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December 31, 2006

Local troops head to Iraq

As Col. H. Stacy Clardy III boarded the buses with his 300 Marines and sailors Saturday at Camp Lejeune, special mementos were tucked safely in his bag.

http://www.jdnews.com/SiteProcessor.cfm?Template=/GlobalTemplates/Details.cfm&StoryID;=47522&Section;=News

December 31,2006
CHRISSY VICK
DAILY NEWS STAFF

Both of his daughters, age 9 and 7, had given their father ornaments and hand-made crafts to take with him to the western Al Anbar province of Iraq. When he arrives there in the next few days, he will hang them with pride.

As the commander of Regimental Combat Team 2, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Clardy will lead the men and women of RCT-2 into Iraq in an effort to establish stability among the Iraqi people and Iraqi security forces, while defeating insurgents.

But through it all, he’ll have the memories — memories of Christmas dinner with his family and watching his girls open their presents. Memories of the first Christmas in their new home.

“My wife and I tried to make it as traditional and normal as we possibly could,” Clardy said.

It helps that Clardy believes in his mission to Iraq and so does his family. He believes his Marines and sailors do too.

“The Marines see improvements and are willing to sacrifice their time and their lives,” he said. “When we come back, I’d like for (people) to say we got the job done and that every Marine and sailor made it home safe.”

The group is the advance party of RCT-2 headquarters. Several battalions will follow in the coming months. The deployment marks the third RCT-2 has made to Iraq since the war started in 2003.

“Things are changing a lot in Iraq, I guess, and for the better,” Clardy said. “The unit before us has done a phenomenal job with the Iraqi forces and Iraqi people. We’ll try to build on what they did.”

Many said goodbyes Saturday before their first deployment and for others it marked their third or fourth. But the reality of preparing to leave in the middle of the holiday season was something that was bittersweet. They will miss the turning of the new year with their families.

“It’s the small things that stay with you,” said Annette Griffith before saying goodbye to her husband. “Every year we get a new Christmas ornament for the tree. We try to get something that reflects what is happening with our family. This year, it was a mailbox.”

The mailbox represented the Griffith family’s adventures over recent months as they moved from Connecticut to Jacksonville. They laughed about the challenges of moving just before a deployment and the holidays, like when the moving company lost the halves of both family Christmas trees.

“We had to build one by joining the two together,” said Cmdr. Harry Griffith, chaplain, between laughs as he headed out for the ninth deployment of his military career.

Griffith’s daughter, Karen, giggled at her favorite memory — trying to construct her bed with her dad despite missing parts. Griffith’s son, Ethan, will hang on to the memory of going to breakfast with his dad.

Similar memories will help the Jessen family with their son’s first deployment.

“We had a big family get-together for Christmas, the whole time was special,” said mother Rhonda Jessen of Maryland. “We all sang and tried to make Adam (Jessen) laugh. We tried to keep it light-hearted.”

Pfc. Adam Jessen’s parents, grandmother, aunt and girlfriend choked back tears with laughter about the silly songs they sing every year, accompanied by various instruments like a tambourine, accordion and bells.

“We tried not to think of him leaving,” said grandmother Betty Shewbridge of West Virginia. “We’ll think of the good times and try to keep the faith.”


Contact staff writer Chrissy Vick at [email protected] or by calling 353-1171, ext. 239.

21-year-old Marine squad leader dedicates himself to fellow “grunts,” chooses Iraq over home

HUSAYBAH, Iraq - Commitment and dedication. Those are the two words U.S. Marines here use to describe Cpl. Jason Getty"s recent decision to extend his current enlistment to stay in Iraq.

http://www.imef-fwd.usmc.mil/imef%2FInfolineMarines.nsf/0/E0916D542D522461C3257255005BE2ED?OpenDocument

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

Getty"s service in the Marine Corps ends Jan. 27, 2007. But he won"t be getting out. He chose to extend his service just long enough to finish what he"s currently doing - a seven-month tour in Iraq.

"I had to be here with my boys," said Getty during a frigid, three-hour night patrol in Husaybah, a city that shares a border with Syria in northwestern Iraq.
The Lakeview, Ore., native made the decision long before his deployment to Iraq"s Al Anbar Province began in September.

"Getty made this decision for the love of his Marines," said 1st Sgt. Robert M. Sands, a Baltimore native and the senior enlisted Marine in Getty"s company. "It"s pretty honorable and a good example of a leader."

Getty is serving as a squad leader with a platoon in Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, a southern Calif.-based battalion. The company is currently posted in a U.S. Marine outpost in Husaybah, arguably the busiest city in the battalion"s area of operation, say Marines here. The city has a local populace of 50,000, predominantly Sunni.
Daily life for Getty and his Marines means patrolling the city"s streets, fully loaded with protective equipment, weapons and communication gear. The Market Street is one of their most popular routes for patrol, said Getty.

Even though the Marines must hold traffic as they pass through, the vendors seem to have no problem with the Marines" presence.

At times, Getty shakes hands with locals and greets them in Arabic. Most Iraqis respond in broken English with a "hello, mister," or "no problem," as Marines pass them by.

"Sometimes we"re looked highly upon," said Getty. "They know why we"re here and what we do. This country has been in dictatorship for a long time. I"m sure the people in this city appreciate what we"re doing for them."

As a corporal and a squad leader of roughly 12 Marines, Getty has to "carry the torch," he said. The 21-year-old is making very important decisions and plans, from managing military equipment and vehicles, planning patrol routes and looking out for his troops" welfare.

"I am doing whatever it takes to make sure all my boys go home safe," said Getty, reasoning his choice to go on the deployment.

Just last year, Husaybah was the original battle grounds of Operation Steel Curtain, a 16-day-long battle between Coalition forces and insurgents in this northern Euphrates River region. The battle resulted in the ousting of insurgents from the area.

Today, Getty, his squad and the rest of Kilo Company are maintaining Husaybah"s security by walking the beat alongside its one-year-old Iraqi police force and a fully equipped and trained Iraqi Army battalion. The company is tasked with mentoring local Iraqi security forces, imparting with them essential military tactics they will need in order to man the country on their own.

Long days and nights have paid off for U.S. and Iraqi troops here - they"re finding weapons caches and improvised explosive devices, as well as capturing insurgents.

Recently, the company found an IED in the region and destroyed it. Just three days later, they found a weapons and ordnance cache in the same area.

Getty had the choice to remain behind in Twentynine Palms, Calif. - the battalion"s home station - as his fellow Marines deployed, just like most Marines who are slated to leave the service during a deployment period.

But that was an option he had to refuse, he said. He feels risking his life in Iraq for another four more months is worth the reward - ensuring his Marines are well-led and trained, and ultimately, come home alive, he said.

"I wanted to be here so I can teach these guys what I was taught on my first deployment," said Getty, regarding his "on the job training" during combat operations in previous deployments. "I want to make sure they do things the right way… the way I was taught."

Most of the people in Getty"s squad are serving their first deployment to Iraq. The training Getty imparts with them may save their lives and one day they will pass it on to other Marines, said Getty.

Even though there is very little talking during their patrols, the Marines in Getty"s squad look toward his position in the formation whenever they"re unsure of something - for instance, a civilian wanting to pass through their formation so they can go home or children who follow the patrol.

Immediately, Getty responds to these situations by telling the Marine what they should say or do and why.

"By the time the deployment is over, I don"t want my guys to have any single question on their mind," said Getty. "I want them to learn and know everything about [combat operations] out here, because I won"t be around after this one."

Nonetheless, there"s an ambience of confidence as Getty and his Marines make their rounds through Husaybah"s dirt roads. The Marines are confident when searching homes or vehicles and the civilians know to stay away when Marines are conduction patrols. Even though the Marines shake hands and hand out candy to the children, the children know not to follow them.

"It"s quiet. This is the way I wanted my last deployment to go," said Getty.

"Cpl. Getty is always there for us, always takes care of us and always sticks up for us," said Getty"s fellow squad member, Lance Cpl. Maverick Moreland, a 21-year-old from San Antonio. "I feel confident patrolling with Cpl. Getty as our squad leader. Between him and Reeves, our squad is in good hands."

Moreland referred to another fellow squad member as a great leader who is currently also serving his third tour in Iraq - Lance Cpl. Daniel Reeves.

And just like Getty, Reeves is slated to end his service in the Corps before the end of the deployment. He too chose to extend his service for this tour.

"I came over twice already, and I felt it would benefit these Marines if I came again for this one," said Reeves. "Just as I thought I would, I"m helping these guys day-by-day become a good squad."

Moreland said Reeves and Getty are great examples to follow, and if the situation ever arose where he would have to extend his service for a deployment, he "most definitely would."

As Reeves and Getty approach their end of active duty service date, they are looking forward more to the plane ride home with everyone they came with, they said.

"I share a lot of memories with these guys," said Getty. "When I joined, I would never imagined to live through the experiences I have and be so committed to a group of… flesh and blood; humans. I became attached."

The friendships Getty developed over the course of his four-year enlistment are one of the toughest things he said he"ll be giving up after the end of his journey in Corps. Nonetheless, he and Reeves have more than three months to prepare to depart the service honorably.

While Reeves is looking into furthering his education by attending college, Getty has plans to join a police force in Oregon. And as two single Marines, they both agree that their choices are broad when they get out.

But their focus is on the remainder of the deployment.

"I love what I did and where I"m at," said Getty. "I have no regrets."

Email Cpl. Cifuentes at: [email protected]
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CAPTIONS FOR PHOTOS:
Click on original link above to find photo links.01 -

Cpl. Jason Getty, a 21-year-old Lakeview, Ore., native, patrols alongside an Iraqi policeman Dec. 16, 2006 in Husaybah, Iraq, a city that lies on the border of Iraq and Syria. Getty is a squad leader with Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, a southern Calif.-based battalion who are four months into a seven-month deployment in Iraq. The battalion is serving in the northwestern region of Al Anbar Province, operating in the many cities that lie along the Euphrates River. Getty"s service in the Marine Corps ends Jan. 27, 2007. But he won"t be getting out. He chose to extend his service just long enough to finish what he"s currently doing - a seven-month tour in Iraq. "I had to be here with my boys," said Getty during a frigid, three-hour night patrol in Husaybah, a city that shares a border with Syria in northwestern Iraq. The Lakeview, Ore., native made the decision long before his deployment to Iraq"s Al Anbar Province began in September. (Photo by Cpl. Michael S. Cifuentes)


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Lance Cpl. Maverick Moreland, a 21-year-old Marine from San Antonio, guards the corner of a street during a patrol Dec. 16, 2006, in Husaybah, Iraq, a city that shares a border with Syria. Maverick is an infantryman with Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, a Twentynine Palms, Calif.,-based battalion. Kilo Company operates in Husaybah, a city of roughly in northwestern Anbar Province that houses roughly 50,000. The company is tasked with maintaining security in the city, working alongside Iraqi Security Forces, mentoring them so they can eventually provide their own security. The battalion is into its fourth month of a seven-month deployment. (Photo by Cpl. Michael S. Cifuentes)


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Lance Cpl. Scott Gomez, a 22-year-old Marine rifleman from Houston, keeps a watchful eye out at the home of an Iraqi family during a patrol Dec. 17, 2006, in Husaybah, Iraq, a city that shares a border with Syria. Gomez is serving a seven month deployment with Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, a battalion based out of Twentynine Palms, Calif. . Kilo company operates in Husaybah, a city of roughly in northwestern Anbar Province that houses roughly 50,000 Iraqis. The company is tasked with maintaining security in the city, working alongside Iraqi Security Forces, monitoring and mentoring them so they can eventually man the city on their own. (Photo by Cpl. Michael S. Cifuentes)


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U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Paul Hobart, a 21-year-old Lorain, Ohio, native, shakes hands with an Iraqi child during a patrol Dec. 18, 2006, in Husaybah, Iraq, a city that shares a border with Syria. Hobart is a Marine with Kilo Company, and is based out of Twentynine Palms, Calif. The Marines here say Market Street is the busiest street in the battalion"s area of operation. Last year, Husaybah was the battle grounds of a 16-day operation dubbed Steel Curtain in which Coalition forces combated insurgents out of the area and the surrounding Euphrates Rives cities. Now, Marines are working alongside the Iraqi Security Forces in the region, monitoring and mentoring them so they could eventually maintain security for the area on their own. The battalion is finishing up their fourth month of a seven-month deployment. (Photo by Cpl. Michael S. Cifuentes)


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Maintaining situational awareness is critical for U.S. Marines who patrol Euphrates River cities and villages in Iraq"s western Al Anbar Province. Here, U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Maverick Moreland, a 22-year-old Houston native, patrols down Market Street Dec. 18, 2006 in Husaybah, Iraq, a city that shares a border with Syria. Maverick is an infantryman with Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, a Twentynine Palms, Calif.,-based battalion. Kilo company operates in Husaybah, a city of roughly in northwestern Anbar Province that houses roughly 50,000 Iraqis. The company is tasked with maintaining security in the city, working alongside Iraqi Security Forces, monitoring and mentoring them so they can eventually man the city on their own. The battalion is into its fourth month of a seven-month deployment. (Photo by Cpl. Michael S. Cifuentes)

December 30, 2006

Healer who never fell back laid to rest

ARLINGTON, Va. - The sergeant with no legs sat inside the cemetery, thinking about how this homecoming was supposed to happen.

http://www.rockymountainnews.com/drmn/local/article/0,1299,DRMN_15_5245883,00.html

By Jim Sheeler, Rocky Mountain News
December 30, 2006

The 24-year-old Marine had spent the past two months in a hospital bed, grimacing as he devised his own painful physical regimen to strengthen the tender stumps that end just above his knees, hoping to earn his prosthetic legs early. His unit wasn't supposed to return from Iraq until April, so he figured he had plenty of time to learn how to walk.

"I wanted to walk when they came off the bus to see all of them, but especially 'Doc,' " he said, referring to the last face he saw before everything went dark.

"I wanted to shake his hand and say, 'Thank you.' "

Wednesday morning, near the perfect rows of headstones that stretched up and along the hillsides at Arlington National Cemetery, the man in the wheelchair spoke quietly, in a soft Southern drawl.

"To be honest," he said, "I'm pretty nervous about this."

"You'll do fine," his mother said.

The sergeant's body is still riddled with shrapnel wounds, pitting the skin on his entire left side with deep pink scars. What is left of his legs jutted from the wheelchair, filling only a fraction of his jeans, which were folded at the place where his knees used to be. Only one hand works.

He looked over at his wife and two daughters, at his parents and the rows and rows of white marble. Somewhere out there was a fresh grave.

As he entered the place known as "our nation's most sacred shrine" for the first time, the sergeant said he was unshaken by the seemingly endless headstones. What got to him, he said, are the people left behind to grieve.

"I just think about all the families," he said, "and the people like myself who had to go into Arlington for this."

The sergeant's father wheeled him into a waiting room, where the Marine asked to sit in the corner, out of the way. Soon, the room was filled with crisp Navy uniforms - admirals, chiefs and hospital corpsmen, many of them sporting dress coats jingling with medals.

Then, down the stairs, the sergeant saw the people who wore no uniforms, the ones who wore only grief.

As it turned out, the man with no legs didn't need to learn how to walk to welcome home Navy Hospital Corpsman Christopher A. Anderson.

Doc's family walked over to him.

A choice to 'go green'

Marine Sgt. Gregory Edwards took his last step Oct. 21. After six weeks in country, Alpha Company was on patrol in Ramadi, Iraq, conducting house-to-house searches when a hidden explosive detonated. He woke up and saw the hazel eyes he recognized immediately.

The lanky 24-year-old from Longmont wore a patch with two snakes intertwined around a winged staff - the caduceus, the traditional sign of a healer, and the emblem of a Navy corpsman. He was the only one of them in the squad who was not a Marine - the most important one of them all: the one they all called Doc.

Before being deployed, Navy corpsmen say, they have a choice to "go blue," serving their time on a ship or stateside, or to "go green," assigned to the Marines.

Christopher "Doc" Anderson volunteered to go green.

Before arriving in Iraq in early September, Anderson was assigned to Alpha Company of the 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment - a group with a decorated history dating to World War I. The rookie corpsman was soon on the front with the infantry, saddled with securing some of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Iraq.

Before the Marines headed to Ramadi, they had to know that the sailor from Colorado with the massive pack of medical gear was the kind of man they could trust with their lives.

Marines don't train field medics of their own; they rely on Navy hospital corpsmen, as they have for more than a century. A traditional saying holds that a Marine infantryman doesn't wonder if his corpsman will save his life - he wonders when.

"When you get a new corpsman, he has to prove himself, that he can do the same things the Marines can do," Edwards said. "When we do PT (physical training), he has to keep up. When we go on our hikes, he has to carry the same gear, plus his medical gear, which must weigh an additional 30 pounds. And he can't fall back."

A fourth-generation sailor, Doc Anderson never fell back.

Although relatively scrawny, it didn't take long for Anderson to prove that he could run as quickly as any of the "grunts," with the same endurance. He used his height to help shorter guys over walls and fences, following behind, always looking out.

Using his medical equipment as a universal translator - and ice-breaker - he treated Iraqis as well as his own men, forging trust in a place where the word often has no definition. If he saw an Iraqi child with a cut or scrape, he would paste the child with antibacterial cream and bandages and attempt to win his part of the war with Band-Aids.

Among the Marines, he earned frequent smiles, often at his own expense. He was teased endlessly for his trademark bouncy walk - a literal spring in his step - which he swore he didn't do on purpose. He stocked an endless reserve of bad jokes, the punch lines of which he would laugh at much too loud and much too long, until everyone around was laughing both with him and at him.

"I like to remember the good times with Doc," Edwards said. "Sometimes he was a complete jackass."

'You're not going to die on me'

One week before the funeral, the sergeant sat outside Walter Reed Army Medical Center and closed his eyes.

"You're going to have to give me a minute here," he said.

For weeks, he couldn't tell the story of what happened that day - he lied when asked about it, saying that he couldn't remember anything. The problem was he could remember almost everything.

On Oct. 21, his patrol had stopped in front of one of the houses owned by a government official in Ramadi, he said. The sergeant stepped on what he thinks was a mine or a radio-controlled explosive.

"I was unconscious. And when I woke up, the first face I saw was Doc Anderson," Edwards recounted. "He said, 'Don't worry about it sergeant; it's not that bad.' "

The sergeant looked up and saw his legs - or what little was left of them. He saw all the blood, looked at his mangled hand and he went into shock.

"Doc kept saying to me, 'Stay strong. Stay with me, Sgt. Ed,' " the sergeant said. "He said, 'You're not going to die on me.' "

The Marines carried Edwards into an Iraqi home, where Anderson began emergency first aid.

"I told him, 'You take care of my babies.'

"Doc Anderson said, 'You're going to take care of your babies. You're going to be just fine.' "

"There was a lot of pain, and . . . and . . . "

The sergeant stopped and closed his eyes again.

"Give me a minute," he said.

Once transferred to a Humvee, Anderson kept working, tying tourniquets with one hand while elevating the sergeant's head with another as they sped to the nearest aid station. That's when Doc started shouting at his patient.

"While we were in the Humvee, I could feel myself slipping away, wanting to go to sleep, and Doc started yelling at me," Edwards said. "I was ready to enter whatever afterlife there is, and he kept yelling at me, telling me it was going to be OK."

Anderson later would tell his friends and parents that it was the most terrifying day of his life - that he constantly second-guessed himself, wondering if he had done everything he could have and should have. He told his closest friends that he had lost the sergeant's pulse three times on the way to the clinic but that each time he had managed to bring him back.

More than 30 days later, Edwards woke up at Walter Reed in Washington, D.C. He remembered one voice:

"The last thing I heard was Doc saying, 'You're going to be OK.' "

Prankster got 'squared away'

One of the highest compliments a service member can bestow on another is to say that he or she is "squared away."

Squared away means that nobody has to worry when the action starts - someone who is squared away can be counted on, even in the most hectic circumstances, to perform flawlessly.

As a boy, Christopher Anderson hardly fit the term.

A prankster with a Bart Simpsonesque streak, he was a master of mooning his cousins from the car. Along with his brother, Kyle, he drove plenty of schoolteachers to the brink of breakdown.

As he grew older, he could juggle girlfriends like a street busker. A stickler for dressing immaculately, he spent inordinate amounts of time choosing his clothes and was known to change clothes as many times as Cher before going out to a bar.

As a teenager, he worked as a baseball umpire, learning to moderate, keep constant watch and mediate disputes. After graduating from Longmont High School, he worked many jobs - from clothing sales clerk to bar bouncer - but always left one option open.

Three generations of Andersons before him had enlisted in the Navy. His father served as an elite Navy SEAL.

In 2005, he became the fourth. Soon after signing the enlistment papers, he committed himself entirely.

At boot camp, he was voted the "honor graduate" of his company. He then returned to Longmont during Christmas break and spent all of his spare time at the recruiting office, trying to bring as many sailors as possible along with him.

His enthusiasm sparked the interest of Navy Commander Dave Copp, who awarded Anderson the Navy Achievement Medal even before the young sailor entered corpsman training school.

"I remember this kid," said Navy Chief Darrell Crone, an instructor at Naval Hospital Corps School in Chicago, who oversees the Internet site corpsman.com. "He was decorated with an award before he got to our school. We thought, 'What the hell is this - what kind of brown-noser is this?' "

After a couple of phone calls, he found out.

"He wasn't a brown-noser of any kind," Crone said. "When he was on leave, he was actually recruiting. Normally when kids go home, they lie on the couch and play video games. He was out there doing the job. He was the kind of guy who, if there was a nook or cranny to get things done, he could just do it."

After Anderson's death, his father received a call from his son's commanding officer, who told a story of the first time he saw Christopher in Iraq. The lieutenant colonel remembered pointing to the only serviceman there who wasn't a Marine and asking about him.

"The master sergeant looked up and said, 'Oh, that's one of our docs, Anderson. He's the most squared-away Marine we've got,' " Rick Anderson said. "And that was Christopher - squared away."

Sacrificing for kids 'like mine'

Last week, inside Ward 58 at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, the sergeant shook out a Marlboro Red. These days, despite what the doctors say, even his mother won't give him grief about smoking.

"I figure he survived that," Cheryl Edwards said, nodding toward his legs. "He can have a cigarette."

After 36 surgeries, much of the shrapnel remains inside. The sharp chunks of metal will work their way out during the next several years, as his body expels the war.

Edwards' left hand was shattered in the blast, the bones pulverized "like powder," he says. The hand is now a gnarled brown mess of dead, flaky skin and giant Frankenstein stitches that wrap around the fingers that have been reattached and secured with surgical pins. He can move his thumb and forefinger like a crab pincer, but he lost some of his knuckles, so his other fingers are shorter than they were. At one point, surgeons suggested amputating some fingers to save his hand.

"The doctor came in and said, 'How attached are you to that index finger?' " Edwards said. "I told him, 'I'm attached to all my body parts. I've already lost enough.' "

The stumps of his legs are discolored patchwork quilts of skin grafts. One leg was rebuilt with the thigh muscle from a donor body; it now ends several inches above his knee. The other was amputated through the kneecap.

On his head, a bandage covers a quarter-sized dark red hole, which otherwise remains framed in the "high and tight" Marine haircut.

Outside the hospital 10 days ago, a man in a camouflage uniform paused at Edwards' wheelchair and offered his hand in thanks.

"I get that a lot," he said after the man left, pulling out another cigarette. "But me, personally, I don't think I need to be thanked for my service. I chose this. I know that being blown up or dying is one of the hazards of my job. If you don't expect to get hurt as a Marine infantryman, you're in the wrong line of work."

This was his third tour in Iraq. He went in on the initial invasion and saw the statue of Saddam Hussein fall. During his second tour, he was nearly electrocuted and spent time at Walter Reed recovering. Although he is a living example of the war's cost, he prefers to look back on what he says will be lasting benefits of his sacrifice.

"I lost my legs not for this country, but for the country of Iraq, so their children will be able to run around, just like mine," he said as he watched his daughters, ages 3 and 5, playing on the hospital grounds. "If time was turned back, I'd do it all over again."

He says he told the same thing to President Bush last week. Before leaving for Texas for Christmas vacation, the president and first lady made rounds at Walter Reed, speaking to many of the wounded.

Edwards' mother said that the president, after visiting with Edwards for about half an hour, spoke to other injured service members then returned to the sergeant's room.

"(The president) said, 'Some of the guys have cussed me out. Some said they hated me. But I'm going to quote you word for word in my next speech,' " Cheryl Edwards recounted.

"He said, 'I'm going to quote you,' " the sergeant said. " 'You just watch.' "

Outside Walter Reed, Edwards' girls ran back to him, and he boosted Paige into his lap.

The girls call the stumps of his legs "Daddy's boo-boo."

Memorial Day never ends

At Arlington National Cemetery, the American flag flies at half-staff every weekday, as an average of 25 funeral processions a day amble near it, past the white rows of marble, where privates and unknown Civil War veterans lie near Medal of Honor winners and presidents. Arlington is where Memorial Day officially began, the place where it never ends.

The cemetery holds the remains of more than 300,000 men and women on more than 600 acres. According to the Department of Defense, the cemetery recently acquired more land, which should keep it available for burials until 2060.

That is, if the current rate of burials holds.

In section 60, the place where they bury soldiers from the latest war, the headstones are still fresh.

The first of those tombstones is for another man from Colorado, the first casualty from the Iraq War buried at Arlington: Russell Rippetoe, of Broomfield. Not far away lies Lt. Col. Ian Weikel, of Colorado Springs, who was killed in Iraq in April.

In between are several men who were stationed at Fort Carson - Lt. Col. Eric Kruger, Chief Warrant Officer Dennis P. Hay, Sgt. Neil Armstrong Prince and Spc. Hoby Bradfield.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, a total of 21 Navy corpsmen have died in Iraq and three have died in Afghanistan, making up more than one-third of the total Navy casualties.

Not far from the cemetery, the massive Iwo Jima memorial towers over an intersection, honoring the Marines who raised the flag over Mount Suribachi during World War II. Although it is considered a Marine memorial, one of the men immortalized 32 feet tall in heavy bronze is John "Doc" Bradley, the unit's corpsman.

At the beginning of World War II, corpsmen and Army medics wore red crosses on their uniforms. That stopped when the enemy began using the crosses as targets, knowing that the servicemen would do anything to save their medics. These days, the corpsmen wear the Marines' digital camouflage while in combat zones and carry full weaponry.

Still, as the tombstones reflect, they remain primary targets.

At Arlington, visitors can buy a $6 ticket for a "Tourmobile" that whisks them through the cemetery in 30 minutes - a tour that pauses at the eternal flame of President Kennedy, the Tomb of the Unknowns and the home once owned by Robert E. Lee, back when the cemetery was a plantation.

The Tourmobile doesn't go near section 60.

Across the street, the ground is empty. There, workers are preparing section 61.

The unspoken bond

Back inside Walter Reed, Edwards grimaced.

He lives every minute with pain that would make most people wince, so when his face contorts in pain during physical therapy, it nearly shakes the hospital table.

"I'm not a very good patient," he said. "I have no patience."

Nearby, men with new computerized legs ran on treadmills, while others tried out their new arms. In a corner of the room last week, two little girls and a young boy watched How the Grinch Stole Christmas, oblivious to their parents' trying to figure out their new limbs.

After he awoke in the hospital, Edwards asked not to see his own two girls.

"It's not that I didn't want to see them," he said. "But I didn't want them to see me."

When he first heard that his Doc died Dec. 4 from a mortar attack, he asked his wife and kids to leave the room.

"My dad stayed with me," he said. "For two days, I was heavily depressed. I was heavily medicated. It took me two days to cope with it without being medicated. Now that the funeral is close, I'm starting to have a hard time with it again."

Last week was the first time he spent a night alone - sometimes, while asleep, his arms will flail and his body will thrash with the inevitable nightmares, so family members take turns watching him, making sure someone is there to wake him from battle.

Only a week before, the commandant of the Marine Corps met with Edwards at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.

In the center of the lobby is an enormous bronze statue of a Navy hospital corpsman carrying a wounded Marine, as the injured man's legs drag the ground.

Now, Edwards said, he plans to send his Purple Heart to the Anderson family.

"It's the only way I can say thank you," he said. "I can't put it into words, what a corpsman means to his Marines."

He thought back to that bronze memorial.

"It says it all in that statue," he said. "It's called The Unspoken Bond."

'Daddy will tell you one day'

Wednesday morning, inside a building at Arlington National Cemetery, the Anderson family walked past the Navy officers, directly toward the man in the wheelchair.

Debra Anderson was immediately intercepted by another mother.

"Your son saved my son's life," Cheryl Edwards said through sobs, locking Debra in a hug. "I thank you. I thank you so much. And I'm sorry. So sorry."

The women hugged, then the men did the same, thumping each other on the back.

"He saved our son's life," Cheryl Edwards repeated.

Together, the families walked to Sgt. Edwards, who sat with his 3-year-old daughter, Paige, in his lap, and 5-year-old Caitlin and his wife, Christina, by his side.

"I'm so glad you're here," Debra Anderson said.

"I wouldn't have missed it for the world," he said quietly. "I didn't give them a choice at the hospital. I told them I had to come."

"I know Christopher was so worried about you," Debra Anderson said. "He was so worried."

"He did everything right. Be proud of him," the sergeant said. "If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't be here. I wouldn't be able to hold my daughter on my lap."

Rick Anderson then bent down in a deep hug. With the knuckle of one finger, he brushed the hand of one of the girls and smiled.

"Your boy kept me alive," Edwards said. "I wanted to let go, and he kept me alive."

Kyle Anderson approached Edwards and during a long embrace told the Marine that he now carried part of his brother with him. Kyle told the sergeant he always would consider Edwards his brother, too.

Edwards looked up at Anderson's parents.

"If there's anything I can ever do for you, you let me know," he said.

"You just take care of these girls," Debra said, offering one of the largest smiles that many family members have seen since her son was killed.

"We want to watch these girls grow up," she said.

From her father's lap, Paige pointed at Christopher Anderson's mother.

"Who dat?" the 3-year-old said.

"You'll understand one day, OK?" her grandmother said.

"Yes," the sergeant said, stroking her hair. "Daddy will tell you one day."

'They all come home'

In section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery, the sun flashed off the bugle of a lone sailor who stood among the thousands of headstones. Dormant trees scratched toward the blue sky, holding dried cherry blossoms that had turned brown.

The burial was supposed to take place last week, but the family was caught in the blizzard and spent the night at Denver International Airport while the sailors rescheduled the burial for Wednesday. The Andersons spent Christmas without their son, without an ending. It had been 23 days since the sailors first rang their doorbell to tell them the news.

The day before Christopher's funeral, the Department of Defense announced the death of another corpsman - another piece of news that hit hard in the crowd of mourners, which included several families who have sons serving in Alpha Company, still in Iraq.

Earlier in the month, the Siruchek family from New York received a call from their son, a Navy hospital corpsman, who told them that his best friend had been killed. Lots of people called Christopher their best friend.

"Matt asked us to come for him," Adam Siruchek said. "He said, 'Since I can't be there, can you go in my place?' "

The couple knew they had no choice. They didn't know how hard it would be.

"The biggest fear in our mind is that it could be us in those chairs (near the casket)," Becky Siruchek said.

"They're living our worst nightmare, the thing we actually have nightmares about. And they're going through it."

As the Anderson family approached the flag-draped casket and took their seats, six sailors surrounded it and lifted the flag.

The chaplain spoke, and the rifle salute cracked.

The lone bugler then began the first few notes of Taps, and Edwards dropped his head, without wiping his tears.

Methodically, the Navy honor guard folded the flag into tight triangles, slapping each fold into another, as if the flag were starched. A rear admiral presented the flag to Debra.

Within 15 minutes, it was over.

Debra's sister, Sherry McDonald, handed out a bag filled with dark brown dirt, sent from the home field of Chris Anderson's favorite baseball team, the San Diego Padres.

Each family member took a fistful and dusted it onto the casket. Kyle, imitating his brother as an umpire, spread some of the dirt on his own jacket.

Debra placed her hand on the casket and held it there for several minutes. Slowly, she let go.

The sergeant's mother walked to Debra Anderson again, and they embraced.

"Greg says he wished it was him," she said, crying again. "He says he wishes that it was him who came home in the casket instead of Christopher."

The two women held each other for a long time.

"They all come home," Debra Anderson finally managed to say, as they hugged on the bright green artificial turf laid out over the mud where another family would soon stand.

"They all come home."

A father's salute

After everyone else climbed into their cars and prepared to leave, Rick Anderson stood with Kyle at the gravesite.

The two men put their handprints in the dirt, and smeared it around. -Kyle Anderson didn't want to leave the casket, and, once again, it fell to his father to convince him to go.

For the past three weeks, Rick Anderson had been the quiet rock, steadying his family, comforting them, looking out for everyone, the way he had taught his son to do, the way his son was doing.

He spoke at his son's funeral in Longmont and said he cried long and hard during his private, personal conversations with God.

On the outside, with his friendly face and salt-and-pepper moustache, he looked more like the real estate salesman that he is, rather than a former member of one of the most elite special warfare units in the country.

But after all of the quiet, all of the stoicism, Rick Anderson stood at the empty gravesite, took a deep breath and let out a Navy SEAL war cry that carried over the headstones.

"HOOYAH, KID!" he shouted at his son's casket, his voice breaking.

"YOU DID GOOD."

Field of honor

Eligibility for burial at Arlington National Cemetery includes:

• Anyone who dies on active duty.

• Any retired veteran with 20 years service or greater from the regular military.

• Reservists who have one period of active-duty service other than training who are age 60 or older and have a total of 20 years or more.

• Honorably discharged recipients of the Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, Distinguished Service Medal, Silver Star and Purple Heart.

• Other eligible service members include former prisoners of war and veterans who are medically disabled with a 30 percent rating or greater before Oct. 1, 1949, as a result of their military service and were discharged for that reason. Their spouses are eligible for burial alongside their husbands or wives.Source: Department Of Defense

[email protected]


Increased security measures keep bad guys out, citizens safe in Euphrates River city, Marines say

HAQLANIYAH, Iraq (Dec. 30, 2006) - U.S. Marines here say they"ve seen a "nearly 90-percent decrease" of insurgent attacks against Coalition Forces, thanks to a newly constructed 8-foot high dirt berm around several Euphrates River cities in Iraq"s western Al Anbar Province.

http://www.imef-fwd.usmc.mil/imef%2FInfolineMarines.nsf/0/5770B11242FFC506C3257258001F1E73?OpenDocument

Story and photos by Cpl. Luke Blom, Combat Correspondent, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment.

In just the past two weeks, Marines from 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment have noticed fewer enemy attacks - small-arms and indirect fire, improvised explosive devices - against their patrols.

The Hawaii-based battalion arrived here three months ago, and is responsible for providing security to the region, alongside their Iraqi counterparts. The Marines attribute the decrease in attacks to the 14 kilometers of dirt which now encompasses several cities here coupled with a recent surge of additional U.S. Marines from the Camp Pendleton, Calif.-based 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

Elements of the 15th MEU arrived late November to participate in "Operation al-Majid" which has produced positive results in the Haditha "Triad" Region since the operation"s commencement Nov. 26, Marines say here.

"This berm will prevent the enemy from getting re-supplied with weapons and bringing in personnel from outside the region," said Capt. Perry D. Waters, commander of 2nd Battalion"s Golf Company. "It will ultimately increase security for the residents of Haqlaniyah and the rest of the Triad region."

Marine Corps and Army combat engineers, as well as Navy Sea Bees, spent weeks constructing the massive mound of dirt, which is intended to deny insurgents "access and mobility" to the city, according to Waters.

Both the northern and southern end caps of the berm are butted up against the Euphrates River, creating an enclosed "bubble" with the three cities at its heart - a necessary step to keep insurgents out of the cities, according to Waters, a 31-year-old from Fredericksburg, Texas.

The berm wraps around three cities - Haqlaniyah, Bani Dahir and Haditha. Across the Euphrates River lies Barwanah - a city of about 20,000 - which the U.S. military also "bermed-up" to keep insurgents out.

The Haditha "Triad" has been one of the most insurgent-active regions in western Anbar Province, where U.S. and Iraqi Security Forces face small-arms fire and improvised explosive attacks daily.

The berm"s construction is part of "Operation Al Majid," an on-going, synchronized Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces "clearing and holding" operation intended to disrupt and defeat insurgent activity throughout more than 30,000 square miles in western Al Anbar Province. The operation began late last month.

While controlling the flow of people in and out of the city has decreased enemy attacks on Coalition Forces, the berm, along with the addition of hundreds of additional U.S. troops to the region, is expected to provide much-needed security to the region.

The operation will allow the region"s citizens to "return to a sense of normalcy," according to Waters.

"This will probably be the single most important thing we do here during our time in the Triad," said Waters. "People talk about a tipping point, when the scale starts to tip in your favor. I think we"re right on that corner."

Before the dirt wall went up, vehicles could travel in and out of the city freely, utilizing unknown and unmarked roads - what the Marines here call "rat lines" - carved throughout the desert. Insurgents use these unmarked roads as a means to transport weapons and munitions, providing logistical support to their cause.

Now with the berm in place, all vehicular traffic is funneled in and out of the city at several Traffic Control Points, which are manned 24-hours per day.

So far, the berm here has not interfered with the locals" ability to travel in and out of the city freely, according to 2nd Lt. Andrew Frick, a platoon commander for 4th Combat Engineer Battalion platoon commander.

"If they are legitimate and they"re not doing anything they are not supposed to, they"re free to come and go as they please," said Frick, a 28-year-old from Columbus, Ohio.

Good news for keeping the region secure, bad news for insurgents looking to get in and out of the city, the Marines say.

"It"s free flow in and out of the city," said Frick. "There"s nothing stopping people from coming or going."

But some citizens have expressed frustration over the new security measures, as travel in and out of the city takes more time now.

Still, the U.S. military"s efforts here seem to be well received by the population.

"It is difficult to do regular things right now. When I need to go to work or anywhere outside Haqlaniyah, it takes much more time," said one Haqlaniyah citizen, who preferred not to be identified by name. "But I welcome the berm if it means a safer city."

During the first three days of the berming process, all foot and vehicular traffic was prohibited. But to ensure the well-being of citizens, local mosques broadcasted messages in Arabic, directing citizens to stock up on food, water and other provisions.

"We went to all the mosques and had them broadcast to the citizens that the restrictions would be taking place," explained 1st Lt. Kyle A. Corcoran, a 25-year-old native of San Francisco. "The citizens were told to go to the (stores) and get as much food and water as they could, enough for 72 hours."

While movement was restricted in the rest of the city, local schools remained open, according to Corcoran.

"The past few days have been difficult, but peaceful. It was cold and we couldn"t go anywhere, but if that is what has to be done for peace I am OK with it," said another Haqlaniyah citizen who wished to remain anonymous.

Along with the added security of the berm, the Marines of 2nd Battalion are implementing a new identification system to help separate insurgents from innocent citizens.

Before being admitted into the city, locals must have their fingerprints documented and eyes scanned by U.S. and Iraqi troops at the traffic control points. Run through a database of known and wanted insurgents, that information helps the Marines identify who is a legitimate citizen, and who is not.

The Marines are also conducting a house-to-house census to gather accurate information on the city"s residents, such as number of residents per home, ages, genders, occupations, and educational background.

"By using these two systems we"ll be able to know who lives here," said Waters. "This will deny access to anyone who doesn"t belong here."

Email Cpl. Blom at [email protected]

Field Artillery Marines Salute Ford With 21-Gun Salute

PALM SPRINGS, Calif., Dec. 30, 2006 – Field artillery Marines from Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., conducted a 21-gun salute today as part of the departure ceremony for the California portion of the state funeral for former President Gerald R. Ford.

http://www.defenselink.mil/News/NewsArticle.aspx?id=2560

By Lance Cpl. Chris T. Mann, USMC
Special to American Forces Press Service

Ford, 93, died Dec. 26 at his home in Rancho Mirage, Calif.

“The president sacrificed a tremendous amount on our behalf, and the ceremony was a way for us to honor him,” said Marine Staff Sgt. Justin Y. Booker, a field artillery scout observer with Company K, 3rd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment.

More than 20 members from the artillery battery marched in unison on the tarmac of Palm Springs International Airport before taking their firing positions behind five 105 mm Howitzer cannons. The Marines grouped in teams of four behind each cannon. Each firing team consisted of a chief, a cannonier, an ammo technician, and a gunner.

Twenty-one cannon shots were fired with a five-second pause between each round while the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing Band, based at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, played “Hail to the Chief.”

Marines from the artillery regiment volunteered to participate in the ceremony. “The Marines under me are proud to be here and when asked (to come). They raised their hands and said, ‘Pick me,’” said Gunnery Sgt. Donovan C. Thomas, a 33-year-old field artilleryman from Bronx, N.Y.

The artillery Marines arrived early this morningto prepare for the ceremony. Pfc. Jordan B. Yager helped prepare the cannons for firing in the ceremony.
“Lots of rehearsal and hard work went into this,” said Yager, a motor transportation operator.

“I’m proud to be part of something larger than myself,” added the 20 year old from Modesto, Calif.

The ceremony closed out the California portion of the state funeral. Ford’s remains were flown to Andrews Air Force Base, Md., to begin the nation’s capital phase of the state funeral.

The 21-gun salute is an honor given to heads of state worldwide and is said to have originated during the 17th century, when fighting would be ceased in order to allow removal of the fallen from the battlefield.

Traditionally, the 21-gun salute is fired over a servicemember’s grave in three rifle volleys. This was done during battle to signal the fight may continue.

(Marine Lance Cpl. Chris T. Mann is assigned to Forward Joint Information Bureau Palm Desert.)


December 29, 2006

Marine’s uncommon valor in combat earns him medal during last few months in Marine Corps

AL ASAD, Iraq - Marines and sailors here say that a sergeant leading a convoy through Iraq"s western Al Anbar province showed uncommon valor in May when he pulled several Marines from a burning humvee ignited by an improvised explosive.

http://www.imef-fwd.usmc.mil/imef%2FInfolineMarines.nsf/0/74D410F5C1F1F23DC3257251005F2D06?OpenDocument

Story and photos by Sgt. Roe F. Seigle
Combat Correspondent, Regimental Combat Team 7

For his actions that day, Sgt. Dave Husky, 22, was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal with a Combat "V" device, which is awarded for valor, in a ceremony at Al Asad, Iraq, Dec. 14, 2006.

Husky was riding in a humvee when one of the vehicles in the convoy behind him was struck with an improvised explosive device. The vehicle caught fire, which caused ammunition to "cook off" - or ignite from the heat.

Husky disregarded his own safety and rushed to the burning vehicle to pull everyone away from it so they could receive medical attention, said Petty Officer 3rd Class David Drew, a hospital corpsman with Regimental Combat Team 7.

Drew was there that day and treated several casualties. He says if it weren"t for Husky"s quick actions, people would have died.

"I thank God (Husky) was there that day," said Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Joshua Drew, 22, a hospital corpsman with Regimental Combat Team 7. "He brought the wounded to me so I could treat them. There are Marines and Iraqis alive today because of him."

However, Husky, a native of Bellingham, Wash., said any other Marine in his position that day would have done the same thing.

"I think that if someone is hurt, you help them," said Husky, a 2002 graduate of Hazen High School. "Someone had to do it."

The modest Husky believes he did only what was necessary and does not deserve recognition for his acts that day.

"All I care about is that those guys are alive," said Husky, who spent nearly a year in Iraq as a platoon sergeant for the regiment"s "Jump" platoon - a team of Marines and sailors who provide security and perform a variety of military operations in Iraq"s western Anbar Province.

Husky"s actions that day instilled a sense of courage in Drew, who ran in the midst of stray bullets and cared for the wounded Marines and Iraqis, according to Drew.

"I will never, ever forget what Husky said when he was running toward that burning vehicle," said Drew. "He screamed ‘(expletive) my life, let"s get those guys out of there.""

Sgt. Maj. Jimmy Mashburn, sergeant major assigned to the Regimental Combat Team 7, said it is extremely important to have Marines like Husky on the battlefield.

"Husky (was) willing to disregard his own safety to save the lives of others," said Mashburn, 46, and a 27-year Marine Corps veteran. "He put himself in imminent danger (and) his actions saved lives."

Husky received the award only two months before his four-year obligation to the Marine Corps ended. He recently returned to Washington to attend college but is unsure what he wants to major in, he said.

Mashburn said that several members of Husky"s chain of command, including the Regimental commanding officer, encouraged Husky to reenlist and share his experiences and leadership with other Marines.

"I support him no matter what he does," said Mashburn, a native of Sikeston, Mo. "He will be sought after for his abilities."

The Marines and sailors assigned to RCT-7 will return home after a year-long deployment early next year.

Contact Sgt. Seigle at [email protected]


Click on original link above to find photo links.
CAPTIONS FOR PHOTOS:

HUSKY ZEAGLER 1 -

After receiving an award for combat valor, U.S. Marine Sgt. Dave Husky is congratulated by fellow Marines after his award ceremony Dec. 14, 2006, at Al Asad, Iraq. Husky received the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal with Combat "V" device, which is awarded for valor. Husky, a 22-year-old from Bellingham, Wash., disregarded his own safety to pull wounded U.S. and Iraqi troops from a burning humvee after the vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device in May. The vehicle caught fire, which caused ammunition to "cook off" - or ignite from the heat. Husky, who recently got out of the Marine Corps after a four-year enlistment and 11 month deployment to Iraq, pulled several people away from the burning wreckage so they could receive medical attention, said Petty Officer 3rd Class David Drew, a hospital corpsman with Regimental Combat Team 7. "I thank God (Husky) was there that day," said Drew, who treated casualties on the scene. "He brought the wounded to me so I could treat them. There are Marines and Iraqis alive today because of him." Husky, who was deployed to Iraq with the Twentynine Palms, Calif.-based RCT-7, received the award only two months before his four-year obligation to the Marine Corps ended. He recently returned to Washington to attend college but is unsure what he wants to major in, he said. (Photo by Sgt. Roe F. Seigle)


HUSKY ZEAGLER 2 -

After receiving an award for combat valor, U.S. Marine Sgt. Dave Husky is congratulated by fellow Marines after his award ceremony Dec. 14, 2006, at Al Asad, Iraq. Husky received the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal with Combat "V" device, which is awarded for valor. Husky, a 22-year-old from Bellingham, Wash., disregarded his own safety to pull wounded U.S. and Iraqi troops from a burning humvee after the vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device in May. The vehicle caught fire, which caused ammunition to "cook off" - or ignite from the heat. Husky, who recently got out of the Marine Corps after a four-year enlistment and 11 month deployment to Iraq, pulled several people away from the burning wreckage so they could receive medical attention, said Petty Officer 3rd Class David Drew, a hospital corpsman with Regimental Combat Team 7. "I thank God (Husky) was there that day," said Drew, who treated casualties on the scene. "He brought the wounded to me so I could treat them. There are Marines and Iraqis alive today because of him." Husky, who was deployed to Iraq with the Twentynine Palms, Calif.-based RCT-7, received the award only two months before his four-year obligation to the Marine Corps ended. He recently returned to Washington to attend college but is unsure what he wants to major in, he said. (Photo by Sgt. Roe F. Seigle)


HUSKY ZEAGLER 4 -

U.S. Marine Sgt. Dave Husky received the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal with Combat "V" device, which is awarded for valor, in a ceremony Dec. 14, 2006, at Al Asad, Iraq. Husky, a 22-year-old from Bellingham, Wash., disregarded his own safety to pull wounded U.S. and Iraqi troops from a burning humvee after the vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device in May. The vehicle caught fire, which caused ammunition to "cook off" - or ignite from the heat. Husky, who recently got out of the Marine Corps after a four-year enlistment and 11 month deployment to Iraq, pulled several people away from the burning wreckage so they could receive medical attention, said Petty Officer 3rd Class David Drew, a hospital corpsman with Regimental Combat Team 7. "I thank God (Husky) was there that day," said Drew, who treated casualties on the scene. "He brought the wounded to me so I could treat them. There are Marines and Iraqis alive today because of him." Husky, who was deployed to Iraq with the Twentynine Palms, Calif.-based RCT-7, received the award only two months before his four-year obligation to the Marine Corps ended. He recently returned to Washington to attend college but is unsure what he wants to major in, he said. (Photo by Sgt. Roe F. Seigle)


ZEAGLER HUSKY 7 -

U.S. Marine Sgt. Dave Husky received the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal with Combat "V" device, which is awarded for valor, in a ceremony Dec. 14, 2006, at Al Asad, Iraq. Husky, a 22-year-old from Bellingham, Wash., disregarded his own safety to pull wounded U.S. and Iraqi troops from a burning humvee after the vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device in May. The vehicle caught fire, which caused ammunition to "cook off" - or ignite from the heat. Husky, who recently got out of the Marine Corps after a four-year enlistment and 11 month deployment to Iraq, pulled several people away from the burning wreckage so they could receive medical attention, said Petty Officer 3rd Class David Drew, a hospital corpsman with Regimental Combat Team 7. "I thank God (Husky) was there that day," said Drew, who treated casualties on the scene. "He brought the wounded to me so I could treat them. There are Marines and Iraqis alive today because of him." Husky, who was deployed to Iraq with the Twentynine Palms, Calif.-based RCT-7, received the award only two months before his four-year obligation to the Marine Corps ended. He recently returned to Washington to attend college but is unsure what he wants to major in, he said. (Photo by Sgt. Roe F. Seigle)

December 28, 2006

Gearing up on rail-ways

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (Dec. 28, 2006) -- Marines rush over top, around and beside a mammoth-looking line of railcars, as Lance Cpl. Brent G. Vines and his fellow Marines finish preparing and loading various combat gear to be sent to Fort Polk, La. for Cajun Viper.

Dec. 28, 2006
Submitted on: 12/27/2006 02:32:45 PM
Story ID#: 20061227143245
By Lance Cpl. Bryce C.K. Muhlenberg, 2nd Marine Division

The railway is both efficient and good training for the Marines of 10th Marine Regiment. This is the first serious railway operation they have conducted in support of infantry training since 2002.

The units participating in operation Cajun Viper, including 1st and 2nd Battalion of the 10th Marine Regiment, will train in Louisiana for approximately a month in preparation for Iraq.

“The Marines will be in Fort Polk and ready to train, so it is important that we get this gear and equipment to them in a very quick and organized fashion,” said Vines, a landing support specialist. “For this operation we are transporting the gear by railway instead, which is fun.”

This is Vines first time working with a railway system, and he is glad for the chance to perfect another aspect of his job.

“This (railway transportation) is somewhat new for most of the Marines working here today,” said Chief Warrant Officer-4 Daniel R. Young, the 10th Marine Regiment embark officer. “It is a good learning experience for the Marines and is also getting the job done efficiently.”

Embark Marines organize, load and transport gear, ranging from the smallest of items to a Logistics Vehicle System (LVS), which can weigh more than 24,000 pounds. They get the job done using various modes of transportation.

“We use anything that flies, drives or floats,” Vines said. “It all depends on what needs to go, where it needs to go and when it needs to get there.”

