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May 31, 2006

City leaders fight for peace in Husaybah

By Andrew Tilghman, Stars and Stripes
Mideast edition, Wednesday, May 31, 2006

HUSAYBAH, Iraq — Tribal leaders have espoused an unwavering optimism since November, when thousands of U.S. Marines fought fierce opposition to quell this troubled border city that was a haven for insurgents and smugglers.

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Ogden Cooks Serve Hot Meals in Iraq

Culinary specialists assigned to the amphibious transport dock USS Ogden (LPD 5) are cooking four daily meals aboard Iraq 's Al Basrah (ABOT) and Khawr Al Amaya (KAAOT) Oil Terminals for the Sailors assigned to Mobile Security Detachment (MSD) 71.


Source: U.S. Department of Defense

While serving as an afloat forward staging base (AFSB) for Commander, Task Group (CTG) 158.1 in the Northern Arabian Gulf, Ogden sent the cooks to live aboard the oil terminals to supplement MSD 71's previous daily routine of "meals on keels."

Previously, nearby coalition ships in CTG 158.1 would cook food aboard ship and transport the "meals on keels" to the oil terminals by small boats. Unfortunately, the food would often arrive cold and scrambled from the rough waters.

"The meals they were getting were cold and sloppy," said Cmdr. James Hruska, Ogden 's commanding officer. "So we took a look and decided we could actually cook on site. Some of our cooks volunteered, and they went over there on a seven-day rotation."

Now Ogden cooks like Culinary Specialist 1 st Class (SW) Creesencio Villanueva Jr. spend a week living and cooking on the platforms. A Navy culinary specialist for nearly 18 years, Villanueva has cooked on four ships and other shore commands before but never in a kitchen of this size.

"Cooking for 30 people instead of cooking for 700 people is a lot different. The only problem is the oven," Villanueva said. "It's a small one and it cooks so slow, so you have to start early just to get your products done on time."

Villanueva wakes up at 4:30 each morning on ABOT to start making the days' meals. There are several freezers of food to use in the creation of his daily meals, like beef and broccoli with rice.

"I volunteered for this because I want to gain experience on the platforms," he said. "To see what they do and what it is like over here."

In addition to experiencing life aboard the oil terminals, Villanueva has also greatly improved the quality of life for the MSD 71 Sailors working and living there.

"It has definitely improved morale amongst the crew members here," said Lt. Cmdr. Kenny Miller, Mobile Security Detachment 71's office in charge. "I think they like the idea of a fresh cooked meal that just came from the stove or out of the oven and hasn't been bounced around, mixed up or possibly dumped over during the course of lifting it onto the terminal. I see that as definitely a good measure of improving the quality of life on board the platforms."

"The meals are prepped a lot better," added Master-At-Arms 1 st Class (AW) Billy Carver, the leading petty officer for ABOT. "[The cook] can actually see what we need. He takes control of the stores. We have better stores than we've had since we got here. It's been more organized and the guys have gotten fed a lot better and there's not been as much waste in the process as well."

Despite cooking for a crew of thirty in a kitchen designed to cook for five, Villanueva said he's looking forward to the rest of his time here, cooking up good meals and some very content Sailors.

"They're so thankful for us being here," said Villanueva. "Compared to what they had before, it's a lot different now."

Bush Troubled by Reports of Iraq Killings

WASHINGTON - President Bush said Wednesday he was troubled by allegations that U.S. Marines had killed unarmed Iraqi civilians and that, "If in fact laws were broken, there will be punishment."


By NEDRA PICKLER, Associated Press Writer

It was Bush's first public comment on allegations that Marines killed about two dozen unarmed Iraqis in the western city of Haditha last November.

Bush said he had discussed Haditha with Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "He's a proud Marine. And nobody is more concerned about these allegations than the Marine Corps. The Marine Corps is full of honorable people who understand the rules of war."

"If in fact these allegations are true," Bush said, "the Marine Corps will work hard to make sure that that culture _ that proud culture _ will be reinforced. And that those who violated the law, if they did, will be punished."

The president was asked about the Iraq allegations during an Oval Office photo opportunity with the president of Rwanda, Paul Kagame.

"I am troubled by the initial news stories," Bush said. "I'm mindful that there's a thorough investigation going on. If in fact, laws were broken, there will be punishment."

The killings at Haditha, a city that has been plagued by insurgents, came after a bomb rocked a military convoy on Nov. 19, killing a Marine. Residents said Marines then went into nearby houses and shot members of two families, including a 3-year-old girl.

At first, the U.S. military described what happened as an ambush on a joint U.S.-Iraqi patrol, with a roadside bombing and subsequent firefight killing 15 civilians, eight insurgents and a U.S. Marine. The statement said the 15 civilians were killed by the blast, a claim the residents strongly denied.

Military investigators have evidence that points toward unprovoked murders by Marines, a senior defense official said last week.

If confirmed as unjustified killings, the episode could be the most serious case of criminal misconduct by U.S. troops during three years of combat in Iraq. Until now the most infamous occurrence was the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse involving Army soldiers, which came to light in April 2004 and which Bush said he considered to be the worst U.S. mistake of the entire war.

Once the military investigation is completed, perhaps in June, it will be up to a senior Marine commander in Iraq to decide whether to press charges of murder or other violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

White House press secretary Tony Snow said Wednesday there is no firm date for release of the investigative report. But he said he suspects it will come out in "a matter of weeks, not a matter of months" and include photographic evidence.

Volunteer heroes sought for cereal boxes

These military volunteers are “gr-r-reat!” which is why their pictures are featured on boxes of cereal in your commissary.


By Karen Jowers
Times staff writer
May 31, 2006

Five military community volunteers are featured on special edition boxes of Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes that began shipping to commissaries worldwide in May. They’re available while supplies last — only in commissaries.

These volunteers received the National Military Family Association’s Very Important Patriot Award for 2005: Army National Guard wife Michele Canchola; Marine Cpl. Jeffrey Caraway; Air Force husband Robert Davison; Marine Sgt. Clinton Firstbrook; and Air Force son Chris Zaehringer.

Besides getting their mugs on these cereal boxes because the Kellogg Co. is one of the sponsors, the winners each received $1,000 and a trip for two to Washington. Other sponsors are Coca Cola, The Clorox Co., H.J. Heinz Co. and Tyson Foods.

If you’re interested in nominating an outstanding volunteer in your military community, the deadline is June 15.

This marks the sixth year that military community volunteers have shared billing with Tony the Tiger in commissaries.

150 in area Marine Reserve unit to begin training for Iraq tour

Battery includes Lehigh Valley troops. They'll go overseas in 4 months.

An area Marine Reserve unit departs today for North Carolina to begin training that will culminate in an imposing mission: security detail at an American military base in one of Iraq's most volatile provinces.


By Daniel Patrick Sheehan
Of The Morning Call

An area Marine Reserve unit departs today for North Carolina to begin training that will culminate in an imposing mission: security detail at an American military base in one of Iraq's most volatile provinces.

The Reading-based unit — Battery I, 3rd Battalion, 14th Marines — is an artillery battery, but will be trained over the next several months for a host of new duties: among them, securing the military convoys that frequently are targeted by the improvised bombs of the insurgency.

About 150 Marines, including many from the Lehigh Valley, will train at bases in North Carolina and California prior to their rotation in Iraq's Anbar province, which is expected to begin in late summer and last seven months. The unit has deployed to the Middle East once before, assisting the liberation of Kuwait in the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

''I am anxious and ready to serve my country,'' said Cpl. Michael Walsh of Fogelsville, 25, who started working as a state trooper in April and will soon patrol far more dangerous highways in Iraq's desert heat. Inspired to enlist after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Walsh said he and his fellow Marines are ''ramped up'' for their first overseas assignment.

''They just want to get over there and serve their country,'' said Walsh, who is based at the state police barracks in Fogelsville.

Anbar, a desert area in the west of the country, has been a hotbed of insurgent activity. About 1,500 American troops were moved to the province from Kuwait this week to help with security in the fledgling days of Iraq's new permanent government.

Gunnery Sgt. Michael Weber of Northampton, a 19-year Marine veteran inspired to enlist by a recruitment commercial aired during an early 1980s Super Bowl, was part of the battery's 1991 Gulf War deployment. He has already begun instructing his fellow Marines in what to expect.

''The temperatures go upward of 115, 120 degrees every day,'' said Weber, 38. ''You have a lot of gear with you, 40 or 50 pounds. You need to be in good physical shape, which of course these guys are.''

Walsh is single, but Weber will leave behind his wife and three children, ages 9, 6 and 3. The silver lining to deployment these days is that communication is immensely more sophisticated than in earlier wars. A letter will reach a soldier in less than a week, compared to two to three weeks or more during the Gulf War. Troops also have access to e-mail and instant messaging. Those technologies weren't available 15 years ago.

Maj. Jim Thomas, the battery's peacetime wartime support officer in charge, said he and other battery personnel will remain in Reading to assist reservists' families.

''That's a very important issue,'' Thomas said. ''If the Marines know their families are taken care of, they'll be able to concentrate fully on the mission at hand.''

A group of American Marine reservists based in Reading is headed to Iraq.

About 150 Marines from Battery I left this morning for training. The unit is reporting for duty with its parent command, the 3rd Battalion 14th Marines. For most of the Marines, it will be their first deployment.

(At the bottom of this article is information about PA's Military Family Relief)


About 150 Marines from Battery I left this morning for training. The unit is reporting for duty with its parent command, the 3rd Battalion 14th Marines. For most of the Marines, it will be their first deployment.

"I'm going to miss my family, my daughter Valderez and Xavier. I'm wishing for Godspeed to get back here in a smoothly manner, safe -- none of my Marines injured," said Cpl. Sean Cave.

The Marines will serve as military police in Iraq's Al-Anbar province.

Military Family Relief

Applications are being accepted for Pennsylvania's new military Family Relief Assistance Program.

Service members or their families with immediate financial needs resulting from their military service can apply for grants of up to $2,500.

May 30, 2006

Corps’ top leader discusses war fighting concept, Core Values with Iraq-deployed Marines, sailors

CAMP AL ASAD, Iraq (May 30, 2006) -- The Corps’ top officer recently stated that the Marine Corps is headed in the right direction in the future of war fighting, and will stand up its first, fully operational distributed operations-capable battalion by next year.


May 30, 2006; Submitted on: 06/09/2006 05:09:43 AM ; Story ID#: 2006695943

By Staff Sgt. Jim Goodwin, Regimental Combat Team7

Gen. Michael W. Hagee, commandant of the Marine Corps, said the Corps recently completed a year-long test of the new concept to “make sure we have the right education and the right off-the-shelf equipment.”

Distributed Operations is a concept designed to put more tactical-level decision making authority, equipment and education to Marine small-unit leaders, thus enhancing and expanding combat capabilities of smaller-sized Marine units.

Under the concept, squads will be able to perform tactical functions normally performed by platoons, platoons can perform functions of a company, and so on.

The concept puts more than just expanded decision-making authority to small-unit leaders, it also provides them with the education and equipment to get the job done, according to Hagee.

“I can tell you the future of Distributed Operations is bright,” said Hagee to hundreds of Marines and sailors of Regimental Combat Team 7 in an air hangar at this sprawling U.S. military airbase in Iraq’s Al Anbar Province May 30.

“We have squad leaders, sergeants, in the United States Marine Corps who can control air (assets), and they are doing a great job,” he said. “They (squad leaders) can also coordinate fires.”

The test bed Hagee spoke of involved a Marine rifle platoon, which received six months of advanced training and equipment on the new war fighting concept before spending another half-year operating as a D.O. platoon in Afghanistan.

“When I visited the Army general, he told me that platoon was equivalent to a rifle company, because of how they could coordinate fires and the (physical) effects that they could have because of the training and equipment that they had,” said Hagee.

Under the concept, “Maneuver units will operate in disaggregated fashion with companies, platoons and even squads dispersed beyond the normal range of mutually supporting organic direct fires but linked through a command and control network,” according to 'A Concept for Distributed Operations,’ the Marines’ initial document on the concept, published last year.

Bottom line – under the Distributed Operations concept, smaller units, such as platoons and squads, will be less dependent upon and able to operate further from headquarters elements. D.O. units will also be able to strike enemy forces more quickly by making tactical decisions normally made by higher headquarters, such as calling for fire and coordinating air strikes.

“The ultimate goal is to have every battalion in the Marine Corps D.O. capable,” said Hagee. “We believe we’ve got the education right, we believe we’ve identified the right equipment. We’ve given them more lethal equipment.”

The commandant’s visit was part of a tour of Marine bases late last month in western Al Anbar Province, Iraq, and came on the heels of several allegations of Marines killing civilians in Al Anbar Province. Hagee, and the Corps’ top enlisted adviser, Sgt. Maj. John Estrada, also visited Marine bases in the U.S. to reinforce the Corps’ core values – honor, courage and commitment.

In an earlier statement, Hagee said the allegations were concerning and should also concern all Marines.

In a Pentagon press briefing with reporters, he stated - "As commandant, I am gravely concerned about the serious allegations concerning actions of some Marines at Haditha and Hamdaniya. I can assure you that the Marine Corps takes them seriously."

During the visit here, Hagee spoke at length about the hardships of combat, and the importance of upholding honor on and off the battlefield.

“Honor is more than just telling the truth,” he said to Marines and sailors, who wore the signature tan, digital-patterned camouflage uniforms. “It’s also believing in and upholding the three basic values our country was founded on – respect for human life and dignity, respect for telling the truth, and respect for other people’s property.”

Hagee shared experiences he had as a platoon and company commander in Vietnam, where he, too, experienced indirect fire, death, and booby traps. He encouraged Marines to talk about combat-related stressful situations before they happen to avoid making decisions based on emotion.

“The first time you should consider what you should do in that kind of a situation should not be on the battlefield in that situation,” he said. “You need to talk about it before hand. Talk about it in a setting like this, but in a much smaller setting, led by corporals and sergeants, staff NCOs (noncommissioned officers) and lieutenants.”

The large majority of Marines and sailors serving in Iraq and elsewhere are performing superbly and making the right decisions every day, the general said. He also stated that America has a Marine Corps because the American people want a Marine Corps, an “organization that stands for something. They want an organization that has high values.”

“The most important thing is we do the right thing, which, as I’ve said, and I think its fair saying again – 99.9 percent of the Marines do everyday, then I think we’re going to be O.K.,” said Hagee.

Marines join Indonesia quake relief effort

BANTUL, Indonesia (AP) -- U.S. Marines joined an international effort Tuesday to deliver aid and medical equipment to some 200,000 Indonesians left homeless by a devastating earthquake, as hopes faded of finding more survivors.


Associated Press Writer

Two U.S. Marine cargo planes carrying a mobile field hospital landed in Yogyakarta, closest to the quake area in central Java, after cracks in the airport runway were patched.

A disaster assistance response team from the U.S. Agency for International Development is being readied and the amphibious assault ship USS Essex, which has extensive medical facilities, is en route to the area, White House deputy press secretary Dana Perino said.

The United States also increased its aid contribution to $5 million.

The United Nations said at least 21 other countries have joined the effort to help those left homeless by Saturday's magnitude-6.3 quake, which killed nearly 5,700 people.

As medical aid began to arrive, the threat of a health crisis appeared to be easing.

At two hospitals in Bantul, the hardest-hit district, parking lots and hallways that were filled with hundreds of injured in the days after the quake were clear, with most patients now being treated in beds.

Workers removed a tent from the parking lot at Yogyakarta's largest hospital, Sardjito, that had been used to shelter patients

39-cent Purple Heart stamp unveiled

The new Purple Heart stamp is out.


By Karen Jowers
Times staff writer
May 30, 2006

In a ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery marking the re-issue of the Purple Heart Definitive Stamp, Secretary of Veterans Affairs R. James Nicholson also presented the Purple Heart medal to two soldiers, Spc. Michael Hilliard and Spc. Ian Wagner.

Hilliard and Wagner are both being treated at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., for combat wounds.

The U.S. Postal Service first issued a 37-cent stamp with the Purple Heart medal image in 2003. It is a photograph by Ira Wexler of one of two Purple Heart medals awarded to James Loftus Fowler, a Marine lieutenant colonel wounded in Vietnam in 1968. The new stamp, which went on sale nationally May 27, shows the same image of George Washington on a purple background within the heart-shaped medallion. But it reflects this year’s increase in postage to 39 cents.

“I told the crowd we should make this a perpetual stamp, just like the American flag stamp,” said Jim Randles, national commander of the Military Order of the Purple Heart. “As the American flag is the symbol of the freedom we enjoy, the Purple Heart is a symbol of the cost of that freedom.”

“This stamp will be a daily reminder of the extraordinary valor of our service members,” Nicholson said, according to a press release about the May 26 ceremony. Nearly 100 Purple Heart recipients were invited by the Military Order of the Purple Heart to sit in a VIP section to watch the ceremony.

The Purple Heart was created by George Washington in 1782 for soldiers in the Continental Army. The medal is now presented to service members wounded in combat, as well as to the next of kin for veterans who die in combat.

Postal Service officials say customers have 30 days to get the “first day of issue postmark” by mail. To do this:

• Buy new stamps at a local post office, by telephone at (800) STAMP-24 (800) 782-6724, or at the www.usps.com/shop.

• Affix the stamps to envelopes of your choice and address the envelopes (to yourself or others).

• Place these envelopes in a larger envelope addressed to:

Purple Heart Definitive Stamp


Special Cancellations

1435 N. Quincy Street

Arlington, VA 22210-9700

Fallen remembered

Those who ‘did their job’ honored at Memorial Day ceremony in New Bern


May 30,2006

Hilda Pope of New Bern hadn’t planned on attending the Memorial Day event at the National Cemetery. Something just tugged on her heartstrings early Monday.

But when she arrived at the walled field with rows of simple white stones marking 716 graves, her feet took her straight to the monument for the soldier whose contribution touched her life most personally.

“My father was gone for three years and fought in five major battles in World War II,” Pope said.

Her father, Carl Pope, fought in the European theater during some of that war’s most intense battles 21 years after “the war to end all wars.”

“There were no superlatives, no metals. He just did his job and made it through,” she said, also recalling a young lost love who did not return from the war in Vietnam.

New Bern’s National Cemetery — one of 123 across the country — also has a tombstone to mark his contribution, though he remains missing in action.

Clearly all wars have not ended, and keynote speaker Sgt. Maj. Terry Jessup, now enlisted commander at Cherry Point, pulled three tours of duty in the country’s current war on terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Talking tough about the patriotism and bravery of the all volunteer fighting force the United States now mounts, Jessup said “no one says they do it because of the pay.”

He recalled “the smell of blood and guts” from war zones and watching young men and women die of massive injuries from improvised explosive devices.

“I haven’t shed a tear yet,” he said. “And my female Marines were tougher than me. They do what they do with great pride, and they are good at what they do.

“I married a Marine and we have two children. My son is going to Iraq. And my unit is going back for a fourth tour,” he said, with a little crack in his voice, quickly covered by applause from the more than 300 attending, including Gold Star Mothers Mabel Harris and Thelma Ware.

Andrea M. Becton, Craven County Veterans Council chairperson and a veteran, called forward area officials and representatives of veterans organizations who placed wreaths by the cemetery’s American flag.

“We remember; we are grateful; and we live and work today for the same ideals for which so many Americans paid the supreme sacrifice,” Becton said. “The spirit of our war dead lives forever with us.”

Her remarks were followed by a 21-gun salute and the playing of taps by a contingent from Cherry Point.

Ed Fetzer, of the Sons of the Confederacy, read the Gettysburg Address, and Bryan Slater, of the Sons of Union Veterans, led those attending in the Pledge of Allegiance, continuing the irony of Memorial Day’s origin as Defenders Day following the Civil War.

“It’s always a good feeling to be here,” said Jimmy Sanders, mayor of Havelock, which had a 10 a.m. ceremony by the Harrier in front of City Hall.

“It’s such a beautiful day, and with the thousands of things all these people could do, here they are. It’s a great day,” Sanders said near a tent set up for Monday’s program.

Just a few feet from the tent was the headstone for Chris B. Heath, a U.S. Marine Corps sergeant.

Heath lived from 7/15/26 to 7/23/76 and fought for his country in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. His contribution is summarized on the grave marker with three words: “A hard worker.”

Communication during convoys a must for Marines in Iraq

CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq (May 30, 2006) -- As the sun goes down, a convoy pushes across the treacherous roads of the Al Anbar province performing combat operations under the cloak of the settling darkness.


Submitted by: 1st Marine Logistics Group
Story Identification #: 200653003243
Story by Cpl. Daniel J. Redding

Vehicle after vehicle drive on as their machine gunners scan the desert landscape with a steady eye, staying on the lookout for anything suspicious.

Towards the front end of the convoy, the scout vehicle spots something suspicious further down the road. The vehicle commander immediately assesses the situation and radios an alert to the rest of the long trail of vehicles fading into the darkness behind him. Everyone is now aware of the possible threat.

With an ever-present danger from roadside bombs and enemy ambushes, being able to pass this type of information throughout a convoy is extremely important in this insurgent-plagued region west of Baghdad.

With around 300 convoys and other trips successfully conducted throughout the Fallujah area, Marines with the Communications Platoon of Combat Logistics Battalion 5 are running strong, if not better than ever, said Platoon Sergeant Sgt. LaRoyce M. Broom.

The battalion directly supports the Marine infantry unit in the Fallujah area, Regimental Combat Team 5, by making daily re-supply runs to the different camps and outposts scattered throughout the city and its surrounding communities.

Communication is critical for convoy commanders like 2nd Lt. Autumn D. Swinford, a 24-year-old native of Fredericktown, Mo.

"The more information that I have, and the ability to pass that information, can completely change a situation," said Swinford, the officer in charge of 1st Platoon, Combat Logistics Company 115.

Having a communications Marine by her side "makes it so much easier to make decisions on the spot," Swinford said.

The communications platoon has been providing Marines for an average of three convoys a day since it arrived at Camp Fallujah in late February. Each convoy relies heavily on their communications capability and always makes sure they have a Marine who specializes in communications along for the ride.

Some Marines in the company have been on 40-plus convoys in the last three months, said Gunnery Sgt. Raymond E. Adams, Communication Platoon's chief.

When a convoy heads outside the security of camp, a communications specialist will be with it to help the Marines monitor their ability to communicate not only within the convoy but also to ensure the gear is working and relaying information back to the base. This ability allows Marines to call for assistance for situations like encounters with improvised explosive devices, or vehicle repair should one of their armored trucks break down.

If the convoy is large enough, the platoon will send additional communication Marines in case major needs arise, such as malfunctioning radios, Broom said.

For Broom and his Marines, their mission is a success every time a convoy returns to the safety of camp.

There are "a lot of lives" directly affected by how quickly and efficiently a communications Marine receives and relays pertinent information, said Lance Cpl. Michael J. Valentine, serving his second tour in Iraq.

While out on missions personnel within the unit must be kept up-to-date, and the convoy must be in constant communication with other units operating in the area to avoid any confusion, Swinford said.

There is a strong foundation of experience in the platoon, said Broom, given that more than a dozen in the company have deployed two or more times.

Broom, a 25-year-old native of Dallas, is currently on his fourth deployment, having served more than 26 combined months in this area.

Some of those who deployed previously served elsewhere in Iraq under different commands. This collection of varied knowledge aids the platoon, Broom said.

"The experience (we have) makes the operations go a lot smoother," he said.

Serving her first tour in Iraq, Sgt. Diana V. Fabian has handled the responsibility of keeping communication lines open for upwards of 30 convoys so far this deployment. Two of those convoys have endured improvised explosive device attacks.

As the favored weapon of the insurgency, IEDs are bombs often buried on the treacherous roads Fabian and her fellow Marines travel on a daily basis.

Not deterred by the dangers, the 20-year-old Chicago native says her primary motivation each time out is supporting those Marines who serve on the frontlines.

Email Cpl. Redding at [email protected]

Kilted Marines, sailors compete with Scottish flair

Camp Fuji plays host to inaugural Highland Games

By Vince Little, Stars and Stripes
Pacific edition, Tuesday, May 30, 2006

CAMP FUJI, Japan — U.S. Marines and sailors in Scottish kilts?

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U.S. moves 1,500 troops into Iraq

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- The U.S. military has moved 1,500 troops from Kuwait into Iraq to beef up security in troubled Anbar province, the military said Tuesday.


Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Terrorists and insurgents have control of parts of Anbar, Iraq's largest province, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad said last week.

"The situation in al Anbar province is currently a challenge but is not representative of the overall security situation in Iraq, which continues to improve as the Iraqi Security Forces increasingly take the lead," Lt. Col. Michelle Martin-Hing, a military spokesperson, said Tuesday.

The U.S. announcement said the deployment would be "short-term."

There are roughly 133,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.

Music Star's Son Back from Iraq

New York, N.Y. - It’s not everyday the son of an American country music star finds himself in combat, but it happens.


Marine Corps News
Paul Kane
May 30, 2006

Lance Cpl. Johnny Conlee, a grunt with the 2nd Battalion, 6th Marines aboard the USS Kearsarge, is the son of country music great and respected vocalist John Conlee.

The elder Conlee is a music legend with 19 songs that hit the Top Ten and five in the Top Five for country music. Among his most popular were “Rose Colored Glasses,” “Common Man,” “Domestic Life,” “I’m only in it for Love,” and “Lady Lay Down.” The Conlee family operates a farm in Tennessee.

More recently, John Conlee collaborated with two songwriters and recorded a music video called, “They Also Serve,” as an ode to military families.

“We did this video for all the members of the military and their families. It was our humble hope that they’d find it uplifting,” said Conlee while visiting his son in New York City during the Fleet Week celebrations saluting the naval services.

The music video "They Also Serve" is a tribute to military families and spotlights how “those who serve” in the armed forces and “those who wait” at home deal with their experiences. The music video was nominated by Country Music Weekly’s Readers’ Choice Award for the Favorite Patriotic Song.

Conlee’s son, Marine Lance Cpl. Conlee, recently returned from a tour in Iraq on combat operations against insurgents around Fallujah, and providing security for the December 2005 Iraqi elections.

“We know firsthand what it means to have a loved one serving,” Conlee the military father remarked on his own family’s experiences with having a son deployed. The senior Conlee served in the Army National Guard of Kentucky from 1967-1973.

“We were happy and relieved to have Johnny back from Iraq last month. It’s a sacrifice to serve and to be among those who wait. But it’s important to the country and we are very proud,” said the elder Conlee.

Lance Cpl. Conlee’s tour in Iraq was not without event.

In December 2005, while on a mission in Anbar Province, his unit was hit by an Improvised Explosive Device that wounded him and several other Marines. Lance Cpl. Johnny Conlee was awarded the Purple Heart for shrapnel wounds received in combat.

He said it was not easy to tell his family, but he called home immediately: “Dad, there’s no right way to say this, but I’ve been wounded. I’m okay.”

But Conlee the Marine was undeterred and went back out on patrol the very night he was wounded. “I’m definitely going to stay a grunt. I love it,” said Lance Cpl. Conlee.

President Signs New Tax Legislation for Military Personnel

On May 29, President Bush signed the Heroes Earned Retirement Opportunities (HERO) Act, which amends the Internal Revenue Code to allow service members to still exclude their military compensation from federal income tax, but also contribute to an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) while serving in a combat zone tax exclusion area.


U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)
News Release
May 30, 2006

Military compensation earned by members of the armed forces while serving in combat zone areas is excluded from federal income tax. Enlisted members and warrant officers exclude all such military compensation. Commissioned officers exclude up to the maximum enlisted pay plus imminent danger pay for the months they serve in a combat zone tax exclusion area.

The HERO Act is retroactive to tax year 2004. Therefore, members who did not make an IRA contribution during 2004 or 2005, because they were not eligible due to combat zone tax exclusion, have until May 28, 2009 (three years from the date of enactment) to make a contribution to an IRA for those years.

"Support Our Troops" not merely a slogan

RED BANK — A young Marine who almost made the ultimate sacrifice on the battlefield in Iraq got a heartfelt "thank-you" Monday from people helping him on the road to recovery.


Posted by the Asbury Park Press on 05/30/06

Lance Cpl. Jeremy Trakimowicz of Manchester walked into Red Bank Elks Lodge 233, a feat that family members said was a testament to the modest young man's will to recover from injuries he suffered in combat. Originally, he wasn't supposed to be up and walking by this point, said his father, Peter.

"He is coming along fantastically," his father said. "His therapy is going great, and his speech is better,"

Trakimowicz, 27, was severely wounded on the left side of his head when a roadside bomb detonated in Fallujah on June 24, 2005. He is assigned to the 6th Motor Transport Battalion of Red Bank.

To help with his recov-ery, the Red Bank Elks and the borough Policeman's Benevolent Association Local 39 held fundraisers, including one at the PBA ball on Friday at the Oyster Point Hotel. On Monday, they presented a $14,560 check to the young Marine.

Patrolman Mike Furlong, PBA president, said members of the local just wanted to help him.

"Whether you agree with the war or not, you've got to support these guys," Furlong said. "We're not in it for the "thank-yous.' We just wanted to help. God bless these guys who are over there. "

Jeanne Cuje, president of the Elks Ladies Auxiliary, added a $100 check on behalf of that group.

The money "is nothing compared to what you've given us," Cuje said during the ceremony. "I can only think of what wonderful veterans we have. God bless this wonderful young man."

Kessler Institute therapy

After he was wounded, Trakimowicz was taken to a military hospital in Germany and then to Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland, said his sister, Tara Reilly of Neptune City. Now he is undergoing rehabilitation at the Kessler Institute in West Orange, which the military is paying for, his father said. The funds raised by the Elks and PBA are covering his other expenses.

"A lot of this stuff, the Marines are taking care of," Peter Trakimowicz said.

Elks trustee Jim Campbell, also a Marines veteran, said that is their way.

"Marines take an oath: We are — to ours — always faithful," Campbell said.

For Trakimowicz, his recovery is measured by each day and each bit of progress he makes in rehabilitation.

"I'm doing better. I feel good," he said.

His immediate focus is on what he's doing now in speech therapy, rather than plans for the future.

"All I'm thinking about is I have to do my speech," he said. "There is still a lot to do. I need to learn speech."

Trakimowicz joined the Marines after graduating from New Jersey City University with a degree in psychology and minor in philosophy. After graduation, he lived in Jersey City and Hoboken briefly before enlisting about two years ago, said Jeff Reilly, his brother-in-law.

"I always wanted to be a Marine. I thought about it when I was in college," Trakimowicz said.

His father is a Vietnam veteran and served in the Army.

"I can't say enough about what they've done for Jeremy. I am totally shocked," Peter Trakimowicz said. "What the Elks and the PBA did is amazing."

The Elks and PBA aren't done.

"This is the first installment," said Elks trustee Howard Kramer, after Donald Schlachter Jr., exalted ruler, presented the check.

Trakimowicz's smile gave away his reaction.

"It's really nice. I came inside and saw all the people, I feel really great about it," the Marine said. "Everyone's really helped out."

May 29, 2006

Country music outlaw visits Camp Fallujah

CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq (May 29, 2006) -- Country music superstar Toby Keith performed a Memorial Day concert here for nearly 4,000 service members both live from the Fallujah Chapel and via the internal computer-based broadcast system here May 29.


Story by Cpl. Lynn Murillo

The fans cheers erupted into a roar as the patriotic songwriter and performer stepped onto the small stage at the chapel. Keith opened the hour-long acoustic show with his crowd pleasing hit “I Love This Bar,” bringing the Marines, sailors, soldiers and airmen a little piece of America. He played new songs, as well as a few classics like “Should’ve Been A Cowboy” and “Beer For My Horses.”

This is Keith’s second visit here. The first was in 2004 just after Marines took over the camp. He played two other venues on Memorial Day as part of the USO’s Toby Keith Tour.

“You can’t appreciate what (service members) do until you see it,” said Keith. “Everybody is so good at what they do and when you come here, you can really understand why America is the number one fighting force in the world.”

The country singer expressed a special satisfaction in lifting troop morale and honoring his father, a vietnam veteran.

The Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Michael W. Hagee, was in the front row for the concert and sang along as Keith sang “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue” from his 2003 album “Unleashed.”

Hagee said he enjoyed the concert and was happy to welcome the superstar known as the bad boy of country music to the headquarters for Marines operating in Al Anbar Province.

Longtime fans might consider the performance a way to take their minds of the serious business of war fighting.

“It was an honor to meet him,” said Sgt. Cassie L. Lucero, 28, from Phoenix, an administrative clerk with I Marine Expeditionary Force’s command element.

“I am a huge fan of anyone that supports us,” Lucero said. “The morale boost he just gave everyone here makes me proud to be out here serving my country.”

Lance Cpl. Joseph W. Hanson, of Greybull, Wyo., also a self-proclaimed “big fan,” was elated with Keith’s performance.

“I think it is awesome that he would come out to the middle of Iraq to give us a concert,” said Hanson, a weather observer with I MEF. “If he is spending his Memorial Day out here with us, it means a lot,” adding, Keith could be anywhere this weekend.

Maj. Gen. Richard C. Zilmer, commanding general of Multi-National Forces West, presented Keith with a Ka-bar fighting knife and a personalized guitar strap made from a desert-digital camouflage pattern as a token of gratitude for his time and effort. Zilmer jokingly told Keith that he hopes to see the guitar strap in one of Keith’s upcoming music videos. The crowd laughed as Keith smiled, shaking Zilmer’s hand and agreeing to his request.

Keith and his crew are on a five-day tour of Iraq, entertaining troops at several forward operating bases in the next few days, demonstrating their continuing pride and support for service members here.

Country music star visits southern California-based Marine unit in Iraq

CAMP AL QA’IM, Iraq (May 29, 2006) -- Marines and Sailors serving in Iraq’s western Al Anbar Province were treated to a musical performance by one of Coalition Forces’ greatest supporters – Toby Keith.


Submitted by: Regimental Combat Team7
Story Identification #: 20066245644
Story by Cpl. Antonio Rosas

The avid backer of America’s fighting forces paid a visit to the Marines of the Twenty-nine Palms, Calif.-based 1st battalion, 7th Marine Regiment at the Marine’s base of operations near the Iraq-Syria border May 29, 2006.

The Marines were able to take a break from providing security and stability to the towns along the Euphrates river alongside their Iraqi Security Forces counterparts to enjoy the show.

The battalion is about 11 weeks into a seven month deployment in Iraq.

“The show was awesome,” said Sgt. Jeremy L. Goss, 29, a motor transport non-commissioned officer with the battalion. “It was great that he took time to show his appreciation to the military for what we are doing out here.”

Keith played an hour-long show under his latest United Service Organization Tour, which caters to U.S. service members serving in Iraq, Afghanistan and Germany.

The Oklahoma native said it was simply his way of giving thanks to the men and women of America’s military.

“I appreciate everything that you do,” said Keith to the standing crowd of more 1,000 Marines, sailors and soldiers. “Anyone who wears the uniform for the United States has my respect.”

Keith, who has made it his priority to visit Marines and soldiers in far-off corners of Iraq, at military bases such as the one at Al Qa’im, expressed his gratitude to the hundreds of singing fans by playing several of his hits, such as, “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue.”

The Marines who operate in this region of the Euphrates River valley are spread through out a number of battle positions inside the Iraqi cities and towns where they train and mentor the fledgling Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police.

The Marines said the show was a good break from the everyday responsibility of teaching Iraqi soldiers and police how to provide their own security.

For some, such as Lance Cpl. Jason W. Lippert, the live performance was a chance to “get lost in the music,” and not have to think about the war or missing his loved ones.

“It was something different for those of us who are working everyday away from our families,” said the 20-year-old Livermore, Calif., native. “It was a chance to get away from work.”

For those who did not attend the performance, the day was business as usual in this northwestern corner of Iraq – foot patrols alongside Iraqi soldiers and police officers, in towns like Ubaydi and Husaybah, where two new police stations were recently opened.

Meanwhile, Marines from the local Police Transition Team, a group of Marines and soldiers here responsible for mentoring and advising the new police forces, conducted a recruiting screening for new Iraqi police officers to help bulk up local police forces.

Despite two recent attacks on the police in Husaybah, 65 Iraqis were showed to the drive, waiting in lines to be screened by the Marines and Iraqi police for service as a police officer.

Keith made it a point to congratulate the efforts and hard work of the southern California-based unit by meeting with fans before and after the show and signing autographs.

“I have nothing but respect for all of you,” Keith told a small group who gathered around the singer during a photo opportunity.

New police force in Iraqi-Syrian border town ready for the streets

HUSAYBAH, Iraq(May 29, 2006) -- Despite two recent suicide bombings on a new police station here, one Iraqi police officer in this Iraq-Syria border town says his men are undeterred in their duties and are ready to work on their own.


Submitted by: 1st Marine Division
Story by: Computed Name: Cpl. Antonio Rosas
Story Identification #: 200653065622

"Ahmed," a 45-year-old police captain, is one of several new police officers in this city of 50,000 who has endured two attacks on the city’s district police headquarters which has resulted in the deaths of five police officers and injured eight others.

The first attack occurred a week ago when a man walked to the police station and detonated a vest bomb, killing five policemen and wounding five others.

Several days later, the station was attacked again – this time by a vehicle bomb which detonated prematurely, killing two of the vehicle's passengers and wounding another. Three policemen were wounded in that incident.

The attacks came just one month after the opening of the police station.

Despite these attacks the Iraqi cops are undeterred in their duties, said Ahmed.

“It is a lot safer in Husaybah now,” said Ahmed, who recalled more violent times in the city before coalition forces conducted a large-scale operation to rid the city of insurgents last November.

Now, officers are conducting independent operations – regular foot and vehicle patrols through the city, often times without a large U.S. Marine presence to back them.

“I can walk the streets and not be scared for my life,” he said.

The handful of U.S. Marines assigned to work with and mentor the fledgling police force agree. They say the police reacted appropriately during the bombings, rushing to the scene to treat the wounded and secure the area.

Even off-duty police came in to assist, according to the Marines.

“They got out into the street pretty quick and they were doing everything they needed to do to take care of their people,” said Staff Sgt. David J. Perry, the team’s operations chief. “They were immediately setting up roadblocks and checking people out.”

Now, just days after the second bombing, the police officers continue to show up for work and are receiving cooperation from the locals every day – a sign of progress towards stability in the region, according to the transition team.

“They’re still doing a good job, just a little more alert now,” said Maj. Robert C. Marshall, officer-in-charge of the police transition team here.

The police force was stood up earlier this month after its officers graduated from a six-month officer training camp.

Ahmed was born and raised in Husaybah, a city which has been relatively quiet in recent months, until the two suicide attacks.

Ahmed recalled more violent days in the town – kidnappings, beatings, and murder.

Before becoming a police officer Ahmed spent three years as an interpreter for coalition forces, a dangerous occupation at the time, he said.

“I saw Husaybah fill with terrorists every day and no one could do anything about it because they would be killed, said Ahmed. “I couldn’t continue to work as a translator because they would kill me if they found out about my work.”

It didn’t take long for insurgents to learn of Ahmed’s occupation as a translator. They kidnapped him, and for eight days, he was handcuffed and beaten because he had helped the Americans, he said.

“They just came in and threatened everybody,” he said.

The only thing that saved his life was his family’s determination to seek retribution for his disappearance, according to Ahmed.

That is precisely the fighting spirit Ahmed claims that the people of Husaybah currently have in their new police force.

Unlike many Iraqi soldiers who often serve outside of their hometowns, the police here are all local men – more incentive for them to keep the neighborhoods crime and terrorist-free, said Ahmed.

“If I see a terrorist, I will kill him,” said Ahmed, matter of factly.

The police conduct regular security patrols alongside Marines and for the most part, work independently, according to the Marines who work alongside Iraqi Security Forces here.

“They are providing law and order in their city and are abiding by all Iraqi laws,” said Marshall.

“These guys take initiative and they are motivated despite the violence against them,” said the Denver native. “They really care about being police officers and are not in it just for the paycheck.”

Marshall noted that the police officers here worked nearly two months without seeing a paycheck. It was only until last week when they were finally paid.

The Marines of 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment – the Marine unit assigned to provide security and assist Iraqi Security Forces in the Euphrates Valley region in northwestern Al Anbar Province – have also watched the police officers evolve and begin to take the lead in security operations.

“The Iraqi police are doing their job well and they are trying to match the job that the Marines and Iraqi Army are doing of providing security,” said 2nd Lt. Chris J. Jamison, a platoon commander with Company B.

Patrolling the area and providing security is a step-by-step process, said Jamison.

“Teaching the police to do that job is tough but they are motivated and they are starting to do things they way we do,” said the 24-year-old from North Great River, N.Y.

Jamison and his Company B Marines conducted foot patrols with the new officers for two weeks to establish a presence in the community and introduce the policemen as a new element of Iraqi Security Forces.

Jamison noted that there is an added sense of security for his Marines when patrolling with the Iraqi police because the officers know the area and the people.

“They live here. They know who doesn’t belong,” said Jamison.

Now that Ahmed is working in his hometown after years of serving alongside Marines and soldiers far away from his family in Baghdad, he feels he finally has a job he can be proud of – keeping his city safe.

“I see my family every day now and I am working in the city where I am from,” said Ahmed.

When asked how his neighbors felt about his decision to become a policeman, Ahmed said that people look up to him and help him everyday. He said the people here want their police to enforce the law.

Furthermore, local tribal sheiks have pushed for the Iraqi police to take over responsibility of keeping the people safe, said Ahmed.

The sheiks maintain regular communication with Marine commanders and have applauded their new police force, he said.

Ahmed knows that the Marines eventual withdrawal from Iraq is dependent on the success of his police officers’ ability to maintain security in the town on their own.

But progress is steady, and the Iraqi police are ready for the responsibility of protecting their city, said Ahmed.

“We will sacrifice ourselves to keep the bad guys out,” he said.

U.S. government and military officials have stated that Iraqi Security Forces should be ready to spearhead security operations throughout Iraq by year’s end.

Marine Corps Museum Will Serve As Memorial

WASHINGTON -- Next Memorial Day, visitors to the D.C. area will have a new way to pay tribute to Marine Corps veterans.


POSTED: 5:30 pm EDT May 29, 2006

Anyone who has traveled down Interstate 95 past Quantico in recent months can't miss the distinctive architecture of the National Museum of the Marine Corps, scheduled to open in November.

The building is a 210-foot spire slashing at a steep angle into the sky.

Gen. George Christmas and Gen. Jerry McKay said the goal is to make the museum a national treasure. The museum will be filled with artifacts and interactive exhibits that bring the Marine experience to life.

Still under wraps but airborne in the atrium is the first helicopter to fly in Korea in assault landings and a Harrier jet. But unlike many museums, the planes and ships will be manned by life-size figures cast in the likeness of actual Marines. Some 220 were selected to have their faces duplicated for the exhibits.

Beyond the atrium, interactive exhibits range from boot camp to the Vietnam-era siege of Kai Sahn. Visitors enter the "landing zone" through the body of a helicopter.

The museum restaurant will be styled as a mess hall.

Most of the $54 million raised has come from private contributions, including a large part from Marines. Future plans for the 135-acre site include a hotel and a trail in the woods leading through a memorial park to a chapel.

In Honor of the Fallen: Marine Cpl. Todd J. Godwin

ZANESVILLE - Every day is Memorial Day for Kathy Godwin.

Every day Kathy mourns the death of her son, Marine Cpl. Todd Godwin, 21, who died from injuries received during enemy action in Al Anbar Province, Iraq on July 20, 2004.


Monday, May 29, 2006

Todd was assigned to 1st Battalion, 8th Marines, 2nd Marine Division out of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

An explosive device went off just 25 yards from Godwin, a 2001 graduate of Zanesville Christian School, and six other marines. Shrapnel hit Todd in the neck and he died instantly.

Todd was awarded the Purple Heart for his valor.

Being a scout sniper was Todd's dream, Kathy remembers.

"The last picture I have of him is on the very Humvee he was killed on with his scouting sniper partner," Kathy said. "He loved doing what he was doing. He felt it was an honor to do something for his country."

The wife of Sgt. Juan Davila, Danielle, wrote on the Web site's memorial page that her husband fought along side Todd and he will forever be "honored for his bravery and sacrifice."

A father of another Marine who served with Todd, Kenneth Halal, said his son, Mike, was also lost in Iraq after Todd's death.

"I can vividly remember Mike writing home telling me about the loss of your son and how it upset him," Halal wrote. "That message home instilled the fear that I may lose my eldest son."

His fear was reality when he did lose Mike, but his grief does not keep him from praying for the dedicated soldiers and servicemen that remain behind to fight for freedom.

A neighbor, Ang Rosta, remembered Todd as a "true gentleman."

"He was a quiet person and a very courteous man," Rosta said. "He was never any trouble and used to help with chores around my house."

Rosta tied a yellow ribbon around a post in his front yard and kept a U.S. flag flying on his property when he heard of Todd's deployment to Iraq.

Kathy said as a parent she feels, as do many parents who have children in the armed services, grateful to a nation for wanting to remember and pay tribute to their children on Memorial Day.

"We're forever proud of them," Kathy said. "The bottom line at the end of each day is we miss them. We love them. We are so very proud of them."

Kathy was told by members of Todd's unit, their battle cry became "For Godwin."

"He would have liked that," Kathy said. "He wanted to make a difference. I think he did."

The War Comes Home: One family lost a son, but the nation gained a hero

SNOHOMISH -- A year ago here in the foothills to the Cascades, Brian and Shellie Starr began Memorial Day as they always had. It was the start of summer, a weekend of camping, cookouts and catching up.

Brian drove to his office. "I had all these errands to run," Shellie recalls.


Monday, May 29, 2006

With their son a Marine serving in Iraq, the thought crossed her mind to attend a memorial for a Marine from Lynnwood who had been killed in action in 2004.

"I thought maybe I should go to it, but I had no time," Shellie recalls. "Later that morning, the Marines made time for me."

Returning from a noon lunch with her daughter and an exchange student, she received two Marine Corps casualty officers at her front door. The Starrs' 22-year-old son, Cpl. Jeffrey Brian Starr, had been killed in action in Iraq at 1:30 a.m. Seattle time.

A sniper found the shoulder opening of Starr's armored vest. The 7.62 mm bullet ripped across his chest and into his heart. He fell instantly.

"The cliches of it being a parent's worst nightmare are true," Shellie says. "I don't remember last summer at all. The fog didn't begin to lift until September."

When it did, however, Jeff Starr's last memorable words would resonate with others, from his family, girlfriend and close buddies to the nation's most powerful newspaper and the president of the United States.

'Just another patrol'

It was 12:30 p.m. Iraq time when Jeff Starr stepped into a Ramadi alley. He was leading his team with Iraqi security forces on patrol. One by one the squadron of 13 men took turns crossing the small, exposed alley that paralleled a notoriously dangerous street.

On his second deployment a year later, he thought he was going to die. His squad was trapped behind enemy lines in Fallujah. He called the April 13, 2004, firefight a nightmare straight out of the movie "Black Hawk Down."

A rocket-propelled grenade knocked out the squad's amphibious landing vehicle, or "track," behind enemy lines. In a running firefight, scores of determined insurgents hurled bullets, RPGs and themselves to wipe the Marines out. Ammunition was dwindling. The battle raged from afternoon to dusk, when rescuers finally slugged their way in.

A year later, Starr and his team were facing danger again. One of Starr's men, Steve Rivera, wrote Starr's parents about their son's last moments.

Normally, there were signs of impending danger, Rivera said. "Mothers would usher their small children inside, shopkeepers would close their doors, etc. But that day there wasn't a hint of that. Small children would run up to us and beg us for candy, soccer balls, pencils, etc. It was just another patrol."

Starr checked the alley both ways and started across. Midway, he turned to check on the man behind him. A single shot rang out. Starr fell.

Fellow Marines dragged him from the exposed street. They tore off his flak jacket, and helped a Navy corpsman who was working on Starr. They kept trying to revive him long after it was apparent he was gone. Other Marines raced house to house to find the sniper. Only a 7.62 mm shell casing was found on a roof.

Rivera was 15 feet away when Starr fell.

"I remember thinking when I saw Jeff go down two words. 'TWO DAYS! Two F%$*ing Days!' because that's the amount of days Jeff had left before he would have been off the line awaiting a ride home."

Yet, Rivera told Starr's parents: "Jeff passed something on to me. Something greater than him or me.

"Jeff had dreams, ambitions and goals; he had a bright future. But more than that, he had principles and ideals he lived by. It's those principles that allow us the freedom we enjoy today. I want you to know that I carry those same principles in my heart, and wherever I may be sent, I will hold them more dear than my own life."

Strength in numbers

Twenty-three-year-old Emmylyn Anonical of Seattle's Green Lake neighborhood was immersed in finals week at the University of Washington on Memorial Day last year.

She was worried, too, about her boyfriend at war in Iraq. Starr usually phoned, messaged her or e-mailed every couple of days. Anonical last spoke with him five days earlier on his birthday, May 25.

The two were excited he was coming home after four years in the Marines. He would enroll at Everett Community College. Marriage was an unspoken reality.

"My sister was in town from California. We went for a walk at Green Lake that morning, and I said I was a little worried about Jeff, and I would call Shellie later and see if she heard anything," Anonical recalls.

"Then I got a phone call from Jeff's friend, Adam. He said, 'Have you heard from Shellie?' He sounded weird."

Moments later Shellie phoned and broke the news.

"I wasn't expecting it. I was so sure he was going to come home," Anonical remembers. "I was home alone, and I freaked out. I didn't know what to do."

Shellie Starr knew what to do. "She already had sent Adam to get me to take me back to Snohomish to be with them."

This year she won't be alone, either. Starr's best friend in the Marines flew out with his girlfriend to spend the weekend with her.

"It's been tough. It's a week I don't know what to do with myself," she says.

Words touched a nation

Before his last deployment to Iraq from Camp Pendleton, Calif., Starr stored his personal effects in his little yellow Hyundai that fellow Marines teased him was a "scoop of puddin'." He parked it at his uncle's home in California.

Two months after his death, Starr's belongings were at his parents' home in Snohomish. Brian Starr was overcome with emotion when he booted up his son's small computer.

"Dear Emmylyn" began a letter. Jeff Starr had written it and meant it to be found if he died in Iraq.

Anonical and the Starrs shared parts of the letter, in which the Marine spoke of his belief in the war, with the Seattle P-I and The Herald in Everett. The rest was a personal message to Anonical.

The Starrs found themselves in an unwanted political controversy after The New York Times picked up the story on the letter but didn't quote Starr's support of the war. Conservative pundits had a field day pointing out "sins of omission" in the story and that it misrepresented Starr's reasons for rejecting a $24,000 re-enlistment bonus last year to return to civilian life.

His plan had always been to spend four years in the Marines. Meeting Anonical only strengthened that conviction.

While Brian and Shellie are on different sides of the political fence, they were united in their determination to clarify their son's feelings about serving in the war and leaving the Marines.

