got my word," he said.

Then a surgeon arrived and warned Buchter that he might indeed lose his leg. The best option to save it, he told him, was a very painful and sometimes disfiguring surgery called a fasciotomy, the extensive cutting and cleaning of the wound.

"And I was like, 'Cut me up if you have to. I just don't want to lose my leg,' " Buchter recalled.

The medical odyssey of this Marine was just beginning. Buchter was now a patient in a virtual assembly line of care. It begins with soldiers and medics on the battlefield and shifts quickly to helicopter crews who pluck the wounded from kill zones. It continues to surgeons and nurses and X-ray technicians at desert facilities, and to virtual flying hospitals that airlift the wounded from Balad to a U.S. military hospital in Germany.

It leaps the Atlantic to major military medical centers in Texas and Washington, D.C. It passes through military hospitals from New York to California. It culminates with months of painstaking physical and occupational therapy in hospital wards and private homes. About 17,400 wounded have been treated since the war began three years ago.

The fulcrum for treatment in Iraq is the U.S. Air Force Theater Hospital in Balad. In addition to the troops brought directly to the hospital, any seriously wounded American must make a stop in Balad to be flown for treatment in Germany. The facility is housed inside three dozen tents and three trailers on the packed sands of a former Iraqi air force base 50 miles north of Baghdad. Sandbags, concrete blast walls and concertina wire provide protection from insurgents, car bombs and mortars.

The military says no injured American is more than 30 minutes from Balad or one of three combat support hospitals operated by the Army.

The rapid evacuation of wounded troops begins with Black Hawk medevac crews of four — nicknamed "dust-off" teams — trained to respond rapidly to distress calls from the battlefield.

From their dusty tent base about a mile from the hospital, the Army air ambulance companies keep three helicopters and crews ready at all times. The copters occupy a corner of the air base, the thumping of their rotors competing with the roar of F-16s taking off and the low hum of armed reconnaissance drones.

The crews are called to action by "nine-lines," the emergency radio calls from the battlefield that provide nine essential bits of information: location, number of wounded, whether the landing zone is "hot," or under fire, and so on. In most cases, the crews say, their helicopters lift off within eight to 10 minutes.

At the sites of injuries — most often caused by improvised explosive devices or car bombs — the pilot and copilot remain in the helicopter. The crew chief provides security as soldiers on the ground help the medic load and strap down the wounded.

Flight medics provide oxygen, IV lines and morphine. They carry instruments for measuring oxygen saturation, respiration, heart rate and blood pressure. They check bandages and tourniquets applied by medics or soldiers. Often, they are obliged to calm frantic patients, or members of their units who have just seen their friends go down.

"They're scared; they're pumped up," said Staff Sgt. Jerry Bickett, whose 18-helicopter unit flew 3,200 missions and evacuated 6,000 patients last year. "We have to be the voice of reason. I'll tell them, 'I'm Jerry, the flight medic. I'm going to take care of you all the way in to the hospital.' "

The most difficult missions are those involving KIAs: troops killed in action. The medics call the dead "angels," and treat them with reverence. Their bagged corpses are transported as carefully as if they were alive, and rarely on a helicopter carrying wounded troops.

Medics collect and bag body parts of the dead and wounded. "I don't want their buddies to have to do it," said Sgt. Tomas Chavez, a flight medic stationed in Balad.

On the afternoon a Black Hawk delivered Lance Cpl. Buchter to Balad, a major offensive, Operation Steel Curtain, was underway in western Iraq. Helicopters brought in a steady stream of the wounded; the copters' blades stirred up a swirl of sand, stinging the faces of waiting attendants. The trauma tent's doors swung open every few minutes as medics rammed in stretchers with more injured soldiers.

Nurses and doctors clustered around each new arrival, cutting off uniforms and boots, inserting IV lines, pumping in morphine, probing for wounds. More medical technicians burst through the doors, screaming, "Two more!" and "This one's priority!"

For Buchter and thousands of other wounded troops, the Balad hospital is the midpoint on the journey from battlefield to recovery. A staff of 350 cares for about a thousand patients a month. Doctors perform about 400 surgeries monthly in three operating rooms set up inside the trailers. There are 40 ward beds and 20 intensive care beds. Eight patients at a time can be hooked to ventilators. It is the only military hospital in Iraq that offers neurosurgery and head-trauma specialists.

The Balad hospital's interior looks very much like any trauma center in the U.S., with its crush of doctors and nurses, CT scanners, digital X-ray machines and an intracranial monitor. The operation is streamlined — surgeons can study CT scans and X-rays by walking a few paces, and patients are rushed into surgery in a matter of minutes.

There is no indoor plumbing; portable toilets are set up outside. Generators provide electricity. Patients are tracked via a computer network. Meals are trucked in from well-stocked mess halls on the vast Balad air base, home to more than 20,000 U.S. troops.

On call are four orthopedic surgeons, a neurosurgeon, an eye surgeon, an oral surgeon, a maxillofacial surgeon and two hand surgeons, all with years of experience in U.S. trauma centers. They are backed by nurses, medical technicians, anesthesiologists and radiologists.

The most complex and delicate operations are possible. The day Buchter was treated, emergency brain surgery was performed on an Army master sergeant whose head was lacerated by shrapnel from a roadside bomb. Surgeons carefully removed three ragged skull fragments to relieve brain swelling. The soldier was flown to Germany and on to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

The Balad hospital can do anything that a major medical center in the U.S. can do, except solid-organ transplants such as heart or liver, said Col. Elisha T. Powell IV, the hospital commander at the time.

"I have people fight to get here so they can do this job," he said. "These are the most highly skilled surgeons in the world, and they're doing something that is so righteous. They know they'll never have a chance to do this again their entire life. And they don't want to leave."

About 60% of the patients are Iraqi soldiers, police and civilians, including the very people who set the bombs that kill and wound Americans.

Powell operated on an insurgent who had been shot through the hip on the same day Buchter underwent his surgery. The hospital sometimes treats insurgents in the same trauma room as Americans they have just attacked. Doctors also tend to detainees with serious medical problems; they can be seen shuffling through the corridors in jumpsuits and shackles, accompanied by armed military police.

Troops are often disturbed and occasionally enraged by the treatment afforded their enemy, Powell said. But medical workers say they make no distinctions. They compare treating insurgents to treating wounded cop-killers or drunk drivers in U.S. hospitals.

"You're not the judge or jury in the emergency room — you're a doctor," Powell said. "It's irrelevant to me what a patient's status is. I'm going to do what I'd do for an American."

There is no easy way to deal with the dead, or with those who survive when others have not. The flight crews in the air, and the surgeons and nurses on the ground, are confronted daily with the shifting boundaries between life and death, hope and despair.

Every day, Black Hawk helicopters deliver maimed Americans to trauma bays in the Air Force hospital in Balad, the last four digits of their Social Security numbers and their morphine loads scrawled in black marker on their chests or foreheads. The endless flow of terrified soldiers leaves its own lasting trauma.

