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July 30, 2006

Marines Prop Up Ailing Local Gov't in Iraq

RAMADI, Iraq -- Peering over piles of sandbags in this ravaged city, U.S. Marines sometimes see more gunmen on the streets than municipal employees going to work.


Associated Press Writer
July 30, 2006, 3:42 PM EDT

The provincial governor regularly arrives at his office with armed guards in tow. Young Marines notice few others on his staff trail behind.

After three years of war in Ramadi, the U.S. military has yet to move from combat to stabilization operations in most of this Sunni Arab city of 400,000 people, the capital of Anbar province.

Here full-fledged combat still rages. Efforts to build a local government have faltered.

In just four months, one Marine has fired 27 rockets. Another estimates he's fired 5,000 rounds from a .50-caliber machine gun. One marksman has 20 confirmed kills. His superiors believe he's probably killed another 40 but they aren't sure.

The U.S. military said Sunday that four U.S. Marines assigned to the Regimental Combat Team 7 were killed in action in Anbar province, although it did not say where.

Residents of Ramadi are afraid of even walking near the offices of the Anbar provincial government, which is supposed to administer an area the size of North Carolina, and with about one million inhabitants.

"There's been a concerted campaign against government officials that's had some great success ... the government center is nearly devoid of governance," said the top Marine intelligence officer for the 3rd Battalion, 8th Regiment, who asked not to be identified because of security policies for intelligence officers.

Earlier this year, policemen were stationed in a rebuilt station within the compound -- but daily attacks scared them away. Now the freshly painted police station is empty, surrounded by police cars with tires flattened by mortar shrapnel. Iraqi soldiers were also relocated to safer parts of the city, leaving the government's defense again in the hands of Marines.

"The only way this thing is going to get normal is if Iraqis stand up for themselves," said Sgt. John Strobridge, 21, of Orlando, Fla., as he walked through the empty police station. Pointing to the damaged police vehicles, he observed, "As you can see, they didn't last long."

In recent weeks the U.S. military has tried to remove neighborhoods from insurgent control, building new outposts deeper into the city to extend the reach of its patrols. Marines are also trying to expand the so-called "Green Zone" of the city, a calmer western neighborhood of about 25,000 people near a cluster of U.S. bases.

But in the heart of the city, the war is unabated.

"The number one thing I'm looking to do is kill the enemy," said Capt. Andrew Del Gaudio, 30, of New York, commander of Company K, 3rd Battalion, 8th Regiment. "I do that knowing that when I do that I allow the Iraqi government to function."

The Marines defend a U.S.-appointed government that's struggled to build its credibility in this mostly Sunni Arab city. Since the toppling of their longtime patron Saddam Hussein, Sunnis have fallen out of power and the once-repressed Shiites have ascended.

U.S. officials hope the national unity government that took office this spring with greater Sunni Arab representation will persuade some insurgents to lay down their arms. But the provincial government here -- comparable to state governments in the United States -- is still run by officials handpicked by Americans or U.S.-chosen councils.

That raises questions about their legitimacy among Sunni Arabs, the most disaffected group in Iraq and the bedrock of the insurgency.

So far the insurgency has shown few signs of backing off its mission of destroying anything that cooperates with the U.S. military. The provincial governor says he's survived nearly 30 assassination attempts. Two of his predecessors resigned under threat and another was kidnapped and killed.

The vast majority of insurgents in Ramadi -- at least 90 percent, by U.S. military estimates -- are locals. Most of the Al-Qaida members who make up about a quarter of all insurgents are Iraqi, U.S. officials say. Just 5 percent to 10 percent of all insurgents are foreigners, the military estimates.

Foreign fighters "are a very small percentage, and you see that reflected everywhere. We don't capture or detain an awful lot of these guys," said Col. Sean MacFarland, commander of the Army's 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, which oversees the city.

While still operating in wide areas of the city, some Marines say they're content to battle away and trim the insurgency's ranks.

"We're in a very aggressive neighborhood. We need to take out as many of them as possible at a time, and throw in some intimidation there too," said Lance Cpl. Richard Mason, 21, of Medina, Ohio, who has fired 27 rockets on gangs of insurgents in the area.

Some Marines, many on their second tour in Iraq in as many years, expressed impatience with the government's efforts to build a military and assert control of its streets. But others said they were willing to keep fighting while Iraqi officials struggle to build a foundation of government here.

"Yeah, I'd like Iraqis to step up to the plate. But that's why we're here. We're here to teach them to be self-sufficient and train their army," said Lance Cpl. Galen Wilson, 21, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Marine photographer says Kevlar helmet saved him from enemy bullet in Iraq

Cpl. Brian M. Henner, a 22-year-old Marine from Rochester, N.Y., displays the Kevlar helmet he wore July 23, 2006, when he was shot in the head by an insurgent. Henner, a combat photographer with Regimental Combat Team 7, was shot in the helmet when insurgents, hidden in a near-by tree-line, fired upon Marines manning a vehicle inspection checkpoint. The incident took place in Haqlaniyah – one of three Euphrates River valley cities in the western portion of Al Anbar Province which make up the Haditha Triad region. “If I didn’t have it on, it probably would have went into the top of my head,” said Henner, a two-time veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom. “It didn’t just graze, it dug in to the helmet, but that’s why we wear them, though.” Henner was photographing the Marines’ activities when the gun fight began, and was caught in the middle. After firing several rounds at the insurgents, he began crawling along the median away from the insurgents’ fire – that’s when he was shot in the head, he said.


July 30, 2006; Submitted on: 07/30/2006 09:12:52 AM ; Story ID#: 200673091252

By Staff Sgt. Jim Goodwin, 1st Marine Division

CAMP AL ASAD, Iraq (July 30, 2006) -- Though a religious man, Cpl. Brian M. Henner doesn’t attribute Divine Intervention, luck, fate or destiny to the fact that he’s still alive after taking an enemy bullet to the head.

Instead, the 22-year-old U.S. Marine says it was his Kevlar helmet that saved his life in the middle of a gunfight between Marines and insurgents in Iraq’s Al Anbar province last week.

“If I didn’t have it on, it probably would have went into the top of my head,” said Henner, a native of Rochester, N.Y. “It didn’t just graze, it dug in to the helmet, but that’s why we wear them, though.”

Henner, a Marine combat photographer with Regimental Combat Team 7, was shot in the helmet when insurgents, hidden in a near-by tree-line, fired upon Marines manning a vehicle inspection checkpoint July 23.

The incident took place in Haqlaniyah – one of three Euphrates River valley cities in the western portion of Al Anbar province which make up the Haditha Triad region.

While snapping photographs of Marines searching locals’ vehicles, Henner says the Marines began receiving gunfire from a tree-line across the street. The Marines immediately took cover behind a car, but Henner was stuck in the road, where he was photographing from when the fire started, with just a small median to provide protection and concealment.

As the insurgents continued to fire against the Marines, Henner laid on his belly behind the road’s median – the only protection he and another Marine in the street had – and returned fire with his rifle before crawling along the median and away from the firing.

He says he was shot when he was crawling away from the firing. The impact of the bullet took a chunk out of the top of his helmet.

“I saw a flash and then, ‘Wham!’ something hit me in the head real hard,” said Henner, a 2002 graduate of Brookport High School in Rochester. “I knew it wasn’t a rock, and I thought, ‘Damn, I think I just got shot in the head.’”

With other Marines yelling at him to “Move!” – Henner sprang to his feet, ran for the car, and slid across its hood – breaking his camera lens in the process.

He then used his personal camera to record short video clips of the ensuing gun battle, which lasted less than 30 minutes altogether, he said.

“It wasn’t just another patrol to hand out candy,” he said. “I remember that whole 25 minutes pretty well.”

His parents were “surprisingly calm” about the incident after Henner told them on the phone what had happened, he said.

“She’s (mom) taken credit for this with all the prayers she says,” said Henner, who joined the Marines shortly after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001.

“It makes me mad that people don’t remember that anymore,” he said. “That was a big recruiting drive for the U.S. military.”

As a combat photographer and two-time Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran, Henner has snapped thousands of photos of Marines, U.S. soldiers and Iraqi security forces conducting security operations in Al Anbar province. He’s spent countless hours “outside the wire” with U.S. and Iraqi military forces, documenting the war through photos.

Still, this was the first “bonafide firefight” he’s been in, he said, although he “just lets it all roll off” his shoulders, the incident has made him a bit more “aware” to his surroundings.

“I carry a lot more (rifle) magazines now,” he said.

With less than six months left in the Marine Corps, Henner plans on leaving the military to pursue college, he said.

To view Henner’s photos, as well as the photos of U.S. Marine combat photographers throughout the world, go to the Defense Visual Information Center at http://www.dodmedia.osd.mil/.

Email Staff Sgt. Goodwin at: [email protected]

Please click on pictures for full descriptions and credits.

McCain's youngest son joins Marines

PHOENIX, ARIZONA -- The youngest son of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has joined the Marine Corps and could be deployed to a war zone in a matter of months, according to a magazine report. Jimmy McCain, 18, will begin basic training in September. He'll spend three months in boot camp and undergo a month of specialized training before being assigned to a unit.


Items compiled from Tribune news services
Published July 30, 2006

"I'm obviously very proud of my son," the elder McCain told Time, "but also understandably a little nervous." McCain's communications director, Eileen McMenamin, confirmed the Time story but said the senator would not comment further Saturday. McCain has been an outspoken supporter of the war in Iraq and said last month during a Senate debate that withdrawing troops would "risk disaster." Another of the senator's seven children, Jack, 20, attends the U.S. Naval Academy.

July 29, 2006

Combat engineers: Valuable asset to U.S., Iraqi security operations in western Iraq

Cpl. Bryan D. Escobedo, a U.S. Marine and combat engineer attached to the Twenty-nine Palms, Calif.-based 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, carries lumber for use in the construction of bunkers July 27, 2006, at Camp Korean Village, Iraq. Bunkers are just one example of the various construction projects combat engineers frequently build to help protect Marines and Iraqi soldiers throughout the country’s Al Anbar Province. The engineers, trained in demolition, mine detection, and construction, operate in this vast desert stretching from the Jordanian border about 120 miles east towards the Euphrates River. Most of the engineers’ time is focused on beefing up security measures at the various U.S. military bases throughout Anbar’s western desert region. “We’re jacks of all trades,” said Cpl. Joshua T. Raney, a 21-year-old combat engineer attached to the battalion’s engineer detachment. “Without us, a lot of weapons caches, and IEDs would not have been found, and a lot of stuff wouldn’t have been built- we just make things a little easier for everyone.” In addition to the fortifications, combat engineers are keeping Coalition Forces safer by disposing of unexploded ordnance. Since their arrival in March, the engineers disposed of more than 500 pounds of ordnance – mortars, rockets, bombs, and other munitions. “We’re cutting down on the insurgents’ munitions,” said Raney. “For every piece we blow up, that is one less IED.” Escobedo is a 21-year-old from Houston, Texas.

July 28, 2006; Submitted on: 07/28/2006 12:49:36 PM ; Story ID#: 2006728124936

By Cpl. Graham A. Paulsgrove, Regimental Combat Team7

CAMP KOREAN VILLAGE, Iraq (July 28, 2006) -- While sectarian violence appears to be on the rise in other areas of Iraq, U.S. Marines in western Al Anbar province are beefing up security at U.S. military camps here, which will eventually be turned over to Iraqi Forces.

A team of Marine combat engineers attached to the Twenty-nine Palms, Calif.-based 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion spent the past several months keeping roads free of improvised explosive devices and strengthening buildings and forward operating bases to keep U.S. and Iraqi military forces secure in this region.

“We’re jacks of all trades,” said Cpl. Joshua T. Raney, a 21-year-old combat engineer attached to the battalion’s engineer detachment. “Without us, a lot of weapons caches, and IEDs would not have been found, and a lot of stuff wouldn’t have been built- we just make things a little easier for everyone.”

The engineers, trained in demolition, mine detection, and construction, operate in this vast desert stretching from the Jordanian border about 120 miles east towards the Euphrates River.

Most of the engineers’ time is focused on beefing up security measures at the various U.S. military bases throughout Anbar’s western desert region. In January, engineers built an eight-foot high dirt berm around Rutbah to curb smuggling and insurgent activity.

To gain access to or leave this city of 25,000, vehicles must pass through one of three traffic control points, which are manned by Iraqi soldiers, ensuring everything that goes in and comes out is screened- limiting insurgent activity.

Rutbah is considered by U.S. military officials in Iraq as a strategic location for insurgents and smugglers, since it is located astride two main supply routes – one from Jordan, and one from Syria. Traveling east from the Syrian or Jordanian border, the supply routes lead through Rutbah and continue on to the heart of the Sunni Triangle – Ar Ramadi, Al Fallujah, and Baghdad.

Furthermore, with the gradual turnover of areas of responsibility to Iraqi forces, the engineers have focused some of their efforts on fortifying Iraqi border forts and fighting positions throughout western Al Anbar Province. In Akashat, a small town near the Iraqi-Syrian border, the engineers built several bunkers so Iraqi soldiers could monitor the town’s traffic.

“Our job is to make sure the guys standing post have a strong and safe position- they depend on us for it,” said Raney, who is on his second deployment to Iraq. “While this is a relatively quiet [area], you never know when something bad might happen.”

Rutbah’s three entrances and exits are controlled by Iraqi Soldiers, supervised by Marines from the battalion- since its construction; it has received a few improvements by the current crop of engineers.

“We added a lane for water trucks at [the most heavily trafficked entrance] and took four days to reinforce a few gaps in the berm,” said Cpl. Shane R. McConnell, 23, from Rosebush, Mich. “The good people in Rutbah have no problems with going through the checkpoints to get in and out of town, but the ones up to no good, they are looking for the spots in the berm to try and get out undetected.”

But McConnell says his and the rest of the detachment’s actions are making sneaking in and out of the city more difficult, “by adding a few barriers and a lot of dirt.”

In addition to the fortifications, combat engineers are keeping Coalition Forces safer by disposing of unexploded ordnance. Since their arrival in March, the engineers disposed of more than 500 pounds of ordnance – mortars, rockets, bombs, and other munitions.

“We’re cutting down on the insurgents’ munitions,” said Raney. “For every piece we blow up, that is one less IED.”

McConnell, the detachment’s sole heavy equipment operator, says his job is crucial in to the battalion’s various construction and fortification projects.

“Without me, 3rd LAR would have a lot of shoveling to do,” said McConnell with a grin.

The combat engineer detachment, completing tasks usually performed by a 30-man engineer platoon, makes up in experience what it lacks in sheer numbers.

“[The battalion] was lucky to get such an experienced and well-trained group of Marines,” said Capt. John C. Morgan, 27, the battalion’s engineer officer. “Not only do they bring their engineer set of skills to the table, but are also able to assimilate with [the infantrymen] and serve as provisional riflemen at the same time.”

Playing the role of the infantryman is crucial to the mission of the engineer, and those skills have come into play for a few of the detachment’s members, said Morgan.

“When we were in Habbiniyah, there was a high level of contact, every day something would happen,” said Cpl. Paul Kozlowski, from Bowie, Md., a combat engineer. “[Engineers] attached to grunt units are generally at the tip of the spear. We make sure people can get where they need to go, be it inside a house or over a bridge, we can’t do our job sitting on base- we have to be proficient as infantrymen to do our job.”

Sometimes, their job requires them to bring the muscle to breach doors and allow Coalition and Iraqi Forces to enter buildings by force to search for insurgents, but most operations don’t require such force.

“We have found that the doors are usually unlocked,” said Morgan. “We try to minimize collateral damage as much as possible.”

With their deployment coming to an end, the detachment will head back to their home station in Camp Lejeune, N.C., knowing they helped support both U.S. and Iraqi military forces.

“I know my work and the work of [the engineers] has had an effect on the future of Iraq,” said McConnell. “We are keeping Marines safe, Iraqis safe, Iraqi soldiers safe and the town of Rutbah stays quiet because insurgents know they can’t get their stuff in or out.”

Email Cpl. Paulsgrove at: [email protected]

Photos By: Cpl. Graham A. Paulsgrove

For MORE photos, and photo descriptions and credits please click on ANY picture

Leathernecks secure embassy, help civilians escape conflict

BEIRUT, Lebanon — It might be an embassy diplomats and military commanders insist is still open for business, but with all the Marines and security teams buttressing the hilltop compound, it sure didn’t look that way.


By Christian Lowe
Staff writer

Snipers peered through their scopes from a half-constructed building flanking the U.S. Embassy’s front gate, looking for any terrorist assault that might come from the narrow streets of this Mediterranean city thrown once more into conflict.

The gunners manning .50-caliber machine guns and the stern-looking guards at the gate might be on edge, but the Marines here seemed to take it all in stride.

“This isn’t what we expected to do when we deployed, but nobody’s complaining,” said 2nd Lt. Matthew Johnson, commander of 2nd Platoon, Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Marines — the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit’s battalion landing team.

“It’s pretty easy to see here what needs to get done.”

On July 15, Johnson — a native of Pottstown, Pa. — and his platoon flew hundreds of miles from a remote desert base in Jordan to the island of Cyprus, deploying to Lebanon the next day to help bolster security at the U.S. Embassy and assist in the evacuation of U.S. citizens fleeing the escalating conflict.

Since then, Marines have been living among the manicured lawns and sloping hills overlooking the azure waters of the Mediterranean Sea, busying themselves with the massive air and sea lift that had pulled nearly 7,000 Americans out of Lebanon less than a week after the Marines arrived.

As about 25 Americans prepared to load into one of the MEU’s CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters July 21, Johnson and his men strapped helmets on the mostly women and children who waited in a line as the helo’s engines roared above the compound’s landing pad.

With a deafening rush and a hail of dirt and debris, the Super Stallion lifted off, carrying its cargo to the safety of Cyprus, 120 miles away.

Meanwhile, on a small beach at the base of the hills sloping seaward from the embassy’s grounds, Marines with MEU Service Support Group 24 processed hundreds of fleeing Americans as they filed by to board Navy amphibious ships loitering just offshore.

As Sgt. Peter VanCleave, 24, of Marietta, Ga., typed the names of waiting passengers into a computer, children and their parents huddled in groups, waiting for Navy personnel to lead them the last 100 yards to the beach.

“Go figure, Marines are helping people instead of doing what we normally do these days,” said the logistics Marine, who was also involved in the MEU’s relief operation during Hurricane Katrina last year.

“Everyone’s been pretty calm,” he said, a pile of blue passports emblazoned with the gold seal of the U.S. sitting next to his worn keyboard. “They all seem to be [seasoned] international travelers.”

As the Americans continued to queue up, Staff Sgt. Charles Addison, from Winnsboro, La., walked up and down the line, making sure his Marines were doing their job and keeping the flow of evacuees going through.

“We practiced this before we deployed,” Addison, another Katrina relief veteran, said. “So it hasn’t been that much of a stretch.”

Walking unsteadily down the rocky slope to the yellow-sand beach, the troops helped the last of the evacuees onto the landing craft bound for the amphibious transport dock Trenton — a load of about 300 civilians toting suitcases, strollers and backpacks.

Huddled against the landing craft’s starboard bulkhead, Rima Chacar of Coral Gables, Fla., lamented her vacation cut violently short.

“Everyone was saying it would be tough to leave if we waited any longer,” Chacar said, her son Hani and daughter Aya close by her side. “It’s just the uncertainty that prompted us to leave.”

The boat rocked side to side as the ocean waters surged ashore, its load of evacuees weighing the craft down so much that a Seabee-driven bulldozer was called in to give the craft a push.

Just a short drive later — and with a final “clang” against the Trenton’s cavernous well-deck door — the ordeal of Chacar and her fellow travelers was nearly over. Just a six-hour cruise courtesy of the U.S. Navy and a seat on an embassy-chartered plane out of Cyprus and she’d be safely back home.

But as the lines swelled throughout the day, it was clear to the Marines and sailors helping get their fellow citizens out of Lebanon that the job was far from over.

“I’ll tell you exactly how long it’s going to take for us to get this done,” said Brig. Gen. Carl Jensen, Task Force 59 commander, as he watched the evacuees walk across the beach and onto the landing craft’s slippery deck.

“It will take as long as there are Americans here who still want to leave.”

Two decades after barracks bombing, 1/8 Marines help civilians flee Lebanon

Two decades after barracks bombing, 1/8 Marines help civilians flee Lebanon

(Courtesy of the Marine Corps Times)

By Christian Lowe and William H. McMichael
Staff writers

The sectarian conflict in Iraq was raging, and there was talk of a temporary troop increase to tamp down the violence. Would the MEU be called back to Iraq, many wondered?

Then the Middle East tinderbox burst into white-hot flame once again.

What followed the initial July 13 warning was a hasty and deliberate operation pulled together in a matter of hours that drew on embassy evacuation skills the Corps has honed for decades and took advantage of the rapid contingency planning that has made MEUs legendary.

“The Joint Chiefs of Staff looked at who was in the region, and it turned out we were the force of choice,” said Col. Ron Johnson, 24th MEU commander, in a July 20 interview.

It was a remarkable coincidence. The MEU’s battalion landing team — 1st Battalion, 8th Marines — was the very same battalion that was attacked in 1983 when terrorists bombed the Marine barracks in Beirut. In fact, 1/8 is nicknamed “The Beirut Battalion.”

This new operation would lead to Marines landing upon shores they’d abandoned nearly 23 years earlier, battered and bruised by the very terrorist organization that had started this most recent flare-up, and it would put the Corps near the controversy over whether the U.S. moved quickly enough to protect its citizens in a war-torn land.

Commanders and U.S. envoys here claim the movement of thousands of civilians fleeing a war zone like Lebanon is never easy, and dealing with the complex diplomatic issues that weave throughout any potential operation in this region would bog down any military planning.

With their command in place, however, hundreds of Marines and sailors and small contingents of soldiers and airmen — along with the State Department — have worked day and night to pull out any Americans who want to leave war-ravaged Lebanon. And as of July 21, the U.S. force was continuing to grow.

From the desert to the sea

On July 13, one day after radical Shiite Hezbollah guerrillas crossed Lebanon’s southern border into Israel, killing three Israeli soldiers and capturing two, a “crisis action team” with the Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based 24th MEU began considering options for a potential evacuation of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut should the order come, Marine officials confirmed.

While the Israeli military responded to the Hezbollah raid with a wide-ranging bombing campaign by sea and air — striking roads, infrastructure and the country’s airport in an effort to cut off potential kidnapper escape routes and force Hezbollah to disarm — military and diplomatic officials worked on the U.S. response.

“From an information perspective, these are warnings you always look at,” Johnson said.

By July 14, commanders within the MEU had at least one tentative plan of action, calling for a risky, long-range helicopter extraction of civilians using the MEU’s three CH-53 Super Stallion helicopters flying over land, Corps officials said.

As the day progressed, MEU Marines began to wrap up their exercise with the Jordanian military, dubbed Infinite Moonlight 2006, a week ahead of schedule and 200 miles away from their ships in the Jordanian port of Aqaba.

As a precaution, Johnson ordered the immediate loading of the amphibious transport dock Nashville in case it was needed for support.

The next day, State Department officials formally asked the Pentagon for help pulling U.S. citizens out of the increasingly violent conflict, prompting MEU commanders to enact their finalized helo-extract plan.

On July 15, three Super Stallions and a force of about 100 Marines, including a security platoon from 1/8, flew from Jordan through Egypt and onto the Mediterranean island of Cyprus — which lies roughly 120 miles northwest of Beirut on the central Lebanese coast — to prep for the operation.

Johnson had planned on an aerial refueling of the CH-53Es, but said it turned out the helos had long enough “legs” to make do without it.

After spending the night in Cyprus, the security platoon boarded the heavy-lift transport helos around 2 p.m. local time and flew for about an hour to the U.S. Embassy’s grounds in Beirut to pick up the first group of civilians.

An 80-man security platoon remained at the embassy while the Super Stallions flew back to Cyprus with 25 evacuees aboard, landing at the closed British military base of Akrotiri.

With that initial flight complete, and the situation in Lebanon “continuing to deteriorate,” the MEU was ordered July 17 to load the rest of its troops and gear back aboard its amphibious ships and head full steam for the eastern Mediterranean Sea to join the growing air and sea rescue, Johnson said.

Dangerous territory

Despite the benign nature of the U.S. mission, military and diplomatic officials are aware that their forces could become targets, as Marines were in the 1983 Hezbollah bombing.

A July 14 Hezbollah cruise missile attack on an Israeli military ship underlined the risk to U.S. warships and commercial vessels off Lebanon’s coast. The Israeli ship caught fire, was severely damaged and had to be towed back to port. Four sailors were lost at sea. A simultaneous barrage missed a second warship but struck a civilian merchant vessel.

Top military officials said U.S. forces are in close coordination with the Israeli military, which has blockaded the Lebanese coast save for the rescue ships, and with Lebanon’s government to keep the exodus from coming under fire.

“I cannot express enough gratitude to the government of Lebanon for the security they have provided and the assistance that they have provided in that endeavor,” said Brig. Gen. Carl Jensen, Task Force 59 chief and overall commander of the U.S. military’s assistance effort here.

Navy ships are providing security for civilian transports chartered to help move the thousands of Americans expected to leave Lebanon. The Navy ships are “prepared to defend themselves,” should they come under attack as the Israeli vessel did, said Lt. Cmdr. Charles Brown, a 5th Fleet spokesman.

The Norfolk-based destroyers Gonzalez and Barry were called in to provide security, Navy officials said.

Jensen said the amphibious assault ship Iwo Jima, the dock landing ship Whidbey Island and the amphibious transport dock Trenton would be close enough to Beirut by July 21 to lend support with additional helicopters and landing craft. The Nashville arrived earlier to load Americans onto landing craft.

“It’s absolutely a team effort,” Jensen added.

Johnson plans to employ the larger Iwo Jima as a “lily pad,” a place the smaller amphibious ships could bring evacuees. That would shorten the rescue efforts, since the smaller ships could return to shore faster while the evacuees were transferred by ship or helicopter to Cyprus.

“When you’re doing such a large-scale movement, you have to be as efficient as possible,” Johnson added.

The Iwo Jima Expeditionary Strike Group and the MEU have 24 helicopters at their disposal. In addition, the amphibs carry landing craft that went ashore to help with the evacuation.

Should the need arise, the Iwo Jima is equipped with a 600-bed hospital that contains six operating rooms.

Coming ashore

On July 20, the first U.S. military vessel to come ashore in Lebanon for the rescue operation landed on a beach in Beirut to load hundreds of fleeing U.S. citizens. A landing craft from the Nashville was used to transport the Americans back to the ship, which headed for Cyprus that evening.

The Nashville joined the civilian cruise ship Orient Queen and the ferry boat Ramah — which have been chartered by the Pentagon to help with the operation — in moving what military officials hope will be at least 7,000 Americans out of Lebanon by July 21.

And as more transports are added each day, the departure of civilians mounts.

“We just started this in earnest a few days ago — starting in the tens and hundreds,” Jensen said July 20. “We hope by the end of today we will have moved in excess of 1,100 American citizens from Lebanon.”

Jensen rebuffed criticism of the timing of the military’s efforts to assist the American exit, saying he’s as impatient as anyone to assist all who want to leave.

“It can never go fast enough until the job is absolutely complete,” Jensen said.

And U.S. officials also stated firmly that America was not “evacuating” Lebanon and the U.S. remained committed to keeping its embassy open.

“They are not abandoning their post,” Jensen said of the embassy staff in Beirut. “This is not in any way, shape, manner or form an evacuation of Lebanon. It’s just an assisted departure.”

Helping the transition

The embassy in Cyprus is arranging charter flights back to the U.S. so the Americans who’ve left Beirut can fly home as soon as they offload from ships and helicopters, deputy chief of mission Jane Zimmerman said.

Contingency plans are in the works to temporarily house U.S. citizens if no flights are available in time, but Zimmerman said she worried a massive influx might put “too much of strain on this small but lovely island.”

“It is a big logistical challenge, everyone is dedicated to making it a success,” Zimmerman said. “We want to keep people on the ground as short a time as possible. Cyprus is a lovely place, but they’re not coming here for a vacation in Cyprus, they want to go home.”

A small contingent of Marines from MEU Service Support Group 24 is assisting with medical screening, entry control and security as the Americans arrive, Marine officials said. Navy and Air Force doctors and medical first responders have been dispatched here from Ramstein Air Force Base, Germany, and Kuwait to assist passengers with any medical problems, said Brown, the 5th Fleet spokesman.

Both Zimmerman and Jensen were unable to say how many Americans have registered at the embassy in Beirut to leave, admitting many are reluctant to depart and some changed their minds at the last minute.

For anyone considering leaving Lebanon, “it’s a deeply personal decision,” Zimmerman said.

But as the fighting continued to rage in southern Lebanon between Israeli forces and Hezbollah militia, and the bombs fell from Israeli warplanes throughout the country, it seems the military’s assistance to Americans wishing to leave will continue.

“We told the crews … that our mission is going to be to help Americans get to safety,” said Capt. Sinclair Harris, commodore of the Iwo Jima ESG. “And like what happened with us in [Hurricane] Katrina, I know that the sailors are looking forward to doing anything they can to help Americans get to safety.”

William H. McMichael reported from Hampton Roads, Va.

HEAT readies Marines for rollovers

Across the horizon, a humvee makes its way along a ridgeline when suddenly the ground under it begins to give way. The vehicle immediately tips down, crashes into the dirt and begins rolling into a ravine. No one inside sees daylight because of the dust and debris that seems to come from everywhere.


Sgt. Robert L. Fisher III
Combat Correspondent

But the Marines inside are prepared to handle exactly this kind of scenario. They brace themselves when they feel the humvee start to roll over and do their best to keep from being injured on the way to wherever gravity is taking them. When the vehicle finally comes to a stop, each Marine checks themselves, their buddies and their door. Fortunately, everyone is able to escape without delay and there are no injuries.

In contrast to this scenario where everyone escaped without injury, more than 70 percent of service member deaths in Iraq are due to vehicle rollovers, according to the U.S. Army's Ground Accident database. Now, however, there is a new way to reduce potential injuries by familiarizing Marines and sailors with what to expect during a vehicle rollover.

The prototype Humvee Egress Assistance Trainer was brought to the Combat Center by a project team from the Marine Corps Systems Command and tested here at 3rd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment's motor pool July 20.

The HEAT enables service members to experience a controlled vehicle rollover, enabling them to make potentially life-saving decisions based on real experience.

“It's basically the cab of a humvee - the front and back passenger sections - and they've stuck it on a rotisserie like a chicken,” said SSgt. Hector Viramontes, Combat Center HEAT and Virtual Convoy Combat Instructor. “All that is attached to a hydraulic motor that spins it around.”

The cab is slowly pitched beyond 360 degrees, stopped either on its side or upside down, and the Marines inside must escape safely. To add even more realism, the training staff periodically selects one or two Marines to suffer a simulated injury such as blindness, an impaired limb or unconsciousness.

HEAT helps people understand the disorientation they will experience when you go into a rollover, said Master Sgt. Nick Formosa, Combat Center modeling and simulation staff noncommissioned officer in charge. More than just teaching muscle memory, it also teaches Marines and Sailors confidence in their vehicle and safety gear and ensures they will be better prepared in the event of a vehicle rollover.

“Unless you practice it, you don't know,” said Formosa. “That's why we're doing this. This way at least they have half a chance.”

During the prototype's July 20 test-drive, the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat center commanding general and sergeant major came to the 3/11 motor pool to speak to the project officers and trainers and take part in the HEAT training with the Marines standing by.

“It's a confidence builder,” said Brig. Gen. Douglas M. Stone, Combat Center commanding general. “It wasn't fun, but it was a learning experience. Guys could panic in this situation if it was real. This training is going to save lives.”

“My leg got caught up because I was in the driver's seat,” said Sgt. Maj. William Johnson, Combat Center sergeant major, after their first run through. “It was good training. We all made it out.”

When a humvee goes into a rollover, the passengers and driver should immediately put their arms up to keep themselves in place. Through practice in the HEAT, they learn lessons like this in addition to things like which door is the right one to open and escape from and how to handle injuries and casualties sustained during the rollover.

“We've had units come through here and say, not only is it a good military tool if these Marines are ever in a humvee rollover, it's also a good civilian tool if they're ever in a vehicle rollover with their POV [Personally Owned Vehicle],” said Viramontes Thursday when asked how the training was progressing.

A person who undergoes the training stands a better chance of survival in a rollover than an untrained occupant, according to a document released by U.S. Army Forces Command in Fort Gillem, Ga., where the first HEAT trainer was developed.

“Vehicle accidents are the second leading cause of death in Iraq,” Viramontes said. “If we can help give a tool to the Marines in case they're ever in a rollover accident, this thing is doing its job.”

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Local Marines' deployment delayed

FREDERICK-- Local Marines preparing to head to Iraq this fall are among the units delayed in getting there.
Originally scheduled to deploy in September and return in May, the Marines will probably deploy in October and come home in late May, the unit's spokesman, Capt. Christian Devine, said Friday


Published on July 29, 2006
By Alison Walker-Baird
News-Post Staff

The Marine unit, previously Bravo Company, 4th Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, has been designated Dam Support Unit 3.

The unit will replace Dam Support Unit 2 in Iraq, taking over the mission of patrolling and securing Iraqi waterways, including the Haditha Dam on the Euphrates River.

Its current deployment schedule is due to a delayed rotation of units for the mission, and the deployment date is still subject to change, Capt. Devine said.

The reserve unit, stationed at the Pfc. Flair U.S. Army Reserve Center in Frederick, is training this summer at Camp Lejeune, N.C.

July 28, 2006

Marines show corpsmen ropes

CAMP HANSEN, OKINAWA, Japan (July 28, 2006) -- Hospital Corpsmen with B Company, 3rd Medical Battalion, 3rd Marine Logistics Group, overcame whatever fear they had of hurdling themselves off the edge of a 60-foot rappel tower during Helicopter Rope Suspension Training on Camp Hansen July 19.


July 28, 2006; Submitted on: 07/28/2006 03:56:35 AM ; Story ID#: 200672835635
By Lance Cpl. W. Zach Griffith, MCB Camp Butler

In a day-long training event, Special Operations Training Group HRST masters taught 36 corpsmen techniques for rappelling down vertical surfaces, off helicopter skids and through an opening in the floor of a helicopter.

Chief Petty Officer Leon Palaganas, the leading chief petty officer of B Co., said that the corpsmen had a great time training on a skill that could likely pay off in the long run.

"Corpsmen go wherever Marines go," Palaganas said. "We don't want to be the ones holding them back when they are on the move."

Marines learn basic rappelling in recruit training, but it is not part of Navy basic training, according to Seaman Garett Offinoski, a hospital corpsman with B Co. Thanks to the daylong training on Camp Hansen, the corpsmen will be ready if they find themselves in a field environment where rappelling is necessary.

"When the Marines we're with are ready to rock and roll, we should be too," Offinoski said. "If they have to fast rope or rappel out of a helicopter, we can be right behind them."

But for some participating in the training, the challenge of keeping up paled to the challenge of overcoming a seemingly insurmountable fear of heights, said Sgt. Jime Garay, an HRST master with Special Operations Training Group.

"There was one corpsman who got so scared she started crying," Garay said. "She did it though, and then she came back for another go."

Corpsmen spend a lot of time supporting Marines in their missions, Offinoski said. They can function better as a team if they are better acquainted and know each other outside the clinical environment - in the field.

"We don't spend all our time in an air-conditioned clinic," Offinoski said. "We're corpsmen, but we're devil doggin' it."

Designated marksman on target every time

AR RAMADI, Iraq (July 28, 2006) -- An explosion ignites a fierce firefight at Marine Combat Outpost Horea. In the chaos, Marines grab their weapons and begin neutralizing the advancing enemy. Suddenly, an insurgent is on a distant rooftop aiming a rocket-propelled grenade launcher at them.


July 28, 2006; Submitted on: 07/30/2006 04:20:37 AM ; Story ID#: 200673042037
By Cpl. Joseph DiGirolamo , I Marine Expeditionary Force

They have seconds to react.

A shot is fired.

As dust and smoke settle and the fighting ceases, the Marines see the lifeless RPG gunner, felled by a single round.

“That was probably the one shot I remember the most,” said Lance Cpl. Galen E. Wilson, an infantryman with 2nd Platoon, Company K, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment. “I took it at 500 meters out during a complex attack.”

Wilson has fired his rifle in 20 engagements where he used “one shot, one kill” accuracy. His proficiency with a rifle has saved countless lives in Ar Ramadi.

“He has a lot of good judgment and doesn’t have an itchy trigger finger,” said 1st. Lt. Carlos M. Goetz, his platoon commander. “He goes through the proper rules of engagement and positively identifies each target.”

“He is doing what he was trained to do, what every Marine is trained to do,” said Goetz, 29, from Miami, Fla.

The 21-year-old Wilson, from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., holds the title of “Designated Marksman” with Company K. Wilson has been conducting counterinsurgency operations with the battalion in the Anbar provincial capital since March.

“I knew he was a good shot, but I didn’t know how good he was until that day he stopped the RPG gunner,” said Cpl. Antonio P. Duquette III, team leader for 2nd Platoon, Company K. “He’s out there to do a job, and he does it better then anyone I have ever seen.”

His teammates have a few nicknames for him, such as “the one shot wonder” and “the second coming of Carlos Hathcock,” the legendary Marine scout sniper of the Vietnam War.

But most call him Whiskey, a nickname adopted from the radio call sign he used during a deployment to Fallujah.

“If there’s a threat, Whiskey will have eyes on it, and if he takes the shot, he’s going to eliminate the threat,” said Duquette, 31, from Manchester, N.H. “He seems to do it on a day-to-day basis, and that is amazing to me.”

Whiskey spent most of his childhood living in the mountains of Colorado, where he honed his shooting skills. His father, a Navy Seal, started teaching him how to fire scoped weapons as soon as he was old enough to hold one.

Growing up, he practiced marksmanship in his backyard by shooting pinecones and tin cans.

After the events of Sept. 11, Wilson decided to join the Marine Corps. With his parent’s encouragement, he enlisted in the Delayed Entry Program at the age 17.

“Even though my dad was in the Navy, he looked fondly on the Marines,” said Wilson. “He told me it was a good branch, and since then I’ve always wanted to become a Marine.”

On Sept. 23, 2003, he planted his shoes on the yellow footprints in Parris Island, S.C. His drill instructors were the first to witness his talent during the rifle range portion of his basic training, where he shot high expert.

After graduating from basic training in 2004, Wilson headed to Fallujah for his first deployment with the battalion. In Fallujah, his skills saved Marines' lives.

He calls his rifle “the hammer.” It is not a typical M16. Specially designed for marksmanship, the M16A2 Squad Advanced Marksmanship Rifle (SAMR) comes fully equipped with a high power optical sight, match-grade heavy free-floating barrel, and an expandable bipod mount.

“The Marine Corps has enabled him with an awesome rifle that allows him to do his job,” Goetz said.

Lance Cpl. Richard M. Mason, an assaultman for 2nd Platoon, Company K, sits on post with Wilson at the Government Center in Ar Ramadi.

One particular situation sticks out in Mason’s mind about his teammate’s situational awareness.

“I was scanning the area and I noticed a group of birds fly out of a section of tall weeds,” Wilson said. “Then I saw an insurgent with a weapon."

“I heard the shot, and the next thing I know I see a guy lying in tall weeds with an AK in his hands,” said Mason, 21, from Medina, Ohio. “His attention to detail is the key factor in his success.”

Since March, Wilson has completed numerous combat patrols and spent more than 1,000 hours on overwatch at the Government Center and Combat Outpost Horea. To date he has accrued more than 20 confirmed kills and located 15 improvised explosive devices before they could be detonated against coalition and Iraqi forces.

“He’s doing a great job, and we are definitely proud of him and all the Marines here,” Goetz said

2nd MLG Marines complete urban simulation training, prepare for Iraq

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (July 28, 2006) – While walking down a road within the confines of a deserted town, Marines hold their M-16 A2 rifles at the ready and remain alert as they pass through a dangerous area with a high probability of an enemy ambush.


July 28, 2006; Submitted on: 07/28/2006 09:17:39 AM
Story ID#: 200672891739
By Cpl. Joel Abshier, 2nd Marine Logistics Group

Sweat and hunger rolls through them, however, to stay alive the Marines push on without complaint and maintain their stride as they scan the buildings up and down.

“Contact left!” shouts a Marine at the sounds of enemy fire from a nearby building.

Without hesitation, the Marines from all squads react to the ambush and set up a defensive perimeter while Marines, one by one, enter the house to begin clearing and eliminating the hostile threat.

Marines with Combat Logistics Regiment 27, 2nd Marine Logistics Group learned how to patrol, enter buildings, clear rooms and maintain themselves in an urban environment during a Basic Urban Combat Training course here, July 24 through 28.

“This is the premier Military Operations Urban Terrain facility on the eastern coast,” said Cpl. Lucas C. Wagner, a BUST instructor with Headquarters Battalion, 2nd Marine Division Training Center. “We have had everyone from the (Marine Corps) band to infantry doing spin ups in the BUST course before deploying to Iraq. Foreign military, such as the Czechoslovakians, Dutch and Canadians, (Federal Bureau of Investigation) and the Jacksonville SWAT team have also been through this course.”

During the week-long course, Marines attended classes, performed practical applications and conducted live-fire ambush and sniper simulations, all within the blocks of a town built to train Marines for urban warfare.

“We were in Iraq last year and we are not infantry,” said Lance Cpl. Brian Jaques, a combat cameraman with CLR-27, 2nd MLG. “We found ourselves in situations where having basic infantry skills would have been good.”

Although 2nd MLG Marines are not well known for kicking down doors, this training does provide insight on how to react when receiving enemy fire whether patrolling in a city or not.

“A perfect example is if a convoy gets small arms fire from a nearby house,” Wagner explained. “Using the knowledge from this course, the Marines in the convoy will be able to react, move in and surround the house, ultimately eliminating the threat.”

Using the crawl, walk, run method, Marines who have not had previous infantry training, besides Marine Combat Training after recruit training, experienced the way of life that is lead in the field. Sleeping, eating and working from sunrise to sunset, the training proved beneficial to the Marines heading to Iraq.

“I was involved with similar things when I was in Iraq the first time,” admitted Lance Cpl. Mikey J. O’Brian, a combat cameraman with CLR-27, 2nd MLG. “However, I didn’t have the knowledge then that I have now. I never realized how much of a liability someone can be if they never had any formal training in urban warfare.”

The final two days of training consisted of live simulation rounds to illustrate the gravity of combat.

“On average, all units who come through here are on the same level when they finish,” Wagner said. “I’m confident with every course I see because I know they finish with the basic skills used to properly breach a house.”

Many Marines with 2nd MLG are rarely offered the opportunity to attend this course because of the constant requests from other units who routinely travel outside the wire.

“I am glad we were able to come out here,” said O’Brian, who was covered in dirt and sweat after participating in a practical application of reacting to an ambush. “It’s nice to get out of the office. Now, if I could make this experience any better, it would be a nice warm shower.”

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Marine sends love from Iraq

Samantha, Flores' wife, got the surprise of her life when her husband sent a personalized video that was displayed on the big screen and a large bouquet of flowers at a JackHammers game June 25.
"I teared up and displayed one of the biggest smiles, and that was the biggest surprise I ever had," she said.


Lance Cpl. Felipe Flores, a Marine Reservist with Bravo Battery 1/14 out of Joliet, was deployed Jan. 1 to Iraq.

Flores' company's main objective is to enforce protection in various parts of the Al Anbar province.

"We conduct perimeter patrols and man checkpoints," he said.

The patrols and checkpoints are essential to daily life there, as they provide safety for coalition and Iraqi forces that may travel down the main and alternate supply routes, Flores said. Due to security measures, Flores cannot reveal the whereabouts of the checkpoints or where his company conduct the patrols.

"The safety of Marines and other personnel are in danger and safety is a big concern here," he said.

"Without the support of other units our mission would have a hard time being successful," he said.

"At the present time, we are not working with any Iraqi forces. But when we first got into country, we had a chance to work with the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF).
When we worked with the ISF, we provided security for a pump station that was essential for everyday life for two nearby villages," Flores said.

Security concerns also prevent Flores from discussing the number and location of Marines in his company.

"The morale in my company is fairly high. We like what we do here and we all know the importance of our presence here in the Al Anbar province. Most of us like the patrolling that we do. You more or less get a chance in seeing how another country lives and how most of the people are happy to see you.

"We have gotten the chance to get school supplies to schools in some villages that we were responsible for and the look on the children's faces of excitement and joy lets us know how fortunate we are back home." Flores said.

"And my staff sergeant, William Martinez, who is my platoon commander and on his second tour over here, he came out here from a Chicago-based unit 2/24. He often comes out too and talks to us and he understands the purpose of troop morale. He tells us his war stories and is always there to listen to all of our situations that we may have. He comes and gives us different motto packages that have different treats and games in there to help us out with the stress of being away from our families."

During their downtime, Flores said soldiers have many options to keep busy.

"We have Internet access and access to phones. We are able to contact our families two to three times a week. And there are other options; there is a gym and other activities to do as well.

"As for my squad, my squad leader has a squad day for all of us within the squad," Flores said. "We get burgers, steaks and just grill, play horseshoes and bags. We just have fun and relax."

Flores said he would like to become an officer in the Marine Corps.

"I chose the reserves to obtain a great leadership skill, and to have an understanding of a Junior Marine. In the event that I do become an officer someday, I can relate to the Junior Marine and he/she will understand what I am asking them to do," he said.

[b]Flores' family[/b]

Samantha, Flores' wife, got the surprise of her life when her husband sent a personalized video that was displayed on the big screen and a large bouquet of flowers at a JackHammers game June 25.
"I teared up and displayed one of the biggest smiles, and that was the biggest surprise I ever had," she said.

Flores expects to come home mid-October. When he returns, he and Samantha plan on traveling to their honeymoon site for their first wedding anniversary.

I would like to wish the Floreses happiness and many more anniversaries.

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25 Yuma Marines head to Iraq

Twenty-five Marines from Yuma were scheduled to leave this morning on deployment to Iraq.

The Marines, assigned to Marine Air Control Squadron 1, were scheduled to leave the Marine Corps Air Station Yuma at 6 a.m. by bus for March Air Force Base near Riverside, Calif., where they would catch a flight to Al Asad, Iraq.


Jul 28, 2006

The Marines will perform air traffic control, administrative functions and other support roles for the 3rd Aircraft Wing, said 1st Lt. Kevin Schultz, spokesman for MCAS Yuma.

He said he expects their deployment will last six or seven months.

