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November 30, 2006

Marines take two suspected insurgents off the streets

FALLUJAH, Iraq - Marines from Personnel Security Detachment, Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion 24th Marine Regiment, apprehended two suspected insurgents in Fallujah, Iraq Nov 20.

Marines with the battalion are currently serving under Regimental Combat Team 5 in Fallujah, Iraq.


By Lance Cpl. Stephen McGinnis
Regimental Combat Team 5
Lance Cpl. Stephen McGinnis

Marines from PSD set out in the morning with no more than a mission to drive through the city and search for anything they found suspicious. That was just what they found.

Lance Cpl. David L. Admire, a 26-year-old machine gunner from Clever, Mo., had a hunch about the two men who began acting very suspiciously and walked down a different street after seeing Marines.

‘‘We drove around a corner; I saw a guy that looked like he was holding something underneath his clothing,” Admire said. ‘‘It could have been anything, but I just didn’t trust it.”

His hunch turned out to be correct. One of the men tested positive for gun powder residue, and the other lied about knowing the other man.

Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Steven Wimmer, a 35-year-old hospital corpsman from Saginaw Mich., tested the first man for gunpowder residue. To his surprise, the test came out positive.

‘‘I have tested a lot of people since we have been out here, but this was the first time I had one test positive,” Wimmer said.

Wimmer is a police officer in Saginaw, Mich. He is in charge of searching and testing possible insurgents for the PSD.

‘‘I had no idea coming into PSD as a corpsman that my law enforcement experience would come in handy,” Wimmer said.

Wimmer said the street-smarts he gained while serving as a policeman came in handy. He’s learned by the time he spent on the streets of Saginaw of where to look at cars to find signs of tampering and also where to find gunpowder residue on suspects.

‘‘We only have a small amount of time to check, so it helps that I know exactly where to look,” he said.

Any Marine in PSD has the ability to search a vehicle or a person if they find them suspicious.

‘‘I give anyone the right to call out to search someone,” explained Staff Sgt. Jason Hart, a 29-year-old PSD platoon commander. ‘‘Because if any gets an itch about someone; it’s better to scratch that itch rather than to wonder about it later down the road. These guys see more than I possibly could, especially our turret gunners.”

When the man was searched, a military compass was found on him. Marines of PSD believe it might have been used for mortar attacks.

The first man was placed inside of a humvee, and Marines began to question the other who was stopped.

The second suspected insurgent tested negative for gunpowder residue, but when asked how he knew the other man, he lied and said he didn’t know him.

The first man told Marines that they were friends and had just left meeting with other friends in the city.

‘‘It’s huge that we all have the ability to stop a vehicle,” Wimmer said. ‘‘It keeps the responsibility spread out through the platoon and not just up to one person. Every one of us has a different vantage point of the city, and something one guy might not find suspicious someone else might.”

Marines apprehended both and took them to their battalion collection center for more questioning and investigation.

If the men are found to have taken part in any insurgent activity or to have ties to any insurgents, they will be moved to Regimental Combat Team 5’s detainment center.

In the meantime, PSD continues a wary eye peeled on their continuous patrols.

Hot to trot, Warhorses take to Iraq’s skies

AL ASAD, Iraq (Nov. 30, 2006) -- World class assault support … Any time, any zone is the motto for operations conducted by the most-recent heavy helicopter squadron to arrive in support of Coalition Forces in western Iraq.


Nov. 30, 2006
Submitted on: 12/01/2006 02:06:15 AM
Story ID#: 20061212615
By Cpl. Jonathan K. Teslevich, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing

Marines and sailors with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 465, Marine Aircraft Group 16 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), arrived at Al Asad, Iraq, in October to replace their fellow CH-53E Super Stallion squadron, HMH-361, and have been hauling personnel and cargo across the Al Anbar Province since.

The Warhorses were welcomed to Al Asad with good operating helicopters and a refurbished workspace and are now operating much as they had in their previous three deployments to Al Asad, Iraq.

“The types of operations we do are really the same as last time,” said Lt. Col. Mitchell E. Cassell, the squadron executive officer. “The battle space for the I Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) has changed a lot since then. As a result, (CH-53) Echoes don’t operate in the same zones we did before. Now, our operations are limited to a smaller portion of the Al Anbar Province, so we go to the same forward operating bases all the time.”

The change in the operating environment has created a challenge for the Warhorse aircrews: complacency.

“It’s all the same mission, transporting people and their gear from one forward operating base to the next, but the flying isn’t nearly so interesting anymore because the variation of the type of flying and places we go to is cut in half,” said Cassell, a Charleston, Mo., native. “It’s tough, because we’re fighting complacency regularly, seeing the same things day in and day out.”

One change in their operating environment that does not test the squadron’s abilities to adjust is the improvements made to their workspaces on the sprawling desert airbase.

“The facilities are significantly better than last time I was out here. The spaces, inside and outside, have been improved,” said Cassell. “We have the Big Iron Café (dining facility) now, whereas before we had a tent, which was ok. Now, it’s a building, and having our own chow hall has really improved morale.”

In addition to improved work spaces, HMH-361 also turned over a well-kept group of helicopters that the Warhorse maintainers have been battling wear and tear on, as they haul cargo day and night.

“The maintainers are doing a great job,” said Cassell “We were fortunate to have a lot of experienced people who have been over here in the operating environment before. It was a good mix for all the new Marines we have.”

The work being performed by the dozens of helicopter maintainers would be all for naught if it wasn’t for the complete support provided by the Marine Corps’ supply system.

“The planes are in great shape,” said Cassell. “Being a force activity designator one unit gives us a priority for support -- specifically, logistics, maintenance and parts support. So, when we need parts, we get them before everybody else and quicker than everybody else. That translates into: when a plane breaks, we can fix it in short order.”

It is no short order and no small task for the young Marines who have stepped up to take on the responsibilities of fixing the hulking aircraft and quickly getting them in flying shape again.

“In the maintenance section, we lost a lot of senior sergeants from our last deployment,” said Lance Cpl. Justin W. Holleman, a CH-53E helicopter mechanic. “Now, those of us who may not have the rank but do have the job experience are the ones responsible for getting the job done right.”

The transfer of responsibility to himself and his fellow junior Marines who have deployed to Al Asad strikes Holleman as a big change.

“It’s different. On our last deployment, we were told to do this and that,” said Holleman, a Clifton, Texas, native. “Now, we watch others and tell them how to do jobs they don’t know. They don’t have any choice but to pick it up. There’s no time. They may have to learn on the job now, but then, they won’t need the supervision to do it right the next time.”

It is that kind of get-the-job-done mentality that is going to carry the Warhorses through the end of their deployment successfully.

“As the commanding officer says, ‘Do it better, safer and more efficiently than anybody else. We’re going to prove to 3rd MAW, the rest of the Marines Corps and the rest of the world that we are better than everybody else,'” said Cassell. “That does not in fact mean we are going to cut corners, cheat and steal, and do all this other stuff to get it done. No, it means we’re going to do it right the first time, every time and make a name for ourselves as we provide I MEF the lift and transport out here in the Al Anbar Province to accomplish their tasking.”

“We haven’t missed any launches, so we have completed 100 percent of our tasking and that is our goal,” he said. “The only thing that can stop us is ourselves and the weather, and we can’t control the weather.”

Disclaimer -- Photos associated with the article can be found at the following links:

1 - http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/image1.nsf/Lookup/200612122039
2 - http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/image1.nsf/Lookup/200612122340
3 - http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/image1.nsf/Lookup/200612122528
4 - http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/image1.nsf/Lookup/200612123154
5 - http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/image1.nsf/Lookup/20061212556
6 - http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/image1.nsf/Lookup/200612125647
7 - http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/image1.nsf/Lookup/200612125838

Expanded list of II MEF deployments

November 30, 2006
By Trista Talton, Staff writer

JACKSONVILLE, N.C. — More than 28,000 Marines, sailors, soldiers and airmen under the command of Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based II Marine Expeditionary Force will deploy to Iraq early next year, according to the deployment list released Thursday.

To continue reading:


Kane'ohe Marines going to Afghanistan

About 20 Kane'ohe Bay Marines were scheduled to leave last night for a nine-month deployment to train a battalion of Afghan National Army soldiers.


Posted on: Thursday, November 30, 2006
Advertiser Staff

The members of the 3rd Marine Regiment will be part of embedded training teams in eastern Afghanistan. Marines usually deploy on seven-month combat tours to Iraq or Afghanistan.

The return in May of the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines from Afghanistan signaled an end to a cycle of deployments to Afghanistan by Hawai'i Marine battalions.

The 1st Battalion of about 1,000 Marines now is training for a return to Iraq in the spring. The unit first deployed to Iraq in 2004.

The 1st Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment at Kane'ohe Bay, an artillery unit, also is leaving for western Iraq in the spring as a provisional military police unit.

*Commandant’s focus on Marines

The new commandant of the Marine Corps visited the Marines and sailors of Camp Lejeune on Wednesday to introduce himself and spell out his plan for his tour as lead Marine.


November 30,2006

Gen. James Conway, the 34th Marine to hold the position of commandant, told Marines and sailors that his No. 1 priority will be taking care of the forces engaged in combat in the Middle East and around the world.

“The emphasis of our efforts will continue to be support of those young men and women and the job that they are doing,” he said during a question and answer session with reporters before the town hall at Goettge Memorial Field House.

One way that Conway said he wants to support the troops abroad is by giving them more time at home. He said that troops deploying to Iraq today normally serve seven-month combat tours and are then home for seven months.

Conway said he wants to double the time troops spend at home between deployments to allow them more time with their families and to train for various possibilities.

“We’ve got a number of folks that are gone for seven months and back as little as five before they turn around and do it again,” Conway said. “I personally think that will have some telling impact on our people. I think it’s already starting to.

“(14 months) gives a family a chance to have a baby,” he added. “You can’t have a baby in seven months.”

Because the tempo of deployments to Iraq has been so steady, Conway said an “institutional strain” has been placed on the Corps and that some of the tactics the Marines traditionally excel at have been neglected. A 14-month period between deployments should allow more diverse training, Conway said.

“We’re getting very, very good at counterinsurgency, but the other skills are starting to suffer a little bit,” he said. “I consider that an institutional weakness, when you consider what our mission is by law from the Congress, to be the nation’s shock troops.

“Is 14 months going to solve all that for us? Not necessarily, but it’s going to help a lot.”

Conway said the only way to change the “deploy to dwell” ratio is to either reduce demand on Marine services or increase the size of the Corps. He said the Marines have begun exploring what size the roughly 180,000 Corps would need to grow to.

“We need to figure out just what that magic number is,” he said.

Conway also said he wants to create a “Wounded Warriors Regiment” on each coast. It will be a nontraditional command that will track and assist wounded Marines.

Other priorities during Conway’s tenure as commandant are to “reset” the Corps equipment, either with current technology or more advanced technology; improve the quality of life for both single Marines and families; and prepare the Marines for whatever may lie ahead in the future.

In the town hall with active-duty troops, Conway laid out his priorities and gave the Marines a chance to ask questions, which ranged from queries about tattoo policy and equipment concerns to Iraq policy and mental-health issues.

One Marine asked what should be done if the situation in Iraq becomes a civil war — as many already believe it is. How would that change the mission?

Conway replied that he does not think the situation in Iraq is “strictly-speaking” a civil war. About the policy question, he said that much of that is currently being discussed in classified environments, but that part of it would be to pull troops off the roads or realign the forces in Iraq to “strategic bases” from where they can protect the country’s borders while it settles its internal differences.

Another Marine asked about what’s being done to take care of Marines who return from Iraq suffering from combat stress.

Conway said the first step to dealing with mental health situations is to have alert leadership at all levels. Then the key is to get Marines into counseling or therapy. He did say there are requests to have more funding for counseling aboard military bases.

Most importantly, Conway said, is that a Marine suffering from combat stress or PTSD needs to be taken seriously like any other wounded Marine.

Conway, who became commandant earlier this month, comes to the post after more than 35 years of military service, mostly as an infantry officer. The general served as battalion commander of Lejeune’s 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines, in the early 1990s and later became commander of Camp Pendleton’s I Marine Expeditionary Force, which he commanded through two combat tours to Iraq.

The Marines and sailors who listened to Conway came away with a good impression of their new boss, especially some of his initiatives to increase the time home during deployments.

“I like the 12- to 14-month turnaround time,” said Cpl. Richard Wright, 21, a Marine with 3rd Battalion, 10th Marines. Wright, a 21-year-old from Magna, Utah, said he has been to Iraq once and is preparing to go back again. He’s had more than a year since his last deployment, and he said that time home has been good.

“It gives you time to spend with your family,” he said. “You’re not over there in the desert, worrying you’ll be shot at.”

Now, Wright said he’s anxious to go back to Iraq.

Jonathan Mothershed, 21, a Navy corpsman from Pensacola, Fla., said he likes Conway’s planned initiatives.

“He seemed like a good guy,” he said. “It seems like he’s got a lot in store.”

Contact staff writer Chris Mazzolini at [email protected] or 353-1171, ext. 229.

November 29, 2006

Woman warrior works to build trust

On 2nd tour in Iraq, Alabama Marine aids female search team

Part of Marine Cpl. Jennifer Holt's mission in Iraq is to help repair roads around the dangerous city of Fallujah.

Above and beyond that, the former Clay-Chalkville High cheerleader is trying to build trust between Iraqis and the Marines who patrol their neighborhoods and sometimes search their homes.


Wednesday, November 29, 2006
TOM GORDON, News staff writer

She hopes some of that trust is established when armed Marines enter a household and she, not one of her male counterparts, searches the Iraqi women there.

The 25-year-old Holt, now on her second tour in Iraq, is a member of what the Marines call a female search team, or FST.

"I have searched thousands of women," Holt wrote in a recent e-mail from Iraq. "The female Marines take turns on who searches because all of us are doing this on top of our original jobs. I have had everything from women giving birth as they come through my search, women handing us their children to hold, and friendly handshakes to say `thank you' to us for being here."

In another e-mail, Holt indicated she has helped her own searches go smoother because she can communicate to some extent in Arabic.

"I have taken the time myself to learn a little bit ... so that I may better understand the people while I am in the city," she said. "It helps ease the women that I search, if as soon as I approach them, I greet them in their ... language. They sometimes have the look of surprise and gratefulness that I am able to communicate with them.

"I know we are doing a good thing," Holt wrote in one e-mail. "Even though my footprints are small, the steps we have taken to give hope and security to these people are enormous."

Holt is a combat engineer, and her company is part of Combat Logistics Battalion-5. Back home, she was working as a nursing assistant and had thoughts of becoming a doctor, but she left that job to join the Marines for a four-year hitch. That hitch already has included a tour in Iraq, from September 2005 to April 2006.

"I felt that there are many people that are unable to fight for our country, and I was healthy and able," Holt said. Joining the Marines, she added, has given her time and distance "to test all my options and help me to decide what I really want to do in life."

Iraq, especially Fallujah and surrounding Al Anbar province, is about as testing a place as she could find.

Marines have been dying in Al Anbar, a Sunni stronghold, almost since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq began in March 2003. Twenty-two have died in Al Anbar so far this month, and Holt indicated she has had some close calls in the three months she and her unit have been operating out of Camp Fallujah.

"Sometimes it is like fighting the invisible man," she said in one e-mail.

In another, she added, "You can never be sure of when something could turn into a heightened situation. I have encountered some sporadic small arms fire."

Holt also said she's been rocked by mortar rounds and survived crude bombs. "Any time something like that happens, all you can do is thank God you're OK, and go on with the mission."

Women warriors make up slightly less than 7 percent of the 141,000 U.S. troops operating in and around Iraq. Through Monday, according to the Iraqi Coalition Casualty Count Web site, 62 women, three of them Marines, have died in and around Iraq since the start of the war. That amounts to about 2 percent of the U.S. military death total, which was listed as 2,883 on Tuesday. Through Nov. 18, according to the Defense Department, 429 female troops had been wounded in action.

Wounds not physical:

Back in Alabama, Holt's father said his daughter, known in the family as Jenny, seemed wounded after her first Iraqi tour, though the wounds were not physical.

"She's worried about something, it seems like, all the time," James Holt Jr. said. "When she's home, she tries to have fun, but I can tell a different tone in her voice."

Now that she's back in Iraq, Holt said, "It's killing me."

In two e-mails Tuesday, Jenny Holt said, "Whenever I came home, I was still on my toes most of the time. I still found myself looking around for something out of place. I had difficulty with people being close to me ... It's one of those things that time takes care of.

"Of course it (Iraq) has changed me a bit. I am defiantly more grateful for my freedom, and our culture. I will have scars forever. Some physical and mental scars, but that just adds character, right!"

In her part of Iraq, Holt said, combat can break out at any time. A recent Marine intelligence report cited in The Washington Post states that U.S. forces have been unable to smash the insurgency in Anbar.

Despite that grim assessment, Holt said her unit is in "the hearts and minds stage" in Fallujah. Part of that, she said, involves "helping the IAs (the Iraqi army) and the IPs (Iraqi police) to understand what it means to be the watchful eye of the people, helping them to understand that there is something they can do to keep their people safe, and (reducing) the amount of attacks and possible deaths, without disturbing Iraqi culture."

Showing respect:

Showing respect for Iraqi culture is part of the reason she and other female Marines search Fallujah's women when a situation calls for it. It may be a long time, if ever, before the faces of some of those women leave her memory.

"A woman came through one day and her family had been killed by the insurgents," Holt wrote. "She was crying, and I could see the pain and hurt in her eyes as I searched her. It was a look you hope you never have to feel yourself. Her tears were so heavy they seemed to be pulling her cheeks downward as they rolled off.

"I immediately started thinking of my family back home, and the other Marine families we were fighting for. I felt my heart drop into my stomach with just the thought of if I were in her shoes and something was to happen to my family. As she left, though she was still crying, she turned to give me thanks for our help in protecting the only life she had left, hers."

E-mail: [email protected]

On patrol in Fallujah: Danger zone

Marines' credo: Stop trouble before it kills

FALLUJAH, Iraq -- "Patrollin', patrollin'," a turret gunner sang, encased in chicken wire like somebody in a carnival dunk tank as the line of Humvees growled out of Charlie Company's base camp. "We're patrollin' through Fallujah."


November 29, 2006

In the battle to keep order in this Sunni-dominated city in Anbar province, Charlie Company -- about 200 men from the Michigan-based 1st Battalion of the 24th Marine Regiment -- is the on-site boss, rolling the streets day and night to chase down or run off insurgents.

While other parts of Iraq are ripped apart by factions, and the sectarian violence in Baghdad worsens daily, the scene in Fallujah is different but no less deadly. The city has endured some of the bloodiest urban combat of the war. Now the Marines are fighting to keep Fallujah from becoming an insurgent stronghold again, as it was two years ago.

Making their home in a battered school administration building, the men of Charlie Company comprise the only unit that lives in the center of the city, where insurgents have killed scores of Marines with roadside bombs, ambushes and sniper fire.

With its sandbagged windows and cheap fluorescent lamps fighting a haze of cement dust, the place has an eerie, eternal twilight quality -- like a casino, only with machine guns and bulletproof vests stacked up in the halls.

The men -- students, sheriff's deputies, firefighters and even a personal banker who loves heavy metal music -- say they'd rather make nice with the residents, but they don't waste time in confronting those who have other ideas.

"We'll be jumping out if somebody's mean-mugging us," Cpl. Anthony Tavormina, 22, of Toledo told members of his mounted patrol before they took to the streets on a recent day.

Mean-mugging -- dirty looks, the evil eye or a hostile gesture -- isn't tolerated by Charlie Company. When they see it on the streets, the men get in the Iraqi's face for aggressive questioning, ID checks and, for anyone who doesn't get it right, a possible trip to what's called the Wayne County Jail, the new detention facility at nearby Camp Baharia.

Cpl. Shawn Wilson, a 27-year-old Oakland County sheriff's deputy and former Detroit police officer, said going after insurgents and troublemakers is all about making sure the people of Fallujah have a chance at a better life.

"It's like working a block back home," he said. If a block has one good family and nine bad ones, you don't let the nine bad stop you from protecting the one.

"You treat that house with respect," he said.

Most of the residents want peace, said commanding officer Capt. Mike Mayne -- a guy who is already legendary in the unit for asking a translator who said Fallujah was too dangerous whether he was a coward. But the broken windows theory of crime control applies here. Not tolerating the little stuff heads off the big problems later.

The Marines pare it down to the notion that, if somebody is dense enough to pick a fight with them, well, they're ready to go. "If they're nice, we're nice," said Sgt. Bryce Sobol, 25, a personal banker from Freeland. "If they get stupid, we get stupid."

No one doubts the dangers of Fallujah from snipers, from roadside bombs. But it doesn't have the death squads found in Baghdad, and the Marines are able to keep the worst violence under control.

When Charlie rolls, all other traffic stops. Drivers who ignore clear warnings can be met with deadly force.

Even toilets can be dangerous

In Fallujah, Charlie is an active verb: Consider a Saturday midday patrol with Cpl. Dennis Rodeman, 22, of Vermontville.

The 3rd Squad of the 3rd Platoon went to deliver a message to a corner gas station, the scene of a couple of grenade attacks on the unit, said Rodeman, a firefighter and international business student at Michigan State University.

Pulling up to the station where gas is sold from barrels and plastic jugs, the Marines jumped out and emptied the fuel into the street. The owner and attendants pleaded they had nothing to do with the grenades.

OK, Rodeman said, but there is still a price to pay, even if the bad guys just use the place as cover. "Any more grenade attacks," he said, "and we're going to burn down the gas station."

Rodeman shrugged off the contradiction of ending the encounter with thanks all around: "It's like going into your house, thrashing your bedroom and then saying, "Hey, let's go to lunch.' "

Under the constant threat of sniping by mujahideen insurgents, Charlie Company has learned that any step outside requires a helmet and full body armor -- even a trip to a portable toilet. And you have to do the sniper dance -- juking and dekeing so no one can get a good aim on you.

Even the Humvees dance. When the men are dismounted, the drivers roll the vehicles back and forth so a sniper can't line up a shot on a door to pick off a returning Marine.

But you can't dance past an IED -- an improvised explosive device -- like the roadside bomb that hit a patrol from the 3rd Squad of the 1st Platoon on Saturday night. The four-vehicle caravan was doing snaps and house calls -- random quick searches of vehicles and homes -- and checking known trouble spots.

Rolling under a crescent moon along Fran, a major east-west thoroughfare with a history of ambushes, the convoy passed a darkened Iraqi government building when the street went blindingly bright. An instant later, a flame ball erupted from the right curb, between the third and fourth vehicles, known as Vic 3 and Vic 4. White flames shot across the road in a sharp explosion.

The men quickly piled out of the Humvees, taking cover and setting up a perimeter. There were no casualties.

"All good. We're all good," they radioed each other.

But the men have to wait. The IED could be a setup, the attack followed with rockets, gunfire or another IED. Taking positions in a ruined concrete block building, Lance Cpl. Justin Dieting, 25, of Romeo and Lance Cpl. Enrique Rakowski, 25, of Manistee recalled attacks in which snipers picked off their buddies or insurgents fired rockets at them.

In the dark, the men's whispers wove together, recounting their experiences:

You're sitting in your Vic and the next thing stumbling empty-handed in the roadway. Your weapon's on the ground, the Humvee's burning, and everything's a little tilted and crazy.

You get a couple of days off, notification of a Purple Heart and wonder if the shrapnel still in your body will set off airport metal detectors.

Your dead partners never really leave Charlie. You feel them every time you pass the sites of their deaths, remember their wisecracks or hear a familiar tune.

After the area was secured and evidence collected by explosives teams, the patrol resumed, and men noted they'd passed that intersection at least once before that night.

The IED was a speed bump -- a device set on a paved road and then detonated by a triggerman when a vehicle passes over it. A second sooner on the trigger, and Vic 3 would have gone up. A second later, Vic 4 would have been gutted and smoking.

That night, everybody, Marines and the bomber alike, made it back home.

Contact JOE SWICKARD at [email protected]

Military healthcare comes to 'burbs'

The Navy opens a clinic in east San Diego County for service members and retirees.

SANTEE, CALIF. — Tucked in the corner of the expansive Santee Town Center shopping complex is the latest innovation in military healthcare: a fully staffed outpatient clinic for military members, their families and veterans.


By Tony Perry, Times Staff Writer
November 29, 2006

Most military medicine is dispensed at the region's larger bases, including the hospital at Camp Pendleton and the massive Naval Medical Center in San Diego's Balboa Park. Add to that list a sprinkling of clinics in civilian medical buildings.

But the two buildings in Santee, a joint effort by the Veterans Affairs and Defense departments, are the first free-standing local clinics.

A 6,500-square-foot main building with 10 examination rooms and two treatment rooms, and a 2,500-square-foot pharmacy building are part of the sprawling Santee complex, which also includes a Wal-Mart and other stores. Construction costs topped $3.2 million for the medical buildings.

"It doesn't feel like a government institution," Rear Adm. Brian G. Brannman, commander of the San Diego medical center, said at Tuesday's grand opening. "It feels like a place where you want to come and have your family taken care of — and that's the idea."

The goal is to keep patients from having to travel to the San Diego hospital, where parking and scheduling are tight. With its lower housing costs, east San Diego County is home to a growing number of military families.

Capt. David A. Tam, deputy commander of the medical center, said the idea for a local clinic came from watching sailors leave base to dash home to pick up a child in east county and then race back to the San Diego hospital for an appointment.

An advisory group of retirees and others had a hand in the planning, suggesting a soothing color scheme, TVs in waiting rooms and a child-care center. An emphasis was put on immediacy.

"People want service when they walk in," said Navy retiree John Sadler of nearby Lakeside.

These are busy times for military medicine.

Already the busiest military hospital in the country, the medical center in Balboa Park has increased its services to help Marines, sailors and others wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. It recently opened the military's only center for amputee care in the western U. S. And after the hospital ship Mercy's two successful humanitarian deployments to nations in the Western Pacific, the Pentagon has decided not to mothball the San Diego-based ship. More such missions are being planned.

Santee has long been a favorite of young military families because of its moderate rents.

The city takes pride in being military-friendly.

"You go to our restaurants and all you see are short haircuts, lots of high-and-tights," said Mayor Randy Voepel, using slang for the hairstyles required of Marines.

Voepel, who served two tours in Vietnam while in the Navy, estimates that a third or more of the city's 56,000 residents are active-duty or retirees and their family members. The city has "adopted" two military units: an infantry battalion from Camp Pendleton and a helicopter squadron from Miramar Marine Corps Air Station.

Santee is home to Joe Browning, a senior aide to Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-El Cajon), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. At the ceremony Tuesday, Browning suggested the clinic was the product of three influences: Hunter, Santee and the Balboa Park hospital.

U.S. Marines’ teamwork in Iraq gets the “big gun” in the air, supports infantry on the ground

AL ASAD, Iraq (Nov. 29, 2006) - U.S. Marines have brought in the "big guns" to combat insurgents in Iraq"s western Al Anbar Province.


Story by Staff Sgt. Jim Goodwin, Photos by Staff Sgt. Jim Goodwin and Gunnery Sgt. Michael Q. Retana, Regimental Combat Team 7

Utilizing a CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter, Marines airlifted an M198 Medium Howitzer canon from this sprawling U.S. airbase to an undisclosed location in western Al Anbar Province.

The Marines plan on using the extra firepower to provide support in the province, where the southern Calif.-based Regimental Combat Team 7 began synchronized clearing operations to rid the region of insurgents.

RCT-7 is the Coalition Forces unit responsible for providing security and mentoring Iraqi Security Forces in western Al Anbar Province, a 30,000 square mile region which stretches from the Jordan and Syria borders, hundreds of miles east to the Euphrates River.

"We"ve never lifted a Howitzer before," said Lance Cpl. Ronald J. Butler, a 19-year-old Marine from Merrill, Wis. "(We"ve lifted) cargo and stuff, but never anything that big."

Butler was part of the team of Marines on the ground - called a "Helicopter Support Team" - who helped prepare and actually hooked the 16,000-pound piece of artillery to the helicopter.

"This was pretty motivating," added Staff Sgt. Jerry Dominguez, the 29-year-old enlisted Marine in charge of the helicopter support team.

Moreover, the feat of getting the Howitzer safely to its destination required the combined efforts of multiple Marine Corps commands currently deployed to Iraq - a concept the Marines call a "Marine Air-Ground Task Force," which employs three separate elements to make up a force: a ground combat element, an air combat element, and a combat service support element.

RCT-7, the ground combat element, provided the canon and helped coordinate the lift, while the Miramar, Calif.-based 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), the air combat element, provided the helicopters. Dominguez" team is part of the Camp Pendleton, Calif.-based 1st Marine Logistics Group (Forward) - the combat service support element - which provides all logistical support to the thousands of Coalition Forces serving in Anbar Province.

Dominguez said his team conducts three to four lifts a week, providing an assortment of cargo - everything from ammunition to water and food to medical supplies - to troops throughout Al Anbar Province.

But while toting a canon from point A to point B via helicopter was a new feat for the Dominguez" team, transporting cargo in the air is not. In fact, air lifting supplies to U.S. troops operating throughout Al Anbar Province keeps one less supply convoy off Iraq"s dangerous roads, said Dominguez.

"This saves troops" lives," said Dominguez, who added that the more convoys out on Iraq"s roads, the more chance a U.S. military vehicle could hit an improvised explosive device. "It"s the IED factor. Instead of a convoy, we can just drop (the supplies.)"

As the helicopter hovered just yards above the Howitzer, Butler and half a dozen other Marines guided the helicopter"s crew from the ground, hooked the behemoth cannon to the helicopter"s underbelly, and gave the "thumb"s up" for take off.

In a matter of seconds, the helicopter flew off into an early morning sky, toting the Howitzer - the largest ground-based piece of artillery in the U.S. military"s arsenal - underneath.

Thirty minutes later, the massive weapon reached its destination, which can"t be divulged to protect the security of on-going U.S. military operations in the province.

For the "grunts on the ground," transporting the canon by helicopter greatly reduces the amount of time it takes for infantrymen to receive the extra firepower the Howitzer can provide, according to Maj. William P. MacNaughton, a 36-year-old Marine from Birmingham, Ala.

Utilizing a helicopter vice a military convoy to transport the "big gun" not only kept additional Marines off Iraq"s roads for their own protection, but also "freed up combat power to do other things aside from convoy security," said MacNaughton, who coordinates air support for RCT-7"s forces throughout Anbar Province.

"The whole purpose is to keep Marines off the road whenever possible," he said.

In the distance, the "wump wump" sound of the rotary blades of two incoming helicopters grew louder as Dominguez, Butler and the rest of their team began preparing the next load of supplies to be air-lifted - ammunition for the Howitzer.

"We"re getting the Marines what they need," said Butler. "It"s getting the mission done. It"s mission accomplishment."

Email Staff Sgt. Jim Goodwin at: [email protected]

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Military service a longtime dream, Canton McKinley graduate, in Marines for a year, was proud to be `defending freedom'

CANTON - When Heath Warner was 12, he visited Arlington National Cemetery with his family.


Wed., Nov. 29, 2006
By Jim Carney
Beacon Journal staff writer

Standing at attention, Heath saluted a member of the honor guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

The guard gave the boy a subtle hint, a slight wink, letting Heath know that he understood what the boy was feeling at the historic site.

Soon, Marine Pvt. Heath D. Warner, 19, will return to Arlington National Cemetery, this time to be buried in the rolling landscape that meant so much to him.

He was among three Marines killed Nov. 22 in a roadside bombing in Iraq.

The young man, who would have turned 20 on Jan. 2, dreamed of going into the military from the time he was 5.

While at Canton McKinley High School, he decided to join the Marines, enlisted in his senior year and by August 2005 -- several weeks after graduation -- was on his way to boot camp.

Inside their home this week, his parents, Scott and Melissa Warner, grabbed a pile of snapshots and pulled out one after another showing Heath as he grew up, determined to serve his country.

There was a picture of him wearing the Army uniform of his grandfather, Randy Metzger, of Bolivar.

Another showed Heath standing at attention and saluting at an Army fort in Virginia.

And one was from seven years ago as he stood at attention and saluted in the cemetery in Arlington, Va.

On graduation day at McKinley, he walked straight as an arrow, like a Marine, as he picked up his diploma.

``This is what he's always wanted to do,'' said his mother, Melissa Warner, 39, a cashier trainer for Sears.

``It was his calling in life,'' she said.

The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on America played a part in Heath's desire to serve his country.

``I remember him over and over saying, `I'm gonna go fight for my country,' '' his mother said.

In the week since his parents learned of his death, they have been comforted by friends and family and even strangers who have stopped by their Canton home to visit or to drop off food, flowers and cards.

Heath was a gunner on a Humvee when he and Lance Cpl. James Davenport, 20, of Danville, Ind., and Lance Cpl. Joshua Alonzo, 21, of Dumas, Texas, were killed while conducting combat operations in Al Anbar province, Iraq.

The three were part of the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, and were based in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii.

As a gunner, he stood on the Humvee.

On his Web site atwww.myspace.com/tmarui, he wrote, ``if you are gonna die, die standing up.''

On that Web site, he listed his major as ``Defending Freedom.''

While in Hawaii, he spoke with his family by cell phone, sometimes several times a day.

But after he left for Iraq in early September, the family received only one letter and no phone calls.

The letter was dated Oct. 2 and arrived in Canton on Oct. 28.

Heath wrote that he was studying the Bible and reading The Purpose Driven Life, a religious best-seller by Rick Warren.

``I don't want to talk about it much,'' he said in the letter. ``I get homesick. And you worry.''

In that letter, he told his family he had survived an IED -- an improvised explosive device.

``I know God is watching,'' he wrote.

Father Scott Warner, 43, a financial analyst for the Westfield Group in Medina County, said he and his wife believe Heath was trying to protect his family by not telling them much about what was going on in Iraq.

``Heath was a selfless young man,'' his father said.

The young Marine loved to break dance, was intrigued with martial arts, was teaching himself to speak Japanese and had taken Arabic lessons in the Marines.

A brother, Chandler, 14, described Heath as his best friend.

Losing him, Chandler said, is hard.

``My nerves are shot,'' he said.

His brother's sacrifice, Chandler said, will ``motivate me to do something good with my life.''

Heath has another brother, 7-year-old Ashton.

Father Scott Warner recalled a Memorial Day ceremony at McKinley Monument this year, attended by family of service members who had died in Iraq.

He said he told his wife during the ceremony: ``I pray to God we aren't up there next year.''

Heath didn't like to say goodbye when on the phone with his parents. Instead, he would say, ``talk to you soon'' or something like that, his parents said.

In the last letter to his family were these words in English: ``I love you all,'' followed by this word in Arabic, ``Goodbye.''

For some reason, his mother said, God wanted her son.

``He entrusted him to me,'' Melissa Warner said. ``Our children are definitely a true gift from God.... God needed him and I had to give him back.''

Funeral arrangements will be handled by the Heitger funeral home, Jackson Chapel, at 5850 Wales Road N.W. in Jackson Township. Times, dates and locations of calling hours and funeral services have not been determined.

Jim Carney can be reached at 330-996-3576 or [email protected]

'HE GAVE HIS LIFE FOR HIS FRIENDS', 2 Ohio towns say farewell to fallen Marine

TIFFIN - To the altar of St. Mary's Catholic Church, family and friends of Lance Cpl. Jeremy S. Shock carried symbols of what was important to the young Marine killed 10 days ago in Iraq.


Wednesday, November 29, 2006

His uncles presented his football jersey and a football.

His brother, Zack, and sister, Sara, carried his Tiffin University diploma.

A friend presented his Marine combat utility cap, and his wife, Clara, carried a photograph from the couple's wedding day last April.

The items represented what he had accomplished and enjoyed in his 22 years, but the Rev. David Ross, pastor at St. Mary's, told the packed church yesterday that it was not those accomplishments but the relationships he had forged that mattered most.

"Everything we own, everything we are, every rank and title we have mean nothing when we lie here. He gave his life for his friends," Father Ross said, alluding to the Gospel passage read only moments earlier.

The hearse carrying his body passes his Green Springs home.

Zoom | Photo Reprints

Corporal Shock, a native of Green Springs and a 2002 Clyde High School graduate, died Nov. 19 after the Humvee he was traveling in was struck by a roadside bomb in Fallujah. Another member of the Perrysburg Township-based Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 24th Marines, was injured in the blast but is expected to recover.

Father Ross said Corporal Shock had been a good son, a good husband, a good friend.

"He was the guy who was always there when you needed him," he said. "He had a good sense of humor. He was polite, a hard worker, a simple, humble fellow who wanted to go to law school after he came back from Iraq. He loved his country so much he joined the Marines."

For an hour before Corporal Shock's funeral, mourners passed by his casket and paid their condolences to his wife and other family members. At a funeral home in his hometown of Green Springs, Corporal Shock's wife and mother were each presented with the Purple Heart medal Monday evening.

The Purple Heart is presented to those who are injured in combat or to the families of those killed in action.

"They're presented as a way to commend the family for the courage and the support they've had for their service member and for pride and honor," said Gunnery Sgt. Steven Kosinski, who took part in the emotional ceremony.

Sergeant Kosinski said Clara Shock had spoken to her husband just a day and a half before he died and the next day attended a memorial service in Michigan for Sgt. Bryan Burgess, another member of the 24th Marines who was killed in Iraq on Nov. 9. Ironically, he said, Corporal Shock had fired a rifle during the memorial service for Sergeant Burgess that was held the same day in Iraq.

Yesterday, rifles were fired into the air at the Green Springs Cemetery for Corporal Shock.

About 48 members of the Patriot Guard Riders, a national group of motorcyclists and others who want to show respect for fallen soldiers and their families, lined the street in front of and beside the church in Tiffin holding U.S. flags. They took up their posts again at the cemetery, standing on either side of the pathway into the graveyard as the hearse and limousine carrying family members passed.

A bagpiper played the Marine Corps Hymn as Marines carried the casket to the burial site.

Following prayers, the Marines meticulously folded the U.S. flag from Corporal Shock's casket and gave it to his family.

Clara Shock, who met Corporal Shock when they were both students at Tiffin University, spoke briefly during the funeral service, reading what she called her last letter to her husband.

"You've made me the happiest woman on Earth," she said. "You always give me support when I need it. Even when you're far away, you're here for me."

He had not failed at anything he'd done, she said, adding, "I really don't know yet what I'm going to do without you in my life."

U.S. moving 1,600 troops into Baghdad

Story Highlights
• U.S. to move three battalions from more peaceful areas
• Number of U.S. forces in Iraq won't increase
Troops will be from Army units; Marines to stay in Anbar province

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The U.S. military plans to move at least three more battalions of soldiers into Baghdad in an attempt to restore security in the Iraqi capital, a senior Pentagon official said.


POSTED: 10:58 p.m. EST, November 29, 2006
An Army official said about 1,600 troops will be involved. Some of the troops are already in the Baghdad area and will be moved into the city.

Other troops will be moved from areas where it is relatively more peaceful -- such as northern Iraq where there are Stryker battalions -- the Pentagon official said.

The highly mobile Stryker units are based around an eight-wheeled lightly armored vehicle named for two Medal of Honor recipients in World War II and Vietnam.

The Pentagon official said the troops will not include Marines based in Sunni-dominated Anbar province, where there has been fighting along the Euphrates River corridor between troops and insurgents.

The troop shifts won't require an increase in total forces in the country, the official said.

As sectarian violence rages in parts of Iraq, securing Baghdad has been the top priority in the U.S. strategy to bring democracy to the country.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government hasn't been able to devise an effective strategy to stem the Sunni-Shiite violence that some observers say has plunged Iraq into civil war.

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, speaking Wednesday at meeting of business leaders in Dubai, said Iraq's violence meets the standard of a "civil war."

President Bush this week refused to debate whether Iraq was in a civil war. He called the latest violence "part of a pattern" of attacks by al Qaeda in Iraq to divide Shiites and Sunnis.

Bush was in Amman, Jordan, on Wednesday for a meeting with al-Maliki, but the talks were put off after public disclosure of U.S. doubts about his capacity to control sectarian warfare. The two are scheduled to meet Thursday, the White House said.

Al-Maliki's political standing weakened when allies of cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, a key Shiite supporter of al-Maliki's government, said Wednesday they were stopping their participation as Cabinet ministers and members of parliament.

November 28, 2006

Marines dig ‘Talons’ into insurgency

SAQLAWIYAH, Iraq (Nov. 28, 2006) -- Marines from 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment swooped down on unknowing insurgents recently. Marines netted 13 suspected insurgents and rescued two Iraqis held hostage by insurgents.


Nov. 28, 2006; Submitted on: 11/28/2006 07:31:32 AM ; Story ID#: 2006112873132
By Lance Cpl. Erik Villagran, Headquarters Marine Corps

Marines completed a search of a garage complex with the assistance of B Company, 1st Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment and assets assigned to Regimental Combat Team 5, which included amphibious assault vehicles, tanks and air support.

"There had been reports of insurgent activity in the area, so we went in and searched it," said Cpl. Rodrigo R. Santos, a 26-year-old rifleman from Yonkers, N.Y. "They were suspected of selling weapons, ammunition and IED (improvised explosive devices) making materials."

Marines set up vehicle checkpoints on all roads leading into the garage complex to ensure no insurgents could disrupt the searches. Other Marines moved in to apprehend possible insurgents in the area.

"We took over the area real fast," Santos said. "The units communicated and coordinated very well."

All the garages and semi-trucks in the area were searched. Marines smashed locks off garage doors to search the backs of trucks and made sure they weren't trying to transport anything illegal.

Marines gathered detainees while they searched and transported them to a temporary holding facility.

Detainees were put in holding areas that were made at the site. Marines from the battalion's Headquarters and Service Company kept watch over the detained Iraqis.

"We had a lot of people to maintain," said Cpl. Kurt M. Vogler, a 26-year-old administration clerk from Elicott City, Md. "Our job was to keep them calm and make sure there weren't any problems."

Marines were responsible for taking care of the detainees, feeding them and making sure any medical problems they had were assessed.

"We gave them blankets, we fed them and we gave them tea," said Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Ion Jarmond, a 33-year-old hospital corpsman from Hampton, Va. "I also treated around 30 men for different symptoms from headaches to an old lady with diabetes."

They gave the detained Iraqis two meals during the day and also provided them with snacks while they were processed.

All the Iraqis on site were questioned about the insurgent activity in the area, and explosive ordnance disposal technicians blew up contraband found in the search.

"The mission went excellent," Santos said. "We processed everyone we wanted to and sent a message to the insurgents. It tells them that what they are doing in the area isn't going to be tolerated."

*Families and volunteers help Knoxville Marines in Iraq

KNOXVILLE (WATE) -- As if the war in Iraq wasn't hard enough, now local reservists are serving during the holiday season.

So Tuesday night at the Naval and Marine Reserve Center on Alcoa Highway, family members came out to make that distance a little shorter.


November 28, 2006
6 News Anchor/Reporter

"It's been awful. I just can't explain it. I can't describe it. If I try to, I'm going to cry," said April Gordon, whose husband Kevin is with Delta Company in Iraq.

April had to spend Thanksgiving without her husband and knows she has to be strong for their 20 month-old daughter, Shalee.

"It's just so hard to be without him, especially with the holidays coming up and I don't feel real Christmasy but I want to do stuff for my daughter."

The Gordons joined dozens of other families and volunteers to stuff stockings for the local Marines and a hundred more from Lynchburg, Virginia.

Karen Potter's brother, Jason Russell, is also in Iraq. The event was a break from the empty feeling felt on Thanksgiving.

"It was very sad. Mom took it hard. It was hard for her to participate and everything. But Christmas is going to be even harder," Potter said.

The Marines should get the stockings within a couple of weeks. The families hope their Marines will be home in March.

Tanks bring the thunder to Camp Fallujah

CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq (Nov. 28, 2006) -- "Adrenaline rush" doesn't describe what it's like to stand next to a tank as it fires. It's as if Thor, Norse god of thunder, got his Viking shorts in a bunch because someone makes a noise louder than him, so he grabs hold of the adrenal glands and squeezes for all he's worth.


Nov. 28, 2006; Submitted on: 11/28/2006 07:09:53 AM ; Story ID#: 200611287953
By Gunnery Sgt. Mark Oliva, Headquarters Marine Corps

The ear-cracking, rib-crunching, earth-shaking "boom" of the M-1A1 Main Battle Tank's 120 mm main-gun round firing is nothing short of unnatural. It's the sound of a thousand trees snapping in half all at once, the smack of a semi truck slamming head-on into a concrete wall or an entire July 4th fireworks show packed into about a half-second.

It's the sound of destruction. Final and total. Kaput. Nothing left.

It curls up the corners of tanker's mouths into sinister sneers, revealing childish, grit-filled sets of teeth. It's a smile that just can't be turned off. This is what tankers live for, days like the one C Company, 2nd Tank Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 5 spent on Nov. 21.

Tankers rolled out their 68-ton behemoths to Camp Fallujah's Eagle Range to make sure that whatever they aimed at got destroyed, a chance for Marines shoot the guns they rarely get to fire.

"We went out to make sure the weapons systems were zeroed," said Sgt. Chris N. Campos, a 24-year-old tank commander from Easly, S.C. "Basically, we wanted to make sure we were hitting at what we were pointing."

Campos said tankers normally shoot twice a year at Camp Lejeune, N.C., the battalion's home station. He said his company got extra shooting time prior to recently deploying to Fallujah.

Still, any chance to shoot is a good day.

"It makes it all worth it," said Cpl. Ronald E. Valasek Jr., a 30-year-old gunner from Lower Burrell, Pa.

Chilled-morning air greeted Marines as their tanks crunched tracks, edging forward to the firing line. A few final preparations and it was fireworks time.

Outside the tanks, it was an eerie silence, waiting for the gun to blast. It all changed in a matter of milliseconds. The gun roared to life, belching out a ball of bright yellow flame. Sand flew up, seeming to leap from the earth from the ground-pounding shock as the concussion of the blast caused eyes to slam shut and shoulders to tighten.

Think earthquake, sky ripping open and mountains crumbling. It's like getting a 120 mm preview of a volcano eruption.

Ear plugs seemed worthless as the deafening crack reached into the center of the skull, rattling what little neurons were left firing.

Billows of smoke were all that remained as a second report of the round crashing through the hull of an abandoned Iraqi tank fell victim to Marines.

That was just what was happening on the outside.

"It's a lot more muffled on the inside," Campos said. "The blast is not as loud."

It's also a whole lot busier.

"There's a flash inside the turret when we fire," he added. "Then the breech comes flying back."

That keeps everyone on their toes, Valasek said.

"That breech recoils about a foot," he explained. It's also within inches of Marines heads, arms and legs.

"It's a big rush," said Lance Cpl. Glen Hawkins, a 19-year-old loader from Kansas City, Mo. "Slinging those rounds and slamming them into the gun and then the breech comes back. It's a huge flash coming in front of your face."

Lance Cpl. James E. Coder, the tank's 19-year-old-driver, has one of the best seats in the house for the whole show. The main gun hovers just feet above his head, separated by steel decks.

"When that thing goes off, you can feel the whole tank go back, even though we're driving forward," Coder explained.

The whole time Campos and Valasek are seated with their eyes glued to the sights. Valasek said most times, he barely even notices the gun's report.

"I pulled the trigger and a fireball came out," Valasek explained. "We shot through thermal sights, so the sight went white and the dust cleared in time for me to see the round impact on target. It's split-second total concentration. Even though I'm sitting right next to it, I don't experience it moving."

That split-second zone, the flash of the gun and devastating impacts on target are what makes being a tanker worth it. All the un-sexy parts of the job, the maintenance, greasy fingernails, lifting heavy track, the sweat, the cold, the early mornings and late night all seem to melt away.

"Spending an hour-an-a-half 'after-ops' to keep that machine rolling, it's worth it to be able to shoot," Valasek said. "It's an adrenaline rush."

But Valasek's a tanker. He's tougher to impress than Thor.

Pentagon Considers Moving Troops from Al-Anbar Province to Baghdad, Major Strategic Shift Considered to Secure Iraqi Capital.

Nov. 28, 2006 — ABC News has learned that Pentagon officials are considering a major strategic shift in Iraq, to move U.S. forces out of the dangerous Sunni-dominated al-Anbar province and join the fight to secure Baghdad.


ABC News

The news comes as President Bush prepares to meet with Iraq's prime minster to discuss the growing sectarian violence. The two will meet in Jordan, where they are expected to focus on hammering out a plan to increase the strength and numbers of Iraqi forces.

There are now 30,000 U.S. troops in al-Anbar, mainly Marines, braving some of the fiercest fighting in Iraq. At least 1,055 Americans have been killed in this region, making al-Anbar the deadliest province for American troops.

The region is a Sunni stronghold and the main base of operations for al Qaeda in Iraq and has been a place of increasing frustration to U.S. commanders.

In a recent intelligence assessment, senior Marine Intelligence Officer in al-Anbar, Col. Peter Devlin, concluded that without a massive infusement of more troops, the battle in al-Anbar is unwinnable.

In the memo, first reported by the Washington Post, Devlin writes, "Despite the success of the December elections, nearly all government institutions from the village to provincial levels have disintegrated or have been thoroughly corrupted and infiltrated by al Qaeda in Iraq."

Faced with that situation in al-Anbar, and the desperate need to control Iraq's capital, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Peter Pace is considering turning al-Anbar over to Iraqi security forces and moving U.S. troops from there into Baghdad.

"If we are not going to do a better job doing what we are doing out [in al-Anbar], what's the point of having them out there?" said a senior military official.

Another option under consideration is to increase the overall U.S. troop level in Iraq by two to five brigades (that's about 7,000 to 18,000 troops).

Generals Casey and Abizaid, however, have both weighed in against this idea. And such an increase would only be sustainable for six to eight months. Far more likely, the official says, will be a repositioning of forces currently in Iraq. "There is a push for a change of footprint, not more combat power."

As dire as the situation is, officials say they expect no decisions on any change in military strategy for at least another two or three weeks, until incoming Defense Secretary Robert Gates is sworn in and given a chance to weigh in on the various options under consideration.

15th MEU (SOC) Marines and Sailors receive a little holiday cheer in Iraq

CAMP KOREAN VILLAGE, Iraq (Nov 28, 2006) -- The plain, nondescript boxes came with labels directing them to troops in Iraq. Inside, the individually wrapped packages from school children carrying the kind words of holiday cheer along with a few comforts of home.


Nov 28, 2006
Submitted on: 12/12/2006 06:50:51 AM
Story ID#: 2006121265051
By Pfc. Parish, Timothy, 15th MEU

To the Marines and Sailors of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), the packages represent the best of holiday spirit while on deployment. The holiday greeting cards and small trinkets carried inside the small personalized bags are a welcome surprise for the Marines and Sailors here.