At one point, a White House speechwriter phoned the couple seeking permission for President Bush to quote from Starr's letter.

In November, Bush was visibly moved when he closed a speech at the Naval Academy and began to quote Starr.

"If you're reading this, then I've died in Iraq," the president read. "I don't regret going. Everybody dies, but few get to do it for something as important as freedom."

'He was my first love'

When she first read her boyfriend's letter, Anonical says: "It was almost like a shock. I could hear his voice saying everything.

"Reading that part about going on with my life is hard. He was my first love, and I can't imagine experiencing that again. Everyone says, 'You're young and will find someone again.' At the same time, I don't want to.

"I feel I have had this great love with Jeff, and I'm lucky for that. And if it doesn't happen again, it doesn't happen. A lot of people married for years don't have the kind of love that we had."

She decided to share her letter, however, sensing it spoke importantly and deeply to personal sacrifices.

"I could have spent the rest of my life with him."

The two met on an outing with a group of friends while he was home on leave in mid-2003. They sensed a connection when they danced the rest of the night together.

A long-distance relationship blossomed after Starr returned to Camp Pendleton, each cautiously aware that military life was tough on relationships. That fall Starr invited her to fly to Las Vegas and accompany him to the formal Marine Corps Birthday Ball on Nov. 10.

"I flew down to be with this guy I really didn't know, who I hadn't seen in three months, to a place I had never been, and it just seemed so natural," she recalls. "It was crazy."

Starr, a romantic, swept her off her feet with flowers, rose petals, poetry, even a song he had researched and rehearsed.

"It was perfect. I was blown away," she says. "He was sweet, loving and trustworthy."

Starr's return to war the next year tested and solidified their commitment.

"In Fallujah when he got caught in that house behind enemy lines in 2004, he wrote me an e-mail a month afterward. He said he knew I was something special. He told me that when he was in that house the one thing he thought of was he had to get back to me. That meant a lot to me. I felt the same way."

Mourning, and celebrating

Each day at 2:30 p.m., Starr's watch alarm goes off. His mom and dad, who unpacked it with his other belongings they received last August after he was killed, wonder why he had set it for that hour.

In Iraq where he set it, the alarm would have sounded at 1:30 a.m. Did he set it to call his girlfriend? Or to prepare for the mission on which he died?

Times and dates took on raw significance in the year since his death. The family skipped Christmas and went to Hawaii. Anonical's Christmas gift to them: a tribute site to their son at MySpace.com.

In the last week, the Starr family has mourned and celebrated.

Shellie left balloons at Starr's grave for his 23rd birthday last Thursday.

The Starrs celebrated their 28th wedding anniversary Saturday.

They were in Loma Linda, Calif., to celebrate the graduation of their daughter, Hillary, from medical school. She'll be coming closer to home, too, to serve her residency in family practice in Tacoma.

Today, they will return to Snohomish and gather privately in Jeff's memory.

After Starr died, his younger sister, Emily, carried a quilt made from his shirts to all her high school tennis games. Her brother had promised he'd attend them and cheer her on. She won all but one for him.

Shellie says she is "still engaged" in watching news of the war as she did when her son was in Iraq. She is now forming a non-profit chapter of Gold Star Families, made up of those who have lost loved ones in war, with Myra Rintamaki, mother of Cpl. Steven Rintamaki, the Marine killed in Iraq in 2004. It was his memorial service Shellie Starr thought of attending last Memorial Day.

"Memorial Day takes on more meaning because we understand, unfortunately, the sacrifices behind the day."

The Starrs are spearheading an effort to build a climbing wall in their son's name at the Snohomish Boys and Girls Club.

"I can't see Jeff as a park bench," his mom says with bemusement.

Anonical and Starr's friends meet at the Starr home once a month. "Emmylyn decides when," Brian says.

They meet in the downstairs day room to toast and remember him. The room would have been his bedroom had he made it back from the war and started college. It's filled with Starr's keepsakes, medals, photos and other memorabilia.

"We love to talk about Jeff," Shellie says.

The following letter was written by Marine Cpl. Jeff Starr to be opened by his fiancée, Emmylyn Anonical, if he was killed:

Dearest Emmylyn,

I'm writing this for one reason only. On April 13th, 2004, I thought I was going to die. My only regret is that I hadn't spent enough time with you. That I hadn't told you everything I wanted to. Being in Iraq for a third time, I don't want to feel that way again because it was the worst feeling ever. So this letter is in case I won't ever get the chance to tell you.

Obviously, if you are reading this, then I have died in Iraq. I kind of predicted this; that is why I'm writing this in November. A third time just seemed like I'm pushing my chances. I don't regret going. Everybody dies but few get to do it for something as important as freedom. It may seem confusing why we are in Iraq; it's not to me. I'm here helping these people so that they can live the way we live, not to have to worry about tyrants or vicious dictators, to do what they want with their lives. To me that is why I died. Others have died for my freedom, now this is my mark.

I don't want to leave you behind. I saw myself marrying you, having a family and growing old together. Unfortunately, I won't get to experience those things. I know you are crying and, sorry to say, but I'm glad to have someone as beautiful and special as you to cry for me. I'm only asking that you don't cry for very long. This is what has happened and there is nothing that can be done. Don't ever forget me and remember that there are good men out there who will love you as much as I do. Find the one that makes you happy. You deserve this.

I'm sorry that I won't be able to see you again. I'm sorry I won't be able to see you graduate college. I'm sorry I won't get to kiss you or hold you again. I'm sorry I won't get to feel your touch or your hand in mine again. I'm sorry because those were the best moments in all my life. I really love you, not the puppy love or the college love. Not the love you say because you feel it's time in the relationship to say it.

I really, really loved you. Everything about you.

Well, I can't type forever. I know you want to read more but I thought simple and to the point would be easier.

I love you with all my heart.

Goodbye, my Love.

(Reprinted with permission from the Starr family and Emmylyn Anonical.)

Click on photo for descriptions and credits.

The Meaning of Memorial Day

Let’s be clear, this Memorial Day will be very difficult for thousands of families, friends, and military teammates of those American warriors who have died during the last year. Many of these heroes leave behind very young families and all have grieving mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters and others. This will the first Memorial Day since their loved one’s death and it will no doubt be a very difficult day.


Col. Jeff Bearor, USMC (Ret)
Author: Col. Jeff Bearor, USMC (Ret)
Date: May 29, 2006

With the pain, though, there will be pride and a sense that the sacrifice was not in vain. For these families know better than any of us the sense of accomplishment, selflessness, and willingness to place the safety of the nation, and of their teammates, above their own that was in the hearts of the fallen. Families will read and re-read letters and emails. They’ll recall phone calls and look at video clips. The sense of loss will be great. But also great will be the realization that our country produces young men and women of stout heart and valiant character who volunteered to carry freedom’s flag. What a legacy they leave!

Memorial Day for me has always been a day both to celebrate and remember: celebration that our country produces people willing to fight and die for something they believe in but can’t touch and remembrance that freedom has a very real cost that must be paid over and over again. As I stop to celebrate another Memorial Day, particularly one when we find ourselves again at war, I think about all those ordinary but extraordinary Americans around the world in harm’s way.

I was lucky to serve my country for more than 30 years in uniform. I am amazed at the quality and spirit of the young people who volunteer today to serve our country, even in time of conflict. They are young (the average age of a Marine recruit is about 19.5 years) and come from all over our country and from almost every country around the world. New immigrants and first-generation Americans volunteer in increasing numbers because they understand exactly what America offers the world. These are smart, capable, dedicated kids – mature beyond their years and totally dedicated to each other and their teams.

In my opinion, these newest members of the military represent the leading edge of a new “greatest generation”. They understand that there are people, factions, and countries in the world that would see freedom’s light snuffed out; that would substitute 13th century thinking in place of 21st century enlightenment. You will rarely hear young Marines, soldiers, airmen or sailors express it in terms like this. They instead talk about their buddies and their team, those with whom they share danger and sacrifice every day in hundreds of places around the world. The key is that these youngest adults in our country are willing to sacrifice their comfort and perhaps their lives for something other than themselves. They are, in a word, selfless and they will lead us into a 21st Century of greater freedom, innovation, growth and human development than did even the Depression Era and World War II generation so sadly passing on in ever greater numbers.

The families of our service men and women sacrifice every day. The separations are nearly unbearable, made even harder in time of war. For those families who have recently lost a beloved son or daughter, husband or wife, mother or father this Memorial Day will be bittersweet. As you pause to both remember their sacrifice and celebrate that our country continues to produce such extraordinary and unselfish heroes, please remember the family members that mourn our newest heroes. Then thank God that we live in a country that inspires such sacrifice.

Col. Bearor is a career Marine Corps officer, the former commanding officer of the Recruit Training Regiment at the US Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Parris Island, SC, and has served as chief of staff, Marine Corps Training and Education Command, Quantico, VA.

Owens signs funeral protest law

Gov. Bill Owens signed a measure today limiting protests at funerals, saying families and friends of the dead have the right to expect privacy at the services.


By Steven K. Paulson
The Associated Press
Monday, May 29, 2006

The bill was introduced in response to protests staged at soldiers' funerals by members of the Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas.

Under the new law, protesters will be required to stay back 100 feet from a funeral and people using bullhorns could be kept 150 feet away.

It makes interfering with a funeral a misdemeanor punishable by three to 12 months in jail and a fine of $1,000.

Each mourner can also sue to recover damages up to $1,000 plus attorney fees.

"Hopefully this legislation will help address the few situations were a handful of insensitive human beings do not respect the rights of others to mourn without distraction," Owens said.

The bill takes effect immediately.

Shirley Phelps-Roper, an attorney for the church, said the group always stands more than 100 feet away from funerals and said the new law will not accomplish anything.

"When all the legislation is done, that bill isn't going to stop one thing we do. It's going to settle into the psyche of the nation that with all of their efforts to make us go away, that they accomplished essentially nothing except bring a lot of attention to our message," she said.

The church group, which claims that God is killing U.S. soldiers who fight for a country that tolerates homosexuality, has prompted at least two dozen states to consider laws that would keep protesters away from military funerals.

Lawmakers approved the bill after Julie MacKenzie, the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq, begged state lawmakers to limit protests at funerals, saying no parent should have to endure what she went through when she buried her son in November.

MacKenzie said protesters from the Kansas church carried signs reading "Thank God for dead soldiers" and other messages at the Greeley funeral for her 20-year-old son, Tyler.

"That was the last thing they needed to see," she said.

"Tyler would be the first one to tell you that the First Amendment is a very important statement. He felt like this country deserved to keep that right intact, but not at the extent of hurting his family," she told lawmakers at a hearing in April.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, said the new law is constitutional because it applies equally to the protesters and to support groups that have tried to block the protesters. Shaffer said the state has a significant government interest because the protests can incite violence.

Earlier this month, the American Civil Liberties Union challenged portions of a similar law passed in Kentucky prompted by the Westboro protests, saying the law was too broad. The ACLU in Colorado said it cannot challenge the law unless authorities try to enforce it.

May 28, 2006


FALLUJAH, Iraq -- The Marines are filthy and tired and act hard, like they've been here two years instead of two months.


May 28, 2006
The Hartford Courant

Charlie Company's 200 or so infantrymen - half from Connecticut - are reservists, pulled from civilian life for the unit's first trip into the war. They will spend seven months running patrols, guarding posts, raiding suspect houses and manning checkpoints in one of Iraq's most dangerous cities.

The men from Enfield, Colchester, Middletown and East Windsor are fighting in Fallujah to keep things from getting worse. They fight to buy time for the training of Iraqi replacements. They fight for an unknown future under yet-to-emerge Iraqi leaders. And, at the most basic level, the corporals and privates first class fight to keep themselves and their friends from getting killed.

They rehash their battle stories sometimes before they've returned to safety, writing their own characters into the war movies they gravitate to. They court death in their spare time, watching violent movies and some playing video games of war. Under it all, they are young and far from home.

"We're trying to keep Fallujah stable and get out of here," said Cpl. Parke Stearns, 26, of Lebanon, Ct.

The Marines here are fighting a war. But it's not always clear whose war.

Charlie Company is based at the Civil-Military Operations Center, or CMOC, pronounced see-mock in the acronym jungle of military speak. The compound is at the center of the city, facing the major east-west route through it. Charlie Company owns downtown, the worst of Fallujah. It is one company where four battalions with thousands of troops once operated. The nearest Marine company, another part of the 1st Battalion, 25th Marines, known as "New England's Own," is at the train station on the northern edge of the city.

But there are other supposed allies. Iraqi police, most of them locals, work from stations scattered around Fallujah, driving little pickups with patches of steel welded to them for armor. Three Iraqi Army battalions - increasingly trusted by their U.S. partners - also operate here, brought in from elsewhere.

The area is a stronghold for the Sunni branch of Islam. The Iraqi Army soldiers are mostly Shiites, so they are among the insurgents' favorite targets. While the Iraqi police are mostly Sunni, their partnership with American occupiers invites attacks on them, too, leaving them walking a crooked line.

As 1st Sgt. Ben Grainger, Charlie Company's chief noncommissioned officer who is from Enfield, said, "They live in the community, the same community the insurgents live in. It's not a matter of them dying; it's a matter of their wife, family and kids dying. They're almost forced to play both sides."

When working with either security force, Grainger said, Marines are told, "Treat them as our counterparts, but be ready to kill them, if necessary."

On May 19, a car on the "new bridge," the main crossing over the Euphrates River, rolled up to the point of the bridge where Iraqi soldiers sat in a sandbagged post. It detonated, tearing the car and suicide driver into hunks of black shrapnel. Only one of the soldiers was wounded in the explosion that wrecked two of their armored vehicles, but the blast also punched holes through the bottom of the bridge, knocking it out until it could be repaired.

Soon after the attack, Iraqi soldiers milled around, laughing and taking pictures. One of them showed off a plastic bag that held a license plate. He signaled that the other item in the bag was the blackened foot of the driver.

That evening, as engineers checked out the bridge, another company from the battalion watched the area. They came across a group of men who scrambled into vehicles and fled. Chasing down one of the cars, a taxi, the Marines watched its driver run the car into pedestrians before bailing out into a building.

Charlie Company responded as backup, to help surround a section of the notorious area of town known as the Pizza Slice, a triangle formed by two main roads and the river. Inside the taxi, Marines found a few automatic weapons and a rocket-propelled grenade launcher. Night fell on their search, which ended with a suspect who fit the description, but couldn't be held without more proof.

As they prepared to leave, a few shots popped in the distance across the adjacent cemetery. The Marines who heard barely reacted. Bullets are almost as common as mosquitoes when the sun goes down in Fallujah. But the Marines carry night-vision equipment. As they like to say, "We own the night."

The following day, again, a suicide car bomb struck. This time, it hit an Iraqi police station. The car blew up at the outer security perimeter, injuring some people there, but no officers.

When Iraqis are hurt or killed in the city, it slides off most of the Marines in Charlie Company. It's when their own get hit, as they have a few times in the last several weeks, that the news grips tight.

On Wednesday, Marines from Charlie Company's 2nd Platoon are returning to base when an Iraqi boy, maybe 11, throws a grenade at them. It lands within lethal range but doesn't go off. The boy gets away. Explosives disposal guys are called in to grab the grenade. They arrive with a flat tire, so more Marines from 2nd Platoon come out for security.

An arm pokes around a corner and throws another grenade.

This one blows as Marines dodge for cover. Two Marines are hit with minor shrapnel: Lance Cpl. Jordan Pierson, of Milford, in the arms and leg, and Lance Cpl. Nicholas Lambert, of Oxford, Mass., in his right thigh. Both are taken to the hospital at Camp Fallujah.

Afterward, as he limped from his treatment, Lambert said to the medical staff, "It's nice meeting you guys, but I don't want to see you again." He and Pierson returned to the unit.

Another day, when gunfire crackles and blasts start shaking Charlie Company's building, the Marines get ready for a fight. They gather in the entryway of their four-story building, like greyhounds at the starting gate, the air heavy with the smell of gunpowder. In squads, they start to reinforce guard posts and head into the city.

The explosions come from a combination of rocket-propelled grenades streaking into the big compound and mortar shells dropping from above, in greater numbers than usual. With fire from three machine guns on top of it, the coordinated attack is the nastiest on CMOC since the unit got here in March.

Within a few minutes, Marines have shot back and hit two or three attackers - news that puts smiles on faces back inside their building. The surviving insurgents vanish, taking their wounded with them. The leaders of Charlie Company count it as more of the same - hit-and-run, no real threat to the Marines, though more organized than they like to see.

But theirs isn't the only building in this dusty hub. In one corner is the equivalent of a town hall. There is another building that houses the mayor's offices. And a new police headquarters just opened on the northern edge, which could also have been a target for the rain of more than a dozen mortars.

No Marines were hit, though one dud mortar embedded itself on the roof of the former education administration building they live in and another landed a dozen yards away.

The attack did kill three Iraqi police officers on a nearby guard post - Iraqis killed by Iraqis. Much of the violence in this wounded city is between Iraqis, leaving U.S. troops as the referees in a game with more teams than rules.

Just a few hours earlier, out at a Charlie Company checkpoint on the west side of the Euphrates River, a car drove up with a dying man in the back seat, his curled-up form full of bullet holes and soaked red with blood. The car was allowed to pass through to a nearby hospital, where a doctor turned it away after a quick check that concluded the man had died.

When the car got back to the checkpoint, Marines tried to figure out what had happened. They gathered the six other men from the white Toyota and held them aside while a translator questioned them. Meanwhile, a Navy corpsman - a medic who travels with Marine units - checked the man in the back seat. "He has a faint pulse in his wrist," the corpsman said.

"He's still alive."

The man's brother leapt from his kneeling position and began weeping and moaning, trying to get closer through the knot of Marines.

The corpsman kept working, looking for further signs of life. He couldn't find a pulse in the man's neck. And his heart was still.

"He's done," the corpsman finally said.

The other man continued to cry, his tears rolling through his brother's blood where it stained his face. He had the eyes of an animal struck by a car, stunned and confused. As he folded against the car trunk and put his head down on his arms, the story was told by the others through the translator.

Their car had been at a gas station down the road. A group of men got out of a gray BMW and fired an AK-47 - Iraq's favored assault rifle. Nobody in the Toyota said they knew why.

Bottom line: The shooting didn't involve a Marine. So the Marines waved them on, back down the road.

Four who serve

Millions have served in the U.S. military. From there, commonality gives way to differences - both subtle and glaring - and variables that give each serviceman and servicewoman a unique story.

By Matt McNabb

Some are evident on the surface - age, gender, race. But you can't tell by looking at them which members of the military joined to play an instrument, or who joined for three years of on-the-job training. By sight, you can't tell who's about to be deployed to Iraq or who only went overseas for training.

Reasons for joining cover a wide range, but many have family military influences. Some feel a call to duty. Some seek a challenge.

All are important. Every military man and woman has a role, from fighting on the front lines to keeping things in order at home.

This Memorial Day, The Hutchinson News focused on four members of the military to highlight a small segment of experience - before, during and, in one case, after service.

Switching Gears

HOISINGTON - While finalizing her U.S. Marine Corps future before finishing high school, Cpl. Beth Grauer's plans included a trumpet instead of a firearm.

But a failed audition test caused her to switch gears. Instead of the Marine Corps band, she set her sights on military police.

After graduating from Hoisington High School in 2002, Grauer left for boot camp on her parents' anniversary - Aug. 19 - and over the next four years was stationed in Okinawa, Japan, and served deployments in three countries.

On Aug. 19, 2005, she left Camp Lejeune, N.C., for seven months in Iraq. Less than two months later, she was traveling in a convoy in Iraq when an explosive hit a vehicle carrying some of her fellow Marines. Two Marines were killed, and two more were seriously injured.

Despite the unexpected, Grauer has taken to her role in the service. In March, she re-enlisted for another four years of active duty.

"I have no idea what life would have been like if I had joined the band instead of becoming a military policeman," Grauer said. "I don't think I would have been as happy being in the band as I am doing field-side military police."


When the younger of Eileen and Paul Grauer's two daughters told them about plans to join the Marines, the couple knew firsthand about military service and the stress of separation during active duty.

They married before Paul, an Army officer, did one tour in Vietnam.

But the issue of Beth joining the military wasn't talked about beforehand, Eileen Grauer said.

"I think when she told us she had already enlisted," she said. "The feeling was, this was something she really wanted to do and had her mind made up about it. So there wasn't much we could do but support her."

Things were different with Grauer's re-enlistment, which was done at the end of March and will keep her active through 2010. Beth called and spoke with her parents ahead of time.

"Basically, what we told her was it was her decision," Eileen Grauer said. "We weren't for it, but it was her decision. She's 23 now; she's got to make her own decisions."

Even Beth said she's still unsure why she re-enlisted after her initial four years of service.

"Maybe I am just not grown up yet and the adrenaline still flows," she said. "I wasn't ready to hang up my uniform just yet, and I love my job.

"I had four years of inactive duty anyway, so I thought I might as well make it four active and not have to deal with inactive when I get out in 2010."

"I think the Marines have been very good to her," Eileen Grauer said. "It had been a good experience for her it if weren't for the Iraq thing."


The Marines have the lowest percentage of enlisted, active women of any branch of the American armed services, at 6 percent. That partially motivated Grauer's initial decision to join.

"More and more women are joining the armed services these days, but the Marine Corps is still elite in that women do not tend to join because of the challenges," she said.

Despite the relatively few women Marines - Grauer was the only female in her squad, but others were in her battalion - she said her fellow Marines look at her as "one of the guys."

"We are all one color, and that is green," Grauer said.

Three months out of high school, she arrived at Parris Island, S.C., where all female Marines go through basic training. Then it was Marine Combat Training at Camp Geiger, N.C., and the school of Marine Military Police at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.

From April 2003 to April 2005, Grauer's duties took her to Okinawa, with deployments to Australia, Korea and mainland Japan.

Back in her home country, Grauer joined the 2nd Force Service Support Group, 2nd Military Police Battalion, A Company, at Camp. Attached to Combat Logistics Batallion 2, her company went to Iraq.

Two months hadn't passed in the country when, on Oct. 6, an improvised explosive device hit a vehicle in a combat logistics patrol convoy Grauer was riding in near Al Qaim.

Two were killed - Lance Cpls. Daniel M. McVicker and Carl L. Raines, both 20. Two others - Lance Cpls. Chris Stephenson, of Hutchinson, and Chris Wiers - were badly injured.

Seven U.S. armed forces died on that Thursday, including McVicker and Raines. A total of 96 died that month.


Memorial Day had a special meaning for the Grauers long before Beth joined the Marines. Since Memorial Day 1983 - not long after Beth was born - they have been the official grave decorators for the family, Eileen Grauer said.

This year, like many before, they'll place flowers on one grave at Tescott in Ottawa County and five in Wilson. Also this year, like the past three, they'll do so without Beth. She's at Camp Lejeune.

Grauer said with joining the Marines, Memorial Day became more special. But it became "too real" on Oct. 6.

"To come back without Vic and Raines just didn't seem right," she said.

Run Held to Honor Marines

Vietnam Veteran Steve Bozeman, Staff Sergeant John Glaister, and First Sergeant Rick Caisse ran twenty miles on Saturday, May 20, 2006, with a Healing Field American flag purchased from the Exchange Club of Lynchburg in order to honor those five Marines from Company C in Lynchburg who were killed in Iraq last year.


By Carollyn Lee Peerman, Press Media Group, LLC

The purpose of the run is to bring awareness to what sacrifices that these 2,600 servicemen and women paid. Steve and Debbie Bozeman’s two grandchildren Jacob Brooks and Cydney Rice, joined 36 other Young Marines ages 8 to 18 to run 2 to 4 miles each. Debbie ran ten miles.

The run started at 9 am at the Marine Corps League on Lakeside Drive and went on to the 501 Bypass, Boonsboro Road, and Rivermont Avenue to downtown and back the same way with three police cruisers as escorts along with three Staff ladies, Shelia Griffin, Darlene Palmer, and Jamie Womack.

The Program Manager of Project Daniel, Traci Roberson, was given a check for $2, 350. This money was raised by the Young Marines to help very young handicapped children achieve a normal life. Daniel’s Grandmother Dorothy L.
Armes and the parents, Leegie and Steve Kirby, were there. Baby Daniel was born brain damaged and lived 5-1/2 years. With Project Daniel there is an in home program with comprehensive help and hope for these children.

Hell's waiting room

RAMADI, Iraq -– There are two battles here in Ramadi, separated by scant more than a mile.


by Kimberly Johnson
Sunday, May 28, 2006

To the west, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines’ Lima Company is making a calculated attempt to beat back their enemy by coaxing locals into cooperation through infrastructure improvements and a regular presence in their homes and streets. To the east, however, it’s a different story. It’s almost, one could argue, a different war.

Marines in Kilo Company, hunkered down at the infamous Provincial Government Center, are concentrated on holding their turf. They don’t make house calls with the locals because all the civilians in about a five-block radius have moved out, headed for safer ground. The buildings they left behind in the exodus have become regular targets for the Marines’ mounted rooftop weapons, aimed at insurgents shooting from their shadowy recesses. The tall concrete structures are limp from the bombs and grenades and bullets, and look to be waiting to be finished off for good.

The Marines here call this place Hell’s Waiting Room. This is the place insurgents come to fight them, and they say, this is where they come to die.

The character of a company of Marines -- along with their fighting style -- is largely defined by that of its commander. Kilo’s intensity made perfect sense the first day I met Capt. Andrew Del Gaudio, a man raised and hardened in the Bronx. He was puffing on a cigar, filling the lower level barracks hall with the smell. His eyelids looked heavy; not from lack of sleep, but from an unbridled confidence, a New York sense of cool. As he answered my questions, he paused to spit -– into an empty ammunition can sitting at my feet. He is blunt, with a mouth that could make a sailor blush.

He has also lost four men in the span of less than three months.

Del Gaudio believes that in Iraq, actions speak louder than words and that Iraqis respect a dominating authority. All of these things, he’s only too happy to provide. Kilo’s confirmed kill tally of insurgents engaging them over the last three months is already in the hundreds. “But I’m not done yet,” he said.

“There aren’t a lot of lofty ideas around this place,” he said. “There’s no illusion that some great change will take place while we’re here.”

Combat occurs here daily, whether in direct attacks on the government center or Marines on the ground on foot patrols. “You have to accept it for what it is,” a point he says he constantly tries to hammer home with his men. “We don’t try to make it into something that it’s not. You can’t help those who don’t want to be helped,” he said. “Ultimately, the thing we’re fighting for is the complicity of the people.”

But that’s a big picture view, taken with a really, really wide-angle lens. The Marines here in Kilo Company don’t care much about the political landscape back home, the rationale behind sending them here or, even, the long-term future of Iraq. If it’s tunnel vision, it’s one focused on survival. It’s a sentiment I’ve heard in just about every conversation I’ve ever had with any Marine on the front lines, but one Del Gaudio states plainly in his command philosophy: “We fight for the men on the left and the right. We fight to the end for each other.”

Behind the intensity, Del Gaudio is a warrior scholar type. He’s made a study of combat, even ancient Japanese warfare. He speaks four languages, including Arabic, a by-product of a one-year deployment in Saudi Arabia that ended in 2001. During that time in the Middle East, he felt the noticeable shift in attitudes away from America. “By the end of my tour, it was very hostile,” he said. That exposure would ultimately be helpful. “I gained a lot of experience observing Islamic fundamentalists.”

It’s that fundamentalism that he goes up against here in Iraq, but not full on, he explained. The religious fanatics are luring the young and uneducated into fighting and into dying a martyr’s death, often promising them and their families money, he explained. “The guy I kill in the street with an AK-47 is not in it for any religious reasons.”

Del Gaudio can trace his U.S. ancestry to Dutch settlers in New York and has family who has fought in just about every major national conflict. His father, like mine, served in Vietnam, but back when it was called Indo-China.

And like our parents’ war, this one will define our generation, I told him as I explained my motivation for being here in the thick of things. “It’s going to define your career.”

He took a drag off his smoldering cigar, and a fog of smoke settled in around his head. “This is going to define my life.”

Men of Lima Co. 'all changed, forever'

COLUMBUS - As Jim Dyer of Evendale walked into a dark theater here Tuesday night to watch a film on Lima Company, his son's Marine Reserve unit, what he wanted more than anything was the one thing he could not have ... his son Christopher at his side.

Instead, what he saw was his son on a movie screen in a short, choppy piece of videotape from a hand-held camera, an image of a handsome, gap-toothed Marine relaxing with his brother Marines in bivouac, strumming a guitar and singing "Puff the Magic Dragon."


Cincinnati Enquirer

The scene was taped last August, not long before the 19-year-old Princeton High graduate and 10 of his comrades took off down a dusty road near Haditha in western Iraq in a 30-ton amphibious assault vehicle. They hit a land mine and died - all of them - in a massive explosion.

Dyer did not know whether to laugh or cry at the sight of his son, the musician and would-be pilot whose dreams ended that day, clowning for the camera. "I laughed," Dyer said. "It was all I could laugh about."

Dyer and over 300 other Marines and family members gathered Tuesday night at the Arena Grand Theater in Columbus for an emotional private screening by the producers of "Combat Diary: The Marines of Lima Company."

Airing several times on the A&E; cable network, the nation will see and hear the story of Lima Company - those who died and those who returned - in words and pictures that are largely those of the Marines themselves. The 95-minute documentary is made up, in large part, of video and still photos shot by the Marines themselves.

The program chronicles the tour of the 184-member reserve unit that sustained more casualties - 23 dead, 59 Purple Hearts awarded in its seven-month combat tour - than any other unit that served in Iraq.

Every man had a camera
Viewers who knew the young Lima Company Marines will see glimpses of them in the film.
They will see Corp. David Kreuter mugging for the camera and manning a mounted machine gun as his armored vehicle rumbles down a dusty road. They will glimpse, too, the smiling face of Lance Corp. Michael Cifuentes of Oxford, clowning with his buddies; and hear him described by his platoon leader as "smart as a whip" and a young man who was "not foul-mouthed like the rest of us."

"This is not the film we set out to make," said director and co-producer Michael Epstein, who attended the reception and screening with his partner, Jonathan Yellen, a former Marine "What we ended up with is unique. I don't believe there has ever been a film on war quite like this."

Epstein said the production team had planned on doing a film that would be, for the most part, about the Marines of Lima Company trying to move back into civilian life after almost seven months of nearly non-stop combat, carnage and the deaths of friends.

But Staff Sgt. Steve Hicks of Columbus, who is interviewed extensively in the documentary, turned over to the production team countless hours of video and still photos he had stored on his computer; and the footage ended up being the basis for the film.

"Every man in the unit had a camera of some kind," said Hicks. "Nobody told us we couldn't, so we did. And we shot everything."

The result was a compilation of intense firefights, bone-rattling explosions, black humor, moments of relaxation and camaraderie.

Carole Hoffman, of Pataskala in Central Ohio, said that after her son, Sgt. Justin Hoffman, 27, died in the Aug. 3 explosion, a camera with 80 photos on a memory stick was found near the vehicle and sent to her.

"I've seen those pictures and I could see through them how much these young men meant to each other," she said shortly before the screening. "They really do love each other. That's what I want people to see when they watch the film. That these young men love each other."

Not just Marines
Gunnery Sgt. Shawn Delgado of Columbus watched the film, which included interview clips with him and 14 fellow Lima Company Marines, and said he was pleased with the result.
"It shows that these are not just Marines, but people too, just like anybody else, with families who love them," said Delgado, whose shaved head and chiseled features make him look like the prototype for a "squared-away" Marine. "I hope when people see this they will realize, too, not just how much we lost in Iraq, but how much we accomplished."

After the screening of the 90-minute film Tuesday night, the Marines and their families streamed slowly out of the screening rooms, standing around in small clusters. Tears flowed. Men and women who had been strangers before their sons came together in Lima Company hugged each other.

John Dyer walked out of the theater and found a quiet corner where he sat alone for about 15 minutes, unable to speak.

Afterwards he drifted upstairs into the upper lobby where a small group of reporters and photographers waited. Head bowed, he could still barely speak, choking back tears.

The film, he said, was a revelation in some ways. He and many other family members learned for the first time that on Aug. 3, Lima Company's commander was told by a tank company that the road they would be traveling was clear of roadside bombs and safe.

"That came as a shock to a lot of people, I think," Dyer said.

As painful as it was to watch, Dyer took away something from the film he hopes will make an impression on all of those who watch it on cable television tonight, whether their lives have been touched by the Iraq war or not.

"They'll see how hard it is for these young men to come back - after what they saw and what happened to their friends - and be civilians again," Dyer said. "They are all changed, forever."

May 27, 2006

Vista honors two fallen troops with banners

VISTA ---- The solemn sound of the song "Amazing Grace" performed on bagpipes filled the few empty spaces at the Vista Wal-Mart parking lot Saturday during an early, outdoor Memorial Day ceremony.


By: LORELL FLEMING - Staff Writer

The event, which attracted close to 100 people, featured the unveiling of two large banners in honor of two local troops killed while on duty in Iraq.

Honored, each with his own 9-by-3-foot American Heroes Tribute banner, were Army Specialist Wade M. Twyman of Vista and Marine Major Richard J. Gannon II of Escondido.

Twyman died March 4, 2005, in Ramadi, Iraq, when the patrol vehicle he and three other soldiers were in passed over a roadside bomb. He was 27 years old. Gannon died in combat in the Anbar Province of Iraq, near the Syrian border, on April 17, 2004. He was 31 years old.

"The greatest gift we can give our fallen, and the loved ones who survive them, is the gift of remembrance," Chris Yates, commander of American Legion Post 365, told the crowd, as he stood beside the large, covered banners.

Twyman's father, John, slowly nodded his head as if agreeing with Yates.

"It's wonderful to see the tribute," John Twyman said in a trembling voice after the ceremony. "It's comforting to the family to see that he's not forgotten."

Each banner includes a photo and personal information about the deceased service member. Twyman's and Gannon's banners will be placed with the other American Heroes Tribute banners on display along sections of South Santa Fe Avenue, Broadway and University Avenue in Vista.

Wade Twyman graduated from Rancho Buena Vista High School and participated in the San Diego County Sheriff's Department's Explorer program. Twyman became a Sheriff's Department correctional deputy. Later, he worked as a sheriff's deputy in La Paz County, Arizona. In the Army, he was a scout in Korea, and then in Iraq.

Gannon grew up in Valley Center and graduated from Escondido High School. He attended Cornell University on a full scholarship, and graduated with a double major in political science and history. He taught at the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Md.

Gannon was the commanding officer of the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, and was based at Twentynine Palms. Gannon was posthumously promoted to the rank of major, and was awarded the Purple Heart and Silver Star for bravery in battle.

Himself a former Marine whose service includes Vietnam in 1967-68, Gannon's father, Rich, said the ceremony unearthed feelings of pain. Gannon also said the event and the banner "helps raise consciousness of all the sacrifices made by my son and many others."

Gannon's mother, Tess, said she shed a few tears at the ceremony.

"I'm all right," she said. "I've been crying for two years since he died. I will never forget him, and I hope others don't, either."

Amid the numerous flags, a large green tank on display, and a Marine Corps color guard from Camp Pendleton, a host of military veterans and community leaders spoke at the event.

Grant Bjorn, founder and president of the American Heroes Tribute organization, also addressed the crowd. He briefly discussed creating banners to honor fallen troops.

"It's not a pro-war or anti-war thing," Bjorn said. "These aren't overpaid ballplayers or media-driven actors. These are true heroes we need to teach our children about."

The ceremony Saturday was a joint effort of the VFW Post 7041, American Legion Post 365, and the Vista Wal-Mart.

Two other local troops who died in the course of duty, Marine Corps sergeant and Camp Pendleton firefighter Brian Dunlap, 34, of Vista, and Marine Gunnery Sgt. Jeffrey E. Bohr, 39, of Fallbrook, will be honored with the unveiling of their American Heroes Tribute banners during a ceremony Monday. Dunlap died in September 2005. Bohr died in April 2003.

Monday's ceremony starts at noon at the flag pavilion at Citrus and Broadway in Vista and will be a joint effort by the American Legion Post 365 and the Vista Village Business Association. The unveiling will occur after the community's Memorial Day parade to start at 11 a.m.

Fallen Marine Remembered At Memorial Service

Twenty-seven-year-old Lance Corporeal Eric Palmisano of Florence was remembered Saturday, for his courage, his leadership, but most of all, his sense of humor.


Dickinson County, May 27

"Eric had a sense of humor that just wouldn't quit. Eric's mission I believe was to make everyone happy, to lift spirits of those around him, to take what would normally be a sad or a bad situation and turn it into a positive one," said his mother Bobbie Same.

Palmisano died on April 2 when the seven-ton truck he was riding in rolled over in a flash flood near Al Asad, Iraq.

His family held a formal funeral ceremony five weeks ago in Chicago, but his mother wanted to have the memorial service in Dickinson County not just for Eric, but also as a special thank you to the community for their support. The ceremony involved 8 marines and 10 color guard officers.

Reverend Stephen Cowen reflected on Palmisano's childhood, his passion for soccer, and how he came to be a marine. Palmisano joined the Marine Corp in March of last year. In less than a six months, he was a squad leader supervising 13 marines.

Darkhorse Marines repel attack, maintain vigilance

FALLUJAH, Iraq (May 27, 2006) -- Insurgents are finding out Marines are a “Force In Readiness,” whether the insurgents are adequately prepared or not.


Submitted by: 1st Marine Division
Story Identification #: 200652944926
Story by Cpl. Mark Sixbey

Darkhorse Marines of 2nd Platoon, L Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment battled insurgents in a 20-minute firefight at their patrol post in the town of Halabisah, May 24.

The first sign of the attack came only moments before the first round was fired.

“Our guys on post saw a couple of the stores across the street shut down and a couple of cars dropped people off,” said Lance Cpl. Adam Wood, a grenadier. “That’s when the shooting started.”

The attack began with a rocket-propelled grenade to the second floor balcony of the Marine outpost. Every Marine in the house was alert and participating in the fight within moments of the first blast.

“I was awakened by an RPG round exploding and small-arms fire,” said Lance Cpl. Christopher Michon, a rifleman. The 19-year-old from Houston said he ran upstairs for his first firefight dressed in PT shorts, shower sandals and his body armor. It was there he noticed the insurgents were shooting from all directions.

“You could see we were being sprayed from every side,” he said. “We returned fire as best we could.”

No Marines were injured in the attack. Two squads immediately searched the area and found no sign of the gunmen.

“The Marines reacted exactly like they were supposed to,” said Sgt. Luis Macias, a squad leader. “No hesitation whatsoever.”

The platoon set up their patrol base in a house on the edge of L Company’s area of operation a few days prior to the attack. The company covers a geographically larger area of operation than any other company in the battalion.

“Since our battalion’s been stretched out, our company has seen a lot of everything,” said Macias, 28, from Oceanside, Calif. “Any type of fire – you name it, we’ve seen it. But after our performance last night, I don’t see it happening again any time soon.”

The next day, the Marines halted a convoy to talk to a local family filling a wheelbarrow with rocks along a train track to improve a nearby well.

“We wanted to make sure they understood what the Marines think when they see shovels alongside the road,” said Capt. William Allen, the company’s commanding officer.

“We let them know whenever they see Marines to stop what they’re doing, greet them and notify them what’s going on,” Allen said. “It not only protects the locals, but the Marines too.”

Fighting terrorism takes more than brute force. The Marines here also reach out to the local citizens to better know their situation and needs.

“Our main mission here is to gain the confidence of the populace,” Macias said. “It’s hard, because you’ve got these guys who terrorize these people and convince them that if they help us, something bad is going to happen to them. We tell them if there are any problems, to call us.”

The company commander then met with the local head sheik at his home later that evening. A sheik in Iraq has influence similar to a governor in the United States, he explained, which makes him a valuable ally in the War on Terror.

“He’s been very helpful in taking care of the Iraqis here, working with the schools and improving the roads and boosting the economy, improving the water supply,” said Allen, a 35-year-old from Woodstock, Va. “As the locals continue to stand up on their own, it helps to deter the insurgency in the area.”

They discussed one another’s concerns over tea and coffee in hopes of finding ways to prevent further attacks and raise the quality of life in the town.

“It’s always a great honor for me to meet with him,” Allen said. “Just to be able to sit down, listen to some of his stories and learn about him and his tribe is humbling.”

The Marines noticed a sign of success during the ride back to Firm Base Black. Dozens of Iraqis had gathered near a historically dangerous part of a stretch of highway – called Main Supply Route Boston – for a game of soccer.

“That was a great indicator tonight that the locals felt safe enough to come out and have a large gathering on a historically dangerous part of Boston to be able to play soccer,” Allen said. “It’s a great celebration not just for us, but for the locals.”

Allen had words of praise for his Marines’ performance over the last four months.

“We’ve certainly met a lot of the challenges of covering such a large area,” he said. “It’s frustrating for them out there, but they rise above the heat and the elusiveness of the insurgency. Whether it’s a foot patrol, mobile patrol, or helicopter-borne operation, day to day, they continue to amaze me.”

Hall of Heroes memorializes fallen Marines

Display preserves personal mementos left by the grieving

BROOK PARK - The ink on the love letter is streaked.
It could have been from raindrops. Perhaps teardrops.


By Jim Carney
Beacon Journal staff writer

The letter was written to Marine Cpl. Jeffrey Boskovitch and was left on the fence of the 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines Headquarters Unit in Brook Park after he was killed in Iraq last August.

``Oh my Jeffrey,'' it starts out.

``I will love you with all my heart always and forever.

``You truly are irreplaceable.

``I love you and I miss you.''

It's signed, ``Your girl, Shelley.''

That letter and other mementos were left by family members and strangers along a fence that surrounds the Marine facility.

The 3/25 Marines collected them in the days and weeks that followed news of dozens of deaths of members of the unit in Iraq.

By the end of the unit's seven-month deployment in Iraq, 48 Marines and sailors had been killed. That number included 15 who were assigned to Akron's Weapons Company.

On Friday, family members of the fallen gathered for a re-dedication of an outdoor memorial garden that displays the names of the 48 men.

At the same time, an indoor Hall of Heroes, displaying the things that were left along the fence, was unveiled.

The display is overwhelming.

It has the dog tags of many of the dead.

And there are stuffed animals, about 20 of them.

On one stuffed dog are the words, ``My heart is with you.''

Friends of the Marines made the display cases.

Marla Derga of Lake Township, stepmother of Marine Lance Cpl. Dustin Derga, who was killed last year, spent two days putting the items in just the right spots.

There are crosses and Bibles.

One is a child's Bible.

And there are ball caps.

One black one is marked ``U.S. Army retired.''

Another says ``Airborne.''

Someone else left a desert camouflage hat from the first Gulf War.

Another visitor left a G.I. Joe doll.

A letter from London offered condolences.

There are five unopened cans of Bud Light and one Budweiser.

More items are being kept in storage. The Marines plan to rotate items into and out of the display. The Hall of Heroes is to be a permanent exhibit.

Tim and Adriana Rock drove from Toronto, Ohio, for the dedication.

Their son, Marine Sgt. Nathaniel Rock, a 26-year-old part-time Martins Ferry policeman, died with five other snipers on Aug. 1.

He loved to be a Marine, his mother said.

She said her son joined the3/25 Reserve unit in 2004 after six years of active duty, knowing it would be deployed to Iraq.

Lt. Col. Michael Brown, inspector instructor of 3/25, spoke of the community that was so moved by the loss of so many Marines last year that it filled the fence with signs of love and appreciation.

It was humbling to see, he said.

``During our most difficult times, this community wrapped us in its arms and let us know we are not alone and we would endure this loss together,'' Brown said.

Inside the display cases are flags of all sizes.

One is inscribed with these words: ``Heartbroken by our loss.''

Another has these: ``We love you. You are always in our prayers. We will never forget you.''

May 26, 2006

ANGLICO Marines Based At Camp Pendleton

LOS ANGELES -- There is a special group of marines based at Camp Pendleton, who are doing some of the most complicated work of the war in Iraq. They number just 150, but their significance to the fight is tremendous. NBC4's Kelly Mack visited them during training in Oceanside.

By clicking on the following link, there is an NBC video of 1st ANGLICO. A transcript of the video follows below


Video: ANGLICO Marines Based At Camp Pendleton
UPDATED: 7:13 pm PDT May 26, 2006

Following is a verbatim script from the on-air report.

KELLY MACK: Pictures from Iraq show what Marines from the First Air Naval Gunfire Liason Company, known as ANGLICO, are training for. The men of ANGLICO are based at Camp Pendleton, and many have wives, children and friends living in Southern California.

Their principal area of interest is in western Iraq, between Baghdad and the Syrian border. What they do, and apparently do well, is provide air and gunfire support to not only U.S. forces, but British Royal Marine commandos and the Iraqi Army.

MAJOR DAVID STOHS, ANGLICO EXECUTIVE OFFICER: That means simply directing aircraft, helicopters or jet airplanes on where to drop their bombs.

MACK: The Marines from ANGLICO returned to Camp Pendleton in March, but the Iraqi desert is not far from their minds. They are already back in four-man team training in the hills of San Diego County preparing to return to combat and leave their families in August.

CAPT. SEAN ELWARD, ANGLICO: It's tough. Obviously we'd like to be home, but it's kind of what you signed on for and what comes with the job. At least it does for me personally.

MACK: The Marines are in what they call a high tempo crunch. It's seven months in combat, six months at home, and then back to active warfare for another seven months.

STOHS: It's the busiest time I've ever seen in the Marine Corps.

MACK: And, in fact, ANGLICO has tripled in size since the invasion of Afghanistan. Using old-fashioned maps, compasses and high tech gear, the men practice calling in air support for targets about 3,000 meters away. And on command, AH-1 Cobra attack helicopters move into the arena firing their missiles.

MACK: The average Marine in this unit has been deployed to a combat zone three times, which perhaps makes him a bit older and more experienced than the average marine in any other unit.

LANCE CORPORAL DAVID DONNELLY: We got a good group of guys, solidly trained. We do whatever it takes to bring it home together.

MACK: Indeed it is a brotherhood of shared, intense experiences. Major Stoh was on an American Airlines jet coming back from an assignment in Turkey when terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center on Sept. 11.

STOHS: That changed my life, really. After Sept. 11, I've been deployed one, twice, three and going on four times.

MACK: These men may be young. But they have huge responsibilities that are a world away from all that is familiar.

STOHS: With the Iraqis we have to become more familiar with their culture and understand the needs of their military, which are different from our own and make sure that we help them meet their own goals in their own country.

Embattled in the desert: Live-fire exercises provide 1/6 Marines with realistic combat environment

Pinned down in a covered position with enemy gunfire impacting overhead and the explosions of enemy mortars moving ever closer, Marines in combat have one thing to rely on each other.


Cpl. Paul Robbins Jr.
Combat Correspondent

As the next step in their pre-deployment, Mojave Viper training evolution aboard Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, the Marines of 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, have shifted their focus from individual skills training to team building and unit-driven operations.

“It was a big step, but a natural one,” said 2nd Lt. John D. Branson, a platoon commander for Company B, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, “It was a built in progression to the training.”

From May 15 to 22, the battalion focused on live-fire assaults, coordination of supporting fire and unit cohesion training.

Using the many ranges provided by the Tactical Training Exercise Control Group (known as the “Coyotes”), the battalion has been able to provide realistic combat scenarios to the Marines.

“With all the noise and explosions, I think it really simulates that fog of war,” said Lance Cpl. Jorge L. Rivero, a team leader for Company A, 1/6.

Many of the Marines who participated also believe that using live rounds in the exercises provides the necessary element of danger for infantry Marines.

Some of the combat tactics employed by the Marines can only be demonstrated by the use of live ammunition.

“For an infantry platoon, geometry of fire is everything,” said Branson, a 23-year-old native of Washington, D.C., “You can practice with blanks all day long, but the Marines aren't going to get it until you put live rounds down range and their buddies are running around them.”

The live ammunition, pop up targets and elaborate entrenchments add excitement and accomplishment to the training cycle. The realistic environment also helps to build confidence on the battlefield, according to Lance Cpl. Michael J. Howard, a team leader for Company B, 1/6.

“Anytime you can put rounds down range it's a good day,” said Sgt. Gilbert J. Hernandez, a machine gun section leader for Company B, 1/6.

Now, almost three weeks into the training cycle, the battalion is pleased with the abilities and progression the Marines are making.

With a deployment looming in the near future, the Marines of 1/6 “Hard” recognize the training as important, effective and necessary.

“The way we perform out here is the way we will perform in [Iraq], and the Marines know that,” Branson said.

LAR Marines keep eight-wheeled vehicles in the fight

CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq (May 26, 2006) -- They wear their skinned knuckles and greasy fingernails as badges of honor. They’re the ones who keep the machinery humming for D Company, 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion.


Submitted by: 1st Marine Division
Story Identification #: 20065296188
Story by Cpl. Graham A. Paulsgrove

That’s no easy task for the mechanics, either. They’re charged with keeping the eight-wheeled vehicles in tip-top shape so they can run nearly 70 miles-per-hour down a highway or blaze their own path across an open desert. It’s on their shoulders to keep the infantry crews mobile across their area of responsibility that spans nearly 60 kilometers.

“We keep our company rolling,” said Lance Cpl. Matthew P. Cornett, a 22-year-old mechanic from Hunington, Utah. “Without us, there would be no LAR. It would just be a standard grunt battalion.”

Each light armored vehicle platoon has two mechanics who go everywhere the vehicles go. It’s not because the vehicles are notoriously unreliable, but because small problems arise and the vehicles are crucial to the mission.

“If a vehicle is rolling on a mission, but stops running or refuses to start, it could be a simple problem that is easily fixed, like a circuit breaker,” said Gunnery Sgt. Richard F. Thurston, the company’s maintenance chief. “We have the mechanics on site to take care of it so platoon can go on with their mission.”

Sometimes, when the mechanics are thrown into a tight spot, they have to use ingenuity and whatever materials they can get their hands on to fix a problem.

“If something breaks, but we can fix it in the field, we do a quick fix using anything we can get our hands on,” Cornett explained. “I once used a tire that we found on the side of the road to make a gasket. It worked for the time being. But once we got back to base, we corrected it the right way.”

Mechanics in the company perform collateral duties when they are outside the wire, in addition to fixing the vehicles when they don’t work up to specifications.

It’s not just fixing the eight-wheeled monstrosities. The mechanics get into the mix with the infantry Marines. They’re trained to serve as crewmembers on the vehicle – as gunners, vehicle commanders and drivers – according to Cpl. Michael G. Michaud, 24, a mechanic from Presque Isle, Maine.

Still, it’s their determination and knuckle-busting know-how that keeps them in business.

“There is nothing the mechanics can’t do on the vehicles,” said Thurston, a 35-year-old from Durham, Conn.

The mechanics know their job of fixing the vehicles may not be the most glamorous job in the Marine Corps, but it is crucial to the mission at hand.

