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March 31, 2007

Recovery team responds with haste when called

FALLUJAH, Iraq (March 31, 2007) -- When your unit’s mission involves recovering vehicles damaged on Iraq’s dangerous roads, slow business is generally good business. But no matter what your job, personnel in uniform here invariably have days which may seem never-ending; and those are the ones they train for.


March 31, 2007; Submitted on: 03/31/2007 02:48:31 PM ; Story ID#: 2007331144831
By Cpl. Andrew Kalwitz, 2nd Marine Logistics Group

“It’s about to get pretty crazy,” said Cpl. Joshua C. Webber, a refrigeration mechanic with Maintenance Company, Combat Logistics Battalion 6, 2nd Marine Logistics Group (Forward), after receiving word of a disabled vehicle.

Moments later, Chief Warrant Officer Jeff M. Ziegler, commanding officer of the company, entered the room to hear the details from Webber.

“We’ve got a recovery,” said Webber. “It’s a humvee; rear tire. It’s in Habbiniyah.”

This would be what Ziegler calls “a long haul,” but luckily the damage to the vehicle was minimal – a sign that casualties are less likely.

Regardless, in a case like this one, a recovery team would usually be sent from nearby Al Taqaddum. However, due to an equipment breakdown, the vehicle recovery Marines based out of Fallujah were called upon for the task.

They hastily threw on protective vests and helmets while rushing for their vehicles. Shortly thereafter, they arrived at Transportation Support Company to meet with personnel from the battalion’s Military Police Company who would provide security for the mission.

“Last time something like this happened, we were out for almost two days,” said Cpl. Benjamin S. Harrelson, a vehicle commander with the battalion. “It all started out like this; with us having to go because of a humvee tire.”

Harrelson, a Danville, Va., native, said that mission took up to 36 hours because of enemy activity. But that wouldn’t be the case this time.

The Marines were informed that a recovery team from Al Taqaddum was able to take the mission, Harrelson and the others dispersed, but with much less enthusiasm than when they had gathered.

The recovery team seemed unprepared for only one thing – to stand down. Other than that, little is sure to take them by surprise. In a future scenario that requires action, these Marines will more than likely be ready for the job.

March 30, 2007

Ramadi: Clearing insurgents is step 1

RAMADI, Iraq - It began with a house-to-house sweep through what U.S. forces said was one of this city's last insurgent strongholds. It ended with rooftop gunfights, airstrikes and dead guerrillas on the streets — one sprawled next to a grenade he was about to hurl.


By TODD PITMAN, Associated Press Writer
Fri Mar 30, 2:33 PM ET

Five days later, the operation was over in a section of Ramadi dubbed the "Heart of Darkness," and a newly arrived Marine battalion was poised to move in with Iraqi troops to hold it.

Commanders hope the troops will be able to keep out insurgents, but "unfortunately as always it will be a challenge," said Marine Maj. Jim Lively, who was part of a seven-man American team that worked with an Iraqi army company to help clear the area.

"It's so easy for them to put down their weapons, walk away" and blend in with civilians, he said of the insurgents.

Several dead fighters in flowing robes or track suits lay in pools of blood on the road outside the courtyard where Lively spoke, one with an automatic rifle beside him. "No doubt the rest are either out of town, or maybe sitting in one of these houses we just went through," Lively said.

Ramadi is still tremendously dangerous, but U.S. commanders say daily attacks have been cut by half in recent months, partly due to help from local tribal leaders. But the sheiks' influence is weaker in the city center, because no single leader holds sway.

Commanders say the only way to secure such zones is to pour in troops and keep them there. Until now, the area targeted in the latest operation was rarely patrolled for lack of soldiers, said 1st Lt. Mohamed Raad, an Iraqi company commander.

"That place was the vortex of evil," said Sgt. Jack Robison of the U.S. Army's 1st Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment. "Previously we wouldn't even have thought about walking down there."

The operation's first day, March 24, saw coalition troops creep out before dawn with night vision goggles, climbing into the blown-out ruins of an abandoned home. With Iraqi soldiers and a handful of police, they swept through houses searching for weapons, checking IDs and photographing men of fighting age.

Helicopter gunships and fighter jets crisscrossed the sky. Unmanned drones fitted with video cameras buzzed overhead.

The insurgents were watching.

"We got a peeker to the south, on a rooftop," Robison said. "Got one of those black masks on."

Robison's unit moved into a house and used it as a base for several days — living alongside a nervous family that watched with curiosity, served tea, and asked when the Americans would leave.

Soon, exchanges of gunfire erupted outside. An insurgent sniper shot an Iraqi lieutenant through the neck as he stood in a courtyard. Two Iraqis and an American also were wounded.

Several sweating U.S. soldiers stopped by and reported that bullets kicked up dirt beside them as they ran. One bullet struck an American in the side, but he was uninjured — saved by his armored vest.

Sitting on a bed with radio antennas sticking out the window, Army Capt. James Enos requested a missile strike on guerrillas holed up on a nearby rooftop. An explosion sounded. "Evidently that second-floor roof is now a first floor," Enos said.

Over the next two days, troops cleared houses as tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles guarded roads and Army civil affairs teams handed out food and water. One woman about to give birth was taken to a hospital in a Bradley.

On a wall across the street from a mosque, someone had scrawled in Arabic: "Ramadi is life for the holy warriors ... and a cemetery for Americans."

At night, Apache helicopters fired Hellfire missiles that streaked red across the sky. They also fired a 30-mm gun, and spent shells bounced off the concrete walls of a villa being used as a U.S. base. The target was another building where insurgents had been firing from with machine guns.

Among bodies found in rubble the next day was that of a little girl.

The fourth morning at dawn, Raad's company moved into another grid of streets as U.S. tank cannons boomed and coalition machine guns provided cover.

Fearing bombs in the streets, they moved between houses by climbing over walls with ladders. It was a prudent choice: Ordnance disposal units were called in repeatedly as bomb after bomb was found buried in the road.

Staff Sgt. Cory Schroeder, whose unit disarmed five explosive devices a day, said insurgents even planted two of them behind his vehicle while he disarmed another.

After removing a trip wire that Iraqi troops found in front of a door, Schroeder moved through a pile of trash outside. Looking down as troops walked in front of him, he spotted two metal strips wrapped together with brown tape — a pressure plate trigger connected to a bomb.

"Stop! God!" Schroeder yelled. "These things are everywhere."

As the operation wore on, coalition vehicles used bullhorns to air Arabic messages telling residents to stay inside. Streets were deserted. "This is your last chance to help. Don't move. Don't run," one said. "Help the Iraqi army and the American forces find insurgents."

Another vehicle briefly blared a screeching Metallica tune.

Raad's men went house to house, steadying their weapons on rooftop walls to engage insurgents blocks away. Amid the crackle of automatic-weapons fire, families huddled downstairs. Raad hurled a grenade off one roof after seeing two suspected insurgents running toward him.

"Most people are telling me it's a safe area, it's a good area," Raad said after speaking to one family. "This is a very bad area; they just don't want to help."

On Wednesday morning, shots rang out again.

A block from where Raad and his men spent the night on the floor of another civilian home, six men lay dead in the street — shot by Iraqi soldiers. Most appeared in their 20s. Iraqi troops said the men were insurgents.

The body of a middle-age, mustachioed man in a gray robe sprawled on its back, eyes open. One hand held a red checkered head scarf. Six inches from an open palm was a green pineapple-shaped grenade he was evidently about to throw at Iraqi soldiers on the rooftop.

Around the corner, a burned car sat in the road sunken in ash, its dashboard melted. A trail of blood led to a courtyard where the body of a young man lay in the dirt beside a Kalashnikov assault rifle. Another body was on the ground near a charred, overturned motorcycle.

In the yard of a nearby house where another pressure plate had been rigged to set off a bomb, troops dug up a blue plastic barrel filled with Kalashnikovs, grenade launchers, a sniper scope, copper wires, bomb-making instructions and ski masks.

Also in the stash: American ammunition clips, flash-bang grenades and infrared strobes.

"They're taking them off our boys," said Sgt. 1st Class Michael Harper.

"Our dead guys?" another soldier asked.

"Yeah," Harper said, shaking his head.

Lively said the house had been abandoned by its owners and had been used by a half dozen insurgents to store weapons and plan attacks.

"This is going to be a safe place," Lively said of the area. "But the hold phase is key. "You gotta keep a lot of folks on the ground here when we leave."

March 29, 2007

15th MEU hands off Anbar duty; Marine unit has been extended for ‘surge’

By Joseph Giordono, Stars and Stripes
Mideast edition, Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Marine unit that was extended in Anbar province as part of the “surge” has handed over parts of its operating area to another Marine unit, officials said Wednesday

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March 28, 2007

New Hospital Built to Serve and Save

AL ASAD, Iraq -- When a servicemember is wounded in combat, his comrades quickly apply first aid and call for a medical evacuation; taking the first steps towards saving his life. When the helicopter arrives, the wounded man is loaded and transported to the hospital, where he is met at the landing pad by a team of medics and doctors who rush the servicemember into the hospital. At the hospital, the real lifesaving begins.


Marine Corps News | March 27, 2007

Thanks to the new level three hospital being built on Al Asad, wounded servicemembers have a greater chance of receiving the lifesaving care they need faster.

The new 399th Combat Support Hospital, which is scheduled to open the first week of March, will replace the current level two-plus hospital here, according to Army Col. Joseph Blansfield, the deputy commander for nursing services for the 399th CSH.

“We’ll have a greater breadth and scope of clinical capability,” said Blansfield. “Plus we’ll have the ability to hold patients longer for medical treatment.”

One of the biggest advantages to the new hospital is the ability to hold patients overnight, according to Blansfield.

“It’s in the best interest of the patients,” said Blansfield. “Currently, the patients get an operation that basically tries to restore their life support functions and then they are sent out on life support. We can get them a bit more stabilized and do a definitive operation so that when they are sent out they are sent out in a more stable condition after they have had maybe one or two operations. They are in a better condition to recover.”

Besides treating patients straight from the battlefield, the new facility will also receive patients from level two facilities throughout Iraq, such as Fallujah and Ramadi, according to Blansfield.

Patients may not even need to leave Al Asad to fully recover, according to Army 1st Sgt. Charles Michaud, the 399th CSH first sergeant.

“The other hospital has to patch patients up and move them to a facility like ours as soon as they are stabilized,” said Michaud. “We will be able to give them a longer time to recover before moving them. Or, we can keep them here till they recover and can go back to their units.”

Another advantage of the new hospital is the wide range of care that patients will be able to receive, according to Michaud.

There’s too many to list,” said Michaud of the types of personnel staffing the new hospital. “We have medics. We have a whole range of doctors and surgeons, and we have a lot of nurses with different specialties.”

The hospital will offer everything from a dietician to orthopedic surgeons, according to Army Lt. Col. Joaquin Curtiella, the deputy commander of clinical services for the 399th CSH.

With a pharmacy, labs, a blood bank, X-ray and CT scan machines, the new hospital is almost comparable to a civilian hospital back in the states, according to Army 1st Lt. Ellen Elliot, a registered nurse for the 399th CSH.

“We have everything we need to impact a wounded soldier’s life,” said Elliot.

Marines ban big, garish tattoos

OCEANSIDE, Calif. — Five tattooed skulls stretch from Marine Cpl. Jeremy Slaton's right elbow to his wrist, spelling out the word "Death." He planned to add a tattoo spelling "Life" on his left arm, but that's on hold because of a Marine policy taking effect Sunday.


By Thomas Watkins, Associated Press Writer
April, 2007

The Marines are banning any new, extra-large tattoos below the elbow or the knee, saying such body art is harmful to the Corps' spit-and-polish image.

Slaton and other grunts are not pleased.

"I guess I'll get the other half later," grumbled the 24-year-old leatherneck from Eden Prairie, Minn. "It's kind of messed up."

For many Marines, getting a tattoo is a rite of passage. They commonly get their forearms inscribed to remember fallen comrades, combat tours or loved ones, and often ask for exotic designs that incorporate the Marine motto, Semper Fi, or "Always faithful."

Dozens of Marines from Camp Pendleton, the West Coast's biggest Marine base, made last-minute trips to tattoo parlors in nearby Oceanside before the ban kicked in.

"This is something I love to do," said Cpl. David Nadrchal, 20, of Pomona, who made an appointment to get an Iraqi flag and his deployment dates etched onto his lower leg. "The fact I can't put something on my body that I want — it's a big thing to tell me I can't do that."

Nadrchal said he is unsure whether he will re-enlist: "There's all these little things. They are slowly chipping away at us."

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James T. Conway announced the policy change last week.

"Some Marines have taken the liberty of tattooing themselves to a point that is contrary to our professional demeanor and the high standards America has come to expect from us," he said. "I believe tattoos of an excessive nature do not represent our traditional values."

The ban is aimed primarily at "sleeve" tattoos, the large and often elaborate designs on the biceps and forearms of many Marines. Similar designs on the lower legs will be forbidden as well. So will very large tattoos on the upper arm, if they are visible when a Marine wears his workout T-shirt. Small, individual tattoos will still be allowed on the arms and legs. (The Marines already ban them on the hands.)

Marines already tattooed are exempt from the ban but cannot add to their designs; anyone caught with fresh ink in the wrong places could be barred from re-enlistment or face disciplinary action. Getting a prohibited tattoo could constitute a violation of a lawful order, punishable by up to two years in prison and a dishonorable discharge, Marine spokesman 1st Lt. Brian Donnolly said.

Unit commanders must photograph and document sleeve tattoos to ensure Marines do not add to their ink.

The Marines and the other branches of the military already ban tattoos that could be offensive or disruptive, such as images that are sexist, vulgar, gang-related or extremist.

The Army, which has been doing most of the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan and is struggling to fill its ranks, actually relaxed its tattoo restrictions last year. Soldiers can now get ink on the back of their hands and the lower back of the neck.

The Navy last year decreed that tattoos visible while in short-sleeve uniform cannot be larger than the wearer's hand. The Air Force says tattoos should be covered up if they are bigger than one-quarter the size of the exposed body part.

Tattoo artist Jerry Layton at the Body Temple Tattoo Studio in Oceanside said he was booked up with Marines rushing to beat the deadline.

"These are guys that are dying in the war," Layton said. "They can fight, but they can't get a tattoo? It's ridiculous."

March 27, 2007

Logistics company keeps troops moving

By Sandra Jontz, Stars and Stripes
Mideast edition, Tuesday, March 27, 2007

AL ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq — “Brilliance is in the details,” Capt. Tom Warren told his Transportation Support Company Marines after they successfully completed a two-day resupply convoy between Al Asad Air Base and Camp al Qa’im, near the Syrian border.

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Marine Reservists Involuntarily Recalled

WASHINGTON - The Marine Corps is recalling 1,800 reservists to active duty, citing a shortage of volunteers to fill some jobs in Iraq.


Associated Press

March 27, 2007

Members of the branch's Individual Ready Reserve (IRR) will get letters this week notifying them of plans to mobilize them involuntarily for a year, said Lt. Col. Jeff Riehl of Marine manpower and reserve affairs.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates last week approved the action, under which reservists would report for duty in October and deploy to Iraq early next year, Riehl said.

From the 1,800 called, officials hope to get 1,200 Marines for aviation maintenance, logistics support, combat arms and several other skills needed for the early 2008 rotation into Iraq.

The ready reserves are service members who have left active duty but still have time remaining on their eight-year military obligations. Generally, Marines enlist for four years, then serve another four either in the regular Reserves, where they are paid and train periodically, or in the IRR, in which they do not drill but can be involuntarily recalled.

President Bush last July authorized the recall from the Marine IRR of up to 2,500 at one time. Like the Army, the Marines have had to call considerably larger numbers of people to get the number they want, because some don't pass muster and others ask for deferments, delays or exemptions due to family issues, medical reasons and other issues.

This is the second call-up under Bush's order. The Marines in December called 150 in search of 100 people with infantry, logistics, communications and other skills, though they only ended up with 69. They are deploying in July.

There are about 60,000 Marines in the IRR, but the Corps has decided to exempt from call-up those who are either in their first year or last year of reserve status. As a result, the pool of available Marines is about 25,000, said Maj. Steven O'Connor, a Marine Corps spokesman.

Riehl said a plan to increase the Marine Corps' overall size could eventually help erase future shortfalls.

Anything but light: LAVs conduct live-fire exercise to pave the way for eyes-forward reconnaissance, enemy destruction

RODRIGUEZ LIVE FIRE COMPLEX, Republic of Korea (March 27, 2007) -- The vehicle stands about three meters off the ground with its eight tractor trailer sized tires keeping the angular behemoth’s body from becoming a permanent feature of the landscape. The main weapon, a 25mm Bushmaster chain gun, protrudes from the gunner’s turret, signifying potential annihilation.


March 27, 2007

By Lance Cpl. Eric D. Arndt, 31st MEU

Equipped with adequate firepower sufficient to permanently mar enemy vehicles with watermelon-sized holes, the light armored vehicles of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit are something of an anomaly: only in the Marine Corps could an automotive this foreboding be described using any word besides “heavy.”

“Destructive” could also work. Besides the main weapon, LAVs can be equipped with a smorgasbord of other delightful enemy-ridding devices: an 81mm mortar tube, a tube-launched, optically wired missile, or the standard: an M-240G machine gun, attached to a mount that can swivel independently of the rotating turret.

If that weren’t enough, the vehicle’s 275 horsepower Detroit diesel engine can also move at a traveling speed of 65 miles per hour, quickly getting to and from the places it’s required.
Of course, a vehicle is only as effective as the men operating it. In this case, there are three: the actual driver of the LAV, the gunner, who operates the chain gun, and the vehicle commander.

“Vehicle commanders make sure the driver drives safely, and from a tactical standpoint, manages the vehicle to where enemies can not get a clear shot at it,” said Staff Sgt. William J. Guth, a vehicle commander with Light Armored Reconnaissance platoon, Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, the MEU’s ground combat element.

“We also employ the gunner by identifying and selecting targets for him to engage.”
The vehicles, which roll in packs – two per section and four per platoon (not counting the logistics, maintenance, or communication vehicles) are usually sent to a mission from a secured position. Modular to accommodate any type of task, the LAV can adapt to whatever it is called to do: assaults, the evacuation of casualties, or performing cordon and knock operations.

This may be where the design of the system shines. Each attack vehicle is equipped with – in addition to the vehicle operators – four infantrymen, which act as the vehicle’s scouts and can patrol ahead to call in the LAVs when they’re needed.

Cpl Jacob C. Suter, a squad leader with the platoon, recalled the method his unit would use the vehicles in Iraq.

“When conducting raids, we would use the vehicles as an outer cordon to keep people out,” he explained. “Then, some of the scouts would take care of inner security while the rest would knock down doors to snatch bad guys.”

When it does come down to a firefight, however, nothing steals the thunder of the vehicle’s main chain gun, the Moline, Ill., native added.

Although the vehicle is not armored enough to engage tanks, its speed and reliability more than makes up for the absence of heavy armor.

“We can reach out and touch anyone we need to,” Guth said. “If used properly, these vehicles can pretty much own the battlefield.”

March 26, 2007

Warriors, Gunrunners form one-two punch at Al Asad

AL ASAD, Iraq (Mar. 26, 2007) -- “We live here. You just visit.”
That is what is written below the Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 167 logo painted outside Al Asad’s Tactical Air Control Center as a testament to their status here.

Mar. 26, 2007


By Cpl. Zachary Dyer, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing

The “Warriors” of HML/A-167 and their fellow East Coast squadron, the “Gunrunners” of HML/A-269 share a deployment cycle to Al Asad with only five months between tours.

“There’s only two East Coast HML/As,” explained Sgt. Maj. Mark Pauley, the Warriors’ sergeant major. “So we just rotate in and out. For some Marines this is their fourth time here. Actually, I have some that are on their fifth deployment.”

The squadrons’ responsibilities in Iraq are to provide close air support to Marines on the ground and provide escorts for medical evacuation missions, according to Lt. Col. Scott Jensen, the Gunrunners’ commanding officer.
The East Coast squadrons are responsible for Al Asad and the surrounding area, while the West Coast squadrons are responsible for Al Taqaddum, according to Lt. Col. Lawrence Killmeier, the Warriors’ commanding officer.

“The West Coast’s operational tempo is very high also, but they have three squadrons that they are rotating through TQ,” said Killmeier. “So a squadron comes over here and does their seven months and goes back. They have to do the same training, but they have 10 months to a year to get ready for it. Because we only have two squadrons, there’s no one else in the rotation. It just goes between ‘269 and ‘167.”

The Warriors turned over mission responsibility to the Gunrunners for the fourth time, March 11.

“We’ve pretty much got the transition down to a science,” said Killmeier, a Knoxville, Tenn., native. “It’s fairly seamless. Last fall when we took the mission, ten minutes afterwards we had our first (medical evacuation). I imagine it was transparent to the ground forces they were supporting. The only thing different to them was the call signs.”

During the last seven months, the Warriors have racked up an impressive record, with 5,500 flight hours and 4,200 sorties, according to Maj. Scott Clifton, the Warriors’ operations officer.

Now that the Gunrunners have stepped up to the plate, they are looking to do just as well as their fellow Marines, according to Jensen, a Salmon, Idaho, native.

“I expect them to do the basics, and to do the basics well.” said Jensen. “That means technically in their skill field and (Military Occupational Specialty), but also as a Marine. If we all accomplish those things then the big missions get taken care of.”

Both Jensen and Killmeier believe their Marines are handling the rapid deployments well.

“Marines are Marines, and they are going to do anything you ask them to do,” said Jensen. “And they are going to do it well. That’s our tradition, going back centuries really. There’s no doubt, without any fluff, to say that the Marines are doing really well. They know their business because they have to know their business, but the cost comes in separation from the family.”
The Marines credit those they left in the rear with helping them get through the constant deployments, according to Cpl. Melinda Sims, a Gunrunners’ intelligence analyst on her third deployment to Iraq.

“Having the support of my family and friends helps a lot, whether I’m back home or in Iraq,” said Sims, a Panama City, Fla., native. “Just supporting me, sending me things, keeping my spirits up.”

The Marines also have the support of their fellow Gunrunners and Warriors to help get through the deployments, according to Sgt. Maj. Terry Stanford, the HML/A-269 sergeant major.
“I can sum it up in one word, ‘together’,” said Stanford, a Penn, Pa., native. “We’re doing it together and we are handling it quite well.”

It’s a testament to the determination and focus of the Marines that both squadrons have no problem getting their Marines to re-enlist, according to Jensen.

“It points to their patriotism and their willingness to serve,” said Jensen. “They joined the Marine Corps to be Marine and come in to a combat zone and do what they’re doing. We meet and way exceed our retention goals each year because Marines want to step in.

Engineers make Iraq roadways safe for all

AL TAQADDUM, Iraq (March 26, 2007) -- The scars of insurgent attacks can easily be seen on the roadways here, reflected by the large craters where improvised explosive devices were previously detonated. These craters also serve as an opportune location for insurgents to place more explosives.


March 26, 2007

By Cpl. Wayne Edmiston, 2nd Marine Logistics Group

The Marines of Engineer Support Company, 8th Engineer Support Battalion, 2nd Marine Logistics Group (Forward) fix these scars by working day and night to repair the roads of Iraq for the safety of both the coalition forces and the Iraqis who travel them.

“We are basically repairing the IED holes and fixing the roadways so convoys can do their mission without worrying about driving off the road to avoid them,” said Cpl. Michael Moceri, a heavy equipment operator with the company and a Tacoma, Wash., native.

The Marines use a combination of fast-drying repair pavement and concrete to fix these holes. The process of preparing for a mission is an arduous one.

For the smaller holes, buckets of the fast-drying pavement are loaded on the back of a large truck the day prior.

According to Chief Warrant Officer Darryl L. Jones, the process begins with mixing water and the pavement. The Marines then pour it into the hole and smooth it with a trowel.

To fix larger holes, the Marines use a mobile concrete mixer. The mixer needs preparation first and Marines spend hours prior to the mission putting nearly 200 110-pound bags of concrete into the back of the mixer known as the “Crete-mobile”, at which point it is mission-ready.

The Crete-mobile can perform most of the tasks of a large concrete truck in the civilian industry, explained Jones.

Moceri explained that he knows the value of his labor and that it is rewarding to see his work make a difference.

“The work helps Marines and civilians get around easier and also keeps Marines safer when they convoy on already dangerous roads,” Moceri said.

One Marine was more blunt in her explanation of what she does.

“I don’t want myself or anyone else getting blown up; plain and simple,” said Lance Cpl. Patricia Lusk, a heavy equipment operator with the company.

Moceri also explained that his job is not for someone who does not want to get his hands dirty. The work is strenuous and many have had to pick up skills on the job.

“They have quickly and efficiently learned how to use equipment that is not available back at Camp Lejeune and have performed well above expectations,” Jones said. “Most of the Marines in this company have several other billets and additional duties to perform. The average workday can last 16 to 18 hours and varies between day or night operations based on the mission.”

Jones believes his Marines have a special quality not seen in others.

“The Marines of this company possess the ability to rapidly adapt to any situation, learn new processes and improve on them to effectively accomplish the mission while always keeping safety in mind,” Jones concluded.

Safety for themselves is one thing the engineers may have in mind as they fix the holes in the road, but safety of their comrades and Iraqi citizens is the true motivation for their toil.

Marines to Alert 1,800 Individual Ready Reservists for Reactivation

WASHINGTON, March 26, 2007 – Over the next week, 1,800 Individual Ready Reserve Marines will receive notice from the Marine Corps that they are needed in Iraq, an official announced today.


By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

Marine Lt. Col. Jeff Riehl, Marine Corps Manpower and Reserve Affairs spokesman, told reporters at the Pentagon today that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates approved the notification March 23, and the letters are being mailed today.

All enlistees in all services incur an eight-year commitment in some capacity, generally a combination of active or reserve duty and then IRR service. The Marine Corps can call up to 2,500 Marines from its 60,000-member IRR pool to involuntary service at any one time, following a July 26 authorization from President Bush.

To date, the Corps has recalled 69 IRR members under this authorization, and today’s announcement represents the largest involuntary recall in the Marine Corps since the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

From the 1,800 IRR members notified, Riehl said, Marine Corps officials expect 1,200 to re-enter active duty, including 1,067 sergeants and 133 captains. The ratio of notified IRR Marines to those expected to reactivate is 1 and a half to 1, as some Marines will be unable to fulfill their orders due to various mitigating circumstances, he said.

“We’ve adopted the philosophy of ‘do no harm to the Marine,’” Riehl said. “So if a Marine comes aboard during the muster and they have family issues, medical issues (or) they cannot be activated for that timeframe, we have a delay, deferment or exemption process.”

In addition, the service is excluding Marines who are in their first year of IRR service. Only Marines in their second or third year of IRR service are being involuntarily recalled, Riehl said.

The service is targeting Marines in aviation maintenance, logistics support, combat arms, motor transportation, communications, intelligence and military police -- career fields that are experiencing personnel shortages, he said.

“We’re doing this to help beef up the forces in the shortfalls that we have,” Riehl said. “Marines who receive notifications will be instructed to muster April 10-30 at the Mobility Command in Kansas City, Mo., and they will report between Oct. 9 and Oct. 20 for one year of additional active duty, Riehl said. Unit deployment dates will be in early 2008, he added.

The service has set up a Web site, https://mcmps.manpower.usmc.mil/MCMPS/GIDA/, to allow IRR Marines and recent retirees to volunteer for war on terror assignments.

The breakdown of military occupational specialties for the 1,200 IRR members is:

-- 361 Aviation Maintenance
-- 225 Logistics and Support
-- 223 Infantry, Tanks and Artillery
-- 178 Motor Transport
-- 97 Communications
-- 95 Intelligence
-- 21 Military Police

March 24, 2007

More Kaneohe Marines, Sailors Deploy

Three hundred Marines and Sailors are on their way to Iraq for a seven-month deployment. They're members of the 1st Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment. Today friends and family gathered at the Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe for one last good-bye.


Terri Inefuku

Saying good-bye is never easy. Leaving behind a mother, or a wife, or a newborn son is even harder.

"I have pictures and whatnot. My wife is going to send me pictures also," said Cpl. Troy Williams of his one-month-old son Kanoa.

"It's hard. It's going to be hard. It's our first baby. I've been crying a lot," admitted his wife, Ashlynn Williams.

For seven months, the Marines and Sailors will be patrolling the Al Anbar province in west Iraq. Some will be reinforcing the border along Jordan and Syria.

This will be Cpl. Dustin Andrews' second time in Iraq. He first deployed out of North Carolina on September 19, 2001, just days after 9-11. "Eight days after the tower went down, nobody knew what to expect. Now we got a pretty good game plan," he said.

This is the battalion's first major combat deployment since Operation Desert Shield in the early 1990s. For many, it will be their first time in a war zone.

"Everybody would be nervous going to their first deployment in Iraq. But I feel that the whole battalion's ready. We're all ready," said LCpl. Richard Rivera.

Rivera's mother, Rita Brown, flew in from California to spend a few precious days with her son. "I'm going to be doing a lot of praying for his safety, but I know he's well trained and I'm very proud of him and I know he'll be back safely," she said.

Each Marine must carry an M-16, a gas mask canister and night vision lenses - a stark reminder of how deadly war can be. Despite the danger, these men and women say they're ready.

"We're proud to be doing what we're doing and we're glad we're getting the chance to go over there and serve," said Cpl. Mitchell Stadel.

But the families they're leaving behind aren't quite as prepared to let them go.

The Kaneohe-based Marines serve on a rotating cycle. Two battalions have deployed in the past week. One is expected to return home from Iraq next month.

Marine Unit Ordered Out of Afghanistan

WASHINGTON (March 24) -- Marines accused of shooting and killing civilians after a suicide bombing in Afghanistan are under U.S. investigation, and their entire unit has been ordered to leave the country, officials said Friday.



It is highly unusual for any combat unit, either special operations or conventional, to have its mission cut short.

A spokesman for the Marine unit, Maj. Cliff Gilmore, said it is in the process of leaving Afghanistan, but he declined to provide details on the timing and new location, citing a need for security.

In the March 4 incident in Nangahar province, an explosives-rigged minivan crashed into a convoy of Marines that U.S. officials said also came under fire from gunmen. As many as 10 Afghans were killed and 34 wounded as the convoy made an escape. Injured Afghans said the Americans fired on civilian cars and pedestrians as they sped away.

U.S. military officials said militant gunmen shot at Marines and may have caused some of the civilian casualties.

Purple Heart Family Support ™ Bring Lunch to National Naval Medical Center

BETHESDA, MD, March 24, 2007 - Purple Heart Family Support ™ announced the start of new program bringing support to families of injured Marines at the National Naval Medical Center (NNMC) in Bethesda, MD. Purple Heart Family Support ™, a subsidiary of the non-profit MarineParents.com, will bring a monthly free meal to families and patients at the hospital, providing a much needed service as the hospital cafeteria is closed on the weekends.

“While we can’t make our Marines recover faster, knowing we can bring them and their families some comfort and support is incredibly powerful,” said Tracy Della Vecchia, founder of MarineParents.com. “Before undertaking this project, we went to the hospital and talked with the Purple Heart families there and made sure we were providing a service that would be needed. I still can’t get over the gratitude the families were showing us, when we were trying to thank them for their sacrifice.”

Staffed completely by volunteers, Purple Heart Family Support™ was founded on the sole mission to bring support to the families of Marines injured on the battlefield. In addition to providing a monthly meal at NNMC, future projects are in the works to provide additional support to families of injured Marines across the country.

“The volunteers of Purple Heart Family Support™ and MarineParents.com know what it is like to have a loved one in harm’s way – we are the family of Marines stationed across the world,” said Stephanie Valle, a coordinator of the monthly meal project. “The incredible strength of these families at NNMC is unbelievably moving and to be able to give a little something back – bring a smile for a few minutes – is something I will never be able to forget.”

MarineParents.com was founded at the start of the Iraq War as a forum to provide information and support to the families left at home, wondering how their sons, daughters, husbands and wives were doing half a world away. The site has since grown to support more than 30,000 Marine Corps families and has expanded its services to include multiple volunteer projects. These projects include Operation PAL™ a project designed to support the injured Marines by coordinating the delivery of thousands of letters and prayers to Marines while they are recovering, and the Care Package Project ™, which sends thousands of care packages every year overseas to Marines in Iraq.

“The success of Purple Heart Family Support™ hinges on the continued support of corporations, individuals and other philanthropic sponsors. We encourage anyone who is interested in supporting this project to contact us and we’re confidant we’ll be able to find ways to work together to support our Purple Heart familes,” said Della Vecchia.

please visit www.PurpleHeartFamilies.com or for more information about MarineParents.com, Inc. please see www.MarineParents.com.

March 23, 2007

Engineers fortify Iraqi Police Station

AL FALLUJAH, Iraq (March 23, 2007) -- In an attempt to protect those serving the local community, Marines from Engineer Company, Combat Logistics Battalion 6, 2nd Marine Logistics Group (Forward) fortified an Iraqi Police Station in southwest Fallujah March 23.


March 23, 2007; Submitted on: 03/29/2007 12:20:23 AM ; Story ID#: 200732902023
By Cpl. Andrew Kalwitz, 2nd Marine Logistics Group

“They need a stronger presence in Fallujah,” said Gunnery Sgt. Richard O. Thomas, company gunnery sergeant for Engineer Company. “It’s the center of insurgent activity in the area of operations.”

The Marines planned accordingly before entering the area, having reinforcements nearby and security ready to watch over them.

“It’s a bubble of protection while we’re working. It’s a necessary bubble,” said Thomas, a Miami native. “We still had our internal security set up, but at least you know someone’s watching while you work.”