Lance Cpl. Gregory Grant, administration clerk, command element, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) said the care packages remind him that people at home care about the troops here. “It was nice, with little ones back home thinking about us,” he said.

In an operational environment, it is easy to forget that the holiday season is just around the corner. “For me right now, there really isn’t a holiday season. It is nice to know that others back home are enjoying it, and they’re thinking of us while they’re enjoying it. That’s good, it helps us out,” Grant added.

Petty Officer 3rd Class, Soohuen Ham, religious program specialist, command element, 15th MEU (SOC), said the care packages are welcome. “I really thank the school children for sending the packages. I feel like I’m home and I really appreciate their support,” he said.

To the Marines and Sailors here, the packages are more than just a reminder of the holiday season while in Iraq, Ham said. “Being out here, all I get is sand, so this is like receiving ten Christmas presents all at once,” he said


CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. - Marines and Sailors from 6th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, headquartered here, will begin deploying in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom to relieve forces currently in the Al Anbar province of Iraq as part of a scheduled rotation.

This information was found on the following website under Press Releases.


Media Release
United States Marine Corps
2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, N.C.

From: 1st Lt. Barry L. Edwards
Questions: Call: (910) 451-9033
Fax: (910) 451-0756
E-mail: [email protected]

This rotation of forces includes approximately 4,500 Marines and Sailors that will make up Regimental Combat Team-6, MNF-W, once in Iraq.

The combat team will include
2nd Battalion of the 6th Marine Regiment
3rd Battalion of the 6th Marine Regiment
Combat Logistics Battalion of the 2nd Marine Logistics Group (Fwd), all headquartered here.

In addition, RCT-6 will include
2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, headquartered at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, Ca.
1st Reconnaissance Battalion, headquartered at Camp Pendleton, Ca.

“The regiment and battalions have trained extensively so that we may continue with the success that our predecessors have achieved,” said Col. Richard L. Simcock, 6th Marine Regiment commanding officer. “Our Marines and Sailors will continue to train, integrate and operate alongside Iraqi Security Forces in order to continue the Iraqi led fight against those that oppose a peaceful Iraq.”

This will be the regiment’s first deployment as a headquarters unit in support of OIF and will be their second in the fight against terrorism. The previous tour includes a six month deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom to Afghanistan in 2004.

For more information, contact the 6th Marine Regiment Public Affairs Office at (910) 526-9918.

2nd MAW announces 2007 deployment

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C. (Oct. 30, 2006) – 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing(Forward) is scheduled to depart in January on its second deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in order to provide aviation support to Coalition Forces in the Al Anbar province.

This information was found on the following website under Press Releases.


Public Affairs Office
Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point
PSC Box 8013 Cherry Point, North Carolina 28533-0012
TEL: (252) 466-3244 FAX: (252) 466-5201
Point of Contact: 2nd Lt. Ryan Powell

*** Press Release ***

2nd MAW (Fwd) is comprised of approximately 3,000 Marines and Sailors from:

Marine Wing Headquarters Squadron 2
Marine Wing Support Group 27
Marine Air Control Group 28
Marine Aircraft Group 29

2nd MAW (Fwd) will be headquartered at Al Asad with detachments at Korean Village, Al Taqaddum, Al Qaim and other locations in order to project aviation support throughout the Al Anbar Province.

2nd MAW (Fwd) will support Multi-National Force West by providing command and control of aircraft, close air support, offensive air support, assault support, aerial reconnaissance, medical and casualty evacuations, and electronic warfare. 2nd MAW (Fwd) has organic capabilities to meet its own engineering, logistical and administrative needs.

For more information, contact the Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point Public Affairs Office at (252)466-3244.


MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C.- The 2nd Marine Logistics Group (Fwd), II Marine Expeditionary Force (Fwd), headquartered here, will be deploying to Iraq in early 2007 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Note: This information was found on the following website under Press Releases.


2d Marine Logistics Group (Fwd)
Public Affairs Office
PSC Box 20125
Camp Lejeune, NC 28542
Phone: (910) 451-3538

***Press Release***

The 2d MLG (Fwd) will support Multi-National Force West’s mission of assisting the Iraqi people in their transition to independent security and self governance.

The 2d MLG (Fwd) is composed of

Combat Logistics Battalion 2
Combat Logistics Battalion 6
8th Engineer Support Battalion
2nd Maintenance Battalion
Headquarters Company
Service Company
Communications Company,

all of which are headquartered here and include approximately 4,000 Marines and Sailors.

They provide maintenance, supply, engineering, transportation, medical, dental, disbursing, exchange, postal and military police assets.

This will be the first deployment for the 2d MLG (fwd) under the Marine Corps’ new logistics reorganization.

For more information, please contact the 2d MLG (Fwd) Public Affairs Office at (910) 451-3538.

Regimental Combat Team-2 Prepares to Deploy in Support of Operation Iraqi Freedom

Regimental Combat Team-2 (RCT-2) prepares for its third scheduled deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, replacing a unit currently conducting operations in Al Anbar province.

Note: This information was found on the following website under Press Releases.


2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, PSC Box 20093, Camp Lejeune, NC 28542, Phone: 910-451-0141
For Immediate Release

Commanded by Col. Herman Clardy, RCT-2 will assist Iraqi Security Forces in conducting security and stability operations during their deployment. “Our focus for this tour differs from previous deployments in that we are directly supporting Iraqi Army and Police forces as they conduct counterinsurgency operations and enforce the rule of law” said Clardy. “We also look forward to building on the tremendous successes which RCT-7 experienced with the Iraqi Security Forces”

The RCT-2 first deployed for OIF as Task Force Tarawa under the 1st Marine Division in March of 2003. Later, they deployed in 2005, conducting a number of combat operations including Operations Matador, New Market and Sword.

The Camp Lejeune-based RCT is a regimental headquarters augmented by at least three infantry battalions and a compliment of combat logistics, civil affairs and other support detachments numbering approximately 4,500 Marines, Sailors and Soldiers. While RCT-2 is scheduled to remain deployed for approximately 12 months, the subordinate units will continue to follow their planned rotation schedule.

The major units within RCT-2:
- Headquarters Company, 2nd Marine Regiment (Camp Lejeune, NC.)
- 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment (Camp Lejeune, NC.)
- 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment (Marine Corps Base, HI.)

- An infantry battalion from the U.S. Army (TBD)
- 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion (Camp Pendleton, Calif.)
- Combat Logistics Battalion 2 (Camp Lejeune, NC)

Media interested in more information or in covering the departure should contact the RCT-2 Public Affairs Office at (910) 451-0141 or visit http://www.lejeune.usmc.mil/2dmardiv/2marreg.

II MEF Press Release for upcoming deployment in 2007

CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. – Marines, Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward), headquartered here, will soon begin a phased deployment to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom as part of a scheduled rotation with the Camp Pendleton, Calif., based I Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward).

Note: This information found on the following website under Press Releases.


PSC BOX 20085

Press Release
November 28, 2006

II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward), commanded by Maj. Gen. W.E. Gaskin, will assume responsibility early next year for organizing and commanding Multi-National Force West, the Coalition Force responsible for western Iraq. Forward-based in Fallujah, Iraq, MNF-W will consist of approximately 28,000 Marines, Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen, as well as 10,000 Iraqi soldiers from the 1st and 7th Iraqi Army Divisions.

Multi-National Force West’s mission is to enable Iraqis to defeat the insurgency by building their own security forces and enhancing the political and economic environments of Al Anbar.

Multi-National Force West is built around a division-sized Marine Air-Ground Task Force composed of four elements:

Command Element
II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward)

Ground Combat Element
Regimental Combat Team-2
Regimental Combat Team-6
1st Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, U.S. Army

Air Combat Element
2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward)

Combat Service Support Element
2nd Marine Logistics Group (Forward)
30th Naval Construction Regiment, U.S. Navy

Multi-National Force West will continue to train and mentor the Iraqi Security Forces, preparing them to lead counter-insurgency operations in Al Anbar Province.

Supporting these objectives, MNF-W, in concert with U.S. agencies, will continue to advise and assist the Iraqi governmental leadership in providing representative government that assures the basic needs of the Iraqi people are met.

For more information about II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) or the upcoming deployment, contact 2nd Lt. Roger Hollenbeck (910)451-9033.


November 27, 2006

Thanksgiving Away, An American holiday in Iraq’s Al Anbar Province.

Like their fellow servicemen back home, U.S. troops in Iraq enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings, and in most cases the meal was served by officers and senior non-commissioned officers.


November 27, 2006
By W. Thomas Smith Jr.

At Al Asad (the largest American base in the volatile Al Anbar Province), for instance, and at Husaybah on the Syrian border; Marines, sailors, and soldiers with Regimental Combat Team 7 feasted on turkey, ham, crab legs, prime rib, dressing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, a variety of casseroles, pies, cakes, and any other treats the cooks and bakers could come up with.

At Combat Outpost Rawah, also in Al Anbar, Marines and sailors with the 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner and received a visit from Army Gen. George W. Casey, Jr., commanding general, Multi-National Forces-Iraq, who wished them a “Happy Thanksgiving,” praised their work, and urged them to keep up the good fight.

Following are a few pictures forwarded to National Review Online by Marine Staff Sergeant James M. Goodwin (the pictures were shot by Goodwin, Cpl. Michael S. Cifuentes, and Lance Corporal Nathaniel F. Sapp)

Combat Center honors fallen from 1/7

Seven stacks of sandbags sat aligned in the green grass of Lance Cpl. Torrey L. Gray Field Nov. 16. Twenty-one Marines in groups of three stood in dress blues behind each stack of sandbags. Each Marine held a rifle, Kevlar, or boots and dog tags. When the names of the fallen Marines and sailor from 1st Battalion, 7th regiment were called, one Marine with a rifle stepped forward and stuck the rifle with a bayonet attached into the stack of sand bags. A second Marine then placed a Kevlar on top of the buttstock of the rifle, followed by the Marine with the boots and dog tags.


Monday November 27, 2006
Lance Cpl. Nicole A. LaVine
Combat Correspondent

“These men have inspired us both in life and in death,” said Col. Nicholas F. Marano, commanding officer of 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, in his speech to the crowd at the memorial.

Marano spoke heavily about the dedication, ceaseless work and intense compassion of the men in his unit.

“The Marines and sailors in this unit dedicated themselves to showing the Iraqi people what it is to live a life free of fear and tyranny,” he said. “These men knew the difference between our enemies and the Iraqi people trying to live their lives. We showed them that we are a just and humane society.”

The unit’s two main missions in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom were to secure borders to prevent the inflow of terrorists, and to secure urban areas and build civilian institutions to work for a more peaceful Iraqi nation. Marano revealed that, in addition to accomplishing the original missions, the population had also almost doubled between the time the unit arrived and the time they departed.

Marano said that, despite the numerous missions, the unit worked for much more than the mission-at-hand.

“The Marines built the trust of the local people one Iraqi at a time,” he said. “The Marines defended the local people from the terrorists who hid in their midst and demonstrated the ultimate truth that freedom is indeed not free.”

Marano also made it a point to honor, not only the lost warriors, but also the families of those who had made the ultimate sacrifice.

Maj. Mark D. Dietz, the battalion’s executive officer, expressed the importance of getting the families together with the men who served with their fallen loved ones.

“This is a great opportunity for the families to meet the Marines who were responsible for their sons and were with them the last months of their lives,” Dietz said. “It gives them a chance to talk, tell stories and receive real closure.”

Many stories of sorrow and valor were shared that day.

A story shared about Lance Cpl. Aaron W. Simons demonstrated his compassion for the lives of those he didn’t even know. As he lay injured in his hospital bed, all Simons thought of was an Iraqi family who had lost several children to a rare kidney disease. Now, the one daughter who was still alive had also fallen victim to the illness. It was the young Iraqi girl, not himself, whom Simons focused his thoughts on in the midst of his own suffering. Simons’ wishes for her health were later granted when the little girl was able to get the treatment she needed to survive.

Another story shared by Marano revealed the sacrifices made were not one-sided. Two Marines who attended the memorial came home alive because of the valiant actions of an Iraqi soldier at a check point. An insurgent wearing a bomb vest approached the check point, threatening the lives of the men. The Iraqi soldier, with no hesitation, ran to the insurgent and bear-hugged him as he detonated the bomb. The soldier died in order to save the lives of the Marines behind him.

Gallantry knows no race, creed, gender or nationality. All heroes are united by the sacrifices they made without hesitation or regret for the sake of their country and brothers-in-arms.

Let it be through the telling of their stories that we may pay tribute to their lives.

The following Marines and sailor were honored at the memorial service Nov. 16:

Lance Cpl. Bryan Taylor, 21, a Milford, Ohio, native and a combat engineer in Company A.

Lance Cpl. Aaron W. Simons, 21, a Modesto, Calif., native and a rifleman in Company C.

Lance Cpl. Michael L. Ford, 20, a New Bedford, Mass., native and tanker with 1st Tanks Battalion, Company C.

Seaman Apprentice Zachary M. Alday, 23, a Donaldsonville, Ga., native and a corpsman with Weapons Company.

Lance Cpl. Salvador Guerrero, 22, a Whitter, Calif., native and a mortarman with Weapons Company.

Lance Cpl. Jeremy Z. Long, 19, a Sun Valley, Nev., native and rifleman with Company A.

Good cook is a fortune of Iraq war, Plymouth man feeds troops

FALLUJAH, Iraq -- Lance Cpl. Christopher Owens couldn't get an inch of traction trying to rag Charlie Company's chief cook, Lance Cpl. Steven Oliver, that his insignia should be a bowl with crossed spoons.


November 27, 2006

"Well, let me tell you," Oliver told his buddy, "cooks have knives."

An army, Napoleon said, travels on its stomach. The U.S. Marines are no different, and Oliver makes sure nearly 200 Michigan-based Reserves in the 1st Battalion, 24th Regiment are fueled for the fight in Fallujah.

"He cooks and he can hold a rifle," Owens said. "He does a damn good job."

Oliver, 23, of Plymouth responds that it's the least he can do.

"These guys are working hard -- harder than I ever do," he said. "And I try to do the best I can for them."

The meals are meant to be big -- Friday's dinner was barbecued pork ribs, macaroni and cheese, green beans and strawberry cheesecake -- for young Marines burning up calories by the carload working 18-hour days.

Given the condition of Charlie's base in a battered school administration building, its power generated from a madcap tangle of wires and cables, Oliver usually serves food prepared at Camp Baharia, the U.S. base just outside Fallujah, rather than cooking it himself.

For Thanksgiving, Oliver put on turkey and steaks. But he also tries for unexpected touches, special snacks like mozzarella sticks, Buffalo wings and breakfast burritos.

"The guys really like that stuff," Oliver said, and it can mean a lot more than soufflis or parsley sprigs on the cardboard trays.

Owens said friends back home can't possibly understand the delight such small treats can bring after weary hours on patrol, followed by "five hours of freezing in a cold-ass room" as they await new orders while on alert.

"They just don't know," he said. "There's no way they can."

Oliver said his parents had a difficult time understanding why he became a Marine reservist while attending Western Michigan University. He said he acted on an urge he first felt when news of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks came to his drafting class at Plymouth-Canton High School.

Oliver's folks were relieved he was trained as a cook before his deployment with the other 1,100 men in the battalion.

"They took relief that I'd be back at Camp Baharia's chow hall," he said.

It didn't exactly turn out that way.

"Now, I'm probably one of the most forward-based cooks in the Marines."

In Charlie Company, the cook gets served double duty as driver for its commanding officer, Capt. Mike Mayne, who earned a Bronze Star for combat heroism in an earlier tour.

Mayne -- a fitness buff who growls at snack cakes -- doesn't lead from the rear. He's often out overseeing operations and on hand when the men are on road patrols and conducting random vehicle searches.

Like the men in his command, Mayne can be exposed to insurgents' grenade attacks, sniper shots or blasts from homemade bombs. These aren't abstract threats; the company has lost four men since taking over responsibility for the central city two months ago.

"It's OK," Oliver said. "It puts me at ease being out there with him."

Contact JOE SWICKARD at [email protected]

NJ Community Collects Silly String for Troops

STRATFORD, N.J. - November 27, 2006 - It may seem odd, but Silly String is helping to save the lives of soldiers in Iraq and one local community is making a big effort to ship it overseas.


By Cathy Gandolfo

Among the dangers faced by the military fighting in Iraq are booby traps.

Nearly invisible wires trip the explosions, but soldiers and marines have found Silly String is one way to spot the sinister mechanism without setting off the trigger.

Sixth grade teacher Jane Maugeri demonstated Silly String's use in revealing otherwise stealth threads for students at St. Luke's School in Stratford on Monday.

It's all part of a drive by the student council and the parish community to collect cans of silly string to send to Iraq.

The request came from Marcelle and Ronald Shriver, whose 27-year-old son, Army Specialist Todd Shriver, is stationed in Ramadi.

The Shrivers published their son's request in parish bulletins at St. Luke's and Our Lady of Grace in Somerdale. It's gotten a very strong response.

Bill Reynolds of Berlin dropped off 30 cans on Monday morning after a trip to a dollar store.

Silly String is considered a hazardous material, so shipping it requires following certain guidelines. The Shrivers are working on it

The churches are accepting donations of Silly String and money for shipping. St. Luke's Church is located at 55 Warwick Road in Stratford. Our Lady of Grace is located at 35 White Horse Pike in Somerdale.

November 25, 2006

‘Outlaws’ vs. insurgents is familiar face-off in Rawah

RAWAH, Anbar Province, Iraq — Nov. 25

The Outlaws are actually decent guys.

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November 24, 2006

Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based Marines work with Iraqi soldiers and locals to stop fire in northwestern Al Anbar Province

CAMP KASAM, Iraq (Nov. 24, 2006) - When an electrical fire burned through the chow hall on this Iraqi camp, U.S. Marines from the adjacent combat outpost rushed to help Iraqi soldiers and local Iraqi firefighters contain the blaze.


Story and photos by Lance Cpl. Nathaniel Sapp, Combat Correspondent, 2nd LAR Battalion

About 150 miles northwest of Baghdad, Marines from the Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion provided trucks that carried 64,000 gallons of water - roughly the amount an average American uses in a year, according to the EPA, to the aid of the Iraqi soldiers.

"We made four trips in order to give the Iraqi firefighters the water they needed to put it all out," said Lance Cpl. Kreg Pringle, a 21-year-old motor transportation operator.

The Marines linked their "pod" containers of water to the Iraqi fire truck as Iraqi soldiers and firemen manned the hoses and worked to quell the flames.

"They needed help, and we were here to give it to them," said Pringle, an Eldridge, Miss., native.

Since 2nd LAR arrived in Iraq three months ago, they have worked side-by-side with Iraqi soldiers from 2nd Battalion, 3rd Brigade, 7th Iraqi Army Division to keep Rawah and neighboring city of Anah safe from insurgents.

Ultimately, the Iraqi soldiers will take control of security operations in the cities, which each harbor a population of roughly 20,000.

Iraqi soldiers have shown themselves to be hard workers with the "want and ability to patrol all day," according to Cpl. David Mann, a 23-year-old infantryman.

Iraqi soldiers from 2-3-7 are crucial to counterinsurgency operations here, as they can "pick up on unusual activities or mannerisms that American Marines wouldn"t recognize," said Mann, an Aiken, S.C., native.

Moreover, Iraqi soldiers from 2nd Battalion - one of several in western Anbar Province - are providing daily assistance to Coalition Forces in the form of thorough security operations, according to U.S. troops here.

"They"re good at interacting with the local people," added Cpl. Joshua Tavener, a 23-year-old infantryman from Aurora, Colo. "They know the customs and a lot of them are quick to help us translate what we need to say to the local people."

Email Lance Cpl. Sapp at: [email protected]

Love prevails, even in war, Bond unites families while U.S. mission in Iraq continues

FALLUJAH, Iraq -- Thanksgiving came to Fallujah with fists hammering on sheet metal gates.


November 24, 2006

"Ifta! Marines!" shouted Gunnery Sgt. Paul McGowan, demanding entry into a home early Thursday morning during a neighborhood sweep by about a dozen men from the Charlie Company.

While his family readied to gather in Oakland Township for the holiday meal, McGowan and the other reservists of the 1st Battalion of the 24th Marines Regiment were out doing what they came to Fallujah to do -- derail the vicious insurgency that has made this trucking center on the Euphrates River one of Iraq's main combat arenas.

This is the fourth Thanksgiving since 1986 that McGowan, a veteran Marine from Jackson, has spent away from home -- and the first in direct action with an armed enemy.

The turkey and pumpkin pie, along with construction-paper centerpieces from schoolkids back in Frankenmuth help.

"Thanksgiving is not a big deal by itself," McGowan said. "The best thing is having the time pass.

"Every day that passes is another day closer to going home and really being with your family," he said.

McGowan knows what he, his wife and their three children would be doing for the holiday at his in-laws if he were back home: "Hanging out, watching the Lions lose and hoping for the Cowboys to lose."

Back home

Just about the time that the customary black cloud of another Lions loss was settling over Ford Field on Thursday afternoon, the McGowans started loading up plates and heading to the table.

Each place setting was marked by a miniature Pilgrim hat inscribed with the seat occupant's name.

Paul McGowan's Pilgrim hat sat atop the centerpiece.

His 12-year-old daughter, Ellen, started the meal with a prayer she wrote at Jackson Catholic Middle School.

"Dear Lord," she read, "Thank you for all my family and friends. Thank you for my dog, too. Please help my family to make good choices, especially my dad."

Kim McGowan added a prayer for the families of fallen Marines from her husband's battalion.

Despite that somber moment, the meal inside the Oakland Township home of Kim McGowan's parents rollicked along.

On the battlefield

After a night in Oakland Township, Sgt. Paul McGowan said, it would be back to Jackson to buy the family Christmas tree.

Likewise, it was holiday time for the entire 1/24th in their scattered bases in Iraq: the Charlie Company in the middle of the city, the Bravo Company at the train station on the north side and the Alpha Company on the Shark Fin, a sharp peninsula jutting into the Euphrates River, and Weapons and Headquarters companies just outside of town at Lake Baharia.

At 44, McGowan is one of the oldest men in the outfit. And as a vice president of a Jackson lighting business, he knows duty's not all gung-ho guts and glory.

Thursday afternoon, he sat his rifle down to oversee repairs of a kitchen cooker and the delivery of the turkey and steak dinners, and to make sure the base's portable toilets -- the sniper threat and random mortars means mandatory helmets and vest for daylight visits -- got pumped out and cleaned.

But from late Wednesday night until dawn Thursday, it was back to looking for trouble.

The Marines each were armored up with 42 pounds of helmets and vests, plus 30 more pounds of ammo, weapons and night-vision goggles.

Dashing along the dark streets and through muddy alleys -- alert for snipers and ambushes -- the party swept through homes on two blocks, checking residents' identification, searching for weapon stashes and sniffing for anything suspicious.

The Marines had multiple reports that 30 insurgents had just infiltrated the city from nearby Ramadi, another bloody hotspot in the Sunni Triangle, west of Baghdad.

"There are these bad guys out there waiting for us," Cpl. Ty Mench, a 27-year-old Indiana resident attached to 800 Reserve Marines of the Michigan-based Battalion, said as he briefed the patrol before the foray from the unit's fortified base in central Fallujah.

"So be on your A Game. As usual," he said.

"Ready to rock? Let's go outside," McGowan said as the patrol filed into the night through the steel door with the spray-painted reminder: "Complacency Kills."

Four men from the Charlie Company were killed in 17 days -- the 1/24th battalion has lost six others. McGowan said you don't need a holiday to recall your buddies and know how much their families have lost.

Along the way, the men swept through 12 homes, awakening everyone from glaring hard-eyed men, grandparents and young couples, down to infants. The Marines tried to match professionalism with determined authority, but there is no gracious way for a brace of armed strangers to sweep through a family home.

"What that does to people, I think about that all the time," McGowan said. "And the men have talked about it, too."

How can it not be resented and feed an urge, he said, to get these strangers out of their home, by force if necessary.

"That's how you'd feel," he said.

'I wish the war could just be over'

Back in Oakland Township, McGowan's daughter, Grace, knows how she feels.

She was born while McGowan was deployed. Since then, her dad's Marine Corps duties have forced him to miss her sixth- and eighth-grade graduations and her confirmation. And she misses him now, on the eve of her 16th birthday.

Friends at Lumen Christi High School in Jackson support her, she said, but sometimes are at a loss for words.

"I think a lot of people don't know what to say, so they don't say anything," she said. "It's not so much the Marines. It's just, I wish the war could just be over with, and we could all move on with our lives."

Lessons learned

Though not winning friends, the 1/24's searches don't have to drive the residents into the ranks of bomb makers, either, McGowan said.

The final house search turned into a wait of well more than an hour while other units finished up their sectors. As part of the unit stood on alert, a 10-year-old boy broke out a box of dominoes to pass the time and retired undefeated when the men pushed back to base.

Back at the base, McGowan said the family in the last house his group searched was warmly bonded and their affection plainly showed all the while the Marines were set up in their home. The results were minimized tension and some laughs with the domino dominator.

"You try to adjust to the situation you encounter," McGowan said. "That's the Marines. Semper Gumby. Always Flexible."

Western Anbar’s senior Marine commander, enlisted, visit troops along Iraq-Syria border posts for Thanksgiving

AL QA"IM, Iraq - Regimental Combat Team-7"s commander and sergeant major commended and expressed thanks to their Marines and sailors here for the "phenomenal things" they"re doing for the citizens of the Al Qa"im region.


Story and photos by Cpl. Michael S. Cifuentes, Combat Correspondent
3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment

Col. William B. Crowe and Sgt. Maj. Jimmy D. Mashburn spent Thanksgiving Day visiting the Marines of the southern Calif.-based 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, who are based in outposts in the northwest region of Al Anbar Province, Iraq.

They"re foremost message was simply "thank you for what you are doing for this region."

"I know it"s tough being away from your homes and families" said Mashburn to a group of Marines with 3/4. "But, you are doing an outstanding job here and we"re watching you from afar in Al Asad, [Iraq.]"

RCT-7 is the Coalition Forces unit responsible for providing security to more than 30,000 square miles in western Anbar, stretching from the Syrian and Jordan borders, east to the Euphrates River.

The sergeant major and colonel are based at the regimental headquarters in Al Asad. 3rd Battalion is one of RCT-7"s subordinate units in western Al Anbar Province.

The battalion is three months into a seven month Iraq deployment. They are tasked with patrolling the streets of the many cities that lie along this Euphrates River region, just miles east of the Iraq-Syria border. The Marines here face threats such as small-arms fire and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) every day while operating in the region.

The battalion also works with Iraqi soldiers and police, mentoring them so Iraqi Security Forces can eventually provide security to their own country.

"It"s good to see Marines with aggression and control," said Mashburn. "You are allowing the Iraqi citizens to taste freedom more and more, and at the same time, keeping them safe from the insurgency."

Since 3/4"s arrival here in September, the Marines have successfully disarmed IEDs, captured wanted individuals and found weapons caches in their area of operation.

"‘No better friend, no worse enemy" holds true with [you all]," said Mashburn, quoting the 1st Marine Division"s motto.

Along with securing the streets from adversaries, the Marines here have built a good rapport with its civilians. Husaybah, a city that borders Syria and was the setting of Operation Steel Curtain - a 2005 operation which pitted U.S. Marines and local Iraqi tribesmen against hundreds of insurgents - now hosts a flow of business in its market street, clear of insurgent activity.

"If we can maintain security of their streets, we will have their [local populace"s] support," said Cpl. Carl G. Williams, a squad leader with the battalion"s Kilo Company. "They want the insurgency out just as much as we do, so our relationship with them is more of a ‘business" relationship."

Mashburn also stated that regimental officials were confident in putting a battalion that was self-sufficient in this region. Overall, he"s proud of what the battalion is doing, he said.

Young Marines, such as Lance Cpl. Jordan R. Hintz, a 20-year-old from Esko, Minn., was one of the many Marines who met with the regiment"s senior leadership Thanksgiving Day. He was happy to see that the sergeant major and colonel wanted to be involved with the Marines" lives during the festive holiday, he said.

"It"s good to see that they want to know how we are and how we"re living," said Hintz after Mashburn visited him and his comrades in the living quarters of his outpost. "He [Mashburn] asked of our concerns and if we felt fine being here. We told him things here were great."

Marines like Hintz are living in 20-square-foot living quarters that bunk roughly six or more Marines or sailors. Hintz is a machine gunner in a platoon that conducts vehicle-mounted patrols in the city of Karabilah.

Along with their concerns for the troops" welfare, Mashburn and Crowe wished the Marines a "Happy Thanksgiving" to all they met, shaking hands and taking time to chat with Marines and sailors.

"Everyone"s got something to be thankful for, right?" asked Mashburn to some of the Marines he met with. He answered the question for them - "the Marines you work alongside with everyday, watching each other"s back" during combat operations.

"I am thankful for [you all] being here," said Mashburn. "Although you are not with your families at home, you are with your families here - the Marines and sailors you work with."

"Happy Thanksgiving, and I hope you eat a lot of food today," said Mashburn, a native of Salem, Ill.

To some Marines, Thanksgiving in Iraq was just another day on the job, according to Hintz.

"I kind of lost track of the days out here," said Hintz. "Even though it"s Thanksgiving, we still have jobs to do."

Hintz said he misses his family and his girlfriend in Minnesota, but he"s glad he"s with his buddies here.

"Civilians can never understand what it is to be a Marine out here," said Mashburn to the Marines here. "You are ensuring these people"s freedom. It takes a great amount of maturity from you young people to take care of that. It"s amazing what you do."

Contact Cpl. Cifuentes at: [email protected]

Navy secretary’s visit marks Thanksgiving for sailors, Marines

November 24, 2006
By Andrew Scutro
Staff writer

COMBAT OUTPOST RAWAH, Iraq — You would not have known it was Thanksgiving in western Iraq. It was just another day. But Marines and sailors at the sprawling Al Asad Air Base might have had a clue when they entered the chow hall.

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Heath Warner

CANTON - The Warner family tried to have as normal a Thanksgiving Day as possible Thursday.


To view or sign Pfc. Warner's guestbook:

The sun shone brilliantly on the American flag and the U.S. Marine Corps flag that were proudly flown side by side on the porch of Scott and Melissa Warner's home on the city's northwest side.

This, they knew, would be a holiday like no previous one the family had observed.

The Warners learned Wednesday that their son, Marine Pfc. Heath Warner, had been killed in Iraq.

Warner, 19, reportedly was riding in a jeep on the west side of Baghdad at about 10 a.m. Wednesday when a roadside bomb exploded and killed him and two other Marines.

Warner was the 19th local soldier -- and the eighth with ties to Stark County -- to die in Iraq.

``We're just trying to bring some normalcy to a holiday,'' said an aunt, who answered the door at the family's home and said she was serving as a spokeswoman. ``The family need this day to be together and they will talk later.''

The grieving family had bunkered themselves inside the neatly kept, brick, two-story house.

There, they shared memories of Warner, who graduated 18 months ago from McKinley Senior High School.

``Heath was a good student in school and great kid,'' said Tony Tenaglia of North Canton, Warner's great-uncle. ``And we didn't have any inclination as he was growing up that he would go into the service.''

Tenaglia called Warner ``a typical kid.''

``We have a large family and we'd always see him at Christmastime when we rented a hall and 80 or so of us would get together,'' Tenaglia said. ``He was great to talk to and to be around. Everybody really liked Heath.'' The tumultuous events of Sept. 11 had a big impact on Warner, his great-uncle said.

``When 9/11 hit in 2001, he got it into his head that he had to go into the service,'' Tenaglia said. ``Everybody -- immediate family, relatives and friends -- tried to talk him out of it. But he was determined to serve his country and he went against the objections of everybody.''

Tenaglia said Warner focused on preparing for military service before he graduated from McKinley.

``After 9/11, Heath thought going into the service was the right thing to do and it kind of overtook his mind,'' Tenaglia said.

He said Warner's personality changed with his training.

``He had been very outward and very intelligent before he got into the service,'' Tenaglia said. ``Once he got into training, he was very withdrawn. Heath still was a great guy, but he just wasn't as personable as before. I guess the training in the service makes you that way.''

The Department of Defense declined comment Thursday.

A spokesman said the agency cannot release any information until 24 hours after the next of kin has been notified.

November 23, 2006

Marines stop insurgents with hasty checkpoints

MUDIQ, Iraq - Iraqis now drive on safe roads thanks to the Marines who set up vehicle checkpoints here on a daily basis.

That credit goes to Marines of Jump Platoon, Headquarters and Service Company, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment.


Thursday, November 23, 2006

‘‘It’s making it harder for insurgents to move any contraband through the main routes of travel,” said Sgt. Robert E. Mitterando, platoon sergeant for Jump Platoon.

The 24 year old from Mastic Beach, N.Y., and his Jump Platoon use hasty vehicle checkpoints, on-the-spot car searches, to control what traffic comes in and out of their area of operations.

Mitterando said the searches have been working. He recalled one instance specifically.

‘‘We waved the flag and usually guys stop, but this guy didn’t stop,” Mitterando said. ‘‘That’s when he finally stopped. Then we dismounted and searched the vehicle.”

Mitterando and his crew didn’t find anything in the car so they tested the guys’ hands for any ammunition residue. One man tested positive for gun residue and the other tested negative.

‘‘However, we took both in because one was consorting with the other,” Mitterando said.

Mitterando said those men weren’t the only ones they’ve caught.

‘‘I’d say that we’ve picked up at least seven people from hasty VCPs from five different vehicles,” Mitterando said. ‘‘We’re going to keep doing like were doing. It’s an ongoing effort.”

Marines of Jump Platoon think in time their efforts will show the bad guys that no one can just smuggle anything anywhere, said Cpl. Michael L. Deibert, a 23-year-old vehicle driver for Jump Platoon, who is also an administrate clerk from Allentown, Pa.

‘‘We do VCPs to catch insurgents and IED-making materials,” Deibert said. ‘‘It also shows civilians that we’re in a continuous effort to fight insurgents and keep them safe.”

Many Marines think the checks will also help keep their team safe.

‘‘It makes the convoy safer,” said Cpl. Mario O. Huerta, a radio operator with Jump Platoon. ‘‘We don’t have to worry about suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices.”

It’s because the 22 year old from Dallas makes an example out of cars that break the rules. Huerta remembers one time they had to stop a vehicle that refused to halt. When Huerta and others searched the vehicle, they found that the driver didn’t own the truck.

‘‘He had no keys,” Huerta said. ‘‘It’s probably stolen.”

He was right. Huerta and his fellow Marines found that the driver had to pluck wires under the dash to turn the truck off.

‘‘The vehicle was ‘hot wired,’” explained Sgt. Coleman Hyer, a motor transport mechanic with Jump Platoon.

It was then the 21-year-old dismount from Lebanon, Ore., and the rest of the Jump Platoon apprehended and detained the two men by a building there.

‘‘Then I Company sent out a patrol of troops from their combat outpost to tow the truck and escort the detainees out of the area,” said Cpl. Craig Ledsome, Desgrosseilliers’ driver who also doubles as a radio operator with Jump Platoon.

The 24 year old from Austin, Texas, said all the events happened in front of the Iraqis shopping at the marketplace there. That’s how he and his fellow Marines like it. The Jump Platoon wants their hasty VCPs to keep Iraqis safe and send a strong message to insurgents and their associates.

‘‘If you were a car thief or burglar and you saw your friend getting ‘rolled up,’ you’d think, ‘Damn, these guys mean business,’” Hyer said. ‘‘We’re not playing around. If you work with insurgents or are an insurgent, we’re going to stop you.”


Marine archive handles thousands of images

Combat photographers for the Marine Corps in Iraq and Afghanistan are busy capturing images of the war effort. But where do those images go once they snap the photos?


Date published: 11/23/2006

The Quantico Marine Corps Base.

The Marine Corps Imagery Resource Center there receives, catalogs and archives all images from field combat. It now has about 100,000 photographs and 1,200 videos.

Once archived, the photos and videos can be used for projects such as advertisements, promotions and motivational presentations. The center also maintains a Web site, from which the public can view and download images.

Pfc. Claire Vanzant, 21, handles all of the video files that come in. Most of the new arrivals are from Marine operations in Iraq.

She was studying journalism before joining the Corps. She said she wanted the job because she loves photography and "figured it would be really awesome on a resume."

Vanzant reviews all of the video to make sure what's happening on screen matches up with what's listed on the caption sheet.

"You get to see some pretty interesting videos," she said.

Across the room, Pfc. Daniel Castillo, 25, works on graphics and special projects. Before joining the Marines last year, Castillo worked as a graphic artist for six years.

"I get to put both my hobbies together, being a Marine and art. So it works out pretty well," he said.

"I like to try to use what artwork that I do to try and inspire and motivate the Marines that are out there."

Recently, the big project was providing images for the temporary terrorism exhibit at the National Museum of the Marine Corps at Quantico.

The staff printed 400 to 500 images and taped them up all over the office walls for the museum's director and art director to make final selections. About 100 images from 9/11, Afghanistan and Iraq are now displayed at the gallery.

Getting the images from the field involves more than a memory card and a mouse click.

Combat photographers in the field send the images to Joint Combat Camera Center at the Pentagon and the Imagery Resource Center simultaneously using a file transfer protocol, or FTP.

The images sent to the Pentagon are released to the media and other civilian outlets. The images sent to the resource center are archived.

The Corps has been using digital photography since 1999, which makes it faster and easier to share photos. A new server coming on line soon will further speed and simplify the process. Sgt. Adam Groenhout, 22, will be in charge of tweaking and updating the new server.

He's worked on both ends of the process. Before joining the Combat Camera Center, Groenhout spent six months in Iraq as a combat photographer.

The time in the field was a dream come true.

"The ability to capture an image and display that image," he said. "The ability to spread that information so powerfully through photography and video."

To reach JENN ROWELL: 540/374-5000, ext. 5617
Email: [email protected]

November 22, 2006

Family Sends Gift Boxes to Iraq

Christmas may be coming a little early for Tallahassee soldiers in Iraq.


November 22, 2006
Julie Montanaro

The family of recently slain Marine Daniel Chaires wheeled a cart with 45 gift boxes into the post office Wednesday morning.

The boxes, with everything from magazines to toothbrushes, are bound for Anbar Province, Iraq where members of Daniel's company are still fighting.

"We've got pictures that kids from Chaires Elementary School drew and just little things from home, messages from Tallahassee just letting them know we're thinking about them. I think they're going to really like them when they open them," said Daniel's sister Hannah.

The Chaires family has been overwhelmed with donations for the gift boxes and when Ava O'Hollearn heard about it, she agreed to pay all the postage. The family intends to send regular shipments until Echo Company comes home in April.

November 21, 2006

Marine pen pal tells of Iraqi experiences

ROXBURY TWP. – Marine Lance Cpl. Justin Masterson said his convoy was driving down an Iraqi roadway when it came to a sudden halt because a young Iraqi girl was sitting in the middle of the road, clutching a Teddy bear.


By CLAIRE KNAPP Staff Writer

The lead in the convoy got out with an interpreter to ask the child why she was sitting in the road.

Through the interpreter, the girl said she wanted to stop the convoy because a bomb had been placed in the road ahead.

It was one of many events recounted by Roxbury’s Masterson as he told Randolph seventh graders of his seven months in Iraq in a special assembly in October. The children wrote to Masterson, 22, when they were sixth graders last year. Amanda Keller, daughter of school board member, Claire Keller, had suggested the letter writing campaign last year. The Kellers are friendly with Masterson’s family.

Masterson said that after he graduated from Roxbury High School in 2003 he didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life and felt he wasn’t ready for college.

Marine Enlistee

He enlisted in the Marines in February 2003, before his graduation, and was off to boot camp at Paris Island, S.C. in October. He graduated from basic training on Jan. 4, 2004, and went to Camp Geiger in Jacksonville, N.C. for combat training. He completed training as a truck driver at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri. While in Iraq, Masterson’s dangerous mission was assigned to protect convoys. More than 400 students filled the middle school auditorium to her the comments by the 6 foot 5 inch Marine. “I was scared. No doubt about it. You train, train, train, but this was the real thing. But one thing I had was my Marines. It is a family,” he said.

Masterson said his basic mission was convoy security. His unit had the responsibility of protecting truck convoys as they transported supplies from one base to another. “The convoys are important to any war effort,” said Masterson. “A soldier can’t fight if he doesn’t have food, water, medical supplies, guns and bullets. The convoys are what makes sure our soldiers have whatever they need.”

Masterson’s task was to be in front of convoys, scouting for hidden roadside bombs. “We were trained in what to look for,” said Masterson. “The explosive devices are usually well hidden or buried, and you have to be on the look-out for even the tiniest piece of wire that may be showing.”

“Driving down the road at 50 mph you see a little wire in the ground, you stop,” said Masterson. “That little wire could kill you. The people over there are good. They know how to hide the bombs.”

He said that when a bomb is discovered, the area is cordoned off for 300 feet and then Marines search for the “trigger man.”

He said special units are then called to use robots to detonate the devices.

“No one gets within 50 meters of a compound or convoy,” said Masterson. “The civilians know this. As soon as they see a convoy they pull off the road a distance and wait. But terrorists keep on going. If anyone approaches, we yell at them to pull of the road and stop. If they don’t, a pyro, or visual shot is fired. After that, a warning round is fired at 50 meters. Then disabling shots are fired and the vehicle will be taken out. But first we try to shoot out tires or engines.”

He said that in the seven months he was in Iraq, from February to September, his squad suffered only one minor attack and no one was injured.

Masterson said he was also sent on several missions to provide protection for military officers.

“Officers are a higher value target to the enemy than enlisted men like me,” said Masterson. “We sometimes traveled with them to make sure they were safe.”

After his presentation, Masterson answered students’ questions. One asked about the Iraqi people.

“The Iraqi people are not afraid of us,” said Masterson. “They would line up along the road to wave at us. Marines distributed candy and I gave them some of the gifts I received from stateside.”

“It is scary for some of them,” said Masterson. “We roll up in our uniforms, and if they have kids, giving them candy helped to break the ice.”

Masterson said the Iraqi children were important sources for the Marines.

“They know where the bombs are, and if you give them a pack of Skittles they’ll tell you,” said Masterson.

Masterson said the only Iraqi word he learned was “kif,” which means, “stop.”

“Our job was to stop and check people, searching them for explosives or guns. Civilian life over there goes on,” he said.

One mid-afternoon, Masterson said his unit stopped a car with a family in it.

“I love kids, and I noticed a little boy, maybe 3 or 4 years old who had a bleeding eye,” said Masterson. “The parents were not taking him to a hospital, they didn’t have the money. I gave the boy a big teddy bear and had a Navy Corpsman tend to him. We helped him, and that meant a lot to me.

Masterson said he has no political opinions about the war.

“I’m not political,” said Masterson. “I don’t have an opinion on whether the war is right or wrong. But I think if it makes a difference to even one person over there it makes a difference to me. We are helping people who couldn’t help themselves.”

Masterson said Iraq is either urban or open deserts and that there are no suburbs like Randolph or Roxbury.

“The environment changes your mode of operation,” said Masterson. “In the desert it is open. You can see for miles. In the cities, where buildings are close together, it is more dangerous because insurgents can hide.”

One boy asked Masterson if he had shot anyone in Iraq and the Marine hedged the question, saying he did “what he had to do to come home safely.”

Masterson said he was shot at by insurgents.

“One night a tracer bullet went right over my head,” said Masterson. “I looked up to see what it was, and another one went by. My master sergeant told me to get my head down, and I thought – hey, good idea.”

Masterson said he lost a friend in a truck accident in Iraq and that his only injury came when his vehicle was cruising across the open desert at 60 mph.

“We hit a bump and I flew out of the truck,” said Masterson. “I spread my arms and was flying. Thank goodness all I suffered was a few bruises.”

Masterson’s pride in being a Marine was evident after a student asked him if any of his missions had ever failed.

“Marines do not fail,” Masterson said.

Masterson is the son of Gary and Denise Masterson of Mapledale Avenue in Roxbury Township. His brother Kyle, 24, is also a Marine who served in Afghanistan from May to December 2004.

Masterson said he will be returning to Iraq in February, even though his unit isn’t due back until next August.

“I don’t want to wait until then,” he said. “I hate the cold, and going in February it won’t be cold in Iraq. In the summer, it can get to be 130 degrees in Iraq, but it doesn’t bother me as long as I have enough water. It’s hot, but there’s no humidity.”

Masterson said he still hasn’t decided what to do after his active tour in the Marines is completed in two years.

“I’m not going to make a career of the Marines because I want my kids to grow up the way I did,” said Masterson. “One house, one neighborhood, one community to call home. Being in the armed service you move around too much.”

Stuffed with love, Marine's family makes stockings

NORTON SHORES, Mich. -- The familiar symbol -- a blue star centered on a small white and red banner -- hangs in the front window. It lets passersby know it is the home of a service member away at war.


November 21, 2006

And inside the house, the mother of Marine Cpl. Daniel Cebulla, 21, designed, cut, sewed and embroidered and planned to send a little holiday joy to his company.

Debbie Cebulla planned to make 50 one-of-a-kind Christmas stockings to send to southern Iraq, where her son's unit is patrolling the border.

She was stuffing the stockings with soap, toothpaste, granola bars, lip moisturizer, heavy cotton socks, dried meat, flavored powder for their water and letters from home.

In Wisconsin, her sister-in-law Valerie Tenton planned to make 50 more. In Colorado, her cousin Julie Birdwell planned to make another 50.

Each of the 150 men in Daniel Cebulla's unit is to get a stocking before Christmas.

"I want to make sure they are not forgotten," Debbie Cebulla said as she darted between an ironing board and sewing machine in a bedroom and the embroidery machine in the kitchen.

Cebulla said her son told her the troops would love the stockings. But with 150 to make, the women almost were overwhelmed with the expense.

Enter Debbie Cebulla's brother, Scott Zemski, a certified public accountant in Oconomowoc, Wis. He asked his boss if he would like to make a contribution to the cause. His boss, Mike Dowling, asked him how much was needed. Zemski gave him the estimated figure -- $2,400. His boss said he would cover the cost.

Among the items being included are baby wipes, peanuts, toothbrushes and toothpaste donated by a Grand Haven orthodontist, pens and paper, crossword puzzle books, and small stuffed animals for the troops to give to Iraqi children.

Cebulla's kitchen table was covered with felt and spools of thread in every color to make the designs -- Marine Corps emblems, snowmen in uniform, NASCAR logos, and even some Marine mascot bulldogs.

A letter explaining the project was put in each stocking with the message:

"We hope this shows how much we appreciate the sacrifices you've made for us, your country. Please accept our warmest thoughts and gratitude during this holiday while you are far away from your loved families and friends."

MALS-16 munitions section provides Marine aviation with firepower

AL ASAD, Iraq (Nov. 21, 2006) -- If the job requires high explosives delivered from the air with devastating force, then Marine aviators in Iraq have a sure-thing option … Place an order with the Marines who provide such ordnance.


Nov. 21, 2006; Submitted on: 11/22/2006 07:22:02 AM ; Story ID#: 200611227222
By Cpl. Jonathan K. Teslevich, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing

The Marines assigned to the munitions section of Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 16, Marine Aircraft Group 16 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), are responsible for the storage, maintenance and delivery of ordnance in Iraq.

“We store, build and deliver all weapon types for fixed and rotary-wing aircraft, as well as re-supply the squadrons at Al Asad,” said Sgt. Alex C. Applegate, an aviation ordnance systems technician, and San Diego, native.

“Not only do we ship out ammunition to the squadrons here and the forward operating bases, the Marines also receive ammunition from the United States and receive damaged ammunition from the other forward operating bases in Iraq,” said Gunnery Sgt. Larry Ortiz, munitions chief, MALS-16.

In addition to the acceptance of new and damaged ordnance, the munitions section keeps track of potential manufacturing issues involving the ordnance.

“Sometimes we get notices of reclassification which means something is wrong with the ammunition,” said Ortiz. “In that case, we will send it back to the manufacturer because it is under warrantee.”

Despite the warrantees covering the ammunition and a careful storage process, extra precautions must be taken by the munitions Marines as they maintain the high-explosive ordnance stored at their facility.

“Out here, because of the weather and temperature, to make sure things don’t go off, we do more electronic continuity checks on the ammunition than we would do in the rear,” said Ortiz.

According to Ortiz, the munitions section not only stores, but prepares multiple types and sizes of rockets, guided missiles and precision-guided bombs inside the ammunition supply point at Al Asad.

Upon getting a request for ammunition, a build team of four to six Marines goes to the ammunition storage area and begins the process of assembling massive bombs or slender missiles.

“An ammunition build team is comprised of at least one quality assurance safety observer, a team leader and two team members,” said Ortiz, a Phoenix, native.

During an ammunition build, the team leader and two members perform all of the heavy lifting and wrench turning, transforming a simple gravity bomb into a precision weapon by attaching a guidance system to it.

The safety observer looks over the team’s shoulders to ensure the guidance system is attached to the bomb casing properly, making a written record of the build as it progresses.

“I make sure all the torque values, guidance fins and fuse settings are correct,” said Johnson, an aviation ordnance systems technician, and Eastpointe, Mich., native. “Sometimes, if they don’t work properly, the bomb can come apart in flight or can be a dud.”

“Ultimately, the safety observer's job is to make sure the bomb is built correctly and everyone stays safe,” added Applegate.

For the munitions Marines, their seven-month deployment of building and storing ammunition in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom has afforded them an opportunity they never would have received in the United States.

For more than three months at Al Asad, the munitions Marines have delivered ready-to-drop or fire bombs and missiles to Marine aircraft, and upon their return home, they will take with them a wealth of knowledge on combat munitions to the Marines there.

“We’re all from different squadrons, MALS-16, MALS-11, MALS-26, MALS-39, and some of us had never worked with rotary-wing ordnance or fixed-wing ordnance,” said Applegate. “This is good cross training and has given us the opportunity to work on ordnance we normally wouldn’t.”

Sgt. Alex C. Applegate, San Diego
Cpl. Joseph G. Johnson, Eastpointe, Mich.
Lance Cpl. Matthew R. Pallardy, St. Louis
Lance Cpl. Casey R. Kiefer, Los Angeles
Cpl. Ryan J. Peterson, Brooklyn Park, Minn.
Gunnery Sgt. Larry Ortiz, Phoenix

Disclaimer -- Photos associated with the article can be found at the following links:

1 - http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/image1.nsf/Lookup/2006112273046
2 - http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/image1.nsf/Lookup/2006112273425
3 - http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/image1.nsf/Lookup/2006112273629
4 - http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/image1.nsf/Lookup/2006112273752
5 - http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/image1.nsf/Lookup/2006112273920
6 - http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/image1.nsf/Lookup/2006112274042
7 - http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/image1.nsf/Lookup/200611227422
8 - http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/image1.nsf/Lookup/200611227328

Military needs more than just a show of support Stickers and wristbands are great, but donating time and effort can make a difference to those who give so much.

