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March 31, 2008

2nd LAR assumes control of western Anbar

CAMP KOREAN VILLAGE, Iraq Marines with 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 5, took the reigns from 3rd LAR Battalion here March 31 to continue the mission of making a safer and better Iraq.


3/31/2008 By Cpl. Ryan L. Tomlinson, Multi National Force - West

Secnd LAR Bn., is an infantry-based, light-armored-vehicle battalion stationed out of Marine Corps Base Camp Lejuene, N.C., that will be operating in the western Anbar province of Iraq. The battalion arrived here March 23 to begin familiarization with their area of operations for the next seven months in support of the Long War.

The battalion will have several missions to conduct, but one of the most important is the continued transition from coalition forces to Iraqi Security Forces controlling the area.

"We are here to return the control of the country to the Iraqi people and to provide them with a self-sufficient and stable government," said battalion executive officer Maj. Stuart M. Harness.

Harness added the battalion’s other main goal is to bring everyone back home safely.

Beginning his command of the area of operations, battalion commanding officer Lt. Col. Russell E. Smith visited the city of Trebil to see its citizens and the Iraqi Border Patrol.

"Since the Marines came to Iraq in 2003, my country is a lot better than before," said Aziz Shalan, an Iraqi Border Patrol commando. "Life is good here."

Third LAR Battalion is scheduled to return to the Marine Air Ground Task Force Training Command at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, Calif., after completing a seven-month deployment here.

‘Outlaws’ comb the desert for threats

KOREAN VILLAGE, Iraq — Marines with Delta Company, 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 5, are conducting vehicle route reconnaissance missions throughout the western Anbar province of Iraq in pursuit of insurgent activity that may be harmful towards Coalition forces, the local Iraqis and the Iraqi Security Forces.


3/31/2008 By Cpl Ryan Tomlinson , Regimental Combat Team 5

Delta Co. Marines, who go by the nickname “Outlaws,” are also securing the area for a transition of control to the ISF.

“These operations are setting up future success for the Iraqi Security Forces,” said Cpl. Andrew H. Oquendo, a scout with Delta Co. “It’s a large part of the hand-over process.”

During the missions, the “Outlaws” search the desert and the roadways for areas where insurgents may have stored, smuggled or planted weapons. The Marines patrol for long hours every day to ensure the area of operations is clear of threats.

The Marines also engage with as many Iraqi civilians as possible, providing them with food, water and candy for children. The supplies and the visits signify the Coalition forces are available to help and give supplies to those in need.

“Our actions show the Iraqi people we aren’t leaving them alone,” said Sgt. James D. Leach, a scout squad leader with Delta Co. “We’re here to take care of them, so until everything is settled, we will be sticking around for them.”

Being part of this kind of operation has made an impact on the Marines conducting the house searches and area sweeps for weapons.

“I am very proud to be a part of this part of Operation Iraqi Freedom,” said Oquendo, 22, from Paterson, N.J. “The operations are another footprint in the road to success in this war.”

Some members of he “Outlaws” were here in 2007 and see a difference in the peoples’ attitude toward them and Iraq in general.

“Being a scout squad leader you have to meet with the people and communicate with them,” said Leach, 24, from Rutherfordton, N.C. “I could tell just by the way they speak, people are feeling safer and happier.”

Video site offers historical military films

By Seamus O’Connor - Staff writer
Posted : Monday Mar 31, 2008 6:43:08 EDT

The military has used motion pictures for training and entertainment since the dawn of the medium. Now the age of YouTube has brought a Web site dedicated to the sharing and preservation of military films from World War I to the present.

To continue reading:

Marines visit hospital and IP Station

HIT, Iraq —
HIT, Iraq Marines with 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 5, continued their mission of assisting Iraqi people in Hit, Iraq.


3/31/2008 By Cpl. Erik Villagran, 5th Marine Regiment

Company I, 3rd Bn., 4th Marines, performed a mobile patrol through the city stopping at two important destinations.

“The objective of our patrol was to build rapport with the people and see if we could help the hospital with anything,” said Lance Cpl. Israel H. Aguirre, 21, a team leader with Company I from Miluakia, Ore. “We also wanted to check out how the (Iraqi Police) were working.”

Marines made their way to the hospital through the congested streets of the town. After setting up security outside the hospital, a few of the Marines entered the building with a doctor.

“They were more then willing to let us walk around,” Aguirre said. “They showed us around the hospital. They took us to see a girl who was sick and that was heartbreaking. There wasn’t anything they didn’t show us.”

It was the first time Seaman Nicholas C. Vassilopolous, 25, a corpsman with Compnay I from Southwick, Mass., had visited an Iraqi hospital. He said he was pleasantly surprised by how similar it was to any other hospital.

“It was better then what I thought it was going to be,” Vassilopolous said. “It was really organized. They had a lab area and X-rays.”

While they walked around the hospital, Marines offered the hospital staff assistance in anything they needed. Aguirre ensured they weren’t having problems with food, water and electricity.

“We want to get (the Iraqis) what they need,” Aguirre said. “We want to show the Iraqi people that we are here to help.”

After the tour of the hospital, the Marines moved on to an IP station. Iraqi policemen greeted the patrol with open arms and quickly launched into a walk through of the facility.

“They let us know that they were more then willing to work with us,” Aguirre said.

Marines walked through the jail inside the IP station to see how the prisoners were treated and discussed recent activity in the area with the policemen.

Marines were pleased with how the IP station was run and were satisfied on how the patrol went overall.

“The patrol flowed nicely,” Aguirre said. “We let the IPs know we are willing to work together. We showed people at the hospital we’re not just here to fight. Only good things can come from doing humanitarian things like helping hospitals.”

Ohio soldier's remains found in Iraq

BATAVIA, Ohio - Sgt. Keith Matthew Maupin's parents vowed to never let the U.S. Army forget about finding their son.


By TERRY KINNEY, Associated Press Writer
Mon Mar 31, 6:26 AM ET

Their efforts included trips to the Pentagon and even meeting with President Bush, but they ended in disappointment Sunday: An Army general told them the remains of Maupin, a soldier who had been listed as missing-captured in Iraq since 2004, had been found.

"My heart sinks, but I know they can't hurt him anymore," Keith Maupin said after receiving word about the remains of his son, who went by Matt.

The Army didn't say how or where in Iraq his son's remains were discovered, only that the identification was made with DNA testing, Maupin said. A shirt similar to the one his son was wearing at the time of his disappearance was also found.

The Army was continuing its investigation, Maupin said.

Lt. Lee Packnett, an Army public affairs officer in Washington, said an official statement about the identification would be released Monday.

Matt Maupin was a 20-year-old private first class when he was captured April 9, 2004, after his fuel convoy, part of the Bartonville, Ill.-based 724th Transportation Company, was ambushed west of Baghdad.

A week later, the Arab television network Al-Jazeera aired a videotape showing a stunned-looking Maupin wearing camouflage and a floppy desert hat, sitting on the floor surrounded by five masked men holding automatic rifles.

That June, Al-Jazeera aired another tape purporting to show a U.S. soldier being shot. But the dark and grainy tape showed only the back of the victim's head and not the execution.

The Maupins refused to believe their son was dead. They lobbied hard for the Army to continue listing him as missing-captured, fearing that another designation would undermine efforts to find him.

The Pentagon agreed to give the Maupins regular briefings, and Bush met with them when he traveled to Cincinnati.

Keith Maupin said the Army told him soon after his son's capture that there was only a 50 percent chance he would be found alive. He said he doesn't hold the Army responsible for his son's death, but that he did hold the Army responsible for bringing his son home.

"I told them when we'd go up to the Pentagon, whether he walks off a plane or is carried off, you're not going to leave him in Iraq like you did those guys in Vietnam," Maupin said.

Keith Maupin and his ex-wife, Carolyn, held a candlelight vigil Sunday night outside the Yellow Ribbon Support Center in Batavia, an office they used to package thousands of boxes of donated snacks and toiletries for shipment to soldiers in Iraq.

"It hurts," Carolyn Maupin said. "After you go through almost four years of hope, and this is what happens, it's like a letdown, so I'm trying to get through that right now."

The Maupins were told by an Army official on Friday to expect an update on their son over the weekend, Keith Maupin said. The Army broke the news about their son's remains at a somber meeting.

"When you look out there in the parking lot and see a three-star general get out of a car, you know it ain't good news," Keith Maupin said.

Matt Maupin graduated from Glen Este High School, just east of Cincinnati, in 2001 and attended the University of Cincinnati for a year before joining the Army Reserves.

Dan Simmons, the athletic director at Glen Este, remembered him as a quiet but hardworking backup player on the school's football team.

"Matt was a selfless kid on the football field," Simmons said. "He did whatever the coaches told him. He wasn't a starter, but he made the other kids play harder."

A month after his capture, Maupin was promoted to the rank of specialist. In April 2005, he was promoted to sergeant.

March 30, 2008

24th MEU gets eyes in Afghan skies

Harrier jets arrive at base

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is part of an ongoing series of reports from Afghanistan by The Daily News writer Jennifer Hlad, who is embedded with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit there.

KANDAHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan - The dust, fine as powdered sugar, cast a fog in the air as Harriers cut through the sky. As the jets taxied to their spots on a newly built mat, each plane kicked up a small storm of sand in its wake.


March 30, 2008 - 12:22AM

Ten days after leaving Cherry Point Air Station in North Carolina, the first wave of jets from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit's Harrier detachment landed on base in southern Afghanistan. The AV-8Bs give the Marines on the ground an eye in the sky, said Maj. Stephan Bradicich, a Harrier pilot.

The jets can perform reconnaissance or determine routes, Bradicich said, as well as "keep an eye on the fight" and send information directly from the cockpit to the ground.

"It extends the range of vision for the ground commander," Bradicich said.

The jets also provide heavy firepower, he said, "the big bombs."

And laser-guided and Global Positioning System technology means "we can put bombs on target the first time around," said Sgt. Robert McElmurry, an aviation ordnance Marine with the Harrier detachment.

That can be very important when ground troops call in for air support, he said.

"When the ground guys are out doing their thing, if they run into trouble, they know we're just a phone call away," he said.

McElmurry has been in the Kandahar province less than a week, but he spent a year in Bagram, Afghanistan, on a previous deployment. During that tour, he said a group of American soldiers came and thanked the air unit for air support.

"They said without us, they'd be dead," McElmurry said. "It was really cool and kind of humbling to hear it actually from their mouths."

Harrier pilots Capt. Christopher McLin and Capt. Arthur Bruggeman also arrived Saturday. This is the first deployment for both, and they said they are not exactly sure what to expect. But since the MEU is the first large Marine unit in this area for a few years, Bruggeman said he thinks there will be plenty to do.

"We're definitely looking to do some good work, and looking to be busy," he said.

Contact Jennifer Hlad at [email protected] or visit her blog at http://fromafghanistan.encblogs.com.

March 29, 2008

Iraq: Like father like son

CAMP KOREAN VILLAGE, Iraq Service members from all over the United States deploy to locations around the world leaving their family behind to fight for their country. For one Marine, deploying to Iraq actually meant reuniting with his father.


3/29/2008 By Cpl. Ryan Tomlinson, Multi National Force - West

Representing two generations of warriors, Lance Cpl. Nathan O. Nail, a scout team leader with Security Platoon, 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 5, and his father Harry A. Nail, a police advisor with International Police Advisory, reunited here March 28.

“I feel exhilarated knowing that I am stationed with my son,” said Harry, 56, from Prattville, Ala. “I knew he was going to come to Iraq, so I wanted to be at the same place he would be.”

Nathan hasn’t seen his dad since December 2007. After that, his dad deployed to Iraq to assist the Iraqi Highway Patrol with his law enforcement knowledge.

The 20-year-old from Oxford, Ala., deployed to Iraq March 18 with 2nd LAR knowing that his dad would be here waiting.

“It’s comforting to know that I have my dad here with me,” said Nathan. “I know that I will always have a person I could talk to anytime,”

Harry requested to work in Korean Village because of Nathan’s upcoming deployment. Within a week of Nathan’s arrival here, his dad ran to the flight line every time he heard a helicopter.

“The feeling of being able to see my son again in a war zone was exciting,” said Harry, 56. “I was just so happy and over-joyed to see him.”

Nathan was raised by an Alabama State Trooper and a U.S. Army soldier all in one man: his dad. Even through his parents divorced when he was young, Nathan and his dad kept a bond that nobody could break while Nathan split time with his parents.

The men have been through everything together, from working through the hard stresses of divorce to Nathan dressing up in his dad’s uniforms and playing. Being in Iraq together is just building on their relationship.

“It’s awesome to have both (of us) here because he and I will have an understanding of what Iraq is like and what we do for our country,” said Nathan.

The two warriors continue to see each other every day as many times as they can. Every single time he glanced at his son, Harry couldn’t stop smiling, knowing the fact he Nathan is safe.

He is one of the main reasons I wanted to come out here and train the Iraqi police,” Harry said. “I’m extremely proud of him.”

He concluded, “It was one of the proudest moments of my life to see him graduate and become a Marine.”

Hawaii Marines construct Improved security for IP station

SITCHER, Iraq (March 29, 2008) – The sun suspended high in the sky, beating down on all who did not seek shelter from its rays. But the mid-day heat did not stop Iraqi workers and the Marines of Company G, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 1.


Story by Cpl. Chadwick deBree

The Hawaii Marines, in partnership with Iraqi Police and Iraqi civilian workers, continued with a two week project March 29, to build up security around the IP station here.

The IP station is being fortified so that the Marines can conduct joint operations and work even closer with their Iraqi counterparts, said 2nd Lt. Husein Yaghnam, platoon commander, second platoon, Co. G, 2nd Bn., 3rd Marines.

“We are going to move out to the IP station in order to work closer with the Iraqis,” Yaghnam, a 24-year-old native of Toledo, Ohio, said. “We should be done with the construction by the end of the week and move there shortly after.”

With the word construction, most people associated with the Marines Corps will think that combat engineers are doing the work, but not in this case, said Yaghnam.

“No engineers were here to help us do the construction around the IP station,” he said. “It was just Iraqi workers and our grunts doing all the work. We worked on everything; building the HESCOS, placing the razor wire, and guard posts, we did it all.”

Within a two-week period, the Marines were able to flatten the ground, build up a guard post, and build the wall about half way around the station, said Sgt. Dane Y. Kincaid, section leader, second platoon, Co. G, 2nd Bn., 3rd Marines.

“Once we are all done we’re going to be occupying it, so we have to make sure it is good,” said the 25-year-old native of Makawao, Maui, Hawaii. “I’m looking forward to us going out there because it takes up a lot of our time driving out there everyday. It takes about an hour to drive out there and an hour to drive back.”

The Marines are also anticipating working with the Iraqi Police on a daily basis.

“We’ve built a good relationship with them (the IP),” Kincaid said. “They’ve been willing to do their job and work hard to keep peace in their area. They are good at their job and believe in what they are doing.”

Yaghnam said that the Iraqis play a key role in providing security for the area.

“We found our joint partnership beneficial in counter insurgency warfare,” he said. “I look forward to working with them on a daily basis.”

The Island Warriors are working closely with the Iraqi Security Forces during their seven-month deployment to help bring security to the region.

March 28, 2008

Low-key war on pirates becomes more perilous

When a vessel is seized, the U.S. Navy lies low -- until lives are at risk. Off Somalia, violence in such incidents is on the rise.

ABOARD THE USS TARAWA, PERSIAN GULF -- From a computer screen on this amphibious assault ship, U.S. sailors kept close watch on a 6-week-old drama more than 2,500 miles away involving pirates from Somalia and a Danish merchant vessel.


By Tony Perry, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
March 28, 2008

A second American warship was off the coast of Somalia near the captive vessel, a 115-foot tugboat called the Svitzer Korsakov with an international crew.

As long as the pirates didn't mistreat the crew and continued to negotiate a ransom with the ship's owner, the U.S. would not intervene. But if the pirates became violent or deprived crew members of food and water, heavily armed U.S. sailors were prepared to storm the Svitzer Korsakov and free the crew.

"We want the pirates to know there will be consequences if they escalate," said Rear Adm. Mark Balmert, commander of Expeditionary Strike Group Three and point man for the Navy's 5th Fleet on piracy in the region.

The consequences are real: In October, the U.S. guided-missile destroyer Porter sank two pirate skiffs after receiving a distress call from a Panamanian-flagged, Japanese-owned cargo ship in international waters in the Indian Ocean.

Fighting piracy on the high seas is an increasingly significant part of Balmert's overall mission to maintain maritime security in an ever-volatile region.

Although the United States, along with various partners, has long taken on the job of stability in the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Aden, the mission has expanded in the last year to include piracy off Somalia. Since October, the United States, leading a coalition of 20 nations, has kept at least one warship in international waters off Somalia.

U.S. sailors also are on the lookout in the Persian Gulf for pirates who might attack the smaller merchant ships and dhows.

"We're like a cop walking a beat," said Capt. David Adler, commander of the guided-missile cruiser Port Royal in the Persian Gulf. "We haven't had any piracy incidents, but that's because we're here."

Pottengal Mukundan, director of the London-based International Maritime Bureau, said involvement of the U.S. Navy and its coalition partners "may prove to be the only way to stop the pirates, which have until now shown complete disregard for the law."

The waters off Somalia, connecting the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean, has become a favorite hunting spot for pirates.

Although attacks have declined in more traditional pirate areas such as the waters around Indonesia and Bangladesh, incidents off Somalia have increased, with pirates showing a greater tendency toward violence, according to the International Maritime Bureau, a division of the International Chamber of Commerce.

Thirty-one acts of piracy were reported off Somalia in 2007, more than anywhere else in the world and a 10% increase from the previous year, according to the bureau. Pirates held 154 crew members hostage. A Chinese sailor aboard the fishing trawler Ching Fong Hwa was killed in pirate incident.

The shipping industry and insurance companies prefer to negotiate for the release of the ships and crews and have asked the U.S. to stand off unless loss of life appears imminent. Negotiations can drag on for months, while the U.S. ships keep in contact with both the pirates and the captains of the seized vessels.

"It's sort of a standoff now," said Vice Adm. Kevin Cosgriff, commander of the 5th Fleet, based in Bahrain. "If the pirates just hold the ships and crews for ransom, that's one thing. But if the pirates change the rules and get violent, that's when the shipowners get excited. That's why we've told the pirates: 'If you change the rules, we'll change the rules and you won't like it.' "

This month, the International Maritime Bureau warned merchant vessels to be wary of fishing boats or dhows asking for assistance. Pirates use such tactics to trick merchants into stopping to render aid, under the immutable law of the sea.

The U.S. is bracing for a possible increase in piracy incidents off Somalia as summer approaches, bringing smoother seas. In late January, a swarm of pirate boats took over the Svitzer Korsakov, which was bound for Russia's Sakhalin island near Japan. On board were a British captain, an Irish mate and four Russian sailors. A U.S. ship reportedly fired warning shots at a boat resupplying the pirates.

The U.S. was in daily communication with the Svitzer Korasakov to determine the condition of its crew.

"The captain will say, 'We're fine,' and then one of the pirates will grab the microphone and say, 'That's enough,' " Balmert said.

Through interpreters, the U.S. told the pirates that it wouldn't stand by if the merchant sailors were harmed.

On March 19, the standoff finally ended: The pirates released the ship after a reported $700,000 ransom was paid.

[email protected]

Marines return to Atlanta after Iraq deployment

233 WENT, 233 RETURNED: Marines back from Iraq into open arms

This is how it should be, when warriors come home.

Click on above link for photos.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 03/28/08

They should see 40 American flags, fluttering in the breeze. They should hear the cheers of hundreds of moms and dads and kid brothers, sweethearts and spouses and old school pals. They should hold babies, shake a buddy's hand, run a finger along a loved one's cheek.

And send up thanks for a safe return.

Friday morning, 233 warriors did.

Marines attached to Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 773 came home from war. The men and women came back to Georgia on a spring morning redolent of flowers and new life. They came back in an Omni Air International jet that had left Kuwait City about 13 hours earlier. The jet's arrival at Naval Air Station Atlanta in Marietta ended a seven-month deployment to western Iraq, where the squad flew thousands of sorties in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Every Marine deployed Sept. 4 came back alive.

The Marines are not expected to return to Iraq for at least a couple of years, said Col. Doug Hardison, commanding officer of the air group that includes the squadron.

"They all went forward and they all came back," he said. "That's the best news you can ask for."

The best news is knowing your sweetie's home, said Lindsey Longtin. A pert blonde with a pretty smile, she grasped a sign that leaves little room for interpretation:

Welcome home Tigger! Time to pounce

Tigger? That's what she calls her boyfriend, Staff Sgt. Ethan Held of Auburn.

Nearby, Chicago mom Janet Mason bounced on her toes and stared at the big jet. It held her son, 1st Lt. Matthew Mason, 28 — she was ready to hold him, too. She glanced at her husband, Matthew's dad, Monty Mason. They shared a thank-God smile.

"We've done a lot of praying," she said.

And then the doors to the airplane opened. A Marine, his face tanned from the desert sun, stepped out...

Prayers answered.

'I was lonely'

The Marine Corps announced in July that the squadron, called the "Red Dogs," would head to Iraq for several months to relieve other helicopter units. The squads' pilots would fly Cobras and Hueys to give aerial support to ground troops, and do reconnaissance work.

The work was hot, the work was cold, said Lance Cpl. Merico Fantigrossi, 21. Life in the desert caught him by surprise.

"You know, you say 'desert' and you think of camels and things like that," said Fantigrossi, a helicopter mechanic. "It wasn't like that. We had snow. Rain. Mud! Mud in the desert!

"It would be freakishly hot in the day," he continued." And then frigid at night."

The holidays were lonely, said Sgt. Emerson Greason. He's 25, his face just showing the ghosts of squint lines. He held hands with his girlfriend, Tanjuneka McIntosh.

"I was lonely," he admitted. He slid a sly grin in her direction. She beamed back.

"I was very lonely," she said.

Terrie Higley worried. She prayed. She kept faith. Friday morning, the Newnan resident smiled — faith answered, worries gone. Her 21-year-old son, Matt Higley, stood at her side.