During the mission, the company repaired a pothole in front of the station, bulldozed an adjacent building that insurgents have been known to use for hiding, emplaced a concertina wire fence around the structure and disposed of unexploded ordnance discovered nearby.

The battalion’s Transportation Support Company later joined the mission, bringing along 55 concrete barriers weighing a total of 165,000 pounds. After placing the barriers along the front of the building, they left the area to the Marines of Engineer Company.

The mission was also intended to allow contractor support to refurbish the building. Thomas said the structure could be improved with better plumbing, roofing, electric work and windows.

Capt. Walter G. Carr, the commanding officer of Engineer Company, acknowledged the mission’s significance prior to departing.

“It will take a catastrophic event for us to stop working,” he told them.

As ready as the Marines seemed to be for such an event, it never came. Instead, they completed their mission, returning to Camp Fallujah more than 14 hours after originally beginning their labor.

VMM-266 third ‘Osprey’ squadron to stand-up

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION NEW RIVER, N.C. (March 23, 2007) -- Decommissioned Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 266 will officially stand-up as the newest addition to the Corps' "Osprey" arsenal, March 23, during a ceremony at the squadron's hangar.


March 23, 2007

By Cpl. Jonathan A. Tabb, MCAS New River

With the Corps' gradual transition from the CH-46E "Sea Knight," to the MV-22 "Osprey," the Station has already seen the commissioning of two tiltrotor squadrons, making Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 266 the third.

According to Lt. Col. Christopher C. Seymour, commanding officer of VMM-266, the squadron's mission will be to provide assault support transport of combat troops, supplies and equipment during expeditionary, joint or combined operations.

"(Basically), we're going to provide the (Fleet Marine Force) with the operational capability to change the landscape of the battlefield, through speed, agility and increased capacities," he said.

Seymour, who has been working with the "Osprey" as the executive officer for Marine Medium Tiltrotor Training Squadron 204, said he has enjoyed his time with the aircraft and is excited to put his training and knowledge to good use as the newest "Osprey" commanding officer.

"I feel honored and humbled by the opportunity to lead Marines, particularly during this time in U.S. history," he said.

Sgt. Maj. Suzanne R. How, the squadron's sergeant major, said she's looking forward to working with the "Osprey" and the Marines of VMM-266.

"We're an 'Osprey' squadron and we're going to go to work," she said. "We have an awesome team."

Seymour said he is excited to have the opportunity to show the Marines what an operational "Osprey" squadron can do.

"I look forward to demonstrating to our Marine brothers on the ground and other supporting arms, the amazing capabilities and potential the 'Osprey' has in combat operations," he explained. "We're preparing for the delivery of the first aircraft to the 'Fighting Griffins' of VMM-266 and will begin combat core training post haste."

Training challenges Marines to balance mission with search for IEDs

CENTRAL TRAINING AREA, OKINAWA, Japan (March 23, 2007) -- More than 40 Marines with 2nd Platoon, Motor Transportation Company, Combat Logistics Battalion 4 participated in convoy operations training March 15-18 in the Central Training Area.


March 23, 2007

By Lance Cpl. Richard Blumenstein, MCB Camp Butler

The training focused on teaching the Marines how to respond to improvised explosive devices and enemy personnel while completing mission objectives, according to 1st Lt. Kassandra C. Babin, the 2nd platoon commander with Motor Transportation Co.

The majority of Marines running the scenarios were Iraq veterans, and a lot of the training came from lessons learned there, said Cpl. Rodolfo R. Ortiz, a motor vehicle operator and an instructor during the training.

"This training allows us to teach (other Marines) from our own personal experience," Ortiz said. "We're teaching them exactly how things happen out there."

Before each scenario, the Marines received a brief from Babin on their mission, potential enemy threats and the rules of engagement.

Marines also reviewed the importance of organization during a convoy.

"If you go out with a convoy that's disorganized, it could turn into a real slaughterhouse," said Cpl. Clarence W. Burnette, a motor vehicle operator. "You have to know which trucks go in which order and where the crew-served weapons go."

As the Marines drove along the roads in the CTA, they encountered potential enemies. They followed rules of engagement and escalation of force procedures to disarm personnel with minimal force.

"We want to make sure the Marines can tell the difference between threatening and non-threatening situations," Babin said.

When confronted with simulated IEDs, the Marines stopped their convoys, searched for other potential dangers in the area and called in detailed reports of location and type of explosive device.

If the Marines failed to locate an IED it would detonate, launching a white, smokeless powder. The Marines responded with immediate action drills to assess the situation, recover casualties and equipment and eliminate enemy threats.

"It's important to do this so we know how to react and get out of these situations," Babin said.

Marines also trained to establish defensive perimeters around landing zones in support of close air support casualty evacuations and trained with night vision goggles.

"The best thing we can do for our Marines is make sure they get the knowledge now, so they don't get blindsided," Ortiz said.

Anti-armor team sets up checkpoints

MARINE CORPS BASE HAWAII, Hawaii (Mar. 23, 2007) -- TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. — Whether on patrol or at the forward operating base in Iraq, Marines are often in harm’s way from indirect fire, small-arms fire, and improvised explosive devices. When conducting vehicle checkpoints, these enemy tactics are things service members should look for.


Mar. 23, 2007

By Cpl. Rick Nelson, MCB Hawaii

Marines assigned to Combined Anti-Armor Team 1, Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, Marine Corps Base Hawaii, Kaneohe Bay, began their final exercise of their Mojave Viper training by setting up a VCP in the middle of the fictitious villages of Khalidiyah and Wadi al Sahara at the Urban Warfare Training Facility.

“Our main objective was to set up a VCP on Texas Road,” said Sgt. Jorge G. Salzar, section leader, Section 2, CAAT-1, Weapons Company. “We had one lane of the road blocked off for civilian automobiles to be searched and the other lane for military, Iraqi police and Iraqi army vehicles. At the other end of the road was a mirror image VCP with Marines checking vehicles from that end.”

Salzar, a native of Laredo, Texas, said Marines at the checkpoints were looking for suspicious people with IED-making materials, cell phones, passive infrared, weapons, high-volume targets, and vehicles matching the “be-on-the-look-out-for” list.

“At the checkpoints, we use the acronym NIDD,” said the 30-year-old. “NIDD means we notify the vehicle with a sign of the checkpoint before it pulls in. After that, we impede the vehicle with some kind of blockade,” he explained.

“If the vehicle continues to drive through without stopping, we then disable the vehicle with a designated marksman who will fire a well-aimed shot to the engine, tires or the vehicle.”

If the vehicle continues to drive through once it has been disabled, as a last resort, the unit will then destroy the vehicle using heavy machine-gun fire.

“Our biggest threat is vehicle-born IED’s, which is why we use NIDD,” said Cpl. Jason A. Rowell, squad leader.
Rowell, who deployed with 1/3 to Iraq in 2004, said doing the checkpoint training will help them identify their mistakes and fix them before they deploy.

“The best part about this training is having the instructor controllers or “coyotes” out here monitoring us and telling us what is done right and wrong and what we need to change before we get into (Iraq),” said the native of Byron, Ill. “This is the best training a Marine can have because the role players make it seem very lifelike.”

While deployed to Iraq, Marines assigned to CAAT-1 will provide VCPs, mounted and dismounted convoys, and support other units, said Rowell.

“When I went to Iraq with 1/3 in 2004, I didn’t know nearly as much as the junior Marines do now,” admitted the 22-year-old. “In my opinion 1/3 has done a great job training us, and there’s not a doubt in my mind that CAAT-1 is 100 percent ready for our deployment.”

Marine Awarded the Flying Cross

LONDON – A U.S. Marine appeared before Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace March 21 to receive the United Kingdom's Distinguished Flying Cross for saving lives and in recognition for his bravery during combat operations in Iraq.


American Forces Press Service

March 23, 2007

Marine Maj. William D. Chesarek Jr., is the first U.S. servicemember to be so honored since World War II.

Assigned as an exchange officer with the Royal Air Force's 847th Naval Air Squadron, Commando Helicopter Force, based at Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton in Somerset, England, the U.S. Marine flew the RAF's Lynx Mk7 helicopter -- the aircraft he used to dodge insurgent's bullets and rocket-propelled grenades.

Through flight school training at Pensacola, Fla., and Corpus Christi, Texas, he mastered the Marine Corps AH-1W Super Cobra helicopter -- a two-seater armed with Hellfire, Sidewinder and Sidearm missiles.

When he joined the RAF squadron in 2005, he traded in the Super Cobra for the Lynx.

"It's a very agile aircraft," said Chesareck, whose call sign is "Punchy." "Its maneuverability is significantly enhanced, compared to a Cobra. It's like comparing a Mustang to a Porsche. They're both great, but different."
Flying the evening of June 10, 2006, Chesarek was providing radio communication relay for British ground troops conducting a company-sized search operation near Amarah, Iraq. Listening to radio transmissions, he overheard that a
vehicle involved in the operation had became disabled and a crowd of insurgents was firing small arms and rocket-propelled grenades at the company.

According to his award citation, "Chesarek elected to fly low over the area in an attempt to distract the crowd and if possible, to engage the insurgents." Because the crowd was so close to the ground troops, instead of engaging his machine gun, he "opted instead to provide bold, harassing, very low level flight over the area in an attempt to disperse the crowd."

However, radio traffic from the ground told Chesarek he was now the target and was drawing small-arms fire, and that a rocket-propelled grenade had just passed the rear of his aircraft.

This was not his first time in combat. He and his wife, Christine, a U.S. Navy nurse, had served simultaneously in Operation Iraqi Freedom during the initial stages. But now in a different aircraft, with a different purpose, things were different. Last month, Chesarek's RAF commander and
his crew had been shot down flying in the same type of aircraft.

"I had been in a couple of situations with troops in contact before," the 32-year-old Chesarek said. "I had a good idea of the kind of potential danger involved, but now I was listening to the individual commander on the ground. Someone was injured; what can we do?"

Using his view from above, Chesarek applied his training as an airborne forward air controller to coordinate, designate and control fixed-wing assets in conducting close air support, resulting in the dispersing the insurgents.

Chesarek made the unconventional move - what's considered an "implied mission" in military parlance -- to conduct a medical evacuation with the Lynx to help a British soldier with a life-threatening head injury. As the only aircraft available to assist, he landed the Lynx near the company in distress as his door gunner and another crew member jumped out.

"My door gunner jumped out and picked up the injured soldier and put him in the helicopter," Chesarek said. "My other crew member had to stay, or we would have been overweight to fly."

Now, nine months later, Chesarek's name echoed throughout the ballroom of Buckingham Palace as he was called before the queen to be recognized and credited for "having a pivotal role in ensuring the rapid evacuation of (a) badly injured soldier and the safe extraction of the Company."

Wearing his ceremonial uniform, Chesarek stood before the queen and hundreds in attendance, including his parents, his wife and their 2-year-old son, William. After Chesarek bowed, the custom when in front of the queen, the British monarch placed her kingdom's level-three award for gallantry in the air while on active operation against the enemy on his chest.

Chesarek reflected on his lost comrades and brothers in arms.

"I am greatly honored and would like to accept this prestigious award for 847 NAS in memory of Lt. Cmdr. Darren Chapman (Royal Navy), Capt. David Dobson (Army Air Corps), and Marine Paul Collins (Royal Marines), who were killed in action over Basrah in May 2006," Chesarek said. "The awarded actions were only possible due to the combined effort of my combat crew; Lt. David Williams (Royal Navy) and Lance Cpl. Max Carter (Royal Marines). My greatest sense of achievement that day is in knowing the ground troops all made it home."

Veterans Remember Iwo Jima

CAMP KINSER, OKINWA, Japan -- In the spirit of forgiveness and the celebration of an alliance between once bitter enemies, U.S. and Japanese veterans, their families, and political figures gathered on Iwo Jima for a commemoration of the 62nd anniversary of the battle for the island.


Marine Corps News | March 23, 2007

More than 200 servicemembers from III Marine Expeditionary Force supported the commemoration March 12-15. A formal ceremony took place March 14.

Every year, Iwo Jima hosts a ceremony to honor those who fought and gave their lives in a battle that raged for 36 days on an island smaller than Manhattan.

Bill Griggs, who landed on the beaches as a rifleman with the 3rd Marine Division, made his second trip to the island since the battle in 1945. In the 62 years since he first trudged the beaches, the war-torn landscape had transformed, and so had the relationship between the U.S. and Japan.

"Everything has changed," he said.

The sentiment of forgiveness rang true for veterans on both sides.

"Understanding that both sides were fighting for their countries and forgiving them is important," said Kiyoshi Endo, the president of the Japanese Iwo Jima Association and veteran of the battle. "Just as important though, is never forgetting, because never forgetting will be instrumental in never allowing such a war to happen again."

Hurb Thompson, a U.S. veteran of the battle, said his trip was to help finalize his personal ambition to forgive those he had once called enemy.

"We are all human beings created equally," he said. "I can only hope they can forgive us as I have done my best to forgive them. We have to work together now to make the world a better place."

Embodying the alliance at the individual level is important, said retired Lt. Gen. Lawrence F. Snowden, a veteran of the battle and the senior-ranking veteran attending the ceremony. However, at the time, he could not have imagined sharing common ground with those he once called enemy.

"Those of us who survived the dreadful 36 days of combat can only be amazed that we gather here as citizens of two powerful nations, which stand together as close allies," Snowden said. "It is a testament to that bond between us veterans."

Lt. Gen. Joseph F. Weber, the III Marine Expeditionary Force commanding general, said the bond between the two nations is one to be proud of.

"It is commendable that we return to this hallowed ground not as advocacies but as devoted friends and allies," he said. "Our nations enjoy a dedicated alliance and friendship that none would have predicted 62 years ago.

DoD Investigates Hacking of Troops’ Personal Computers

WASHINGTON, March 23, 2007 – Defense Department officials have launched an investigation into recent computer hackings of servicemembers’ home computers that compromised personal information and led to the redirection of funds from their military pay accounts.


By Carmen L. Gleason
American Forces Press Service

Over the past eight months, nearly two dozen Defense Finance and Accounting Service “myPay” participants have had their accounts accessed by unauthorized personnel, officials said. The myPay program allows DFAS users to manage pay information, leave and earnings statements and W-2s online.

The compromise likely came from personal information being stolen from home computers via spyware and keystroke-logging viruses, DFAS officials said.

A hacker redirected one servicemember’s pay to a credit card vendor by changing account information the day before pay day, Tom LaRock, DFAS spokesman, said. However, he added, DFAS quickly worked with his bank to have funds returned to his account within two days.

When suspicious activity is detected under the current system used by DFAS, LaRock explained, financial institutions are immediately notified so reversals can be made to servicemember’s accounts. DFAS plans to launch a new program soon that will increase the ability to detect unauthorized changes prior to processing by pay systems. This will make the system for myPay’s 3.7 million users even more responsive, LaRock said.

“This won’t completely stop compromises,” he said, “but it will help alert us more quickly so appropriate actions can be taken.”

Key-logging software often is installed on systems when an individual simply views e-mails or clicks links that look and seem like reputable sites. Hackers then are able to detect passwords and other personal information, DFAS officials said.

The organization is reminding customers that they have a responsibility to take measures to protect their personal information from scams and identity theft.

DFAS warns that a variety of methods can be used to attack home computers, including phishing, malicious software and outside takeovers via bad software configurations. Users are encouraged to install and continually update anti-virus and firewall software.

DFAS offers tips for security and protection to its users on its Web site, https://mypay.dfas.mil/PersonalData.htm.

By using a government computer, one with a ".mil" address or that is common access card enabled, users may download and save programs from the Joint Task Force Global Network Operations Web site, https://www.jtfgno.mil/antivirus/home_use.htm, for use on their home computers, Tim Madden, JTFGNO spokesman, said.

JTFNGO is responsible for directing the operation and defense of the DoD global information grid.

March 22, 2007

Queen Elizabeth honors U.S. Marine helicopter pilot

By Geoff Ziezulewicz, Stars and Stripes
Mideast edition, Thursday, March 22, 2007

A U.S. Marine helicopter pilot who helped save a British marine’s life in Iraq was awarded the British Distinguished Flying Cross on Wednesday, the first time an American has received the honor since World War II.

To continue reading:


FMTU employs foreign role-players to assist with training

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (March 22, 2007) – (March 22, 2007) -- Two teams with U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Special Operations Command, Foreign Military Training Unit, successfully completed an Operational Readiness Evaluation at Camp Blanding, Fla., Feb. 22 through March 1.


March 22, 2007

By Lance Cpl. Josephh R. Stahlman, Marine Forces Special Operations Command

During the seven-day training exercise, the two teams were evaluated on their readiness to deploy to a foreign nation and accomplish Foreign Internal Defense missions.

“This is the most realistic way for the team to test their standard operating procedures and their tactics, techniques and procedures,” explained Capt. William M. Eaton, officer in charge of the exercise control group of the ORE.

FMTU used foreign contractors as role players to add the realism of being in a foreign country. For this exercise, Russian and Arabic contractors were employed to act in leadership roles for two different host nations.

Having the teams interact with the foreign leadership was an invaluable piece of the ORE.

“Dealing with foreign nations’ customs and culture differences is a tough mission to accomplish, but it is essential when training a foreign military,” said Eaton. “That’s why having foreigners acting as role players is priceless to the ORE.”

Throughout the exercise, the Marines were evaluated on how they dealt with different scenarios created by the exercise control group. How the teams established rapport with the host nation, instructed the military on basic Marine Corps tactics, and maintained communication within the host-nation are key aspects the evaluators looked for when assessing the teams.

FMTU Marines complete approximately 190 hours of language training to help overcome the complications of language barriers. Most host-nations also provide interpreters to help with the communication between the teams and host-nation troops.

At the end of the ORE, the exercise control group critiqued each team on various aspects of the training. A detailed critique about both strengths and weaknesses improves the teams and prepares them to help train foreign militaries more thoroughly.

“After completing the ORE, the teams will be better prepared to enter the host nation, quickly establish rapport and begin training the foreign troops in identified skill sets in order to improve the host nation’s ability to fight the Global War on Terrorism,” Eaton concluded.

FMTU now includes 11 operational teams. More teams are forming now and MARSOC is looking for qualified volunteers to help take on the challenge of Marine Corps Special Operations missions.

Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 364 remembers fallen heroes

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. (March 22, 2007) -- Four Marines who were killed in a helicopter crash while conducting combat operations in Iraq were remembered during a memorial service at the Mainside Chapel March 19. Hundreds of family members and friends came to celebrate the lives of Capt. Jennifer J. Harris, 1st Lt. Jared M. Ladaker, Sgt. Travis D. Pfister and Sgt. James R. Tijerina.


March 22, 2007; Submitted on: 03/30/2007 12:03:06 PM ; Story ID#: 20073301236
By Cpl. Raymond Lewis, MCB Camp Pendleton

“This is exactly what the Marines would have wanted, their families being out here for them,” said Lt. Col. Sean C. Killeen, 41, commanding officer of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 364, known as “The Purple Foxes.”

All of the Marines served with The Purple Foxes, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, I Marine Expeditionary Force. Both the families and Marines thought the memorial was an appropriate way to honor the fallen.

“The service was amazing,” said Joseph Landaker, father of Landaker. “I’m very pleased how professional this organization is,” he said.

Family members of the fallen said they felt honored by the service.

“I thought the service was beautiful,” said Staff Sgt. Jessica M. Pfister, wife of the late Sgt. Pfister. “He would’ve been proud of all the work his Marines put in.”

After the memorial service, family members of the deceased Marines took time to remember their loved ones.

Pfister remembered the good times when she and her husband met.

“The first time he talked to me was when we were outside and I was cold,” she said. “He gave me his jacket and he said, ‘I’m not giving you this jacket because I like you, I’m giving this jacket to you because I’m tired of watching you freeze.’”

The two married in 1999.

“He was married to me and that CH-46,” Pfister said.

Sgt. Pfister left the Marine Corps for civilian life, but while Staff Sgt. Pfister was on recruiting duty, she recruited him back into service.

“He heard The Purple Foxes were going to Iraq again so he requested to go on the next deployment,” Pfister said. “He didn’t want the younger generation of Marines to go to Iraq without him. He wanted them to come back.”

Pfister was very passionate about everything, Pfister said.

“He was passionate about his work, his friends and me,” she said. “He wouldn’t have wanted to go out any other way. Even if he knew the outcome, he would’ve done it the same way. I’m very proud of him.”

Landaker took time to reminisce about his beloved son.

“He was the light of our life,” he said. “He had hurdles because he was smaller, but he always overcame those hurdles.”

1st Lt. Landaker stood at 5’7” and weighed 180 pounds, but he never let that stop him, Joseph Landaker said, making a football team in his youth despite his size.

“He stood out on the sideline his first game during the first half, but after that he never sat out again,” Landaker said. “He’d rather be on defense to hit somebody than a quarterback.”

He also had very high ethics, Landaker added.

“He was on the commander’s list in flight school, the top five percent,” he said. “He was dedicated to flying.”

He also loved the people he was with, the camaraderie and the patriotism of the Marine Corps, Landaker said.

“I’m so proud of him, so glad he was with such professional, kind Americans. It’s the greatest tragedy we’ve experienced, but we’re staying strong and together,” said Landaker of himself and his wife Laura.

All of the Marines gave the ultimate sacrifice for their country, but it will never go unnoticed, Killeen said.

“One of the finest crews we had died doing what they loved most — saving Marines’ lives,” Killeen said. “It was a mission that they took seriously, and they never hesitated. They’re missed, but anyone in the squadron would’ve done it.”

Japan MEU deployment extended to one year

By Gidget Fuentes - Staff writer
Posted : Thursday Mar 22, 2007 12:43:41 EDT

OCEANSIDE, Calif. — The seven-month deployment of roughly 1,200 Marines and sailors in Japan has been extended to 12 months, the Marine Corps has announced.

To continue reading:


March 21, 2007

Supply unit is ‘Wal-Mart of western Iraq’

By Sandra Jontz, Stars and Stripes
Mideast edition, Wednesday, March 21, 2007

CAMP TAQADDUM, Iraq — Most of the logistics Marines don’t lament the fact that their combat comrades, who are outside the wire hunting down the bad guy, get more attention.

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Navy will name ship the USS Jason Dunham; Destroyer honors Iraq War hero from Allegany County

WASHINGTON — The legacy of an Iraq War hero from Allegany County will be honored on the high seas for years to come.


By Jerry Zremski - News Washington Bureau Chief
Updated: 03/21/07 7:17 AM

Members of Congress announced Tuesday that the U.S. Navy will name its newest guided-missile destroyer the USS Jason Dunham – for the Marine corporal from Scio who threw himself on a grenade to save the lives of his comrades in April 2004.

“We’re basically totally amazed that this happened,” said Deb Dunham, Jason’s mother. “I anticipated that it would be 10 or 20 years before we saw this.”

Indeed, the Navy has a long tradition of naming its ships for war heroes, but it often happens many decades after their death.

For example, in June 2006, the Navy commissioned the USS Farragut, a guided-missile destroyer named for Adm. David Glasgow Farragut, the Civil War hero who coined the phrase: “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!”

Mrs. Dunham said she wasn’t sure how the Navy came to name a ship for her son less than three years after his death. She said the family’s Marine liaison called last week to mention the possibility. “We thought it was very appropriate,” she said.

The naming of the ship will be just the latest accolade accorded to Dunham, who was awarded the Medal of Honor — the nation’s highest military award – by President Bush in January.

Dunham, who was 22 when he died, is being honored again and again because he made the ultimate sacrifice for his comrades.

On April 14, 2004, Dunham was in the town of Husaybah in western Iraq, where his unit responded to an attack on a Marine convoy.

Dunham’s unit stopped several vehicles that were trying to flee the site of the ambush, and an insurgent in one of the vehicles attacked Dunham and pulled out a grenade he had been hiding.

The young Marine immediately jumped on the grenade and was gravely wounded when it exploded. He died 10 days later in Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland, with his parents, Dan and Deb Dunham, at his side.

“Jason Dunham was a true American hero and will always be remembered as such,” said Rep. John R. “Randy” Kuhl Jr., R-Hammondsport, whose district includes Scio. “From naming of the post office in Scio after him last year to the Medal of Honor ceremony in the White House in January and now the naming of a new Navy destroyer after him, Jason and his heroic, selfless acts will long be remembered.”

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, DN. Y., agreed.

“This high honor is another fitting tribute to his life and humbling heroism,” Schumer said. “I was proud to support his nomination for the Medal of Honor and, on behalf of millions of eternally grateful New Yorkers, I want to personally salute his family.”

The naming of the ship will be officially announced at a ceremony at 1 p.m. Friday in Scio Central High School, which Dunham attended. Navy Secretary Donald Winters will speak at the event, as will Dunham’s mother.

“We’re honored,” she said. “We’re really excited.”

The USS Jason Dunham will be a guided-missile destroyer, a fast warship designed to operate alone or as part of a carrier battle group.

“From what I understand, the ship is still in the process of being built,” Mrs. Dunham said.

And that means Friday’s ceremony probably won’t be the last one held in Jason Dunham’s honor. When the USS Farragut was commissioned, two U.S. senators and top Navy brass attended its commissioning ceremony in Mayport, Fla.

Fallen Maine Soldier Remembered

Friends, family and fellow marines gathered at the Sacred Heart Church in Portland Wednesday for the funeral of Angel Rosa, a marine from South Portland who was killed in Iraq last week. He was 21 years old.


Web Editor: Rhonda Erskine, Online Content Producer
Created: 3/21/2007

Rosa graduated from South Portland High School, where he was the captain of the soccer team. He died last Monday while conducting combat operations in the Al Anbar province.

The casket carrying Rosa's body arrived at the church accompanied by a military honor guard. Members of Rosa's family, including his wife Elise, walked behind the flag-draped coffin as it was brought into the church.

There was a standing room only crowd at Wednesday's service. Many of Rosa's friends and teachers from high school attended. They describe Rosa as a great guy and a fierce competitor on the soccer field.

Governor John Baldacci, who also attended the service, says Rosa's death is a loss for the entire state.

"I think today Maine is suffering a broken heart. Just a lovely young man, a lovely family. A wife who loved him, mother who is just heart broken and I told them both we are all having a heavy heart today in our state and we just want them to know we're out there to support them," said Baldacci.

Rosa joined the marines in 2006. Relatives say it was a way to make a better life for his family, and to make a contribution to his country.

That contribution and his ultimate sacrifice is what's being recognized by the group "Patriot Guard Riders." There are about 400 members of the group in Maine, many of which attend every military funeral. Members say it's the least they can do to honor those who give their lives for our freedom.

A man and a woman from a fringe church group in Kansas that preaches an anti-gay message were also in the area, carrying signs that read "Pray for More Dead Soldiers" and "God Hates America." Police kept the couple from getting within a couple of blocks of Sacred Heart Church, and they left after the funeral began.

Around 11:00 A.M., there was a verbal altercation between the demonstrators and an unknown individual. Police say no one was arrested.

Across Maine Wednesday, flag flew at half-staff in honor of Rosa. After his death, Private First Class Rosa was promoted to Lance Corporal.

NEWS CENTER & The Associated Press

1/6 Marines let Iraqi Security Forces take the lead in central Ramadi

AR RAMADI, Iraq (March 21, 2007) -- Since arriving to the city of Ar Ramadi, Iraq, in September of 2006, the Marines of 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, have had a three part mission for their task in supporting the ongoing Operation Iraqi Freedom.


March 21, 2007

By Cpl. Paul Robbins Jr. , I Marine Expeditionary Force

That mission is to neutralize the insurgency, support and train Iraqi Security Forces, and conduct civil military operations to improve the quality of life for residents in the city.

In the more than six months since their arrival the mission has not been altered, but the lead effort in neutralizing insurgency and civil military work has changed.

Local police of the Western Ramadi District and Iraqi Army soldiers with the 2nd Battalion, 1st Brigade, 7th Division, have stepped forward to shoulder a majority of security and civil military responsibility in the city.

Conducting food drops to local mosques, re-supplying medical facilities in the area and leading security operations throughout the city, Iraqi Security Forces have assumed their responsibilities with renewed zeal.

“We are one country and this is our job,” said 2nd Lt. Adnan Fasel Taher, executive officer of 2nd Company, 2-1-7. “Not just to fight terrorists, but to help our people.”

Civil Military Operations

In recent weeks, Iraqi Security Forces have conducted two combined re-supply operations to central Ramadi’s main medical facilities.

The combined forces delivered more than $90,000 worth of medicines and surgical support equipment to the Ramadi General Hospital and the Women’s and Children’s Hospital to relieve shortages.

The delivery of supplies, provided by Iraq’s Ministry of Health, was part of the security forces’ continued cooperation to aid and relieve the citizens of Ramadi.

Individually, Army and Police forces continue to conduct food relief operations in various neighborhoods.

Units stationed in certain areas provide deliveries of flour, rice, beans and cooking oil to local mosques for distribution to the neediest citizens of the city.

The two forces generally conduct at least one food relief operation per week, on average.

To date, the citizens of Ramadi have received 50 tons of rice, 15 tons of beans, 50 tons of flour, and four thousand liters of cooking oil from food relief operations.

Security Operations

Down nearly every street in Ramadi there are boots on the ground to patrol the area, but nowadays those boots rarely belong to the Marines.

While the Marines of 1/6 still provide security from posts in their numerous security stations and conduct combined patrols with ISF, it is the Iraqi soldiers and police who have become a common sight to Ramadi citizens.

Whether it is Iraqi soldiers in high mobility multi-purpose wheeled vehicles rolling down the larger streets, policemen in pick-up trucks cutting through the alleyways, or a combination of policemen and soldiers on foot in local neighborhoods, Iraqi Security Forces have kept up a strong presence in the city.

“Due to the cooperation of the local police and the Iraqi Army, the increased presence has greatly increased the security situation in the city,” said 1st Lt. Brett V. Taylor, 27-year-old operations advisor to the Iraqi Army’s 2-1-7.

That cooperation was highlighted in a recent security conference held at Camp Hurricane Point, March 16.

Commanders of eight local police stations met with officers of the 2-1-7 and local Coalition Forces to discuss the current security situation in Ramadi.

Led by Brig. Gen. Khalil, the Ramadi District Police Chief, and hosted by Lt. Col. William M. Jurney, 1/6’s battalion commander, the conference began with a buffet style lunch of local cuisine to encourage camaraderie amongst the commanders.

As the officers dined on kabob (ground lamb meat and vegetables with bread) and dolma (vegetables and fruit, stuffed with rice and meat), they were given an opportunity to discuss their individual situation, face to face, with their counterparts.

Brought together by a common goal, the mixed group of Iraqi Army and local police commanders found it easy to be sociable during the occasion.

“They were all united by their desire for freedom….and the single purpose of their mission,” said Maj. Daniel R. Zappa, 34-year-old executive officer for 1/6.
Following the lunch, the commanders gathered around a conference table to discuss the overall security situation in Ramadi.

The improvements in the city were lauded in the beginning, with commanders citing the amount of operations conducted, the number of insurgents detained and the amount of weapons caches found in the last six months.

“The mothers and sisters of Ramadi have hope because of our operations,” said Khalil.
Operations were continued during the meeting, as the commanders geared their discussion towards future plans and problematic areas.

Citing certain districts that require immediate attention, Khalil and his fellow commanders put into planning an operation to sweep and clear a populated area in central Ramadi known to be frequented by insurgents.

As each commander stepped forward to volunteer forces for the sweep, the number of policemen involved grew to more than 500 by the end of the meeting.

The movement for the operation was also handled easily, with many of the commanders sharing similar ideas on the execution and goals of the mission.

“I am very proud,” said Khalil. “These commanders are models for all other officers in Ramadi.”

With the plans being finalized and the pledged support of so many police, the commanders look forward to their upcoming operations.

“I am confident in our upcoming operations and I hope we get our desired results,” said Khalil.

Marines get it started

Although most of the recent success in Ramadi can be attributed to the recent rise in Iraqi police forces, assistance of the local populace and cooperation of the Iraqi Army, the starting point of successful security operations in the city traces back to the Marines of 1/6.

From the very beginning of the deployment, the Marines in Ramadi have focused on integrating their Iraqi counterparts while continuing to put pressure on insurgents in an urban environment.

To accomplish this, the battalion spear-headed a tactic that has become widely used in Ramadi and abroad.

“We were the first to move in force, establish an observation post in a key area of the city and turn it into a joint security station,” said Master Gunnery Sgt. Luis H. Hernandez, 48-year-old operations chief for 1/6.

The tactic serves two purposes in the city and addresses both of the battalion’s focuses.

The installation of observation posts throughout key areas of the city isolates and protects the population of the city from insurgents, and the integration of Iraqi Security Forces at each station brings Iraqi forces into the neighborhoods.

Since their arrival, the Marines have emplaced numerous new security stations throughout their area of responsibility.

In recent weeks, several new stations were built to respond to changes in insurgent activity and to assist combined operations with Iraqi Security Forces.

“The main reason for these new (stations) was to secure a permanent security position in the neighborhoods and further decrease the enemy’s freedom of movement,” said Hernandez, a native of Coral Gables, Fla.

With the construction of the newest stations and the continued operations from the many others, the Marines and their Iraqi counterparts have made their area of operations a dangerous place for insurgents.

Maintaining a significant presence in every part of their battle space, the combined force has severely limited insurgent operations in the city.

“(Insurgents) no longer have the ability to move at will,” said Hernandez. “And when they do, we have made them modify the frequency and methods of their movements.”

‘Magnificent Bastards’ overcoming, adapting austere conditions

COMBAT OUTPOST ELLIS, Iraq (March 21, 2007) -- Marines are known for their ability to overcome and adapt to almost any situation whether it is actual combat or their living conditions.


March 21, 2007

By Staff Sgt. T.G. Kessler, 2nd Marine Division

Marines from the Camp Pendleton, Calif.-based, Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, have been living in what has been called the most austere living conditions in all of Iraq since late November when they began operations in the Haditha Triad of Iraq.

