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April 30, 2008

Marines sweep Taliban refuge

U.S. force rooting out insurgents, but expects brief effect

GARMSIR, Afghanistan - More than a thousand Marines, backed by artillery and helicopter gunships, stormed into this Taliban stronghold in southern Afghanistan before dawn yesterday.


By David Wood | Sun reporter
April 30, 2008

The operation, mounted by the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, opens a new American combat sweep across the region where the Taliban, ousted from power in 2001, have made a strong comeback.

As of last night, there were no reported Marine casualties. The assault was launched in stages from a base near Kandahar, where the Sept. 11 attacks were plotted.

Thundering in low over the desert in CH-53 and twin-bladed CH-46 helicopters, the battalion's Alpha and Bravo companies landed just before a half moon rose to flood the desert with light. Each of the U.S. troops carried 100 to 150 pounds of weapons, ammunition and other supplies.

Simultaneously, a convoy of Marines in light armored vehicles attacked Taliban fortifications in a former agricultural school that U.S. intelligence officers said was being used as a major Taliban command post. An intense firefight lasted most of the day, until the Marines pushed the insurgents back into one area where an airstrike finished them off, military commanders said.

By midmorning, Alpha and Bravo company Marines had seized several mud-walled compounds set amid lush poppy fields.

Outside one compound, Marines were just starting to push through a poppy field on a combat patrol when a rocket-propelled grenade whooshed past and exploded, accompanied by a rattle of small arms fire. Two young men were seen fleeing on a motorbike, but the Marines did not return fire because it was not clear they were the attackers.

Later, two insurgents fired on a pair of Marine scout helicopters. As cheering Marines watched, one of the Kiowa Warrior helicopters wheeled and killed the attackers with rockets.

Military officers said it was possible that the Taliban would simply melt away and return when the Marines are gone. But the Marines were prepared - and some eager - for the Taliban to come out in strength.

The operation is taking place in Afghanistan's rich poppy-growing region along the Helmand River, an area that produces more than 90 percent of the world's opium and is a major source of money for the Taliban. The roughly 8,000 British troops in this part of southern Afghanistan have been unable to extend their reach beyond these fields and south toward the Pakistan border some 75 miles south of Garmsir.

U.S. intelligence officers said the Taliban had seized this area and dug in to protect its smuggling routes for opium going south and for weapons, explosives and Islamist fighters coming north from Pakistan. Estimates of enemy numbers ranged from 150 to 300, with more Taliban reinforcements expected, U.S. officers said.

"They know we're coming - but it's at a time and place of our own choosing," said a Marine officer just before the operation.

Facing the Marines were a mixture of what intelligence officers described as hard-core foreign fighters, local Afghans hired to be soldiers and younger trainees at a Taliban training camp.

The intelligence officer said there is a "substantial" flow of non-Afghan fighters into Garmsir from Pakistan.

The Marines' operation originally was opposed by some British commanders and reportedly by the Helmand provincial governor. The British officers said local villagers were beginning to resist the Taliban's harsh rule, and they feared that fighting in Garmsir would cause the villagers to flee.

The British eventually agreed to the operation, but only after days of delay that underscored the awkward multinational military command and a lack of a clear consensus on strategy.

Brig. Mark Carleton-Smith, the commander of 16 Air Assault Brigade, the senior British commander in Afghanistan, told The Times of London in mid-April that the main effort in southern Afghanistan should be on reconstruction.

The 24th MEU commander, Col. Peter Petronzio, said his goals for the mission are to kill insurgents, establish security for reconstruction, and disrupt the flow of weapons and fighters from the Pakistan border through this region, where the radical Islamic Taliban have re-established control over the past year.

The Marines intend this week to clear Taliban fighters and improvised explosive devices from the strategic roads along the Helmand River and to seize the village called Madrassa, after the local school, where Taliban forces were reported to be occupying a series of defensive trenches and fortifications.

Underscoring the complex nature of a counterinsurgency war waged among the civilian population, Lt. Col. Anthony Henderson, the battalion commander, told his men that the Marines should be "no better friend, no worse enemy."

"First, do no harm," he said. But he left no doubt that the point of the operation was to kill enemy fighters.

Initially, at least, Marines intend to prevent reinforcements from reaching Taliban forces fighting the British in northern Helmand province, roughly 120 miles from here.

But despite the effort and long planning behind the Marines' operation, it was designed to be short with few lasting effects. Overall, the U.S. and allied command in Afghanistan is short of troops and in most cases cannot establish a security presence in areas they have cleared of insurgents.

British forces based just north of here will establish positions in Madrassa but do not have enough men to extend their reach south into areas cleared by the Marines, British officers said.

There are few Afghan police and Afghan army units to move into areas cleared of insurgents, and scant reconstruction teams available to establish government services, intelligence officers said.

"The effect you'll be having will be great but short term, because we can't backfill you," a British officer told the Marines before the operation.

For Marines steeped in the lessons of counterinsurgency warfare, the limitations of this operation are frustrating. Some officers have privately compared it to bloody but inconclusive operations during the Vietnam War, when troops were often directed to seize ground and then abandon it to the enemy.

"There's a huge potential we could cede [back to insurgents] a lot of what we've done," Petronzio said.

He and his troops are scheduled to return to Camp Lejeune, N.C., this fall after a seven-month deployment.

In an interview before the operation, he expressed his frustration that the effort would have little long-term effect.

"As heavy as we are, we're going to go in there and there will be a couple of days of fighting and [the insurgents] will throw down their guns and melt away," he said. "And when we're gone, they'll come back.

"The biggest advantage the insurgents have against us is time. He's not going anywhere. Everybody else moves in and out," Petronzio said.

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Marathon registration opens to public today

More than 500 people moved to register for the Marine Corps Marathon on Tuesday during a rally near the Pentagon, one day before general registration opens on the Internet.


Staff report
Posted : Wednesday Apr 30, 2008 6:28:11 EDT

The 11 a.m. rally at Pentagon Row, a series of shops a few blocks from the Pentagon, gave participants a chance to register a day early. More than 110 runners registered, with about 400 more taking codes that they can use to reserve a spot in the marathon until they register online, said Beth Johnson, a marathon spokeswoman.

An estimated 2,295 active-duty service members have already registered for the marathon, Johnson said. It will be held Oct. 26 in Arlington County, Va., and Washington, D.C.

Registration information is available at www.marinemarathon.com.

Essex Welcomes 31st MEU

OKINAWA, Japan (NNS) -- The forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) arrived in Okinawa, April 27, to embark Sailors and Marines from the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), for their annual Spring Patrol throughout East and Southeast Asia.


Story Number: NNS080430-06
Release Date: 4/30/2008 10:42:00 AM
By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class David Didier, USS Essex Public Affairs

The 31st MEU embarked Essex as part of the Essex Expeditionary Strike Group (ESX ESG) with more than 1,500 Marines, Sailors and their equipment.

Essex Sailors and Marines along with the 31st MEU Landing Support Detachment worked diligently to on-load and store more than 1,500 tons of supplies, vehicles and weapon systems in spaces aboard Essex. The cargo was sorted and arranged for quick off-load to support amphibious operations.

During the extensive on-load, Marines and Sailors worked as a team using cranes, forklifts and other equipment to move gear into the living quarters and work centers as well as working to ensure all cargo was secured for sea.

"The on-load went very well, all the vehicles and cargo are where they needed to be," said Gunnery Sgt. Shawn Chaffin. "Everything was staged on the pier ready for us to unload to the ship when we pulled in making the transition from shore to ship easy."

As Marines boarded the ship, they asked Sailors about what they might expect to see in Thailand since this is a first trip for most. The Marines will particpate in exercise Cobra Gold, which is an annual bilateral exercise with Thailand. The exercise is designed to build relationships and enhance operational readiness between the two partner nations.