When Matt joined the Marines after graduating from high school, "I was not happy," she said. "But he was 18, and wouldn't listen to me. All I could do was support him."

"He's a great kid," said Cartersville resident Hugh Higley, a Navy veteran whose cap announced his service on the carrier USS Forrestal decades ago. "Now that the lake [Allatoona] is full again, I'm going to take him fishing."

But that could wait. Friday morning was a time to go home, to sniff the air, to look at trees greening gently. To marvel at the miracle of love. They left the air station in large groups and small clusters. They walked hand-in-hand or with arms around each other.

One Marine, muscled and lean as a prizefighter, gently placed his sleeping daughter in a stroller. He looked over his shoulder at his wife. She wore a short dress that reminded him that he'd married a good-looking woman.

She reached out her hand, and he took it.

That is how it should be, when warriors come home.

March 27, 2008

U.S. starts breakdown of outposts in Ramadi

By Joseph Giordono, Stars and Stripes
Mideast edition, Thursday, March 27, 2008

Marines in Ramadi have begun dismantling some of the combat outposts credited with helping calm what was once among the most violent cities in Iraq.

To continue reading:


March 26, 2008

Combat conditioning at sea helps Marines beat the heat

ABOARD USS TARAWA — Marines and Sailors from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit took advantage of hot and humid conditions and a no-fly day to take part in acclimatization and combat conditioning drills on the flight deck here.


3/26/2008 By Staff Sgt. Sergio Jimenez, 11th MEU

On deployment, the birds are always in the air and it is rare that the flight deck is available to train, “so we take advantage of it when we can,” said Staff Sgt. Adam Kryszczynski, 1st Section Leader, 81 Millimeter Platoon, Weapons Company, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment. BLT 1/5 is from Camp Pendleton, Calif., and is the MEU’s ground combat element. The 11th MEU is currently on a seven month deployment through the Western Pacific and Arabian Gulf Region.

This was one of the hottest and most humid days many of the Marines had seen on the deployment and it was also scheduled as a day off. But rather than take it easy, the Marines decided to turned it up a notch. So instead of beginning their training during the cool morning hours, the Marines waited until the hot midday sun warmed things up outside.

So while other Marines and Sailors were inside the ship relaxing, playing basketball, dodge ball or in the gym, Lance Cpl. Ivan C. Ceniceros, a mortarman, from El Paso, Tx., was in combat gear taking part in patrolling formations exercises and pushing himself through a grueling workout that included pushups, crunches, wind sprints and various combat conditioning drills.

It was the perfect opportunity to get “our boys acclimatized and ready for the rigors of combat,” said Kryszczynski, or Ski [pronounced Skee] as he is called by most Marines in his unit. “We never know when we’re going to get the call, so we have to always be ready,” said Ski.

“Inside the ship, we live in a controlled environment, like in a bubble,” said Pfc. Ryan C. Ortiz, mortarman, from Augusta, Ga. “Training like this keeps us from getting too comfortable and keeps our bodies used to operating in hot and rigorous environments.”

According to Ceniceros, besides combat conditioning, the Marines and Sailors also practiced hand and arm signals and formation movement techniques to help them cross through dangerous areas when exposed to enemy fire.

After each team ran through an exercise, they gathered as a group and critiqued each other and offered suggestions on how the team could have done things differently, said Ceniceros.

Other sections also ran fireman carry and stretcher bearer relays to practice evacuating casualties from the combat zone, said Ortiz.

Today’s training was tough, said Ortiz. “But I’ve seen tougher.”

“We do acclimatization training at least once a month,” he said. “Last month in Kuwait, we did a two-and-a-half hour run in flak jackets. We started out slowly and worked our way up to that level to make sure nobody got hurt,” he said.

Ortiz and Ceniceros said they expect the command to push them further the next time they train to beat the heat. “They can count on it,” said Ski. “That’s how we stay sharp. We push each other to the limit.”

For more information about the 11th MEU, visit their website at http://www.usmc.mil/11thmeu.

Marine fine tunes talents

HIT, Iraq — Lance Cpl. Jonathan D. Cobb is kicking his way to the top of the Marine Corps martial arts world.


3/26/2008 By Cpl. Erik Villagran, 1st Marine Division

Cobb, 20, a scout sniper from Colorado Springs, Colo., has been taking time during his second combat deployment with 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 5 to hone his skills in Tae Kwon Do.

“I went to the U.S. Open for Tae Kwon Do in New Orleans in February,” Cobb said. “I lost in the quarter finals, but I learned that I was at the world class level.”

Cobb became proficient in Tae Kwon Do, a martial art that focuses on using kicks to defeat your opponent, with the help of his uncle. His uncle, a ninth degree black belt, helped open Cobb’s eyes to the sport.

“There are only fifteen ninth degree black belts in the nation. It’s Chuck Norris, my uncle and thirteen other guys,” Cobb said. “I trained with him and Master Chae. I’ve been training with Master Chae for nine years. He’s like a second father.”

Cobb has worked hard to get to this point in his career of Tae Kwon Do. He took his first class in martial arts at the tender age of 4 and began training seriously when he was 11 years old.

“I trained thirty-hours a week with Master Chae for the first five years,” Cobb said. “I hit black belt when I was 16 years old. Now, I’m a third degree black belt.”

Through it all, Cobb has stayed humble. His fellow Marines have noticed his modesty.

“He doesn’t use his talent to intimidate people or to try to get his way,” said Lance Cpl. Matthew T. Conde, 24, a scout sniper with 3rd Bn., 4th Marines, from Prescott, Ariz. “He talks about Tae Kwon Do, but he doesn’t gloat or boast.”

Some of the Marines serving with Cobb have taken advantage of his knowledge by training with him. Marines were impressed with his guidance.

“I’ve practiced with him,” Conde said. “He’s taught me a lot of things. He has a natural ability to teach.”

Marines who haven’t had an opportunity to learn from Cobb, have been awed by him in other ways. His stretching exercises and round house kicks left his Marines amazed.

“I saw him kick an eight- to ten-foot ceiling one time,” said Lance Cpl. Bryson M. Uribe, 20, a scout sniper with 3rd Bn., 4th Marines, from Kellyville, Okla. “I wasn’t going to mess with him that’s for sure.”

Cobb’s focus is on improving on what he already knows and preparing for his bigger plans in the future.

“I’ll be a master, which is a fourth degree black belt,” Cobb said. “Hopefully I can make the U.S. National team and open up a Tae Kwon Do school someday.”

Cobb’s aspirations may be large, but with the dedication he has shown, his goals will fall before him just like his opponents.

March 25, 2008

Sea-based Marines deliver humanitarian supplies to Liberians

MONROVIA, Liberia — The streets were lined with hundreds of smiling faces and thumbs-up signs. Happy shouts of "Marines!" were directed towards a humanitarian assistance convoy of two seven-ton trucks and several humvees laden with thousands of dollars worth of hospital and school supplies making their way slowly through the city of Monrovia, Liberia.


3/25/2008 By Sgt Rocco DeFilippis, Marine Forces Europe

Marines from 4th Landing Support Battalion completed the first of two days of convoy operations March 25 delivering humanitarian assistance supplies throughout Monrovia as part of the exercise West African Training Cruise 2008 being held March 17 to April 5. The exercise is in conjunction with the ongoing African Partnership Station deployment and has a focus on the delivery of humanitarian assistance supplies to various clinics and schools in Monrovia, Liberia from a sea based command.

Operating from aboard the High Speed Vessel-2 Swift, the Marines showcased sea basing, and keeping a limited footprint ashore by returning each day to load the next shipment of humanitarian assistance supplies requested by the Liberian government and donated by United States European Command's J4 Humanitarian Assistance Directorate.

"We are working to establish those friendly relationships while at the same time exposing the Marines to a new and different culture," said Maj. Jason Smith, convoy commander and a Marysville, Wash., native. "I wouldn't call [the supplies] luxury items, but these supplies will provide a definite improvement to the quality of life at these facilities."

During the first day of convoy operations the Marines delivered medical supplies to JFK Hospital; Monrovia's main hospital, and Logan Town Clinic, a small clinic on the outskirts of the city. While in Logan Town they also delivered school supplies for Arthur Askie School.

The supplies consisted of multiple disposable medical supplies, furniture, text books and other school supplies. The total value of the items to be delivered over the two days is $58,000.

"Today is a day that the Lord has made, because we have been long awaiting these supplies to come in," said Rev. Elwood Jangaba, director of Agencies for Holistic Evangelism and Development International associated with the Logan Town clinic. "I think they are going to make a great impact to the community when we see the health care delivery system in this community brought to life."

"It's not only a great training exercise, but it's a good opportunity to experience something new working with another country in peace-time environment," said Lance Cpl. Brandon S. Malone, 4th LSB heavy equipment operator and Vienna, Ohio native.

Although the Marines of 4th LSB come from reserve units across the United States, Smith said the importance of the mission weighed heavily on the preparation training.

"Because of the magnitude of the exercise, the Marines knew that preparation for this mission would be key," Smith said. "All of the Marines have put a lot of time into this outside their own regularly scheduled training. All of the Marines were really excited once they got this opportunity."

The convoy fits into the larger picture of WATC 08, by serving as a component of a sea-basing exercise. During the first phases, equipment aboard Maritime Prepositioning Ships USNS 2nd Lt John Bobo and USNS LCpl Roy M. Wheat was linked up with forces from aboard the USS Fort McHenry (LSD 43), assembled at sea and then transferred between the naval platforms using the Improved Navy Lighterage System. Using the causeways and ferry system that makes up the INLS, the Marines were capable of moving vehicles from ship-to-ship in open seas for the first time.

"The importance of this phase for the Marine Corps is two fold," said Lt. Col. Roy Edmonds, exercise support team officer-in-charge and native of Dallas. "Not only does it show that we can operate from a sea base, transit through an austere port and execute a humanitarian assistance mission; but it also gives us an opportunity to conduct security cooperation with the Armed Forces of Liberia and establish positive relations through good will."

During the convoy, the Marines were aided by a variety of international and inter-agency organization such as the United Nations Mission in Liberia, the Liberian National Police, the Armed Forces of Liberia and numerous state department members who arranged security and traffic management, as well as other coordination during the convoy ashore.

"This event could not have occurred without the planning efforts of many different agencies," Edmonds said. "Truly, this has been an international team effort."

After the completion of the second day of convoys, the Marines will conduct a wash down of the vehicles to prepare for agricultural inspections and then transfer the vehicles back to the Maritime Prepositioning Ships, again using the INLS.

Overall, the Marines said the convoy provided a unique opportunity in a time when the Corps is fighting a war with one hand, and lending out the other to help those in need.

"For the young Marine, it's important for them to understand that the Marine Corps is more than just kicking down doors-we can actually help people in other ways," Smith said. "Because of the current mission in Iraq, for so many of these young Marines, that's the only part they know, so this is an opportunity for them to see a different part of the Marine Corps and make a difference in this part of the world."

Hundreds greet wounded Marine

CASCADE TOWNSHIP, Mich (WOOD) -- When word went out that Joshua Hoffman was coming home, his family asked the injured Marine corporal if he wanted a public homecoming.


Posted: March 25, 2008 04:24 AM CDT
By Joe LaFurgey and Tony Tagliavia

Yes, he said.

On Tuesday, hundreds jammed a hangar at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport and others lined the route that took Hoffman to his new apartment in Kentwood.

A member of Alpha Company, Hoffman's unit was assigned to Fallujah, Iraq. In January 2007, he took a bullet in the neck and is now paralyzed from the shoulders down. He will now receive around-the-clock care at his home.

For months, Hoffman recovered as best he could in a Richmond, Virginia VA hospital, waiting for the day he could come home to West Michigan.

He didn't know the reception he would receive.

"I think we figured a few people," said his brother Jacob Hoffman. "Family, friends. But nothing this big."

Joshua Hoffman, confined to a bed, did not want any pictures of his deplaning shown. As a fellow Marine told 24 Hour News 8, Hoffman didn't want "a pity party."

His brother said the welcome home will play a crucial role in his recovery. "He'll see all the support he has. He'll be, like, 'Man, I gotta get strong, show that I can do this.' That's just the way my brother was. He's a fighter."

When the ambulance carrying Joshua Hoffman left the hangar for his home, it signaled the beginning of another journey. And not just for Joshua.

"It's definitely going to be a challenge," said Heather Lovell.

She and Hoffman have been a couple for the last three and a half years.

"We get to focus on our relationship, and not have to just focus on the medical. We get to continue our relationship and enjoy that," said Lovell, who was at Hoffman's side in Virginia.

She says they are in the relationship for the long run, despite the challenges they face.

"We're just taking it day by day. Now we're just trying to get settled in and enjoy what time we have together right now and keep going forward."

Lovell said she was told multiple times Hoffman wouldn't make it. At one point, he could raise an arm up. But a few bouts with illness have sapped that ability for the time being.

Doctors have been hesitant to set expectations, but the ones they have Joshua has exceeded.

"I expected it. I definitely expected it. I knew he had it in him and he was going to fight to show that the doctors were wrong. And he's going to do better than what they anticipate," said Lovell.

Joshua can now feel his abdomen, his arms, and sometimes his hands. His recovery is of course not over.

"He's aware that he's going to be working 10 times harder than he was before," said Lovell.

The past year has been about getting in good enough shape to come home. Now rehab is about getting Hoffman ready to live the rest of his life.

Hoffman is set to have his first rehab session at Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital in Grand Rapids within the week.

He and Lovell talk about their plans. She wants to go back to school. So does he. Hoffman was just about finished with training to become an airline pilot - a dream that could live on thanks to planes that quadriplegics can pilot.

"His face lit up when he found out he could fly again," Lovell said.

It could take months, even years, to achieve that dream. But for now, "He's here with us. I got to bring him home and that's just exciting. It's just a good feeling," said Lovell.

Paralyzed Marine Joshua Hoffman returns home to well-wishers

"Can I give you a kiss?"


Posted by Ted Roelofs | The Grand Rapids Press March 25, 2008 15:55PM

Ex-Marine Joshua Hoffman raised his eyebrows twice: The answer was yes.

Then, to the applause of hundreds in the Alticor hangar at Gerald R. Ford International Airport, Hoffman, 26, made his journey on a gurney toward a waiting ambulance and the next chapter of his life.

"I told myself when I got here I wasn't going to cry," said Jacob Hoffman, 24, a Wayland resident found it impossible like many others Tuesday to hold back tears.

It is a bittersweet homecoming for Hoffman, paralyzed from the chest down by a sniper's bullet in Iraq in January 2006. He has been in a Virginia Veterans Administration hospital since February 2007

Accompanied by his fiancee, Heather Lovell, 21, he was wheeled through a sea of American flags and well-wishers. They included dozens of Marines from his home unit, the Grand Rapids-based Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment.

Jacob Hoffman grappled for words as he tried to express what the support meant to him.

"To me, it meant the world, everyone showing up here. All these people came to support my brother. To me, it means they care.

"To me, it's bigger than any gift you can give."

March 23, 2008

Accidents kick-start revised motorcycle rules

By Trista Talton - Staff writer
Posted : Sunday Mar 23, 2008 11:44:48 EDT

JACKSONVILLE, N.C. — The majority of Marines and sailors killed in motorcycle accidents during the past two years did not have documentation showing they’d completed the required rider safety course training.

To continue reading:


Local man gets a surprising welcome back

When Lance Cpl. Justin Longcor returned after seven months in Iraq he expected to see a few smiling faces.

Click above link for slide show.

By Noel Stack | City editor | March 23, 2008 14:30

What he encountered at Sacramento International Airport Thursday was an airport full of smiles and cheers when he arrived. His mother Sandra Longcor, a Shingle Springs voice on marineparents.com, and his girlfriend Charlene Derheim of Vacaville stood waiting with a crowd complete with other marineparents.com members, the Patriot Guard, Move America Forward members and staff from the Mountain Democrat.

'I didn't expect all that,' said Justin, 23. 'The news crew was definitely new for me.'

The 2003 Ponderosa High School graduate volunteered to go to Iraq after years of canceled deployments. He joined the Marines four years ago, following in the footsteps of his grandfather.

'I just wanted to go somewhere,' Justin said.

When she found out her son volunteered to go to Iraq, Sandra said, 'I thought he was absolutely out of his mind.'

Serving with MWSS 372, Justin went to Al Asad Airfield, a base in the Al Anbar Province of Iraq west of Baghdad.

'I knew where I was going. Al Asad is known for being 'Camp Cupcake,'' Justin said. 'I wasn't worried about it.'

For the first half of his tour, Justin said he spent time as a gunner on a Humvee, patrolling 'the wire' (the fence around the base). The second half he spent in a tower on base watching the wire from above.

Because the base had Internet access, Justin was able to stay in touch with his family and he met his girlfriend online while serving his country half a world away.

'This is the first time they ever met, too,' Sandra said of the event at the airport. The whole thing took Justin by surprise, she added, saying, 'He was shocked. It's so cool when you can get people together like that.'

Justin, who was trained to work in aviation electronics and also expertly repairs night-vision goggles, is home with his parents, Sandra and Dave Longcor, in Shingle Springs on a 30-day leave, his mother said. One thing he'd like to do while here, Sandra added, is visit a 5-year-old boy named Hagen. The Blue Oak Elementary School student sent Justin a Christmas card and the Marine wants to say 'thank you,' she explained.

After this visit, Justin will return to his home base in Miramar with the MALS 16 company to serve the rest of his contract, about one year.

'He won't be going back to Iraq unless he re-enlists,' Sandra said, adding that he should be promoted to the rank of corporal soon.

Justin said he's decided not to re-enlist, wanting instead to pursue a college degree in computer science.

March 21, 2008

III Marine Expeditionary Force Band helps celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in Koza parade

OKINAWA CITY, OKINAWA, Japan (March 21, 2008) -- Amidst a procession of mostly green-clad paraders, the III Marine Expeditionary Force Band’s tightly-formed ranks of red, white, blue and khaki stood out during the 2nd Annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade along Chuo Park Avenue near Kadena Air Base March 15.


March 21, 2008; Submitted on: 03/23/2008 11:10:48 PM ; Story ID#: 2008323231048
By Lance Cpl. Robert C. Frenke , MCB Camp Butler

The Marines performed in front of hundreds of spectators who gathered for the weekend St. Patrick’s Day celebration.

St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland, who brought Christianity to the country in the 5th century. It is widely believed he died on March 17, and people all over the world celebrate his life on that date.

“I thought it was great seeing (the III MEF Band) come out and perform, doing what they do best,” said Lance Cpl. Jimmy Drennan, a motor transportation operator with 7th Communications Battalion, III MEF Headquarters Group, who attended the celebration.

Chuo Park Avenue, which is a popular street known for its many bars, restaurants and retail stores, closed to vehicle traffic from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. for the parade. Paddy Mac’s Irish Pub and the Chuo Park Avenue business community hosted the event.

Martin McIntyre, owner of Paddy Mac’s Irish Pub, led the parade down the street.

Vendors provided green beverages – including slushys and beer – and Irish food and many local foods.

Other performers in the parade included the ‘What’s Up’ Akemi Dance School, the Misato High School Band and Manly Slough on bagpipes.

“This is mine and my daughter’s first time seeing this parade,” said Jin Meku, a reporter with Japan Times. “This parade is new to the Okinawan people. It was very interesting.”

Following the parade, spectators made their way to the main stage for live Irish and Okinawan music. Performers included Irish music bands Yonamine-san, The Islanders, The Explode, an Okinawan Music Band Shima Gais among other bands.

The stage show also included a clown show and demonstrations of karate and kendo.

The St. Patrick’s Day celebration continued throughout the weekend at Paddy Mac’s, with live performances by local bands.

2/7 Marine earns Silver Star for combat valor

MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER, TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. (Mar. 21, 2008) -- Any Marine would brave enemy fire to rescue a wounded comrade when you have friends that "got your back."


Mar. 21, 2008; Submitted on: 03/22/2008 09:46:42 PM ; Story ID#: 2008322214642
By Cpl. Ray Lewis, 1st Marine Division

Cpl. Ian M. Dollard exemplified that sense of brotherhood when he risked his life to save a fellow Marine.

For his actions while deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Dollard received the Silver Star — the nation’s third highest award for combat heroism.

His former company commander, Maj. George D. Hasseltine, pinned the award on Dollard during a ceremony on Lance Cpl. Torrey L. Gray Field here March 21.

The date was June 24, 2007. While checking a vehicle, Dollard and his men were attacked by automatic machine gun fire.

According to the award citation, Dollard promptly returned fire with his weapon so his Marines could come to the aid of a Marine who was wounded in the attack. Then Dollard and his men started receiving automatic machine gun fire from a second position, which inflicted two gunshot wounds to his platoon commander.

Dollard wasn’t going to let the enemy get away with that. He said adrenaline and suppressive fire from his Marines helped him run to the sound of the enemy’s gunfire.

Without regard for his personal well-being, Dollard narrowly avoided enemy bullets to reach his commander. He then shielded his commander from danger, only to get struck himself, taking two rounds his upper torso body armor.

He was dazed but still insisted to provide first aid to his commander. Then he dragged the lieutenant 25 meters and continued to provide first aid. Seconds later, Dollard was struck in the leg by small arms fire. He refused medical care, then directed his fire team to tend to his commander’s wounds.

Even after a vehicle arrived to the Marines’ rescue, Dollard still refused medical attention until his wounded Marines were treated first.

Dollard’s parents are extremely proud of their son’s accomplishments.

“Ever since he was born I knew he was going to be special,” said Judy Dollard, mother of Cpl. Dollard, of Pleasant, Calif. “It was something that I just felt. He always was that kind of guy that stood up for his friends.”

Cpl. Dollard’s father said he didn’t expect anything like this.

“I know he worked hard in Iraq,” said Todd Dollard, father of the Silver Star Medal recipient. “It’s nice to have something like this to focus it all. Everybody we’ve talked to about this [has] been supportive of this.”

Cpl. Dollard’s former company commander flew here from Arizona to be a part of ceremony.

“I wanted to recognize his achievement and the achievements of the company,” said Hasseltine, Company F’s commander during the time of Dollard’s heroic actions.