Starting with a dusty bare piece of ground in the desert just outside of Barwanah, Iraq, Marines and sailors with BLT 2/4 have been seeing some new changes happening to Combat Outpost Ellis in recent days.

According to Capt. Jeffrey Brooks, camp commandant for BLT 2/4, the main purpose for the changes to the camp are mostly for the morale of the Marines.

“We’ve had several visitors come out here and say this is austere, but now, it’s not the greatest but it’s far better (than it was),” said Brooks, a San Diego, native.

The general purpose tents set up around the COP, which Marines, sailors and some soldiers have been calling home for previous months, were heated by gas heaters and had dirt floors.

Brooks explained part of the renovations being made to the COP are the additions of wooden floors, electricity, and heating and air conditioning units. Other changes include a new chow hall, new shower, restroom facilities and several new office spaces.

"We’ve been here now for an extended period of time. It wasn’t the 30 to 35 days we were initially planning for,” said Brooks. “Now we’ve got to the point where you can’t gut it out and suck it up, you’ve got to have a plan to build for the duration and by doing that—with lights you can turn on and off as you need them, with a/c units—the Marines can be far more comfortable,” said Brooks.

Some Marines have made their own “home improvements” in their tents to make life a little easier. Brooks said it is a testament to the ingenuity of the Marines based here to come up with their own ways to build up their morale.

“They’re resourceful, they’re ingenious and it’s just a typical Marine attitude—what do we have and what can we do to make it better. As long as it’s safe, and it’s not way out in left field—good on them,” Brooks said.

One of the first Marines to make his own improvements to his living space, commonly referred to as a “hooch,” was Gunnery Sgt. Aaron Salyi, an explosive ordnance disposal Marine with Combat Logistics Battalion 15 in support of BLT 2/4.

Salyi explained that many of the modifications made to his hooch were out of necessity first, such as a floor, and shelving for gear, but eventually became a chance for him and his Marines to make their tent more like a home.

“I think it’s the responsibility of every senior Marine to make their living conditions as comfortable as possible,” said Salyi. As Marines are in the defense, it’s your responsibility to make constant improvements. I think if the materials present themselves, and you and your Marines have the aptitude and they show a desire, making anything better makes their morale better,” said Salyi.

It is hard not to notice the EOD tent when walking by it. Aside from looking just like any normal GP tent, a look down the side of it will show the difference.

Taking necessity one step further, needing shade from the sun, protection from dust and using the area around their tent as a place to cook food outside, Salyi and his Marines built a small patio in the rear of their tent that includes a back door that opens up into the rest of the camp.

“We were only limited by our imagination and the drive of the Marines. I can’t say enough about what they were able to accomplish. The one thing I will say is that we didn’t take or do anything that anybody didn’t have the ability to do, we just went a little further,” said Salyi, a native of San Diego.

Improving on what they have and making it more personalized is important he said. It gives the Marines a place to look forward to coming home to at the end of the day.

“It’s nice to come home to. It really does feel like home. I would say—not because our tent is any better than anyone else’s—but because we took ownership of our space,” said Salyi. “We tried to say ‘Hey, this is our spot’. We really enjoy being back here and we have no reason to leave unless we get a call. It feels like home in here,” he added.

One Marine noticing the changes going on around the camp was Cpl. Lucas Shook, a sensitive site exploitation Marine supporting BLT 2/4.

Shook explained, when first arriving here in late November, he along with many other Marines were dealing with challenging living conditions.

“Life is getting better though, and it makes a person appreciate what they have back home,” Shook said.

Of all the improvements being made to the camp, Shook appreciates the new floors and the a/c being installed in the tents the most.

“We were working with a stove type heater that would always break down. With summer around the corner and temperatures above a hundred degrees, you wouldn’t want to drag on during the day suffering in the heat,” said Shook, a native of Grand Rapids, Mich.

Like Salyi, Shook and the Marines he shares a hooch with have added some of their own modifications to their living space in an effort to make things slightly more comfortable.

“We’ve built a door and shelves. We always try to improve everyday and try to make it more comfortable,” Shook said.

Though the COP is far from being a base of the likes of Al Asad, things are getting better around the camp and life is improving for the Marines, said Brooks.

“It’s austere. It’s not like Al Asad. At the end of November it was just plain desert and today we have tents with floors and heating and cooling units, but it’s definitely no Al Asad or one of the large bases. It’s a battalion COP and it’s definitely front-line,” said Brooks.

BLT 2/4 is deployed to Iraq as part of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit and has been conducting operations in Barwanah since late November.

March 20, 2007

TS Company delivers greater security to Saqlawiyah police

FALLUJAH, Iraq (March 20, 2007) -- Prior to departing for their March 19 mission, the Marines of Transportation Support Company, Combat Logistics Battalion 6, 2nd Marine Logistics Group (Forward), took a hard look at the task before them.


March 20, 2007; Submitted on: 03/23/2007 02:29:06 AM ; Story ID#: 20073232296
By Cpl. Andrew M. Kalwitz, 2nd Marine Logistics Group

The Marines would need to deliver 500 gallons of diesel fuel, repair and recover a logistics vehicle system and transport eight 10,000-pound, concrete barriers to an Iraqi Police Station.

“Another day at the office,” said Lance Cpl. David A. Delgadillo, a motor vehicle operator with the company.

The original mission was to install protective barriers around the Iraqi Police Station in Saqlawiyah, but the list of objectives was extended on short-notice.

“The mission went pretty smooth, but it took a lot longer than I expected,” said Sgt. Eban J. Peterson, assistant patrol leader with TS Company.

After the sunlight died and humvee and truck engines came to life, the Marines made their way to a forward operating base, where approximately 80,000 pounds worth of concrete barriers were waiting to be transported. But that wasn’t all that was waiting there.

One of their logistics vehicle systems had blown a fuel/water separator four days prior while delivering an ISO container full of supplies. An ISO, as they are commonly referred to, are shipping containers designed by the International Organization for Standardization.

“We took an ISO container out there with food and water inside,” said Peterson, a Jacksonville, N.C., native. “The vehicle went down and we weren’t able to drive it back.”

After the company’s maintainers repaired the vehicle, it was time to move on to the Saqlawiyah Police Station.

Concealed by the darkness of a moonless night, the Marines erected eight barriers; a definite improvement upon the two already there.

“We’re increasing the survivability for the force protection of the Saqlawiyah (Iraqi Police) station,” said 2nd Lt. Jay L. Montgomery, a platoon commander with the company.

There has been a concerted effort to ensure safety in this area. Engineers with CLB-6 recently installed a sniper screen to provide concealment for the Iraqi Police.

After completing the second objective, the Marines departed Saqlawiyah to rejoin with the Marines who were tasked with delivering the diesel fuel, which they had supplied to a Military Transition Team in support of a nearby Iraqi army unit.

After enduring another ride, the Marines made it back to Camp Fallujah just after the sun rose.

“It’s the first mission we’ve done that’s not an ordinary convoy,” said Montgomery, a Nashville, Tenn., native.

In addition to building a stronger and more secure defense in Saqlawiyah, the TS Company Marines may have very well built even more confidence in their abilities to get the job done – whether the mission be a familiar one or not.

Tri-Cities Marines coming home

Homecoming celebrations are in the works tonight for some Tri-Cities marines.


Tuesday, Mar 20, 2007

Lima Company, Third Battalion 24th Marine Regiment announced today that Tri-Cities marines who volunteered to serve in Iraq will soon return home.

The nearly 60 marines, who left in June, will return to California by mid-April. They'll be back in the Tri by the end of April.

South Bend-based Company B Marines back on U.S. soil

The Marines with South Bend-based Engineer Company B are back in the United States. They arrived in California just after 5 p.m. EDT on Tuesday. They're back from a seven-month deployment to Iraq.


March 20. 2007 7:06PM

WSBT-TV Report

They lost one member, Cpl. Aaron Seal, to sniper fire. Their mission was to clear mine fields in Iraq.

It was the second tour of duty for many of them, but all of them are no doubt excited to be back home.

Their families are excited as well. The past few months have been filled with anxiety and worry.

"I thank God that he listened to my prayers. When you pray twice a day, somebody's gotta be listening," said Melody Towle, the mother of Sgt. John Lee. "I had a ritual about how I prayed, I felt like if I didn't do it every day and if something bad happened, it was because I didn't pray correctly."

The Marines are scheduled to spend a few days at Camp Pendleton in California before returning to South Bend on Saturday.

2nd ANGLICO takes firepower to Germany

For the Marines of 2nd Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company, immersing themselves in a foreign military culture is the best training to prepare for their unique specialty - providing support for foreign militaries around the world.



March 20, 2007 - 11:09AM

The Marines spent time in Münster, Germany, in the northwest portion of the country, beginning March 1 in a combined arms exercise, the largest leg of their pre-deployment training for the Iraq war, according to Lt. Col. Michael Robinson, commanding officer for 2nd ANGLICO, II Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group.

ANGLICO brought artillery, tanks and aircraft together with the German Air Force and German Special Forces battalion.

"Our primary mission is to attach to joint allied coalition forces, so it pays for us to go and train with other countries," Robinson said. "It could be Army units or other countries like the British, Dutch, Germans, our NATO allies and coalition partners."

Marines with 2nd ANGLICO must be prepared to support any foreign country that could potentially operate with the Marine Corps in a war zone by providing fire support through aircraft, artillery, mortar and naval gunfire.
They returned Friday from their training, saying it was a great experience.

"The training in Germany has been real fun," said Lance Cpl. Justin Valderaz, a fire support man who will be deploying for his second tour in Iraq. "There are a lot of things we learn from the Germans and a lot of things they learn from us. Now we can help each other with no confusion."

Valderaz said he enjoys learning about other cultures and customs. The German language barrier and culture did initially present a challenge, but one the Marines said they worked through together.
"Working with the (foreign) unit, you have to figure out how to work with language barriers, train with different systems and adjust to how other people do it," said Cpl. Vincent Bartczak, a fire support man who will be deploying to Iraq for the first time. "We were running into problems converting English to German down the gun line, so we figured out ways to get around it by using hand signals."

When the force is called to integrate, such training makes it easier to connect to foreign computer systems, operate smoothly on the battlefield and coordinate aircraft to support a foreign unit.

The Marines with 2nd ANGLICO will be supporting the Iraqi Army and security forces in their upcoming deployment.

"Dealing with Iraqis is different than Germans, but we can apply some of the same techniques," Bartczak said.

Two other Marine ANGLICO companies, based out of California and Japan, are a part of the rotation in the Iraq war, which now allows 2nd ANGLICO a year in between deployments.
In previous deployments, the company has supported the Polish, British and Iraqi militaries.
"For such a small unit - we're only about 158 Marines - we have a lot of responsibility in terms of conducting independent operations," Robinson said of the four and six-man teams that attach to foreign units. "The Marines have a lot of independence, but at the same time they have to be responsible, mature and be able to handle operating with another service."

That can be difficult in such a technical job, where Marines are called to coordinate aircraft and artillery fire while ensuring that targets are properly hit. But Robinson says morale among the Marines is high and they are excited about fulfilling their upcoming mission.

"This is the first time a lot of them have been to Europe and been on a foreign training base," Robinson said. "We were able to eat their food and get a good cultural experience."

The training was also beneficial for German military officials, who are in the process of creating a unit similar to 2nd ANGLICO within their own forces. Marines called the Germans "more than gracious hosts."

"It would be impossible to return the favor if they came over to the U.S.," Robinson said. "It's been a very worthwhile trip and a great learning experience for the Marines."

Learning the language and cultural difference would have been impossible without help from the Germans, Bartczak said.

"They were very adamant about helping make us feel comfortable," he said. "They never left us in the shadows."

ASP keeps Marines locked, loaded

AL ASAD, Iraq (March 20, 2007) -- A Marine starts receiving enemy fire while on a patrol and, in response, pulls back the charging handle of his rifle. He slowly squeezes the trigger to fire, but nothing happens. He removes the magazine to find there is no ammunition inside.


March 20, 2007

By Lance Cpl. Thomas J. Griffith, 2nd Marine Logistics Group

Here in Iraq, that will not happen because the Marines of the Al Asad ammunition supply point distribute ammunition across the area of operations.

“Our main purpose is to support all subordinate units in the AO,” said Master Sgt. Ronald Pressley, the officer-in-charge of the Ammo Detachment, Headquarters Company, Combat Logistics Battalion 2, 2nd Marine Logistics Group (Forward). “The arms we take up to serve and safeguard the Iraqi people, they’re using ammo that comes out of this ASP.”

The ASP’s responsibilities extend to Regimental Combat Team 2, 2nd Marine Division, as well as units in Al Qaim, Haditha, Camp Korea Village and onwards toward the Jordanian border.

The ASP is made up of three sections: issues, storage and records. All three are required for the ASP to run efficiently.

“It comes down to every single person,” said Cpl. Tiffany M. Chin, the chief of the ammunition issues section. “Without us, what are they going to fire with? Rocks?”

Chin said the ASP supplied Iraqi Security Forces while she was here on her first deployment, but they have since established their own ASPs based upon guidelines laid down by previous Marine units.

“It’s good to know that everything we do is not in vain,” said the Bowie, Md., native. “It means the ball is actually rolling.”

Pressley said he is impressed with the way his Marines are performing, but never expected anything less.

“I couldn’t ask for anything more. They know what I expect,” he said. “They know what I want out of them and how I want things set up.”

The importance of the ammunition the Marines supply goes beyond words, explained the Columbus, Ga., native.

“You can go so long without food and water,” Pressley began. “If you ask a Marine to pick one thing while in front of the enemy, it would be ammo for his rifle. Because that’s what really brings them and their fellow Marines home.”

Marine to be awarded Navy Cross posthumously

CAMP PENDLETON — Marine Lance Cpl. Christopher Adlesperger, who was killed during the battle in Fallouja in 2004, has been selected for the Navy Cross, the Marine Corps' second highest medal for combat bravery, the corps announced Monday.


By Tony Perry, Times Staff Writer
March 20, 2007

The medal recognizes Adlesperger's actions on Nov. 10, 2004, when he saved the lives of innumerable Marines by showing leadership and courage during an assault on a heavily armed insurgent stronghold.

In 30 minutes of close combat, Adlesperger killed at least 11 insurgents and protected two squad members who had been wounded, allowing Marines to destroy the site.

His squad had been assigned the dangerous duty of searching dozens of houses in the opening phase of Operation Phantom Fury.

Adlesperger received a meritorious promotion but was killed a month later during another mission to clear a structure of insurgents.

He was 20 and a member of Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment.

The Navy Cross that is to be given to members of Adlesperger's family in a ceremony next month at Camp Pendleton is the 15th bestowed on a Marine for combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, officials said.

Adlesperger, a native of New Mexico, left college to enlist and was on his first tour of duty in Iraq.

Marines who fought beside Adlesperger remembered him as soft-spoken, religious and fiercely loyal to his fellow Marines.

After the Nov. 10 fight, he explained that his goal had been to rescue a wounded Marine.

Even for Marines accustomed to battlefield deaths, Adlesperger's death on Dec. 9, 2004, was emotionally wrenching.

"He was loved by everybody," said Gunnery Sgt. Paul Starner, his platoon leader.

Adlesperger's courage was the subject of a front-page story in The Times on Oct. 3, 2006.

Marine to be awarded Navy Cross posthumously

CAMP PENDLETON — Marine Lance Cpl. Christopher Adlesperger, who was killed during the battle in Fallouja in 2004, has been selected for the Navy Cross, the Marine Corps' second highest medal for combat bravery, the corps announced Monday.


By Tony Perry, Times Staff Writer
March 20, 2007

The medal recognizes Adlesperger's actions on Nov. 10, 2004, when he saved the lives of innumerable Marines by showing leadership and courage during an assault on a heavily armed insurgent stronghold.

In 30 minutes of close combat, Adlesperger killed at least 11 insurgents and protected two squad members who had been wounded, allowing Marines to destroy the site.

His squad had been assigned the dangerous duty of searching dozens of houses in the opening phase of Operation Phantom Fury.

Adlesperger received a meritorious promotion but was killed a month later during another mission to clear a structure of insurgents.

He was 20 and a member of Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment.

The Navy Cross that is to be given to members of Adlesperger's family in a ceremony next month at Camp Pendleton is the 15th bestowed on a Marine for combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, officials said.

Adlesperger, a native of New Mexico, left college to enlist and was on his first tour of duty in Iraq.

Marines who fought beside Adlesperger remembered him as soft-spoken, religious and fiercely loyal to his fellow Marines.

After the Nov. 10 fight, he explained that his goal had been to rescue a wounded Marine.

Even for Marines accustomed to battlefield deaths, Adlesperger's death on Dec. 9, 2004, was emotionally wrenching.

"He was loved by everybody," said Gunnery Sgt. Paul Starner, his platoon leader.

Adlesperger's courage was the subject of a front-page story in The Times on Oct. 3, 2006.

CLB-6 assumes logistics mission

FALLUJAH, Iraq (March 20, 2007) -- The Marines and sailors of Combat Logistics Battalion 6, 2nd Marine Logistics Group (Forward), assumed control, March 15, of logistics operations for Regimental Combat Team 6, 2nd Marine Division.


March 20, 2007

By Cpl. Andrew Kalwitz, 2nd Marine Logistics Group

The completion of this transfer of authority marks the beginning of their scheduled seven-month deployment.

A motor transportation operator with the battalion’s Transportation Support Company said no time was wasted in beginning the transition. His unit is now conducting multiple operations daily.

“Within three days of arriving in Fallujah, we were on the roads learning the routes,” said Cpl. Cody P. Carroll, a Mesa, Ariz., native.

The battalion began preparing for the deployment long before they stepped foot in Iraq mid-February, attending pre-deployment training in California. The training evolution, known as Mojave Viper, is designed to reinforce the basic combat skills of Marines and also integrates specific training relative to the types of operations personnel may encounter in Iraq.

The battalion is responsible for logistically supporting Regimental Combat Team 6, 2nd Marine Division. A number of the CLB’s servicemembers have previously been deployed to Iraq and are sharing their experiences with others on their first tour.

Carroll, who was deployed to Al Asad last year, said he and his peers need to pass that knowledge on to the unit’s less experienced Marines to ensure a successful deployment.

“As soon as the new guys got here, it was like adopting a kid,” said Carroll.

The unit’s commanding officer, Lt. Col. Patrick N. Kelleher, is now on his seventh deployment and his third to Iraq. He commanded CLB-8 during a previous deployment and said he is confident in the abilities of the Marines and sailors now under his command.

“There is no doubt in my mind that the Marines and sailors of CLB-6 will perform superbly,” said the Glastonbury, Conn., native. “I look forward to being able to work with CLB-6 and making progress in transitioning our area to Iraqi control.”

Team Tank works together to keep Hit insurgent-free

HIT, Iraq - (March 20, 2007) -- Thirteen Marines and one Navy corpsman stand shoulder-to-shoulder. Upon receiving the command, they spread out on-line and push forward into the palm grove. A police call, one of the Marine Corps’ oldest traditions, is underway.


March 20, 2007

By Cpl. Adam Johnston, 2nd Marine Division

Leaving no stone unturned, the group is vigilant – looking behind every bush and blade of grass for anything unusual. Along the way, they find numerous candy wrappers and other pieces of litter. But rather than police-up the garbage, they simply disregard and keep on walking.

Why? Because on this particular day, picking up trash is the least of their worries. Needless to say, this counterinsurgency battle won’t win itself.

Team Tank, which included Regimental Combat Team 2 Marines from various units, recently returned from a 36-hour operation approximately 10 km north of Hit, Iraq.

“Our objective was to disrupt any insurgent activity in the area,” said 1st Lt. Danny James, the executive officer of Alpha Company, 1st Tank Battalion, 1st Marine Division. “We achieved this by keeping the enemy on their heels through a series of offensive operations.”

Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the commanding general of Multi-National Force- Iraq, recently discussed ongoing security operations in Iraq during a press briefing March 8.

“I should point out that although the focus, the priority, clearly is Baghdad, anyone who knows about securing the capital knows that you must also secure its surrounding areas,” Petraeus said. According to James, the same theme rings true for the city of Hit.

Team Tank was comprised of Marines from: Mobile Assault Platoon, 4th Reconnaissance Battalion, Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel platoon and 4th Combat Engineer Battalion.

“Tanks are limited to what they can do by themselves,” James explained. “We can’t just blow every house apart and expect to win this fight. That’s where the dismount teams come in.”

Sgt. Nate W.R. Jones, a combat engineer with Bravo Company, 4th CEB, 4th Marine Division, was one of the dismounts for Team Tank. Using metal detectors, his squad swept along the riverbanks and through the palm groves; searching for weapons caches and other illegal paraphernalia.

“Insurgents like to hide weapons by the river because it’s easier to move them from one side to the other,” said Jones, a native of West Chester, Pa. “Palm groves are also good hiding spots because, unlike the open desert, palm trees can mark the spot for any hidden caches.”

As a direct result of the operation, more than 50 pieces of various-sized ordnance was uncovered. Though the majority of artillery and mortar rounds found contained no explosives, the Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit was still notified of the situation and brought on-scene to do what they do best.

“The enemy could easily re-pack the ordnance with (high explosives) and use it against us,” Jones said. “Or they could dump it on the side of the road somewhere, using it to lure coalition forces into an (improvised explosive device) attack.”

In addition to going after the enemy, this operation also gave one corpsman the opportunity for some hands-on experience in a real-life situation.

“After searching this house, one of the guys called me over to look at this kid with a nasty cut over his eye,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Michael J. Fuchs, a corpsman with Alpha Company, 1st Tank Battalion. “It was pretty bad. There was all sorts of puss and nastiness coming from the wound.”

Since arriving in-country October 2006, Fuchs hasn’t been on many foot patrols. Much to his dismay, most of the tank operations to date have been sans dismounts.

“I cleaned the area, applied some antibiotics and re-dressed the wound,” Fuchs said. “I also gave the parents some spare gauze to change the dressing with. If left unattended much longer, an injury like that could cost someone their eye.”

Though he wished he could’ve gotten there sooner, Fuchs was just glad to do what he could to help.

“It’s not like they’ve got medicare or a health system over here,” Fuchs said. “It’s nice to be able to do my part – winning the hearts and minds. This is probably the best thing I’ve done the entire deployment.”

According to James, the Team Tank concept is an old one. But it hasn’t been used this tour as much as he would’ve liked. Considering its effectiveness, James hopes to see more units jump on the Team Tank bandwagon in the near future.

“Teaming up with dismounts is equally beneficial for both sides involved,” James said. “Through the sheer intimidation factor, tanks provide the dismounts with an unparalleled level of security. And on the flip side, the dismounts can do what tanks can’t – interact with the locals and do detailed searches. It’s a win-win situation for everyone.”

March 18, 2007

Our sons, our Marines, our heroes

Beth Houck and Teresa Elrod look like any other moms chatting away at the local coffee shop.


By Susan Shinn
Sun, Mar 18, 2007

Look closer.

Each of them wears a heart-shaped necklace. Each of them wears her son's dog tag.

Each of them is the mom of a fallen Marine.

Beth's son David, 25, was killed Nov. 26, 2004, during the Battle of Fallujah.

Teresa's son Nathan, 20, died Oct. 21, 2006, the result of an improvised explosive device — IED.

Both women say they want to see their sons' comrades finish the job in Iraq.


In February 2003, David Houck left for one of two tours of duty in Iraq. He'd joined the Marine Corps after Sept. 11.

"He was real angry about 9/11," his mom says. "He was working at Lowe's in Winston-Salem and he wanted to do something."

A home school student, David graduated from high school in 1997.

He had one semester of college, but, his mom says, "He got sick and tired of studying."

He graduated from boot camp on June 6, 2002 — D-Day his mom notes. David represented her family's third generation of military service.

Beth's father served in the Air Force during World War II. Her husband Bob is a Navy veteran who served in Vietnam.

David felt that the Marines offered the most challenge.

He was the type of child, his mom says, who, when told he couldn't do something was all the more determined to accomplish his goal.

Teresa, 48, and her husband Tim, 49, always expected Nathan to join the military. He'd participated in the East Rowan High School JROTC program, so they figured he'd join the Army.

His junior year in high school, however, he surprised his parents by telling them he wanted to join the Marines.

After he was killed, a teacher brought Tim and Teresa Elrod the "legacy" their son wrote in 10th grade.

"He wrote that he wanted to join the Marines and be the best," Teresa says.

When he was 17, his mom says, "he sat there and looked us straight in the eye, and told us what he wanted to do."

Because of his age, his parents had to sign his entry papers. His senior year, he joined the Marines' delayed entry program.

Nathan graduated from East in 2004.

"He felt good knowing what he was going to do when he got out of high school," his mom says. "He knew he was doing something important."


Nathan eventually wanted to join the Marines' special Reconnaissance Unit and to do so, he had to go into Infantry.

He became one of the best gunners in his weapons company, assigned to security detail for his lieutenant colonel during his first tour of duty.

When he returned to Iraq, however, he decided to stay with his weapons company.

When he went on patrol in a convoy of Humvees, he was moved from the last vehicle to the first, because of his skills.

"His lieutenant wanted the best to ride with him," Teresa says.

Two weeks before Nathan's death, his Humvee was hit by an IED.

"I only found out later," his mom says. "He didn't want me to worry about him."

On this night, however, an IED exploded when Nathan's convoy passed. He survived for 30 minutes before succumbing to his injuries.


On David's first tour, he was based on the U.S.S. Nashville.

On his second tour, he went to Fallujah. He was killed Nov. 26, 2004, the day after Thanksgiving.

"That was Black Friday," says Beth, 54.

Ironically, her husband Bob, 60, had served as a casualty assistant calls officer, so the Houcks knew something was terribly wrong when two Marines in dress blues came to their door at 8:30 p.m. that Friday night.

"That moment is frozen in time," Beth says.

She and her husband knew David had either been killed or seriously wounded.

"Bless their hearts, they couldn't say anything," Beth says. "Bob said, 'We know why you're here.' One of them said, 'I am so sorry to tell you your son has been killed in action today.' "


Teresa's husband Tim was out of town on Oct. 21, 2006, when their doorbell rang that morning at 5:30.

"I heard the dogs barking and I heard the doorbell," Teresa says. She thought someone might be having car trouble.

But she also felt a sense of dread.

"The night before Nathan died, I had a feeling I've never had before," she says. "His second tour, I didn't watch TV. I didn't have a good feeling. The night before, the television was on Fox News, and it mentioned Ramadi. I took a few deep breaths and started crying. Then the feeling passed."

She'd find out later that was about the time her son died.


"I got up and turned the porch light on, I saw two Marines in dress greens," she says. "I could see the green through the window. At that moment, I knew. I didn't want to open the door. I didn't want to hear what they had to say."

But she did open the door, and the two Marines stayed with her for the next couple of hours. They sent local Marines in Tennessee to notify Tim, who was staying with his brother and sister. He found out three hours later and flew home.

She was in shock, she says, in a daze.

"You really don't believe it," she says. "I kept asking, are you sure?"

The Marines called her pastor and deacons from First Baptist Church of Rockwell and her sister. They stayed with her until her pastor arrived.

"They were very good," Teresa says of the Marines. "They were very compassionate and caring. They took the time to ask about Nathan, to sit and talk about him."

Those Marines never knew Nathan Elrod.

"But every Marine is a brother," Beth says.


David Houck was killed as his team went from house to house in Fallujah, searching for insurgents. Each man would take turns being the first in line.

"They tried to keep the married guys in the back," Beth says, but they wanted to take their turns, too.

David put his left hand on the door.

"Are you ready?" he asked his friends, the last words he'd ever say.

"He was shot right through the door," Beth says.

There were 10-12 insurgents on the other side.

David was hit under his chin and left cheek. He fell against the door, trapping the insurgents.

Surprisingly, Beth was told later, there was very little blood.

The rest of the team lived.

"It was David's turn," his mother says simply.

"He was thinking of his brothers," Teresa says.


At first, Beth had a hard time realizing that life at home was going on without David.

She wanted to scream out in Wal-Mart about the sacrifices that service members were making.

"Our guys are doing that so they're not fighting in the streets over here," Teresa says.

So people can keep on shopping at Wal-Mart and going about the mundane tasks of their lives.


Nathan's group had been going on night patrols, providing security for Army mine sweeps.

While the Army soldiers drove on one road, the Marines traveled a parallel road.

No one swept their road.

Nathan may have been killed by the IED under the road, or by the secondary explosions that occurred.

He was pulled from the debris and arrived at the hospital within 10 minutes of the attack.

It didn't matter.

When her son came home, she asked to see him.

The answer was no.

Couldn't she at least see his face or even stroke his hand?


"His injuries were such that we were not able to see him," Teresa says, "so we didn't have that closure."


The Patriot Guard Riders is a national organization of motorcycle enthusiasts who attend funerals and honor returning veterans.

Members of the group came to First Baptist to provide a phalanx of flags at Nathan's funeral — and, Teresa found later, to be on guard against any anti-war protesters.

There were none.

"I remember walking through all those flags," Teresa says. "I was in a daze. The church was full and there were people outside."

It seemed to her as if the whole town of Rockwell was there.


Teresa went back to work two weeks later after her son's death.

"There's not a moment I don't think about him," she says.

She keeps busy.

Her daughter Shannon, 16, is a junior in high school and she has a grown stepson, Chris.

"You just deal with it," she says. "It's an effort to get up in the morning. But I remind myself that he would want us to go on, not to dwell so much on it.

"There's a reason for it but it's not for us to understand."

Beth and Teresa take solace in the fact that their sons were Christians and were ready to meet their Lord.

Perhaps someone else in their position may not have been ready, they believe.

Several months after her son's death, Teresa says, "I don't mind talking about it. I still have two children. You can't make out like he didn't exist."

It helps her to remember, for example, his smile, and how he taught himself to play guitar.

"He just had a way of being a good friend," she says. "He wanted to be the best at whatever he did. In his legacy, he wanted to be remembered as a kind and caring person, and he definitely was."


Beth went back to school that Monday after Thanksgiving.

"I needed to be needed," says Beth, a third-grade teacher who's now at Koontz Elementary School.

She's chosen to focus on others.

David was buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va. Beth's father is in section 6; his grandson is in section 60.

Beth had the chance to touch her son's face and stroke his hairline before he was taken to Virginia.

While Teresa has mainly drawn support from her church, family and friends, Beth is part of a network of 13 families of 1st Batallion, 8th Marines, Bravo Co., whose sons were killed in the battle of Fallujah.

She's developed a ministry of encouragement to the Marines in Bravo Co. who returned from battle.

She's helped edit a book, "Fallujah With Honor, Second Edition," by Gary Livingston, a North Carolina writer.

She sends a comfort package to every Bravo Marine — more than 100 men in all — which includes:

* the book "Desert Angel" by Dorothy Aileen Dalton.

* a CD by an Iraqi pastor who is grateful for freedom of religion.

* a CD of comforting Southern gospel music.

* the Gospel of John.

* a personal letter from Beth.

* David's autobiography.

Beth also has a MySpace page dedicated to David to reach even more Marines.

"That's become my ministry, to help those suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome," Beth says.


Teresa continues to send her homemade beef jerky to Marines who are in Iraq.

"That helps me to keep sending things over there," she says. "I know they appreciate it. I think our guys see a purpose over there. They agree we need to stay over there and finish the job.

"I think our guys would like to finish what they started."

"These guys are professionals," Beth says. "Let them do their job. With good intelligence and informants, you are pretty sure where the insurgents are.

"We need to let them be professionals. You cannot fight a gentlemanly war."

Teresa adds, "They have a mission. They want to complete it."


Angel Rosa

Lance Cpl. Angel Rosa, 21
SOUTH PORTLAND -- Lance Corporal Angel Rosa, age 21, of South Portland, died March 13, 2007, while serving his country. He died as a result of wounds received while conducting combat operations in Al Anbar province, Iraq. Angel was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, N.C. Lance Corporal Angel Rosa was posthumously promoted from Private First Class to Lance Corporal. Lance Corporal Angel Rosa's awards include the Purple Heart, the Combat Action Ribbon, the National Defense Medal, the Iraqi Campaign Medal, and the Global War on Terrorsim Service Medal.


To view/sign Legacy Guestbook:

Angel was born July 20, 1985. Angel attended South Portland schools where he excelled in athletics at South Portland High School. Angel excelled at baseball, basketball, and soccer, where he played the position of sweeper and was Captain of his soccer team in his Senior year. His former coaches and teammates remember Angel not only as an outstanding athlete, but also as a dedicated leader and dear friend. Angel was never afraid to challenge himself, to push himself beyond his limits, at what he chose to do.

Angel was exceptionally proud of his Puerto Rican heritage.

After graduating from South Portland High School in 2004, Angel was employed by several local businesses, and in 2004 met the love of his life, Elise. They were married in 2006.

He enlisted in the Marine Corps to serve his country, while aspiring to make a better life for himself and his family.

Angel will be remembered as a man who touched everyone's lives, a man who inspired us to be better all around, with a smile that could melt anyone's heart and brighten up a day. He truly was our angel. Now more than ever he will be watching over us. We will keep him alive through the lasting impression he left on us all. We love you, Angel, and will continue to love you forever.

Angel is survived by his wife, Elise Rosa, of Standish; his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Robert Bradbury, and his sister Mariemill Giordano, of South Portland; his two grandmothers and one grandfather; by several aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, and cousins; plus many loving friends.

A public funeral Mass and memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Wednesday at Sacred Heart Church, Mellen and Sherman Streets, in Portland. Arrangements by Hobbs Funeral Home, South Portland.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in his memory to the Boys and Girls Club of South Portland.

