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April 29, 2007

Marines establish CMOC in Rawah

COMBAT OUTPOST RAWAH, Iraq - (Apr. 29, 2007) -- Members of 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 2, recently went to the city of Rawah to set up a civil military operations center.


Apr. 29, 2007; Submitted on: 04/29/2007 01:27:26 PM ; Story ID#: 2007429132726
By Lance Cpl. Ryan C. Heiser, 2nd Marine Division

The CMOC is a place where Iraqi civilians come to report damaged property and receive compensation from the military. It is also the command center for civil works projects throughout the city, and the place where Iraqi contractors can come to discuss and plan the projects with their military counterparts.

“The CMOC helps give the Iraqi people a place where they can get help to rebuild the damaged and deteriorated civil infrastructure of the local area,” said Staff Sgt. Jason E. Sneed, the civil affairs team chief with the battalion, “stuff like city beautification, painting curbs, picking trash off the streets, and so on.”

Sneed, a native of Whitney, Texas, said projects like these are two-fold.

“If a curb is freshly painted, it’s obvious if it has been tampered with, and if the streets are clean, then it’s harder to hide an IED (improvised explosive device),” he explained.

The team chief also explained that by allowing Iraqi contractors to work with the city’s leaders on civil projects, it helps the leaders build rapport and stabilizes their area of influence.

“Projects help legitimize these leaders and get them working toward the end result of provincial Iraqi control, Iraqis leading Iraqis,” he said.

City projects aren’t the only mission of the CMOC, it also contains a damage-control section, led by the battalion’s judge advocate, and the disburser.

“I sit with the judge, and we listen to small claims to decide whether they are legitimate,” said Cpl. Steve E. Schuldt, the disbursing agent for the battalion. “The judge will decide on an appropriate amount to reimburse the claim, and I do the transaction in Iraqi dinar.”

The exchange rate as of April 18 was 1,272 dinar to the American dollar.

“If we (Marines) make a mistake, we break something, or we injure an innocent person, we know there is no way of replacing that loss,” said Schuldt, a native of New Berlin, Wis., “but this is our way of showing them the American public is sorry for their loss, and wants to help.”

The Marines who are a part of the CMOC hope the Iraqi people will see they are trying to help, and make a difference. They say so far they have noticed the area get a little calmer and believe it is due in part to the battalion’s weekly trips to the city.

“We are making sure the populace is happier when we leave, then they were when we got here,” Sneed said. That way the Delta Company Marines on the ground in the local area get to deal with a kinder, gentler people.”

Warpigs teach IA to 'fish'

COMBAT OUTPOST RAWAH, Iraq - (Apr. 29, 2007) -- Company C, 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 2, recently finished up their portion of the zone sweep through the western Euphrates River valley.


Apr. 29, 2007; Submitted on: 04/29/2007 01:49:42 PM ; Story ID#: 2007429134942
By Lance Cpl. Ryan C. Heiser, 2nd Marine Division

The company, who affectionately refer to themselves as Warpigs, were in charge of conducting a large portion of the battalion’s role in operation “Valiant Guardian.”

“We conducted zone reconnaissance to find potential rat lines (supply routes) the insurgents use to push their way into the interior of the country,” said Capt. Mike G. Blackford, the Warpigs’ commanding officer.

The company worked hand-in-hand with several attachments to accomplish their part of the regiment’s overall mission of impeding insurgent movement and disrupting activity throughout the 30,000 square mile area, which is roughly the size of South Carolina.

“After we conduct the sweeps, if we find something, be it an IED (improvised explosive device), or cache, or whatever, we call in explosive ordinance disposal to safely remove it,” said Pfc. Henry A. Burke, a vehicle commander with the battalion’s quick reaction force.

The EOD experts say they have been pretty successful so far in this operation, and have disposed of ordinance ranging from 100mm to 155mm artillery rounds, as well as 80mm mortar rounds, and numerous small arm weapons and ammunition.

“It is really important that we take this stuff off the streets, so the insurgents can’t use it against our brothers later,” said Burke, a native of San Antonio.
The Warpigs have also been working with the Iraqi Army to give the soldiers more hands-on experience and expand their operational training.

“We conducted combined operations with the IA to ensure our area was clear, and they really exceeded expectations,” said Blackford, a Nashville native. “We have worked with them, and watched them, and while they aren’t perfect yet and still need practice, they are doing pretty good.”

The Marines say they are glad to see the Iraqi Army beside them on operations, lending their hand to rebuild their country.

One Marine said it reminded him of the proverb “Give a man a fish, he eats for a day, but teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime.”

“It has to be good for the civilians to see their own army taking care of things out here,” Burke said. “We are out here with them, but we aren’t doing the work for them. We are just here to make sure they are doing it right.”

Diablo cultivates relationship with Iraqi citizens

COMBAT OUTPOST RAWAH, Iraq - (Apr. 29, 2007) -- First Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 2, has made its home on a small outpost in the western Euphrates River valley, 150 miles northwest of Baghdad, and 50 miles east of the Syrian border


Apr. 29, 2007; Submitted on: 04/29/2007 12:43:50 PM ; Story ID#: 2007429124350
By Lance Cpl. Ryan C. Heiser, 2nd Marine Division

The city of Rawah, the COP’s namesake, acts as a thoroughfare for all traffic to and from the outpost. The city’s, and the outpost’s, defense and safety are the responsibility of Company D, commonly referred to as Diablo, which lives in the center of town.

Diablo uses patrols and evaluations, commonly called surveys, to keep up with the ever-changing city and it’s more than 20,000 citizens.

“A lot of times while we are going through a city we will do a census, or survey, to give ourselves a better handle on who is in our AO (area of operation), and what they are doing,” said Cpl. Zack R. Shook, a patrol leader with Diablo.

The Marines say they have discovered that many times trouble in the city is not caused by locals, but by groups of outsiders.

“We stay on the lookout for migrant workers from other cities who aren’t documented, and we check IDs against a BOLO (be on the lookout) list,” said Shook, a native of San Marcos, Calif.

“If someone doesn’t have an ID, or we suspect its fake, we detain them, so we can find out who they are and make sure they are here for a legitimate reason,” said Lance Cpl. Andrew M. Vanbuskirk, a fire direction control chief with the company.

Diablo’s Marines also said the surveys give them a good chance to constantly update their maps and grids.

“Construction is pretty much constant in the city. We graph new sites and new buildings, so we have a better grasp on what our city looks like at all times,” said Vanbuskirk, a native of Hayward, Calif. “It also gives us a chance to make sure they aren’t using the construction sites for other purposes.”

The surveys allow the Marines to interact and communicate with the local citizens, and strengthen the bonds between the two groups.

“Because we are out so much talking with them, they feel comfortable telling us when something is wrong, or when they think we are in danger,” Shook said.

So far, Diablo has discovered at least one improvised explosive device, and detained numerous suspected insurgents based off the information they receive from the Iraqi citizens.

“Our predecessors (2nd LAR) did a good job with the locals, which set us up for success,” Vanbuskirk said. “We have taken that lead and ran with it, and we are doing a great job keeping the insurgents on their toes and defending the people of this city.”

Iraqis look to Diablo for safety

COMBAT OUTPOST RAWAH, Iraq - (Apr. 29, 2007) -- Combat Outpost Rawah, home of 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 2, sits in a shallow valley overlooking the city of Rawah, Iraq, in the western Euphrates River valley.


Apr. 29, 2007; Submitted on: 04/29/2007 11:13:45 AM ; Story ID#: 2007429111345
By Lance Cpl. Ryan C. Heiser, 2nd Marine Division

Rawah’s defense and safety are left in the capable hands of Company D, more commonly known as Diablo, which lives on the edge of town. The company patrols the area several times a day, both mounted on vehicles and dismounted on foot.

“We patrol so much because our constant presence makes it harder to set IEDs (improvised explosive devices), and conduct other illegal or harmful activities,” said Sgt. Samual S. Pennock, a squad leader and platoon chief scout with the company. “We make sure these guys (insurgents) are always looking over their shoulder because they never know when we are going to show up.”

Many of the Diablo Marines agree with Pennock, and understand the importance of their mission.

“Patrols are important because they allow us to show our presence in the town. Insurgents can’t do anything here without looking over their shoulders,” said Lance Cpl. Steven R. Greene, a light armored vehicle driver with the company.

Diablo uses many types of patrols to canvas the area, and manages to average several patrols each day. The Marines never take the same route, and quite often they end up hiking up or down steep cliffs, and climbing over fences and walls to keep a close watch over every inch of their territory.

“The enemy never knows where we are coming from,” said 1st Lt. Joseph M. Kistler, the company’s executive officer. “The fact we patrol around the clock, whether mounted or dismounted, gives us excellent freedom of movement. It lets us conduct any operation at any time.”

The Marines said the patrols also give them a chance to see the locals and strengthens their relationship with the civilians in the city.

“Our constant presence gives the locals a sense of security,” said Kistler, a native of Savannah, Ga.

“I think they see us as a friendly force,” said Greene, a native of Newark, Ohio. “We hand out candy, shake hands and give high-five’s, and people are always coming out to wave at us. The proof is how much help they give us; a lot of our Intel comes from locals who just want to help.”

Diablo shares their headquarters with the local Iraqi Police force. The shared living space gives each group a new understanding of the others’ way of life.

“It opens the Marines’ eyes and lets them see into another organization. They get an appreciation for the level of training and the quality of equipment they have, plus it builds a mutual trust,” Kistler said.

The two forces work hand-in-hand in protecting the city.
“We do a lot of combined patrols,” said Pennock, a native of Osawatomie, Kan. “They step up and do the same stuff we do, which gives us a chance to reinforce what they have learned.”

Diablo’s Marines said working alongside the Iraqis and conducting security operations together is all part of the larger goal of turning everything over to Iraqi Security Forces.

“They are getting better; they really want to be like Marines. They emulate our good attributes and have improved since we have gotten here,” Kistler said. “They aren’t quite ready yet, we need to train more, but it is a possibility that is on the horizon.

Businesses receive boost Strike group tempers slow sales month

Even if only just for a few days, the addition of 6,000 people on island was enough to give many businesses on island something big to smile about.


By Lacee A.C. Martinez
Pacific Daily News

The Bonhomme Richard Expeditionary Strike Group arrived Saturday for a port visit, bringing to the island six ships with 6,000 military personnel aboard.

The different shopping centers on island were flooded with heavy foot traffic yesterday, as were the streets of Tumon, with visiting military service members. So far the visit has been a relief for many businesses. Each sailor is estimated to spend about $300 a day while on liberty.

With six ships in, Lone Star Steakhouse in Tamuning was anticipating another full house last night, said manager A.J. Zapatos.
"I think they did help our sales," Zapatos said.

At least a quarter of the restaurant was filled with military personnel.

Because of its national branding, the restaurant receives a lot of military customers, especially when military ships are visiting, Zapatos said.

"That definitely means good news for business overall," he said. "We were able to stay busy throughout the evening until the end of the night."

Pod Gear, just a small kiosk in the Micronesia Mall, had its counters and display cases surrounded by customers yesterday.

"I've been told that April is just a slow month for businesses, and it started out really slow for us," Pod Gear sales associate Ray Santos said. "Sales all of a sudden in the last two days just went up."

A majority of his customers over the weekend were military personnel looking for new accessories for their digital media players, he said.

The employees at Haven Music, also at the Micronesia Mall, were busy yesterday assisting a full store of customers.

Sales associate Peter Untalan said the past two weeks will help drive up what otherwise has been a very slow month in sales.

"I wasn't here on Saturday to get the brunt of it but it was pretty busy," Untalan said.

Untalan said he was happy to be busy yesterday on account of the military traffic.

"It's been really good for us here," he said. "It helps keep our doors open, helps to pay our bills and our employees."

Visiting sailor Gabriel Velazquez, originally from California, said he was more than willing to spend a few dollars on his short visit to Guam. Haven Music was the first store he hit after stepping off a chartered bus. He also spent part of the day buying T-shirts for fellow shipmates who were on duty and couldn't leave the ship.

"I like Guam a lot," Velazquez said. "It's different."

At the Guam Premier Outlets in Tamuning, sailor and Hawaii resident Clinton Washington was on a mission to spend while on Guam.

"I'm just here to just kick back and relax but I'm going to buy myself some slacks and my wife a Mother's Day gift first," he said.

April 28, 2007

Officials: 13th MEU to head to Iraq

By Jeff Schogol, Stars and Stripes
Mideast edition, Saturday, April 28, 2007

ARLINGTON, Va. — The 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit is expected to arrive in Iraq this summer, officials said.

To continue reading:


Marines cultivate relationship with Iraqi citizens

COMBAT OUTPOST RAWAH, Iraq - (April 28, 2007) -- First Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 2, has made its home on a small outpost in the western Euphrates River valley, 150 miles northwest of Baghdad, and 50 miles east of the Syrian border.


April 28, 2007; Submitted on: 04/29/2007 12:43:50 PM ; Story ID#: 2007429124350
By Lance Cpl. Ryan C. Heiser, 2nd Marine Division

The city of Rawah, the COP’s namesake, acts as a thoroughfare for all traffic to and from the outpost. The city’s, and the outpost’s, defense and safety are the responsibility of Company D, commonly referred to as Diablo, which lives in the center of town.

Diablo uses patrols and evaluations, commonly called surveys, to keep up with the ever-changing city and it’s more than 20,000 citizens.

“A lot of times while we are going through a city we will do a census, or survey, to give ourselves a better handle on who is in our AO (area of operation), and what they are doing,” said Cpl. Zack R. Shook, a patrol leader with Diablo.

The Marines say they have discovered that many times trouble in the city is not caused by locals, but by groups of outsiders.

“We stay on the lookout for migrant workers from other cities who aren’t documented, and we check IDs against a BOLO (be on the lookout) list,” said Shook, a native of San Marcos, Calif.

“If someone doesn’t have an ID, or we suspect its fake, we detain them, so we can find out who they are and make sure they are here for a legitimate reason,” said Lance Cpl. Andrew M. Vanbuskirk, a fire direction control chief with the company.

Diablo’s Marines also said the surveys give them a good chance to constantly update their maps and grids.

“Construction is pretty much constant in the city. We graph new sites and new buildings, so we have a better grasp on what our city looks like at all times,” said Vanbuskirk, a native of Hayward, Calif. “It also gives us a chance to make sure they aren’t using the construction sites for other purposes.”

The surveys allow the Marines to interact and communicate with the local citizens, and strengthen the bonds between the two groups.

“Because we are out so much talking with them, they feel comfortable telling us when something is wrong, or when they think we are in danger,” Shook said.

So far, Diablo has discovered at least one improvised explosive device, and detained numerous suspected insurgents based off the information they receive from the Iraqi citizens.

“Our predecessors (2nd LAR) did a good job with the locals, which set us up for success,” Vanbuskirk said. “We have taken that lead and ran with it, and we are doing a great job keeping the insurgents on their toes and defending the people of this city.”

10 a.m. - Navy strike group to arrive on Guam today for port visit

10 a.m. April 28 - The Bonhomme Richard Expeditionary Strike Group is scheduled to arrive today for a port visit, according to a Navy news release.


Pacific Daily News

About 6,000 sailors and Marines are aboard the ships. The strike group consist of the USS Bonhomme Richard, USS Denver, USS Rushmore, USS Milius, USS Chung-Hoon, and USS Chosin.

This port visit will be the strike group’s first stop since it left San Diego April 10 for a regularly scheduled deployment in support of the Global War on Terror, the release stated.

The service members will tour Guam and participate in community service projects, the release said.

April 25, 2007

Kyle Price Memorial Ride set to roll Saturday

MT. VERNON — Marine Kyle Price, who died serving his country in Iraq in January 2006, was known for helping others, whether through kind acts or as a member of the Boy Scouts.


April 25, 2007

And his legacy of helping others lives on through the Kyle Price Memorial Ride which will be held Saturday.

Price, 19, of Woodlawn, the son of John and Cheryl Hunsell, was killed by small ammunition fire on Jan. 13, 2006, in Ramadi, Iraq, while protecting Marine engineers. He died less than three weeks before he was slated to come home.

This year the memorial ride, now in its second year, will raise funds for The Kyle Price Scholarship Fund, Woodlawn Boy Scout Troop 102, and The Wounded Heroes Fund. Area residents interesting in supporting the causes can purchase T-shirts and other items through the ride’s web site at www.kylepricememorialride.org or at ‘Lil Darlins Gift Shop at Times Square Mall or the Woodlawn Shell gas station.

And, although the event is formally labeled “a ride”, Kyle’s dad John Hunsell said the event is for everyone.

“We want to stress that you do not have to ride a motorcycle to take part in the ride and the fund raiser,” Hunsell said “We want to invite everyone to take part in the day’s events whether you ride your motorcycle or drive a car or just want to come have dinner with us.”

Hunsell said the mission is simple, and that is to remember the sacrifices of the men and women of the Armed Forces of the United States of America. “The ride is in Kyle’s name, but the ride is in memory of all who are serving or have served.”

The all-day event begins 8:30 a.m. with a gathering at the Chapman Sports Complex in Woodlawn, according to Hunsell. The procession will leave there at 9:30 a.m. and will proceed to the Centralia Veterans Memorial at the city’s park where Sonic of Centralia will provide free biscuits and gravy to participants and a brief ceremony will be held.

The group is expected to leave Centralia at 11 a.m. and then head to the Veteran’s Memorial in Salem. There will be a “pit stop” in Flora, and the group will then proceed to the Veteran’s Monuments in Fairfield and Mt. Vernon. The group will leave Mt. Vernon around 5 p.m. and return to Woodlawn where a dinner fund raiser will be held.

Hunsell said he anticipates many riders will stay in the Jefferson County area and head to the Blessing of the Bikes at Bald Knob Cross which is Sunday.

The event is a true community effort, Hunsell said, citing the example of Jefferson County Sheriff Mulch who volunteered to coordinate a police escort through the five counties the ride will meander through.

“That effort means a lot to us,” Hunsell said.

But he added that the entire area has been very supportive of the family ever since Kyle’s death and the ride is a way to help repay that gratitude while at the same time keeping alive the memory of Kyle and other servicemen and women.