"I'm looking forward to working with the Thai military and learning some of their tactics as well as survival skills," said Lance Cpl. Spencer Rumfelt. "I have heard a lot of stories about some of the survival training and am looking forward to seeing it."

For Essex Sailors, trips to Thailand are less of a rarity but still welcome none the less.

"This is going to be my last deployment with Essex and I am happy to be able to see Thailand and Hong Kong again one last time," said Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Handler) 3rd Class Frank Rodriguez. "In the air department we work very closely with the Marines on a daily basis and it's good to have them back on board."

Essex departed Sasebo, Japan for its spring patrol throughout the Western Pacific region, Jan. 24.

Hawaii-based Marines help provide medical care to Iraqis

KARMA, Iraq —
KARMA, Iraq — A convoy of humvees, 7-ton trucks, and mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles pull up to a sheik’s home. As they arrive, local citizens, already lined up, wait outside the gate to receive aid through the teamwork of the local government, Iraqi Security Forces and Coalition forces.


4/30/2008 By Cpl. Chadwick deBree, Regimental Combat Team 1

On April 12 and 13, Marines of 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 1, alongside Iraqi doctors, conducted a cooperative medical engagement to provide medical care to Iraqi civilians in the Gnather and Lahib villages.

On the first day, Iraqis eagerly waited as Marines from Company F admitted them one at a time to maintain security and organization. Upon going through the gates, the Iraqis would receive a number to help keep track of how many people showed up. They stood in line outside a room where Iraqi doctors listened to their complaints and examined them to help identify their problem.

“Most of the people had upper respiratory tract infections, malnutrition, stomach problems from drinking dirty water and skin infections,” said Dr. Ali Karagoli, an Iraqi medical doctor. “I’m Iraqi so I know what the main complaints are going to be. I look them over to see how severe their condition is and prescribe them medicine to help make them healthy again.”

After being examined by one of the three doctors, the patients went into the next room where they received the medicine that they were prescribed. The battalion also passed out toys, clothes and school supplies to the children who had attended that day.

The whole event came together when the Marines attended a city council meeting where the subject of health care was brought up and the battalion commander wanted to give two days to help provide medical care for the civilians, said Capt. J.C. Lang, commanding officer, Company E, 2nd Bn., 3rd Marines.

“It turned out how we expected it to turn out,” Lang said. “We had a little less than 500 people show up today. This is what the Iraqis expected of their government. They expected someone to help take care of them and provide medical care. All Echo Company did today was provide security.”

“The mission here, our mission, is transition,” Lang said. “We want to show the Iraqis that we are not an occupying force, but that we are genuine in helping them and seeking the best for them. This event today isn’t a photo op so a movie star can come out gain publicity or anything. This is our job here, this is what we do. I expected we would have a sweaty afternoon today and we did. Everyone out here today is willing to work hard to help the Iraqi people get the attention that they need. One thing that I have noticed is that the units that are accepted out here and successful, are the ones that work with the culture, and that’s what we are doing. The transition is moving full steam ahead.”

As the second day of the CME came to a close, Karagoli reflects on the two-day event as a success.

“This is the first time I have done a CME with this unit and everything went well and it was well organized,” he said. “This event is very helpful for the Iraqi people because the medical is free for them (during the event). This is very important to the people because there aren’t many clinics open or supplies in the area. I know that the people are grateful for events like this because it shows them the coalition does care about them.”

The Hawaii-based unit is currently deployed to Iraqi to help transition authority back to the Iraqi people.

Local tips lead Marines to weapons cache

HABBANIYAH, Iraq — The war has changed. No longer are Marines kicking in doors and battling insurgents with continuous gunfire. Instead, they are walking through the war-torn streets of Iraq, the same streets that just a few short years ago were the sights of horrendous warfare, where Marines are now continuously greeted by hoards of children, with their parents or guardians watching, smiling from a distance.


4/30/2008 By Pfc. Jerry Murphy, Regimental Combat Team 1

Now, with the future of their children at stake, the Iraqi people are taking their own ‘stand’ against al-Qaeda, giving the Marines tips on the locations of weapons, explosives caches or ‘bad guys,’ when they used to be scared to give such tips in fear of insurgents reprisal.

“The Iraqi people have so much fear that they won’t be able to provide a good life for their children,” said Maj. Guillermo Rosales, commanding officer, Company F, 2nd Battalion, 24th Marines, Regimental Combat Team 1. “The Marines are working with the (Iraqi Police), going out on patrols with them and the reaction from the people, seeing us work together like that, is overwhelming. They say that they feel more secure when we are in the area.”

This security felt by the people, given to them by the presence of Marines, has prompted the people to help locate enemy weapons ‘hide outs’ in the area and rid the area of insurgency.

Recently, with the help of a local Iraqi, Marines of Co. F, 2nd Bn., 24th Marines, uncovered several weapons caches in the Habbaniyah area, estimated to have taken over six tons of ammunition, explosives and ordinance away from the enemy.

“The people have been giving tips to the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police for some time now about these caches but not much has been done about it,” said Rosales, a 39-year-old Chicago native. “My guys went out there and used their insight and looked in suspicious areas and found a few caches. When they went back, they looked at other places that looked suspicious and found more caches and in all, we took away nearly 12 thousand pounds of weaponry away from AQI that could have possibly been used against us.”

Not only does the help of the Iraqi people benefit themselves, but also the Marines, giving them a high level or morale, which during stressful times such as a deployment to a combat zone, is essential. It has also caused a reduction in violence in the area, which benefits Marines, the ISF and Iraqi populous.

The reduction of violence in the region is a direct result of the Marines of Mayhem from the Heartland, a nickname given to the battalion referring to their headquarters in Chicago, working closely with the Iraqi Security Forces on a daily basis.

“Everything we do is in partnership with the ISF. They bring certain capabilities to the table and so do we, it’s a marriage of capabilities” said Charlonis, a 42-year-old from Waxhaw, N.C. “The ISF like having us in the background so in case something gets out of hand; we are there to back them."

This confidence the Iraqi people now have in the Marines is not new, but with the combining of Marines and the ISF, their confidence has ascended, strengthening the relationship between the Iraqi Police, Iraqi Army and the Iraqi people with that of the coalition forces.

“When the people realized that AQI was doing more harm than good and saw that we had their best interests at heart, they felt that if they helped us, there would be no retribution,” Charlonis said. “The (Iraqis) saw the ISF working with us and (the ISF) told them that we could be trusted. The people are no longer reluctant to help us, instead, they are willing to assist. That willingness to assist has been key to our success so far.”

The relationship between coalition forces, the ISF and Iraqi people has strengthened and has come a long way from the beginning of the war. It is now up to the Iraqi Security Forces to take what the Marines have brought to the table and use it to protect their country from threats, foreign and domestic.

Arabic made focus for Iraq-bound battalion

By Gidget Fuentes - Staff writer
Posted : Wednesday Apr 30, 2008 10:05:39 EDT

KANEOHE BAY, Hawaii — When they land in Iraq later this summer, some 200 members of an infantry battalion here will step out better trained and immersed in the Arabic language and culture than ever before.

To continue reading:


April 29, 2008

Heroic last stand, Marines thwart enemy attack

RAMADI, IRAQ (April 29, 2008) – It was a typical quiet morning on April 22, with the temperature intensifying as a bright orange sun emerged high from the horizon.


Heroic last stand, Marines thwart enemy attack
Story by Lance Cpl. Casey Jones

Lance Cpl. Jordan Haerter, a rifleman with 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 1, and Cpl. Jonathan T. Yale, a rifleman with 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, RCT-1, were standing post, just as they’ve done numerous times before. During a standard length watch in a small checkpoint protected by concrete barriers where they overlooked the small gravel road, lined with palm trees leading to their entry control point.