“Without working vehicles, a mechanized battalion is useless,” said Cornett.

A love story without limits

This is a story of love between a husband and wife, a Marine and Americans, and between two strangers.


03:36 PM CDT on Monday, May 22, 2006
By Shern-Min Chow / 11 News

It is also a story about second chances, for life and for living.

A United States Marine is tough, strong and in top physical condition -- unless combat or disease take their toll.

Lance Cpl. Chris LeBleu was stationed in Iraq for seven months.

He returned to Camp Pendleton last fall, married Melanie and weeks later started getting very sick.

“He got his transplant exactly three months after our wedding,” Melanie said.

The 24-year-old would have died that day but for his donor.

Her family has publicly supported the young Marine.

“In their eyes, Chris helped to save their lives,” Melanie said. “He fought for them, in the same way she fought for him.”

Their story unleashed a flood of letters and e-mails from around the world.

It was a second chance at life.

Until another setback.

“Unfortunately I ended up with hhv6 and aplastic anemia,” Chris said.

It remains a medical mystery. Doctors don’t know if something in Iraq or at home triggered the life-threatening illnesses.

Something as simple as a mosquito bite can mean emergency care now.

Again, his story captured hearts and minds.

The Bay Area Builders invited the Marine to lunch.

“[We wanted to] do something special for you guys,” association spokesman Dan Wallrath said. “So Chris and Melanie, we’re going to build you guys a home,” he told them at lunch.

Their true dream house gives them a new chance at life together.

Despite everything, Melanie never thought of life apart.

“When I said in sickness and health, I meant it,” she said. “I am blessed. I get to see him every single day.”

It is the Marine motto Semper Fi: Always faithful.

Detainee treatment serious business with Darkhorse battalion

FALLUJAH, Iraq (May 26, 2006) -- Not all detainees are taken so easily. For instance, suspected insurgents were taken into custody after they were found transporting the body of another insurgent killed while handling an improvised explosive device.


Submitted by: 1st Marine Division
Story Identification #: 20065294392
Story by Cpl. Mark Sixbey

Marines of L Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment detained three men trying to cross an entry control point near the company’s firm base May 24.

“From what the Marines we had on post could gather, the men in the car kept saying their friend or cousin exploded,” said Staff Sgt. Gilberto Bernal, a platoon sergeant. “After we started investigating, it turns out their brothers got detained yesterday and they’ve all been detained in the past.”

The men were calmly blindfolded, handcuffed and led to a shaded room with mattresses and water until they could be transported to a detainment facility for further questioning.

“That’s how we treat them – firm, but fair,” said Capt. William Allen, the company’s commanding officer. “Even if we know they’ve done something wrong, we still use what we have back home in the American justice system, that everyone’s innocent until proven guilty and the Marines treat them with that kind of dignity.”

That dignity includes seeing to the detainees’ needs while they await a fair trial, Bernal added. Water and meals, ready-to-eat are almost always on hand to ensure Marines attend to the detainees' needs.

“We give them medical attention when they need it,” said the 35-year-old from Burley, Idaho. “These guys have been here all morning, so we’ve given them food, water and MRE’s. If they need to use the bathroom, they can do that.”

He said the Marines are also careful not to offend Arabic culture while handling the detainees.

“We make sure not to feed them pork or stuff like that,” Bernal added. “It’s up to them if they want to eat it or not. We have to respect their culture even if they have no respect for us.”

Marines follow strict guidelines when handling suspected insurgents.

“You can only do so much without hurting them,” said Lance Cpl. Jay Session, a machine gunner. “If they’re cooperative, we don’t have to use too much force.”

Session explained although we’re not particularly nice to them, the company does not tolerate unnecessary roughness.

“We don’t put zip ties on their hands too tight, but if they’re fighting us we’ll tighten them up,” said 22-year-old Session, from Los Angeles. “If they try to walk out, I’ll take them down, but I can’t beat them up. I’m not going to do anything to get my battalion, company or platoon in trouble.”

“Consummate Professionals” is just one of the Darkhorse battalion’s many titles the Marines take to heart with every mission and outing, Allen said.

“When the Marines on the peninsula interact with the locals, whether they be insurgents or just Iraqis that live here, we treat them all with the same amount of respect,” said Allen, a 35-year-old from Woodstock, Va. “If we find someone who’s been involved in an attack on coalition forces, they’re handled with the utmost professionalism.”

The suspects were transferred to Camp Fallujah’s detainment facility later that day for a full investigation. Allen said the long-term goal is to eventually leave the entire judicial process up to the Iraqi government. In the meantime, it’s a matter of cooperation between coalition and Iraqi Forces.

“We have to have faith that the Iraqi justice system, as young as it is, will get up on its own two feet and start prosecuting these people,” Allen said.

Marines wounded in Iraq heal together

CAMP LEJEUNE, North Carolina (CNN) -- At a first-of-its-kind barracks at Camp Lejeune, Marines wounded in Iraq share their recoveries with the one group of people who understand -- each other.
(at the time of posting, there was an accompanying video clip of Lt. Col. Maxwell)


From Alex Quade
Friday, May 26, 2006 Posted: 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)

They live at Maxwell Barracks, named for Lt. Col. Timothy Maxwell, who suffered a serious head wound in 2004 and almost died near Iskandiriya, a city in Iraq's notorious "Triangle of Death."

When the injured Maxwell got back to the United States, he asked his superiors if he could use a building to help his wounded comrades get through the final phases of recovery. The Marines at Maxwell Barracks go through this battle together rather than being sent back to their units.

The lieutenant colonel is still an active duty Marine, and his closely cropped hair reveals a scar that runs in a circular path from his left ear to his forehead. He struggles slightly with his speech, yet he still speaks with the authority of a senior officer.

"The transition from being in your unit, being wounded, going through hospitals, and then either phasing back to their original unit, or back to civilian world, this would be the last stop," Maxwell said.

Camp Lejeune is a huge base in eastern North Carolina that is home to tens of thousands of Marines in II Marine Expeditionary Force, 2nd Marine Division and other units. Many go to Iraq and some come back victims of roadside bombs, shootings or accidents.

At Maxwell Barracks, wounded Marines deal with change-of-life issues and get individual counseling. Maxwell sometimes still works with a speech pathologist.

One of Maxwell's close aides is Joseph Roe, a Navy medic who helped save Maxwell's life in Iraq before Roe was wounded by a roadside bomb days later. They understand the rare bond of the wounded.

"These kids go home and there's nobody around to talk to," Roe said. "Your family doesn't understand. Your friends back home don't understand. We do.

"No matter if you're Army, Navy, Air Force or Marines. Once you've been hurt, and you're a wounded warrior you understand."

It was more than a year ago that Maxwell and Roe were wounded. Maxwell's head was hit by shrapnel from a mortar round. For a while he was in and out of consciousness. While doctors and nurses watched over him, the hospital he was in was shelled.

His path from the battlefield back to the states lasted just a few days. Maxwell was evacuated first to a field hospital north of Baghdad before he was flown to Germany, then the United States.

A month after the mortar attack, he was at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Richmond, Virginia, well into his path toward recovery.

He now works with Marines at Lejeune who spend a short period there adjusting to their new lives.

"They come here, stay for just a couple of days and see other Marines are wounded and how far they are in life," Maxwell said. "Instead of going home with their mom and dad and wondering, I wonder what it means to get shot in the leg. I don't know what that means in three months. Here, he'll see."

The painful recovery is also hard on the families of the wounded. Maxwell's wife, Shannon, helped found a support group for spouses of wounded Marines.

"The largest thing we try to get through is the uncertainty," she said.

Maxwell's children also worry about what could happen. His son is afraid still that his father might die in the middle of the night. The officer said the families have it worse than he does.

Maxwell wonders if it was fate that led him to being one of the wounded, and the one who pushed for a place to heal with others with similar fates.

"I guess I look at it sort of like maybe this happened to me on purpose," he said. "I'm not a very religious guy, but maybe I got wounded so I would do this for a living.

Marine general takes on personal mission

Lt.Gen. James Amos visits with all his wounded Marines. "I owe it to them."


May 26, 2006

FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas -- He keeps the list in his shirt pocket, close to his heart. There are about 60,000 Marines under the command of Lt. Gen. James F. Amos. He just welcomed 17,000 back from Iraq, a homecoming sobered by the impending departure of 13,000 for a war now in its fourth year. Most will return. Some will not.

An uncertain number will end up on Amos' list: A handwritten index card updated daily with the number of Marines under his command wounded in combat. "When we send them off to do the nation's bidding in a place like Afghanistan or Iraq and they're wounded, we're not returning the same individual," Amos said. "When we send them back wounded there is a piece of me that says I haven't kept my bargain. What's left for me to do is to continue taking care of them."

It starts with a visit - to as many as he can. "It's a function of loyalty," the 59-year-old general said. "In Marine speak, it means fidelity. It's a wonderful word not used very often - except in the Marine Corps. It means faithful. It implies faithful almost to a fault. I owe it to them."

And so, Shannon Jacobs isn't surprised anymore when Amos shows up at Brooke Army Medical Center outside San Antonio. She cheerily hugs the general, who has arrived to visit her husband, Marine Staff Sgt. Damien Jacobs, a 30-year-old from Hamilton, Ohio, burned 18 months ago while trying to defuse a roadside bomb that exploded, and several dozen other Marines recovering at the Army hospital at Fort Sam Houston.

"Gen. Amos was actually here for my husband's Purple Heart ceremony about a month ago," said Jacobs, 26. "He's a regular person. The sheer fact that he cares so much about his Marines and gets personal with them, it means a heck of a lot."

As the head of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force, the three-star general is in charge of one of the Corps' main fighting commands - a massive group of infantry and aircraft based at Camp Lejeune, N.C. In a job that can be a stepping stone to commandant of the Marine Corps, Amos' mission is to prepare thousands of troops for duty in Iraq and to watch over some 5,000 Marines from 2nd MEF now there. "Our focus is constantly on training, getting the force back home or deploying the force," Amos said.

In the initial invasion of Iraq, the former jet fighter pilot served as commander of a Marine air wing. Casualties were relatively few at first but rose as Iraqi insurgents increasingly used roadside bombs and suicide attacks, he said.

Most of the 1,800 Marines from the 2nd MEF wounded since the start of the Iraq war have returned to duty, Amos said. But a few hundred were forced by the extent of their injuries to return to the U.S. for treatment and recovery. Since taking over the 2nd MEF in July 2004, Amos has tried to visit them all. He's been to Germany's Landstuhl Regional Medical Center and makes regular visits to two military hospitals outside Washington, D.C.

"I understand what my expectations are now when I go...," Amos said. "I've seen them on the battlefield. I've seen them on the back of helicopters. When you see them in the hospitals and they're bandaged up or their limbs are cut off, the first time you're not quite sure what to expect."

Once Marines with burn and amputation injuries started receiving treatment at Brooke, he added regular trips there, now about every three weeks. At Brooke more often than most generals, he is greeted by nurses and doctors as if he's a member of the staff, said Lt. Col. Grant Olbrich, chief of the Corps' family support staff at the hospital. "This man has a heart for it that is just rare to see," Olbrich said. "When he is sitting down talking to these Marines and talking to their parents, there's no facade to it. It's another human who wants to see this injured human get better."

On a recent trip from Camp Lejeune, accompanied by Sgt. Maj. Charley Colon, his top noncommissioned officer, Amos met with most of the 50 Marines from the 2nd MEF receiving care. Non-Marines, too - soldiers, sailors and airman alike - got warm greetings and even hugs.

Marine Sgt. Daniel Gilyeat, a 34-year-old reservist from Kansas City attached to the 2nd MEF while in Iraq, lost his left leg just above the knee when a bomb hit his Humvee in July north of Ramadi. After meeting with Amos, Gilyeat said he felt he could personally call the general if he had a problem. "Officers are usually unapproachable. It almost seemed like they took the rank off their collars," Gilyeat said of Amos' group.

When visiting with a smiling Lance Cpl. Diane Cardill, 23, of Harrisburg, Pa., he rolled her arm bandage down to see how her burns were healing. She and several other women were hurt when a suicide bomber struck their truck during a night patrol in Fallujah. "The best thing you can do is touch them, make them feel normal," Amos said. "That's what they want."

But not all. A short time later, Amos sat gently on the treatment table of an Army sergeant missing both feet. He suffered burns that seared most of his skin and took off his ears, and he remained in pain severe enough that he sucked on a lollipop-like dose of the pain killer fentanyl while talking to Amos and others. "We're not shocked at what we see anymore," Amos said. "That doesn't mean your heart doesn't break."

At Camp Lejeune, he directed the creation of a special barracks where single Marines without family could recuperate from their wounds. At Brooke, more than a dozen Marines have the sole task of making sure wounded members of the Corps get their pay and benefits; they also help out with everything from travel plans to rocking a baby. Families appreciate the help.

"It's not as cushy when you're a Marine, but when things are down they're right where you need them," said Jene Claude, wife of Staff Sgt. Christopher Claude, 26, of Daytona Beach, Fla., who was greeted by Amos. Visiting officers played with their 5-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter in the hospital's rehab gym, where Claude, whose leg was mangled by a roadside bomb, is learning to walk again - so he can return to duty with a prosthetic limb.

Returning himself to Camp Lejeune after the trip, Amos summed up: "We bury our dead with great honor and dignity, but the wounded live on. They are the ones we as Americans should not forget."

May 25, 2006

'Moto' mail keeps Marines connected with family

CAMP AL QA'IM, Iraq (May 25, 2006) -- On his second deployment to Iraq, Lance Cpl. Jacob A. Lamb admits that communicating with friends and family back home is easier thanks to a relatively new program: Moto Mail.


Submitted by: 1st Marine Division
Story Identification #: 200652542814
Story by Cpl. Antonio Rosas

‘Moto’ is short for ‘motivation,’ and it’s what U.S. service members like Lamb use as a means to keep contact with his friends and family back home.

This roughly two-year-old program allows U.S. service members deployed overseas to receive letters for free via an electronic system. The letters are printed and enveloped at the military post office, and in the hands of the servic emember within 24 hours.

Since Marines such as Lamb, don’t always have access to the internet or phones, Moto Mail is a major advance over email which still relies on the recipient having computer access, said Lamb, who is on his second deployment to Iraq.

“I didn’t even know the program existed last year,” said Lamb, 22, a motor transport operator with 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion, which is currently supporting 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment here. “Now I get about six or seven Moto Mails a week from friends.”

Lamb is currently supporting a combat engineer company with the battalion and works at remote sites building fortified battle positions, emplacing security barriers and improving the quarters of Marines and Iraqi soldiers throughout the region.

Moto Mail printer, folder and sealer ensure Lamb’s Moto Mail letters with news from his hometown of Murfreesboro, is private and kept confidential

With Moto Mail, Lamb can receive his mail in a printed letter format and catch up with news from his hometown of Murfreesboro, Tenn., virtually overnight.

On April 24, upon returning to his unit’s remote base here from a week-long outing, Lamb found a stack of Moto Mails on his bed and discovered that he had become the one-millionth Moto Mail recipient – a milestone in the Moto Mail program, according to Chief Warrant Officer 2 Cecilia E. Salter, a postal officer from 1st Marine Logistics Group.

Currently, the Marine Corps is the only U.S. military branch that has such a program for Iraq-deployed U.S. service members, according to Salter. The Marine Corps has also expanded the service to Marines and sailors aboard certain naval vessels, she said.

“This is very significant for Marines serving in an area of operations such as Al Qa’im,” said Salter, a postal officer from 1st Marine Logistics Group. “It’s a major morale booster for Marines, especially those now in Iraq.”

The 32-year-old Marine from Camp Pendleton, Calif., presented Lamb with a gift certificate for $250, a $50 Super Letter account credit, a “Go Postal” T-shirt and coin, and a care package filled with snacks and personal hygiene items for being the recipient of the one-millionth Moto Mail.

Lamb, a graduate of Oakland High School in Murfreesboro, Tenn., uses the program because of its relative ease and accessibility, he said.

Other Marines here, such as Cpl. Joffre Castillo, a 22-year-old administrative clerk, say Moto Mail is a good method to get immediate news from home.

“My wife has contacted me several times during the deployment about vital matters at home like medical issues and health updates,” said the Twentynine Palms, Calif., native who has kept as much communication as possible with his loved ones back home.

Lamb, who enrolled in the Marine Corps more than two years ago, says that without Moto Mail he would probably not find out about “everyday regular things” that go on back home.

“It feels good to know what’s going on and I can choose to respond the same day I get the letters,” said Lamb.

Now more than halfway through his second deployment (his unit arrived in February), Lamb is simply looking forward to getting back home to Camp Lejeune, N.C., and hanging out with his friends and driving his brand new truck.

“I can’t wait to get home and meet my new nephew,” said Lamb. “As long as I stay busy and keep doing my job out here, time will go by that much faster.”

For more information about Moto Mail, the “2 Way Service” program, or to create a Moto Mail account, visit www.motomail.us.

3/8 Marines clean mean streets of Ramadi

RAMADI, Iraq (May 25, 2006) -- An average sport utility vehicle may get the job done on roads in the United States, but in Ramadi, it takes a company of machinegun-toting Marines in humvees to operate on these mean streets.


Submitted by: I Marine Expeditionary Force
Story Identification #: 20066173131
Story by Cpl. Joseph DiGirolamo

Lance Cpl. Jonathan M. Wales is just one of the Marines with Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, whose duty it is to patrol the improvised-explosive device-laden roadways of western Ramadi.

“We are the company trained on heavier weapon systems, and we can hit stronger targets. We are also completely mobile,” said Wales, 20, an anti-armor Marine from Pepperell, Mass. “Our advantage is we can quickly move on the enemy.”

The company traverses the western and central portion of Ramadi conducting mounted and dismounted combat patrols. They also set up vehicle check points, search suspected insurgent houses, and screen for engineers as they clear roadside bombs.

Every day, Weapons Company Marines venture outside the wire, logging in countless hours of driving that could put some New York City taxi drivers to shame. However, instead of worrying about bad tips or rude customers, the Marines are concerned with possible explosions underneath their trucks or being ambushed by insurgents wielding automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades.

“We do regular combat patrols to disrupt insurgents from planning attacks on fixed positions,” said Lance Cpl. Tyler G. Davis, a 20-year-old infantryman from Middlesboro, Ky.

The roadside bomb threat in Ramadi is all too real for most of the Marines in the company.

Cpl. Timothy D. Roos, vehicle commander for 2nd Platoon, was riding in his humvee when it ran over a burrowed artillery shell and fuel container, which detonated under his truck.

“The explosion shattered all the glass on the vehicle, popped all four doors open and sent shrapnel ripping though the engine,” he said. “It’s scary, and if you’re not scared there is something wrong with you. … but it’s our job, so you got to do it.”

All five Marines in the vehicle walked away from the attack completely unharmed.

Wales also survived being hit by an IED in a separate incident.

“It goes off and time slows down,” said Wales, recalling his experience.

Unfortunately, IEDs are not the only threat the Marines operating in Ramadi face on a daily basis.

The Marines of 2nd Platoon were in a firefight May 24 and were able to kill one insurgent before he could fire his RPG and another as he fired an AK-47 assault rifle. The Marines then conducted a cordon and search operation that found IED-making materials and an assortment of digital cameras and cell phones.

“There are no cell phone towers here, so the phones were likely used to set off remote IEDs,” said Roos, 21, a squad leader from Cincinnati.

During another patrol May 25, the Marines used their trucks to conduct vehicle check points. In one situation, the Marines turned onto a road where there was a suspicious vehicle. The Marines dismounted their humvees and searched the sedan, driver and passenger. The search turned up nothing, and the Marines continued their patrol. The whole process took less than five minutes.

“It’s one way to keep insurgents disrupted,” said Roos. “We surprise them so they can’t lay IEDs and can’t attack our fixed positions.”

For the drivers in the company, it’s more than just traveling from point A to B.

When traveling on these roads, no matter how familiar, Marines have to keep their heads on a swivel, looking for any abnormalities that may be signs of IEDs or insurgent activity, said Wales.

“We are always on the lookout for hidden IEDs underneath the road,” said Wales. “We look for telltale signs that don’t match what we expect to see.”

Wales and the other Marines with the company say they don’t mind going on so many patrols a week.

“It’s good for us to be out there every day,” said Wales, now on his second deployment. “It’s better than sitting back, letting the insurgents have time to plant bigger stuff.

“It’s second nature once you’ve been out there a few times.”

Congress passes funeral protest ban, Bill targets group that taunts mourners at military rites

Demonstrators would be barred from disrupting military funerals at national cemeteries under legislation approved by Congress and sent to the White House.


Thursday, May 25, 2006; Posted: 4:07 a.m. EDT (08:07 GMT)

The measure, passed by voice vote in the House Wednesday hours after the Senate passed an amended version, specifically targets a Kansas church group that has staged protests at military funerals around the country, claiming that the deaths were a sign of God's anger at U.S. tolerance of homosexuals.

The act "will protect the sanctity of all 122 of our national cemeteries as shrines to their gallant dead," Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tennessee, said prior to the Senate vote.

"It's a sad but necessary measure to protect what should be recognized by all reasonable people as a solemn, private and deeply sacred occasion," he said.

Under the Senate bill, approved without objection by the House with no recorded vote, the "Respect for America's Fallen Heroes Act" would bar protests within 300 feet of the entrance of a cemetery and within 150 feet of a road into the cemetery from 60 minutes before to 60 minutes after a funeral. Those violating the act would face up to a $100,000 fine and up to a year in prison.

The sponsor of the House bill, Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Michigan, said he took up the issue after attending a military funeral in his home state, where mourners were greeted by "chants and taunting and some of the most vile things I have ever heard."

"Families deserve the time to bury their American heroes with dignity and in peace," Rogers said Wednesday before the House vote.

The demonstrators are led by the Rev. Fred Phelps of Topeka, Kansas, who has previously organized protests against those who died of AIDS and gay murder victim Matthew Shepard.

In an interview when the House bill passed, Phelps said Congress was "blatantly violating the First Amendment" rights to free speech in passing the bill. He said that if the bill becomes law he will continue to demonstrate but would abide by the restrictions.

Sen. Pat Roberts, a Republican from Kansas, said the loved ones of those who die have already sacrificed for the nation and "we must allow them the right to mourn without being thrust into a political circus."

In response to the demonstrations, the Patriot Guard Riders, a motorcycle group including many veterans, has begun appearing at military funerals to pay respects to the fallen service member and protect the family from disruptions.

More than a dozen states are considering similar laws to restrict protests at nonfederal cemeteries. The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit against a new Kentucky law, saying it goes too far in limiting freedom of speech and expression.

May 24, 2006

U.S. Marines meet grilling challenge for wide beneÞt

Tasty confirmation: Yes, the many skills of U.S. Marines, renowned for prowess in fields of battle, do include grilling at a Corps-worthy level of excellence.


May 24, 2006

Plenty of proof comes in the recipes and photos packaged in a cookbook, "Command of the Grill: A Salute to Steak" (Weber, $10 paperback), that will benefit Marines wounded or killed in the line of duty and their families.

The cookbook is a collection of 41 grilled steak recipes from active, reserve and former U.S. Marines, including some famous names, along with plenty of personal stories and color photos. Cooking hints come in a chapter titled Steak Boot Camp.

Among contributing cooks: television personality Ed McMahon and golfer Lee Trevino, former Marines, and current Marines from many ranks.

All proceeds from the sale of cookbooks will go to four charities that directly benefit Marines: Wounded Warrior Project, Injured Marines Semper Fi Fund, Fisher House and Marine Corps-Law Enforcement Foundation.

The 80-page cookbook is available through the Web site www.commandofthegrill.com, which also has a list of retailers of the book.

The publisher, Weber-Stephens Products. Co., says the goal is to sell at least 100,000 cookbooks, raising $1 million for donations to the funds.

‘What doesn’t kill you,only makes you stronger’

Keegan Winkeller is a local. He’s an employee, a son and a brother. He’s also a Marine and by the end of this summer, he will be a soldier in Iraq.


Caramie Schnell
May 24, 2006

Call it a mother’s intuition. Ramona Winkeller was driving home from work in Grand Junction two weeks ago when an overwhelming feeling came over her. As she turned onto her street, she looked ahead at an empty field and suddenly knew her youngest son, Keegan, a reservist in the Marine Corps, would be going to Iraq.

“The certainty of it scared me,” she said, her voice shaking as she recalled the day. “I just tried to shake it off and kept telling myself, he gets out (of active duty) in October, he’s not going to have to go to war.”

Her oldest son, Shea, had already served two tours in Iraq, she thought. Wasn’t that enough?

When Ramona walked into the house, she had a message on her answering machine from Keegan. Mom, we need to talk, give me a call, the message said.
That was the day Ramona learned Keegan, a 24-year-old Edwards resident, was being deployed.

“There’s always a chance of this happening,” Keegan said, matter-of-factly. “You can’t sit and say just because you’re a week away … there’s a good chance they won’t call you up, but you never know.”

Keegan, a designer at Berglund Architects, said he’s excited to go to Iraq; both his brother and his father have told him to look at it as an adventure, as something that not everyone gets to experience.

When it comes to politics, Keegan said he doesn’t affiliate himself with either political party, he sees good and bad things about both. And when the country went to war, he said he felt conflicted.

“I was not full blown, from the get go, let’s go to war,” he said, after a long pause. “I never thought Saddam Hussein was a threat to our nation. I never fully believed in going to war. I think it’s a good thing to go into a place and stop a leader from killing his people. I think doing it for all the right reasons, it’s a good thing. But if you do it for one country, you have to do it for all the countries. I think there could be some monetary reasons why we’re there.”

How does he reconcile those feelings with his upcoming deployment to Iraq? Keegan paused only a moment before he said the answer lies in his devotion to his fellow Marines.

“Throughout time, if you ask any Marine why they did it, why they kept getting up and moving forward even when they’re hurt, they’re bleeding, and 90 percent of the time they’ll say ‘it was for the Marine next to me – he needed me.’”

Over the past months Keegan has watched other Marine reservists in his company volunteer for missions. He said he’s felt torn. On one hand he wanted to be there alongside them, in Iraq, using some of the training he’s had over the years. On the other hand, he has his job and life in Eagle County.

‘My sons would never join the Marines’Keegan joined the Marine Corps as a reservist when he was 18. That was nearly six years ago. He was living in Boulder at the time with his brother, Shea, attending the University of Colorado at Boulder.

“Both my brother’s and my grades were slipping,” he said. “We came together and decided that we either needed to figure out what we wanted to do, or do something else until we figured it out.”

Without telling their parents, and within weeks of each other, the two boys joined the Marine Corps – Shea as an active duty Marine and Keegan as a Marine reservist.
His mother was stunned.

“I got an e-mail from my sister-in-law telling me that she was so shocked that my sons had joined the Marines,” Ramona said. “I told her you must have wrong information, my sons would never join the Marines. At the time they were reading some Buddhism. I was like, my kids wouldn’t do that.”

Keegan looked at the Marine Corps as a way to challenge himself.

“We wanted to do the most challenging thing that we could,” he said. “Something I’ve always believed is that what doesn’t kill you, only makes you stronger. I kind of thought the hardest thing I could do was Marine Corps boot camp.”

Because Keegan joined as a reservist, he went back and finished school after roughly nine months of training for the Marines. He graduated from CU with a degree in architecture and a year-and-a-half ago moved back to the valley where he grew up. Up until now, he’s been what’s called an active drilling reservist, meaning that one weekend each month, and two weeks a year, Keegan has attended training at Buckley Air Force Base in Denver and at other bases around the country. On October 17 Keegan would have finished his six-year contract for active duty and started his two-years of inactive duty, meaning he wouldn’t have to report to drills but could still be called to serve if the country is at war.

Now, if things go as planned, Keegan will return from Iraq about a year from now.
“If I was afraid of going to war, or if I didn’t want to go to war, then I wouldn’t have signed up,” he said. “There were a lot of people that signed up just for college money, job training, they’re like, ‘they’re never going to send us over to war.’”

When asked what he’s most afraid of, Keegan hesitated, looking at the ground, before answering.

“The worst-case scenario, I guess,” he said, his voice a decibel quieter. Looking up, his brown eyes never wavered.

Calling all angels
Keegan’s older brother, Shea, is also Keegan’s best friend. Shea was one of the first people he told about his deployment.

“I know (Keegan) wants to get out there and try and do some good and help out where he can,” Shea said, his voice measured, words carefully chosen. “I’m definitely nervous but I’m confident that they’re going to train him to do what he needs to do.”

Shea has been deployed to Iraq twice, first as a TOW gunner and second as a scout sniper. As a TOW gunner, Shea would fire wire-guided missiles out of the back of a Humvee, guiding them all the way to the targets. As a scout sniper he carried out missions in a four-man team. They would shoot their targets from a concealed location, sometimes behind enemy lines.

While his brother was in Iraq, Keegan followed the war’s progress though television and print news.

“Just before he went into Fallujah I read an article in The New York Times saying Marine scout snipers are the number one targets for insurgents,” Keegan said.

“I was like, thank God, I don’t think anyone in my family actually reads The New York Times. That’s not what you want to hear,” he said with a wry smile.

It’s easier to joke now. Shea returned from his last tour in Iraq more than a year ago. There was a definite change in attitude among the Iraqi people between his two deployments, Shea said.

“I was in Baghdad when the (Saddam Hussein) statue fell,” he said. “There were parades in the street and women and children bringing us flowers. There was a lot of appreciation over there for what we were doing. The second time, they were getting frustrated. I think it’s taking longer than they thought and they were less than appreciative of us being there the second time.”

That made his job a lot harder, Shea said.

“The first time I was there it was a very clean definition of who the bad guys were and what we were supposed to do,” he said. “Now that it’s turning into insurgency warfare, it’s very difficult to identify your targets. Both times I feel like our presence there has done a lot of good. I think we have helped out the people there and I think we’re continuing to help them.”

Being in Iraq is very dangerous, he said. Roadside bombs go off frequently and people are being injured in mortar attacks. But he’s confident Keegan will return unscathed, mentally and physically.

“There’s no such thing as a safe place over there,” Shea said. “But I know my brother can take care of himself, he’ll do O.K. We’re very similar, we’re mentally capable of dealing with adverse situations, taking it for what it is and leaving it behind when we need to leave it behind.”

Some of Shea’s friends from the military have had a hard time coming back from the war and have been suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome, he said. Shea has been fine so far, “I’m still the same guy, still driving my wife crazy,” he said.

Peter Winkeller, Keegan's father, had two pieces of advice for his son while he’s in Iraq: don’t socialize with the civilians and keep your flak gear on. Even though Peter doesn’t support the war in Iraq, he supports his son and more than anything, he is trying to stay positive for Keegan’s sake.

“I don’t want to be negative about him going in any way, that’s no way for your child to go away,” Peter said. “I’m not for (the war), but at the same time I have to support his going over there and be positive for him, and send him over there with a good attitude.

“I think we all have a destiny and we live and we die at a chosen time,” Peter said. “I know that we’re all tied together somehow and things happen for a reason. With Keegan, all I can do is hope that everything goes well and that he’s meant to live longer than me.”

Every day, Ramona said, she prays for her boys. Ever since Keegan told her he’s going to Iraq, she’s found herself drawing angels.

“I’m trying to call down all of my angels to protect him,” she said, her voice cracking with emotion. “But at the same time I really truly believe he’s going to be fine. I don’t want him to go, I don’t want him to be in harm’s way, but I believe he’s going to be taken care of.”

Ramona said she doesn’t believe in war, though. That makes the fact that her son is going over to fight in one all the harder.

“I don’t know if it is wrong or right for us to be there,” Ramona wrote in a recent e-mail. “I don’t believe in war. I believe there should be a way to resolve global issues without putting all of our young men and women in harm’s way. What makes my heart ache is that so many of us go on with our lives without a thought for all of those serving over there. We need to pray every day that our leaders realize there is a better way. Maybe we need to think about healing ourselves and our own little part of the world.”

Davis leaves hospital

PFC Matt Davis is making progress daily.

More treatment and therapy ahead for BG Marine


May 24, 2006

It is just a move of a couple of blocks, but it was a big move for Matt Davis, the Blooming Grove native hurt in Iraq while on duty with the U.S. Marine Corps.

Davis was released from Bethesda Medical Center late Monday, where he had been since May 5 being treated for injuries received in battle in Iraq.

He will still be undergoing “intensive” physical therapy and frequent medical treatments at the hospital, but has moved to a nearby residence hall along with his mother Pam, who has been at his side since he arrived from a military hospital in Germany.

Davis is showing steady improvement after undergoing numerous surgeries for his injuries. He has metal plates and pins in his left arm, but is able to walk more as his therapy continues. He remains under the care of occupational and physical therapists, as well as medical specialists for continued medical treatment of his leg and hand injuries.

A special weekend visit from his grandparents, Jimmy and Pat Davis from Waxahachie, was highlighted with a “weekend pass” from the hospital. Davis and his family, who were observing Jimmy Davis’ 70th birthday, attended a Marine function that included band performances and a demonstration by “The Platoon of 24” drill team. Marine Commandant General Michael W. Hagee was in attendance at the “Evening Parade,” and Davis and his mother were seated at the head table for the evening.

“What a way to celebrate a birthday! You can’t top this,” the elder Davis said.

The family was also surprised last Friday with four boxes of mail that finally made their way through the military postal maize to Davis’ hospital room.

“We thank God for our friends and our community. We have been amazed at the outpouring of support for Matt,” Davis’ mother Pam said.

“We firmly believe in prayer and ask for you to co0ntinue to pray for Matt and his comrades, and for their recovery,” she added.

Davis also wanted to thank her parents, Melvin and Christine Wilson, who have been taking care of the family’s home in Blooming Grove while she has been with Matt in the hospital.

Bob Belcher may be contacted via e-mail at [email protected]

It’s grillin’ time, Serious BBQ cooks flame with intensity

Sociologist John Shelton Reed wrote that "barbecue is the closest thing we have in the U.S. to Europe's wines or cheeses; drive a hundred miles and the barbecue changes." For most people, cooking on the barbecue is, at its best, a social and even cultural encounter. But for those who really know what they're doing, it's also about marinades, flavors and patience, said Staff Sgt. Daniel Newcomb, a Kaneohe-based Marine who is one of 10 finalists for the $5,000 Command of the Grill award to be announced tomorrow in New York City's Times Square. "People who love the grill put a lot more attention into it."


By Katherine Nichols

Even if you can't talk for 45 minutes about why charcoal grills are superior to gas (more flavor, the experts report), it's time to dust off those barbecue mitts and family recipes. May is National Barbecue Month, and Memorial Day typically kicks off the beginning of the season that invites outdoor grilling, a fun contest or two and tips for improvement.

So if you're an amateur, there's hope that you, too, can invite friends over and share something that will earn compliments -- or at least keep guests from running to Burger King after they leave your house.

One important element is the marinade. "I want the flavor to be tasted but not to overwhelm," said Newcomb, who douses his steaks 30 to 60 minutes before cooking. "If it soaks into the meat too much, then you lose what the actual meat tastes like."

Honolulu resident Brett Uprichard, who owns three grills and two smokers, added that barbecue sauce, spread over the meat during cooking, should be used judiciously. It often contains brown sugar, which tends to burn. A charred exterior and raw interior indicate that "you're hanging out with an amateur," he said. Therefore, he recommends basting the meat toward the end of the cooking process.

Uprichard joked that back yard grilling "is caveman DNA rearing its ugly, primal head. That's why it's so much fun." But Newcomb takes his cooking duties seriously. When stationed in Iraq for nine months, he grilled for his fellow Marines and managed to turn a hostile desert environment into his backyard for a few hours. Newcomb, who learned to grill while working as a cook in a steakhouse in Omaha, Neb. as a youngster, also takes his reputation seriously. "When I do cook, I want the same (positive) response all of the time. The whole thing is watching the reaction of people when they eat."

Barbecue tips
Brett Uprichard, an editor at Honolulu Publishing Co. and a self-described foodie, offered a few suggestions:
» Make sure flames have died down and coals are white hot. If you weren't patient enough to accomplish this and allowed your dinner to become a training exercise for the local fire department, pour beer on the meat, said Uprichard. It will douse the flames and add flavor.

» Don't turn the meat 16 times. It's unnecessary. Depending on the thickness, monitor the cooking time on each side. Turn the meat once. Twice, if you must.

» Don't press the meat with a spatula --this squeezes out the juice. If you're pressing because you're trying to avoid charred edges or raw centers, a better approach is to put dimples in the centers of your burgers before you start cooking, so the exterior is about 3/4 inch thick, and the center is about 1/2 inch.

» Chicken takes a long time to cook properly. Uprichard recommends putting it in the oven at 250 degrees for about 20 minutes before grilling. Breasts are the easiest to cook on the grill; thighs take the longest. Plan accordingly.

» Ribs should be cooked slowly (anticipate two hours). Brush on barbecue sauce only at the end or you'll get a blackened exterior and uncooked pork in the center. Along the way, spray occasionally with a solution containing 50 percent water and 50 percent balsamic vinegar (Cattlemen's recommends a spray bottle filled with vinegar, olive oil, fresh lime juice and honey). Toward the end, Uprichard removes the ribs from the grill, wraps them in foil with barbecue sauce, and completes the cooking in the oven.

» As a rule, the barbecue lid should be left closed. Every time it's lifted, heat escapes, adding to the cooking time and eventually drying out the food.

Vets Struggle With Life After War

Six months after he returned from Iraq in December 2003, former Army Spec. Craig Smith was jobless and living on Unemployment benefits. Mild post-traumatic stress and his discomfort with other civilians' loose discipline made it hard for him to reintegrate into society. Things just weren’t “working out,” he says.


Military.com | By David Axe | May 24, 2006

But Smith was better-prepared than most young former Soldiers for the transition from a wartime military career. He'd paid attention during military-sponsored job counseling sessions. He understood unemployment benefits and wasn't embarrassed to accept them.

And he appreciated the urgency of adapting to civilian life. "You either adapt or you're like Sylvester Stallone in that movie," Smith says, referring to the depressed Vietnam vet character John Rambo in First Blood.

After brief stints in school and at "crappy" jobs at a gas station and a restaurant, Smith, now 24, has found work at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in Pennsylvania. "I really like it ... people treat you with respect."

Smith was lucky. Thousands of vets of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, including some of the 18,000 wounded, have failed to find a place in civil society. Their plights are just a preview of a coming epidemic of homelessness, joblessness and suicide among veterans of the Long War, according to some vets advocates.

Widespread Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is a major cause of the potential epidemic. "One-third [of veterans] are coming home with post-traumatic stress," says former Army infantry officer Paul Rieckhoff, director of Iraqi and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) and author of Chasing Ghosts.

“It can get so severe that it affects their personal lives. It affects everything," says Bill Dozier, Veterans of Foreign Wars’ Assistant Director for Employment and Homelessness. He stresses that PTSD -- and moreover its symptoms -- can take years or decades to develop. PTSD exacerbates the confusion and desperation many vets feel when they try to start over in the civilian world.

"When they went into the service, they had no experience looking for a job. They're totally lost,” Dozier says. “They don't know how to convert their [military occupation specialties] to something that would relate to private business. Nobody wants to hire you. You're depressed and on top of that you're starting to have bad thoughts about what you did in the war.”

Next comes self-medicating with drugs or alcohol. Divorce, crime, homelessness and suicide might follow. Heading off these tragedies takes early intervention in the forms of job and stress counseling and education, Dozier says.

But the agency whose job it is to care for the nation’s 26 million vets is under-funded and ill-equipped to address the problem, critics say. The VA, which spends more than $70 billion annually (half of it for medical care), has suffered budget shortfalls for years. Last year it came up $3 billion short.

Exploding enrollment and skyrocketing medical costs are partly to blame. “[The] VA has experienced unprecedented growth in the medical system workload over the past few years,” reads a Department statement. “The number of patients treated increased by 22 percent from 4.1 million in 2001 to more than 5.3 million in 2005.”

“This Administration still does not count caring for veterans as part of the cost of war,” contends Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), ranking member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “[The] VA wildly underestimated the number of younger vets returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.”

As a result, “the system is available to fewer and fewer people with less and less money,” Dozier says. “You start cutting corners and you start missing things.”

Among the cut corners is PTSD counseling, according to Rieckhoff. “There’s no sense of urgency [in the VA] in regards to PTSD.”

In addition to stress counseling, troops need help preparing for the job market. That means education. Last year, the VA helped pay for some form of education or training for 420,000 veterans and serving military personnel, according to Department statistics. And the military provides some job counseling on select posts. But even this is not enough. Dozier says the military must make job counseling mandatory on all military posts so that new veterans know how to write resumes and function in a civilian workplace.

But even with all this preparation, a veteran might be a little rough around the edges -- like Smith was in those difficult months immediately following his separation from the Army. Dozier says employers must understand this and make an effort to meet vets halfway. He praises large companies, such as Home Depot and Sears, that have made it a priority to hire vets.

“Some companies would view our military support as a cost. ... We see it as a responsibility,” Home Depot President Bob Nardelli said in a recent interview. “It's our patriotic duty.”

“There was a promise made,” Dozier says. “Those men and women stood up and said they would fight for our country. It's the country’s time now to pay back that debt.”

“It begins with adequately funding the VA,” Rieckhoff says.

ID Theft may be Largest Ever

WASHINGTON - Veterans Affairs officials did not fully heed warnings to tighten access to personal data for the millions of U.S. veterans, investigators said Tuesday, a misstep that could lead to one of the nation's largest cases of identity theft.


Associated Press | May 24, 2006

At the same time, the Justice Department said it was not told about the theft of data on 26.5 million veterans until late last week - roughly two weeks after it was taken from a VA employee's home - raising questions of whether the agency acted quickly enough to notify veterans.

"Our investigation is ongoing," said Cathy Gromek, a spokeswoman for VA inspector general Jon Wooditch.

In a briefing paper to Congress, Wooditch said he was closely reviewing the theft from a VA data analyst's Maryland home, noting that his office had long cautioned that access controls were weak.

Since 2001, the IG has reported security vulnerabilities related to the operating system, passwords, a lack of strong detection alerts and a need for better access controls, he wrote.

The VA disclosed this week that the personal information - mainly from veterans discharged since 1975 - was stolen from a mid-level employee's home in what appeared to be a routine burglary.

The material included the veterans' Social Security numbers, birthdates and in some cases a disability rating - a score of between 1 to 100 on how disabled a veteran is. The agency declined to say whether additional information regarding the nature of the disability was disclosed.

VA Secretary Jim Nicholson has sought to downplay the seriousness of the breach, noting there was no evidence the burglars used the information or even knew they had it. But privacy experts said Tuesday the potential for fraud is significant.

An estimated 3.6 million U.S. households, or three of every 100, reported being victims of identity theft in the last half of 2004, a U.S. Justice Department study found. The VA security breach is second only to a hacking incident last June at CardSystems Solutions in which the accounts of 40 million credit card holders were compromised.

"One thing we need to start doing is punishing people who violate the rules," said Barry Steinhardt, director of the technology and liberty program at the American Civil Liberties Union.

He noted that name, date of birth and Social Security number enable identity thieves to obtain credit reports, bank and credit card accounts and place of residence. In other cases, such information could let terrorists use false identities to board planes or allow illegal immigrants to get a job.

According to the Justice Department, burglars struck the home of the unidentified VA employee in early May and took a government-owned laptop with disks.

After the incident, the employee promptly informed the VA, which did not tell FBI until late last week, according to two law enforcement officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to talk publicly about the investigation.

Matthew Burns, a VA spokesman, did not return repeated phone calls regarding the timing of the disclosure. In a news briefing Monday, Nicholson said the agency was seeking to act promptly to inform veterans by notifying members of Congress and setting up a call center and Web site.

Meanwhile, the White House sought to reassure the nation's veterans as Democrats pressed for a full investigation and accountability for the incident.

"This is a scandal," said Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., in a briefing with reporters. "The information was kept from the American public. I would hope that the administration is figuring out a way to find out what happened and then find out some way to make sure that all these veterans are made whole."

Terre Haute North Patriots pay tribute to U.S. Marine Reserve Unit

Its tan-painted sides and red roof are made of mild carbon steel, with a center steel pole braced with four large bolts at its base. And at 100 pounds, it’s not a typical mailbox.


By Howard Greninger
The Tribune-Star

Students in a welding class at Terre Haute North Vigo High School crafted the mailbox as a tribute to soldiers at the U.S. Marine Reserve Unit at 200 S. Fruitridge Ave.

The students erected the mailbox Monday, which they completed with a gold-colored Marine Corp. emblem that’s fastened to the front lid. Its tan and red colors match the Marine facility directly across the street.

Within a month, a Marine emblem will be air-brushed on the sides of the mailbox showing it belongs to Company K, 3rd Battalion, 24th Marines Regiment in Terre Haute, said Don Barnett, a U.S. postal carrier who spurred the project.

Late next week, 94 of the 216 Marines based out of the reserve unit will organize as part of a deployment to Iraq. The reserves will depart June 6 for the Marine Corps Base Camp in Pendleton, Calif., said Maj. Randall S. Hoffman.

The reserves will train for three months in California before heading to Iraq. About half the Marines have been to Iraq as part of a 2004 deployment. About 100 Marines will remain at the Marine Reserve Unit facility and will train for deployment to Iraq in 2007, Hoffman said.

Hoffman, an inspector/instructor, is one of 11 active-duty staff Marines for Company K.

Seventeen students in a welding class for Timothy Edler, an industrial technology teacher at North Vigo, on Monday each took a small part in putting up the mailbox, from removing the old mailbox, to lifting the new one onto its base, tightening bolts and placing two small U.S. flags in special tubes at the base.

Ryan McGuire, a junior at Terre Haute North, said work started by cutting out pieces from a 6-foot by 6-foot section of steel. “On the bottom and top of the mailbox we used multi-pass welds and vertical down welds on the inside. We made sure this was put together strong and was precise as possible,” McGuire said, adding it took four to five days to complete the project.

“It wasn’t that hard to make, but it was special to me,” said Nathan Boling, a senior. Boling said he plans to enlist in the Marine Corps a year after he graduates high school.

“I thought we all pulled together well, with the fabrication, measurements and grinding,” said Tyler Atkinson, sophomore. “We did tedious work on it as a tribute to those going to Iraq.”

The steel was donated by Great Dane Trailers, Edler said. Marty Moore of F.T. Moore & Sons Inc. sandblasted the steel to prepare for painting by Bernie Blackburn of Blackburn Body Shop and Service Center, Barnett said.

Barnett delivers mail to the Marine Corps unit. “The mailbox had been in pretty bad shape for two years and there was nothing to let you know it belongs here,” he said. The Reserve Unit “said they could not appropriate funds for a new mailbox, so the gears started turning,” said Barnett, whose father and younger brother served in the Marine Corps.

“My son, Drew, is a sophomore in Mr. Edler’s welding class and I approached him and spoke to students several times. They took the ball and ran and we even made a three-dimensional model,” Barnett said.

As the students stood around the mailbox, Hoffman expressed the unit’s thankfulness.

“We appreciate you taking the time to do something that is so special to us … seeing a bunch of guys from high school taking their time and working on something as beautiful as this and then come out here to present to us means a great deal to us,” Hoffman said.

“I have never seen anything like this from a high school and I have been in the Marine Corps for 21 years. It is very, very special. I just want to let each and every one of you know how much we greatly appreciate it,” he said.

May 23, 2006

War's Joyous Fallout in San Diego: Baby Boom

Births at the Naval Medical Center are up 20% since late 2001, coming like clockwork after deployments or returns. Other base hospitals report a similar phenomenon.

SAN DIEGO — They used to ring a bell at the Naval Medical Center here each time a baby was born. And every baby's name was printed in the base newspaper.


From the Los Angeles Times
By Tony Perry, Times Staff Writer
May 23, 2006

No more. There's no time for such niceties.

A baby boom is underway here.

Births among the Navy and Marine Corps wives who come here for delivery are up 20% since the United States launched its war on terrorism in late 2001.

The busiest times in the ultramodern maternity ward are nine to 10 months after troops return from an overseas deployment — a phenomenon reported at military hospitals throughout the country.

Naval Medical Center San Diego has the busiest delivery rooms of any Navy hospital in the country, averaging about 350 babies a month, officials said. Before Sept. 11, 2001, the figure was about 288.

With many of the husbands overseas, the military tries to fill the role that a spouse might be expected to play.

For each new mother, the Armed Services YMCA swoops in with a baby blanket, bonnet, birth announcements and information about support groups, including one tailored to the needs of first-time mothers whose husbands are deployed.

For labor and delivery, and for postpartum recovery, all rooms are single-occupancy, except during peak times — for example, about nine months after an aircraft carrier task force returns from deployment.

Marisela Brittingham, 28, was two weeks overdue when she and her doctor decided on a caesarean section. Her husband, Petty Officer 2nd Class Justin Brittingham, is on the carrier Ronald Reagan.

The sight of Justin Jr., at 7 pounds, 13 ounces, and 21 inches, was more than Marisela could bear.

"I cried when I saw him for the first time," she said as she relaxed in one of the spacious recovery rooms.

The phone rang. It was her husband calling from the Persian Gulf.

"Where's he at?" he asked.

"He's here in my arms," she said. "He's been checked out: He's just fine."

Janeice Thomas, 26, whose husband, Seaman Stephen Thomas, also is on the Reagan, found daughter Morgan Kimberly both a joy and a handful.

"She's really hungry," the new mother said.

If there is a militarywide baby boom, there are not yet statistics to confirm it. And statistics about births in military hospitals can be misleading because they do not include all babies born to military wives, officials said.

Some wives go to private hospitals for specialty care or convenience, which in most cases is covered by the military's medical plan.

Many younger wives return to their parents' homes when their husbands deploy, and give birth at local hospitals.

The families of National Guard and Reserve soldiers generally do not live on military bases, and thus those births are not recorded by the military.

Still, the boost in births among the wives of active-duty troops after a deployment is common and has been noted by officials at base hospitals at Camp Lejeune, N.C.; Ft. Bliss, Texas; Ft. Bragg, N.C.; Camp Pendleton; Twentynine Palms; and Ft. Campbell, Ky.

"When a carrier comes home, we know we'll be busy in about nine months," said Naval Medical Center corpsman Tiffany Scott.

For Marine families, there's a good chance that a baby conceived after a Marine comes home from Iraq will be born after the Marine has returned to Iraq.

Many battalions are on a rotation known as seven-and-seven: seven months in Iraq, seven at home, then seven more in Iraq, with no end in sight.

For husbands and wives, that kind of uncertainty can lead to some soul-searching about starting a family.

"We made it through one deployment with no problem, but then we figured, 'Should we tempt fate? What if something happens this time?' " said Meredith Simpson, 25, whose husband is Lt. Neal Simpson, an infantry officer.

The Simpsons decided not to wait. "If the worst happens, I'll be devastated," she said, "but these babies will be my husband's legacy."