Capt. Carl Impastato, assisting a surgeon struggling to save the mangled hand of a soldier, glanced at the slick floor one night and said, absently, "I've stood too many times with my feet in an inch of blood."

Col. Powell, the hospital commander, stared down at bits of road, dirt and uniform embedded in the shrapnel-pocked legs of a sergeant hit by a roadside bomb. "You just don't see injuries like this in the U.S.," he said. He paused and added: "I don't ever want to see injuries like this."

Chavez, the helicopter medic, remembered arriving at the scene of a roadside explosion outside Balad and screaming at dazed young soldiers gathered around severed limbs: "Is this one guy or two?" He remembered, too, trying to keep pressure on the bleeding groin of a mortally wounded soldier, who kept yanking Chavez's hand away.

Sgt. 1st Class Lou Bruneau, head nurse at the Army combat hospital in Baghdad, recalled helping surgeons try to save a critically wounded soldier. The soldier died on the operating table, and Bruneau took the disfigured corpse to the morgue. As he filled out the death certificate, Bruneau realized the dead man was a friend; he rushed back to the morgue to pay his final respects.

"I try not to think about it too awful much," he said of the death and suffering he witnesses.

Sometimes, as Bruneau found, hope and tragedy flow from soldiers wounded in the same attack.

On Nov. 2, a young sergeant with the Army's 101st Airborne Division arrived at the Baghdad hospital writhing in pain. He had been struck by a roadside bomb that ripped through his convoy near Baghdad. Two other soldiers were badly injured in the same explosion.

"Take this … tourniquet off my leg! It's … killing me!" the sergeant screamed at the medics who brought him in.

His pelvis was crushed. Flaps of meaty tissue drooped from his left leg. The skin around his right knee was peppered with oozing shrapnel holes. His left elbow was broken in two places.

He was naked and shivering under heavy wool blankets.

"Why am I shaking so bad?" he yelled.

"Your body temperature is down from blood loss and shock," a doctor said flatly. He stole a look at the sergeant's pale young face and quickly added: "But you're going to be just fine."

At the trauma room doorway, a medic ran up to Bruneau, whose boots were caked with dried brown blood. The medic reported that a second helicopter had just landed with the other two soldiers.

"They're both FUBARd," the medic said, using military slang meaning fouled up beyond all repair. They were dead.

The wounded sergeant was rolled through the doorway past Bruneau, headed for surgery. His gurney was intercepted in the corridor by his battalion commander, a lieutenant colonel, and by his command sergeant major. Their fatigues were covered with dust. They had just arrived from the battlefield.

The wounded sergeant grabbed the colonel's arm. "What happened to me, sir?" he asked.

"You were doing your job, buddy, that's what happened," the colonel said. "You're going to be OK."

"Everybody else in the convoy OK?"

The colonel looked at his sergeant major, who said nothing. There was a tense, empty moment.

"Hey, we don't know yet," the colonel said finally. "We'll find out for you after surgery."

They watched the gurney roll down the darkened corridor to the operating room, where surgeons saved the soldier's leg and his life.

Bruneau watched it too. "We're going to have to tell him his two buddies died," he said. He stared at his messy boots. "But not yet."

Hospital surgeons say 96% of the troops who make it to Balad survive their wounds. In some cases, skilled surgeons using high-tech tools perform near-miracles. In others, even the most heroic efforts can fail.

Army Spc. Corbin Foster arrived in Balad on Nov. 5 with a hunk of shrapnel lodged a fraction of an inch from his spinal column. A roadside bomb had exploded somewhere behind him, slamming his 190-pound body against the frame of his Humvee and drilling a piece of shrapnel the size of a cigar butt deep into his neck.

Although the wound was life-threatening, Foster, 36, was alert. He calmly listed the futile precautions he had taken to avoid being injured: sitting on the heavy groin protector from his body armor, and tilting his head at an angle away from the Humvee window so that any explosion would not catch him full in the face.

His surgeons were confronted with a difficult decision. The shrapnel would have killed Foster if it had penetrated another few millimeters. Trying to remove it surgically might also kill him, or leave him with serious neurological complications.

Foster could hear the surgeons discussing whether to try to go after the shrapnel. They mentioned the risk of a stroke or hematoma. Foster understood his medical situation. He was the convoy medic, and he had been a hospital nurse before joining the Army two years earlier.

Foster sat up. "All things being equal," he told the doctors, "I'd strongly request that you take it out."

Maj. Greg Wiggins, a neurosurgeon, and Maj. Chris Connaughton, a general surgeon, decided to try to remove the object through microsurgery. The shrapnel had left a remarkably clean wound track. The entry was a perfectly round hole surrounded by a circle of pink welts on Foster's sunburned neck.

In the operating room, Foster joked with the anesthesiologist just before he went under: "If I say, 'Bartender, round two,' hit me again."

One of the surgeons held the wound open with a retractor while the other probed inside with a hemostat. There was a sucking, gurgling sound. Suddenly, Connaughton withdrew the hemostat. Its jaws held an ugly piece of gray shrapnel.

"Nice," Wiggins said.

The two surgeons bumped fists in celebration. They were just five minutes into the surgery.

They flushed the wound, cauterized it, tucked a flap of skin back over the hole and packed it with gauze. It was over. One of the nurses rinsed blood off the shrapnel with peroxide and dropped it into a plastic pill container as a souvenir for the wounded medic.

Foster was promised another souvenir the next day. Lt. Col. Keith Knudson, an F-16 pilot, visited the ward and promised Foster he would drop a bomb on his behalf. The pilot was providing close air support for Foster's airborne unit.

That evening, Foster received an e-mail photo showing a 500-pound bomb marked with a message: "Return to Sender. Yours Truly, SPC Corbin Foster, 101st Airborne."

The next night, medics carrying a critically wounded Marine burst through the rear doors of the trauma room. The young man was unconscious. A roadside bomb had lacerated his spleen and broken his left leg in two places. He was in shock and losing blood.

Surgeons at an aid station had removed the Marine's spleen. They also had stapled his bowel to limit the damage there, and had packed his abdomen with dressing to control his bleeding. The two wounds on the Marine's leg were still bleeding despite a tourniquet and heavy bandaging.

Maj. Alan Murdock, the chief trauma surgeon, examined the wounds. He ordered the Marine taken to the operating room. Murdock had been at the hospital only two months, but he had treated enough critically wounded soldiers and Marines — and emergency room patients at trauma centers in the U.S. — to recognize instantly that this man was near death.

The Marine's blood pressure had dropped precipitously. His pH level — the acid-base ratio in his bloodstream — was 6.6. As his muscle and other tissue died, his blood grew more acidic. A level under 6.8 is usually fatal.

In the operating room, Murdock turned to three anesthesiologists and two surgeons gathered with him around the surgical table.

"If he survives, it'll be a miracle," he told them.

Murdock, 37, has lost count of the number of surgeries he has performed in Balad. He struggles each time to maintain a professional detachment, to separate his emotions from his intellect.