Other Yuma-based units currently serving in Iraq are Marine Attack Squadron 513 and a detachment of Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 13.

© Copyright, YumaSun.com

31st MEU's new BLT receives warm welcome

CAMP HANSEN, Okinawa (July 28, 2006) -- Marine Corps Community Services Okinawa and the United Service Organizations welcomed the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit's new battalion landing team to Okinawa and Camp Hansen with a barbecue and games July 23.


Lance Cpl. W. Zach Griffith

Infantry Marines with 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division relieved 2nd Battalion 5th Marines after 2/5 served seven months as the 31st MEU's BLT.

The 31st MEU is the only permanently forward-deployed Marine air-ground task force in Southeast Asia and receives a new battalion landing team - an infantry unit reinforced with armored vehicles and artillery units - from stateside Marine commands every six to nine months.

This expeditionary deployment should be a welcome change of pace for the 1,100 Marines and sailors of 1/5, said Lt. Col. John Merna, 1/5's commanding officer.

"Our unit has constantly been rotating in and out of Iraq," Merna said. "Our time in Okinawa will allow us to get back in touch with our amphibious roots and maybe get out on a humanitarian assistance mission or two."

The time off from combat rotations will allow the 1/5 Marines to refresh new skills beyond urban-combat training and concentrate on refreshing the basic principles of small-unit leadership, according to Sgt. Ray Ranger, the noncommissioned officer-in-charge of training for the unit.

"All the training we have planned for during our stay on Okinawa focuses heavily on the leadership of the corporals and sergeants," Ranger said. "It'll give the new leaders a chance to practice leading their Marines without the imminent danger of enemy activity."

The deployment to Okinawa should provide an extraordinary opportunity for 1/5 Marines to get a better sense of their historical roots, said Sgt. Troy Arnold, a platoon guide with 1/5.

"We have battle sites tours, trips to Iwo Jima; we really have a good opportunity to see firsthand where Marines in the past have made our legacy," Arnold said.

The experience of being in a foreign country is one Merna and his battalion sergeant major, Sgt. Maj. Charles Dillree, hope their Marines won't waste.

"There is so much more to do than sit in a barracks room and drink beer," Dillree said.

"We want our Marines to get the most out of Okinawa," Merna added. "That is - training and the cultural experience."

July 27, 2006

NFL lends handy support to 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment

CAMP HABBANIYAH, Iraq (July 27, 2006) -- Infantry Marines here just received the longest pass in NFL history – about 6,000 miles.


July 27, 2006
By Lance Cpl. Ray Lewis, Regimental Combat Team 5

Riflemen with K Company, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment caught a care package packed with official National Football League gloves and footballs July 27.

The grunts elbowed their way into the huddle surrounding the cardboard box for their chance to hog the leathery pigskins.

“It feels good to know that somebody out there is thinking about us and they took the time to hook us up,” said Pfc. Justin A. Martinez, a rifleman with K Company.

The 19-year-old from Soldier, Kan., is a former football player. He says the new gloves are breathable, lightweight and have a good grip.

These qualities come in handy for the Marines here, who will mostly use them for routine chores Iraqi sun’s smoldering heat.

An infantry officer credited a friend back in the states for providing his Marines with the added comfort and protection.

“My friend who works for the New York Giants and proud supporter of our troops asked if we need anything,” said 2nd Lt. Mackenzie R. Jones, a platoon commander for K Company.

The 26-year-old from Vero Beach, Calif., told his friend Marines always need gloves because of their continuous and rugged job.

“Marines’ gloves are always getting ripped or torn from our weapon systems, debris or just the natural wear and tear during their daily operations,” Jones said.

His friend said she would see if she could pull some strings.

“Sure enough, we received a care package today with the gloves,” Jones said.

It didn’t hurt to get the pigskins either.

“These guys are infantry, so when they come back from the field, it’s relaxing to toss around the football a little bit,” Jones said.

All in all, the Marines were happy to have a small part of the NFL in Iraq.

“It’s nice somebody sent us something useful,” said Pfc. Rick Bigley, a 19-year-old rifleman from Pittsburg, Pa.

X-ray system aids postal Marines in Iraq

CAMP TAQADDUM, Iraq (July 27, 2006) -- If you’re a Marine in Iraq, there’s a new set of eyes scanning the mail you’re sending home.


July 27, 2006; Submitted on: 07/27/2006 11:07:39 AM
Story ID#: 200672711739
By Cpl. Daniel J. Redding, 1st Marine Logistics Group

Postal Marines operating at Al Asad Air Base and Camp Taqaddum – the two main Marine Corps air stations and central locations for mail delivery in western Iraq – are utilizing new X-ray machines recently installed here, part of a push to ensure mail routed through the country of Bahrain back to the United States is safe for air travel.

There are eight sets of the system working in Iraq and Afghanistan, all operated by civilian contractors with the civilian mail carrier company DHL, Inc. The machines are used to scan all parcels leaving the respective countries for explosives and other prohibited or otherwise dangerous content and contraband.

The machine, which resembles X-rays devices commonly found in airports across the United States, takes digital two-dimensional photographs of packages service members and civilians here want to mail out. Items of concern for the postal workers are metallic objects, which are easily noticeable on the image and often represent the dangerous items postal personnel are trying to keep from entering the mail system.

Prohibited items include ammunition (live and casings after fired), grenades, shrapnel and magazines for weapons. Each of these items poses a significant threat for aircraft and other mail handlers, said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Don McCarty, the officer in charge of postal operations for the 1st Marine Logistics Group.

The process to approve the X-ray’s purchase and installation began in January after officials in Bahrain – where all mail leaving Iraq is routed – expressed concern over the amount of prohibited content being found there, said McCarty, who is responsible for running all postal operations in the Al Anbar province.

The systems now in place serve as a precautionary safeguard throughout Iraq and Afghanistan, providing a more accurate way to ensure all mail is thoroughly scanned – and searched if necessary – before receiving a final X-ray at Bahrain.

“The intent is to make it safer to move the mail. We have to guarantee that no explosives of any type get onto those planes,” said McCarty, 43.

By implementing the system, the Department of Defense is protecting its ability to move mail in and out of Iraq and Afghanistan, said McCarty.

The government of Bahrain threatened to revoke the U.S. military’s ability to route mail through the country after repeatedly finding prohibited items in packages that hadn’t been thoroughly checked before making their way into the DHL inspection process, said McCarty.

Other options, such as trucking mail on long convoys to Kuwait, would severely slow down the transportation of mail, he said.

With only a month of use the X-ray scans between 500-700 packages a day, although business is slow right now, McCarty said, who is anticipating a large rotation of troops here in the next month.

Only postal personnel are allowed to inspect any package that passes through the post office hubs at Al Asad Air Base and Camp Taqaddum. The DHL Inc. employees who operate the X-ray machines alert the Marines to anything suspicious, who then open and search the parcel, declaring in writing anything prohibited that is found.

If a service member is caught intentionally mailing anything that is not allowed, severe punishments can be expected, said McCarty, an Omaha, Neb., native

McCarty said that his Marines average roughly 10 parcels identified a day as suspect, with about seven typically containing one or more of the prohibited items.

With more than 30,000 service members sending and receiving mail in Al Anbar, the new X-ray should help the Marines who run the postal facilities who used to have to inspect every package and could not always find something the new X-ray can detect.

There have been instances of attempts to hide weapons and other prohibited items in soccer balls, stereos and other hiding spots that got by military postal inspectors only to be later found in Bahrain.

Random searches will now be conducted, as opposed to personal inspections of every package by postal clerks.

With this significant drop in searches, less personnel are needed to conduct them allowing greater distribution of the workload for the Marine-run post offices where these new X-rays have been implemented, making the mailing experience quicker and easier for customers, said McCarty.

A variety of things have been found with the new X-rays including live machine gun ammunition and a pair of grenades that were already defused.

Violations like these are punishable under the military’s justice system with a maximum punishment of dishonorable discharge, confinement for 2 years, total forfeiture of pay and reduction in rank.

“No matter how much a service member wants a war-trophy, it’s not worth it,” said Lance Cpl. John Udui, a native of Hawaii and a postal clerk here.

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July 26, 2006

Marine sniper metes out swift death in Iraq's most dangerous neighborhood

RAMADI, Iraq, July 26 — He was 5 when he first fired an M-16, his father holding him to brace against the recoil. At 17 he enlisted in the Marine Corps, spurred by the memory of 9/11.



Now, 21-year-old Galen Wilson has 20 confirmed kills in four months in Iraq — and another 40 shots that probably killed insurgents. One afternoon the lance corporal downed a man hauling a grenade launcher five-and-a-half football fields away.

Wilson is the designated marksman in a company of Marines based in downtown Ramadi, watching over what Marines call the most dangerous neighborhood in the most dangerous city in the world.

Here, Sunni Arab insurgents are intent on toppling the local government protected by Marines.

Wilson, 5-foot-6 with a soft face, is married and has two children and speaks in a deep, steady monotone.

After two tours in Iraq, his commanders in the 3rd Battalion, 8th Regiment call him a particularly mature Marine, always collected and given to an occasional wry grin.

His composure is regularly tested. Swaths of central and southern Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad, are dominated by insurgents who regularly attack the provincial government headquarters that Marines protect.

During a large-scale attack on Easter Sunday, Wilson says, he spotted six gunmen on a rooftop about 400 yards away. In about 8 seconds he squeezed off five rounds — hitting five gunmen in the head. The sixth man dived off a 3-story building just as Wilson got him in his sights, and counts as a probable death.

''You could tell he didn't know where it was coming from. He just wanted to get away,'' Wilson said. Later that day, he said, he killed another insurgent.

Wilson says his skill helps save American troops and Iraqi civilians.

''It doesn't bother me. Obviously, me being a devout Catholic, it's a conflict of interest. Then again, God supported David when he killed Goliath,'' Wilson said. ''I believe God supports what we do and I've never killed anyone who wasn't carrying a weapon.''

He was raised in a desolate part of the Rocky Mountains outside Colorado Springs, ''surrounded by national parks on three sides,'' he says. He regularly hunted before moving to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., as a teenager. His brother also serves in the military.

Guns have long been part of Wilson's life. His father was a sniper in the Navy SEALS. He remembers first firing a sniper rifle at age 6. By the time he enlisted he had already fired a .50-caliber machine gun.

''My father owned a weapons dealership, so I've been around exotic firearms all my life,'' said Wilson, who remembers practicing on pine cones and cans. ''My dad would help me hold (an M-16), with the butt on his shoulder, and walk me through the steps of shooting.''

Technically, Wilson is not a sniper — he's an infantryman who also patrols through the span of destroyed buildings that make up downtown Ramadi. But as his unit's designated marksman, he has a sniper rifle. In the heat of day or after midnight, he spends hours on rooftop posts, peering out onto rows of abandoned houses from behind piles of sandbags and bulletproof glass cracked by gunfire.

Sometimes individual gunmen attack, other times dozens. Once Wilson shot an insurgent who was ''turkey peeking'' — Marine slang for stealing glances at U.S. positions from behind a corner. Later, the distance was measured at 514 meters — 557 yards.

''I didn't doubt myself, if I was going to hit him. Maybe if I would have I would have missed,'' Wilson said.

The key to accuracy is composure and experience, Wilson says. ''The hardest part is looking, quickly adjusting the distance (on a scope), and then getting a steady position for a shot before he gets a shot off. For me, it's toning everything out in my head. It's like hearing classical music playing in my head.''

Though Wilson firmly supports the war, he used to wonder how his actions would be received back home.

''At first you definitely double-guess telling your wife, mom, and your friends that you've killed 20 people,'' Wilson said. ''But over time you realize that if they support you ... maybe it'll make them feel that much safer at home.''

He acknowledges that brutal acts of war linger in the mind.

''Some people, before they're about to kill someone, they think that — 'Hey, I'm about to kill someone.' That thought doesn't occur to me. It may sound cold, but they're just a target. Afterward, it's real. You think, 'Hey, I just killed someone,''' says Wilson.

Insurgents ''have killed good Marines I've served with. That's how I sleep at night,'' he says. ''Though I've killed over 20 people, how many lives would those 20 people have taken?''

Wilson plans to leave the Marines after his contract expires next year, and is thinking of joining a SWAT Team in Florida — possibly as a sniper.

July 25, 2006

Marines Totally Want To Be Your MySpace Friend — And Recruit You

Military trolling for buddies in attempt to reach young people via social-networking site.


07.25.2006 4:49 PM EDT

The Marines are always searching for a "few good men" (or women), but in their latest attempt to boost recruitment, the stone-faced few and proud just want to be your buddy. Specifically, your MySpace buddy.

Five months after its launch, the Marines have begun to see some solid results from their MySpace profile page, which, unlike the thousands of ones set up by bands that blast you with their music, opens with a video of Marine drill sergeants shouting orders at boot-camp recruits, who recite their credo while running through obstacle courses, shooting guns and practicing hand-to-hand combat amid images of waving American flags.

The site, which features a selection of downloadable Marine wallpaper, also has links to recruiters and, so far, boasts more than 13,000 friends with handles like Promiscuous, Leatherneck and Tha Rock.

The courting of the MySpace generation — the site now claims more than 96 million members — is a nod to the importance of tapping the potential of the Internet to reach America's wired youth, according to Major Wes Hayes, Marine Corps Recruiting Command spokesperson.

"The Marine Corps is always looking for new and innovative ways to make sure our target audience, young men and women ages 18 to 24, are informed about the Marines," said Hayes, adding that the reach into MySpace was not related to the kind of missed recruitment goals some branches of the armed services have experienced in the past few years (see "Army Recruitment Down For Fourth Consecutive Month"). "Our recruiting practices are the same during peacetime and wartime," Hayes said. "We are always very proactive and we do everything we can to meet or exceed our recruiting goals."

Given the string of highly publicized incidents involving child predators trolling MySpace to meet underage children (see "MySpace Restricting Adults' Access To Teen Users"), the Army pulled its banner ads from the site earlier this year, according to Louise Eaton, media and Web chief for the U.S. Army Accession Command. But the Army kept in touch with MySpace in the interim, and after the site recently issued new security guidelines and assured the Army that MySpace was more secure, the Army is prepping a return of the ads as well as a profile page. "The purpose [of the Army profile page] is to let young people know about the opportunities Army offers," Eaton said.

And why MySpace? "Because young people are there," she said. "We have to go to where young people are." The Air Force advertises on MySpace but doesn't have a profile page, and the Navy has no presence on the site at this point. The Army's profile page is being worked on now by its ad agency, and Eaton said it should be up soon.

Though Hayes said MySpace is a fine place to advertise and get the word out, the Marines would never sign someone up without meeting them in person, "knee-to-knee," first. The Marines MySpace page has a tab called "contact a recruiter" that takes you to the Marines.com Web site, which prompts the potential recruit to fill out a form that sets up a meeting with a recruiter.

Hayes said since its launch, the Marines profile has gotten 500 responses (meaning someone clicked over to the Marines.com page), with 200 panning out as "leads," or someone who is the right age and physically, mentally and educationally qualified for the service.

"The Internet is a very powerful tool and we see it as a new and innovative way to reach our target audience," Hayes said.

— Gil Kaufman

Anti-Terrorism Bn. conducts training exercise

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. - (July 25, 2006) -- Marines with Headquarters and Support Company, Anti-Terrorism Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, participated in a command post exercise here July 25, in preparation for upcoming deployments to Iraq early next year.


July 25, 2006
Story ID#: 2006921154732
By Lance Cpl. Adam Johnston, 2nd Marine Division

A command post is a series of tents, each of which contain various elements that are essential to running combat operations from the field.

“We practice setting this up about once every quarter,” said Master Gunnery Sgt. James M. Bullard, the operations chief for AT Bn. “This exercise is designed to simulate a real combat operation in a field environment.”

A forward operating command post generally consists of medical, intelligence, briefing, and logistics tents. The most important one of all, however, is the combat operations center.

“The COC is the nerve center of the entire command post,” Bullard said. “It’s where the battalion [commanding officer] controls all the units within his area of operation.”

Because it is vital to the overall mission accomplishment, the speed with which the command post is assembled is also a matter of great importance.

“A quick setup can be accomplished within one hour,” said 1st Lt. Matthew D. Plumser, the company commander for Headquarters and Support Co. “But to be fully operational with (communications), it would take no more than three hours.”

Lance Cpl. Joseph J. Carfagno, a field radio operator with H&S; Co., was deployed to Camp Ashraf, Iraq, for roughly seven months. He knows from experience why this exercise is so important for the Marines of AT Bn.

“This isn’t just some training,” Carfagno said. “It’s stuff you actually do while you’re over there.”

Carfagno isn’t sure if he’ll be part of this upcoming deployment, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t taking the exercise seriously.

“The new guys in the battalion need to pay extra attention to how things work,” Carfagno said. “For those of us who’ve already deployed, it’s our responsibility to help them along and show them the way.”

Marines' early-morning raid uncovers weapons, Iraqi hostages

By Monte Morin, Stars and Stripes
Mideast edition, Tuesday, July 25, 2006

CAMP BAHARIA, Iraq — The hostages sat shackled in a cinder-block cavity beneath the desert floor.

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For more photos, descriptions, and credits please click on pictures
Photos by Monte Morin, ©Stars and Stripes

31st MEU personnel visit Kin nursery

KIN TOWN, Okinawa, Japan (July 25, 2006) -- Laughter filled the class rooms as children interacted with the Marines and sailor who visited the Suginoko Nursery School here July 25.


July 25, 2006; Submitted on: 07/31/2006 06:41:27 AM ; Story ID#: 200673164127
By Lance Cpl. Kamran Sadaghiani, 31st MEU

Seven Marines and a sailor with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit's Battalion Landing Team, 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Division, visited the preschool for a couple of hours to teach English and play with the three to five-year-old children.

"We did this because the kids enjoy interacting with service members," said Chiyoko Kochi, the Camp Hansen community relations specialist.

"I also have noticed that the children have become more tolerant toward different cultures and their English has improved immensely," added Kochi, who has been coordinating community relations projects at the nursery for the last 10 years.

Although the children benefited from the visit, they weren't the only ones who gained from the interaction, explained Lance Cpl. Mike Nibler, a rifleman with Company C of the BLT.

"This was my first time doing anything like this and I thought it was awesome," said the Seattle native. "I like being with children of other cultures. Interacting with other cultures was one of the things I looked forward to when I came to Okinawa. Although, I was surprised to see the children here don't act any different from children back in the states. I guess kids are kids."

Just like many would expect, the children were very playful and responsive with the Marines and sailor, as they reviewed the letters of the alphabet, played word games, taught simple English sentences and played with building blocks.

"This has been a good opportunity for them because they are only kids. They don't have many chances to interact with foreigners and other cultures," said Katsutochi Higa, the nursery director. "Interacting with new people of other cultures is also important for their social skills. At first they can be shy, but then they open up."

The MEU is slated to adopt the school in August and begin scheduled visits twice a month, according to Lt. Cmdr. Myung B. Kim, the MEU chaplain.

July 24, 2006

U.S. Marine Corp. Using Myspace As Recruitment Tactic

Kaneohe, Hawaii (AHN) - The U.S. Marine Corp. is using Myspace.com as its latest military recruitment tactic.


July 24, 2006 9:02 a.m. EST
Richard Rittierodt - All Headline News Staff Writer

The Marine Corps Myspace profile, which features streaming video of barking drill sergeants and Marines storming beaches, underscores the growing importance of the Internet to advertisers as a medium for reaching America's youth.

Gunnery Sgt. Brian Lancioni at a Hawaii recruiting event said, "That's definitely the new wave. Everything's technical with these kids, and the Internet is a great way to show what the Marine Corps has to offer."

Even though the Marine recruiters state that Myspace is good for advertising, they would never sign someone up to join the Marines without a face-to-face meeting with the prospective recruit.

In the five months that the profile has been up, over 430 people have asked a Marine recruiter to contact them.

However, Steve Morse with the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors is critical of recruiters using Myspace profiles to reach potential recruits.

Morse said, "It's kind of obnoxious of them to be using something that's sort of like a youth domain, to kind of come in and really sucker youth into something they're not really explaining fully."

‘Betio Bastards’ get bounce from basketball in Habbaniyah

CAMP HABBANIYAH, Iraq (July 24, 2006) -- Shaquille O’Neal would love to be in the “heat” here.


July 24, 2006
By Lance Cpl. Ray Lewis, Regimental Combat Team 5

That’s because the Marines of 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment have their own fully functional basketball court within the confines of the camp.

They never imagined such hoop dreams when 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment passed the camp over to them July 24.

“When I got here, I really didn’t expect the basketball court,” said Cpl. Antonie L. Sims, a field radio operator.

The 21-year-old Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran said when he saw the court his first thought was, “I’m going to spend a lot of time here.”

The court means more to Sims than other Marines here because it helped him stay out of trouble in his hometown of Richmond, Va.

It was his glory road.

“Where I grew up, people were getting arrested everyday and put behind bars but I decided to play basketball to keep my head low,” he said.

He isn’t the only one with a passion for the game here.

“I love to play basketball,” said Lance Cpl. Omar O. Bigham, a supply clerk, who can frequently be seen playing a pick-up game.

The 18-year-old from Atlanta, Ga., has been playing all his life and he says he’ll play on this court all day and all night.

“It’s PT, fun and if you win, its bragging rights around the camp,” he said.

Some Marine leaders think the basketball court is a good reward for a job well done.

“They work hard all day,” said 27-year-old Staff Sgt. Mitchell Arnold, the battalion’s radio chief, from McKinney, Texas. “This shows them that we care about them. It’s centrally located so everyone can get to it. The court helps us get away from what we got to deal with from day to day.”

The battalion recently arrived in Habbaniyah as part of Regimental Combat Team 5. They’ll help train and assist Iraqi Security Forces and conduct counter-insurgency operations. They’re scheduled to be in Iraqi for about seven months.

Most of that time, they know, will be spent on the streets. But what spare time they have, they’ll spend on the court.

“Even though you’re so far away from home, you can still do things here that remind you of home,” Sims said.

Marines rescue three hostages, uncover weapons caches in Operation Spotlight

-A group of Marines from 1st Battalion, 25 Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 5, move an insurgent rocket found while conducting Operation Spotlight. The operation took place in the Fuhaylat, south of Fallujah, Iraq where three hostages were rescued and several weapons caches were located and destroyed by Marines.


July 24, 2006; Submitted on: 07/27/2006 07:03:12 AM ; Story ID#: 20067277312

By Cpl. Brian Reimers, 1st Marine Division

FUHUYLAT, Iraq (July 24, 2006) -- Marines from 1st Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, rescued three hostages and uncovered a large weapons cache, including a fully-assembled vehicle-borne improvised explosive device, during Operation Spotlight.

The intelligence-driven operation was conducted alongside Iraqi Army soldiers from 2nd and 4th Brigades, 1st Iraqi Army Division.

The three hostages were personal assistants of Dr. Rafa Hayid Chiad Al-Isawi, an Iraqi government official in Baghdad. They were held by al-Qaeda insurgents for 27 days.

“We are extremely pleased we were able to recover these Iraqi citizens,” said Col. Larry D. Nicholson, Regimental Combat Team 5’s commanding officer. “The safety of Iraqi citizens to move freely about their own country without fear is a priority for U.S. and Iraqi forces and we will continue to assist the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police in ensuring their citizens have a future that is free of terrorism.”

The three hostages were taken by insurgents west of Zaidon, a rural area south of Fallujah, and were beaten with electrical cords by their captors, bitten and threatened with their lives at gunpoint. They were treated by Coalition Forces medical personnel.

A significant weapons cache was also recovered nearby. Aside from a fully-assembled vehicle-borne improvised explosive device, Marines also recovered IEDs and IED-making material, mortar tubes and round, artillery rounds, machine guns, bulk explosives, anti-tank mines, rocket-propelled grenades and launchers, AK-47 assault rifles, small-arms ammunition and video cameras.

“Right off the bat it didn’t start like a normal day for us,” said Sgt. Brian Vitale, a 24-year-old from Methuen, Mass., assigned to the battalion’s personnel security detachment. “When I saw almost a hundred vehicles and hundreds of anxious Marines departing friendly lines heading for the village, I knew the operation was going to be a good one.”

Vitale was right. It wasn’t going to be just another mission for them.

A huge convoy rolled into Fuhuylat before the sun could rise over the desert area south of Fallujah. Security was set for a forward command point, while immediately the operational force was making its way through the villages surrounding areas.

Reports of improvised explosive devices and weapons cache discoveries sounded over the radios as Marines monitored and waited for instructions for their next move.

“We came across some sand bags and decided to check them out,” explained Cpl. Russell P. Untiedt, a 22-year-old combat engineer from Excell, Mo. “I was amazed at what we had found. Pounds of explosive material used to make IED’s.”

Marines pressed forward, moving throughout several square miles, searching and waiting for insurgeant activity.

“We pushed out to another spot and that’s when things got a little hairy,” said Sgt. Richard J. Chase, a turret gunner from Killingly, Conn., assigned to the PSD.

Enemy mortar rounds began impacting around the group’s position.

“My heart was pumping like it was going to come out of my chest when the mortars started coming in next to us,” said Cpl. Andy Melendez, a 25-year-old turret gunner, from Utica, N.Y.

“I thought that the insurgents were going to zero-in on us at any moment,” Vitale added.

Miles away, Marine artillerymen were swinging their 155 mm M-198 howitzers and lobbing their own fire back at the insurgents.

“Within seconds the radio traffic started going crazy and I learned the artillery Marines not only found them, but they had them zeroed-in,” Vitale said.

Thuds from artillery pounded in the distance on the insurgent mortar positions.

“That’s what it’s all about,” Melendez said. “We all support each other and without the artillery unit who knows what would have happened to us.”

Before the Marines could catch their breath, they were applauding the efforts of their counterparts as reports of more weapons caches were sent their way.

Weapons Company Marines radioed that they captured armed men guarding three Iraqis tied up inside of an underground bunker.

“It shows that they are not only terrorists, but they are animals,” Vitale said. “I mean to kidnap somebody and put them in the ground like that. It’s just not human.”

The operation pushed on for most of the day while “New England’s Own” Marines continued to capture enemy material and gather information from locals.

“It feels good to be out their helping people, you know,” Untiedt said.

“Anytime we take weapons out of insurgent hands it’s a successful mission, especially considering we saved three innocent lives,” said 25-year-old Lance Cpl. Christopher J. Dent, an imagery analyst from Boston.

The mission was debriefed and the Marines all agreed the day was a success.

“It was a great day,” Dent said. “With all of the weapons we found and rescuing three innocent people from the terrorists, we made a difference out there.”

Official Marine Corps Photos
More photos, descriptions, and credits can be seen by clicking on any picture

Marine Corps Looking for MySpace Buddies

KANEOHE, Hawaii - Teens looking to hook up with a friend on the popular Web community MySpace may bump into an unexpected buddy: the U.S. Marine Corps.


By AUDREY McAVOY, Associated Press Writer
Mon Jul 24, 2:49 AM

So far, over 12,000 Web surfers have signed on as friends of the Corps in response to the latest military recruiting tactic. Other military branches may follow.

MySpace.Com, the Internet's most popular social networking site with over 94 million registered users, has helped redefine the way a generation communicates. Users, many in their teens and 20s, post personal profiles and accumulate lists of friends and contacts with common interests.

The Marine Corps MySpace profile _ featuring streaming video of barking drill sergeants, fresh recruits enduring boot camp and Marines storming beaches _ underscores the growing importance of the Internet to advertisers as a medium for reaching America's youth.

"That's definitely the new wave," said Gunnery Sgt. Brian Lancioni at a Hawaii recruiting event. "Everything's technical with these kids, and the Internet is a great way to show what the Marine Corps has to offer."

Patrick Baldwin, an 18-year-old recruit from Saratoga, N.Y., who linked his profile to the Marines' site after hearing about it from a friend, said MySpace was a good place for interested teens to start learning more about the Marines.

"The more information you have the better off you are," said Baldwin, who left for boot camp a few weeks ago.

The Army, which originally balked at advertising on MySpace because of well-publicized incidents of child predators using the site to meet kids, plans to soon set up its own profile page.

"It is where prospects are," said Louise Eaton, media and Web chief for the U.S. Army Accession Command. "We go to where they are to try to inform them of the opportunities we offer."

Recruiters say MySpace is good for advertising, but they would never sign someone up to join the Marines unless they've met him or her in an old-fashioned, face-to-face meeting.

Web surfers who open the Marines' MySpace page can click on a tab titled "Contact a Recruiter." This directs them to the Marines.com site where they are prompted to fill out a form with their name, address and phone number so recruiters can arrange to meet them.

So far over 430 people have asked to contact a Marine recruiter through the site in the five months since the page went up, including some 170 who are considered "leads" or prospective Marine recruits.

The Marine Corps isn't the first to use MySpace profiles to reach the Web community's core audience of teenagers and twentysomethings.

Toyota Motor Corp. has a page to promote the Yaris, its new subcompact car. Verizon Wireless sponsored a contest on MySpace for the best single by an unsigned band.

MySpace has rapidly become the online social forum of choice for many who like how easy it is to make and communicate with friends via the site. But MySpace _ and News Corp., its parent company _ have had problems.

In Maine, a 27-year-old man was sentenced to three years in prison for sexually abusing a 14-year-old girl he met on the site.

To boost the site's safety, MySpace recently imposed restrictions on how adults may contact younger users. Those who are 18 and over can no longer request to be on a 14- or 15-year-old's list of friends unless they already know either the youth's e-mail address or full name.

The Army initially posted ads on MySpace in January but withdrew them a month later when reports emerged about child predators approaching youths via the site. MySpace has since assured the Army it has better security protections in place.

As for other branches, the Air Force places regular advertisements on MySpace, but doesn't have a profile. The Navy hasn't used MySpace.

Steve Morse with the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors is critical of recruiters using MySpace profiles. But Morse said they don't surprise him because the Iraq war has forced the military to search "under every bush" for recruits.

"It's kind of obnoxious of them to be using something that's sort of like a youth domain, to kind of come in and really sucker youth into something they're not really explaining fully," Morse said.


On the Net:

Marines on MySpace: http://www.myspace.com/themarinecorps

July 23, 2006

Marines go insurgent-hunting in Fallujah

By Monte Morin, Stars and Stripes
Mideast edition, Sunday, July 23, 2006

FALLUJAH, Iraq — It was the same old trap, different day.

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Photos by Monte Morin- Stars and Stripes
For More photos, descriptions of photos, and credits please click on a photo.

Iraqi police aid U.S. forces in raids of Ramadi mosques, Americans find new way to search for suspected insurgents in religious sites once considered off-limits

RAMADI, Iraq - As U.S. troops mount a concentrated effort to clear insurgents from Ramadi this summer, they have joined with Iraqi forces in a delicate campaign to flush fighters from a culturally sensitive haven: the city's mosques.


By Julian E. Barnes

Not only are religious sites protected under international treaty, but also Iraqis are particularly touchy about non-Muslims entering a mosque. Americans cannot search them without alienating the very population they are trying to win over. But it long has been a truism of this war that the enemy hides where U.S. forces do not go.

Now U.S. troops have come up with a solution: using Iraqi police to enter the holy sites. The police in Ramadi have put together a new team that specializes in clearing mosques.

1st Lt. John Warren, a platoon leader with the 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, stationed in west-central Ramadi, recently received a tip that a man named Bakr, a suspected al-Qaida member, and another suspected insurgent frequented the final prayer service at the Suphi Hetie Mosque.

Bakr was suspected of having a role in a January bombing that killed 60 Iraqi police recruits and intensified the daily violence that has gripped the city.

Mosque raids require the permission of the U.S. military headquarters in Baghdad. And Baghdad initially rejected Warren's request, causing the Marine intelligence officer who had forwarded the request up the chain of command to stomp around the command post swearing about needing more probable cause in Iraq than in America.

In Baghdad, officials have been wary of launching mosque raids based on often-skimpy intelligence.

But the Marines argue that if the Iraqi police were allowed to regularly search mosques, insurgents would be quickly driven out of them, a result many Iraqis would appreciate.

"If the threshold was lower, they would not use them as much," said the intelligence officer, who declined to be identified.

Shortly afterward, the word came down from Baghdad. The Marines' appeal had been heard; the raid could take place.

Later that night, Warren gathered a group of Iraqi police officers, who are predominantly Sunni Muslim in the mostly Sunni city.

Warren outlined the plan and told them the target was responsible for killing Iraqi police.

"The target may try to hide in the mosque, so I need you to clear it," Warren said. "Together we will get justice" for the slain officers.

Although military forces across Ramadi are stepping up mosque searches, the raid would be just the second for Lima Company.

Capt. Max Barela, the U.S. commander, sat looking at a map of the city.

"It's probably one of the most complex operations the police have done," he said. "You are going into a place that is culturally sensitive. The police have to have extreme care. How they do it will be a test."

A moment later, Warren arrived to report on the police's preparation.

"They were excited," he said. "I told them we were going after a cop killer."

Around 10 p.m., the time of the final prayers of the day, the Iraqi officers rolled up to the mosque. With a platoon of Marines cordoning off the streets, a squad of Iraqi police had marched into the courtyard of the mosque, only to find it empty.

Warren looked as if he could not believe it. The intelligence had been solid. The Marines nearby began to mutter among themselves. Someone, they speculated, must have warned the targets.

Warren agreed. "There is not a single person on the street," he said. "Right now it looks like they got the tip-off we were coming."

But there was no tip-off. The Marines, who had planned to take any suspects to a nearby house for questioning, learned from the homeowner that the mosque did not conduct the final prayers of the evening. "At the main mosque they do the final prayer, but not here," he said in Arabic. "Here it is too dangerous."

With that information, Warren made plans to hit the mosque again, but at the second-to-last prayer. This time, the mosque was full, with about 60 men and boys. As the Iraqi police swept the building, an Iraqi Sunni interpreter working for the Americans helped screen worshipers.

The platoon selected about 30 of the worshipers for questioning at the nearby house. As the Marines photographed the men, the imam of the mosque came over to the house. Warren, working with the interpreter, told the imam that he regretted that the police had to search the mosque but that the Marines were after a man who had killed Iraqis.

"I know," the man told Warren. "I stopped the morning and evening prayer because there were bad people."

Armed with the pictures of the men from the mosque, Warren returned to one of his informants, who said that several of the men were the suspected insurgents sought by the battalion. When Warren returned to the house, he seemed excited. The raid, it now appeared, could net several suspects.

In the end, a trick by an interpreter tripped up Bakr. Warren's prime suspect had been claiming his name was Ahmed. But when the suspect rose to leave the interview room, the interpreter called out, "Bakr." The man turned, and the look on his face, Marines said, showed he knew he had been caught.

During questioning, Bakr claimed to be a member of a nationalistic Sunni insurgent group, not al-Qaida. But later, a Marine intelligence officer said, the military developed additional evidence that Bakr was an al-Qaida member who helped plot the bombing.

At the house near the mosque, as the raid wrapped up and Bakr was detained, Warren went over to the Iraqi police sitting in a corner of the house.

"The man over there killed over 60 police recruits in January," Warren told the officers. "Together we have caught him."

Coalition Forces build bridge to boost local Iraqi economy

KARABILAH, Iraq (July 23, 2006) -- Thousands of Iraqis from Euphrates River villages near the Iraq-Syria border now have access to the cities of Husaybah and Karabilah, thanks to a new – albeit temporary – bridge constructed by Coalition Forces recently.


July 23, 2006
By Cpl. Antonio Rosas, Regimental Combat Team7

The bridge will serve to bolster the economy in cities along the border as well as improve security in the region, according to Lt. Col. Nicholas F. Marano, commanding officer of 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment.

The new bridge is a temporary floating bridge normally used by U.S. military forces to provide a temporary solution to move convoys across rivers.

“Now the Iraqis who live north of the Euphrates River can contribute to the economy here by obtaining necessities at the local markets and get medical care from the hospital in Husaybah,” said Marano. “The building of this bridge is a milestone in the progress of Coalition Forces.

Nearly 30 regional sheikhs attended the July 23, 2006, ribbon-cutting ceremony, accompanied by city officials from neighboring towns and cities as well as Iraqi Security Force commanders.

“Now that the bridge is in place we can expect the added traffic to improve the business in the shops in Karabilah and Husaybah,” said Tekan Farfan Tekan, the mayor of Husaybah - a city of about 50,000 on the Iraq-Syria border. “I want to thank the Marines, the Army, (and) the Iraqi Security Forces for making this day possible.”

Before the bridge was erected, Iraqis who live north of the Euphrates River here had to pay to cross the river in crudely-built canoes. Locals had to hike nearly a mile to and from the river and then obtain a ride from a taxi to shop in the cities of Husaybah or Karabilah.

This is nearly impossible for the elderly and sick, according to several Iraqi fishermen who provide the ferry service to locals for a fee.

“It is hard for many people to make this trip and many people don’t have the extra money to pay for the ride,” said a local fisherman, through an interpreter.

The fisherman said he has ferried people across the river for no charge since many locals simply can’t afford the cost of crossing the river by boat.

The new bridge replaced an older bridge which was destroyed more than a year ago during combat operations. U.S. soldiers from the Fort Hood, Texas-based 74th Engineer Multi-Role Bridge Company removed the remains of the old bridge and put together the new one.

“The security in this region has changed for the better,” Al Anbar Province Governor Maamoon Sami Rasheed al-Awani told local leaders here at a meeting earlier this month. “Without the work the Iraqi Army and Iraqi police are doing here, we would not be able to move forward with construction projects.”

Since their arrival in early March, the Marines say they have seen a decrease in enemy activity in the region – a result of a consistent U.S. and Iraqi military presence and several new Iraqi police stations in the cities, with more than 600 Iraqi police officers now on the job.

Iraqi soldiers provided security during the month-long construction of the temporary bridge - another step closer for Iraqi Security Forces to relieve U.S. forces of security operations in the Province.

Still, the newly-constructed bridge was the target of several foiled improvised explosive device attacks by insurgents recently.

U.S. forces discovered the first IED before it went off.

In a separate IED attack, a roadside bomb detonated near a convoy of U.S. military engineers while they were on their way to the bridge’s construction site.

The bomb caused no damage to the bridge, or the engineers.

Security for the bridge will remain in the hands of Iraqi Security Forces. Nearby along the river, Marines maintain an outpost, or battle position, alongside Iraqi soldiers. On the north side of the river, an Iraqi police station recently opened, marking another milestone for local Iraqi Security Forces in becoming a self-sustaining force.

“It’s important that the Iraqi soldiers continue to provide security at the bridge alongside Marines because the locals will see that it’s the Iraqis who are beginning to take the lead in providing security for their own people,” said Capt. John W. Black, commanding officer of Weapons Company – the Marines responsible for working with the Iraqi Security Forces in the area near the bridge.

The new bridge will also help with the distribution of fuel shipment to villages north of the river, according to Marano. Fuel distribution is another problem Iraqis here face and Marano feels the bridge will help get the fuel where it’s needed.

“The placement of this bridge will solve some problems until the permanent bridge can be replaced,” said Marano. “The Iraqis who live north of the river can now get medical care in the city.”

The completion of the bridge is just one example of the success of Coalition Forces and Iraqi Security Forces working together to improve the overall security in the area, allowing future construction projects to take place, said Marano.

The reconstruction of another, more permanent bridge is scheduled for construction later this fall, according to Marine officials here. That bridge’s construction is at the top of Marano’s priority list, as local tribal leaders have rallied for its re-construction since the southern California-based battalion arrived here nearly five months ago, he said.

“The tribal leaders were always bringing it up at monthly regional council meetings and it was one of the most important projects for the Marines, next to improving the security in the region,” said Marano, a Philadelphia native.

Email Cpl. Rosas at [email protected]

July 22, 2006

Marines in Habbaniyah give frontline accounts to hometown media

CAMP HABBANIYAH, Iraq (July 22, 2006) -- Sgt. Jeff Bell is Denver’s latest hometown celebrity.


July 22, 2006; Submitted on: 07/27/2006 07:47:11 AM ; Story ID#: 200672774711
By Cpl. Mark Sixbey, Regimental Combat Team 5

He was one of several Marines from 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment who took the opportunity to talk to the hometown media by satellite from Iraq here July 21. The Marines are just days away from finishing their seven-month tour with Regimental Combat Team 5.

The interviews were taped and held live in cities ranging from Spokane to Houston using the I Marine Expeditionary Force’s Digital Video and Imagery Distribution system.

Bell, a squad leader for L Company, appeared on KMGH-TV in Denver. The 27-year-old from Littleton, Colo., spoke with the local anchor mostly about his experiences during his third deployment in his area of operations.

“He asked a lot of questions about Iraq, about the people, the temperament of the AO, and the particular stress that we face day-to-day,” Bell said.

The interview request came with only a few days notice, but Bell said he felt sharing his story is another part of his duty.

“I think the American public needs to hear more of the grunts talk about the war,” Bell explained.

He said retired military brass often offer their views of what might be happening, but they haven’t trudged in the same boots up the same dusty roads. They don’t know the experience of assisting Iraqi soldiers and police or taking the fight to insurgents.

“They don’t have any frontline accounts like we do, at least not from this war,” Bell said.

The Denver station even brought a special guest to the studio – his mother.

“It was a nice surprise, especially having my mother on the line,” he said. “I didn’t think that was going to happen.”

Cpl. Estafanos Getahun, an infantryman with L Company, appeared on live television in Spokane, Wash., where he graduated from North Central High School before moving to Las Vegas.

He said being a spokesperson to a city of 200,000 people wasn’t exactly a role for which he prepared.

“The Marine Corps doesn’t teach you how to talk on television,” Getahun said.

He said his specialty in the past seven months has been battling insurgents.

Bell had similar butterflies about his on-screen appearance, but said he’ll worry about it later.

“I guess I’ll have to wait until I talk to some people back home to see whether or not I had my stuff together,” he added.

That will happen soon enough, as the battalion recently transferred authority of Camp Habbaniyah and its surrounding area of operations to Marines of 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment.

Marines from 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment are schedule to return to Camp Pendleton, Calif., in the coming weeks.

July 21, 2006

Mom Wants Dead Son Off Anti-War Shirt, Okla. Woman Says Her Marine Son’s Name Should Not Be Used To Make Money

(CBS/AP) A woman whose Marine son died while serving in Iraq is fighting to keep his name off anti-war T-shirts.


OKLAHOMA CITY, July 21, 2006

Judy Vincent learned last year that Cpl. Scott M. Vincent's name is among about 1,700 included on a T-shirt being sold by an Arizona man over the Internet. The front of the shirt reads “Bush Lied” and the back reads “They Died.”

The Bokoshe woman, whose son was killed in April 2004, pushed for Oklahoma legislators to pass a law that makes it a misdemeanor to use a soldier's name or likeness for advertising purposes without consent. The law goes into effect this November.

U.S. Rep. Dan Boren, D-Okla., introduced a similar bill in Congress two weeks ago after Vincent asked him to do so. Republican U.S. Reps. Charles W. Boustany Jr. of Louisiana and Geoff Davis of Kentucky introduced similar legislation around the same time.

The shirt vendor “has the right to voice his opinion, as we all do,” Vincent said.

“But I do believe the First Amendment stops when you use a person's name or likeness to make a profit. I don't care what he thinks about the war. I do care that he's making money off my son's death.”

The shirt vendor, Dan Frazier of Flagstaff, Ariz., recently issued an open letter to family members who contacted him to protest the use of their loved ones' names on the shirt. He praised the soldiers' bravery and sacrifice and insisted he was not trying to degrade their service, but said he would not stop selling the shirt.

“Every name matters, and will be retained to help underscore the horrific loss of life that has been caused by President Bush's rush to war under false pretenses,” the letter states.

He said in a prepared statement given to CBSNews.com, “I believe I have a moral obligation to do the right thing here. To me, the right thing is to continue drawing attention to the horrific toll this war is taking in terms of the lives lost. If these legislators really cared about the families of the troops, they would stop their political posturing and pass legislation to bring the troops home.”

Frazier added in the statement that he will fight any new legislation in court if necessary, but with his supply of merchandise running low, he may run out of merchandise before the new legislation takes effect. He added that his “Bush Lied-They Died” merchandise has sold poorly and that he is unlikely to produce any more.

Lejeune Marines To Deploy To Iraq

CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- About 1,000 Marines from Camp Lejeune are scheduled to leave next week for Iraq, where another Lejeune-based battalion now is deployed, the 2nd Marine Division said Friday.

The Marines from 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment are expected to begin flights out of the United States on Monday. The deployment was scheduled to replace units in Anbar province.

NBC 17
POSTED: 7:27 pm EDT July 21, 2006

Troops from the 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines also are in Iraq, said Capt. Michael Armistead.

Marines will "train, integrate, and operate alongside Iraqi Security Forces and conduct counterinsurgency operations," a statement said.

The battalion has deployed three times previously, including duty as part of Task Force Tarawa during the invasion of Iraq and later a six-month deployment in Afghanistan.

Last year, the battalion was the infantry component of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which conducted training in Jordan and counter-smuggling operations in Iraq.
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

July 20, 2006

Along Iraqi-Syrian border, Marines’ progress notable despite recent insurgent suicide bombings

KARABILAH, Iraq (July 20, 2007) -- Thanks to the protection from his body armor Lance Cpl. Christopher G. West survived a car bomb attack in this Iraqi-Syrian border city of about 30,000.


July 20, 2007
By Cpl. Antonio Rosas, Regimental Combat Team7

The protective plate insert inside the 40-pound body armor vest was strong enough to stop a sharp, foot-long piece of metal from wounding West, after a suicide bomber detonated prematurely just inside the barrier of the Marines outpost, July 13, 2006.

“When the explosion went off I couldn’t hear a thing afterwards for a couple of seconds but I remember being hit in the chest with something sharp,” said West, 23, from Calhoun, Ga. “I knew I was hit but I also knew that the body armor had stopped whatever I was hit with.”

Lance Cpl. Lawrence F. Hiller, a 24-year-old Marine machine gunner, who was on post that morning when he fired his M249 G machine gun at the suicide bomber's truck as it sped towards the Marines' post.

Hiller, 24, from Austin, Texas, spotted the truck on a major highway in Karabilah, another border city in western Al Anbar Province, where Marines and Iraqi soldiers maintain one of several security checkpoints.

The truck’s license plates matched a list of suspected insurgents, said Hiller. An Iraqi soldier manning the security checkpoint along the road stopped the truck to investigate. When the truck made a sudden dash towards the Marines’ position, Hiller was ready behind his machine gun.

“I couldn’t believe the guy in the truck was actually thinking about attacking a Marine base,” said Hiller, a machine gunner with the Twenty-nine Palms, Calif.-based 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment. “It didn’t take long to realize what was going on and I knew what I had to do.”