Large amounts of gear were sent in 47 cars over the rails from Camp Lejeune to Fort Polk. The operation also called for 197 pieces of rolling stock, to include 20 humvees, 47 seven-ton trucks, two LVSs and many other pieces of gear.

Vines said, although it is common to have gear transported across country in commercial 18-wheeler trucks, the equipment was sent by rail for good reason aside from the training aspect.

Young explained it takes around 120 commercial trucks to transport what the Marines fit on 47 rail cars. In addition to the carrying capacity and easy loading, railcars also allow for a more organized and consolidated shipment due to the sheer size of each car.

The Marines worked hard to complete the successful loading and transportation of the gear, and they learned a lot much from the whole experience.

“We are in charge of making sure the Marine Corps, and right now the infantry units at Fort Polk, have their beans, bullets and band-aids,” said Vines, referring to the supplies needed to complete any mission. “It is rewarding to know that you are making sure your fellow Marines have what they need to be prepared and trained.”
-30-

15th MEU to return from Iraq, Injured city native part of Marine unit

WASHINGTON - The 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, currently deployed in Iraq’s volatile Anbar province, will be relieved next month by Army troops, allowing the 2,200 Marines and sailors to return to Camp Pendleton, Calif., in March as scheduled, the Pentagon announced Wednesday.

http://www.sj-r.com/sections/news/stories/104023.asp

COPLEY NEWS SERVICE
Published Thursday, December 28, 2006

Among the unit’s members is Marine Gunnery Sgt. Andrew Harrell, a 27-year-old Springfield native who last week sustained extensive injuries to his leg when two rocket-propelled grenades killed another member of the unit.

The 15th MEU sailed from San Diego on Sept. 13 aboard the amphibious ships Boxer, Dubuque and Comstock for a normal six-month deployment.

The amphibious group moved into the Persian Gulf so the Marines could become the reserve force for Army Gen. John Abizaid, commander of U. S. Central Command, who is responsible for Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Marine unit was sent ashore in mid-November to replace Army troops who had been transferred from Anbar to reinforce the effort to stop the increasingly deadly sectarian violence in Baghdad. It was the third tour in Iraq for the unit, which was part of the invasion force in March 2003 and returned last year to join the anti-insurgency fight in Anbar.

The Marine captain killed during this tour was from the unit’s 2nd Battalion 4th Marines, adding to the 283 Marines and sailors killed in Iraq. The number of wounded could not be determined.

Pentagon spokesman Brian Whitman said Defense Secretary Robert Gates had approved Abizaid’s request to send the 2nd Combat Brigade from the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division to Kuwait to serve as Central Command’s “call forward” reserve force, replacing the 15th MEU. The 3,500 soldiers from the brigade were recalled early to their base at Fort Bragg, N.C., from holiday leave to prepare to deploy early in January, Whitman said.

Bush Considers Up to 20,000 More Troops for Iraq

WASHINGTON, Dec. 28 — The Bush administration is considering an increase in troop levels in Iraq of 17,000 to 20,000, which would be accomplished in part by delaying the departure of two Marine regiments now deployed in Anbar Province, Pentagon officials said Thursday.

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/29/world/middleeast/29prexy.html?_r=1&ref;=worldspecial&oref;=slogin

By DAVID S. CLOUD and JEFF ZELENY

The option was among those discussed in Crawford, Tex., on Thursday as President Bush met there with his national security team, and it has emerged as a likely course as he considers a strategy shift in Iraq, the officials said.

Most of the additional troops would probably be employed in and around Baghdad, the officials said.

With the continuing high levels of violence there, senior officials increasingly say additional American forces will be needed as soon as possible to clear neighborhoods and to conduct other combat operations to regain control of the capital, rather than primarily to train Iraqi forces.

“The mission that most people are settling on has to do with using them in a security role to quell violence in Baghdad and the surrounding area,” said a senior Pentagon official involved in the planning.

Any plan to add to American forces in Baghdad would have to be negotiated with the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, which has expressed interest in using Iraqi forces, not American ones, to assert more control over the capital.

The idea of extending the deployments of two Marine units has emerged in part because most of the marines in Iraq are on seven-month rotations and keeping them there longer is considered more palatable than holding over Army brigades, which are already serving tours of a year or longer, one official said.

Additional troops would come from sending into Iraq a brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division headed for the region next month and possibly by speeding up the deployment of several Army brigades now scheduled to go to Iraq by next spring.

But officials said a brigade of the First Armored Division now in Anbar Province would probably go home as planned in January, because the unit had already been kept in Iraq more than 40 days beyond its scheduled tour.

Other options remain under consideration, the officials said, noting that a decision to speed up deployment schedules would put more strain on Army and Marine equipment and personnel. But other options, like mobilizing reserve units, would take months, officials said.

After meeting with his top military and diplomatic advisers at his Texas ranch, Mr. Bush said his administration was making “good progress” in fashioning a revised Iraq strategy. But he said he intended to consult with Congress when it convenes next week before presenting his plan to the nation.

“I fully understand it’s important to have both Republicans and Democrats understanding the importance of this mission,” Mr. Bush said, speaking to reporters after a three-hour meeting. “It’s important for the American people to understand success in Iraq is vital for our own security.”

The meeting, according to a senior administration official, focused on the security, economic and political situation in Iraq. But the bulk of the discussions focused on the security issue and the option of sending more American troops to Baghdad, the official said.

Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, emerged from the meeting with the president. The national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley, and his top deputy, J. D. Crouch, also attended the meeting and joined the others for a working lunch at the ranch.

The White House initially intended to announce a new Iraq policy before Christmas but delayed those plans so the president could consider a range of diverging views inside his administration. For weeks his advisers have been locked in internal debates about how to proceed, but it is an open question whether the meeting on Thursday brought clarity to the discussions.

“I’ve got more consultation to do until I talk to the country about the plan,” said Mr. Bush, who did not elaborate or take questions from reporters.

Mr. Bush said he had received a briefing from Mr. Gates, his new defense secretary, and General Pace, who recently returned from Iraq. White House aides said the president did not want to offer his new plan for Iraq before Mr. Gates had an opportunity to study conditions on the ground in Iraq.

“It’s an important part of coming to closure on a way forward in Iraq that will help us achieve our objective,” Mr. Bush said, “which is a country that can govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself.”

How additional American troops would be employed in Baghdad remains a central point of discussion among Mr. Bush’s top advisers and top ground commanders in Iraq, officials said. But two officials said there was growing agreement that most would not be attached to American teams training Iraqi Army and police units, because doing so would not necessarily yield the quick improvements in security the White House wants.

But it is also unclear to what extent the additional forces would be employed to curb the power of militias associated with Shiite groups that form a key constituency for Mr. Maliki.

The two units whose stay could be extended are the Marines’ Fifth and Seventh Regiment combat teams in Anbar Province, which are scheduled to begin leaving Iraq in February when two replacement regiments are due to arrive, officials said.

It is unclear which Army brigades could be sent early. A 3,500-soldier brigade of the Third Infantry Division, based at Fort Stewart, Ga., is scheduled to arrive in Iraq in mid-January, followed in subsequent months by units from the First Infantry Division, at Fort Riley, Kan., and the Second Infantry Division, at Fort Lewis, Wash.

The Third Brigade of the Third Infantry Division, based at Fort Benning, Ga., is scheduled to go to Iraq in the spring, according to a spokesman, Kevin Larson, who said he had not heard any discussion of accelerating that timetable. But he said, “We’re ready to answer whatever call may come up.”

How long beyond February the Marine units would remain is unclear, but officials emphasized that the goal was a temporary increase in the American presence. It is also unclear whether a decision to speed up the deployment of two Army brigades would mean that other units scheduled to be deployed would go to Iraq earlier than planned later next year. Currently there are about 134,000 American troops in Iraq.

David S. Cloud reported from Washington, and Jeff Zeleny from Crawford, Tex.

Road to recovery

Andrew Kinard came back from Iraq more than seven weeks ago, but in many ways, he’s spent the time here fighting harder than ever.

http://www.goupstate.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20061224/NEWS/612240347/1051/NEWS01

JASON SPENCER, Staff Writer
Published December 24, 2006

He’s pushed himself beyond what those who know him — family, friends, fellow Marines and doctors — sometimes thought possible. And he sees himself only pushing harder for the foreseeable future, and perhaps for the rest of his life.

Andrew, a second lieutenant who was in charge of a 26-man platoon in Iraq’s tumultuous al Anbar province, was caught in a bomb blast in late October — a blast that cost him his legs, severely injured his abdomen and chest, and caused other internal and external damage.

“How’s your hand doing?” Dr. Bill Liston asked Andrew, inside his room on the fifth floor of the National Naval Medical Center. Liston is one of a team of physicians assigned to Andrew.

Andrew looked at his left arm — bandaged from above the elbow to his palm — and gently flexed his fingers, which protruded from the bandages at the knuckle.

“It’s OK,” Andrew said, his voice only the slightest pitch higher than normal because a tube in his throat prevents him from pushing as much air over his vocal chords as he’s used to.

“It’s OK,” he said again. “It moves.”

“Can’t close it all the way?” the doctor pressed. “I haven’t talked to the orthopedic surgeons about that in awhile. But they’ll keep following you for that.”

What he recalls

The Spartanburg native was comatose for more than three weeks after arriving in Bethesda on Nov. 1, and in and out of consciousness for several weeks after that because of sedation and extensive surgeries. But he’s started to heal: He remembers some of Thanksgiving — his sister, Katherine, watched “Gone with the Wind,” with him, and sang “Jesus Loves Me” — but not much more until his 24th birthday, a week later. His memory is solid after that.

He remembers being in Iraq, his unit’s mission of guarding a strategically important bridge over the Euphrates River, though not the day there that changed his life forever.

Andrew and his men went in knowing that the last group of Marines at the U.S. outpost near Rawah, a small town on the Euphrates, went home minus several of their friends – including four men who were killed when a suicide bomber crashed a truck into a checkpoint.

And he came back, despite the circumstances, still able to think and reason, crack a joke, and smile.

Andrew possesses the kind of spirit that, as a child, drove him to seek the highest tree in his Converse Heights neighborhood so he could climb it and then jump down; the kind of purpose-driven spirit that later fell comfortably into the role of a Marine officer; and, the kind of spirit that, where others would now see their lives as ending, Andrew sees a new life beginning.

Andrew has a new mission.

“I feel that my goal is to walk,” he said.

“That’s my purpose right now: to walk again. Everything I do is aimed toward that goal. You know, whether it’s PT [physical therapy], or working out with the rubber bands” – he flexes his fingers again – “or just putting up with all the needle poking and surgeries, and maintaining a positive attitude about it.

“I will walk,” he said. “Someday.”

‘I didn’t recognize him’

Monitors of various shapes and sizes are scattered about Andrew’s room, most of them close to his bed.

The machines beep, buzz and whir – sometimes regularly, sometimes only when something needs to be checked or to send a signal to doctors and nurses.

Hospital staffers are in and out routinely. They have to weave between the visitors at Andrew’s bedside, family or sometimes friends and fellow Marines – and the occasional politician, including Arizona Sen. John McCain.

Those who don’t know Andrew might wonder how he is able to smile these days. Those who do know him would probably worry if he didn’t. He’s simply approaching his current situation the same way he has everything else in his life.

While his body looks weak, his eyes are all about strength.

He talks with animated facial expressions, those eyes widening and brightening as he grins when someone mentions something that excites him. He gestures while he speaks, sometimes causing the oxygen monitor apparatus attached to his finger to fly off. His brother Will or another family member is right there to help him slide it back on.

“He has made such tremendous progress compared to the way he looked when he first got here,” said Harry Kinard, Andrew’s father and a Spartanburg urologist.

“Honestly, when I first saw him, I -- just for a fleeting moment -- I thought maybe they had made a mistake and brought the wrong person in. I didn’t recognize him. And, then I checked him over real well, and just happened to notice a few characteristics, and said, ‘Yep, that’s Andrew.’ But literally, for a fleeting moment, I thought maybe they had made a mistake – or maybe hoping they had made a mistake.”

A stand next to the bed holds an array of bags filled with fluid that tubes lead into Andrew’s body, including a brownish liquid that goes through a feeding tube into his nose.

“That’s steak and potatoes right there,” said Harry Kinard, with a slight chuckle.

He has a reason to be in high spirits.

This past Wednesday, the Marine was able to eat solid food for the first time since leaving Iraq. He had passed a “swallow test” the day before, at which point he promptly asked for a strawberry-banana smoothie. He started the day with Rice Krispies.

The last solid food Andrew had eaten were military MREs, or meals-ready-to-eat, outside Rawah in October.

‘That’s what I want to do’

Visitors to Andrew’s room have to put on a yellow gown, a facial mask and rubber gloves. They have to be removed and discarded just before leaving; new dressing must be put on to re-enter.

“Did you sleep well last night?” sister Katherine asked as she walked up to the bed.

Andrew shook his head, looking unhappy.

“Really? We brought you some chicken noodle soup.”

And then the grin returned.

“It’s from Panera!” younger sister Courtney chimed in.

They opened the lid, and a flavorful aroma wafted through the air, briefly replacing the sterile, medicinal smell that all hospitals have. Andrew’s mouth was watering, and the three siblings took turns helping spoon the soup out for him.

“It’s amazing — and I’m just eating the broth. It’s so good. I usually like to eat the chicken,” he said with a slight laugh.

But it’s enough. (Imagine not being able to taste anything for nearly two months.)

He’s since sampled yogurt, lasagna and chicken tetrazzini.

Katherine, 26, is married and is Andrew’s older sister. She’s married to Charles Gouch, who works for the Furman Co. in Greenville. They have one daughter, Caroline. Nearly every day, Katherine posts an update on Andrew’s condition in an online journal at www.caringbridge.com.

“It’s hard to see our brother like that, but we love him very, very much and I don’t think there’s anything any one of us wouldn’t do for him,” she said.

Courtney is 21, a senior at Baylor University in Texas, majoring in international relations. Will is the youngest of the four, a 19-year-old Clemson University freshman majoring in computer engineering.

‘Constant energy’

The trio remembers that Andrew was “constant energy” growing up, sometimes rappelling down the staircase in the family’s home on Plume Street in Converse Heights.

Or maybe he was out in the neighborhood in his cowboy uniform or camouflage.

He loved Legos and taking things apart so he could put them back together again. Katherine beams when she says her brother holds the unofficial record at an officer training school in Quantico, Va., for taking apart and reassembling an AK-47 in 28 seconds.

“He’s a very smart guy, just brilliant. That’s his way of getting it out. He got permission in third grade to walk around the classroom, because he couldn’t sit still,” she said.

“He did stuff like that all the time when he was little,” Courtney said. “He was everywhere, all the time. We had this old laundry chute in our house that went down to the basement, and he would hook up a little rappelling system or whatever he did, and go all the way down.”

The Kinard family traveled often, and Andrew would always find a way to wander off on his own — exploring, doing his own thing.

The experiences he gleaned from those trips served him well.

In 1998, his family took a six-week mission trip to Kenya. It was Andrew’s first exposure to poor, primitive living conditions. He’d see them again eight years later in Rawah.

But it was a vacation years earlier, in 1993, that first put Andrew on his path.

The Kinards visited Amish country in Pennsylvania, and coming back, they were ahead of schedule. They happened to stop in Annapolis, Md., where it was parents’ weekend at the U.S. Naval Academy.

“I saw all these big guys in their white uniforms, all shiny,” he said. “It just put an impression on me. And I said, ‘Dad, that’s what I want to do.’ I didn’t get serious about it until the fourth grade. I was at an academic camp — also known as nerd school — and there was a retired air force officer there who encouraged me to write to them, to the academy for information.

“So I wrote to them — I’m sure they got a kick out of it, a letter from a fourth grader — and they wrote back and said, ‘We appreciate your interest. Give us a call, write back when you’re a junior in high school.’ I was like, ‘A junior in high school? I’ll never get there. That’s, like, so far away.’ So, I continued to have interest in going to the academy. Off and on, I learned more and more about it. And as I got into high school, I tried to do things that would set me up for success.”

‘He was a mess’

Family pictures and cards line the window ledge in the hospital room. One nurse, Rachel, also is a Washington Redskins’ cheerleader, and brought him a picture of the whole squad. Another nurse brought him a Christmas stocking. Another brought him white Christmas lights, which are draped along the top of the hospital room.

A South Carolina flag hangs in the back, from state Sen. Jim Ritchie, R-Spartanburg.

The low hum of an air compressor provides a constant backdrop in Andrew’s room. He rests on a bed full of sand and air, and the machine is designed to regularly adjust the bed, slightly altering his position, as he’s unable to move himself. It keeps him comfortable, and should limit bedsores.

Dr. Liston believes Andrew will make “a great recovery.”

Andrew was in the hospital’s intensive care unit until about a week ago.

When he arrived, on top of the injuries that were physically apparent, he had an infection in his bloodstream. His wounds were infected, his abdomen was open and, “He was a mess,” Liston said.

At one point, doctors had to perform a fasciotomy, which, in Dr. Kinard’s words, split his son’s forearm from elbow to wrist. Fluid had built up in his right arm, which could have interfered with Andrew’s circulation. So his arm was cut open and had to remain that way for about two weeks. Eventually, doctors were able to close it, but had to do a skin graft to do it completely.

He also had pneumonia and was constantly running a high fever. He beat the former, and his temperature these days is only slightly high — around 100 degrees.

In recent weeks, doctors have been performing skin grafts to close the stumps where Andrew’s legs had been.

Andrew was awake and aware long before Thanksgiving, Liston said, though he can’t remember those first few weeks of hospitalization probably because of a protective measure his body has taken.

Liston spent most of 2005 at the U.S.-controlled Al Asad Air Base in western Iraq. He’s seen injuries like Andrew’s again and again.

“Because of the pain, and other things, I just think people don’t remember,” Liston said.

“And it’s a good thing, probably, for the most part. But he definitely knew his family and, at least on some level” — he turns toward Andrew — “you knew we were taking care of you. It’s one thing I’ve noticed that the family really makes a huge difference. … I’ve seen people wake up suddenly as soon as they hear the voice of a father or mother or spouse or brother or sister. And that seemed to help you, there’s no question about it.”

Andrew spent about four weeks on a ventilator. Doctors often don’t like to use such a device for any longer, because long-term damage to a person’s vocal chords could result.

So, he now has a tube to help him breathe. It’s a smaller tube and has to be plugged in order for Andrew to talk. Without it, the air escapes before it can vibrate his vocal chords.

Doctors hoped to remove it this weekend. The feeding tube may be out soon as well.

On Dec. 14, after the ventilator tube had been out for a few days, Andrew was able to speak. His voice was raspy at first, and over the course of the next few days he could only talk in short intervals before he would have to take a break.

He still needs breaks, though far less often.

“This is an amazing facility. I wouldn’t want him to be anywhere else,” Harry Kinard said. “Unfortunately, they have a lot of experience with these types of injuries. I say unfortunately because you hate that anybody would have to go through something like this. But at the same time, that experience allows them, I think, to be the premier place in the world as far as treating these kinds of injuries.”

‘I hope he doesn’t remember’

“How you doing today, sir? You feeling good?” Marine Cpl. Patrick Elswick reached out and shook Andrew’s hand.

The smile appears.

“Yeah, I’m feeling better.”

“You about ready for that milkshake?” Elswick asked

“I’m going to hold off. I’ve got this chicken soup I’m working on.”

The 2nd Marine Division’s 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, based out of Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, sent Elswick to Bethesda to help any of its Marines who ended up there. Andrew says the two have become friends during his stay. Elswick comes by every day.

“He’s been there for me — in a lot of ways, as far as he knows how things work up here,” Andrew said. “He goes to the people you talk to to get things straightened out. … It’s a painful experience to lose my legs. It hasn’t been easy. But I’m looking forward to progressing to the point where it doesn’t bother me anymore. But Patrick has really been there for me. I mean, my dad and my mom, they’ve been incredible. Absolutely amazing. But there’s only two of them. Patrick has helped me out a lot. He will go down and rent a DVD for me. He got me a computer. He got me a DVD player.” He grins. “He got me a smoothie.”

Only one other Marine from the 2nd LAR is at the Naval hospital now, but others have been there. And more could come.

“He’s been one of the best lieutenants I’ve ever known,” Elswick said. “He wasn’t the kind to come in and think he knew everything. He was driven. He was willing to learn from his Marines, as well as teach them.”

From April to August this year, Andrew rented a room from Casey and Kristi Ward in Jacksonville, N.C., while he was stationed at Camp Lejeune. Casey and Andrew met earlier in Quantico.

“I cannot express how much of an inspiration Drew has been to me in the short year and a half that I have known him. Andrew is the epitome of what a good friend, selfless leader and all over person is made of. It is an honor and privilege to know him personally and professionally. Not a day would go by that I would not look to him for counsel, often by silently attempting to emulate his actions. He possess such a strong character and high moral statute that is shadowed only by his constant positive outlook on life and explosive energy level,” Ward wrote in an e-mail from Iraq.

“There is not a doubt in my mind that several young Marines are still defending our freedom today due to Andrew’s action and selfless service.”

The 2nd LAR is spread throughout Iraq’s Al Anbar province, supporting the 1st Marine Division out of Camp Pendleton in California. In his battalion, Andrew is in charge of 1st Platoon, Alpha Company.

Platoons were pushed out into the city of Rawah, each assigned to patrol a section of it. Andrew seemed pleased with the database he put together of what parts of their section were patrolled at what time. When he made the patrol schedule each day, he could avoid going to the same place twice at the same time. It added an element of randomness.

The nearby bridge is the only one within miles on the road to the Syrian border, and it leads to Baghdad and Mosul.

After the suicide bomber attacked the previous unit assigned to the bridge, a nearby house was taken over to put some distance between the bridge (where there is a traffic checkpoint) and where the Marines lived. The Iraqi house had a flat roof and no indoor plumbing.

Out in the desert, the Marines didn’t have much to do for entertainment. They did build a homemade gym out of scrap wood and other spare parts. And the platoon adopted a pet chicken.

“I almost got in trouble for that one,” Andrew said.

“I didn’t get involved in the chicken. I kind of had to not know about it. They kept it upstairs on the deck. We kept him up there, where we had our machine guns, in a little chicken coop. But sometimes they would just let him run around. And one time when they were just letting him run around, my boss shows up, and comes upstairs to see how everybody’s doing. He sees this chicken. He says, ‘What the heck is a chicken doing here?’ I said, ‘I don’t know sir. I’ll take care of it.’ So, I told my guys, ‘Hey, hide the chicken the next time the boss comes.’ And they did.”

Andrew pauses for a moment. His boss is a captain, the company commander.

“Have you ever seen the movie ‘Office Space?’ ” he asks. “Yeah. I’ve got, like, eight bosses.”

Andrew said he didn’t get to know any of the local people, though “we had some friends” in the Iraqi Army, which was responsible for inspecting vehicles at the traffic checkpoint. Marines were there to supervise, and to show that it was a combined effort, he said.

It took the platoon about two weeks to find its rhythm, he said.

Then one morning everything changed.

The day of the explosion, Andrew and seven of his men were ambushed.

The blast hit him on the left side, detonated remotely when he was near a planted improvised explosive device. Gray-blue specks of shrapnel are sprinkled across the left side of his face, with a noticeable strip of “clean” skin from where his helmet strap protected a part of his face. The shrapnel should work its way out as his body naturally replenishes its skin.

Andrew’s family has talked to the other Marines on that patrol.

The Marine just behind Andrew weighed about 210 pounds and had about 100 pounds of gear on his back. He was some distance from Andrew, and the blast still knocked him 20 feet away.

“They see a lot over there. They see a lot of trauma. And they didn’t think he was going to make it,” said Katherine.

Within 24 hours, Andrew had gone through 67 units of blood. He was losing it as fast as doctors could pump it in. His heart stopped twice, but he was resuscitated.

He went from Rawah, to Al Asad Air Force Base, to a trauma center in Balad. Two days after the blast, he was in Landstuhl, Germany. And by Wednesday night (the explosion happened on a Sunday), he was in Bethesda.

“If people can make it alive to Landstuhl, 99 percent of them survive,” Liston said.

“And if they make it here, it’s 99 percent again. We have had some deaths here, but generally speaking, you’ve got a great chance of making it to recovery if you make it here alive. (Andrew) was pretty sick. So, he would have fallen into the 1 percent group. But he had a lot of help, and certainly I’d like to think that somebody above us was looking out for him, because he gave him a lot of help.”

Fellow Marines have told the family that after the blast, Andrew’s training kicked in and he started issuing orders about setting up a perimeter. He didn’t want the insurgents to start picking off any of his men.

But Andrew himself might never fully remember what happened the morning of Oct. 29.

“From what they tell me, that will come back, some of it,” his father said. “He’ll pick up little snippets here and there and sort of piece it together over time. I’m not sure he really wants to remember, that he really needs to remember and, in some ways, I hope he doesn’t remember.”


‘A good chance’

The Kinard family is spending Christmas in Bethesda.

The Marine’s Yellow Ribbon Fund is paying for them to stay nearby and has supplied a small Christmas tree with red and yellow ribbons.

Normally, the Kinards spend Christmas Eve with Harry Kinard’s side of the family and Christmas day with the family of his wife, Mary.

“This year it’s going to be a little different, but we’ll still be with the family, which is most important,” said Will, the youngest sibling.

The family has been talking about getting Andrew a video game console for Christmas, perhaps a PlayStation. It’s not just to pass time.

“It’s good therapy for his hands,” Harry Kinard said. “He’s lost some mobility in his hands and his arms. That’s due to a lot of factors. He should have full recovery. But the more he exercises those fingers, the better. So we’re thinking that a video gaming device will give him some of that. Plus, it will exercise his mind, and his reflexes.”

But there’s so much more to tell about Andrew Kinard.

He doesn’t come from a military family. (There hasn’t been a Kinard in the military since the Civil War.) He’s an Eagle Scout, he was a leader in the youth group at First Baptist Church in Spartanburg, he was accepted at West Point, but went to the Naval Academy. He survived being a “plebe,” the lower-than-scum mentality that is drilled into all first-year midshipmen there. (“Oh, that sucked,” he says, laughing.) He wanted to be a pilot at one point, but was more attracted to the strong leadership, discipline and field work that he found in being a Marine officer.

But all of that seems like it would go in the first chapter of Andrew’s life. His story has really just begun to unfold. And it starts with the Purple Heart he was awarded this month.

“Andrew was always up for a challenge,” David Long, Andrew’s Scoutmaster, wrote in an e-mail.

“No matter what the task or how grueling or mentally challenging it was, he was there and in high spirits. Andrew to me personified true happiness with his life. No matter what was handed to him, he would find the brighter side of it. I believe Andrew always sees the good in things rather than anything else. He was always willing and eager to help out with the younger kids in the scouting program as he progressed in years and experience. I’m sure his recovery is going to be a challenge, but if there is anyone on the face of this Earth that can get through it, it will be that guy laying in that hospital bed.”

Liston is optimistic that Andrew will be fine when it comes to mobility from the waist up.

Andrew will eventually be transferred to Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington where physical therapists and mental health specialists will work with him.

But the next year won’t be easy.

“I think he’s got a good chance” to be able to use prosthetics, Liston said. “It’s just an individual thing. He’s a skinny, slender strong guy, and he should have a good chance to get up and walk again. It’s a long, hard road, but one thing you guys have is youth and vigor, and there’s been a lot of people make amazing recoveries.

“And he’s already done amazing things, so I don’t see why he couldn’t.”

As far his own future goes, Andrew says he has “thought about a lot of different things.”

“I know that I wasn’t put here for a steady 9-to-5 job. That would drive me crazy,” he said. He’s still pushing himself.

“But, I don’t know. We’ll just have to see how things play out. I am interested in law school. I am interested in serving my country, in any capacity — whether it’s the military, civil service, or politics, whatever. I’m here to serve my country.”

He has things to look forward to: All indications are that Andrew will be able to have children one day, if he so desires. He’ll also be able to have normal bathroom functions.

But life won’t be easy. Or cheap, for that matter.

A group in Spartanburg has established the Andrew Kinard Foundation to help raise money that the Marine can use one day to cover out-of-pocket expenses he’ll face.

“He’ll need a vehicle that will be trimmed out for a person who has no legs. He’ll have to have special equipment to drive,” said Tom Leopard, advisor to the foundation and a close friend to the Kinard family.

“Andrew’s not going to be one to lay around for the rest of his life. He’s going to get up and get out and make a difference. He’s going to have mobility issues. We don’t know exactly what yet, but this will be money he can use at his discretion. And since he’s such a strong Christian, he may want to use it for some ministry.

Contributions have come in from all over the world, Leopard said.

In the future, Andrew will be able to do “Anything he wants to do. He’s that kind of fella,” said Rickey McAbee, who owns Roebuck Nursery and voluntarily sends a crew to tend to the Kinard’s yard in Converse Heights.

“Andrew is so special. He just does anything he puts his mind to. We had a prayer service just before he deployed. He stood up, and he wanted us to pray for his mom and dad. Because he knew it was his decision to go to Iraq, not theirs, and that it would be hard on them. You just can’t ask for anymore insight in a young man.”

Liston believes the push that Andrew exhibited his entire life is what has kept him alive and will allow him to recover.

“Even though he had a lot of terrible injuries, I realized he had a great family and he had that will to live,” Liston said. “I think a lot of that is that: He just doesn’t want to give up.”

Jason Spencer can be reached at 562-7214 or [email protected]

December 27, 2006

“Magnificent Bastards” wrap-up search operation in Haditha, where security is steadily improving, U.S. Marines say

HADITHA, Iraq - After six days of searching markets, homes and other key locations in this Euphrates River city of 30,000, U.S. Marines are reporting that security in this once insurgent-heavy region is steadily increasing.

http://www.imef-fwd.usmc.mil/imef%2FInfolineMarines.nsf/0/1B57AECF98131041C3257257001EC999?OpenDocument

Story and photos by Staff Sgt. T.G. Kessler
Public Affairs Chief
15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (SOC)

In just under a week, U.S. Marines from the Camp Pendleton, Calif.-based Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment wrapped-up a city-wide cordon and search operation, capturing insurgents and discovering multiple weapons and munitions caches.

It was the third in a series of U.S. military-led operations to clear and hold the Haditha "Triad" region - three cities clustered along the Euphrates in western Anbar Province: Haditha, Barwanah and Haqlaniyah.

"You look at the enemy attitude before we showed up, other than a few tragic incidents the enemy has been beat down to parade rest," said Capt. Clinton Robins, Golf Company"s commanding officer. "He's hurting but he might try to get froggy and if he does, we"ll be there to smack him back down again."

The company has spent more than a month conducting daily patrols in Haditha in an effort to deter insurgent activity and increase security conditions in this city nestled along the Euphrates River northwest of Baghdad.

Part of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, Golf Company is part of a surge of hundreds of additional U.S. troops into the volatile western Anbar Province in an attempt to keep the region secure and allow for the introduction of additional Iraqi security forces.

Until the addition hundreds of U.S. Marines, the task of providing security to the Triad region has fallen on the shoulders of one Marine Corps battalion. But with more troops, comes more presence in local communities, and less chance for insurgents to operate freely, the Marines say.

"We were expecting to see more enemy activity but when you look back, it makes perfect sense. If [my Marines] were coming my direction I would go the other way [too]," laughed Robins.

So far, the extra manpower seems to be working. Coupled with an 8-foot-high dirt wall which encompasses all three "Triad" cities, the Marines can now effectively control who comes in and out of the city, a crucial measure to limiting insurgents" movement in and out of the city, the Marines say.

But beefed up security measures and an increase in American troops seems to be turning up more than hidden weapons caches. Haditha"s populace seems to be responding to the increased security measures. Not with acts of violence or complaints, but with support.

One local man here showed U.S. Marines where an improvised explosive device was buried near a road. The man used hand gestures to communicate to a patrol of Marines where the hidden bomb was.

"He was trying to explain it to me but I couldn"t understand what he was trying to say. I said ‘Bomb? Bomb?" and he said ‘yes" then ran off," said Cpl. Greg Cantu, a team leader with Golf Company"s 3rd Platoon.

With the man"s help, the Marines were able to locate the bomb before it could cause any damage - proof that the Marines" efforts in the city are starting to pay off, according to Cantu, who added that the Marines were "thankful" for the man"s help.

"I think [our efforts are] working because they are helping us now," said Cantu, a 21-year-old from Bexar, Texas. "There are still some bad people out there that you can"t trust, (but) there are a lot more that are thanking us."

In addition to the would-be roadside bomb, the Marines are also keeping weapons out of the hands of the enemy - in the past three weeks, Marines in the Triad region have turned up more than 30 weapons and munitions caches.

Battling long days and cold nights, Golf Company"s six-day operation resulted in several cache finds - AK-47 assault rifles, high-caliber munitions, and bomb-making material - all scattered throughout the city.

"We found a couple of caches and a couple of IEDs that were about to be put together, some weapons, some mortar tubes—everyday we found something," said Cantu.

In an operation that was expected to take up to 10 days, the Marines were able to sweep through the city in just six days - an impressive feat, explained Robins.

"Our searches were definitely thorough," the Mill Creek, Okla., native explained.
Robins said that the Marines" ability to find hidden caches is further limiting insurgents" ability to attack U.S. and Iraqi forces. Each cache the Marines find amounts to fewer weapons insurgents can use to conduct small-arms and improvised explosive device attacks.

The Marines also discovered several wireless phone stations that were expected to be used as wireless command detonation devices, explained Robins.

"We didn"t find a whole lot of stuff compared to other cities in the Triad. It was a little less than we expected to find," said Robins. "The Marines would find something, I would go and look at it and ask ‘How did you find that there? What made you look there?""

Still, the Marines say those caches they did find could potentially save lives, both U.S. and Iraqi.

"The caches [we found] were small but significant," said Sgt. Luis Rosado, platoon sergeant for Golf Company"s 1st Platoon and 27-year-old from Monroe, Pa. Rosado"s platoon discovered two caches during Golf Company"s recent sweeps through Haditha.

"We took our time, we don"t overlook anything and we turn over every stone until we find something," he said.

Contact Staff Sgt. Kessler at: [email protected]

Editor"s Note: Staff Sgt. Jim Goodwin contributed to this report.

-30-


CAPTIONS FOR PHOTOS:
Photo links may be found at original newslink above


061221-M-9057K-098.jpg

U.S. Marines from the Camp Pendleton, Calif.-based 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment patrol through the narrow streets of Haditha, Iraq, Dec. 21, 2006, in search of insurgents and hidden weapons caches. The battalion"s Golf Company discovered an anti-aircraft gun platform and several military munitions buried in northwest Haditha during cordon and search operations. The cache is one of more than 30 found since mid December by Marines in the Haditha "Triad" region, where U.S. forces recently constructed an eight foot-high dirt berm around the Triad"s three cities of Haqlaniyah, Barwana and Haditha. The berm, along with several traffic control points, is intended to regulate who is coming in and out of the city - a crucial step to improving security conditions for locals, according to the top U.S. military officials in Iraq"s western Al Anbar Province. Less than 24 hours after Golf Company"s find, the battalion"s Weapons Company discovered a smaller weapons cache consisting of a 57mm rocket and parts for 120mm mortars in Barwana, a city of 20,000 located just southeast of Haditha, across the Euphrates River. Earlier in the month, Golf Company"s 1st and 3rd Platoons turned up four weapons caches in three days in Haqlaniyah, a city of 20,000 located just south of Haditha. Those finds turned-up, among other items, more than 65 rocket-propelled grenades - a common weapon insurgents use during attacks against Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces. The battalion, nicknamed the "Magnificent Bastards," is part of a surge of hundreds of additional U.S. troops into the volatile western Anbar Province late last month in an attempt to keep the region secure and allow for the introduction of additional Iraqi security forces, according to U.S. military commanders in Anbar Province. (Photo by Staff Sgt. T.G. Kessler)


061221-M-9057K-019.jpg

Sgt. Miguel Cira, 30-year-old Marine from Hidalgo, Texas, and a combat engineer with the Camp Pendleton, Calif.-based 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, shares a snack with a local boy in Haditha, Iraq, during a patrol Dec. 21, 2006. The battalion"s Golf Company discovered an anti-aircraft gun platform and several military munitions buried in northwest Haditha during cordon and search operations. The cache is one of more than 30 found since mid December by Marines in the Haditha "Triad" region, where U.S. forces recently constructed an eight foot-high dirt berm around the Triad"s three cities of Haqlaniyah, Barwana and Haditha. The berm, along with several traffic control points, is intended to regulate who is coming in and out of the city - a crucial step to improving security conditions for locals, according to the top U.S. military officials in Iraq"s western Al Anbar Province. Less than 24 hours after Golf Company"s find, the battalion"s Weapons Company discovered a smaller weapons cache consisting of a 57mm rocket and parts for 120mm mortars in Barwana, a city of 20,000 located just southeast of Haditha, across the Euphrates River. Earlier in the month, Golf Company"s 1st and 3rd Platoons turned up four weapons caches in three days in Haqlaniyah, a city of 20,000 located just south of Haditha. Those finds turned-up, among other items, more than 65 rocket-propelled grenades - a common weapon insurgents use during attacks against Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces. The battalion, nicknamed the "Magnificent Bastards," is part of a surge of hundreds of additional U.S. troops into the volatile western Anbar Province late last month in an attempt to keep the region secure and allow for the introduction of additional Iraqi security forces, according to U.S. military commanders in Anbar Province. (Photo by Staff Sgt. T.G. Kessler)


061221-M-9057K-206.jpg

U.S. Marines from the Camp Pendleton, Calif.-based 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment patrol through an inlet near the Euphrates River while searching for weapons and explosives in Haditha, Iraq, Dec. 21, 2006. The battalion"s Golf Company discovered an anti-aircraft gun platform and several military munitions buried in northwest Haditha during cordon and search operations. The cache is one of more than 30 found since mid December by Marines in the Haditha "Triad" region, where U.S. forces recently constructed an eight foot-high dirt berm around the Triad"s three cities of Haqlaniyah, Barwana and Haditha. The berm, along with several traffic control points, is intended to regulate who is coming in and out of the city - a crucial step to improving security conditions for locals, according to the top U.S. military officials in Iraq"s western Al Anbar Province. Less than 24 hours after Golf Company"s find, the battalion"s Weapons Company discovered a smaller weapons cache consisting of a 57mm rocket and parts for 120mm mortars in Barwana, a city of 20,000 located just southeast of Haditha, across the Euphrates River. Earlier in the month, Golf Company"s 1st and 3rd Platoons turned up four weapons caches in three days in Haqlaniyah, a city of 20,000 located just south of Haditha. Those finds turned-up, among other items, more than 65 rocket-propelled grenades - a common weapon insurgents use during attacks against Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces. The battalion, nicknamed the "Magnificent Bastards," is part of a surge of hundreds of additional U.S. troops into the volatile western Anbar Province late last month in an attempt to keep the region secure and allow for the introduction of additional Iraqi security forces, according to U.S. military commanders in Anbar Province. (Photo by Staff Sgt. T.G. Kessler)


061221-M-9057K-153.jpg

Lance Cpl. Brennon Bybee, a radio operator for the Camp Pendleton, Calif.-based Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, carries an artillery shell Marines discovered inside a hidden insurgents" weapons cache in Haditha, Iraq, Dec. 21, 2006. After six days of searching markets, homes and other key locations in this Euphrates River city of 30,000, U.S. Marines are reporting that security in this once insurgent-heavy region is steadily increasing. In just under a week, U.S. Marines here wrapped-up a city-wide cordon and search operation, capturing insurgents and discovering multiple weapons and munitions caches. It was the third in a series of U.S. military-led operations to clear and hold the Haditha "Triad" region - three cities clustered along the Euphrates in western Anbar Province: Haditha, Barwanah and Haqlaniyah. The company has spent more than a month conducting daily patrols in Haditha in an effort to deter insurgent activity and increase security conditions in this city nestled along the Euphrates River northwest of Baghdad. Part of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, Golf Company is part of a surge of hundreds of additional U.S. troops into the volatile western Anbar Province in an attempt to keep the region secure and allow for the introduction of additional Iraqi security forces. (Photo by Staff Sgt. T.G. Kessler)


061221-M-9057K-102.jpg

Lance Cpl. Nicholas Darrah, a rifleman with the Camp Pendleton, Calif.-based Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, provides security as U.S. Marines search for weapons caches and insurgents in Haditha, Iraq, Dec. 21, 2006. After six days of searching markets, homes and other key locations in this Euphrates River city of 30,000, U.S. Marines are reporting that security in this once insurgent-heavy region is steadily increasing. In just under a week, U.S. Marines here wrapped-up a city-wide cordon and search operation, capturing insurgents and discovering multiple weapons and munitions caches. It was the third in a series of U.S. military-led operations to clear and hold the Haditha "Triad" region - three cities clustered along the Euphrates in western Anbar Province: Haditha, Barwanah and Haqlaniyah. The company has spent more than a month conducting daily patrols in Haditha in an effort to deter insurgent activity and increase security conditions in this city nestled along the Euphrates River northwest of Baghdad. Part of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, Golf Company is part of a surge of hundreds of additional U.S. troops into the volatile western Anbar Province in an attempt to keep the region secure and allow for the introduction of additional Iraqi security forces. (Photo by Staff Sgt. T.G. Kessler)


061221-M-9057K-073.jpg

Sgt. Christopher Thompson, a squad leader with the Camp Pendleton, Calif.-based Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, tears down a door with an axe during search operations in Haditha, Iraq, Dec. 21, 2006. After six days of searching markets, homes and other key locations in this Euphrates River city of 30,000, U.S. Marines are reporting that security in this once insurgent-heavy region is steadily increasing. In just under a week, U.S. Marines here wrapped-up a city-wide cordon and search operation, capturing insurgents and discovering multiple weapons and munitions caches. It was the third in a series of U.S. military-led operations to clear and hold the Haditha "Triad" region - three cities clustered along the Euphrates in western Anbar Province: Haditha, Barwanah and Haqlaniyah. The company has spent more than a month conducting daily patrols in Haditha in an effort to deter insurgent activity and increase security conditions in this city nestled along the Euphrates River northwest of Baghdad. Part of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, Golf Company is part of a surge of hundreds of additional U.S. troops into the volatile western Anbar Province in an attempt to keep the region secure and allow for the introduction of additional Iraqi security forces. (Photo by Staff Sgt. T.G. Kessler)

December 26, 2006

California-based Marines, “Magnificent Bastards,” continue to turn up weapons caches in Iraq’s Haditha region

HADITHA, Iraq (Dec 26, 2006) - While U.S. politicians and military leaders debate whether or not to send additional U.S. troops to Iraq, U.S. Marines here are taking weapons out of the hands of insurgents - one cache at a time.

http://www.imef-fwd.usmc.mil/imef%2FInfolineMarines.nsf/0/C8241BF7E7BBE018C3257255005D2833?OpenDocument

Story and photos by Staff Sgt. T.G. Kessler
Public Affairs Chief
15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (SOC)

Most recently, Marines from the Camp Pendleton, Calif.-based 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment discovered an anti-aircraft gun platform and several military munitions buried in northwest Haditha during cordon and search operations.

A detachment of combat engineers discovered the base plate when they "came upon a large metal object" while sweeping the region with a metal detector, according to Sgt. Matthew Canaga, a squad leader with the battalion"s Golf Company.

Canaga explained that they realized something big was buried there and suspected it to be some type of farming equipment. Instead, they found the base plate, along with an assortment of other weapons and munitions, to include tank rounds, one rocket propelled grenade launcher, three AK-47s and roughly 200 AK-47 rounds.

"It is significant," said Canaga, a Loveland, Colo., native. "The AK-47s were well-lubed and the ammunition was basically new. It was all in good condition and could be used at any time."

At first, the Marines weren"t sure exactly what they had found. But after combat engineers" metal detectors ‘pinged" over a 10-foot wide slab of ground, they knew they had found something significant, according to Lance Cpl. Michael A. Humphurie, one of Golf Company"s combat engineers.

"We didn"t know what it was at first," said Humphurie. "[After digging] we saw something green and knew it was some kind of weapon but didn"t know until the end."

"It"s obviously something they were using as a staging point," added Canaga.

The battalion, nicknamed the "Magnificent Bastards," is part of a surge of hundreds of additional U.S. troops into the volatile western Anbar Province late last month in an attempt to keep the region secure and allow for the introduction of additional Iraqi security forces, according to U.S. military commanders in Anbar Province.

The cache is one of more than 30 found since mid December by Marines in the Haditha "Triad" region, where U.S. forces recently constructed an eight foot-high dirt berm around the Triad"s three cities of Haqlaniyah, Barwana and Haditha. The berm, along with several traffic control points, is intended to regulate who is coming in and out of the city - a crucial step to improving security conditions for locals, according to the top U.S. military officials in Iraq"s western Al Anbar Province.

While the wall of dirt is intended to keep locals safe by keeping insurgents out of the cities, Marines here are continually finding more and more weapons caches, keeping weapons and roadside bomb-making material out of the hands of the insurgents.

"It might not stop any attacks [by finding the cache], but it is definitely a set-back for them," said Canaga after Golf Company"s most recent cache find.

Canaga attributes the success of the find to the know-how of the Company"s combat engineers, and their ability to use their metal detectors to find these hidden caches.

"To be honest, a squad of Marines on its own can find a lot of things, but the engineer attachments are the reason why we found the mount, the RPG launcher and the AK-47s," said Canaga. "Without the engineers and their know-how, I don"t think we would have found most of that stuff."

Marines have found everything from mortars to grenade fuses to rifles in recent weeks in the Haditha region since the addition of hundreds of U.S. troops and the berm"s construction.

Less than 24 hours after Golf Company"s find, the battalion"s Weapons Company discovered a smaller weapons cache consisting of a 57mm rocket and parts for 120mm mortars in Barwana, a city of 20,000 located just southeast of Haditha, across the Euphrates River.

Earlier in the month, Golf Company"s 1st and 3rd Platoons turned up four weapons caches in three days in Haqlaniyah, a city of 20,000 located just south of Haditha. Those finds turned-up, among other items, more than 65 rocket-propelled grenades - a common weapon insurgents use during attacks against Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces.

Coupled with the recent find, the Marines here say they are slowly chipping away at insurgents" morale. After finding the buried base plate, the Marines towed it through the city with a Humvee in hopes that local insurgents would see their weapon in the hands of Coalition Forces.

"The morale of any insurgents was definitely affected," said Gunnery Sgt. Weslee Baker, platoon sergeant for Golf Company"s 4th Platoon. "There"s no telling how long ago it was buried or where the rest of it is, but they know that we have one of the major pieces."

And as long as there are weapons caches to find, the Marines will keep looking, according to Baker. That often means spending hours patrolling on foot, coupled with 60-plus pounds of body armor and other protective gear.

Still, the effort is worth the reward, the Marines say.

"They continue to stay motivated to find these weapons so they can"t be used against any of our fellow Marines and Soldiers over here," said Baker.

The battalion is part of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), which deployed from southern California in September and arrived to Iraq in November.

Contact Staff Sgt. Kessler at: [email protected]

Editor"s Note: Staff Sgt. Jim Goodwin contributed to this report.