Dollard was grateful for the award, but humble.

“I don’t know what to say; it feels good,” he said. “It was a lot of adrenaline. I know I had machine guns doing their job, so I felt safer.”

Dollard currently works as a lifeguard at one of the recreational swimming facilities here and will do so until his Marine Corps contract expires in September.

Meanwhile, Dollard’s former unit will become the first battalion-sized Marine unit to support the Afghan National Police in Afghanistan when they deploy this spring.

Redefining a MEU field mess

KANDAHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan(Mar. 21, 2008) -- After toiling in the harsh sun and sand all morning, Marines surprisingly found themselves eating a hot, full course meal in a make-shift motor pool on a remote desert patch of Afghanistan.


Submitted by: 24th MEU
Story by: Computed Name: Cpl. Alex C. Guerra
Story Identification #: 20083212226

The meal came courtesy the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit’s food service specialists and their new Field Food Service System, used for the first time this meal.

The FFSS is essentially a mobile kitchen where food service Marines can prepare and serve cafeteria quality meals to more than 500 Marines in remote locations.

“The Marine Corps purchased these [systems] approximately four years ago to support operations just like in Afghanistan and Iraq,” said Sgt. Charles W. Parmenter, chief messman, food service specialist, Headquarters and Support Company, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 24th MEU, ISAF. “Now we are finally getting to use these [units] in these places.”

“We can supply chow (meals) in any condition, at any climate,” said Parmenter, a 10-year food service veteran. “No matter where the Marines go we can set up a field mess, which is a site where there basically is a kitchen that can feed an X amount of Marines over a certain period of time.”

The system provides all the tools needed to create a cook-out rivaling those at home, and in the case of a MEU this is the first time they have been utilized.

“Every piece of gear in here is the same as you would have at any base,” said Parmenter. “You can cook exactly the same as if you were on any base, cooking the same chow they order with the vendors.”

An invaluable advantage of the FFSS is its capability to draw power from tactical (most military) vehicles, to heat water and cook fresh-frozen meals, said Staff Sgt. Lenard V. Tilley, senior mess chief, Headquarters and Support Company, BLT 1/6, 24th MEU, ISAF.
“It’s a great piece of equipment to have when you can throw it in the back of a truck and take with you to prepare a good meal for Marines,” said Col. Peter Petronzio, commanding officer, 24th MEU, ISAF. “This piece of equipment will be a tremendous capability on the battlefield.”

Along with making a meal, grilled or steamed, the FFSS also helps keep morale high while out in the field, where the delicacy is often Meals-Ready-to-Eat.

“It’s a whole lot better than eating MRE’s, because eating MRE’s everyday just gets terrible after awhile,” said Lance Cpl. Joshua D. Sepanski, mortarman, Combined Anti-Armor Team platoon, Weapons Company, BLT 1/6, 24th MEU, ISAF. “Having a good hot meal once and awhile is good. [It] helps you stay focused and sharp.”

Helping create an environment where Marines can relax and clear their minds is essential for operational success.

“Eventually we are going to step out the wire and do what we got to do,” said Lance Cpl. Christopher R. Sanderson, mortarman, second platoon, Weapons Co., BLT 1/6, 24th MEU, ISAF. “We are not going to have hot chow all the time, so we have to take advantage of it as much as possible.”

Fielding of the food system helps keep Marines focused by upholding the Marine Corps’ second leadership principle – troop welfare.

“I feel that is the most important part in the Marine Corps,” said Parmenter. “As long as Marines are well fed, taken care of and have good morale, we can accomplish anything, in any climate. With this piece of equipment we can (help) do that.”

A Sacrifice, And A Gift To The Troops

One Mother Of A Fallen Soldier Showed His Platoon Her True Support

(CBS) Maureen O'Haire of Rockland, Mass., supports the troops, and not in the patronizing, bumper-sticker sort of way. She really supports the troops.

Click on above link for video and pictures.

BOSTON, March 21, 2008

Specifically, the Marines, CBS News correspondent Steve Hartman reports.

And in particular, a platoon of soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment based at Camp Lejeune, N.C. O'Haire has given them so much - starting with her son.

Last year, just before his 21st birthday, Lance Cpl. Walter O'Haire was killed in Iraq.

"God has a date we come in and a date we leave," O'Haire said. "And Wally did what he had to do and it was time to go back."

Obviously, you can't ask for anything more from a Gold Star mom. But that proud Irish woman wanted to give more anyway.

Using the $20,000 death benefit she got from the government, O'Haire offered to fly the whole platoon for a St. Patrick's Day bash in Boston. She welcomed them like family … exactly like family.

"You bring all that mud in my house I'm kicking your ass," she said to one of the Marines.

"They come into my home and they're just like having my other kids around," she told Hartman.

O'Haire is widowed with eight other kids. She certainly had plenty of other ways to use that $20,000 - and yet she chose to spend it on the boys her son served with - for three days she put them up in a nice hotel, and took them all to church with her.

And she made sure they got the royal treatment wherever they went. She even got 'em a spot in the big Boston St. Patrick's Day parade.

Did they have a good time? What do you think?

"I was amazed," one of the Marines said. "I mean this is just overwhelming."

"She's probably one of the most amazing women I've ever met in my life," another said. "If a mother can cope with such a loss so well, I know I can do it too."

It's the message - the gift - O'Haire was hoping these boys would leave with.

"Men and women leave the service and they're very hurt because they lost good friends. And I don't want these guys to regret that Wally died," If these guys walk away and they remember Wally and not grieve - it will make me happy."

March 20, 2008

3rd LAR Marines cleanup Akashat

AKASHAT, Iraq — When gloves and trash bags are priority gear for mission accomplishment, there is little doubt that things have changed in Akashat, Iraq.


3/20/2008 By Lance Cpl. Paul Torres, 1st Marine Division

The citizens of Akashat were informed via the mosque loudspeaker that there would be a town wide cleanup March 20 where all residents were urged to help pickup trash.

“The trash will be cleaned away to increase the health and welfare of the citizens,” said Gunnery Sgt. Jeremiah C. Johnson, 28, from Elko Nev., who is the company gunnery sergeant for Company H, 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 5.

Several platoons of Marines patrolled through town recruiting local children and handing out plastic trash bags.
“We thought we were going to have to do most of the work ourselves, but then the local children pitched in,” said Cpl. Carl D. Youker, 28, from Peru, Ind., an anti-tank assault man with Blue Platoon, Company H.

The Akashat community’s willingness to work with Coalition forces has opened the door for several humanitarian projects such as the cleanup.
“There are two reasons we are cleaning up the trash,” said Johnson. “First is to make it safer for the children to play and second is to give the town a more professional look.”

Throughout the day, the Marines focused on cleaning the town as much as possible. A 7-ton truck dragged away concertina wire that barred the entrance to the once banned local theatre. Marines dragged broken ceiling panels out of the theatre as children swept and picked up other garbage. The trash bags were then piled on the side of the road as trucks and tractors filled their beds to haul away the garbage to a burn pit.

Local residents were encouraged to cleanup the area around their homes and to help pick up trash in the streets as well.

“The people stated throwing bags into the 7-ton and cleaning more than the area around their yard,” said Youker.

The Marines helped supervise and provided security down the roads, but there was little fear of incident.

“It was (very) rewarding because it was one of the better things we did to help the kids out,” said Youker.

The St. Patrick’s Day Games

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (March. 20, 2008) -- Marines from 8th Engineer Support Battalion, 2nd Marine Logistics Group, held a St. Patrick’s Day Field Meet, here, March 18.


March. 20, 2008; Submitted on: 03/20/2008 07:29:45 AM ; Story ID#: 200832072945
By Lance Cpl. B.A. Curtis, 2nd Marine Logistics Group

The field meet was a way for the Marines and sailors of 8th ESB to celebrate the life of St. Patrick, the patron saint of engineers. Patrick is credited with fostering the development of clay buildings and masonry in Ireland.

“Every St. Patrick’s Day engineers take time out and remember their heritage,” said Lt. Col. Daniel P. O’Hora, commanding officer, 8th ESB, 2nd MLG. “The field meet gives us the opportunity to do that.”

Nine events made up the field meet, pitting five of the battalion’s companies against each other in competition. Events included a one-mile relay race, a blarney stone toss and various events that pertained to the engineers’ military occupational specialties.

“We are naturally competitive,” said Sgt. Charles Flynn, with the battalions Motor Transport Section. “This competition allows us to get away from our regular work day and participate in some motivating P.T. You also get part of the day off and some good chow.”

The competition was held at a time when the battalion was reunited after deployments and at its full strength.

“This has been the first time in a year where we have been able to get the battalion together as a whole,” O’Hora said.

At the end of the day the battalion held a cook out where Marines conversed while enjoying lunch.

“No matter where I am, whether in combat or here, I always look forward to celebrating St. Patrick’s Day with my fellow engineers,” stated O’Hora. “It’s part of our tradition.”

24th MEU begins setting up in Afghanistan

Staff report
Posted : Thursday Mar 20, 2008 10:03:20 EDT

A majority of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit has arrived in Afghanistan and begun setting up its base in Kandahar province, Marine Corps officials said.

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March 19, 2008

“Darkside” Marine finds the light

HIT, Iraq (March 19, 2008) -- HIT, Iraq - Lance Cpl. Micah P. Adams said he never thought that as a rifleman he’d be chosen to personally keep a chaplain safe from harm.


March 19, 2008; Submitted on: 03/21/2008 01:32:57 AM ; Story ID#: 200832113257
By Cpl. Erik Villagran, 1st Marine Division

Adams, 22, from Orange County, Calif., finds himself in that exact situation after being chosen to be a chaplain’s assistant for his second deployment with 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines, Regimental Combat Team 5.

It is uncommon for a Marine to fill the role of a religious program specialist, but with the battalion, nicknamed “Darkside,” short on RPs, Adams was selected by Navy Lt. Michael A. Taylor. Taylor, a 38-year-old chaplain with 3/4, from Philadelphia, found Adams to be the best suited for the job over the other Marines within the battalion.

“What stood out to me was his forthrightness,” said Taylor. “He didn’t tell me what I wanted to hear.”

Taylor’s decision was solidified during pre-deployment training exercise Mojave Viper, where Taylor said he made note of Adams’ selflessness.

“He was always willing to put people in front of him,” Taylor said. “He sacrificed his time, his sleep and his food. Anything he has, he’ll give up.”

Adams has always been willing to take time out of his schedule to help his fellow Marines out, so that part of the job was easy. It was other facets of being a chaplain’s assistant that forced Adams to change his routine and attitude.

“In the beginning, I had to make adjustments from being in the field all the time to being in an office,” said Adams.

Adams’ modifications, originally, landed him playful banter from other infantrymen in the battalion. The teasing slowly went away as Marines witnessed that Adams still works hard.

“They thought I wasn’t going to be doing anything,” Adams said. “After Mojave Viper, they realized I do a lot more than they thought.”

Adams helped the chaplain plan his ministry and classes around Marines’ schedules. He also kept a watchful eye on the chaplain during training and now in Iraq, but perhaps the most vital support he gives Taylor is as a link to the Marines in the battalion.

“Marines interact with Marines a whole lot differently than with sailors,” Taylor said. “My ministry with India Company is better because of my chaplain’s assistant. He’s the one who opened the door.”

Adams has proved himself a valuable asset for Taylor thus far. Adams is now willing to advise the chaplain on anything that has to do with Marines.

“He’s taken a big step in putting critical input into what I do,” Taylor said. “He is making me aware of anything out there that I can help.”

Taylor and Adams have both impressed each other with their abilities. Adams said he was struck with how willing the chaplain is to interact with Marines, while Taylor commented that Adams is skillfully able to help him prepare everything for the Marines.

“It’s been excellent, because this is where God has called us,” Taylor said. “We’ve bounced ideas off each other. I throw the ideas by him and he gives critical feedback and I make adjustments. That has been invaluable.”

Despite their different military association, this pair is a match made in heaven.

DI critical after motorcycle crash

Staff report
Posted : Wednesday Mar 19, 2008 14:02:36 EDT

JACKSONVILLE, N.C. — A drill instructor found in a wooded area hours after his motorcycle crashed Friday remains in critical condition in a Georgia hospital.

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USS Tarawa Hosts Bone Marrow Drive

PERSIAN GULF - Amphibious assault ship USS Tarawa (LHA 1) set a new bone marrow drive record for the C.W. Bill Young Department of Defense Marrow Donor Program March 11 through 17.


Navy News | March 19, 2008

Amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1) held the previous record of 1,031 participants. Tarawa set the new record with 1,071 participants.

Through the drive, DNA samples were collected to see if service members would be a positive match for a person suffering from bone-attacking diseases and cancers.

"As we got into the fourth month of deployment I realized a lot of Sailors and Marines, as well as myself, had a little extra time, so I got in contact with the marrow point of contact in Washington D.C., and set up a drive here," said Tactical Air Control Squadron (TACRON) 11 Executive Officer Cmdr. Troy Nichols. "You have sort of a captive audience; you have a lot of Sailors and Marines who are looking to put forth the extra effort and volunteer their time, and this was a good opportunity to do that."

The ship was given bone marrow swab-kits which service members used to swab the inside of both cheeks to collect cell samples that will be sent to Washington. The samples will be evaluated, processed and stored in the national bone marrow registry.

The goal was to have 100 percent command participation from both the Navy and Marines.

"My responsibility was to make sure I got 100 percent contact with everybody in my department; whether or not they decided to volunteer was completely up to them," said Air Traffic Controller 1st Class (AW) James Maichel. "If you have the opportunity to save someone's life, there's really no better feeling than that."

March 18, 2008

2nd LAR embarks to Anbar province of Iraq

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJUENE, N.C. (March 18, 2008) -- Family members and friends bade farewell to Marines with 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion March 18.


March 18, 2008; Submitted on: 03/22/2008 04:43:49 AM ; Story ID#: 200832244349
By Cpl. Ryan L. Tomlinson, 1st Marine Division

The battalion deployed to the Anbar province of Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom for the units’ fifth tour to Iraq. While in Iraq, 2nd LAR will assist Regimental Combat Team 5 with the transition of control from Coalition forces to Iraqi Security Forces. Much of the region that 2nd LAR will operate in has seen a surge in Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police participation in providing security to the more than 600,000 Iraqis that reside there.

“I couldn’t have asked for better Marines to go to combat with,” said Lt. Col. Russell E. Smith, battalion commander of 2nd LAR, as he addressed the hundreds of family members and Marines. “We are ready for this deployment, and I will do everything in my power to bring every one of them home safe.”

During the event, tents were set up for treats given to the service members and their families as well as an inflatable trampoline for the children to play on.

After Marines relaxed with their loved ones, they held a battalion formation of troops, plus their families, to be briefed on the plan for the seven-month deployment.

“I’m excited to go, but not so excited for leaving my girlfriend here,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Jesse A. Rodriguez, a corpsman with Headquarters and Service Company, 2nd LAR. “I just spent as much time as I could with her, and that was rewarding.”

1/2 scout snipers hone stalking, killing skills

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (March 18, 2008) -- Scout snipers with Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, successfully completed a three-day field event here, March 17 through 19.


2nd Marine Division
Story by Lance Cpl. Scott Schmidt

Marines sharpened their individual and team proficiency with the M107 .50 caliber Long Range Sniper Rifle while firing at known and unknown distances.

“This training is so the Marines can understand proper adjustments,” said 2nd Lt. Steven Kleppin the Scout Sniper platoon commander. “There are so many variables, like wind and fog, to a sniper rifle because you’re firing at targets greater than 1,000 yards away.”

Throughout the three days, Marines practiced stalking and reconnaissance skills, firing at extreme distances and creating trust within the team.

A sniper team is comprised of two Marines, a shooter and a spotter. The spotter settles in the prone position behind the shooter, making wind calls and directing the shooter on target.

“The spotter has the most important position in the team,” said Cpl. Andreas Owens, an assaultman with the company. “They make the calls while the shooter just needs to focus on the fundamentals.”

Trust is important within a sniper team. According to Owens, a sniper team has a very close relationship when compared to other infantry teams due to the nature of their training and their mission.

The snipers are currently training for the battalion’s upcoming deployment to Iraq where they’ll be responsible for surveillance and reconnaissance to gather intelligence.

“We are the forefront of intelligence collection,” said Owens, who deployed as a scout sniper last year. “Iraq is always changing and we are out there all the time to make sure intelligence is up-to-date.”

Owens added Iraqis make slight changes in their every day actions when they know Marines are there but, “that’s when the snipers come in and get the intelligence, when they act natural and may not know they are being watched.”

The snipers are trained to be ready for any experience, Kleppin said. It’s important to continually sharpen the skills of a scout sniper in order to maintain the platoon’s proficiency.

The battalion is set to participate in the Mojave Viper field exercise where scout snipers and the rest of the battalion sharpen all the skills needed for a successful deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

March 17, 2008

SoCal Marines on PCA orders get bigger BAH

By Gidget Fuentes - Staff writer
Posted : Monday Mar 17, 2008 15:06:15 EDT

OCEANSIDE, Calif. — Marines in San Diego who get orders to Camp Pendleton will cash in on the larger of the housing allowances for those regions, thanks to new guidelines released by the Corps in February.

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Saluting her son's sacrifice

Leon Deraps died May 6, 2006, while serving in Iraq

JAMESTOWN, Mo. - Sandy Deraps has a sparkle in her eye and a loving smile on her face when she hears her son's name.


Monday, Mar 17, 2008
By Ra'Vae Edwards
[email protected]

It was nearly two years ago when the Deraps family learned their youngest member had made the ultimate sacrifice for his country. Since then, the Deraps family has worked hard to keep his memory alive.

It was on May 6, 2006, at age 19, when Lance Cpl. Leon Deraps was killed while conducting combat operations against enemy forces in Anbar Province in Iraq.

The devastating news of his death touched the lives of the people who knew Leon and even many people who didn't. Hundreds of people from all over attended his funeral and the outpouring of respect and honor for his family has led them down a positive path.

For Sandy, words cannot describe the devastation she felt when she was told of Leon's death. However, it is because of her devout faith in God and the respect for her son's sacrifice that she has made immeasurable strides to pay tribute to the troops who are fighting for their country.

“Looking back at first you are numb, then you just try to keep going because you have other children and you find yourself praying and keeping close to the Lord at the times you miss your child the most,” Sandy said.

Being raised in the small Moniteau County community of Jamestown, the Deraps family said the amount of support they received after Leon's death was amazing.

“Leon was very fortunate. Jamestown was there for us in every way,” Sandy said. “They took the time to come over to comfort our family and bring food; they called us often and prayed for us. I am always in awe when I think of all the kindness and love they showed for our family.”

In just shy of two years, Sandy has joined the Marine Parents, the Patriot Guard, established a scholarship in Leon's name, dedicated to cleaning a portion of the highway in his honor, attended 19 funerals of fallen soldiers from Missouri and still supports three of Leon's best friends who are in the Marines and five of his platoon members.

In the summer of 2006, just weeks after Leon was laid to rest, Sandy said she joined the Marine Parents group based in Columbia because of a video Leon had sent home. The organization packs and sends thousand of boxes of “goodies” to Marine soldiers in Iraq every year.

“We gave Leon a video camera that Christmas before he went to Iraq and we encouraged him to take pictures,” she said. “He took pictures of the Humvee he loved to drive, school children playing in a school yard. There were fields along the river, farmers in the field with cows. You think of the desert with just sand. That is not so.”

“One video I will never forget - and this is why I joined the Marine Parents - was he took his camera and placed it on top of a desk pointed at him and his buddy opening one of the boxes I sent him. He was so genuinely happy. The pure joy on his face that we remembered him and sent him treats from home - the cookies, playing cards and the letters. I will never forget that, it is my driving force.”

Sandy said her family will always miss Leon, but being able to honor him is one of the things that keeps her family together.

“We all hurt in our own way. We just miss him so, so much,” Sandy said. “We just pray together for other's needs at different family gatherings. Losing Leon has made us all more aware that by helping others and reaching out more gives us healing. Our faith in the Lord tells us we will be with him again and that keeps us together as a family.”

Whether she's packing “goodie” boxes, picking up trash along Highway 87 or baking cookies for Leon's friends, one thing remains certain - she is always thinking of her son and all of the men and women serving their country.

“Support the troops every chance you can,” she said. “Just say ‘Thank you for your service and God bless you.' It will mean so much to them, and to yourself.”

Sandy Deraps

Age: 57

In Mid-Missouri: Since 1979

Family: Married, six children and nine grandchildren

Civic involvement: Member of the Patriot Guard and member of Marine Parents.

March 16, 2008

America Supports You: Award Honors Military Moms

WASHINGTON, March 16, 2008 – A new award administered by troop support groups and sponsored by a major corporation aims to recognize the sacrifices made by military moms.
The Operation Homefront Military Motherhood Award will provide the winner with $5,000 and a free trip to the awards ceremony in Washington, D.C.


By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

The award pays tribute to mothers of servimembers, military wives with dependent children and women serving in the military who have children.

It is sponsored by Lockheed Martin with support from the Military Times Media Group, and it is administered in conjunction with CinCHhouse.com.

“We're looking for inspirational stories of military wives and women in uniform who are successfully parenting children through the challenges of military life. These can be your children, stepchildren, foster children or others in unique circumstances,” states the CinCHouse.com Web site.

This is the first year of the award, and nominations are being accepted through March 31. Anyone who knows of a military mom with an inspiring story, including those moms, can fill out a nomination form on CinCHouse.com. The nomination requires a brief essay explaining why the nominee deserves to be honored with the Military Motherhood Award.

At the end of March, when the nomination period closes, Operation Homefront will select the top 20 entries and allow the CinCHouse community to vote for the top five. A panel of judges will then select the winner.

Congresswoman Susan Davis and Sen. Mel Martinez, both members of Operation Homefront’s Congressional Advisory Board, will co-host the award ceremony in which the winner will be honored.

Operation Homefront and CinCHouse.com are supporters of America Supports You, a Defense Department program connecting citizens and companies with servicemembers and their families serving at home and abroad.