As the truck attempted to maneuver past the maze of artificial barriers at the entrance to the Marines’ outpost, Hiller pummeled the truck with a burst of machine gun fire which detonated the truck’s bomb prematurely.

With engine parts scattered everywhere and a cloud of smoke blanketing the area, the Marines then received small-arms fire from an unknown position. The attack ended shortly after the shots rang out.

The suicide-attack occurred just hours after Marines discovered a different improvised explosive device – roadside bombs planted by terrorists to target U.S. and Iraqi forces – several feet outside the security perimeter of Camp Al Qa’im – an old Iraqi train station converted to a Marine headquarters about 30 miles from the Iraqi-Syrian border.

In this border region of Al Anbar Province, IEDs are the largest threat for U.S. and Iraqi military forces as they have been responsible for the largest amount of Coalition Forces’ deaths.

Marines at Camp Al Qa’im have not come under attack there since November 2005, when insurgents fired mortar rounds at the base, Marine officials here say.

The car bomb was described by Lt. Col. Nicholas F. Marano, the battalion’s commanding officer, as possibly the largest IED attack against Marines deployed near the border.

“Had Lance Cpl. Hiller not been alert at his post, this incident could have easily become catastrophic,” said Marano, a Philadelphia native.

Suicide bombings in this region led to the deaths of five Iraqi police officers last month when insurgents attacked a police station in the nearby city of Husaybah.

Despite the recent suicide bomb attacks against the Marines’ camp and the Iraqi Police station, the region’s security has improved significantly, according to tribal sheikhs.

“The security situation has improved in the last months and the people here feel safe,” said Mohammed Ahmed Selah, the city mayor of Karabilah. The improved security has also caught the attention of Al Anbar Province Governor Maamoon Sami Rasheed al-Awani, who made promises to begin major construction projects in the area.

Since the battalion arrived here four months ago, the Marines have encountered mostly IED attacks, the Marines say.

Firefights between insurgents and Marines in this area have become rare since a large-scale offensive operation was launched in November 2005 to hamper the terrorists’ control of the area. Back then, a previous Marine unit fought face-to-face daily with enemy forces during the four-week operation, which resulted in an estimated 150 insurgents killed or captured.

The Marines currently operating along the border, like Hiller and West, are responsible for providing security to the region and mentoring Iraqi Security Forces.

The Marines’ progress with Iraqi Security Forces in this region has led to three Iraqi-Syrian border cities to open new police stations in the last two months.

“When we got here there were zero police on the street, now there are over 600,” said Marano on the battalion’s website.

The southern California-based battalion is scheduled to return to the U.S. in September.

Email Cpl. Rosas at [email protected]

Photos By Cpl Antonio Rojas
For more photos, descriptions, and credits of photos please click on any picture

Spreading the gospel of America

With a stereo and songs from home, Marine in Iraq preaches 'Americantology'

By Monte Morin, Stars and Stripes
Mideast edition, Friday, July 21, 2006

FALLUJAH, Iraq — Sure, there are no atheists in foxholes, but just what’s a modern-day grunt supposed to believe in when all the foxholes have been replaced by Humvees?

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Photos By Monte Morin Stars & Stripes
For more on the photos (descriptions, credits) Please click on a picture

Body armor gets a pass in Iraq cauldron

Imagine sweltering in temperatures nearly 40 degrees hotter than yesterday.

Also imagine wearing body armor and carrying full combat gear in heat that leaves you sweat-soaked, chafing, itching, your head pounding.


By Michael Daly
July 20, 2006

Also imagine struggling to remain hyperalert as the thermometer nears a stupefying 120 degrees, your sweat-stung eyes searching for some tiny clue that will accord you the fraction of a second that can mean the difference between life and death in Iraq.

Imagine all this and you will not be surprised by what was inside the recycled ammo box that 24-year-old Marine Sgt. James Brower mailed home to Staten Island the other day.

Brower had told his mother to keep an eye out for a package, but he had not told her what was inside.

"He said he's sending stuff home," his mother, Elaine Brower, recalled yesterday. "I said, 'What stuff?' He said, 'Just stuff.'"

When the box arrived, Elaine Brower opened it to discover the extra body armor she had bought online at considerable expense to supplement his standard-issue protection. She noted the gear was covered with bugs such as he had told her infest the combat zone.

"They were dead, I think, but I put it outside," she recalled.

Bugs or no, the gear was now thousands of miles from the mortal dangers she hoped it would protect her only son against. She was hardly the happiest of moms the next time he called her from Iraq.

"He said, 'I can't wear it. It's too hot. I can't maneuver,'" she recalled. "He said, 'If I can maneuver, maybe I can dodge the bullets better.'"

The mother suggested that if he did not successfully maneuver, the reduction in body armor might result in him getting killed by an undodged bullet.

"He says, 'Well, it's too hot,'" she remembered.

She had acquired some insight into exactly how hot it is over there from the regular e-mails a first sergeant in his unit sent the families back home.

"We know exactly what one of the rotisserie chickens at KFC feels like," the first sergeant wrote in late June. "There is no doubt in my mind that the temperature here has to be the same as the one in one of those ovens. We continue to walk around so that we cook evenly."

Last week, the first sergeant wrote, "Well, we are creeping up on the middle of July. The sun continues to pick up in temperature here with no sight of letting up. I can imagine when we get home it will feel twice as cold as it actually is after our bodies have gotten so used to this heat. I was thinking after this place that after every time I get rained on back home I will take a shower as I have no doubt the rain clouds over there must be the sweat we are giving up into the atmosphere here. ... Okay, time to go in the shade and cool down to about 110..."

In one bit of good news from the battlefront, the unit managed to acquire a freezer. The families back home that had been sending air fresheners and boot insoles and Pop-Tarts and seemingly anything else the Marines might desire added one more item to the list. The unit became the envy of the combat zone as word spread it had ice pops.

'They were a big hit after the hot patrols," the first sergeant reported via e-mail.

Elaine Brower went to her local Pathmark and bought five boxes of ice pops such as she gave her son as a youngster. She mailed them to the realm that is close enough to hell even without the searing heat.

But her grownup Marine had been posted with a small detachment some distance from the unit's headquarters and therefore the freezer. Even if he allowed his fellow Marines to risk their lives bringing him an ice pop, the heat would melt it long before it reached him.

So the next time we are hit with what passes for a heat wave in New York, take a moment to consider Marine Sgt. James Brower in that distant place where it is quite literally as hot as hell, without his extra body armor or even those ice pops he loved as a youngster.

"He'd eat the cherry and his big lips would get all red," his mother said yesterday. "The things you think about."

Originally published on July 20, 2006

Memory of Iraq is missing

Wounded area Marine in VA hospital gets upset at inability to recall tour, mom says

Day by day, Marine Lance Cpl. Bryan Carpenter is remembering more.


By Jim Carney
Beacon Journal staff writer

But the 2004 graduate of Rittman High School and the Wayne County Career Center still remembers nothing of his time in Iraq, said his mother, Vicki Becerra-Huff, 42.

Carpenter, 20, was wounded in a roadside bombing on June 5 in Fallujah, Iraq, and suffered what is called a closed head injury as well as a shattered pelvis, broken ankle, fractured back and other injuries, his mother said.

``He was driving the lead Humvee of a small convoy, and they ran over an improvised explosive device,'' Becerra-Huff said.

Three other Marines were wounded in the attack, she said.

``Nothing hit his outer skull,'' his mother said. ``It was all internal.... Shaking and pressure of the bomb caused that.''

He was placed in a medically induced coma after the bombing. He was treated in both Iraq and Germany before being flown to the National Naval Medical Center at Bethesda, Md., where he was treated for about a month.

He has been at the McGuire VA Medical Center in Richmond, Va., since July 7, his mother said.

After several weeks in Richmond, he is expected to return to Ohio for more treatment.

``Each day, we are making progress,'' said Becerra-Huff, a licensed practical nurse who has remained by his bedside since he arrived for care in the United States.

Her nurse's training, she said, helps her stay calm and understand what is going on.

She said her son gets upset because he realizes he doesn't have all his memory.

And because of the injury to his pelvis, he is not walking, she said.

Carpenter joined a Marine Reserve unit in Erie, Pa., in February 2005 and arrived in Iraq at the end of March. He was serving with a motor transportation unit with the 1st Marine Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment Truck Company, his mother said.

Before his deployment, he worked as a landscaper for Sega Excavating in Wadsworth.

Carpenter's older brother, Brandon Carpenter, is a sergeant in the Army at Fort Hood, Texas, and has served two tours in Iraq.

Bryan Carpenter also has a half sister, Kayla Henry, 15, of Seville, and a half brother, Nathan Huff, 13, of Seville.

His father, John Carpenter, lives in Rittman, and his stepfather, Rick Huff, lives in Seville.

The mailing address to Carpenter is: Richmond VA Medical Center, Attn: Bryan Carpenter (2B), 1201 Broad Rock Blvd., Richmond, VA 23249.

'How the other half lives'

HADITHA, Iraq –- The foot patrol had started much like any other for 3rd squad, 1st Platoon, until they spotted the old Iraqi woman sitting on her front steps.


Dressed in a long black abaya, she jumped up from her seat and dramatically began to wave her arms, pointing down an alley. “Qunbula!’ she yelled, the Arabic word for bomb.

“That naturally got our attention,” said Lance Cpl. Michael Cannava, 25, of Townsend, Mass.

“For the most part, we speak broken Arabic,” squad leader Cpl. Nathan Noble, 22, of 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines’ India company explained last week. “With hand gestures and charades, we can stumble our way through sentences.”

The squad went down the alley to investigate, finding a black bag with an antennae sticking out. It was wrapped up tight. It looked like a bomb. They cordoned the area off and called in for assistance.

“It was a hoax,” Noble said. There have been a lot of them lately in this western Iraq town. Marines here believe local insurgents are leaving out easily spotted decoy bombs to lure them into traps, while conserving their limited ammunition supply for bigger attacks. Fake or not, troops have to treat anything that looks like a potential bomb as just that. Their well-known process of investigation and clearing of suspected bombs, however, creates an attractive target for insurgents, who may be waiting to use larger, more heavily concealed firepower on those responding to the scene, Marines say.

Any well-known or patterned military drill or operating procedure invites trouble. To counter this threat, Marines are staying off the main roads and using ever-changing zigzag routes through back alleyways they hope will throw off potential insurgent ambush attacks.

The hoax bombs are an effort to make the Marines less cautious. “They try to make us a little bit more complacent,” Noble said.

“They are smarter than a lot of people think,” Cannava added. “They got to our heads.”
The hoax only underscored for the squad the reality of the enemy they are up against. “It’s 360 degrees, you always have to have someone covering your back. No matter how comfortable you feel, you can’t let your guard down,” Cannava said.

“Sometimes you just can’t spot an IED (improvised explosive device or roadside bomb) no matter how hard you try,” Noble said. “We take all the preventative measures. At the same time, this still is a war.

“An IED scares me more than a small arms engagement,” he said. In a firefight, “you shoot at me, I shoot at you and we hash it out like men.” The absence of that clearly delineated battlefield creates a higher level of frustration. “It’s like boxing with no arms.”

The ability to face an enemy is important for troops in any war. Noble recognizes that troops in Iraq are anxious to move beyond the “void” of quiet patrols or roadside bombs set by an invisible attacker, and engage in one-on-one combat.

“Everyone wants their chance to prove themselves,” Noble said. “Those people who have been to combat wouldn’t wish it on anyone.”

The next day, I was chatting with Lt. Justin Bellmen when our conversation was severed abruptly.


Someone yelled the code for indirect fire and Marines scrambled into the halls. Bellmen ran for the command and operations center, or COC. Like a shadow, I followed the 27-year-old India company executive officer into the crowded room papered with maps and patrol charts. Marines yelled into radios, trying to gauge patrol coordinates “outside the wire” on the streets of Haditha. India commander Capt. Andy Lynch walked in with a stunned look on his face, his chest heaving from running. He immediately began barking squad numbers. “Have we heard from them?” His voice carried a flat urgency.

Three observation posts around 3/3’s camp heard the small arms fire. The minutes ticked by and pieces of information came in over the squawking radio. Rounds hadn’t been aimed directly at the posts. Shots were fired from a vehicle down an alley. I could hear the radio transmissions, but they were fuzzy. Shots were fired from a roof.

All were aimed at 3rd squad, 1st Platoon –- Noble’s patrol. I thought of our conversation just a day earlier, when he spoke of ambushes and attacks on patrols. You could go on 500 patrols and nothing happens, he had told me. “Then on patrol 501, something happens and you find out how the other half lives,” he said with a laugh.

In the COC, everyone waited to learn what was happening with Noble and his patrol. Lynch stood by a radio, its receiver affixed to his ear. The squad had just left the base to start a night foot patrol when they walked into an ambush. Insurgents on a rooftop were waiting, as was a car with a machine gun. More than 80 rounds were fired at the Marines, and they sprinted for cover in the street where they could find it. Some kicked open metal gates for cover behind a concrete wall. Then, it was over. The car was gone. The gunmen had vanished, seemingly evaporating into thin air.

Drive-bys are common, Bellmen explained, as the commotion in the COC began to die down. “That’s how they do it, Compton style,” he said, referring to the California city infamous for gang violence.

“Will they be back in soon?” I asked Lynch of Noble’s patrol.

No, he told me. They had only just started their patrol and they had more ground to cover. “It’s probably going to be a while before they come in,” he said.

Fallujah amusement park now a no-fun zone

Marines inspect park once used as insurgent staging area

By Monte Morin, Stars and Stripes
Mideast edition, Thursday, July 20, 2006

FALLUJAH, Iraq — As any Marine will tell you, Iraq is no walk in the park.

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Photos by Monte Morin S&S;
For more photo descriptions/credits, please click on a picture

Ramadi plus Marines equals progress

RAMADI, Iraq (July 19, 2006) -- Lance Cpl. Brandon R. Musser is just one of many Marines from 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment patrolling the streets of one of the most dangerous cities in Iraq while wearing 50 plus pounds of armor under a scorching sun.


July 19, 2006
By Cpl. Joseph DiGirolamo, I Marine Expeditionary Force

And he and his comrades are doing it with no complaints.

On June 20, Musser and other Marines with 3rd Platoon, Company L, conducted snap vehicle check points during a patrol in the capital of Al Anbar province. Marines were on the look out for suspicious activity while disrupting insurgent movement through the city.

“We just went out and did some snap VCPs and patrolled the area to get a feel for the local population,” said Musser, a 20-year-old from Manchester, Pa.

During the patrol, Marines were vigilant of each road and the passengers in the vehicles they passed. At a moment’s notice the humvees came to a halt and Marines hopped out of their armored vehicles to search for possible threats.

“The Marines checked the vehicles to see if Iraqi citizens were carrying anything that could harm or put coalition forces in danger,” said Lance Cpl. William A. Staley.

“We want to keep a strong presence out there,” said Staley, 24, of Lockport, N.Y. “Most of the population cooperates and doesn’t give us any problems, despite the language barrier.”

Even with a high sniper and roadside bomb threat, Staley has a simple approach when involved in vehicle check points.

“Get it out, check it out, and get it over with,” said Staley.

However, patrolling the mean streets in Ramadi does have its rewards.

“The kids come out and cheer us on and wave at us,” said Musser, “We give them some candy, soccer balls and other knick knacks. They’re friendly to us so we’re friendly to them,” he added.

On top of countless vehicle check point patrols, Marines have conducted hundreds of mounted, dismounted and ambush patrols, along with counter sniper operations and entry control point operations.

“They also train and operate with the 2nd Battalion, 1st Brigade, 7th Iraqi Army Infantry Division as well as the Iraqi Police,” said Capt. Reginald J. McClam, the battalion’s assistant operations officer.

“It’s the young Marines ensuring the local populace has some kind of future and is not disrupted by insurgent activity,” said McClam, 32, from Garner, N.C., adding Marines are taking the risk to clear improvised explosive devices so the local population doesn’t have to deal with them.

Marines with 3rd Bn., 8th Marines have also conducted several assessments to determine the quality of life support assets needed for the people of Ramadi, such as electricity, water and sewage.

McClam spoke highly of the Marines saying they are conducting a classic counter insurgency fight like true professionals.

“They exhibit exceptional maturity,” he said. “I’m most proud of the Marines.”

Now the battalion has reached the half way mark of its second deployment to Iraq, and is looking forward to returning home to Camp Lejuene, N.C., this fall.

“I’m anxious to go home see my wife and kid,” said Staley, a mortarman currently working with 3rd Platoon searching citizens during check points. “When you reach that half way point it usually goes a little quicker or slower depending how you look at it. It’s been pretty good so far, it could always be worse,” he said.

Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class William T. Corso, a corpsman for the platoon, is also eager to get home, but he isn’t letting that get in the way of his mission.

“We have accomplished many things out here and we’ve done plenty of operations. We are really trying to work hard for the people of Ramadi,” said Corso, 21, from Sanford, Fla.

“The glass is now half full, but there is still plenty of time for stuff to happen, so we can not let up now,” he said.

The level of violence in western Ramadi has reduced significantly due to the efforts of Lima Company and 3rd Bn., 8th Marines. There is now an Iraqi Police station and the Iraqi Army operates in their own battle space which they patrol day and night.

Photos By: Cpl. Joseph DiGirolamo
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Marines in Beirut to Pack Up Americans

BEIRUT, Lebanon - U.S. Marines landed in Beirut Thursday to help evacuate Americans onto a Navy ship bound for Cyprus in the second mass U.S exodus from the battle-torn country. About 40 U.S. Marines arrived at a beach just north of Beirut in a landing craft and picked up 300 Americans who they ferried to the amphibious assault ship USS Nashville just off the coast.


Marines in Beirut to Pack Up Americans
By ZEINA KARAM, Associated Press Writer

The Nashville is supposed to sail for Cyprus with about 1,000 Americans.

Some evacuees were Lebanese-Americans who had taken their children to their homeland for the first time, only to be surprised by the fighting that erupted after Hezbollah militants captured two Israeli soldiers.

Hundreds of people, some with shirts draped over their heads to protect themselves from the sun, gathered on the beach. A U.S. Embassy official, speaking through a megaphone, pleaded for patience, reassuring the crowd that all those who registered to be evacuated would be assisted.

"We are frustrated and disappointed, but we are O.K.," said Bob Elazon, an Illinois resident who complained the U.S. evacuation was badly organized.

Elazon, who left his native Lebanon 34 years ago, was with his 20-year-old daughter, Anna, who was visiting the country for the first time. His wife departed just before the fighting erupted.

The first plane carrying U.S. evacuees landed outside Baltimore early Thursday, and eager family members waited to greet the 145 Americans aboard the charter flight from Cyprus.

Some 900 Americans arrived in Cyprus early Thursday aboard a luxury cruise ship _ the first mass U.S. evacuation from Lebanon since the Israeli airstrikes started more than a week ago.

It was among dozens of cruise ships evacuating thousands of foreigners from Lebanon. Some 8,000 of 25,000 U.S. citizens in Lebanon have asked to leave. So many people were leaving Lebanon that boats were forced to line up outside Beirut harbor and had to wait before docking in nearby Cyprus.

Exhausted and shaken, the Americans stood in line at the harbor in Larnaca, dragging their luggage and their children as they waited to be told where they would sleep and when they might leave. Many worried about relatives left behind in Lebanon.

"This war is unfair. It's unfair if you see buildings fall and there are people inside," said Mona Kharbouche, a mother of two who said she had left behind her mother, two sisters and a brother.

Elderly people in wheelchairs, a young woman on a stretcher and her right arm in a cast, and women with toddlers were the first to disembark from the Orient Queen nearly two hours after it tied up.

Catherine Haidar said she had been visiting her husband's native Lebanon with their four daughters, ages 9-17, for the first time in 13 years. They were staying at house that shook from the bombings.

"I didn't want to leave because I thought that if there were 25,000 Americans in Lebanon, maybe the Israelis would think twice about what they were hitting," said Haidar, of Orange County, Calif.

Ann Shebbo, a U.S. citizen who lives in the United Arab Emirates, said she and her husband left relatives behind in the Shouf Mountains.

"There is a guilt feeling about leaving. I wanted to leave because of my children," said Shebbo. "The Lebanese people should not suffer this way."

The Americans departed two days after the first Europeans left on ships. An estimated 13,000 foreign nationals have been evacuated from the war-torn country.

Brig. Gen. Carl Jensen, who is coordinating the U.S. evacuation, said more than 6,000 Americans will have been taken out of Lebanon by the weekend. The Nashville is one of several Navy ships assisting with the evacuations. Military helicopters have flown some 200 Americans to Cyprus.

Amid complaints the U.S. effort had lagged, American officials made clear that fears about Americans traveling on roads in Beirut, especially at night, and on roads to Syria had led to some of the delays.

Most evacuees are leaving by sea as officials from several countries deemed the overland route to Syria too dangerous and Israel knocked Beirut's airport out of service last week by bombing its runways.

Shebbo, now in Cyprus, said she and her husband had struggled to get information from the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon, and had found out about the boat from people in the United States. For four days, they inhaled the fumes from a bombed power plant two miles from where they had been staying.

Others echoed her complaints about the U.S. Embassy.

"The guard was so rude and said there was no evacuation plan, " Michael Russo, 23, of Tucson, Ariz, of his visit to the embassy. "On Wednesday and Thursday I asked them if there was a plan and they looked at me like I was crazy.


Associated Press Writer Maria Sanminiatelli in Larnaca, Cyprus, contributed to this story.

July 19, 2006

Call Sign: Havoc

For U.S. Marines in Fallujah, the deadly road has no end.

The Marines call it Route Michigan, a two-lane blacktop highway that’s the most direct route between Fallujah and a major U.S. airbase. For Lima Company, this time around, it’s their battleground. It’s not territory where they win hearts and minds, or where they score any noticeable victories, but just a stretch of road where, every hot, dusty, smelly day after hot, dusty, smelly day in Iraq, they saddle up with 100 pounds of Kevlar and gear, plus a weapon, ammunition, and water, and go on patrol for hours in the 115-degree heat, so that the road stays open and the local militants have somebody to shoot at.


Feature: Wednesday, July 19, 2006

On May 21, Lance Cpl. Benito Ramirez — a “valley boy” from Edinburg in South Texas, and “Cheeks” to his friends — was in the turret of the armored humvee, hunkered low in the sling seat so as not to draw sniper fire. In the turret, there’s never any shade, and the wind in his face that should have brought relief felt like standing in front of a blow dryer set on “hot.” Ahead, all the traffic dutifully pulled off the road as they approached, even the pedestrians and the bicyclists. Locals knew that these Marines — from the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, known as the 3/5, who’d helped take Fallujah back in 2004 — didn’t kid around.

The sergeant major was in the cramped seat behind the driver (where the best air conditioner vents are located); the lieutenant was in the front right seat manning the radios. With any luck they’d have time to stop by the mess hall at Al Taqaddum Airbase — known as TQ — for some Baskin-Robbins ice cream. This might be Iraq, the temperature might top 106 every day, the food and their quarters might be marginal, but by God at the mess hall at TQ a righteous Marine could get all 31 flavors. Strange, but not any stranger than many of the other facts of this war.

Take the rules of engagement and escalation-of-force requirements. On Route Michigan, if an oncoming civilian, perhaps just jockeying for a place to pull over, didn’t get off the road fast enough, Cheeks and the Marines would first have had to wave an international orange flag at the driver. Next, a flare would be shot above the vehicle. If it still didn’t stop, that would be followed by a warning shot into the pavement and then one into the grill. Finally, if the vehicle kept coming, the Marine would be authorized to fire a “kill shot” at the driver himself. Imagine a 19-year-old Marine processing all this information in less than 10 seconds, with the innocent driver/possible suicide bomber within 200 yards and coming closer. Imagine that, if he does pull the trigger, even if the oncoming driver is not hit, the Marine will have to justify his action to an inquiry held by military lawyers. And imagine that if the Marine doesn’t shoot, the next thing that happens might be a car bomb blowing up next to his vehicle and the other Marine vehicles behind him. And then the 19-year-old wouldn’t have to face an inquiry because he’d probably be dead.

Cheeks knew all that, maybe better than most. After all, he wasn’t 19 on that day in May, he was all of 21, a friendly, witty guy but also an experienced warrior, a respected veteran of “The Push,” the action in November 2004 when thousands of Marines swept through Fallujah, destroying the insurgent resistance in some of the most vicious, hand-to-hand fighting that the Marines have waged in half a century. This was war the Marines could understand.

But this patrolling day after day — this isn’t The Push. It’s the slow, deliberate crawl that is the reality of war in Iraq in 2006. And it’s proving to be just as dangerous a mission as The Push — perhaps even more so, because the objective, like the enemy, is so amorphous and getting murkier every day.

The thing that many of the veterans of The Push can’t get their heads around is how this could happen. Fallujah has gotten worse, not better, since the 3/5 was here last. After that initial battle and the house-to-house “back clearing” stage that followed between Thanksgiving 2004 and New Year’s 2005, Fallujah, the “City of Mosques,” for a time resumed its character as a peaceful town where Marines and soldiers could drive to the market — in unarmored, open vehicles, without helmets or body armor — for fresh fruit and vegetables or even stop at a local restaurant for a meal, welcomed by local merchants and citizens, with neither group fearing an attack.

But now Fallujah is slowly sliding back into chaos. It’s happening in spite of a powerful American military presence and in spite of the continued rebuilding of the country’s infrastructure. It’s happening because the Iraqis understand that one day soon — even if that day is a couple of years away — the Americans and their Western allies will be gone. And the insurgents, the common criminals, and the foreign fighters from groups like al Qaeda, will still be there — armed with names of informers and collaborators and with scores to settle.

The Marines know it, too — no matter their bravery, no matter how much they believe in their country, the mission, their commanders, and the Marine Corps, no matter how much they try to ignore the politics of this war. Nearly every one of the young Marines of Lima are finished with Iraq and the Marine Corps at the end of this enlistment. They’re done, worn out from the constant separation from friends and families. The running joke is that Marines get “care packages” from Iraq, because they’ve been there more in the last four years than they’ve been in the U.S. The career Marines, those with eight or more years of service, are opting for “B” billets — that is, choosing to become instructors, guaranteeing they won’t have to deploy to Iraq again for three years.

But while they’re “in country,” every day, like Cheeks, they go out to drive the roads and walk the fields and palm groves and see if this is the day that an IED — an “improvised explosive device,” the real killer of this phase of this war — or a sniper will get them.

I, on the other hand, understood none of this when I managed to get myself to Iraq a few months ago as an embedded reporter. A former Marine and longtime photojournalist, the father of a young Marine newly deployed in Iraq, I intended to stay for three months. But within a month, I had learned the lesson of Iraq. And I came home.

Creeping down the middle of the road at 10 miles an hour is not how most Americans imagine the war in Iraq is being fought. Many people who continue seeing televised images of pitched battles, with bombs and missiles raining down on a hapless and defeated foe, have no idea that those graphic videos, for the most part, are almost two years old. But the daily crawl in heavily armored humvees continues to be one of the most dangerous and vital missions that members of Lima Company of the 3/5 carry out in western Fallujah.

Lima (pronounced like the city in Peru, not like the bean) Company’s roughly 300 Marines live and work out of two Forward Operating Bases located about four kilometers apart on the western bank of the Euphrates. This vast Mississippi-like river provides a formidable natural barrier on the outskirts of Fallujah and, with only two bridges leading into town, a perfect location for checkpoints. Everything along the river bank is lush and green, with numerous canals splitting off to crisscross the landscape. In the evenings it’s anyone’s guess which there are more of, mosquitoes or bats. But a mere 50 yards away from the river, all traces of moisture have disappeared, leaving a layer of cement-colored dirt that wafts upward in response to the slightest movement or breeze, coating everything in a gritty powder. The constant dust diffuses the light and makes it harsher, masking the shape of the immensely powerful sun, making it look like something out of Dante’s Inferno.

The two sand-colored fortress-like buildings at FOB Black sit about a mile from the metal trusses of the so-called Blackwater Bridge, where in late 2004 four civilians from the Blackwater Security firm were brutally killed by insurgents. The televised images of their burned and mutilated bodies hanging from the bridge prompted outrage from the American public and led to the eventual capture of Fallujah.

FOB Gold’s two buildings are located about four kilometers west of “Black” down a two-lane blacktop road pockmarked with IED scars. At both bases, 10-foot-tall reinforced concrete walls surround the compound. Layers of green sandbags block the windows and “HESCO” barriers, large metal mesh frames supporting a dirt-filled durable liner, provide additional protection from snipers, rocket-propelled grenades (RPG’s), and random mortar attacks. Camouflage netting covers areas of the roofs where movement is necessary, providing some level of shade and sniper protection to machinegun positions. Compared to their last deployment, these are great “digs,” with hot food, some air conditioning, occasional internet service, and a gym.

“Gold” is strategically located on one of the two major east-west highways leading from Fallujah to Ar Ramadi, the now hotly contested capital of Al Anbar province, making the base extremely important to combat operations in western Iraq. Lima Company’s job is keeping these two main supply routes, Route Michigan to the north and Route Boston in the south, open for the long truck convoys that, nightly, carry all kinds of material westward through Fallujah’s deserted streets to the massive Al Taqaddum Airbase. These convoys support the thousands of personnel stationed at TQ and are vital in carrying the fight to the remainder of the restive Al Anbar province.

Keeping the routes open means keeping them clear of IEDs — either they find and disable the IEDs or the IEDs find them. These roadside bombs, built of everything from small homemade explosives to massive 122mm artillery shells, can produce small irritating explosions that flatten a tire or puncture a radiator — but the powerful ones can obliterate a vehicle, no matter how well armored, along with those inside.

It’s a job that has to be done over and over: Drive down a road, and the locals in the shops, sitting over smokes and tea, wave at the Marines. Drive back 20 minutes later, and an IED takes out a humvee, and the old men and the boys who’ve been sitting there have seen nothing. In the months since Lima has been in Fallujah there have been over 100 IED “incidents.”

“It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when” his young Marines are going to get hit by an IED, says Gunnery Sgt. Brett Turek, at 38 the “old man” of the company. He received a very personal reminder of the dangers of Iraq in February, when a suicide car bomber rammed an explosive-filled gasoline truck into a new base that Turek was helping build. He was wounded and all of his unit’s vehicles were destroyed, but he didn’t lose any of his young Marines.

“I’m not going to kid you,” said one 20-year-old from Ohio, “IEDs are the only thing I’m afraid of over here.”

About half the time, the patrols find the IEDs before they explode and have engineers dismantle or destroy them. As for the other half of the time: “About 70 percent of the company has been involved in attacks,” said Lima’s executive officer, 1st Lt. Josh Burgess. Most members of the mobile assault platoon, who do most of the IED sweeps, have been “blown up” at least once, although improved body armor and humvee armor saved most from serious injury. The Marines in Fallujah have developed an uncanny ability to spot many of the IEDs. Sometimes it’s a trash pile out of place, disturbed dirt, or a plastic bag. Other times it’s the lack of locals, especially children, on the streets or in front of their shops, that tip them off.

I sat outside “Gold” one morning about 6 a.m., thinking how cool and peaceful it was, almost like being home in Texas. Then an IED went off about 500 meters down the road. No injuries or casualties, but a giant wake-up call for me. Later, on a day when we had just returned to our patrol base from a foot patrol, we heard that the group who’d gone out immediately after us had suffered a sniper attack. Five minutes later, someone drove by and fired an RPG at our position and missed.

I spent three weeks with Lima, doing everything and going everywhere that they did. We spent hours talking politics and sports, telling stories about The Push, and watching movies. The amazing thing is just how little the average Marine knows about The Big Picture. They don’t care. Since it doesn’t affect their day-to-day situation, they don’t waste any time thinking or worrying about it. Most of their precious little time off patrol is spent cleaning weapons, trying to keep the dirt and sand out of their living quarters, and sleeping. They never get enough sleep. Heavy workloads mean that instead of six days off per month, the Marines at Lima got only about four days off duty in almost seven months. Meals come twice a day, and showers, depending on water deliveries, happen every four to five days — if there’s time to take them.

Like most Americans in similar situations, the Marines of the 3/5 want to see themselves as helping people. But the longer they stay in Iraq, the more cynical and angry they become. After a generation living under a ruthless dictator, truth and directness in dealing with authority don’t come easily for most Iraqis. The young Marines see the uncertainty and half truths — but not always the reason. More than once, during searches of houses and people, I heard Marines say, “The only thing I hate worse than this shitty country are these lying bastards. Why can’t they just tell the truth?” There is a palpable disdain for Iraqis caught in a lie.

Despite all the danger, during the time I was with Lima, nobody in my immediate vicinity ever got shot or blown up. People started wanting me to ride with them. I was the lucky charm. I made a lot of friends, talked a lot of shit, learned to actually enjoy the occasional MRE. But I was never afraid, at least not for myself. And up until I left, none of Lima’s Marines had been killed by the IEDs or snipers.

Once I got home, I obsessively checked the casualty reports several times a day to make sure everyone was still safe and OK. Well, they weren’t. As I write, 10 Marines, most from the 3/5, guys whom I met and hung out with, are dead, all but one from IEDs.

For my first week in Iraq, before hooking up with Lima Company, I spent time with a unit called Bravo 1/1. Out on my first night patrol with them, the commanding officer told me that, if we were attacked, the rules for embeds were out the window, and I could use the turret gunner’s weapon, since I’d trained on something similar during my days in the Marines. For five nights with Bravo, I slept in the cot next to the company gunnery sergeant’s turret gunner, Cpl. Ryan Cummings of Streamwood, Ill. We bullshitted, told lies, talked about women, drinking, and raising hell when we got home. On patrol, he was careful — always sat way down in the sling seat, wore all the protective gear he could find, always stayed alert to his surroundings. But when an IED flipped over his humvee, he was partially ejected and crushed to death.

And for what?

For the American troops, places like Fallujah must seem more and more each day like some deadly Middle Eastern version of the Hatfields and McCoys, with explosive charges taking the place of squirrel guns and the American military caught in the middle.

Intimidation through violence permeates the entire spectrum of Iraqi society. No one is safe. Barbers, bakers, vegetable vendors, or parents walking their children to school can be the victims of mindless explosions or attacks perpetrated by militant groups in and out of official uniform. If a car is stopped at an Iraqi police checkpoint and the driver and passengers know the policeman, his family, or friends, does anyone really believe the policeman or soldier will arrest them or inform on them if they have a trunk full of illegal weapons? And it’s the Iraqi police and Army troops who are manning more and more of those checkpoints.

Another growth industry in Iraq is kidnapping. Wealthy families in larger cities are beginning to disguise themselves as poor and needy, hoping this will offer them some measure of protection from the kidnappers. It doesn’t. The kidnappers are usually people from the neighborhood but not from the same tribe or clan.

That tribal/clan mentality complicates the situation for the Marines. A personal slight or just bad blood can have deadly consequences. If Marine intelligence or Iraqi Army units receive information about a weapons cache or explosives hidden at a house or in a field, they will move into the area to question and possibly arrest suspects. If contraband is found, the most relevant question becomes whether the tip-off was a good deed or a lie to cause a neighbor grief. Many Iraqis have found that they can use the Americans to settle old scores. Iraqis know what clan and tribe their neighbors are from and what they do for a living and often have very strong feelings about those clans and businesses. In the end there are no simple answers, no simple solutions — not for the Iraqis who are living in fear and getting killed and not for the Marines in the field fighting and dying.

The creeping instability tainting every aspect of the ordinary Iraqi’s life comes from the Iraqis’ understanding that their relationship with the Americans and the West is a terminal one. Many Iraqi politicians, living in relative opulence and safety in Baghdad’s “Green Zone,” aren’t in any hurry to improve their country’s security situation because they’d like to keep the Americans there as long as possible, to come to their aid if all goes bad.

But at some point, the Americans and their allies will be gone. Having spent billions of dollars and used up countless lives, Iraqi and American, the Americans will be through, finished, done. Left behind will be the sectarian and political factions who have infiltrated the police force, the Iraqi Army, and the Interior Ministry with their own personal agendas, vendettas, and old scores to settle.

Many of the Marines I talked to about these things said they didn’t care — they just wanted to get home in one piece. Some realize they’re in the middle of a civil war they can’t stop and that it will ratchet up to full-blown the second the last American leaves. But most don’t think about it, since they can’t do anything about it.

It affects them anyway, of course. For one thing, while the explosives and snipers and tanks make Route Michigan look and feel very much like a war zone, the rules read more like those that might be imposed if martial law were declared in an American city. The rules of engagement in fact are much stricter than those that many U.S. police departments operate under. And, just like American cops, Marines and soldiers frequently have to explain to investigators the split-second decisions they made on their urban battlefields.

Early in Lima’s deployment, 19-year-old Lance Cpl. Mack McSperitt fired a round through the windshield of an oncoming car. The driver was hit only by flying glass, not by the bullet, but McSperitt was filled with questions: Had he followed the rules? “Did I do all the steps right?” His squad leader, Cpl. Nick Jeffries, a big tough kid from Spokane with a massive tattoo of a compass on his shoulder, reassured him that everything would be fine. He had seen what McSperitt had seen — he’d back him up. In the end the military investigators agreed, and any suggestion of punitive action was dropped. What had caused this near-deadly confrontation? As the convoy approached, the driver of the other vehicle couldn’t see the Americans because of the glare on his windshield.

The night before I left Fallujah, I ran into two Marines with whom I’d been on a raid. I asked if they were going home on R&R;, and they both laughed. No, they said, they had to go to Baghdad for a couple of days to testify about what they’d found in the raid. How many wars have there been where soldiers — while the war was still going on — had to leave the line to go testify in a criminal trial?

It was a full house. Every one of the white plastic chairs was taken, and the bare gray concrete walls of the Habbaniyah Chapel, located next to 3/5’s new headquarters at an old abandoned British air base, were lined with friends and comrades in arms. Everyone was there to say their final farewells, perhaps gain some closure, or try to make sense of this death.

Lance Cpl. Ramirez — Cheeks, who’d made it unscathed through The Push and a second deployment in Iraq and five months of his third — had been killed by shrapnel from an artillery-round IED that peeled apart the layers of laminate and steel of his humvee. A piece of metal literally found the chink in his armor, entering under his armpit, above his new “sappy plates,” designed to protect Marines from projectiles coming from the side. Others in the humvee were injured, but they recovered.

Cheeks always had a smile on his face and something funny to say, and he could motivate anyone. He had planned on going back to Edinburg to work in his father’s trucking business when he completed his enlistment. I’d talked to him briefly at 3/5 command post. And of course everyone around him was laughing at something he’d said.

Ramirez was assigned to the battalion’s personnel security detachment, the Jump Platoon. His battalion commander, Lt. Col. Patrick Looney, an intense, intimidating, leader, spoke at the memorial service. “He had a quick and sharp wit, and you could always count on Cheeks to lighten the mood or bust your chops,” Looney said. “If there was a leader to the lance corporal mafia, it was Cheeks.” In battle, Looney said, Cheeks was focused and fearless — that’s how he ended up being the gunner in the sergeant major’s humvee.

During the service, battle-hardened Marines who’d fought next to Cheeks cried openly and hugged each other. His friend, Cpl. Jason Morrow, who had served with Cheeks during The Push and had known him since infantry school, talked about him. Staff Sgt. Raymond J. Plouhar offered up the Marine’s Prayer. Afterward, they gathered in small groups to tell funny stories about their buddy.

I rode out to my first embed assignment with Morrow and Plouhar. A week later, the two were killed in almost the same spot as Cheeks. And the next day, the other Marines saddled up and went back out to keep the road open — for what?

The Marines I met in Iraq who died in action: Lance Cpl. Benito “Cheeks” Ramirez, Staff Sgt. Benjamin Williams, Staff Sgt. Raymond Plouhar, and Cpl. Jason Morrow, all of the 3/5, but not from Lima Company. From Bravo 1/1, Pfc. Steven Freund, Lance Cpl. Robert Posivio III, Cpl. Ryan Cummings, Pfc. Christopher White, Lance Cpl. Brandon Webb, Staff Sgt. Benjamin Williams. And Lima Company’s only casualty, killed by a sniper at FOB Gold only weeks before his deployment ended, Pfc. Rex Page.

Don Jones is a North Texas freelance journalist. He can be reached at [email protected] His son, whose assignment does not put him on the streets of Fallujah, is still in Iraq.

July 18, 2006

Marines from Indiana leave to train for Iraq mission

South Bend -- Almost 200 Marine reservists from Indiana and other states are headed to California to train for a seven-month mission in Iraq.

The men and women of Bravo Company of the South Bend-based 6th Engineer Support Battalion left Friday for California, where they will train until their deployment in late August, said Maj. Patrick Trimble, who will command the unit during its tour in Iraq.


The men and women of Bravo Company of the South Bend-based 6th Engineer Support Battalion left Friday for California, where they will train until their deployment in late August, said Maj. Patrick Trimble, who will command the unit during its tour in Iraq.

Bravo Company last was deployed to Iraq in 2003. But for many, this will be their first time in the turbulent nation. The unit will focus on clearing roads and sweeping for roadside bombs.

The Marines from across Indiana and several other states said their farewells to hundreds of friends and family members at the Armed Forces Reserve Center before boarding four buses.

Lance Cpl. Ben Martin, 20, Osceola, was surrounded by his father, his mother, his brother and his girlfriend of three years outside the center.

"I'm excited to go, but it's bad leaving everybody," he said.
Lupe Martinez, 37, Goshen, put up a brave face in front of her 19-year-old daughter, Lance Cpl. Yvette Holland, Danville.It was her daughter's first trip to Iraq.
"She'll do well," Martinez said. "She's well-trained and well-prepared."

Norfolk-based USS Gonzales participates in Lebanon evacuation

(AP) A commercial ship escorted by a U.S. destroyer will start evacuating some Americans from war-torn Lebanon on Tuesday and more military helicopters will be used to fly others direct to Cyprus, a U.S. official said Monday. Israel appeared to be allowing evacuation ships through its blockade of the country.


At the Pentagon, spokesman Bryan Whitman said the commercial ship, the Orient Queen, which can carry up to 750 people, will take evacuees to Cyprus. A U.S. Navy destroyer, the USS Gonzalez, will escort it and the USS Iwo Jima may do so as well, he said.

Some Americans have privately driven to Syria in recent days and from there flown to Jordan, although the U.S. government has advised Americans not to leave through Syria.

A U.S. Embassy statement released Monday instructed American citizens to be ready to leave, but did not say how it planned to evacuate them. Further instructions, it added, would be publicized both in local media and on the Embassy's web site.

Two U.S. Marine Corps helicopters evacuated 21 Americans on Sunday, flying from the U.S. Embassy's fortified grounds on a hilltop in a Beirut suburb. U.S. security teams also landed to begin planning the evacuation of others and two more U.S. helicopters arrived in Beirut on Monday.

More than 100 Marines were in Cyprus from a North Carolina-based unit, the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit. The 24th MEU is based aboard amphibious landing ships, including the USS Iwo Jima.

The state and defense departments were coordinating to ensure that the evacuation is "safe and carried out in an orderly fashion," the Embassy statement said.

On Cyprus, the government there made preparations to help with the evacuation of the thousands expected to be brought out of Lebanon by the United States and European countries.

"At this stage we don't have an exact number of people. ... We'll surely have four or five ships this week alone," said Foreign Ministry official Omiros Mavromatis.

An Italian ship carrying nearly 400 evacuees was expected in the Cyprus port of Larnaca late Monday afternoon. The evacuees were headed to Beirut on a convoy of 17 buses.

Greece also was sending a navy frigate to a Lebanese port to pick up 100 people and has three additional warships on standby.

France, which has more than 20,000 citizens in Lebanon, chartered a Greek ferry to pick up as many as 1,200 French and other European citizens in Lebanon. Hundreds of French, mostly of Lebanese origin or partners in mixed marriages, were expected to begin boarding the ferry late Monday.

"Who knows when this will end," said Habib al-Saad, who was seeing his three sons off. "If any of our Arab leaders had a brain this would have been resolved a long time ago. But they don't," said al-Saad as his sons _ Marwan, 20, Thomas, 17, and Pierre, 10 _ looking bewildered and anxious _ listened to their father in silence.

"I am not worried about them," al-Saad said. "They will look after themselves."

Overall in Lebanon, hundreds of thousands were on the move, leaving areas considered dangerous for the relative safety of the hills east of Beirut, the eastern Bekaa valley and northern Lebanon.

Wisam Musalam, a statistics student in Lyons, France, was standing in line outside the French Culture Center, waiting to register his name for evacuation. He is not a French national, but has a residence permit in France.

"Slowly, slowly we will become like the Palestinians," he said. "A nation of refugees."

Among other developments:

_ About 850 Swedes among about 5,000 in Lebanon have been evacuated, largely to the city of Aleppo in northern Syria. Sweden also chartered three ships to bring Swedes from Beirut to Cyprus, but is awaiting security guarantees from the warring parties.

_ Norway, which has evacuated 250 citizens to Syria, was also waiting for guarantees to send a car transporter ship to Lebanon.

_ A British aircraft carrier and another warship _ both already in the Mediterranean _ set off Sunday on a three-day trip to the Middle East in preparation for the possible evacuation of Britons. A British Foreign Office spokesman said the first wave of Britons _ children, elderly and ill people _ left Sunday aboard the helicopter that also transported European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana.

_ Denmark began evacuating some 2,300 people by bus to Damascus, Syria. So far, some 700 have returned home, the Danish government said.

_ Germany's Foreign Ministry said some 200 Germans have left Lebanon by land.

_ Bulgaria said it plans to evacuate at least 300 of its citizens, probably by sea from Beirut to Cyprus.

_ Ukraine said its embassy in Lebanon rented 14 buses to begin the evacuation of 520 Ukrainians from Beirut. They were to be taken to the airport in the Syrian city of Latakia, where three flights were scheduled to pick them up and take them home.

_ Russia's Foreign Ministry said there were more than 1,400 Russian citizens in Lebanon and more than 1,000 were ready to leave.

Marines aid evacuation of Americans in Lebanon

CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. — Marines helped evacuate United States citizens from Lebanon as tensions between that country and Israel escalated.


July 17, 2006
Associated Press

Helicopters from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit flew 21 people who voluntarily left aboard two CH-53 Super Stallion helicopters to Cyprus on Sunday afternoon, said spokesman Capt. David Nevers.

The 24th MEU is based aboard amphibious landing ships, including the USS Iwo Jima, but about 100 troops worked from a British Royal Air Force base on Cyprus for the operation.