However, this morning would be different. Quickly it would turn, chaotic then tragic. Two Marines would gallantly sacrifice their lives so others could live.

A truck packed with thousands of pounds of explosives entered the area where Haerter and Yale were standing guard. Realizing the vehicles intentions Haerter and Yale without hesitation stood their ground, drew their weapons and fired at the vehicle. The truck rolled to a stop and exploded, killing the two Marines.

“I was on post the morning of the attack,” said Lance Cpl. Benjamin Tupaj, a rifleman with 3rd Platoon, Police Transition Team 3, Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 9th Marines. “I heard the (squad automatic weapon) go off at a cyclic rate and then the detonation along with a flash. Then I heard a Marine start yelling ‘we got hit, we got hit.’ It was hectic.”

In the face of a committed enemy, Haerter and Yale stood their ground, in turn saving the lives of numerous Marines, sailors, Iraqi Policemen, and civilians. Both Marines displayed heroic, self-sacrificing actions and truly lived up to the Corps values of honor, courage, and commitment.

“They saved all of our lives, if it wasn’t for them that gate probably wouldn’t have held,” Tupaj said. “The explosion blew out all of the windows over 150 meters from where the blast hit. If that truck had made it into the compound, there would’ve been a lot more casualties. They saved everyone’s life here.”

According to official reports the heroic actions of Haerter and Yale’s saved the lives of the 33 Marines and 21 Iraqi Police as well as numerous civilians at the entry control point.

“They are heroes because thousands of pounds (of explosives) would’ve made its way through the gate and many more of us wouldn’t be here,” said Lance Cpl. Lawrence Tillery a rifleman with 3rd platoon. “I have a son back home, and I know if that truck would’ve made it to where it was going – I wouldn’t be here today. Because of Lance Cpl. Haerter and Cpl. Yale, I will be able to see my son again. They gave me that opportunity.”

A week after the attack, the Marines with 3rd platoon, remember their fallen brethren as good friends and Marines

“Cpl. Yale was a great guy, really friendly and kind of shy,” said Hospitalman Eric Schwartz a corpsman with the platoon.

“Haerter was an amazing guy, I knew everything about him. He was my best friend.” said Lance Cpl. Cody Israel, a rifleman with 3rd platoon, Haerter’s roommate for more than a year and half.

Haerter and Yale were both posthumously awarded the Purple Heart Medal, Combat Action Ribbon and have been nominated for an award for their valor.

Amid attack in Kandahar, Toby Keith doesn't miss a beat

Between a sandstorm and mortar fire, Oklahoma country music star Toby Keith's latest United Service Organizations trip to U.S. war zones is turning into his most harrowing.


Tue April 29, 2008
By Brandy McDonnell
Entertainment Writer

Thursday night, Keith, 46, was playing at a military base in Kandahar, Afghanistan, when mortar fire disrupted his song "Weed with Willie.” The mortar attack sent Keith and most of the 2,500 soldiers in the crowd into nearby shelters.

Curt Motley, Keith's booking agent, who is accompanying the singer-songwriter on the USO tour, said in an e-mail they ran about 100 yards to a concrete bunker and hunkered down for about an hour. Keith spent the time posing for snapshots and signing autographs, he said.

The "American Soldier” singer returned to the stage once the all-clear was sounded, although against the advice of a coalition military police officer.

"He went right to the verse he was in and finished his show,” said Motley, who also is a member of the USO World Board of Governors.

Sunday morning, a sandstorm stranded Keith's party at Camp Fallujah in Iraq. The storm engulfed much of Iraq, Motley said in an e-mail sent Sunday night.

"We are covered in the fine moon dust-looking powder and we are indoors. The hallways appear to be smoking because there is so much dust and dirt in the air,” Motley said.

The group passed the time playing basketball with Marines there, he said.

Like the troops, the group also had to cope Sunday with the extreme temperatures in Iraq.

"The temp gauge in one of the escort vehicles read 131 degrees in the direct sun,” Motley said.

‘I try to set the standard' to encourage others
Keith, who grew up in Moore, is on his sixth USO tour of the Persian Gulf. He is known for traveling not only to large bases in the safe zones but to smaller, more remote bases.
"I try to set the standard to encourage other entertainers to start to go,” Keith said in an interview last summer with The Oklahoman.

"You don't have to go as extreme as I do. You know, I get pretty high off of putting on the gear and going into those places, ... when I see a soldier come running out there and shaking my hand, going, ‘I can't believe you'd come up here.' These guys might not have seen a soul other than each other ... from America for 18 or 20 months.”

The Norman resident came under mortar fire during his USO tour last year, and he was in Bagram, Afghanistan, when a military helicopter similar to the one he traveled in crashed near there.

"When you've done (almost) 100 shows over there, though, it gets to be like anything else,” he said last summer. "They make sure that we're protected as well as we can be. The last thing they want is to have an incident where we go over there and something happened to us.”

Marines Battle Insurgents During Major Operation in Taliban Territory in Afghanistan

Several hundred U.S. Marines engaged in a dramatic firefight Tuesday with an army of rebels in a Taliban stronghold in southern Afghanistan.

The battle against insurgents came during the first large-scale American operation in the area in years.


Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Hundreds of Marines charged into the Taliban-held town of Garmser before dawn Tuesday, reported FOX News' Dana Lewis — who is embedded with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit that led the mission.

Many of the 2,300-member unit who conducted the operation are Iraq war veterans. Their goal: to drive out militants and expand NATO's reach to cover a region that's been classified as Taliban territory and is blanketed with opium poppy fields.

U.S. commanders said Taliban fighters were expecting an assault and planted homemade bombs in response.

The British have a small base on the town's edge but Garmser's main marketplace is closed because of the Taliban threat.

Marines moved into town by helicopter and Humvee for Tuesday's assault in the southern province of Helmand, the first major task undertaken by the 2,300 Marines in the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

The unit arrived last month from Camp Lejeune, N.C., for a seven-month deployment. Another 1,200 Marines also came to train Afghan police.

Maj. Tom Clinton, the American commander at Forward Operating Base Dwyer, a British outpost 10 miles west of Garmser, said militants and Marines exchanged fire in two parts of Garmser on Tuesday. There was no immediate word on casualties.

"We haven't seen anybody who isn't carrying a gun," Clinton said of the mostly deserted town. "They're trying to figure out what we're doing. They're shooting at us, letting us know they're there."

Clinton, 36, of Swampscott, Mass., said Marines had also found bomb-making material and rockets in town. He said he was worried about the possibility of attacks using homemade bombs.

The Marines' mission is the first carried out by U.S. forces this far south in Helmand province in years. An operation late last year to take back the Taliban-held town of Musa Qala on the north end of Helmand involved U.S., British and Afghan forces.

Helmand province is the world's largest opium poppy growing region and has been a flash point of the increasingly violent insurgency in the last two years. British troops — who are responsible for Helmand — have faced fierce battles on the north end of Helmand.

Most U.S. troops operate in the east, along the border with Pakistan, but Britain, with 7,500 troops, and Canada, with 2,500 troops in neighboring Kandahar province, have not had enough manpower to tame the south.

More than 8,000 people died in insurgency-related violence last year. Militants set off more than 140 homicide bombs. Taliban fighters have been increasingly relying on roadside bombs and homicide attacks after being routed in force-to-force battles in the past.

The Marines had prepared on Monday by cleaning weapons and handing out grenades. The leader of one of the three companies involved — Charlie Company commander Capt. John Moder — said his men were ready.

"The feeling in general is optimistic, excited," said Moder, 34, of North Kingstown, Rhode Island. "They've been training for this deployment the last nine months. We've got veteran leaders."