“Kyle would think this ride is just great. The ride is all about what he stood for — he loved to help others and he also liked motorcycles,” Hunsell said. “He loved life a lot. We miss Kyle every day of our lives and I know it will be that way forever.”

April 24, 2007

A Lesson in Supporting our Troops

I mentioned earlier that I attended the Marine Parents Conference in St. Louis last week. It was an honor for me to be included and I have a wonderful time. As I walked around the conference I noticed something extraordinary about the hundreds of Marine parents who had come together. They were proud. Everywhere I looked there were yellow ribbon pins, pins that read “My son is a Marine,” moms and dads were wearing t-shirts printed with photos of their Marine and everyone had a photo of their Marine in his dress blues. I couldn’t help but be awed by the force of the pride in the room.


By SgtStryker | April 24, 2007

The conference had breakout sessions for specific discussions. There were discussions on boot camp, preparing for deployment, how to send car packages, how to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder. There was a meeting for parents who had lost their Marine and a group for spouses of Marines. There was also an element of Marine Corps tradition involved. The first dinner opened with the parading of the colors and the parents loved it. The second dinner was a formal night that reminded me of a Marine Corps ball. They were suddenly a part of the strange world their sons and daughters had joined.

But the real learning experience for me came in the free time at the conference. When the parents came together in the hallways and restaurants and elevators and started talking about their children. This was true pride. Men and women who had never met each other, came together because their children were serving together. There was no discussion of the politics of the war, no praise or criticism of the President or Congress. They wanted to talk about the day their son graduated boot camp, or the day their daughter was commissioned. They shared stories of getting the news that their child was going to war and stories of the finally being able to breathe a sigh of relief when he or she came home safely. Parents of fallen Marines came together to talk about how much their missed their sons, but how proud they were of his desire to serve his country.

As I left the conference, I knew that I had witnessed the real meaning of “support our troops.” These parents knew that the war was being fought by sons and daughters of the United States. They knew that politics have no place in supporting the troops. These parents were proud because their son or daughter had been willing to serve when others wouldn’t. They were proud because their child was a Marine.

Monterey, Calif., Marine put into unlikely leadership position in Anbar Province

RAWAH, Iraq – (April 24, 2007) -- At the edge of the Euphrates River, on the outskirts of the prospering, valley town of Rawah, Iraq, 10 Marines and a lone corpsman have positioned themselves atop a small hill to provide a better way of life for the local civilians. For one Marine corporal, it is his duty to lead, delegate and look after his squad of warriors while they oversee the daily progress of Iraqi Police operating roadside checkpoints, controlling the entrance to a town full of markets and businesses.

Click this link for photos at the end of the article.

Submitted by: II Marine Expeditionary Force (FWD)
Story by: Computed Name: Cpl. Ryan M. Blaich
Story Identification #: 200742453649

For Cpl. Brandon Bailey of Company D, 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance, Regimental Combat Team 2, Multi National Force-West, his unique position as noncommissioned officer in charge is considered atypical by some of his peers because of his rank. However, it is enough to impress both general officers and high-ranking enlisted Marines. Bailey, an infantryman, simply views it through modest eyes, merely as a Marine doing his duty.

“I don’t really think about it that much,” he said of his uncommon role, which usually is reserved for those of a higher pay grade. “It was just a situation that fell into my lap.”

Bailey, a soft-spoken and humble individual, and his fellow Marines play a mentor-type role for the Iraqi forces, who prevent the entry of smuggled goods into the area. They spend each day assisting Iraqi Police with vehicle and personnel searches of those crossing the bridge into Rawah, providing a safer environment for the Iraqi people.

“We were put into an over watch situation, watching the IPs (Iraqi Police), making sure they do their job,” he said. “I’m also here to fortify this position, which was not fortified when I took control of it.”

Although the city presently seems secure, Rawah was once a place where some of the most wanted insurgents, such as Sadam Shihab Ahmad who was killed by Iraqi policemen last September, used as a haven. With this in mind, making sure the police are doing their job to provide security for locals is just part of Bailey’s goals. He also cares deeply about the well-being of his Marines and corpsman.

“One of my missions is to make sure we have the safest living area that we can have, because who knows how long we’re going to be out here,” Bailey said. Enhancing the area has been a focus point for Bailey who added, “it was a pitiful place and now it’s somewhat better.”

Bailey, from Monterey, Calif., and his diverse squad of infantryman, mechanics, engineers and a medic were put together just a few weeks prior to deploying in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“I tell you, we were seriously put together two weeks before we deployed,” he said. “We are cutthroat, we get the job done, we work well together as a team and we’ve accomplished everything we’ve set our goals on.”

The sudden orders for deployment were not only a surprise for Bailey and his men, families were involved. Bailey, who only has five months remaining on his military contract, has a wife and a child in California awaiting his return. Thoughts of his family are entrenched in the foreground of his objective and getting back safe and sound is something he thinks about each day.

“I’m all about surviving, so why not have the guys around me survive as well,” he said of his leadership goal. “If someone is not doing their job, I take charge. I don’t think about it as ‘Wow, I’m a corporal in charge of a bunch of people.’ I’m just a Marine surrounded by a bunch of other Marines trying to make the best out of the situation.”

The sergeant major for the Ground Combat Element, MNF-W, Sgt. Maj. Doug Castle, was instantly impressed with Bailey and the responsibility he has assumed. Upon meeting the young corporal, Castle spoke intimately with Bailey and had a few words of wisdom for the younger Marine.

“You, being a leader, have to adjust the way you speak,” Castle told Bailey. “Not everybody is going to understand the same language. Everybody is different, so you have to learn to say something six different ways, so six different people will understand.”

The way the Corps trains their noncommissioned officers is a major element in what makes Marines different from other military services. Age has never been a part of Marines’ leadership equation. In Bailey’s case, it seems his ability to lead others is parallel to his steadfast commitment to his duty, which is abundantly evident to those around him.

Just before shaking Bailey’s hand and wishing him luck, Castle said quietly, “You being a 27-year-old Marine, and not just a corporal, shows there is something different about you.”

April 23, 2007

Catcher defends home… of brave, family

CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq (April 23, 2007) -- Having played baseball since age 5, Virginia all-state catcher Benjamin Harrelson was recognized as a potential, professional-level athlete on the verge of achieving a dream shared by many sports fans – a shot at the “Big League.”


April 23, 2007; Submitted on: 04/23/2007 09:23:29 AM ; Story ID#: 200742392329
By Cpl. Andrew Kalwitz, 2nd Marine Logistics Group

But the Danville, Va., native passed up the opportunity of signing a contract with the Atlanta Braves to instead sign a contract with the United States Marine Corps.

He now serves as a corporal and vehicle commander here with Maintenance Company, Combat Logistics Battalion 6, 2nd Marine Logistics Group (Forward).

“I made my own decision and I wouldn’t change it,” he said.

With two cousins currently serving in the military and a great uncle who served with the U.S. Merchant Marines during World War II and the Korean War, it seems Harrelson was following a family trend. But Harrelson said he’s only following his father, who spent much time working to support his family.

“All he wanted for us was a better life,” Harrelson said.

Harrelson’s father, Mark, worked for a newspaper called the Caswell Messenger before becoming editor of the Danville Register. He later began working with Danville’s WAKG radio station and eventually started a second job, part-time, with the U.S. Postal Service in Greensboro, N.C. No longer with the radio station, he now makes the 41-mile trip to his full-time job at the post office where he has worked for almost 20 years.

Harrelson said his dad wasn’t able to spend much time with the family because he spent most of it working.

“I don’t blame him. I did the same thing,” said Harrelson, who has a wife and daughter awaiting his return from his seven-month deployment.

In his younger years, Harrelson never expected to be in his current situation. But he also probably didn’t expect he was meeting the future mother of his child when he met Sherri B. Walker while standing in a band camp formation at age 14.

“Seriously. It really was a formation,” he said, smiling at the thought of a non-military formation. “She stopped right in front of me and looked up at me.”

Harrelson recounted their first conversation.

“She said ‘your shoe’s untied.’ I just cracked a huge smile,” he said. “She asked me why I was smiling and I couldn’t even answer her. I couldn’t really think straight.”

Considering she was about two years older than him, it may have been the intimidation of an older girl that made him four months hesitant to ask her out. Regardless of the seemingly slow start, their relationship lasted beyond high school.

Separation seems to be as much a part of their relationship as anything. After graduating from George Washington High School, Benjamin attended Ferrum College and Sherri went to Virginia Commonwealth University. But the two managed to juggle academics and each other.

Harrelson said despite his passion for baseball, he wanted to further his education to have “something to fall back on.”

But just three months into his first year at the small, private school in the mountains of Virginia, Sherri discovered she was pregnant. He disenrolled after completing his freshman year to support his new family, which now included their newborn daughter, Savana.

“When she told me she was pregnant, I already knew I wasn’t going to stay in school,” he explained. “I was holding down three jobs at one point in time to support them. I would never see her because I was working so damn much.”

But the desire to take care of his family the way his father had done for him was something Harrelson wanted to emulate. Weighing his options, he visited a nearby recruiting office to see if military service might be the answer he was looking for.

Harrelson said he was originally seeking a future in the Air Force. But since the Air Force recruiter wasn’t in his office, a gunnery sergeant from the Marine Corps office next door quickly accommodated him.

“He pulled me into the Marine Corps office for probably a good three hours,” Harrelson said smiling.

He decided he was going to enlist and broke the news to Sherri, who was initially unhappy but supportive nonetheless. He left for basic training November 2004, having to leave 6-month-old Savana behind.

The trials of family separation were to continue for the Harrelsons. Between Marine Corps recruit training, combat training and his job specialty school, Harrelson spent ten months away from his wife and daughter even before deploying to Iraq. Perhaps when she’s older, his daughter will understand his absence as the byproduct of a decision he made for her.

“Every night she has to have a kiss from me and then another kiss from me for him,” Sherri Harrelson said during a telephone interview.

Prior to leaving, Harrelson said he did his best as a father to explain his upcoming, seven-month absence.

“She’s too young to understand,” he said. “I had to tell her I had to help people who were sick. It would have been harder had I not explained it to her that way.”

“Would I change my mind if I could go back?” Harrelson asked himself and sighed. “Probably not. I was just 19-years-old trying to do the best thing I could do for my life. Turns out I was pretty right.”

Harrelson said he can’t help but recall catching for the Braves in the bullpen during their warm ups. He had gotten his foot in the door with the professionals as a high school athlete, but tells few people about those days now.

“Bottom line: family is more important to me than playing baseball,” he said.

Some may say his enlistment contract didn’t satisfy his financial and family-oriented motives to the extent the baseball contract would have. But Harrelson feels that the two life-insurance policies, medical coverage and the college fund he has been able to build for his daughter, who “is healthy as can be,” contradict that claim.

In addition, Harrelson’s decision enabled his wife to pursue a bachelor’s degree in elementary education at Coastal Carolina Community College in Jacksonville, N.C., while he is deployed. She said she feels baseball would have gotten them off to a slower start toward stability and kept him from the family for more time than his duties in the Marine Corps.

“My impression of (professional baseball) was unless you’re pretty high up, the money really isn’t that great,” she said. “And it’s not like going to Iraq for seven months. It would have been a more continuous thing. He would’ve been gone a lot; during the off-season too.”

Though Savana may not yet understand her father’s responsibilities, she understands his absence and keeps him close at heart. During a visit to the Easter bunny this past holiday, she was given an American flag, which she told her mother would need to be sent to daddy.

Harrelson said he no longer has time for baseball and he needs to learn to “put that time toward family.”

He was not present for his second marriage anniversary and his daughter’s first Christmas and New Year’s. He also nearly missed her first birthday.

“Just like this guy right here,” he said pointing to one of two Marines in the dusty, Fallujah living quarters with him. “His wife is pregnant and about to have a baby any day. And Clark – his wife is in labor right now… You know what they say though – absence makes the heart grow fonder.”

The Harrelsons both agree being apart has been difficult. Though Sherri said she would prefer to be near her husband, she is proud of what he is doing and respects him for it.

“I think that anyone who can go over to Iraq is incredibly brave,” she said. “And he’s had nothing bad to say. Everything he’s said has been really positive. He seems to have gotten more spiritual and has a better value of life.”

Her husband’s change may or may not have occurred if he had chosen the baseball route, but she said she’s happy with his choice. She was only unhappy with her involvement, or lack thereof, in his decision to turn down a contract with the Braves.

“She didn’t know until well after I got to the fleet. I didn’t want her to think I was giving up on my dream so I could be with her,” Harrelson said. “My dream was being with her.”

So far, it appears Harrelson’s dreams have come true, which he credits to his decision to serve.

“There are a lot of ups and downs in the Marine Corps,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of those ups. The Marine Corps did a lot for me.”

Harrelson said he is very content serving in the military, which has given him “so many opportunities.” But regardless of the honor there may be in his decision, a Marine is human and can’t help thinking, what if?

“When baseball comes around, I still think, ‘What if I would’ve done that?’” he said. “My philosophy on life is you can’t look at the past. If you do, you’re just going to get stuck there.”

So instead, Harrelson looks to the future.

When he returns from deployment this fall, the Harrelsons said they will buy a house and pay off their vehicle and any bills that may have been accrued. Sherri said she hopes to become an elementary school teacher and get a master’s degree so she can become a college professor.

But they are once again faced with the same question – How will they make this happen? Fortunately, it requires the same solution.

“I’m going to re-enlist,” Harrelson said.

MICHIGAN'S BAND OF BROTHERS Soon, 1/24th Marines will be home; After 7 months in Iraq, they are back in the U.S.

TWENTYNINE PALMS, CALIF. -- Salutes, softball and a brass band -- the 1/24th Marine Reserves are back in America.


Click on the above link for photos and a video link to the right of the article.

April 23, 2007

"You're on the bus from the air base and you look out the window and -- wow! We're home," said Cpl. Steven Oliver, 23, of Plymouth.

After seven months of patrolling and fighting in and around Fallujah, the unit headquartered at Selfridge Air National Guard Base returned in a series of flights leading to Twentynine Palms, the sprawling base in the Mojave Desert where it trained for its mission to Iraq.

And along the way the Marines, whose deployment has been chronicled as Michigan's Band of Brothers in the Free Press, saw that America is glad to see them and other troops returning from Iraq.

Veterans arrived to salute and shake their hands during 3 a.m. layovers in Bangor, Maine.

Laura Froehlich, 58, who has personally sent off and greeted home more than 175,000 troops, hugged the Weapons and Charlie Company members at March Field in Riverside, Calif.

The Marines emerged from the plane after nearly a full day of flying, red-eyed and tired, but even the overcast, chilly weather couldn't dim their grins.

They were greeted by commanding officer Col. Harold VanOpdorp and they juggled their weapons and bags in order to shake hands. Emergency vehicles serenaded them with sirens and fire trucks saluted them with arches of water.

There have been no plans announced for redeployment, but Reservists who remain in the Corps could be called to serve another tour.

But this week, there will be picnics and softball tournaments to pass the time until they fly back to Michigan on Sunday and disperse to their company bases at Selfridge, Grand Rapids, Lansing, Saginaw and Perrysburg, Ohio.

But it won't be all hurrahs and hellos. During their seven months in Iraq, snipers, booby traps, ambushes and hidden bombs took a toll on men and nerves. The unit of more than 1,000 men had 22 members die and about 45 others so severely wounded they could not return to action. At least four of those injured lost limbs.

A good portion of the week goes to screening and sessions to ease the transition from combat back to civilian life. Just as they were tuned, screened and prepped before shipping out to Iraq, returning Marines go through a multistage demobilization.

"Our No. 1 concern is to make sure our Marines are taken care of psychologically, medically, administratively and financially," said Maj. Christopher Kolomjec.

Some of the men have accumulated tens of thousands of dollars in active combat pay and are being counseled to handle it wisely and avoid spending sprees when they get home.

Officials say they want to make sure the Marines reintegrate slowly and smoothly into a slower-paced civilian life because they have come from an extraordinarily high-stress situation, where each decision could have dire consequences.

"In Iraq, everything was all laid out for us," said Cpl. Nick Smith, 26, of Toledo. "It's like going from being a 6-year-old to an adult, making decisions we'll be held accountable for."

In Iraq, they often lived in makeshift quarters, working 18-hour days and lugging 60 pounds of body armor, weapons and ammo wherever they went. Marines like Lance Cpl. Shane Peltier of Bad Axe want to sleep late under their own roofs, play with their dogs and flat-out relax.

This week, the Marines also will receive advice on reuniting with family members. Just as they've changed and grown, so have their families during their absences. Wives and girlfriends may have assumed new responsibilities, and children have grown and matured.

Much of the counseling is going to focus on taking things slowly and giving everyone time to get reacquainted.

Or in some cases, maybe to meet a new family member. Sgt. Martin Gonzales, 30, of Saginaw is eager to get home.

"I have a baby that was due two days ago. I think she's holding back till I get there," he said.

The Marines want the men to be as successful in their home life as they were on their tour of Iraq. Service members can ask for additional counseling to deal with potential problems or experiences that they had in Iraq.

"We've learned a lot of lessons from the Vietnam era," said Kolomjec, 38, of Grosse Pointe Farms. "The men are going from what can be an overly disciplined environment to one of almost unlimited choices. We want to make sure people are able to cope successfully going from one extreme to another."

The Marines also will receive medical evaluations.

Navy Capt. Lee White, a doctor attached to the 1/24th during its deployment, said the "biggest concern is spotting injuries and conditions incurred in the line of duty and getting them documented to make sure they get the care they need when they get home."

And getting home is what counts.

"Once we pulled up in Bangor and I saw all those veterans lined up waiting for us, it felt good," said Sgt. Richard Bonner, 24, of Detroit. "It felt like a job well done."

Mission of Marines' parents: to cope; At a support group's convention, they learn to help sons and daughters returning from deployment, and to help themselves.

ST. LOUIS — Patricia Fry, whose son is a Marine infantryman, was explaining the fine art of creating a scrapbook to Rita Swift, whose son is a Marine helicopter pilot.


By Tony Perry, Times Staff Writer
April 23, 2007

"I think the blue looks great because it brings out the blue in the flag," Fry told Swift as she arranged a picture of her son, Maj. Mike Swift, on a page in her book.

