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June 30, 2006

Sandbox on horizon for Sweat Hogs of MWSS-273

YUMA PROVING GROUND, ARIZ. (June 30, 2006) -- The Marines of Marine Wing Support Squadron 273, preparing to deploy to Iraq later this summer, conducted training exercises here, as part of their pre-deployment training cycle for the past three weeks.


June 30, 2006; Submitted on: 06/30/2006 09:29:48 AM ; Story ID#: 200663092948
By Pfc. Jason D. Mills, MCAS Beaufort

Desert Talon is the aviation community’s pre-deployment certification evaluation exercise that mirrors desert operations.

With temperatures ranging from the low 90s at night and a boiling 110 degrees every day the Sweat Hogs of MWSS-273 learned what it really meant to be a Sweat Hog.

“We came out here to, as closely as we could, simulate life, as it could be, in Iraq,” said Lt. Col. Jeff Hooks, the commanding officer of MWSS-273. “We wanted to let the Marines feel the heat out here to prepare them for a desert environment.”

The unit shipped over all of their equipment and close to 500 Marines and sailors to Arizona for the exercise. They were tested in their ability to deploy along with operating in a combat situation.

“Our original mission was two fold,” Hooks said. “First was the safe move out here, which was a success. Secondly was the evaluation of our aviation ground support and of course to complete our pre-deployment training before we go to Iraq.”

After a successful evaluation period MWSS-273 is now officially ready for Iraq. Some of the evaluations focused on the establishment of a fully capable forward arming refueling point, the readiness of the Incident Response Platoon Marines and the seamless integration of all parts of the Air Wing, according to Maj. Jason Pratt, the operations officer for MWSS-273.

“The evaluations have been great,” said Maj. Jim Stone, the executive officer of MWSS-273. “They have been brutally honest but that is what is needed. It’s better to make mistakes here rather than in theater.”

Although the evaluations were difficult the Sweat Hogs of MWSS-273 passed with good marks, according to Hooks. If, for some reason, the Sweat Hogs had not passed the evaluations then the training operation would have been extended for remedial training or they would have been given suggestions for improvement before their deployment to Iraq, depending on the severity of the failing score.

“We passed the evaluation,” Pratt said. “It was an absolute success. It has been very busy and we are now better trained for Iraq than we were before.”

Desert Talon ended June 22. After nearly three weeks of intense training the Marines of MWSS-273 are ready for their deployment to Iraq later this summer, according to Hooks.

“I absolutely feel that now, after my training here at Desert Talon, I am better prepared for my deployment to Iraq,” said Cpl. Terry Wells, a supply Marine for MWSS-273.

During Desert Talon each Marine, regardless of their job, was presented with an opportunity to train.

“I got to do a lot of things that I know will benefit me in Iraq,” said Cpl. Edward Watson, the legal chief for MWSS-273. “Practice is good, the more you do something the more proficient you become.”

Former Marine Comes Back After 21-Year Break

Ramadi, Iraq - New York City Police Department Detective Evan L. Schwerner had nearly 21 years off active duty in the Marine Corps when in the four-year wake of Sept. 11, 2001, he decided he could better serve his family and country in the global war on terror as a Marine in Iraq.


John Cordero
June 29, 2006

Cpl. Schwerner joined the Marine Corps Reserve in May 2005 as a hazardous material and waste Marine then volunteered to deploy with the 3rd Civil Affairs Group. He was subsequently assigned to the CAG’s Detachment 4, currently based at the Provincial Civil Military Operations Center and Government Center in Ramadi, Iraq.

Known to other CAG Marines as “Pappy,” the 43-year-old civil affairs noncommissioned officer’s duties as part of the detachment’s force protection team include searching visitors at the entry control point who conduct business at the PCMOC and providing escort security for the detachment commanding officer, Col. Frank Corte.

“It’s our job to ensure the safety of detachment personnel and all Iraqis who visit the PCMOC,” said the Shrub Oak, New York, native.

By protecting detachment personnel and visitors in the PCMOC, Schwerner and his force protection team allow the detachment to focus on its mission to increase the Al Anbar government’s capability and help it move toward self-reliance.

Ensuring people are safe is nothing new to Schwerner, who served on active duty from 1981 to 1985 as an aircraft rescue firefighter and who has helped saved lives and capture criminals as an NYPD police officer for the last 19 years. He spent his first 11 years as a patrol officer and the last eight as a detective and hazardous material technician with the Emergency Service Unit, which is a tactical and rescue team of about 450 men and women who specialize in forcible entries, high-risk search warrants, bridge climbs to talk-down suicidal people, and rescue of people involved in construction and automobile accidents.

“When a citizen needs help, they call the police; when the police need help, they call the ESU,” said Schwerner.

An experience of helping people that is forever etched in Schwerner’s memory is when his ESU team was called on Sept. 11, 2001.

“My squad was working that morning and we responded,” said Schwerner about the day of infamy now commonly referred to as 9/11.

He was part of Team 5, which was assigned to the North Tower and arrived before either of the Twin Towers collapsed.

“When we were entering the North Tower, the South Tower came down,” said Schwerner. “My team took cover and, after the dust settled, cleared a path to help about 100 people out of the North Tower.”

According to an official report, after surviving the South Tower’s collapse, Schwerner’s team spread into chain formation and created a path for civilians who exited the North Tower to evacuate the World Trade Center complex by descending the stairs on the north side of World Trade Center Buildings 5 and 6. The team remained at this position helping people until the North Tower collapsed, yet all team members survived because of training and a little luck, according to Schwerner.

Of the 23 NYPD police officers who died on Sept. 11, 2001, at the World Trade Center, 14 were from the ESU and two were from Schwerner’s squad.

“I’m amazed that my team survived,” he said. “It’s still hard for me to talk about that day.”

While it is difficult for him to not be overcome by emotions as he talks about 9/11, he is quick to add he is now serving on active duty in honor of the fallen heroes of 9/11, out of love for his country, and for the sake of his family.

“My wife and kids are a big reason why I’m in Iraq,” he said before quoting “The Crisis” by author Thomas Paine. “If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace.”

His service in the CAG prior to and during the deployment has not gone unnoticed or unappreciated.

“His law enforcement experience not only helped Detachment 4, but the rest of the CAG as he used his expertise to help train the Marines and sailors,” said Gunnery Sgt. Ben Trevizo, the detachment’s governance team leader for electricity.

“He was instrumental in the training of the CAG in urban warfare, room clearing, and searches and seizures of personnel,” said 39-year-old Trevizo, a native of Surprise, Ariz., who in his civilian job is the service coordinator for Arizona Public Service, Phoenix’s public utility company.

Trevizo said the main thing that sticks out in his mind about Schwerner is he goes the extra mile in everything he does. Schwerner has proved his mettle by protecting CAG leadership during attacks at the Ramadi Government Center; assisting in the training of law enforcement techniques, tactics and procedures for 83 newly graduated Iraqi policemen assigned to Ramadi; and on one occasion spotting a possible enemy observation post near the PCMOC.

Schwerner’s superior performance, leadership and conduct in a combat environment resulted in his June nomination for a combat meritorious promotion to sergeant, several days before he found out he was eligible for a regular promotion to sergeant on July 1.

His hard work, however, has not stopped him from constantly thinking about his family.
This deployment is the first time Schwerner has been separated for an extended period of time from his wife of 11 years and three children.

“My kids are taking it kind of hard, but my wife is a strong woman, so she’s holding everything together while I’m gone,” said Schwerner. “I’m fortunate to have a supportive family.”

“I’m scared, but proud of him and support him 100 percent,” said Susan Schwerner, his wife, during a phone interview. “The kids understand what he’s doing and why he’s doing it.”

Schwerner also has a supportive community.

“Where I’m from is very patriotic,” he said. “I’ve gotten support from my family, fellow police officers, and community members since I’ve been deployed.”

He said he regularly receives boxes filled with food and health and comfort items, but that support has even been shown toward his family as co-workers and community members provide assistance with such things as car and home repairs.

During a winter storm in 2005, a fence around his home was damaged. His whole ESU squad replaced the fence posts and had the fence up in a couple of hours.

“People are constantly calling me to see if I need anything,” said Susan.

“It humbles me to think of all the support I receive,” Schwerner said.

He said the support he and his family receive is vital in keeping him focused on his mission with the 3rd CAG.

“I can concentrate on what I have to do here because the support is so amazing and I know things are taken care of,” said Schwerner.

“I’m glad to be able to serve my country in this capacity,” he said. “Just to be able to make the sacrifice at this point in my life is an honor. I have a lot to be thankful to my country for, and this is my way to make my contribution and show my thanks.”

As the 3rd CAG nears the end of its seven-month deployment, Schwerner said he is looking forward to reuniting with his family and friends. His wife has similar feelings.

“I’m excited and anxious about his return” Susan said.

She said she is excited because she misses him so much and she is anxious because she knows it will take time for her husband to adjust to life in the United States after being in Iraq for seven months.

“He’s the most patriotic person I know. This is unfinished business for him,” said Susan about her husband’s desire to do his part in the fight against worldwide terror.

Perhaps it will help bring some closure to the events of 9/11.

June 29, 2006

Stolen laptop containing VA personnel information is found

By Jeff Schogol, Stars and Stripes
Mideast edition, Friday, June 30, 2006

ARLINGTON, Va. — Authorities have found the laptop containing personal data on 26.5 million veterans and current servicemembers that was stolen from a Veterans Affairs employee, the FBI announced Thursday.

To continue reading:


4th Force Recon Jumps 'Down Under' During Southern Canopy 2006

This High Altitude High Opening jump was one of many conducted by 4th Force Reconnaissance Company recently during Southern Canopy 2006, a bilateral training exercise with the Royal Australian Armed Forces and U.S. Marine Corps in Nowra, located in New South Wales.


June 28, 2006; Submitted on: 06/28/2006 07:47:01 PM ; Story ID#: 200662819471

By Sgt. Ryan O'Hare, Marine Forces Pacific

NOWRA, Australia (June 28, 2006) -- When the hydraulic cargo doors opened at an altitude of 25,000 feet into the black abyss of the Australian night sky, Marines performed their final gear and oxygen mask checks before giving the ‘thumbs up’ to the Jumpmaster. Frigid air quickly filled the C-130 transport plane, and little could be heard over the sounds of the rushing wind. Seconds later, the jump caution light switched from red to green and it was time to go. One-by-one, each Marine walked to the edge of the ramp, taking a leap few others in the world are trained to do.

This High Altitude High Opening jump was one of many conducted by 4th Force Reconnaissance Company recently during Southern Canopy 2006, a bilateral training exercise with the Royal Australian Armed Forces and U.S. Marine Corps in Nowra, located in New South Wales.

The exercise focused on military parachuting, reconnaissance patrolling and limited service-support cross training. It honed the skills of the Australian and U.S. reconnaissance units, allowing the two to share their own styles of training while fostering a strong working relationship.

“It’s always a great opportunity for us to train with the Marines,” said Australian Army Sgt. Simon Meehan, a jump instructor at the Australian Parachute Training School. “Each of us has our own way of doing certain things, so it’s good to get together and learn from one another.”

This year is the first time 4th Force was able to attend Southern Canopy due to deployment schedules of the other active duty reconnaissance units that usually support the exercise.

“This is a great opportunity for us to be able to come down here to Australia and conduct the training that we are doing,” said Gunnery Sgt. Jonathon Brown, 4th Force Recon Paraloft chief and military free-fall jumpmaster. “Because we have unrestricted airspace down here, it allows us to get in a lot more training jumps than we might get back at home.”

The exercise, which consists of Marines from both 4th Force Reconnaissance Company Headquarters at Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, and Marines from their detachment in Reno, Nevada, fulfills the two-week annual drill requirement reservists must complete. It also gave the unit a change of pace from their normal training routine.

“We wanted this to be a sort of retention exercise,” said Brown. “With a lot of our guys just getting back from Iraq, it’s a bonus to be able to train down here as well as have a good time.”

The training, which started with a series of basic refresher classes at PTS for the Marines, also covered some safety hazards they might encounter once they hit the dirt in Australia, such as indigenous snakes, spiders and ticks. Once classes were finished, it was time to polish their skills in the air.

Before jumping, each team, or stick, runs through a series of safety checks. These checks include everything from what to do in case of a malfunctioning canopy or entanglement to proper emergency landing procedures.

“Safety is our main mission when doing this kind of training,” said Brown. “It’s important that everyone knows exactly what to do in case something goes wrong.”

The parachute training portion of Southern Canopy consisted of three phases: low-level static line jumping, High-Altitude Low-Opening and also High-Altitude High-Opening jumps.
During the low-level static line jumps from 12,999 feet, the most basic of the training package, Marines sharpened their techniques as they worked on speed, direction and landing capabilities. During these jumps, parachutes are automatically deployed as each Marine exits the aircraft.

“It’s a very important part of our job to have practical and tactical insert methods,” said Lance Cpl. Roger Kalkhouven, a 4th Force Recon Marine who has nine jumps. “It’s been an excellent time jumping down here and I’ve really improved on my landings already.”
After Kalkhouven’s first jump from 25,000 feet, he had a few other words to say. “That was by far the coolest thing I have ever done in my life. That’s the first jump where I actually closed my eyes for a second when I did it.”

Some static line jumpers were also getting familiar with a new kind of parachute different from the MC-5 system they learned at jump school. Although these parachutes were new to some, they will soon be replaced with the Multi-Mission Parachute System, a new Marine Corps-specific parachute that provides better maneuverability and speed while in the air.
Once the static line jumps were completed, it was time for the free-fallers to gain altitude and fly like birds.

During HALO, Marines can jump from altitudes more than 25,000 feet with a free-fall time of more than two minutes and temperatures of negative-80 degrees with the wind chill. Because of the extreme altitude and atmosphere, Marines are qualified to breathe oxygen during their decent. The oxygen tank, which adds another 15-20 pounds, allows the Marines to survive the jump without contracting life-threatening symptoms such as hypoxia and decompression sickness.

“Free-falling is an actual art,” said Staff Sgt. Travis Haley, a 4th Force Recon Marine and military free-fall jumpmaster with over 1,500 jumps. “You have to fly your body and manipulate the wind. You don’t just simply fall to the earth.”

Another training package the Marines ran through was HAHO. During these jumps, Marines open their canopy at high altitudes, allowing more distance to be covered while they descend. Depending on weather conditions and wind speed, Marines can cover more than 20 miles while navigating their decent using a compass, global positioning system and a map. These missions are also performed at night and can be very dangerous without proper training.

“When you jump out of the plane, you’re getting a massive blast of wind. If you deployed your chute immediately, there’s the danger of damaging your canopy,” said Haley. “You need to have a small delay. Because the aircraft is moving a lot faster at that attitude, about 225 miles per hour, you need to actually get out into the air and slow yourself down first, then deploy.”

Haley added that when descending at night, some of the biggest difficulties are finding the other jumpers, getting together in a group and landing safely, because there is no real depth perception.

He also explained that many people have the misconception that skydiving from a plane gives the same stomach sensation as being on a rollercoaster. Because the plane is already moving at the same speed as when they jump, they have already reached their terminal velocity and there is not really any gravity to fight, so the only real feeling is wind.

A select few Marines were also qualifying on the Tandem Offset Resupply Delivery System (TORDS), otherwise known as bundle jumping. During these bundle jumps, Marines simulate delivering supplies into a drop zone. In this case, the bundle was a 50-gallon barrel with a simulated load of 350 pounds strapped to the Marine on a ten-foot teather. Because of the complexity of this sort of jump, only Marines with more than 100 free-fall jumps could qualify.

As word quickly spread throughout Parkes, the town where the drop zone was located, locals came out daily to watch as Marines appeared from the sky and landed at their hometown airfield.

For the Marines who were not jump qualified, Southern Canopy 2006 allowed the opportunity to sharpen other aspects of their Marine Corps training. Non-parachute qualified reconnaissance Marines and prospective reconnaissance Marines did training focused on patrolling and patrol-based operations, land navigation, communications training as well as survival and field skills training at Jervis Bay.

“The reconnaissance field requires the mastering of these skills to ensure the success of the mission,” said Stokley, a former active-duty scout sniper who taught some of the land navigation and patrolling package during Southern Canopy 2006. “The training here at Jervis Bay has helped refresh the headquarters Marines and also helped prepare myself and a handful of other Marines awaiting the Basic Reconnaissance Course.”

He also stated that maintaining proficiency with these skills is a very important part of reconnaissance training. The Marines need to know exactly what to do and how to do it in case they are deployed.

Logistics Marines take on insurgency to entrench Iraqi Army in Ramadi

RAMADI, Iraq (June 29, 2006) -- In recent days, the tempo of security operations have significantly increased in this insurgent stronghold.

As U.S. and Iraqi forces push further into the city they plan to hold the ground they take by setting up small outposts on the insurgents' doorstep.


June 29, 2006; Submitted on: 06/29/2006 04:26:58 PM ; Story ID#: 2006629162658

By Cpl. Daniel J. Redding, 1st Marine Logistics Group

Under sporadic small-arms, rocket and mortar fire, five Marines emplaced over 300 concrete barriers in 27 hours to provide secure borders for a new Iraqi army outpost in this capital city of the Al Anbar province.

The Marines, from Combat Logistics Detachment 115, utilized heavily armored forklifts, commonly referred to as TRAMS, to help the U.S. Army secure a heavier presence of Iraqi Security Forces in the most dangerous city in the region.

Combat Logistics Detachment 115, part of Combat Logistics Regiment 15 at nearby Camp Taqaddum, a sprawling logistics base east of here, was recently mobilized to help the Army's 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division, build several outposts in the city.

"We are trying to get a Coalition and Iraqi presence in an area that previously didn't have one," said Capt. John P. Hiltz, commander, Charlie Company, 40th Engineer Battalion.

Two mortars landed in the first 10 minutes the Marines were on the ground at the outpost, known as Combat Outpost Falcon. Several more fell within the first hour.

"It was pretty tough the first hour and a half to two hours, a baptism by fire" said Pfc. Michael D. Jordan, one of the TRAM operators who braved hostile fire to build a safe spot for the U.S. and Iraqi soldiers.

TRAM is a Marine acronym for 'Tractor, Rubber-tired, Articulated steering, Multipurpose'

Undeterred, the Marines quickly got down to business. Working in shifts, they emplaced the barriers, guided around the small confines of the outpost by the Army engineers in charge of the barrier emplacement operation.

The barriers are being used to create entry control points and limit access to the area now controlled by the ISF in the heart of the city.

Initial predictions estimated the project would take 48 to 72 hours, but the Marines completed 90 percent of the work in 24 hours, said Hiltz, a 30-year-old native of Chelmsford, Mass.

Hiltz paused during the operation to praise the capabilities of the Marines working for him. "Without their skill, we wouldn't be a day ahead of schedule," he said. "They have been working (nonstop) putting these barriers in to protect the COP."

Familiarity with each other and their equipment, along with the intensity of the environment, enabled the fast-paced mission accomplishment, said Lance Cpl. William D. Weatherspoon, a 21-year-old native of Lee County, Ky., and a heavy equipment operator with the detachment.

"It was a comfort knowing that the up-armored forklifts were here and available to us, knowing that we didn't have to worry about pot-shots or in-direct fire," Jordan said. "It made it more comfortable to operate."

The up-armored protection was added several months ago by the unit while at Camp Taqaddum.

Soldiers from Task Force 1st Battalion, 37th Armored Regiment, along with Iraqi soldiers of the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Brigade, 7th Division, conducted operations from the outpost while the Marines fortified the borders of the camp.

In between emplacing barriers, the Marines repeatedly provided security for the soldiers. A member of the ISF was wounded by an insurgent attack and was quickly brought here for treatment.

The logistics Marines guarded the surrounding area as the patient was stabilized and loaded onto one of the Army's nearby vehicles for medical evacuation to Camp Ramadi.

An American soldier was later wounded by a rocket attack. As the urgent call "Medic" was yelled by soldiers nearby, the CLD 115 Marines responded to provide security.

All five Marines agreed that operating under the intense reality of a possible insurgent attack at any moment was difficult, but they said that's simply what Marines do.

"The things I've seen out here, I'll never forget," said Jordan, a 23-year-old Detroit native.

"It's good to know I played a partial role in what we're doing out here in Iraq, giving (them) positive things to think about the Marine Corps," Jordan said.

The soldiers and Marines agreed the ISF utilizing the new COP for combat operations gave hope for an independent Iraqi military.

"I've been impressed with the (Iraqi soldiers) out here," Hiltz said. "They've looked like infantrymen... like tankers. ...When you equip them properly, they stand up to the job. They are as good as any other soldier."

"Every time we build a new combat outpost, we take it to the enemy," said Hiltz. "Right now, COP FALCON is the frontline of Ramadi."

Email Cpl. Redding at [email protected]

Fallen Marine’s son receives gift for future success

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (June 29, 2006) – Gavin Schuck, son of fallen combat engineer Cpl. Brandon Schuck, sits in his mother’s arms, June 29. Schuck was presented savings bonds valued at $4,000 by the Marine Corps-Law Enforcement Foundation to put toward his college education. Schuck was killed in action, Feb. 6, in Baghdadi, Iraq, while conducting combat operations and was with 8th Engineer Support Battalion, 2nd Marine Logistics Group.


June 29, 2006; Submitted on: 06/29/2006 01:58:38 PM ; Story ID#: 2006629135838

By Lance Cpl. Wayne Edmiston, 2nd Marine Logistics Group

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (June 29, 2006) -- A child sits in his mothers arms, looking around, and chewing on his bottle like any boy his age would.

This twinkle-eyed young boy of just 18 months has experienced what many don’t experience until they have children of their own, the loss of a father. Although he is not old enough to realize it now, the young boy who has lost so much has been given a gift toward his future.

Gavin Schuck, son of fallen combat engineer Cpl. Brandon Schuck of 8th Engineer Support Battalion, 2nd Marine Logistics Group, was presented savings bonds valued at $4,000 by the Marine Corps-Law Enforcement Foundation to put toward his college education.

Schuck, a Safford, Ariz., native, was killed in action, Feb. 6, by an improvised explosive device while conducting combat operations in Baghdadi, Iraq.
His comrades and platoon commander had good words to say about the character of the fallen Marine.

“He was always bragging about his son and wife,” said 1st Lt. Jason R. Berner, Schuck’s platoon commander during the operation. “He was a driving force to get the mission done.”

The Marine Corps-Law Enforcement Foundation is a nonprofit organization founded by former Marines and law enforcement members who have given more than $24 million to the children of fallen Marines and members of the law enforcement community.

A majority of the money raised comes from community events such as lunches, dinners, golf tournaments and private donors.

Megan Schuck, widow of Cpl. Schuck, had nothing but thanks toward the organization that is helping support her son’s education.

“It takes a lot of pressure off,” said Schuck. “Sometimes I wonder how I am going to support him, but this takes a lot of pressure off.”

The boy, with a smile on his face the entire time, just looked around with bewilderment with a smile he apparently adopted from his father.

“One thing about Cpl. Schuck, he always had a smirk on his face,” said Berner. “No matter what the situation, he was always smiling.”

NCOs sharpen steel at Corporal’s course

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. — The commandant of the Marine Corps has stressed the importance of improving the leadership and skills of noncommissioned officers so they can take charge in a variety of stressful situations. Headquarters and Support Battalion, Marine Corps Base, is doing its part to train NCOs to become the leaders of tomorrow by sending their Marines through the Corporal’s Course June 13-23. The two-week course helped to hone leadership abilities that have been learned by the students, turning them into NCO’s who can not only lead Marines in their section but lead all Marines whether in a safe stateside environment or on the battlefield, according to Sgt. Stephanie Whitehurst, an instructor at the course.(Official U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Brandon R. Holgersen)(released)


June 29, 2006; Submitted on: 06/29/2006 10:37:37 AM ; Story ID#: 2006629103737

By Lance Cpl. Brandon R. Holgersen, MCB Camp Lejeune

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. — (June 29, 2006) -- The commandant of the Marine Corps has stressed the importance of improving the leadership and skills of noncommissioned officers so they can take charge in a variety of stressful situations. Headquarters and Support Battalion, Marine Corps Base, is doing its part to train NCOs to become the leaders of tomorrow by sending their Marines through the Corporal’s Course June 13-23.

The two-week course helped to hone leadership abilities that have been learned by the students, turning them into NCO’s who can not only lead Marines in their section but lead all Marines whether in a safe stateside environment or on the battlefield, according to Sgt. Stephanie Whitehurst, an instructor at the course.

“The course was a powerful reiteration of the basic leadership traits and gave me a better understanding of the principles of leadership,” said Cpl. Casey Burns, a student undergoing the course.

Corporals participating in the course are kept at a high standard and must maintain an 80 percent grade average throughout the course, according to Whitehurst. They are not only graded on their performance on their three exams, covering the materiel they learn in the classroom, but they are also graded on their participation in classroom activities and their conduct.

The first week of the course involved physical training, drilling and sword manual, instruction on military justice and land navigation, according to Whitehurst. The instructors also taught the corporals innovative ways to exercise besides mundane exercises such as running, along with tips on time management and maintaining accountability.

“The course makes them work as a team, so it gives them tools to help make other Marines work as a team,” Whitehurst said.

During the course, the students learned how to correctly execute drill movements, call commands and march a unit of Marines, giving the Corporals the training and confidence to lead Marines in a formation, according to Whitehurst. Corporals are evaluated on their drilling throughout the course by using drill cards, which are used at Drill Instructor School.

“The drill was the hardest part for me,” said Burns. “Before this, I hadn’t drilled since boot camp or drilled a platoon.”

Throughout the course, the corporals also participated in a camouflage utility uniform inspection, a service C uniform inspection and a wall locker inspection, according to Whitehurst. The uniform inspections ensure that the corporals know how to properly perform an inspection and know the proper way a uniform should be worn, while the wall locker inspection teaches the Marines how to have accountability for required items and be able to spot missing items.

The second part of the course focuses on different types of counseling systems, weapons, force protection, urban war fighting and war games which taught the corporals how to lead a small unit in wartime environments, while in a multiplicity of situations, according to Whitehurst.

This portion of the course also allowed the corporals to learn from each other, while learning about urban warfare. The course was made up not only of base Marines but also infantry Marines from 2nd Marine Division who have deployed to Iraq, and they helped teach their fellow Marines how to move and operate in an urban environment, according to Staff Sgt. Mercedes Cancel, the staff noncommissioned officer in charge.

The instructors in the course strive to have as many hands-on tasks as possible because it makes the training more realistic and easier to understand, according to Cancel.

The course gives these corporals the knowledge they need to be successful leaders in the Marine Corps and continue with the Marine Corps traditions that have been passed down for hundreds of years, according to Cancel.

Marine zeroes in for success

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (July 29, 2006) -- As the hidden lead scout locates the enemy bunker through his binoculars in the brush, he radios their position back to Marines awaiting coordinates. The Marines hastily compute the position to artillerymen standing ready next to 16,000 lb. cannons. After an explosion in the distance, the scout takes another look through his binoculars and sees the blazing rubble of where the enemy bunker used to be.


July 29, 2006; Submitted on: 06/29/2006 02:01:23 PM ; Story ID#: 200662914123

By Pfc. Josephh R. Stahlman, 2nd Marine Division

Pfc. Colby C. Alberts, a fire direction controlman with Battery I, 5th Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment, trained at Gun Point 13 for his future deployment. During the five-day training exercise, Alberts and his battery performed different tasks they would carry out while deployed to a forward position.

“The battery is out here training for what it’s going to be like when we are deployed,” said Alberts, who’s been in the Marine Corps for almost a year now.

“Our battery is split into three different platoons,” said the Kasson, Minn., native. “The first platoon is providing security around the perimeter and has set up a vehicle check point.”

The second platoon is in reserve and the third is on the gun line, where there are usually six 16,000 lb M198 howitzers, Alberts said.

“Each platoon takes turns at every station,” Alberts said. “My job is to calculate information given to me by forward observers and give that information to the gun line.”

“The forward observer’s job is to give us coordinates on enemy locations and obstructions,” said Lance Cpl. Jeremy K. Anderson, a Birmingham, Ala., native and also a fire direction controlman.

“After I check the data to make sure it’s all correct, the radio operator gives the calculations to the Marines on the gun line and they move the howitzers into position to fire,” Alberts explained.

When the Marines on the gun line are given the go ahead to fire, they fire high explosive rounds as far as 30,000 meters with a 100-meter kill radius.

“It gets pretty hectic when you get a lot of grids coming at once,” Alberts said. “You have to be fast to make sure the information is right and send it to the gun line.”

“It takes everyone to do their job right to get the right information to the gun line and Alberts is always fast and correct with his,” said 29-year-old Anderson. “For a guy his age to be doing what he’s doing is outstanding.”

Alberts, who is 19 years old, grew up on a farm and graduated from Kasson High School in June 2005.

During high school, Alberts worked as a painter, a construction worker and a small gas engine mechanic.

“I had a lot of different jobs growing up,” Albert said. “I enjoy doing different things and I don’t mind a little hard work.”

Alberts played football and wrestled in high school, winning the all-state championship his senior year.

He said he wanted to do something different than anyone else he knew was doing. Alberts made that decision when he joined the Marine Corps in May 2005.

Using all the skill and determination it took for him to become a state champion, Alberts now hones his skills to be better prepared for Iraq.

“Even with all the chaos of everything going on at once, we still manage to calculate the information and send it to the gun line for the howitzers to fire,” Alberts said. “When everything is over, and I hear that we hit our target, it feels good to know I did my job right.”

Marine trains for next deployment

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (June 29, 2006) -- The Marine takes a final breath before he kicks in the door and enters the old, beaten down house full of insurgents. He points his rifle to the right and glances to the left to see an enemy insurgent lifting his gun to attack. The Marine turns to fire on the insurgent and simultaneously feels a sharp pain in his lower left side. He’d been hit, and he’s going down.


June 29, 2006; Submitted on: 06/30/2006 10:46:25 AM ; Story ID#: 2006630104625
By Pfc. Josephh Stahlman, 2nd Marine Division

As he lies on the floor and watches his fellow Marines shoot the insurgent and clear the rest of the room, an instructor walks in and looks down to him and says, “you better be glad this wasn’t real Marine.”

Lance Cpl. William C. Michener, a field artilleryman with 3rd Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment, trained at the military operations on urban terrain facility here, June 5. Michener and his battalion were trained in basic infantry tactics in an urban environment, during the five-day exercise.

“The training we do out here is basically how to survive in an urban environment,” said Michener, a St. Joe, Ark., native. “They teach us how to work together as a team and maneuver through an urban environment.”

The Marines were taught the different aspects of urban terrain and how to maneuver through it in a classroom setting during the first two days. The third day was spent patrolling through the town in four platoons made up of three, four-man fire teams each. Michener was chosen to be a fire team leader by Cpl. Sidney C. Moore, a field artilleryman and 3rd Squad leader.

“I chose Michener because of his outstanding ability to lead Marines,” said Moore, a Dracut, Mass., native. “I also spent seven months in Iraq with him, so I know he’s seen this stuff first hand.”

Michener and Moore were both deployed to forward operating base Trebil, Iraq, in March 2005. The Marines at Trebil responded to more than 20 improvised explosive devices. They went on patrols every day and conducted vehicle check-points to search for weapons and ammunition in the town.

Moore and Michener spent many hours on post, reminiscing about home and getting to know each other.

“After hours of patrols and standing post, you get to know the people around you very well,” said Michener, the youngest of eight children. “After being out there so long, you start to trust the Marines you’re surrounded by a lot more; this training helps you start to develop a trusting relationship with the Marines in your squad.”

The Marines used simulation rounds to show where the impact of the actual bullet would be while clearing the buildings on the final days of training. Simulation rounds are plastic projectiles filled with colored laundry detergent.

“The instructors give us sim rounds to give going into the buildings more of a real feel,” Michener said. “They are used to show how many casualties you would have after clearing a room.”

“The Marines are taught different situations that might happen while deployed to a forward position,” said Cpl. Joel W. Winkler, a basic urban skills training instructor. “We teach the Marines techniques on how to enter a building and clear it, whether it be through the front door, the back door or a window, the assault needs to be quick to catch the insurgents off guard.”

Winkler said the Marines are taught that speed and communication is the key to any successful operation.

“To survive in Iraq you have to be able to communicate with your fellow Marines,” Michener said. “While we’re out here, we get a feel of who’s going to freeze up and who’s going to take charge.”

Michener and the rest of the Marines of 3rd Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment will be using the training they received at the MOUT training facility here, to effectively accomplish their mission while keeping each other alive during their future deployments.

“Street Fight in Iraq,” No Place for the Meek

This Best Seller leaves no doubts if you wonder what it’s like fighting with the US Marine Corps Expeditionary Forces in Iraq, you are in for a hair raising ride when you read Leatherneck Publishing’s latest and greatest book release by Gunnery Sergeant Patrick Tracy.


Oceanside CA (PRWEB) June 28, 2006 -- The Best Seller, “Street Fight in Iraq,” leaves no doubts if you wonder what it’s like fighting with the US Marine Corps Expeditionary Forces in Iraq. Readers are in for a hair raising ride when they read Leatherneck Publishing’s latest book release by Gunnery Sergeant Patrick Tracy.

A seasoned 19 year Marine Corps Warrior of many battles, GySgt Tracy takes the reader second by second on heart pounding, breath stopping missions through the streets of Ramadi seeking out the terrorists who hide in the shadows of inhumanity. Around the next corner awaits a surprise ambush, a massive fire fight or a little child wired for your touch.

GySgt Tracy is a master at describing each moment as he lived it. He recorded each event in his personal mission log over a seven month tour of duty in one of the hottest combat zones, Ramadi, Iraq.

"Street Fight in Iraq" relates with great candor the unvarnished realities of dealing with day to day combat in and around Ramadi. Readers will be shocked, fascinated, outraged and frustrated when they read about the fight for Democracy and Peace in Iraq. This book is about Marines who made the journey to combat and the unbelievable events that made up their seven month combat tour. The language is harsh, the writing brutally honest and the message clear. This is a definite “must read” for military and civilians alike.

Patrick Tracy was born in 1967 and raised in Pittston, PA. A 19 year career infantry Marine stationed in Scotland, Japan, North Carolina, South Carolina, Washington D.C., Hawaii, and Colorado and presently resides in San Clemente, California with his wife Janet and daughters Sonia and Danielle. He reported for duty at Camp Pendleton in September of 2003 and deployed to Iraq in August of 2004 as the Company Gunnery Sergeant for Fox Company 2nd Battalion 5th Marines. In December of 2005, Patrick was promoted to First Sergeant. Currently he is on active deployment.

“Street Fight In Iraq” is published by Leatherneck Publishing located in Oceanside, CA. The book is available directly from http://www.leatherneckpublishing.com , or your local bookstore. Dealer discounts offered through Ingram Books and Baker &Taylor.;

Review copies are available to accredited media venues by calling (760) 754-3100 or by email. When requesting via e-mail, please provide your name, title, organization, address and phone number.

Live-fire a must for infantry Marines

MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. - Marines with 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, move through the cover of smoke during a live-fire exercise on Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms. Supported by machine gun teams, the Marines attacked multiple bunkers during the mock assault. Participating in the month-long Mojave Viper training, the battalion conducted platoon, company and battalion sized live-fire operations.


June 29, 2006; Submitted on: 06/29/2006 06:28:49 AM ; Story ID#: 200662962849

By Cpl. Paul Robbins Jr., Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. (June 29, 2006) -- Pinned down in a covered position with enemy gunfire impacting overhead and the explosions of enemy mortars moving even closer, Marines in combat have one thing to rely on - each other.

Team building and unit cohesion is an integral part of the pre-deployment, Mojave Viper training evolution aboard Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, Calif., where infantry battalions focus their efforts on unit-driven operations and simulated combat environments to prepare their Marines for the trials ahead.

The specialized and in-depth training provided during this evolution is a step above the usual training provided.

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

In an attempt to duplicate realistic combat experiences, the Marines focus 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 battalions have been able to provide realistic combat situations to their Marines.

Marines assault bunkers, hills and urban towns in mock battles with a simulated enemy. The Marines use live ammunition in coordinated assaults, while "Coyotes" use artillery simulators and radio communication to affect the battle's progression.

“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 A Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment.

Many of the Marines who participated believe that using live rounds in the simulations provides the necessary element of danger for infantry Marines. Some of the combat tactics employed by 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 true combat environment also helps to build confidence on the battlefield, according to Lance Cpl. Michael J. Howard, a team leader for B Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment.

The live ammunition, pop-up targets and elaborate entrenchments also add excitement and accomplishment to the training cycle.

“Anytime you can put rounds down range, it’s a good day,” said Sgt. Gilbert J. Hernandez, a machine gun section leader for B Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment.

But the seriousness of the training is not lost on the Corps' warriors. With deployments looming for all who participate, the Marines recognize the training as important, effective and necessary.

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

June 28, 2006

We wrote the book on counterinsurgency; literally

MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. (June 28, 2006) -- Marine Corps Combat Development Command has created four new products dealing with counterinsurgency, which are now available online for viewing and judging.

Two of the items are concepts, and the others are doctrine, one of which was a joint project with the Army.


June 28, 2006; Submitted on: 06/28/2006 12:59:31 PM ; Story ID#: 2006628125931

By Lance Cpl. Travis J. Crewdson, MCB Quantico

All four products are in the form of a book or pamphlet. The version available now for most of these is only a draft that is open for comments and will then be edited and updated at a later time.

In the early 20th century, while assessing the nature of the anticipated conflict in the Pacific, the Marine Corps concluded that the United States could not afford the luxury of avoiding that which was incredibly difficult. Rather than avoiding the problem, the Navy-Marine Corps team attacked it. The result was a “Tentative Manual for Landing Operations” published in 1934. Acknowledging there was still much to learn, this manual was refined through numerous exercises and experiences until 1940. This document provided a common framework for further exploration and refinement of the tactics, techniques and procedures that would be creatively -- and successfully -- applied on a global scale.

It was from this success that the first book of the four “Tentative Manual for Countering Irregular Threats: An Updated Approach to Counterinsurgency Operations,” was created. It is the in-depth version of concepts used in current operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The title comes from the old landing manual. It is best for battalion commander and up or anyone with interest in capability and development of a unit, said Lt. Col. Lance McDaniel, one of the creators from the Concepts Branch of the Concepts and Plans Division of MCCDC.

“The idea is that the concept isn’t done yet,” McDaniel said. “We will rewrite it as many times as we need to, in three months, six months, two years, whenever, we will write it again based on what we learn through experimentation and combat operations.”

The manual has a three month timeline before it is taken back into an editing stage for updating. The original project for this manual began in summer of 2005. Lt. Gen. James Mattis, commanding general of MCCDC appointed Col. Doug King, head of MCCDC’s joint coordination, to have his Marines create a concept manual for counterinsurgency. McDaniel was tasked, used his experience from two tours in Iraq, along with Maj. Farrell Sullivan, a coworker of McDaniel who has experience in Afghanistan. They worked with international officers at the war colleges and did their own research as well.

“We spent a lot of time at the library,” McDaniel said. “The manual was also successfully used in the Expeditionary Warrior 2006 wargaming. These are future concepts, but many of them are simple enough that they could be used in Iraq today.”

The second product is a 15-page pamphlet for external audiences, “The Comprehensive Approach to Countering Irregular Threats.” It a shorter version of the first manual, and it had less military terminology and more pictures. Any reader can understand and benefit from the manual, McDaniel said.

The third product is about 250 pages of doctrine, not concept. This joint product, “United States Army and United States Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Manual FMFM 3-24” is a rough draft with an aggressive deadline before it is to be updated.

FMFM 3-24 was born from a joint decision from Mattis and Army Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of the Combined Arms Center – the Army equivalent of the Marine Corps’ MCCDC -- and Fort Leavenworth, Kans. The Army provided a lead editor and each chapter had an assigned Marine and soldier to work together to write it. With the help of the research the Marine Corps had already done for the manual in 2005, the project was completed in about seven months and has eight chapters plus appendices. Both services are scheduled to meet at Ft. Leavenworth for revising in about 30 days.

“We believe even in draft form, it could be a utility today,” McDaniel said to encourage more people to read it hoping to increase feedback.

The Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory Web site hosts the link to a fully viewable draft. McDaniel is the point of contact for corrections or general questions, but he said even compliments are helpful. Contact information for writers and editors is also included in the documents.

The last of the new products is the “Small-Unit Leaders’ Guide to Counterinsurgency,” a more practical how-to guide for counterinsurgency operations. The guide, like the FMFM 3-24, is considered doctrine and will benefit someone at or below a company commander’s level best. McDaniel said this project will probably also end up as a joint product, but the concept manuals will remain service specific.

To view the documents, visit www.mcwl.usmc.mil and look under the “What’s hot” section. Contact information is included in the materials, or comments can be brought to McDaniel at (703) 784-6605.

Marines’ Goal: Gain Trust, Improve Community, The Marines' "gifts for grades" incentive encourages Iraqi schoolchildren

BARWANA, Iraq, June 28, 2006 — As U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Brett Bartels stood in front of a military vehicle handing out hundreds of stuffed animals and soccer balls on a road in Barwana, his goal was simple - make sure each child went home with a smile on his face.


By U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Roe F. Seigle
1st Marine Division

Such humanitarian operations are the reason many of the local residents are starting to trust Marines and why insurgents are quickly losing their foothold in the city of 40,000 nestled along the Euphrates River, just southeast of Haditha, the 23-year-old native of Canoga, Park, Calif., said.

"People here trust us. With that trust we are hoping to build the basic programs needed to properly govern a city."

U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Brett Bartels

"When we arrived in Barwana in March, the insurgents would threaten and intimidate anyone who cooperated with Marines," said Bartel, a team leader with 3rd Civil Affairs Group, a Marine unit with the primary mission of assisting Iraqi communities with improving local infrastructures and governance.

"The insurgents do not have that power anymore and they are desperate to get it back," said Bartel. "It is evident in their futile attacks that rarely produce the results they want."

As the insurgency is quelled, Marines here are focusing on developing and implementing programs that will one day be turned over to Iraqi government workers in Barwana after coalition forces withdraw from the city, said Bartels.

Many male residents have expressed an interest in becoming police officers and are willing to attend a police training camp in Baghdad, said U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Jose Soto, an assistant team leader with a civil affairs group.

A police force, coupled with an Army capable of independent operations, is necessary in order to provide security to residents without the assistance of coalition forces, said Soto.

"It is just a matter of time before people will start seeing some of the residents who are currently unemployed wearing a police uniform and protecting them from insurgents," said Soto. "The insurgency is crumbling in this city and we are winning the fight."

When the Marines arrived in Barwana more than three months ago, residents would not communicate with them out of fear of retribution from insurgents. Now, residents are beginning to welcome Marines and Iraqi soldiers in broad daylight - a sure sign of a weakening insurgency, said Soto.

Now the Marines are reaching out to the younger generation of Iraqis with an incentive for them to focus on their education through a program known as "gifts for good grades."

The program allows children to come to the base with their report cards and, depending on the quality of their grades, they are rewarded with toys and candy.

Soto came up with the program earlier this month when a child asked him for a soccer ball as he made an identification card for his parents.

"I asked him if he had a copy of his report card and he ran home and got it," said Soto. "The child made good grades in school so I gave him a soccer ball."

The child spread the word about the gift to other neighborhood children. Soon after, many more children showed outside the forward operating base and showed their report cards to Soto in the hopes of receiving a gift.

"I would give each child at least some candy," said Soto. "The soccer balls were the most sought after item, so I awarded that to the children with the highest grades. Others would get candy or stuffed animals."

Students began asking their teachers for copies of their report cards from previous grading periods after hearing about the program, said Soto.

"Our main goal with this program is to encourage the youth to excel in their education and lead more meaningful lives instead of having to turn to the insurgency for a source of income," said Soto, after returning from a three-hour patrol in Barwana where he and Marines from Company L, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment handed out more than two hundred toys to local children.

"People here trust us," said Bartels. "With that trust we are hoping to build the basic programs needed to properly govern a city."

Payday lenders target military personnel

The US military is targeted everyday in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, some may be targets when they're at home. Some call it an enemy within. We have new information on a growing problem on military bases, where the people who fight for their country are fighting to keep more money in their wallets.


By Flint Adam
NewsChannel 3

When a soldier returns home, he or she returns to a life of bills, family-care, and other expenses. Young soldiers don't make a lot of money and many of them haven't learned how to manage their money. So the bills add up and sometimes soldiers can't pay up, so they look for help. That's when trouble starts.

They are targets, each and every day, while trying to complete their mission in Iraq and Afghanistan. US soldiers face a tough battle overseas, but life isn't necessarily easier once they return home.

Back on US soil, soldiers have families, bills and expenses. Sometimes, a young soldier's wallet wears too thin, and help is needed. That's when they become targets, once more.

"They are a perfect target for payday lenders."

Major General Michael Lehnert commands most Marine bases west of the Mississippi. He says soldiers find nothing but trouble behind a payday lender's door.

"The reason they get in trouble is just the extraordinary interest rates that are being charged by payday lenders."

Here's an example. A soldier borrows $200 from a payday lender at 17-and-a-half percent interest. Two weeks later on payday, the soldier is expected to pay back the loan and interest, a total of $235. But often times, a soldier's paycheck isn't enough to get back on track, so the loan isn't paid off. Every two weeks thereafter, until the loan is paid off, the interest is charged again. In this case, the interest would equal 455 percent after one year. That's $910 interest on a $200 loan.

"That is not a legitimate profit."

But General Lehnert says this is a legitimate problem. He recently spoke with a group of 1,400 Marines about payday loans.

"I asked the question, ‘how many of you have someone that you know personally who has been in trouble with payday lenders, who has gotten in trouble financially with payday lenders.' Nearly every single hand went up."

Lehnert believes America's armed forces are being preyed upon by payday lenders. There's research that backs him up. A joint California State and University of Florida report finds that payday loan centers are disproportionately found near military bases.

Based on population, researchers believed a town the size of Twentynine Palms should have one payday lender. They found seven, all huddled near the Marine base.

At Camp Pendleton, near Oceanside, researchers expected five payday lenders. They found twenty-two near the south and east gates of the base. And it's not just near military bases that soldiers are targeted.

"Nowadays, a soldier doesn't even need to leave the base in order to get a loan. On the internet, there are literally scores of websites offering military payday loans."

In their defense, advocates of the payday lending industry say they're only offering a service. No one has to take their offer. And their business is legal. But soldiers are still getting in trouble.

"We can't do that to our military. It's just wrong."

37th District Senator Jim Battin says new legislation may help change some of that. Assembly Bill 1965 is being reviewed in the California legislature. It could make it harder for payday lenders to deal with soldiers and offer more protection from debt while they're overseas.

"It does defer interest, while they are deployed."

But is the bill a final solution?

"The bill, in my view, does not go nearly far enough."

General Lenhert says the state needs to adopt a payday interest rate cap, like several other states have. He says we owe it to our soldiers.

"We really have to ask ourselves as a nation, how does it look to send these young men and women, who are defending our nation, and then to come home and then to allow institutions to prey on them financially and to cause them financial grief? I just don't think that's the way, as America, we ought to be and how we ought to be treating these young men and women. I just think it's wrong."

Senator Battin says, if Assembly Bill 1965 passes, it would become law on January 1st of next year.

Marine in `Fahrenheit 9/11' killed in Iraq

DETROIT - A Marine and one-time recruiter who appeared in Michael Moore's documentary film "Fahrenheit 9/11" has died in a roadside bombing in Iraq.


Staff Sgt. Raymond J. Plouhar, 30, died Monday of wounds suffered while conducting combat operations in Iraq's volatile Anbar province, the Defense Department said Tuesday.

Plouhar, who was stationed at Camp Pendleton, Calif., had taken four years off from active duty to serve as a recruiter in Flint after donating one of his kidneys to his uncle. He is seen in the 2004 film approaching prospective recruits in a mall parking lot.

"It's better to get them when they're in ones and twos and work on them that way," he says in the film.

Although Plouhar willingly appeared in the movie, which is critical of the Bush administration's actions after Sept. 11, his father said Plouhar didn't realize it would criticize the war.

"I'm proud that my son wanted to protect the freedom of this country whether we all agree with the war or not," he said.

Plouhar grew up in Lake Orion, about 30 miles north of Detroit.

He is survived by a wife and two children, ages 5 and 9. They live in Arizona.

Elbit Systems' Unit Bags $50 Mln US Marine Corps Follow-on Contract

(RTTNews) - Elbit Systems Ltd. (ESLT | charts | news | PowerRating) said that EFW Inc, an Elbit Systems of America company, has won a $50 million contract from the US Marine Corps Systems Command for the supply of military systems.


Wednesday, June 28, 2006; Posted: 04:15 AM

As per the deal, EFW would produce, integrate, install and provide logistics support for the systems on Marine Corps vehicles. The company noted that the systems are scheduled for installation during 2006.

Copyright(c) 2006 RealTimeTraders.com, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Tanks support 'Darkhorse' grunts in Habbaniyah

CAMP HABBANIYAH, Iraq (June 28, 2006) -- Marines of Company A, 2nd Tank Battalion are supporting the grunts of 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment by maintaining a constant presence with their M1-A1 Main Battle Tanks along the main highways in the battalion’s new area of operations.


June 28, 2006
By Cpl. Mark Sixbey
1st Marine Division

“We’re operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” said Gunnery Sgt. Michael J. Kadlub, a tank commander for 2nd Platoon. “There’s always somebody out there.”

The tanks followed Darkhorse to Habbaniyah when the battalion moved west from Fallujah at the end of May.

The transition to the new battle space was eased by the company’s previous work with the Darkhorse battalion south of Fallujah earlier in the deployment, Kadlub said.

“Fortunately, right before we came here, our platoon worked with India 3/5 for a month at another location,” said the 37-year-old from Atlanta. “We had a good working relationship with them, and it’s carried over here. It’s been nothing but good results.”

Tanks also support the Iraqi Army forces who share battle space with Marines in the area.

“We’re responsible for route security,” said Capt. Charles T. Montgomery, 2nd Platoon commander. “The Iraqi Army owns territory adjacent to us, so we work with them periodically on request.”

“If they need us they’ll call us, and we’ll assist them,” Kadlub added.

He said he’s seen some progress since moving to the more volatile area of operations closer to Ramadi.

“After the move here, the activity by the insurgents was definitely substantially increased from what we saw since we were in country,” Kadlub said. “It’s slowed down a little bit, but has definitely not gone away.”

The move brought changes in camp scenery, as the Marines now live in barracks built by the British army earlier this century.

“It’s a lot changed from where we’ve been,” said Cpl. Brian C. Gilliam, a tank gunner. “The living conditions are down a little bit, but the working conditions are boosted up.”

Camp Habbaniyah’s large hangar keeps the sunlight off the tanks, which he said helps while the Marines perform constant maintenance in the desert heat. The hangar is also located relatively close to their barracks.

“It’s not that far compared to Fallujah, where we had to get on a bus to get to work,” said Gilliam, 26, from Cumberland, Ky.

Montgomery, a 33-year-old from Charlotte, Ky., added that the close proximity between work and living quarters is good for maximizing operations, since the tanks require constant upkeep.

“Just like every rifleman has to zero in his rifle, we have to zero the tank gun,” Kadlub explained. “If you do everything the way you’re supposed to, it’s as easy as playing a video game.”

In two separate engagements, tanks have helped Marines of I Company stop insurgent attacks, he added.

Gilliam is on his first deployment to Iraq. He has the best view in the tank, behind the controls of the 120 mm main gun.

“I’m the one aiming in, scanning, doing all that,” he said. “When I pull the trigger, the target ceases to exist,” Gilliam said.

And for the grunts who patrol the roads and man the observation posts in Habbaniyah, 70 tons of metal rolling down the street is always a welcome sight.

“Their presence helps,” said Lance Cpl. David Conklin, a machine gunner with Combat Trains Platoon, Headquarters and Support Company. “When the insurgents see the tanks, they don’t really want to come out and attack.”

The 23-year-old from Temple, Texas, added that the tanks also provide peace of mind against improvised explosive device attacks, as the tanks’ armor can withstand just about anything buried on the road.

Reservists bear heavy burden in war’s 4th year

FALLUJAH, Iraq - Unlike many Marines in this dangerous city, Staff Sgt. George Scott could have said “no.” He could have stayed home in Ohio with his two young sons.


The Associated Press

Updated: 8:18 p.m. CT June 27, 2006

Pentagon rules limit the number of times reservists like Scott can be called to duty involuntarily. But Scott keeps coming back. He’s on his third tour now, and said he’d volunteer for a fourth.

“I like to be a Marine, leading Marines, and being around them,” said Scott, who in civilian life is a car dealer service manager in Orwell, Ohio.

With the war in Iraq still raging after three years and the full-time military stretched thin, the Pentagon is counting on, and courting, committed volunteers like Scott to fill the ranks.

Scott served earlier in Iraq with another unit, but volunteered to help the 1st Battalion, 25th Regiment, 4th Marine Division, when it was looking for more troops. Many others also agreed to deploy again: About half of the 500 original members of the 1st Battalion are in Iraq by choice, said Gunnery Sgt. Pete Walz, a spokesman for the reserve battalion stationed in Fort Devens, Mass.

The 1st Battalion’s numbers show the increasing reliance on volunteers from the reserves and the National Guard, even as the total number of reserve units is going down.

The extended Iraq conflict, and the Afghanistan fight, have forced U.S. commanders to use reserve forces more heavily than at any other time in recent decades.

During the Vietnam War, active duty troops did the vast majority of the fighting. In Iraq, by comparison, the reserve troops made up half of the ground force for much of last year.

After signs that the reserve system was in trouble — including a major recruiting shortfall by the Army National Guard — the Pentagon moved to reduce the numbers of reservists called up. Of the roughly 127,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, the proportion has dropped to about 21 percent, said Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke, a Pentagon spokeswoman.

U.S. commanders have said part-time troops will play a much smaller combat role for the remainder of the war.

Sharing the duty, and the dying
But reservists haven’t shared only the duty, they’ve shared the toll. In 2004, about 20 percent of the 845 U.S. military deaths in Iraq came from the reservists’ ranks. In the first nine months of 2005 — when an Army National Guard division was sent into battle for the first time since the Korean War — reservists accounted for 36 percent of 595 U.S. deaths.

Though many reservists and national guardsmen in Iraq have been assigned to support roles, others have been sent to some of the most violent areas of the country. Scott’s battalion is responsible for Fallujah, the former insurgent stronghold where militants are trying to make inroads.

It’s no less dangerous for these reservists than for the active-duty Marines.

Last year one battalion of Marine reservists in western Iraq suffered 48 fatalities during a seven-month tour. In the summer of 2005, the Army’s Georgia National Guard was stationed in Mahmoudiyah, one of Iraq’s most dangerous areas, and quickly suffered several deaths before being moved to a calmer area.

But despite the long deployments, the risks, and fears of an extended Iraq conflict that have driven many away, others continue to volunteer.

The view from Fallujah
In Fallujah, the Marine reservists who volunteered said they did so for many reasons, ranging from patriotism, to a sense of camaraderie with other troops from their hometowns, to the opportunity to save money.

“What I tell a lot of people is that we’ve got to finish what we started,” said Staff Sgt. Christopher Hale, of Albany, N.Y., a correctional officer back home who now oversees one of six checkpoints leading into Fallujah. “I knew they needed a staff (noncommissioned officer), and the other guy wasn’t going.”

Some Marines, particularly those with wives and children, acknowledged the stress of being away for months. Sgt. Mark Sabourin, a carpenter back home in Bellingham, Mass., said he had a child back home who was “attached to his hip” but yet he still agreed to deploy to Iraq for the second time.

“My biggest reason was to take care of my Marines,” said Sabourin, 37, noting that his battalion had several young Marines with only two years of experience. “I wouldn’t feel right sitting at home watching these guys on TV, doing what they need to do. That’s not why I joined the Marine Corps.”

Stress for those left behind
Sgt. Recordo Demetrius, a mechanic taking a break from repairing a Humvee damaged by a roadside bomb, said his wife was a “little reluctant” about his second tour in Iraq. He acknowledged that the stress of deployments often falls on relatives back home.

“I think it’s harder for the families back home than the Marines who are doing it. Some of them understand. Others are like, ‘Why are you doing it?”’ said Demetrius, a New York City police officer.

While sometimes their families lack confidence in the mission, many of these Marines said they see important gains in Iraq.

“Every day I think about going home. But if I had the opportunity, I wouldn’t. I’d stay here,” said Sgt. Manuel Felicio, 31, a native of Rhode Island, on his first tour.

Scott too says he thinks about home, and looks forward to spending time at the end of this deployment with his sons, ages 6 and 10. “It’s wearing a little bit, since my boys are at the age where I should be teaching them to throw a football, how to fish,” he said.

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

June 27, 2006

Marine lieutenant exposed himself to enemy fire to save another in Iraq

HADITHA, Iraq (June 27, 2006) -- Marines here say a lieutenant who was leading Marines and Iraqi soldiers through the volatile streets of Haditha, Iraq, June 14, showed uncommon valor when he ran into a barrage of enemy gunfire to pull a wounded Marine to safety.

1st Lt. Rick Posselt, a 25-year-old from Crystal River, Fla., said he is not the Marine who deserves the recognition.

June 27, 2006; Submitted on: 06/26/2006 02:38:38 PM ; Story ID#: 2006626143838

By Sgt. Roe F. Seigle, Regimental Combat Team7

Cpl. Michael Estrella, who was killed by sniper fire during that same patrol, is the real hero and deserves the recognition, said Posselt.

The mission Posselt, a platoon commander assigned to the Hawaii-based India Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, led the Marines and their Iraqi Army counterparts on that day was like any other – a patrol through the winding streets of Haditha. On this particular patrol they were searching for a suspected insurgent.

Haditha is a city of 30,000 nestled along the Euphrates River northwest of Baghdad in Iraq’s Al Anbar province.

When Posselt came to an intersection in a marketplace, the Marines began receiving gunfire and saw Estrella, 20, fall to the ground.

Shortly after the initial ‘cracks’ of enemy gunfire pelted the ground below and spit up shards of concrete around him, Posselt said his platoon was shot at from another direction.

Posselt’s first instinct was to get Estrella to safety – and he did so risking his own life in the process.

As the enemy gunfire continued, Posselt ran to the wounded Estrella and pulled him approximately 15 feet to safety, further exposing himself to more gunfire.

“I just did what my instinct told me to do,” said Posselt. “I was just trying to take care of my Marines.”

Looking back, Posselt feels any other Marine in his position would have done the same thing that day.

“I just happened to be the Marine closest to Estrella when he fell,” said Posselt. “I had to get him off that street and that was really the only thought going through my mind.”

With Estrella out of harm’s way, several Iraqi soldiers returned well aimed and disciplined fire to the enemy’s position, without injuring any civilians on the street that day.

Still, Posselt does not believe he is worthy of recognition, but Capt. Andy Lynch, 31, India Company’s commanding officer, says Posselt will be recognized for his brave actions on the battlefield that day.

Sgt. Jason Sakowski, 26, said he also believes Posselt is worthy of recognition.

Sakowski, one of Posselt’s squad leaders, was present during the fire fight and called in reinforcements and a medical evacuation while returning and directing fire at the enemy combatants. The enemy combatants then fled the area.

“He (Posselt) put his life on the line without even thinking about it,” said Sakowski, a 26-year-old native of Wilkesboro, N.C. “This is my third combat deployment but it is the first time I have seen bravery to that degree.”

“Muhammad,” a soldier assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Brigade, 7th Iraqi Army Division, was also present during the firefight and was one of the Iraqi soldiers who returned fire to the enemy combatants. He agrees with Sakowski – Posselt’s actions were commendable.

“He (Posselt) showed uncommon courage that day,” said Muhammad, through a translator. “He set an example for other soldiers to follow. I think he is a hero.”

Posselt gives more credit to Sakowski for his role in the fire fight than he gives himself for risking his life to pull Estrella to safety.

“Sakowski accomplished many things at once in the middle of the firefight,” said Posselt.

Sakowski called for a medical evacuation, directed fire and called in the reinforcements that arrived within a minute of being called out, said Posselt.

“Sakowski made some very important decisions under fire,” said Posselt. “He stayed calm and remembered his training in the heat of a battle.”

Posselt also said the Marines are mourning the loss of their friend and fellow warrior, Estrella, but are still focused on training the Iraqi Army to eventually provide security in this region along the Euphrates River on their own, allowing U.S. forces to eventually leave for good.

“I want to bring the rest of the Marines home safely, first and foremost,” said Posselt, right after a memorial service was held for Estrella at the Marines’ fortified base here. “But we also have to help get a government established so we do not have to come back here 10 years down the road with the same situation we had in 2003. We owe it to Estrella to accomplish the mission he came here to complete.”

The Hawaii-based Marine battalion, also known as “America’s Battalion,” arrived in March and are scheduled to depart Iraq this fall and be replaced by another Hawaii-based unit.

Contact Sgt. Seigle at: [email protected]

Guam educators planning for influx of Marine families, DODEA planning to hire staff, expand infrastructure

By Teri Weaver, Stars and Stripes
Pacific edition, Tuesday, June 27, 2006

U.S. NAVAL HOSPITAL, GUAM — Like most other military and Guam governmental agencies, Guam’s military school system awaits details to begin planning the major construction and staffing increases needed as 8,000 Marines come to the island.

To continue reading:


Marines in war zone continue to train tomorrow's leaders

AL ASAD, Iraq (June 27, 2006) -- Marines from across station here enrolled in the Corporals Course supervised by Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 533, Marine Aircraft Group 16 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing.