Many of the men in the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit served in 2006 and 2007 in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province in western Iraq. The vast region was once the stronghold of Al Qaeda in Iraq before the militants were pushed out in early 2007.

Moder said that experience would affect how his men fight in Afghanistan. "These guys saw a lot of progress in Ramadi, so they understand it's not just kinetic (fighting) but it's reconstruction and economic development."

But on the initial assault, Moder said his men were prepared to face mines and homemade bombs and "anybody that wants to fight us."

One Marine in Charlie Company, Cpl. Matt Gregorio, 26, from Boston, alluded to the fact the Marines had been in Afghanistan for six weeks without carrying out any missions. He said the mood was "anxious, excited."

"We've been waiting a while to get this going," he said.

Canadians enlisted in new American-style Afghan war

Bush has come to shove in southern Afghanistan. The U.S. commander-in-chief has sent in the marines.


Iain Hunter, Special to Times Colonist
Published: Wednesday, April 30, 2008

It's reported that this has made NATO forces operating there uneasy.

It's not that the Canadians and British and the rest of them don't appreciate the extra manpower the 3,500 U.S. marines will provide, or the extra aircraft and light armoured vehicles they've brought.

But the other NATO forces have been told they have to learn to operate in what's called "the American way" alongside the marines, and they're not quite sure how this is going to make the job of winning hearts and minds any easier when the Americans have left in seven months when their "mini-surge" is over.

It's pretty clear that the NATO-U.S. operation in Afghanistan isn't going well in some areas of the country, especially in the south where Canadian and British troops operate. There are, it's reported, remote areas where the NATO troops haven't yet been where pockets of insurgents lurk. There are tracks used to move wounded fighters and opium south to the Pakistan border and arms and money move north.

The Daily Telegraph reports that British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has warned his allies that NATO is "critically short" of troops in Afghanistan and might not be able to hold whatever gains are made by November, when the marines are scheduled to pull out.

The alliance, after all, has other responsibilities besides the war in Afghanistan that it was drawn into by the Americans -- such as Kosovo where Britain is sending a reserve battalion.

And Canada has issued its own ultimatum, which is going to put even more pressure after 2011 on other countries without as strong a will to fight.

The United Nations envoy, Kai Eide, has just warned that everything won in Afghanistan since the Taliban regime was overthrown seven years ago is in danger of being lost because of the fragmented international approach to securing and rebuilding the country and the weakness of the government of President Hamid Karzai.

The president himself had to be hustled away from the scene of an attack by insurgents near his palace in Kabul on Sunday while all those Afghan soldiers ran for cover.

And in the eastern part of the country yesterday, 19 members of a poppy-eradication team under NATO guard were killed in an attack.

Gen. Dan McNeill is the U.S. army officer who commands NATO troops in Afghanistan, and it's he who says things must be done there, now, the American way.

Specifically, he wants the Canadians and other forces to deploy their soldiers for longer periods, make more effort to eradicate the cultivation of opium poppies and get more involved in reconstruction and humanitarian work.

The marines are under McNeill's direct command and seem to have the same gung-ho approach that they exhibited in Iraq, where many of them served. McNeill himself has said they're in the southern part of the country to "stir things up."

In March last year, about 100 marines, it was reported, were sent packing for responding to an ambush using "Iraq rules" that violated the less violent rules of engagement that were supposed to be in place in Afghanistan.

It looks as if the Afghan war, at least for the next seven months, is to be played by Iraq rules, which don't seem to have endeared a lot of people in that country to the American invaders.

Restoring security and rebuilding a country is a long, slow process. First, a region has to be cleared of insurgent fighters, then it has to be held to provide the security under which the third stage, rebuilding, can take place.

The marines might be in Afghanistan long enough to rout the insurgents where they are concentrated

US Marines move into Taliban-held area of Afghanistan

OUTSIDE GARMSER, Afghanistan (AP) — U.S. Marines exchanged gunfire with militants Tuesday after pouring into a Taliban-held town in southern Afghanistan in the first major American operation in the region in years.


By JASON STRAZIUSO – April 29, 2008

Several hundred Marines, many of them veterans of the conflict in Iraq, pushed into the town of Garmser in pre-dawn light in an operation to drive out the insurgents, stretching NATO's presence into an area littered with opium poppy fields and classified as Taliban territory.

U.S. commanders say Taliban fighters were expecting an assault and planted homemade bombs in response. The British have a small base on the town's edge but Garmser's main marketplace is closed because of the Taliban threat.

Marines moved into town by helicopter and Humvee for Tuesday's assault in the southern province of Helmand, the first major task undertaken by the 2,300 Marines in the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which arrived last month from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, for a seven-month deployment. Another 1,200 Marines arrived to train Afghan police.

Maj. Tom Clinton, the American commander at Forward Operating Base Dwyer, a British outpost 10 miles west of Garmser, said militants and Marines exchanged fire in two parts of Garmser on Tuesday. There was no immediate word on casualties.

"We haven't seen anybody who isn't carrying a gun," Clinton said of the mostly deserted town. "They're trying to figure out what we're doing. They're shooting at us, letting us know they're there."

Clinton, 36, of Swampscott, Mass., said Marines had also found bomb-making material and rockets in town. He said he was worried about the possibility of attacks using homemade bombs.

The Marines' mission is the first carried out by U.S. forces this far south in Helmand province in years. An operation late last year to take back the Taliban-held town of Musa Qala on the north end of Helmand involved U.S., British and Afghan forces.

Helmand province is the world's largest opium poppy growing region and has been a flash point of the increasingly violent insurgency in the last two years. British troops — who are responsible for Helmand — have faced fierce battles on the north end of Helmand.

Most U.S. troops operate in the east, along the border with Pakistan, but Britain, with 7,500 troops, and Canada, with 2,500 troops in neighboring Kandahar province, have not had enough manpower to tame the south.

More than 8,000 people died in insurgency-related violence last year. Militants set off more than 140 suicide bombs. Taliban fighters have been increasingly relying on roadside bombs and suicide attacks after being routed in force-to-force battles in the past.

The Marines had prepared on Monday by cleaning weapons and handing out grenades. The leader of one of the three companies involved — Charlie Company commander Capt. John Moder — said his men were ready.

"The feeling in general is optimistic, excited," said Moder, 34, of North Kingstown, Rhode Island. "They've been training for this deployment the last nine months. We've got veteran leaders."

Many of the men in the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit served in 2006 and 2007 in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province in western Iraq. The vast region was once the stronghold of al-Qaida in Iraq before the militants were pushed out in early 2007.

Moder said that experience would affect how his men fight in Afghanistan. "These guys saw a lot of progress in Ramadi, so they understand it's not just kinetic (fighting) but it's reconstruction and economic development."

But on the initial assault, Moder said his men were prepared to face mines and homemade bombs and "anybody that wants to fight us."

One Marine in Charlie Company, Cpl. Matt Gregorio, 26, from Boston, alluded to the fact the Marines had been in Afghanistan for six weeks without carrying out any missions. He said the mood was "anxious, excited."

"We've been waiting a while to get this going," he said.

Marines seize insurgent command center in southern Afghanistan

In first operations, U.S. forces also aim to intersect weapons and drug routes

GARMSIR, Afghanistan - U.S. Marines assaulted into this Taliban stronghold early today in a series of pre-dawn strikes, seizing a major insurgent command center and killing a number of insurgents.


By David Wood | Sun reporter
10:15 AM EDT, April 29, 2008

There were no reports of Marine casualties.

Backed by artillery, helicopter gunships and strike fighters, Marines also speared south of Garmsir to intersect major weapons and drug smuggling routes that head north from the Pakistan border about 75 miles away.