She gave birth at the hospital at Camp Pendleton to twins. Her husband was on the phone to her from Fallouja during the 14 minutes between the arrival of Connor and the arrival of Grayson.

Leanne Doring's husband, Gunnery Sgt. JohnPaul Doring, has done two tours in Iraq. Both of the couple's children were born at Camp Pendleton while he was away.

Although it is difficult to be pregnant while your husband is away, said Leanne, 36, there is joy at the end. "It's a beautiful thing to hand your husband his child when he gets off that bus," she said.

War gives added meaning to having a family, she said.

"A war makes you realize your own mortality," she said. "The children are the best part of what our husbands leave behind when they go away to war."

Jenny McNamara, 35, whose husband, Cpl. Rick McNamara, was in Iraq when their baby Brady was born in September, said the demands of pregnancy were even greater than she imagined.

She went to the hospital at Stanford University for advanced care before giving birth at Camp Pendleton.

"We're already talking about No. 2," she said.

By Navy tradition, new fathers are the first sailors allowed to disembark when a carrier returns to North Island Naval Air Station here. And the crowd of new fathers gets larger with each deployment.

"There are plenty of new dads in the same boat as me — literally," e-mailed Justin Brittingham Sr.

"Sometimes we talk about how different our lives are going to be when we pull back in to San Diego."

Corps eyes hybrid Humvee

With the price of gasoline averaging nearly $3.00 per gallon in the United States and auto manufacturers introducing fuel-efficient models to their fleet monthly, it seems like everyone’s getting on the energy-conservation band wagon — even the Marines.


By Christian Lowe
Times staff writer

The Corps is targeting more energy-efficient ways to power its next-generation Humvee, looking at hybrid/electric technology and fuel cell development to make up for ever-increasing energy costs.

The Joint Light Tactical Vehicle — a collaborative effort between the Army and Marine Corps to design and field a modern wheeled utility vehicle to replace the Humvee — is still years away, but today’s shortage of energy supplies is weighing heavily on designers.

“You’ve got to get a vehicle that can get more miles to the gallon,” said Col. Clarke Lethin, chief of the fires and maneuver office at Marine Corps Combat Development Command in Quantico, Va., at the May 23 Institute for Defense and Government Advancement-sponsored “Military Armor Defense” conference in Washington, D.C.

“We’re looking at hybrid/electric or some version of hybrid/electric … [and] talking with industry to see if we’re ready to make that leap,” he said.

Hybrid/electric vehicles rely on a set of high capacity batteries and a standard gasoline engine, switching power between the two to minimize fuel consumption based on driving conditions.

Marine and Army officials aren’t settling on a fuel-savings solution yet, instead waiting to see what technologies are ready — or almost ready — to power their new jeep when it’s expected to be fielded around 2012.

The JLTV will incorporate the best force protection, mobility and communications technology available today, Marine officials say. Unlike the Humvee — which was designed primarily as a utility vehicle in the 1980s and upgraded over the years to be used as a tactical vehicle — the JLTV will be a combat vehicle from day one, sporting advanced armor, a bomb blast-shedding shape and increased crew capacity.

The hoped-for fuel efficiency won’t just save the Corps money, Lethin said, it could also help keep fewer Marines out of harm’s way.

A 10-to-20 percent fuel savings per vehicle may not sound like much, he explained, but “what does that count in convoys and tankers and everything that has to go with that?

“We’re trying to look at this not only as a piece of equipment, but how does it fit into our tactics, techniques and procedures and where can we also gain other benefits on the battlefield.”

Lethin said designers are also considering the addition of fuel cell-driven or other types of onboard power generators to keep the radios, roadside bomb jammers and other electronics going while the vehicle is stopped.

“If we build a vehicle running at idle that can export power … does that diminish the requirement to have generators on the battlefield?” he wondered.

Less gear in the field means fewer Marines in the field to run and maintain that equipment in the danger zone, he added, “giving us greater flexibility and freedom.”

BAH rules change for accompanied overseas Marines

The Corps announced changes to its housing allowance payment policies May 22 that will impact Marines issued accompanied orders to overseas assignments, but elect to leave their families in the States.


May 23, 2006

According to Marine administrative message 238/06, when a member on accompanied orders reports for duty overseas, a single basic allowance for housing will be paid only for the Marine’s new primary duty assignment location.

“Effective Jan. 1, 2006, BAH is no longer payable when a member with dependents, assigned to [Continental United States], is issued accompanied orders overseas, and the member executes those orders but elects to leave his dependents in CONUS due to personal reasons,” the message said.

Under the new rules, members who leave their families behind would still be entitled an overseas housing allowance. But members who reside in single government quarters at their overseas assignment will not be entitled to any housing allowances.

Marines may request the policy be waived under certain circumstances; members who don’t wish to bring their families overseas may also request accompanied orders be converted to unaccompanied orders

Marine Trainers Bound for Africa, S. America

Camp Lejeune, NC -- Despite delays, the first four Marine Corps foreign military units are set to deploy to Africa and South America before the end of the fiscal year, according to Lt. Col. Daniel Kaiser, executive officer for the foreign military training unit headquarters.


InsideDefense.com NewsStand | Zachary M. Peterson | May 23, 2006

The first unit was supposed to deploy to an African nation in April, but security issues in the country postponed the deployment date, said Maj. Cliff Gilmore, spokesman for the recently-formed Marine Corps Special Operations Command (MARSOC). The mission location has not changed, Kaiser told Inside the Navy during an interview in his office here May 15.

Gilmore declined to comment on where in Western Africa and South America the units will deploy. He acknowledged the Africa deployment falls under U.S. European Command's Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Initiative, a program that involves Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and other countries. Marine units have previously trained troops in Chad and Niger.

At a special operations conference sponsored by the National Defense Industrial Association in March, Army Brig. Gen. Charles Cleveland, commander of Special Operations Command South, cited the need to build the capacity of foreign militaries in Colombia, Bolivia and Peru (ITN , March 20, p1).

“I really look forward to bringing the [foreign military training units] on board because we've already programmed some missions for them,” Cleveland said.

Beyond the four units that will deploy this year, Kaiser said, 22 missions are planned for fiscal year 2007. These missions may include repeat deployments to the same countries, he explained. The duration of the deployments will vary.

“Anywhere between six weeks and three months will be a typical deployment,” he said.

Right now, three units are mission capable and a total of six teams will be trained, equipped and capable of worldwide deployment by the end of this fiscal year, according to a briefing slide provided to ITN .

A total of eight 11-man units are formed, with two more set to come together this summer, Lt. Col. Andrew Crabb, operations officer for the foreign military unit headquarters, told ITN May 16.

Eventually, the foreign military training component of MARSOC will consist of 24 units divided into two companies of 12 units each. Company A, or Alpha Company, will focus on the areas of responsibility of U.S. Central and Pacific commands, while Company B, or Bravo Company, will focus on U.S. European and Southern commands. Currently, the units set to deploy this year are part of Alpha Company, but will nonetheless deploy to EUCOM and SOUTHCOM, Kaiser noted.

Each 11-man unit is commanded by a Marine major. Under the commander there is also a captain, who is the team leader, and a gunnery sergeant, who is the senior enlisted Marine. Every unit, or team, has a corpsman and communicator along with six enlisted Marines generally at the rank of corporal or above.

These units are tasked with training foreign militaries and providing combat advisers in countries where ungovernable regions or civil wars could potentially have implications on U.S. national security -- what U.S. Special Operations Command labels “foreign internal defense” missions.

Kaiser said there is also a secondary unconventional warfare core task to these units, which may increase once SOCOM issues its mission guidance letter to MARSOC.

“Right now we're focused on [foreign internal defense],” Kaiser said.

Kaiser explained Marine foreign military units will “complement” what Army Special Forces units have been doing for years.

“We complement what Army SF teams are doing, there's no doubt about it,” Kaiser said. “There's enough work to go around for everybody -- more than enough work.”

The mission statement for the Marine units calls for providing tailored military, combat skills training and adviser support for “identified foreign forces in order to enhance the tactical capability of partner nation forces, and prepare the environment in support of SOCOM.”

The first unit, scheduled to go to Africa sometime this summer, has been training together since last year. The unit has been studying French and going through cultural and intelligence training along with conventional U.S. and foreign weapons training.

Though the unit will deploy not intending to enter combat, there is a force protection element that is essential to its mission.

“There's a force protection piece,” Maj. Chris Nicewarner, commander of Team One, told ITN during a break in a two-day weapons training exercise. “We have to train for the worst-case scenario.”

With the small size of each foreign military training unit, Nicewarner said it is essential each Marine and corpsman in the unit can perform at a high level.

“When you've only got 11 guys, you can't have one who's mediocre,” he explained.

Crabb, operations officer for the foreign military unit headquarters, said the units will deploy “late” this summer. Though he did not identify where the units would deploy, Crabb noted site surveys have been performed in six different countries in three areas of responsibility. He added that Marines are “not going there as tourists,” explaining that the surveys consist of in-depth research on accommodations for the units, the capabilities of the host nation's military and potential threats in the area. The result of the surveys is a “tailored, unique plan” for each mission, he said.

Crabb said political and other types of issues within countries will not be anomalies for these units, but rather the norm.

“We're a flexible and adaptive organization,” he noted.

The foreign military units will be “very busy” in the fiscal year 2007, Crabb added. He said they have “more than enough on our plate.”

During congressional testimony in March, SOCOM commander Army Gen. Bryan “Doug” Brown said, “The foreign military units have a language capability, operate in small teams and are going to be very valuable to us [SOCOM] to go into areas and train host nation forces to better defend their borders and better eliminate terrorist activities in the traditional foreign internal defense mission we routinely do today.”

“We are not doing as much [foreign military training] as we would like to around the world, simply because of our commitment to the [U.S. Central Command area of responsibility],” he added. “[The Marine Corps units] will give us additional capability.”

Crabb said these Marine units are not focused on training missions in Afghanistan or Iraq in the near term.

“We are focused on what our commanding officer [currently Col. Pete Petronzio] likes to call the ‘next ridge line over in the war on terrorism,'” he said.

Currently, the foreign military training unit as a whole is in the “building stage,” Crabb said. According to the command brief, the foreign military training unit component of MARSOC will consist of a total of 434 Marines (a total end strength of 2,600 is slated for MARSOC as a whole). As of May 15, there were 236 Marines on-hand at the command's headquarters at Camp Lejeune.

The foreign military units make up one-third of the recently-formed MARSOC, which was formed late last year and officially stood up in February. A Marine special operations regiment (the source of Marine special operations companies) and Marine special operations support group (a wide range of combat enablers, including fire support, intelligence, interrogators, linguists and logistics forces) round out the MARSOC.

The foreign military training unit component was formed prior to the establishment of the MARSOC last November. The foreign military training unit activated Oct. 11, 2005, as part of the now-defunct 4th Marine Expeditionary Brigade.

Iraqis see police force restored after three-year hiatus

HUSAYBAH, Iraq(May 23, 2006) -- After three years without a police presence in this western Iraqi town of approximately 10,000, the community is beginning to see a fully-restored police force with the introduction of two new police stations.


Submitted by: Regimental Combat Team7
Story by: Computed Name: Cpl. Antonio Rosas
Story Identification #: 2006523125713

With a new force of fully-trained police officers, many of whom are seasoned veterans from the previous police force, Iraqis here hope the added security forces will curb insurgent activity in the area, according to tribal sheikhs.

The Police Transition Team here, a team of Coalition service members responsible for training and mentoring Iraqi police officers, has worked in recent months to prepare these law enforcement officials for their duties of providing law and order here.

Despite delays in the arrival of necessary police equipment, such as vehicles, the new police stations are providing an additional asset for Iraqi security forces by collecting tips and information from citizens and responding to criminal activity to combat insurgent operations in the region, according to the transition team.

“The police officers are eager to get out there in the towns and establish a presence,” said Staff Sgt. Robert Torres, an intelligence chief with a transition team serving in western Iraq. “They are very organized, motivated, and they already have the respect from the community.”

That is because unlike Iraqi soldiers who often serve away from their hometowns, the police officers here are from the area and are serving where they live, according to Maj. Robert C. Marshall, the officer-in-charge of the region’s transition team.

“These guys all live within walking distance of the police station where they serve,” said Marshall, 37, from Denver, Colo. “These officers know who doesn’t belong in the neighborhoods and they are in it to keep their community safe.”

Maintaining safety in the area is the top priority for the Iraqi police here who are based at a police station in the heart of Husaybah, a town on the Iraq-Syria border. The police station recently came under attack from a suicide bomber, killing five Iraqi officers.

Immediately following the tragedy the transition team saw an increase in the cops’ vigilance.

“They got out into the street pretty quick and they were doing everything they needed to do to take care of their people,” said Staff Sgt. David J. Perry, the team’s operations chief. “They were immediately setting up roadblocks and checking people out.”

The 42-year-old Santa Cruz, Calif., native said the search after the blast netted the cops’ two arrests.

When attacks on the Iraqi police like this happen, the role of the transition team does not change as they continue to advise and mentor the Iraqi officers in carrying out their duties.

“The Iraqis responded well and they were pretty amazing,” said Marshall. “All of the officers, including those off duty came out to see how they could help.”

As the events after the attack unfolded, Marshall saw the Iraqi cops handle the crime scene in much the same fashion as cops back home would handle it from collecting statements from witnesses to photographing the crime scene.

“They did as much as they could with as little as they had,” said Marshall who also pointed out the fact that many of the officers have been devoid of a salary for several weeks now.

“Some of these guys haven’t been paid in a while yet they’re still out there protecting their people,” added Marshall.

The Iraqi police have been adding to the fight against the insurgency by conducting foot patrols alongside Marines, said Torres.

The Marines of Company B, 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment conduct daily security patrols through the streets and work with the new police officers on the tactics they’ll need to eventually maintain law and order on their own.

Although the patrols are more for training purposes, the police force here is already interacting with the community and responding to calls made by citizens regarding criminal activity, said Torres.

“People honk their horns and wave when they see the police now,” said Torres, 34, from Fredericksburg, Va. “This is a good sign of how the people are responding to their new police.”

The added foot patrols puts the police in the lead of local security operations, and takes the burden off Iraqi soldiers and Marines who have provided the bulk of security thus far.

Last week, local police officers worked together with Iraqi soldiers to provide security when detainees from Abu Ghraib prison were released in the town.

The ex-prisoners were released from the prison at Abu Ghraib into their hometown of Husaybah after they were cleared of charges by Iraqi Government officials.

The police chief here had a face-to-face meeting with each of the former insurgents and warned them that there was now a strong Iraqi police presence and that the people would no longer cooperate with terrorists.

“The people here are not afraid anymore,” said the police chief. “We have Iraqi soldiers and Iraqi police now. We know your families and your sheikhs. We know where to find you.”

The group of about 50 men were photographed and released with a firm understanding of the new law enforcement in their town. The police chief let them know that he had already lost six family members in the fight against insurgents and he was willing to do whatever it took to clean up his city

“They can either cooperate and live peacefully or they can face their new police chief,” said Torres “They have a choice now,” said the police chief. “This is their opportunity to clean up.”

With their security forces in place, Iraqis here can begin to move forward with further advancements, such as starting construction projects on much-needed infrastructure improvements such as health clinics and micro-loan centers to improve the economy.

A micro-loan center allows people to apply for loans to jump start a small business.

As long as communication is strong and there is cooperation between the people and the security forces, construction projects can begin, said Lt. Col. Nicholas F. Marano, commanding officer for the Twentynine Palms, Calif.-based Marine battalion.

Cities like Fallujah and Baghdad have seen consistent, violent attacks against Iraqi police, and Iraqi recruiting drives in those cities to bolster numbers in the Iraqi Army and local police forces seem to have suffered some due to the attacks.

But here, locals are not deterred by the attack against the Husaybah Police Station, evidenced by a steady increase in recruitment numbers, according to Torres.

The team has held several recruiting drives in the region with limited success but after the new police station was established, the Marines say they saw a sharp increase in recruitment numbers.

At a recruiting drive held several weeks ago, Iraqi police recruiters accepted a mere eight recruits out of 50 applicants.

One month later, and after the establishment of the police force, 50 were accepted in a similar recruiting drive.

Torres credits the sudden boost in numbers to the people’s reaction to their new police force.

But the Iraqi police here have more work to do before they are deemed fully capable of handling security in the town on their own. The Marines say the police will train with the Iraqi Army unit stationed here to learn tactics and procedures they’ll need to keep the peace.

There is a good level of cooperation between the soldiers and the police in this area, said Marshall.

The Iraqi officers will receive machine gun training from the Iraqi soldiers in the next several weeks.

Injured Marine set to return home

BURLINGTON - The ribbons in Burlington are a little less yellow. The flags still fly, but the wind has taken its toll on many of them.

Burlington is missing a son.


So is Richard Hinkhouse. "My emotions are still pretty raw," he said as he got ready to hop on his tractor and begin planting corn on a little less than 500 acres of land.

"It'd be nice if Kade was here," he said.

More than 4,000 miles away, Kade Hinkhouse is getting ready to go to his physical therapy class.

"Hey Karen! Hey Joe!" he said.

Everyone goes by their first names at Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington D.C.

Next to Kade's John Deere hat you can see words "Purple Heart" written on a backpack. Both hat and backpack rest on the back of Kade's wheelchair.

It's not easy learning how to re-learn how to do things.

"October 8 (2005), that's when the bomb blew up," he said.

Nine Marines, including Kade, were injured during the explosion in Iraq. The Marine sitting just to Kade's right was killed.

Kade lost most of his right leg, and the resulting surgery on his head meant he would also lose a good chunk of the right side of his skull. It's what doctors do when the pressure from a head injury threatens to kill you.

"Yeah, I don't know what kept me alive. Maybe it was training, I don't know. Maybe it was God," Kade said.

"It's been a long haul. We've been through a lot, a lot that's hard to explain to the people back (in Burlington)," said his mom, Susan Hinkhouse.

While Richard has gone back to Colorado from time to time to make sure the family farm keeps going, Susan has yet to leave Washington D.C. since she first arrived back in mid-October.

"We still in a drought?" she jokes.

Memorial Day weekend, the therapy at Walter Reed will have to be put on a month-long hiatus. Susan and Kade will be coming home. Dad says he can't wait.

"People say God has our lives planned out for us, but I think no. I think God gives us problems, obstacles, issues, and puts them in our way, and how we overcome those defines our lives," said Kade.

He joined the Marines shortly after graduating from Burlington High School in 2004. He asked to be put in the infantry.

"Because," he said, "there are so many people out there who are scared to fight. They just want to be at home and let somebody else do the fighting for them and I just didn't think that was right."

"I don't think I can answer that," Richard said when asked if the last year has been difficult.

He's trying as hard as any long-time farmer might to fight back any hint of a tear.

Memorial Day weekend, Kade will get to see how the farm is doing, and Burlington, with its fading yellow ribbons and wind-tattered flags, will get to see how Kade is doing.

(Copyright by KUSA-TV, All Rights Reserved)

May 22, 2006

Darkhorse Marine Decorated for Valor

Camp Fallujah, Iraq - A Darkhorse Marine was decorated with the nation’s fourth highest award for valor by the 1st Marine Division commanding general here, May 19.


Marine Corps News | Mark Sixbey | May 22, 2006

Maj. Gen. Richard Natonski presented the Bronze Star Medal with Combat Distinguishing Device to 1st Lt. Alfred L. Butler IV, Weapons Company executive officer, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment outside the battalion’s command post.

“I knew his father, and I think he’s following in his footsteps,” Natonski said. “This is his third deployment to Iraq, and he’s done a marvelous job over here.”

The 27-year-old from Jacksonville, N.C., earned the award for his actions and leadership while commanding an 81mm Mortar Platoon on Dec. 23, 2004 during combat operations in Fallujah. He is currently on duty in Iraq with Regimental Combat Team 5.

“It was one of those days when everyone ran out of ammo,” said Butler, a graduate of Western Carolina University. “We even used AK-47’s.”

According to the award citation, as insurgents ambushed his platoon, Butler rushed to the attack where he found several men pinned under heavy automatic weapons fire on a stairwell. He evacuated them from the house and learned insurgents isolated additional men on the second floor. He quickly organized an assault force and raced to an adjacent house under constant small arms fire to recover the men.

Cpl. Justin Butler, a mortarman in the platoon, saw his platoon commander from across the street while laying suppressive fire.

“When we were on the roof, he was the first one I saw standing up to see the situation while everyone was getting shot at,” said the 21-year-old from Dyer, Ind. “It pumped everybody up that he would do that just to know everything that’s going on.”

The platoon commander led his team as they cleared two buildings, jumping from roof-to-roof to reach them. He shielded the bodies of the fallen Marines when a grenade landed nearby with complete disregard for his own safety, then threw two grenades into a room filled with insurgents.

While delivering cover fire, Butler moved the men across to an adjacent rooftop, personally evacuating a wounded Marine under constant small arms fire and grenade attacks. His actions preserved the lives of the men.

Butler credited the decoration to the Marines under his command.

“I owe those Marines my life,” he said. “The things they did that day are the sort of things you read about in books. What they do for each other and what they sacrifice for each other makes you not want to leave the Marine Corps. They hold up the tradition of 3/5 and live up to the legacy.”

Alfred Butler III, was a Marine major who was killed in Beirut when his son was only five-years-old. Butler said most of what he knows of his father he learned from Marines who served with him.

“It’s nice that he knew my father and served with him,” he said. “My knowledge of him as a person is through people like General Natonski and what they say about him and the man he was. From what I understand, he was a great man, great Marine, husband and father. If I can be half of that, I think I’ll be fine.”

Mike Battery (4/14) Iraq Bound

About 14 months ago, 150 members of Mike Battery returned home after a tour of duty in Iraq.
Today, 33 members of the Marine Reserve Unit leave Chattanooga to eventually serve in the war-torn country.
One of the marines served during the previous deployment.
The unit heads to Pennsylvania for training this afternoon.
Their deployment to Iraq is expected to last seven months.

Monday, May 22, 2006


Severely injured Marines may reenlist

Marines are losing limbs in the war zone. But it doesn’t mean they and others who receive severe but not life-threatening wounds can’t re-enlist and do 30 years on active duty, according to a May 17 Corpswide message.


By John Hoellwarth
Times staff writer

Marines “severely injured” in combat who are found unfit for duty by their compulsory physical evaluation board can now apply for permanent limited-duty status and re-enlist every four years, according to MarAdmin 228/06.

“Combat injured Marines being retained must be capable of performing in a military occupational specialty and effectively contribute to the Marine Corps mission,” the message said.

Marines are not required to pass a physical-fitness test. The message tasks the director of the Corps’ Personnel Management Division to issue guidance on evaluating these Marines’ job performance and competitiveness for promotion.

Under previous policy, Marines who lost limbs to enemy action were hospitalized, rehabilitated and medically retired into the care of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The policy applies to active-duty and Reserve officers and enlisted Marines who have been “severely wounded” as a result of enemy action, not through “their own misconduct.”

For more information on the policy, including the first moves to make in order to stay on active duty, check out this week’s issue of Marine Corps Times.

Long deployments cause emotional rollercoaster for service members

AL ASAD, Iraq (May 22, 2006) -- Many emotions are stirred when you talk about leaving home for an extended period of time. The fact that many of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing Marines and sailors have deployed for a full year to the war-torn region of the world known as Iraq, adds to the strain on personal feelings from service members, family members and loved ones.


Submitted by: 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing
Story Identification #: 200652243258
Story by Staff Sgt. Chad McMeen

Members of the U.S. Armed Forces know the inherent dangers involved in their line of work. Additionally, the senior military leaders do a great deal to prepare everyone for the inevitable time away from home but, the reality is; leaving is never easy.

Approximately three months ago, Marines loaded with gear required for their duty in Iraq, stepped onto a plane headed toward the wide-open desert of the Western Al Anbar Province. Some said goodbye to family and friends with embraces and tears, while others said a silent goodbye to the base they call home. Either way, everyone leaving knew it would be a long time before they saw American soil again.

"For me leaving on the bus was the hardest part of the departure. Seeing my family sitting in the vehicle and us driving off in the bus was the hardest," said Staff Sgt. Anthony D. Ward, aviation supply chief, aviation logistics division, Marine Wing Headquarters Squadron 3, 3rd MAW. "I knew at that point, that would be the last time I was going to see them in a long time."

Ward and his wife, Melissa, have been married for 18 years and neither of them are new to being separated by deployments. Unfortunately, their youngest child, Sekai, has had a difficult time with the new transition.

"I hadn't prepared for how my 6-year-old son would react," explained Ward. "That moment when I hugged him and he actually realized that everyone around him was crying was tough to handle. It finally hit him that something was going on."
Staying in communication with his family from a work computer connection has eased some of the stress, but Ward mentioned his son is still having a little trouble coping with the situation.

"The 90-day mark just passed and the last part will go by quickly," said Ward, a Dallas native. "We just have to push through the middle of the deployment."

Strain as time goes on

No matter how much planning is done prior to the deployment, every issue cannot be anticipated. Inevitably, as soon as a service member travels more than 7,000 miles away, something will go wrong. Sometimes it is as simple as a leaky faucet in the kitchen and other times it is more serious, such as a death in the family.

"Everything has gone pretty well but I think one of the more difficult things for my wife right now is just holding a schedule," explained Sgt. Antoine LeBlanc, avionics calibration technician, Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 16, Marine Aircraft Group 16 (Reinforced), 3rd MAW. "She is left doing everything she used to do in addition to the things I took care of. She hardly has any time to herself and I don't think she has the opportunity very often to exercise, lay in a bathtub or just relax."

Halfway around the world, deployed service members are faced with their own set of issues. An example of this are the Marines assigned to security details. While typically busy with traffic and identification checks, they are often faced with moments of solitude.

"There's not a moment that goes by that I don't think about my wife, my three stepchildren and my 3-year-old daughter from a previous marriage," said Sgt. James K. Snead, as he stood post in an aluminum guard tower, keeping records of every vehicle that passes from behind his M-240G machine gun position.

Snead is a member of the Tactical Air Command Center Security Detachment, 1st Battalion, 109th Infantry Regiment Mechanized Infantry, Marine Wing Support Group 37 (Reinforced), 3rd MAW, and deployed in January.

Not all emotions are based on negative situations. Each command makes an effort to provide entertainment to break up the monotony and stress of the day-to-day job. Every individual deals with the stress in a different way and, therefore, the relief can come in a variety of forms.

Examples of entertainment for deployed forces are United Service Organizations comedy tours of the area, gathering for team sports or even weekly poker games.

"Al Asad is not the most pleasant of places to be, but I try to make the most of it and enjoy life. My office has a Sunday ritual -- the marathon of volleyball -- and on other days I enjoy getting out on my bicycle," said Gunnery Sgt. Russell J. Murzyn, information assurance technician, MWHS-3. "Of course, cycling here does not compare to cycling in San Diego, but it's still great to get out on the bike and have all your worries and stress fall by the wayside once you're dancing on the pedals."

There is a certain level of strength needed by the men and women of the armed forces to get through the situations they are faced with.

"The biggest challenge of deploying this time has been missing my family," said LeBlanc, who is now on his second deployment to Iraq. "The last time I came out here my daughter was only a couple of months old and I hadn't bonded with her much. Now she's almost 2 years old and when I left I was much closer with her and my wife."

Working things out

As time goes on a routine is established on both sides of the world and communication with loved ones becomes more defined and structured.

"When I first got out here, my wife and I were talking every day and now we've slowed down to about once a week," said LeBlanc, a native of Kenner, La. "That seems to be helping because you have time to think about things and you focus on the important stuff."

Various forms of communication are available but many require standing in line and waiting for an available spot or staying late at work because of the time difference.

"It's great when I can video chat with my wife and kids but sometimes that is very difficult too," said Ward. "Even though my son says things are going well, I can see it in his eyes that he's thinking, 'You need to hurry up and come home because I'm missing you.'"

In Ward's absence he has the advantage of two older daughters, 14-year-old Cherika and 17-year-old Chalissia, in the household to help with the daily duties.

"My older daughters have stepped up in playing my role and that helps a lot," explained Ward.

The strain of a full year deployment is also made a little easier in part to a 15-day leave period where the service member can either fly home or to a variety of other locations. Additionally, many will receive a 4-day pass to Kuwait to help break up the daily work routine.

The Marines with 3rd MAW are not unlike any other deployed force. They work long hours in an uncomfortable environment while separated from their families and friends and most of them do it with a smile on their faces because this is what they joined to do. Doing their jobs in a deployed environment where their actions either directly or indirectly impact an entire country is powerful.

Knocking off the ‘Rust', 1/6 Marines cover the basics during Mojave Viper training

The training exercise known as Mojave Viper provides realistic combat situations and advanced knowledge of enemy tactics to the Marines who participate; but before Marines can tackle this rigorous training schedule, it's back to the basics.


Cpl. Paul Robbins Jr.
Combat Correspondent

The Marines of 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, spent their initial week, May 8-12, of the combined arms exercise aboard the Combat Center refreshing their basic skills as an infantry battalion.

“We essentially took a week at the front end of Mojave Viper and put in training to knock the rust off,” said Master Sgt. Luis H. Hernandez, operations chief for the battalion.

The training focused on individual skills as the companies set out to let each Marine fire his respective weapon system.

Machine guns, rockets, mortars, service rifles and pistols were all tested and fired at the ranges.

“Every weapon organic to the infantry battalion, short of the TOW missile system, was exercised,” said Hernandez, a 48-year-old native of Coral Gables, Fla.

In addition to the individual skills training, the Marines also familiarized themselves with convoy operations, squad attacks, and integrating armor, such as tanks and amphibious assault vehicles, into their operations.

By the end of the training cycle, many of the Marines found the group exercises to be the most rewarding.

“We don't get many opportunities to integrate with tanks and learn how to operate beside them,” said Gunnery Sgt. Dennis J. Dodd, company gunnery sergeant for Charlie Company. “It's also important for the squads to develop confidence in each other and in their squad leader's ability.”

Through repetition of the training they conduct year round, the Marines of 1/6 found the training to be an essential step during Mojave Viper.

“Without the basics, you can't move forward,” said Lance Cpl. Cameron S. Golden, a squad leader for Charlie Co., “Your Marines have to crawl before they can walk and walk before they can run.”

With more than three weeks remaining and the difficulty of the training ever increasing, the Marines known as 𔄙/6 Hard” feel more than ready to meet the challenge.

Between the training here at the Combat Center and at Camp Lejeune, the battalion is ready for its next deployment, said Golden, a 21-year-old native of Jessup, Md.

“My Marines are prepared for it.”

Darkside steps it out

“Step it out! Keep it moving! Just a few more miles. Keep pushing! Stretch your legs! Cover down!”


Lance Cpl. Michael S. Cifuentes
Combat Correspondent

From the dark hours of dawn to the peak of the morning heat and sunlight, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, also known as “Darkside,” made their way through the Combat Center's Mojave Desert terrain May 12 on a 12-mile hike, commonly known as a hump to Marines.

After gathering in front of the Combat Center's obstacle course, the battalion stepped out on their grueling expedition at 5 a.m., returning to their starting point at 10:30 a.m. when the 12-mile hike was complete.

The significance of the hike was readiness, said 1st Sgt. Ryan F. Blue, India Company first sergeant.

“Even though no one really hikes in Iraq, you never know what can happen,” said the Omaha, Neb., native. “The battle space changes, so there's no telling what we're going to be doing. We've just need to be ready to adapt to anything.”

Recently, the battalion welcomed Lt. Col. Scott C. Shuster as the new battalion commander. He wanted to give himself an intense introduction so the battalion's training would continue its intense course, said Lance Cpl. Ryan R. Hafley, a 21-year-old infantryman with India Company.

“Even though the hike was very hard for some, there was a lot of motivation,” said the Bloomington, Ill., native. “Our physical endurance was definitely tested, and there was so much to deal with - the loose sand, the hills and the treacherous California heat.”

Seaman Tyler F. Rutledge, a 20-year-old corpsman with India Company, has been with the battalion for roughly a year. There are many factors and elements Marines and Sailors deal with during any type of training, he said, and the 100-degree weather played a major role in the mood and state of mind the battalion members experienced.

“A hike this long lets you know where you're at physically and mentally,” said the Roseburg, Ore., native.

“Along with strength and conditioning, it builds unit cohesion,” he continued. “All the Marines are sharing the same hardships. Everyone is bound to get tired and cranky. Everyone's experiencing the same mood and feelings. The only way you can get out of that hardship is through the help of your unit. A hike brings you closer to your guys. And that is all you will have over there [Iraq] - your guys. The hike teaches Marines how to have each other's back.”

Most everyone felt as if their bodies were in the worst environmental conditions, said Hafley, but those who showed true motivation and true camaraderie to their fellow platoon members are the ones who led the way.

“My team leader and squad leader kept my mind from stressing,” said Pfc. Jerome E. Henry, a 20-year-old ammunition man with India Company, and a Tuba City, Ariz., native. “The leadership is good in this battalion and it really showed during the hike. They strive to make sure we know what we're doing and that we make it OK.”

The hike wasn't the longest the company has been on, said Pfc. Christopher R. Yarborough, a 21-year-old machine gunner with Lima Company, remembering the 18 mile hike the battalion went on in Bridgeport, Calif., in March. Most Marines know a hike can't kill you, unless a you're really dehydrated, he said.

“The pain is only temporary,” said the Los Angeles, native during a break after the sixth mile. “I always tell myself that it's not going to last forever. It's going to go away eventually.

“What gets me through this is the thought of what I'll be doing when we're done,” added Yarborough. “After we're done with this, I'm going to be lying down in my rack. I know I've been through a hump like this before, and I've definitely been through worse. I know I can keep doing it. This is my time to set an example for the Marines I work with, and my leaders.”

Going in to the summer season, the biggest focus for 3/4 is that the Marines are able to execute their billets and support their unit, said Blue. They need to know exactly what they're doing and exactly what to do in any situation. A hike is a movement drill that allows leaders to stand out and perform their billet.

“I need to know if they're going to make or break,” said Blue.

The culminating point of infantry training and pre-deployment training is Mojave Viper, added Blue. After three or four more grueling hikes, military operations in urban terrain training, marksmanship training, lane training and live fires, Darkside will ride the remainder of pre-deployment training in the month-long Mojave Viper training evolution, until heading out to Iraq for their fourth combat deployment.

Coming soon: 29 palms to Combat Center

Former Combat Center commanding general, Maj. Gen. Richard C. Zilmer, had an idea in the summer of 2005 to make the Combat Center's main entrance more welcoming.


Lance Cpl. Michael S. Cifuentes
Combat Correspondent

Since then, civilian architects, engineers and contractors got together and came up with a plan to execute Zilmer's idea.

Currently, contractors are making Zilmer's idea happen along the west side of Adobe Road when entering the Combat Center. Twenty-nine palm trees are being planted in between the physical fitness test course and the bike trail, beginning at the main gate and ending at Del Valle Drive. The construction began in March.

Each palm tree, specifically known as California fan palms, is 16 feet in height, from the bottom of the trunk to the tip. The trees will be planted in individual concrete masonry units, said Bob P. Lehman, the Combat Center's chief of engineering and the base architect.

“From the beginning of the base's main entrance, there will be a nice-looking row of palm trees, which I picked out myself from a nursery in Indio [Calif.],” said Lehman.

The communities thematic element is palm trees, said Lehman. When traveling off base into the city of Twentynine Palms, one feels the theme of palm trees.

“I think putting these palm trees along the base's entrance enhances that feel,” said Lehman. “It also ties the base with the local community.

“The whole sense of making our entrance more welcoming also ties with upgrading houses, barracks and the quality of living,” continued Lehman. “This base is no longer just metal buildings. We're trying to make some good changes for those who live here, work here or are visiting. Adding some palm trees will help. It creates a sense of pride and being.”

Another important reason why the image of palm trees is significant to the base's entrance is to welcome troops home from deployments, and let them know they are back in Twentynine Palms, said Don I. Clark, the deputy head of Facilities Maintenance Division.

“When troops come rolling back in on a bus from a deployment, the 29 palm trees will give them a feel of ‘welcome back to home,'” said Clark. “The trees are a big symbol of support to the town, and to the ones who come on this base.”

The palm trees are expected to arrive to the Combat Center in June, just as the final touches the planting units are complete, said Lehman. The project is scheduled to be finished by the end of June.

The war's deadliest day for U.S. women

There was a loud bang and the flash of a fireball—and in just minutes an Iraqi suicide bomb killed three American military women and horribly wounded 11 more. It happened one year ago this month and was one of the worst disasters ever to hit U.S. women in uniform. But out of that dreadful attack came a true band of sisters—tied together by friendship, honor and raw courage.


By Susan Dominus

As the early summer days in Iraq got hotter and hotter, pushing well past 100 degrees, many of the female marines in Fallujah went on high alert: American intelligence said that a suicide bomber was planning an attack that would specifically target military women. But on June 23, 2005, Angelica Jimenez, then a 20-year-old lance corporal from New Jersey, wasn't thinking about that; she wasn't thinking about the mortars that sometimes flew overhead or about the other dangers of her job manning a checkpoint that Iraqis passed through to get into and out of Fallujah. Instead, she woke up feeling like it would be a good day. "It was my husband's birthday, and I was going to talk to him on the phone that night," says Jimenez, a young woman with a quiet confidence and a soft, gentle voice. Jimenez was usually enveloped in a fog of exhaustion, thanks to the early dawn wake-up call and long hours at work, but for once, she wasn't even tired. "It just seemed like everything was going right."

Jimenez was one of 17 American military women who would be manning seven checkpoints scattered around Fallujah that day, patting down Iraqi women and searching them for explosives. For the most part, she was proud to be there, helping with what she saw as the U.S. mission, bringing democracy to Iraq. "We were part of the cause. It meant something," she says.

The job wasn't difficult, but it was risky; the majority of military women in Iraq worked on base, protected by thick concrete barriers, but at the checkpoints, troops were exposed to the sporadic violence of the surrounding city. The most dangerous part was simply getting to work: Every morning a convoy—consisting of a few armed trucks and Humvees—picked up the women from their barracks in Camp Fallujah for a 20-minute ride down a sniper-lined urban highway. In the evening, a convoy returned them to the base, because women weren't allowed to sleep in the same quarters as men. (Most male marines slept at their checkpoints and didn't travel the perilous route each day.) Jimenez's fellow marine Lance Corporal Erin Libby, then 21, from Maine, came to dread the drive. "I used to head out thinking: Is this the day we get blown up?" she says. "You just knew something was going to happen eventually. It was logical."

For relief from the tension, the marines reveled in the breaks they took in the trailers parked near each checkpoint. "Mostly what I did there was sleep," says Jimenez; others killed time listening to their iPods or channeling the heroics of Spider-Man on their Game Boys. They'd trade favorite movie lines or pass around photos from back home. Libby would crack everyone up by contorting her prom queen-pretty face into an imitation of a camel, or she'd lead a session of eight-minute abs.

Women make up a small portion of the marines—6 percent, compared with 15 percent in the military overall—so when female friendships click, they tend to be fast and strong. Jimenez had grown particularly close to Holly Charette, a 21-year-old lance corporal from Rhode Island who was well liked because she also worked in the mail room and would sort through stacks of correspondence if someone came in desperate for a letter. A former cheerleader, Charette had a huge collection of chick-flick DVDs and had memorized Britney Spears' dance moves, which she'd occasionally show off. "The girl was just smiles, smiles, smiles all the time," says Jimenez. The two women called each other by their last names—often marines don't even know their friends' first names—but that didn't stop them from talking about everything: Charette's younger brothers, the boyfriend she adored, Jimenez's siblings, the husband she'd married just two weeks before leaving for Iraq. During their breaks, Charette would read aloud racy passages from a book called Addicted, and both women would howl with laughter.

Despite the upbeat start to her day, and a safe ride to her checkpoint, Jimenez could sense that her good mood was wearing off as the hours of June 23, 2005, ticked by. "It just felt weird," she says. "I couldn't put my finger on it." Unusually slow days tend to make marines nervous: In Iraq, when insurgent attacks are in the works, the streets usually empty out as word gets to civilians to stay clear. Jimenez wasn't the only one ill at ease—Sally Saalman, then 21, the corporal in charge of the female marines at all the checkpoints, was dismayed to see a sandstorm brewing; it was the kind of weather that gives insurgents ideal cover for an attack. Unbeknownst to Jimenez, the day that had begun so well would prove to be the saddest and most terrifying of her young life.

More than that, the hours to come would mark a historical reckoning point for female soldiers. For while the Iraqi conflict is much like any other war—filled with split-second decisions, reckless mistakes and impromptu displays of heroism—the faces of the combatants have changed. In a war with no classic front lines, women share the dangers with men, and these female marines would prove that they, like generations of male soldiers before them, were ready to fight, risk their lives and even die trying to protect each other.

By seven o'clock that evening, at another checkpoint three or four miles away, the sun was still hot and high in the sky. Alisha Harding, then a 23-year-old marine corporal from Utah, wasn't feeling so much disturbed as she was annoyed. Harding, who'd joined the Corps because she wanted "to be a hard-ass," believed strongly in the U.S. mission in Iraq. That day, however, she was frustrated with the way things were being run; she was angry at the male marines who would be escorting her and the other women back to base. "They were rushing us," she says.

Ordinarily, at the end of the day, a few men from each checkpoint would drive their female coworkers to a large U.S. facility known as Civil Military Operations Center (CMOC), where Iraqis also went to bring grievances against the American military. Over the course of an hour or two, the women would trickle in to CMOC until all of them—anywhere from 17 to 19 marines—had arrived. Then they'd clamber onto one truck and head with their security detail back to Camp Fallujah. However, in recent weeks the convoy had been leaving earlier than usual. On the evening of June 23, the men seemed to be in a hurry to get back to the relative comfort of the base, several of the female marines say. (Other marines say the timetable was compressed to confuse the insurgents. Public-affairs officials at marine headquarters declined to confirm any of these details or comment on the circumstances of that day.) Whatever the reason, on that evening a few of the male marines took the initiative of driving to each checkpoint to pick up the women and ferry them to CMOC. When Harding's ride arrived, a higher-ranking marine said: "You guys shouldn't be going out there right now. It's dangerous."

Her superior had good reason to worry. Fallujah, in Anbar province, is the hotbed of the insurgency that had been attacking American forces throughout Iraq since April 2003. Some military call the city "the bomb factory" because so many suicide bombers were based there, and in the fall of 2004, two separate attacks on marine trucks in the area killed a total of 15 men. With the exception of major battles, it is the highways in Fallujah that pose the greatest day-to-day dangers, military experts agree. "It's a large, flat country," says military historian Bing West, "so everyone drives a car…but you don't know which among hundreds of thousands of drivers has the intention to blow himself and everyone else up."

By leaving early, Harding knew, the convoy would be on the highway while it was still daylight, making it a clearer target. Traveling before the 9 P.M. civilian curfew also increased the potential for attacks from the Iraqi drivers still on the road. Harding shared her superior's concerns, but neither of them had the authority to change course. Says Harding, "Nobody knew who to go to, to voice our opinions."


At 7:15 P.M., Saalman was trying furiously to complete a head count of the 14 women boarding the truck before it left CMOC for Camp Fallujah. Saalman, a devout Christian from Indiana's horse country with honey-blond hair and cornflower-blue eyes, loved the Corps. "I bleed green," she once told a fellow marine. Going through her list, she put a check next to the name of Navy Petty Officer First Class Regina Clark, 43, from Washington, probably her closest friend there—and the only nonmarine in the group. A single mother with an 18-year-old son heading to college, Clark was nearing the end of her second tour in Iraq. She often provided moral support for Saalman, who says, "I could trust her with pretty much anything."

Charette was there. So were Harding and Jimenez—although, as usual, they didn't converse or even make eye contact. "We weren't crazy about each other," Harding admits. She and a friend of Jimenez"s had gotten into a shoving match a few months back when the friend had defied Harding's orders. Like all marines, says Harding, "we had a lot of attitude."

Saalman continued down her list. She saw Diane Cardile, then 23, an easygoing private first class from Pennsylvania, and her two roommates at Camp Fallujah: Lance Corporal Laura Bringas, then 21, a woman from Arizona with a big, mischievous laugh, and Ramona Valdez, 20, an outspoken and well- respected corporal from the Bronx via the Dominican Republic.

Friends Lynn Beasley, then 20, and Christina Humphrey, 22 at the time, both lance corporals, were on the truck as well. Beasley, a punk-rock fan from Illinois with a high-energy personality, was sometimes called "Rock Star." Humphrey, from California, had earned the nickname "Hippie" for her spiritual take on the world, which didn't diminish her reputation for toughness: A few months earlier, she and Libby, who was also on the truck, had been working the CMOC checkpoint when snipers started taking potshots at the marines. Humphrey advanced without cover and fired, possibly taking out one of the insurgents. Her bravery earned her a medal for valor. Continuing down her list, Saalman checked off Corporal Teresa Fernandez, then 21, a small-arms technician from New Jersey, and Kodie Misiura, then 19, a quiet blond lance corporal from California who'd been considering going to college but instead decided to join the marines. Finally there was Oyoana Allende, then 21, a lance corporal from Illinois. She loved to salsa dance; once overweight, she'd lost 55 pounds just so she could become a marine.

Saalman put down her pen. Fourteen women now sat along two benches in the truck, known as a seven-ton, which was scheduled to pick up three more women at a checkpoint on the way back to base. The women faced out rather than toward each other, so they could look over the Kevlar-lined panels that ended just below eye level and scan for insurgents. Their convoy consisted of a Humvee filled with male marines in the lead, followed by the women's truck, then a second truck carrying male marines, and behind that two or three Humvees (the marines' recollections differ) with more men. As the seven-ton shifted into gear, the exhausted women were already thinking about the dinner they'd have at Camp Fallujah about 15 miles away; they had no way of knowing how much their lives would change in the next five minutes.


The convoy had been rolling down the highway for only a few minutes when Harding heard a fast exchange between her truck's driver and the gunner; it was something like "Are you going to shoot it or what?" An Iraqi car had pulled up alongside them. The marines in the lead Humvee had seen the car approaching and waved it off to the side of the road, but the car came barreling back toward the convoy.

Harding barely had time to process the driver's words when she heard the sound she'd feared since the moment she arrived in Iraq: the menacing hiss of a bomb about to go off. Then a deafening boom, the sound of four or five artillery shells likely laced with napalm exploding as the car rammed into the side of the truck. A fireball, its flames curling and curving, hurtled toward Harding. Then time came crashing to a near halt.

Immediately the truck caught fire. Libby, who was sitting a few places away from Harding, saw her seat mate, Saalman, go flying through the air, directly into the flames. Saalman looked up and saw her own boots high over her head as she catapulted. I'm next, thought Libby. This is really happening. I'm going to die. Harding tasted acrid smoke clogging her throat. Jimenez, who'd been thrown to the floor of the truck, felt a deathly flash of cold. Then she, too, like nearly everyone on the truck, was flung out onto the hard, gravelly ground as the force of the blast pushed the truck over onto its side.

From the second truck in the convoy, Marine Sergeant Kent Padmore heard a screeching of tires and an explosion, then his own vehicle braked to a stop so quickly that all dozen or so men in it went tumbling to the floor. When Padmore sat up, he saw the women's truck in flames about 250 yards away. A flight medic back in Miami, Padmore, then 38, had been good friends with Saalman, Clark and Humphrey. Immediately he jumped from his truck and ran toward the burning seven-ton, barely aware of the bullets zinging past him; the insurgents had staged an ambush to coincide with the car bomb.

There's no way, he thought as he ran. They're all dead. He stopped—it was useless to continue. But then he pushed forward. Keep going, he told himself. He thought of how Clark couldn't wait to go backpacking with her son when she got back to the U.S., about tough-as-nails Humphrey, and about Saalman, the music-loving beauty. It can't be, he said to himself, and kept running as fast as he could.

Just as Padmore reached the scene, he saw Saalman staggering toward him, her charred, flayed hands held up before her, her eyes vacant in a blackened face. She'd lost her rifle during the explosion. "Sally, pull yourself together," he said. "You are not going to die. I promise: You are not going to die. But we need some leadership." He watched her expression change instantly from shock to rage. "Somebody give me a fucking weapon!" she screamed. "I need a fucking weapon!" The adrenaline pumping through her body obviously masked her pain. Padmore handed her his own M16 and headed off to find other wounded marines, with the sound of Saalman firing her gun toward the insurgents ringing in his ears.

Harding, meanwhile, had rolled off the truck with only minor burns to her hand but quickly realized she, too, didn't have her weapon. With machine-gun fire all around her, she ran behind the flaming seven-ton to take cover, and there she came upon Cardile and Bringas. Both had badly burned hands, and their faces were blackened from the fire. Dazed, their throats raw from inhalation burns, they followed Harding to the shelter of a junkyard wall where other female marines were gathering.

Libby, who'd been knocked unconscious in the blast, awoke about 10 feet from the truck with her face planted in the earth. She looked up to see, inches from her nose, the unconscious body of Clark. "Come on, girl, you've got to get up," she yelled to Clark, then again, louder, "Girl, we've got to get up now." Clark didn't respond. Finally, Libby, suffering from a broken collarbone and a dislocated neck, shoved her hands under Clark's shoulders and began dragging her toward shelter. She got about eight feet before a male marine ran up and pulled her away, screaming at her to join the other female marines for her own safety. Looking behind her, her heart pounding, Libby trotted toward the wall, a horrible thought haunting each step: Was she leaving behind a fellow marine to die?

About eight minutes after the attack, there were five or six female marines huddled behind the junkyard wall. Harding, after guiding Bringas and Cardile to shelter, now started to venture out again to retrieve a body lying a few feet from the truck—and hesitated as she heard the bullets flying all around her. Then her training kicked in: Leave no one behind. It's something a marine is taught until she knows it the way she knows her home address, her best friend's phone number or the Lord's Prayer. She ran toward the body. It was a woman, but the burns and impact wounds had marred her features beyond recognition. Harding looked at the name tag on the uniform pocket. Charette. The ex-cheerleader.

"Charette!" she called. Nothing. "Charette! Charette!" The young woman's body was lifeless. Harding's throat clenched into a tight knot, and she kneeled there, motionless, for close to 10 seconds.

Harding knew she had to move on to see if there was anyone she could save. That was when she spotted Jimenez hobbling along the roadside, exposed and in danger.

Tossed to the ground by the explosion, Jimenez had lain unconscious for a good five minutes. When she came to, she'd been confused and scared. Now blood was pouring from a gash above her eye so heavily that she could barely see, and the skin was hanging off one hand like parts of a dangling, fleshy glove. Somehow, she'd made out the shape of a lone marine standing a few yards away. She moved forward even though her right leg shouldn't have been able to support her: A piece of shrapnel had ripped away about half of her inner thigh, and she was rapidly losing blood. Praying, cursing, everything but crying, Jimenez headed for the marine as if her life depended on it, which it did.