-30-


CAPTIONS FOR PHOTOS:
Photo links may be found at original link to article


061221-M-9057K-169.jpg

U.S. Marines from the Camp Pendleton, Calif.-based 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment search an aqua duct for weapons and explosives in Haditha, Iraq, Dec. 21, 2006. The battalion"s Golf Company discovered an anti-aircraft gun platform and several military munitions buried in northwest Haditha during cordon and search operations. The cache is one of more than 30 found since mid December by Marines in the Haditha "Triad" region, where U.S. forces recently constructed an eight foot-high dirt berm around the Triad"s three cities of Haqlaniyah, Barwana and Haditha. The berm, along with several traffic control points, is intended to regulate who is coming in and out of the city - a crucial step to improving security conditions for locals, according to the top U.S. military officials in Iraq"s western Al Anbar Province. Less than 24 hours after Golf Company"s find, the battalion"s Weapons Company discovered a smaller weapons cache consisting of a 57mm rocket and parts for 120mm mortars in Barwana, a city of 20,000 located just southeast of Haditha, across the Euphrates River. Earlier in the month, Golf Company"s 1st and 3rd Platoons turned up four weapons caches in three days in Haqlaniyah, a city of 20,000 located just south of Haditha. Those finds turned-up, among other items, more than 65 rocket-propelled grenades - a common weapon insurgents use during attacks against Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces. The battalion, nicknamed the "Magnificent Bastards," is part of a surge of hundreds of additional U.S. troops into the volatile western Anbar Province late last month in an attempt to keep the region secure and allow for the introduction of additional Iraqi security forces, according to U.S. military commanders in Anbar Province. (Photo by Staff Sgt. T.G. Kessler)


061221-M-9057K-121.jpg

U.S. Marines from the Camp Pendleton, Calif.-based 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment cross a bridge over the Euphrates River during a patrol in Haditha, Iraq, Dec. 21, 2006.The battalion"s Golf Company discovered an anti-aircraft gun platform and several military munitions buried in northwest Haditha during cordon and search operations. The cache is one of more than 30 found since mid December by Marines in the Haditha "Triad" region, where U.S. forces recently constructed an eight foot-high dirt berm around the Triad"s three cities of Haqlaniyah, Barwana and Haditha. The berm, along with several traffic control points, is intended to regulate who is coming in and out of the city - a crucial step to improving security conditions for locals, according to the top U.S. military officials in Iraq"s western Al Anbar Province. Less than 24 hours after Golf Company"s find, the battalion"s Weapons Company discovered a smaller weapons cache consisting of a 57mm rocket and parts for 120mm mortars in Barwana, a city of 20,000 located just southeast of Haditha, across the Euphrates River. Earlier in the month, Golf Company"s 1st and 3rd Platoons turned up four weapons caches in three days in Haqlaniyah, a city of 20,000 located just south of Haditha. Those finds turned-up, among other items, more than 65 rocket-propelled grenades - a common weapon insurgents use during attacks against Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces. The battalion, nicknamed the "Magnificent Bastards," is part of a surge of hundreds of additional U.S. troops into the volatile western Anbar Province late last month in an attempt to keep the region secure and allow for the introduction of additional Iraqi security forces, according to U.S. military commanders in Anbar Province. (Photo by Staff Sgt. T.G. Kessler)


061221-M-9057K-069.jpg

Bundles of stick propellant, explosives, and AK-47 assault rifles were just several items unearthed U.S. Marines from the Camp Pendleton, Calif.-based 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment Dec. 21, 2006, while searching for hidden weapons and munitions caches in Haditha, Iraq. The battalion"s Golf Company discovered an anti-aircraft gun platform and several military munitions buried in northwest Haditha during cordon and search operations. The cache is one of more than 30 found since mid December by Marines in the Haditha "Triad" region, where U.S. forces recently constructed an eight foot-high dirt berm around the Triad"s three cities of Haqlaniyah, Barwana and Haditha. The berm, along with several traffic control points, is intended to regulate who is coming in and out of the city - a crucial step to improving security conditions for locals, according to the top U.S. military officials in Iraq"s western Al Anbar Province. Less than 24 hours after Golf Company"s find, the battalion"s Weapons Company discovered a smaller weapons cache consisting of a 57mm rocket and parts for 120mm mortars in Barwana, a city of 20,000 located just southeast of Haditha, across the Euphrates River. Earlier in the month, Golf Company"s 1st and 3rd Platoons turned up four weapons caches in three days in Haqlaniyah, a city of 20,000 located just south of Haditha. Those finds turned-up, among other items, more than 65 rocket-propelled grenades - a common weapon insurgents use during attacks against Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces. The battalion, nicknamed the "Magnificent Bastards," is part of a surge of hundreds of additional U.S. troops into the volatile western Anbar Province late last month in an attempt to keep the region secure and allow for the introduction of additional Iraqi security forces, according to U.S. military commanders in Anbar Province. (Photo by Staff Sgt. T.G. Kessler)


061221-M-9057K-068.jpg

Cpl. Andrew Dotson, a 22-year-old Marine from Socorro, N.M., holds up an 82mm mortar head found in a weapons cache by the Camp Pendleton, Calif.-based 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, in Haditha, Iraq, Dec. 21, 2006. The battalion"s Golf Company discovered an anti-aircraft gun platform and several military munitions buried in northwest Haditha during cordon and search operations. The cache is one of more than 30 found since mid December by Marines in the Haditha "Triad" region, where U.S. forces recently constructed an eight foot-high dirt berm around the Triad"s three cities of Haqlaniyah, Barwana and Haditha. The berm, along with several traffic control points, is intended to regulate who is coming in and out of the city - a crucial step to improving security conditions for locals, according to the top U.S. military officials in Iraq"s western Al Anbar Province. Less than 24 hours after Golf Company"s find, the battalion"s Weapons Company discovered a smaller weapons cache consisting of a 57mm rocket and parts for 120mm mortars in Barwana, a city of 20,000 located just southeast of Haditha, across the Euphrates River. Earlier in the month, Golf Company"s 1st and 3rd Platoons turned up four weapons caches in three days in Haqlaniyah, a city of 20,000 located just south of Haditha. Those finds turned-up, among other items, more than 65 rocket-propelled grenades - a common weapon insurgents use during attacks against Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces. The battalion, nicknamed the "Magnificent Bastards," is part of a surge of hundreds of additional U.S. troops into the volatile western Anbar Province late last month in an attempt to keep the region secure and allow for the introduction of additional Iraqi security forces, according to U.S. military commanders in Anbar Province. (Photo by Staff Sgt. T.G. Kessler)


061221-M-9057K-038.jpg

Sgt. Luis Rosado (left), a 27-year-old Marine from Monroe, Pa., and a platoon sergeant for the Camp Pendleton, Calif.-based 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, examines some of the items found in a weapons cache in Haditha, Iraq, Dec. 21, 2006. The battalion"s Golf Company discovered an anti-aircraft gun platform and several military munitions buried in northwest Haditha during cordon and search operations. The cache is one of more than 30 found since mid December by Marines in the Haditha "Triad" region, where U.S. forces recently constructed an eight foot-high dirt berm around the Triad"s three cities of Haqlaniyah, Barwana and Haditha. The berm, along with several traffic control points, is intended to regulate who is coming in and out of the city - a crucial step to improving security conditions for locals, according to the top U.S. military officials in Iraq"s western Al Anbar Province. Less than 24 hours after Golf Company"s find, the battalion"s Weapons Company discovered a smaller weapons cache consisting of a 57mm rocket and parts for 120mm mortars in Barwana, a city of 20,000 located just southeast of Haditha, across the Euphrates River. Earlier in the month, Golf Company"s 1st and 3rd Platoons turned up four weapons caches in three days in Haqlaniyah, a city of 20,000 located just south of Haditha. Those finds turned-up, among other items, more than 65 rocket-propelled grenades - a common weapon insurgents use during attacks against Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces. The battalion, nicknamed the "Magnificent Bastards," is part of a surge of hundreds of additional U.S. troops into the volatile western Anbar Province late last month in an attempt to keep the region secure and allow for the introduction of additional Iraqi security forces, according to U.S. military commanders in Anbar Province. (Photo by Staff Sgt. T.G. Kessler)


061221-M-9057K-065.jpg

Sgt. Christopher Thompson, a squad leader with the Camp Pendleton, Calif.-based Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, tears down a door with an axe during search operations in Haditha, Iraq, Dec. 21, 2006. After six days of searching markets, homes and other key locations in this Euphrates River city of 30,000, U.S. Marines are reporting that security in this once insurgent-heavy region is steadily increasing. In just under a week, U.S. Marines here wrapped-up a city-wide cordon and search operation, capturing insurgents and discovering multiple weapons and munitions caches. It was the third in a series of U.S. military-led operations to clear and hold the Haditha "Triad" region - three cities clustered along the Euphrates in western Anbar Province: Haditha, Barwanah and Haqlaniyah. The company has spent more than a month conducting daily patrols in Haditha in an effort to deter insurgent activity and increase security conditions in this city nestled along the Euphrates River northwest of Baghdad. Part of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, Golf Company is part of a surge of hundreds of additional U.S. troops into the volatile western Anbar Province in an attempt to keep the region secure and allow for the introduction of additional Iraqi security forces. (Photo by Staff Sgt. T.G. Kessler)

Gates' order sending up to 3,300 troops to Kuwait

WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Robert Gates has signed orders that will send the 82nd Airborne Division's 2nd Brigade to Kuwait shortly after the new year, senior defense officials said today.

http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/front/4427098.html

December 26, 2006
By LOLITA C. BALDOR
Associated Press

The decision to send the unit was first reported earlier this month. The soldiers, who are based at Fort Bragg, N.C., are expected to be deployed into Iraq early next year, and the move could be part of a short-term surge of troops to the battlefront to quell the ongoing violence.

The 82nd Airborne unit — which would include as many as 3,300 soldiers — will replace the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which had served as the reserve force based in Kuwait but has been deployed into Iraq.

Army officials said today that they were not aware a final decision had been made on sending the unit to Kuwait. But two senior defense officials, who requested anonymity because the announcement had not yet been made public, said Gates had signed the order today — the first of his week-old tenure as Pentagon chief.

Gates was in Iraq last week meeting with U.S. military commanders and Iraqi officials.

He met with President Bush on Saturday to relay what he saw and learned during his three days in Iraq. He is scheduled to travel to Crawford, Texas, to meet with Bush on Thursday to discuss options for changes in the Iraq strategy. He and other military leaders have said that all options are on the table. Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will also meet with Bush on Thursday.

Some of the options for a new strategy in Iraq that have been under discussion by U.S. officials include an increase in troops, to help tamp down the violence, particularly in Baghdad, and to beef up the training of Iraq soldiers.

There are 134,000 troops in Iraq. The U.S. military has consistently kept a reserve force in Kuwait that can easily and quickly be deployed into Iraq, or other places in the region, as needed.

Gates took over the top job at the Pentagon last week after the resignation of Donald H. Rumsfeld.



December 22, 2006

31st MEU turns the page to a new chapter

OKINAWA, Japan (Dec. 22, 2006) -- The 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit flips the calendar to the new year as its Marines and Sailors recall the past two deployment cycles that have forged timeless memories for III Marine Expeditionary Force’s Maritime Contingency Force.

http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/mcn2000.nsf/ac95bc775efc34c685256ab50049d458/b8ad87fb0217bab48525724c00066251?OpenDocument

Dec. 22, 2006
Submitted on: 12/21/2006 08:09:43 PM
Story ID#: 2006122120943
By Cpl. Kamran Sadaghiani , 31st MEU

The MEU began its 25th deployment cycle in January as its Marines and Sailors embarked aboard the Essex Amphibious Ready Group, comprised of three ships: USS Essex (LHD 2), USS Harpers Ferry (LSD 49), and USS Juneau (LPD 10), and conducted its MEU Exercise and Training in an Urban Environment Exercise in Guam. After two weeks of training, the MEU and the ARG steamed to the Republic of the Philippines to participate in Exercise Balikatan, where the MEU was re-tasked to conduct a Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Relief mission in Southern Leyte, following a devastating mudslide that buried the local village there.


Following their successful mission, they pushed forward to maintain their “Strike-from-the-Sea” capability by participating in two major combined/joint exercises.
The MEU’s elements; MEU Service Support Group 31, Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 262 (Reinforced), and the command element trained diligently to maintain their operational skills by participating in Exercise Foal Eagle 2006 in the Republic of Korea and Exercise Cobra Gold 2006 in the Kingdom of Thailand.


In July, the MEU transitioned to the 26th deployment cycle and began pre-deployment training for new members of its command element, GCE, ACE, and CSSE prior to embarking aboard the ARG for its Fall Patrol. During this period, MSSG-31 was re-designated as Combat Logistics Battalion 31 and the MEU commanding officer, Col. John Miller, relinquished command to Col. John Mayer. The reinforced helicopter squadron, HMM-265, replaced HMM-262 (Reinforced) and BLT 2/5 became the new GCE. The MEU maintained its course throughout the cycle by integrating its elements through a series of conditioning work-ups in Okinawa and Camp Fuji. In August, the MEU’s command element and Maritime Strike Force returned to Guam and conducted Situational Training Exercises in an Urban Environment.


In September, the MEU conducted its MEU Exercise here before embarking aboard the ARG to perform pre-deployment training that included ARG Exercise and Evaluation Exercise before steaming to the Republic of the Philippines where the Navy-Marine Corps team trained shoulder-to-shoulder with the Armed Forces of the Philippines counterparts during bilateral exercises, Talon Vision and Amphibious Landing Exercise FY 2007.


The Marines and Sailors conducted civil-military operations consisting of medical and engineering civic action projects for local Philippine communities. Bilateral training with the AFP included boat, helicopter-borne and amphibious mechanized raids. MEU elements also participated in the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab’s Advance Warfighting Experiment, Sea Viking 2006.


Shortly after completing the exercises and a period of liberty in Subic Bay, the MEU re-embarked the ARG and sailed back to Okinawa, where Juneau and a special purpose-Marine Air Ground Task Force comprised from the MEU steamed to the city of Zhanjiang in the People’s Republic of China for a port visit and participated in a bilateral Search-and-Rescue Exercise.
After enjoying their two-month-long deployment in the Asia-Pacific region, the Marines and Sailors of the MEU returned home Nov. 28, to wrap up another successful deployment cycle and move onto the next.


As Mayer’s first cycle leading the MEU, he said that the MEU performed marvelously and exceeded his expectations throughout the cycle.


“We won victory after victory,” he said. “The training and missions were completed successfully and the remarkable good deeds were well received. This can be attributed to the way our Marines and Sailors conducted themselves. Their exceptional behavior extended goodwill throughout the communities they visited, whether it was during medical/engineering projects and community relations activities or ground-air integration training. Their performance this cycle has been spectacular.”

Euphrates River city’s local leaders meet with U.S. Marines, Iraqi police in Anbar Province — a step toward progress, U.S. military says

RAWAH, Iraq — For the first time in recent months, local Iraqi leaders and officials here met with U.S. Marines and Iraqi Police, showing a dramatic increase in locals’ willingness to work openly with Coalition Forces.

http://www.ludingtondailynews.com/news.php?story_id=34297

12/22/2006
By Lance Cpl. Nathaniel Sapp
Combat Correspondent
2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion

The meeting is the second between U.S. military leadership and local officials in two days.

On Nov. 28, U.S. Marines here met with the city’s elected government leaders — another first in talks that both sides are hoping will continue as U.S. and Iraqi leaders in this city of 20,000 strive toward improving local infrastructure, economy, and government.

“We had to have security before we could start helping develop the local economy,” said Lt. Col. Austin E. Renforth, commanding officer of 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, the U.S. military unit responsible for providing security — alongside Iraqi Security Forces — to this region located 150 miles northwest of Baghdad.

In this region, successful security operations by both the Marines and Iraqi Security Forces during the past three months have emboldened locals to take a bigger part in stabilizing their city, according to Renforth, a Wheeling, W. Va., native.

Until recently, locals feared insurgents would retaliate against their families if they helped stabilize the region, the Iraqi school officials said during the meeting. It’s a common tactic insurgents use to keep locals from cooperating with Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces, what U.S. military leaders call a “murder and intimidation” campaign.

But in Rawah, a city which borders the Euphrates River in western Al Anbar Province, establishing security has taken the combined, and frequent, presence of both U.S. and Iraqi Security Forces.

Now, both sides are seeing their long hours patrolling in humvees and on foot finally pay off.

“I sleep peacefully when I see the Marines on their patrols,” said one local Iraqi, who chose to remain anonymous.

The Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based 2nd LAR Battalion, which includes Maj. Sean Quinlan of Scottville who commands a company in Iraq, has spent about three months ousting insurgents, mentoring Iraqi soldiers and police, and providing security to a region that has been a hot spot for insurgents in western Al Anbar Province.

“That’s what we have done since we got here three months ago, now it’s time for us to move forward,” Renforth told Iraqi school officials during the meeting.

Until recently, the Marines had trouble just finding the city’s influential community members, let alone meeting them, Marines here say.

Though the meetings are milestones in developing further relations between U.S. and local leaders here, that’s not a reason for U.S. and Iraqi forces to let up on continuing to provide security, according to Renforth.

“We have to remain vigilant in order to keep the city this way,” he said during the meeting.

The meeting with school officials turned from talk on local school issues, to other city matters, such as the need to get local banks up and running again — a problem Marines here recently discovered.

As of now, money for the city’s sole bank is sent from other cities. The money, though, is not reaching Rawah citizens — insurgents hijack and rob the trucks. The lack of money in the city forces local citizens to sometimes find illegal work to make end’s meet, from illegal oil trade to assisting insurgent activities.

Iraqis and Coalition Forces agreed that having a more functional and secure banking system should be a top priority, as it would allow citizens to have stable distribution of legitimate income, rather than resorting to “black market” trading.

Following the meeting with school officials, Marines and Iraqi police passed out candy and toy balls to local children just getting out of their daily classes.

Just a few months ago these classes wouldn’t have been possible, as the threat of violence was too great, according to the same anonymous Iraqi.

Recently, Marines found two improvised explosive devices near the school. Since then, the Marines have taken extra effort to secure the area, which has allowed the schools to reopen, said Renforth.

“I’ve been (to Iraq) a couple times now, and every time I return, I’ve seen the country get better and better,” Renforth told the Iraqi school officials. “We are the right people for this job and we will see it accomplished.”


Military Draft System to be Tested

WASHINGTON - The Selective Service System is planning a comprehensive test of the military draft machinery, which hasn't been run since 1998.

http://www.military.com/NewsContent/0,13319,121118,00.html?ESRC=eb.nl

Associated Press
December 22, 2006

The agency is not gearing up for a draft, an agency official said Thursday. The test itself would not likely occur until 2009.

Meanwhile, the secretary for Veterans Affairs said that "society would benefit" if the U.S. were to bring back the draft and that it shouldn't have any loopholes for anyone who is called to serve. VA Secretary Jim Nicholson later issued a statement saying he does not support reinstituting a draft.

The Selective Service "readiness exercise" would test the system that randomly chooses draftees by birth date and the network of appeals boards that decide how to deal with conscientious objectors and others who want to delay reporting for duty, said Scott Campbell, Selective Service director for operations and chief information officer.

"We're kind of like a fire extinguisher. We sit on a shelf" until needed, Campbell said. "Everyone fears our machine for some reason. Our machine, unless the president and Congress get together and say, 'Turn the machine on' ... we're still on the shelf."

The administration has for years forcefully opposed bringing back the draft, and the White House said Thursday that its position had not changed.

A day earlier, President Bush said he is considering sending more troops to Iraq and has asked Defense Secretary Robert Gates to look into adding more troops to the nearly 1.4 million uniformed personnel on active duty.

According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, increasing the Army by 40,000 troops would cost as much as $2.6 billion the first year and $4 billion after that. Service officials have said the Army wants to increase its force by 20,000 to 30,000 soldiers and the Marine Corps would like 5,000 more troops.

The unpopular war in Iraq, where more than 2,950 American troops have already died, complicates the task of finding more recruits and retaining current troops - to meet its recruitment goals in recent years, the Army has accepted recruits with lower aptitude test scores.

In remarks to reporters in New York, Nicholson recalled his own experience as a company commander in an infantry unit that brought together soldiers of different backgrounds and education levels. He said the draft "does bring people from all quarters of our society together in the common purpose of serving."

Rep. Charles Rangel, a New York Democrat who has said minorities and the poor share an unfair burden of the war, plans to introduce a bill next year to reinstate the draft.

House Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi has said that reinstating the draft would not be high on the Democratic-led Congress' priority list, and the White House said Thursday that no draft proposal is being considered.

Planning for the Selective Service exercise, called the Area Office Mobilization Prototype Exercise, is slated to begin in June or July of next year for a 2009 test. Campbell said budget cuts could force the agency to cancel the test, which he said should take place every three years but hasn't because of funding constraints.

Hearst Newspapers first reported the planned test for a story sent to its subscribers for weekend use.

The military drafted people during the Civil War and both world wars and between 1948 and 1973. An agency independent of the Defense Department, the Selective Service System was reincorporated in 1980 to maintain a registry of 18-year-old men, but call-ups have not occurred since the Vietnam War.

December 17, 2006

Marines bring smiles, relief, hope for the future to refugees

CAMP KOREAN VILLAGE, Iraq (December 17, 2006) -- The candy coated grins on the children’s faces were matched only by the smiles of the Marines handing out the treats.

http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/mcn2000.nsf/main5/A8938862821C1D0F85257247004CB7AB?opendocument

December 17, 2006
Submitted on: 12/17/2006 08:57:57 AM
Story ID#: 2006121785757
By Pfc. Parish, Timothy T., 15th MEU

The 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) Marines supplying the dusty refugee camp outside Camp Korean Village, Iraq were greeted with glowing eyes and high-fives, and the sound of little feet dancing around the gift-bearers.

Each month since June 2005 the same scene occurs as a convoy of Marines and Sailors has left the wires of Camp Korean Village to travel a few kilometers down the road. Their destination is a dusty outpost next to a gas station that houses 140 Sudanese refugees who have been displaced for over a decade.

These missions foster amicability and build bridges between Coalition Forces in Al Anbar Province and local nationals, according to Lt. Col Henry M. Hyams, Commanding Officer, Combat Logistics Battalion 15, 15th MEU (SOC). “I think in the process of transitioning over to the Iraqi government and to the Iraqi Army forces, it’s an important part to show good will,” he said.

The 15th MEU (SOC) has taken on the mission of caring for the refugees. The 15th MEU (SOC), in cooperation with relief organizations, supplies the refugees with pre-packaged meals and bottled water.

Fifteen years ago, this group left the persecution of their homeland to find opportunity and stability in Iraq. After coalition forces dislodged the regime of Saddam Hussein in 2003, the exiles once again found themselves the subject of harassment.

In May 2005, the refugees attempted to leave Iraq, hoping for a better life across the border in Jordan, according to Chief Warrant Officer John M. Wills, Civil Affairs team leader, detachment 4/2, 4th Civil Affairs Group. “When they got to the border, the border was closed. So, they were kind of stuck at that point,” Wills said.

The Iraqi Red Crescent relief organization led the group back to the area around Camp Korean Village and gave them a few comforts to get them started.

In June 2005, the operating forces at Camp Korean Village became aware of the refugees presence, and started to provide support to the group, according to Wills.
Each command rotated through Camp Korean Village since the initial contact has continued to maintain relations with the refugees.

Past commands from Camp Korean Village have also provided relief from the sometimes overbearing weather conditions in the form of cold-weather clothing and shelter tents. The men, women, and children of the refugee group have used a little improvisation to better equip themselves in this barren desert, Wills said. “They don’t waste anything,” Wills said. “The boxes that we deliver their meals in become additional shelter for the refugees.”

The 4th CAG, composed of reservists from Naval Annex, Anacostia, Va., arrived at Camp Korean Village in September 2006, and learned of the refugees shortly after. The initial visit to the refugee camp was a stark revelation to the Marines. “Your heart goes out to the refugees, to see the conditions they’re living in,” Wills said. “But at the same time, they’re a very peaceful, and almost content people, that just need help,” he continued.

The work and charity displayed by the 15th MEU (SOC) Marines and Sailors assigned to Camp Korean Village, should not go unnoticed, Wills said.

“Any Marine or Sailor that has taken part in providing this humanitarian aid to the refugees should deserve some type of recognition,” perhaps the Humanitarian Service Medal, he said.

The final decision on the future of the refugees is in the hands of the U.S. State Department and Department of Homeland Security, or counterparts in the U.K. or Canada. Wills hopes the answer will come within a few months, he said.

“I would like to see the refugees relocated from their current location,” he said. “That would be a very good sense of accomplishment for all the efforts of my Marines and all the Marines of Task Force Rutbah and the 15th MEU, and previous Marines and Sailors that have supported the refugees,” he added.

The impact that the Marines and Sailors of the 15th MEU (SOC) made on the citizens of Al Anbar Province is likely to linger on in their hearts and minds, according to Sgt. Maj. Gonzalo A. Vasquez, sergeant major, Combat Logistics Battalion 15. “The little kids receiving the candy, it only last half an hour in their mouths, but the impression lasts a long, long time,” Vasquez said

Marines from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) arrived in
Iraq four weeks ago and provide security to this region of the Al Anbar Province.

Fighting spirit carries Marine, After a bomb in Iraq took Tennessean Eric Frazier's legs, he took on a new mission — to walk again.

WASHINGTON — On the 52nd day of the rest of his life, Marine Lance Cpl. Eric Frazier chatted with a basketball star, enjoyed time outside soaking up an unusually mild December morning and stood for more than a minute on his new right leg.

http://www.fairviewobserver.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20061217/NEWS01/612170380

12/17/2006
By LEON ALLIGOOD
Staff Writer


Thursday was a "pretty good day" for the 20-year-old Warren County native, a Marine Reservist whose temporary duty station is Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Only one thing could have made the day better: to also stand on his new left leg.

"I'm hoping I can walk pretty soon here and can get back home. That's what I want to do. I want to go to vo-tech school and learn a trade. I want to go hunting and fishing again," said Frazier, a lean man with iridescent hazel eyes, a honey-thick drawl and a deep reserve of positive thinking.

"It'll happen, sir, it'll happen."

He sat in a wheelchair, the stumps of his legs resting on a padded shelf that juts out from the chair to keep the limbs elevated.

All he needs to meet that goal of returning to the forested Tennessee highlands he calls home is time and hard work. Fifty-two days after that October morning in Fallujah, Iraq, when a roadside bomb killed two of his fellow Marines from Gallatin and Franklin, sheared off his legs, lacerated a kidney and his liver, broke his pelvis in two places and fractured his left arm, wrist and a couple of fingers, the young man said he is flush with time, thanks to modern combat surgeons and many blood transfusions.

As for the hard work, well, he is a Marine.

He yearned to be Marine

From the time he was 14, when a growth spurt raised him up to 6-foot-1, Eric Frazier wanted to be a member of the U.S. Marine Corps.

"Just like me," said Kary Frazier, the young man's father.

The senior Frazier, shorter by a few inches than his gangling son, had been a Marine for several years in the late 1980s. He, too, had known that yearning to be part of a brotherhood of warriors.

"That's what (Eric) wanted to do. We signed for him when he was 17," said Kary, who works in the quality assurance department at the Bridgestone/Firestone plant in Morrison.

On Thursday, however, he and his wife, Kim, were in the physical therapy room at Walter Reed, watching their son prepare himself to walk on prosthetic legs. Eric's wife, Amanda, whom he married a month before shipping out for Iraq, was back in the couple's hotel room catching up on sleep.

"I was proud of him before he decided to become a Marine. We're proud of him now because he's had a positive outlook," the father added.

Teachers at Warren County High School, where Eric Frazier graduated in 2004, recalled the young man spoke of only one ambition from freshman year: to become a Marine.

"We had conversations about what might happen," said Dana Mullican, who had Frazier in homeroom during all of his four years in high school. "I would mother him and say, 'What if you got hurt?' He'd say, 'I'd be all right.' "

Two come home in coffins

Frazier had one fear going into war: that one of his buddies would be hurt. "It wasn't that it might happen to me, it was mainly if it happens to one of my friends beside me. That scared everybody," he said.

Dressed in a green T-shirt and a pair of black workout pants, the legs folded under where his limbs were missing, the lance corporal tilted his face toward the Thursday morning sun, bright as a Bayer aspirin in the sky. It was two weeks before Christmas in the nation's capital, but it felt like early spring.

The sky over Fallujah, the Iraq town synonymous with mayhem because of the dozens of car bombings and roadside explosions that have occurred there, was bright, too, on Oct. 23 when Frazier and four other Marines, three of them also from Middle Tennessee, departed in a Humvee on what would be their come-home mission.

Three came home wounded. Two arrived in flag-draped coffins.

Frazier was a member of I ("India") Company of the 3rd Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment, based in Nashville.

The group left the United States in late September and by early October was in Fallujah, a town on the Euphrates River about 40 miles west of Baghdad in the volatile Al Anbar province.

Frazier was assigned to a squad led by Sgt. Joshua Thomas, a round-faced man from Michigan who joshingly called the quartet assigned to him the "Tennessee rednecks."

In addition to Frazier, the other Tennesseans in the squad were Lance Cpl. Tyler Overstreet, 22, of Gallatin; Lance Cpl. Richard Buerstetta, 20, of Franklin; and Lance Cpl. George Henry Jr., 20, of Gainesboro.

Buerstetta, a Middle Tennessee State University student before he was sent to Iraq, was driving the Humvee. Frazier was sitting behind him. The sergeant was in the right front passenger seat, with Overstreet, who had become a father less than a month earlier, seated in the right rear. Henry stood in the turret, his hands on a 240-G machine gun.

Just hours before the bomb blast, the five men posed for a photo, their weapons stacked on the hood of their Humvee, their Marine game faces on.

It was the last time Frazier remembered standing on his own two feet.

A mission goes awry

According to Frazier, late on the morning of Oct. 23 his Hum vee was one of a group of six that "left the wire," the heavily guarded compound of the American's post in Fallujah. Soon, however, the group of six Humvees split up into two groups of three, with Frazier's vehicle taking up the rear.

"We got smack to the middle of town on the main road that come through Fallujah — 'Route Michigan,' they called it — and we went down one road and cut back on another road, and that's when we got hit," he said.

No one in the vehicle escaped unharmed. Shrapnel tore through Sgt. Thomas' hand. Henry, who was standing in the turret, suffered severe damage to his right leg and right arm.

Frazier was told he nearly died before he could be stabilized for travel.

"Actually, they had to resuscitate me and bring me back. I wasn't alive on the scene," he said.

Two weeks passed after the explosion before the Warren County man learned Buerstetta and Overstreet had not survived.

The wait did not soften the impact of the loss he felt, nor lessen his desire to understand how he could have survived when his friends perished.

"I had known Overstreet for five or six months, I guess. I had known Buerstetta for over a year. They were awesome guys. You couldn't ask for better Marines," he said.

Frazier regretted he was unable to protect his friends but said he will "for the rest of my life" defend their honor. The politics of an unpopular war should not be grounds for the American public to forget the sacrifice of his friends who died, he said.

"They died doing the exact same thing I did. They did what they were told to do. They were awesome guys, sir, they really was."

He's stronger every day

These days a clock can be set by Lance Cpl. Frazier on weekday mornings. At 1045 hours he is rolling on the sidewalk, briskly pushing his wheelchair, sometimes with help from his mother, father or wife, toward the main hospital building. There on the third floor, promptly at 1100 hours, he begins a rigorous session of physical therapy for leg amputees.

That is how it was last Thursday, his 52nd day since a bomb blew his legs away, since fate wrote an unexpected chapter in his life.

PT is "like a different kind of boot camp," he said.

"She'll wear you out."

"She" is Laura Friedman, a curly-haired physical therapist who greeted him with a toothy smile and a "hello," and pointed to a workout bed.

Frazier slid from his wheelchair onto the low bed and started his routine lying on his back. First, it was 5-pound weights strapped around his stumps, which he lifted in several repetitions one at a time as high into the air as he could.

Then he moved on to balancing exercises. Friedman reached under his arms and pulled the Marine onto a red cylinder, about four feet long and about 16 inches in diameter. The object was to balance himself like a lumberjack on a log.

"Look at that. Good. Good. Now hold your hands up, higher, higher. Whoo-hoo, look at you," Friedman congratulated.

The Marine's face told the story. He grimaced and sweated and after a couple of minutes lost his balance, but Friedman righted him.

"You did good," she said.

Walter Reed's physical therapy room is a small world where the number of leg ampu tees often equals those in the room with two feet. It is a world of titanium shafts and prosthetics with microprocessors to simulate the nuances of the natural walking gait.

Frazier knew nothing of this world two months ago. Soon he will have two new legs, a below-the-knee model for his right leg, which was trimmed at midcalf, and what he dubbed his "bionic" left leg, which was taken at midthigh.

So far he has been fitted for his right leg. The other side will have to wait until his pelvis fracture heals, early next year.

Friedman handed over his right prosthesis and watched as he slipped on the elastic liner covering the end of his stump and pulled up the artificial limb.

"Are you ready?" she asked.

"I sure am."

Positioning his wheelchair near a set of parallel bars, the Marine gripped each side, took a breath and lifted himself from the chair. Friedman stood in front to steady him.

"All right, all right, I've got you. OK, bring your hand forward," she said, glancing at a wall-length mirror to check his stance. Frazier was also looking, concentrating. He held steady for 44 seconds before asking to sit back down.

"Whew," he exhaled, his forehead glinting with sweat.

"You did good. We'll go again in a minute," she praised.

There was a stir in the room as the double doors opened and about 20 tall men dressed in black, many of them familiar faces, entered the room. The current NBA champions, the Miami Heat basketball team, were in town to play the Washington Wizards, and they wanted to say hello. But when the professional athletes saw what they saw, legs missing everywhere, there was an awkward moment before they fanned out.

Superstar Alonzo Mourning struck up a conversation with Frazier at the parallel bars.

"Are you getting the hang of it?" asked Mourning, who at 6-foot-10 towered over the Marine.

"Oh, yeah, oh yeah. It takes a lot of time," the Tennessee man replied.

They talked for a few minutes about his prosthesis, about Mourning's own comeback from a kidney transplant several years ago.

"Well, God bless you. Stay strong," Mourning said in leaving.

"I sure will, sir. I always try to stay positive," the Marine assured him.

After a few more swigs of Gatorade, Frazier told Friedman he was ready to stand again.

He gripped the bars and hoisted himself vertical.

"Good, good. Look how tall you are," exclaimed Friedman.

Frazier glanced at the Marine in the mirror, and the man smiled back.


Brothers for real, in war together; Sons near each other a fear, comfort for parents

The tiny globes of tortilla dough line up as straight as Marines in the kitchen of Maria Ponce's modest home near Grand Rapids.

http://www.freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20061217/NEWS06/612170573

December 17, 2006
BY JOHN MASSON and JOE SWICKARD
FREE PRESS STAFF WRITERS

The aroma of simmering spices and bubbling arroz con leche -- rice pudding -- permeates the house. So does the absence of Cpl. Hector Vargas, 25, and Lance Cpl. Guadalupe Ponce, 21. Maria Ponce's two sons are fighting in Iraq with the 1st Battalion of the 24th Marines, a Selfridge-based reserve unit that represents the largest deployment of Michigan Marines in the war.

Ponce and husband Jose Saldana are among at least a dozen sets of parents with more than one son among the battalion's 700 or so Michigan reservists.

"My younger son, he really likes flour tortillas, and when I make tortillas, I remember him," Ponce said earlier this month, squeezing another dough ball through a circle formed by her thumb and forefinger. "I feel very proud of my sons for being Marines, but ... it's hard to have them so far away."

In civilian life, Guadalupe Ponce is a junior studying criminal justice at Grand Valley State University. Vargas is the father of two children.

But now they join fellow 1/24 Marines Phillip and Ryan Johnson, Curtis and Daryl Mejeur, Jonathon and Christopher Shell, Robert and Jack Blevins, Jacob and Joshua Layer, and Alan and Daniel Krukowski -- among others -- in the centuries-old tradition of American brothers who have marched off to war together.

Units bound by geography

Though it may come as a surprise to many, there's no official Defense Department policy prohibiting brothers from serving together in combat units, according to Pentagon spokesman Maj. Stewart Upton.

It hasn't always been so. When the five Sullivan brothers -- hailing from Waterloo, Iowa -- wanted to enlist in the Navy during World War II, they encountered regulations barring them from serving together. After finally being granted permission to serve together aboard the USS Juneau, all five perished when it was torpedoed and sunk during the Battle of Guadalcanal.

Historically, however, having brothers, cousins and neighbors fighting on the same battlefield was the American way. Units were bound together by geography and kinship long before they were bound together by esprit de corps.

"That had some advantages because of the camaraderie," said Jeffrey Charnley, a professor of American studies at Michigan State University. "The regiment system really worked, until the need for large, mass armies. The draft, or conscription, was the beginning of the end of that."

Camaraderie may have been the upside. But there was a significant downside, as well.

"Some regiments came close to being wiped out," Charnley said. "At Gettysburg ... in Michigan, it was just devastating for the 24th Michigan Infantry, which was almost exclusively recruited from Wayne County."

When the Free Press published that long-ago casualty list, Charnley added, the damage to the war effort in the Detroit area was grave.

"They had to resort to a draft, after that," he said.

In the United States, the traditional regimental system was almost gone by World War I. But it has enjoyed a revival of sorts during the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, when a downsized full-time military has leaned heavily on state National Guard troops and reserve units that are organized geographically.

The results are uncomfortable for families left fretting at home.

Maria Ponce, 48, feels the sting. With two sons overseas and her husband working as a long-haul trucker, she worries that she, 11-year-old daughter Jacky and Guadalupe Ponce's fiancee, Sarah Vaas, will be left alone to deal with whatever bad news may come.

"I think if something happens, I'm here alone," Maria Ponce said.

On the other side of Grand Rapids, Gail Mejeur, whose sons also are deployed with Alpha Company, agreed.

"How do you talk about family time and not cry?" she said. "It is so hard."

While Mejeur and husband Norm Mejeur are mindful of the risks their sons are taking -- Gail Mejeur said she spotted a strange car in her driveway recently and hesitated to go home for fear it was a Marine Corps officer bearing the worst possible news -- they take comfort in knowing their boys are close to each other during a difficult time.

One such time came after Daryl Mejeur's Humvee was blown up by an improvised-explosive device. He suffered a concussion in the blast; no one else in the vehicle was hurt.

After it happened, Mejeur's parents were glad his brother was nearby for support.

"They are best friends," said Norm Mejeur, a driver for United Parcel Service. "They're so close, and we're so thankful for that. ... They've got someone to lean on over there."

'A little bit of home here'

Lance Cpl. Curtis Mejeur, a 21-year-old student at Grand Valley State University, couldn't have put it any better.

"We're probably the best friends" in Alpha Company, he said earlier this month of his brother Daryl, 25, a private first class who worked as a painter and real estate agent back home. Even though Curtis' duties keep him at the base and Daryl is assigned elsewhere, mutual buddies keep each posted on what the other is doing.

Both Mejeurs said the presence of so many relatives in Alpha Company gives the unit a special feeling during tough times. "There's a lot of family here," Daryl said.

And that helps ease the stress of combat, said Cpl. Hector Vargas. He said he gets unspoken reassurance because his younger brother, Lance Cpl. Guadalupe Ponce, is nearby.

"It feels good just knowing he's around here," said Vargas, who already had one overseas deployment and could have avoided coming to Iraq this time. Still, he said, he couldn't let his younger brother go by himself "and have all the good stories. Anyway, it's like having a little bit of home here."

That holds true for Ponce, as well, who had a rare chance to meet with his older brother recently.

"Mom, she's proud of us," he said. "Just worried, sometimes."

Pride and worry are common themes among 1/24 families, as is faith.

The Mejeurs draw on a strong spring of faith in dealing with their sons' deployment and draw closer to their two grown daughters, who live at home. Maria Ponce helps organize an annual celebration of the Virgin of Guadalupe -- for whom her son is named -- at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Grand Rapids.

"I don't feel alone," she said. "The people know my sons are overseas ... and we pray for my sons."

'They're going to get through it'

The Krukowskis of Midland, whose sons Cpl. Alan Krukowski, 22, and Lance Cpl. Daniel Krukowski, 19, also serve with 1/24, certainly feel pride and worry, as well.

"It is a little bit difficult, balancing the 'We're so proud of them' aspect with just the mom-type concerns and missing them," Linda Krukowski said.

The service was a career option James Krukowski encouraged for all his children, including Alan, whose civilian job is working at the Midland Country Club, and Daniel, who plans to go to college when he's back.

"We're concerned, but I don't think we're always worried that the dime is going to drop," James Krukowski said. "We're people of pretty strong faith. We have trust that whatever happens, they're going to get through it. ... But I've got my eyes open."

The Marines of 1/24 have their eyes open for each other, as well -- whether they share the same DNA or not.

"They're all brothers over there," said Norm Mejeur. "They're all brothers."

Contact JOHN MASSON at 586-469-4904 or [email protected]

MORE MARINES HEADED OUT: Painful partings, Troops leave families for Iraq

The bright pink walls of the tiny room in the modest home in Mason seemed to glow as portraits of Disney princesses looked down from the wallpaper trim.

http://www.freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20061217/NEWS05/612170582

December 17, 2006
BY GINA DAMRON
FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER

It's a girl, and her name will be Jocelyn.

Dad and mom-to-be Alex and Erin Shattuck, both 21, rifled through small drawers Friday, holding up tiny T-shirts with sayings like "Littlest Marine" and "I (heart) Daddy." But, next to the new diaper bag and crib with a princess mobile sat camouflaged fatigues, gear and a large, overstuffed backpack.

The atmosphere in the lively room Jocelyn will call home after she arrives in February was gentle that quiet evening.

Erin knew that the next morning she would share a tearful good-bye with her Marine husband as he boarded a bus in Lansing, bound for Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Harrison Township. Alex knew he would spend the ride listening to upbeat music by Tupac and Toby Keith, trying to take his mind off of the fact that he'll be in Iraq when his little girl is born.

Lance Cpl. Alex Shattuck -- a clean-cut, former Ferris State University football player-turned military man -- is one of more than 70 active Marines and reservists expected to leave early this morning for Iraq to join the rest of the 1st Battalion of the 24th Marines in Fallujah.

Those heading out now either missed the cutoff for the first wave, which deployed in the fall, or were injured during training and had to wait. Now, they're replenishing the troops.

"I just kind of felt the need to contribute," Shattuck said, adding that he thought through his decision to join the Marines last year. "I just took a lot of time, a lot of time just praying."

This sense of obligation and loyalty is one shared by Marines -- especially Michigan's Band of Brothers in the 1/24. They're not just friends or comrades in the field -- they're family.

"I just want to go over there and be with my brothers," Lance Cpl. Anthony Wright, 24, of Grand Rapids said Saturday. Many of the Marines in Iraq and the ones headed over trained together in California before the first group shipped out. Wright suffered a tailbone injury during training and needed to recover before leaving.

"I just really can't wait to get over there."

But for Erin Shattuck, the experience has been surreal, almost like a movie. Her boyfriend goes to basic training, she finds out she is pregnant while he is gone, he crams three months of infantry training into two weeks, they get married and then -- as her belly grows and the due date nears -- her husband is shipped off to fight in a war.

"We have good days and bad days," Alex said Friday. "She gets upset sometimes, but that's totally normal."

"It's kind of hard to talk about it," Erin said as Alex sat next to her, his arm always around her shoulder or his hand holding hers.

That night, they spent time with family. They ate a feast of chili, biscuits and strawberry-banana Jell-O with tons of banana slices. Comfort food.

"He's a man now," Alex's grandmother, Jackie Shattuck, said Friday evening in the kitchen of her Mason home, which smelled sweet like Christmas and is only a stone's throw from Alex and Erin's house. "You say Iraq, and everybody is scared to death. Alex is very concerned about his country, so this is what he chose to do."

That night, Alex and Erin stayed up late -- until 2 or 3 in the morning -- watching movies and talking.

"I didn't want to miss time with her," Alex said.

All of the Marines gathered Saturday at the base, where they waited hours for their flight. They talked, smoked and loaded up with new gear and upgraded bulletproof plates to shove in their vests. They sat with headphones on, listening to music, and rested on the floor of a room in the base. They got lost in their laptops and searched for stray cell phone chargers so they could make just a few more calls to loved ones.

Sgt. Steven Tener's phone was running out of juice, thanks to all the picture messages his wife was sending of their baby boy, born Friday in Hawaii, where Tener was stationed before landing in Grand Rapids a few months ago.

"See," Tener, 26, said, as he held up his phone, showing off a photo of Zion Skylar, wrapped in a blanket. The subject line read: "I love u daddy!"

"I want to be there," he said. "I'm thinking that I have to make it home in one piece. I'm confident that I will. ... If I don't make it back, I know they'll be taken care of."

Wayman Neal of Detroit has spent a lot of time talking to his 27-year-old Marine son, Dion Evans, also of Detroit, about his tour.

"Be safe. Be careful. Be aware of your surroundings. Keep your head down," Neal has told his son. "Keep God with you."

December 15, 2006

Additional Coalition Forces, construction of dirt “berms” increase security conditions in Iraq’s Haditha Triad region

CAMP AL ASAD, Iraq (Dec. 15, 2006) - Coalition Forces recently completed construction of an 8-foot high, dirt berm with traffic control points along the eastern perimeter of Barwanah, Iraq, to deny insurgents freedom of movement into the city.

http://www.imef-fwd.usmc.mil/imef%2FInfolineMarines.nsf/0/43773FA176AE898CC3257245005EC3A4?OpenDocument

By RCT-7 Public Affairs

The traffic control checkpoints are in key locations around the city to regulate who is coming in and out of the city - a crucial step to improving security conditions for locals, according to the top U.S. military officials in Iraq"s western Al Anbar Province.

Now, insurgents can"t freely travel in and out of the city.

"We are establishing a gated community, where good people can come in to the city, and bad people can"t," said Col. W. Blake Crowe, commanding officer, Regimental Combat Team 7.

RCT-7 is the Coalition Forces unit responsible for providing security and mentoring Iraqi Security Forces in western Al Anbar Province, which includes numerous Euphrates River valley cities, such as Al Qa"im, Rawah, Haditha, and Hit.

Barwana is a town of about 20,000 in Iraq"s western Al Anbar Province, and is part of the Haditha "Triad" region, which consists of three cities - Haditha, Haqlaniyah and Barwana - about 50 miles east of the Iraq-Syria border.

Marines here consider the operation a necessary step to provide a temporary "windbreak" for the Iraqi Security Forces to maintain the security needed for eventual development of the economy, government and infra-structure of this region.

"It"s a necessary step in making western Al Anbar a prohibitive environment for insurgents and terrorists to operate in and a permissive environment for the people to live in peace," said Capt. Mike Alvarez, a Marine Corps spokesman.

The Haditha "Triad" has been one of the most insurgent-active regions in western Anbar Province, where U.S. and Iraqi Security Forces face small-arms fire and improvised explosive attacks daily.

The berm"s construction is part of "Operation Al Majid," an on-going, synchronized Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces "clearing and holding" operation intended to disrupt and defeat insurgent activity throughout more than 30,000 square miles in western Al Anbar Province. The operation began late last month.

Although the berm and traffic control points present some challenges and inconveniences to the community, Coalition Forces have seen "very positive improvements" to the city"s security since Operation Majid began.

Similar dirt berms are currently under construction in Haditha and Haqlaniyah are on-going.

Despite several complaints issued by citizens, locals in the Haditha "Triad" region have expressed to Coalition Forces that they are "pleased with the current security conditions" and that the recently-emplaced checkpoints "are effective against foreign fighters entering the cities," according to a recent U.S. military report on Operation Majid.

According to another U.S. military report, locals in Haditha now "feel much safer within the city, and the amount of children playing out in the streets has increased dramatically."

A third U.S. military report stated that "children have returned to school in large numbers in Haditha," and that "one (U.S. Marine) patrol noted that there were more people walking around in the streets of (Haqlaniyah) than they had ever seen before."

But a recent news report from "Reuters" claims that Haditha residents say electricity has been cut off to the city and that "no food is being allowed into the city."

While the nearby Haditha Dam recently lost electrical power, the loss of electricity in Haditha and other regions of Iraq was not intentional and had nothing to due with on-going operations in the Haditha "Triad," said Alvarez.

Instead, the power loss in the Haditha "Triad" region was caused when local insurgents destroyed two power-line towers that will require the Ministry of Energy to repair. Power is now back up at the dam, as well as in the Haditha "Triad" cities.

As for food not being allowed into the city, that"s simply "not true," said Alvarez.

"The people of Iraq are not the enemy," said Alvarez. "We understand there are going to be certain inconveniences to the local people, and we"re working with local leaders to find solutions."

Barwanah is one of three cities Coalition Forces have bermed in western Al Anbar Province. U.S. Marines created similar berms around Rutbah - a city of 25,000 just east of the Iraq-Syria border, and most recently, in Anah, a city of 25,000 along the Euphrates River located west of Haditha. Rutbah was bermed early last year, Anah in September.

One month after Rutbah was bermed, attacks against Coalition Forces dropped by nearly 50-perecent, according to U.S. military reports.

The Marines expect similar results in the Haditha "Triad," and ultimately, to hand the once-volatile region over to Iraqi Security Forces entirely.

"They (insurgents) know that well-led, well-trained and well-equipped Iraqi police will defeat the insurgency," said Crowe. "This operation will set the conditions which will allow the introduction of an effective Iraqi police force in that region."

Furthermore, additional U.S. forces are operating in western Al Anbar Province as part of Operation Al Majid. The additional troops have provided an overwhelming presence in the region, and have directly contributed to a significant decrease in attacks on Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces, as well as civilians, said Alvarez.

In the months prior to the start of Operation Majid, attacks against Coalition Forces - which includes improvised explosive devices, small-arms fire, and indirect fire attacks - numbered more than 220 per month in western Al Anbar Province. In the first 10 days of December, there were about 30 attacks. If that trend continues, U.S. military analysts projected about 90 attacks for the month of December - a stark contrast from previous monthly attacks.

Additionally, throughout this past week, Coalition Forces have discovered numerous weapons and munitions caches throughout western Al Anbar Province.

Since Saturday, U.S. Marines and Iraqi Security Forces discovered 15 caches containing a variety of ammunition, munitions and improvised explosive device-making materials, to include rocket-propelled grenades, bullets, mortars, mortar fuses, machine guns and various rifle scopes, among other items. Ten were found in the Haditha "Triad."

One of the caches discovered was about 200 meters in length - one of the largest caches Coalition Forces have discovered in western Al Anbar Province in the past year.

Coalition Forces also discovered 19 improvised explosive devices since Saturday, as well as a variety of unexploded ordnance.