I am the proud, yet worried, mother of a 22-year-old U.S. Marine who just left for his second deployment to Iraq.


Tue, Nov. 21, 2006
By Ellen Harris

When my son enlisted in the Marines in 2004, I was drafted into an unfamiliar and frightening new world. As a parent, I have often had occasion to turn to others to guide me through new and difficult challenges. But there was no way I could prepare to send my son off to war the first time, let alone a second time.

Before he left in early October, we celebrated an early Thanksgiving with a quiet family dinner. While preparing the traditional foods, I fought back tears thinking about where he would be when most Americans are celebrating the holiday in the comfort of their homes with family and friends. Although we were thankful for this moment of togetherness, his impending departure, and the dangers he would face, weighed heavily upon us.

The night before he left, my son spoke privately with his younger brother and sister. He did his best to comfort them, provide reassurance that he would return safely, explain that he had an important job to do, and encourage them to be strong. My husband and I drove our son to catch an early flight back to his base in North Carolina, where he would depart for Iraq. At the curb of the airport, we cried, hugged, told him how proud we are of him and said, "See you later." We NEVER say goodbye.

On our drive home, I realized how alone I felt in sending my son to war. I thought of how World War II and Vietnam affected most families. These wars consumed our nation. The media were there to remind us what it meant to be at war. But this time seems different. This war isn't always front-page news. Casualties are relegated to the back page, and the wounded don't seem to be counted at all.

We are quick to say that we will make the necessary individual sacrifices to preserve our freedoms and liberties, but are we? At what cost? Those who have a child serving in the military know firsthand what that cost is, and could be.

But, as a military mother, I have learned that military folks don't whine. They don't complain. They do their job and don't ask for very much in return. When I stand in line buying items for my son, packing the boxes to be shipped, applying the customs forms, going to the post office, I realize that my family and I are already sacrificing in a big way by having our son in this war.

I wish my fellow citizens would increase their involvement in supporting our military and their families in a more focused and tangible way. Putting a sticker on a car or wearing a green wristband is great, but it's simply not enough. There are people who do reach out by adopting a soldier or Marine, sending packages, and volunteering their time in supporting the military and their families. But more need to get involved, to give back to those who give so much of themselves.

More schools and businesses should consider adopting a platoon or battalion and being responsible for sending monthly care packages of snacks, hygiene items, socks, magazines and other things we take for granted. More local papers could lend their support to organizations and individuals in their communities by publicizing their efforts to support the troops. A personal card can be sent to a family who has sustained a loss or injury. Perhaps a visit can be made to a military hospital to comfort those who survived but who are broken in mind or body.

I hope it is not too much to ask my fellow citizens to share this burden with me and other military families.

Ellen Harris lives in Fort Washington.

Overhauled CNN Hummer to Take 36th Annual Barrett-Jackson Auction by Storm

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Following a brave tour of duty in the Iraq War and a wild "Overhaulin'" by Chip Foose and his partners on The Learning Channel, a one-off CNN Hummer will be sold for charity at No Reserve during the 36th Annual Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Event from Jan. 13-21, 2007, in Scottsdale, Ariz. Nicknamed "Warrior One," the custom SUV was unveiled before a host of CNN employees on October 12, 2006.
Source: The Barrett-Jackson Auction Company


Tuesday November 21, 8:00 am ET
Proceeds from the SUV Will Benefit The Fisher House Foundation

Proceeds from the sale of the Hummer will be donated to The Fisher House Foundation, a group that builds "comfort homes" for families of hospitalized military personnel. Hailed as "The World's Greatest Collector Car Events(TM)", the auction will feature more than 1,100 of the world's finest collector automobiles, attract over 225,000 visitors and be featured on SPEED with 40 hours of live coverage.

"The CNN Hummer will be one of the most historic, inspiring vehicles to ever cross the block at a Barrett-Jackson auction," said Craig Jackson, president of the Barrett-Jackson Auction Company. "This machine served with America's brave soldiers in Iraq, and now it will help fund an amazing organization that supports the families of wounded soldiers. The future owner of this Hummer will capture a commemorative gem to add to their automotive collection."

CNN officials purchased the Hummer in Kuwait prior to the war. Correspondents, producers and photojournalists depended on "Warrior One" to report stories while embedded with the First Battalion, 7th Marines. In addition to basic transportation, the Hummer served as living quarters and a storage facility for the CNN crew.

This past summer "Overhaulin'" took the Hummer to the show's workshop in Irvine, Calif. Crews revamped the Hummer's engine and made numerous upgrades including a 6-inch suspension lift, custom leather interior, 37-inch BFGoodrich tires and one-off Foose wheels.

Stereo system upgrades include 7,500 watts of Kicker audio, 250-pound subwoofers, a DVD player and six LCD monitors. Airbrush artists Dru Blaier, Mickey Harris and Mike Lavallee spent 240 hours painting images of journalists and military personnel onto the vehicle as a tribute to those who served during the war in Iraq and to the brave journalists who covered the war.

"The crew from Overhaulin' has created a memorable tribute to military personnel who serve during times of war and the journalists who cover them," said Jim Walton, president of CNN Worldwide. "We feel the Fisher House - with its mission to support military families during times of medical need - is an ideal recipient for the proceeds raised by the auction."

Since its unveiling, the Hummer has visited various U.S. military bases and automotive events, including the SEMA Show in Las Vegas from October 31-November 3, 2006. The "Overhaulin'" episode featuring the Hummer aired on November 14, 2006, on TLC.

"In addition to its sentimental value, Chip Foose transformed this military beast into one of the best looking SUVs on the planet," added Steve Davis, executive vice president of Barrett-Jackson. "CNN wanted to personalize this Hummer to honor the brave men and women of our armed forces and the journalists who risk their lives alongside them. I believe Chip and his team delivered."

Barrett-Jackson continually reaffirms its leadership position in the collector car market by elevating consignment standards, challenging annual records and serving as the barometer for market trends. Last year, more than 300,000 attendees and millions of television viewers from around the world witnessed over 1,600 cars being auctioned off for approximately $135 million at the two 2006 Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Events held in Scottsdale and Palm Beach, Fla.

November 20, 2006

A club they'd love to leave

TAMPA - Dick Linn sits inside Room 109 at the La Quinta Inn, lost in the glow of his laptop.

He's 53, a traveling software salesman far from his Virginia home. He's also the father of Marine Lance Cpl. Karl Linn, 20, who was killed during an ambush near Haditha, Iraq, in January 2005.


By BRADY DENNIS, Times Staff Writer
Published November 19, 2006

Each month, the war creates new Dick Linns across the country. Despite the presence of support groups and counseling, many of them still grieve alone.

But Linn and others like him have discovered a safe haven in a quiet corner of the Internet. The popular Web site, www.marineparents.com, contains a private, password-protected forum for Gold Star families - those who have lost a Marine at war - where they can share openly with others who have suffered a similar fate.

Linn has posted on the Gold Star message boards thousands of times since his son's death.

He visits the site several times a day, and says he's comforted that even in a hotel room 800 miles from home, friends are only a click away, ready to share his sorrows and lift his spirits.

"We cry, rant, doubt, even tell jokes and tease each other. We compare notes about the stages of grief and the bad times that seem to come and go," Linn said.

"Sometimes we tell stories about our sons. Sometimes we just want to be around people who understand. There's an air of respect and kindness that is only borne of such a loss."

A place of their own

The www.marineparents.com Web site gets about 12-million hits each week. A military mother from Missouri, Tracy Della Vecchia, started the site in 2003 as a resource for parents on all aspects of Marine life.

There are sections on recruiting, boot camp and Marine slang, information about deployments and homecomings. There are message boards on hundreds of topics, from protective gear to post-traumatic stress disorder. Members have organized care packages for those serving overseas and have sent cards and letters to injured troops.

As the casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan grew, Della Vecchia said she saw the need to add another element to the site. She realized families who had lost a loved one deserved their own private space. The Gold Star forum was born.

"I realized there was a need for them to talk with other people that got it," she said. "Nobody else understands."

These days, more than 150 family members have passwords to the Gold Star section. Most of them were using the regular Web site before they heard the dreaded knock at their door.

Just days ago, Della Vecchia added another new member.

"We add them all the time," she said. "I wish I didn't."

Leaning on each other

Each day, when John Dyer signs on from Cincinnati, a familiar group of names fills his computer screen. DevilDawgDad from Oregon. AmyH from Ohio. Nick_sDad from Montana. Rochelle from Seattle.

He may not know their full names. He may never have heard their voices. But he knows their stories and their sons and their struggles. And they know his.

"Everybody's in the same boat," said Dyer, whose 19-year-old son, Lance Cpl. Christopher Dyer, was killed in August 2005 near Haditha. "It's group therapy, at a distance. We lean on each other and somehow keep standing up."

They talk about the most sensitive of subjects. Should I view the autopsy? What should I do with his room? How do I make funeral arrangements?

"Where else can you go to ask someone that?" Dyer said.

They tell each other about their nightmares. They share the strange moments that trigger memories - a smell in the kitchen, an aisle in Target, the sight of beef jerky. They share pictures of their Marine, tell stories about his teenage antics.

But it isn't all grimness and grieving. Family members trade advice on computer problems and car trouble. They share prayers and poems.

They recommend TV shows and talk politics. They write about their good moments, like the birth of a grandchild. They tell jokes: "A Marine walks into a bar..."

"People in your everyday life, they've moved on," said Gayle Naschansky, 48, from Byron, Ill., who signs on daily. Her son, Lance Cpl. Andy Patten, 19, was killed by a roadside bomb in December near Fallujah.

"Even though your family is supportive and your friends are supportive, it's just not the same. This would have been such a long, lonely journey if I hadn't had these people."

On tough nights, Mark Dewey sometimes posts at 3 a.m., from his home near Phoenix. He knows that by dawn, others will have replied, comforting him, encouraging him to stay strong.

"It's there 24-7," said Dewey, father of Lance Cpl. Brandon Dewey, 20, killed in January by a suicide bomber in Haqlaniyah.

"When everything else falls apart, you got somebody there."

One day at a time

The message board regulars have put together a guide for new Gold Star parents. It includes advice on every aspect of losing a child at war, from what to expect during the trying first days to suggestions on life insurance and loneliness. Most members also post their phone numbers, in case someone needs to hear a friendly voice.

Back in his Tampa hotel room, Dick Linn lights another Vantage cigarette. He takes a sip from his Budweiser. He checks the message board to see if any new Gold Star parents have introduced themselves on this night.

No one has. He's thankful.

But if and when they do, Linn knows, a few of the regulars will be signed on. And they will welcome the newcomers, same as they did with him, into the club no one wants to join.

Brady Dennis can be reached at [email protected] or 813 226-3386.

[Last modified November 19, 2006, 13:04:34]

'King of Battle' conquers New River

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (Nov. 20, 2006) -- The “King of Battle” recently conquered a section of the New River, proving their abilities to adapt and overcome even forces of nature to complete their mission.

The “Saipan Battalion,” 3rd Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment, with the assistance of Bridge Company, 8th Engineer Support Battalion, exceeded both units’ expectations conducting a river crossing from Rhoades Point in the Verona Loop Training Area, to Weil Point, on the east side of the river.


Nov. 20, 2006; Submitted on: 11/20/2006 12:52:08 PM ; Story ID#: 2006112012528
By 1st Lt. Jeremy Best, 2nd Marine Division

"This was a great opportunity to link our training in the Verona Loop Training Area with artillery training on the east side of New River while simultaneously exposing our Marines to a different capability found in the MEF, specifically that of Bridge Company," said Lt. Col. Christopher McCarthy, the battalion’s commanding officer.

Battery I loaded the first rafts with hummers, 7-ton trucks, 155mm Howitzers and ammunition trailers before the sun crested the horizon. Once the first raft pushed off from shore, the crossing continued through the morning until the last raft was offloaded around noon.

“We were initially concerned with the ability of the howitzers and [7-ton trucks] to negotiate the wet sand of the river bank, but our operators and incidental drivers did a great job getting the vehicles safely on to the rafts, with some great direction from the Bridge Company Marines. The skill level and confidence of 8th ESB was impressive.” said Capt. C. J. Blume, the Battery I commander.

The river crossing allowed the battalion to diversify their field training while allowing Bridge Company to test their procedures for moving a large unit with numerous pieces of rolling stock. The amphibious movement delivered approximately 250 tons of motorized vehicles, including 18 hummers, 12 7-ton trucks, and four M-198 Howitzers.

“The limiting factor for this operation was the size of the rafts. The [noncommissioned officers] planned extensively to utilize the entire space of each raft and were forced to improvise these plans due to their inexperience with the battery’s equipment,” said 2nd Lt. Baleskie, 1st Platoon Commander, Bridge Company. “Their hard work and quick thinking were essential to the mission’s extraordinary success.”

The New River crossing provided Bridge Company the opportunity to plan the operation in conjunction with existing field training, exercise full command and control of the loading and movement, and use more bridge sections than normal for cross-river movements.

Marines from Bridge Company created three large rafts that could each accommodate six vehicles by connecting six sections of floating bridge together for each.

“This operation differed from our usual rafting operations, because the limiting factor was the space available on the rafts, and not the weight limitations, as it usually is when we are rafting tank,” Baleskie explained. “This allowed our drivers to gain experience in operating their bridge erection boats with rafts of six bays instead of the usual five bays.”

Each of the three large rafts were propelled by two riverboats in a coordinated glide across the water with an additional boat as a guide. From the operations order, to the final raft offloading at Weil Point, the maneuver was smooth and efficient.

The entire amphibious movement was a huge success, made possible by the flexible, capable support provide by the Marines of Bridge Company.

“The success of this operation was a direct consequence of each organization knowing their role, and performing it to exceptional standards,” he said. “The NCOs all had a strong understanding of their position of the operation and this allowed for them to adapt and overcome the challenges of crossing such a large number of diverse equipment.”

This wasn’t the end of operation but just the beginning. At this point, the operation “kicked up a notch” as the battery started its three-day, live-fire Training and Readiness Evaluation on the east side of the river. This live-fire evaluation tested the battery’s ability to consistently place steel on target, no matter the weather or time of day, from throughout the training area.

“The Marines performed well and were constant professionals throughout the course of the T&R;, even in the face of constant rain and a fast paced operation tempo,” Blume said. “The battery executed both standard and non-standard artillery fire missions and the professional competency of the Marines in both the Fire Direction Center and the gun line ensured that all 320 155mm rounds fired were ‘on time, on target’.”

‘In every clime and place’ was the theme of the Marines of 3rd Battalion, 10th Marines accomplishments over this training evolution which included conquering nature to complete their given mission. They proved once again the amphibious nature and never stop determination that comes with the title of Marine.

“Most importantly,” Blume explained, “with the battalion's help, we sharpened the combat skills we will take with us to Okinawa, and reinforced to the Marines that they are a combat capable firing battery , ready to answer any call for fire from maneuver.

November 19, 2006

15TH MEU gets new fighting vehicle

CAMP BUERHING, Kuwait (Nov. 19, 2006) -- A familiar looking vehicle with a new facelift recently arrived in Kuwait to meet the Marines of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable).

Though this vehicle may look like the High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle of years, this particular HMMWV, or the M1114, is quite different.

Note: Outside link to the M1114 can be found here:


Nov. 19, 2006; Submitted on: 11/19/2006 07:58:51 AM ; Story ID#: 2006111975851
By Staff Sgt. T. G. Kessler, 15th MEU

According to Staff Sgt Patrick Schofell, motor transport chief for Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, the main difference between the new M1114 and the older HMMWV is the way the vehicle is constructed.

Schofell explained the older humvees had retrofitted armor that caused a large amount of stress on the drive train and the suspension. The M1114 rolls off the assembly line with the armor already on it. Furthermore, the suspension and the drive train built to better handle the load.

The new vehicles come off the assembly line fully dressed with the new armor so the suspensions and drive train are adequate for the load, said Schofell.

One particular feature that Schofell pointed out about the vehicle is the way the armor is built on. Being fully encapsulated, as he explained, there are fewer gaps in the armor keeping the passengers inside safer as a result.

The important part is the safety of the passengers inside. The M1114 is definitely the way to go if you're trying to save lives.

Speed and handling are also a factor when dealing with the new vehicle. Since the M1114 has a drive train built to handle the load of the armor. Gone are the days of manually shifting the automatic transmission which had to be done with the older humvees to keep from damaging the transmission.

A 6.5 liter turbocharged diesel pushes the vehicle down the road, explained Schofell, and because of the beefier suspension it now has the ground clearance it needs to get the job done.
As a fighting vehicle, it's more reliable. It's not going to break down in a combat convoy and saving lives it's definitely [safer] out there, said Schofell.

Sgt John Bishop, platoon sergeant for BLT 2/4, explained the M1114 is a favorite among Marines.

Everybody loves them because they're brand new. They hold up well because of the armor that is built on them. The M1114 is better than any of the other [older] vehicles that we have here, said Bishop.

The handling is one aspect that has been improved, he explained.
In my experience it handles well. They drive pretty smooth because they're built for [the load], he said.

15th MEU (SOC) is currently conducting sustainment training while in the U.S. Central Command's area of operations. It is comprised of its command element; Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment; Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 165 (Reinforced); and Combat Logistics Battalion 15.

November 18, 2006

*Squadrons return from USS Enterprise

Two F/A-18 Hornet squadrons returned to their hangars Friday at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort after a seven-month deployment.

The jets were piloted by 12 officers with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 251, the Thunderbolts, and 10 officers with Navy Strike Fighter Squadron 86, the Sidewinders.


Published Saturday November 18 2006
The Beaufort Gazette

The pilots were part of a crew of more than 7,500 Marines and sailors supporting the USS Enterprise in a historic mission that included simultaneous combat in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

Today, more than 300 crew members aboard the aircraft carrier will return to Beaufort and the USS Enterprise will dock after traveling nearly 60,000 miles from its home port in Norfolk, Va.

Pilots' wives waved and toddlers jumped for joy as the jets roared above the station in the cool blue sky Friday afternoon.

"It's kind of like standing in line for a roller coaster," 18-year-old Cory McCormack said as he waited for his father, Sidewinders' Cmdr. Rick "Red Dog" McCormack, to land. "I'm excited but kind of tense."

After all the jets landed, the pilots killed their engines. In unison, they popped their hatches, and like spacemen landing on the moon, they slowly emerged from their cockpits.

"Look, it's your daddy," 30-year-old Tracey Tebbetts said in a shaky voice, first walking, then running down the runway with 10-month old Jonah in her arms and two toddlers, John David, 5, and Madelyn, 3, trotting at her side.

Thunderbolts Capt. John Tebbetts knelt on one knee as his family approached. They smothered each other with tight hugs and kisses.

"We've been away forever, huh?" Tebbetts said and kissed his wife.

And this was no ordinary combat mission.

This was the first time two combat operations took place simultaneously from a single aircraft carrier. And, four months into the mission, the Thunderbolts were called to move ashore to Camp Al Asad, Iraq, and fly land-based combat missions, marking the first time a Marine F/A-18 squadron detached from a carrier.

"This was very unique -- a huge logistical nightmare," Lt. Cmdr. Travis "Gurly" Mann said.

Mann is a fighter pilot with the Sidewinders and returned a day early to help prepare for the arrival of the 400 crew members returning to Beaufort from aboard the carrier.

Back at the hangar, Cory said his father first deployed when he was 2. Now that he's older, he said he understands better what his father does and said he doesn't worry as much as he used to.

"He's in an F-18 Super Hornet; he flies well over 10,000 feet in the air and drops bombs," Cory said. "I don't see him in danger of getting captured or crashing; I'm more worried about accidents that happen on the ship."

Just the same, Cory teared up after a firm hug from his father, a red-headed man larger than life.

"Finally, a good grilled steak," Cory said as his father swooped up Cory's little sisters, one in each arm.

"You've gotten so big," the commander boomed.

Copyright 2006 The Beaufort Gazette • May not be republished in any form without the express written permission of the publisher.

November 17, 2006

BAND OF BROTHERS: Michigan reservists travel path of peril

Wary Marines take deadly route in Iraqi desert killing field

FALLUJAH, Iraq -- Two Humvees, a pair of 7-ton armored trucks topped with gun turrets and a tow truck swing onto what has been dubbed Route Michigan, rolling toward sunset in the Sunni Triangle into one of the world's worst killing zones.


November 17, 2006

The convoy, delivering supplies to outposts in and around Fallujah and returning with suspected insurgents in custody, snakes around pits blasted in pavement by improvised explosive devices (IEDs), booby traps that can shred a steel-clad Humvee and the men inside. As they move west, the Marines are on the lookout for cars that could ram the convoy and explode and for snipers who could take a bead on the men.

A flock of pigeons alights from a rooftop. A major remarks that it could be a signal by the insurgents that the Log Train is passing.

The 1,100 men of the 1st Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment -- more than 700 of whom are from Michigan, making it the state's largest reserve contingent in Iraq -- are living through urban warfare, trying to fight insurgents who seamlessly blend into the background. The fighting has gotten so bad in the Anbar province that Thursday, the U.S. Central Command ordered another 2,200 Marines to the region.

The Michigan Marines insist they got the best possible training, months of it in the California desert, but they are learning that nothing can really prepare them for the reality of this kind of combat.

"A few days ago, from out of a crowd of kids, one of them threw a grenade and it went off under the vehicle, and my executive officer's door was peppered," said Lance Cpl. Michael Rossi, a 28-year-old student majoring in urban planning at Wayne State University who lives in Detroit. "A crowd of kids, and one of them threw a grenade."

"Out here," he said, "nobody is safe."

Nine members of the battalion have been killed since the unit landed in Iraq in September, and it is a constant battle to remember to try to stay safe. To confuse snipers, the men are told when they are outside their vehicles to move suddenly every few seconds, so gunmen can't keep them in their sights.

Some of the men do dance steps to keep moving.

As the Log Train makes its run along Route Michigan -- one of Iraq's main east-west roads -- the convoy passes under signs pockmarked by gunshots. The men wear body armor and Kevlar helmets, and flame-retardant jumpsuits and gloves make sure all but a few inches of skin remain covered. They carry semiautomatic rifles and machine guns.

The route covers no more than seven miles but takes almost six hours to complete, with stops at outposts guarding the city's entrances -- where Route Michigan becomes a road renamed Fran -- and at the train station in Fallujah.

It's a delicate balance for the Marines, said Maj. Christopher Kolomjec, a Grosse Pointe Farms lawyer and father of three. It's tough to protect a population when snipers fire from crowds and mosques or mentally challenged youths are tricked in to planting bombs, he said.

"A Marine really has to think before he fires," Kolomjec said, his men tensing up as a pack of boys dashes past the convoy.

Grand, old and 50

At checkpoint 1 Alpha, one of the Log Train's stopping points, the battalion's Grand Old Man, 50-year-old Cpl. Dwight Mercer, was pumping iron in a weight room a short stroll from a sniper warning sign. At home in Michigan, he farms outside Port Huron and is a computer specialist for a Wixom aerospace company.

His plans to return to Iraq almost broke up his marriage. He and his wife, Kimberly, separated but reunited just before he deployed.

Mercer said his age might be something for the younger Marines to rag him about, but it doesn't stop him from responding. When a sniper dropped one of the men, Mercer was on the team that went looking for the gunman.

At the Fallujah train station, Cpl. Pete Mattice, 23, of Gladwin beds down in a room with about a dozen other Marines. His pillowcase is covered with a picture of his wife and his kids. Next to his bunk are photos of the pals he already has lost.

"A serious reality check," he said of the photos of the dead men, leaving it at that.

The men say the most difficult adjustment is the speed of the action once it starts and the emotions that take over. Maintaining focus, remaining professional, is key, the men say.

But it's not something you can fully prepare for. Lance Cpl Kyle Chase, a 21-year-old DTE meter reader from Howell, says it's a strange sensation: how events seem to move quickly yet in slow motion at the same time. And everything, he said, becomes very quiet.

"You can't just watch this on CNN," said Cpl. Todd Caccamo, a Canton Township trustee and manager for GE Plastics. At 34, with an MBA and a first child on the way, he calculates the cost of combat and patrols under sniper and bomb threats.

"Mentally and physically, it's totally exhausting; you're going 100 m.p.h.," he said.

"This war is not a light switch with just off and on. It's a dimmer switch, but one going dark to bright to dark at the quickest speed."

Trying to sort the good guys from the killers in a crowded city whipsaws the men.

"I'm not going to lie. Some days I feel I hate everyone," Caccamo said. "Then you look at all these people have gone through, and the next thing, you're just sorry and full of pity."

"This war is unique. ... It's personal."

Outside the battered Fallujah train station, which also houses a lockup where six suspected insurgents are held, a pile of AK47s and bomb detonators are loaded on the trucks. Behind steel plate and bulletproof glass, the Marines tighten their armor, double-check their weapons.

The trucks and Humvees fire up, and the Log Train rolls on through the night.

Contact JOE SWICKARD at [email protected]

November 15, 2006

*Additional memorial stone for fallen Nevada Heroes

A permanent memorial for the 30 fallen heroes of Nevada involved in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars was dedicated last year in December at the Red Rock Canyon Visitor's Center.

On December 9, 2006 at 10:00 a.m., an additional memorial stone will be added to pay tribute to the 12 additional soldiers and Marines from Nevada who have lost their lives over the past year. This dedication program will be held at the Red Rock Visitor's Center, 1000 Scenic Loop Drive.


November 15, 2006

For Immediate Release: -- Dedication scheduled Dec. 9, 2006 –

The idea for the memorial came from Helena Lukac, mother of Marine Pfc. John Lukac, who perished in 2004. The memorial began taking shape following a story in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Assistance from Sen. John Ensign and Phil Randazzo made the memorial a reality. The memorial consists of a large boulder with the dedication inscription as well as smaller surrounding boulders inscribed with the names of the 42 soldiers, airmen and marines. The boulders are meta-quartzite rock which is indigenous to Southern Nevada and complementary to the Red Rock area.

“This memorial will serve as a lasting tribute to the brave young soldiers from our state who gave their lives for freedom,” said Phil Randazzo. Mr. Randazzo is the memorial organizer and founder of DefendingFreedom.net, a not-for-profit organization which raises money and supplies for overseas and stateside military and their families. “We hope the public will join family members and other supporters in honoring these fallen heroes. It will mean a great deal to their families, especially during this holiday season.”

The program is open to the public. It will include a color guard opening ceremony, remarks by family members and elected officials, as well as musical selections. All Nevadan’s are encouraged to come and honor these fallen heroes. Please mark your calendars and plan to attend this special event.

For information: contact Phil Randazzo of DefendingFreedom.net.
Call 702-258-1995 or 303-2005 (cell) or visit www.defendingfreedom.net.

Flight to U.S. begins transition from warfront to homefront

Each time the war wounded are moved, they're taken to a higher level of medical care.


Please click the original link to find a video link for as long as it's available online

11:00 PM EST on Wednesday, November 15, 2006
Reported by: Kathryn Barrett

Lined with stretchers three deep, a C-17 in the Air Mobility Command takes the wounded from Germany to American soil.

A sniper's bullet shattered Lance Corporal Aaron Musk's leg while his platoon checked civilian cars in Fallujah. "All of a sudden, a loud shot ran out and next thing I knew I was on the ground and I got hit in my femur,” he explained.

Long metal rods now stabilize his broken leg until his arrival at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, D.C.

The aircraft is full of victims from the Iraqi insurgents’ latest war tactic.

"We have three critically-ill patients on this flight. All are gunshot wounds - one to the head, one through the abdomen and one through the chest," noted Major Danny Canlas, a critical care nurse stationed at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, Alaska.

Major Canlas used to work at the hospital on Langley Air Force Base in Hampton. Now he's part of the Air Force critical care transport team, called C-CAT, that cares for only the most critically injured. "Well, it is a challenge. It's also very noisy and time difference, the traveling through the time zones," he added.

For the nine-hour flight, the three-member critical care air transport team is focused on keeping their patients stable.

"It breaks my heart to see that they're so young and uh, they're hurt. Actually, it is an honor for us to basically take them home," said Staff Sergeant Queen Rubio, a C-CAT team member and respiratory therapist.

The wounded are on the pilot's minds, too. The Air Force reservists alternate flying cargo in to Iraq and the war wounded out. “It's just really sad to see the guys back there truly fighting for their life and for our country," said 1st Lt. Robert Fore of the 729th Airlift Squadron stationed at March Air Reserve Base in Riverside, California.

Fore, the pilot-in-training, says it was more stressful for him to land his first flight with injured troops than to fly into a combat zone. "You can either land this jet really hard or really soft and uh, this time I landed it really soft and I don't think I'll ever be able to top that one," he said.

As the plane gets closer to Andrews AFB, the atmosphere on board changes. Instead of MREs, the crew bakes cookies and serves hot dogs to help the patients make the mental transition from warfront to homefront.

Walter Reed will be home for the next few weeks or months, where the new battle plan will be to rebuild the broken bodies.

"There's no greater satisfaction than bringing these injured heroes home," Maj. Canlas said.

Flight to U.S. begins transition from warfront to homefront

Each time the war wounded are moved, they're taken to a higher level of medical care.


Please click the original link to find a video link for as long as it's available online

11:00 PM EST on Wednesday, November 15, 2006
Reported by: Kathryn Barrett

Lined with stretchers three deep, a C-17 in the Air Mobility Command takes the wounded from Germany to American soil.

A sniper's bullet shattered Lance Corporal Aaron Musk's leg while his platoon checked civilian cars in Fallujah. "All of a sudden, a loud shot ran out and next thing I knew I was on the ground and I got hit in my femur,” he explained.

Long metal rods now stabilize his broken leg until his arrival at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, D.C.

The aircraft is full of victims from the Iraqi insurgents’ latest war tactic.

"We have three critically-ill patients on this flight. All are gunshot wounds - one to the head, one through the abdomen and one through the chest," noted Major Danny Canlas, a critical care nurse stationed at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, Alaska.

Major Canlas used to work at the hospital on Langley Air Force Base in Hampton. Now he's part of the Air Force critical care transport team, called C-CAT, that cares for only the most critically injured. "Well, it is a challenge. It's also very noisy and time difference, the traveling through the time zones," he added.

For the nine-hour flight, the three-member critical care air transport team is focused on keeping their patients stable.

"It breaks my heart to see that they're so young and uh, they're hurt. Actually, it is an honor for us to basically take them home," said Staff Sergeant Queen Rubio, a C-CAT team member and respiratory therapist.

The wounded are on the pilot's minds, too. The Air Force reservists alternate flying cargo in to Iraq and the war wounded out. “It's just really sad to see the guys back there truly fighting for their life and for our country," said 1st Lt. Robert Fore of the 729th Airlift Squadron stationed at March Air Reserve Base in Riverside, California.

Fore, the pilot-in-training, says it was more stressful for him to land his first flight with injured troops than to fly into a combat zone. "You can either land this jet really hard or really soft and uh, this time I landed it really soft and I don't think I'll ever be able to top that one," he said.

As the plane gets closer to Andrews AFB, the atmosphere on board changes. Instead of MREs, the crew bakes cookies and serves hot dogs to help the patients make the mental transition from warfront to homefront.

Walter Reed will be home for the next few weeks or months, where the new battle plan will be to rebuild the broken bodies.

"There's no greater satisfaction than bringing these injured heroes home," Maj. Canlas said.

15th MEU gets orders to Iraq

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. — About 2,200 members of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit soon will set boots in Iraq to boost security in Anbar province, officials confirmed Wednesday.


By Gidget Fuentes
Staff writer
Nov. 15, 2006

The Camp Pendleton-based MEU “was given orders to go to al-Anbar district to help in the security,” said Lt. Cmdr. Scott Miller, a U.S. Central Command spokesman in Tampa, Fla.

No details were available on the timeline for the unit’s arrival in Iraq.

The MEU recently wrapped up two weeks of multinational training exercises with Indian and regional naval forces off the southwest coast of India.

The 15th MEU, led by Col. Brian Beaudreault, deployed in September as part of the San Diego-based Boxer Expeditionary Strike Group. It includes Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines; Combat Logistics Battalion 15; and Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 165 as the MEU’s composite helicopter squadron.

The Marines are deployed on the amphibious assault ship Boxer, dock landing ship Comstock and transport dock Dubuque.

This will be the MEU’s third deployment to Iraq. The unit participated in the 2003 invasion and returned to the country last year. In November 2001, the 15th MEU was part of the Marine task force that landed in Afghanistan.

November 13, 2006

Rumsfeld Welcomes New Marine Corps Commandant

WASHINGTON, Nov. 13, 2006 – The Defense Department’s top civilian welcomed the Marine Corps’ new commandant today during a change-of-command ceremony at the Marine Barracks here.


By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld watched as outgoing commandant Gen. Michael Hagee passed the Marine Corps’ battle flag and command to Gen. James T. Conway.

Rumsfeld praised both officers at the ceremony, citing Hagee’s myriad accomplishments over the retiring general’s long career.

As commandant, Hagee “left behind a Marine Corps that under his watch has become the best-trained, the best-led, and the best-equipped force in history,” Rumsfeld pointed out.

Hagee has led the Marine Corps during some of the organization’s most challenging times, Rumsfeld noted, citing the Marines’ hard fighting in Fallujah, Ramadi and other parts of western Iraq.

As he looked at hundreds of Marines attired in their striking dress-blue uniforms, Rumfeld remarked that heroes aren’t in short supply in the Marine Corps.

“We can say with pride that many of this nation’s bravest young people are those who proudly wear the eagle, the globe and the anchor,” the defense secretary asserted.

Rumsfeld pointed to the heroism of Marine Corps Cpl. Jason Dunham, of Scio, N.Y., the second Medal of Honor recipient from Operation Iraqi Freedom, who gave his life to save his fellow Marines. On April 14, 2004, in the Iraqi town of Karabilah, Dunham covered an about-to-explode enemy grenade with his helmet and body, saving the lives of his fellow Marines. Dunham was seriously injured by the blast, and died of his wounds eight days later.

The defense secretary also recounted a meeting he’d had with a badly wounded Marine being treated at Bethesda Naval Hospital, Md. The Marine’s fighting spirit was still strong despite his injuries, Rumsfeld recalled.

The wounded Marine had also expressed his wish, the secretary noted, that the American people would grant the military the time it needed to defeat the terrorists in Iraq.

“America is truly blessed to have young men and women like him willing to risk their lives in defense of our country and the cause of human freedom,” Rumsfeld said. “Mike Hagee and I have been fortunate, we have been able to meet and know these fine, young people, every day, and see heroism up close.”

The Marine Corps is also fortunate to have Conway step up to take over the reins from Hagee, Rumsfeld said. Conway led the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force in Iraq, the secretary recalled, and he had also shaped the minds of promising leaders at Marine Corps University.

The Marines and other members of the U.S. military “are in the hearts and the prayers of everyone here and the people all across our country,” Rumsfeld said.

Catching Up: Iraq war veteran marks third marathon finish

It was almost a year ago that Lance Cpl. Neil Schalk, then 19, a Marine from Richland Center serving in Iraq, was wounded by a homemade bomb during a convoy mission from Fallujah to Ramadi.


MON., NOV 13, 2006

He lost two fingers on his right hand and is preparing for his 13th surgery to reconstruct his left hand.

But while he is not serving with his fellow Marines, Schalk still is supporting them.

On Oct. 29 Schalk ran the Marine Corps Marathon in Arlington, Va., finishing 3,514th out of 20,934 runners in 3 hours, 55 minutes.

"It was my third full marathon," Schalk said. "My goal was to break four hours."

Schalk was sponsored by Marineparents.com and is in the process of raising $22,000 for the organization. The Web site, run by parents of deployed Marines, ships care packages each month to Marines stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan who are not receiving mail or care packages.

So far Schalk, along with two other runners, friends and family, has raised $7,192 and will continue until they reach their goal.

And Schalk has another goal - to participate in the Ironman triathlon in Madison, and he's trying to get Marineparents.com to sponsor him again.

"I do triathlons all the time," he said.

As for his military career, Schalk said he'll know more after his next hand surgery in December. If he's not combat deployable, Schalk said he's interested in going to school this spring to become a biology teacher. "I just have always been good at (biology)," he said. Plus, Schalk said he likes children and would enjoy teaching high school.

For information, visit http://www.marineparents.com. Donations can be mailed to Marineparents.com Inc., Attention: Marathon Team 2006, P.O. Box 1115, Columbia, MO 65205.

- Gena Kittner

November 12, 2006

Dead men walking

Steven Schultz had part of his head blown off in Iraq. Shrapnel took much of Todd Herman’s face. Christopher Malone has had his legs sewn together. Ten years ago these soldiers would have died on the battlefield. Ariel Leve talks to them.

The US marine Corporal Steven Schulz, 22, talks softly and quickly as a result of his brain injury. His mother, Debbie, is sitting next to him and tells him to slow down. He nods, just a little bit embarrassed.


The Sunday Times November 12, 2006

In April 2005, five months into his second tour in Iraq, Steven was with five comrades in a military vehicle when an improvised explosive device (IED), a home-made bomb, detonated. He took the full force of the blast through his window, causing severe head injuries. The marine behind him got a mild concussion. Nobody else in the vehicle was hurt. Steven was 20.

He doesn’t come from a military family. He was born in Austin, Texas, and raised in a suburb of Houston, which is where he graduated from high school. He went to a community college in Austin for one term before joining the marines.

Debbie was teaching at a local high school at the time of the injury, but has given up her job to be with Steven through the arduous process of rebuilding his body and rehabilitating his life – as far as is possible.

They are at the National Naval Medical Center (NNMC) in Bethesda, Maryland. Built by Roosevelt in 1940, it’s where JFK’s autopsy was carried out and where today, surgeons and medical teams are working miracles with bodies and minds fragmented in Iraq. Many are barely alive when they arrive, some having died and been revived several times en route from the front.

In the 18 months since his injuries, Steven and his family have been shuttled back and forth from one medical team and facility to another, for 14 operations. The military covered some expenses: hotel bills and air fares for up to three family members are paid; and non-profit organisations and veteran support groups help too.

In February 2003, when Steven first went home and told his mother he’d joined the marines, she was concerned. “I told him he was crazy and tried to talk him out of it.

We weren’t at war yet, but it was looking pretty imminent.” But the marines were the hardest, which is what appealed to Steven. “I knew if we went to war with Iraq it would be a ground war and the marines would be first,” Debbie says.

After his injury, Steven was taken to a combat-support hospital in Baghdad, where neurosurgeons removed a large portion of skull to give his brain room to swell. They implanted the bone under tissue in his abdomen, hoping that it could be reinstated later. They got him from Baghdad to Bethesda within 72 hours. His prognosis was grim.

When he arrived, Debbie asked his neurosurgeon, Dr Rocco Armonda, the director of neurocritical care, what his chances were. He gave Steven 50%. Steven gave his mother a thumbs-up, but then the next day he had a massive haemorrhage and his chances slumped to 30%. “After that I stopped asking,” Debbie says.

Steven is alert and smiles. He is hesitant to make eye contact; his left knee bounces up and down until he holds it still for a few seconds and it stops. The involuntary tic and the shyness are both part of the injury to his right frontal lobe. His left arm and left side are still profoundly weak and he can’t walk by himself. When he speaks, his voice is flat and lacks intonation, and his expressed emotion has been neutralised. His mother worries about his ability to interact with girls. Debbie shows me a photo in her wallet. It is a snapshot from when Steven was missing part of his skull, taken at a restaurant in Florida. What’s striking, aside from the fact that it shows Steven with only part of his head, is that he is smiling. Everyone looks so cheerful. She carries it as a reminder of how far he’s come.

“There were times when I would flex the muscles in my cheek and you could see the brain flex too,” he says. And now? “I see myself as I’ve always been.”

Before the reconstruction he felt abnormal. People would look. Cranioplasty has re-created his skull. It is a precise implant that is made out of plastic and putty. It is a perfect fit. There is still a slight depression near his right temple, but it is not immediately obvious. They can take fat from his belly to fix it, but Steven is putting that off for now because he needs eye surgery – the right eye still has shrapnel in it. He has had two attempts to reattach the retina. His vision cannot be corrected, but with future eye treatment and transplants, and with medical advancements, you never know what may be possible – hence the efforts to preserve the optic nerve.

When he was first injured he was anxious to get out of the hospital so that he could go back to Iraq, unaware of the damage done to him. He missed his fellow marines. Before the injury, Steven was always on the go: he loved fast cars – he wanted to be a racing driver – and, naturally, girls. An average 20-year-old alpha male.

When Steven’s mother begins talking to someone else for a moment, he turns the conversation to sex. A recent trip to California to see his marine buddies was a chance to feel part of the group again. A flirtatious side emerges. He makes eye contact. He tells me he felt natural having sex. He whispers: “With two girls. Strippers. It was really great.” Debbie tunes back in. She asks what he’s been talking about and I tell her she doesn’t want to know. She knows. “Just remember, you don’t want your grandmother reading about this, Steven. It’s bad enough your mother knows.” The exchange between them is endearing.

“Part of the brain injury is that whatever he thinks, he says,” she explains. Steven still thinks about sex a lot. That part of the brain isn’t damaged. He had a girlfriend but since the injury she stopped calling.

It’s been 18 months since the injury, and he is still in the marines – on medical leave. When I ask what he misses most, his voice gets even softer so his mum doesn’t hear. “To be honest, it’s probably to make sweet love every night to a beautiful lady.” She hears him anyway: “Oh, Steven! How about going back to driving a car?”

Steven is getting tired now. He yawns, something his mum mentions never happened before – or at least not in the middle of the day. Everything is now measured in before and after, and even a yawn is observed.

“I feel you can’t really look back,” Debbie says. “You have to move forward. At one point he told me, ‘You know, Mom, I need to apologise to you for ever joining the marines.’ He felt strongly the marines were what he needed to do. He said, ‘Mom, I need discipline in my life.’” She reaches over and smoothes her son’s hair. “Well he got that. And he’ll need it for this injury.”

At the NNMC in Bethesda, surgeons are pushing the boundaries of surgery. The marines they are working on have wounds from Iraq that have never been seen. The injuries are infected and they are severe. The lessons learnt are unique to this theatre and this war. They cannot clean these wounds as quickly as in Vietnam or Korea, where bullets and shrapnel did the damage. In Iraq the weapons are IEDs – dirty, clever, deadly and sophisticated in multiple ways. It’s not just the metal that eviscerates.

When an IED goes off, the shock wave can burst an intestine. The heat and smoke burns and blinds. The soldiers are also thrown into the air – so there are broken bones.

Even the soil and water in Iraq carry a virulent strain of bacteria. Acinetobacter is resistant to most common antibiotics and, if left untreated, can lead to pneumonia, fever and septicaemia. It has been identified in more than 240 military personnel in the US since 2003, killing five; and in British troops too.

The injuries that are seen at Bethesda are usually multiple-limb, abdominal, back and head injuries – all at once. They are the hallmark of the Iraqi insurgents’ favoured IEDs. The war in Iraq is largely an extremity-injury war: 70-80% are arms and legs. And facial. The damage surgeons are seeing is so massive that in past wars the casualties wouldn’t have survived – the surgeons wouldn’t have felt equipped to save them. But new techniques and battlefield triage have helped them to react to the fresh challenges thrown up in Iraq. In this war, there are more casualties and fewer body bags – more are surviving. The total military wounded in action for Operation Iraqi Freedom from March 2003 to September 2006 is 19, 945. Out of those, 6,390 are marines.

Why are they surviving injuries that would have killed them 10 years ago? First, body armour, second, more efficient combat-support hospitals where, in under an hour after their injury, a soldier is on the table. It’s no longer the stuff of MASH, plugging bulletholes and stemming blood loss. Neurosurgeons staff field hospitals now.

And specially equipped casevac (casualty evacuation) vehicles get them to surgeons faster.

Dr Maria Mouratidis, a neuropsychologist and head of the traumatic-stress-and-brain-injury programme at Bethesda, emphasises that the patients have to be looked at with “fresh eyes”. It is not the same as in Vietnam: the soldiers today are not as bitter. “There are few pity parties. They are processing what they’ve been through, but wanting to move on,” she says. There is huge emphasis on their emotional recovery, and Mouratidis reiterates the value of reconstructing physical appearance and therefore Bethesda’s cutting-edge plastic surgery. But because of their injuries and traumas, their values and priorities have shifted. Physical appearance may not be as important as the quality of life they are left with.

But what of denial, depression, and the anger that comes with physical and mental damage? Maybe it’s the marine training they go through. And the ability to block out the negative at all costs, and focus only on the goal. “There is a normalisation process that takes place,” Mouratidis says, explaining what Christopher Malone, a marine who has lost his leg, will deal with. “He knows lots of other guys this has happened to, and they run marathons with a prosthetic leg and lead a normal life.”

What she is saying is this: if a soldier lost his leg in a car accident, the emotional recuperation would have been difficult. He would be more isolated. But there are lots of guys from Iraq he knows who have lost legs. “Being with others like him helps him to heal and adjust.”

There are so many patients, there is strength in numbers. Anger is not productive. The objective is to heal, to get strong, to repair the damage – it’s a target and targets are familiar territory. Questions: will I ever have another girlfriend? Will I ever walk again? They are batted away. Negativity is the enemy. They are being rebuilt and fixed on the outside. But will they remain broken on the inside?

On September 12, 2004, Sergeant Todd Herman, then 24, was riding in a light armoured vehicle. He had been in Iraq for seven months and was two weeks away from going home. It was his second deployment. He was heading south – two miles off base – when an IED detonated 300 yards away. He happened to catch a piece of it. A large piece of shrapnel tore into the right side of his face and took out most of it – including the roof of his mouth and his nose.

“I put my hand up on my face and couldn’t tell what was what. So I just dropped down beside the vehicle – I didn’t feel anything at first. But after 30 seconds my jaw started aching.” His eyes are a penetrating blue and betray no signs of damage. He can see only the big E on the eye chart with his left eye and it can’t be corrected.

His smile is crooked, but he smiles frequently and without self-consciousness. He is proud, calm and polite – hands folded in his lap when he speaks, and when he stands he is tall, muscular and, as one woman nearby observes, “hunky”.

“A doctor from one of the other vehicles started wrapping me up,” he explains, “and then they did a tracheotomy on me because I had a hard time breathing. My ripped palate had blocked off my airway.” He pauses. “I figured it was probably going to be a long ride back. On the way back to the medical cache after it happened, I heard my buddy whisper to the doc, ‘You know his nose is detached,’ and I thought, ‘Wow, that kind of sucks.’”

It took a while to get him into surgery because it was backed up that day, and he remembers the nurses standing beside him, holding his arm and talking to him. After surgery in Baghdad, he was flown to a military hospital in Germany for three days and then to Bethesda.

Todd is from a small town in Pennsylvania called Coalport, a former boom town for coal miners. He is an only child whose parents are divorced, but they are still a close-knit family – brought even closer by what has happened. When Todd got out of high school he worked for a couple of years refabricating train components, but he wanted a challenge. His father was a marine and Todd decided to enlist “to see the world”. Other than Niagara Falls on a class trip, he had never been anywhere. He knew there was a good possibility that he would be sent to Iraq, but it didn’t deter him.

The politics of the war he was fighting are not beyond him. When asked, he is thoughtful before answering. “I think politics – pardon my French – are a bunch of bullshit. Politics take place in everything. From work to government and religion. Did I vote for Bush?” There is a long silence. “I think he’s doing the best job he can. Do I think that he’s the best president for the United States? No, I don’t. Do I think he’s a bad guy? Probably not.

“I don’t know him personally, and I’m sure there are things behind the scenes that take place that we’ll never see or know about, so I can’t make any type of real judgment without knowing the real deal and no one’s ever going to know the real deal. You know what I’m saying?”

The Navy captain David Bitonti, head of oral and maxillofacial reconstructive surgery, shows the “before” photos of Todd’s injuries and describes the challenge. His right cheek was gone. Where does the tissue to restore it come from? You can’t pull the skin down – it will take the eye with it. Can’t pull it up – his mouth will be crooked. Can’t use skin from his body, because he doesn’t want him having to shave underneath his eyes. And how to replace Todd’s freckles? It is all about looking normal. Todd’s face had expanded – one eye was moved far over to the right and hung lower. There was a missing orbital wall on the left side. His upper jaw was detached. They had to rebuild most of it; 3-D models are built to ensure a “custom fit”. This is new. The models are made with a scan on a computer, which in turn “instructs” a modelling machine, and the result is uncanny; the pieces fit like a puzzle.

In Todd’s face, bone plates from his ribs act as scaffolding. He has a tissue expander in the right side of his cheek. It’s like a balloon that gets slowly filled with salt water and stretches the skin out. They wanted to make room for soft tissue. He had lost all facial muscle in and around the cheek. That had to be fixed too. “We’re the experts now,” Dr Bitonti says, referring to this type of reconstruction. “No one really sees this stuff but us. In every war there are unique sets of injuries.”

Here is what Todd has in his face now: a piece of his skull; titanium in an eye socket; a fat-graft from his stomach; and two pieces of cartilage and bone from his ribcage bolstering his new nose. So far he has undergone seven reconstructive surgeries to repair both the structural and aesthetic damage. He was due to receive his final surgery on October 31, to straighten his new nose. After that, Todd will go through the medical boards to be discharged and he plans on getting out of the corps.

It’s time to move on. He might go back to school or become a mechanic, because he likes working with his hands.

He struggles to explain how the injury has changed him. He mentions the sensory things. Things don’t smell the way they are supposed to, which affects his sense of taste as well. And then there is the mirror – he doesn’t see the same face. He’s not used to it yet. His nose is wider and bigger. He tells me he feels no regret, but his altered appearance can’t be overlooked. His self-esteem is still intact, though. Having lived through the experience, he says, he feels there is now nothing he can’t get through: “It’s who I am now. What can you do? Every once in a while you say, ‘Man, it would be nice to look like my old self again,’ but I can’t dwell on it. It pops in my head, yeah, but I think, ‘These are my scars. I’ll wear them proudly.’ It could be worse. A lot worse.” It almost was for Staff Sergeant Bryan Trusty.

Bryan Trusty, 22, died four times. The first time he “coded” – when a heart stops beating – was on the plane to the US. Again at Andrews air-force base. A third time, when he got to Bethesda and the fourth, later that night. The doctors got him stable. He was in intensive care for six weeks – 95 times out of 100, someone with his injuries would be dead now. Mortar shrapnel to the brainstem and both lobes of his brain, and other severe head injuries, have necessitated extensive plastic surgery and neurosurgery. He has exceeded all expectations for recovery, though most of his childhood memories are gone and his short-term memory is nonexistent. It takes him a while to articulate. There are a few scars on his head above his forehead, but when his hair gets long, they won’t be noticeable. If you didn’t know his story, it would be impossible to detect his injuries.