“We’re now setting the conditions for future operations should the U.S. ambassador decide to change the posture of U.S. personnel and citizens in Lebanon,” said Col. Ron Johnson, the MEU commander.

Johnson said the ambassador requested the Marines’ assistance and that the MEU could be called for more evacuations.

The unit of about 2,200 Marines and sailors left the first week of June bound for the Mediterranean area.

The MEU had returned in February 2005 from a seven-month deployment to Iraq, which was its third to that region since terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Troops aboard the ships included an infantry battalion from the 8th Marine Regiment, Medium Helicopter Squadron 365 and MEU Service Support Group 24.

July 17, 2006

Married to the Military

you have to CHOOSE to beat the deployment blues... here is some healthy tips


By Kathie Hightower and Holly Scherer
Special to the Times

Our last column, which focused on spouses who hide out at home while their service members are deployed, really struck a chord with readers.

One reader, who signed her e-mail “Recovering Lonely and Depressed Military Spouse,” wrote to ask for a follow-up column.

“If you could do a follow-up to this column giving detailed suggestions, ... I would feel like there is some hope to this problem of isolation during deployments that so many of us suffer from,” she wrote.

We have ideas to offer, but the key factor is you’re the only one who can choose to make a change, to step out and engage in life, even during a deployment.

So how do you kick yourself in the butt when you are lonely and depressed and have no energy to do so?

When a spouse is deployed, we often see all the responsibilities — bills, meal planning, yardwork, laundry, house cleaning, child care needs — and we fall into inaction because it seems overwhelming. We take care of only basic needs such as feeding the children (and we eat what’s left on their plates), we do only enough laundry to get a clean top (forget folding and putting things away) and maybe do enough minor cleaning to keep bugs away — and then we still end up pooped at the end of the day. That inaction drains us more, leaving us feeling exhausted.

You may not want to hear this, but your self-care needs to be a priority. This may sound selfish, scary or even offensive in the beginning, but as you take steps to take care of you, you’ll begin to have energy for other demands.

You probably know this already. If you are like us, we knew we needed to put ourselves first, but we weren’t giving ourselves the permission and support to do it.

Here are ways to motivate yourself to make proactive changes:

1. Write messages to yourself. Put these on Post-it notes all over the house. Hey, your spouse is deployed — no one else has to see them. Try things like “I deserve to take care of myself,” or “I get energy from taking care of me first — only then can I take care of others.”

2. Listen to motivational tapes. These taped affirmations about overcoming procrastination and being more positive start by talking you into relaxation. Kathie used tapes available through Effective Learning Systems, www.efflearn.com or (800) 966-5683. Others are available through Health Journeys, www.healthjourneys.com or (800) 800-8661.

3. Start a journal. When you spend so much time meeting the needs of others, you lose touch with an important relationship — with yourself. Start by writing a list of things you are grateful for. That list can change how you see and approach life. Journaling creates a dialogue with yourself. You can work through many issues by keeping a journal. It’s much healthier than keeping things bottled up inside, running through your head over and over again.

4. Breathe. When we get into the habit of taking shallow breaths, we raise our anxiety level and deprive ourselves of needed energy. Take a yoga class or check out a video from the library to help you practice effective breathing. One method to try is Dr. Andrew Weil’s “Breathing: The Master Key to Self Healing” (available at www.soundstrue.com).

5. Connect with others. The spouses who have the toughest time are those who are isolated by circumstances and those who choose to isolate themselves (often because they are too shy to reach out). We’ll have more ideas on this in our next column.

These techniques work for most of us most of the time. But there can be times when you need more help, times when you are clinically depressed. It’s important to recognize these times and take advantage of available resources.

When those times occur, many military spouses are afraid to seek help, thinking it might hurt their spouses’ careers. But confidential resources are available. You can do an anonymous self-assessment and find resources at www.militarymentalhealth.org. You also can contact www.militaryonesource.com for six free confidential counseling sessions.

When you take care of yourself first, everyone wins.

Kathie Hightower and Holly Scherer are military spouses who have written articles and presented workshops based on their research and experience for more than 10 years. Send your questions and suggestions to [email protected]

Marines fight to retake Ramadi

Still considered one of Iraq’s most dangerous places, Ramadi has seen a surge in violence over the last several months despite continuing pressure on insurgents by Iraqi army forces, Marines and soldiers.

A “murder and intimidation campaign” against provincial government officials, near-daily roadside bomb ambushes and attacks on Marine outposts have forced leathernecks from 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines, based in the city, to take Ramadi back “section by section,” restricting civilian traffic into and out of the city and setting up more combat outposts with Army and Iraqi security force presence.

“This is pushing insurgents into a box,” said coalition spokesman Maj. Chris Perrine.


By Brian Gartlan
Times staff writer

Despite their aggressive patrolling and relationship-building with residents and government officials, Marines executed a July 5 raid on a Ramadi hospital they alleged was being used to treat wounded terrorists and serve as an enemy sniper perch.

The raid, which involved hundreds of Marines, uncovered the decapitated bodies of police officers. The Leathernecks also discovered about a dozen triggers for improvised explosive devices hidden in the tiled ceiling.

During the raid, relations between some doctors and Marines were contentious. Marines said one member of their platoon had been shot in the arm near the hospital while handing candy to children at a school. Some angrily accused doctors of harboring and helping insurgents.

Doctors said they knew nothing of insurgent activity or the triggers. They insisted they were bound by their oath to serve all patients.

“On my floor of the hospital, I’ve seen nothing. I have no idea about the other floors,” a medical aide said when asked if insurgents had ever visited the hospital.

Marines expressed frustration at the lack of cooperation.

“They don’t play by the same rules that we do,” Pfc. Gilberto Rodríguez, 20, said as he stood guard in a hallway. “Insurgents have free rein here. They can do whatever they want. They use whatever tactics are most effective.”

Meanwhile, Multi-National Force-Iraq spokesman Army Maj. Gen. William Caldwell announced June 30 that Iraqi and Army forces had raided Ramadi’s soccer stadium, uncovering several caches of IED-making material.

“It was a heavy IED fabrication location that we were able to find,” he said. “[There were] a lot of pre-wired base stations, already set up, already put together, set to be used as IEDs.”

The caches included pressure switches used to detonate IEDs, explosives, artillery shells and small arms. Caldwell said insurgents fashioned the IEDs so they would blend in with the road, making them hard for troops to identify.

“It does not stand out,” he said. “It’s not distinguishable.”

Insurgents built sophisticated hiding places for the caches in the stadium’s outbuildings using false cinder-block walls.

Officials in the city say they’re making steady progress pushing the insurgents out, gradually increasing the number and quality of Iraqi forces in the city in an attempt to get the population accustomed to the government presence in hopes of handing over full security operations to local forces soon.

Caldwell compared the rise of Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein to a child learning how to eat, talk and walk.

“The march continues with each step toward national reconciliation with each gesture of peace, with each rejection of terror and embrace of freedom,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Harsh homecoming binds 3/5 parents

OCEANSIDE, Calif. — When the phone call from her son didn’t come on Mother’s Day, Deanna Pennington knew something was wrong.

Their previous telephone conversation May 1 had left her feeling that all was fine with her son, a 21-year-old who was in Iraq with his infantry battalion.

But the silence May 14 left her uneasy.


By Gidget Fuentes
Times staff writer

“I felt it,” said Pennington, who lives in the Seattle area.

So she began her quest. Like an eager military mom, she turned to a small circle of friends, other mothers of young men in Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines.

In previous e-mails and Internet chats, the group of moms had shared the latest information and updated one another whenever any of them heard from their sons.

What she and several other mothers didn’t know was that her son and seven others with Kilo were under investigation in the April 26 death of an Iraqi man in Hamdaniya. They were confined May 11, and on May 25, were sent to Pendleton’s brig.

For two weeks, she said, the parents and wives had heard nothing from the Marine Corps, the unit or the remain-behind element at the base.

“The first I heard was from a collect call from the brig,” she said.

Her son, Lance Cpl. Robert Pennington, broke the news and tried to ease his family’s worry.

“He told me that he didn’t do anything wrong and he felt like they were being railroaded and they were not being supported,” she said.

For several weeks, with criminal charges pending, she said, the family got little official information about their son.

It’s a tricky situation families find themselves in when their Marines or sailors are being investigated, since military rules often restrict what they’re told.

“The command communicates solely with the military defense counsel of the accused and the accused as any pending action or investigation is between the government and the individual,” said Lt. Col. Sean Gibson, a Marine Corps Forces Central Command spokesman. “Keeping their families informed about the legal aspects of their situation is at the discretion of the individual accused members.”

But for the Penningtons, it all came as a shock, Deanna Pennington said.

They couldn’t reconcile what they heard and knew. They were huge supporters of the Corps, sending care packages to Rob and his buddies overseas. They donated to funds that help combat-wounded Marines and sailors.

With charges of murder, kidnapping and conspiracy looming, her son and the others — six Marines and one Navy corpsman — were held in isolated cells and shackled in the base brig. With little information coming their way, the Penningtons immediately pulled together to figure out the next step. They set out on a mission of their own to press the cause and case of their son and the others, who have been referred to as “the Pendleton 8.”

Deanna’s husband, Terry Pennington, linked up with another Kilo Marine’s father and one of the wives, and in a few weeks, their circle of support grew.

“We found all the other parents who were involved and started getting conference calls with each other,” Deanna Pennington said. “We don’t talk about the case — we’re just giving us support because the Marine Corps wasn’t giving us any information.”

That situation infuriated and frustrated them, starting with the leaks of the purported investigation that they say painted the eight as scheming murderers.

The families set out to counter that picture, which, she said, doesn’t jibe with her son, who’s passed time in the brig doing group exercises and reading the Bible and any 900-page paperback he can find.

“I do not believe that my son could plot to murder somebody, not for the pure joy of murder,” she said.

In their hometowns, far from the military’s tight-knit circle, the families have waged their own mission, turning to the airwaves and the Internet to plead their sons’ cases and attract attention to their plight. Several parents and spouses have established Web sites to solicit support and donations to offset the legal bills they know will grow as the military’s prosecution of the eight men moves into the courtroom. Dozens of supporters rallied outside Camp Pendleton’s main gate in their defense over the July 4 holiday weekend.

They know it won’t be easy. Although their son gets at least one military defense attorney, the Penningtons have retained a civilian attorney, David Brahms, a retired brigadier general and once the Corps’ top staff judge advocate. They know that if the cases proceed from the Article 32 hearings to courts-martial, the Marines and their families will face big legal bills.

“We’ll do mortgage on top of mortgage if we have to,” Deanna Pennington said.

Task Force MP proves change is no problem

CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq (July 15, 2006) -- The change from an artillery battalion to a military police battery took two years of training, but the Marines and sailors of Hotel Battery 3rd battalion 14th Marines say it was no problem.


July 15, 2006; Submitted on: 07/17/2006 04:18:27 AM
Story ID#: 200671741827
By Pfc. Sean P. McGinty, I Marine Expeditionary Force

“I like these duties, especially when the boys get out there and are thinking on their feet,” said Staff Sgt. Montsho Sanders, 3rd platoon commander for Hotel Battery 3/14.

The other Marines in the battery enjoy their new duties as well, though they are doing much more than just standing guard or waving past vehicles at checkpoints.

“We do convoy security, we transfer Iraqi army detachments for leave rotations, we do (third country national) convoys, and escort detainees and dignitaries,” said Cpl. Jeremy K. Hamilton, a Humvee driver for the battery.

The battery’s convoys and other operations are not simple, and they usually start preparations and briefings up to three days in advance, including medical evacuation training and convoy security exercises.

“We train because we are our biggest threats,” Sanders said. “If we allow ourselves to lose focus, we could get hit with something obvious.”

But the training and briefings the battery has received while deployed are not the first they’ve received since the change from an artillery battalion to an MP task force.

“We put away our Howitzer two years ago and began training on infantry tactics, and last year we began getting on convoy ops, to include the virtual combat convoy trainer,” said Sgt. Kenneth W. Hudgins, a vehicle commander for the battery.

A major change that the Marines of the battery like is that they have traveled all over Iraq, as opposed to staying in one spot shooting artillery rounds.

“In arty you’re in one spot for a whole mission. Here you’re all over,” Hudgins said. “I’ve never been in a truck before this.”

And the battery does travel. They have traveled over 250,000 miles to cities throughout the Al Anbar province, as far west as the Syrian border.

“We go all over the place. We travel a whole lot,” Hamilton said.

Whenever the battery goes anywhere on a convoy, they research where they’re going to ensure the roads are safe.

“The S-2 tells us what happens on the roads we’ll be traveling, and we have a convoy brief to show the Marines all the routes we’re going to take,” Sanders said.

“Making mission is what it is for us,” Sanders said. “It’s not getting from point A to point B – it’s getting from point A to point B flawlessly.”

July 16, 2006

Preparing for Iraq, it's ready, aim ... fire?

In searing desert heat, 150 Grand Rapids-based Marines work their way through an Iraqi village.


Sunday, July 16, 2006
By Ted Roelofs
The Grand Rapids Press
The question comes at the blink of an eye.

On the lookout for roadside bombs, they confront a civilian who might be raising a weapon. Or he might be waving.

Shoot or no shoot?

"It's a huge challenge. The enemy does not wear a uniform. He uses the local populace to hide in plain sight," says Major Daniel Whisnant, 39, commander of Company A, 1st Battalion, 24th Marines.

Five weeks after departing Grand Rapids, the Marine Reserves are immersed in combat training at Camp Pendleton in California to ready them for the real thing in Iraq. That means split-second choices of life and death that continue to test U.S. troops on a perilous and unconventional battlefield.

The idea, said Whisnant, is to "inoculate" the troops against the stress of combat so they will do the right thing at the right time.

The conduct of U.S. troops in Iraq has come under heightened scrutiny in recent weeks following a series of allegations of criminal acts. Military officials say these incidents are isolated and rare. But to some analysts, they are symptomatic of troops at the breaking point.

"If you look at the field manual on combat, murdering civilians and raping women are symptomatic of combat stress," said John Pike, director of Globalsecurity.org, a Washington-based military think tank.

"That's one of the reasons they call war hell."

Stress of war takes toll

Locked in Camp Pendleton's brig are seven Marines and a Navy medic charged with the kidnapping and premeditated murder of a 52-year-old Iraqi man. Military prosecutors say that without provocation, the troops took the man from his home, bound him, placed him in a hole and shot him. The troops say he was an insurgent digging a hole for a roadside bomb.

The government is investigating allegations that Marines killed two dozen Iraqi civilians in the town of Haditha. Five Army troops have been charged in connection with the rape and murder of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl and the murder of her parents and younger sister south of Baghdad.

In Pike's view, incidents such as these become more likely the longer a conflict drags on.

"You had this in every war of appreciable duration," Pike said.

With that said, Pike asserts each war tests soldiers in different ways. Troops in World War II fought savage battles, face-to-face with an enemy that wore a uniform. Soldiers back then served for the duration of a war. Their casualty rates were far higher than in Iraq. They didn't have the luxury of e-mailing loved ones.

But they also had long breaks between many battles. In Iraq, troops in the Sunni triangle north and west of Baghdad are at risk virtually every time they step off base. They may never see an enemy that wears no uniform and kills by remote control. And their stress may be compounded by multiple tours that put them in a war zone for seven months, back home for a year, then back in the war zone.

All this plays havoc with a soldier's psyche and nervous system, according to Charles Figley, a Florida State University psychologist who has surveyed Vietnam War veterans about war crimes. Among other publications, he is author of a book called "Stress Disorders Among Vietnam Veterans."

Figley noted troops in combat undergo physiological changes that help them survive. In Iraq, they may be in this hair-trigger state for weeks or months at a time.

"The technical term is called kindling. You are always on alert. There is more cortisone rushing through your body to help you respond more quickly.

"It is very hard to go to sleep. It is hard to stay asleep."

'An almost impossible position'

It is in this state, in a violent and murky urban landscape, that troops are asked to follow strict rules of engagement while they try to stay alive.

"These kids are the ones out there paying the price, and it's an almost impossible position for them," said Figley, a Vietnam veteran.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is projected to see nearly 20,000 cases of post-combat stress this year among service members who served in Iraq or Afghanistan, more than six times the number officials had expected. The latest report on VA patient visits stated nearly 5,000 service members were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder the first three months of the year.

That may be. Still, unit commander Whisnant expects his troops to keep their heads.

"As Marines, we have to take the moral high ground. There's never an excuse."

Getting ready to depart

To prepare them for Iraq, the Marines are being put through a training grind that reflects just how much the war has shifted since the March 2003 invasion.

"There is more focus on trying to figure out who's the bad guy, who's the good guy," said Lt. Chad Vickers, a Camp Pendleton spokesman. "When we kicked off, we knew who the enemy was."

In addition to live-fire drills, the Grand Rapids-based Marines spent two days at 25 Area Combat Town, Camp Pendleton's specially constructed Iraqi village.

They also trained at a movie studio near San Diego equipped to look like an Iraqi urban landscape, complete with trash-strewn streets and paid actors speaking in Arabic carrying out mock attacks. The studio has moveable walls and commanding officers looking down and videotaping the action below.

For Lance Cpl. Jeremy Collins, 21, of Spring Lake, the long days of the past month are beginning to pay off as they prepare to depart for Iraq in September.

"Everybody is getting their butt whipped. There's a lot of scared Marines, but they are getting out of that. Everybody is more anxious to go over there (Iraq)."

Collins confessed he felt "anxious" about the duty ahead.

"But I feel more confident the more and more we get this training done. This training is actually harder than what we do over there.

"The only bad part is that I have family back home."

Collins was grateful for several days off the unit was granted around the Fourth of July, when he was visited by his wife, Cassandra, 20, and their infant son, Bryce.

"I did not want to leave. My heart goes out to all of them," Cassandra said.

With family gone, Collins said he is much more focused on his training than reports of misconduct by U.S. troops in Iraq.

It's not something he expects to happen in his unit.

"Of course it's wrong. It's not the fricking Marine Corps and what we do," he said.

"You have the rules of engagement. You can't go off and shoot people just because you are angry."

Sgt. Ken Fall, 26, of Grand Rapids, has been in the Marine Reserves seven years. He said he has never seen the men this intent.

"We really don't know what we are going to be facing. Basically we are preparing for everything."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

July 15, 2006

Iraqis graduate advanced marksmanship course

Six Iraqi soldiers from 1st Battalion, 4th Brigade, 1st Iraqi Army Division graduated from an advanced marksmanship course taught by Marines from 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment July 15. The soldiers were awarded certificates of completion from the course in front of their Marine instructors. Lt. Col. David J. Furness, 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment’s commanding officer, offered words of congratulation to the soldiers for a job well done. The soldiers learned techniques to make them a more lethal fighting force to combat the insurgency in Iraq.


July 15, 2006; Submitted on: 07/18/2006 06:03:54 AM
Story ID#: 20067186354
By Cpl. William Skelton, 1st Marine Division

CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq (July 15, 2006) -- A graduation ceremony and encouraging words from Lt. Col. David J. Furness marked the completion of an advanced marksmanship course for six Iraqi soldiers here July 15.

Marines of 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment held the ceremony to recognize the graduates from 1st Battalion, 4th Brigade, 1st Iraqi Army Division as they head out to fight insurgents.

“This was a very difficult course,” said Pfc. Thabit Deoin Dulaymi, a 31-year-old soldier with 1st Battalion, 4th Brigade, 1st Iraqi Army Division. “I learned a lot and the further we got in the course the more competitive we got.”

The Iraqi soldiers participated in the four week course that taught them tactics to help fight the insurgency plaguing Iraq. The soldiers were chosen based on their skill as basic marksmen.

“Our operations officer picked us to take part in the class,” said Cpl. Rahim Hantosh Humod, a 30-year-old soldier with 1st Battalion, 4th Brigade, 1st Iraqi Army Division. “We were chosen based on our skills as shooters.”

During the course the soldiers trained and lived with their Marine counterparts. They were taught physical training and classes on marksmanship.

The course culminated in two weeks of combined combat operations that proved to the soldiers they were ready to hit the streets.

“During the field training we were observing areas in the Gharmah area,” Dulaymi said. “While we were there we stopped insurgents from planting an IED [improvised explosive device].”

The soldiers, along with their Marine instructors, engaged three insurgents attempting to emplace an IED in the road. When the smoke cleared, the soldiers and Marines captured one insurgent wounded in the leg.

“The insurgent was digging a hole to bury an IED,” Humod explained. “But we stopped him before he could do it.”

The soldiers’ faces gleamed with pride as Furness pinned Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals on two of the Iraqi soldiers for actions during the engagement. Also present was 1st Battalion, 4th Brigade, 1st Iraqi Army Division’s Commanding Officer Col. Najim Abdullah Menahi Salmon to see his soldiers graduate.

“I am very proud of what my men have accomplished,” Salmon said. “These men have accomplished a lot during this course and it is good they are recognized for it.”

The ceremony was held in front of 1st Battalion, 1st Marines’ headquarters aboard Camp Fallujah. The Marines congratulated their Iraqi students once the ceremony was over.

“This was a great bunch of guys,” said Staff Sgt. Kristopher A. Puffer, the 29-year-old platoon commander from Westville, Ohio. “They trained hard and learned a lot from the Marines.”

Throughout the battalion’s deployment, they have seen more and more responsibility for security in their area turned over to Iraqi forces. Courses like this one increase the skills and capabilities of Iraqi soldiers, enabling them to take charge and provide security for the people of Iraq.

“We will be able to help the people of Iraq more now,” Dulaymi said. “They will be able to feel safer and trust in their Army.”

Hockey star, combat veterans share common ground

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (July 13, 2006) -- Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Glen Wesley and his family spent the afternoon July 13 sharing the Stanley Cup with II Marine Expeditionary Force wounded warriors.


July 13, 2006
By Sgt. Tracee L. Jackson, II Marine Expeditionary Force

Wesley brought the fabled hockey icon to the Wounded Warrior Barracks to raise spirits and pay respect to veterans of the current War on Terrorism.

Amid a crowd of excited sports fanatics and combat veterans, the silver trophy was brought in and given a place of honor so all could gaze upon the 114-year-old artifact, touched by hundreds of National Hockey League legends.

“I’ve been a big hockey fan since I was a kid, so I was pretty excited when I found out we were going to get to see the Stanley Cup,” said Sgt. Jason Simms, 2nd squad leader at the Wounded Warrior Barracks. “It’s the oldest trophy in sports and it’s been through a lot,” said the native of Havertown, Pa., who added he believes the legend that the cup brings good luck to anyone who touches it.

Each player on the winning side of the NHL finale get to spend at least a day with the lucky cup. Wesley said he chose to spend the day with Marines wounded in the War on Terrorism to show his and his family’s support for the military.

“The idea to visit came from my wife and me,” said Wesley. “We pass by this base all the time, and we wanted to stop by to visit some of the Marines here.”

After recovering from the initial shock from their brush with fame and infamy, the floor was opened to the Marines and their burning questions for the NHL superstar.

“Do you still have all your teeth?” asked one Marine in the middle of the crowd. The question caused laughter to erupt among the group.

Along with the useful knowledge and personal perspective of the pro athlete, the Marines did indeed learn that Wesley is one of the few players in the league who still has all his teeth.

“It’s fun to talk to the Marines,” said Wesley, who has spent 18 years years in the NHL. “We can compare injuries. Although mine didn’t come from a bullet or (improvised explosive device), but it’s similar, so we have that in common.”

Wesley and his wife, Barbara, reciprocated the question and answer period with a few questions of their own, taking time to hear the stories of individual Marines. Both seemed impressed with the positive outlook and camaraderie of the injured Marines and sailor.

“I was more star struck by the cup than by the player,” admitted Simms who was one of the first in line to have his picture taken with the cup. “The whole visit was really awesome, though.”

The Stanley Cup is passed from team to team with the names of each team member engraved on the cup. Although the cup is technically worth less than $50, the folklore and tradition behind the infamous icon make it a lucky token to anyone who comes in contact with it.

There are three official copies of the Stanley Cup in the sports world today. The original, which stands in the NHL hall of fame; a duplicate, which is awarded to winning teams; and a third mold, which remains on display in the NHL museum while the award cup is traveling, according to Mike Bolt, the “Keeper of the Cup.”

During their short visit, two kinds of veterans -— veterans of war and a veteran of the NHL -- shared common ground, both having achieved their profession’s highest honors and now, the luck of the Stanley Cup.

July 14, 2006

MACS-2 Marines to deploy

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION BEAUFORT, SC (July 14, 2006) -- Approximately 30 Marines from Marine Air Control Squadron 2, Detachment A here are preparing for a seven-month deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom later this month.


July 14, 2006; Submitted on: 07/14/2006 02:52:40 PM
Story ID#: 2006714145240
By Lance Cpl. John Jackson, MCAS Beaufort

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION BEAUFORT, SC (July 14, 2006) -- Approximately 30 Marines from Marine Air Control Squadron 2, Detachment A here are preparing for a seven-month deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom later this month.

The Marines, who have been training for several months, will support vital communications between aircraft operating from several forward operating bases in the Al Anbar Province.

“We’ve trained daily and taken the required classes,” said Master Sgt. Dennis Cote, the maintenance chief for MACS-2. “The best training though, is sharing our past experiences from previous deployments. Things you can’t learn in a class.”

The detachment is made up of Marines with diverse levels of experience: many Marines have just returned from Iraq in February and volunteered to go back, while a few Marines are fresh from their military occupational specialty school.

“(Iraq) is the best place to learn,” said Lance Cpl. Christopher Turner, a communications technician with MACS-2 who is preparing for his second deployment. “You work 12-hour shifts (applying the skills you know.) It is the best experience you can get.”

Another MACS-2 Marine agreed.

“Getting out there is how to learn the job,” said Cpl. Max Cebulla, a navigational aids technician. “There are always a few bumps in the road, but that’s how you get the training you need. I know we will be fine.”

The MACS-2 Marines will be attached to Marine Air Control Group 38 and maintain radars and communication systems at the airfields in Al Taqaddum, Fallujah and Ramadi, according to Cote. They ensure open communications between aircraft in the air and Marines on the ground, all the time controlling the airspace and ensuring the safety of the pilots.

“There’s always plenty of work to do,” Turner said with a smile. “With the sand storms, the equipment always needs a few tune-ups.”

Because the Marines of MACS-2 have highly specialized skills needed to operate an expeditionary airfield, the detachment almost constantly deploys. Over the past six years the detachment has been deployed to Kuwait, Bahrain, Uzbekistan, Jordan, Djibouti and Kyrgyzstan, just to name a few.

Although most of the Marines just returned from the desert a few months ago, the attitude at the detachment is positive, according to Cote.

“Everyone has a job to do,” Cote said. “Everyone volunteered to go and everyone seems pretty excited… especially the new guys. This is going to be a good deployment for us.”

26th MEU learns to maneuver on digital bridge

FORT A.P. HILL, Va. (July 14, 2006) -- Marines from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit learned about a valuable addition to MEU communications, today, during a field training exercise here.


July 14, 2006; Submitted on: 07/14/2006 01:05:21 PM
Story ID#: 200671413521
By Staff Sgt. Trent Kinsey, 26th MEU

The Enhanced Positioning Locating Reporting System (EPLRS), recently acquired by the MEU, is an asset that will help bridge a gap between traditional radio communications and 21st century digital technology.

Communications section representatives from the MEU's command element; Battalion Landing Team, 2nd Bn., 2nd Marine Regiment; and Combat Logistics Bn.- 26 sat in a field expedient classroom receiving instruction on the digital radio system, which has been used by the Marine Corps for approximately 5 years.

"EPLRS has been in existence for a while," said Pedro J. Zenquis, Marine Corps Tactical Systems Support Activity. "They [the Marines] haven't been using it a lot, because the Marines haven't been trained."

Zenquis, who was on hand to show the Marines the functions of the system and how to set up the radios, said the training for the Marines became important when unit commanders learned of the EPLRS capabilities.

"It's been getting command interest because of its use in Iraq," he said.

Zenquis stated the system, which can be mounted in a vehicle or man-carried, has the capability to let commanders in the field receive information from a command on ship in limited digital data formats.

This system will allow the MEU to extend its data services to its units ashore, said Maj. Jaime Macias, Communications Officer, 26th MEU.

"Before, we had only single-channel voice," said Macias. "This will extend our digital network."

The enhanced ability of the MEU command to push data to its forces is particularly important in the emerging environment of distributed operations. The requirement for commanders in separate, sometimes austere locations to piece together an image of the battle-space using only spoken word will be reduced with the introduction of a shared operational picture in data form.

With the EPLRS now resident in the BLT, CLB and command element, as well as the ships of the ESG, the MEU will work towards integrating the system into its pre-deployment exercises.

"Our intent is to train and then deploy it during TRUEX [Training in an Urban Environment Exercise]," said Macias.

As the communications Marines continue bolstering their skills with the new equipment, the MEU will continue preparing for a scheduled early 2007 deployment in support of the Global War on Terrorism.

For more information about the 26th MEU, go to www.usmc.mil/26thmeu.

BLT Marines from 26th MEU train for urban battle

Lance Cpl. Abraham M. Blocker, a rifleman with 2nd Platoon, Golf Company, Battalion Landing Team, 2nd Bn., 2nd Marine Regiment, peers around a corner while Pfc. Andrew P. Cooper, also a rifleman with 2nd Plt., provides cover during a Millitary Operations in Urban Terrain training exercise at the combat town aboard Fort A.P. Hill, Va., July 13. The Marines are preparing for a deployment with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit in early 2007.


July 14, 2006; Submitted on: 07/18/2006 09:39:32 AM
Story ID#: 200671893932
By Lance Cpl. Jeremy T. Ross, 26th MEU

FORT A.P. HILL, Va. (July 14, 2006) -- Marines and Sailors of Golf Company, Battalion Landing Team, 2nd Bn., 2nd Marine Regiment, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, took on the combat town here, July 13, for a day of military operations in urban terrain training.

During the training, Golf Co. divided into squads and took turns rotating through four distinct scenarios designed to simulate different aspects of urban combat operations.

The first pitted two squads against a large, two-story house with hostiles on the second floor.

Success in the scenario meant the troops had to work together as a team, with one squad providing security and support while the other assaulted the target.

Working together to accomplish missions is what MOUT is all about, said Gunnery Sgt. Keith W. Harris, company gunnery sergeant.

"In real life, if you let the enemy make you into a single rifleman, you're done," he said. "You are not a single rifleman out there, you are a team."

The second scenario was geared to help teach a lesson about rules of engagement and what Marines can and can't do in urban combat.

Two squads of Marines on patrol took fire from an enemy who ran into a nearby building. The catch was that when the Marines rushed to enter the structure where the shooter had taken refuge, they were stopped at the door by a Marine role-playing a religious leader. The individual informed the Marines that the house where the enemy had fled was a religious building, and refused them entrance.

According to current rules of engagement, American troops must be fired upon from the building or have direct consent from the highest authorities in order to attack a house of worship, and that consent is rarely, if ever, given, said Harris.

The next stage of training was a simulated improvised explosive device attack on a three-vehicle convoy.

As the convoy of Humvees loaded with two squads of Marines rolled through a wooded area outside the combat town, one vehicle was struck by a rock, simulating an IED attack.

Reacting quickly, the Marines leapt from the two remaining vehicles and dispatched aid and litter teams to assist the simulated casualties of the blast and sent others to root out the enemy who had attacked their vehicle.

The fourth phase of the training was a cordon and knock exercise, during which a group of Marines patrolled through a stretch of buildings simulating a residential area.

The troops knocked on doors and interacted with role-players, who spoke Arabic to add to the realism of the training and give the Marines a feel for interacting with a foreign populace.

The training Golf Co. received was important for at least two reasons, said 1st Sgt. John D. Logan, Golf Co. first sergeant.

"As the motorized force for the MEU, we'll be the ones spending time on the roads and in towns, and the sharpening our Marines received here will pay dividends in the future," he said.

Logan added that it is also crucial to begin exposing Golf Co.'s many new Marines to the nature and techniques of urban combat.

The best feature of the MOUT training was that it exposed the Marines to the opposite extremes of urban combat, said Lance Cpl. Joshua Patterson, a squad leader with Golf Co.'s 3rd Platoon and a native of Baraboo, Wisc.

Golf Company and the rest of the BLT continue to train here as a part of the 26th MEU's six-month pre-deployment training program, which will culminate in an early 2007 deployment in support of the Global War on Terrorism.

Lissner to assume command at Camp Fuji

Stars and Stripes
Pacific edition, Friday, July 14, 2006

The Marines at Camp Fuji, Japan, are to officially welcome their new permanent commander Friday.

To continue reading:


Okinawa-based Marine is killed in Iraq

Stars and Stripes
Pacific edition, Friday, July 14, 2006

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — A Marine based on Okinawa was killed July 2 while conducting combat operations in Iraq’s Anbar province.

To continue reading:


List of summer dangers on Okinawa includes poisonous habu snakes

By Cindy Fisher, Stars and Stripes
Pacific edition, Friday, July 14, 2006

CAMP FOSTER — Okinawa is a haven for outdoor activities during summer, but also a place where some dangerous land and sea critters can put a serious crimp in the fun.

To continue reading:


Summer Fun For Deployed Troops' Kids 'Operation Purple' Gives Them Free Week At Stateside Camp

(CBS) Summer vacation for kids is supposed to be nothing but fun and games.


July 13, 2006

But for children whose fathers or mothers are in the military, serving overseas, summer isn't stress-free.

As Cynthia Bowers reported on The Early Show Thursday, The National Military Family Association is trying to make it easier for them, providing a free week at summer camp through its "Operation Purple."

The youngsters get a chance to forget the stress, and spend time with others in the same boat, Bowers observes.

Some 3,000 kids will attend the camps in 22 states this year.

Funding comes from private donations. It costs less than $500 to send one of them to camp for a week.

July 13, 2006

Santee, Calif., Marine awarded Bronze Star medal for heroic actions in Iraq

RAMANA, Iraq (July 13, 2006) -- Staff Sgt. Jeffery V. Escalderon experienced some of the fiercest fighting along the Iraqi-Syrian border city of Husaybah – against insurgents wielding machine guns, mortars and rocket propelled grenades.


July 13, 2006
By Cpl. Antonio Rosas, Regimental Combat Team7

The 36-year-old platoon sergeant from 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment was recently awarded the Bronze Star medal for his heroic actions during combat operations in the border city two years ago.

Escalderon, currently deployed to Iraq for a second time, was recognized in a ceremony at the Marines’ small outpost here. He helped battle terrorists in the once insurgent-infested city of about 30,000, when the battalion was deployed to this same region in western Al Anbar Province in November 2004.

“I just told my Marines every day to keep doing what they were trained to do – take the fight to the enemy,” said Escalderon.

Escalderon’s men came under numerous attacks in Husaybah on a near-daily basis during the deployment, according to the Marines here. The Marines of Company B nicknamed a certain area of the city of Husaybah, ‘mortar thirty,’ because everyday at around 4:30 p.m., they received incoming mortar fire from insurgents.

Marines who served with Escalderon on the battlefield recall him as a strong leader who led his Marines valiantly during the heavy fighting.

“Escalderon knew his Marines well and he knew what they were capable of,” said 1st Lt. John A. McClellan, Escalderon’s platoon commander in 2004. “He has a good grasp on things and that’s what makes him a good leader.”

While manning a security position with one of his four-man squads, Escalderon was attacked by a car-full of insurgents. He responded immediately by killing two of the enemy.

“These insurgents just came at us with everything they had that day,” said one of Escalderon’s Marines, Cpl. Steven D. Porter, a rifleman with Company B.

After about an hour of heavy fighting, Escalderon’s Marines were able to repel the enemy’s assault, leaving eight terrorists dead.

Two weeks after the deadly battle, Escalderon led a squad of Marines to capture a handful of insurgents in Husaybah. The terrorists responded to the Marines’ raid with rockets, mortars and machine guns. Escalderon exposed himself numerous times to enemy fire in order to repel the attack with hand grenades, according to Porter, a 22-year-old from Alton, Ill.

“Staff Sergeant Escalderon was very aggressive and always ready to go out on patrols with his squads,” said Porter who is on his third deployment to Iraq. “I don’t know many platoon sergeants who go out as much on patrols with their Marines.”

The fighting continued throughout the day until the enemy was overwhelmed and killed.

Escalderon directed both ground forces and helicopters against the enemy during the coordinated attack.

His performance was “outstanding, and he deserves every bit of recognition,” said McClellan.

Escalderon, a father of three, said he never told his family about any of the events which led to his award.

“I haven’t told anybody about what happened in Husaybah because it’s not something to brag about,” said Escalderon. “What I did is what Marines do every day.”

When his battalion returns to the United States later this year, Escalderon plans on doing just one thing – spending time with his kids. He may take them to Disneyland.

“I miss my three boys; they’re all I think about out here,” said Escalderon. “I try to spend as much time with them at skate parks and playing the guitar when I’m back home.”

Marines in this area launched a large-scale operation in November 2005 to rid the area of insurgents and since then have maintained control of the area from terrorists.

Furthermore, the security in this border region has improved in recent months, according to local tribal sheikhs – the city has seen its police force restored after a three-year hiatus of no police in the city.

Marines have also spent the past four months mentoring and training Iraqi soldiers to become a self-sustaining force. The Marines’ progress with Iraqi Security Forces in this region has led to three Iraqi-Syrian border cities to open new police stations in the last two months.

Nonetheless, Marines here still encounter improvised explosive devices and continue to detain insurgents in the city, proving that there is still work to be done before the battalion returns to the U.S later this year. The Marines’ work providing security will eventually shift to a more backseat role as Iraqi Security Forces prepare to take the lead in security operations by year’s end.

“The work you Marines are doing with the Iraqi Army and the Iraqi Police is starting to work,” said Lt. Col. Nicholas F. Marano, the battalion’s commanding officer during Escalderon’s award ceremony. “What you are doing out here is more than I can express in words.”

Escalderon is not the only Marine still serving with the battalion who was recently awarded for heroic actions during the unit’s last deployment to this region. Sgt. Jarred L. Adams, a 22-year-old scout sniper from Wasilla, Alaska, was awarded the Silver Star – the third highest U.S. military award for valor – last month for attempting to save a Marine from a burning humvee while under fire.

“I am very proud that we have Marines like Staff Sergeant Escalderon in this battalion because Marines like him are who will carry us into the next decade,” said Sgt. Maj. George W. Young, the battalion’s senior enlisted Marine. “The legacy he left behind in Baker Company is still evident in the non-commissioned officers there now.”

The battalion will be replaced by another southern California-based battalion later this year.

Email Cpl. Rosas at [email protected]

Young Marine faces toughest battle of all

Private First Class Kris Taylor faces a battle for his life.

A Conroe teenager dreamed of becoming a Marine and serving his country.

Private First Class Kris Taylor faces a battle for his life. He was living that dream when doctors uncovered a serious problem. Now the young Marine is facing a new fight.


12:38 PM CDT on Thursday, July 13, 2006
By Shern-Min Chow / 11 News

Private First Class Kris Taylor at 18 is already a combat veteran. His enemy? An aggressive and now inoperable brain cancer.

“Every day is the prayer that this is the stuff that is going to stop it,” his mother said.

He is at M.D. Anderson for another round of chemotherapy. Doctors are using an experimental treatment which may prolong his young life.

“Ever since I could almost pronounce the word I’ve wanted to be a Marine,” said Taylor.

Like his dad. So the Caney Creek High School student enlisted on his 17 th birthday. He began suffering severe headaches and other problems, but refused to let his drill sergeant know.

Going through boot camp he was determined he was going to make it thorough, even though he was very ill.

He graduated from Camp Pendleton on his 18th birthday. Shortly afterwards, in November, he collapsed.

That night surgeons removed a tumor. Last month, it returned.

As a result, he and his mother have now returned to Texas.

“I’ve lost 40 pounds,” he said.

“We don’t talk about dying. We talk about living, that’s what we do,” his mother said.

His story circulated over the Internet. Military supporters have sent encouragement

“And the tumor was completely gone, so it does happen,” said Taylor.

This, for the teenager who witnessed to others from his own hospital bed.

“I’ve served God. I’m proud of that, and I served my country. To me I’ve been the best American anybody could be,” Taylor said.

His family knows his life may now be measured in weeks and that courage is not always measured against bullets or bombs.

“We’re not promised tomorrow so I shouldn’t be upset. I might not have tomorrow."

If you should have the privilege of meeting Taylor, you will marvel at how he can tell you his entire story without shedding a single tear.

He wants to ride a cutting horse once more and go fishing—simple things his family and doctors hope can be arranged.

To help Taylor, visit www.soldiersangels.com (Soldiers Angels).

Vet carves canes for wounded comrades

OKLAHOMA CITY — Through a television news report, Korean War veteran Jack Nitz found a way to help other war veterans with his craft.

Nitz, a member of the Eastern Oklahoma Woodcarvers Association, got the idea of hand-carving canes for veterans with leg injuries after seeing a story about wounded soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq.


Associated Press

He recruited other veterans and woodcarvers to make 30 walking sticks, which vary in size but all bear an eagle’s head on the handle.

Nitz, 76, said the canes are made more for special occasions rather than everyday use.

When he tried to distribute the canes, Nitz discovered that privacy laws prevented his group from giving them away through U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals.

“We thought we would have no problem distributing the canes,” he said. “But when push came to shove, (the VA) said they weren’t qualified to do it.”

The American Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, commonly known as HIPAA, ensures a patient’s medical record and history are kept private.

Nitz said the only way the Woodcarvers Association could get the name of a veteran was through word of mouth or if a veteran happened to see a news program about the canes.

On Monday Nitz heard from the Nevada-based Soldiers’ Angels, a nonprofit organization aimed at showing support for soldiers.

Patti Patton-Bader, the founder of Soldiers’ Angels, said the organization wanted to help because the specially crafted canes will help veterans physically and emotionally.

“Sometimes, this little act of kindness can make all the difference in the healing of a hero,” Patton-Bader said.

Soldiers’ Angels will help locate soldiers who have leg injuries and pay postage to mail the canes to the veterans, she said. The mailings could begin next week.

Fifteen canes had been given before Monday, six outside Oklahoma, Nitz said.

One of the recipients was Sgt. Michael Donnelly in Suffolk, Va., who suffered several leg injuries from an explosion on his second tour of duty in Iraq. While he was a patient at Bethesda National Naval Medical Center, his father learned about the canes and asked for his son to receive one.

“I thought it was very nice,” Donnelly said. “The guy was very talented. It’s like a regular cane, but cooler.”


Information from: The Oklahoman

Major who caught alleged jewelry thief honored

A national jewelry store chain honored a leatherneck who tackled an alleged thief in a shopping mall in May.

Helzberg Diamonds honored Maj. Erik McInnis during a ceremony Tuesday at one of its San Diego area stores.


By Beth Zimmerman
Staff writer

McInnis witnessed a man run out of an Annapolis, Md., jewelry store May 13, followed by an employee who yelled for help. McInnis, a Naval Academy math instructor at the time, chased and tackled the man, detaining him until an off-duty police officer arrived. Unbeknownst to McInnis, the man had grabbed a $28,000 diamond engagement ring from the store before he ran, according to police reports.

Helzberg honored McInnis, who is now stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif., with a $1,000 donation to both the Marine Corps Law Enforcement Foundation and the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society at his request, a Helzberg spokeswoman said.

“We are humbled as we recognize the commitment, courage and intelligence that Maj. McInnis and his fellow servicemen and women exhibit daily,” said Marvin Beasley, Helzberg chairman and chief executive officer, in a written release.

“We think [McInnis’ actions] really encompass who the typical Marine is,” said Stacey McBride, a company spokeswoman.

‘One step closer to not having to be here’ for Marines in Al Anbar

OBSERVATION POST OMAR, Iraq — Lance Cpl. Noah Welter has lugged his rifle and body armor down Route Mets so many times now the 21-year-old U.S. Marine has lost count.

“Our first patrol down this road turned into a five-hour hump-a-thon — in the rain,” the native of Snohomish, Wash., recalled as he scanned the route for signs of roadside bombs on Saturday. “Not fun.”


By Monte Morin, Stars and Stripes
Mideast edition, Thursday, July 13, 2006

But as he trudged below thickets of towering reeds, past vicious dogs, and over bomb craters plugged with concrete, Welter knew that he and every other Marine in Iraq would — with any luck — see their last of Route Mets in a matter of days.

The road, along with almost 500 square miles of Euphrates River farmland, is just the latest chunk of Al Anbar Province to fall under independent control of the Iraqi army. In less than a month, when Welter and the rest of the 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment return home to southern California’s Camp Pendleton, units from the Iraqi army’s seasoned 1st Division will take control of this area roughly seven miles north of Fallujah.

At Observation Post Omar, Iraqi army soldiers have been leading patrols through the lush, canal-fed farm region with Marines following along as supervisors.

“It’s good to see them out here and up front,” said Sgt. Dean Long, 25, of Lodi, Wis. “It means we’re one step closer to not having to be here in a couple years.”

Overall, three 1st Iraqi Army Division brigades have assumed independent control in Anbar, the restive Sunni Muslim province of western Iraq, and plans have been made for a fourth brigade to cover its own territory as well.

The Iraqi units are currently responsible for security in Fallujah, Abu Ghraib, Habbaniyah, and areas between Karma and Nassir Wa Salaam.

“That’s a good news story,” said Lt. Col. Kevin Foster, Deputy Operations Officer for the I Marine Expeditionary Force. “Prior to Nov. ’05, there was no Iraqi battle space. Now, within the last seven months, we’ve had three of seven brigades assume control of their own areas.”

The U.S. Marines, who oversee operations in Anbar, say they have been working steadily to stand up Iraqi army units in their territory and pave the way for an effective provincial government.

“It’s like watching paint dry,” Foster said of the work. “It doesn’t happen in a day, but when you step back you say, ‘Holy Cow.’”

Preparations for the handover of territory north of Fallujah began in earnest more than a week ago when more than 100 Iraqi army soldiers moved into what was once known as OP-4, a small walled compound that once served as an Iraqi government morgue. The compound’s name has since been changed to OP Omar, in honor of a 2nd Battalion, 4th Brigade, 1st Iraqi Army Division soldier who was killed while battling insurgents.

A second, nearby outpost, OP 3, will also be turned over to Iraqi soldiers, who have dubbed the position OP Mohammed.

On Saturday, Welter, Long and other Marines from 3rd Platoon, Company A, made their way down the long roadway as shepherds chased after flocks of bleating sheep and cows eyed the soldiers warily. As he walked past a Russian-made armored vehicle abandoned in a canal long ago and overgrown with reeds, Welter reached out and rapped on the derelict vehicle’s steel skirt. “Good luck,” he said.