"I try not to think about the patient being a person sometimes," he said later, as he recounted details of the Marine's surgery. "If you're thinking about him as somebody's son, you know, it's very difficult to try to be emotional and yet take care of the patient. It's not possible."

The Marine was being kept alive by cardiac stimulants dripped into his system through a catheter inserted into the vein beneath his collarbone. Murdock ordered blood and fresh-frozen plasma. Doctors and nurses bolted from the room to fetch the fluids from an adjoining tent.

The blood and plasma were run through a machine that warmed the fluids. The Marine continued to bleed, and the doctors and nurses kept running down the corridor for more blood — 10 units in all. Murdock added a clotting factor to slow the bleeding.

Over the next 90 minutes, the Marine fought for his life. An older man, or any man not as superbly conditioned as this one, Murdock thought, would have died by now. He was surprised the Marine had survived this long. His pulse and blood pressure would inch upward for a few moments, then crash back to critically low levels.

The Marine had a heart rhythm, but it was disorganized and soon degenerated into ventricular fibrillation. Murdock and the other surgeons took turns performing intermittent CPR, each man grunting as he compressed the chest. They watched an arterial monitor, which showed the Marine's arterial line rising with each compression but then falling right back when each round of CPR halted.

The doctors carried on for many long minutes, compressing the chest and pumping in more warmed blood and fluids. Still, the Marine was not able to sustain his blood pressure or pulse. Medical technicians rushed into the room with fresh lab results on the patient's blood, and each time the numbers were worse.

The surgeons reviewed their efforts. They analyzed the lab numbers one more time. They looked at the monitor. It showed a flat line. There was no pulse.

It was Murdock's call.

"Is there anything we're missing?" he asked the surgeons and anesthesiologists. "Is there anything else we can correct?"

Each man shook his head.

"Unless anybody objects, the best thing would be to call it — and not continue any further care," Murdock said.

The doctors and nurses peeled off their gloves and scrubs and walked from the room, beaten and drained. Murdock felt miserable and empty. He went to fill out the death certificate and recorded the cause of death: hemorrhagic shock.

The medical technicians stayed behind, surrounded by deflated blood bags and discarded dressings. They gently wiped and cleaned the body of the young Marine for his funeral, for his family, for everyone who had tried to save him.

Lance Cpl. Ryan Buchter, the Marine injured by a grenade, had an air tube down his throat as he lay in one of the Balad hospital's trauma bays. Bandages obscured his nose and eyes. There was tape below his mouth, and the last four digits of his Social Security number were written in black ink across his forehead. He was in shock and still bleeding.

Doctors ordered digital X-rays, then decided that Buchter's leg needed a "washout and redress" procedure to keep the deep wound free of infection, a leading complication in the deaths of troops in Iraq's septic environment. Buchter was rushed into surgery.

Lt. Col. Jim Keeney, an orthopedic surgeon, irrigated the 15-inch leg incision and packed it with gauze. He excised decaying tissue from Buchter's right hand and removed shrapnel from his nasal cavity.

There was a low whirling sound as a "wound vac" pumped blood and fluids from the wounds to help them drain. The fluids gushed through a plastic tube and emptied into a plastic container on the floor.

The surgeon and nurses worked methodically, exchanging instruments and cutting rolls of gauze. Buchter, swathed in blue surgical drapes, his leg tied to the ceiling with muscles and tendons exposed, seemed more like an object on an assembly line than a strapping former football player.

"You always have to remember that this is a person you're working on," Keeney said as he operated, "and what you're doing right now will affect him the rest of his life."

Nurses wrapped Buchter's wounds with fresh dressing, then wiped blood and rust-colored antiseptic from his face and leg. They untied his leg and rolled him toward the intensive care ward.

Buchter remembered nothing of the surgery.

He had suffered serious muscle and nerve damage to his leg, Keeney said. The shrapnel had probably reduced the strength of the limb by half, he said, but Buchter might be able to rebuild it through months of physical therapy.

"The good news," the doctor said as Buchter's gurney disappeared into the next tent, "is that he'll keep his leg."

Eight Marines, One Sailor Killed in Iraq Incidences

WASHINGTON, April 3, 2006 – Eight Marines and a sailor died in two separate incidents in Iraq yesterday. Three servicemembers also are missing after a vehicle accident in floodwaters, military officials reported today.
A U.S. Marine Corps 7-ton truck rolled over in a flash flood near Asad, resulting in five Marines dead, one injured, and two Marines and one sailor missing. The vehicle was on a combat logistics convoy in Anbar province with eight Marines and one Navy corpsman on board.


American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 3, 2006 – Eight Marines and a sailor died in two separate incidents in Iraq yesterday. Three servicemembers also are missing after a vehicle accident in floodwaters, military officials reported today.
A U.S. Marine Corps 7-ton truck rolled over in a flash flood near Asad, resulting in five Marines dead, one injured, and two Marines and one sailor missing. The vehicle was on a combat logistics convoy in Anbar province with eight Marines and one Navy corpsman on board.

The deaths were not a result of enemy action, U.S. military officials said.

"Our thoughts are with the families, and we are using all the resources available to find our missing Marines and sailor," Marine spokesman Lt. Col. Bryan Salas said.

Two of the missing servicemembers are assigned to 1st Marine Logistics Group, and the third is assigned to Regimental Combat Team 7. The injured Marine was returned to duty.

In a separate incident, three Marines and a sailor, assigned to 2/28 Brigade Combat Team, serving with Multinational Force West, died from enemy action in Anbar province. No further details were available.

The names of the dead and missing are being withheld pending notification of next of kin.

(Compiled from Multinational Force Iraq news releases.)

April 2, 2006

Bringing Back the Wounded With Heart, Soul and Surgery

This is part one of a three-part series entitled "The Lifeline" where LA Times Reporter David Zucchino and photographer Rick Loomis follow five wounded troops through a system of military medical care more advanced than in any previous conflict. This series is not for the "faint of heart" and is very graphic, as are the accompanying slides and interactives that can be seen by clicking on the original link. Kudos to these reporters entering this touchy area and at the same time letting us meet, firsthand, another group of military heroes--the medics, the surgeons, the orthopedists, the opthmalogists, and all the rest of the medical staff that are there to take care of our boys.

Bringing Back the Wounded With Heart, Soul and Surgery
Injured troops are swept up in a lifesaving process unmatched in past wars -- reaching hospitals in minutes and the U.S. in days. But their agony doesn't end on the battlefield.


By David Zucchino
Times Staff Writer
April 2, 2006

Vincent Worrell lay shivering on a trauma bay. He felt something in his mouth. He sat up and spat fragments of his front teeth into a bedpan. They were mixed with blood and tissue torn from inside his mouth.

He heard someone say: "Significant laceration to the cheek and lip." And then: "Frag under the eye … frag in the face … frag in the shoulder … possible thumb fracture."