The course was started by the Marines from VMFA(AW)-533 and began its third course June 5.


June 27, 2006; Submitted on: 06/27/2006 10:18:28 AM ; Story ID#: 2006627101828

By Lance Cpl. Brian J. Holloran, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing

"I got involved because I wanted to seize the opportunity to train Marines," said Sgt. Travis D. Bowling, armory noncommissioned officer-in-charge, VMFA(AW)-533.

The purpose of the Corporals Course is to teach newly noncommissioned officers the skills needed to lead junior Marines, both in battle and in their respective military occupational specialties.

"The mission of the course is to prepare corporals with essential education and leadership that is necessary to lead Marines in any environment," said Sgt. Maj. Scott C. Mykoo, sergeant major, VMFA(AW)-533. "Besides what the course offers to the young leaders, it gives them a break from the daily routine of 12 (hours) on, 12 (hours) off, seven days a week."

The course teaches Marines the fundamentals of close order drill, how to lead a physical training session, and delivers an all around education in everything associated with the Marine Corps.

"The focus of the course is close order drill, physical fitness and techniques for military instruction," said Gunnery Sgt. Keith Marshall, squadron gunnery sergeant, Marine Attack Squadron 513, MAG-16 (Reinforced). "We want to create the total NCO. We want to ensure that the corporals who graduate this course have learned as much from the instructors as possible."

The course started as a way for future Marine Corps leaders to use their free time to better themselves, their units and the Marine Corps.

"The way I saw it, being out here in the environment we're in, why not take advantage of it?" said Mykoo, a native of Jacksonville. Fla. "When we are in the states, it is difficult to get a high number of Marines to attend a 30-day course. You have more distractions, personal things to do, weekends off, family and work. Out here you just have work."

The course is used to show the corporals that leading Marines is a difficult job. It also shows these Marines the different leadership styles needed to be a successful leader.

"We try to show these Marines that there are different types of leadership," said Marshall, a native of Inverness, Fla. "We let these Marines know that there is not just one correct way to lead Marines. These new leaders have to adapt to the individual Marine and the situation."

While some may think that the Corporals Course held in Iraq will differ greatly from ones held in the United States, they may be surprised to find that the two are very similar.

"Being in Iraq has little to no effect on the course," said Mykoo. "There may be one unique thing, and that is the fast pace and the fact that the Marines have to go back to work when the course is done for the day."

"I think the only thing that differs is the uniform inspections," said Cpl. Serena Grandov, an intelligence analyst, VMA-513. "I think it is better out here because we are in a combat situation and things are put into a better perspective."

The Corporals Course is a staple in teaching new Marine Corps NCOs the way to lead Marines. It also teaches them what to expect now that they are leaders and in a position to be role models for their junior Marines.

"Marine NCOs are the future of the Marine Corps," said Bowling, a native of Miami. "They are the ones who enforce the Marine Corps standards and are the reason younger Marines want to stay in. They are a reflection of what the Marine Corps has to offer. There is nothing better than leading Marines."

June 26, 2006

Pentagon Display Honors Military Chaplains

WASHINGTON, June 26, 2006 – A new display commemorating the service of military chaplains was dedicated June 23 in a ceremony at the Pentagon.

David S.C. Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, speaks during an exhibit dedication ceremony to military chaplains at the Pentagon, June 23. The display is the first in the Pentagon to specifically honor chaplains. It consists of four backlit panels that highlight the accomplishments and service of military chaplains. It is located on the fifth floor of the building's A ring


By Steven Donald Smith
American Forces Press Service

"This ceremony commemorates the unselfish ministry of a group of unsung heroes in the Department of Defense - our military chaplains and assistant chaplains," David S.C. Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, said during the exhibit dedication ceremony in a refurbished portion of the building's fifth floor A ring.

The display - the first in the Pentagon to specifically honor chaplains - consists of four backlit panels that highlight the accomplishments and service of military chaplains since the American Revolution.

More than 7,500 chaplains, chaplains' assistants and religious program specialists are currently serving around the world. These chaplains represent more than 200 religious organizations, officials said.

Defense Department officials said the chaplaincy ministry exists to provide the constitutionally guaranteed right to exercise religion.

The ceremony included scripture readings from Christian, Jewish and Muslim chaplains.

"Ministers, rabbis, imams and spiritual leaders of these organizations are endorsed to serve as military chaplains," Chu said. "We are thankful to the extraordinary partnership that exists between the churches of our land and Department of Defense to make the chaplaincy work."

Chu said the history of the United States has deep spiritual and religious roots. "Since our country's inception, freedom of religious expression has been one of the chief cornerstones," he said.

One of the exhibit's display panels includes an excerpt from a letter written by George Washington that includes observations about the importance of chaplains. "For wont of a chaplain, does I humbly conceive, reflect dishonor upon the regiment," the letter states.

"So we can say that George Washington recognized the value of chaplains in the military," Chu said.

Eight chaplains and one chaplains' assistant have received the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest award for valor. Four of these recipients were chaplains who died aboard the U.S. Army transport ship Dorchester during World War II. A German torpedo struck the ship in waters south of Greenland in 1943. As the ship sank the four chaplains - two protestant ministers, a Jewish rabbi, and a Roman Catholic priest - gave up their life jackets to save others.

"Two things in that moving story give insight into our military chaplains. One is their cooperation across faith lines," Chu said. "The other is their sacrificial spirit."

Chu said present-day chaplains are just as selfless as those of past generations.

"Religious chaplains of today are making history on 21st century battlefields, at remote outposts, on ships at sea, in dangerous operations overseas and here at home," he said. "In a world in which religious differences and tensions often leads to bloodshed, the chaplains of our armed forces demonstrate remarkable cooperation and willingness to serve in the pluralistic setting of our military."

Scout sniper serving in Iraq awarded U.S. military's third highest award for valor

CAMP AL QA'IM, Iraq - When Sgt. Jarred L. Adams retrieved the body of a fallen Marine from a burning humvee, he says he was simply doing his job.

The 22-year-old scout sniper assigned to 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, was awarded the Silver Star June 10 while currently deployed to Iraq with the southern Calif.-based unit for a second time.


Cpl. Antonio Rosas
Regimental Combat Team7

The Silver Star is the nation's third highest military award for combat heroism after the Medal of Honor and the Navy Cross.

“I don't think I did anything any other Marine wouldn't do,” said Adams, from Wasilla, Ala. “I would do it again if it came down to it.”

In January 2005, during Operation Iraqi Freedom II, Adams was deployed with the battalion to the Iraqi-Syrian border region of western Al Anbar province.

In the city of Husaybah, a city of about 50,000 citizens, Adams' humvee was attacked by insurgents with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades.

When his vehicle crashed and became stuck, Adams immediately took up a stable position and returned fire at the enemy. After Marines dislodged the vehicle, Adams and his squad drove back to retrieve another humvee lost in the melee.

That's when a rocket-propelled grenade struck Adams' vehicle, killing one Marine and wounding others inside. Adams received shrapnel from the blast as well as burns from the vehicle which was set ablaze from the attack.

After seeking a safe position, Adams realized the body of the fallen Marine was still inside the blazing vehicle. Running back into the burning vehicle and while under enemy fire, Adams retrieved the Marine's body and carried him through an intersection while broadly exposed to enemy fire.

It wasn't until Adams and the other Marines were back in the safety of their headquarters that Adams sought medical treatment for his wounds.

He downplays his actions in the firefight, and said that he feels that any Marine would have performed as he did.

“I am very proud that we can count on Marines like [then] Corporal Adams,” said Lt. Col. Nicholas F. Marano, Adams' commanding officer, during the ceremony. “He is an example of the kind of leaders we have in this battalion.”

Marano took the time to address his Marines who are serving at a remote forward operating base, or “battle position,” as the Marines call it, north of the Euphrates River. The battalion arrived in Iraq three months ago to provide stability and security, alongside their Iraqi Army counterparts, to a cluster of towns in the region.

“I think all of you are doing an outstanding job and I am very proud of the work you are doing with the Iraqi Army,” said Marano.

Adams says nothing has changed during this deployment except that things are a lot quieter now in regards to insurgent activity. The battalion has not had to face a direct insurgent attack, like the one Adams faced in January 2005, during their current deployment.

The last major U.S.- and Iraqi-led offensive against insurgents in this region occurred in November last year, a mission dubbed, “Operation Steel Curtain.” The operation resulted in more than 250 killed insurgents.

Iraqi soldiers receive training for new fleet of humvees

The Iraqi Army’s 3rd Brigade, 7th Iraqi Army Division at Camp Al Qa’im, Iraq, received 50 brand-new, tan Humvees this month from Iraq’s Ministry of Defense in an effort to provide Iraqi Security Forces more heavily armored – and reliable – vehicles. Before the soldiers can begin conducting security operations in their new trucks, Marines of 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, are equipping the soldiers with the training and knowledge they’ll need to operate the up-armored vehicles. Here, an Iraqi student tests on the driving portion of the Humvee course where he is required to maneuver the vehicle around a set of road cones June 17, 2006. “For someone who has never been behind the wheel of a Humvee, they’re doing pretty good,” said Cpl. Alfredo Solis, a motor transport operator and instructor for the course.


June 27, 2006; Submitted on: 06/26/2006 01:49:49 PM ; Story ID#: 2006626134949
By Cpl. Antonio Rosas, Regimental Combat Team7

CAMP AL QA’IM, Iraq (June 27, 2006) -- Fifty brand-new, tan humvees are parked in the 3rd Brigade, 7th Iraqi Army Division headquarters here – vehicles the unit received this month from Iraq’s Ministry of Defense in an effort to provide Iraqi Security Forces with more heavily armored – and reliable – vehicles.

Before the soldiers can begin conducting security operations in their new trucks, Marines of 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, are equipping the soldiers with the training and knowledge they’ll need to operate the up-armored vehicles.

The humvees add additional armored protection for the soldiers, who normally drive through Al Anbar Province’s IED-laden roads and towns in pick-up trucks, which have minimally armored machine guns mounted in the trucks’ beds.

Now, they’ll be rolling in the same vehicles as American forces, and will have the training to operate the humvees in any condition, and keep the vehicles maintained.

The Marines’ goal is to have 150 certified Iraqi soldiers qualified to drive the vehicles within the next 90 days, according to Military Transition Team officials here – one of several teams of U.S. service members responsible for mentoring and advising Iraqi Army units throughout western Al Anbar Province.

The transition team here works directly with 3rd Brigade near the Iraq-Syria border.

The Marines are currently teaching the Iraqis operation and maintenance basics in a course that will enable them to drive and maintain their new Humvees without assistance from the Americans.

“For someone who has never been behind the wheel of a Humvee, they’re doing pretty good,” said Cpl. Alfredo Solis, a motor transport operator and instructor for the course. “These guys will do well because they ask a lot of questions and that tells me that they’re eager to learn this stuff.”

The course is the first step in the process of licensing the Iraqi soldiers, the Marines say.

“This class is important because the Iraqi soldiers have never had Humvees before,” said Maj. Stanley M. Horton, 39, the logistics advisor for the brigade’s military transition team at Camp Al Qa’im, near the Iraqi-Syrian border.

U.S. forces have used the Humvee since 1981 when a prototype was built for the U.S. Army, according to the manufacturer’s website. In Iraq, the Humvee’s capabilities allow Marines to accommodate a wide range of weapons aboard a turret on the vehicle’s roof, including .50 caliber machine guns, and the MK-19 40 millimeter grenade launcher.

While most Iraqi Army brigades have already completed similar courses, 3rd Brigade is the youngest brigade in the country, and one of the last to receive the training, said Horton, a native of Colorado Springs, Colo.

The Iraqis are responsible for completing 32 hours of instruction in order to pass the class. The course is broken down into an equal part of classroom instruction and hands-on application to put the uniformed Iraqis under the hood of the Humvees to become familiar with the vehicle’s working parts.

“It’s important that the Iraqis know what everything is on the Humvee and understand how everything works because these vehicles are theirs and they will need to upkeep them on their own,” said Solis, a native of Santa Ana, Calif.

While several of the soldiers have experience as drivers and know basic vehicle maintenance, such as changing fluids and filters, the Marines stress the hands-on portion of the class since Humvees are new to the Iraqi military, according to Horton.

Moreover, the soldiers must demonstrate that they can both fix a Humvee, and operate it safely, before graduating the course.

“If they can’t back up a Humvee with a trailer for 100 feet, I’ll make them do it over and over again until I see they can do it on their own,” said Solis. “They need to be able to do everything without their buddies giving them the answer.”

One soldier, a 26-year-old Jundi from Baghdad, has shown considerable progress in the course and says he is looking forward to driving the same armored vehicles that the Marines drive.

The soldier, who chose to remain anonymous, says the Humvees provide better protection from improvised explosive devices - arguably the number one threat against Iraqi and Coalition forces in Al Anbar Province.

By and large, the Humvees seem to have bolstered the Iraqi soldiers’ confidence in the amount of protection they’ll have now when traveling Iraq’s roads. They say the Humvees are a huge step up from their current fleet of pick-ups.

“The vehicle feels good. It is comfortable to drive and the steering is better than our vehicles now,” said another Iraqi soldier, through a translator.

“You can trust this vehicle,” said another soldier, who added that he has more than 10 years of experience as a truck driver.

The vehicles can be used for a variety of tasks, from providing security for convoys, to conducting mounted patrols through towns and villages.

The Iraqi students are eager to complete the training in order to begin conducting future operations in their new vehicles, according to Staff Sgt. Lynn D. Brown, the motor transport operations chief with 1st Battalion, 7th Marines.

“They want to get outside with the humvees and get hands-on training,” said Brown, a native of Detroit, Mich.

After the Iraqi soldiers complete the course here, they will move to the next evolution of training by attending a more concentrated course at a larger Marine base at Al Asad, said Horton.

VMA-513 Flying Nightmares connect with loved ones in U.S.

Staff Sgt. Andrew E. Calime sees and talks to his wife, in Yuma, Ariz., with the help of video teleconference calls at the Morale, Welfare and Recreation building at Al Asad, Iraq, June 17. Calime, power line staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge, Marine Attack Squadron 513, Marine Aircraft Group 16 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, uses VTCs because they are a way for deployed service members to not only hear the voices of their loved ones, but also see them.


June 26, 2006; Submitted on: 06/26/2006 02:59:46 AM ; Story ID#: 200662625946

By Lance Cpl. Brian J. Holloran, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing
Staff Sgt. Andrew E. Calime sees and talks to his wife, in Yuma, Ariz., with the help of video teleconference calls at the Morale, Welfare and Recreation building at Al Asad, Iraq, June 17. Calime, power line staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge, Marine Attack Squadron 513, Marine Aircraft Group 16 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, uses VTCs because they are a way for deployed service members to not only hear the voices of their loved ones, but also see them.

AL ASAD, Iraq (June 26, 2006) -- Marines here received the opportunity to see their families living in Yuma, Ariz., through a 30-minute video teleconference call June 17. The event, which was hosted at the Morale, Welfare and Recreation and Marine Aircraft Group 16 Headquarters buildings, afforded Marines from Marine Attack Squadron 513, MAG-16 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, the chance to do more than just hear their loved ones back home.

"The video calls are a way for me to stay in touch with my wife even though we are far apart," said Sgt. David K. Averill, aviation ordnance technician, VMA-513.

A VTC is similar to a telephone call, except the parties on both sides of the conversation can see each other through a video display.

"VTCs are better than a regular phone call because it allows us to see each other while we talk," said Averill, a native of Fairview, Okla. "Being able to see them makes all the difference in the world."

"The call went great," said Staff Sgt. Dennis L. Burkeen, staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge of airframes maintenance, VMA-513. "Being able to see your family is as close as we can come to being with them."

The family members back home are as excited as the service members are about the VTCs.

"The VTC was awesome," said Alesha, wife of Burkeen. "It was really great to let my kids see their daddy again."

In addition to being a great way to communicate with loved ones, the VTCs are also a way to raise morale throughout the squadron.

"This call is something special," said Averill. "It is a good way to boost morale. Not only for me, but for my wife as well, and that means a lot to me."

"I wanted to let my girls see their dad instead of just hearing my voice," said Burkeen, a native of Blue Island, Ill. "Pictures just don't always cut it. Sometimes you need to see the reactions and smiles on the faces of the people you love."

"It was really fun to be able to sit down, see him and just let the girls talk to him," said Alesha. "I think it was much better than a phone call. With the VTC, he feels like a part of us and we seemed able to connect more."

"This was my first VTC," said Burkeen. "I will recommend it to anyone who asks. It takes the distance away, it almost puts you right there with your family."

Perimeter patrol teams scan desert to keep Al Asad secure

AL ASAD, Iraq - A humvee cruises up a dusty slope during a perimeter patrol June 21. Being the primary source of transportation for the Marines of the Perimeter Patrol Teams with 2nd Platoon, E Company, 1st Battalion, 14th Marine Regiment, Marine Wing Support Group 37 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, the humvee helps them accomplish their responsibilities of keeping the surrounding areas around Al Asad secure and free of any threats.


June 26, 2006; Submitted on: 06/26/2006 03:27:46 AM ; Story ID#: 200662632746

By Lance Cpl. James B. Hoke, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing

AL ASAD, Iraq (June 26, 2006) -- Sitting silently on a chair next to two humvees, a Marine listens to the continuous static of the radio, waiting attentively for the call that would have him and his Marines load up in the two vehicles and move outside the fences of Al Asad in a moments notice.

The Perimeter Patrol Team with 2nd Platoon, E Company, 1st Battalion, 14th Marine Regiment, Marine Wing Support Group 37 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, is responsible for keeping the surrounding areas around Al Asad, Iraq, secure, as well as to establish a presence with the locals.

Conducting multiple two- to three-hour patrols during their 24-hour shift rotations, the perimeter patrol Marines can also be called out randomly and immediately if someone or something is seen approaching the base.

"We are more of a presence patrol," said Sgt. Rodrigo Gonzalez, patrol leader, Perimeter Patrol Team south. "We go out, not hiding or anything, and show ourselves to the locals. We are a deterrent to any possible threats that may be getting close to the base."

The perimeter patrol Marines often run into situations that require them to dismount and conduct inspections or searches each time they leave the base.

"Every day we run into locals," said Gonzalez, a 27-year-old native of Oxnard, Calif. "Every day we are searching them, and every day we are interacting with them. They are the biggest challenge, as we are trying to find a happy medium between staying safe and staying polite at the same time."

The perimeter patrols can get to be monotonous, too, as the Marines see the same parts and pieces of the desert day after day, according to Lance Cpl. Jacob C. Griffin, machine gunner, Perimeter Patrol Team south. It's the part of experiencing a different way of life that keeps them alert and excited each and every time they go out.

"It's not every day that you get to see a new culture and how they act," said Griffin, a 21-year-old native of Cameron, Texas. "We get to see and meet new people that you wouldn't normally see in the United States. On a daily basis, we run into sheep herders. Most of them live around the local area, so we see them all of the time. We've even gotten to know some of them."

Although the scenery around Al Asad rarely changes, the Marines remain consistently alert and ready in the case that something will happen.

"I get really pumped up," said Lance Cpl. Brandi A. Colbert, machine gunner, Perimeter Patrol Team south. "I'm always on my toes. You never know when or where something will happen. You have to be ready for anything and everything. That's what I'm here for -- to protect the perimeter of the base -- and I have no problem doing that job."

Being part of a group of Marines specifically tasked with guarding the perimeter of the base can be pretty motivating compared to the desk jobs that some of the Marines had back in the United States. It also helps to build the camaraderie and collaboration to accomplish the mission in the easiest and most thorough manner possible.

"We've grown a lot closer as a team," said Griffin, a graduate of Cameron Yoe High School. "A big part of our job is everyone working together. The driver has to know what the gunner is thinking and vice versa, and we do that. I think we have a great crew."

2nd MarDiv gets new commander

When Maj. Gen. Richard Huck handed the reins of the 2nd Marine Division to Maj. Gen. Walter Gaskin at a Camp Lejeune, N.C., ceremony June 16, he was entrusting the unit to a Marine he’d known for decades.

Gaskin was his executive officer when Huck commanded Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines, in 1974.


By John Hoellwarth
Times staff writer

Huck’s retirement after 35 years in the Corps comes as no surprise although some had questioned whether his command of the subordinate 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines, during the Nov. 19 Hadithah, Iraq, incident might put his retirement plans on hold. Huck took command Nov. 10, 2004, with plans to do one more tour in order to “take the division to war, come home and retire,” said 2nd Lt. Shawn Mercer, a 2nd Marine Division spokesman.

He did just that.

The division deployed to Iraq under Huck’s command and relieved the 1st Marine Division in Anbar province, Iraq, on March 17, 2005. Until its return to Camp Lejeune in February, Huck’s division helped to secure Anbar by battling the insurgency there and encouraging voter turnout at the constitutional referendum in Iraq last October — when Gaskin was pinning on his second star — and the national election in December, according to a June 12 Corps release.

No firm date has yet been set for Huck’s retirement, but the release said he intended to retire “shortly after” the change of command.

Gaskin is taking command of the division after completing a tour of what many say is the toughest duty outside of combat: recruiting. Gaskin commanded the Marine Corps Recruiting Command in Quantico, Va., during a period when the Corps struggled and missed its contracting mission for the first time in decades.

Shortly after the Corps shared the news of its failed contracting efforts in early 2005, the Defense Department rescinded each service’s authority to release contracting data to the press.

But contracting numbers obtained through the Freedom of Information Act show Gaskin’s recruiters came to within 3,100 contracts of the 38,103 goal in fiscal 2005, and shipping goals have been met or exceeded consistently under his leadership.

Senior recruiting officials throughout the Corps credit the recruiting effort’s recent effectiveness to a controversial initiative hatched under Gaskin’s direction to hold recruiters in place at their stations in an effort to increase manpower over the months that are most difficult for recruiters each year.

Maj. Eric Roth, enlisted recruiting assistant for the 4th Marine Corps District, said holding recruiters at their stations was an unpopular, gutsy move that is directly responsible for 4th District’s overachievement during the current fiscal year.

Before taking on the Corps’ recruiting mission, Gaskin served as commanding general of Marine Corps Training and Education Command at Quantico. That assignment led to duty in Naples, Italy, as the deputy commanding general of Fleet Marine Forces Europe.

With his new position, Gaskin returns to Camp Lejeune for the fourth time and becomes the second black Marine to command an infantry division in the Marine Corps.

Reserve Maj. Gen. Jerome Cooper commanded the 4th Marine Division from 1990 to 1991, before his retirement and appointment as U.S. ambassador to Jamaica.

A Marine to the max

MANSFIELD, Ohio — Michael Stover didn’t cry.

As a child, he lost a tear duct when a friend whacked him in the head with a snow shovel. He told his older brother and sister that’s why he didn’t shed tears, even when he did crazy childhood things like fall from trees.


By Carl Hunnell
Special to the Times

As an adult, Stover was a Marine Corps officer, and Marines don’t cry, no matter how much things hurt. They don’t reach out in times of personal need. Marines never retreat.

But faced with personal problems no one could see, problems he couldn’t overcome, Stover found his own solution.

On June 3, Stover, 43, took his own life, midway through his second deployment deep inside Iraq. It ended his own pain, but left behind heartache for family and friends. They buried him in a national cemetery with a final salute, but still without answers about the Marine and the man they loved.

They cried for the warrior who could never cry for himself.

No one could ever say Michael Stover shirked his duty, lacked courage or failed in his commitments — the Corps’ core values. He enlisted right after high school, to the chagrin of his parents, LaVern “Smokey” Stover, a veteran FBI agent, and Doris Stover. They thought college was his best option. They saw his love of literature and knew he would be an outstanding collegian. But the fact that Stover joined the Corps didn’t surprise his older brother and sister, who had watched him grow up craving adventure as much as he did book knowledge.

“His nickname was Monkey as a kid because he was always falling out of trees, breaking his arm, riding bicycles and flying over the handlebars and ending up in hospitals,” said Cheryl Stover Meister, 49. “Anything that was exciting or extreme, Michael had to be involved in.”

“He lifted [weights] a lot. He rode his bicycle long distances. He was into a lot of physical activities that challenged him as an individual,” said his brother, Edward “Al” Stover, 45.

A challenge beckoned

Michael Stover, a 5-foot-9, 185-pound rock of a man, was an excellent student and could have earned academic scholarships to college. But the Corps offered the kind of test that seemed a natural next step for a young man eager to push his own limits.

Stover’s childhood eye injury prevented him from pursuing his dream job in Marine aviation. He instead used his love of reading and writing by accepting a job in public affairs. He did a tour with the Fleet Hometown News Center in Norfolk, Va.

He worked with a Marine aircraft unit operating out of Andrews Air Force Base in Washington, D.C. He worked in the Marine Corps Recruiting Station in St. Louis. Along the way, Stover fell in love for the first time — with the Corps.

“I think he intended to get out after his first enlistment,” Edward Stover said. “But he grew to love it so much he decided that if he was going to stay in, he should become an officer and a leader.”

Stover accepted a Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps Marine Option scholarship.

He was released from active duty to attend Ohio State University in 1986. Later than his parents intended, he was finally a college student.

Commissioned in 1990 as a Marine second lieutenant at age 28, Stover set off to conquer the world and serve his country. He worked at Camp Lejuene, N.C., as a logistics officer in an engineer support battalion, serving as a platoon and later company commander.

The Corps satisfied Stover’s desire for adventure by sending him in pursuit of it. Time off was a luxury he could not afford, or seek.

In the mid-1990s, now-Capt. Stover served as logistics officer for the 8th Marines and a Marine landing team, attending the Amphibious Warfare School along the way. In 1998, he reported to the Marine Corps Reserve Center in Concord, Calif., where he served as an inspector-instructor for a Landing Support Battalion. He was promoted to major in 2000.

But he was learning there was a price to pay for his devotion to duty. His first marriage in 1990 ended in failure less than 10 years later. He wasn’t there when his mother died in 1999. He wasn’t at home when his father died in 2003.

“The night before his plane left [after visiting his dad in 2003], it had to be one of the hardest things he did in his life … knowing when he said goodbye it would be the last time he would ever see his father,” Meister said, her voice breaking. “We got Mike on the phone with us in the room the night Dad died. ... He was there with us, even if it had to be over a telephone.”

Work consumed him

In 2004, Stover reported to Marine Wing Support Squadron 371 in Yuma, Ariz., where he served first as operations officer and then as executive officer. Married a second time with a young stepson at home, Stover’s devotion to the Corps, his first love, still consumed him.

“Work was his life,” said Lt. Chris Kaprielian, who served under Stover in the operations office in Yuma. “We all worked really long hours, but he was there before anyone else and stayed even later. I never knew anyone who worked as hard as he did.”

The squadron was deployed to Iraq in February 2005 for a seven-month tour. But as Stover cared for and led his 400-plus Marines in a war zone, his personal life continued to unravel.

His second wife of about one year told him she was leaving him, going back to college in Colorado and sending her young child to live with her parents in Japan. It was a terrible blow to a man whose entire life was loyalty, honor, duty, courage and commitment.

His brother, a retired major in the Ohio Air National Guard whose own wife had left him while he served in Germany during Operation Desert Storm, understood it too well.

“I think unfortunately today a lot of the values he had, the integrity, the devotion to his job, it’s hard to find somebody who understands that,” Edward Stover said.

“I don’t think people back home understand ... everyone talks about the ultimate sacrifices, but they don’t understand the little sacrifices,” Michael Stover’s brother said. “They don’t understand what it’s like for a soldier to not be there for a child’s birthday, for the holidays, for their parents’ illnesses, as well as their deaths.”

Stover finished his tour with the 371 and returned to Yuma in September. But it was a bitter homecoming. The wife and the stepson he loved as his own were gone. But even as he tried to come to grips with his personal problems and losses, the Corps summoned him again.

A similar Marine Wing Support Squadron, the 374th in Twentynine Palms, Calif., needed an executive officer. The unit was set to deploy to Iraq in February 2006, and it desperately needed a solid second-in-command to prepare the Marines for war.

The man it needed was Stover.

At first, he believed it would be a temporary assignment until a new permanent executive officer was located. But it soon became clear these Marines would need him in Iraq. Home for just a few months, he was being sent back to war, this time with young men and women he barely knew.

Had Stover told his superiors of his personal issues, perhaps they would have allowed him to withdraw from this second deployment in less than a year.

But Stover didn’t cry, he didn’t complain and he didn’t seek help. A Marine, he did his duty.

Stationed in Anbar

Stover and his new unit arrived in Iraq in February, stationed at an air base in Anbar province.

In April, his personal life intruded again. The completed divorce papers arrived, making official a broken partnership he had hoped could be saved.

At 43, the Marine who had spent his life in search of adventure and service to his country found himself horribly alone.

Even surrounded by Marines, Stover must have felt a loneliness few can imagine. Even frequent e-mails to and from his brother and sister back in Mansfield couldn’t ease the pain.

“I personally think there was a tug of war between the Marine Corps, which he grew to love, and the responsibilities of duty, honor and country that he couldn’t give up, and the want for a family and the loss of a family that he wanted so deeply,” Edward Stover said.

In early May, Stover informed his commanding officer, Lt. Col. Phillip Woody, that he would decline a promotion to lieutenant colonel.

Instead, Stover decided, it was time to retire at the end of 2006, after completing his mission with 374.

In an e-mail to his CO with the 371, less than a month before his suicide, Stover wrote, “It’s been a tough decision, and is not a knee-jerk decision, something I’ve been debating with myself for almost the last year. ... I know in my heart that it is the right decision. ... I want to stick this deployment out. I couldn’t ask for a better twilight than to go out at the squadron level with 371 and 374.”

Stover’s decision to retire, rather than easing his mind, created a deep sense of guilt. He felt he was turning his back on his military family, although he had no civilian family to call his own.

Stover, a frequent e-mailer to family and friends, stopped communicating with his brother and sister in late May.

He wrote one last letter, asking his brother to care for his dog and telling his family where his assets and lockers were.

He had decided.

Stover had found a way out of his pain.

On June 3, inside Iraq, Maj. Michael D. Stover killed himself.

Ed Stover and Meister hope that, by talking openly about their brother’s death, they can help others learn from it.

“Two things I would tell [military family members] ... to tell their family members ... thank them for all the little sacrifices they do daily,” Ed Stover said.

“Because I don’t think anybody ever tells them that. And I think in some way they wish someone would acknowledge those. And to stay in touch as often and frequently as they can, either by e-mail, mail or phone if possible.

“If something were to happen where that communication would stop, to try to get around that individual and find out why.”

Carl Hunnell writes for the Mansfield (Ohio) News Journal.

VA to raise life insurance rates

Troops will pay more for Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance starting July 1, Department of Veterans Affairs officials announced June 14.

At the same time, premiums under the separate SGLI program for family members will drop across the board, VA officials said.


By Karen Jowers
Times staff writer

The increases in standard SGLI for service members will vary depending on the amount of coverage a member has. Monthly premiums for standard SGLI coverage for those in uniform will increase to 70 cents per month per $10,000 of coverage — 5 cents more per $10,000 than current monthly premiums.

For the 94.3 percent of troops who carry maximum coverage of $400,000, that means the monthly cost will increase by $2, to $29 from $27.

Monthly SGLI premiums, which are deducted from basic pay, include $1 for the Traumatic Injury Protection coverage that took effect Dec. 1.

Under a change implemented last summer, the Pentagon pays a special allowance to troops serving in designated combat zones that offsets the cost of premiums for the first $150,000 in SGLI coverage.

Under the looming July 1 increase in premiums, troops in combat zones who carry the maximum $400,000 in coverage will pay $18.50 in monthly premiums, rather than the normal full rate of $29.

Decreases in the cost of coverage for spouses under the Family SGLI program vary by age.

For example, monthly premiums for the maximum $100,000 in coverage for a spouse under age 35 will decrease to $5.50 from $6.

The monthly cost of maximum coverage for the 45-to-49 age group will drop to $14 from $19.

An official with the Office of Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance said the increase in standard SGLI premiums for service members is not related to death insurance benefits paid for troops who die in the Iraq and Afghanistan war zones.

By law, the cost of those claims is borne by the services, not by service members, said Stephen Wurtz, deputy assistant director for insurance at the VA.

The rate of peacetime deaths has remained relatively stable for 10 years, he said, at about 0.5 per 1,000 service members.

The last time SGLI premiums were adjusted was 2003, when monthly costs declined from 80 cents per $10,000 to 65 cents per $10,000 because of a surplus in the program’s reserve fund, which serves as a financial safety net for the program.

Premiums were intentionally lowered below the break-even point to drain some of the surplus, he said.

Further raises not expected

At that time, officials did not anticipate further adjustments until at least the end of the decade, Wurtz said. However, that was before maximum SGLI coverage increased to $400,000 from its previous $250,000, which accelerated the need for a premium increase.

Even so, the premium rate has been relatively stable since 1984, when it was reduced from $1.16 per $10,000 to 80 cents.

“The fact that it’s been in the range of 65 cents to 85 cents [per $10,000 worth of coverage] over the last 20 years would indicate we don’t expect any significant changes over the next several years,” Wurtz said.

Family SGLI premiums are decreasing because the relatively new program has had fewer claims than projected, he said.

Post-service training proposal clears Senate

A modified version of the “Troops to Teachers” program has been approved by the Senate.

This time, the wrinkle involves getting nurses who are leaving the military to consider jobs as nursing instructors in an effort to fill nationwide shortages in the profession.


By Rick Maze
Times staff writer

Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., chief sponsor of the plan, which was adopted by voice vote as an amendment to the 2007 defense authorization bill, said he thinks separating service members could help solve a major problem in offsetting shortages in hospitals, clinics and emergency rooms across the U.S.

It might also help the military gain future nurses, he said.

“We do not have enough health care professionals. In particular, we do not have enough nurses in America,” Durbin said. “Unfortunately, the military faces the same difficulty in the recruiting and retention of nurses as [do] civilian medical facilities.”

The Army and Air Force have not met their nurse recruiting goals since the 1990s, Durbin said.

The Navy met its goal in 2005, but missed it by 32 percent in 2004.

“Ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have increased the need for qualified nurses in military medical facilities,” he said. “Our need for nurses is growing, and it is not surprising. An aging population needs help, specialized medical care that requires specialized nurses.”

Durbin’s amendment would create a five-year program that helps military nurses get credentials to become nursing instructors and would help place them in teaching jobs at nursing schools. It also would provide scholarships for Nurse Corps officers who become teachers but remain in a military reserve component.

Nursing schools could train more people if they have more teachers, he said.

Illinois State University rejected 100 qualified nursing applicants last year because it lacked enough faculty, he noted.

That is not an isolated problem. “Sixty-six percent — two out of three — nursing schools across the United States tell us they need additional faculty,” he said.

Durbin’s amendment builds on an existing program, Troops to Teachers, which encourages separating service members to become math, science and special education teachers in rural or urban schools.

“It is a terrific idea,” he said.

About 6,700 people have found jobs through the program, which has helped former service members pay for getting teaching credentials and has provided salary subsidies to schools hiring veterans.

About 900 nurses leave the military each year through retirement or completion of their initial obligation.

The troops-to-nurses program would provide transition assistance for those who already have a master’s degree or doctorate in a nursing field and are qualified to teach.

They could receive career placement, transitional stipends of up to $30,000 for a four-year commitment and help getting teaching credentials, he said.

Nursing instruction is not the only post-service job senators have in mind for service members. The Senate also passed an amendment asking for a report from the Pentagon and Department of Homeland Security about the possibility of offering incentives for service members to become Customs Service and Border Patrol agents.

New bill would boost spec ops retired pay

A North Carolina congressman proposes boosting retired pay for special operations troops to encourage them to stay in service instead of accepting lucrative private-sector security jobs.

But Rep. Robin Hayes’ idea to allow special pays and bonuses to be included when calculating retirement pay is controversial. Even Hayes does not expect it to be acted upon this year.


By Rick Maze
Times staff writer

Hayes, a Republican whose congressional district includes Fort Bragg, home of the Army Special Operations Command, and Pope Air Force Base, home to the Joint Special Operations Command, introduced his Special Operations Forces Retention Improvement Act on June 12.

Its goal is to encourage career special operators — whose experience, he said, is “essential to our success” in the war on terrorism — to remain in the military by promising a lifetime of more money.

Hayes said keeping experienced people, who are being enticed to leave the military by lucrative jobs with contractors, is a must if the Defense Department is going to be able to increase the size of its special operations forces quickly. A 15 percent increase in special ops manpower is a key recommendation of the latest Quadrennial Defense Review.

Under Hayes’ plan, hazardous-duty pay, imminent-danger pay, overseas duty pay, aviation career incentive pay, diving duty pay, jump pay, sea and submarine duty pay, responsibility pay for officers and incentive pay for serving on weapons-of-mass destruction civil action teams could be factored into retirement pay for some people.

Currently, only basic pay is used to calculate retired pay. Hayes’ idea could increase retirement pay by as much as one-third, though amounts would vary from person to person.

Not everyone would be eligible. Under Hayes’ bill, HR 5584, a special operations forces member would have to receive hazardous-duty or imminent-danger pay for at least 18 months and have been assigned to a designated special operations duty assignment for at least 60 months in order to get increased retired pay.

The proposal would apply to special operations troops of any military branch.

The Joint Chiefs toyed with a similar idea during the Clinton administration because some people in bonus-heavy specialties, such as doctors and pilots, complained that their retired pay fell far short of their military earnings and was not an incentive to serve a full career.

In the end, the Pentagon rejected the concept, deciding that retirement was one of the basic elements of military compensation and should remain the same for everyone, regardless of specialty.

The timing of Hayes’ bill makes its fate uncertain. He is a member of the House Armed Services Committee, which would have to approve the bill, but the committee and the full House have already passed the 2007 defense authorization bill that includes other increases in military pay.

As such, the measure is unlikely to be considered until next year.

Hayes, a Republican whose congressional district includes Fort Bragg, home of the Army Special Operations Command, and Pope Air Force Base, home to the Joint Special Operations Command, introduced his Special Operations Forces Retention Improvement Act on June 12.

Its goal is to encourage career special operators — whose experience, he said, is “essential to our success” in the war on terrorism — to remain in the military by promising a lifetime of more money.

Hayes said keeping experienced people, who are being enticed to leave the military by lucrative jobs with contractors, is a must if the Defense Department is going to be able to increase the size of its special operations forces quickly. A 15 percent increase in special ops manpower is a key recommendation of the latest Quadrennial Defense Review.

Under Hayes’ plan, hazardous-duty pay, imminent-danger pay, overseas duty pay, aviation career incentive pay, diving duty pay, jump pay, sea and submarine duty pay, responsibility pay for officers and incentive pay for serving on weapons-of-mass destruction civil action teams could be factored into retirement pay for some people.

Currently, only basic pay is used to calculate retired pay. Hayes’ idea could increase retirement pay by as much as one-third, though amounts would vary from person to person.

Not everyone would be eligible. Under Hayes’ bill, HR 5584, a special operations forces member would have to receive hazardous-duty or imminent-danger pay for at least 18 months and have been assigned to a designated special operations duty assignment for at least 60 months in order to get increased retired pay.

The proposal would apply to special operations troops of any military branch.

The Joint Chiefs toyed with a similar idea during the Clinton administration because some people in bonus-heavy specialties, such as doctors and pilots, complained that their retired pay fell far short of their military earnings and was not an incentive to serve a full career.

In the end, the Pentagon rejected the concept, deciding that retirement was one of the basic elements of military compensation and should remain the same for everyone, regardless of specialty.

The timing of Hayes’ bill makes its fate uncertain. He is a member of the House Armed Services Committee, which would have to approve the bill, but the committee and the full House have already passed the 2007 defense authorization bill that includes other increases in military pay.

As such, the measure is unlikely to be considered until next year.

Senate panel OKs financial protection bill

Family members and troops are a step closer to protections from unscrupulous insurance and financial product salespeople, courtesy of a bill approved by a key Senate committee.

The Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs approved the Military Personnel Financial Services Protection Act on June 14. The measure now goes to the full Senate for consideration.


By Karen Jowers
Times staff writer

Similar legislation was passed by the House a year ago.

The Senate bill includes protection for family members as well as troops. For example, it calls for written disclosures to troops and family members about the costs and benefits of products; the ability to cancel contracts that violate the law; better record-keeping on registration, disciplinary actions and other data on brokers and dealers; and improved systems for sharing information among the states, the Defense Department and financial regulators.

The legislation “provides long-overdue protection for our men and women in uniform,” said committee chairman Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala.

“For years, men and women in the armed services have fallen victim to unscrupulous salespersons pushing high costs and unnecessary financial products and life insurance,” Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., said in a prepared statement. “This practice must be stopped.”

He first introduced the bill in February 2005, but the Senate took no action on it last year.

Enzi said the aggressive practices addressed by the bill often target young and naive troops who are particularly vulnerable to high-pressure sales tactics, Enzi said.

To make matters worse, he said, these salespeople violate or ignore Pentagon directives and state regulations, with few repercussions.

“This bill is targeted at the few who abuse the system and prey upon our military,” Enzi said, adding that it would target the “bad actors” and add much-needed transparency and communication between agencies.

The bill requires actions by the Defense Department and the insurers themselves, and encourages actions by the states and the National Association of Insurance Commissioners not only to institute protections but also to make sure they are enforced.

For example, anyone selling insurance, securities or other financial products on military installations would have to provide full disclosure to troops or family members. That would include the fact that the government provides alternative insurance options.

Also, sales representatives would have to inform service members and family members that the government has not recommended the sales of their products.

The bill would specifically ban sales of periodic payment plans in the military community. These investment plans require an upfront fee of half of the first year’s investment, in addition to yearly fees.

The Senate bill adds another protection for troops and their families: If the sale of a life insurance product violates the law, the service member or adult family member has the option to cancel the contract.

Aside from that, if a federal or state agency or court determines that someone violated the law, that person would be banned from selling insurance to federal employees on federal property.

Sgt. Jeremy Handen, connecting with the people of Okinawa

Stars and Stripes
Pacific edition, Monday, June 26, 2006

Earlier this month, you were one of the few non-Japanese who Japan’s prime minister’s office honored for volunteer work. What were some of the activities mentioned in your citation?

To continue reading:


MAG-31 aims in, locks on target

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION BEAUFORT, SC (June 23, 2006) -- It’s at least 98 degrees on a hot and dry Wednesday afternoon in Beaufort. The mission is to successfully load a live AIM-7 missile onto an F/A-18, so that the aircrew can successfully fire upon a designated target. The sweat drips off the four ordnance Marines as they carefully muscle the missile onto the jet; the success of the overall mission literally rests on their shoulders.


June 23, 2006; Submitted on: 06/23/2006 10:43:46 AM ; Story ID#: 2006623104346

By Lance Cpl. Monique L. Wallace, MCAS Beaufort

This was a common scene this past week on the flight line here as five Marine Aircraft Group 31 squadrons took part in the annual Air-to-Air Missile Firing Exercise June 12-16.

The mission of the exercise was twofold: to increase aircrew proficiency in the tactical employment of live weapons systems, and to train ordnance personnel in the preparation and loading of live air-to-air missiles. Both skills that are not routinely practiced here at the Air Station.

The exercise, planned by the MAG-31 Headquarters staff, included VMFA-115, VMFA-122, VMFA-312, VMFA(AW)-224 and VMFA(AW)-332.

“MAG training is usually on a larger scale than squadron-organized training,” said Lt. Col. William Lieblein, the officer in charge of the exercise. “We do this to reduce the workload on the squadron training officers and improve the quality of training.”

The exercise consisted of three firing days and two night exercises. Each squadron was allotted a certain number of missiles with 33 total missiles being launched in a safe area over the Atlantic Ocean.

“Ordnance played a major role in the exercise,” said Sgt. Travis Hutchings, an ordnance Marine with VMFA(AW)-224.

The ordnance Marines felt the pressure of working with live ordnance and their attention to detail was heightened throughout the exercise, according to Hutchings.

More missiles were used this year than ever before and all except two of the missiles were live. The two inert missiles were employed to create a large white cloud and mark the impact points.

“We don’t get to work with live ordnance often,” said Lance Cpl. Luke Geist, an ordnance Marine with VMFA-115. “We only work with live ordnance when we go on deployments, but hardly ever here, so this is good training.”

Planning and preparations for the missile exercise began two and a half months ago. Each squadron also conducted its own preparations and the individual sections within the squadrons had their own training for the exercise.

“We have been planning intensely for the past month,” Lieblein said.

“Two days prior to the exercise, we ran through our check list and did dry runs on what we needed to load,” said Hutchings. “We did lot of planning on what to do and to make sure that our Marines were up to date on the loading evolutions.”

Even though the training was intense, working from the Beaufort flight line offered many advantages. For example, the exercise was not only cheaper, but also more convenient.

“We used to do the exercise down in Puerto Rico, but that is more costly, harder to coordinate and Marines had to go on det,” Lieblein said. “It also took the aircraft away for a longer time than flying right off the coast.”

“Being at our home base makes it a lot easier, said Capt. Matt Halbert, a pilot with VMFA(AW)-224. “Since this is our home station and all the squadrons and support maintenance are here it makes everything easier to work out of.”

Part of the training involved the aircrew interacting with the ordnance Marines. According to Lieblein, this training provided a great opportunity for all the Marines to learn from each other.

“It’s a great opportunity for both the aircrew and ordnance to actually employ something they simulate everyday,” Lieblein said.

“We see the [ordnance Marines] everyday,” said Halbert. “This is as much training for us as it is for them. They get to use live ordnance and we both get to see and interact with each other and ask each other questions. We learned a lot from them and from working with the live ordnance.”

The training the Marines received here will help improve the combat readiness of the participating squadrons. Exercises such as the live-fire exercise better prepare all shops within the squadrons.

“We should do more training like this,” said Pfc. Steven Galgani, an ordnance Marine with VMFA-115. “We should do more live training. It’s more realistic when it’s live. Everything is more intense working with the live missiles.”

“This training will pay off in full in combat,” Lieblein said. “If you don’t ever employ live missiles in training, you can make a lot of errors in combat. When you get to do it in training you can eliminate a lot of errors that can be made in a combat situation.”

'Angels' descend on Al Asad, save lives

AL ASAD, Iraq (June 26, 2006) -- The thumping of helicopter blades beats over the noise made by service members scrambling to help a wounded person, and as the sound becomes clearer, they look up and see the dark silhouettes of two UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters drifting in to land.


June 26, 2006; Submitted on: 06/26/2006 07:34:21 AM ; Story ID#: 200662673421

By Lance Cpl. Brandon L. Roach, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing

Smoke is popped and the 'Angels of Mercy' with the Army's 82nd Medical Company descend from the sky to take the injured to a hospital located safely inside the perimeter of Al Asad.

The mission of the soldiers with the 82nd Medical Company is to provide aero medical evacuation operations throughout the Western Al Anbar province, said Army Capt. Jesse A. Blanton, UH-60 Blackhawk pilot, 82nd Medical Company, Marine Aircraft Group 16 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing.

The unit is currently serving their third deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom with detachments across Iraq.

With an average of 50 medical evacuation missions per week, the flight line named "Leatherneck Dust Off" is always buzzing with personnel preparing the aircraft and equipment for missions.

"We chose the name of the flight line to directly show our support to the Marines that we work with," said Army Maj. Dustin Elder, commanding officer, 82nd Medical Company. "Our guys are doing a great job out here, and we are very appreciative of the Corps taking care of us."

Although the soldiers have a very stressful job, they understand their role is a crucial part of the mission during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

"We provide en route medical care to injured personnel on the ground," said Army Master Sgt. Scott Heise, flight platoon sergeant, 82nd Medical Company. "It is an honor to do the job we do, and it is most rewarding when we can save a life."

Military fakers get busted

There was something odd about the way 1st Sgt. David Blake ditty-bopped through the pedestrian traffic of New York City’s Times Square in his dress blues.

Reserve Gunnery Sgt. Alex Kitsakos, a New York City cop drilling at the Corps’ public affairs office in Manhattan over Memorial Day weekend, said he “noticed someone, not a Marine, but someone in a Marine uniform walking with no character, no bearing.”


By John Hoellwarth
Times staff writer

Kitsakos called out to the first sergeant, who he saw only from the back through the pedestrian traffic. Blake stopped and turned to face the gunny, who said he knew right then that Blake was a poser.

He was sporting six hash marks on each sleeve and three or four days’ growth on his face, Kitsakos said. On his uniform, he wore gold jump wings, the Navy Cross, Silver Star, three Purple Hearts and a single Combat Action Ribbon atop his 27-award stack.

Things already weren’t adding up. But when Blake addressed the gunny as “sir,” the faker sealed his fate.

Kitsakos said Blake initially tried to say he was assigned to one of the Navy ships in town for Fleet Week. When asked what ship, Blake hesitated.

“I looked him in the eye and said, ‘You’re not a Marine,’” Kitsakos said. “I was livid.”

Kitsakos pulled Blake off the street into an Internet café and gave him a tongue lashing that ended when Blake surrendered his cover, dress blue coat and driver’s license. When Blake tried to explain that he runs a youth organization whose members wear the uniforms, Kitsakos told him he could pick up his ID at the Marine Corps’ office after Fleet Week if he brought all the youths — and their uniforms — with him.

The irate gunny sent Blake back out onto the street wearing dress blue pants and a T-shirt.

“You know how many people have died for this uniform?” Kitsakos asked. “If I find anyone else in this uniform as an impostor, they can expect to be walking around New York in their underwear.”

When contacted by Marine Corps Times, Blake said he didn’t want to talk about the incident.

Kitsakos called the FBI. Then he hung Blake’s coat — the trophy of his fresh kill — in the Marine public affairs office.

Between the public’s increased wartime reverence for valor and the ease of ordering proof of combat heroism over the Internet, FBI Special Agent Tom Cottone, who has been busting phonies since 1995, said fakers now are “coming out of the woodwork.”

The FBI has 20 cases pending against military fakers. This year alone, the bureau has launched a dozen investigations, which, if the pace keeps up, would double last year’s caseload.

And a lot of them seem to be Marines. Since January, at least eight cases of Marines embellishing their rank and awards or civilians impersonating Marines have been busted by newspapers, Marines or other freelance fraud-finders. Those who observe the practice suggest there are likely hundreds more.

For the rest of this story, including eight fake Marines and what to do if you spot a faker, check out this week’s issue of Marine Corps Times.

June 25, 2006

Hemet, Calif., Marine killed in Iraq remembered by fellow Marines, sailors

A Marine assigned to the Hawaii-based India Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment pays his final respects to Cpl. Michael Estrella, a 20-year-old from Hemet, Calif., June 25, 2006, at a memorial service at the Marines’ base in Haditha, Iraq. Estrella was killed by enemy gunfire recently while on patrol with his platoon while searching for a suspected insurgent in western Al Anbar Province, Iraq. During the ceremony, Marines described Estrella as a “dedicated and professional Marine” who excelled at his job of being a radio operator. He often went without sleep to make sure his battalion had communication, the Marines said. Estrella was a 2003 graduate of Hemet High school and joined the Marine Corps in September 2003. He reported to 3rd Battalion in May 2004 and deployed with the unit to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom last year. His awards include the Purple Heart Medal, Combat Action Ribbon, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, and the Sea Service Deployment ribbon. The Hawaii-based battalion, also known as “America’s Battalion,” arrived in March and will be replaced by another Hawaii-based Marine unit this fall.


June 25, 2006; Submitted on: 06/29/2006 03:02:09 AM ; Story ID#: 2006629329

By Sgt. Roe F. Seigle, 1st Marine Division

HADITHA, Iraq (June 25, 2006) -- Marines and sailors gathered at their forward operating base in Haditha, June 25 to honor a Marine killed in action earlier this month.

Marines and sailors from the Hawaii-based India Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment gathered to pay their final respects to Cpl. Michael Estrella, a 20-year-old from Hemet, Calif. Estrella was killed by enemy gunfire recently while on patrol with his platoon during a search for a suspected insurgent.

“I feel like I have lost someone in my family,” said Cpl. Joseph M. Orth, an intelligence analyst assigned to India Co. “I could talk to him about anything.”

During the ceremony, Marines described Estrella as a “dedicated and professional Marine” who excelled at his job of being a radio operator. He often went without sleep to make sure his company had communication with all required units.

“He took his job very seriously,” said Capt. Andy Lynch, 31, India Company’s commanding officer. “The Marines have taken the death very hard. He was an outstanding Marine.”

The Hawaii-based Marine infantry battalion arrived in Iraq about three months ago to replace another Marine battalion conducting security operations in this region along the Euphrates River.

Estrella’s unit frequently patrols Haditha, a city still active with insurgents, to provide security to the region’s people. The day he was killed, Estrella volunteered to go on the mission to ensure the platoon had operable communications, according to the Marines here.

“Estrella always wanted to go on missions even when he did not have to,” said Sgt. Jason Sakowski, 26, a squad leader and a native of Wilkesboro, N.C. “He led by example and always got the job done.”

“He could say something a lot of people could not say in this world, and that is ‘I love my job,’” said Orth, who worked in the forward operating base in Haditha with Estrella. “It is not going to be the same without him.”

Estrella was a 2003 graduate of Hemet High school and joined the Marine Corps in September 2003. He reported to 3rd Battalion in May 2004 and deployed with the unit to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom last year.

His awards include the Purple Heart Medal, Combat Action Ribbon, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, and the Sea Service Deployment ribbon.

The Hawaii-based battalion, also known as “America’s Battalion,” arrived in March and is scheduled to depart Iraq this fall and be replaced by another Hawaii-based unit.

Contact Sgt. Seigle at [email protected]

Djibouti mission fights terror at its source, U.S. team in the Horn of Africa trying to quash terrorism before it starts

Editor’s Note: This is the first of a three-part series on the U.S.-led mission in the Horn of Africa.

By Joseph Giordono, Stars and Stripes
Mideast edition, Sunday, June 25, 2006

DJIBOUTI, Djibouti — In a bare concrete room upstairs in an orphanage, a gaggle of pre-teen girls watch American rap videos, imitating the dances they see on a fuzzy color television hooked to a satellite dish.

To continue reading:


June 24, 2006

GAO: Poor communications put Marines at higher risk of IEDs

By Jeff Schogol, Stars and Stripes
Mideast edition, Saturday, June 24, 2006

ARLINGTON, Va. — Poor communication between the Army and Marines, combined with Corps commanders’ decision to up-armor only a limited number of trucks at a time, put Marines in Iraq at increased risk from roadside bombs, a Government Accoubtability Office report found.

To continue reading:


June 23, 2006

Injured Marine Settles Into New Job, Kasal Aims To Return To Middle East

DES MOINES, Iowa -- A year ago, doctors told an Iowa Marine who was injured in Iraq that he might never walk again.


June 23, 2006

Now, he's back on the job.

Sgt. Maj. Brad Kasal's road to recovery has been agonizing at times , he said .

A year and a half ago, he had pins in his shattered leg.

He's now working with Iowa recruits, running and dreaming of a return trip to the Middle East.

Marines rarely relish office jobs. For Kasal, it's progress.

"I wouldn't wish the last year and a half on anyone. The recovery process -- there's nothing I can really say, it was just brutal -- emotionally, mentally, physically," Kasal said.

The native of Afton, Iowa, was shot seven times and shielded another Marine from a grenade. His leg was shattered while he protected others.

"I still have good days and bad days," he said.

Kasal has since been promoted, honored by Iowa lawmakers and awarded the prestigious Navy Cross.

He said he's also proud of walking down the hall at his new job in a Des Moines recruiting station.

At one point, doctors wanted to amputate his leg.

"I've worked up to being able to run about a mile, mile and a half. I walk with a little bit of a limp, but I'm OK," he said.

Kasal has become a national Marine icon and is using his story to help recruits both to understand the dangers of their tasks and the potential rewards.

"They enlist knowing that there is a possible chance, a great chance, that they may also go overseas," Kasal said.

Kasal said he sees it as his next goal.

"I would volunteer to go back again if I could and the reason why is I see the good we're doing over there," he said.

But before he can return, Kasal has to prove himself.

"Now, not only do I want to run again, but I want to be able to pass a Marine Corps physical fitness test, which is a three-mile run," he said.

Kasal said he's still in pain when he runs, but he continues to run anyway . He said his deepest desire is to lead Marines -- and until he can do that in combat, he'll do it at Des Moines' recruiting station, enjoying time with his family in Iowa.

"What the Marine Corps taught me and instilled in me, the pride of being a Marine and wanting to get back to my Marines. That was one of the biggest driving factors," he said.

Marines receive Japan Good Conduct Award

NAHA CITY, OKINAWA, Japan (June 23, 2006) -- The Japan Good Conduct Association recognized Marines, sailors and Okinawans for their contributions to the Okinawan community at the Japan Agriculture Mawashi Center June 17.


June 23, 2006
By Lance Cpl. Eric D. Arndt, MCB Camp Butler

The association presented the Japan Good Conduct Award to nine individuals, including one Marine, and to Camp Kinser and two Marine units: 3rd Medical Battalion, 3rd Marine Logistics Group and Headquarters Battalion, 3rd Marine Division.

Sgt. Jeremy J. Landen, an electronic switching operator/maintainer with Communications Company, Headquarters Bn., 3rd MarDiv, received the annual award for cleaning Okinawa beaches and rivers, teaching English in several Okinawan schools and community halls, teaching Japanese to Marines, and supporting several local community events such as trick or treat for Okinawan children.

"Landen was the Marine most deserving of the award," said 1st Lt. Markus Trouerbach, a platoon commander with Communications Co. "It's hard to find junior Marines who represent the Marine Corps in a different country the way (Landen) does."

Landen said he tries to engulf himself in Japanese culture as much as possible.

"I help out with the different single mothers' shelters," Landen said. "I always do the beach cleanups cause I like to surf, and I figure if I'm out there, I might as well be (at the cleanup) with everybody."

Camp Kinser was recognized in the category titled "Good Neighbor."

In 2005, Camp Kinser service members and their families conducted 30 Native English Assistance visits to local elementary schools and five visits to elderly Japanese citizens in the Dojin hospital. The camp also conducted nine significant community outreach events, which included two beachfront cleanups and a wheelchair soccer event. Additionally, the camp hosted 19 tours of the base for local and national Japanese government officials. 3rd Medical Bn. received their award for performance in two categories: environmental beautification and guidance of youth and children.

More than 300 Marines and sailors with 3rd Medical Bn. worked together on 47 community relations projects since February 2005. The unit cleaned up a local park in Ishikawa city, picked up 800 pounds of trash at Kin Red Beach and worked for several hours painting and making Okinawa Christian School International in Yomitan a safer place to be. The battalion also taught 50 hours of English to more than 800 children at Kagei Elementary school.

Meanwhile, Headquarters Bn. was recognized for its contribution to public safety, accident prevention, environmental beautification, guidance of youth and children and social welfare support. Marines and sailors with 3rdMarDiv cleaned beaches and riverbeds; they also taught English to elementary school students and teachers and to adults on Camp Courtney. They also hosted and supported a daily exercise program for students who live at homes for the mentally challenged.

"If you don't get out there and interact with Okinawans (during your tour), you're just going to have a memory of a base," Landen said. "You won't be able to tell your children or grandchildren about the culture - about an experience not everyone gets to have."

Parents of Marine killed create foundation

'The Heart of a Marine Foundation' was created by the parents of Lance Corporal Phillip Frank. He was killed by enemy fire in Iraq two years ago. The foundation provides aid and comfort to other military families who have lost loved ones in Iraq and Afghanistan.


By Harry Porterfield
June 23, 2006 (Last Updated: 4:42:59 PM) -
To see related links and to watch the video go to the external link.

His ambition was to become a soldier and he felt that desire could best be fulfilled in the Marine Corps. On April 8th 2004, Lance Corporal Phillip Frank lost his life in Iraq living out his dream. To his parents Roy and Georgette Frank of Elk Grove Village his dream lives on and they created the Heart of a Marine foundation in his honor.
"We had a choice to make when we lost Phil we could withdraw into our pain and our grief or we could move forward in his spirit and faith and that's what we've done," said Georgette Frank.

"He had a tremendous empathy for people who are in pain and it seemed it was never ending,"

From the time it was established the foundation was established it has donated thousands to VA hospitals to families of servicemen and to wounded veterans.

Since the first of the year nearly one thousand care packages have been shipped thru the foundation to Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Officially active since last November the organization now has solid core of volunteers to help with the many projects being undertaken.

"I couldn't feel better...I know that my son is looking down and smiling...he was so proud to be associated with," said Roy Frank.

"We get so much more from it than we give we are the recipients in this foundation ...touching one life at a time," said Georgette Frank.

To learn more about the foundation and how to make a donation call 847-593-3060 or log on to the foundation's web site at: www.heartofamarine.org

June 22, 2006

Pilots meet challenges of flying in combat environment

AL ASAD, Iraq (June 22, 2006) -- Blasting off into the wild, blue yonder can seem a little exciting while viewing it through a TV screen, and it can be fairly exciting for the men and women who pilot the enormous CH-53D Sea Stallion helicopters for the Marine Corps.


June 22, 2006
By Lance Cpl. James B. Hoke, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing

The process they go through each day to fly, however, can be far less than thrilling, as the responsibilities and missions they face have to be taken with the utmost importance.

"A pilot's main mission is the safe execution of the assigned mission," said Maj. David S. Rentz, executive officer, Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 463, Marine Aircraft Group 16 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing. "The pilot in command is responsible for everything that happens on that mission, and to make sure it is done in conjunction with the directives."