The 1-1 Marines, who fall under the command of Regimental Combat Team 5, said that despite roadside bomb detonations and mortar and sniper attacks, they were fortunate in that they had not had a Marine killed.

While they are happy to be going home in roughly a month’s time, it looked as if letting go of the area and letting the Iraqis move in might be a little more difficult than they let on.

As he made his way through the back yards of Iraqi farm houses and over furrowed fields Saturday, Welter chafed a bit when an Iraqi army sergeant began giving him directions on how to cross a canal.

“I know this area like the back of my hand,” Welter said under his breath. “I’m not going to say anything though.”

The 1st Iraqi Army Division has many of the new Iraqi army’s most seasoned soldiers. The division, which is made up mostly of Shiites from southern Iraq and Baghdad, have fought alongside Americans in Fallujah, Mosul, and Al Qaim.

The effort to replace U.S. Marines in Anbar has encountered significant challenges in the form of logistical support, pay and promotions administered by the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, according to Marine commanders.

Stories of soldiers and officers going for months without pay and then deserting or refusing to cooperate with coalition forces are common across Iraq, as are stories of poor discipline among soldiers who find themselves in a combat environment just a few short weeks after enlisting.

Marine officials say such difficulties are all part of creating a new army.

“It took the U.S. military 30 years after Vietnam to develop a professional officer and NCO corps,” Foster said. “You can’t expect a country with no history of a professional NCO corps to develop one in three years.”

For their part, those Iraqi army soldiers who had moved from Fallujah to OP Omar said they were happy to be there.

“It’s a good feeling. It’s a powerful feeling,” said 2nd Lt. Mustafa Mahmud, 24, of Baghdad. “There are very good people [here].”

The officer said that taking over from the Marines was a bittersweet experience.

“I am happy and sad,” Mahmud said. “I am happy that the Marines can go home and see their family and their wives. But I am sad that we’re not going to be working together. The Marines are very good. Very good.”

Navy Christens Amphibious Transport Dock Ship Green Bay

The Navy will christen the newest San Antonio Class Amphibious Transport Docking ship Green Bay at 10 a.m. CDT on Saturday, July 15, 2006, during a ceremony at Northrop Grumman Ship Systems – Avondale Operations, Avondale, La.


The ship is named Green Bay to honor the nation's Midwest "city by the bay." The city of about 100,000 residents was founded in 1634 by French explorer, Jean Nicolet, and is the oldest community in Wisconsin.

Rose Magnus, wife of the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Robert Magnus, is serving as the ship’s sponsor. In a time-honored Navy tradition, she will break a bottle of champagne across the ship’s bow to formally christen the ship. Gen. Magnus will deliver the ceremony’s principal address.

Green Bay is the fourth ship in the Navy’s new San Antonio Class of Amphibious Transport Dock ships. As a critical element in future expeditionary strike groups, the ship will support the Marine Corps’ mobility triad, which consists of the high speed landing craft air cushion (LCAC), the expeditionary fighting vehicle (EFV) and the Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft (MV-22). The ship will provide improved warfighting capabilities including an advanced command-and-control suite, increased lift-capability in vehicle and cargo-carrying capacity and advanced ship-survivability features.

Cmdr. Burt L. Espe of San Diego, a 1987 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, is the commanding officer of the pre-commissioning unit Green Bay.

Green Bay is 684 feet in length, has an overall beam of 105 feet, a navigational draft of 23 feet, displaces about 24,900 tons and is capable of embarking a landing force of about 800 Marines. Four turbo-charged diesel engines power the ship to sustained speeds of 24 knots.

For more information about this class of ship, please visit the Navy Fact File: http://www.navy.mil/navydata/fact_display.asp?cid=4200&tid;=600&ct;=4.

July 12, 2006

Marines Try Lighter Touch in Ramadi

RAMADI, Iraq — This is the anti-Fallouja strategy.

Here, in the capital of Al Anbar province, the U.S. military is attempting to clear and pacify an insurgent stronghold without leveling the city in the process.


By Julian E. Barnes, Times Staff Writer
July 12, 2006

In November 2004, U.S. forces surrounded Fallouja, set up checkpoints at every road and worked to empty the area of its civilian population. They then moved in and cleared every house and block. The effort destroyed large swaths of the city and forced a massive reconstruction effort.

This time, U.S. forces hope to avoid such drastic measures.

Rather than gauge success by blocks cleared, military officials here take heart from softer measurements — neighborhoods that have become safe enough for garbage collection to have resumed, stores that have reopened.

"When we did Fallouja, everything shut down," said Army Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, the chief spokesman for U.S. forces in Iraq. "In Ramadi, it is the exact opposite. Shops are opening up and commerce is increasing."

With both Al Qaeda and Sunni nationalist groups intent on asserting influence over Ramadi, the military cannot afford to draw down its forces in the city.

"The trap lines, the foreign fighter flow from Syria to Baghdad, goes right through Ramadi," Caldwell said.

Yet, the seemingly fragile Iraqi government would be unlikely to allow a Fallouja-style assault, particularly in Ramadi, which has 400,000 residents.

Military officials believe Fallouja showed that the United States would not tolerate an insurgent safe haven in Iraq. In Ramadi, they hope to show that a city known as a primary battleground can be retaken with a softer approach.

Ramadi has long been contentious. The conflict grew far worse after insurgents fleeing Fallouja relocated here in late 2004.

Since then the violence has flared and ebbed. U.S. military commanders claimed to have made progress in 2005, but saw their gains blown away by a bombing in January that killed about 60 Iraqi police recruits.

In June, when the 1st Armored Division began moving in, large sections of the city were difficult to enter, the roads mined with improvised explosive devices and snipers taking pot shots from nearby buildings, said Lt. Col. Pete Lee, the executive officer of the division's 1st Brigade.

"There were parts of central Ramadi coalition forces just did not go," he said.

Residents responded to the buildup of American troops by packing up. Thousands fled, worried that a massive assault was coming, residents say.

The Marines begged residents to stay.

"We sent out patrols and said, 'Do not leave your homes, we will protect you,' " said Capt. Max Barela, the Lima Company commander in west-central Ramadi. "They were expecting a Fallouja-style clearing. It did not play out that way. We want people in their houses and living their lives."

Rather than a direct assault, the goal in Ramadi, officials say, is to shrink the insurgent-dominated areas by creating a ring of combat outposts around the center of the city. The approach uses tactics honed last year by the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment in the much-smaller city of Tall Afar, near the Syrian border.

Making the population feel more secure is key in fighting an insurgency. In west-central Ramadi, Barela's efforts are focused on gauging how safe the residents feel and trying to understand what he can do to make them feel safer.

In parts of the city, those efforts have a long way to go. Although the military appears to have convinced many residents that a massive assault is not in the making, a large number blame the United States for the chaos and violence here.

"The situation became nearly impossible because our lives are threatened each moment," said Minawir Ali Duleimi, a 56-year-old retired university professor from the city's Sufiya neighborhood. "Ramadi is a military front."

U.S. forces remain targets for insurgent groups, and some merchants say that as long as insurgents are attacking the Americans, civilians will be caught in the middle.

Mohammed Albuassaf was forced to close his shop along Ramadi's main highway when attacks on the American outposts there increased.

"I opened another shop in the city, but it also became dangerous to be there; as it became a joint Iraqi-U.S. military site, it became a target for the armed men's missiles," Albuassaf said. "The situation has become unbearable."

Parts of Ramadi do have pitched battle lines. Regular fighting takes place between insurgents and American forces in the heart of downtown. The area around the government center is filled with bombed-out buildings.

"It is a wasteland," a Marine intelligence officer said. "It's almost like Stalingrad."

Much of the rest of the city, however, resembles Lima Company's area of operations, where there are grand homes, by Iraqi standards, interspersed with the occasional blasted-out shell of a house. In Lima's area, to the east of the government center, the Marines are trying to avoid gun battles, focusing instead on building intelligence and conducting targeted raids.

The idea here is to compel the insurgents not to fight and make sure the military does little to create new insurgents. When they are fired at, these Marines do not always shoot back.

"If you want to kick down doors, going in all hard and treating them like insurgents, that is what you are going to get," Cpl. Daniel Tarantino of Gainesville, Ga., said Friday.

"I got shot at last night. We couldn't see where it was coming from, so we did not return fire. We can't spray 'n' pray. If I do, I will make more terrorists than I kill."

In west-central Ramadi, the primary counterinsurgency tool is the census. Military units move from house to house, not to take the buildings down or clear them of insurgents, but to talk to the residents.

Barela has just added a neighborhood to his area, and on a recent patrol he stopped to ask a resident about conditions. The man answered that there was a great deal of fighting.

"We don't like fighting in your neighborhood," Barela told him, adding that the insurgents "do not have concern if they kill us or they kill you."

In addition to collecting information, Barela tries to dispel rumors. At each house, people asked about the city's main hospital. U.S. forces recently raided the hospital and the city's soccer stadium, saying both were being used to shelter insurgents and store guns and bomb-making material.

Residents, however, told Barela that they had heard that the Americans attacked the hospital, closed it and were turning people away.

Barela explained the American position — that the hospital had been captured by insurgents who had attacked and killed local police officers seeking treatment and had stored weapons in the complex.

"We did it not to prevent people from going to the hospital, we did it so people could go to the hospital," Barela said.

Barela is trying to create an ever-expanding safe zone within Ramadi, something that residents elsewhere in the city can look to as a model of what happens when people stop fighting the Americans, reopen their businesses and try to live as normal a life as possible in the middle of a war.

On a recent nighttime patrol, Barela paused to talk to a group of men who had gathered on the street to watch a televised soccer game. It was the kind of scene the American officer likes to see — the more people there are on the streets, the more businesses are open, the less easily insurgents can plant bombs without being seen.

"Four months ago, would you have been hanging out on the street?" Barela asked the men.

No, they responded. "We feel a change."

A special correspondent in Ramadi contributed to this report.

July 11, 2006

Jazz, Coffee Morale Medicine for Marines

Camp Taqaddum, Iraq - Life on base is often monotonous when it isn't dangerous for the service members stationed here. The occasional mortar and rocket landing in the base's perimeter can break up daily routines.

Daily convoys leave the relative safety of the base braving improvised explosive devices to deliver supplies and transport troops to hotspots like Ramadi and Fallujah.


Marine Corps News | Sgt. Enrique S. Diaz | July 11, 2006

Dust storms and 110 degree-plus temperatures are the norm for the nearly 6,000 service members serving in a variety of capacities at Taqaddum. Professionals such as administrative clerks keeping personnel records in order to explosive ordnance technicians who search Iraq's roadways for improvised explosive devices can be found working long and hard doing their part to secure Iraq.

Finding new ways of getting away from the routines and dangers while deployed here is something many of these service members work almost as hard at as they do their jobs. A new addition to the recreation center here should help them out.

The quaint jazz club picks up around 10 p.m. Contemporary saxophone music permeates the room as three middle-aged men play poker and enjoy a conversation. Another man sits on a couch with his eyes closed, absorbing and relaxing to the instrumental coming from the stereo; his assault rifle leans on the couch next to him.

Jazz night at the recreation center here may not have the same atmosphere found in one of its New York or Chicago counterparts, but it serves its purpose for the Marines, sailors and soldiers stationed at this logistics hub located in the heart of the hostile Al Anbar province.

For many of the service members deployed here for six to 12 months, small distractions like the jazz club can provide a welcomed break from the stresses of being far from home in a combat zone.

Sgt. Eric G. Froats, a former jazz percussionist back home in London, Ontario, is one such Marine who has taken a liking to the recent addition. As a military justice clerk for the prosecutor's office here, Froats has to work on a daily basis with Marines facing legal reprimand.

"It's just nice to leave the office, come here and zone out for a little while. It's definitely an important time for me," he said while listening to the latest jazz track flowing from the stereo.

The jazz night's inauguration a few weeks ago increased the recreation options for service members here, which are usually limited to video games, weight lifting, and watching the latest bootleg DVD when they get some down time.

A brainchild of Navy Lts. Willie McCoy and Wilfredo Rodriguez, jazz night was thought up during their ritual Sunday morning meetings when they would get together to listen to jazz music over a cup of hot coffee.

The two east-coast natives enjoyed the atmosphere and simple luxuries these simple meetings provided and mused that others on the base would also take pleasure in them as well, said McCoy, a health care administrator assigned to the 1st Marine Logistics Group here.

"People need a place to relax, let down their hair and socialize," said McCoy who serves as the deejay every Thursday, playing some of his favorites from back home in Chicago.

Rodriguez, the chaplain for the base's surgical shock trauma and personnel recovery platoons, wanted to share the music he had listened to growing up in New Brunswick, N.J., such as the 1950's Cuban-afro influence of Frank "Machito" Grillo, he said.

The two men proposed the idea of making a jazz night at the local recreation center to base leaders and were given the go-ahead to make the project a reality.

Navy Seabees, military construction engineers and builders, were called in to build a counter to set up the coffee bar. Tables were set up for chess matches, card games and dominoes.

Rodriguez says the addition of a cappuccino machine would make their impromptu jazz club complete. With the average cappuccino machine costing nearly $4,000, Rodriguez doesn't expect to get one anytime soon, though.

The music and service on the other hand, are in full order as both Rodriguez and McCoy's personal hometown collections are used to fill the otherwise quiet and empty room. Both men act as club hosts and make sure the newcomers feel at home and get the break they're looking for.

From now on, Thursday nights at Camp Taqaddum will give the Marines, sailors and soldiers here a chance to lower their guard and leave the war outside.

Inside, Rodriguez just hopes to serve a good cup of coffee until a cappuccino machine appears.
Sound Off...What do you think? Join the discussion.

Copyright 2006 Marine Corps News. All opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of Military.com.

Pace Talks About Immigrants in the Military

MIAMI - The nation's top general testified emotionally Monday about the importance of immigrants in the military, recalling his father's struggles as an Italian immigrant and his own service in Vietnam.

Marine Gen. Peter Pace paused several times as he spoke at a Senate committee hearing on immigration and appeared choked up as he discussed his parents' hardships and his siblings' success now.


Associated Press | July 11, 2006

"My dad came here, sometimes worked three jobs, but the jobs were there for him and the opportunities were there for him," Pace, the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, said at a field hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee. "There is no other country on the planet that affords that opportunity to those who come."

Pace also discussed serving in Vietnam next to immigrant Soldiers, including the first Marine that Pace said he lost in combat. He said he was "still on active duty today for one primary reason, and that is I still owe those who served with me in Vietnam."

The hearings are part of the national debate on the current state of U.S. immigration law and how any changes would affect the military.

The Senate has approved a bill that would allow a majority of the estimated 12 million foreigners living in the country illegally to eventually become legal permanent residents and citizens, and that would approve a guest worker program. A bill approved by the House would make illegal immigrants felons with no provision for future guest workers. House and Senate negotiators have not worked out a compromise.

Pace pointed out that 200 awards or medals have gone to non-U.S. citizens in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and that 101 non-U.S. citizens have died in military action since the 2001 terrorist attacks.

Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., said it would be an affront to the members of the military who are immigrants to make felons of their family members. Kennedy cited statistics that showed about 24,400 non-U.S. citizens currently are on active duty in the armed forces.

"It is an insult to their dedication to our defense," Kennedy said.

The Senate hearings are designed to solicit opinions on the importance of immigrants who serve in the military. The committee likely chose Miami for a field hearing because about 60 percent of the city's population is foreign born, well above the national figure of about 11 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

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

July 10, 2006

Town memorializes hero

Jamie Bryner never had a conversation with Lance Cpl. Steven W. Szwydek before an improvised explosive device killed the 20-year-old Marine last October.


July 10, 2006

The pair was separated by eight years and half the world at the time.

Yet Bryner's actions not only brought him closer to Szwydek's spirit, they united 600 people given the opportunity Sunday to memorialize their friend, neighbor, classmate and fellow Marine.

"Jamie, I hope you know the impact you've had on us and all the people in this auditorium and how important it is that we never forget," Nancy Szwydek said to the 13-year-old Needmore, Pa., resident who made her son his "fallen hero."

In two months, Jamie solicited more than $5,000 needed to give Southern Fulton High School a statue honoring the 2003 graduate who served with Weapons Co., 2nd Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 8, 2nd Marine Division, also known as 2/2 Weapons Co.

Jamie, an eighth-grader in the Southern Fulton School District, only met Szwydek twice before his final deployment to Iraq last summer. The only thing the boy knew they had in common was a lifelong desire to be a Marine.

"That, ladies and gentlemen, is exactly what's right with our younger generation," said Maj. Curtis Hill, a Fulton County, Pa., native who served as master of ceremonies.

The afternoon's ceremony culminated with the statue's unveiling, after haunting selections performed by the St. Patrick's Chorale and a Marine Corps brass quintet, remarks from commanding officers and the 2/2 Weapons Co. chaplain, and gratitude expressed by the Szwydeks and Bryners.

People representing several branches of the military and several generations thanked Jamie, frequently calling him a Marine. Jamie plans to attend Young Marines boot camp next summer and is preparing care packages to send overseas.

"Jamie, since the age of 3, has had a passion for this," said his father, Curtis.

The statue, displaying combat boots and a helmet, is not only dedicated to Szwydek, but everyone killed while serving the United States.

Steven Szwydek "was a kind, caring soldier. He was willing to lay down his life for his freedom," Jamie said.

"Freedom is not free. We do vow to make sure no one forgets that," Nancy Szwydek said.

Her youngest son, Corey Szwydek, is preparing to train with the U.S. Navy.

Watching servicemen from the 2/2 Weapons Co. gathered around the statue, she called them "my Marines."

‘New England’s Own’ remembers fallen Marine

CAMP BAHARIA, Iraq - Lance Cpl. Joseph E. Donaher, assigned to Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 5, pays his final respects to a fallen brother, Cpl. Paul N. King, during a memorial service held July 6 at Camp Baharia, Iraq. King, 24, from Tyngsboro, Mass., was killed in action June 25, by small arms fire in Fallujah, Iraq.


July 6, 2006
Submitted on: 07/10/2006 05:07:57 AM
Story ID#: 20067105757
By Cpl. Brian Reimers, 1st Marine Division

CAMP BAHARIA, Iraq (July 6, 2006) -- Marines and sailors stood at attention while “taps” echoed over the camp, many with tears dripping on their camouflage uniforms.

The death of fellow Marine, Cpl. Paul “Nick” King, suddenly sank in.

“I remember when we found out that the battalion was heading to Iraq. Nick, with so much to lose, did what so many people couldn’t, and chose to come,” said 23-year-old Cpl. Michael A. Stubbs, of Billerica, Mass. “I know that he is one of the reasons that a large group of people chose to come here, such as myself. Not for political views, but because we were all going into harm’s way together.”

Hundreds of members of 1st Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 5, gathered at a memorial service held here to honor King July 6. The 24-year-old, noncommissioned officer was killed in action June 25, by enemy small arm’s fire, while operating in Fallujah.

“He represents all that is great in America and all that is great in our NCO corps,” said Lt. Col. Christopher A. Landro, the battalion’s commander, of Kennesaw, Ga. “Paul was a natural leader and was much admired by all who knew him.”

King’s fellow Marines and friends remembered him for his relaxed and easy going personality, yet sturdy professionalism on the battlefield.

“King knew the city better than anyone. As we traveled through the streets of Fallujah on patrol, we would often go firm by my command, but always by King’s choice,” said Cpl. Mark W. Wills, 37, from Waltham, Mass., and a section leader with Weapons Company who worked side-by-side with King.

King was from Tyngsboro, Mass. He served as a vehicle commander and navigator in a mobile assault platoon assigned to Weapons Company. Sitting in the front of his up-armored humvee, King commanded the Marines in his vehicle on what actions to take, while also communicating with the Marines in the other vehicles on the situation. It’s a responsibility that takes strong leadership and collective calmness to make decisions at a moment’s notice.

“I remember one of my first missions with his platoon,” said Maj. Craig R. Abele, Weapons Company commander. “As we rounded the corner to the objective site, I truly wasn’t sure if we were in the right spot.

“I exited my vehicle and immediately went to the platoon commander,” continued the 35-year-old from Falls Church, Va. “I stated my concern to the Gunny and without hesitation he pointed Corporal King’s vehicle and stated words to effect that ‘If Corporal King lead us here, we are in the right spot.’”

The battalion honored King with a traditional military memorial, consisting of a helmet sitting on top of a rifle, with identification tags hung around the pistol grip and pair of combat boots resting at 45 degrees. Marines spoke about memories of their fallen brother, and one by one paid their respects in front of his memorial.

Landro spoke with King’s father before going to the memorial service.

“He asked that I thank every member of this battalion for the great job you are doing. He relayed that we all come home safe and sound, but he knows the challenges that we face,” 46-year-old Landro said. “I told him that I wished I could have brought his son home, and he replied as stoically as possible that his son was home.”

King enlisted in the Marine Corps on October 15, 2001. Upon graduation of boot camp, he attended the School of Infantry where he was assigned the military occupational specialty of 0341, mortar man. On April 4, 2002, he reported to Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment. During his time with the battalion, he advanced billets from ammo man to vehicle commander.

His awards include the Purple Heart Medal, Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, Combat Action Ribbon, National Defense Service Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Sea Service Deployment Ribbon with bronze star in lieu of second award and Armed Forces Reserve Medal.

Local Soldiers Leave For Iraq

ORLANDO, Fla. -- There were some tears shed at the Armed Forces Reserve Center in Orlando on Friday morning as dozens of families bid their loved ones farewell.

More than 40 Marine reservists left for Iraq after saying goodbye to their families, WESH 2 News reported.


The wife of one soldier couldn't hold back her tears as she watched her husband's company line up before leaving for Iraq. Her husband, Marine reservist Lance Cpl. Bernardo Abetrani, was also somber.

"It's a mix of emotions," Abetrani said. "I guess I'm excited to be going, but at the same time I don't want to really leave them at home by themselves having to cope with everyday life."

Most of the 41 men and women who make up Company A of the 6th Motor Transport Battalion are going to Iraq for the first time. Three of them are returning for a third tour of duty. They'll provide transportation support for Marines on the ground, and their loved ones said they know there's always danger involved.

"I was thinking earlier of all the mothers who have stood in this place throughout history from all the countries who have sent sons off to an uncertain future in battle," mother Bonnie Mosley said.

Even grandmothers like Carol Jones said they feel the pain that comes from days like these.

"I'm extremely proud of him," she said of her grandson."I think he's very brave, and he goes with God, and we just pray he's OK and comes back to us soon."

Larry Maloney played the bagpipe in honor of his own son, who is one of the soldiers leaving. He said they had many discussions about the war, but in the end he said no matter what, he's there for his son.

"He's convinced this is the right thing, so I have to stand with him," Maloney said.

The Marine reservists head first to Camp Pendleton for training and then it's on to Iraq. Their families hope they'll get to welcome the soldiers back safe and sound sometime early next year.

The reservists who have served in Iraq in the past had some advice for the first-timers -- stay in close touch with family and friends to help keep up your morale.

150 Susquehanna Valley Troops Leave For Iraq

It was an emotional goodbye, as 150 Marine reservists left Reading early Saturday morning.

"It's tough. The little ones don't know what's going on. Really all she knows is that daddy has to go to work," said Sgt. Jason Burke, of Reading.


The members of India battery, 3rd Battalion, 14th Marines will serve as military police in Iraq's volatile Anbar province.

"I will do everything in my power to take care of all of them and bring every single one of them back," said Maj. Joe Ashbaker.

The Marines will train in California then head to Iraq in September.

The troops are expected to be overseas for at least a year.

"I know that's he's doing the right thing and he'll be back. So, we'll be OK," said Kate Burke, whose husband was among the Marines leaving.

Orange County band rocks Al Asad

Alternative rock band, Hollowell, plays for service members at the Morale, Welfare and Recreation building at Al Asad, Iraq, June 29. The Orange County, Calif., rock band played at several different bases in Iraq and Kuwait as a way to show support to the men and women stationed away from home.


July 10, 2006; Submitted on: 07/10/2006 07:20:43 AM ; Story ID#: 200671072043

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

AL ASAD, Iraq (July 10, 2006) -- Hollowell, a band from Orange County, Calif., entertained a crowd of service members at the Morale, Welfare and Recreation building here June 29.

According to Jared Daniels, bassist for Hollowell, the band decided to come out to Iraq to show their support for the men and women fighting for our country.

"The is the best way we can think of to say thank you to all of the troops," said Daniels, a native of Orange County, Calif. "We need to show our support for everything the men and women over here are doing. This is the least we can do."

"The band was awesome," said Pfc. Dennis S. Miller, a motor transportation mechanic, Combat Logistics Battalion 7, 1st Marine Logistic Group. "They played a bunch of original stuff, all of which was good. I also like the fact that they are willing to leave their comfortable homes and risk their lives just to come out here and to give us one night of entertainment."

Al Asad was the last stop for the rockers on their journey across Iraq and Kuwait.

"We have been to Baghdad, Haditha and Kuwait before coming here," said Michael Slateford, drummer for Hollowell. "This our last stop before we head home. I have to admit that I am more than a little sad to leave. I really enjoy being out here with the troops."

The band has viewed this trip as a way to not only entertain the troops but to also connect with their fans.

"This is the best way to show our fans that we really care about them," said Slateford, a native of Orange County, Calif.

"These guys are great," said Miller, a native of Canton, Ohio. "Not only are they a great band, but they are willing to risk their lives to play for us. That is amazing."

Marines Want Spaceplane

Col. Jack Wassink is a former Marine Corps jet jockey with a weird new mission. This blunt, 45-year-old chief of the Marine Corps's tiny Space Integration Branch in Quantico, Virginia, shepherds the Marines' radical vision of space warfare.


David Axe | July 10, 2006

Unlike the Air Force, Navy and Army, all three of which sponsor expensive satellite programs, the cash-strapped Marines are pushing just one space concept. It's called Small Unit Space Transport and Insertion, or SUSTAIN, and it's a reusable spaceplane meant to get a squad of Marines to any hotspot on Earth in two hours -- then get them out. The idea is to reinforce embattled embassies, take out terrorist leaders or defuse hostage situations before it's too late. "The Marine Corps needs [this] capability," Brig. Gen. Richard C. Zilmer told Congress in 2004.

"The Corps has always been an expeditionary force, a force of readiness, a 911 force," Wassink says. "All SUSTAIN is, is a requirement to move Marines very rapidly from one place to another. Space lends itself to that role."

Spaceplanes -- that is, craft that take off and land like airplanes but achieve low orbit using rocket motors -- aren't science fiction anymore. In 2004, Burt Rutan's Space Ship One snared the $10 million X-Prize by demonstrating that a relatively cheap and simple vehicle could get a man into low orbit in two stages and return him safely. Air Force Brig. Gen. S. Pete Worden said Rutan's bird offers a glimpse of a future military space transport. “It’s just a scaled-up version of that that would do this [SUSTAIN] mission."

This year, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, launched a spaceplane program called Hot Eagle. Capitalizing on Space Ship One and Hot Eagle, the Marines are hoping to get a space transport into service soon.

But Wassink says the Corps can't go it alone. He's been working hard since 2003 to convince the sister services and the scientific community to get behind SUSTAIN. "We've seen the entire gamut of reactions. Some people don't get past the past the giggle factor. Some people think we're off base. Some think we're visionary."

Wassink and the Marines are the underdogs of space. Of all the military space techs on the drawing board, SUSTAIN is the among hardest to pull off. "Propulsion and aerodynamics are going to have to be developed," Wassink says. "And there's a whole host of safety considerations. It's certainly not something the Marine Corps would be able to develop and acquire on its own."

But SUSTAIN promises, for the first time, the capability to influence events anywhere in the world fast and with flexible force, lethal or non-. Wassink believes it is truly revolutionary -- and possible in 10 to 15 years. That's why he's at the Pentagon or in research labs every week pitching SUSTAIN. And that's what motivates him to keep trying when skeptical scientists and generals laugh him out of the room.

"Think about how fast aviation developed. By the end of World War II, you're flying jet aircraft as opposed to propeller planes. That's just 20 years."

"It's realistic," Wassink says of SUSTAIN. "And I'm excited about it."

Copyright 2006 David Axe. All opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of Military.com.

July 9, 2006

Deployment Hard on Loved Ones

A platoon of local Marines said goodbye to their families Saturday, as they prepared for an overseas deployment.

“We live together so I’m used to seeing him everyday and it’s going to be a long time without him,” said Erica Brown, 21, of Webster.


by Casey J. Bortnick
Jeff Hamson
Published Jul 08, 2006

Brown isn’t sure when she’ll see her fiancé again. Chad DiBiase, 23, is a Marine reservist deploying for the first time. “I don’t know what he’s going to be doing. I know where he’s going to be, but not exactly what he’s doing at all times,” said Brown.

Lance Corporal Travis Middaugh of Wellsville recently served a tour of duty in Iraq. For his family, saying goodbye is familiar, but never easy.

“So we’ve been there, done it,” said Middaugh’s wife Jennifer. “You never know what’s going on. At the very last minute everything can change. So don’t get your hopes up and be flexible. So it makes for a lot of not-so-restful nights,” she said.

Thirty-five Marines will spend the next few weeks training in North Carolina before heading to East Africa. “Basically, it’s a security mission over in Africa at a specific camp. At that camp they’ll provide security to make sure the local threat doesn’t attack the camp,” said Captain Martin Keogh of the U.S. Marine Corps. “I can’t say enough how proud I am of this community for allowing their loved ones to fulfill this role,” he added.

During the final days before deployment, Captain Keogh advises his Marines to take care of their business at home and each other, and let the mission take care of itself. “I think for the Marines it gets easier because they get mentally tough as time goes on. For their families, I think it actually gets a little bit harder. They’re more prepared after the first one,” said Keogh.

Jennifer Middaugh says military families make the ultimate sacrifice so other families won’t have to. She says her three young children know their dad is fighting for a good cause. “They don’t like when daddy leaves, but they know why he’s going. They know, because he goes, we’re safe,” said Middaugh.

Brown and DiBiase plan to get married when Chad returns home. Brown knows she has a difficult road ahead. “I’m not worried about home, I’m worried about him. I’m worried about things that I can’t control,” said Brown.

IED couldn't pierce his sense of humor

HALEDON -- Sometimes, when a Marine is badly injured in war, a corpsman will write his condition on the Marine's forehead.

Last year, on July 23, Haledon resident and Lance Cpl. Frank Castro, 24, had been driving a Humvee in Afghanistan, along a road known among Marines as "the valley." It connected the eastern town of Asadabad to U.S. military Camp Blessing, but is better described as "IED hell," for "improvised explosive devices" and the frequency with which they occur, Castro said.


Sunday, July 9, 2006

Shrapnel suddenly tore through his entire body. When he felt the pen writing something on his forehead -- he didn't know what -- his response was to joke around with the Marines nearby.

"The character I have, I always make things better than they are," said Castro, a native Guatemalan whose parents moved to Paterson when he was 6 years old.

Castro still doesn't know what was written on his forehead -- he has no recollection of the incident. His friend later told him about the joking.

When he woke up in a German hospital, Castro learned that the roadside bomb had broken both his heels and ankles, his right leg, left hand, right arm, upper jaw, nose and right eye socket. Metal plates now hold together bones in half of those places.

"I have titanium in my body everywhere except above the neck," he said.

Castro has been recuperating in the United States and wants to go abroad again -- his battalion is going to Iraq in September. But his doctor told him in late March that because of his injuries, he won't ever be able to serve again in wartime.

"He crushed my dreams. I really wanted to go back," said Castro, who now lives with his parents.

Castro said he's a survivor by nature, someone who likes a challenge. Though only 5 feet 6 inches tall, Castro pursued a college football career, he said.

When an injury stopped him from continuing in football, the memory of 9/11 moved him to serve his country. Castro picked the Marines over the Army or Navy because he heard it was more challenging.

He's used to struggle, having grown up poor, he said.

"Ever since I came to this country, I've been an underdog. My parents didn't have the white picket fence," he said. "I wanted to look back and say I did something great."

After spending several months recuperating in military hospitals in Maryland and New Jersey, Castro can walk again. The panic attacks and depression have subsided. But he's lost much of his strength and can't stand up for long periods.

People tell Castro he's crazy for wanting to go to Iraq.

But Castro said his sense of duty to protect Americans is so powerful, he'd pack his bags for Iraq today. Even if he knew he were going to die, he said.

His little brother Victor, 12, who lives with Castro at their parents' house, said he's glad Castro is home safe.

"He's the only person I look up to, besides my parents," Victor said.

Unable to go to Iraq, Castro started a new desk job at Picatinny Arsenal in Morris County on Friday. He'll work at Picatinny for two years to finish out his active duty, then try to get a degree in international business, he said.

His first day wasn't so bad, he said.

"It felt good to put the uniform on," he said.

Marines stretch limits during aquatic drills

HANOVER -- Lance Cpl. Egbert Fields was one of 75 Marines who spent hours in the Morris Center YMCA pool Saturday, working hard to meet the Marine Corps swimming requirements. He faced an extra challenge.



Fields, 26, of Newark, can barely swim.

He was expected to meet the requirements, as he had in the past, with encouragement from others in his unit.

"It's the mental challenge of becoming comfortable in the water," said Maj. Tim Shanahan, 36, of Washington in Warren County.

Shanahan is the commanding officer of the unit, Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 25th Marines, a reserve unit based out of Dover.

Civilians and staff at the YMCA in the Cedar Knolls section of Hanover looked on as Marines, dressed in combat fatigues, swam the length of the 25-meter pool.

Though they are allowed to swim barefoot, the wet uniforms are cumbersome in the water -- but are designed to retain air so Marines can tie knots in the arm or leg holes, inflate portions of the material with their breath, and use the clothing as a type of buoyancy device.

Marines were required to demonstrate mastery of this technique, among others, while treading water in order to qualify under the Marines' water safety standards.

Carol Armour, president of the Morris Center YMCA, said her organization allowed the Marines to use the pool as a way to give something back to military personnel who have sacrificed for the country.

"This is the least we can do for the Marines," she said.

The minimum standard required of every Marine includes the ability to tread water for four minutes while wearing fatigues, and to use the sidestroke, breaststroke and backstroke each to swim 25 meters.

Some Marines, such as Fields, have a difficult time because they rarely get into a pool. Fields spent hours either treading water or holding on to the side of the pool Saturday. His fellow Marines said he previously passed swimming requirements because of his determination.

"The fact of the matter is that some guys just can't swim," said Sgt. Kenneth Bowes, 30, of Jersey City. Bowes, like other Marines on Saturday, looked after weaker swimmers and often offered them advice.

Helping Marines

"Marines help other Marines," Bowes said. "It's what we do."

The group has grown close, with nearly all of its members having served at least one tour overseas. In three years the unit has been deployed three times, including a trip to Kosovo.

"A large portion of the Marines here have been in Iraq. Several have been there twice," Bowes said, who himself has served twice in Iraq. "A third of the company is there now."

Marines deploy for east Africa

Families give reservists an early morning send-off

More than 40 Marine reservists tore away from their loved ones at the crack of dawn Saturday for a deployment halfway across the globe.


By Julian Pecquet

Their final destination: the east African coastal nation of Djibouti, where for up to a year, they'll guard a U.S. base while facing temperatures in the 120s, sandstorms, flash floods and the occasional cyclone. And that's if they're lucky.

"You never know what's going on in the world with the insurgents in (neighboring) Somalia," said Ray Haruben, father of Lance Cpl. Robert Haruben, 23. "They tell you it's a safe country. But nowhere's safe anymore."

Haruben's mother, Helen, began to cry softly as his bus departed.

"I have my faith," she said, "and lots of people praying for him."

The reservists, mostly young men from surrounding Florida and Georgia counties, are part of the E Company of the Anti-Terrorism Battalion of the 4th Marine Division. They left their Tallahassee reserve center on Roberts Avenue shortly after 6 a.m. to meet other members of their battalion at Camp Lejeune, N.C., before heading to Djibouti by fall.

They'll guard the United States' only military base south of the Sahara desert, in a country of half a million people. Djibouti is the size of Massachusetts, with an economy smaller than the city of Tallahassee's annual budget.

Djibouti acquired its independence from France in 1977. In fact, the American base the marines will guard - Camp Lemonier - used to be a French military barracks. It houses the joint U.S. forces that conduct de-mining, humanitarian and anti-terrorism missions in the Horn of Africa.

The CIA's factbook calls Djibouti "a front-line state in the global war on terrorism."

Marines who have been there call it hot.

"No rain. Totally dry. No humidity," said hospital corpsman Louis Howard, a 30-year-old Florida A&M; student from Jacksonville. He has been to Djibouti before, but isn't going on the latest mission. "So it's just searing hot."

And dangerous.

Before their final goodbyes, the Marines huddled with their executive officer, Capt. Bill Blocker, who gave them some tough advice.

"Make no mistake about it, there is someone out there watching you," he told them. "And if you look tight, they are less likely to want to do something to the base."

Blocker told them always to be on the alert, a promise they in turn repeated to their families and friends as they held each other quietly in the early morning darkness.

"I'll be back before you know it. Promise," one young man told the woman he embraced.

"Be safe. You'll be all right," a Marine staying behind told his departing friend.

Lance Cpl. Martin Grogan, 24, said the life of a reservist is hard because plans have to be postponed at a moment's notice.

"Everything's on hold for at least eight or nine months," he said. "Because we're reservists, we have to live two lives - one where we can do what we want, and the other. It's hard to be both in one."

Grogan has an associate's degree from Tallahassee Community College and hoped to enter Florida State University's criminology program. Now, he'll have to wait until he gets back.

Grogan's father, Harold, is a military contractor in Iraq and a Navy retiree.

"I'm kind of used to (Harold's) comings and goings," said Martin Grogan's mother, Alice Grogan, "but I'm not used to (Martin's) leaving."

Blocker said he was proud of the reservists' sacrifices.

"These are great young men," he said. "Anyone who says the youth of America can't hack it hasn't met these Marines."

Lubbock Marines Begin Seven Month Tour Of Duty

It's a bitter sweet day for the families of 39 Lubbock Marine Reservists.


It's a bitter sweet day for the families of 39 Lubbock Marine Reservists.

Friday marks the first day without their loved ones, and the first day they can count down to their return. Around ten o'clock Thursday night 35 men and 4 women boarded a bus at the Reserve Center in North Lubbock County. The group is now in Camp Pendleton, where they will train for six weeks, then head to the Middle East.

"Don't look at war as a bad thing, we're out there living up to our title so support us and the more motivated we'll be," said Sgt. Andrew Banda. This tour of duty will be Sergeant Banda's third deployment since he has joined the Marines, something he shares in common with many of the others going with him.

"The worries were last year, this year it is to protect these new guys and show them the ropes," says Marine Reservist Corporal Travis Perkins.

The reservists are expected to end up in Iraq and should return sometime in late March or early April.

Love, patriotism forge memorial to fallen Marine in Pennsylvania

WARFORDSBURG, Pa. (July 9, 2006) -- More than 700 people gathered for a memorial service and dedication here, June 9, to remember the sacrifice by Lance Cpl. Steven W. Szwydek, a Warfordsburg native.


July 9, 2006
By Lance Cpl. Jeremy T. Ross, 26th MEU

Szwydek, a mortarman from 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, was killed while conducting combat operations in Iraq, October 2005.

The ceremony, which took place at South Fulton High School, began with the presentation of the national colors by a color guard from Bravo Co., 4th Light Armored Reconnaissance Bn., Frederick, Md., and the national anthem, sung by Stephanie Szwydek, Steven's older sister.

This was followed by remarks from a number of speakers including Brig. Gen. James C. Walker, military secretary to the Commandant of the Marine Corps, who was present as the official representative of the Commandant, and Maj. Curtis Hill, II Marine Expeditionary Force Public Affairs Officer, an alumni of South Fulton himself.

The three-hour service, held in the high school's auditorium, also featured performances by the Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., Brass Quintet, and St. Patrick's Chorale of Hagerstown, Md.

Among the attendees were several Marines and Sailors who served alongside Szwydek with 2nd Bn., 2nd Marines during the deployment in which he lost his life.

Nancy and Mike Szwydek, Steven's parents, thanked family and friends during the ceremony for their support, and recognized the many individuals who helped to make the memorial a reality.

Thirteen-year-old Jamie Bryner, an 8th grader at South Fulton, was the catalyst of the project, according to all involved in raising the funds and organizing the ceremony for the memorial statue.

After learning of the Szwydeks' desire to memorialize their son and other troops, Bryner joined the effort and selflessly dedicated himself to raising funds for the memorial.

Bryner, who plans to become a Marine officer, said his inspiration to help came from knowing he was doing something to immortalize the memories of those who are fighting to keep us safe.

The immortalization came in the form of a bronze statue depicting combat boots supporting a rifle topped by a helmet and dog tags.

This traditional symbol of a fallen Marine was unveiled on the school's front lawn to applause and cheers from the assembled crowd.

Nancy Szwydek said the memorial is meant not just to represent her son, but all fallen servicemembers.

"We vowed that we would not let people forget the sacrifices our troops have made," she said.

The hundreds of people in attendance were also treated to a display of Marine air power as an AH-1 Cobra and a UH-1 Huey from Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron-775, Johnstown, Penn., landed in the school's parking lot before the ceremony began.

The pilots and air crews remained with the aircraft to answer questions and give tours to the dozens of curious onlookers at the ceremony.

After the ceremony, the Marines and Sailors returned to their various commands. Some from 2nd Bn., 2nd Marines, returned to Fort A.P. Hill, Va., where they are conducting training as the Battalion Landing Team, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

July 8, 2006

Ramadi Marines provide logistics for increased operations

CAMP RAMADI, Iraq (July 8, 2006) -- After securing the Ramadi General Hospital earlier this week, efforts are being made to construct a nearby combat outpost where U.S. and Iraqi Security Forces will operate from in an effort to maintain a permanent presence in the area.


July 8, 2006
By Cpl. Stephen Holt
1st Marine Logistics Group

The combat outpost is located in close proximity to the city’s hospital, which is believed to have been frequently used by insurgents to treat their wounded, hide weapons and improvised explosive device-making materials, and coordinate attacks, said Maj. Maria J. Pallotta, the commanding officer of Combat Logistics Detachment 115, a contingent of approximately 80 Marines supporting the increased security operations in the city.

The Marines are using armored forklifts/scoop loaders, called TRAMs, to emplace concrete and sand-filled barriers to fortify the position, said Pallotta, a 35-year-old native of Cleveland, Ohio.

TRAM is an acronym for ‘tractor, rubber-tired, articulated steering, multi-purpose.

Iraqi and Coalition forces have previously received sniper fire from the hospital on multiple occasions, and credible intelligence reports indicated the hospital was being used as an insurgent safe haven and command center, according to a U.S. military press release.

Marines from 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, an infantry unit that led the operation to secure the hospital, are maintaining security at the new position as Marine Corps combat engineers from 3rd Bn., 8th Marines, led by 1st. Lt. Ben W. Klay, 3rd Bn., 8th Marines Combat Engineer Platoon commander, with the help of CLD 115 construct the latest in a series of outposts scattered throughout the city.

This latest outpost is being built around an abandoned house which lacks running water and electricity, just one of the many difficulties the Marines face while securing the position.

With gun shots and explosions at all hours of the day in the city – proof of the city’s insurgent activity – the fortifications being built by the combat engineers and CLD 115 will provide much needed protection for coalition and Iraqi forces who will be responsible for maintaining security around the hospital.

Combat Logistics Detachment 115 will also continue to provide escorts and transportation for hundreds of Iraqi soldiers and police with their armored troop transport trucks to the new hospital outpost. They have been conducting this transport mission throughout the city since operations started in mid-June.

“Iraqi police units are in the process of assuming primary responsibility for hospital security in order to facilitate its return to normal operations,” said Col. Sean B. MacFarland, commander of all coalition forces in the area.

These efforts are part of an overall mission to rid the capital of Al Anbar province from insurgent activity by gradually developing an Iraqi Army and police presence throughout the city, say military officials.

The Marines of CLD 115 are in a direct support role, which means they deliver supplies directly to the units requesting it--in this case the U.S. Army’s 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division, rather than to other logistics units who then support smaller commands, said Pallotta.

This direct support role has given the Marines a different sense of accomplishment than what they are used to.

“You know that you’re doing something because you see the results of your work firsthand,” said Lance Cpl. Blake Dale, a field radio operator with CLD 115.

Operating in the city of Ramadi has been unique experience for the Marines of CLD 115, who typically operate from Camp Taqaddum, a logistics hub east of here and home of the 1st Marine Logistics Group, which has no major urban development in the immediate surrounding area.

“Everything is a lot more complex in the city,” said Dale, who has been on numerous convoys here. “The city can be dangerous because there are more places to hide. It’s different and more intense.”

Marine detachment in Ramadi provides transportation, building capabilities for increased security operations

CAMP RAMADI, Iraq (July 8, 2006) -- After securing the Ramadi General Hospital earlier this week, efforts are being made to construct a nearby combat outpost where U.S. and Iraqi Security Forces will operate from in an effort to maintain a permanent presence in the area


July 8, 2006; Submitted on: 07/08/2006 10:10:27 AM
Story ID#: 200678101027
By Cpl. Stephen Holt, 1st Marine Logistics Group

The combat outpost is located in close proximity to the city’s hospital, which is believed to have been frequently used by insurgents to treat their wounded, hide weapons and improvised explosive device-making materials, and coordinate attacks, said Maj. Maria J. Pallotta, the commanding officer of Combat Logistics Detachment 115, a contingent of approximately 80 Marines supporting the increased security operations in the city.

The Marines are using armored forklifts/scoop loaders, called TRAMs, to emplace concrete and sand-filled barriers to fortify the position, said Pallotta, a 35-year-old native of Cleveland, Ohio.

TRAM is an acronym for ‘Tractor, Rubber-tired, Articulated steering, Multi-purpose.

Iraqi and Coalition forces have previously received sniper fire from the hospital on multiple occasions, and credible intelligence reports indicated the hospital was being used as an insurgent safe haven and command center, according to a U.S. military press release.

Marines from 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, an infantry unit that led the operation to secure the hospital, are maintaining security at the new position as Marine Corps combat engineers from 3/8, led by 1stLt. Ben W. Klay, the 3/8 combat engineer platoon commander, with the help of CLD 115 construct the latest in a series of outposts scattered throughout the city.

This latest outpost is being built around an abandoned house which lacks running water and electricity, just one of the many difficulties the Marines face while securing the position.

With gun shots and explosions at all hours of the day in the city – proof of the city’s insurgent activity – the fortifications being built by the combat engineers and CLD 115 will provide much needed protection for coalition and Iraqi forces who will be responsible for maintaining security around the hospital.