Marines and IP build a better barrier

AKASHAT, Iraq (March 16, 2008) -- Where garbage-strewn concertina wire once lined the streets, a cleaner more professional-looking traffic control point now stands.


March 16, 2008; Submitted on: 03/22/2008 06:27:30 AM ; Story ID#: 200832262730
By Lance Cpl. Paul Torres, 1st Marine Division

On March 16, Marines with Company H, 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 5 dragged concrete barriers into place while waiting for a local contractor to show up with a bulldozer.

The concrete barriers were used to form a serpentine to provide security for the control point located on the front road into the town of Akashat, Iraq.

“The reconstruction of the Akashat TCP is a joint effort among the Akashat Iraqi Police and 3rd LAR Marines,” said Gunnery Sgt. Jeremiah C. Johnson, 28, from Elko, Nev., who is a Light

Armored Vehicle crewman and company gunnery sergeant with Company H.

Marines worked for three days filling in dirt mounds, dragging concertina wire, rearranging concrete barriers and providing constant security.

“The first step was to remove all dirt berms and to fill in all of the holes in order to make the town start to look as it did before,” said Johnson.

On the first day, the Marines were lucky enough to gain the assistance from a re-supply convoy to help stage the concrete barriers.

“We used a wrecker and a forty-foot flatbed to load up and move the barriers,” said Sgt. Justin R. Genovese, 25, who is a convoy commander for Motor Transportation Platoon, Headquarters and Services Company, 3rd LAR.

The final phase of the project found the Marines and the IP meticulously restructuring the serpentine. An IP communicated to the bulldozer operator in Arabic and Marines with Blue Platoon gave hand signals to guide and align the barriers.

“It was great to see (the IPs) get into it and be just as concerned about the little details as we were, said Johnson. “They really showed some pride in getting the details right.”

“It looks much better than it did before,” said Major Fawzi Ahmad Khalifah, the chief of police in Akashat. “We still have a few things left to do.”

The final touches to the project will be added later when the IP paint all of the barriers to make them look more professional. At the entrance to the town, there will also be a sign that says, “Welcome to Akashat.”

PSF helps tip scales in Marines’ favor

HIT, Iraq (March 16, 2008) – A grayish plume filled a small area and another cache of weapons was destroyed in Iraq today.


By Cpl. Erik Villagan

Marines with Company I, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines, Regimental Combat Team 5, provided security as Explosive Ordnance Disposal ridded them of their small problem.

“We got a tip from the PSF (Provisional Security Force) that there was a weapons cache,” said Staff Sgt. Ernesto A. Hernandez, 29, a section leader with Company I from Los Angeles. “We went out there to verify and took the PSF with us to make it a joint effort. We want them to get the recognition for finding it.”

Marines with Mobile Assault Platoon 1, Company I, followed a PSF truck, filled with Iraqi PSF troops, through Hit until they reached the site. They weaved through the city carefully like they would during mobile patrols in the town. When they arrived, Marines verified the unexploded ordnance, commonly referred to as UXO, and called EOD.

“We found artillery propellant when we got out there. Propellant is what makes the artillery rounds go,” Hernandez said. “We also found a 155 mm artillery round. They were just stashing it. It wasn’t hooked up to anything.”

EOD quickly disposed of the propellant with an incendiary grenade. The 155 mm round presented minimal threat, so EOD put it in their truck to be destroyed later.

The Iraqi troops said they were grateful that Marines were able to help them rid the city of dangerous materials.

“It’s good to have Marines to help us take weapons away from the insurgents,” said an Iraqi soldier, who wished to remain anonymous, through an interpreter. “If we work together we can keep the city safe.”

The cache was not as large as the MAP 1 Marines had hoped, but they were pleased to remove it.

“The (PSF) gives us tips at times,” said Cpl. John R. Hutchins, a 21-year-old squad leader with Company I from Lansing, Mich. “When they give us information, it’s not always what we expect.”

Despite the disappointment from Marines on not finding a larger cache, they understood the importance of the PSF coming to them for support. Not all tips will be big finds, but they may eventually lead to something important.

“They have first hand interaction with the people, so their tips are helpful,” Hernandez said. “Some of their tips may just be rumors, but at least they’re telling us about them.”

The information currently being provided is a luxury Marines didn’t enjoy very often during the battalions last deployment. It is a welcomed surprise this time around.

“Last time (the PSF) didn’t get into it as much,” Hernandez. “Now, they’re all over the place. They are taking an active role out there.”

Both Marines and PSF benefited from destroying the UXO.

“We found ordnance, something we want to find so other people can’t use it against us,” Hutchins said. “It also helps with the gradual push of getting the PSF to trust us.”

When the puff of smoke cleared, one could clearly see by the way the PSF and Marines were interacting with each other that the Marines are well on their way to earning that trust.

Afghanistan-bound battalion rewarded with break in training

MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER, TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. (March 16, 2008) -- After they claimed their stake, they ate some steak.


March 16, 2008; Submitted on: 03/17/2008 05:43:43 PM ; Story ID#: 2008317174343
By Cpl. Ray Lewis, 1st Marine Division

Marines with, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment enjoyed a “Warrior’s Night” of food and fun following training here March 13.

The warriors had nearly finished Mojave Viper, the Corps’ premier pre-deployment desert training, so they were invited to feast on beef.

“It brings up morale,” said Staff Sgt. Enrique Lopez, the mess chief who arranged the meal for the Afghanistan-bound Marines. “In my opinion, morale is very important for these Marines because they’re always in the field. It’s good to give them something good when they come out of the field, something to eat and some beverages… there isn’t anything better than that.”

Well it’s better than Meals Ready-to-Eat.

“I’m starving, man,” said Cpl. Jason E. Brown. “It’s nice having a hot meal and a cold (drink). It’s a change of pace from MREs. It’s always nice.”

Brown, 21, thinks the best part is getting some food when straight out of the field and hanging out with the boys.

“Honestly, you look around and pretty much all of these guys are with us,” said Brown, a tow gunner from Springfield, Mo., with Weapons Company.

“If they have ‘crust-aches,’ they’ve been training with us,” Brown added.

After they ate their steak they played arcade games, watched TV or just caught up with the boys.

“It lets the boys unwind,” said Sgt. Kenneth S. Huse, 22, a tow gunner from Pendleton, Ind., with Weapons Co. “We need the training, but …it’s good to relax, straight up, that’s how it is good to relax.”

“The fact that I get to … take a shower, get fat and happy and go to sleep,” said Cpl. Jimmy E. Conley, 21, an assaultman from Spring, Texas, with Weapons Co.

Lopez was just glad to see that the Marines were enjoying themselves.

“It’s a good feeling … to notice the Marines are enjoying the chow,” said Lopez, 29, from Del Rio, Texas, with Headquarters and Support Co. “It motivates me to do it more and more. All the credit goes to my Marines because those are the ones doing all the work.”

When the Marines finish Mojave Viper, they will become the first battalion-sized Marine unit to support the Afghan National Police in Afghanistan.

March 15, 2008

Marines return to Afghanistan

KANDAHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan (Mar. 15, 2008) -- Marines and sailors from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit began arriving in Afghanistan this week.


Mar. 15, 2008; Submitted on: 03/15/2008 12:58:10 AM ; Story ID#: 200831505810
By Cpl. Randall A. Clinton, 24th MEU

This deployment is in support and under the command of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force. During this deployment the MEU will conduct full-spectrum operations to capitalize on recent ISAF and Afghan Nation Security Force successes in providing a safe and secure environment for the Afghan people in which to rebuild their lives.

“We will bring stability to that area. The locals will feel a little safer,” said Gunnery Sgt. Paul Crawford, company gunnery sergeant, Charlie Company, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 24th MEU, ISAF.

Crawford cautioned about the immediacy of their impact. The 24th MEU is not expected to begin operations until the spring giving, the unit time to acclimatize and adjust for operations here.

The Marines of the ground combat element compare this deployment to their previous stint in Ramadi, Iraq because once again they have a chance to improve the lives of those suffering from unruly insurgents.

“Helping kids, starting schools back up, helping the area, making it less dangerous for the people as opposed to the terrorists running free, doing as they please, not letting the people live a free life like they have a right to,” explained Cpl. Chase Sachs, TOW vehicle gunner, Weapons Company, BLT 1/6, 24th MEU, ISAF.

The battle-seasoned Marine, who operates a long-ranged, vehicle mounted missile system, wants his time in Afghanistan, like that of Iraq, to be remembered for the progress of the country more than trigger pulling; something positive he can tell his 2-year-old daughter about his service.

“We opened up more schools; you could see a drastic change from when we first got there. You see more kids in the schools, kids outside in the streets playing,” said Sachs said of his tour in Ramadi.

Undoubtedly, the means to that end will come from the opposing end of the Marines’ rifles, a task they handled well in a 2004 deployment to Afghanistan.

“Obviously, last time 1/6 was here we made a big impact. Hopefully we will have more success this time,” said Crawford, a platoon sergeant during their four-month deployment in 2004.

The Marine Expeditionary Unit represents the smallest unit in the U.S. military combining air and ground combat assets and logistical support under one commander.

“The MEU is Marines and equipment capable to do a variety of missions; everything from limited objective raids to security operations, humanitarian assistant and disaster relief,” said Lt. Col. Matt Trollinger, operations officer, 24th MEU, ISAF.

Unlike a collection of separate units, the smaller MEU goes through their entire pre-deployment training as a collective.

“The three entities under the command element: a battalion, our aviation combat element, our combat logistics battalion, having worked together during that planning enables us to respond that much faster,” he explained.

That response ability was tested when the 24th MEU received the order to head directly to Afghanistan a mere month before their original deployment aboard Navy ships to act as a force-in-readiness in the Central Command theater of operations, and will continue to be tested as the MEU begins operations.

U.S., Indonesian Sailors and Marines give new face to old Javanese school

EAST JAVA, Republic of the Indonesia (March 15, 2008) -- U.S. and Indonesian Sailors and Marines combined engineering efforts to help renovate and refurbish a schoolhouse here, March 15.


Submitted by: 31st MEU
Story by: Computed Name: - MC2 (SW) Joshua J. Wahl
Story Identification #: 200831535131

The six-day Tactical Engineering Exercise (ENGEX) with the Indonesian Armed Forces began March 11 and involved U.S. Sailors and Marines from Combat Logistics Battalion 31 (CLB 31) attached to the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (31st MEU) and Sailors from the USS Harpers Ferry (LSD 49). The school, located in Sumberejo village, in Situbondo Regency here, was in dire need of a new roof, window frame upgrades, door frames and doors, and a fresh coat of paint. Approximately $15,000 was spent on the project throughout the weeklong project.

According to U.S. Marine 2nd Lt. Brian D. Woodall, the Engineer Platoon Commander for CLB 31, the ENGEX was designed to build a greater engineering capacity, increase humanitarian assistance and disaster relief response capabilities, and enhance interoperability between forces.

“We are really impressed with how well the operation is already going,” said Woodall. “Working together and observing their work techniques is very beneficial. I think we are showing both sides it is possible for us to work together if there is ever a problem or crisis in this region. We hope this launches a long lasting partnership between the two militaries.”

At the project site, U.S. Marines and Sailors with their Indonesian counterparts eagerly jumped into site preparation and successfully worked side-by-side superseding any language barriers.

“Any time we get the opportunity to work with a foreign service, it is a beneficial experience,” Woodall said. Projects like these demonstrate the United States’ ongoing commitment to the security and stability of these nations and the entire South East Asia region.

By midday both militaries’ site leaders looked over their accomplishments after a hard morning’s work and began discussing the strategy for the upcoming afternoon’s schedule with enthusiasm.

“Everyone was looking forward to working with the American people, because the opinion is that the U.S. has the best trained forces,” said Indonesian Marine Sergeant Edi Kurniawan, from the 1st Zeni Marine Battalion and a site planner and architect. “I think this project will show we can work together very well.”

The Harper’s Ferry Sailors who volunteered during the exercise seemed to be more than satisfied with the task at hand.

“Coming out here and working on a construction site is my cup tea,” said Hull Technician 3rd Class Joel D. Weiss, construction site volunteer. “I can’t think of a better way to spend my day than picking up my tools and building a new school for the kids.”

Harpers Ferry is part of the Essex Expeditionary Strike Group, which is the largest in the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet area of responsibility and is composed of the forward deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2), transport dock ship USS Harpers Ferry (LSD 49), dock landing ship USS Juneau (LPD 10), the guided missile destroyer USS Mustin (DDG 89), Tactical Air Control Squadron (TACRON) 12, Beach Master Unit (BMU) 1 and Assault Craft Unit 1 of Amphibious Squadron Eleven. The 31st MEU makes up the embarked Marine force and consists of Marine Attack Squadron 513 (VMA-513) from Yuma, Ariz., Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines from Camp Pendleton, Calif., Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 265 (HMM-265) and Combat Logistic Battalion 31 (CBL 31) both out of Okinawa, Japan.

Some jobs lose bonuses

By Andrew Tilghman - Staff writer
Posted : Saturday Mar 15, 2008 14:15:16 EDT

Deciding whether to give the Corps four more years is a tough decision any time. But as the halfway point of the fiscal year rapidly approaches, many enlisted Marines still sitting on the fence may find those decisions tougher, thanks to newly released rules for fiscal 2008 Selective Re-enlistment Bonuses and Broken Service SRBs.

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Marines conduct census in Akashat

AKASHAT, Iraq (March 15, 2008) -- One of the insurgents’ most formidable weapons is their ability to hide among the people they oppress.


March 15, 2008; Submitted on: 03/19/2008 09:34:42 AM ; Story ID#: 200831993442
By Lance Cpl. Paul M. Torres, 1st Marine Division

Collecting information has always been important to the war on terror. This is why Marines with Hotel Company, 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 5, conducted a census in the town of Akashat, Iraq, March 9.

“The census is us just getting information, and it helps us build a relationship with the community,” said Sgt. Manuel A. Callejasrodas, 26, from Lynbrook N.Y., who is the platoon commander for Green Platoon, Company H.”

Marines with Green Platoon have been patrolling the town of Akashat block by block, talking to the residents of each house.

The man of the house is asked to provide basic information on the residents who live there.

“The census will give us a general idea about where people work, how many people live in each house and what it is they do,” said Callejasrodas. “Plus it gives us better eyes-on within the community.”

Marines with Company H first took command of Akashat and the surrounding areas from the Army at the beginning of March.

“The information will let us know if any possible insurgents try to stay in one of the houses, we will know if someone doesn’t belong there,” said Sgt. Jesse Ramirez, 22, from Modesto, Calif., who is the platoon sergeant for Green Platoon, Company H.

The community of Akashat has not always been friendly to Marines on patrol.

“When we first rolled through the city, the (children) would throw rocks at us,” said Callejasrodas. “The people were very intimidated at first, but the atmosphere has changed a lot.”

The smallest things often make the biggest differences, and for the Marines in Company H, it has been their connection with the children.

“An older man in the city stopped us and told us that as we got in good with the (children), we will get the families to like us, and it is working,” said Ramirez. “It feels good to see that we are making a difference, and you can tell their attitude has changed,” said Ramirez.

While conducting the census, children would often come out of their houses and shake the hands of the Marines with smiles on their faces.

“If you show them respect, they will respect you, so we give (the community) updates on what we are trying to do for them in the town,” said Ramirez.

March 14, 2008

Special Ops Marines deliver in southern Afghanistan

HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan (Mar. 14, 2008) -- For Marines, “special forces” traditionally means Force Reconnaissance units.


Mar. 14, 2008; Submitted on: 03/14/2008 08:10:14 AM ; Story ID#: 200831481014
By Staff Sgt. Luis P. Valdespino Jr., Combined Security Transition Command - Afghanistan

Most have heard stories about Force “Recon,” but they may not familiar with the role of a Marine special operations company. A couple weeks here with a Marine Special Operations Company deployed from the 1st Special Operations Battalion in Camp Pendleton will change that.

Marine Special Operations, as an organization, has only existed for about two years. The MSOC Marines come from former Force Recon and other infantry units, said a former Force Recon Marine. Their experiences vary, but most have had years of combat experience.

The MSOC Marines, based out of a forward operating base in central Helmand Province, operated at a much faster pace than other units in country.

Accompanied by a small group of Afghan National Army soldiers, the Marines were constantly on the go: visiting villages, distributing humanitarian aid and always searching for insurgents. Their breaks between operations varied from 12 hours to three days.

The MSOC Marines thrive on missions that have them patrolling for enemy forces, an MSOC Marine said. “We don’t like being on the FOB.”

Shortly afterward, the unit departed on a mission in northern Helmand Province.

An MSOC leatherneck said his Marines were attacked four times throughout the four-day mission. He described how they overcame enemy machine gun positions, mortar attacks and rocket-propelled-grenades.

“Needless to say, we silenced their weapons,” said another MSOC Marine.

On their next mission, a three-day assignment in north central Helmand Province, the MSOC Marines visited other villages throughout the districts. At night the Marines slept on the desert ground – in sleeping bags, but not on cots.

While on foot patrol through the first village on day one, it was clear these Marines were not on a time schedule, and they took no shortcuts. In full combat gear they searched all compounds, streets and paths in the village. When it was secure, they set up distribution sites for the humanitarian aid they took with them.

On the second day the unit came under attack within five minutes of arriving at a small village. Immediately the MSOC Marines positioned themselves throughout the village and began engaging the enemy insurgents.

Halfway into what turned out to be a nearly four-hour battle, a Marine who seemed to never rest, said with a grin, “We’re not done yet.”

He seemed unfazed that earlier an RPG missed him by less than two feet.

Despite several other close calls, the Marines relentlessly pursued the insurgents until they secured the village, and the Taliban fighters were either killed or fled. Before they were done, the MSOC hospital corpsmen cared for and treated villagers injured by insurgents.

Afterward Marine leaders met with village elders and committed to return with much needed aid and support, as long as the Marines had the villagers’ support.

Shortly after returning to their FOB, the MSOC Marines prepared to depart on another mission. After all, they weren’t done yet.

Editor’s note: Because the Marines personnel mentioned in this story are special operations personnel, their names and the specific locations cannot be published.

March 13, 2008

Marines find Rockets near Akashat

AKASHAT, Iraq (March 13, 2008) -- A mushroom cloud of sand and debris rose from the ground Thursday, signifying the completion of a good day’s work.


March 13, 2008; Submitted on: 03/15/2008 04:33:11 AM ; Story ID#: 200831543311
By Lance Cpl. Paul Torres, 1st Marine Division

Marines with Company H, 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 5 watched as the second weapons cache they had found in three days was eliminated.
Company H had been tipped off by Iraqi Police on the location of the first cache several days before the find.

“We have been working with the IP’s in Akashat,” said Sgt Manuel A. Callejasrodas, 26, from Lynbrook N.Y., who is a guided missile system operator and platoon sergeant with Green Platoon, Company H.

“They gave us the location and we went out and identified what types of weapons were there,” said Callejasrodas.

The cache was located about 15 kilometers east of the town of Akashat, where Company H has been conducting security patrols and collecting intelligence. Among the weapons found were 14 rockets that were later destroyed.

Since Company H assumed command of this area of operation from the Army, tips about weapons caches have been flooding in. Most of the information comes from the community within Akashat.

“(The Iraqis) pretty much give us (tips on) everything we find,” said Sgt. Jesse Ramirez, 22, from Modesto, Calif., who is a field radio operator and platoon sergeant for Green Platoon, Company H.

The tip on a second cache, located about 17 kilometers north of Akashat, came the next day.
“We received a tip from a human intelligence source who had a lot of information about the location,” said 1st Lt. Blaine N. Barby, 24, from Beaver Okla., who is a platoon commander for Blue Platoon, Company H.

When a tip is received, the Marines try to get as much information as they can to ensure the cache find is authentic.

Once on sight, Marines with Blue Platoon approached the wadi cautiously and cordoned off the area to await the arrival of Explosive Ordinance Disposal.

“We are always thinking, what if this might be an ambush,” said Ramirez.

The primary cache was located in a wadi about 5 feet deep and contained seven Chinese rockets and about three dozen empty 155 artillery cases.

The Marines maintained the cordon until EOD arrived to wire and detonate all unexploded ordinance.

“It is important for us to maintain security on the spot to make sure the insurgents don’t come and move it before EOD gets there,” said Ramirez.

Most of the caches found recently have been in remote locations.
Community relations have played an important role in keeping the insurgent presence out of Akashat.

“This is their homeland, and they are able to help us out as much as we help them,” said Ramirez.

A flying look into women's history

AL ASAD, Iraq (March 13, 2008) -- From Amelia Earhart’s solo trans-Atlantic flight in 1932 to Marine Capt. Sarah Deal’s achievement as the first-ever female Marine Corps pilot in 1995, the spectrum of women’s aviation history continues to expand.


March 13, 2008; Submitted on: 03/13/2008 06:36:29 AM ; Story ID#: 200831363629
By Lance Cpl. Jessica N. Aranda, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing

Women’s history month celebrates these and other amazing accomplishments with the theme, “Women’s Art: Women’s Vision”.

One Marine’s visions, most commonly viewed through the windshield of a tiltrotor aircraft, contribute to the growing list of women’s firsts.

Captain Elizabeth A. Okoreeh-Baah, attached to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 263, is recognized as the very first female MV-22 Osprey pilot.

“To be the first female anything is kind of shocking,” explained Okoreeh-Baah, who views all of her successes as an opportunity to give something back to others.

Okoreeh-Baah began piloting toward new opportunities for the generations behind her long before her first MV-22 flight.

The Nashville, Tenn., native graduated from the Naval Academy in 2000, as one of the first females with a Marine Corps aviation contract.

After more than five years flying the CH-46E Sea Knight, including a yearlong combat deployment, Okoreeh-Baah’s unit, then Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 263, began replacing the CH-46Es with the MV-22s, and she hopped onboard the transition process.

The 28-year-old completed the transition and made her historic flight March 13, 2006, two years ago today.

“She’s an integral part of the squadron, just like any other pilot,” said Maj. Eric Garcia, a pilot with VMM-263. “Being recognized historically as the first female is a big accomplishment.”