The scrapbooks have a dual purpose: They keep parents busy during the anxious days of their son's or daughter's deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan. And, should the worst happen, the scrapbooks will be a memorial to a lost loved one.

"I'm looking for ways to stay busy, to make it easier," said Swift, of Palos Heights, Ill. Her son has deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan and may return to Iraq once his tour as a test pilot is complete.

The scrapbook session was part of the second annual national convention of Marine Parents.com, a nonprofit, nonpolitical support group for parents of Marines, particularly those with a son or daughter in Iraq or Afghanistan.

For three days of seminars, which ended Sunday, several hundred parents gathered here to learn coping skills for themselves and strategies for helping their sons and daughters once they return home.

Parents learned about military benefits, psychological counseling for returning veterans, volunteer groups that send packages to deployed troops, the Purple Heart Society for service members who have been wounded, and more.

From across the country, the parents came looking for kinship. The military has programs to provide emotional support for the spouses and children of deployed troops, but parents are largely left on their own.

Most do not live near military bases. Their neighbors, even those who try to be sympathetic, do not really understand their strain and the fear. Or if they do, they can quickly tire of being supportive.

"My Marine son went three times to Iraq and my Army National Guard son went once," said Jeannine Hubbell of Lathrop, Mo. "I'm looking for a connection to people who understand, who can relate."

Like Hubbell, Kay Hale of Richardson, Texas, has a son in the 3rd Battalion, 7th Regiment based in Twentynine Palms, one of the Marine Corps' most deployed battalions. "We're 3/7 moms," Hale said. "It's not like Vietnam: We have a limited supply of bodies, and they're using the same ones over and over again."

Retired Navy Cmdr. Michael Colson, a chaplain who is now a counselor with the Seattle Vet Center, advised parents to give their returning sons and daughters a certain latitude because their language and behavior will have changed.

"Don't ask them about their dreams," Colson said. "Dreams in a combat environment are vivid and intense, and they don't make any sense."

Still, parents should be on the lookout for signs of reckless or dangerous behavior, he said, or signs of depression, which is common among combat veterans.

In a session devoted to the parents of Marines killed or wounded in combat, Cyd Deathe of Tampa, Fla., talked of her son, Lance Cpl. Adam Sardinas, who lost four buddies in a roadside bombing in Ramadi and later was injured himself.

"He doesn't want to live without them," said Deathe, tears filling her eyes. "He's going through horrible survivor guilt and PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder]. I'm supposed to be able to take care of him because I'm his mom."

Deathe was embraced by Georgette Frank of Elk Grove Village, Ill., whose son Phil was killed near Fallouja, and by Rich and Christine Dybevik of Coos Bay, Ore., whose son Gary Van Leuven was killed in Husaybah.

Frank led a prayer. Christine Dybevik talked of the helplessness felt by many mothers. "You hear your son is injured and the mom instinct kicks in: I've got to fix it," she said. "But in these cases, you can't fix it."

MarineParents.com was started in 2003 by Tracy Della Vecchia of Columbia, Mo. What began as a diversion has become a full-time undertaking, with three staff members and dozens of volunteers. The website gets millions of hits a week.

"It just got huge," said Della Vecchia. Her son, Cpl. Derrick Jensen, has made three tours to Iraq and just received a letter indicating that, as a reservist, he could make a fourth.

The group began as MarineMoms.us but switched names nine months later to encourage participation by dads. Still, mothers far outnumbered fathers at the convention.

Jackie Parker of Kingston, Mo., said she has endured four deployments to Iraq: one by her son in the Army, two by her son in the Marines, and one by a daughter-in-law in the Army.

"If it wasn't for Marine Parents.com, I wouldn't have made it through," she said.

The website offers news, links to other support groups and projects, message boards, and chat rooms, many tailored to specific battalions.

Many of the mothers had been communicating on the chat rooms for months and felt like old friends even before they arrived here. "We have an online community but we've never really met before," said Joni Dafflitto of St. Louis.

Fry's scrapbook classes were filled with discussion of how to use different kinds of tape and stickers and how to do captions and where to buy the best supplies. But there was a serious undercurrent.

"It's therapy," said Fry, of Menomonee Falls, Wis. Her son, Lance Cpl. Erich Fry, will soon return to Iraq.

"Doing a scrapbook," she said, "is like you're with your kid, with your Marine."

Bonhomme Richard Expeditionary Strike Group Enters 7th Fleet

PACIFIC OCEAN (NNS) -- The Bonhomme Richard Expeditionary Strike Group (BHRESG) entered the U.S. 7th Fleet area of responsibility (AOR) April 23, while enroute to the Persian Gulf in support of the global war on terrorism.


Story Number: NNS070423-14
Release Date: 4/23/2007 4:51:00 PM
From USS Bonhomme Richard Public Affairs

BHRESG is a rapid response strike group available for humanitarian or non-combatant evacuation operations.

While operating in the 7th Fleet AOR, the BHRESG will conduct drills and exercises to prepare for operations in the Persian Gulf.

The strike group proved their many capabilities prior to deployment by successfully completing their Composite Training Unit and Joint Task Force exercises.

“Throughout our strike group integration, Composite Training Unit and Joint Task Force exercises, the Sailors and Marines of the Bonhomme Richard Expeditionary Strike Group have been training to support fleet requirements,” said Capt. Bradley D. Martin, commander of BHRESG and Amphibious Squadron (PHIBRON) 7. “Today we are a joint, seamless strike group properly trained, capable and ready to flex to the fleet commander’s mission tasking.”

BHRESG is comprised of USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6), USS Denver (LPD 9), USS Rushmore (LSD 47), USS Milius (DDG 69), USS Chung-Hoon (DDG 93), and USS Chosin (CG 65). The strike group also includes PHIBRON 7 and the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

The BHRESG serves under the Expeditionary Strike Group 7/Task Force 76, the Navy’s only forward-deployed amphibious force. Task Force 76 is headquartered at White Beach Naval Facility, Okinawa, Japan, with an operating detachment in Sasebo, Japan.

Operating in the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean, the U.S. 7th Fleet is the largest of the forward-deployed U.S. fleets, with approximately 50 ships, 120 aircraft and 20,000 Sailors and Marines assigned at any given time.

Marine Care Package Drive A Huge Success

QUARRYVILLE -- Faith Aukamp was moved. As a Marine mom, wanted to do something to help out our men and women overseas. With the help and blessing of the real estate firm she works for, held a Care Package Drive Saturday out front Ferguson & Hassler's in TownsEdge Shopping Center.

Click on the above link for photos.

By Jeanne Ruczhak-Eckman
April 23, 2007

Yellow signs, like the one on the left, were hung with pride around the area inviting people to donate an item or two. The community supported the Care Package Drive, donating bags and boxes full of items to be sent overseas. Aukamp sat next to big banana boxes full of various items while her eyes glistened as she said how overwhelmed she was at the response from the community.

Anyone who has a son or daughter serving should call Aukamp at 717-341-8160 or email her at [email protected] to ensure he or she receives a package.

Area restaurants also supported this program. Aukamp said she has received commitments from the Quarryville Family Restaurants, Sam's Pizza, Son's Ice for various condiments and individual items. Dr Regan, a dentist in Quarryville, donated toothbrushes and toothpaste.

Numerous people simply made monetary donations. Monetary donations will help with shipping costs. Each care package costs $7.70 to ship using USPS flat-rate boxes.

Joining her Saturday were Doug Chase, Debbie Sheets, T.J. Aukamp, Matt Close, and Brittany Rhineer. Chase is the office manager for Beiler Campbell's Quarryville office. Sheets is the Administrative Assistant there.

Aukamp said she would most likely be holding another Care Package Drive in the future but that the Beiler Campbell offices were still accepting donations as well.

Anthony Beiler, broker for Beiler-Campbell, has opened up all the area offices to be used as drop-off locations, said Aukamp. Offices are located in Chadds Ford, Longwood, Oxford, Avondale, as well as Quarryville. Aukamp works out of the Quarryville office, which is located at 229 W. 4th Street in Quarryville. Drop-offs to the other offices should be marked with Aukamp's name and marked for the Quarryville office.

April 22, 2007

Marine Parents Come Together

I recently had the privilege of attending the annual conference for MarineParents.com. The conference was in St. Louis this year and I was invited to make the trip out by the founder of Marine Parents, Inc. I should mention here that I am not the parent of a Marine, but I do know the organization quite well. Tracy Della Vecchia started Marine Parents when her son was deployed to Iraq at the start of the war. He went back two more times before getting out of the Marine Corps. As the mother of a Marine in harm’s way, Tracey was desperate for answers. She wanted to get information, she wanted to find support, she wanted to know everything there was to now about the Marine Corps. But as she looked online, she didn’t find any organizations dedicated to helping the parents of those who serve. So Tracy took matters into her own hands and started MarineParents.com.


By SgtStryker | April 22, 2007

It started out as a website with information about her son’s unit. She got in touch with the rear party for the battalion and got information updates, she worked with the battalion commanding officer (who was in Iraq at the time) and she worked closely with the battalion Key Volunteers. Tracy, who is a website developer by trade, made MarineParents.com an invaluable resource for parents who were looking for information on their sons. It also became a virtual support group for mothers and fathers who were sitting in their homes across the country worried about their children.

As the years went on, Tracy’s dream for Marine Parents has grown by leaps and bounds. The organization has gone from being a resource for parents of one unit to being an official non-profit organization run by over 100 volunteers across the country. It is truly an incredible resource for all parents of Marines. There are messages boards and chat rooms for parents whose children have just gone to boot camp and support forums for parents whose children have just deployed. The organization runs a care package project to send packages to Marines overseas and a Gold Star parents project to provide support and comfort to parents who have lost their Marines. They have also grown to include local support groups, an online store and a project to help wounded Marines called Operation Prayers and Letters that allows people to offer prayers or send letters to wounded Marines.

Tracy and her organization is an amazing example of how one proud mother can make a world of difference in the war on terror. She is fighting just as much as her son fought, though she would blush and deny it if you said that to her face. You can visit the Marine Parents website at marineparents.com. Semper Fi, Tracy.

Metal Shop works to protect brothers

FALLUJAH, Iraq (April 22, 2007) -- Sparks fly as the flame from a blow torch slices through the material with ease. It’s not obvious yet, but this sheet of metal will soon be used to stop bullets and shrapnel from injuring or killing coalition forces.


April 22, 2007; Submitted on: 04/27/2007 05:31:39 AM ; Story ID#: 200742753139
By Lance Cpl. Thomas J. Griffith, 2nd Marine Logistics Group

Marines at the Metal Shop, Maintenance Company, Combat Logistics Battalion 6, 2nd Marine Logistics Group (Forward), save the lives of their brothers-in-arms in a different way than most.

These Marines come up with innovative new ways to protect other Marines by using the equipment and materials only they have.

“We make anything out of metal,” said Cpl. Adam S. Achterberg, a machinist and Wausau, Wis., native with the shop, pointing to a hand-crafted component on a nearby air compressor.

“We’re the MacGyver for metal,” he said referring to the television show of the same name. Except they deal with more than just paperclips.

"We can fabricate and repair just about anything that has to do with metal," said Sgt. Carlos A. Lemus, the shop’s noncommissioned officer-in-charge. "Anything from a little crack to up-armoring vehicles."

Personnel in the area come to these Marines with their requests for specially designed fabrications they need in a hurry.

“To modify a piece of gear to best suit the purpose, you can’t wait for someone to manufacture it,” said Lemus. “It would take so long to get made and mailed from a manufacturer, when we can do it in a matter of days.”

The Metal Shop has both machinists and welders working together to meet the needs of Regimental Combat Team 6 and Marines throughout the Fallujah area.

"Even though we're two different (military occupational specialties), we basically go hand-in-hand," said Lemus, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., native. "Our mission here is to provide and fabricate whatever is needed to assist the mission of RCT-6.”

Although not every Marine goes on combat missions or participates in operations, Cpl. Rogelio R. Quintero, a welder with the shop, said they are all just as important.

“Every MOS makes a difference out here. They’re all necessary,” said the Calexico, Calif., native.

Quintero said although he doesn’t leave Fallujah, his job is a very gratifying one.

“It feels pretty good to know you’re helping,” he said. “(Marines) come in and ask for things and two days later come in to thank you personally, because they got hit and what you did saved them.”

Some of the recent projects the shop has taken up include brainstorming ideas for machine gun turrets and other modifications on existing gear. One such product is a more enclosed turret, which makes use of ballistic glass to stop sniper fire and shrapnel.

“It’s all so the life expectancy of a gunner will be that much higher,” Lemus added.

Lemus also said anyone outside the camp can depend on them to continue their high quality of work for the entirety of the deployment.

"Whatever it is someone needs, we try to get them the best quality product," he said. "We take pride in our work. If it comes from here, it's going to be of a high quality. We're giving people outside the wire a better chance of survival. There's not one person in this shop that isn't thinking about that."

Many local Marines return home

EWING -- As they neared the waiting crowds, subdued anticipation turned instantly to sheer joy. As they entered the airport, the screams were deafening.


JOE D’AQUILA, Staff Writer


They were U.S. Marines, back from Iraq, and the awaiting mob was made up of the friends and family members who’ve missed them for months.

The fighting men and women arriving in buses at the Trenton Mercer Airport yesterday were the Marine Reserves of the 3rd Battalion, 14th Marine Regiment’s Golf Battery, and the scene was a heartfelt one.

Signs, in hands, on cars and affixed, contained messages like: "Thank you for fighting for our freedom," "Semper Fi," and simply "Welcome Home."

Their motor-coaches were preceded by a miles-long motorcade of motorcycles that came roaring in to announce their arrival.

Grown men wept openly upon the first sight of the Marine packed buses, and husbands and wives embraced with salty, tear-streaked kisses as relief kicked in with the realization that the safety was real -- their children were home.

"Oh my God!" some screamed. "There they are!"

They’d been back in country, back from Iraq, at Camp LeJeune, N.C., for about a week, and now they were finally coming home.

As the buses pulled in through the flag-waving crowd, only the outlines of standing Marines were visible through the blackened glass windows.

Bus occupants and the waiting loved ones sought that long-awaited connection.

The reunion had been delayed, and their arrival in Ewing was about three hours later than expected. The anticipation was only heightened though, and spirits were never dampened.

But there was one more hurdle.

After getting off the bus, the Marines stood in formation, the crowd circling in around them, eager to pounce with hugs and kisses.

As they stood though -- the tension building to unbearable levels -- local politicians sought to "show their support" by making welcome home speeches.

"Come on," people shouted from the crowd, as the pols pontificated. "Let them go already."

Then, all in one great whoosh, the celebrations were finally underway, as the Marines in the center of an ever collapsing circle welcomed this type of attack.

For one Marine, 33-year-old Sgt. Jason Rivers, his homecoming was filled with surprises.

Rivers’ entire family came up from Philadelphia and the surrounding area to surprise him as he got off the bus, but he had been under the impression he’d be greeted by a much smaller party, according to his mother Ida Harris.

"I told him just me and his kids were coming to pick him up," Harris said. "It ended up being seven carloads. I knew it was going to be seven cars, the whole family came, and he was really, really surprised."

Harris said it had been nine months since she saw her son and she was relieved that he was back at home.

"I was overwhelmed," she said. "I just cried and cried and cried. I just thanked God that he came home safely to me."

For one group in attendance though, there would be tears, but no tearful reunion.

The homecoming for this particular Burlington County family should have come two years ago, but in May of 2005, 33-year-old Sgt. Anthony Goodwin, was killed in action.

But Goodwin’s mother, Brenda Cheney, wouldn’t have missed yesterday’s event for the world.

When her Anthony was taken from her, she said it was First Sgt. Rufino Mendez who was saddled with the task of bringing the news.

"Ever since then, Sgt. Mendez has been just like family to us," Cheney said.

She said they stayed in touch, and the Marine’s mother eventually took to mothering the men and women of 14th Regiment.

"When I heard that his reserves were going over, I said, ‘well put me in touch with them,’" she said.

Yesterday, Mendez said he was glad to be home, and said his Marines wouldn’t be heading back to war anytime soon.

"We’re not going anywhere," Mendez said. "These boys and girls are done."

He also spoke of Goodwin’s family and what they had come to mean to him.

"These folks are a class act," he said. "I had to be the one to go over there and tell them, and they welcomed me with opened arms."

When Cheney offered to help Mendez’s reserves group, he put the grieving mother in touch with another First Sgt. Daniel Manriques, of Fresno California.

Manriques, though he never knew Cheney’s son, knew his reputation, and he had nothing but praise for the fallen sergeant.

"Her son was just a Marine’s Marine," Manriques said.

The 18-year Marine Corps veteran said his role was mainly an administrative one for the 3rd Battalion, where he at times serves as anything from legal advisor to marriage counselor.

He said that when he got in touch with Cheney it was clear that she just wanted to help The Corps, and care packages that she sent to Iraq, made life a little more comfortable in a difficult situation.

"People are dying over there," he said. "They’re dying, sometimes, and its an invisible enemy. You don’t see them.

"You’re just waiting for your turn. When is it your turn to roll over a mine? When is it your turn?"

Manriques said he knew the 3rd Battalion had lost some of its Marines during its latest tour in Iraq, though he wasn’t sure how many. He said though that the 220 members of the Golf Battery were all OK, and 107 members came home yesterday, as others serving in the Battery were allocated from other units.

Manriques said that after he helps the Battalion’s reservist make their exit from the service, he’ll attempt to make his own homecoming in California, where his wife and two children are -- including a four-month-old boy he has yet to meet.

"I can’t wait to see my son," he said.

And while she couldn’t see her own son, Manriques said he believed Cheney used her continued involvement with the Marines to help her throughthe pain of her loss.

For Cheney, she said she feels she’s now part of a larger family.

"They treated me with such respect, that I felt it was just right for me to be here when they came back," Cheney said. "They’ve been there for me, I want to be there for them.

"I know that I have no one coming home, but I do have someone coming home. The Marine Corps, we’re family, and Marines take care of Marines."

Marines welcomed home from Iraq

Lance Cpl. Brandon Morgan seemed a little disoriented Saturday afternoon as he stepped onto the lawn at his wife's grandmother's house in Red Bank.


Sunday, April 22, 2007

By Mary Fortune
Staff Writer

"It's kind of weird. It's crazy being home," he said, looking around. Then he repeated the word slowly, nearly whispering: "Home."