Lance Cpl. Angel Rosa

Local Marines Return from Duty

Just a few days before the fourth anniversary of the war in Iraq, there's a happy homecoming for some hometown heroes


Reporter: Harrison Hove

About 50 marines returned home Saturday from an eight month long mission in the Horn of Africa.

Loved ones and friends greeted them at the marine center on Roberts Avenue.

The reunion was emotional for many of the military families and many say they can't wait to get back home.

Fath Moreano says, "We're gonna go home and he's gonna greet the kids, we have five so he's gonna get to spend time with them and just stay at the house and be at the house with the kids and us as a family."

The marines are part of the echo company anti-terrorism batallion...

They live all across the Florida panhandle, and are stationed in Tallahassee where they were trained and later deployed.

March 17, 2007

2 Marines, 40 Iraqis stabilize Hamadiyah

HAMADIYAH, Iraq – (March 17, 2007) -- More than 40 Iraqi soldiers make a bombed-out hospital, missing large sections of walls, their home. Sunlight pours through missing pieces of the ceiling. Large portions of concrete lie in piles throughout the compound. Electricity is scarce, relying on fuel trucks to make the treacherous trip to refill one generator. Three committed U.S. servicemen are no different than the Iraqis living here.


Marine Corps News

March 17, 2007

By Cpl. Ryan M. Blaich, II Marine Expeditionary Force (FWD)

In an effort to rebuild the order and security of a nation, two Marines and a Navy corpsman dedicate their deployment to training Iraqi soldiers of Company 4, 3rd Battalion, 1st Iraqi Regiment, 7th Iraqi Army Division. Although the 7th Division is headquartered at Camp Blue Diamond, just outside Ramadi, Iraq, Company 4 works and lives inside a small farming village on the Euphrates River; a place known as Strong Point 1, near the city of Hamadiyah.

Company 4 advisor, 1st Lt. Daniel Singer, says his two-man team and their Iraqi counterparts have formed a unique brotherhood only developed through shared hardships and extreme situations.

Since Christmas Day, 2006, the members of the Military Transition Team, deal with the same meager conditions and overcome mental challenges all for the safety of a single community where terrorism once was embedded.

Compared to the western standard of living, things are pretty dire for the Iraqi soldiers and team members. However, added Singer, “It’s nothing that’s gonna’ kill you.”

Despite dismal conditions, laughter echoes throughout the space. Iraqis, getting ready for evening dinner, gather around a fire pit located in a dark corner overlooking the Euphrates River. A large pot, filled with white rice, lies atop glowing orange embers. Circular flatbread, fresh fish and vegetables fill up each plate.

Soldiers, who just got paid, talk about leave and what they plan to do when they go home. One junior enlisted soldier, called a jundie, wants to buy a car, a BMW. He told his friend, “In Baghdad I have two cars. Now I get a BMW.” Others give most of their earnings to their family, which seems to be fundamental in Iraq. Most soldiers join not only to develop democracy in their country, but to provide for their extended families.

Generosity is natural to Iraqis and part of their culture. The sharing of food, water, ammunition, cigarettes and cellular phones is common among the soldiers.

This company was bonding. Each soldier appeared to have characteristics of a veteran. Maybe it was the gunfights or mortar attacks they had lived through that tied them to each other. It could have been living together in such tight quarters for long periods of time that created such friendships. But most likely, it was the common pride they felt in doing the courageous and honorable task of fighting together for their nation.

Singer, a native of Columbia, Md., praised the soldiers for their courage and strength in the daily fight against terrorist threats.

“They’re definitely doing better and they’re making progress,” he said of the Iraqi soldiers. “The main thing is the troops, the soldiers. They’re brave and they’re tough. That’s the kind of foundation you want. You can teach someone marksmanship, you can teach someone to do patrols, you can teach land navigation, but if someone’s a coward or if someone’s weak, you won’t be able to change that.”

Singer and his team spend their time advising, instructing and preparing this Iraqi company with the essential skills needed for combat.

Iraqi officers and senior enlisted staff noncommissioned officers lead their company on various missions. Singer and his senior enlisted advisor, Staff Sgt. Tylor Olsen, go on a number patrols to supervise, having fought beside Iraqi infantrymen on many occasions. In such a dangerous moment, trust is either built or destroyed.

“It’s like any other unit. These guys are our brothers-in-arms,” Singer said. “We’re out here sharing the same hardships, facing the same dangers. You’re doing everything together, so you automatically build a level of trust with them.”

To many Iraqi soldiers, they pride themselves in protecting innocent civilians and know sacrifices are driving out the terrorists that once intimidated this region.

“I come here and I help my country, I help save the people of Ramadi,” said Private Hossean Joad Brahem, infantryman. “Everybody know Ramadi have very many problems. Many families have left because Ramadi is not safe. I come to make it safe.”

Brahem said he sees the Marines as his friends and enjoys the training Signer and Olsen provide.

“The Marines help us a lot and always with us on patrol” he said. “We have same mission. They like our brothers.”

Brahem, like many jundies, emulates the Marines here. They shave, they hold field day every afternoon and they take orders seriously. Brahem said all Iraqis want a safe nation for their families. He called the terrorist, “Ali Babbas,” and wanted to destroy every one of them.

“I’m not afraid of these bad guys,” Brahem said. “I tell him straight to his face, ‘I will kill you.’”

Securing Iraq’s future is the main purpose for each soldier in one way or another; each member of Company 4 knows of someone or has been directly affected by a terrorist attack. Some share similar tragedies of losing family members by a suicide bomber. So, they join to make a difference. They join to protect the innocent and they join because they know it is righteous.

“We are the good guys,” said Iraqi Army Sgt. Mshtak-Taleb Salh. “(The terrorist) is evil. They will never beat my country, I make sure of it.”

March 16, 2007

Marines deliver fuel to Iraqi hospital

FALLUJAH, Iraq (March 16, 2007) -- Marines with Regimental Combat Team 6 delivered much-needed fuel to an Iraqi-run hospital in Fallujah, Iraq, March 16.


March 16, 2007

By Lance Cpl. Randall Little, Regimental Combat Team 6

Staff Sgt. Matthew Evans, the convoy commander for Security Platoon, Headquarters Company, RCT-6, and his Marines escorted three fuel tankers to the Jordanian Field Hospital.

The area isn’t booming with insurgent activity as much as it was a few years ago, said Evans, the 33-year-old Dover, Del., native.

“Even though the area is relatively calm, we needed to provide security for the fuel tankers,” explained Evans. “Fuel tankers are considered a high-priority target for insurgents to attack because of the cargo they carry. Our job was to make sure (they) stayed safe during transit.”

The hospital’s fuel supply, which was almost depleted, needed to be replenished soon. It was imperative the fuel trucks made it to the hospital within the next few days; otherwise the facility would be unable to treat the Iraqis coming for medical care.

“Our job was to provide a time window for the fuel trucks to arrive at the hospital,” Evans said. “We had two days to get the fuel to the hospital.”

Their job was to set-up security points around the hospital ensuring anyone with hostile motives couldn’t get near the fuel.

“Our trucks set up security for the tankers as they made their way to and from the hospital and dropped the cargo,” Evans explained. “Our job doesn’t end until everyone returns to Camp Fallujah.”

As the security vehicles set-up into their positions, the tankers weaved through the narrow entrance to the hospital to drop their loads of fuel.

“The main goal was to help the Iraqi people in the area by bringing the fuel trucks to the hospital,” Evans said. “Providing security for supplies like fuel is a small but significant part to play.”

The Jordanian Field Hospital is a major hub in the area for the Iraqi people to come to for medical attention. It is also one of the few in Fallujah, so bringing more fuel to the hospital was a significant mission, Evans explained.

The fuel was delivered to the hospital safely as scheduled. The hospital could continue to run proficiently, helping the injured or sick Iraqi people that would come seeking medical attention. The Marines allowed the fuel to be supplied safely, showing how dedicate they are to supporting the Iraqi people in the Marines area of operations.

“During this operation, Coalition Forces provided critical infrastructure support to the Iraqis,” said 2nd Lt. Christopher T. Rogers, a current operations officer with RCT-6. “The regiment is dedicated to supporting and developing the crucial self-sustainment initiatives of the Iraqi people.”

Greeted with open arms: Alpha Battery returns from fight

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (March 16, 2007) -- As the sun set on Camp Lejeune, families and friends of approximately 120 Marines with Battery A, 1st Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, waited in anticipation of their loved ones’ return from a seven-month deployment to Iraq.


March 16, 2007

By Cpl. Lucian Friel, 2nd Marine Division

Even the shadows of the approaching night couldn’t darken the mood of the crowd as they cheered and applauded their returning heroes pulling into the parking lot on charter buses.

Battery A’s mission was convoy security and to augment, or reinforce, the military police mission in the Al Anbar province of Iraq.

Lt. Col. Pete Keating, the battalion commanding officer, explained how it feels to have his Marines return safe and in good spirits.

“Getting Alpha Battery back is wonderful,” Keating said. “We are happy that they’re back safe and sound. They did an outstanding job, it was a very demanding mission, and it’s great to see them reunited with their spouses and families.”

The wife of Cpl. Eric Alt, a vehicle commander with 3rd Platoon and a Syracuse, N.Y., native, said it’s amazing to have her husband back home.

“This is honestly the best day of my life,” explained Alt, who returned from his second deployment to Iraq. “The hardest part about being gone was not knowing what was going to happen the next day, if I’d still be alive or not. Being back home feels great.”

After gathering up their gear and having a quick accountability formation, the Marines headed off with their proud loved ones to catch up on lost time.

“We are just so proud and relieved to have him home,” explained the parents of Cpl. Ryan Brinkmeier, from Berryville, Va. “It was good for us to see our son had grown up and know that he’s done something he’s proud of.”

For these Marines with Battery A, who served fearlessly and honorably for their country, the long road and difficult and dangerous mission is something they all can be proud of accomplishing.

Over the echo of voices in that crowded parking lot, people could hear one common phrase, “It’s good to have you home.”

Keating summed up the mood of the night.

“It’s definitely a happier day than it was when they left in August,” he said. “They trained hard and trained well, we’re glad they came back safe. Today’s a great day.”

Mobile-based Marines welcomed home

After seven months in Iraq, these Mobile-based troops were home.
Cheers erupted from the crowd of family and friends as the Marines got off the bus.


Friday, March 16, 2007

Staff Reporter

A sudden downpour halted to a cool drizzle and a rainbow peeked through the clouds Thursday evening as a charter bus carrying about 40 members of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve's 3rd Force Reconnaissance Company pulled into their reserve center in Langan Municipal Park.

"I've been going crazy since he left," 23-year-old Natalie Maloof said through happy tears after she stood on her tiptoes to give her boyfriend, Lance Cpl. Robert Keane, 20, a long and passionate kiss.

Mothers and fathers, wives and girlfriends, and children of all ages -- some newborns when their fathers left -- were in attendance to welcome their Marines home.

Sgt. Matthew Legg, who was returning from his third deployment since 2003, scooped his 7-month-old son Aiden from his wife Sara's arms and gave him a kiss on the cheek.

Aiden was born less than a week before Matthew Legg was deployed, the family said, and Thursday was the first time the Gulf Breeze, Fla., father was able to hold his baby since the child was just a few days old.

The returning members of the 3rd Force served out of Al Asad in Al Anbar Province in western Iraq, "one of the most volatile areas of Iraq," according to Maj. Steve Taylor, commanding officer of the unit based at the Naval and Marine Corps Reserve Center on Museum Drive in Mobile.

Taylor said there were no serious injuries among the 3rd Force Marines during this deployment.

Five detachments of 3rd Force Marines have been deployed to Iraq since the war began four years ago, and most have served at least two deployments to that country, Taylor said.

Maj. Dion Anglin, 35, of Oshkosh, Wis., has served two tours in Iraq since 2004 and also served a tour of duty in Kuwait in 1998, he said Thursday.

His parents, Marilyn and Dan Anglin, of Warsaw, Ind., flew to Mobile to welcome their son home.

"It's very exciting," Marilyn Anglin said. "We'll go wherever he is."

She said the family had flown to Camp LeJeune, N.C., to welcome him home from his first tour in Iraq and that 10 family members had flown to Twentynine Palms, Calif., to see him off this time.

Care packages filled with cookies, homemade party mix and other treats kept Maj. Anglin thinking of home while he was deployed, his mother said with a smile.

Lance Cpl. Adam Errickson's young new bride, Tonya Errickson, kept him thinking of home.

The Erricksons, who live near Milton, Fla., were married Aug. 11, just four days before Adam Errickson was deployed, his wife said.

Though the couple has known each other since Tonya Errickson, 19, was in sixth grade, they decided just three weeks before their vows to set the date, she said. They had been engaged since Jan. 11, 2006.

"We decided to just go ahead and get married," said Tonya Errickson, who Thursday was in Mobile with her in-laws, Ken and Jaye Errickson.

Tonya Errickson nestled her head on her husband's shoulder in the parking lot of the reserve center, snuggling and smiling into the crook of his neck. With her husband home, the Erricksons will finally get a chance to be newlyweds together.

"We have a list of things to do," Tonya Errickson said. But first, the family would go to dinner.

Deployable Virtual Training Environment gives 'war games' new meaning

CAMP HANSEN, OKINAWA, Japan (March 16, 2007) -- Seventy Marines with Combat Logistics Battalion 4, 3rd Marine Logistics Group learned the value of war gaming March 8-9 as they participated in a Deployable Virtual Training Environment evolution at Camp Hansen's Combat Arms Simulator facility.


March 16, 2007

By Lance Cpl. Richard Blumenstein, MCB Camp Butler

The Marines trained in three of the facility's simulators to become familiar with convoy operations, improvised explosive devices and close air support procedures. The simulators use computer games or video screens to create interactive scenarios.

"We're trying to make the training as realistic as possible," said 2nd Lt. Bryce Greenstein, the construction platoon commander with CLB-4.

Marines divided into three groups and rotated between the simulators during the 24-hour training evolution, which forced them to react to different scenarios while fatigued.

Each scenario presented Marines with different obstacles and learning objectives, according to Richard Evans, the DVTE lead with Tactical Exercise Control Group, the unit that runs the simulator.

In the Virtual Battlefield Simulator, computer games created combat scenarios for the Marines, who took part in convoy operations and route clearing. They were met with obstacles such as small arms fire, IEDs and congested traffic while trying to accomplish mission objectives.

"It's a game to help them learn convoy operations so they can get to locations safely," Evans said. "It allows them to practice standard operating procedures, communications, command and control."

The Recognition of Combatants simulator used a projection screen to teach Marines about various IEDs and their common locations. The Marines then watched videos taken from Iraq and identified potential locations of IEDs. The simulator graded Marines on their performance.

The training concluded with the Forward Observer Personal Computer Simulator, which used a large topographical map to teach the Marines how to call in close air support while finding a target's grid coordinates and identifying which targets are most important.

"When you call for fire you have to know where you are and where the targets are on a map," Evans said. "You have to be able to identify what targets take priority ... to tell the difference between a platoon of combatants or two tanks."

Governor sends condolences to family of Twentynine Palms Marine

Capitol flags will be flown at half-staff in honor of Twentynine Palms Marine Lance Cpl. Nathanial D. Windsor, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said in a statement today.


Erica Solvig
The Desert Sun

March 16, 2007

“Maria and I offer our prayers for Lance Corporal Windsor's family, friends and loved ones,” Schwarzenegger said in a statement.

“This brave Marine went beyond the call of duty and gave his life for our nation. Nathanial’s sacrifice is a model of ultimate selflessness for all Californians.”

The 20-year-old Scappoose, Ore. native died March 13. He had been injured while fighting in Al Anbar province, Iraq.

Windsor was part of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines.

Back Home

Mar 16, 2007 - Two local Marine reservists are home tonight... after a seven month deployment in Iraq.


Lance Corporal Joseph Bately and Corporal Ervin Hull were greeted by Friends and family at the Greater Peoria regional airport this afternoon.

Engineer Company-C members were there as well, with signs, smiles and handshakes for their fellow marines.

Corporal Hull says now that he's home, he's excited to head out in the fresh air and do some fishing.

"I got to get out and dust my poles off, But I'll be ready to go...."

His father, Earl, said, "We are taking him home, that's the main thing. He's gonna have fun when he gets there."

The remaining 8 members of the company still in Iraq are expected to come home late next week.

March 15, 2007

Beefing up the troops, Students spread the Montessori concept to Iraq.

Camp Pendleton When the alarm rang at 2:30 a.m. Thursday, Hannah Huebscher could barely get up. But five minutes later, the groggy-eyed 14-year-old remembered her mission.


Thursday, March 15, 2007
The Orange County Register

Since Monday, Hannah and others from Rancho Viejo Montessori in Rancho Santa Margarita have gone to Camp Pendleton to see off groups from the 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion bound for Iraq.

Each morning – amid emotional farewells – they parked their RV between barracks and set up tables with coffee and doughnuts. As Marines left loved ones and fell into formation to hear a last speech before deployment, students scampered aboard waiting buses and put surprise lunch bags on each seat.

For two weeks Hannah worked with Debbie Warkentien, school principal, to prepare the adopted battalion's farewell. At lunch, after school and on weekends she helped pack sandwiches, cookies, juice boxes, crackers, fruit and a letter of appreciation in each of the lunch sacks. She collected letters of support for the Marines from local schools.

Students gathered toys for the Marines to pass out to Iraqi children. Parents donated almost $3,000 in toys, food and other items, and one mom donated 1,000 meat sandwiches.

The project – started as a way to earn her Girl Scout Silver Award – turned into a passion. By the time she finishes today, she'll have logged double the required community service hours for her badge.

"I don't feel I should stop in the middle of the project," said Hannah. "When the Marines leave some seem sad, some try to be excited but then they get nervous. They're brave for what they're doing and I'm sad to see them go – not knowing if they'll come back. But it's good to know there are people helping the rest of the world and not just thinking of themselves."

The Montessori decided to adopt the 1,000-man battalion after a visit from Sgt. Stephen Ferguson who started "Team Cody" – an outreach ministry helping Marines in need.

For more than three years, Ferguson, who left Monday for his second Iraq tour, has spoken to city officials, businesses and schools on behalf of the Marines. With his mother, Jackie, he's visited wounded Marines, helped reunite families over the holidays, organized care packages for Marines serving overseas and worked on city adoptions.

First Sgt. Octaviano Gallegos oversaw Ferguson.

"You've got one Marine taking his own time to reach out to the community," said Gallegos. "It shows the civilian community that Marines do good things and are held to a high standard. I don't see how he has the time to do it."

Ferguson, 25 – involved in outreach ministry since fifth grade – created "Team Cody" in memory of Cody Johnson, an 11-year-old Texas boy who died of cancer.

"He was inspired by Cody's courage," said Jackie Ferguson. "He compared it to a Marine going to war facing death."

When the Montessori learned Ferguson's battalion wasn't adopted, the school family opened their hearts.

The battalion is headed for Rawah – a small town on the Euphrates River. There, they will fight insurgents and maintain order with foot and vehicle patrols.

Sgt. Joseph Heredia, 25, who drives Humvees and seven-ton trucks, was going to Iraq for the first time.

"You wouldn't find a lot of people doing this," he said as he drank coffee. "I remember being a little kid seeing soldiers and knew it was something I wanted to do. Maybe these young kids will want to do the same, and if not, maybe they'll appreciate what we're doing and remember it for life."

Dy Ann Parham and her son, Logan, 6, came out two mornings this week. Logan donated some of his bouncy balls as gifts for Iraqi kids.

"It's pretty cool because we can talk to the Marines and they help with freedom," said Logan, who wore a camouflage hat to blend in. "I think the children will like bouncy balls because they're just like me."

Friends, Family Remember Fallen Maine Soldier

Private First Class Angel Rosa was killed Monday while conducting combat operations in the Anbar province of Iraq. Those who knew him said he was a born leader, a great athlete, and an exceptional young man.


Web Editor: Rhonda Erskine, Online Content Producer

During his years at South Portland high school, Rosa was known as Angel Cota. He was a star on the school's soccer team, becoming captain his senior year.

School officials say he was more than just an athlete, he was good student and a good person.

"He is very vividly remembered with very positive memories, he was able to bring great spirit and enthusiasm, always very positive and upbeat and he made South Portland high school a better place to be," said SPHS Principal Jeanne Crocker.

Rosa leaves behind his wife, Elise Rosa. She says her husband joined the military so his family could have a better life.

"It breaks our hearts to know he gave his life in order to make things better for others, but that's the way he was," said Elise Rosa.

Angel Rosa's mother said her son was always first into battle and was always leading from the front.

Governor Baldacci will order that flags throughout Maine be flown at half staff the day of Rosa's funeral. Arrangements have not yet been set.

Friends and classmates are also working with school officials to set up a memorial for Rosa inside the high school.

Squadrons return to Fightertown after 6 month deployment to Japan

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION BEAUFORT, S.C. (March 15, 2007) -- Approximately 141 Marines and sailors from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 122 have returned to the Air Station and approximately 22 Marines and 11 F/A-18C Hornets are slated to return today following a six-month deployment to Iwakuni, Japan.


March 15, 2007

By Lance Cpl. Monique Smith, MCAS Beaufort

While deployed, the Crusaders conducted air-to-ground training missions and flew air combat training missions in the Philippines and other Far East countries.

“This deployment has been extremely successful,” said Lt. Col. William Lieblein, the commanding officer of VMFA-122. “The squadron is now better prepared to plan, deploy and execute missions at remote sites as a result of our (detachments) to the Philippines, Okinawa and Thailand.”

A detachment of approximately 55 Stingers from Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 31 also returned with the Crusaders. While deployed, the Stingers provided intermediate-level maintenance support for the squadron’s F/A-18C Hornets.

While in Thailand, the squadron also participated in Exercise Cope Tiger - a multi-national training exercise with the Iwakuni-based, Marine Aircraft Group 12 and Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 12 as well as two reserve squadrons, Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadrons 452, of Newburgh, N.Y., and VMGR-234, of Fort Worth, Texas. During the exercise, the Crusaders worked alongside Singaporean, Thai, U.S. Air Force and Navy personnel.

While deployed, 195,000 pounds of ordnance were expended while training with U.S. Air Force F-15s and Thailand and Singapore F-5s and F-16s, according to Lieblein.

Dropping ordnance wasn’t the only training completed on this deployment, the Crusaders were also able to improve the qualifications and certifications of their flighcrews.

“We qualified three section leads, two division leads, three (air combat tactics instructors), one (forward air controller - airborne) and re-certified one division lead, one mission commander and one ACTI, during the deployment,” Lieblein said.

Even though the Crusaders were excited about being able to train alongside military members from different countries, for many of them, coming home was still the highlight of their tour.

“The Crusader's morale and esprit de corps is at its highest as a result of this deployment,” Lieblein said. “I can't say enough about the Marines and what an incredible job they have done. This squadron's success is a result of their ability to stay focused on the mission no matter how austere the environment.”

“The feeling of being home can’t be described in one word,” said Sgt. Omer Kruskic, an airframes mechanic with VMFA-122. “Nevertheless we knew we had to finish the job over there and get those jets back over here.”

While many of the Crusaders and Stingers were just excited about being home, some were looking forward to new beginnings.

“I’ve been gone for six months and now I get to come home to see my three-month old daughter,” said Pfc. Justin Neria, an avionics technician with VMFA-122. “It feels good to be home.”

Rigors of combat simulated in strenuous physical training for 1/1 Marines

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. (March 15, 2007) -- For all of the Marine squad leaders and platoon sergeants out there, Staff Sgt. Stephen J. Redmond has one question: “How many of your Marines can come out here and do the (obstacle) course, full gear, flak and Kevlar, three times in fifteen minutes?”


March 15, 2007

By Lance Cpl. Geoffrey P. Ingersoll, MCB Camp Pendleton

Redmond, a Marine Corps Martial Arts instructor trainer, traveled from the Martial Arts Center of Excellence in Quantico, Va., to Camp Horno recently to teach a Combat Conditioning Program.

“We’re preparing for an event, just like a marathon runner trains for a marathon,” Redmond said. “We need to train our Marines for the event, and that event is combat.”

By the time they graduated the class, all of the Marines could do Redmond’s ‘O-course’ challenge. Some agreed that the goal took sweat and determination to achieve.

“The hardest part of the training was running the ‘O-course’ back-to-back-to-back,” said Cpl. Corii N. Shaw, a field wireman with the communications shop, 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division. Shaw remembered vividly the first time Redmond ran through the triple o-course with the students.

“Everyone else was out of breath and he was just smiling,” said Shaw, whose time in the o-course run has dropped to approximately 12 minutes. “When the instructors tell you what you have to do, you’re like ‘I don’t know if I can do it,’ but we learned that it’s mental, your body can always take more than what your mind thinks.”

“You push your limits in training, so that you can push your limits in combat,” said Sgt. Roland L. Cantu, a squad leader in 1st Platoon, Company C, 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment.

The Marine Corps order on physical fitness states that training ought to “develop and maintain strength, endurance, and the physical skill necessary to sustain a Marine during combat.”

“The problem is Marines stop following the order and start training for the (physical fitness test),” 26-year-old Redmond said.

The order continues to state that “units should focus on combat conditioning, fitness, health and unit cohesion rather than preparation exclusively for the semi-annual physical fitness test training.”

Staying true to the order, the Marines in CCP did a lot more than run and clear the o-course. They worked on stretching techniques, and learned about the difference between strength and endurance, and even received tips on nutrition.

As newly graduated “Combat Conditioning Specialists,” they can bring the information back to their units to teach their Marines.

“We learned how to prepare and organize a program of combat conditioning,” said Cpl. Sy M. Banks, a field wiremen attached to 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment. “It’s all about getting your body ready for anything it will face.”

A few Marines in the course said they believe they are better capable of handling the stresses of combat. One of the new conditioning specialists said that if the insurgents knew how they were training, they would be even more fearful of Marines.

“The class teaches endurance while working under fatigue conditions,” said Shaw, “giving your all when you don’t have anything left to give.”

“It gives you that confidence,” said 25-year-old Sgt. Robert K. McClellan, a platoon sergeant with Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment. “You know that even if you’re dog tired, you can still complete the task given. Our enemies would be scared because they would know that we would never give up.”

Bonhomme Richard ESG Kicks Off JTFEX

USS BONHOMME RICHARD, At Sea (NNS) -- USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) (BHR) Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) departed their homeport of San Diego on March 14 to take part in Joint Task Force Exercise (JTFEX).

Story Number: NNS070315-11
Release Date: 3/15/2007 7:37:00 PM

By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Dustin Mapson, USS Bonhomme Richard Public Affairs

JTFEX is the third and final phase of BHR ESG's pre-deployment training. The exercise is expected to test the strike group's full range of missions from ballistic missile defense to amphibious landings.

"JTFEX is the strike group's graduate-level exercise," said BHR Commanding Officer Capt. Steve Greene. "It will test our ability to plan and execute our full range of missions. Unlike previous exercises, where our embarked mentors [Strike Force Training Pacific Staff] prepared us to function efficiently and effectively as a strike group. Now, they will stand back; let us operate on our own; and evaluate our effectiveness."

Commander Amphibious Squadron (COMPHIBRON) 7, Capt. Bradley Martin, said while JTFEX poses a wide range of unscripted and challenging events, the strike group will conduct the exercise with an emphasis on safety.
Martin commands, coordinates, integrates and executes the deployed operations of all surface ships and units assigned to BHR ESG and the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU).

"We will be very busy throughout the exercise," said Martin. "And as in any free play training environment, things can happen at any time. Having said that, the pace will be within the parameters of ORM [operational risk management]. This is still training."

Martin added, JTFEX will be a step up from the previously completed ESG Exercise and Composite Training Unit Exercise.

"We are making excellent progress towards completing our integrated training," said Martin. "While we're ready, this will be a more challenging exercise than those previously completed."

Martin said the strike group has shown continual and significant progress as an integrated force and will continue to do so as it moves into JTFEX, the final preparatory phase of training before BHR ESG is ready for deployment.

"This exercise will give us an opportunity to show what an expeditionary strike group is capable of," said Martin. "We can prove that they have the ability to do tremendous things. We're ready for deployment and everything that comes with it."

BHR ESG is comprised of COMPHIBRON 7, USS Denver (LPD 9), USS Rushmore (LPD 47), USS Milius (DDG 69), USS Chosin (CG 65), USS Chung-Hoon (DDG 93) and the 13th MEU. The strike group is scheduled to deploy early next month.

South Plains Marines Return Home From Iraq

Marine Reservists from West Texas and New Mexico returned home late Thursday night from a 7 month deployment in Iraq. Members of the 6th Motor Transport Battalion in Lubbock arrived at Lubbock Preston Smith International Airport around 9:45 p.m. Thursday.



The 6th Motor Transport Battalion has been in Iraq since mid-August. While in Iraq, their main duty was running convoys. They were delivering "beds, beans & bullets" in the Fallujah, Al-Anbar and Ramadi areas. For most of the group, this was their first deployment, though a few members were on their 2nd or 3rd deployment.

Family and friends filled the halls at Lubbock Preston Smith International. They waived signs and flags, while carrying balloons and flowers. When the reservists arrived at the airport, the crowd greeted them with cheers, hugs, kisses, and tears.

March 13, 2007

Gains in stability slow but tangible in Haditha

HADITHA, Iraq -- Haditha is like a police state, surrounded by a dirt berm topped with concertina wire, with two tightly controlled entrances and no private cars permitted to drive in the town proper.


By Pamela Hess

March 13, 2007

"That's what it is; that's what it needs to be," said U.S. Lt. Col. Jim Donnellan, commander of the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment.
The U.S. military built the berms in December and January, part of a "clear, hold and build" operation called "al Majid" to bring this critical area of Haditha under coalition and Iraqi police control.
Unlike other battle zones in violent Anbar province west of Baghdad, where towns and cities have been emptied and every building searched to drive out terrorists and insurgents, the clearing of Haditha and two nearby towns -- Barwanah and Haglaniyah -- was carried out with the people still in their homes.
The operation represents a maturing of counterinsurgency tactics, said Col. Donnellan and other officers.
"For this phase of the war, if we're still kicking in doors and going house to house and telling the entire city to get out, things are pretty bleak," Col. Donnellan said.
The clearing served as an advertisement that the U.S. Marines and the reconstituted Haditha police department -- comprising a charismatic local chief and 200 officers, many of them Shi'ites from southern Iraq -- now would be exerting their will over the city instead of the insurgents.
U.S. Marines serving in the Iraqi city of Haditha still feel the psychological weight of the November 2005 massacre, when a squad of Marines reportedly fatally shot 24 Hadithans shortly after one of their troops was killed by a roadside bomb.
Hadithans don't bring up the incident with the Americans much these days. It may be purely a political calculation, telling the occupiers what they want to hear. It may be low expectations of anyone in power, a heightened tolerance of violence or simply war weariness. It may be, as the Marines in Haditha hope, that the locals have moved on and welcome the security improvements wrought in the last three months.
Whatever the reason, an entrenched insurgency, aided by outside terrorists, are no longer in charge of the city and nearby towns that they controlled from late 2004 through much of last year.
"We didn't anticipate finding a lot [of weapons] in their homes during the clearing because they've all gotten smarter than that," Col. Donnellan said.
The caches that were found -- and they were substantial -- were in wadis, palm groves and sheds where there was plausible deniability as to whom they belonged.
Successful campaigns to pacify cities in Iraq follow a general pattern: Terrorists and insurgents have to be killed, captured, pushed out of town or pushed underground through a clearing operation. Then locals need assurance that U.S. and Iraqi government forces are capable of keeping the enemy at bay.
If their confidence grows, they share information that further roots out the adversary. Gradually, markets open and normalcy takes hold. The adversary wages counterattacks, but if public confidence in coalition forces remain, the adversary no longer can maintain a foothold. It is not peace by any stretch of an American imagination, but it is stability. That is the goal.
"Eighty, 90 percent of the time you win on the intangibles. It's a battle of wills. I tell all the Sunnis that will listen that all the time. It's just a big ugly game of pushball right now. We've got all our guys behind the ball," Col. Donnellan said.
Progress in security is verifiable. In the first week after the battalion took over Haditha, the town was hit by 22 attacks. That was down to one or two attacks a week since the clearing operation.
Anecdotally, it appears that things are improving. Local residents line up early outside the battalion's civil-affairs office to get permits to drive and work on infrastructure projects.
One group of men carries a sign that says, "Don't shoot, water men." They will be fixing a broken pipe on the American base downtown, something that would not have happened in the fall. To cooperate with the Americans would have meant risking their lives.
A U.S. captain took a small group of Marines down to the souk to procure a hot lunch of lamb on a stick.
"We were there enjoying our kebabs in the exact place I lost my first Marine," said Echo Company commander Capt. Matt Tracy. "It was phenomenal, laughing and joking with the shopkeepers, who three months ago would have been terrified of being seen in the same location as us. Victory, I'm telling ya, it's right there."
Col. Donnellan was more cautious in his assessment. "We're inside the tent. That doesn't mean we can't blow it."

Delta Marine injured in Iraq makes progress

DELTA — Marine Lance Cpl. Bryan Chambers is making steady progress after being seriously injured by a roadside bomb in Iraq, said his father, Craig Chambers, who is with his son at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.


By BEVERLY CORBELL The Daily Sentinel

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Chambers said his son, who is 20, is a member of the 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Alpha Company, 2nd Marine Division.

Bryan Chambers was injured by a roadside bomb on Feb. 28 in west Al Anbar Province, his father said. One Marine was killed in the attack, but Bryan’s three buddies who were in the same vehicle are already back on the front lines, he said.

Bryan is on the third floor of the intensive care unit at the hospital, said his dad, and has to go through surgery every day or so, as he did Monday. It’s difficult for him to talk because he has a breathing tube, but he is able to communicate with his family.