Beginning each day or night, depending on which shift the pilot has, the Marine pilots with HMH-463 rise out of their racks and make way towards their flight brief.

"We get up about an hour before the brief and view all of the assigned tasks for that day," said Rentz, a 40-year-old native of Pittsburgh. "Once that is all together, the section (leaders) provide a brief to each section."

Through the brief, the pilots listen intently to the weather conditions, the number of flights and anything else that will have an affect on their daily routine.

"The thing that the pilots need to keep in mind, and that they do keep in mind during the planning process, is where the missions are going," said Rentz, a graduate of University of Pittsburgh. "We look at all aspects of what the conditions are, where the enemy is and the area that we are going to in order to make sure the mission will get accomplished."

Pilots are often times displayed in movies as having a "need for speed" or only having the mission of flying their aircraft. However, being a pilot and playing one are two entirely different things.

"Hollywood can really play it up, however, in some aspects, they are pretty dead on," said Capt. Shayne M. Frey, pilot training officer, and weapons and tactics instructor, HMH-463. "I consider it like driving a race car everyday. It's a great job; I love it. They have the Hollywood perspective on it, and we have the realism perspective on it.

"We have to adapt to the situations that are out there -- the ever-changing environment," the 33-year-old Lancaster, Pa., native added. "Every single response or action we have definitely has a counteraction. I have a crew of five on board, and from engine start to shut down, it is my responsibility to safely complete the mission. If something should go wrong, the realism will definitely be there."

Although the pilots have the reality of their job to face every day, they still have to remain sharp, as they are required to fly a lot more than what they are originally used to.

"The environment we are in is an unforgiving environment," said Frey, a Pennsylvania State University graduate. "Mistakes could cost people their lives. The biggest challenge is being on your A-game every single flight, and not letting your guard down."

According to Frey, losing focus is also an issue that pilots have to be aware of and avoid.

"You have to combat complacency," he said. "We change our shifts. We will fly three weeks on night shifts and change to days. There are rules in place that we don't fly more than six days in a row. However, we even go above that and try to fly two days on and one day off. It's a marathon, not a sprint."

Each time a helicopter takes off, it is a team effort that makes it happen. The pilots have others to look to for support with their job and mission.

They also have to deal with the stress and differences of flying in a combat environment.

"The threat out here is the interesting one," said Rentz. "It's different than what we have been training to where you are doing a specific assault on a hardened objective where the enemy is known to be in a specific location. Here, he's not. It keeps the pilots on their toes, because we don't know when or where they will see a threat pop up."

Although the threats to aircraft are present, air travel is considered somewhat safer than the opposing methods of transportation.

"We are here to move troops and supplies everywhere they need to go," said Rentz. "A lot of the pilots take a good bit of pride in the fact that every Marine who moves on one of our helicopters is a Marine who doesn't have to be on a ground convoy that is subject to (improvised explosive devices)."

While the pilots help their passengers dodge dangers when moving throughout the theater, they also have to rely on the aircrew to help them during the flights.

"They trust us to put a safe aircraft out there," said Sgt. Melvin A. Carter, crew chief instructor, HMH-463. "There is already a baseline that everyone should be at. They have a lot of responsibility on their hands, so if we are able to pick up a lot of the slack that the pilots would normally do, it makes it that much smoother.

"There are those basic principles of trust and respect that still carry on out there," the 30-year-old native of York, Pa., added. "The crew chief-pilot relationship, in my opinion, is a special relationship. There are not too many places in the Marine Corps that have that direct communication where there is no filter in between."

According to Frey, the pilots wouldn't have a mission to accomplish without the help of their squadron.

"I wouldn't get to fly without the hard work and dedication of the maintainers and the aircrew," Frey concluded. "Those guys are hitting the deck running everyday. In this environment, they are performing superbly. They are awesome. Without them, I wouldn't have a job. They don't get the recognition that they sometimes deserve, but they are, no kidding, the backbone of what we are doing out here. They make it happen."

Iraqis, Marines work together to rebuild lives in Al Anbar province

BARWANA, Iraq (June 22, 2006) -- As Sgt. Brett Bartels stood in front of a military vehicle handing out hundreds of stuffed animals and soccer balls on a dusty road in Barwana, his goal was simple – make sure each child went home with a smile on his face.


June 22, 2006
Story ID#: 20066222145
By Sgt. Roe F. Seigle, 1st Marine Division

Such humanitarian operations, are the reason many of the local residents are starting to trust Marines, the 23-year-old native of Canoga, Park, Calif., said, and why insurgents are quickly losing their foothold in the city of 40,000 nestled along the Euphrates River, just southeast of Haditha.

“When we arrived in Barwana in March, the insurgents would threaten and intimidate anyone who cooperated with Marines,” said Bartel, a team leader with 3rd Civil Affairs Group, a Marine unit with the primary mission of assisting Iraqi communities with improving local infrastructures and governance.

“The insurgents do not have that power anymore and they are desperate to get it back,” said Bartel. “It is evident in their futile attacks that rarely produce the results they want.”

As the insurgency is quelled, Marines here are focusing on developing and implementing programs that will one day be turned over to Iraqi Government workers in Barwana after coalition forces withdraw from the city, said Bartels.

One program Marines are helping Barwana’s government to implement is a vehicle registration mandate. The program would require all vehicle owners to register their vehicles with the local government. Upon registration, vehicle owners are given an identification card, similar to a U.S. driver’s license, and are entered into a registry database.

“It is going to be just like the Department of Motor Vehicles we have in each state,” said Bartels.

Many residents support the idea – hundreds have lined up outside the Marines’ forward operating base here to register their vehicles. More and more residents show up to register their vehicles since the program began one month ago, said Bartels.

“The insurgents tried to intimidate the locals when we first started the program with various threats if they came to the base,” said Sgt. Jose Soto, 25, an assistant team leader with the civil affairs group. “The residents stood up to them and took our side in the fight.”

As a result of the program, the Marines were able to capitalize on spreading the word about future police recruitment in the city, said Soto, a native of Costa Mesa, Calif.

Many male residents have expressed an interest in becoming police officers and are willing to attend a police training camp in Baghdad, said Soto.

A police force, coupled with an Army capable of independent operations, is necessary in order to provide security to residents without the assistance of coalition forces, said Soto.

“It is just a matter of time before people will start seeing some of the residents who are currently unemployed wearing a police uniform and protecting them from insurgents,” said Soto. “The insurgency is crumbling in this city and we are winning the fight.”

When the Marines arrived in Barwana more than three months ago, residents would not communicate with them out of fear of retribution from insurgents. Now, residents are beginning to welcome Marines and Iraqi soldiers in broad daylight – a sure sign of a weakening insurgency, said Soto.

To further combat the insurgency, the Marines also implemented a parole system for citizens recently released from confinement, another program which is in its beginning stages.

Once released from prison and back into the Barwana populace, former inmates are put on parole and are required to check in periodically. Iraqi soldiers patrolling Barwana’s streets often stop by the parolees’ houses to make sure he is behaving.

There are only a handful of residents currently on parole, but as more inmates are released and returned to society, the number will grow, the Marines say. This will make parolees think twice before carrying out further attacks against coalition forces. Local leaders in the community are enthusiastically supporting the program, said Bartels.

“It is easy for an insurgent released from prison to turn back to the insurgency,” said Bartels. “This will make them think twice about returning to their old ways.”

However, the parole system is not designed to punish inmates further after they have served their time. The Marines are helping the inmates re-adjust back into society and helping those who once had jobs get them back once released.

“We are not going to hold grudges against those that have broken the law,” said Bartels. “We want all the residents to know that as the insurgency crumbles, they will have a chance to have a fresh start in their lives and live in peace.”

Now the Marines are reaching out to the younger generation of Iraqis with an incentive for them to focus on their education through a program known as “gifts for good grades.”

The program allows children to come to the base with their report cards and, depending on the quality of their grades, they are rewarded with toys and candy.

Soto came up with the program earlier this month when a child asked him for a soccer ball as he made an identification card for his parents.

“I asked him if he had a copy of his report card and he ran home and got it,” said Soto. “The child made good grades in school so I gave him a soccer ball.”

The child spread the word about the gift to other neighborhood children. Soon after, many more children showed outside the forward operating base and showed their report cards to Soto in the hopes of receiving a gift.

“I would give each child at least some candy,” said Soto. “The soccer balls were the most sought after item so I awarded that to the children with the highest grades. Others would get candy or stuffed animals.”

Students began asking their teachers for copies of their report cards from previous grading periods after hearing about the program, said Soto.

“Our main goal with this program is to encourage the youth to excel in their education and lead more meaningful lives instead of having to turn to the insurgency for a source of income,” said Soto, after returning from a three-hour patrol in Barwana where he and Marines from Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment handed out more than two hundred toys to local children.

“People here trust us,” said Bartels. “With that trust we are hoping to build the basic programs needed to properly govern a city.”

However, there are still insurgents in the city who will go to any length to disrupt the Marines and their humanitarian operations. Many local contractors want to help rebuild the cities infrastructure. They have been offered bids on many projects, such as rebuilding schools, bridges and hospitals, but they still fear the insurgents.

“There are several projects we want to see completed before we leave, primarily the schools and the bridge reconstruction,” said Bartels. “We have approached several contractors in the city with project ideas, but they are threatened with kidnapping and murder by the insurgents.”

With the new parole system in place and the continued patrols by Marines, Bartels said he believes contractors will soon feel safe to begin working hand-in-hand with Marines.

“The insurgents are only hurting themselves and their fellow citizens when they threaten the contractors who are willing to rebuild the city’s infrastructure,” said Bartels. “The Marines are weeding them out, though. We are dedicated to helping these people and fighting the insurgents. In the end, we will succeed.”

Email Sgt. Seigle at: [email protected]

Report: Hundreds of WMDs Found in Iraq

WASHINGTON — The United States has found 500 chemical weapons in Iraq since 2003, and more weapons of mass destruction are likely to be uncovered, two Republican lawmakers said Wednesday.


Thursday, June 22, 2006

"We have found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, chemical weapons," Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., said in a quickly called press conference late Wednesday afternoon.

Reading from a declassified portion of a report by the National Ground Intelligence Center, a Defense Department intelligence unit, Santorum said: "Since 2003, coalition forces have recovered approximately 500 weapons munitions which contain degraded mustard or sarin nerve agent. Despite many efforts to locate and destroy Iraq's pre-Gulf War chemical munitions, filled and unfilled pre-Gulf War chemical munitions are assessed to still exist."

He added that the report warns about the hazards that the chemical weapons could still pose to coalition troops in Iraq.

"The purity of the agents inside the munitions depends on many factors, including the manufacturing process, potential additives and environmental storage conditions. While agents degrade over time, chemical warfare agents remain hazardous and potentially lethal," Santorum read from the document.

"This says weapons have been discovered, more weapons exist and they state that Iraq was not a WMD-free zone, that there are continuing threats from the materials that are or may still be in Iraq," said Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

The weapons are thought to be manufactured before 1991 so they would not be proof of an ongoing WMD program in the 1990s. But they do show that Saddam Hussein was lying when he said all weapons had been destroyed, and it shows that years of on-again, off-again weapons inspections did not uncover these munitions.

Hoekstra said the report, completed in April but only declassified now, shows that "there is still a lot about Iraq that we don't fully understand."

Asked why the Bush administration, if it had known about the information since April or earlier, didn't advertise it, Hoekstra conjectured that the president has been forward-looking and concentrating on the development of a secure government in Iraq.

Offering the official administration response to FOX News, a senior Defense Department official pointed out that the chemical weapons were not in useable conditions.

"This does not reflect a capacity that was built up after 1991," the official said, adding the munitions "are not the WMDs this country and the rest of the world believed Iraq had, and not the WMDs for which this country went to war."

The official said the findings did raise questions about the years of weapons inspections that had not resulted in locating the fairly sizeable stash of chemical weapons. And he noted that it may say something about Hussein's intent and desire. The report does suggest that some of the weapons were likely put on the black market and may have been used outside Iraq.

He also said that the Defense Department statement shortly after the March 2003 invasion saying that "we had all known weapons facilities secured," has proven itself to be untrue.

"It turned out the whole country was an ammo dump," he said, adding that on more than one occasion, a conventional weapons site has been uncovered and chemical weapons have been discovered mixed within them.

Hoekstra and Santorum lamented that Americans were given the impression after a 16-month search conducted by the Iraq Survey Group that the evidence of continuing research and development of weapons of mass destruction was insignificant. But the National Ground Intelligence Center took up where the ISG left off when it completed its report in November 2004, and in the process of collecting intelligence for the purpose of force protection for soldiers and sailors still on the ground in Iraq, has shown that the weapons inspections were incomplete, they and others have said.

"We know it was there, in place, it just wasn't operative when inspectors got there after the war, but we know what the inspectors found from talking with the scientists in Iraq that it could have been cranked up immediately, and that's what Saddam had planned to do if the sanctions against Iraq had halted and they were certainly headed in that direction," said Fred Barnes, editor of The Weekly Standard and a FOX News contributor.

"It is significant. Perhaps, the administration just, they think they weathered the debate over WMD being found there immediately and don't want to return to it again because things are otherwise going better for them, and then, I think, there's mindless resistance to releasing any classified documents from Iraq," Barnes said.

The release of the declassified materials comes as the Senate debates Democratic proposals to create a timetable for U.S. troops to withdraw from Iraq. The debate has had the effect of creating disunity among Democrats, a majority of whom shrunk Wednesday from an amendment proposed by Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts to have troops to be completely withdrawn from Iraq by the middle of next year.

At the same time, congressional Republicans have stayed highly united, rallying around a White House that has seen successes in the last couple weeks, first with the death of terror leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, then the completion of the formation of Iraq's Cabinet and then the announcement Tuesday that another key Al Qaeda in Iraq leader, "religious emir" Mansour Suleiman Mansour Khalifi al-Mashhadani, or Sheik Mansour, was also killed in a U.S. airstrike.

Santorum pointed out that during Wednesday's debate, several Senate Democrats said that no weapons of mass destruction had been found in Iraq, a claim, he said, that the declassified document proves is untrue.

"This is an incredibly — in my mind — significant finding. The idea that, as my colleagues have repeatedly said in this debate on the other side of the aisle, that there are no weapons of mass destruction, is in fact false," he said.

As a result of this new information, under the aegis of his chairmanship, Hoekstra said he is going to ask for more reporting by the various intelligence agencies about weapons of mass destruction.

"We are working on the declassification of the report. We are going to do a thorough search of what additional reports exist in the intelligence community. And we are going to put additional pressure on the Department of Defense and the folks in Iraq to more fully pursue a complete investigation of what existed in Iraq before the war," Hoekstra said.

FOX News' Jim Angle and Sharon Kehnemui Liss contributed to this report.

Corps Experience

Late-night arrivals: Matt, left, and Robert Shipp place their feet on yellow footprints at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego. The Hauser Lake, Idaho, recruits were first off the bus at nearly midnight Monday for their processing into boot camp.

Closer to their dream but thousands of miles from home, twins Matt and Robert Shipp step into the world of Marine boot camp


James Hagengruber, Staff writer
June 22, 2006

SAN DIEGO – Matt and Robert Shipp struggled to stay alert Tuesday morning, their first morning at Marine boot camp. The twins from Hauser Lake, Idaho, had already gone 30 hours without sleep and would need to muster the energy to last another 12 hours before any rest would be permitted.

Their eyes were bleary. Their heads were still tinged red from being shaved bald hours earlier, shortly after arriving at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego. Snarling drill instructors walked the room at the recruit processing center. Shouts flew through the air and echoed down the hallways of the building.

"Wake up you knuckleheads!"

"You're all brain dead! Brain dead! Brain dead!"

"You eyeballing me, recruit?"

The drill instructors inspected the 120 young men of Platoon 3019 for tattoos, brandings or any piercings that might be the souvenirs of gang affiliation or criminal activity. It was just one of countless tasks involved with recruit processing. The Shipp twins, like the other recruits, stared at the ground and did their best to avoid drawing attention. One young man near the back of the room tried to suck back tears.

For better or worse, Matt and Robert Shipp's longtime dream of joining the Marines was finally coming true.

The 18-year-olds spent much of the last year preparing for the Marines. They had practiced target shooting near their family's forested North Idaho home. They worked their bodies, hoping to build up the muscle needed to survive basic training. For Robert, who had once dropped out of high school, the decision to join the Marines also prompted him to return to school and study hard enough to earn a spot on the honor roll. Both young men had also kept close tabs on the war in Iraq – that's where most newly minted Marines are sent.

Robert and Matt could not offer any gut reactions to their all-night baptism to the Marine Corps. They could not say if they were satisfied or terrified. That's because the first lesson recruits learn is to shut up – for the most part, the only words allowed in boot camp are "Yes, sir!" "No, sir!" or "Aye, aye, sir!"

Along with a young woman from Medical Lake, Wash., the Shipp twins were sworn in as Marine recruits at 9:50 a.m. Monday in a windowless room on the second floor of the federal building in downtown Spokane. Lt. Col. Yolanda Kern administered the oath. She also asked the twins, "Are you ready for this challenging adventure?"

"Yes, ma'am," they said, both standing ramrod straight.

Leslee Shipp, the twins' mother, cried during much of the ceremony. So did Matt's girlfriend, Jessica Whetstine. Afterward, Leslee hugged her sons and told them, "I'm proud of you guys."

Before boarding an afternoon flight to San Diego, the twins were given a few moments alone in the federal building cafeteria with their parents and their brother and sister. Matt and Robert ate cheeseburgers and smiled. Nobody talked much. Their only contact for the next 13 weeks would be one postcard and a single phone call.

At 9:22 p.m. Monday night, the twins arrived in Terminal 2 at the San Diego airport. Apart from the clothes on their backs, all they carried were copies of their orders to appear at boot camp. Signs in the airport led them past the food court and down an escalator toward the USO lobby. The recruits arrived in clusters – they bantered and joked as they approached the lobby. Some carried bags of fast food. This wasn't the military base. This was a carpeted, well-lit room with sofas, chairs and a big-screen television that played ESPN. There didn't seem to be any reason for worry.

Until they spotted the telltale green "Smokey Bear" campaign hat of the Marine drill instructor, who was waiting just inside the lobby. Sgt. Alex Madrid offered no pleasantries to the twins. His greetings were belted out in short, terrifyingly loud blasts.

"Look at me right now!" Madrid shouted in a voice reminiscent of Wolfman Jack. "Hullo! On your left forearm you will write 3019 right now! You understand that? You understand that?"

Robert and Matt did as they were ordered, then stood waiting with others in the platoon. Platoon 3019 will not receive their team of drill instructors until 1 p.m. Friday. "That's when the real fun begins," Madrid said. Friday is the start of physical training, marksmanship practice and countless miles of marching. The first five days at boot camp, though, are spent waiting in lines for dental and medical checkups, filling out countless forms, waiting in more lines and learning the many mundane tasks of military life, such as the correct way of wearing a belt.

Sgt. Derrick Small, who works in the recruit depot's public affairs office, said the first week of boot camp can be especially difficult for recruits.

"This week gives you too much time to think. That's why I didn't like it," Small said. "You have all this time to think about the stuff you coulda did, shoulda did."

The main lesson Monday night seemed to be the importance of avoiding the wrath and attention of Sgt. Madrid, or any of the other drill instructors who stomped the halls of the processing center. The lessons were not offered as advice. They were revealed only when mistakes were made, such as when one recruit told Madrid his marker ran out of ink.

Madrid turned and faced the recruit. His face reddened like a boiled beet. His eyes bulged out of his head. He bared his teeth. For about five seconds, the drill instructor's lips moved, but no sounds came out of his mouth. He seemed unable to come up with adequate words to express his rage. The recruit wilted. Finally, Madrid simply pointed toward the wall and shouted, "GO!"

Some of the other recruits' hands shook. Active-duty Marines relaxing on sofas in the USO lobby smiled and whispered to each other – perhaps remembering their own initiation into the smallest branch of the military, a branch with a reputation for the toughest training and the meanest of drill sergeants.

Matt and Robert Shipp were always at each other's side those first hours. They enlisted through the buddy system and were guaranteed a spot in the same training platoon. After boot camp, the twins will split. Robert plans to attend infantry school and hopes to qualify as a sniper. Matt will go to artillery school and hopes to serve as a forward observer, or maybe as an elite member of force reconnaissance. Both hope to be deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan.

During a short break Monday night, Sgt. Madrid said he never had twins in any of his training platoons over the last 2 1/2 years. Matt and Robert will be able to help each other through the difficulties of boot camp, but the buddy system has its own drawbacks, Madrid said. When one buddy screws up, the other often has to do extra pushups, for instance.

At 9:56 p.m. Monday, Platoon 3019 was ordered to stand and march in formation out of the airport lobby to school buses waiting in the parking lot.

"Hey knuckleheads!" Madrid shouted. "I've got some guys waiting for you back at the base. They got your name. They got your picture. You better take a little breath now and enjoy your freedom. You're about to feel pain! You got that?"

"Yes, sir!" the recruits shouted back. The platoon marched past manicured shrubs and palm trees in the parking lot. Through the warm, humid night air, they could see the skyscrapers of San Diego. For the Shipp twins, it must have seemed so very far from the pine trees, crickets and lake sounds of their childhood home in North Idaho.

Robert and Matt Shipp's bus arrived at the recruit depot at 10:55 p.m. Monday. When the door opened, Staff Sgt. Ferman Payne was there and ready to shout. "Get off my bus now! Faster! Faster! Faster!"

They scrambled down the stairs and stood on sets of yellow footprints painted on the concrete. The footprints showed the recruits the proper way of standing at attention: heels together, toes apart at a 45-degree angle. Payne wandered through the crowd of young men, his campaign hat cocked forward, revealing a black leather strap tight against the back of his shaved head.

"If I ask you a question, it's without addition 'yes sir' or 'no sir'!" Payne shouted. "If I tell you do something, you'll say 'aye, aye, sir!' … Now, you're going to open your fat mouths! You understand that?"

The young men thundered back a reply, "Aye, aye, sir!"

Another platoon was already being processed inside the building. Shouts from their drill instructors echoed out the door and into the courtyard, where the Shipp twins stood at attention. A total of about 500 recruits cycled through the depot Monday night, some arriving well after midnight. Most of the young men come from states in the West or Midwest. Male recruits from most states east of the Mississippi and all female recruits attend basic training at Parris Island, S.C.

At 11:38 p.m., Robert received a recruit's haircut. Thirty seconds and 20 swipes of the electric razor later, it was Matt's turn in the barber chair. Neither twin had more than an inch of hair to begin with, but that didn't matter. Recruits are shaved to the skin. Hair trimmings from Platoon 3019 nearly covered the ankles of the two barbers on duty Monday night.

Across the hallway, in the "contraband room," the bald recruits were ordered to surrender all badges of individuality and any remnant from their former lives – clothing, jewelry (except wedding rings), mobile phones, iPods, books, wallets. Only a few small snapshots of loved ones are allowed in a recruit's footlocker. Drill instructors walked from recruit to recruit in the room, tossing books, toothbrushes and packages of gum onto the floor. Staff Sgt. Payne stopped in front of Robert Shipp. He began throwing papers on the floor.

"You bring enough garbage to boot camp?" Payne asked.

"Yes, sir!" Robert answered in a loud voice. He stood at attention with his chest jutting forward and arms at his side.

Matt didn't bat an eye. Doing so would have been an open invitation for more wrath from the drill instructor.

Once relieved of their personal possessions, recruits were issued all they would need: cotton swabs, writing paper, four-packs of underwear, a shoeshine brush, anti-fungal foot spray, padlocks, socks, a training uniform.

By midnight, most of the recruits were red-eyed and shining with sweat. The processing center was stuffy and filled with the smell of cut hair and body odor. In their weariness, some of the recruits began making simple mistakes, such as raising their left hand when the drill instructor says right, or not saying "yes, sir" in response to an order, or not saying "yes, sir" loudly enough. The mistakes brought only more shouting and commands from the drill instructors.

The orders seemed to run together in one continuous shout: "Do it this way! Now run! Pick it up recruit! Run recruit! Are you eyeballing me, recruit?"

This will be the soundtrack to Matt and Robert Shipp's lives for the better part of the next 13 weeks. The twins hope that by following the drill instructors' commands, they will be presented with the eagle, globe and anchor pin of a Marine on Sept. 15. Their drill instructors hope these lessons will help the twins and the rest of Platoon 3019 stay alive in combat.

Click on Photo for MORE pictures, credits, and descriptions.

June 21, 2006

Madras soldier killed in Iraq

Family and friends of of Pfc. Thomas Lowell Tucker, 25, of Madras, are grieving this week after the U.S. military announced early Tuesday morning that two soldiers' bodies were recovered by troops in Iraq.


By Holly M. Gill

Tucker, a 1999 graduate of Madras High School, went missing from Yusufiya, about 12 miles southwest of Baghdad, Iraq, just before 8 p.m., on Friday, when his military vehicle reportedly came under attack at a checkpoint.

The driver of the vehicle, Spc. David J. Babineau, 25, of Springfield, Mass., was killed, and Tucker and Pfc. Kristian Menchaca, 23, of Houston, Texas, were kidnapped by a group affiliated with Al Qaida -- the Mujahedeen Shura Council.

Early Tuesday morning, Oregon National Guard Sgt. Randy Everitt of Albany, who has been with the Tucker family since Sunday evening, commented, "The family is preparing for bad news."

"Iraqi soldiers found two bodies of soldiers in American uniforms. They're being flown to Dover, Del., for DNA identification," he said. DNA identification takes 12 to 15 hours.

Everitt advised the family of the report around 3:30 a.m. Tuesday, before the news broke on CNN, although the U.S. Army has not yet made a positive identification.

The family has not spoken publicly about their son, but on Monday, before the CNN report, they issued the statement, "We are praying for the safe return of our son Tom and Pfc. Kristian Menchaca, and our deepest sympathy is with the family of Spc. David Babineau."

The bodies of two servicemen were located by troops near an electrical installation early Tuesday, according to reports from CNN and Reuters.

On Monday, Tom Brown, of Madras, a friend of the Tucker family, helped put up a display of flags -- each from a veteran who had died -- in the Tuckers' front yard on the Culver Highway. The Lions Club put up flags around town early Tuesday.

"The family would like to see the community support with flags and yellow ribbons," Brown said.

Tom and Janet Brown have two sons who attended school with Thomas Tucker -- Cody and Jordan. Cody, who was in Tucker's class in high school, is also with the same U.S. Army Division -- the 101st Airborne Division -- deployed in Iraq.

"Our hearts go out to the Tucker family," said Janet Brown. "Tom's a fine young man -- a strong young man physically and mentally, and a good soldier. We're just saying lots of prayers for him and his fellow soldiers."

After enlisting in the U.S. Army in July of 2005, Tucker was stationed at Fort Campbell, Ky., as a member of B Company, 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division. He was deployed to Iraq in February.

Before his deployment, high school buddy Jake Koolhaas, of Madras, recalled Tucker's most recent visit to Madras. "I had dinner with him at the Meet Market after he got back from basic training. He looked great -- he was wearing his uniform. I was pretty impressed."

When they were in high school, Koolhaas said Tucker enjoyed riding four-wheelers out on the Crooked River Grassland, and working on his '71 Chevy pickup. "He found a 350 motor and we spent weeks putting it in there," Koolhaas said.

Josh Richesin, another of Tucker's school friends, had small engine repair with him. "I remember him being into a lot of mechanical things, like cars." Tucker's sense of humor in high school was also remarkable. "He was a jokester," said Richesin, adding that Tucker found the humor in everything.

According to a statement from Tucker's family, Thomas Tucker was born in Prineville, but raised with his older sister in Madras, where he attended school. "Thomas has a great love of music and played the piano," the statement noted.

Classmate Kayla (Hatfield) DuPont, of Madras, was a friend of Tucker's in high school, when they were both in band. "He was very outgoing and friendly," she said. "He was just an all-around great guy."

During high school, Tucker worked at the Tiger Mart gas station and car wash -- his first real job, according to former Madras mayor Rick Allen, who owned Tiger Mart at that time.

"He was always trying to save money for his car," Allen said. "He always had a vehicle to mess with."
Josh Tolman of Madras, who has been a friend of Tucker's since fourth grade, worked with him at Tiger Mart, and agreed that Tucker has always loved "recreational motorized stuff."

Throughout their school years, "We did everything back then together. We grew up hunting and fishing. We had a tight little group in high school," he recalled.

Over the years, Tolman kept in touch with Tucker, meeting with him right before he was deployed to Iraq. "He wanted to go do something meaningful," he said.

Tolman found out that Tucker was missing on Friday afternoon, before the names of the two were released. "It's hard to take it all in," he said Monday. "I don't know what to think about what he's going through over there."

Allen ran into him after he completed basic training, and was impressed with the man the quiet, pleasant boy had become. "I looked at him and thought, `My God, that's Tom Tucker,'" he said.

"He grew up coming to Tiger Mart for Icees; now he's in the middle of an international, worldwide issue. It just breaks your heart," said Allen, who spent most of Monday fielding calls from media, including CNN, Larry King, Newsweek, the Today Show, U.S. Today, as well as state and local news outlets.

California resident Jim Krause remembers well the media attention after his brother Sgt. Elmer C. Krause was lost in an attack on a convoy in Iraq on April 9, 2004.

"We were inundated by the media in the beginning," he said, noting his family's concern that anything they said might be picked up by the people who were holding his brother and used against him.

His brother's remains were found in a shallow grave nearly two weeks later, but Sgt. Keith "Matt" Maupin, who was in the same convoy, is still listed as missing.

"I know what the family's going through," he said Monday, when he called The Pioneer to find out how to convey his sympathy to Tucker's family. "If you haven't gone through it, it's torment. You hope for the best and you worry about what they're going through."

Sunday evening and Monday morning, media descended on Madras from all over the area. "Newspeople were banging on the door at 5 a.m.," said Tom Brown.

The Jefferson County Sheriff's Department stepped in to assist the family and ensure their privacy. "Our primary goal is to keep their privacy honored," said Sheriff Jack Jones. His department was contacted by the military Saturday night, and has been supplying deputies to keep media and others away from the house.

At one time, half a dozen satellites were stationed near the intersection of the Culver Highway and Fairgrounds Road, monitoring the home of Wesley and Margaret Tucker. They had dispersed by nightfall, but reassembled Tuesday morning.

School District 509-J has been overwhelmed with media requests for photos and comments, and, at the request of the family, has asked employees not to talk to media, but to support the family by putting out yellow ribbons and flying American flags, according to Superintendent Guy Fisher.

"In a tragedy like that, you need to honor the family's request," he said, noting that Tucker's mother, Margaret, is employed as a cook at Madras High School.

"The family wants everyone to know how grateful they are for the support that they've received," said Everitt, but added that they are not yet prepared to handle non-family visits.

As the mother of a soldier still stationed in Iraq, Janet Brown said her heart goes out to the Tucker family. "This community will do whatever the family needs. Our thoughts and prayers are with them."

A savings account has been set up at Columbia River Bank for the Tucker family in the name of "Bring Tommy Home," to help the family with expenses. Call the Madras Chamber of Commerce at 475-2350 for information on assisting the family in other ways.

Cher backs effort to modify soldiers' helmets

NEW YORK (AP) -- Cher, who opposes the war in Iraq but supports the troops, says using her celebrity to promote effective helmets for U.S. soldiers is rewarding -- and "the right thing to do."


Wednesday, June 21, 2006

"To be able to use your celebrity for something that you really think is worthwhile is so rewarding," the 60-year-old singer-actress says in an interview that was to air Wednesday night on CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360" (10 p.m. EDT).

"It just makes you feel like this is the right thing to do. This is the American thing to do," she tells Cooper. Excerpts of the interview were released in advance.

Cher says it makes her angry "when people say that if you're not for the war, you don't support the troops. And I'm not for the war. And I really support the troops."

Last week, she attended a hearing in Washington on whether to modify helmets for soldiers in Iraq. The entertainer has donated more than $130,000 to the group Operation Helmet, which pays about $100 to modify the inside of soldiers' helmets to make them better able to absorb shock from a bomb blast.

Cher tells Cooper she "was astounded at the price that could save someone's life. ... Or, you know, that such a little price had to be used to -- to save someone's life."

The Army now equips its soldiers with padded helmets designed to be shock absorbent. The Marine Corps has commissioned a study to determine whether to change its helmets but has said the ones Marines use now are effective.

Cher won a best-actress Oscar for her role in 1987's "Moonstruck." She is known for songs such as "Believe" and "If I Could Turn Back Time."

Former ‘Magnificent Bastards’ react to sniper rifle recovery

CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq (June 21, 2006) -- Call it a little bit of justice.

Marine snipers from 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment shot and killed an insurgent sniper and spotter preparing to shoot at passing Marines, June 16. And the insurgents were going to use a stolen Marine sniper rifle for the attack.

That rifle – an M-40A1 – belonged to the “Magnificent Bastards” of 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, a battalion within the Regimental Combat Team 5 family. It was taken by insurgents when a team of four Marines were killed in a rooftop outpost June 21, 2004, in Ramadi.

Former ‘Magnificent Bastards’ react to sniper rifle recovery
June 21, 2006; Submitted on: 06/22/2006 03:34:58 AM ; Story ID#: 200662233458

By Gunnery Sgt. Mark Oliva, 1st Marine Division


Nearly two years to the day, Sgt. Maj. James E. Booker, the battalion’s sergeant major during their tour in Ramadi, said the news “sends a chill down my spine.”

“It makes me feel real good to know a brother sniper got final revenge,” said Booker, in a phone interview from his post as the Marine detachment sergeant major at Fort Sill, Okla. “I really respect those young studs to do what they did.”

Booker should know. Aside from leading his Marines through Ramadi, he’s a 20-year sniper himself, first acquiring the skill in 1986. He later led 1st Marine Division School’s Scout-Sniper School.

And Booker knew the four Marines killed on the rooftop that day as well. Lance Cpl. Deshon Otey was the sole survivor of an ambush that killed his entire squad in April 2004. Lance Cpl. Juan Lopez was a combat replacement, pulled in to beef up the ranks.

Lance Cpl. Pedro Contreras “was a good doggone kid,” Booker said. “He and I got in a gunfight together.”

The final member was Cpl. Tommy Parker Jr., the team’s only trained sniper.

“I can see it like the day I walked up there,” said Booker, a 44-year-old from Waco, Texas. He said they believed the team was killed around 10:40 a.m. After missing radio checks, a quick reaction force was dispatched.

“We were there within an hour of (insurgents) filming it,” he said. The video of the dead Marines was already playing across Arabic-language news channels.

A lot of confusion has surrounded that day. What is known is radio checks were logged from the time the team left their forward operating base around 1 a.m. until 7:30 a.m. the next day, the last time indicated in the logbook found in Contreras’ hand. They were found dead, blood pooled on the flat rooftop. A short wall surrounded the entire roof and a single staircase led to the top. They were found stripped of their weapons – two sniper rifles, four M-16A4s and a radio and thermal sight.

The rifle that was the extension of Parker was gone. He and his team were killed and there were no clear answers as to who killed them or what happened to their weapons.

“That’s sacred, the relationship you have with that thing,” Booker explained. “Parker shot thousands of rounds through that rifle.”

Cpl. Angel S. Villalobos, a 23-year-old from Taft, Texas, with RCT-5’s Personnel Security Detachment, was a Magnificent Bastard in Ramadi in 2004. He remembered the day clearly. It was the day before he himself was wounded.

“I wondered if it was this rifle that did it,” Villalobos said. “We were going through Ramadi, knocking down every door trying to find it.”

Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Andrew R. Campanano, a 26-year-old from Allentown, Pa., is serving with RCT-5 and saw the four Marines often. They lined up – scout snipers and the aid station’s hospital corpsmen – alongside each other in formations.

“The guys who got this back, they’re great,” Campanano said. “These are the guys fighting this war out here.”

Villalobos held the rifle in his hands and fell silent. He held it low, cradling it and examined the chipped paint jobs applied by Marines over the years. The Unertl scope was missing, replaced by a Tasco, but otherwise, the rifle was in good working order.

“It means a lot knowing we got our rifle back because now they can’t use it against us,” Villalobos said. “I’m glad to know they got it back, but it brings up a lot of questions. It makes you wonder if they’re the ones who might have taken it.”

The rifle’s long journey back into the hands of Marines from 5th Marine Regiment wasn’t forgotten by any of the former Magnificent Bastards, including Master Sgt. Rod B. Schlosser, the regiment’s assistant operations chief. He was the company gunnery sergeant for Headquarters and Service Company, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment in Ramadi.

The rifle was on his inventory and he cared for the four Marines.

“It’s bittersweet,” said Schlosser, a 38-year-old from Steubenville, Ohio. “You’re first thought is on the loss of the Marines. But you’re reminded to be thankful for the skills of the Marines today to bring closure to this.”

Schlosser said he often thought about the missing weapon, knowing the effect a sniper has on the battlefield. He also knew the insurgents had one of the finest rifles in their hands – and it was a Marine rifle, his Marines’ rifle.

“It gets under your skin,” he explained. “The most important thing is knowing it’s not in the hands of the enemy. There’s gratitude for the 3/5 Marines, for the lives they’ve saved taking it out of the enemy’s hands.”

Lt. Col. Paul J. Kennedy was the battalion’s commander in Ramadi. He now serves at the Office of Legislative Affairs and was told right away about the rifle’s recovery.

“I was very pleased,” Kennedy said by phone. “It’s justice being carried out. The guys who perpetrated this crime should be rotting in hell and 3/5 allowed that to occur.”

Kennedy has a hunch that the Darkhorse snipers of 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment got those who killed, or at least had a part in killing, his Marines.

“I don’t believe that weapon passed hands,” he said. “I think it was at least probably part of that cell. The very fact it was one of our snipers that killed theirs trying to use our rifle is poetic justice.”

Kennedy said the news wasn’t so much closure on the loss of his four Marines. They can’t be replaced and the rifle is never a replacement for the Marines. Still, it was fitting that another 5th Marine Regiment battalion recovered a rifle stolen from his Marines. It’s a family matter, one battalion supporting another from the same regiment.

What will happen to the rifle is still a question to be answered. Marines from RCT-5 are tracking down which unit should own it, according to how weapons sets were passed among deploying battalions. And the M-40A1s are being phased out for M-40A3s, a newer version used by Marines now.

Booker said he’d hate to see the weapon go back into use, knowing insurgents used it to try, and possibly did, kill Marines.

“There are evil spirits on it,” Booker said. Instead, he thinks it should be preserved.

“I would like to see it sit in a place of honor,” he added.

Kennedy said his battalion never brought home any war trophies. There was a memorial service to honor their 35 killed in action, but no lasting memorial exists at the battalion’s headquarters.

Kennedy said this rifle might be the appropriate memorial to all his Marines killed.

“Maybe if it was hung in the battalion area,” he said, “it would be a fitting memory to those four and the rest.”

Marines continue to combat insurgency after death of Al Qaeda leader

BARWANA, Iraq - Marines assigned to the Hawaii-based L Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, search a house for insurgents, weapons caches and explosives during a patrol June 16. Despite the stunning blow to Iraq’s insurgency two weeks ago with the death of Al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al Zarqawi, Marines and Iraqi soldiers in this Al Anbar Province city are continuing the fight against terrorism by combating insurgent activity nearly daily. But while the Marines and Iraqi soldiers patrol the worn streets lined with pock marks from improvised explosive devices – homemade bombs that have bedeviled Coalition Forces – the Marines are reminded that insurgents are still working behind the scenes and planning attacks in this city of 30,000 located on the Euphrates River northwest of Baghdad. Still, the Marines here say that even though it has been a long and grueling three months, the insurgency is beginning to crumble as local residents are warming up to the Marines’ presence and the Iraqi Army is becoming a more solid and independent organization.

(3/3 Lima)

Marines continue to combat insurgency after death of Al Qaeda leader
June 21, 2006; Submitted on: 06/21/2006 12:51:56 PM ; Story ID#: 2006621125156

By Sgt. Roe F. Seigle, 1st Marine Division


BARWANA, Iraq (June 21, 2006) -- Despite the stunning blow to Iraq’s insurgency last week with the death of Al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al Zarqawi, Marines and Iraqi soldiers here are continuing the fight against terrorism by combating insurgent activity almost daily.

While they patrol the worn streets lined with pock marks from improvised explosive devices, the Marines are reminded that insurgents are still working behind the scenes and planning attacks in this city of 30,000 located on the Euphrates River northwest of Baghdad.

Zarqawi or no Zarqawi, the Marines and Iraqi soldiers still have insurgents to fight.

Still, the Marines here say that even though it has been a long and grueling three months, the insurgency is beginning to crumble in this city as local residents are warming up to the Marines’ presence and the Iraqi Army is becoming a more solid and independent organization.

“We came here to train the Iraqi Army to take over this battle space,” said Capt. Michael R. Hudson, commanding officer for 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment’s Lima Company – the U.S. military unit assigned to provide security in Barwana, part of the “Triad” of cities in this region – Barwana, Hadithah, and Haqlaniyah.

“The progress they have made is remarkable,” said Hudson, 33.

When the Marines arrived in March, Iraqi soldiers here did not have the training to conduct simple missions, such as organized foot patrols through the towns. Now they are countering IEDs, conducting raids on insurgents’ houses and providing security during humanitarian missions, said Hudson.

Last month, Iraqi Army officers planned a raid of a house single-handedly and took suspected insurgents into custody, something they would have had much difficulty accomplishing when Lima Company arrived in March, said Hudson, a native of Concord, Mass.

“By the time Lima Company leaves, I think the Iraqi soldiers will be capable of conducting combat operations without even having Marines supervise them,” said Staff Sgt. Timothy P. Ledbeter, 30, Lima Company’s chief Iraqi Army advisor and Craig, Ala., native.

Once the Iraqi Army has control of the city, they will be able to recruit a police force more effectively because they are able to communicate with locals and assure them they will be protected from the insurgency, said Ledbetter. A functioning police force and a stable army will result in a more stable and secure city where residents can live without the fear of insurgents, said Ledbeter.

Ledbeter credits the success of the Iraqi Army not to advisors like himself, but the team leaders and squad leaders assigned to Lima Company who constantly prepare the soldiers for future missions.

But as the Marines are noting progress in the Iraqi soldiers’ performance, they’re still encountering resistance from insurgents who do not want to see the Iraqi Army succeed.

Last month, Marines were assessing local schools for repairs and giving out school supplies to students, when insurgents opened fire on the Marines as they left the school. In the days following the small-arms attack, the Marines were exposed to a flurry of IED attacks.

However, the Marines say attacks like these have been on the decline since they arrived in Iraq in March. Attacks against the Marines’ forward operating base and various joint U.S.-Iraqi patrols used to occur four to five times a week. Now, they are down to an average of two a week, said Hudson.

One reason for the steady decline in insurgent activity is the fact the Marines in Barwana have captured quite a few insurgents – 60 since March, many of whom have been sent to prison for their crimes.

But Hudson said the Marines are not just focused on fighting insurgents.

The Marines are also focused on improving the local economy by assembling work projects, employing residents with jobs such as posting street signs along roadways, renovations of local schools and repairing water pumps that provide potable water to residents.

“It can take a long time to complete a project because the insurgents are still threatening residents for cooperating with us,” said Hudson. “But we keep track of the progress and continue to encourage locals to cooperate with us by getting them to attend meetings with us and assuring them that we will continue to suppress the insurgents.”

Many of the Marines here say they get more satisfaction out of helping the locals with humanitarian projects than they do when they capture an insurgent.

A couple weeks ago, Lance Cpl. Dominique Cook, a 22-year-old machine gunner assigned to Lima Company, was patrolling Barwana when a parched child approached him and asked for some water and food.

Cook, a native of Dalton, Ga., said his heart went out to the young boy. He gave him a bottle of fresh water and a meal, ready-to-eat.

“It was like Christmas for that child,” recalled Cook. “He was as happy as I was when I got expensive toys and video games for Christmas. I will never forget that child as long as I live.”

Cook said it upsets him when the mainstream media only reports the negative news in Iraq and focus little attention on the good things Marines are doing, like rebuilding schools and giving toys to children.

“It can be discouraging when I see the media portray us in a bad light,” said Cook, right after a two-hour patrol through Barwana’s winding streets, where temperatures often peak over 110 degrees. “But I am not going to let it get me down. I am still going to help these people every chance I get and I pray for them every night.”

“I know that the child I gave food and water to that day will also remember me for the rest of his life,” added Cook. “I do not think he will ever be an insurgent.”

Email Sgt. Seigle at: [email protected]

Frauds put up a decorated front

The man cutting a path across the Marine Corps Birthday Ball near Atlantic City last fall wore row upon row of battle ribbons on his chest — silent testament to a history of gallantry and sacrifice.


Updated 6/21/2006
By Gregg Zoroya,

Among the awards he wore were a Bronze Star, a Silver Star and the Navy Cross, which is second in significance only to the Medal of Honor.

Retired Marine Corps master sergeant Fred Montney III and others turned to admire Gerard Smigel, 52, in his dress blue uniform and wearing the rank of lieutenant colonel. "He was in his element. He enjoyed it," says Montney, who sat at Smigel's table.

As the night wore on, Montney noticed little flaws. Smigel would excuse himself to go to the "latrine." Marines call it the "head." Smigel wore one award, a Combat Action Ribbon, upside down. "When I asked him questions, he would get somewhat fuzzy" about details, Montney recalls. He snapped a photo of Smigel, smiling next to his wife, and later called the FBI.

Smigel pleaded guilty this month in federal court to illegally wearing the uniform and medals. He was sentenced to three years of probation and fined $3,000.

Wartime temptation

Masquerading as a war hero has become riskier — but more tempting — during this time of war. "Right now, most everybody loves the military, and that's why I'm seeing more and more of these impostors," says senior FBI agent Thomas Cottone.

The FBI has investigated 58 cases of people allegedly wearing fraudulent military decorations since 2001. Assisted by military researchers and the Internet — where hoaxes can be quickly tracked and exposed — the FBI could end up investigating more cases of medal fraud this year than in any other previous year, Cottone says. He says he gets one tip a week.

"I call them gutless creeps," Montney says of frauds such as Smigel. According to court documents, Smigel's true military service was as an Air Force plumbing specialist who received a less-than-honorable discharge in 1975.

"The vast majority, it's just low self-esteem," says B.G. "Jug" Burkett, a retired stockbroker from Dallas who led efforts to unmask frauds with Stolen Valor, a 1998 book he co-wrote.

Burkett says people assume heroic alter egos to offset shortcomings.

"Whenever you make someone a hero, he's not only heroic, he's trustworthy, he's honest, he's loyal, he's sincere. All these other attributes get attached to him," he says. "And if somehow he has failed in some way, then it's due to that evil war that he was forced to fight. You can take both the good and the bad and it explains everything."

Heftier punishment

FBI agent Cottone says the bureau is investigating Richard Thibodeau, 64, of Lawrenceville, Ga., who asserted for years that he was a decorated Marine Corps officer and Navy Cross recipient.

Thibodeau explained himself in a May interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "In my mind, I wasn't harming anyone because I wasn't capitalizing on it," he said.

In past decades, laws against impersonating war heroes were enforced only sporadically, Cottone says. That changed in the 1990s, largely because of Mitchell Paige, who received the Medal of Honor for beating back a Japanese assault on Guadalcanal in 1942.

During his retirement, Paige tracked people who falsely claimed to be Medal of Honor recipients. In 1994, he successfully lobbied Congress to pass a law that made selling or falsely wearing the Medal of Honor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $100,000 fine. The punishment for wearing other medals remains six months.

Cottone, who worked with Paige, used that law to investigate H.L.I. Lordship Industries, a company in Hauppauge, N.Y., that held a contract with the Pentagon to produce Medals of Honor. In 1996, Cottone proved the company had illegally sold 300 awards, many of them snapped up by impostors. The firm lost its government contract and paid a $22,500 fine.

In the past several years, military researchers and societies have begun assembling databases that have made it easier to uncover fraud.

The Congressional Medal of Honor Society lists all recipients, living or dead, on its website: www.cmohs.org. Cottone says the number of people claiming to be Medal of Honor recipients has diminished in recent years, but the number pretending to have received other valor awards has increased.

The homeofheroes.com website tracks recipients of the Medal of Honor, the Army's Distinguished Service Cross, the Navy and Marine Corps' Navy Cross and the Air Force Cross. That site was pulled together by Doug Sterner, a business technology teacher from Colorado.

Sterner says plenty of military imposters never get caught.

"I believe in virtually every city in America, no matter how small, there is at least one individual who is touting (himself) as a major combat hero based upon lies."

Marines, Sailor Face Charges in Iraqi Civilian's Death

WASHINGTON, June 21, 2006 – Seven Marines and a sailor were charged today with kidnapping, murder and conspiracy in connection with the death of an Iraqi civilian in Hamdania, Iraq, in late April.


By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

Officials announced the charges, which also included making false official statements, larceny, assault, housebreaking and obstruction of justice, during a news conference today at Camp Pendleton, Calif.

Marines charged in the incident were: Sgt. Lawrence G. Hutchins III, Cpl. Trent D. Thomas, Lance Cpl. Tyler A. Jackson, Pfc. John J. Jodka, Lance Cpl. Jerry E. Shumate Jr., Lance Cpl. Robert B. Pennington and Cpl. Marshall L. Magincalda.

Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Melson J. Bacos, a hospital corpsman, was also charged.

All eight were assigned to Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment.

Local Iraqis brought the incident to the Marine leadership's attention during a regularly scheduled meeting May 1. Following a preliminary inquiry by Multinational Forces West in Iraq, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service launched an investigation May 7, Marine Col. Stewart Navarre, chief of staff for Marine Corps Installations West, told reporters today.

Ten Marines and the sailor alleged to have been involved were removed from their unit May 12 and reassigned to the battalion headquarters at Camp Fallujah. They were restricted to their living quarters until their redeployment to Camp Pendleton.

Seven of the Marines and the sailor were placed in pre-trial confinement in the Camp Pendleton Brig on May 24. Navarre declined to discuss details about the other four Marines, saying the matter is still under investigation.

Navarre said the Marine Corps takes allegations of wrongdoing by Marines seriously and is committed to thoroughly investigating them. "The Marine Corps prides itself on holding its members accountable for their actions," he said.

"We are absolutely committed to holding fair and impartial proceedings in full compliance with the Uniform Code of Military Justice," he said.

In the meantime, Navarre emphasized, the accused are presumed innocent. "I am confident that the military justice system will ensure a fair result in each case," he said.

In a related matter, Army officials announced today that a fourth soldier has been charged in connection with the deaths of three male detainees during a May 9 operation near Thar Thar Canal in Iraq's Salah ad Din province.

Army Spc. Juston Graber from the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, was charged with premeditated murder, attempted premeditated murder, conspiracy to commit murder and making a false official statement.

Graber will remain at Contingency Operating Base Speicher, where he is restricted to the brigade's unit area performing administrative duties, officials said.

Three other soldiers from the same unit were charged earlier in connection with the incident. They are Staff Sgt. Raymond L. Girouard, Spc. William B. Hunsaker and Pfc. Corey R. Clagett.

A statement released by Multinational Force Iraq officials said the soldiers' unit commander ordered an inquiry to determine the circumstances surrounding the deaths of the three detainees on the day the alleged murders occurred. Army Criminal Investigation Command conducted the investigation.

Officials emphasized that the accused are presumed innocent until charges are proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

June 20, 2006

DoD Establishes Mental Health Task Force

The Department of Defense announced today the formation of a congressionally-directed task force to examine matters related to mental health and the Armed Forces.


U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)
News Release
DoD Establishes Mental Health Task Force
June 20, 2006

“This is an extremely important effort involving a collaboration of DoD, federal and private sector experts in mental health,” said Dr. William Winkenwerder Jr., assistant secretary of defense for health affairs.

The Mental Health Task Force comprised of seven DoD members and seven non-DoD members, will submit a report to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in May 2007. It will include assessments and recommendations for improving the efficacy of mental health services provided to service members by DoD and will begin meeting in July 2006.

“High on the list will be steps for improving the awareness of the potential mental health conditions among service personnel and ways to improve the access and efficacy of our existing programs,” Winkenwerder said.

Congress directed the establishment of the task force as part of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2006. Army Lt. Gen. Kevin C. Kiley, surgeon general, and a non-DoD representative, to be elected by the task force membership, will co-chair the task force.

“Because of the very challenging timeline established for the task force to do its work, the Armed Forces Epidemiology Board (AFEB) will support and serve as its parent organization,” Winkenwerder said.

The AFEB is an ongoing independent scientific advisory committee to the secretary of defense through the assistant secretary for health affairs and the military surgeons general for matters concerning operational programs, policy development, and research needs for the prevention of disease and promotion of health.

More information regarding the DoD Mental Health Task Force can be found at http://www.ha.osd.mil/afeb/mhtf/members.cfm.

Darkhorse snipers kill insurgent sniper, recover stolen Marine sniper rifle

CAMP HABBANIYAH, Iraq (June 20, 2006) -- Scout snipers from 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment killed an enemy sniper and recovered a Marine sniper rifle lost nearly two years ago during a mission near Habbaniyah June 16.

The rifle was the one formerly used by four Marines of 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment who were killed on a rooftop in Ramadi June 21, 2004.


June 20, 2006; Submitted on: 06/22/2006 03:01:57 AM ; Story ID#: 20066223157

By Cpl. Mark Sixbey, 1st Marine Division

Sniper Section Four was in a hide when the spotter observed a military-aged male inside a nearby parked car videotaping a passing patrol of amphibious assault vehicles. The Marines saw a rifle stock by the insurgent’s side.

“We were in the right place at the right time,” said Sgt. Kevin Homestead an infantryman from K Company serving as a spotter for the sniper team that day.

They first radioed the passing Marines and told them they were being watched by an enemy sniper and to stay low. The insurgent then sealed his own fate by preparing the weapon. The 21-year-old Marine sniper, who declined to be interviewed – aimed in at the gunman’s head behind the rear-side window.

He recited a mantra in his head. Breathe, relax, aim, squeeze, surprise.

The enemy sniper died with the gun in his lap.

They dialed K Company – or Samurai 6 – and reported the target was dead.

“We then saw another military-aged male ... enter the passenger side door,” said Homestead, 26, from Ontario, Ore. “He was surprised to see the other shooter was killed.”

The second insurgent scurried around the car and jumped in the driver’s seat.

With the sniper now spotting for him, Homestead aimed in with his M-4 carbine and put three bullets in the driver before he could start the car.

A squad of K Company Marines came to the position and saw the sniper dead and the driver shot three times. The driver died as soon as the squad arrived on scene.

They pulled out the sniper rifle and immediately recognized that it was an M-40A1, the same used by the snipers of 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment in 2004.

The trunk of the car contained a pistol, a hand grenade, dozens of 7.62 mm rounds, multiple license plates and several camcorder tapes.

“When we saw the scope and stock, we knew what it was,” Homestead said.

The rifle was missing for nearly two years – almost to the day. Marines believed the insurgent they killed, or those closely associated with him, had it all along. It is unknown how many times it was used against U.S. and Iraqi forces.

“He was a very good sniper,” Homestead said. “But he got cocky and slipped up and it was our time to catch that.”

The weapon came full circle, having originally belonged to the Darkhorse battalion in Operation Iraqi Freedom I, who turned it over to the “Magnificent Bastards” of 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment. Coincidentally, a Darkhorse sniper killed the insurgent sniper, and a former Magnificent Bastard killed the spotter.

Darkhorse battalion had been dealing with sporadic sniper attacks since arriving in Iraq in January. Now, Marines have one less sniper to worry about.

“It’s very rewarding to take them out the way we did,” said Lt. Col. Patrick G. Looney, the battalion commander. “Doubly rewarding that it’s a 2/4 sniper rifle, even though it won’t bring back the four Marines who were killed that day.”

Triple rewarding that it won’t be used on another Marine or soldier, he added.

“The credit has to go to Sgt. Homestead and the Sniper Section leader who made the kill,” said 1st Lt. J. H. Cusack, Sniper Platoon commander. “It was more than being in the right place at the right time.

“It was the culmination of all of the training and planning the section leader had done up until that moment,” Cusak added. “Being absolutely alert and focused to detect a small clue during a period of apparent inactivity and a perfectly executed shot.”

Darkhorse snipers have since removed the powder and primer from the last 7.62 mm round chambered in the recaptured rifle. They will mount it on a plaque and present it to the Magnificent Bastards’ snipers to honor their lost Marines.

Looney said the ability to give some retribution for their loss makes the day a “grand-slam home run for sniper ops.” He credited the snipers’ professionalism and attitude in accomplishing the mission throughout their area of operations.

“I would say that the guys who shot are typical of the Darkhorse snipers,” said Looney, 43, from Oceanside, Calif. “They’re very proficient, very modest, very busy. They’re out there almost daily doing great things in this AO and our old AO. The fact that they’re taking a back seat and letting the battalion reap the benefits is typical of the kind of Marines

Two missing U.S. soldiers found dead

BAGHDAD — Two U.S. soldiers missing since their checkpoint came under attack last week have been found dead, U.S. and Iraqi officials said Tuesday.


By Cesar G. Soriano,

"The bodies were found last night in the vicinity of Yusufiya. Coalition forces have recovered what we believe are the remains of the soldiers," Major General William Caldwell told a news conference.

Troops did not recover the bodies until Tuesday, however, because U.S. forces had to wait until daylight to cordon off the area for an ordnance team for fear it was booby-trapped, Caldwell said.

Earlier, Iraqi Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Abdul Aziz Mohammed said the soldiers had been found near an electric power plant in Yusifiyah, not far from where the soldiers disappeared.

Al-Qaeda in Iraq claimed responsibility for killing the soldiers, and said the successor to slain terror leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi had "slaughtered" them, according to a Web statement that could not be authenticated.

Caldwell declined to comment on reports that the soldiers had been tortured or kidnapped, but he said the men did not voluntarily reach the place where their bodies were found.

Pfc. Kristian Menchaca, 23, of Houston, and Pfc. Thomas Tucker, 25, of Madras, Ore., disappeared Friday after an attack on a checkpoint they were manning near Yusifiyah, about 20 miles southwest of Baghdad. The area is located in the so-called Sunni Triangle, a hotbed of insurgency activity.

A third soldier, Spc. David Babineau, 25, of Springfield, Mass., died in the attack.

All three were assigned to the 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment of 2nd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), based at Fort Campbell in Kentucky.

Their bodies will be flown to the United States for autopsy and confirmation of their identification, Caldwell said.

Menchaca's uncle, Ken MacKenzie, lashed out at the military during an appearance on NBC's Today show Tuesday.

"I think the U.S. was too slow to react to this. Because the U.S. did not have a plan in place, my nephew has paid with his life," said MacKenzie.

More than 8,000 U.S. and Iraqi troops had been involved in an intensive search operation using helicopters, fighter jets, unmanned Predator surveillance aircraft and boats, Caldwell said Monday.

Ahmed Khalaf Falah, a farmer, told the Associated Press that he saw three Humvees manning the checkpoint when they came under fire from several directions. Two of the Humvees chased after the insurgents but the third was ambushed before it could move. Seven masked gunmen killed the driver, Babineau, and then kidnapped the the other two soldiers, according to Falah's account to the AP.

The new head of al-Qaeda in Iraq took responsibility for the killings in a statement that appeared on an Islamic militant website where insurgent groups regularly post statements and videos.

"We give the good news ... to the Islamic nation that we have carried God's verdict by slaughtering the two captured crusaders," said the claim. "With God Almighty's blessing, Abu Hamza al-Muhajer carried out the verdict of the Islamic court" calling for the soldiers' slaying, the statement said.

The U.S. military has identified al-Muhajer as an Egyptian associate of al-Zarqawi who is also known as Abu Ayyub al-Masri.

The killings would be the first acts of violence attributed to al-Muhajer since he was named al-Qaeda in Iraq's new leader in a June 12 Web message by the group. He succeeded al-Zarqawi, who was killed in a U.S. airstrike on June 7.

Al-Zarqawi made al-Qaeda in Iraq notorious for hostage beheadings and was believed to have killed two American captives himself — Nicholas Berg in April 2004 and Eugene Armstrong in September 2004.

Kidnappings of soldiers remain rare. Since the war began, more than 2,500 U.S. troops have been killed but only 11 have gone missing. Of those, eight were rescued including the well-known case of Pfc. Jessica Lynch. All were active duty or reserve U.S. army soldiers.

The only soldier still missing is Sgt. Keith Maupin, 20. Maupin, of Batavia, Ohio, disappeared on April 9, 2004 when his convoy was attacked near Baghdad International Airport. The military classified him as "captured" after he appeared on an insurgent video. A subsequent video claimed to show Maupin's execution, but the military ruled it was inconclusive and his status remains the same. He has been promoted twice since his disappearance.

Contributing: Associated Press

Brothers in arms

With high school behind them, identical twins Matt and Robert Shipp plan to fulfill a dream: become Marines and go to war for their country


James Hagengruber, Staff writer
June 18, 2006

HAUSER LAKE, Idaho – The countdown is over. Robert and Matt Shipp's childhood ends today.

The identical-twin brothers will be picked up from their parents' home this afternoon by a U.S. Marine, who will drive the 18-year-olds away from the forest and the lake that have been their playground for as long as they can remember.

Tonight they will sleep on a mattress in an air-conditioned hotel room in Spokane. Shortly after sunrise Monday, the quiet, rail-thin twins will raise their right hands and promise to defend the nation against all enemies. Then, it's a quick flight to San Diego, where they'll spend the next 13 weeks attempting to become Marines.