The 22-year-old is one of 29 Marines in the Chattanooga-based Mike Battery, 3rd Battalion, 14th Marine Regiment, who returned from seven months of service in Iraq on Saturday.

For hours before the bus arrived carrying the Marines from Camp Lejune, N.C., friends and family from across the region crowded the grass and the parking lot around the Marine Reserve Center on Amnicola Highway.

The roadsides and parking lot were decked in signs, balloons and banners welcoming the Marines home. People waited under shade trees and tents they had brought, tending babies and clutching cell phones as the bus carrying their Marines made its way down the interstate. The bus left Camp Lejune at 5 a.m. and arrived at the Riverpark more than 10 hours later, escorted by police and Patriot Guard motorcycles.

Everyone who waited had a story:

Jamie Dean, 20, will marry her fiancé, Lance Cpl. James Olmeda, on Aug. 25. He proposed the week before he left for Iraq.

Carrie Byrne was behind an effort to get signs bearing the name of her son, Lance Cpl. Justin Schultz, hung all over the area -- including on an overpass above Amnicola Highway.

Lance Cpl. Schultz's sister, Lindsey Harp, got married in October while her brother was still away. "He was supposed to be the best man," she said.

Terri Williams has two sons in the Marine Corps. Her 20-year-old, Lance Cpl. Kevin Williams, came home Saturday. Waiting with her was her 19-year-old son, Lance Cpl. Bryan Williams.

"I'm the happiest you could ever be," she said, both her sons at her side.

The day of homecoming was difficult, however, for Robin Patterson. Her son, Lance Cpl. Kristopher Cody Warren, 19, was killed in November during his service in the Anbar province of Iraq.

Mrs. Patterson brought her 3-month-old son, Dylan, to the homecoming. Lance Cpl. Warren had told his mother during a phone call from Iraq that he wanted his baby brother to be named Dylan. The baby was born two months after his big brother died.

"It's very hard to be here," Mrs. Patterson said. "Cody would have wanted me to."

As the Marines stepped off the bus into the waiting crowd, she handed each of them a rose and told them she was Cody's mom. Many of them embraced her as she wept.

Lance Cpl. Morgan's mother, Debbie Morgan, said she worried constantly about her son while he was gone -- and about all the men and women in harm's way.

"Every time there's a fallen soldier, they belong to someone," she said.

Lance Cpl. Morgan said he conducted more than 347 convoys and patrols during his time in Iraq, and twice his forward operating base was hit by vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices.

"I had a chance to prove myself, and I stood up to the plate when things went bad, and when things were good I was still there, too," he said.

Lance Cpl. Morgan said he hopes to return to Iraq.

"You want them to have what we have here," he said.

His wife, Tiffany Morgan, 21, said she'll support her husband "in whatever he wants to do." Then she paused and lowered her voice. "But I'm going to try to talk him out of it."

Lance Cpl. Cody Michelena, 21, said he also hopes to return to Iraq.

"It's kind of hard to explain," he said. "It's a gift to be in the military and do what we do."

And, he said, pointing to his best friend, Lance Cpl. Morgan, "Me and him are good at it."

April 21, 2007

Reservists Return Home from Iraq

April 21, 2007 - This has been an extra special Saturday in Northeast Philadelphia. It was a jubilant homecoming for some 150 Marine reservists.


Very excited friends and family turned out in big numbers here at the Army Forces Reserve Center in Northeast Philadelphia. They came hours early, ready to welcome home from Iraq more than 150 members of the Battalion 14 Marines.

"It was 7 months ... A very long time. You just pray every night that everyone's safe," said Greenbrook resident Kim Rogers.

An artillery unit by training Battalion 14 took on the duties of military police. In places like Fallujah and Ramadi, they went on patrol but also trained local police.

The word came they were getting close and hundreds of motorcycles joined in the police escort up I-95.

And then the Marines arrived.

They were greeted by loud cheers from their families and then long hugs and kisses from those who missed them so very much.

Corp. Brian Slovensky said, "We didn't expect this many people. The whole ride back. It was just unbelievable. We felt like rockstars."

These Marines won't be called up for at least a year, but some have already volunteered to return to duty in Iraq before then.

April 19, 2007

Corps Restricts Non-Issued Armor Use

The Marine Corps issued a directive Tuesday restricting the use of store-bought personal protective equipment in the war zone, including body armor, ballistic glasses, armor plates and fire-retardant clothing.


Military.com | By Christian Lowe | April 19, 2007

Corps officials say Marines may not use such protective equipment in place of gear issued by service. Marines are free to buy and wear their own safety equipment - including body armor- officials explained, but they must also use their issued items and will not be reimbursed for their purchase.

The Army issued a similar message in March of 2006 after controversy erupted over claims that a certain type of body armor vest designed by Fresno, Calif.-based Pinnacle Armor was more effective than service-issued Interceptor vests. But for more than a year, the Corps declined to follow suit.

Read the Marine Corps Directive here.

The so-called "Dragon Skin" vest - which was among the armor banned by the Army - uses interlocking ceramic disks that videos on Pinnacle's Web site claim can absorb multiple AK-47 rounds and 9mm shots without penetration.

The current enhanced small arms protective plate can absorb a small number of high-velocity AK-47 rounds before failure.

"In its current state of development, Dragon Skin's capabilities do not meet Army requirements," the Army's March 17, 2006, "safety of use message" states. "In fact, Dragon Skin has not been certified by the Army for protection against several small-arms threats being encountered in Iraq and Afghanistan today."

"Although this message specifically identifies Dragon Skin, it applies to other commercially available body armor products (such as commercial police vests) that are not Army approved and issued," it added.

At the time, the Marine Corps declined to go along with the Army's ban, saying they preferred to have Marines wear Corps-issued vests but would not issue a formal restriction.

But on April 17, Marine officials reversed their stance, restricting the use of personal protective equipment - including body armor - to those items issued by the Corps.

"Individual Marines [and] Sailors may not use commercial PPE in lieu of government tested, approved and issued PPE," the message states. "Individually-purchased commercial PPE will not be reimbursed by command [or] unit funds."

The message is unclear whether Marines who continue to wear their own protective gear will be disciplined, but the Army has said Soldiers could face disciplinary action if they defy the ban.

"If Soldiers are doing this, they're doing it at their own risk," a top Army acquisition official said announcing last year's ban. "But I can tell you Army Soldiers, at this point in time, based upon the safety of use message that was sent out, are prohibited at this point in time from wearing it - it's a command requirement to basically take care of that."

The marketing and manufacture of after-market military equipment has become a booming business since 9-11, with companies selling a wide range of glasses, goggles, vests and uniforms that troops often find more comfortable and customizable than military-issued gear.

The services have moved in recent months to alleviate concerns over comfort and fit of body armor and other protective equipment, with both the Army and Marine Corps replacing their Interceptor vests with new designs. Soldiers and Marines have also been issued a variety of modern protective equipment through "rapid equipping" and "urgent needs" initiatives.

The Corps' announcement gives some leeway to Marines and their commanders to use non-issued PPE gear, but only "as long as those additions do not interfere with the functionality of approved PPE." Moreover, Marine commanders may not use any funds to purchase unit-specific gear that has not been government-tested and approved for use by the Corps.

The policy also allows Marines to reduce the amount of protective equipment they wear based on the threat and a commander's requirements.

During their deployment to Afghanistan in 2004, for example, leathernecks with the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit were authorized to wear plate-carriers in lieu of their full body armor vests given the minimal blast threat where they were operating and to reduce weight in the rugged, high-altitude terrain.

"Commanders who determine that a lower level of PPE is appropriate must receive approval from their respective [Marine] or [joint] commander prior to execution of any change," the Marine message said.

April 18, 2007

First LAR extends eyes and ears throughout western Euphrates River valley

COMBAT OUTPOST RAWAH, IRAQ (April 18, 2007) -- Regimental Combat Team 2 launched operation Valiant Guardian on March 26, 2007. In support of that operation, 1st Light Armored Vehicle Battalion has sent its Marines throughout the western Euphrates River valley to disrupt enemy movement and form communication bonds with the local populace.


April 18, 2007; Submitted on: 04/18/2007 02:15:36 AM ; Story ID#: 200741821536
By Lance Cpl. Ryan C. Heiser, 2nd Marine Division

In order to effectively accomplish this mission, the battalion needed to create some means of communicating with its units over extremely long distances, and provide additional combat support at the same time.

The answer: a mobile forward combat operations center, also known as a COC.

“All infantry units have forward COCs, ours just happens to be mobile because of the nature of our unit,” said Master Sgt. Albert E. Lopez, the battalion’s assistant operations chief.

The battalion has several units and attachments working together throughout their area of operation, so it is no easy feat to have eyes and ears on everything at the same time.

“We are out here working with Charlie Company, plus they got the quick reaction force, canine units, and all kinds of units with separate missions,” said Lopez, a Costa Mesa, Calif., native. “We direct communication traffic between all of them with higher headquarters.”

Communication is the number one priority of the forward COC, according to Pfc. George K. Gelow, the forward COC’s radio operator.

“The COC has one of the biggest roles in missions because it directs communication, plus it has the ability to call in air support, carries firepower, and has enough Marines to supply a guard unit,” said Gelow, a Daytona Beach native. “It (COC) has everything anyone would need to complete a mission.”

The battalion’s commander, Lt Col. Kelly P. Alexander, travels with the forward unit, so he can give more timely decisions on pressing matters.

“We get all the Intel and give it to the lieutenant colonel so he can make the best decisions and we can push those commands back down to the smaller units,” Lopez said.

The forward COC also provides communication support for any injured Marines on the battlefield, which is invaluable considering the vast range the battalion routinely covers.

“If we had no communication out here, then there would be no way to transport injured Marines off the battlefield, and no way to direct the movement of friendly units. It would be a huge disaster and people would definitely die. We make sure that doesn’t happen, and that’s the importance of our mission,” Gelow said.

DoD Announces Program to Recognize Frequent Deployment

The Department of Defense announced today a program to recognize service members who deploy or mobilize beyond the established rotation policy goals. The goals for the Active and Guard/Reserve units are one year deployed to two years at home station (1:2) and one year mobilized to five years demobilized (1:5) respectively.


April 18, 2007
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)
News Release

Administrative absence will be granted to service members when these goals are not met and can be used at their convenience. This is provided to enhance the service member's quality of life and will be done on the following basis:

- One day for each month a service member is deployed over 12 of 36 consecutive months of active duty or over 12 months of a 72 month period mobilized for the guard/reserves.

- Two days will be granted when thresholds of more than 18 of 36 consecutive months for active duty or 18 of 72 months for the guard/reserve are exceeded.

- Four days will be provided when thresholds of more than 24 of 36 consecutive months for active duty or 24 of 72 months for the guard/reserve are exceeded.

Administrative absence is authorized by the commander. It is separate and distinct from normal leave accrued by a service member.

April 17, 2007

Marine Corps top commander and sergeant major visit southern Calif.-based battalion in Iraq

CAMP AL QA’IM, Iraq (April 15, 2007) -- U.S. Marine Gen. James T. Conway, Commandant of the Marine Corps, said Al Qa’im, Iraq, a region in northwestern Al Anbar Province, is a model for the rest of Iraq to look up to.

April 15, 2007

By Cpl. Michael S. Cifuentes, 2nd Marine Division

He said Al Qa’im’s stability is a direct result from the success Coalition Forces had during combat operations here over the past four years and the cooperation and support from the Iraqi citizens.

Furthermore, Conway imparted a “hats off” to the Marines and Sailors serving in the Al Qa’im area with Task Force 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, a Twentynine Palms, Calif.,-based battalion, during a recent visit with them here, April 6, 2007.

“This used to be the ‘wild, wild west,’” said the newly appointed and 34th Commandant of the Marine Corps. “There have been some great battalions that have been through here and paid through blood, sweat and tears to make [Al Qa’im] what it is today.”

Alongside Conway during the visit was the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, Sgt. Maj. John L. Estrada, who, at the time, had 19 days left as the Corps most senior enlisted Marine.

“You all have made a difference – a positive difference – for rest of Iraq and people all around to look at,” said Estrada, 15th sergeant major of the Marine Corps.

The two traveled throughout Al Anbar Province, the largest province in Iraq, to visit more than nearly 25,000 Marines and Sailors in a period of four days.

Their most stressed issue of discussion was American support of the U.S. troops serving in Iraq and support of the ongoing war on terrorism.

“There’s a lot of debate going on as to whether or not we need to be here and whether or not we need to stay much longer,” said Conway. “What you don’t need to mistake is that means people have lost their support as for what you are doing out here.

“There’s a certain timeline here that we see it takes us to do the job, and [the U.S. President] is going to try to give us that time, so we can do our business here and leave with our heads held high,” added Conway.

Conway also spoke about upcoming plans with manufacturing and distributing new equipment and gear that will be essential in saving lives in combat.

Since their deployment to the Al Qa’im, region in September, Task Force 3/4 has found and rendered safe more than 155 improvised explosive devices [IEDs] and 12 land mines. They have also uncovered more than 78 weapons caches, hidden in the streets and farmlands of the several Euphrates River cities that lie here.

U.S. Marine Col. H. Stacy. Clardy, commander of Regimental Combat Team-2, a Marine Corps command responsible for more than 30,000 square miles and 5,500 Marines and Sailors in Al Anbar Province, was on one of the patrols with Task Force 3/4’s India Company when they discovered an IED on the side of the road March 7, 2007.

“These IEDs are designed to destroy and destabilize; to create fear and mistrust,” said Clardy. “Through patrolling, we learn our areas of operation, gain valuable information about the people we are tasked to protect and the enemy we are tasked to defeat, and teach our fellow Iraqi Security Forces how to conduct combat operations and fight insurgents.”

The Marines with Task Force 3/4 were also tasked with patrolling and working alongside the 1-year-old Iraq Police and the Iraqi Army here, imparting with them military tactics and procedures essential to manning their country on their own. Long days and nights of patrolling alongside the Iraqi Security Forces have paid off for the Marines as the Iraqi police and army are patrolling more on their own and growing less dependent on U.S. forces.

“My goal for Al Qa’im is to continue the path of progress. In fact, I am specifically tasked by each level of command above me to maintain the success attained by the sacrifice of the Marines and Sailors who served in this area,” said Clardy. “They recognize the strategic value of this success. I am committed to do whatever is necessary to keep Al Qa’im securely in the embrace of a strong Iraqi Security Force and the partnered Coalition Forces.”

Mission Complete

Working into their eighth month of what was supposed to be a seven-month deployment, the Marines and Sailors of Task Force 3/4 are anticipating a safe return home.

“Yes, we’ve been doing a great job here and not only did we accomplish every mission we executed but they all functioned really well,” said Lance Cpl. Pierre H. Donaldson II, a 24-year-old rifleman from Detroit who is part of a Military Transition Team, a group of servicemen assigned specifically to mentor, monitor and train the Iraqi Army. “But, I feel like our time we served here is culminating. We maintained combat effectiveness for eight months… I feel like it’s time to go home now.”

Task Force 3/4, which is comprised of not only the southern Calif.-based battalion but as well as other Marine Corps, U.S. Navy and U.S. Army units attached to the task force for different assignments and logistical support, have achieved the job Conway said the Marine Corps command has exactly hoped they would do when they were put in this region of Coalition operations.

“Hats off to you, gang, for the job that you’ve done,” said Conway. “You can go home with your head held high.”

As a result from bringing up to speed the Iraqi Security Forces, providing them with mid-level leadership training, distributing Marine units throughout the region for patrolling the streets, rendering safe explosive devices and bringing down wanted insurgents, the Mayor of Al Qa’im region says this area is “the safest place” in Al Anbar Province.

“[The Marines and Sailors] should be equally proud of the success they enjoy in this latest deployment to Al Anbar,” said Clardy. “They are making a tremendous difference in the security of the United States and in the world through their commitment and valor. The Al Qa’im region is a beacon of hope for the rest of Al Anbar and Iraq.”

The battalion’s fourth combat deployment to Iraq since their initial push to Baghdad in March 2003 is coming to and end. One of the few battalions in the Marine Corps to deploy four times in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, 3/4, dubbed “Shanghai 3/4” for assigned duties in garrison in Shanghai, China in 1927, prepares for a redeployment home.

Just like most Marines and Sailors here, Estrada said he’s happy the battalion is going home to their families soon.

“There’s a lot of sacrifices today, being a Marine,” said Estrada to the Marines and Sailors of Task Force 3/4. “We have been at war longer than we’ve been at war in WWII. This is the most battle hardened Marines we had in a long, long time. And you are part of it. You have made history and you’ve added to our proud and great tradition. I look forward to you going home soon.”

April 15, 2007

15th MEU Returns to Boxer Expeditionary Strike Group

USS BOXER, At Sea (NNS) -- The 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) (Special Operations Capable) completed its return to the Boxer Expeditionary Strike Group (BOXESG) April 14, after conducting security operations in Iraq since mid-November.


Release Date: 4/15/2007

By Mass Communication Specialist Seaman (SW) Joshua Valcarcel, USS Boxer Public Affairs

While in Iraq, the 15th MEU provided physical protection for Americans and Iraqi citizens and security for the country’s developing democracy. The MEU’s Air Combat Element, Battalion Landing Team and Combat Logistics Battalion worked together to coordinate air support, ground support, and regional situational awareness to accomplish their mission.

“We accomplished so much out there,” said Marine Staff Sgt. Danny Sava, data chief for the 15th MEU. “We were divided throughout Iraq, manning entry control points, carrying out local patrols and looking for insurgents. It was a great team effort.”

The Marines met USS Boxer (LHD 4) in the North Persian Gulf and returned to the ship using helicopters and landing craft air cushions (LCACs). The first group arrived on Boxer April 8. It took several more days to complete the return of nearly 2,000 Marines.

"It’s a huge relief to be back on the ship,” said Marine Lance Cpl. Chansen Hesiamurphy, assigned to Boxer’s Combat Cargo department. “It’s nice to have the little things in life again like a bed and shower.”

During the week of their return the MEU loaded several tons of ammunition, weapons, nearly 30 aircraft including AV-8B Harriers and UH-1 Hueys, and numerous heavy transport and patrol vehicles.