Combat Logistics Detachment 115 will also continue to provide escorts and transportation for hundreds of Iraqi soldiers and police with their armored troop transport trucks to the new hospital outpost. They have been conducting this transport mission throughout the city since operations started in mid-June.

“Iraqi police units are in the process of assuming primary responsibility for hospital security in order to facilitate its return to normal operations,” said Col. Sean B. MacFarland, commander of all coalition forces in the area.

These efforts are part of an overall mission to rid the capital of Al Anbar province from insurgent activity by gradually developing an Iraqi Army and police presence throughout the city, say military officials.

The Marines of CLD 115 are in a direct support role, which means they deliver supplies directly to the units requesting it--in this case the U.S. Army’s 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division, rather than to other logistics units who then support smaller commands, said Pallotta.

This direct support role has given the Marines a different sense of accomplishment than what they are used to.

“You know that you’re doing something because you see the results of your work firsthand,” said Lance Cpl. Blake Dale, a field radio operator with CLD 115.

Operating in the city of Ramadi has been unique experience for the Marines of CLD 115, who typically operate from Camp Taqaddum, a logistics hub east of here and home of the 1st Marine Logistics Group, which has no major urban development in the immediate surrounding area.

“Everything is a lot more complex in the city,” said Dale, who has been on numerous convoys here. “The city can be dangerous because there are more places to hide. It’s different and more intense.”

Local Marines Head Off to Iraq

- -And Iraq is on the minds of local men and women in uniform and their loved ones.

Marines left the armory in Northeast Philadelphia Saturday - bound for a marine base in California - then to Iraq.
Philadelphia firefighter Tom Verros is a Marine sergeant. He has been to Iraq once already and says their mission has purpose.


July 8, 2006

Marines left the armory in Northeast Philadelphia Saturday - bound for a marine base in California - then to Iraq.
Philadelphia firefighter Tom Verros is a Marine sergeant. He has been to Iraq once already and says their mission has purpose.

About 240 marines shipped out to California from there Saturday. They will train for about 3 months and then are due to be deployed in Iraq come September.

And in Reading, Pennsylvania 150 Marines said their good-byes before they headed out to that Marine base in Twenty-Nine Palms, California.

They are members of India Artillery Unit.

But at the Air Ground Combat Center, the Marines will be trained as military police and learn skills they will need in Iraq.

They too are expecting to head overseas in September.

2nd LAR Marines storm bunkers, Range 410A

After a short night of sleep on the rocky terrain at Range 410A here, Marines from A, C and D Companies, 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, awoke early June 22 and took the Squad Hasty Attack Course head-on as part of their Mojave Viper pre-deployment training.x


Pfc. Nathaniel Sapp
Combat Corresponndent

The live-fire course consists of three bunkers and forces the Marines to employ basic and advanced skills they've learned.

“Essentially what we did there is pretty much the foundation of what the Marine Corps is made of,” said Staff Sgt. Scott P. Rixmann, a Cheyenne, Wyo., native and acting company gunnery sergeant for Company D.

“This course allowed us to not only perform the same function as any other infantry unit, but also use the strength of our vehicle's weapons for a longer period of suppressive fire,” he added. The vehicles' weapons consist of 25 mm chain-gun and a 7.62 mm machine-gun.

The Marines take advantage of this type of training due to the positive impact it has on the entire team, as well as the reinforcement of basic skills.

“Mainly this type of training can be used as a confidence builder for shooting on the move, formations and movement and most importantly, unit cohesion,” said Sgt. Johnny W. Benson, an Oakman, Ala., native and squad leader for 2nd Platoon, Delta Company.

“We started training for this range way before we even came out here,” He said. “When we got out here we did two range-walks, one dry-run [a run with blank rounds], and finally the live-fire.”

Much like how a band practices their songs individually, the Marines practice single elements until they know them by heart, before they put on their “show.”

“We aren't able to do training like this on such a large scale back in [Camp Lejeune] because we don't have the facilities there,” he added. “Instead we just break it down into little parts and tackle those.”

It's because full-scale training like this that these Marines are able to deal with the heat and other rough conditions.

“What made it worth it was watching and working with my Marines, seeing them come into their billets and lead,” Benson said.”

Overall, the course went well with the Marines meeting and exceeding expectations.

“I expect my Marines to be genuine, to accomplish the tasks set out to them and to perform as a team,” said Rixmann. “Ultimately I saw all of that during the training.”

‘Outlaws' take on DAC at Mojave Viper

The temperature was breaking 110 degrees easily on June 30. With Independence Day right around the corner and the majority of the Marine Corps on holiday, the Marines of D Company, 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, nicknamed the Outlaws, were doing their Mojave Viper pre-deployment training in preparation for their turn to serve America overseas.


Pfc. Nathaniel Sapp
Combat Correspondent

Despite the temperature, which was even hotter for the Marines carrying a full combat load and the claustrophobia-inspiring space inside the Light Armored Vehicles, morale was high as they took on the Direct Assault Course.

While the course consisted of objectives that used all the aspects of an LAR unit, such as artillery support, air support, objectives for the LAV crews to use their vehicle to complete and objectives for the scouts, the scenario was based on defeating the enemy insurgents and allowing the civilians of the town to complete elections, said Lance Cpl. Aaron J. Mammarelli, a 21-year-old grenadier for 2nd Platoon, from Baton Rouge, La.

“It was a combination of everything we had,” said Mammarelli. “With LAVs and infantry Marines, this course showed why this unit has so much to offer.”

Because of the amount of different elements the unit employed during the course, which took roughly seven hours to complete, communication and coordination were two huge issues.

“The completion of this course took a whole lot of people working together,” said Lance Cpl. Zach C. Downing, a 23-year-old LAV gunner from Springfield, Ill. “I had to be on the radio monitoring everything from the battalion and the company, so that plus the heat were some of the biggest challenges.”

It was pretty much agreed by all the Marines that seeing the Marine Corps Line Charge - a string of C-4 that creates a huge explosion to clear a path for vehicles -blow up was one of the best parts, said Downing.

However, Mammarelli, whose job as a grenadier means he carries an M203 grenade-launcher on his rifle and belongs to the scout aspect of the unit, had a different view on the best part of the training. “By the time [the unit] reached the part where we came into play, we had been sitting in the back of the vehicles, sweating, for a couple hours,” he said. “But instead of being tired and worn down, when it came down for us to do our part, everyone was flying around the town kicking down the doors of suspected insurgents.”

The town consists of basic concrete structures built for Marines to practice moving through and around buildings as well as clearing rooms as a team.

“As great as the town was, this whole course really gave everyone a chance to work together,” Mammarelli said. “And that's important for us to do now, because that's exactly how it's going to be in Iraq.”

The harsh conditions the Marines face out here while training, and the teamwork that develops to overcome them and keep morale high is going to be instrumental in the success that the unit ultimately has, he added.

3/7 Marine awarded Bronze Star

Action came quick for assaultman Sgt. Mark E. Dean, a former section leader with Company K, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment.


Lance Cpl. Michael S. Cifuentes
Combat Correspondent

He joined the Marine Corps and ended up fighting in Iraq right after entry-level training. But that is what he wanted, he said. Four years later, he'd be leaving the Marine Corps as a sergeant, a combat veteran and a Bronze Star recipient.

Dean's Marine Corps career began Dec. 1, 2002, when he began recruit training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego. From there, he was trained in his military occupational specialty as an assaultman at the School of Infantry. Along with 19 other fellow classmates from SOI, Dean joined 3/7, who were already deployed to Iraq.

“Going from SOI straight to Iraq was pretty scary at first,” said Dean, an Owasso, Okla., native. “We were just new guys and we hadn't even been to our first duty station yet. As soon as we got there, we got mortared some and that immediately took our anxieties away.”

Dean deployed with 3/7 for each of their three deployments in Iraq, experiencing three different fights, he said.

“The battles changed every single time we went back,” said Dean. “After our second deployment we actually had a year to train, so our last deployment was the best prepared we've ever been.

“It was very motivating going into it,” he continued. “Even the guys that were married with kids couldn't wait. We were all just ready to ‘get it on' again.”

During the battalion's most recent deployment to Iraq, their mission was to train the Iraqi army, take out the insurgents and win the hearts and minds of the civilians, said Dean.

On Oct. 17, 2005, roughly a month into his most recent deployment, an enemy mortar round landed three feet away from Dean. The 24-year-old section leader with Weapons Platoon was immediately knocked down taking shrapnel above his right knee.

“I got up and I didn't even know I was hit,” said Dean. “I was in shock. I was standing next to an interpreter at the time who was also knocked down by the blast. I helped him up, brought him to a safe place and began looking for where the rounds were coming from.”

Dean and his unit didn't find the location of the enemy at that time.

After searching throughout the day for the enemy, Dean and his unit engaged in a two-hour long firefight. They were attacked from nine different positions by rocket propelled grenade fire, heavy machinegun fire, small arms fire and mortar fire again. Dean and his platoon were fighting from the rooftop of a building.

“I directed our fire for the whole two hours,” said Dean. “I finally called in for some jets to come over and drop some bombs on them. After the jets came in and dropped their bombs on the building the enemy was in, I directed some AT-4s [Anti-Tank 4] on to the building as well and enemy fire ceased right away.

“We shot a total of nine AT-4s that day,” added Dean. “We definitely killed them all. Luckily for us, no one was killed or injured during the fight.”

Later in the deployment, Dean and his platoon found themselves in a similar firefight with the enemy attacking them from all directions. The enemy started firing mortars, followed by RPG rounds and machinegun fire. This time, there was also a sniper who was trying to kill Marines who peaked out of their position on the rooftop of a building.

“The enemy was pretty efficient with the way they directed their fire,” said Dean. “Just as we were calling in for an air strike, one RPG round took out our comm [communication] gear that left us on our own for about 15 minutes. We continued fighting until our platoon commander was able to fix the gear.

Dean and his Marines took several more RPG rounds and a barrage of heavy machinegun fire on their position until two jets came and dropped ordnance on the enemy. “Their machine gun bunker was taken out and we no longer took any enemy sniper fire.”

The only enemy position left threatening Dean and his platoon was taken out with several shots from an M203 Grenade Launcher, said Dean.

The battalion returned home from the seven month deployment in March. On June 1, Dean received the Bronze Star in a formation behind his battalion command post for directing the close air support during the attack, putting his Marines' safety above his own and protecting his operation area.

“The award was a shock to me,” said Dean. “They told me I deserved it, but I was just doing my job.

“Out there, you're pretty much fighting for the person next to you,” he said. “My only goal was to just bring all of my guys home.”

Dean's relationship with his fellow Leathernecks is very personal, yet very professional, said 1st Lt. Jason C. Copeland, Weapons Platoon commander.

“Sgt. Dean is well-respected,” said Copeland, a Roswell, N.M., native. “He leads by example through his personal character. He knows every Marine he works with, their families, wives or girlfriends.”

Copeland fought alongside Dean during the deployment. He trusted all of Dean's decisions and the commands he gave to the Marines, he said.

“He's well trained, and he knew exactly what he was doing,” said Copeland. “There was never any doubt in judgment when the time came for him to act. It is Marines like Sergeant Dean that make my job easier. He is well-deserving of the award for his performance, consistently under fire. You don't know the magnitude of the award unless you're there, seeing the action.”

It was a relief to come home, said Dean. He ended his honorable service June 30 and is now a firefighter in Oklahoma, living with his wife of three years, Becky Jo.

July 7, 2006

Lejeune Marines Team with Iraqi Security Force to Secure Ramadi Hospital

AR RAMADI, Iraq (July 7, 2006) (July 7, 2006) -- Lance Corporal Leigh W. Buckhout wished he was spending the 4th of July partying with his friends back home.


July 7, 2006
By Cpl. Joseph DiGirolamo,
I Marine Expeditionary Force

Instead, Buckhout and Marines from Company I, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment were called to complete an important task in one of the most dangerous cities in Iraq.

Their mission: secure the Ramadi Hospital from insurgents for the people of Ramadi.

“I would’ve rather been doing a barbeque,” said Buckhout, an infantryman with 3rd Platoon, Company I. “But this had to be done. It’s good that we did this for Ramadi and the rest of the country.”

According to the Geneva Convention, a hospital is considered a sanctuary. However, this hospital was being used as an insurgent safe haven for the past year and was preventing the people of Ramadi from receiving proper medical care. Therefore, the Provincial Government with the Iraqi National Government’s approval decided to take action.

“The purpose of going into the (Ramadi) Hospital compound is to remove insurgents from the hospital and prevent their continued use of the hospital as a safe haven and a place to coordinate attacks against Iraqi people, as well as the Iraqi Security and Coalition Forces,” said Lt. Col Stephen M. Neary, battalion commanding officer.

Coalition Forces have seen insurgent activity in the hospital and surrounding region since March. The Marines had encountered attacks with small arms and mortar fire from the hospital. It had also been used as an observation post by the enemy.

“The insurgents laid many IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) along the roads leading to the hospital in order to cover their withdrawal,” said Neary, 40, from Boston, Mass., “We have discovered numerous caches between the Ramadi Hospital compound and the Euphrates River.”

After months of preparation, it was time to take action.

Leading the entry into the hospital were Iraqi Soldiers from 2nd Battalion, 1st Brigade, 7th Iraqi Army Division. Marines from Company I followed in support.

The company sized force traveled on dusty back roads, through thick vegetation, and over ruble torn buildings to get to the hospital.

They waded through heavy marsh and even passed mortar rounds wedged into the road. After the long walk the group had to breach a ten foot iron fence around the hospital compound.

“The most difficult thing was the terrain,” said Bigley, a 22-year-old from Toledo, Ohio, “But fighting for my country on Independence Day was an honor. This is what I signed up for.”

Lance Cpl. Brian M. Tracey, a team leader with 3rd Platoon led his Marines over the wall to a towering seven-story hospital.

He knew the hospital was the highest point in Al Anbar Province capital, which meant a possible sniper threat.

The Marines thought about what they had to do when they reached their destination.

Bigley considered how he was going to clear a building of that size while working through a language barrier with the Iraqi Army.

Thoughts of booby-traps raced through Buckhout’s mind.

But once they reached the entrance there was no more time to think, just react. Tracey looked back at his team and quietly whispered, “Ready?”

In an instant the hospital doors swung open as the Marines and Iraqis simultaneously swept through each corridor on the first floor clearing the mass rooms and doorways. Some squads made their way to down the basement as others flew up six flights of stairs, securing each floor on the way.

Cpl. Steven T. Giannetto, a team leader from 3rd Platoon, was impressed with his Marines and how they managed the task of securing such a large obstacle.

“My team was very proficient,” said Giannetto, a 25-year-old from Rochester, N.Y. “It’s the biggest building we’ve ever secured in training or combat. I was impressed that they worked so well with other squads and the detachments.”

“The hospital was unknown to us. We just wanted to get inside once and for all and get rid of any threat,” he added.

The Marines secured the entire building in a matter of minutes, encountering no resistance.

This mission also allowed the Iraqi Army to operate independently with minimal help from the Marines.

“This just means the Iraqi Army is one step closer to operating on its own,” said Tracey. “Right now they’re trained enough… you can point with your finger and they know exactly what you need them to do.”

The Iraqi soldiers secured the second and third floor on their own. They also set up security on upper floors and established watch posts in each stairwell.

“They are motivated and willing to do the job,” said Giannetto.

After the hospital was secure, a convoy carrying personnel and supplies made its way to the front door of the hospital. Teams of Coalition forces and Iraqi Soldiers formed a search element and examined every room of the hospital, looking for hard evidence of insurgent activity.

Dubbed Task Force Sumo, the task organized search team was composed of over a hundred specialized Marines, Sailors and Soldiers operating in the area. The teams found propaganda posters hung on every floor and IED making materials hidden in ceiling tiles.

Though the search was extensive the hospital remained open. Iraqi citizens had complete access to hospital care and doctors continued to perform operations and surgeries even with the heavy military presence.

When the search was over all U.S. forces returned to their respective bases. Iraqi police officers stayed inside the hospital to keep an eye out for insurgent activity. The Iraqi Police will continue to operate inside the hospital providing security and stabilization in the area.

“Now Iraqis here will have a place to operate smoothly and not have to worry about insurgents using the hospital as a shield,” said Bigley.

Marines keep Iraq’s waterways safe

HADITHA, Iraq (July 7, 2006) -- In Iraq, a country where temperatures often soar above 110 degrees and terrain is mostly fine grains of sand, Cpl. Derek Metallo never thought he’d find himself patrolling Al Anbar province in a boat when he arrived three months ago.


July 7, 2006; Submitted on: 07/07/2006 05:50:20 AM ;
Story ID#: 20067755020
By Sgt. Roe F. Seigle, 1st Marine Division

Metallo, a 27-year-old Marine reservist from Jacksonville, Fla., is part of a team of Marines who patrol the Euphrates River by boat, providing security to the Haditha Dam – one of the country’s largest sources of electrical power and home to the Hawaii-based 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment’s headquarters.

The dam provides electricity to thousands of Iraqis throughout the Al Anbar province, as well as portions of Baghdad.

While most U.S. and Iraqi military forces operate in the country’s cities and towns, Metallo and the dozens of Marines who make up the dam’s security unit spend their days patrolling the waterways on both sides of the dam.

“We patrol around the dam all day to make sure insurgents are not trying to breach the area around the dam,” said Metallo, a gunner assigned to the dam security unit.

On one patrol Metallo said an infantry company was receiving indirect fire from mortar rounds and the Marines located the insurgents. The insurgents fled the area when the Marines arrived.

The Marines use Small Unit Riverine Craft, military boats used by the Armed Forces to secure rivers and other small bodies of water, to patrol the Euphrates River and the manmade Lake Qadisiyah, which sits on the northern side of the dam.

The Security Unit’s Marines are mostly reservists who put their civilian lives on hold to support the Marines who operate out of the dam.

Cpl. Alexander Lucea was an airline pilot and lived in Hollywood, Fla., before he volunteered to join the Corps’ active duty ranks and serve as a gunner with the water-bound unit.

“Just like the active duty Marines, we all miss being at home,” said Lucea, 27. “The initial adjustment was the hardest part of coming to Iraq, but I enjoy being here with my fellow Marines.”

As the Marines patrol the bodies of water around the dam, they also keep their eyes open for any suspicious activity on the banks of the water. Recently, the Marines found a small cache of weapons hidden along the Euphrates River, said Metallo, a 27-year-old from Jacksonville, Fla.

“Some patrols are more interesting than others,” said Lucea. “We have responded to firefights involving the Marines from three/three and saw insurgents shooting mortars right off the bank of the river. You never know what is out there.”

The Marines are not only trying to keep the waterways clear and safe from insurgent activity, but also protect the hundreds of fisherman and farmers who work along the river’s banks.

“We have established a good relationship with the farmers and the fisherman,” said Lucea. “They know we are not the enemy and we are just here to help them.”

When the Marines arrived here earlier this year, locals were sometimes abrasive and rude with Marines when they searched their vehicles along the waterways. Now, the locals are cooperative with the Marines and realize they are protecting them and their families, said Lucea.

Although heat, insurgent attacks and the occasional uncooperative local makes the job challenging, Metallo said he still enjoys patrolling the waterways in the boats that come with twin turbo-charged diesel engines.

“These boats can stop on a dime even when they are going full speed,” said Metallo, who is a physics teacher at Inglewood High School in Jacksonville, Fla.

Now, Metallo and Lucea said they are looking forward to returning to their civilian lives in a few short months, but they will miss the Marines they met in their unit.

“I have always wanted to be a school teacher and a Marine, now I get to do both,” said Metallo. “Plus I got to ride cool boats while I was in Iraq.”

You call, they haul, that’s all

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (July 7, 2006) -- Millions of Americans depend on luxury vehicles to move about in their daily lives. In the Marine Corps, thousands of Marines depend on massive 5,000 lb. vehicles driven by Sgt. Emilio A. Nepomuceno, a Chicago native, and other motor vehicle operators to accomplish their daily missions while deployed to Iraq.


July 7, 2006; Submitted on: 07/07/2006 09:01:00 AM ;
Story ID#: 200677910
By Lance Cpl. Josephh R. Stahlman, 2nd Marine Division

Nepomuceno and his Marines keep the Corps rolling, whether it’s transporting Marines to their destinations, supplying them food and water, or weapons and ammunition, or doing mounted patrols through dangerous urban environments.

“Motor T are basically the drivers of the Marine Corps,” explained Nepomuceno, a motor vehicle operator and platoon sergeant for Headquarters Battery, 5th Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment. “We provide the drivers for any mission the Corps needs.”

The training the Marines go through before deploying can be as simple as parallel parking these massive vehicles or as complicated as driving at night with night-vision goggles.

“They do a lot of training for future deployments and to simply build their confidence operating these vehicles,” said Nepomuceno, who is also Headquarters Battery’s training noncommissioned officer.

Maneuvering through an urban environment, driving off-road and driving through water are examples of training the Marines go through to become confident in their driving abilities.
The Marines conduct field training exercises such as simulated convoys, to learn how to maintain proper distance from one another and to evade improvised-explosive device attacks.

“IEDs are big in Iraq right now so we need to be prepared if we ever get hit by one,” said Pfc. J. L. Evans, a fellow motor vehicle operator with 5th Battalion.

The Marines are taught to get out of the area as quickly as possible if their convoy is hit by an IED or by other enemy fire while going through an urban environment.

“If a vehicle is hit and it cannot operate anymore, we must set up security around the convoy until we can get that vehicle operational or the Marines that were in it to safety,” Nepomuceno said.

The Marines of Motor Transport Platoon , better known as ‘Motor T’, operate the M1123 (hummer) and the 7-ton MK23. The 5,500 lb. hummers are used for patrols and getting from one place to another quickly. The seven ton is used for transportation of up to 16 Marines and supplies.

“The vehicles can be intimidating at first but once you learn to control them, operating them is as easy as riding a bike,” said Evans, a Tampa Bay, Fla., native who will be deploying early next year. “We are always training to keep our abilities driving the vehicles sharp.”

Marines becoming motor vehicle operators go through a six-week military occupational specialty school. There, they are taught different aspects of the vehicles they will operate in support of a wide variety of missions throughout their military careers.

“The Marines must have 250 driving miles to qualify for a license for both vehicles and to graduate their MOS school,” Nepomuceno said.

After the Marines finish school and are assigned to their units throughout the world, they train daily to hone their skills in operating these massive vehicles.

Marines Head to Iraq

Eight Marines from our area are making their way south. There the men based in Luzerne County will prepare for their trip to Iraq.

The men, based out of Wyoming Borough, said so long to loved ones around 7 a.m. Friday.


Friday, July 7, 12:22 p.m.
By Ryan Leckey

Eight Marines from our area are making their way south. There the men based in Luzerne County will prepare for their trip to Iraq.

The men, based out of Wyoming Borough, said so long to loved ones around 7 a.m. Friday.

The Marines will be stationed in Iraq for seven months.

"It's a long time... you see your son everyday and then they're gone for that long of a time. It's a big adjustment," said John Zaginaylo III of Berwick.

"I'm glad to go. It's my time to serve. I'm proud to serve my country and go with my buddies and do what Marines are supposed to do," said his son, Lance Corporal John Zaginaylo IV.

His family came to see him off. The 20-year-old is part of the Marine Wing Support Squadron. He thinks life overseas may be a welcome break from life on a farm.

"If you grew up on a farm you would understand. Seven months isn't a long time. I get out of the worst part, hay bailing and milking," the young Marine said.

"He'll be back in time to do it again next year," said his mother, Laune.

Once in Iraq the group of Marines will help transport supplies and troops.

"This is why we all joined. This is why we all signed that paperwork to serve our country to help other people out and serve our country, help other people out overseas and everything," said Lance Corporal Thomas Howe of Philadelphia.

As the vehicles pulled away, loved ones watched with heavy hearts.

"I'm proud of him. Something we didn't want to happen. It's something he needs to do and wants to do and I support him," said Laune Zaginaylo.

It's a kind of support the Marines said can be their best ammunition while fighting in a war zone.

The Marines will arrive in North Carolina Friday night to take care of administrative work. From there they will head to California and should be overseas in less than 30 days.

Marines thwart insurgents’ attempt to destroy new Iraqi school for girls

KARABILAH, Iraq (July 7, 2006) -- Thanks to the work of Marines and Iraqi Security Forces, 800 elementary-aged girls will now have a school to attend this fall.

Marines from 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment unveiled a brand-new grade school in this city of about 30,000 on the Iraq-Syria border in western Al Anbar Province July 7, 2006.


July 7, 2006; Submitted on: 07/11/2006 11:27:48 AM ; Story ID#: 2006711112748

By Cpl. Antonio Rosas, Regimental Combat Team7


Marines from 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, stand post during the grand opening of a brand-new grade school in Karabilah, a city of about 30,000 on the Iraq-Syria border in western Al Anbar Province, Iraq, July 7, 2006. About one week before its opening, insurgents planted an improvised explosive device inside the school which would have leveled a good portion of the building, destroying nearly three months of work by Marines and locals, said Gunnery Sgt. Joseph S. Mallicoat, the team leader for the civil affairs team here. Since arriving here four months ago, the Marines say they have seen a decrease in enemy activity after conducting daily security patrols in 100-degree weather alongside Iraqi soldiers. The city also has a new police force, which conducts security operations alongside the Twenty-nine Palms, Calif.-based Marines.

About one week before its opening, insurgents planted an improvised explosive device inside the school which would have leveled a good portion of the building, destroying nearly three months of work by Marines and locals, said Gunnery Sgt. Joseph S. Mallicoat, team leader for the civil affairs team here.

“The bomb had the potential of taking down both wings of the building and the school would have been unable to open by September,” said Capt. Rick Bernier, commanding officer of Company C – the Marines responsible for providing security alongside Iraqis in this city.

The Marines discovered the bomb and immediately secured the building leaving Iraqi Security Forces to provide 24-hour security to prevent further attacks.

Local tribal leaders and sheikhs attended the school’s grand opening and expressed thanks to the Marines of 3rd Civil Affairs Group who spearheaded the reconstruction project and obtained the necessary manpower to complete the building.

Civil Affairs teams oversee funding for a variety of reconstruction projects in the region which bolster Iraqis’ quality of life while improving the economy, said Lt. Col. Larry L. White, the civil military operations center director for the Al Qa’im region.

The team spent nearly two years finding a contractor to complete the project and locals had lost hope of seeing their school constructed since it was destroyed in 2003 during heavy fighting between Marines and insurgents, according to Mallicoat, 33, from Vancouver, Wash.

“I want to thank the Coalition Forces on behalf of all of the people of Karabilah for finishing the school very fast and for supporting the construction of a fine place,” said Mohammed Ahmed Selah, mayor of Karabilah, where the school is located.

The mayor and the Marines agree that the school’s neighborhood is relatively safe although there is still the threat if IED’s – the insurgents preferred method of attack, according to Bernier, a Fallbrook, Calif. native.

“The bomb was a last ditch effort by insurgents to destroy the progress we’ve made in this area,” said Bernier.

Since arriving here four months ago, the Marines have seen a decrease in enemy activity after conducting daily security patrols in 110 degree-plus temperatures alongside Iraqi soldiers. The Marines have also introduced the city to their new police force and have begun conducting security operations alongside policemen.

The Marines say local Iraqi Security Forces have made significant progress in the past few months by providing security for their people and conducting several independent operations to hunt down insurgents. Just three months ago, Iraqi soldiers partnered with the Marines here were learning the basics of security maneuvers and weapons handling.

Today, the Marines conduct security foot patrols with the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police on a daily basis. Now, the Marines say they are seeing less insurgent activity since they arrived four months ago, thanks to the combined efforts and increase of presence of Iraqi Security Forces.

“We are capturing more of the bad guys with a higher level of expertise in IED-making and that leaves a lot of insurgents with minimal experience in making the bombs,” said Bernier. “One guy blew himself up last week trying to plant an IED.”

Tribal sheikhs expressed pride in the region’s new police forces during a visit by Al Anbar Provinces’ governor to Husaybah last week. The governor, Maamoon Sami Rasheed al-Awani, echoed their sentiments.

“The security in this region has changed for the better,” said Awani in Arabic during the July 3 meeting. “Without the work the Iraqi Army and Iraqi police are doing here, we would not be able to move forward with construction projects.”

The city of Karabilah opened their first police station last month after a three-year hiatus of policemen.

The Marines feel the area will remain safe from insurgents as more Iraqis are coming forward to join local police forces.

Of the 400 Iraqi males who showed up during a police recruiting drive last week in Al Qa’im, more than 100 were accepted for police boot camp – the largest turnout yet in the area.

The Marines’ priority in this region is helping local police become more involved with their communities, thus bolstering locals’ confidence in their own police force, said Bernier.

The sooner the Iraqi people can count on their police to address crime in their city, the sooner Coalition Forces can begin going home, according to officials with the Police Transition Team here, a group of servicemembers responsible for mentoring and advising the Iraqi Police to become an independent organization.

“The policemen here do their job much the same way police officers back in the states do their job,” said Arthur L. Dehlinger, a retired American police officer with the Police Transition Team. “The people here are going to trust their own police force over the Americans naturally.”

The transition team’s goal is to have fully functioning police departments throughout the country in order for Iraqi Security Forces to take over security operations such as in places like the Diyala Province, Iraq. Iraqi Security Forces there have already begun working independently.

Email Cpl. Rosas at [email protected]

DoD Makes Changes to Qualifications for TRICARE Reserve Select

The Department of Defense announced today the eligibility determination period for the new TRICARE Reserve Select (TRS) program, and as a result, every member of the selected reserve will now have the option to purchase their health coverage from TRICARE.


July 7, 2006

Health coverage for selected reserve members who want TRS and complete all the required steps begins Oct. 1, 2006.

The new TRS program eligibility determination period runs from July 1, through Sept. 25.

TRS is a premium-based, three-tier TRICARE health plan for certain selected reserve members and their families that is authorized under section 1076(b) and (d) of Title 10, United States Code.

Selected reserve members must work with their service personnel offices to determine which one of three TRS tiers they qualify for. They must have their eligibility verified by their service personnel office and complete the Department of Defense Form 2895, “Agreement to Serve in the Selected Reserve for TRICARE Reserve Select” before they can submit their application to purchase TRS coverage.

Only qualified selected reserve members may submit an enrollment form with the first month’s premium payment to purchase coverage. Service members can review TRS program eligibility requirements at http://www.defenselink.mil/ra/ .

For additional information about the TRS benefit for members of the selected reserve, including open enrollment dates for TRS tiers two and three, visit http://www.tricare.osd.mil/reserve/reserveselect/index.cfm .

California-based Marines reflect on recent combat operations in Fallujah

CAMP KOREAN VILLAGE, Iraq (July 7, 2006) -- After more than a month of living out of armored vehicles and combating insurgents daily near Fallujah, nearly 100 U.S. Marines recently returned to this region in western Al Anbar province to continue security and stability operations.


July 7, 2006
By Cpl. Graham A. Paulsgrove
1st Marine Division

After months of life “on the road” throughout Fallujah, Marines from the Twentynine Palms, Calif.-based D Company, 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, have returned to western Iraq to help their parent battalion maintain security and stability.

“This is a lot quieter area than what we came from - every day we were guaranteed something would happen,” said Pfc. Nathan D. Wagner, a 22-year-old team leader with Company D.

Nearly two weeks back at their base in this wide, rural desert region of Al Anbar, the Marines spent days on the move in and around Fallujah, a city of approximately 200,000 which was the site of major combat operations between coalition forces and insurgents in November 2004.

For 60-plus days, the Marines spent their time in and out of their eight wheeled light armored vehicles maintaining security, rooting out insurgents, looking for improvised explosive devices and conducting humanitarian missions in Kharma, a town on Fallujah’s outskirts, and in Habbaniyah, a large town lying between Fallujah and Ramadi.

Both cities are still hotbeds of insurgent activity.

Life on the road

After two weeks of working alongside Iraqi soldiers in Al Qaim, a city near the Iraqi-Syrian border, the Marines were sent to Kharma, where kept a heavily-trafficked section of road between Fallujah and Baghdad clear of insurgent activity. They also assisted ground Marines – infantrymen – with operations in Fallujah’s neighboring town of Habbanyiah.

After their operations in the Sunni Triangle were completed, they went to Haditha to help provided security for a raid which resulted in the capture of a high ranking terrorist in the insurgency.

“I honestly think we’re making Iraq a better place,” said Wagner. “We’re getting rid of insurgents a few at a time but it’s a long and hard road, and there will always be bad guys. But we are making it harder for them to operate.”

D Company roamed the cities and countryside in Light armored vehicles – armored troop carriers which Marines say are ideal for any terrain. Sturdy, safe, the vehicles also pack a punch in combat – each has three mounted machine guns. Plus, the vehicles are capable of traveling 70-plus miles per hour and traverse nearly any type of terrain.

For weeks at a time, the company lived out of their vehicles, sleeping inside or next to them, seldom returning to a base for a hot meal or shower, according to Cpl. Joseph Sherwood, a team leader in the company.

“We never had a place to come home to since we were always on the move, so the vehicles were our homes,” said Sherwood, a native Orlando, Fla.

“We were ‘nomadic warriors,’” said Cpl. Mike J. Murray, an optics technician with the company. “We went all over the place, and we had food, water, fuel and ammo, so we were good.”

Under fire, body armor pays dividends

Though the company did not suffer any deaths during its time near Fallujah, three Marines were injured during a rocket attack in Kharma.

On thee different occasions, three other Marines would have been injured from sniper fire, but all walked away with slight bruising from the impact of 7.62 mm rounds into their protective body armor. All three attributed their body armor to saving their lives.

The Marines say the threat of sniper fire and IED attacks was constant.

While being the lead man on a patrol through Habbanyiah looking for IEDs, 21-year-old Pfc. Jason Hanson, from Forks, Wash., was knocked off his feet after he was shot in the chest by an insurgent during a small skirmish.

“I saw [Hanson] on the ground, ran up to him and rolled him over,” said Seaman Chad T. Kenyon, one of the company’s Navy corpsmen and a 20-year-old from Tucson, Ariz. “I saw that the round had gone through the front of his flak, so I opened up his flak and saw no bleeding. Then he looked up at me and said, ‘I’m fine, Doc.’”

The body armor, while heavy and cumbersome, did its job - save the life of its wearer.

“I’m happy to carry the extra weight,” said Hanson, grinning slightly.

Hanson’s brush with death was not uncommon for the hardened warriors of D Company - Sgt. Joshua S. Adams, a 21-year-old vehicle commander from Bowling Green, Mo., was hit while his platoon cordoned off an area with an IED in it.

“We were blocking off a road and one car pulled up from a side street, and the guy in the back of vehicle started moving around to face us, and as I was telling Sgt. Adams, he got hit,” said Lance Cpl. Kyle V. Lyons, 25, the gunner on Adam’s vehicle from Houston. “He dropped down and then said he was fine.”

“My gunner took over while I assessed my wounds and pulled some shrapnel out of my arm, then we chased down the car,” said Adams. “The round went into my SAPI but when it hit, the round shattered and some of it went into my wrist.”

“SAPIs” are the thick, ballistic metal plates placed inside U.S. troops’ body armor for protection from shrapnel and small-arms fire.

The vehicle was chased down and the two men were eventually detained. As for the rounds which struck Adams, they could have proven fatal if he had not worn his body armor, according to Petty Officer 3rd Class Jose Mata Jr., 26, the company’s senior corpsmen from Hialeah, Fla.

“The round would have hit him in the liver, causing massive internal damage - it could have been bad,” said Mata Jr. “The SAPI plates did their job.”

The long drive home

With less than three months left in Iraq before they return to their home station in southern California, the company will continue to operate within its own battle space in western Al Anbar province – a large expanse of desert dotted with small towns, and hundreds of miles away from Fallujah.

“It’s good to know that we are on the tail end of a very eventful deployment,” said Sherwood, now a two-time veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He deployed with another Twentynine Palms-based unit, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, during the initial push to Baghdad in 2003.

While the Marines are glad to be back patrolling desert towns and villages here, some says they miss the excitement and day-to-day action they experienced in the Fallujah region – IEDs, insurgents and all.

Daily patrols and combat operations through Habbiniyah was an “infantryman’s dream,” said Wagner, who added he’d rather be in the thick of the action in Al Anbar’s more urban areas than in what he calls a “quiet desert with a few towns.”

“We were in a lot more active areas than what we have out here,” said Wagner, a native of Fruitland, Idaho. “This is mainly a quiet desert with a few towns while before we were inside the cities for weeks at a time.”

The time spent “in the field” didn’t bother the Marines – the hot meals and showers were missed, but worse things can always happen, said Murray.

“Being out there for weeks at a time wasn’t bad because really strong camaraderie and brotherhood is built,” said Murray. “And a few guys got really good at making coffee in the field.”

Wild, wild west

Now, the Marines are back to patrolling western Anbar’s vast regions, where they’re not encountering the same day-to-day violence they did in eastern Al Anbar province. Still, the insurgent activity is ever present in this region, just in a different form, the Marines say.

In the Fallujah region, insurgents would often attack U.S. and Iraqi military forces directly. Here, they like to hide, said Sherwood.

“I am glad we are [in western Iraq] – the threat is ever present here, but the terrorists out here are much less confrontational,” said Sherwood. “[The mission here] provides us with a bigger challenge - out here they are much more likely to avoid us, so we have to be ever so more diligent in our operations of taking them down.”

The battalion is responsible for one of the largest areas in Iraq, so having an extra company of mechanized infantry Marines actively operating the area puts more Marines in more places, making it more difficult for insurgents to operate.

“While our battalion has been doing a good job without us, we’re here to close the gap,” said Murray, 22, from Winchester, Va. “With so much wide open space, it’s hard to monitor all the insurgent activity.”

Murray, on his second deployment to Iraq with the battalion, spent the majority of this tour working alongside the infantrymen of Company D, patrolling through the cities, versus his usual job of repairing and assessing optics on the company’s light armored vehicles.

“During my last deployment I stayed on this base for the vast majority of the time – this time I have gotten to see firsthand the Iraqis experience democracy and the freedoms that many take for granted in the United States,” said Murray.

After the company’s return to their forward operating base here late last month, the company took a weeklong break from before hitting the streets on patrol again. Time was allocated to perform maintenance on vehicles and weapons, straighten out administrative and pay issues, and decompress before hitting Iraq’s roads again.

“It’s good to have a break, as opposed to being on the move all the time,” said Wagner.

“We also have gotten a chance to watch the World Cup just about every night,” added Murray. “So life is good.”

Email Cpl. Paulsgrove at: [email protected]

July 6, 2006

Lima Company rejoins Darkhorse battalion

CAMP HABBANIYAH, Iraq (July 6, 2006) -- Marines of L Company have reunited with the rest of 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment in Habbaniyah, after spending six months operating near Fallujah.


July 6, 2006; Submitted on: 07/08/2006 02:17:12 AM
Story ID#: 20067821712
By Cpl. Mark Sixbey, 1st Marine Division

CAMP HABBANIYAH, Iraq (July 6, 2006) -- Marines of L Company have reunited with the rest of 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment in Habbaniyah, after spending six months operating near Fallujah.

There, they performed numerous raids and constant patrols, detaining dozens of insurgents and uncovering weapons caches in the process.

“We accomplished some good things, took down some bad people, pretty much did what we were asked to do,” said Cpl. Tyler Coppock, a team leader with the company.

The company turned the battle space over to a company of Marines from 1st Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, after bringing the incoming Marines up to speed on the area of operations.

“We took them out, showed them the AO,” said Coppock a 22-year-old from Rapid River, Mich. “They pretty much relieved us.”

The company is now settling-in in their new living quarters aboard Camp Habbaniyah and learning their new area. The battalion is nearing completion of the deployment and is also making preparations to turn over its area with their relieving battalion.

“In the next couple of weeks we hope to accomplish setting the conditions for a good turnover,” said 1st Lt. Owen Boyce, a platoon commander with L Company. “We’ll also be working back here on Camp Habbaniyah to facilitate the transition.”

The 25-year-old from Hartford, Conn. explained the company will immediately begin raids and combat operations.

“We’ll hopefully nab the majority of bad dudes in the area,” he said.

The move spells a lot of adjustments for the Marines in L Company, who have been mostly isolated from the rest of the battalion during the deployment.

“Now we’re getting used to being back around all the higher ups and other companies,” said Cpl. Timothy Standridge, a mortar section leader from Yellville, Ark. “We have to get back in rotation with the battalion and not just the company.”

“I’ve got quite a few buddies scattered around the battalion,” Coppock added. “It’s good to be back around with everybody, we get to see all the faces we’re going home with after being away from them pretty much the whole deployment.”

The change of scenery has brought added challenges and benefits.

“It’s a bit of a hassle getting situated, knowing where to go,” said Lance Cpl. Mac McSperrit, a 20-year-old infantryman from Hanford, Calif.

He noted an upside to the move -- there are many miles of road on Camp Habbaniyah, suitable for proper physical training prior to returning home.

“I ran last night,” McSperrit said. “It felt good. I live in California, so I hit the beach a lot.”

Marines nest at Combat Outpost Hawk

COMBAT OUTPOST HAWK, Iraq (July 6, 2006) -- Marines with 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment sleep at Combat Outpost Hawk, which is being constructed July 6 with help from Combat Logistics Detachment 115.

The detachment has been transporting Iraqi Army and Iraqi police throughout the city of Ramadi and has also been working to build combat outposts in an effort to establish an Iraqi Army and police presence in the city.


July 6, 2006; Submitted on: 07/11/2006 07:21:32 AM ; Story ID#: 200671172132

By Cpl. Stephen Holt, 1st Marine Logistics Group


The detachment was formed from Combat Logistics Regiment 15, based at Camp Taqaddum east of here, and is providing logistics support to the U.S. Army’s 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division currently responsible for security operations in the city.

Marines get machine gun training while at sea

ABOARD THE USS GERMANTOWN (July 6, 2006) -- Marines from Company B, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), Camp Pendleton, Calif., are currently taking a machine gunners course during the MEU’s final weeks of their deployment July 3-20.


July 6, 2006
By Cpl. Ruben D. Calderon, 11th MEU

Known as the BLT 1/4 Machine Gun Leaders Course, it is comprised of tactics, techniques, sight alignment, practical application and exams. The instruction focuses on three different weapons systems: the M240G Medium Machine Gun, the M2 .50 Caliber Machine Gun and the MK19 40mm Machine Gun.

“If you all deploy next year, I guarantee that you will be using these weapons systems,” said Staff Sgt. Evan W. Clayton, staff noncommissioned officer in charge of the course, to the Marines during their first day of class.
One of the most common things that a Marine does when deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan is security, according Sgt. Gregory Henry, chief instructor of the course.

“Whether it be doing security in the FOB (Forward Operating Base) or manning a turret on a humvee during a convoy, the Marines will be providing security,” said Henry. “That usually means manning some type of automatic weapon.”

Most of the Marines in the class are basic riflemen, also known as 0311s. Although they can disassemble and re-assemble an M-16A4 Service Rifle faster than most Marines can remember what their sixth general order is, they are not thoroughly sped up on how to properly employ a weapon such as the “Golf,” MK-19 or .50 Cal.

“We want to show them all how to properly employ these weapons in the environments that they will be going in,” said Henry, who was also an instructor at the School of Infantry’s Machine Gunners Advanced Infantry Training Course.

The Marines will definitely benefit from this formal course, said Clayton. “Hopefully there will be plenty of sustainment training between now and the end of the course.”
Across the classroom, the most common ranks on Marines’ collars are that of lance corporal and private first class. By their next deployment these “boots” will hold key positions in their squads, their platoons and their company.

“This is part of our training to be better Marines,” said Lance Cpl. Juan J. Barragan, assistant SAW gunner, 3rd squad, 1st platoon. “This is the stuff we need to know if we deploy next year.”

U.S. Marines working round-the-clock to reinforce new police force

AL QA’IM, Iraq (June 27, 2006) -- More than 300 local Iraqis from Euphrates River towns near the Iraqi-Syrian border lined up at the Marines’ outpost June 27, 2006, in hopes of becoming policemen in one of Iraq’s newest police districts.


June 27, 2006
By Cpl. Antonio Rosas,
Regimental Combat Team7

The enlistment drive marked the largest turnout of police recruits in recent months. More than 100 Iraqis were accepted for enlistment.

The drive was held just days after police here were paid months of back-pay by Iraq’s Ministry of Interior.

A lack of consistent pay has been the primary cause for the high attrition rate within fledgling Iraqi police forces in western Al Anbar province since late last year, according to Maj. Lowell F. Rector, the 42-year-old Marine in charge of all U.S. police transition teams who mentor, train and oversee the establishment of Iraqi police forces throughout the western Al Anbar province.

Altogether, all six of western Al Anbar’s police districts have received nearly $1.3 million in back pay.

“I think the large turnout of Iraqis was in part due to the fact that the locals heard the police were finally paid,” said Maj. Robert C. Marshall, the police transition team officer-in-charge for the Al Qa’im region.

One 26-year-old Iraqi, who wants to become a police officer and serve in his hometown of Ubaydi – a town of about 10,000 citizens – said through an interpreter that becoming a cop would mean he could “earn his highest wage ever.”

“I don’t care that there are insurgents here because there are many more police officers now,” said the Iraqi man, who asked for anonymity.

Though Marines here have held regular monthly recruiting drives, this latest push to fill the region with Iraqi police, who Marines say will add more security to the region, produced the largest turnout Marshall has seen since arriving here more than three months ago, he said.

Despite several attacks on the police force in the nearby city of Husaybah, a border city of about 50,000 people, Marshall says the Iraqis are willing to take the risk of becoming policemen because a cop’s monthly salary is a lot of money for the average Iraqi – around $100 a month.

The transition team here has been fervently working with the Iraqi Police, advising and mentoring them so they can become a self-sustaining force.

But Marshall says the police force here faces several problems, such as a lack of police vehicles and more body armor for existing forces.

The region’s remote location, in the far reaches of western Al Anbar Province, makes it difficult to get the necessary equipment from Ramadi, according to the 37-year-old from Denver.

The team recently received a shipment of necessary gear the police have needed for several weeks now – specifically body armor, flak vests and weapons.

“It boggles my mind why things take so long to get here,” said Marshall.

There are still several logistical kinks to be worked out, such as coordinating shipping of supplies, which need to be worked out at the higher level, said Marshall.

Although the police here are still without vehicles, it has not kept them from conducting security foot patrols with the Marines of 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment – the U.S. military unit responsible for providing security in this northwestern pocket of Al Anbar Province.

The Marines maintain an outpost near the Iraqi police station here.