The following items were discovered in the various caches:

(50) Mortar fuses(2) 122 mm rounds(200) 7.62mmX54 rounds(3) Grenade fuses(2) 130mm rounds(7) 60mm rounds(1) 135mm round(3) 120mm rounds(2) 57mm projectiles(3) Partial 81mm mortar rounds(3) 81mm mortar fins(2) Illumination rounds(50) 83mm detonation fuses(3) 130mm artillery rounds(1) Drum of 7.62mm ammunition(1) Anti-aircraft fuse(12) Grenades(98) RPG rounds(1) RPG warhead(2) Artillery Rounds(14) AK-47 Assault rifles(57) AK-47 magazines(1) 22 caliber pistol(2) RPK machine guns(52) Rocket-propelled grenade launchers(6,480) 7.62mm rounds of ammunition (1) 9mm pistol(192) 82mm mortar rounds(1) Rice bag of C4(1) Suicide bomb vest(245) Artillery fuses(47) 122mm projectile rockets(1) 10-pound stick of propellant(10) Pounds of dynamite(5) Pounds of PE4(2) 155mm artillery rounds(1) 155mm supplementary charge(60) Feet of timed fuse(30) Feet of detonation cord(2) Improvised Bangalore torpedoes (4) 57mm projectiles(1) Sabot round(1) P6-9(1) P6-7(2) 06-7 40mm rounds(2) P6-7 launch motors(2) Flight motors(2) R6D green with fuse(4) PD fuses(5) 60mm mortars(7) Electrical blasting caps(3) RPG scopes(2) Chest rigs, bombs(3) 57mm rounds(2) 107mm rockets(2) Unknown-type pistols(1) Rocket motor(25) Mortar fuses(5) Artillery fuses(1) Global Positioning System(3) Artillery shells(2) HK G3 rifles(1) Submachine gun(1,670) 5.56mm rounds(150) 9mm rounds(2) 9mm magazines(3) 20-gauge shotgun shells(3) Spools of command wire(1) PKM machine gun(1) British Assault Rifle(11) Rocket pods(1) Surface to air missile(1) SA-7 Missile Launcher(26) RPG propellants(10) Pounds of propellant(1) Barrel, 7.62mm ammunition(1) 57mm rocket(10) Bags 81 increment powder(40) 14.5mm API rounds(50) Fuse components(2) Grenade fuses(1) AK-47 assault rifle bayonet

Photo links may be found at original link.
CAPTIONS FOR PHOTOS:


061206-M-9057K-063.jpg

1st Lt. Daniel K. Blasingame, a platoon commander with the Camp Pendleton, Calif.-based 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, searches a house during cordon and search operations in Barwana, Iraq, Dec. 6, 2006. Coalition Forces recently completed construction of an 8-foot high, dirt berm with traffic control points along the eastern perimeter of Barwana to deny insurgents freedom of movement into the city. The traffic control checkpoints are in key locations around the city to regulate who is coming in and out of the city - a crucial step to improving security conditions for locals, according to U.S. military officials in Iraq"s western Al Anbar Province. Barwana is a town of about 20,000 in Iraq"s western Al Anbar Province, and is part of the Haditha "Triad" region, which consists of three cities - Haditha, Haqlaniyah and Barwana - about 50 miles east of the Iraq-Syria border. Marines here consider the operation a necessary step to provide a temporary "windbreak" for the Iraqi Security Forces to maintain the security needed for eventual development of the economy, government and infrastructure of this region. (Photo by Staff Sgt. T.G. Kessler)


MAC-EPB

U.S. Marines with the Camp Pendleton, Calif.-based Combat Logistics Battalion 1, used bulldozers and other heavy machinery to construct entry control points and an 8-foot dirt in Barwana, Iraq, Nov. 28, 2006. Coalition Forces recently completed construction of an 8-foot high, dirt berm with traffic control points along the eastern perimeter of Barwana to deny insurgents freedom of movement into the city. The traffic control checkpoints are in key locations around the city to regulate who is coming in and out of the city - a crucial step to improving security conditions for locals, according to U.S. military officials in Iraq"s western Al Anbar Province. Barwana is a town of about 20,000 in Iraq"s western Al Anbar Province, and is part of the Haditha "Triad" region, which consists of three cities - Haditha, Haqlaniyah and Barwana - about 50 miles east of the Iraq-Syria border. Marines here consider the operation a necessary step to provide a temporary "windbreak" for the Iraqi Security Forces to maintain the security needed for eventual development of the economy, government and infrastructure of this region. (USMC Photo)


MAC-EPB4

U.S. Marines with the Camp Pendleton, Calif.-based Combat Logistics Battalion 1, used bulldozers and other heavy machinery to construct entry control points and an 8-foot dirt in Barwana, Iraq, Nov. 28, 2006. Coalition Forces recently completed construction of an 8-foot high, dirt berm with traffic control points along the eastern perimeter of Barwana to deny insurgents freedom of movement into the city. The traffic control checkpoints are in key locations around the city to regulate who is coming in and out of the city - a crucial step to improving security conditions for locals, according to U.S. military officials in Iraq"s western Al Anbar Province. Barwana is a town of about 20,000 in Iraq"s western Al Anbar Province, and is part of the Haditha "Triad" region, which consists of three cities - Haditha, Haqlaniyah and Barwana - about 50 miles east of the Iraq-Syria border. Marines here consider the operation a necessary step to provide a temporary "windbreak" for the Iraqi Security Forces to maintain the security needed for eventual development of the economy, government and infrastructure of this region. (USMC Photo)


MAC-EPB6

U.S. Marines with the Camp Pendleton, Calif.-based Combat Logistics Battalion 1, used bulldozers and other heavy machinery to construct entry control points and an 8-foot dirt in Barwana, Iraq, Nov. 28, 2006. Coalition Forces recently completed construction of an 8-foot high, dirt berm with traffic control points along the eastern perimeter of Barwana to deny insurgents freedom of movement into the city. The traffic control checkpoints are in key locations around the city to regulate who is coming in and out of the city - a crucial step to improving security conditions for locals, according to U.S. military officials in Iraq"s western Al Anbar Province. Barwana is a town of about 20,000 in Iraq"s western Al Anbar Province, and is part of the Haditha "Triad" region, which consists of three cities - Haditha, Haqlaniyah and Barwana - about 50 miles east of the Iraq-Syria border. Marines here consider the operation a necessary step to provide a temporary "windbreak" for the Iraqi Security Forces to maintain the security needed for eventual development of the economy, government and infrastructure of this region. (USMC Photo)


MAC-EPB8

U.S. Marines with the Camp Pendleton, Calif.-based Combat Logistics Battalion 1, used bulldozers and other heavy machinery to construct entry control points and an 8-foot dirt in Barwana, Iraq, Nov. 28, 2006. Coalition Forces recently completed construction of an 8-foot high, dirt berm with traffic control points along the eastern perimeter of Barwana to deny insurgents freedom of movement into the city. The traffic control checkpoints are in key locations around the city to regulate who is coming in and out of the city - a crucial step to improving security conditions for locals, according to U.S. military officials in Iraq"s western Al Anbar Province. Barwana is a town of about 20,000 in Iraq"s western Al Anbar Province, and is part of the Haditha "Triad" region, which consists of three cities - Haditha, Haqlaniyah and Barwana - about 50 miles east of the Iraq-Syria border. Marines here consider the operation a necessary step to provide a temporary "windbreak" for the Iraqi Security Forces to maintain the security needed for eventual development of the economy, government and infrastructure of this region. (USMC Photo)


BERM 1

U.S. Marines with Charlie Company, 4th Combat Engineers Battalion used bulldozers and other heavy machinery to construct an expeditionary patrol base in Barwana, Iraq, Dec. 5, 2006. Coalition Forces recently completed construction of an 8-foot high, dirt berm with traffic control points along the eastern perimeter of Barwana to deny insurgents freedom of movement into the city. The traffic control checkpoints are in key locations around the city to regulate who is coming in and out of the city - a crucial step to improving security conditions for locals, according to U.S. military officials in Iraq"s western Al Anbar Province. Barwana is a town of about 20,000 in Iraq"s western Al Anbar Province, and is part of the Haditha "Triad" region, which consists of three cities - Haditha, Haqlaniyah and Barwana - about 50 miles east of the Iraq-Syria border. Marines here consider the operation a necessary step to provide a temporary "windbreak" for the Iraqi Security Forces to maintain the security needed for eventual development of the economy, government and infrastructure of this region. (USMC Photo)


BERM 2

U.S. Marines with Charlie Company, 4th Combat Engineers Battalion used bulldozers and other heavy machinery to construct an expeditionary patrol base in Barwana, Iraq, Dec. 5, 2006. Coalition Forces recently completed construction of an 8-foot high, dirt berm with traffic control points along the eastern perimeter of Barwana to deny insurgents freedom of movement into the city. The traffic control checkpoints are in key locations around the city to regulate who is coming in and out of the city - a crucial step to improving security conditions for locals, according to U.S. military officials in Iraq"s western Al Anbar Province. Barwana is a town of about 20,000 in Iraq"s western Al Anbar Province, and is part of the Haditha "Triad" region, which consists of three cities - Haditha, Haqlaniyah and Barwana - about 50 miles east of the Iraq-Syria border. Marines here consider the operation a necessary step to provide a temporary "windbreak" for the Iraqi Security Forces to maintain the security needed for eventual development of the economy, government and infrastructure of this region. (USMC Photo)

061128-M-0036Y-007

U.S. Marines with the Camp Pendleton, Calif.-based 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, fill sandbags while constructing a forward operating base near Barwana, Iraq, Nov. 28, 2006. Coalition Forces recently completed construction of an 8-foot high, dirt berm with traffic control points along the eastern perimeter of Barwana to deny insurgents freedom of movement into the city. The traffic control checkpoints are in key locations around the city to regulate who is coming in and out of the city - a crucial step to improving security conditions for locals, according to U.S. military officials in Iraq"s western Al Anbar Province. Barwana is a town of about 20,000 in Iraq"s western Al Anbar Province, and is part of the Haditha "Triad" region, which consists of three cities - Haditha, Haqlaniyah and Barwana - about 50 miles east of the Iraq-Syria border. Marines here consider the operation a necessary step to provide a temporary "windbreak" for the Iraqi Security Forces to maintain the security needed for eventual development of the economy, government and infrastructure of this region. (Photo by Cpl. Andrew D. Young)


061128-M-0036Y-005

U.S. Marines with the Camp Pendleton, Calif.-based 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, fill sandbags while constructing a forward operating base near Barwana, Iraq, Nov. 28, 2006. Coalition Forces recently completed construction of an 8-foot high, dirt berm with traffic control points along the eastern perimeter of Barwana to deny insurgents freedom of movement into the city. The traffic control checkpoints are in key locations around the city to regulate who is coming in and out of the city - a crucial step to improving security conditions for locals, according to U.S. military officials in Iraq"s western Al Anbar Province. Barwana is a town of about 20,000 in Iraq"s western Al Anbar Province, and is part of the Haditha "Triad" region, which consists of three cities - Haditha, Haqlaniyah and Barwana - about 50 miles east of the Iraq-Syria border. Marines here consider the operation a necessary step to provide a temporary "windbreak" for the Iraqi Security Forces to maintain the security needed for eventual development of the economy, government and infrastructure of this region. (Photo by Cpl. Andrew D. Young)


061128-M-0036Y-001

U.S. Marines with the Camp Pendleton, Calif.-based 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, construct a forward operating base near Barwana, Iraq, Nov. 28, 2006. Coalition Forces recently completed construction of an 8-foot high, dirt berm with traffic control points along the eastern perimeter of Barwana to deny insurgents freedom of movement into the city. The traffic control checkpoints are in key locations around the city to regulate who is coming in and out of the city - a crucial step to improving security conditions for locals, according to U.S. military officials in Iraq"s western Al Anbar Province. Barwana is a town of about 20,000 in Iraq"s western Al Anbar Province, and is part of the Haditha "Triad" region, which consists of three cities - Haditha, Haqlaniyah and Barwana - about 50 miles east of the Iraq-Syria border. Marines here consider the operation a necessary step to provide a temporary "windbreak" for the Iraqi Security Forces to maintain the security needed for eventual development of the economy, government and infrastructure of this region. (Photo by Cpl. Andrew D. Young)


061128-M-0036Y-011

U.S. Marines with the Camp Pendleton, Calif.-based 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, construct a forward operating base near Barwana, Iraq, Nov. 28, 2006. Coalition Forces recently completed construction of an 8-foot high, dirt berm with traffic control points along the eastern perimeter of Barwana to deny insurgents freedom of movement into the city. The traffic control checkpoints are in key locations around the city to regulate who is coming in and out of the city - a crucial step to improving security conditions for locals, according to U.S. military officials in Iraq"s western Al Anbar Province. Barwana is a town of about 20,000 in Iraq"s western Al Anbar Province, and is part of the Haditha "Triad" region, which consists of three cities - Haditha, Haqlaniyah and Barwana - about 50 miles east of the Iraq-Syria border. Marines here consider the operation a necessary step to provide a temporary "windbreak" for the Iraqi Security Forces to maintain the security needed for eventual development of the economy, government and infrastructure of this region. (Photo by Cpl. Andrew D. Young)

Battlefield's 'Doc' now in a nation's care, Brought home by his best friend, lost medic unites perfect strangers

The skinny sailor sat in the Philadelphia airport terminal in his deep-blue dress uniform, cracking his knuckles, shifting in his seat, waiting for his best friend.

http://www.rockymountainnews.com/drmn/local/article/0,1299,DRMN_15_5216457,00.html

By Jim Sheeler, Rocky Mountain News
December 15, 2006

A woman from the airline walked over and motioned for him to follow. She saw the nervous look on the sailor's face and stopped.

"Wait," she said. "Is this your first time doing this?"

"Yes, ma'am," the 22 year-old said, his voice cracking.

"Well, unfortunately, it's not the first time for me," she said. "Not even the first time this week."

She led him toward the gate and gave him a soft smile.

"You'll do fine," she said.

Inside the airport, the public-address system pumped out Peggy Lee's Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree. A nearby group of passengers loaded up their ski clothes, readying for a vacation. Suit-and-tied businessmen with premier privileges watched as the sailor was led in front of them all.

None of them knew his mission.

On board the nearly empty plane, a flight attendant was one of the first to shake his hand.

"I understand you're escorting today," he said. "Is this the fella from Longmont? I live in Boulder. I've been reading about him in the papers."

"Yes, sir," the sailor said in a warbled voice that sounded like an eighth-grader.

"I'm sure you'll do yourself and your service proud," the flight attendant said.

After speaking with the crew, the pilot walked over and offered his hand.

"I understand he was your friend," the captain said.

"I'm sorry."

The sailor nodded. He carried his soft, white hat in his hands. The patch on his left shoulder signified his status as a Navy hospital corpsman.

The captain then looked at one of the crew members.

"Are there any seats in first class? I'd like to bring him up here."

After the sailor stowed his bags, the woman from the terminal walked him back out to the jetway, where he waited as the other passengers boarded the plane. As they filed past, some stole glances at him, some smiled at him, and he tried to smile back.

As the sailor waited, another flight attendant, a Vietnam veteran, walked over.

"Hello," he said, grasping the sailor's hand. "Thirty years ago, they didn't say thank you to us. I wanted to say thank you now."

The sailor nodded again and managed a grin. Then the chief of the ground crew opened the door to the stairs that led to the tarmac.

"OK," he said. "We're ready."

In cardboard box, a casket

Underneath a whining jet engine near the rear cargo hold, baggage workers lifted the tarp on a cart, and the sailor swallowed hard. He checked to see if the name on the cardboard box matched that of his best friend.

An American flag was printed atop the box, which encased the polished hardwood casket, protecting it during transit from Dover Air Force Base to the airport, and then to Denver, where the box would be removed before anyone saw it. On each end, the box was stamped with a large official seal of the Department of Defense.

The last time Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class John Dragneff saw his friend was the same day Hospital Corpsman Christopher Anderson left for Iraq. They talked endlessly that day, about taking care of each other's families, about taking care in general. That was, after all, what they had in common.

Often in restaurants, the waitperson would ask the sailors, "Are you brothers?" The first few times, they laughed it off. After a while, they started answering without hesitation, "Yes."

The two men had met at field medical training school, and they clicked right away. They soon studied together, went to the beach in Camp Lejeune, N.C., where Anderson surfed, and just generally hung out, talking about where life was headed for both of them.

More recently, they spent time talking about what it meant to hold somebody's life in your hands — and to lose it.

Tuesday afternoon, the young sailor stood on the chilly tarmac in Philadelphia. As the casket made its way up the conveyor belt, he snapped to attention, grasping his hands into fists, thumbs at the seams of his pants, trying to squeeze back the tears.

His eyes emptied as he brought his hand to his face in a salute, which he tried to hold steady until the casket disappeared into the plane's belly.

As he turned, the sailor's face melted, and he walked into the embrace of Pamela Andrus, the United Airlines service director. The ground manager took his other side, supporting him.

"I'm so sorry," Andrus said.

Together, they walked back up the stairs, into the plane, where a cheery flight attendant came over with several tissues plucked from the lavatory.

"You can cry," Christine Sullivan told him. "All of us want to send our love and blessings to you and be here for you.

"You're going to do great."

Corpsmen have long history

On Dec. 4, Chief Hospital Corpsman Kip Poggemeyer wasn't supposed to be in his office at Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora. It was his day off, but the 37 year-old was busy trying to finish medical reports that would send another batch of Navy reservists from Colorado to Afghanistan.

Only last year, the Navy corpsman had returned from Marine Corps Air Station Al Asad in Iraq, the closest medical base to some of the heaviest fighting in the country — a base that shook with mortar attacks 26 times during his deployment.

Within his first week, he saw massive combat wounds while performing the same job that his grandfather held during World War II, the same job he knew he wanted since he was a little boy.

The history of the Navy hospital corpsman dates back to the Spanish-American War. The Marines needed a field medic, and looked to the Navy to provide one.

According to Navy historian and Hospital Corpsman Mark Hacala, the Navy hospital corpsman has provided front-line medical care that has saved countless lives on the battlefields of every conflict since, earning a disproportionate share of accolades and awards and suffering a similarly large percentage of casualties.

Despite both services living under the umbrella of the Navy, Marines and sailors hold an intense traditional rivalry. When new hospital corpsmen are assigned to Marine units, the Marines may tease them as "squids" — or worse. Still, the hospital corpsmen have to learn to think, act and react with the speed of their Marine unit.

When a hospital corpsman is first attached to a unit, the Marines will call them by their last name, or maybe just "corpsman." Eventually — only when corpsmen earn the Marines' respect — they earn the nickname "Doc."

"The first time they call you 'Doc,' it's like, 'Yes! I have arrived,' " Poggemeyer said. "It makes you feel like you're part of the team."

Once the fighting begins, the corpsman's duty is usually one of the riskiest — carrying their own weapon along with medical gear.

The Marines say they will take a bullet for the corpsman, because he's the only one who can take it out.

"If they yell, 'Corpsman up,' they know Doc is going to be right there," Poggemeyer said. "When the Marines call you 'Doc,' you know you'll never let them down, you'll never leave their side. That bond between a Marine and a Navy corpsman is something that will last forever. We call them 'My Marines' — they call us 'My Doc.' "

Somewhere near Ramadi on Dec. 4, Christopher Anderson's Marines called on their Doc. Details of the attack have not been released by the military, other than the information Poggemeyer received in his office that afternoon.

"They told me it was a corpsman, KIA (killed in action) in Ramadi from a mortar attack. . . . It brought back all the memories," he said. "I had come full circle. I was in Iraq and saw people die. But I had never seen this side."

That afternoon, Poggemeyer and another casualty-assistance officer met the Navy chaplain in Longmont. The chief carried with him a sheet with the name of 24-year-old Hospital Corpsman Christopher A. Anderson — and his parents' address in Longmont.

Together, the sailors drove to the modest home with an American flag flying from the porch, and another special flag in the window.

After they parked the government sport-utility vehicle at 5:30 p.m., Poggemeyer saw the blue-star flag, signifying the family had a loved one overseas.

"Doc Anderson," it said underneath the star.

"When I saw that, my heart just sank," he said. "My mom and dad had one of those flags up while I was gone. My wife had one up."

Still, he made his way to the door.

"I pushed the doorbell," he said, "and I felt like a horse kicked me in the stomach."

Debra Anderson opened the door and saw the men in uniform.

"Oh, honey," she said with a smile, calling to her husband.

"The sailors are here. The recruiters are here."

Rick Anderson came to the stairs and his face paled. A former Navy SEAL, he recognized the uniforms.

"Honey, we need to sit down," he said.

"These aren't recruiters."

With service came emotion

In the first-class section of United Airlines Flight 271 from Philadelphia to Denver, the sailor looked through a booklet called Manual for Escorts of Deceased Naval Personnel.

"It's weird. I think back, and I was never an emotional-type person until I joined the military," Dragneff said. "In the past, I've had relatives who died, but I never really cried. I guess that since I've been in, it all means a lot more."

He thought back to one of the last times he saw his friend, Chris, when they went to visit Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day, and Dragneff found the grave of a sailor he had trained with.

"When we went out to Arlington, standing there, I just started crying, and I couldn't understand why. I didn't really know the guy that well," Dragneff said.

"Chris just grabbed me and hugged me and let me sit there and cry. As we were walking away, a man walked up and shook my hand and said, 'Thank you.' So then, Chris started to cry. So there were just the three of us standing there, crying.

"A few minutes later, just trying to cheer me up, he made up some story about a squirrel on crack. Just like that. He could make you smile."

Dragneff was the responsible one, relatively shy, the designated driver who didn't drink or smoke. He was the one happy in a sweat shirt and jeans, while Anderson would change clothes five times before going out, a neatnik who splurged on Armani and Ralph Lauren.

At 6-foot-2 inches tall, with short-cropped, jet-black hair and hazel eyes, the muscular, outgoing 24-year-old never lacked in self-confidence.

"Damn, I look good," he wrote on one of the photos displayed on his

MySpace.com account. On the Web site, Dragneff posted regular updates about his friend while he was in Iraq. He was also the one to inform them of Chris' death.

"Dec 5 2006 12:56P," he wrote.

"Christopher Anderson, you weren't a 'real' brother, but you were still my brother. A person could not ask for a better friend or brother. You will be greatly missed. Love your brother, John.

"Rest in peace."

Brother gets a phone call

On the evening of Dec. 4, Kyle Anderson wound through the remote roads of Weld County, making his regular rounds in his Schwan's food-delivery truck, when he realized he had a message on his cell phone.

"It was my dad, saying that he had a problem and he needed my help, and that he wanted me to come home right away," he said.

The 22-year-old shook his head.

"My dad is a Navy SEAL. There's nothing he can't handle. I knew something was wrong," Anderson said.

"When I called back, the first thing I said was, 'Is my brother alive?' And he said 'No.' "

He hung up the phone.

On the other end of the line, his parents worried. The notification team offered to go and pick up the young man who was now their only son.

When Kyle called back, his parents asked him to pull over, saying the sailors would meet him to help drive back. He parked his truck at the intersection of Interstate 25 and Colorado 66, and waited, crying alone in the dark.

"It was so surreal. I wondered, 'Is this really happening?' " he said. "As I waited longer, I thought, 'Maybe they won't show up. Maybe it's not real.' "

When the government SUV arrived, Kyle dropped his head.

"It was about 25 degrees outside, and we were standing on the side of I-25 telling him about his brother," Poggemeyer said. "And giving him hugs."

Once back at the home in Longmont, the family talked to the notification officers about their son, breathing life into the name on the casualty list.

"We spoke to him on Dec. 3," his father said. "He talked about the Christmas presents he wanted us to buy for a neighbor, and that he wanted us to send out Christmas cards for him."

At his funeral service today in Longmont, the family plans to hand out their son's Christmas cards to everyone who attends.

He asked that the card end with a single phrase: "Please Remember Our Troops!!!!"

Fourth-generation serviceman

When Christopher Anderson enlisted in the Navy in 2005, the Longmont High School graduate became the fourth generation in his family to do so. At boot camp, he was voted the "honor graduate" in his class. After that, he wanted to excel in everything.

Before he left for Iraq, Christopher and his father mined military supply shops, looking for any equipment that might help him in the field. He looked for anything that might help him blend in with the Marines, since he knew corpsmen were prime targets.

"I have to be able to do this in the dark," he told his father.

In Iraq, he asked to be stationed with the front-line Marines and was assigned to a 12-man unit. One of his first tasks was to memorize each Marine's medical records. His medical expertise stretched beyond his unit to the Iraqi people, who would talk to him "because he was 'the dictor' (as the Iraqis called him). "There were times that nobody would talk to anyone except him," Rick Anderson said.

Once, he told his parents, an angry crowd had mobilized, but it was quashed when a woman recognized the corpsman and stepped in.

"She said, 'This is the one who helped my baby,' " Rick Anderson said, "And that dispersed the group, and everything was OK."

After some of his weekly early morning calls home, it was impossible for the couple to fall back asleep.

"One time, he called us at 5 a,m. My wife heard some funny noises and heard shouts of 'Where's that coming from? Where's that coming from?' " Rick Anderson remembered.

The Andersons, still in bed, listening with the phone between them, heard gunfire.

"I'm going to stay down here," he told them. "I'll just belly-crawl down the hallway so I can talk to you."

In one mortar attack, he was blown across a room, bruising him. Not long afterward, after another attack, he was in the back of a Humvee, his hands covered with his sergeant's blood, speeding toward a field hospital, tying tourniquets and offering encouragement.

"The sergeant told him, 'Tell my wife and kids I love them.' He told him he wouldn't need to do that, while he was pinching off an artery because the tourniquet came loose," his father said.

That sergeant is now recovering at Walter Reed Army Hospital, the family said, and plans to attend Anderson's burial at Arlington National Cemetery on Dec. 21.

Before he left, Christopher and his father talked about the possibility that he wouldn't return, and Christopher had asked for a burial at Arlington.

He had only one other request:

"If something happens," he told his father, "I want John there."

Word spreads through plane

At 31,000 feet, the word slowly slipped through the plane about the sailor in first class — and his mission.

When the passengers found out, their emotions spanned the debate that continues to split the country. Some cursed President Bush by name. Others cursed anyone who says they support the troops without supporting the war. Despite their political leanings, they all said they appreciated the sailor that most of them called "the kid" in the front of the plane — and, even more, the one in the cargo hold beneath them.

Seat 33F, Patrick Mondile, Philadelphia:

"I look at my own situation — I'm 24 years old. I think about, it very well could have been me, if I'd chosen that path. I have friends over there right now," Mondile said. "I don't understand why we're there (in Iraq), but I feel for the families — not just for this soldier, but the thousands who have died."

Seat 14A, Pam Anderson, New Jersey:

"God bless him. God bless him," she said of the sailor in first class. "If he wants any free hugs, just send him back here," the 62 year-old said. "I'm serious. I'm completely serious. I joined the Air Force as a flight nurse, and my squadron is taking a lot of men and women out of the field right now."

Seats 8D, 8E, Dave and Lindy Powell, Monument:

"To me, it's a sense of honor. We didn't know him, but he's part of the Colorado family. We're from Monument. So he's part of our family, too," Dave Powell said.

"Our nephew is a C-130 pilot who's flying into Iraq and Afghanistan. Kids in my Scout troop joined the Marines and went right to Baghdad."

His voice broke.

"They all came home safely."

Seat 22D, Terry Musgrove, Ontario, Ore.:

"If we don't support them, then it's going to embolden the terrorists," he said, fuming as he spoke about a new poll indicating that support for the war is declining. Before the flight took off, he was the only passenger to shake the skinny sailor's hand at the terminal.

"It breaks my heart to know that he's on the plane. I had no idea," he said, as he began to cry. "But I'm proud to tell you, I'm proud."

Seat 16F, Michael Lipkin, Aspen

"I think it's extremely sobering. This is a war where few of us have family and friends over there, and despite the fact that it dominates the media, I think most of us don't feel the cost, the real cost of this war. And we're going to be paying it for a long time," Lipkin said.

"I'm just chilled that that body is on here."

Inside the cabin, flight attendant Christine Sullivan walked back after visiting with the sailor again.

"It just makes it real," she said. "It's separated from politics at this point. It's just about the humanity."

Airline pilot pays tribute

As the plane began its initial descent, Captain George Gil's voice crackled over the intercom.

"Ladies and gentlemen, pardon the interruption, but if I could have your attention," he said, and then paused.

"The great song from Francis Scott Key says that to live in the land of the free, it must also be the home of the brave. Today, we're bringing home two brave men: Petty Officer 3rd Class John Dragneff, and, in great sadness, a fallen hero, Hospitalman Christopher Anderson."

He asked the passengers to let Dragneff off first to meet the casket, then addressed the escort:

"Please know that our prayers and blessings are with you and the family. Thank you for your courage."

A phalanx of pallbearers

As the plane taxied to the gate at Denver International Airport on Tuesday evening, the passengers saw the flashing lights of the police cars, the hearse parked on the tarmac, and they spoke in hushed whispers.

As Dragneff left the plane, a phalanx of pallbearers — three Marines and three sailors — walked toward the plane, for the sailor who died saving Marines.

Inside the belly of the plane, ramp workers removed the cardboard box protecting the casket, while sailors arranged the American flag.

The family embraced as the casket was lowered on the conveyor belt. Some of the plane's passengers watched from their windows. Some watched from the windows inside the terminal.

The pallbearers loaded the casket into the hearse, and Dragneff hugged the family before climbing into the passenger's seat.

As the motorcade made its way toward Longmont, the three sailors who served as pallbearers jumped into a white van, which pulled in behind the limousines.

As they left the airport, police officers and firemen stood in salutes, bathed in the flashing emergency lights.

"This is so cool that they do this," said Storekeeper 3rd Class Ben Engelman. "This is so amazing."

At the Erie and Dacono exit, firetrucks and ambulances, lights flashing, were parked on the overpass. As the procession turned toward Longmont, the lights burned even brighter.

"He deserves this. He was doing good," said Petty Officer Rick Lopez.

On Colorado 66, cars pulled over, along with firefighters, who continued to salute.

Then there was Longmont's Main Street.

At 20th Avenue and Main, the flags began. Kids holding plastic flags, Korean War veterans holding worn American flags, bandana-clad Vietnam veterans holding POW/MIA flags.

At 18th and Main, groups held candles and signs. "God Bless Your Son. Thank You." A boy held his candle to his mother's to light it, as the hearse passed.

At 17th and Main, hands over hearts. Hats over hearts.

"Dude, this is giving me chicken skin," Lopez said, shivering. "I've never seen anything like this."

At 15th and Main, people came out of a restaurant to watch the procession. Police cars with blue lights and medical cars with red lights shone on the Christmas decorations wrapping the trees of downtown.

Outside, it was about 40 degrees. Still, the crowds continued to line the streets. More children with wobbly salutes. A woman in a walker. A couple that embraced in a hug as soon as the hearse passed.

They drove in silence for a few minutes, then Lopez spoke again.

"You know," he said, "sometimes I wish they would do this for us when we come home alive."

A 'smile in his voice'

Inside the funeral home, a few feet from her son's flag-draped casket, Debra Anderson held tight to a single photo.

"I had to have my picture of my smiling Christopher," she said, staring at it, then at the casket.

While Christopher was deployed, his parents talked with him at least once a week — mostly for only a few minutes. The last time they spoke, the day before he died, he ended his conversation the way he always did, telling his parents, "I love you."

"You could hear his smile in his voice, you could hear it on the phone," his father said. "He was going back to work, back to do his job, back to doing what he wanted to do."

Inside the funeral home, Debra Anderson leaned into her husband of 26 years, wiping her face with a tissue.

"My boy, my boy," she said. "Christopher said he'd be OK. He promised he'd be safe, Rick — he PROMISED me. I miss him. I miss the phone calls. I miss him terribly. I want to talk to him."

"Hey," Rick Anderson said softly, "now we can talk to him anytime we want."

"Ooooh," she moaned. "My heart hurts. My heart hurts. It was my job to take care of him. I shouldn't have let him go. I shouldn't have let him go."

"You were going to stop Christopher?" his father asked. "Since when?"

They both managed a smile, and their eyes again fell on the casket.

As the family told Christopher stories from chairs in a corner of the room, Kyle Anderson stood at the foot of the casket, refusing to leave his place, patting his hand on the rough, wrinkled flag.

The brothers had grown up as opposites — Christopher the well-dressed go-getter, Kyle the rebel who shopped at thrift stores. They fought like most brothers fight. Sometimes, they fought worse than most brothers fight.

Since his brother's death, Kyle now says, they talk all the time.

As the family continued to share stories, sniffling and laughing, Kyle Anderson refused to move from the casket.

"Why don't you come over here with us?" Rick Anderson asked him. "Why are you standing there all alone?"

Kyle looked at his father, his eyes red, and patted the casket again.

"I'm not alone," he said.

More than 16 hours after John Dragneff's day began, the skinny sailor walked into the room, after finishing his final paperwork, and handed Christopher's parents a condolence card.

"Instead of saying, 'I'm sorry for your loss,' I wanted to say 'thank you' for Christopher. We claimed each other as brothers."

"You did good, John," Rick Anderson said. "You did good."

As they sat together in the quiet room dominated by the casket, Debra Anderson grasped the young man's hand and looked into his eyes.

"I'm glad you came with him. It's what he wanted. You did a good job. You got him home," she said, gripping his hand even tighter.

"Thank you for bringing him home."

[email protected] or 303-954-2561.


December 14, 2006

Injured Marine showing progress, Colin Smith smiling, playing tic-tac-toe

Injured Marine Lance Cpl. Colin Smith of Avon Lake, who was initially thought to be brain-dead, recognizes his family, has regained some use of one arm and even plays tic-tac-toe with his father, according to his mother.

http://www.chroniclet.com/Daily%20Pages/121206head5.html

December 12, 2006
Cindy Leise
The Chronicle-Telegram

Smith, 19, a 2005 graduate of Avon Lake High School, was shot through the head by a sniper on Oct. 30 in Iraq and was placed on life support before being flown to Germany and then to a naval hospital in Maryland.

“He’s smiling and he has enough movement in one arm he’s playing tic-tac-toe with his dad,” Avon Lake School Superintendent Bob Scott said.

His mother, Melissa Smith of LaGrange, said doctors are pleased with his progress. He’s undergoing occupational therapy, and he wrote his name during a therapy session Monday, she said. He also likes to thumb-wrestle with visitors and doctors, she said.

“Today, he got to meet Miss Pennsylvania, and he couldn’t stop smiling,’’ Melissa Smith said.

She said he’ll have to undergo another surgery in four to six months to replace a portion of his skull damaged by the bullet. A left-hander, he used that hand to write his name, she said.

The news is positive, said Dr. Daniel Wash, chairman of the emergency department at EMH Regional Medical Center and specialty leader for emergency medicine in the U.S. Navy Reserve.

“Look where he was and where he is now, and who knows where he’ll be in six to nine months,” Walsh said.

“Certainly the ability to actually recognize people — as opposed to smiling at a voice — and the ability to appropriately place X’s and O’s in a tic-tac-toe game shows some cognitive ability and that’s hopeful.”

Scott said he spoke with a friend of Smith’s father who has been relaying word on Smith’s condition. Scott said the news is very encouraging, especially since the information was so grim immediately after the shooting.

“The first day they told us he was dead, and the next day they said he was brain-dead,” Scott said. “This is better and better news for us.”

Scott said Smith will be transferred to a rehabilitation facility in Minneapolis.

“He’s recognizing people,” Scott said. “He’s not talking, but they said they can tell by his eyes that he is recognizing people.”

The cheerleaders from the Army-Navy game visited recently, and the friend told Scott that the visit got a good response from him.

Walsh, the emergency specialist, said the fact that Smith is not speaking likely means that the speech portion of his brain has been damaged. If he is moving the left side of his body, that likely means the opposite side of the brain was injured, much like the paralysis suffered by stroke victims, he said.

Smith was listed Monday in fair condition at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., according to deputy public affairs officer Ellen Crown.

Crown said she was sure that Smith’s condition had been upgraded to fair.

"I personally spoke with his doctor,” she said.

Walsh said a fair condition is inconclusive, and merely means that Smith’s injuries are probably not life-threatening at this point.

“It’s an area that’s in between — things can still go wrong but he’s not serious and not critical,” Walsh said.

Smith’s father, Robert Smith, lives in Lorain. Both parents have been able to spend time at his bedside since he arrived in the United States.

10th Marines battle for unit pride

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (Dec. 14, 2006) -- From the moment they don the uniform, Marines are strictly business. Their day isn’t over until the job’s done. But, as the saying goes, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Even Marines, dedicated as they are, need to let loose every once in a while.

http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/mcn2000.nsf/main5/FFC0737D4F2AE3B585257244005B9DF5?opendocument

Dec. 14, 2006
Submitted on: 12/14/2006 11:40:42 AM
Story ID#: 20061214114042
By Cpl. Adam Johnston, 2nd Marine Division

Approximately 1,500 Marines gathered at Liversedge Field to participate in the 10th Marine Regiment field meet, Dec. 8.

“The tug-of-war and the seven-ton pull were great because more than one person could participate in the event,” said Cpl. Gregory E. Linton, a field artillery cannonneer with Headquarters Battery, 3rd Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment. “The more people are involved, the more they want to root on the team and see their unit win.”

Linton represented his battalion during the half-mile run in boots and camouflage utilities. With a first class physical fitness test, to include a 17-minute three-mile-run time, the North Beach, Md., native, was more than qualified for the job.

“Winning my race was nice, but 3/10 taking the whole thing was even more exciting,” Linton said. “The bragging rights alone were worth the effort.”

Chief Warrant Officer-4 William L. Dagenhart, the regimental field-meet coordinator, kept things interesting by putting a twist on the usual schedule of events. By no means was this your everyday run-of-the-mill field meet.

“I met up with representatives from each battalion prior to the competition,” Dagenhart said. “Our goal was to keep the events as closely related to artillery as possible.”

Linton and the other competitors were faced with challenges more difficult than the typical “dizzy izzy” race. They did pull-ups with a flak-jacket, Kevlar helmet and a full pack weighing them down. They also battled to see who could hurl a 155mm round, which weighs in at roughly 100 pounds, the farthest.

“Being out in the field all the time can get really miserable, really fast,” Dagenhart explained. “We wanted this event to be something that everyone could enjoy.”

With the regiment’s current operation tempo, field meets of this magnitude only happen once or twice a year. But when they do, the Marines are more than ready to prove who’s the best.

“Doing the same thing everyday can get pretty boring,” Linton explained. “The sibling rivalry between units brought out the competitive nature in everyone. Overall, it was a motivating day.”

Marine doesn’t give up on Corps

CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq - Staff Sgt. James M. Sturla knows what it means to get back up after being knocked down.

http://www.quantico.usmc.mil/Sentry/storyview.aspx?SID=573

December 14, 2006
By: Lance Cpl. Bryan Eberly

The 27-year-old company master gunner from Pompton Plains, N.J., with Charlie Company, 2nd Tank Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 5, was gravely injured in a patrol Sept. 22, 2004. Two years later, he’s back on his tank and back in Iraq.


“My first day I got up out of the hospital bed, I told my wife that once I get healthy my goal was to come back here,” Sturla said.


Sturla was the lead tank in a convoy of 23 vehicles outside Husayba, Iraq, when his tank came across a small band of insurgents. The convoy was ambushed, and Sturla’s tank was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade through the tank commander’s hatch.


“The RPG hit the back of the TC’s hatch, penetrating, going through the TC’s hatch, and exploding down into the loader’s hatch into the turret,” he said.


The effects were devastating. The loader was killed instantly from the blast, communications were cut off, the gunturret lost power, and Sturla was critically wounded by the blast, he said.


“From the blast, it pretty much took the good portion of my left tricep and degloving of the right hand,” Sturla said, describing his injuries.


Basically, Sturla’s flesh in his right hand was stripped off, and his upper left arm was torn away.


“It got blown off, the whole back of my arm got blown off, broke the bones,” he said.


Sturla was pulled onto the turret, where his gunner, platoon commander and corpsman dressed his wounds the best they could. Sturla suffered burns from his fingers to his shoulder on his left arm, in some cases to the bone, and more severe burning on his right hand.


Marines managed to get Sturla onto a Blackhawk helicopter, and he was airlifted to Baghdad. From there he eventually made it to the National Naval Medical Center, in Bethesda, Md., where he received good treatment, he said.


“The staff over there took care of me real well,” he said.


Sturla underwent 26 operations and surgeries to fix his injuries. The major surgery was the recreation of his triceps using the latissimus dorsi muscle out of his back. It’s the long muscle that runs on the back. It’s the “pull-up” muscle, only now, it was being moved from his back to his arm.


He also received skin grafts for his burns, and a skin flap to cover the new muscle, Sturla said.


During his operations, Sturla was on a limited duty status until September 2005, and went to therapy twice a day, five times a week, for eight months.

He had physical therapy in the morning and occupational therapy in the afternoons. The therapy consisted of scar massage therapy to get feeling back into his muscles, stretch therapy to improve his arm’s range of movement, and light-weight lifting to improve his strength, Sturla said.

It was May 2006 that Sturla became healthy enough to pass his physical fitness test and reattach to 2nd Tank Battalion at Camp Lejeune, N.C., he said.


“They gave me an option to get a waiver for pull-ups ‘cause obviously it was a lot–was pretty difficult to do pull-ups,” he added.


Sturla said he opted to “just bust my ass” instead of waiting for the reams of paperwork that would have followed for his waiver.


In June 2006, Sturla was able to help boost the morale of other wounded Marines. He was recruited by an officer of Wounded Warriors at the time to help out with the Camp Lejeune center, he said.


Sturla was asked to “help the wounded Marines coming back and see what we could do to make it better for them,” even while he was enduring his own rehabilitation, he said. For him, it was a matter of helping Marines get as “healthy as possible.”


Improved morale is just the thing to keep an injured Marine pressing onward, and Marines should always be there to support their brothers, Sturla said.


“There’s a lot of single Marines that live in the barracks,” he explained. “They need support from other Marines to continue what they’re doing, and give them the strength, the encouragement to press on, and if that’s what they want to do is come back over here then, you know, support them.”


Sturla thanks his wife for her encouragement and guidance. He barely remembers what he went through in the hospital, but one thing he does remember is his wife was always there, he said.


“She actually slept in a chair besides my bed the entire time I was there,” he said. “She is a good woman. She’s awesome. Wasn’t for her I probably wouldn’t have been able to have done it without her. She supported me when I was down emotionally. She was there to encourage me. She’s supported me 100 percent ever since.”


It was in September 2006 that Sturla reached his goal. He was deployed to Iraq with C Company.


“He said he had unfinished business,” said Sgt. Ian A. Murray, a 22-year-old tanker from Dumfries, Va., who regularly works with Sturla.


“He’s a pretty hard worker, and he doesn’t really sit back and let everyone else do all the work,” Murray said. “He’ll pitch in. He’ll help us if we need help. He’s a good guy to work for.”


Sturla now works as the master gunner for C Company, and platoon sergeant for Headquarters Platoon. He motivates his Marines, ensures the tanks are working smoothly, and still lends a hand on missions, said 1st Lt. Erik A. Brandriff, the 27-year-old C Company executive officer from La Crescenta, Calif.


“He has been a pleasure to work with– just the most motivated staff sergeants I’ve ever seen,” Brandriff said.


One thing Sturla never does is let his injuries interfere with his work. He went through a lot to get back to Iraq, and won’t let anything slow him down now.


“Every once and a while he’ll hit his hand wrong and then just be like ‘ow’ and then just get right back on it,” Murray said. “It doesn’t slow him down that much.”


“If you didn’t know what had happened to him, you wouldn’t have known he had any injuries,” Brandriff said. “That’s just the way he works and holds himself to a pretty high standard

Gift of wreaths touches nation

ARLINGTON, Va. — The rows of gravestones stretched out before him like time itself. But when John Lechler saw the date on one particular tombstone, he knew where to lay his wreath. And for a moment, Army Air Corps 2nd Lt. Gordon H. Sterling Jr., who died on Dec. 7, 1941, lived again.

http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2006-12-14-wreaths-cover_x.htm

12/14/2006
By Rick Hampson, USA TODAY

To view the Photo Gallery, please click on the original link.

The balsam fir wreath was from Maine — made by hand, decorated by hand, wrapped, boxed and loaded on a truck by hand, then driven 750 miles to Arlington National Cemetery.

This is the miracle of Arlington. "When you first look at that sea of stones, you don't get the impression of individuality," says Tom Sherlock, the cemetery historian. "But if you stop for just a moment and look at the name on the stone, in that moment they're thought of again, and they live again."

Lechler was one of about 600 volunteers at the cemetery Thursday for what has become a new holiday tradition: placing Christmas wreaths — supplied by a Maine businessman who never got over his first sight of the cemetery — on more than 5,000 veterans' graves.

"It's great that we came together to show our gratitude, considering how tough it is for everybody with this war going on," says Lechler, 42, an Ashburn, Va., resident who runs a sports training business and who never served in the military.

Every December for the past 15 years, Morrill Worcester, owner of one of the world's largest holiday wreath companies, has taken time in the midst of his busiest season to haul a truckload of wreaths to Arlington from his small Downeast Maine town of Harrington.

For years, he and a small band of volunteers laid the wreaths in virtual obscurity. But in the last 12 months that has changed, thanks to a dusting of snow last year at the cemetery, an evocative photograph, a sentimental poem and a chain e-mail. And this year, Worcester went national. A new program, "Wreaths Across America," shipped a total of about 1,300 wreaths to more than 200 national cemeteries and vets' memorials in all 50 states.

Worcester, 56, says he wants to help Americans remember and honor deceased military veterans, particularly at Christmas, when they're missed most. On the Wreaths Across America website, he makes this comment: "When people hear about what we're doing, they want to know if I'm a veteran. I'm not. But I make it my business never to forget."

On Thursday he looked at the crowd of volunteers — five times as many as last year's — and said, "I didn't realize there were this many people that felt like I do."

This year, Worcester's wreaths got to Arlington in a red, white and blue semi-trailer that followed U.S. Highway 1, escorted by a military veterans motorcycle group. In some towns, flag-waving crowds turned out to welcome the convoy as it passed through.

The wreaths were placed in a hilly, wooded section of the cemetery that has the graves of forgotten doughboys and GIs, as well as those of astronaut moonwalkers, Dr. Walter Reed and the general at Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge who told the Nazi commander demanding his surrender "Nuts."

"We want to honor the veterans, and we do it with the products we make ourselves," says Worcester's wife, Karen. "We're like the Little Drummer Boy. He had his drum. We have our wreaths."

Awestruck by Arlington

Morrill Worcester's road to Arlington began in 1962 when he won a trip to Washington for selling new subscriptions to the Bangor Daily News on his newspaper route.

He was 12, an impressionable age to visit a city filled with unforgettable sites. What struck him most was the national cemetery — now the final resting place of more than 300,000 — and its endless lines of perfectly aligned stones:

"That stuck with me all these years, the enormity of the cemetery," Worcester says. "And the fact that everyone buried there had a personal story, and aspirations and plans for the future, like we all do."

Years later, as a sophomore at the University of Maine, he realized there was money to be made in Christmas wreaths. He could buy wreaths that local people made at home and take them to Boston to sell to a wholesaler. That first year he sold 500.

It was the beginning of the Worcester Wreath Co., which in 1982 became a supplier for Maine's mail order giant, L.L. Bean.

In 1992, during one of his company's periodic expansions, Worcester got a call in December from one of his warehouses. "We're up to our knees in wreaths," his foreman announced — they'd overproduced several thousand.

"I said, 'Well, I'm not just gonna throw them away,' " he recalls. "That's when I thought of Arlington." He called Washington for permission to lay his wreaths. To his surprise, he got it.

But when he arrived at Arlington, Worcester was stunned by the size of the area to be covered. It was just Worcester, his son and about a dozen others. It was raining. It took six hours. Afterward he was wet, tired — and exhilarated. There, buried in the Virginia soil, he had found the cost of freedom.

A tradition builds

Every December after that, Worcester, his family, his employees and his friends gathered on a Sunday to decorate wreaths and load them on a truck provided by a local company. Worcester and a few others drove to Arlington, laid 5,000 wreaths and were back at work within a few days.

Each year, Worcester was assigned a different part of the cemetery, usually an older section whose graves received less attention. Every stone got the same simple 20-inch wreath, adorned only with a red bow. Before leaving, the volunteers laid wreaths at the graves of John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy, the USS Maine memorial and the Tomb of the Unknowns.

When Worcester started his business in 1971, he was 21 — the average age, he would point out, of U.S. servicemen killed in World War II. He had a college draft deferment, but he never forgot the sacrifices of those who did serve.

"I'd been lucky," he says, "and I wanted to give back."

Christmas wreaths had made him rich. Now, he felt he was reclaiming the true meaning of a wreath, showing it as something more than a glitzy holiday ornament: "We wanted to get back to the simple idea of what a wreath represents — respect, honor, victory."

This was a different kind of victory, though — a victory of remembrance, a victory over death itself.

But, he is asked, what was the point of their sacrifice? Did the doughboys make the world safe for democracy in World War I? Did the Spanish-American War keep America free? And what about Iraq, a war which has steadily lost public support?

"This is non-political," Worcester replies. "These people died for us. If they died in vain, I don't know. But they all deserve our respect."

The tradition grew slowly. Every year there were a few more volunteers in Harrington to load the truck and a few more in Arlington to lay the wreaths. Every January there'd be a few more calls, e-mails or letters. Worcester says that apart from a newspaper story here and a broadcast report there, "it was almost a private thing."

Until December 2005.

Buzz on the Internet

When the day was almost over and all the wreaths had been laid, it started to snow. Around the same time, an Air Force news photographer covering the event went back for a final picture before heading back to the Pentagon.

Master Sgt. James Varhegyi had shot hundred of images that morning. In accordance with photojournalistic convention, almost all had people in them.

But this time Varhegyi took a picture that had no people, just rows of graves, decorated with bowed wreaths, on snowy ground. White, green, red — the colors of Christmas. He didn't think it was anything special.

When the Worcesters returned to Harrington, things quieted down as usual after Christmas. Except that instead of declining in January, the appreciative calls and e-mails began to increase.

Varhegyi's photo had been posted on an Air Force website, from which someone — the Worcesters don't know who — had lifted it, put it in an e-mail, and added a poem:

Rest easy, sleep well my brothers.

Know the line has held, your job is done.

Rest easy, sleep well.

Others have taken up where you fell, the line has held.

Peace, peace, and farewell …

"Please share this with everyone on your address list," the e-mail read. "You hear too much about the bad things people do. Everyone should hear about this."

The e-mail became an Internet sensation. It spread like a virus, so far and so fast that Snopes.com, a website devoted to exploring myths and rumors, investigated and confirmed its existence.

More and more people contacted Worcester Wreath Co. with questions, thanks and requests. By February, the company was getting 30 to 40 e-mails a day. People sent checks, which were returned. Company staffers found themselves devoting more and more time to phone calls about the Arlington effort.

One night, Sherry Scott, the office manager, was working late, trying to get caught up, when the phone rang:

"It was an elderly woman from Texas. She says, 'Tell me you're the company that lays the wreaths at Arlington.' When I said we were, there was silence. Then she started crying. She says, 'My Dad's buried at Arlington.' Then I started crying."

Karen Worcester says that many people seemed to appreciate that even though they couldn't go to Arlington to visit a loved one's gravesite, "it's like we go for 'em." She'd print the e-mails out and read them to her husband at night. Sometimes they'd wind up crying.

She rose before dawn to read e-mails and write replies. She did not consider herself eloquent: "What do you say when someone tells you, 'I just buried my son.' ?"

By summer, hundreds of e-mails were coming in each day. Karen began to notice a refrain: "They said, 'Can you do that here where we are? Can't I get a wreath?' I thought, 'We can't do every grave. But we can do every cemetery.' "

Fine, said her husband: How?

By August, they knew.

Worcester Wreath would send six wreaths to veterans' cemeteries in every state. Members of the Civil Air Patrol, a national organization that has chapters in every state, would see that they were distributed.

UPS offered to ship the wreaths at no charge. A company in New Jersey provided 3,000 small flags. A Worcester Wreath employee was delegated to work solely on coordinating the program.

"And to think," Karen Worcester says, "it all started with, 'We made too many wreaths!' "

Story behind the stone

A final word about Lt. Sterling, courtesy of military historian David Aiken. When Japanese planes attacked Wheeler Field in central Oahu during their assault on Pearl Harbor, Sterling was on the ground. He was an assistant flight engineer; he'd passed his flight tests but had not progressed as rapidly as the other pilots. He saw that a group of P-36 fighters was beginning to taxi out, but the formation was short one plane. It sat empty on the tarmac, its engine idling.

Sterling climbed into the cockpit, handed his watch to the crew chief, and said, "Give this to my mother! I'm not coming back!"

He didn't. His plane was shot down off Oahu's eastern shore in a fight with a Japanese Zero and was never recovered. He is the only Air Force pilot still counted as missing in the battle.

Sterling was one of those who had, as Morrill Worcester puts it, "aspirations and plans for the future." His fiancée was a nurse at nearby Schofield Barracks. They had a date that afternoon.

Posted 12/14/2006 10:26 PM ET

December 13, 2006

Toys for Tots: Local Marines Deliver Toys to Elementary School

JACKSONVILLE, FL -- Local marine corps are bringing joy to children by the humvee load today. This is part of the Toys For Tots program. They delivered hundreds of toys and books to children at Highlands Elementary on the Northside. The kids were excited to climb on the trucks and hang out with the marines, and it reminded them to be thankful.

http://www.firstcoastnews.com/news/news-article.aspx?storyid=70730

12/12/2006
By First Coast News Staff

"I'm thankful for family and for having a brother -- and I am thankful for having a good life," said Darius Smith, student.

You can still donated unwrapped toys for Toys For Tots.

Drop-off locations:

All Chick-Fil-A Restaurants

Wal Mart

Toys R Us

Regency Mall at Kay-B toys,

Avenues Mall at Parisians

Orange Park Mall – Chick Fil-A.

Call (904)237-6620 or (904)542-0314 or click here more information.


Silly String, used by some soldiers to detect trip wires, can't be mailed to Iraq

DECATUR - Something simple and silly turned into a big deal for Decatur Postmaster Richard Glass.

http://www.herald-review.com/articles/2006/12/13/news/local_news/1019839.txt

Wednesday, December 13, 2006
By SHEILA SMITH - H&R; Staff Writer

Glass received a notice Tuesday afternoon from the Aviation Mail Security's headquarters in Washington, D.C., saying any package containing Silly String could not be shipped overseas to soldiers.

Based on the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration requirements, Silly String is an aerosol, nonflammable gas and considered a class 2 hazard, Glass said.

Packages of Silly String are prohibited by air or trucks to international military bases.

"People have to fill out a customs declaration form on anything sent international," Glass said. "That is why we ask at the window if the package is fragile or hazardous. We also are allowed to open any package for inspection."

The novel way to help troops in Iraq came about when a New Jersey mom, Marcelle Shriver, said her son in the Marines asked her to send him some Silly String. She collected 1,600 cans during her campaign that started a month ago.