As she got closer, Jimenez realized the marine was Harding—someone she never thought she'd be glad to see. With her uninjured hand, she grabbed Harding's. Whatever tension had existed between them had vaporized with the blast.

Leaning on her comrade, Jimenez staggered to one of the backup trucks. Soon Harding and the other less-wounded marines—including Libby and Humphrey—began loading the more severely hurt women onto the remaining seven-ton truck. The injuries were horrifying: "We were all looking at each other, thinking, shit, I look like that—or worse," recalls Cardile. Huge swaths of the skin on her and her friends' faces had been eviscerated. Bringas says her left hand "looked like a hotdog that had been left in the microwave too long." Parts of Allende's skin had melted away, and her flak jacket was drenched with blood. Cardile's burns left her so sensitive that "the air that hit my face when the truck started to move almost killed me."

Soon all the women were on the truck with three exceptions: Valdez, Clark and Charette. Charette was in one of the two Humvees; a recovery team of marines picked up Valdez and Clark. Finally, the seven-ton packed with 11 women and a handful of male marines raced toward Charlie Surgical, the medical unit at Camp Fallujah. Only en route did Jimenez get a full look at her wounds. "I had a huge hole in my leg, like something out of Saving Private Ryan," she says. To Padmore, who was treating injured marines, the wound looked like a flower: bits and pieces of skin opened and layered around the injury. Harding, who'd been intent on remaining calm, realized she could look deep into the sinews of Jimenez's leg, down to the bone. She cradled Jimenez in her arms while Padmore applied the tourniquet that would stanch the heavy bleeding (and, doctors would later say, save her life). Padmore was moved by Harding's strength. "She disregarded her pain to give support to a critically wounded marine," he says. "Had it not been for her, Jimenez might have given up. With your femoral artery severed the way hers was, you could die. But it helps to have someone telling you to hang on; we'll make it through this together."

There wasn't much noise on the truck—there was no crying and little talking. At one point Saalman, the same woman who'd been screaming bloody murder for a weapon just minutes earlier, broke the silence by singing "America the Beautiful," then "Amazing Grace." For some women it was a needed balm; for others it was excruciating, mere words that meant nothing in the face of what they'd just seen.

Jimenez, barely conscious, remembered that it was her husband's special day. "You have to call him and tell him I say happy birthday," she said to Harding. Calling out for a pen, Harding replied, "All right, all right, I'll do it," and wrote the number of Jimenez's husband on the palm of her hand. When the truck arrived at Camp Fallujah, it flew straight to Charlie Surgical, where a team of surgeons, their faces blanching as the women piled off the truck, awaited. "I didn't know if I was going to make it. I was so scared," Jimenez says.

As doctors prepared to take Jimenez to surgery, Harding explained that she'd have to wait outside. No! thought Jimenez. "I could see in her eyes she wanted to stay with me," says Harding, who wanted just as badly to remain by her side. But she had no choice. Harding watched Jimenez being wheeled off and wondered whether she'd ever see her fellow marine again.


Burns are notoriously vicious wounds, slow to heal as well as excruciatingly painful, so much so that in the case of second- and third-degree injuries, even the maximum amount of morphine considered safe is of little help —it may dull the torture, but the pain is always there, all-consuming, searing. To make matters worse, the treatment itself is brutal: Burn patients must undergo a painful shower to cleanse the wounds, then get scrubbed down in a process called debridement, which peels away dead layers of skin and is so agonizing that it must be performed under general anesthesia. Even being wrapped in sterile bandages is almost more contact than a burn patient can bear. Because the treatment is repeated every few days, patients know what's coming and learn to dread it.

The night of the attack, Jimenez was flown from Iraq to Germany, where, having been totally anesthetized, she spent a few days in blissful unconsciousness. She was then moved again, to San Antonio, where the Brooke Army Medical Center has a world-class burn unit. Wrapped like a mummy in bandages around her head, leg and arm, she could at least take consolation in the fact that she wasn't alone in San Antonio. On the other side of the curtains surrounding her bed lay Cardile, Bringas and Allende. The women were suffering from second- and third-degree burns: Bringas would wake up horrified some days with bits of her skin stuck to the pillow, and Cardile's face, particularly around her mouth, was constantly oozing.

Jimenez, Cardile and Bringas had always been able to make one another laugh back in Iraq. But no one was laughing in the room those first few weeks; when they heard each other, it was mostly the sound of crying from the agony of their treatments. "If Cardile was screaming, I felt her pain because I knew exactly what she was going through," says Jimenez. At the same time, each woman was isolated in a bubble of her own suffering. "It was hard," says Cardile. "You couldn't take care of yourself, never mind take care of somebody else." All they could do was call out to each other: "Are you hurting? I'm hurting too."

In one way, Jimenez was lucky: Her husband had flown to San Antonio to be with her as soon as he heard she'd been injured. As a marine, he was aware of what her life in Iraq had been like and could even imagine the attack; he never left her side, helping her to the bathroom and washing her hair. Even so, says Jimenez, "he didn't know what I was feeling, and that bothered me a lot. I would get mad. He'd be like, oh, you're going to be OK, and I felt like, I am not going to be fucking OK. Cardile and Bringas, they knew how I felt. Just having someone understand what you're going through, it's comforting."

What Jimenez didn't know for almost a week was the fate of the rest of her fellow marines. She figured out that three other women had ended up in San Antonio —Beasley, Saalman and Fernandez —but she wondered about the rest, especially Charette. About a week after Jimenez arrived at the medical center, she got a visit from Fernandez, who had burns on more than 13 percent of her body. Fernandez had been particularly tight with Charette, so after a few minutes of chatting, Jimenez broached the question she really wanted to ask.

"Hey, where's Charette?" she said. Fernandez looked down at her hard, and then glanced away. "I can't talk about it," she replied. Fernandez was aware that the military doctors sometimes withheld bad news until patients were on the road to recovery, but she wanted Jimenez to know the truth. She gave a hint: She shook her head.

Fernandez's message came across loud and clear. "I started hyperventilating and saying, 'Oh God, oh God, oh God,'" says Jimenez. "I felt so bad that I had survived and she hadn't." There wasn't much comfort Fernandez could offer. "I understand," she said simply. "It hurt me, too."

After a while, Fernandez got up to leave. Her husband was waiting for her in the hall. Overwhelmed by what she'd just seen of Jimenez's injuries as well as by what she'd had to say, she passed out in his arms.

All in all, six marines died on June 23, 2005, in Fallujah. Three of them were men: Lance Corporal Veashna Muy, 20, the seven-ton's gunner; Chad Powell, a 22-year-old corporal riding in the truck; and Corporal Carlos Pineda, 23, who'd been in one of the security Humvees. Pineda was shot while giving cover to Harding as she and other marines hoisted Jimenez into the truck. Harding heard him gasp as the bullet made contact.

Three women died that day, making it one of the three costliest incidents for American military women in a single attack. (In World War II, a Japanese kamikaze pilot killed six army nurses onboard a hospital boat; in 1991, three women from a National Guard unit died when a SCUD missile hit their barracks in Bahrain.)

One of the fatalities was Clark, the 43-year-old single mom whom Libby had tried to pull away from the truck. Another was Charette, the 21-year-old ex-cheerleader, who, it turns out, had still been alive, but barely, when Harding came upon her. As a male marine took Charette in his arms, she'd hoarsely whispered, "Help me," before going limp. She died later that evening at Charlie Surgical. Valdez, the outspoken corporal from the Bronx, was killed immediately when the suicide bomber hit the seven-ton.

From the moment she arrived at the San Antonio military hospital, Bringas had started asking about Valdez. "I could have sworn I saw her back in Fallujah," she says. Bringas had been at the hospital a month and had undergone two skin-graft surgeries on her hands before a chaplain finally broke the news to her. Cardile, who was in the bathroom at the time, heard a scream. That was all she needed to realize that Bringas had been told.

As for Saalman, she knew the day of the attack that her dear friend Clark had died. Saalman and Padmore had been waiting outside Charlie Surgical when Padmore asked, "Where's Regi?" Saalman's hand flew up to her face, and tears came to her eyes. "Oh my God, Regi," she said. They looked at each other without saying another word. They knew that if Clark wasn't at the surgical tent, they'd lost her.

Weeks after the ambush, every female marine who'd been on the truck was awarded a Purple Heart, an honor that also confers financial benefits. (Many of the women have also received promotions.) Some of the marines at the San Antonio burn unit didn't feel ready for the ceremony. Their wounds —emotional and physical —were too fresh. "I really didn't want the Purple Heart," says Jimenez, who has since come to value the honor. "It was going to remind me for the rest of my life of how terrible that day was."

To the astonishment of some of the women, Douglas O'Dell Jr., the two-star general who bestowed their Purple Hearts, wept during the ceremony, at which several male marines also received medals. "I looked at him with sympathy or pity —I'm pretty sure our incident was emotional for everybody," says Jimenez. "But at the same time, I thought, you've gotta stay strong for us. And why should it be memorable because we're women? I don't want special privileges because I'm a woman."

It turns out that Jimenez misinterpreted O'Dell's sentiments: He was moved, he says, not by special sympathy for the women, but because he saw standing before him an unprecedented display of equality of the sexes. That day in Fallujah had been a "crystallizing moment," he says. Military leaders had always believed women marines would conduct themselves just as bravely as the men under deadly attack, he explains, but they'd never before had an opportunity quite like this one to prove themselves. "It's the difference between believing in a miracle," he says, "and then seeing one."


The machinery of the military pauses only so long to allow for grief, and eventually its gears started moving the women back into service. Still emotionally battered by what they'd just gone through, Saalman, Beasley and Fernandez were released from the hospital on an outpatient basis within a week of the attack and eventually sent off to various bases around the world. Harding, Humphrey and Misiura stayed in Iraq for a few more months, and Libby went home to Niceville, Florida, where she had surgery on her dislocated neck. Fernandez joined her husband at a military station in North Carolina, leaving Jimenez, Bringas, Cardile and Allende behind in the San Antonio burn unit.

In the long year to come, the women who'd suffered the worst burns displayed a kind of courage that occurs in hospital wards, not on battlefields. When they went for physical therapy, "I never saw them break down," says Major Lynn Burns, an occupational therapist. "I've seen big, strapping guys bawl their eyes out undergoing the same kinds of treatment. These women just kept it together." She wasn't surprised. "Being a marine is tough," she says, "but being a woman marine, you have to be even tougher."

Sergeant Shane Elder, a medic and occupational-therapy assistant who worked most closely with the women, says that what impressed him was how they unfailingly supported one another. At one point, he noticed that Bringas was having a particularly tough time. Grieving for Valdez and frustrated by a medical setback caused by an infection of her wounds, she would sometimes be reluctant to socialize when Cardile and Allende visited her room. "What do you want to do?" Cardile would ask. "Nothing," Bringas would reply. Cardile refused to take no for an answer—she'd put on a movie or try to make Bringas laugh. "Just because she didn't want visitors doesn't mean she wasn't going to get them," says Elder. "Those women were not going to leave her alone to be angry. You know, it's great to visit someone who's all fun. But to stay when someone isn't talking to you as you sit there in awkward silence—try that one time." Cardile's sister, Nicole, points out that Bringas returned the favor: Whenever Cardile was feeling down, Bringas would come by, and they'd talk and talk about the things they couldn't discuss with anyone else.

As the women grew healthier, they encountered another test: facing the public with their scarred and battered faces. "We have to carry these scars for the rest of our lives," says Jimenez. "You want to feel good about yourself, and if you've got some big scar on your face, it's traumatic."

On one of their first outings from the hospital, she and Cardile treated themselves to a meal at a San Antonio diner. At a nearby table sat a mother with her kids, who pointed and stared. Before the marines even had time to notice, Cardile's sister Nicole jumped up. "You can ask what happened," she told the family. "These girls got blown up in Iraq." The mother started apologizing. "I'm not mad," Nicole said. "We see you pointing—just ask."

"That was that," recalls Cardile. "We had a good time for the rest of the day. We drank beer, and we laughed and hung out." The incident made them feel strong, and Cardile resolved to do the same the next time she was put on the spot. Rather than allowing herself to wallow in shame, she would feel pride.

Almost a year after they said their good-byes outside Charlie Surgical, Jimenez and Harding finally saw each other again. They were reunited when Glamour invited them, along with Saalman, to San Antonio to visit the three women still remaining for treatment and physical therapy: Allende, Bringas and Cardile. "That girl saved my life," Jimenez said softly when Harding joined her at a bar in the hotel they'd made their headquarters. Their eyes locked and they smiled—there had been no time to exchange e-mail addresses after the attack, and they hadn't been in touch since that terrible day. In fact, few of the 11 survivors had contacted each other since they'd left the hospital. "I think we were afraid of what we'd find," says Libby.

Seeing how well Jimenez was doing—her face was mostly healed, and although her leg often hurts, she can easily walk—was a huge relief to Harding, who'd been having nightmares since the attack. She'd been thinking about all the women on the truck. Sometimes she saw Charette's little brother in her dreams; other times a phantom explosion woke her up with a start. "It's one thing to hear through the grapevine that they're doing fine," she says, "but it's another to see it with your own eyes."

What happened in Fallujah that day was a disaster for the women, but in some ways it was also a small, tragic triumph. The female marines proved not only that they could endure the worst, but that they could continue to serve. A week after the attack, Harding asked to be put back on the checkpoint. (Her request was denied.)

Harding—who believes the insurgents knew which truck in the convoy would be carrying women—worried that the suicide bombing might destroy the morale of other women in the Corps, but she needn't have. On the evening of June 23, as word of the disaster spread, a freckle-faced young female marine stationed in Ramadi, a city near Fallujah, had approached Colonel Robert Chase, who was helping run crisis control at the command center, to say she urgently needed to talk to him. He told her the timing wasn't good, but she insisted. Reluctantly, Chase stepped outside his office to meet with her—and in the hallway, he encountered about 10 more female marines. "Sir, we know we've had women killed," said the marine who'd first approached him. "We have to replace them—we want to go." Chase was stunned. "I'll be candid, it was one of the most emotional and profound moments for me," he says. "I don't often work with women as an infantry officer, but at that moment, there were no women there—there were just marines." (Some of those women did get the checkpoint duty—and the military, says Harding, added more security vehicles to the women's daily convoy.)

On an individual level, the attack provided a victory, too, but of the saddest kind. Jimenez—who would give anything to turn back time, to have the convoy leave two hours later or for Charette to have been sitting two inches from where she was—says her life has a richness she couldn't have appreciated before. "It's sad to say, but this brings things together. You realize the importance of love, support, friendship." Her relationship with Bringas and Cardile is deeper, her understanding of her husband's devotion more profound. "This broke me for sure," she says. "But I'm stronger for having been broken and coming back."

When Jimenez went to see her family in New Jersey, local reporters rushed to interview her. Many asked what she thought about women in combat. Jimenez considered the question almost an insult. "I put it in quick words," she says. "I told them, 'I'm a female, but I'm also a marine.'" And to her, that said it all.

May 21, 2006

Attack on Iraqi police station shatters calm in border town

First suicide attack in six months kills five police officers

By Andrew Tilghman, Stars and Stripes
Mideast edition, Sunday, May 21, 2006

HUSAYBAH, Iraq — A suicide bomber wearing a vest strapped with explosives attacked a newly established police station in this Syrian border town Saturday, killing five Iraqi police officers and shattering the relative calm the city has sustained for more than six months.


The Most Dangerous Place, On a harrowing trip inside Iraq's toughest city, TIME gets an up-close view of the U.S.'s daily battles against the insurgents. An eyewitness account reveals why the war remains as deadly as ever

It's another sweltering afternoon in the most dangerous place in Iraq, and the men of Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines, are looking to pick a fight. First Lieut. Grier Jones splits his 30-odd-man platoon into two squads and sets them loose on the streets of Ramadi. They run block to block, covering one another as they sprint across intersections. Insurgents bob their heads out of homes to catch a glimpse of the Marines--"turkey peeking," as the troops call it--a sign that they are preparing to attack."We come out here every day, and we get shot at," Jones tells an Iraqi woman who speaks American-accented English. "Where are the bad guys?" She falls silent. Outside, a blue sedan peels away. "Watch that car," a Marine yells, sensing a possible ambush.


Posted Sunday, May 21, 2006

His instincts are right. At the next intersection, the Marines duck into a house. Suddenly a machine gun lets rip, spewing bullets around them. "Where's it coming from?" a Marine yells. Immediately, shooting opens up from a second direction. Jones gets his men to the roof to repel the two-sided attack. "Rocket!" screams a grunt, unleashing an AT4 rocket at one of the insurgent positions. Men reel from the blast's concussion. The shooting from the east stops. But as Jones peers over a cement wall to locate the second ambush position, a 7.62-mm round whizzes by. "Whoa, that went right over my head," he says, smiling. As the Marines on the roof fire at the insurgents, Jones orders a squad to push toward the enemy position. Then the enemy weapons go quiet; the insurgents are apparently withdrawing to conserve their energy. Jones radios back to his commanders. "We saw the enemy do a banana peel back, then peel north." He chuckles. "This is every day in Ramadi."

There's no reason to believe that the Americans' battle against Iraqi insurgents is going to get better. With U.S. support for the war sinking, the Bush Administration is eager to show that sufficient progress is being made toward quelling the insurgency to justify a drawdown of the 133,000 troops in Iraq. The U.S. praised the naming of a new Iraqi Cabinet last week, even though it includes some widely mistrusted figures from the previous government. And even as commanders try to turn combat duties over to Iraqi forces and pull U.S. troops back from the front lines, parts of Iraq remain as deadly as ever. At least 18 U.S. troops died last week, raising the total killed since the invasion in March 2003 to 2,456.

Nowhere is the fighting more intense than in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province and for the moment the seething heart of the Sunni-led insurgency. The city remains a stronghold of insurgents loyal to Abu Mousab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, who U.S. intelligence believes is hiding in an area north of the city. In recent weeks, the soldiers and Marines in Ramadi have come under regular assault, forcing commanders last week to order reinforcements to the besieged city. In the past year, the Army's 2/28th Brigade Combat Team, the unit the Marines are attached to, has lost 79 men in Ramadi--yet the brigade's commander, Colonel John Gronski, says, "The level of violence remains about the same."

TIME spent a week with Kilo Company, the 120-person unit that goes head to head with the insurgents every day. The goal is to lure al-Qaeda into attacks, which Kilo Company has been doing successfully: in a single week, five men were wounded, three foot patrols were ambushed, and there were unrelenting attacks from small-arms fire and mortars. The experience of the Marines in Ramadi illuminates some of the shortcomings of the U.S. strategy for defeating the insurgency. The commander has only one brigade to secure the town, even though U.S. officers say privately that at least three are needed. Among the troops, frustration is growing: many officers say that the U.S. is too lenient in its dealings with the enemy, allowing too many captured insurgents to go free, and that soldiers can do little more than act as international police. Others claim that superiors are overlooking their reports about conditions on the ground. If the U.S. and its Iraqi allies are making progress in eroding the appeal of the resistance, the men in Ramadi don't see it. Says an American officer: "This s___ ain't going anywhere."

From the instant Kilo Company set foot in Ramadi, the Marines knew they were in the middle of an insurgent hotbed. Lance Corporal Jose (Syco) Tasayco was on the unit's earliest patrol outside the wire in March. "The first day was an eye opener. We got contact, that first patrol. It was like, wow, we couldn't believe it, but we got outta there good. Nobody got hit," he says. The Marines are based in the battle-scarred Government Center in the middle of Ramadi, a magnet for al-Qaeda attacks--one of the few ways the Marines can find their enemy. The precarious outpost also protects the nascent local government, which operates out of its confines.

Sitting sentry in the center of town, the Marines are a ripe target for insurgent assaults. On April 24, mortars begin crashing down on the compound, and the shuddering impacts force the grunts to take cover in their rooftop bunkers. From an alley in the northeast, an insurgent fires a rocket-propelled grenade that slams a wall along the narrow mouth of a sandbagged gun pit. Shards of hot metal penetrate the opening, hitting Corporal Jonathan Wilson. Blood pours down his neck. "Corpsman up, corpsman up," he cries--asking for a medic to head to the roof. He runs downstairs and collapses into the arms of a sergeant.

Meanwhile, shrapnel has shredded the left thumb of Lance Corporal Adam Sardinas. But he keeps his finger on the trigger of a grenade launcher, and it's not until another Marine arrives to relieve him that he finally turns for the slit doorway. "Let me get outta here," he says. "I'm hit pretty bad." But the battle goes on: below the Marines' outpost, al-Qaeda fighters toting AK-47s dart in and out of view. As blood from Sardinas and Wilson pools at his feet, Sergeant William Morrow grips the grenade launcher. A fellow Marine spots an insurgent in the open. "Waste his ass," Tasayco urges as they open fire on the enemy below.

Despite heavy losses among the insurgents--112 were killed in one week in April--they have proved resistant to the U.S.'s onslaughts. Intelligence officials increasingly refer to them as a "legitimate local resistance," but it's al-Qaeda that drives them. Long ago, al-Zarqawi's network settled in Ramadi and, in essence, hijacked the homegrown fight. Although Iraqi groups have bucked al-Zarqawi's authority periodically--most notably in last year's referendum and December election, when they opted to vote, forcing him to stand idly by--al-Qaeda maintains its grip.

U.S. efforts to woo Iraqi groups were beginning to pay dividends, as the city's tribal and insurgent leaders gave their approval for young Sunnis to join the new police force. Recruitment mostly ran at about 40 a month, though in January, 1,000 showed up to join. But al-Qaeda responded by sending a chest-vest suicide bomber into the queue of applicants, killing about 40 Iraqis, wounding 80, and killing two Americans. When the recruits returned days later, al-Zarqawi followed up with a wave of seven assassinations of tribal sheiks. "That hurt us a lot," says Gronski.

Given the ability of al-Zarqawi's men to melt into the city, Kilo Company has few options but to search for the insurgents on block-by-block foot patrols through the worst areas. It's perilous work. On one morning this month, Tasayco and Corporal Nathan Buck take their squad out to commandeer a small shopping complex, which will give cover for the rest of the platoon to push east. On the roof, Buck, his helmet emblazoned with the words DEATH DEALERS in thick letters, warns his Marines to stay alert. When Tasayco sees movement in a nearby window, Buck rises to check it out. An insurgent sniper fires at his head, cracking a round into the lip of the cement wall in front of him. "I should be dead right now," Buck says to Tasayco with a laugh.

It's not long before another round flies over their heads, this time from a little farther to the east. The sniper is moving, hunting them. Minutes pass with no more firing. But Tasayco is uneasy. The order comes over the radio to move back to base. "Be careful, we're gonna get hit," a Marine says as the men drop to the pavement. It's only 150 yards back to the Government Center, but every inch is hard won. Lance Corporal Phillip Tussey pauses on the edge of a small alley. With another Marine covering him, he makes a dash to cross the five yards of open ground. He doesn't get more than a couple of steps when a shot rings out. He's cut down mid-stride, hit in the thigh. The men around him open fire. Within seconds, insurgents start shooting from the opposite direction. A Marine tries to drag Tussey by a leg toward a humvee but gets stranded out in the open. Tasayco bolts forward and grabs the wounded man by the arm. Someone else joins him. Still firing, they shove him into the vehicle. Tasayco takes cover and looks for the shooter. "Where the hell is this guy at?" he hollers. No one answers. "C'mon, everybody, let's go. Pick it up. Get the f___ out of here, man," Tasayco shouts. All his men can do is run.

So why does Ramadi remain beyond the U.S.'s control? Part of the problem, many officers say, is that the troops' authority to act is constrained by politics. Soldiers cannot lock up suspected insurgents without first getting an arrest warrant and a sworn statement from two witnesses. And those who are convicted often receive jail sentences that are shorter than a grunt's tour of Iraq. "We keep seeing guys we arrested coming back out, and things get worse again," says an intelligence officer.

The bigger problem, though, is one that few in the military command want to hear: there aren't enough troops to do the job. "There's a realization, as every military commander knows, that you cannot be strong everywhere," says Gronski of Ramadi. "In the outlying areas, we think in terms of an economy of force where we are willing to accept risk by not placing as many troops." But while Gronski says his fighting strength is "appropriate," other commanders bristle at the limitations. "I can't believe it each time the Secretary of Defense talks about reducing force," says a senior U.S. officer. War planners in Iraq say just getting a handle on Ramadi demands three times as many soldiers as are there now. Several U.S. commanders say they won't ask superiors for more troops or plan large-scale operations because doing so would expose problems in the U.S.'s strategy that no one wants to acknowledge. "It's what I call the Big Lie," a high-ranking U.S. commander told TIME.

To be fair, gains are being made in Ramadi with the Iraqi army, the police and the young provincial government. A brigade intelligence officer says that "we are not getting excited because this is a long process--though we are winning. The tide is turning." But for those in the midst of the battle, that can sometimes be hard to see. "No matter what they say about the rest of the country, it ain't like this place," says a battalion officer in the thick of the fight. "It's the worst place in the world."

From the jungles of Japan to the streets of Fallujah, Marine unit keeps the supplies coming

CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq (May 21, 2006) -- Leaving behind the small island of Okinawa, Japan, a small group of Marines is now navigating the dangerous roads of western Iraq to keep a steady flow of supplies to troops on the frontlines.


Submitted by: 1st Marine Logistics Group
Story Identification #: 2006521651
Story by Cpl. Daniel J. Redding

As the Camp Pendleton, Calif.-based, Combat Logistics Battalion 5 prepared for their deployment to Iraq last year it was decided they needed more troops.

When a request for an additional motor transportation platoon was sent, a detachment from the 3rd Marine Logistics Group, headquartered in Okinawa, answered the call to help their counterparts in the treacherous Al Anbar Province.

They are now the 3rd Platoon of Combat Logistics Company 115, and are serving alongside their California comrades of CLB 5.

Their mission is somewhat comparable to civilian truck drivers stateside as they transport supplies throughout the Al Anbar Province. The difference for 3rd Platoon is the always present danger of attack as they brave the deadly roads while conducting daily supply runs to ground forces operating in and around Fallujah, .

Supporting these ground forces has been a constant and steady workload for the platoon.

Since arriving in late February, 3rd Platoon has conducted more than 40 convoys traveling over 2,000 miles. Essential supplies like 77,000 gallons of fuel, 76,000 gallons of water, and 200 high-volume containers full of water and gear have been pushed out to Marines in need. More than 500 Marines and Iraqi recruits have made it to where they needed to be thanks to 3rd Platoon's troop movement missions.

Nearly 400 concrete barriers used for protection at military buildings and outposts throughout the region have also been transported through the platoon's efforts.

Essentially borrowed by their new company, the Marines could have easily been separated and reassigned to other platoons within CLC 115, said Capt. Ronney Herrera, the platoon's commander. Instead, they were kept together and have remained a tight-knit group of Marines.

Herrera is grateful to still have this direct control over his Marines given the history they have as a unit and the familiarity the platoon has with him as their commanding officer, he said.

"No one knows your Marines better than you do," said Herrera, a 31-year-old native of Fort Worth, Texas.

The leadership already in place within the platoon along with the quality training the unit had conducted in Japan prior to deployment quickly convinced the company commander that his new Marines were a solid addition, said Capt. Scott A. Zelesnikar, CLC 115's commanding officer.

It was "a very easy decision" to leave the platoon intact, Zelesnikar said.

"You train together, you live together... you know each other," said the 33-year-old native of Rome, N.Y.

The bulk of the platoon's pre-deployment training in Japan took about six months, beginning with combat skills such as machine gun handling before focusing on the basics of convoy operations like pre-convoy briefings and effective communication between the vehicles during the operations.

The Marines then performed longer, more realistic convoys at Camp Fuji, located on Japan's mainland, where they familiarized themselves with properly organizing and controlling convoys.

There was also a lot of mental preparation by Herrera's Marines in anticipation for "the reality on the ground," he said. While performing the role of a truck driver in combat may not seem like a heavy burden to bear, the threat of the insurgency is real and continually evolving.

Sergeant Willie T. Carr, a convoy commander for 3rd Platoon, experienced this threat first hand when he escaped unscathed from a recent insurgent attack.

The assault came in the form of an improvised explosive device, a favored weapon among insurgents. These tools of the enemy are makeshift bombs often found partially or completely buried along the uncertain Iraqi roads.

A 25-year-old native of Dublin, Ga., the compassionate Carr has been given the moniker "Uncle Willie" by his fellow Marines, as he is often found lending a listening ear or giving a comforting word to whoever needs it.

Carr preaches the simple truth of not getting 'laxidazy' here. He reminds his Marines to continually sharpen the skills they have and to perfect their standard operating procedures.

"This isn't a game out here," said Carr quietly, as his Marines prepared to head out on another convoy, this time to provide food for Marines training Iraqi soldiers at a small camp on the outskirts of Fallujah.

Herrera has stressed to his Marines to view their deployment as a learning process, applying lessons learned from each and every convoy they conduct to the next trip outside the security of the camp.

"There is no halfway point (to a deployment)," Herrera explained. "You reach a peak at the end."

May 20, 2006

Marines survive large enemy attack, suicide bomber

AR RAMADI, Iraq (May 20, 2006) -- Lance Cpl. William A. Staley is lucky to be alive.


Submitted by: I Marine Expeditionary Force
Story Identification #: 2006522114136
Story by Cpl. Joseph DiGirolamo

“I was running from the chow hall to grab my flak jacket,” said Staley, a 24-year-old mortarman from Lockport, N.Y. “Then the explosion hit.”

Staley recalled the enormous blast that sent debris into his face and knocked him down a flight of stairs.

“After the explosion I got up and began running around making sure everyone was alright,” said Staley, a Marine with L Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment.

He was one of many Marines who survived a powerful explosion from a suicide vehicle that rocked the Veteran Affairs building here in late April.

On April 17, 3rd Platoon, Lima Company was operating at the Observation Post Veteran Affairs (OP VA) when the insurgents began a coordinated attack. It was midday when insurgents began firing machinegun and small arms weapons at the building’s rooftop.

Meanwhile, teams of insurgents fired multiple rocket propelled grenades that sailed directly towards the posts.

“The rocket propelled grenades knocked the Marines physically out of the posts,” said 2nd Lt. Andrew J. Sherman, a 25-year-old platoon commander from Mobile, Alabama, who was knocked down by an RPG blast. “While the machine gunners where getting back up and running back to the guns, a suicide vehicle born improvised explosive device breached the west gate,” he said.

Lance Cpl. Aaron C. Shaffer, a 20-year-old from Charleston, West Va., who was knocked from his post by an RPG blast, was able to see the truck from his rooftop vantage point moments before it detonated.

“I got back to my post and saw the truck and began firing on it,” said Shaffer. “I don’t remember much after that; all I remember is a handful of dirt slamming me in the face.”

The dump truck laden with explosives detonated inside the compound ripping the northwest corner of the building apart. Massive amount of debris flew everywhere as flames from the blast ignited the building’s camouflage netting surrounding the Marines.

“I thought the whole building was destroyed,” said Staley. “The concussion of the blast jolted and knocked (several of us down).”

Moments later, Marines dazed from the barrage of gunfire, began receiving mortar rounds that rained down, impacting on top of the building.

Marines began low crawling over ruble and under a spray of small arms fire to maneuver to secondary fighting positions, according to Sherman who was calling for back-up support.

They also called for a quick reaction force team. As the QRF sped towards the gunfight they encountered and destroyed four VBIEDS parked along the road.

Once Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class William T. Corso gained consciousness after the initial blast, he began hearing a call for help.

It was from Lance Cpl. Michael C. Sarbu who had a gunshot wound to the leg.

Trained in combat lifesaving techniques, Corso quickly ran up a ladder, exposing himself to enemy fire. He reached Sarbu and started treating his leg. He immediately called for medical evacuation and treated two other Marines.

Meanwhile, Lance Cpl. Timothy M. Leeper ran to a secondary post to man a heavy machinegun upon hearing sporadic gunfire. As he was about to reach the post, a car bomb detonated, throwing him back inside the building and burying his weapon under rubble. Refusing medical treatment, he ran to another part of the building to assist Marines that were engaged with enemy fighters. He was able to help the Marines by repairing their weapon systems and re-supplying them with ammunition.

Both Corso and Leeper were recommended for combat awards for their bravery during the complex attack. Several other Marines and Sailors were also put up for awards.

The attack lasted an hour and 45 minutes. The Marines’ tenacity was key in repelling the enemy assault.

When it was all said and done, every Marine inside OP VA survived the attack. A few Marines sustained minor injuries, but Sarbu was medically evacuated to a regional medical facility for treatment for his wounds. The Marines reported killing approximately 20 insurgents during the battle.

the next few days were spent refortifying the observation post to ensure it hadn’t been weakened by the attack.

“We worked 48 hours straight to reinforce the post,” said Staley. “It was a non-stop working party.”

Today, the war-torn building still stands and Marines continue to operate there providing security for the people of Ramadi.

Perry County Marine's story featured in Glamour magazine

BRANCHVILLE - A Marine from Perry County wounded in a suicide attack in Iraq last summer has been featured in a second major publication.

Then a corporal, Sally Saalman was returning from checkpoint duty in Falluja June 23, 2005 when a car bomb veered into the truck carrying her and other female Marines to nearby Camp Falluja.


Managing Editor

Saalman is now a sergeant serving in California.

The latest account of that attack appears in the June issue of Glamour magazine, and is available online at http://www.glamour.com/magazine/issue/articles/060501warwomen .

A Perry Central High School 2002 graduate, Saalman is described in the article as initially fearing for her life as she stumbled from the scene of the explosion that blew her from the truck. When called upon to provide leadership, however, she demanded a weapon and began returning gunfire coming from snipers intent on increasing the death toll.

Saalman's mother, Tammy, told The News her daughter was flown to San Antonio, Texas in January to reunite with her comrades-at-arms for the interview. Two of the female Marines wounded in the attack were still undergoing rehabilitation at an Army medical center there at the time.

Saalman, also treated there for burns she suffered in the attack, was more concerned about those who'd endured more-serious injuries than about herself, her mother said at the time.

There wasn't much noise on the truck carrying the Marines from the scene, Susan Dominus writes in the Glamour piece. “There was no crying and little talking. At one point Saalman, the same woman who'd been screaming bloody murder for a weapon just minutes earlier, broke the silence by singing ‘America the Beautiful,' then ‘Amazing Grace.' For some women it was a needed balm; for others it was excruciating, mere words that meant nothing in the face of what they'd just seen.”

The attack, called by Dominus “one of the worst disasters ever to hit U.S. women in uniform,” was recounted in a New York Times article in December.

`Eager, ready, proud' to serve West Michigan Marines prepare for urban fighting in Iraq

GRAND RAPIDS -- They figured this day would come.

But to about 150 West Michigan Marine Reserves, it is official: They are to be activated in early June, sent to California for training and then to Iraq.


Saturday, May 20, 2006
By Ted Roelofs
Gazette News Service

``They are eager. They are ready. They are proud,'' said Maj. Dan Whisnant, 39, company commander for the Grand Rapids-based Marine infantry group, Company A, 1st Battalion of the 24th Marines.

While acknowledging public support for the war has slipped, Whisnant said that has not dampened the resolve of his soldiers.

``We don't look at polls,'' he said. ``They want to make their families proud, but they also want to make their community proud, and they want to take the fight to the enemy.''

That includes soldiers such as Gunnery Sgt. Lee Kyle. The 38-year-old Barry County resident said he understands his duty and its effect on his family.

``As a husband and a father, I hate to leave my family again, but as a Marine it's where I need to be,'' Kyle said.

Kyle was activated in 2003 with the Lansing-based Company C of the 24th Marines, forcing him to say goodbye to his wife, Tami, 35, and their three children: Jessica, 13, Hanna, 10, and Olivia, 6. He spent seven months in Iraq.

Kyle, a mason in civilian life, said it was especially hard to miss the day-to-day changes in their children.

``There's a big part of their personal development that you are missing,'' he said.

Kyle said he is well aware of growing criticism for a war in which nearly 2,500 U.S. soldiers have died since it began in March 2003. A recent Newsweek poll found 59 percent think the war was a mistake.

``It's understandable for America to voice their own opinions of the war,'' Kyle said. ``But one thing they have not done is lose their support for us. The support for the American warrior is there whether or not they believe in the cause.''

Beyond that, Kyle said, returning soldiers paint a different picture of the war than is reported by the media.

``I don't base my opinion on what's in the paper or on TV. I base it on what I'm hearing from Marines coming back, and I'm hearing good things about what's going on over there.''

In February, the company was dispatched to Ohio for three days of training in urban combat. The exercises in downtown Toledo were tailored to mimic close combat conditions they may encounter in Iraq.

The company returned Wednesday from three weeks of similar training at Camp Pendleton in California and was dismissed to their civilian lives Thursday. Three years ago, the unit shipped out for security duty in Djibouti, Africa, returning after nine months in September 2003.

For 26-year-old Sgt. Josh deBruin, of Grand Rapids, preparing for Iraq means months away from his wife, Kathryn, 24, and his stepdaughter, Skye Lynn Dixon.

Despite ongoing reports of violence in Iraq, the tool-and-die apprentice said he is ``optimistic'' about the mission.

``Unfortunately war is a business where lives are lost. But I think it is a huge honor to take part in this.''

Company commander Whisnant said this collection of college students, police officers, blue- and white-collar workers -- whose average age is 22 -- is ready to do its job.

``Marines are always training to go to war,'' he said.

May 19, 2006

Flexible body armor fails Army testing

WASHINGTON -- The Army's struggle to find a new, more flexible body armor was dealt a setback Friday when a California company's high tech Dragon Skin vests failed to pass military testing, a senior defense official said.


By: LOLITA C. BALDOR - Associated Press

After three days of testing this week, the Army determined that the body armor does not meet military specifications, said the official, who declined to specify which tests the armor failed. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the results have not yet been released.

The Army paid about $170,000, to buy 30 sets of the armor for the testing.

Generally, during testing, various types of ammunition are fired at the vests, and the armor may also be subjected to extreme temperatures or environmental conditions. The tests were done by H.P. White, an independent ballistic testing lab in Street, Maryland.

The Army has expressed great interest in getting more flexible body armor. One of the key complaints about the armor used by troops on the battlefield is that it is too heavy and inflexible, and may lessen a soldier's speed and agility. The current armor includes heavy ceramic plates in the front, back and sides.

The Dragon Skin testing was initially delayed because of a dispute over testing conditions between the Army and Pinnacle Armor of Fresno, Calif., which makes the protective gear known as Dragon Skin.

Earlier this week, the Army announced it would conduct three days of testing, signaling the dispute's resolution.

A request for comment from Murray Neal, Pinnacle Armor's chief executive officer, was not immediately returned.

Neal, however, has previously contended that his armor is high quality and its "capabilities have been proven to be significant improvements over the current Army issue."

He said he has nine years of ballistic data, both classified and unclassified, that show the armor taking over 40 rounds of ammunition from an AK-47, then another 150 rounds from a submachine gun, all at close range without any failure.

Defense Department: http://www.defenselink.mil

Pinnacle Armor: http://www.pinnaclearmor.com/

Recon Marine Was On 2nd Tour

Marine Cpl. Stephen R. Bixler didn't mind serving a second tour in Iraq. He only wished that he could have been with fellow Marines in Ramadi, instead of Fallujah, because he thought he could help them weather the tough assignment.


By Leef Smith
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 19, 2006; Page B03

"He felt bad he couldn't be with his buddies who were pretty up to their necks in it," said his father, Richard. As it turned out, "he was up to his neck anyway."

Bixler, 20, of Suffield, Conn., was killed May 4 while on foot patrol in Anbar province. He was assigned to the 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force, based at Camp Lejeune, N.C.

Yesterday, Bixler's family and friends gathered at Arlington National Cemetery to say goodbye to a young man who they said was considering a career in the Marines and who had remained upbeat about his experiences in Iraq.

"He always talked about the good things they were doing," his father said. "He felt bad for the way people had to live there . . . and [the military] seemed to be helping them to a better life."

Minutes into yesterday's memorial service, sunny skies gave way to a downpour, drenching scores of mourners who arrived without umbrellas. They huddled close to stay dry and the rain eventually abated, just as a bugler played taps.

Among those attending Bixler's interment were more than a dozen members of the Patriot Guard Riders, a motorcycle group that attends funeral services for fallen service members to show respect and to shield grieving families from war protesters, should there be any.

At the end of the service, Bixler's parents were presented with a crisply folded American flag, which they cradled at graveside.

Bixler, a 2003 graduate of Suffield High School, spent much of his youth in the Boy Scouts and helped clean and renovate a town park to become an Eagle Scout. Several uniformed Scouts attended yesterday's service.

In an interview with the Hartford Courant, Suffield High Principal Thomas Jones described Bixler as "a quiet leader among his peers."

"There was a strength of character about him and a self-assurance that was unusual for someone his age," Jones said. "He was just a solid person all around."

Kim Ramos, who identified herself as Bixler's cousin in an online guest book for mourners, said his death has been hard on the family.

"You were doing what you loved to do," Ramos wrote. "We just wish it didn't take you from us. Please know that the family is pulling together," she said, noting that she would be getting a puppy and naming it in his honor.

"You always wanted a dog and now we can share 'Bixler' together," the posting read. "You're gone but not forgotten."

Marine Cpl. Kraig Andrews of Woodbridge also signed the guest book, asking Bixler to "watch over us."

"I haven't had a friend as good as you," Andrews wrote. "We have been through a lot together. Iraq and training for recon. You are a warrior and a hero. You are going to be greatly missed. Don't worry. Your family is going to be okay. I talked to your dad and he misses you."

Richard Bixler said he never stopped worrying about his son while he was in Iraq. But he said that Bixler's family was "very proud of him."

"He was just an all-around great kid," he said.

Dear Mr. Bush: You do not know me, however I felt compelled to write...

Dear Mr. Bush:

You do not know me, however I felt compelled to write to you and tell you about my son. You see, he was a 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment based in Hawaii, and he now lives in your neighborhood, Arlington National Cemetery, Section 60.


His name was Staff Sergeant Jason Carroll Ramseyer and he was 29 years old. He was killed on April 20, 2006 in the Al Anbar Province, Haditha, Iraq by an IED explosive device. He leaves behind a wife, Amanda and two little girls. Rylee Grace is 3 1/2 and Kadence just turned 2. He was my only child.

He joined the Marines in 1996 two weeks after graduating from high school. He served in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq. Jason was hand picked out of thousands of Marines for his skills and ability as a teacher, as well as a leader. He presently served as the platoon commander for the battalion's Forward Command Post, known as "Jump CP." He was in charge of security for Lt. Colonel Norman L. Cooling and was killed protecting Lt. Colonel Cooling, as well as his fellow Marines. His comrades called him a "Marines Marine."

We have not only lost an important person in our personal life, but our country has lost a valuable Marine. These men and women have willingly volunteered to serve our country. They are the leaders and some of our strongest and we are losing them EVERY day. There were 76 lives lost just in the month of April 2006.

I have received cards and letters from mothers who have lost their sons and daughters as well. One card was from a young man's mother who lost his life in Jason's unit during their Afghanistan deployment. It is time for our country's leaders to pay attention to the small details, the individual lives lost.

My son's new fascination was golf. We played when I visited him in Hawaii the end of February, prior to his deployment on March 11, 2006. In the last email I received from him he said that he had made a tee platform on the dam, found an old golf club, and would I send him some cheap golf balls so that he could practice and hit them off the dam into the water. He never got my response the following day. This Sunday, May 14th is Mother's Day. I will be at Lookout Dam on the Catawba River hitting golf balls into the water in honor of my son who will never again send me a Mother's Day card telling me how much he loved me.

My son's wishes were to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery because of his love for his country and his pride at being a United States Marine.

My request is a simple one. Please pay him a personal visit at Arlington. He respected you, loved his family, his country, God and the Marines.

As a mother, I need to know that my son receives the respect, honor and dignity he deserves in giving his life for his country. The Marines have already shown me that, now I would like to receive that gift from you.

I look forward to hearing from you.


Cynthia Hicks

Claremont EDITOR'S NOTE: Cynthia Hicks sent this letter to President Bush on May 10.

Recruits pummel away in pugil sticks training

Pvt. Joshua Dover, Platoon 1099, Company B, prepares for an upcoming bout, in which recruits wear football helmets and other protection.


May 19, 2006
By Lance Cpl. Dorian Gardner,
MCRD San Diego

MARINE CORPS RECRUIT DEPOT SAN DIEGO (May 19, 2006) -- With a helmet, some pads and a cushioned stick, recruits from B Company battled one another as they honed their skills to be named the victors of pugil sticks.

Every Marine in boot camp undergoes this exercise. During this event, which simulates fighting with an M-16A2 service rifle with fixed bayonets, recruits were shown proper techniques and execution with the weapon.

Though this combat simulation is a part of the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program, it serves a different purpose.

“It is a designed inoculation of violence,” said Sgt. Sergio Esquivel, martial arts instructor. “A lot of recruits have never been put in a situation where people try to attack them. This introduces them to a different spectrum of violence.”

Before the fight began, recruits were given safety gear to avoid injury. Their safety gear included a helmet with full face mask, groin protection and flak jacket with a neck roll. The stick they used was also padded around their hands to circumvent broken phalanges.

To ensure the recruits executed moves properly, a Martial Arts Instructor was present.

For the recruits to pass this intense training, they must demonstrate proficient skill in three stages, which takes place over the last three weeks of first phase.

During the first stage, B Company, drill instructors and Instructional Training Company instructors demonstrated fighting techniques and then had recruits practice it on a flat dirt surface near the depot’s war-fighting infiltration course, which is included in bayonet training. In the course, recruits low-crawl under barbed wire and through tunnels, jump walls and cross ropes in firing teams of four.

Once recruits showed instructors they knew what they were doing, they were given their first opportunity to fight.

“I liked it,” said Recruit Jeremy Jones, E Company. “The feel of fighting and having the other recruits screaming for you. Even if you are scared, the recruits around you make you want to win.”

The thought of defeating another recruit from a different platoon in a pugil stick bout intensified the combat, especially when the drill instructors watched and encouraged the fierce battles, according to Jones.

After the first fight, a third man was thrown into the mix. Between the three recruits, each took a turn defending against two recruits and then teaming up to attack one recruit.

The final stage of combat is fought in the Thunder Dome. Already fatigued from completing an infiltration course, recruits geared up and screamed down a path leading into a padded room. In this dome, recruits fought the final bout with drill instructors and company staff motivating them.

The purpose of this training went beyond bragging rights and platoon rivalry.

“It trains Marines to function when faced with stress and violence,” according to pugil Sticks training guide, MA–1.05. “It prepares Marines to deliver a blow and take a blow.”

Loud cheers and hard blows kept recruits fighting in the ring. Now experienced with their simulated rifle and bayonet, recruits are able to fight their enemies at a close range.

Comrades Gather to Mourn Fallen Marine

AR RAMADI, Iraq (May 19, 2006) -- Private First Class Jon M. Turner remembers blasting Led Zeppelin, joking, and knocking back a few cold ones with his buddy.


Submitted by: I Marine Expeditionary Force
Story Identification #: 20065233166
Story by Cpl. Joseph DiGirolamo

“He was always joking around and acting silly no matter what mood you were in,” said Turner, morning the loss of his friend James. “All you could do was shake your head and laugh, whether it was a Harry Carry impersonation or a wise crack remark about a working party, James could make a bad situation better.”

May 17, 2006, Marines from 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment gathered for a memorial service at the Morale, Welfare and Recreation center at Hurricane Point to pay their last respects to a fallen Marine. Lance Cpl. Richard Z. James, a 20-year-old machine gunner from Seaford, Delaware, died due to enemy action May 13 during a mission north of the Government Center in Ramadi, Iraq.

James was with 1st Platoon, Kilo Company.
James, a member of 1st Platoon, Kilo Company was remembered by his fellow Marines as a comrade that served his nation, battalion, company and platoon with utmost dignity and respect.

“No man, no being, nobody could ask for anything more of their comrade,” said Capt. Andrew M. Del Gaudio, the 30-year-old company commander from Bronx, N.Y.

Growing up in a small New England town, James always dreamed of becoming a U.S. Marine.

“The most important thing all of us need to remember is that, yes, he was in fact a Marine, he lived as a Marine, and that he died in the arms of men that loved him,” said Del Gaudio, fighting back his emotions. “I know he will continue to protect us from above as we continue our mission here.”

Battalion Commander, Lt. Col Stephen M. Neary, spoke about James’ commitment to joining the Corps.

“He joined because he believed in something greater them himself,” said Neary. “He believed in his country and the traditions of the Corps and that being a Marine is not just a job. It’s a calling and a way of life.”

During the somber memorial, Turner described James as an outstanding Marine and even better friend. He also recalled placing James in a helicopter for his final flight home.

“We all suffered a great loss and I was tasked with doing one of the most difficult things I ever had to do,” said Turner. “A part of me left when I put our friend on that bird that night.”

“James said if something should happen to him that we should kill some bad guys and then carry on,” added Turner, a 21-year-old infantryman from Tolland, Conn. “This is what we must do as we carry on with our mission… we now have an angel looking over our shoulders.”

During the memorial ceremony Cpl. Matthew E. Bucceri performed “Amazing Grace” on his bagpipes, stirring the emotions of everyone, while 1st Platoon, Company K recited Psalms 23. Marines, sailors, and soldiers who attended the service also paid their last respects with a final salute to the fallen Marine’s memorial helmet, dog tags and boots.

James joined the Marine Corps June 21, 2004, after graduating high school. He completed the School of Infantry and Machine Gunner school the same year. He reported to 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment where he deployed to Fallujah, Iraq in 2005. He was killed during his second deployment to Iraq.

His awards include the Purple Heart Medal, Combat Action Ribbon, National Defense Service Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and the Sea Service Deployment Ribbon.

He is survived by his mother, Carol L. James and father, Kenneth W. James.

Still suffering, but redeployed

Post-traumatic stress doesn't exempt soldiers from 2nd tour

David Beals, 26, a soldier stationed at Fort Stewart in Georgia, was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after his first tour in Iraq. He was sent back within a few months for the tour that ended this January. He expects to go back for a third time at the end of this year.


The Hartford Courant

Staff Sgt. Bryce Syverson, 27, of Richmond, Va., landed in the psychiatric unit at Walter Reed Medical Center after a breakdown that doctors traced to his 15-month tour in Iraq as a gunner on a Bradley tank. He was diagnosed with PTSD and depression, and was put on a suicide watch and antidepressants.

Today, Syverson is back in the combat zone, part of a quick-reaction force in Kuwait that could be summoned to Iraq at any time.

Jason Sedotal, a 21-year-old military policeman from Pierre Part, La., was diagnosed with PTSD in early 2005 after he returned from Iraq, where a Humvee he was driving rolled over a land mine. His sergeant, sitting beside him, lost both legs and an arm.