A bomb fashioned from two mortar rounds had detonated a few feet behind Worrell, an Army staff sergeant, as he walked on patrol near Tall Afar on the morning of Nov. 6. Now he was inside the Air Force Theater Hospital, a tight web of interlocking tents set up on packed sand 50 miles north of Baghdad.

Worrell was groggy; he had been given morphine.

He asked a doctor: "Will I need reconstructive facial surgery?"

"Nope, just some new teeth."

Worrell glanced down and was surprised to see a Purple Heart resting between his legs. Somehow the medal made him think of his wife, Jayme.

"My wife's going to be pissed," he told the doctor. "She specifically gave me instructions not to get perforated over here."

At that moment, Jayme Worrell was driving to the couple's ranch-style home in Fayetteville, N.C. She did not yet know that Vinny, the gangly boy she had dated in high school, the restaurant cook who had joined the Army to give meaning to his life, was about to be cut open inside a tent in the Iraqi desert.

The grit and shrapnel in Worrell's face was just a small part of the bloodshed from the first week of November. In a typical week in Iraq, about 110 American troops are injured in action. Doctors, medics, nurses and litter bearers in Iraq fight daily to keep the wounded from joining the ever-lengthening rolls of the dead.

After three years of war, the military has honed a highly efficient lifesaving process that moves the wounded swiftly from the battlefield to emergency surgery in the combat zone, and on to military hospitals in Germany and the U.S. The approximately 17,400 troops wounded since March 2003 have been swept up in a medical effort unmatched in any previous war.

In November, 402 troops were wounded in Iraq. Among them were Worrell and four other men who were delivered the same week, bleeding and in excruciating pain, to the hospital here.

On Nov. 5, an explosion tore into Marine Lance Cpl. Francisco Ponceherbozo, 20, a Peruvian-born Californian, as his squad pursued insurgents in western Iraq. The blast knocked him down and left a hole the size of a silver dollar in his left foot.

On Nov. 6, an improvised explosive device upended an armored Humvee driven by Army Spc. Joshua Griffin, 18, who had joined the Army in Texas a year earlier with his mother's permission. He was on a mission to hand out soccer balls and teddy bears to children near Taji. Griffin's smooth face was blackened by second-degree burns, his jaw was broken in two places and his right femur was shattered.

On Nov. 7, a land mine detonated beneath a Humvee carrying Marine 2nd Lt. Mike Geiger, 24, a military brat from North Carolina, as his platoon in Haditha distributed leaflets advising civilians how to avoid being shot at U.S. checkpoints. Geiger's face was bathed in blood, and his right foot was broken in several places.

On Nov. 8, a grenade tossed by an insurgent exploded at the feet of Marine Lance Cpl. Ryan Buchter, 20, a baby-faced former high school football star from Pennsylvania, as his unit cleared farmhouses of enemy fighters in western Iraq. Shrapnel shredded his left leg, crushed his right hand and ripped into his nostrils.

Those five men, each one an eager volunteer in Iraq, would spend a long winter recovering from the most searing experiences of their lives. The medical care that saved them was extraordinary, but it was only the beginning. They endured dozens of surgeries in five military hospitals on three continents. They returned to their families much different from the fit young men who had set off to war.

For some of them, what happened on the battlefield wasn't the worst of it.

Vincent Worrell's lips were a deep blue. Trauma and blood loss had lowered his body temperature. Despite the blankets covering him, he could not stop shivering. He had never felt so cold.

A doctor hollered for more blankets.

Worrell heard a gushing sound in his left ear, the one that had been nearest the blast. One eye was swollen shut. He asked for water, but a nurse told him he could not have food or drink because he was about to undergo surgery.

"If I can't have water, can we compromise and let me at least rinse out my mouth?" he asked.

He got the water and washed the metallic taste of blood from his mouth.

This was not the first time he had been wounded. In January 2005, Worrell was shot through his right thigh in Mosul, and he had been back on duty just two months.

He thought again about his wife, and what the news of this more serious calamity would do to her — and to them. What if he lost his eye, his hearing, or the use of his hand? He was only 25. They had a 5-year-old-daughter. How would they manage?

Worrell wanted someone to tell his wife, quickly, that he was hurt but alive.

Jayme Worrell would not get the full story until later that day, when a lieutenant phoned her from nearby Ft. Bragg. Jayme was so familiar with casualty notification that she warned friends to knock rather than ring her doorbell. She knew that casualty officers delivered news of a dead soldier in person and always rang the doorbell. But a phone call meant an injury, not death.

"I'm sorry to inform you that your husband was injured by an IED …," the lieutenant recited, and Jayme did not hear anything else until she heard him utter the words, " … but he's OK."

She had expected the worst. It was her husband's third tour in Iraq and the odds were against him, given his job as an airborne infantry squad leader.

"I told him very specifically not to get perforated — or shot, stabbed, poisoned, strangled or bitten by dogs," she said later. "Then he gets his head blown up…. I took it better this time. It's weird the things you get used to."

Inside the Air Force hospital, a medical technician rolled Worrell into surgery.

The operating room was inside a metal trailer attached to the tents that make up the hospital. It looked like an operating room at any big-city hospital, crammed with computerized monitoring devices, anesthesiology equipment and surgical instruments.

A Dwight Yoakam song was playing on a portable CD player as Col. Bailey Robertson stared at Worrell's ravaged face. The soldier had been anesthetized, and a blue surgical drape had been stapled to his forehead and cheek so that only his mouth, nose and eyes were visible.

"I need to snatch out a couple of broken teeth and stitch up his lip," said Robertson, a maxillofacial surgeon.

First, Lt. Col. Bryan Angle, an eye surgeon, went to work on the fragments embedded in Worrell's nose and cheek. He used tweezers to pluck out bits of shrapnel from beneath Worrell's left eye. Using the back end of the tweezers, he packed gauze into the ragged hole on the left side of the nose and then pulled it out.

Angle used his little finger to probe inside the nose wound. He squinted through magnifying loupes, which looked like oversized spectacles. This is the first war in which microsurgery is available on the front lines.

Angle fished out a lump of grayish-brown rock, then another. He flushed the wound and sutured it.

Robertson used a retractor to expand the wound under Worrell's left eye. Angle extracted bits of dirt and more rock fragments, lining them up on a sterile field of blue fabric.

"And my rock garden continues to grow," he said.

Next, Col. John Ingari, an orthopedic hand specialist, used a scalpel to slice dying tissue from the base of Worrell's broken left thumb. Dead tissue harbors bacteria; infection is a serious threat in Iraq's unsanitary environment.

A nurse retracted a long, jagged wound on Worrell's left hand as Ingari plucked out a rough brown object, either a rock or bit of highway pavement. Ingari was pleased to see that the digital nerve in Worrell's thumb was intact. "A millimeter over, and he'd have lost all sensitivity in his thumb," he said.