Before entering buildings or rooms, soldiers can spray the silly goo into the air and watch to see if it hangs in the air after getting caught on a trip wire.

Because of postal regulations, a private pilot heard about Shriver's cause and agreed to fly boxes of Silly String to Kuwait.

"We don't have a pilot," said Betty Gaumer with the Operation Enduring Support in Decatur, but it will be brought up at the group's meeting next week on if and how to send Silly String over to Iraq.

"We will talk about it, but I heard from a soldier who just returned from Baghdad that they really don't have time to use it," she said.

Glass said Monday of next week will be the busiest mailing day during the holiday season. He said people need to be more aware of what types of items they can ship overseas and try to avoid adding to the frustration of already long lines.

"People might think it's a good idea, but you just can't send anything like this," he said.

Sheila Smith can be reached at [email protected] or 421-7963.


December 12, 2006

In Fallujah, Marines bring goodwill, but trouble can follow

FALLUJAH, IRAQ – While their weapons were ready, this was a mission about charity. The US Marines weren't entering a hospital in downtown Fallujah to root out insurgents, they were going there simply to help.

http://www.csmonitor.com/2006/1212/p01s04-woiq.html

December 12, 2006
By Scott Peterson | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

But any interaction with American forces can prove deadly for Iraqis, and these marines received an uneasy welcome.

Death threats - and increasingly murder - are common against anyone seen to be cooperating with the US. And already, the presence of a Marine observation post, built adjacent to hospital grounds just days before the mission, had cut the number of patients coming to the hospital from 35 a day to just five.

The wariness that greeted this civil affairs unit two weeks ago points to the difficulty faced by US forces as they search for a balance between rebuilding and bringing security to a city where insurgent attacks are on the rise.

"Our being here today, will it cause trouble for you?" asks US Navy Capt. Lee White, there to get a list of any needed medical supplies.

"I am sorry to tell you, yes. I'm so sorry," says Talib al-Janabi, owner of the private hospital. When marines last entered here, a few months back, they had been hit by a roadside bomb not too far away. They broke hospital doors as they searched for suspects and later, Dr. Janabi says, rejected claims for compensation.

"We came here to help," says Marine Capt. Jason Brezler, head of the civil affairs team, sending a translator to check out the damage to assist with a new claim.

"I appreciate your situation, but for them," says Janabi, motioning toward a handful of patients struck silent by the military presence in the lobby. "There are too many kinds of trouble. Threats, and talking.... I'm in a bad situation. I am stuck in a sandwich."

Like most of the 300,000 or more people of Fallujah, who saw their city virtually razed in November 2004 by Marine-led US forces that sealed off the city to hunt down insurgents, the return of militant violence is creating a dangerous dilemma.

In a bid to convince the majority to side with coalition troops - as well as the fledgling local government and Iraqi Army and police units in the city - the US military has committed $200 million through more than 60 reconstruction projects.

This small civil-affairs team is on the sharp end of buying security, of finding those projects, paying the cash, and checking up on the work. The dangerous city has claimed 10 marines' lives in a month from snipers and roadside bombs.

"Reconstruction provides a way of influencing the population, of shaping the battlespace nonkinetically, so you don't have to put bullets down range," says Captain Brezler, a reservist from the Bronx whose usual job is New York firefighter.

In a daily ritual before moving into Fallujah, Brezler pulls from his pocket a thick piece of glass from the World Trade Center buildings, says a quick prayer, and passes it around to every member of the convoy.

Rebuilding to build loyalty

Spending the money to rebuild Fallujah can be tricky business for a host of projects that range from a few thousand dollars for school and athletic supplies to complex multimillion-dollar electricity and sewer efforts.

For two years, strategic rebuilding has been complicated by frequent rotation of Marine units. Today, it is made more difficult by increasing violence and insurgent numbers - Iraqi contractors and workers are frequently killed - and a Marine presence that has shrunk to less than 300.

Still, orders since the 2004 offensive - the largest urban assault for the Marine Corps since the Vietnam War - have been to rebuild Fallujah to demonstrate the benefits to Iraqis of backing the coalition over the insurgents.

Col. Lawrence Nicholson spelled out the options of US help the first time he addressed the Fallujah City Council last February. It was a "tough love" speech, he says, that left their "eyes popping."

"We're not going to be here forever, so you have two choices," Colonel Nicholson recalls telling the council. "We can help you rebuild, and jumpstart your businesses. Or you can call us occupiers, and we call you terrorists, and we'll still leave and nothing will be done."

City elders have opted for rebuilding, and cash has flowed as projects and Iraqi contractors have been identified. Civil-affairs units host a weekly reconstruction meeting with engineers and contractors.

But the challenge is to spread US money in Fallujah to win goodwill in a way that does not further endanger Iraqis willing to help. Several moderate imams have been assassinated after being seen to be working with the Americans; mosques in this Sunni city now are largely run by younger, more radical clerics.

This civil-affairs team still visits the worst parts of Fallujah, with Brezler speaking like a proud father as he does his rounds, checking out everything from a $150,000 project to build a wall around a large cemetery for a local mosque - with an eye toward easing anti-US rhetoric - to a large local clinic, completely rebuilt with $2 million from the US.

The clinic received a setback a few weeks ago when three trucks carrying medical equipment, all paid for by the US military, were attacked. One British and three Iraqi security contractors died.

"As marines pull out of the city, our [civil affairs] ability to move around will be limited," says Brezler, who is on his second Iraq tour. Beside running their own projects, with a $500,000 ceiling, his team from the 4th Civil Affairs Group, attached to the 1st Battalion 24th Marines, keeps an eye on the projects of the US Army Corps of Engineers, contracted out to Iraqis.

But little runs smoothly in Fallujah. Contractors can take off with the cash without paying subcontractors, or they are intimidated into stopping. Quality of work can be poor and delays are chronic. Any interest shown by the Americans can be a death sentence, to the point that, sometimes, marines pretend they are doing a security check on workers as they really check out progress on a project.

Risk continues to rise

The agenda for one weekly contractors' meeting hosted by the Marines showed that two drivers of gravel trucks had been killed on Nov. 17. The next day, two brothers - both contractors - were taken from their home by men in a black BMW. As "consistently some of the best contractors" in Fallujah, the notes remarked, "their potential kidnapping or murder would have considerably adverse effects on reconstruction."

Grappling with such pitfalls is daily fare for civil-affairs officers in Fallujah, where the definition of success fluctuates with the violence. Trash cleanup contracts are awarded - three in one week - to clear the roads of garbage, and of easy places to hide bombs.

After a series of lethal blasts in previous weeks, some sections of unpaved roads are scheduled for repaving to once again minimize the risk to US and Iraqi forces of roadside bombs.

More unconventional steps are taken as well. Hoping to meet the imam of one mosque, where the cemetery wall was built, Brezler disarms, leaving his assault rifle and pistol with a marine translator at the gate. The imam is not there, so he meets the mosque manager.

He seems unaware that the Marines paid the contractor to build the cemetery wall and do tile work inside the mosque. He is grateful to learn the source of the money, but asks that the Americans limit their help to paying for projects and not giving cash.

"It's a very good project; all the people came out to help," says Haji Mohamed, at the mosque. But when asked who had paid, he said some "contractor from Baghdad."

"We wanted to put an Iraqi face on it, so the contractors could work free of intimidation," Brezler spells out.

"The imam is afraid to tell you everything," admits the mosque manager, about the likely dangers that stem even from this short visit. "I'm sure a lot of people are watching us and when they see you leave will come and ask what the Americans wanted here."

"Even if we can keep these people neutral, that's good enough for me," Brezler explains later. "If Friday prayers are not anti-coalition, then there will be greater tolerance, which helps us further secure the city."

Rewarding bad behavior?

Despite the problems, the US continues to pump reconstruction funds into Fallujah. Congress approved funding in October for the next year for commanders' discretionary funds.

And after the 2004 invasion, the US State Department earmarked $98 million to rebuild houses and commercial property. So far, 78 percent of that - two disbursements out of three - has been paid. The Iraqi government in 2004 also pledged, and partially paid, tens of millions of dollars for rebuilding.

"We're trying to withdraw our security forces, but continue to inject reconstruction forces," says Lt. Col. Bryan Salas.

But lavishing funds on cities like Fallujah drew criticism from outgoing Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in a memo dated Nov. 6, two days before his resignation.

Among new options in Iraq: "Stop rewarding bad behavior, as was done in Fallujah when they pushed in reconstruction funds, and start rewarding good behavior," Mr. Rumsfeld wrote. "No more reconstruction assistance in areas where there is violence."

After the invasion, angry residents returned to a wasteland, their hopes for the future pinned on promises from the US and Iraqi governments of a massive rebuilding effort. Today, many houses have been refurbished. But those freshly painted front walls and newly placed glass panes stand in stark contrast to the many houses and buildings that remain ruins.

And some larger projects may never be completed, officers say, as the Marines begin to withdraw. Finishing steps - such as connecting the sewer mains to houses - may also be beyond the capacity of local officials.

Marines aren't sure yet how much of what they are building will be sustainable, or how much the rising violence will poison their efforts.

"The fact of the matter is: These people are never going to like us. They are never going to want us here," Brezler tells his civil-affairs team, after a long day in Fallujah. "In terms of an embrace, they did that for five minutes in April 2003 [when US forces toppled Saddam Hussein], and that was it."

Tankers Make Necessary Adjustment

Changing out a main gun tube on a tank takes a few more moving parts than say a machine gun. Still, Marines from1st Platoon, C Company, 2nd Tank Battalion saved an otherwise unserviceable tank Dec. 7.

http://newsblaze.com/story/20061210163251tsop.nb/newsblaze/IRAQ0001/Iraq.html

by Lance Cpl. Bryan Eberly


The platoon, which serves under Regimental Combat Team 5, replaced a gun tube on a tank that was damaged by an improvised explosive device on a patrol.

"It's new to us, because all the IEDs we encounter have come up from the ground," said Gunnery Sgt. Richard C. Ceyala, a 38-year-old tank mechanic chief from Calexico, Calif. "This one came from the side; therefore damaged the skirt, damaged the gun tube, damaged the road wheels, the hubs, everything."

Since the IED struck the gun tube, the tankers didn't want to risk a malfunction during fire, and so they decided to change the tube, said Sgt. Pedro N. Oliveira, a 23-year-old gunner, from Nassau County, N.Y.

To change the gun tube the Marines needed plenty of muscle and time. The first step was to remove the mantle that covers the base of the gun tube to expose the thrust nut. The thrust nut is unscrewed, usually with a Marine swinging a hammer to it like a carnival game, to make a gap between the tube and turret. The gap signals that the tankers can easily remove the tube from the turret. The tankers then remove the locking bolt, spin the tube to loosen the threads holding the tube in place and then pull it out. The entire process takes about four hours.

The new tube came from a previously damaged tank, says Sgt. Hitesh V. Patel, a 24-year-old tank mechanic from Hatfield, Pa.

"We had to swap and make one complete bad tank, and we had permission to do that accordingly" he explained. "We went ahead and took the bad gun tube and put it on the bad tank, and the good gun tube that was on the bad tank we took and made one good tank so the crew can operate with one good tank."

Eleven tankers and one tank with a crane attachment swapped the heavy tubes. The crew worked together to ensure the tubes were safely swapped without anybody getting hurt.

Although in this case necessary, changing the gun tube on a tank is a rare occurrence, done usually only to change the tube if it fails an inspection, Oliveira said.

"When the gun tube has 25 rounds shot through it, that's when you change them out," he said. He added that other changes occur when inspections prove the gun tube has flaws and it's deemed unserviceable.

[email protected]


Marines lose a friendly face from Whidbey Island, Highest-ranking woman to die in Iraq was public affairs officer

To journalists covering the war in Iraq, Marine Corps Maj. Megan Malia McClung was a professional yet friendly face, working hard as a public affairs officer to help them do their jobs.

http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/295586_wardead12.html

December 12, 2006
By MIKE BARBER
P-I REPORTER

Many of those same journalists now are writing about her after McClung, 34, who listed Coupeville on Whidbey Island as her hometown, died Wednesday in Iraq. She is apparently the highest-ranking woman of any branch of the service to die in Iraq.

Marine Lt. Col. Bryan F. Salas, who helped pin on McClung's gold oak leaves when she was promoted to major in Iraq in June, said she is the only woman graduate of the Naval Academy to die in Iraq as a result of hostile action.

According to Defense Department statistics through Dec. 2, 60 of the more than 2,900 U.S. military deaths in Iraq have been women.

She is the 146th member of the military with ties to Washington to die in Iraq.

In her job, McClung "was an advocate of media coverage of military operations," and managed the embed program in which reporters hook up with military units, developing public affairs plans for operations, Salas wrote by e-mail from Iraq.

Her death also numbed a community of marathoners. McClung, Salas said, also found time to organize the Marine Corps Marathon in Al Asad Airbase in October. She finished second among women.

The Defense Department in disclosing McClung's death Monday said she was killed in Al Anbar province supporting combat operations. Media and other military sources say she was killed in downtown Ramadi by a roadside bomb while doing her job -- escorting reporters.

She was in her last month in her Iraq deployment.

McClung's family declined to be interviewed, directing inquiries to Marine Corps officials. Funeral arrangements are incomplete but are planned for Arlington National Cemetery, Salas said from Iraq.

McClung's name has filled Google pages on the Web since her death, including notes from numerous journalists who appreciated her work.

Many cited her energy and professionalism -- and remembered a personality as bright as her red hair.

The Washington Post on Oct. 27 reported that McClung in May came up with the idea for a marathon race in Iraq to parallel the popular Marine Corps Marathon held in Washington, D.C., each fall.

The Iraq "shadow race" was dubbed the Marine Corps Marathon Forward. Participants were considered part of the U.S. marathon, their finishes added to the list of those who completed the race in the U.S.

In an online endorsement for a joint-pain product, McClung said she had trained 20 years in gymnastics and later took up the Ironman Distance Triathlon.

McClung had been serving as public affairs officer for the Army's 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division. Her home unit was the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force based at Camp Pendleton.

McClung, who was single, graduated in 1995 from the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. She had been serving in Iraq since January.

Details about her connection to Coupeville, however, were unclear Monday. Officials in the Coupeville School District found no record of her.

Although listed by the military as a member of the Marine Corps Reserve, blogs and other Web sources indicated McClung had spent some time previously in recent years as a civilian contractor in Baghdad for Halliburton subsidiary KBR.

Alabama Marine dies after becoming sick in Iraq

ANNISTON, Ala. Cody Watson, a 21-year-old Anniston man who joined the Marines last year, fell ill and died while serving in Iraq.

http://www.fox10tv.com/global/story.asp?s=5801738

12/12/2006

The military says Watson was a member of the 2nd Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, Second Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

Watson, who graduated from Wellborn High School, was remembered for his polite manner and upbeat spirit.

Friends of Watson's family said a medical team was unable to revive him when he collapsed last Wednesday. The cause of death was not immediately known.

Marines in western Iraq see progress

RAWAH, Iraq -- Almost none has heard of the Iraq Study Group, and though a few know that Donald Rumsfeld is out as Defense Secretary, the name Robert Gates draws blank stares.

http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/national/1107AP_Iraq_Marines_Mood.html

December 12, 2006
By WILL WEISSERT
ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER

While much of America broods over the future of a bloody, expensive and increasingly unpopular war, the Marines and soldiers fighting it in the volatile cities and vast deserts of western Iraq say the big picture doesn't concern them - they're just worried about accomplishing small tasks and getting home in one piece.

"You think about Iraq on a national level but so much of what happens is out of our hands - its downfalls or successes," said Lane Cpl. Steven McAndrew, a 21-year-old from Columbus, Ohio.

McAndrew is a member of the Marines' 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, assigned to Rawah, a desert city of about 18,000 carved into a peninsula that juts out over the Euphrates River in the remote, northern expanses of dangerous al-Anbar province, west of Baghdad.

A popular retirement community for former officers of Saddam Hussein's army and high-ranking bureaucrats of his government, Rawah is considered a key staging area for insurgents, who cross into Iraq from Syria, then stop here en route to such hotbed cities as Ramadi and Fallujah.

McAndrew and the other members of Company D live in a three-story police station that looks luxurious from the outside but has no running water, power that comes for a few hours than goes out for days and very little heat - even as temperatures plunge well below freezing.

The outpost takes mortar and machine-gun fire and rocket attacks every few days, insurgents stash roadside bombs and the recent announcement of a death sentence against Saddam prompted a wave of attacks against American forces here.

The battalion has had three Marines killed and 80 wounded since arriving in September, but has also increased the local police force from four officers to nearly 100, while strengthening the Iraqi army.

Some Marines said those debating the future of the war don't have any concept of what daily life in Anbar is like.

"It's freezing cold, you have to do very, very hard work and do patrols at all hours of the day or night and you never get to sleep enough," said Cpl. Robert Vales, a 21-year-old New Yorker, also on his second Iraq tour. "It grates on you."

The Marines share the station with Iraqi police and spread their sleeping bags over rows of metal bunk beds that are piled with Kevlar gear, toiletries and clothing.

It is so cold that Marines wear knit caps and gloves day and night, and after dark fire up a gas heater that looks, smells and sounds like a jet engine. Getting too close is dangerous because it gives off sudden flares that can singe anything they touch.

Gorge Iliev, a Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class who serves a medic for the Marines, said frustration is mounting because many in Rawah have never fired their weapons at insurgents who attack, then vanish.

The strategy has shifted from combat to focusing on training Iraqi security forces and reaching out to residents, in hopes they will help weed out anti-U.S. guerrillas. But things get more complicated when locals are the ones doing the attacking, Iliev said.

"We're getting fired on almost every day," he said. "It's hard to relax. We're not here to relax, we're here to do a job. But we're human."

At an Army outpost inside a mansion in central Ramadi, soldiers have power, heat and Internet - but still no running water. They said they are worn out from more than 11 months in Ramadi, among the most dangerous cities in Iraq.

In Rawah, where things are calmer but still dangerous, simple pleasures like heading to a nearby base to shower for the first time in several days, or an impromptu game with a soccer ball in a hallway is sometimes enough to raise sprits - at least for a time.

"There's a meal and a roof. Sometimes I can get warm," said Sgt. Geoffrey Rumph, 25-year-old from Orlando, Fla., who was huddling near a gas stove outside the police station's front entrance.

"I'm happy."

December 11, 2006

U.S. Marines Work To Befriend Iraqis

AP) HALABASA, Iraq U.S. Marines roll through this Euphrates River town handing out chocolates, backpacks, coloring books and sometimes even AK-47s, hoping to glean goodwill and tips from residents.

http://cbs3.com/national/topstories_story_345135325.html

December 11, 2006

Efforts to befriend Iraqis are far from new, but they have become even more important, U.S. military leaders say, as troops battle well-armed and well-financed insurgents who roam much of Anbar province.

Many in Washington, America’s allies and much of the U.S. public may feel that tactics like these haven’t achieved much, but the Marines here are far more optimistic about their work and say they have brought a measure of peace to this corner of Iraq.

“They’re happy to see us when we come here,” said Lt. Col. Todd S. Desgrosseilliers, who greeted residents on a recent patrol with a stogie between his teeth and two grenades strapped to his chest. “They aren’t insurgents, they’re just people.”

In Baghdad, American forces are caught in a sectarian bloodbath that pits majority Shiite Arabs against minority Sunnis. But in Anbar, west of the capital, Sunnis are the dominant sect and the Marines face hit-and-run attacks, snipers and roadside bombs.

In this kind of guerrilla war, according to a draft Pentagon manual on counterinsurgency posted on the Internet, soldiers and Marines must be “ready each day to be greeted with a handshake or a hand grenade ... to be nation builders as well as warriors.”

The manual sums up the strategy with three words: “Patience, Presence and Courage.”

Winning hearts and minds can be dangerous. In 2005, a suicide car bomb exploded next to U.S. troops handing out candy and toys, killing 18 children and teenagers in Baghdad.

But the support of residents here is crucial, Marines say, because sympathetic civilians could point U.S. forces to terrorist cells. With residents’ help, the Marines could also weaken insurgent groups.

Desgrosseilliers commands the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines, which is charged with taming a stretch of desert between two insurgent strongholds, the city of Fallujah to the east and Anbar’s provincial capital of Ramadi to the west.

Anbar, which extends west to the borders of Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, is overwhelmingly Sunni. So are most insurgents, who took up arms after the fall of Saddam Hussein cost the minority their most-favored status inside Iraq’s government.

Here in Halabsa, just south of Fallujah, there is still no police force nearly four years after Saddam’s ouster. Some store owners are so afraid of being robbed that Desgrosseilliers has given them automatic rifles to keep under their counters.

He also has given weapons to tribal leaders for protection.

“For extra protection in your home,” he said after giving an automatic rifle to Mohammed, a 64-year-old sheik. “But we will be outside protecting you, too.”

Mohammed asked that his full name not be published for fear he could be targeted by insurgents.

As recently as June, the highway in Halabsa was choked with roadside bombs and even Iraqis feared it, Desgrosseilliers said.

The Americans closed the road for months, patrolling with tanks and armored Humvees to make it harder to plant explosives, and erecting roadside outposts named for NFL football teams to provide extra protection.
They also offered cash compensation for lost wages to those left jobless by the road closure. And they talked with residents every day.

“If you gain their trust, people will tell you who the outsiders are, or where they might have planted an explosive,” said Jeffrey D. Brown, commander of an outpost near Halabsa. “This kind of support from the population did not occur in Vietnam,” he said.

“But it is occurring here because the people see us every day on foot, talking with them, protecting them.”

The Marines reopened the highway more than a month ago and turned the lookout posts over to the Iraqi army.

“They’re a lot better at patrolling this area then we are,” said Desgrosseilliers, who like nearly all Marines here can only communicate with residents through an interpreter.

“They see things we miss.”

Roadside fruit stands, markets and repair shops that shut down with the highway have begun reopening. Marines provided security for construction of a water pump, allowing for irrigation and the replanting of wheat, fruits and vegetables—as well as rows of date palm trees.

“These checkpoints have made things better,” said Mohammad Abbas Hasham, 45, who owns five fruit and meat stalls outside Halabsa.

Husain Ali Hussain was appointed mayor of the nearby city of Khalidiyah and surrounding areas in September. He said al-Qaida fighters pour into Anbar from Syria.

“Terrorism persists, it’s not controlled here,” he said. “But the situation is better than before. We are telling everyone, every day that they need to go back to their jobs.”

For many, that’s not easy. Electricity is only available a few hours a day and the war has crippled industry and commerce. Many schools are falling part.

Hussain said first the war, then the insurgency had caused “the life wheels of our communities to stop completely.”

“Ours is a simple region. People just live on their own. They have no political agenda or political party that they believe in,” he said. “After all of this, you see the people trying to live their lives as well as they can. But it is very difficult.”

The Marines agree work remains to be done, but they claim a measure of success.

“This area right here should be a success story,” Brown said.

“With others there are still problems.”

‘Hard landing’ for Super Stallion

A Marine Corps CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter made a “hard landing” in Iraq’s Anbar province Monday, injuring 18 of the 21 people on board, according to a Corps release.

http://www.airforcetimes.com/story.php?f=1-292925-2416435.php

December 11, 2006
By John Hoellwarth
Staff writer

Of the 18 injured, half sustained only “minor injuries and returned to duty,” according to the release.

The helicopter, assigned to 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing’s forward element in Iraq, was transporting passengers and cargo when the incident occurred, according to the release.

Though the cause of the hard landing is under investigation, “the incident does not appear to be the result of enemy action,” the release said.

The hard landing follows last week’s crash of a 3rd MAW CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter in an Anbar lake that led to the deaths of four of the 16 onboard. The Corps ruled out enemy action as a cause for that crash, too, according to a Dec. 5 release.

Lt. Gen. John Castellaw, deputy commandant for aviation, told reporters Dec. 7 that the Corps’ aircraft in Iraq are logging up to four times more flight hours than normal, leading to wear and tear that regularly requires extensive maintenance.

He said aircraft mechanics in Iraq often find large piles of sand clogging aircraft engines when they break them down for repairs.

The Super Stallion that crashed Monday was one of 149 such helicopters in the Marine Corps, down 7 percent from the 160 aircraft needed in the fleet, according to Corps statistics.

Two more Maine soldiers die in Iraq

CASTLE HILL - When family members talk about Cpl. Dustin J. Libby, they talk about the man he became.

http://bangordailynews.com/news/t/news.aspx?articleid=143969&zoneid;=500

By Rachel Rice
Monday, December 11, 2006 - Bangor Daily News

They say he went from teenage "hellion" to a man with a purpose in the U.S. Marine Corps, and now he has become a hero.

The 22-year-old from Castle Hill died Wednesday after he was shot during a firefight in Anbar province. Libby is the first service member from central Aroostook County and the second Marine from Maine to die in the current fighting in Iraq.

His older brother, Chris Libby, said Sunday during an interview in his Mapleton home that everyone who knew Dustin knew that he always had it in him to be great, he just had to find his place in the world.

That place was with the Marines, and though his life was cut short, his family couldn?t be more proud of the man he became.

From the time he was a child, Libby always knew what he wanted and worked hard until he accomplished it. He was born in 1984 in Presque Isle, seven years after his only sibling, and grew up in Castle Hill. His family called him Dustin "Trouble" Libby because trouble seemed to follow him wherever he went. Such as the time his older brother hogtied him and hung him upside down from an apple tree.

"He got down, brought me the rope and asked me to do it again," Chris Libby remembered, laughing and shaking his head.

As he got older, the trouble was at school. Chris Libby said Dustin had a lot to overcome in school, not because he wasn?t smart or didn?t try, but because the traditional setting wasn?t a good fit. The school district?s adult education program was. He graduated in 2003 at age 19.

After he received his diploma, he approached the graduation speaker, Rep. Jeremy Fischer, D-Presque Isle, and told him how much he enjoyed the Booker T. Washington quote in his speech: "A man?s success in life is measured not so much by the position he has reached in life, as by the obstacles he has overcome."

Fischer said in a statement that Libby had come to embody those words.

"Our community is incredibly proud of Dustin?s service to his community and sacrifice for his country," Fischer said.

After graduation, the Libby brothers sat down to talk about the future. Dustin said he wanted to join the Marines. Their grandfather and father had served in the military, but no one ever had pressured Dustin to do the same.

"I don?t know if we all tried to talk him out of it, but we tried to explain that when they tell you to do something, you have to do it," Chris Libby said.

But Dustin was ready. In fact, he trained his heart out before he joined. His father, Judson Libby, remembered that Dustin would train by strapping on a backpack filled with 50 pounds of weights and water bottles and running several miles.

In the weeks before he left for boot camp, Dustin Libby changed. He figured out what he wanted to do in life, and he went for it.

That mentality continued after he enlisted. He received a meritorious promotion before he got out of boot camp. And Libby achieved the status of corporal after less than four years in the military.

Libby was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Pendleton, Calif. He did his first tour of Iraq in Ramadi in 2004.

After he returned, Libby did something he told his brother he never would do while he was on active duty ? he fell in love. He and Jeannine Gonzales met in a California bar; she was supposed to be his "wing woman" by helping him find a promising date. Instead, they became a couple. They got engaged a few weeks ago.

That was about the same time Libby received his deployment orders for another tour of duty.

"He said he couldn?t tell us where he was going on the phone, but that he was going back to the exact same place he was before," said Dustin?s mother, Geni Libby.

But it wasn?t like Dustin?s first deployment to Iraq.

It felt darker somehow, Geni Libby said.

Dustin even talked to his brother about it.

"He said, ?Don?t say anything to Jeannine, but I feel different this time,?" Chris Libby said.

The whole family had an uneasy feeling about this tour.

But they didn?t think he was going to die.

Geni Libby received the news early Wednesday morning from three Marines and a Navy corpsman from Topsham and a state trooper. At first, the family knew only that Dustin had died of a gunshot wound to the neck. They later received an e-mail from a Marine who was with Libby when he died. He said Libby had run up to the roof of a building when the firefight started and manned a machine gun. He wouldn?t wait for backup, saying, ?No, that?s our boys getting hit.? He was shot from below, and though he fell, his hand remained on the trigger.

"He died protecting us," the Marine said.

The Libbys say they have no regrets. They said Dustin packed an "awful lot" into a short life, that he lived every day like it was his last. They will hold a private family service as well as a memorial service later this week to give the many community members who have shown their support a chance to say goodbye.

Instead of flowers, they are asking people to make donations to their local Disabled American Veterans organizations.

That?s what Dustin Libby would have wanted.

That?s the kind of man he was.


1st Female Marine Officer Killed In Iraq

(AP) CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. The Department of Defense said Monday the first woman Marine officer has been killed in Iraq.

http://cbs2.com/local/local_story_345182058.html

Dec 11, 2006 4:11 pm US/Pacific

Major Megan M. McClung, who was 34 and from Coupeville in Washington, died in Al Anbar province last week.

She was a public affairs officer based at Camp Pendleton; the military did not say how McClung died.

Three other female Marines have been killed in Iraq, according to the Defense Department's most recent numbers.

In all U.S. military branches, 60 women have been killed

Reno Marine lieutenant killed in Iraq

RENO, Nev. (AP) - Marine 1st Lt. Nathan Krissoff of Reno has been killed in Iraq, according to his family.

http://www.lasvegassun.com/sunbin/stories/nevada/2006/dec/11/121110367.html

December 11, 2006
ASSOCIATED PRESS

The family issued a statement on Sunday, two days after he was killed in al-Anbar province.

Krissoff was a counterintelligence officer assigned to a reconnaissance battalion based in Okinawa, Japan.

The family said the lieutenant routinely took part in patrols throughout al-Anbar and often told them of the heroism among his Marines and was proud to be part of creating a more stable Iraq.

"His Marines were his first priority," the family said. "He consistently and courageously led them from the front. His commitment to his family, the Corps and his country never wavered. He was a tremendously loyal son, brother and American who made the ultimate sacrifice for the defense of his country."

He joined the Marines in June 2004.

Nathan and his brother, Austin, were members of the U.S. Junior National Kayaking Team in 1999. Their father, William, had been a competitive kayaker for 25 years and moved the family from Truckee, Calif., to Reno in 1991.

---

Information from: Reno Gazette-Journal, http://www.rgj.com

Target Sends Christmas Package to Marines in Iraq

Target Specialty Products sent a Christmas care package to Pvt. James Carruba and his Marine platoon. The package was shipped Dec. 4 to Headquarters Platoon, D Company, 3rd AA Battalion, stationed in Iraq.

http://www.lawnandlandscape.com/news/news.asp?ID=4950

12/11/2006

Target connected with the platoon through MGK Account Representative, Sandra Torry. Pvt. Carruba is Torry’s son. Torry was “deeply moved” by the gesture, and expressed appreciation for the effort put into the project.

“We appreciate all those who contributed to this worthwhile effort in support of our troops,” said Target’s President Lon Records.

Target associates in Arizona, California and Oregon raised over $1,700 during the month of November for the care package. In-kind donations brought the care package value up over $1,800.

When Target’s customer, Daniel Monsoon of DLC Resources found out about the fundraising effort, he decided to contribute. DLC donated socks and dry goods for the soldiers. Mike Raahauge Shooting Enterprises in Corona, Calif. donated monetarily toward the care package. Turner’s Outdoorsman in Chino Hills, Calif. discounted 40 gun cleaners when Manager Mike Etienne learned the cleaners were being purchased for the Marine troop.

The platoon also received DVDs, books, magazines, games, protein bars and eye drops. In addition, the package included cards of support from company employees.


Monday, December 11, 2006

GR Marine unit puts in long days in Anbar province

Shrapnel from an explosion hit Lance Cpl. Bryon Bailey hard. It gave him a concussion and left his face pockmarked.

http://www.mlive.com/news/grpress/index.ssf?/base/news-33/1165844102274190.xml&coll;=6&thispage;=1

Monday, December 11, 2006
By Ted Roelofs
The Grand Rapids Press

The blast last week was just another day on the job for a group of Grand Rapids-based Marines in Iraq.

While Bailey, 23, of Spring Lake, was injured, this time the blast took no lives. The roadside bomb rocked a Marine truck on patrol Dec. 4 outside Fallujah, Iraq, flinging three Marines and a photographer into the air.

Bailey's wife, Cathy Bailey, 22, heard from him a couple of days later, when he called from a hospital in Iraq.

"He sounded a little dazed and confused," she said.

So it goes for members of Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 24th Marine Reserves, on patrol in one of the most dangerous regions in Iraq. As pessimism deepens about the war in Iraq, Marines in the Grand Rapids-based combat unit have more pressing concerns as they patrol just southwest of Fallujah in Anbar province: Keep your head up and weapon ready.

A Marine intelligence report leaked last month concluded that conditions in the province had deteriorated to the point where U.S. and Iraqi troops "are no longer capable" of defeating the insurgency.

If so, members of Alpha Company failed to get the memo.

"These guys patrol 16 to 20 hours a day," their commanding officer Major Dan Whisnant told The Press this week in an e-mail.

"They have been in several firefights that have lasted several hours," Whisnant wrote. "The days and hours are long but they get a couple hours of rest, get some food in their stomachs and then head out on patrol."

Bailey's wife, Cathy Bailey, 22, heard from him a couple of days later, when he called from a hospital in Iraq.

"He sounded a little dazed and confused," she said.

So it goes for members of Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 24th Marine Reserves, on patrol in one of the most dangerous regions in Iraq. As pessimism deepens about the war in Iraq, Marines in the Grand Rapids-based combat unit have more pressing concerns as they patrol just southwest of Fallujah in Anbar province: Keep your head up and weapon ready.

A Marine intelligence report leaked last month concluded that conditions in the province had deteriorated to the point where U.S. and Iraqi troops "are no longer capable" of defeating the insurgency.

If so, members of Alpha Company failed to get the memo.

"These guys patrol 16 to 20 hours a day," their commanding officer Major Dan Whisnant told The Press this week in an e-mail.

"They have been in several firefights that have lasted several hours," Whisnant wrote. "The days and hours are long but they get a couple hours of rest, get some food in their stomachs and then head out on patrol."

While the nation ponders exit strategies to a deteriorating war, these Marines face death every time they venture out on foot or road patrol. Debate over how or when or why U.S. troops should leave Iraq is a luxury they do not have.

"The Marines have seen the realities of combat and I have seen them react very positively to it," Whisnant said, referring to the casualties the Grand Rapids company has suffered.

"We will never forget their honor, courage and commitment to their fellow Marines."

About three weeks after the Grand Rapids unit arrived in Iraq, Lance Cpl. Jonathan Thornsberry, 22, and Sgt. Thomas Gilbert, 24, were killed Oct. 25 by a roadside bomb near their Humvee.

This unit is largely comprised of young men in their early 20s -- students, factory workers, construction workers, salesmen, police officers, truck drivers. Some signed up for the college benefits or because they could not find a good job in West Michigan. Others signed up to fight terrorism. Whisnant, a Kalamazoo resident, manages medical trials for Stryker Corporation.

Among the wounded are Sgt. Kedrick Doezema, 24, a 2000 graduate of Grand Rapids Christian High School. According to his father, Frank Doezema, his son was wounded Dec. 2, struck in the leg just above the knee by a single shot. He remains in Iraq and is expected to recover.

Frank Doezema said events in Iraq have led him to doubt the rationale for war laid out by the Bush administration. But Doezema said the Marines in Iraq have a different perspective. They have orders. They will follow them.

"From a Marine point of view, the Marines are there because they are dedicated to the responsibility of the country. They will fight and die where we send them," he said.

"It is the responsibility of our political leaders to send them to the right place."

Cathy Bailey said her husband, Bryon, on light duty for the moment, is eager to get back on patrol. She stands behind him.

"I want him home safe and everything. But if he needs to be over longer to get it taken care of, that's what he needs to do," she said.

Approximately 150 Marines rolled out of Grand Rapids on four buses at 5:30 a.m. on June 7, bound for urban combat training in California and duty in Iraq. Before this mission, many in this Reserve unit served eight months active duty in Africa in 2003.

Marines have the primary job of securing Anbar province, a violent stronghold of Sunni resistance to the Iraqi government. Fallujah itself was the scene of some of the most intense urban combat in Iraq in November 2004, when 10,000 Marines launched a campaign to root out the insurgency that controlled the city of 300,000.

According to Whisnant, Alpha Company is assigned to a 28-square-mile area southwest of Fallujah along the Euphrates River. Unlike much of this arid province, it is an area he describes as "agricultural and very green and lush," the land crisscrossed by irrigation canals.

Whisnant said the area is "99.9 percent Sunni and the attitudes vary by neighborhood."

"There are those who understand our mission and back us up with support and even information. Unfortunately -- right now that is the minority."

Despite reports of insurgent dominance in other areas, Whisnant said the mission "is going very well."

"We have killed and detained many insurgents, which have obviously had an effect on their operations," he said.

In an e-mail sent to relatives of Marines, Whisnant described the unit's methodical campaign aimed at driving out the insurgents. It reflects an optimism at odds with much of the recent news out of Iraq.

"We have been successful at hunting him down where he is sleeping or hiding! When we haven't been able to actually catch him we have chased him out of his old neighborhood into another where he can't have the same effect as before. We have the enemy looking over their shoulders constantly."

His appraisal of his Marines: "These are some of the most amazing men that walk the face of the earth. Plain and simple."

Send e-mail to the author: [email protected]

December 10, 2006

Home front packages with care Parcels shipped out to Marines in Iraq.

With precision and care, Stephanie Thompson packed small treats of cookies, candy and coffee into a box that would be topped with a Christmas card and mailed. Instead of going to a friend or relative, the package will end up with someone on the other side of the globe.

http://www.columbiatribune.com/2006/Dec/20061210News008.asp


By SARA SEMELKA of the Tribune’s staff
Published Sunday, December 10, 2006


"I do this to just do my part," she said, sending another box down the makeshift assembly line at MarineParents.com headquarters at 2810 Lemone Industrial Blvd.

Derrick Jensen was at the beginning of the assembly line that snaked through two rooms and a hallway of the office. He assembled cardboard boxes to be filled with treats. The Hickman graduate knows more than most how good it can feel to get a care package while on duty in Iraq.

"I was in Iraq in 2003 when the war began, and again in 2004 in Fallujah and then in 2005 in Fallujah," Jensen said. "It was great" to get a package. "It’s sort of a peace of mind you get that someone back home is thinking of you. It makes you feel better when you’re in a place that’s hostile."

He said his mother, Tracy Della Vecchia, sent him packages "all the time" that contained mostly food.

"I worked out a lot, so I asked for food," he said. "But I’m mostly hungry all the time anyway."

Jensen has about two years left of inactive duty with the Marines. He has worked at MarineParents.com since February, but hopes to attend college, possibly the University of Missouri-Columbia, next fall.

When Jensen was first deployed overseas, Della Vecchia in 2003 began MarineMoms.com, which later became MarineParents.com, a Web site that gets 12 million hits a week and has gained national recognition.

"Parents wanted a place they could come to and find others who were going through the intense emotions of having a son or daughter deployed," Della Vecchia said. "They wonder ‘Are they going to come home?’ ‘Are they going to come home in one piece?’ "

Lately, there have been more requests for information about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, injuries and veteran’s benefits, she said.

"Everything we do comes straight from the wants or needs of the Marines," she said. Marine families can request care packages, but most of the addresses come from post cards sent by Marines mentioning buddies who aren’t receiving packages.

The most-often requested items in care packages are food and tobacco, but Marines frequently ask for baby wipes, toothpaste and more recently, dandruff shampoo.

"About 70 percent of the requests we" get" "are from Marines from Forward Operating Bases, which means they have no home base, they are on the move," Della Vecchia said. "They have a traveling Post Exchange, where they can buy items, but when they are out of something, they are just out."

The volunteers at MarineParents.com hope the care packages will fill in the gaps.

"You’d be surprised how much you can get in here," Thompson, who drove in from Kansas City to help, said while layering socks over containers of chewing tobacco.

"I like to get some meat in each one," she said, placing a can of tuna in each box. "It’s like a puzzle."

One of 26 volunteers yesterday, Thompson, continued fitting packages of trail mix, coffee and granola into crevices in each box.

"Now we’re at the finishing table, and you’ve really got to jimmy it in there," she said, squeezing facial tissue, hand warmers, dental floss, pens and bagged candy into any leftover spaces.

"My cousin was in Fallujah and Iraq," she said. "I think it means a lot to them. I think it helps support their spirit."

Then each box gets one last touch: a letter or card from an elementary school student.

The packages were sent by priority mail, using $8,505 in donated postage.

By the end of the day, there were still 442 packages to be stuffed and mailed. Della Vecchia invited volunteers to join her at the MarineParents.com facility between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. today.

Della Vecchia never thought her involvement would go as far as it has.

"I didn’t mean to do this, honestly," she said. "But as long as there are troops that need support, this is my place. When they come back, they need to be remembered, their families need to be remembered. Whether you agree with what’s going on over there or not, it doesn’t matter if you are to the right or left, there are kids and families making sacrifices, and they need our thanks."

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Reach Sara Semelka at (573) 815-1717 or [email protected]
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Funeral held for N.C.-based Marine killed in Iraq

WISCONSIN RAPIDS, Wis. - A Camp Lejeune Marine killed in Iraq followed his brothers into the military and loved serving his country, a minister said during his funeral Saturday in Wisconsin.

http://www.myrtlebeachonline.com/mld/myrtlebeachonline/news/local/16206044.htm

Sun, Dec. 10, 2006
Associated Press

Lance Cpl. Jesse Tillery, 19, of Vesper died Dec. 2 while conducting combat operations in Iraq.

"He was so proud to be a Marine," the Rev. Milt Van Natta told mourners at Baker Street Community Church.

Family friends have said Tillery was fascinated with the military from childhood and had two brothers serving with the Army - one also on active duty in Iraq and the other a veteran of two tours there.

Tillery was a member of the 2nd Assault Amphibian Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, II Expeditionary Force based in Camp Lejeune, N.C.

"He idolized his older brothers, and for him to follow in his brothers' footsteps, that was something that was hugely important to them," Van Natta said.

Tillery was remembered for his love of reading, video games, his family and friends.

He possessed tremendous contentment, commitment and hope, Van Natta said.

Tillery's uncle, the Rev. Rodney Collins, said his relatives were close.

"I have the highest love and honor for the family and also for Jesse," he said.

Tillery joined the Marines in August 2005 after graduating from Lincoln High School in Wisconsin Rapids.

He joined his unit in February before receiving his first combat deployment in September.

Richard Ryan, Tillery's battalion chaplain, traveled from Iraq to attend the services. He said about 200 Marines from Tillery's company are serving in Fallujah and wanted to attend the funeral.

"Marines and sailors in that town are making a difference," Ryan said. "Do not ever forget (Tillery's) sacrifice."

During the services, Tillery's family was presented with the Purple Heart and a certificate for Tillery's honest and faithful service. Tillery had received the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and the National Defense Medal before the service, according to the Department of Defense.

He is survived by his parents, Martin and Kathy, brothers James and Jared and sister Joelle.

"What this family is giving to our country because they believe in our country and believe in freedom is what touched me more than anything this week," Van Natta said.

A memorial will be established his Tillery's name at McMillan Library in Wisconsin Rapids. He also will be honored with a memorial at the High Ground in Neillsville.

Tillery will be buried Wednesday in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va.


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Information from: Daily Tribune, http://www.wisconsinrapidstribune.com

Injured Local Iraq Veteran Honored, Country Star Aaron Tippin Sings At Benefit Concert

EL DORADO HILLS, Calif. -- A country music star joined the Sacramento community Saturday evening for a benefit conert honoring a local marine.

http://www.kcra.com/news/10502912/detail.html

December 10, 2006

Marine Cpl. Jeff Landay, 20, was badly injured in Iraq -- even falling into a coma during his recovery. He regained enough strength to attend the concert.

In May, his humvee struck a roadside bomb in Fallujah, Iraq. He suffered injuries so serious doctors had to re-construct the left side of his skull. Landay is learning to talk again.

Meanwhile, his friends, and even total strangers, are bursting to express their support.

"We've grown up together, we're glad that he's here, and he'll celebrate and get some awards. We're all proud of him," said Christina DeVos.

"We take care of our own. There are no ex-Marines or former Marines. Once a Marine, always a Marine," said Veteran Jay Wiley.

Friends say they enjoyed the concert for so many reasons.

"I like to know that I can help to bring him back to recovery," said Chris Gardner.

Landay's parents shared his story with radio station KNCI. The station called country singer Aaron Tippin, who agreed to perform free of charge at Aqua Bar and Nightclub.

"I'll tell you what's really cool -- it's seeing Sacramento turn out for our heroes. That's what's cool. I know this is for the corporal, but I'm also seeing other Marines and vets, and this is just a great night," Tippin said.

Donations will go toward moving costs for the Landay family while he continues rehabilitation in San Diego.

Landay gave a few words of thanks.

"I'm just happy to see that everybody I've known is about here," he said.

Landay was also honored by the Marine Corps. His lead commander flew in for the occasion to award him a Purple Heart.

In Iraq, their weapon is data, Marines fight with what they know

FALLUJAH, Iraq -- Inside a stronghold that commands a stretch of land between the river and the desert, the Hobbits work wonders in a windowless chamber.

http://www.freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20061210/NEWS06/612100622/1008/NEWS

December 10, 2006
BY JOE SWICKARD

As a battle raged miles away last week, the Hobbits knew the arena intimately, down to the concrete building from which the enemy threw gunfire at their fellow Marines. It was the Hobbits' collected data that allowed a circling jet to launch a bomb at the structure, imploding the building and killing the gunmen inside.

In the ongoing fight against insurgents in Iraq's Anbar province, the Hobbits -- six Marines with computers and self-designed databases who compile information about the enemy, its strength and its position -- have a clear mission as part of the Michigan-based 1st Battalion of the 24th Marine Regiment.

"We want to know their backyards and houses better than they do," said Lance Cpl. Curtis Mejeur, 21, of Grand Rapids.

Mejeur is a Grand Valley State University student back home in Michigan. In Iraq, he is a member of the 1/24th's Alpha Company, and a Hobbit -- one of four certified-smart and computer-wily lance corporals led by a corporal and a sergeant who, together, provide some of the magic necessary for modern combat.

"Use of intelligence is at the heart of this generation of warfare," said the 1/24th's commanding officer, Maj. Daniel Whisnant of Kalamazoo, himself a former intelligence officer. "The Hobbits are key to that."

The six are small and slight Marines -- most are shorter than 5-feet-7 and the tallest towers at maybe 5-9 -- in a corps world of Buick-sized beef and brawn.

But with their skills and smarts, they take tactical intelligence and put it to effective use killing and capturing insurgents who have turned the area around Fallujah into one of the most dangerous sectors in Iraq.

Whenever information is gathered, Whisnant's directive is clear: "Get that to the Hobbits."

Through regular patrols, census-taking and other methods, Alpha Company -- which operates across the Euphrates River from Fallujah -- provides information to allow the Hobbits to assemble and analyze a detailed portrait of the people, the terrain and the buildings.

Unlike the intense urban environment of Fallujah, Alpha's region covers riverside estates and farms, scattered neighborhoods and open desert, where the occasional village or settlement can be found.

The gunfight last week showed the power of the intelligence information in action.

Tapping into a database created by Lance Cpl. Joshua Clayton, a 22-year-old computer programmer from Grand Rapids, the Hobbits were able to locate and describe the buildings the insurgents were using.

Working in the operations center beside Whisnant and his team, the Hobbits helped link their buddies in the firefight with other Marine leaders at other bases along the command chain and up to the pilot ready to strike from above.

Whisnant said the Hobbits' database also has led to the arrest and capture of dozens of other "bad guys."

"We're able to know who belongs here and who doesn't," he said.

A different kind of fighting

The Hobbits were drawn from the usual complement of riflemen in the Grand Rapids-based company that is part of the 1/24th on its deployment to Iraq.

They enlisted to be go-get-em gun-carrying grunts, but their test scores and personalities fit with plans to move military thinking toward analysis of the complex environment of anti-insurgent warfare.

It was during the battalion's five months of training in the Mojave Desert that the men were singled out and publicly proclaimed the Hobbits.

The name doesn't bother the guys.

"I like the name," said Lance Cpl. Matthew Robinson, 21, of Grand Rapids. "I like being a Hobbit. It doesn't bother me being short. In fact I like it."

Sgt. Jeremiah Howe, 29, of Redford Township -- who works for the Transportation Security Administration at Metro Airport -- said the Hobbits aren't mouse pad warriors: They regularly go out on multiday combat operations.

It's all part of the mission, said Robinson. When he enlisted, it was with thoughts of guns-up action, not computer warfare.

"I had no idea," he said. "I thought I'd just come over and go against the bad guys. I still do -- in a different way."

Contact JOE SWICKARD at [email protected]

It’s another holiday away from home

Fourty-one Marines will soon dream of a hot and sandy Christmas.

http://www.jdnews.com/SiteProcessor.cfm?Template=/GlobalTemplates/Details.cfm&StoryID;=47051&Section;=News

December 10,2006
JOE MILLER
DAILY NEWS STAFF

The Marines are members of the Regimental Combat Team 2 that left Camp Lejeune on Saturday for Iraq. Despite the timing of the deployment, the Marines are willing to miss the holidays to defend freedom.

“Anytime you leave over Christmas it has some personal challenges, but a lot of these Marines have done it before,” said Lt. Col. Drew Smith, who said he’s only been home for one of the last four Christmases. “You and your family adapt.”

Staff Sgt. Steven Ledyard will miss the first Christmas of his 4-month-old daughter, Kylie. That’s not all he’ll miss during the unit’s 12 months in Iraq.

“She’s going to come back talking, walking,” he said. “She’ll be on solid foods. I’ll miss every important moment.”

Wendy Davis just married her Marine, Sgt. Daniel Heavner, seven months ago. Since he won’t be home for the holidays, she plans to spend it with family in Boston.

“We tried celebrating a little bit before he left,” Davis said.

Cpl. Charles Riggs of Louisville, Ky., already knows how he will get through Dec. 25.

“Go to work. Eat a good meal. Call the family,” he said.

The Marines who left Saturday are part of the advance party for the unit. More troops will deploy early next year.

“We go and we essentially set the foundation for receiving the main body of the Regimental Combat Team headquarters,” Smith said.

RCT-2 will deploy to the western Al-Anbar province to conduct combined counterinsurgency operations with Iraqi security forces and train the Iraqis to conduct independent operations.

Family members turned out Saturday to wish their loved ones well. Hugs and tears were a common sight as they are with any deployment.

Many of the Marines have served in Iraq previously, including Cpl. Christopher Cutter of Cincinnati. Like all who wear the uniform, Cutter is proud of serve his country.

“It’s one of the things that not many people get to do in their lifetime,” he said.


Contact staff writer Joe Miller at [email protected] or at 353-1171, ext. 236

Nevada Fallen Troops Honored

A memorial to Service men and women from Nevada killed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan looks a little different. On Saturday, another stone was added to remember more lives that were lost this year. A dedication ceremony to honor them took place at Red Rock Canyon.