Last September, Sedotal was transferred from Fort Bragg, N.C., to Fort Polk in Louisiana, where he said doctors switched his medication from Prozac to Zoloft, and commanders deemed him ready to redeploy. He has been back in Iraq since October.

Sent back on meds|

Beals, Syverson and Sedotal are among a growing number of troops recycled into combat after being diagnosed with PTSD, depression or other combat-related disorders -- a new phenomenon that has their families worried and some mental-health experts alarmed. The practice, which a top military mental-health official concedes is driven partly by pressure to maintain troop levels, runs counter to accepted medical doctrine and research that shows re-exposure to trauma increases the risk of serious psychiatric problems.

''I'm concerned that people who are symptomatic are being sent back, which is potentially very bad for them. That has not happened before in our country,'' said Dr. Arthur S. Blank Jr., a Yale-trained psychiatrist who helped to get PTSD recognized as a diagnosis after the Vietnam War.

Although Department of Defense medical standards for enlistment into the armed forces disqualify those who have been diagnosed with PTSD, military officials acknowledge that they are not exempting service members who meet that criterion from going to war. Many of those who are being sent back with such symptoms, such as Syverson, are being redeployed on psychiatric medications known as SSRIs.

Col. Elspeth Ritchie, psychiatry consultant to the Army Surgeon General, acknowledged that the decision to redeploy soldiers with PTSD was ''something that we wrestle with,'' and partly driven by the military's need to retain troops because of recruiting shortfalls.

''Historically, we have not wanted to send soldiers or anybody with post-traumatic stress disorder back into what traumatized them,'' she said. ''The challenge for us... is that the Army has a mission to fight.''

Ritchie said the military looks at the ''impairment'' level of service members and their responses to medication before deciding whom to redeploy.

''If they're simply -- and I don't mean to minimize it -- but if they're simply having nightmares, for example, but they can do their job, then most likely they're going to deploy back with their unit,'' she said.

But whether the military can even gauge the impairment level of its veterans is in question. A newly released report by the Government Accountability Office found that nearly 4 in 5 troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan who were found to be at risk for PTSD, based on responses to a screening questionnaire, were never referred for further evaluation or treatment.

Service members' families and medical experts say the military should not be experimenting with young men and women who have been traumatized by combat.

''When somebody's put on medication and told they have PTSD, it doesn't occur to you they'd want to send them back,'' said Corrine Nieto, a Bakersfield, Calif., mother whose 24-year-old son, Chris, a Marine reservist, was redeployed to Iraq last summer after being diagnosed with PTSD. ''I don't know what they're doing to these kids. I wonder if they do.''

Sedotal said that when he asked a doctor at Fort Polk if his symptoms would ever go away, he was told, ''Sure -- when you get out of there.''

''I don't feel like myself. I can't sleep, I can't be around crowds, I'm just drinking a lot,'' he said during a mid-tour visit home earlier this month, days before heading back to Iraq.

Few statistics|

The military does not track the number of troops with PTSD or other combat-related disorders who have been redeployed after a diagnosis. Overall, more than 378,000 active-duty, reserve and National Guard troops have served more than one tour in Iraq or Afghanistan, including about 151,000 Army soldiers and 51,000 Marines, according to the Department of Defense's latest deployment statistics.

Recent studies indicate that at least 18 percent of returning Iraq veterans are at risk for PTSD, while 35 percent have sought mental-health care in their first year home.

The Hartford Courant's research shows that at least seven troops who are believed to have committed suicide in 2005 and 2006 were serving second or third deployments. According to their families, they had exhibited signs of psychological problems between deployments that went undetected by military officials.

''This is an unexplored area,'' said Cathleen Wiblemo, deputy director for health care for the American Legion. ''How are troops going to deal with second and third deployments? Is their reaction going to be more severe?

"I think the VA can look to seeing a lot more mental-health cases," she said. "They haven't gotten the full brunt of these multiple deployments yet."

Ritchie said many troops want to go back with their units for repeat tours, and keeping them home could leave them with ''a stigma'' of failure.

In some cases, the military has taken that point further, suggesting that a return to war could benefit traumatized troops.

But mental-health experts said that while some troops who suffer from combat stress are able to return to the front lines, there is no evidence to suggest that re-exposure to trauma is in any way therapeutic.

''Anybody who says it's a form of therapy to send people back into war,'' said Dr. Jonathan Shay, a Boston-based psychiatrist who counsels Vietnam veterans, ''I don't know what they're smoking.''

Iconic Marine Is at Home but Not at Ease

Blake Miller's weary gaze hinted at the psychological pain to come

JONANCY, Ky. — Growing up in Jonancy Bottom, where coal trucks grind their gears as they rumble down from the ragged green hills, Blake Miller always believed there were only two paths for him: the coal mines or the Marine Corps. He chose the Marines, enlisting right out of high school.


By David Zucchino
Times Staff Writer
May 19, 2006

The Marines sent him to Iraq, and then to Fallouja, where his life was forever altered. He survived a harrowing all-night firefight in November 2004, pinned down on a rooftop by insurgents firing from a nearby house. Filthy and exhausted, he had just lighted a Marlboro at dawn when an embedded photographer captured an image that transformed Blake into an icon of the Iraq war.

His detached expression in the photo seemed to signify different things to different people — valor, despair, hope, futility, fear, courage, disillusionment. For Blake, the photograph represents a pivotal moment in his life: an instant when he feared he would never see another sunrise, and when his psychological foundation began to fracture.

Blake, whose only brush with celebrity was as a star quarterback in high school, became known as the Marlboro Man, a label he detests. That same notoriety has carried over into his post-Iraq life, where he is an icon of sorts for another consequence of the war — post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

On Nov. 10, precisely one year after the photograph was flashed around the world, Lance Cpl. James Blake Miller was medically discharged from the Marine Corps, diagnosed with full-blown PTSD. Three years after leaving the Kentucky hills for a career in the Corps, he was back home. He feels adrift and tormented, dependent on his new bride, his family and his military psychiatrist to help him make sense of all that has befallen him.

He barely sleeps. On most mornings, Blake says, he has no good reason to get out of bed. Often, his stomach is so upset that he can't eat. He has nightmares and flashbacks. He admits that he's often grouchy and temperamental. He knows he drinks and smokes too much.

"He's not the same as before," said Blake's wife, Jessica, who has known him since grade school. "I'd never seen the anger, the irritability, the anxiety."

Blake says he feels guilty about taking money — $2,528 in monthly military disability checks — for doing nothing. Yet he's also frustrated that two careers made possible by his military training, police officer or U.S. marshal, are out of reach because law enforcement is reluctant to hire candidates with PTSD.

So he broods, feeling restless and out of options: "I'm only 21. I'm able-bodied as hell, yet I'm considered a liability. It's like I had all these doorways open to me, and suddenly they all closed on me. It's like my life is over."

At a local restaurant one night last month, Blake became enraged when he thought a man was staring at Jessica's rear end.

"I just wanted to grab his hair and smash his head against the table," he said later. "I was ready to kill him." But he restrained himself, he said.

Jessica's grandmother, Willa Fouts, whom Blake calls Mamaw, patted his arm outside the restaurant and told him: "You've had a few episodes like that, Blake, where you're just so quick to anger. You need to try to calm yourself."

Jessica, who graduates this spring from Pikeville College with a psychology degree, has persuaded her husband to undergo visualization techniques in which she helps him confront his demons.

"It's understandable that Blake has PTSD, after all he's been through," she said. "Ordinary people can't comprehend what it's like to be constantly shot at and have to kill other human beings. They need to know what it means to send people like Blake out to fight wars. You're going to have a lot of people breaking."

Five other members of his platoon of about three dozen have been diagnosed with PTSD, Blake said. A dozen men from his unit were killed in action. A Journal of the American Medical Assn. study published in March found that more than a third of troops who served in Iraq sought help for mental health problems within a year of returning home.

Sitting in the couple's spacious apartment above a furniture store outside Pikeville, Jessica squeezed Blake's hand and told him: "You've gone through so much, baby, that you just broke."


Blake was staring at the sunrise. He was on a rooftop in Fallouja, sucking on a Marlboro and wondering whether he would live to see Jessica and his father and brothers again.

Luis Sinco, a Times photographer, was crouched next to the corporal, taking cover behind a rooftop wall. There was a break in the all-night firefight after an Abrams tank, radioed in by Blake, destroyed a house filled with insurgents.

Sinco pressed the shutter.

He did not consider the image particularly special. It was the last shot he filed that day.

The photo appeared Nov. 10, 2004, and was distributed worldwide by the Associated Press. More than 100 newspapers published it. TV and cable networks aired feature stories about the Marine's lost, distant look. Some noted the trickle of blood on his nose — caused not by enemy fire, but by Blake's rifle sight when it bumped his face.

Blake was unaware that Sinco had photographed him. Two days later, he recalled, his gunnery sergeant told him: "Miller, your ugly mug is on the front page of all the newspapers back home, Marlboro Man."

The impact of the photo didn't fully register until a three-star general showed up in Fallouja. Blake said the general suggested moving him out of combat for fear that morale would plummet if anything happened to the Marines' new media star, but he refused to leave. Later, President Bush sent him a letter and a cigar.

When Jessica saw the photo on the front page of the local paper, she had not heard from Blake in a week.

"I was glad to know he was alive, but I couldn't stop crying," she said. "The scared look on his face, his eyes — it tore me up."

In early January 2005, as Blake's unit prepared to leave Iraq, what Marines call a "wizard" — a psychiatrist — gave a required "warrior transitioning" talk about PTSD and adjusting to home life. Blake didn't think much about it until he returned to Jonancy in late January and his nightmares began.

He dreamed about the 40 enemy corpses that he counted after the tank demolished the house, he said, and that he had been shot.

"He'd jump out of bed and fall to the floor," Jessica said. "I'd have to hold him to get him to wake up, and then he'd hug me for the longest time."

Sometimes, Blake mutters Arabic phrases he learned in Iraq or grimaces in his sleep, and Jessica will keep whispering his name until he wakes up. Some nights, he doesn't sleep at all.

"I tend to drink a lot just to be able to sleep," Blake said. "Nothing else puts me to sleep."

He decided last summer to see a military psychiatrist at Camp Lejeune, N.C., where he was based. In August, he was diagnosed with PTSD. But before he could be put on "non-deployable status," his unit was sent to New Orleans to assist with Hurricane Katrina recovery.

While aboard a ship off the Louisiana coast, Blake was taking a cigarette break when a petty officer made a whistling sound like an incoming rocket-propelled grenade. Blake says he remembers nothing about the incident, but was later told that he slammed the officer against a bulkhead and attacked him.

By November, Blake was forced to take a medical disability discharge. "They said they couldn't take the risk of me being a danger to myself and others," he said.

He fears that he may have another blackout. "It's terrifying that at any moment I could lose control and not know what I'm doing," he said. "What if next time it's Jessica?"

This February, while smoking a cigarette and staring out Jessica's dorm room window, Blake said, he thought he saw a dead Iraqi man on the grass. Later, he had visions of an Iraqi father and son fishing — a scene he'd witnessed in Iraq just before a grenade exploded nearby.

"I can't tell anymore what really happened and what I dreamed," he said. "Sometimes I feel like I'm dying."

Blake visits a Veterans Administration psychiatrist in nearby West Virginia and speaks with him by phone several times a week. He said his psychiatrist told him that his PTSD has to be managed; his disability will be reevaluated in March 2007.

Meanwhile, he has slowly turned against the war. "We've done some humanitarian aid," Blake said, "but what good have we actually done, and what has America gained except a lot of deaths? It burns me up."

Jessica, who sports an "I Love My Marine" sticker on her car, says she and Blake are behind the troops though they no longer support the war.

The war seems far away in Pike County, a rural region where the median annual household income is $24,000, far below the $42,000 national average, and where people still brew moonshine and grow marijuana.

The Hatfields and McCoys fought their notorious feuds here.

Jonancy, just outside Pikeville and about 115 miles east of Lexington, was named after Blake's great-great-grandparents, Joe and Nancy Miller. Blake grew up in a hollow called Jonancy Bottom, in a one-story house next to a creek, where the carcasses of old cars and motorcycles litter the rear yard. His father, James, a mechanic who sells the parts, keeps a faded yellow ribbon on the front door, not to be removed until the last U.S. troops leave Iraq.

Blake is restless and talkative, a boyish young man who speaks with a Kentucky twang. He will discuss Iraq only with Jessica, said Jessica's grandfather, Hursel Fouts, known as Papaw.

"I don't think he should keep it bottled up, but I don't try to force him to talk about what happened over there," Fouts said. His brother-in-law, Hargis Fleming, a Vietnam veteran, opened up to Blake about his wartime experiences after refusing to discuss them with anyone for more than 30 years, Fouts said. Blake seemed buoyed by the encounter.

Blake's military service is literally written on his body; his unit's motto, "Angels of Death," is tattooed on his right forearm. He had a life-sized cigarette tattooed on his left forearm last year.

For Hillbilly Days, an annual street festival late last month in Pikeville (pop. 6,304), Blake shaved his scruffy beard and got a military "high and tight" haircut. He agreed to help at a Marine Corps recruiting booth at the festival. Just putting on his Marine fatigue pants and boots for the first time since his discharge brought back more memories, and he tried to tamp them down.

He was so worried that the Marlboro Man photo would dominate the recruiting booth that he begged the recruiters not to display it. He also persuaded them to remove a large version of the photo that had hung in the recruiting station in downtown Pikeville.

"I can't stand to look at it anymore," he said. Even so, he says the photo has provided him a platform to try to educate others about PTSD.

At the festival, Blake's mood brightened as he chatted with the recruiters. Wearing a Marine T-shirt with the message "Pain Is Weakness Leaving the Body," he was cheerful and animated. He playfully harangued young men, challenging them to a pull-up contest.

Though he has turned against the war, he said, he often wishes that he was back in the Corps and with his buddies. He still recommends the Corps to potential recruits, but advises them that it's a job, not a way of life. He recommends noncombat positions.

"In order to do your job in combat, you have to lock up your emotions," he said. "Basically, you're turning people into killers."

The three-day festival passed pleasantly. Blake worked the booth a few hours a day, then took long strolls with Jessica. He smoked heavily — he says he smoked up to six packs a day in Iraq and is down to a pack a day — and in the evenings they shared cold Coronas with limes, an unimaginable luxury in Iraq.

They discussed their visualization sessions, particularly one in which Blake panicked after he visualized a hooded cloak hiding the teufelhund — the devil dog — a Marine Corps emblem.

"I want you to do it again, but I don't think you trust me enough," Jessica told him.

"I'd trust you with my life, baby," he said, "but I'm just not quite ready."

They talked of their upcoming June wedding. They were married by a magistrate in June 2005, but want a formal ceremony. Blake plans to wear his Marine dress blues.

They passed a sound stage, where Blake's former high school rock band was performing.

The lead singer, Kevin Prater, spotted Blake and introduced him to the crowd.

"He's one of the greatest people in the country," Prater said, inviting Blake to perform. "He sacrificed for freedom for all of us."

Blake climbed on the stage and grabbed a guitar. He and the band launched into a Merle Haggard song.

With a Marine Corps cap perched on his freshly shaved head and a Marlboro between his lips, he seemed pleased and nearly at peace, at least for one night.

Copyright © 2006, The Los Angeles Times

May 18, 2006

2nd TSB deactivates, tears off red patches

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (May 18, 2006) -- A ceremony was held here May 18, to officially recognize the deactivation of 2nd Transportation Battalion.


Submitted by: 2nd Marine Logistics Group
Story Identification #: 2006519752
Story by Lance Cpl. Joel Abshier

“The purpose of the deactivation was to redirect 2nd TSB’s assets to all the other battalions within (2nd) MLG,” said Col. Robert W. DeStafney, commanding officer of 2nd TSB. “In the end our objective is to build better battalions to be more effective for deployment.”

When Marines deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, each battalion within 2nd MLG had to pull Marines and Sailors from 2nd TSB and redirect them. The battalion is merely cutting that corner with the deactivation.

“Before the reorganization of 2nd MLG, it was as if each battalion was a one-trick pony,” DeStafney explained.

The deactivation is more than shuffling the cards of the command. To coincide with the reorganization of 2nd MLG, 2nd TSB Marines will be dispersed to other battalions within the command to more effectively support current and future warfighting requirements.

The new organization will improve unit cohesion, enhance deploy ability, increase lethality and enable a more rapid transition to combat operations, according to DeStafney.

“It is going to be hard to go show up work the next day without having the red patch on my cammies,” DeStafney said with a grin. “But I think this is a great idea as long as we are able to carry it to the finish lines.”

“The question every Marine should be asking themselves is,” DeStafney continued, “when the dust settles, how can we improve? I encourage commanders to not hesitate. Don’t let the dust settle. Take advantage of what has been given to us.”

May 16, 2006

Soldier's Mom Views Son's Last Hours in HBO's 'Baghdad ER'

War Documentary Chronicles Iraq Heroism in Painful Detail

ARLINGTON, Va., May 16, 2006 — - Paula Zwillinger knew something awful had happened when she saw two military officers waiting in her driveway as she came home from work on June 6, 2005. The officers told her that her son had been hit by a roadside bomb in Fallujah and had died 17 hours later.



"They listed time of incident, time of death, injury suffered from an explosion from an IED," Zwillinger recalls. "I didn't know how he passed, I didn't know if there was anybody with him."

Zwillinger would know nothing about her son's final hours until months later, when HBO called to tell her about an upcoming documentary called "Baghdad ER."

It turns out that HBO was there in the Army hospital in Baghdad when Zwillinger's son, 21-year-old Lance Cpl. Robert Mininger, was rushed in for treatment. Its cameras were rolling as the medics struggled to keep him alive.

Millions of Americans, she was told, would soon see the documentary "Baghdad ER," which includes an emotional finale in which her son dies on the operating table. The documentary airs Sunday night on HBO.

Its portrayal of wartime medicine is so painfully realistic that the Pentagon has warned soldiers and Marines who have served in Iraq, and their families, that it may trigger flashbacks, nightmares and other symptoms of post-traumatic stress.

HBO invited Zwillinger to screen the movie early, and to see the complete unedited footage of her son's final hours.

"I can only tell you I wanted to touch him, I wanted to reach out and touch him because you're really right there," Zwillinger told ABC News.

Painful as it is to watch, she calls the movie a blessing.

"To see him alive, moving, was wonderful," she says. "Having to come to terms with losing him and watching is something else, but literally it allowed me to be there with him in his final moments."

There have been some complaints that "Baghdad ER" is too graphic, too negative, but Zwillinger sees it differently.

"This is war, this is war, this is what people need to see," she says. "If they don't believe this is raw image, then they are not in reality.

"What does the public really see right now? The public sees a blurb on the second page of a newspaper, we're not even front page newspaper anymore. It's a little blurb saying 'two soldiers have lost their lives over in Baghdad' -- that's it. … You don't get the graphic reality of what war is about until you see the film. That's war, it's graphic, it's raw, it's authentic, it's real."

Oldest Amphib Serves as Base for Iraq’s Future

PERSIAN GULF (NNS) -- USS Ogden (LPD 5), the Navy’s oldest active amphibious ship, is currently serving as the Afloat Forward Staging Base (AFSB) for the multinational maritime coalition operating in the North Persian Gulf.


Story Number: NNS060516-07
Release Date: 5/16/2006 12:43:00 PM
By Journalist 2nd Class Zack Baddorf, Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command/Commander, U.S. 5th Fleet Public Affairs

As the AFSB for Commander, Task Group (CTG) 158.1, the 41-year-old amphibious transport dock is providing logistical support for the various forces that are protecting Iraq’s territorial waters and oil platforms, as well as serving as a training platform for Iraqi sailors and marines.

“The crew is having a wonderful time,” said Cmdr. James Hruska, Ogden’s commanding officer. “Everyone understands the importance of keeping these waters safe and the global trade moving through this area.”

On the bridge, Ogden Sailors work and stand watches alongside Iraqi naval officers. The officers are serving as a liaison for planning and communicating with Iraq’s five Predator-class patrol boats that come alongside Ogden for fuel, food, and crew training.

With about two weeks on station, the Ogden watchstanders say the training and experience have been working out well.

“There’s a little bit of a learning curve,” said Lt. Micah Brewer, “but they seem to be well integrated, and they are really eager and willing to learn the procedures to defend the oil platforms. This is their territory and their economy. Their livelihood is in the oil platforms, and they want to be a part of the protection there.”

When the Iraqis are not standing watches, they are training. Ogden’s Damage Control Training Team (DCTT) coordinator said that the Ogden crew is one of the finest he has ever served with and a great example for the Iraqis aboard.

“We’re providing a good service for the Iraqis, and this will help get them back on their feet,” said Chief Damage Controlman (SW) James Strickell. “We’re showing them how the U.S. Navy trains and operates; we're giving them something to base their Navy off of.”

Ogden’s crew members say they are very happy to play an active role in the shaping of the Iraqi navy, as well as participate in the multinational coalition that is protecting the cornerstone of Iraq’s economy.

“That’s what we’re here for,” said Damage Controlman 1st Class (SW) Gary Wise. “It’s good for our guys on their first Western Pacific [deployment]. They’ll look back and be able to say, ‘I actually helped protect that. I actually helped Iraq get the money they need for their future.’”

Commissioned in 1965, Ogden will decommission in early 2007. While on her final deployment, Ogden and other Navy and coalition ships will continue to help the Iraqis protect the region.

Ogden, as a part of Expeditionary Strike Group 3, is deployed in support of maritime security operations (MSO) in the North Persian Gulf. MSO help set the conditions for security and stability in the maritime environment, as well as complement the counter-terrorism and security efforts of regional nations.

Sergeant still looking out for his Marines

Gunny Bowman is still looking out for his Marines.

Saturday he was doing it with a cell phone rather than a rifle and at the Zanesfield Rod and Gun Club rather than in Iraq.



Saturday he was doing it with a cell phone rather than a rifle and at the Zanesfield Rod and Gun Club rather than in Iraq.

But his concern for them during their adjustment to civilian life is the same as it was last May 8 in Ubaydi, Iraq, when the Marine officially known as Gunnery Sgt. Larry R. Bowman was pulling Lance Cpl. Beau Links to a safer position during an operation to clear houses in a neighborhood of unfriendlies.

A grenade went off less than five meters away, hot peppering Bowman’s right side with shrapnel and rocketing a chunk of metal into his left calf.

The member of Ohio’s Lima Company remembers the time, 11:45 a.m., because “we had just put a tourniquet on one of my Marines,” he said.

Although Bowman bled profusely, it wasn’t until a corporal was giving him buddy aid at a casualty collection point that the severity of his wound became apparent.

Said Bowman, “I remember I asked for a cigarette, and then I passed out.”

The main artery supplying blood to his lower leg had been shredded.

Bowman said he’d likely have bled out had not the swelling in the leg cut off the blood flow.

At Al Asad, then Baghdad, then Landstuhl, Germany, and eventually at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., Bowman got the treatment needed: a fasciotomy to open up the leg and allow the tissue to expand so it could survive, then the needed additional surgeries and follow up care.

There was pain to endure, of course, and the difficulties of the injury.

But the worst day was the day he learned that Staff Sgt. Anthony Goodwin had been killed the same day Bowman was injured.

Goodwin was among the first of 23 unit members killed during Lima Company’s service from January to October of last year. An additional 34 were wounded.

“He was a platoon sergeant like myself,” Bowman said. When killed, Goodwin also part of the same operation, Operatoin Matador, which is remembered on the license plates of Bowman’s silver-gray Mustang.

Although Goodwin had joined Lima Company when it was in Iraq, Bowman said, “he was quickly becoming my best friend.”

Like Bowman, who is 36, Goodwin was older than most of the younger Marines.

And the fact that the two older guys would sing “Air Supply” songs in unison not only made the two of them laugh and bond, “it gave the junior Marines a kick,” Bowman said.

The news of Goodwin’s death was difficult enough for Bowman.

Reading it in the pages of “Stars and Stripes” took the air out of him.

“It’s a lot harder than having a friend tell you.”

Although Gunny Bowman qualified to leave the Marines on medical disability, he both pushed for and exercised his option to remain on active duty.

On military leave from the Ohio State Highway Patrol, Bowman said he’s not had enough of the Marines.

He has a sense of serving his country in a noble cause and of protecting the freedoms even of those who take their freedom for granted.

He supports President George Bush as a man “who stands by his principles” and understands what it takes to defend a nation.

And he says those who haven’t looked into the eyes of Iraqis who have thanked him for protecting them and their families “have no right to tell me” the work is not worthy.

“A man in the right place at the right time can save lives,” Bowman said, “and that’s the whole reason I’m in the Marine Corps.”

Cleared recently after a final appointment at Bethesda, Bowman returned again to his office at Rickenbacker Air Force Base, Columbus.

In addition to strengthening his leg and learning to live with nerve and tendon damage, he’s working with Corpsman 1st Class George Wentworth on the Wounded Warrior Program.

The program can involve anything from arranging financial support and recommending counselors to helping an injured Marine get his lawn mowed, Bowman said.

The lion’s share, however, is “just to be there as somebody to listen to Marines who have been through the same experiences. A lot of this you don’t want to talk about with family members or spouses.”

With most of the unit back in the reserve routine of weekend gatherings and annual training, Saturday’s outing at the Zanesfield Rod and Gun Club was planned as a pleasure event — and an opportunity to gather the first anniversary of the unit’s first deaths, Goodwin’s included.

(Springfielder Mike Ross is the rod and gun club’s president this year, and locals on the statewide membership roster include Tom Loftis, Hal Goodrich and Dick Kuss.)

Although the rain hampered attendance on Saturday, another opportunity to gather is not far off.

At 9 p.m. May 25, A&E; will air a two-hour documentary about Lima Company and its service in Iraq, much of the combat footage shot by unit members on their hand-held cameras.

Two days before the national airing, unit members will preview it in Columbus.

Gunny Bowman will be there, of course.

He’ll be watching the show — and looking out for his Marines.

Post-traumatic stress disorder difficult to diagnose

WATERLOO --- Warriors returning from conflict frequently face another struggle, one friends and family may not understand. Or willingly accept.


Courier Regional Editor

Wounds from bullets and bombs may be visible. Scars left by images, smells, sounds and intense fear may go unrecognized.

"Post-traumatic stress disorder is one of those invisible things," says counselor Martin Edwards of Cedar Falls. "That makes it all the more confounding and difficult to treat."

As the name implies, the primary factor required for diagnosis is trauma. Something bad must happen. And concern for the preservation of life rises as never before.

People frequently report symptoms following:

--- A natural disaster.

--- An accident or attack --- either as a witness or participant --- that produces injuries or fatalities.

--- Rape or physical or sexual abuse either as an adult or child.

--- Being threatened with a weapon.

--- Combat.

Diagnosis also requires what is described as "intrusive recollections." For some, that might mean flashbacks, nightmares or hallucinations.

"The disorder apparently is more severe and longer lasting when the stress is of human design," according to the Veterans Affairs' Web site.

Military meaning

Warfare offers much to shred a person's psyche.

Shrapnel tearing through bodies. The task of collecting limbs and organs in body bags. A sickening odor of burning hair or flesh. Explosions that rock the earth. Grim realities that shatter illusions of safety. Pervasive fear. Surreal horrors unimagined but experienced. Death in abundance on a personal scale.

"We can't train people well enough to deal with that kind of stuff," Edwards says.

"... How do you train somebody for their buddy being vaporized next to them?"

Edwards answers his own question.

"You don't."

He maintains post-traumatic stress disorder represents an ordinary mental response to extraordinary events.

"It's a normal reaction to a (screwed) up situation," he says.

Everyone encounters difficult situations in life ranging from speeding tickets to divorce to the untimely death of a spouse. The National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, an agency created in 1989 within the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, explains the difference between reactions to those types of mental discomforts and something more severe:

"Although most individuals have the ability to cope with ordinary stress, their adaptive capacities are likely overwhelmed when confronted by a traumatic stressor."

People with the disorder likely exhibit some of these symptoms or related problems:

--- Drug and alcohol abuse.

--- Uncontrolled and excessive anger.

--- Panic attacks.

--- Emotional and behavioral avoidance, meaning attempts to not think about or deal with events related to the trauma.

--- Chronic pain.

--- Depression.

--- Nightmares that reflect the traumatic event.

--- Poor physical health.

--- Hypervigilance --- a need to always be alert for dangers.

--- Difficulty sleeping.

--- Self-mutilation or injury.

--- Suicide.


Adult women are twice as likely to experience problems as men. Slightly more than 10 percent of women will report symptoms, according to the National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

The diagnosis occurs more frequently when the root cause is combat related. The center estimates 30 percent of soldiers who serve under such conditions will develop post-traumatic stress disorder. As many as 25 percent more will have "partial PTSD at some point in their lives."

During a monthlong battle in Okinawa in 1945, combat stress disabled as many as one Marine for every two wounded in action, according to the U.S. Marines Field Manual 6-22.5.

The publication is designed "to inform small-unit leaders of stress characteristics and management techniques in order to prevent, reduce, identify and treat combat stress reactions in the service member's own unit to the maximum extent possible."

The manual goes on to state "combat stress reactions, also called battle fatigue, ... has the potential to disable the most courageous service member and influence the success or failure of a unit in accomplishing its mission."

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, in September 2004 slightly more than 217,000 veterans were being compensated because of disability related to post-traumatic stress disorder. The figure includes about 161,000 veterans of Vietnam and more than 13,500 who served in the Persian Gulf War.

The war on terrorism from 2001 to November 2005 produced more than 433,000 living veterans. More than 185,300 soldiers deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. As a result, the U.S. Department of Defense recorded 1,674 combat-related deaths and an additional 563 deaths in the theater of operations.

Congress ordered research in 1983 called the National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study. Doctors, counselors and others discovered 30 percent of men and 26 percent of women who fought in Vietnam developed post-traumatic stress disorder.

In October, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reported 119,247 veterans of service in Afghanistan and Iraq are receiving health care from the Veterans Administration. Of those:

--- About 46,000 report musculoskeletal problems.

--- About 37,000 have mental disorders.

--- About 16,000 are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

A study in 2004 on soldiers who served in Iraq estimated 18 percent demonstrated effects of the disorder. The rate in Afghanistan was 11 percent.

Other information suggests additional time spent in combat described as "intense" increases the risk of post-traumatic stress disorder. Conflict in Iraq fits that description.

The study found:

--- 94 percent of soldiers in Iraq said they have been under fire from small arms.

--- 86 percent said someone they know was seriously injured or killed.

--- 68 percent have seen a dead or injured American.

--- 51 percent have touched human remains.

--- 77 percent have shot at enemy combatants.

--- 48 percent said they killed an enemy.

--- 28 percent said they were responsible for a bystander's death.

"If they had a traumatic injury, there's a real good chance they will have PTSD," Edwards says.

The researchers noted the rate of those affected by the disorder may rise or fall depending on additional factors. Early problems immediately following service in Iraq or Afghanistan tell only part of the story.

If soldiers get support after combat experiences, if they feel their missions were worthwhile, if they serve in combat only once, the number of veterans reporting symptoms will likely decrease.

If those positive influences are lacking, if stresses from other parts of their lives build, more veterans may have problems.

Lives are riding on a swift response

Iraq helicopter unit answers the call for those in dire need

Al-Taqaddum, Iraq -- Just after 9 on a Saturday morning, an old-fashioned brass bell rings and everyone starts running.


Charles Crain, Chronicle Foreign Service
Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Pilots bolt from behind their desks; Navy corpsmen pour out of a plywood shack onto the tarmac. The bell alerts the members of HMM-268, a casualty evacuation unit, that someone -- usually an American, but it could be a civilian or an Iraqi soldier -- must be flown immediately to a hospital in Balad or Baghdad.

The bell rings only when the price of delay is someone's life, limbs or eyes.

On this day, it rings frequently, a constant reminder of the dangers U.S. troops in Iraq face, and of the never-ending task confronting the Marine squadron, nicknamed the Red Dragons, charged with getting help for the seriously hurt as quickly as possible.

"We keep them alive until we can get them to more definitive care," said Aldrin Augustus, a 22-year-old corpsman from Bridgeport, Conn.

That means keeping the injured alive and stable and getting them to a better-equipped hospital within an hour at the outside.

At 10:20 a.m., the squadron picks up a Marine who sustained head and shoulder injuries in a roadside bombing and takes him to the military hospital at Balad. While one helicopter is in the air, another leaves for Ramadi to pick up a man who was shot in the foot.

Another roadside bomb attack sends a helicopter to Fallujah just before 4 p.m. to pick up a man with head and eye injuries. The patient is brought onto the helicopter with white gauze wrapped thickly around his head, covering both eyes. He's awake, and Augustus leans close to the patient's ear to talk with him.

Often he's asking questions that will help him treat the injured man and make sure he is comfortable. But he also talks just to keep the patient from drifting away.

"You talk to him, you keep him awake, you keep him alive," Augustus said.

The squadron's base at al-Taqaddum is midway between Fallujah and Ramadi, cities notorious for ferocious insurgent violence. The Marines have run to their helicopters more than 100 times since arriving in Iraq in February.

"Now your body's used to it," said 1st Lt. Joshua Bringhurst, 27, of Houston, a pilot who is also the unit's morale officer. "Focusing on one thing -- and then dropping it all and running like a maniac."

Less than five minutes after the bell rings, the helicopter's blades are spinning. Two pilots, two Navy corpsmen who serve as the squadron's medics and two crew chiefs are on board, talking over the roar of the rotors and engines through radios wired into their helmets.

Fewer than 10 minutes after the bell, members of the unit are on their way to a combat outpost on the edge of Ramadi.

This is Capt. Patrick Marvil's third tour in Iraq. Dashing to the copter and flying out to pick up the wounded has become part of his routine.

"I still get a little bit of a rush, but I've done it a lot," said Marvil, 28, of McLean, Va. "So it's definitely not as much as it was in the beginning. That charge of adrenaline, we keep it in check."

The squadron's Sea Knight helicopters are called "phrogs," big, gray, inelegant craft, more akin to double-rotor submarines than sleek flying machines.

Many medical helicopters in Iraq are emblazoned with red crosses on white squares and fly without weapons, relying for protection on international treaties that forbid firing on ambulances and medical aircraft. But on a Red Dragon helicopter, two crew chiefs, one on either side of the aircraft, scan the ground and keep .50-caliber machine guns at the ready, safety catches off.

"You're always ready," said Cpl. Dennis Lenart, 20, of San Bernardino. "But those areas (like Ramadi) are more intense."

The helicopter flies low and fast over the desert, past small one-story buildings and dusty palm groves, and into the outskirts of Ramadi. Flying over a wall, it settles into a dirt courtyard ringed with military vehicles, old tires and earth-filled security barriers.

Marines carry one injured soldier to the copter on a litter. He's young, with a dark, close-cropped military haircut. The pilots and medics talk over the radio; the patient has taken an entire bottle of Excedrin in an apparent suicide attempt. It's an unusual case, but the medics have to be ready for anything.

"People get all sorts of weird ailments," Marvil said, noting that "more often than not, it's a combat-related injury."

The corpsmen transfer the would-be suicide onto a litter and secure it to the curved wall with straps and hooks. An IV tube in the patient's arm snakes up to a clear plastic bag hung from the roof.

Within minutes of landing, the unit is in the air again. The patient is dropped off at al-Taqaddum's hospital.

Usually, the injuries are more graphic, and there can be multiple casualties. For the most part, the unit's members have grown used to it.

"I'm pretty much comfortable seeing the blood, the guts," Augustus said. "The first time I saw that, I stood there for a little bit, and then I got to work. I processed it, and then I got to work doing what I'm supposed to do."

Yet even experienced corpsmen will see wounds that give them pause.

"That's when you need to take a step back and realize, 'It's not my emergency,' " said Andrew Peterson, a 23-year-old corpsman from Denver. "It's my job to help them through their emergency."

The most difficult times come when the crew arrives to find that there is nothing they can do.

"We'll pick up casualties who have died, and that's pretty emotional for the whole crew," said Lt. Col. Pat Gramuglia, 43, a Cleveland native who commands the Red Dragons. "The crew is very quiet, very respectful. I tell you, those are the worst flights."

But flying an average of two casualty evacuation missions a day, Gramuglia and the Red Dragons can't afford to dwell on the tragic undercurrent of their work. When a patient leaves the copter, the crew hopes for the best.

"We're all optimists in this business," Gramuglia said. "We all think he's going to go home and get back to his family and friends."

May 15, 2006

Army Issues Warning About Iraq Documentary

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Army is warning soldiers and their families that a new film about an Iraq war medical unit may trigger mental health problems for some who view it.


Associated Press Writer
Mon May 15, 7:00 PM ET

Army brass have sent a cautionary warning to military medical personnel about the soon-to-be-aired HBO documentary "Baghdad ER," which gives a graphic view of the Iraq war through the eyes of trauma doctors and nurses, even filming during an amputation.

Despite many disturbing scenes, filmmaker Jon Alpert said the film had actually been toned down.

"Some of the real raw scenes were just a little bit too brutal. My first two days there, I witnessed four amputations," said Alpert.

A private screening was held in Washington on Monday, and the film will air on HBO on Sunday.

Around the United States, it will be shown at 22 U.S. military installations, but military medical officers are concerned that it may spark adverse reactions among those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

The Army Surgeon General, Lt. Gen. Kevin Kiley, sent out a memo last week warning the film may prompt flashbacks or nightmares among some veterans.

"It's gritty, it's graphic at times, and those who have a loved one deployed or may have lost a loved one might find certain scenes to be such that it might be something they would want to be careful about in viewing," said Army spokesman Paul Boyce.

Boyce said the memo was designed as a sort of "viewer discretion" warning within the ranks, "particularly for those viewers for whom this may strike very close to home."

"We want to make certain that people know what to expect," he said.

The film records two months at the 86th Combat Support Hospital in Iraq, where medical teams treat those injured by improvised explosive devices.

Filmmakers Alpert and Matthew O'Neill were given access to the hospital, and the result, Alpert said, "is a very patriotic film."

"It shows the true consequences of war. Americans haven't had the chance to be able to see some of the consequences. It shows the heroism of the soldiers, and you can't understand the heroism of the doctors and soldiers unless you see the horror that they face every day," said Alpert.

The filmmaker said he has since spoken to many of those featured in the movie who told him they are proud to have been a part of it.

Army: HBO documentary could trigger stress disorder

The Army surgeon general is warning that the HBO documentary "Baghdad ER" is so graphic that military personnel watching it could experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.


By Barbara Starr
Monday, May 15, 2006

In a memo dated May 9 and obtained by CNN, Lt. Gen. Kevin Kiley said the film "shows the ravages and anguish of war."

"Those who view this documentary may experience many emotions," he said in the memo. "If they have been stationed in Iraq, they may re-experience some symptoms of post-traumatic stress, such as flashbacks or nightmares."

HBO is releasing the documentary on the operation of the 86th Combat Support Hospital in Ibn Sina, Iraq.

The film will premiere Monday at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History in Washington as well as on 22 Army posts.

It airs Sunday on HBO -- a division of Time Warner, the parent company of CNN -- and will replay on Memorial Day.

Kiley, who has watched the film with senior Army officials, said it is "an extremely graphic and moving look at how we care for severely wounded service members."

"This film will have a strong impact on viewers and may cause anxiety for some soldiers and family members."

He noted that "some may have strong reactions to the medical procedures such as the amputation of a limb."

Kiley said military medical treatment facilities should be ready to help troops and family members affected by the film. He suggested that mental health facilities should extend their treatment hours and reach out to the troops proactively.

Army officials said they fully support the film and note the Army gave the filmmakers access to the hospital. But privately they said it is so graphic that senior leaders do not want to turn Monday's premiere in Washington into a social occasion so many will not be attending, preferring to let the limelight fall on the military personnel.

After screening the film, officials said they are aware that some may use it to make an anti-war message.

May 14, 2006

Fox 2/7 masters MOUT

Patrolling through a desolate, dusty range far from civilization while wearing full gear in the sweltering desert heat, Marines of Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, practiced their urban warfare skills over a two-day exercise to prepare them for their next deployment to Iraq.


Cpl. Brian A. Tuthill
Combat Correspondent

The 140 Marines from three of the company's platoons departed Mainside Monday morning for an hour-and-a-half ride to the isolated Range 210 urban training facility, which lies more than 25 miles northwest of Mainside, where they trained at both squad and fire team levels.

The 26-building sprawl provided Fox Company the perfect classroom for military operations in urban terrain, or MOUT, training.

Rotating through four different training evolutions throughout the first day, Marines learned and brushed up on their fundamental skills of movement outside of buildings, entering and room clearing, inside movement through buildings and entry techniques.

The urban skills training was very important training for Fox Company, because of a recent influx of new Marines to the battalion straight from the School of Infantry, said Cpl. Corey L. Kerr, a squad leader with 1st Platoon, who helped instruct and guide his Marines through the courses and exercises.

“We covered essentially all aspects of MOUT here, and I was there after the initial classes to help the Marines through it,” said the 20-year-old Chicago native who must help train his Marines before they deploy next year. “The Marines learned only the basics in SOI, and we build from that but we have little tricks here and there. We brush them up the way we want them to do it so when it comes game day and we go to Iraq, there is no question.

“One of the challenges we face is getting the Marines all on the same page,” said Kerr. “Some of this is new material for them and this is the first time they have been in this type of environment, so we're trying to get the basics down well. With repetition comes confidence, and we want them more confident in this type of environment.”

Instruction for the Marines came from numerous sources within the company; from their platoon commanders, platoon sergeants, squad leaders, fire team leaders and fellow Marines, said Capt. George Hasseltine, Fox Company commander.

“Sometimes you will have a team leader taking his fire team through a building as they learn or he's taking one Marine through at a time to familiarize them with the room,” he said.

“Overall, this exercise is actually going very well,” said Hasseltine. “You are starting to see the teams building and becoming more cohesive units. The experienced Marines take the new Marines under their wing and really mentoring them. So not only are the instructors teaching, but the Marines are teaching each other.”

As the sun set over the desert, Marines took time to eat, clean weapons and prepare for a set of nighttime exercises around the range. When darkness had set, Marines were issued night vision goggles and marched back into the town. Although the moon was bright enough to cast a shadow on the ground, the inside of buildings was pitch black, forcing teams to take advantage of their gear.

The night evolutions echoed those that had taken place earlier and included basic wearing and familiarization with night optics, clearing and moving inside rooms and searching buildings. Unlike the daytime exercises, Marines were briefed by their squad or fire team leader outside, who guided individuals through buildings.

“We're really learning a lot from the Marines who have experience with what works and what doesn't work,” said Pfc. Zachary Kozisek, a squad automatic weapon gunner with 1st Squad, 1st Platoon. “The training we received [at SOI] really only gave us the basics, and these are things we need to know for Iraq.”

Kozisek, a 19-year-old Minocqua, Wis., native, said he understands the emphasis put on MOUT training because many missions in Iraq are conducted within the confines of cities. The communication and feedback available from veteran Marines in the company is invaluable, he said.

As day two began, Marines headed back onto the range for exercises similar to those conducted the previous day, but were at a faster pace and required the Marines to critique and correct themselves while instructors and leaders watched.

One major topic new to the schedule was the practicing of long security halts, which could potentially vary in length from a couple of minutes to multiple days, said instructors.

Marines were shown how to sweep the area during a foot patrol, how to set up hasty defenses, how to protect themselves inside of buildings and how to get into a “battle rhythm” when they are on long-duration operations in Iraq.

Although this training evolution was only the start for the company, Fox Marines are scheduled to conduct follow-on exercises in coming weeks and culminate with a final MOUT exercise May 23, pitting squad against squad at Range 215 using the Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System, said Hasseltine.

Combat Center hosts Corps' senior leaders

The Commandant of the Marine Corps and most of the Corps' senior generals met here this week to discuss issues we will face in the future and see Marine units conduct Mojave Viper training.


Capt. Chad Walton
Public affairs officer

The Executive Off-Site takes place quarterly and allows the Corps' senior leadership to exchange information and receive guidance for the future.

“All the three- and four-star star generals come unless they are off fighting a war,” said Col. Jim Welsh, director, Marine Corps Staff. “The Commandant is able to receive feedback from the general officers here and then give his intent for the road ahead.”

The schedule included updates on the Corps' involvement in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, briefs from Marine Forces commanders, demonstrations of emerging technologies and observation of Marines training at Range 215. At Range 215 the general officers were able to see some of the key Mojave Viper training as Marines performed simulated cordon and knock searches, IED training and convoy operations.

Directors and other leaders from the Combat Center were able to meet and talk with the attendees of the EOS Monday night at the Officers' Club. During that time, General Michael W. Hagee, Commandant of the Marine Corps, addressed the assembled guests and thanked the Combat Center personnel for all their hard work in support of the Marines.

The Commandant went on to say the Mojave Viper training offered here is the world's best at providing deploying units with a realistic environment to train for combat and stability and security operations. The training cadre here receive real-time feedback from Iraq or Afghanistan and immediately incorporate it into the current evolution, said Hagee. What you do here is not static, but will continue to evolve as needed, he said.

“These off-sites allow the senior leadership to discuss the serious issues that will face our Corps in the months ahead,” said Welsh near the conclusion of the meetings. “All the executive officers should leave here with the same goal in mind.”

3/4 Weapons Company prepares for any mission

“I'm up, he sees me, I'm down,” screamed a group of Marines as they stormed the desolate dry lake bed near the physical fitness track. While a commonly used phrase for infantry units practicing squad rushes, it is one not often heard from a group of 81mm mortar men.


Sgt. Robert L. Fisher III
Combat Correspondent

Marines from 81mm Mortar Platoon, Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, conducted convoy training in the dry lake bed May 3.

The convoy training - while not a normal mission for Weapons Company - comes from a revised training schedule to prepare the Marines for a myriad of possible mission scenarios on their next deployment.

“I adapted their training to deal with what we'd possibly have to do in Iraq,” said 1st Lt. Rosendo Garza, platoon commander, 3/4, Weapons, and Chicago native. “This is not outside their realm of training, it's just different than their MOS.”

Sgt. Jesse Doze, acting platoon sergeant, told the squad leaders what he wanted accomplished each day for training and it became the squad leaders' job to ensure their Marines were properly trained.

“We're speeding them up on how a convoy works, and vehicle patrols in Iraq, how they work, and maneuvers such as assaulting through an element or turning around in a uniform fashion,” said squad leader Cpl. Derek Greer a Houston native.

Doze expressed his confidence in his Marines' abilities and their willingness to train for whatever mission they may have to do.

“We may have a chance to become a CAAT [combined anti-armor team] and do convoy ops,” said Doze, a Topeka, Kansas, native.

A CAAT is a mobile assault team consisting of humvees mounted with 50-caliber machine guns and tube launched optically tracked wire guided missiles.

“They're basically the ones annihilating everything,” he said. “If we have to, we'll dismount and start doing rushes on the enemy. Everybody knows how to do it already, but we need to make sure they're focused on where their weapon is, you know, the basics of SOI [School of Infantry].”

The Marines of Weapons Company all had their own thoughts on the training, but the overall feeling among the Marines was motivation and enthusiasm throughout the day.

“I enjoy getting out, getting the blood going, breathing hard,” said Lance Cpl. Matthew Biesman, mortar man and St. Louis native. “I just wish we could pop off some rounds every now and then.”

From those who've been there before, the training will prepare the entire platoon, new blood and old blood, for whatever mission they get handed while deployed.

“It's good stuff as long as training is relevant to what we do over there,” said Lance Cpl. Jeremiah Neusbaum, mortar man. “We're a mortar platoon, but we really don't do that over there. It's more like ECP [entry control point] or convoy or foot patrols. It's kind of good that we're starting to get more in depth with what we actually do over there, so it will become second nature.

“There are only two things we need to be focused on, what our job is going to be over there, perfect on that, and have everybody, not just one or two from the unit, but have everybody know the basic language of the country,” said Neusbaum, a Coldwater, Mich., native. “Everyone should know their basic greetings, and commands like stop, step back, don't run, slow down, things like that.”

With the face of the war on terrorism changing daily, a Marine's duties must change in accordance to each new threat. As such, training must also include the same concept of change if a Marine is to be fully prepared before their feet hit the dirt in a combat zone.

“That's the nature of the beast in this war,” said Garza. “You never know, but the burden becomes making sure they're proficient at their MOS and proficient at everything other than their MOS, like convoys, patrolling, dismounting, and fire and movement.”

Regardless of the difficulties in training for an unknown mission, Garza expressed his faith in his noncommissioned officers and junior Marines to handle the training and prepare for any upcoming mission.

“These guys have to learn everything and still be extremely good at their MOS, which they are - they rocked division schools,” he said. “They did a great job out their. I have some amazing corporals.”

3/11 Marines honor 63 years of service, carry on legacy

The colors of 3rd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, were rededicated May 4 on the Combat Center parade field in honor of their 63rd year of service.


Lance Cpl. Michael S. Cifuentes
Combat Correspondent

Sixteen streamers, representing the 16 awards the battalion has received since their activation May 1, 1943, were attached to the pike of the battalion color.

The battalion was activated in Victoria, Australia, as the 5th Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment. During World War II, the battalion participated in the Eastern New Guinea, New Britain, Peleliu and Okinawa campaigns. The battalion was redesignated 3/11 on May 7, 1944.

In December 1946, the battalion was attached to the 7th Marine Regiment. The battalion was relocated to Camp Pendleton, Calif., in January 1947 and was assigned on the 3rd Marine Brigade. The battalion was then deactivated September 30, 1947.

Three years later, the battalion was reactivated in August, 1950, and participated in the Korean War. Since their reactivation, the battalion has participated in the Cuban Missile Crisis at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and the war in Vietnam.

In February, 1990, the battalion was relocated to its current home at the Combat Center. Since then, the battalion has participated in Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm in 1990 and 1994's Operation Restore Hope in Somalia.

In 2003, the battalion deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The battalion's timely and accurate fires proved to be crucial in allowing I Marine Expeditionary Force to quickly move deep into Iraqi territory and topple Saddam Hussein's regime in 21 days of major combat operations. Following the fall of Baghdad, the battalion took the mission of Provisional Infantry Battalion and began assisting in civil and military duties, as well as conducting security and stability operation patrols in the capital city.

In November 2003, the battalions again received orders to deploy to Iraq, but this time as a provisional military police battalion. The battalion quickly transitioned into its new job and deployed from February to September 2004. The battalion's motto of "Semper Flexibilis," always flexible, held true with the battalion participating in missions ranging from convoy escorts, combat patrols, humanitarian assistance, security force training, and controlling a battle space of over 40,000 square kilometers.

Currently the 3/11 mission is to provide direct support to the 7th Marine Regiment in times of conflict. That support may come in the form from everything from the traditional fashion of artillery support to maneuver forces, or by providing batteries to serve as provisional rifle companies. They also have the secondary mission of being the primary providers of Civil Military Operations, which is the activities of the commander that establish, maintain, influence, or exploit relations between military organizations, government and civilian organizations and the civilian populace.