“He has to resort to hand signals and eye blinks, but it’s a huge thing that he’s alive,” Craig Chambers said. “We thank the Lord for all those positive things, and we focus on those positive things and leave the rest in God’s hands.”

It’s hard to say how long Bryan will be in the hospital, Craig Chambers said, but his doctors have mentioned from two to four months.

“His injuries are extensive yet not life-threatening,” Craig Chamber said. “He’s basically injured from his head to his toe, but the head trauma, the neurological side of it, is a concern.”

The good news is that Bryan is making progress in the right direction, his father said.

“I can’t express that enough, that it’s nothing short of a miracle,” he said. “The doctors said he’s made amazing progress and he’s only been in this country since Sunday night a week ago.”

Also at the hospital are Bryan’s mother, Granda Chambers, and his 22-year-old sister, Hollie, a senior at Mesa State College.

“It’s only eight weeks to graduation, but they are really close buddies,” said Craig Chambers. “It will be a challenge to get her to go back and finish those eight weeks.”

Bryan’s oldest sister and her husband, Jennifer and Isaiah St. Peter of Delta, came for a visit last week, he said, but Craig Chambers doesn’t think Bryan’s mother will leave any time soon.

“She said she will not leave Bethesda unless she walks out the front door of the hospital with her son,” he said.

Without telling anyone, Bryan decided to join the Marines when he was 15 and watched the terrorist attacks of 9/11 on TV, his father said. Bryan signed up for delayed entry program into the Marines between his junior and senior years at Delta High School, where he graduated in 2005. His dad said it would have been futile to try to talk Bryan out of joining, even though he did try to get him to go into computers or a support unit.

“He wouldn’t hear of it,” Craig Chambers said. “He said he did not want to be in the Marine Corps unless he could be on the front lines. His motto is that he was “doing it for those who can’t and those who won’t.’ ”

This wasn’t the first time Bryan Chambers had been injured in battle, his father said.

“It’s not the first time he was blown up,” Craig Chambers said. “He had four near-death experiences before this, the last one on Christmas Day.”

Bryan Chambers was just two weeks away coming back to Delta on leave, his father said.

“It was going to be a 30-day leave and he would be looking at two more deployments,” Craig Chambers said.

Just what happens next depends on Bryan’s recovery, his dad said, but he’s getting excellent care.

“I feel like he’s gotten extraordinary care. I’ve been around a lot of hospitals and trauma units and I’ve never seen anything like it,” Craig Chambers said.

“The list of specialists is endless and their concern is obvious and attention to detail and knowing each case is quite amazing. I can’t say enough for how personally they all take it here and how they view it as their privilege to care for these wounded soldiers, and it shows. No one here looks at it as a job. They are a bunch of caring people, a great big family.”

March 12, 2007

For War’s Gravely Injured, Challenge to Find Care

When Staff Sgt. Jarod Behee was asked to select a paint color for the customized wheelchair that was going to be his future, his young wife seethed. The government, Marissa Behee believed, was giving up on her husband just five months after he took a sniper’s bullet to the head during his second tour of duty in Iraq.


Published: March 12, 2007

Ms. Behee, a sunny Californian who was just completing a degree in interior design, possessed a keen faith in her husband’s potential to be rehabilitated from a severe brain injury. She refused to accept what she perceived to be the more limited expectations of the Veterans Affairs hospital in Palo Alto, Calif.

“The hospital continually told me that Jarod was not making adequate progress and that the next step was a nursing home,” Ms. Behee said. “I just felt that it was unfair for them to throw in the towel on him. I said, ‘We’re out of here.’ ”

Because Ms. Behee had successfully resisted the Army’s efforts to retire her husband into the V.A. health care system, his military insurance policy, it turned out, covered private care. So she moved him to a community rehabilitation center, Casa Colina, near her parents’ home in Southern California in late 2005.

Three months later, Sergeant Behee was walking unassisted and abandoned his government-provided wheelchair. Now 28, he works as a volunteer in the center’s outpatient gym, wiping down equipment and handing out towels. It is not the police job that he aspired to; his cognitive impairments are serious. But it is not a nursing home, either.

Like the spouses of many other soldiers with severe brain injury, Ms. Behee, also 28, transformed herself into a kind of warrior wife to get her husband the care she thought he deserved. By now, there is a veritable battery of brain-injured-soldiers’ relatives who have quit their jobs and, for some extended time, moved away from their homes to advocate for and care for these very wounded soldiers during long hospitalizations.

In the eyes of five such relatives interviewed, the military health care system, which is so advanced in its treatment of lost limbs, has been scrambling to deal with an unanticipated volume of traumatic brain-injury cases that it was ill equipped to handle. Largely because of the improvised explosive devices used by insurgents in Iraq, traumatic brain injury has become a signature wound of this war, with 1,882 cases treated to date, according to the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center.

In general, these caregivers said that their grievously wounded soldiers had either been written off prematurely or not given aggressive rehabilitation or options for care. From the beginning, they said, the government should have joined forces with civilian rehabilitation centers instead of trying to ramp up its limited brain-injury treatment program alone during a time of war. That way, soldiers would have had access to top-quality care at civilian institutions that were already operating at full throttle and might be closer to home.

In fact, many soldiers do have that access. But unlike Ms. Behee, many caregivers only belatedly come to understand how to negotiate the daunting military health care system.

Generally, after severely brain-injured soldiers are medically evacuated to the United States, they are treated first at Walter Reed Army Hospital or Bethesda Naval Hospital. Relatively quickly, the military, depending on the branch, initiates a medical retirement process that turns the soldiers’ health care over to the V.A. If soldiers succeed in deferring retirement, they remain covered by a military insurance policy that, if pressed, pays for private care.

Still, the military hospitals tend to discharge seriously brain-injured soldiers to V.A. hospitals, regardless of their active or retired status. It is how the system works, and challenging it requires constant haggling, which often leaves the families of the severely wounded soldiers feeling abused, resentful and anxious for those soldiers without an advocate.

“We have been let down by a system that is so bungling and bureaucratic that it doesn’t know what it can and cannot do and just says ‘No’ as a matter of course,” said Debra Schulz of Friendswood, Tex., whose son, Lance Cpl. Steven Schulz of the Marines, 22, suffered a severe brain injury during his second tour in Iraq.

Offers of Help

Early on, at least two top-ranked nonprofit civilian centers, the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago and the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation in New Jersey, made overtures to the government. Since the Vietnam War, their leaders said, while the V.A. has focused primarily on the chronic care of aging veterans, the civilian acute rehabilitation system has been dealing daily with brain-injured patients, fine-tuning their care.

Dr. Bruce M. Gans, chief medical officer of the Kessler Institute, contacted senior military and V.A. physicians. “I said, ‘Please let us help. Please let us be used as a resource,’ ” Dr. Gans said. “Especially in the early days, they had no capacity to take care of these kids. There was either no response or a negative response. We just didn’t understand.”

Last week, Dr. Joanne C. Smith, chief executive officer of the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, met in Washington with senior Pentagon officials and found far keener receptivity to the idea of extending civilian sector treatment to more soldiers, she said. After revelations by The Washington Post of problems with outpatient care at Walter Reed and Bob Woodruff’s reporting on ABC about traumatic brain injury, the tenor of the conversations was “action-oriented,” Dr. Smith said.

“There was a high degree of acceptance that there is a gap in the military system’s current ability to take care of particularly the profoundly injured,” she said.

V.A. officials, however, do not believe there is a problem or any need for rescue by the private sector.

The V.A. has centralized the care for severe traumatic brain injury at four hospitals that specialized in brain injury before the war. Those four, converted into “polytrauma centers” by Congress in 2005, have been gradually beefed up and the level of care has improved since Sergeant Behee arrived at Palo Alto in the summer of 2005, advocates for veterans say. But they still have a total of only 48 beds.

Some 425 soldiers have been treated for moderate and severe traumatic brain injury at the polytrauma centers in the past four years, according to the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center.

“At the moment we are handling the numbers,” said Dr. Barbara Sigford, the V.A.’s national director for physical medicine and rehabilitation. “The trauma centers are running close to capacity, but there are always beds available.”

Harriet Zeiner, the lead clinical neuropsychologist at the V.A.’s polytrauma center in Palo Alto, said care at the polytrauma centers was “tremendous.” She and Dr. Sigford said the great majority of soldiers and their families had been satisfied. A few disgruntled families, they said, grew frustrated with the slow recovery process and directed their anger at the V.A.; many went “through the system early on while we were still building the blocks,” Dr. Sigford said.

Susan H. Connors, president of the Brain Injury Association of America, said she was more concerned about follow-up care once soldiers returned to their communities, a concern of all advocates for these soldiers. The polytrauma centers, Ms. Connors said, are “pretty good.”

Dr. Sigford of the V.A. said, “We really are able to take care of a high-acuity group.”

But Dr. Smith of the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago disagreed in the strongest terms.

“The V.A. has not been doing this for the last 35 years, and there is no way, with the complexity of this injury, that the V.A. system is prepared to get to parity with the civilian acute rehabilitation system overnight,” she said. “They’re dabbling in brain injury, and you can’t dabble in brain injury.”

A Growing Group

The severely brain-injured are among the most catastrophically wounded soldiers, and recovery can be painfully slow or, in some cases, entirely elusive. “There is no prosthetic for the brain,” said Jeremy Chwat, vice president for program services at the Wounded Warrior Project, an advocacy organization.

The Wounded Warrior Project organized a meeting on traumatic brain injury in Washington attended by about three dozen caregivers last fall. One raised “a huge, sad ethical question,” Mr. Chwat said, related to the advances in military trauma care that have saved so many lives: “Are we doing these young men and women a service by bringing them home alive?”

Mr. Chwat said the severely brain-injured soldiers were a relatively small, but growing, subset of the wounded whose needs were particularly acute. “Their families need to know that they have options,” he said. “Our message to the V.A. is that the V.A. is still providing them care if they’re paying for a private facility. But that’s a cultural shift for the V.A., and, while their ears are now open, bureaucracies don’t change on a dime.”

That is a lesson Edgar Edmundson, 52, of New Bern, N. C., has been learning and relearning since his son, Sgt. Eric Edmundson, sustained serious blast injuries in northern Iraq in the fall of 2005.

Mr. Edmundson was aggressive, abandoning his job and home to care for his son, calling on his representatives in Washington for help, “saying no a lot.” But even he did not come to understand his son’s health care options quickly enough to ensure that his son was not “shortchanged” in the critical first year after his injury.

Two days before Sergeant Edmundson was wounded near the Syrian border, he visited with his father on the telephone. Mr. Edmundson urged his son, then 25 with a young wife and a baby daughter, to “stay safe.”

In an interview last week, Mr. Edmundson’s voice cracked as he recalled his son’s response: “He said, ‘Don’t worry, because if anything happens, the Army will take care of me.’ ”

While awaiting transport to Germany after initial surgery, Sergeant Edmundson suffered a heart attack. As doctors worked to revive him, he lost oxygen to his brain for half an hour, with devastating consequences.

A couple of weeks later, at Walter Reed in Washington, on the very day that Sergeant Edmundson was stabilized medically and transferred into the brain injury unit, military officials initiated the process of retiring him.

“That threw up the red flag for me,” Mr. Edmundson said. “If the Army was supposed to take care of him, why were they trying to discharge him from service the minute he gets out of intensive care?”

Mr. Edmundson fought the retirement on principle, winning a temporary reprieve. Still, he did not understand that his son’s military insurance policy covered private care. When Walter Reed transferred Sergeant Edmundson to the polytrauma center in Richmond, Mr. Edmundson believed that he was, more or less, following orders.

Mr. Edmundson was disappointed by what he considered an unfocused, inconsistent rehabilitation regimen at what he saw as an understaffed, overburdened V.A. hospital filled with geriatric patients. His son’s morale plummeted and he refused to participate in therapy. “Eric gave up his will,” he said. In March 2006, the V.A. hospital sought to transfer Sergeant Edmundson to a nursing home.

Mr. Edmundson chose instead to care for his son himself, quitting his job at a ConAgra plant. For almost eight months, Sergeant Edmundson, who was awake but unable to walk, talk or control his body, received nothing but a few hours of maintenance therapy weekly at a local hospital.

One day, by chance, Mr. Edmundson encountered a military case manager who asked him why his son was not at a civilian rehabilitation hospital. That is when Mr. Edmundson learned that his son had options. He did some research and set his sights on the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.

Sergeant Edmundson is now the only Iraq combat veteran being treated there.

The first step in his treatment in Chicago, Dr. Smith said, was to use drugs, technology and devices “to reverse the ill effects of not getting adequate care earlier, somewhere between Walter Reed and here.”

For example, she said, Sergeant Edmundson’s hips, knees and ankles are frozen “in the position of someone sitting in a hallway in a chair.” They are working to straighten out his joints so that he can eventually stand, she said. They have taught him to express his basic needs using a communication board, and they hope to loosen his vocal cords so he can start speaking. He is also learning to chew and swallow.

“He has a profound cognitive disability,” Dr. Smith said. “But he can communicate, albeit not verbally, and can express emotions, including humor and even sarcasm.”

A couple of weeks ago, she said, when his family came to visit him, Dr. Smith asked Sergeant Edmundson if he was happy to see his daughter. He used his board to say yes. She asked him the same about his mother. He said yes. And then she asked him about his older sister, Anna Frese. He said no. She repeated the question twice more, wondering if he was pushing the wrong button, until, Dr. Smith said, “he looked up at me with a huge, wicked smile.”

Searching for Options

In early 2006, Denise Mettie of Selah, Wash., signed away her son Evan’s health care options without realizing it. She agreed to a medical retirement for her 23-year-old son only weeks after he was initially declared “killed in action” only to be saved. That left him dependent on the veterans’ health care system, where, after a tumultuous journey through several hospitals, he now faces transfer from the “coma stimulation” program at Palo Alto to a nursing home.

“At the very beginning, there was a V.A. doctor who said, ‘You know, he’s not going to come any further, let’s put him in a nursing facility and let you get on with life,’ ” Ms. Mettie said. “I was not ready to give up on him then and I’m not now. If there is a private rehab that will take him, I’m going to get him there and finagle the finances by hook or by crook.”

Mr. Chwat of the Wounded Warrior Project said severely brain-injured soldiers should be offered a one-year moratorium on medical retirement so they can remain on active duty status with the insurance-covered privileges to seek private care if they want it. Dr. Smith and other civilian rehabilitation doctors suggest that the V.A., too, give the option of private care to soldiers who have been discharged or retired.

On the other hand, Dr. Alan H. Weintraub, medical director of the brain injury program at the private Craig Hospital in Denver, said wounded soldiers were probably better off in the military health care system, which he said offered open-ended care tailored to combat soldiers. Dr. Weintraub, a retired major in the Army Medical Corps, said private acute care was too expensive for the “funding stream” to cover.

Dr. Smith disagreed: “Are we accepting that these people are not going to amount to something anyway, so they’re not entitled to the best acute care that the United States has to give — at the front end of their potential life?”

Looking Ahead

“Jarod Behee was headed for a nursing home,” said Felice L. Loverso, the chief executive of Casa Colina in Pomona, Calif.

When Sergeant Behee arrived from the V.A. in Palo Alto, he was in severe condition, essentially nonresponsive, said Dr. Loverso, a speech pathologist. Casa Colina, which now has two other soldier patients and also provides their families housing, first worked to “wake him up,” weaning him from medications he no longer needed. He quickly started getting therapy bedside, making relatively steady progress and then quite rapid progress after a cranioplasty that repaired his skull.

“Potentially the same good things could have happened to Jarod at the Palo Alto V.A.,” said Dr. Loverso, a former V.A. employee himself. “I like to think it was due to our aggressive therapy.”

Because of his impairment, Ms. Behee said, her husband, who still has his old Superman tattoo on his calf, does not agonize over his situation. “He wakes up every morning with a smile on his face,” she said.

Lance Cpl. Steven Schulz, on the other hand, is just cognitively rehabilitated enough to experience anguish, his mother, Debra Schulz, said. Occasionally, Lance Corporal Schulz gets angry at his situation or feels guilty toward his mother, who describes herself as an “Old South yellow dog Democrat” who was not pleased when her son enlisted.

“He has told me that he needed to apologize to me for ever joining the Marines,” Ms. Schulz said. “I say, ‘Son, we can’t look back.’ ”

'Black Knights' provide lofty support during Edged Mallet

ABOARD USS BATAAN (March 12, 2007) -- As the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit conducted Exercise Edged Mallet '07 ashore in Kenya March 4-11, the unit received a variety of aviation support from its air combat element, the 'Black Knights' of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron-264 (Reinforced).


March 12, 2007; Submitted on: 03/13/2007 04:22:53 PM ; Story ID#: 2007313162253
By Cpl. Jeremy Ross, 26th MEU

Throughout the exercise, the squadron put nearly all of its aviation assets to use for the MEU in a number of support roles on land, at sea, and in the air, as the squadron operated from aboard USS Bataan, USS Shreveport and ashore in Kenya.

The squadron's CH-46E Sea Knight helicopters were heavily involved in transportation of troops from ship to shore and from site to site in country. The 'Phrogs' were also tasked with 24-hour casualty evacuation duty, remaining on constant stand-by to respond to any medical emergencies that might occur during the bilateral exercise between the MEU and the Kenyan military.

Reconnaissance and surveillance flights of the massive training area used by the two nation's forces during the exercise was provided by the unit's AH-1W Super Cobra attack and UH-1N Huey utility helicopters.

The Cobras and Hueys also flew simulated close air-support operations in support of the exercise's ground activities.

Fuel for the aircraft involved in the exercise was supplied on the ground at a Forward Arming and Refueling Point (FARP), operated by Marines from Marine Air Control Group-28, at the airfield that served as the base for the MEU's aviation operations ashore.

CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters externally lifted more than 10,000 pounds of fuel daily to the FARP, a process that helped make the squadron's activities during Edged Mallet run smoothly, said Capt. Kevin J. Beckwith, an AH-1W pilot and the 'Black Knights' plans officer.

"Not having to come back to the ships to re-fuel enabled us to greatly streamline our operations during the exercise," he explained.

The Sea Knights and Super Stallions additionally lifted ashore hundreds of pallets loaded with supplies to support the exercise and MEU community relations projects at a Kenyan primary school and medical clinic.

The 31 MACG-28 Marines ashore at the airfield did much more than ensure a steady supply of fuel was no problem for the squadron's aircraft, said Capt. Carlo A. Nino, MACG-28 officer-in-charge.

An air traffic control team from the group established command and control of the airspace over the exercise's training areas, managing and directing all military and civilian aircraft that traveled through it.

The group's outstanding support at the airfield was all the more impressive given the condition of the site, which lacked a traffic control tower and any utilities when the unit arrived there March 2, said Nino.

"They really showed their operational strength, especially given the [unimproved] nature of the airfield," he explained. "They were independent and self-sufficient in creating an operational airfield for all air traffic during the exercise."

Another component of MACG-28, the Low Altitude Air Defense (LAAD) detachment, was tasked with providing security for Marine campsites and several important visitors to the MEU during Edged Mallet.

The exercise additionally gave the squadron's CH-46E crew chiefs and aerial observers an opportunity to achieve high and low light level terrain navigation qualifications during a series of 103 flights over a period of eight days, an impressive feat, said Gunnery Sgt. Daniel C. Schultz, HMM-264 (Rein.) enlisted air-crew staff non-commissioned officer in charge.

"It involved a lot of instruction and training," he explained. "It's not something that normally can be accomplished in just eight days."

The 565 total flight hours the squadron completed during Edged Mallet would not have been possible without the hard work of the unit's aircraft maintainers and mechanics, said Schultz.

Their round-the-clock efforts resulted in the 'Black Knights' having zero flight cancellations due to maintenance issues during the exercise, he added.

In all, the squadron capitalized on a great opportunity to use its vast capabilities during Edged Mallet, all while helping lift the rest of the MEU to its goals for the exercise, said Beckwith.

"The exercise was a great opportunity for us to enact a lot of our capabilities," he explained. "The amount that the MEU accomplished in the time we were [in Kenya] would not have been possible without good aviation support."

The 26th MEU is the landing force for the Bataan Expeditionary Strike Group, which is currently on a routine, scheduled deployment that began Jan. 6.

In addition to HMM-264 (Rein.), the MEU is comprised of its Command Element; Battalion Landing Team 2/2; and Combat Logistics Battalion-26.

For more on the MEU, including new, videos and contact information, visit www.usmc.mil/26thmeu.

Purple Heart bittersweet for four Marines

Reactions were mixed among four Marines who received purple hearts at the Wounded Warrior Barracks recently.


March 12, 2007

Some felt proud - others said it was bittersweet.

"This is a day that's kind of hard to explain," said Sgt. Robert Holzinger Jr., 29, of 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, who was injured during his third deployment to Iraq by an IED. "It means I paid a good price

The four Marines, each with 2nd LAR, were awarded purple hearts together by Lt. Gen. Keith J. Stalder, commanding general of II Marine Expeditionary Force.

Each of the Marines received wounds in combat in the fall of 2006 and are now living aboard Camp Lejeune's Wounded Warrior Barracks.

"Your first job is to get better," Stalder said at the ceremony. "Thank you for your sacrifice and all you've done."

When Stalder pinned the purple ribbon on Holzinger's uniform, it took him back to his first foot patrol as a patrol leader. It was Nov. 11 in northwest Iraq. Holzinger led his Marines into a town near some old IED sites.

"It was a sunny day," Holzinger recalled. "At that moment, all I remember is smoke. I hopped to the ground. Then I noticed my arm was shattered and I was losing blood in my leg."

It all happened in a moment.

"I felt two quarter-sized holes in my face where fragments went through," he said. "I remember spitting out six teeth at that point."

Holzinger was most scared for his mother and how she would feel when she found out.

"I thought it was the end," he said. "The hardest part was the thought of leaving everyone behind."

It's the second time Holzinger has faced such heavy thoughts.

The first time was in a motorcycle accident during pre-deployment leave last year.

He spent six days in a coma, but after waking knew he "couldn't let the young boys go over there by themselves."

Now Holzinger, who hails from Indiana, walks with a cane but is getting better every day. Scars on his face are barely noticeable, hidden behind a wide grin. He says he spends enough time at the Naval Hospital that he "might as well become staff."

But the Wounded Warrior Barracks, where he is among brothers, helps his recovery.

"There isn't anyone that knows how to take care of you better than your own kind," Holzinger said.

Though only two of the four 2nd LAR Marines knew each other before they came to the barracks, they now share a special bond. They relate to one another when no one else can - even their own family.

"Your parents love and care for you, but they don't really understand what you're going through," said Cpl. Noe Aguirre, 22, of Hollywood.

Aguirre was injured Nov. 25 in Iraq while on a foot patrol. He says receiving a purple heart is not something a Marine aspires to. Cpl. Harley Herron, 21, of Wisconsin, said he was just happy to receive his among friends.

"It's all kind of overwhelming," he said. "But it's better with my buddies. I wish I was back with my unit in Iraq."

Herron was the second man in a foot patrol when he was hit by an IED.

"I just remember everything lighting up and falling to the ground," he said. "I got shrapnel to the leg, shoulder, back and lost feeling in my hands."

Herron doesn't consider himself a hero. He says he'd rather it had been he that got injured than someone else. Other Marines were equally humble about their service and their injuries.

"A lot of guys here have the same injuries," said Lance Cpl. Adam Turner, 20, of Washington. "We're not that different from each other."

Turner received severe back and neck injuries when his humvee hit an IED in October.

"I woke up on the ground after my humvee hit 200 pounds of explosives," he said. "It threw me 100 feet and broke my neck, back and bruised my spinal cord. It was pretty scary waking up and not being able to sit up or walk."

He still struggles with short-term memory loss, but is improving daily. Turner is now walking and even worked out in the gym last week.

"Getting a Purple Heart isn't something you aim for," he said. "But when you get it, it means a lot."


March 11, 2007

Program aids area families with Marines in Iraq; Official singles out locally based unit for national honor

When his son, Jon, was deployed to Iraq, Dan Meyer didn’t know how he would handle the “in between.”


March 11, 2007

“I envisioned not being able to sleep, my wife not being able to sleep,” he recalled.

Instead, the retired Anthony Wayne teacher and counselor got involved with the family readiness program at the Perrysburg Township-based Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 24th Marines. Before long, Mr. Meyer was working with families of Marines stationed in Iraq, communicating daily through e-mail that connected them “like family you hadn’t met before.”

“It wasn’t like you say good-bye and you don’t see your son for a year with nothing in between. There’s a lot in between,” Mr. Meyer of Waterville said. “I can’t think of going through this deployment without being part of something like this.”

The 1st Batallion, 24th Marines was singled out last month by Assistant Secretary of Defense-Reserve Affairs Thomas Hall for having the best Marine Reserves family readiness program in the country. The Perrysburg Township weapons company is one of five companies that belong to the Macomb County, Michigan-based battalion.

With the recognition came a plaque and a $1,000 check from the Military Officers Association of America, the nation’s largest veterans’ organization for active duty, National Guard, Reserve, former, and retired military officers.

Col. Jess Ramirez of the association said programs that actively involve and support family members at home are crucial to troop readiness in the field. “If the family is supportive of the soldier, the more ready the unit will be,” he said.

Julie Szyskowski, who works as the key volunteer coordinator for the local weapons company, said part of her job is keeping family members informed, in touch, and in control when life seems to get out of hand.

She recalled one wife who called recently to say that her hot water tank wasn’t working and she didn’t even know how to turn off the gas. Ms. Szyskowski called a handyman who volunteers his services for the Reserve unit, and he had the problem fixed in no time.

“Sometimes it’s that little thing that can create a breaking point,” Ms. Szyskowski said. The wife is thinking, “He needs to come home. I can’t do this.”

Lt. Col. Joe Reimer of the 24th Marines Weapons Company said the program operates with strict confidentiality in part to encourage family members to tell volunteers when they’re having problems. They know, for example, that if they need help paying bills, the information won’t be passed on to their husbands.

The family readiness program cannot solicit funds but happily accepts donations of services, money, or discounts. An auto repair shop, for example, offers free labor for Marine families and charges for parts only, Lieutenant Colonel Reimer said.

Ms. Szyskowski said volunteers have stayed close to deployed Marines’ wives who are having babies while their husbands are far away, and they’ve been right there when the unit sustained casualties.

Twenty-one members of First Batallion, 24th Marines have been killed in Iraq, including two from the weapons company. Lance Cpl. Jeremy Shock of Green Springs, Ohio, and Sgt. Bryan Burgess of Westland, Mich., were killed in separate incidents in November.

A crucial part of what the family readiness volunteers do involves e-mail. “The big part of it isn’t so much the information you pass on to other families; it’s the contact you make,” Mr. Meyer said. “It’s the fact that you’re passing things on. People aren’t forgotten.”

They connect parents with parents and wives with wives, pass on information about the Marines, and enlist those at home to send birthday cards, condolences, and other extensions of friendship for the Marines in Iraq and their families back home.

Edith Chandler, a 75-year-old grandmother from Defiance, was the firsthand recipient of such support when her grandson, Evan Miller, was injured by a mortar round that exploded near his checkpoint in Fallujah Jan. 29. “I got quite a few cards sent to me after Evan was hurt, just cards of encouragement. It’s been really great that way,” Mrs. Chandler said.

Her grandson, whom she has parented since he was 16, had shown her how to use the computer before he was deployed in June, and it’s enabled Mrs. Chandler to communicate regularly with other Marine moms.

She said Ms. Szyskowski was there to help and answer questions as she made arrangements to fly to San Diego to see her grandson when he was flown back to the United States. She spent three weeks at the hospital there and flew home with him March 1.

“Julie was really helpful,” Mrs. Chandler said. “Whenever I had a question, I’d just ask her. Even when I got back home, there was a little problem with getting medicines set up. I just called her and told her the problem, and she said, ‘I’ll take care of it.’”

The 90 members of the weapons company now serving in Iraq are expected to return to the United States in May.

Marines clean up Fallujah streets – literally

By Megan McCloskey, Stars and Stripes
Mideast edition, Sunday, March 11, 2007

The dangerous main drag through insurgent-infested downtown Fallujah, Iraq, was cleared of three dump truck loads of dirt, rubble and trash during a recent fast-paced night mission — the first such cleanup on the street.

To continue reading:


March 10, 2007

Dinwiddie man continues to recover from war wounds

DINWIDDIE — Lance Cpl. Matthew Bradford, 20, is still in the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., after being wounded in combat in Iraq Jan. 18.



The 2005 graduate of Dinwiddie High School was on foot patrol in Haditha, Iraq, when an improvised explosive devise was detonated near Bradford and several others.

Of all in his company, Matthew sustained the most severe wounds. His small intestine and his bladder were damaged, shrapnel was embedded in his left elbow and right wrist, and bones were broken in his right hand. Both of Matthew’s legs had to be amputated. His left leg was removed above the knee and right leg below the knee.

He also lost his left eye and the retina in his right eye was detached.

On Thursday, he underwent surgery on his right eye, his father, David Bradford, said on a Web site he keeps on Matthew’s condition.

As of Friday, it was too early to say if the eye surgery was successful. It will take between 10 and 14 days to ensure that Matthew’s retina does not detach again, his father said.

Previous surgeries included skin grafts, reconstructive surgery on his bladder and the closure of wounds on his legs.

In February, Matthew was removed from a medically-induced coma and taken out of intensive care, Bradford said.

Matthew has since been alert and talking, and has been undergoing physical therapy, Bradford said. Earlier this month, Matthew was taken out of bed for the first time and has been sitting upright in his bed and in a wheelchair, Bradford said.

On Feb. 14, Bradford said, Matthew received a Purple Heart from Gen. James T. Conway, commandant of the Marine Corps.

Matthew was serving in the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines, which arrived in Haditha in September.

The duties of his regiment included building a 15-mile-long, 8-foot-high berm around Haditha and two neighboring cities about 140 miles northwest of Baghdad.

To find out more on Matthew’s condition, visit www.caringbridge.org/visit/mbradford.

$1.3 Bil. USS New Orleans Commissioned

CBNNews.com -- NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- With the boom of cannons, the Navy commissioned the USS New Orleans before thousands of onlookers Saturday, marking the first time since at least World War II a Navy ship has been built and commissioned in its namesake city.

Click above link to find video link.

By Stacey Palisance
AP Writer
March 10, 2007

"May God bless and guide this warship and all who sail on her," the secretary of the Navy, Donald C. Winter, said before hundreds of sailors in crisp, white uniforms ran onto the ship to set the traditional first watch and to salute those in the celebratory crowd below.

The $1.3 billion USS New Orleans is a transport ship that can embark a landing force of up to 800 Marines. It is the fourth ship to bear the New Orleans name. The last one was an amphibious assault vessel that served during the Vietnam War and in Operation Desert Storm. It was decommissioned in 1997 and is slated to be sunk for gunnery practice.

It took about five years to build this ship, including a months-long interruption in construction due to Hurricane Katrina. The work was completed Monday.

"We are proud of this city and proud of this ship," Mayor Ray Nagin said. "We both survived Katrina."

Petty Officer 1st Class Robert Greene, a 36-year-old San Diego native, decommissioned the last USS New Orleans and helped prepare this one for its unveiling near the French Quarter.

"There's only four ships with this name, and I served on two. That's pretty unique," Greene said.

The ship, built at Northrop Grumman Ship Systems in the New Orleans suburb of Avondale, is about a dozen stories high and takes up the length of about two French Quarter blocks. It has state-of-the-art communications systems, a post office, two gyms, a convenience store and pharmacy, a hospital and dental office and sleeping quarters with lockers for 800 Marines, and a crew of 360. It will be based in San Diego.

At medical center, healing is Marines' only duty. The recently opened Wounded Warrior Center puts the individual patient at the center of attention, but there's no coddling.

CAMP PENDLETON — If Building 18 at Walter Reed Army Medical Center represents the nadir of outpatient care for wounded military personnel, the Marine Corps is hoping that a former maternity ward here represents the opposite.


By Tony Perry, Times Staff Writer

March 10, 2007

Wounded Warrior Center: A headline in Saturday's California section referred to Camp Pendleton's Wounded Warrior Center as a medical center. It is an outpatient living area. —

At the 25-bed Wounded Warrior Center, opened in August, injured Marines and sailors live mostly in two-man rooms that are freshly painted and furnished.

A recreation room and dining room are just down the hall. Medical case managers from the Marine Corps and Veterans Affairs arrive frequently to check on each patient's progress. Last week one of the walls was nicked. It was repaired the next day.

Transportation is provided to therapy appointments. Someone is on duty 24 hours a day in case a Marine or sailor has an emergency. Some rooms have been designed for wheelchairs. Every room has a television and small refrigerator.

Unlike other barracks, the Wounded Warrior Center does not require Marines to stand watch or do other chores.

"Your sole job while you're here is to get better," said Staff Sgt. Logan Ballew, 27, who suffered leg and brain injuries in August while deployed to Ramadi, Iraq, as an explosive ordnance disposal technician.

Most of the Marines and sailors, like Ballew, have undergone multiple surgeries, in Iraq and then at the U.S. hospital in Germany and the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. Ballew also was a brain-injury patient at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Palo Alto.

"I've had to learn to walk again," he said. Ballew is making good progress: He no longer needs his colostomy bag.

The Wounded Warrior Center is near the base hospital, making access to therapists easier. A fleet of golf carts is on hand. For longer trips, such as to the Naval Medical Center in San Diego, there are vans.

(The medical center has housing for Marines and others who are outpatients; this week there were 55 outpatients. The Marines have assigned a major to make sure injured Marines at the center get to their medical appointments.)

Dating to the 1940s, the building that now houses the Wounded Warrior Center is one of the oldest on the sprawling base. It has served a number of purposes. Before its most recent incarnation, it was a substance abuse center. In July, the substance-abuse services were relocated, and the building was renovated. The Wounded Warrior Center opened the next month.