“It’s like a huge puzzle trying to fit everything back on board,” said Marine Sgt. James Shawhan, assigned to Boxer’s Combat Cargo Department. “It takes a lot of coordination between our Marines ashore and Boxer to keep track of everything returning to the ship.”

Boxer, along with the 15th MEU, will leave the Persian Gulf after operating in the 5th Fleet area of responsibility for almost five months.

“Everyone came together and did what needed to be done,” said Sava. “We’re a tight-knit family and everyone took care of each other.”

Boxer is the flagship for Boxer Expeditionary Strike Group which is currently conducting maritime security operations (MSO) in support of U.S. 5th Fleet. MSO help set the conditions for security and stability in the maritime environment, as well as complement the counter-terrorism and security efforts of regional nations. These operations deny international terrorists use of the maritime environment as a venue for attack or to transport personnel, weapons or other material.

Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command/Commander U.S. 5th Fleet’s area of responsibility encompasses about 7.5 million square miles and includes the Persian Gulf, Red Sea, Gulf of Oman and parts of the Indian Ocean. This expanse, comprised of 27 countries, includes three critical chokepoints at the Strait of Hormuz, the Suez Canal and the Strait of Bab al Mandeb at the southern tip of Yemen.

First LAR kicks off Operation Valiant Guardian with a successful start

COMBAT OUTPOST RAWAH, IRAQ (April 15, 2007) -- First Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 2, launched Marines in support of operation “Valiant Guardian” April 5, 2007.


April 15, 2007

By Lance Cpl. Ryan C. Heiser, 2nd Marine Division

The operation covered most of RCT-2’s area of operation, or AO, which is roughly 30,000 miles, the size of South Carolina, and extends through the western Euphrates River valley.

According to military officials the main purpose of the operation is to identify and disrupt the insurgent’s freedom of movement throughout the valley, find and eliminate insurgent safe-havens, and establish trust and communication with the local Iraqi civilians.

“In western Al Anbar, the fight has traditionally centered on its urban centers,” said Col. Stacy Clardy, the commanding officer for RCT-2. “Now we are going after the enemy in those remote areas of the province where they may hide or use to move around us, leaking into the interior of the country. We plan to shake things up.”

First LAR has continuously encountered success so far during the first week of its participation in the operation, and its Marines say they have high hopes for the rest of the operation.

“It is very important that we go out after these guys (insurgents),” said Sgt. Mark A. Zimmerman, the battalion’s chief scout. “If we don’t go out after them, they are just going to sit out there and continue terrorizing people.”

Lt. Col. Kelly P. Alexander, the battalion commander for 1st LAR, isn’t just tasking out his Marines, he is instead leading from the front and joining them in the search and elimination of insurgent activity.

“It definitely inspires us that he is willing to get his own hands dirty,” said Seaman Larry J. Threadgill, a corpsman with the battalion. “We know he can’t change Iraq by himself, but he is definitely rallying the AO and taking charge.”

According to Zimmerman, a Marathon, Texas, native, 1st LAR has been using raids, air reconnaissance, and light armored vehicles to sweep the area and search for insurgent activity.

The battalion’s success has led it to uncover nearly a dozen caches of weapons.

“We took a lot of valuable weapons off the streets and reduced activity already within our area,” said Sgt. Randy M. Roedema, chief scout with the battalion’s quick reaction force, or QRF. “Most of our success has been in the dried up riverbeds and shallow caves.”

The QRF assisted Company C throughout most of the early stages of the operation, and has been present during the uncovering of several caches.

According to Roedema, a Thornton, Colo., native, the battalion has found numerous 105mm, 120mm, and 155mm artillery rounds, 80mm mortar rounds, about a half dozen rockets, propellant, and several dozen small arm weapons and ammunition.

In addition to the weapons, the battalion has also captured a number of individuals who have conducted acts of intimidation and murder.

The Marines say they can tell they are making a difference with the civilians.

"They (Iraqi civilians) say they feel safer when we come over the horizon,” said Zimmerman, an Operation Enduring Freedom veteran. “We can tell the difference too because all the kids come outside and everyone waves when we roll by a town.”

Roedema credits the unit’s success to their high mobility.

“We are the fastest moving unit on the ground, and our firepower makes us a huge factor,” Roedema explained.

“The important thing is that we continue to find insurgents and caches to make this place safer for the Iraqi people, so they don’t have to worry about improvised explosive devices, or be afraid of letting their kids walk to school,” Zimmerman said.

April 13, 2007

Fallen Kaneohe Marines Live on Through Brick Pathway Memorial

KANEOHE (KHNL) - Just this week we followed the happy homecomings of hundreds with the 2nd Battalion 3rd Marines. But 23 Marines from that unit alone were killed in action.
Now some local masons give these fallen Marines a lasting memorial.


April 13, 2007 12:10 AM EST

By Beth Hillyer

The Pacific War Memorial depicts victory at Iwo Jima and a veteran from that battle, Chester Wilk, happens by.

Along the brick pathway are the names of veterans etched in stone.

"It happened in this operation and it happens today that someone loses their lives and it's good we can recognize that with a small token like this", says Wilk.

Bricklayers have the somber task of adding 23 news bricks.

One for each of the latest casualties in Iraq. The armed services Y-M-C-A sponsors the bricks, 90 so far from current Mid-East conflicts.

This Marine just returned from combat. He stares at the bricks as tears stream down his cheeks. This path, is now a place to mourn.

Methodical work in the mid day sun.

Mason George Lando says, "Because what's happening in the current war a lot of young people that's dying, just a thought of what's happening. I'm installing someone's name who already passed away and it's brings a sense of sensitivity to the art. "

From Corporals to a Colonel. Neatly set side by side.

"Sadly as this war continues there will be the need for more of these memorial bricks and the folks at Fischer Tile will answer their call to duty", reports Beth HIllyer.

Lando concludes, "I feel proud that they are honoring these people. It's a great memory for them just having it installed for everyone to look at. That way the family comes over and they see and see their names and it brings sensitivity to the art."

Gary Fischer of Fischer Tile and Marble donates all the labor to building the brick memorial. He says it's the least he can do

April 12, 2007

Security Co. protects others in face of danger

FALLUJAH, Iraq (April 12, 2007) -- Marines with Security Company, Combat Logistics Battalion 6, 2nd Marine Logistics Group (Forward), provide a safe route for combat logistics patrols in the area around Fallujah every day.


April 12, 2007; Submitted on: 04/21/2007 02:19:51 PM ; Story ID#: 2007421141951
By Lance Cpl. Thomas J. Griffith, 2nd Marine Logistics Group

Keeping a country’s roadways safe requires dedication and long hours. One squad leader with the company said the workload since arriving here has been non-stop.

“The most in a single week has been 11 different missions,” said Cpl. Keith R. Bickle, a Rockbrookway, Pa., native.

The company’s commanding officer, 1st Lt. Phillip D. Di Bella, said it’s rare for a day to go by when the company’s five squads aren’t out ensuring the safety of one mission or another.

“We have three different missions: convoy security, (explosive ordnance disposal) escorts and vehicle recovery escorts,” said Di Bella.
And being out on the road here means facing danger head on. Whether on the look out for improvised explosive devices or encountering small arms fire, these Marines are up to the task.

On a recent patrol, the company encountered one of these threats while providing security for a convoy.

“Off an alleyway was a white vehicle and personnel,” Lance Cpl. Anthony R. Ertl began. “We received small arms fire, about 10 to 20 rounds.”

At least three of those rounds struck the Neenah, Wis., native’s vehicle, one just inches from his head. After acquiring positive identification of the target and following the rules of engagement, Ertl fired nearly 20 rounds from his .50 caliber machine gun, neutralizing the threat.

“I could see the person shooting at me,” said Ertl. “I returned fire. I did what I had to do to get through.”

Although it only took 10 seconds to pass the alleyway, Ertl said time seemed to slow down for a moment.

“I could see every tracer round,” he said. “At the time, it didn’t click that those were real bullets.”
However, after the mission was completed, Ertl said he had realized the danger he was in and that there was no time for hesitation.

“Hesitation can get some one killed,” he stated.

“They handled the situation perfectly,” said Di Bella, a Fredericksburg, Va., native. “They followed exactly what the battalion (standard operating procedures) and rules of engagement state by returning proportionate force.”

Di Bella and Ertl both said the reaction could be attributed to the many hours of pre-deployment training the company has gone through.

“We’ve had a lot of hard training to prepare us for coming here,” Ertl explained.

The company endured six weeks of training at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, Calif., a week-long battalion field exercise, a handful of live-fire ranges and ongoing squad-level training with the company’s numerous combat veterans.

“My belief is that we’re bringing the fight to (the insurgents),” he added. “Hopefully one day the Iraqis’ grandchildren will be able to live like us.”

Staff Sgt. Christopher D. Smith, a platoon sergeant with Transportation Support Company, CLB-6, 2nd MLG (Fwd), said that without Security Company, he would not be capable of completing his mission.

“Security Company acts as a (quick reaction force),” said the Oak Hill, W. Va., native. “They’re smaller, more mobile and can react quicker than we could.”

Smith was the assistant patrol leader of the convoy Ertl received fire on.

“They handled it very professionally and without hesitation. I was pleased with their reaction to that event,” said Smith.

Smith said it is important to have an additional security element while they are transporting supplies to forward operating bases.

“I don’t think we can accomplish our mission without a security team,” he said.

Di Bella attributes the successes of the company and the quality of their work to the amount of time they spend on patrols. Since arriving in country a little over a month ago, the company has conducted nearly 200 missions.

“My Marines are out there everyday,” said Di Bella. “They’re making great decisions in tough situations and they have an overall understanding of the mission here – to help the Iraqi people and forces become self-sufficient.

“They’re doing a great job keeping the roadways safe.”

Corps: Marine Iraq tours won’t change

By Kimberly Johnson and Michelle Tan - Staff writers
Posted : Thursday Apr 12, 2007

The Corps is holding tight to its seven-month deployment length as the Army announces it will extend the tours of all soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan to 15 months, a Corps official said.

To continue reading:


Hawaii-Based Marines Return From Iraq

(KHNL) - By the look in her eye, you know it's been way too long.
Danica Hammer tells her baby, "There he is. There's your daddy!"
It doesn't take long for Patrick Hammer to spot his wife and daughter either.
Patrick has been fighting in Iraq for the past seven months and today, the family is celebrating.
While he's been away, his wife had to fill the shoes of both mommy and daddy to their little girl, Malia.


April 12, 2007 05:05 PM EST

By Walter Makaula

She says he's missed out on a lot.

"She like, started talking more like a little kid, like an adult, listening and understanding. And running up to his picture and kissing him and saying daddy, daddy!"

But this is Patrick's second deployment in two years and for a young family, it's been extremely stressful. The first time around, he missed the birth of his daughter.

He says, he's looking forward to making up for the time lost, and doing the normal dad stuff like taking her to the park and going swimming.

While deployed to Iraq this time, he didn't get to see Malia walking around.

He says, "My daughter started walking week before I left, so I didn't really get to catch all that. Everything she's done I've just missed. But thank god my wife got it all on film for us."

Today, he didn't waste any time.

With a little help from mom, little Malia finds her way to the open arms of her daddy.

And although she can't quite get the words out herself, Patrick knows her tiny ruby slippers say it all... there's no place like home!

TS Company supports construction of future Iraqi forces station

AL ASAD, Iraq (April 12, 2007) -- As legend goes, the Roman Empire began with a simple claim of its existence and a basic outline of its boundaries. The only difference between the fabled founding of Rome and Controlled Observation Post Timberwolf, is that Romulus and Remus, the twins who founded Rome, didn’t plan to surrender control of their territory.


April 12, 2007

By Cpl. Andrew M. Kalwitz, 2nd Marine Logistics Group

“This COP is eventually going to become an Iraqi Police Facility,” said 2nd Lt. Michael P. Lincoln, a convoy/platoon commander with Transportation Support Company, Combat Logistics Battalion 2, 2nd Marine Logistics Group (Forward).

In time, the United States military’s control of many other stations in Iraq will also be transferred to Iraqi forces in order to progress toward a self-sufficient country.

“We’re kind of showing them how we would run things and letting them fall in on it,” said Lincoln, a Fairfield, Conn., native. “It’s one step at a time.”

The purpose for the company’s visit was to deliver food, water, plywood and other building materials to those constructing the COP, ensuring Iraqi forces inherit a fully-operational station.

“We’re giving them something to work with,” said Lance Cpl. Justin Ice, a heavy equipment mechanic temporarily serving with TS Company. “We can’t make them serve their country, but we can give them the things they need to do it.”

Elevated above the surrounding area, COP Timberwolf is faced with a very low sniper threat. But to even further improve upon the COP, which is near the Euphrates River, one platoon sergeant with TS Company said there may be plans to add one more convenient thing.

“I think the ultimate goal is to build a bridge to go across the river,” said Gunnery Sgt. Marla D. Edwards, a Pine Bluff, Ark., native. “I think it will bring an opportunity to travel and enable them to be a little more prosperous.”

Since the most accessible bridge across the river is far north of the company’s operating base at Al Asad, they spent hours driving through dessert and villages to get to their destination. In a straight line, this would be a 10-20 minute drive.

However, due to the extended route, Pfc. Ryan J. Henry, a motor transportation operator with the company, said he had the opportunity to experience firsthand something most people don’t get to see.

“Driving through the villages like that and seeing all the people waving makes me think these people really do want to make things happen over here,” said the Houston, Texas, native.

As TS Company continues to transport supplies to COP Timberwolf, it grows closer to its completion and adoption by Iraqi Forces. But much like other COPs around Iraq, and the country itself, progress comes with persistence. Rome wasn’t built in a day either.

April 11, 2007

Postal delivers to Fallujah servicemembers

FALLUJAH, Iraq (April 11, 2007) -- Marines are often willing to make many sacrifices to ensure the mission is accomplished. Comfort items such as receiving hot chow and a hot shower are often overlooked. No matter how many deployments, and regardless of the location or the situation Marines are placed in, one thing they can count on is there is a mounted effort to maintain morale by ensuring that mail is delivered in frequency and on time.


April 11, 2007; Submitted on: 04/15/2007 10:49:32 AM ; Story ID#: 2007415104932
By Lance Cpl. Thomas J. Griffith, 2nd Marine Logistics Group

Postal Marines with Headquarters Company, Combat Logistics Battalion 6, 2nd Marine Logistics Group (Forward), work long hours at the Camp Fallujah Post Office to provide mail services to Marines here and all the area’s forward operating bases.

“We provide services to approximately 12,000 people,” said Gunnery Sgt. William C. Elver, the postal detachment chief. “That includes Marines, sailors, soldiers, airmen, and (Department of Defense) civilians and contractors.”

The detachment provides multiple services including shipping, money orders and picking up or dropping off mail and packages.

In addition to receiving packages to be sent elsewhere, the postal Marines must inspect all packages prior to being shipped.

“We have to make sure nothing illegal is going out,” said Elver, a Mount Horeb, Wis., native.

According to Elver, there is a long list of contraband items, which include weapons systems.

“Sand also can’t go – it’s an (Environmental Protection Agency) issue,” he said sarcastically.

The postal detachment here receives its mail on a regular basis from Al Taqaddum.

“We get four (large shipping) containers on average,” said Lance Cpl. Michael Carter, a postal clerk and Jackson, Miss., native, with the detachment. “Even when it’s raining.”

The detachment has even established a wet-weather plan to ensure the safety of the mail they receive.

The Marines at the post office receive so much mail they require the assistance of other servicemembers from all the units in Fallujah to help out when a shipment arrives.

“We get eight to 12 people on average,” said Elver. “We send an e-mail out the day prior requesting people for the working party.”

The Marines are well aware that their job is pivotal to the morale of the Marines and personnel assigned to the area.

“Just seeing the customer smile, knowing they can send their mail home or pick mail up – I know we’re doing a good thing,” said Sgt. Andre D. Gibbs, the detachment’s noncommissioned officer in charge.

Gibbs continued by saying he is very confident in the abilities of his Marines who handle thousands of pounds of mail daily.

“They are doing an exceptional job. They’re in here seven days a week with no set hours,” said the Cleveland, Ohio, native. “When the doors close, we’re still working. There’s no problem we couldn’t overcome or solve.

“We’re here for the people – to provide a service and make sure it’s being done.”

Treating war's 'silent injury'. They may have no visible wounds, but Marines with brain trauma face many hurdles.

ENCINITAS, Calif. — At a community hospital here, doctors and therapists are working to help Marines overcome what is often called the signature injury of the Iraq war: brain trauma with no visible wounds.


By Tony Perry

April 11, 2007

"It's the silent injury," said Jessica Martinez, an occupational therapist at Scripps Memorial Hospital Encinitas. "With every blast they suffer, their brain is rattling like a yolk in an egg."

Marine Lance Cpl. Brian Vargas was a high school football player. Now, even though he looks fit, he cannot toss the football with his buddies, let alone be part of pickup games with other off-duty Marines.

"I can't catch anything," he said. "I can't remember any plays."

Vargas, 20, was subjected to innumerable mortar and roadside bomb blasts while patrolling the insurgent stronghold of Hit in the Euphrates River Valley. In mid-January he was shot in the hand and cheek by a sniper and airlifted to Germany and then the United States for treatment.

He has the classic signs of post-concussive injury.

"My thinking has gone down," he said. "I can't remember what I did this morning. I have trouble putting memory and speaking together. I'm trying to learn to speak as clearly as possible."

Lance Cpl. Keene Sherburne, 20, who was injured when a bomb exploded under his Humvee in Fallouja, is frustrated at the slow pace of his recovery.

"I can't read," he said. "I used to love it, but now I hate it. I pick up a snowboard magazine, and I get so mad because I don't understand it."

For most of the Marines, who come here from nearby Camp Pendleton, the regimen is six hours a day, three days a week. Physical therapists work with them to restore their balance, hand-eye coordination and stamina. Counselors work on behavioral changes and anger management. Occupational and speech therapists work on language skills and on restoring their memories.

In one exercise, Marines listen to words being defined and then are asked to repeat the definitions. Sometimes their wartime experiences intrude.

Asked to define "cherry," Vargas could not remember, but he recalled something else: "That was the name of the street I was walking over when I got shot."