Ingari moved on to a deep wound on Worrell's left shoulder. He probed it with his index finger, extracting two large rock fragments. The explosion had blown pieces of roadway into the shoulder, but no razor-sharp mortar shrapnel that might have caused even more damage. The surgeons worked briskly, commenting on their work as they probed and sewed. Nurses swabbed the wounds with gauze, and Worrell's bright red blood stained the blue drapes beneath him and dripped to the floor.

Robertson irrigated Worrell's mouth, washing out more tooth fragments and dirt. He used a metal tool to latch onto the broken roots of Worrell's front teeth and pried them out with a loud cracking sound. Then he sutured the gums, the roof of the mouth and the fleshy mass of tissue where Worrell's lower lip had been ripped loose.

Final sutures went into the medial canthal tendon beside Worrell's left eye, which keeps the eyelid tight so that tears can flow.

After two hours, the surgery was over. Worrell was wheeled into a recovery room, his face splotched with dried blood, scarlet wounds and black sutures.

Ingari was optimistic that Worrell would regain full use of his left hand and shoulder.

Robertson thought Worrell's face and eyes would heal nicely, with his gums ready for titanium teeth implants to be inserted by specialists in the U.S. "He'll have a scar on his lip," he said. "It'll make him look tough."

Angle thought Worrell looked much better going out of surgery than coming in. "This guy is pretty lucky," he said, "if you call getting whacked in the face by an IED lucky."

The wounded in Iraq receive better and faster medical treatment than in any previous conflict. Often, soldiers are rushed to the operating room within minutes of being unloaded from Black Hawk medevac helicopters.

During the Vietnam War, where the nearest combat support hospital was in Japan, it took an average of 45 days to move a wounded soldier from the battlefield to a U.S. hospital. In Iraq, it takes less than four days.

Medevac helicopters are able to fly quickly over the flat desert landscape. Surgeons say no wounded American in Iraq is more than 30 minutes from a combat hospital, where treatment is as good as at any U.S. trauma center. In many ways, it is better. In a single busy night, combat surgeons can repair a greater number of ghastly and complex wounds than a big-city trauma surgeon might see in a year.

In a war with no fixed front, military hospitals in Iraq are closer than ever to the places where American troops are felled — most often by roadside bombs, but also by rockets, mortars and gunshots. There are four major combat hospitals in Iraq: The Air Force hospital in Balad, and Army combat support hospitals in Baghdad, Mosul and Tikrit.

Many of the most seriously wounded would have died in previous wars. In Vietnam, soldiers often bled to death before reaching a hospital. Because the wounded in Iraq are evacuated so quickly, 96% of those who make it alive to the Balad and Baghdad hospitals are saved.

On the battlefield, medics are better-prepared. The lowliest grunt is given specialized lifesaver training, particularly in the use of tourniquets to control bleeding. New blood-clotting agents and improved field bandages have helped save lives.

Despite the destructive force of roadside bombs, the rate of wounded who die is lower in Iraq than for any war in U.S. history. Since the war began three years ago, about 10% of those wounded have died of their injuries, according to the Pentagon, down from 24% during the Vietnam War and 30% during World War II. The highest lethality rate was 42%, during the Revolutionary War.

In 2005, the number of wounded in Iraq increased by 1,200 from a year earlier. Yet the number of dead remained virtually the same, 844 versus 848 in 2004, dropping the lethality rate from 9.6% to 8.4%. Just over half of those wounded have returned to duty.

Ballistic goggles — like those worn by Worrell — have protected the eyesight of thousands. Although body armor has saved more lives, it leaves limbs, necks and armpits exposed. A recent Pentagon study found that improved armor could have saved as many as 80% of Marines who died from upper-body wounds.

The amputation rate in Iraq is double that of previous wars. Many soldiers face the rest of their lives without arms or legs, or with severe brain damage. Even for the wounded who will walk again, and perhaps return to battle, the physical damage, and the psychological scars, last forever.

Mike Geiger was wheeled into the operating room, his fractured right foot heavily wrapped. Geiger's narrow face was a sickly greenish-gray — not from shock, but from road dust and smoke that had filled his burning Humvee after it was crumpled by the land mine.

Geiger's cheeks were streaked with blood from tiny shrapnel wounds, and there was a nasty gash under his chin. He was alert and talking. He had flashed a thumbs up as he was being rolled in from the Black Hawk.

As a platoon leader, Geiger had always worked hard to prepare his men for calamity. He had a plan in place in the event any of his men were wounded. But when it turned out that he was the one injured, he lost his bearings.

Many of the wounded describe an unbearable interlude, seconds after going down, when one cannot comprehend what is happening. They are surprised by the way time seems to stop as they lie bleeding, and by the suspended moment of utter quiet that follows an explosion.

Some say they feel disconnected from their injuries, as if they are watching something terrible happen to somebody else. Others say they feel vaguely foolish or incompetent for allowing the injury. Getting wounded is always something that happens to the other guy.

Geiger remembered a rush of emotions and confusion as he considered ordering his men to form a security perimeter. He did not realize that they had already taken their positions after yanking him out of his Humvee. Geiger screamed that his leg was killing him, and the unit medic injected him with morphine.

Now, in the operating room, the pain had eased. Geiger did not know whether he would lose his leg; the doctors weren't saying. He tried to stay positive. "As long as I can dance at my wedding, I'll be OK," he told the surgeon.

An anesthesiologist peered down at Geiger's discolored face and the dirty black rings his goggles had left around his eyes. "Wow, man," he said. "You have great eyes."

Those were the last words Geiger heard before the anesthesia took effect.

Minutes later, Lt. Col. Jim Keeney, an orthopedic surgeon, cut two long incisions into the top of Geiger's badly swollen foot to relieve pressure. Thick red blood drained into a pan. Keeney bent down to study the wounds.

"Um, this is a significant trauma," he said. "This young man didn't show a lot of pain, but this is a very painful injury."

Keeney used tweezers to remove temporary stitches along Geiger's big toe, sewn earlier that day at a unit aid station before a Black Hawk flew him to Balad.

Keeney cleaned and dressed the wound. A nurse wiped the grime and blood from Geiger's face. She disinfected the gash on his chin with rust-colored Betadine. Barring a serious infection, Keeney said, Geiger would not lose his foot.

"He may need some skin grafts," he said, wrapping up. "But he'll be walking again in six to eight weeks."

In the intensive care ward hours later, Geiger called home on a satellite phone provided by the hospital. He reached his mother, Patricia Geiger, a retired nurse, at home in Fayetteville, N.C.

He began, "I'm OK. My Humvee hit a land mine."

He listened to his mother for a few moments, and answered her questions. She was weeping. He murmured in a low voice, "I love you, too," and hung up.

Geiger wanted to reach his fiancee, too, before someone else told her. He was engaged to Ensign Kate Shawhan, a Navy nurse at Camp Pendleton. By his own admission, he had been a wild kid in high school — so wild his parents had sent him to military school. That, and the Marine Corps, had matured him. Marriage was the next step.

He punched in Shawhan's phone number. He got her answering machine.