Fulfilling this longtime dream almost inevitably will result in another plane ticket from Uncle Sam – this time to an Iraqi desert 6,500 miles from Idaho. That's just what Matt and Robert want. That has been their dream during war games on countless weekend camping trips in the mountains of North Idaho and during all the late-night combat movie marathons in the living room of the tight-knit family's home near the end of Ragged Ridge Road.

The twins are walking the same path as an estimated 180,000 other recruits to the military this year. Each is volunteering during a time of war. They will all leave behind loved ones torn between fear and pride. The Shipp twins, like the other recruits, know their decision holds the potential for extreme personal growth, as well as the possibility of deep tragedy.

Matt and Robert both wear buzz cuts and share the same DNA – they even swapped identities for a day back in the fifth grade – but the twins have unique personalities. Robert is more of a rebel. He wears his sleeves rolled up and enjoys a wad of Copenhagen and the occasional shot of Jack Daniels. Matt, with his long record of good grades, is something of a bookworm. He's more shy and spends a lot of time with his longtime girlfriend, Jessica Whetstine.

Last year, Robert dropped out of high school for a short time and considered going to diesel mechanic school in Wyoming. Instead, he enrolled at Mountain View Alternative High School in Rathdrum for his senior year. Robert flourished at the small school. He earned a spot on the honor roll, "which I've never had my entire life," he said on a recent afternoon, while tinkering with his mud-caked Jeep in a garage at the family home.

The twins often used the vehicle for their frequent weekend camping and hunting trips. It has transmission trouble, among other mechanical ailments, and Robert was under direct orders from his father, Dennis, to make sure the garage was cleared before boot camp. As he grunted and pried at the vehicle, his brother stood alongside. With barely any prompts, Matt handed Robert whatever tools were needed.

As he worked, Robert talked about how the goal of becoming a Marine alongside his brother had kept him in school. It's nearly impossible to join the military without a high school diploma. This is especially true for the Marines, the smallest of the service branches, Robert explained. "They're the best."Matt has always wanted to be a Marine. He began hanging out at the recruiter's office in Coeur d'Alene as a sophomore. A year ago, with his parents' begrudging blessing, Matt signed a contract for a four-year enlistment. Robert signed several weeks later.

They will be in the same platoon during boot camp but will split afterward. Robert hopes to attend infantry school and eventually train as a sniper. Matt wants to become a forward observer, a duty that will put him into the guts of combat, directing artillery and gunship fire. "I'd rather be up close," he said.

For all their differences, Robert and Matt spend much of their free time together. Like most other young men their age, they don't use many words talking about emotions or their relationship. With a bit of pressing, they admit to holding out hope for serving together in combat.

"That'd be kinda cool," Robert said.

Matt nodded his head and looked down at his feet. "Yeah," he said. "That'd be cool."

Dennis and Leslee Shipp moved their family from California to Hauser Lake when the twins were toddlers and their first-born daughter, Lacey, was just beginning school. Their house is surrounded by pine trees and overlooks the small lake northwest of Post Falls, near the border of Idaho and Washington. It sits on a piece of land big enough for Robert and Matt to plink at targets from a makeshift, private rifle range. When the twins aren't working at the Hauser Lake Resort, the family's restaurant and bar across the lake, they like to shoot replicas of Marine combat weapons.

Robert claims to be better hitting targets at long distances with help from a scope. Matt prides himself on being accurate with the naked eye. Last year, he shot a whitetail buck from 150 yards using open sights.

The twins worked together last year to shoot and track a small whitetail buck. Matt wounded the animal. Robert hit it the second time. The deer was down but still alive. Many hunters would dispatch the animal at close range with a shot to the neck or vital organs. Robert saw the incident as a chance to test himself. He slit the animal's throat with his K-BAR knife – standard-issue combat weapon for Marines.The twins didn't grow up hunting. They picked it up on their own, often through trial and error. Their parents have tried to make sure the boys get enough time away from the restaurant each fall to pursue the hobby.

Dennis and Leslee Shipp have always tried to give their sons the freedom to explore the wilds of North Idaho. They've supported most every adventure the twins have embarked upon, but the idea of Robert and Matt joining the Marines has caused considerable heartache.

"They were going to do it anyway," Dennis said, standing next to his sons on a recent afternoon in the parking lot of his restaurant. "I tried to talk them out of it."

"They still do," Robert said.

"All the time," Matt added.

Back in 1969, Dennis had similar plans to join the military and go off to war, but he was unable to enlist after a motorcycle crash wrecked his knee. He said he wanted to fight to avenge the death of his cousin, who was killed after stepping on a land mine in a Vietnamese jungle. "He was like an older brother to me," Dennis said.

Last month, he told his sons to cut back on their hours at the family business, where they have worked since age 10. "They need some free time before going in," he said.

As he spoke, CJ, the twins' 14-year-old kid brother, buzzed past on a three-wheeler. As usual, CJ wore a big grin. He lobbed a pine cone, hitting Robert in the shoulder, prompting a shout and a chase.

"I'm going to miss the hell out of them," Dennis said. "I just hope they don't go to Iraq right away."

Matt stood off to the side, his arms crossed. "When you're going to join the military, you should expect some kind of war," he said.

A patron leaving the bar shouted to Robert, "Did you get that tattoo yet?" Most of the regulars at the Hauser Lake Resort know about the twins' impending departure.

Robert flipped open his cell phone and showed the man a photo of a Marine "devil dog." In World War I, German soldiers gave the Marines this nickname for their ferocity. Robert wants the image etched in ink on his right arm. He also wants to have a smiley-faced grenade tattooed on his back. Robert explained to the man he needs to wait until after boot camp for the tattoos.

Several days before Matt graduated from Lakeland Senior High School in Rathdrum, the school held a scholarship ceremony where dozens of awards were handed out. The National Wild Turkey Federation gave away $300 to a student. Another received $500 from 4-H. Others were presented with large athletic scholarships from faraway universities.

Then, a Marine recruiter called Matt's name and announced that he would eventually receive $37,224 in college money for enlisting. Matt walked to the front of the hall, taking long, lanky strides. Robert, who didn't have as sterling an academic record and who will receive a slightly lesser amount, applauded from his seat in the back row. The sleeves of his white T-shirt were rolled up, as usual.

As Matt returned to his seat, school counselor Frank Vieira told him, "We'll be watching your progress as you go into training and beyond. Our prayers are with you."

In the hallway after the ceremony, CJ approached his big brothers and asked, "How many days left?"

"Eighteen," one of the twins said.

The answer prompted a pained expression from their mother. Leslee took a deep breath and said, "I'm starting to freak out."

CJ shrugged. "I'm happy for them, but I'm sad," he said. "I think they'll have fun. As long as they're having fun, it's fine with me."

Meanwhile, the recruiter, Staff Sgt. Jonathan Rickman, talked with the Shipp family. He said he spends nearly every night in late May and early June attending high school graduation and scholarship ceremonies. "I go there in support of my guys," he said.

The college money is a powerful lure, Rickman said, but the prospect for adventure and combat remain the top draw for recruits.

"That's why every Marine joins," said Rickman, who served in Iraq during the initial invasion in 2003. He said there is a "95 or 96 percent chance" that the twins will also end up there.

Marines make up about 15 percent of U.S. armed forces personnel in Iraq, according to the most recent data from the Department of Defense Web site. But Marines have served in the toughest battles – a fact borne out in Pentagon casualty statistics. Nearly one in three Americans killed in Iraq has been a Marine.

Matt and Robert want to see combat. That's why they picked the Marines. Like other military branches, the Marines offer opportunities for specialized training. But unlike other branches, the Marines require every officer and enlisted man and woman – from cook to office clerk – to be trained as a rifleman. Matt and Robert are well acquainted with the Marine Corps creed, which begins, "This is my rifle. There are many like it, but this one is mine. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life."

For the last several years, the twin brothers have fed themselves a steady diet of stories of Marine heroism in battles ranging from Iwo Jima to Khe Sanh. They've watched just about every war movie ever made. Not long ago, they watched "Born on the Fourth of July." The movie is based on the true story of a young Marine who becomes an anti-war activist after being shot and paralyzed in Vietnam.

"I don't think that's cool," Matt said. "You're loyal to your country. You shouldn't turn your back on it."

"We've always been 'love it or leave it,' " Robert said.

The war in Iraq was the most popular discussion topic this year in Taylor Skidmore's classes at Robert's school, Mountain View Alternative High School. Skidmore, a history teacher, said many students come to class and simply repeat the pro- or anti-war stances they hear at home from their parents. Not Robert.

"He kept an open mind," Skidmore said, taking a break from eating lunch during an end-of-the-year picnic for students at the school. "Robert would stay after class to talk about the war. He had a lot of questions."

At the picnic, the school's head teacher grilled burgers and hot dogs. At Robert's table, there was talk of his probable service in Iraq. Sophomore Roland Williams had recently come across a Web site where videos had been posted that show torture tactics used by insurgents in Iraq.

"They do a lot of crazy stuff over there – cut off your tongue, blow you up while you're still alive," Williams said. "It's crazy, crazy, crazy."

Robert didn't comment. His focus was on chewing his hamburger.

Several students at the school are openly anti-war. One drives a car spray-painted "No Bush!" Robert doesn't harbor strong feelings either way about the president.

"We're not going to fight for Bush. He's our boss, but we're fighting for our country and the people back home and also the people that fought for us before," he said.

John Klingaman, head teacher at Mountain View, said he hasn't tried to sway Robert one way or the other about joining the Marines. "When he came to this school, his mind was already made up," Klingaman said.

He coached Robert in basketball several years ago. "He wasn't the most gifted athlete, but he worked his butt off and wanted to be part of a team."

As with any student joining the military, Klingaman just hopes Robert is fully aware of both the benefits and risks. "I'm always concerned at that age that they really know what they're getting into."

Hours later, when Robert was told of Klingaman's concern, he replied, "Nobody can know what war's like unless they go."

Friday night, less than 48 hours before Departure Day, Dennis and Leslee Shipp hosted a going away party at their bar and restaurant. Dozens of friends from school showed up. Longtime Hauser Lake residents stopped by, dropping off cards for the twins and offering firm handshakes or hugs. A neighbor worked the grill, cooking up stacks of burgers and hot dogs. A band played on the deck. A Marine recruiter showed up and sang karaoke.

The twins drifted through the crowd, always peppered with the same question: "You ready?"

Both said they were itching to board the plane Monday morning for San Diego. "I can't wait," Matt said. "I've been waiting for this for so long." About the only admission of anxiety came from Robert, who knows he will have to kick his chewing tobacco habit for boot camp.

Mom and Dad seemed to carry most of the worry Friday night. Both spent a lot of time back in the kitchen, keeping busy with cooking. Leslee Shipp's eyes were glassy with tears much of the night.

A neighbor from across the lake hugged Leslee and told her, "I just can't believe it. I remember these boys when they were little. I just can't believe they're leaving now. They've been such good boys."

Leslee buried her face in her neighbor's shoulder. "I know," she said, trying to stop crying, "I know."

A lightning storm caused the band to pack its gear and chased the crowd inside. It also darkened the mood of Dennis, who had done everything in his power to give his sons the best sendoff party possible. The clouds eventually cleared, and the party kept going. Later, Dennis used the karaoke microphone to quiet the crowd and call his sons to the bar.

"They were real small and now look how big they are. They're almost as big as me," Dennis said, his deep, hoarse voice beginning to break. The bar was quiet. Robert and Matt kept their gaze at the ground. Dennis handed each son a shot glass full of whiskey.

"If they're old enough to fight for our country, they're old enough to have a shot of Jack Daniels!"

The bar erupted with applause, whistles and shouts of "Semper fi!"

"Matthew, you don't drink, but you gotta force this down," Dennis said, clinking glasses with both sons. "Here's to the boys! Congratulations, I love you. I'm very, very proud of you boys. You'll do this well."

Diamondback 3 ensures Al Asad's security through mounted patrols

A humvee filled with Marines conducting a mounted combat patrol cruises through the desert of Iraq during the setting sun near Al Asad, Iraq, June 15. The Marines are with the mounted combat patrol team Diamondback 3 under 1st Platoon, Echo Company, 1st Battalion, 14th Marine Regiment, Marine Wing Support Group 37 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing.

Note: There are lots of pictures associated with this article, just click on the link below


June 20, 2006; Submitted on: 06/20/2006 09:35:50 AM ; Story ID#: 200662093550
By Lance Cpl. James B. Hoke, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing

AL ASAD, Iraq (June 20, 2006) -- Setting out into the darkening deserts surrounding Al Asad June 13, the Marines with Diamondback 3 conducted a mounted combat patrol, observing the neighboring areas surrounding the base.

These hardened warriors with 1st Platoon, E Company, 1st Battalion, 14th Marine Regiment, Marine Wing Support Group 37 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, stopped at a series of checkpoints at random locations in the desert to keep a keen eye out for any perceived threats from unexploded ordnance or suspicious looking personnel.

"Basically, we gather intelligence," said Sgt. Martin D. Contreras, patrol leader, Diamondback 3. "We are the eyes for the base. If we see anyone doing anything suspicious, we go talk to them, and if they try anything crazy, we detain them. We also talk to the local nationals and see if they know of any activities going on outside."

Sweeping through some of the less explored areas surrounding the base, the mounted combat patrols often times stumble upon unexploded ordnance.

"We find [unexploded ordnance] an average of once per week," said Contreras, a 23-year-old Bryan, Texas, native. "Out of our three teams, one of them will find something that ranges between 155 mm artillery rounds and 57 mm anti-aircraft rounds. We've also found a few landmines."

Although they've seen the surrounding areas numerous times and are fairly used to the places and the people, the mounted combat patrol Marines keep an acute alertness each time they leave the base.

"We go out every day and only have so much area to cover," said Cpl. Justin H. Woods, machine gunner, Diamondback 3. "It looks really big the first time you go out, but after you've driven over it a dozen or so times, it starts to get smaller. You have to remain alert and not dismiss things that are out of the ordinary. You have to maintain your situational awareness."

According to Contreras, keeping a watchful eye on the surrounding areas can get a little difficult, as they view a lot of the same places on a daily basis.

"As far as the sectors surrounding Al Asad, they are pretty safe sectors," said Contreras, a Bryan High School graduate. "Other than hand and arm signals, we've never had to escalate force, and most of the personnel in the surrounding areas are pretty friendly. We do stay alert all of the time. We have to take that extra step to stay on our toes out there."

The mounted combat patrol teams still run into challenges to overcome during patrols even with their keen awareness.

"The biggest challenge is communicating with some of the local nationals," said Contreras. "Interpreters do not go with us every time we go out, so that is a challenge. There's not enough of them to go around for every day."

While their main focus is pushing Al Asad's security beyond the fences of the base, they also provide necessities to the local nationals when they pass through their villages.

"A lot of times we stop and talk to people," said Contreras. "We try to help them out by any means. We provide them with water, chow, medical attention and fuel. We give the kids toys and candy. Just putting smiles on people's faces is one of the good things about what we do."

Visiting and caring for the Iraqis and their kids reinforces the Marines' pride, as they see the extent of the good they are doing out here.

"You get to hear first hand how they feel about us, instead of hearing it on the news from a different source," said Woods, a 26-year-old native of Crestview, Fla. "We do a really important part in keeping this sector of the Al Anbar province secure for the Iraqi people who have lived in this area for decades and decades."

According to Contreras, the mounted combat patrols are a requirement to ensure that security is held beyond the perimeters of the base.

"Just by patrolling the area, it lets the Iraqi people know we are here and are controlling the area," he said. "Instead of just having that level of security inside the base, it helps to keep it out there, as well."

As the majority of the Marines with Diamondback 3 were with Marine Air Control Squadron 1 controlling air traffic, monitoring radars and using radios before this deployment, the transition to grunt-type jobs while in the combat environment has been smooth.

"It's pretty amazing to take a group of Marines from a control squadron like this and have them do this mounted combat patrol platoon and have everyone work as proficiently as we do," concluded Woods, a Crestview High School graduate. "You can't do that with any other service."

Wounded service members learn to water ski, scuba, sail in New York

QUEENS, N.Y. -- Soldiers and Marines severely wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan will have the opportunity to learn adapted water skiing, scuba and other water sports as guests at the 2006 Adaptive Water Sports Festival, presented by Disabled Sports USA, the Wounded Warrior Project, Graybeards, and the Fire Department of New York City.


Press Release, Public Affairs Office
Disabled Sports USA; Kathy Celo
Release # 0621-06-0715
June 20, 2006

Specially trained volunteers from the FDNY, including Firefighter Tom Westman, winner of the CBS 2005 Survivor series, will be on hand to teach the "Wounded Warriors." Despite the fact that most have single and even multiple amputations and other severe injuries, all will participate and learn.

Disabled Sports USA's second annual Adaptive Water Sports Festival, a part of its nationwide Wounded Warrior Disabled Sports Project, will take place in Rockaway Point, New York, July 6-9. The Rockaway community was one of the hardest hit on Sept. 11, and ravaged again by the crash of American Airlines Flight 587 just two months later. Yet, the community proved resilient and responded with a surge of empathy and charitable endeavors. Most notably, the Graybeards were formed, a non-profit dedicated to helping those in need. It is through the Graybeards, in conjunction with the Wounded Warriors and Disabled Sports USA, that this event is again possible.

The event will offer individuals with physical disabilities the opportunity to achieve success in sports, providing the foundation for an active life. An estimated 35 U.S. soldiers and Marines injured during the Iraq conflict, along with family members, will participate as special guests.

The first day of the event will include special training for 25 New York City firefighters in adaptive water ski, wakeboard and sailing instruction. These firefighters will then spend the next three days teaching the 35 wounded soldiers and their families. Heroes will be teaching heroes, as many of the New York City firefighters participating are among those who acted courageously to save lives on September 11, 2001.

"When my daughter lost her hearing, people from Disabled Sports USA reached out to help us focus on her abilities, rather than her disability," said Tom Westman, New York City firefighter and winner of the CBS television series Survivor Palau. "Once we had a positive mindset, we were able to find the path for her rehabilitation. Events like those sponsored by Disabled Sports USA go a long way in convincing these soldiers and Marines that their lives have not ended, but that it is time to write the next chapter."

"I am looking forward to my children seeing their dad being able to participate in a family sport," said John Jones, US Marine Corps, who is a double leg amputee. "I am so excited that I am here in this world, and that God has given me a second chance at life. I am glad to be a part of such a wonderful organization that helps people overcome the challenges that life has given them. The Wounded Warrior Disabled Sports Project has given my family the opportunity to see that I can still do anything, no matter what the challenge."

"Facing the challenges of a disability can be an overwhelming experience," said Kirk Bauer, executive director of Disabled Sports USA and a disabled Vietnam War veteran. "With the New York City firefighters volunteering to teach at the Adaptive Water Sports Festival, it sends a powerful message to everyone with a disability that all challenges can be faced and overcome with courage, perseverance and support from others. It's heartwarming to see the firefighters supporting the wounded warriors and to witness all of these heroes working together in the face of adversity."

The weekend will kick off with the Heroes in the Harbor Voyage, aboard the Atlantis Mega Yacht. This celebration will honor the sacrifices and rehabilitation efforts of our soldiers and Marines who have been disabled in the war effort. The dinner cruise will depart from Sheepshead Bay at 6:30 pm on Friday, July 7.

Sponsors of the event include: Wounded Warrior Project, Graybeards, FDNY, Kawasaki Motors Corp., U.S.A, Atlantis Mega Yacht and DEMA Scuba Tour. Adaptive Sports Foundation of Windham, N.Y. along with several other chapters of Disabled Sports USA will be taking part in water ski instructor training.

About Disabled Sports USA (Wounded Warrior Disabled Sports Project)
The Wounded Warrior Disabled Sports Project is a partnership between Disabled Sports USA, its chapters and the Wounded Warrior Project, providing year round sports programs for severely wounded service members from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflict and the Global War on Terrorism.

Thirty-seven years of experience has shown early intervention with active sports results in successful rehabilitation, leading to employment. The "Wounded Warriors" and their family members are provided these opportunities free of charge, including transportation, lodging, adaptive equipment and individualized instruction in over a dozen different winter and summer sports.

Programs take place at sites throughout the United States of America offering Wounded Warriors the opportunity to integrate as participants and mentors in their home communities. For more information visit www.dsusa.org.

About The Wounded Warrior Project
Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) is a 501 ( c ) (3) nonprofit organization dedicated to assisting those men and women of the United States Armed Forces who have been severely injured during the wars on terrorism in Iraq, Afghanistan and other hot spots around the world. Beginning at the bedside of the severely wounded, WWP provides programs and services designed to ease the burdens of these heroes and their families, aid in the recovery process and smooth the transition back to civilian life.

To find out more please visit http://www.woundedwarriorproject.org, or call 1-800-404-2898.

June 19, 2006

Deployed Marine sees daughter’s birth via video linkup

JACKSONVILLE, Ala. — Marine Cpl. Terrence Lambert will have to wait until his return to Alabama in the fall to hold his first child, but a satellite linkup in Iraq allowed him to witness her birth on Father’s Day.

Associated Press

Lambert, 21, watched from a room at Alisade Air Base, near the Syrian border in Iraq, while his wife, Jodilynn, gave birth early Sunday at Jacksonville Medical Center.

Twenty-year-old Jodilynn Lambert could see her husband on a 50-inch television screen as they talked and waited until their daughter, Katherine Annalee Lambert, arrived.

“It usually takes two months for us to get a letter. So this is a big improvement,” he said.

It took a month to organize the videoconference. The satellite link was set up by Freedom Calls Foundation, a nonprofit organization that keeps soldiers overseas in touch with home.

Foundation spokesman John Harlow estimated the cost at $2,000 an hour, with the connection beamed from Jacksonville, to Atlanta, to Germany, and finally into Iraq’s war zone.

Harlow said the foundation has organized connections for such events as graduations and even parent-teacher conferences. But this was the first live birth.

“There’s been a lot of people involved that have made this possible,” Jodilynn Lambert said. “This is the best Father’s Day present he can ask for.”

Marine’s dad sues funeral protesters

The father of a Marine whose funeral was picketed by anti-gay protesters from a Kansas church filed an invasion-of-privacy suit against the demonstrators June 5.


It is believed to be the first lawsuit brought by a service member’s family against Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, whose members demonstrate at military funerals around the country.

Albert Snyder of York, Pa., is seeking unspecified damages. His son, Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, 20, died March 3 in Anbar province, Iraq. He was buried in Westminster, Md. Snyder said he hoped a judgment would leave church members unable to afford travel for more protests.

Westboro members say U.S. military deaths in Iraq are God’s punishment for tolerance of gays. The church has inspired laws banning funeral protests, including a Maryland law that did not go into effect until after Snyder’s memorial.

Shirley Phelps-Roper, a Westboro spokeswoman, said the congregation is merely “exercising our First Amendment rights.”

— The Associated Press

Loss prevention

Lawmakers are promising to protect service members and veterans from identity theft after admissions from the Department of Veterans Affairs that personal information on up to 80 percent of the military was stolen.


By Rick Maze
Times staff writer

The Pentagon, which discovered the records of 2.2 million active-duty, Guard and reserve members were part of a larger theft of data on more than 26.5 million veterans, plans to notify people through a notice on individual Leave and Earnings Statements, said Army Lt. Col. Jeremy Martin, a Defense Department spokesman.

The names, birthdates and Social Security numbers of 1.1 million active-duty, 430,000 National Guard and 645,000 reserve personnel may have been included in computer files stolen from the home of a VA employee who had a laptop, external hard drive, compact discs and flash memory sticks filled with various databases, VA officials said.

Exactly what information was taken remains unclear, as news has seeped out through several announcements. First came word that the names, Social Security numbers, telephone numbers, addresses and birthdates of 26.5 million veterans were stolen.

Later, VA expanded the list to include some military survivors and veterans exposed to mustard gas, and again to add some Navy personnel who had re-enlisted and National Guard members who had demobilized, before unveiling the latest wrinkle — which added 2.2 million active-duty and reserve personnel.

VA officials said in a statement that law enforcement agencies investigating the incident “have no indication that the stolen information has been used to commit identity theft,” but congressional aides monitoring the investigation say it can take months before a person learns someone has stolen his or her identity.

Rep. Steve Buyer, R-Va., the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee chairman, said June 8 he has no confidence that the VA knows about everything that was stolen, but vowed to take whatever steps are necessary, including creating a new veterans’ claims system, to protect anyone whose identity is stolen as a result of the VA’s lapse from suffering financially.

“To me, it is important that government takes responsibility for this breach of faith and mitigates any loss,” said Buyer, an Army Reserve colonel.

Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., an Air Force veteran, has a specific plan. She introduced a bill May 25 that would create a special office to handle claims and have the government pay for credit monitoring and credit reports.

Democrats have introduced similar bills in the House and Senate. Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo., chief sponsor of one such bill, said the government must act quickly. Misinformation and delays about what records may be lost “hurts veterans and military families at a time when we should be taking aggressive steps to protect their identities and financial standing,” he said.

The situation began in early May, when a VA employee violated policy by taking home a huge cache of data on VA and military beneficiaries. The employee’s Maryland home was burglarized, and all the data was lost.

“The more you poke at a cow pie, the more it stinks,” Salazar said. “The last month has been an embarrassing display, with the VA consistently failing to provide timely information about the security breach.”

Rep. John McHugh, R-N.Y., chairman of the House Armed Services personnel subcommittee, said the theft of personal data of current service members appears to be an unexpected consequence of efforts to increase data sharing between the Pentagon and the Department of Veterans Affairs to better serve people.

Best intentions

“The intent was seamless transition, and that is a good thing,” he said. But no one imagined at the time that a VA employee would take records home, without permission, and that a laptop computer and data storage devices containing military and veterans’ records would be stolen, McHugh said.

“We have far more questions than answers,” McHugh said. “We have to assume the worst, that almost any Department of Defense data shared with the Department of Veterans Affairs could have been lost in this theft.”

Martin said defense officials “don’t believe that the data loss will exceed the current numbers announced by the VA,” and promised any new information would be “promptly reported to all affected service personnel.”

Secretary of Veterans Affairs Jim Nicholson, testifying June 8 before the House Government Reform Committee, said he shares lawmakers’ outrage.

“I’m at a loss over the fact that an employee would take this data home against VA policies and put so many people at risk,” he said.

He also said he is “gravely concerned” that it took 13 days for the employee’s supervisors to notify him of the security breach.

Still, he accepted full responsibility. “I’m in charge of the department, and I will fix this,” he said. “It won’t be easy, and it won’t be overnight — but it’s doable.”

Buyer said the situation is nothing less than a breach of fiduciary responsibility by the government.

“We were the custodians of the information that was lost, and we now need to mitigate this loss, protect veterans and right the wrongs” of the VA’s information technology system, he said.

Staff writers Gordon Trowbridge and Aimee Curl contributed to this story.

Concussions go undiagnosed in thousands of troops, doctors say

Thousands of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan may risk permanent brain damage by returning to combat with relatively minor but undiagnosed concussions, often caused by bomb blasts, military researchers say.


By Gregg Zoroya
USA Today

Doctors say they are only now understanding the scope of the problem.

The injuries frequently go undiagnosed because troops may not know they suffered a concussion, doctors say. Medics and field doctors often aren’t aware of what happened during fighting.

“This blast group is going to be potentially huge,” said Angela Drake, a neuropsychologist with the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center, a research arm of the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Pentagon. “We’re looking at thousands of potential patients.”

But the Pentagon has refused to release precise data on how many soldiers have suffered brain injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan, saying that disclosing the information would put the lives of those fighting at risk.

The data come from screenings of 1,587 soldiers at Fort Bragg, N.C., and 9,000 at Fort Carson, Colo. Army Medical Command spokesman Jaime Cavazos said June 7 that the results of the tests represent “information the enemy could use to potentially make soldiers more vulnerable to harm.” He declined to elaborate.

However, the Naval Medical Center San Diego, which has been screening Marines from nearby Camp Pendleton for two years — and, more recently, soldiers from the Army’s Fort Irwin — released separate data the week of June 5.

Those data show that 10 percent of 7,909 leathernecks with the 1st Marine Division suffered brain injuries.

Researchers tried to follow up with 500 Marines who suffered concussions. They reached 161 of them and found that 83 percent were still suffering symptoms on average 10 months after the injury.

From Fort Irwin, 1,490 soldiers were screened, and almost 12 percent suffered concussions during their combat tours.

Military doctors describe brain injuries as a signature wound of these wars. That’s because advances in body armor save soldiers who might have died in previous conflicts, but roadside bombs can cause brain damage. U.S. troops in Iraq are exposed to hundreds of bombings each month.

“Repeated concussions can be quite serious and even lethal,” said Air Force Maj. Gerald Grant, a neurosurgeon who treated troops in Iraq.

Helmet safety draws scrutiny on Hill

Lawmakers recently grilled a Marine leader over why the Corps’ combat helmet isn’t more like the Army’s.


By Matthew Cox
Times staff writer

Responding to testimony that a private organization had provided 6,000 deployed Marines with special helmet inserts to reduce head injuries, the lawmakers wanted to know why the Corps itself was not providing the added protection as the Army does for soldiers.

“Apparently we have thousands of military personnel who believe the helmet they are being issued does not provide them satisfactory protection,” said Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa., during a Thursday hearing held by the Tactical and Land Forces subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee.

“The Marine Corps’ own testing indicates that their helmet provides about half the blast impact protection of the [Army] helmet, said Weldon, subcommittee vice chairman. “We need to understand why this is acceptable.”

Maj. Gen. William Catto, commander of Marine Corps Systems Command, said he hasn’t seen proof that the Army’s helmet, or its padded suspension system, provides better protection than the Marine helmet.

The issue was driven in large part by Dr. Robert Meaders, a former Navy flight surgeon who started “Operation Helmet” more than two years ago to help his grandson’s Marine unit upgrade their helmets before going to Iraq. The effort has garnered support from across the country including donations from Hollywood stars such as Cher, who attended the hearing.

The special shock-absorbing pad system provided through the organization attaches to the inside of the helmet. It is the same one the Army uses in the Advanced Combat Helmet.

The Marine Corps’ Lightweight Helmet, issued to more than 130,000 troops, uses a sling suspension system that Meaders and other experts say does not provide the same impact protection.

The Army adopted the ACH in 2002 and has fielded about 660,000 of these helmets.

The helmet is more comfortable to wear than the Army’s previous headgear, Sgt. 1st Class Jerry Lutz of the Army’s Project Manager Clothing and Individual Equipment told lawmakers.

Catto said the Marines issue the ACH to special units such as Marine Recon teams but he is not convinced it’s the answer for the entire force.

“All I’ve heard about the ACH is it provides better crash protection, and it’s more comfortable,” Catto said.

Al-Qaida-linked group claims GIs’ abduction, Authenticity of Web statement not yet verified; military widens search

BAGHDAD, Iraq - An umbrella group that includes al-Qaida in Iraq claimed in a Web statement Monday that it had kidnapped two U.S. soldiers reported missing south of Baghdad.


MSNBC News Services

There was no immediate confirmation that the statement was credible, although it appeared on a Web site often used by al-Qaida-linked groups. U.S. officials have said they were trying to confirm whether the missing soldiers were kidnapped.

“Your brothers in the military wing of the Mujahedeen Shura Council kidnapped the two American soldiers near Youssifiya,” the group said in a statement posted on an Islamic Web site.

The Web site did not name the soldiers.

The soldiers were reported missing Friday after insurgents attacked a checkpoint. The Defense Department identified the missing men as Pfc. Kristian Menchaca, 23, of Houston, and Pfc. Thomas L. Tucker, 25, of Madras, Ore.

It said Spc. David J. Babineau, 25, Springfield, Mass., was killed in the attack. The three were assigned to the 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), Fort Campbell, Ky.

Military search effort
The U.S. military said Monday it has intensified its search for two missing soldiers, with more than 8,000 Iraqi and U.S. troops deployed across the volatile area south of Baghdad where the men were attacked.

Earlier, the U.S. military said seven American troops have been wounded, three insurgents have been killed and 34 detained during an intensive search for the soldiers.

Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, a spokesman for U.S. forces in Iraq, said fighter jets, unmanned aerial vehicles and dive teams had been deployed to find the two men.

“We have surged intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms and employed planes, boats, helicopters and UAVs to ensure the most thorough search possible on the ground, in the air and in the water,” Caldwell said in a statement issued Monday.

He did not comment on reports that the two men had been seized by insurgents, saying only that they were listed as “duty status and whereabouts unknown.” He said seven other U.S. service members had been wounded in action during the search efforts that began Friday night.

‘Significant actions’
Caldwell said more than 8,000 U.S. and Iraqi troops were participating in the search.

“While searching for our soldiers, we have engaged in a number of significant actions against the anti-Iraqi forces,” he said, adding that three insurgents had been killed and 34 taken into custody.

He also said the military had received 63 tips and had launched 12 cordon and search operations, eight air assaults and 280 flight hours were logged.

“Approximately 12 villages have been cleared in the area, and we continue to engage local citizens for help and information leading to the whereabouts of our soldiers,” he said, without elaborating.

June 18, 2006

Rite of passage for a recruit: graduation

SAN DIEGO -- Partly, it was the recruits' pitiable buzzed heads, like those of Russian convicts, that set my wife crying.

Partly, it was the men's ferocity as they jogged to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot parking lot, faced their families for the first time after three months of boot camp and roared military chants, platoon by platoon.


By Russell Working
Tribune staff reporter
Published June 18, 2006

While most visitors cheered, Nonna sobbed at the sight of our son, Sergei, who was graduating as a Marine.

The men of his platoon bellowed words they had written for the occasion: "Born to fight. Trained to kill. Ready to die, but never will."

We were on base last month for the Thursday and Friday ceremonies that would conclude basic training for 271 Alpha Company Marines. It was the culmination of the process that began in February with the surprise enlistment of my 19-year-old stepson.

In a time of war, he and his comrades had relinquished any remaining claims to boyhood. For a fleeting moment, they stood at the cusp of manhood: strong, loud, invincible, perfect in form.

Over their four years as Marines, many of these young men will risk their lives on behalf of their country. Some might come home missing limbs or carrying shrapnel in their bodies. Conceivably, there were teenagers here who wouldn't live to buy a beer legally. You tried to banish the thought.

But as the war cries continued, Sergei--who like his mother is a Russian immigrant--bellowed a solo line. Veins bulging in his neck, he cried, "If he dies, he dies."

In the 1985 movie "Rocky IV," this phrase was uttered by an unintentionally hilarious Russian boxer (blond pompadour, calf-high red boots, inexplicable Serbian name) after he KOs an opponent. The drill instructors had often ordered Sergei to shout the phrase.

The sergeants apparently possessed either a wicked sense of humor or a vision of Russia as befuddled as that of Sylvester Stallone, who directed and starred in the movie. Either way, the phrase focused the mind of this Marine dad on the gravity of my son's commitment.

When the recruits jogged off, most visitors--including a gaggle of our relatives and a family friend--headed to an auditorium for a presentation. But Nonna and I took our other son, Lyova, 2, to a nearby courtyard while she composed herself. He clambered about on an Iraqi artillery piece captured during the Gulf War.

Lyova growled in a raspy voice, "Aye-aye, sir!"

Nonna and I looked at each other, amazed that he had picked up the phrase.

These young recruits stood tall. They had slimmed down and muscled up. Their faces shone with pride at having completed the longest and toughest basic training in the U.S. military. Many had learned to command: Sergei graduated as squad leader and thus received a promotion to private first class.

The corps promises that the change in recruits is permanent. But Nonna and I wanted to know that Pfc. Working, that bellowing young warrior, was still the same son we loved.

It would be several hours before we could talk to him. Thursday morning's events ended with a parade-ground ceremony in which the men received their eagle, globe and anchor emblems. Sergei strode along with a sergeant, scowling as they distributed the emblems to his squad. He looked broad-shouldered, severe, aloof.

Then at a signal from an announcer, the guests rushed from the bleachers.

Suddenly, our son was back. Sergei embraced us, kissed his brother, hugged the relatives. Boot camp was almost over, and he couldn't stop grinning. He was convinced that basic training makes you a little stupid. He just wanted to eat and sleep and stop shouting all the time.

Noting Sergei's stern face in a Marine photograph, Nonna said, "You look like a child at a Russian day care."

Graduation came the next day, with speeches and music from the recruit depot band. An officer reminded the audience of Marine Corps battles of history: Derna, Guadalcanal, Inchon, Fallujah.

Our sons, he assured us, "stand before you representing everything that is right and good about the Marine Corps and about our nation."

Afterward, Sergei said goodbye to his drill instructors. They had done their best to make his life a living hell for three months. Now they grinned and shook his hand warmly.

"Tell your mom not to worry," Sgt. Nathan Downey said. "You got some good training."

"Yes, sir," Sergei said.

"She's probably sweating bullets right now. My mom was, too. OK, now, don't do anything stupid when you leave."

"Aye, sir."

For the 10 days that followed, Sergei was on leave, and we stayed at my parents' house in Santa Barbara, Calif. He slept a lot. We saw a movie, took Lyova to a train museum, hung out with my brothers and nieces. Sergei asked my dad, a decorated Korean War veteran, about his combat experiences. We even rented "Rocky IV" and hooted at the movie throughout.

On Sergei's last morning in Santa Barbara, Nonna woke him, and he leapt to attention at the foot of his bed, asleep on his feet. Coming to, he blinked in confusion as Nonna laughed.

We dropped him off at Camp Pendleton, south of Los Angeles, where he faced three weeks of combat training. From there, he will go elsewhere for schooling in criminal justice before receiving his permanent assignment. Because he is not in the infantry, we comforted ourselves with the thought that even if he ends up in Iraq, he will be in a desk job, not kicking down doors in Fallujah.

On our way out of Camp Pendleton, we could see squads of Marines shouldering rifles or forming up beside barbed-wire obstacle courses. Tomorrow Sergei would be doing the same thing.

That afternoon, Nonna, Lyova and I flew home. When we finally collapsed in our Oak Park condo, I had trouble falling asleep. Without turning on a light, I found my way to the computer and searched the Web, hoping to learn something about Sergei's future in legal administration.

A Marine Corps publication reported that some units serving in Fallujah are sending every Marine "outside the wire." Even cooks and legal administration clerks were pulling security and convoy duty.

Then I found Camp Pendleton's home page. On the right-hand side were links to its latest news releases. There were five headlines. They read:

5/9/06 Camp Pendleton Marine dies in combat

5/5/06 Camp Pendleton Marine dies in combat

5/5/06 Camp Pendleton Marine dies in combat

5/2/06 Camp Pendleton Marines die in combat

5/1/06 Camp Pendleton Marine dies in combat

I clicked on the stories and read all their names. Then I shut down the computer and sat for a long time in the dark.


[email protected]

Lance Cpl. James Tessneer: A broken Marine

Editor's note: When Marines come back from the war in Iraq, they sometimes find that their war hasn't ended at all. It goes on in their minds and hearts. They have wounds that never bled, but left them badly injured ---- wounds of heart and mind. They look unchanged, but they are, and chances are they will never be the same again. Here is the story of one such Marine.

* * * * * *

He says his last tour in Iraq had him teetering on the abyss.


By: TERI FIGUEROA - Staff Writer

"My diagnosis is PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), personality disorder, adjustment disorder, disturbance in emotions and conduct," Lance Cpl. James Tessneer explained. He spoke from memory. It appeared, in his mind's eye, that he was reading from the official document.

Yes, the Camp Pendleton Marine said. "That's exactly what it says. I've read it a thousand times to try to figure out what is wrong."

The young man from North Carolina kept a copy of that official piece of paper, the one that gave his diagnosis, the one that recommended him for an accelerated discharge, folded up in his pocket. It's dog-eared ---- "salty" is his description ---- but he kept it there in case he needed it.

In case he blacked out.

Said he's done that three times. Once in April 2005, he said, he snapped out of a spell to find himself attacking his roommate in the barracks.

"Grabbed him and choked the hell out of him," Tessneer recalled. "I realized what I was doing and I let go."

A mountain of a man with a disarming smile, stunning green eyes and a slow, Southern drawl, Tessneer wrings his hands as he speaks of it.

It hasn't always been this way, he says. He hasn't always been like this.

The beefy, 6-foot, 5-inch man who wears Carolina Panthers jerseys was a choirboy in high school. Not figuratively. Literally.

Even though he's a football fan, even though coaches panted after him to play, Tessneer skipped high school sports.

Instead, the young man traveled for choir competitions, took roles in school musicals. Played "Snoopy" in one performance; won the role of "The Tin Man" in another. He laughs, only half kidding, that he had really wanted to play a Munchkin.

Tessneer's mom and dad adopted him and his little sister from California when he was about 3 years old. He grew up with piano lessons, fished with his dad, went cow tipping with his buddies and ran like hell from the angry bovine.

Only about four years out of high school, he grins as he speaks of cruising as a teenager in his hometown ---- Shelby, N.C., population 19,477 ---- and the many times one of his choir buddies would slip the soundtrack to "The Princess Diaries" into the car stereo and turn it all the way up. There they were, three or four high school seniors, all boys, singing and laughing at themselves as they drove down the street. And, yeah, they knew all the words.

Instead of college ---- where his high school sweetheart and many of his peers headed ---- Tessneer joined the Marines. His dad, a factory mechanic and volunteer firefighter, had been in the Army. So had his dad's dad.

The young man who wants to be "even just half as great as my dad" said the military was a natural fit for him.

The horror of what the teenage Tessneer watched on television on Sept. 11, 2001, strengthened his resolve to become a Marine, and on April 28, 2002, he shipped off to boot camp. When he graduated a few months later, his family and friends and even their parents traveled to Parris Island, S.C., to be there. During the ceremony, Tessneer locked eyes with his dad.

"He had a big ol' smile on his face," Tessneer recalled. "I'd never seen my dad smile like that."

After boot camp, Tessneer headed to a training school ---- and met a Southerner who would become his best friend in the Marine Corps.

At 5-foot-4, Jerrell George stands more than a foot shorter than Tessneer.

George calls Tessneer "Big T." With their obvious size discrepancy, they're a vision of the John Steinbeck novel "Of Mice and Men" ---- an image that didn't escape their buddies, who called the pair George and Lenny.

Tessneer, who speaks slowly and is often just plain quiet, likes it when people think he's a "dumb hick." Don't be fooled.

For the most part, the career movements of Tessneer and George paralleled; they were last stationed together in the same Camp Pendleton unit of the 1st Division Light Armored Reconnaissance.

By early 2003, the young North Carolina man and his Alabama buddy found themselves in Iraq.

While there, to stave off boredom, to calm his nerves, Tessneer often sang to himself.

When he sings, what follows is a shock. When the man who always speaks ---- no, mumbles ---- in a deep, low voice opens his mouth to sing, out comes a sweet tenor voice. The tune, a Christian hymn, had been his grandma's favorite. It was the song he most favored to help pass the time while in the dusty, dangerous war.

George often urged Big T to sing a particular Southern Baptist hymn. Tessneer often fielded requests ---- "Guys was always asking me to sing to them," he said ---- and oftentimes they wanted country music. But the most popular song? "Amazing Grace."

And then Tessneer went home for the first time since Iraq.

"I always took everything for granted, until then, until I got back the first time," he said. "And then it is like, a whole new everything."

Home for 30 days of leave, his parents greeted him at the airport in North Carolina. His dad came wearing a shirt that read "My son is a U.S. Marine."

But Tessneer wasn't right, wasn't himself. Fought with his mom, cursed at his sister at the dinner table. Said he sort of began to realize something was wrong with him after his first Iraq tour, when "I couldn't get along."

"I was out with my buddies, and they was complaining about little petty stuff," Tessneer said. "I went nuts and started hollerin' at 'em. They complained about homework and not getting enough sleep, how they only get six hours of sleep at night. Six hours? OK. Try an hour every three, four days. Try gettin' shot at. You all don't know nothin'. Complainin' about stuff that makes no sense to me. I went off on 'em."

Tessneer shook his head. Sighed. Looked down and explained that he was laid-back, easygoing, a get-along-with-everybody kind of guy. Now, no.

"You ain't got a clue what's going on with you until you get back, sit down and start looking around," he said. "Lot of people doing the slightest thing to piss you off. Maybe holding their fork wrong. You want to stab them with your fork."

While in Iraq those three times, five members of his extended family ---- three grandparents and two uncles ---- died. Made him realize that he could die, too. Scared him how hard that would hit his mom and dad.

"It's horrible," he said. "Not knowing if you'd get to go home, and losing a lot of family members back home. And what happens if something happens to me, too?"

Just months after coming home from his first tour, Tessneer volunteered to go back to Iraq for a second trip. That time around, he spent a few more months in the Middle East, mostly Kuwait, and was back home by Christmas 2003.

Tessneer won't give specifics about most events from any of his Iraqi tours. He will say, though, that the "funniest thing I ever saw" was a camel step on a landmine.

"Pink goo everywhere," he said. Mischievous grin.

His third tour in Iraq, the one he claims pushed him to his breaking point, came less than two months after the end of his second trip over there.

That third tour ran from February to September 2004.

"It was worse this time. A lot worse," Tessneer said. "The first time wasn't that bad. Second time wasn't bad either. The third time, it was heinous. We were getting mortared six times a day. And that ain't fun.

"I got shot at a lot more often. A lot more often. ... I seen a lot of things, seen stuff people shouldn't really have to see."

While in Iraq that final time, Tessneer was tapped with a commendation for supplying 90,000 gallons of fuel to the battalion command operations center.

The last line of the award notes that Tessneer's "exceptional work ethic, initiative and dedication to duty reflect a credit upon him and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and U.S. Naval Service."

He kept the commendation proudly displayed in his barracks.

Tessneer says that the beginning of the end of his military service started when he went missing from his Camp Pendleton unit for a few days in April 2005.

Borrowed a car and spent two days just driving around North County, hanging out at the Oceanside pier, to be alone, to sort out his thoughts.

Suicidal thoughts, he says. Homicidal thoughts.

"I was actually thinking of killing other people. I actually thought of killing myself," Tessneer said. "I never thought of that before."

He said when he finally rolled back into work, he told his bosses he needed mental help. They sent him to the chaplain, who Tessneer said told him that his turmoil was an internal religious battle.

No, Tessneer insisted, something is really wrong with me.

The next day, Tessneer went to the base's mental health clinic.

That "salty" form that Tessneer carried around outlines his diagnosis as of May 4, 2005.

The health care provider reported on the document that while Tessneer at the time suffered from "some post-traumatic stress symptoms, the majority of his symptoms appear to be with his personality."

The provider recommended Tessneer get "immediate processing for administrative separation." In other words, Tessneer explained, boot him out of the Marines. No more Iraq.

Tessneer says he hadn't planned on getting discharged from the Marine Corps, but when he learned that would be his fate, he felt a weight being lifted.

"I wanted help," he said firmly last June. "The separation is an extra (benefit), but I wanted help."

For a few months, Tessneer was scared of losing control. Since he began getting counseling last year, it's "just a different kind of scared."

While on his way out of the military, Tessneer spent his Tuesdays in counseling sessions. "Tuesdays," he said last year, "are my favorite day."

The North Carolina man says he spent much of his time last summer "in a drunken haze." And the day after finishing up one of his alcohol counseling courses, Tessneer and a few buddies headed to SeaWorld and drank beer.

Sometimes last summer, buddies stopped by to hang out in Tessneer's barracks room. His buddy, George, was often there, his ever-present cell phone stuck in his ear while he chatted with his wife, who at the time lived in Alabama with their two little girls. And he plays video games with Big T.

The barracks are like dorm rooms: two large dressers, two beds, not much else. Tessneer covered the bare walls above his bed by tacking up a few of his many Carolina Panthers jerseys.

In between video games, Tessneer and George step outside for a smoke. Tessneer prefers Camels.

On this June night, another friend stops by. The three begin sharing the humorous war stories. Just another night in the barracks.

It took Tessneer a few months to tell his parents about his pending discharge. He wasn't really planning on telling them until he walked in the door of their North Carolina home. But his mom called him one night last summer. He was drunk. He got drunk a lot. An "everyday thing," he says.

So, caught off guard when his mom called, Tessneer told her he was leaving the Marines. He was surprised that she and his dad were OK with the news, even though he also told them about his mental health diagnosis.

"I guess the main thing is, they were happy that I wasn't going back to Iraq," Tessneer recalled. "Who wants to send their kid off to Iraq?"

Their reaction was part of the everything-will-be-OK that he needed.

For months after learning that he was recommended for an accelerated discharge, Tessneer was glad to be getting out. Almost giddy.

Until his buddies started heading back to Iraq in mid-August 2005.

It hit him hard that warm Saturday last year when a handful of his friends deployed to the Middle East as part of an advance party. He was in his barracks on a blue-sky morning when he opened his door and saw them loading up to go. He ran down to the parade deck and said his goodbyes.

Those Marines are "my brothers," he said softly into the phone just moments after they left. He had served with them in Iraq, with some as many as three times. And now, they were going back. And leaving him behind.

"I'll probably never see those guys again," Tessneer sighed that day. He knew he would be discharged before they returned.

Tessneer knows he can't take another tour in a war zone. But he didn't know he wanted to go back to Iraq until he saw his friends leave. He wanted to be there, with them, the men with whom he considers it "an honor" to share a drink.

"It made me step back and think, 'damn,' " he said. "Sometimes the only thing you can say is 'damn.' "

Tessneer spent the rest of that morning lying on his bunk, picking at the paint on his wall.

Three days later, the thought of his buddies packing up for Iraq still stung.

"I belonged with them. I've been there with them. I know them," Tessneer said. "That's what I joined the Marine Corps to do. It's what I was taught to do, what I was trained to do."

He paused for a second.

"I knew why I wasn't going was for a legitimate reason, but it's that I've been there with them before. And you do love 'em. Even the ones you hate, you still love.

"The married ones, you meet their wives," Tessneer continued. "If they got kids, you meet their kids. You are kinda like a family. I know I can depend on them."

Tessneer speaks of the good he believes he and fellow Marines did in Iraq, of the soccer balls and jerseys they handed out, of the little kids waving to them on the streets. Knows he was part of something far greater than himself.

"Obviously, yeah, it's jacked me up some," Tessneer said. "I ain't the same. I never will be. But who is? I think I would do it again. I'd go back again. I would. (But) I'm done. I'm burned out. I don't have no problem with going back. I used to have a problem. (But) four times? (Expletive)."

He paused.

"I guess it's seeing the guys leave. I guess that's gonna have to be it. I realize that I didn't really feel like this until I saw them leavin'. I might be lying to myself and saying that we are there for a reason 'cause I see my boys going back," Tessneer said. "But even when I hated it, I didn't agree with it myself, I'd hear somebody else sayin' we shouldn't be there, I get offensive about it and ... say, yeah the (expletive) we did (need to be there).

"I guess another thing that gets me is that I hear people complain," he said, "and I'm the one bein' sent over there and I didn't complain."

"Big T" smiles as he talks about what he misses most about Iraq. The camaraderie. Wrestling with the guys. The time his buddy, Pvt. Anthony Frederick, taunted the Marines in a supply unit, then ran back to the place where Frederick worked with Tessneer.

"When the supply boys came in there, we ganged up on 'em," Tessneer laughed.

An impish, animated Tessneer tells a few more Iraq stories, all with the same theme. There's the many play fights that involved dozens of guys throwing punches and blowing off steam. The time he and his cohorts used six rolls of duct tape on a buddy "because we could." The time Tessneer elbow-dropped and wrestled a box full of Meals Ready to Eat because he was bored.

"That's the kinda stuff I'll miss."

Tessneer accepts that he cannot go back to Iraq.

"It was just pretty much everything building up and building up and not going and doing anything about it," Tessneer says frankly. "First tour built on the second one, the second built on the third, and finally I got back from that one and I snapped.

"I just kept bottling things up," Tessneer said. "Always did that, even as a little kid. Mom said that's gonna get you into trouble someday. Sure did. Mom was right. Imagine that."

Told in May 2005 he could be on a fast-track for a discharge, he was still an active-duty Marine seven months later, waiting for the Marines to give the blessing for his recommended early separation.

While waiting for his discharge, the young man said his good days finally outnumbered the bad ones.

"I was in a deep rut," Tessneer said with a nod, looking away.

Pause. He turns back. Makes eye contact.

"Now, I'm climbing out."

As winter approached, the man who loves all things Duke University (his anesthesiologist mom is an alumna), the man who prefers the mountains to the beach, the man who knows a slew of Civil War trivia just wanted to go home. Hoped to be there Christmas, his 23rd birthday.

And in hopes that he would be, Tessneer signed on for a 63-week mechanic training course at the NASCAR Technical Institute ---- which, as fate would have it, is based in his home state of North Carolina.

He figured his training in the Marine Corps and his experiences in Iraq ---- months of pumping fuel and working on vehicles while watching his back for mortar blasts and homemade bombs ---- would give him the edge in a program designed to turn out trained mechanics with NASCAR-specific courses under their belts.

The ultimate goal? A day job on a NASCAR pit crew.

The NASCAR school's start date in January came and went. Tessneer was still at Camp Pendleton. Started thinking he might want to join the Army.

He's back home in North Carolina now, this young man with three Iraq tours under his belt. He took an early but honorable exit from the Marine Corps.

"I got on a plane on March 16," Tessneer said.

Now that he's home, Tessneer wants to take in his first live Panthers game.

He's already had some time to drive the Saleen Mustang he spent nearly three times his annual salary to buy, money he came up with thanks to his combat pay.

And he finally gave his high school sweetheart the lovely white-gold engagement ring he kept nestled in a ring box tucked into his drawer in his Camp Pendleton barracks room. The wedding is set for the fall of 2007.

Career plans again changed, and he is now working to become a state trooper. "One of my buddies talked me into it," Tessneer explained during a phone call last week.

At the beginning of June, Tessneer made a stop at his former middle school to visit an old teacher, to thank her for pushing him to achieve. And at her urging, he returned a few days later, to talk to the kids about Iraq, about being a Marine. He also told the students that at boot camp, on the days he felt like quitting, he held tight to his teacher's message of never giving up.

By the time he left Camp Pendleton, Tessneer smiled so much more easily than he did months earlier. What were once just flashes of his charm now sit closer to the surface. His eyes, for a while flat and almost lifeless, shined more often.

But in his heart, his life as a Marine still tugs at him.

I miss it," Tessneer said this week. "I miss it."

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

June 17, 2006

Welcome to Parris Island, where the Marine Corps turns recruits into war machines

PARRIS ISLAND, S.C. - Last month, 17-year-old Jonathan Stephenson took the oath of honor.



Too young to vote, but old enough to train to fight for that right, Stephenson was sworn into the U.S. Marine Corps at the Military Entrance Processing Station in Charlotte.

The South Iredell High senior said he has known he would enlist since his freshman year, when he joined his school's Marine Corps JROTC.

"I want to serve my country," he said matter of factly on the drive home from the ceremony.

His grandparents, who served in the U.S. Air Force, are nervous but supportive, he said.

"They're like any family would be - uneasy but anxious to see how I'll do," he said.

Nationally, Marine recruiters have sent about 10,750 men and women to boot camp since October 2005. That exceeded their goal of 10,307, said Marines spokeswoman Maj. Wes Hayes.

North Carolina annually sends more than 800 recruits for training each year.

The Troutman native hopes the Marines will become a full-time and longtime fixture on his resume.

He ships to Parris Island, one of two Marine recruit boot camps in the nation, next January so he has time to finish his last year of high school. All male recruits east of the Mississippi, as well as all female recruits nationwide, train on the island just outside of Beaufort, S.C.

The other boot camp is located in San Diego

"If I had a choice, I'd go today," Stephenson said after he took the oath.

"I'm ecstatic."

The Gen. EA Pollock Memorial Causeway is the only entry to Parris Island, where recruits train to become deadly marksmen.

The road is serene, welcoming and has a tropical feel - just as the base's name suggests. Imported palm trees evenly on both sides of the two-lane road surrounded by marshlands and, in the distance, the Atlantic Ocean welcome visitors.

The sun setting to the west splashed red, pink and purple hues across the sky one evening last month. It looked like paradise, albeit a paradise that new Marine recruits never see.

When they arrive at the gates, darkness hides the waving palm trees on both sides.

Officers aboard the bus order the recruits to look down.

The next time they look up, a drill instructor is yelling them off of the bus. They scurry to cover the infamous yellow foot-prints painted on the cement in front of the receiving building.

Any Marine will tell you that there, they learned that the 45-degree angle the prints make was the way to stand at attention, with their fists clenched at their sides and thumbs touching the seams of their pants.

There, they got in line behind the large, stainless steel doors, baring the Corps' eagle, anchor and globe emblem.

There, drill instructors told them, "This is a one-time entrance. You cannot exit these doors."

There, they removed "I," "me" and "we" from their vocabulary.

There, they began the 13-week process of becoming U.S. Marines.

"I was scared to death when I got off of that bus," said Bradley Stapleton, 20, of Statesville, who graduated from boot camp last month.

New recruits generally are brought on the base in the middle of the night "to disorient them," said Parris Island spokeswoman Cpl. Darhonda Rodela.

"If they're scared out of their minds, they will indeed fight through it," said Rodela, 20, who first stood on those footprints three years ago.

"They're fighting because they know they're going to be here 13 weeks at least.

"That's three months away from everybody."

Statesville native J.R. Nicholson, 22, called his first night at Parris Island "the most nerve-wracking. It was more of a culture shock."

Nicholson, who arrived on the island Dec. 12, ended his sentences with "ma'am" and only talked about himself in the third person.

"This recruit is enjoying himself training, ma'am. He's getting to better himself," he said, even though he admitted earlier, "It's a little tougher than expected."

Marine officials say recruits are stripped of their individuality as soon as they enter boot camp so they will embrace the essence of Marinehood - teamwork.

"We don't just make them miserable. We show them how to take care of themselves," said Staff Sgt. Rachel Eltz, a drill in-structor.

Nearby, her recruits were working through the second day of a three-day war test dubbed "The Crucible."

With four hours of sleep and a six-mile hike behind them, teams of two female recruits helped each other climb over and around two horizontal, cable-supported logs. Teetering and sometimes falling - other recruits waiting their turns caught them - they used each other for balance and stability.

Eltz, a Marine since 1995, said tenacious people thrive in boot camp.

LA Marine killed in Iraq tried to keep mom from worrying

LOS ANGELES - Marine Lance Cpl. Salvador Guerrero didn't want his mom to worry, so he told her he was training in Japan - not deployed in Iraq.

Last week, three Marines in uniform arrived on Rosa Guerrero's doorstep in Whittier, telling her that her son had been killed in combat June 9 west of Baghdad. Guerrero had been in Iraq since March


Associated Press

The 21-year-old was killed in Al Anbar province when the Humvee he was driving was struck in the explosion of a roadside bomb.

That Guerrero had tried to shield his mother from his assignment was no surprise to friends and relatives, who described him as a quiet aspiring artist who loved adventure and was close to his family.

"He knew his mother would worry too much if she knew he was in Iraq," said girlfriend Laura Almanza, who along with Guerrero's other family members knew his true location.

Guerrero's aunt, Maria Vega, described his as "very funny, very likable. He was kind of quiet and very shy, but once he got to know you he was great."

Guerrero was an ammunition specialist assigned to the 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force in Twentynine Palms.

In his last phone call home, Guerrero told Almanza that his seven-month deployment might be shortened and that she should start making plans for them to attend a Marine Ball in November.

"He was excited that he might come home early," she said.

In addition to his parents, Guerrero was survived by a 16-year-old brother. Funeral arrangements were pending.

Support Marines brave Iraq’s roads daily in western Al Anbar province

CAMP AL QA'IM, Iraq (June 17, 2006) -- In order for the battalion commander to move throughout his area of operations, he must be able to count on the security of a special team of Marines.

For Lt. Col. Nicholas F. Marano, commanding officer of 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, that team is his personal security detachment, a Combined Anti-Armor Team called “CAAT Black” for short.

Support Marines brave Iraq’s roads daily in western Al Anbar province
June 17, 2006; Submitted on: 06/17/2006 08:27:54 AM ; Story ID#: 200661782754

By Cpl. Antonio Rosas, 1st Marine Division

Marines from 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment’s Personal Security Team are responsible for transporting the battalion’s commander, Lt. Col. Nicholas F. Marano, through the battalion’s area of operations along the Euphrates River in northwestern Al Anbar Province. The team’s job is cut and dry – provide maximum security for the battalion’s top brass. The team consists of a handful of armored humvees with a variety of infantry weapons, to include heavy machine guns and anti-armor weapons. While most U.S. Marine Personal Security Teams are composed of infantrymen, Marano’s Personal Security Team is comprised mostly of “support” Marines – administrative clerks, communications technicians, and other “non-infantry”-type occupations.

Anti-Armor means the squad of humvees has the weaponry and capabilities of eliminating an enemy’s armored units, such as tanks.

But these Marines aren’t out hunting tanks – they’re job is to provide maximum security for the battalion’s top brass.

The security team is responsible for providing Marano flexibility to move throughout his entire area of operations near the Iraq-Syria border.

Every day is a different experience for these Marine guards, according to Cpl. Michael T. Wier, the platoon’s first section leader.

“This job allows me to get out there and see the different towns, talk to different people through an interpreter and shake hands with little kids who swarm us every time we get out of our trucks,” said the 22-year-old from Scottsdale, Ariz. “The people are very friendly out here, especially the kids.”

Part of the Marines’ job is collecting information from the citizens through an interpreter. This means the Marines are out in the villages talking with and shaking hands with the locals. The information is used by Marano to get an idea of how the Iraqis are responding to the Marines’ and Iraqi Security Force presence. It also allows him a chance to address any issues with the locals.