The operations were the first by the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which has fielded in southern Afghanistan some 2,200 Marines, along with light armor and an air squadron.

The 24th MEU was diverted in January from a planned deployment to Iraq, indicating the rising level of concern in Washington that the Taliban were making significant inroads against the internationally backed government of President Hamid Karzai.

South of Garmsir, Marines were battling intense heat as they pushed on foot through lush fields of pink and white poppies marked off by raised dikes and irrigation ditches.

In one short engagement this morning, the Marines took rocket-propelled grenade and small arms fire, and a Marine scout helicopter killed two insurgents with rockets and .50-cal machine gun fire.

The battle for the Taliban command center raged all day today, said Lt. Anthony Henderson, who commands the 1st Battlion 6th Marine Regiment, the core infantry unit of the 24th MEU.

Henderson said the Marines gradually pushed the Taliban back into a corner of the facility and then called in air strikes by Cobra attack helicopters with Hellfire missiles.

There was no immediate estimate of enemy dead.

[email protected]

US Marines to ‘stir things up’ in Helmand

The first US Marines of a new expeditionary force were deployed in Afghanistan’s troubled Helmand province yesterday, promising new and more aggressive tactics in an implicit criticism of the British operation there.


April 29, 2008
Richard Beeston, Foreign Editor, in Kandahar

General Dan McNeill, the commander of Nato forces in Afghanistan, said that the Marine expeditionary force of about 3,500 troops would “stir things up” in remote southern districts of Helmand, where few if any Nato troops have operated in the past seven years.

“We want to establish and maintain a force here and take the pressure off the forces in the north,” he said.

As well as getting added firepower, the British will also come under pressure to adopt American counter-insurgency tactics as the US tries to lead a “mini-surge” to fill the gaps in the Nato alliance’s ranks. The deployment is being regarded as a tacit admission that, after two years in Helmand, British troops have failed to dim the insurgency or to have an impact on opium production, currently the highest in Afghanistan.

The US Marines were due originally to deploy in Iraq but the situation was regarded as calm enough for the force to be rerouted to Afghanistan.

Colonel Pete Petronzio, the Marine commander, said that his forces would be used to disrupt Taleban communication lines, where wounded fighters and opium are moved south to the Pakistani border and arms and money are moved north. The Marines are expected to deploy in northern Helmand later, where they will fight alongside British Forces but come under the direct control of General McNeill, the four-star US general in Kabul. “We want to throw some rocks in the stream and see where the water goes,” Colonel Petronzio said.

The extra US force in the south will make it easier for the Americans to press their allies to adopt common tactics, primarily those refined over the past few years by US forces, against the Taleban and other groups.

In particular, General McNeill said that he would like to see British troops double their six-month tour of duty to one year because the longer US deployments had helped to fight a war where knowledge of the local population was a key to winning their support and distancing them from militants.

For the same reason, he also would like Britain and other Nato allies to rotate the same units to Afghanistan, as US forces were doing.

British officials are broadly in favour of extending the tour of duty, although such a move would probably be resisted back home, where the Army is already overstretched and struggling to meet its overseas commitments. As for rotation, Britain has already been sending the same units back to Afghanistan, particularly from the Parachute Regiment and the Royal Marines.

There are even more serious differences over how to contain Afghanistan’s growing poppy production. Last year the Americans pushed for eradication in Nangarhar province, where the local governor arrested growers and destroyed crops. Flying over the area this weekend it was clear that farmers had switched to wheat this season. By contrast, the fertile Helmand valley is carpeted with poppies and can expect another bumper crop. Teams of labourers were in the fields lancing and scraping the bulbs to extract the opium.

In addition, the Americans want the British to copy the success of their military-led aid efforts in eastern Afghanistan, where a $280 million (£140 million) reconstruction project is credited with winning over the local population. Colonel Mark Johnstone, deputy commander of US forces in eastern Afghanistan, said that the Commander’s Emergency Response Programme, which has built roads, schools and clinics, was the most powerful weapon in his armoury. “It is our nuclear weapon. It is awesome — it really works,” he said. “I pity other Nato countries that have not used it for the past six years.”

Strength in numbers:

5,500: The number of British troops stationed in Helmand province

2: The number of years since British forces first arrived in Helmand

700: The number of British soldiers forming the battle group stationed in Musa Qala, the former Taleban stronghold captured by British forces last year

32,500: The total number of US troops across Afghanistan

Source: Times archive

April 28, 2008

Marines launch massive assault in Afghanistan

Hundreds of U.S. forces backed by airpower enter Taliban-controlled South

OUTSIDE GARMSER, Afghanistan - U.S. Marines in helicopters and Humvees flooded into a Taliban-held town in southern Afghanistan's most violent province early Tuesday in the first major American operation in the region in years.


April 28, 2008
Associated Press

Several hundred Marines pushed into the town of Garmser in predawn light, stretching NATO's presence into an area littered with poppy fields and classified as Taliban territory.

U.S. commanders say Taliban fighters have been expecting an assault and have been setting up improvised explosive devices in response. It wasn't known how much resistance the Marines would face in Garmser, where the British have a small base on the town's edge but whose main marketplace is closed because of the Taliban threat.

The assault in Helmand province — backed by U.S. artillery in the desert and fighter aircraft in the sky — is the first major task undertaken by the 2,300 Marines in the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which arrived last month from Camp Lejuene, North Carolina for a seven-month deployment. Another 1,200 Marines arrived to train Afghan police.

Maj. Tom Clinton, the American commander at Forward Operating Base Dwyer, a British outpost 10 miles west of Garmser, said the Taliban had undoubtedly seen the Marines moving into the area in recent days.

But he said the fact that the Marines were assaulting the town by helicopter and were moving through by foot was likely a surprise.

"There's all kinds of reports of (Taliban) commanders telling their guys to grab their stuff and get out there" to fight, said Clinton, 36, of Swampscott, Massachusetts. "It's no secret they know we're here. It's just a question of when and where" an assault would happen.

Center of opium trade
The Marines' mission is the first carried out by U.S. forces this far south in Helmand province in years. An operation late last year to take back the Taliban-held town of Musa Qala on the north end of Helmand involved U.S., British and Afghan forces.

Helmand province is the world's largest opium poppy growing region and has been a flashpoint of the increasingly violent insurgency the last two years. British troops — who are responsible for Helmand — have faced fierce battles on the north end of Helmand.

Most U.S. troops operate in the east, along the border with Pakistan, but Britain — with 7,500 troops — and Canada — with 2,500 troops in neighboring Kandahar province — have not had enough manpower to tame the south.

More than 8,000 people died in insurgency related violence last year. Militants set off more than 140 suicide bombs. Taliban fighters have been increasingly relying on roadside bombs and suicide attacks after being routed in force-on-force battles in the past.

"I think if it was me I'd be laying a ton of IEDs down and leaving some guys behind to shoot and run. I don't expect a lot of leaders to stay around," Clinton said of the number of fighters the Marines might face.

Preparing for battle
Marines had prepared on Monday by cleaning weapons and handing out grenades. The leader of one of three companies involved — Charlie Company commander Capt. John Moder — said his men were ready.

"The feeling in general is optimistic, excited," said Moder, 34, of North Kingstown, Rhode Island. "They've been training for this deployment the last nine months. We've got veteran leaders."

Many of the men in the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit served in 2006 and 2007 in Ramadi, the capital of the Anbar province in western Iraq. The vast region was once al-Qaida in Iraq's stronghold before the militants were pushed out in early 2007.

Moder said that experience would inform how his men fight in Afghanistan. "These guys saw a lot of progress in Ramadi, so they understand it's not just kinetic (war fighting) but it's reconstruction and economic development."

But on the initial assault, Moder said his men were prepared to face mines and improvised explosive devices and "anybody that wants to fight us."