"Hey, gorgeous," the lieutenant said casually. "Just wanted to let you know I'm on my way to Germany tonight and I'll probably be home soon…. I love you."

Geiger hung up and thought for a moment about what he had done. He lowered his head. "That," he said, "was a terrible thing to leave on an answering machine."

On the same ward, Francisco Ponceherbozo was awaiting a flight out that night to the U.S. military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany. He felt uneasy. He wasn't certain the deep wound in his left foot was serious enough to warrant a trip out of Iraq.

"It wasn't like my arm got blown off or I had a sucking chest wound," he told Lance Cpl. Justin Summers, who was being treated in the next trauma bay. "I mean, it hurts like hell, but it doesn't seem all that urgent."

Summers had suffered a slight leg wound in the same explosion that felled Ponceherbozo. Their platoon was engaged in heavy fighting in Operation Steel Curtain in western Iraq, an effort to seal insurgents' infiltration routes.

"Looks like I'm not going back out," Ponceherbozo said.

"Sorry — damn, that sucks," Summer said, and he limped out of the hospital, his boot unlaced, on his way back to the front.

Ponceherbozo was rolled into surgery and given anesthesia. Lt. Col. Scott Russi, a general surgeon, studied X-rays of his foot. The second metatarsal was fractured. A shard of shrapnel was lodged in the side of the foot. Russi decided not to try to cut it out.

"I'd only create even more tissue damage if I tried to go in and get it," he said. It would likely work its way to the surface later on.

Russi washed out a shrapnel wound on Ponceherbozo's shoulder and packed it with gauze. He probed the foot wound, opening the ragged hole slightly to get a better look.

"Oh, that's a good-sized wound," he said. "Goes all the way to the muscle. It'll probably need a skin graft at some point."

He flushed the wound and packed it. The corporal was ready to be shipped home.

In the intensive care ward later, Ponceherbozo sat up in bed, his slender form overwhelmed by huge white dressings on his shoulder and foot. He was making plans for combat tattoos: the word "Steel" on one shoulder and "Curtain" on the other, in honor of the offensive that left him wounded. He loved the Corps — he had joined right out of high school.

His main concern at that moment was replacing the thick, ugly, military-issue black-framed spectacles he was wearing. They were on loan from a buddy after Ponceherbozo broke his prescription glasses. He asked a public affairs sergeant on the ward if she could find him something other than what he called "nerd glasses." She promised to try.

A nurse brought over a satellite phone so the corporal could call home. He had spoken to his mother just three days earlier to warn her that he would not be phoning again for a while because of the upcoming offensive.

Ana Maria Whitley is a native of Peru who came to the U.S. 12 years ago. She had agonized over her son's decision to join the Marines. She was so worried that she asked a Roman Catholic bishop who patronizes her housecleaning service to pray for Franco, as she calls him.

Ponceherbozo dialed his mother's number in Southern California. It was 4:15 a.m. on the West Coast. Whitley was awakened from a deep sleep.

"It's Franco," the corporal said. "I just want to tell you I'm OK, but I'm just a little casualty of war. I caught a little shrapnel to my right shoulder and left foot … "

He could hear his mother sobbing.

"You know what shrapnel is, right?" he went on. "It's like fragments of metal."

He told her he was coming home, and he heard her say through her tears: "Thank God you're alive."

Later that night, as the yellow lights from the tented hospital glimmered in the black desert expanse, a bus loaded with patients pulled away. It lumbered for just a mile, easing past sentries at a security checkpoint that leads to the Balad air base tarmac.

Looming in the dark was a specially equipped C-17 medical transport plane, its big rear belly opened wide to receive patients on their way to the U.S. military hospital in Landstuhl.

The bus parked next to the plane. Six men and women in Air Force uniforms stood behind the vehicle in two neat lines. An airman shouted out cadences as each wounded man, wrapped in wool blankets and connected to tubes, was lowered to waiting arms and loaded into the plane's belly.

In the previous two months, the planes had evacuated 1,500 wounded troops. More than a hundred were considered critical — each accompanied by a doctor, nurse, medical technician and tangles of portable medical equipment.

"We're basically a flying hospital," said Air Force Lt. Col. Scott Vandehoef, who commands the evacuation service.

Among the patients that night were Ponceherbozo, Worrell and Griffin. Buchter and Geiger had just arrived in Balad that day, and both would leave for Germany the next night.

Griffin was among the critical patients traveling with three caregivers. His face was so bloated that his right ear had disappeared. His eyes were narrow slits. Dried brown blood was caked on his eyes and mouth. His broken jaw was swollen and aching. A tracheotomy tube snaked down his throat. He had emerged from major surgery just hours earlier.

Unable to speak, Griffin wrote down phone numbers for his mother in Texas and his sister in Germany, and gave them to the nurse accompanying him. He wanted his mother to know what had happened to him. He wanted his sister, Megan, an Army private in Germany, to meet his plane.

The nurse phoned Renee Hickman in Humble, Texas. Hickman had already received a call from her son's rear detachment, telling her that Griffin had been wounded. But she did not know the extent of his injuries, and she felt a curious wave of relief when the nurse described them. They sounded serious, but not hopeless.

"I had assumed the worst," Hickman said later. "As bad as it sounded, he was alive. Just hearing her voice, knowing she was there with him, helped me get through it."

A few minutes later, Griffin wrote a note thanking the nurse and everyone who had treated him. Then he wrote that his head and foot were hurting terribly.

A medical technician bent down close to Griffin's disfigured face. "I hope you're not going to cry," the technician said. " 'Cause if you cry, then I'll start crying."

Griffin held back his tears.

Earlier, nurses had described his wounds to him, but Griffin now wanted to see for himself.

One of his doctors agreed, reluctantly. She handed him a mirror.

Griffin stared at his image for a long time. He coughed through the tracheotomy tube — a raspy, guttural sound. The doctor gave him a tissue and he wiped his eyes.

The soldier took a pen and a notepad. He scribbled something and handed it to the doctor. It read: "I'm scared."

Combat Train keeps wheels rolling for 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment

ABU GHRAIB, Iraq (April 2, 2006) -- It isn’t the drone of the hulking seven-ton truck engines that keeps Staff Sgt. Alberto M. PerezTorres awake. It’s not even bottomless cups of coffee or nicotine-induced pick-ups.


By Cpl. William Skelton,
1st Marine Division
April 2, 2006

It’s more like the improvised explosive devices and occasional gunfire directed at his middle-of-the-night runs to 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment’s outlying posts. But it never slows him down.

PerezTorres is the convoy commander for the battalion’s Combat Train One, the supply lifeline that keeps beans, bullets and bandages rolling out to the infantrymen.

“So far we have been lucky, none of the combat trains has hit an IED while on missions,” said 38-year-old PerezTorres, from Los Angeles. “We have encountered a few, but we have been able to call out (explosive ordnance disposal teams) to take care of them.”