Despite Iraqis’ warm reception to the Marines, the insurgency is still prevalent in this area with recent attacks on civilians, Iraqi Security Forces and the Marines.

On a recent mission, Wier recalled having to assist an Iraqi family with the deaths of family members killed by an improvised explosive device. Since the team was in close proximity to the site of the blast, they were first to respond at the scene of the explosion.

“We had to go to the family’s home and explain to the family what happened,” said Wier. “The family was not mad at us. They understand that it’s the insurgents who are planting the IEDs.”

Wier, an avid golfer back home, admits that there is some level of fear every time he goes out on a mission but feels comfort from a picture he carries with him everywhere he goes – it’s a picture of him holding his girlfriend during a sunset.

On every mission he tapes the snapshot onto the humvee’s radio.

“It reminds me of better times and gets my mind off of all the things I see out here that don’t make sense,” said Wier.

While most personal security teams are composed of Marines from the infantry military occupational specialties, Marano’s personal security team is mainly comprised of Marines with backgrounds in non-infantry-related fields.

For infantry Marines, or ‘grunts,” their job is providing security and weeding out insurgents by conducting security patrols both on foot and in armored vehicles. The Marines with support-related jobs like mechanics, warehouse clerks and cooks are responsible for providing the necessary tools and supplies to the grunts.

While every Marine is a rifleman, most Marines in the support-related fields perform their duties “inside the wire” of a base, leaving the task of performing security patrols and operations to the infantry Marines.

“This team allows the Marines of non-infantry-related military occupational specialties to learn the job of the infantry and perform like an infantryman on a daily basis,” said Staff Sgt. Matthew W. Marks, the team’s platoon sergeant.

The team travels in a handful of armored vehicles, outfitted with a variety of infantry weapons mounted on revolving turrets atop the vehicle’s roof. The guns can turn in every direction, providing each vehicle 360 degrees of visual security.

The Marines learn the job of the infantrymen and they go through the same training packages as their ‘grunt’ counterparts, according to the 28-year-old Marks. The platoon commander feels his men are just as qualified as a bonafide infantryman, to perform the job.

In Iraq’s Al Anbar province, improvised explosive devices are the number one killer of Coalition Forces and are arguably the greatest threat Marines encounter most on their daily patrols through cities like Husaybah and Ubaydi near the Iraq-Syria border.

The security team has been able to spot IEDs along the roadways before they are detonated.

The IEDs are just one example of how insurgents in the area are trying to disrupt the Marines’ job of training and mentoring the Iraqi Security Forces, according to Marano.

“You need to be prepared to face anything ‘outside the wire,’” said Marks. “Whether it’s receiving small-arms fire from the enemy or setting up a vehicle checkpoint on-the-spot, you have to be ready to respond.”

Nearly six months ago, Marines cleared the area of insurgents during Operation Steel Curtain. Since then the battalion has seen a drastic decrease in enemy activity thanks to the combined efforts of daily security patrols alongside Iraqi Security Forces, according to the Marines.

As dangerous as their job is, the members of the security team feel the perks of the job outweigh the hazards they may face.

“The positive thing is that you’re personally selected to represent the colonel and be a part of his security team, which goes everywhere and anywhere he goes,” said Cpl. Mario Morales, who has deployed twice with the battalion. “You get to see the entire area of operations and do something different everyday.”

Besides visiting the numerous outposts along the Euphrates River or interacting with locals in towns and villages, Morales feels that being part of the team has enabled him to experience Iraq differently than if he were doing the job he was originally trained to do – working on computers.

Morales, who traded his desk job in his communications shop for a seat behind the wheel of a humvee, says he is not scared about encountering insurgents. He takes pride in being able to meet local Iraqis and hand out candy to children whenever he gets the chance.

“I’ve done very little of the job I was originally trained for during my time in the Marines,” said Morales, who is trained to work on Marine Corps computer network systems. “I would rather be driving to different places in the area of operations and seeing new faces, eating the local food and just interacting with Iraqis than sitting behind a computer screen.”

There are also a handful of infantry Marines in the team. Marines like Lance Cpl. Jason M. Parkhurst were selected by their superior non-commissioned-officers to bring their infantry knowledge to the group.

Parkhurst, from Sacramento, Calif., was an infantry squad leader in another battalion before joining the team and was part of Operation Iraqi Freedom II and III.

The 21-year-old recalled the initial push through the city of Fallujah where he cleared rooms of insurgents in house-to-house fighting. He is thankful that things have ‘settled down a bit,’ in this area of operations and does not miss the days of getting shot at on a daily basis.

The combat experience from two previous deployments left Parkhurst eager to complete a third deployment before leaving the Marines in 2006 – a personal goal he set for himself before leaving the Marine Corps.

“I want to be able to say that I completed three tours in Iraq,” said Parkhurst.

The 21-year-old is anxious to get back home to Twentynine Palms, Calif., and start spending some time with his wife. He carries her picture with him at all times.

“I want to get back home to get my life started and have the white picket fence,” said Parkhurst. “I just want to sit down and have a nice dinner with my wife.”

The Marines in the security team spend a great deal of time together even when ‘off the job.’ When they’re not performing mission-essential training like sharpening their shooting skills, they’re working out at the gym together or eating at the chow hall as a group.

“We’re like a large extended family,” said Cpl. Christopher J. Scott, a 21-year-old vehicle commander from Lumberton, Texas. “There are squabbles and arguments just like in any other family.”

Email Cpl. Rosas at [email protected]

Transition to certain Iraqi Army-led operations is hit and miss

HIT, Iraq (June 17, 2006) -- On the outskirts of this ancient city in southeastern Al Anbar province lies a tiny Iraqi Army post. A group of Iraqi Army officers sit on one side of a long table in a wooden conference room adorned with an Iraqi flag. On the opposite side of the table sits a handful of U.S. Marines.

June 17, 2006; Submitted on: 06/17/2006 07:55:21 AM ; Story ID#: 200661775521

By Staff Sgt. Jim Goodwin, 1st Marine Division

Three plus years ago, such a sight would have seemed impossible. That’s when U.S. military forces invaded Iraq, fought the Iraqi Army to Baghdad, and knocked Saddam Hussein out of power.

Since then, things have changed in Iraq – a new, democratic Iraqi government has filled the void of Saddam’s regime, and Iraqi and American military forces work together now to quell an insurgency that has plagued Iraq for the better part of three years.

In Hit – a mostly Sunni city of about 30,000 located 70 miles northwest of Ramadi – a cadre of U.S. Marines has spent the better part of five months training an Iraqi Army battalion to conduct their own military operations. It’s part of a plan to eventually turn the city over to Iraqi Security Forces, although the Marines say the transition is still a “work in progress.”

“We’re hoping to get these guys to take over a section of Hit by the end of the year, even if it’s a small section,” said Staff Sgt. James L. Plagmann, the intelligence chief and advisor for the local military transition team in the city.

Hit has proven to be a consistent hotbed of insurgent activity for U.S. and Iraqi forces here. U.S. soldiers from the Frieberg, Germany-based 1st Battalion, 36th Infantry Regiment are four months into a yearlong deployment

Meanwhile, the Marines here say the Iraqi battalion’s leaders have not fully grasped the intricacies of military operational planning, although they still have eight months left to get the battalion’s staff up to snuff.

“Getting the staff together, on the same sheet of music, and ready is going to take time,” said Plagmann, who used a common Iraqi phrase to answer whether or not he’s confident the battalion’s staff will be ready to plan and execute battalion-level operations by year’s end – “In Shallah,” Arabic for “God willing.”

Inside the air-conditioned wooden hut, Plagmann, along with several other Marines who make up the local military transition team tasked to mentor Iraqi soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 2nd Brigade, 7th Iraqi Army Division, sits on the Marines’ side of the conference room table. On the other side, 1st Battalion’s officers – all former Saddam-era soldiers – brief their plan of action to surround and capture a confirmed “high profile target,” an insurgent, in the city.

Although the briefing is just part of a training scenario, it’s one way Marines can evaluate the Iraqi battalion staff’s ability to conduct effective, well-thought operational planning.

Halfway through the brief, Lt. Col. Greg A. Branigan, the military transition team’s chief, tosses questions at the Iraqis to see if they’ve thought their plan of action through: Do they know how many soldiers they have for the mission? What vehicles do they have for transportation? Do they have a way to resupply themselves with food, water and ammunition? Will their communications reach that far into the city?

“When you’re given a task, you have to decide what to build and how to build it,” Branigan told the Iraqi officers, who didn’t seem to quite understand what the 40-year-old U.S. Marine was getting at. “Then you have to decide what tools you have available to you. You don’t have to use them all, but you have to consider what you want to use.”

Though slow, progress is being made within the Iraqi battalion’s leadership core, just not as quickly as Marines had hoped. Part of the problem is the 10-plus days of leave Iraqi soldiers take every month to visit their families. The majority of the 1st Battalion’s soldiers are not from Al Anbar Province. Most are from areas south of Baghdad – a long drive from Hit.

“Culturally, these guys are so tied to their families…they get homesick very quick,” said Branigan.

Still, there’s hope. The soldiers are being paid more frequently, a 180-degree change from the past, when some Iraqi Army units went months without receiving pay.

Furthermore, a new leave system is in place, one that allows only one section of Iraqi soldiers from each of 1st Battalion’s companies, which are partnered with U.S. soldiers throughout the city, to be on leave at any one time. In the past, an entire Iraqi Army company would go on leave together, return to Hit, rotate into a new part of the city, and have to familiarize themselves with new terrain and operate with U.S. soldiers they’ve never met before.

When it comes to counterinsurgency operations, troops’ familiarity with their surroundings is essential to success, said Branigan.

“You want them to, especially in counterinsurgency operations, get to know the people and be able to say, ‘Hey, that rock wasn’t there yesterday. Maybe that’s an IED,’” said Branigan.

Logistically, the Iraqis are making leaps and bounds in progress. The ability for Iraqi military units to provide their own logistical support, such as food, water, medical supplies, and ammunition, is considered crucial by coalition forces officials in the transition process from U.S. to Iraqi-led operations.

Iraqi Army leaders here already conduct their own planning and briefing for supply convoys. Soon, 1st Battalion will be able to run such logistical convoys entirely on their own, with minimal assistance from American troops.

“Soon, it will be just them planning convoy ops and we’ll support them with security and coordination,” said Branigan. “And we’re very close to that.”

U.S. soldiers who patrol in heavily-armored Bradley fighting vehicles and on foot everyday with Iraqi soldiers through Hit’s IED-laden streets, say a logistically self-sustaining Iraqi Army is half the battle to a successful transition in security operations between U.S. and Iraqi military forces here.

The question posed to U.S. soldiers here who spend their days patrolling the city with the Iraqis, like Army 1st Sgt. David B. Sapp, is not whether or not Iraqi soldiers have the “on the ground” know-how to operate effectively when it comes time for the Americans to leave. Instead, it’s a question of whether or not they can operate effectively without any American support.

“I absolutely think so, if they can support themselves,” said Sapp, company first sergeant, 1-36’s Apache Company, which operates in Hit’s southeastern sector.

Regardless of how successful 1st Battalion’s Iraqi soldiers are in finding IEDs, interacting with the local populace, and planning large-scale operations, there is some support the Iraqi Army will lose when U.S. soldiers leave the city in the hands of Iraqi Security Forces, said Sapp.

“These guys value their lives just as we do, and there’s nothing more secure than riding around in a Bradley, and these guys are going to lose that,” he said.

Outside the wire – a phrase U.S. troops use to describe military operations outside the safety of their bases in Iraq – U.S. soldiers say their Iraqi counterparts have exceeded expectations in their ability to lead military operations.

Four months ago, U.S. soldiers led daily patrols with a handful of Iraqi soldiers in tow. Now, Iraqi soldiers at the platoon and company level plan their own missions, and execute them entirely on their own. Though still accompanied by American soldiers, the patrols are now joint missions between the two forces, instead of that of mentor and student.

Iraqi soldiers “on the ground” with U.S. soldiers are becoming better at spotting suspicious activity in the city, too – proof that Iraqi soldiers are becoming more effective military operators, soldiers say. Just two weeks ago, Iraqi soldiers saw a suspicious man lurking near the cemetery. After questioning him, they discovered the man had two 122 mm rounds in a burlap sack – obvious bomb-making material.

“This battalion will be able to occupy some ground and manage it,” said Branigan. “That will free up some coalition forces to go to other places.”

U.S. soldiers who live with and operate daily “outside the wire” with Iraqi soldiers say they are pleased with their Iraqi counterparts’ performance.

Army Spc. Frederick D. Harris, a 34-year-old from Shreveport, La., has spent four months driving humvees on patrols in Hit, and says the Iraqi military is the “big ticket home” for American forces. But more importantly, U.S. forces can leave knowing they’ve left Hit in better shape then it was when they arrived. They’re also confident they’re leaving the city in fully capable hands with Iraqi soldiers.

“They (Iraqis) want our help, and IA (Iraqi Army) are doing more patrols now,” said Harris, who added that mortars and rocket-propelled grenade attacks remain a threat to coalition and Iraqi forces in the city. “Living conditions are improving, and we’re recruiting a lot of Iraqi soldiers and police. They (Iraqi soldiers) work with us, we work with them. It’s a family thing.”

Email Staff Sgt. Goodwin at: [email protected]

A quick hello, one sweet surprise

Marines speak to kin from Iraq.

Sergeant Mark Sabourin never knows what to expect as a radio supervisor for the Marines in the deserts of Fallujah, except the relentless heat and the possibility of attack. His unit trains Iraqi security forces, and clashes with insurgents are frequent. They lost a member in a suicide bombing last month. Surprises are usually unwelcome in Sabourin's wartime life.


By Emma G. Fitzsimmons, Globe Correspondent | June 17, 2006

But yesterday he got a good one. In an interview with a Boston radio talk show host, the voices of his daughters unexpectedly came over the satellite phone.

``Hi Daddy," the two girls squealed from the sound booth at WILD-AM. ``Happy Father's Day."

Sabourin, whose family lives in Bellingham, began to cry.

``Thank you, babies," he said through tears. ``I love you. Be good girls."

His wife Danielle hugged their two daughters, Makenzie, 5, and Keiley, 3, in the 1090 AM sound booth next to morning host Jimmy Myers, whose station organized the call with eight Boston-area Marines at Camp Baharia in Fallujah, about 40 miles west of Baghdad. Sabourin, a reservist who also served in the Gulf War, thanked his father, Henry, in the half-hour broadcast.

``My dad was a hard worker, and he taught me to work long hours to support my family," said Sabourin, 37.

During the Father's Day tribute, some got surprise phone visits from children, wives or fathers. Others reflected on the meaning of fatherhood. For Myers, hearing grown men say they love one another rekindled memories of his father, who said those words to him for the first time just before his death.

``We're trying to put people in touch with the human element of this war," Myers said. ``Real people are out fighting this war. "

Lance Corporal Ryan Pugsley of Braintree thanked his father, Steve, who was in the studio, for being his soccer coach and for taking care of his truck while he is in Iraq. ``He's been a father when I've needed him and a friend when I needed one," he said. ``You've always been there for me, Dad."

Two of Steve Pugsley's nephews are serving in the same unit as his son, and the war has affected the whole family, Steve Pugsley said. The father said he didn't expect such affectionate words from his 20-year-old son, who isn't known for expressing his emotions.

``It was great to hear his voice," he said. ``It's nice to know you were doing the right thing as a dad all along."

About 120 of the Marines in the First Battalion, 25th Regiment out of Devens Reserve Forces Training Area are from Massachusetts, and another 1,000 are from New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Their yearlong tour started in January.

Myers said he was especially moved by the way Sabourin's two daughters perked up when they heard their father's voice.

``All those people that are here living this every day, they are missing their daddy," he said. ``The moment they heard his voice, I saw them jump a little. "

Dan McMorrow of West Roxbury told Myers he was thinking of his four children, especially his 7-month-old, Jack. He thanked his wife, whom he described as a strong woman for keeping the family and household in order during his absence.

``It is difficult," he said of his family. ``They understand why I'm here. Hopefully, we'll get it done and get home."

A few hours after the broadcast, Mark Sabourin sent his family an e-mail: ``I am amazed," he wrote. ``That was the best Father's Day gift I will ever receive."

Marine sends dad an early Father's Day gift...over the radio

LYNN-Carlos Noyola received an early Father's Day gift when his son, Marine Private First Class Carlos Noyola Jr., gave a shout out to him dad during an early morning radio show Friday. Unfortunately he missed it.


By Chris Steven
Saturday, June 17, 2006

"I work too many hours," Noyola said. "And I go to bed late and I get up early so I didn't hear it."

Noyola, however, said it was okay that he missed the message because he talks to his son regularly anyway.

"He sounds happy," Noyola said. "And I just sent him a bunch of boxes of all kinds of things, about five boxes."

Carlos Jr. got to wish his father a happy Father's Day via Jimmy Meyers' WILD 1090-AM, news radio show out of Boston.

Meyers aired the live broadcast between 8 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. for marines stationed in Iraq and their fathers as a special Father's Day reunion.

A number of soldiers from "New England's Own," 1 Battalion, 25 Marines stationed in the Al Anbar province had a chance to speak to family members directly while on the air or at the very least send out a message.

Although Noyola missed his son's message, Gunnery Sgt. Pete Walz, public affairs representative for the battalion said the radio station plans to send a copy of the broadcast to each family.

"That would be great," Noyola said.

Nolyola said he is proud of his son whose unit was activated last December.

Noyola said when he went to his son's boot camp graduation in South Carolina, "I was crying like a baby. I told him 'you're more of a man than I am.'"

He however shrugged off the suggestion that he had any influence on his son's character.

"I taught him that whatever you do use common sense," he said. "I feel very good about him."

The Marines of the 1 Battalion, who are primarily from the New England area, were mobilized for a period of one of which approximately seven months will be spent in Iraq. As of June the unit has reached the halfway mark of its mobilization. As of march the soldiers having been patrolling the war-torn city of Fullujah.

Noyola said he has heard his son might be home as early as October.

"I worry about him everyday," he added. "He is doing okay but I don't want him to go through that."

Marine Pubic Affairs team, 1st Lt. Nate Braden and Cpl.Brian Reimers based in Fallujah, helped coordinate the calls back to the local radio station.

Lance Corporal Ryan Pugsley of Braintree, serving in the same unit with his two cousins, had the chance to speak to his father Stephen. Another Marine, Sgt. Mark Sabourin of Bellingham, spoke to his father and father-in-law. He was also surprised when Myers put his two daughters and wife on the phone. It was said the moment was so moving it would even make a Marine shed a tear.

Area Marines return from summer adventure

The last time Bossier City-based Bravo Co., 1/23rd Marines met in a bedraggled group at Barksdale Air Force Base's Hoban Hall, it was after seven arduous months of combat and bloodshed in Iraq.


June 17, 2006
By John Andrew Prime

Friday, most of the same folks again returned to Hoban Hall, tired and full of sand, but from a far better clime -- the sunny Caribbean, where they spent more than two weeks training with Dutch troops and other European allies.

"It was a big change from Iraq," said Capt. Matthew Phillips, who was wounded in Iraq and spent the first week of the Caribbean mission with his men on Aruba before returning to prepare their way home. "There was the same sand and sun, but it wasn't nearly as hazardous."

That first week was mostly spent doing live-fire and individual training as a Marine unit, but the second week, on Curacao, was spent cross-training with Dutch Marines and the Dutch navy, as well as Dutch army units and select forces from Great Britain, France, Germany and other European allies. All told, about 1,000 personnel took part, including two ships from the U.S. Navy.

"So many of the places we train as Marines are not nearly as carefree of beautiful," Phillips said. "It's a place you'd normally go to on your honeymoon -- not as part of a military mission."

More than 140 Marines left a charter jet that landed at Barksdale Air Force Base around 5 p.m. Friday, then traveled by bus to their training center on Swan Lake Road in Bossier City, where they turned in their guns and other gear. Today, they'll do drill there, then head back to their civilian lives.

Some came back with nice souvenirs. Company 1st Sgt. Thomas Stone brought back a richly bound history of the Dutch Royal Marines.

As a token to his hosts, he left a U.S. Marine Corps flag.

Chris Loughrey, a 21-year-old from Carrollton, Texas, came home heavier in a nice way. He left here a lance corporal, and returned a corporal. He got a merit promotion on the beach at Curacao, with his company enjoying the moment with him as the company commander, Maj. Shayne McGinty, pinned on Loughrey's new chevrons.

Like all the other Marines who got off the charter jet, Loughrey and McGinty sported hair a little longer than the usual Marine close cut -- someone forgot to pack along shears, and they all got behind in their haircuts.

Another reason for longer hair and tired looks could have been the days of liberty at the end of their time in Aruba and the training in Curacao.

"The Marines worked hard and enjoyed their time off," McGinty said. "But a lot were so tired they just crashed."

Not so Sgt. Jacobie Richardson. He used his liberty to sightsee.

"Sleeping was a no-go," he said. "It was too pretty. There was a constant breeze, not like here, and the water was incredible."

The experience will live on in the Marines, McGinty said. "It was a place many of them would never be able to see, and to be able to train with the Dutch was very interesting. We now have an appreciation of their tactics and they have an appreciation of ours."

June 16, 2006

39 Marines are 'on the deck'

NACO, Ariz. — Under a hot sun, Marine reservists from Company C, 6th Engineer Support Battalion are working hard improving a dirt road, preparing low water crossings and installing fences along the U.S.-Mexico border.


By Bill Hess
Herald/ Review

NACO, Ariz. — Under a hot sun, Marine reservists from Company C, 6th Engineer Support Battalion are working hard improving a dirt road, preparing low water crossings and installing fences along the U.S.-Mexico border.

As they work, sweat falls from their faces. Additional body moisture coats their arms. Strong gusts of wind blows brown dirt on to their exposed skin, creating muddy streak-like patterns.

For younger Marines, assigned to the company from Peoria, Ill., this is their first taste of a desert region.

But not for all of them.

Staff Sgt. Jason Barringer and Cpl. Nick Guilfoyle know how harsh a desert environment can be. Both supported the attacking American forces crossing the berm of Iraq on March 20, 2003.

“We did a lot of engineering work,” Guilfoyle said.

As American forces continued their punching drive toward Baghdad, the battalion — it was the first time the entire unit served on a mission as a complete group — constructed base camps and protective berms as well as providing logistics for supplies along the combat route, he said.

Barringer, of Decatur, Ill., said the battalion also help put down 55 miles of fuel hose.

“It was a leapfrog operation,” he said.

Guilfoyle, who is a machinist in civilian life, said building combat base camps was important to give not only Marines but soldiers a protective place.

“They were a temporary kind of shelter,” said the East Peoria, Ill., native.

The role of the engineers was critical to the completion of the mission, he added.

Barringer, an electrical engineer when not wearing the Marine uniform, said what is important about the company’s current mission is that it will give younger members of the unit some experience working in a desert environment.

He is the company’s staff noncommissioned officer in charge of the Joint Task Force North approved mission.

The task force, headquartered at Fort Bliss, Texas, looks for units who want to volunteer for missions, including border ones, so an organization can obtain practical experience.

Barringer said different companies from the battalion will be rotating in and out on a two-week basis through the rest of June, all of July and slightly more than the first week in August. The battalion’s headquarters is located in Portland, Ore.

Guilfoyle spent another tour in Iraq beginning in late 2004, where he was under more enemy fire than the initial attack in 2003. Part of his second tour included combat in Fallujah.

His job in supporting the Naco Station of the U.S. Border Patrol is as site supervisor.

Barringer said the operation is be completed by all enlisted people.

Currently, 39 are “on the deck,” in Arizona, he said, using a Marine term for those at the site. One of them is their Navy “doc,” an enlisted corpsman.

Although none of the battalion has been told to be ready to go to Iraq again, Barringer said the training the Marines are getting in Arizona will help them.

“They will get plenty of experience if we have to deploy,” he said.

Marine reservists lend a hand to Border Patrol at Naco

NACO — Sometime later this year, 27-year-old Cpl. Tim Edwards of Fremont, Wis., will enter a seminary in St. Louis to begin pursuing his goal of becoming a Lutheran minister.

In the meantime, he’s getting a jump start on his career in community service as U.S. Marine reservist with Company C, 6th Engineer Support Battalion.


By Jonathan Clark


“I’m learning a lot of leadership techniques,” Edwards said, “and I think that’s going to help me to become a good pastor.”

Edwards, already known affectionately among his Charlie Company mates as “The Pastor,” is one of 39 Marine reservists in the Bisbee-Naco area providing support to the U.S. Border Patrol’s Naco Station. They are here as part of a long-standing Joint Task Force North effort that provides active duty, National Guard and reserve forces in support of federal agencies.

The Marines, who arrived in Bisbee Sunday and started work Monday morning, are building new border fencing, constructing low-water crossings and improving the border road in the Naco Station area.

It is help the Border Patrol is glad to have.

“This will allow us to get out to areas quickly, more safely and with our vehicles taking less of a beating,” the special operations supervisor at the Naco Station, Agent Mario Valdez, said of the road improvements.

As for the bollard fencing, a series of 6-inch square, concrete-filled metal tubes that allow free passage for water and small wildlife, Valdez expects it will further help in cutting down on illegal foot traffic in the area.

One thing the Marines will not do while in Arizona, however, is perform law enforcement duties.

As Joint Task Force North spokesman Armando Carrasco said, before the Marines set out on their mission, they were trained and tested on what they can and cannot do here. Among the things they cannot do is search, seize, detain or make arrests. The Marines are not even carrying firearms. If they see suspicious behavior, they report it to the Border Patrol agents who accompany them to the field.

The 6th Engineer Support Battalion is, by its very definition, an engineering battalion, and many of its reservists work in engineering- or construction-related jobs in their civilian lives.

“You can tell he’s done this before,” said Carrasco as a Marine deftly scooped up an old vehicle barrier with a backhoe and moved it away from an area earmarked for new fencing.

Other members of the team are relatively new to their trades, such as Lance Cpl. Ben Tani, 20, of Portland, Ore., who is working as a surveyor on the mission. Local surveyors are also helping out on the project, and Tani said he has already learned a great deal, both through practice and by working with his civilian counterparts.

According to Staff Sgt. Jason Barringer, the work site manager for the mission, this type of real-world training is invaluable for his men. The tasks they are practicing here are the same duties they will perform if deployed to Iraq.

Like Tani and Edwards, most of the Marines working in Naco are from northern climates — Charlie Company, the lead company in the local effort, is based in Peoria, Ill.; Alpha Company, also represented, is from Michigan; and the 6th Engineer Support Battalion is headquartered in Portland. As such, the transition to an Arizona summer has been a bit of a challenge. Some of the men have suffered chapped skin and nosebleeds, and sunburns are widespread.

“We’ve got water trucks going up and down the road to keep the dust down,” Barringer laughed. “I’d like to see some trucks filled with sunscreen out here as well.”

Still, the Marines are enjoying a few comforts that their various joint task force-affiliated predecessors lacked. Because of the relatively small number of men on this crew, they are staying at the air-conditioned San Jose Lodge hotel rather than at a base camp. And while they eat field rations for lunch, they enjoy breakfast at the lodge and dinner at Bushwhacker’s restaurant in Bisbee.

“It could be a lot worse,” Tani said.

In addition to deployments to Kuwait and Iraq, Barringer said the 6th Engineer Support Battalion has served on a number of humanitarian aid missions in Central America. One recent project saw the Marines constructing hurricane-proof schoolhouses and baseball fields in Nicaragua.

And while the battalion is well-traveled, this latest technical training in Arizona has provided many Marines with their first close-up look at the U.S.-Mexico border.

“In my mind, I pictured it a little bit different,” Edwards said. “The way the media portrays it, I thought it would be a lot crazier, with people jumping over fences and everything.”

In fact, Barringer said, the Marines have yet to encounter a single border-crosser since they arrived.

The battalion will be rotating groups of up to 50 Marines in and out of the area every two weeks until Aug. 6. The operation is not connected with the deployment of 6,000 National Guard troops that President George W. Bush announced last month

Sacrifice in Iraq leads to visit with president

Servicemen's families will greet Bush on visit here.

When he arrives today in Seattle, President Bush will take time to honor two local families who have sacrificed much.


Friday, June 16, 2006


Sheryl Sheaffer of Issaquah, whose three soldier sons, and only children, now serve in the Army in Iraq and Afghanistan, will fulfill a longtime wish by joining the greeting party for Bush when Air Force One lands at Boeing Field.

Brian and Shellie Starr of Snohomish, meanwhile, have been invited by the White House to share a lengthier, private session with the president here.

Their son, Marine Cpl. Jeffrey B. Starr, was killed in Iraq on Memorial Day last year. A last letter Starr wrote to his fiancée, intended to be found on his computer should he die, was shared by the family with the Seattle P-I and eventually came to Bush's attention. The president was visibly emotional as he quoted from it in a speech at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., on Nov. 30.

"I've always dreamed of meeting him," said Sheaffer, who also is active with her mom, Nadine Gulit, in founding Operation Support Our Troops, which is known for mailing care packages to troops overseas.

"I admire his steadfastness and backbone and consistency and giving our soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen what they need to win," says Sheaffer, who keeps a "Mother's Journal" on the Web. "I am angry at a Congress that voted to give him the authority for the war and now backs away from it," she says. "You can't blame somebody else for a decision two-thirds of them were part of.

"That takes support away from my sons. And that's personal to me -- don't ever back away from those kids over there."

The Starrs, meanwhile, said the White House told them Tuesday to expect at least 20 to 30 minutes in private with Bush. It follows up a promise voiced by White House staff last year when a White House speechwriter phoned seeking permission to quote from their son's supportive letter.

In a final letter to his fiancée, Jeff Starr, who was in his third deployment to Iraq, wrote:

"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."

Starr's parents eventually learned that Bush wanted one day to meet them.

"We're just very excited," Brian Starr said. The couple, their daughters, Hillary and Emily, and Jeff's fiancée, Emmylyn Anonical, will attend. The location and time remained sketchy Thursday.

Starr said his family was asked to bring photos. Bush wants to learn as much as he can about their son. While Brian and Shellie, like many close-knit couples, have differing opinions about the war in Iraq -- Brian favoring, Shellie skeptical -- the two set them aside out of respect for their son and in appreciation of Bush's gesture.

"We're Jeffy's proxy, and he would be so excited to meet the president. This is about Jeff, not about us. I want to honor Jeff and the office of the president," she said.

"If the president would allow it, I would like to pray with him."

Sheaffer's meeting likely won't provide a chance to pray with Bush. She routinely does that for her sons. She discourages efforts, however, to compare her family to the film "Saving Private Ryan," about a World War II effort to save and bring home a last surviving son among several who were killed.

"That's not my story. This is my story -- real life," Sheaffer says. "My boys have all the faith in the world that they are going to come home, and if they didn't come home, there was a reason for that that only God knew."

Joining her will be her mom, Nadine Gulit, and one son, Dylan, 22, who was home on two-weeks leave from Afghanistan before she was invited.

A year ago, Bush awarded the USA Freedom Corp Presidential Volunteer Award to Gulit for her work helping to found Operation Support Our Troops, which gathers volunteers to mail packages to troops and organizes rallies near Fort Lewis to support them.

Bush will present the same award when he arrives at Boeing Field to Norma Quiller, a 10-year volunteer mentor with Communities in Schools of Renton.

Sheaffer's oldest son, Scott, 24, is a combat engineer who finds and clears roadside bombs. He deployed to Iraq in August with the 10th Mountain Division. He has been wounded five times but not badly enough to be shipped home.

Adam, 22, is an Army medic with the 172nd Stryker Brigade from Alaska but works with the 1st Marine Division. He went to Iraq in August as well, and has been wounded once, though more seriously than his brother.

Dylan, meanwhile, also is a combat engineer with the 10th Mountain Division, but he finds and clears roadside bombs and mines in Afghanistan. He was deployed in February.

Overall, being a military family knits their support for each other and for Bush, Sheaffer said. Her husband, James, a Vietnam veteran, "is our quiet rock," she said. "We are determined they are not going to come home to what my husband came home to from Vietnam," she said.

Sheaffer is pleased that Bush is giving the Starrs, whom she does not know, private time. She has visited the Grand Army of the Republic Cemetery in Snohomish where Jeff Starr is buried and asked caretakers there about his funeral. Her father and father-in-law, World War II and Korean War veterans, are buried there, too.

The Starrs said they will remember those like Sheaffer's sons when they meet the president.

"If the opportunity presents itself, I want to talk to President Bush about the troops over there," Shellie Starr said. "Jeffrey cared about the troops being cared for."


President Bush will attend a private reception today in Medina to raise money for the re-election campaign of Republican Rep. Dave Reichert, who represents the suburban 8th District.

The midmorning reception, the president's only stop in this state, will be at the 8,000-square-foot, $10.3 million mansion of Peter Neupert, a Microsoft Corp. corporate vice president and former chief executive of drugstore.com Inc. Some protesters are expected outside the event.

Proceeds from the $1,000-a-head reception will go to Reichert, who is facing an aggressive challenge from Democrat Darcy Burner, a political newcomer and former Microsoft manager. But money from a $10,000-a-person photo opportunity with the president during the same event will go to the state Republican Party for campaign activities.


You can read more about Jeffrey Starr and his family at goto.seattlepi.com/271987

Fighting Griffins learning to fly with new wings

The Fighting Griffins of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 266 are no more — at least until the New River squadron, with its mythological beast of a mascot, learns to fly with new wings.

The kind that rotate.


June 16,2006

The New River-based CH-46 squadron stood down Thursday to begin training to fly the MV-22 Osprey. Once the squadron stands back up early next year, it will be the Marine Corps’ second deployable Osprey unit.

Right now, the Thunder Chickens of Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 263, another New River squadron, is training to become the first deployable Osprey squadron.

At a ceremony on the New River flightline, the squadron cased its colors and looked ahead to a part in “the next chapter of Marine Corps aviation.” It also paid homage to the aging CH-46, a two-rotor helicopter that dates back to the Vietnam era but is still serving in Iraq.

“This signifies the end of 46 operations (for the squadron),” said Lt. Col. Joseph George, who relinquished command of the squadron Thursday. “Everybody will go somewhere else, and that will be it for the Fighting Griffins.”

Much of the squadron’s personnel will move over to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Training Squadron 204, where they will learn to fly and maintain the Osprey.

The Fighting Griffins are expected to stand back up in March as Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 266, said Maj, Mike Ducar, a squadron pilot. Until then, Ducar said the pilots will go through a intensive training program, a “start from scratch” approach that will include classroom and simulator training before the pilots get behind the Osprey’s controls.

It’s expected to take the Fighting Griffins about 18 months to become a combat-ready Osprey squadron.

The Osprey is considered the future of Marine Corps aviation, despite being embroiled in controversy due to an expensive budget and a number of fatal crashes, including one in Jacksonville in December 2000 that killed four Marines. An Osprey at New River had a mishap in March that caused significant damage to the aircraft but no injuries.

The Marine Corps plans to purchase 360 of the tiltrotor aircraft — which can take off and fly like a helicopter and an airplane — and phase them into the fleet sometime in 2007. Each Osprey costs about $71 million.

1st Lt. Daniel Kaiser, who flew the CH-46 for more than a year including a seven-month tour in Iraq and is now preparing to make the transition to the Osprey, said he volunteered for the chance to do so.

“It’s a brand new aircraft and having the chance to be on the first wave of them,” he said. “There’s a lot of stuff it can do. It’s going to be a great asset.”

But Kaiser said he’ll still miss the old “Battle Phrog.”

“(The CH-46 is) a good aircraft but old,” he said. “It’s the same aircraft my dad flew in Vietnam.”

George, who has flown the Phrog for 17 years, said it was a bittersweet day for him.

“When I look at the 46, I think of ultimate reliability,” he said. “I was proud to fly that machine in combat.”

Mothers' memorial to US Iraq dead

In a suburb of St Louis, Missouri, two mothers are preparing a tribute to America's fallen.
They are making individual "comfort" quilts for the families who have lost a loved one in Iraq.


By Jonathan Beale
BBC News, St Louis, Missouri

Each quilt contains 30 squares - each with a written or embroidered message sent from all ages right across the country.

The sentiments are the same: "God heals hearts" or "Gone but not forgotten" or "Your sacrifice for our freedom will not be forgotten".

Jan Lang - who started the project - says: "Each square delivers a message of love and comfort to those families so that they know their soldier is not forgotten".

She contrasts that with the nation's collective amnesia in the aftermath of the Vietnam war.


Jan Lang started her project when her own family had a close brush with death.

Her son was a marine serving in Iraq. In January 2003, 18 of his comrades died near the Iraqi town of Nasiriya.

Jan at first thought her own son was one of the victims.
She says the relief on finding that he was still alive gave way to "survivor guilt".

"Why me?" she asked - and then provided her own answer by using her organisational skills to send out the comfort quilts.

Jan's first target was to make quilts for the 18 marines killed in her son's unit.

Then she decided to do it for the families of all those soldiers who had died.

At that time, the number dead stood at around 200. Now it has reached 2,500.

No politics

Jan and her volunteer helpers are finding it hard to keep up.

So far they have made just under 2,000 quilts.

Sewing the quilts together is not just taking its toll on her fingers, but her emotions, too.

Jan says that at first "every square I got, and every quilt I made, brought tears to my eyes".

She says she has had to learn to "compartmentalise" her feelings.

But even now she says it really hits home when the thank you letter arrives and she sees a picture of the person who the quilt was for.

But Jan does not question the rights and wrongs of the war. She says this is not a political gesture.

"What American has an opinion on - that's what America is all about - the freedom to have your own opinion".

But polls suggest that around 60% of Americans now think the war was a mistake.

And the longer this war goes on, and the more quilts she makes, others, too, are likely to question their country's presence in Iraq.

June 15, 2006

FOB may not be much, but it does have Wi-Fi

By Andrew Tilghman, Stars and Stripes
Mideast edition, Thursday, June 15, 2006

Soldiers arrived a few months ago at a forward operating base in Husaybah, Iraq — converted from a battle-scarred youth center — to learn they had no phones and no chow hall.

To continue reading:


Marines' families knocking heads with Corps brass for helmet pads, Marine families are following the lead of Bob Meaders, a former Navy Dr. and the grandfather of CP Marine, who has launched a drive to add non-regulation pads to standard-issue helmets.

John Maxie was riding in a Humvee in Iraq's Anbar province last week when two roadside bombs went off, searing him with blasts of intense heat and explosive force that felt like a 2-by-4 hit him on the head.


The Orange County Register
June 15, 2006

Maxie, 20, a Camp Pendleton-based Marine corporal, survived.

He and his parents believe they know what saved him from serious brain injury: a pad insert that he attached to his helmet before deployment in March.

"This pretty much validates the fact that the suspension kit is doing its job," said Maxie's father, Greg. "Our son was very lucky to be that close to a 'kill zone' of a blast and walk away with nothing but scratches and a hearing loss."

The Maxies are among many Marine families who are following the lead of Bob Meaders, a former Navy doctor and the grandfather of another Camp Pendleton Marine, who has launched a drive to add non-regulation pads to standard-issue helmets.

There's little scientific evidence on whether extra padding means better blast protection. But the Iraq war is yielding a higher percentage of brain injuries than any previous U.S. conflict, according to researchers. While some families take comfort in buying the pads themselves - and manufacturers are pushing the product in publications aimed at military audiences - the Marine Corps disputes the benefits.

Today, the issue gets its first airing on Capitol Hill when Meaders, expected to be joined by singer Cher, testifies before a congressional panel.

It's about time, says Meaders, who came out of retirement to launch Operation Helmet two years ago, aiming to get helmet liner kits sent to his grandson, Justin, and other Marines. To date, the group has shipped more than 8,000 helmet inserts to Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"It just needs to be done to save lives," said Meaders in a telephone interview from Glen Rose, Texas, about 70 miles southwest of Dallas. "My dream of this would be at the end of the day for the military to say that it can be handled and you, Dr. Bob, can go back to playing golf again."

Cher's interest was sparked by a newspaper story. The panel also will hear from military officials, but that portion of the hearing is closed to the public.

The U.S. Army and the Marines once used similar helmets. Now, the Army has issued the Army Combat Helmet, costing $306 each and manufactured with the pads already incorporated for Iraq-bound soldiers.

The Marines are updating their helmets but without the pads.

The Marine Corps says its new headgear - the Light Weight Helmet, at $190 each - is effective and meets the demands of its fighters. It contends that a padded helmet lowers protection against bullets, a point that is disputed by pad manufacturers and families, who say the Corps does not provide evidence to support that claim.

"At this point in the fielding process of the LWH, any donation to 'Operation Helmet' is just going to interfere with the protection system being fielded to our deployed Marines," said Capt. Jeff Landis, a public affairs officer at Marine Corps Systems Command in Quantico, Va., in an e-mail response to the Register.

"Their consistent marketing campaign is creating doubt with some of our leadership who are not part of the development and acquisition process and not abreast of our latest helmet programs," Landis wrote. "The campaign is also reducing the confidence of the operating forces in the equipment being fielded to them - the equipment that is saving their lives and reducing the severity of their wounds."

If included in the process of manufacturing the helmet, the pad system would cost about $60, said Mike Dennis, founder, president and CEO of Oregon Aero, a Scappoose, Ore., company that sells the helmet liner kits.

"For significantly less than $100, we can add this lifesaving addition, but it's being fought at the highest levels," Dennis said.

The Marine Corps has not stopped anyone from retrofitting its older helmets but says the pad kits are not authorized or needed with its new helmets.

Still, some Marines find them useful.

"In my opinion, they offer more protection and are more comfortable," said Capt. Randy Walsh, commanding officer of the headquarters and support company of the 7th Marine Regiment, in an e-mail from Iraq forwarded by a public information officer at Camp Pendleton. Walsh got the pads last year.

Researchers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., have found that about 30 percent of those admitted since the start of the fighting in Iraq were diagnosed with brain injury. Historically, the share of brain injuries in previous conflicts has been 16 percent to 18 percent.

Gale Strassberg's son Shane, 25, a Camp Pendleton-based Marine corporal, was deployed with John Maxie this year. It was his second tour in Iraq.

To date, her nonprofit group - Staten Island Project Homefront - has raised $35,000 and provided 291 pad inserts to Marines, 205 of them in her son's unit, AABN 3rd Track Charlie Company.

"I am not stopping fundraising until I get a cease and desist order," she said, adding that the Marine Corps should be ordering the pads. "Why are people like me and other people around the country doing this? You'd think we have an ATM in our back yard that we could just spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars here."

Strassberg, a Staten Island, N.Y., real estate broker, doesn't buy the Marine Corps' argument that its new helmet meets its specifications.

"I don't care what they say. Put (procurement officers) on the front lines and let them get hit by the IEDs and then ask what they say," she said, using the military acronym for improvised explosive devices, usually roadside bombs. "If the helmet insert saves one life, that's good enough. To me as a parent, my son is over there risking his life. I want to put my son in a rubber box."

Like the Maxies, Strassberg says she doesn't need more proof that the pads work.

Shannan Limon, formerly of San Clemente, sees the pads as a device that could help her Marine husband escape brain injuries in the war zone.

"The more I learned about it, I learned how important these kits are," said Shannan Limon, who went on a mission to raise $30,000 to retrofit about 300 helmets for those in her husband's company at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms.

Phillip Limon saw the pads as insurance. When Limon, a gunnery sergeant, went to Iraq for a second time last year, he took along the inserts, hoping they would blunt the impact of a bomb blast.

"The helmet stays on my head better," he said in an interview before deployment. "It fits like a football helmet, really nice and snug."

Harold Henson, a former Ohio State University fullback, knows something about helmets. He made sure his son Clayton has a helmet liner kit before he goes to Iraq next month. Clayton, 24, is a lance corporal based at Camp Lejeune, N.C.

Henson said he helped raise $20,000 for Operation Helmet.

The Marines "are saying we're interfering with what they do. How can I - a farmer - interfere with what the Marines do?" Henson asked.

The Marines say there have been no studies on the impact of blasts on head injury.

“There is currently no direct study linked to blast waves of IEDs with respect to head trauma and head injuries. There is no way of categorically analyzing any data in this subject area due to the varying degrees of IED lethality, size, percussion, blast distance, detonation, type, etc,” said Capt. Jeff Landis, a public affairs officer at Marine Corps Systems Command in Quantico, Va., in e-mailed responses to questions. “The true fact is that this is an area that needs a lot more work to garner true effects and develop effective solutions.”

The manufacturer of the Marine’s new helmet, Gentex Corp. of Pennsylvania, which also makes Army helmets, said the Marines did not seek a padded helmet.

“If you take the Marine Corps helmet and put the pads in you get the best of both worlds,” said Richard Long, the company’s ground equipment product specialist. “And as far as (head) area coverage, Marine Corps (helmet) is better.”

He said as a field test, he had sent padded helmets to a handful of Marines, who responded they liked the comfort and fit.

Gentex did not do any independent blast testing on the helmets.

Because of concerns about the pads, the manufacturer is being asked to include a disclaimer about the liners with any new shipments of the Marine helmets.

“It will be done with any future orders, and the exact wording is not yet finalized,” said Long in an e-mail.


Oregon Aero, based in Scappoose, Ore., says it has invested $7 million in research and development of its pad liner and suspension system since 1997.

That, officials say, is when their company was contacted by the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center in Natick, Mass., to produce a better suspension system for an improved helmet under development for the U.S. Army Special Operations Command, called the MICH helmet.

The Natick lab, as described by its Website, is “the Army’s one-stop soldier-support organization. Natick is responsible for researching, developing, fielding, and managing food, clothing, shelters, airdrop systems, and soldier support items.” Technical experts there could not be reached.

Oregon Aero developed its patented padding kit that was included in the MICH, which was one of the winners of the Army Material Command’s Greatest Inventions for 2002 award, company officials said.

The manufacturer of the new Army Combat Helmet – which evolved from the MICH – used 500,000 of Oregon Aero’s helmet pad kits and in a later run used a competitor’s pads, according to company officials.

Through continued research, Oregon Aero officials said they developed a similar suspension and padding system for the old and the new Marine Corps helmet. Inexplicably, they say, the Marines have shunned protection that would make the new helmet far better and safer for the troops.

“The old helmet has a high probability of serious injury in a bomb blast,” said Mike Dennis, founder, president and CEO of Oregon Aero. But with the inserts “in a survivable blast environment, there’s a low probability of head injury and that’s a significant change.”

Mike Buchen, CEO of Skydex Technologies Inc, in Centennial, Colo., a new entrant in the field of providing liners for helmets of all kinds, said Oregon Aero and his company are fighting the same fight.

“The battle is actually fighting the head injury in the concussion war,” he said. “The helmet pad is making these guys walk away, it’s (not) just about stopping the bullet anymore.”

Buchen said there is a grassroots belief among Marines that “the pads make a lot of sense.”

“And some of the pressure and grassroots movement on the Marines has been quite healthy,” he said. “They’re always looking for ways to protect the Marines and the helmet is no exception. If they can come to the same conclusion that the Army does, my experience with the Marines is that they work very quickly to correct the problem because there’s only 200,000 of them.”

A culture question

Scientific evidence is scarce, and some experts say there are too many unknown variables to measure which helmet protects troops better – the Army or the Marine version.

The Register attempted to reach Army technical experts who could speak to why the pads are used in Army helmets and how that decision was made but got no response.

John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, a Washington D.C.-based think tank, said so long as the Marines’ new helmets met the Corps’ safety requirements, that’s what counts.

“They did not set their specification out of willful indifference to the welfare of their Marines,” he said. “The Marines have been running around wearing helmets for centuries now.”

Marines near Iraqi-Syrian border mourn loss of three of their own

AL BU HARDAN, Iraq (June 15, 2006) -- Marines and sailors gathered at a small headquarters outpost near the Euphrates River to pay respects to three fallen brothers.

Two Marines and one sailor lost their lives while conducting security operations in a village near the Iraqi-Syrian border. Their vehicle struck a mine on one of the region’s dangerous roadways June 9, 2006.

June 15, 2006; Submitted on: 06/23/2006 12:57:11 PM ; Story ID#: 2006623125711

By Cpl. Antonio Rosas, Regimental Combat Team7

The three U.S. servicemen from Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, were memorialized at the outpost, which Marines call ‘battle positions,’ where they worked alongside Iraqi Army soldiers.

Lance Cpl. Brent B. Zoucha, 19, a mortarman from Clarks, Neb., Lance Cpl. Salvador Guerrero, 21, a mortarman from Whittier, Calif., and Navy Hospitalman Zachary M. Alday, 22, a corpsman from Donaldsville, Ga., traveled in the same humvee together on numerous missions, weeding out insurgents in Iraq’s western Al Anbar Province.

The three men ate, lived and worked together on a daily basis.

“I didn’t know them as well as you did but I know their sacrifices were not in vain,” said Lt. Col. Nicholas F. Marano, the battalion’s commander.

Marano, a Philadelphia native, urged his Marines to not allow the deaths to detract them from their mission, but instead to remember the sacrifices the men made.

“Take their memories and move forward,” said Capt. John W. Black, commanding officer for Weapons Company. “By doing so you are honoring them.”

As Black gave a final roll-call at the memorial, silence marked the absence of the fallen warriors.

Three sets of service rifles, dog tags, combat boots and Kevlar helmets – representation of the three men – were rendered one final salute under the midday sun in the 100-degree weather.

Following the service, Marines and sailors shared stories and memories of their fallen brothers.

Several recounted how Zoucha had an older brother, Derek, in the same platoon and how hard it was for Derek to see his brother die. Derek Zoucha was amongst the team of Marines who responded to the scene of the explosion. Derek was immediately evacuated to be with his family.

“They were real close but they had a professional relationship at work,” said Lance Cpl. Cody J. King, 22, a turret gunner with Weapons Company. “When they came to work together they were there to train and learn and that was it.”

King, from Phoenix, Ariz., lived at the same battle position as Zoucha, Guerrero and Alday. He shared many moments with the three men on countless missions through the various villages in this pocket of Al Anbar Province.

The Marines who operate in this remote region spend countless hours patrolling through miles of towns and cities, while loaded down with 60-plus pounds of protective gear. Countless missions, combined with Iraq’s unforgiving heat, leaves little to laugh or smile about, the Marines say.

Still, Guerrero managed to uplift everybody’s spirits with his uncanny humor, said the Marines.

“He was a funny character. He was very smart and he would always talk about his ‘my space’ web page,” said King. “He would always say things to make you laugh.”

On every mission “outside the wire,” Weapons Company Marines counted on the medical supervision of one man – a corpsman. For these Marines that man was Alday.

The platoon remembered their trusted corpsman Alday, or ‘Doc’, as they called him.

“He loved what he did. He was always trying to teach us about medical procedures,” said King. “He loved being a corpsman and he loved his Marines.”

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

Iraqi soldiers who work alongside the Marines and sailors here also stood in line to pay their final respects to the fallen servicemen they have conducted numerous foot patrols with.

Email Cpl. Rosas at [email protected]

Military Salute--Cpl. Rob Hill

Thousands of recruits graduate from Parris Island each year, and Cpl. Rob Hill is helping shape those recruits into one of the few and the proud.



Whether he's helping train young Junior ROTC members or training real Marine recruits for combat, Cpl. Hill gives it his all.

"I hold the security of the nation in high regard, and I feel like it's my patriotic duty to do my part in upholding the security," he said.

When Cpl. Hill is not giving Junior ROTC members an inside look into the life of real Marine recruits, he's performing a very serious and important job on Parris Island. He's a field training instructor on one of the most strenuous parts of recruit training, the Crucible. It's a 54-hour exercise preparing recruits for battle.

"That makes me feel good, knowing I have a part in ensuring the safety and survival of those recruits when they become Marines, to make sure they come home safely," Cpl. Hill said.

Cpl. Hill enlisted in the Marine Corps when he was just 17, and has proudly served our country for the past 4 1/2 years.

"This has probably been the best part of my career right here," he said. "Being here, being able to influence the future of the Marine Corps."

After two tours in Iraq, Cpl. Hill says he knows what he's doing here will help save lives. "I think it's important that we instill these values in recruits and teach them those skills that will save their lives later on down the road in Iraq and Afghanistan."

For his courage and dedication, we at WTOC salute Cpl. Rob Hill.

Reported by: Jaime Dailey, [email protected]

Lubbock Marines Prepare for Deployment

41 Marine reservists will be deployed from Lubbock to Iraq this summer. NewsChannel 11followed the Marines today as they began preparing for their leave at the Reserve Center. The group is part of Lubbock's Direct Support Motor Transport Company.



After undergoing pre-deployment training, they will be heading to Camp Pendleton in California. That's in about three weeks. After that training is complete, they will go to Iraq.

Marines near Iraqi-Syrian border mourn loss of three of their own

AL BU HARDAN, Iraq (June 15, 2006) -- Marines and sailors gathered at a small headquarters outpost near the Euphrates River to pay respects to three fallen brothers.


June 15, 2006
Submitted on: 06/23/2006
By Cpl. Antonio Rosas, Regimental Combat Team7

Two Marines and one sailor lost their lives while conducting security operations in a village near the Iraqi-Syrian border. Their vehicle struck a mine on one of the region’s dangerous roadways June 9, 2006.

The three U.S. servicemen from Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, were memorialized at the outpost, which Marines call ‘battle positions,’ where they worked alongside Iraqi Army soldiers.

Lance Cpl. Brent B. Zoucha, 19, a mortarman from Clarks, Neb., Lance Cpl. Salvador Guerrero, 21, a mortarman from Whittier, Calif., and Navy Hospitalman Zachary M. Alday, 22, a corpsman from Donaldsville, Ga., traveled in the same humvee together on numerous missions, weeding out insurgents in Iraq’s western Al Anbar Province.

The three men ate, lived and worked together on a daily basis.

“I didn’t know them as well as you did but I know their sacrifices were not in vain,” said Lt. Col. Nicholas F. Marano, the battalion’s commander.

Marano, a Philadelphia native, urged his Marines to not allow the deaths to detract them from their mission, but instead to remember the sacrifices the men made.

“Take their memories and move forward,” said Capt. John W. Black, commanding officer for Weapons Company. “By doing so you are honoring them.”

As Black gave a final roll-call at the memorial, silence marked the absence of the fallen warriors.

Three sets of service rifles, dog tags, combat boots and Kevlar helmets – representation of the three men – were rendered one final salute under the midday sun in the 100-degree weather.

Following the service, Marines and sailors shared stories and memories of their fallen brothers.

Several recounted how Zoucha had an older brother, Derek, in the same platoon and how hard it was for Derek to see his brother die. Derek Zoucha was amongst the team of Marines who responded to the scene of the explosion. Derek was immediately evacuated to be with his family.

“They were real close but they had a professional relationship at work,” said Lance Cpl. Cody J. King, 22, a turret gunner with Weapons Company. “When they came to work together they were there to train and learn and that was it.”

King, from Phoenix, Ariz., lived at the same battle position as Zoucha, Guerrero and Alday. He shared many moments with the three men on countless missions through the various villages in this pocket of Al Anbar Province.

The Marines who operate in this remote region spend countless hours patrolling through miles of towns and cities, while loaded down with 60-plus pounds of protective gear. Countless missions, combined with Iraq’s unforgiving heat, leaves little to laugh or smile about, the Marines say.

Still, Guerrero managed to uplift everybody’s spirits with his uncanny humor, said the Marines.

“He was a funny character. He was very smart and he would always talk about his ‘my space’ web page,” said King. “He would always say things to make you laugh.”

On every mission “outside the wire,” Weapons Company Marines counted on the medical supervision of one man – a corpsman. For these Marines that man was Alday.

The platoon remembered their trusted corpsman Alday, or ‘Doc’, as they called him.

“He loved what he did. He was always trying to teach us about medical procedures,” said King. “He loved being a corpsman and he loved his Marines.”

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

Iraqi soldiers who work alongside the Marines and sailors here also stood in line to pay their final respects to the fallen servicemen they have conducted numerous foot patrols with.

Email Cpl. Rosas at [email protected]

June 14, 2006

DoD News Briefing with Brig. Gen. Ham from the Pentagon -- excerpt: regarding Ramadi

GEN. HAM: Good afternoon. ..
...And with that, I'd be glad to take your questions. Please, sir.

Q General, President Bush said today that Iraqi and U.S. forces are working to restore security in Ramadi. Could you tell us specifically what's being done in Ramadi? Also, the U.S. military death toll is nearing 2,500, and could you give us your thoughts on the mounting toll?


Presenter: Deputy Director for Regional Operations, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Brig. Gen. Carter ham
June 14, 2006

GEN. HAM: Well, first, to the second part of your question. Each and every loss is felt hard by our nation, by the unit from which those individuals come, and certainly mostly by their families. I don't know that there's ever a way that you can adequately thank a family for the sacrifice that they make in the loss of a loved one. It's the hardest -- it's the hardest thing I think any of us ever have to go through when we experience those kinds of losses. Yet it's important to remember that there is -- there is a mission and there is a greater good which sometimes necessitates tremendous sacrifice. And the fact that we have had in our nation -- and in many other nations -- young men and women who have stepped forward, fully knowing the consequences of their action, to serve their nations in this time of war, to help the people of Iraq, to help the people of Afghanistan restore order, to establish legitimate governments, representative governments I think speaks volumes about this generation of young people.

So I guess I would say rather than focus on an aggregate number, I think it's more important for us to remember that there are individuals in that aggregate number. And those individuals are those to whom we should be very, very grateful, and to their families.

To Ramadi. I've said up here the past couple times that Ramadi is probably the most contentious city in Iraq, and I think it continues to be that way. It is ultimately the responsibility of the Iraqis to decide how they want to deal with reestablishing order and security in Ramadi. And we believe that they are, in fact, doing that.

We have a significant role in helping them do that with our own military forces and our forces that operate as embedded trainers and in other ways to support the Iraqi security forces.

I think those who are looking for perhaps a large-scale offensive may be somewhat off the mark. And I think what we will see increasingly is the Iraqis finding ways to increasingly establish the presence of Iraqi security forces, and we'll help them do that in any way that we can.

Q Can I just follow up on that quickly?

GEN. HAM: Sure.

Q Back in October, the Marines put out a statement -- they were handling what was called Operation Doctor back then, handing out medical supplies. And the statement at that time said of Ramadi, "Signs are pointing to a city that is ready for change." It also said Iraqi army and police units were preparing to take to the streets.

And I'm wondering, over the past eight months, what has happened in Ramadi? Has was it allowed to deteriorate? Is it a question of these Iraqi units weren't ready to take responsibility? Or is it a question of not enough U.S. forces where you pushed the insurgents out of Fallujah, they went to Ramadi, and you just couldn't cover all those areas? Essentially, what happened to Ramadi?

GEN. HAM: Well, I think there's a number of issues. And as much as we'd like to say it was "this," it's a combination of a number of effects. One of them -- and I think perhaps the most significant -- is -- I believe it's important to remember that al Qaeda in Iraq, other insurgent organizations, and those other entities that are opposed to the progress that is occurring in Iraq, I think they see that there is a limited window in which they can operate. And Ramadi may be an example of that, where there was progress that was being noted. And it may be the reason that we are where we are today is that al Qaeda in Iraq, and others, made a very, very concerted effort through campaigns of intimidation, murder, and other threats, to try to prevent the progress that you talked about in terms of security and other governmental functions. And so there is a contest there, and it's ongoing, and it's going to be a tough one. It's more than just military; there's obviously a reconstruction, and a humanitarian and governmental aspects to all of this. And certainly the U.S. military has a role in helping the Iraqis be successful, and we'll certainly do that.

Q But there was progress being noted there at the time. Why couldn't you capitalize on that? And why were the insurgents allowed to basically, you know, pull that back and --

GEN. HAM: I don't know. I mean, certainly we'd like to see -- you know, we'd like to see uninterrupted progress in all areas. But I think the nature of this conflict, the nature of insurgency is sometimes there are ups and downs, there are fluctuations in areas where you're able to have success, and sometimes it's two steps forward, one step back. And we've got to keep wrestling with it.

Darkhorse Marines secure road to Ramadi

CAMP HABBANIYAH, Iraq (June 14, 2006) -- A stretch of highway once called “IED Alley” just might get a new nickname.


June 14, 2006
Story ID#: 200661564434
By Cpl. Mark Sixbey, 1st Marine Division

Maybe something along the lines of “Darkhorse Drive.”

Marines of 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, are making steps to secure Main Supply Route Michigan, the highway connecting Fallujah and Ramadi. They built several new observation posts along the way, an area near the Euphrates River with no distinct city lines or local government.

The Marines are cutting into insurgents’ ability to move and plant improvised explosive devices.

“It’s to keep the major lines of communications open, prevent IEDs from getting in place, so as units transit back and forth it’s safer,” said Staff Sgt. William W. Heidelberger, a platoon sergeant for K Company.

Marines live in houses, which have no electricity or running water. They patrol the area, stand watch and labor to improve the post with temperatures exceeding 114 degrees in the sun.

Tough living conditions are nothing new for Marines in the infantry company.

“We do what we have to do to survive,” said Cpl. Matthew Brines, a motor transport operator attached to I Company. “There’s no amenities like at the forward operating bases, but we have what we need – a place to sleep, food, water and relative security.”

Heidelberger, a 33-year-old from Marvell, Ark., said he’s already noticed an improvement in the situation along the highway during the short time since his platoon began patrolling from their observation post, dubbed OP Falcons.