Experts say studies of civilians with mild to moderate brain injuries suggest that they can recover. But it remains unknown whether military personnel, whose injuries are coupled with the experiences of war, have similar chances.

For a decade, the Encinitas hospital has had a contract with Camp Pendleton to provide care for active-duty personnel and their family members. As the numbers of brain-injured Marines and sailors mounted, the contract was expanded last year to include those kinds of injuries.

The more severe cases in which the skull has been damaged are treated at acute-care hospitals, including the Department of Veterans Affairs center in Palo Alto. Often, brain injuries without outward wounds go undiagnosed. Symptoms can be slow to appear. Brain injuries such as those suffered by Vargas and Sherburne commonly do not show up on MRIs or CT scans.

There is also the complicating factor of Marine Corps culture.

"Marines are taught to be self-reliant, to not complain, to 'suck it up and do your job,' " said Dr. Michael Lobatz, director of the rehabilitation center at Scripps-Encinitas and a clinical assistant professor at the UC San Diego medical school. "As a result, Marines are often delayed in getting recognition for their symptoms."

At Camp Pendleton, Marines are examined for possible concussion injuries when they return from Iraq and again 90 days later. Those showing signs of injury are referred for further examination at the base hospital's concussion clinic.

Navy doctors and corpsmen, as part of their pre-deployment training, now receive additional instruction in how to spot and treat brain injuries.

A study by the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., suggests that "closed-brain" injuries — those without visible wounds — outnumber penetrating brain injuries by 7 to 1. Navy Capt. Edward Hessel, the top doctor with the 1st Marine Division, said he thinks the number may be far greater.

2nd LAAD Marines recognized for capturing known terrorist

AL ASAD, Iraq (Apr. 11, 2007) -- Two Marines from Battery B, 2nd Low Altitude Aircraft Defense Battalion, were recently recognized for their efforts on a patrol that occurred Feb. 23.


Apr. 11, 2007

By Sgt. Anthony Guas, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (FWD)

Lance Cpls. Darryl E. Webb and Kenneth L. Houge Jr., were presented with Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals by Brig. Gen. Timothy C. Hanifen, the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward) commanding general, March 12, for playing a vital role in spotting and capturing an insurgent.

“I think it is absolutely awesome and critical that we work very hard to acknowledge Marines for the great things that they do,” said Sgt. Maj. Todd Parisi, the 2nd LAAD sergeant major. “It was great for the battalion, their battery, and all the Marines and Sailors to have the honor of having the 2nd MAW (Fwd) commanding general come down and spend some time with these Marines, award them and let them all know that the job they do is outstanding, and as important as any other in the theater of operations.”

Webb, a Cobra team rifleman, and Houge, a Cobra team squad leader, are part of the Entry Control Point Quick Reaction Force, which conducts multiple patrols and provides base security.

“We go out and check the area,” said Webb, the Detroit, Mich., native. “We are taught to look for anything suspicious.”

The ECP QRF Marines search the Iraqis to ensure that they are not carrying any dangerous devices or materials.

On Feb. 23, Webb identified a suspicious subject and Houge led his Marines in capturing the suspect, who later turned out to be a known insurgent.

The insurgent was placed in a long term detainment facility, eliminating his ability to operate freely throughout the Al Anbar Province, according to the award citations.

“I’m happy, honestly splendid that this guy is not in town anymore, because they know for a fact that he is not just an insurgent in the making,” said Houge. “He is a known terrorist. It saves lives.”

Webb and Houge believe that their actions have saved the lives of countless Marines.

“I feel that we did something that let them know that if they are going to be around our (area of operations), we will not stand for any of that,” said Webb.

Although the Marines enjoyed their recognition, they believe that they were just doing their part.

“The award is just one of the perks, I wasn’t really looking for an award while I was out there, I was just trying to make sure that they weren’t hurting anyone,” said Webb. “I thank the Marine Corps for giving me the award. I was just doing my job. If it was up to me, I believe that if they gave two of us awards, they should have given us all an award.”

Houge and Webb believe that their efforts are not just an isolated event, but a representation of the hard work of the Marines of 2nd LAAD.

“I feel that we are doing a good job,” said Houge. “I think that 2nd LAAD is exceptional at everything it does. You could ask anybody here all the way from the general down, they’ll tell you the same thing.”

Houge acted decisively as a team leader, maneuvering his two vehicles into a position to capture the insurgent, while Webb’s vigilance in performing his duties was directly responsible for the initial sighting and subsequent apprehension of the insurgent, according to Lt. Col. Bruce Barnhill, the 2nd LAAD commanding officer.

“Lance corporals Houge and Webb received well deserved recognition for their performance, but their recognition is representative of all the dedicated Marines within the command,” said Barnhill. “Their actions are reflective of all the young leaders, both officer and enlisted, that are members of 2nd LAAD.”

MASS-1 Marines dedicate command post to fallen comrade

AL ASAD, Iraq (Apr. 11, 2007) -- The “Chieftains” of Marine Air Support Squadron 1 recently dedicated their command post at Camp Fallujah to a fallen brother.


Apr. 11, 2007

By Cpl. Zachary Dyer, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (FWD)

The MASS-1 Marines dedicated CP Bryson to the memory of their fellow Chieftain, Staff Sgt. James Bryson Jr., March 14.

“He sacrificed a lot for his country,” said Lt. Col Ward Quinn, the MASS-1 commanding officer. “The loss of him directly impacted the unit. To have us back here at the same base where he basically spent the last 13 months of his life, we thought we would do a little bit and dedicate the command post to Staff Sergeant Bryson”

Bryson, a Columbia, S.C., native, attended recruit training aboard Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., in 1997. He was attached to MASS-1 in the spring of 2001, as a radio operator.

The Marines of MASS-1 remember Bryson as a person who had a great sense of humor and who knew how to raise the morale of the people around him.

“He was one of those people who could be at a bus stop and be ‘Hey how’s it going?’,” said Sgt. Abimael Clemente, an aviation systems communications specialist with MASS-1. “He just made your day. That’s what I liked. He was a people person. He was always in a good mood and he spread that around.”

The Marines also remember Bryson as a good leader who knew how to get the job done.

“If something needed to get done, it always got taken care of pretty quickly,” said Cpl. Lionel Fermin, a MASS-1 tactical data systems technician. “He was pretty good on that. He took care of his Marines.”

Bryson deployed with the squadron in January 2005. During that time he was he was instrumental in moving the Direct Air Support Center from Camp Blue Diamond to its present location at Camp Fallujah.

“Nothing probably would have gotten done if Staff Sergeant Bryson, well he was a sergeant at the time, if he wasn’t there,” said Maj. Alfred Sanchez, the MASS-1 operations officer. “He was just the go to guy. If you needed a HESCO barrier filled or if you needed a piece of heavy equipment, not to mention the operational side. He was just a fantastic facilitator.”

Bryson chose to stay with the second rotation of Chieftains to Camp Fallujah. He was promoted to staff sergeant February 2006, just before returning home.

“I remember when he was getting ready to be pinned on (as staff sergeant), we talked a little bit about stepping up, adding that rocker,” said Sanchez. “He was ready for it.”
Bryson was murdered in Havelock, N.C., March 3, 2006, just three weeks after coming home from a 13-month deployment to Iraq.

Bryson’s death devastated the Chieftains.

“Here you have a good Marine that people looked up to, and he was gone,” said Fermin.

The loss affected the Marines of the squadron in various ways. Some lost a good friend. Others, a good leader. Even those who did not know Bryson were affected, according to Clemente.

“It affected everybody else because of the simple fact that it could happen to every single one of us,” said Clemente. “He spent 13 months in a combat zone and didn’t get a scratch on him, and then he goes back to the states and something really bad happens.”

The dedicated command post is not the only way the Chieftains remember Bryson. Every year they run the Chieftain Challenge.

For 24 hours, the Marines of MASS-1 run a three-mile course aboard Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, NC. While the Marines run, they carry batons with the names of fallen Chieftains written on them, according to Sanchez.

Sanchez said as long as the Marines of MASS-1 continue the Chieftain Challenge, they will never forget Marines like Staff Sgt. James Bryson Jr.
He will always be a Chieftain.

Grand Rapids based Marines coming home

Grand Rapids - The Grand Rapids-based Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 24th Marines, will be coming home soon. Sunday, the families of the 170 Grand Rapids marines prepared for the homecoming.


4/11/2007 2:21:29 PM

Marine commanders say while the return is happy, there can be hurdles for the families to get over.

Alpha company has served in Iraq for almost six months and commanders say it has been a tough deployment.

"We've lost four marines from Alpha company in combat and we've had another dozen marines wounded so they've been serving under very difficult conditions," said Lt. Col. Joe Rossi. "So the marines are excited to get home with their families and these families are very excited to hold their marines in their arms once again."

Before their return to Grand Rapids, Alpha Company will spend a few days in California for medical exams.

Michigan Reservists come from all over the state and even Ohio.

Peacetime Wartime Support Team Officer Major S.D. Wiley says, "Reserve Battalion Marines are divided across the state in Lansing, Saginaw, Selfridge ANGB and even as far away as Perrysburg Ohio."

The Reservist group has seen some action in combat and they've lost some brothers along the way. Lt. Col. Rossi says, "That's certainly true. These marines have been in the heart of the Al Anbar Province, in the vicinity of Fallujah. They have been engaged in combat every day they've been over there. We've had four marines killed in action, Sgt. Tom Gilbert, Lance Corporal Jonothan Thornsberry, Corporate Jacob Neal and Private First class Brett Witteveen," they will not be forgotten.

One of the operations they conducted, with the support of the Grand Rapids community was a donation of $24,000 of supplies to Fallujah General Hospital which was inside the Alpha Companies area of operations.

"They saw the hospital was in need and got some great response from the community of Grand Rapids," says Lt. Col. Rossi. "I know the families are extremely proud of what they've done. They're just waiting to get their boys in their arms."

The Grand Rapids based unit is still overseas in Iraq. The unit is currently working with an active duty unit from Camp Lejeune South Carolina to turn over their operation. The Iraq transition takes 2-3 weeks and is then turned over to the new unit from Lejeune. Once their replacements are trained the Alpha Company will leave from Kuwait and come to an LLOC location dealing with supply issues, medical and dental screenings and to debrief in California.

Major S.D. Wiley says, "They'll be coming over in multiple waves over a 5 day period." The Major says the Alpha Company, over a 5-6 day period, should return to Michigan sometime in late April or early May.

The Alpha Company will return to their Home Training Center in Grand Rapids for their final administration process sometime in May and will go back into Reserve status.

April 10, 2007

Marines keep Rutbah trouble free

RUTBAH, Iraq – When dawn broke over the desert, the parked silhouettes of armored personnel carriers were visible in the distance, vehicles that had not been there the night before. With that first light, the sound of fists knocking on doors echoed through the community Coalition Forces had dubbed, “Germantown.”

Click on the above link for photos.

Cpl. Chris Stankiewicz

Lines of Marines filed through the streets of the small, gated community outside Rutbah, the last major Iraqi city before the Jordanian and Syrian borders. Guards established lines of fire at strategic intersections as snipers scaled collapsible ladders to rooftops. Under their watchful gaze, they approached homes carrying door-breaching equipment and metal detectors, an explosives sniffing military working dog trailing behind. Iraqi Highway Police vehicles patrolled the streets, stopping when uniformed officers needed to speak to locals or investigate a mosque. This was a standard search for contraband and weapons caches, an operation known as a cordon and knock. Perimeters were established and houses systematically searched.

“We’re searching for standard weapons caches, (improvised explosive devices), IED-making material and anyone who comes up on our biometrics automated tool set as a potential terrorist.” said 2nd Lt. Justin Coons, platoon commander for Company B, 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, attached to Task Force Tarawa.

The operation was mirrored in the town of Ramalia to the north, both areas lie outside the normal patrol boundaries set for the small forward operating bases that dot Rutbah. Despite a history of hospitable reception and cooperation from locals, the community of approximately 50 homes had yielded caches of arms and explosives on several occasions. The early morning search gave Marines of Task Force Tarawa, a detachment of Marines and other military assets from Regimental Combat Team 2, a chance to familiarize themselves with an area of operations they had assumed from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) only weeks prior.

“It’s been a pretty docile environment,” said Coons. “Basically, it has the same atmospherics as in Rutbah itself. The people are relatively friendly. Everything we’ve experienced today is definitely very compliant and very friendly toward us. The biggest thing is, we just haven’t had a patrolling effort out here. So, we wanted to come through and double check and make sure the area is swept and clear before we give it the thumbs up that we can move on and move to other areas.”

Aside from the odd locked or empty building where Coalition Forces were required to make a forced entry, homeowners opened their doors to searching Marines, cooperating with requests to gather families into one room during searches. This was nothing new to the locals, the 15th MEU (SOC) had conducted similar searches throughout their tenure in Rutbah.

“The 15th MEU came in here with a pretty hard push and got a lot of the insurgents out of the area or detained,” said Coons. “The quality of life has been significantly improved after that push, so they’re definitely more compliant because of that.”

The morning yielded few surprises. Men owning AK-47s were questioned, though none exceeded the legal limit of one rifle per household. The lack of contraband in no way meant the operation was a failure, Coons asserted. The presence of Coalition Forces alone sent a positive message to the residents of Germantown.

“The biggest concern (is) we’re looking out not only for our welfare, but their welfare, and getting that message out to them,” said Coons. “Sometimes, we have to do things that might inconvenience them for the time being, but we’re fully confident that the ends justify the means. We’ve certainly been working toward that end, and I think the people of Rutbah understand that.”

The battle back home

ELLENVILLE - Sgt. Eddie Ryan says he has the determination of pit bull and has a tattoo to prove it.


By Joshua M. Rinaldi, Freeman staff


But the real proof of the Ellenville Marine's determination are the last two years of his life. He has battled back from the brink of death after being shot twice in the head with large-caliber bullets on a rooftop in Iraq.

"The doctor's prediction was that he would not live," his mother Angie Ryan said. "They flew us to Germany to be with him in his final moments."

For the first month of his recovery, he was on life support and the doctors changed their prognosis. They said he'd live but probably would be in a vegetative state or have no memory of his family.

Friday will mark the two-year anniversary of Ryan's injury. Now 23, Ryan is talking, writing with his left hand (he was right-handed) and remembers everyone. His dad, Chris Ryan, said the joke around the house is that if you don't remember something, ask Eddie.

It's taken speech, physical and occupational therapy to get Ryan to this point and much more will be needed to continue his recovery. However, Ryan remains upbeat. His father said they do therapy every night. He helps his son do sit-ups and said they usually do about 50. Last Tuesday evening, as he grabbed his son's hands to help him up, the younger Ryan grinned and said "100."

Ryan's enthusiasm is matched by his parent's urgency. This is the crucial time for Ryan's recovery and he's not getting the therapy he should be, they said.

Chris Ryan thinks the Veteran's Administration just wasn't prepared for the amount of casualties that would be coming back from the war and they are especially unprepared to treat traumatic brain injuries like his son's. After two tours in Iraq, Ryan is still fighting a battle.

"If our son wasn't so seriously injured, we could tell you true stories (about the Veteran's Administration) and laugh," Chris Ryan said. "It's a joke what goes on. It really is, but it's not a funny joke."

Terry Breitenstein, director of Ulster County's Veterans' Service Agency, agreed that the country was not prepared for the repercussions of the Iraq war. He said there is a lack of money, a lack of manpower and a lack of attention to detail.

Breitenstein said Ryan's problem is not unique, but is occurring nationwide. In over 20 years of working with veterans, the demand is the busiest he's ever seen it.

"My concern is this: This is one instance. What happens if we get another Eddie Ryan or two more Eddie Ryans (in the area)?" Breitenstein said.

Chris and Angie Ryan say that it's been one fight after another to get their son the treatment he needs. First, they fought to get him home and out of the VA hospital. The family received a $50,000 grant to convert their house into one with adequate space for his rehabilitation, but said the renovation relied on the generosity of construction companies because they only recently received the check.

Next, it was trying to buy a walking machine to help him regain the use of his legs. Eventually, the family laid out $11,000 for the machine by themselves.

The latest struggle is getting Ryan enough therapy. He is cleared for five occupational therapy session a week and is only getting one, they said. Throughout the process, the family said it has relied heavily on assistance from U.S. Rep. Maurice Hinchey's office.

"If he gets the proper therapeutic care, he can gradually begin to return to a somewhat normal life," Hinchey, D-Hurley, said.

Likewise, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer has a member of his staff meeting with the Ryan family today to discuss assistance.

"Our veterans should never have to worry if there is going to be enough money to pay for their care. They have earned far better from the federal government," Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a prepared statement.

Peter R. Potter, public affairs officer for Albany Stratton VA Medical Center, said he couldn't discuss the Ryan case because of federal laws. However, he said the Veterans Administration leads the nation in customer satisfaction in both the public and private sector.

Chris Ryan doesn't buy it. He said organizations like the Semper Fi Fund for injured marines and the Coalition to Salute All America's Hero as well as individual donations, are the prime reason for Ryan's recovery.

"These people pick up where the government doesn't," Chris Ryan said. "These organizations, if it weren't for them, life would be much harder."

Mrs. Ryan estimates that they spend about $800 a week getting her son massage therapy, music therapy, extra physical therapy and chiropractors. Adding to the financial burden, she quit her job to be with her son and Chris Ryan said he has cut back on his overtime and weekend work.

Now the family is also struggling to get recognition for Marines who saved their son's life. They said they had been told the Marines had been recommended for a Bronze Star, but haven't received it to date, possibly because Ryan was wounded by friendly fire. Recognizing the Marines who saved their son's life would afford some closure, they said.

Despite his injuries and his trouble getting treatment, Ryan hasn't been disillusioned with the military.

"I want to go back in the Marines," he said of his long-term goal.

Under current laws, Chris Ryan explained that within five years, if his son can recover enough to do a job in the Marines, they'll take him back. Chris and Angie Ryan have faith that if their son gets the treatment he needs, he'll make that recovery.

Hinchey is optimistic that the system is changing, but thinks that it will take time. He looks at the potential VA center for traumatic brain injuries at the Northeast Center for Special Care in Lake Katrine as another possible source of hope for the Ryan family.