Note: The memorial service was organized and financially supported by DefendingFreedom.net

http://www.lasvegasnow.com/global/story.asp?s=5793412


Dec 10, 2006 06:34 AM PST

It was an emotional day for everyone involved. Twelve more names are now etched in stone at Red Rock. Their names compose the list on a fourth stone at the memorial.

About two-hundred friends, family and members of the military attended Saturday's ceremony. Some relatives of soldiers and Marines who died in Iraq and Afghanistan shared memories of their loved ones.

Mothers, fathers, wives and sisters expressed their appreciation for the honor. And urged people to remember not only their loved ones, but also the soldiers who continue to fight overseas.

Christa Griffith was there to pay tribute to her husband who was killed in may in Afghanistan.

"Every day my family struggles to honor his legacy. And to, to go on the way he would have wanted us to go on, to be proud of who we are, to never take one day for granted. To thank other veterans as we see them. I'm not only here to honor my husband, but the others that are here as well," said Griffith.

With the addition of the fourth memorial stone at Red Rock, there are now 42 people from Nevada included in the tribute.

December 9, 2006

Marine from Aroostook is killed in Iraq firefight

A Marine from Aroostook County who died in Iraq this week was killed in a firefight, his brother said on Friday night.

http://pressherald.mainetoday.com/news/state/061209libby.html

By ANN S. KIM, Staff Writer
Saturday, December 9, 2006

Cpl. Dustin J. Libby, 22, of Castle Hill died on Wednesday in Anbar province. Libby had gone to the roof of a building and was manning a machine gun when he was shot, said his brother, Chris Libby of Mapleton.

A member of Cpl. Libby's squad told Chris Libby that his brother went down still holding the trigger.

Dustin Libby was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, and was based at Camp Pendleton in California.

He arrived in the Ramadi area for his second tour in Iraq a little more than two weeks ago. His brother said the mission was seeking out insurgents.

"He was right in the heavy stuff from Day 1," Chris Libby said.

Four Marines from Topsham, accompanied by a state trooper, delivered the news of Libby's death to the family early Wednesday morning, his brother said.

His family had not foreseen that Dustin Libby would enter the service. His brother described him as a hellion who had been impressed by how a buddy had been transformed by his experience in the Marines.

There had been talk of invading Iraq for months before Dustin Libby signed up for the Marines. The day he signed the papers, his brother picked him up and they went home to turn on the TV and see President Bush announcing the invasion.

"I looked at him," Chris Libby said. "And he said, 'Well, I knew we were going there."'

Chris Libby said his brother made it through some tough scrapes on his first tour and was "scared half out of his mind," but he had no regrets.

He recalled how his younger brother looked the day he shipped off for boot camp -- a kid with scruffy, long hair, still a bit tipsy from the previous night's festivities. When the brothers saw each other again at boot camp graduation, Chris Libby did a double take.

"I'm looking at this man in front of me. I'm two inches taller than him and he's looking at me, eye to eye, in full uniform. It amazed me," Chris Libby said. "They talk about it on the advertisements on TV: We'll take your children and we'll turn them into men. He came back a man. He came back more than a man, he came back a Marine."

The family is still making arrangements for the funeral. Chris Libby said plans will be announced.

Dustin Libby's survivors include his mother, Geni Libby of Castle Hill, his father, Judson Libby of Caribou, and his brother. Dustin Libby was engaged to Jeannine Gonzales, whom he met in California. They planned to marry when Dustin Libby returned from this tour in Iraq, Chris Libby said.

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at:
[email protected]


Reverence, heartache for Marine

As wind whipped an American flag flying at half-staff, hundreds of mourners from Carlstadt and beyond gathered Friday to bid farewell to the community's second resident recently killed in military combat, Marine Lance Cpl. Michael Schwarz.

http://www.northjersey.com/page.php?qstr=eXJpcnk3ZjczN2Y3dnFlZUVFeXk0NSZmZ2JlbDdmN3ZxZWVFRXl5NzAzNDAxNCZ5cmlyeTdmNzE3Zjd2cWVlRUV5eTM=

Saturday, December 9, 2006
By JOSEPH AX and JOHN GAVIN
STAFF WRITERS

The firetruck that had once carried Schwarz and his fellow firefighters in happier days now bore his flag-draped casket, with his grieving father, Ken, in the truck's front seat. As the long line of vehicles passed through borough streets, the children of Carlstadt silently waved American flags, and residents stood stoically in the bitter cold, the sorrow etched in their reddened faces.

"He just had so much potential," said Fire Chief Jack Roughgarden, Schwarz's former hockey coach, department colleague and family friend.

"He was one of those young men who you knew were going to add to the ranks of the department."

More than 300 relatives, friends and firefighters from across the region paid tribute to the 20-year-old borough native, who was killed by a sniper in Iraq last week. Schwarz's death touched a nerve in the close-knit borough, where his father once served as head of the volunteer fire corps and Michael Schwarz and his older brother, Frank, were members of the department.

The service at the First Presbyterian Church drew so many mourners that they spilled over into an adjoining building, where they listened to the ceremony through loudspeakers. Outside, a line of fire engines, ambulances and other emergency vehicles were parked along Third Street, testimony that the fallen warrior was considered a man of courage before he left for war.

Inside, dozens of uniformed firefighters from Ridgefield to Rochelle Park heard the Rev. Donald Pitches' eulogy for the young man he baptized in the same church 20 years earlier. An East Rutherford firefighter wiped his eyes as the strains of a hymn, "Eternal Father, Strong to Save," washed over the room.

"How do you raise a boy like Michael?" Pitches said, referring to Schwarz's penchant for adventure. "He loved his Jeeps, his monster [trucks] and the military."

Schwarz had spoken of joining the Marines since childhood. "He wore camouflage pants before they were popular," Pitches said.

The memorial service was filled with reminders of the soldier's time in Iraq, from his white military hat to the Marines' emblem of an eagle, globe and anchor. A Marine captain announced to audience members that Schwarz had been awarded the Purple Heart by President Bush.

Schwarz was attached to the 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force.

The Marines' motto, "Semper Fidelis," or "Always Faithful," just as aptly describes the philosophy of the church and the backbone of the Carlstadt community, Pitches said.

"Maybe it was natural for him to grow up to be a Marine because it was part of him," said Pitches, a family friend. But he also reminded those gathered that Schwarz's death was not merely the death of a Marine but of a young man that will be missed by his family and his neighbors.

"Behind the reverence and the ceremony of these days, there is the heartache of a mother, and a father, and a brother," Pitches said.

After the service, a dozen firetrucks from numerous departments joined a lengthy procession of ambulances, police vehicles and mourners' cars that at times stretched a mile long as it wended its way through the borough streets on which Schwarz grew up and north to Paramus, closing down Route 17. Among the vehicles driven was one of Schwarz's customized Jeeps.

"He was a baby," said Eli Krakower of Leonia, a fellow ex-Marine, as he and about 10 members of the Nam Knights revved up their motorcycles at the end of the procession. "He's a true hero in the true sense of the word. We're here to show support for the family."

At the George Washington Memorial Park, Schwarz was laid to rest. A color guard of Marines carefully folded the flag that had draped his coffin and presented it to his parents, Ken and Pam, and his older brother. Family members and friends stooped beside the casket to leave flowers and a final word of prayer.

"Nobody felt the cold," said Mayor Sam Roseman. "It sounds corny, but I think everybody's hearts were so warmed by the circumstances and the community spirit and their love for Michael. We were all very proud of Michael."

E-mail: [email protected]

Auto spa to collect gifts this weekend for soldiers overseas

Chester — The Hambletonian Auto Spa will be collecting gifts this Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 9 and 10, to send to a troop of Marines in Iraq.

http://www.strausnews.com/articles/2006/12/09/warwick_advertiser/news/14.txt

December 9, 2006

In exchange for each donation, the Auto Spa will take $2 off any full-service car wash.

Gifts should be unwrapped. The list of suggested items is as follows:

• Food: individual packets of hot chocolate, powder drinks like gatorade or crystal light, Ramen noodles, beef jerky, instant oatmeal, homemade cookies, tuna-lunch to go packets, hard candy, nuts, sunflower seeds, trailmix, crackers, vacuum packed cans of chips, meal replacement drinks like ensure, breakfast bars, gum, MRE seasonings like Mrs. Dash, hot sauce, tabasco, etc.

• Personal needs: Shaving cream, razors, small packs of soap, shampoo, unscented lotions, deodorants, suncreens, toothpaste, brushes and floss, unscented baby wipes and tissues (smaller packs work best), throat lozenges, eyedrops, lip balm, Q-tips, pain relievers (Tylenol, aspirin, Motrin)

• Additional Items: green/black boot socks, brown T-shirts, D or AA batteries, magazines, stationery supplies, paperback books, disposable cameras, word game books, comics, large zip lock bags, prepaid phone cards, and “love items” (kids artwork/pictures, letters, cards — anything to remind the soldiers of Christmas at home)

These items will be included in care packages to be sent to troops outside Fallujah .

The Hambletonian Auto Spa is located at 1 Bryle Place in Chester, just off Route 17 at Chester Exit 126 at 17M. For more information call 469-3007.

December 8, 2006

Navy seaman recalled as 'natural leader'

LONGMONT - Navy Seaman Christopher Anderson wanted all his life to make a difference in the world - and in his short 24 years he did, for his nation and to his family, his father, Rick, said Thursday.

http://www.rockymountainnews.com/drmn/local/article/0,1299,DRMN_15_5198751,00.html

By Bill Scanlon, Rocky Mountain News
December 8, 2006

"Christopher was a son in which any parent would be proud . . . a natural leader in the truest sense - warm, giving, thoughtful and caring," Rick said in a statement issued by the family.

Christopher Anderson died in Iraq on Monday in the western Iraq province of al-Anbar.

He was a hospital corpsman assigned to the 1st Battalion, 6th Marines, 2nd Marine Division, Fleet Marine Force, based in Camp Lejuene, N.C.

A graduate of Longmont High School, Anderson came from generations of Navy men, said Rick, who is retired from the Navy.

Rick said Christopher was an "encourager" and "uplifter," with a rare ability to inspire others to find successes in themselves. At home in Longmont, Chris was always ready to help family, friends and neighbors, his father said.

Once he joined the Navy in August of last year, he wasn't content to settle for "anything less than being at the tip of the spear," his father said.

That meant asking for additional training as a combat medic, and being assigned to the front lines with the Marines.

At boot camp, he was named "Honor Graduate," the number one person in his class. Later, he took advanced combat medical training, determined to work on the front lines, his father said.

Anderson first went to Iraq in September of this year. "He loved the people of this country," his father said. Soon after his arrival, he was credited with saving the life of a Marine sergeant who was seriously wounded by an improvised explosive device while on patrol.

The Marines bestowed on him the nickname "Doc," which usually is given only to those Navy hospital corpsmen whose medical excellence under combat conditions is truly impressive, said his father.

His colonel called him "the most squared away 'Marine' we have in this unit," his father recalled.

"In his short 24 years, he accomplished more than most will ever accomplish in a lifetime," Rick Anderson said.

[email protected] or 303-442-8729

Semper Fi spirit, Wounded three times in Iraq, Marine stays strong with family support and video games used to boost rehabilitation efforts.

If a Marine survives being shot in the head, chances are he or she will be looking forward to some quiet time at home. Lance Cpl. John McClellan just wanted to waste some aliens on planet Sera.

http://www.columbiatribune.com/2006/Dec/20061208Feat001.asp

By GREG MILLER of the Tribune’s staff
Published Friday, December 8, 2006


"Damn it!" he shouted Tuesday after being killed by a member of the Locust Horde while playing "Gears of War." "That’s the thing that killed me last time."

"I’m dead, John," said Lane Litton, McClellan’s friend since junior high and partner in the cooperative mode of "Gears."

"Damn it," McClellan said under his breath and pressed continue.

At first glance, the 20-year-old Marine might look like he’s wasting time, but in reality he’s rehabilitating his body. McClellan is using Xbox 360 games to regain movement in his left hand.

"I used to not be able to use it," said McClellan as he let go of the controller with his left hand and touched each finger to his thumb. "It definitely helps with coordination."

While standing post in Haditha, Iraq, a sniper put a bullet through the left side of McClellan’s head. He survived against steep odds - the round missed McClellan’s carotid artery by the thickness of two sheets of paper - but the bullet severed a nerve in control of the left side of the Hickman High School graduate’s face and damaged the part of the brain that controls movement in McClellan’s left hand and leg.

"He wants to move them, but his brain doesn’t let him for a while," said Connie McClellan, the Marine’s mother. "He can do it. He does it slowly."

Enter the Xbox 360.

Instructed to do hand exercises such as squeezing a palm-sized stress ball while recuperating at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., and the traumatic brain injury unit at James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital in Tampa, Fla., McClellan knew there had to be a better way.

The day after touching down at Columbia Regional Airport, McClellan gave his mom money and sent her to grab a video game.

"I was trying to get some things done, and he was like, ‘Mom, can you go to Wal-Mart?’ " Connie McClellan said. "It was just like the old days."

Video games aren’t new to the McClellans’ Blue Ridge Road home. McClellan became proficient in Halo while serving overseas, he used to own a PlayStation 2 until an unknown friend stole it at a sleepover, and Connie McClellan said the original Nintendo showed up years ago and enthralled the family.

"We all got quite good at it," she said.

With her son’s history of gaming and gunning, Connie McClellan said she wasn’t surprised that her living room is now littered with titles like "Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter" and "Blazing Angels: Squadrons of World War II."

Plus, she can’t argue with results.

"Now, he’s so much better," she said. "That has been the thing he is doing the most with his left hand is the video games."

"Gears," a third-person shooter game that puts players into the heart of battle, is McClellan’s game of choice for the moment - even though his September head shot was his third gunshot wound in a year. In October 2005, McClellan was hit twice in the same arm on separate occasions in the same week.

From a young age, McClellan said the differences between video games and reality have been instilled in him.

"My dad was in Vietnam," McClellan said as he took his eyes off a fierce firefight onscreen. "So, trying to compare his story to the video games - it’s not the same."

The rock monsters and lizard-looking enemies also help separate "Gears" from McClellan’s own battlefield experience.

"Get some!" McClellan said Tuesday as he attacked an advancing member of the Locust Horde. "The chainsaw kicks so much ass."

For four hours a day Monday through Friday, McClellan can be found at Rusk Rehabilitation Center, pushing his body and relearning how to move, but when he gets home it’s time for three to four hours of the 360.

Alex Hilderbrand, a manager at Slacker’s, said he hadn’t heard too much about video games as rehabilitation, but he wasn’t surprised.

"I guess it kind of makes sense - it does involve some sort of dexterity," he said. "Any game that you’re running around shooting people in, I guess you’d be pretty accurate."

When McClellan feels like playing something other than "Gears," he doesn’t have to look far. Since word began spreading about the Marine’s unorthodox rehabilitation technique and the results it has had, games have been pouring into the home from friends and family such as Diane Oerly.

"I’m really inspired by, first, John’s service, but more that miraculous recovery," she said. "To me, it’s the opportunity to see miracles happen in life."

Oerly brought over a few pints of homemade salsa and "Madden 2006" this week for her neighborhood hero.

"I’m surprised that video games are actually good for you because I think all these young people are going to have really bad carpal tunnel," she said. "You guys use your thumbs in ways older generations haven’t done."

McClellan is now waiting to hear whether the military will discharge him or keep him in service. If he’s discharged, McClellan’s ready to go to college. If he isn’t, he expects to be given a desk job.

For him, there’s no comparison.

"Definitely getting discharged," he said. "I’m definitely ready to get out of the military."

On Tuesday, McClellan and Litton blasted their way through waves of enemies on the family’s 52-inch screen and sat surrounded by mementos of the Marine’s experience. McClellan’s three Purple Hearts sat on a coffee table in the center of the room, the helmet he has to wear to protect the missing part of his skull was near the kitchen, and a framed copy of the Stars and Stripes article about his two wounds in one week was out for all to see.

Neither of the men paid much attention to those things.

"Is there a reason you’re not watching my back, John?" Litton asked after a crazed creature snuck up on him.

"My bad," McClellan said with a half-grin.

The squeeze ball probably won’t be getting much use anytime soon.

"I was doing exercises, but playing video games is the exact same thing," McClellan said. "As long as I keep improving, I don’t think that they really care."

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Reach Greg Miller at (573) 815-1723 or [email protected]
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Marines Save Iraqi Baby to Honor Fallen Medic, Routine Patrol Turned Into Mission to Help Sick Child

(Dec. 8) - The story of a group of Marines' quest to save a sick baby in war-torn Iraq gives some hope to humanity this holiday season.

http://news.aol.com/topnews/articles/_a/marines-save-iraqi-baby-to-honor-fallen/20061208101409990001

At the center of the story is Navy medic Chris Walsh and the 1st Battalion 25th Marines. The Marines were patrolling the streets of Fallujah in June when they faced an enemy attack.

"An IED exploded immediately adjacent to Chris' vehicle, so they all piled out to chase the trigger man," said Capt. Sean Donovan.

But the Marines had a surprise encounter in their pursuit.

"And as they did so, a woman came from one of the houses calling to them that the baby was sick. So they stopped, and Chris came up and looked at the baby," Donovan said. "And this was baby Mariam, and it was immediately clear to him that this baby desperately needed care."

Baby Mariam was just 2 months old and suffering from a rare intestinal abnormality. Under the threat of another attack, Walsh had to make a quick decision.

"Right on the spot, the mission changed from the trigger man to the baby girl," Donovan said.

A routine military mission suddenly became a lifesaving mission for Walsh and those around him.

"The shared willingness to engage this mission was the bravery of the family in bringing her forward," Donovan said.

Visiting Under Cover of Darkness

For the next three months, Walsh and the team made house calls under the cloak of darkness into the dangerous city to help the baby.

They were trying to get baby Mariam stabilized, taking photographs, consulting experts, and trying to get her papers to leave the country for medical care.

Staff Sgt. Ed Ewing led the visits.


Most Popular - Last 24 Hours
Marines Save Iraqi Baby to Honor Fallen ComradesPearl Harbor Survivors Meet for Last TimeDad Who Sought Help Died of HypothermiaEx-Talk Show Host Indicted in Wife's MurderPlane Forced to Land After Passenger Passes Gas"We showed up at all different times of the night," Ewing said. "They never knew when we were coming. We did that purposely to protect us and protect their family."

As months went by, the unit continued its routine patrols. On Sept. 4, tragedy struck when one of their Humvees was hit once again by an IED.

This time three men in the unit were killed -- Lance Cpl. Eric Valdepenas; Cpl. Jared Shoemaker; and Walsh, baby Mariam's guardian angel.

For those who survived, saving baby Mariam became a eulogy to their fallen comrades.

"To honor Chris, to honor the other men that died in battalion, we had to go through with the mission and keep fighting," said Father Marc Bishop.

Mission Accomplished

Eventually the Marines won their fight, and baby Mariam was granted permission to leave Iraq.

Dr. Rafael Pieretti from Boston's Massachusetts General Hospital performed the surgery, which took place in October.

"She's doing well," Pieretti said. "She's gained weight. She's socializing more. She has a different life."

On the eve of baby Mariam's arrival, Walsh's mother, Maureen, received a letter from Donovan, telling her the story of a life that was saved because of her son's big heart.

The letter from Donovan read in part: "Although he won't be visible, Chris will be very much on that patrol, the hope for Mariam's very tiny life having arisen from the charity and gallantry of your son."

Recently Maureen Walsh met baby Mariam.

"It made me feel like Chris was there," she said. "He wanted something like this. He wanted to make a difference in somebody's life."

Tankers Lead Team in Sweep of Rct-5's Barren Northern Desert

Tankers from Regimental Combat Team 5 made tracks in the barren deserts north of Fallujah in search of weapons caches and insurgent activity.

http://newsblaze.com/story/20061209075442tsop.nb/newsblaze/IRAQ0001/Iraq.html

Friday, 08 December 2006
By Gunnery Sgt. Mark Oliva
Headquarters Marine Corps

Marines from C Company, 2nd Tank Battalion, along with Team Gator's TOW Platoon, 2nd Tank Battalion and Marines of 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, fanned out across the Northern Regimental Security Area recently, uncovering weapons caches and discovering an insurgent training area. The multi-day operation was designed to disrupt insurgent activity in a region where Marines maintain little presence in the sparsely populated region.

"The fact we did get up there and disrupt cache sites sends a little bit of a message," said Staff Sgt. Matthew D. Silvio, a 25-year-old communications chief for C Company. "It lets the population know the Coalition presence is still here."

Tankers mounted up in humvees rather than their M-1A1 Main Battle Tanks and employed Marines from their support elements along with traditional tankers. Armorers, communicators and mechanics were used in the mission. They scoured open swaths of desert, stopping to speak with Iraqi farmers and inspecting possible weapons caches.

"For us to put guys on the deck is a big thing," explained Silvio, from Pittsburgh. "They were going house to house. They did a real good job given the short amount of time they had."

Marines spoke with local Iraqis at their small farmhouses. Farmers stood at their doorways, welcoming Marines into their homes and out of the cold, desert morning air. At other locations, Marines swept over the large, looming wells scraped from the desert floor. And still other locations, they stopped and searched vehicles.

"This is completely different than what we would usually do," said Staff Sgt. James M. Sturla, a 27-year-old master gunner for the tank company from Pompton Plains, N.J. "For many of us, this is our first time being in a truck instead of a tank. We were out there disrupting, going through houses, talking to people and conducting snap vehicle checkpoints."

The Marines' efforts were rewarded. Marines uncovered several small caches, including munitions that could be used for making improvised explosive devices. Neighboring Marines from 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment discovered an insurgent training area, with spent brass and targets where insurgents apparently were practicing before moving into more populated areas to carry out attacks.

"It's real satisfying," Sturla said of finding the buried caches. "Just getting that ammunition off the street is one less weapon they can use to make an IED."

The tankers' adaptability was tested even further as they were moving south after the mission was over. Lead elements of their convoy were attacked by an IED and small-arms fire. Marines at the front of the column maneuvered to return fire on insurgents in two vehicles.

Following the attacks, C Company's tankers turned their trucks around and started conducting searches on vehicles that matched the description of those that attacked the convoy. Marines stopped drivers, systematically searched vehicles, uncovering one with an empty AK-47 magazine before another Iraqi flagged down the Marines.

The Iraqi driver had his brother in the truck who suffered an open gunshot wound he claimed was the result of insurgents attacking them. A corpsman on the scene treated the wound, while Marines questioned his brothers and called for a medevac for the wounded Iraqi.

"I think they did exceptionally well," said Capt. Charles W. Fretwell, C Company's commander. "They did the tactical missions we should all be familiar with. It showed tanks are more than capable as any unit out there."
Source: Multi-National Force-Iraq

[email protected]

PSP Marines return from the Mojave Viper

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (Dec. 8, 2006) -- Marines with the Provisional Security Platoon, Service Company, 2nd Maintenance Battalion, Combat Logistics Regiment 25, 2d Marine Logistics Group (Forward), returned from Mojave Viper training early morning Dec. 4.

http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/mcn2000.nsf/main5/0A30CAC27E5915168525723E004ACFFC?opendocument

Dec. 8, 2006; Submitted on
12/08/2006 08:37:09 AM
Story ID#: 20061288379
By Lance Cpl. Thomas J. Griffith, 2nd Marine Logistics Group

The 147 Marines with Service Company departed for Camp Wilson, Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, Calif., Oct. 27 and endured weather and time until training ended Nov. 30.

The training evolution included convoy operations, Military Operations on Urban Terrain, squad rushes, vehicle and entry control points and other training events, said Capt. Michael R. Smith, PSP platoon commander.

“(Mojave Viper) is for better preparing our Marines to go to Iraq and to build camaraderie and unit cohesion,” said Smith, who will be deploying to Iraq for the first time.

Some of the Marines who attended the training feel it went well, including Gunnery Sgt. Mark D. Gifford, PSP staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge.

“I think the Marines got a lot of training they required,” said Gifford.

“It was good training,” said Lance Cpl. Jonathan E. Bradish, an administrative clerk turned security Marine with PSP.

Bradish, whose cousin was killed in Iraq, said he is more prepared for his first tour to Iraq now.

“I want to fight for the cause my cousin fought for – a free Iraq – to be able to say that I’ve done something for him, myself and my country,” he continued.

Although Gifford said he is glad to be back, the PSP Marines will continue their training.

“We’re getting Iraqi culture classes, dental and medical readiness, refresher training on interior guard and standing posts on (vehicle control points and entry control points),” he said.

Verizon Business to Help Provide Videoconference Linking Marines in Iraq With Loved Ones at Camp Pendleton Holiday Event Latest in Company's Efforts to Help Support Military Personnel and Families

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif., Dec. 8 /PRNewswire/ -- As part of its ongoing efforts to help military families and loved ones stay connected around the world, Verizon Business is helping to hold a holiday party at Camp Pendleton for U.S. Marines based in Iraq.

http://www5.sys-con.com/read/311664.htm

By: PR Newswire
Dec. 8, 2006 11:00 AM
Digg This!

At the Dec. 9 event -- hosted by Southern California's commuter rail system, Metrolink -- Verizon Business will team with the Freedom Calls Foundation to facilitate an international videoconference for Marines in Camp Fallujah, Iraq, and their families at Camp Pendleton. The military base is the headquarters of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, which has more than 20,000 Marines in Iraq.

During the videoconference, the Marines in Iraq will be able to watch and listen as their families and friends at Camp Pendleton meet Santa Claus, Mrs. Claus and other costumed characters as a part of a stop by the Metrolink Holiday Toy Express(TM) train - the first ever at Camp Pendleton. Verizon Business is making the overseas communication possible by providing communications links, large screens and technical support for the event. The Freedom Calls Foundation is providing the site-to-site satellite link to the Freedom Calls Center at Camp Fallujah. The Freedom Calls Foundation has built a satellite network dedicated to helping troops in Iraq and Afghanistan to keep in touch with their families and loved ones at home, free of charge.

"This is a very special holiday event that touches the brave women and men and their families here at home," said Jerry Edgerton, group president for Verizon Federal, the sales organization within Verizon Business dedicated to serving federal government customers. "For our troops stationed far away from home, seeing their loved ones celebrate the holidays can help lift the spirits. Verizon Business has made it a tradition to help the troops stay connected during the holiday season as a gesture of appreciation for the sacrifices they make daily."

As a leading communications provider to the federal government and the Department of Defense for more than a decade, Verizon Business leverages its leading-edge technology and global capabilities to support military personnel and their families around the world throughout the year. The company has provided free telephone calls for Iraq-based U.S. Armed Forces personnel for major holidays including Mother's Day, Father's Day, U.S. Independence Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Verizon Business provided the free phone calls from Nov. 22 through 28 and deployed to Iraq a state-of-the-art mobile communications facility outfitted with phones to allow military personnel to make calls. More than 12,000 calls, totaling more than 120,000 minutes, were completed during the Thanksgiving calling promotion. In addition, Verizon Business will be providing free calling from Dec. 22 through Jan. 2.

"Response to our free calling program has been tremendous,'' Edgerton said.

In addition, Verizon Business supports the USO as it provides human services and programs free of charge to the military community to enhance their quality of life.

Verizon Business is supporting the USO of Metropolitan Washington on Dec. 17 at Fort Belvoir, Va., by hosting a Verizon Business Phone Home for the Holidays program in conjunction with the USO's holiday event. Verizon Business will deploy one of its mobile emergency communications vehicles to allow troops and their families to make free local, long-distance and international calls as well as send e-mails.

Verizon Business is a Partner at the USO Gateway Lounge at the Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. In addition, the company has teamed up with the USO of Metropolitan Washington as the Premier Partner of the new USO Lounge at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and as a Partner at the new lounge at Washington Dulles International Airport. Both new lounges are scheduled to open soon. Verizon Business is the first USO-Metro Partner to provide financial support to all three area airport USO lounges.

In addition to providing funding for the lounges, Verizon Business also provides free phone calling anywhere in the world via wireless phones using Verizon Business voice-over-Internet protocol service available in the USO lounges

December 7, 2006

Legacy of 'Mortalis' Battalion Walks in Iraq

The hallowed verses of the 23rd Psalm, incanted in the archaic yet lyrical English of the King James Bible, resonated in the frigid, pre-dawn darkness.

http://newsblaze.com/story/20061207055105tsop.nb/newsblaze/IRAQ0001/Iraq.html

by 2nd Lt. Lawton King

Huddled together around the chaplain in a tight scrum, the elite Marines of 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion received the chaplain's benediction before departing on a convoy that would take them through formidable territory south of Fallujah.

"Being a part of the Recon community is an honor," Navy Lt. Harvey C. Macklin, the 38-year-old battalion chaplain from Holyoke, Colo., said later. "This is where the rubber meets the road."

Macklin, who has served with the battalion since June, commands quite a bit of respect and reverence from the Marines. But it is he who often finds himself awed by the professional performance of the Recon Marines, which is why he opted to accompany them on a several-day-long outing to provide onsite spiritual guidance and prayer services.

"The determination is a step more intense with these guys," he said. "Being able to be there with them as they walk out the door is the perfect match between the chaplain community and the Recon community."

As the Marines dispersed and entered their vehicles to embark on yet another mission, they resembled any other infantry unit that quits Camp Fallujah everyday to scour Fallujah and its environs for insurgent snipers and bomb makers.

But this initial impression, like many of the perceptions that orbit the reconnaissance community, can prove to be deceptively simple.

"The bread and butter of reconnaissance is to find the enemy," said Lt. Col. William Seely, the 39-year-old battalion commander from Saigon, Vietnam. "Find, fix, destroy: it's very simple."

Consequently, the Marines of 3rd Recon continue to launch reconnaissance patrols, not unlike their forefathers in Vietnam, in order to confirm or deny the presence of the enemy, but they now operate within a framework that has evolved tremendously since the time of Hue City and Khe Sanh.

"We are one of many components that gets synergized by the regiment on the modern battlefield," Seely said. "We provide enhanced flexibility to the regimental commander and provide a variety of missions across the spectrum."

Winding through small townships on the outskirts of Fallujah en route to Ferris, a relatively affluent community constructed on the orders of Saddam Hussein to house his engineers, the Marines trained their eyes on anyone who appeared to be overly interested in the convoy.

As they finally entered the gated community, unscathed and intact, a Marine observed in a radio transmission that the town "looks like a Donald Trump project."

Marines dismounted from their vehicles, and beneath the overwatch of their fellow sharpshooters, filed into their patrol base and prepared for the subsequent operations.

Appreciating the respite, some of the Marines knifed open their Meals, Ready to Eat and slipped into brief catnaps. But before long, the call to action came, and the marching orders were soon thereafter issued.

"(We're) trying to get the Iraqi people back on their feet," said Sgt. Chris Davis, a 21-year-old data networking specialist attached to the battalion from Prattville, Ala.

While one of the reconnaissance teams waited for the final word to roll out, Cpl. Jeremy Schmidt discussed the motivations that prompted him to enter the ranks of the swift, silent and deadly.

"I joined the Marine Corps with the intention of becoming a recon," said the 21-year-old point man from Monticello, Minn. "It's not something everyone can do. I do not want to be average."

The following day, Cpl. William Kessler, a 22-year-old assistant radio operator from Austin, Texas, reinforced Schmidt's sentiments.

"It's a good feeling considering that we have a history of 'getting some,'" he said.

History has certainly bestowed her coveted approval upon the battalion and knighted its heroes.

The unit traces its genesis to a scout company assembled during World War II that landed on Iwo Jima in the renowned battle that forged the identity of the modern Marine Corps, according to Seely.

"The battalion did not come into its own until Vietnam," said Seely after mentioning that it "is one of the most decorated battalions from the Vietnam War." In Vietnam alone, he continued, the battalion laid claim to four Medal of Honor recipients.

Though it deployed in support of Coalition Forces in the first Gulf War, the battalion is currently on its first combat tour since the Vietnam conflict, so the Marines are conscious of their contributions to the battalion's impressive resume.

It has a pretty glorious history, said Sgt. Maxwell Scott. But he was more interested in upholding and perpetuating the tradition than extolling it.

"We do the whole variety, the whole gamut (of operations)," said Scott, a 23-year-old team leader from Fort Walton Beach, Fla. At the moment, his team was "checking up on the security of municipal buildings."

For several days, Scott and his team walked the streets of Ferris to gather intelligence regarding the vibrancy of the insurgency or lack thereof and interviewed locals to gauge popular sentiment. Additionally, the Marines "set up OPs and do counter IED missions," Scott said, with designs to neutralize elements hostile to the population and Marines.

Scott, as did Seely, underscored the value of small-unit leadership in reconnaissance operations, a style of decentralized leadership imbued in Marines from the time they cycle through boot camp and officer candidates' school.

"It is the small-unit leader that is the hallmark of the Marine Corps," said Seely. "It is the NCO (noncommissioned officer) that is out there engaging the local populace, meeting with them. When he is faced with the enemy, he knows what to do."

The "strategic corporal" concept, as it was billed by a former commandant, was clearly evident a couple of days later when Marines led by fellow NCOs raided a house in Fuhaylat, rescued a hostage and detained three insurgents, largely proving Cpl. Samuel Meek's forecast correct.

"I think (the Marines) will flush out a few insurgents, and hopefully we will wrap them up," said the prescient 23-year-old nuclear, biological, chemical specialist from Darien, Conn., the night before.

And so, after a successful trip through the valley of the shadow of death, the Reconnaissance Marines demonstrated they fear no evil and returned to Camp Fallujah.

Like small pools of mercury coalescing with each other, the Marines piled out of vehicles and congregated in small groups to conduct their vehicle and weapons maintenance so the next convoy could respond at a minute's notice. Their business finished for the day, they then migrated over to one of the chow halls for their first appealing dinner in days.

"The unit is small by nature, and because of that, there is a very strong sense of camaraderie, brotherhood, teamwork," Seely said.

[email protected]


Injured Marine gets hero's welcome home

Sitting around the dinner table this Thanksgiving, the Leddy family had plenty of reason to be thankful for the past year.

http://www.pioneerlocal.com/schaumburg/news/162944,sc-marine-120706-s1.article

December 7, 2006
By MATT KIEFER Staff Writer

More than anything else, they were thankful that the youngest member of the family, 20-year-old David Leddy, was sitting at the table with them after returning home from Iraq.

Leddy, a lance corporal in the U.S. Marine Corps, had been in Iraq for about two weeks when, on Sept. 29, he was hit by the blast of an improvised explosive device while on assignment.

He lost two fingers on his dominant left hand and a chunk of muscle from his left leg. In the weeks to come, he underwent several surgeries and battled a life-threatening infection.

But that's not what is important right now to his parents, George and Debbie, and his brother, also named George. What is important -- and what the family is so grateful for -- is that David is alive and well and back on his feet. And now he's enjoying the time he has to spend with his family, home for the holidays.

"We have a lot to be thankful for," said his mother, Debbie.

David Leddy returned to Schaumburg two weeks ago and received a hero's welcome. After he was awarded the Purple Heart, the village of Schaumburg declared Nov. 23 "Lance Cpl. David Leddy Day."

Students from Schaumburg High School, where he graduated in 2005, sent him a signed banner saying, "SHS salutes our hero, David Leddy."

He has received letters and e-mails from old friends, neighbors and even people he has never met who want to thank him for his service.

"Everyone's just been telling me I'm a hero and how proud they are of me," Leddy said.

"The support was unbelievable," his mother added.

It's one of the first times the young Marine has been home since he enlisted. He signed up for delayed entry with two other friends, Justin Sher and Gary "Nasty" Nastasowski, just a few days after he turned 18.

"In my opinion, I was born to be in the military," he said of his decision, recalling how in fourth grade he and his friends read books about the military during class. In his freshman year of high school, soon after terrorists attacked the World Trade Center and Pentagon, many of his peers started to talk about enlisting.

It was only months after graduating high school that Leddy started boot camp and went on to infantry school. His unit shipped out three months ago, on Sept. 11.

Everything moved quickly during his training and deployment.

"It's hard to be away from your family and it's kind of lonely," Leddy said. "I just got used to things never being the same."

It helped that Leddy and Sher were assigned to the same unit, and that some of the other Marines had already served in Afghanistan and shared their experiences with the younger troops.

Iraq, Leddy said, "was pretty much what I expected. You see it on the news -- it looks exactly like it does on TV."

The war zone was quiet for the most part, except for the three times Leddy went on patrol "outside the wire" -- meaning outside the protection of the base camp. He was fired upon all three times.

"Whenever you aren't getting shot at or mortared, it seems like nothing's going to happen," he explained. "And then when it does, it's always when you least expect it."

He was on patrol outside the wire Sept. 29 when a sergeant told him to take a picture of some insurgent graffiti on the wall.

As he approached the wall, a bomb buried in the ground nearby detonated and some insurgents opened fire on his unit. Another Marine tied a tourniquet around Leddy's leg, which he believes saved his life.

"I was in shock," he said. "I didn't feel any pain. I didn't even know what happened."

He was transported to a nearby medical facility and subsequently treated at several hospitals in Iraq, Germany and the United States. Debbie, a nurse at Alexian Brothers Medical Center in Elk Grove Village, was at his bedside 16 hours a day for some of his hospital stays.

After nearly two months of medical care, Leddy is on the road to recovery. He is undergoing physical therapy for his hand and his leg is supporting him now.

"I was taking a a couple steps at a time until I worked myself to where I am now, walking," he said.

These days, Leddy has been getting some well-deserved rest and doing what every other Marine does while on leave: seeing friends, going to the movies, "wasting a lot of money," he says.

"It was awesome being with my family" for Thanksgiving, he said. "I loved it."

He's not sure what the rest of his military career will hold but says he would like to stay in infantry.

After the Marines, he plans to go to college and someday become a high school history teacher.

For now, though, he is happy to be back with his family after that close call.

"I'm very lucky," he said.


December 6, 2006

21-year-old Lance Corporal’s desires of leading Marines is fulfilled in Iraq

SA"DAH, Iraq - Lance Cpl. Justin N. Lang is in Iraq leading a team of six Marines through the streets of Karabilah and Sa"dah - two cities just east of the Iraq-Syria border - facing threats such as small arms fire and improvised explosive devices.

http://www.imef-fwd.usmc.mil/imef/imef-public.nsf/sites/rct7

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

Still, he is living his dream, he said.

Lang, a Granger, Ind., native, is serving with Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, in a small U.S. Marine outpost in the northwest region of Iraq. He is three months into a seven-month deployment, and this is his second tour of duty in Iraq since he"s been in the Marine Corps.

"I think being a team leader is one of the hardest jobs here," said Lang. "But I can handle this. I love teaching the new guys the right way to do things."

The battalion, based out of the High Desert in southern California, has operated in the northwest region of Iraq"s Al Anbar Province since September. The battalion is serving its fourth deployment to Iraq since 2003.

The 21-year-old Lang is a fire-team leader and is in charge of five other Marine infantrymen with the battalion"s Lima Company. They spend their days here patrolling Karabilah and Sa"dah, two cities which lie along the Euphrates River in Al Anbar Province.

But Lang"s job is more than just leading patrols in this combat zone. He is responsible for planning his team"s missions, and ensuring his Marines" well-being.

"Maybe I don"t realize it"s a lot of weight being a team leader," said Lang. "But, I know I can keep up with the responsibility."

As a team leader, Lang is accountable for the Marines, their equipment and weapons they take with them "outside the wire" - U.S. military jargon for leaving the safety of their bases to perform their mission.

Aside from combat operations, Lang has to ensure his team members are physically and mentally prepared for anything the team may be tasked to do, everything from security patrols to searching for improvised explosive devices and insurgent activity.

From proper hygiene, to reviewing standard operating procedures, Lang says his Marines" well-being is his number one priority.

"I make sure the guys…are non-complacent while they"re on post, patrols or convoys," said Lang. "That"s what"s most important to me."

Lang, who celebrated his 21st birthday a couple weeks before he set off to Iraq, knew he wanted to join the Marine Corps ever since he was in elementary school. Since he enlisted in 2004, he wanted to serve the Corps in Iraq.

"I like being here better than serving the Corps in the States," said Lang. "This is an 0311"s [rifleman] job. This is what we train to do. I knew I wanted to go to Iraq and that"s why I signed up [enlisted]."

Lang comes from a family of Marines - both his parents served in the Marine Corps, as did his brother and every single male on this father"s side of the family.

His first journey to Iraq began one month after joining Lima Company, 3/4, based at the Marine Corps Air-Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, Calif. There is where he learned to become a good infantryman, he said.
"I was a ‘boot" [new Marine] so I basically had to learn our combat procedures on the job out there," said Lang, who admits that he learned "everything I know" from his team leader, whom he served with in the past.

Lang"s first deployment was a very successful learning experience for him, he said. He learned how to be confident with decisions he made, how not to get complacent in a combat zone, and how to lead patrols, all of which he uses today as a team leader.

"I am here as a team leader because I have the experience," said Lang. "If something goes down [combat action], I guarantee they [his Marines] will look at me for direction."

It was during his first tour of duty in Iraq that he was dubbed, "Brick" - a nick-name which has stuck with him. He earned the nick-name from fellow Marines after he ran into a brick wall, head first, while charging through a chain-linked fence during a patrol in Fallujah last year.

"He always sparks a funny conversation to break the monotony of being out here," said Cpl. Adam F. Kelley, a 20-year-old squad leader from Yacolt, Wash.

Kelley has known Lang for 2-and-a-half years, dating back to their training together at the School of Infantry in Camp Pendleton, Calif.

"From the ‘laundry elves" that steal socks or the funny stories we have out here, [Lang] is a person you can have fun talking to," said Kelley.

Keeping a sense of humor is important for the Marines who face life and death situations everyday here, said Lang. Still, humor never replaces strict professionalism when it comes time for the Marines to perform their various missions.

"I"m a team leader because I care," said Lang, who says he enjoys games of touch football at the Marines" base now and then. "I have enough confidence and self pride for what I do here. I like knowing they [his superiors] can count on me."

Lang said it can be tough worrying about his Marines and making sure everything is perfect, and at the same time, worrying about himself. But, this is what he asked for when he joined the Corps, he said.

After all, being a Marine has been his dream since grade school.

Along with patrolling the streets in search of insurgents, weapons caches and improvised explosive devices along the cities in this Euphrates River region, Lang"s battalion is tasked with mentoring Iraqi soldiers and police so they can provide security for their country on their own.

Lang says he"s content living "patrol-to-patrol" at his company"s outpost. He doesn"t really think about home a lot but he does call home once in a while, he said.

"The only time I call home is to thank my family for the care packages they send - and to keep my mom from having a heart attack," said Lang.

Contact Cpl. Cifuentes at: [email protected]

Local Marines and residents pick out items for Toys for Tots

The Marines have landed. In a Wal-Mart, that is.

http://www.mckinneymessenger.com/articles/2006/12/06/lewisville_leader/news/002news.txt

By Chris Taylor, Staff Writer
(Created: Wednesday, December 06, 2006)

The Marine Corps Reserve is having its annual Toys for Tots drive, and for the third year in a row, is helping Christian Community Action gather toys for the children of the families they serve.

“The purpose of Toys for Tots is to not just give a toy for Christmas, but to give a great toy for Christmas,” said Captain Kenneth Stephens, D/FW Toys for Tots coordinator.

The idea for Toys for Tots began in 1947 Los Angeles when Major Bill Hendricks and a group of Marine Reservists gathered and distributed 5,000 toys to needy children in the area.

That tradition is kept alive today by coordinators like Stephens, who estimates his group of 14 Marines will attend about 200 events between now and Dec. 18. That date is the last day that toys can be donated to the program.

“Toys for Tots works in conjunction with other charities who don’t have the manpower to buy, and distribute that many toys,” he said.

This is the third year CCA and Toys for Tots have teamed up to help out the 2,800 children that CCA serves.

“Three years ago, I was about to close down the Christmas store because we didn’t have anything. We were really in trouble, but we met two Marines who told us about the Toys for Tots. The Marines absolutely saved the day for us,” Maureen Cummings, CCA director of seasonal programs, said.

Cummings said the donations by Toys for Tots have been “phenomenal.”

The Marines work with between 90-100 charities to distribute the toys to needy children. On Friday, Stephens and CCA members were shopping for presents at the Wal-Mart in Lewisville.

“Often the vendors will give discounts (to charities), and the charities don’t have to pay taxes on the toys. So, for every dollar we spend, it’s like getting a $1.15 worth of toys,” he said.

Those donations go a long way to helping organizations like CCA provide a happy Christmas to children who might have to go without.

“Toys for Tots is one of the most rewarding things you can do as a Marine. The kids we serve wouldn’t get a Christmas, otherwise. It makes a huge impact on you, personally,” he said.

Once the toys are bought, they are loaded onto a truck and taken to CCAs Community Room, which will be turned into a toy store, literally, overnight.

Stephens, who lives in and grew up in Fort Worth, said another enjoyable aspect of the program is that the toys stay in the area, and go to local children.

Stephens and his group actually start working in July to prepare, and get donations for everything from toys and cash to trucks and warehouse space to store the toys. After they spend the summer preparing, the Marines then start working seven days a week in September to be ready for the holidays.

The charities will shop for children based on their age and sex. Girls ranging from age 9-12 years are the hardest category to fill, he said.

Cummings agrees.

“Everyone likes to buy for the smaller children, but no one wants to buy for the teens,” she said.

There are many reasons for this Cummings said. First, older children’s gifts are more expensive, meaning they can’t buy as many for the same amount of money, she said. Another reason is that most people have no clue what teenagers want for Christmas.

After the CCA toy store opens, parents will be allowed to cash in their vouchers for gifts for their children. For obvious reasons, children will not be allowed into the toy store.

Cummings said the Marines had authorized 2,200 toys to be donated to CCA.

“This makes our Christmas,” she said.

Toys for Tots is collecting toys and donations until Dec. 18. For information or to find toy-drop locations, visit www.toysfortots.org.


Soldiers in Iraq get chance to pay families a video visit

December 6, 2006 - Many Illinois families are getting a live video visit with loved ones in Iraq thanks to a program set up by the University of Illinois. Several suburban families sat in front of the video screens Wednesday to say hello.

http://abclocal.go.com/wls/story?section=local&id;=4829991

By Paul Meincke

It is anticipation time for the Shers. In minutes they will be talking to their Marine son half a world away.
Did these proud parents flip a coin to see who would get to talk to their son first?

"She talks first," said Keith Sher, Marine's father.

And there he is, Corporal Justin Sher of Hoffman Estates, stationed at al-Asad Air Force base just west of Baghdad. His mom and dad and grandparents wave all the way from Wheaton.

Justin is a combat engineer. He does a lot of building.

"So when you get back you can build me a sun room?" said Keith Sher.

"I don't think so dad," said Corp. Justin Sher, U.S. Marine.

It is time to see and catch up and laugh. Justin's grandma learns he got the Advent calendar and Kool-Aid packets. And Justin gets to see his new nephew do some of his first crawling.

The satellite link-up is the work of a nonprofit group called Freedom Calls, which is teamed up with University of Illinois extension service in DuPage.

In Justin's audience Wednesday is childhood friend and fellow Marine David Leddy, who was badly injured by a hidden explosive device two weeks after arriving in Iraq.

"Just seeing his face, reassuring me that he's safe and everything, so it's real special," said Leddy.

They get to talk for 30 minutes -- all free. And then it's time for another family.

Mom, of course, said she wouldn't cry, but seeing her son so far away is beyond special.

"We told him every time we write to him that even though he's far away for Christmas, he is still close to our hearts," said Kathy Sher, Marine's mom.

Family, friends welcome home wounded Iraq war veteran

FREDERICK -- After 55 days of hospital food, surgeries and physical therapy, a Frederick Marine who has been back in the United States for two months is finally, truly, back home.

http://www.fredericknewspost.com/sections/news/display.htm?storyid=54600

Published on December 6, 2006
By Alison Walker-Baird
News-Post Staff

As Lance Cpl. Christopher Bickel, 25, rode into his Kingsbrook neighborhood with his mother Robin, scores of neighbors were there to greet him, with American flags, fire companies and police departments heralding his return.

Since Oct. 11, he has been recovering at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda after being wounded while deployed to Iraq.

Surprised and stunned by all the fanfare, Cpl. Bickel, wearing a black U.S. Marine Corps jacket, hobbled with crutches over to his friends from United Fire Company No. 3, where he served as a volunteer firefighter before joining the Marines.

"You all wanna come in?" he asked, to chuckles.

One month after deploying to Iraq in September, his second deployment to the war-torn country, an explosion in the truck Cpl. Bickel was riding in caused a tour-ending injury.

Cpl. Bickel, a 1999 Frederick High School graduate, joined the Marines in December 2004. He is a member of the 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, based in Camp Lejeune, N.C.

On Oct. 3, Cpl. Bickel had just left his base in Ramadi when enemy forces shot a homemade rocket through a wall, piercing the truck he was riding in. The attack tore apart his right leg, breaking the femur.

Cpl. Bickel has spent the last two months recovering and recently began turning a fixation screw in his leg to replace a 3 1/2-inch section of bone his doctors had to remove.

He's been gradually regaining his strength, walking with the help of a walker for the first time in mid-November, and lifting himself out of bed for the first time Tuesday, just in time for the trip home. He's already gotten started on months of physical therapy.

Cpl. Bickel settled into his family's living room once neighbors had dispersed, resting after the busy day of preparation to come home. The reality of being home is still sinking in, he said.

While it's great to be back, Cpl. Bickel said, the return is bittersweet -- the rest of his platoon is still serving in Iraq, not expected to come home until spring.


Honoring his service

Lindsey Bickel, 19, Cpl. Bickel's sister, said the family has appreciated the neighborhood's outreach. Neighbors have brought by baskets of goodies for her brother and have often stopped by to ask how he's doing, she said.

"Ever since they heard he was in the hospital, there's been nothing but support," she said.

Kingsbrook neighbors decorated the Bickels' house with a "Welcome Home" sign, and the mailbox on every house down the family's street was adorned with an American flag.

As Robin Bickel pulled into the family's driveway, her son in the back seat, neighbors applauded and gathered around the car, eager to offer their su

pport and thanks to the young Marine.

A Marine in a Fort Detrick based unit stopped by to meet Cpl. Bickel. Cpl. Timothy Brooks is a member of Dam Support Unit 3, which deployed to Iraq on Oct. 11. DSU-3 was previously designated Bravo Company, 4th Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion.

"I'm here to honor my brother for the sacrifice he made on behalf of all of us, the Marine Corps as a whole," Cpl. Brooks said. "We want to let him know how proud of him all his fellow Marines are."

Neighbor Kara Vittetoe said the Kingsbrook community is tight-knit. Her husband, Timothy Vittetoe, is a retired state trooper and organized the homecoming.

"We knew Chris would be coming home," she said. "There was no question we'd do this for a neighbor."


Swift destruction, deadly tactics; 1st Recon lands at Combat Center

MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. (Dec. 6, 2006) -- Small in numbers but strong in warfighting tactics, 1st Reconnaissance Battalion hit the ranges of the Combat Center as they progressed through Mojave Viper training Saturday through Wednesday.

http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/mcn2000.nsf/main5/B3D30A5738323FFA8525723E00749D8C?opendocument

Dec. 6, 2006;
Submitted on: 12/08/2006 04:13:45 PM ;
Story ID#: 2006128161345
By Cpl. George Hruby, MCAGCC

Targets on Range 113 were no match for the Recon Snipers of Company B., using M-40A-3 Scout Sniper rifles, as they took shots of up to 1,000 yards.