“So far we’ve only been here for a day, but we’ve managed to disrupt enemy activities … by maintaining constant surveillance and constant watch,” Heidelberger said. “As they try to do things, we can interdict them and disrupt and destroy enemy activities.”

The new positions along the highway enable the Marines to keep eyes on the road for anything out of place.

“There are signs we look for, a lot of obvious things that tell us if there’s going to be an attack,” said Cpl. James Walters, 21, from Houston.

A common method used by insurgents to attack Marines is planting roadside bombs along the highway. Seven have been found within a thousand-meter stretch of road, according to Sgt. Joseph Zolnai, a squad leader for I Company.

The 22-year-old from Holt, Mich., said the insurgency is more organized in their new area of operations.

“We deal with coordinated attacks a lot more now,” he added.

The change of operational tempo is welcome to many Marines in the company, who waited for a good fight since the battalion arrived in Iraq in January.

“We’ve seen more action as a company here in our first four or five days then we did in five months in Amiriyah,” said Cpl. Matthew J. Thienes, a team leader with I Company. “This place is the hub ... a way different pace and whole different ballgame.”

The 22-year-old from Lake Elmo, Minn., doesn’t mind the extra work, either.

“It’s fine,” he said. “We’re doing our job.”

Brines, a 22-year-old from White Lake, Mich., spent five months at Camp Smitty driving trucks to re-supply forward operating bases and drove for patrols. He got his first taste of enemy contact soon after the battalion shifted forces west.

“The other day, two IEDs detonated near my truck within 100 meters of each other,” he said. “It’s not natural to have bullets shot at you, but after being a Marine for three and a half years, it’s kind of exciting. It feels like we’re actually doing something.”

The company plans to reach out to the surrounding community and let the citizens know what’s going on, make allies and help the local Iraqis help themselves attain some peace and stability in the area.

“That’s always an ongoing process,” Heidelberger said. “We’re just now getting here and getting our feet wet, so as it develops a little more we’ll see what we can do.”

‘There was just no way I was leaving my boys’

Shot to the leg couldn’t get Marine out of the fight

By Geoff Ziezulewicz, Stars and Stripes
Heroes, Wednesday, June 14, 2006

With the typical stone-faced grit of a Marine, Staff Sgt. Anthony Viggiani is modest about how he came to be awarded the Navy Cross, the service’s highest award.

To continue reading:


June 13, 2006

Conway nominated to head Marine Corps

Lt. Gen. James Conway has been nominated to be the next commandant of the Marine Corps, which is struggling to overcome allegations of war crimes in Iraq.


The nomination announced Tuesday would put a new face on the Corps command, just as the current Marine commandant, Gen. Michael Hagee, is wrapping up visits to his troops in Iraq to reinforce the importance of adhering to Corps standards of behavior.

Hagee is due to complete his four-year tenure as Marine commandant in January, and there had been speculation that Conway — the director of operations for the Pentagon's Joint Staff — was being considered for the job.

If confirmed by the Senate, Conway will take over a Corps battered by alleged incidents of unprovoked assaults against Iraqi civilians.

Sen. John Warner (news, bio, voting record), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, welcomed Conway's nomination and promised a prompt confirmation hearing.

Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, praised Conway as "a superb officer" and "a true hero for the United States."

The nomination has been planned for months, Pace said.

"It has no tie to Haditha," he said.

Defense officials are investigating allegations that Marines massacred as many as two dozen unarmed civilians in Haditha last November. Another probe is under way into charges that U.S. troops pulled an unarmed Iraqi man from his home in Hamandiya in late April and shot him to death without provocation.

Hagee has vowed that any Marines who violated any military rules will be held accountable.

Prior to serving as director of operations, Conway commanded the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force during two combat tours in Iraq.


On the Net:

Defense Department: http://www.defenselink.mil

Marine Corps: http://www.hqmc.usmc.mil/

Insurgent attacks no match for Marines’ resolve

HAQLANIYAH, Iraq (June 13, 2006) -- In the afternoon of June 3, outside the Marines forwarding operating base located in the violent city of Haqlaniyah, three insurgents armed with automatic rifles and wearing face masks opened fire on Marines working in front of the barrier-laden base.


June 13, 2006; Submitted on: 06/13/2006 09:09:29 AM ; Story ID#: 20066139929

By Sgt. Roe F. Seigle, 1st Marine Division

The Marines returned fire and two minutes later, another squad of Marines flooded the streets outside the forward operating base in this city of 15,000 and launched an overwhelming counter-attack that resulted in two of three insurgents dead within 10 minutes.

The attack came on the heels of a previous attack less than a month ago when the Marines from Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment observed several armed insurgents around an abandoned hotel and attempted to disarm them. The insurgents ran into an abandoned hotel and returned fire from shattered windows. The assault ended hours later when military aircraft leveled the building with precision-guided munitions.

All the insurgents inside were eliminated and no Marines were injured.

According to Gunnery Sgt. Jim Lanham, company gunnery sergeant assigned to Kilo Company, attacks against the Marines are commonplace in Haqlaniyah.

Usually, mortars are shot at the base twice a week and there were occasions when grenades were thrown over the walls into the base as well, said Lanham.

However, the Marines are not being passive about the attacks, said Lanham.

“The Marines are responding well to the attacks and are not afraid to fight back,” said Lanham. “They remain vigilant and motivated. They are reflecting back on their training and following the directions of their leaders.”

Lt. Col. Norman L. Cooling, commanding officer of the battalion, said Lanham’s aggressive action against the insurgents that day was highly commendable.

“The aggressive action of this staff non-commissioned officer of Marines epitomizes everything we expect of leaders in this type of combat environment,” said Cooling. “It was a focused and immediate attack. Lanham seized the opportunity at hand while precisely destroying the enemy without collateral damage and keeping the Marines’ honor clean.”

Lanham said he was just doing what any of the noncommissioned officers in his company would have done.

“I did what I had to do and I know if any of the other Marines in Kilo Company were in that situation, the outcome would have been the same,” said Lanham.

Regardless, Lanham said the Marines are not just focused on quelling the insurgency in the winding streets of Haqlaniyah, located south of Haditha. Lanham, and the rest of the Marines from Kilo Company, patrol the streets of Haqlaniyah with 3rd Civil Affairs Group, which provides an interface between the battalion and the local populace and assists with economic and governmental development.

Marines recently went to a local school. This time, they were not just armed with their weapons, but also several large boxes of school supplies to include paper, pencils, crayons and more than 1,000 book bags, all of which were donated by generous Americans, said Staff Sgt. Omar Palaciosreal, a team leader assigned to 3rd CAG.

“We go out on average five times a week to engage the population and establish a good relationship with them,” said Palaciosreal, a native of Moreno Valley, Calif. “There are a lot of residents in Haqlaniyah who are undecided as to whether they support the insurgency or coalition forces and we are trying to tip the scales in our favor by showing the residents we care about them with acts of kindness.”

Palaciosreal, 28, just like Lanham, has been the target of an insurgent attack while deployed to Iraq.

While traveling through the Al Anbar province in a convoy on April 5, Palaciosreal’s vehicle was hit with an improvised explosive device and he lost some of his vision in his right eye from shrapnel.

He faced a decision – return stateside out of harm’s way, or remain in Iraq.

He stayed.

“There is still work that needs to be done in Haqlaniyah,” said Palaciosreal. “Security equals stability which will equal progress. The more we suppress the insurgency, the more we can accomplish to make the quality of life better in Haqlaniyah.”

After the attack, Palaciosreal, along with Marines like Lanham, tackled another project aimed to improve the quality of life for the residents of Haqlaniyah.

Many local workers at a local water plant were being threatened by insurgents, restricting workers to operating the tower for only a few hours a day and leaving many residents without fresh water for several hours during the day.

The workers’ only request was they get assurance from the Marines that they would not allow insurgents to intimidate them while they worked, said Palaciosreal.

The water tower is now operational and provides potable water to residents 24 hours a day.

“The insurgents can intimidate unarmed citizens who just want to lead a peaceful life, but they are not going to intimidate the Marines from Kilo Company,” said Lanham, shortly after the attack in front of the base.

Palaciosreal said city council members are now attending meetings with Marines to discuss future plans to rebuild the city’s infrastructure.

“I believe we have earned the respect of the children in Haqlaniyah,” said Palaciosreal. “They are the future of this country and the future government.”

Palaciosreal cites the fact that many children recognize him immediately when he enters homes in the area to talk to residents and address their concerns and he is regularly greeted by a child who hugs him in the doorway. He said when Marines earn children's respect, they quite often earn their parent's respect as well.

“Marines are making progress in the overall mission they have here in Iraq,” said Lanham. “I am proud of the Marines in Kilo Company. They are the best Marines I have served with in the 16 years I have been a Marine.

“We are halfway done with this deployment,” said Lanham. “Haqlaniyah is going to be a better place when Kilo Company leaves here.”

Major’s death in Iraq a suspected suicide

The Marine Corps is investigating the June 3 death of an officer in Iraq as a possible suicide, officials said.

Maj. Michael D. Stover died “of a suspected self-inflicted gunshot wound” at Taqqadum, a large air base west of Baghdad in Anbar province, according to 1st Lt. Kevin Schultz, a spokesman at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz. (MWSS 374)


Stover, 43, who was assigned to the Yuma-based Marine Wing Support Squadron 371, was on temporary duty in Iraq with Marine Wing Support Squadron 374, which is based at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms, Calif., Schultz said in a June 7 news release.

Stover enlisted in the Corps in 1980. He first deployed to Iraq in February 2005 and returned in October.

Jail time sought in Okinawa taxi robbery

An Okinawa, Japan, public prosecutor demanded prison sentences on June 7 for two Marines charged with robbing a cab driver at Camp Foster on Jan. 7, Stars and Stripes reported June 9.

According to the report, Prosecutor Masahisa Yokota sought a five-year prison term for Lance Cpl. Henry Dwayne Morgan and a four-year sentence for Lance Cpl. Reginald Q. Lowery Jr. during final arguments in Naha District Court. Both Marines are members of Camp Foster’s Headquarters and Service Battalion.

According to evidence presented at a previous hearing, Morgan, Lowery and a third Marine who has not been named allegedly plotted the robbery while drinking in their barracks. Prosecutors have alleged that the third Marine called for the cab and that Morgan walked up to the taxi as it arrived, displayed a knife and demanded money from the 62-year-old driver, who was not harmed.

According to the report, defense lawyers asked for suspended sentences, saying that the driver accepted apologies from the two Marines.

Accuser storms out of court at rape trial

A Filipino woman who has accused four U.S. Marines of rape stormed out of a Manila courtroom June 8 as a witness detailed how he saw her dumped on the pavement after an alleged sexual attack in a van, according to a Reuters report.

The Marines, being detained by the U.S. Embassy, deny the charges filed in December, saying only one of them had sex with the woman and that it was consensual.

Naval Criminal Investigative Service agent Tony Ramos informed the court June 8 he was not authorized to testify, citing diplomatic immunity. But the judge threatened to hold him in contempt for refusing to testify and said he would ask the Foreign Affairs Department to clear up the situation.

The case has put the spotlight on Manila’s close relationship with Washington, with critics arguing that a Visiting Forces Agreement gives U.S. soldiers too much protection.

Hearing for sailor charged in death

A preliminary hearing was set for a sailor charged in the death of a Marine whose body was found in North Carolina in January, the Navy said June 8.

The Article 32 hearing was scheduled for June 12 for Petty Officer 3rd Class Cooper Jackson.

The hearing will determine if Jackson will face court-martial on charges of murder, kidnapping, impersonating an officer from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and obstruction of justice in connection with the death of Cpl. Justin L. Huff, 23.

Huff’s body was found Jan. 13 in a wooded area of Currituck County, N.C. Huff had been missing since Jan. 2 from Oceana Naval Air Station.

Both men attended the Navy and Marine Corps Intelligence Training Center in Virginia Beach, Va.

Teen Veteran Learning to Deal With War Injuries

Marine Lance Corporal Rex McKnight is just a teenager. He served in Iraq for only one month, but the experience has scarred him for life.


June 13, 2006
Reported by Andrea Conklin

He will tell you he has seen death and survived. But he will also show you there is a great difference between surviving and walking away unharmed.

The simplest movements create a daily struggle for Rex, both physically and emotionally. Screws and metal keep his joints in place, making it difficult to ever get comfortable.

"It's annoying. Bugs the heck out of me," says McKnight.

At only nineteen, this US Marine spends three to four hours a day in therapy. His occupational therapist, Leo Garza, is helping him regain critical hand function.

"So he can assist with dressing, self-care activities, any kind of work activities," says Garza.

His physical therapist, Dennis Ang, is helping him regain control of his body. And today, for the first time in months, he's walking without a cane.

As usual, not everything comes easy the first time around, but every small accomplishment makes Lance Corporal McKnight stronger.

"My faith in God builds more," says Rex.

Rex believes it's an act of God he's even alive. On April 2, he and four other marines were patrolling the Iraqi city of Ramadi, searching for explosives.

"Guess we didn't catch this one. All in a few seconds, the explosion happened. I could see fire. And the good Lord pulled me out of there. I landed like 30-40 feet away from the vehicle," says Rex.

The other four in his humvee died. Rex believes he was saved because God isn't done with him yet. And so the fight continues to fulfill the duty he has yet to meet.

It's a future filled with challenges, but one Rex won't take for granted.

"After being couped up in a bed for two months, you know, you walk by a flower and it's the best thing you see," says Rex.

LAR patrols the streets of Habbaniyah

CAMP HANBBANIYAH, Iraq (June 13, 2006) -- Marines from 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion wouldn’t consider themselves good neighbors unless they lent a hand combating snipers, small-arms fire and roadside bombs in 120 degree heat.


June 13, 2006;
Submitted on: 06/14/2006 05:24:18 AM ;
Story ID#: 200661452418
By Cpl. Graham A. Paulsgrove,
1st Marine Division.

For two weeks, D Company, 3rd LAR, assisted 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment take over a new area of operations in the city, located between Ar Ramadi and Al Fallujah. They patrolled the region, conducting counterinsurgency operations and keeping the routes clear of improvised explosive devices, in addition they assisted in several humanitarian efforts.

“We kept the area secure while 3/5 ... got a more solid stance in the area,” said Pfc. Gary D. Cassen, 18, a scout with the company from Colfax, Calif.

For the two weeks the company operated in the area and both platoons had a continuous presence in their portions of the town. They didn’t sit back and wait for the action. They leaned forward and took the fight to the insurgents.

“We have been really busy,” said Lance Cpl. Albert D. Garcia Jr., 21, a scout from Corpus Christi, Texas. “It’s been pretty hot. There has been a lot of activity and there are a lot of insurgents out here.”

The Marine’s work paid off immediately. They disrupted the flow of the insurgents in the area.

“This is the busiest time we have had since we have been in Iraq,” said Sgt. Alexander C. Herbert, a 23-year-old squad leader, from Alexandria, La. “We did a lot of dismounted patrols and security sweeps through the city looking for insurgents. We put a lot more pressure on the insurgents by going through their back yard.”

He added the insurgents know they are up against a formidable force.

“They now know that if they try to blow us up, we are going to patrol in, find them and mess them up,” Herbert said.

The unit was busy in their area up until the time they were replaced. On their last day of operations, they found five IEDs.

“While one platoon would operate in the village, the other was waiting nearby as a quick reaction force, so if anything did go wrong, one platoon is ready to go if the other platoon needs back up,” Garcia said.

The backup force didn’t sit idly by, though. They were called into the mix when firefights broke out. The overwhelming force killed attacking insurgents and sent survivors on the run.

“We’re driving them out, making this a safer zone and eventually we will shove them out of the whole country,” Herbert said.

It wasn’t all trading shots with insurgents, though. Marines spent time off the light armored vehicles to help out local Iraqis. They passed out food and gift items, including soccer balls, to area residents, Ward explained.

“We’re cutting down the insurgency and bringing the power back to the Iraqi people,” Garcia said. “There is a lot of work that still needs to be done, but we are making steps forward.”

Marines working with local police in Qaim

CAMP AL QAIM, Iraq -- A Marine Corps police transition team is working here to equip and train Iraqi police. While there are many obstacles to surmount, there are signs of progress, U.S. officials here said.


Jim Garamone
June 13, 2006

When Maj. Robert Marshall, the officer in charge of the Police Transition Team here, arrived in April, there were two half-built police stations and three or four officers. Now there are hundreds of police on the rolls and officers to lead them.

The coalition team has 17 members split between U.S. military active-duty and reserve personnel and civilian police officers from the International Police Liaison Office. "The PTT team is a guide to help the Iraqi police stand up and be an effective force in the area," Marshall said.

Unlike Iraqi army soldiers, police officers must be recruited locally. Iraqi men have stepped forward in this predominantly Sunni area to serve. Once selected, police recruits go to a 10-week training academy in either Baghdad or Jordan and report back here.

The Iraqi police are the true local security force, Marshall said. "Most of them live within walking distance of their stations, which is what makes them so dangerous to the insurgents, because they know who doesn't belong in their neighborhoods," the major said. "When something goes wrong, we have no clue what's going on out here, and they are tapped in."

But there are many obstacles. Most police squads do not have adequate vehicles, radios or gear to be effective, Marshall said.

Fallujah and Ramadi -- key cities in the area -- get the lion's share of resources in Anbar province. Qaim has a lesser priority, U.S. officials said.

The goal in the area is for 2,000 Iraqi police. But a 40 percent literacy rate in the region cuts the number of potential recruits and makes that goal difficult to achieve. The Iraqi army is more established and drains the pool of recruits even more, officials said.

A saving grace is the good working relationship the police team has with the U.S. Marine Military Transition Team in the area and with the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines -- the coalition security force in the region.

Pay is another problem for Iraqi police. Interior Ministry officials are working to deal with the problem, but often the money just doesn't arrive, U.S. officials said.

Marshall said the transition team members thought they would be working to help the police learn investigative techniques. But for the most part, the team is working to strengthen logistics and "giving moral support."

There have been disappointments. Marshall said local police have been left waiting for high-frequency radios, digital cameras and ammunition.

"Yet, with all the problems, we still have hundreds show up for work every day," he said. "This is their home. They tell you what it was like here two years ago. They don't want it to be like that again.

"They want us to leave too, but they understand they can't do it on their own. After the al Qaeda nutcases they had to deal with out here, they certainly prefer us to them."

Marshall said relationships count for everything out here. "The last time I was out with the (Iraqi police), I slept in their barracks rather than come back out here," he said. "It showed that I trust them.

"You need to let them know you trust them so then they trust you back," he continued. "When things are down -- they are not getting paid, they are not getting uniforms, they are not getting equipment -- and they know you actually give a damn about them, then they will stay and keep with you.

"If they think you don't care," he added, "they'd be out of there the next day."

June 12, 2006

Most dangerous block on earth

RAMADI, Iraq –- Smoke is always drifting up the stairwell deep inside the government center compound in downtown Ramadi.


by Kimberly Johnson
Monday, June 12, 2006

A bevy of couches and chairs crammed under its alcove and along a facing wall makes up the Smoke Pit, the main social hub for 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment’s Kilo company. Marines relax on couches made of rough, floral patterned velveteen that grabs at the seat of your pants. A lone naked florescent bulb stretches long and flat against the wall, casting a greenish artificial glow over those smoking their cigarettes and cigars. The ashtray is the casing of a 66mm anti-tank high explosive rocket tube filled to the top with sand. Not everyone sitting in the Smoke Pit is a tobacco connoisseur, though. Some just take advantage of one of the few places to sit down, where they can eat their food out of plastic pouches.

I was lured to the Smoke Pit one recent afternoon, by music. It wasn’t the jarring death metal that pumps out of the room of dusty gym equipment. And it wasn’t the twangy and familiar country music that I’ve heard spill out of side rooms down the barrack’s hall. The sound was completely different -– unvarnished, freshly made and almost delicate.

I rounded the corner and found Cpl. Cliff Hudson sitting on one of those smoked up couches strumming chords on a small backpacking guitar. Effortlessly, he played from memory song after song, such as “Oh My Sweet Carolina” and “Sweet Home Alabama.” And like me, Marines started turning up to listen. They fell into the couches, talking among themselves. Some sat completely still, silently staring off into space.

As Hudson’s fingers worked the strings, we talked. When he has time between patrols, he likes to play his guitar. It’s a release. He used to play a bit in clubs back in Nashville, after finishing college a few years ago with a psychology degree, right before joining the Marine Corps.

“Why not go in as an officer?” I asked.

“I think you should work in the lobby before moving up to the penthouse,” he said.

We talked of those first things we plan on doing when we eventually leave Iraq. “I want to go to Memphis,” I confided, to get lost in some bourbon and blues. He is looking forward to Costa Rica. He could barely contain his wide grin as he told me the details of his upcoming Latin America honeymoon in a hut on the beach. He’s learning the details about it piecemeal as his fiancé plans it, along with the wedding, back home.

“She’s earned it,” he said.

That space tucked under and around those stairs is one of the few places Kilo company can relax in the fleeting downtime between patrols. There, I met another southerner -- Lance Cpl. Mike Young, a baby-faced Newport chain smoker originally from Princeton, Ky.

Young, like most of those I’ve met in 3/8, is on his third deployment. He was a natural storyteller with a self-deprecating, dark humor. He took me through a winding tale of Haiti, where the punch line had him walking waist deep through raw sewage, falling into a hole and eventually going completely under. Then, he wandered to the outskirts of Fallujah, where the battalion was deployed just last summer. One day there, he was so hot he started to hallucinate. He was in a cornfield and swore he saw a Wal-Mart across the way, he said with his Kentucky drawl. He remembered looking at his buddy that day, saying, “I bet they’ve got cold water.”

Young described to me the tattoo he plans on getting on his forearm when he gets home –- a 50-cal with a glowing red barrel sitting on a mound of brass shell casings. “To Ramadi, with love,” it will say.

Young high-fived his buddy Pvt. 1st Class Chris Vaughn during a shift change.

During their last deployment –- in Fallujah –- “we actually knew people and they liked us,” Young said. “I’d go out and sit down and eat some food with them.”

This deployment is different. “We’re completely surrounded. Everything around us is completely hostile,” Young said of their position here in downtown Ramadi. “This is the most dangerous block on earth."

Marines living ‘outside the wire’ on Syrian border see progress

Battalion focuses on foot patrols, contact with locals

By Andrew Tilghman, Stars and Stripes
Mideast edition, Monday, June 12, 2006

OBEIDI, Iraq — One month ago, out in the far western corner of Iraq, the Marines set up a new forward operating base. Navy Seabees wired it for electricity. Air conditioners were installed. And a platoon of Marines moved into the desert encampment.

To continue reading:


2-year re-ups

Not ready for 4 more years? Corps offers 24-month re-enlistments

It happens almost every year. The clock is ticking, and the Corps just needs a few more bodies to re-enlist to fulfill its yearly quota. And officials have been throwing cash — up to $45,000 — at Marines to sign the dotted line for a few more years.


By Christian Lowe
Times staff writer

But with nearly 200 unfilled re-enlistment slots for first-term Marines, the manpower gurus at Quantico, Va., are trying a radical experiment — they are offering two-year tours. While the program is limited this time out, if it works, it could be expanded to a broader range of first-termers and be offered earlier in the year.

It’s a different angle officials are trying in an effort to keep some Marines who are not willing to commit to a full four-year re-enlistment, but they’re not quite ready to make that transition out to the civilian job market, said Maj. Trevor Hall, enlisted retention department head for Manpower and Reserve Affairs at Quantico. “We’d rather keep them on for another two years than not have them at all.”

If you’re not sure you want to re-up for four years, but the idea of leaving Marines in your unit high and dry for the next Iraq deployment is giving you a case of the sweats, the two-year option may be the program for you.

The shorter commitments, and cash incentives for those who sign for four or more, are intended to help retention officials with Manpower and Reserve Affairs sweep up the last few Marines they need to close out this year’s re-enlistment goals.

The Corps has also decided to extend by one month the deadline Marines must meet to decide whether they want to re-up, closing out the re-enlistment programs by the end of August.

The plan to offer two-year contracts comes as the Corps is facing mounting pressures from the civilian job market for Marines with the kind of skills that are in high demand, especially in government agencies and private firms that do contract work with the Defense Department. The cash incentives and shorter enlistments are aimed at nearly 60 military occupational specialties for Marines who are deciding whether to re-up for the second time or more and 52 jobs for first-termers — most of which are in what the Corps calls “high-demand, low-density” fields, such as intelligence and high-tech communications.

The re-enlistment plans are detailed in a May 26 Corps-wide message, MarAdmin 249/06.

The new incentives also come at a time when manpower officials in all the services are trying to think of new ways to entice skilled troops to stay but also accommodate family, education and professional development needs.

“Our primary competitor for these [jobs] are lucrative civilian employment opportunities,” Hall explained. “These individuals ... have top-secret clearances, very high aptitude scores, and they’re very sought-after for civilian employers.”

So far, the Corps has retained 5,638 career Marines — those enlisting for the second time or more — out of its 6,250 goal. Manpower planners are a little behind on the career Marine ascension goals this year because they needed to re-up about 1,000 more Marines this year than last, although officials said there wasn’t a single reason why that number increased.

“You can’t read between the lines,” said Maj. Jerry Morgan, enlisted career force planner with Manpower and Reserve Affairs, of the 1,000-Marine increase. “I take the requirements and I develop a plan based off the current requirements.”

More than 98 percent of first-time re-enlistees had signed up again by May. That compares with a 95 percent rate at the same time last year, officials said, forecasting an early close to the FTAP list by the original June 30 deadline.

Specialized jobs

Despite the early success, manpower officials are still at pains to refill many of those specialized jobs that are hard to get Marines into in the first place because of the high aptitude scores needed and the draw from the civilian job market.

For decades, the Marine Corps has offered selective re-enlistment bonuses to Marines in certain job fields who sign on for another four years in the Corps. Marines who re-up this year could earn as much as $45,000 if they have the kind of highly sought-after job skills the Corps requires, an increase over previous years that allowed a maximum bonus payment of $35,000.

So far the Corps has spent about $80 million of its $85.2 million for this fiscal year’s SRB funds.

Although Marines have been given another month to decide whether they want the cash, and the extra years of service, the Corps is still trying to tempt wavering devil dogs into staying green with more than money.

The two-year re-enlistment option for first-term Marines is just one option. Manpower planners would rather have the longer re-enlistment because it increases the number of assignment options.

Officials have been looking at options over the years to keep certain leathernecks in the Corps. The Corps has offered two-year “probationary” re-enlistments for Marines who need extra mentoring before they’re allowed to stay on for the full four-year tour and has signed on Marines for extensions if they’re on deployment or about to be deployed.

“This re-enlistment option is another venue they can take for that,” Hall said of Marines who want to re-up, often so they can deploy with their unit when they return to the combat zone.

It may sound like a tempting offer, but Marines who are considering the two-year option should read the fine print. Those who choose this option forfeit re-enlistment bonus money and have little say in where they’ll be assigned. Marines who are in MOSs that are full will not be allowed to make a lateral move to a qualified MOS with the two-year option, officials said. They must re-enlist for four years to make a lateral move.

“We realize that some have made that decision that they’re not going to stay,” Hall said. “Our view is that if they won’t re-enlist for 48 months, perhaps they will for 24 months.”

The two-year option could be expanded beyond first-termers in those last-minute MOSs, Hall said, and officials are looking into other enticements to keep certain skills, such as special pays for Marines with specific language aptitudes and bonus pay for reconnaissance Marines.

June 11, 2006

Medical evaluations among latest operations Marines, sailors teach Iraqi Security Forces

WESTERN AL ANBAR PROVINCE, Iraq (June 11, 2006) -- Iraqis from the Euphrates River villages of Al Amari, Haffha and Zella say they have never had immediate, quality health care.


June 11, 2006
By Cpl. Antonio Rosas, Regimental Combat Team7

U.S. Marines in the region are looking to change that.

Recently, Marines and sailors from the Twenty-nine Palms, Calif.-based 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, along with a handful of Iraqi soldiers, provided two days of medical evaluations to citizens of the small villages in Iraq’s western Al Anbar Province.

The operation was the first of its kind in the area where Iraqi soldiers and Marines conduct daily security patrols, weeding out insurgents and the improvised explosive devices terrorists plant alongside Iraq’s roadways.

“We’re here to help the people with their medical problems and seeing what types of medical needs the Iraqis have in this area,” said Navy Lt. Leonard Blinder, the battalion’s surgeon. “Eventually, the Iraqis will have to carry out operations like this by themselves with their own doctors.”

An Iraqi Army officer was present with several Jundi – Iraqi Army privates – in order to learn how to conduct an operation of this nature on their own as Iraqi Security Forces continue towards taking the lead from U.S. forces on all military operations in Iraq.

The team of Iraqi soldiers, Marines, and Navy corpsmen set up their temporary medical clinics at elementary schools in each town. They advertised the free medical evaluations through a loudspeaker and the citizens responded immediately. During the ‘doctor visits,’ patients described their grievances and U.S. physicians evaluated the problems.

Within several hours, more than 100 Iraqis received an evaluation by the Americans. The large turnout for the village of less than 1,000 Iraqis was a clear sign that cooperation is improving between Iraqis and the Iraqi Army, according to Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Christoforo, team corpsman for 3rd Civil Affairs Group.

As the citizens made the short trek to the clinics, they were immediately greeted by Iraqi soldiers who provided security.

“It was the Iraqi soldiers who the people saw right away when coming to this clinic and they were able to see that it was the Iraqis taking charge,” said Staff Sgt. Jason C. Neale, a platoon sergeant with the battalion’s Company A.

Neale stresses the importance of operations like these because the Iraqis living in the tiny villages in this remote corner of the country have seen very little of the Iraqi Army, he said.

The battalion has just recently begun patrolling many of the small Euphrates River communities, which had no previous contact with Coalition forces until the Marines built an outpost, or battle position, near the numerous villages.

U.S. military physicians treated a number of Iraqi patients, many who were suffering from rashes, infections and muscular pain, according to the corpsmen.

Medication was provided whenever possible, while several of the Iraqis with medical conditions beyond the capabilities of the clinic were directed to the local hospital in Ubaydi, more than 20 miles away.

dDuring the second day of the operation, Marines and sailors went house-to-house to inform citizens of the free medical evaluations.

“It’s just one way that we are demonstrating to the locals that we are here to help them and we want to make sure they are not helping the insurgents,” said Blinder.

For each patient assessment, an Iraqi officer stood by taking notes and interacting with the people of the village. The 35-year-old officer spoke with every patient and provided a relaxed atmosphere among the throng of villagers by answering their questions, according to the U.S. physicians.

Overall, citizens were friendly and responded in large numbers to the operation according to Neale, who has exchanged smiles and greetings with citizens while patrolling the streets here on a daily basis.

The recent presence of the Marines here is eliminating any possible hiding place for insurgents looking to settle in the area, according to Neale.

“We didn’t expect any problems from the people,” said Neale. “The people know we’re out here every day and that we want to help them.”

Despite the positive response from the locals, Marines living in this area are still encountering improvised explosive devices and mortar fire on a near-daily basis.

Until recently, the only presence the locals had with the Marines and Iraqi Army were daily security patrols, according to 1st Lt. Craig O. Davis, a platoon commander with Company A.

“We’re trying to gain as much intelligence about the insurgency in this area as we can,” said Davis. “For every patrol the Iraqi soldiers are with us and that’s important because they really help us out when we’re trying to talk to the people.”

During daily security patrols, Davis said it is not unlikely to encounter locals who seek the Marines out for some type of medical assistance.

When Company A Marines patrol through an area, a corpsman will sometimes aid the locals however he can or he will point them in the right direction to seek further medical care, said Davis.

While this is the first operation of its kind in the small villages bordering the Euphrates River, Marines and sailors plan on holding similar future operations alongside Iraqi soldiers, they said.

“The more we do these types of operations, the better the Iraqi soldiers will be able to handle security on their own,” said Christoforo.

Email Cpl. Rosas at [email protected]

'Rocket Man' rocks Ramadi

RAMADI, Iraq (June 11, 2006) -- The crack of insurgents firing rounds overhead sends him into action to find his target and neutralize it - fast. The Marine assesses multiple enemy targets approximately 400 meters away. He sights in. His finger steadily squeezes the trigger as a single shot jets from his rocket launcher. The explosion rocks the earth as the perfect hit is rewarded by the now silenced enemy – courtesy of the "Rocket man."


June 11, 2006
By Cpl. Joseph DiGirolamo ,
I Marine Expeditionary Force

“They are calling me ‘Rocket man’ because of all the rockets I’ve fired since we have been here,” said Lance Cpl. Richard M. Mason II, of Medina, Ohio. “It’s an adrenaline rush to be the guy firing the rocket during a firefight.”

Mason has accurately fired 24 rockets in combat and his teammates have dubbed him appropriately.

The 21-year-old assaultman with K Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment has become a vital asset in the ongoing battle against the insurgency in the capital of Al Anbar province.

“During almost every engagement he has stopped enemy fire by destroying insurgents held up in a building,” said 1st Lt. Carlos M. Goetz, 2nd platoon commander. “Without hesitation he has exposed himself to enemy fire numerous times in order to execute my intent and help his fellow Marines.

“Twenty-four is an awesome feat. He has become very proficient at his job,” said Goetz, 29, from Miami, Fla.

Mason decided to follow his grandfather’s footsteps by joining the Marine Corps in October of 2003. So far during his enlistment, he traveled with 3rd Bn., 8th Marines to the Caribbean in 2004 and participated in Operation Secure Tomorrow in Haiti. He battled the insurgency in Fallujah in 2005 and now, on his second tour to Iraq, he is helping to improve the security conditions in Ramadi.

His weapon is a portable anti-armor rocket launcher known as the shoulder-launched multi-purpose assault weapon or SMAW. When fully loaded, this 30-pound weapon can destroy bunkers and other fortifications during assault operations. It even has the capability to bring down battle tanks.

In 2004, Mason attended the School of Infantry after graduating boot camp. This is where he learned to become efficient with his favorite weapon system. The mixture of class room instruction and live fire proved to be the perfect recipe for Mason’s growing skill.

“My instructor had the same last name as me and he was always pushing me to be better,” said Mason. “On SMAW ranges I took everything very serious as if I were in combat.”

While the SMAW system is effectively equipped with a technologically-advanced optical device and 9 mm spotting rifle, Mason prefers the old-school method when aiming in on his targets, even in the dark.

“I prefer the iron sights. I don’t use a scope or the spotter,” said Mason. “In this type of environment you don’t always have time to use those things.”

One night during an attack on the Government Center, mortar teams launched illumination rounds to give Mason enough light to see his target. However, the objective was not the only thing the flare illuminated; it also exposed Mason’s position on the roof. Insurgents spotted him and rounds came flying his way. That night he fired four rockets in heavy contact to repel the attack.

“It’s not difficult to fire. It’s the loud explosion going off right next to you that’s hard to deal with,” he said. “People anticipate the recoil but there is none and as far as the explosion you just have to learn to deal with it.”

In another situation, K Company Marines at the Government Center began exchanging machinegun fire with insurgents May 2. The insurgents managed to burrow themselves inside a well fortified building which made it harder for the Marines to eliminate the threat. Mason was ordered to fire a rocket at the building from the rooftop. He scrambled to the rooftop again exposing himself to incoming fire, his teammates laid down suppressive fire and he launched a rocket at the building.

“His quick reactions possibly saved the lives of his fellow Marines. You only get one opportunity to shoot it,” said Goetz. “It leaves a big signature, so you need to be on target.”

Cpl. Jeremiah A. Hendricks, an operations clerk for the battalion, met Mason during their deployment in Haiti.

“I’m impressed by what he’s done. It motivates me to know his skills are being used well in battle,” said Hendricks, 23, from Atlanta, Ga. “It takes a lot of courage to be exposed to enemy fire so many times.”

Hendricks is one of many of Mason’s fellow comrades who say he is an outstanding Marine and asset to the platoon.

“He displays a lot of maturity and is always willing to do the job,” said Goetz. “He’s an advantage to our platoon and the Marine Corps benefits from having him in their ranks.”

“It makes me feel good when they specifically call for my name over the radio when they need to send a rocket down range,” said Mason. “I feel like a real asset.”


Description: AL ASAD, Iraq – U.S. Marines and Iraqi Soldiers operating in western al Anbar province, Iraq, expedited the medical evacuation of two Iraqi boys who sustained wounds from an improvised explosive device June 9.


Christopher J. Augustine

The Marines were manning a traffic control point on a road approximately two kilometers east of Ar Rutbah when the boys’ uncle approached the Marines and requested medical assistance for his wounded nephews.

The uncle stated the two boys were watching sheep approximately seven kilometers north of Ar Rutbah when the IED exploded, wounding the children.

Iraqi soldiers and U.S. Marines rendered first aid and coordinated the medical evacuation of the two boys to a nearby U.S. military medical facility. They were assessed by U.S. military medical personnel to be in stable condition and transported to a U.S. military hospital in Balad for further treatment.

The Marines who operate in Ar Rutbah are part of the Twenty-nine Palms, California-based 3d Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 7. The unit arrived in Iraq in March.


June 10, 2006

15th MEU adjusts to ship life

USS BOXER (June 10, 2006) -- In the Marine Corps, as a department of the Navy, Marines have always studied and learned about their strong naval founding and traditions even though it is something that a majority of Marines will never experience.


June 10, 2006
Story ID#: 2006622125048
By Cpl. Scott L. Eberle, 15th MEU

But for the ones that do end up spending time on a naval ship, many Marines agree that it is a big adjustment from typical Marine Corps life that is not always an easy one to make.

The 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit recently embarked on the USS Boxer for their first at sea training exercise this year, and though many of the Marines in the unit have deployed on a ship before, getting back on a ship still takes some getting used to.

“You basically have to live your life on ship according to one big schedule,” said Sgt. Fred Pollick, Supply Admin Chief for the 15th MEU Command Element.

“There are only certain days and times when you are allowed to do your laundry, go to the gym, get a hair cut or go to the ship store-so you really have to utilize your time management skills throughout the day,” he said.

Even if you do find the right time to get things done, it may not always be easy to get your task accomplished.

“The Navy is always doing training drills in different parts of the ship which blocks off some of the passageways causing you to constantly find alternate routes,” said Lance Cpl. Diego E. Garcia, an infantryman with the 15th MEU’s Maritime Special Purpose Force.

When a unit such as the 15th MEU embarks a ship, enlisted troops live in berthing areas where they will fit up to 120 service members into a single room.

“Everyone has to hygiene a lot when we live in the berthing,” said Garcia.

“When you pack an entire platoon of Marines into a single room, naturally the smells can get overwhelming so we are constantly cleaning ourselves or our living area to keep it looking and smelling nice,” he said.

Along with the physical hurdles that service members have to overcome on ship, there also comes hurdles that challenge the mind and resolve of each individual.

According to Garcia, almost all communication with life outside the ship is cut off, and when it is available it is not always easy to get through.

“The ship’s phones don’t always work,” said Garcia. “And when they do work there is usually a long line and you have to buy an expensive phone card to use them.”

Although there are computers all over the ship with email capabilities, due to security precautions, access to these computers is sometimes restricted.

“Email access is extremely limited, and when it is available it doesn’t always work, or works very slow,” he said.
Despite the challenges, Marines find productive ways to keep their minds and bodies occupied. Due to small gym space, you can often find Marines either running on the flight deck or doing sprints up steep ramps leading from the well deck all the way to the flight deck.

At the end of the work day service members return to their berthing where many Marines bring personal computers to watch movies and play games on. It is also an opportunity to get some reading done, often reading military related books, or completing Marine Corps Institute classes.

Throughout all the difficulties of living a ship life, Marines and sailors around the world do what they need to, to remain combat ready and answer the call for battle, wherever that may be.

Scout sniper serving in Iraq awarded U.S. military’s third highest award for valor

CAMP AL QA’IM, Iraq (June 10, 2006) -- When Sgt. Jarred L. Adams retrieved the body of a fallen Marine from a burning humvee, he says he was simply doing his job.

June 10, 2006
By Cpl. Antonio Rosas, Regimental Combat Team7

The 22-year-old scout sniper assigned to 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, was awarded the Silver Star while currently deployed to Iraq with the southern Calif.-based unit for a second time.

The Silver Star is the nation’s third highest military award for combat heroism after the Medal of Honor and the Navy Cross.

“I don’t think I did anything any other Marine wouldn’t do,” said Adams, from Wasilla, Ala. “I would do it again if it came down to it.”

In January 2005, during Operation Iraqi Freedom II, Adams was deployed with the battalion to the Iraqi-Syrian border region of western Al Anbar Province.

In the city of Husaybah, a city of about 50,000 citizens, Adams’ humvee was attacked by insurgents with machine guns and rocket- propelled grenades.

When his vehicle crashed and became stuck, Adams immediately took up a stable position and returned fire at the enemy. After Marines dislodged the vehicle, Adams and his squad drove back to retrieve another humvee lost in the melee.

That’s when a rocket- propelled grenade struck Adams’ vehicle, killing one Marine and wounding others inside. Adams received shrapnel from the blast as well as burns from the vehicle which was set ablaze from the attack.

After seeking a safe position, Adams realized the body of the fallen Marine was still inside the blazing vehicle. Running back into the burning vehicle and, while under enemy fire, Adams retrieved the Marine’s body and carried him through an intersection while broadly exposed to enemy fire.

It wasn’t until Adams and the other Marines were back in the safety of their headquarters that Adams sought medical treatment for his wounds.

He downplays his actions in the firefight, and said that he feels that any Marine would have performed as he did.

“I am very proud that we can count on Marines like Cpl. Adams,” said Lt. Col. Nicholas F. Marano, Adams’ commanding officer, during the ceremony. “He is an example of the kind of leaders we have in this battalion.”

Marano took the time to address his Marines who are serving at a remote forward operating base, or “battle position,” as the Marines call it, north of the Euphrates River. The battalion arrived in Iraq three months ago to provide stability and security, alongside their Iraqi Army counterparts, to a cluster of towns in the region.

“I think all of you are doing an outstanding job and I am very proud of the work you are doing with the Iraqi Army,” said Marano.

Adams says nothing has changed during this deployment except that things are a lot quieter now in regards to insurgent activity. The battalion has not had to face a direct insurgent attack, like the one Adams faced in January 2005, during their current deployment.

The last major U.S. and Iraqi-led offensive against insurgents in this region occurred in November of last year, a mission dubbed, “Operation Steel Curtain.” The operation resulted in more than 250 killed insurgents.

Email Cpl. Rosas at [email protected]

Iraqis in Al Anbar province leaving army in droves

Soldiers tired of poor living conditions, irregular pay

By Andrew Tilghman, Stars and Stripes
Mideast edition, Sunday, June 11, 2006

HADITHA, Iraq — Iraqi soldiers in Al Anbar province are leaving their army in droves, draining much-needed manpower from fledgling Iraqi security forces and preventing U.S. troops from reducing troop strength in the volatile region, U.S. and Iraqi military officials say.

To continue reading:


Mustangs join Marine Corps Color Guard

Three wild Nevada mustangs gentled and tamed by prison inmates were handed over to the U.S. Marine Corps Mounted Color Guard on Saturday.

The ceremony at the Warm Springs Correctional Facility in Carson City was followed by a public auction of 15 other horses and a burro.


Posted: 6/4/2006

All of the horses were found on public lands, got necessary veterinary care and were taken to the prison for a four-month training program. Inmates working with horses must have a good record while incarcerated.

This was the first time the Marines have adopted horses trained at a prison, Gunnery Sgt. Ivan Collazo Sanchez said. The federal Bureau of Land Management suggested it to the Marines.

"They're behaving great, excellent," said Sanchez, who is based out of Barstow, Calif., as he rode one of the horses. "We're very impressed."

The Mounted Color Guard participates in the annual Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, Calif., along with other parades and shows.

"Dawn," an 8-month-old burro, was first on the public auction block.

"She's a cutie, and they say she has quite the personality," auctioneer Tony Barrati told the crowd.

Dawn was sold for $700 to Barbara Scofield of Dayton.

"I came here specifically to bid on the burro because my horse died a month ago, and my donkey was lonely," said Scofield, 54, who also purchased a horse.

The Waller family of Truckee purchased "Zeus" for $900. "He likes to go riding straight into a gallop and I love to gallop," said teenager Cammie Waller. For her eighth-grade graduation and 14th birthday, she's getting the horse from her parents, Richard and Laurie Waller.

Inmate Chris Terry, 27, who is in prison for a DUI that involved a death, said taking part in the horse training program makes the time go by faster.

"I've been in prison for six years, and this program has saved me from going insane," said Terry, who trained "Karma," who was adopted for $2,600. "We put a lot of love into the horses, but it's good when you see them going off to a good home. It makes it all worth it."

June 9, 2006

Marlboro Man of Fallujah...Gets Hitched

PRESTONSBURG - They said their “I do's” under a setting sun.

A year after they were legally wed, Pike County's own “Marlboro Man,” Blake Miller, finally celebrated a storybook wedding with his wife Jessica Holbrook Miller at the StoneCrest Golf Course in Prestonsburg Saturday night.



Miller, a 2003 Shelby Valley High School graduate who grew up in Jonancy, shot to international fame in 2004 when his photograph an on newspaper front pages across the country. Taken by Louis Sinco, who attended the ceremony, the photo was first published in the Los Angeles Times. It was shown by correspondent Dan Rather on the CBS Evening News, who called it called it ”the best war photograph of recent years.”

“See it, study it, absorb it. Think about it. Then take a deep breath of pride. And if your eyes don't dampen, you're a better man or woman than I,” Rather said..

Miller became the public face of the U.S. military action in Fallujah in Iraq.

Miller's fame continued after his return from war to Pike County, thanks to numerous newspaper articles detailed his struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder, an ailment family members say he still struggles with.

According to an Associated Press report published earlier this year, Miller said he began experiencing sleeplessness and nightmares soon after returning from Iraq early last year. The Marines, concluding that Miller could be a threat to himself or to his colleagues in any future combat situation, granted him an honorable discharge.

Miller became a civilian Nov. 10, the one-year anniversary of the date when the famous photograph from Fallujah hit the newspapers, the AP reported.

His homecoming in February 2005 was televised nationally on the CBS Early Show. In June of that year, he and Jessica were married. They live in Pikeville.

“It's emotional,” said Jessica Miller, an instructor for The Dance Gallery in Virgie, before the ceremony.

She has had her wedding gown on layaway since the first time she and her husband said their vows.

Missie McCoy, co-owner of Signature Events in PIkeville, scattered purple flower petals in the grass and talked about the five-month planning of the wedding.

When she took them to StoneCrest to see where they would like to get married, a heavy downpour came and the couple joined her on the club house deck. That's where they saw a “perfect rainbow,” McCoy said.

“This place was just meant to be for this ceremony,” said McCoy. “It was perfect. I was gorgeous.”

The couple requested a “down-home” wedding.

Among family members and friends, California residents Eunice and Ron Davis joined in the celebration. Eunice Davis read an article about Blake Miller and decided to help the couple have the wedding of their dreams.

“It was a very compelling article about Blake, about what he went through in Iraq,” she said. “Through everything they've been through their desire was a wedding, not something big, not a new car, but something bonding.”

She contacted the Pike County Chamber of Commerce, who helped her begin the wedding planning with Signature Events. Her donation inspired others to donate as well.

The “Marlboro Man” is still smoking. After the ceremony, he stood near his wife puffing, but he hid his cigarette behind his back when he hugged the wedding guests who came to wish him well.

Copyright © 2006 Appalachian News-Express All Rights Reserved.

Operation ‘Cool Carpet’ bridges relationships

Iraqi Army Cpl. Husein Abass Husein unloaded a box of prayer rugs for a local mosque. Operation Cool Carpet combined Marines with A Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment and soldiers from the Iraqi Army to deliver the rugs along with two new air conditioning units.


June 9, 2006; Submitted on: 06/12/2006 04:40:34 AM ; Story ID#: 200661244034

By Cpl. William Skelton, 1st Marine Division

GHARMAH, Iraq (June 9, 2006) -- Marines with A Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment – along with soldiers from the Iraqi Army – brought a breath of fresh air to a local mosque.

Operation Cool Carpet delivered two new air conditioning units and a box of prayer rugs to the Iraqi people near Gharmah.

“This is basically a mission of good will,” said Sgt. Juan J. Mendez, a 24-year-old squad leader from Gardena, Calif. “This hopefully will help the Iraqi soldiers become more trusted in the community.”

Marines from A Company have operated in the area since the battalion’s arrival in January. They have built strong relationships with the Iraqi people while fighting the insurgency in the area.

“We have worked closely with the people in this area,” said 2nd Lt. Patrick M. Lynch, a 28-year-old platoon commander from Alsip, Ill. “Whenever they voice a need in the community, if we can, we try to help them.”

One of the missions of the battalion is to be able to turn over more battle space to the Iraqi Army. The Marines took this opportunity to include the Iraqi soldiers. Soon, Iraqi soldiers will be working these regions on their own. Trust between Iraqi soldiers and locals is just as important as it is for Marines and locals.

“We want the people to know the Iraqi Army is here to help them as well,” Mendez said. “This is the first time we have worked with them. They look pretty sharp from what I can see.”

A crowd of people formed outside the mosque as the Marines and soldiers pulled up in their humvees. The delivery didn’t take long, but the reception was warm and welcomed.

“I enjoy coming out and helping my people,” said Iraqi Army Cpl. Hussein Abass Hussein, a 24-year-old soldier from Najaf. “I just wish we could do more of these types of events.”

Marines, Iraqi soldiers and civilians alike grabbed the units and the box of rugs from the back of a humvee. The soldiers and the local Iraqi men carried the items into the mosque once they were unloaded from the truck.

“It is great to see that we can help out the people,” Hussein said. “It is good for us to do this. One day we will be fully responsible for the area.”

Hand shakes and prayers of thanks were shared between the Iraqis and the Marines. As quickly as they came, the forces loaded up and were on their way.

“Today’s mission was a success,” Lynch said. “Everything went as planned and no one was injured. I couldn’t ask for more.”

No set dates are in place for the Iraqi Army to take over the company’s area of operation. Everyday though, the Iraqi Army is taking on more responsibilities in the area.

“We are getting closer to going home everyday that passes,” said Mendez. “Things like this are good for the Iraqi soldiers. One day this is all going to be theirs and they will have complete control.”

Free lawn care offered to deployed troops’ families

A national nonprofit organization is mobilizing lawn and landscape companies to provide free lawn care for families of service members who deploy to the Middle East.


June 09, 2006
By Karen Jowers
Times staff writer

More than 1,000 companies around the country have signed up for “GreenCare for Troops — Serving You While You Serve Us” since it began May 22, said Katherine Brandenburg, a spokeswoman for Project EverGreen, whose mission is to promote healthy landscapes and green spaces. mowing, aeration and grub control. A variety of services will be available depending on the area of the country, she said. About 100 families have signed up for the free service.

If a family signs up for the services in an area where a contractor has not volunteered, Brandenburg said, they will contact local companies to try to help them. While they cannot guarantee there will be a local contractor who has volunteered to help the family, they will do their best to link up families with a contractor.

“This was inspired by one of our contractors in upstate New York who offers this program,” Brandenburg said, in an effort to ease the stress on families left behind when the service member deploys.

Military families incur no cost or obligation for applying, she said. Interested families should log on to http://www.projectevergreen.com/ and complete an application that asks for name, e-mail address, daytime phone number and address.

Families can also call toll-free 877-758-4835 to have an application mailed.

June 8, 2006

Reorganization creates new line-up for Bridge Company

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (June 8, 2006) -- In wake of the recent re-organization and restructuring of the 2nd Marine Logistics Group, 8th Engineer Support Battalion’s Bridge Company has created three new platoons – one of which is the first of its kind outside of division commands.


June 8, 2006
Story ID#: 2006689111
By Cpl. Matthew K. Hacker, 2nd Marine Logistics Group

The three new platoons are individually skilled and are as follows: Construction Platoon, Route Clearing Platoon and Security Platoon.

Construction Platoon will be responsible for general support engineering to the II Marine Expeditionary Force by building firm base structures, entry control point outposts and obstacles, such as roadblocks.

Security Platoon will provide convoy and site security for Construction Platoon during all their missions, as well as providing escort security in support of all MLG missions.

The company’s third platoon, Route Clearing Platoon will conduct mechanical and visual route clearance by sweeping for improvised explosive devices in conjunction with Explosive Ordinance Disposal to clear all threats from the roads.

Route Clearance operations and equipment are now fielded with the front line units in response to the enemies’ tactic of using IEDs to attack the troops, according to Capt. John P. Bruzza, commanding officer, Bridge Company, 8th ESB.

“The tactics and equipment are evolving at a fast pace, and it is cutting edge engineer operations that the Marines of Bridge Company look to add to their arsenal of engineer capabilities,” he continued.

This capability only previously existed in 2nd Marine Division, with an Army National Guard engineer battalion conducting route clearance operations,” said Bruzza. “But now, with the restructuring of Bridge Company, we can bring the capabilities to the MLG.”

Due to the close proximity, Engineer Support Company will be able to run a route repair team behind the clearance team to repair craters on and off of the roadway, according to Bruzza.

“The Route Clearance Platoon is so important because it’s the safest tool we can use to hunt for IED threats on the roads of Iraq,” said Bruzza. “By constantly locating and destroying IEDs, we force the insurgents to repeatedly expose themselves to emplace those devices, as well as drain their resources and erode their support.”

While the platoon’s potential is getting closer by the day, training the Marines to work in a new environment is something that comes with experience, according to Bruzza.

After building the platoon, Marines in RC Platoon will be traveling to Fort Leonard Wood, MO., to receive training on the route clearance equipment. They will be educated on the various vehicles designed with a V-shaped hull to deflect blasts and armor to provide protection from direct fire and fragmentation.

“The next deployment to Iraq dictates manpower more geared toward the organization of a line engineer company – able to conduct survivability, mobility, counter-mobility and general engineering missions,” Bruzza explained.

Bridge Company is scheduled to deploy February 2007 for a tour no less than seven months. Once the deployment culminates, they will reform back into a regular task organization.

24th MEU begins deployment

The ships loomed over the horizon while the Marines lingered at Onslow Beach, their last chance to enjoy American soil — in this case sand — for months.


June 08,2006

More than 2,000 Marines and sailors with the Camp Lejeune-based 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit said goodbye to their loved ones Wednesday as they prepared to set sail for Europe, the Middle East and, most likely, the war in Iraq.

The MEU will spend the next few days preparing for their departure, loading equipment and personnel on the ships of the Iwo Jima Expeditionary Strike Group. The Marines themselves will travel aboard the USS Iwo Jima, Nashville and Whidbey Island.

They will probably leave by Friday.

While deploying is never easy, there comes a point when the seabags are packed and the Marines and sailors are ready to go, said Col. Ron Johnson, the MEU’s commander.

“For most of the guys, the anticipation of the deployment finally being here, there’s relief,” he said. “They just want to get the game on now.”

The MEU officially began its predeployment training in December, bringing together separate pieces into one cohesive unit. It’s a rapid-response force that can operate independently and respond to a myriad of threats, anything from embassy evacuations to combat missions.

The MEU is made up of Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 8th Marines, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 365, MEU Service Support Group 24 and a command element.

At 1/8’s headquarters, members of the battalion mingled with their families and friends while waiting to board buses to the beach.

Staff Sgt. Charles Berglund said goodbye to his wife, Agatha and his 16-month-old daughter, Jacklyn. Tears in his eyes, he described what it’s like to leave his family behind.

“It’s horrible,” he said. “Especially now, I just had (Jacklyn) and this is my first time away in a long time. It’s pretty hard. You want to be back here and taking care of your family.”

Berglund joked with his first sergeant that his baby daughter was part of his gear, and that he needed to bring her along.

Cpl. Jason Veazie was preparing to leave behind a 3-year-old son and a 3-month-old daughter, who was being cradled and fed by her godfather, Cpl. Kevin Compton, another 1/8 Marine preparing to leave.

“It’s the worst feeling in the world,” Veazie said of leaving his family. It’s his second deployment, and he said this one is harder than the first.

Cpl. Jason Blondin, facing his first deployment, was giving his mother his vital papers to hold onto while he’s gone. He said he’s been keeping himself busy to avoid thinking about the departure.

“As long as I’m busy, it’s not too bad,” he said. “I look at it as, not a vacation, but just leaving for awhile and then I’ll be back.”

His mother, Beth Blondin, said she tries to stay positive and think about other things.

“There’s lots of goodbyes,” she said. “You try not to think of where he’s going.”

“We don’t even know where we’re going,” Blondin replied.

And that’s the truth. As of right now, the Marines know only that they will be deploying to the European and Central Command theaters of operation. Beyond that, their missions will depend on where they are needed.

Iraq is a likely destination. While they have don’t know if they will go there or not, Johnson said the MEU wants a chance to contribute to the war effort.

And, of course, he wants to bring everyone back safe.

“The perfect deployment is go and come back with everybody you left with,” he said. “We’re hoping to get everybody back. But we understand we are going into harms way.

“I couldn’t be more proud of the Marines and sailors,” he added. “America should be proud of these guys and gals who give up the best years of life to serve their country.”

Contact staff writer Chris Mazzolini at [email protected] or 353-1171, ext. 229.

24th MEU charges into breech once more

ABOARD USS IWO JIMA (June 8, 2006) -- Approximately 2,200 Marines and Sailors with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) set sail this week for the European and Central Command theaters of operation, marking the MEU’s return to the front lines of the Global War on Terrorism.


June 8, 2006
By Cpl. Jeffrey A. Cosola, 24th MEU

The deployment comes on the heels of a rigorous training cycle that kicked-off in November and concluded last month with the MEU earning its “Special Operations Capable” designation after the successful completion of its Certification Exercise.

After tearful farewells with family and friends, Marines and Sailors set their sights and steely-eyed focus on the task ahead and reveled in the excitement of taking the fight to the enemy as part of one of the nation’s premier expeditionary rapid-response forces.

Leaving behind his parents and a girlfriend, Cpl. Mark Lugo, an airframes mechanic from Weslaco, Texas, who is assigned to Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 365 (Reinforced), is heading out for his third deployment and said he’s happy to be going with the 24th MEU, which he said is “battle-ready.”

Like Lugo, many of the troops are returning for their second or third overseas deployment, making the MEU an experienced, battle-hardened force that is capable of thriving in a multitude of chaotic scenarios. Still, a number of Leathernecks are going into battle for the first time.

“I hear everyone’s stories and I want to get right over to the fight,” said Pfc. Nathan Gilkerson, a native of Luray, Va., and a mortarman with Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment. “I wish we could fly straight over.”

The MEU is a flexible force that can devastate the enemy in small-scale, low-intensity conflicts with the speed and precision of a special operations force. It can overwhelm threats with the soul-crushing intensity of a Marine Air Ground Task Force that features several rifle companies, tanks, and the uncompromising power of a reinforced helicopter squadron.

The 24th MEU, which completed its last overseas deployment -- a seven-month tour in Iraq -- in February 2005, is composed of its command element; BLT 1/8; HMM-365 (Reinforced); and MEU Service Support Group 24.

Marines 'Race for the Cure' at Al Asad

AL ASAD, Iraq - Two Marines with Marine Wing Support Squadron 274 run during a half marathon June 3, at Al Asad, Iraq. The run was in support of the Susan J. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation's Race for the Cure. Fourteen Marines ran 14 miles and earned $240 dollars to go towards breast cancer research. MWSS-274 operates under Marine Wing Support Group 37 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing.


June 8, 2006; Submitted on: 06/08/2006 07:37:59 AM ; Story ID#: 20066873759

By Lance Cpl. Brandon L. Roach, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing

AL ASAD, Iraq (June 8, 2006) -- Marines with Marine Wing Support Squadron 274 ran a half marathon in support of the Susan J. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation's Race for the Cure here June 3.

The drive and motivation for the 14 Marines was given by 1st Lt. Brandon E. Cooley, heavy equipment officer-in-charge, and Gunnery Sgt. Ryan S. Hermance, engineer company first sergeant, when they pitched the idea of a run to their co-workers.

Cooley lost his mother to cancer in 2001 and made the commitment to running the Race for a Cure to remember her.

"I had the opportunity to run races for cancer awareness with her after her first battle with cancer," said Cooley. "When she died, I decided to continue the tradition."

The original plan was to run the three miles arranged by the Al Asad Marine Corps Community Services, but when that was cancelled they took it upon themselves to organize a run.

"We couldn't back out and it was for a good cause," said Cooley. "Besides, not many people can say they've run a half marathon in Iraq."

"Everyone knows someone who has been affected by breast cancer," stated Hermance. "Even though we are deployed to Iraq, we wanted to show our support to the cause and to Cooley."

After two and a half hours and 14 miles, the Marines crossed the finish line. They raised $240 for the foundation, which was donated by fellow Marines.

MWSS-274 operates under the umbrella of Marine Wing Support Group 37 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, while in Iraq.

Zarqawi's Death and Task Force 145

What are we to make of the death of terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi?

The hopeful view is that the death of this important commander and inspirational figure will deflate the terrorist influence in Iraq.


The cynical view is that this it is just another announcement of progress from the administration at a time when it is down and out.

Then there is the anti-everything view, the one that cannot recognize that Zarqawi was a real foreign terrorist in Iraq, there to foment chaos and death. The anti-everything view cannot see beyond loathing for the war and for all things Bush to recognize an achievement, even if it is only a little step.

We can't know today what the success will mean. Violent anti-U.S. and anti-government factions in Iraq have expanded far beyond just al Qaeda and foreign fighters. Undoubtedly, there will be an acceleration of attacks and activity by Zarqawi supporters in the short term to prove that they are still there.