Cpl. Jackson Luna, 23, was the first Marine to move in. He was shot in the back by a sniper in June and has undergone multiple surgeries. He said his pain had become manageable. He's planning to reenlist.

"This is a lot easier than living with your unit," Luna said.

The center is also the duty station for personnel whose job is to track all wounded Marines and sailors as they move through the complexities of a medical system that includes military hospitals, VA hospitals and private healthcare providers.

"We use every tool we can to make sure nobody falls through the cracks," said Lt. Col. Paul Swanson, officer in charge of the center.

Still, Commandant Gen. James Conway wants additional efforts made, particularly as Marines are sent home on "convalescent duty," sometimes in small towns without a nearby military or VA medical facility.

Conway announced last week that he has appointed a colonel to oversee the center here and a similar one at Camp Lejeune, N.C., under the aegis of a newly formed Wounded Warrior Regiment. For the center here, that could mean more staff and a bigger budget.

The center exists to help the individual patient, but coddling is not allowed. There is a daily roll call at 7 a.m. Marine haircuts are required. PlayStations are not allowed in the rooms because it is believed that playing video games could lead to isolation.

Generals and colonels are watchful. So are their wives. The Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund, a charitable group involving a number of officers' wives and retired generals, has made the center a priority.

With 10 two-man rooms, and five individual rooms — including two for wheelchairs — the center can accommodate 25 Marines and sailors. Last week the population was 13.

Gunnery Sgt. Mel Greer, the noncommissioned officer in charge, knows what the Marines are experiencing. He suffered multiple gunshot wounds in Ramadi in October 2004. He walks with a cane.

"The only agenda here is the individual Marine, whatever it takes to help him," Greer said.

Greer has noticed a pattern among new arrivals: a period of silence and uncertainty followed by familiar patterns of behavior and speech as the newcomers get to know other wounded Marines.

"They're just typical Marines: busting each other's chops, talking about girlfriends and cars, that kind of stuff," he said.


March 8, 2007


On 8 March 2007, Combat Logistics Battalion 1 (CLB 1) and Combat Logistics Battalion 2 (CLB 2) held their Transfer of Authority (TOA) at Camp Al Asad, Iraq.


This event signified the completion of CLB 1’s deployment for their OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM (OIF) tour and the beginning of CLB 2’s deployment for OIF 06-08.1. Present at the TOA were numerous VIPs, including the Second Marine Logistics Group (Forward) Commanding General, Brigadier General Kessler.
CLB 2 will be serving a seven month deployment in order to provide direct support to Regiment Combat Team 2 (RCT2) as well as additional support to other area Forward Operating Bases. Upon arrival to Al Asad in February 2007, CLB 2 ensured they linked up with their counterparts of CLB 1 in order to complete the turnover. CLB 2 is ready to pick up where CLB 1 left off and have a successful deployment. All the Marines are motivated, prepared to accomplish any tasks, and ready to make their mark at Al Asad.

March 7, 2007

Pentagon orders mine-resistant trucks

OSHKOSH, Wis. --A new combat truck with a V-shaped bottom designed to withstand blasts from roadside bombs is performing with such success in Iraq that the U.S. military is pressing a Wisconsin company and others to churn out hundreds more in the coming months.


By Dinesh Ramde, Associated Press Writer | March 7, 2007

About 200 prototypes of the Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicles have been deployed in Iraq since 2004, said Capt. Jeff Landis, spokesman for the Marine Corps Systems Command in Quantico, Va. No Marine has died while in one of the trucks, Landis said.

"This is the best vehicle available for safety and survivability," he said. "The MRAP vehicle supplies troops with the greatest protection we've had."

Force Protections Industries in Ladson, S.C., built the 200 prototypes. Within the past month, the Pentagon awarded about $210 million in contracts to Force Protections, Oshkosh Truck Corp., and three other companies in the U.S. and Canada to manufacture a total of nearly 400 more vehicles. Landis said the military hopes to receive them by the end of the year.

The key is the truck's V-shaped steel body, which flares like the hull of a boat, said Oshkosh Truck spokesman Joaquin Salas.

"The shape channels the full force of a blast up the sides of the vehicle rather than through the floor," Salas said. "It's all physics. Vehicles with that shape are extremely effective."

Since the war began, more than 3,160 U.S. service members have died in Iraq. Roadside bombs account for 70 percent of U.S. deaths and injuries in Iraq, according to Defense Department records and testimony.

The Pentagon has been criticized for supplying insufficient armor for Humvees, the standard vehicles used for transport. The military has since fitted thousands of Humvees with additional armor. But most of the surfaces on a Humvee's underside are flat, creating a large area that catches the force of land mine blasts.

The new vehicles also have tires that can be driven on even when flat.

Commanders in Iraq originally said the military would need 4,100 mine-resistant vehicles, but they raised their request to 6,738 in mid-February after seeing how well the trucks protected occupants, Landis said. Those requests are subject to approval by Congress.

In addition to Force Protections and Oshkosh, the other contractors are Protected Vehicles Inc. of North Charleston, S.C.; BAE Systems in Washington; and General Dynamics Land Systems in Ontario, Canada.

The trucks come in three categories, from the small -- a 7-ton truck that holds six passengers -- to the colossal -- a 22 1/2-ton mammoth that carries 12 passengers. By comparison, General Motors' Hummer H3 weighs about 3 tons and a military tank around 71 tons.

Despite the new trucks' protective strength, military officials said they do not believe they will completely displace lighter, more maneuverable vehicles

Cheerleading Academy raises money to sponsor care packages for deployed Marines

OSWEGO, IL. ~ The eXtreme Allstarzz Cheerleading Academy of Oswego, IL. recently raised $1,870 in a Change War Competition. The money has been donated to MarineParents.com and their Care Package Project(TM). The $1,870 will sponsor 85 care packages. MarineParents.com mails approximately 1,100 care packages to deployed Marines every 10 weeks.

March 6, 2007

Click here for Slide Show
The members of The eXtreme Allstarzz Cheerleading Academy held the Change War Competition over a three week period. With eight teams participating, the members were instructed to bring their loose change to practice and deposit the change in buckets during this time. Whichever bucket held the most change at the end of the competition would be the winners of a pizza party. According to Deborah Partridge, a mom with two children at the Academy, two of the teams tied and won the pizza party. One team was the "Minis" - ages 4 through 6 - and the other was the Recreational Team. While there were also sizeable donations from parents, the majority of this money was raised by the members of the Academy, according to Partridge.

In addition to raising the $1,870 for the care packages, the members have also written letters and drawn pictures for the deployed Marines, which will also be included in the care packages.

The eXtreme Allstarzz Cheerleading Academy features six All Star Teams, two Recreational Teams who compete locally, the Minis, and a Special Needs team . The All Star teams have been featured on ESPN and compete locally and nationally. They have won 16 Grand Championships and 85 National Titles. The Allstarzz have done other fund raisers as well, including working and performing at local nursing homes.

The idea of fund raising for the Care Package Project was Partridge's. She has a son who has joined the Marine Corps. He will be going to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, CA. later this year. She said he has wanted to join The Corps for a couple of years and did all the footwork to join. He currently attends meetings at least weekly on a local level, as a poolie.

MarineParents.com, a non-profit organization, was founded in January of 2003 in response to parents' needs to find information and to Connect and Share(TM) with one another regarding deployments. Their free support services and connections have been expanded to include the following: Operation Pal(TM), providing support in the form of prayers and letters to injured marines; Purple Heart Family Support(TM), providing lunches to the families of injured Marines currently in the hospital; Team MarineParents(TM), continues to raise awareness through walks, runs and other fund raising events. They are a member of America Supports You, a nationwide program launched by the Department of Defense.

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For more information on how you can help, go to MarineParentsInc.com

Explosive Ordnance Marines will blow your cache

CAMP ELLIS, Iraq (March 7, 2007) -- Explosive Ordnance Disposal Marines attached to the California-based Battalion Landing Team 2nd Marines, 4th Marine Regiment have supported current operations in the Barwanah area by disposing of weapons and explosives found in caches throughout the area.


March 7, 2007

By Staff Sgt. T.G. Kessler, 2nd Marine Division

To date, EOD has disposed of more than 2,000-plus pounds of weapons and explosives since operations began here in late November.

According to Gunnery Sgt. Aaron M. Salyi, EOD chief from Combat Logistics Battalion 15 attached to BLT 2/4, the weeks in Barwanah have not slowed much since the beginning of operations.

Though the weapons caches have become smaller due to the efforts of Marines on sweeping operations, calls still come in on a daily basis keeping Salyi and his Marines busy.

Salyi explained, even though the caches being found are smaller, they are new. What this means for Marines working in the area is the amount of weapons and explosives that would be used by anti-Iraqi forces are being depleted.

“I’d say overall the weeks haven’t really slowed down for us. The quantity of calls we’ve done have declined, but we still go out nearly every day. Usually the stuff that we find is minimal now. But it is new, meaning it has recently been brought into this area,” said Salyi, a San Diego, native.

A typical cache usually consists of some type of ammunition, usually for an AK-47 assault rifle, the most commonly used weapon of AIF. Aside from ammunition, rifles and munitions such as mortar and artillery rounds are typically found, said Salyi.

Long range cordless phones are another item has been found in several of the caches throughout the area. These give insurgents the ability to detonate improvised explosive devices from remote locations, he said.

Though IEDs and weapons caches are common, the way the weapons are being employed has changed dramatically, Salyi said. Believing that the AIFs surplus of weapons are being used up, and with the IED builders being captured or leaving the area, many of the items being found recently have been imported into the region by new AIF personnel.

“This area has matured greatly in the planning and ability to employ IEDs. Now, they don’t have the ordnance left or the people to manufacture them. But what they are getting into this area of operations and what they are able to do has changed dramatically,” said Salyi.

“We have found IEDs that were wired to accept two form of initiation, electric blasting caps for pressure plate (IEDs) and a tail of detonating cord primed in to the nose, so they could use that in conjunction with a land mine to enhance the explosion. The part that makes this significant is that no one has seen those here before,” said Salyi.

The average size cache here, according to Staff Sgt. Daniel Thibeault, an EOD Marine with CLB-15 in support of BLT 2/4, is typically about 100 pounds of explosives or ordnance. The largest cache that he recalls destroying consisted of approximately 1,100 pounds.

“The biggest one we’ve (destroyed) was about 1,100 pounds which was located south (of here) and with the high explosive we put on it, it was about a 1,400 pound shot,” he said.

Having been on more than 80 calls, Thibeault explained, the first weeks were busy. But due to their arduous work, a sizeable dent has been made in the amount of weapons and explosives being found.

“We’ve done four or five missions in one day, but it just depends on the day (that dictates) how busy you are,” said Thibeault, a Lewiston, Maine, native. “I mean, whenever the phone rings we’re wondering ‘are we going or not.’”

The EOD carries an array of tools to ensure the job gets done right and done safely, explained Thibeault. Loaded down robots, explosives, a bomb suit and a sniper rifle, the team has several options on hand to deal with each situation as necessary.

For Thibeault, the job is relatively safe approximately 50 percent of the time. Most of the time when he and the rest of the team are called out, it is simply to destroy a cache of weapons. It’s not until the occasional IED is found the job becomes tricky.

“The scary part is when it comes to IEDs. I’m not going to lie. I don’t like going on the IED calls much. But as long as we get there and do a thorough search of our area, then it’s a relatively safe environment because anything we do to that IED is going to be done remotely,” said Thibeault.

BLT 2/4 is currently deployed to Iraq as part of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit and has been operating in the Barwanah area since late November.

Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based Marines lend helping hand to locals in Iraq’s Al Anbar Province

RAWAH, Iraq (March 7, 2007) -- In a town set on the Euphrates River, 150 miles northwest of Baghdad, two Marines stood calmly as a group of local Iraqi men surrounded them.


March 7, 2007

By Lance Cpl. Nathaniel Sapp, 2nd Marine Division

Although Marines from the Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion had posted security up and down the street in the city of roughly 30,000 people, ready for any situation, Maj. Sean Quinlan’s hands weren’t anywhere near his own weapon.

Instead, his hands were gripping those of the elderly men around him in friendly greeting. Mostly former school teachers, the Iraqi’s told Quinlan, the commanding officer for the Company D “Outlaws,” about exactly what he could do for them to make their city better.

During the patrol, it meant helping out a 3-year-old girl, daughter to one of the Iraqi elders.

Months back, in her innocent curiosity, she pulled a pot of boiling liquid from the stove. Marines remember ushering the family’s vehicle quickly through checkpoints to get the child to a hospital to treat her severe burns.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Derek Parker, a 25-year-old Navy corpsman from Morris, Okla., joined Quinlan and the rest of the group to see how he could help with the girl’s constant pain.

At the time, Parker didn’t have any ointment or medication that could help the girl, so Quinlan made a promise to the men. Several hours later, that promise was fulfilled when the Outlaws returned with supplies.

“Her father put his hand over his heart, looked me in the eye and shook my hand,” said Parker, who has children of his own. “The family was very happy with us, they really seemed to like that we cared so much about them.”

The majority of the people in Rawah don’t want to hurt Marines, said Quinlan. In fact, it seems as though the vast majority of the population are good people who want to live a calm, normal life, he said.

“It’s all about random acts of kindness,” Quinlan reiterated to his Marines after the patrol. “It’s not all about fighting the insurgents; we need to show the people that we care.”

Actions speak louder than words, and although most Marines aren’t anywhere near fluent in Arabic, their generosity is a language local people can understand.

After a chance encounter with a family of 12 who live away from the city, in a tent tending a farm, Marines found themselves wanting to “go the extra mile” to help improve their living conditions.

The “Outlaws” arrived at the remote farm with bunk beds, mattresses, blankets and toys.
Local Iraqi Police, who work side-by-side with the Marines, brought clothes to the family.

“Little things like that really help us win over the people,” said Parker. “When people see us trying to help them, they try to help us.”

Recently, Marines were warned by locals of an improvised explosive device that could have wounded or killed several of them.

The instances of insurgency in the area are growing less and less frequent, the Marines say. This is partially due to locals questioning outsiders extensively when they move into their neighborhoods, deterring insurgents from other parts of the country.

“They’re working with us,” said Parker. “I think us being here, and the way we act, has influenced them to take more pride in their community, in their city.”

Motor-T provides critical link for Marines in Iraq’s Al Anbar Province

RAWAH, Iraq (March 7, 2007) -- Far up the beaten dirt road, the front of the ten-vehicle motor transport convoy was barely visible through the fog-like sand hanging in the air


March 7, 2007

By Lance Cpl. Nathaniel Sapp, 2nd Marine Division

The Marines had already been driving for about eight hours. Their route took them to three cities in the Al Anbar Province, about 150 miles northwest of Baghdad, bringing supplies to Marines separated from the majority of the Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion.

“Pretty much every day we’re on the road,” said Cpl. Ronald Lewis, a 22-year-old motor transport operator. “We bring out supplies, food, drinks, ammo and equipment.”

By 4 p.m., they had been working for eight hours and already completed what the majority of Americans would consider a normal work day. But, they weren’t done yet.

While conducting a patrol in armored humvees around Anah, a city of roughly 20,000 where the ‘Motor-T’ convoy had just resupplied about 120 Marines, a team of combat engineers had run over a hidden improvised explosive device which destroyed the front of their vehicle.

No one was seriously injured, but the Motor-T Marines were now responsible for transporting the destroyed vehicle.

Several hours later, after they used their equipment to load up the damaged humvee, and were set to head back “home,” another call to move a vehicle came in.

“Well, sometimes that’s what happens,” said Lewis, a Clinton, Tenn., native. “You just have to be able to work around the clock.”

They might have long, busy days, but the team of roughly 40 motor transport Marines here seem to take a certain pride in their job.

Motor-T is the link between the infantry Marines who conduct daily security operations and the rest of the battalion. While some U.S. Forces in Iraq enjoy access to military stores to buy goods, internet access and daily “mail call,” in this remote part of the Al Anbar Province many infantry Marines go weeks at a time without these luxuries.

Through their constant convoys, Motor-T helps do the legwork that takes care of their Marines who live “in the field.”

But the responsibility comes with its risks.

“Obviously, when you’re on the road, you’re going to be susceptible to IED attacks and small arms fire,” said 2nd Lt. Jose Guevara, the 30-year-old motor transport officer. “But, dealing with all the heavy equipment, we also have to supervise and make sure that everyone’s safe.”

Maintaining safety and completing their job could be a difficult business, said Guevara, a Victoria, Texas, native. However, the job runs smoothly due to the work of his enlisted noncommissioned officers, many of whom are on their second deployment, and his junior Marines who, he says, “have really stepped up and taken on a lot of responsibility.”

Their hard work and attention to detail is important, Guevara said, because as cliché as the term “complacency kills” might have become to service members in Iraq, it’s the truth.

“We know what to expect and we’re prepared for it,” said Guevara. “It’s almost the same thing over and over, but you can’t let your guard down.”

“Every time you leave the wire, you have to act like it’s the first time,” he said.

Analysis: Al Qaim is island of stability

HUSAYBA, Iraq, March 7 (UPI) -- Al-Qaim is an oasis of stability in the chaos of Iraq. But it was not always this way


UPI Pentagon Correspondent

This region on the western border of Iraq -- literally a stone's throw to Syria -- used to be what the U.S. Marines call "the Wild West." It was violent, out of control, and for awhile firmly in the grips in al-Qaida in Iraq and other Islamist insurgent groups.

Now, however, the markets are full; people are walking, shopping and building new homes, at least in Husayba, the major city in the area, and the surrounding villages south of the Euphrates River.

For the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, it is proof the tenets in the U.S. military's counterinsurgency manual published last year actually works.

That manual discusses how to win the low-intensity, long, small wars expected to characterize most conflicts the United States will engage in in the foreseeable future. At its heart, it counsels soldiers to win the loyalty and cooperation of the local people. It emphasizes restraint when dealing with civilians, precision when fighting insurgents, and jumpstarting the economy and political life, and helping provide basic services like water and power.

All of those efforts has been underway for years in al-Qaim, but it was not what made the difference. What changed was that the "terrorists" -- the term al-Qaim Mayor Farhan Tehad Farhan uses to describe the alliance of local fighters and foreign jihadists -- turned their guns and knives on the local people.

Farhan admits that when the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, the residents of al-Qaim happily cooperated with the insurgents.

Camp Gannon, a small U.S. base in Husayba, sits at the end of Market Street.

"It was a gunfight all the way through. Sometimes they had to aerial resupply Camp Gannon because you just couldn't get a vehicle through," said Lt. Col. Scott Shuster, commander of the 3rd battalion, 4th Marine Regiment. "Gannon was Fort Apache."

"At first the Iraqi people were dealing with coalition forces as occupiers," said Farhan in his office in downtown Husayba. "The terrorist came to al-Qaim to fight the coalition forces, or the occupiers. After a while they exposed themselves by fighting the people of Iraq. They began killing Iraqi army and Iraqi people. They lost the support of the people. After that the people began to fight the al-Qaida members.

"We as people now deal with coalition forces and the Iraqi army a lot, because now we know what the terrorists are like. If they come here they will kill the innocent people. Now if you talk to any coalition forces they can tell you how much we cooperate with them," Farhan said.

If the experience of al-Qaim could be bottled and spread to the rest of Iraq, the key ingredient is the brutality of the adversary.

Had al-Qaida in Iraq, the organization presumed to be behind most of the terrorist activity in the town, not overplayed its hand, al-Qaim might still be the same killing ground for U.S. forces it was between 2003 and 2006.

But the last three years of restraint and dogged courtship of al-Qaim by a series of American units -- as well as their firepower -- set the stage for the locals to turn to them when they could no longer stand the murders and kidnappings.

That came in April 2005 when the 22 tribes in the region banded together to oust the terrorists, Farhan said. They were initially successful, but the insurgents regrouped, recruited additional fighters from Mosul and Ramadi and came at al-Qaim with a vengeance in September 2005.

"They were hoping to build an Islamic country in al-Qaim," Farhan said.

The insurgents had erected a sign near Husayba proclaiming it to be the Islamic Republic of al-Qaim, according to Shuster.

"These terrorists are really far from Islamic thoughts They pretend they are Muslims but they are so far from Islam because they are a bunch of killers and criminals," he said.

Abul Mahal, the main tribe in the area had for hundreds of years profited from all trade -- legal and otherwise -- at al-Qaim, had been pushed out of power.

That was when the tribes approached the U.S. Marines stationed in al-Qaim. If they would help rout the terrorists, the sheiks would set up a representative government and provide the seed corn for a police force, also representative of the tribes.

Al-Qaim paid a high price for initial embrace of the insurgency and then its decision to fight them.

According to Farhan, terrorists killed 749 people and gravely wounded 340. More than 6,250 houses were damaged in the fighting; 431 of them were razed to the ground. More than 400 shops were destroyed and 624 vehicles were damaged. These were not damaged by U.S. action but by the insurgents. Farhan keeps a careful inventory because he is seeking $67,071,415 from the Iraqi government to compensate the people for their losses.

Operation Steel Curtain took place in November 2005, a major offensive that ousted the terrorists and saturated the area with U.S. and Iraqi forces. It was "cleared," in the parlance of counterinsurgency doctrine, and then it was "held," through persistence presence. Having won a tactical victory over the locals by beating off the terrorists, they began the "build" phase, empowering local councils, sheiks and mayors with funding and projects to restore essential services and repair schools and clinics.

Shuster knows al-Qaida is not beaten, but he thinks there has been a change in the way the organization views al-Qaim strategically.

"I think al-Qaida in Iraq is in a lull here," said Shuster. "I think al-Qaida thinks the decisive battle is gonna be closer to Baghdad. They think al-Qaim is an area they must transit. But al-Qaida does not think they need to or should exert too many resources here that could be better applied closer to Baghdad."

Ironically, having something approaching normalcy and stability in al-Qaim -- the victory sought by counterinsurgent tactics -- makes finding al Qaida as it transits the area is much more difficult.

"Heavy-handed tactics like locking down an entire neighborhood and searching house to house, it doesn't work here anymore." Shuster said.

March 6, 2007

Copter crashes during Kenya training exercise; 6 rescued

Six American service members were rescued and evacuated to the Norfolk-based amphibious assault ship Bataan after their UH-1N Huey helicopter crashed near Manda Bay, Kenya, during a scheduled training exercise with Kenyan armed forces.


The Virginian-Pilot
March 6, 2007

Two of the crew members from the helicopter were treated for non-life-threatening injuries by medical personnel aboard the Bataan, according to a news release Monday from the 5th Fleet in Bahrain.

Officials did not say whether all those aboard were Marines.

The aircraft was from Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 264, part of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which was participating in Exercise Edged Mallet, a bilateral military training exercise with the Kenyan military, the release said.

The helicopter normally has a crew of two pilots and a flight engineer but can accommodate as many as 13 passengers.

Six are Rescued in Marine Chopper Crash in Kenya

(03/06/07 -- CAMP LEJEUNE) - Six members of the military were rescued and two were treated for minor injuries after a Marine helicopter based in North Carolina crashed in Kenya.



The Marine Corps said yesterday that the crash occurred near Manda Bay, Kenya, where members of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit were taking part in an exercise with the Kenyan military. The personnel were taken to the USS Bataan.

Officials said the U-H-1-N Huey was from Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 264, which is based at Marine Corps Air Station New River, next to Camp Lejeune.

It was assigned to the 26th MEU, which left North Carolina in January.

The cause of the accident is being investigated.

Mural Artist Puts War Experience to Good Use

Mural artist and Vietnam War Veteran completes scenic murals for the exhibits in the new National Museum of the Marine Corps.


Chicago, IL (PRWeb) March 6, 2007 -- At 23, Paul Barker commanded a platoon of Marines in Vietnam. In addition to the extreme impressions left by combat, he was entranced by the country's beauty. Three and a half decades later he found a surprising use for his experience. As a nationally recognized muralist, he was asked to bid on painting 10 huge scenic murals for the exhibits in the new National Museum of the Marine Corps. He saw the opportunity of a lifetime. Emphasizing his veteran status and lobbying hard, he and his mural art firm Googleplex, Inc. won the contract.

"The museum was being built outside the Quantico Marine Base in Virginia where I had my by basic training, so it was very nostalgic. While the base had changed, Marine Corps culture had not. Four of the 10 murals were on Vietnam so I was able to draw on my memories, on black and white photos I took during the war and color photos I took when I returned in '92 to build a small clinic with a veteran's group. Making sure the murals were historically accurate meant doing several months of research. I interviewed many surviving veterans of particular battles and found that being a vet myself opened a lot of doors. They were not only generous with their memories but with their personal photos and artifacts. Shortly after the museum opened in November of last year, I volunteered as a 'mural guide' for the veterans' groups coming through to see their moment of history preserved for posterity in an exhibit. It was a pretty moving experience."

Some of Barker's exhibits can be seen at the museum's website, www.usmcmuseum.org. "I've painted a lot of interesting images for a lot of famous clients," he says, "but that was my most gratifying experience so far."

1st MLG gets new sergeant major

By Gidget Fuentes - Staff writer
Posted : Tuesday Mar 6, 2007 6:09:02 EST

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. – Marines and sailors of the 1st Marine Logistics Group got a new senior enlisted leader March 1 with the retirement of Sgt. Maj. Dan L. Hakala.

To continue reading:


Marine receives Bronze Star posthumously

CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. A Marine private first class who continued to shoot at the enemy from his burning Humvee has been awared the Bronze Star posthumously.


The Marine Corps awarded the Bronze Star to Enrique Sanchez yesterday at Camp Lejeune. Sanchez died in July when his Humvee ran over an explosive device near Ramadi.

He had been nominated for the Bronze Star for his actions a month earlier during an attack in which his Humvee erupted in flames after a grenade hit it.

The award citation said Sanchez, a turret gunner, remained with his Humvee after flames engulfed it and shot at the enemy with his machine gun. That allowed his crew to escape the vehicle.

Sanchez suffered second-degree burns.

Marine officers presented the Bronze Star to Sanchez's grandmother, Pat Ayscue of Garner, and his mother, Christie Otten of Winchester, California.

His son was the motivation, the Corps was the way

AR RAMADI, Iraq (March 6, 2007) -- Hit with the news that he was about to be father, Johan S. Arenas knew he had to make a change and make it fast.


Submitted by: I Marine Expeditionary Force
Story by: Computed Name: Cpl. Paul Robbins Jr.
Story Identification #: 20073644846

Arenas, now a 20-year-old machine gunner for Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, in Ar Ramadi, Iraq, saw his life heading in the wrong direction as a troubled teenager.

Receiving failing grades in school, having repeated trouble with the law and working dead end jobs, Arenas was ill prepared to support a family.

But at the age of 17, fatherhood forced Arenas to take a hard look at his life and responsibilities.

“I knew I needed something to change in my life,” said Arenas, a native of Queens, N.Y. “If it didn’t, I probably would have ended up in jail.”

Hoping to stand up to his new responsibility, Arenas looked to military service as a way forward, targeting the Marine Corps as his new beginning.

Before that step could be made however, Arenas needed to make some changes on his own, and rise to the standards required for military service.

Arenas attended night and weekend courses to raise his grades in high school, and steered clear of previous troubles to attain his eligibility.

“The coming of my son pushed me to change,” said Arenas. “I became more focused on my family and my future.”

Arenas enlisted into the Marine Corps as an infantryman on June 23, 2004, only a month after the birth of his son on May 20, 2004.

Although Arenas had already taken strong steps in the right direction in order to join the Corps, becoming a Marine gave him the qualities and support he needed to support a family.

“The Marine Corps set me up for success and I took it from there,” said Arenas, who has achieved his current rank of Corporal in less than three years of service.

Since joining the Marine Corps, Arenas has been able to successfully support his family while preparing for the future.

In February of 2005, Arenas bought a house for his family through accumulated savings and a veteran’s loan.

Looking back, Arenas sees the stark contrast between the struggles of his past and the brightness of his future.

“I entered the Marine Corps with a dollar and fifty cents in my pocket,” said Arenas. “Now I’m looking to buy a second home.”

Although largely positive, there has been some adversity for Arenas during his time in the Corps.

Arenas is now on his second deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, making more than 14 months of his enlistment served in Iraq.

The frequent deployment schedule has caused Arenas to miss his son’s first two birthdays, but that fact has done little to alter Arenas pride in his decision.

“I’d rather miss my son’s birthdays accomplishing something for my family and my country, than wasting my life like before,” said Arenas.

Coming up on the end of his tour in Iraq and the end of his contract with the Marine Corps, Arenas has another decision to make for his family’s future.

As the next step in his career, Arenas hopes to become a member of the New York Fire Department, but has said re-enlistment in the Corps is still a strong option.

“Either way I’m doing something my son can be proud of,” said Arenas.

BETHESDA, Md. - The first round blew through Maj. K.C. Schuring's helmet, creased the top of his head and popped out through his goggles.


By John Masson
Detroit Free Press

The second round felt as if Tigers slugger Magglio Ordonez were teeing off on the center of his back.

But it wasn't until rounds three and four blasted through each thigh that the big Marine went down, a pool of his blood spreading in the street in Ramadi, Iraq. While two dozen of his Iraqi Army trainees and two U.S. military advisers took cover, Schuring took stock.

OK, he thought. I'm still breathing.

"I remember thinking to myself, with that shot to my head, I shouldn't be alive right now - and I was," he said.

Staying that way would be another matter.

In that instant, Schuring joined more than 10,000 American troops wounded so severely in Iraq that they were sent home

Among all branches, more than 550 troops have lost legs, arms, hands or feet - mostly to roadside bombs - in Iraq and Afghanistan. That compares with 24,000 Americans wounded overall and more than 3,000 killed since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

Lying in the street on that sunny morning of Nov. 14, Schuring was determined not to add to the total of dead. The man who had just tried to kill him - a bearded man in a gray dishdasha, a traditional long garment - was running toward him with an AK 47.

"The only thing I could think about was, ` I'm the next captive,' or ` They're going to drag my body through the streets of Ramadi,'" he said. "And I couldn't let that happen to my wife and my family. ... I didn't want her to see me on Al-Jazeera" television.

Additionally - and unfortunately for the insurgents - Schuring was really ticked.

"I was mad, because, well, I don't get shot," said Schuring, 37, who has an MBA. In the civilian world, he works as a quality assurance manager. "I never get shot. And now I got shot. It infuriated me."

He also realized he couldn't get to cover.

"So I rolled to my right side and I brought up my M 16," Schuring said. "I aimed in on him and shot him in the head."

A moment later, a second armed insurgent rounded the same corner, looked down at the dead man and looked up just in time to catch three fatal rounds from Schuring's rifle.

Schuring's first steps on the road to recovery - killing two of the six insurgents who tried to kill him - came when he was unable to take any steps at all. And with those steps, Schuring, like other wounded warriors, began a painful journey to recovery.

Cpl. John Lockwood, a Washtenaw County, Mich., sheriff's deputy, was manning a machine gun atop a Humvee during a Nov. 19 mission to root out insurgents in Fallujah, Iraq. The 26-year-old helped stake out a position, then stayed with Lance Cpl. Jeremy Shock, the driver, to guard their vehicle as their comrades searched nearby buildings.

That's when a bomb, hidden 5 inches below the road surface, blew up.

The explosion killed Shock of Tiffin, Ohio. Lockwood suffered a litany of injuries: two broken feet. Two broken legs. Broken bones in both hands. A nose more crushed than merely broken. Legs peppered with shrapnel wounds. A left eye lost to more shrapnel.

"I don't remember what happened," Lockwood said. "The guys that helped me told me about it."

They stabilized him in an alley near his burning Humvee, then rushed him to Fallujah Surgical, where Navy doctors tended his wounds. He woke briefly at some point, then spent the next two weeks in a medically induced coma while surgeons opened his wounds every 48 hours to clean them. The frequent surgeries help fight infection.

Four months later, Lockwood is still healing.

"I've got a long road ahead of me, " he said, "but I'll make it."

While Lockwood was busy with surgeries and rehab, family, friends and at least a few hundred people he doesn't even know were busy in Washtenaw County. His supporters came together last month at the Farm Council Grounds for what was modestly termed a fundraising spaghetti dinner and auction.

By the end of the day, about 2,000 people had plunked down at least $10 each for the right to eat spaghetti and bid on items ranging from autographed Red Wings jerseys to a ball thrown in the World Series last fall by Tigers pitcher Nate Robertson.

They raised almost $40,000 to help Lockwood and his wife, Lisa, defray some of his costs while recovering. The military takes care of his hospital bills. But Lisa Lockwood left her job and her college studies to be with her husband during his stay at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. And he'll still need her help when his hospital stay ends - which friends say may be as soon as three weeks from now.

"His spirits are spectacular," said Saline Police Sgt. Jay Basso, who visited Lockwood at Bethesda recently. "If I was half as strong as that guy, emotionally and physically ... he's a squared-away young man at 26. I'm in awe."

Lockwood said he's in awe, too.

"It's just amazing all the support back home, " he said. "I'm so humbled by it. All I can do is get better and give back as much as I can."

Marines wounded by what the military calls improvised explosive devices often have a hard time telling a coherent story about their injuries. They remember driving away from a dusty combat outpost in Fallujah or Baghdad, then recall waking up in a hospital bed in Maryland or California or Texas.

That was the case for Lance Cpls. Josh Bleill and Eric Frazier, who last month sat beneath a scarlet Marine Corps flag at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and described their injuries.

But Cpl. Chad Watson, who sat with them, is an exception. He remembers exactly what happened about 9 a.m. Nov. 29 as he led a team of Marines in the streets of Fallujah. The team from the 1st Battalion of the 24th Marines had just searched the car and were starting to roll again.

"We didn't get more than 100 meters, and it was like I got punched in the face like 10,000 times," Watson said.