Okoreeh-Baah thinks women’s history month is another chance for the future of society to see examples of who they can view as role models.

“It’s good to have individuals who set the bar and encourage us to become better Marines,” said Gunnery Sgt. Jeanette Santoro, the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward) career retention specialist and president of the Women Marines Association here. “It allows us to know what goals we can accomplish and gives us something to strive for. It also shows the billets female Marines are now filling.”

Everything we do affects women’s history, the fact that we’re out here in Iraq easily visible to the international press and other Marines sets an example, explained Okoreeh-Baah.

“People will never know the possibilities if no one ever aspires to do them,” she added.

Commander Cites Ramadi’s Recovery as Example of Iraq Success

WASHINGTON, March 13, 2008 – More than a year ago, the Iraqi city of Ramadi was a ruin of blasted buildings amid a population ravaged by al Qaeda terrorists and the effects of war, but the capital of Anbar province is bouncing back, a senior U.S. military commander in Iraq said today.


By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

Ramadi and its infrastructure were “completely destroyed due to the heavy fighting. Entire city blocks were nothing more than collapsed buildings, piles of rubble, ruptured water pipes, raw sewage and trash,” Army Col. John Charlton, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team, told Pentagon reporters during a satellite-carried news conference.

That has all changed. Ramadi is now alive and buzzing with the sounds of construction that accompany the city’s rebirth and recovery, Charlton said.

“All of this has happened in 12 months, and it has happened because of the relationship we’ve formed with the Iraqi people, in particular the tribal leaders, and the close partnership that we’ve had with the Iraqi security forces,” Charlton said.

Soon after deploying to Iraq from the division’s base at Fort Stewart, Ga., in January 2007, Charlton and his troops joined U.S. Marines and Iraqi soldiers in a fierce house-to-house battle across Ramadi that defeated al Qaeda insurgents who considered that city as their capital.

“When we got here, we were very much in the lead” in the fight against al Qaeda insurgents in Ramadi, Charlton recalled. Today, the U.S.-Iraqi security relationship has “completely flipped,” he said.

“The Iraqi security forces are completely out front,” he explained, noting his brigade has been reorganized into an advisory unit that assists Iraqi forces.

Charlton recounted the significant security-enhancing role played by Sunni tribal leaders of Anbar province who’d had enough of al Qaeda’s brutality. The sheikhs asked their young men to volunteer to help fight al Qaeda in Ramadi and other areas of Anbar province. The volunteers, known as the Sons of Iraq, secured areas that had been cleared of al Qaeda by U.S. and Iraqi forces.

The Iraqi volunteers didn’t ask for pay, Charlton pointed out, noting that at first they were compensated with humanitarian aid. Later on, the volunteers were paid for their security services.

Today, about 4,000 former Sons of Iraq members are certified Iraqi police officers, Charlton noted.

“That was a major (security) achievement for us,” the colonel said.

The improvement in security across Anbar province compared to last year has been phenomenal, Charlton said, noting that few insurgent actions have taken place during the last several months in the province.

“Although we’ve been downsizing coalition presence, security (has) remained excellent, because, again, the Iraqi security forces continue to increase in their abilities,” the colonel explained.

Increased security and stability have enabled Ramadi’s phoenix-like rise from the ashes, Charlton said. A multitude of U.S. and Iraqi-funded reconstruction and economic projects, including the reopening of a ceramics factory that employs hundreds of Iraqis, are reviving the city’s business district, he said.

The honking of hundreds of cars and trucks that now fill Ramadi’s streets and roads signifies the sounds of burgeoning commerce and societal progress, the colonel said.

“There are dozens of reconstruction projects going on across Anbar,” Charlton said. “We’re trying to bring this province back from a war zone, back into a normal society.”

Meanwhile, coalition forces and Iraqi soldiers and police are pressuring al Qaeda operatives who fled Ramadi and its environs into Anbar’s desert hinterland, Charlton said.

“We’ve pursued al Qaeda into some very remote areas,” he said.

Charlton praised his troops, noting they’ve “accomplished amazing things” in a tough, austere environment. The colonel and his soldiers will soon complete their 15-month Iraq deployment and return home to Fort Stewart.

“I think there’s great hope for Anbar,” Charlton said, noting the province’s people are setting the example for progress in Iraq.

“We have witnessed Anbar transform from one of the most dangerous provinces in Iraq to one of the safest,” he said. “In the opinion of many people, this has been one of the most remarkable chapters of the U.S. military operations here in Iraq.”

Wounded Soldiers See the Pentagon In Private Parade

Little-Known Event Is Emotional Salute;
Cpl. Lyon Pays a Visit

WASHINGTON -- Cpl. Kenny Lyon's mother pushed his wheelchair down a narrow Pentagon hallway, crying as she listened to the applause.


March 13, 2008; Page A1

Hundreds of Defense Department employees lined the corridor, cheering for Cpl. Lyon and the other wounded military personnel who walked or rolled past. Some of them patted Cpl. Lyon on the shoulder, while others shook his hand or leaned in to hug his mother, Gigi Windsor.

"I was really humbled by it because I didn't do anything special," says Cpl. Lyon, a 22-year-old Marine who lost a leg in a mortar attack near Fallujah. "I went to Iraq to do a job, and I got injured and actually couldn't do it. So why was I getting honored?"

Cpl. Lyon was taking part in a little-known event called the Wounded Warrior March, which brings military personnel who suffer serious injuries in Iraq or Afghanistan to the Pentagon for a parade unlike any other.

The events, held roughly every six weeks, are notable for their simplicity. No speeches are given, no dignitaries march alongside the veterans and cameras are banned. The parades are closed to the public, except for friends and relatives of the injured soldiers and Marines taking part. Military officials don't tout the program to the press.

It's an example of the ways the military has chosen to honor its own out of public view. The Pentagon has until recently refused to release any photos of the flag-draped caskets of fallen U.S. troops being brought off planes back at home. President Bush doesn't attend military funerals and meets with bereaved family members only in private settings. Journalists embedded with American forces, meanwhile, must sign a contract limiting their use of photos of dead or wounded service personnel.

The parades also show the evolution of military honors for the dead and wounded. In the Vietnam War, soldiers and Marines wrote the names of fallen colleagues on their helmets and uniforms. Today, some wear bracelets engraved with the names and nicknames of colleagues killed in the two war zones, while others have the information tattooed on their arms and chests.

Far from the front lines, the Wounded Warrior events give employees at the Pentagon an opportunity to pay their respects to soldiers and Marines they have never met.

"When these boys came back, they went straight into hospitals, so they missed out on the homecoming ceremonies we all came back to," says Maj. Zachary Miller, an operations officer for the Army. "This is a way of giving that back to them."

Chance Meeting

They began in 2004 after a chance meeting between a young amputee and an Army general. The soldier told the officer that he would like to visit the Pentagon, and the general said he would try to make it happen.

The proposal made its way to Diane Bodman, the wife of Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman. She volunteers at the Red Cross office at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Ms. Bodman had experience planning and coordinating trips, and offered to take the project on.

The first group of Walter Reed patients visited the Pentagon in the summer of 2004 and the event struck a chord with many of the military personnel and civilians working in the sprawling facility.

"You're just holding back from breaking down," says Maj. Lyndon Marshall, whose office is on the parade route. He says he hasn't missed a single event. "There's pride, and camaraderie, and even a little guilt. You think, 'I've been there. I've done that. And nothing happened to me.'"

Cpl. Lyon's journey began at a small U.S. outpost near Fallujah. He enlisted in the Marines in fall 2003 looking for adventure. His unit deployed to Iraq in August 2004, but the tour was uneventful. In his seven months in al-Qaim, a region near the Syrian border, Cpl. Lyon says he didn't once fire his rifle.

His second tour was different. On May 1, 2006, Cpl. Lyon was sitting outside working on an armored vehicle when he heard a whistling sound.

"I looked at my friend and said, 'Is that incoming?" he recalls. "My ears began ringing and it felt like someone hit me in the back of the head with a frying pan."

Cpl. Lyon was conscious when fellow Marines raced him to a medical facility in Fallujah. Then, he says, everything went black. When he woke up two weeks later, he was lying in a bed at Walter Reed.

Shrapnel from the mortar had destroyed his jaw, knocked out many of his teeth and torn a small hole in his skull. It also damaged nerves in one of his arms so he couldn't raise his wrist or open his fingers. His left leg had to be amputated just above the knee.

When Ms. Windsor first saw her son, she thought there was no way he'd survive. "There was no piece of skin that didn't have a scar or wound," she says.

But military doctors put Cpl. Lyon back together. They rebuilt his jaw and performed plastic surgery to hide the scars on his face. They transferred tendons from elsewhere in his body into his arm. And they gave him a state-of-the-art prosthetic leg. Cpl. Lyon says he underwent more than 50 operations.

Cpl. Lyon learned about the Wounded Warrior program from a Red Cross volunteer. His mother was eager to take part, but Cpl. Lyon wanted to hold off until he was able to walk into the Pentagon under his own power. One evening close to the ceremony he fell out of bed, leaving him unable to use the prosthetic. With his mother coming to Washington from Marion, Md., he decided to take part anyway.

On a cool day last fall, a fleet of buses and vans made the short trip to the Pentagon. Cpl. Lyon and the other wounded veterans gathered in a narrow hallway and waited for their cue. When a military band began playing, they slowly made their way through the crowd.

Surprise Appearances

"It reminded me of that scene in 'The Wizard of Oz' when all of the people step in to say goodbye to Dorothy," Ms. Windsor recalls. "The more you walked, the more people you saw."

After the parade, the military personnel and their families were taken to the spot where a hijacked plane crashed into the building on Sept. 11, 2001, and then to a small dining room for lunch. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, made surprise appearances.

On his way back to Walter Reed, Cpl. Lyon said he spent a lot of time marveling at the number of Pentagon employees organizing and attending the events. It was, he believes, their way of trying to forge a connection to a war that otherwise seemed distant and abstract.

"Some of them make important decisions but never get to see their decisions being carried out," he says. "When they applaud us, it gives them a little bit of closure for what they do every day. It makes things real for them."

Write to Yochi J. Dreazen at [email protected]

March 12, 2008

Recording History - Part XIII - Jason and Lindsey

By Richard S. Lowry
March 12, 2008

December 12, 2004 changed Jason and Lindsey Arellano’s lives forever. U.S. Marine Sergeant Jason R Arellano, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, Kilo Company, 2nd Platoon’s third squad leader found himself in Iraq for the second time. He had last seen American soil on September 11, 2004, leaving his loved ones in prayer and anticipation. Jason and Lindsey recently shared the following write-up with me after I contacted him to request an interview for my book. Jason told me that they wanted to write it all down before the memories faded. Hopefully, they will gather other stories of that fateful day and publish a book of their own. No doubt, I will tell Sergeant Jason Arellano’s story, but this poignant tale will be left for their telling.about

To continue reading about Jason and Lindsey Arellano:


Coin Ops in the Jungle; U.S., Indonesian Marines practice counter-insurgency operations

CAMP KARANG TEKOK, Republic of Indonesia (March 12, 2008) -- As many U.S. Marines these days know, conducting counter-insurgency operations (COIN) are some of the most difficult operations a Marine can conduct in a combat zone.


Submitted by: 31st MEU
Story by: Computed Name: Lance Cpl. Tyler J. Hlavac
Story Identification #: 200831411659

With this in mind, Marines from Company F, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, the Battalion Landing Team for the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, conducted a COIN exercise here March 12, with their Indonesian Marine counterparts. During the exercise, the U.S. Marines utilized their previous COIN training and experiences to help the Indonesian Marines understand how to successfully battle an insurgency.

The COIN training was part of a bilateral field training exercise between the U.S. and the Republic of Indonesia that will run from March 10-19. The purpose of the bilateral exercise is to increase interoperability, enhance military to military relationships and continue building strong regional partnerships between the two nations.

The two groups of Marines went through various training courses representing different aspects of COIN operations including; urban patrolling, escalation of force, vehicle and entry control point techniques, and handling prisoners of war. All of the training was based on situations experienced by U.S. Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan, said U.S. Marine 1st Lt. Richard Jahelka, executive officer, F Co.

“Today we practiced training based on concepts which Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan are currently experiencing,” said the San Diego, Calif., native. “We have a lot of experience with COIN and wanted to share it with the Indonesian Marines with the goal of them further adapting the training to fit their specific needs and situations. They really picked up on the training and learned fast. Their abilities and professionalism really impressed me.”

The training was a unique and exciting experience for the Indonesian Marines who had limited COIN training and had never worked with U.S. Marines before, according to Indonesian Marine 2nd Lt. Helilintar Laksono, the platoon commander for 3rd Platoon, Dragon Company, 5th Battalion, 1st Brigade.

“The training today was really great. We gained a lot of knowledge and working with the U.S. Marines was awesome,” said Laksono. “For us learning how to search detainees was the most interesting and useful. The other Marines and I love getting out and learning new things and the knowledge we learn here will help keep us safe in the future. I definitely look forward to future training with the U.S. Marines.”

For Staff Sgt. Isaul Montez, platoon sergeant for 2nd Platoon, F. Co., BLT 2/4, and the lead instructor for the urban patrolling and counter improvised explosive device classes, getting through the language barrier was not altogether difficult.

“The demonstration portion of the classes is key,” said Montez. “We found the best way to get past the language barrier is to show them the tactics and techniques and keep the lecture periods short.”

In addition to the COIN training, Indonesian and U.S. Marines practiced Pencak Silat (pronounced Pent-Jak See-Lat), an Indonesian martial art that utilizes hand and arm locks and counter strikes. The cultural aspect of the martial arts class seemed to leave a lasting effect on some Marines from BLT 2/4.

“The Pencak Silat training was very informative,” said Lance Cpl. James Cleveland, an infantryman with 2nd Platoon and a Chicago, Ill., native. “It showed me that there are a few martial arts that use similar techniques. I would definitely use what I learned today.”
For the Marines of the 31st MEU, bilateral training like this demonstrates the United States’ ongoing commitment to the security and stability of these nations and the entire South East Asia region.

March 11, 2008

Fox 2/4 Ride with Kormar in Indonesia

KARENTEKOK, Republic of Indonesia (NNS) -- Marines from Fox Company Battalion Landing Team 2, 4th Marine Regiment, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), conducted bilateral Combat Rubber Raiding Craft beach landing exercises with Indonesian marines at Benungan Beach, March 10.


Story Number: NNS080311-27
Release Date: 3/11/2008 3:53:00 PM
By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class (SW) Joshua J. Wahl, Fleet Public Affairs Center Detachment Sasebo, Japan

USS Harpers Ferry (LSD 49) Sailors and 31st MEU Marines at the invitation of the government of Indonesia are conducting field training exercises and humanitarian civic action projects to enhance interoperability and promote goodwill, strengthen relationships and advance regional security.

The U.S. Marines started their training day with their Indonesian counterparts by running through boat operations including; boat handling, practical tactics and operational safety.

"Above all safety is paramount and must be understood by everybody in the boat," said Gunnery Sgt. Christopher D. Demuro, Fox Co. leading gunnery sergeant. "After we have an understanding of the craft we can work together successfully as a team."

The beach raid exercise represents the first times both marines have had a chance to train together in over 10 years.

"This is an excellent opportunity for us as we haven't worked with Indonesians Marines in a long time," said Marine Capt. Douglas Krugman, foreign area officer for the U.S. Embassy of Indonesia. "Both sides have definitely had a great opportunity to strengthen their relationship working together here today."

Many Indonesian Kormar marines echoed the accomplishment of bilateral operations on the beach throughout the combined exercise.

"The American Marines were very kind to have answered all of our question [and] give us great advice," said Indonesian 2nd Lt. Helilintar Laksono, 3rd Platoon Commander, 1st Brigade, 5th Infantry marines. "We look forward now and in the future to more of these exercises together."

From March 10-19, Marines and Sailors from Combat Logistics Battalion 31, Battalion Lading Team 2/4 and Sailors from Harpers Ferry will participate in a subject-matter exchange program, tactical engineering training and medical/dental civic action projects with Indonesian marines unit around Karentekok.

For more news from Commander, U.S. 7th Fleet, visit www.navy.mil/local/c7f/.

Colors of honor

Artist memorializes Lima Company's dead

It came in a vision to Westerville artist Anita Miller: a series of paintings in the Statehouse honoring the fallen servicemen of Lima Company.


Tuesday, March 11, 2008 3:16 AM
By Alan Johnson


She had neither the money nor the contacts in state government she needed, but dreams can move mountains.

And so, financed with a home-equity loan, Miller's vision will become reality on Memorial Day, when eight life-size canvases depicting 22 Marines and a Navy corpsman go on display. The exhibit will run through Veterans Day in the Statehouse rotunda.

The Lima Company Memorial: A Remembrance of Spirit & Choice has become more than paint on canvas. Family members are contributing pictures and stories about their husbands, sons and brothers. Some visit Miller's studio in Westerville just to hang out as the paintings progress.

The 8-foot-by-6-foot canvases will be arranged in an octagon, surrounding viewers as if they're in the company of those who lost their lives.

"The families of these men have been so open and generous with sharing their sons," Miller said. "They've been a huge inspiration to me. I have learned what it means to serve … and to be there to offer your life in service to your country.

"I kind of paint with them on my shoulder."

Miller, 48, who started painting 18 years ago, will get no state money for her work. She's received private donations, including $10,000 from the Mid-Ohio Marine Foundation.

The exhibit will appear elsewhere, starting with the Cincinnati Museum Center, she said.

Senate President Bill Harris, R-Ashland, a former Marine, said he became emotional when he previewed some of the paintings.

"I couldn't stand there without tears rolling down my cheeks," he said. "They were so realistic … that it made it feel like you were standing there ready to talk to one of those Marines or the Navy corpsman."

Harris and William E. Carleton, executive director of the Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board, said President Bush has been invited to the opening but has not committed.

Lima Company, a Rickenbacker-based Marine reserve unit, has suffered heavy losses in the Iraq war, including nine deaths near the Syrian border on Aug. 3, 2005.

Carole Hoffman, whose son, Sgt. Justin F. Hoffman, was among those nine, is writing profiles of each of the servicemen for a book that will be sold to cover costs of the exhibition.

By talking with parents, spouses and siblings, Mrs. Hoffman has gotten to know the 23 as boys, young men and warriors.

"It's a huge loss for my family and loss of our son," she said. "It's also very sweet in that they are being honored in this way. It's not just for them. It's a way of honoring all of our Marines as our heroes."

Lima Company Master Sgt. Stephen Walter said that when Miller approached him with the idea for a memorial, he flashed back to May 1968 when, as a young Marine, he returned home from a tour of duty in Vietnam.

"The best I got was indifference," he said.

He vowed that would not happen to the young men of Lima Company.

One of Walter's duties stateside was to make casualty calls to families. He witnessed firsthand the pain and anguish of grieving parents. He thinks Miller's paintings can have a healing effect.

"Their sense of loss is irredeemable, irretrievable and irrevocable. Anything we can do to bridge that gap is welcome. Her paintings permit the relatives and those of us who knew them only slightly or didn't know them to make a connection."

More information about the memorial can be found at http://www.limacompanymemorial.org/. Details about Anita Miller and her work are at http://theartistsroost.com/.

[email protected]

"I kind of paint with them on my shoulder."

Anita Miller
artist creating the Lima Company memorial

March 10, 2008

DoD News Briefing with Maj. Gen. Kelly from Iraq

BRYAN WHITMAN (deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Public Affairs): Yeah, let's go for it. It is 9:00. Let me thank you all for returning this week and see if we got General Kelly, if he can hear me okay. General Kelly, it's Bryan Whitman at the Pentagon. How are you?


March 10, 2008

GEN. KELLY: I got you, Bryan.

MR. WHITMAN: Good. Well, again, welcome. And General, thank you for joining us late in your day.

This is Major General John Kelly, who is the commanding general of Multinational Force West. This is the first opportunity that we've had to talk to General Kelly in this format since he's taken over as the MNF-West commander last month. Today he comes to us from Baghdad, though, and as is our format, he's going to give you a kind of a brief overview of what he sees in his area of responsibility and what his forces are doing, and then take some of your questions.

So, General, thank you for taking the time this afternoon -- this evening to spend with us, and let me turn it over to you to get started.

GEN. KELLY: Okay, Bryan. Always a pleasure to do this. As you mentioned, I'm in Baghdad right now. I try to avoid Baghdad as much as I can. I'm up from Camp Fallujah down in the Al Anbar province, which is but a couple of hours it took us to get here today over the road.

I just want to highlight a couple of things that I spend most of my time on. I've been back here right at a month. This is my third tour. To say the least, things have changed from my previous two tours. But the things I spend most of my time on and wanted to highlight are the Iraqi security forces and then some of the development issues that we work pretty hard.

I wanted to start out, in terms of the ISF, with talking about the Iraqi army. We have two divisions here in the -- down in the Al Anbar province, the 1st and 7th. As it turns out, my predecessors have done absolutely superb work with them. They are probably the two best divisions. I probably sound like a proud parent here, but they are two very, very good divisions, relative to the overall Iraqi army.

We made a tremendous investment to make them as good as they are. That is, the training teams that we have with them, Army and Marine, are very large, larger than what were required originally. We made them that way so that the training teams could live with the Iraqi units 24/7, fight with them, eat with them, shower with them.

It's an around-the-clock event for them. And we had to make them, as I say, bigger, so that they could have proper security internal.

We've also invested heavily in the quality of the individuals that we've put on the training teams. These are all first-round draft choices and, as you might imagine, they're not PFCs and lance corporals. They're majors and captains and even lieutenant colonels, in some degree -- in some cases colonels, gunnery sergeants and sergeants. But the investment has been certainly worthwhile.

We also partner. There's almost nothing that goes on anymore that we do, that we're not partnered, that is to say accompanied, by a like-size Iraqi army unit. But there's an awful lot going on recently of Iraqi army only. And when I say Iraqi army only, they're not out there with a Marine or a U.S. Army unit, but they're doing it on their own. But once again, the MiTT teams, the training teams are with them.