Bonhomme Richard, other ships sail for 6-month deployment

SAN DIEGO – Four ships attached to the Bonhomme Richard Strike Group, along with about 6,000 sailors and Marines, left San Diego Tuesday on a six-month deployment in support of the war on terrorism.


April 10, 2007

“This strike group can provide humanitarian assistance if needed, all the way up to combat operations if required,” Cmdr. Mark Balmert told reporters.

The strike group is made up of the amphibious assault ship Bonhomme Richard, transport dock Denver, dock landing ship Rushmore and guided missile cruisers Chosin, Milius and Chung-Hoon.

Chosin and Chung-Hoon are based in Hawaii and will meet up with the rest of the strike group in the Pacific Ocean, according to the Navy.

Elements of the Bonhomme Richard Strike Group last deployed in 2005 to provide humanitarian aid following tsunami damage in Indonesia.

Marines from the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit deploy

SAN DIEGO -- As the massive ship pulled away Tuesday morning, Melissa Trevino watched, red-eyed and silent. A friend stood behind her, wrapping the 32-year-old Oceanside woman in a hug.


By: TERI FIGUEROA - Staff Writer

Dozens of other people at the end of the Navy pier turned to leave after a final wave goodbye to the troops aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard as it set sail.

But not Trevino. She stayed for a while, chewing on her fingernail and following the amphibious assault ship with her eyes until it finally slipped underneath the Coronado Bridge and began to pull out of sight.

"He's leaving again," Trevino said of the thought that repeated in her head as she watched the ship, part of the Expeditionary Strike Group that left from Naval Station San Diego.

It is the third time Trevino, whose husband is a Camp Pendleton Marine, has said a long goodbye to her husband since the start of the Iraq war. Pfc. Arturo Trevino was in Iraq in 2004, in the volatile city of Fallujah, and again in late 2005, in the city of Haditha.

"It's hard," Melissa Trevino said after the ship was out of sight. "Right now, I just depend on friends."

And this time, although the official mission is ambiguous, some of the 5,000 Marines and sailors who left Tuesday morning say they are prepared to head into Iraq. The troops are taking part in what is scheduled to be a deployment of at least six months to the Pacific and Central Commands, which include the Persian Gulf.

While officials called the deployment "routine," they said some of the Marines on board could find themselves in Iraq.

"At some point they will likely enter the Fifth Fleet area of operations, which is responsible for naval operations in Iraq," Navy spokesman Sr. Chief Jack Chirrick said Monday.

Some 2,200 Camp Pendleton and Miramar Marines are on board the ships that make up much of Expeditionary Strike Group 5. Two more ships out of Hawaii will join the group for its mission.

An expeditionary strike group is a group of ships that transport and deliver Marines, Chirrick said.

The Marines who shipped out are part of the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which serves as the part of the strike group trained to go on land. The expeditionary strike group also includes the USS Denver and USS Rushmore.

There are approximately 25,000 Marines in Iraq now, most from the II Marine Expeditionary Force based at Camp Lejeune, N.C. Most of the men and women from Camp Pendleton's I Marine Expeditionary Force, along with several Miramar Marine Corps Air Station units, are now home.

Smaller Camp Pendleton and Miramar units and individual troops remain in Iraq filling critical jobs.

The last two times Marines with the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit were deployed on a ship, they ended up in Iraq. The first time, they were on the ground for about six weeks; the second time, the mission in Iraq lasted about four months ---- but not before stopping in the Philippines to take part in a humanitarian mission.

"They go where they are needed," Col. Sam Mundy, the commanding officer of the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, said as he stood on a pier at the 32nd street station south of downtown San Diego before the ship left. "We train for the unknown. We handle a wide range of missions, among the widest in the Marine Corps."

The Marines and sailors on board the ships teamed up in October to begin the rigorous training in preparation for the deployment.

Their training covered working in urban environments and practicing the evacuation of civilians. The troops also trained to carry out humanitarian operations, which involved providing food, water, medical attention and rebuilding services ---- all while keeping watch for threat of insurgents.

"We routinely train to this standard," Mundy said. "The added emphasis is we know there is a hot war going on over there."

In recent years, previous ship deployments for Marines have involved humanitarian missions during emergencies. They helped with the massive tsunami in South Asia in late 2004 that killed more than 175,000 people and the powerful earthquake that rocked Pakistan in 2005, killing 80,000 people.

As he stood on board the USS Bonhomme Richard and waited for the ship to push off, Lance Cpl. Ryan Beamish said the training makes a difference.

"Watching everybody do it, I know we are fully capable to totally execute what we were taught," Beamish said. "My buddies aren't gonna let me fall."

Beamish, who is married and heading out on his first deployment, gave a bit of a wistful look out over the pier below the ship and at the city beyond. "It's pretty rough to say goodbye to the good land, the home front."

For the family of R.J. Smith of Springfield, Ill., the news that the 20-year-old Marine was casting off with this strike group came as a surprise ---- a change of plans that came about early last week, when Smith was ordered to fill in for another Marine. Smith's family flew out to California within a day of finding out he would be heading out on his first deployment.

"It's quite amazing in San Diego, the amount of support they show," said his father, Bob Smith, a retired psychologist.

Asked how it feels to look up and see his son about to sail off ---- and eventually maybe into the Middle East ---- Smith paused. He looked away to blink back tears. "I'm not sure I can answer that," he said.

His wife, Kristine, when asked the same question a few moments later, also looked away and fought tears.

"I'm really proud," she said after a moment. "He's worked really hard and this is what he's wanted to do his whole life."

As the family spoke, R.J. Smith stood on board the ship about three stories high. His beaming face could be seen by those down to the pier.

When the Bonhomme Richard readied to cast off under mostly blue skies Tuesday, hundreds of Marines and sailors lined the deck, as they traditionally do.

Beneath them, hanging out of portholes and other openings on the ship, other troops waved goodbyes. Above the fray came the voice of one little boy on the pier, who yelled out, " 'Bye, daddy!"

As the ship pulled away from the pier, there were hugs, and there were tears. Pregnant women rubbed their bellies; worried wives cried.

But from the ship, in a porthole near the front, one final shout drew a laugh: "We'll see you when we get back ---- and we'll have some salt and pepper chicken!"

Piketon, Ohio, Marine awarded Purple Heart for wounds received in Iraq

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (April 10, 2007) -- The Purple Heart medal has been awarded to service members and civilians since 1932 for wounds received in action against enemies of the United States and its allies.


Lance Cpl. David A. Weikle, 2nd Marine Division, Marine Corps News

On April 6, Cpl. Christopher Grubb, a Marine with 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, joined the estimated 1.7 million men and women who have received the medal.

The original Purple Heart medal was established by Gen. George Washington at Newburgh, N.Y., as the Badge of Military Merit, on Aug. 7, 1782. It was awarded to three soldiers during the American Revolutionary War.

On Sept. 1, 2006, Grubb, a squad leader with 3rd Bn., 2nd Marines, led his squad on a combat patrol. One of Grubb’s fire team leaders, Lance Cpl. Cliff Golla, stepped on a pressure-plate, setting off an improvised explosive device. The blast killed Golla and severely injured three other Marines, including Grubb.

“We had just left the observation post,” Grubb, a Piketon, Ohio, native, recalled. “We were a kilometer away from the observation post when the IED went off.”

At first Grubb didn’t realize how the blast affected him.

“I didn’t hear the blast,” explained Grubb, who was knocked off his feet by the blast thirty meters from him. “I went to wipe my head and saw I was bleeding. I tried to get up but I couldn’t.”

Grubb’s skull was fractured and his jaw was broken. He suffered a concussion and his left eardrum was busted. The left side of his face suffered nerve damage, which he still lives with.

Marines at the observation post saw the attack and moved into action, sending out a quick reaction force. Grubb and the other injured Marines were medically evacuated to Taqaddum, Iraq.

“All they did at TQ was change out my bandages and get me ready to fly to Balad,” said the 2003 Paint Valley High School graduate explaining how serious his injuries were. “When I got to Balad, I was immediately admitted to surgery.”

Grubb spent a few days at Balad to begin the healing process. He flew to Germany for another surgery where he spent a week being treated and monitored. He was then flown to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., for a third surgery. Grubb began recovering again and went on convalescent leave to heal.

Lt. Col. Todd Desgrosseilliers, commanding officer of the battalion, presented the award to Grubb during a ceremony in front the battalion.

“It’s an honor to give any Marine an award,” Desgrosseilliers said after the ceremony. “I’m always glad to present a Purple Heart to a Marine, because it means they’re still with us.”

Grubb said the attack has not affected his career plans, and he is in the process of reenlisting.

“It’s not something I tried for,” said Grubb, a husband and a father of four. “It’s an honorable award, but not one I was expecting.”

April 9, 2007

Tears, joy mix for isle families. Kaneohe Marines return as more local Guard members prepare to leave

The first 250 of 1,000 Kaneohe Marines arrived yesterday from Iraq, bringing joy and tears to their families.But as they celebrated their return, another group of Hawaii soldiers was preparing to leave.2 soldiers with isle ties die in Iraq


By Gregg K. Kakesako

Members of the Hawaii Army National Guard posted in Hilo were to leave for Iraq today.

The Guard unit is likely to face an increasingly hostile Iraq, after a powerful Shiite cleric ordered his militiamen to redouble their efforts to oust "your arch enemy."

The cleric's announcement yesterday came as U.S. forces reported the weekend deaths of 10 American soldiers. Officials also reported the death of two soldiers with Hawaii ties: Pfc. Jay S. Cajimat, 20, of Lahaina died Friday in Baghdad; Sgt. Forrest D. Cauthorn, 22, of Midlothian, Va., died in Hawijah on Thursday.

According to various media reports, security remained so tenuous in Baghdad on the eve of the fourth anniversary of the U.S. capture of the city that Iraq's military declared a 24-hour ban on all vehicles in the capital from 5 a.m. today.

The government also quickly reinstated today as a holiday, just a day after it decreed that April 9 no longer would be a day off.

Lance Cpl. Edgar Salazar cradled his 5-week-old son, Anthony Alexander, like a pro.

Staff Sgt. William Swinson was looking forward to celebrating his 13th wedding anniversary today after missing it last year because he was deployed to Afghanistan.

These Kaneohe Marines were among the 250 members from the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, who were the first to arrive home yesterday after spending seven months in the Al Anbar province northwest of Baghdad.

It will take several charter flights over the next 10 days before all of the nearly 1,000 Marines will be back in the islands. They are being replaced by Marines from their sister unit, the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines. It will be the second combat tour for the 1st Battalion, which also fought in Afghanistan for seven months beginning December 2005.

For Swinson, 36, this Iraqi tour was the sixth time he deployed since he enlisted in the Marine Corps 17 years ago.
For his wife, Monique, this last combat tour "was a little rougher" than the earlier ones.

"I'm glad to have him home safely," she said as she watched her husband hug their 3-year-old daughter, Taniya.

Swinson's unit took over nearly 1,200 square miles of Al Anbar province in the "triad region" of Haditha, Haqlaniyah and Barwana from another sister unit -- the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines -- in September. Within a few weeks, the 2nd Battalion was the target of insurgent roadside bombs and sniper fire.

The 2nd Battalion lost 23 Marines during its deployment; 100 were wounded. Half of its combat deaths occurred during their first three months in Iraq.

Yesterday at a Kaneohe Bay hangar, their thoughts were on family and friends.
The Marines who arrived yesterday were the first of nearly 1,000 who will be returning to Kaneohe over the next 10 days.

Salazar, 19, said he learned of his son's birth on Feb. 28, right after he came off a patrol.
Until yesterday the only way he knew what his son looked like was through the photos his wife, Julieanna, sent to him via e-mail.

Cpl. Wade Mayhew, 23, said his plan for the next several days is "just to talk and hang out" with his wife. Mayhew also is a combat veteran of the Afghanistan war.

Isabel Portillo said before she does anything else, she plans "to go to church and say a prayer" for the safe return of her boyfriend, Cpl. Christopher Taylor, who survived a second Iraqi combat tour.

April 8, 2007

First LAR comes bearing gifts

COMBAT OUTPOST RAWAH, IRAQ (April 8, 2007) -- Marines and Iraqi children alike within the western Euphrates River valley realized presents don’t always have to be specially wrapped with bows; they can be enjoyed just as much in a cardboard packing box.


April 8, 2007; Submitted on: 04/08/2007 04:59:41 AM ; Story ID#: 20074845941
By Lance Cpl. Ryan C. Heiser, 2nd Marine Division

First Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion dropped off food and grilling supplies at Combat Outpost Anah, and Combat Outpost Reyanah showing their appreciation for the hardships the Marines in Company L, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 2 have endured on the small outposts they patrol and keep watch over.

Sgt. Nicholas M. Pacione, a mortar section leader with Company L, and Lance Cpl. Johnny E. Tambunga, a rifleman with the company, were among the Marines who received the surprise chow drop from 1st LAR.

Pacione, a Round Lake, Ill., native who works on COP Anah, said the chow would be a welcome relief from the meager Meal Ready to Eat he is used to.

“We are going to love this, we’ve been here for six to seven months with MREs and eating this good chow is going to be great,” agreed Tambunga, an Ozona, Texas, native, who works on COP Reyanah.

As the Marines with 1st LAR unloaded their gifts, one of the workers could be heard singing his version of holiday carols.

Each COP received a grill, charcoal, 120 portions of steak, 24 portions of chicken, various sodas, cookies, canned fruit, pudding, condiments, and hand sanitizer.

“Some of these guys probably haven’t seen anything as simple as canned fruit in months,” said Staff Sgt. Robert J. Downing, a York Beach, Maine, native, and 1st LAR’s battalion mess chief.

The chow drop was just the first part in the operation, the second half was dedicated to delivering toys, clothes, and school supplies to the Iraqi children within the small village of Reyanah.

The 1st LAR Jump Team parked their vehicles in a small clearing in the heart of the village and handed out paper, pencils, soccer balls, shoes, and other things to the small children who had gathered to watch them arrive.

Many of the same children, along with their parents, waved and gave ‘thumbs up’ when it was time for the team to depart the area.

One small boy, a yellow soccer ball in his hands, skipped away from the group of Marines shouting happily in Arabic and yelling two words over and over, “Thank you! Thank you!”


April 7, 2007

Bronze Star awarded to Marine

Sgt. Tony S. Flynn will tell you he was just doing his job. The Bronze Star Medal, though, indicates he did more.


Lance Cpl. Bryan Eberly

Flynn, a 22-year-old former squad leader with Company B, 1st Battalion, 1st Ma-rine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, was awarded the Bronze Star Medal with combat distinguishing device March 23, at an awards ceremony aboard Camp Horno here.

He received the award for his selfless leadership in Al Anbar province, Iraq, April 2006.

“You do what you got to do over there,” Flynn said.

According to the award citation, Flynn was serving with Company B to defend an embattled Iraqi Army outpost against insurgent attacks.

While moving in his squad, his convoy was ambushed by small arms and rocket-propelled grenade fire from both sides of the road. He dismounted his squad and returned fire.

While maneuvering along the counterattack positions in order to aid his Marines, he noticed a four-man insurgent team setting up an RPG position. With complete disregard to his own safety, Flynn charged the position with his rifle and hand grenades. He killed one insurgent, wounded a second, and disrupted the rest of the enemy force.

Once inside the outpost, Flynn assembled a counter-attack team to breakdown the insurgent threat further. With his squad and a squad of Iraqi soldiers, Flynn cleared houses in the area where enemy fire was originating. This action forced the enemy to flee and brought peace to the outpost.

“By his zealous initiative, courageous actions and exceptional dedication to duty, Sgt. Flynn reflected great credit upon himself and his naval service,” read 1st Sgt. John S. Kob, Company B first sergeant, from the citation. “Protect the guy next to you, and complete your mission. That’s just how it is.”

April 6, 2007

Heavy Equipment Marines support grunts in fight

AR RAMADI, Iraq (April 6, 2007) -- As Marines and Iraqi Security Forces on the ground protect the community by providing safety and security for the citizens here, it is the Marines of Detachment 2, Combat Logistics Battalion 6, 2nd Marine Logistics Group (Forward) who provide strong defensive positions for the protectors.


April 6, 2007; Submitted on: 04/06/2007 02:11:17 AM ; Story ID#: 20074621117
By Cpl. Wayne Edmiston, 2nd Marine Logistics Group

The heavy equipment operators with the detachment are responsible for placing force protection measures such as concrete barriers around the city’s numerous observation posts and delivering vital supplies such as Meals Ready-to-Eat and water.

Lance Cpl. James R. Armstrong, a heavy equipment operator with the detachment, said the equipment they use varies for each mission.

The Marines mainly use either the Tractor Rubber Tire Actuated Multipurpose forklift known simply as a TRAM, or the Military Millennium Vehicle.

Corporal David J. Francis, a heavy equipment operator with the detachment, performs these types of missions daily.

“We load the barriers at Camp Ramadi, then offload them when we get out into the city,” the Denham Springs, La., native explained. “Wherever you see a concrete barrier in Ramadi, it had to be put there by us.”

Many observation posts in Ramadi are former homes of Iraqis now occupied by Marines. Prior to the emplacement of the barriers these houses provide minimal protection for the infantrymen who inhabit them.

Today’s mission is Observation Post Gunfighter. Besides having an intimidating name, the observation post is controlled by 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, and overlooks streets in which insurgents have been known to lurk.

The heavy equipment operators are not intimated and a have a mission to perform – keeping their fellow comrades safe.

“Whenever we are there operating, it’s great to know we are helping them out,” Francis continued.

Since being with the detachment, Francis said he has gotten to try all sorts of mission types, which include night missions and lifting anything the Marine Corps needs them to.

The operators’ missions can last for days. When they are not operating, they switch “hats” to riflemen, providing security in the observation posts with the troops on the ground.

“My favorite types of missions are the ones when you get to scoop something,” he said with a smile. “What I mean by that is getting to pick up a strange and awkward item can be fun.

Lifting metal Conex boxes or Quadcons is what we do in the States and it gets boring.”
Boredom is something the heavy equipment operators do not experience often because of the long hours they spend working, Francis said.

“We do missions non-stop and many units don’t understand our capabilities and our gear. A lot of the time units will call and be surprised on what we can actually do for them.”