What pummeled Watson was a bomb, not a fist. The moment he looked down, he knew his life had changed forever.

"I looked at my right leg, and it was gone - completely gone," said Watson, 24, a college student from Mt. Zion, Ill. "There was a big hole under the driver's side; that's where it hit."

Watson's training took over. Despite his missing leg, the smashed bones in his left heel and ankle, a fractured vertebra, burns and shrapnel wounds to his face, arm and eye, he grabbed his weapon and struggled to get out of the Humvee to defend himself and his comrades. But he couldn't free his twisted left leg from what remained of the Humvee's floor. Marines from other vehicles came running to help.

"I remember them yelling, `Is anybody still alive?'" said Watson.

Finally, after his fellow Marines dragged him into a nearby courtyard, a Navy corpsman tied off his bleeding right leg with a tourniquet. The corpsman gently informed Watson that most of his right leg was gone.

"I was kind of like, `Yeah, no kidding, I saw that.'"

Through it all Watson - still the team leader, despite his grievous wounds - was shouting orders.

"I was actually yelling at the guys to get out of the courtyard ... because there were too many of them," and a large group was liable to draw the insurgents' fire, said Watson. "I was glad how I reacted. I acted good under pressure, and I was happy to hear that they told my parents that."

All Bleill really remembers about the moments before the explosion that took both his legs and killed two comrades is gazing out his Humvee window in Fallujah.

"You're always looking outside," explained Bleill, 29, whose civilian job is running a call center in Indianapolis. "You're looking for anything suspicious."

Bleill woke up in Germany with his jaw wired shut days after he was injured Oct. 15. Medical staff explained his injuries to him while he was groggy: the loss of both legs above the knee, a broken jaw, a pelvis shattered so badly it required 32 pins to piece together.

Frazier's story is similar. The 20-year-old from McMinnville, Tenn., was heading out to count Iraqis for a local census when a bomb destroyed his Humvee on Oct. 23.

"It blew up right underneath the driver and killed him instantly," said Frazier, a factory worker. A second Marine also died.

The blast took both of Frazier's legs - one above the knee - lacerated his liver and a kidney, fractured his pelvis in three places, and broke a vertebra , one arm, a wrist, his jaw and several fingers.

"I guess it wasn't my time to go," said Frazier. "I died out there in the streets of Fallujah, and no one can explain how they brought me back."

Now the soft-spoken man from the mountains works every day to regain the physical strength he'll need to again do the things he loves. For Frazier, that means using his computerized prosthetic legs to roam the hills and hollows with a fishing pole or a hunting rifle in his hands.

Generally, Marines like to organize things by threes. Three Marines make a fire team, three fire teams make a squad, three squads make a company, and three line companies make a battalion.

So Watson, Frazier and Bleill have formed their own sort of rehabilitative fire team during their stay at Walter Reed. "We joke with each other, or say, `Hey, we gotta catch up with him,'" Watson said. "It makes us work that much harder."

When they're working painfully to build their upper body strength, they push each other to work even harder. When one is working on his balance on the parallel bars, the others are watching.

Marines have always taken a perverse pride in their grueling daily doses of group PT, or physical training. It binds them together. And the equation hasn't changed much just because they're wounded. Now, the initials "PT" stand for "physical therapy."

"It's the same thing, just a different setting," Watson said. "It's just a different group of guys you're with now."

Even for Marines like Schuring, who is getting rehabilitation through Beaumont Hospital near his home in Farmington Hills, Mich., thoughts of his fellow Marines in Iraq are never far away while he's sweating and groaning through painful physical therapy. Teamwork is something the former center on the Hope College football team in west Michigan has understood for a long time.

The ceramic plate in his body armor saved him from the shot to his back. His Kevlar helmet helped dissipate the shot to his head, which didn't penetrate his skull. And the bullet that hit his right thigh missed the bone.

But the one that hit his left thigh almost cost him his leg, shattering his thighbone in three up near his hip. An infection nearly did the rest until it was brought under control by antibiotics.

His doctors expect he'll make a full recovery - thanks to physical therapy sessions it would take a Marine to love.

None of the wounded men is willing to let his injuries define him. None expressed bitterness. All said they would rejoin their units tomorrow, if they could.

Schuring, whose mission was training Iraqi soldiers, was especially emphatic.

"We were doing good things there in Ramadi - I mean phenomenal things," Schuring said. "The Iraqi army, the soldiers, they're the Iraqi heroes. They're not the best soldiers in the world, but they're trying."

The wounded men have had time while convalescing to process their experiences. They've met cabinet members and generals and members of Congress. Some have gone to the Super Bow

Combat survival accredited to body armor

AL TAQADDUM, Iraq(March 3, 2007) -- It isn't suggested that Marines wear personal protective equipment when leaving the protection of forward operating bases. It is required. But why?


Submitted by: 2nd Marine Logistics Group
Story by: Computed Name: Cpl. Andrew Kalwitz

"I've seen it save lives," said Lt. Cmdr. Josh W. Vincent, a physician with Charlie Surgical Detachment, 1st Medical Battalion, Combat Logistics Regiment 15, 1st Marine Logistics Group (Forward).

Vincent shared many of his experiences. In one case, the detachment received a call warning of an incoming patient; a gunnery sergeant who had received a gunshot wound.

"They called and said this guy got shot in the back," the West Jordan, Utah, native explained. "They get him out of the (helicopter) and put him on the gator (a six-wheeled all-terrain vehicle). Then he got off the gator and this guy comes walking in."

After seeing him walk into the surgical detachment, Vincent said he couldn't even believe the Marine had been shot. But what he saw next surprised him most.

"When he turned around, you could see the hole through the material where it hit," he said. "He takes off his clothes and there is this one-inch depression in his back. He wasn't even really aware of what happened until after."

"He would have probably bled to death if it weren't for the (small-arms protective insert)," he added, referring to the plates Marines wear in their vests. "It worked exactly like they tell you it's going to work."

Vincent shared another story of PPE saving lives. This time, a lance corporal was standing in front of his peers when he felt something strike him in the head.

"He thought it was his buddy slapping his helmet," he said. "A round went right into the side of the helmet. If this would've gone into the head, he was dead."

With his experiences in mind, Vincent expressed great concern for the safety of deployed Marines and addressed any that may not be wearing their PPE properly or at all.

"Please do it," he said. "Please wear your stuff. Take it from somebody who sees it. You're taking unnecessary risks with your life. You're basically playing 'Russian Roulette.'"

Sergeant Maj. Bryan B. Battaglia, the sergeant major for II Marine Expeditionary Force-West, shared a few of his many experiences as well.

"During my last tour, my regiment had approximately 696 wounded Marines and sailors," he said. "96 percent of them returned to duty... it shows that the gear and equipment we are issued is the best on the market."

The New Orleans native continued to elaborate on the importance of PPE, claiming that "wearing PPE keeps servicemembers alive" and explaining the consequences of not wearing PPE in an aspect beyond obvious health risks.

"The wearing of PPE is an order," he said. "A commander has the latitude to reprimand any servicemember who is in violation of an order. Reprimand may come in the form of a verbal counseling to a court-martial."

Battaglia explained that there are five required pieces of gear: flak jacket with throat and groin protector, helmet, fire-resistant gloves, ballistic eye protection and front, back and side SAPI plates.

Sgt. Canon B. Richard, a squad leader with Military Police Company, CLR-15, 1st MLG (Fwd), said he feels there is no such thing as being too sure his Marines are wearing proper gear during convoy operations.

"Our Marines always have their PPE," he said. "Our vehicle commanders always ensure Marines wear it. We double and triple check them."

Richard explained why his command takes as much caution as they do when it comes to wearing their gear.

"If they don't wear it, they are taking a serious chance of getting hurt. Any type of object could strike them," the Kinder, La., native said.

Sergeant Maj. Battaglia summed it up by putting it into terms almost everyone can understand.

"Bottom line is PPE saves lives," he said. "Is it heavy? Yes. Is it uncomfortable? Yes. But as I've learned long ago as a young infantryman, 'I'd rather be uncomfortably alive then comfortably dead.'"

Helicopter support. Despite extreme danger. Marines on team say they love their job

Jacksonville | The Marines of the Helicopter Support Team have a dangerous job.
Consider what they did on a recent day at work: Each member of the eight-Marine team repeatedly ran beneath a hovering CH-53E helicopter in an effort to attach a nearly 8,000-pound steel I-beam to a swinging hook - while facing wind gusts of up to 175 mph. Oh yeah, and the helicopter itself is generating about 175,000 volts of electricity.


By Chrissy Vick,
The Daily News of Jacksonville

"The down-wash is like standing in the middle of a hurricane," said Staff Sgt. Robert Martin. "And getting (an electrical shock) is, well, not fun."

Each team has its own Navy corpsman just in case something goes wrong. Dangers include getting hit by the wheel of a helicopter flying too low or stepping in front of the 8,000-pound load.

"That could give you a concussion or even kill you," Martin said.

Marines on the team recalled times when they suffered an electrical shock or were so close to the chopper they had to lay down underneath it but could still reach up and touch it.

"It's very fun when we get under the bird though," said Cpl. Juan Torres, team leader. "It's a big adrenaline rush."

Dangerous but exciting

So it's dangerous but exciting work for members of the team from Landing Support Company, Combat Logistics Regiment 27, 2nd Marine Logistics Group at New River Air Station.

Their job is to conduct a successful single- or dual-point external lift, in which a helicopter transports a large vehicle or pallet.

CH-53E helicopters can lift loads of more than 30,000 pounds.

The training conducted this week at Landing Zone Phoenix in Holly Ridge gave the Helicopter Support Team and Marine Helicopter Training Squadron 302, from Marine Aircraft Group 26, a chance to perfect something that can be vital during war.

"You have to train really hard because when we're in Iraq you have to produce," Torres said. "Otherwise, people are going to be without ammunition, supplies and food."

Learning how to execute a lift takes a lot of practice - and a great deal of communication.

An outside director and a director beneath the helicopter help center the chopper over the load to be lifted, which could be anything from a Humvee to a pallet of food. The directors are vital to the safety of the operation. With one swift hand signal they can send the helicopter away.

"One of the biggest things we hope doesn't happen is if something goes wrong," Torres said. "I have to have constant eye contact with the crew chief (of the helicopter), so I can just wave them off if something goes wrong."

In training

Once the helicopter is centered, it must hover over the load while the team attaches the load to a hook. A "leg man" ensures that the slings or ropes on the load don't get crossed, causing the load to fall.

The "static man" has a grounding tool that attaches to the hook and then into the ground to keep Marines from being electrocuted. While all of that is happening, the "hookup man" has to attach the load.

Marines on the ground are also in constant communication with those flying the helicopter. Pilots are kept informed by a crew chief, who lies on his stomach and looks down through the hole holding the hook and load, and others aboard the chopper.

"The guys in the back make that thing fly," said 1st Lt. Steven Adair, a student pilot with HMT-302, which conducted a number of lifts. "I can only see so much because there are no mirrors. Those guys are my mirrors. You've got to trust them."

For Adair's first external lift, he said he wasn't sure what to expect.

"With such a heavy weight on there, I knew it would act different," he said. "It's kind of nerve-racking at first because you've got guys underneath the helicopter."

Another student pilot with HMT-302, 1st Lt. Michael Tyler, said the lift training was something he was excited about.

"The CH-53's main job is transporting troops and cargo," he said. "It teaches us as helicopter pilots the basics of our job."

With the proper communication and a whole lot of trust in one another, the Marines made each of their lifts and drops successfully, he said.

Lance Cpl. Mark Strudas is one member of the Helicopter Support Team who has learned the importance of success firsthand - he has served two tours in Iraq.

"This job is excellent," said Strudas, adding that the Helicopter Support Team is also responsible for receiving and loading gear and troops on and off any aircraft. "It's a very important job. Nobody gets anywhere unless we're doing our job."

Camp Lejeune Troops To Deploy

Military officials say two Marine battalions will begin leaving Camp Lejeune this week for duty in


Mar 6, 2007

The 5th Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment and 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment are scheduled to begin departing Wednesday, with about 300 Marines in the initial wave. The units total about 18-hundred troops and are assigned to the 2nd Marine Division.

The deployment is part of a planned rotation of Marine Corps troops that began in January to replace California-based Marines. A force of about 45-hundred Marines already has deployed to Iraq as part of the rotation.

March 5, 2007

Marine Sgt. Jeffrey L. Kirk posthumously awarded Silver Star

CAMP PENDLETON -- Sgt. Jeffrey Lynn Kirk will never see the Silver Star awarded for his valor during an intense room-to-room firefight in a Fallujah home more than two years ago.


By: TERI FIGUEROA - Staff Writer
March 5, 2007

The 24-year-old Louisiana native saved many Marines' lives on that November day, his fellow troops say, when he led squad members through a bloody battle in an Iraqi home and courtyard, organizing and regrouping his men three times before they killed all the enemy fighters hunkered down in the residence.

Kirk did not die in that battle, although a wound from that fight -- a bullet in his thigh -- sidelined him for a short stretch.

Kirk's death came less than five weeks later, on Dec. 12, in another Fallujah house-clearing operation.

On Monday, Kirk's widow, alongside his parents, accepted on his behalf the Silver Star -- the nation's third-highest combat honor -- for his bravery and heroism in the November 2004 gunbattle.

Kirk's family declined to be interviewed, but his widow addressed the crowd during the ceremony.

"Nothing would have meant more to him than to accept this in front of the Marines he served with," Carly Kirk said.

She read from the last letter he wrote to her: "'I hope that if I do go, that I went with honor and courage. I hope that I died leading Marines, and not from a random bomb or a sniper. ... I will regret not being able to hold you again, but there are fine Marines under my charge, and I want to lead them with honor and courage.'"

According to Cpl. Reynaldo Leal, a member of Kirk's squad who was with Kirk during both battles, Kirk was killed as he and other squad members fought their way into a house to recover the body of another fallen Marine.

Leal was among those who addressed the crowd during the ceremony to posthumously award Kirk the Silver Star.

"He continues to be an inspiration for the kind of life I want to live," Leal said.

According to information on Kirk's citation and the accounts of some Marines who were with him during the Nov. 10 firefight, Kirk and his cohorts were met with a grenade as soon as they entered the Fallujah home. The sergeant organized junior Marines and led them across the courtyard of the home, but were forced to retreat under fire. He led a second attack and was shot, but managed to toss a grenade and fatally shoot an enemy fighter.

Kirk and his men were forced to retreat a second time, but managed to toss grenades as they left.

Wounded, but refusing medical attention, Kirk once again led a handful of Marines in to take the house, and served as the point man.

This time, there would be no retreat. The Marines killed all the insurgent fighters as they took hold of the entire building, according to military sources.

Kirk, his citation reads, showed an "outstanding display of decisive leadership, unlimited courage in the face of heavy enemy fire, and utmost devotion to duty," on that day.

"I'm living proof of his heroism," Staff Sgt. Kenneth Distelhorst told the crowd. Distelhorst was among the men who witnessed Kirk's valor that day.

Were it not for Kirk's quick warning after an enemy fighter tossed the grenade, "I wouldn't be here," Distelhorst said.

But after the battle, when Distelhorst thanked him, Kirk's response was simply "Whatever, dude," Distelhorst said, drawing a little laugh from the crowd and a smile from Carly Kirk.

"If I had to describe what type of guy Sgt. Kirk was in two words," Distelhorst said, "it would be Semper Fidelis."

The Latin phrase, which means "always faithful," is the Marine Corps motto.

The crowd, which included at least 400 Marines in formation, also heard from David Hawley, who was a fire team leader under Kirk's command.

"We were cold, wet, tired and hungry together," Hawley said. "We always laughed together ... We shed blood together on the same streets in the same battlefield."

After the ceremony, Hawley said he wanted his friend, his mentor, to be remembered as "a Marine who did his job, as a man who wasn't scared of war."

"He died trying to save his Marines," Hawley said of the battle that killed Kirk. Hawley then quickly excused himself. "I try not to talk about that day very much. It's very emotional."

Kirk was a squad leader assigned to Company K, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force.

The battle that earned him the Silver Star, and the later battle in which he died, both came during his second deployment to Iraq.

Kirk joined the Marine Corps in 1998. His other awards include the Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal.

-- Contact staff writer Teri Figueroa at (760) 631-6624 or [email protected]


3/2 Marines return, end 7-month deployment in Iraq

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (March 5, 2007) -- Hundreds of women and children screamed with joy as the Marines of 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 5, stepped off charter buses and into to their loved ones’ embrace here, Feb.


March 5, 2007

By Cpl. Ray Lewis, 2nd Marine Division

The families had much to shout about. Today marked the beginning of a new life and the end of a seven-month deployment in the rural area of Habbaniyah, Iraq, a region known for its insurgent sniper fire and improvised explosive device attacks.

The Marines known as the “Betio Bastards” braved the odds, said Lt. Col. Todd S. Desgrosseilliers, the battalion commander.

In a little less than a year, the Marines conducted major Operations Rubicon and Mars’ Lance to improve living conditions for Iraqi families, who live in the Habbaniyah area, said Desgrosseilliers.

“The purpose of the operations was to get us into an area that was previously unoccupied by coalition forces,” said the Auburn, Maine native.

Once the battlefield was stabilized, the Marines successfully handed over 70 percent of the area to the Iraqi Army and Police, Desgrosseilliers said.
“We turned over almost 200 square kilometers of battle space to the Iraqi Army,” he explained.

Insurgents soon came to realize that Desgrosseilliers’ Marines were part of a long lineage of “Betio Bastards” who have a history of fighting until the mission is finished.
“By the time we were about to leave, the enemy didn’t want to fight us at all,” Desgrosseilliers said.

He credited his troops for the battalion’s success.

“Counterinsurgency was a squad leader fight,” Desgrosseilliers said. “It was the squad leaders’ job to fight the enemy and protect Iraqis, create a stable environment so they could open shops and get on with their lives. Near the end, a lot of insurgents had quit fighting and the Iraqi people were grateful.”

Now it was the Marines’ turn to spend time with their families.

“It feels great to be back and here with my daughter,” said Lance Cpl. Corey A. Cativera, a 22-year-old squad automatic weapon gunner assigned to Company K, who is from Dubois, Pa.
This was the first time Cativera had gazed into the eyes of his 2 1/2-month-old daughter.

Others, like Cativera, were delighted to be home.

“It’s a good feeling, a good change,” said Lance Cpl. Patrick Sheridan, 21, a mortarman assigned to Weapons Company from Long Island, N.Y.

Sheridan’s brother Brian, 10, was comforted to have his big brother home. He now feels more secure knowing there’s a tough Marine in the house to keep him safe.

“I have him to protect me at home … because I lost my toy gun,” Brian said jokingly.
While some had much to say, others were just speechless.

“Wow... words can’t describe the way I feel right now,” said Lance Cpl. Ian A. O’Neal, a 21-year-old rifleman with Company K from Matthews, N.C. “It’s a rush of emotions.”
O’Neal’s father felt likewise.

“I’m ecstatic to have him back,” said Allen O’Neal. “It’s awesome; the Marines did a great job.”

Desgrosseilliers summed up their deployment and gave his Marines the credit.

“It was successful,” he said. “We accomplished our mission. This is a tribute to the Marines and sailors who fought in a counterinsurgency environment. The men did a great job over the deployment.”

March 4, 2007

Marines in Haditha: Locals not focused on alleged ’05 massacre

By Steve Mraz, Stars and Stripes
Mideast edition, Sunday, March 4, 2007

HADITHA, Iraq — When average Americans hear the word “Haditha,” they are likely to think of the much-publicized 2005 incident involving Marines allegedly murdering 24 Iraqi civilians.

To continue reading:


Unit sees efforts stabilize city, drive back insurgents

By Steve Mraz, Stars and Stripes
Mideast edition, Sunday, March 4, 2007

HADITHA, Iraq — A berm, a ban on driving and a bolstering of police.

To continue reading:


Brannan trying to win a job, minus a finger

PEORIA, Ariz. (AP) - One by one, more than 80 players seated on a back field of the Padres' spring training complex stood and gave their names and where they were last season.


Associated Press
March 4, 2007

"Jesus Lopez. Fort Wayne. Eugene."

Class-A teammates laughed and teased.

"Michael Johnson. Pittsburgh Pirates. Indianapolis."

The group welcomed Johnson into the organization.

Then a tall, broad-shouldered and tanned No. 40 stood.

"Cooper Brannan. United States Marine Corps."

No one said a word.

No one had to. They all knew the story of the player unlike any other in camp. Or in baseball this spring. Brannan, a 22-year-old Marine infantryman home from a second tour of duty in Iraq because he lost a finger to a grenade, is trying to win a minor league pitching job with San Diego.

"It's not every day a guy coming out of the Marine Corps gets to do this, you know?" a beaming Corporal Brannan said as he walked through the Padres clubhouse after a bullpen session.

"It was great!"

Earlier, the 6-foot-4, 235-pound squad leader who grew up in nearby Gilbert, Ariz., threw his fastballs, two versions of a changeup and a splitter he wants to keep quiet.

He didn't show much of the curveball the Padres say is impressive - even though the only time Brannan has used it since high school four years ago was last summer with the All-Marine Corps team against semipro squads.

Bob Cluck, the former pitching coach for Detroit, Houston and Oakland and now San Diego's minor league pitching consultant, watched closely behind Brannan.

After Sunday's bullpen session - Cluck told the broad-shouldered Brannan he liked what he saw. Brannan asked "What's your name again?"

"Bob," Cluck answered.

"Nice to meet you, Bob," Brannan said.

There was no salute - or an incoming mortar round or sniper - to be found.

"Coming to this, it's just amazing," he said. "From calling your higher-ups 'Yes, sir' and 'No, sir' to calling your coaches by first name? It's a pretty big difference."

So is Brannan's lifestyle.

"Yeah, it's definitely a huge culture shock," he said, inside a carpeted clubhouse with televisions, whirlpools. "You go from living from the Bible times to coming back living in civilization, pretty much. You really know what you've taken for granted. You appreciate the smaller things in life."

Such as?

"Being able to walk outside your house without feeling like a bomb is going to go off on your frickin' street," he said, chuckling. "Being able to watch TV. Being able to use a toilet."

Brannan had all those things when he graduated from high school in May 2003, as a three-year letterman in football and baseball. He wasn't fully sure he wanted to commit to baseball career. But he was sure he wanted to commit to his country.

So he enlisted in the Marine Corps. He graduated from basic training as a platoon honor man, completed infantry school and was deployed to Hitt, Iraq, in February 2004.

He said he knew when he signed up that he'd be in a war almost immediately.

"I went to the Marine Corps for a lot of different reasons," he said. "No. 1, 9-11. And No. 2, I thought it could help me out with self-respect and the core values: honor, courage, commitment. I was able to achieve that in the Marine Corps."

His first eight-month tour in Iraq ended and he returned to his duty station in Twenty-nine Palms, Calif. Eleven months later, in September 2005, he was back with his unit in Fallujah, Iraq, for a second tour.

In November, Brannan was conducting pre-combat inspections of his 12-man squad before a patrol. One of his youngest, least-experienced squad members didn't have a flash-bang grenade. So Brannan reached into the left-side pocket of his flak jacket to give him his. It malfunctioned and exploded while still in Brannan's left hand.

While drifting in and out of consciousness, he thought his entire hand was blown off. But he had lost only his pinky. While he was in a morphine haze, doctors amputated what remained of the finger and the medial part of his hand, well below the outside knuckle.

After being evacuated to the Naval Medical Center in San Diego for three follow-up surgeries, Brannan got married to Lindsay Marie Wagener. They now have a 3-week-old daughter, Brooke, and the family is staying two blocks from the Padres camp.

During his recovery, he began working on rekindling his love for baseball, a love he had sustained by having his parents mail gloves and baseballs to Iraq. He'd play catch with fellow Marines between shifts of three days patrolling, three days guarding and three days as the quick reaction force, ready to aid patrols under fire.

"It's a challenge," he said. "There was nothing really sugarcoated about my job."

He is currently stationed at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego and on full recovery duty status. He cannot sign a Padres contract until after May 31, the last day of his Marines commitment.

Until then, he is fulfilling the most amazing military order he can imagine.

"Once I got the offer to come out here, they gave me orders to come play baseball. Pretty good deal, huh?" Brannan said, beaming again. "It was awesome."

He's definitely welcomed here. Padres chief executive officer Sandy Alderson served four years as an officer in the Marines, including a tour in Vietnam. The team plays some home games each season in Marine camouflage jerseys, to honor the thousands of Navy and Marine personnel stationed around San Diego.

The Padres insist this is not a feel-good publicity stunt, that Brannan is a good prospect with an above-average curveball to go with his far-above-average life experiences.

Grady Fuson, San Diego's vice president for scouting and player development, called Brannan "a young and athletic Marine with a solid build, a promising arm and a great breaking ball.

"The Padres love taking chances on athletic players and we are excited about having Cooper in the organization."

Brannan doesn't want to be a celebrity here, just a baseball player who has a good story to tell, if asked.

"I did a job," he said. "And I did what I was supposed to do, what I was asked to do. And I followed through and I did it. Mission complete."

Mission: Come back alive. Mock Iraqi towns in Twentynine Palms prepare Marines for war

The loud buzz, like a firecracker shooting off, lasts only seconds before the simulated device explodes in the sand.
The squad from the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines stops patrol and races down the desert street to the single-story building where comrades have been seriously wounded.


Erica Solvig
The Desert Sun

March 4, 2007

The scene is staged but still graphic: Five injured, including at least two who have lost limbs, lying in pools of blood and screaming in pain.

A couple of 2/5 Marines pause for just a second before their leader jolts them back to reality with loud shouts to get on the ground to help.

"Talk to him. Get him talking," the squad leader yells.

The squad leader offers instruction as they try to bandage one Marine's leg long enough to stop the gushing.

Artificial blood squirts everywhere, covering the walls in red as the Marine wails in pain.

"How many brothers? Sisters? Keep him talking."

The exercise is part of Mojave Viper, a month-long training required for every Marine deployed to Iraq that involves live-fire exercises and weeks of interaction in two mock Iraqi towns.

The training center is at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms. But with hundreds of role players, Arabic road signs and no contact with the rest of the base, the towns re-enact those in the al Anbar providence of Iraq.
Mojave Viper began in September 2005, evolving from Marine war training at places such as March Air Reserve Base.

But as the war in Iraq continues, the base is retooling the training schedule and building a third city - larger than both towns combined - to accommodate the troops being deployed.

"It's very realistic in comparison" to Iraq, said Cpl. Richard Wagemaker, a Mojave Viper instructor who served two tours in Iraq.

"What we're able to give here, everything ties in. It's not a one-dimensional training."

The caravan of armored vehicles rolls in from base camp, kicking up dust as the tanks and amphibious assault vehicles travel down the dirt road.

On this day, the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines are in Wadi al Sahara.

Today's mission: Secure the town.

Marines pour out of the vehicles and follow on foot as the tanks and assault vehicles fan out, each taking a street to travel down.

At every intersection and every gap between buildings lies potential danger, and it takes more than 1½ hours for the vehicles and foot patrols to snake through town, frequently stopping to check for snipers or insurgents.

The townspeople are gathered in the soukh, or street market, where everything from children's bikes to washing machines are sold.

As one of the assault vehicles passes the busy market, two sly merchants take advantage. With no Marines walking behind the vehicle, the Iraqis open up the rear door and crawl in the back.

The assault vehicle stops suddenly. The driver yells at the foot patrol. They've got to get these guys out of the vehicle and they've got to keep moving, he screams.

The Marines on foot race back toward the vehicle yelling - "Hey! Hey!" - and the merchants jump out. Speaking in Arabic, they motion for a cigarette and then a drink.

One Marine hands off a cigarette and makes a shooing motion with his hands to brush the merchants away.

"Get back!" they yell. "Get back!"

They start to pull away, but the merchants haven't budged.

One of the Marines uses profanity.

A senior comrade scolds him.

"Don't call them that," he warns. "They know English."

Mojave Viper consists of two segments.

The first two weeks are spent at two live-fire ranges; training includes working with tanks and helicopters.

The last 12 days are spent in the towns of Khalidiyah, of more than 100 shipping-container-constructed buildings, and Wadi al Sahara, which has about 400 buildings of various sizes.

After rotating through four separate divisions of training, including vehicle checkpoints and urban assault, the troops spend 72 hours with nearly 500 role players in the town.

For these three days, they essentially live there. Role players serve as merchants in the street market and leaders in the town.

They spread out to the distinct parts of the community, such as a section of Wadi al Sahara known as the slums, where the buildings are closer together and old tires and debris cover the roads.

It's here that Marines put their training into practice: Crowd control. Detecting insurgents. Humanitarian work. Capturing the enemy. Setting up a police force.

To prepare for that challenge and for life in Iraq, no part of training is overlooked. Even the seemingly mundane - walking up the stairs, entering and exiting rooms - is rehearsed over and over.

"We have to cover all danger areas at all times," one trainer shouted during a recent exercise with the 2/5 Marines from Camp Pendleton.

"What does hesitation get you?"

Their response is loud and in unison:


The blast comes just as the tank rolls across the bridge.

An IED, hidden from view, exploded just as the 1/3 Marines were crossing the dry riverbed that's covered in razor wire and debris.

Marines scramble, ducking for cover behind the tank and the rocks along the bridge, frantically calling out to each other.

Anyone down? Are there injuries?

Behind them - in the structures away from the bridge - the rest of the company takes cover in and behind the buildings, their weapons pointed to where insurgents might be.

The troops are still trying to get their bearings as a simulated rocket-propelled grenade comes flying from a second-story window of a building at the end of the bridge.

It hits a power line. The explosion injures, maybe kills, a couple of Marines.

Commands are called out as fast and frantic as possible. They can barely be heard over the constant shots of gunfire.

The comrades in the buildings want to move forward, be part of the action. They scream at their commanders: Let's get in there.

They're told to stay behind, to see if those on the bridge can control the situation.

Gunfire is exchanged nonstop for several minutes. It's loud and constant, and the sounds resonate through the buildings.

Then it slows.

Finally one of the Marines throws a smoke bomb.

It's yellow. Sniper down. All clear.

The buildings themselves combine to resemble Iraqi towns. But the role players bring these cities to life.

A mix of Marines and hired community members, some are Iraqi natives who now live in the area. About 100 of the nearly 500 role players won't speak English during the 72-hour exercise.

Most of the role players don't "move in" until the final training. But others work with the Marines throughout their time in the town.

Some of the training hinges on the nuts and bolts of daily life, including the street market.

Base officials ask reporters not to print role players' names or show their faces in photographs for fear insurgents could find them on the Internet and connect them to remaining family members in Iraq.

But one woman, a native of Basra, Iraq, who has lived in the United States for 20 years, told Desert Sun journalists she doesn't take sides on the war. She participates at Twentynine Palms because she feels that if troops are going over, she wants them to be as well trained as possible.

"They're 18, 19, they don't know nothing," the woman said before interacting with Marines on patrol. "I feel this is my country now. I figure like I'm doing something great."

On a recent patrol of Wadi al Sahara, a squad from the 2/5 approached the rear of a burnt-out vehicle.

A few trek ahead, walking behind the large two-story building to inspect the car.

From behind, a blast from a pile of rocks and debris catches a few of the Marines. One is down, marked as injured because he stood too close and didn't spot the hidden bomb before it exploded.

The rest of the Marines duck into the buildings for cover, screaming commands and profanities at each other as they try to assess the danger.

Suddenly a role player appears from the shadows of one of the taller buildings. They don't know if she's friendly.

"We have a woman," a frantic yell comes from one of the Marines inside as the woman starts climbing the stairs.

"Where's my security?" another screams back.

It's chaotic and confusing as commands are yelled from inside and Marines in other buildings try to judge the situation: Don't stand in the windows. What's the status? Protect yourself from snipers. What's going on?

It takes only minutes, though it feels much longer. Finally, the building is deemed all clear.

Awareness of the surroundings. Communicating with each other. Securing a building.

Over and over, in various forms, the basics of this urban warfare training of Mojave Viper are engrained into the troops, developed from war training the troops have used over the years.

Other Marine bases have towns or Military Operations in Urban Terrain (MOUT) facilities. But the towns at Twentynine Palms are designed with the war in Iraq in mind.

And even the towns here change. Officials have added more buildings to Khalidiyah and, recently, extended power lines to most of Wadi al Sahara. (Until then, the Marines and role players were acting in a post-earthquake, no-power scenario.)

They also adjust their techniques. Within 48 hours of any incident in Iraq, Marine officials examine what happened and try to develop new strategies to react to or prevent it from happening again.

As instructor Cpl. Joseph Savage Gomez put it: "The enemy is as creative as ever."

The Marines now at Mojave Viper will find out soon enough. They deploy in less than a month, some for their second, third, even fourth tour in Iraq.

Facts about the Mojave Viper training base

The Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms is the largest Marine Corps base in the world.


Staff reports
The Desert Sun
March 4, 2007

It occupies 932 square miles, making it roughly three-quarters the size of Rhode Island (1,214 square miles) or 2 times the surface area of the Salton Sea (376 square miles).

The larger Iraqi town is called Wadi al Sahara, or "village in the desert."

It cost about $23 million to get the main part of Mojave Viper - Wadi al Sahara - up and running by Sept. 30, 2005.

History of the base

The military's ties to the desert area now occupied by the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms go back to World War II, when the U.S. Army and Navy used the area for aviation training.

But the area lay undeveloped until the Marines took it over in 1952 and began building the base. It was officially commissioned in 1957.

In February 1979, the base was redesignated the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center.

Through the years, commanding units at the base have changed. But in October 2000, the base came under the Marine Corps Training and Education Command, based in Quantico, Va., which resulted in the Marine Air Ground Task Force Training Command.

The base is home to more than 11,000 Marines and sailors. According to base officials, military and civilian salaries topped $400 million in 2006.