Right now shifted really to a large degree from the issue of operations and training them, that regard, because they've picked it up pretty well and they're doing well and we can get into that later in the Q&A; if you want. But logistics -- we've started to reinforce the training teams with some first-class logistics people to help these Iraqi units just kind of organize logistics so they can support themselves in the field or on deployment.

Switching now to the Iraqi police and the province, we have authorization for 24,000. We're upwards of about 23,000 right now, and that includes 2,200 in the provisional security forces. They're a little bit like the county police between -- they operate between the cities out in the kind of the suburbs, if you will. But all of that adds up to roughly 24,000. We're hoping to go to 30,000, because the police have really come on strong and have given us an advantage out here.

And like the MiTTs I described a few minutes ago, the training teams with the soldiers with the Iraqi army, we've done exactly the same thing with the so-called BTTs, or the PTTs; that is the police training teams. They live and eat with them 24/7. They live in the stations with them all over the -- all over Iraq.

Finally, the border patrol. Of course, the Al Anbar province is bordered by Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria. We have three points of entry permanently opened: two that go into Syria, one that goes into Jordan and then a fourth down in the Saudi Arabian border that's only open to accommodate the pilgrims that go through for the hajj about a month a year. And we've also got a relatively small number, I think, relative to the other MNDs -- the Sons and Daughters of Iraq. Sons of Iraq, about 4,000, they operate mostly in the eastern part of the province.

For a long time, the individuals that we work with, particularly around Fallujah, did not want to have women in their police force, but then came to us and asked us to help them organize some women into what they termed Daughters of Iraq to help with the security, the searching of Iraqi women as they go in and out of checkpoints. We always did this, of course, before with our own female Marines and soldiers, but the Daughters of Iraq have even given us a little bit more advantage in that regard.

On the development side, we work hand in hand every day, day in and day out, with the PRTs, mostly State Department people, some contractors, as we try to nudge along the economic development.

There's a lot of good news, but as you can imagine, there's some things that are kind of taking a little bit more time, and certainly the Iraqis wish -- their number one desire, of course, is for electricity. That's been constant. We get electricity out of the Haditha Dam, as well as just an awful lot of diesel-type generators spread around the province. Clean water, that's probably a relatively good news story, more so than electricity is right now, and in jobs and agriculture.

Some of the things that are about to break through here is the K- 3 refinery up around Haditha. We're just about to start to bring that online. The railroad lines are starting to open up, and we've got a fair number of women's programs that are developed, you know, kind of in a votech way to bring women into the economy as well, particularly the widows and women who are not married.

I think I'll end there, and just go ahead and take your questions.

MR. WHITMAN: Well, thank you for that overview, and we do have a few questions here. So let's get started with Pauline.

Q General, it's Pauline Jelinek of the Associated Press. Could you describe how much influence or clout al Qaeda still has in Anbar, and whether you could -- do you see the possibility of them reasserting themselves as they're pushed out of Nineveh and elsewhere?

GEN. KELLY: Bryan, could you just summarize that question? I had an awful lot of vibration coming through.

MR. WHITMAN: I certainly can. The question pertained to your assessment of al Qaeda influence in al Anbar right now.

GEN. KELLY: Well, I think the best way to characterize it, I think, is that they're down but they're not out. When I came in about a month ago and took over, the briefings I received was that the al Qaeda units or individuals that were here had been beaten to some -- to the degree, at least, that they had either gone to ground or just simply left the province and went to other parts of the country. What we're seeing -- down but not knocked out. What we're seeing is, there is still some occasional violence that we attribute to -- in the province that we attribute to al Qaeda.

But, you know, the good news story is, and it is very key in an insurgency, they don't last very long in anything approaching a built- up area, even a village, without us being notified by the locals. I could give you any number of examples, even since I've been here, where the local folks have come to us, either through tips lines or just in the general day-to-day contact we have with them, and told us about people who are either hiding out or if they're down in the reeds near the river or something unusual is going on over here. Then we set up a watch, obviously, and take it down.

And so they're still around, and of course they watch very closely what we do and have the luxury of acting only when they think they can get away with something, where we always, of course, have to be a hundred percent effective. But they're still around, but not to any degree like they were when -- certainly when I left here.

Q (Off mike) -- possibility that they could -- or would reassert themselves as they are pushed out of other provinces in the north, Nineveh and others?

GEN. KELLY: Hey, Bryan, you're going to have to help me out again. I'm getting -- I can hear you pretty well, but I can't hear the question.

MR. WHITMAN: Okay. We'll work on the mikes back here.

But the second, the follow-up on that was about the possibility of their resurgence as they're pushed out of other places in Iraq, like Ninawa province and things like that, your assessment of that possibility.

GEN. KELLY: They'll move to where they can survive. So my assessment is that they will come back to where they think -- certainly if they're driven out of other parts of the country, which I think the folks up north are doing -- (audio break) -- on the run, our sense is they'll come back to where they know best.

There's a fair number that came out of the Al Anbar province and fought us pretty hard here. So if they're on the run, they'll, you know, the expectation will be that they'll come back here.

Just the other day, I was talking to a couple of males, that we had picked up south of Fallujah, both of them wearing suicide vests when we caught them. Both of them told me they had been fighting us here. They were local, down south of Fallujah types.

They had moved as fighters up to Mosul. And then when the pressure was on up there, they came back here. And they were kind of a little bit on the war-weary side and decided rather than take up arms again against us, they would just go the suicide vest route.

So they move about. And again they can pick and choose when they decide to come after us. So if they move back in, obviously we're prepared for them.

The good news story, the very, very good news story, is the people point them out typically frankly to the police. And then the police round them up or take them down. And the police are not hesitant at all to go after these guys.

And even if a gunfight breaks out, they are not hesitant to call in additional police forces, not us. And oftentimes we find out after the fact that they've had an engagement. We stand by ready to help of course, but they don't seem to need it right now.

Hope that answers it.

MR. WHITMAN: Let's go over to Tom.

Q General, Tom Bowman with NPR.

I wonder if you could talk a little bit more about the concerned local citizens. There appears to be a great frustration that not enough of them are being absorbed into the Iraqi security forces. Give us a sense: How many in Anbar are being brought into the ISF?

And also, I understand that both the Pentagon and the State Department are working on programs to sort of create a Civilian Conservation Corps kind of thing for those concerned citizens that aren't brought into the ISF.

GEN. KELLY: I know that was Tom from NPR, and that's about all I got. So Bryan, if you could.

MR. WHITMAN: I'm happy to help here. And I'll see if I can get them all. It has to do with the concerned local citizens and whether or not -- how concerned are you about not all of them being absorbed into the security forces, and in your particular area, what is the level of success? How many are getting into the Iraqi security forces? And if you have any ideas about how you might handle those that are not going to get into the ISF or security forces, army or police, and this idea of a Civilian Conservation Corps, perhaps.

GEN. KELLY: Again, a great question. I think in our case we have fewer numbers of them to deal with, issue one. Issue two, if we do get the authorization to grow from 24,000 to 30,000 police, all of these guys are vetted, so they would be certainly a pool from which we would draw. But, you know, you can't have all the young men in the army and in the security forces, so what we're looking to do and are doing already is expanding the vocational-technical training to the degree that we can and try to siphon or funnel some of them off into, you know, the trades or something like that.

But I'm not concerned about absorbing them right now, because they're out there. I mean, I go out and about quite a bit. I travel mostly on the road at night, during the day, and you come up on these little checkpoints in the middle of nowhere down, you know, 12 miles of a dirt road at 2:30 in the morning, and there they are, sitting, you know, on post, a little chit-chat with them, maybe trade a bottle of water, and off we go.

And again, the key issue to all of this is the overwhelming number of casualties in Al Anbar province are no longer coalition forces; they are the Sons of Iraq, they are the provisional forces, they're the army and the Iraqi police. So they're out there and right now seem certainly reliable to us. We watch them, naturally. They are drawn from the population that at one point was fighting us, so we have to be careful in that regard.

But I've had no indication right now that there is a kind of a security problem. And they're all pretty patient to await their turn, either going into the police or, as I say, if we can give them another option in terms of into the trades or something like that.


Q Yeah, Jon Karl with ABC News. How many coalition forces are now in MNF-W? And what is the primary threat you're seeing? Give us an idea for numbers of attacks and where those are coming from. And I would just also ask: Why are you in Baghdad?

GEN. KELLY: Well, we have a lot of coalition forces in the province. Wouldn't want to go into the details, but roughly in the neighborhood of 25(,000) to 30,000 U.S., all service personnel, majority Marines. We have -- again, when I think of what I'm dealing with day in and day out in terms of my security forces, I also include those two Iraqi divisions and the 24,000 police. I don't technically command the divisions, of course, nor do I command the police, but with the training teams that are down there in the police stations and with the battalions, brigades and the division, we certainly heavily coordinate everything that we do. And we've got, you know, great communication going. I'm out and about, as I mentioned before, a lot. I drop in unexpectedly to the police stations to see my people, who are the training teams. So when I talk -- when you talk coalition forces here, I think you really have to probably say we've got about -- coalition force is roughly 30,000, but I think -- you can't discount the other 45,000 that we work with every day here and really are in the lead. And that is the Iraqi army and the Iraqi police.

Levels of violence -- stunning to me how low they are. I mean, absolutely, when I left here three years ago, you could not go into the cities here, Fallujah, Ramadi, places like that, without a rifle company of Marines, and it was a gunfight going in, gunfight coming out. You couldn't drive from Ramadi to Fallujah, which I did almost every day back then, and not see four or five IEDs or the end result of four or five IEDs on that 40 miles of road. I mean, it is nothing like that now.

Dangerous still -- again, al Qaeda and other -- you know, the criminal element can stand and wait as long as they want, and look for that big opportunity to kill us or to harm us, but it just isn't there nearly in the numbers.

I mean, I've been here a month and haven't heard much in the way of gunfire, even, except on Thursday nights, when the weddings take place.

It is stunning to me where we are on this, but it's not over yet in terms of the -- well, just in terms of violence and the -- I think it's telling who they're going after, too. Again, since I've been here, the suicide vests have kind of come on a little bit, 10 or 12 of them in the last or month or so, but it is interesting who they're going after. They're not going after coalition forces, as in Americans. They're going after sheikhs, effective police officials or some of the civil leadership, like mayors. They seem to be -- I take that as that's where they see their biggest threat is right now.

We also have indications that they may change their tactics here a little bit and do some of the bigger events that capture the attention of the world through the media. So it's remarkable how the levels of violence are down, as measured by IEDs and just gunfire out there. But by the same token we have to be vigilant, because it's not won quite yet.

Q And why in Baghdad?

MR. WHITMAN: (Off mike) -- Baghdad today, General.


MR. WHITMAN: Jonathan is curious as to why you may be in Baghdad today.

GEN. KELLY: Say again?

MR. WHITMAN: Jonathan is curious as to why you might be in Baghdad today.

GEN. KELLY: The only reason I'm in Baghdad today is to come up here and talk to you all in this beautiful studio that I'm sitting in. Otherwise I would be out back down in Al Anbar province doing what -- you know, whatever I'd be doing today.

MR. WHITMAN: Very good. Let's go to Jeff.

Q General, did you say that you've got indications that al Qaeda might be changing tactics and going to spectacular attacks?

GEN. KELLY: What we've seen -- what I said was that we have some indicators that they may be planning on executing kind of a large media-type event. I don't follow in close, close detail, necessarily, what goes on outside of the province, but I do know that recently they had a couple of large bomb events, I guess over the weekend, in Baghdad, and I'm guessing something like that.

The problem you have a lot of times, in terms of the indications and the intelligence you receive, is, you don't know exactly where they might be talking about. For all I know, they could be talking about, you know, events of this nature in other parts of the province.

But the -- you know, again, the good news is, we don't believe they're at liberty to build some of these large bomb-type devices inside the province. They have to kind of import them in. And the longer they travel, with all of the Iraqi army and the Iraqi police checkpoints that are virtually everywhere, they're -- the likelihood that they'll be discovered is pretty high.

But I don't think it's an overall change in tactics. I have a very myopic view of the world here, and that's the Al Anbar province. So what they do here is not necessarily indicative of what they might do somewhere else. And by the same token, what they do somewhere else is not always what they might do here.

Q To follow up, this IO campaign -- is it tied to anything such as the five-year anniversary of the war or an upcoming religious holiday?

GEN. KELLY: Bryan, help me out there, will you?

MR. WHITMAN: With respect to this potential change in tactics, is it tied to perhaps the anniversary? Is there any indication that it's associated with anything in particular?

GEN. KELLY: All right. No, I -- you know, I don't -- it is the fifth anniversary. I don't -- you know, I've got a fair amount of time here, and of course, as I said, it was my third time back. We tend to -- and I can remember this before -- we tend to tie -- dates and, you know, anniversaries tend to be a bigger deal, I think, to us than it is to them. They operate on their own time schedule, and they are -- you know, they try something, and perhaps if it doesn't work, they try something else. If they try something that works, they'll stay with it for a while, until we can counter it.

So no, I don't think there's anything tied to an anniversary or anything like that. I don't think they -- they're not as hung up on these kind of things as we seem to be sometimes.

MR. WHITMAN: Andrew, go ahead.

Q General, this is Andrew Gray from Reuters. I wonder if you could tell us when do you expect Anbar to go to provincial Iraqi control in terms of security. And when would you expect to start drawing down Marines in Anbar?

GEN. KELLY: Something about provincial Iraqi control, Bryan?

MR. WHITMAN: It's when you might expect Anbar to go to -- be handed over to Iraqi provincial control and what that might then lead -- in terms of drawdowns in your sector.

GEN. KELLY: Yeah. We've got a tremendous working relationship -- I mean tremendous -- with the provincial leadership, Governor Mamoun and his folks down in the provincial capital in Ramadi, as well as virtually every mayor and police chief, you know, in the district, all the way out to al Qaim and out towards the -- Trebil, or Rutbah, Rawah.

I mean, just couldn't be better in terms of the relationship.

And again, it comes an awful lot from the tremendous work the PRTs are doing, along with the military forces who are embedded into that, the police training teams and all.

Interesting enough, the -- we're very close to PIC here. The -- I wasn't really handed any kind of a timeline. All of these kind of things are event-driven. We do have a -- we do have kind of a checklist of things that both the governor -- and he plays a huge role in this, and should -- that the governor has his side of the checklist. I have my side of the checklist. We comment on each other's bits and pieces, and as an example, you know, whether the police can assume certain roles because of the equipment they have or may not have.

One of the things they ask a lot about is -- they want a forensic laboratory, the police do, particularly at the provincial level, so that they can do their job and autopsies and do just the forensics of police work. They don't have one yet. They really want one, and we're in discussions as to whether you can, you know, really be the police, an effective police force, without a forensic laboratory. I have a lot of police advisers here, and of course we can get the laboratory work done in other places if we need to.

But it's really a collaborative effort, and we are very, very close here in the province as we sort out just a couple of things, equipment-type issues in the province, as well as just the -- and this is key -- the relationship between the province -- and this is governor stuff -- between the province and the national government. I think, as I view this relationship right now, you have a very -- you know, their background, their experience has been socialism, you know, very tightly controlled central government and everything is kind of just -- all of the rules, regulations, diktats go down into the provinces. I think the provinces prefer -- the governors prefer to have an awful lot of input. They want to identify what Al Anbar province needs and then provide that to the government and the ministries. And we're working it out with them.

One of the things on both sides of that equation, they're learning how to be a central government and they're learning how to be provincial governors and officials in a world that is very, very alien to them. So we're very close to PIC. I don't see any problems with PIC in the near future. But again, I only give a recommendation on PIC, as does the governor, and that goes up two separate chains. But we, the governor and I, talk an awful lot about this checklist.

MR. WHITMAN: The second half of that was whether or not you'd want to venture into talking about possible drawdowns associated with PIC.

GEN. KELLY: Drawdowns in PIC. Right now, of course, we were watching -- country wide, the surge is coming off. There are forces that -- don't want to get into too many details -- there are forces in the province that I sit in. My overall numbers are going down. Various units, various capabilities are going down, but that's the normal part of the drawdown.

I've been asked repeatedly, what do you think we ought to do, keep drawing down or not? And I would just make the case that we ought to wait to see how things settle out. I mean, it's remarkable what has gone on here in the province in about the last year. And of course, all of that was done by every soldier, sailor, airman, Marine that's operated in this province, and certainly those that got injured and gave their lives. There's been a continuous process.

I would just argue, if someone -- and I haven't been asked yet by my superiors -- why don't we just wait for a few months, see how this thing settles out? And then if they came to me and asked for recommendations about drawing down, I would certainly, at that point, you know, work my staff and decide what we ought to do. But we really, as I say, are already drawing down.

And I'm now looking at closing some of the larger bases, because really what we've really done is we've really decentralized down at the very small company-sized bases to maintain the contact with the population and with the civil leaders. So these large bases -- I don't want to go into the details of that, but they take a lot of people to guard, so want to close some of them. And I have to make some recommendations up the chain to get permission to do that.

But certainly, the trend seems to be going in the right direction, in my mind.

But I think we need to wait for some period of time, after the surge comes off, to see what we've got.

MR. WHITMAN: Well, General, we have reached the end of the time that we've allocated for this. And we know that you're anxious to get back to Al Anbar, and it's a ways to go to do that. But we want to thank you for taking the time to be with us and hanging through some of the technical difficulties. I know some of our questions have been hard to hear.

But before we bring it to a close, let me turn it back to you, in case you have any closing thoughts that you'd like to make.

GEN. KELLY: Not really too much.

I would just really encourage you, if you haven't been out here in a while, to go ahead and make the trip out. We recently had -- Barbara Starr was here, Jennifer Griffin. Others come down. We get a fair amount of contact with the local Iraqi press as well.

But I would just certainly welcome you, if you haven't been out here in a while or even if you have, to come on down to the province and see what's going on. I think it's, as I say, it's pretty enlightening to see how this thing is going in all the right directions right now. And for sure, the opportunity to talk to the local mayors and police chiefs, and get their opinion and their perspective on what's going on.
I would encourage you and I really hope to see you all out here if you can make it, and that's about all I've got. I hope it was helpful.

MR. WHITMAN: Well, thank you for that invitation. I'm sure there's a few in this room that will take you up on that. And thank you again for your time and we hope to do this again with you some time soon.

GEN. KELLY: I look forward to it. Take care.

March 9, 2008

Corpsman committed to serving others

AKASHAT, Iraq (March 9, 2008) -- A little Iraqi girl cried from the pain caused by chemical burns from an accident in her home that covered her chest, shoulder and the left side of her face.


March 9, 2008; Submitted on: 03/20/2008 09:46:37 AM ; Story ID#: 200832094637
By Lance Cpl. Paul Torres, 1st Marine Division

The little girl and her father had been on their way to the clinic in Akashat, Iraq, March 9 when their vehicle was held up at a traffic control point. The father approached the Marines to let them know that he needed help.

“We got a call from the commanding officer that we had a little girl who may have been severely hurt,” said Seaman Joshua Silvia, 20, from Cranston R.I., who is a corpsman with Blue Platoon, Company H, 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 5.

Silvia did what corpsmen are trained to do: he took care of his patient.

“First I had to remove all the blood with water, which put her in a lot of pain,” said Silvia. “I had the interpreter keep telling her she would be OK.”

Silvia then applied burn gel to her arms and face and bandaged them to help prevent infection. After Silvia bandaged the girl’s burns, her father took her to the clinic in Akashat for further treatment.

Silvia’s commitment to his job as a corpsman attached to an infantry unit is evident to the Marines around him

“He likes doing the ground work,” said Lance Cpl. James D. Lilly, 19, from Lakeland Fla., who is a TOW gunner with Blue Platoon, Company H. “He is one of the coolest corpsmen I know.”

Silvia, or “Doc Silvia,” joined 3rd LAR a few months before they deployed to the Al Anbar province of Iraq. His New England accent and ever present smile are a constant source of levity.

Whether he is doing his impersonation of Steve Irwin observing the living habits of non-commissioned officers or justifying his fear of horses, there is rarely a dull moment.

“Overall, I like being on the Marine side of things because I like to meet a lot of different people from different places,” said Silvia.

One of the most memorable people Silvia has met in Iraq was an old farmer who was sick.

“I just gave him some cough drops and he was so thankful he made like he was going to hug me, and then he kissed me on the lips,” said Salvia as the Marines around him laughed.

It is often said that laughter is the best medicine, and Doc Silvia seems to be generous with the prescriptions.

March 8, 2008

Wounded Warrior Regiment sponsors job fair

The Wounded Warrior Regiment sponsored a job fair Monday at The Clubs at Quantico for four hours, where representatives from dozens of companies were waiting to receive resumes from and maybe even hire wounded and retired Marines.


3/8/2008 By Lance Cpl. Jimmy Serena Jr., Marine Corps Base Quantico

‘‘Whether injured, retired, or active duty, Marines are hard workers and that’s who we are looking to hire,” explained retired Col. Michael Quinlan, assistant vice president of Alion Science and Technology.

The Clubs’ ballroom was packed early as Marines, both retired and wounded, roamed around to find out what the different companies had to offer.

An atmosphere filled with chatter and laughter made it easy to forget the first hour before the doors officially opened was dedicated solely to wounded Marines. The only reminder of this grim fact was the appearance of the occasional wheelchair and walking cane.

Wounded Warrior Regiment is dedicated to helping wounded Marines make the transition from military to civilian life — a transition that can be difficult at times, especially when the injured or retired Marine has been in the service for a long time.

The regiment understands the needs of these Marines, and events such as this job fair are planned to help ease the minds of these leathernecks.

"This program really helps a lot," said Cpl. Josef Lopez, an injured Marine currently at National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. ‘‘I didn’t know there were so many companies out there willing to help Marines.”

Representatives from many of the companies said their organizations understand what benefits a Marine can bring to the table. They are willing to seek out these individuals and recruit them.
"This program has made it a lot easier for Marines because they can come into one building and see over 60 companies," said Quinlan. "It’s worth it to come out here. Marines are hard workers."

Quinlan expressed that these companies do not hire Marines because they feel sorry for them. They want to hire Marines because of the Corps’ reputation of cultivating men and women who possess strong work ethics, morals, and show they responsibile that they display on and off duty, he added.