Armstrong explained that his job has some personal satisfaction at the end of day.
“Seeing a finished product at the end of the day is hugely rewarding,” the Elkhart, Ind., native continued. “It’s also great to help out fellow Marines in combat. That is what we are here for.”

Marine Corps families around the nation to gather for combat deployment support conference

St. Louis, MO – April 6, 2007 - United States Marine Corps family members from around the country will gather in St. Louis at the MarineParents.com conference to learn about the Marine Corps, combat deployment, recovery from combat, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and ways to encourage awareness for Troop Support in their own communities. Attendance will range from new Marine families, families experiencing first, second or third combat deployments, and families who have experienced casualties of combat.

MarineParents.com, Inc. will be hosting the 2nd Annual National Conference for Marine Corps family and friends at the Adam's Mark Hotel, April 20 - 22, 2007 from noon Friday through noon Sunday. A benefit dinner will be held on Saturday, April 21, 2007, from 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. and will include a silent auction.

“Giving families an opportunity to connect with one another and understand they are not alone in the emotions of having a loved one deployed to a combat zone, is important for mental and emotional health. Education about the Marine Corps and combat deployment is crucial,” said Tracy Della Vecchia, director of the national organization. The conference will give families an opportunity to learn about combat deployment and recovery, and meet one another to share stories and emotions.

The Keynote speaker Saturday evening will be Lt. General George R. Christmas, United States Marine Corps, Retired, and current President of the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation. First Lieutenant Matthew H. Hilton, from the Department of Defense "Why We Serve" program, and recently returned from Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, will also be speaking Saturday evening.

Speakers Friday evening include national speaker Dr. Mike Colson, a former Navy Commander and Chaplain who is now the outreach coordinator with the Seattle Veteran’s Center assisting returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, and Colonel Jack Jackson, a retired Marine Corps combat pilot, with over 600 combat missions during the Viet Nam conflict.

Saturday morning, Colonel Bryan P. McCoy will present "Preparing for Combat", highlighting the training Marines receive prior to being deployed to combat zones. Colonel McCoy, an active duty Marine, commanded the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines during Operation Iraqi Freedom, 2003 and 2004. His battalion was in Firdo’s Square on April 9, 2003 when the Saddam statue was pulled down.

Dr. Bridget C. Cantrell, author of the acclaimed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder book, Downrange to Iraq and Back, will present on the "Returning from Combat Deployment" discussion panel Saturday afternoon.

Andrew Carroll, editor of several books including War Letters, a New York Times bestseller, will participate in the Authors' Hall, on Saturday, April 21, 2007 from 2:00 p.m. through 4:30 p.m. Mr. Carroll's most recent book, Grace Under Fire: Letters of Faith in Times of War, will be available for sale. The Author's Hall is open to the public.

Additional authors include Dr. Bridgett Cantrell, Downrange to Iraq and Back and Warrior: Wired for Life; Colonel Bryan P. McCoy, The Passion of Command; Michelle Keener, Shared Courage; Gunnery Sergeant Robert Newman, USMCR, Minefields to Microphones; and Angela Brittain, Don't Forget to Look Up.

A benefit dinner, with proceeds going to support the 501(c)(3) projects of MarineParents.com, Inc. will be at the Adam's Mark Hotel on Saturday, April 21, 2007 from 6:00 - 10:00 p.m. Projects of the organization include Purple Heart Family Support™, The Care Package Project™, and Operation PAL™. The projects support Marines and their families during combat deployments and recovery from combat injuries. “Communities were asking us what they could do to support our troops” said Della Vecchia. “We developed appropriate programs to meet that community need, and that truly support the Marines.”

Register to attend the conference or purchase benefit dinner tickets online at www.MarineParentsConference.com. Full conference registration is $195 through April 12, 2007, or $225 on or after April 13. Registration includes all meals and events from Friday evening through Sunday morning. Saturday benefit dinner tickets for those not attending the full conference are $75. You may also call the office at (573) 449-2003.

MarineParents.com, Inc. provides support, information and services for Marines and their families, and encourages troop support through community awareness programs. The organization, a Missouri nonprofit corporation founded in January, 2003, is an IRS approved 501(c)(3) public charity. MarineParents.com is located at 2810 LeMone Industrial Boulevard in Columbia, Missouri. Additional information is available online at www.MarineParents.com or www.MarineParentsConference.com.

Contact Tracy Della Vecchia, founder and director, at (573) 449-2003 or [email protected].

April 5, 2007

Department Of Defense Announces Partnership With The Florida Agency For Health Care Administration

The Department of Defense, together with Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration, has partnered to pursue an interoperable network for sharing electronic medical information. This marks the first time that DoD has formed a network with and a non-federal entity to share electronic medical records.


This pilot collaboration between DoD and Florida is a model initiative to create a mechanism to share and exchange personal health information and data. Through this relationship, state health care providers who treat current and former military personnel and their families will have an opportunity to electronically access and exchange personal health information about their patients. When fully implemented, this initiative will improve providers’ ability to access and share information that may be used to treat uniformed and retired personnel at DoD and non-military locations.

“Today the Military Health System and the state of Florida begin an unprecedented partnership to exchange healthcare information that will enhance quality and efficiency for our mutual beneficiaries,” said Dr. Stephen Jones, principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for health affairs. “We hope to use the successes of this collaboration as a model to form sharing agreements with other states and healthcare entities in the future. It is an important step forward for healthcare IT.”

In 2004, President George W. Bush called for all Americans to have a privacy-protected electronic medical record by 2014. In August 2006, he expanded this initiative by calling on federal agencies providing healthcare to electronically share health information with each other and also with their private sector partners to enhance the quality and continuity of care for their beneficiaries.

This new partnership between the State of Florida and the DoD, will be executed through the Tampa Bay Regional Health Information Organization (RHIO), a state- and privately-funded entity.

“On behalf of all Floridians, I am honored the Department of Defense has selected our state as the inaugural site for this groundbreaking exchange of electronic health information,” said Dr. Andrew Agwunobi, secretary of the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration. “This partnership will not only enhance the quality of health care services provided to Florida’s active and retired military personnel and their families, it will strengthen Florida’s efforts to bring this vital health information technology to Floridians state wide.”

The location of this pilot project will be the Tampa Bay area, with the Tampa Bay RHIO taking the lead in developing the interface with AHLTA, the Military Health System’s (MHS) electronic health record system.

The MHS has approximately 700,000 beneficiaries who are residents or part-time residents of Florida, in addition to a large number of beneficiaries who visit the state and may find themselves in need of healthcare during their visit.

Because of the comprehensiveness of the clinical data AHLTA collects, and because of the high number of active duty and retired military and their dependents living in or visiting the state of Florida, DoD has the ability to provide vital information to Florida’s physicians to assist them with the care they provide service members and their families, while at the same time stimulating the further development of Florida’s health information technology network and its ability to share electronic health information.

Changes to annual rifle training put Marines on target

By Fred Zimmerman, Stars and Stripes
Pacific edition, Wednesday, April 5, 2006

CAMP HANSEN, Okinawa — It’s been six months since the Marine Corps implemented new yearly rifle range training standards, and according to a range officer here, the service is right on target.

To continue reading:


April 4, 2007

New Regiment Focuses on Wounded Marines, Sailors

WASHINGTON, April 4, 2007 – The U.S. Marine Corps has created a new regiment focused on tracking and assisting wounded Marines and sailors across the nation, the regiment’s first commander announced at a Pentagon news conference today.


By Carmen L. Gleason
American Forces Press Service

“The mission of the Wounded Warrior Regiment is to provide and facilitate assistance to wounded, ill and injured Marines, sailors and their families throughout the phases of their recovery,” said Marine Col. Gregory Boyle.

The Marine Corps has taken care of its own since 1775, Boyle said, and the way the Corps does it is through “caring and concerned leadership – from the commandant down to the individual Marine.”

Although taking care of their fellow Marines isn’t a new concept, Boyle said, the establishment of the regiment marks the first time the Marine Corps has given oversight in tracking wounded troops to one command.

He said a single data base and tracking system will help streamline the transition process and help Marines cut through red tape.

The Wounded Warrior Regiment plans to support troops as they navigate through medical evaluation boards and assist in the processing of traumatic life insurance claims, Boyle said. Regiment leaders will provide information on charitable organizations to family members and will ensure accountability in the management of non-medical phases of transition.

Boyle also said the regiment will ensure the continuation of care without discrimination to the type of illness, whether it is physical or behavioral.

Leaders within the command will strive to make the transition seamless for wounded sailors and Marines as they go from Defense Department care to that of the Veterans Affairs Department.

Former Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Michael W. Hagee established similar assistance under the “Marine for Life” program in 2005. Injured Marines and sailors used the nationwide network as a means to transition back to civilian life in their hometowns.

More emphasis was put on the existing program when current Marine Commandant Gen. James Conway made it one of his top priorities March 23 to establish a regiment with battalion headquarters on both the East and West coasts.

The regiment, with headquarters in Quantico, Va., is spending $53 million in new construction for its two battalions -- one on Camp Lejeune, N.C., and one on Camp Pendleton, Calif. Each battalion will have a barracks facility to house outpatient Marines who are recovering before returning to their units or who are transitioning out of the military to civilian life.

The two locations will help eliminate possible seams and cracks for Marines to fall through, Boyle said. Marines will receive the same level of support regardless of their location.

Efforts will first focus on the 370 Marines who are currently on inpatient and outpatient status at military medical centers across the country. After addressing these cases, Boyle said, he plans to widen his efforts.

“My vision is to get in touch with Marines from (Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom) efforts as far back as 2001 on a monthly basis,” the colonel said. “The new organization will allow us to give a personal touch to former Marines.”

April 3, 2007

Back from Iraq at last

Cpl. Noe Aguirre has never been on the other side of the bus.
He's always been the one arriving to be greeted with hugs from friends and family at homecomings for 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, 2nd Marine Division. But Monday, Aguirre was the one welcoming about 270 Marines and sailors home from Iraq.



Aguirre, 22, of Hollywood, was brought back to the U.S. after being wounded by an improvised explosive device in November. He now lives at the Wounded Warrior Barracks at Camp Lejeune.

"I'm excited, but at the same time I wish I was with them," Aguirre said while awaiting his fellow Marines' return. "A year ago I was the one on the bus coming in and seeing all of my family and friends cheering and holding signs. It was such a great feeling."

Monday, Aguirre was one of five wounded 2nd LAR Marines waiting, cheering and looking for the bus on the horizon. And although none of them are related to the Marines stepping off the buses, each considers them brothers.

It's a bond many of 2nd LAR's wounded said made the fight worth it.

"This is what it's all about, seeing my boys," said Cpl. Harley Herron, 21, wounded in the same blast as Aguirre. "They're family. We understand each other and watch out for each other."

Aguirre and Herron greeted fellow troops with big bear hugs as they stepped off the buses, but Aguirre was searching the crowds for one Marine in particular. He was eager to say thanks to Lance Cpl. Maurizio Denichilo, the man Aguirre says saved his life the day he was hit by an IED.

"If it wasn't for Denichilo, I'd have lost my leg and arm," Aguirre said. "He put a tourniquet on my leg and arm and stayed by me the whole time. He wouldn't let me go to sleep, which probably saved my life when I was losing so much blood."

When Denichilo stepped off one of six buses, he was also searching for Aguirre to see how his friend was doing in his recovery. The two laughed and hugged when they finally found each other in the crowd.

Denichilo was quick to claim he was no hero.

"I didn't save his life, he helped me," Denichilo said after returning home from a seven-month deployment in Al Anbar province. "We were walking through on a regular patrol and didn't see (the IED) coming. I was stunned for a moment."

Denichilo remembered finding the Marine closest to him to see if he was hurt. That Marine was Aguirre, whose leg and arm were bleeding heavily.

"You react out of pure instinct," Denichilo said. "I was really nervous because it had never happened to me before. Aguirre calmed me down and walked me through the tourniquet and other first aid. I couldn't have done it without him."

That's the bond of Marines, especially during wartime, according to 2nd LAR's wounded.

"You develop a much stronger bond when in country because it's so much more stressful," said Lance Cpl. Adam Turner, who received severe back and neck injuries when his Humvee hit an IED last year. "It's not like you can call home everyday. Those guys become your family."

Sgt. Robert Holzinger Jr., 29, said he was excited to see his band of brothers arrive home safely.

"The worst part is leaving them," said Holzinger, severely wounded in an IED blast on Nov. 11. "You know you're better with them there. It makes you stronger being all together."

Holzinger was reunited with his friend Cpl. Jim Niemie, who returned home this week. Niemie says when a fellow Marine is wounded and leaves the battalion, the hole is never filled.

"Today is the first time I've seen Holzinger and it's just so good to see how he's doing," he said. "I know it's been tough for him being back here and us being gone. You become family, so when one leaves you notice. You never forget."

April 2, 2007

Calif.- based battalion conducts night raid

COMBAT OUTPOST RAWAH, IRAQ (April 2, 2007) -- Not even pitch-black darkness can stop Marines on a mission. With the help of night vision goggles, the darkness is turned into light.


April 2, 2007

By Lance Cpl. Ryan C. Heiser, 2nd Marine Division

Company C, 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 2, cruised through the desert on a night raid, viewing the world in a green hue through their NVGs.

“We were looking for insurgent activity,” said Cpl. Christopher T. Brown, a scout with the company.

Successful raids like this are an opportunity to show the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police how the Marine Corps does it’s job, and helps by taking weapons, and sometimes potential terrorists off the streets, said Brown.

“This is definitely positive because we are eliminating future threats,” said Sgt. Joe R. Valdez, a scout team leader with the company. “Plus, we are taking the people who had control out of play, so they can’t influence another generation.”

The company of Marines, with their light armored vehicles, provided a cordon around a suspected insurgent position to capture or eliminate this possible threat.

“With the company-sized element, we were able to control and box-in an entire area while the special teams went in,” explained Valdez, a San Antonio native.

Brown, a Lakeland, Fla., native, said in addition to providing security and blocking positions, the LAVs were also there to provide support-by-fire if necessary.

The Marines also used this as an opportunity to train some Iraqi soldiers.

“We showed them how to do something like this because it is important that the Iraqi Army have this capability,” said Staff Sgt. Thomas R. Johnson, company gunnery sergeant for Company C. “We aren’t always going to be here.”

By the break of dawn, the successful mission allowed the Marines to capture 14 suspected insurgents and several small arms and automatic weapons.

“That is what it’s all about, getting these guys off the streets and training the IA to take over their country,” said Brown.

Warrior gets his wish

Despite life-changing injuries and some 40 surgeries, nothing was going to keep 2nd Lt. Andrew Kinard from greeting his fellow Marines who return home today after seven months in Iraq.


April 2, 2007 - 12:00AM

"If they had to put him on a hospital bed and push him to Camp Lejeune, he was going to be here," said Kinard's father Harry.

Kinard doesn't remember how an improvised explosive device in Iraq took both of his legs last October. He hopes his fellow Marines from Alpha Company, 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, can tell him.

"I want to know what happened," said the 24-year-old.

Kinard will finally have the chance to find out when members of his unit step off the bus today.

"Part of the reason why I'm looking forward so much to this homecoming is to have a lot of the questions that I have answered that I've been running over in my mind for the last four months ever since I woke up," he said.

The folks at Hope for the Warriors helped make Kinard's journey back to Lejeune a reality. Hope for the Warriors relies on fund-raising and donations to help fulfill the needs of wounded service members and the families of those who died defending America.

Through the Warrior's Wish program, Kinard flew from Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where he's been recuperating, into a hero's welcome Sunday at Albert J. Ellis Airport. He will be at Camp Lejeune until Wednesday.

As he got out of the plane, he was greeted by dozens of people cheering and waving American flags.

"That really means a whole lot to me to see that people are still willing to support and appreciate these young people like me," he said.

Members of the Patriot Guard Riders led the long procession from the airport to the base on their motorcycles. Cars pulled over as a sign of respect.

Kinard, who is from Spartanburg, S.C., is getting to sleep in some pretty nice digs on base at the Warrior House, complete with big screen TV, thanks to Hope for the Warriors.

Kinard also will have an easier time getting around. Hope for the Warriors presented him with a fancy all-terrain wheelchair.

"It's freaking monster," he said.

Kinard also will have the use of a donated specialized van. Hope for the Warriors president Robin Kelleher said people can donate through its Web site, www.hopeforthewarriors.org.

Kelleher can relate to the struggles Kinard must endure as the women involved with Hope for the Warriors have husbands who have served or are serving in Iraq.

"We know every day what the possibilities are, but to be able to do something like this makes it all worth it," she said.

Kinard was comatose four weeks, waking up after Thanksgiving at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.

For the next month, he lay in intensive care. He said it was one of worst times of his life. His father agreed those early days were tough.

"There were days, moments when we just couldn't see beyond the minute," he said.

But Kinard is getting better. He arrived on base with a smile and an uplifting spirit that touched everyone there.

Maj. John Polidoro, executive officer for the 2nd LAR, said Kinard being here to greet his fellow Marines is very important for the battalion.

"Our whole philosophy as a battalion is one team, one fight," Polidoro said. "I've never met a person who's more enthusiastic about being a Marine, staying a Marine and dedicated to his unit."

Kinard, who joined the Marine Corps two years ago, was thrilled to back on base.

"This is a special place to me, my first home station," he said. "And I enjoy seeing all the old familiar sites."

Kinard plans to congratulate the members of his battalion for their seven months of hard work in a war-torn country far from home. He also wants people to not forget those who were not as fortunate as he was.

"They still paid the ultimate price for our country, and I just want to make sure we remember those who gave everything," he said.

April 1, 2007

Marines building amid bombings. Humor helps engineers keep their wits about them as they work on outpost near Fallujah

By Sandra Jontz, Stars and Stripes
Mideast edition, Sunday, April 1, 2007

KARMAH, Iraq — Their humor is crass, but it sustains their sanity in the combat sandbox that is Iraq. “Look alive boys, we’re about ready to go in the devil’s butt hole,” Gunnery Sgt. Richard Thomas barked late Thursday night as his convoy of combat engineers and transportation support company Marines from Combat Logistics Battalion 6 prepared to enter the volatile city of Karmah, on the outskirts of Fallujah.

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