Lt. Col. Douglas H. Fairfield, 3/11's commanding officer, expressed his wishes to continue the fine legacy the battalion has created over the past 63 years.

"Today's rededication is important," addressed Fairfield to the guests and service members. "Through the rededication, we commemorate the battalion's history, success in battle, and we show thanks to the heroes who came before us and stand with us today. I thank you all for your continuing support.

"Our battalion has certainly been blessed throughout the years," he continued. "The streamers we put on our colors today represent the combined efforts of the Marines and Sailors who have served here through blood, sweat, tears and heroic actions. Some Marines did not come home, and we stand proud here today to have served with them."

"Today is also a day to reaffirm our basic beliefs and Corps values of honor, courage and commitment," added Fairfield. "I'm proud to say that the Marines and Sailors standing before you are readyŠ ready for any mission. We will continue to uphold this legacy."

Retired Marines who served in the battalion joined the rededication ceremony and some even participated. Retired Lt. Col. William C. Vielhauer, former executive officer and commanding officer of the 11th Marine Regiment, placed the Korean Service Streamer with one Silver and four Bronze Stars on the battalion colors.

"It's a pleasure to take part in this ceremony," said Vielhauer, who enlisted in the Corps in 1945 and was commissioned in 1951. "It charges up my batteries and brings me back to the good feel of the Corps. This is a very impressive ceremony. The history is all wrapped with streamers and colors, and these new Marines are now a part of that history."

One of the battalion's newest members, Pvt. Kevin D. Prein with Mike Battery, was pleased to be a part of the battalion's legacy, he said.

"I was very impressed to see how many awards the battalion has earned," said the artilleryman. "The ceremony was a great learning experience for me. I feel honored to be a part of this battalion. It's great to see some of the retired Marines pin on some streamers that they've earned when they were serving with 3/11. It keeps the tradition alive. I feel really motivated to be experiencing this legacy.”

Mess hall named after fallen warrior

Building 1460, commonly known as the 7th Marines mess hall, was renamed Phelps Hall during a ceremony in front of the facility May 4.


Lance Cpl. Michael S. Cifuentes
Combat Correspondent

The renaming was in honor of Lance Cpl. Chance R. Phelps, an artilleryman with 3rd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, who was killed in action by a gunshot wound April 9, 2004, during combat operations west of Baghdad, Iraq, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

During the deployment, Phelps performed duties as an M240G medium machine gunner for 2nd Platoon, Lima Battery, 3/11. He was riding in the turret of a humvee during a convoy operation. His detail from 2nd Platoon was tasked with providing convoy escort to the assistant division commander. That evening, the convoy was hit with an improvised explosive device, which detonated approximately 100 meters in front of the convoy and caused the lead vehicle to slow down. The convoy was then immediately engaged with a high volume of accurate machine gun and rocket propelled grenade fire from three positions roughly 200 meters away behind covered areas.

The lead vehicle was caught in the kill zone and all three occupants of the vehicle were almost immediately wounded. As Phelps' driver moved his vehicle to a position of advantage, Phelps immediately began to suppress the enemy in order to relieve pressure from the Marines in that vehicle.

Exposing himself to a high volume of enemy fire, Phelps continued to fire his weapon effectively, as the enemy shifted their position. His fires were crucial to relieving pressure from his comrades so they could better engage the enemy, and convoy leaders could call for a quick reaction force and close air support.

As the initial engagement ensued, the Marines in Phelps' vehicle were preparing to dismount in order to better support the Marines in need of assistance. Phelps's was mortally wounded just as they dismounted.

For his bravery and heroism during the heat of the battle, that saved his fellow Marines' lives and cost him his own, Phelps was awarded the Bronze Star with Combat “V” posthumously.

Phelps, who was operating at the rank of private first class during the deployment, was also posthumously promoted to lance corporal.

Joining and participating in the mess hall dedication was Phelps' family. His mother, father and sister unveiled the bronze memorial, which was mounted on a large stone, and the mess hall's new sign, “Phelps Hall.”

Many came to honor the life of Phelps during the mess hall dedication, which included some of Phelps' fellow platoon members and Brig. Gen. John F. Kelly, who was the assistant division commander at the time of the convoy escort.

“I look at this day as a privilege to honor a fallen lance corporal,” said Kelly. “It was a tragic situation. Combat: if you haven't been there, you can't understand what it's like. I never saw a single Marine hesitate that day. Lance Cpl. Phelps stood his ground until he went down. His valor was the most amazing sight to see, especially when another Marine took his place.

After returning back to their base, Phelps' unit stood proud and tall to serve in the same dreadful area alongside Phelps, said Kelly. His fellow platoon members spent a few quiet moments and told stories of him.

To the Marines and others who knew him best, Phelps was a very popular person. His sister, Kelley Orndoff, said he was a star athlete in high school. He made people smile and loved attention.

More so, he was always motivated, said Sgt. James G. Cooper, Phelps' vehicle commander during the convoy operation.

“He was the classic, tough and funny guy,” said Cooper. “He always had a crowd around him wherever he went. He was always in a good mood and always trying to motivate everyone around him.

“Everyone liked him,” he continued. “It was hard not to smile when he was telling one of his stories. It hit everyone pretty hard when he was killed. I was shocked. But we stuck together and kept his memory alive whenever we went back into operations and fought hard.

“I think it's great that the chow hall is named after Phelps,” said Cooper. “It's a great honor. I hope that everyone stays motivated around here and thinks of him, his parents, and their call of duty when they eat chow here. I only wish Phelps was here to eat chow with me again.”

As the life of Chance Phelps ended that tragic afternoon on the battlefield, his story continued. His life has affected many people, including Lt. Col. Michael R. Strobl, a volunteer escort of Phelps' remains back to his hometown in Dubois, Wyo. Strobl wrote an account of his experience delivering Phelps to his hometown where he was buried. His journey lasted several days where he grew a close connection to the spirit of Phelps and to the love of Phelps' family.

“Chance Phelps was wearing his Saint Christopher medal when he was killed on Good Friday. Eight days later, I handed the medallion to his mother. I didn't know Chance before he died. Today, I miss him,” read the opening paragraph of his story.

Strobl also joined the ceremony by speaking to the guests and service members.

“Today I am filled with prideŠ pride in taking Chance Phelps home, pride in the Marine Corps and pride in our nation,” said Strobl.

Chance was a man who watched the cowardly attacks of 9/11 and stood up and said, “I'm going to do something about this,” said Strobl.

“I hope you take some comfort that great warriors will come to Phelps Hall to continue the legacy,” added Stroble.

Aside from a motivated Marine filled with camaraderie, Phelps was also strong member of his family, said his mother, Gretchen Mack.

“Chance lived life more in his 19 years than I think any of us in his family did,” she said. “Our healing process is us telling stories about his comedy, his personality and his relationships with girls. He also used to imitate California's governor, Arnold, really well. When people had a bad time, he would take that moment and turn it into a ‘Chance moment.'”

“Dedicating the mess hall to Chance is a good way to honor any service member and their families. Honoring him today represents honoring a lost Marines, Soldiers or Sailors in general. He represents all the lost lives and all the families who have lost a loved one.”

Phelps' father, John, had similar feelings.

“Dedicating the chow hall to a fallen Marine is a great opportunity to show patriotism,” said John. “This is like a footnote, or afterthought, of the war. And this fits the person he is and his style. It's very honorable how he died. He wouldn't have wanted it any other way.”

To have the mess hall named in memory and dedication of Phelps was pushed by battalion leaders and their predecessors. Many did not know Phelps personally, but most knew his story, said Lt. Col. Douglas H. Fairfield, commanding officer of 3/11.

“We invested an interest in our own,” said Fairfield. “After reading Lt. Col. Strobl's story, I had the opportunity to meet [Phelps]' mother at our Marine Corps Ball. I was very impressed with how genuine his family is and how supportive they are of the battalion. After hearing that the base wanted to rename the mess hall, Phelps' name immediately came to mind. With the help of many Marines and the commanding general of the base, we were able to dedicate the mess hall to Chance.

“This does not just represent 3/11, but it represents every Marine,” continued Fairfield. “There are several thousands who went through the same situation Phelps did, from private to lance corporal. He represents their stories. Personally, I am inspired for what he did, and others are too.

“I know there's a Chance Phelps in every one of us,” said Fairfield. “I understand his confidence he had in Iraq, and we all share that same understanding. Chance is not a hero because he died, but because he lived. He chose to make a commitment in which our nation honors. I am pleased to dedicate this mess hall in his name.”

Body armor keeps Marine in the fight

GHARMAH, Iraq (May 14, 2006) -- When an optional piece of gear became mandatory, complaints were lodged, but when the gear did its job - saving a Marine’s life - a few opinions were changed.


Submitted by: 1st Marine Division
Story Identification #: 200651755243
Story by Cpl. Graham Paulsgrove

Lance Cpl. Robert F. Dean, a light armored vehicle crewman with D Company, 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, owes his life to the small arms protective insert he had strapped to the side of his body armor when he was shot by an insurgent sniper May 14 near the city of Gharmah.

“I thought someone had thrown a rock at me,” said Dean, from Spring, Texas.

Dean soon realized it was not a rock, but a bullet fired by an insurgent from roughly 500 meters away.

“We had an area cordoned off and the scouts were out searching the area,” recalled Cpl. Dustin R. Nelson, Dean’s vehicle commander. “I reached down to give him some water. As he popped out of his hatch to take it from me, I heard a crack.”

The Marines immediately responded to the insurgent attack.

“The bullet would have hit his femoral bone, and possibly gone through and hit his femoral artery,” said HN Chad T. Kenyon, 20, the corpsmen who treated Dean after the incident. “If that happened, he could have bled to death within a few minutes. It would have been a sticky situation, but the plates did their job and stopped the bullet.”

“The round hit the very bottom of the plate, shattering some of the ceramic, but the fiber paper [backing the plate] caught the round like a baseball mitt,” added Nelson, from Grand Junction, Colo.

Marines here are equipped with the interceptor body armor system, which consists of an outer tactical vest made of Kevlar and the small arms protective insert plates. The OTV and associated neck, throat and groin protectors are designed to offer protection from fragmentation weapons.

The ceramic SAPI plates are designed to defeat multiple hits from assault rifles common on the current battlefield. Recently, the side SAPI plates have been added to the armor system.

When the side SAPI plates were originally issued to the company, Marines with jobs that kept them inside their eight-wheeled vehicles- the drivers, gunners and vehicle commanders - could choose whether or not to wear the plates. But, once the unit started operating around Fallujah under Regiment Combat Team 5, wearing the side plates was no longer a choice, it was a requirement.

“They make it harder to get in and out of the vehicle, but without them, I would probably be in bad shape,” said Dean, 20, about his side SAPI plates. “It was a good thing that they made all of us wear them.”

When the gear became mandatory for the Marines, some complained, but have since rescinded there objections after seeing the plates in action.

Thanks to the side SAPI plates, a life was perhaps saved and serious injury was definitely prevented.

“Now, our interpreter wants side SAPI’s, before he was complaining that his flak was too heavy,” Nelson said.

The Marine Corps has made several advancements in providing enhanced personal body armor for Marines and sailors deployed to Iraq. The level of protection of individual body armor has increased as advancements in the armor technology has improved and in response to the threats in the area.

Advancements include enhanced SAPI plates, which offer greater protection against small caliber weapons, the side SAPI plates, which increase protection on the flanks of the torso, and a new lightweight Kevlar helmet, which offers the same ballistic protection as the previous version but is easier to wear for long periods of time.

Nothing Heals Like Mom's Love

CBS News correspondent Michelle Miller reports that for two weeks, this has been her morning routine — ever since the phone call that every mother of a U.S. service member fighting in Iraq fears.


BETHESDA, Md., May 14, 2006
(CBS) At 7:30 every morning, Bongchea Kozak heads to her son Chaim's hospital room.

"The told us that our son was involved in an IED explosion and that he was wounded," Kozak says.

She left behind eight younger children in Michigan to nurse her eldest back to health. Chaim suffered serious injuries including a collapsed lung and shrapnel wounds.

She's just doing, she says, what any mother would do.

"Children always need their moms," Kozak says. "And moms always need to know that their children need them no matter how old they are."

On April 13, Kathleen Rinaldo's son, Dylan Desorcy, was injured with 19 others in a mortar attack in Karmah, Iraq.

"When he opened his eyes, I just wanted him to see me," Rinaldo says.

Two marines were killed. One was a friend.

"It's pretty tough," says Desorcy. "But that's the way it goes."

Rinaldo has been here for almost three weeks, leaving her two younger daughters with their grandmother in upstate New York.

Military hospitals now encourage family involvement believing it makes the patients heal faster — both physically and emotionally.

"I don't really know how to explain," Desorcy says. "It just means a lot."

Here on the surgical unit, the mothers take strength from each other, and never forget how lucky they are.

Each day is a gift, every step a milestone. And always, Bongchea Kozak is reminded that her son Chaim's name means "life."

May 13, 2006

Grief Compels Marine's Dad to Support War

FAIRFIELD, Ohio - A soft-spoken suburban real-estate broker, John Prazynski didn't consider himself political and never expected to become a public figure, much less a pro-war activist. But in the year since his son Taylor, a Marine, died in Iraq, Prazynski has devoted much of his time to supporting the troops through fundraisers, two trips to Camp Lejeune, N.C., and interviews backing the war effort.


By TERRY KINNEY, Associated Press Writer
Sat May 13, 8:08 AM ET

"I could easily have gone the other way," Prazynski said. He says his activism is a tribute to his son, trying to "make something positive happen out of something so negative. That's what Taylor would want us to do."

Marine Lance Cpl. Taylor Prazynski, 20, died May 9, 2005, of shrapnel wounds from a mortar shell that exploded near him during combat in Anbar Province. In his last phone calls, the fun-loving, popular man who had spent much of his senior year of high school helping special-needs students told his father he wanted to become a special education teacher.

Since his son's death, Prazynski, 43, has been interviewed repeatedly about the war while organizing a series of 5-kilometer runs and motorcycle rides to raise money for scholarships for students who attend his son's high school.

"I do this to keep Taylor's memory alive," Prazynski said.

On opening day of the baseball season in Cincinnati, he joined President Bush and two wounded soldiers on the field in pregame ceremonies. Prazynski said he wanted to thank Bush for his support "and give him two thumbs up with his positive stance on security, military and veterans' issues."

The former Air Force tech school instructor shares the pain — but not the viewpoint — of Cindy Sheehan, who became a high-profile war protester after her son Casey was killed in Iraq in April 2004.

"She's grieving, as we are," Prazynski said. "She's chosen to direct her energies in a different direction. I say God bless her.

"My son died for the Constitution that allows her to do what she's doing. Her son died, and God bless him, too, to support and defend the Constitution that gives her the right to speak freely, and I'm all for that right.

"I just don't think that I clearly understand what her agenda is."

Sheehan, who helped found Gold Star Families for Peace, has called for the impeachment of Bush, whom she says duped America into invading Iraq.

Prazynski understands the constant hurt of losing a child, and why such a loss has turned some grieving parents against the war. Even now, he said, "Every day is painful."

The father searched the Internet and found several groups he felt he could support, but chose Impact Player Partners because it was based in nearby Cincinnati. The nonprofit group, an advocate for wounded and disabled veterans, invited Prazynski to take part in the opening day presentation with Bush.

Prazynski also works with the Washington-based Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors and hopes to raise donations for its activities by running in the Marine Corps Marathon in October.

"We're so grateful for his participation," said TAPS founder Bonnie Carroll. "It's an incredible opportunity to honor and help all those who are grieving the loss of a loved one."

Prazynski's last trip to Camp Lejeune — some 700 miles on a motorcycle — was another step.

"That's part of the healing process, to meet parents of other Marines and soldiers who died and just be able to talk to them," he said.

On his way home, Prazynski made a spur-of-the-moment 300-mile side trip.

"I went up to Arlington (National Cemetery) and visited Taylor's grave, and the other Cincinnati fallen heroes and the other men he served with. That's part, I guess, of how I deal with things," he said.

"I spent most of Saturday afternoon in Arlington. It's just peaceful; I could probably sit there for days, seriously."

Transition Teams Coach, Mentor Iraqi Units

WASHINGTON, May 13, 2006 – Serving on a military transition team may be the most important job in Iraq today, with members working with Iraqi units to realize President Bush's promise: "As the Iraqis stand up. We'll stand down."


By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

Military Transition Team 0911, the "Mohawks," is where the rubber meets the road. The team works with the 1st Battalion, 1st Brigade of the Iraqi 9th Division, the "Desert Lions." The Iraqi unit is a mechanized outfit and patrols the area north of this sprawling base. The Iraqis secure the three water points that supply 70 percent of the drinking water to the capital.

The U.S. team is made up of soldiers pulled together last year. They come from a variety of branches and military occupational specialties. Some, such as brigade advisor Lt. Col. Chuck Payne and Master Sgt. John McFarland, came off retirement to take the job. Others came from the Pentagon, Fort Rucker, Ala., Hawaii, Japan and Fort Lewis, Wash. Their medic is a Utah National Guardsman.

The team works closely with the Iraqi units and mentors, coaches, teaches and circulates with them on the battlefield. Team members also constantly push their Iraqi counterparts to take on the enemy.

The enemy near here, a mix of former regime loyalists, unemployed young men and just plain criminals, is waging war with improvised explosive devices. "They are bold and getting bolder," said 1st Battalion Advisor Maj. Mike Jason. Anti-Iraqi forces have placed IEDs almost within sight of the gates of this sprawling American and Iraqi base.

The brigade went fully operational and has had its own battle space since December. "It's not that large, but it's intense," Jason said. "Insurgent activity in the area has increased."

The battalion mans a number of checkpoints, both fixed and roving, in its area each day. Even with these, the enemy still manages to emplace four or five IEDs a day, Jason said.

"The enemy is very adept at changing his methodology and evolving to what we do," Payne said.

The key is dismounted operations, Payne said. This requires a cultural change by both Americans and Iraqis. The American unit - the 1st Brigade, 4th Infantry Division - is a heavy brigade combat team, and the Iraqi unit is mechanized. "Just like our American brothers, this Iraqi brigade is wedded to their vehicles," Payne said.

That isn't to say that change isn't happening. The Iraqis carried out a dismounted patrol on a major north-south route last week. Payne said it was a good operation, but they patrolled in 105-degree heat with full body armor. "After two kilometers on a flat, paved road, the Iraqis were spent," he said. "I wanted to go three more kilometers, but it was too much. (Heck,) just doing battlefield circulation can leave you exhausted."

But getting off the tanks or armored personnel carriers is important. "When you leave the wire in this area, your chances of encountering an IED are significant," Payne said. "We don't drive down dirt roads around here, and this gives the enemy control of the countryside. He has freedom of maneuver and initiative. Dismounted patrols are the way to take that back.

"The enemy is afraid of us. He does not want to get engaged in a direct fire confrontation, but we're not out there, now and this has to change."

Logistics is among the other problems. The MTT is working to help the Iraqis grasp the notion of logistical support. Another aspect is cultural and rooted in the former regime. Officers and NCOs were disciplined if they showed initiative in the past. "They still are afraid to act on their own unless the commander approves it," Jason said. "We're working very hard, but it's difficult."

Payne emphasized that the teams need more resources to succeed. Medical and air support are crucial. He and Jason told of an incident when an Iraqi company commander was wounded and it took two-and-a-half hours to evacuate him.

The teams do receive soldiers from the "partnered" units. The 1st Battalion, 66th Armor partners with the Iraqi 1st Mechanized Battalion, and has soldiers coaching and mentoring the Iraqis alongside the MTT. But the unit itself is small - armored battalions usually are - and 1-66 has its own battle space to manage.

The newness and nature of Iraqi service also works against success. The Iraqi soldiers serve for 21 days and then have a week's leave, when they deliver their pay to their families. "This is often the most dangerous part of their services," Jason said. "They are soldiers in the new Iraqi Army and the insurgents are out to get them. Many have been killed while on leave. We have to devise a better, safer way of getting them to and from home."

Yet even with all the strikes against it, the battalion and brigade are making progress. The unit literally built all its own vehicles from remains found in scrap yards. Its members are aggressive and want to take the fight to the enemy. They are proud of their service and their appearance in uniform confirms this. "We often take two steps forward and one step back. (Heck) sometimes it's two steps back," Payne said. "But they are taking the steps."

The team will continue to work with the battalion, the brigade, and soon, the 9th Division itself. When the team's year is up, another team will take its place. "In the meantime, we're making a difference," Jason said. "This is a job that must succeed."

Secretary Rumsfeld on the Passing of Sonny Montgomery

Sonny Montgomery, campaigner for Veterans dies.


“With the passing on of Sonny Montgomery, America has lost a true patriot, and the men and women in uniform have lost one of their most passionate advocates.

“A decorated veteran of World War II -- where he won the Bronze Star for capturing a German machine gun nest -- as well as the Korean War, Sonny Montgomery brought his personal experience and expertise in military matters to bear in a lifetime of public service.

“It was a privilege to serve with Sonny when he first joined the House of Representatives in the late 1960s. Because of the way he treated everyone with grace and respect, Sonny would go on to become one of the most beloved and respected members of the Congress on both sides of the aisle. Sonny’s most outstanding legislative accomplishment was the law that bears his name -- the Montgomery G.I. Bill -- which extended educational benefits to countless thousands of soldiers in the nation's all-volunteer service.

“The title of a recent biography of Sonny Montgomery put it well. He truly was, ‘The Veteran’s Champion.’”

May 12, 2006

Parris Island DI awarded Navy Cross

A drill instructor at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., was awarded the nation’s second highest award for combat heroism during a ceremony held at the depot today, according to a Marine Corps release.


By John Hoellwarth
Times staff writer
May 12, 2006

Sgt. Jeremiah Workman of the depot’s Delta Company, 1st Recruit Training Battalion, received the Navy Cross, second only to the Medal of Honor, for his performance under fire in Iraq while serving as a squad leader in the Camp Pendleton, Calif.-based 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, according to the release.

“Workman’s heroism … adds to the luster that surrounds the 5th Marine Regiment, which stands as the most highly decorated regiment in the Marine Corps,” the release said.

With Workman’s award, the depot now boasts two drill instructors currently wearing the Navy Cross. Sgt. Anthony Viggiani, a drill instructor assigned to the depot’s India Company, 3rd Recruit Training Battalion, was awarded the medal there on Feb. 24 for his actions in Afghanistan as a squad leader assigned to the Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Marines.

Danger In Iraq: Up Close And Personal

Marines Face Attacks Daily In Ramadi, The Heart Of The Insurgency

(CBS) In downtown Ramadi, the fight with the Iraqi insurgency is up close – and, as CBS News Chief Foreign Correspondent Lara Logan reports, for one company of U.S. Marines, it's very personal.


RAMADI, Iraq, May 12, 2006

In a Ramadi market, Lt. Carlos Goetz has found propaganda glorifying the killing of his fellow Marines.

"Close your store, and if you get froggy, I will kill you," he says to some men who are being cuffed and thrown into a Humvee. "Getting froggy" is Marine-speak for "don't try anythng."

Ramadi has become the operational center of al Qaeda and the symbolic heart of the Iraqi insurgency. So Kilo company has taken the fight to the most dangerous city streets in all of Iraq, hunting their enemy where they hide — among the population.

"We're not out with snipers hitting people a click away," says Marine 2nd Lt. Brian Wilson. "We're opening a door and there's a guy 15 feet away."

Lt. Wilson lost four of his men just over five weeks ago. The day after CBS News joined his platoon on this patrol, he nearly lost two more.

"Something hit me in the back; it felt like a sledgehammer," says Pfc. Charles Mitchell. "It just spun me around."

The plates in their body armor saved Mitchell and Lance Cpl. Sean Madison. But it was the second ambush in two days, so Lt. Doug Hsu, about to head out on patrol, made a critical call.

"We're gonna bring out the gun trucks because we've been taking a lot of contact on the egress routes back into the (government) center," he says.

It's a decision that would save his men's lives.

Hsu's first squad heads down some busy streets to take up lookout positions in a house less than a mile from their base.

At the same time, a few streets away, a sniper began targeting his second squad.

Hsu senses growing signs that the enemy may be planning something bigger.

"The people are getting off the streets," he says, "so basically the thinking is they're trying to maneuver in on us."

The tension is written on the men's faces as they plan their route back to base.

"We’ll probably get hit when we're going back to friendly lines," Hsu says.

As the Marines start to head out, they eye Iraqi men huddled just off the street watching them pass.

On the final approach to the base, they find that the shopkeepers have fled, their goods still on display. Then it begins. Out of nowhere, the first shot slammed into a Marine.

On the way back into the base, the firing started. One Marine was wounded in the leg.

Marines rushed into the kill zone to help 19-year-old Lance Cpl. Phillip Tussy. Under constant fire from both sides, they get him to one of the gun trucks and begin emergency treatment.

Heavy machine guns pounded the insurgent positions as automatic rounds and small arms fire hissed. The covering fire from the Humvees continued as the Marines pushed through, finally making it to base.

Cpl. Tussy survived, but there was no rest for his platoon. Hours later, they were on their next operation.

"We expect those sorts of things," says Hsu. "We suck it up and go on with our mission.

It's a mission that's seen some progress — with the Iraqi security forces beginning to share some of the burden. But the challenges are still huge: U.S. commanders admit Ramadi is just as violent today as it was a year ago.

Division Marines depart for Cobra Gold aboard HSV

KIN RED PORT, OKINAWA, Japan (May 12, 2006) -- More than 150 Marines and sailors with K Battery, 3rd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, and Combat Logistics Platoon 3 departed for Thailand aboard the high-speed vessel Westpac Express May 8 to participate in Exercise Cobra Gold 2006.


Submitted by: MCB Camp Butler
Story Identification #: 200651234934
Story by - Consolidated Public Affairs Office

This exercise marks the 25th anniversary of this regional event, which will occur May 15-26. Cobra Gold is an annual combined, joint, multilateral training exercise in Thailand designed to improve multinational interoperability and strengthen international relationships.

This year's training will consist of a computer-simulated staff exercise, field training exercise and humanitarian/civic assistance projects.

K Battery, based at Twentynine Palms, Calif., and CLP-3, based in Hawaii, are currently on the Unit Deployment Program supporting 3rd Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division. They are joining U.S. units primarily from bases in Japan, Guam and the Continental United States.

"It's a great opportunity for the Marines to get out and visit other countries and work with other forces," said Capt. Josh Chartier, K Battery's commanding officer.

According to Maj. Damian A. Bess, the exercise officer for III Marine Expeditionary Force, III MEF's role this year is a little smaller than normal, but still essential.

"It's important that we maintain the great relationship that we have with the Royal Thai Forces," Bess said. "III MEF worked together with Thai forces on a lot of missions in support of Operation Unified Assistance following the Southeast Asia tsunami. This year keeps that relationship fresh."

Chartier said the K Battery and CLP-3 Marines are the only units from 3rd Marine Division who are involved in the field training exercise portion of Cobra Gold.

They are scheduled to conduct jungle warfare training with the Royal Thai Marines, focusing on small arms and basic Marine skills. CLP-3 will also conduct site improvement projects such as enhancement to military roads.

May 11, 2006

Where The Danger Is, Marines In Ramadi Try To Keep Control In Iraq's Most Dangerous Region

(CBS) The most dangerous part of Iraq is still the region west of Baghdad, especially the city of Ramadi. That's where CBS News chief foreign correspondent Lara Logan joined U.S. Marines for her series, On The Front Line.


RAMADI, Iraq, May 11, 2006

The Marines of Kilo company are under attack yet again. They're on the roof of the government center, and the enemy has just opened up. Small arms fire came in first. The Marines have returned fire with everything they've got.

From their posts on top of the building, they defend the government center, now the symbol of U.S. efforts to stabilize the most violent region in Iraq.

Three of their positions are taking fire simultaneously. That's something 21-year-old Lance Cpl. Jefferson Ortiz says the Marines quickly get used to.

"Every Saturday ... Saturday at the government center right here," he says. "This is our weekend right here. No spring break for us. Just shooting."

The deathly whine of incoming rounds is overwhelmed by the thunder of the Marines' guns. Their commander says there must be no doubt they mean business.

"Strength speaks volumes in this part of the world," says Capt. Andrew Del Gaudio. He speaks from experience: His Marines battled al Qaeda in this attack on Abu Ghraib prison on April 2 last year.

On April 2 of this year, he lost three Marines and a sailor to a roadside bomb in Ramadi.

Kevin Johnson, a 19-year-old lance corporal, says for him, that was the day the war became real.

Says Johnson, "Every time I put on my gear, I pray over it: 'Lord let me make it through this day, let my platoon make it through this day, let no more Marines have to die.'"

The reality is that more Marines probably will die here. Half of all U.S. servicemen killed in Iraq during March gave their lives in Ramadi, now the last major stronghold of the Iraqi insurgency.

Incoming mortars, like a 60mm round that failed to detonate, remind Kilo company how close they come to death every day.

"It's about 10 feet from our post over there — 10 to 15 feet," says a Marine of the failed mortar round. When asked if he'd been lucky, the Marine replied, "Yeah … countin' the days — you gotta roll those dice, you know."

No one is gambling more with his life than the Iraqi governor in charge of Ramadi, Maamoon al-Awani, who has survived 29 assassination attempts. In the latest one, last week, 10 people died but the governor escaped unhurt. He returned to work at the government center the next day ... where it was business as usual: The Marines silenced their attackers, again. But it's never for long.

The Marines face an average of five attacks per day. This time, muzzle flashes are seen from a deserted building repeatedly used to attack them.

The enemy moves in and out of these houses freely because they're unoccupied. Lt. Carlos Goetz says it's a constant battle to deny them safe haven.

This time, two 500-pound smart bombs slam into the back side of the building, followed by three more. The Marines estimate eight enemy dead, so it's a victory of sorts. But even they say "we cannot kill all the people here who want to kill us." Their priority is keeping each other alive — and keeping the government center out of enemy hands.

Says Capt. Del Gaudio, "They'll never take this building. We'll die here before they'll take this building from us."

In less than nine months, that commitment has already cost 14 American lives.

Marines fill sandbags to fill bellies

AR RAMADI, Iraq (May 11, 2006) -- Marines with 3rd Battlion, 8th Marine Regiment participate in the “sandbag program.” The note on the chair reads “One meal = One sandbag.”


Story Identification #: 200651165352
Story by Lance Cpl. William L. Dubose III

The program is strictly enforced and regulated by the food service specialists in an effort to help aid the reconstruction and fortification of various observation sites in Ar Ramadi, Iraq. The high demand of sandbags is due to recent damages to posts, caused by enemy forces. 3/8 is currently deployed with I Marine Expeditionary Force (FWD) in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in the Al Anbar province of Iraq.

Iraqi soldiers keep criminals out of former smuggler’s town

AR RUTBAH, Iraq (May 11, 2006) -- In this urban city located in the center of miles of open desert in western Al Anbar province, Iraqi soldiers are taking the lead in operations to keep criminals and insurgents out of the region.


Submitted by: 1st Marine Division
Story Identification #: 200651152642
Story by Cpl. Graham A. Paulsgrove

The Iraqi soldiers are doing the majority of the work here – checking IDs, searching cars and people at the city’s various checkpoints – while Coalition Forces assist.

“It’s more us helping the Iraqis, than the other way around,” said Cpl. Victor M. Moreno, one of the Marine battalion’s scout team leaders. “They’ve been doing fantastic.”

In recent months, U.S. Marines here say Iraqi soldiers have continually progressed towards operating independently, evidenced by their security operations here.

Rutbah is the most populated city (about 25,000 people) in Anbar’s southwestern region – a mostly barren desert stretching from the Jordan/Iraq border to 120 miles east.

Once known as a smugglers’ town, Rutbah is the first major city along the supply routes from Jordan and Syria eventually leading to the Al Anbar Province’s known hotspots- Ramadi, Fallujah and Baghdad, according to Col. Stephen W. Davis during a Pentagon press briefing several months ago. Davis was the commander of Marine forces in western Al Anbar province in 2005.

“This town had the unfortunate occurrence of being strategically placed there -- very convenient for smugglers, terrorists, insurgents to operate in and out of there,” said Davis.

Coalition forces and Iraqi soldiers have been working together to root out the insurgents. In January, an eight-foot tall berm was built around the city to prevent insurgents from entering Rutbah, requiring all traffic entering and exiting the city to pass through the checkpoints manned by the Iraqi soldiers.

So far, Iraqi soldiers have caught 64 insurgents since the coalition and Iraqi military forces beefed-up security measures here five months ago.

The Marines who work here daily say the city used to be a base of operations for insurgents - from planning attacks to storing weapons.

“We assess that many criminal and insurgent activities are planned and financed from Rutbah,” said Maj. Ken Kassner, executive officer for the Twentynine Palms, Calif.-based 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, which arrived here nearly two months ago – about a year after the unit’s last deployment to this very area in Al Anbar province.

“By maintaining the security of Rutbah, we significantly affect the ability of the insurgents to operate,” said Kassner.

And the plan is working – a full gamut of terrorists have been caught by the Marines and Iraqi soldiers in and around Rutbah - from those who plant roadside bombs, to high-level officials in the insurgency, according to Moreno.

“Insurgents have been fleeing [the city] and we have been catching them [at the checkpoints],” he said.

“[The berm and checkpoints have] been getting rave reviews from the population down there because for the first time in years now, the insurgents can't freely travel in and out of that city -- one more step in making western Al Anbar a prohibitive environment for the insurgents and terrorists to operate in,” said Davis during the press briefing.

The smuggling trade through Al Anbar contributes to the insurgency by financing criminal operations, and supplying weapons and munitions, according to Kassner.

But with Iraqi soldiers taking more of the operational workload to secure the city, Coalition and Iraqi forces have been able to curb insurgent activity here and ultimately block insurgents’ once-direct route from other countries to the heart of Al Anbar province, according to Kassner, a native of Couplan, Texas.

“The Iraqi soldiers are the key to our success,” he said. “Ultimately, they will be the ones to fully determine the outcome of this war.”

The Marines who operate in this region have taken the role of supervisors – teaching the Iraqi soldiers in the functions of their duties — directing traffic, searching cars and personnel – so they gain confidence and maintain a presence in the local community, according to Moreno, of Modesto, Calif.

While the Iraqi soldiers are making progress in their abilities to operate without the support of the Marines here, there is still work to be done before the uniformed Iraqis are 100-percent ready to operate independently, according to Sgt. Dale Fenner, a 27-year-old from Indianapolis and one of the battalion’s squad leaders.

“We don’t want to prematurely leave before they’re ready,” said Fenner, who spends his days supervising the Iraqis and verifying the validity of the IDs of the men passing through the checkpoints and ensuring they are not known terrorists. “This is a work in progress – they are pretty good but have a long way to go.”

While the Marines are pleased with the progress of their Iraqi counterparts, the soldiers need more time, training, and experience before they will be given the rubber stamp of approval by Coalition Forces as capable of operating fully independently.

The Marines fully understand that the transition will not take place overnight.

“It took years of training for me as a Marine to get to where I am now, and it will take years for them as well,” said Fenner.

But the Marines here say the Iraqis’ progress has been more than just standing posts and checking identification. The Iraqi soldiers have learned the basics of command structure, and more importantly, the role of small-unit leadership and the value of ensuring the welfare of their subordinates - traits crucial to any military organization’s success and efficiency, according to Moreno, 21.

The Iraqi soldiers have their own squad leaders in charge at each of the checkpoints around Rutbah, who ensure the soldiers have food, water, and time to rest, according to Moreno.

They also “make sure they wear all their [safety] gear,” said Moreno – helmets and body armor.

It may be a work in progress for the Marines, but the Iraqis’ hard work is paying off – the berm and checkpoints throughout the city seem to keep the bad guys from coming in, said Fenner.

“The insurgents can’t get what they need [into the city] to get things started,” said Fenner. “I think that is what’s keeping things quiet.”

Moreover, the Iraqi soldiers are the ones who communicate and interact with city’s residents, further putting the Iraqis in the driver’s seat of security operations while coalition forces take a back-seat role, according to the Marines.

Here, locals are more inclined to speak with Iraqi soldiers than the Marines since the Iraqi soldiers have a better understanding of their country’s culture and language than the Marines, according to Capt. Michael Nakonieczny, a 32-year-old Marine company commander from Buena Park, Calif.

“The Iraqi army is here to protect the people and each day we get closer and closer to complete Iraqi control of the city,” said Nakonieczny. “[The Iraqi soldiers] are a tremendous (force) multiplier.”

Iraqi soldiers keep criminals out of former smuggler’s town

AR RUTBAH, Iraq (May 11, 2006) -- In this urban city located in the center of miles of open desert in western Al Anbar province, Iraqi soldiers are taking the lead in operations to keep criminals and insurgents out of the region.


Submitted by: 1st Marine Division
Story Identification #: 200651152642
Story by Cpl. Graham A. Paulsgrove

The Iraqi soldiers are doing the majority of the work here – checking IDs, searching cars and people at the city’s various checkpoints – while Coalition Forces assist.

“It’s more us helping the Iraqis, than the other way around,” said Cpl. Victor M. Moreno, one of the Marine battalion’s scout team leaders. “They’ve been doing fantastic.”

In recent months, U.S. Marines here say Iraqi soldiers have continually progressed towards operating independently, evidenced by their security operations here.

Rutbah is the most populated city (about 25,000 people) in Anbar’s southwestern region – a mostly barren desert stretching from the Jordan/Iraq border to 120 miles east.

Once known as a smugglers’ town, Rutbah is the first major city along the supply routes from Jordan and Syria eventually leading to the Al Anbar Province’s known hotspots- Ramadi, Fallujah and Baghdad, according to Col. Stephen W. Davis during a Pentagon press briefing several months ago. Davis was the commander of Marine forces in western Al Anbar province in 2005.

“This town had the unfortunate occurrence of being strategically placed there -- very convenient for smugglers, terrorists, insurgents to operate in and out of there,” said Davis.

Coalition forces and Iraqi soldiers have been working together to root out the insurgents. In January, an eight-foot tall berm was built around the city to prevent insurgents from entering Rutbah, requiring all traffic entering and exiting the city to pass through the checkpoints manned by the Iraqi soldiers.

So far, Iraqi soldiers have caught 64 insurgents since the coalition and Iraqi military forces beefed-up security measures here five months ago.

The Marines who work here daily say the city used to be a base of operations for insurgents - from planning attacks to storing weapons.

“We assess that many criminal and insurgent activities are planned and financed from Rutbah,” said Maj. Ken Kassner, executive officer for the Twentynine Palms, Calif.-based 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, which arrived here nearly two months ago – about a year after the unit’s last deployment to this very area in Al Anbar province.

“By maintaining the security of Rutbah, we significantly affect the ability of the insurgents to operate,” said Kassner.

And the plan is working – a full gamut of terrorists have been caught by the Marines and Iraqi soldiers in and around Rutbah - from those who plant roadside bombs, to high-level officials in the insurgency, according to Moreno.

“Insurgents have been fleeing [the city] and we have been catching them [at the checkpoints],” he said.

“[The berm and checkpoints have] been getting rave reviews from the population down there because for the first time in years now, the insurgents can't freely travel in and out of that city -- one more step in making western Al Anbar a prohibitive environment for the insurgents and terrorists to operate in,” said Davis during the press briefing.

The smuggling trade through Al Anbar contributes to the insurgency by financing criminal operations, and supplying weapons and munitions, according to Kassner.

But with Iraqi soldiers taking more of the operational workload to secure the city, Coalition and Iraqi forces have been able to curb insurgent activity here and ultimately block insurgents’ once-direct route from other countries to the heart of Al Anbar province, according to Kassner, a native of Couplan, Texas.

“The Iraqi soldiers are the key to our success,” he said. “Ultimately, they will be the ones to fully determine the outcome of this war.”

The Marines who operate in this region have taken the role of supervisors – teaching the Iraqi soldiers in the functions of their duties — directing traffic, searching cars and personnel – so they gain confidence and maintain a presence in the local community, according to Moreno, of Modesto, Calif.

While the Iraqi soldiers are making progress in their abilities to operate without the support of the Marines here, there is still work to be done before the uniformed Iraqis are 100-percent ready to operate independently, according to Sgt. Dale Fenner, a 27-year-old from Indianapolis and one of the battalion’s squad leaders.

“We don’t want to prematurely leave before they’re ready,” said Fenner, who spends his days supervising the Iraqis and verifying the validity of the IDs of the men passing through the checkpoints and ensuring they are not known terrorists. “This is a work in progress – they are pretty good but have a long way to go.”

While the Marines are pleased with the progress of their Iraqi counterparts, the soldiers need more time, training, and experience before they will be given the rubber stamp of approval by Coalition Forces as capable of operating fully independently.

The Marines fully understand that the transition will not take place overnight.

“It took years of training for me as a Marine to get to where I am now, and it will take years for them as well,” said Fenner.

But the Marines here say the Iraqis’ progress has been more than just standing posts and checking identification. The Iraqi soldiers have learned the basics of command structure, and more importantly, the role of small-unit leadership and the value of ensuring the welfare of their subordinates - traits crucial to any military organization’s success and efficiency, according to Moreno, 21.

The Iraqi soldiers have their own squad leaders in charge at each of the checkpoints around Rutbah, who ensure the soldiers have food, water, and time to rest, according to Moreno.

They also “make sure they wear all their [safety] gear,” said Moreno – helmets and body armor.

It may be a work in progress for the Marines, but the Iraqis’ hard work is paying off – the berm and checkpoints throughout the city seem to keep the bad guys from coming in, said Fenner.

“The insurgents can’t get what they need [into the city] to get things started,” said Fenner. “I think that is what’s keeping things quiet.”

Moreover, the Iraqi soldiers are the ones who communicate and interact with city’s residents, further putting the Iraqis in the driver’s seat of security operations while coalition forces take a back-seat role, according to the Marines.

Here, locals are more inclined to speak with Iraqi soldiers than the Marines since the Iraqi soldiers have a better understanding of their country’s culture and language than the Marines, according to Capt. Michael Nakonieczny, a 32-year-old Marine company commander from Buena Park, Calif.

“The Iraqi army is here to protect the people and each day we get closer and closer to complete Iraqi control of the city,” said Nakonieczny. “[The Iraqi soldiers] are a tremendous (force) multiplier.”

For wounded soldier, a wealth of support

Somerset Marine hospitalized after being seriously injured in Iraq

MARION STATION -- Insurgent fire shot off his lower jaw. Damage to his left leg was so severe, doctors amputated beneath the knee. Shrapnel from a May 1 roadway bombing near Fallujah still penetrates his skin, in some places 2 inches deep.


By Deborah Gates
Staff Writer

And the Lower Shore is pulling for Marine Cpl. Kenny Lyon, who lay in serious condition at a Bethesda military hospital.

"I know my son will bounce back," says his mother, Gigi Windsor of Marion Station.

Faint nods and occasional glances are gentle signs of hope for family members and friends in this rural, patriotic hamlet.

"He opens his eyes and is able to listen and follow a command," said his mother in a telephone interview Wednesday from Bethesda's National Naval Medical Center. "They amputated his leg overseas. He can't talk, but he knows we're here."

Already, supporters are preparing a homecoming.

Mindie Burgoyne of Marion Station is joining neighbors to decorate utility poles and any other piece of hardware that will support a yellow ribbon.

"The community is feeling very badly, and we are decorating, putting yellow ribbons on light poles and mail boxes," Burgoyne said Tuesday. "This is a kind of public support for the kid. The American Legion is helping. Ribbons will hang until he comes home."

Messages of support hang at Crisfield High School, where Lyon graduated in 2003. They went up last week when word spread about his injuries, said Principal Debra Josenhans.

"The staff, members of the administration and teachers are asking students to keep him and his family in their thoughts," said Josenhans, who also taught Lyon in an Advanced Placement course. "He was in my first graduating class as principal, in June 2003."

The same year, Lyon joined the Marines and left for Iraq and other zones in the Middle East with the 3rd Light Armor Reconnaissance, Delta Command, 2nd Platoon, his mother said.

As a mechanic, he was repairing an eight-wheel tank on a patrol mission outside Fallujah when his unit was struck, Windsor said.

"There were three bombs; the first two missed and the third one got him," she said. "It happened about 2 p.m. Iraqi time. That was about 5 a.m. here, and that night I couldn't sleep."

Lyon worked at Austin Cox Mechanical in Salisbury from 2002 until he left for war, and Chris Windsor, an administrator, had urged him to stay out of harm's way.

"I told him when he left to keep his head down," said Windsor, who is not related to Gigi Windsor. "He and his family are in our thoughts and prayers."

Lyon was transferred from a hospital in Germany to the Naval medical center on May 5, a day before his 21st birthday.

Windsor and her 19-year-old daughter, Tiffany, a firefighter and emergency medical technician at the Marion Fire Department, have barely left his side.

When he's well enough, doctors will reconstruct his jaw, remove shrapnel peppered throughout his body and size him for a prosthetic limb, said his mother, who works at Credit Plus in Salisbury's Winterplace Park.

"I'm not leaving until he can come with me," she said.

May 10, 2006

Military Spouse Appreciation Day: May 12, 2006

"If the military had wanted you to have a spouse, they would have issued you one." Remember those words? Well, that was then and this is now. America's military has realized and acknowledged the significance of the military spouse. In 1984 President Reagan proclaimed the Friday before Mother's Day of each year to be Military Spouse Appreciation Day. It is your day to stand up and be honored.


Article by Arlene H. Hull
Content provided by LIFELines

For the times you've stood and watched a ship sail from the harbor, an aircraft disappear into the clouds, or a truck convoy pull out of sight, not sure when they would return, we thank you.

For the countless household moves you've made from a place you know to one that's strange and different -- often by yourself -- we thank you.

For the families you've held together, for the anniversaries, birthdays, and holidays you've celebrated alone, we thank you.

For the hand you've extended to another military spouse when the need was there, truly creating a military family, we thank you.

For the spirit and strength you've shown when your service member has gone into harm's way, we thank you.

For the pride you've displayed while serving as an ambassador of the military spouse to the rest of the world, we thank you.

Far too frequently, the sacrifices and dedication of the military spouse have gone unnoticed and unappreciated. In our nation's recent history, thousands of service members have been placed in harm's way as they stood watch as freedom's guardian. You too have stood watch at home, facing challenges alone. You have waved flags and held banners high to express your support. You have kept the candles burning on the home front as a reminder of our deployed military.

You have made difficult sacrifices of your own, and have called upon your inner reserves to nurture family life so your service member can focus on the business at hand.

Even in times of relaxed alert status for our military, you have stood ready and alert for the slightest of signs, perhaps overlooked or ignored by your civilian counterparts, signaling a potential change in the status of our military forces. As a military spouse, you have willingly packed up and relocated countless times, and may have been separated from your own parents and siblings for several years at a time.

Quite often, you have been placed in an unfamiliar ethnic or cultural setting, or a remote location. You have met this challenge with confidence and pride, making your nation proud of you. By the same token, you have extended your hand and hospitality to visitors to our country.

A country cannot count itself strong by its armed services alone, but must also depend on its civilians. With military wives and husbands setting a superior example through devotion, courage, and commitment, we are a nation of strength.

Military spouses … stand tall, stand proud … we salute you, you are truly our unsung heroes.

May 8, 2006

Send your favorite service member a “Taste of Home” with USA Peanuts and Skippy Peanut Butter

WASHINGTON -- To show their appreciation for the millions of military service men and women and their families and friends who support them, USA Peanut Farmers and Skippy® Peanut Butter announce the “Taste of Home” Care Package Contest.


United States Marine Corps
Press Release
Public Affairs Office
The National Peanut Board; Diane Storey

May 08, 2006

The six-week contest, May 15 – June 30, 2006, is open to friends and family of U.S. military personnel on active duty around the world protecting our country in any branch of the U.S. military.

To enter the “Taste of Home” Care Package Contest, just answer in 50 words or less, “Why would your loved one love to receive a USA peanut-packed care package?”

One lucky Grand Prize Winner will receive a $500 shopping certificate and a $500 care package full of yummy USA peanut and peanut butter products mailed to his or her favorite member of America’s armed forces. In addition, three three Runners-Up each will receive $250 shopping certificate and a peanut-packed care package mailed to their loved ones, while ten 10 Honorable-Mentions will receive a year’s supply of Skippy® Peanut Butter and gourmet, in-shell USA peanuts.

“Our ad says, ‘No one loves the American soil more than we do,’” explains Larry Ford, a Florida peanut farmer and 2006 chairman of the National Peanut Board, which represents every U.S. peanut grower. “But, the reality is, we know our armed services personnel love the American soil so much they risk their lives for it every day. On behalf of every peanut farmer in the U.S., we want to thank them for their great sacrifices to help protect this great land of ours and give them a taste of home by way of USA peanuts and peanut butter.”

To enter the “Taste of Home” Care Package Contest, simply fill out and send in the entry form provided above or pick up an entry form in the produce department of your participating commissary.

Participants also can print the entry form as well as find additional contest rules and information by visiting www.nationalpeanutboard.org and clicking on the “Care Package Contest” icon.

May 7, 2006

Ten soldiers killed in Friday's helicopter crash

FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- Ten Fort Drum soldiers were killed in Friday's helicopter crash in Afghanistan, a base spokesman confirmed Sunday.


Associated Press Writer
May 7, 2006, 7:26 PM EDT

It was the deadliest day for Fort Drum soldiers since March 11, 2003, when a chopper crash on post killed 11 soldiers.

The names and units of the soldiers in the 10th Mountain Division will not be released for several days, Fort Drum spokesman Benjamin Abel said Sunday. Abel said to expect no comment Sunday from the Army about the crash.

The crash was the deadliest for U.S. forces in Afghanistan in a year and came at a time of increasing militant attacks.

The soldiers were killed Friday evening when their CH-47 Chinook transport helicopter crashed during combat operations in Afghanistan's rugged and remote Kunar province. There were no survivors.

The helicopter was conducting operations on a mountaintop landing zone around 8 p.m. when it fell into a ravine, according to a statement from the U.S. military base in Afghanistan.

The U.S. military said the helicopter was not downed by hostile fire.

Six soldiers were aboard the helicopter and four more from a ground group were boarding when _ for reasons still unclear _ the helicopter rolled down the side of the mountain where it was landing, Lt. Col. Paul Fitzpatrick, the 10th Mountain Division's chief public affairs officer, told News Channel WNYTV in Watertown on Sunday.

"There were people on the landing zone, other aircraft in the air," Fitzpatrick told the Watertown Daily Times on Saturday. "There was no enemy contact."

Lt. Tamara D. Lawrence, a spokeswoman for the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan, on Sunday said all 10 bodies had been recovered from the crash site, which could not be reached by road.

The helicopter crashed about 40 miles southwest of a large U.S. military base in the provincial capital of Asadabad.