"A Marine doesn’t lose his honor, courage, or his commitment when he takes off his uniform. That’s why we want to hire them," said retired 1st. Sgt. Richard Waller, the Wounded Warrior Regiment transition coordinator.

"The Job Fair is a win-win situation for the companies and for the transitioning Marines," said Dominique Perry, a retired corporal. "It was such a hard transition for me from the Marines to being a civilian. This program is really helping service members."

According to organizers, the program was a success. Of the anticipated 40 to 60 companies, 62 companies showed up, and the Job Fair did what it was meant to do.

It gave injured and retired Marines a chance to meet with possible employers. More importantly, organizers believe it helped simplify the transition from military to civilian life.

Marine deploys to Iraq, puts Ultimate Fighter dream on hold

HABBANIYAH, Iraq (March 8, 2008) -- Sacrifices are made when preparing to deploy. When a reserve battalion is activated, the Marines are required to put their entire lives on hold. Not only do they sacrifice being away from family, friends and jobs, some of them even put their dreams on hold.


March 8, 2008; Submitted on: 03/09/2008 05:38:19 AM ; Story ID#: 20083953819
By Pfc. Jerry Murphy, 1st Marine Division

One Marine attached to 2nd Battalion, 24th Marines, Regimental Combat Team 1, put his dreams on hold to fight for the freedoms Americans enjoy on a daily basis.

Before being activated to deploy to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Lance Cpl. Sean E. Varriale, a radio operator with Headquarters and Service Company, was training to get a shot at becoming a professional mixed martial arts fighter and possibly trying out for and competing on the popular television show, the Ultimate Fighter.

“My goal going through training was to be a professional fighter, make it to on the show and eventually make it to the Ultimate Fighting Championship,” said the 27-year-old from Old Bridge, N.J. “My training partner, Chris Finnelli just made the Ultimate Fighter for the upcoming season and I feel like I have a chance to make it as well, because of my attitude, heart, will and drive.”

Varriale volunteered to deploy to Iraq and was individually selected to augment to 2nd Bn., 24th Marines, putting his chance to make it on the show and turn pro on hold, but he said he has no regrets.

“I love fighting and I love the Marine Corps. I don’t regret volunteering to come out here at all,” Varriale said. “Even though I’m not training at home, we’ve put together a bunch of great guys that want to train and learn (martial arts). So now, I’m right back at it, teaching MMA and getting to train along side the Marines.”

Varriale began learning boxing and mixed martial arts at the age of five, learning from his father.

“My dad taught me never to fear anyone and most of all, to take the edge and never let anyone get the upper hand,” he said. “My dad was a huge influence on me.”

Throughout the years, he continued to train in MMA and eventually joined the New Jersey International Martial Arts and Boxing Team, where he sharpened his skills in several different styles of martial arts, including; mauy tai, Brazilian jui jitsu, boxing, submission grappling, eskrima and jeet kun do.

“I started with the team when I was 23, and my coach, Jerry Fatjo, said that I wasn’t ready to start cage fighting until after two years with the team,” said Varriale, who graduated from Old Bridge High School in 1998. “Fatjo has coached me since I joined the team and has become like a second father to me.”

When asked how his coach felt about him volunteering to deploy to Iraq, Varriale said his coach was worried, but he also said that he is supportive.

Varriale will get back into training as soon as he returns home from his deployment and said that if he does not stay in shape while he is in Iraq, his coaches will ‘enjoy’ getting him back into shape.

Varriale would like to recognize his coaches, Jerry Fatjo, Eric Colon, Chris “Oldness” and Fernando Sarmento Jr. “Cabeza,” and his teammates saying, “I would like to wish all my teammates good luck in their upcoming fights and I will be home soon to train with them.”

Some time with family, then it's off to war

If Colin Glavan is worried about going to Iraq, he doesn't show it.

He's a newly minted Marine. So it's his job, he says.


Posted: March 8, 2008
Jim Stingl

But his mother, Trish Johnson, is just trying to keep it together.

"Sometimes I get so scared I forget to breathe," she says.

It's similar to what the Brookfield woman was feeling in October 2006, when I wrote about Colin joining the Marine Corps and heading off to basic training while our country is at war.

Soldiers and their families make huge sacrifices at a time that many of us try to shut the war out of our minds, especially after five long years of the fighting and dying.

Colin says that what his family is experiencing is no different from what millions of others have weathered in the past, and millions more will live through in future wars.

Home from Camp Pendleton, Calif., where he's stationed, Colin did one last lap around civilian life this past week before he flies out today to somewhere in Iraq. He expects to remain there about seven months.

"I'm not looking forward to it. I'm not dreading it. It's just one of those things I have to do," he says.

Colin turned 20 on Tuesday. A party to celebrate his birthday and mark his deployment was set for Saturday at the family's home.

A classroom of third-graders quizzed him when he stopped to visit his sister Kailee, 9, at her school in Brookfield last week. She wore a camouflage vest over a pink shirt. Colin said he worked in intelligence. "We figure stuff out about the enemy, and we use that against them," he said.

The children stared at him, trying to grasp what that could mean. Then they wanted to know if he ever uses a bazooka or grenades or tanks, where he would sleep, if there are terrorists over there, and if he gives out autographs.

"What are you there for?" one boy asked.

"To help the Iraqis so they can be their own country and we don't have to be there," Colin replied.

Kailee has struggled with questions, too. As the youngest and oldest in the family, she and Colin have a special bond. She wrote in her journal at school about getting a stomachache when he left for the Marines, but she also tries to be strong: "Who cares if my brother is leaving for California. He is saving the world," she wrote.

Colin also stopped at Brookfield East High School, where he graduated in 2006. He sat down for a little while with his football coach, Joe Sciortino, and a favorite biology teacher, Susan Miller.

Joe said he remembered the day an FBI agent came to the school to ask questions about Colin for a background check. Susan said she always thought Colin was "built" for the Marine experience.

"You never hesitated. It's what you wanted," she told him.

The tough Marine gently cradled a chinchilla from the biology room in his arms. The conversation stayed upbeat and focused on happy memories, but Susan told me as we were leaving, "You can't help but worry."

Trish is unable to conceal her fear, even as she says how proud she is of her son and how impressed she's been with the Marines. She plans to buy a map of Iraq to track the news.

Curt, her husband, said he pushes his fears away and thinks about the positives. The family has been playing a lot of cribbage and just being together. Friday was "can't say the D-word day."

Trish stressed that they are proud of all their children. Colin's brother, Arie, 17, abandoned his own plans to join the military after seeing his mother hurting.

"When Colin left, it tore my mom's heart into pieces so small even a microscope couldn't find them," he wrote in an essay. Now he plans to go to college to study nursing.

Another sister, Breeanne, 16, said she brags about her brother to her friends. She and Colin avoided the subject of Iraq last week.

"I know he'll be OK," she said. "But I'm nervous that he's going."

"They tell you it's a roller coaster to have your child go off to boot camp," Trish said. "Then you get off for a while. But all you do is you get back into another line for another roller coaster ride, and they just get higher and twistier than the last one."

She knows the odds are against anything bad happening to her son. "But what I was telling one of my friends is that it happens to somebody's child," she said.

Trish also thinks about the awesome responsibilities placed upon the heavily armed young soldiers, who don't always know where the next threat is coming from.

"I hit a deer on my way to take Breeanne to school today. Didn't do damage to us or the car, but it damaged the deer. I couldn't believe I started crying and I'm thinking to myself, oh, my God, this is an animal that I hit. I can't imagine what it's like for those guys to have to do it to a person," she said.

Arie said his brother is smart, and he offered this bit of advice: "As long as he doesn't do anything stupid, he should be fine."

Colin exudes quiet intensity. The boy he was and the man he's become are both visible in his eyes. Even as he plays it cool, he seems to vibrate with anticipation of what comes next.

"It's like any other job," he said. "There's going to be days when it sucks and days when it's awesome."

Saving the world doesn't always come easy.

March 6, 2008

Seasonal uniform changes standardized across Corps, linked to daylight saving time

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION, YUMA, Ariz. (March 6, 2008) -- To synchronize uniform wear worldwide, the seasonal change of garrison uniforms will correspond with the beginning and ending of daylight saving time, the Marine Corps commandant directed March 6.


March 6, 2008; Submitted on: 03/06/2008 09:38:40 PM ; Story ID#: 200836213840
By Gunnery Sgt. Bill Lisbon, MCAS Yuma

For most Marines, this means changing from green "digital camouflage" utilities with long sleeves to tan desert utilities with sleeves rolled up starting March 9.

This marks Gen. James T. Conway's third change to uniform regulations for the utilities, a subject he is passionate about.

"For the past few years, our Corps has been in a transition phase with regard to our utility uniforms. That period is now ended," Conway said in a message to all Marines July 25, 2007. "As Marines, our uniforms and military appearance are an important part of our identity and have traditionally marked us as the nation's most distinctive military service. As such, uniformity and an outward pride in our appearance have been constants for every Marine—-from private to general."

In July 2007, he defined summer and winter uniforms and directed unit commanders to ensure consistency of wear throughout the ranks. When a unit would make a seasonal change was left up to the commander, though.

Summer uniforms include Dress Blue A and B with white trousers for officers and staff noncommissioned officers and blue trousers for sergeants and below; Dress Blue D; Service A and C; and tan desert utilities with sleeves up. Winter uniforms include Dress Blue A, B and C with blue trousers for all ranks; Service A and B; and green woodland utilities with sleeves down.

In January, Conway prohibited civilians, specifically those who deployed overseas with Marine units, from wearing the Corps' utility uniform. In recent years, civilian employees in Iraq commonly "blended in" by wearing Marine desert utilities, but they were not required to adhere to grooming and appearance standards.

The seasonal uniform guidelines do not apply to deployed units or those in a tactical or field environment, where the commander may dictate the best uniform given the situation. Additionally, reservists preparing to deploy or awaiting deactivation after a deployment may wear the uniform they wore while deployed, regardless the season.

For locations with temperature extremes within the first few weeks of daylight saving time changes, commanders may temporarily direct sleeves on utilities be rolled up or down, as long as it applies across the command.

Commands in areas with extreme seasonal conditions or extended seasons, such as Alaska where it snows from October through April, may request waivers to the new policy.

Daylight saving time begins at 2 a.m. on the second Sunday of March. It ends on the first Sunday in November at 2 a.m., according to federal law.

Sailors attached to Marines units, such as medical corpsmen, may wear the utilities, but they must adhere to the Corps' uniform regulations.

Refer to All Marine Message 07/2008 for more information.

The American Dream: MSOAG Marine looks back on his long journey to the Corps, MARSOC

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (March 4, 2008) -- In his book, “The Epic of America”, James Truslow Adams described the American dream as “…that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for every man, with opportunity for each according to his ability or achievement.”


March 4, 2008; Submitted on: 03/04/2008 07:59:14 AM ; Story ID#: 20083475914
By Lance Cpl. Josephh R. Stahlman, Marine Forces Special Operations Command

Although the American dream means something different to each of us, one Marine with U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Special Operations Command believes he is living his version of it.

Cpl. Marek Vyskocil, the training noncommissioned officer for Marine Special Operations Advisor Group, says he has everything he could ask for in life. However, but his journey began far from American soil.

Vyskocil’s journey to America, the Marine Corps and MARSOC began in his home country of Czechoslovakia. He grew up in Havirov and learned to speak several languages due to the diversity of people in his community. Although Vyskocil said he lived a normal Czech childhood, there weren’t many jobs or opportunities for self-advancement as he got older.
Upon graduating high school at the age of 18, Vyskocil was drafted into the Czech Army.

“At the time, we had no choice but to serve a mandatory one year in the army,” explained Vyskocil, a 31-year-old husband and devoted father of three.

Vyskocil believes the army helped him mature and made him more independent.

“If I hadn’t joined the army, I probably wouldn’t be where I am at today,” he explained.

After getting out of the Czech Army, Vyskocil worked a few odd jobs to support himself.
During this time, a friend came up with the idea to visit America for spring break.

“I really liked the idea because I always wanted to visit America,” said Vyskocil. “I started to save up enough money for a plane ticket and some extra spending money.”

Vyskocil arrived in America in 1998 with one change of clothes, one small bag and no ability to speak the English language.

“I didn’t have a lot of money and I didn’t expect to be in America for that long,” he explained. “When I got to Tampa Bay, Florida, I fell in love with America.”

It didn’t take long for Vyskocil to decide he wanted to stay in the United States.

“I fell in love with the culture and the freedom everyone had,” said Vyskocil. “Even though I could not speak English, I still had a great time.”

Although Vyskocil was able to speak five different languages at this point in his life, English was not one of them.

“I spoke Czech, Slovak, Polish, Slovenian and Russian, but I couldn’t speak English or understand some of America’s customs and courtesies,” said Vyskocil.

“I once sat in a fast-food restaurant for 45 minutes trying to order a large soda with the last of my money,” he said with a chuckle. “When I thought the cashier finally understood me, she came back with my order and handed me a vanilla ice cream cone instead. I was so frustrated I threw the ice cream away and left -- thirsty.”

After staying in Tampa Bay throughout spring break, Vyskocil was offered a job in Tennessee. He accepted the job offer and made the trip from Tampa Bay to Pigeon Forge, Tenn.

“I worked for housekeeping at a hotel for my first year when I started dating my now wife, who was the hotel manager,” explained Vyskocil. “I then started to learn more and more English until I could finally speak it fluently.”

According to Vyskocil’s wife, Karen, her husband has always been polite, even when he didn’t speak English.

“When I first met him, he would always ask me the meanings of words,” said Karen, who is now learning Czech. “When he moved up to the front office, his English just took off. After about a year, he stopped asking me questions and English turned into second nature to him.”

After five years working at the hotel, Vyskocil became the hotel manager.

“I loved the fact that I could work from the bottom to the top on my own drive and determination,” said Vyskocil. “That’s another reason I love America, if someone has the drive and willpower to do something, they can do it.”

After taking another job as a salesman at a car dealership, Vyskocil realized he wanted to put his language skills to good use.

“I wanted to join the (Federal Bureau of Investigation), but I had to either have college or have a military background,” he said. “With my paycheck, a wife and a son, I figured college was not the route to go.”

Vyskocil’s wife and family convinced him to join the U.S. Air Force. Vyskocil went to his local Air Force recruiter and was waiting outside when a Marine Corps recruiter walked up, introduced himself and invited Vyskocil into his office to discuss a future in the military.

“I knew about the U.S. Marines growing up in Europe,” Vyskocil explained. “I was a little uneasy at first, but I noticed his professionalism and attitude about the Corps and decided to join,”

Vyskocil learned to speak English and caught on quickly by listening to others speak, but the reading comprehension portion of the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery proved challenging.

“I failed the ASVAB twice and decided the military might not be for me,” he said. “My recruiter kept calling to make sure I was studying my words. He wouldn’t let me give up on myself and on the third try, I finally passed the test.”

After 11 months of study and effort, Vyskocil shipped to Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C. After graduating from boot camp and the School of Infantry in 2005, Vyskocil deployed to Iraq with 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, later that year.

Upon returning from deployment, Vyskocil became an American citizen.

“It felt great to finally be a part of America,” he said. “I lived here for so long and now I was really a citizen.”

Vyskocil then searched for ways to put his language skills to good use for the Corps. During his search, Vyskocil discovered MARSOC.

“I spoke with a (staff noncommissioned officer) with MARSOC and he offered me a chance to become a part of it,” said Vyskocil. “I jumped at the chance to join.”
Vyskocil received orders to MARSOC in 2006 and is now the S-3 training NCO at MSOAG. He hopes to one day put his knowledge and language skills to good use by being on one of MSOAG’s Special Operations Teams.

Vyskocil, like so many people before him, was born and raised in a foreign country and came to America as an immigrant looking for a better life and greater opportunities. Like many others, he overcame language and culture barriers and earned everything he has through hard work and determination. Now he gives back to the United States by serving his country in a time of war as an American citizen and protecting the very freedoms he longed for before coming to this nation.

“I’m proud that I’m a Marine and honored to serve this country,” said Vyskocil. “I came to this country with basically nothing, and after 10 years, I have a family and everything I’ve ever dreamed of before coming to the United States. I’ll never take the freedom America gave me for granted.”

Pentagon bans Google teams from bases

Panoramic views inside military facilities deemed too sensitive

WASHINGTON/SAN FRANCISCO - Google Inc has complied with a request by the Pentagon to remove some online images from its street-level map service because they pose a security threat to U.S. military bases, military and company officials said on Thursday.


By Kristin Roberts and Eric Auchard
updated 5:53 p.m. CT, Thurs., March. 6, 2008

Gen. Gene Renuart, head of the military command responsible for homeland defense, said the Pentagon had talked to Google about the risks and expected the company to cooperate in removing selected images from its Street View service.

"We have been contacted by the military," Google spokesman Larry Yu said. "In those instances where they (the U.S military) have expressed concerns about the imagery, we have accommodated their requests."

The Defense Department, which is still studying how many images are available, has also banned Google teams from taking video images on bases.

"We've got to get a sense of what is there and see how we can mitigate it," Renuart said.

But because many images were taken from public streets, the military may not have a legal right to request that videos be pulled.

Street View, a feature of Google Maps, offers ground-level, 360-degree views of streets in 30 U.S. cities. Web users are able to drive down a street, in a virtual sense, using their mouse to adjust views of roadside scenery.

The feature has become a popular service for drivers seeking to plan a trip to an unfamiliar neighborhoods. But from the outset, Street View has been a magnet of controversy over potential privacy invasion of people captured in the images.

In one instance, a man was pictured exiting a San Francisco strip club. In another case, a woman was shown sunbathing. Complaints have even included a woman asking that a picture of her cat be taken down, a request Google denied.

The images that worry the Pentagon include views of bases, including security at the entrances to those installations.

"It actually shows where all the guards are. It shows how the barriers go up and down. It shows how to get in and out of buildings," said Renuart, commander of U.S. Northern Command.

"I think that poses a real security risk for our military installations," he told reporters at the Pentagon.

The Google spokesman said his company's policy was to photograph only those images visible from public roads.

"It is against Google's policy for a driver to seek access to a military base," Yu said.

Street View has yet to be introduced outside the United States. Web-based Google Maps and a related computer-based service called Google Earth have drawn criticism from a variety of countries for providing images of sensitive locations, such as military bases or potential targets of terror attacks.

The services rely on civilian versions of satellite maps that it licenses from commercial mapping services.

War-torn city rises from ashes

FALLUJAH, Iraq (March 6, 2008) -- Just mentioning of the city of Fallujah conjures up images of a devastated city ripped apart by the horrors of war. It was November 2004, there were an estimated 2,000 insurgents infesting the city prepared to fight to the death and it was the Marine Corps’ job to facilitate this. After bitter house-to-house fighting the Marines took the city. In the battle’s wake, laid a city in ruin. Numerous buildings turned to rubble, the streets littered with debris, any form or city infrastructure such as water and power eliminated. It was total devastation.


March 6, 2008; Submitted on: 03/06/2008 07:31:52 AM ; Story ID#: 20083673152
By - Regimental Combat Team 1, 1st Marine Division

The Fallujah of today still holds the scars of war. Bullet holes pockmark numerous buildings throughout the city. Yet, out of the ashes of fiery combat a city of hope has begun to arise.

Fallujah is far from perfect if you look at it in terms of American standards, but considering where it was a few years ago, the city is thriving. “The city has heart and soul; it’s headed in the right direction.” Said Lt. Col. Christopher Dowling, battalion commander, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine regiment, Regimental Combat Team 1.

One of the largest contributors to the turn around is the will of the people. According to Dowling, the people of Fallujah are key in setting the conditions for change. “They need to be willing participants, and the people of Fallujah are willing participants.”

Another indicator to the success of a city is its economic development. Now years later on the same streets that saw the most violent combat, vendors sell their goods. Fishmongers haggle over the price of the day’s catch, a child sells ice-cream, old men sit around and drink tea, and trucks loaded with produce pass under the same bridge where the mutilated bodies of American contractors once hanged. In the very streets that Marines and insurgents once clashed, caravans of cars, trucks, and even horse and tractor drawn wagons move the residents of the city about their daily business.

According to Dowling it has been a slow and methodical process and the success in the city today is due not only to the current Marines and Iraqi security forces who protect the city but also the numerous soldiers, sailors, Marines and Iraqi forces that have come before paving the way for the cities revival.

The fight for the city and the events leading up to today have been costly, expressed Dowling. “The streets of Fallujah are filled with the blood of sailors, solders, and Marines.” And according to Dowling the success of the city today is a “tribute to those young men.”

Fallujah is a city at the brink, the potential for it to erupt into chaos is still present. Yet thanks to the valiant efforts of the soldiers, sailors, Marines and Iraqi forces who have served here with distinction that potential becomes less and less every day. Moreover, the willingness of the people of this once war-torn city to rise up from the fiery ashes of combat and make this city work shows that this city’s future remains bright.

March 5, 2008

3/7 awards Bronze Star

RODRIGUEZ LIVE FIRE COMPLEX, Republic of Korea (March 5, 2008) -- Of all the weapons in the Marine Corps arsenal, Sgt. Andrew T. Maddox found just the right one at a bookstore.


March 5, 2008; Submitted on: 03/04/2008 11:59:21 PM ; Story ID#: 200834235921
By Cpl. GP Ingersoll, 1st Marine Division

Maddox, a scout sniper with Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, received a Bronze Star Medal during a ceremony here March 4.

While deployed with 3/7 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2007, Maddox, 21, Cleburne, Texas, learned to speak Arabic from some books he had bought and regular conversation with local Iraqis. He spent the last five months of his deployment as an interpreter.

"In the current counter-insurgency fight in Ramadi," reads the summary of award submission, "Sgt. Maddox determined that to win, the people must be the focus of effort. Through his unique leadership, language skills and cultural understanding, Sgt. Maddox directly influenced the public to support and favor coalition forces. His actions led the battle for the people's hearts and minds."

After becoming a "pivotal" actor in increasing stability within the city, "Maddox coordinated and executed 30 instrumental projects totaling over 300,000 dollars."

Those projects ranged from night raids to public aid. Maddox said it all had to do with putting an American face on things.