One Marine in Charlie Company, Corp. Matt Gregorio, a 26-year-old from Boston, alluded to the fact the Marines have been in Afghanistan for six weeks without carrying out any missions. He said the mood was "anxious, excited."

"We've been waiting a while to get this going," he said.

Face of Defense: Air Force Photographer Becomes Marine Infantryman

KOREAN VILLAGE, Iraq, April 28, 2008 – A hard-fought transition brought one Marine from shooting photos to shooting rifles.


By Marine Corps Cpl. Ryan Tomlinson
Special to American Forces Press Service

Cpl. Andrew M. Oquendo, a scout with Company D, 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 5, went from photographer with the U.S. Air Force to infantryman in the U.S. Marine Corps.

The 22-year-old infantryman from Paterson, N.J., joined the Air Force after struggling to make payments on his tuition at Delaware State University. He said he was determined to experience what it takes to be successful, so after talking with a high school friend and a recruiter, he reported to basic training at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, in February 2005.

“The Air Force was the only branch I could think of that I wanted to join,” Oquendo said. “I didn’t see any other options, so I signed the dotted line to start my future.”

Upon graduation, he was provided the sense of pride by becoming a member of the U.S. military.

“I felt like most Marines feel when they graduate boot camp and earn the eagle, globe and anchor,” he said. “I felt like I was on top of the world.”

The new airman checked into the Defense Information School at Fort Meade, Md., for training as a photographer. In July 2006, while stationed at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., Oquendo deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“While in Qatar temporarily, Oquendo was assigned to photograph a visit by Maj. Gen. Anthony Przybyslawski, then commander of the Air Force Personnel Center. “He liked the photos so much he asked if I could accompany him through the rest of his tour,” Oquendo recalled.

During the tour, Oquendo said, he saw Marine infantrymen conducting operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and had a feeling that something was missing in his life. He felt he wasn’t contributing enough to the global war on terrorism.

“I knew what I really wanted to do, so I had to do whatever it took to achieve it,” he said.

After building the courage, he talked to Przybyslawski about his ambitions and got the help he needed to make the transition from the Air Force to the Marine Corps.

“I went to the administrative center to apply for separation forms, and the lady at the front desk thought I was crazy for filling it out after how long I’d been in,” Oquendo said. “Little did she know how committed I was to becoming a Marine.”

Within two weeks, his separation request was approved and he left the Air Force on Nov. 1, 2006. Three weeks later, he stepped on the “Yellow Footprints” at Parris Island, S.C., with the ambition of becoming an infantry Marine.

“Since I had been in the military for two years, it was kind of like cheating, because a lot of times were easier for me than the other recruits,” Oquendo said.

He’s now deployed to Iraq for his second combat tour, this time with the Marine infantry, and he is as happy as ever.

“I wanted to be an infantryman, because it’s the backbone of the Marine Corps,” he said. “It’s the stuff you read about in the history book making a difference in the world.”

“When it comes to motivation, Oquendo bring it to a different level,” said Marine Corps Sgt. James D. Leach, a scout squad leader with Company D, 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion. “It’s good having him around.”

(Marine Corps Cpl. Ryan Tomlinson serves with Regimental Combat Team 5.)

Docs keep Marines in fight

HIT, Iraq —
HIT, Iraq — Corpsmen know they are responsible for keeping Marines in the fight. The corpsmen in 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 5, relish the idea of being depended on.


4/28/2008 By Cpl Erik Villagran, Regimental Combat Team 5

The battalion corpsmen are spread throughout the area of operations in Hit and Haditha, Iraq. Having such a large area to cover has increased the responsibility of each corpsmen and added pressure to provide the same level of service to the Marines with a decreased staff.

“It’s a big billet to fill,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Christopher J. Cook, 23, from Oakland, Calif., a corpsman with 3rd Bn., 4th Marines “It’s a lot to ask of from a small group of people, but the training we got prepared us.”

The battalion aid station handles on average 12 patients a day. This high level of service requires everyone to do more than their part.

“The experienced corpsmen really take the young guys under their wing,” said Navy Lt. j.g. David M. Viayra, 36, physician assistant, 3rd Bn., 4th Marines, from Norwalk, Calif.

The junior sailors have really benefited from the experience of the senior, more knowledgeable corpsmen.

“We have two objectives,” Viayra said. “One, we’re a force in readiness. We’re open (all the time) for the Marines. Our second is to support the command; however they see fit to use us as an asset.”

Corpsmen have treated civilian contractors, Iraqi Army and Police, Marines and in some situations Iraqi civilians. They have worked on everything from sprained ankles to a gunshot wound, Cook said.

“IPs and some Marines have had (staphylococcus) infections,” Viayra said. “For those, you have to cut them open, dig (the infection) out and start them on antibiotics. That seems to be the biggest problem out here right now.”

Despite having to see some nasty infections and bad symptoms, these corpsmen don’t mind. It’s all in a day’s work.

“I love what I do,” Cook said. “I changed jobs to become a corpsman.”

With the battalion’s corpsmen dedicated to their work and ready for anything Marines are reassured that they will be taken care of if anything goes wrong.

“We take care of Marines and they take care of us,” Cook said. “That way everyone’s happy and we all make it home.”

‘Devil Dog’ term taking a beating

By Andrew Tilghman - Staff writer
Posted : Monday Apr 28, 2008 22:27:46 EDT

Listen up, Devil Dogs. Oh yeah, that got your attention. Perhaps it even got your blood boiling? Or maybe you didn’t notice the big double-D.

To continue reading:


Thousands attend service for former MIA Maupin

By Howard Wilkinson and Cliff Radel - The Cincinnati Enquirer
Posted : Monday Apr 28, 2008 8:59:19 EDT

CINCINNATI — Yes, there were many tears Sunday afternoon as Staff Sgt. Matt Maupin was finally laid to rest. But they were not all tears of sorrow.

To continue reading:


April 27, 2008

Baghdad museum receives artifacts stolen from Iraq

BAGHDAD (AP) -- Iraq's National Museum on Sunday welcomed the return of more than 700 antiquities stolen during the chaos that followed the U.S.-led invasion five years ago.


Apr 27, 3:47 PM EDT

Associated Press Writer

Golden necklaces, daggers, clay statues, pots and other artifacts were displayed briefly during a ceremony attended by Syrian and Iraqi officials. Syrian authorities seized the items from traffickers over the years and handed custody last week to an Iraqi delegation in Damascus.

Mohammad Abbas al-Oreibi, Iraq's acting state minister of tourism and archaeology who led the negotiations with Syria, said he plans to visit Jordan soon to persuade its authorities to turn over more than 150 items.

"This was a positive initiative taken by Syria, and we wish the same initiative to be taken by all neighboring countries," he said. "The treasures contain very important and valuable pieces."

Looting broke out in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities following Saddam's ouster in April 2003. The museums were ransacked and thousands of items taken, dealing a harsh blow to collections that chronicled some 7,000 years of civilization in Mesopotamia including the ancient Babylonians, Sumerians and Assyrians.

Iraqi and world culture officials have struggled to retrieve the treasures with little success. Between 3,000 to 7,000 pieces are still believed missing, including about 40 to 50 that are considered to be of great historic importance, Laurent Levi-Strauss of the U.N. cultural body UNESCO said last month.

Artifacts have been recovered before, but Hassan said Syria was the first country to return such a large quantity of stolen antiquities, and officials hoped others would follow its lead.

Syria has said it arrested some of the antiquities traffickers but did not provide more details.

The items recovered by Syria were packed in 17 boxes and flown back to Baghdad on Saturday, according to Dr. Muna Hassan, the head of a committee working to restore the artifacts. Hassan declined to put an exact value on the trove, saying only that the items were collectively worth millions of dollars.