“Our versatility is what sets us apart from the normal sniper community,” said Sgt. Caleb P. Hohman of Company B.

Unlike like other jobs in the Corps where a Marine only needs to know his job, Recon Marines have to know the job of basic rifleman, communications, first aid, and much more. In addition, Recon Marines receive more training on how to attack and travel from air and sea.

On the second day of training to engage targets, Recon Marines reviewed gun drills on how to set up the weapons and fire them, followed by immediate action procedures for when the weapons may jam, or get two rounds stuck in the chamber of the weapon, for heavy and medium machine gun systems. To test skill, accuracy and speed, teams competed in gun drills from the rear of humvees, and in the dirt, with tripods and mounts.

“It gave our gunners good experience behind the weapons, and aids them to employ the weapon systems properly,” said Sgt. Robert R. Brukardt of 3rd platoon.

Conducting gun drills for engaging targets on Range 108, Recon Marines practiced patrolling techniques and live-fire drills with 5.56mm and 40mm rounds. What normally takes a platoon of basic riflemen to accomplish, a smaller amount of Recon Marines accomplished twice as fast and accurately.

Plastic green targets referred to as green Ivans, pop straight up and down and in some areas move from left to right. When hit, they fall down, and depending on what setting their on, they pop back up a few seconds later.

By foot, Recon progressed through the range until all green Ivan targets were hit with 360 degree security in place, and the entire range was in the hands of friendly forces. With a debriefing on the pros and cons of their performance during the scenario, team leaders prepared for the next range, the next day with a new plan and similar objectives for the same mission to take out all green Ivans facing the Marines.

Starting in the staging area in front of the range, team leaders took their Recon Marines through “contact front, rear, left and right,” to prepare them for the live fire training they were about to undertake, followed by a safety brief reviewing left and right lateral limits of where Marines are allowed to fire on the range, then a walk through to give a tour of the grounds and answer any questions the Marines may have had about targets. With the range safety officer following close behind to ensure no accidents occurred, teams made a final practice run with full gear on and unloaded weapons. When everyone was ready, weapons were loaded and green Ivan targets on the course assaulted.

Sending a few Marines at a time, a few shoulder fired AT-4 rockets, were fired, at armored targets such as old unserviceable tanks, at the end of the day live M203 grenade launcher rounds were fired as well.

Over this four day training evolution, Recon Marines practiced movements, different methods of destroying targets and threats, and worked within their teams and with each other.

MICHIGAN'S BAND OF BROTHERS: The road erupts and hearts stop, After weekend gunfights, Alpha Co. hit by blast outside Fallujah

Free Press staff writer Joe Swickard and photojournalist David P. Gilkey are in Iraq covering the 1st Battalion of the 24th Marine Regiment, the largest deployment of Michigan Marines in the war. On Monday, they were on patrol with Alpha Company when a roadside bomb exploded. Here is their account.

WEST OF FALLUJAH, Iraq -- Rolling slow and southwestward along Route Boston in the late afternoon Monday, Lance Cpl. Tom Stellema looked closely at the patch covering one of the many old roadside bomb holes that pit the pavement.

http://www.freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20061206/NEWS06/612060351

December 6, 2006
BY JOE SWICKARD

"That's weird," Stellema, the 22-year-old lead driver in the four-vehicle patrol, thought to himself.

Mentally comparing the patch to how it had looked dozens of other times, Stellema thought, "Hell, no. That's not right."

The road erupted, a roaring flame blasting broken concrete and dust into the air.

The trailing vehicles in Alpha Company's patrol slammed on their brakes as the lead gun truck disappeared in a dark cloud shot through with red and yellow fire. Some 3,000 meters away, the Marines at Observation Post Trestle -- a highway overpass where you can see for miles across the desert -- gaped at the explosion.

After dozens of patrols to keep insurgents at bay in and around Fallujah over the last two months, this was the biggest roadside bombing the Michigan-based 1st Battalion of the 24th Marine Regiment had seen.

It had been a busy couple of days for the 1/24th. Its units had been in gunfights with insurgents on Saturday and Sunday.

And now this.

Thrown into the air

No one doubts the danger presented by the roadside bombs: IEDs -- improvised explosive devices in the military vernacular -- regularly kill. More than 1,000 U.S. troops have died from them since the war in Iraq began, according to Iraq Coalition Casualty Count, a Web site that tracks the wounded and dead.

The one that tore through Route Boston west of Fallujah on Monday was powerful enough to fling Alpha Company's armed vehicle -- carrying Stellema, Sgt. Andrew Blackburn, turret gunner Lance Cpl. Byron Bailey and Free Press photographer David P. Gilkey -- into the air.

"Frickin' bomb!" Maj. Daniel Whisnant cried out to the men in the Humvee behind Stellema's gun truck. Twenty-five yards behind the first vehicle, rocks and chunks of concrete rained down on the second, concussion from the blast rocking backpacks and other gear inside.

"Frickin' A, Major," answered his driver Lance Cpl. Ryan Goward.

Bouncing down, the lead vehicle -- Vic 1 -- slammed to the road, its right doors blown open and the roof separated from the Humvee's frame. Fist-sized rubble was a foot deep inside the cabin and all was still.

"A certain silence came over us," Blackburn said.

From the second vehicle, as the dust settled, a long, dark form on the pavement next to the lead gun truck became visible. It looked like a body. Then Blackburn piled out of the vehicle with his rifle and the form was identified as a man-sized slab of pavement, ripped from the road.

Moving swiftly, Whisnant and Marines from the third and fourth vehicles spilled onto the road -- guns up -- ready to protect the halted patrol and looking for the triggerman who had detonated the bomb and the wires that led from the explosive.

Lance Cpl. Ryan Johnson heard something snap and ping.

"Damn," thought Johnson, 21, of Davison, "they're shooting at us."

Whisnant pushed his men out to confront or flush the hidden bombers. A couple more shots snapped at the Marines before two cars drove away on a road on the far side of a field and several canals.

The Marines were lucky: Everyone was alive. No major injuries.

Bailey of Grand Rapids, who'd been momentarily knocked out while standing at his turret post, was bleeding where debris had peppered his face. One of his machine guns was blown off the turret. But his protective glasses saved his eyes and his vest shielded his body.

The others were unharmed -- but their ears would ring for a day or more.

"This is my birthday -- I'm 22 -- and they're all good to go," Goward, of Grand Rapids, said Monday. "That's a real good gift."

100 pounds of danger

The bomb, planted inside a once-repaired old blast hole, left a crater 8 feet deep and 20 feet across. According to an ordnance team, it held at least 100 pounds of high explosives.

That and other information about the attack was radioed back to a crew known as the Hobbits, Alpha Company's cadre of computer wizards, who added it to a growing -- and self-designed -- database that enables the Alpha's intelligence unit to analyze and counter insurgent activity in the region.

In the meantime, Whisnant, from Kalamazoo, pushed his patrol forward to resupply Observation Post Trestle, as planned. From there, it was to Taqaddum Air Base, home to a fully equipped trauma hospital, where Bailey could get medical attention.

"I came here wanting to know what everything feels like," said Stellema, sitting in the hospital waiting area. "I hate hearing about something. I want to do it."

"You're not nervous when it's happening," the Grand Rapids cement worker added. "Your training comes right through -- assess the situation and assault; let's bring the fight to them."

Bailey and Stellema are best buddies.

"We have the same attitude: Gung ho," he said. With Bailey in the examination area, Whisnant and the other men visited Sgt. Kedrick Doezema, recovering from a gunshot wound taken in one of the weekend fights south of Alpha's base.

The bullet passed through Doezema's right leg, missing the joint and bones. A recent police academy graduate, Doezema, 24, of Grand Rapids was glad the wound wouldn't stymie his search for a law enforcement job after his deployment.

He was feeling better and had a pile of snacks: "Hey," he said, ragging on his buddies, "what happened to my gear? Some guy is wearing my sunglasses now."

The hospital kept Bailey for observation and he would get rest and light duty for a while.

Moonlight patrol

Late Monday, under a full moon, the patrol pushed back up Route Boston to its base. Retracing its route, the patrol stopped so a detail of men could scrutinize the roadway, the vehicles crawling along beside them.

Meters crept by at a beachcomber's pace. Inside the vehicles, men shifted as heavy flak jackets ground into their hips. The seats are padded, but numbing under the weight of armor, weapons and ammo.

"IED!" one of the detail shouted over the radio.

Another hidden bomb was found in another old shell hole.

"Man, they sure don't like us around here," Goward said.

The patrol radioed for an explosives team. It would take awhile, as the team was busy disarming a bomb across the Euphrates River inside Fallujah.

Whisnant and the others spent the time scouting the area for other weapons.

The team finally got there, two hours later. They were riding in a Cougar -- a monstrous armored truck complete with robots and scads of additional high-tech gadgets. The team eyeballed the bomb, a powerful anti-tank mine, wrapped in a black plastic bag.

Then a caterpillar-tracked robot plucked it up and carried it into the desert just off the roadway.

"Ninety seconds to detonation," OED broadcast to the Alpha patrol.

"Sixty seconds to detonation."

Goward switched his digital pocket camera to video.

"This is going to be the first thing on my disc," he said.

A bright ball of flame lit the desert.

Target of opportunity

Tuesday morning came with news that Route Boston was active even after the patrol was tucked in the Alpha's base for the night: Spotters from Observation Post Trestle saw someone at work on the pavement near the bomb sites about 3 a.m.

Several rounds from an automatic grenade launcher were fired at the figure, smothering it in explosions.

A morning patrol found large blood pools at the site.

Whisnant liked the result but wanted more: A hired bomb-planter probably died, but the bomb-maker is still out there.

He said his patrol was most likely just a target of opportunity. The real target was probably an Iraq army convoy also on the road. Even if he had been the target, however, road bombings are not his unit's primary focus.

"They are trying to pull me out onto the road and being a target instead of doing what we want to do," he said. "And that's going after them where they sleep at night. ... We are going to take away the cloak of secrecy from the insurgents."

"We'll do some things," he said. "We'll fill up the holes in the road and move on. No one lives and sleeps out on that road. We're going to be where the people are."

A fact here, a dropped name there or a whispered aside -- all of it will go into the Alpha Hobbits' computers to be crunched, chewed over and acted on.

"We'll find out who it is. My message I want to send for my Marines is, 'Let's kill that guy that's trying to kill us.' "

And when they find him, Whisnant said, the Marines are going to bring everything they have.

"I don't want a fair fight."

Contact JOE SWICKARD at [email protected]

Hub officer gets a hero's welcome home

Terrence "Shane" Burke wanted a quiet reunion with his Boston police family last evening.

http://www.boston.com/news/local/articles/2006/12/06/hub_officer_gets_a_heros_welcome_home/

By Suzanne Smalley
Globe Staff
December 6, 2006

He would be met at the airport by his parents, visit his South Boston precinct, and in a few weeks return to a Texas military hospital to get a permanent prosthesis for his left leg, part of which was blown off by an insurgent's bomb in Fallujah while he served as a Marine sergeant.

His fellow officers would have none of that.

Instead, they stopped traffic in South Boston to ensure Burke received a hero's welcome. He and his family were greeted at the station house by about 50 Marines, some from his company, and about 150 Boston police officers on foot, motorcycles, and horseback.

An American flag, bathed in light and suspended between two Boston fire engine ladders, hung high above West Broadway. A crowd of South Boston residents turned out, as well as the young children of several officers.

As several officers played the Marine Corps Hymn on bagpipes, on- and off-duty officers alike lined up and saluted a smiling Burke, who used crutches to walk to the station doors.

"We wouldn't miss this," said Officer Matt Morris, who works the overnight shift in Mattapan and who attended the Police Academy with Burke. "He's a tough kid."

Mayor Thomas M. Menino and new Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis III greeted the Burke family as a police photographer and a phalanx of television cameras recorded the moment for posterity. "He's a hero," the mayor said. "A Boston police officer goes over there, doesn't ask any questions . . . to protect our freedoms."

Burke, 28, did not speak publicly before going inside the station to spend time with fellow officers.

He was overwhelmed by the welcome, Superintendent-in-Chief Albert Goslin said later.

"He's unbelievably thrilled by the reception he got," Goslin said. "He wants quiet time with people who mean a great deal to him, who he's been communicating with."

Officers have also organized a party for Burke at Florian Hall for tomorrow night.

Burke's family is well known in Dorchester. T. J. Burke , his father, was named honorary Dorchester mayor for the annual parade. Burke served in the Marines for four years before entering the Police Academy last year. And when his Marine buddies went to Iraq while he was an officer patrolling South Boston, he volunteered to go as well last December.

Burke wrote letters to friends in the department from Iraq and the rehabilitation hospital. "I've come to realize people are people no matter where you travel, and sometimes a smile and a wave can change someone's perspective," he wrote in April.

Five months later, he suffered serious burns and lost part of his leg when a roadside bomb tore apart his Humvee.

Boston Fire Lieutenant Jim O'Brien, who was attached to Burke's unit as a Navy medic, said the Humvee was burning, so he and other Marines had to drag Burke and another injured Marine away while under heavy fire from insurgents.

Burke had two collapsed lungs and was struggling to breathe, said O'Brien, who said he tied a tourniquet on Burke's leg because he was losing blood quickly.

"I couldn't tell him his leg was gone," he said. "You start talking about something else."

Last night, O'Brien and other men from Burke's company finally got to see their friend after months apart. O'Brien said he hugged Burke and said, "Good to see you, bro ."

Dorothy Faherty, Burke's mother, said he was so eager to see his fellow officers that he wanted to go straight to the precinct from Logan International Airport.

Burke's fellow officers couldn't wait, either. About a dozen of them stood in the lobby and outside the district station several hours before his scheduled arrival.

Officer Dudley Hill, who supervised Burke when he was a rookie, said Burke is beloved by everyone at the precinct.

Hill said that, like many officers, he was distraught when he heard Burke had been seriously injured. "When I first heard the news, my heart was pierced," Hill said.

But Burke's upbeat attitude about his injuries has kept other officers optimistic. "Terry is the type of guy you'd want on all your radio calls," Hill said. "He's one of those guys if you're in the field and you call him, you know he's coming."

Hill said it is unclear whether Burke will be able to return to active duty, but if anyone can do it with a prosthetic leg, he can. "The type of guy Terry is, I can just see him doing it again," Hill said. "He's a great cop."

Goslin said that another officer serves on active duty despite having a prosthesis. He said he saw no reason Burke could not serve as well.

Burke has to return to Texas to get his prosthesis, Faherty said, but he could not wait any longer to come home to Boston and see his friends. "He said, 'Ma, next time I'm back, I'll have my leg,' " Faherty said.

Suzanne Smalley can be reached at [email protected]


Student remembers family of lost Marine

SCOTTVILLE — A Scottville girl is spending her allowance to make Christmas merrier for the family of a Marine who died in Iraq.

http://www.ludingtondailynews.com/news.php?story_id=34082

By KEVIN BRACISZESKI
Daily News Staff Writer
Posted: 12-6-2006

The Marine was 2nd Lt. Mark Gelina. He died while seeking out Iraqi insurgents in the city of Rawah, Iraq, during the first week of November. He left behind his wife, Stacey, and two children, 19 months and six years old.

“I felt really bad,” 12-year-old Andrea Miller said about learning the man she had chosen to be her pen pal had died. Andrea said she felt sorry for Gelina’s family and wished he had been able to go home and spend time with them during the holidays.

She picked platoon leader Mark Gelina as her Marine pen pal because he shares the same name as her father, and she is thankful to have her family as Christmas approaches.

So, when her classmates in Phil Quinlan’s class began collecting gifts to send to their pen pals in Iraq, Andrea took her savings and spent it on candy and gifts for the Gelina family.

“I got them candy canes and bought each one a gift … and the mother a pin,” she said, adding that she also bought them cocoa mix, taffy and other candy.

Andrea had spent about $20 on the presents by early afternoon Tuesday, and planned to go shopping with her mother again that night. Money for the presents came from Andrea’s allowance, pop can refunds and money she earned working for her grandmother, Barb Frazier.

Quinlan said his classes take on projects each year and this year’s project is to adopt the Marine company headed by his brother, Maj. Sean Quinlan.

Students chose their pen pals from the list of Marines in the unit, and Andrea said she wrote Gelina a letter and was waiting for a response when she learned about his death.

“The company had lost two others to a roadside bomb a week earlier,” Quinlan said.

He said Gelina’s accident occurred when he fell about seven feet and died while trying to set a sniper position in Rawah. Quinlan said his brother had just talked to Gelina before the accident.

“I was looking forward to writing back and forth with him,” Andrea said about her feelings before the accident.

Now she has written to Stacey Gelina and has prepared a box of goodies for Stacey and her children.

“I’m hoping I will get a letter back so I would know how the package was,” she said. “I would like to meet them some day. I’d be in shock meeting a soldier’s family. It would be exciting and fun.”


[email protected]


TH Marine loses leg after Humvee blasted by improvised explosive device

TERRE HAUTE — Mike Watson struggled to hold back tears as he spoke Wednesday via telephone about his son, Lance Cpl. Chad M. Watson.

http://www.tribstar.com/news/local_story_340220604.html

December 06, 2006
By Howard Greninger
The Tribune-Star

Nearly 60 minutes earlier, the 23-year-old Marine from Mt. Zion, Ill., began a third surgery, this time in the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.

It’s a journey that began on Nov. 29, when Chad was trapped in a burning Humvee that had been blasted by an improvised explosive device. Chad and the other Marines in the Humvee were on patrol in the Al-Anbar Province of Fallujah, Iraq. He was deployed to Iraq in September out of Terre Haute’s Marine Corps facility on Fruitridge Avenue.

“He knew his right leg was gone immediately. He could see the bone,” his father said. Three other Marines in the vehicle were injured, some suffering broken bones.

A soldier behind Watson helped pull him from the burning Humvee. But, in doing so, Watson’s left ankle and heel were severely damaged.

“Chad never lost consciousness. They said Chad was still instructing other corpsmen on what to do,” his father said. “They had to get him out fast as the 50-caliber rounds were, as they said, cooking off. The heat of the vehicle burning was causing the shells to explode.”

Chad is the son of Mike and Gina Watson of Mt Zion, Ill. His grandparents are Joyce and Jim Watson and Dane and Martha Cox, all of Montezuma. His uncle, Randy Watson, lives in West Terre Haute.

“It has been horrible, but I got a super family,” said Joyce Watson, whose son, Mike, is the father of Chad Watson. “I woke up at 4 a.m. sobbing, but we are dealing with it. We know he is going to make it. We are so happy he is alive.”

Chad is a 2001 graduate of Mt. Zion High School and was quarterback of the football team. He joined the Marine Corps Reserves in 2004 while attending Indiana University on a partial wrestling scholarship.

Mike Watson said his son showed him his wounds for the first time on Wednesday in Bethesda.

“When everybody was gone [from the room], he said, ‘Dad, I got to show this, are you ready for it? This is not going to stop me from doing anything. As, soon as they get me out of here and to Walter Reed [Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.], we’re going to put [high-tech prosthetics] through the paces.’”

Chad “is coping very well. Mentally and physically, I can’t even imagine where this is coming from, it’s beyond me. I know I couldn’t do it … ,” his father said, pausing and wiping his tears. “But if he can do this, I can do this, too.”

Chad also suffered shrapnel wounds to his face, including his eyelid, and to his right arm.

“His eye is very swollen. They told us his eye will be fine, no vision damage. So he is very, very lucky there,” his father said. “He is so proud of his USMC tattoo on his arm. He has shrapnel above it, below it and on one end. He was joking that at least it didn’t get his tattoo,” his father said.

Mike Watson learned that his son had been injured last week when contacted by 1st Sgt. Troy Euclide.

Euclide said he used experience from an Oct. 15 incident to talk to the Watson family. In October, Sgt. Brock Babb of Evansville and Lance Cpl. Josuha Hines of Casey, Ill., both based out of Terre Haute, were killed. In the same vehicle Lance Cpl. Josh Bleill, from Greenfield, lost both of his legs.

“I had to go smoke some cigarettes and drink some coffee when I got the news about Chad and I am not a smoker,” Euclide said. “It is not a nice thing to do when you have to inform people that their loved one is very seriously injured,” Euclide said.

“I just let the Watson family know what to expect based on what happened to Josh Bleill,” Euclide said. “Chad is a stud and he will be back, probably, running a perfect score of 300 on the physical fitness test, running three miles in 18 minutes or less.”

Mike Watson said Euclide helped him personally deal with his son’s injuries.

“First Sgt. Troy Euclide has nothing but praise for me and my family. The professionalism and courtesy that he … [pausing to gather himself] … showed me was fantastic,” Mike Watson said.

In addition to his parents and a sister, Chad’s girlfriend, Jillian Kinsella, a graduate student at Eastern Illinois University, visited him at Bethesda on Wednesday.

“His girlfriend is a beautiful, athletic girl. She is majoring in cardiac rehab. They are both physical fitness nuts. They are a beautiful couple,” his father said.

“They plan to dance together at some weddings of Jillian’s friends,” Mike Watson said, “and he still wants to run a marathon.”

Chad attended Indiana University for three years and is finishing up his fourth year of college at Eastern Illinois University. He is a semester shy of finishing, studying psychology with an emphasis on criminology, his father said.

The Watson family has a blog at www.chadmwatson.blogspot.com. to allow people to e-mail the family and track Chad Watson’s progress.

Howard Greninger can be reached at (812) 231-4204 or [email protected]

Southern Calif.-based Marines combine holiday spirit with esprit de corps in northwestern Iraq

AL QA"IM, Iraq, - Tis" the first week of December and Americans have already began stirring up the holiday spirits - even in Iraq.

http://www.imef-fwd.usmc.mil/imef%2FInfolineMarines.nsf/0/1457A65EC5496477C325723C005DE59E?OpenDocument

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


U.S. Marines and sailors with 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, a southern Calif.-based battalion, didn"t have to dig deep for memories of sipping egg nog, decorating pine trees and listening to "Jingle Bell Rock."

Not only did the Marines bring their military gear to Iraq, but also their holiday season memories that they've accrued since childhood. They've recently been decking their living space with holiday morale boosters - decorations and good holiday spirit.

The battalion has operated in the northwestern region of Iraq"s Al Anbar Province, just miles shy from the Iraq-Syria border, since arriving here in September.

Daily life for these Marines means patrolling dangerous streets through Euphrates River cities in this region of about 125,000 people. Risking their lives alongside Iraqi Security Forces, the Marines are in search of improvised explosive devices, insurgents and weapons caches.

But it"s December, and Christmas is just around the corner. Some Marines are taking time to send holiday cards back home to family and friends. Others are busy opening countless care packages and presents they"re receiving in the mail.

Lance Cpl. Scott C. Creen, a 20-year-old Marine from Chisago City, Minn., says he"s sending Christmas cards to his family and friends state-side "just to remind them that there is Christmas in Iraq."

"I am sort of sending my family and some of my friends my ‘season"s greetings," because I won"t be there to celebrate the holidays with them," said Creen, who drives a humvee during daily patrols in Iraq.

"Most importantly, I am writing to them - my mom, the guys [friends] and the lovely gal [his girlfriend] - to tell them I miss them, and I will be missing them especially during this month," he said.

Regardless of the daily patrols and long work hours, the Marines here say they are making time to celebrate the holidays. After all, December is the one time of the year they get to take part in holiday festivities they"ve celebrated since they were children.

"Egg nog by the fire and ‘the Nutcracker" is what I am missing out on," said Creen. "I"d either be doing something like that right now or snowboarding."

Inside the living quarters of a U.S. Marine outpost in Al Ubaydi - one of dozens of small towns just miles east of the Iraq-Syria border - Marines and sailors put up Christmas lights, garlands of tinsel and other winter seasonal ornaments. Stockings and boot socks hang from makeshift fireplaces made out of the same plywood they use to make their furniture.
"Our place is starting to look like home," said Cpl. Joshua V. Pfaff, a St. Charles, Mo., native, describing the holiday decorations the Marines put up in their living quarters.

Still, holiday decorations are no substitute for the real thing back home, he says.

"Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night. It"s dark but I see my Christmas lights and think that I am home," said Pfaff. "But, a few seconds later, I realize I"m in Iraq."

Nonetheless, Pfaff and the Marines that live with him have the "Christmas spirit," he said. Even though it is tough being away from home during these times, he said he"s glad that he can celebrate the season"s holidays with his buddies here - a new "home away from home."

For the battalion"s India Company, which is based at one of many of the Marines" remote forward battle positions along the Euphrates River here, the Marines face such threats as small-arms fire and IEDs. They"re getting better at spotting IEDs - bombs emplaced by insurgents to attack Coalition and Iraqi forces - and are finding many of the hidden explosives before they go off. The Marines are also capturing more and more insurgents, which means less "bad guys" on the streets.

The Marines also mentor Iraqi police and soldiers, who they share their outpost with, imparting them with vital military tactics and procedures so they can maintain security in Iraq on their own.

When they"re not "outside the wire," some of the Marines are preparing for the holidays - setting up ornaments, writing cards and watching movies like "The Christmas Story," is a good way to break the monotony of everyday operations here, said Pfaff, who is spending his first Christmas away from home.

"If I were at home, I"d probably be helping my mom decorate the [Christmas] tree," said Lance Cpl. Raul Bravo, a Las Vegas native. "I"m still keeping the same spirit here though, I just don"t have to worry about breaking those $50 ornaments my mom gets."

The Marines receive the ornaments in care packages sent from family members and friends. The amount of incoming care packages has increased greatly since the week of Thanksgiving, said Lance Cpl. Blair Evans, a Holiday, Utah, native, and the battalion"s mail clerk.

"We"ve been getting loads and loads of boxes this week, and we"re expecting so much more this month," said Evans, who says he has already sorted through several tons of packages since Thanksgiving.

When the Marines pick up their mail and find a stack of boxes awaiting them, "Wow!" is usually the first word out of their mouths, said Evans.

"These packages keep the Marines smiling," added Evans. "When they come to pick up their mail and see that their section has boxes stacked, they go nuts."

The end of the holiday season means the battalion has surpassed the halfway point of the deployment. Even though combat operations won"t cease for any holiday, the Marines here say they hope for silent nights.

Contact Cpl. Cifuentes at: [email protected]

December 5, 2006

Ramadi Marines on the front line against Al-Qaeda in Iraq

RAMADI, Iraq (AFP) - From the vantage point of the 17th Street security station, the grim vista of downtown Ramadi stretched out before Marine Corporal Anthony Bell in an apocalyptic expanse of bullet-riddled buildings.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20061205/wl_mideast_afp/iraqusunrestramadi_061205183657

by Thibauld Malterre
Tue Dec 5, 1:36 PM ET


"You have to watch for everything," said Bell of Alpha company, who at 21 is on his second tour in Iraq. "We already had different types of bombs, sniper attacks and a lot of small arms fire."

As he described his life in the shattered downtown of this urban battleground between US forces and Al-Qaeda in Iraq's restive western Al-Anbar province, a fusillade of shots rings out, followed by an explosion.

Just 150 meters (yards) away, Observation Post Firecracker was briefly attacked, with the gunfire ending almost as soon as it started and leaving the marines with no clear targets to fight back against.

"They are harassing us on a daily basis," said another marine, who likened the attacks to a kind of local propaganda campaign. "We know they're ineffective, but the people around here don't."

"We would welcome any firefight the terrorists want to engage in," he added.

Instead of one pitched battle, however, the life of the marines here is one of constant tension and sudden, brief attacks, as they try to regain control over one of Iraq's most dangerous cities.

The 1st battalion of the 6th regiment is just the latest marine unit to take on the harsh job of securing Ramadi's downtown -- a vast sea of drab low-rise pockmarked buildings, punctuated by the occasional minaret.

Earlier in the year, entire neighborhoods of the city had been effectively given up to the insurgents, who chose Ramadi as the place to declare their Islamic Caliphate back in October.

But now, thanks to outposts such as Firecracker and the 17th street station, the marines are back.

According to US military officials, the spike in casualties over the past few months in Al-Anbar province -- the scene of the lion's share of American war dead -- was because of this push back into the city.

"We used to have to fight to go to this station," recalled Captain Sean Dynan whose regular supply runs out to Alpha company keep these marines in food and equipment.

"It is still a bad part of the city. We take extra precautions when we go in, but it is in no way off limits."

The marines do foot patrols in the area, both day and night, moving in erratic zig zags across the trash-strewn streets and occasionally breaking into a short run across intersections.

For the most part, the marines have a pretty negative opinion of the marksmanship of Iraqi gunmen -- whether insurgent or soldier -- dubbing their fully automatic approach with their assault rifles "spray and pray".

But it is the insurgents' small but elite bands of snipers, many of whom, rumor has it, are from outside Iraq, that keep the marines shifting from foot to foot in an effort to reduce their vulnerability to these hidden shooters.

"Make it difficult to be a target, don't stay long on the road, and go to see people inside their houses," Lieutenant Jared Towles told his men before the patrol.

"I told them that not everybody's bad, even if it is sometimes hard to remember that because insurgents are part of the population, but a lot of families live in the area," added the 25-year-old officer.

The men prefer to make their patrols after dark, when their night vision goggles give them a tactical advantage and their only companions are the packs of feral dogs that roam the deserted streets of the city.

As difficult as it seems in a such a complicated battlefield, the marines said they go out of their way to avoid civilian casualties -- not always easy when the attacks are sudden and seemingly come from nowhere.

"When we're on patrol, people will come up to us and say 'I've had enough' and we tell them, 'it's you who can stop it, send your sons to the police,'" said Alpha company commander Captain Kyle Sloan.

"I ask my marines to be very careful at what you shoot at. We only shoot when we know we're gonna kill or wound an insurgent. People have seen that, and now children are playing football nearby," he said.

Other units are not always so careful. Last Tuesday, army soldiers in the northeast of the city fired tank rounds into a building from which insurgents were shooting at them and killed five Iraqi girls, including an infant.

Five minutes' drive from Firecracker is a defunct school for disabled children that has been turned into a station for the city's fledgling police force, which will one day have to take over security duties from the marines.

In a firefight not far from the station a few months ago, several civilians were wounded in the crossfire and taken by the marines to their base hospital -- producing a marked change in the local attitude towards them.

"We treated civilian casualties back in September, and after we started doing that they stopped firing at us for a month-and-a-half," said Dynan.

In recent weeks, though, the shooting has started once again.

December 4, 2006

Students will make holidays brighter for Marines overseas

GENEVA - - U.S. Marines stationed in Iraq will get an extra treat this holiday season when they receive goody boxes from Assumption School of the Blessed Virgin Mary students.

http://www.starbeacon.com/local/local_story_338123042?start:int=0


December 04, 2006
Star Beacon
By LISA DAVIS
Staff Writer

This was the first year the school decided to collect items for troops stationed overseas. Principal Cheryl Woodward said the school will make it an annual event whether the soldiers are overseas or home.

The students collect items for the men as part of a community service project. The school chose to adopt 100 U.S. Marines because one of Assumption's former students, Michel Laurello is a Marine and stationed in Iraq, Woodward said.

It is his unit the school adopted, she said.

Each Marine will receive his own box of goodies consisting of snacks, crossword books, batteries, stationary items, as well as other items. Students were asked to bring in items and to write letters to the men.

Second-grade student Josie Yeager brought in Zip lock bags and crackers for the Marines, she said. Yeager and other classmates wrote letters to the servicemen.

"I told them my name and that I was in second grade," she said.

Yeager also thanked the men for what they are doing overseas, she said.

"We wished them a happy holiday," said Zoe Ebersole, another second-grader.

On Friday, the students boxed all the items collected.

First-grader Olivia McBee said she was having fun.


Monetary donations from parents and parishioners was used to buy items and will cover the shipping cost. The men also had requested taco sauce soTaco Bell donated a box full of it's mild and hot sauce, Woodward said. Once the boxes are packed they will be sent out Tuesday to the servicemen.

Home for the holidays

Four-year-old Hayleigh Velgersdyk squealed as she ran to jump into her father’s arms Sunday outside the Area 1 Gym at Camp Lejeune.

http://www.jdnews.com/SiteProcessor.cfm?Template=/GlobalTemplates/Details.cfm&StoryID;=46920&Section;=News

December 04,2006
PATRICIA SMITH
DAILY NEWS STAFF

It was something she had missed these past few months while her dad was deployed with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, her mother, Emily Velgersdyk said.

Emily Velgersdyk would now allow such “rough play,” and there was a reason for that.

After Hayleigh proudly told her father that she had cleaned her room, she then introduced her new little brother, Caiden.

“How’s it going mister?” Petty Officer Jared Velgersdyk tenderly asked as he held his 23-day-old son for the first time.

“I wish I would have been there for the birth,” Velgersdyk said, as Caiden stared, wide-eyed, into his father’s face.

Asli Wright didn’t squeal, but she certainly ran into the arms of her husband, Staff Sgt. John Wright, and covered him with hugs and kisses.

It was the first deployment the couple, wed 1½ years ago, has gone through since their marriage.

“I’m so excited; I’m so happy,” Asli Wright said.

They were among numerous families reunited Sunday as more than 1,000 Camp Lejeune Marines arrived home from a six-month deployment to the Middle East that was highlighted by the evacuation of some 15,000 U.S. citizens from war-torn Lebanon.

It was not what the MEU anticipated when it left the United States on June 8.

While the Marines had spent the previous six months preparing for a number of possible missions, they expected to return in full to Iraq, where many of them had served in 2004.

“Nobody expected to go to Lebanon, that was the furthest thing from our minds,” said Col. Ron Johnson, the MEU commander.

But when fighting broke out July 12 between Israel and the militant group Hezbollah, the MEU cut short training exercises in Jordan and raced to Lebanon.

“We kind of knew that we were the only ones available to do that and that’s kind of our specialty — to evacuate citizens from a war zone,” Johnson said.

The modern, urbanized environment of Beirut made the mission different from fighting in remote areas of Iraq and Afghanistan, Johnson said.

“When you have a war going on it’s kind of surreal,” Johnson said.

The Marines could see how scared the people were, especially the children, Johnson said. So many of those evacuated were children of Lebanese-Americans, visiting their grandparents for the summer, he said.

When help arrived, the children’s fears turned to smiles, Johnson said.

“Although it’s an old expression, once the Marines show up, situation’s well in hand,” he said.

The Marines shuttled evacuees on the USS Nashville and USS Whidbey Island to Cyprus, where the U.S. State Department took over.

On the Nashville, the Marines brought out their Gameboys and Nintendos so the children could play, said Sgt. Major Andy Crout.

“They were just like kids; you could see the bombs dropping on the horizon; it was all new to them,” said Capt. Brian Cillessen, who went ashore in Lebanon for 10 days from the USS Iwo Jima.

The Iwo Jima, the largest of the seven-vessel Iwo Jima Expeditionary Strike Group, stayed offshore during the evacuations and acted as the base for communications and control planning for the mission, Cillessen said.

“It was kind of like Katrina,” said Cpl. Tyrone Griffin, who went ashore in Lebanon from the Iwo Jima to help a group of 25 leave on the Nashville. “It was tragic to see all the people having to leave the way they did.”

But being able to do something about it gave Griffin a sense of satisfaction.

“It’s always rewarding helping somebody, and to help fellow Americans is always rewarding,” Griffin said.

The MEU also participated in training exercises with Pakistani naval forces, while its AV-8B Harriers flew combat missions in Afghanistan. Later, elements of the MEU saw combat in Iraq, where there was one casualty.

Cpl. Gary Koehler, a 21-year-old assaultman from Ypsilanti, Mich., was killed by a roadside bomb Nov. 1.

Marines, Steelers fans score with Christmas toys for tots, Collection a winning play to bring smiles to children

Talk about a refreshing turnabout in circumstances.

http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/06338/743324-66.stm

Monday, December 04, 2006

By David Templeton, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Recently Marine Lance Cpls. Christopher Snedeker, 21, of New Castle, and Brian Thatcher, 21, of Jefferson Hills, were stationed in Iraq, where they trusted no stranger and kept eyes peeled for people ready to do them harm.

But yesterday, they found themselves standing outside Heinz Field with their Marine eyes peeled, but this time for people bearing toys and seeking only to help others.

In all, 15 Marines reservists from Bravo Company, a military police unit based in North Versailles, were stationed outside Heinz Field before the Steelers game to collect toys and donations for the Marine Corps Toys for Tots campaign and Goodfellows Toy Fund.

What the Marines discovered were people not only anxious to donate toys, but to pump their hands to thank them for serving their country and helping needy children.

"It's definitely a different experience," Cpl. Snedeker said, noting his unit was hit by seven explosive devices in Iraq. "We talk about it. We were over there fighting for our lives in a place where you don't trust anyone. Now we're collecting toys for little kids."

Yesterday, the Marines expected to fill a 7-ton truck with donated new toys before the game. The Steelers provided them with tickets to watch the game.

The Marines already had collected 50,000 toys, with hopes of doubling that number before the end of the holiday season.

First Sgt. Jim McGinley, a 43-year-old Iraqi war veteran and Pittsburgh firefighter, said the corps will lose its warehouse near Mellon Arena at year's end and needs donated warehouse space to store and distribute toys next year.

The Heinz Field toy drive was promoted regionwide, and Steelers fans responded by donating model airplanes, teddy bears, winged fairies, candy-making devices and toys of all shapes and sizes. Some dropped Santa Claus-size plastic bags full of toys into Marine Corps bins.

"The Marines take the time to do this above and beyond what they already are doing," said John Kovak, of Mars. His wife, Mary Ruth, shook each Marine's hand to thank them for their military service and community good deeds.

Margie Lechowicz, formerly of Avalon and now living near Chicago, said her husband read about the promotion on the Steelers Web site, prompting them to scramble last minute to buy a Superman doll and infant toy set at a grocery store.

Robert Doherty, 8, of Sewickley, dropped a Transformer and Smorz candy-maker into the bin as a way to give back to the community.

"We do what we can to help the less fortunate," said his mother, Jody Doherty.

Greg McNamara, of Beechview, said while waiting in line at Kmart to buy a remote control car and other toys, he met other fans also buying toys to donate at Heinz Field. "We take things for granted, while they put their lives on the line," Mr. McNamara said of the Marines.

Those still interested in donating toys can drop them off at any Pittsburgh firehouse. For more information, consult www.toysfortots.org.

Sgt. McGinley, who led the toy detail at Heinz Field, said Marines collected about 3,500 toys and $5,500 in donations at the stadium.

"There are people truly in need and hurting. When they know the Marine Corps is there for them, it's a big relief," he said. "We know that children should not go without. This truly is a great cause."

24th MEU returning to Lejeune

December 04, 2006
By Estes Thompson
The Associated Press

RALEIGH, N.C. — Helping evacuate Americans from Beirut when fighting erupted between Israel and Hezbollah earlier this year felt like “I was a part of history,” said a North Carolina-based Marine who will be returning home this weekend.

To continue reading:

http://www.marinecorpstimes.com/story.php?f=1-292925-2394860.php

*Saving baby Mariam

Unto death, platoon fulfills a mission in Iraq

It was a routine patrol, in the third week of June -- if, in fact, there is such a thing as a routine patrol in Fallujah, in the Anbar Province of Iraq.

Chris Walsh, a Navy medic assigned to a US Marines weapons company, was riding in a Humvee with three Marines, when a hidden bomb exploded in the dirt road just in front of them.

http://www.boston.com/news/world/middleeast/articles/2006/12/04/saving_baby_mariam?mode=PF

By Kevin Cullen, Globe Staff | December 4, 2006

Even before the thick dust had settled, the Marines, and Walsh, were out of the vehicle, looking for the insurgents who had planted the remote-control device. The triggerman, as several who joined the pursuit vividly recall, was spotted first on a rooftop, then on the ground making his escape through the maze of ramshackle houses that line the road.

When Walsh and the Marines came to one doorway, M-4 rifles up and ready, a woman emerged from a room, holding an infant and saying, over and over again, "Baby. Baby sick."

Walsh put his gun down and the woman put the baby down.

Walsh had seen bad things -- as an EMT back home in St. Louis, and at war. But he told his comrades he had never seen anything like this: The child, just a few months old, looked as though her insides had been turned inside out.

Her name was Mariam, and she looked up at Walsh with dead eyes.

Suddenly, finding the bad guys became secondary. Walsh, the Marines recall, examined the child, pulled out a digital camera and took pictures to show the doctors back at base camp. As soon as Captain Sean Donovan , a doctor assigned to the First Battalion 25th Marine Regiment out of Fort Devens in Ayer, saw them, he knew the baby had a rare condition in which the bladder develops outside the body. Donovan said she wouldn't live long without surgery of a kind she couldn't get in Iraq.

"Then," Donovan recalls Walsh saying, "we've got to get her out of here, sir."

It seemed a noble sentiment, if, in the middle of a war, a bit naive. But Walsh meant it. Saving Baby Mariam became his mission. At chow one night, he stood up and explained to the Marines in his platoon what he wanted to do. He said he'd need help. And one by one, the Marines put up their hands.

Mike Henderson , a Marine major from Maine, told Walsh and Donovan that his nephew was born with the same condition, called a bladder exstrophy , and that the boy had successful surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital. Donovan began using his computer, trying to find the appropriate medical care and a shortcut through the maddening military bureaucracy, a way to get the child out. Rev. Marc Bishop, a Chelmsford priest who is battalion chaplain, started e-mailing friends back home, looking for money and help.

Meanwhile, each week, under the cover of darkness, wearing night-vision goggles, Chris Walsh and a dozen Marines made their way to the shanty where Mariam lived. They parked their Humvees a mile away and walked a different, circuitous route each time. Staff Sergeant Edward Ewing, the platoon leader who devised and led the covert nocturnal visits, said Walsh's team followed a routine: Lance Corporal Eric Valdepenas , a 21-year-old from Seekonk, and Cody Hill, a 23-year-old lance corporal from Oklahoma, hid outside Mariam's house, providing cover, along with some others; Corporal Jared Shoemaker , 29, a police officer back in Tulsa, accompanied Donovan and Walsh inside the house, where they tended to Mariam as best they could, trying to ward off an infection that could kill her.

"We're going to get her the help she needs," Walsh would say, to a family that didn't speak English but somehow understood that the Americans, loathed as an occupying force by many in Fallujah, represented Mariam's only chance.

Over the summer, they made great strides. Father Bishop had struck gold with an e-mail to Christopher Anderson , one of his parishioners at St. Mary's Church. Anderson, who is president of the Massachusetts High Technology Council, lined up 16 companies to pay to get the baby to Boston. Donovan, meanwhile, had found Dr. Rafael V. Pieretti , a Venezuelan surgeon at Mass. General who is one of the few doctors in the United States who specialize in the condition. Pieretti and Mass. General offered their services free of charge.

But there it all stalled. There were some 5,000 Iraqi civilians seeking to leave the country for medical care, and Mariam, it seemed, would have to wait her turn.

"We had a lot of things lined up," Donovan said, "but we couldn't get the permission we needed to get her out of Iraq."

On Labor Day, Sept. 4, Walsh and his team were on another routine patrol in another section of Fallujah, about a mile from Mariam's house. Ewing was in the lead vehicle and noticed some kids playing soccer off the side of the road. Then came the blast, which lifted the rear of Ewing's 5-ton Humvee off the road. But it was Walsh's Humvee just behind that took what the Marines call a belly shot: The bomb exploded directly under the vehicle.

"Victor Five is down!" a Marine screamed over the radio. "Victor Five is down!"

Ewing and some Marines rushed to the smoking wreckage. Greg Cinelli, a medic from Haverhill, tried to keep them away. They pushed their way past him, and Cine lli turned his attention to Hill, who had severe burns over more than half of his body. Hill was in shock but kept asking about the others.

"You made it out!" Cinelli told Hill. "They can, too!"

But Cinelli was just trying to give Hill the will to live. There was nothing he or anybody else could do for the others: Valdepenas, the youngest of eight kids, who left the University of Massachusetts at Amherst when his unit got called to active duty, Shoemaker, with a wife back in Oklahoma, and Walsh, the author of the mission for Mariam, were dead.

With their seven-month rotation about to end, and 11 members of their battalion dead and 83 wounded, the Marines decided there was only one way to honor their dead brothers and that was to make sure the baby was saved.

E-mails from Fallujah shot all around the United States, detailing the risks that Walsh and the Marines had taken, the effort expended, and the blood spilled. Suddenly, the red tape loosened, and in early October Mariam was flown to Boston. The surgery was successful, and she is doing well.

More than a month after Maureen Walsh buried her son, she stood in her living room in Kansas, reading a handwritten letter from Donovan.

"You need to know this about your son," Donovan wrote.

She had not known about Mariam, had not known that her son spent months, surrounded by the chaos of war, trying to save her. And it was then, as she stood there, tears falling onto Sean Donovan's letter, that Maureen Walsh knew she had to see the child, and hold her in her arms.

Instinctive sympathy

Chris Walsh grew up in Kansas, the oldest of five kids. He was popular, but had an instinctive sympathy for those who were not.

"He would bring home the kid no one else would play with," his mother recalled.

He was a good student and something of a perfectionist. But he was also restless. Accepted to college, he decided not to go, embarking instead on what his mother calls "a Jack Kerouac journey" across America.

Six weeks later, he called home from San Francisco, broke. At 22, when his peers were graduating from college, he enrolled in EMT school. He was his class valedictorian, but asked the school's director to omit mention of that distinction at the graduation ceremony.

He liked working the streets of St. Louis as an EMT, though he told his mother there were too many wasted hours between real emergency calls. After the 9/11 attacks, he joined the Navy reserves. His father, a Marine, had seen combat in Vietnam. His brother, Patrick, was a Marine serving in Iraq. Navy medics are assigned to Marine units, and Walsh began getting the training he needed to go to Iraq.

"He believed that no able bodied person, who had no responsibilities beyond themselves, should stay here when there were people with spouses and children overseas," his mother said.

After he and his unit arrived in Iraq, it didn't take long for his serious, gruff demeanor to earn him a Marine nickname: Grumps.

"Chris was 30 years old, and a lot of these Marines are kids, so they gravitated to him," said Edgar Gallego, a corpsman who is an EMT in New York City and partnered with Walsh in Iraq. "Chris was more experienced, so a lot of times I'd look at a Marine who was hurting and say, 'Go to Grumps.' "

On patrol in Iraq, Navy medics are more than medics. They carry carbines , just like the Marines, and they fight, just like the Marines.

"When you're in an infantry unit, you're in the infantry," Gallego explained.

And Walsh was always pushing to do more.

Ewing said that whenever they were on patrol, Walsh would ask to stop when they saw injured Iraqis on the street. In Fallujah, a hotbed of Sunni insurgents, this was more than risky. Ewing and his Marines would take up cover positions as Walsh operated his impromptu sidewalk clinics.

"It wasn't part of his job. Wasn't part of our job," Ewing said. "But Chris could not pass someone who was suffering and not help."

It was because of the way Walsh and the three Marines he rode with conducted themselves that their deaths resonated so deeply through their platoon.

After the fatal Sept. 4 attack, Ewing and his platoon were told to stand down, take a couple of days off. Besides respecting the platoon's sense of loss, Ewing said his superior officers wanted to guard against the possibility of the grief-stricken Marines seeking revenge.

Ewing admits those concerns were justified.

"It was hard not to go out and retaliate. It was hard as a platoon," he said. "But we all got talking, and we knew what those guys were about. They wouldn't have wanted us to retaliate. Then it became doing everything to honor them. We used their memories to push forward, and to get that baby out."

A few hours after Walsh, Valdepenas, and Shoemaker were killed, another patrol from their company was hit: two Marines, including Terrence Burke, a Boston police officer, lost legs in the blast. Ignoring the order to take some time off, Ewing and his men raced to the scene to help their brother Marines. And a few days later, Ewing resumed leading the middle-of-the-night visits to Mariam's home.

All 30 men in the platoon joined, at various times, in the volunteer effort. Mariam's family wondered what had happened to Walsh and the others, but the Marines decided not to tell them.

The last week of September, with Mariam's case still bogged down in bureaucracy, Captain Donovan stopped by Father Bishop's office. The battalion was "ripping," as Marines call the process of packing up to leave Iraq. Donovan was despairing, feeling they had let Walsh and the others down by failing to get the baby out.

"Have you prayed about it?" the priest asked Donovan.

"What?" Donovan asked.

"Have you prayed?" Father Bishop said.

Donovan sheepishly admitted he had not. Bishop suggested Donovan go to the small chapel next door and say the Memorare, a prayer to Mary, the mother of Jesus, which in part reads, "Never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help or sought your intercession, was left unaided."

Sean Donovan knelt down and said a Christian prayer for a Muslim girl whose Anglicized name is Mary.

The next day, Donovan opened an e-mail notifying him that Mariam had been cleared for medical evacuation to Boston.


An 'act of God'

Three weeks ago, Maureen Walsh stood on the 17th floor of the pediatric ward at Mass. General, rocking Mariam in her arms. The vacant stare that Chris Walsh first encountered has been replaced by a pair of bright, inquisitive brown eyes.

Mariam stared up at Maureen Walsh and smiled back.

Having arrived in Boston listless, malnourished, and underdeveloped, Mariam has put on two pounds and now weighs 12 pounds.

"This is a different girl than the one who arrived here in October," said Dr. Laurence Ronan, who has overseen Mariam's care and will take her and her grandparents back to Iraq soon.

Mariam's grandparents, who traveled with her because her mother has not recovered from complications at childbirth, told Maureen Walsh they had learned of Chris' death last month, when Captain Donovan visited them at the hospital.

Mariam's grandfather took Maureen Walsh's hand in his and, speaking in Arabic, said, "Thank you for your son."

Mariam's family does not believe it was coincidence that Chris Walsh was the one who came into their house in hot pursuit of someone who had tried to kill him and instead put down his gun and picked up Mariam.

"This," her grandfather said, nodding solemnly, "was an act of God. God sent Chris. To Mariam. So she will live."

Maureen Walsh shares that assessment.

"There were too many coincidences for it to be coincidence," she said. "Chris was waiting his whole life for something like this."

Maureen Walsh shook her head and stroked Mariam's hair.

"Look at her," she said. "Isn't she beautiful?"

Kevin Cullen can be reached at [email protected]

December 3, 2006

Memorial on football field was Marine's wish, ANZA: The Aguanga man killed in Iraq loved playing for Hamilton High School.

ANZA - Jeromy D. West's memory will return to the football field where he grew up and found a sense of belonging and purpose.

http://www.pe.com/localnews/inland/stories/PE_News_Local_D_west04.376642d.html

10:00 PM PST on Sunday, December 3, 2006

By JAMIE AYALA
The Press-Enterprise

A memorial for the 20-year-old Lance Cpl. from Aguanga who died while serving in Iraq Nov. 26 will be held tonight at the Hamilton High School stadium.