Bryan grew up in Indiana. His family still lives there and he has an older brother who is in the navy. Bryan signed up in July 2002. He says he had no fear about going to Iraq, no thoughts about getting wounded. “I thought I’d do my time over there and come back.” Today he is dressed in full uniform. He sits down, back straight, knees together, and freshly polished shoes glisten while he slowly spins his white cap around on his lap.

In February this year, his second deployment, his time in Iraq was up. He’d been there for six months, but he volunteered to extend for another four months because they needed more help. On the day he got hurt in April, he was on outside security duty at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison. He started at 5am and he got off at 5pm. He went back to base, got some food, and he and a friend were walking when mortars hit.

“It was the strongest attack against the base since the war started, and we hopped into the truck with my squad to secure the base along the east wall.” He got to his position and saw a car bomb hit one of the towers, so he took off running – bullets flying past, rockets bursting in the air. When Bryan got to the tower, he ran up the three storeys. Despite being hit, the tower was still standing, and he had to see who needed assistance. When he reached the top, everybody was fine.

“We picked up machineguns and started firing back. They were on top of us, throwing grenades and shooting RPGs. They were 50 yards away – I could see their faces as they were returning fire.” A rocket exploded inside the tower. “It hit where all of us were sitting. There were about five of us in there. The other guy lost his eye.” Bryan remembers everything in slow motion, hearing “Incoming!” and white hot metal flying in the air. He thinks the explosion blew his helmet off because he wasn’t wearing it when he regained consciousness.

All kinds of metal had peppered his head. Someone had to pick him up. He couldn’t walk or move any part of his body except for his eyes. They carried him out – into the blast of a grenade and more shrapnel hit him in his leg and back. A piece of it had gone through his cheek, and there is the tiniest of scars. But the velocity of the shrapnel ripped through his carotid artery and stopped near the brainstem. Death from rapid blood loss was seconds away. Bryan doesn’t really want to talk about what happened to him when he coded. “It’s too much to talk about it in one day. A lot of things happen when you die. What’s the right life to lead – that type of stuff.”

Bryan’s skull was fractured and his forehead had to be reconstructed. Dr Armonda, the attending neurosurgeon who also treated Steven Schulz, sits in his office surrounded by 3-D resin models of patients’ skulls. An army lieutenant colonel, he was in Iraq for a year – from March 2003 to February 2004 – at a field hospital south of Falluja, west of the Euphrates. His neuro-team referred to themselves as the “Skull Crackers”. He explains Bryan’s injury. To get to the ruptured artery and repair it, they inserted a catheter through his groin. Then an acrylic plate was placed in his forehead. The shrapnel near the brainstem is still there, too critical to get at without risk. He gets checked regularly to make sure it doesn’t move. If it does, he could be paralysed. “It doesn’t bother me,” Bryan says, “except for the headaches.

And the worry. So I try not to think about it.” He never worried before. That’s the most significant change in his personality. He asks “What if?” now. What if the shrapnel moves? “If I go swimming, or from a car wreck, if someone rear-ends me. That worries me. Or if I fall down the stairs and hit my head.”

He doesn’t plan to stay in the military. He worries he’d have to compete with someone fresh from boot camp. “Jobs in the military are competitive – just like jobs in the civilian world,” he explains. He’s not sure what he’ll do. Maybe computers or law enforcement. He doesn’t regret anything. “If I hadn’t got injured, I wouldn’t have come [to Bethesda] and met the people I’ve met. I wouldn’t have met my beautiful wife.” Bryan was married two weeks ago to Liana, who looks at him adoringly. They met in May at a bar not far from the hospital. “You can’t plan for what’s going to happen tomorrow. It’s going to happen. You have to roll with the punches.”

It’s not just the soldiers who are heroes. Dr Anand Kumar, 35, is lauded at NNMC. He is updating and creating new surgeries for the exceptional wounds he sees. “When you remove a body part, people grieve. The core idea of reconstructive surgery is to salvage – to reconstitute and improve the self-image of the patient. The other component is function. Once they are up and walking, then we work on the aesthetics.”

On Corporal Christopher Malone, he has created a new surgery based on an old-fashioned technique. Christopher suffered a devastating injury from an IED. When he arrived at Bethesda, he was critical. It’s life before limb in the triage sequence. He had both legs, but his right leg was so badly injured – and there was so much infection (grass and parts of his uniform blasted into lower parts of his leg) – that they weren’t able to save it. In addition, he had multiple broken bones. To get rid of the source of severe infection, they had to amputate the leg, but the orthopaedic surgeons were asking: “What are we going to do about the other leg?” – he was missing a huge amount of flesh on it. Most of the skin had been stripped and tendons exposed.

Kumar had an answer: “ Why don’t we sew the legs together?” In effect, skin that remained attached to the amputated stump was sewn to the heavily damaged leg, to grow new blood vessels, muscle and skin to be recycled later in reconstruction of the remaining limb. He had never done this before. The principles had their origin in the 15th century, when duellists who lost the tips of their noses in a sword fight would take skin from the arm to rebuild the nose.

Kumar says: “Christopher is very easy-going, which is why he’s willing to try this extreme measure. Some people are psychologically not ready to handle it.” The principles for Christopher’s surgery have been used on a number of casualties. “If you look back through any plastic-surgery textbook, it’s the wars that have driven the specialty. Every time there has been a war, more complex procedures are invented.” He explains he is in a unique position because, although these guys have devastating blast injuries, they are also in incredibly healthy shape. “It’s a far different patient population than, let’s say, a 65-year-old patient with cancer who has kidney damage. I have the privilege of operating on an 18-year-old US marine who, on a good day, runs with a 100lb pack for miles. That’s why they can survive. And then I can put them through huge operations.

“It’s one of the best operating experiences of my life, and probably will be the best work I’ll have done in my career. But at the same time, the circumstances in which I have to do this are horrid. You try to fixate on fixing the problem.” Kumar tries to detach. “I suppose it’s a bit emotionally immature, but then again,” he smiles, “I’m a surgeon.” There are days when he gets “bent out of shape” but he says: “You’ve got to motor through. You’ve got to suck it up and fix these guys. But I’m superficial like everyone else. I have a Porsche.” He laughs. “I’m a plastic surgeon!”

Kumar can have up to eight cases a week. It goes in waves. His caseload depends on military activity. “Are there days I’m angry? Absolutely – when you see so many people with life-altering injuries. I can’t imagine all the sacrifice for nothing. Part of what gets me the most frightened is to think that we did all of this for nothing.

“I absolutely believe in what we’re doing. Because the flip side is, ‘Oh my God! We’re doing all this for nothing?’ That scares me to death. I’ve got to believe the sacrifices I’m seeing are for something. My job here isn’t to play politics. I exercise my rights and what I think about the war on polling day, when I vote. But when I’m here, my job is to rebuild what’s been broken.”

Christopher Malone, 21, is in his hospital bed with the skin flap from his amputated right leg sewn to his left. He explains his tattoos. There is a dragon of power, a tree of life and petals falling for friends he’s lost. There are seven petals.

Christopher was born and raised in Amarillo, Texas. And as soon as rehab is over, he plans to move back there with his one-month-old daughter and his fiancée. They can’t visit yet because of the infection he picked up from Iraq. He hasn’t held his newborn baby. “I enjoy being a marine. It’s not all about being clean-shaven and haircuts. We have fun. We do everything together. When one of the guys gets hurt, it doesn’t affect one person, it affects everyone.”

He speaks quietly now because he is 40% deaf in his left ear, but his mum, Bobby Jo, who is in his room and has been at his bedside since he was admitted, says he was always low key. Her job is to make sure all her son has to think about is games and movies and what he’s going to eat. She tries to keep him upbeat. She doesn’t want anything to depress him or get in the way of his recovery.

The injury happened when Christopher was driving a truck that carried a grenade launcher. This was his second time in Iraq. He says he took a direct RPG attack to his door. “I was screaming at the top of my lungs. The RPG hit the fire extinguisher, which was good news, or I’d be pretty much roasted. But I got a blue mist all over me – so I looked like a Smurf.” It hit his leg and his bottom. He knew that he had shrapnel in his thighs. “I was not in pain – maybe it was the adrenaline. But I knew my right leg was crushed.”

Amazingly, Christopher managed to drive the vehicle and his passengers off the road to safety. He was given morphine and they put on a tourniquet to stop the bleeding. They got him to the combat-zone hospital in 12 minutes. After that he was flown to Germany. He looks over at his mother. “Mom, do you know where I flat-lined?” “Here,” she says, referring to Bethesda. “Twice.” “Mom, do you know when?” She tells him his second day. “Was that in my coma?” She nods. Christopher was in a coma for about a week. He arrived on August 8, 2006.

“This is just another step in my life. The only positive thing I can say is that I will get a prosthetic leg and I will walk again. I have no reason to be angry. I’m still alive.” He says he will miss kick-boxing, then adds: “But after two years, you never know.” When asked if he’s been depressed, he looks puzzled. “No. I have nothing to be depressed about. If I start feeling depressed I won’t be able to get better. I won’t be able to focus on going to rehab and walking.

“I have nothing to regret. I’ll be able to drive and ride a horse.” He nods to his mother: “She raised me to be strong.” The look on his face brightens when Dr Kumar comes up. “He has amazed me. He took a chance with me.” He pulls down the blanket and shows what’s been done. “First I thought, ‘Whoa, this is some sci-fi stuff.’ And I asked if it had ever been done before and he said no. And I’m like, ‘Do you think you can do it?’ And he’s like, ‘Yeah.’ And I said, ‘All right!’”

When Christopher dreams at night, he doesn’t dream about walking. His dreams are about getting in a fast car and doing burnouts. But he immediately acknowledges the reality of the situation. “I know I don’t have my leg any more,” he says. “I’m just an ordinary guy that got hurt.”

He is looking forward to the surgery. Without it, he’d have needed several skin grafts from his thighs and stomach to cover up the missing skin on his remaining leg, and they could not have guaranteed it would have been successful, necessitating perhaps a second amputation.

Now the look of the leg he keeps will appear more normal. There will be just a scar when it’s done. Christopher smiles sweetly. “This injury, it’s something I’ve got to deal with. But I will walk again. I have nothing to be depressed about because I want to get better. And the angry part? “They were doing to me what we’re doing to them. It’s war. And people do get hurt. On both sides. I chose to be a marine. And this is one of the things that you take with it. I still am a marine. And I will continue to be one.”

November 11, 2006

Museum honors Marine Corps history

WASHINGTON — Norman Halfpenny heard the first strains of "The Marines' Hymn" and snapped to attention, his 73-year-old body not quite as straight as when he served as a young man in Korea and Vietnam.


By Leef Smith
The Washington Post
November 11, 2006

He was joined Friday by thousands like him, hundreds in wheelchairs, their hair grayed by time. Many traveled thousands of miles for this moment, on the 231st anniversary of the Marine Corps, to gather on a grassy promenade near the Quantico Marine Corps Base, to remember and cry and celebrate the opening of the National Museum of the Marine Corps.

"I made sure he got here," said Halfpenny's wife, Paulette, 63, gripping her husband's uniformed knee. The couple donated $4,000 toward the construction of the $90 million facility and traveled from their home in Arizona for the ceremony. They wanted to be among the first to visit the striking museum, designed on a sharp angle reaching skyward to invoke one of history's most famous images — the flag being raised over Iwo Jima during World War II.

Halfpenny wanted to talk about his years of service, about the combat he saw in Korea at the famed Chosin Reservoir, where Marines valiantly fought the Chinese, but he was halted by his own tears.

"It's the Corps," he said, weeping. "Once a Marine, always a Marine."

Visitors, many in uniform, showed up hours early for the dedication ceremony, waiting eagerly for an address by President Bush, who arrived to thunderous applause. He hailed the museum as the military's most modern, giving visitors an appreciation for what it's like to serve.

"For too long, the only people to have direct experience of the Marine Corps have been the Marines themselves and the enemy who has made the mistake of taking them on," Bush said. "The Marines believe you can't know what you stand for if you don't know where you come from. The history of the Corps is now preserved behind these walls. These walls remind all who visit here that honor, courage and commitment are not just words. They are Corps values for a way of life that puts service before self."

The museum, which opens to the public Monday, is the creation of the Marine Corps and the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation, which raised $60 million for its construction. The Marine Corps provided another $30 million to fill out the museum's interior, which will include more than 1,000 artifacts, 1,800 photographs and personal letters from the battlefront.

The museum is split into separate galleries that focus on many of the major wars, including one gallery called "Global War on Terrorism," which displays photographs, combat art and maps fresh from battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan. Other galleries to be installed later include ones on the Colonial period, the Civil War era and World War I.

The museum is filled with iconic artifacts — a Grumman F9F-2B Panther, its first widely used jet; a Bell UH-1E Huey, the ubiquitous Vietnam War helicopter; the pair of American flags raised at Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima.

Museum exhibits also include personal artifacts, such as the Medals of Honor awarded Sgt. Maj. Daniel J. Daly, often referred to as "the outstanding Marine of all time," for his heroics during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900 and the first Haitian campaign in 1915. Also on display is the M40A1 sniper rifle used by Lance Cpl. Charles Benjamin "Chuck" Mawhinney in Vietnam, where he killed a confirmed 103 enemy soldiers. And there is the overseas cap worn by legendary Maj. Gen. John A. Lejeune, who fought in World War I.

The museum, in the southeastern end of Virginia's Prince William County, is expected to boost tourism and economic development in an area that has struggled. It is off Route 1 and will be open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free. There are fees for two special interactive experiences — a flight simulator and target practice.

Lou Burg, 85, flew in from Los Angeles with his daughter Myra, 47, to witness the moment. He served three years in the Corps and was a 2nd lieutenant at Iwo Jima, the bloodiest battle for the Corps during World War II. It was there that 6,800 U.S. troops, mostly Marines, were killed and nearly 20,000 were wounded during a 36-day assault that began Feb. 19, 1945.

On Friday, Burg dressed in his red satin survivors jacket, shaking the hands of fellow Marines and soaking in the significance of his contribution. "It's important for me to be here for my children, and it's important for me to be here because of this organization," Burg said. "Mostly it's important for me to be here for my wife."

She died last year, and, to honor her, Burg had purchased a brick that was used to build the pathway outside the museum.

James Lewis, 75, saw action in Korea, fighting at the Chosin Reservoir in 1950. Many did not survive the Marines' fighting withdrawal.

Lewis proudly wore a T-shirt Friday that bore the words "The Chosin Few."

"This means everything to me," said Lewis, who watched the ceremony from a wheelchair.

"He's planned this for a year," said his wife, Jean, 63. The couple traveled from Houston to attend.

Before closing the ceremony, Bush told the story of Marine Cpl. Jason Dunham of New York, who would have turned 25 Friday had he not been killed in combat two years ago. The young soldier threw himself on a hand grenade to save two fellow Marines.

Bush announced that Dunham would receive the Medal of Honor, the military's highest honor.

"As long as we have Marines like Corporal Dunham, America will never fear for her liberty," said Bush, who wiped a tear shortly after Dunham's parents were honored with a standing ovation. "As long as we have this museum, America will never forget their sacrifice."

Vietnam veterans maintain online tribute to fallen heroes

Vietnam War veteran Ken Davis believes that he has an obligation to himself, the men who fought beside him more than 30 years ago and the families who lost loved ones during the war.


November 11, 2006

By DAWSON RASPUZZI Correspondent

It's the reason Davis spends an average of 40 to 45 hours a week updating the Vietnam War memorial Web site www.VirtualWall.org.

The Web site, which fellow Vietnam veteran Jim Schueckler created in 1997, is a nonprofit site that lets family and friends remember loved ones who were killed while fighting in the war.

"The greatest fear that families have is that no one remembers except them," Davis, a naval aviator during Vietnam, said.

The Web site allows people to submit their thoughts and recollections about the men who died in Vietnam — scripting them into history so their efforts will never be forgotten.

"I knew only a few of the people on the wall, between people I grew up with, went to school with or served with," Davis said. "But I look at it as a duty and an obligation to the people we didn't know but shared a common ground with to help memorialize them."

Davis stumbled across Schueckler's site six years ago and asked if he could help. As a retired man who had previously owned a computer programming shop, Davis' knowledge advanced the site, and he soon began maintaining it.

Schueckler, an army helicopter pilot who transported troops during his time in Vietnam, continues to do the practical matters for the site and answer people's questions through e-mails

More than 58,000 Americans died in the Vietnam War, and of those approximately 8,000 have been memorialized on the Web site. Davis doesn't believe that the number is what's important though, instead, he is just pleased that there is a way for people to share stories and remember the people who didn't survive the war.

Every person working with the site is either a Vietnam veteran or a family member of a person who died in the war.

Glen Luse, whose brother's name is memorialized on the virtual wall, is in charge of the public relations aspect of the site.

These three men are the only people who work almost every day with the site, although there are other people who are "on-call" said Davis.

There are other sites on the Internet that memorialize the lives of people who were lost during the Vietnam War, but Davis believes that this site is unique from the rest. "Other sites are in it for the money. Everywhere you look they are asking for donations. We don't accept donations because we have a duty to do it. That difference in mindset is important," Davis said.

Because Schueckler lives in New York, Luse in Iowa, and Davis in Georgia, the trio has never met in person. They consider themselves, however, close because of the bond they share through their time served in Vietnam. They stay in contact with each other through phone and e-mails regularly.

The Web site demands a lot of time and hard work to maintain, Davis said.

"Every time I get an e-mail from someone we've helped, that is all the pay we deserve," Davis said.

Quilts made for families who have 'lost so much'

Richard Linn lost his son, Karl, a Marine, in an ambush in Iraq thousands of miles from the Linns' Midlothian home on Jan. 26, 2005.

Note: There is a very moving video at the original link



More than a year later, a quilt arrived.

Infused in each stitch were the empathy and admiration of quilters determined to wrap similar Virginia families in a patchwork memorial to their fallen servicemen and women.

"It's like my baby blanket, which my wife threw out about 10 years ago," joked Linn in a lighter moment during a tearful first meeting with members of the Friendship Circle Quilters.

"It gave me something to hold on to."

The quilters, whose chapter is part of the Richmond Quilters' Guild, began the Virginia Memorial Quilt Project during the summer and, as Veterans Day approached, gathered at a member's Midlothian home to discuss the project. Linn's arrival was a surprise to members who hadn't met anyone from the 22 families they've made quilts for.
Each of those families, plus more than 70 others on the quilters' list, lost a loved one in Iraq or Afghanistan.

"By them going over there, they made it possible for us to stay here and be free and go to our quilter's meetings," said project co-chairwoman Mary Biggs of Rockville.

"Our lives go on like normal, but these people's lives have been tragically interrupted by the loss of a child" or other loved one, Biggs continued. "We want to give them something to hold, cuddle and think about."

Quilts, Richmonder Joan Farina added, "are hand-me-downs that you don't throw away like a basket of fruit."

One quilter usually chooses the fabrics and pattern for a quilt, and one or more members take on assembly and finishing duties, from cutting the fabric into shapes needed for the quilt's blocks, to quilting, binding and hand-stitching the label bearing the service member's name, age, rank, hometown and date of death. Each quilt is twin size or larger and worth about $500. But "you can't put a price on it," said Mechanicsville resident Lou Daniel.

"It's just so heart-wrenching to be able to do this for a family who has lost so much," she said.

Daniel wept as she spoke for the families and for her own firsthand experience with losing a loved one suddenly. Her granddaughter died in a car wreck eight years ago.

Daniel's daughter, Betty Jones of Beaverdam, said she made her daughter a quilt years before she died. Jones said she knows the group's quilts aren't the same, but the intent still counts.

"It's just a real loving feeling to have a little something," Jones said.

Joann Holcomb, who runs the Needle and Thread Quilt Shop in Hopewell, said quilting is love.

"It has to be when you're taking fabric and cutting into tiny little pieces and then sewing them back together," she said.

Kaitlyn and Justin Edwards, ages 16 and 14, respectively, also felt compelled to volunteer with the project. The Moseley residents said their father told them about the project, which will continue as long as there are casualties. The Edwardses don't quilt, so they help with mailings seeking donations.

"I've always admired how [the soldiers] are so brave and courageous and that they are able to do what they do," said Justin Edwards.

"It wasn't something I wanted to put down or put off," his sister said. "It just made me feel special because I was doing something to help someone else."

The group sat in rapt attention as Linn, recipient of the group's fourth quilt, spoke about his son and his family's loss.

"He really impressed people with the depth of his character. He'd cheer people up by saying something silly or off the wall. He just had a way about him," Linn said. "Even though he was 20, he had a good head and a good heart. I don't know if I'm more proud of him or I miss him more."

Nearly everyone was speechless when Linn was done.

"Getting a thank-you face to face and . . . to hear his story about his wonderful child makes this even more rewarding," Biggs said.

Linn, who put the quilt in his son's room with his medals, said he is the one who is thankful.

"People have kind of appeared out of nowhere to support us," he said. "It never ceases to surprise me that people in the area haven't forgotten . . . that's part of what keeps me going."

Medal of Honor will be awarded to fallen Marine

By Patrick Dickson, Stars and Stripes
Mideast edition, Saturday, November 11, 2006

WASHINGTON — President Bush on Friday announced that the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military decoration, will be awarded posthumously to Marine Cpl. Jason Dunham.

To continue reading:


*Parents of Jason Dunham say they can put him to rest now

SCIO - Semper Fidelius, was shown for Marine Corporal Jason Dunham, when President George W. Bush announced at the dedication of the National Marine Corps Museum in Quantico, Va., Friday that the Scio Central School graduate would receive “the nation's highest declaration of valor the Medal of Honor.”


According to the Marines he is only the second military person from Operation Iraqi Freedom to receive the Medal of Honor.

His mother, Deb Dunham, told the Daily Reporter, “Everything is complete now, We can put him to rest completely.” A complete story appears in Sunday's newspaper.

*Marine to receive Medal of Honor for Iraq heroism

(CNN) -- President Bush announced on Friday that the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military decoration, will be awarded posthumously to Marine Cpl. Jason Dunham.


POSTED: 12:38 a.m. EST, November 11, 2006

In April 2004, Dunham was leading a patrol in an Iraqi town near the Syrian border when the patrol stopped a convoy of cars leaving the scene of an attack on a Marine convoy, according to military and media accounts of the action.

An occupant of one of the cars attacked Dunham and the two fought hand to hand. As they fought, Dunham yelled to fellow Marines, "No, no watch his hand." The attacker then dropped a grenade and Dunham hurled himself on top of it, using his helmet to try to blunt the force of the blast.

Still, Dunham was critically wounded in the explosion and died eight days later at Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland.

"As long as we have Marines like Corporal Dunham, America will never fear for her liberty," Bush said Friday as he announced that Dunham would receive the award. Bush spoke at the dedication of the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Virginia. (Watch announcement of award at museum -- 1:27)

"His was a selfless act of courage to save his fellow Marines," Sgt. Maj. Daniel A. Huff of the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, was quoted as saying in Marine Corps News that April.

"He knew what he was doing," Lance Cpl. Jason A. Sanders, 21, of McAllester, Oklahoma, who was in Dunham's company, was quoted as saying by Marine Corps News. "He wanted to save Marines' lives from that grenade."

In various media accounts, fellow Marines told how Dunham had extended his enlistment shortly before he died so he could help his comrades.

"We told him he was crazy for coming out here," Lance Cpl. Mark E. Dean, 22, from Owasso, Oklahoma, said in Marine Corps News. "He decided to come out here and fight with us. All he wanted was to make sure his boys made it back home."

"He loved his country, believed in his mission, and wanted to stay with his fellow Marines and see the job through," Vice President Dick Cheney said when speaking of Dunham's heroism at a Disabled American Veterans conference in July 2004.

The Scio, New York, native would have been 25 years old on Friday.

In a letter urging Bush to honor Dunham with the Medal of Honor, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York, called the Marine's actions "an act of unbelievable bravery and selflessness."

Dunham's story was told in the book "The Gift of Valor," written by Wall Street Journal reporter Michael Phillips.

Dunham will be the second American to receive the Medal of Honor from service in Iraq.

Army Sgt. 1st Class Paul Ray Smith was the other, honored for action near Baghdad International Airport in April 2003, in which he killed as many as 50 enemy combatants while helping wounded comrades to safety. Smith was the only U.S. soldier killed in the battle.

The highest honor for a fallen hero

Corp. Jason Dunham receives Medal of Honor posthumously

SCIO, N.Y. - At the dedication of the Marine Museum at the Marine Corps headquarters in Quantico, Va., today — a ceremony to honor those who've served in past and present military conflicts — President Bush announced the next recipient of the nation's highest decoration for valor, the Congressional Medal of Honor.


By Rehema Ellis
Correspondent,NBC News
Updated: 12:06 p.m. PT Nov 11, 2006

"As long as we have Marines like Corp. Dunham, America will never fear for her liberty," the president said.

Corp. Jason Dunham, a 25-year-old Marine who'd been in Iraq less than six weeks. Attacked by insurgents while inspecting a convoy, he ended up in hand-to-hand combat.

"At one point he yelled to his fellow Marines 'No, no, no, watch his hand!' Moments later an enemy grenade rolled out," Bush said.

"Without a second's hesitation he knew what he needed to do because he saw that grenade was live," says Maj. Trent Gibson. "And he took his helmet off and covered the grenade with it in order to protect his Marines."

350 miles from Marine headquarters is Scio, N.Y., a one-stoplight town. Jason Dunham was raised here — they know him — and no one was suprised by what he did.

"It's just the way he was," a friend recalls. "He was always doing for other people."

When he was 17 and still a student here at Scio, Jason Dunham signed up for the Marines. Some say he was born to be in the Corps.

His parents were at today's ceremony.

"When he first left, we both looked at each other, and we knew it wasn't going to be good," Dunham's father Dan says.

The Dunhams will meet with the president again for a formal medal ceremony in the future.

Today is for heroes, but it's bittersweet.

"I would just like to wish Corp. Dunham a happy 25th birthday," Maj. Gibson said, chocking up. Because Oct. 10 was, in fact, Dunham's birthday.

A young Marine who died the way he lived — putting others first.

© 2006 MSNBC Interactive

November 10, 2006

National Museum of the Marine Corps dedicated

November 10, 2006
By Beth Zimmerman
Staff writer

QUANTICO, Va. — In what seemed like Mother Nature’s nod to the Corps, the sky above the National Museum of the Marine Corps was free of clouds. It was unusual for a November day in northern Virginia, as the sun heated the area just outside Quantico to nearly 70 degrees.

To continue reading:


Pizza chain targets vets

DETROIT - Just in time for Veterans Day, Mike Ilitch, Little Caesars founder, plans to launch a program that would make it easier for American veterans to open their own pizza businesses.

The Little Caesars Veterans Program offers a reduction on the franchise fee, credit on the first equipment order and financing. The offer is even better for disabled veterans, who would have the entire $20,000 franchise fee waived for their first store.


Detroit Free Press

DETROIT - Just in time for Veterans Day, Mike Ilitch, Little Caesars founder, plans to launch a program that would make it easier for American veterans to open their own pizza businesses.

The Little Caesars Veterans Program offers a reduction on the franchise fee, credit on the first equipment order and financing. The offer is even better for disabled veterans, who would have the entire $20,000 franchise fee waived for their first store.

Honorably discharged veterans will receive up to $10,000 in benefits toward starting a new Little Caesars franchise. Service-disabled veterans are eligible for up to $68,000 for starting a franchise. A typical Little Caesars store costs $175,000 to $300,000 to build and equip, said David Scrivano, Little Caesars president.

The Detroit-based Little Caesar Enterprises Inc. plans to announce the program on Saturday, which is Veterans Day. It is the company's way of providing business opportunities for veterans who are making the transition to civilian life.

"Our founder Michael Ilitch, a former Marine himself, strongly believes in giving back and helping others," Scrivano said. "We looked at programs offered to veterans. We wanted to create a program that was a step up, but mostly to give back to those who served our country, who were honorably discharged, and give them a career."

Ilitch first helped an Iraq war veteran last year to open a Little Caesars franchise in Kentucky. The store is expected to open early next year.

Now, Rick Loz, 42, of Allentown, Pa., who served in the U.S. Air Force from 1988 to 1996, is the program's first participant. He was training Wednesday at the Little Caesars in West Bloomfield, Mich., and so far has learned how to knead and spread the pizza dough and load it with toppings.

"Making a good quality pizza is not as easy as it looks," Loz said.

By the time his six-week training stint is over, he will know everything about running a Little Caesars restaurant, from keeping the books to knowing when to order more cheese. And he will return to Allentown to start looking for a location for his store with help from Little Caesars' real estate department. He hopes to open one next summer.

Loz said he started researching franchises nine months ago and just lucked out in his timing with Little Caesars because the company had just decided to launch the veterans program.

Since leaving the military, Loz has worked as a project manager for AT&T; and for a semiconductor company.

"I was at a point where I wanted to build something for myself," he said. "I think the military training is very applicable here. You have to develop a team and work as a team."

Scrivano said that the company has opportunities in all parts of the country, but there are five markets it is focusing on as part of its expansion this year: Philadelphia, Boston, northern New Jersey, Atlanta and St. Louis.

The company is working with Marines for Life, VetFran and the Center for Veterans Enterprise to get the word out to their members and also to get help screening candidates.

Terry Hill, spokesman for the International Franchise Association, which created the VetFran program in 1990 during the Persian Gulf War, said more companies are reaching out to veterans.

He said from 2002 to October 2006, the program sold 612 franchises, and it has 229 participating companies including Cinnabon, Maid Brigade and the UPS Store.

"I think that shows a very clear understanding and maybe even a personal understanding about the needs of veterans on the part of Mr. Ilitch," Hill said.

Little Caesars is the nation's fourth-largest pizza chain behind Pizza Hut, Domino's and Papa John's. It has about 2,000 restaurants and an estimated $1.2 billion in annual sales.

Hub’s bravest doing double duty overseas

Just weeks before Terrence Burke would lose his right lower leg in a bomb blast in Fallujah, the rookie BPD officer had already been dubbed a hero and “all heart” by the Marines of Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 25th Marines - not an easy feat in a unit that includes four Boston cops and several city firefighters, men generally leery of “hero” tags.


By Michele McPhee/ The Beat
Boston Herald Police Bureau Chief
Friday, November 10, 2006 - Updated: 06:49 AM EST

But Burke deserved the accolades. Before he nearly lost his own life in September, he saved a Marine.

Fellow cop Mike Brown - one of three BPD officers who served with Burke in Iraq - recalled the incident yesterday. Fallujah, Brown said, is dotted with wet, dirty ditches, primarily used as roadside toilets. During one mission, the Humvee Burke was traveling in with his men flipped and landed in the filthy water, pinning an unconscious gunner in the submerged vehicle.

“Burkie realized he was a man down. He was banged up from the accident but he dove into the muck, looked for the gunny, and pulled the guy out,” Brown said. “A lot of guys really, really remember that.”

We should all be remembering stories like this today.

Tomorrow is Veterans Day, the third since Americans began fighting the controversial war in Iraq. Right now, there are six active-duty BPD officers and 10 Boston firefighters serving overseas.

Burke is recovering in an out-patient program at a Texas hospital, his older brother Tom said yesterday. He is preparing to be fitted for a prosthetic leg.

“It’s shocking how fast he is coming back based on his injuries,” Tom Burke said. “Between the cops and the Marines, he’s got plenty of people rooting him on.”

One of those people is Brian Fountaine, the son of Rescue 2 Co. firefighter Paul Fountaine.

The 24-year-old Army sergeant, one of the youngest tank commanders in Iraq, lost both of his lower legs in June when the Humvee he was traveling in rolled over a pressure plate, triggering blasts from two buried bombs.

Fountaine was blown out of the truck and came-to face-down in the dirt, with searing pain ripping through his body.

His legs were bloody stumps. But Fountaine insisted he would walk again. It is a promise that he has now fulfilled, using his prosthetic legs for daily jaunts around the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, his father said yesterday. He is still determined to follow his father into the BFD.

“Brian’s walking,” Paul Fountaine said. “He’s doing great.”

Obviously, many Massachusetts families will be in mourning tomorrow, remembering loved ones who made the supreme sacrifice rather than celebrating the minor victories like learning to walk on prosthetics.

And veterans like Brown and his fellow cops, Danny McMorrow and Mike Fayles, who was also wounded, will spend the day thinking about the 11 Marines from their unit who did not come home and others still fighting in Iraq.

“People need to realize there is still a war going on over there,” said McMorrow, 43, a father of four who is a cop with the elite Youth Violence Strike Force. “People are not as observant to the veterans that continue to do the job over there.”

After spending months training Iraqi security forces, McMorrow is preparing to return to the gang unit this month and start pulling guns off the streets of Boston.

Fayles continues his recovery from his injuries. Brown will be hitting the streets of District B-3 in Dorchester and Mattapan and “can’t wait to get back to work.”

I’m sure the citizens of Boston can’t wait to have Brown, and other veterans like him, who have proven their dedication not only to their country, but to their city.

First Long War Marine to receive Medal of Honor

Quantico, VA (Nov. 10, 2006) -- A corporal who died shielding men in his care from a bursting grenade deserves America’s highest military decoration, President Bush has confirmed (http://www.mcnews.info/mcnewsinfo/moh/).


Nov. 10, 2006; Submitted on: 11/10/2006 02:12:24 PM ; Story ID#: 20061110141224
By Staff Sgt. Scott Dunn, Headquarters Marine Corps

Actions by Cpl. Jason L. Dunham, who would have turned 25 today, merit the Medal of Honor, Bush said at the National Museum of the Marine Corps’ dedication ceremony, which coincided with the 231st Marine Corps anniversary.

“And on this special birthday, in the company of his fellow Marines, I’m proud to announce that our nation will recognize Cpl. Jason Dunham’s action with America’s highest decoration for valor, the Medal of Honor,” Bush said in front of approximately 15,000 people.

The announcement prompted a booming “Ooh-rah!” – a spirited cry among Marines –from the back of the crowd, and a long applause followed.

On April 14, 2004, in Iraq near the Syrian border, the corporal used his helmet and his body to smother an exploding Mills Bomb let loose by a raging insurgent whom Dunham and two other Marines tried to subdue.

The explosion dazed and wounded Lance Cpl. William Hampton and Pfc. Kelly Miller. The insurgent stood up after the blast and was immediately killed by Marine small-arms fire.

“By giving his own life, Cpl. Dunham saved the lives of two of his men and showed the world what it means to be a Marine,” said Bush.

Dunham lay face down with a shard the size of a dress-shirt button lodged in his head. The hard, molded mesh that was his Kevlar helmet was now scattered yards around into clods and shredded fabric. Dunham never regained consciousness and died eight days later at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., with his mother and father at his bedside.

Dunham’s commanding officers from 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, investigated his actions and nominated him for the Medal of Honor. After two years and seven months making its way to the White House, the nomination now has the necessary approval from the president. The president will present the medal and citation at a date to be determined.

Hoping the president would make the Medal of Honor announcement on their son’s birthday, Dan and Debra Dunham drove to Quantico from their home in Scio, N.Y. Dunham is buried in Scio.

“The public now knows what Jason did,” said Deb. “We still have a loss, but the gift that Jason gave helps us go on.

"The good part is that we get to make new memories and bring new people into the family; the bad news is there will be no new memories with Jason.”

The president acknowledged Dan and Deb sitting in the front row. The parents held each other close as the audience gave a resounding applause.

“We took (the applause) as a thank you for us, but it was for Jason,” Deb said. “At that point, Dan and I were missing Jason a lot.”

Addressing Dunham’s parents, Bush said, “We remember that the Marine who so freely gave his life was your beloved son. We ask a loving God to comfort you for a loss that can never be replaced.

“As long as we have Marines like Cpl. Dunham, America will never fear for her liberty”

Before Dunham, the last Marine actions to earn the medal happened May 8, 1970, in Vietnam, according to Marine Corps History Division records. A Medal of Honor citation details Lance Cpl. Miguel Keith’s machine-gun charge that inspired a platoon facing nearly overwhelming odds: Wounded, Keith ran into “fire-swept terrain.” Wounded again by a grenade, he still attacked, taking out enemies in the forward rush. Keith fought until mortally wounded; his platoon came out on top despite being heavily outnumbered.

The last Marine to receive the Medal of Honor was Maj. Gen. James L. Day, who distinguished himself as a corporal in the Battle of Okinawa in 1945. On Jan. 20, 1998, more than half a century later, President Bill Clinton presented the medal to Day, who passed away that year.

Since the Long War began, the president has presented one Medal of Honor. On April 4, 2003, during Operation Iraqi Freedom, Army Sgt. 1st Class Paul R. Smith posthumously earned the medal for organizing a defense that held off a company-sized attack on more than 100 vulnerable coalition soldiers. In the defense, Smith manned a .50 caliber machine gun in an exposed position until he was mortally wounded.

First Long War Marine to receive Medal of Honor

QUANTICO, Va. (Nov. 10, 2006) – A corporal who died shielding men in his care from a bursting grenade deserves America’s highest military decoration, President Bush has confirmed.


By Staff Sgt. Scott Dunn, Headquarters Marine Corps

Actions by Cpl. Jason L. Dunham, who would have turned 25 today, merit the Medal of Honor, Bush said at the National Museum of the Marine Corps’ dedication ceremony, which coincided with the 231st Marine Corps anniversary.

On April 14, 2004, in Iraq near the Syrian border, the corporal used his helmet and his body to smother an exploding Mills Bomb let loose by a raging insurgent whom Dunham and two other Marines tried to subdue.

The explosion dazed and wounded Lance Cpl. William Hampton and Pfc. Kelly Miller. The insurgent stood up after the blast and was immediately killed by Marine small-arms fire.

Dunham lay face down with a shard the size of a dress-shirt button lodged in his head. The hard, molded mesh that was his Kevlar helmet was now scattered yards around into clods and shredded fabric. Dunham never regained consciousness and died eight days later at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., with his mother and father at his bedside.

Dunham’s commanding officers from 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, investigated his actions and nominated him for the Medal of Honor. After two years and seven months making its way to the White House, the nomination now has the necessary approval from the president. Next, the president will present the medal and citation to the Dunhams.

Hoping the president would make the Medal of Honor announcement on their son’s birthday, Dan and Debra Dunham drove to Quantico from their home in Scio, N.Y. Dunham is buried in Scio.

Before Dunham, the last Marine actions to earn the medal happened May 8, 1970, in Vietnam, according to Marine Corps History Division records. A Medal of Honor citation details Lance Cpl. Miguel Keith’s machine-gun charge that inspired a platoon facing nearly overwhelming odds: Wounded, Keith ran into “fire-swept terrain.” Wounded again by a grenade, he still attacked, taking out enemies in the forward rush. Keith fought until mortally wounded; his platoon came out on top despite being heavily outnumbered.

The last Marine to receive the Medal of Honor was Maj. Gen. James L. Day, who distinguished himself as a corporal in the Battle of Okinawa in 1945. On Jan. 20, 1998, more than half a century later, President Bill Clinton presented the medal to Day. He passed away that year.

Since the Long War began, the president has presented one Medal of Honor. On April 4, 2003, during Operation Iraqi Freedom, Army Sgt. 1st Class Paul R. Smith posthumously earned the medal for organizing a defense that held off a company-sized attack on more than 100 vulnerable coalition soldiers. In the defense, Smith manned a .50 caliber machine gun in an exposed position until he was mortally wounded.

Jim Lehrer Reflects on Marines at Museum Dedication


JIM LEHRER: Mr. President, generals, colonels, majors, captains, lieutenants, warrant officers, sergeants, corporals, privates, ladies and gentlemen.


We are the Marines. And in this museum, our story is told. It is a single, monumental story, made up of 231 years of many separate stories of heroism and courage, of dedication and sacrifice, of service to our country and to our corps, of honor and loyalty to each other in war and in peace; 231 years of professionalism and pride, of squared corners and squared-away lockers, perfect salutes and good haircuts, well-shined shoes, and eyes right, 231 years of Semper Fis and DIs.

First time I came to Quantico was 51 years ago. I came as an officer candidate, a PLC on the train from Washington, having just traveled from Texas on the first airplane ride of my life. On the orders of a drill instructor, a DI, I fell in at attention with 40 other candidates on the platform at the train station over at Quantico.

And the DI told us to answer up, "Here, sir!" when our name was called. And he got to mine, and he said, "Le-here-er-er." And, like some kind of idiot, I blurted out, "It's pronounced Lehrer, sir!"

There was silence, absolute silence. And then I heard the terrifying click, click, click of leather heels on the deck of that train station platform coming in my direction. And suddenly there he was, the DI, right in front of me, his face right up in mine. And I paraphrase and cleanse it up a bit, but he said, "Candidate, if I say your name is Little Bo Peep, your name is Little Bo Peep!"

"Do you hear me?" Oh, I heard him all right. And I think it was at that very moment that I really became a United States Marine.

I'm still one today, and I will remain one forever, as did my late father, and as is my older and only brother.

On being a Marine
I came from a family of Marines into the family of Marines. My father served in the 1920s under the great Smedley Butler right here at Quantico. He saw combat in Haiti and came out a corporal. My brother and I were both 1950s Cold War Marines in the Third Marine Division in the Far East.

Since our corps was founded on this day in 1775, there have been more than 4 million men and women who have worn the uniform of a United States Marine. This museum is about all of them, including us three "Le-here-er-ers," and even the Little Bo Peeps. That's because this museum is about what it means to be a Marine, no matter the time, the length, place, rank, or nature of the service.

It's about the shared experience and the shared knowledge that comes from being a U.S. Marine, such as knowing that you are only as strong and as safe as the person on your right and on your left; that a well-trained and motivated human being can accomplish almost anything; that being pushed to do your very best is a godsend; that an order is an order, a duty is a duty, that responsibility goes down the chain of command, as well as up, as do loyalty and respect; that leadership can be taught, so can bearing, discipline and honor; that "follow me" really does mean "follow me"; and that that Semper Fidelis really does mean "always faithful"; and that the Marines hymn is so much more than just a song.

My Marine experience helped shape who I am now personally and professionally, and I am grateful for that on an almost daily basis. And I often find myself wishing everyone had a similar opportunity, to learn about shared dependence, loyalty, responsibility to and for others, about mutual respect and honor, and about the power of appealing to the best that's in us as human beings, not the worst.

People at the core
As a journalist, there has been one overriding effect of my Marine experience: While debates over sending Americans into harm's way are always about issues of foreign policy, geopolitics and sometimes even politics-politics, for me, they are also always about young lance corporals and second lieutenants and other very real people in all branches of the U.S. military, people with names, ranks, serial numbers, faces, families, and futures that may never be.

When Marines stand for or sing the Marines' hymn, as we will at the conclusion of this ceremony, it's never for ourselves personally. It's always for the Marines who went before us, with us, and after us, first and foremost for those who gave their lives, their health, their everything at places such as Tripoli, Belleau Wood, Haiti, Wake Island, Guadalcanal, Peleliu, Iwo Jima, Chosin, Inchon, Danang, Khe Sahn, Beirut, and Baghdad, Fallujah and Ramadi.

The death rate among Marines in Iraq has been more than double that of the other services. That's a first-to-fight, first-wave pattern that has pretty much held since the Revolutionary War, when 49 of the very first U.S. Marines of our country died in combat. Their mission was aboard ship; there are still Marines who serve at sea.

There are others who fly and maintain jets and helicopters, man the artillery, operate tanks and trucks, feed and supply the troops, compute and collate, train and inspect, march and make music, recruit, guard and escort, radio and communicate, patrol and snipe, as well as save tsunami, earthquake and other disaster victims around the world, collect toys at Christmastime for American kids in need, stage a marathon run through Washington, D.C., for charity, or do whatever else needs to be done, particularly if the need is for it to be done well and be done immediately.

We are the Marines. And in the language of the rifle range, we are always ready on the right, ready on the left, all ready on the firing line, whatever kind of firing is required, and wherever that line may be.

*Pendleton Marines celebrate Corps' 231st birthday

The Marines at Camp Pendleton kicked off their 231st birthday celebration a day early Thursday with a color guard, a symbolic cake-cutting ceremony, and a traditional pageant featuring period uniforms.


By: SHANNON WINGARD - For the North County Times

The Marine Corps was established Nov. 10, 1775. Hundreds of Marines wearing camoflage or dress blue uniforms, veterans, family members and other guests attended Thursday's celebration, which detailed the long history of Marine Corps tradition.

For the pageant, men and women wore period Marine uniforms ---- from the Revolutionary War to the Iraq war ---- and gave a firsthand description of the history of that period.

Their stories illustrated how the Marine Corps grew to six divisions and five air wings in 1941, and how women, or "Marinettes," were approved to enlist during World War I. Other stories highlighted facts like the first woman to serve in a "combat theater" in 1967 and how the Marines earned the "First to Fight" slogan.

Afterward, Brig. Gen. Mark Bircher, the senior ranking Marine at the ceremony, said the "pageant members tell us about change ---- change in weapons and change in uniforms."

However, he said some things haven't changed throughout the years, including the Marine characteristics of "honor, courage, commitment and duty."

Other Marine traditions Thursday included a symbolic cake-cutting ceremony, with the first piece given to Bircher, the honored guest. The next pieces were given to the oldest active-duty Marine and the youngest, respectively, as is a part of the tradition.

According to Sgt. Major Wayne Bell, who enlisted in the Marines in 1977, the pageant is a way to "preserve our history."

"We love tradition in the Marine Corps," he said.

Robert Murlless, 58, a chief warrant officer, was honored as the oldest Marine at the pageant. He said being a Marine today is "the same, exactly the same" as when he enlisted in 1966.

As the youngest Marine, Pfc. Todd Kelly, 18, said the pageant highlighted the actions of many people who preceded him.

"It is an honor to be surrounded by this. There is a lot of history," said Kelly, who will deploy to Iraq for the first time next year. "It definitely shows me how much I have to represent to uphold the whole history of the Marine Corps."

Anthony Arrum, a member of the local Chapter 493 of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, said the pageant helped him reminisce of his years as an active-duty Marine.

"It brings back memories," said Arrum, who retired as a gunnery sergeant in 1981. "I have been on that field many times in formation."

*Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based Marines celebrate 231st Marine Corps birthday in Iraq

COMBAT OUT POST RAWAH, Iraq (Nov. 10, 2006) - It"s a date that"s drilled into Marines" heads during recruit training and celebrated as though it was every individual Marine"s birthday - Nov. 10. On this day in 1775, the U.S. Marine Corps became America"s "first to fight."

Note: photo links are available by clicking on the lnk to the original article


Story and photos by Lance Cpl. Nathaniel F. Sapp, Combat Correspondent, 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion

Now, 231 years later, Marines from the Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion took time from daily combat operations to celebrate and remember their heritage. The battalion arrived in Iraq nearly two months ago.

Since the battalion is currently in a combat zone, there are always Marines conducting combat operations, a point battalion commander Lt. Col. Austin E. Renforth made sure to emphasize to his Marines.

"No matter if you stay in the Corps 20 years or you get out in four, I know that for the rest of your lives, every November tenth you"re going to pause a moment and remember that somewhere there"s a Marine standing post," said Renforth.

Marines, sailors and soldiers gathered at the Marines" outpost here to observe the formal traditions Marines around the world often observe in commemoration of the Corps" birthday - the reading of the birthday messages from the 13th Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. John A. Lejeune, and current Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. M. W. Hagee.

Following the readings, Renforth performed the customary cake-cutting ceremony. He presented the first piece to the oldest Marine present, who then passed a piece to the youngest Marine present, symbolizing where the Corps has been, and where it is going.

After pieces of cake had been distributed, the Marines headed off to dine on heaping piles of steak, crab legs and lobster, a big change for the Marines used to conducting combat operations in nearby cities and living off Meals, Ready-to- Eat - pre-packaged meals.

For Petty Officer 3rd Class George Iliev, a 25-year-old Navy corpsman from Washington, D.C., celebrating the Marines" birthday in Iraq was a unique experience.

"I didn"t really expect anything, but they went all out with the food," said Iliev. He said the Marines" birthday ceremony is "a great tradition."

Although the ceremony here was slightly shorter than the exuberant formal balls and ceremonies Marine units traditionally attend in the U.S., it still held the same significance for Lance Cpl. William Farmer, a 22-year-old mortarman from Houston.

He says the true nature of celebrating the Marine Corps" birthday is in its traditions, and honoring those who have come before than anything else, he added.

"It boosted morale, especially when the Sea Bees (U.S. Navy construction men and women) stood in formation and sang us ‘Happy Birthday,"" said Lance Cpl. Robert Lenfesty, a 21-year-old mortarman from Seattle, Wa. "It was great how everyone here celebrated together."

2nd LAR Bn. is part of Regimental Combat Team 7, a Marine Corps command that is responsible for providing security to more than 30,000 square miles in Iraq"s western Al Anbar province.

The battalion is based in Rawah, a city of 20,000 people that is 150 miles Northwest of Baghdad along the Euphrates River. They work with the Iraqi people to help stabilize the region and develop Iraqi Security Forces.

Contact Lance Cpl. Sapp at: [email protected]


Cpl. Gerardo Rico, a 22-year-old Marine from San Antonio, Texas, and food service specialist with the Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, grills steaks for the celebration of the Marine Corps birthday in Rawah, Nov.10, 2006. (Photo by Lance Cpl. Nathaniel F. Sapp)

Sgt. Maj. Arthur Mennig, sergeant major for the Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, puts last minute touches on the cake, which was part of the Marines" celebration for the Marine Corps" 231st birthday Nov. 10, 2006, in Rawah, Iraq. (Photo by Lance Cpl. Nathaniel F. Sapp)

Lt. Col. Austin Renforth, commanding officer of the Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, passes a piece of cake to the oldest Marine present - 43-year-old Maj. Sean Quinlan - during the Marines" celebration of the Marine Corps" 231st birthday Nov. 10, 2006, in Rawah, Iraq. The passing of the cake from the oldest Marine present to the youngest Marine present is a Marine Corps birthday tradition, signifying the passing of traditions from one generation to the next. (Photo by Lance Cpl. Nathaniel F. Sapp)

Maj. Sean Quinlan, 43, passes a piece of cake to Lance Cpl. Jacob Glenn, 19, during a cake cutting ceremony in Rawah, Iraq, in honor of the Marine Corps" 231st birthday, Nov. 10, 2006. Quinlan is the commanding officer for the Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based Company D, 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion. Glenn is an infantryman with Company E, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, which is also based at Camp Lejeune. The passing of the cake from the oldest Marine present to the youngest Marine present is a Marine Corps birthday tradition, signifying the passing of traditions from one generation to the next. (Photo by Lance Cpl. Nathaniel F. Sapp)

At Dusty Outpost in Iraq, Cake Is Cut for Marines Young and Not So Young

OUTPOST VIKING, Iraq, Nov. 10 — Capt. James W. Mingus faced another platoon of his marines. They stood in their fire-retardant uniforms, wearied and hungry, weapons slung across their chests and backs.