Training has Hollywood ties

The simulated improvised explosive devices, grenades and other explosions that make the Mojave Viper training real are thanks to Strategic Operations Inc.
The Air Ground Combat Center has contracted with the San Diego-based company since June. The company also has provided explosive special effects for movies and television series.

On-site technicians Edward Ros and Scott Harrison wouldn't divulge how they make the explosives so realistic because of trade secrets. They are the same techniques used in Hollywood, except that in the Iraqi towns, technicians have to be more flexible as Marines aren't following a script like actors and stunt men.

"Everything is choreographed and rehearsed" in Hollywood, Ros said. "Out here, it's shooting from the hip."

If Marines are too close to where the explosive is supposed to go off, the Strategic Operations contractors won't pull the trigger.

They also have separate controllers, one to shoot off a missile and another to make the explosion. This way, if a Marine gets in the way after launch, the explosive can still be aborted.

"We won't do it if it's unsafe," Ros said.

About the players

Between 400 and 500 role players will move into the Iraqi towns during the final 72-hour exercise.

Most are contracted community members, many of whom are former Iraqi citizens. Some are Marines who are assigned to this duty.

About 100 of them will not speak English, so Marines can practice their Arabic catch phrases and learn how to deploy the limited number of translators each battalion has.

They don traditional dress and because almost all the Marines are sent to al Anbar - 4,000 are being sent as part of President Bush's new plan in Iraq - they are predominately Sunni Arabs.

These role players "live in town" during the final exercise. They'll go to the market, gather for events such as funerals, and go about daily life. Part of the Marines' training is learning to respond and react.

Some of the role players are friendly. Others are not. And just like in Iraq, it is up to the Marines to figure out what side everyone is on.

Here are some of the roles the players have:

Town mayors: Both Khalidiyah and Wadi al Sahara have their own town mayors, complete with an office in the town square.

Iraqi police: Since part of the troops' duty in Iraq is training police, the towns have their own police force. In Wadi al Sahara, the three-story police headquarters is in the center of town and is surrounded by barbed wire for extra security. Part of the training is for Marines to develop a pit crew that stays there and trains the local police.

Merchants: More than a dozen merchants operate the booths at the local soukh, or street market, selling everything from children's bikes to audio equipment. Marines learn how to deal with the crowds and how to work with the tank as it patrols the street.

Did you know?

The Marines are constantly updating their training.
Within 48 hours of any incident in Iraq - from an attack from an improvised explosive devices (IED) to contact with the enemy - officials examine what happened and work with trainers to see what reactive and proactive techniques might be incorporated into Mojave Viper training.

Twentynine Palms completed 19 Mojave Viper rotations from Sept. 30, 2005, to October 2006, the first full year it operated.

Base officials say that translates into about 350 working days for the training crew.

Stages of training

The first two weeks of Mojave Viper involves combined-arms training, including live-fire exercises.
The Marines spend the last 12 days in the towns, Khalidiyah and Wadi al Sahara.

The first part of the in-town training includes rotations through the following techniques:

Tank and mechanized vehicle infantry integration: These training exercises allow the Marines to learn how to communicate with and work with tanks and large vehicles during patrols and in urban settings.

Vehicle checkpoints: Marines are trained to set up checkpoints and on what to look for in vehicles to make sure the drivers are not hiding improvised explosive devices (IED) to stop them from transporting wires or ingredients for a bomb.

Urban assault: During these drills, Marines have a known enemy and are trying to capture them.

Cordon and search: These exercises are similar to the urban assault, except the Marines are looking for insurgents but they don't know the enemy's position.
Training culminates in a 72-hour exercise that includes patrols and interaction with friendly natives and insurgents. Hundreds of role players, many of whom speak only Arabic, are brought in to live in the towns. Paintball-like bullets are used instead of live fire during these exercises.

Three-block war

Marines who go through Twentynine Palms' Mojave Viper are trained on the idea of having a "three-block war."
The troops are expected to react to anything, even in an area as small as three city blocks:

Humanitarian work: In the first block of the concept, patrols would be friendly. They might be aiding the locals, such as passing out water or food.

Possible trouble: In the second block, Marines are taught to look for potential contact with the enemy and secure the area.

Full contact: In the third block, Marines are taught how to respond to enemy fire in a urban area.
"We do it as hard as we can and make it as real as we can," Twentynine Palms base spokesman Gunnery Sgt. Chris Cox said.

Location on the base

Visitors have only to travel five to seven miles from the main part of the Air Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms to get to the "towns" of Khalidiyah and Wadi al Sahara.
That's a much easier trek than the 7,626-mile as-the-crow-flies trip from Twentynine Palms to Baghdad.

Source: Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms

Blown up in Iraq

Jason Bingham, like many 22-year-olds, isn't sure what he wants to do with his life.


Troy Moon
March, 4, 2007

Maybe the 2003 Catholic High graduate will go to college. Maybe become a hobby shop owner. Or, maybe a pro fisherman.

Right now, he spends his free time like many his age -- playing video games, watching DVDs, playing heavy metal guitar, and hunting down Dark Horse comics at the neighborhood comic book store.

A lot like your own kid, right?

Not even close.

Underneath the "Opie"-esque red hair and a youthful face, he's a tough-guy warrior. He's the real deal, just like his father, Vietnam veteran John Bingham.

Jason Bingham has been to Afghanistan once and Iraq twice. He has killed people. And seen people killed, including one Army soldier who took a sniper bullet to the temple while Bingham was talking to him about an old science-fiction movie.

The infantry fighter is home in Pensacola now, recovering from his own war wounds. He and the four fellow Marines he commanded were hurt about 9 a.m. Jan. 2 when a roadside bomb blew up and flipped their Humvee.

Bingham, a corporal, took shrapnel to his face and suffered a concussion. But his most serious injuries were to his left leg, including a fractured left tibial plateau and a torn knee ligament.

He expects to make a full recovery, although he knows the road will be long.

"I was in Karma, Iraq," he said. "We were doing a weapons sweep, and we had started to come back to base. We were driving down the road, and there was an explosion. When I woke up, the truck was flipped, and I was next to it in the reeds.

"It was just chaos. Pure chaos around me. My glasses had been blown off, so I couldn't really see. But I heard bullets snapping off the truck."

Bingham said he and the others initially were pinned inside the destroyed Humvee. But troops in other trucks pulled them out and laid them down next to the vehicle.

"There was a big firefight," he said. "Me and the four other guys were just laying down. I fired off the rounds I could, but I couldn't see anything because of my glasses."

Bingham's fellow Marines are now fine.

He said he's good, too. Except for his leg. A giant zipper scar, like half a railroad track, runs up the leg.

Bingham knew his leg was in bad shape as soon as he came to on that January morning.

"My leg was flopped over really weird," he said. "It was just a mess."

Still, his concern was not for himself, but for his Marines.

"I couldn't see what had happened to the guys I was in charge of," he said. "But they were all stretched out next to me. When we started waking up, we'd grab hands and wait for (medical help)."

All in the family

Bingham's father sat on a nearby sofa listening to his son's war stories.

The young Marine has so much in common with his father, a licensed mental-health counselor who served as a Navy corpsman during Vietnam.

Both men were adopted -- Jason became part of the Bingham family when he was 16 days old.

And both have similar wounds.

In March 1969, Corpsman Bingham was shot in the left knee by enemy fire.

"I was with the 3rd Marine Division outside of Danang, and we were ambushed," he said. "I was trying to get to a (wounded) Marine and got shot with an AK-47."

He suffered a compound fracture of the left distal femur and shrapnel to the left lower leg and face.

"Mine was right in the knee," the father said. "His is the top of the tibia, but on the same leg. And we both had shrapnel to the face, but his is worse than mine."

John Bingham was sent to Pensacola to recover from his injuries. It was here that he met his future wife, Elaine, who was a Navy nurse -- and his nurse.

Both parents said they are proud of their warrior son. They always knew he could be in danger at any time, so the telephone call from the Marines about Jason's injuries was not a total shock.

"I got a phone call about 5:30 in the morning," Elaine Bingham said. "And I knew right away that something had happened. I told John as soon as I got off the phone, 'Now I know how your mother felt when she got the phone call that day.' "

Injured after 5 months

Jason Bingham, who was with the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines out of Camp Lejeune, N.C., had been in Iraq for five months when he was injured. He spent three days in a German hospital. He was flown back to a Camp Lejeune hospital, where he spent four weeks before coming home to Pensacola to continue his recovery.

He has been undergoing nearly daily rehabilitation at NovaCare Physical Rehabilitation on Pine Forest Road -- working out on stationary bicycles and performing other leg exercises.

"He's the coolest kid ever," said Sara-Kathryn Green, his physical therapist. "It blows my mind that people his age, and some even younger, are over there doing what they do."

Green is pleased with his progress.

"When he first came in, he couldn't move his ankle at all," she said. "Now he can move it a little better. And his knee is doing well. It's just a matter of strengthening it right now. But he's going to be fine. He'll be walking, running and paintballing at some point. He's tough, and he's dedicated to getting back to paintballing. It's one of the main things he is dedicated to getting back to."

John Bingham said the medical care his son is receiving is far beyond what he received more than three decades ago.

"I was in traction for three months in the hospital," the father said. "They had him up and bending his leg the next day after surgery, which helped him immensely."

Your basic metalhead

While Bingham is a decorated Marine with a Purple Heart, he retains a kidlike quality that war has not washed away.

He loves to hunt down comic books at TBS Comics Inc. on North Ninth Avenue, mostly "Alien stuff versus Predator stuff." He loves paintball. He loves playing electric guitar and video games. He loves heavy metal music.

The Marine warrior ethos hasn't changed any of that.

In fact, Bingham said he and fellow Marines even started a heavy metal band, Project Onslaught, during a deployment aboard the USS Ashland in 2004-2005.

And when Bingham and his fellow Marines headed out on patrols, they often did so with hard-edged bands such as Metallica, Judas Priest and DragonForce blaring from speakers through the Iraqi countryside.

"You don't want anything soothing," he said. "That would just put us to sleep."

He brought a bit of paintballing to Iraq as well, or at least a few of the moves he learned while playing paintball in Pensacola.

"I knew some tricks," he said. "In paintball, I used to do a baseball-type slide in the mud. I never played any sports as a kid, but I did know the baseball slide. I had to use it in Iraq twice -- nice baseball slides into sandbags to avoid (being shot). So, paintball helped me."

Forced to grow up

Bingham admits that he was an underachieving student in high school.

War and its horrors forced him to grow up, forced him to mature, forced him to take responsibility -- even though he still enjoys his off-duty diversions.

And, he said, war has forced him to deal with death.

He remembers the first time he saw someone die. It was during a lengthy deployment to Afghanistan in 2003.

"There was an Army soldier with us on joint patrol," he said. "This soldier was in the turret of a Humvee higher than he should have been. He was yelling at me when he got shot. We were talking about the movie 'Aliens,' and he just got shot in the temple above the eye.

"It knocked him down in the turret, and I didn't see him after that. I ran back to my truck and used the door as cover and started shooting. We had been at a vehicle checkpoint, and some guys in the mountains had just started shooting at us."

He spoke matter-of-factly about life, and taking it from others. It's what Marines do, he said.

"When we kill people, it's not like we're killing innocent people," he said.

But how does a young man cope with seeing his own people die?

"It's very real when they die," he said. "But we deal with it. Your job as a Marine is to pack their stuff. That's part of war.

"You cuss a lot, release a lot of anger and fight back in anger. But you fight back professionally at the same time."

Bingham said fallen troops aren't mourned by troops, but celebrated.

"There's lots of joking, telling stories about when the person was alive," he said. "You always bring them up, even when the time might seem weird. We'll just say 'Remember when ...' That helps us cope with it. You fight with them. And when they're gone, you talk about them and remember."

Bingham said he suffers no lingering mental trauma despite what he's seen and done.

"I haven't had any bad dreams from bad combat," he said. "It's good combat that you think about. How good it feels after a firefight when you call for every single person to get accountability and it's all good. If someone does get killed, you talk about it and move on and tell their stories over and over again."

The new Jason

Bingham's friends are impressed with what he's become.

"He's an adult now," said lifelong friend and paintball buddy Chris Mainer, 22, of Pensacola. "Before he joined the military, he was always cutting up and goofing off. But now, he's gone through a lot and is looking at the big picture. And he's accomplished a lot.

"I think he's pretty distinguished, having made it through three deployments at age 22. It's been fun to watch him evolve from being a private to leading his unit. And he's handling (his injuries) well. His mood isn't that bad, considering. He knows he's going to be on his feet eventually."

John Bingham said the war is a bond with his son.

"I know what he's faced and what he's seen," he said. "Having personally experienced combat and the atrocities of war, I knew that at any time, be could be either wounded or killed.

"Every time my wife or I would read in the newspaper that Marines had been killed, especially in the area in which he was stationed, we waited for two or three days to make sure that the Marine Corps attache did not drive up in the driveway to inform us that our son had been among those that had been killed in action."

Now, Jason Bingham contemplates his future. This month, he returns to Camp Lejeune, where he'll be housed at the camp's hallowed Wounded Warrior Barracks, designed specifically for wounded Iraq War veterans.

In late May, he is scheduled to leave the Marine Corps, though his departure date could be pushed back a bit if he isn't completely healed.


"College is a priority," he said. "Then, well, I've got a big bucket of dreams and I just throw ideas into it. I'd like to be anything from a hobby shop owner to a pro fisherman. That's all in the bucket."

But he is in no hurry to decide now. After all, he's still so young.

Brothers see end of mission coming, Selfridge battalion can decamp Iraq

For the families of about 700 Michigan Marines, there's finally a little daylight peeking into a long, dark tunnel of anxiety as their sons, brothers, boyfriends and husbands near the end of their seven-month deployment to Iraq.


March 4, 2007

So the gathering Saturday of about 80 people with ties to the Selfridge Air National Guard-based headquarters company of the 1st Battalion of the 24th Marines -- a group chronicled by the Free Press' Band of Brothers series -- might have been slightly more festive because they were getting the news they'd longed to hear.


"Sometime in April, they'll be back," said Maj. Shannon Wiley, who brought the families up to date on battalion news after lunch at Zuccaro Banquets and Catering in Chesterfield Township, which donated its facility for the event.

"But for now, they've still got the same dangers and risks every day."

Plans already are under way to bring the Marines' loved ones together again March 31 at Selfridge for a reunion seminar. Experts will explain transitional health care, mental health issues, civilian workplace issues, veterans benefits and other issues affecting the Marines and their families.

There was even talk of a homecoming party, funded in part by the sale of 1/24 T-shirts with the battalion's distinctive Terror from the North logo on the front. The unit's Web site, http://www.mfr.usmc.mil/4thmardiv/24thMar/1stBn/, should be updated sometime this week with more information.

When Wiley opened the floor for questions, World War II veteran John Walentowski got to the real purpose of the gathering.

"I just want to thank all our young people for what they're doing for us," Walentowski said, his voice breaking.

His grandson, Lance Cpl. Chad Finkenbiner, is a member of 1/24. "I just want to let them know that I'll be praying for them all."

Brothers see end of mission coming, Selfridge battalion can decamp Iraq

For the families of about 700 Michigan Marines, there's finally a little daylight peeking into a long, dark tunnel of anxiety as their sons, brothers, boyfriends and husbands near the end of their seven-month deployment to Iraq.


March 4, 2007

So the gathering Saturday of about 80 people with ties to the Selfridge Air National Guard-based headquarters company of the 1st Battalion of the 24th Marines -- a group chronicled by the Free Press' Band of Brothers series -- might have been slightly more festive because they were getting the news they'd longed to hear.

"Sometime in April, they'll be back," said Maj. Shannon Wiley, who brought the families up to date on battalion news after lunch at Zuccaro Banquets and Catering in Chesterfield Township, which donated its facility for the event.

"But for now, they've still got the same dangers and risks every day."

Plans already are under way to bring the Marines' loved ones together again March 31 at Selfridge for a reunion seminar. Experts will explain transitional health care, mental health issues, civilian workplace issues, veterans benefits and other issues affecting the Marines and their families.

There was even talk of a homecoming party, funded in part by the sale of 1/24 T-shirts with the battalion's distinctive Terror from the North logo on the front. The unit's Web site, http://www.mfr.usmc.mil/4thmardiv/24thMar/1stBn/, should be updated sometime this week with more information.

When Wiley opened the floor for questions, World War II veteran John Walentowski got to the real purpose of the gathering.

"I just want to thank all our young people for what they're doing for us," Walentowski said, his voice breaking.

His grandson, Lance Cpl. Chad Finkenbiner, is a member of 1/24. "I just want to let them know that I'll be praying for them all."

March 2, 2007

Reserve troops in West Palm tapped for sixth time in four years

West Palm Beach · For the sixth time in less than four years, yet another small band of young U.S. Marines left a reserve center across the street from Palm Beach International Airport early Thursday to start a long journey to the war in Iraq. All stood erect and proud, and most were dry-eyed.


By Mike Clary
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Posted March 2 2007

But they left a torrent of tears in their wake.

"We love you, Carter," cried one of many in a group of family and friends who got up well before dawn to say farewell to Carter Allen, 22, a Palm Beach Gardens resident motivated to enlist after the 9-11 attacks. He is among 27 Marines and two Navy medical corps members with the 4th Air/Naval Gunfire Liaison Company (ANGLICO), a unit that has been tapped six times since the war began in March 2003.

Some of those who left Thursday were making a third trip to the war zone. Allen was making his first.

"He's a little scared. We're all scared," said Allen's mother, Cheryl Baker, 52, a manager with the Palm Beach County school system, as she struggled for composure. "But some things are out of our control. I have faith in God."

Added Allen's sister Sasha, an 18-year-old senior at Palm Beach Gardens High School: "I have a lot of hope in my heart that he comes back."

Public opinion polls indicate support for the war and the Bush administration's prosecution of it have never been lower.

With more than 3,100 American fatalities and tens of thousands wounded, Congress is debating ways to bring the troops home.

The ANGLICO deployment was scheduled last year and is not part of President Bush's controversial plan to send more troops.

For some, going to war in Iraq has never been harder.

"Understandably, there is some anxious apprehension," said Maj. Leslie Payton, 35, who is beginning his second tour in Iraq and will lead the unit to its battle station in dangerous al-Anbar province. "But they have worked hard for the last couple of months to get ready.

"What I tell them is that no matter how many times you have been there, you never know what to expect. The situation is changing so much."

As for the politics at home over the conduct and duration of the war, Payton said, "I think we all understand there is a big separation between what's being talked about and our mission. You have to stay focused on your job. It's easy to get caught up, start thinking, `Why are we here?'" said Payton, of Palm Springs.

While relatives and friends fretted about the safety of their Marines, company 1st Sgt. Steve Rice said all were volunteers, chosen from many more who wanted to go to Iraq. "Everybody is champing at the bit to get over there," said Rice.

The mission of the 200-member Reserve unit is to direct fire, calling in mortar, artillery and air strikes on enemy targets. No ANGLICO Marines have been killed in Iraq, said Rice, but four have been wounded in prior tours of duty.

Among those shipping out was Cpl. Daniel Berman, 24, a field radio operator married just three weeks ago to 20-year-old Jamie-Lee, who stood at his side. On his third trip to the war zone, Berman said he saw that the couple's bills would be paid automatically. "The less she has to worry about, the better," said the graduate of Santaluces High School west of Lantana.

Andrene Harris flew down from her home in New York to say farewell to her brother, Lance Cpl. Kelroy Harris, 23, a diesel mechanic who lives in Coral Springs. "He says he is going to be fine, not to worry about him," she said. "But we will be praying every day. We want our boys to be back home and for this to be over."

Said Kelroy Harris: "I'm just going to focus."

Chris Dorman, 20, who works as a waiter at a restaurant near his home in Coral Springs, gave a last hug and kiss to his girlfriend Vicki Evans, also 20. "Stay safe. Don't do anything stupid," she told him.

"I joined to help with whatever is going on over there," said Dorman, "So it seems like I should go."

Commodities broker and aspiring dancer Bill Simonet, 23, of West Palm Beach left for a second Iraq tour.

"Tears motivate the soul's return," he said of the emotions that ran through the contingent of friends seeing him off. "But I was very focused on the training and absorbed as much as I could. I'm ready."

With more than 30 people on hand to wave goodbye to him, Allen commanded the largest contingent of well-wishers, including his father, Boynton Beach charter boat captain John Allen. Accompanying John Allen were several members of his Masonic Lodge, No. 138.

"I just told him I loved him, be praying for him every minute of every day," said Allen. "Then I kissed him and off he went."

Mike Clary can be reached at [email protected] or at 561-243-6629.

29 Marines from area bound by mission in Iraq

The sky was still dark and the streetlights bright early Thursday when 29 young men arrived at the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Center on Belvedere Road to go to war.


By Ron Hayes
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 02, 2007

Some, like Carter Allen, 22, of West Palm Beach, were going for the first time.

Some, like Bill Simonet, 23, of West Palm Beach, were going for the second time.

And some, like Matt Brewster, 30, of Vero Beach, were going for the third time.

The Marines' deployment is the sixth tour in Iraq for members of the 4th Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company - known as ANGLICO - headquartered in suburban West Palm Beach. They are expected to remain about six months, directing air support for U.S. fighter jets in Sunni-dominated Anbar province, one of the more dangerous areas for U.S. troops.

"This isn't part of the president's planned surge," said 1st Sgt. Steve Rice, the company's senior enlisted adviser. "This deployment had already been scheduled."

The departure was set for 6:45 a.m. By 5:30, family and friends had begun to gather at ANGLICO headquarters across from Palm Beach International Airport. Some sat quietly waiting, and others chatted with strangers. Some carried cameras and gifts, and others carried babies.

John Allen, a dive boat captain from Boynton Beach, was surrounded by fellow members of Masonic Lodge 138 as he waited for his son, Carter, to arrive - and depart.

"This is like waiting for a baby to be born," Allen said, smiling stoically and eyeing the door. "I'm not happy about him going. I'd trade places in a heartbeat, but he has a job to do, and when he enlisted we all knew he wasn't signing up to work at Sears. He has a cause, and hopefully he'll be home. I'm very proud."

Carter Allen joined the Marines in 2004 after graduating from the Dreyfoos School of the Arts.

"He changed a lot after Sept. 11," his father said. "It's kind of ironic because his grandfather enlisted after Pearl Harbor."

Allen glanced nervously at his watch. He tried his son's cellphone and got no answer.

"He told me he was leaving right then," he said. "Man, he used to always be late on diving trips, too."

The sky was starting to pale when the Marines began lumbering in, lugging backpacks and duffel bags, some with family, some alone. They were dressed in civilian clothes: bluejeans and running shoes, work boots and T-shirts.

"Look for the ones with short hair," Sgt. Rice said.

Lance Cpl. Bill Simonet has short hair.

In April 2004, Simonet left this same parking lot for his first tour of Iraq. He was 20 then and full of smiles and self-confidence. He had introduced himself as Billy.

"I'm not worried, I'm looking forward to it," he said then. "I'm young and wild, I'm adventurous. And it's free!"

Now he's Bill and 23, and he's heading back. His smile is still wide and self-confident, but he has clearly become a man. His speech is less ebullient but more assured.

"I'm a little more prepared now," he said, "and I've learned everything isn't as it seems. I went over there expecting everybody was wanting to shoot and kill me, but it's quite the opposite, actually. The people are very friendly. They actually want us there."

Nearby, Capt. Matt Brewster stood with his mother and stepfather. A graduate of the University of Florida with degrees in building construction and finance, he has completed one tour in Afghanistan and another in Iraq. He's returning to Iraq at a time when public opinion polls find strong support for the troops but dwindling faith in their mission.

"We're fighting a counterinsurgency, and a counterinsurgency is a lot of very small battles," Brewster said. "So it's hard for the press to say we captured this guy and we captured that guy. But we'll never give up as long as you guys don't give up on us. This war is very winnable, and we just need the public to keep supporting us."

Carter Allen arrived in time for the formation. The eastern sky was pink as the men lined up in the driveway behind the building. Backs straight, legs spread, arms clasped behind their backs, they made a motley band of brothers in their civilian clothes. One Marine wore a T-shirt that simply said, "Bong." Another's said, "Stop Clubbing Baby Seals."

"Make yourselves proud," Sgt. Maj. Joe Capua told them. "And remember that no matter what you're doing over there, you're making history."

The Marines broke formation, and the mothers, wives and girlfriends broke down. Some let their tears flow freely; others tried to snuffle them back. The Marines hugged their friends and hugged one another. Gifts were exchanged, and promises.

"Anybody sticks their head up," a woman shouted, "kill 'em! Kill 'em!"

No one paid her much attention.

"I was getting tired of college and I needed a change," Carter Allen said. "This is the best decision I ever made. I'm feeling good ... excited ... anxious. I'm ready to get out there and do my job."

They made their way to the back parking lot, where vans would take them across Belvedere Road to the airport for an 8:20 a.m. commercial flight to Camp Lejeune, N.C. By Tuesday, Rice said, they should be in Iraq.

"See you soon," John Allen told his son. "Trust in God and your training and you'll be all right. I love you."

"I love you too, man," his son said.

And then Carter Allen climbed into a navy blue Chevy van with U.S. government license plates.

As the van pulled out of the gate and headed toward Belvedere Road, it passed a gray marble monument.

We Shall Never Forget Those Who Gave All For The Cause Of Freedom.

Robert B. Jenkins, Al Anbar, Iraq, 2 May 2004.

Scott R. McHugh, Al Anbar, Iraq, 2 May 2004.

March 1, 2007

Train like you fight

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. - Only the crunching of dry grass and the snapping of rifles disturb the air over this Marine training field.


March 1, 2007
Story by MATT KIEFER Staff Writer

For extra photos please see:

Recruit Ricardo Ruiz lies prone to the ground, silently peering down the sight of the M-16 A2 service rifle clutched to his shoulder. He takes a breath and, exhaling, slowly squeezes his finger over the trigger until he hears the click of the hammer striking the empty chamber.

He repeats the process with a quiet solemnity not often found on a military base, where Marines bark cadence calls in formation, battle with pugil sticks and run bayonets through dummies, chanting "Kill, kill, kill 'em all!"

Rifle training, while a more placid and focused activity, is nonetheless one of the most important exercises a Marine undertakes during boot camp. Regardless of occupational specialty, all Marines -- the cooks, the mechanics, the infantrymen -- are riflemen on call in the combat zone.

Marine Corps boot camp in sunny San Diego is a combination of intense physical challenges and skill training, the purpose of which is to prepare troops for the high-pressure situations they will face in the battlefield. "Train like you fight," as the saying goes.

This is where recruits as young as 17 are trained for war.

'Because it's war'
Suburban Chicago residents enlist in the Marine Corps for a wide range of reasons. For the most part, they are motivated by a sense of patriotism, intensified by the ongoing war in Iraq. Some recruits gravitate to the Marines because they lacked a general sense of direction in their lives. Many say it was a complex mix of both those reasons that inspired their decisions to enlist.

Ruiz, a 20-year-old from Palatine, has never fired a weapon in his life. Prior to arriving at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego on Jan. 3, he had been working as a sales associate at Office Max and attending classes at Harper College. He graduated from Palatine High School in 2005.

"I wanted to do something with my life," he explains.

His brother had joined the Marine Corps before him, so Ruiz decided one day to walk into a Mount Prospect recruiters office and enlist.

Joel Findlay, 20, of Barrington, knew he wanted to join the military since he was a student at Barrington High School.

"I enlisted because it's war," he said between rifle exercises.

Findlay, Ruiz and every other recruit must spend a week on the "snapping circles" at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in southern California, where platoons sit in semi-circles as they familiarize themselves with the M-16 A2.

A few miles down the road, recruits are working in teams as they climb wooden obstacles, rescue dummy casualties and practice tactical procedures as part of The Crucible, a grueling 54-hour exercise during which time they march at least 40 miles, rest only eight hours and eat less than three meals.

Rifle training and The Crucible are among a series of requirements recruits must fulfill during the 13-week program that produces basically trained Marines.

Saving lives
Eric Lyons had a budding career in education before he decided to enlist at the age of 30. Lyons, of Arlington Heights, was a special education assistant at Buffalo Grove High School for three years, also serving as an assistant coach on the school's cross-country and tennis teams as well as the district swim team. He had graduated from Purdue University with a degree in physical education and health.

"Still, there was just something missing, and that was this," Lyons says. "It's something that I've always wanted to do."

Lyons is training in crash, fire and rescue. He hopes to use his physical education background to learn lifesaving skills and someday become an emergency medical technician.

Reasons for enlisting aren't always clear, at least to friends and family members. Algonquin resident Karen Brodsky says her 18-year-old son, Robert, announced his enlistment after he had already made up his mind and met with recruiters. She and her husband, Andre, were "the most shocked parents in the world" at the time.

"One day he was walking out the door and he said, 'I'm going to get the physical' and we said, 'What?'" she recalls. "It may have been in the back of his mind but he never verbalized it. It was his own decision. He felt he had to do it."

Sitting in front of the parade deck before his graduation ceremony, Brodsky adds, "We're very proud of him."

'Stuck in a rut'
Igor Makarov, a 27-year-old Skokie resident, found himself "stuck in a rut" before he joined the Marines. In the years after graduating Niles West High School, he got a job as an electrician but never moved out of his parents' house. He spent a lot of his free time playing PlayStation video games.

"I had a good job, enough money to smoke weed, do whatever I wanted," he says. "But I realized, next thing I know I'll be 30, still sitting in my parents' basement."

Becoming a Marine was a transformational process for Makarov, who after infantry school will train in aviation logistics. Basic training, he says, "is 80 percent mental."

"You learn how to say, 'no' to yourself," he says.

Deploying within 18 months
Basic training and infantry school provide most of the combat instruction for Marines before they ship out overseas. According to the Marine Corps' deployment schedules, the majority of today's recruits will be in Iraq within a year to 18 months of their basic training.

After his first month in basic training, 19-year-old Matthew McCormak of Schaumburg has found that the training will pay off in the field.

"It's hard, but you have to keep the mentality that everything you do here is for a reason," says McCormak, who graduated from Conant High School last year. "They definitely get you prepared to be in a combat situation and get stressed out."

By his seventh day of boot camp, Schaumburg resident Kyle Conforti says he is looking forward to fighting overseas. Conforti is 18 and signed up during his senior year at Streamwood High School. He chose the Marine Corps because his uncle had served in it.

"I want to be the best of the best," Conforti said between pugil stick bouts at the recruit depot.

Supposed to be stressful
Eighteen-year-old Jak Grueneberg, who enlisted during his junior year at Elk Grove High School, says he was physically prepared heading into basic training but the stress proved to be more challenging than he expected. Drill instructors are in his face from the moment the Elk Grove Village resident steps off the bus until the end of his 13-week training when he receives his eagle, globe and anchor and is called a Marine for the first time.

"Boot camp teaches you how to handle stress and how to deal with that stress," says Grueneberg, who was bestowed the honorary title of platoon guide during training camp. He hopes to train in force reconnaissance and become a career Marine.

Findlay believes the stress is a vital part of the training that will ultimately prepare him for live combat.

"I love it here," he says. "I was told coming in here that it would be difficult. It has been difficult. I believe that is what this is for -- breaking you down physically to the point where you rebuild yourself and you can deal with anything that gets in the way."

"If it wasn't stressful, it wouldn't be right. It's supposed to be stressful."

'Time to make a change'
Justin Blancas started boot camp two months after his son was born. A 19-year-old Prospect High School graduate, Blancas needed a job and decided that it was "time to make a change" in his life. He's helping support his family back home in Mount Prospect with the $15,600 salary he earns the first year of his enlistment.

Blancas didn't join only for the job, though. He says he wants to fight overseas.

"I would like to go to Iraq," he said. "That way I can serve my country and make my son proud. My family thinks I'm nuts but I want to do it to give back to this country that has given my family so much."

Regardless of the reason for enlisting, Lyons says every recruit thinks about how they will handle combat situations.

"It's definitely in the back of your mind," he says.

Ruiz is keenly aware of the expectations. Before ever firing his first live round, he knew he wanted to be in infantry. Back home, he thought about what it would be like to go through basic training and fight in Iraq.

"I should be well-enough trained to handle all the pressure," he says. "This is what I expected. Nothing has changed."

Maple Lake marine killed in Iraq

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - A 25-year-old Marine from Maple Lake was killed in Al Anbar province, Iraq, when a bomb exploded during combat operations, the Department of Defense and his family said Thursday.



Sgt. Chad M. Allen was on his second deployment in Iraq and was scheduled to leave the Marines on May 1, his father said.

Allen, who died Wednesday, joined the Marine Corps in 2003 and was trained as a light armored vehicle crewman before joining the LAR Battalion. His father, Steve Allen, of Danbury, Wis., described his son as a "very well loved young man."

Allen joined the Marines the day after the Sept. 11 attacks, his mother, Deborah Allen, also of Danbury, said Thursday. "He was going to save his family from harm."

Allen was assigned to the 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Lejeune, N.C.

His parents said he volunteered for a second tour of duty in Iraq to take the place of an injured fellow Marine. Steve Allen said his son had told him Sunday that he had been promoted to sergeant.

Chad Allen, the second oldest of four children, grew up in Maple Lake and graduated from high school there. He worked for a car wash and a landscape company before joining the Marines.

He loved to fish and ride his motorcycle and was homecoming king in high school, his mother said. "He was awesome, he was the coolest kid," she said. "He was very happy, very outgoing, never could sit still for a minute."

With Allen's death, the number of people with strong Minnesota ties who have died in connection with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan reached 53. On Monday, the 52nd, former Coon Rapids resident Army Sgt. William (B.J.) Beardsley, 25, was killed by a roadside bomb in Diwaniyah, about 100 miles south of Baghdad.