There is no denying, nonetheless, that an Iraqi national military, government and people are slowly moving in the direction of some semblance of normalcy and security. This is good news, because it is imperative that the United States leave Iraq and leave its security to its own people -- and that can only happen when Baghdad has assumed enough responsibility to allow an exit.

The "Delta" team charged with the hunt for high valued targets is currently called Task Force 145, though little is known about it composition or operations. Reliable reports have said that the TF is divided into four teams, three U.S. and one from the U.K. The teams have been occasionally augmented by Army rangers and paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division, and have been supported by special operations helicopter and combat units, as well as by fixed wing aircraft units operating in support of quick reaction targeting.

The American and British "head hunters," sometimes called kopf jagers, are headquartered at a "black" special operations camp inside Balad airbase, north of Baghdad. Seven or eight members of TF 145 have been killed so far in the hunt. I compiled this list of eight who seem to be assigned or attached to JSOC:

3 February 2006: Army Sgt. 1st Class Lance S. Cornett, 33, died during a firefight in the vicinity of Ramadi

24 December 2005: Army Master Sgt. Joseph J. Andres Jr., 34, died in a firefight in Baqubah

31 May 2005: Army Sgt. 1st Class Steven M. Langmack, 33, killed by hostile fire in Al Qaim, Iraq

28 August 2005: Army Sgt. 1st Class Obediah J. Kolath, 32, killed by explosive device in Husaybah, Iraq

25 August 2005: Army Sgt. 1st Class Trevor John Diesing, 30, and Army Master Sgt. Ivica Jerak, 42, killed by explosive device in Husaybah, Iraq

17 June 2005: Army Master Sgt. Robert M. Horrigan, 40, and Army Master Sgt. Michael L. McNulty, 36, killed in hostile combat in Al Qaim, Iraq

Details will undoubtedly emerge in the coming hours, days and weeks of the specific "Delta force" work to find and target al-Zarqawi. Highly placed military sources have been saying for months that the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) hunter-killer teams charged with going after the al Qaeda leader in Iraq have been successful. Many of Zarqawi's top lieutenants have been done in over the past few months, and the Defense Department now counts some 220 al Qaeda network soldiers in Iraq as having been killed or captured.

The government says that Zarqawi was tracked down by tips from Iraqi citizens, but there is another reality for this terrorist network operating in the country. The more success that is scored against the battle hardened, the more U.S. (and Iraqi) special forces get to fight raw recruits and newcomers to the battle, amateur fighters who have proven to be not quite as well trained and easier to target.

Looking at the ages of the American special forces veterans who have died in the hunt, it is clear that these are not kids, nor amateurs. That should both tell us how difficult the fight has been and also the sacrifices others are making to fight a ruthless and anarchic foe. In a climate where Haditha suggests only American murder and lawlessness, even the cynical should be able to see that.

By William M. Arkin | June 8, 2006; 9:35 AM ET | Category: Special Operations , War on Terrorism
Previous: TerrorismAffairs.com | Next: The Non-American Angle of the Hunt for Zarqawi

U.S., Saudi Marines unite in bilateral training exercises

RAS AL GHAR, Saudi Arabia - Marines from B Company, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operationa Capable) conducted Nautical Union, a bilateral training exercise with the Saudi Arabia Marines June 2-8.


June 8, 2006; Submitted on: 06/10/2006 08:33:02 AM ; Story ID#: 20066108332

By Cpl. Ruben D. Calderon, 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (SOC)

RAS AL GHAR, Saudi Arabia (June 8, 2006) -- Marines from B Company arrived here at dusk. The sun was no longer high in the sky, instead it had fallen behind the horizon of the Saudi Arabian desert.

The Marines and sailors from Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), were greeted by the all-too familiar heat and a prayer blaring from the outside speakers of the base mosque; the Muslims call to Allah.

With the prayer still hanging in the air and echoing prayers coming from other mosques miles away, a platoon-sized contingent of Marines stood in formation at the position of attention, waiting for their company commander.

“We’re here to do what the MEU was originally designed to do,” said Capt. Philip Waggoner, B Company commander.

The Marines came to the barren region to conduct bilateral training exercises with the Saudi Arabia Marines, June 2-8.

“We want to make an impact on them,” said Waggoner.

Prior to 2003 and Operation Iraqi Freedom, it was very common for Marine expeditionary units to conduct this type of training in various foreign countries including those in the Middle East.

Bravo Company trained alongside the Saudi Marines and instructed them in close quarters marksmanship, urban patrols, night operations, room clearing and military operations in urban terrain.

“These Saudi Marines are still going through their basic training. They are becoming familiar with their weapon systems and doing other training similar to boot camp training,” said Cpl. James R. Helms, fire team leader, 3rd platoon. “You could tell by their shooting that they improved since we got here.”

Helms, a Big Spring, Texas native, trained the Saudi Marines in the advanced marksmanship classes. Like the rest of his fellow U.S. Marines he experienced the barrier that is inevitable in bilateral exercises with foreign military - the language barrier.

"That comes with the territory,” said Helms about the difficulties in communication with his counterparts.

“Eventually the Marines found a common ground and from that found the similarities between each other,” said Gunnery Sgt. Dennis Collins, B Company gunnery sergeant. “But an experience like this opens eyes and helps you get a better perspective.”

“This is definitely an exciting and new experience for Bravo,” said Sgt. Gregory Henry, squad leader, Weapons Platoon. “It’s a good opportunity for them as well. We train hard and the Saudi Marines see our work ethic and they emulate it. We’re very fortunate to be a part of this, helping the Saudi Marines.”

Although they only spent a few days in Saudi Arabia, the Marines took with them the unique experience of training with the Saudi Marines. They lived with them, ate the same meals and shared the bond of being comrades in fighting the war against terrorism.

Coalition Forces Kill Top Terrorist in Iraq

BAGHDAD, June 8, 2006 – Jordanian terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi died in an air strike north of Baghdad yesterday evening, U.S. officials have confirmed.


American Forces Press Service

Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., commander of Multinational Force Iraq, announced Zarqawi's death during a press conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad today.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, coalition forces killed al Qaeda terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and one of his key lieutenants, spiritual advisor Sheik Abd-Al-Rahman, yesterday, June 7, at 6:15 p.m. in an air strike against an identified, isolated safe house," Casey said.

Tips and intelligence led forces to Zarqawi and some of his associates who were conducting a meeting approximately eight kilometers north of Baqubah when the air strike was launched, Casey said.

"Iraqi police were first on the scene after the air strike, and elements of Multinational Division North arrived shortly thereafter. Coalition Forces were able to identify Zarqawi by fingerprint verification, facial recognition and known scars," he said.

Zarqawi and al Qaeda in Iraq have conducted terrorist activities against the Iraqi people for years in attempts to undermine the Iraqi national government and coalition efforts to rebuild and stabilize Iraq, U.S. officials in Iraq said. He is known to be responsible for the deaths of thousands of Iraqis.

"Zarqawi's death is a significant blow to al Qaeda and another step toward defeating terrorism in Iraq," U.S. officials said in a statement.

"Although the designated leader of al Qaeda in Iraq is now dead, the terrorist organization still poses a threat as its members will continue to try to terrorize the Iraqi people and destabilize their government as it moves toward stability and prosperity," Casey said. "Iraqi forces, supported by the coalition, will continue to hunt terrorists that threaten the Iraqi people until terrorism is eradicated in Iraq."

June 7, 2006

Commandant speaks to reporters after Iraq visit

WASHINGTON - Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Michael Hagee briefs the press in the Pentagon June 7, 2006, on his recent trip to Iraq.


June 7, 2006; Submitted on: 06/07/2006 03:05:38 PM ; Story ID#: 20066715538

By - Marine Corps News, Headquarters Marine Corps

WASHINGTON (June 7, 2006) -- Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Michael W. Hagee spoke with reporters at the Pentagon June 7 about his recent trip to Iraq.

Hagee spoke about honor, courage and commitment and the way in which these core values are epitomized by Marines in their day-to-day actions.

Hagee will continue to address service members for the next several weeks.

The speech will also air at 7 p.m. EST on the Pentagon Channel.

Watch the Video Here:

Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Michael W. Hagee speaks with reporters at the Pentagon June 7 about his recent trip to Iraq. Photo by: Pentagon Channel videograbWASHINGTON - Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Michael Hagee briefs the press in the Pentagon June 7, 2006, on his recent trip to Iraq. Photo by: Helene C. Stikkel

Data on 2.2M Active Troops Stolen From VA

WASHINGTON - Nearly all active-duty military, Guard and Reserve members _ about 2.2 million total _ may be at risk for identity theft because their personal information was among those stolen from a Veterans Affairs employee last month.


By HOPE YEN, Associated Press Writer
Wed Jun 7, 2:42 AM

In a new disclosure Tuesday, VA Secretary Jim Nicholson said the agency was mistaken when it said over the weekend that up to 50,000 Navy and National Guard personnel were among the 26.5 million veterans whose names, birthdates and Social Security numbers were stolen on May 3.

The number is actually much higher because the VA realized it had records on file for most active-duty personnel because they are eligible to receive VA benefits such as GI Bill educational assistance and the home loan guarantee program.

In a statement, Nicholson said the VA's latest review found the data included as many as 1.1 million active-duty personnel from all the armed forces, along with 430,000 members of the National Guard, and 645,000 members of the Reserves.

He noted that the agency has been notifying all affected veterans and that there have been no reports of identity theft in what has become one of the nation's largest security breaches.

"VA remains committed to providing updates on this incident as new information is learned," Nicholson said, explaining that it discovered the larger numbers after the VA and Pentagon compared their electronic files more closely.

Veterans groups expressed outrage over the announcement, the latest in a series of revelations by the government as to who was affected since publicizing the burglary on May 22. At the time, the VA said the stolen data involved veterans discharged since 1975, as well as some of their spouses.

"Our Armed Forces personnel have enough on their plates with fighting the global war on terror let alone having to worry about theft identity while deployed overseas," said Ramona Joyce, spokeswoman for the American Legion.

Joe Davis, a spokesman for Veterans of Foreign Wars, said the VA must come clean after three weeks of "this debacle."

"This confirms the VFW's worst fear from day one _ that the loss of data encompasses every single person who did wear the uniform and does wear the uniform today," Davis said.

A lawsuit filed by five veterans groups on Tuesday demanded that the VA fully disclose which military personnel are affected by the data theft and seeks $1,000 in damages for each person. The veterans are also seeking a court order barring VA employees from using sensitive data until independent experts determine proper safeguards.

"VA arrogantly compounded its disregard for veterans' privacy rights by recklessly failing to make even the most rudimentary effort to safeguard this trove of the personally identifiable information from unauthorized disclosure," the complaint says.

In response to the lawsuit, the VA said it is in discussions with credit-monitoring services to determine "how veterans and others potentially affected can best be served" in the aftermath of the theft, said spokesman Matt Burns.

Maryland authorities, meanwhile, announced they were offering a $50,000 reward for information leading to the return of the laptop or media drive taken during the May 3 burglary at a VA data analyst's home in Aspen Hill, Md.

They asked that anyone who purchased a used Hewlett Packard Laptop model

zv5360us or HP external personal media drive after May 3 to call Montgomery County Crime Solvers at 1-866-411-TIPS (8477). Anyone with the stolen equipment can turn it in anonymously and become eligible for the $50,000 reward, police said.

Veterans groups have criticized the VA for a three-week delay in publicizing the burglary. The VA initially disclosed the burglary May 22, saying it involved the names, birth dates and Social Security numbers _ and in some cases, disability codes _ of veterans discharged since 1975.

Since then, it has also acknowledged that phone numbers and addresses of many of those veterans also may have been included.

June 6, 2006

Marine brings welding skills to fight against insurgency

CAMP AL QA’IM, Iraq (June 6, 2006) -- When he joined the Marine Corps in 2002, Cpl. Joshua W. Dale never thought he would be using his welding experience to defeat insurgents in western Iraq.


June 6, 2006
By Cpl. Antonio Rosas ,
1st Marine Division

The 23-year-old section leader with A Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, brought his ideas to life by inventing a breaching bumper for a humvee in his mobile assault platoon.

The breaching bumper is mounted on the front of the humvee and resembles a large arrowhead made of thick steel. The bumper is used to do one thing – tear through anything that gets in the humvee’s way.

“We needed something on our humvees to assault through barriers, like locked gates and low brick walls,” said the Silver Street, S.C., native. “This bumper will go through just about anything.”

While the bumper has not been tested as of yet, other similar devices of lesser craftsmanship have proven somewhat effective. Dale wanted to build something that would not break or bend like those he had seen crudely constructed on the fly by other Marine units.

The bumper, which allows humvees greater flexibility when assaulting the enemy during raids and cordon-and-knock operations, is an alternative to using any type of explosives – the norm when Marines encounter barriers or walls.

“When you use explosives you risk alerting the enemy from the loud noise of explosions,” said Dale. “With this breaching bumper you can rupture barriers and overcome obstacles in less time and without giving away your position to the enemy.”

Use of the bumper on barriers also minimizes collateral damage - a priority for the Marines conducting security operations alongside Iraqi Security Forces in Iraq’s western Al Anbar province.

Nicknamed ‘the destroyer,’ the bumper is a major asset for mobile assault platoons, or M.A.P. – a security element of Marines in armored humvees with an assortment of infantry weapons. A M.A.P. provides a heavy presence in the community and is used to disrupt enemy operations.

Marines in the region use the mobile assault platoon to provide a steady presence in local communities and to weed out insurgents hiding in local towns, said 1st Lt. Paul D. Quinn, the M.A.P. officer for A Company.

The 24-year-old from Burkittsville, Md., supports Dale’s project as it will allow his Marines greater flexibility in performing their job quicker and overcoming obstacles without the use of explosives.

Spending less time tied up with barriers during operations allows the Marines to meet their objective of providing mounted security for ground forces a lot more effectively, said Quinn.

While coalition forces throughout the country already have similar devices mounted on their humvees, Dale wanted to improve on the existing design and use stronger materials.

“I still wanted something that was sturdy enough to rip through just about any barrier the platoon would encounter,” said Dale.

“The bumper is incredibly strong,” said Navy Chief Petty Officer (Seabee Combat Warfare) Charles B. Scholl, a U.S. military reservist and steelworker with 20 years of experience.

Scholl, from Moundsview, Minn., provided Dale with a few pointers on welding techniques.

“The design is structurally sound,” said Scholl. “He used the same type of structural steel that we use to hold buildings together.”

In order to take the ideas from the drawing board to the shop floor, Dale was going to need time away from his platoon – something he wanted to avoid.

It was only after breaking his foot while performing maintenance on his humvee that Dale found some time to bring his ideas to life and start on his project.

“I drew up blueprints myself and despite not having the right supplies and tools, I made it work,” said Dale who spent several years welding before joining the Marine Corps.

Dale said he never saw himself using his welding skills in the Marine Corps. He joined the Marines to fight insurgents, he said.

“I want to make it clear that I am a grunt and not a welder,” he said.

After installing the device, Dale’s invention attracted the attention of other mobile assault platoons from the battalion who deemed the breaching bumper a worthy asset to their humvees. However, before Dale can mass-produce additional bumpers for his team he must await the thumbs-up from top-level Marine commanders at I Marine Expeditionary Force.

Once Dale receives permission from superiors, he plans on outfitting the humvees in his platoon with the breaching device. With the right supplies, Dale said he can produce about four bumpers a week.

Dale is confident that his idea will gain approval from officials as he considers the apparatus a great tool against defeating the insurgency in any area of operations.

Until then, he says he’ll continue to weld when he can, providing the Marines who travel Al Anbar province’s dangerous roads daily with one more tool to help them get the job done.

Iraq-deployed Marines prepare for emergency rescues in Al Anbar province

CAMP AL ASAD, Iraq - Marines from Regimental Combat Team 7 prepare to board the back of a CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter May 29 to practice off-loading and security procedures for a tactical rescue of aircraft and personnel, or TRAP. The Marines, part of the regiment’s provisional rifle platoon, haven’t been called upon to conduct a rescue mission since they deployed to Iraq four months ago, but still train regularly for the mission: Jump in a helicopter, fly to the scene of a down aircraft, set up security, and help recover the pilots or salvage crucial equipment from the scene.


June 6, 2006; Submitted on: 06/06/2006 10:15:38 AM ; Story ID#: 200666101538
By Staff Sgt. Jim Goodwin, 1st Marine Division

AL ASAD, Iraq (June 6, 2006) -- Sipping on bottled water, rifle in hand and wearing a good 60 pounds of body armor on this sprawling U.S. military airbase, Lance Cpl. Emanuel Cantu says he doesn’t mind training for combat in Iraq’s blistering 110-plus degree temperature.

In fact, he says he loves it.

After all, four months of serving in Iraq as part of a quick-reaction force has helped the 31-year-old Marine lose more than 20 pounds, but more importantly, he says he’s found his niche in the Marine Corps: training to save lives.

“I feel like I’m doing something, like I’m training for something for a greater purpose,” said Cantu, a father of two who is an administrative clerk by trade.

Cantu is part of a platoon of Marines who may never actually do what they train for –tactical rescue of aircraft and personnel, or “TRAP,” as the U.S. military calls it.

The Marines haven’t been called upon to conduct a rescue mission since they deployed here four months ago.

Still, the platoon trains regularly for the mission: jump in a helicopter, fly to the scene of a down aircraft, set up security, and help recover the pilots or salvage crucial equipment from the scene.

Time – a matter of life and death

Once every couple of weeks, the platoon suits up with their full combat load – body armor, helmets, ammunition, rifles and various other gear – and practice their routine of exiting a helicopter, setting-up security at the scene, and quickly to ensure they’re ready if the call comes to perform a rescue mission.

Though the Marines have not been called upon to perform a rescue mission yet in Iraq’s Al Anbar province, training is continuous to ensure the Marines can respond quickly.

Time can be the enemy on such rescue operations, and there’s little room for mistakes, according to the Marines. A few minutes can mean the difference between the enemy finding a downed pilot before the Marines arrive, and can also mean the difference between life and death if the platoon’s medical personnel can not arrive in time to treat the wounded.

That’s a scenario the Marines don’t want to have to face, but must plan for.

“You may never get the call, but if you do, it’s your obligation to be there in a timely manner to quite possibly save lives,” said 1st Lt. William S. Johnson, the 26-year-old Marine from Oakdale, Minn., who commands the platoon.

Johnson says the success of a mission heavily relies on its ability to respond quickly to a call – weapons ready, communications gear checked, full combat gear on, ready to be briefed on the mission and flown to the scene.

“The quicker we get there and the quicker we perform our rescue the better the chances of survival for the aircrew,” added Gunnery Sgt. Corey E. Earle, the staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge of the Marines’ Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting team – another element of the “TRAP” team.

Earle’s Marines are trained to fight fires and rescue personnel and equipment from aircraft accidents. They use tools such as the “jaws of life,” to tear open through wreckage to reach crewmembers, similar to those used by first responders in traffic accidents back in the states.

Loaded down with heavy equipment, Earle’s Marines must work hand-in-hand with Johnson’s platoon to respond quickly and make the most of their time on-scene. All the Marines – those providing security and those conducting the rescue – must work together like a well-oiled machine in their response, otherwise, people could die.

The Golden Hour

Earle says response time to an accident scene must fall within the “Golden Hour,” in which “you want to have the patient to a medical facility within an hour of an accident.”

The theory is common sense – the quicker patients are medically evacuated, the quicker they can be treated, and ultimately, the greater a chance for survival.

Urgency, and communication, is the name of the game, he said.

“Everyone must know what the other teams are going to do and their capabilities,” said Earle, a 35-year-old from Tellico Plains, Tenn. “Being able to communicate with the other agencies and help where ever needed will define if you will have a successful mission or not.”

Every Marine a rifleman ... and a ‘doc’

But training to respond to downed aircraft is only one mission Johnson’s Marines are prepared to handle. They’re also provisional riflemen – non-infantry Marines serving in an infantry capacity.

Mechanics, administrative clerks, communication technicians – the platoon’s make-up seems to reemphasize one of the Corps’ time-proven ethos: “Every Marine a rifleman.”

Lance Cpl. Jonathan D. Bolton, a 19-year-old from Hawthorne, Calif., and tank mechanic by trade for the Marines, traded in his coveralls and tools for body armor and a machine gun after volunteering to serve with the provisional rifle platoon.

He, too, says despite the danger and the heat, he feels he’s making a difference in Iraq.

“When I go outside the wire and give the kids candy, I feel good,” said Bolton, who has two years in the Corps. “The Iraqi people really appreciate us.”

Four months into their deployment with Regimental Combat Team 7 – the infantry unit which provides security to the 30,000 square miles of towns, villages and desert in western Al Anbar province – the platoon has conducted patrols on Iraq’s dangerous roads, encountered roadside bombs, manned traffic control points, and interacted with the local populace.

Though the platoon has not had to perform daily patrols “outside the wire” – the phrase U.S. service members use to describe leaving the safety of a base to conduct military operations – they train as if they do. The platoon spends hours training in skills they need to tackle the dangers of Iraq –combat marksmanship, urban patrolling, and perhaps most importantly, tactical field medicine.

“They know almost as much as a corpsman,” boasts Petty Officer 3rd Class Jeff R. Rader, one of the platoon’s Navy corpsmen. “They know how to treat injuries. They know their medical stuff.”

Dangerous Roads

In western Al Anbar province, going “outside the wire” means mounting up in up-armored vehicles, donning heavy, ballistic body armor and other protective gear, and manning heavy caliber machine guns and rifles.

Security in the region requires the presence of U.S. and Iraqi troops to limit insurgent activity. That means Johnson’s Marines must be out on the streets in towns like Baghdadi – a town of 30,000 nestled along the Euphrates River just northeast of Al Asad – one of several regions Iraqi police, soldiers and U.S. troops patrol daily to keep insurgents at bay.

Exposure to small-arms attacks and roadside bombs come with the territory for the Marines, but their presence is crucial to the stability and security of local towns, said Johnson.

“Boots on the deck, no doubt,” he said. “If we don’t go out there, the more dangerous Iraq becomes. More is to be gained from talking to the people, not just waving your guns around.”

Last month, the platoon manned a traffic control point for several days near the town to add an extra layer of security in the region, a known hot-spot of insurgent activity. Aside from the sweltering heat, the Marines encountered no enemy activity.

Two days after they left, the same area was attacked with two suicide bombers in vehicles.

“That could have killed us,” said Lance Cpl. Nicholas Spiewak, a machine gunner from Yuma, Ariz., who stood post at the traffic control point. “In a way, it pisses me off ‘cause I want to see action, but on the other hand, I’m glad nothing did happen ‘cause I don’t want to see Marines get hurt.”

Spiewak is one of the few bonafide infantrymen in the platoon, and saw action last year in Iraq when he deployed with the Twentynine Palms, Calif.-based 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines in Fallujah.

Luck and Experience

Last year, Spiewak was shot at nearly every time he left his unit’s base, he said. He also encountered multiple IEDs, rocket-propelled grenades and small-arms fire attacks, as well as indirect fire, such as mortars. This year, he has not been shot at once, he said.

“We really haven’t seen a lot. Eventually, something will happen,” said Spiewak, who knows that the “Complacency Kills” signs often posted around U.S. military bases in Iraq are more than just words stenciled on a sheet of metal.

The 22-year-old doesn’t go outside the wire without the “Letter of Protection,” a Wiccan spell he says guides and protects warriors and travelers.

“I was on point on patrol,” said Spiewak of his current platoon’s first patrol through western Al Anbar province in early March, which resulted in the unexpected discovery of an IED. “I turn around and see the lieutenant (Johnson), I faced forward to check around, turned around again, and heard him say, ‘Run!’ and he was gone.”

Johnson found the bomb during the patrol, which did not explode.

“Fortunately, we’ve been pretty lucky,” said Cpl. Ricardo J. Balistreri, a 20-year-old from Milwaukee and one of the platoon’s squad leaders.

But Johnson says training, combined with superb small-unit leadership and the combat experience of the platoon’s infantrymen from past deployments, are the real key to the Marines’ success in Iraq.

“We’re proven,” said Johnson, who also saw action as an infantry platoon commander last year in Iraq with 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines. “I’d match these guys up with anyone.”

Brothers in arms

Rader, who joined the Navy three years into college, said he has the utmost faith and confidence in the Marines’ abilities to medically treat combat casualties just as effectively as he could – a plus in the event they actually get called on to respond to an actual emergency – and the result of countless hours of training.

The 23-year-old from West Windsor, N.J., joined the platoon several weeks ago. He said the platoon is like a family, brothers even, which makes it hard for him to even think about his Marines, his “very close friends,” injured on the job when they leave the safety of their base.

“I try not to think about it,” said Rader. “Yeah, ‘cause I know when I go out, I’m with my friends, and I don’t want anything to happen to them. At the same time, I wouldn’t want to go out with anyone else.”

Rader’s sentiments seem to echo throughout the platoon – “I know if I get into a firefight, I know that the Marine next to me has my back,” said Spiewak. “I’m not afraid to walk down the streets of Baghdadi.”

“It’s weird how all these people from different backgrounds just click,” said Balistreri. “I’d say there’s a lot of camaraderie in this platoon.”

Training, experience, weapons, tactics – perhaps the real secret to these Marines’ success is not just the hours they put in behind their weapons, or on and off-loading helicopters with 60 pounds of gear strapped to their bodies. Instead, their success seems to be driven more from an urge to accomplish their mission, and make sure everyone comes home alive.

“I’ve worked with these guys a long time,” said Cantu, who recaps his bottle of water, straps his helmet over his sweat-soaked hair for another round of aircraft rescue off-load drills. “We’re pretty tight.”

Email Staff Sgt. Goodwin at: [email protected]

Marines Fight Grenade Attacks, Drive-Bys, IEDs

Haqlaniyah, Iraq - Arguably some of the fiercest violence by insurgents against Coalition Forces in the Al Anbar Province occurs in Haqlaniyah, Iraq, a city nestled along the Euphrates River northwest of Baghdad.


Marine Corps News
Roe F. Seigle
June 06, 2006

Fighting the insurgents’ attacks, from hand-thrown grenades to IEDs, drive-by shootings and small-arms ambushes, are the Marines of the Hawaii-based Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment.

Shortly after many of these attacks against Coalition Forces, propaganda urging residents to commit further attacks are heard echoing through the streets of this city of 30,000 from loud speakers in mosques, according to Sgt. Mennen Suleiman, a squad leader with Kilo Company.

Suleiman, 26, does not need an interpreter to understand the messages broadcast from the mosques – he was born in Kirkut, Iraq, and lived under the suppression of Saddam Hussein’s regime until he was 12. He left with his family to escape living in fear of Saddam Hussein and his regime then moved to Carney, Neb. He joined the Marine Corps eight years ago.

“Most of the time they preach from the mosques about how Marines are bringing down the purity of Islam,” said Suleiman, shortly after a two-hour patrol through Haqlaniyah’s winding streets, where temperatures are a scorching 110-degrees.

“The truth is we are here to help them establish a new government and train their newly-formed Army so they can in turn live more peaceful lives and not live under the oppression of an evil dictator,” Suleiman said.

Haqlaniyah Hotel

Suleiman, and the rest of the Marines from Kilo Company, many of whom served in Afghanistan last year, have battled the insurgency with a fierceness that only highly-trained infantrymen can bring to the battlefield.

During a regular patrol earlier this month, several Marines observed a handful of insurgents armed with automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, scurry into an abandoned hotel in the city – a hotel which once served as a vacation spot for Hussein before he was ousted from power in 2003.

The Marines decided to take action.

The plan was simple: the Marines would cordon off the hotel and then raid it to apprehend the insurgents, according to Gunnery Sgt. Jim Lanham, 36, the unit’s company gunnery sergeant. Before they cordoned the building off, they received small arms fire from within the hotel.

The Marines held their ground and returned fire into the hotel’s shattered windows. Meanwhile, military aircraft partially destroyed the hotel with precision munitions.

The Marines suffered no casualties.

“This is what will happen when insurgents try to fight Kilo Company toe-to-toe,” said 1st Sgt. Vincent Santiago, 35, the company’s senior enlisted advisor.

Rounding up the bad guys

A little more than a week later, two Marines were wounded by an improvised explosive device. Following the attacks, Marines searched a house near the forward operating base and detained two insurgents in possession of anti-Coalition Forces propaganda, ammunition for a sniper rifle and illegal weapons.

Suleimann said he often reminds Haqlaniyah’s residents that they need to report insurgent activity and turn in those who are responsible for making and planting improvised explosive devices on roads traveled by Coalition Forces.

“I tell the locals that if they turn a blind eye to these attacks and they do not report them, they are condoning them,” said Suleiman.

Santiago said his Marines have been subject to more enemy attacks than any other unit within the battalion, which operates throughout the “Triad” – a cluster of towns in this region along the Euphrates which includes the cities of Haditha, Barwanah, and Haqlaniyah.

“We are mostly being attacked with improvised explosive devices and taking indirect fire from mortars,” said Santiago, a native of Merizo, Guam, and a 17-year Marine Corps veteran. “Most of the insurgents do not have the courage to stand and fight the Marines face-to-face because they know they will be overpowered and outgunned.”

Transition to Iraqi-led security on track

In the midst of the fighting and apprehension of insurgents, the Marines are still able to fine-tune the freshly trained Iraqi Army soldiers assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Brigade, 7th Iraqi Army Division who live, eat, and operate daily with the Marines here.

“They are teaching them the same skills that all new Marines are taught once they are assigned to an infantry company,” said Santiago.

Santiago cites a recent mission when Iraqi soldiers and Marines searched for insurgents on an island located in the Euphrates River.

The Iraqi soldiers used the tactical skills they learned from the Marines to cross a bridge to the island – a task which seems easy enough, but actually can prove deadly, as bridges often provide the only way to cross over the Euphrates River.

Two months ago, when Kilo Company arrived here, the soldiers were incapable of crossing such a danger area without assistance from the Marines. They simply lacked the training to do so.

But now, they’re making progress – steady progress, according to Santiago.

“The Iraqi soldiers still have a lot to learn, but the Marines are determined to teach them the skills they need to fight the insurgency and take over this area of responsibility,” he said.

One Iraqi soldier, “Ahmed,” (his name has been changed in this article for his protection), said the soldiers are eager to work with the Marines and they believe the Marines are just as eager to train and assist them. He also said the Iraqi soldiers treat the attacks against the Marines just like they would attacks against their own.

“We are here to learn the same skills the Marines have used to suppress the insurgents who threaten the lives of innocent Iraqi people and plan attacks against us and the Marines,” said Ahmed through an interpreter.

Still, Iraqi and U.S. military leadership say Iraqi Security Forces will be ready to take over military operations in Al Anbar by year’s end. In the meantime, Kilo Company’s Marines, who are “doing extraordinary things most young American men are not willing to do,” said Santiago, will continue to prepare Iraqi soldiers to operate independently.

“Morale is still high and the Marines from Kilo Company are a band of brothers,” said Santiago. “They are leaning on one another for support until they return to Hawaii.”

America Supports You: Horse Runs for Wounded Troops, Families

WASHINGTON, June 6, 2006 – "Sweet Freedom," a 2-year-old racehorse, has started off his racing career with a bang, doing his part to support America's war wounded.


By Paul X. Rutz
American Forces Press Service

The young colt has raced twice so far, winning his second race by a nose. His owners are donating two-thirds of their winnings from races run at Hollywood Park racetrack in Inglewood, Calif., to "Freedom Is Not Free," a nonprofit group that offers financial aid to wounded troops and their families.

"It's about the guys and the gals that are out there," co-owner Bruno De Julio said the day after the horse's first win, June 1. "I know the guys don't make a lot of money, but it's their heart. ... It's the same thing with racehorses. Sweet Freedom ran like a Marine yesterday. He had a mission and he accomplished it, no matter what, and he overcame adversity to do it too."

In that race, Sweet Freedom stumbled as he left the gate but quickly recovered, making up for lost ground and narrowly prevailing, according to the racing chart.

De Julio said he has worked with horses for over 20 years. He publishes books on horse training and writes tip sheets to help people place good bets at the track. He has helped troop support groups before, such as the United Warriors Survivor Foundation, a group providing aid to the spouses of special operations troops killed in action.

The idea to race a horse and give the proceeds to charity came through a partnership between De Julio, trainer Shane Chipman, and John Brocklebank, who bought Sweet Freedom.

In March, they connected with Carl Frank, president of Freedom Is Not Free, and offered to give 66 percent of their winnings to the charity. In his first start, Sweet Freedom earned over $2,000 for wounded veterans.

De Julio said his partners want to be bought out eventually. When someone else buys their shares in the colt, proceeds for the charity may fall to 25 percent of the horse's winnings.

"My portion of the horse will be for charity, for Freedom Is Not Free, for the combat wounded and the families of the less fortunate ones who have lost a loved one in the war on terror," De Julio said. Expecting someone else to invest in a horse and then give the proceeds to charity isn't fair, so whether the new co-owners keep up the donations is up to them, he said.

De Julio said he would like to sponsor a new charity each year with a new young horse, which is an expensive undertaking. It costs about $3,000 per month to keep a racehorse training -- not including veterinarian bills, paying the jockey and other expenses, he said. Still, he said, the money and work are worth it to do some good.

"I think that you hear a lot of complaints about the country and complaints about things that are going on right now, but yet the people that complain don't take any steps to do anything about it," he said. "And I think this way, if we all took a step to try to do something about it, and do something to help people, then it would alleviate some of the stress we put on our government."

Frank said his organization is thrilled to have this kind of sponsorship. His group, based in San Diego, works closely with other nonprofit groups, military hospitals in the area, and "America Supports You," a Defense Department program highlighting grassroots and corporate support for the nation's servicemembers and their families.

A committee, called the "Purple Heart Advisory Board," is central to Freedom Is Not Free. The board goes through grant applications and offers money to those families most in need, Frank said. The applications often come from other nonprofit groups, such as "Beacon of Hope," the "Coalition to Salute America's Heroes" and the United Warrior Survivor Foundation.

"They'll submit a list to us of wounded troops that are in their area and what their wound is and how much financial aid they've received and why they need some additional help," he said. "Then we will vet that out, and if we award the grant, we stipulate to them that the funds all have to go directly to that troop. None of it goes to overhead or anything like that."

The advisory board is made up of four people, three of whom were awarded the Purple Heart for sustaining combat wounds. Frank, a former member of the 101st Airborne Division, was wounded in Vietnam. Marine Lt. Col. David Coffman and Marine Capt. Steve Mount, two helicopter pilots, were both wounded in Iraq in 2004. The fourth member of the board is Russ Harris, an entrepreneur and the son of a naval officer killed in World War II.

Since the two Marine officers were wounded and went through their rehabilitation in the last two years, Frank said, "They were pretty fresh on what the troops needed," and that perspective has helped the group offer effective help.

Since its inception in early 2005, the board has granted $150,000 to wounded troops and the families of those killed in action. The group has also committed to refurbishing the family lounges at Naval Medical Center San Diego and building a climbing wall to help troops recuperate there.

For both of Sweet Freedom's races, the group sent wounded Marines from Camp Pendleton, Calif., to cheer the horse on. "They get to sit in the owner's box, and they get to go down to the paddock and meet the jockey and the trainer before the race," Frank said. "They really enjoy it, and of course the race fans love it too because these guys are in their uniform, and they get a big hand -- it's a real nice situation."

Although support for the troops is much better than in the Vietnam era, Frank said the nation could always do better, and that's where his group fits in. "Unfortunately, there are still a lot of situations where things just fall through the cracks. There are people who have needs that are not being addressed," he said.

Commentary: Soldiers, Marines Drive on Through Adversity

HIT, Iraq, June 6, 2006 – The soldiers and Marines here put up with more adversity in their deployment than most Americans will see in a lifetime. And they do it with a great attitude.


By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

These are not some goody-goody type servicemembers. They are profane to the extreme, and expletives make an appearance in most conversations. No one takes offense.

"Busting chops" is a fine art, and people are always ready to tell or listen to a fine story that uses a buddy as the butt of the joke.

But life in Hit, like the troops' language and jokes, is hard. The town's name is spelled "hit," but is pronounced "heat," and the place is hot. The temperature now hovers around 120 degrees. It will climb to 130 by the end of the month. There is always a wind blowing in Hit, but it might as well be a hair dryer. A good way to get a feel for what the soldiers here go through is to stick your head inside a convection oven for an hour.

Now add to that the gear. The interceptor body armor and Kevlar helmet make you understand why aluminum foil around a potato bakes it faster. Soldiers and Marines carry more than 90 pounds of equipment - weapons, a combat load of ammunition, first-aid pouches, global positioning system equipment, communications gear and the like - every time they go outside the wire.

Try running down a street carrying all that, because that is what servicemembers must do here. The unit has Bradley fighting vehicles, but walking among the town's people is more effective in connecting with the local population, so soldiers dismount.

Soldiers and Marines come off patrol just drenched with sweat. If they sweat really badly, you can see the salt stains where it has soaked through the boots.

There are port-a-potties at the main camp outside town, but contractors will not go into the firm bases - or forward operating bases - in the city itself. That means that at the firm bases they use things called "wag bags" for solid waste. The user seals the bag after its intended use and then deposits it in a burn barrel.

You don't want to have an open latrine, because that would attract insects. Urinals at the firm bases are tubes driven into the ground.

There is city water and it sometimes works, sometimes doesn't. You take showers when you can, and when the water is running. Don't count on it to work when you want it to.

And then there is the danger. Some men have been "IEDed" - in a vehicle that got hit by an improvised explosive device - a couple of times. Many in the 1st Battalion, 36th Infantry, are on their second tour in Iraq, and have a history with IEDs going back to 2003.

Added to that is snipers. The unit's only death has been to a sniper. One sniper in Anbar province goes by the name "Scorpion." He has people videotape his kills and you can find DVDs showing these kills in markets in Baghdad and all over the province.

But with all this, the mood is good. Sure, the soldiers and Marines complain, but that is their right. When it comes to the mission, the troops step out and do what needs to be done.

"I know when we look back on this in five or 10 years, we won't remember the hardships, except to laugh about them," said Army Capt. Eric Stainbrook, Apache Company commander at 1st Battalion, 36th Infantry. "But I will always remember these amazing soldiers and the way they took on the mission when their country asked them to."

Marines fight grenade attacks, drive-by’s, IEDs; capture insurgents

HAQLANIYAH, Iraq (June 6, 2006) -- Arguably some of the fiercest violence by insurgents against coalition forces in the Al Anbar province occurs in Haqlaniyah, Iraq, a city nestled along the Euphrates River northwest of Baghdad.


June 6, 2006
By Sgt. Roe F. Seigle
1st Marine Division

Fighting the insurgents’ attacks, from hand-thrown grenades to improvised explosive devices, drive-by shootings and small-arms ambushes, are the Marines of the Hawaii-based Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment.

Shortly after many of these attacks against coalition forces, propaganda urging residents to commit further attacks are heard echoing through the streets of this city of 30,000 from loud speakers in mosques, according to Sgt. Mennen Suleiman, a squad leader with Kilo Company.

Suleiman, 26, does not need an interpreter to understand the messages broadcast from the mosques – he was born in Kirkut, Iraq, and lived under the suppression of Saddam Hussein’s regime until he was 12. He left with his family to escape living in fear of Saddam Hussein and his regime then moved to Kearney, Neb. He joined the Marine Corps eight years ago.

“Most of the time they preach from the mosques about how Marines are bringing down the purity of Islam,” said Suleiman, shortly after a two-hour patrol through Haqlaniyah’s winding streets, where temperatures are a scorching 110 degrees.

“The truth is we are here to help them establish a new government and train their newly-formed Army so they can in turn live more peaceful lives and not live under the oppression of an evil dictator,” Suleiman said.

Haqlaniyah Hotel

Suleiman, and the rest of the Marines from Kilo Company, many of whom served in Afghanistan last year, have battled the insurgency with a fierceness that only highly-trained infantrymen can bring to the battlefield.

During a regular patrol earlier this month, several Marines observed a handful of insurgents armed with automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, scurry into an abandoned hotel in the city – a hotel which once served as a vacation spot for Hussein before he was ousted from power in 2003.

The Marines decided to take action.

The plan was simple: the Marines would cordon off the hotel and then raid it to apprehend the insurgents, according to Gunnery Sgt. Jim Lanham, 36, the unit’s company gunnery sergeant. Before they cordoned the building off, they received small-arms fire from within the hotel.

The Marines held their ground and returned fire into the hotel’s shattered windows. Meanwhile, military aircraft partially destroyed the hotel with precision munitions.

The Marines suffered no casualties.

“This is what will happen when insurgents try to fight Kilo Company toe-to-toe,” said 1st Sgt. Vincent Santiago, 35, the company’s senior enlisted advisor.

Rounding up the bad guys

A little more than a week later, two Marines were wounded by an improvised explosive device. Following the attacks, Marines searched a house near the forward operating base and detained two insurgents in possession of anti-coalition forces propaganda, ammunition for a sniper rifle and illegal weapons.

Suleimann said he often reminds Haqlaniyah’s residents that they need to report insurgent activity and turn in those who are responsible for making and planting improvised explosive devices on roads traveled by coalition forces.

“I tell the locals that if they turn a blind eye to these attacks and they do not report them, they are condoning them,” said Suleiman.

Santiago said his Marines have been subject to more enemy attacks than any other unit within the battalion, which operates throughout the “Triad” – a cluster of towns in this region along the Euphrates which includes the cities of Haditha, Barwanah, and Haqlaniyah.

“We are mostly being attacked with improvised explosive devices and taking indirect fire from mortars,” said Santiago, a native of Merizo, Guam, and a 17-year Marine Corps veteran. “Most of the insurgents do not have the courage to stand and fight the Marines face-to-face because they know they will be overpowered and outgunned.”

Transition to Iraqi-led security on track

In the midst of the fighting and apprehension of insurgents, the Marines are still able to fine-tune the freshly trained Iraqi Army soldiers assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Brigade, 7th Iraqi Army Division who live, eat, and operate daily with the Marines here.

“They are teaching them the same skills that all new Marines are taught once they are assigned to an infantry company,” said Santiago.

Santiago cites a recent mission when Iraqi soldiers and Marines searched for insurgents on an island located in the Euphrates River.

The Iraqi soldiers used the tactical skills they learned from the Marines to cross a bridge to the island – a task which seems easy enough, but actually can prove deadly, as bridges often provide the only way to cross over the Euphrates River.

Two months ago, when Kilo Company arrived here, the soldiers were incapable of crossing such a danger area without assistance from the Marines. They simply lacked the training to do so.

But now, they’re making progress – steady progress, according to Santiago.

“The Iraqi soldiers still have a lot to learn, but the Marines are determined to teach them the skills they need to fight the insurgency and take over this area of responsibility,” he said.

One Iraqi soldier, “Ahmed,” (his name has been changed in this article for his protection), said the soldiers are eager to work with the Marines and they believe the Marines are just as eager to train and assist them. He also said the Iraqi soldiers treat the attacks against the Marines just like they would attacks against their own.

“We are here to learn the same skills the Marines have used to suppress the insurgents who threaten the lives of innocent Iraqi people and plan attacks against us and the Marines,” said Ahmed through an interpreter.

Still, Iraqi and U.S. military leadership say Iraqi Security Forces will be ready to take over military operations in Al Anbar by year’s end. In the meantime, Kilo Company’s Marines, who are “doing extraordinary things most young American men are not willing to do,” said Santiago, will continue to prepare Iraqi soldiers to operate independently.

“Morale is still high and the Marines from Kilo Company are a band of brothers,” said Santiago. “They are leaning on one another for support until they return to Hawaii.”

Marine unit deploys this week

A ship-borne unit of 2,200 Marines and sailors is preparing to leave its North Carolina base this week for a fourth deployment of the war on terrorism.


Published on Monday, June 05, 2006
The Associated Press

The 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit at Camp Lejeune planed to start packing its equipment on ships on Wednesday and leave on Friday, said unit spokesman Capt. David Nevers.

The MEU hasn't announced its specific destination aboard the ships of the Iwo Jima Strike Group. The MEU returned in February 2005 from a seven-month deployment to Iraq, which was its third since terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Aboard the ships are an infantry battalion from the 8th Marine Regiment, Medium Helicopter Squadron 365 and a support group.

NMHA to Honor 'Marlboro Man' Blake Miller

Iraq War Veteran Shares Personal Experience with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

ALEXANDRIA, Va., June 5 /U.S. Newswire/ -- The National Mental Health Association (NMHA) will honor Iraq War veteran Blake Miller -- widely known as the new 'Marlboro Man' -- for his willingness to speak about combat-related post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). NMHA will present Miller with a forWARDS(tm) award Thursday, June 8, at its Annual Meeting. NMHA developed the forWARDS(tm) to pay tribute to the people, actions and events that move the cause of mental health forward each year.


Mon Jun 5, 2:47 PM ET

"I am grateful for what I do have," said Miller. "But I know for a fact that there are guys who went through way worse than I did and are afraid to come forward. Hopefully, the more I talk about PTSD the better off the military will be. That's all I care about."

In 2004, Miller landed in the middle of an intense, all night firefight in Fallujah, Iraq. When it was over he lit a cigarette. In the blink of an eye, Los Angeles Times photographer Luis Sinco took a single, solitary picture that thrust Miller into the international spotlight where he became an instant icon of the war in Iraq.

"Blake Miller represents the very best our country has to offer," said Dr. David Shern, president and CEO of NMHA. "Not only has he served the United States proudly but he has become an outspoken advocate on behalf of all Americans and military personnel facing, and living with, mental health problems."

After combat, Miller was discharged from the military and quickly found himself in a world of chaos and uncertainty all too common to war veterans -- the world of PTSD. For the past two years, Miller has lived with a constant rollercoaster of flashbacks, sleepless nights and outbursts of anger.

"From day one, (the Marines) teach you that you are indestructible," adds Miller, recalling his experience with PTSD. "A marine will give his all. You have to understand that to understand PTSD."

According to the Government Accountability Office, 26 percent of returning soldiers report symptoms of mental disorders, and the Department of Defense reports that one in six troops meet the screening criteria for major depression, generalized anxiety disorder or PTSD. Because of this, NMHA has launched an awareness campaign, Operation Healthy Reunions, to educate Americans and support returning veterans, their loved ones and employers.

Miller and Sinco will be available for interviews throughout NMHA's Annual Meeting, June 7 through 10. To schedule an interview, please contact Bridget Toland.

June 5, 2006

Fort Detrick Marines called to serve in Iraq

Marines with Bravo Company, 4th Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, will leave Fort Detrick in Frederick Monday for Camp Lejeune, N.C. There they will receive three months of intensive training in riverboat operations, before being deployed to Iraq for approximately one year.


Monday, June 5, 2006
by Sherry Greenfield
Staff Writer

The 105 Marines will patrol the waterways that surround Iraq for roughly seven months.

Over the weekend, the soldiers and their families gathered at Fort Detrick to meet each other and be briefed on whey they can expect once they arrive in the Middle East.

The reverve unit, which operates from the PFC Raymond Flair U.S. Army Reserve Center at the base, has spent weekends training in the usage of weapons, marksmaship, the operation of communication equipment, infantry tactics and learning the culture of Iraq.

This is not the first time the Bravo Company has been called up for active duty. The battalion was part of Operation Desert Shield in November 1990, and participated with U.N. coalition forces to liberate Kuwait in Desert Storm. From February 2002 until September 2003, the reserve unit was deployed in the early phases of the Iraq war.

The Marines come from Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Delaware.

Local Marine Reserve Unit Called to Active Duty

PERRYSBURG -- The United States Marine Corps has called local Reserve Marines to active duty, according to a statement released by the Unites States Marine Corps Thursday. They'll serve in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.


June 2, 2006, 07:20 AM

Approximately 600 Marines from the unit based in Michigan and Ohio reported for activation and duty Thursday. Of those, about 70 are members of Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 24th Marines, headquartered in Perrysburg.

The majority of Weapons Company Marines are reservists from northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan. Upon activation, they'll complete their mobilization process and begin pre-deployment training.

After additional training at Camp Pendleton and Twenty Nine Pines, both in California, the Marines will deploy during the fall of 006 to Iraq as part of the First Marine Expeditionary Force.

Elements of the unit were previously mobilized in 2003 in support of the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT).

The Marines have mobilization orders for 12 months under the current partial mobilization authorized by President Bush.

Marines deploy for Iraq

Fifty Marines left Knoxville today after being activated in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The Marine reservists, who are assigned to Delta Company, 4th Combat Engineer Battalion, left by bus this morning for Lynchburg, Va., to join their sister company, Charlie.


By CHLOE WHITE, [email protected]
June 5, 2006

Fifty Marines left Knoxville today after being activated in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The Marine reservists, who are assigned to Delta Company, 4th Combat Engineer Battalion, left by bus this morning for Lynchburg, Va., to join their sister company, Charlie.

They will go to Twentynine Palms, Calif., for three months of additional training, including engineering, briefing and learning infantry-related skills before leaving for Iraq.

The Delta Company’s mission in Iraq has not been disclosed, but 1st Sgt. D.O. Hudson said they will work closely with U.S. forces and allied nations throughout the Iraqi region.

The capacity in which they will serve includes demolition, construction and mine detection, Hudson said.

They are expected to spend six to seven months overseas.

Local Marines leave for Iraq

KNOXVILLE (WATE) -- After a morning full of goodbyes, dozens of East Tennessee Marines left Monday for a tour of duty in Iraq.


June 5, 2006

6 News Reporter

Fifty Marines were activated last week from D Company, 4th Combat Engineer Battalion. Family and friends saw them off from the Marine Base on Alcoa Highway.

About 20 of the Marines are returning to the war zone for a second time. Cpl. Michael Spicer says, "It's a familiar feeling, just ready to go and get to where we are going so we can start working."

"It's never fun to leave your families behind and go do the job that you're trained to do, but somebody has to do it, so it's us," says Cpl. Joshua McKenzie.

McKenzie's wife, Lori, and two sons, Keenan, 12, and Dylan, 10, say they will miss him greatly. "I've got a lot of the wives' phone numbers, so I can call them and check up, maybe go out to eat with them for that extra support," Lori says.

For Cpl. David Dunlap, saying goodbye to his family is especially hard.

Dunlap just became a father on May 26th. "I just don't want to leave him. I'm going to miss the first year of his life," he says, holding his infant son, Riley.

Watching over Cpl. Dunlap, his own mother, Tabby Nelson. She says, "It's just really hard. He's my first born, and it's just hard to send your child away like this, especially now that he's become a new dad. I know how hard it is on him."

The Marines go first to Lynchburg, Virginia, then to Twenty-Nine Palms, California for desert training. After three months on the west coast, they'll head to Iraq.

They're expected back sometime next spring.

Lance Cpl. Neal Thornton has to postpone his October wedding plans. But he says he cherishes the opportunity to serve his country.

"I am very proud. I'm proud to be who I am for my country, a U.S. Marine and I feel very proud that they found me worthy to go fight for them."

Thornton has been on several training missions.

Loved ones also had family day on Saturday at Tyson Park.

Marine's Father Sues Funeral Protesters

GREENBELT, Md. - The father of a Marine whose funeral was picketed by anti-gay protesters from a fundamentalist Kansas church filed an invasion-of-privacy suit against the demonstrators Monday.


By Associated Press

It is believed to be the first lawsuit brought by a soldier's family against Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., whose members routinely demonstrate at military funerals around the country.

Albert Snyder of York, Pa., the father of Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Snyder, is seeking unspecified damages. The younger Snyder, 20, died March 3 after an accident in the Al Anbar province of Iraq. He was buried in Westminster, Md.

"We think it's a case we can win because anyone's funeral is private," Snyder lawyer Sean Summers said. "You don't have a right to interrupt someone's private funeral."

Members of Westboro say the military deaths in Iraq are God's punishment for America's tolerance of gays. They typically carry signs with slogans such as "God Hates Fags" and "Thank God for IEDs," a reference to the roadside bombs used by insurgents.

The church has inspired dozens of state laws banning funeral protests, including a Maryland law that did not go into effect until after Snyder's memorial.

Shirley Phelps-Roper, a spokeswoman for the small congregation, said it is the first time Westboro has been sued by a soldier's family.

"We were exercising our First Amendment rights," she said.

Local military leaders, consumer advocates protect the protectors

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (June 5, 2006) -- Maj. Gen. Michael R. Lehnert, commanding general, Marine Corps Installations West, appointed his top enlisted leader, Sgt. Maj. Wayne R. Bell, to testify before the State Senate May 23.

Bell, local military leaders and consumer rights advocates testified before the state senate during an informational hearing to combat consumer scams aimed at military service members.


June 5, 2006; Submitted on: 06/05/2006 11:52:04 AM ; Story ID#: 20066511524

By Sgt. Luis R. Agostini, MCB Camp Pendleton

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Sgt. Maj. Wayne R. Bell, Marine Corps Installations West sergeant major, alongside state Sen. Liz Figueroa, addresses the local media before the 'Protecting Our Protectors: Confronting Consumer Scams Aimed at Military Personnel' informational hearing at the State Capitol in Sacramento May 23. The 92054 ZIP code, covering the Oceanside community surrounding Camp Pendleton's Main Gate, has 68 payday lenders, the highest concentration for any of the state's 1,661 ZIP codes.

California State Sen. Liz Figueroa said there’s only so much that can be done to regulate negligent consumer behavior, despite the amount of overwhelming facts supporting legislative action to protect military consumers.

She arrived at this conclusion during the “Protecting Our Protectors: Confronting Consumer Scams Aimed at Military Personnel” informational hearing at the state capitol here.

Bell expressed concern to Figueroa during the hearing over predatory payday lender practices near Camp Pendleton’s main gate.

The 92054 ZIP code, covering the Oceanside community surrounding Camp Pendleton’s main gate, has 68 payday lenders, the highest concentration for any of the state's 1,661 ZIP codes.

“Our Marines and sailors are targeted because they have a guaranteed paycheck on the first and fifteenth of the month,” Bell said. "The predatory lending is our number one concern when it comes to our Marine's financial status.”

“We have to educate our Marines, sailors and families on this issue, and that’s what I intend to do,” said Lehnert. “Marine commanders have the responsibility to inform Marines on making sound financial decisions. An 800-percent annual percentage rate is not a sound financial decision.”

Lehnert hoped the California legislature would follow action taken by other states with a strong military presence, such as North Carolina. The Tar Heel state placed a 36-percent interest rate cap on loans and banned payday lenders.

Mission and deployment readiness also suffers at the hands of consumer abuse and negligence. The Marine Corps and Navy denied security clearance to about 2,000 service members nationwide last year for fear that their indebtedness could compromise key operations.

“It drastically affects readiness to deploy, and as everyone here knows, the Marines constantly deploy," he said.

“The resources we expend (combating payday lenders) is money and time not spent on our primary job,” said Navy Capt. Mark D. Patton, commanding officer, Naval Base Point Loma.

Rosemary Shahan, president of Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety, stated that the number one consumer safety problem identified is auto-related scams, followed by payday lenders.

The consumer abuse has “a pervasive impact on troops,” Shahan said.

One concern all three panels addressed was the lack of consumer protection under California state law for service members purchasing vehicles and taking out loans in other states.

“Why should they get less protection? If anything, they deserve more,” said Jennifer Contreras, director, Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society, Lemoore.

Ellen Turnage, an attorney specializing in lemon law, auto fraud and consumer protection, testified on behalf of her client, Navy Lt. Nathan C. Kindig.

Kindig, a physician’s assistant stationed at Naval Hospital Camp Pendleton, but currently deployed to Iraq, purchased a 2004 Dodge Dakota Oct. 8, 2003, in Washington. Kindig contacted his attorney and informed her that his vehicle had overheated several times. On one occasion, he and his family were stranded out of state.

Kindig brought his vehicle in for repair at least five times, but the vehicle was never repaired.

Due to the California Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act Limited Policy Coverage, Kindig is now left stranded again – this time, in California.

“California’s Song-Beverly does not protect vehicles purchased outside of California. We are one of the few states with that limit. Several states protect vehicles which are either purchased or registered within that state,” Turnage said.

Kindig currently pays $540.13 a month on a vehicle he cannot drive. According to DaimierChrysler Corporation, the defendant in the case, they would have repurchased the vehicle immediately upon receiving Turnage’s notice and demand letter – if the vehicle was purchased in California.

“A lemon is a lemon. This has to change for our military personnel in California. We owe this extra level of protection to our protectors. We need to expand statutes to protect our military who are guests in our state,” Turnage said.

“When he has free time from his duties as a physician’s assistant, (Kindig) needs to send e-mails and make phone calls to his family, not his attorney,” Turnage said.

No immediate action was taken following the testimonies from the three panels. Figueroa opted instead to focus the effort on educating service members and their families.

“If I’m just finding out about this, I’m sure there are many others who don’t even know this is occurring,” Figueroa said. “We need to educate our military and their families.”

June 4, 2006

How We Make Marines

How does the Marine Corps take 17-year-old civilians and, in 13 short weeks, transform them into Marines? How do they motivate these young men and women to become members of a group that needs to function at the highest level under enormous stress? PARADE Contributing Editor Larry Smith spent two years researching his new book, “The Few and the Proud: Marine Corps Drill Instructors in Their Own Words.” He discovered that drill instructors are the key to making a Marine—and that there are lessons all of us can learn from them.

They arrive by bus, usually after dark, when they are more likely to be disoriented. A drill instructor wearing a “Smokey” hat comes in yelling that he will give them only seconds to get off “his” bus and line up on the yellow footprints painted on the street outside or face unmentionable peril.


By Larry Smith
Published: June 4, 2006

Thus begins what many former Marines call the most difficult period of their lives. “In the beginning, we cried,” recalls Staff Sgt. Christine Henning, 29. “We didn’t know what they were saying. We didn’t know what they wanted us to do.”

They have joined the Marine Corps for different reasons. “I’d say that half come to escape from something,” notes Sergeant Henning, who eventually became a D.I.—drill instructor—herself. “It may be family, limited prospects, a small town, no jobs, drugs, alcohol, abuse. They want to fix things in their lives. Some just come for education. Some come for travel.”

“Many are totally convinced, by the time they’re 17 or 18, that they’ll never amount to anything,” says R. Lee Ermey, 62, a D.I. at the Marines’ West Coast recruit depot in San Diego in the 1960s who later played the rugged Gunnery Sergeant Hartman in the film Full Metal Jacket. “The drill instructor’s job is to turn that around—and that’s what he does.”

Leadership by Example
“Drill instructors were not spit out on a rock, and the sun didn’t hatch them,” says Ermey. “They graduate from the D.I. School, and the drill instructor is the best the Marine Corps has to offer. Their leadership qualities are second to none. Nobody ever forgets his drill instructor.”

“The underpinning of the psychology of recruit training is leadership by example,” explains Maj. Keith Burkepile, 37, who was director of the Drill Instructor School at Parris Island, S.C., for the last two years. “The drill instructor becomes the role model, and the recruit is inspired to emulate him or her. We want the Marines to be successful with their units, successful on the battlefield, successful in life.”

Here’s how they do it:

“We Toughen Them Up”
Once “aboard” the depot—whether at Parris Island or San Diego—recruits go through “Receiving,” where they get their heads shaved, receive gear and undergo medical and physical tests. During the next three days, called “Forming,” they meet their drill instructors and learn how to be recruits. Twelve weeks of actual training follow. Parris Island—4 miles long and 3 miles wide—is known as a hard place, made special by sand fleas, stultifying heat and 500 fearsome drill instructors. It has four recruit-training battalions, one of them exclusively for women. More than a million young men and women have survived training there since 1915.

The physical challenge is grueling. In three months, recruits learn to march, to move through water with packs on, to rappel from 60-foot towers, to practice hand-to-hand combat and fight with a bayonet simulated by use of the pugil stick (like a giant Q-tip). They must qualify with the M-16 rifle, handle gas masks and solve the “Confidence Course,” culminating in an 11th-week event known as “The Crucible,” which lasts 54 hours and consists of combat-related activities that can only be accomplished through teamwork. Recruits get four hours of sleep a night and limited rations.

“We Demand Obedience”
The very first thing a Marine learns is immediate obedience to orders. “There’s no getting around that Marines are trained to kill,” says Chuck Taliano, 61, who trained recruits at Parris Island during the Vietnam era. “The drill instructor’s job is to teach the basics of how to do it—by hand, by bayonet or by rifle—and how to stay alive. In a war, you haven’t got time to debate the issue. You have to give them instant willingness to obey orders.”

How do you instill that kind of discipline? “By example,” says Major Burkepile, explaining: “The sand fleas are going crazy, biting all over the recruits. The drill instructors are standing there. They’re not scratching. They’re not itching. You don’t think they’re getting bit? They’re getting bit too. They’re demonstrating by example.

“You know,” he adds, “self-discipline—even if it starts with letting yourself be bitten by a sand flea—will take you a long way in life. Americans love to eat good food, and it takes discipline to say when you’ve had enough without overdoing it. What makes a woman take care of kids and a family all day long and then, when her husband gets home, go out on a run? That’s discipline. She makes herself do it.”

That self-discipline fosters independence and confidence. “If you think about it,” says Burkepile, “self-discipline will get a young man or woman of 22 to do a lot of things. It may send them to college, where they’ll have good study habits and succeed. It also translates to the workforce: Your self-discipline will get you to work every day. It’ll get you to pay your bills. When you talk to bosses in charge of hiring people, they say that once they have a former Marine on the job, they start looking for more.”