Note and alert: There is a slide show that is available with the original article—in fact, a choice of four. The one title “Sniper” graphically depicts a Marine wounded by a sniper. Please use your discretion for viewing each multimedia slide show.


Published: November 11, 2006

A birthday cake was on the table in front of them. One piece had been cut out with a bayonet.

The captain, 37 and the oldest marine in the rifle company he commands, had just given that piece to the platoon’s youngest marine, Lance Cpl. T. J. McDowell, who is 20.

“Two hundred and thirty-one years,” the captain said.

“Tradition. This is what makes us different. This is what sets us apart.”

The Marine Corps celebrated its 231st birthday on Friday, an event that passes with little notice outside the corps’s insular ranks, but is an essential ritual within, especially now, as the policies guiding the war seem certain to change and the reasons that brought the marines here are less clear.

No matter the changes in Washington, here in this forward base in Anbar Province, Company F, Second Battalion, Eighth Marines marked the day with the same insistence on ceremony that surrounds marines from their first seconds before an enraged drill instructor to the folded flag at the grave.

As each platoon came in from their duties on patrol or manning posts at Outpost Viking’s walls, a ceremony repeated itself: a reading of a traditional birthday message from 1921, a reading of a message from the current commandant and then the cake, passed symbolically from one generation to the next.

“When were you born, Graham?” a marine called out, just before one platoon’s cake-cutting ceremonies began.

Cpl. Jeremy L. Graham, who had hit four bombs in three months while riding in vehicles, and who was blasted once more on a foot patrol, answered without a pause: “1775,” he said, using the year that the Marine Corps first took up arms, in a Pennsylvania tavern.

Every year, and everywhere, it is the same, even now.

The graying marines remind marines who are new to shaving: You are part of an outfit, storied and bloodied, that is older than the nation it serves. You are one of us. Pass it on.

In peacetime it can be poignant, as the ceremony, held in veteran halls and bases, invariably attracts veterans from several generations and wars.

In Outpost Viking, which is little more than a sandbagged fortress ringed by an insurgency that hounds the marines at each turn, Captain Mingus and his noncommissioned officers needed few words. The youngest marines here already know much of what veterans tell; there are 22-year-olds on their third combat tours.

Second Battalion, Eighth Marines has been in Iraq on this rotation for a little more than three months.

Nearly 15 percent of the battalion’s marines have been wounded. Five marines and one of their interpreters have been killed and 31 marines have been wounded seriously enough to require evacuation back to the states.

Each week, the number of wounded climbs. On Thursday, an improvised explosive struck a vehicle in the battalion’s Weapons Company, sending shrapnel into the right leg of Lance Cpl. William J. Thorpe and shattering Lance Cpl. Daniel B. Nicholson’s face.

(The week before, Lance Corporal Nicholson had said a prayer for the recovery of another marine, Lance Cpl. Colin Smith, who had been shot through the head. Now, Lance Corporal Nicholson was in a military hospital in Germany, with the others praying for him.)

Captain Mingus told the marines to observe this day every year, no matter where they were. “If you have two marines in a fighting hole somewhere, find a Twinkie, cut it in half and say, ‘Happy birthday, marine,’ ” he said.

The hearty greetings belied an underlying unease that these men confront each day, and it was noticeable in what was left unsaid. There was little talk on Friday of saving Iraq. And there was a message implicit in the older marine’s words.

Gradually, as months and tours have passed here, blending into years inside a country that has slipped out of everyone’s control, the list of reasons for fighting has changed. First it shifted from finding weapons of mass destruction to removing a dictator to building a stable, democratic Iraq.

Eventually, when talk of stability in Iraq gave way to questions of whether the spasms of sectarian violence could be properly called a civil war, the marines’ reasons for fighting shrank further, down to more basic things.

The captain and the others who spoke steered wide of politics, but that wide steer was noticeable. They spoke instead of fundamental sentiments, those that have always been first and last on a marine’s list of reasons to fight.

Five years after the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States, and almost four years after the troops prepared to invade Iraq, many of the marines in the battalion, in their quiet times in the weeks before this day, have said they fight for two things: the corps’s tradition and reputation, and for the man on their left and right.

Their Iraq is a land of dangers and deceptions, an endless test and a daily set of deadly traps. Each marine’s own future can feel like an abstraction when a patrol is heading out. It is difficult to see the hidden bombs. It is harder still to see the future of Iraq, or how any of this might end.

Friday was the birthday. Each of the marines stepped into the line, just as they always do.

Five times, the cakes were cut with bayonets and pieces handed out. Then the marines filed through a field kitchen and were served lobster, steak, crab legs and shrimp. Even the exhausted smiled, leaning against blast walls designed to keep out the frequent mortar fire.

Many were bedecked with charms, a collection that provided a measure of how deeply into the combat culture these young marines had already passed. The charms were small keepsakes, often not obvious, taken from churches, homes or firefights and designated as talismans of luck.

Lance Cpl. Elijah D. Henry, from North Carolina, came for his cake. He wore a big knife. Its handle was carved from the antlers of the first deer he killed, a six-point whitetail he shot at his uncle’s deer camp in southern Georgia.

He is half Irish and half Cherokee. In his pocket was a small leather bag with more charms, 100-year-old tobacco — grown by the oldest living Cherokee, he said — along with a pinch of sage, a ruby, dirt from every country he has ever visited and a shell from the 21-gun salute for his late grandfather, who was a P.O.W. in World War II.

“I guess you heard about my squirrel tails?” he said.

“I get them blessed and hand them out to my friends.”

So far, he said, he had handed out five.

Cpl. Daniel M. Greenwald, from Rockland County, N.Y. passed through the line. He had threaded a dog-tag chain through the mangled remains of a Kalashnikov bullet, which on Sept. 2 hit him on the helmet and knocked him flat.

His head was soaked in blood from the impact of the helmet on his forehead, but the Kevlar kept the bullet out. Now he carries the broken bullet wherever he goes, hoping that bullets, like proverbial lightning, will not strike twice.

The battalion commander arrived and said that the battalion’s snipers had just shot three Iraqi men who were burying a bomb beside a bridge near Saqlawiya, a town not far away.

One of the insurgents was killed instantly, he said.

The other two had been wounded, and had stumbled off into the marsh and reeds. Marines were out following their blood trails, a birthday spent on the job.

CNN's 'Warrior One' Hummer on display

It will be auctioned later to aid charity

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE - In December 2002, CNN purchased a Hummer from a used-car dealer in Kuwait City.

The vehicle, dubbed "Warrior One," was used to transport a CNN team, including then-CNN and current-NBC correspondent Martin Savidge, embedded with the First Battalion, 7th Marines. In April 2003, the Marine unit and the CNN team came under heavy fire near Baghdad University, a firefight broadcast live on CNN.

Note: CNN's "Warrior One" site can be found at this link:http://www.cnn.com/services/warriorone/


Posted on Fri, Nov. 10, 2006
[email protected]

Flash forward to Aug. 30, 2006. The Hummer is transported to Irvine, Calif., where the TLC television program "Overhaulin'

" is based. In seven days, the Hummer is converted into, well, something a bit different.

Crews overhauled the Hummer's engine and body and installed a high-tech sound system, complete with a DVD player and multiple screens.

"When they first put the stereo in, it blew out all the windows," said Jennifer L. Martin, a CNN spokeswoman.

Airbrush artists painted images of journalists and military men and women on the vehicle, a tribute to those who served during the war in Iraq or who covered the war. The diesel engine was converted to gasoline, added Martin.

On Thursday, "Warrior One" was on display at Keesler.

On Saturday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. the Hummer will roll with the Veterans Day Parade in Biloxi. From 1 to 3 p.m. it will be on display at the Mental Health Association of Mississippi's 6th annual Chili Cook-Off on the Biloxi Town Green.

Meanwhile, the episode of TLC's "Overhaulin'" featuring the Hummer's conversion will be broadcast at 9 p.m. Tuesday. And on Jan 20, the Hummer will be auctioned off by Barrett-Jackson Auction Co. in Scottsdale, Ariz.

"We'll be donating all the proceeds to the Fisher House Foundation," said Martin.

The Fisher House Foundation provides a home-away-from-home for families of patients receiving major medical care at major military and VA medical centers. With 36 houses in 16 states, including one at Keesler, the Fisher House Foundation has offered more than 2 million days of lodging to more than 100,000 families since 1990. The program serves more than 8,500 families each year.

November 9, 2006

Marines’ Reaction to the News: ‘Who’s Rumsfeld?’

ZAGARIT, Iraq, Nov. 9 — Hashim al-Menti smiled wanly at the marine sergeant beside him on his couch. The sergeant had appeared in the darkness on Wednesday night, knocking on the door of Mr. Menti’s home.

Note: There is a very graphic slide show that is available with the original article. Please use your discretion for viewing the multimedia slide show.


Published: November 10, 2006

When Mr. Menti answered, a squad of infantrymen swiftly moved in, making him an involuntary host.

Since then marines had been on his roof with rifles, watching roads where insurgents often planted bombs.

Mr. Menti had passed the time watching television. Now he had news. He spoke in broken English. “Rumsfeld is gone,” he told the sergeant, Michael A. McKinnon.

“Democracy,” he added, and made a thumbs-up sign. “Good.”

The marines had been on a continuous foot patrol for several days, hunting for insurgents. They were lost in the hard and isolating rhythms of infantry life.

They knew nothing of the week’s news.

Now they were being told by an Iraqi whose house they occupied that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, one of the principal architects of the policies that had them here, had resigned. “Rumsfeld is gone?” the sergeant asked. “Really?”

Mr. Menti nodded. “This is better for Iraq,” he said. “Iraqi people say thank you.”

The sergeant went upstairs to tell his marines, just as he had informed them the day before that the Republican Party had lost control of the House of Representatives and that Congress was in the midst of sweeping change. Mr. Menti had told them that, too.

“Rumsfeld’s out,” he said to five marines sprawled with rifles on the cold floor.

Lance Cpl. James L. Davis Jr. looked up from his cigarette. “Who’s Rumsfeld?” he asked.

If history is any guide, many of the young men who endure the severest hardships and assume the greatest risks in the war in Iraq will become interested in politics and politicians later, when they are older and look back on their combat tours.

But not yet. Marine infantry units have traditionally been nonpolitical, to the point of stubbornly embracing a peculiar detachment from policy currents at home. It is a pillar of the corps’ martial culture: those with the most at stake are among the least involved in the decisions that send them where they go.

Mr. Rumsfeld may have become one of the war’s most polarizing figures at home. But among these young marines slogging through the war in Anbar Province, he appeared to mean almost nothing. If he was another casualty, they had seen worse.

“Rumsfeld is the secretary of defense,” Sergeant McKinnon said, answering Lance Corporal Davis’s question.

Lance Corporal Davis simply cursed.

It did not sound like anger or disgust. It seemed instead to be an exclamation about the irrelevance of the news. The sergeant might as well have told the squad of yesterday’s weather.

Another marine, Lance Cpl. Patrick S. Maguire, said the decisions that mattered here, inside Company F, Second Battalion, Eighth Marines, were much more important to them than those made in the Pentagon back home.

There are daily, dangerous questions: When to go on patrol, when to come back, which route to take down a road, which weapon to carry, and, at this moment, which watch each marine would stand, crouched up on the roof, in the cold wind, exposed to sniper fire.

His grandfather fought at Iwo Jima, he said, and his father was a marine in Vietnam. This was his second tour in Iraq. “Here’s the deal,” he said. “Someone points a finger at you, and you go.”

“The chain of command?” he added. “You know how high I know? My battalion commander is Lt. Col. DeTreux. That’s how high I know.”

And so between the marines and Mr. Menti and his family, the split reactions to news of Mr. Rumsfeld’s resignation made for surreal scenes.

Mr. Menti, 50, a radiologist by training, spent part of the afternoon trying to impress the meaning of the news on the young sergeant beside him on the couch.

The war policy was soon to change, he said.

“I think in one year you return to America,” he said.

The sergeant sat implacably.

“This is good for you,” Mr. Menti said. “No?”

He spoke of years of fear. Under Saddam Hussein, he said, they were afraid. Now, with the American troops and insurgents fighting in Anbar, they are still afraid. He returned to the news of Mr. Rumsfeld’s resignation.

“People in America are very happy,” he said. “I saw this on TV. And I am very happy. Thank you, American people.”

He pointed at the young marines before him, smoking on his couches, drinking his hot, sweetened tea. “These soldiers, in Iraq, they make freedom?” he asked.

“Yes,” Sergeant McKinnon said.

“What kind of freedom?” he asked.

He had been talking about the living conditions in the province since the night before, when the marines appeared at his door.

There are almost no schools, he said. There is almost no medicine. There is little food, and no electricity except from generators. The list went on. No water. No work. Violence. Abductions. Beheadings. Explosions.

A marine scanned the countryside from the roof of a house in Zagarit, Iraq, Thursday. The owner of the house, Hashim al-Menti, updated the marines about the week’s political news.

His son-in-law had been kidnapped by insurgents seven months ago, he said, and a note the insurgents left said he was abducted for being friendly with American troops. He has not been seen since.

In Baghdad, he said, Iranian-backed death squads were killing Sunni citizens. The country was falling apart.

“You like freedom?” he asked the sergeant. “This kind? This way?”

“No,” Sergeant McKinnon said.

“I think you and I and many people do not like freedom in this way,” he said. “I believe this. I am sure.”

“It is wrong, the American Army coming here. It is wrong.”

He looked at Sergeant McKinnon, who is younger than many of his 14 children. He was trying to draw him out.

“If American Army came here for three months, four months, O.K.” Mr. Menti said. “But now is four years.”

If there were no American military presence in Iraq, he said, there would be no insurgents. One serves as a magnet for the other.

Mr. Menti spoke to the sergeant as if he were an American diplomat, as if he had some influence over the broad sweeps of American foreign policy. The sergeant remained quiet and polite.

“I don’t think he realizes that we’re trying to make this country safer for him,” he said to Lance Corporal Maguire.

“I think he realizes that we’re trying to make it safe, but that the more we stay here the more people come in and make it worse,” Lance Corporal Maguire replied.

They went upstairs, to pack their gear for the next move, planned for after dark, to another house and another night of looking down on the roads, waiting for an insurgent with a bomb to step within range of a rifle shot.

Sergeant McKinnon spoke of the squad’s isolation. “I only found out yesterday that the Saddam trial was over,” he said. “Another Iraqi told me that.”

He turned to the task of planning for the night’s fire support.

Up on the roof, Lance Corporal Maguire mused about the news. Whatever Mr. Rumsfeld’s resignation might eventually mean, it did not matter here yet, and it would not keep them alive tonight.

Another marine, Lance Cpl. Randall D. Webb, was scanning traffic through his rifle scope, worried that they had been spotted and the insurgents would soon know where they were.

“I think they see us,” he said.

“Man, they all see us,” Lance Corporal Maguire said, and lighted another cigarette.

Marines in Fallujah respecting boundries

FALLUJAH — Marines here are preventing violence by showing genuine interest in the welfare of the local citizens they are charged with protecting.


Thursday, 09 November 2006
By Lance Cpl. Geoffrey P. Ingersoll
I Marine Logistic Group

Instead of just kicking down doors outside Camp Fallujah, Marines are trying to open doors and dissolve the cultural barriers between them and Iraqis.

An example of this policy is the recent initiative by some female Marines to encourage positive relationships fostered on mutual respect and observance of cultural differences.

The Marines stepped away from service-support roles, left the base and became part of the Marine Corps Female Search Team.

"(Using the FST) shows that we are trying to accommodate (the Iraqis), and make an effort to abide by their moral code," said Cpl. Jennifer B. Holt, 25, from Clay, Ala. Cultural studies show males and females do not generally interact physically in public. By using the FST, Marines put Iraqis at ease by remaining sensitive to their traditions.

During searches, female Marines stay pleasant and welcoming toward Iraqi women, which can help relieve jitters or nervousness Iraqis may harbor when encountering Marines dressed for combat.

"You can get a feel for what's going on just by looking at them, in their eyes, you can tell if they're nervous," said 2nd Lt. Paula B. Taibi, assistant operations officer, Combat Logistics Battalion 5, Combat Logistics Regiment 15, 1st Marine Logistics Group (Forward).

"I try to be sure to present myself in a calm manner to them," said Holt, "so that they don't think I am trying to overpower them."

Taibi said Iraqis appreciate the Marines' professional behavior, and in turn cooperate with ease.

"They understand that we are trying to help them," said Sgt. Maureen D. Mendenhall, substance abuse counselor and career planner, CLB 5.

From large sums of money to guns and electrical cords, the FST keeps a lookout for anything potentially harmful to other Iraqis or Marines.

"You find (something suspicious), and you realize that could have been used for an improvised explosive device somewhere," said Mendenhall, from Edmonds, Wash.

"Of course anytime that somebody comes through and we are able to stop them with guns or IED paraphernalia, that's exciting because you know that that's one less person who's going to hurt our boys out there," said Holt, company clerk, Engineer Company, CLB 5.

Searching for insurgent paraphernalia and working around Fallujah's dangerous city limits put the FST at risk, but the members all expressed confidence in their safety procedures and training. In addition, the FST has direct infantry support.

"Since we work with the guys, we're pretty regular, we kind of have a bond with them," said Holt. She said the Marines are quick to respond if the FST needs them or have something to report.

But Marines don't often find weapons during searches. Because children accompany their mothers into the search area, more often than not, Marines tend to find the grasping arms of Iraqi infants instead.

"A lot of women hand their children off to the female Marines," said Taibi.

When greeting Iraqi children, many FST members arm themselves with smiles, candy and the occasional stuffed animal.

"Sometimes, they look back and smile," continued Holt, "and you know you really touched them."

*Greenfield Marine fights battle at home

Greenfield - The Marine uniform symbolizes strength, honor and country. The men and women who answer the call live by the Marine motto "Semper Fidelis." It means "Always faithful" in Latin.


Nov 9, 2006 02:12 PM PST
Scott Swan/Eyewitness News

"I love being a Marine, " said 29-year old Lance Corporal Joshua Bleill of Greenfield. Service and sacrifice are in his DNA. "My father was a Marine. He was a fighter pilot and my grandfather on my mother's side served in World War 2. He was shot in the arm," said Bleill.

Lance Corporal Bleill had only been in Iraq for two weeks when a patrol on Sunday, October 15 changed his life forever.

"Our humvee got hit by an IED, an improvised Explosive Device," Bleill said from his hospital room in the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. Myra and Virg Bleill have been at their son's bedside since learning the horrible news.

"They said Lance Corporal Joshua Bleill has had traumatic amputation of both legs and I didn't hear another word they said," says Josh's mother Myra Bleill.

"It's still a hard concept to grasp that they are not there," said Bleill from his hospital room. "I still feel like they are there most nights. I touch them more now. Kind of feel them. Lift them up. And experiment with them a little bit," adds Bleill.

He has no memory of the blast. But across the hall from Bleill's room is a Marine who remembers every detail. Tim Lang lies in a hospital room surrounded by his mother and sister.

"It was Sunday afternoon," Lang explained, with Josh's sister and mother standing at the foot of his bed hanging on every word. "We were the 5th vehicle in the convoy. We followed in the same tire tracks to avoid IED's."

Lang says that he was in the same Humvee with Josh Bleill. "I remember this incredible explosion," Lang recalled. "I thought I was dying. I knew what was going on. I knew it was an IED."

Lang's leg suffered multiple fractures when he was thrown out of the Humvee. Two Marines including Sergeant Brock Babb of Evansville and Lance Corporal Joshua Hines of Illinois died in the explosion.

"They were outstanding Marines," Bleill said as tears rolled down his cheek. "To give your life for another man is the ultimate sacrifice. And that's what they did," says Bleill.

His parents realize they are fortunate to have their son alive. "We're lucky. We're the lucky ones," said Josh's father Virg Bleill. Josh's mother is grateful for Tim Lang's response after the blast.

"Tim remembers being put in a vehicle holding Josh's legs and talking to his friend and saying, 'We're going to get out of this' when he had a crushed leg as well," said Myra Bleill.

Now, the warriors of battle examine the scars of war from separate rooms. "It could be a lot worse. I'm very thankful for that," said Bleill. His parents have seen the x-ray of their son's pelvis after doctors spent 11 hours in surgery.

"He has 34 screws down there," Virg Bleill said. Recovery goes beyond physical challenges because Josh sometimes wakes up startled by dreams. "He will say Captain so and so, where is he? Where's my rifle, where's my rifle? And he would lay in bed and assemble his rifle with his hands," Myra Bleill said.

Josh eventually faces the biggest challenge of his life. The man who grew up playing lacrosse at Purdue University and going water skiing will learn to live with artificial legs. "I will have to start to crawl again - so to speak. Then walk. Then run and get back into shape," said Bleill.

Doctors are optimistic about Bleill's recovery. "He''ll be able to progress. Everything he does is going to be based on his positive attitude. If he maintains that, he'll sail right through," said Commander Sarah Martin of National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

Bleill used his humor when talking to doctors about the prosthetics. "I said, I have an awkward question. Is there any way I can be taller? The doctor giggled and I said, I'm serious. I don't know why. Growing up, I always wanted to be 6-3. I was 6-1. We're gonna push for 6-3," Bleill chuckled.

Bleill believes he is beginning a new mission. "There are reasons that things happen. There are reasons that this happened. And I have a new mission at hand," says Bleill. He's counting on his family, friends and his faith. "My faith in God stays faithful to accomplish that mission as well," says Bleill. When asked if God has a new purpose for his life, Bleill doesn't hesitate.

"It's something that I have to pray about and see what it is. Maybe it's helping other Marines that get in this same situation," added Bleill. The injured Marine says he's been praying a lot. "I pray a lot for the families that lost people," said Bleill.

He's thankful for the support from friends back in Indiana. Bleill says he has no regrets about serving in the military. "I don't feel like I did something extraordinary cause there's tons of people who do this," said Bleill. "I would definitely serve again. I knew I could do it. And I knew if I did it, then that meant some other young man did not have to go."

When he arrived in Iraq, he went through different emotions. "You're scared. You're excited. You're nervous. You're happy. This is what I've trained to do," said Bleill. He told Eyewitness News that he saw good things in Iraq. Bleill said kids would often wave at the Marines. "You see little children who wave at you like it was a big parade. They just want to wave at you and see you. They were so happy. And you want to give those children a future and help them out," said Bleill.

"When you see those kids and they come up and you give them something and their looks on their faces, it doesn't matter if you're in Iraq or the U.S. That's a good feeling." On November 13, Bleill is scheduled to enter the amputee unit at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC.

"I needed to start changing. I need to say we need to start moving forward now. I need to start getting stronger again. I need to make these legs strong," said Bleill.

A chili supper will be held on Friday, Nov. 10, to benefit Josh:

St. Joseph Council Knights of Columbus
4332 North German Church Road

Lejeune-based Marines take aim at close-quarters combat training

CENTRAL TRAINING AREA, OKINAWA, Japan (Nov. 9, 2006) -- Artillery Marines assigned to 3rd Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, are typically tasked with providing long-range fire support. But as the Global War on Terrorism continues to be waged room-to-room, the Marines are preparing for anything.


Nov. 9, 2006; Submitted on: 11/08/2006 08:33:55 PM ; Story ID#: 2006118203355
By Pfc. Daniel R. Todd, MCB Camp Butler

The Marines, with F Battery, 2nd Bn., 10th Marines, 2nd Marine Division, from Camp Lejeune, N.C., are in the last month of their unit deployment here and used the facilities at Combat Town to conduct Military Operations in Urbanized Terrain training Oct. 30-31.

"Less artillery is being used (in operations overseas) now, so participating in this training helps to broaden the skill sets of our Marines and become a more flexible unit," said Capt. Arnaldo Colon, the commanding officer of F Battery.

To develop these skill sets, the Marines practiced missions they may encounter in an urban environment including taking over an enemy stronghold, manning an entry control point and capturing a "high-value target" for interrogation.

The Marines also incorporated simulation rounds, similar to paint pellets, and mock improvised explosive devices to add to the realism of the training.

"Without the (simulated) rounds I don't think that I would have realized how important this training really is," said Lance Cpl. Andrew Osburn-Davis, a field artillery cannoneer with F Battery and native of Nashville, Tenn. "Just seeing how many casualties we would have taken during some of the scenarios made me realize that we really need to have this training to survive."

The senior Marines in the unit acted as insurgents for many of the scenarios. After each event, they critiqued the junior Marines on what they could have done better. Many of the unit leaders were combat veterans and stressed that Marines of all ranks have to make crucial decisions on the battlefield.

This message appeared to resonate well as the artillerymen progressed through training. "At first the Marines were lost, suffered many casualties and were not able to complete their missions," said Cpl. James McMahon, a field artillery fire controlman with F Battery. "But in the last few scenarios we ran, the Marines didn't hesitate at all and did exactly what they needed to get the job done."

The artillery Marines now have a basic understanding of how to operate as a squad in close-quarters combat and a little experience in making quick decisions, said Colon.

Comm Marines tackle combat course, focus on convoy operations, urban warfare

CENTRAL TRAINING AREA, OKINAWA, Japan (Nov. 9, 2006) -- More than 36 Marines with Communication Company, Headquarters Battalion, 3rd Marine Division, completed a four-day course focused on convoy procedures, crew-served weapons handling and urban combat techniques Oct. 30 - Nov. 2 at the Central Training Area.


Nov. 9, 2006; Submitted on: 11/08/2006 08:51:54 PM ; Story ID#: 2006118205154
By Lance Cpl. Juan D. Alfonso, MCB Camp Butler

The course was part of a three-week pre-deployment training program, which included a Combat Lifesavers Course, that prepares Marines for possible deployments in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, according to Capt. Robert S. Hargate, the company's executive officer.

The training is especially important for the communication Marines since they are often individually attached to units already engaged in Iraq or Afghanistan, the Greenwood, Ind. native said.

"When that happens, these Marines don't get any pre-deployment training," Hargate, 32, said. "One day they're (on Okinawa), the next day they're down range and unprepared."

The convoy training, which was continuous throughout their time in the Central Training Area, focused on developing the company's non-commissioned officers by having a different Marine give a convoy brief before each movement. "The briefs are meant to make sure we're all on the same page," said Cpl. Stephanie L. Quick, a field radio operator with the company. "That way, if the convoy commander goes down, anyone can step up and take his place, because we all know the details and how to get the mission accomplished."

In addition to giving the briefs, the NCOs, and some senior lance corporals, were made convoy commanders, assistant convoy commanders and navigators. They were required to deal with threats or attacks while the convoys moved from one location to another.

The convoy training included providing security after an improvised explosive device attack and using night vision goggles to scan the route for insurgents.

As the training was conducted at night, the Marines had to remain at their best in demanding conditions.

"Marines (being fatigued) and doing night driving or providing security is a reality," said Cpl. Peter S. Reiss, a digital multi-channel wideband transmission equipment operator. "We're training exactly like it is in Iraq or Afghanistan, and I believe it's going to save our lives."

During the Military Operations in Urbanized Terrain portion of the training event, the Marines traveled via convoys to Combat Town where they practiced clearing buildings and conducting patrols as a squad-sized unit.

The training progressed to individual room-clearing techniques as teams of four learned to work together to cover each room from every angle.

The key to surviving in any combat environment is good communication, remaining in a combat mindset and trusting that each Marine will do their job and cover one another, said Cpl. Joshua C. Benford, a rifleman and course instructor with the division.

The three-pronged training package included small arms and crew-served weapons training. The Marines fired M-16A4 service rifles, M-9 pistols and the M-249 Squad Automatic Weapon. The M-240G medium machine gun rounded out the weapons package.

"We definitely got our money's worth out of this training," said Staff Sgt. Benjamin M. Laster, the company's training chief. "Once the Marines got the feel for it, the NCOs took charge, and the Marines were right on target. Even if they never deploy from Okinawa, I'm confident they'll be ready for any deployment in support of the War on Terror."

Dolphins protect Naval assets against threats

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION MIRAMAR, Calif. – (Nov. 9, 2006) -- “This was an unbelievable experience. I was impressed with the longevity of the mammals and how well they were trained,” said Lieutenant Colonel Mike Pagano, Marine Aircraft Group 46, S-1 Officer and CH-53 pilot, when describing his dolphin transport mission in support of the U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program (“NMMP”).


Nov. 9, 2006; Submitted on: 11/09/2006 09:07:40 AM ; Story ID#: 20061199740
By - MARFORRES PAO, MCAS Miramar, Marine Forces Reserve

The NMMP primarily uses bottlenose dolphins and California sea lions for underwater sentry duty, mine clearance, and object recovery because of their sensory and diving capabilities. In addition, the Navy is conducting research involving beluga whales.

Dolphins naturally possess a sophisticated sonar system. Their sonar can accurately detect potentially dangerous objects while operating in challenging environments such as deep, murky, or dark water.

Sea lions have excellent low light vision, underwater directional hearing, can maneuver in tight spaces and can go onto shore if necessary.

According to Pagano when transporting the mammals, veterinarians, technicians and other support personnel saw to the mammal’s comfort using a combination of food, padding, ice, and water.

In addition, a portable veterinary clinic accompanied the animals. During longer trips, the animals would have been transported in naval vessels or in airplanes.

In April 1980, the Veterinary Corps Branch of the U.S. Army was appointed as the Department of Defense (“DoD”) executive agent for veterinary services and one detachment is assigned to the NMMP. Corpsmen and veterinary technicians also provided direct veterinary support.

Dolphins have an average life span of 25 years, however, the average dolphin in the NMMP lives 35 to 40 years. The dolphins generally start their training at 10 years old but may begin training several years earlier. It takes 7 to 15 years of training before the dolphins become operational. As the animals mature the difficulty of their missions can increase, according to Pagano.

Animals have always played a prominent role in the world’s militaries. Homing pigeons were used to carry messages during the French Revolution and as late as World War I.

Horses, camels and elephants have been used as mounts throughout recorded history. The elephant even saw action as late as World War II because of its ability to work in locations that were inaccessible to vehicles.

Dogs have been a mainstay in the armed forces and while some of their missions have changed, they continue to serve important roles in the modern military.

The ability to protect harbors, shipping lanes and naval vessels has strengthened the bond between animal and the military as marine mammals extend this partnership to the sea.

Military police keep safety top priority at Al Asad

AL ASAD, Iraq (Nov. 9, 2006) -- Although the service members forward deployed are in a combat zone and walking on dangerous ground compared to their bases and stations in the United States, there is a group of Marines assigned the task of providing internal security to keep them safe during the nights and days when they aren't on missions.


Nov. 9, 2006; Submitted on: 11/10/2006 02:18:17 AM ; Story ID#: 2006111021817
By Cpl. James B. Hoke, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing

The Provost Marshal's Office aboard Al Asad, Iraq, enforces the base's rules and regulations in order to provide a secure environment for the deployed service members here.

"Our main focus is to make sure everyone is safe," said Sgt. Adan Lozano, watch commander, 3rd Squad, PMO, Alpha Battery, 3rd Low Altitude Air Defense Battalion, Marine Wing Support Group 37 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward). "A lot of the units go outside the wire and base. We are here to take care of them inside the base like they do for us on the outside."

"We make sure third-country nationals are in line and not trying to break the rules," said Cpl. Amy Yee, patrolman, PMO. "That's not to say we don't take care of military personnel, as well. We take care of all the normal things that we would do back in the states, such as missing weapons, missing gear, assault, theft or anything like that."

The Military Police conduct random vehicle inspections and identification checks as people move throughout the base, and they also inspect the vehicles that come aboard Al Asad in convoys.

Although some may think that the policemen and women with PMO are only trying to fill a quota, according to Lozano, it's not like that at all.

"We are not big ticket hounds out here," said Lozano, a 26-year-old native of Parlier, Calif. "We are just trying to help them out. When people come back from missions, they are only worried about food and rest. We are here just to make sure no one is injured or killed because of a senseless accident."

One of the methods PMO uses to promote safety aboard the base is by example, as all eyes are upon them, looking for mistakes.

"Safety is a big part," said Lozano, a graduate of Parlier High School. "We are enforcing the rules and regulations and taking care of everyone so that we all can get home safe. If we are not showing the proper safety everyday going outside, how do we expect everyone else to when we are trying to enforce it?

"We are officials and everybody is watching us," he continued. "If we do nine out of 10 things right, they will throw that one thing in our face. We have to make sure we are always crossing the T's and dotting the I's."

As the days in Iraq continue to roll by and the bustle of operations persists, Military Police continue to uphold a high level of security on the base.

"We are peacekeepers really," said Yee, a West Palm Beach, Fla., native "Anything that goes wrong, we're the first people to be called in."

Disclaimer -- All photos associated with this article can be found at the following links:

1 - http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/image1.nsf/Lookup/2006111022414
2 - http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/image1.nsf/Lookup/2006111022528
3 - http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/image1.nsf/Lookup/2006111022222
4 - http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/image1.nsf/Lookup/2006111022643
5 - http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/image1.nsf/Lookup/2006111022938

HMLA-367 returns to Al Taqaddum mission ready

AL TAQADDUM, Iraq (Nov. 9, 2006) -- Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 367 officially returned to Al Taqaddum, Iraq, Oct. 14, taking over the responsibilities of providing close air support and casualty evacuation escort missions from HMLA-169, Marine Aircraft Group 16 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward).


Nov. 9, 2006; Submitted on: 11/10/2006 06:34:07 AM ; Story ID#: 200611106347
By Cpl. Jonathan K. Teslevich, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing

“Our advance echelon and HMLA-169 really smoothed our transition,” said Maj. Brendan Reilly, executive officer, HMLA-367. “They set us up for success, and we’re really happy with the turnover we received. The aircraft are healthy, and we’re pleased with what we got, given the fact that they have been out here a long time.”

Eighteen months have passed since the Scarface Marines last operated out of Al Taqaddum. While much of their current mission has stayed the same, there are changes.

“I think operationally, CASEVAC still remains the priority in our minds. We’re always excited to save someone’s life out there,” said Reilly, a Philadelphia, native. “The CAS mission has been limited, but we have done some intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions.”

While the mission has not changed much for HMLA-367, the insurgents they face have changed their fighting ways since early 2005.

“We’re fairly new here and the (insurgents) have adapted tactics, so we’re always trying to pay attention,” said Reilly. “Our primary concern is the surface-to-air threat.”

The threat of surface-to-air fire is not the only danger for the squadron’s helicopters. Mechanical and electrical failures on the aircraft can bring them down just as easy, but not while the squadron’s maintenance sections are on the job.

“Maintenance on the aircraft is constant, and if it isn’t constant, then it comes in waves,” said Lance Cpl. Joshua Ybarra, a UN/AH-1 helicopter airframe mechanic. “Right now, we’re doing well. We haven’t dropped a mission yet, we’re keeping the birds up, and we have backups so that if one needs maintenance, we can have a replacement ready.”

Although the maintainers are optimistic, they know there will be difficulties in the future months for HMLA-367, according to Ybarra.

“The time here has been good so far,” said Ybarra. “Everything is a lot faster than in the rear. We have to get things done quicker, but with the same quality.”

Much like the insurgents changing their tactics on the battlefield, the change of seasons affects the way HMLA-367 maintainers operate.

“I have been doing this for nearly two years and right now is a tough time for (UN/AH-1 helicopter airframe mechanics) because of contaminates in the hydraulics on the aircraft,” said Ybarra. “Especially now that it is the rainy season, we have to pull the aircraft under cover to get stuff done, which slows maintenance down.”

With the approaching Iraqi winter, HMLA-367 Marines will surely bundle up, keeping themselves warm and prepared to provide armed escorts and immediate firepower to coalition forces in need.

Funds ease some worries for injured soldiers families

The day her Marine corporal son was wounded in Iraq will forever be etched in Dollie Radhay's mind.

"It was a living hell," said the Jersey City woman, whose son, Shaun, sustained brain, stomach and leg injuries from a mortar at tack. "I can't even explain it."


Thursday, November 09, 2006
For the Star-Ledger

But Radhay can easily articulate the aftermath of the November 2004 tragedy, as Shaun struggled through 16 surgeries and months of physical therapy trying to recover.

And she also can explain what a relief it was to receive an $1,800 check from an organization whose mission is to help people just like her, families of wounded Marines.

The Family and Friends for Freedom Fund, based in Pompton Plains, was an outgrowth of the Sturla family's experience coping with chaos after Staff Sgt. James Sturla suffered severe arm and hand injuries in Iraq.

To date, the fund has distributed more than $100,000 to Marine families to alleviate some of the pressures of travel, childcare and lost income these families face during extensive hospital stays.

"They never let us be alone," said Radhay, who used her grant to pay for bus and taxi fare to Shaun's therapy appointments. "They did us great wonders."

The Family and Friends for Freedom Fund was one of 10 groups invited by President George W. Bush to a special White House meeting last month to honor its support of the military at home and abroad. The fund, run by a six- person executive committee and overseen by a five-member board of directors, is a branch of America Supports You, an ongoing nationwide program showcasing troop support.

Paula Sturla, president of the fund and a sister-in-law of James Sturla, attended the White House visit and found Bush's reception "wonderful."

"He was very down-to-earth and made me feel so comfortable," Sturla said. "It was also nice to be recognized that way by the commander-in-chief. He needs to hear what's going on with his troops."

The road to Washington, however, was a painful one for the Sturla family, starting with the call they received in September 2004. They were told that the tank James Sturla was in had been hit by a rocket-propelled grenade, leaving him with a mangled left arm and a de-gloved right hand.

"We know from our own experience that when something like this happens, you just pick up and go," Paula Sturla said, detailing the family's trek to Bethesda Hospital in Maryland, where James Sturla, now 27, was being treated. Over six weeks, the Sturlas met many other families whose regular lives were on hold indefinitely as they hoped and waited at loved ones' bedsides.

"Bills meant nothing to me when I was with my son," said Kathy Sturla, James Sturla's mother and a 50-year Pompton Plains resident. "You don't care at that point. Lose my house? Who cares?"

The Family and Friends for Freedom Fund was born from that vantage point, with more than 35 military families having received checks ranging from $1,000 to $5,000 to offset their worries. Other beneficiaries include the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund, the East Orange VA Hospital and the Marines Helping Marines Program.

A string of large and small fundraisers, from pancake breakfasts to golf outings, replenishes the fund's coffers on a regular basis. The next fundraiser, an annual beefsteak dinner, will be held Wednesday at The Brownstone restaurant in West Paterson and is so popular it typically sells out of tickets before hand, Paula Sturla said.

The Sturla family, once in need of the assistance their fund offers, has gone back to being a waiting military family. James Sturla, again healthy, was re-deployed to Iraq two months ago, and while his mother sees the need for his sacrifice she also knows the fear she'll feel until he's home again.

"I've already been through that," Kathy Sturla said. "It's with you 24 hours a day."

More information on the Family and Friends for Freedom Fund and details on its upcoming fundraisers are available at http:// www.injuredmarinesfund.org/ index.asp

Service members, spouses, civilians pitch in for deployed CLC-36 Marines

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION IWAKUNI, Japan (Nov. 9, 2006) -- For service members on deployment, simple gestures from loved ones can have a profound effect on morale. Combat Logistics Company 36 is making sure their 11 Marines deployed in Iraq get a little taste of home this holiday season.


Nov. 9, 2006; Submitted on: 11/09/2006 01:30:11 AM ; Story ID#: 200611913011
By Pfc. Noah S. Leffler, MCAS Iwakuni

Many station members and organizations contributed to a collection effort that will ultimately deliver a care package to each Marine. Among the items donated were phone cards, shaving cream, sunblock, toothpaste, compact discs, baked goods, magazines, movies and candy.

Spearheading the project was CLC-36 spouse and Philadelphia native Dawn M. Maniscalco, who understands the importance of the care packages after her husband’s deployment in Iraq.

“It’s important to let them (the Marines) know we’re thinking about them and that we appreciate what they do,” Maniscalco said. “Anything from home helps them feel good while they’re over there.”

Aiding in the project was Single Marine Program Coordinator and Castle Rock, Colo. native Jay Stovall, who helped contact station organizations such as Semper Fit for donations.

Stovall says he credits the outpouring of items for the packages to the fact that Marines have always taken care of their own.

“We support them, we wish them the best, and we know they’re doing good things,” said Stovall.

The donated objects were stuffed and sealed in boxes Tuesday night at CLC-36 Headquarters. Those packing all shared the common sentiment that the recipients were all part of the same Marine Corps family.

“It’s important because you never know if it’s going to be your husband, your father or your son that will be deployed over there,” said Gunnery Sgt. Sabrina M. Bryan, CLC-36 admin chief and Saginaw, Mich. native. “We want to know that they’re being taken care of.”

The Marines will always have a firm foundation of support in the CLC-36 family, which is made apparent in the letter enclosed in each care package.

“The Marines and sailors of CLC-36 are thinking of you. This package of donated items is for your enjoyment. If there is anything you need, send an email or call back to Iwakuni and we will be sure to get it right back to you. Don’t hesitate to ask. See you soon, take care!”

November 8, 2006

Napoleon invades Camp Fallujah

CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq (Nov. 8, 2006) -- Napoleon Dynamite that is.

Actually, it was Lance Cpl. Matthew J. Neilon, a motor transport driver for Transportation Support Company, dressed as the movie character Napoleon.


Nov. 8, 2006; Submitted on: 11/08/2006 05:58:23 AM ; Story ID#: 200611855823
By Lance Cpl. Geoffrey P. Ingersoll, 1st Marine Logistics Group

Marines from Combat Logistics Battalion 5, 1st Marine Logistics Group (Forward) made pilgrimage to Camp Fallujah's Chapel of Hope Monday, Oct 30th, to watch their fellow service members in a Halloween costume contest.

Marines appeared resembling many odd and infamous pop-culture characters, including cartoon Doug Funny's Quailman, a few partygoers from Animal House, Britney Spears, and even Napoleon Dynamite.

"Vote for Pedro," Neilon, 20, of Cleveland, Ohio, repeated the movie's catchphrase backstage.

The rowdy crowd of Marines had a blast, laughing and talking throughout the duration of the show. They even called out some friendly heckles when fellow service members stepped on stage.

"The couple of whistles I got were kind of weird," said Lance Cpl. Brandon A. Langston, a heavy equipment mechanic for Maintenance Company, CLB-5. Langston, 21 of Maplesville, Al. appeared as an Animal House partygoer in a Toga (a sheet from his bed) wearing a blond wig that another Marine's mother mailed to them.

The costumed contestants each made a single appearance on stage, where the panel of judges graded them. While the judges evaluated each Marine's costume, the Marine answered a few questions from the host, Sgt. Theodore J. Garbera, 4th squad leader, Security Company, CLB-5.

"What's your name?" Garbera, 27 from Stamford, Conn. asked a contestant on one occasion.

"Lance corporal... uh... Napoleon," replied Neilon, triggering peels of laughter from the audience.

"It lets people do goofy stuff to get into a good mood, and to get closer as a family while we're out here (in Iraq)," said Cpl. Shaun M. Brown, 21 from Ada, Oklahoma.

"You see people running around everyday just doing their normal job, but to see them behind the scenes doing something goofy like that, you kind of realize something about their personality," elaborated Brown, a heavy equipment mechanic with Maintenance Company.

"It allows Marines to relax," said Sgt. James E. Tragear, a Motor Transport mechanic with Maintenance Company.

"(It helps them) not think about their job or the situations they're in," said Tragear, a 22-year-old native of Marquette, Mich.

"Marines from one company sitting next to another company, laughing together...it helps morale tremendously... (and) part of the commander's intent was to build unit cohesion," said 2nd Lt. Christ J. Pappas, a 29-year-old native of Ocala, Fl, and Security Company's executive officer.

Holding these traditions often reminds Marines of the types of freedoms they are trying to provide the Iraqi people. It also reminds Marines of home and their families.

"I'm not too good with words," said Tragear. Then, after a long pause, Tragear continued, "but it helps us remember why we're fighting, what we're doing over here... it's good that we do this just to remember, how it is back home, and the people back home who are thinking of us while we're over here."

Getting amputees back on their feet

Navy's one-stop, state-of-the-art rehabilitation center in California helps war injured realize goals

(11-08) 04:00 PST San Diego -- Nathaniel Leoncio, a petty officer third class with the U.S. Navy, was on patrol with the Marines in the Iraqi city of Ramadi a year ago when a roadside bomb exploded and changed his life. Leoncio had a host of severe wounds, including abdominal injuries that necessitated his wearing a colostomy bag for months.


Eilene Zimmerman, Special to The Chronicle
Wednesday, November 8, 2006

But most traumatic was the loss of his right leg, at mid-thigh.

Two weeks before Christmas last year, Leoncio received his first prosthetic leg and started walking. His goals now are to run again and to pass the Navy's physical requirement test. To get there, he is tapping the expertise of a Paralympic gold medalist and a celebrity prosthetist, both part of the military's newest amputee rehabilitation center located at the Naval Medical Center San Diego.

The state-of-the-art Comprehensive Combat Causality Care Center, or C5, as it is known, is the military's first and only center for amputee care in the Western United States. A virtual one-stop shop for amputees, the center combines the services of orthopedics, prosthetics, physical and occupational therapy, wound care, psychiatry, brain injury care and mental health counseling.

Designed to serve amputees and other severely injured combatants that want to have their rehabilitation in California near their family or military unit, the center is expected to handle about 50 amputees a year. That may not sound like much, but such cases can be long and complicated, with amputees often requiring multiple surgeries and years of care.

Construction of the $7 million facility within the Naval Medical Center -- is set to begin within weeks, but all the necessary services, equipment and staff are in place, scattered throughout the medical center. Five amputees are currently receiving treatment.

As of Sept. 30, war amputees from Iraq and Afghanistan numbered 725, according to Walter Reed Army Medical Center, which also has a military amputee center. Because so many of them are young -- often under 25 -- the military's aim is to treat them as the highly conditioned, athletic men and women they were prior to being injured. It is the reason Paralympic gold medalist Casey Tibbs is working as a peer-to-peer counselor with amputees at C5.

Tibbs, 26, is a below-knee amputee, the result of a motorcycle accident in March 2001. In 2002, while sitting in his prosthetist's waiting room, he read an article about the Paralympics. "It was the first time I'd ever heard about it," he said. "It showed all these types of running legs, made for sprinting. So I said to my prosthetist, 'Make me one of those legs, I want to do this.' "

Tibbs, who is also a naval petty officer, won both a gold and silver medal in 2005 in Athens, where he also set an American Paralympic record in the pentathlon. With the help of the U.S. Paralympics and the U.S. Olympic Committee, C5 has incorporated Paralympic sports into its rehabilitation program.

On a Tuesday morning late last month, Tibbs worked with Leoncio on the treadmill, watching him walk and discussing prosthetic knees and feet. "This is the carbon VSP, I just got it," Leoncio told Tibbs. He was referring to his prosthetic foot, a Flex-Foot VSP made by prosthetic manufacturer Ossur, that works well with his Rheo Knee, which contains a microprocessor and artificial intelligence capability and is also made by Ossur.

"It feels pretty good," Leoncio said. "But I've only run down the hallway."

He was determined to participate in the Army's 10-mile run, that weekend, with Tibbs by his side. "I don't want to be a Paralympic athlete but I want to be able to run and stay in shape," Leoncio said, holding the side rails of the treadmill as he looked down at his leg. "And I'd like to play golf."

Tibbs nodded in understanding and pointed to Leoncio's foot. "This is actually a great foot for golfing."

Leoncio finished the "Army 2006 Ten-Miler" in a little over three hours, having walked most of it. It would take a little more time to get used to running with a prosthetic leg and foot.

Although coaching, counseling and training are important for military amputees trying to regain their prior athletic ability, the prosthetic is vital to their success. "You can only deal with life as well as your prosthetic allows you to," said Tibbs.

To that end, C5 hired Peter Harsch as its chief prosthetist, now somewhat of a celebrity after his recent stint on the CBS reality show "The Amazing Race." Harsch has spent the last four years as senior clinical manager for Ossur and worked with U.S. Paralympic teams and amputees at Walter Reed and Brooke Army Medical Center.

"My specialty is being able to fit high-end prosthetic limbs for running, cycling and other sports," Harsch said. "It's the prosthetist that gets the patient up and walking again and enables them to achieve their goals, whether it's walking down the aisle with their fiance, playing with their kids or going back to active duty."

And, in fact, between 17 and 20 percent of amputees do return to active duty. In previous wars, that number was about 2 percent, said Capt. Brian Belnap, a U.S. Army physiatrist who transferred to San Diego from Walter Reed in Washington.

That success rate is due in part to better prosthetic technology, especially high-end artificial feet, ankles and knees with inbuilt microprocessors, which give amputees -- the majority of whom have lost lower-extremity limbs -- much more stability and speed than in the past, Harsch said.

Advances in materials also have improved prosthetics. The lightweight carbon fiber prosthetic that Tibbs uses to run is so flexible it allows its users to sprint or do distance running, Harsch said.

U.S. military amputees receive the best prosthetic technology available with virtually no financial restrictions. Yet even though some patients benefit from a good fit and can use their prosthetic immediately, for many others that process can take years.

Belnap, Harsch, Tibbs and the others at C5 know that. They are in San Diego for the long haul, working to give each amputee that comes to the center a life of quality and, ultimately, options.

"The guy I'm going to run with today, he wants to compete in the next Paralympics in China. Another guy, he has been missing his leg for a year now, and he really wants to stay on active duty. It's all about possibilities," Tibbs said.

"We just want to make sure they don't keep their leg in a corner and not use it. We want them to get out there and live their lives."

Shatrujeet a success for Marines; India

ABOARD THE USS BOXER (LHD 4) (Nov. 8, 2006) -- Marines and Sailors of Echo Company, Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) returned to the USS Boxer (LHD 4) after participating in Exercise Shatrujeet 06, Belgaum, India for almost two weeks.


Nov. 8, 2006; Submitted on: 11/09/2006 11:01:27 AM ; Story ID#: 200611911127
By Capt. Reyes, Leticia, 15th MEU

Shatrujeet, which translates into “victory over our enemies”, was a bilateral training exercise in which Marines of Echo Company trained alongside Soldiers of the 21st Company, Punjab Regiment, Indian Army. Shatrujeet was designed to improve interoperability and increase awareness between United States and Indian forces.

The exercise began on Oct. 25 2006 as when the Marines were transported ashore by helicopters launched from the USS Boxer and then convoyed nine hours inland to the Indian Army training camp.

A tour of all ranges and facilities was conducted, followed by an opening address and presentations on each unit’s history and organizational backgrounds.

Morning physical training sessions were also conducted focusing on runs in boots and utilities, obstacle courses and yoga led by soldiers of the 21st Company, Punjab Regiment.

Training with forces of other nations provided a unique opportunity that benefited all participants.