He said that making an effort to learn the Arabic language while wearing the Marine uniform spoke volumes to the people.

"All up until this time, you had native speakers as translators," said Maddox. But a Marine who can hold a conversation, he said, isn't as much an enemy as a human being underneath all that gear.

"You have these two different cultures, West and East, and it's about a human connection, it's about making friends," said Maddox.

The connection showed.

Maddox' crew was often invited to regular "kabob" dinners with many Ramadi locals. They even established an unofficial sub-counsel meeting, which brought all forms of Iraqi leaders together with Marines to simply talk.

"Not only could he communicate with Iraqis," said Capt. Douglas R. Cullins, company commander, Weapons Company, 3/7, "but he could communicate from the perspective of a Marine."

"He was my left-hand man," said Cullins, 31, San Diego. Despite all the weapons Cullins' company brought to Iraq, their sharpest wore a flak jacket and Kevlar and spoke Arabic.

"It's one of the biggest weapons in our arsenal," concluded Maddox. "'A kind word turns away wrath.'"

It turns out the Corps' best weapon wasn't in the bookstore. It was in the Marine's mind.

Island Warriors check on projects in villages

FALLUJAH, Iraq (March 5, 2008) -- “If it must absolutely, positively needs to be destroyed over night, call the U.S. Marines,” is a slogan that can be seen on various t-shirts and bumper stickers, but in Iraq, if it absolutely must be built over night, the Iraqis can call the Marines.


March 5, 2008; Submitted on: 03/09/2008 06:00:32 AM ; Story ID#: 2008396032
By Cpl. Chadwick deBree, 1st Marine Division

Marines and sailors with Company G, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 1, stopped by several restoration projects March 5, in the village of Shohabi.
Among some of the projects are two schools that are under construction and a mosque that is being renovated.

“It feels amazing to see the kids’ reactions as well as the adults and families,” said 1st Lt. Caleb Wells, platoon commander, Weapons Platoon, Co. G, 2nd Bn., 3rd Marines, RCT-1. “It shows them that someone does care about them.”

While stopping to speak to local Iraqi Security Forces officials, Wells reviewed contracts to make sure they were in order and to ensure the maintenance of the buildings went smoothly.
“They submit a contract to me, I review it and if it’s good I’ll write a letter summary to help it get approved,” said the Cary, N.C. native. “It will then go up to the battalion to get approved, then the regiment will pay for it. I want to make sure the contracts are good so everything goes very smoothly, so the kids could have a nice school to go to and, essentially, learn more in a better environment.”

The Marines of Co. G, have two responsibilities in their area of operation, said Capt. William Matory, commanding officer, Co. G, 2nd Bn., 3rd Marines, RCT-1.
“We’re here to provide over watch with the Iraqi Security Forces,” he said. “But as we provide over watch, we are also helping with economic development. I’m involved with coming up with projects to help rebuild the area.”

Matory made a stop during his visit to the area at one of the schools. Upon arriving, Matory saw the progress of the remodeling, and observed the conditions of the children’s learning environment. Some classrooms had broken windows and one of the room’s ceiling had been ripped apart.

“This school used to be chicken a farm during Saddam Hussein’s regime,” said an Iraqi contractor. “It was converted into a school after his regime fell. Now we are building it into a place that has better conditions the children can learn in.”

The current projects are on the road to completion and the Marines are happy with the current work.

“They’re going very well,” said Wells. “We were able to show the progress to Capt. Matory. Unfortunately we didn’t show the battalion commander today but he’ll come out to look at them.”

While the Island Warriors of Co. G are helping the community around them rebuild their lives, they are doing it in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

March 4, 2008

Marines debut new running suit

BETHESDA, Md. (March 4, 2008) -- The Marine Corps officially unveiled its new running suit to Marines assigned to the Wounded Warrior Regiment at the National Naval Medical Center here Feb. 29.


March 4, 2008; Submitted on: 03/04/2008 03:13:32 PM ; Story ID#: 200834151332
By Lance Cpl. Bryan G. Carfrey, Headquarters Marine Corps

Marines from the Wounded Warrior Regiment, to include those at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, were the first to receive the new gear, according to guidance set by Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James T. Conway.

“[The running suits are] the first ones off the sewing machines and we gave them to you,” said Col. Gregory Boyle, commanding officer of Wounded Warrior Regiment. “It demonstrates to the American people where the commandant’s priority is.”

According to Boyle, the Wounded Warrior Battalions at Camp Lejeune and Camp Pendleton will receive the gear next.

“All Marines will be in the new running suit as soon as possible; widespread distribution is set to begin by October 2008 with a mandatory possession date of around October 2009,” said Lt. Col. A.J. Pasagian, program manager of Infantry Combat Equipment, Marine Corps Systems Command.

Marines assigned to recruiting commands and recruit depots will be issued the running suit next, followed by the remainder of the Marine Forces, according to Marine Corps Systems Command.

The new running suit will become standard issue in the seabag in addition to what is currently provided. The running suit does not replace the existing green physical training uniform and is compatible with other PT uniform items, according to Pasagian.

Retailed at $112, the running suit is the first newly-released gear that Marines do not have to pay for out of pocket, said Pasagian.

“Our commandant believes the continued emphasis on physical fitness and esprit de corps is important enough to have a one-time initial issue of the running suit,” added Pasagian.

Marines who received the new gear immediately noticed a difference between the old cotton sweat suit and the new fabric of the running suit.

“I really like it. It’s very comfortable and better than I expected,” said Lance Cpl. Derrick L. Sharpe. “It’s breathable, lightweight and could be worn in any weather condition.”

The running suit is made of lightweight, moisture-wicking, quick-drying, water-resistant materials. Features include underarm and back venting solutions, a fold-down collar, full-length zip-through jacket and reflectivity. The lining is anti-microbial, which prevents odor and bacteria.

Marine Corps Systems Command solicited the opinion of all active and reserve Marines through a series of online surveys. Marines were participants in every aspect of the development of the new running suit, to include design and color.

The Marine Corps Uniform Board is currently finalizing regulations for wear of the running suit. Up-to-date information can be found at www.marcorsyscom.usmc.mil/sites/mcub/.

Marines adjust to snow in S. Korea

By Jimmy Norris, Stars and Stripes
Pacific edition, Tuesday, March, 4, 2008

RODRIGUEZ RANGE, South Korea — Based in California’s Mojave Desert — and veterans of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan — the 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division warriors knew they would find new terrain in South Korea.

To continue reading:


March 3, 2008

Marine parents find own comrades online

Patricia Fry thought she and her husband, John, were prepared.


Posted: March 3, 2008
Laurel Walker

Their only child, son Erich, had joined the Marines in 2004 while still at Menomonee Falls High School. He had been deeply moved by the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and wanted to serve his country. He didn't leave for boot camp until he graduated a year later, on Father's Day 2005.

Yet during his first deployment to Iraq, she found she wasn't anywhere near as prepared as she thought she'd be.

"I was really worried, and I was going nuts," said Fry, a seventh-grade English and reading teacher at Templeton Middle School in Lisbon.

She was desperate for any information but didn't know where to turn.

"The longer Erich was deployed, and the longer I didn't know anything, and when the phone calls got fewer and far between, I had to find someone to talk to."

At times like these, the rest of us try to be reassuring. She says unless we've been in those shoes, we can't possibly understand.

Fortunately, she found someone who did.

Her husband stumbled upon an Internet resource called MarineParents.com and told her to check it out. It included information about serving in the Marines, but perhaps more importantly, it offered message boards and chat rooms where Fry could ask questions of people who'd felt what she was feeling.

"I got hooked," she said. Once she figured out the chat room technology, and after the couple replaced its slow-as-molasses dial-up Internet service, she increasingly relied on the support system.

"The people who welcomed me answered all the questions I had, and they really helped set aside my fears," she said.

Now, two years later, she has become a bedrock of support for others who turn to the Web site.

Because she was spending so much time sharing experiences and information, the nonprofit organization asked her to serve as a chat room moderator to answer others' questions. She spends about two hours a night, every day but Saturday, in various chats at MarineParents.com.

"And I do this because it helps me," she said.

In 2006 she spent more than 200 hours moderating chats. Last year the figure was over 400 hours. Already this year, she's spent more than 100 hours in any one of seven different chat rooms - including ones providing information and encouragement for families of new recruits, or those in boot camp, or those deployed. There are chats just for wives and girlfriends, others just for dads.

There is one common thread in all of them.

"We all love a Marine," she said. "We all love and support our Marines, and we all need help in dealing with their absences, or trying to deal with insensitivities of other people."

The site, based in Missouri, was founded by Marine parent Tracy Della Vecchia in January 2003. It relies on volunteers throughout the U.S. and is open to the public. It offers lots of opportunities to support Marines, from donating Girl Scout cookies for care packages to sending letters and prayers for injured Marines.

It offers experience and information on everything from what someone should wear to a Marine's boot camp graduation (comfortable shoes, yes, but clothes showing a bare midriff, no), to how to reach a unit's family resource officer, to what to expect after a Marine comes home from combat.

It even helps parents put together scrapbooks of their Marine's experiences - something Fry specializes in as the site's historian.

On one recent message board exchange at the site, parents John and Yvonne said they were nervous wrecks about their son's impending departure for boot camp. They received a number of encouraging responses, including this one:

as you and your recruit go through the phases of boot camp, you will worry, you will cry, you'll think the di's (drill instructor) the devil himself, but believe me, the pure pride you will see on your son's face on his graduation day will wash all those feelings away! he will become one of the best! stick with this message board, come here often, you'll find friends who will cry with you, pat you on the back, laugh with you or just listen when you have something heavy on your heart.

Patricia Fry said Erich, 21 and a lance corporal, is now in his second deployment in Iraq, though his regiment is due back to his permanent station, Twentynine Palms in the California desert, in a couple of weeks.

He has another year of active duty, and she said he expects he'll have to return to the Middle East again.

So she'll continue to rely on MarineParents.com for support, and she'll continue to offer hers.

"The one question I get more than any other is, 'How do you handle this? You seem so strong.' "

She says she takes it one day, and one chat, at a time.

"If I didn't have the Web site, I wouldn't have made it," she said.

On the Web www.marineparents.com Call Laurel Walker at (262) 650-3183 or e-mail

Afghanistan-bound battalion begins Mojave Viper

MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER, Twentynine Palms, Calif. (March 3, 2008) -- Marines of 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, bound for Afghanistan, started Mojave Viper – the Corps’ premier desert training – and began training for war March 3 to fulfill the battalion’s pre-deployment requirements.


March 3, 2008; Submitted on: 03/04/2008 01:21:58 PM ; Story ID#: 200834132158
By Cpl. Ray Lewis, 1st Marine Division

Even the training schedule was modified to prepare the Marines for the unique challenges in the Afghanistan area of operations, said Maj. Lee Helton, the battalion executive officer.

“To me this training is very important,” said Pfc. Tesillo M. Nunez, a 19-year-old mortarman from Los Angeles, assigned to Company E. “The harder they train me here, the better my chances are in Afghanistan, which will bring me and my fellow Marines back to the States alive.”

Many of the Marines have been deployed to Iraq, but the Marines know they need to prepare for a different battlefield.

“Things have changed,” said Lance Cpl. Andrew D. Sprauer, 21, a rifleman who already has one Iraq deployment under his belt.

“They use different tactics over there.” said Sprauer, from Carol Stream, Ill., who is assigned to Co. F, 2/7.

One set of tactics used by Afghan fighters are countering improvised explosive devices. That makes IED training crucial to the Marines’ success in Afghanistan.

“The biggest thing is the IED awareness training,” said Cpl. Ryan S. Roccio, a 20-year-old rifleman from Whittier, Calif., with Co. G, 2/7. “It plays a big part in combating the IEDs in Afghanistan. It’s going to help save lives in country.”

Although this is a new mission, the Marines are raring to fight.

“I’m ready to get my first deployment out of the way and finally see some combat,” said Pfc. Michael A. Ruiz-Rodriguez, 18, a rifleman from Visalia, Ca, with Co. E, 2/7.

The unit is scheduled to complete the desert training later this month.

March 2, 2008


In their final days as civilians, longtime friends enlisting in Marine Corps prepare for change of a lifetime

It's late evening at Marine Corps boot camp in San Diego. A bus rumbles to the curb and the doors open with a loud "whoosh."


John Koopman, Chronicle Staff Writer
Sunday, March 2, 2008

A man wearing a broad-brimmed Smokey Bear hat climbs on board and greets the 30 or 40 young men huddled inside, some of them trembling with excitement. And fear.

The man speaks in a harsh, almost guttural bark, and gets right to the point.

"From this moment on, the only words out of your mouth are 'Yes, sir,' 'No, sir,' and 'Aye aye, sir,' do you understand that?" he growls.

"Yes, sir!" the men respond.

"I said, 'Do you understand that?' " he screams, louder.

"YES, SIR!" the men yell out, much louder and in unison.

Four rows back are two young men, Robert Perez and Richard Maxwell. Perez, from Pittsburg, is 18 and Maxwell, from Concord, 19. They have been best friends since forever. They call each other "brother." They are here to become U.S. Marines.

These two young men have volunteered to join the infantry. They want to become Recon Marines, the most elite unit in the corps. That would mean they probably will end up in a war zone, in Iraq or Afghanistan, at least once in their four-year tours.

"What you are going to do now is get off the bus and go stand on that set of yellow footprints," the drill instructor informs them, pointing out the window to a cluster of yellow footprints painted on the sidewalk. "Now, without hurting yourself or anyone around you, get off my bus!"

Those are the last kind words Perez and Maxwell will hear for a long, long time.

'Don't get upset'

Maxwell's mother remembers the conversation she never wanted to hear, the one that changed her life.

It was Christmas Day. He said he needed to talk to her about something. Something very important.

"Don't get upset," he began.

"I've decided to join the Marines," her son continued.

After that, Laura Maxwell doesn't remember much of the conversation. She was in shock.

"I thought he might change his mind," she said. "I've been in denial over this for a long time."

Laura Maxwell served 15 years on active and reserve duty in the Navy herself, so she knows about military life. But she was never in a war zone, or in harm's way.

"I don't know why the Marines," she said. "They're the front lines."

But that seems to be exactly what Perez and Maxwell want. They want to learn skills - possibly to become police officers one day - they want to prove themselves, they want lives of danger and excitement.

Perez was the instigator. He's a tough and wiry young man, a former state wrestling champion who won a scholarship to compete at UC Davis.

Last summer, he started thinking about his life, and those of his friends. People were going to school and partying and it all seemed so mundane and useless, he said.

He began looking for meaning in life, and praying.

Perez started considering life in the Marines. The more he looked, the better that option seemed.

Maxwell had chosen not to go to college. He bounced around to various jobs and eventually started work in a law office. The pay was good and so were the benefits.

But Maxwell had no use for a soft life behind a desk. He yearned for something more profound, something that would get him outdoors and active.

The two boys started talking about it. Just the two of them. They knew the firestorm that would erupt when they told their families and friends what they were thinking about.

They prayed for inspiration to make their decision.

"We kept saying, 'God, just give us a sign,' " Perez said the week before he left for boot camp. "We'd turn on the TV and there would be a commercial for the Marines. And it would be, like, 'OK, is that the sign?' "

After months of talk and prayer, the decision became obvious. One day in October, Perez stopped by the recruiting office in Pleasant Hill.

He told the man, "I want to enlist and I want to be in the infantry." He said his brother wanted to join with him.

"You don't get that every day," said Staff Sgt. Jose Lopez, the recruiter who signed up both men. "Both those guys were very motivated from the start. They knew what they wanted."

After the boys signed up, they hung out at the Marine recruiting office. The "poolees" practice marching and do physical fitness drills in the parking lot behind the office.

"Who's tired?" the recruiter asks as the men, and one woman, do leg-lifts on the wet pavement. No one responds.

"Pain is just fear leaving the body," the recruiter says, repeating a mantra that's printed on the wall of the office.

Welcome aboard

Maxwell and Perez met when they were about 8 years old, right after Maxwell moved to the Bay Area with his mother from Arizona. They played on the same Pop Warner football team. Maxwell's mom, Laura, met Perez's parents, Laura and Chris Calica, in the stands. The boys became friends and their parents did, too.

The two families are close, to the point that Chris Calica feels comfortable disciplining Maxwell and calls him "son."

Both families attended the ceremonies put on by the recruiters to welcome new recruits into the Marine family. Held at the recruits' homes, the ceremonies allow the recruiter to talk to the families and friends about the Marine Corps and to show motivational videos about Marine life. The slickly produced videos show Marines at work and at war. They do not show body bags or flag-draped coffins.

Family members and friends make speeches about the new recruit and tell stories of that person growing up or what the Marine Corps means to them. And then the new recruit recites the oath of enlistment.

"We've been through good times, bad times, can't-remember times," Perez said at Maxwell's ceremony. "You're my brother and I'd do anything for you, man. I'm glad we're doing this together. I think this is the right decision for us."

Maxwell, when it was his turn, got on his knees in front of his mother, who was sitting in a chair, and held her hands.

"It wasn't always easy growing up without a father," he told her. "But we made it, didn't we? I just want you to know I love you and I want to make you proud."

After the ceremony, there is lasagna and cake and sodas. Friends come to wish the boys well, and there are more than a few tears.

Perez's mother sits at the dining room table and holds her husband's hand.

"I think the worst part for me was when Robert kept talking about trying to get into Recon," she said. "That's when it hit me: He really wants to go over there."

Iraq weighs heavily on everyone's mind. Nearly 4,000 American troops have died in that conflict and tens of thousands have been wounded, many of them severely. Post-traumatic stress also takes a toll on people who have served in the war.

Chris Calica tries to take comfort in numbers. Well over 1 million men and women have come and gone from Iraq, making the likelihood of death or wounding to be relatively slight.

"You can get killed driving home," he said. "It's dangerous to be on the road with drunk drivers."

His wife seeks solace in her Christian faith.

"When it's your time, it's your time," she said. "It doesn't matter if it's here or in Iraq. God is with him, I know it."

Goodbye for now

On their last day of freedom, Sunday, the boys go to church at 10 a.m. The reverend brings them to the front of the church and offers a prayer. Afterward, they go to their respective homes to get ready for the long trip south.

Maxwell helps his mother with their taxes. Perez goes home to spend his last hours with friends and family. It is a low-key time, with kids lying on the sofas, Dad looking at video clips of Robert as a wrestler and the movie "The Waterboy" playing on the wide-screen TV in the corner.

At 1:30 p.m., everyone heads to the recruiting station. They are supposed to be there at 2. That time comes and goes, with no Maxwell. Seconds tick by. Did Richard change his mind at the last second?

Finally, at 2:25, the Maxwells come through the glass doors.

And then it is time for goodbyes. There are hugs and kisses, no tears. Not now. Then the families get into their cars and drive off.

The boys spend the night in a hotel and then go to the military entry station in Mountain View to wait for a flight to San Diego.

They reach San Diego at 9 p.m. A bus arrives. The recruits get on the bus and take the short drive around the block to boot camp, which borders the airport.

The first Marine to greet them is the man on the bus, Staff Sgt. Chad Murch.

Perez and Maxwell run off the bus with their new comrades and stand at attention on the famous yellow footprints. There are no smiles, no chit-chat, no joking around.

Murch and two other drill instructors proceed to greet the new recruits in traditional boot camp fashion.

"Eyes front!" they scream. "Pick up your gear and get inside!"

It is the beginning of 12 weeks of intense training. There will be no down time and no fun time. Every hour is scripted. The recruits have one hour a day of "free time," but that will be used for shining shoes, cleaning weapons and writing letters home.

They will learn how to march, how to shoot a rifle and how to kill with a bayonet. They will learn the customs, language and history of the Marine Corps. If they decide they do not want to be Marines, they're out of luck. They have signed contracts and, barring physical injury or significant psychological problems, they are in the Marines for four years.

"This is what separates the Marines from the other services," said Capt. John Boyer, commanding officer of the recruit company Perez and Maxwell are in. "This is where they bond as Marines."

Outside, on the yellow footprints, Perez and Maxwell stand front to back, inches apart.

The first recruit in line makes the mistake of looking directly at one of the drill instructors.

"Get your eyeballs off of me!" he yells.

And they march into the building, where new uniforms and fresh haircuts await.

E-mail John Koopman at [email protected]

March 1, 2008

3rd LAR gathers to remember their fallen Marine

CAMP KOREAN VILLAGE, Iraq (March 1, 2008) -- KOREAN VILLAGE, AL ANBAR PROVINCE, IRAQ -- The overcast sky at Camp Korean Village, Iraq, March 1 reflected the solemn mood as Marines from 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 5 gathered to remember their fallen Marine.


March 1, 2008; Submitted on: 03/17/2008 12:27:08 PM ; Story ID#: 200831712278
By Lance Cpl. Paul M. Torres, 1st Marine Division

Lance Cpl. Drew W. Weaver, 20, a rifleman with 2nd Platoon, Company B, 3rd LAR, was memorialized for services rendered and for having paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Upon the calling of the final role, where Weaver’s name was left unanswered, he was honored by his friends and fellow Marines with the erection of a warrior’s memorial. The memorial consisted of a helmet set on top of a rifle with the bayonet planted into the ground. Dog tags bearing Weaver’s name hung from the pistol grip, and a pair of combat boots and a framed picture of Weaver sat at the base.

Weaver died of wounds sustained in combat actions Feb. 21.

Weaver, who was from St. Charles, Mo., and his platoon were days away from completing Operation Desert Siege, an 18-day field operation that was designed to disrupt insurgent activity in the far edges of the of the Al Anbar province.

“Weaver was known as a leader and an arbitrator of arguments among his friends in the platoon,” said Capt. Mark C. Brown, commanding officer, Company C, 3rd LAR. “He was known for his enthusiasm and his ability to motivate the people around him.”

The memorial was punctuated by a 21-gun salute and the playing of taps. Upon completion, every Marine present filed past the memorial. Some stopped to utter a prayer, some paused to pay their respects and some gazed upon the framed picture that stood beside the memorial
He was a friend, he was a warrior and he was a United States Marine.