“We Instill Motivation”
“Motivation,” says Major Burkepile, “comes from wanting to be better in life. It makes you feel good. We do two-hour physical-training sessions here in the morning that are very hard. You’ve got to get up for that, you’ve got to get motivated. Motivation comes from each of us being around each other. You see another person pumped up, and you go out and get pumped up, and it rubs off on the next person. It’s infectious. If they’re fired up and motivated—if they’re working together as a team—they’re going to perform better.
“In the civilian world, you look for like-minded people who are similarly motivated to help you acquire discipline.”

“We Insist On Teamwork”
“Recruits learn how much easier everything becomes when they put the other guy first and help each other out—whether it’s making a rack or cleaning your weapon,” says Major Burkepile. “When people start helping each other, things get done faster and better.

“We all get selfish. That’s just human. But you feel better if you help someone else.”

“We Work Them Hard”
“If there’s one thing recruits do at Parris Island, it’s work hard,” says Major Burkepile. “Discipline, pride, self- respect, motivation—they all tie into that. If nothing else, hard work builds character. Hard work makes the unit better, it makes the individual better, and it keeps you mentally sound. A lot of times when they’re working hard, the recruits don’t realize that their physical condition is getting better. At the same time, they’re learning something new. Now they can translate that skill that they just learned by working hard into another task—whether in the Marine Corps or out. Hard work also builds camaraderie.

“I’m a horrible procrastinator around the house, but once I start doing something, I feel a lot better than if I’m sitting on my lazy butt watching TV.

“Hard work also prepares you for what could be down the road. Nobody knows what tough times are ahead—in the Marine Corps or out. If you know how to work hard, you can cope. It’s a habit of mind.

“It’s the same with kids. If they have halfway-decent work habits, it’s going to pay off in school, it’s going to pay off in life, and it’s going pay off for society.”

“We Keep Them Busy”
“If the recruit isn’t busy,” says Major Burkepile, “he feels sorry for himself. He thinks about Mom and Dad, TV, other stuff he could be doing. He thinks, ‘Why did I do this?’ But if he’s busy all day, he doesn’t have time to think about it. Training is over before he knows it.

“Keeping busy is a value in itself. It keeps you focused, keeps your mind off things that might drag you down.”

Attitude also is important, adds Major Burkepile: “The PT instructor will say, ‘Look, you have to be here. Why not get the most you can out of it and make it fun? Make it positive.’ All of sudden, they’re motivated, and they’re getting in shape.

“To anybody out there who wants to get fit, I say: ‘Find a way to make it fun—whether it’s a walk in the evening or running with friends or competing in a small way. The same with your job: Find a way to make it fun.’”

“We Honor Tradition”
“As training goes on,” says Major Burkepile, “the weight and responsibility of the Marine Corps tradition really starts to sink in. When they receive that eagle, globe and anchor pin the day before graduation, many recruits will cry. They know the torch has been passed to them.

“In the civilian world, you make sure your children know where they came from—what their grandparents did, how they came over from the old country and built a life or worked selflessly for decades to provide for the family, surviving the Great Depression or World War II or Vietnam. It’s important to pass that stuff on. That’s family tradition.

“If you believe in democracy and America, it doesn’t matter if you’re a Democrat or Republican: You believe in the freedoms we have. Preservation of that doesn’t always come without work and even bloodshed. That’s part of the responsibility faced by these young recruits. They have not only the weight of the nation on their shoulders but also the weight of the Corps: not letting down the Marines of the past and the Marines right beside them—the man on the right and the man on the left. That’s a powerful motivation. It’s learning to be part of something larger than yourself.”

Marines joining Reserve after active-duty to get war reprieve

By Jeff Schogol, Stars and Stripes
Mideast edition, Sunday, June 4, 2006

ARLINGTON, Va. — To get Marines to join the Reserves after active duty, the Marine Corps is promising not to deploy them for two years, the Marine Corps has announced.


Marine Adviser Building Iraqi 'Super Company' in Hit Region

HIT, Iraq, June 4, 2006 – Bringing the Iraqi army to the lead in the country's beleaguered Anbar province is a tough assignment. But Marines assigned to the military transition team at Firm Base 4 here have taken it on.


By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

Along with soldiers of Battalion Task Force 1-36, they are working to train Iraqi soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 2nd Brigade, 7th Division.

Anbar province is the seat of the Iraqi insurgency, and members of al Qaeda in Iraq also swim in the toxic terrorist pool. But innovative ideas are making progress here.

"We're putting together a sort of 'super company' of Iraqi forces here," Marine Lt. Col. Greg Branigan, senior adviser to the Iraqis and military transition team chief, said here yesterday. "They know individual skills. They need their own space so they can come up with an Iraqi solution to the road ahead."

The super company will contain the most-motivated, best-trained soldiers in the battalion. It will have about 140 soldiers and will be based across the Euphrates River from this city of roughly 30,000 people. The town, Hai al Bekr, is no sinecure, the colonel said. "There are bad guys operating in the area," said Iraqi Battalion Commander Lt. Col. Abdul Salam. "It is not as densely populated, but it will be an opportunity for us to operate independently."

American soldiers will still be partnered with the Iraqis, but there will be fewer, and they will be there mostly for training, overwatch and to provide added force if it is needed. "They need their own parcel of real estate to find their way," Branigan said. "They need to make their own mistakes and learn from them. We are not going to make them into an image of the American Army. They are Iraqis, and they will make themselves into an effective fighting force in the Iraqi way."

If the super company is successful, then it will expand and take over security responsibilities on the Hit side of the river, too.

But a huge obstacle stands in the way of this project -- one that bedevils all training in the Iraqi army: the leave system.

Iraqi soldiers here are on duty 30 days and then have 10 days of leave. They go home, they bring the money they have earned back to their families, and they decompress. But in many cases, they do not come back to the unit at the end of the leave. And there is no penalty for not coming back.

The Iraqis do not sign an enlistment contract. They do not swear to support and defend the constitution. If they feel they have done enough, or if their families are threatened by insurgents for their continued service in the army, then they simply stay home, Branigan explained.

Branigan and Salam traveled to the various firm bases and combat outposts to speak to the Iraqi soldiers about the project and about the importance of coming back to the unit following leave. Branigan told the soldiers that the super company is their chance to prove themselves to the Iraqi people. "With this super company, it will be your officers, your warrant officers and your NCOs in charge of the patrols," he said through a translator. "You will be in charge of the security."

He assured the Iraqis that the American Army unit would be present to provide support if they needed it, but also reminded them that in the four months the Germany-based unit has been in place, "it has never fired a main tank gun, never fired artillery and never called for air support. You have enough training and motivation to handle this problem."

Salam said the soldiers have proven themselves as brave and capable soldiers during patrols with U.S. forces. "It is time to move to the next step," he said. "It is time to train as we fight."

Branigan stressed that Americans will not win the war on the insurgents; Iraqis will win that war, he said. "The most important thing is not your weapons, it is you," he told the the Iraqi soldiers. "You need to show the Iraqi people that the Iraqi army is growing, it is gaining in capabilities and is becoming a force.

"The only way we can lose this is if you do not come back (after leave)," he continued. "In 10 or 15 years, when you are sitting with your children and enjoying the benefits of a new Iraq, don't you want to say that you made a difference? That you fought for a new, democratic country? Or do you want to say, 'It was too tough, so I left'?"

"Who will answer this challenge?" the colonel asked.

All of the hands went up.

Both the Americans and Iraqis want the company in place quickly. "In the next few weeks, we should be operational," Salam said. "That is when we will see the difference. Inshallah (God willing)."

June 3, 2006

Family Day

It was a day for some local Marines to spend quality time with their families.

Members of Company K, a Marine Reserve Unit based in Terre Haute, will leave next week for active duty. Today, the group held a family day at Fowler Park, for some family fun before they head overseas. The families took part in a cook-out and played some games.


Action 10 News WTHI Staff
6/3/2006 6:06:38 PM

Cindy Ford's husband is among those headed to Iraq for a second time. "This is our second deployment, so it's a little old hat for me, but it's still stressful, still scary. Just trying to get things together, trying to get all our affairs in order before he goes and just trying to spend as much time together as we possibly can."

Company K will leave next week for pre-deployment training in California, before heading on to Iraq. They're expected to be gone about 10 months.

Marines leave; Soldier briefly comes home

GRAND RAPIDS-- A sendoff Saturday for some West Michigan Marines called to support the war.

Alpha Company 1st Battalion 24th Marine Division Infantry unit is out of Grand Rapids.


Updated: June 3, 2006 02:50 PM PDT

U.S. Congressman Vern Ehlers and Grand Rapids Businessman Richard DeVos attended the party at Riverside Park.

Of course, many family members were there as well. "This is great, it brings all the families together and you don't feel so alone, like you're the only one going through it," says Diane Price whose son is going to Iraq.

Juxtapose that with another tale. Staff Sergeant Aurora TalveraSantiago is briefly away from Baghdad and is home in Grand Rapids with her four kids: Irving, Iris, Bailey, and Lani.

"So it's like, I come home and I have grown people. Like they're not my babies, but they are my babies you know," says TalveraSantiago.

She's mid-way through her second tour in Iraq. She's full-time Army. All the time, she's gone, this community has helped the single mom to raise her kids. It will be like this for at least eight more years.

Her tour in Iraq ends late this year. Sometime in late 2007, Staff Sgt.TalveraSantiago's next mission will take her to Afghanistan.

Darkhorse Marines move camps once again

CAMP HABBANIYAH, Iraq (June 3, 2006) -- No one can say the Darkhorse isn’t willing to relocate.


June 3, 2006
By Cpl. Mark Sixbey
1st Marine Division

Marines of 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment traded their comfortable white trailers at Camp Fallujah for the early 20th century barracks at Camp Habbaniyah for the remainder of the deployment.

This is the battalion’s second move in five months, now shifting its area of operation west to counter insurgent operations here. The battalion’s goal is to strengthen its relationship with the Iraqi Army and prepare the camp for the arrival of their replacement battalion.

“We want to make the transition smooth and not turbulent,” said 1st Sgt. Scott Boyer, the battalion’s acting sergeant major.

A battalion consists of around 1,000 Marines who all require facilities, workspace, billeting and means of communication. Junior and senior Marines alike are working in the sweltering heat to clean buildings, fill sandbags and install wiring to make those necessities available for everyone.

“There’s a plethora of things that have to get done,” said Boyer, 38, from Reading, Pa. “The support agencies of Headquarters Company are furiously working to establish communications, get lifelines out to the companies and to improve these old buildings.”

The British Royal Army set up the camp during their Mesopotamian Campaign of World War I. The British Mandate in Iraq lasted from 1918-1932 and the buildings still stand.

“There’s a lot of heritage here,” Boyer said. “It’s not what we’re used to, but there’s a purpose.”

Some Marines say the move is both good and bad.

“On one hand, moving so much makes the deployment go by faster,” said Cpl. Ray Leal, an infantry team leader for 2nd Platoon, K Company. “You get a new environment and a new AO broken down every two months. The bad thing about it is it’s a new AO and you have to start from scratch.”

The company has lived in Zaidon, Abu Ghraib, and now Habbaniyah. Leal, a 22-year-old from Edinburg, Texas, said his squad patrolled their last area for six weeks before the populace became familiar faces.

“It’s a challenge going out there and meeting new people, having them trust you,” he said. “Sometimes it feels like an uphill battle because you find a niche in a place and then you have to start all over again.”

Despite the obstacles, Boyer said his battalion has a habit of achievement.

“The caliber of Marines we have, they will work until the work is done,” he said. “It’s been a marathon and we’ve had a lot of trials and tribulations along the way. This is probably mile 20-21 with a few short months left. Marines take any challenge and turn it into a best-case scenario and I think we’ve paced ourselves well.”

The move also spells a change of scenery for the Marines. The nearby Euphrates River raises the humidity and irrigates the area’s vegetation, giving the camp a green look in contrast to Fallujah’s barren desert surroundings.

“We’ll be busy until we leave, because we’re setting up this new camp,” said Staff Sgt. Nicholas Deitz, the battalion’s career retention specialist. “It’ll pass the time quickly and I really enjoy the green environment even though it seems a whole lot hotter.”

The Marines’ labor is already showing results, with a new chow hall, command operations center and air-conditioned living quarters for most of the battalion.

“Although we’re in a place where the living conditions aren’t pristine, we’ve got trees, grass, shade – it’s a new chapter,” Boyer said.

3/11 India trains for non-lethal riot control

“Forward, MARCH!”

From hundreds of yards down the street, the mob could hear the Marines coming. Outfitted in full riot gear complete with non-lethal weapons as they marched through the city, they kept the platoon in step by beating their batons against the plastic shields in thundering unison.


Cpl. Brian A. Tuthill
Combat Correspondent

“Platoon, HALT!” ordered the platoon commander from behind his face shield to halt the ominous cadence.

“Platoon online!”

The Marines took their positions, forming a column of shields resembling modern-day legionnaires against the unruly group of civilians who refused to cooperate.

Although this exercise was only a mock scenario against Marines role-playing in the streets of the Range 200 urban warfare training facility May 24, it was the culmination of a two-week long riot control and non-lethal weapons training course for Marines of India Battery, 3rd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment.

“Today's exercises were to expand on the training from the past two weeks - this is kind of the capstone for it all,” said Capt. Steven K. Ford, India Battery commander. “This is where we have role players out there with the Marines to give them a feel for the real thing. They are also being evaluated by my instructors, who just got back from the Department of Defense school for non-lethal weapons.”

Throughout their two weeks of training, Marines learned a myriad of disciplines including crowd control, holds, baton instruction and techniques, handcuffing, riot control and demonstrations of non-lethal weapons and munitions.

The two platoons individually took part in four different scenarios at the range designed for situations which may occur domestically or abroad. They had to control peaceful protests, unruly crowds, and an unknown and possibly hostile crowd during a voting session and humanitarian relief efforts to hand out food.

Marines were evaluated by their instructors on a number of criteria, including platoon formations and movement, takedowns and detainments, techniques and procedures, judgment for use of force and how smoothly the Marines handled each situation overall.

“For this training, the Marines all were sprayed with oleoresin capsicum, or OC spray,” said Ford, a 36-year-old Gage, Okla., native. “Everyone was sprayed for either their level 1 or level 2 certification.”

Marines of India Battery conducted this training as not only an introductory course for their new Marines, but also to refresh Marines who have already completed the training as the battery gears up to deploy to Japan as part of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit in coming months, said Ford.

“It's been going well and it seems all the Marines seem to be getting everything well,” said Lance Cpl. Kevin T. Collins, fire team leader, Guns Platoon. “Besides getting sprayed with OC, doing this riot training has been fairly challenging. Today lets us see if this were a real life situation how we might handle it.”

“We have overcome hurdles over a lot of hills these past two weeks,” Collins said. “Role players out here gives us an opportunity to test out knowledge and receive feedback,” he went on. “But in reality we would probably see many more people out for things such as this.”

“We really can't see our full potential out here just because we have to be careful with the other Marines; we use simulated rounds and inert OC so we don't see our whole effect as a platoon,” he said.

Marines spent nearly eight hours in the desert heat at Range 200 as both platoons cycled through the four scenarios throughout the day.

“The Marines are doing great learning this, because for some it's their first time being exposed to this. For others its old stuff, but they're learning a lot,” Ford said. “Marines like doing different things. We love our artillery jobs, but when we go do something else, it's fun and it beats busting rust off the weapons. It's a good change and rejuvenates them a little bit, and they have a good time.”

June 2, 2006

Taking Chance

EDITOR'S NOTE: PFC Chance Phelps, 19, died April 9 from hostile fire in Al Anbar Province, Iraq. He was assigned to 3rd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division. He was buried in Dubois, Wyoming on April 17. The below story was written by LtCol. Mike Strobl, assigned to Manpower Management Officer Assignments at Quantico, who volunteered to be the escort officer for PFC Phelps during his journey home. LtCol Strobl's mission as escort officer was to ensure PFC Phelps arrived home with dignity and honor and in a professional and timely manner.


Story by :LtCol. Mike Strobl
June 2, 2006

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.

Over a year ago, I volunteered to escort the remains of Marines killed in Iraq should the need arise. The military provides a uniformed escort for all casualties to ensure they are delivered safely to the next of kin and are treated with dignity and respect along the way.

Thankfully, I hadn’t been called on to be an escort since Operation Iraqi Freedom began. The first few weeks of April, however, had been a tough month for the Marines. On the Monday after Easter I was reviewing Department of Defense press releases when I saw that a Private First Class Chance Phelps was killed in action outside of Baghdad. The press release listed his hometown—the same town I’m from. I notified our Battalion adjutant and told him that, should the duty to escort PFC Phelps fall to our Battalion, I would take him.

I didn’t hear back the rest of Monday and all day Tuesday until 1800. The Battalion duty NCO called my cell phone and said I needed to be ready to leave for Dover Air Force Base at 1900 in order to escort the remains of PFC Phelps.

Before leaving for Dover I called the major who had the task of informing Phelps’s parents of his death. The major said the funeral was going to be in Dubois, Wyoming. (It turned out that PFC Phelps only lived in my hometown for his senior year of high school.) I had never been to Wyoming and had never heard of Dubois.

With two other escorts from Quantico, I got to Dover AFB at 2330 on Tuesday night. First thing on Wednesday we reported to the mortuary at the base. In the escort lounge there were about half a dozen Army soldiers and about an equal number of Marines waiting to meet up with “their” remains for departure. PFC Phelps was not ready, however, and I was told to come back on Thursday. Now, at Dover with nothing to do and a solemn mission ahead, I began to get depressed.

I was wondering about Chance Phelps. I didn’t know anything about him; not even what he looked like. I wondered about his family and what it would be like to meet them. I did pushups in my room until I couldn’t do any more.

On Thursday morning I reported back to the mortuary. This time there was a new group of Army escorts and a couple of the Marines who had been there Wednesday. There was also an Air Force captain there to escort his brother home to San Diego.

We received a brief covering our duties, the proper handling of the remains, the procedures for draping a flag over a casket, and of course, the paperwork attendant to our task. We were shown pictures of the shipping container and told that each one contained, in addition to the casket, a flag. I was given an extra flag since Phelps’s parents were divorced. This way they would each get one. I didn’t like the idea of stuffing the flag into my luggage but I couldn’t see carrying a large flag, folded for presentation to the next of kin, through an airport while in my Alpha uniform. It barely fit into my suitcase.

It turned out that I was the last escort to leave on Thursday. This meant that I repeatedly got to participate in the small ceremonies that mark all departures from the Dover AFB mortuary.

Most of the remains are taken from Dover AFB by hearse to the airport in Philadelphia for air transport to their final destination. When the remains of a service member are loaded onto a hearse and ready to leave the Dover mortuary, there is an announcement made over the building’s intercom system. With the announcement, all service members working at the mortuary, regardless of service branch, stop work and form up along the driveway to render a slow ceremonial salute as the hearse departs. Escorts also participated in each formation until it was their time to leave.
On this day there were some civilian workers doing construction on the mortuary grounds. As each hearse passed, they would stop working and place their hard hats over their hearts. This was my first sign that my mission with PFC Phelps was larger than the Marine Corps and that his family and friends were not grieving alone.

Eventually I was the last escort remaining in the lounge. The Marine Master Gunnery Sergeant in charge of the Marine liaison there came to see me. He had Chance Phelps’s personal effects. He removed each item; a large watch, a wooden cross with a lanyard, two loose dog tags, two dog tags on a chain, and a Saint Christopher medal on a silver chain. Although we had been briefed that we might be carrying some personal effects of the deceased, this set me aback. Holding his personal effects, I was starting to get to know Chance Phelps.

Finally we were ready. I grabbed my bags and went outside. I was somewhat startled when I saw the shipping container, loaded three-quarters of the way in to the back of a black Chevy Suburban that had been modified to carry such cargo. This was the first time I saw my “cargo” and I was surprised at how large the shipping container was. The Master Gunnery Sergeant and I verified that the name on the container was Phelps’s then they pushed him the rest of the way in and we left. Now it was PFC Chance Phelps’s turn to receive the military—and construction workers’—honors. He was finally moving towards home.

As I chatted with the driver on the hour-long trip to Philadelphia, it became clear that he considered it an honor to be able to contribute in getting Chance home. He offered his sympathy to the family. I was glad to finally be moving yet apprehensive about what things would be like at the airport. I didn’t want this package to be treated like ordinary cargo, but I knew that the simple logistics of moving around a box this large would have to overrule my preferences.

When we got to the Northwest Airlines cargo terminal at the Philadelphia airport, the cargo handler and hearse driver pulled the shipping container onto a loading bay while I stood to the side and executed a slow salute. Once Chance was safely in the cargo area, and I was satisfied that he would be treated with due care and respect, the hearse driver drove me over to the passenger terminal and dropped me off.

As I walked up to the ticketing counter in my uniform, a Northwest employee started to ask me if I knew how to use the automated boarding pass dispenser. Before she could finish another ticketing agent interrupted her. He told me to go straight to the counter then explained to the woman that I was a military escort. She seemed embarrassed. The woman behind the counter already had tears in her eyes as I was pulling out my government travel voucher. She struggled to find words but managed to express her sympathy for the family and thank me for my service. She upgraded my ticket to first class.

After clearing security, I was met by another Northwest Airline employee at the gate. She told me a representative from cargo would be up to take me down to the tarmac to observe the movement and loading of PFC Phelps. I hadn’t really told any of them what my mission was but they all knew.
When the man from the cargo crew met me, he, too, struggled for words. On the tarmac, he told me stories of his childhood as a military brat and repeatedly told me that he was sorry for my loss. I was starting to understand that, even here in Philadelphia, far away from Chance’s hometown, people were mourning with his family.

On the tarmac, the cargo crew was silent except for occasional instructions to each other. I stood to the side and saluted as the conveyor moved Chance to the aircraft. I was relieved when he was finally settled into place. The rest of the bags were loaded and I watched them shut the cargo bay door before heading back up to board the aircraft.

One of the pilots had taken my carry-on bag himself and had it stored next to the cockpit door so he could watch it while I was on the tarmac. As I boarded the plane, I could tell immediately that the flight attendants had already been informed of my mission. They seemed a little choked up as they led me to my seat.

About 45 minutes into our flight I still hadn’t spoken to anyone except to tell the first class flight attendant that I would prefer water. I was surprised when the flight attendant from the back of the plane suddenly appeared and leaned down to grab my hands. She said, “I want you to have this” as she pushed a small gold crucifix, with a relief of Jesus, into my hand. It was her lapel pin and it looked somewhat worn. I suspected it had been hers for quite some time. That was the only thing she said to me the entire flight.
When we landed in Minneapolis, I was the first one off the plane. The pilot himself escorted me straight down the side stairs of the exit tunnel to the tarmac. The cargo crew there already knew what was on this plane. They were unloading some of the luggage when an Army sergeant, a fellow escort who had left Dover earlier that day, appeared next to me. His “cargo” was going to be loaded onto my plane for its continuing leg. We stood side by side in the dark and executed a slow salute as Chance was removed from the plane. The cargo crew at Minneapolis kept Phelps’s shipping case separate from all the other luggage as they waited to take us to the cargo area. I waited with the soldier and we saluted together as his fallen comrade was loaded onto the plane.

My trip with Chance was going to be somewhat unusual in that we were going to have an overnight stopover. We had a late start out of Dover and there was just too much traveling ahead of us to continue on that day. (We still had a flight from Minneapolis to Billings, Montana, then a five-hour drive to the funeral home. That was to be followed by a 90-minute drive to Chance’s hometown.)

I was concerned about leaving him overnight in the Minneapolis cargo area. My ten-minute ride from the tarmac to the cargo holding area eased my apprehension. Just as in Philadelphia, the cargo guys in Minneapolis were extremely respectful and seemed honored to do their part. While talking with them, I learned that the cargo supervisor for Northwest Airlines at the Minneapolis airport is a Lieutenant Colonel in the Marine Corps Reserves. They called him for me and let me talk to him.

Once I was satisfied that all would be okay for the night, I asked one of the cargo crew if he would take me back to the terminal so that I could catch my hotel’s shuttle. Instead, he drove me straight to the hotel himself. At the hotel, the Lieutenant Colonel called me and said he would personally pick me up in the morning and bring me back to the cargo area.

Before leaving the airport, I had told the cargo crew that I wanted to come back to the cargo area in the morning rather than go straight to the passenger terminal. I felt bad for leaving Chance overnight and wanted to see the shipping container where I had left it for the night. It was fine.
The Lieutenant Colonel made a few phone calls then drove me around to the passenger terminal. I was met again by a man from the cargo crew and escorted down to the tarmac. The pilot of the plane joined me as I waited for them to bring Chance from the cargo area. The pilot and I talked of his service in the Air Force and how he missed it.

I saluted as Chance was moved up the conveyor and onto the plane. It was to be a while before the luggage was to be loaded so the pilot took me up to the board the plane where I could watch the tarmac from a window. With no other passengers yet on board, I talked with the flight attendants and one of the cargo guys. He had been in the Navy and one of the attendants had been in the Air Force. Everywhere I went, people were continuing to tell me their relationship to the military. After all the baggage was aboard, I went back down to the tarmac, inspected the cargo bay, and watched them secure the door.

When we arrived at Billings, I was again the first off the plane. This time Chance’s shipping container was the first item out of the cargo hold. The funeral director had driven five hours up from Riverton, Wyoming to meet us. He shook my hand as if I had personally lost a brother.

We moved Chance to a secluded cargo area. Now it was time for me to remove the shipping container and drape the flag over the casket. I had predicted that this would choke me up but I found I was more concerned with proper flag etiquette than the solemnity of the moment. Once the flag was in place, I stood by and saluted as Chance was loaded onto the van from the funeral home. I was thankful that we were in a small airport and the event seemed to go mostly unnoticed. I picked up my rental car and followed Chance for five hours until we reached Riverton. During the long trip I imagined how my meeting with Chance’s parents would go. I was very nervous about that.

When we finally arrived at the funeral home, I had my first face to face meeting with the Casualty Assistance Call Officer. It had been his duty to inform the family of Chance’s death. He was on the Inspector/Instructor staff of an infantry company in Salt Lake City, Utah and I knew he had had a difficult week.

Inside I gave the funeral director some of the paperwork from Dover and discussed the plan for the next day. The service was to be at 1400 in the high school gymnasium up in Dubois, population about 900, some 90 miles away. Eventually, we had covered everything. The CACO had some items that the family wanted to be inserted into the casket and I felt I needed to inspect Chance’s uniform to ensure everything was proper. Although it was going to be a closed casket funeral, I still wanted to ensure his uniform was squared away.

Earlier in the day I wasn’t sure how I’d handle this moment. Suddenly, the casket was open and I got my first look at Chance Phelps. His uniform was immaculate—a tribute to the professionalism of the Marines at Dover. I noticed that he wore six ribbons over his marksmanship badge; the senior one was his Purple Heart. I had been in the Corps for over 17 years, including a combat tour, and was wearing eight ribbons. This Private First Class, with less than a year in the Corps, had already earned six.

The next morning, I wore my dress blues and followed the hearse for the trip up to Dubois. This was the most difficult leg of our trip for me. I was bracing for the moment when I would meet his parents and hoping I would find the right words as I presented them with Chance’s personal effects.
We got to the high school gym about four hours before the service was to begin. The gym floor was covered with folding chairs neatly lined in rows. There were a few townspeople making final preparations when I stood next to the hearse and saluted as Chance was moved out of the hearse. The sight of a flag-draped coffin was overwhelming to some of the ladies.

We moved Chance into the gym to the place of honor. A Marine sergeant, the command representative from Chance’s battalion, met me at the gym. His eyes were watery as he relieved me of watching Chance so that I could go eat lunch and find my hotel.

At the restaurant, the table had a flier announcing Chance’s service. Dubois High School gym; two o’ clock. It also said that the family would be accepting donations so that they could buy flak vests to send to troops in Iraq.

I drove back to the gym at a quarter after one. I could’ve walked—you could walk to just about anywhere in Dubois in ten minutes. I had planned to find a quiet room where I could take his things out of their pouch and untangle the chain of the Saint Christopher medal from the dog tag chains and arrange everything before his parents came in. I had twice before removed the items from the pouch to ensure they were all there—even though there was no chance anything could’ve fallen out. Each time, the two chains had been quite tangled. I didn’t want to be fumbling around trying to untangle them in front of his parents. Our meeting, however, didn’t go as expected.

I practically bumped into Chance’s step-mom accidentally and our introductions began in the noisy hallway outside the gym. In short order I had met Chance’s step-mom and father followed by his step-dad and, at last, his mom. I didn’t know how to express to these people my sympathy for their loss and my gratitude for their sacrifice. Now, however, they were repeatedly thanking me for bringing their son home and for my service. I was humbled beyond words.

I told them that I had some of Chance’s things and asked if we could try to find a quiet place. The five of us ended up in what appeared to be a computer lab—not what I had envisioned for this occasion.

After we had arranged five chairs around a small table, I told them about our trip. I told them how, at every step, Chance was treated with respect, dignity, and honor. I told them about the staff at Dover and all the folks at Northwest Airlines. I tried to convey how the entire Nation, from Dover to Philadelphia, to Minneapolis, to Billings, and Riverton expressed grief and sympathy over their loss.

Finally, it was time to open the pouch. The first item I happened to pull out was Chance’s large watch. It was still set to Baghdad time. Next were the lanyard and the wooden cross. Then the dog tags and the Saint Christopher medal. This time the chains were not tangled. Once all of his items were laid out on the table, I told his mom that I had one other item to give them. I retrieved the flight attendant’s crucifix from my pocket and told its story. I set that on the table and excused myself. When I next saw Chance’s mom, she was wearing the crucifix on her lapel.

By 1400 most of the seats on the gym floor were filled and people were finding seats in the fixed bleachers high above the gym floor. There were a surprising number of people in military uniform. Many Marines had come up from Salt Lake City. Men from various VFW posts and the Marine Corps League occupied multiple rows of folding chairs. We all stood as Chance’s family took their seats in the front.

It turned out that Chance’s sister, a Petty Officer in the Navy, worked for a Rear Admiral—the Chief of Naval Intelligence—at the Pentagon. The Admiral had brought many of the sailors on his staff with him to Dubois pay respects to Chance and support his sister. After a few songs and some words from a Navy Chaplain, the Admiral took the microphone and told us how Chance had died.

Chance was an artillery cannoneer and his unit was acting as provisional military police outside of Baghdad. Chance had volunteered to man a .50 caliber machine gun in the turret of the leading vehicle in a convoy. The convoy came under intense fire but Chance stayed true to his post and returned fire with the big gun, covering the rest of the convoy, until he was fatally wounded.

Then the commander of the local VFW post read some of the letters Chance had written home. In letters to his mom he talked of the mosquitoes and the heat. In letters to his stepfather he told of the dangers of convoy operations and of receiving fire.

The service was a fitting tribute to this hero. When it was over, we stood as the casket was wheeled out with the family following. The casket was placed onto a horse-drawn carriage for the mile-long trip from the gym, down the main street, then up the steep hill to the cemetery. I stood alone and saluted as the carriage departed the high school. I found my car and joined Chance’s convoy.

The town seemingly went from the gym to the street. All along the route, the people had lined the street and were waving small American flags. The flags that were otherwise posted were all at half-staff. For the last quarter mile up the hill, local boy scouts, spaced about 20 feet apart, all in uniform, held large flags. At the foot of the hill, I could look up and back and see the enormity of our procession. I wondered how many people would be at this funeral if it were in, say, Detroit or Los Angeles—probably not as many as were here in little Dubois, Wyoming.

The carriage stopped about 15 yards from the grave and the military pall bearers and the family waited until the men of the VFW and Marine Corps league were formed up and school busses had arrived carrying many of the people from the procession route. Once the entire crowd was in place, the pallbearers came to attention and began to remove the casket from the caisson. As I had done all week, I came to attention and executed a slow ceremonial salute as Chance was being transferred from one mode of transport to another.

From Dover to Philadelphia; Philadelphia to Minneapolis; Minneapolis to Billings; Billings to Riverton; and Riverton to Dubois we had been together. Now, as I watched them carry him the final 15 yards, I was choking up. I felt that, as long as he was still moving, he was somehow still alive.
Then they put him down above his grave. He had stopped moving.
Although my mission had been officially complete once I turned him over to the funeral director at the Billings airport, it was his placement at his grave that really concluded it in my mind. Now, he was home to stay and I suddenly felt at once sad, relieved, and useless.

The chaplain said some words that I couldn’t hear and two Marines removed the flag from the casket and slowly folded it for presentation to his mother. When the ceremony was over, Chance’s father placed a ribbon from his service in Vietnam on Chance’s casket. His mother approached the casket and took something from her blouse and put it on the casket. I later saw that it was the flight attendant’s crucifix. Eventually friends of Chance’s moved closer to the grave. A young man put a can of Copenhagen on the casket and many others left flowers.

Finally, we all went back to the gym for a reception. There was enough food to feed the entire population for a few days. In one corner of the gym there was a table set up with lots of pictures of Chance and some of his sports awards. People were continually approaching me and the other Marines to thank us for our service. Almost all of them had some story to tell about their connection to the military. About an hour into the reception, I had the impression that every man in Wyoming had, at one time or another, been in the service.

It seemed like every time I saw Chance’s mom she was hugging a different well wisher. As time passed, I began to hear people laughing. We were starting to heal.

After a few hours at the gym, I went back to the hotel to change out of my dress blues. The local VFW post had invited everyone over to “celebrate Chance’s life.” The Post was on the other end of town from my hotel and the drive took less than two minutes. The crowd was somewhat smaller than what had been at the gym but the Post was packed.

Marines were playing pool at the two tables near the entrance and most of the VFW members were at the bar or around the tables in the bar area. The largest room in the Post was a banquet/dinning/dancing area and it was now called “The Chance Phelps Room.” Above the entry were two items: a large portrait of Chance in his dress blues and the Eagle, Globe, & Anchor. In one corner of the room there was another memorial to Chance. There were candles burning around another picture of him in his blues. On the table surrounding his photo were his Purple Heart citation and his Purple Heart medal. There was also a framed copy of an excerpt from the Congressional Record. This was an elegant tribute to Chance Phelps delivered on the floor of the United States House of Representatives by Congressman Scott McInnis of Colorado. Above it all was a television that was playing a photo montage of Chance’s life from small boy to proud Marine.

I did not buy a drink that night. As had been happening all day, indeed all week, people were thanking me for my service and for bringing Chance home. Now, in addition to words and handshakes, they were thanking me with beer. I fell in with the men who had handled the horses and horse-drawn carriage. I learned that they had worked through the night to groom and prepare the horses for Chance’s last ride. They were all very grateful that they were able to contribute.

After a while we all gathered in the Chance Phelps room for the formal dedication. The Post commander told us of how Chance had been so looking forward to becoming a Life Member of the VFW. Now, in the Chance Phelps Room of the Dubois, Wyoming post, he would be an eternal member. We all raised our beers and the Chance Phelps room was christened.

Later, as I was walking toward the pool tables, a Staff Sergeant from the Reserve unit in Salt Lake grabbed me and said, “Sir, you gotta hear this.” There were two other Marines with him and he told the younger one, a Lance Corporal, to tell me his story. The Staff Sergeant said the Lance Corporal was normally too shy and modest to tell it but now he’d had enough beer to overcome his usual tendencies.

As the Lance Corporal started to talk, an older man joined our circle. He wore a baseball cap that indicated he had been with the 1st Marine Division in Korea. Earlier in the evening he had told me about one of his former commanding officers; a Colonel Puller.

So, there I was, standing in a circle with three Marines recently returned from fighting with the 1st Marine Division in Iraq and one not so recently returned from fighting with the 1st Marine Division in Korea. I, who had fought with the 1st Marine Division in Kuwait, was about to gain a new insight into our Corps.

The young Lance Corporal began to tell us his story. At that moment, in this circle of current and former Marines, the differences in our ages and ranks dissipated—we were all simply Marines.

His squad had been on a patrol through a city street. They had taken small arms fire and had literally dodged an RPG round that sailed between two Marines. At one point they received fire from behind a wall and had neutralized the sniper with a SMAW round. The back blast of the SMAW, however, kicked up a substantial rock that hammered the Lance Corporal in the thigh; only missing his groin because he had reflexively turned his body sideways at the shot.

Their squad had suffered some wounded and was receiving more sniper fire when suddenly he was hit in the head by an AK-47 round. I was stunned as he told us how he felt like a baseball bat had been slammed into his head. He had spun around and fell unconscious. When he came to, he had a severe scalp wound but his Kevlar helmet had saved his life. He continued with his unit for a few days before realizing he was suffering the effects of a severe concussion.

As I stood there in the circle with the old man and the other Marines, the Staff Sergeant finished the story. He told of how this Lance Corporal had begged and pleaded with the Battalion surgeon to let him stay with his unit. In the end, the doctor said there was just no way—he had suffered a severe and traumatic head wound and would have to be med’evaced.

The Marine Corps is a special fraternity. There are moments when we are reminded of this. Interestingly, those moments don’t always happen at awards ceremonies or in dress blues at Birthday Balls. I have found, rather, that they occur at unexpected times and places: next to a loaded moving van at Camp Lejeune’s base housing, in a dirty CP tent in northern Saudi Arabia, and in a smoky VFW post in western Wyoming.

After the story was done, the Lance Corporal stepped over to the old man, put his arm over the man’s shoulder and told him that he, the Korean War vet, was his hero. The two of them stood there with their arms over each other’s shoulders and we were all silent for a moment. When they let go, I told the Lance Corporal that there were recruits down on the yellow footprints tonight that would soon be learning his story.

I was finished drinking beer and telling stories. I found Chance’s father and shook his hand one more time. Chance’s mom had already left and I deeply regretted not being able to tell her goodbye.

I left Dubois in the morning before sunrise for my long drive back to Billings. It had been my honor to take Chance Phelps to his final post. Now he was on the high ground overlooking his town.
I miss him.

LtCol Strobl

Marines combine skills to fight in city

FALLUJAH, Iraq (May 30, 2006) -- Rooting out insurgents in the rural farmlands west of Fallujah is quite a different task than the same thing in the densely packed city streets. It’s a change of pace two companies worth of Marines are learning in beefed up operations here.


Submitted by: 1st Marine Division
Story Identification #: 200662545
Story by Cpl. Brian Reimers

Marines from A Company, 1st Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 5, worked side by side with B Company to fight the insurgency in Fallujah. They left behind the palm groves and farmlands of their usual operating area and headed into the heart of Fallujah.

“It was overall a huge scenery change for us,” said Navy Seaman Cameron R. Cleveland, one of A Company’s hospital corpsmen. “We went from jumping over irrigation canals and walking through heavy vegetation to the crowded city.”

A Company is currently operating outside the city, while B Company is operating in Fallujah’s back alleys. They are using each others’ tactics and learning the areas to stop the insurgents from getting an upper hand in the populated area.

“We did a security patrol, which consisted of checking out anything suspicious in the area,” said Sgt. Brendan W. Hamm, a platoon sergeant with B Company. “I took some of the Marines from Alpha Company throughout our area of operation to get them used to the type of missions that we run here.”

The Marines loaded several humvees and made their way into the center of the city. Within minutes of arriving at their assigned area, they spotted a vehicle commonly used by insurgents parked in an alley way with three military-aged males inside.

Hamm said it’s the type of scenario Marines here encounter all the time.

“We would be patrolling the city and see a vehicle that looked suspicious,” Hamm said, from Schenectady, N.Y. “With security posted, we get out of our humvees and make it a point to check them out.”

Searching the suspicious vehicle for weapons and any possible ties to insurgent activity isn’t the only thing they are doing though. They also try to gain a pulse of the needs of the local citizens during routine stops.

“We ask them general question to see if they act irregular and might be helping out the bad guys, but we also like to ask if they are running a business or what they do in the city,” the 26-year-old Hamm said. “It is important to see if we can help them out in any way. It is the least we can do after stopping them and searching them.”

For some Marines, moving from the open stretches of farmlands to the urban patchwork of concrete buildings was challenging.

“There are definitely a lot more people and the streets are just much more crowded,” said 20-year-old Lance Cpl. Adam A. Briggs, an A Company Marine while searching vehicles. “With all of that you need to be a lot more aware of your surroundings at any given time.”

There’s an added sense of alertness that comes with working in such tight areas like Fallujah.

“Up north, you can see where possible enemy contact will come from,” explained Cleveland, 19, of Battleground, Wash. “In Fallujah though, you poke your head around a corner and there are a lot of places to be engaged from which makes it a lot more dangerous.”

After hours of patrolling the streets, the mounted patrol rounded a corner before heading back to their firm base to find another group of Iraqi males acting out of sorts.

Immediately, the combination of Marines dismounted and searched the vehicle, turning up an identification that did not belong to anyone riding in the car.

“The I.D. didn’t belong to anyone on scene,” Hamm said. “You never know … it could of fallen out of someone’s pocket and they picked it up to give it back, or they could have used it to try and get an insurgent into the city. That is why we stop to question them.”

The men were questioned and then released, but Marines held on to the identification badge. They would later check it with records at their headquarters.

Not all tense moments came from searches. A sandstorm hit the convoy of vehicles without warning. Turret gunners were forced to change out their eye protection for a set of ballistic goggles and take some sort of refuge behind their mounted machine guns.

With a little discomfort and frustration, the dusted vehicles pulled back into the forward operating base. Sweaty, tired and dirty, the day’s mission was a success.

“The Bravo Company guys gave us some great guidance of what to look for in the city,” said Briggs said, from Newport, Pa. “It worked very well and it is great to be able to combine our forces and experiences to make things run smoothly and in the end fight the same mission.”

Marines based in Knoxville headed to Iraq

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. Marine officials said today about 50 Marine reservists from a Knoxville-based engineering battalion will leave next week for training before deploying to Iraq.

Members of the Delta Company, 4th Combat Engineer Battalion, plan to leave Monday for Lynchburg, Virginia


They will join another group before going to Twentynine Palms, California for three months of training.

They are expected to be in Iraq for six to nine months and will be attached to various units fighting there.

A group of reservists from same company returned from Iraq last October after spending eight months overseas.

USS Cole, Iwo Jima group deploy to Mideast next week

NAVAL STATION NORFOLK- -- For the first time since being attacked in Yemen nearly six years ago, the USS Cole is returning to the Middle East in support of the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and against terrorism, Navy officials announced today.


June 2, 2006, 11:58 AM EDT

The ship will join the 6,000 sailors and Marines with the Iwo Jima Expeditionary Strike Group.

The Hampton Roads-based ships are expected to leave early next week. They'll pick up the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit from Camp Lejeune, N.C., and be under way for six months.

Included in the group is the Iwo Jima, an amphibious assault ship; the Nashville, an amphibious transport ship; the Bulkeley, a guided-missile destroyer; the Whidbey Island, a dock landing ship; the Florida-based Philippine Sea, a guided-missile cruiser; the Connecticut-based Albuquerque, an attack submarine; and the Gonzalez, a Norfolk-based ship already deployed.

The Cole, a guided-missile destroyer, was attacked on Oct. 12, 2000, while tied up at a fuel station in the Yemeni port of Aden.

Suicide bombers had slipped a small boat through Navy security and ignited a blast that killed 17 sailors and wounded 39 more.

The 500-foot ship underwent $250 million in repairs at a Mississippi shipyard to mend the gaping hole left in its side.

In 2003, the Cole deployed to the Mediterranean Sea – the first cruise since the bombing.

A deadly day: Marines under fire leave no man behind

RAMADI, Iraq — Marine Capt. Andrew Del Gaudio walked down the battered staircase, past the dusty American flag strung in the hall, past the windows crammed with sandbags.


Posted June 2, 2006
By Todd Pitman
The Associated Press

In the darkened ground-floor corridor of Government Center, Marines rested on cots and worn sofas, some smoking in silence. The complex houses the office of the Iraqi governor of Anbar province, and shakes from exploding mortar rounds or rockets fired by insurgents just about every day.

Stepping outside wrapped in his flak jacket — not even the compound's inner courtyards are safe — Del Gaudio punched a number into a satellite telephone that only worked in the open air.

The signal bounced skyward, then down to America.

In Jacksonville, N.C., it was early Sunday morning, April 2.

His wife, Nicole, mother of his nearly 20-month-old daughter, was on the line.

"We had a real bad day," the 30-year-old New York native told her. "I had to do something ... and ended up getting hurt. But I'm all right."

Del Gaudio had been hit in his right forefinger by shrapnel. His fingers had been burned from touching smoldering flesh.

Regulations prohibited him from saying that hours earlier he had helped pull some of his Marines — "my boys" — out of the burning wreckage of a Humvee, under fire.

"Look, if I had my way, I never would have told you about this, but they're going to call and tell you anyway. I didn't want you to worry," Del Gaudio said.

• • •

Nearly four weeks earlier, some 1,000 troops from the Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment said goodbye to wives and friends, parents and children.

The troops were heading to Iraq, most of them for a second tour.

Some savored every last second. Some took that one last kiss. Some were eager to get going.

In the crowd was Cpl. Scott J. Procopio, a 20-year-old machine-gunner from Saugus, Mass., who had married his longtime sweetheart six months before. He liked to work with his hands, and later built a broad wooden bench outside his platoon's living quarters in Ramadi.

There was Lance Cpl. Yun Y. Kim, a 20-year-old rifleman from Atlanta. The son of a Korean national, he was a first generation American, fond of expensive clothes and the latest cell phones.

There was Geovani Padilla-Aleman, a 20-year-old medic from South Gate, Calif. The Mexican-born sailor had been attached to Kilo Company a few months before, and his comrades joked he was a "chow-hog" who gulped military rations "down to the packets of gum."

Then there was Staff Sgt. Eric A. McIntosh, a good-natured 29-year-old infantry leader from Trafford, Pa. He had joined the Marines a few months after graduating high school and was making a career of it.

In the base parking lot, Del Gaudio came upon McIntosh hugging his wife.

"He said, 'Aw, hey sir, she's leaving right now,'" Del Gaudio recalled. "I said, 'It's cool if she wants to hang out, it's not a big deal.' But he said: 'I've got to get ready to do this, too. I've got to get the boys ready to go.'"

The Marines were pumped up — they had spent the last half year training for their second Iraq tour, practicing marksmanship, keeping fit, studying first aid, weapons systems, the rules of war.

But there was anxiety, too.

They were headed to Ramadi, capital of Anbar province, a city of 400,000 people along the Euphrates River: Tall palm trees. Ornate columned villas. The heart of the Sunni Triangle and Iraq's insurgency.

"Everybody knew what they were getting themselves into," Del Gaudio said.

• • •

Kilo Company was assigned to an all-male base called Hurricane Point, a sand-filled sprawl on the western edge of Ramadi.

A small, wooden chow hall served scrambled egg and pancake breakfasts, hot dinners of meat and gravy, and sandwiches in between. There was a gym. There were trailers with shower cubicles and sinks.

When Marines left the base, they went prepared to fight, and usually did. They wore protective goggles and extra side armor. They carried pistols, M-16s, M-4 carbines, anti-tank rockets, ammunition and grenades — and used them all.

Some parts of town seemed normal: souks, mosques, villas, busy streets, children walking to school. Other parts did not. Whole buildings had been gutted and blackened by rockets and gunfire.

In their command center, the Marines tracked insurgent activity by the minute, pinning colored tacks on a satellite map on the wall that marked suspected roadside bomb sites and snipers. Sometimes there was so much activity, they joked they were running out of tacks.

Kilo Company's three platoons rotated through a nonstop cycle of war: They would spend five days in Government Center, fending off daily attacks from rooftop machine-gun nests.

They would spend days in another outpost up the road, then head back to the relative safety of Hurricane Point, but still be sent out on daily patrols that nearly always came under fire.

Some complained. Some joked. But they believed in the mission: supporting Iraq's fledgling democracy, training Iraqi forces to take over the fight, battling terrorism.

They didn't have time to watch TV and lived far from the debate over the war back home. Their loyalty was to each other, and their primary goals simple: keep each other alive and leave no man behind.

• • •

On Sunday, April 2, Kilo Company's 3rd Platoon was up before dawn.

There was a heavy downpour — for some troops the first rain they had ever seen in Iraq.

Del Gaudio and McIntosh shared a sink in one of the trailer showers. They shaved, talked about their wives, about what they would do when they got back home.

The day's mission was to be a patrol in armored Humvees.

They studied the route in detail, checking for possible bomb spots. "Nothing to worry about," said Lt. Brian Wilson, the 24-year-old platoon commander from Columbia, S.C.

As six Humvees idled, Marines threw on flak jackets, tightened helmet straps, checked weapons.

The convoy began to move, one Marine leading each vehicle to the gate on foot — a safety measure to slow traffic inside the base.

They paused at a row of sand-filled barriers, clicked off the safety switches on their weapons, then rolled out of Hurricane Point and into the city.

Fifteen minutes into the patrol, the convoy ran into something that wasn't on their maps — a barrier consisting of a wall of some sort, with cars parked in the road. They weren't surprised. Sometimes, what looked like a street on the map turned out to be an impassable alley.

They turned around and drove off-course for a few blocks, checking with each other by radio.

From the last vehicle, McIntosh — his call sign was Alpha 3 — acknowledged the change of course. "Roger, we got the rear," Del Gaudio recalled him saying.

As the lead Humvee rounded a corner, an explosion erupted a block behind.

Del Gaudio saw debris flying onto the main road. His vehicle commander, Cpl. Jason Hunt, a 24-year-old from Wellsville, N.Y., saw what he thought was a body fly through the air.

Across the radios: "Is everybody all right?"

There was no response from Alpha 3.

• • •

The bomb, a cluster of artillery shells buried under the pavement, had flung out smoldering pieces of the Humvee. There was little left. A tire. A smashed transmission. A gun-shield blown onto a rooftop.

There had been five men in the truck. Four were dead. The body of Padilla-Aleman lay near the center of the road. McIntosh and Procopio were in the wreckage. Kim was 60 feet away.

The fifth man, Lance Cpl. Rex McKnight, 19, of Panama City, Fla., lay on the ground, convulsing in shock and blood from a broken arm and a severely injured leg.

Marines dragged him away from the fire, took a tourniquet out of his pocket and wrapped it around his arm.

Up the road, insurgents opened fire. Rounds pinged off the ground, off the trucks, but in the chaos, few noticed.

"It was all so surreal," Wilson said. "I didn't realize we were getting shot at until we were about to leave. It didn't matter."

The priority was to get McKnight to "Charlie Med," the main medical facility on a large U.S. Army base nearby.

"Don't you die, don't you die," Wilson recalled telling McKnight. "If you let me get you to Charlie Med, you'll live, I promise you." McKnight survived.

Del Gaudio stayed behind with three other Marines, to guard the dead.

"It was just the principle of not leaving them alone. I wouldn't leave them, couldn't leave them. I wouldn't leave my boys," he said.

From buildings somewhere down the road came more volleys of machine-gun fire.

Squinting through his M-4's scope, Del Gaudio saw a dozen gunmen through the smoke. One was using a video camera. Others, he said, were holding children by the shoulders, using them as shields.

Del Gaudio did not fire.

A piece of metal, perhaps a bullet fragment, sliced the edge of his forefinger and struck his rifle. Adrenaline pumping, he ignored the wound, and saw the children had fled. He shot, but couldn't tell if he hit anything.

Seconds later, Marine Humvees pulled up, followed by Army wreckers and tanks.

As the two sides traded sporadic fire, Marines put the dead into body bags. Their flesh was so hot it burned Del Gaudio's fingers.

"We took all their gear. We took every last thing that was on the ground out there," he said. "We made sure we left the enemy nothing, like nothing ever happened."

• • •

The 3rd Platoon returned to Hurricane Point. They sorted what remained of the fallen men's gear. They took jugs of water and cleaned blood from their trucks.

They were in shock. They were angry. Some shed tears. Some didn't want to eat.

These were the first Marines lost by Kilo Company since arriving the month before.

Hunt struggled to put his feelings into words. "You look at this body that was once filled with life and movement and color and an aura of a human being, and then it's just ..." His voiced trailed off.

Del Gaudio spent the rest of the day at Government Center, where he stepped outside to call his wife.

That night, he did not sleep.

"As a leader, you do everything you can, all the planning you can, to set your boys up for success," he said. "But when you roll the dice at the end of the day, it's always better to be lucky than it is to be good."

There would be no break. The next morning, the 3rd Platoon was tasked with a raid.

"They're strong young men who can deal with anything. They saw their friends die, best friends," Wilson said. "And the next day they were out riding down the same roads. Were they scared? Hell yeah. Everybody's scared, but it doesn't matter. You trust your training, you trust your leaders, you ship out and you drive ... on."

• • •

By the 3rd Platoon's barracks at Hurricane Point, troops still sit on the bench Procopio made, hanging out as the sun goes down. On the back is written Procopio's name, rank, date of death and "RIP."

Nearby, four wooden crosses wrapped with dog tags rise from the bank of sand-filled barriers.

About two weeks after the bomb blast, a Humvee gunner from another company was killed by a rocket-propelled grenade as his vehicle was entering Government Center.

The gunner, Justin Sims, had been among those who came to the rescue of Kilo Company two weeks earlier under fire.

As a late afternoon sun cast a warm glow over Hurricane Point, another convoy of Humvees geared up to move out to the site of this latest attack.

Marines pulled on flak jackets, tightened helmet straps, checked weapons.

The convoy began to move, one Marine leading each vehicle to the gate on foot.

They paused at the sand-filled barriers, clicked off the safety switches on their guns, rolled out of Hurricane Point and headed down the road to Government Center.

They had been in country for a month. There were six more to go.

Battalion honors three fallen warriors

CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq (June 2, 2006) -- Marines of 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment paused to honor three men who gave the full measure for freedom.


June 2, 2006
By Cpl. William Skelton,
1st Marine Division

A memorial service was held here June 2 to honor Pfc. Steven W. Freund, Lance Cpl. Robert G. Posivio III and an Iraqi linguist known to the Marines as David. All three were killed in action May 23. Freund, a 20-year-old, was from Pittsburgh; Posivio, a 22-year-old, was from Sherburn, Minn.; and David, a 20-year-old, was from Basra, Iraq. All three men were assigned to B Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment.

The battalion is currently operating in Gharmah, Iraq, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“These men were as different as words can describe and yet united in the vision of a free and peaceful Iraq,” said Lt. Col. David J. Furness, the 43-year-old battalion commander from Oceanside, Calif. “Their sacrifice is a testimony of service – service to one’s country and to each other.”

Furness said Posivio and Freund were veterans of previous battles in the area, defending their observation posts from insurgent attacks on at least two separate occasions.

Freund was a member of 2nd Squad, 4th Platoon. He was known for his great sense of humor and a convincing Arnold Schwarzenegger impression.

“Steve was a walking comedian and an endless source of entertainment,” said Lance Cpl. Christopher M. Deschenes, a 20-year-old machine gunner from Oceanside, Calif. “Whether he was getting himself caught in concertina wire at Twentynine Palms and not being able to get out or crying out his best Arnold Schwarzenegger impression, he was always making us laugh.”

Freund had a rough start in life. He bounced from foster home to foster home, until his aunt adopted him when he was 16. Freund joined the Marine Corps in hopes of a new beginning.

“Freund told me stories about his life and living in his truck,” said Lance Cpl. Justin A. Devoll, a 25-year-old rifleman from Newark, Ohio. “Of how he hoped to start over in the Marine Corps.”

Freund was remembered for his heroic actions that helped save the lives of his fellow Marines during a recent mortar attack. His career in the Marine Corps was a clear reflection of him reaching the goal he set out to accomplish, Devoll said.

Posivio was remembered for his down-home country upbringing. Raised on a small farm in Minnesota, he longed to return to his simple life and take over the family farm.

“Posivio was the type of man who loved to hunt and fish,” Furness said. “He loved to ride snowmobiles through the long Minnesota winters.”

Posivio was set to leave the Marine Corps in a few weeks. He was making preparations to fly back to Camp Pendleton to begin his discharge process.

“Lance Cpl. Posivio had one of the biggest hearts I’ve ever seen,” said Sgt. Brock T. Cisneros, a 21-year-old rifleman from Salt Lake City. “He was always willing to help out in hard times and times of confusion.”

David was the son of a sergeant major in the old Iraqi Army. He hoped one day to join the new Iraqi Army to keep his nation free. David worked within the company providing key linguistic support that was vital to the battalion’s mission.

“David, purely by his occupation, demonstrated a resolve we would all do well to emulate,” Furness said.

Freund received his general equivalent diploma from Thomas Jefferson High School in Pittsburgh. He reported to recruit training in February 2005. He completed the School of Infantry and obtained his military occupational specialty of basic rifleman. His awards include the Purple Heart, Combat Action Ribbon, National Defense Service Medal and Iraq Campaign Medal. .

Posivio graduated from Martin County West High School in Sherburn, Minn. He reported to recruit training in July 2002. He completed the School of Infantry and obtained his military occupational specialty of basic rifleman. His awards include the Purple Heart with gold star, Combat Action Ribbon, Navy Unit Commendation, Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, Global War of Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Humanitarian Service Medal and Sea Service Deployment Ribbon.

Recent photos of the three fallen rested on easels beside the traditional memorial – helmets resting on rifles. Identification tags hung the rifles and in front, an empty set of combat boots. A Marine played “Taps” at the close of the service while all stood at attention.

Marines from the company then came forward individually to pay their last respects.

“These young men, both American and Iraqi, have through their actions and bravery, set an example for all of us,” Furness said.

June 1, 2006

Tribal dynamics back up Iraqi town's security

Marines' alliance with Abu Mahals provides support for fragile government

By Andrew Tilghman, Stars and Stripes
Mideast edition, Thursday, June 1, 2006

HUSAYBAH, Iraq — One year ago, tribal warfare broke out in this dusty border town and many families from one prominent tribe, the Abu Mahals, were forced from their homes in a bloody purge that left many tribal leaders dead — some beheaded.

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Aid doesn't reach remote parts of quake zone

BANTUL, Indonesia - International relief teams had yet to reach remote areas of Indonesia's quake-zone Thursday, where newly reported deaths from last weekend's disaster raised the toll to more than 6,200, officials said.


Associated Press
Updated: 6:16 a.m. CT June 1, 2006

With more than a half-million others displaced, aid workers who have poured into the region were scrambling to provide adequate shelter, food and access to health care.

Many villagers complained they were not getting the help they needed. Some searched beneath a steady rain for scraps of tin and other materials to rebuild crumbled homes, while others blocked traffic to beg for money.

"We are forced to do this because the only aid we've received is a bit of food and some cooking oil," said Ribut Setyo Pambudi, 17, after stopping a bus. "We don't have any money to rebuild, to buy gasoline or even to go out to try to find work."

Others placed flower pots and trash cans on streets to slow traffic and beg for donations.

More than 6,000 dead
The death toll from Saturday's 6.3-magnitude quake on Java island rose to 6,234 after officials reported 388 more bodies in remote corners of Bantul, said Andi Hanindito, an official at the Social Affairs Ministry.

"We are getting information from areas that were previously inaccessible," he said, adding that phone lines had been restored and many of the damaged roads and bridges repaired.

Some villages complained that, five days after the quake, they had yet to receive any international aid even though they were less than 20 kilometers from the hardest-hit region.

In Topriaten, where only a few houses were left standing, residents said they had only received one bag of rice from local authorities for 140 people. No tents had arrived _ scores of villagers were living beneath makeshift tarps.

"I don't know why no one has come yet," said Jemingin, 46, the village elder. "We're not far from the city but it seems we're being ignored."

Around 647,000 people displaced
The temblor that struck soon after dawn Saturday reduced more than 135,000 houses into piles of bricks, tiles and wood in less than a minute, displacing some 647,000 people, said Bambang Priyohadi, a provincial official. He based the figure on an estimation of nearly five family members for each demolished home.

Many are living under plastic sheets close to their former homes, in rice fields or on roadsides, their misery compounded by days of intermittent rain and blazing sun. Others are staying with relatives or friends.

"There are many who are hungry here," said Warjono, sitting beneath a flimsy canvas tarp. Behind him, was a sign that read: "Wirokerten village desperately needs your help."

"We got some government aid, but it wasn't divided equally, and I got very little," said the man, who like many Indonesians only uses one name.

Health was also a pressing issue.

Days after the quake, patients occupied every available spot in the hot, dirty hospital in hardest-hit Bantul district. The stench of urine and trash wafted through the main hall, where more than 150 victims lay on the floor centimeters (inches) apart, a cracked roof overhead.

Many were still wearing the clothes they had on when the massive quake hit.

‘A lot more needs to be done,’ president says
Indonesia's president, who moved his office immediately after the quake to the nearby city of Yogyakarta, said he had enough confidence in the relief efforts to return to the capital, Jakarta.

"Certainly, a lot more needs to be done," said Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, but he noted that roads had been cleared, the main airport's runway repaired and reopened, and electricity restored in some areas.

Several foreign militaries are also contributing to the relief effort, with Japan saying Thursday it was dispatching 140 troops to provide medical assistance, supplies and other humanitarian support. They were expected to arrive by Friday.

Dozens of U.S. Marines were providing care at a portable field hospital on a soccer field in the town of Sewon _ the latest of several American relief missions in predominantly Muslim nations. The U.S. military also helped in Indonesia's Aceh province after the 2004 tsunami and in Pakistan after last year's devastating quake.

Despite the tragic circumstances, one U.S. Marine said the current relief effort could serve as a cultural bridge.

"When you help people, you become friends," said 1st Lt. Eric Tausch, from a U.S. Marine division based in Okinawa, Japan.