According to Capt Scott Huesing, company commander, Echo Co, BLT 2/4, bilateral exercises are important to the readiness of all nations who participate.

“Any opportunities that military units have to experience this type of interoperability will only benefit each unit in the end. The experience in and of itself will only bolster that unit’s capability when thrust into a situation where they have to deal with a foreign agency,” explained Huesing.

An important aspect of the training, related Huesing, was the opportunity to learn how the Indian Army trains.

Huesing believes that bilateral exercises like ‘Shatrujeet’ serve to make each Marine a better and more well-rounded warrior with broader military awareness outside of their everyday environment.

“In the case of Exercise Shatrujeet 06, the fact that Marines and soldiers were able to conduct company-sized operations with minimal preparation and planning, then execute the mission seamlessly, illustrates the point that any well trained, disciplined, professional military unit will be able to execute their assigned missions with confidence, proficiency and a relatively high level of success,” explained Huesing.

Each Echo Company platoon was assigned to train with a platoon from the 21st Company throughout the exercise. The platoons built camaraderie and rapport beginning with rock climbing, rappelling, close combat and Marine Corps Martial Arts Program demonstrations.

Training progressed to combat shooting ranges with fire and movement, and Military Operations in Urban Terrain training in a live fire “kill house” with popup targets. Marines and Indian soldiers also cross-trained on each others’ weapons and fired them for familiarity and proficiency.

For 2nd Lt J.J. Grillo, platoon commander, Echo Co, BLT 2/4, the training allowed for the opportunity for team-building, making it possible for his Marines to grow as warriors.

“We learned to integrate all aspects of team-building and integration throughout the duration of the exercise. The commonalities that all professional militaries share are the one thing that allows us to accomplish the mission even with the lack of training together for extended periods of time and with cultural and language difference,” said Grillo.

The forces also received survival training featuring snake handling with cobras, vipers, and rat snakes. The instructors provided hands-on training cleaning and cooking snakes, chickens, crabs and frogs.

“The greatest benefit to the Marines working with such international partners like the Indian Army is the confidence gained simply by working together regardless of the amount of time spent together,” said Sgt Jonathan Espinoza, infantryman, Echo Co, BLT 2/4.

“Every military has a different way of working that includes different training, tactics and procedures. The beneficial part of getting to do this with the Indian Army is that we both got to choose the best of both when it came to learning how each of does business,” said Espinoza.

Exercise Shatrajeet 06 culminated in a two-day interoperability bi-lateral cordon and search exercise with joint Marine & Indian Army cooperation throughout. Both Marines of Echo Company and soldiers of the 21st Panjub honed their tactics and skills while gaining different perspectives from their counterparts.

The Marines of Echo Company departed with improved tactical proficiency and invaluable training experiences garnered by their friends from the 21st Company, Punjab Regiment, Indian Army.

“The Marines and Sailors of Echo Company, BLT 2/4 now stand that much more capable in adapting to a situation like this in the future as we push forward ready to conduct our Nation’s business,” said Huesing.

Echo Company is the helicopterborne Company for the 15th MEU (SOC), currently deployed as part of Expeditionary Strike Group 5 aboard the USS Boxer (LHD4), USS Dubuque (LPD8) and the USS Comstock (LSD45) and is currently deployed in the Western Pacific.

“The only reason why I am back here is for my brothers” – Wounded Houston Marine turns down option to return to U.S., stays in Iraq

AL QA"IM, Iraq (Nov. 8, 2006) - Cpl. Shayne C. Lameyer didn"t want to go home after being wounded by a roadside bomb in Iraq"s Al Anbar Province. He couldn"t bear to leave his fellow Marines in a combat zone while he was home safe and sound.


Story and photo by Cpl. Michael S. Cifuentes, Combat Correspondent, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment

The 21-year-old Marine rifleman and Houston native spent weeks recuperating in a U.S. military medical facility from the shrapnel wounds he sustained in his right shoulder from the bomb"s blast. That was nearly two months ago.

He could have returned to the United States to recuperate, but instead chose to remain in Iraq, refusing to leave his fellow Marines, he said. He wouldn"t have it any other way, he said.

"The only reason why I am [back] here is for my brothers - plain and simple," said Lameyer, a squad leader with battalion"s Kilo Company, which operates in Husaybah, a border town of about 50,000 along the Euphrates River.

Now, he"s back to daily patrols with his unit - the Twentynine Palms, Calif.-based 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment.

The battalion arrived in Iraq about two months ago and provides security side-by-side Iraqi Security Forces to the dozens of cities and towns in this region just east of the Iraq-Syria border.

A few days after the incident, while recovering in Al Qa"im, Lameyer asked his battalion commander, Lt. Col. Scott C. Shuster, if he could return to duty.

"He told me not to worry, that I"ll be back with my boys," said Lameyer.

Kilo Company"s senior enlisted Marine, 1st Sgt. Robert M. Sands, says Lameyer is a "true warrior" for wanting to stay in Iraq.

"He still wanted to stay in the fight," said Sands. "Not too many people would do that."

After three weeks of recovering in Al Qa"im, Lameyer, who is described by a fellow Marine as "quiet and productive," was granted his request.

"I don"t think it"s fair that I go home," said Lameyer. "The guys that didn"t get hit by the blast still have to be here, and if they have to be here, then I"ll be here."

Although he had the choice to go back to the United States to heal and rehabilitate, his return to his unit did not come as a surprise to his fellow Marines.

"When we heard he wanted to come back we were all excited," said Lance Cpl. Thomas E. Bergh, a 19-year-old Marine from Las Vegas. "It motivated us."

Sands said he was "hurt and angry" when he heard over the radio what had happened to Lameyer that night. As the company"s senior enlisted, Sands wants to make sure all of his Marines and sailors get through the deployment safe and sound, he said.

"That"s someone"s son or husband," said Sands, a Baltimore native who is serving his second combat tour in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. "I am happy that [Lameyer] was able to recover and return to us. That Marine wanted no sympathy."

Looking back on the night of the incident, Lameyer says he"s glad he was fortunate enough to heal as he did and thinks often about another Marine who was injured in the improvised explosive device attack.

"It was tough being away from my guys," said Lameyer. "I know he misses the squad. I understand how tough it could be being away from the guys you train and work with."

Since his return to duty, Lameyer has worked on regaining strength in his right shoulder. His objective is to carry his rifle and wear his combat load - a flak vest with bullet resistant plates inserted, helmet, and full ammunition load - without having any complications, he said. But his overall focus is to patrol alongside his fellow Marines so they can return safely home.

"They are definitely a good group of guys," said Lameyer. "I trained with them, lived with them, know their strengths, know their weaknesses - I know I can trust them."

November 7, 2006

Shot Marine back in U.S., is in ‘serious’ condition; Lance Cpl. Smith moved to medical center in Maryland

Injured Marine Lance Cpl. Colin Smith has been moved to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., and his condition Monday was listed as serious, according to a spokesman for the hospital.


Nov. 7, 2006
Cindy Leise
The Chronicle-Telegram

“I’ll see him soon,” said Smith’s mother, Melissa, of LaGrange. “We’re hopeful because he’s stable.”

Smith, 19, a 2005 graduate of Avon Lake High School, was shot through the head by a sniper last Monday in Iraq. He was flown to a hospital in Germany and stabilized before being flown to Maryland on Sunday.

Smith’s mother said she is unsure what his designation as “serious” means. The hospital, which has treated 2,000 casualties from Iraq, uses five rankings: critical, serious, fair, good and undetermined.

The hospital’s public affairs officer, Brian Badura, said he could not elaborate further on Smith’s condition.
Meanwhile, Melissa Smith, who grew up in Avon Lake, got a chance to go to the high school Monday and donate to the Toys for Tots collection in her son’s honor. Smith was able to arrive with an armful of toys to contribute because her aunt had already chosen some toys for the annual toy drive started by the Marines in 1947.
Schools Superintendent Bob Scott said the toy drive gives people a chance to show compassion during a difficult time. He said Smith has been described as “a popular, good kid” by those who knew him.

Marine Sgt. Jeremy Peak said it was an honor to stand near a collection bin in Smith’s honor on Monday at Avon Lake High School. The Marines have a goal of 300,000 toys to be collected locally for Lorain and Cuyahoga counties.

“All our hearts and prayers go out to him,” said Peak, who served six months in Iraq. “We hope he’ll be able to pull through.”

All week long, new unwrapped toys can be dropped off 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the school, located at 175 Avon Belden Road (state Route 83).

Smith was shot during a mission in Karma, a city near Fallujah in Anbar province. A story in The New York Times said that Smith was shot after Marines searched homes and found five Kalashnikov assault rifles and bomb components.

The Marines took defensive positions and looked for the sniper but never fired any return shots, according to the account. The platoon swept the nearby houses, questioned five Iraqi men and took one into custody before returning to its outpost base.

Marine Corps museum gives visitors firsthand look at history

QUANTICO, Va. (AP) -- From the highway, the National Museum of the Marine Corps beckons to visitors, its 210-foot-tall steel spire cutting through the sky, evoking the historic flag-raising at Iwo Jima.


Nov 7, 9:24 AM EST
Associated Press Writer

Inside, visitors can experience that iconic World War II moment, landing on the black sand beaches of Iwo Jima and viewing one of the flags raised atop Mount Suribachi and captured on film by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal.

The sensory display is one of three immersive exhibits in the 118,000 square-foot museum that use sound, lighting and even temperature changes to help viewers experience moments in Marine Corps history firsthand.

"We're telling our stories not with just objects," said Lin Ezell, the director of the museum about 25 miles south of Washington, D.C. "We're using the cutting-edge technology of the museum business to help bring those stories alive."

But the objects are there - more than 1,000 of them, including the UH-1E "Huey" helicopter that was piloted by then Capt. Stephen Pless, who received the Medal of Honor for rescuing Army soldiers during the Vietnam War. Fighter aircraft, including an AV-8 Harrier and the FG-1 and F4U Corsair, are suspended from the thatched glass and metal roof of the museum's Leatherneck Gallery - a circular entryway surrounded by quotes about the Corps chiseled in marble.

The $90 million museum features a fast-track timeline on the Marines, exhibits on World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and an area dedicated to what it is like to ship off to boot camp to become a Marine.

The museum also features a temporary exhibit on the war in Iraq and Afghanistan told through the lenses of combat cameras. On view are photos of Marines handing out cotton candy to Iraqi children, a close-up of a Marine's weathered fingers wrapped around the trigger of his weapon. Other pictures show the sun illuminating the body of a fallen Iraqi insurgent, his mouth agape and his weapon by his side.

The graphic pictures are among a short list of images and exhibits that show the nature of warfare - a topic from which museum officials don't shy away.

"You can't talk about fighting war and losing lives and sacrificing without some pain. It's integral to the story," Ezell said. "We don't put it in your face, but we haven't tried to hide it either."

The museum's two other immersive exhibits transport visitors to the heat of Vietnam and the frozen lands around the Chosin Reservoir in northeastern North Korea.

Visitors are briefed as they walk through the back half of a CH-46 helicopter before disembarking into the sandbagged, red clay combat zone of Hill 881 South at Khe Sanh. They can also join Marines in the 58-degree chill of a moonlit Toktong Pass, just as the Chinese are about to begin their attack.

"People may talk about when they were deployed ... (but) you never can get the flavor of what's going on," said Chuck Girbovan, the museum's gallery manager. "If you spend a few minutes hearing the weapons fire, feeling the cold, seeing the confusion, it makes a big difference. It really drives the point home."

Girbovan and his staff also made sure to give visitors a hands-on experience.

The "Making Marines" exhibit, takes visitors through the bus ride to boot camp, the first buzz cut and puts them face to face with loudmouthed drill instructors - though some Marines touring the exhibit said it could use more foul language to achieve authenticity.

Visitors also can test their marksmanship on a laser-simulated M-16 A2 rifle range, or strap on a 90-pound standard combat pack. An interactive 360-degree motion simulator puts museum-goers in the pilot seat of an F-35 Joint Striker Fighter to shoot down enemy aircraft.

Officials said they need $70 million more to expand the museum to its 181,000 square-foot capacity to include the history of the Corps from its legendary start at Philadelphia's stonewall and wooded Tun Tavern in 1775, through the American Revolution, the Civil War and World War I.

Just outside the gates of Quantico Marine Corps Base, the museum serves as centerpiece of the 135-acre Marine Corps Heritage Center, a complex that will include a conference center and hotel. The site also features the Semper Fidelis Memorial Park. The center is a public-private partnership between the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation and its military counterpart.

President Bush, John Glenn and several other notable figures are scheduled to attend the museum's dedication on Friday, the 231st anniversary of the Corps. The museum, which opens to the public on Nov. 13, is expected to attract between 250,000 and 600,000 visitors each year.


On the Net:

(CLB-1) Security Marines change the pace of logistics

AL ASAD, Iraq (Nov. 7, 2006) -- Marines with Security Company, Combat Logistics Battalion 1, 1st Marine Logistics Group (Forward), provide security for re-supply and explosive ordinance disposal missions throughout the restive Al Anbar Province.


Nov. 7, 2006; Submitted on: 11/07/2006 03:27:21 AM ; Story ID#: 200611732721
By Lance Cpl. Ryan L. Tomlinson, 1st Marine Logistics Group

“We ensure the flows of (vehicle patrols) are kept away from harm,” said Cpl. Andrew D. Bower, vehicle commander with Team 5, 1st Platoon, Security Company and a native of Rittman, Ohio. “We keep everything safe to rebuild the country.”

Security Company is compiled of Marines with military occupational specialties ranging from infantrymen to landing support specialists.

“It’s a (collection) of MOS’s,” said 2nd Lt. John B. Bowe, 33, commander of 2nd Platoon, Security Company. “The most amazing thing about it is they’re doing what they have always wanted to do as Marines. They’re out there with machine guns and engaging in patrols.”

The company also works with the Iraqi Security Forces so they can assume these responsibilities in the future.

“We work along side the ISF and help them get on their feet towards progress,” said Cpl. Tyler J. Broadhead, 22, a machine gunner with Team 3, 2nd Platoon, Security Company. “It feels great to help establish Iraqi military forces for a stronger Iraq.”

These members of the security team agree the mind set is stressful while engaging in an unknown number of missions but will not let it affect their performance.

“The job is stressful due to the fact that we could be called at anytime to do countless missions per day,” said Sgt. Alexander Castro, 24, security commander for 2nd Platoon and a native of Visalia, Calif. “When I leave the base, I just clear my mind of emotions.”

Convoys will continue to flow throughout the region to benefit U.S. and Iraqi Security Forces, while the Marines remain focused on their mission to provide security.

“We all work together well,” said Lance Cpl. Jacob G. Kaspareck, a machine gunner with Team 1, 1st Platoon, Security Company and a native of La Grande, Ore. “We get the job done no matter the circumstances.”

The Marines with Security Company will continue to run security operations within Al Anbar Province until they return to the United States in spring of 2007.

“The Marines have impressed me beyond belief,” said Bowe, a native of Lake Placid, N.Y. “I wouldn’t trade this unit for anything in the Marine Corps.”

Female Marines in Fallujah focus eyes on Iraqi's

CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq (Nov. 7, 2006) -- Instead of just kicking down doors outside the safety of Camp Fallujah's barriers, Marines are also trying to open doors and dissolve barriers within the minds of the Iraqi people.

In an effort to prevent further violence, as well as encourage a more positive relationship, some female Marines are shedding combat- service-support roles and leaving the base to become part of the Marine Corps FST, or female search team.


Nov. 7, 2006; Submitted on: 11/07/2006 06:38:54 AM ; Story ID#: 200611763854
By Lance Cpl. Geoffrey P. Ingersoll, 1st Marine Logistics Group

"(Utilizing the FST) shows that we are trying to accommodate (the Iraqis), and make an effort to abide by their moral code," said Cpl. Jennifer B. Holt, 25 from Clay, Ala. According to cultural studies, Iraqis don't show affection between males and females in public. By using the FST, Marines respect these cultural differences in an effort to put the Iraqis at ease.

During searches, female Marines stay pleasant and welcoming toward the Iraqi women. Such a display helps relieve any jitters or nervousness the Iraqis may harbor while interacting with FST Marines dressed for combat.

"You can get a feel for what's going on just by looking at them, in their eyes, you can tell if they're nervous," said 1st Lt. Paula B. Taibi, a 31-year-old assistant operations officer for Combat Logistics Battalion 5, Combat Logistics Regiment 15, 1st Marine Logistics Group (Forward).

"I try to be sure to present myself in a calm manner to them," said Holt, "so that they don't think I am trying to overpower them."

Taibi said that the Iraqis appreciate the Marines' professional behavior, and in turn cooperate with ease.

"They understand that we are trying to help them," said Sgt. Maureen D. Mendenhall, a substance abuse counselor and career planner for CLB 5.

It also helps the Marines keeping the peace in Fallujah. From large sums of money to guns and electrical cords, female Marines keep a look-out for anything that could potentially harm their brothers-in-arms.

"You find (something suspicious), and you realize that could have been used for an improvised explosive device somewhere," said Mendenhall, 25 from Edmonds, Wash.

"Of course anytime that somebody comes through and we are able to stop them with guns or IED paraphernalia, that's exciting because you know that that's one less person who's going to hurt our boys out there," said Holt, a company clerk for Engineer Company, CLB 5.

Searching for possible insurgent paraphernalia and working around Fallujah's dangerous city limits put these females in a position to become casualties themselves. But they all expressed confidence in the safety procedures the Marines have prepared.

The females work in an out-of-sight area, and there are ballistic barriers, said Taibi.

Plus the infantry have eyes out for the safety of their Marines, she added.

"Since we work with the guys, we're pretty regular, we kind of have a bond with them," said Holt. She said the Marines are quick to respond if the FST needs them or have something to report.

But Marines don't report finding weapons very often when they conduct a search. Since children accompany their mothers into the search area, more often than not, Marines tend to find the grasping arms of Iraqi infants instead.

"A lot of women hand their children off to the female Marines," said Taibi.

Of course the Iraqis expect to get their children back. But not before these semper females leave the kids with a good impression of Americans.

"I always try to shake their hands, squat down and get on their level... and leave them with a good memory of us," said Holt.

When greeting Iraqi children, many FST members arm themselves with smiles, candy and the occasional stuffed animal.

"Sometimes, they look back and smile," continued Holt, "and you know you really touched them."

Perhaps more important than securing the spirit of the Iraqi people in the present, is to gain the trust of their children, and insure for them a peaceful future.

"It put it all into perspective," said Taibi about her experience on the FST, "instead of fighting war against a people you haven't seen, you really find out about the people you are fighting for."

Task force charges into danger to provide security

CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq (Nov. 7, 2006) -- The room is silent but for a few snores. The door opens and a silhouetted figure speaks only two words.


Nov. 7, 2006; Submitted on: 11/07/2006 09:55:35 AM ; Story ID#: 200611795535
By Lance Cpl. Geoffrey P. Ingersoll, 1st Marine Logistics Group

The lights are on before the door is finished closing. Boots are being laced, sleep is being cleaned from tired eyes, and flame-resistant suits are being zipped shut. Then in a matter of minutes, vehicle engines idle, purring and poised to roar as leaders gather to communicate final details.

Even though they may get into a fire fight, they aren't firefighters. They are Security Company's quick reaction explosive ordinance disposal security squad and they just received a "nine line."

A "nine line" is a form of communication between units containing nine different fields of information. Because a "nine line" sent to this squad means a potential improvised explosive device, a hasty advance can potentially save lives.

"We have to be to the trucks in thirty seconds, and out of the gates in minutes," said Cpl. Jason D. Green, a vehicle commander for Security Company, Combat Logistics Battalion 5, 1st Marine Logistics Group (Forward). Green, a 24-year-old Lancaster, Calif native, said ensuring the safety of the service members encountering IEDs drives their sense of urgency.

"You have other people out there who depend on you being there as soon as possible," said Lance Cpl. Tiago Soltes, a gunner with Security Company, CLB-5.

"(Our urgency) is for the other Marines and everybody else out there," said Soltes, 23 from Roselle, Ill.

Both Marines said Security Company remains vigilant for the numerous dangers present in the city of Fallujah.

Gunners stand in the humvee weapon mounts, binoculars trained on the horizon, scanning building windows for snipers and the roads ahead for vehicle-borne IEDs.

Other Marines dismount and provide direct security on foot for EOD technicians, whose concentration remains focused on the potential bomb threat.

"You just have to be aware of your surroundings, looking out for EOD, looking out for everybody else, and making sure no one else is around there making any danger for you and your team," said Soltes.

The security team immediately sets a perimeter around EOD when the vehicles pull up to the scene. Everyone knows what to do and everyone knows what area to cover.

"You have to count on (the other Marines) so you can take care of your mission," said Green. "(We have) a very strong bond because you have to rely on the brother next to you."

Whether it's training, going to chow together, goofing around, or playing late night video games, their bond is often visible. And when they hear those two key words, their bond becomes almost palpable.

The biggest challenge is the sudden change of pace, said Green. You go from sleep or watching a movie to making sure everyone is accounted for, has all their equipment, and is ready to go, he said.

Two squads rotate on twenty-four hour shifts. During the shift, they train, eat, and rest all within the compound. When they receive the order, often everything else stops; all that matters is the mission ahead. They can react to a "nine line" at any time.

"You haven't had a call all day and all of a sudden you're miles off base," said Green.

"You get a kind of adrenalin rush," said Soltes, "you just have to keep your head in the game; you have to keep focused on everything and just go with the flow."

"You just never know when you are going to get that call," said Soltes.

Receiving the "nine line" means they know only the necessary information to respond. Once they are on the move in the city of Fallujah, anything can happen.

What's most exciting is heading out into the unknown, said Green. Green explained that in the unfamiliar, urban territory of Fallujah, fighting a faceless enemy always keeps these Marines focused.

Like a firefighter in a burning house, you have to be ready for anything, said Soltes.

But their sacrifices are vital to the American effort, in order to keep the routes clear for logistics convoys as well as infantry patrols, said 2nd Lt. Christ J. Pappas, executive officer for Security Company, CLB-5.

Danger for this squad is a foregone conclusion, but violence is never imminent.

If the job gets done correctly, said Pappas, 29 from Ocala, Fl., then no one gets hurt.

CLB-26 supplies 26th MEU for combat

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (Nov. 7, 2006) -- One of the most important considerations when running any military operation is logistical support.

The 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit's Combat Logistics Battalion-26 is responsible for the logistical needs of the MEU and also carries out a series of highly specialized support operations for scenarios such as humanitarian assistance missions, mass casualty evacuations and non-combatant evacuation operations.


Nov. 7, 2006; Submitted on: 11/08/2006 10:58:16 AM ; Story ID#: 2006118105816
By Lance Cpl. Aaron J. Rock, 26th MEU

In order to efficiently support the land operations of the MEU during Composite Training Unit Exercise, about two-thirds of the CLB was offloaded from the ships of the Bataan Strike group and onto Onslow Beach, Nov. 3.

Immediately upon landing, the unit constructed a sprawling compound that included a communications center, Battalion Aid Station, motor transportation area, billeting for personnel, and extensive security measures to restrict access to the compound.

First Lieutenant Jeffrey I. Studebaker, Motor Transportation Officer in Charge, said Logistics Support Areas are necessary when the MEU is conducting sustained operations on shore.

"It allows us to consolidate our assets and prepare to support the elements," he said.

Studebaker said trying to carry out missions directly from ship would be very difficult, and having the Logistics Support Area as a staging ground benefits operations.

Once the LSA was constructed, the CLB was fully prepared to support missions of the MEU, BLT 2/2, and also a CLB-specific humanitarian assistance mission.

Lieutenant Colonel Christopher A. Arantz, commanding officer of CLB-26, said he was pleased with his unit's work.

"We're really working as one team now," he said. "We are still learning how to better operate, and each exercise leads to improvements."

Studebaker agreed with Arantz's assessment.

"It was the first time we did [a Logistics Support Area] and it went very well," he said.

As CLB-26 and the 26th MEU wrap up the COMPTUEX they are one exercise away from completing the rigorous six-month predeployment training cycle that merges the disparate elements of the MEU into a cohesive, rapid-reaction force. The 26th MEU will continue to prepare for its upcoming 2007 deployment in the Global War on Terror.

For more information, news, and video on the 26th MEU, please visit www.usmc.mil/26meu.

One step away from deployment, 26th MEU wraps up COMPTUEX

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (Nov. 7, 2006) -- The six-month, predeployment training cycle a Marine Expeditionary Unit must endure before it loads onto a Navy strike group for deployment requires a MEU commander to form four, separate elements into one cohesive unit.


Nov. 7, 2006; Submitted on: 11/08/2006 11:19:29 AM ; Story ID#: 2006118111929
By Lance Cpl. Aaron J. Rock, 26th MEU

Since June 23, when the 26th MEU officially activated, the Command Element, Battalion Landing Team 2/2, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron-264 (Rein.), and Combat Logistics Battalion-26, have labored long and hard to live up to the mantra, "A certain force in an uncertain world."

The elements have joined together for MEU-wide training exercises that have tested the abilities of all the elements both alone and in concert with each other.

Colonel Gregg A. Sturdevant, commanding officer of the 26th MEU, explained the training in summary.

"Each of our training evolutions is designed to make us better in the core exercises the [Commandant of the Marine Corps] expects us to be able to perform," he said.

Most recently, the MEU completed the Composite Unit Training Exercise, where the entire MEU loaded all its equipment and personnel onto the ships of the Bataan Strike Group and trained for all facets of a MEU's mission.

"COMPTUEX gives us an opportunity to get comfortable aboard ship and to do planning and execution of different raid packages, as well as mass casualty evacuation and humanitarian assistance drills," said Sturdevant.

Raid packages are the specialty of the 26th MEU's BLT 2/2, which looks forward to the opportunity to get off the ship and execute them, said Lt. Col. Christopher C. Starling, commanding officer of BLT 2/2.

"COMPTUEX allows the MEU to focus on traditional MEU missions such as the ship-to-shore piece," he said, adding, "It also allows us to grow our relationship with the CLB and (Aviation Combat Element), which is important because we rely heavily on the capabilities of the MEU."

Lieutenant Colonel Michael G. McCoy, commanding officer of HMM-264 (Rein.) echoed Starling's words about the benefits of COMPTUEX.

"Our focus has always been on building relationships between the elements," he said, "and COMPTUEX will help build proficiency in shipboard operations, help the MEU to refine its ability to rapidly plan and execute missions, and allow us to continue building those ties with the other elements."

Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Arantz, commanding officer of CLB-26, said each of the MEU's exercises leads to improvements across the board.

He mentioned the proficiency of the embarkation Marines, who are responsible for seeing that everything is loaded aboard the ships properly and completely, an important job for a unit that essentially brings everything it needs for any mission along with it on board.

"Embarkation and ship-to-shore movement is one of the hardest things we do," Arantz said, "and it's often taken for granted but they are very good at what they do."

The CLB's mission was further complicated by all the concurrent missions it was called upon to do, Arantz said.

"We were called upon to transition from ship to shore while simultaneously building a humanitarian assistance camp and providing support to the MEU and the BLT," he said.

Overall, the training evolution was a success, said Sturdevant.

Sturdevant said COMPTUEX tested the abilities of all the elements of the MEU.

"It stressed all the aspects of the MEU; the Command Element exercised its ability to command and control; logistics supported the MEU and carried out their own missions such as humanitarian assistance; the Battalion Landing Team carried out raid packages; and the Aviation Combat Element flew in support of almost all the missions."

"I was pleased at our progress across the board," he said. "Based on what I saw, I'm sure the MEU will do well during [the Certification Exercise], and after that, our deployment."

With COMPTUEX complete, the 26th MEU has only one more scheduled training evolution before its 2007 deployment in the Global War on Terror.

For more information, news, and video on the 26th MEU, please visit www.usmc.mil/26meu.

November 6, 2006

Veterans Urged to Wear Military Medals on Veterans Day

WASHINGTON, Nov. 6, 2006 – With National Veterans Awareness Week under way and the national Veterans Day observance on Nov. 11, the Veterans Affairs secretary is urging all veterans to show their pride by wearing their military medals.


By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

The Department of Veterans Affairs’ Veterans Pride initiative encourages all veterans to wear their military decorations this Veterans Day, Nov. 11. '(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

R. James Nicholson’s “Veterans Pride” initiative calls on veterans to wear the medals they earned while in uniform this Veterans Day to “let America know who you are and what you did for freedom,” he said.

The campaign is modeled after a tradition in Australia and New Zealand, countries that honor the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, or ANZAC, every April 25. The observance originally commemorated more than 8,000 Australians killed during the battle of Gallipoli during World War I, but now honors all Australian and New Zealand veterans.

Last year, while attending ANZAC ceremonies in Sydney, Nicholson said he was struck to see all the veterans and surviving family members wearing their military medals and campaign ribbons.

“It focused public pride and attention on those veterans as individuals with personal histories of service and sacrifice for the common good,” he noted in a message to veterans. “That is why I am calling on America’s veterans to wear their military medals this Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 2006.”

Nicholson and leaders of major veterans groups announced the initiative during an Oct. 18 ceremony here at the VA headquarters.

Wearing their medals, he said, “will demonstrate the deep pride our veterans have in their military service and bring Veterans Day home to all American citizens.”

“We expect Americans will see our decorated heroes unite in spirit at ceremonies, in parades and elsewhere as a compelling symbol of courage and sacrifice on Veterans Day, the day we set aside to thank those who served and safeguarded our national security,” Nicholson said at the ceremony.

Nicholson and the veterans group leaders hope to start a new tradition in which U.S. veterans wear their military medals every Veterans Day, Memorial Day and Fourth of July.

More information about the Veterans Pride campaign is posted on the VA Web site. The site also helps veterans determine where to go to replace lost medals or to confirm which decorations they’re entitled to wear.

President, Senate Recognize National Veterans Awareness Week

WASHINGTON, Nov. 6, 2006 – President Bush officially declared this week National Veterans Awareness Week and urged all Americans to honor veterans who “stepped forward when America needed them most.”


By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

As the president proclaimed a weeklong tribute to the nation’s 25 million veterans, the U.S. Senate issued a resolution encouraging Americans to commemorate it by teaching young people about the contributions veterans have made through the country’s history

Bush issued a proclamation paying tribute to “America’s men and women in uniform (who) have defeated tyrants, liberated continents and set a standard of courage and idealism for the entire world.”

Military members have protected the United States through its history, he said, placing the country’s security before their own lives in a way the country can never repay. “Our veterans represent the best of America, and they deserve the best America can give them,” he said.

The president urged Americans to pause this Veterans Day to honor it’s the country’s soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen and to remember that defending freedom involves “great loss and sacrifice.”

“This Veterans Day, we give thanks to those who have served freedom’s cause,” he said. “We salute the members of our armed forces who are confronting our adversaries abroad.”

The president paid special tribute to “the men and women who left America’s shores but did not live to be thanked as veterans.”

“They will always be remembered by our country,” he said.

Meanwhile, a Senate resolution designating this week National Veterans Awareness Week emphasizes the need to develop educational programs regarding veterans’ contributions to the country.

Senate Resolution 507 recognizes the tens of millions of Americans who have served in the armed forces during the past century and the hundreds of thousands who have given their lives in that service.

It notes that the all-volunteer force has resulted in “sharp decline” in the number of Americans personally connected to the military and, as a result, the decrease in young people’s awareness about “the nature and importance of the accomplishments of those who have served in the armed forces.”

Recognizing that the system of civilian control of the military “makes it essential that future leaders … understand the history of military action and the contributions and sacrifices of those who conduct such actions,” the Senate resolution encourages Veterans Day activities that focus on related educational programs.

Veterans Day School Kits for teachers as well as students are posted on the VA Web site to support those programs.

Magical evening welcomed home New Hampshire soldiers

Last week was a stellar week for Nashua. Oct. 25 was a cold dark evening, but Nashua High School South was ablaze with lights. The gym was filled with electricity and emotion.


Article published Nov 6, 2006

The Bravo Company 1st Battalion 25th Marines were on their way home. They had spent seven months in Iraq in the city of Fallujah.

Bravo Company secured the rail center in Fallujah and used it as their base of operations. From there they conducted daily patrols and checkpoints, engaging and capturing enemy forces and training Iraqi security forces.

Several of the Marines were injured from IEDs and small arms fire, and two Marines were killed. Capt. John McKenna IV and Lance Cpl. Michael Glover made the ultimate sacrifice on Aug. 16.

Bravo Company is part of the 1st Battalion 25th Marines. The battalion had Marine Reservists from other New England states, who also suffered casualties.

The Marines flew from Iraq to Camp Pendleton, Calif. They later flew to Westover Air Force Base in Massachusetts and then took a bus from there to Nashua High School South.

Capt. Matthew R. DiLullo was the officer in charge of running the program. I was asked in my position as civilian aide to the Secretary of the Army to come and say a few words at the celebration. Those few minutes turned into three hours as the troops were late in arriving.

Both New Hampshire senators sent letters that were read and Congressmen Charlie Bass and Jeb Bradley were in attendance. Mayor Bernie Streeter lead off the program.

DiLullo asked me if I would pick out some people to read the letters from those not in attendance. I had state Sen. David Gottesman read Gov. John Lynch’s letter. I read U.S. Sen. Judd Gregg’s letter, Sgt. Maj. Paul Chevalier read U.S. Sen. John Sununu’s letter, state Rep. Bette R. Lasky read U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy’s letter, and state Rep. David Smith read Bradley’s letter. (He read the letter before the congressman arrived.)

With the delays, DiLullo asked me to help again. I invited state Sen. Joseph Foster of Nashua, Chevalier, the commander of the American Legion in Londonderry and several other people to speak.

State Sen. Joe Kenney wore his dress Marine uniform. Kenney returned from Iraq several months ago and is still in the Marines. Actually, Kenney was in this same company from 1986-87.

The last to speak before the Marines arrived was Dick Attardo whose son, Anthony, was one of the Marines coming in.

In trying to spread the time out, I called Attardo out of the audience to say what he was feeling at this moment, seeing that he hadn’t seen his son in months. Since I received my invitation I had spoken with Attardo several times.

The magic moment came when those Marines walked into the gym. Over a thousand friends and family members were hysterical with joy.

There were 13 Marines from Nashua. They were called forward and Mayor Bernie Streeter presented each with a key to the city. The Marines were Lance Cpl. Anthony Attardo, Lance Cpl. Derek Bice, Lance Cpl. Peter Boisvert, Lance Cpl. Timothy Cunha, Lance Cpl. Caleb Gilbert, Lance Cpl. Mishael Gregoire, Cpl. Gerard Ditolla, Sgt. Ross Daghir, Cpl. Nicholas Koutalakis, Lance Cpl. Douglas Krailo, Chief Warrant Officer 4 Brian Keavy, Lance Cpl. Gregory McNulty and Lance Cpl. Nicholas Nadeau.

While the Marines were in formation, there were very brief remarks.

It was tough holding the families and friends away from the Marines as they had to fall into ranks.

We all watched as they came in. Toward the end of the line, Marines were pushing others in wheelchairs and several came in on crutches. Everyone’s hearts were in their throats.

In looking at the Marines I thought, “They are so young some probably don’t even shave.” Then it clicked, most of us veterans were once young.

When the Marines were in formation, three were called forward. They were presented with Purple Hearts for being wounded in action by Mayor Streeter, myself, Bass and Bradley.

When the formation was dismissed, it turned into pandemonium and chaos. I don’t think I have ever seen anything like it. Everyone was hugging and kissing. Several of these Marines had never seen their new babies.

That night, Nashua was filled with a lot of love. Let us not forget the two Marines who didn’t come home.

God bless our troops.

Heroes come home

In a crowd of parents waving banners and wives dressed in their prettiest outfits, little Cody Watkins was one of the few who could relax.


Sun staff writer

In a crowd of parents waving banners and wives dressed in their prettiest outfits, little Cody Watkins was one of the few who could relax.

Yawning as he reclined in his mother's arms, the fuzzy-blonde-haired 7-month-old had no way of knowing one of the most important moments of his young life was about to arrive.

After a few hours of waiting at Jacksonville's Naval Air Station, little Cody met his father for the first time. Cpl. Richard Watkins Jr., of Gainesville, deployed to Iraq the day Cody was born in April.

The dad stepped off one of three buses full of Marine reservists Sunday morning and took his wife, Valerie, and little Cody into a bear hug. Then he pulled back and stared at the tiny face that resembled his own.

Even as Watkins greeted his son for the first time, Gainesville mom Linda Bowling threw her arms around her grown son, Lance Cpl. Jonathan Bowling. The mom had broken into tears as soon as she heard news her son was about 30 miles away, and the tears still flowed as she embraced him.

Altogether, there were 92 Marines, all part of Bravo Company of the 4th Assault Amphibious Battalion. The northern Florida-based company served in Ramadi, which is in the western Anbar province of Iraq.

The group patrolled the Euphrates River in a war they say has made much more progress than news reports lead Americans to believe. They used Small Unit Riverine Crafts, or SURCs, to transport Navy SEALs on stealth missions and to check the Euphrates for insurgents, who tried to use the waterway to smuggle weapons and to escape U.S. troops.

They had many quiet nights on the murky waters - but not every night.

The first time they were attacked, the Marines put their boats into the river. Terrorists launched a mortar attack, injuring six men. In a second attack, the Marines were in their boats while insurgents fired rocket-propelled grenades and bullets from the riverbanks. The soldiers fought back, and everyone in their company survived the seven-month tour in Iraq.

Lance Cpl. Alex Hayes, a University of Florida student, was among the injured soldiers. He was struck in the leg with a bullet. It was news that made his mother - Robbi Hayes - feel helpless.

"As a mom, the first thing you want to do when your child is hurt is go take care of him. But I couldn't," she said Sunday.

When her son arrived at NAS, she recalled his days in an overseas hospital as a grueling time, not because of the pain from his injury, but because he was so anxious to get back to his comrades.

Among them were his three best friends: Bowling, a Gainesville native and Santa Fe Community College student; Daniel Bowman, an SFCC graduate; and Ryan Riker, a UF student. The four men met through the Marines and became inseparable from each other during their college years in Gainesville.

"We were so fortunate to be there together," Bowman said after posing for photos with the men and their beaming moms Sunday.

In addition to their own families' support, the foursome received packages in the mail from a group of Ohio moms whose sons died in Iraq. After reading a story in The Sun about the four friends a year ago, mom Carole Hoffman contacted the Florida families and started corresponding with them.

She "adopted" the four young men, and they adopted her. Bowling had an American flag flown over Iraq in memory of her son, Sgt. Justin Hoffman, who was one of 14 soldiers killed by a roadside bomb. Lance Cpl. Bowling brought the flag back to the U.S. to give to Hoffman.

And while moms from afar supported the Gainesville troops, Watkins' mother, Roxanne Watkins, found her own way to help the troops. She joined the Cell Phones For Soldiers effort, which raises money for soldiers' phone cards by recycling used cell phones. She plans to continue the effort with collection boxes in all of Alachua County's tax collector offices.

Watkins said she was grateful to have her son back.

Cpl. Watkins was nearly speechless when he met his baby, Cody. Going back-and-forth between holding the child and hugging his wife, Valerie, the dad finally said, "I'm just happy to be back."

Gainesville Marines Return From Iraq

JACKSONVILLE - In a crowd of parents waving banners and wives dressed in their prettiest outfits, little Cody Watkins was one of the few who could relax.


Published Monday, November 6, 2006
New York Times Regional Newspapers

Yawning as he reclined in his mother's arms, the fuzzy-blonde-haired seven-month-old had no way of knowing one of the most important moments of his young life was about to arrive.

After a few hours of waiting at Jacksonville's Naval Air Station, little Cody met his father for the first time. Cpl. Richard Watkins Jr., of Gainesville, deployed to Iraq the day Cody was born last April.

The dad stepped off one of three buses full of Marine Reservists Sunday morning and took his wife, Valerie, and little Cody into a bear hug. Then he pulled back and stared at the tiny face that resembled his own.

Even as Watkins greeted his son for the first time, Gainesville mom Linda Bowling threw her arms around her grown son, Lance Cpl. Jonathan Bowling. The mom had broken into tears as soon as she heard news her son was about 30 miles away, and the tears still flowed as she embraced him.

Altogether, there were 92 Marines, all part of Bravo Company of the Fourth Assault Amphibian Battalion. The northern Florida-based company served in the western Anbar Province of Iraq.

The group patrolled the Euphrates River in a war they say has made much more progress than news reports lead Americans to believe. They used Small Unit Riverine Crafts, or SURCs, to transport Navy SEALs on stealth missions and to check the Euphrates for insurgents, who tried to use the waterway to smuggle weapons and to escape U.S. troops. They had many quiet nights on the murky waters - but not every night.

The first time they were attacked, the Marines put their boats into the river. Terrorists launched a mortar attack, injuring six men. In a second attack, the Marines were in their boats while insurgents fired rocket-propelled grenades and bullets from the riverbanks.

The soldiers fought back, and everyone in their company survived.

Lance Cpl. Alex Hayes was among the injured soldiers, struck in the leg with a bullet. It was news that made his mother - Robbi Hayes - feel helpless.

"As a mom, the first thing you want to do when your child is hurt is go take care of him. But I couldn't," she said Sunday.

November 5, 2006

Wish fulfilled: Burned soldier to see Bears; Chicagoans step up, donate tickets, sweatshirts, cash

Two weeks ago while patrolling Iraq's Al Anbar province, Lance Cpl. Jon Green's truck hit a roadside bomb.


November 5, 2006

The 22-year-old Marine from Palatine suffered second- and third-degree burns to his face. Four buddies in the truck were also wounded, some far more severely. They've all been recovering in a Texas hospital.

Just before Jon came back Friday to Palatine on a 30-day leave from the hospital, his parents, Rick and Kim, were asked by a state official what he needed.

"We didn't talk about a whole heck of a lot of things that he would like to do on his 30-day leave, but the one thing he did say was, 'I've never been to Soldier Field. I've never seen the Bears,' " his father said. "Everybody in Iraq has become instant Bear fans because they're 7-0. He said, 'I would love to see the Bears play.' "

Consider it a wish fulfilled.

Rick Green returned the call to the state official -- Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn's senior policy adviser Eric Schuller -- and set the wheels in motion. Soon, WLS-AM (890) morning host Eileen Byrne was telling her listeners about Jon. They began flooding the phones with ticket offers. Calls came in to the Bears as well.

A skybox seat and cash
Finally, the perfect opportunity came -- a skybox seat that would keep Jon out of the chilly weather. Someone else dropped off some Bears sweatshirts and spending money. Another guy offered a limo (the Greens turned that down).
Jon and his father will be in that skybox today, soaking up the Bears and a lot of love from Chicagoans.

"It brings tears to our eyes that there are people who are so supportive of the troops over there," Rick said.

Said Jon: "Some people will tell you 'You're appreciated,' and some don't care. It's good to hear about all the people who appreciate what they guys are still doing over there."

Jon is a 2003 graduate of Palatine High School and a lifelong Bears fan. He signed up for the Marine Corps Reserves stationed out of Waukegan about two years ago and is attached to the 1st Battalion, 24th Marines.

He's only been able to catch "SportsCenter" highlights of the Bears during food breaks in Iraq. He doesn't know yet who his favorite player is -- but the Bears know Green. The team's senior director of ticket operations, George McCaskey, has been in contact with the family.

"Mr. McCaskey said, 'That son of yours is a popular guy because the Bears are getting a lot of phone calls,' " Rick said.

'The least we can do'
Jon arrived Friday afternoon at O'Hare and was escorted through Palatine by eight squad cars. His neighbors were waiting to celebrate. His sister, Jennifer, came back from college.

Jon and Rick will be sitting in Boeing's luxury suite today. It's on loan to the USO this weekend as part of a schedule of events to honor veterans in advance of Veterans Day.

The USO wasn't the only group to step up. Also helping Jon were the Wounded Heroes Foundation and the Disabled Patriots Foundation, both based in the Chicago area.

Said Lisa Moeller, president of the USO of Illinois: "It's the least we can do."

[email protected]

Saddam Hussein Sentenced to Die for Crimes Against Humanity

BAGHDAD, Iraq — Saddam Hussein, the iron-fisted dictator who ruled Iraq for nearly a quarter of a century, was found guilty of crimes against humanity Sunday and sentenced to death by hanging.


Sunday, November 05, 2006
Fox News

The so-called Butcher of Baghdad, who was president of Iraq from 1979 until he was deposed by Coalition forces in April 2003, was convicted of the 1982 killings of 148 Shiites in the city of Dujail.

The visibly shaken former leader shouted "God is great!" as Iraq's High Tribunal announced his sentence.

Saddam's half brother and former intelligence chief Barzan Ibrahim, and Awad Hamed al-Bandar, head of the former Revolutionary Court, were sentenced to join Saddam on the gallows for the Dujail killings after an unsuccessful assassination attempt during a Saddam visit to the city 35 miles north of Baghdad.

The trial brought Saddam and his co-defendants before their accusers in what was one of the most highly publicized and heavily reported trials of its kind since the Nuremberg tribunals for members of Adolf Hitler's Nazi regime and its slaughter of 6 million Jews in the World War II Holocaust.

As the verdict was read, Saddam yelled out, "Long live the people and death to their enemies. Long live the glorious nation, and death to its enemies!" Later, his lawyer said the former dictator called on Iraqis to reject sectarian violence and refrain from revenge against U.S. forces.

"The verdict placed on the heads of the former regime does not represent a verdict for any one person. It is a verdict on a whole dark era that has was unmatched in Iraq's history," said Nouri al-Maliki, Iraq's Shiite prime minister.

Some feared the court decision could exacerbate the sectarian violence that has pushed the country to the brink of civil war, after a trial that stretched over nine months in 39 sessions and ended nearly 3 1/2 months ago. The verdict came two days before midterm elections in the United States widely seen as a referendum on the Bush administration's policy in Iraq. U.S. and Iraqi officials have denied the timing was deliberate.

The White House praised the Iraqi judicial system and denied the U.S. had been "scheming" for the verdict.

"The president thinks it’s an important moment for the Iraqi people," White House Press Secretary Tony Snow told FOX News.

Iraqis "are the ones who conducted the trial. The Iraqi judges are the ones who spent all the time poring over the evidence. ... It's important to give them credit for running their own government," he said.

In north Baghdad's heavily Sunni Azamiyah district, clashes broke out between police and gunmen. Elsewhere in the capital, celebratory gunfire rang out.

"This government will be responsible for the consequences, with the deaths of hundreds, thousands or even hundreds of thousands, whose blood will be shed," Salih al-Mutlaq, a Sunni political leader, told the Al-Arabiya satellite television station.

Saddam and his seven co-defendants were on trial for a wave of revenge killings carried out in the city of Dujail following a 1982 assassination attempt on the former dictator. Al-Maliki's Islamic Dawa party, then an underground opposition, has claimed responsibility for organizing the attempt on Saddam's life.

In the streets of Dujail, people celebrated and burned pictures of their former tormentor as the verdict was read.

Saddam's chief lawyer Khalil al-Dulaimi condemned the trial as a "farce," claiming the verdict was planned. He said defense attorneys would appeal within 30 days.

The death sentences automatically go to a nine-judge appeals panel, which has unlimited time to review the case. If the verdicts and sentences are upheld, the executions must be carried out within 30 days.

A court official told The Associated Press that the appeals process was likely to take three to four weeks once the formal paperwork was submitted.

During Sunday's hearing, Saddam initially refused the chief judge's order to rise; two bailiffs pulled the ousted ruler to his feet and he remained standing through the sentencing, sometimes wagging his finger at the judge.

Before the session began, one of Saddam's lawyers, former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, was ejected from the courtroom after handing the judge a memorandum in which he called the trial a travesty.

Chief Judge Raouf Abdul-Rahman pointed to Clark and said in English: "Get out."

In addition to the former Iraqi dictator and Barzan Ibrahim, his former intelligence chief and half brother, the Iraqi High Tribunal convicted and sentenced Awad Hamed al-Bandar, the head of Iraq's former Revolutionary Court, to death by hanging. Iraq's former Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan was convicted of premeditated murder and sentenced to life in prison.

Three defendants were sentenced to 15 years in prison for torture and premeditated murder. Abdullah Kazim Ruwayyid and his son Mizhar Abdullah Ruwayyid were party officials Dujail, along with Ali Dayih Ali. They were believed responsible for the Dujail arrests.

Mohammed Azawi Ali, a former Dujail Baath Party official, was acquitted for lack of evidence and freed.

Saddam faces additional charges in a separate case over an alleged massacre of Kurdish civilians -- a trial that will continue while appeals are pending.

The guilty verdict is likely to enrage hard-liners among Saddam's fellow Sunnis, who made up the bulk of the former ruling class. The country's majority Shiites were persecuted under the former leader but now largely control the government.

Al-Dulaimi, Saddam's lawyer, told AP his client called on Iraqis to reject sectarian violence and refrain from taking revenge on U.S. invaders.

"His message to the Iraqi people was 'pardon and do not take revenge on the invading nations and their people'," al-Dulaimi said, quoting Saddam. "The president also asked his countrymen to 'unify in the face of sectarian strife."'

Islamic leaders warned that executing Saddam could inflame those who revile the U.S., undermining President Bush's policy in the Middle East and inspiring terrorists.

"The hanging of Saddam Hussein will turn to hell for the Americans," said Vitaya Wisethrat, a respected Muslim cleric in Thailand, where a bloody Islamic insurgency is raging in the country's south.

In Tikrit, Saddam's hometown, 1,000 people defied the curfew and carried pictures of the city's favorite son through the streets. Some declared the court a product of the U.S. "occupation forces" and condemned the verdict.

"By our souls, by our blood we sacrifice for you Saddam" and "Saddam your name shakes America."

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad issued a statement saying the verdicts "demonstrate the commitment of the Iraqi people to hold them [Saddam and his co-defendants] accountable."

"Although the Iraqis may face difficult days in the coming weeks, closing the book on Saddam and his regime is an opportunity to unite and build a better future," Khalilzad said.

Two U.S. officials who worked as advisers to the court on matters of international judicial procedures said Saddam's repeated outbursts during the trial may have played a key part in his conviction.

They cited his admission in a March 1 hearing that he had ordered the trial of 148 Shiites who were eventually executed, insisting that doing so was legal because they were suspected in the assassination attempt against him. "Where is the crime? Where is the crime?" he asked, standing before the panel of five judges.

Later in the same session, he argued that he was in charge and he alone must be tried. His outburst came a day after the prosecution presented a presidential decree with a signature they said was Saddam's approval for the Dujail death sentences, their most direct evidence against him.

About 50 of those sentenced by the "Revolutionary Court" died during interrogation before they could go to the gallows. Some of those hanged were children.

"Every time they [defendants] rose and spoke, they provided a lot of incriminating evidence," said one of the U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.