The Combat Train One mission starts hours and even days before they actually spark up the engines on humvees and trucks. They decide what supplies need to go out, ranging from spare parts and ammunition to mail. Map studies follow. Routes are chosen, security is added to the mix and plans are combed over again and again.

This day’s mission had them traveling to Abu Ghraib. Topping other concerns, weather was turning for the worse. Thunderstorms gathered on the horizon.

Running supplies is a constant on-the-go mission for the Marines, despite any of the conditions. Nearly every day, a combat train takes to the road keeping supplies moving forward.

“In the two months the battalion has been in country we have been on a total of 108 missions,” said Warrant Officer Jeromie A. Rogers, the 32-year-old officer-in-charge from Iowa City, Iowa. “Depending on the mission and what we encounter, we can drive anywhere from 10 miles to 60 miles.”

The Marines driving the supplies forward bring with them a hodgepodge of different skills. They’re comprised of the battalion’s Marines and attachments, all working together to keep the wheels rolling.

“In the teams we have a mixture of motor transport Marines, infantry Marines and communications Marines,” PerezTorres said. “All of the Marines are outstanding and perform their jobs well.”

In addition to re-supplying and transportation, the teams set up vehicle check points and also provide a quick reaction force for the battalion, Rogers said.

The Marines know the value of the job they perform for the battalion. They realize that without them, the battalion’s Marines wouldn’t be able to perform their role in operations.

“Like any other job here there are risks,” PerezTorres said. “We look forward to the missions we are given. We are happy to do our job.”

Venturing out in stormy weather and knowing the dangers out there keeps the team motivated to do the job they have before them. They know they supply the companies with what they need to meet mission requirements.

“All of the Marines are happy to see us come,” said Lance Cpl. Anthony J. Graziano, a 20-year-old wireman from Moraga, Calif. “They need the supplies we bring. I think we do an important job.”

The day’s run found them back at Camp Fallujah, having traveled to Abu Ghraib and back. But just as this run wound down, they were already gearing up for the next.

“It’s a never ending job,” Graziano said. “As long as we are here, the Marines are going to need supplies and transportation.”

April 1, 2006

Marine mechanics in Iraq keep supply convoys rolling

AL ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq (April 1, 2006) -- Working long hours under the sweltering Iraqi sun may not sound like an ideal work environment, but Marine mechanics here are not only unfazed by the situation, they're enjoying it.


Submitted by: 1st Marine Logistics Group
Story Identification #: 20064174739
Story by Sgt. Enrique S. Diaz

"I just like being a mechanic here, I'm getting more hands-on experience," said Lance Cpl. Adriana R. Anderson as she took a moment to rest while replacing an air compressor on top of a V8 engine.

The 22-year-old, part of a Marine motor transportation platoon at this U.S. airbase in Iraq’s western Al Anbar Province, has been working on the engine for several days and is nearing completion.

Anderson's platoon, a part of Combat Logistics Battalion-7's Maintenance Company, is responsible for repairing vehicles used by American service members to transport supplies and personnel throughout Al Anbar province.

The trucks the Marines repair range in size, and complexity, from humvees to the Logistics Vehicle System or LVS, the Marine Corps' version of a hydraulic tractor-trailer used for carrying large loads on supply runs. High-tech seven-ton trucks and old U.S. Army 21/2 ton troop carriers are other common vehicles that are serviced.

The deployment is the first time for some of the mechanics to work on some of the vehicles or to replace major components such as engines and transmissions. Such advanced skills are different from the basic maintenance and diagnostics they were taught in their formal training and are often learned from the seasoned Marines who have been turning wrenches for a while.

The Marines' lack of experience and diverse workload may seem like a compounded obstacle that would cause problems for the unit. However, these mechanics are not only up to the challenge, but appreciate the opportunity to learn skills they could use later in their careers.

"Every day I'm doing different kinds of repairs and gaining experience," said Cpl. Patrick L. Harper, a 21-year-old from Augusta, Ga. "When I go back to Okinawa, I can help those Marines that never had that chance to work on many trucks get the job done quicker and more efficiently."

The platoon of 13 mechanics has already repaired 114 trucks in less than two months. Taking in mind that every day any four of the wrench turners fulfill collateral security and administrative duties and are off the shop floor, only eight Marines are actually working to accomplish the same job usually reserved for an entire company.

Long days working to repair immediately-needed vehicles are ebbed with moments of tranquility as the mechanics wait for the next truck to be inducted into the maintenance cycle or a special part to be delivered from America.

"It's hours and hours of pure chaos with sudden blirps of boredom," said Master Sgt. Gilberto J. Rivera, MTM platoon commander.

"It's like the weather; it can change at any moment," said Rivera, a 37-year-old Sahuarita, Ariz., native.

After the day has ended, it is not uncommon for the mechanics, male and female alike, to be covered in grease from their steal-toe boots and fire-resistant coveralls up to strands of their hair glued together with the dark, oily substance - proof of the long hours and difficult work under the hoods of these vehicles.

The very convoys they support mirror the necessity of their job; without the mechanics maintaining the trucks, drivers wouldn't be able to deliver the goods to isolated Marines at the furthest outposts in Iraq, essentially cutting off their lifeline.

While the mechanics are busy turning wrenches, the platoon also has a handful of Marines responsible for recovering trucks damaged outside the base – often the result of an improvised explosive attack or regular wear and tear of the vehicles, which are loaded with heavy supplies and driven across Al Anbar Province daily.

The wrecker Marines stay just as busy as their mechanic counterparts as they often ride along on convoys in the event that their services are needed to tow a broken vehicle back to base.

Sometimes the recovery service is needed for damaged vehicles after an enemy attack. So far, the wrecker Marines have gone on five missions to recover vehicles damaged by insurgent attacks.

"You never know what is going to happen; you're always on the ball, always keeping alert to make sure there are no IEDs that could have been missed by the rest of the convoy," said Lance Cpl. Cory S. Henderson, a 20-year-old San Bernadino, Calif., native.

As the days pass, the Marines continue their never-ending job to repair the hard-driven vehicles. The mechanics understand that as long vehicles are used, they will eventually need repair. And they are ready to provide their services.

"It's a lot of hours but that's OK. We came here to do a mission and get the job done; we can't have all these trucks in (the shop)... we need them out on the road," said Harper.

Local Marine recovering from gunshot wound

The local Marine, 21, from Leroy Township, continues to recover from a gunshot wound to his right leg, in his shin bone, that he sustained while serving in Iraq. He was shot by a sniper in February.