Dr. Emina Idan, the head of state board of antiquities and heritage, said 701 pieces were returned. The head of the Syrian Antiquities Department, Bassam Jamous, said some of the objects were from the Bronze Age and early Islamic era.

Hassan said negotiations were under way with several other countries, including the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Germany and Italy for the return of more looted antiquities.

For Iraqis, the museum is an important reminder of their cultural heritage. However, the facility remains closed to the public due to the violence, lack of security, and the poor condition of the building.

The U.S. military was intensely criticized for not protecting the National Museum's treasure of ancient relics and art in the weeks after Baghdad's capture, when looters roamed the city looking for anything of value.

Thieves smashed or pried open row upon row of glass cases and pilfered - or just destroyed - their contents.

The sale of stolen antiquities has allegedly helped finance Iraqi extremist groups, according to Marine Reserve Col. Matthew Bogdanos, the U.S. investigator who led the initial probe into the looting.

April 26, 2008

Marines Returning to Southern Afghanistan to Back Up NATO Coalition

HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan — U.S. Marines are crossing the sands of southern Afghanistan for the first time in years, providing a boost to a NATO coalition that is growing in size but still short on manpower.


Saturday, April 26, 2008
Associated Press

Some of the Marines that make up the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit helped to tame a thriving insurgency in western Iraq, and the newly arrived forces hope to move into regions of Afghanistan now controlled by the Taliban.

The troops are working alongside British forces in Helmand province — the world's largest opium-poppy region and site of the fiercest Taliban resistance the last two years. The director of U.S. intelligence has said the Taliban controls 10 percent of Afghanistan, much of that in Helmand.

"Our mission is to come here and essentially set the conditions, make Afghanistan a better place, provide some security, allow for the expansion of governance in those same areas," said Col. Peter Petronzio, the 24th MEU commander.

Thirteen of the 19 Marines in the platoon of 1st. Lt. Adam Lynch, 27, served in the western Iraqi city of Ramadi in 2006 and 2007, helping to reduce violence there. Lynch expects the Marines, who arrived last month on a seven-month deployment, will have an effect in Helmand as well.

"If you flood a city with Marines, it's going to quiet down," Lynch said in between sets of push-ups with other Marines on Helmand province's sandy floor. "We know for seven months we're not here to occupy, we're just here to set conditions for whoever comes in after us."

Taliban fighters have largely shunned head-on battles ever since losing hundreds of fighters in the Panjwayi region of Kandahar province in fall 2006, and it's not clear that Taliban fighters will stay to face the Marines in regions they operate.

Lynch, a mobile assault commander, said he doesn't care if the militants flee: "Just get the Taliban out of here, that's the biggest thing."

The West has been pouring troops into Afghanistan in lockstep with a rise in violence the last two years. More than 8,000 people — mostly militants — have been killed in the violence, and the country saw a record number of suicide attacks — more than 140. Western officials have warned in recent months that the international mission could fail.

The U.S. now has 32,500 troops in the country, the most since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion to oust the Taliban for hosting al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. In late 2006, Afghanistan had 40,000 international troops. Today, that number is almost 70,000.

The Marines have been moving supplies and forces through Helmand by ground convoys for the last several weeks, a draining and dangerous task. Some convoys have taken more than 20 hours to complete, and two Marines were killed by a roadside bomb April 15.

Lt. Col. Ricky Brown, the commander of the logistics battalion, gave a pep talk to a supply convoy last week, hinting at operations to come.

"You all are gonna move down there so the BLT (battalion landing team) can go in there and kick some Taliban butt," he said.

The Marines' presence in southern Afghanistan is a clear sign that neither Britain nor Canada — which operates in nearby Kandahar province — have enough troops to control the region. But commanders and troops say the nations are working well together.

British Capt. Alex West helped deliver supplies to a remote and dusty firebase in Helmand province on Sunday.

"We spent the last operations borrowing kit (gear) off you, so it's about time you borrow stuff from us," said West, 29, of Colchester, England. "All of us have been in operations where the Americans have helped us, so we're happy to help."

The Marines are known as the theater task force, meaning they fall under the direct control of U.S. Gen. Dan McNeill, the commander of all NATO troops in Afghanistan. McNeill can move the Marines to whatever flash point he wants. Most other U.S. troops are stationed at permanent bases in the east.

The Marines have moved into a poppy growing region — as much of Helmand is — but their directions are to steer clear of poppy fields so they don't risk alienating local farmers who rely on the cash crop for their yearly income.

Counterinsurgency doctrine calls for forces to first clear a region of militants, hold that region and then build up government institutions and businesses. But the Marines are in the country for only seven months, meaning they don't have time to hold and build regions, and it's not clear if there enough other NATO troops to hold areas, either.

"We are the clear piece," said Clinton. "There are others who will do the holding and building. We're clearing and doing some holding."

While riding in a 47-vehicle convoy through the sands of Helmand province this past week, 1st Lt. Dan Brown said the terrain reminded him of other missions.

"If you didn't know any better, you'd think you were in Anbar right now," he said, referring to western Iraq.

IRAQ: Without hesitation

Two young Marines killed in the explosion of a suicide vehicle are being praised for saving the lives of dozens of Marines and Iraqi police by preventing the vehicle from penetrating a police compound in Ramadi.


Apr 26, 2008
Tony Perry in San Diego

Lance Cpl. Jordan C. Haerter (above) and Cpl. Jonathan T. Yale were standing guard early Tuesday morning when a blue dump truck packed with 2,000 pounds of explosives came speeding toward the compound. The two quickly went through the "escalation of force" procedures: waving their arms, shouting and shooting flares.

When the truck refused to stop, Haerter and Yale stood in its path and opened fire. The truck rolled to a stop about 30 feet from the entry point and exploded, spreading destruction about 130 feet in all directions, demolishing a mosque and injuring 20 Iraqi civilians.

Haerter, 19, of Sag Harbor, N.Y., was killed instantly. Yale, 21, of Burkeville, Va., died moments later. Both were from the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force, based at Camp Lejeune, N.C.

An official after-action report says the two acted without hesitation or concern for their own lives and saved the lives of 33 Marines and 21 Iraqi police inside the compound:

"Recognizing the danger to their fellow Marines and partnered Iraqi police, Cpl. Yale and Lance Cpl. Haerter fearlessly gave their lives in their defense."

Marines to help train Afghanistan police force: Officers will fight Taliban, drug trade

Apr. 26--KANDAHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan -- Diverted at the last minute from its planned deployment to Iraq, a battalion of Marines has arrived here to take up a critical mission: training Afghan police to hold the line against Taliban insurgents.


David Wood, The Baltimore Sun
April 26, 2008

Marine Lt. Col. Rick Hall, commander of the 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, is upbeat about the prospect of readying a professional police force, despite significant challenges that have so far defeated a six-year, $5.5 billion U.S. police recruiting and training program.

"Afghans have a natural warrior mentality and will have a common bond" with Marines, Hall said in an interview. He says he believes the Afghan police recruits will quickly absorb the Marines' standards.

"Just by our presence, they [police trainees] are going to be improved."

A strong national police force is considered key to any counter-insurgency and especially so in Afghanistan, where the government presence in much of the country is thin or nonexistent. It would also allow for the gradual draw-down of U.S. forces here. At present, there are about 30,000 American troops here and some 28,000 coalition forces.

Yet the Afghan national police force is woefully undermanned, under-paid and poorly equipped, according to U.S. officials. With millions of dollars worth of opium passing through southern Afghanistan, corruption in the police force is entrenched, they said.