Under Saddam, Iraq's bureaucracy showed a consistent tendency to document orders, policies and minutes of meetings. One document gave the names of everyone from Dujail banished to a desert detention camp in southern Iraq. Another, prepared by an aide to Saddam, gave the president a detailed account of the punitive measures against the people of Dujail.

Saddam's trial had from the outset appeared to reflect the turmoil and violence in Iraq since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

One of Saddam's lawyers was assassinated the day after the trial's opening session last year. Two more were later assassinated and a fourth fled the country.

In January, chief judge Rizgar Amin, a Kurd, resigned after complaints by Shiite politicians that he had failed to keep control of court proceedings. He, in turn, complained of political interference. Abdul-Rahman, another Kurd, replaced Amin.

Hearings were disrupted by outbursts from Saddam and Ibrahim, with the two raging against what they said was the illegitimacy of the court, their ill treatment in the U.S.-run facility where they are being held and the lack of protection for their lawyers.

The defense lawyers contributed to the chaos in the courtroom by staging several boycotts.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

November 4, 2006

Veterans Day ceremony to unveil new memorial

The new Nathan Martens Arizona Memorial will be unveiled with a parade and ceremony on Veterans Day next Saturday.


Carl Holcombe
The Arizona Republic
Nov. 4, 2006 12:00 AM

The memorial was established as a grass-roots effort led by the San Tan PRIDE Association to honor all of Arizona military men and women killed while serving in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The wars have so far claimed more than 80 Arizonans.

It is named in honor of a Queen Creek man, Robert "Nathan" Martens, 20, a Navy corpsman, who was killed in Iraq in September 2005 when the Humvee he was riding in had a rollover crash near Al-Qaim. He is survived by his wife Erin, daughter Riley Jo, his parents Maria and Rob, and siblings Matthew and Bobbie Ann.

"It can't bring any of them back, and that's what any of the family members would really want," Rob Martens said. "It's pretty special the way it came about, with a grass-roots effort and private contributions."

The parade will begin at 10:30 a.m. with a dedication ceremony at noon.

Martens said the memorial is in a perfect location in San Tan Mountains Regional Park where his son loved to ride horses, hike and run. The memorial will be located three miles from the Martens' home at the base of a mountain the family climbed every New Year's Day morning.

"When the sun is setting, it's a real pretty spot," Martens said.

Alden Rosbrook, PRIDE director, said it was amazing how people came together to support the memorial project. About $50,000 in donations was received, as were a host of in-kind contributions from businesses like SRP, Sun State Builders, John Ellis Co., and individuals like Mike Basic who provided free drilling services.

"It's almost like there are angels," Rosbrook said.

The memorial will feature a 70-foot flagpole, and metal plaques with Nathan Martens' likeness and engraved names of the other fallen Arizona military personnel.

The parade will begin with an All Services Color Guard that has been organized by the USMC Recruiting Station in Phoenix. Parade participants will include 30 members of the Army band from Fort Huachuca, units of Apache Junction ROTC Navy, mounted and marching 4-H members, mounted and walking Pinal County Sheriff's Office Posse members, and police from Coolidge, Florence and Buckeye.

The dedication will feature an F-16 missing man flyover and former Queen Creek Mayor Wendy Feldman-Kerr will emcee. Other speakers are expected to include Father Joe O'Donnell, U.S. Navy retired; Medics and Corpsman National Commander Kerry Pardue, Pinal County Supervisor Sandie Smith, Maricopa County Supervisor Fulton Brock, Queen Creek Mayor Art Sanders and USAF Major Bryan Martyn.

Parking for the parade will be restricted to the east and west sides of Thompson Road north of Phillips Road. A shuttle will be available starting at 9 a.m. People can stand on the north side of Phillips Road west of Thompson Road to watch the parade. The south side of the road will be for horse trailers and horses in the parade.

Traffic will be restricted in the area during the parade and owners will be asked to remove their horses from the area before the flyover.

Despite battle wounds and missing college, Marine reservist volunteers for second tour of duty in Iraq

AL ASAD, Iraq (Nov. 4, 2006) - Sgt. Mark Miller should have graduated from the Virginia Military Institute a few months ago with a bachelor"s degree in civil engineering.


Story and photo by Sgt. Roe F. Seigle, Regimental Combat Team 7

Instead, the combat engineer and Marine reservist assigned to the Virginia-based Charlie Company, 4th Combat Engineer Battalion is serving his second tour of duty in the western Al Anbar Province of Iraq. Academically, he"s fallen two years behind his peers in school.

But the 22 year-old Forrest, Va., native is not complaining about putting his civilian life and education on hold to return to Iraq. In fact, Miller, who was wounded in Iraq in 2004, volunteered to come back.

He spent two months in a hospital recovering from the wounds he received in 2004. It has not deterred him from serving in the military.

"Being a combat engineer is a fun job though," said Miller, who is a squad leader and has a permanent scar on his right arm from the insurgent attack in 2004. "We keep the roadways clear of explosives for Iraqi Army convoys and (Coalition Forces)."

Since Miller, a 2002 graduate of Jefferson Forrest High School in Forrest, Va., and the rest of the Marines arrived in Iraq in mid-September of this year, they have spent their days clearing roadways of improvised explosive devices. To date, Miller says they have found five of them. All of them could have caused serious damages to Coalition and Iraqi vehicles and personnel.

"It feels good when we find an IED before it can damage anything," said Miller. "It makes us feel like we are doing our job and serving our purpose on the route clearance team."

Marines currently serving in Iraq are much safer than those who served just two years ago, said Miller. That"s because vehicles have more armor on them and Marines are issued better quality personal protective equipment than they were in 2004, he said.

He knows the danger the Marines can encounter while traveling through Al Anbar Province first hand. He reminds his Marines not to forget their basic training and remain calm in every situation, especially during an insurgent attack.

To date, Miller has not been attacked with small arms fire on this deployment.

Miller volunteered for another tour of duty in Iraq so he could provide leadership to the numerous Marines in his unit who have never been deployed to a combat zone.

"Sgt. Miller has proven to be a very strong leader," said 1st Sgt. Scott Miller, 49, senior enlisted advisor for Charlie Company and a native of Amelia, Va. "He is a benefit to our unit and the Marines look up to him and respect him. His leadership is an intangible asset to the unit (because) he makes good judgments (and) he has a good depth of experience."

Sgt. Miller"s mother, Michelle Ramsey, said during a phone interview that her son has always been a hard and determined worker and was not surprised when she found out her son had volunteered for another tour in Iraq.

"He told me he did not want to come home until the job is done," said Ramsey. "I cry for him all the time. I know he is where he wants to be - there with his Marines."

Sgt. Miller said he is just doing what he believes he is obligated to do.

"I felt it was my duty to come back here and be a leader," said Sgt. Miller. "The first time I came here I was one of the lowest-ranking Marines in the unit. I learned a lot really quick. I wanted to pass it on."

Today, Sgt. Miller and his Marines are doing a less strenuous duty compared to clearing roadways of explosives - making repairs to living quarters and work on this U.S. airbase.

During the work, it"s not long before the Marines start joking with one another and reminding each other of simple mistakes they"ve made during the deployment.

Sgt. Miller cut his finger on a piece of glass one morning while building an addition to a workspace. He covered it with a piece of blue electrical tape because the wound was only superficial, but none of the Marines have made a joke of it yet.

He said it is only going to be a matter of time before someone cracks a joke about it.

"We make fun of each other to get through the day," said Sgt. Miller. "We stay busy and make fun of each other and it makes time fly by."

Sgt. Miller said he misses his college days and the "good times" he had with his peers when he was not studying, but the fast-paced workweeks keep him and his Marines occupied.

"When we are outside the wire clearing routes for convoys, we forget what day it is," said Sgt. Miller.

While checking on some of the repairs his Marines made to a small workspace in the engineers" work area, a call came in on a tactical telephone.

"We got a mission tomorrow," said Sgt. Miller after he hung up the phone.

He hangs up the phone, and continues speaking with other Marines. He runs his left hand up and down the six-inch scar on his right forearm caused by the insurgent attack two years ago. Four other Marines were wounded and four were killed that day. To this day he still cannot close his fingers completely because of the injury.

"But I can still pull the trigger no problem at all," he said.

Marines yearn for Pierce's sauce

How do you get gallons of barbecue sauce to Iraq? A York restaurant is trying.

YORK -- Some Marines over in Iraq have a hankering for barbecue.
And not just any barbecue. They want Pierce's Pitt Bar-B-Que. Enough to e-mail the restaurant and ask for some.


November 4, 2006

The York County barbecue joint - which has been named multiple times as one of the South's best barbecue restaurants by Southern Living magazine readers - received a request Thursday for some barbecue sauce.

A Marine unit based in Al Asad, an air base in Iraq, recently got their hands on a bottle of Doc Pierce's Bar-B-Que Sauce thanks to a former member of their unit. It was so good, the e-mail explained, they want more.

Problem is, the Marine who had the sauce transferred to a different unit. So they couldn't shake him down for more.

"We've come across some sauces during the months out here, but nothing compared to yours," wrote Sgt. Wesley C. Brown. "Is it possible to get some of that good sauce sent up this way?"

The e-mail included a photo of the Camp Pendleton-based unit - 10 men in desert fatigues and flak vests who all love Pierce's sauce, wrote Brown. He said he's been in Iraq for eight months and has four to go.

Andrea Hutchinson, Pierce's director of operations, saw the e-mail and said it just about made her cry. She immediately set out to find a way to get some sauce from the Rochambeau Drive eatery to the men in Combat Logistics Battalion 1.

"I'm trying really hard," Hutchinson said after contacting the Marine Corps base in Quantico, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine's office and the Virginia National Guard. "We're all excited about it over here."

On Friday, Hutchinson had a couple of leads, but still not enough of an address to get a shipment out before the weekend. But there are now four gallons of sauce, repackaged in mail-friendly plastic containers and ready to go.

She hopes to get the sauce shipped in time for a big barbecue that Brown said was scheduled for Nov. 10. It's the 231st birthday for the Corps and there's a party planned.

"It's fantastic," said Tracy Della Vecchia, founder of marineparents.com, which sends care packages to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, of the effort to ship the barbecue sauce. "It's amazing. More folks need to do things like this."

Hutchinson said the ordeal might spark something bigger. Maybe get more people to do more for the troops.

In the meantime, she'll wait to get a return e-mail from Brown to get a proper address. She's already included a little note with the jugs of barbecue sauce, which bear the familiar bright yellow-and-orange label.

Take care, she told them.

"And come and see us."

November 3, 2006

*Fund-raiser held for cancer-stricken Marine

Sgt. Mike Baker fought for his country in Iraq and now he's fighting for his life and needs his community's help. A spaghetti dinner fund-raiser will be held Saturday to raise money for his expenses while he wrangles with his newest enemy, cancer.


Article published Nov 3, 2006

After serving two tours in Iraq, Baker of Royal Oak was diagnosed with neurofibrosarcoma, a rare and aggressive form of life-threatening cancer.

Baker was deployed in Iraq for eight months with a combat engineering battalion in the U.S. Marines in March 2003. He came home for six months and then went back as a tank driver.

He noticed a lump on his face, by his ear, during his second tour of duty. He was diagnosed when he returned home in June of 2005.

The fund-raiser will help Baker and his pregnant wife, Kelly, pay for trips to visit a sarcoma specialist regularly in Texas.

Baker's mom, Shelly Cingel, said the military pays for a good portion of his expenses, the trips are not paid for and they aren't sure what treatments will be covered.

Expenses must be paid ahead of time and are reimbursed. But 23-year-old Baker and his family are struggling to pay for everything up front. They are also worried since his cancer is so aggressive.

"We aren't leading people to believe the military is not taking care of Mike," Cingel said. "But we don't have time to waste."

All the money he doesn't use will be donated to cancer research.

So far Baker has had four surgeries. In the first surgery, the initial tumor, which was on his chin, was removed. It came back twice, larger than before. In his third surgery, half of his right ear was removed. The last surgery, in July, left the right side of his face paralyzed when the rest of his ear was removed.

Baker has been receiving chemotherapy treatments at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak. He will undergo six treatments that last five days each. Every two to three months he visits a doctor at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

So far the Baker family's efforts at fund-raising have been successful.

Cingel said they have received donations from military people around the country and from local efforts.

"People have been amazingly generous," she said. "They're so supportive of the troops."

The experience has been hard on Baker's wife, Kelly, as well. She is pregnant, due in February.

She graduated from college in December but has not been able to look for work as an elementary teacher. She got her first call for an interview the same week her husband was having surgery.

Even so, she's glad she's been able to spend so much time with Mike.

"Right now we spend every day together," she said.

But their lives have been put on hold.

"Basically what we had planned out for our life hasn't happened," she said. "We miss mostly just having a life."

The spaghetti dinner fund-raiser will be held from 4-7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 4. The event is sponsored by the Free and Accepted Masons Ferndale Lodge #506. It will be held at the Berkley Masonic Temple at 2290 11 Mile Road. All proceeds will go to the Michael Baker Fund.

For information and to donate to the Michael Baker Fund via Paypal, visit www.joinmikesfight.com. Donations may also be sent to the Michael Baker Fund, c/o Kathy Lynn Donegan, 2414 Gulason Court, Troy, MI 48083. Contributions are also accepted at LaSalle Bank, where the fund is held.

*THE WAR: Two Ridgefield Marines recall life in Iraq

It’s an unforgetable sound.
Five times a day, the first around 5 a.m. as the dawn sun presages the heat of the coming day, the sound echoes across the city from loud speakers dangling from every minaret.
“Allah u akbar! Allah u akbar! Hayya la-s-saleah! Hayya la-s-saleah!”


Nov 3, 2006
By Chipp Reid

“God is great! God is great! Hasten now to prayer! Hasten now to prayer!”
It’s the call of the muezzin to all Muslims to pray, which the faithful must do five times a day from dawn until dusk. It also signaled the start of another day for the Marines of Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment.
“I will never forget that sound. I think I heard it this morning,” said 20-year-old Jon Olbrych. “I think there were times when they were competing to see who was loudest.”

Patrolling Fallujah

The call of the muezzin is just one memory Mr. Olbrych, along with Lance Corp. Erick Lohse, 19, Lance Corp. Juan Ocampos, 21 and Corp. Anthony Ippoliti, 22, brought back from a seven-month combat tour in Iraq. The four Ridgefield High graduates served in the weapons platoon of Company C, but spent their tour as infantry, patrolling the often dangerous streets of Fallujah.
“We never know what to expect,” said Mr. Lohse. “We were ready to execute any mission. We would stop anything we thought looked suspicious and check it out.”
The Marines’ battalion is a Reserve unit out of Plainville, Conn. The part-time Marines said walking the streets of Fallujah, which is in the heart of the so-called Sunni Triangle, was often as much a test of nerves as it was ability.
“There was definitely an ‘Oh-(crap) factor,” Mr. Lohse said. “Once the first round comes in, it’s a split second when you say ‘Oh (crap).’ Then you’re training takes over and you do what you have to do.”
The Marines spent six days a week on patrol, running raids or simply acting as bait for insurgents. Those patrols, part of “sweep and clear” missions, were often the most harrowing.
“There were some ridiculous situations,” Mr. Olbrych said. “At first we had some tough rules of engagement. The ROE said safety of civilians had to come first and they really made sure we knew about the tough punishments you could get.”
Rules of engagement dictate how much force the Marines could use in any situation. Mr. Olbrych said once higher command relaxed those rules, allowing the Marines to immediately return fire rather than pinpoint its exact location, morale went up as did his unit’s operational capacity.
“We stopped playing their game a little bit, I think,” Mr. Olbrych said. “We weren’t just reacting all the time to where they were.”

Three-block war

The four Ridgefield Marines also quickly learned the latest concept in military thinking: the three-block war. The Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory in Quantico, Va., said the idea is Marines may face three vastly different situations within any three-block area of a city. The first is a humanitarian disaster, the second is a cheering populace and the third is the worst kind of street fighting. Mr. Olbrych said he and his unit saw each up close.
“We couldn’t go 10 feet without having kids coming around us saying ‘Mister, mister chocolate’ or ‘water’ or ‘money,’” he said. “We could also see parents hitting their kids when they cheered for us or came near us. We knew in those zones we had to be even more alert.”
Then there was the combat. Charlie Company suffered 11 killed in action in its tour, including a young Marine Mr. Lohse calls his “best friend,” Cpl. Kurt Dechen of Springfield, Vt. For Mr. Lohse, having three friends from Ridgefield made his buddy’s death a little easier to take.
“Definitely,” Mr. Lohse said. “I always felt like those guys had my back. I knew I could talk to them whenever I wanted and that was a big help.”
The day the sniper killed Cpl. Dechen, Mr. Lohse said he and the other Marines went through a range of emotions.
“We got the rest of the day off, but the next day we right back out there,” he said. “We didn’t get a lot of time to think about it. I know I was also angry. We weren’t going to let that stop us and we wanted to take it to them the best we can.”
Mr. Olbrych said Cpl. Dechen’s death also brought out anger, but said the Marines tempered it with the belief they would eventually get the sniper.
“It wasn’t that same day, maybe two weeks that we heard our intel(ligence) guys brought in a sniper from a raid,” he said. “They got a tip from the Iraqi police and found all his equipment. It was in the same area where Kurt was shot so we felt pretty happy about that.

Brotherhood of war

The four young Marines also learned something the original members of their unit quickly found out in 1945 when they landed on Iwo Jima: When the bullets fly, there is only one group on whom they could depend.
“Us,” said Mr. Lohse. “We really bonded as Marines. All the Ridgefield guys were in the same platoon and I was in Cpl. Ippoliti’s squad so that was definitely reassuring. We’d share stories and just talk to each other about anything expect where we were. It helped out a lot.”
“There is a Ridgefield mentality,” Mr. Olbrych said. “We would talk about things back home – do you remember this girl or when this happened. It helped out a lot.”
The fact Charlie Company is a Reserve unit in many ways contributed to how close the Marines became. As part-time Marines, the unit members brought civilian skills, ranging from electricians to police officer, with them to Iraq.
“We didn’t have to go outside the unit for a lot of things,” Mr. Olbrych said. “If an air conditioner broke down, we had guys that were electricians who could fix it. The cops in the unit were really big helps in teaching us how to spot things and how to treat people. I think it made us even better than some of the active duty units.”

Welcome home

While they take pride in the job they did in Iraq, the Marines said nothing could top the reception they received on coming home Oct. 25.
“It was just overwhelming,” Mr. Lohse said. “When I was driving through town, I couldn’t believe the effort people put in to making all the signs and the flags. I still like to drive through town to see it all. It’s really incredible.”
The four Marines – and the rest of their unit – are technically on leave until Dec. 1 when their active duty officially ends. Until then, Mr. Lohse and Mr. Olbrych said they plan to take things easy and prepare to return to school in January. Mr. Olbrych is a freshman at Florida Southern University while Mr. Lohse plans to go to school in state to study medicine. Both said returning home in the fall should help lessen another enduring memory.
“The heat,” Mr. Lohse said. “We would see the temperature and it was 130, 140 degrees and all I could think was,‘We have to go out and walk around in this.’ I can’t wait until it snows. I’m going to stand outside in short sleeves.”
Mr. Olbrych said his first thought was how nice it smelled when he got home.
“Fallujah smells – pretty bad,” he said. “There’s trash and open sewers and the smells of the guys that cook food along the roads. Here it smells like New England – the leaves and the grass. In Fallujah, you had to hold your breathe walking in some places.”
Mr. Olbrych, like Mr. Lohse, also said the homecoming the town gave the Marines made him proud of his service.
“It makes me feel ike we did something special, like we accomplished something good,” he said. “No matter what someone’s politics, having that support while we were there and when we came back was really just overwhelming.”

Chuck Norris Kicks Up Morale in Iraq

CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq - Multi-National Forces – West received an exponential boost in power when action films stars Chuck Norris and Marshall Teague visited Camp Fallujah Nov. 1.


Marine Corps News | Lance Cpl. Sean P. McGinty | November 03, 2006

The visit was part of their United Service Organizations-sponsored tour of Al Anbar Province, Iraq, and Kuwait.

“I came out here to see the morale of the troops and give them a morale boost,” said the 66-year-old martial arts expert. “If it helps them in any way positively, I’m elated.”

Brig. Gen Robert B. Neller, deputy commanding general for MNF-W, and Maj. Gen. Richard C. Zilmer, commanding general MNF-W, worked diligently to bring Norris and Teague here for their deployed warriors.

Norris explained he planned to visit Iraq three years ago, but because of an impending major operation he was unable to make the trip. He said he believes the operation was tied to the capture of Saddam Hussein, which was announced two days after the trip cancellation.

During their tour, they were able to observe an operations intelligence briefing, visit Fallujah Surgical, and were given a Marine Corps Martial Arts Program demonstration at the chapel.

The service members who attended the assembly at the chapel looked ecstatic when Norris and Teague arrived there, chanting “Chuck, Chuck, Chuck …” and the troops broke into an uproar when the living-legends entered the building.

Before the Marine Corps Martial Arts demonstration, Col. George H. Bristol, Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group commanding officer, spoke about the program’s benefits to the user. Bristol mentioned that when he was putting together the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program, Chuck Norris was one of the first people to take an interest in the development.

“The Marine Corps is a fighting organization, based on honor, courage, and commitment, and that’s how Chuck Norris has lived his life. This is a match made in heaven,” said Bristol.

Following the demonstration, Norris highlighted his career as a martial arts expert and movie star in a speech to more than 1,000 service members. He also talked about his Kick-Start program for teaching middle-school kids martial arts and keeping them away from drugs and gangs. The statement earned him an ovation from the crowd.

Norris also saluted all the military members who attended, and let them know how special the military is to him.

“The military is very close to me, because it turned my life around,” Norris said about his four-year tenure in the Air Force, where he served in Korea in the early ‘60s. “Joining the military helped me get on the right path.”

“It’s cool to have someone of his stature out here,” said Cpl. Michael E. Hamilton, a scout sniper with 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment. “(The USO) could have sent somebody who had nothing to do with the military, but they sent Chuck Norris.”

“I think it was great he came out here to see us,” said Sgt. Frank Ellin, staff secretary administration noncommissioned officer and information systems coordinator. “I know he’s busy, and it was awesome he came out here to see us troops and raise our morale.”

Norris and Teague will see more than 10,000 troops in their four-day volunteer tour of Al Anbar Province and Kuwait, said Rachel M. Tischler, USO director of entertainment.

Norris also spoke about how he already had ties with troops deployed to Iraq.

“We communicate to a lot of troops out here through our Web site,” the Walker Texas Ranger star said. “I’m a spiritual leader to 10 platoons here in Iraq.”

The master of the roundhouse kick also mentioned what will stick out to him the most about his visit.

“I’ll remember the smiles on the faces of the troops. They’re great kids out here,” he said. “These troops are motivated to win this war.”

Hornet maintainers toil away in shadows, missing limelight

AL ASAD, Iraq (Nov. 4, 2006) -- Behind the scenes, film-industry carpenters toil in obscurity to create ornate movie sets, and their only recognition is a single line in the film credits, shown long after the crowds have left.


Nov. 4, 2006; Submitted on: 11/06/2006 07:52:02 AM ; Story ID#: 20061167522
By Cpl. Jonathan K. Teslevich, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing

A group of Marine mechanics and technicians at Al Asad, Iraq, share the carpenters' obscurity, as they spend long hours in the shadows of the Marine Corps' high-performance star, the F/A-18 Hornet. Both groups toil in the background while the likes of Tom Hanks and the F/A-18 Hornet receive rave reviews for their onscreen and battlefield performances.

Those Marines fill the maintenance sections of Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 242, Marine Aircraft Group 16 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), and are responsible for making sure the high-performance Hornets under their care are mission capable day and night.

Now, in their third month at Iraq, the Bats' maintainers are successfully launching about a dozen fully capable aircraft each day. Their jobs vary, and on any given day, they can be seen crawling under and over a Hornet, opening panels and tightening bolts.

In the morning, a Hornet may appear inoperable -- wires hanging out and parts missing -- but 12 hours later, the same F/A-18 can be seen roaring down the runway, climbing into the night sky on a mission to support ground operations in the Al Anbar Province of Iraq.

"The (F/A-18 Hornets) have off and on maintenance problems, but now that the weather is cooling off, they should begin calming down and we should have less to work on," said Cpl. Tommy G. Torres, an F/A-18 aircraft electrical systems technician.

Although most of their work is performed inside concrete bunkers or on stationary aircraft, the Bats' maintenance Marines are standing by for every Hornet launch, prepared to make last-minute repairs or adjustments just before the aircraft's scheduled flight.

"The majority of our work is done when the jet is down for a few hours between flights," said Sgt. Aaron M. Ellis, the Bats' communication, navigation, weapon systems shop supervisor and Spokane, Wash., native.

"Whenever the birds are launching, we're out there to fix any problems," said Torres, a Waco, Texas, native. "Sometimes all it takes to get a bird airborne is changing a (part)."

Despite playing the part of a caretaker to multimillion dollar aircraft that keep them busy 12 hours a day, turning wrenches or running diagnostic checks, the Marines believe in the operational capabilities of the machines they're responsible for.

"So far, we've changed out five engines, one as a result of foreign object damage, but the rest are from wear and tear," said Gunnery Sgt. Patrick L. Tiry, staff noncommissioned office-in-charge for the Bats' Powerline Division and an Eau Claire, Wis., native. "It's nobody's fault that they need to be replaced. Things vibrate and go bad."

So, in the shadows and through the night, like their flying namesake, the Bats' maintainers quietly go about their work, as the sounds of their efforts are drowned out by the busy aircraft that they keep operational.

Detroit-based Marines helping rebuild Iraq

FALLUJAH, Iraq - When Marines want the straight scoop, they get out on the street and talk face to face with Fallujans.


Story by Lance Cpl. Stephen McGinnis

Marines from 1st Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment's Civil Affairs Group detachment patrolled the streets of Fallujah to speak with local citizens Oct. 31. They spoke to Iraqis about how they feel about Marines in their city and what Marines can do to improve conditions.

"You don't want hearsay, you want to get a good feel from the people on the street," said Gunnery Sgt. Michael R Abragan, a 30-year-old CAG team chief from Stokie, Ill.

The civil affairs detachment from 4th Civil Affairs Group is working alongside the battalion's Marines, who are serving with Regimental Combat Team 5.

Marines patrolled through the city, taking time to stop at various market stands to speak with citizens. Marines were able to get a first-hand idea of what the people living in the city felt they needed to help improve their quality of life.

"It's good to find out what the population thinks as to what we are trying to accomplish and show we are trying to rebuild the city and make sure they have the supplies and funding to do that," said Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Justin Posey, a 34-year-old hospital corpsman from Virginia Beach, Va., assigned to the civil affairs detachment.

Many of the citizens had the same things to say. They told Marines they want more security and more jobs.

Marines also made a stop at an all-girls' school in the city to hand out school supplies. They also learned what the children thought about Marines here.

The children scattered around the well overcrowded classrooms upon the arrival of the Marines. The school had more than six classrooms with girls of ages ranging from six to12 years old.

Because of the amount of students and the lack of supplies, not all of the girls had places to sit.

Marines asked the girls what they thought about Marines and what their parents thought about them. The girls echoed what Marines heard on the street. The girls, as well as their parents, want more security.

One girl shared her experiences with the Marines about insurgents. Her mother and all of her uncles were killed by insurgents. The remaining members of her family fled to Fallujah as a safe haven.

Abragan said that"s the sort of information that's priceless for Marines helping to rebuild Iraq.

"The kids are our best source of information," he said. "They are the future of this country."

Every time the Marines stopped, they were bombarded with Iraqi children. Marines handed out backpacks, school supplies, soccer balls and stuffed animals.

Marines couldn't give away the toys fast enough, it seemed. Families exited their houses to see the Marines giving away the gifts to the children.

Some Marines even purchased merchandise from venders out of gratitude for the time and honesty the Iraqi people gave the Marines.

"We countered any possibility of discontent towards us by improving their lives by donating toys, school supplies and asking suggestions as to where we can improve," said Army Cpl. Jonathan Highsmith, a 29 year old from Bastrop, La., who assisted Marines in the day"s mission.

Waiting for the ghost's next move

The bullet passed through Lance Corporal Juan Valdez- Castillo as his patrol moved down a muddy urban lane. It was a single shot. The marine fell against a wall, tried to stand and fell again. His squad leader, Sergeant Jesse Leach, faced where the shot had come from, raised his rifle and grenade launcher and quickly stepped between the sniper and the bloodied marine. He walked backward, scanning, ready to fire.

Note: There is an award-winning (although very graphic) photojournalist's slide show that is available within the original article


By C.J. Chivers
The New York Times

Shielding the marine with his own thick body, he grabbed the lance corporal by a strap and dragged him to a line of tall reeds, where they were concealed. He put down his weapon, shouted orders and cut open the lance corporal's uniform, exposing a bubbling wound.

Valdez-Castillo, shot through the right arm and torso, was saved. But the patrol was temporarily stuck. The marines were engaged in the task of calling for a casualty evacuation while staring down their barrels at dozens of windows that faced them, as if waiting for a ghost's next move.

This sequence on Tuesday here in the Anbar Province captured, in a matter of seconds, an expanding threat in the war in Iraq. In recent months, military officers and enlisted marines say, the insurgents have been using snipers more frequently and with greater effect, disrupting the military's operations and fueling a climate of frustration and quiet rage.

Throughout Iraq, the threat has become serious enough that in late October the military held an internal conference about it, sharing the experiences of combat troops and discussing tactics to counter it. There has been no ready fix.

In Leach's unit, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines, the battalion commander recounted in an interview eight sniper hits on his marines in three months, and said there were other possible incidents as well. Two of the battalion's five fatalities have come from snipers, he said, and one marine who was shot by a sniper is in a coma. Another gravely wounded marine has suffered a stroke.

An enemy sniper team was captured in the area a few weeks ago, he said, but more have taken its place. "The enemy has the ability to regenerate, and after we put a dent in his activity, we see sniper activity again," said the commander, Lieutenant Colonel Kenneth DeTreux.

Marines in two infantry companies recounted even more incidents, telling of lone shots that have zipped in as if from nowhere, striking turrets and walls within inches of marines. They typically occur when the marines are not engaged in combat with the enemy. It is as if, they say, they are being watched.

By many measures, the Iraqi snipers have showed unexceptional marksmanship skills, usually shooting from inside 300 meters, far less than ranges preferred by the elite snipers in Western military units. But as the insurgents' sniper teams have become more active, the marines here say, they have displayed greater skill, selecting both their targets and their firing positions with care. They have also developed cunning methods of mobility and concealment, including firing from shooting platforms and hidden ports within cars.

They often use variants of the long- barreled Dragunov rifle, which shoots higher-powered ammunition than the much more common Kalashnikov assault rifles.

"In the beginning of the war, sniping wasn't something that the Iraqis did," said Captain Glen Taylor, executive officer of the battalion's Golf Company, who is on his third combat tour. "It was like, 'If Allah wants that bullet to hit its target, it will.' But they are starting to realize how effective it is."

The insurgents are also recruiting snipers and centralizing their instruction, the captain said, meaning the phenomenon is likely to grow. "They have training camps, they go around and advertise," he said. "We heard from some of our sources that the insurgents were going around with loudspeakers, saying that if you want to be a sniper, we will pay you three times whatever your salary is now."

Most of the time, the marines said, the snipers aim for the troops' heads, necks and armpits, displaying knowledge of gaps in their protective gear. They typically shoot once and disappear. And they often fire from among civilians or on the opposite side of obstacles like canals, which limits a unit's ability to capture the sniper or respond with fire. "That's the biggest things that tears marines apart," said Corporal Curtis Cota-Robles, of Golf Company, who was standing beside a marine who was shot through the collarbone in late September. "They hit us when we are vulnerable and then they are gone."

As part of their counterinsurgency operations, the marines working in Anbar are under orders to show restraint, a policy rooted in hopes of winning the trust of the civilian population.

Iraqi snipers seem to know these rules, and use them for their own protection. They often fire from among civilians, the marines say, having observed that unless the marines have a clear target, they will not shoot. (In two sniping incidents witnessed by two journalists for The New York Times on Oct. 30 and 31, the snipers fired from among civilians both times. The marines did not fire back.)

In conditions where killing the snipers has proven difficult, the marines have tried to find ways to limit their effectiveness. Signs inside marine positions display an oft-spoken rule: "Make yourself hard to kill." Many marines, on operations, do an understated dance they call "cutting squares."

It is not really a square at all. They zig and zag as they walk, and when they stop, they shift weight from foot to foot, bobbing their heads. They change the rhythm often, so that when a sniper who might be scoping them thinks they are about to zig, they have zagged.

As they move, the marines often peer down their own scopes, looking at windows, rooftops, lines of brush. Then they might step backward, or forward, or duck, as if saying: try and shoot that.

But some marines, as operations drag on, begin to stop cutting squares. And sometimes, even those that are moving are still shot. And there are special dangers.

Lance Corporal Colin Smith, who was shot on Monday, was behind a machine gun in a vehicle turret, a position that placed him higher in the air than a walking marine. Turret gunners are protected by armor shields, but their heads are often exposed. He was struck in the skull. He survived but fell into a coma and was placed on life support.

Valdez-Castillo, who was shot on Tuesday, was a radio operator, a preferred sniper's target since radios and rifles first mixed on the battlefield decades ago. Ten marines, several soldiers from the nascent Iraqi Army and two journalists were walking exposed in a column when the shot was fired and he went down; his antenna likely made him the sniper's pick. Valdez-Castillo has been flown to a military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany. He is in good condition and has spoken to his unit.

In both cases, the sniper fired from the other side of a canal, among civilians and a group of buildings.

Some units have limited their foot patrols by day, finding them to be too dangerous. They still enter neighborhoods in armored vehicles and dismount, but often quickly step into buildings to interview Iraqis inside. They continue to patrol on foot at night, because the Iraqi snipers have not yet shown the sophistication to fire with precision in the dark, and the marines' night vision equipment and weapons sights give them the upper hand.

They also cover most of their vital organs with protective armor plates, which have saved several of the troops when the Iraqi snipers have fired. One marine, Gunnery Sergeant Shawn Dempsey of Weapons Company, was shot in the back as he helped a small girl across a street. The plate saved him. He remains on duty as a platoon commander.

Another, Lance Corporal Edward Knuth of Golf Company, was hit as his squad searched a watermelon market beside a main road. No one in his squad heard the shot, which he said was probably made from a vehicle parked on the highway. All they heard was the impact of the bullet on his plate.

"It was like a smacking sound," he said. The force of the impact, like being struck with a baseball bat, knocked him to his knees. A marine swiftly dragged him to cover. Then his squad rushed the line of cars. They found nothing. The sniper had escaped.

"They're good," Knuth said, showing a crumbling, coin-sized hole in his armor, where the bullet stopped. "They take their time. They're patient. They only take one shot most of the time and they are hard to find."

After Valdez-Castillo was shot and evacuated, a sweat-soaked, bloodied Leach led his team through the rest of his patrol. When the marines re-entered the wire, an angry debrief began. Move quickly through the open areas, the noncommissioned officers told the troops. Do not stand high on the berms. Camouflage the radios. Keep your eyes out and rifles ready.

Little was said about how to kill the sniper; the marines did not know where he was. They passed cigarettes and smoked them in the sun, and fumed.

"I'll carry the radio next time," said Lance Corporal Peter Sprague. "I don't have any kids."

A sliver of life is a war medic's solace; A Marine takes sniper bullet to head, but hope lives in his breathing

KARMAH, Iraq – Petty Officer 3rd Class Dustin E. Kirby clutched the injured Marine's empty helmet. His hands were coated in blood. Sweat ran down his face, which he was trying to keep straight but which kept twisting into a snarl.


12:00 AM CST on Friday, November 3, 2006

By C.J. CHIVERS The New York Times

He held up the helmet and flipped it, exposing the inside. It was lined with blood and splinters of bone.

"The round hit him," he said, pausing to point at a tiny hole that aligned roughly with a man's temple. "Right here."

Petty Officer Kirby, 22, is a Navy corpsman, the trauma medic assigned to the 2nd Mobile Assault Platoon of Weapons Company, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines. Everyone calls him Doc. He'd just finished treating a Marine who'd been shot by an Iraqi sniper.

"It was 7.62 millimeter," he said. "Armor piercing."

He reached into his pocket and retrieved the bullet, which he'd found. "The impact with the Kevlar stopped most of it," he said. "But it tore through, hit his head, went through and came out."

He put the bullet in his breast pocket, to give to an intelligence team later. Sweat kept rolling off his face, mixed with tears. His voice was almost cracking, but he managed to control it and keep it deep. "When I got there, there wasn't much I could do," he said.

Then he nodded. He seemed to be talking to himself. "I kept him breathing," he said.

The sniper had fired a single shot just as the Marines were leaving a rural settlement on the western edge of Karmah, a city near Fallujah in Anbar province.

The Marines had searched several houses, where they found five Kalashnikov assault rifles and bomb components, and they were getting back into their vehicles when everyone heard the shot. It was a single loud crack.

No one was precisely sure where it came from. Everyone knew precisely where it hit. It struck a Marine who was peering out of the first vehicle's gun turret. He collapsed.

Petty Officer Kirby rushed to him and found him breathing. He bandaged his head as the vehicle lurched away. Soon he helped load the wounded Marine into a helicopter, which touched down beside the convoy within 12 minutes of the shot.

Once the helicopter lifted away, he ran back to his vehicle, ready to treat anyone else.

He turned, faced a reporter and spoke loudly. "In situations and times like this, I am bound to start yelling and shouting furiously," he said. "Don't think I am losing my mind."

He held his bloody hands before his face, to examine them. They were shaking.

"His name was Lance Cpl. Colin Smith," he said. "He said a prayer today right before we came out, too.

"Every time before we go out, we say a prayer," he said. "It is a prayer for serenity. It says a lot about things that do pertain to us in this kind of environment."

He listened to his radio headset and looked at his driver, Lance Cpl. Matias Tafoya, relaying word of the Marines' movements. "Right now the grunts are performing a hard hit on a house," he said. He turned back to the subject of Lance Cpl. Smith.

"The best news I can throw at anybody right now, and that I am throwing to myself as often as I can, is that his eyes were OK," he said. "They were both responsive. And he was breathing. And he had a pulse."

He looked at the reporter beside him. "Do you pray?" he asked. "Do that. I'd appreciate it."

After a few minutes, he started talking again. "You see, having a good platoon, one that you know real well, it's both a gift and a curse. And Smith? Smith has been with me since I was ..."

He stopped. "He was my roommate before we left," he said.

He raised his voice. "His dad was his best friend," he said. "He's got the cutest little blonde girlfriend, and she freaks out every time we call because she's so happy to hear from him."

He said something about Iraqi snipers that couldn't be printed. Then he was back to the subject of Lance Cpl. Smith, 19.

"I really thank God that he was breathing when I got to him, because it means that I can do something with him. It helps. People ask you, 'What are you doing? What are you doing?' It helps, because if he's breathing, you're doing something."

He looked at his bloody hands. "You got some water?" he said. "I want some water. I just want to wash my wedding band."

He listened to the tactical radio. The platoon was sweeping houses but could not find the sniper. They took one man into custody, mounted their vehicles and drove back to Outpost Omar, their company base, passing knots of Iraqi civilians on the way. The civilians looked at them coldly.

Inside the base, 1st Lt. Scott R. Burlison, the company commander, gathered the group and told them that Lance Cpl. Smith was alive and in surgery. He was critical, but stable. They hoped to fly him to Germany.

Doc had scrubbed himself clean. A big Marine stepped forward with a small Bible, and the platoon huddled. He began with Psalm 91, verses 5 and 11.

"Thou shall not be afraid for the terror by night, nor for the arrow that flieth by day," said the big Marine, Lance Cpl. Daniel B. Nicholson. "For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways."

Then he asked for the Lord to look after Lance Cpl. Smith and whatever was ahead, and to take care of everyone who was still in the platoon.

"Help us Lord," he said. "We need your help. It's the only way we're going to get through this."

Doc stood in the corner, his arm looped over a Marine. "Amen," he said.

Thrice-wounded Marine shows his teammates what luck really is

By Leo Shane III, Stars and Stripes
Mideast edition, Friday, November 3, 2006

WASHINGTON — The third time he was shot was the luckiest day of Lance Cpl. John McClellan’s life.

To continue reading:


Local Marine injured in Iraq explosion, 23-year-old officer listed as ‘critical’

Bettye Kinard, of Greenwood, had a few words of loving precaution for her grandson, Marine 2nd Lt. Andrew Kinard, of Spartanburg, before he began his tour of duty in Iraq.


November 3, 2006
Index-Journal managing editor

“The last thing I told him before he left was ‘Don’t step on any mines,’ and he said, ‘I won’t, Grandma,’” she said Thursday.

Some time late Saturday or early Sunday, sadly, those words became an eerie premonition for Bettye and her husband, Dr. H.B. Kinard Jr., who were “devastated” Monday when they learned their grandson had been seriously injured.

Kinard, 23, was on patrol along with three other Marines in western Iraq when he either stepped on or was struck in the lower body with an improvised explosive device, or IED, family members told the Spartanburg Herald-Journal for stories eariler this week.

In the explosion, Kinard lost all of his right leg and most of his left. Surgeons began assessing the internal and external damage to his body late in the night, and hope to save the remaining part of his left leg, the Rev. Don Wilton, senior pastor at First Baptist, told the Herald-Journal. The blast took it off above the knee.

Kinard, who is part of the 2nd Marine Division’s 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion based at Camp Lejeune, N.C., is at National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.

He was listed in “critical” condition Thursday afternoon in the hospital, said Ellen Crown, deputy public affairs officer for NNMC. Doctors at NNMC list patients as “good, fair, serious, critical and undetermined,” she said, adding privacy laws prohibited her from releasing additional information about patients.

“He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Bettye Kinard said. “Three others were injured with him, but you can’t get any information about them because the Marines won’t give that out. You can get information if they’re killed but not if they’re injured.”

The Marine’s family — father Dr. Harry Kinard, his mother, two sisters and a brother — flew to Maryland Thursday morning to be with him, Bettye Kinard said.

“It’s hard to talk about at this point,” she said. “They have not seen their son yet, but they think it’s going to be fine.”
The family’s flight was made possible through the generosity of a Spartanburg business, which gave the Kinards its corporate jet.

“Spartanburg people have been mighty kind to us,” Bettye Kinard said. “And they’re taking really good care of them (at the hospital).”

Andrew Kinard had “only been over in Iraq for six weeks,” she said.

The Naval Academy graduate “chose the Marines when he graduated because he wanted action. He’s that type of fellow.” His grandmother said the family welcomes well-wishes at its Spartanburg residence. Send cards and other expressions to 2nd Lt. Andrew Kinard, 763 Plume St., Spartanburg, SC 29602.

The grandparents have been besieged by Greenwood-area residents seeking information about their Marine’s status and offering condolences.

“He’s a mighty handsome man to be left in this condition,” she said.

A clash of wills at 'Firecracker'

ON July 4, a squad of Marines was ordered to an intersection nicknamed "Firecracker," the most dangerous in this city. The group's mission was to set up a position to watch for people placing bombs and to fight insurgents.


By Julian E. Barnes, Times Staff Writer
November 3, 2006

For much of the squad, from the 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, this was their second combat tour in Iraq. But the fight at Firecracker was the fiercest they had seen. The Marines recently returned from Iraq. This is their story, told in their own words. The account begins with the squad leader, Cpl. Caesar Hernandez, 22, of Delray Beach, Fla., and continues with Cpl. Justin Kaminski, 21, of Baltimore; medical corpsman Frank Sanchez, 20, of Los Angeles; and Lance Cpl. Greg Crans, 20, of Bath, N.Y.

Hernandez: Right outside of friendly lines, it must have been about 10 or 15 minutes into my patrol, an explosion went off. I was at the front of the patrol, and it hit the rear of the patrol.

Immediately the training kicks in. I pulled my lead element of the patrol back and had them set up a 360-degree defense. I started asking on the [patrol radio] if everyone was all right. My second-team leader, Cpl. Kaminski, he wouldn't roger up. So I immediately thought: "They got hit in the rear."

Kaminski: I am the last guy in the formation. One of my jobs is to make sure no one is behind us, no one is following us. So I was looking behind us. I turned back around, and Sanchez is about to turn a corner. So I was jogging a couple steps, trying to close the gap. That is when it went off. I saw the flash, the fire and the flame, just where he was standing. I remember little stuff hitting me and then being pushed back.

I was unconscious, then I woke up on the ground. There was still smoke in the sky, stuff was falling out of the sky. I stood up and remembered the flash of light right on top of him. I ran to where the smoke was, right where it hit. But he wasn't there. I started yelling his name and running forward.

Sanchez: The rest of the squad was around the corner. It was just me and Kaminski. I turned back to make sure he was still there. I took a step, and I saw a big flash of light in front of my face, and I felt heat coming up. And I heard the boom. The next thing I know, I was laying facedown on the pavement. I didn't know what was going on, all the dust was everywhere. I just assumed I was dead.

Then I heard Kaminski yelling my name. I couldn't hear out of my right ear, so I didn't know where it was coming from. I started looking around. I couldn't find my weapon. I was crawling around looking for my rifle. I found my rifle and tried to get up. From the waist down, the blast numbed me up. I couldn't feel my legs.

Kaminski: Cpl. Hernandez and Lance Cpl. Crans came running around the corner, and they were asking if anyone was hit.

I yelled, "Doc was hit." That is the first thing [Sanchez] says he remembers, me yelling, "Doc was hit." He mumbled, "I'm all right."

I helped him up, and we helped him get his weapon, which was probably 2 feet in front of him. We pushed around the corner where everyone else had pushed around, and he fell immediately. I was checking him out.

There was a puddle on the ground. I looked at it and thought it was blood.

Sanchez: My legs gave out. I was trying to put a tourniquet on my leg, trying to stop the bleeding. I was freaking out. But it was water. Luckily, I had the day pack full of water. That stopped most of the shrapnel from hitting my back. When I got to Charlie surgical, I emptied my pack. The bottom water bottles were torn up. There was shrapnel. But the water bottles stopped it.

I had shrapnel all over me. [The bomb] was pretty big. The blast tossed me 10 feet. That kept most of the shrapnel away from me. If [more] shrapnel would have hit me, I would have been dead.

THE squad went back to base, sent Kaminski and Sanchez to the surgical station, then set out again for Firecracker. The troops arrived shortly before midnight at the house they would occupy. Some of the homes around Firecracker were abandoned, but many, including this one, still had families living in them. The squad ushered the Iraqi residents into a back room, where they would be protected from an attack. Meantime, the Marines took up fighting positions on the roof and in some of the second-floor rooms.

The next day, fighting broke out in the early afternoon when a rocket-propelled grenade slammed into the side of the house. The RPG, designed to pierce the armor of tanks, has become one of the main weapons insurgents fire at American positions.

Cpl. Joseph J. Zigler, 23, of Stow, Ohio, and Lance Cpl. Daniel Turczan, 28, of Flushing, N.Y., were on the second floor of the house, peering out two windows, shielded by camouflage netting and a small piece of ballistic glass.

Zigler: It was 15, 20 minutes after I took post, the first RPG slammed into the building. When it hit the wall, it was just to the left of the window one of my Marines [Turczan] was in. That broke the window and sent a lot of glass and debris into the room. It is so loud you cannot decipher if it is one gun or 12. My ears felt like they were going to blow up.

Turczan: It was pretty loud. The first RPG messed up my hearing. After that, everything was muted; it was kind of dulled. I got into the prone [position] and then we got hit by a [machine gun] for about 30 seconds or so. It was spraying into the room.

I looked up once. To the side. I saw my team leader, Cpl. Zigler. He was taking cover too. You can't really see rounds flying. But what I did see was holes start to appear in the wall, in the masonry and stuff. It must have been 400 rounds coming in. But it has the same emotional impact as waiting for a stop sign.

The thing that goes through my head is: "I am not hit, and I am in the best position to be in." It wasn't always like that, but after a couple months here, you get desensitized to getting shot at. You basically do your job.

We got fired on by another RPG. I knew kind of where the fire was coming from. I saw how the glass was broken. I saw impact where most of the bullets hit. I was able to make a line back to the building across the street, 250 meters away. That building had a lot of bricks in the window so I figured that is where they were shooting from. At that point, I started shooting back.

THE Marines in another second-floor room, Lance Cpl. Gabriel Soto, 20, of Coral Springs, Fla., and Lance Cpl. Nicholas Kobus, 21, of Dalton, Mass., also began returning fire.

Soto: Once the fire stopped, I got up and started looking out the windows to see what I could see. I couldn't see too much, but we got engaged again. An RPG hit, and then we started taking rounds.

Cpl. Kobus was right there. He comes and engages with a Milkor 32 [grenade launcher]. When he was out of rounds, I started engaging with my M-16. We couldn't see anything. It was too crazy.

I am glad I didn't completely freeze up and just kind of hide in a corner. That is what you are told, everyone is different. You can be the hardest guy, and you might cower in the corner. And the guy who you think would just hide might be the only guy getting shots off. I didn't think I was the harder guy. I was more like, "Really, I hope I don't freeze up." Before this I was always hoping: If I get shot at, I hope I don't piss myself. I hope I friggin' send some rounds back.

AS the fighting continued, Hernandez ordered a team to go with him to the roof to try to get a better view of the insurgents firing at them. Among them were Cpl. Cory Schneider, 19, of Dayton, Ohio, and Lance Cpl. Michael Wilson, 19, of Foley, Ala.

Schneider: As I was running up the stairs, an RPG hit the wall right where I was running up. It was pretty scary, to tell you the truth. I wasn't expecting it. I was expecting to make it to the roof without interruption. The whole building shook. It knocked me down.

Wilson: We ran to the roof with our gear, our weapons and ammunition. We were trying to figure out where we were being fired at from.

I remember another blast going off just before we got to the roof. We think it was an [improvised explosive device] because it was in the road. It threw a lot of stuff, asphalt, straight up, and it landed on the roof we were on. Shortly after that, we started taking more small-arms fire.

You are focused on one thing. You hear better, you see better, everything is better. I guess it is the adrenaline. I really don't know.

FROM behind the protection of a wall that surrounded the roof, Hernandez and his squad members could scan the entire area around Firecracker. When the attackers fired another RPG, two Marines spotted the triggerman. Four hours had passed since the initial attack, and the Marines were starting to tire. The squad had a rocket called a lightweight antitank weapon, or LAW. The LAW rocket is the Marines' equivalent of an RPG and can be used to attack fortified positions.

Schneider: I saw the actual back-blast where the [RPG] came from…. That is where he was firing from. There is a lot of yelling when you are in contact. If you are not yelling, you are not going to be able to hear each other.