"He wanted to be memorialized under the lights on the football field," said Amy Schroeder, a close friend of the family.

Anywhere else this might be an unusual request. Yet family and friends say it is fitting because West's success stemmed from the game. There are few other places the close-knit rural community can gather.

West was always an athlete, playing on Pop Warner football, soccer and basketball teams. In eighth grade, he moved from Chula Vista in San Diego County to Aguanga. At Hamilton, he started out as a smart-mouthed football player who pushed limits. It was not long until the youth who played linebacker and center focused his tenacity.

Mike Schroeder, Amy's husband and West's high school coach, said the sport gave West a chance to exercise his strengths, on and off the field. Even before becoming captain, West pulled the team together, motivating them to try their best and sometimes offering advice with personal issues, Schroeder said. He was a confident leader, he said of the youth, who also joined student government.

West's father, Dave West, of Chula Vista, said his son became mature beyond his age--showing respect, setting priorities and being kind. For example, West said, as a teen he surprised him once by offering to wash the dishes after dinner.

"He was my hero before he was killed and now as far as I'm concerned, he is a legend," Dave West said. "We lost a real good man."

In the Marines, he trained as a radio operator, machine gunner and mortarman.

"He was outgoing and kind of took the bull by the horns in everything he did," said his stepfather, Ron Klopf.

The young man was mechanical, taking an interest in cars. His latest was a silver 2005 Mitsubishi Evo, which he made his mother, Lisa West-Klopf, promise to keep. The outdoors was also appealing. Fishing trips were a favorite, Klopf said.

Family and friends were first on his list, though.

His stepsister, Kellie, 22, said on her MySpace.com Web site that West acted as the big brother, being overly protective and insisting that she and her sister have his approval on boyfriends. His parents said he called and wrote when he could.

William Crocker, West's former English teacher and coach, kept in contact through e-mails. He said West would share moments that made him smile and thanked him for keeping in touch. Crocker said it seemed like only weeks ago West made a visit and gave him a big hug.

West hoped to return to the football field. He wanted to use GI Bill money to pay for college and play again.

Before West made his last tour to Iraq, he and his mother talked about what he would want if he died.

"He wasn't religious and didn't want to be buried in a cemetery or have a big Marine ceremony," Ron Klopf said. "He said, 'I want to be taken where you guys go and have a service on the field.' "

Tonight his wishes will be fulfilled.

West was the fifth former Hemet Unified School District student to die in Iraq. Four Hemet High School alumni have been killed in action since 2004. Three died since June, two in October alone. Hemet High is honoring them with a plaque in a ceremony at 12:35 pm Tuesday in the school theater.

Reach Jamie Ayala at 951-763-3451 or [email protected]

Marines new to Anbar must adjust quickly

RAMADI, Iraq — Even as leading Democrats talk about gradually sending troops home from Iraq, thousands of recently deployed Marines are getting their first taste of the war.

http://www.dispatch.com/national-story.php?story=dispatch/2006/12/03/20061203-A3-01.html

Sunday, December 03, 2006
Will Weissert
ASSOCIATED PRESS

About 2,200 Marines left their ships in the Persian Gulf two weeks ago for this dangerous city and other locales across Anbar province, where entrenched and well-financed insurgents use roadside bombs, rocket and mortar attacks, ambushes and snipers to kill U.S. troops at rates approaching one per day.

Two battalions from the 15 th Marine Expeditionary Unit have been assigned to this city of mansions with towering, gilded columns and crescentshaped windows, the capital of a Sunni Arab province that stretches west from Baghdad to the Iraqi borders with Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

Only about 20 percent of those in the battalions arriving in Ramadi have fought previously in the Iraq war — although some have combat experience from Afghanistan, Kosovo and the first Gulf War, said 1 st Sgt. Eric Carlson from the 2 nd Battalion, 4 th Marines.

During their time in Ramadi, one Marine already has been wounded seriously, taking a bullet to the neck in an ambush a few blocks from an Army outpost. He was rushed to Germany for surgery that was able to prevent paralysis.

The deployment is the 15 th Marine Expeditionary Unit’s third in Iraq: The unit participated in the initial invasion in March 2003 and returned two years later. But many from the 2 nd Battalion, 4 th Marines now attached to the unit are joining the war for the first time.

"I’m excited, a little anxious," Lance Cpl. Tyler Ceniseoz, 21, of Curvina, Calif., said. "The last deployment, we went to Japan and hung out, got drunk, had fun and didn’t do much. Now we’re here doing our jobs."


Thousands of Marines getting their first taste of war

RAMADI, Iraq -- Even as leading Democrats talk about gradually sending troops home from Iraq, thousands of recently deployed Marines are getting their first taste of the war.

http://www.northjersey.com/page.php?qstr=eXJpcnk3ZjczN2Y3dnFlZUVFeXk1NzQmZmdiZWw3Zjd2cWVlRUV5eTcwMzE0NzImeXJpcnk3ZjcxN2Y3dnFlZUVFeXky

Sunday, December 3, 2006

By WILL WEISSERT
ASSOCIATED PRESS

About 2,200 Marines left their ships in the Persian Gulf two weeks ago for the dangerous city of Ramadi and other locales around Anbar province, where entrenched and well-financed insurgents use roadside bombs, rocket and mortar attacks, ambushes and snipers to kill American troops at rates approaching one per day.


Two battalions from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit have been assigned to this city of mansions with towering, gilded columns and crescent-shaped windows, the capital of a Sunni Arab province that stretches west from Baghdad to the Iraqi borders with Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

Only about 20 percent of those in the battalions arriving in Ramadi have fought previously in the Iraq war -- though some have combat experience from Afghanistan, Kosovo and the first Gulf War, said 1st Sgt. Eric Carlson from the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines. He said he didn't want specific numbers to appear in print, fearing it could help insurgents plan.

"This is why they joined the Marines, for combat," said Carlson, a 38-year-old Chicago native who fought in Iraq during the first Gulf War but is on his first deployment here since the U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein.

During their short time in Ramadi, one Marine already has been seriously wounded, taking a bullet to the neck in an ambush a few blocks from an Army outpost. He was rushed to Germany for surgery that was able to prevent paralysis.

About 30,000 U.S. troops -- more than 20,000 of them Marines -- are spread thinly throughout the deserts of Anbar, which is roughly the size of North Carolina and home to 1.4 million people. The 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit had been designated as a reserve force for Iraq to be tapped if circumstances called for a boost in U.S. presence.

Gen. John Abizaid, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East, has sent the unit to Anbar to provide reinforcements for about six weeks -- though its tour here could be extended.

Marine is facing the fight of his life

Lance Cpl. Timothy Lang manned the turret atop a Humvee patrolling Fallujah, Iraq, when a roadside bomb made him a casualty of war.

http://www.mlive.com/news/jacitpat/index.ssf?/base/news-19/1165144005317370.xml&coll;=3

Sunday, December 3, 2006
By Brad Flory

"The blast was so loud I

couldn't even hear it," said Lang, 21, of Spring Arbor Township. "I could only feel it. It made my stomach sink."

Four other Marines were inside his Humvee when the bomb went off Oct. 15. Two would die.

The blast threw Lang about 15 feet from the vehicle, which ended up on its side.

"I thought I was dying the whole time," Lang said. "Then I snapped to and realized where I was. I crawled back to the Humvee.

"I heard my buddy Josh Hines yelling, 'Get me out of here, Lang. Get me out.' I tried to put my shoulder into the turret but I could not budge it."

Other Marines in the seven-vehicle patrol rushed to the wreckage and pulled Lang to a safer position.

"They wiped my mouth off and gave me something to drink. That's when I knew I was going to live. It was just going to suck for awhile.

"My leg was pointing in about eight different directions and my ankle was pointing off to the side. I wondered why my heel burned." His heel was blown off.

The Marine who yelled for help, Lance Cpl. Joshua Hines, 26, of Olney, Ill., died. Also killed was Sgt. Brock Babb, 40, of Evansville, Ind. Lang's best friend on the mission, Lance Cpl. Joshua Bleill, 29, of Greenfield, Ind., survived but had both legs amputated.

Six weeks after the blast, Lang, a patient at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., has endured 27 surgeries to save his right leg.

He has a long haul ahead.

"It's still touch-and-go," he said. "If there is an infection, I could lose the leg at any time."

Lang is the second of 12 children born to Chuck and Lynda Lang.

After graduating from Jackson Christian High School in 2003, he attended Jackson Community College and worked at Finley's American Grill.

Thirteen months ago, he joined Charlie Company, a Lansing-based Marine Corps Reserve combat unit officially known as Company C, 1st Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division.

"He wanted to defend our country against terrorists," said Chuck Lang, a system controller at Consumers Energy and pastor at Maple Grove Baptist Church.

Charlie Company's more than 100 Marines mobilized for war June 6. After training in California, they reached Iraq three weeks before Lang was hurt.

Word of the injury reached his family indirectly.

"A nurse, obviously thinking he was dying, handed him a cell phone and asked if there was anybody he wanted to get a hold of before it was too late," Chuck Lang said.

The wounded Marine could not connect to his family but managed to reach his girlfriend, Sarah Williams of Gregory.

"I was really excited at first because I hadn't heard from him for so long," said Williams, 18, a student at Eastern Michigan University. "Then he told me he was in the hospital. He said something was wrong with his leg and foot."

Tense hours passed waiting for official word through military channels.

"We didn't find out until midnight, 18 hours later, that he was still alive," Chuck Lang said

Timothy Lang received medical care in Fallujah, Baghdad and Germany before reaching Bethesda on Oct. 22.

A series of operations was needed to repair his shattered leg and foot with screws and plates.

"Day after day I just went back for more surgery," he said.

Doctors hope to transfer Lang to the Veterans Administration Hospital in Ann Arbor on Tuesday or Wednesday.

After about six weeks in Ann Arbor, he will transfer back to Bethesda for surgery to rebuild his missing heel with bone from his hip.

Lang is in pain and has a long recovery ahead, but he also has reason to be thankful.

"Two people died and my best buddy lost both legs," Lang said. "I feel very fortunate this is all that happened to me.

"Tell my friends back home I'm OK."

December 2, 2006

Marine Corps Capt. Jason Torbensen, Air Force 1st Lt. Dustin Torbensen

Blackanthem Military News, SOUTHWEST ASIA — Being in different services, they never thought their military paths would cross, but two Kaysville, Utah, brothers are sharing a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

http://www.blackanthem.com/News/U_S_Military_19/Marine_Corps_Capt_Jason_Torbensen_Air_Force_1st_Lt_Dustin_Torbensen.shtml

By Staff Sgt. Francesca Popp, U.S. Central Command Air Forces
Dec 2, 2006 - 4:57:52 PM

The Torbensen family learned Marine Corps Capt. Jason Torbensen and Air Force 1st Lt. Dustin Torbensen would serve together at a forward-operating base in support of operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.

"(Our family) went from crying to laughing -- knowing we were going to be at war together, instead of separately," said Dustin, a 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron KC-135 Stratotanker pilot.

Jason, the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (forward) Marine liaison officer assigned to the Combined Air Operations Center, deployed in early 2006. However, Dustin didn't learn until July about his deployment and the whereabouts of his older brother.

"We didn't know where he was. We just knew he was deployed," said Dustin. "That was a big thing, because he was halfway around the world. When I found out, I casually let him know (via e-mail), 'Hey, I'm going to deploy.'"

Jason replied to the e-mail, "Whoa! I'll see you here then. Dude, I'll get you a packing list."

The eldest of five siblings, Jason said he looked forward to showing his younger brother the ropes.

"Finding out he was coming here was a relief for me. I was excited," said Jason, a KC-130J Hercules tanker pilot deployed from Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 352, Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif. "We were going to be able to hang out in a deployed environment, both as pilots, be able to talk shop ... and spend some good, quality time together."

At first, Jason said his career was going down a different path after participating in a mission to Argentina, sponsored by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"I knew after I came home there was zero possibility (of joining the military)," he said. "I was working to get into med school."

Five years after returning from the mission, the opportunity for Jason to fly with the Marine Corps landed. "I immediately hopped on it;" he said when he realized at 27, he "could make it happen."

Jason went to a Marine Corps recruiter and told him he wanted to be a pilot. He took and passed the tests and the recruiter sent him to school to receive a direct commission.

"Medical school was supposed to start in September and Officer Candidate School started in October," he said. "So, the choice had to be made. I graduated (from the University of Utah) and went directly into the officer program. Joining the military was more of a spur of the moment thing, than Lieutenant Torbensen's was. I had a baby on the way and my wife was pretty sure we were going to be a doctor's family. It was a big change for our lifestyle," he said laughing.

"When I found out the Marine Corps had tankers, which is what I really wanted to fly from the very beginning, I worked really hard and I got what I wanted," he said.

"When I was on my (church) mission to Russia, from ages 19 to 21, Jason started talking about the Marine Corps," Dustin said. "The whole flying thing sounded like a good idea after my dad did it and (Jason) was doing it. I decided, out there, to join the military. So when I came home from the mission after two years, I decided to join."

Dustin, who is eight years younger than Jason, said he joined the Air Force because his brother advised him he could get more flying hours in the Air Force than in the Marines.

It was during Dustin’s first semester at Utah State University that he joined the Air Force ROTC. He received his commission in 2004. It was during pilot training school that he chose to fly the tanker platform.

"My dad and I were fairly certain that Dustin would take fighters instead of cargo," said Jason. "We were a little surprised when he chose his venue of airplane."

Nonetheless, Jason gave Dustin advice about being an officer; how he should behave himself, and the standard pitfalls of officer life.

"I just tried to direct him as our dad directed me," Jason said. "Dad gave me advice when I went to OCS and I passed that onto Dustin. Dad said things like, 'Hey, don't stand out, be in the middle. Don't be first, but don't be last. Keep your head down.'"

The brothers followed in the footsteps of their father, who flew the C-5 Galaxy and retired after 20 years of Air Force service, and their maternal grandfather, who was a Navy dentist on an aircraft carrier during World War II.

In the time the brothers have been deployed together, they've been able to get to know each other again. They keep in touch and make it a point to see each other during the holidays, but it's been nearly 10 years since they've spent more than two full days together by themselves.

"At Christmas, as hard as it is, we try to spend at least one day together doing the same thing with our families -- making the effort to keep the relationship," Dustin said admitting there is no one else besides his wife that he'd rather spend time with on this deployment. "I get him to myself. At Christmas, it's a fight and that's all we've had is Christmas."

Being deployed together has afforded the brothers the chance to create new memories, like the ones they had so many years ago.

"We are in an environment most brothers don't get to see together," Jason said. "There are a lot of military (families) who are all in country, but are not together. They don't live trailers apart. They live hundreds of miles apart. It is fun to be in a combat environment with your brother, both wanting to do the same things and getting to serve the country together is really special."

It is living buildings apart that has helped ease the stresses of being deployed.

"I know, for me, that it was nice for my brother to be going on his first deployment and his big brother was going to be there to hook him up," Jason said. "There's zero depression factor."

"I have a brother (here). I have someone to talk to," said Dustin, who is deployed from the 905th Air Refueling Squadron at Grand Folks Air Force Base, N.D.

Although they don't live in the same barracks, the lieutenant does visit his brother often.

"He is free to come to my room," Jason said. "He can come and hang out, watch TV and play a little Playstation."

The brothers said that if they did room together, they wouldn't tire of each other. In fact, they said they would probably stay up too late playing games and reminiscing about their childhoods.

Their shared deployment is nearing the end. While Jason has three more months to go Dustin’s deployment has ended. The brothers said they'll continue to call and e-mail each other until the next time they meet -- whether it's on the battlefield or at their parents' house for the holidays.


Horse-drawn hearse to carry Marine's body in Canton

A 110-year-old horse-drawn hearse will carry the body of Canton Marine Pvt. Heath Warner next week.

http://www.ohio.com/mld/ohio/news/16147942.htm

Sat, Dec. 02, 2006
By Jim Carney
Beacon Journal staff writer

The Marine died in a roadside bombing in Iraq on Nov. 22.

The owner of the 19th century hearse, Robert Smith, owner of Smith Funeral Homes of Baltic and Sugarcreek in Tuscarawas County, said he will provide the hearse for free for the procession through Canton after the funeral next week.

Melissa and Scott Warner had asked Cathi Heitger, a funeral director and vice president of Heitger Funeral Service Jackson Chapel, which is handling their son's arrangements, if she could find a horse-drawn hearse.

Heitger called Smith and he was more than happy to oblige.

Jacob and Erma Yoder of Berlin will provide two horses and will drive the antique hearse.

Warner's funeral procession from Bethel Temple will go past his home on Perkins Avenue Northwest and also Worley Elementary School, which he attended.

The hearse was manufactured in 1896, Smith said, by Sayres Scovill Co. of Cincinnati.

Scott Warner said the family appreciates Smith's generosity. ``They are very kind and generous to think of us like that,'' Warner said.

Calling hours for Warner will be from 4 to 9 p.m. Tuesday at Bethel Temple at 711 25th St. N.W. in Canton. Funeral services will be at 1 p.m. Wednesday at the church.

Following the funeral, the procession will travel west on 25th Street Northwest, then turn onto Fulton Road. It will then travel south on Stadium Park Drive Northwest through Stadium Park and then will turn onto 12th Street Northwest. It will then head down Perkins Avenue Northwest to pass in front of Warner's home at 1424 Perkins Ave. N.W. It will then proceed along 15th Street Northwest to Fulton Road. The procession will head down 23rd Street Northwest to pass Worley Elementary School and then will turn onto Cleveland Avenue. It will travel along 25th Street Northwest back to the church.

Warner will be buried later at Arlington National Cemetery.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Pregnancy Support Center of Stark County, P.O. Box 8451, Canton, OH 44711, or to the Memorial Fund for Pvt. Heath D. Warner at any FirstMerit branch.

Women revive a club no one wants to join

Gold Star Mothers lost children in war

ALGONA -- Four mothers from around the Seattle area, driven by a powerful bond, drew together here on a recent Sunday.

They lit memorial candles, set up a small potluck while the aroma of their baking cookies filled the kitchen of the Filipino American community center. The cars they had parked outside hinted at their sisterhood:
Decals with a gold star on a field of white, trimmed in red.

http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/294489_goldstar02.html?source=rss

SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER
Saturday, December 2, 2006

By MIKE BARBER
P-I REPORTER

Myra Rintamaki, Shellie Starr, Linda Swanberg and DeEtte Wood are among the founding mothers of Washington State Gold Star Mothers, a resurrection of the organization for mothers of U.S. troops killed in war. Most chapters faded away after the Vietnam War.

After dwindling over the decades, the sacrifices in modern wars have created a new need for the club that no one wants to belong to.

"When we looked around we found there was no local group," said Rintamaki, the group's president. Her son, Marine Cpl. Steven Rintamaki, 21, was killed in Iraq on Sept. 16, 2004.

"We started calling each other as somebody died, then decided to get together and formalize," Rintamaki said.

Made up so far mostly of Marine moms, the group is reaching out to gather those from this state whose children served in other branches of the military.

"This is our first anniversary," Rintamaki said.

The chapter recently filed papers to become a non-profit corporation, after meeting informally once a quarter in the past year.

Its purpose is to nurture and support each other as well as family members, restore some fun, extend comfort that only Gold Star moms can understand and tackle an occasional issue, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, said Starr, a Snohomish resident.

Her son, Marine Cpl. Jeff Starr, 22, was killed Memorial Day 2005 in Ramadi, on his third deployment to Iraq.

"It's kind of weird to make friends with people who the only thing we have in common is that our sons are dead," Starr said.

"We're trying to find that new sense of normality," Rintamaki added.

"We don't get over it," said Wood of Kirkland. "We learn to live with it."

Her son, Marine Lance Cpl, Nathan Wood, 19, was killed Nov. 9, 2004, in Fallujah, Iraq.

On this day, the Gold Star moms are multitasking like, well, moms, hustling about baking batches of cookies and packing red stockings to take to injured members of the armed forces at Madigan Army Medical Center. A few relatives and friends ventured out in the storm to help. Later, in private, they will sit and talk, as well as laugh and cry, about things only they can understand.

"It sort of changes your heart," Rintamaki said of a loss in war, looking up as she pressed peanut butter cookies into small circles.

"One of the things not understood well in the social service arena is (the effect upon families of a loss from) tragic combat death," she said.

"If you go to a grief counselor, in general, the death is treated as over and done. With us, our sons were far from home. It took a while for their bodies to come back. All the people who should be grieving with you and for you, some are still fighting in Iraq," she said.

And the fate of those people, their children's brothers- and sisters-in-arms still serving in war, are now more intensely felt as part of an extended family, she said.

"My heart is still over in Ramadi with the guys who are still over there," said Swanberg, also a Kirkland resident. Her son, Marine Lance Cpl. Shane Swanberg, 24, was killed in Ramadi, Iraq, on Sept. 15, 2005.

"I just sent a package to a Web site that sends packages called anysoldier.com. That's how I heal," she said.

"Suffering the grief of the combat death is so much different. Other people seem to want to be removed from your reality. It's awesome for us to be able to bring everything to each other here. Nothing seems crazy or off the wall," she said.

"When we phone each other, we usually ask, 'How are you?' " Swanberg said.

"Then we say, 'Oh fine.' "

"And then we say, 'Not really.' "

As they buzzed about this Sunday afternoon, the women joked with and doted upon Marine Sgt. Jonathan Coffey, 25, who looked as if he could have been a son.

A Tacoman based at Fort Lewis with the Marine Corps' 4th Landing Support Group, Coffey is among that unit's active-duty members who work with casualty officers and serve as honor guards.

Coffey, a 7 1/2-year veteran, wore his dress blues and rendered military honors at the funerals at which moms like those in the Algona kitchen tearfully received the flags covering their sons' coffins.

Loyal to the fallen Marines and admiring their families' resiliency, Coffey began donating his time to help Gold Star moms.

Coffey said he was affected by the funeral of Marine Pfc. Cody Calavan, 19, of Lake Stevens, killed May 29, 2004, in Iraq. It was his first Marine funeral.

"He was 19, I was 22. It was the first time it had happened to a guy younger than me," Coffey recalls. "I've done 10 funerals since."

Appreciating Coffey's commitment, the Gold Star moms nominated him in the Marine Corps Times newspaper's annual Marine of the Year competition this year.

Coffey was a runner-up.

"We're all his mom," Swanberg said.

Outside the kitchen, candles lit a table flanked by an American flag. Photos of some of the fallen lined the table, as well as some books recently published about coming home from war or the war in Iraq.

Wood picked one, "We Were One," by Patrick O'Daniel, about the battle for Fallujah in November 2005. On the photo pages she finds one of her son, Nate.

"Only one from his fire team came back," Wood said, noting photos of two others killed alongside her son. "I've been in touch with their moms."

Signatures line the inside of the hardcover, where those who lived signed it for her three weeks ago at Camp Pendleton, Calif.

"We are all gatherers of information," Swanberg said. "Since the deaths of our sons we have been trying to get past it, but I want to read more. ... It's insatiable, a searching for pieces."

They sifted autopsy reports and sought answers. Were there last words? Was his death peaceful and quick?

"We just want to know. It doesn't give you anything but knowing," Wood said

Often, Swanberg said, "it is through extraordinary efforts that we learn how our sons died."

She learned fairly recently. At first, she recalls, all she knew was that her son, who died only 10 days after arriving in Ramadi, had been killed by "indirect fire from a mortar."

"It was 7 in the morning. I was trying to picture his day," Swanberg said.

Through a chain of circumstance and compassion, a mortuary assistant who dressed her son's body found Swanberg and told her what she wanted to know.

Swanberg had gone to breakfast from his quarters and was returning. He was holding two bowls of cereal, one at the request of another Marine who needed to tend to some personal business.

"He was just standing there holding the bowls when the mortar round came in," she says. "There was a giant explosion, three feet away from Shane."

She feels for the Marine who asked her son to wait with his bowl. He was riddled with guilt.

Those who tended to her son told her he looked peaceful and died instantly. The mortuary assistant recalled even laying out her son's personal items, his watch and ring with the black band. He told her "of the 51 casualties he worked on, there were five he would always remember and your son is one of them."

He has. "On the anniversary of Shane's death, (the mortuary assistant) sent me flowers," Swanberg said.

Other family members are welcome to participate. On this Sunday some cousins ventured out. The group, which usually meets in each other's homes, found that dads seem to go their own way. "We're thinking of starting a 'Dad's corner' if a newsletter is born," Rintamaki said.

Siblings tend not to want to join.

"A lot of Gold Star siblings stay in touch in an informal way. ... A lot of Gold Star siblings suffer in silence," said Wood, touching on a topic often discussed.

The group intends to speak up when it feels the need but not to become political activists, Wood said.

"We're not in the Cindy Sheehan group," she said, referring to the mother of a soldier who became an outspoken critic of the Bush administration and the war.

"But none of us support war, although we want to support the troops," she said.

"We would prefer that this doesn't happen to any other family."

HOW TO HELP

The Washington State Gold Star Mothers are reaching out to other Gold Star Mothers, as well as accepting a limited amount of donations allowed under non-profit regulations.

For information, contact Myra Rintamaki or Shellie Starr at:

[email protected]

[email protected]

In addition, a buffet dinner fundraiser to build a climbing wall in memory of Marine Cpl. Jeff Starr at the Snohomish Boys & Girls Club is slated for 7 p.m. Tuesday at Mardini's Restaurant, 101 Union Ave. in Snohomish, 360-568-8080.

December 1, 2006

26th MEU, Bataan Strike Group cruise into CERTEX

ABOARD USS BATAAN(Dec. 1, 2006) -- After nearly six-months of rigorous pre-deployment training stretching back to June, the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit has reached the final test before its scheduled early 2007 deployment.

http://www.marines.mil/marinelink/mcn2000.nsf/0/E5FF813BFF59DE3385257238007E2F26?opendocument


Submitted by: 26th MEU
Story by: Computed Name: Cpl. Jeremy Ross
Story Identification #: 2006122175816

The MEU kicked off its Certification Exercise, or CERTEX, Nov. 30 aboard the ships of the Bataan Strike Group.

Nearly all of the MEU's 2,200 Marines and Sailors will participate in the exercise as the unit's Command, Ground, Aviation and Logistics elements work together as a cohesive force to meet numerous objectives during the operation, which is scheduled to conclude Dec. 12.

During the exercise, the MEU will be evaluated by personnel from II Marine Expeditionary Force's training and future planning section on its ability to accomplish traditional MEU missions.

The MEU's elements can expect to be sent ashore to undertake amphibious raids, non-combatant evacuation operations, tactical recoveries of aircraft and personnel, and mass casualty situations, said Capt. Scott D. Welborn, the MEU's target information officer and the action officer for CERTEX.

"Basically, we will be presented with situations not unlike those we might encounter on our coming deployment," he explained.

While the MEU began transit from shore to ship via Landing Crafts Air-Cushioned and helicopters on Nov. 29, planning for the considerable logistical and operational undertakings involved in making the exercise a success has been in the works since October, Welborn added.

Throughout CERTEX the MEU will work closely with its Navy counterparts from the Bataan Strike Group as the unit continues to build on an already productive inter-service relationship, said Navy Cmdr. Jon R. Carriglitto, USS Bataan (LHD 5) operations officer.

"I feel like we know each other very well," he explained. "We are beginning to take integration to the highest level of compatibility."

The relationship between the "blue" and "green" sides is one built on mutual capabilities, with the Navy providing support in the form of launching platforms for Marine aircraft and landing craft for transport to shore, in addition to basic living provisions.

The most important resources the Marines bring to the group are additional layers of force protection, intelligence, and communications, all of which will serve to enhance the strike group's security during the coming deployment, said Carriglitto.

The Bataan Strike Group has been working through its own demanding training schedule since April.

The strike group completed its pre-deployment certification process with a successful Composite Training Unit Exercise in early November.

Although now qualified to deploy, the strike group must be careful not to lose sight of the significance of treating this final exercise like a real-world event, said Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Michael G. Marotta, Bataan's Operations Department lead chief petty officer.

"People need to understand that we are eventually going into harms way," he said. "We may need to protect the ship, support the Marines, or defend the nation."

For more information, news and videos on the 26th MEU, visit www.usmc.mil/26meu.

Sailors save young girl's life

CAMP TAQADDUM, Iraq (Dec. 1, 2006) -- The nine-(and-a-half)-year-old Iraqi girl would have died without their help.

http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/mcn2000.nsf/main5/DA593465D0A9EDEB85257237004D5477?opendocument

Dec. 1, 2006
Submitted on: 12/01/2006 09:04:38 AM
Story ID#: 20061219438
By Lance Cpl. Geoffrey P. Ingersoll, 1st Marine Logistics Group


Riyam Shihan's cousin was trying to close a heavy, metal door, at a home in Habbaniyah when it became unhinged and fell on Riyam, crushing her skull. The bone was fractured and she was bleeding profusely. With each passing minute, rapidly building pressure within her brain was causing more damage.

When she arrived at TQ Surgical, her condition deteriorated quickly. Fearing the worst, doctors and corpsmen "launched into action," said Lt. Cmdr. Pamela C. Harvey, 39 from Muscatine, Iowa and a doctor with TQ Surgical, 1st Marine Logistics Group (Forward).

They medicated her intravenously and inserted a breathing tube. But because of the injury to her brain, she had lost the ability to clot blood. Surgeons sent out a 'walk-in' blood bank message. Camp Taqaddum responded immediately with almost two dozen donors.

With more blood, Riyam was able to stabilize, but because they lacked a specialized neurosurgeon in TQ, surgeons were forced to send her to a different hospital. In the early hours of October 14th, an unconscious Riyam Shihan was flown to a higher level hospital. TQ Surgical's staff doubted she would survive the required surgery, much less walk and talk again.

So when Riyam walked back into the hospital a month later and asked for strawberry bubble gum, surgeons and corpsmen were amazed.

"I couldn't believe it," said Cmdr. Tracy R. Bilski, a trauma surgeon for TQ Surgical. Upon seeing the girl's outcome, Bilski, 38 from Bellmawr, N.J. burst into tears of shock and joy.

"Back in the states, with an injury like this, the patient would be operated on in forty-five minutes," said Cmdr. Theodore D. Edson, a 39-year-old TQ surgeon from Lexington, Mass. Because bad weather had been blocking flights out of Taqaddum the night of her injury, Riyam hadn't gotten her operation until almost 6 hours after the injury took place.

"That girl must be someone really special," said Edson.

Coalition forces found out later that she is a very special girl. She is the grand daughter of a sheik, or tribal leader, in Habbaniyah.

"The Iraqi people of Habbaniyah hear what the coalition forces have done to save my grand daughter, and they cry. They are very grateful and you have gained them to your side," said Riyam's grandfather, 70-year-old Aved Shihan Ghathaib.

Since the girl was saved, a ripple effect has taken place, and the Iraqi citizens of Habbaniyah have become increasingly supportive of Coalition forces in the area.

"(The sheik) is in charge of six thousand people, and all of them know this story, and soon all of their friends will know this story," said Hameed Aftat Shihan, a chief security officer. Riyam's grandfather has also informed many other sheiks, who will probably inform their people, he added.

"Saving this girl's life," said Hameed, "was like saving all of Iraq."

But Riyam's fight for life is far from over. With a piece of her skull incubating inside her stomach, Riyam currently lives with only a thin layer of soft tissue to protect that part of her brain. Riyam is forced to wear a helmet now when she plays with her friends.

Another problem is that Riyam is still growing. Without her skull intact during her growth, she could face problems associated with irregular brain growth, such as a decrease in motor function capability and speech.

Within the next six months, she will need a follow up operation to replace the missing piece of her skull. It is a delicate operation that, due to the rebuilding of Iraq's infrastructure, will be almost impossible to provide in her home nation.

The efforts of coalition forces have bought her more time, but without this operation, Riyam's future still remains stormy.

Ambushes target morale, As insurgents aim for casualties, Marines train to neutralize tactic

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. – When he closes his eyes, Marine Cpl. Christopher Shelhamer can feel the bullet that tore through his body when he was ambushed while on foot patrol outside Fallujah, Iraq.

http://www.fortwayne.com/mld/journalgazette/news/16139940.htm?source=rss&channel;=journalgazette_news

Dec. 01, 2006
By Tony Perry
Los Angeles Times

“I can feel the red-hot metal ripping me,” he said. “It was like being hit from behind by a baseball bat.”

Shelhamer fell hard to the ground, and his fellow Marines sprayed bullets in a short but furious firefight with the unseen gunman 100 yards or more away.

Ambush attempts of the type that felled Shelhamer are becoming more common, Marines say, as insurgents shift tactics from face-to-face battles or total reliance on hidden roadside bombs.

Some attacks, like the one on Shelhamer and his platoon, are “spray and pray” assaults, from concealed positions, with insurgents firing AK-47s or Soviet-bloc machine guns.

Others are classic sniper assaults – one shot, one kill – from hundreds of yards away, accomplished with high-power scopes and Chinese- or Russian-made sniper rifles.

In both instances, the insurgents’ apparent primary aim is not to win battles but to inflict casualties, in hopes of undercutting the morale of troops in the field and the American public.

Much of the insurgent propaganda, including film snippets on the Internet, involves ambush attacks on American troops, U.S. military officials say.

One such snippet showing an insurgent sniper killing an American soldier aired on CNN, angering some politicians who believe it served only to further the insurgents’ propaganda.

“He cannot openly oppose us or let his identity be known to his own people,” Maj. Sean Riordan said, discussing insurgents in an interview from Fallujah. “He is purely violent for violence’s sake and because it plays well on blogs, Web sites and the new media that are available to him.”

Riordan is executive officer of the 2nd Battalion, 8th Regiment, which has had Marines killed and wounded by sniper attacks. In response, the battalion has stepped up counter-sniper tactics, including raiding sniper nests and killing or capturing snipers and capturing their weapons.

While there is no surefire way to neutralize attacks from ambush, Marines are far from defenseless, Riordan said. “First and foremost, we make ourselves hard to kill,” he said.

At the Marine base in Twentynine Palms, all Iraq-bound battalions go through a training course called Mojave Viper, which puts an emphasis on insurgent snipers and others who attack from ambush.

“We train very heavily toward this,” said Brig. Gen. Douglas M. Stone, who said specific tactics and techniques that have been perfected during the Iraq war are classified. He said he believes insurgents are switching to snipers and other ambush attacks because of the declining success of roadside bombs.

“It’s a growing threat, but it’s one we anticipated,” Stone said. “We’re not worrying about it. We’re just adapting.”

After multiple surgeries and months of arduous rehabilitation, Shelhamer is also adapting. He walked a mile the other day, but he probably never again will be able to carry hundreds of pounds over rough terrain for hours on end.

“I’m pretty much useless to the infantry now,” said Shelhamer, 24, who was on his third tour in Iraq with the 3rd Battalion, 5th Regiment.

Shelhamer, who probably will be given a medical retirement, is thinking of returning to school. For now, Shelhamer and his wife, Amanda, live in a tidy duplex on the western edge of sprawling Camp Pendleton. Amanda, 23, is pregnant with the couple’s first child and works at a local tanning salon.

Chris does four to six hours of therapy a week, stretching and exercising muscles that have been damaged or atrophied. The bullet that ripped through the lower left side of his back narrowly missed his spine.

As he was being taken to surgery after the shooting, medical personnel called his wife at her parents’ home in rural Arkansas and handed him the cell phone.

“I just told her, ‘Babe, I’ve been hit. I got all my limbs. It hurts too much to talk. Goodbye,’ ” he said. “That’s all I remember.”

By Jan. 26, Shelhamer had been airlifted to the Naval Medical Center next to San Diego’s Balboa Park, where he was reunited with Marines from his battalion who had been wounded in earlier fights. The Marine Corps flew his wife and mother to San Diego the same day.

His recovery is steady but slow. “He can’t walk too far before the swelling and pain gets him, and he has to stop and sit down,” said his wife. “That’s hard for any man to accept, especially a Marine.”

On Shelhamer’s back is a tattoo with the names of five buddies killed in Iraq.

He said he would be willing to return to Iraq for a fourth tour.

“I wouldn’t mind going back to teach young Marines how to come back alive.”

Mount Zion Marine wounded

MOUNT ZION - When a Marine Corps Reserve officer called Mike Watson at work to tell him his son had been seriously injured in Iraq, he asked the officer if his son would survive.

http://www.herald-review.com/articles/2006/12/01/news/local_news/1019532.txt

December 1, 2006
Mount Zion Marine wounded
By HUEY FREEMAN - H&R; Staff Writer

The officer told him only that he would tell him more later, during a home visit.

"That scared me to death," Mike Watson said in an interview at his home in Mount Zion.

Perhaps that scare helped the Watsons to receive the grim truth in a softer light.

Lance Cpl. Chad Watson, 23, had his right leg amputated above the knee Wednesday after the Humvee he was riding in on patrol in Fallujah was blasted by a bomb, apparently detonated as the vehicle passed over it.

During the attack, Watson also broke his left ankle and suffered shrapnel wounds to his face, including his eyelid and his right arm. The three other Marines in the vehicle also were injured, some suffering broken bones.

After being treated in Fallujah, Watson was flown to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Germany. He will remain there until next week, when he is expected to be transferred to Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland.

Chad Watson, a 2001 graduate of Mount Zion High School and quarterback of its football team, joined the Marine Corps Reserve in 2004 while attending Indiana University on a partial wrestling scholarship. He was deployed to Iraq in September, serving with Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 24th Regiment, 4th Marine Division.

Just 14 hours after the incident, Watson called his parents. Mike Watson said he was amazed that he was more concerned about how they were feeling than about himself.

When Mike Watson said to him, "They told me they took off your leg," his son joked, "Huh, they told me that, too."

Chad Watson, whose high school football coach calls him "one of the toughest guys we've had here," is also known for his positive attitude.

"They're going to strap some high-tech crap on me, and we're going to take off running," the Marine told his father.

Chad's 22-year-old girlfriend, Jill Kinsella, a graduate student at Eastern Illinois University, said she also talked to Chad, and he is in high spirits.

"If he still wants to run a marathon, I'm right there beside him," Kinsella said. "He can probably still outrun me. He said he wants to dance at some of the weddings we are going to. He's looking forward to the future, walking and dancing."

Huey Freeman can be reached at [email protected] herald-review.com or 421-6985.


Exercise tests station response teams’ ability to handle fuel spill

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION IWAKUNI, Japan (Dec. 1, 2006) -- Station emergency response teams tested their ability to contain a fuel spill during an unexpected training exercise near the station’s port facility here Wednesday.

http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/mcn2000.nsf/main5/7F1509616D86EFCE85257237001FD5B8?opendocument

Dec. 1, 2006
Submitted on: 12/01/2006 12:47:43 AM
Story ID#: 200612104743
By Pfc. Chris Dobbs, MCAS Iwakuni

The Provost Marshal’s Office, Fire Department and Fuels Surface Division participated in the semiannual exercise, keeping both work forces and supervisors prepared to handle fuel spills.

“If we don’t do the training, then we wouldn’t know what to do,” said Seaman Apprentice Levi Wilkes, boatswain’s mate. “We’d just be running around like chickens with our heads cut off.”

The exercise simulated a vehicle hitting fuel pipes just off the road causing fuel to leak onto the road and into the surrounding water. A bystander on the scene called PMO, who was not expecting the call, to report the incident.

Within minutes, a complete emergency response team was on the scene.

“It’s vital that we train like we’re going through the real thing,” said Devin A. Johnston-Lee, station Fire Department fire chief. “If we’re unable to contain and mitigate a fuel spill, it can cause immense damage to the environment and to our reputation to the host nation.”

At the scene of the mock emergency, responders attended to the vehicle’s driver while others secured the leaking pipe. The participants simulated a large amount of oil running into an adjacent body of water. A crane was used lowering two boats into the water. Sailors from the station’s surface division operated the two vessels using a surface skimming technique containing the spill to a small part of the lake. A vacuum truck then moved into position pumping out the fuel, signaling the completion of the mission.

Afterward, department supervisors met and evaluated the performance and agreed it was up to standard, but identified areas needing improvement.

“During practice, we work out glitches and are able to better our response procedures,” said Johnston-Lee. “We always learn something that can make us more efficient.”

Marine brothers reunite in Iraq

CAMP TAQADDUM, Iraq (Dec. 1, 2006) -- The holiday season is more than feast and football. It’s a time to reunite with family.

http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/mcn2000.nsf/main5/011D1785701D1B1C85257237004EEB69?opendocument

Dec. 1, 2006
Submitted on: 12/01/2006 09:22:00 AM
Story ID#: 20061219220
By Lance Cpl. Ben Eberle, 1st Marine Logistics Group

Two Marine brothers from Franklin, Tenn., did exactly that, and in the unlikeliest of places.

Lance Cpl. Ryan L. Tomlinson, 19, and his 21-year-old brother, Cpl. Erik W. Tomlinson, saw one another for just the second time in more than two years here Nov. 22.

Erik, an infantry squad leader with 2nd Platoon, Company L, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, operates out of Habbaniyah, Iraq, which is only a few hundred yards outside Camp Taqaddum where Ryan, a combat correspondent with 1st Marine Logistics Group (Forward), has spent most of his deployment.

Erik didn’t know his brother’s whereabouts until recently.

“I was asking random people, and as luck would have it, another (combat correspondent) said my brother was here,” said Erik. “I thought he was in Fallujah!”

On his next visit to Camp Taqaddum, Erik found his brother’s office only to find out that, ironically, Ryan was in Fallujah, gathering notes for a series of news articles, and wouldn’t return for another week.

Erik made several more attempts to contact his brother but each was unsuccessful.

“The way fate had been tossing me around, I wasn’t counting on seeing him out here,” he said.

Fate tossed Erik back to Camp Taqaddum. This time, the brothers’ separate commands knew of their plight and orchestrated a reunion.

“Corporal Tomlinson is an outstanding Marine and (well respected) throughout his chain of command,” said 1st Sgt. Douglas Hamblen, first sergeant for Company L.

“(Reuniting the brothers) was an easy thing to do and there was no reason not to do it,” said Hamblen, gesturing towards the brothers, “and as you can see, they’re smiling from ear to ear.”

Ryan and Erik talked for a couple of hours. The matching name tapes on their uniforms caught a few Marines’ attention, but the two denied any striking physical resemblance.

“I have a huge lower lip,” admitted Ryan.

“…from getting punched repeatedly,” finished Erik, without missing his cue.

Ryan laughed it off, and later he had a few things to say about his “diabolical” older brother.

“He was always very clever, kind of an evil clever, always tricking me into doing things,” said Ryan, “but if anyone tried to pick on me, he’d always stick up for me.”

Ryan said his big brother played a large part in his decision to join the Marine Corps.

“(After Erik enlisted), I saw how much better he was – responsible, getting things done – it really leveled him out,” said Ryan. “He’s as goofy as I am… but I’d follow him anywhere.”

Erik also commented on how the Corps has affected his little brother.

“Physically he’s filled out, he stands a little bit taller, he’s definitely more responsible and mature… he definitely is ugly in cammies,” said Erik, and the two laughed.

“But if I took him out on operations with me, I could depend on him to do anything I asked of him,” continued Erik, as he looked directly at his brother. “I’m serious.”

The Tomlinson brothers are both scheduled to return to the states in February 2007.

Close combat drills prepare recruits for close calls in battle

MARINE CORPS RECRUIT DEPOT SAN DIEGO (Dec. 1, 2006) -- Recruits from Company K completed the Combat Conditioning Exercise Course during their first phase of training here in September.

http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/mcn2000.nsf/main5/9257CA1DEDD7F3F385257237006014FE?opendocument

Dec. 1, 2006
Submitted on: 12/01/2006 12:29:28 PM
Story ID#: 2006121122928
By Lance Cpl. Alicia Small, MCRD San Diego

The course is made up of 10 physically challenging stations and is designed to build combat skills, strength and endurance.

At the stations, recruits practiced combat skills such as the “buddy drag,” “high crawl” and the “fireman carry.”

"All of the exercises provide a good workout and help prepare them for the rigors of combat, like being tired and having to continue fighting despite dire conditions," said Staff Sgt. Paul Tallman, drill instructor, Co. K.

The CCX course simulates combat situations and teaches the recruits what it is like to fight and move from one location to the next, said Sgt. Virjilio Vargas, depot Instructional Training Company martial arts instructor.

"It is important to get them conditioned and put in the strong mindset they will need in combat situations such as Iraq and Afghanistan," said Vargas, who is originally from Compton, Calif.

Before the recruits got started on the course, drill instructors and ITC instructors demonstrated all the tactics and gave instructions on how to complete them.

Recruits were broken down into groups of 20 and ran a few laps to warm up before they started the exercises.

The drills took nearly an hour to complete, as each recruit participated at every station. They performed each exercise for 90 seconds and switched so their fellow recruits could have an opportunity to take part in the exercise.

Even after they finished the course, the recruits continued to learn about combat. Vargas gave a motivating speech to help the recruits understand the importance of the course they had just finished, said Colston.

Vargas read a citation about a Marine’s gallantry in combat and told the recruits how Marines are continuously fighting against odds to complete their missions today.

"The citation was read to show recruits they aren’t the only ones who are tired and hurting," said Tallman, who is native of Sacramento, Calif. "It is to prove to them that Marines can push past their comfort zones to be victorious in battle."

After Co. K recruits completed the CCX course, they continued their training during the second phase of boot camp in better condition and more prepared for combative situations. They graduate Dec. 15 as basic warriors and are ready to take on their next phase of training, Marine Combat Training at Camp Pendleton, Calif.

Food Service Company wins best field mess in Marine Corps

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (Dec. 1, 2006) -- In light of their Oct. 4 first place finish in the Marine Corps-wide Maj. Gen. W. P. T. Hill Memorial Award for Food Service competition, Food Service Company, Combat Logistics Regiment 27, 2nd Marine Logistics Group, celebrates the well-earned victory and prepares for next year’s event.

http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/mcn2000.nsf/main5/6033EA69337EE10A85257237005A7D33?opendocument

Dec. 1, 2006
Submitted on: 12/01/2006 11:28:22 AM
Story ID#: 2006121112822
By Cpl. Matthew K. Hacker, 2nd Marine Logistics Group

Having beaten the other three finalists to include Marine Force Reserves 4th MLG, New Orleans, La., 6th Engineer Support Battalion, III Marine Expeditionary Force, Okinawa, Japan, and Marine Wing Support Squadron 171, 1st Marine Air Wing, for the win, the company feels a sense of pride and accomplishment.

“I feel ecstatic because it showed the capability and knowledge that is possessed by the Marines in the company,” said Sgt. Dixon, a food service specialist with the company. “Winning the WPT Hill Awards were proof to our leaders that we retained a lot of training, and it gives them confidence in our abilities.”

Every Marine in the company was proud of the end results, said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Lakendrick Wright, company commander, which impressed upon them the values of their training for the last few months.

“I'm proud to be a part of the best Field Mess in the Marine Corps, and I'm enjoying this moment for all the Marines that worked with me,” Lance Cpl. Darnell S. Ham, also a food service specialist.

This win definitely showed the company, the regiment and the MLG our capabilities, added Wright. This in turn enables all food service Marines within the MEF to enhance their knowledge and learn from each other.

“The Hill Competition is the biggest food service event inspection for every branch of service so it’s always an honor to be considered ‘the best of the best,’” said Wright.

They decided to keep their award winning structure plan the same, but added a few decorations to acknowledge its proximity to the Halloween holiday, Wright said.

Site layout includes the security element and people flow, meal preparation includes recipe accuracy and speed, and administration records deals with official publications and their standard operating procedures.

The company will receive a plaque or trophy from II MEF, and will receive a Trophy from Headquarters Marine Corps and the International Food Service Executive Association in March.

“They are some of the best Marines the Corps has to offer,” said Wright. “It is definitely an honor to serve with the Marines of Food Service Company and they continue to impress not only me but the entire Marine Corps.”

As careers end, duty calls

Tyler Tidwell was in his company's ward room when he found out his request for service selection with the Marine Corps was granted.

http://www.washtimes.com/sports/20061201-124231-6737r.htm

By Corey Masisak
The Washington Times
December 1, 2006

It is tradition at the Naval Academy for newly minted Marines to get a haircut. When he tried to leave the room, some people were waiting for him.

"I open the door -- I am in my dress uniform -- and there are about 40 plebes waiting for me," Tidwell said, running his hand over his clean-shaven head. "I took off my coat and tie, and they kind of surrounded me, and I was like, 'Listen guys, I don't want ...' and then I just took off running. They just mobbed me, picked me up and carried me sideways into the room and shaved my head."

Tidwell, a linebacker, is one of 11 seniors on Navy's roster who will join the Corps after graduation. Nine of them chose Marine Corps Ground and will become commissioned officers to lead small groups of like-minded soldiers.
While Navy's team is a tight knit group, the Marine Corps-bound seniors are almost all particularly close.

"We're all always getting into the same stuff and hanging out together. Those are my guys, and I want to spend the next five years with them," senior defensive captain Rob Caldwell said. "I think it is the type of people that we are. We like small units, keep it close. It is kind of like a football team. That is how Capt. [Ryan] Hamilton [the team's military liaison] described it. Except now we will be the coaches instead of the players."

After they graduate in May, the future Marines will have about a month of leave. Some have requested first to be stationed in Annapolis on a temporary assignment duty (TAD). Every year a few of the former players are granted this request and become volunteer assistant coaches for the football team.

Those who are not rewarded the TAD will report to Marine Corps Base Quantico in Virginia for several months of training. While there, they will select a military occupational specialty and, depending on that, could be in for more training or be deployed.

Many of their former teammates who chose this path were the first from their graduating classes to see action in Iraq and Afghanistan. Two seasons ago that reality hit home when two former football players -- 1st Lt. Ron Winchester and 2nd Lt. J.P. Blecksmith -- died while serving in the Corps in Iraq.

"I would say they epitomize that they are doing this for a greater purpose. They are about something greater than themselves," said senior defensive back Jeremy McGown, who chose surface warfare. "Those guys can't wait to go over to Iraq and serve their country. They can't wait to get dirty and run around with guns. All of those guys are going to be incredible leaders over there."

A few of the players took preliminary steps toward the Navy SEAL program, but the logistics of football interfered. During the summer, many of them had an opportunity to spend two weeks with a Marine Corps unit -- kind of like Navy's version of an internship.

Linebacker Anthony Piccioni and defensive end Tye Adams spent their time with the 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance (LAR) Battalion at MCB Camp LeJeune in North Carolina. The battalion was sent to Iraq for a seven-month deployment in September.

"They took us out in the field for 10 days. It was awesome to be around those guys," Piccioni said. "They have a totally different mentality. The one thing I've learned from this whole experience is that those guys are fighting for the right reasons and they do make a difference.

"It is one big team. You work in small units toward one common goal, and that is to get the job done. I think we see that out here at football practice every day. We want to be around men like ourselves, and we want a chance to lead those men."

Adams was another member of the team who was a little reluctant to lose his hair.

"Tye was trying to hold out because his girlfriend was coming into town," Tidwell said. "We jumped him in the locker room and took out just enough that he had to shave it anyway. He kept trying to comb it over to cover it up, but he couldn't."