The transition team has made progress in standing up the new police force with the opening of the first police station in the Al Qa’im region last month.

The Marines conduct daily security patrols with the new police officers and teach the new policemen tactics they’ll need to know to eventually maintain law and order on their own.

The added foot patrols puts the police in the forefront of local security operations, and takes the burden off Iraqi soldiers and Marines who have provided the bulk of security thus far, said Marshall.

As local police numbers increase, so do the number of police stations. The newest police station in the region opened last week in Karabilah, a city of approximately 30,000.

While the station is only several days old, the citizens of Karabilah have responded warmly to their new police force after not seeing any police in the area for more than three years, according to Sgt. Manuel F. Gonzalez, a 24-year-old Marine and the transition team’s radio operator.

The push for a police force came after months of urging from local tribal sheikhs who have been eager to see a police force restored with men from their tribes, the Marines say.

Right now the transition team is working on equipping the new Karabilah police station with weapons, flak vests, uniforms and furniture so that the Iraqis can live and work out of their police station.

The police districts here will also be revamped with an additional 19 police officers on the force, who have just completed a three-week officer training course in Baghdad.

This will solve the region’s shortage of officers, according to Marshall.

The challenge the Marines and local city governments face in beefing up the number of police officers is finding qualified applicants. During the June 27 recruiting drive, the Marines said most of those not accepted for police training failed to pass a literacy test.

Iraq’s Ministry of Interior, the government agency which controls all of the country’s police forces, will only accept applicants with at least an eighth-grade reading and writing level, the Marines say. Those who have at least a fifth-grade reading and writing ability will be accepted for service, however, they are required to pass a six-week literacy course before attending police training.

Along with U.S. Marines, the transition team heavily relies on the experience of retired American police officers to train the new Iraqi police squads in the day-to-day functions of operating a police station, such as administrative procedures, organization, and policing methods.

The Marines add that the retired U.S. policemen bring decades of combined experience in managing and organizing the new police departments – a plus for U.S. forces who are trying to get Iraqi Security Forces ready for independent operations.

“It’s difficult working with the Iraqi police because the Iraqis already have their own laws and we’re here to work with their existing system,” said Arthur L. Dehlinger, a 14-year police veteran from Big Spring, Texas. “We’re here to use our experience and our expertise to make their system work for them so that they can run a police station on their own.”

Dehlinger said the Iraqi cops do essentially the same job as American cops back home.

“The only difference between American police officers and Iraqis is the legal side of things,” said Dehlinger. “Other than that, they are basically the same because they do the same job.”

Email Cpl. Rosas at [email protected]

July 5, 2006

Marines gain control of Iraq hospital

RAMADI, Iraq - Hundreds of U.S. Marines stormed through dimly lit hallways of the largest hospital in western Iraq on Wednesday, taking control of a facility allegedly used by insurgents — and encountering a regional health infrastructure in serious decay.


Associated Press Writer
Wed Jul 5, 5:37 PM ET

Members of al-Qaida in Iraq had been using the Ramadi General Hospital, a seven-story building with some 250 beds, to treat their wounded and fire on U.S. troops in the area, the Marines said.

They said wounded Iraqi police officers who had been taken to the hospital were later found beheaded.

Though there was no resistance during Wednesday's operation, the Marines from the 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment said they found about a dozen triggering devices for roadside bombs hidden above the tiled ceiling of one office. They knocked down dozens of locked doors and searched medicine chests and storage closets for additional weapons.

Hospitals are considered off-limits in traditional warfare. In western Ramadi, however, insurgents have fired on Marines from the rooftop of a women and children's hospital so often that patients were moved to a wing with fewer exposed windows.

The early-morning raid Wednesday exposed the wartime conditions that have endangered the wounded, sick and elderly in this city of 400,000 people. Doctors said they were struggling to provide basic care.

No ambulances operate in the city because drivers are afraid. Experienced physicians have fled the area, critical supplies are depleted and the number of traumatic war-related injuries has skyrocketed.

Just to reach the hospital, residents must negotiate bomb-saturated roads and gunbattles that often block the way.

"The number of injuries is increasing. The number who can make it (here) is not," said one young Iraqi doctor who refused to give his name for fear of insurgent reprisals.

Religious divisions also have paralyzed the medical staff of 50-60 doctors. Shiite doctors fear coming to Sunni Arab-dominated Ramadi, the staff said, and Sunni doctors are reluctant to travel east to Baghdad.

"We would like them to come here. And we'd like to go there. But there's misunderstanding," the young doctor said.

Staff members also complained that key supplies were scarce. Patients needing CT scans are sent to Baghdad, 70 miles to the east on some of the most dangerous roads in the country. Faulty X-ray equipment produced scans that were barely visible. Shortages of medicine at the hospital force patients to pick up drugs from local pharmacies. And irregular electricity keeps hospital lights flickering on and off.

"Right now, all the supplies here come from Syria and Jordan. We do not get supplies anymore from Baghdad because of the situation there," said one middle-aged medical assistant who also declined to give his name because he feared the insurgents.

During Wednesday's raid, tensions were apparent between some doctors and Marines. The Marines, based in Camp Lejeune, N.C., said one member of their platoon had been shot in the arm near the hospital while handing candy to children at a nearby school. Some angrily accused doctors of harboring and helping insurgents.

Doctors said they knew nothing of insurgent activity or the explosive triggering devices found hidden in the hospital. They insisted they were bound by the Hippocratic oath to serve all patients.

"On my floor of the hospital, I've seen nothing. I have no idea about the other floors," the medical aide said when asked if insurgents had ever visited the hospital.

Marines expressed frustration at the lack of cooperation.

"They don't play by the same rules that we do," said Pfc. Gilberto Rodriguez, 20, of Alexandria, Va., as he stood guard in a hallway. "Insurgents have free rein here. They can do whatever they want. They use whatever tactics are most effective."

Marines and Iraqi soldiers sat outside the rooms of about 30-40 patients. As worried mothers stroked the faces of their sick children, Marines rested in the hallways outside to escape nighttime temperatures that hovered around 100.

Some staff members were visibly angered by the U.S. presence. The young physician's leg shook as U.S. troops interviewed him about critical needs they hoped to fill.

"The young man was angry. I could see it in his eyes," said Navy Capt. Saleem Khan, 58, a soft-spoken surgeon from Sherman, Texas, shortly after meeting with the doctors.

Khan said some contracts were pending to repair hospital equipment, but he said the facility needed tens of millions of dollars — and a return to calm in the city — before any substantial progress could be made. Marines plan to secure the hospital by stationing Iraqi police and soldiers inside. U.S. troops will remain nearby.

"You're looking at the ruins of this place ... What this place needs is some high-price items," said Khan, minutes after explosions echoed from the city. "The dust has to be settled before anything can happen here."

Later, as the doctors returned to visit their patients, the young physician pointed to bottles of medicine strewn about the floor by Marines looking for weapons. He said he wished the Marines had never come to the hospital.

"Why is all this damaged?" the doctor asked a Marine, who apologized. "The next time you visit the hospital, please try not to intimidate the patients."

Group helps injured vets through fly fishing

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — A roadside bomb in Afghanistan took away Chris Short’s lower right leg, but not his passion for fly fishing.

The 24-year-old Army sergeant from Little Rock, Ark., will compete in the Kenai River Classic this weekend, courtesy of the Kenai River Sportfishing Association.


By Paula Dobbyn
Associated Press

The association is building links with Project Healing Waters, a volunteer organization that sends wounded veterans on fly-fishing trips to help them recover both physically and emotionally.

“It’s an integral part of their therapy,” said Barry Yancosek, a rehabilitation specialist at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in suburban Washington, D.C.

Short’s return to fly-fishing helped him appreciate that his life wasn’t over. Since participating in a few trips with Project Healing Waters, Short has become a volunteer recruiter for the organization.

“You gain a sense of independence, and it’s so serene out there,” Short said Monday, sitting in the lobby of the Anchorage Downtown Marriott. Besides fishing the Kenai, Short is in town with more than 500 other veterans to compete in the 26th National Veterans Wheelchair Games.

Short learned to fish at age 4 from his father. He grew up on a 17-acre lake in Little Rock fishing for bass, bluegill and crappie.

After being deployed to Afghanistan in April 2004, Short spied what looked like trout in some streams and thought about having his family mail him his fly rod. But between hunting down Taliban and al-Qaida militants and constructing schools and other public works, there wasn’t much time for fishing.

A year later and one week away from returning to the United States, Short and a gunner drove over an improvised explosive device in their Humvee. Besides losing part of his leg, Short suffered a brain injury from shrapnel. He also lost mobility in one elbow but has since regained it through surgery.

“All I remember was being carried to the chopper,” Short said.

A couple of weeks later, he woke up at Walter Reed and “noticed I didn’t have a leg anymore.” He found out about Project Healing Waters at the hospital, where wounded vets practice tying flies and casting with fly rods on the lawn.

Retired Navy Capt. Ed Nicholson started the organization two years ago after a stay at the hospital himself. A fly-fisherman and duck hunter, Nicholson saw young amputees wheeling themselves around the hospital and a thought came to him. After pondering it a little more, he decided to approach the hospital’s rehabilitation director with the idea.

“I love the outdoors and was going to spend more time outdoors myself fly-fishing and hunting birds,” Nicholson said from his home in southern Maryland. “I figured I would go out and see if any of these guys at Walter Reed wanted to come with me.”

Several did.

Nicholson turned to his local chapter of Trout Unlimited and the Federation of Fly Fishers to see if he could find support. He also took his idea to outdoor shows and fishing guides. Support in the way of offers for free trips flowed in. Project Healing Waters now organizes several trips a year and solicits funding from donors to pay for airplane tickets and lodging.

The organization has sent about 25 veterans on trips to Montana, West Virginia, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Maine. It’s hoping to spread the word this week among Alaska outfitters and guides who may be interested in donating.

Ricky Geasy, executive director of the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, recently learned about Project Healing Water and invited Short and Yancosek to take part in the classic.

“It’s important for these guys to come down here and see what we do and see where it goes from there,” Geasy said.

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

Fallen Marine welcomed home

(KIRKSVILLE, Mo.) It was a hero's welcome home early Wednesday morning for Lance Corporal Rex Page of Kirksville.


Page is the 21-year-old Marine who was killed a week ago while fighting in Iraq. He is remembered by many in the Kirksville community as not just a soldier, but a kind-hearted young man who went out of his way to make a difference in the lives of others. That's why they gathered at the edge of town to welcome him home.

Page's friends couldn't hold back the tears as they watched his remains return home just before 2 a.m. The Page family received a special escort from Kansas City, where they picked up the body of the fallen Marine, to Kirksville by motorcyclists called the Patriot Guard Riders.

"I'm a veteran, and I feel it's every one of our duties to honor those who make the ultimate sacrifice to show our respect and to honor that soldier and his family," said Patriot Guard Rider Larry Carmer of Macon, Mo.

At the edge of town, the caravan was joined by Kirksville police officers and greeted by about a dozen friends who wanted to show their support.

"I'm sorry for his parents loss. It must be a nightmare, and we love them a lot and will miss him," said Lennie Henson of Kirksville.

Larry Page says his son loved his country and always dreamed of being a Marine. When members of the family's church, New Hope Evangelical Church of Kirksville, gathered for their annual Independence Day celebration, the conversation naturally turned to the young patriot and his family.

"Of course knowing that this was taking place, we said we were going to be there to support as they came into town," said Pastor Jim Maxey.

Others know the Page family from their involvement in Special Olympics. They, too, wanted to show their admiration for the young man who made a difference in the lives of others.

"I know that on behalf of all the Special Olympians that we love Rex, and we will miss him," said James Allen. Page coached Allen's Special Olympics basketball team.

The caravan proceeded through town to Travis-Noe Funeral Home in Kirksville. That's where visitation will be held Saturday from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. The funeral for Page is Sunday at 2 p.m. at Kirksville Middle School. About 25 Marines are expected to attend and participate in a full color guard and 21-gun salute.

--Dana Jay, Reporting

Wounded Marine on a new mission A corporal who lost his eyes in a bombing in Iraq is involved in a program to make guide dogs available to others maimed in action.

ST. PETERSBURG - Cpl. Michael Jernigan and four other Marines were on a security patrol south of Baghdad two years ago when a roadside bomb tore through their Humvee. The blast killed one Marine and injured several others.


Published July 5, 2006

Jernigan, 27, a 1997 St. Petersburg High graduate, was the most severely injured survivor. He lost both eyes, his right hand and left knee were mangled, an artery in his left leg was torn open, and his forehead was shattered.

Jernigan's story, spread by the media and daily e-mails written by his mother, Tracey Willis, prompted thousands of e-mails, cards and well wishes to pour in from around the world.

Word of his injuries and recovery reached Bobby Newman, a board member of Southeastern Guide Dogs in Palmetto, who offered to pair Jernigan with a guide dog. Then Newman had a bigger idea.

"A light went on in my head, and I said, 'Hey, why don't we offer all the soldiers who have been blinded in the war on terror in Iraq and Afghanistan - why don't we offer them all a guide dog?' " recalled Newman, 55.

And so Paws for Patriots was born. The program provides free guide dogs to veterans of Iraq or Afghanistan, including those, such as amputees, who aren't blind but could use a service dog.

"I never thought I would be in a position to inspire others to do bigger and better things," Jernigan said. "It gives you an idea of a better way to live your life."

Paws for Patriots is running radio and television ads featuring Jernigan and retired Gen. Tommy Franks. Program representatives also visit military hospitals to promote the program.

In January, Jernigan received the first Paws for Patriots guide dog: a goldador (a mix of golden and Labrador retrievers) named Kera. The pair worked together for two months, but Jernigan had to return her after she led him into traffic.

"We had a great time; it just wasn't that great of a match," Jernigan said.

The program has identified about 30 veterans blinded in Iraq or Afghanistan. Three are receiving guide dogs, and at least six other veterans have requested service dogs, Newman said.

"We think it's a great way to give back to our country," Newman said.

Jernigan's family is contributing, too. Last month, Willis, 53, and Bob Campbell, Jernigan's stepdad, received a 9-week-old yellow Labrador puppy from Southeastern Guide Dogs that they will train for up to 24 months.

Jernigan paid $1,750 for the right to name the puppy Ted - in honor of Jernigan's grandfather, who was the first of three generations of Marines.

If Ted is accepted as a guide dog, he could be paired with Jernigan, though the odds are small.

"That would be phenomenal," Willis said through tears. "The idea that Mike would have spent that amount of money to name a dog after my dad that someday could be his guide dog is unbelievable to me."

Jernigan is making steady progress after undergoing major surgery 30 times in 12 months. He has regained partial use of his right hand but might have additional surgery to improve its function. In December 2004, he was fitted for a prosthetic right eye.

He actually has five prosthetic eyes that he rotates in use. Three are what he calls "normal" eyes - in baby blue, emerald green and aquamarine. Then there's a red eye with a Marine Corps emblem in the center. Finally, his "bling-bling" eye: navy blue with a carat's worth of diamonds embedded in the pupil.

"All the ladies love that one," he said.

His eye is also a hit with kids, who ask him, "Can you pop your eye out?"

Jernigan is always happy to oblige, pulling his lower eyelid down until the prosthetic eye slides out.

"I usually get a lot of oohs and ahhs," he said.

Despite his progress, not everything has gone smoothly.

In August, he and his wife, Bekah, decided to divorce. They were high school sweethearts who married in 2003, and his wife was by his side through much of the initial stages of his recovery and treatment.

Jernigan plans to enroll at St. Petersburg College in August and hopes to one day teach high school.

"I've got plans for the future, which is a good thing," he said. "I don't plan on sitting down and becoming a General Hospital addict with some bonbons."

Although Jernigan acknowledged the past couple of years have at times been tumultuous, he said now that his bad days are few and far between. And he knows to keep it all in perspective.

"No matter how bad it gets, it could always be worse," he said. "Yeah, I lost my eyes, but I could have lost my legs, too. Now I can walk but I can't see where I'm walking."


Fallen marine returns to Kirksville; funeral to be Sunday afternoon

KIRKSVILLE - When Larry and Edie Page drove into Kirksville with their son's body around 2 a.m. Wednesday morning, they were given strength when they saw a lone man on the street corner under a streetlight waving an American Flag.


July 5, 2006 3:04 PM CDT

As the Pages grieve for their son Lance Cpl. Rex Arthur Page, 21, who was killed June 28 during Operation Iraqi Freedom, they are comforted by the support they are receiving from family, friends and total strangers.

"It doesn't take away the pain or the loss, but it gives us a strong handle to be able to deal with it," Larry Page said.

Larry and Edie received Rex's body when it arrived in Kansas City Tuesday, and an airport employee gave them each a hug and told them about the men he buried in Vietnam.

"It sure encourages us that there are people out there who care," Larry said.

He and Edie then drove back to Kirksville with the military escort to the Travis-Noe Funeral Home.

Larry said he and his wife sat at the funeral home for a while, visiting with their son and grieving.

"It gives us such a wonderful sense of peace to know how many lives he was able to touch," Larry said.

The public visitation will be Saturday from 4 - 8 p.m. at the funeral home, and the funeral will be Sunday at 2 p.m. The funeral, which is at the Kirksville Middle School, will have a full Marine color guard, and the Marines have taken care of all the arrangements.

"It will be one of the most awesome things this town has ever seen," Larry said.

The last poem Rex wrote, which was about family, will also be read at the funeral.

After the funeral, Rex's body will be taken with a military escort to the military cemetery in Jacksonville, Mo., where the Marines will sound Taps and honor him with a 21-gun salute.

There has been some concern that a group from Kansas City that protests military funerals may come to Kirksville, but Larry said the Marines, the Kirksville Police Department and the Patriot Guard Riders said they will make sure the protesters do not create a problem.

According to their Web site, about 100 riders plan to attend the ceremony to counteract the protestors.

"We have a very patriotic community here," Larry said.

He and Edie have also been touched by the support they have received from the Marines throughout the past week.

Larry said one Marine told them, "Mr. Page, you're son is my fallen brother, and that makes you my family, and I take care of my family."

Some of Rex's fellow Marines who were serving with him in Iraq have called the Pages, who were glad to hear no one else from his fire squad was injured or killed.

July 4, 2006

Marines dedicated to training Iraqi soldiers amidst insurgent attacks

HADITHA, Iraq(July 4, 2006) -- Lance Cpl. Douglas Tetreault carries a spent round fired from an AK-47 assault rifle, which was surgically removed from his thigh last month after he was shot during a firefight with insurgents in Haditha, Iraq.


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

The 21-year-old native of Adams, Mass., wears a nine-inch scar on his thigh every time he steps “outside the wire” to go on combined patrols with Iraqi soldiers in Haditha – a city of 30,000 nestled along the Euphrates River northwest of Baghdad.

“It felt like someone had kicked me in the leg at first,” said Tetreault, after a two-hour patrol in 115-degree heat through Haditha’s volatile streets June 24. “I recovered pretty quickly and I am glad to be back with my fellow Marines.”

For the past three-plus months, Tetreault, and the rest of the Marines from the Hawaii-based India Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, have spent countless hours training and mentoring Iraqi soldiers assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Brigade, 7th Iraqi Army Division. The Iraqi battalion is partnered with the Marine unit.

By summer’s end, 75 percent of all Iraqi Army Brigades will be leading security operations throughout Iraq, said Gen. George Casey, commander, Multinational Force Iraq, during a Pentagon press briefing June 22, in Washington, D.C. By year’s end, “eight or nine” of the 10 Iraqi Army Divisions will be leading combat operations instead of coalition forces, said Casey to reporters.

“The progress of the (Iraqi) Army continues to go well,” said Gen. Casey. “Today there are three Iraqi divisions, 18 Iraqi brigades and some 69 Iraqi battalions that are actually operating in the lead across Iraq.”

Haditha is located in Iraq’s Al Anbar province, a region which has been deemed by Coalition Forces and mass media alike as arguably the most insurgent-active province in Iraq, and boasts the least-developed Iraqi Security Forces in the country.

Iraqi soldiers have shown considerable improvement in the past three months in their military proficiency, said Capt. Andy Lynch, India Company’s commanding officer. The soldiers have become better at spotting IEDs, and collecting intelligence used to capture insurgents. They have also improved in their ability to spot dangers on patrols that Marines otherwise would not.

Three months ago, the soldiers would not go on patrols unless the Marines were with them and were only able to provide minimal assistance in gathering intelligence and spotting potential dangers.

“They have also established a mutual trust with the local population and local leaders by being firm, but fair with them,” said Lynch, a 31-year-old from Chicago.

The Iraqi soldiers enforce the rules and regulations established by the new Iraqi government, which are placed to protect the local citizens from insurgent activity, said Lynch.

The Iraqi Army treats the local citizens with respect and professionalism. Sometime the soldiers must detain locals suspected of insurgent activity in order to keep the peace the Soldiers and coalition forces have established. Doing so deters the threat on the streets of Haditha, said Lynch.

However, enemy attacks against U.S. and Iraqi forces have remained steady, he said.

The Marines’ forward operating base is frequently pelted with mortar rounds – a sign of a still active insurgency, the Marines say. Last month approximately 15 insurgents attacked India Company’s firm base with small-arms fire – rifles, pistols and machine guns, said 19-year-old Lance Cpl. Ben Rivers, who was manning an observation post when the base was attacked.

“One of the insurgents fired a rocket-propelled grenade at the bunker I was in,” said Rivers, a native of Beaufort, S.C. “I never had that much adrenaline go through me in my life.”

Immediately following the attack, Marines and Iraqi soldiers returned fire, flooded the streets, and captured 12 suspected insurgents, said Rivers.

“It (the insurgency) is keeping us on our toes,” said Rivers, who often patrols the streets with Iraqi soldiers. “The soldiers are fighting the insurgents with us and they (soldiers) are learning the same tactics we use to combat (insurgents.)”

Pfc. Shane Shaffer, 19, agrees that the soldiers are making progress.

Last month, Shaffer’s unit was caught in an ambush while crossing a bridge on the Euphrates River. Iraqi soldiers accompanying Shaffer’s platoon that day reacted quickly and effectively to the attack, said Shaffer. The soldiers sought cover and returned fire appropriately, and eventually suppressed the attack. Shaffer said the Iraqis’ performance that day is indicative of the progress they’ve made, both in training and while conducting counterinsurgency operations.

“They have become much more tactically proficient since we got here in March,” said Shaffer, a machine gunner and native of Inkom, Idaho. “When they would go on patrol, it looked like a bunch of people just walking down the street with weapons.”

Now, the soldiers have learned to patrol using proper patrolling techniques and communication methods. They also exhibit better discipline when combating insurgents to assure civilians are not injured, added Shaffer.

However, direct attacks against U.S. and Iraqi military forces are not the Marines’ only concern in this region, said Shaffer.

Improvised explosive devices – roadside bombs placed by insurgents -- remain a constant threat to the Marines and their Iraqi Army counterparts. Still, the Marines and soldiers are noticing and disabling many of the makeshift explosives before they detonate, said Shaffer.

Last week, Marines on patrol in a marketplace here discovered two IEDs, both of which were disposed of without incident. Hours later, another one detonated and a Marine received wounds to his lower legs.

“The Marines are showing remarkable dedication to their mission and to themselves,” said Lynch. “That is impressive for the environment they are in. They are putting in long hours everyday to keep the streets of Haditha safe.”

About halfway through a six-month deployment, 3rd Battalion is scheduled to return to the United States this fall. Another Hawaii-based unit will replace the battalion, which deployed last year to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

“I miss my family,” said Tetreault. “But I am glad I still get to leave with the rest of my fellow Marines.”

Email Sgt. Seigle at: [email protected]


24th MEU clears ‘The Ditch,’ awaits mission

ABOARD THE USS IWO JIMA (July 4, 2006) -- As the home front celebrated Independence Day, the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit drew a transcontinental step closer to possible combat operations, officially entering the Central Command theater and assuming duties as the force of choice in a regional crisis.


July 4, 2006; Submitted on: 07/05/2006 07:32:38 PM ; Story ID#: 200675193238
By Capt. David E. Nevers, 24th MEU

One by one during the early morning hours of July 4, the seven vessels of the Iwo Jima Expeditionary Strike Group -- including three amphibious-assault ships bearing the MEU’s roughly 2,200 Marines and sailors -- slipped from the Mediterranean Sea and into the Suez Canal.

Shortly after sunrise, wearing their desert-colored camouflage utility uniforms for the first time since leaving North Carolina June 8, Marines began emerging onto the ships’ catwalks and other platforms to glimpse Egypt from either side.

“Going through the Suez Canal makes me a little bit jumpy. This is what we see on the news every night and I can’t wait for it to unfold. I want to see it first hand and get into the fight” said Cpl. John P. Martinez, a rifleman with Alpha Company, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 24th MEU.

The 101-mile-long, man-made waterway links the Mediterranean to the Gulf of Suez, the northern branch of the Red Sea. Built in the mid-1800s, the modern canal realized a centuries-old dream of opening up, to any ship in the world, two-way water transportation between Europe and Asia without the need to circumnavigate Africa.

Known to Marines and sailors as “the ditch,” the Suez Canal is, at its narrowest point, just three football fields wide.

It is here that European Command gives way most conspicuously to Central Command.

CENTCOM covers a broad swath of the most volatile region of the world, spanning nearly 30 countries from the Middle East to the Horn of Africa to southern and central Asia. Among the nations within its operational purview: Afghanistan and Iraq.

Passage through the Suez marks the beginning of the MEU’s fourth tour of duty in the CENTCOM theater since 9/11.

Until it is assigned a specific mission, the MEU remains on call, providing the combatant commander, Gen. John Abizaid, a highly mobile and potent force for use in any conceivable contingency.

As the MEU waits, it trains.

“Being Marines, this is not really us, to be cooped up on the ship all day. You can’t really move around. I’ll say this – I’m just ready to go,” said Staff Sgt. Barry Charles, motor transportation chief, MEU Service Support Group 24, 24th MEU.

“I’m personally looking forward to getting ashore. I’m ready to get back into the kind of training we’re used to doing. I can’t wait to get some hands-on experience in the open air,” added Cpl. Matthew Dedual, a radio operator with Weapons Company, BLT 1st Bn., 8th Mar., 24th MEU.

No holiday breaks for Marine mechanics in Iraq

CAMP TAQADDUM, Iraq (July 4, 2006) -- It’s the Fourth of July in Iraq.

By 9 a.m. the wind has picked up and the powder-fine sand it carries causes the Marines to squint their eyes. Besides the dull rumble from diesel-engine powered generators and trucks, the day is quiet, almost empty.


July 4, 2006
By Sgt. Enrique S. Diaz,
1st Marine Logistics Group

The mechanics of Combat Logistics Regiment 15’s Maintenance Company aren’t celebrating today’s holiday with barbeques and fireworks like many of their families are at home.

The popular consensus is that it’s no different than any other day here as they repair the heavy equipment and vehicles used to transport a steady stream of supplies to fellow Marines throughout the Al Anbar Province.

Instead of dwelling on what they may be missing out on back home these Marines, part of the 1st Marine Logistics Group, stay focused on their mission.

“I try to think about work when I’m at work,” said 21-year-old Cpl. Christopher A. Huysman as he scraped a gasket from a humvee’s intake manifold.

The Sugarland, Texas, native plans on watching a movie after dinner and jokes that the closest thing to fireworks around here are flares.

Other mechanics relate their service to the original fight for America’s independence.

“It’s just a reminder of the freedoms that we have and the price that was paid for them,” said Cpl. Aracely Carter as she disassembled a hydraulic cylinder.

Back home in Los Angeles, the 25-year-old heavy equipment mechanic said she would be grocery shopping right about now for the afternoon’s festivities.

Instead of getting some guacamole, she’s fixing a forklift.

When asked if they have any special plans for tonight, brisk “nopes” and drawn-out “naahs” are common. A few Marines say “sleep.”

“A lot of them wish they could be home for the 4th of July,” said Sgt. Hasaan A. Denson, 25, from Macon, Ga., “but they understand they’re supporting other Marines and helping build up Iraqi Security Forces so we can get outta here.”

For Lance Cpl. Gafatasi Napoleon, Independence Day means spending time with his ohana, or family, back home on the small island of Pahoa, Hawaii at his grandmother’s house.

Practically every generation of his family was raised in his grandmother’s home and that is where they reunite.

This year Napoleon, 19, is celebrating the holiday by replacing a brake control valve on a giant hydraulic system used to move 40-foot containers, but he’s okay with that, he said.

“I actually have a couple of Iraqi friends I met in church,” said Napoleon. “I’m glad I’m here to help them because they can’t help themselves yet.”

Instead of steaks and roast chicken, these mechanics settled for burritos and omelets when they ate breakfast together after starting their graveyard shift last night.

“We’re doing what we can with what we have,” said Lance Cpl. Daniel M. Richitt, 20, from Fairfax, Va.

The late shift ends at noon when their replacements will pick up where they leave off and work into the night until they are relieved on July 5.

With operations continuing 24 hours a day in Iraq there’s no time for holiday breaks for Marines like the ones of Maintenance Company.

“We have to keep these trucks up. Marines are depending on us, and that’s what really matters out here,” said Denson.

Troops celebrate low-key 4th in Iraq

RAMADI, Iraq - It was a far cry from the Fourth of July parties a world away, but five U.S. Marines in one of Iraq's most dangerous cities celebrated with what they had: a hookah, relaxing exhales of strawberry-scented smoke and thoughts of home.


Associated Press Writer
July 4, 2006

Other than a bigger meal being served at a base dining hall later that day, the U.S. holiday was no different than a regular day. Trucks and Humvees rumbled through this complex of palaces, the sun bore down on jogging U.S. troops and Marines prepared for their next missions.

But on the edge of a converted building that served as Marine barracks, five Lance Corporals converged around a hookah, or a traditional Arab water pipe, for the latest of regular nighttime chatting sessions. Due to the insurgent mortar threat, the base was largely cloaked in darkness — though Marines could glimpse each other's silhouettes from coals that glowed orange as they took puffs.

"This is our way to escape from the world around us," said Matt Stephens, 20, of Birmingham, Ala. "We're sitting here by a river under moonlight. We're not in central Ramadi listening to gunfire."

The Marines from India Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Regiment rested in midnight temperatures that still hovered near 100. Curls of smoke hovered above them as they exchanged jokes, talked about the war and lauded improved living conditions on their base.

But thoughts of wives, girlfriends and families thousands of miles away were hard to suppress for the Marines, all in their early 20s.

"For me (July 4) is just another chance to miss everyone. I have a really close family and I know tomorrow everyone is going to be cooking out," said Tony Mallett, 21, of Orange, Mass.

Most Marines have missed numerous holidays and anniversaries because of a deployment schedule that had many on their third tour — first in Haiti, then two trips to Iraq — in as many years.

Stephens missed the birth of his first child during his last deployment. Last year, he spent his birthday in a lookout post outside Fallujah.

But some said they still wanted to be here, all things considered.

"I'd be out here two, three, four times, as long as people I love back home don't have to come here," Mallett said.

Others were wore down by the rotations, which had recently sent them to Iraq's dangerous Anbar province.

"I'm ecstatic," Robert Wilson, 21, of Springfield, Ohio, said dryly. "I've never spent a July Fourth home since I joined the Marine Corps."

Some Marines chuckled about their last Fourth of July — also spent in Iraq on their prior deployment — when Sri Lankan dining hall workers dressed up in Uncle Sam costumes. In the distance, explosions sporadically echoed in the distance and helicopters raced across the midnight sky.

But the Marines still had their hookah, which had become a center point for socializing after they ran out of DVDs to watch. They bought the pipe for about $45 from an Iraqi shop on their base, which also supplied them with flavored tobacco.

"We get to know people better. We get to be tighter. It's a communal thing," Mallett said after taking a puff from the gurgling pipe.

The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, meanwhile, held its annual Independence Day celebration in the ornate marble ballroom of Saddam Hussein's former Republican Palace, with red, white and blue balloons hanging from a chandelier.

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad promised continued U.S. support for Iraqis struggling with a rampant insurgency and ethnic and sectarian violence.

"Iraq's democratic experiment will also not be easy," he told Iraqi dignitaries and Americans in Baghdad. "However, building democracy in Iraq will be assisted by the fact that Iraq has many friends in the community of democratic nations."

"On this special day, I pledge to work with Iraqis for Iraq's success and for Iraq to stand on its own feet as soon as possible," he said.

In Ramadi, Fetid Quarters and Unrelenting Battles

RAMADI, Iraq, July 4 — The Government Center in the middle of this devastated town resembles a fortress on the wild edge of some frontier: it is sandbagged, barricaded, full of men ready to shoot, surrounded by rubble and enemies eager to get inside.


Published: July 5, 2006

The American marines here live eight to a room, rarely shower for lack of running water and defecate in bags that are taken outside and burned.

The threat of snipers is ever present; the marines start running the moment they step outside. Daytime temperatures hover around 120 degrees; most foot patrols have been canceled because of the risk of heatstroke.

The food is tasteless, the windows boarded up. The place reeks of urine and too many bodies pressed too close together for too long.

"Hey, can you get somebody to clean the toilet on the second floor?" one marine yelled to another from his office. "I can smell it down here."

And the casualties are heavy. Asked about the wounded under his command, Capt. Andrew Del Gaudio, 30, of the Bronx, rattled off a few.

"Let's see, Lance Corporal Tussey, shot in the thigh.

"Lance Corporal Zimmerman, shot in the leg.

"Lance Corporal Sardinas, shrapnel, hit in the face.

"Lance Corporal Wilson, shrapnel in the throat."

"That's all I can think of right now," the captain said.

So it goes in Ramadi, the epicenter of the Iraqi insurgency and the focus of a grinding struggle between the American forces and the guerrillas.

In three years here the Marine Corps and the Army have tried nearly everything to bring this provincial capital of 400,000 under control. Nothing has worked.

Now American commanders are trying something new.

Instead of continuing to fight for the downtown, or rebuild it, they are going to get rid of it, or at least a very large part of it.

They say they are planning to bulldoze about three blocks in the middle of the city, part of which has been reduced to ruins by the fighting, and convert them into a Green Zone, a version of the fortified and largely stable area that houses the Iraqi and American leadership in Baghdad.

The idea is to break the bloody stalemate in the city by ending the struggle over the battle-scarred provincial headquarters that the insurgents assault nearly every day. The Government Center will remain, but the empty space around it will deny the guerrillas cover to attack. "We'll turn it into a park," said Col. Sean MacFarland.

Ramadi, a largely Sunni Arab city, is regarded by American commanders as the key to securing Anbar Province, now the single deadliest place for American soldiers in Iraq. Many neighborhoods here are only nominally controlled by the Americans, offering sanctuaries for guerrillas.

While the focus in Baghdad and other large Iraqi cities may be reconciliation or the political process, here it is still war. Sometimes the Government Center is assaulted by as many as 100 insurgents at a time.

Last week a midnight gun battle between a group of insurgents and American marines lasted two hours and ended only when the Americans dropped a laser-guided bomb on an already half-destroyed building downtown. Six marines were wounded; it was unclear what happened to the insurgents.

"We go out and kill these people," said Captain Del Gaudio, the commander here. "I define success as continuing to kill the enemy to allow the government to work and for the Iraqi Army to take over."

Government Mostly in Name

That day seems a long way off. The Iraqi government exists here in little more than name. Last week about $7 million disappeared from the Rafidain Bank — most of the bank's deposits — right under the nose of an American observation post next door. An Iraqi police officer was shot in the face and dumped in the road, his American ID card stuck between his fingers.

The governor of the province, Mamoun Sami Rashid al-Alwani, still goes to work here under an American military escort. But many of the province's senior officials deserted him after the kidnapping and beheading of his secretary in May.

The previous governor was assassinated, as was the chairman of the provincial council, Khidir Abdel Jabar Abbas, in April. At a meeting of the provincial cabinet last week, only six of 36 senior officials showed up.

"The terrorists want to keep Anbar people out of the government," said Taha Hameed Mokhlef, the director general for highways, who went into hiding last month when his face appeared on an American-backed television station here showing him in his job. He has since re-emerged. "My friends told me that the terrorists were planning to kill me, so I went to Jordan for a while," he said.

The Iraqi police patrol the streets in only a handful of neighborhoods, the ones closest to the American base. In the slow-motion offensive that has been unfolding, in which the Americans have been gradually clearing individual neighborhoods, nearly all of the fighting has been done by American marines and soldiers, not the Iraqi Army.

Be Polite, and Ready to Kill

One of the "habits of mind" drilled into the marines from posters hung up inside: "Be polite, be professional and have a plan to kill everyone you meet."

The humor runs dark, too. On a sheet of paper hung up in the Government Center, marines wrote down suggestions for their company's T-shirt once they go home. Most are unprintable, but here is one that got a lot of laughs: "Kilo Company: Killed more people than cancer."

The marines at the Government Center have held on, but the fighting has transformed the area into an ocean of ruin. The sentries posted on the rooftops have blasted the larger buildings nearby so many times that they have given them nicknames: Battleship Gray, Swiss Cheese. The buildings are among those that will be bulldozed under the Green Zone plan.

"Aesthetically it will be an improvement," Lt. Col. Stephen Neary said.

Holding the place has cost blood. A roadside bomb killed three marines and a sailor on patrol here in March. Another marine was shot through the forehead by a sniper, just beneath the line of his helmet.

The number of Iraqi casualties — insurgents or civilians — is unknown and impossible to determine in the chaotic conditions.

As in the rest of Iraq, the insurgents' most lethal weapon is the homemade bomb. The bombs virtually cover Ramadi: an American military map on display here showed about 50 places where roadside bombs had recently been discovered. Two weeks ago a marine sniper was killed by a homemade bomb when he ran from a house where he had been spotted.

Bombs Nearly Everywhere

Sometimes it feels as if the bombs are everywhere. On a single hourlong patrol one night last week, a group of marines spotted two likely bombs planted in an area that is regularly inspected, meaning that they had been laid within the previous few days.

One was hidden under a pile of trash. Another was thought to be under a pair of gasoline cans that had been set in the middle of the road. The marines spied them with their night vision glasses; without them, it is likely that the Humvees would have run over them.

Indeed, the marines often manage to spot bombs — covered in trash, made of metal and wires — in streets that are themselves covered in trash, metal and wires.

"Right there, look at that," Gunnery Sgt. John Scroggins said from the passenger seat of his Humvee, pointing to the street.

And there it was: a thin metal tube, with a long green wire protruding and sticking into the pavement, almost certainly a bomb. The pipes typically contain what is called a pressure trigger, which closes an electrical circuit — and detonates a bomb — when crushed by a vehicle. The Humvee was about two feet away when the marines spotted it.

Some of the marines have been hit by so many bombs that they almost shrug when they go off. On Sunday a Humvee carrying four marines on a patrol dropped off a reporter and photographer for The New York Times at the Government Center. The Humvee rumbled 100 yards down the road and struck a bomb. No one was killed, and the marines returned to base as if they had encountered nothing more serious than a fender bender.

"It's my fifth," said Cpl. Jonathan Nelson, 21, of Brooklyn. "It's the best feeling in the world to get hit by one and live — like bungee jumping."

In the end, whether the Americans can succeed in bringing security to Ramadi will depend on how much support they can draw from the Iraqis.

Many Iraqi civilians have spent the last three years caught between the two warring camps, too afraid to throw their lot with one group or the other. It is, by nearly all accounts, a miserable situation, with individual Iraqis often simultaneously under threat by insurgents and under suspicion by the Americans.

Many complain of bad treatment and unjustified killings by both sides. That civilians have been killed here is beyond dispute, but the circumstances are nearly impossible to verify.

Qais Mohammed, 46, owned a dress shop across the street from the Government Center but moved away when the Americans set up and the fighting began. Then a mortar shell hit his home and he moved with his wife and 10 children to a refugee camp outside the city.

Fed up with conditions at the camp, Mr. Mohammed and his family moved back to the city not long ago, into a seedy little place much reduced from the comfort he once knew.

"We do not want gold, or dresses or the food of kings," Mr. Mohammed said. "We want to live without fear for our lives and our kids. These days neither your tribe nor the police can protect you. It is the jungle law."

The marines say their highest priority is winning over people like Mr. Mohammed, even at the cost of letting insurgents escape. Indeed, the marines seem far less aggressive than they were during their earlier tours here, when the priority was killing insurgents. Now they seem much more interested in capturing the loyalty of the residents.

Civilians in the Middle

Iraqi civilians, by and large, did not seem to fear the American marines as they passed on patrol. When the Americans rumbled past, the Iraqis often continued whatever they were doing: talking, sitting, standing, eating. The children held up their hands for soccer balls, and occasionally a marine would toss one to a child.

"Football! Football!" the children cried.

"The people are in the middle, between us and the insurgents," Lance Cpl. Sean Patton said as he wheeled his Humvee through a neighborhood downtown. (He says he is a great-great-grandnephew of Gen. George S. Patton.) "Whoever is friendly, they will help."

A few moments later, Corporal Patton and his men were reminded of just how bewildering this city could be. As he turned slowly down a street, all the Iraqis milling about, maybe 30 people in all, suddenly disappeared.

"They're going to hit us," the corporal said, convinced that the crowd had been tipped off to the presence of a bomb or an impending attack.

When the Americans left the street, the Iraqis returned.

Corporal Patton turned onto the street again, and the people vanished a second time.

"We're going to get hit," he said, bracing himself.

The attack never came.

Friend or foe? Michigan Marines learn to tell difference

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. (AP) -- The Marine levels his M-249 Squad Automated Weapon at the man running across the rooftop. "There's an insurgent!" he screams.


July 4, 2006

"Hold off," shouts another Marine. "He's got no weapon."

Moments later, another person emerges from the building across the street. He is carrying a gun. This time, the Marines shoot him.

The bullets are blank and the downed target is a Marine dressed unconvincingly as an Iraqi insurgent. But for members of the Michigan-based 1st Battalion of the 24th Marine Regiment, this is as real as it gets until they deploy to Iraq later this summer.

Welcome to 25 Area Combat Town, Camp Pendleton's specially constructed Iraqi village, designed to teach Marines how to fight a war where friend and foe are hard to distinguish.

"By inoculating them against the stress of combat through various exercises here, we hope to reap the benefits over there," said Capt. Michael Mayne of the 1st Battalion's Charlie Company, comprised of 170 Marine reservists. It is headquartered at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, near Mount Clemens, Mich.

The conduct of U.S. troops in Iraq is under greater scrutiny amid a recent series of allegations of possible criminal acts. Officials say the incidents are anomalies, while some military experts say it could be evidence some troops are reaching their breaking points. Still others say the incidents have been blown out of proportion and the government is unfairly targeting troops to placate war critics.

Locked in Camp Pendleton's brig are seven Marines and a Navy medic charged with the kidnapping and premeditated murder of a 52-year-old Iraqi man. Military prosecutors say that without provocation the troops took the man from his home, bound him, placed him in a hole and shot him. The troops say he was an insurgent digging a hole for a roadside bomb.

The government also is investigating allegations that Marines killed two dozen Iraqi civilians in the town of Haditha, and that Army soldiers killed civilians in the town of Mahmoudiyah and in Salahuddin province.

The Marines' training reflects how the war has changed since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003.

"There is more focus on trying to figure out who's the bad guy, who's the good guy," said Lt. Chad Vickers, a Camp Pendleton spokesman. "When we kicked off, we knew who the enemy was. Now the enemy is more hidden and it is hard to figure out who the enemy is and isn't. You've got to train people to notice those kinds of things."

Troops often have only a split second to determine what to do.

"And that decision could be life or death not only for yourself, but innocent civilians or the Marines around you," Vickers said.

Combat Town is a ramshackle collection of nine cinderblock buildings scattered along a dusty road. The purpose of last week's exercise was to capture a known terrorist, who was hiding out in a structure occupied by civilians and insurgents.

To simulate the stresses of insurgent war, Marines carried full battle kits in the arid, 85-degree Southern Californian heat. With water, a rifle, ammunition, body armor and survival equipment, the kit can weigh close to 150 pounds.

A Cobra attack helicopter and a Huey transport chopper circled overhead to create the soundtrack of combat -- a constant din augmented by sporadic roadside bomb explosions, which in this case were powerful firecrackers.

"It's lacking a lot of things, but the whole big-picture concept is there," said Gunnery Sgt. Kevin Shelton, one of the instructors.

Prior to the Combat Town raid, Charlie Company was shown how to enter a room housing a suspected insurgent. One troop smashed the door with a steel battering ram, then three other Marines rushed in, each with a gun trained in a specific direction.

"It's a three-block war. In one block, everything could be good, you could be setting up a hospital clinic. In the next block you could be quelling a riot, and the next block over could be an all-out firefight," Vickers said. "It's one of those things that could change literally from house to house."

Members of Charlie Company were not allowed to comment if or when it is acceptable to use a grenade to clear a room, something Marines through their lawyers have said they did during the Haditha incident. But during the training raid, Marines hurled some sort of explosive device into the room containing the insurgent. He was taken alive, but two other men in the room were "killed."

Cpl. Felipe Bayonasantos, a native of Colombia who now lives in St. Louis, said it is acceptable to use maximum force when entering a house if gunshots come from the structure.

"If they are firing, we go in with guns blazing," Bayonasantos said. "The rules of engagement would consider them an open target."

Sgt. Chuck McCall of Dearborn, Mich., already completed an eight-month combat tour in Iraq. He said the exercise was a useful tool in helping Marines decide who the enemy is.

"It's important for Marines to differentiate between high-value targets and other individuals, so this is real good training," McCall said.


July 3, 2006

Store's grand opening provides goods, boosts morale for service members in Iraq

CAMP TAQADDUM, Iraq (July 3, 2006) -- People go to convenience stores to buy pampers and baby formula or stock up on chips and dip for the next day's big game. But in Iraq, military stores known as post exchanges, play a far more important role.


July 3, 2006; Submitted on: 07/03/2006 06:37:29 AM ; Story ID#: 20067363729
By Sgt. Enrique S. Diaz, 1st Marine Logistics Group

At this sprawling logistics base centered between the restive cities of Ramadi and Fallujah, service members now have a brand new post exchange - PX for short - where they can stock up on goods ranging from basic hygiene items to 'high-tech' equipment like laptop computers and DVD players.

Built in a former mess hall, the new store resembles the layout of any other department store in the U.S. - an aisle for clothing, another for food. Magazines and books are racked along a wall and electronics locked in glass cases.

With the grand opening and ribbon-cutting on July 1, service members here have a new getaway from the dangers, rigors and monotony they face while deployed.

For infantry Marines stationed at nearby Camp Habbaniyah - where there is no PX - this enormous white tent with air conditioning set at full blast is a welcomed addition, allowing them to stock up on goodies many at home might take for granted.