The soldiers were conducting combat operations on a mountaintop landing zone as part of a hunt for al-Qaida and Taliban militants believed to be hiding in the mountainous terrain.

"It was night. There was some wind," Fitzpatrick said. "I couldn't say whether those were factors until the investigation is complete."

"Our hearts and prayers go out to the families and comrades of the soldiers who were involved in this crash," Maj. Gen. Benjamin Freakley, commander of the 10th Mountain Division and Fort Drum, said in a press release. "We must honor the courage and dedication of our soldiers by continuing our commitment to bringing peace and stability to the Afghan people."

Of the roughly 18,000 Americans serving in Afghanistan, about half are from the 10th Mountain Division.

Ten soldiers killed in Friday's helicopter crash

FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- Ten Fort Drum soldiers were killed in Friday's helicopter crash in Afghanistan, a base spokesman confirmed Sunday.


Associated Press Writer
May 7, 2006, 7:26 PM EDT

It was the deadliest day for Fort Drum soldiers since March 11, 2003, when a chopper crash on post killed 11 soldiers.

The names and units of the soldiers in the 10th Mountain Division will not be released for several days, Fort Drum spokesman Benjamin Abel said Sunday. Abel said to expect no comment Sunday from the Army about the crash.

The crash was the deadliest for U.S. forces in Afghanistan in a year and came at a time of increasing militant attacks.

The soldiers were killed Friday evening when their CH-47 Chinook transport helicopter crashed during combat operations in Afghanistan's rugged and remote Kunar province. There were no survivors.

The helicopter was conducting operations on a mountaintop landing zone around 8 p.m. when it fell into a ravine, according to a statement from the U.S. military base in Afghanistan.

The U.S. military said the helicopter was not downed by hostile fire.

Six soldiers were aboard the helicopter and four more from a ground group were boarding when _ for reasons still unclear _ the helicopter rolled down the side of the mountain where it was landing, Lt. Col. Paul Fitzpatrick, the 10th Mountain Division's chief public affairs officer, told News Channel WNYTV in Watertown on Sunday.

"There were people on the landing zone, other aircraft in the air," Fitzpatrick told the Watertown Daily Times on Saturday. "There was no enemy contact."

Lt. Tamara D. Lawrence, a spokeswoman for the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan, on Sunday said all 10 bodies had been recovered from the crash site, which could not be reached by road.

The helicopter crashed about 40 miles southwest of a large U.S. military base in the provincial capital of Asadabad.

The soldiers were conducting combat operations on a mountaintop landing zone as part of a hunt for al-Qaida and Taliban militants believed to be hiding in the mountainous terrain.

"It was night. There was some wind," Fitzpatrick said. "I couldn't say whether those were factors until the investigation is complete."

"Our hearts and prayers go out to the families and comrades of the soldiers who were involved in this crash," Maj. Gen. Benjamin Freakley, commander of the 10th Mountain Division and Fort Drum, said in a press release. "We must honor the courage and dedication of our soldiers by continuing our commitment to bringing peace and stability to the Afghan people."

Of the roughly 18,000 Americans serving in Afghanistan, about half are from the 10th Mountain Division.

Kidney stones become soldiers’ silent enemy

BALAD AIR BASE, IRAQ – Army Sgt. John Jimison first felt the pain in his side while driving a military truck on a mission.

May 07, 2006

He felt it for the second time the next day, only this time it hurt much worse.

“When I stepped down, I had leg pain and one side just went numb,” said Jimison, 28, a soldier with 1st Battalion, 101 Aviation. out of Fort Campbell, Ky.

Jimison soon discovered that he’d become a casualty of an increasing medical problem in Iraq, one that has nothing to do with insurgents or improvised explosive devices. Large numbers of soldiers are developing kidney stones, more so than in prior conflicts, and the U.S. military is trying to determine why.

The problem has become so prevalent that the Air Force Theater Hospital at Balad, the major trauma center for soldiers wounded in Iraq, was equipped in January with a $120,000 surgical laser and 24-hour urine test kits that measure minerals and chemicals in the body.

That means soldiers can be treated immediately without having to be shipped to a military hospital in Germany, which was the only option in the past. Since the Germany medical center often floods with serious combat injuries, soldiers with kidney stones had to wait weeks in throbbing pain and away from their units.

“This is the first time ever in the history of war that we have been able to treat kidney stones in this fashion,” said Lt. Col. Jay Bishoff, the Air Force urologist in Balad who requested the surgical equipment for Iraq.

“It’s never been treated in theater before.”

The military has no hard numbers yet on how many soldiers have been afflicted, but Bishoff, who himself has had kidney stones, estimates that at least three hospital beds a day are filled with kidney stone patients. The hospital has 40 standard beds and 18 intensive care beds.

The exact reasons for the trend are undetermined, although Bishoff said there are several likely contributors. There are 17 types of kidney stones and 24 metabolic reasons why the body develops them, he said.

One likely factor in Iraq is the hot and dry weather, which causes dehydration, especially when soldiers are wearing 50 pounds of body armor for protection. Soldiers also tend to dehydrate themselves to avoid having to urinate while on patrol or on a convoy, which leaves them vulnerable to attack, Bishoff said.

Also, military diets are high in protein, which could be a culprit adding to the problem, he said.

Some also suspect that the water in Iraq might be a contributor.

Kidney stones primarily develop in men, although a few women get them. They more likely affect those serving in the Army infantry or Marines, Bishoff said. It takes a minimum of 90 days for a kidney stone to form.

Bishoff said the urine test kits help soldiers learn what personally could be putting them at risk and will help the military spot any trends, which might lead to the issuance of supplements or pills to prevent kidney stones. The urine tests are sent to a private lab for results.

“We want to see the factors that can help guys prevent stones while they are here,” Bishoff said.

Some soldiers have a predisposition to stones that is exacerbated in Iraq. Spc. John Callahan, 41, of Massachussetts, was at the hospital waiting to pass his kidney stone, in smaller pieces, after the doctor blasted it with the surgical laser.

He came in for treatment after awaking in the middle of the night with a sharp pain. But he’s been through the pain before, having his first episode in 1991. “I went through four weeks of complete hell,” Callahan said.

Many don’t realize how costly it can be to military operations when a soldier goes down from a kidney stone. Bishoff said he recently treated a Navy SEAL who was on a special operation when he collapsed in pain from a stone. He said the military operation had to be scrapped.

Many patients mistake the pain of kidney stones for symptoms of cancer, Bishoff said.

About 65 percent of patients in the theater hospital are treated for
noncombat-related injuries, including medical conditions such as kidney stones and sports injuries.

May 6, 2006

Marine artillery unit serves as infantry in Iraq

FORT WORTH -- Lance Cpl. Danny Studdard is an artilleryman by trade and training.

But it's been 18 months since he's worked with 155 mm howitzers, and by his own admission, he might not be any good at putting steel on target anymore.


By Chris Vaughn
Star-Telegram Staff Writer

"I've totally forgotten it," said Studdard, 23, an Irving man who serves in the headquarters battery of the 14th Marines in Fort Worth. "It's a skill you've got to work at a lot, and I haven't."

Not that Studdard hasn't been serving. Quite the opposite. He was mobilized for active duty last May and sent to a Sunni-dominated province in Iraq for a seven-month tour of duty -- as an infantryman and truck driver.

Across the 14th Marines, one of the Marine Corps Reserve's largest units nationwide, artillerymen, supply sergeants and personnel clerks have taken on new combat roles in Iraq that have little to nothing to do with their previous specialized training.

The reasons for the shift are simple enough -- the Marines need considerably more truck drivers, infantrymen and military police than they need howitzers. Also, the Corps is steeped in a philosophy that every Marine is first and foremost a rifleman.

It's likely, though, that the changes are more than a temporary response to the stress Iraq has put on the military's smallest branch. Already the Corps and its reserve force are making the changes permanent.

"For a major land campaign that involved maneuver over broad areas, you would want to have as much artillery as we once had," said Lt. Gen. Dennis McCarthy, who as the Marine Reserve's top commander helped shape the changes before his retirement last year.

"But right now, the fight we're engaged in and the one we see in front of us is one that has lower requirements for artillery. So you make some adjustments."

The 14th Marines is home to the Reserve's entire artillery arsenal, at one time five battalions and dozens of batteries strung from California to Pennsylvania.

The regimental headquarters has been at Naval Air Station Fort Worth since 1998, and the headquarters of 2nd Battalion has called Fort Worth or Grand Prairie home since the 1960s.

Last year, though, the regiment began shrinking. The 4th Battalion switched from artillery to light infantry specializing in anti-terrorism security, and 1st Battalion is scheduled to make a transition into reconnaissance when it returns from Iraq.

Nothing similar is feared by the 2nd Battalion, based at the old Naval Air Station Dallas.

"My entire battalion is transitioning to the artillery rocket system," said Maj. Stanton Chambers, executive officer of 2nd Battalion and a Dallas police officer. "We're getting one of the new showpieces of the Marine Corps. I have no concern that we're going to move out of artillery."

Since 2003, the reservists in the North Texas units have been regularly deploying to Iraq at a pace that will tap the regiment of available units and manpower in spring 2007.

"Approximately one battalion of Marines has been used every seven months for a deployment," Col. Paul O'Leary, regimental commander, wrote to the Star-Telegram. "However, based on current regulations we will have used all of our reserve forces and will not be able to use them again unless there was another presidential callup."

Because the artillery units use 5- and 7-ton trucks to haul the guns, they were a natural to haul infantry and supplies in Iraq, according to O'Leary and McCarthy. Most of the Marines in the unit have the certification to drive the trucks.

They receive a few weeks of training in California and then are attached to active-duty infantry battalions for the trip to Iraq.

After arriving in Iraq in July, Studdard and four other local Marines were assigned as drivers for Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines, based in cities near Fallujah.

But in reality, "I was a grunt with a license," Studdard joked. "We went on raids, weapons cache sweeps, patrols; we lived in the holes we dug."

Like the vehicles of many of the other Marines from Fort Worth, his vehicle was hit by a homemade bomb. In his case, it did little damage. But in others attacks men in the Fort Worth unit were badly injured.

"The first month we were there was rough," said Sgt. Danny Garcia, a supply sergeant from Fort Worth. "We took five casualties within an eight-day period. We thought it was going to be a long tour."

O'Leary, who is at Marine Corps headquarters in Virginia planning the future makeup of the Corps, wrote that while his Marines aren't working with artillery, they're "gaining great combat skills and small-unit leadership experience. I am confident that when they return, with available training time, they can transition back to being artillerymen again."

First Coast Marine Honored by His Platoon

BRUNSWICK, GA -- A marine platoon comes together to honor and remember one of their own. Corporal John Stalvey was killed when a roadside bomb struck his humvee a few months ago.


5/6/2006 11pm report
By Angela Williams
First Coast News

At the time of his funeral, his platoon was still deployed overseas, but said visiting his gravesite became their top priority.

"I wouldn't miss this day for nothing," says Jeremy Riddle, a member of Stalvey's platoon.

He and several others drove six hours from North Carolina to Brunswick, Georgia, to honor and remember their fellow marine.

"He was a man of faith, he carried that on his shoulder, not only was he a good dude, a good guy to hang out with, he was a warrior for our country," says Riddle.

His mother says seeing her son's platoon is like having them bring him home to her again.

"You have to know them, you have to know who he was with and now I know they will be apart of our lives," says Crystal Merillat, John's mother.

Marines from Stalvey's platoon describe him as a warrior who relied on his strength and faith, someone they could lean on and trust.

Even those who never physically met Stalvey say they know his memory will live on through all of them.

"He gave his life so we can have a great life, so we can not waste that," says First Sgt. David Devenny.

"He's not just another face, he's a special guy, someone you are going to tell stories about and remember forever," says Riddle.

Carrying Him Home, Hundreds join to mourn fallen Marine, pay tribute to a life lived to the fullest

In the span of 10 minutes, the short life of Aaron Simons flashed on screens before hundreds attending his funeral Thursday in the Calvary Temple Worship Center in Modesto.


Last Updated: May 6, 2006, 04:44:47 AM PDT

The series of snapshots began with Simons as a mischievous and creative 4-year-old with a dirt-covered face. Simons quickly transformed from a teenager with waist-long hair to a muscular Marine.

Lance Cpl. Aaron William Simons, 20, died April 24 in al-Qaim, Iraq.

About 300 people watched as Simons' fellow Marines honored him in Iraq with a makeshift memorial. Photos showed them bent over an M-16 rifle with Simons' helmet resting on top. The memorial bore the moniker of his company, "Suicide Charley," along with a eulogy written on a piece of plywood propped up by sandbags:

"For those who fight for it, freedom has a special flavor the protected never know."

Simons' brother Michael came to the front of the church, next to where his brother lay in an open casket wearing his Marine Corps dress blue uniform. He grasped a microphone and brought many to tears as he sang "He Will Carry Me." Michael Simons' emotions overcame him as the music faded away.

Aaron Simons is the 16th person from the Northern San Joaquin Valley to die in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan in the past three years. He was killed after two rockets hit his base after he returned from patrol.

Military officials said Simons was in a secure, protected area and was not wearing his helmet or Kevlar vest when the rockets hit the base.

Simons was with the 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 7. It was his second tour of duty in Iraq. His home base was Twentynine Palms in Southern California.

Six Marines and one Navy corpsman also were injured in the attack, Lt. Col. Nick Marano, the battalion commander, said on the battalion's Web site.

Marano wrote that a Marine injured with Simons in the blast had been with Simons when he discovered a sick Iraqi girl in the town of Karabilah. Simons and his fellow Marine promised the family they would get the girl to U.S. doctors.

"This is what your Marines here worry about, in the midst of war, inhumanity and death," Marano wrote. "I will fulfill that promise."

Simons 'watched out for the underdog'

Pastor Chuck Adams of The Carpenter's House church in Modesto, which the Simons family has attended since the church's founding in 1981, said Simons was known as a "mother hen" from a young age.

"He watched out for the underdog, often at great personal expense," Adams said.

Simons put nearly 50,000 miles on his car in just seven months as he drove fellow Marines home from the base to their families on weekends, Adams said.

While serving in Iraq, his requests to his mother, Charlotte, were easier to supply: He asked for a case of SpaghettiOs.

Fellow Marines remembered Simons as a "born leader" and a "good-hearted person."

"We both needed a foundation, a building block for our future to turn us from boys to men," said Lance Cpl. Justin Thompson, 20, about why he and Simons joined the Corps. "We had already been to war, but we weren't even old enough to drink yet."

Thompson, who served with Simons on his first deployment to Iraq, said he and Simons would sometimes get into trouble and find themselves waxing floors together. Simons also would give guitar lessons to anyone who asked.

"He was a hard-core but loving Marine."

Nearly 50 Patriot Guard Riders on motorcycles, along with Modesto police and sheriff's deputies, escorted Simons' casket to Lakewood Memorial Park in Hughson after the service. Ladder trucks from Modesto and Stanislaus Consolidated fire departments raised a U.S. flag high at its entrance.

Simons was awarded the Purple Heart, and the Marine Corps Honor Guard fired off a rifle salute before Simons' casket, covered with seven pairs of white gloves from the riflemen, was lowered into the ground.

Sim Long, the father of Lance Cpl. Bunny Long, and relatives of Lance Cpl. Juana Navarro were among those who came to pay their respects. Long and Navarro were the last two area Marines killed in Iraq.

After Simons' burial, friends sat in Graceada Park to reminisce about Simons, whom they had known since junior high.

Simons spent three years at Davis High School, where he and friends formed garage bands called Bucket of Funk and Innuendo Blü.

When he wasn't playing the guitar (or the piano, keyboard and nearly anything with strings), Simons satisfied his adventurous streak by diving off rocks into the Stanislaus River at Knights Ferry.

Simons also was extremely athletic, doing push-ups while wearing a backpack full of weights and taking friends with him on nighttime runs.

"He would run for hours, to the point you don't count the miles anymore," said Steve Stewart, 21.

While his friends sometimes struggled to keep up, Simons would engage them in discussions on anything from literature to music. Sometimes he would smoke while he ran.

"He could still outrun all of us," Stewart said with a laugh.

Simons graduated from Elliott Alternative Education Center in Modesto in 2003 and joined the Marines soon after.

Jason Christensen, 21, said he accompanied Simons to the Marine Corps recruiting center where they took a practice test and watched promotional videos.

Despite scoring high on his exam, Christensen said, Simons chose to join the infantry when he enlisted rather than choosing a technical field.

It was an abrupt decision to join the Corps, Christensen said.

"Aaron had already conquered music, and he was an adventurous person," said his friend, Carlos Rivas, 22.

Christensen and Stewart got tattoos on their legs reminiscent of a tattoo Simons had. Underneath "Suicide Charley" is the company's signature skull and crossbones with Simons' initials, AWS.

"Aaron was the most protective person, and you always felt like you were safe, no matter where you went with this guy," Stewart said. "He was a great artist, a great musician and a great athlete. Who knows what he would have ended up doing."

Contributions for the remodeling of Modesto Junior College theater seats and an instrument scholarship for MJC music students can be made in memory of Lance Cpl. Aaron Simons at: Modesto Junior College, Attention: MJC Foundation, 435 College Ave., Modesto 95350. Please include "In Memory of LCpl Aaron William Simons" on funds sent to the foundation.

Returning Soldiers Bring Joy, Stress to Families

Since the beginning of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, hundreds of thousands of American soldiers have deployed overseas to fight—over half of them parents. That's a lot of children saying goodbye to Mom or Dad—and then, hopefully, welcoming that parent home again.


Published: May 15, 2006
by: Rebecca Freshour

Since the beginning of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, hundreds of thousands of American soldiers have deployed overseas to fight—over half of them parents. That's a lot of children saying goodbye to Mom or Dad—and then, hopefully, welcoming that parent home again.

For soldiers and their families the reunions are both long-awaited and bittersweet. The soldiers are learning how to be home again, where danger does not lurk around every corner. Their spouses and children are going through the readjustment of having their loved one back home after so many months of being without them.

Trying to Put the Pieces Back Together
Ed and Jackie Love are taking it one day at a time. Ed was gone to training and then Iraq for a year, returning just in time for Christmas of 2005. Their youngest daughter Clara, 3, is experiencing separation anxiety. "She would throw a fit whenever I would get out of her sight," says Jackie. "She has gotten better since she started daycare, but it was hard for all of us. In the beginning when I would drop her off I would have to leave her screaming. That was very hard."

Clara also demands to be with her daddy when he is home, as does their oldest daughter Hannah. Hannah, 8, is rebellious towards her mother when Jackie tries to discipline her. "She doesn't want to listen to me because her dad was always the disciplinarian and now that he is home, it's gotten worse." Ed, meanwhile isn't anxious to resume the role. "I missed them and so much of their lives while I was gone that it's hard to punish them," he states. "I know it's hard for Jackie, especially when they don't listen."

Gloria Lee Whitehead has also seen the repercussions of wartime deployment on her family. Her husband came back from his second tour in Iraq in January 2005. Gloria sees the tension between her son, 12, and her husband on a daily basis. It has been "an uneasy adjustment" for her son, who had to take on some responsibilities, such as lawn care and taking out the trash, while his dad was deployed. He now has to learn how to be a child again.

Her daughter, 5, takes as much time with her dad as she can. "Every time he sits down, my daughter is right there, wanting to be held," says Gloria. "She became a great deal whinier with him home."

Collateral Damage: Divorce, Depression Risk
The damage to a marriage can be serious. According to the Psychology Department for the U.S. Army Medical Department Activity, the divorce rate among enlisted families rose 53 percent between 2000 and 2004, and divorces among officers have also risen. At least some of the increase is likely due to both the stress disorders that soldiers face when their deployments end, and from the strain on families caused by repeated deployments and extensions of time overseas.

The military has developed some programs to help the families understand and deal with the strain the deployment will cause. Margaret Scurfield, director of the Fleet and Family Support Center at CBC Naval Center in Gulfport, Miss. explained that the Navy has programs such as pre-deployment marriage retreats and couples' communications classes that employ trained staff to help spouses understand and address each other's concerns. They also offer individual and marriage counseling.

During a soldier's deployment, his or her entire family may struggle with depression. A soldier's homecoming may ease the sadness -- but sometimes it takes more, including counseling, medication or both, to restore a family's balance. And all of these issues are exacerbated if the returning soldier has been physically disabled or wounded. Some bases, such as the CBC Naval Center in Gulfport, offer classes to family members to teach them what signs and changes to look for to determine if a spouse or child needs psychological counseling. For soldiers returning with a disability, Scurfield suggests they visit the Veterans' Center at their local V.A. Hospital.

For soldiers returning home from war, post-traumatic stress disorder (www.ncptsd.va.gov) can also be a factor. Scurfield says that she only sees a small percentage of soldiers with PTSD, but feels that may change the longer they are home or as more come back from Iraq and Afghanistan. Psychologists and others who treat members of the armed services say that like depression, PTSD will need to be treated with counseling, medication or both. (A new GAO report found that military procedures for helping returning soldiers at risk of PTSD are seriously flawed, with almost 80 percent of those found to be at risk of the disorder never receiving referrals for further help. The Pentagon, however, says the report is flawed and most soldiers do get help.)

CBC Naval Center has hired a combat stress counselor to start a pilot program working with returning soldiers who are experiencing PTSD. The counselor works with soldiers not only after a deployment, but before and during the deployment. "We feel the program is really helping our people to better adjust to a combat situation, both before they deploy and once they get home," says Scurfield, "It's a good program."

Smoothing the Transition: Recognize Children's Changing Needs
Military parents that are coming home from the war have missed many special moments in their children's lives. They may be anxious to reconnect, and hoping for an immediate return to the kind of relationship with their child or children they had before leaving.

But for the children themselves, there is no going back. Their lives changed overnight when their parent was deployed, and now they are changing again. They themselves have changed, and they have different expectations.

The transition can be rough. Take the case of a family with pre-teen or teenage children. Having gotten used to negotiating issues like homework, bedtime, and social rules with one parent, they may not be ready to hear what the returning parent has to say. Scurfield recommends that teens and pre-teens be given time, just like the parents need time. "The most important thing is to respect the teenager's privacy and friends. Encourage them to share their feelings and the homecoming parent should share the experience they have had. This will open the door for communication." She adds, "Some teens may feel guilty because they don't feel they have met the expectations of the parent. Talk to your children, but expect rebellion."

Younger children, especially newborns and toddlers, will face different issues. Some bases employ parent support specialists who help the homecoming parent learn how to nurture, hold, bond with and feed an infant that was born in their absence. For toddlers, "Realize that they have changed, just like the parent has changed. Don't be upset if they are afraid of you when you first come home," says Scurfield. "Get down on their level and play with them, spend time with them, talk to them. Time is what matters and what they will understand the best."

Re-establishing a relationship with a child is not a simple task. According to the Department of Defense and The National Center for PTSD the following are some tips to help the families that are facing the reconnection process;

1. Allow one-on-one time with each member of the family. It is hard to find out what someone is feeling when so many others are clamoring for attention. The parent that has come home needs to spend time with his/her spouse and each child in an individual setting. Go to the park, go shopping, and take your wife, daughter or son out to lunch. Communicate with them if the opportunity arises. Listen to what they say. Ask questions about their activities, their friends and their feelings. Answer questions asked of you in an honest and age-appropriate manner.

2. Spend time as a family. Whether it's going out to eat, watching a movie or having a barbeque in the back yard, spending time as a family is important to children. It helps them to feel they are in a stable and loving environment and that the parent coming home from the war is comfortable being with them.

3. Support your children by going to extra-curricular activities. Whether it's rooting for your son at his baseball game or watching your daughter star in the church play, your attendance at the special events in your children's lives boosts his/her confidence in not only you, but also in themselves.

4. Continue with routines that the family is familiar with. If the children have picked up extra chores during a parent's absence, they may resent you putting an immediate stop to them. Ask them how they feel about the delegation of responsibilities and take their feelings into consideration when making any changes.

5. Help other families whose loved ones are still deployed. This gives your family a way to channel energy in another direction, instead of constantly concentrating on what is happening in your own home. This will also teach your children the importance of helping others.

6. Seek counseling, both individually and as a family. When a soldier comes home from war, the military automatically performs a psychological exam. Be sure to follow any recommendations that stem from that exam. Take advantage of the booklets given to you during out-processing that contain resources for where your family can receive support. If your spouse or children are in need of counseling, contact the Family Support Center where you are stationed or ask the Commander of your company to refer you to someone. You can also contact the Veteran's Administration in your area for counseling or referrals.

7. Take advantage of military outreach programs and other military support groups. Outreach programs are specifically in place to help military families prevent social isolation. These programs offer trained group leaders who can help in the entire process of deployment-from being shipped overseas to planning a family reunion. The Army also has Family Readiness Groups (FRGs) that are groups of volunteers that can provide social and emotional support to military families. To find an FRG in your area you can contact your unit commander or call the Army-wide Family Liaison office toll-free at 1-800-833-6622.

8. Go online to find support groups or military websites that can offer further help and information. Websites such as The National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome or www.MarineParents.com offer information and advice for families that have loved ones being deployed to Iraq, whom are in Iraq or are coming home from Iraq. There is also a new website that has just come up at www.VAJoe.com that offers great information for military families on everything from medical care to family support.

The reconnection process that a military family goes through upon the return of a loved one is emotional and demanding. However, Scurfield feels that military families that have successfully negotiated its demands are some of the strongest families in America. "The family needs to remember that patience is the one point that will help the family during this time. Both the soldier and their family need to realize that changes have taken place... Take time to learn one another again. Be patient and understanding and take it one day at a time. The family will reconnect and come out that much stronger for the experience."

Freelance writer Rebecca Freshour lives in Mississippi with her husband David and son Caleb.

Military Helicopter Crashes in Afghanistan, Killing 10 GIs

KABUL, Afghanistan — A U.S.-led coalition military transport helicopter crashed while conducting combat operations in the remote mountains of eastern Afghanistan, killing all 10 American soldiers on board, a U.S. military spokeswoman said Saturday.


Saturday, May 06, 2006

The CH-47 Chinook crashed late Friday while on a mission in support of Operation Mountain Lion, an offensive to root out Taliban and Al Qaeda militants near the border with Pakistan. The crash was not the result of hostile fire, said Lt. Tamara D. Lawrence, a coalition spokeswoman.

"The remains of all the 10 soldiers have been found and there are no survivors," she told The Associated Press. "There is no indication that the helicopter came down due to some enemy action."

The soldiers were part of a more than 20,000-strong coalition force, mostly operating in the volatile south and east of Afghanistan. About 18,000 of those forces are American.

The helicopter was conducting "operations on a mountaintop landing zone" when it crashed near Asadabad in Kunar province, about 150 miles east of Kabul, the capital, the military said in a statement. Rescue and recovery operations began at daybreak Saturday, Lawrence said. An investigation into the crash is under way.

Some 2,500 Afghan and U.S. soldiers are conducting a joint military operation in Kunar, one of the biggest since the ouster of the hardline Taliban regime by U.S.-led forces in late 2001 for hosting Al Qaeda.

Asadabad is surrounded by rugged mountains, and a large U.S. military base there houses hundreds of troops.

The police chief of Kunar province, Gen. Abdul Ghafar, said the helicopter crashed about 10 miles northwest of the U.S. base in Asadabad. He said the crash was a day's walk from any passable road.

"The area of the crash is a mountainous area and it is difficult to reach," Ghafar said.

A military statement said that other aircraft and crews were near the landing zone during the crash and confirmed that the helicopter was not shot down. Lawrence said that although it was dark, the other coalition aircraft would have known if an enemy rocket had been fired.

The military did not say what unit the U.S. troops were from, only specifying that they were soldiers, meaning from the Army, and not Marines.

In September, a Chinook helicopter crashed in a mountainous area in southeastern province of Zabul, killing all five American crew members, and in June, all 16 troops on board a Chinook died in Kunar when it was hit by a militant's rocket-propelled grenade — the deadliest attack against American forces in Afghanistan.

In August, 17 Spanish troops died in a helicopter crash in the western city of Herat. That crash was blamed on fierce winds.

In April of last year, 15 U.S. service members and three American civilians were killed when their Chinook went down in a sandstorm while returning to the main U.S. base at Bagram.

At least 224 U.S. military personnel have died in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Uzbekistan as a result of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001. Of those, at least 141 were killed by hostile action.

May 5, 2006

Dramatic Reality Documentary COMBAT DIARY THE MARINES OF LIMA COMPANY Announced - Iraq War

An Emotional Two-Hour Documentary Featuring Video Shot by the Marines of Lima Company - the Hardest Hit Unit in the Iraq War


May 5, 2006

A&E; Network presents an unflinching look at the war in Iraq, as seen through the eyes of the Marines of Lima Company. Featuring candid interviews and never-before-seen video, COMBAT DIARY: THE MARINES OF LIMA COMPANY tells the story of a reserve unit out of Columbus, Ohio, that was deployed to Iraq from February 28-September 30, 2005. This two-hour documentary, which captures significant moments from their tour of duty, including dramatic combat missions, makes its World Premiere May 25, 9-11PM/8C.

During the seven months it spent in Iraq, Lima Company was harder hit than any other combat unit. Out of a company of 184 Marines, 23 died in combat. Last August alone, 11 Marines from Lima were killed when their vehicle hit an IED-an improvised explosive device. It was the single worst roadside bombing in the three-year-old war.

COMBAT DIARY tells the story of the men who died - and those who survived. And it tells the story in a unique way - using footage shot by the Marines. "As we discovered, almost every Marine in Lima Company went to war with a video camera," says award-winning director and producer Michael Epstein, Viewfinder Productions. "They shot video of everything - playing around in their barracks, firefights, road-side explosions and video letters home."

"This is why this film is so incredibly powerful" said Nancy Dubuc, SVP, Non-Fiction & Alternative Programming, A&E; Network. "The story is told by the Marines themselves. We see the war, literally, through their eyes. That′s what sets it apart from other war films."

"The Marines of Lima Company never intended this footage to be made public," explains Epstein. "It was shot for themselves, for their families. It′s vastly different than footage you see from imbedded reportersÑor even footage shot with the intent of later being folded into a film. This is one company′s unfiltered experience of war."

In telling the story, the filmmakers were careful to avoid any political agenda. "Our job wasn′t to tell everyone what we think about the war in Iraq," says producer Jonathan Yellen, Viewfinder Productions, who is also a former Marine and a veteran of Desert Storm. "We felt that there was an important story that needed to be told, one that had nothing to do with partisan politics."

COMBAT DIARY is a film with unprecedented power to put the viewer on the ground in Iraq. It is a fitting tribute to the Marines of Lima Company. And, as the nation prepares to honor its dead this Memorial Day, it is a poignant reminder of the sacrifices paid by the men and women in our armed services.

TSA detains Marine escorts, Trio escorting body of fallen comrade are stripped of dress blue coats, searched at airport

It wasn’t the city of “brotherly love” for a trio of Marine noncommissioned officers escorting the body of a fallen Marine through the Philadelphia airport.


By Gidget Fuentes
Times staff writer
May 05, 2006

Each decked in their blue dress uniforms, the three enlisted Marines made their way through a security checkpoint at the Philadelphia International Airport about noon on May 3 when they were pulled aside by security workers with the federal Transportation Safety Administration.

The Marines — a sergeant and two corporals — were escorting the body of Sgt. Lea R. Mills from Dover Air Force Base, Del., to his family in Gulfport, Miss. Mills, who was married and lived in Oceanside with his wife, was killed in Iraq on April 28 by a roadside bomb. He was one of three leathernecks killed that day in Iraq’s Anbar province.

They were brothers-in-arms. Like Mills, the Marine escorts are members of the Camp Pendleton-based 3rd Assault Amphibian Battalion.

The trio had to go through the terminal’s security in order to reach their flight that would take them to Houston and make sure that Mills’ body was properly placed on the airplane. While their uniforms likely would trigger the metal detector, they had figured they would be able to zip through the screening process and get on with their business.

“Wearing the blues, the metal detector is going to go off,” said Sgt. John Stock, a mechanic, who was accompanied by Cpls. Aaron Bigalk and Jason Schadeburg.

But as the Marines went through the initial screener in their dress blues, they were stopped by several TSA agents. Each was told to remove their dress uniform blouse, belt and black dress shoes, which were scanned by the detector, as the agents scanned them with hand-held detecting wands.

“They had me take off my shoes and ran them through the screening,” Stock said, speaking by phone May 5 from Gulfport, where the men are helping with Mills’ family and funeral support. “We all got searched.”

Then they were taken to a nearby room, where TSA workers patted them down.

At one point, Stock’s shoes disappeared, leaving him to frantically search for them and retrieve them from a TSA agent. Separated from their belongings, which included the flag that they bore that would drape Mills’ casket for the rest of the journey home, they worried about getting to the gate in time to ensure his safe placement in the airplane.

Time, it seemed like a half-hour, clicked by. “I was like, hey, we need to be on the tarmac,” Stock recalled. “It just took longer than it should have had to take.”

The agents said nothing to explain why all three were singled out for additional search and the Marines didn’t protest. “We were just trying to get there as quick as we could,” he added.

In all, it was a humiliating experience that left them angry.

“They could probably tell that I was pissed off,” said Stock, who noted that he’s never encountered that kind of search when going through airport security in uniform.

“I understand if I was in civilian clothes. But with what we were wearing and what we were doing … ,” he said, noting that “we had the flag with us.”

A call into TSA’s public affairs office in the D.C. area was not returned as of press time.

“The Marine Corps is currently cooperating with (TSA) to resolve this matter,” the command said in statement issued May 5 and provided by 2nd Lt. Lawton King, a 1st Marine Division spokesman at Camp Pendleton.

Progress steady, Marines meet with Iraqi leaders, discuss security in Haditha Triad region

HADITHA, Iraq (May 5, 2006) -- Since their arrival in the Al Anbar Province nearly two months ago, Marines here say Iraqi Security Forces are progressing toward relieving Coalition Forces and stabilizing the region.


Submitted by: Regimental Combat Team7
Story Identification #: 20065513746
Story by Sgt. Roe F. Seigle

In this rural region along the Euphrates River valley, the transition from U.S.-led to Iraqi-led military operations is well on its way, according to one U.S. Marine who has spent nearly two months mentoring Iraqi soldiers in this region.

But the atmosphere in this portion of western Al Anbar Province has changed since Saddam Hussein was removed from office in 2003.

Instead of daily fire fights against an armed, known enemy, similar to what Coalition Forces experienced during the push to Baghdad three years ago, U.S. Marines here are focusing on showing Iraqi soldiers and police how to spearhead security operations on their own.

“The progress I have seen the Iraqi Army make in the last few months makes me confident we can withdraw Coalition Forces from the area in the next six to eight months,” said Lt. Col. Owen Lovejoy, the senior advisor for the Military Transition Team, which supports and advises the Iraqi Army unit stationed here.

One example of that progress came earlier this month, when a joint-Iraqi and U.S. military operation near Baghdadi – a small town just south of Haditha – resulted in three detained insurgents.

Local police, Iraqi soldiers and a group of Marines from Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment spearheaded the joint operation – a “collaborative effort which led to results,” according to Maj. Eric W. Kelly, Weapons Company’s commanding officer.

Moreover, the operation highlighted the proficiency and cooperation between local police, Iraqi soldiers and Coalition Forces, he said.

“Iraqi soldiers and Marines are on a mission to ensure that the people of this area remain safe and that the insurgency has no room to thrive here,” said Kelly in an email response to questions. “The ‘Sons of Iraq’ take this goal quite seriously.”

So far, progress seems steady in the region. Iraqi Security Forces have conducted four operations on their own, reconstruction efforts are in the works to rebuild war-torn towns and villages, and local Iraqi leaders are meeting regularly to discuss and plan future efforts with the Marines.

Marine leaders say more than 30 insurgents have been captured, and three insurgent cells have been eliminated due to the combined efforts of Marines and Iraqi soldiers.

More importantly, security conditions seem to be improving in the Haditha Triad area along the upper western Euphrates Valley, as evidenced by a regular meeting of local city and tribal officials – a meeting which would not have been possible a year ago, according to Lt. Col. Norman Cooling, 3/3’s commanding officer.

Thanks to improving security conditions, such a meeting is now possible, according to Cooling. Six months ago, local Iraqi leaders were targeted by insurgents for cooperating with Coalition Forces, said Cooling, who also attended the meeting, which included more than a dozen sheiks, mayors, and other prominent local Iraqi leadership, to discuss security and reconstruction efforts in the area.

Now, local leaders can meet to discuss issues which impact the progress of their towns and villages. The councilmen had no qualms about walking to the meeting with Coalition Forces in broad daylight, said Cooling.

“Since the councilmen agreed to meet with us, it proves they want to work with us and they believe we are interested in addressing their concerns,” said Cooling.

“The Marines have stabilized the security in the city,” said a local tribal leader after the meeting. “One year ago, a meeting like this would never take place because the criminal acts of insurgents would have prevented it.”

During the three-hour meeting, Iraqi councilmen expressed concerns such as potential reconstruction efforts of a footbridge destroyed during combat operations last year.

The footbridge connects the cities of Barwana and Haqlaniyah, both part of the Haditha “Triad,” and was one of several concerns local leaders discussed during the meeting. They said a refurbished bridge would bring stability to the local economy by providing a way for locals to transport goods between the two cities.

“The reconstruction of the footbridge is paramount to the lives of many businesses here,” said a councilman during the meeting. “A better economy means more jobs and less citizens turning to the insurgency for a source of income.”

Cooling also elicited support from the Haditha city council for the recruitment of Iraqi police in the area. He strongly stressed the importance of a police force being formed to continue the suppression of insurgency.

“The councilmen are considering supporting us in the police recruitment,” said Cooling. “Right now they want to see results from their requests and we are going to make sure they see them.”

Last year, police recruitment was attempted in the Haditha “Triad,” but insurgents threatened and intimidated anyone willing to be recruited, according to several Iraqi leaders at the meeting.

Cooling said the Iraqi leaders’ concerns would be addressed and plans would be made to rebuild the footbridge, as long as these meetings continue and the city councilmen consider supporting a recruitment drive for potential Iraqi police officers.

“We know the Marines are here to help the citizens of Haditha,” said a councilman after the meeting. “When they address our concerns and support our requests, the local people are going to notice this and in turn support them as well.”

The meeting also brought about talk of possible modifications to current security measures in the area. Both sides of the table agreed security measures were necessary to stop the flow of insurgents into the city, but the Iraqi said some of the measures, such as traffic control points, are an inconvenience to local residents.

Cooling said the issue would be addressed, but made no promises. Modifying the security measures could allow for an increase in insurgent activity, he said.

Though such meetings are a step in the right direction to improve security conditions in this volatile area of Al Anbar Province, both Iraqis and American leaders here say more work is needed before Coalition Forces can permanently leave the region, such as the recruitment, training and establishment of a local police force here and reconstruction of key components to local infrastructure.

The Marines say they will continue to work with local leadership to improve both security and quality of life for the Iraqi people.

“We will we show them through our actions we care about their concerns,” said Cooling.

Marines and Iraqi police patrol Khandari

KHANDARI, Iraq (May 5, 2006) -- Iraqi motorists were held up by a line of tan and blue – Marines and Iraqi police – working side by side here recently.


Submitted by: 1st Marine Division
Story Identification #: 2006595250
Story by Cpl. William Skelton

Marines with C Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, combined with Iraqi police conducted anti-insurgent patrols in the Khandari Market May 6. The Marines are serving in Iraq with Regimental Combat Team 5.

“We are teaching them techniques and procedures on patrolling in the area,” said Gunnery Sgt. Joshua S. Smith, the 31-year-old platoon commander from Oxnard, Calif. “We took baby steps – simple things like snap vehicle check points.”

Iraqi police took the lead in the operation by inspecting cars and questioning residents. They provided a general presence in the area to let the people of Khandari know they were there to help.

“This was the first combined patrol we have had with the IPs since the battalion moved in to support the U.S. Army,” Smith said.

The experience level of the Iraqis ranged from senior policemen to recent graduates from the police academy. Even where experience lacked, though, eagerness filled the gaps. Overall the Iraqi police performed well, Smith said.

“It was good to see them in the area,” said Pfc. Nick Ransom, a 22-year-old infantryman from Long Beach, Calif. “It really looks like they are moving forward.”

The company’s Marines were impressed to see Iraqi initiative. Once the day’s plan of attack was laid out, Iraqis in blue moved into position to start the checkpoint. They wasted no time getting ready to stay for the long haul.

“They had furniture set out,” Ransom said. “That’s when it actually donned on me they are going to do what we do.”

The people of Khandari expressed an interest in seeing their Iraqi police in the area. People came out of their homes and businesses to greet the policemen and to seemingly show support.

“It is good to see our police keeping our towns safe,” said one resident.

Iraqi police greeted the residents with the same concern. They expressed interest in the welfare of the community and its residents.

“We are your brothers,” said Sgt. Maj. Bassam Izware Garede, the Iraqi police commissioner for the Khandari area. “We have come to help.”

“Most of the people we talked to today were pleased to see the IPs working with the Coalition Forces,” Smith said.

That’s a drastic change from what Marines found when they first arrived to assist Army forces less than two months ago. Then, insurgents maintained a tight grip of fear on the small city.

The Khandari Market was notorious for insurgent activities. The battalion faced strong opposition initially in the area, but has seen a marked improvement in the past few weeks. It’s the result of not just Marine efforts, but also because of stepped up Iraqi police operations.

The Iraqi police performed well and reached every objective set for the day.

“We had great success today,” Smith said. “All of our goals were accomplished.”

“I hope the feelings of the people will change once they see their countrymen stepping up to make their country safe,” said Pfc. Christopher A. Jackson, a 24-year-old infantryman from Paulding, Ohio. “I hope they can create a bond that will eventually allow the Iraqi Army and police to take over the area and do the job.”

May 4, 2006

'No better feeling in the world’

Lt. Col. William Lucas waved at the family he hadn’t seen in months, then snapped to attention.

Lucas stood with the rest of his fellow Marines in the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit’s command element, after stepping off the bus at Camp Lejeune Wednesday for the first time since returning from deployment to Iraq and beyond.


May 04,2006

The stiff formation was brief. The MEU’s commanding officer, Col. Kenneth McKenzie, took one look at his troops, smiled and said the words the Marines and the anxious families were waiting for.

“Fall out!”

Lucas hurried to his family — wife Suzin and twin 4-year-olds, Shane and Kayla — wrapping his arms around his kids and kissing his wife. He got a chance to play with his children and marvel at the “Welcome Home Daddy” sign they made for him.

“It’s wonderful, absolutely wonderful,” he said about seeing his family again. “I couldn’t be happier. I’ve been thinking about this day for a while.”

He’s not alone. The MEU — made up of roughly 2,000 Marines and sailors — has been away from Lejeune for about six months.

The unit, which deployed on the amphibious assault ships Nassau, Austin and Carter Hall, is made up of Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines; Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 261; MEU Service Support Group 22; and the command element.

They spent two months in Iraq, where they helped head an aggressive counterinsurgency campaign in the country’s volatile Al Anbar province. They participated in 13 named operations, during which they killed or detained insurgents and secured weapon caches.

McKenzie said the time spent on the front lines in Iraq was the most rewarding.

“It was challenging; it was everything we thought it would be,” he said.

“We thought we could make a contribution and we did our part. We thought we had some success.”

That part, however, was not without sacrifice. On Feb. 6, Cpl. Orville Gerena, Lance Cpl. David Parr and Pfc. Jacob D. Spann — all Marines with the MEU’s infantry element, 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines — were killed in Hit when their vehicle struck a roadside bomb. During the rest of their Iraq tour, 39 Marines were injured.

Following their time in Iraq, the MEU went on to the Horn of Africa, where they participated in a training event with Djibouti’s armed forces.

Patty Parmer of Annapolis, Md., came to see her 20-yearold son, Lance Cpl. Michael Parmer, who returned Wednesday from his first deployment.

Parmer said she’s just glad he’s home.

“You just worry too much,” she said. “There were days you don’t even think about it, because it’s too hard.”

Now that the hard waiting is over, Parmer said she doesn’t mind the standing around that comes with homecomings.

“I’ve been here for two days waiting,” she said. “We’ve been here three hours because we don’t want to miss it.”

Suzin Lucas agreed. She said it was difficult watching her husband standing only a few feet away during formation — but she put it in proper perspective.

“It’s a little hard to wait, but after all those months it’s not too bad,” she said.

The wait wasn’t long for Lucas or the other families. But that final dismissal is a special one, McKenzie said.

“As one of those Marines, it’s just a great feeling of relief,” he said. “No better feeling in the world. We are just thrilled to be back.”

May 3, 2006

Marine's story inspires Iraq movie

HBO has ordered a movie based on a US Marine's experience transporting the body of a fallen colleague home from Iraq.


May 3, 2006 at 09:31:00 AM

Taking Chance will begin production in the summer in anticipation of airing on the channel next year. The script was adapted by Michael Strobl from an article he wrote about escorting the body of 19-year-old Chance Phelps in 2004.

"This film pays tribute to the everyday American men and women who have given their lives in Iraq," HBO Films president Colin Callender said. "Regardless of one's own politics, one cannot help but be humbled in the face of this ultimate sacrifice made by Chance and his family."

Lance Cpl. Phelps was killed in April 2004 by hostile fire and was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star. He hailed from Dubois, Wyoming, and was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division.

May 2, 2006

Military Spouse Appreciation Day: May 12, 2006

"If the military had wanted you to have a spouse, they would have issued you one." Remember those words? Well, that was then and this is now. America's military has realized and acknowledged the significance of the military spouse. In 1984 President Reagan proclaimed the Friday before Mother's Day of each year to be Military Spouse Appreciation Day. It is your day to stand up and be honored.


Article by Arlene H. Hull
Content provided by LIFELines

For the times you've stood and watched a ship sail from the harbor, an aircraft disappear into the clouds, or a truck convoy pull out of sight, not sure when they would return, we thank you.

For the countless household moves you've made from a place you know to one that's strange and different -- often by yourself -- we thank you.

For the families you've held together, for the anniversaries, birthdays, and holidays you've celebrated alone, we thank you.

For the hand you've extended to another military spouse when the need was there, truly creating a military family, we thank you.

For the spirit and strength you've shown when your service member has gone into harm's way, we thank you.

For the pride you've displayed while serving as an ambassador of the military spouse to the rest of the world, we thank you.

Far too frequently, the sacrifices and dedication of the military spouse have gone unnoticed and unappreciated. In our nation's recent history, thousands of service members have been placed in harm's way as they stood watch as freedom's guardian. You too have stood watch at home, facing challenges alone. You have waved flags and held banners high to express your support. You have kept the candles burning on the home front as a reminder of our deployed military.

You have made difficult sacrifices of your own, and have called upon your inner reserves to nurture family life so your service member can focus on the business at hand.

Even in times of relaxed alert status for our military, you have stood ready and alert for the slightest of signs, perhaps overlooked or ignored by your civilian counterparts, signaling a potential change in the status of our military forces. As a military spouse, you have willingly packed up and relocated countless times, and may have been separated from your own parents and siblings for several years at a time.

Quite often, you have been placed in an unfamiliar ethnic or cultural setting, or a remote location. You have met this challenge with confidence and pride, making your nation proud of you. By the same token, you have extended your hand and hospitality to visitors to our country.

A country cannot count itself strong by its armed services alone, but must also depend on its civilians. With military wives and husbands setting a superior example through devotion, courage, and commitment, we are a nation of strength.

Military spouses … stand tall, stand proud … we salute you, you are truly our unsung heroes.

May 1, 2006

Vipers assume responsibility over Al Anbar skies

AL TAQADDUM, Iraq (May 1, 2006) -- The Vipers of Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 169 assumed authority from the Gunfighters of HMLA-369, for providing close air support, escort, surveillance, and reconnaissance to coalition ground and assault support forces in western Iraq.


Submitted by: 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing
Story Identification #: 2006517360
Story by Cpl. Jonathan K. Teslevich

Having been in Iraq for less than two weeks, the Vipers, part of Marine Aircraft Group 16 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, received plenty of help from their predecessors in preparing for the dangerous mission ahead.

"HMLA-369 did an incredible job of setting us up for success. They flew most of our aircraft commanders on numerous missions, provided us with stellar briefs of the objective area and conducted personal turnovers with their counterparts in our squadron," said Lt. Col. Biagio Colandreo Jr., commanding officer, HMLA-169. "The (aerial tours) we received, were not only to help familiarize us with the geography, but also to introduce us to high threat areas of concern. We could not have assumed the mission as smoothly without the help of our sister squadron."

The Gunfighters are heading back home to Camp Pendleton, Calif., after completing a busy seven-month deployment of their own.

"We probably ended up flying over 9,500 hours and the number of man-hours on the maintenance side is absolutely incredible," said Sgt. Maj. Troy R. Couron, squadron sergeant major, HMLA-369. "We definitely made an impact supporting operations Iron Fist, Steel Curtain and those around Fallujah, Ramadi and Baghdad."

Making sure the squadron's helicopters were able to perform their crucial mission required the Gunfighter's enlisted Marines to bear down and get the job done no matter what the conditions were.

"The Marines did everything we asked them to do with no complaints, you could always go out there the worst day on the line, be it a sandstorm or brutal cold and the Marines always had a smile on their face, ready to perform the mission," said Couron, a Neb., native. "It's the best unit I've ever been in, as far as the mentality and absolute refusal to accept a bad product, they persevered through everything."

According to Sgt. Maj. Ronald L. Green, the HMLA-169 squadron sergeant major, HMLA-369 did an outstanding job, they kicked butt and took names for the last seven months and the Viper's Marines must continue the Gunfighter's tradition.

"We have real high standards in the Vipers, however my biggest concern is complacency," said Green, a Jackson, Miss., native. "Complacency is like a roller coaster of emotions. Right now, we have Marines that are raring to go, but three months from now, they may hit an emotional low. That's why it's important to get them in the mindset now that this deployment is a marathon not a sprint. They have to be able to carry on this pace for the next seven months or more."

This deployment will be the Vipers' third in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, making them the first light attack helicopter squadron to do so.

"We are the first to deploy a full HMLA for a third tour in Iraq," said Colandreo, a Rockville, Md., native. "We needed a completely revamped training and personnel management plan that took into account the demanding mission we have as well as the short preparation time between deployments."

The Vipers brought a significant number of first-timers on this deployment, but are also fortunate to have many veterans including several who fought at such notable battles as An Najaf and Fallujah in August and November 2004, respectively. Armed with months of training, a solid turnover by HMLA-369 and a motivated group of Marines, the Vipers are ready and willing to bring the fight to the enemy.

"First and foremost, we have a job to do. It's hard not to be excited about being around such a great group of Marines performing at their peak," said Colandreo. "The amount of dedication and commitment to this cause is staggering to me as their commander. For the rest of my life, it will be the Marines that I served with that make this special. That's where the excitement comes from for me. The enemy creates some excitement for us also, but we do what we can to eliminate that."