By: Eric Hrin
Scott is expected to make a full recovery, and he and his family feel fortunate that the wound wasn't worse.
"They said I was lucky that the bone didn't get shattered in a million pieces," Scott said.
"We were very, very thankful it wasn't more serious," said his grandmother Carrie Wilcox, from Leroy Township. "We told him the Lord was looking after him. He could have lost his leg or his life."
Recently, Scott, using crutches, was back home in Bradford County on convalescent leave. He left for Camp Lejeune, N.C., this past week.
A member of Golf Battery BLT (Battalion Landing Team) 1/2 22nd MEU (Marine Expeditionary Unit), Scott was on patrol Feb. 11 when he thought he twisted his ankle.
It turned out he had been shot by a sniper.
He said the Marines were conducting a regular patrol, and thought they had a possible IED (Improvised Explosive Device) hole.
He said they were providing security along the road, and were told to get back on the trucks.
"We found some tools used to dig the hole, and then they said, 'Get back on the trucks,' and as I was walking back, there was one shot," he said. "We got off the road, got behind cover, and I thought when I turned to run off the road, I thought I twisted my ankle, and then when I got over and looked down, I saw blood on my cammies and it hurt it a little higher than that."
"All there was was one shot, and it kind of goes blurry after that," he said.
He said he felt a pain when he was shot, though it wasn't too bad. "It didn't hurt real bad until they started bandaging it and messing around with it," he said.
Describing his wounds, Scott said there is a "chunk missing out of my tibia, and a fracture down below that."
He was taken to Valad to be treated, then to a hospital at Landstuhl, Germany, where he was kept for a week. When he came to the U.S., he went to Bethesda, Md., and then to Camp Lejeune.
Scott was in Al Anbar Province, Iraq. A 2002 graduate of Canton Area High School, Scott had been in Iraq since Dec. 7.
"We were glad to know he was all right; he said he got excellent care, which I figured he would," Wilcox said.
She said her grandson is doing well. "He's anxious to get the cast off," she said.
Yvonne Killian, Scott's mother, said her son has a doctor's appointment next week to see if he can get his cast off.
She, too, is thankful that the wound wasn't worse. "He's lucky he came out of it as good as he did," she said. "They expect a full recovery, that there won't be any lasting effects from the wound." She and her husband took him down to Camp Lejeune this past week.
Scott's fianceé, Meredith Farr, said she heard about Scott being shot after having worked third shift. Scott's mom called her early in the morning.
"It didn't hit me until I got to work and then I cried," she said.
She drove down to Camp Lejeune and picked him up. "His aunt and I drove 12 hours down to pick him up," she said.
Scott said it was nice to be back home. "It's kind of the same as it was when I left," he said.
Scott said he wanted to become a Marine for a challenge.
"I wanted a challenge more than anything else," he said. He said the experience has been exactly that. Boot camp, he said, was "tough."
For Scott, a typical day in Iraq involved three or four patrols a day.
He said the No. 1 threat is the explosive devices. "What they'll do is they will take artillery rounds or mortar rounds and they will bury them alongside the road with a (detonation) cord attached to them, and then they'll try to blow them up next to your patrol," he said. "All you see is a cord sticking up out of the ground, and a lot of times they try to bury that too, so you don't even know it's coming."
Scott said the insurgents will hit the devices so they explode, and then they run away. He said sometimes cell phones are even used for detonation.
"It's a remote detonation; they figured out how to use cell phones to do it," he said.
He said he and the Marines patrolled a main road. "We just went up and down that ... making sure people weren't out there trying to plant IEDs," he said.
Scott said the weather was "pretty cool." He said there was also a lot of rain.
"It started to warm up right before I left," he said. "At the beginning of February, it really started to get hot. But through December and January, it was cold."
He said a lot of the terrain is hilly desert, though there are a lot of palm groves and orange groves by the Euphrates River.
When asked about the future of Iraq, he expressed some hope.
"They were actually telling us that the town we were in, Hit - if they could get a non-corrupt police force in there, it could be the first town back in Iraqi control," he said.
He said he was surprised how friendly most of the Iraqis are. "We would search houses, and they would invite us in, open up everything for us, move stuff for us, they would give us food, they were just really helpful," he said.
Scott said the community gave him support while he was home. "They're like, 'Do you need anything? ... Dan we help you?'" he said. He said he has received cards and letters.
Scott said his four years in the Marines will be up May 31, 2008. He hasn't yet decided what he plans to do after the Marines.
Canton Mayor John A. Mosser, who knows Scott's family, said he also was thankful Scott wasn't injured more seriously.
"We certainly are proud of him; as a matter of fact, the whole community is," he said. "We're thankful he wasn't injured more than he was."

Deployment makes for family reunion

CAMP BAHARIA, Iraq (April 1, 2006) -- The Torrey brothers didn’t exactly choose the same exotic, foreign location to catch up on old times. The Marine Corps took care of all that when the two Springfield, Mass., brothers met up here.


Submitted by: 1st Marine Division
Story Identification #: 200642114529
Story by Cpl. Brian Reimers

The two Marines met up when Lance Cpl. Justin D. Torrey, 23, assigned to 1st Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment arrived to take over for his younger brother, Lance Cpl. James M. Torrey, 19, assigned to 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment. The two battalions are swapping out duties in Fallujah with Regimental Combat Team 5.

It was the first time the two have seen each other more than seven months.

“I heard a while ago that his battalion might be coming out here to replace us,” said James. I didn’t believe it until I saw a few friends of his who confirmed it.”

The two found one another in the middle of the night and greeted each other with a hug and smiles. Past stories were immediately recalled by one as the other added details. It was as if the two young men never missed a moment apart.

“It seemed like they were right back together in the states,” Lance Cpl. Carl L. Alves said, a good friend of Justin’s. “It was great to seem them finally together. Justin has been talking about hoping to see his brother for a long time now.”

Justin has seemed to keep himself right behind his brother’s schedule throughout their Marine Corps careers. The younger James enlisted first, paving the way for his older brother to follow.

“It’s funny how ironic it is that my brother is falling into my footsteps again because this isn’t the first time,” James said. “He has been right behind me since I got out of boot camp.”

With a little help from his younger brother, Justin decided to become a Marine.

“I had always wanted to be in the military, but I did not want to stop doing my job at home right away,” Justin explained. “I joined the Marine Corps Reserves after my brother came home from boot camp and helped convinced me to do it.”

The two share a lot of common history, albeit separated by a few months. They share the same recruit training company. At the School of Infantry, one was trailing the other by class dates.

Both brothers agreed there was a bit of luck involved with still getting to see each other, even while they are both deployed.

“The Marine Corps has actually allowed us to see each other more often than we would usually,” James said. “Seeing each other has worked out pretty well.”

Marines who serve with Justin are enjoying his brother’s company as they prepare to swap places.

“It has helped out the Marines here being able to talk to James about what has happened during his time here,” Alves said. “It has been a ‘reality-check’ for us to listen to his brother tell us how things are going out here.”

The connection is more than just Marines swapping seas stories, though. The time together here, although short, gave James a perspective into the times and hardships his brother endured while deployed.

“It’s been kind of nice to hear all the stories and see pictures of my brother with all his friends here,” James added. “It keeps me posted on what he has been up to since the last time we saw each other.”

Still, the time is short. At one end of the camp, James packed to redeploy to Camp Lejeune, N.C. At the other, Justin prepared for his first missions outside the safety of the base camp.