"A Snickers bar will take you a long way after a six-hour patrol in 130 degree weather," said Sgt. Adam L. Marshall, squad leader with 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment's Company K.

Infantrymen regularly go 'outside the wire' for up to two weeks on operations without the comforts of garrison life while eating prepackaged food known as meals, ready-to-eat, said Marshall.

"A PX like this, when you're coming out of the field, is like Disneyland," said the 23-year-old Moore, Okla., native.

Chief Warrant Officer 2 Feleasa E. Dunmeyer, the senior officer in charge of PX's throughout the Al Anbar province, including this newly opened one, was excited to finally get the new store open after months of preparation.

The planning for the project started in February, construction began in June, and it wasn't until two weeks prior to opening day that the exchange employees were given the green light to start stocking shelves with more than $100,000 in merchandise and move 50, 40-foot steel storage containers with more stock to sell in the new store.

The store was moved from a wooden building to this much larger, cooler structure to provide customers with a more open area to shop that allows a wider selection of goods to improve morale, said Dunmeyer. Frozen foods such as steaks, hamburgers and hotdogs will soon be stocked for units to buy for barbecues.

"This is like a mini Wal-Mart," said a Marine as he took his first steps inside and saw the long lines starting at the front of the store and continuing back nearly half the length of a football field.

All of the employees put in long hours to make the grand opening a reality, said Staff Sgt. Regina D. Pittam, assistant manager here.

"They came in on their off days and never complained," said Pittam, from Selma, Ala.

The hard work paid off when the ribbon was cut and the doors opened for Marines fresh from the field in their still-dirty uniforms.

"It's always good for (service members) to get things that remind them of home," said Dunmeyer, who was busy in all of the departments all day making sure the grand opening went smoothly.

Another benefit of a PX is that it gives service members one more place to go on their off time, which is important on an isolated forward operating base, said Dunmeyer, 41, from Hollywood, S.C.

"It's kind of like the highlight to their day outside of work," said Dunmeyer, who occasionally sees the same people frequent the store just to look around.

The PX plays such an important role in the Marines' quality of life that in the two days it was closed for moving, Dunmeyer received an unprecedented number of complaints from people aboard the base.

When it reopened, approximately 1,800 customers came and bought more than $125,000 worth of goods compared to the usual daily average of $42,380.

"Usually, we buy a lot of stuff when we come here," said Cpl. Justin A. Brecht, a 22-year-old fire team leader from Molalla, Ore.

Post exchanges like the one at Camp Taqaddum are part of the Army and Air Force Exchange Service system and can be found at thousands of locations throughout the world.

Such stores can range in size from tents and shacks with scarcely stocked shelves to brand new stores, like Camp Taqaddum's, with anything a service member can want, and then some, in a combat zone.

With the plans to increase the variety of merchandise they will stock for the Marines, soldiers, sailors and airmen deployed to this part of Iraq, life should continue to get better for service members far from home.

How to expose a phony

Gunnery Sgt. Alex Kitsakos, who spotted a phony Marine and forced him to surrender his uniform in May, showed a lot of gumption, said FBI Special Agent Tom Cottone. Still, Cottone recommends a less in-your-face approach for leathernecks and others who think they’ve found a fraud.


“If they’re being an impostor, they’re doing it for dishonorable reasons,” Cottone said. “So you never know what they’ll do when confronted.”

Cottone suggested that anyone who comes in contact with a potential poser should take the following steps:

1. Trust your gut. If you think someone is an impostor, chances are you’re right. Cottone said nearly all the tips he gets about fakers come from private citizens. Of those, “well over 90 percent” of the suspicions turn out to be warranted, “especially when it comes to valor awards,” Cottone said.

2. Initiate a conversation. Be curious. Ask questions about the person, his service and his awards without being confrontational. Mentally take notes of dates and units. Whereas legitimate recipients of valor awards rarely speak about their awards, fakers rarely miss an opportunity to brag about their supposed heroics, Cottone said. The intent is to collect as much information as possible that will help law enforcement officials identify the impostor later.

3. Get a picture. It’s not a crime to lie about military service, at least not yet. Posers aren’t breaking any laws until they wear the rank, awards or uniforms they don’t rate. To successfully prosecute fakers, photographic evidence is key, Cottone said. Most fakers won’t mind a request for a picture or an unexpected camera flash because they’re in it for the attention anyway, Cottone said. If possible, snap a shot of their license plate, too. This should all but gift wrap the conviction. The feds will know exactly what door to knock on when they see your pictures.

4. Contact the authorities. Wearing medals fraudulently and impersonating a service member are federal crimes. Don’t bother with the local cops. Get all your information together and contact the local FBI office, Cottone said.

— John Hoellwarth

JANE ANN MORRISON: Nun, Marine, mom, model, traveler: Woman personifies American spunk

A nun who became a U.S. Marine during World War II, then a wife, mother, teacher, model and world traveler whose last big trip was to Antarctica when she was 87, Laurene Quateman embodies the spunky American spirit we're celebrating Tuesday.


Jul. 03, 2006

She's someone who believes in service to others, who isn't afraid to travel the world alone and be a proud American. Laurene Quateman is, quite simply, awesome.

At 88, she still works part time for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, checking in conventioneers at Strip hotels and the convention center.

The petite, white-haired woman with the trim figure doesn't look intimidating at first, but after you realize all the things she's done in her lifetime, after you recognize her fearless spirit, Laurie makes you wonder whether you ought to be doing more with your own life.

Even if you love to travel, can you imagine yourself in your late 80s, jumping in a rubber boat to land on Antarctica? And she's not afraid to travel alone because, with her friendly ways, there's usually someone with a helping hand for the rough patches.

I met Laurie last Easter. She was a friend of a friend and we trekked to Death Valley to celebrate our mutual friend's Big Birthday. Laurie had a new, complex digital camera, showing that she wasn't afraid of today's technology. She didn't hesitate to hike a steep hill and, at the end of the day, she was game for a great dinner and a martini. Or two.

In bits and pieces, her life story unfolded. She was born in 1917 in Wisconsin (yes, her dad had a cheese factory), and at age 20 she joined School Sisters of St. Francis at St. Joseph's Convent in Milwaukee. She was teaching third-graders when she began to question her calling.

"The children were so precious, I went to confession and told the priest I thought I really wanted my own children," she said. But she left the choice to him. His answer: "You'd make a better mother than a nun."

So after 4 1/2 years as a nun, she left and started working as a secretary. In 1944, she joined the war effort and enlisted as a Marine. Pvt. Laurene Felchlin eventually became a first lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps Women's Reserves. She resigned her commission in 1949.

She married a fellow Marine, had two children and was asked to teach at a Catholic school in a Polish neighborhood in Chicago in 1955.

"I had 56 sixth-graders in one class, and I taught them everything," she said. Her method: Lavish praise for the things they did right.

But after five years of teaching and raising her own children while struggling with an unhappy marriage, teaching got to be too much, so she returned to secretarial work.

Laurie's seven-year modeling career began in 1962. She was 45 and accompanied her daughter on an interview with the Shirley Hamilton Agency. Yes, her daughter Nancy was accepted, but Laurie was recruited for modeling as well. She also started working for airline companies in jobs that allowed her to travel for free.

The unhappy marriage ended after 26 years, and in 1972, she was transferred to Las Vegas. She married a former boss from Chicago, Joseph Quateman, and they began traveling the world together, enjoying the 4 1/2 years they had before his death from cancer.

Her Paradise Valley home is packed with mementos of her travels, and there's a closet bulging with thousands of slides, including the time she visited Bali and was told the best way to see the island was on the back of a motorcycle with a guide. Laurie, in her 70s then, didn't hesitate to sling her leg over the bike and take off for the day.

"When I first began traveling, we were known at that time as the Ugly Americans. I did everything I could to show that wasn't true," she said, because she felt it was her duty to show the best side of being an American, the side that's fearless, spunky and, yes, kind.

"I guess I was a Marine even when I wasn't a Marine," she said with her ever-present smile.

"I'm so proud of being an American," she said.

And how it shows.

Jane Ann Morrison's column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. E-mail her at [email protected] or call 383-0275.

July 2, 2006

East Texas Marine Critically Injured in Iraq

The news came hard when the people of Marshall found out one of their own, Tony Scott Flynn, had been seriously injured in Iraq.


"Extremely critical. He's on a respirator," says Carlton Ray Burris, who pastors Flynn at the Immanuel Baptist Church. He's known Flynn for much of his life--guiding Flynn while he attended Marshall High School . Flynn graduated from there in 2002.

"J ust the kind of guy that the marine corps likes. A good soldier," says Burris. As Burris understands it, schrapnel from a mortar explosion injured fFynn on Thursday of last week. Burris says Flynn and his fellow marines were in the middle of positive rebuilding mission in Iraq.

"Th is happened while they were trying to help the Iraqis build a building," says Burris. While Flynn undergoes treatment in Washington DC--- Burris is trying to focus on where he sees god---even in the midst of such pain.

"I t is an absolute miracle that Scott's alive. The witnesses to that attack--if it strikes within 35 meters of you it kills you and they said it landed ten meters from Scott," says Burris. And when Scott comes home---

"O h its going to be a halleluiah day around here. It's going to be a shouting time around here. I guarantee it," says Burris.

Ark-La-Tex Wounded Marine Speaks Out About Iraq War

Just two months ago...reading a book was out of reach for Sergeant Scott Flynn.


July 2, 2006 08:09 PM PDT

"I lost my right kidney, my spleen, half my liver," says Flynn. This marine was in a hospital--recovering form a mortar attack in Iraq. Blistered scars are just a few of the visible injuries that decorate this 21 year old's body. In four years in the marine corps, he's done three Iraqi tours. He's just as committed today as he was the day he joined.
"We have a job to do over there and it--the job--needs to get done. It just wouldn't be worth it to pull out now," says Flynn. Flynn says the Iraq war is too complex for any one solution.
"Most Americans don't see what's going on or have the whole picture," says Flynn. For now---Flynn's major worries are not on himself--but on his friends still in the field. It's tough, he says, to be here--while they are still over there.
"You know, no matter what you think, everyone should always support the troops. You know we'ree doing our job over there. We are just like everybody else," says Flynn.

Marines battle the elements while facing insurgents and improvised explosive devices

ZELLA, Iraq (July 2, 2006) -- When the Marines of the small outpost near this Euphrates River village of Iraq’s western Al Anbar Province aren’t responding to the latest shower of mortar fire, they’re doing one of two things – working out or sleeping.


July 2, 2006
By Cpl. Antonio Rosas,
Regimental Combat Team7

When he’s not conducting mounted security patrols aboard his Humvee and interacting with local Iraqis, Lance Cpl. William D. Hyden, says the best retreat from the 100 degree-plus heat is in his “hooch,” – Marine-speak for “living space” – where his platoon has recently acquired a much needed commodity – air conditioning.

But the heat is not the biggest threat for Hyden, a rifleman with Company A, 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment – it’s the improvised explosive devices lining Iraq’s roadways he’s worried about.

The 21-year-old from Little Rock, Ark., has much reason to feel threatened by the deadly roadside bombs; he’s already survived two IED blasts in the past several weeks.

Hyden is assigned to a Mobile Assault Platoon, which is a team of Marines who patrol Iraq’s roads and cities while mounted in humvees. They cover large areas where the ground forces on foot can’t get to.

Hyden says life at his battle position, small outposts where Marines live and work alongside Iraqi Army soldiers, is alright “as long as you’ve got air-conditioning.”

“The heat is not so bad if you’re inside the truck and the truck actually has air-conditioning,” said Hyden. “But if you’re in the turret in the direct sunlight, you’re hurting.”

Marines who man the machine guns on the humvee’s roof wear additional body armor over their shoulders and arms, adding protection from shrapnel as well as added discomfort, according to several Marines.

“When you’re up there in the turret it’s so hot you’ll go through three to four water bottles in two hours,” said Hyden. “I’ve got salt stains on my uniform like you wouldn’t believe.”

But the heat is minimal compared to the threat of roadside bombs the Marines are always on the lookout for.

Greeted by locals everywhere they go near this region in western Al Anbar Province, the Marines are usually swarmed by children, who ask the uniformed men for candy, toys and soccer balls. The Marines don’t mind the warm greetings though, said Hyden. Still, he says the friendly atmosphere the locals provide simply masks the fact that this is still a dangerous area.

Just several weeks ago, Hyden’s team killed an insurgent who was planting IEDs on one of the main roadways in broad daylight

The team rolled up on three insurgents, two of whom immediately began running at full speed out into the open desert.

“Nobody is just running out in the desert for no reason,” said Hyden.

After the team found the digging site and the IED making materials the terrorists left behind, they pursued the insurgents on foot and detained them.

A third man opened fire on the Marines with an automatic rifle from inside a vehicle, sending bullets everywhere.

Fortunately, no one was hurt.

“It was like the scene from the movie ‘Pulp Fiction’ where the two guys get sprayed with a dozen rounds and miraculously don’t get hit,” said Hyden.

The Marines killed the insurgent after he opened fire on them.

But firefights like this are not a common occurrence, according to the Marines here.

IEDs remain the Marines main concern here, as the mobile platoons in the area discover anywhere from four to five a week. The humvee Hyden drives recently survived two separate IED blasts just days apart from each other.

“The explosion was the loudest thing I have ever heard,” said Hyden.

The detonation occurred a mere five feet from the driver side door of the Humvee, he said.

Hyden recalled the blast with sketchy details.

“I remember seeing a flash of light and was immediately knocked out,” said Hyden. “It was a pretty humbling experience. I felt good to be alive.”

Upon returning to the operating base, Hyden received a medical checkup by the platoon corpsman and was in good health.

Since then the mobile team has been finding IEDs on a regular basis. In one day they found three IEDs in a matter of hours – explosives which could have hurt or killed U.S. or Iraqi military forces, as well as any civilians unfortunate enough to detonate the bombs.

Despite the threat, Hyden feels safe around what he calls “the best non-commissioned-officers in the company.”

He’s looking forward to his sister’s home-cooked meals upon the battalion’s return to the U.S. in September.

“I miss my two dogs, Tahoe and Mason,” said Hyden, who carries a collection of photos of his family members in the visor of his Humvee.

One of Hyden’s fellow platoon members, Cpl. Ian R. Whipple, the vehicle commander, is the Marine who sits in the passenger side of Hyden’s humvee during their daily security patrols.

Whipple recalled the second time their vehicle was hit by an IED.

“The cab of the Humvee was filled with so much dust you could barely see,” said the 25-year-old. “It was like being in a dust cloud.”

It is Whipple’s responsibility to pass information over the radio to headquarters of the platoon’s whereabouts at all times.

Whipple, who will be a father next month, said nothing has changed despite his brush with death.

“I may not like sitting in the truck in the 100-degree weather, but I have a job to do and it’s got to be done,” said the Snohomish, Wash., native.

Upon returning home, Whipple plans on spending time with his family and his Labrador-mix, “Addie.”

“There are good days and there are bad days out here,” said Whipple. “Sometimes we’ll be in the truck sitting in a field somewhere and it will remind me of eastern Washington, where I’m from.”

When the mobility assault platoon is not “outside the wire,” Whipple often sits on the hood of his Humvee and writes letters home.

The Marines said despite the IED blasts, they are seeing the results of the work they are doing in Iraq – locals are more friendly, and beginning to show signs that they trust the Marines and Iraqi soldiers partnered with the U.S. battalion.

“I’m proud to be here,” said Whipple. “I know I’m making a difference.”

Email Cpl. Rosas at [email protected]

America Supports You: Silent Thunder Memorial Honors Fallen

MANASSAS, Va., July 2, 2006 – Under the cover of darkness, more than 100 people lit candles June 28 during a vigil at the Silent Thunder Memorial for Freedom here, which is being built to honor the fallen from Iraq and Afghanistan.


By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

The 45,000-pound, 25-foot-long slash of shiny, black granite sits outside Eastern Memorials, which is owned by Kevin Roustazad and Andy Del Gallo.

"This began with an idea by Kevin Roustazad, who was born in Iran and moved into the United States when he was 15 -years old," said the candlelight vigil's master of ceremonies, Troy D. Tanner. "This memorial is his way of giving something back to the United States, a country which has given him so much love in his life. This memorial will be a place of reflection for the families of the heroes that have given their lives."

He said the memorial's board of directors plans to have the memorial placed in a prominent area in Prince William County, Va., between Quantico and Fort Belvoir. "We're also planning a mobile memorial, which will travel around the country."

With room to etch up to 5,600 faces into the granite wall, Tanner said the face of each serviceman and woman killed in the global war on terrorism will be depicted with biographical information written below the face.

"There will be faces to look at, not just names," he emphasized.

Tanner said Roustazad wants the memorial to become a place for the families of the fallen to reflect on the loss of their loved ones.

"We don't want to wait 20, 30 or 40 years to do it," said Dr. Jim Thurman, the memorial's chairman of the board and chief executive officer. "We want this to be a living memorial. It took a long time to build the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and we don't want to wait that long."

Reminding the audience that "freedom is not free," Rev. C. Wesley Conner, the event's keynote speaker, said Americans should try to remember the men and women who have given their all, because America called them to fight in this global war on terrorism.

"America's finest are fighting to maintain the security and the freedom that we so richly enjoy, and, unfortunately, many times take for granted," he said. "Moreover, the global war on terrorism is a much different kind of war than what the United States has ever fought. It also has produced its share of casualties."

He said the granite stone is going to be a worthy reminder for generations to come of those who have given their all in the global war on terrorism.

"The suffering has been theirs, the memories shall be ours," the retired Army chaplain said. "As long as American stands, we will never forget the sacrifices of those who have gone before us and those who have given their all."

Noting that "we have memorials to recall those who have given all," Conner said Americans also can and must be willing to do something for the men and women "still serving on the frontiers of freedom."

"As a nation, we must pray for those whose lives are in danger," he said.

The pastor recalled the gratitude he felt from the letters he received from people telling him they were praying for his welfare and his safety while he was serving.

"We must pray for the troops and their friends and families left behind," Conner said. "Separation from loved ones is the No. 1 heartache in every soldier's life - friends, finances, spouses, children, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers."

Conner told of a deployed soldier's telephone conversation with his 5-year-old daughter. He said the girl asked her father, "When are you coming home Daddy?"

"He replied, 'It will be about six or seven more months, honey,'" Conner told the gathering at the candlelight vigil. "She said, 'Daddy, is that tomorrow?' His heart sank and he had to say, 'No, honey, that's not tomorrow,'" Conner said.

On western edge of Iraq's most violent city, a new approach and cautious words of hope

RAMADI, Iraq – U.S. troops are switching tactics in the fight against insurgents in parts of this rebellious city, replacing confrontation with courtesy in hopes of winning public trust and undercutting support for the militants.
It's too early to assess the change, which is largely confined to the more affluent western areas of Ramadi, a city of 400,000 people that is considered the most violent in Iraq's restive Anbar province.


By Antonio Castaneda
10:30 a.m. July 2, 2006

Still, U.S. officers believe the new approach is paying off. Attacks are down enough in western Ramadi to allow Iraqi soldiers to patrol larger areas without Americans at their side.
“We've had some success in making inroads to the population there,” said Army Col. Sean MacFarland, commander of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, which oversees all U.S. military forces in the city. “We're beginning to see a turn there for the better.”

Marines based in western Ramadi now regularly knock on people's front doors instead of storming through. Instead of roaming the streets in armored Humvees, Marines took a census of the area – sitting down and listening to people's concerns and complaints.

“You'd be surprised at how many people in Ramadi are shocked when we knock and ask to come in. And in Arab culture, it makes all the difference,” said 2nd Lt. Ryan Hub of Sumter, S.C., who as a teenager lived in Kuwait for two years while his Air Force officer father was stationed there.

To reinforce their goodwill gestures, Marines are trying to repair Ramadi's water works to demonstrate that Americans can improve conditions. Reconstruction projects in the city have long been stalled because of persistent sabotage by insurgents.

The changed approach also applies to the Iraqi army. Marines recently held public meetings where residents could scold Iraqi soldiers for allegedly mistreating residents and stealing from their homes.

“It was time for a different fight in Ramadi,” said Capt. Max Barela, 36, commander of Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment. “I've been told that we're conducting ourselves more as police than Marines.”

Less U.S. firepower is being used. Commanders say they are content to let gunmen escape if retaliatory fire could injure civilians or cause serious property damage.

No airstrikes have been called in by Barela's unit, which arrived here in March. During the winter, Marines ordered more than a dozen aerial bombings in western Ramadi.

In more dangerous areas of the city, Marines still use aggressive tactics – such as blowing in doors with shotguns when residents don't immediately answer the door – to evade possible gunmen. But they want to get away from that.

“You've got an enemy that understands the effects of our mistakes,” Hub said, referring to damage caused by U.S. forces that insurgents trumpet in propaganda. “I think part of the battle of Ramadi is the (information campaign) that insurgents are winning.”

Earlier this year, Marines believed the city was not ready for softer methods. Tactics such as random vehicle searches took a sharp edge: Marines would toss stun grenades at randomly selected vehicles, then rush the drivers with guns pointed.

“If you're treating everyone like terrorists, kicking down doors and tearing through their homes, that's what you'll get – terrorists,” said Cpl. Daniel Tarantino, 21, of Gainesville, Ga.

There is little sign of change in central Ramadi, where street battles are common, or in southern neighborhoods where few American patrols have ventured in months. And violence still flares in western Ramadi, although at lower levels.

But Marines believe the new approach is working in the west, where wealthier and better educated Iraqis live. The provincial governor, along with hundreds of fellow tribesmen from the Alwani clan, live in the area. Two sprawling U.S. bases are nearby.

Basic military tactics have also helped reduce violence in that area. Marines installed concrete roadblocks on getaway routes once used by insurgents. Marines also walk some 15-20 miles a week through the area's streets, citing the refrain, “Patrol it or you don't control it.”

Even here, though, the tension of war still grates on Marines. One Marine, sweating during an overnight patrol that snaked deep into the city, cursed at a boy in a driveway to keep his lights off. Another Marine struggled to contain his temper with an Iraqi man who didn't understand English.

“It's difficult for a lot of Marines to accept. It's not the Marine ethos,” Hub said of the new tactics. “The history of the Marine Corps is that they're known for overwhelming firepower.”

Commanders point to the long stretch of devastated buildings that make up downtown Ramadi to skeptics who argue that the city's people first need to fear the U.S. military before order can be restored.

“It requires 10 times more discipline to win a counterinsurgency than to win a total war. Any Marine can go out in the city and kill people, but this requires discipline, and to think more,” said 2nd Lt. John Warren, 27, of Greenville, S.C.

Barela, the company commander, concedes the approach carries added risks, but says his Marines try to vigorously follow tactics that make them “hard to kill.” Several Marines in the company have been wounded but none have been killed.

“We've risked a lot to put ourselves in contact with the Iraqi people,” Barela said.

Free Wrestling Tickets

Service members in uniform can now watch their favorite World Wrestling Entertainment superstars in action free of charge.

World Wrestling Entertainment is offering all U.S. military personnel from the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Reserves and National Guard a complimentary ticket to a live WWE event in their local area, provided they come dressed in uniform with a military ID.


from American Forces Press Service

Jul 2 2006

By Monique Reuben

Tickets are available the day of the event. Military personnel can log onto the World Wrestling Entertainment Web site to view a schedule of live events in their area.

"This is a program that is now in place that will continue indefinitely," Gary Davis, vice president of corporate communications for World Wrestling Entertainment, said.

Davis said he realizes many men and women in the military love World Wrestling Entertainment, so the company wanted to figure out a way to show its appreciation for them.

WWE frequently supports U.S. troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, Davis noted, and officials decided to do something for service members stationed worldwide.

"We wanted to do something on a consistent basis for our troops back home or in different places around the world, where maybe they don't get a lot of attention because they're not in the line of fire," Davis said. "But they're still serving a very important purpose for our country."

Regardless of where they are, many service members seek an entertaining outlet to boost their morale level. Giving free tickets to service members is a unique way for World Wrestling Entertainment to meet this need, Davis said.

Offering free tickets isn't the only way World Wrestling Entertainment supports the troops. WWE superstars pay regular visits to military bases and hospitals.

Davis said the hospital visits inspired World Wrestling Entertainment to offer free tickets to service members.

"It was great to go into the hospitals, but we thought, 'Wouldn't it be kind of fun for the people in the hospitals to actually come out to a show and actually see an event?'" Davis said.

World Wrestling Entertainment is working with Armed Forces Entertainment in an ongoing effort to support the U.S. military.

Founded in 1951, Armed Forces Entertainment is a nonprofit group that recruits, schedules, transports and hosts celebrity and up-and-coming entertainers at military installations overseas.

Art Myers, director of Air Force Services, manages Armed Forces Entertainment and has served in the Air Force in a military and civilian capacity for the past 20 years.

"When I was on active duty, I spent five tours in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War; I saw how important the entertainment was as far as enhancing the morale of the troops," Myers said.

A wide range of artists has performed for troops in the past through AFE, including, Kid Rock, Drew Carey, World Wrestling Entertainment wrestlers and the Harlem Globetrotters.

Armed Forces Entertainment also is a member of the Defense Department's America Supports You program, which showcases Americans' efforts to support service members and their families.

This is not the first time World Wrestling Entertainment and Armed Forces Entertainment have collaborated on a project. Since 2003, WWE has worked with Armed Forces Entertainment during the holiday season to bring some of its most popular wrestling superstars to war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan.

For four days, the wrestlers connect with service members on the front lines. The wrestlers sign autographs, talk, sleep, eat and even lift weights with service members. USA network and UPN network broadcast the tour, called "Tribute to The Troops," each December.

"It (the tour) really went well; they were overwhelmed, the troops really liked it," Myers said.

Last year, MSNBC reporter Rita Cosby traveled with World Wrestling Entertainment during its "Tribute to the Troops" tour in Afghanistan, as part of a prime-time news special.

World Wrestling Entertainment will host this year's "Tribute to the Troops" tour in early December.

"It's a very humbling experience to see these men and women in very difficult living conditions on the front lines, knowing at any moment they can come under attack, and to see the spirit that they have, and the positive attitude they have, despite those conditions," Davis explained.

The nationally televised tour combines interviews with the troops and wrestling matches. The goal is to inform the public about the daily lives of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and the contributions they're making, Davis said.

This July, World Wrestling Entertainment is scheduled to visit troops on a "handshake tour." The tour, called "The Legends and Divas Tour," will chronicle legendary wrestling veterans Jimmy Hart and Ron Simmons and World Wrestling Entertainment "Raw" and "Smackdown" wrestlers Maria and Ashley as they visit troops in the Middle East.

"We're all looking forward to being able to celebrate our Independence Day with our troops," Davis said.

Last year, World Wrestling Entertainment also became a corporate team member of the America Supports You program.

World Wrestling Entertainment hopes to continue offering free tickets and other support to the men and women in uniform, both home and abroad.

"We're happy that we could identify something that we believe now will be a consistent way to show our thanks to the troops around the world, whether they're in the war zone or not," Davis said.

U.S. Army battalion honors second fallen soldier since arrival in Iraq

A U.S. soldier from the Friedburg, Germany-based 1st Battalion, 36th Infantry Regiment, renders honors to the memorial of Spc. Michael J. Potocki June 28, 2006, in Hit, Iraq, during a memorial service. Potocki, a 21-year-old native of Baltimore, Md., and 2003 graduate of Patterson Senior High School, was killed in action June 26, 2006, while conducting combat operations in Hit – a city of 30,000 in Iraq’s Al Anbar Province. Potocki is the second U.S. soldier killed in the region since the battalion arrived in February. “He was a new breed of infantry soldier, but more importantly, he was a helluva person,” said Potocki’s team leader, Cpl. William McCoy, during the ceremony. “He is what I would want another country to see an American as.”

July 2, 2006; Submitted on: 07/02/2006 01:11:05 PM ; Story ID#: 20067213115

By Staff Sgt. Jim Goodwin, Regimental Combat Team7

HIT, Iraq (July 2, 2006) -- U.S. soldiers serving in this city of 30,000 in Iraq’s Al Anbar Province memorialized the second U.S. soldier killed in action here since February.

Hundreds of U.S. and Iraqi soldiers gathered at one of the U.S. military’s forward operating bases in the city to memorialize Spc. Michael J. Potocki, a 21-year-old native of Baltimore, Md., and 2003 graduate of Patterson Senior High School in Baltimore.

Potocki, who spent six months in Iraq during 2004, was part of the Friedburg, Germany-based 1st Battalion, 36th Infantry Regiment – the U.S. Army unit assigned to provide security in this mostly Sunni city, located about 70 miles northwest of Ramadi.

The battalion suffered the death of Pfc. Jeremy Wayne Ehle, a 19-year-old from Alexandria, Va., who died April 2 as a result of a wound received during combat operations.

Potocki, an infantryman with the battalion’s Alpha Company, nicknamed “Team Raider,” was shot during combat operations in Hit June 26, and died in a medical facility at the U.S. military base in Al Asad, Iraq.

“He was a new breed of infantry soldier, but more importantly, he was a helluva person,” said Potocki’s team leader, Cpl. William McCoy, during the ceremony. “He is what I would want another country to see an American as.”

Surrounded by heavily-armored, Bradley fighting vehicles, soldiers from Potocki’s unit took turns speaking about him to the hundreds present.

Most recalled a man who could make others laugh, and never complained about serving in Iraq.

“He was a competent infantryman. Physically fit, he was a sniper, he followed all orders without complaint,” said Capt. Christopher Kuzio, Alpha Company commanding officer “And he never failed his fellow soldiers.”

“Always ready for anything, he never complained nor gave anything but his very best all the time,” said Potocki’s platoon commander, 1st Lt. Breg Hughes. “He was as competent a soldier as any man could ever ask for and likely the best all-around soldier in the platoon.”

Kuzio told a story which he said was indicative of Potocki’s strong character as both a man and a U.S. soldier. Before deployment, Potocki and another soldier were in Kuzio’s office to receive punishment after they “got into some trouble.”

“I was prepared for all kinds of excuses, all sorts of reasons of how it wasn’t their fault,” said Kuzio. “When I asked Spc. Potocki, ‘What happened?’ his response shocked me. He looked me in the eye and said, ‘Sir, I’m responsible. The other soldier wasn’t involved. It was me, and I accept whatever punishment you think is appropriate.’ All this from a brand new 19-year-old soldier. I was impressed.”

Potocki’s memory was represented in true military fashion during the 30-minute ceremony: a Kevlar helmet set atop a rifle, stuck bayonet-first into a wooden pedestal and adorned with Potocki’s dog tags; combat boots, a folded American flag. Potocki’s portrait was set at the base of the pedestal.

His military awards and decorations, including a Bronze Star and Purple Heart, were set atop the pedestal.

“He was a great warrior who gave it his all to accomplish the mission,” said Lt. Col. Thomas C. Graves, the battalion’s commanding officer. “No words spoken today will ever return him to our formation. Our only hope is that we can live up to the example he set and the sacrifice he displayed.”

During the ceremony, rifles were fired in unison in Potocki’s memory, crisp salutes were given during the playing of taps, and the company’s senior enlisted man, 1st Sgt. Flynn Broady gave the final company roll call. As calling the company to attention, Broady called of the names of several soldiers.

Each responded with a “Here, first sergeant.” Then he called for Potocki. Each time he called for the fallen soldier, Broady was answered only by silence.

“Specialist Potocki!”

“Specialist Michael Potocki!”

“Specialist Michael Joseph Potocki!”

With temperatures well-above 100 degrees in Iraq’s Al Anbar Province, Potocki’s unit is responsible for conducting daily security patrols through the city, wearing 60-plus pounds of protective military gear. The soldiers spend their days patrolling the city’s streets, often accompanied by Iraqi soldiers, and face small-arms fire and improvised explosive devices nearly daily.

Still, Potocki never complained, said Spc. Andrew Goodman, who knew Potocki for three years and said he and Potocki were best friends.

“Before June 26, I thought we fought for our country and our flag. That couldn’t be further from the truth,” said Goodman. “I realize that we only fight for each other. Each other’s all we have.”

Following the ceremony, the soldiers waited in line to pay final respects to Potocki’s memorial. Some simply stared at the memorial; others gave the sign of the cross and touched the boots or dog tags.

“Good-bye, Spc. Potocki. We’ll see you again on the high ground,” said Kuzio.

Email Staff Sgt. Goodwin at: [email protected]

July 1, 2006

Mechanics keep 2nd Tanks rolling in Habbaniyah

CAMP HABBANIYAH, Iraq (July 1, 2006) -- Few sights are as comforting for a Marine in Iraq as an M-1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tank rolling down the street.

Marines of A Company, 2nd Tank Battalion are supporting the grunts of 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment by maintaining a constant presence along the main highways here to deter improvised explosive device placement and provide back-up with their imposing 120 mm main guns if needed.


July 1, 2006; Submitted on: 07/03/2006 08:52:56 AM ; Story ID#: 20067385256
By Cpl. Mark Sixbey, 1st Marine Division

Keeping that pace requires the constant attention from the Marines of Maintenance Section, which has operated 24 hours a day since the battalion followed Darkhorse to Habbaniyah just over a month ago.

The mechanics work with mostly hand tools, turning wrenches while dealing with the occasional injury and constant dirt and grease.

“We try to get them up as soon as they break down,” said Lance Cpl. Darrick Stokes, 25, from Valencia, Calif. “We’re covered in oil from head to toe, sweat, blood, sometimes burns.”

They also operate the M-88 Hercules Tank Retriever as a wrecker to recover tanks damaged by improvised explosive devices, and often employ the vehicle’s heavy-duty crane to lift engines for repair and assessment.

“It’s usually just the track and suspension problems, blown apart hubs and road wheels,” said Sgt. Ricky Jordan, the night ramp chief, about the most common damage caused by the roadside bombs.

Mismatched fenders on a particular tank indicate how many times they have repaired the damage that comes their way.

“One caught IEDs twice, one on each side,” Jordan said. “All the crew members came out with no problems. We had to drag the tank back with the ‘Herc,’ but it was repairable.”

Their aim is to keep as many tanks in working order at one time as possible. When confronted with multiple downed tanks, Jordan said the criteria for deciding which one to work on is simple.

“We prioritize on what can get fixed first,” said the 25-year-old from Knoxville, Tenn. “Most of the time when we come on, the workload is pretty cleared, but through the night after some operations we get a few coming in. We just now hit a slow period where we just got the tanks up to par.”

Although similar to a helicopter or jet engine, the 1,500 horse power, air-gas turbine engines that power the 70-ton tracked vehicles are unique to the M1A1 Abrahams Main Battle tank.

“Each tank has its own little quirks,” said Pfc. Thomas Furtadl, a 20-year-old tank mechanic from Santa Barbara, Calif. “They all operate the same but they all have their own little difficulties -- no two are alike.”

The tank crewmen handle most first-echelon troubleshooting, such as changing out the rubber track pads. If something needs to be taken apart, the mechanics step-in to perform crew-level maintenance. This is anything pertaining to preventative maintenance, troubleshooting, bore cleaning, and oil changes, Jordan said.

“When we get swarmed, we get swarmed,” Furtadl said. “But normally we’re pretty quick and efficient.”

“At one point in time we had six tanks down, and one happened to be the commanding officer’s,” Jordan said. “There just happened to be some bugs in the tanks that we had, and it just got progressively worse. Three days later they were all up and running again.”

Stokes said the oil, sweat and bruises pay off whenever the grunts in the area call for tank support.

“Everybody does their part,” he said. “We make sure they’re up and running so they can go out there into battle.”

Battalion pauses for three fallen warriors

CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq (July 1, 2006) -- Marines 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment paused to honor three men who gave their all for the cost of freedom.

A memorial service was held here July 1 to honor Staff Sgt. Benjamin D. Williams, Lance Cpl. Brandon J. Webb and Pfc. Christopher N. White. All three men were killed in action June 20.


July 1, 2006; Submitted on: 07/05/2006 04:30:19 AM ; Story ID#: 20067543019
By Cpl. William Skelton, 1st Marine Division

Williams was 30 years old and from Galveston, Texas. Webb was 20 years old and from Temple, Ariz. White was 23 years old and from East View, Ky. All three men were assigned to Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment.

“These three men had little in common except the virtues that made them excel as Marines. This speaks to the rarity of their courage,” said Lt. Col. David J. Furness, the 43-year-old battalion commander from Oceanside, Calif. “There is no single geography from which our warriors are drawn, they come to us from all over – as these three men have.”

Weapons Company has been one of the hardest hit in the battalion since their arrival to Iraq in January. Currently the battalion has lost 10 Marines in combat in their area of operation, with four of those from Weapons Company.

“It is important that we honor these men, not on how they died, but how they chose to live, for what they stood and fought for,” said Capt. Alex A. Warthen, the 32-year-old company commander from Newport News, Va.

Williams was remembered by one of his closest friends as a well-rounded Marine, a hero and a friend. Gunnery Sgt. William M. Harris recalled Williams as articulate, sharp and Johnny-on-the-spot.

“It came to be that I went to him for a lot of things,” said Harris, the 35-year-old headquarters and service company gunnery sergeant from Norwalk, Conn. “Personal support, guidance and friendship – he was always there for me no matter what time of day it was.”

Williams was remembered as the type of man people could count on for just about anything.

“If he had it, it was yours to use,” Harris said. “Quick to listen and slow to speak, to help in anyway he could. He just wanted to do his part to make a difference.”

Webb was respectful, brave and a gunner in Weapons Company. He was remembered as a person who could always make people smile, even on tough days.

“I don’t smile a lot, but Webb could always put a smile on my face,” said Pfc. Donald R. Hardison Jr., a 20-year-old mortarman from Baltimore. “In Webb I had a brother, but more than that I had a friend. He changed my attitude and outlook on life.”

Webb would talk for hours about his parents. He cherished his mother and his father. He would tell stories about his brother and their relationship.

“I admired his values for his family,” Hardison said. “He drove me to keep my family closer.”

White wanted to make a difference in the world. That was his reason for joining the Marine Corps.

“Both of us were point men for our squads and we had long talks about our perspectives,” said Lance Cpl. Kyle A. Farmer, a 20-year-old mortarman from Fulton, Ky. “We would critique each another on how we do our jobs thus making us better at techniques that would help us keep everyone alive.”

Farmer said that he and White would challenge each other. Keeping one another on their toes to make them better Marines.

“Chris was an excellent Marine – hands down,” Farmer said. “When times were tough he was serious, but when they weren’t he would cut up and play like a little kid.”

Recent photos of the three fallen Marines rested on easels beside the traditional memorial comprised of a set of helmets resting on rifles with sets of identification tags and combat boots. A Marine played “Taps” at the close of the service while all stood at attention.

“When our nation called for strong men to step forward these three men did,” Furness said. “Their courage and their sacrifice will be our source of strength as we continue in this important fight.”

The Marines from the company then came forward individually to pay their last respects.

Williams graduated from Little Cypress Mauriceville High School in Orange, Texas. He reported to recruit training in June 1994. He completed the School of Infantry and obtained his military occupational specialty of 0341 – mortarman.

His awards include the Purple Heart, Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with Distinguishing Devise, Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, Good Conduct Medal, Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, Combat Action Ribbon, Navy Unit Commendation, Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation, National Defense Service Medal, Global War of Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, Humanitarian Service Medal, Sea Service Deployment Ribbon, Letter of Commendation and Meritorious Mast.

Webb graduated from Mountain View High School in Temple, Ariz. He reported to recruit training in May 2005. He completed the School of Infantry and obtained his military occupational specialty of 0341 – mortarman.

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

White graduated from Central Hardin High School in Cecilia, Ky. He reported to recruit training in May 2005. He completed the School of Infantry and obtained his military occupational specialty of 0341 – mortarman.

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

Marines keep battalion rolling

CAMP BAHARIA, Iraq (July 1, 2006) -- Marines are known for their dedication to duty and hard work, completing the mission no matter what it takes.

Take an 11-man team working in temperatures rising above 100 degrees, put them in charge of maintaining hundreds of vehicles, and watch them produce much more than sweat and greasy hands at the end of the day.


July 1, 2006; Submitted on: 07/08/2006 05:52:01 AM ; Story ID#: 2006785521
By Cpl. Brian Reimers, 1st Marine Division

Mechanics from 1st Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 5, work around the clock to keep hundreds of vehicles ready to support the battalion’s mission of combating the insurgency in and around Fallujah.

“The work is non-stop, but whether these Marines realize it or not, they are doing their part in saving peoples lives out there,” said Sgt. Steven J. Lariviere, the quality control chief of the motor transportation’s mechanic section.

The men working in the tool ridden garage start their days early and often end up working into the next day. There is little time for relaxing, working to maintain an average of 33 vehicles per week.

“We keep the battalion rolling,” said Lance Cpl. Kevin T. Chambers, a mechanic from Tewksbury, Mass. “It’s nice knowing that the Marines will be much safer out there because of the hard work that we do here.”

Oil changes, complete suspension rebuilds, or even custom fabrication, the Marines do it all.

“If you can think of it, we do it,” Lariviere explained. “In all of time I have been doing this job, I see vehicle problems out here that just blow my mind. But we get together, put our minds together, and figure it out.”

Each vehicle is required to undergo monthly, bi-annual and annual maintenance. The heavily armored trucks are completely refreshed with new fluids and undergo inspections on every component to ensure their reliability on the battlefield. But the scheduled repairs only make up a percentage of what rolls into the garage here.

After 14 weeks in Iraq, the mechanics have fixed 489 problems on the battalion’s multi-ton combat trucks, averaging roughly 44 solved issues per Marine.

“For example, we had a truck come in today that was here for its scheduled preventative maintenance,” said Lance Cpl. Eddie Moura, a 21 year-old mechanic, from Tulsa, Okla. “After going through it, we found a leak in the radiator. Something that small could mean big problems during a fight.

“The vehicle could overheat and stall on the Marines in the middle of the city, making them an instant target,” he pointed out. “We are here to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

With grease covered clothes, oil stained and often bloody hands, from random screws and bolts under the hood, the Marines still go home with a smile on their faces.

“It will be seven months of non-stop repairs, but at the end of it all I know that we will be able to look back on it and say that it was worth it,” Moura said. “We came here to do a job and the Marines here are working their butts off to get it done.”

“I couldn’t ask for a better team of guys,” said Lariviere, 27, of Salem, Mass. “If I had to do it all over again, I would want to do it working along side of these eleven Marines.”

Now reaching the half-way point of the deployment, the Marines expect no change in pace for the days ahead. With will-power, hammers and screwdrivers, and knowing the importance of their mission, the mechanics look forward to the sure-to-come challenges.

“It’s tough, but it will pay off down the road,” 21-year-old Chambers said.

Making a difference one package at a time

Military troops serving around the world have come to know they can rely on Mary Ann Merritt.


Edward L. Cardenas

The former Marine has been averaging about 200 care packages filled with items such as energy bars, baby wipes, books and personal hygiene items sent out monthly to servicemen and women serving in military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The year-round effort by the Bruce Township grandmother has included special shipments of Christmas stockings; coffee urn and mugs; and even a "girls' night out" package with body lotions and foot creams.

"You can always turn to someone who is in the Marine Corps. It is part of me," says Merritt, 49, who is a journeyman pipe fitter at the General Motors Lake Orion plant.

It has been nearly three decades since Merritt joined the Marine Corps after graduating from Sterling Heights High School, but she has never stopped living the U.S. Marine Corps motto of "Semper Fidelis," which is Latin for "always faithful."

A longtime volunteer at the Veterans Administration Hospital and with the Region 1 UAW Veterans Council, she began her recent effort after a friend told her about a young man who was not receiving any packages.

"From that one name, we got more names. I began to think that they were writing my name on the head walls," she says.

In the first year of sending packages, she estimated she spent $5,000 out of her own pocket in shipping costs. After word of her efforts spread, local organizations began hosting fundraisers and packing parties through an initiative called Operation Caring Friends.

"I thought of (soldiers) being so far from home and not having the support that they need," Merritt says. "No matter what, half the battle is morale. If we can make somebody's day and make some one smile, it would be worth it."

Merritt has received hundreds of letters of thanks, unique items such as the old Iraqi currencies and an Iraqi flag signed by a unit and another flag that flew over Camp Fallujah on Veterans Day.

"When you get those letters back, and they thank you and said how great it was to get a package from someone they didn't know or that it was the first package they had gotten, how do you stop," Merritt says. "If I've got to have an addiction, it might as well be one like this."

The large volume of packages sent overseas has required Romeo Postmaster Alex Stubbs to reschedule some of his staff to process Merritt's items and not affect other customers waiting to send items.

"We work behind the scenes with her," says Stubbs, who is providing packing boxes and tape for the Flat Rate Priority Mail Service to send the maximum amount of items for a minimum price. "She has nothing but support from this community."

And while it does not appear that hostilities overseas will end soon, Merritt states that her efforts to help others will continue.

"I think volunteerism is a lifelong endeavor," Merritt adds. "It is something that is ongoing. If I didn't have to work, I would just do volunteer work. It is a good feeling that you have done something for someone else."

2006 Gallup Poll- America Trusts the Military

The 2006 Gallup poll results on public confidence are in and the military is again at the top of the list.

Seventy-three percent of Americans polled from June 1-4, 2006, said they have a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the military, according to Gallup poll writer Lydia Saad.


from Army News Service

Jul 1 2006

By Andricka Hammonds

After the terrorist attacks Sept. 11, 2001, military confidence soared 13 percent above the previous year. In that 2002 poll, 79 percent of respondents said they had a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the military.

The following year saw an increase to 82 percent of Americans having high confidence in the nation’s military. In 2004, the percentage dropped to 75 percent and last year’s confidence measurement fell one percent, but remained at the top of the polls as the institution in which Americans place their highest confidence.

The military surpassed the police and organized religion, the next highest ranking organizations, by 15 percent. The police and organized religion are the only other institutions rated in the poll that earned a high confidence rating from Americans, according to Saad.

Fifty-eight percent of respondents placed high confidence in the police, compared to the 67 percent who said they had high confidence last year. Fifty-two percent of respondents said church organizations have earned a high degree of confidence, falling only one percent from last year.

The Gallup poll results indicated that HMOs, big business and Congress earned the least amount of confidence with the American public this year.

Congress earned a confidence rating of 19 percent, while big business earned a confidence rating of 18 percent. In the 2005 poll, Congress and big business were tied at 22 percent.

The institutions with the lowest level of public confidence according to this years Gallup poll were Health Management Organizations. Fifteen percent of Americans polled said they had confidence in our nations HMOs, a drop of two percent from last year’s poll.