As you get exhausted, it is your training that kicks in and keeps you going even if your mind is not there. Not that I am saying my mind wasn't there. But it was muscle memory. You keep doing what you are supposed to be doing.

Kobus: The building they were shooting at us from wasn't as high as ours so we had a little bit of protection. We had a little bit better angle on them. As soon as they took their RPG shot, I popped up and saw the guy holding the launcher in his hand. He started running for the door.

Hernandez: Lance Cpl. Kobus had a visual and said that he was going to take the LAW rocket shot. It is kind of like a bazooka. I told the guys on post to lay down suppressive fire so he can take the shot. We gave him covering fire and he went out there.

Kobus: All I was worried about was taking the shot. If I can make the shot, I thought, we would stop taking fire, we would get the guys who were shooting at us. I shot it pretty much right as he ran into the door. It went into the window. It blew up. The only thing we saw was a little flash and a lot of smoke coming out.

Soto: The LAW rocket explosion wasn't as big as I thought it would be. I saw it go straight in, though. At that point they completely slowed down their fight. I don't think we got engaged after that.

When you are being engaged that much, your adrenaline is pumping so much you want the battle to keep going. It was good because you are like, "I do not have to worry about being shot at anymore," but the same time it is "damn, I want to shoot a little bit more."

Crans: We broke down the enemy's will to fight for the rest of the day. The enemy didn't know how much force they were dealing with.

Turczan: Basically it quieted down. They stopped shooting at us, and we didn't have anything to shoot at.

People started coming back on the street — residents of the neighborhood. After the shooting stopped, a couple minutes later, people started getting on with their lives. I imagine they are used to it. It must be something that happens a lot to them. This has been going on in the country for a while now.

Wilson: If you could have seen the room Turczan and Cpl. Zigler were in, you would be amazed that they were in one piece. There were bullet holes in the windows. Bullet holes inside the room on the walls. You just thank God they were OK.

I didn't know what to expect in Iraq. I knew it wouldn't be easy. I knew I might die. This is my first tour. I would say definitely this fight was the most intense. When other people bring it up, I keep thinking to myself, "How did I get so lucky?"

Kobus: Just thinking back on it, it was the most exciting day of my life. Nothing I have ever done compares to it. It is a memory I will keep for a while.

Zigler: I will save all the war stories for when I get home. I do not want to worry anyone too much. They know what goes on. My fiancee knows when something happens. My mom is the same way. They can always tell in my voice. But we kind of leave it at that. You think about it a little. You do think about it, but you can't think about it too much. You have a job to do.

THE battalion returned home last month after handing central Ramadi off to another group of Marines. All of the Marines in this article made it back safely. In all, 17 battalion members out of about 900 were killed during their seven months in Iraq.

Sanchez and Kaminski both recovered from their injuries and returned to duty. For his leadership during the July 4 fight, Hernandez was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal. Kobus was promoted to corporal and now has his own squad. Crans was also promoted and will soon lead a squad.

The battalion is due to return to the Middle East next year. The men are scheduled to serve as a reserve force ready to be called into Iraq if reinforcements are needed.
[email protected]

`Firecracker' explodes

Marines on a mission to secure the dangerous "Firecracker" intersection in Ramadi, Iraq, became engaged in a fierce battle that started July 4 and ended the next day. How the fighting unfolded:


1 An explosion hits a squad of Marines on its way to take up position in the intersection. The blast injures the squad's medical corpsman, forcing a temporary return to base.

2 The Marines take over a house overlooking the strategic intersection. They soon begin taking fire from insurgents in a building about 500 to 800 feet south.

3 Insurgents hit the house with rocket-propelled grenades and machine-gun fire. A group of Marines heads to the roof for a better vantage point.

4 Four hours into the battle, Lance Cpl. Nicholas Kobus fires an antitank missile from the roof, hitting an insurgent position. The insurgents stop firing.
Sources: Cpl. Caesar Hernandez, Times reporting, Google Earth; Graphics reporting by David Lauter and Julie Sheer
Illustrations by Lorena Iñiguez Los Angeles Times

*Former county resident commands a battalion in Iraq

The Iraqi city of Al Qaim lines the banks of the great Euphrates River at the western edge of the Al Anbar Province just miles from the Syrian border.


By Daniel Wolowicz [email protected]

The city is nearly 200 miles northwest of Baghdad and is home to about 230,000 Sunni Muslims. Last November, American troops took back control of the city that had been overrun by insurgents.

Now back in the hands of a local government, its residents are working toward rebuilding their war-torn city. The security of Al Qaim's reconstruction efforts is due in large part to the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines-an infantry battalion made up of about 1,100 Marines.

Their commander, Lt. Col. Scott Shuster, a graduate of Adolfo Camarillo High School, oversees a task force that includes his troops, as well as 1,900 additional Iraqi police and soldiers.

The 40-year-old Marine was commissioned as an officer in 1988 shortly after graduating from the University of California at Los Angeles with a degree in political science.

Shuster took command of his battalion in May and said he will probably hand over his post in the spring of 2008.

Corresponding by e-mail, Shuster explains his battalion's goals and describes the U.S. military presence in Iraq as a partnership, not an occupying force.

The Oceanside resident and father of a teenage son and daughter provides a glimpse into the daily challenges his command faces in Iraq:

Why did you join the Marines? Was there someone in your family who also had served in the Marines?

I am the first member of my family to join the Marines. I chose the Marines for the challenge.

What do you find most fulfilling about serving as a Marine?

There are several things that I find fulfilling about serving as a Marine. Through my service I contribute to the preservation of our way of life. There is never a dull moment and I get to work with Marines. President Reagan once said, "Some people go through life wondering if they made a difference; Marines don't have that problem."

Is it true you helped lead the Marines' invasion of Fallujah? That has been called the largest urban assault in the history of the Marines.

I did not lead Marines in the assault on Fallujah in November 2004. There were over 10,000

U.S. troops directly involved in the assault, and it was in fact the largest in Marine Corps history. It was not the largest in U.S. military history.

I was the G-3 plans officer for the 1st Marine Division in Al Anbar Province at that time. I led the planning teams that developed the division's scheme of maneuver and determined what possible enemy courses of action must be addressed in order to have a successful assault.

Then I was responsible for writing the operations order for the division's assault. During the assault I assisted . . . with rapid response planning to address issues and situations that arose.

Who is your commanding officer?

My direct commanding officer is Col. W.B. Crowe. He commands Regimental Combat Team7 headquartered in Al Asad, Iraq.

What is your battalion's objective in Al Qaim?

Our ultimate objective is to train Iraqi police and Iraqi army units to conduct independent operations, enabling them to provide a secure and stable environment for the people of Iraq.

To accomplish that objective, what types of missions or patrols are your Marines conducting?

We conduct combined counterinsurgency operations with our Iraqi security force partners. That means that we conduct mounted and dismounted patrols in urban and rural areas sidebyside with the Iraqis.

The purposes of the patrols vary depending on the area and what intelligence tells us. Our patrols have several general purposes: census patrols-- who lives or works here? Presence patrols- -think "beat cop." Security patrols--think "crime prevention."

In addition to the counterinsurgency operations, we conduct training and mentoring with the Iraqis.

All of my units have Iraqis living with them and training with them in their positions. My unit commanders spend time on a daily basis partnered with their counterparts in the Iraqi police and in the Iraqi army to help them develop their units' capabilities.

U.S. troop deaths in Iraq reached 100 during October, the highest monthly toll in the past year. Are your troops conducting their patrols or missions differently than they were earlier this year, or is Al Qaim in general quieter than Fallujah and Baghdad?

We have been in Al Qaim since early September . . . I cannot say how we would be doing things differently from earlier in the year.

A better answer is to tell you that we are constantly evaluating what we do and what we have observed of insurgent tactics techniques and procedures and adjust accordingly.

We adjust from week to week, and in some cases from day to day. Counterinsurgency operations are fluid and ever-changing.

Would it be fair to say the overall mission of the Marines in Al Qaim has changed in the past year from that of an invading force to that of an occupying force?

Last year, during November, Lt. Col. Julian Alford's battalion did in fact conduct a clearing operation designed to rid the area of insurgents and terrorists who had become entrenched. The people of Al Qaim refer to that operation as the "liberation of Al Qaim."

The mayor of Al Qaim, Mayor Farhan T. Farhan, and the Regional Council just thanked me the other day for one year of growth and prosperity since their liberation. The Iraqis have their own sovereign government and function in those capacities.

I spend a lot of my time meeting with local civic leadership and discussing economic and security issues. I also spend time with the chief of police and the Iraqi army leadership in my area.

I would not describe us as an occupying force. I believe that we are a partnered force. Over 25 percent of the patrols and other security functions performed in my area of operations are conducted independently by the Iraqi security forces.

How much control do insurgents have in Al Qaim?

Insurgents do not have control in Al Qaim.

Are the Iraqi police working with your troops, or is it true that many of the local police are corrupt and aligned with insurgents?

There are a few clandestine cells that attempt to disrupt security and stability using terrorist tactics.

What is an "insurgent" in Al Qaim?

There are several different groups here, as is true throughout Iraq. For security reasons I cannot identify them for you; however, I can describe them.

Insurgents in Al Qaim fall into four general groups: foreign fighters, former regime elements, extremists and criminals.

None of them have a "vision" for the future of Iraq. They all are "against" something. Criminals are against order, former regime elements and extremists are against democracy, and foreign fighters and extremists are against anything involving Americans.

There's been considerable talk stateside about troop numbers in Iraq. Many high-ranking military officials have voiced frustration with the Department of Defense for not putting more troops on the ground to help stop the increasing sectarian violence. Do you believe there are enough troops to do an effective job?

I have what I need to train Iraqi security forces. I could not execute my security mission without the Iraqi security forces that are in my area of operations. The sectarian violence that you refer to is largely not present in my area of operations . . . I really cannot comment on that part of your question.

Do you see Iraq moving toward civil war? If so, what do you think it will take to keep Sunnis and Shiites from dividing the country?

I do not have any Shiites in my area. My population is 100 percent Sunni . . . therefore, I really cannot comment on this question.

Is there anything you'd like to say that we didn't ask?

The Iraqis that I deal with on a daily basis are good people who want a stable, independent, free Iraq. They are open and friendly; they are concerned for their families and their future.

We are all extremely grateful for all the letters of support that we receive from Americans all over the United States. Your Marines and sailors are genuinely moved by the generosity of the American people. I would like to take this opportunity to thank them.

Shuster lives in Oceanside, Calif. He and his wife, Corinne, have been married for 18 years. They have two children, Erin, 17, and Matt, 13.

Sniper Attacks Adding to Peril of U.S. Troops

KARMA, Iraq, Nov. 3 — The bullet passed through Lance Cpl. Juan Valdez-Castillo as his Marine patrol moved down a muddy urban lane. It was a single shot. The lance corporal fell against a wall, tried to stand and fell again. Note: There is a very graphic photojournalist's slide show that is available with the original article. The narrated slide show depicts a Marine being wounded by a sniper. Please use your discretion for viewing the multimedia slide show. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/04/world/middleeast/04sniper.html?_r=1&adxnnl;=1&adxnnlx;=1162996198-cb3jQ23q8mjHN8Nd/r2lEw&oref;=slogin By C. J. CHIVERS Published: November 4, 2006 His squad leader, Sgt. Jesse E. Leach, faced where the shot had come from, raised his rifle and grenade launcher and quickly stepped between the sniper and the bloodied marine. He walked backward, scanning, ready to fire. Shielding the marine with his own thick body, he grabbed the corporal by a strap and dragged him across a muddy road to a line of tall reeds, where they were concealed. He put down his weapon, shouted orders and cut open the lance corporal’s uniform, exposing a bubbling wound. Lance Corporal Valdez-Castillo, shot through the right arm and torso, was saved. But the patrol was temporarily stuck. The marines were engaged in the task of calling for a casualty evacuation while staring down their barrels at dozens of windows that faced them, as if waiting for a ghost’s next move. This sequence on Tuesday here in Anbar Province captured in a matter of seconds an expanding threat in the war in Iraq. In recent months, military officers and enlisted marines say, the insurgents have been using snipers more frequently and with greater effect, disrupting the military’s operations and fueling a climate of frustration and quiet rage. Across Iraq, the threat has become serious enough that in late October the military held an internal conference about it, sharing the experiences of combat troops and discussing tactics to counter it. There has been no ready fix. The battalion commander of Sergeant Leach’s unit — the Second Battalion, Eighth Marines — recalled eight sniper hits on his marines in three months and said there had been other possible incidents as well. Two of the battalion’s five fatalities have come from snipers, he said, and one marine is in a coma. Another marine gravely wounded by a sniper has suffered a stroke. A sniper team was captured in the area a few weeks ago, he said, but more have taken its place. “The enemy has the ability to regenerate, and after we put a dent in his activity, we see sniper activity again,” said the commander, Lt. Col. Kenneth M. DeTreux. Marines in two infantry companies recounted more cases, telling of lone shots that zipped in as if from nowhere, striking turrets and walls within inches of marines. They typically occur when the marines are not engaged in combat. It is as if, they say, they are being watched. By many measures, the Iraqi snipers have showed unexceptional marksmanship, usually shooting from within 300 yards, far less than ranges preferred by the elite snipers in Western military units. But as the insurgent sniper teams have become more active, the marines here say, they have displayed greater skill, selecting their targets and their firing positions with care. They have also developed cunning methods of mobility and concealment, including firing from shooting platforms and hidden ports within cars. They often use variants of the long-barreled Dragunov rifle, which shoots higher-powered ammunition than the much more common Kalashnikov assault rifles. Their marksmanship has improved to the point of being good enough. “In the beginning of the war, sniping wasn’t something that the Iraqis did,” said Capt. Glen Taylor, the executive officer of the battalion’s Company G, who is on his third combat tour. “It was like, ‘If Allah wants that bullet to hit its target, it will.’ But they are starting to realize how effective it is.” The insurgents are recruiting snipers and centralizing their instruction, the captain said, meaning that the phenomenon is likely to grow. “They have training camps — they go around and advertise,” he said. “We heard from some of our sources that the insurgents were going around with loudspeakers, saying that if you want to be a sniper we will pay you three times whatever your salary is now.” The marines also express their belief that the sniper teams have a network of spotters, and that each time the marines leave their outpost, spotters hidden among the Iraqi population call the snipers and tell them where the marines are and what they are doing. The snipers then arrive. For the infantry, Iraq’s improved snipers have created confounding new dangers, as an unseen enemy plucks members from their ranks. Most of the time, the marines said, the snipers aim for their heads, necks and armpits, displaying knowledge of gaps in their protective gear. They typically shoot once and disappear. And they often fire on the opposite side of obstacles like canals, which limits a unit’s ability to capture the sniper or respond with fire. Skip to next paragraph The Reach of War Go to Complete Coverage » Multimedia Audio & Photos 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines “That’s the biggest thing that tears marines apart,” said Cpl. Curtis S. Cota-Robles of Company G, who was standing beside a marine who was shot through the collarbone in late September. “They hit us when we are vulnerable, and then they are gone.” As part of their counterinsurgency operations, the marines working in Anbar are under orders to show restraint, a policy rooted in hopes of winning the trust of the civilian population. Iraqi snipers seem to know these rules and use them for their own protection. They often fire from among civilians, the marines say, having observed that unless the marines have a clear target, they will not shoot. In two sniper shootings witnessed by two journalists for The New York Times, on Oct. 30 and 31, the snipers fired from among civilians. The marines did not fire back. In conditions where killing the snipers has proved difficult, the marines have tried to find ways to limit their effectiveness. Signs inside Marine positions display an often-spoken rule: “Make yourself hard to kill.” Many marines, on operations, do an understated dance they call “cutting squares.” It is not really a square at all. They zig and zag as they walk, and when they stop they shift weight from foot to foot, bobbing their heads. They change the rhythm often, so that when a sniper who might be watching them thinks they are about to zig, they have zagged. Now and then they squat, shift weight to one leg and stand up beside the place where they had just been. Maj. Sean Riordan, the battalion executive officer, described his own unpredictable jigs as “my little salsa dance.” As they move, the marines often peer down their own scopes, looking at windows, rooftops, lines of brush. Then they might step backward, or forward, or duck, as if saying: try to shoot that. But as operations drag on, some marines begin to stop cutting squares. And sometimes even those that are moving are still shot. And there are special dangers. Lance Cpl. Colin Smith, who was shot on Monday, was behind a machine gun in a vehicle turret, a position that placed him higher in the air than a walking marine. Turret gunners are protected by armor shields, but their heads are often exposed. He was struck in the skull. He survived but fell into a coma and was placed on life support. Lance Corporal Valdez-Castillo, who was shot on Tuesday, was a radio operator — a preferred sniper’s target since radios and rifles first mixed on the battlefield many decades ago. A tactical radio can provide a link to mortars, artillery, air support and other infantry units. Ten marines, several soldiers from the nascent Iraqi Army and two journalists were walking exposed in a column when the shot was fired and he went down; his antenna probably made him the sniper’s pick. Lance Corporal Valdez-Castillo has been flown to a military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany. He is in good condition and has spoken to his unit. In both cases the sniper fired from the other side of a canal, among civilians and a group of buildings. The advantages were his. Seeing the risks, the commanders have been shifting tactics to reduce the marines’ vulnerability while still trying to keep them out on the streets, interacting with Iraqis and searching for insurgents and arms caches. Some units have limited their foot patrols by day, finding them to be too dangerous. They still enter neighborhoods in armored vehicles and dismount, but often quickly step into buildings to interview people inside. They continue to patrol on foot at night, because the Iraqi snipers have not yet shown the sophistication to fire with precision in the dark, and the marines’ night vision equipment and weapons sights give them the upper hand. They also cover most of their vital organs with protective armor plates, which have saved several of them when the Iraqi snipers have fired. One marine, Gunnery Sgt. Shawn M. Dempsey of Weapons Company, was shot in the back as he helped a small girl across a street. The plate saved him. He remains on duty as a platoon commander. Another, Lance Cpl. Edward Knuth of Company G, was hit as his squad searched a watermelon market beside a main road. No one in his squad heard the shot, which he said was probably made from a vehicle parked on the highway. All they heard was the impact of the bullet on his plate. “It was like a smacking sound,” he said. The force of the impact, like being struck with a baseball bat, knocked him to his knees. A marine swiftly dragged him to cover. Then his squad rushed the line of cars. They found nothing. The sniper had escaped. “They’re good,” Lance Corporal Knuth said, showing a crumbling, coin-sized hole in his armor where the bullet stopped. “They take their time. They’re patient. They only take one shot most of the time, and they are hard to find.” After Lance Corporal Valdez-Castillo was shot and evacuated, a sweat-soaked, bloodied Sergeant Leach led his team through the rest of his patrol. When the marines re-entered the wire, an angry debriefing began. Move quickly through the open areas, the noncommissioned officers told the troops. Don’t stand high on the berms. Camouflage the radios. Keep your eyes out and rifles ready. Little was said about how to kill the sniper; the marines did not know where he was. They passed cigarettes and smoked them in the sun, and fumed. “I’ll carry the radio next time,” said Lance Cpl. Peter Sprague. “I don’t have any kids.”

November 2, 2006

*Troubled troops in no-win plight

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. — Chris Packley returned from Fallujah in 2004 a top marksman on a sniper team showcased in the Marine Corps Times for its 22 kills.

"I was exceptionally proud of that Marine," says Gunnery Sgt. Scott Guise, his former team leader.


Updated 11/2/2006 8:39 AM ET
By Gregg Zoroya, USA TODAY

He also came home with flashbacks — memories of his friend, Lance Cpl. Michael Blake Wafford, 20, dying on the battlefield. Packley says he smoked marijuana to try to escape the images. He also left the base without permission. "I wanted out," Packley says.

Last year he got his wish and was expelled from the Marine Corps. As a consequence, he lost access to the free counseling and medication he needed to treat the mental wounds left from combat, according to Packley, his former defense lawyer and documents from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Scores of combat veterans like Packley are being dismissed from the Marines without the medical benefits needed to treat combat stress, says Lt. Col. Colby Vokey, who supervises the legal defense of Marines in the western USA, including here at Camp Pendleton.

When classic symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) arise — including alcoholism and drug abuse — the veterans are punished for the behavior, Vokey says. Their less-than-honorable discharges can lead to a denial of VA benefits. Vokey calls it a Catch-22, referring to the no-win situation showcased in Joseph Heller's 1961 satirical war novel Catch-22.

"The Marine Corps has created these mental health issues" in combat veterans, Vokey says, "and then we just kind of kick them out into the streets."

Characters in Catch-22 were caught in a contradiction. They could be relieved of dangerous flying missions if crazy. But if they claimed to be crazy, they were deemed sane for trying to avoid danger and had to keep flying.

In Iraq, Marines who perform well in combat can be lauded for it. But if they develop PTSD, they can be punished for stress-related misconduct, kicked out of the military and denied treatment for their illness.

In recent months, the Marine Corps has begun investigating the matter, identifying 1,019 Marines who may fall into this group since the war in Iraq began. All served at least one year in the Marines and one tour overseas before being discharged for misconduct.

"We're digging down into the data sources we have to try and come up with answers," says Navy Capt. William Nash, who coordinates the Marine Corps' combat stress programs. "That it happens at all is obviously not ideal."

He says each case will be examined to learn whether the Marine suffered combat stress and whether that might have contributed to the misconduct.

The results could help the Marine Corps flag combat-stressed Marines and help them avoid getting into trouble, Nash says.

More aggressive about PTSD

The military has moved more aggressively in this war to educate and treat combat stress than in previous conflicts. Mental health teams have been sent to Iraq and Afghanistan. Soldiers and Marines are asked about their mental and physical health before and after their tours.

A 2004 Army study showed that about 17% of combat troops suffer PTSD, a rate comparable with Vietnam-era stress among such troops, says Joseph Boscarino, a senior investigator with the Geisinger Center for Health Research in Danville, Pa., who has conducted extensive PTSD research on Vietnam veterans.

Vokey and his lawyers say they are convinced, based on reviews of medical records, that combat stress was a major factor in the misconduct cases. They argue that either the Pentagon or VA should revise its policies so that these combat veterans are not stripped of the medical care they need to get better.

"People would be appalled if the guy came back and he had lost a leg, lost a limb, and then we say, 'Oh, you had a DUI (driving under the influence), so you're going to have to give your prosthetic back,' " says Marine Capt. James Weirick, a former member of Vokey's staff. "But to a great extent, we're doing that with these people."

Packley, 24, received an other-than-honorable discharge. According to a VA document Packley's mother, Patricia, shared with USA TODAY, the department acknowledges he has PTSD but denied him benefits in July.

"You go to war and they can't even help you with the problems you get from it," says Packley, who now does state highway construction in Joliet, Ill.

He says he has been off anti-anxiety, anti-depression and sleep medications for months because he cannot afford it. "I'm just so stressed," he says. "It doesn't take much to get me almost panic-stricken anymore."

Heroes in trouble

Marine Capt. Mike Studenka, who supervises a law office located amid infantry battalions at Camp Pendleton, says he sees about 40 Marines each month who are in trouble. About a third fit the profile of combat veterans with impressive records who suddenly have drug or alcohol problems and face dismissal and loss of benefits.

"You have guys coming in this building who are, no question about it, heroes in everything that they have done in the past," Studenka says. "You have them saying, 'I just need to get out. I want out.' That breaks your heart."

The Marine Corps says post-traumatic stress disorder is no legal defense to misconduct and that discipline must be maintained.

"PTSD does not force anyone to do an illegal act," Nash says. "The consequences to the Marine Corps of not upholding those standards of behavior would be a much greater tragedy. It would dishonor all those Marines who have been injured by the stress of war but who have not broken the rules."

Marines, sailors, soldiers and airmen who get in trouble can receive one of four discharges. The lightest is a general discharge, often described as "under honorable conditions," in which recipients remain eligible for most VA benefits.

More serious misconduct can lead to an other-than-honorable discharge or, worse, a bad conduct discharge. A serious felony results in a dishonorable discharge.

The law prohibits a veteran from receiving the full spectrum of VA benefits — such things as health care, insurance and home loans — in certain cases, such as those involving deserters, conscientious objectors or those who receive dishonorable discharges.

But the VA has discretion to grant full benefits in other-than-honorable or bad conduct discharge cases. It can still deny them if the agency decides the underlying misconduct was "willful and persistent," a largely subjective decision, VA official Jack McCoy says.

Statistics from 1990 through September show that about eight out of 10 veterans who received bad-conduct discharges were turned down when they sought benefits, McCoy says.

Few exceptions

Even if the full package of benefits is denied, the VA can still grant health care for specific war-related injuries such as PTSD. Gary Baker, director of the VA's health eligibility center, says that in his 20 years of experience he has seen this exception granted fewer than six times.

The VA offers temporary counseling, but no medication, for veterans who are appealing their discharges. Counseling ends if the appeal fails. Vokey argues that the VA could relax its practices and treat veterans who are discharged for PTSD-related misconduct.

Mental health experts say this problem almost certainly occurred in prior wars. But combat-induced mental disorders and how they may contribute to bad behavior were not as well understood.

The issue exists today in the Army but to a lesser degree, says Army Lt. Col. John Wells, a former supervising defense lawyer. Combat-stress cases involving misconduct are handled in informal ways that often do not lead to a loss of benefits, Wells says.

The Marine Corps, by comparison, prides itself on its strict standards.

"We take discipline infraction very seriously," says Lt. Col. Scott Fazekas, a Marine Corps spokesman. It prosecutes about the same number of troops as the Army each year for misconduct, though it is only one-third the Army's size.

The Marine Corps also does a disproportionate share of fighting and dying in Iraq, making up 20% of U.S. ground forces while suffering 30% of the casualties. More than 10% of American troops who died in Iraq were Marines from Camp Pendleton, which has lost almost 300, more than any other military base.

Marine Corps statistics, though incomplete, show PTSD cases doubled from about 250 in 2003 to 596 in 2004, and then doubled again to 1,229 in 2005.

Although Marine Corps officials say the service has come a long way in recognizing and treating PTSD, they acknowledge that it still struggles to provide treatment resources and to overcome the stigma against those who suffer mental health problems.

"There might be some commanders out there who aren't really willing to accept that there is such a thing as post-traumatic stress syndrome," says Marine Col. Hank Donegan, a military intelligence officer at Pendleton.

Vokey and his staff agree that many troubled Marines should leave the Marine Corps, for their sake and that of the Corps. To strip them of benefits is wrong, they say. "It seems to me our country has bought that problem and we ought to fix it as best we can," says Melissa Epstein, a Los Angeles lawyer and former Marine captain on Vokey's staff.

A medal winner's trauma

One of those PTSD cases involved Ryan Birrell, 24, who served as a sergeant with the 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment. After his second tour, in 2004-05, he received the Bronze Star with a "V" for combat heroism.

The citation described five separate episodes of valor, including one morning in February 2005 when Birrell organized the defense of a fog-shrouded observation post in Husaybah that came under multiple attacks by insurgents and suicide car-bombers. A wounded Birrell rallied his troops, tended to casualties and directed fire, often while exposed to enemy gunfire.

"Sgt. Birrell reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest tradition of the Marine Corps," his citation reads.

After coming home, Birrell took an assignment earlier this year as a drill instructor at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, and his life began to fall apart.

Diagnosed with PTSD, he suddenly demanded a divorce from his wife, abused alcohol and methamphetamine and left his base without permission, say Birrell and Weirick, then his lawyer.

Kicked out of the Marine Corps with an other-than-honorable discharge, he lived in Tijuana, Mexico, for months, often homeless.

"What brought me down there was how the streets were kind of like being in Iraq — that kind of turmoil-type stuff," Birrell says now.

Birrell says that in Tijuana, he could fill his head with thoughts of where to find food or shelter.

Growing tired of that life, he finally called his parents and they brought him to their home in Las Vegas last month. "Life is great," says his mother, Kim Lukas, who says she's ecstatic to have him home again.

For Birrell, who now lives in Torrance, Calif., insomnia is back. "When I do sleep," he says, "I'm constantly waking up from dreams, constantly tired throughout the day." His nightmares are of war. He visited VA offices Tuesday asking for benefits despite his other-than-honorable discharge. Birrell says he needs treatment for his PTSD. Weirick fears they will turn him down regardless of his battlefield heroism.

Lukas says that makes her angry. "He's done two tours over there, and God knows how many lives he's saved," she says. "He's going to need the care."

Disabled Military Veterans to Get Memorial of Their Own

WASHINGTON, Nov. 2, 2006 – The nation’s capital is awash with military-themed statues and memorials. Yet, there isn’t a memorial honoring the sacrifices of America’s disabled military veterans.


By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

That’s going to change, Lois B. Pope, a noted Florida-based philanthropist, said today at the Ronald Reagan Building and Trade Center here. At a breakfast event, Pope kicked off the start of the “Faces of Freedom” photography exhibit featuring the work of lensman Rick Steele, who in 2005 spent four months in western Iraq embedded with U.S. Marines.

Pope is also co-founder and chairman of the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial Foundation. The foundation, she noted, has raised half the money needed to build the $65 million marble and glass memorial. It will be located on two acres of land adjacent to the National Mall within view of the U.S. Capitol. Pope said groundbreaking is set for 2008, with completion planned in 2010.

The American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial will honor America’s 3 million disabled military veterans living today, Pope said.

“It’s a salute to them, to honor their valor, their courage and their sacrifice,” she said. “And, it’s a way of educating the American people, that war isn’t just about bombs and bullets and death and destruction. It’s about human beings, like these young men and women here today, who stand up for the highest values inherent in all of us.”

Without the efforts of America’s military members, “we wouldn’t have any of the freedoms that we enjoy today,” Pope said.

Also present at the breakfast were retired Army Capt. Leslie Smith, 37, and retired Army Staff Sgt. Christian Bagge, 24, both disabled veterans and spokespeople for the foundation.

Smith was serving on active duty in Bosnia-Herzegovina when she was medically evacuated stateside in March 2002 due to a blood disorder. The condition almost killed the public affairs officer, and part of her left leg had to be amputated. She also permanently lost sight in her left eye. Smith, who’s originally from Gettysburg, Pa., is thankful that a memorial is being built to recognize the sacrifices of America’s disabled veterans.

“We are going to see this memorial being built from the ground up,” Smith said. “And each step that is taken is going to represent more recovery that all of us are going to go through.”

Today, Smith runs, skis and kayaks. She has an active role with the U.S. Olympic Committee’s Paralympic Military Program, assisting in the development of future programs and with sporting events for wounded warriors.

Bagge, then an infantry sergeant in the Oregon National Guard, was traveling in a convoy south of Kirkuk, Iraq, when an enemy-emplaced roadside bomb detonated near his vehicle on June 3, 2005. He lost both legs due to the explosion and sustained nerve damage in his left arm.

The injured noncommissioned officer was promoted to staff sergeant during a stint on active duty at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, after leaving the Guard. Bagge was medically retired from the Army at the end of July.

The memorial will become an important symbol of healing for disabled veterans, Bagge predicted. “It’s about hundreds of thousands of people just like me that left a part of themselves on the other side of the world, or were (otherwise) wounded,” he said. “It’s important to honor their sacrifice.”

Steve D. Tough, president of Health Net Federal Services, LLC, said his company is a co-sponsor of the disabled veterans memorial project. Health Net does work for the military’s TRICARE health care program, he noted.

“When we had an opportunity to support the development of this memorial, and certainly the photographs by Mr. Steele, we felt a good connection to this because we can relate to the (military) beneficiary community,” Tough said. “It brings us back home to those we serve.”

Photographer Steele’s camera’s lens captured the comradeship among young U.S. Marines pulling dangerous duty in Iraq. His 100-photo “Faces of Freedom: Scenes of Courage, Sacrifice and Daily Life in Iraq” exhibit depicts his experiences in Iraq from June to September in 2005. The exhibit will run at the Reagan Building until April 2007.

“You have a 19-year-old (Marine) talking about how he doesn’t have to worry about turning his back, because he knows somebody is there to watch out for him,” Steele, 32, recalled.

Steele also related his “moments of clarity” after surviving enemy attacks. “You start thinking of everything that could have happened,” he noted.

The photographer said he was very impressed with the professionalism displayed by the Marines he saw in Iraq. “Marines are really proud to be Marines. They certainly believe in the mission they have out there.

“They have a job to do, and they do it,” Steele said.

Pentagon Channel ‘Recon’ Sheds Light on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

WASHINGTON, Nov. 2, 2006 – The Pentagon Channel is taking an in-depth look at post-traumatic stress disorder in a new edition of its monthly documentary “Recon.” The half-hour show, called “The Wounds Within,” explores how the understanding of PTSD has evolved from the Civil War to World Wars I and II to Vietnam and now to operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.


By David Mays
Special to American Forces Press Service

It also demonstrates how the Department of Defense is aggressively treating servicemembers returning from battle today, Pentagon Channel officials said.

“It’s not a small problem,” said Air Force Master Sgt. Daniela Marchus, who hosts the show. “Seeking help is such an important thing.”

Former Marine David Powell is featured in “The Wounds Within.” He was shot outside Danang, Vietnam, in 1968. “I saw the track of the bullet pass through the flak jacket of the fellow in front of me, and it was as if someone was pulling a thread,” Powell said. “The recall is vivid beyond imagination.”

Powell returned from battle with a Purple Heart but limited treatment options. “There was no decompression,” he said. “You were one thing: a combat veteran trying to save your own life.”

Army Pfc. Brian Daniels also is profiled in this program. His right leg was severely injured when a roadside bomb rocked his Humvee in Iraq. “I remember the smell, the sound,” he said. “It seems like it was yesterday.”

Unlike his counterparts wounded in Vietnam, Daniels was diagnosed with PTSD and quickly offered counseling.

“In the Civil War it was called ‘nostalgia’; following World War I it was called ‘shell shock’; following World War II it was called ‘combat fatigue’,” Dr. Robert Ursano of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences told “Recon” producers. “There’s always been a name, but never as much focus and trying to understand and intervene.”

But even with today’s understanding and treatment, “The Wounds Within” shows why many servicemembers refuse to seek help.

“There’s a stigmatization of mental health,” said Army Lt. Gen. Kevin Kiley, the service’s surgeon general. “It’s a challenge to break through the stigma.”

Many other wounded servicemembers share very personal stories of how they survived, how they were able to seek treatment and how they are coping today in this emotionally charged “Recon.”

Marchus said she hopes “The Wounds Within” will spark discussion about PTSD and prompt servicemembers who are suffering in silence to ask for help. “They are suffering emotionally,” she said. “They are not alone.”

“Recon: The Wounds Within” premiers tomorrow at noon Eastern on the Pentagon Channel. It will encore throughout the month.

(David Mays works for the Pentagon Channel.)

Pentagon Channel ‘Recon’ Sheds Light on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

WASHINGTON, Nov. 2, 2006 – The Pentagon Channel is taking an in-depth look at post-traumatic stress disorder in a new edition of its monthly documentary “Recon.” The half-hour show, called “The Wounds Within,” explores how the understanding of PTSD has evolved from the Civil War to World Wars I and II to Vietnam and now to operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.

Note: There is a link to an emotionally charged half-hour documentary explores the debilitating condition of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Please use your discretion for viewing the video.


By David Mays
Special to American Forces Press Service

It also demonstrates how the Department of Defense is aggressively treating servicemembers returning from battle today, Pentagon Channel officials said.

“It’s not a small problem,” said Air Force Master Sgt. Daniela Marchus, who hosts the show. “Seeking help is such an important thing.”

Former Marine David Powell is featured in “The Wounds Within.” He was shot outside Danang, Vietnam, in 1968. “I saw the track of the bullet pass through the flak jacket of the fellow in front of me, and it was as if someone was pulling a thread,” Powell said. “The recall is vivid beyond imagination.”

Powell returned from battle with a Purple Heart but limited treatment options. “There was no decompression,” he said. “You were one thing: a combat veteran trying to save your own life.”

Army Pfc. Brian Daniels also is profiled in this program. His right leg was severely injured when a roadside bomb rocked his Humvee in Iraq. “I remember the smell, the sound,” he said. “It seems like it was yesterday.”

Unlike his counterparts wounded in Vietnam, Daniels was diagnosed with PTSD and quickly offered counseling.

“In the Civil War it was called ‘nostalgia’; following World War I it was called ‘shell shock’; following World War II it was called ‘combat fatigue’,” Dr. Robert Ursano of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences told “Recon” producers. “There’s always been a name, but never as much focus and trying to understand and intervene.”

But even with today’s understanding and treatment, “The Wounds Within” shows why many servicemembers refuse to seek help.

“There’s a stigmatization of mental health,” said Army Lt. Gen. Kevin Kiley, the service’s surgeon general. “It’s a challenge to break through the stigma.”

Many other wounded servicemembers share very personal stories of how they survived, how they were able to seek treatment and how they are coping today in this emotionally charged “Recon.”

Marchus said she hopes “The Wounds Within” will spark discussion about PTSD and prompt servicemembers who are suffering in silence to ask for help. “They are suffering emotionally,” she said. “They are not alone.”

“Recon: The Wounds Within” premiers tomorrow at noon Eastern on the Pentagon Channel. It will encore throughout the month.

(David Mays works for the Pentagon Channel.)

Embedded Reporter Recounts Wounding Of Avon Lake Marine; Marine Injured In Iraq When Bullet Pierced Helmet

CLEVELAND -- New details have emerged about a northeast Ohio Marine injured in Iraq


POSTED: November 2, 2006

Avon Lake native Lance Cpl. Colin Smith is now on life support at a military hospital in Germany.

On Thursday an article appeared in the New York Times written by a reporter who was with the 20-year-old Marine when he was injured, detailing a first-hand report on what happened and on Smith's initial condition.

Reporter C.J. Chivers was embedded in Smith's Marine unit and described the events surrounding the shooting that injured the 2005 graduate of Avon Lake High School.

Accompanying the article was a photograph of a medic holding the bullet that pierced Smith's helmet and struck his head.

Chivers wrote, "No one was precisely sure where it had come from. Everyone knew precisely where it hit. It struck a Marine who was peering out of the first vehicle's gun turret. He collapsed."

On the New York Times Web site, Chivers described how a combat medic attended the wounded Smith.

"He bandaged the Marine's head as the vehicle lurched away. Soon he helped load the wounded Marine into a helicopter which touched down beside the convoy within 12 minutes of the shot," he wrote.

Students and faculties in the Avon Lake School District have their thoughts on Smith and his family.

"We're worried about Colin and his family. Our prayers are with them. Our thoughts are with them," said Superintendent Bob Scott.

NewsChannel5 learned that there could be plans to soon move Smith from Germany back to a U.S. military hospital.

Injured Marine from Ohio put on life support

AVON LAKE, Ohio (AP) — An Ohio Marine was shot in the head while on patrol with his unit in Iraq and was flown to a hospital in Germany, where he has been placed on life support, family members said.


Thursday, November 02, 2006

Lance Cpl. Colin Smith was wounded Monday in Anbar province and suffered a severe brain injury, said his uncle, Douglas Smith.

Military officials said they had no information about how Colin Smith was injured. First Lt. Blanca Binstock, a Marine spokeswoman, said Smith was taken to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.

A 2005 graduate of Avon Lake High School, west of Cleveland, Smith was sent to Iraq from Camp Lejeune, N.C., in July, said his mother, Melissa Smith.

He signed up a year before he graduated and chose the Marines because he believed they are "the best of the best," his mother said.

*Unmanned Aerial Vehicle squadron continues surveillance in Iraq

AL ANBAR PROVINCE, Iraq (Nov. 2, 2006) -- While it has no onboard pilot, its small frame carries a high-performance camera that provides instant tactical information to ground troops in Operation Iraqi Freedom.


Nov. 2, 2006; Submitted on: 11/03/2006 07:11:23 AM ; Story ID#: 200611371123
By Cpl. Jonathan K. Teslevich, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing

The Pioneer unmanned aerial vehicle flown by Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 1, Marine Air Control Group 38 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), requires the same support as other Marine aircraft to successfully carry out their mission of supporting Coalition Forces.

Marines in different work sections throughout the unit are specifically tailored to perform a multitude of tasks that ensure the intelligence-gathering UAV gets airborne daily.

“We’re set up pretty much like any other aviation squadron,” said Master Sgt. Darryl L. Shaw, the Watchdogs maintenance chief and Quincey, Fla., native. “We have maintenance, administration and quality assurance sections. Their responsibilities are pretty much the same as any other aviation squadron. The sections are just smaller than a normal squadron that might have 30 or 40 Marines in a section. We have a dozen.”

The Watchdogs exceed their fellow squadrons in personnel in its operations and intelligence sections, where dozens of Marines are responsible for the flying and the analysis of the information recorded by the UAV’s camera.

“As an internal operator, I fly the airplane, navigating it to support the ground units,” said Lance Cpl. Gabriel F. Acevedo, a Yonkers, N.Y., native. “I also handle the payload side, which is operating the camera. It’s like flying a remote control airplane. You just fly around or set it up to orbit. We can even stay directly above a hole in a building and see what’s inside.”

The UAV’s ability to successfully rocket into the sky during takeoff is not solely due to the expert operators controlling it. The Watchdog’s maintenance Marines spend hours each day inspecting and repairing the small aircraft.

“The avionics Marines are responsible for anything electronic on the aircraft,” said Cpl. Jon M. Chaney, the avionics section noncommissioned officer-in-charge and Yukon, Okla., native. “We handle all onboard communications equipment that is used to control it. It’s mostly simple work -- repairing connections and wires. Most of the work is a result of moisture damaging the electronics, which gets worse now that we are in the rainy season.”

With the avionics Marines handling the internal electronic components of the aircraft, the Watchdog’s UAV mechanics take charge of maintaining the engine and external aircraft components.

“We work on everything but the electronics to include the wheels, engine and ailerons,” said Lance Cpl. Michael A. Diaz, a UAV mechanic and Camp Lejeune, N. C., native. “We always check out the aircraft after every flight, making sure it’s good to go.”

That electricity VMU-1 relies on to make their mission happen is provided by Marine electricians organic to the squadron.

“We work on the generators, keeping everything on the flight line running and most importantly, the work centers,” said Pfc. Brent E. Wood, an electrician and Modesto, Calif., native. “We run all the squadron buildings internal wiring and work on the air conditioners, which are needed to keep the sensitive electronics we use cool.”

The work done by the operations, avionics and other work sections within the squadron keep the unrelenting task of delivering lifesaving information to ground forces incessant as the war on terrorism continues.

Disclaimer -- Photos associated with the article can be found at the following links:

1 - http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/image1.nsf/Lookup/200611371559
2 - http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/image1.nsf/Lookup/200611371716
3 - http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/image1.nsf/Lookup/200611371420
4 - http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/image1.nsf/Lookup/200611371828
5 - http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/image1.nsf/Lookup/200611371943
6 - http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/image1.nsf/Lookup/200611372056
7 - http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/image1.nsf/Lookup/20061137227
8 - http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/image1.nsf/Lookup/200611372325

3RD MARINES RECEIVE AMERICAN PATRIOT AWARD, Regiment honored as example of "Courage, Loyalty and Patriotism"

MARINE CORPS BASE HAWAII, Kaneohe Bay -- The Honolulu Council Navy League bestows its 2006 American Patriot Award to 3rd Marine Regiment on Saturday, November 4, 2006, at the Marine Corps Base-Hawai‘i Officers Club.


Release 85-06
November 2, 2006

The American Patriot Award, given annually, recognizes individuals and organizations who exemplify American patriotism. The award will be presented to those whose actions demonstrate courage, loyalty and patriotism at a black-tie dinner and ceremony.

"The 3rd Marines are most worthy recipients of this award, and an inspiration to us all," said Robert Dewitz, Chair of the American Patriot Award Dinner.

The regiment was first activated in 1942 and has been stationed at Kaneohe Bay, since 1971. They fought in several World War II campaigns, including the infamous Iwo Jima campaign. Following assignments in Japan and Okinawa, the regiment participated in the war in Vietnam, in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, and in current deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Serving on the leading edge of the war on terror, from the opening days of Afghanistan to the toughest battles in Iraq, no unit has seen more combat or made greater sacrifice than Hawaii’s own 3rd Marines," said Dewitz. "They are true American patriots."

Past events have been attended by Governor Linda Lingle, Mayor Mufi Hanneman, and other dignitaries.

For more information about the award, please contact Robert Dewitz at (808) 792-5701.

Media wishing to attend the event will need to R.S.V.P. to Marine Corps Base Hawaii, Kaneohe Bay Public Affairs no later that 4:30 p.m. Friday.

Media wishing to attend will need to meet promptly at the Main Gate (H-3) no later than 4:30 p.m. Saturday.

November 1, 2006

Chuck Norris roundhouse kicks Camp Baharia

CAMP BAHARIA, Iraq (Nov. 01, 2006) - Chuck Norris doesn't raise morale. He roundhouse kicks it into the stratosphere.


Story by Lance Cpl. Stephen McGinnis

Just ask Marines from 1st Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment. Chuck Norris, famed action movie star and martial arts expert, visited the Marines base here, near Fallujah, Nov.1

"I just wanted to see the morale of the men and women serving in the places that most people don't want to visit," Norris said. "You hear so much back in the states, and I wanted to see it first hand, and this was the way for me to do that."

Aside from a history of starring in military-themed movies, Norris has a long-standing history with the uniformed services. Norris served in the Air Force and lost a brother in the Vietnam War.

Now he's doing his part to support Marines and sailors in Al Anbar Province. He made several stops, including one here.

Norris flew into Camp Baharia, stepping off Blackhawk helicopters with an entourage. Actor Marshall Teague, who starred in movies such as "Roadhouse" and "The Rock," accompanied Norris throughout Iraq to greet Marines. The visit was made possible through the USO.

Marines mobbed Norris the minute he exited the helicopter. Marines reached out to shake his hand and possibly get a photo with him, some even asking if Norris would roundhouse kick them.

"One of the main reasons I joined the Marine Corps is from seeing movies like 'Delta Force' growing up," said Sgt. Greaghton L. Short, a 26-year-old armorer from Higginsville, Mo. "I wanted to do that kind of stuff. Getting to see him in person was great."

Norris made the visit in typical "Chuck Norris style." He was feeling ill, but Chuck doesn't get sniffles. Sniffles get "Chucked." He still made time to chat with Marines and sailors before taking a short break.

Norris spoke with Marines at the camp's chow hall, but he made a special, unscheduled stop along the way. Norris visited Marines recovering from wounds unable to make it to the chow hall to meet him.

"In a time of war, when faced with so much adversity, it's refreshing to see that people still appreciate what we do over here," said Sgt. Jesse T. Faulk, a 27-year-old supply administration clerk, from Carrollton, Miss.

He then cracked one of his favorite "Chuck Norris" phrases.

"When Chuck Norris jumps into a pool he doesn"t get wet; the water gets Chuck Norrised," Faulk said.

Norris thanked injured Marines, taking a moment to ask them how they were doing and if they had everything they needed to get well.

From there, Norris made his way over to the chow hall, all the while hearing a barrage of the popular Chuck Norris jokes.

One Marine even shouted "The war is over. Chuck's here." Another Marine countered, "No, Chuck"s not allowed to stay because Chuck Norris only knows one type of force, and that"s deadly force."

Sgt. Terry J. McDowell, a 24-year-old personnel clerk from Marion, Ind., assigned to Headquarters Company, was promoted to sergeant. Norris "pinned" him.

"I saw the opportunity to have an icon such as Chuck Norris pin me; it was a way for my promotion to stand out from others," McDowell explained.

After the promotions ceremony, Norris and Teague took time to shake hands, thank Marines, and take photos with all of the Marines that showed up to the chow hall.

"It really helps with morale," said Lance Cpl. Matt D. Mogus, a 21-year-old supply administrator from Bartlesville, Okla. "It's a big boost of motivation to see something other than combat."

He rattled off his favorite "Chuck" phrase.

"Chuck Norris doesn't sleep," Mogus said. "He waits."

For all the attention, though, Norris said he was the one left awestruck.

"This has been an incredible experience," Norris said. "These guys are great."

Chuck Norris visits Marines in Iraq

November 01, 2006
By Beth Zimmerman
Staff writer

“Chuck Norris does not sleep. He waits.” The lengthy list of “facts” about Chuck Norris circulating the Web — there’s even a Chuck Norris Facts Web site — has made the action-movie actor and television star of “Walker, Texas Ranger” an icon.

To continue reading:


Wounded warriors recuperate together

"The Marines talk all the time here. 'I'm having trouble with this. I need help with this,' " Staff Sgt. Lawrence Sommer says. "It's very therapeutic for them."


Wednesday, November 1, 2006
Jenny Sokol, Columnist
The Orange County Register

The Marines living at the Wounded Warrior Center on the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps base need to talk. This is the place where they have come to heal.

The center, designed to house 26 residents, opened two months ago to support Marines who no longer require hospitalization for their war-related injuries, but are not well enough to return to their units.

Nine residents currently live in the center, which was designed to look more like a home than a barracks or hospital.

Many on the staff are rehabilitated Wounded Warriors themselves; they are eager to guide their brothers to recovery as well as help them navigate the often complex medical system. While the nature of the current injuries ranges from gunshot wounds to post-traumatic stress disorder, the facility also is equipped to support amputees and patients who use wheelchairs.

Sommer, a member of the all-military staff, explains that the Marines spend most of their days at hospital appointments with doctors and physical therapists. Then they return to the center to relax, eat dinner together, watch television in their rooms or just talk.

For these men, the battle didn't end in Iraq. But thanks to the center, the Marines won't be left to fend for themselves as they continue to recuperate, undergo medical review boards and determine whether to remain in the Marine Corps.

Once a week, residents gather for a free class taught by UC Irvine adjunct Professor Pamela Kelley. The course focuses on American history and civil-rights law. Kelley offers effective student strategies and tips in the hopes that the Marines will consider continuing their education.

Communities and companies across Orange County have reached out to the center since its August inception, throwing pizza parties and weekend barbecues for the Marines.

St. Clement's-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church in San Clemente recently donated $2,500 toward the center's galley and will accept offerings at the annual Marine Corps Birthday/Veteran's Day celebration and traditional cake-cutting ceremony after services Nov. 12 (202 Avenida Aragon, San Clemente, or www.stclementsbythesea.org).

When pressed for a wish list, Sommer relented, admitting that "portable DVD players and DVDs would be nice, so the Marines can watch movies while they wait for care." In addition, the center would appreciate electric razors, gift cards to be used to purchase basic hygiene items, and PlayStation 2 and Xbox 360 games. To donate, contact Wounded Warrior Center, P.O. Box 555192, Camp Pendleton, CA 92055-5192.

The Wounded Warrior Center is more than just a place where our heroes can nurse their wounds. It's tangible proof that the Marine Corps will stand beside its own beyond the battlefield and through rehabilitation.

It's only fitting that the residents of Orange County do the same.