In some regions, police are paid $70 a month, when the cost of living for a small family is $130 a month, according to Army Lt. Col Brian Mennes, who recently completed a 15-month tour here as a battalion commander. The income gap means either Afghans are reluctant to join the police or they do join and are forced into petty corruption to make ends meet, he said.

Here in southern Afghanistan, the few police stationed at remote outposts have become easy targets for the Taliban. Absenteeism, understandably, is high.

At one village outside Kandahar, where the Taliban have a strong presence, the police consisted of a single man with a rifle. No uniform, no radio, no backup.

U.S. officials have acknowledged that efforts to improve the police were set back after 2003 as trainers and resources were diverted to Iraq. That, in turn, has delayed the time when U.S. forces in Afghanistan can be drawn down.

The diversion of the Marine battalion to Afghanistan suggests that even with the fragile security in Iraq, the Bush administration sees the accelerated training of police in Afghanistan as critical.

Senior U.S. officers disagree on how long it will take to recruit, train and equip a solid professional police force in Afghanistan. But they agree it will take years.

In an interview last week, Gen. Dan K. McNeill, the top coalition commander, said current force levels might be reduced after 2011 as the Afghan army and police are able to take over.

But U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Robert Cone, who directs training of the Afghan army and police, told reporters at a Pentagon briefing last week that it will take until 2013 to complete the police training program, at the current rate. He said this will require "a fundamental change in culture" within Afghanistan's police force.

McNeill also said the most successful U.S. forces spend 15 months here, because it takes that long to exploit relationships and trust that is built slowly with local Afghans. But Hall's battalion is assigned to Afghanistan for only seven months.

Nevertheless, based on his experiences in Iraq, Hall outlined ambitious plans for the Marines to provide security, police training and development projects as simple as road paving.

He said most police training teams sent here by other countries have been too small to provide security as well as training and thus have not been effective. He intends to deploy units of about 60 Marines to each training location to provide a security screen for trainees.

"In some areas, Afghans are afraid to join the police because their families will be threatened," said Hall. He believes the Marines' presence will solve that problem. "They won't be afraid when we get there," he said.

Hall is a former enlisted Marine who said he reads the Quran "so I can truly understand these people."

While serving in the Iraqi city of Najaf, he said, he spent a lot of time walking the streets talking to ordinary Iraqis, learning lessons he intends to apply in Afghanistan.

"The average individual out there doesn't have a real good understanding of what government is and can do," he said.

By producing an effective and responsible police force and helping local government with development projects such as road paving, "we will show them what the rule of law is and what the government can do," he said.

The Marines have three law enforcement specialists with them to provide specialized training, and they will be joined by law enforcement consultants from DynCorps, a defense services contractor.

"I am very confident in the training and security piece," Hall said. "The one thing I can't predict is how they will react when we depart," he said, referring to the Afghan police. "They may not know how good they are."

April 25, 2008

31st MEU Battalion Landing Team Infantrymen teach urbanized combat course on Okinawa

CENTRAL TRAINING AREA, OKINAWA, Japan — Combat veterans with Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, conducted military operations on urbanized terrain training in Combat Town April 15 to share lessons learned in Iraq and Afghanistan with the unit’s junior Marines.


4/25/2008 By Lance Cpl. Tyler J. Hlavac, Marine Corps Base Camp Butler

More than 30 Marines from E Company and the Combat Engineer Platoon honed their combat tactics as they raided buildings and hunted for mock insurgents during the day-long training.

Throughout the course, the Marines responded to volatile situations such as ambushes and sniper fire while conducting security patrols, clearing buildings, handling detainees and dealing with local villagers.

All the scenarios were meant to reflect what the Marines could face if deployed to a combat zone. The scenarios were particularly valuable for the engineers, who do not always get as much combat t raining as their infantry counterparts, according to Cpl. Marcos Contreras, a squad leader from E Co.

“While in Iraq, I personally saw Marines from various non-infantry (military occupation specialties) conducting MOUT operations,” he said. “Even if grunts are the ones doing the main assault on a building, they still need Marines such as combat engineers providing security and additional forces if they get into trouble.”

The Marines utilized a special effect small arms marking system during the training. The system allows Marines to fire paint rounds from modified M-16A2 service rifles.

Being able to shoot and get shot by simulated rounds adds a sense of realism to the training that better prepares the Marines for a real firefight, said Contreras.

Lance Cpl. Kalan Klena, a combat engineer, said he and the other combat engineers initially had difficulty coordinating with each other, providing good all around security and assaulting well-protected enemy positions, but as they started communicating better, they quickly improved their techniques and were working well with each other by the end of the day.

“The whole experience was very enlightening for me,” Klena said. “I would like to conduct a lot more of this training in the future.”

April 24, 2008

2/3 engineers educate Iraqi Army in checkpoint security

DRA DIGILA, Iraq (April 24, 2008) – Marines with 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 1, conducted a joint project with the Iraqi Army, April 23 and 24 in a village on the outskirts of Fallujah, Iraq.


Story by Cpl. Chadwick deBree

The Marines with Engineer Platoon, Headquarters and Service Company, 2nd Bn., 3rd Marines, worked hand-in-hand with Iraqi soldiers to educate them in the construction of traffic checkpoints (TCPs).

The first day, the Marines held classes to teach the Iraqis how setup barriers and wire obstacles for a TCP.

“The first day we were able to teach them what needed to be done, and it was easy to communicate with them because we had an interpreter with us to translate,” said Lance Cpl. Christopher T. Panko, fire team leader, Engineer Platoon, H&S; Co., 2nd Bn., 3rd Marines. “The second day they (the interpreters) weren’t always around, but we were able to use hand and arm signals to communicate with the Iraqis. It wasn’t too difficult to work with the Iraqis. They caught on quickly and were motivated to get the work done.”

Working with the Iraqis was easy for the engineers because of their eagerness to learn from the Marines.

“They’re intelligent people and picked up everything we taught them real quickly,” said Cpl. Neil Bosco, squad leader, Engineer Platoon, H&S; Co., 2nd Bn., 3rd Marines. “They’ve seen all the stuff around because it is everywhere here, but they didn’t know how to properly set it up. We were able to teach them everything in the classes and they just caught on. The only part that was a little bit difficult was the wire configuration because we barely touched it in the classes, and we didn’t have the (interpreter) to help translate. But we were able to overcome that because they really wanted to learn from us, so we used hand signals and they seemed to know what we were talking about.”

The Iraqis weren’t the only ones appreciative of the Marines’ teaching, the rest of the command was also proud of the work they had accomplished.

“We had a (military training team) major tell us that we did very well and that we exceeded their expectations,” said Staff Sgt. James L. Peebles, platoon sergeant, Engineer Platoon, H&S; Co., 2nd Bn., 3rd Marines. “I was proud of them. They had to be very patient when they gave the classes because they would have to give the instruction and wait to have the (interpreter) translate it. Plus it was very hot those days and heat is a factor in protection because things are magnified by ten. From carrying supplies back and forth to just picking up a hammer, everything is a lot more strenuous in this kind of weather, but they still worked day in, day out; they were still motivated to pass on their knowledge to the Iraqis and the Iraqis were proactive in learning.”

Teaching the Iraqis how to construct things on their own is just one building block in making them self sufficient, and the Marines hope that they use their new found knowledge for good.

“What we taught them was not just so they can set up TCPs, but also to fortify their bases or (forward operating bases),” Bosco said. “Hopefully though, they also use what we taught them to start humanitarian projects, like fixing up the buildings in the area, to help their own people out and to help bring their country back to some sort of normalcy.”

MNF-I Commander visits Island Warriors, tours battlefield

KARMA, Iraq – Gen. David H. Petraeus, commanding general, Multi-National Forces-Iraq, visited Marines and Iraqi Police at the police headquarters here, April, 23, to survey progress in the area.


Story by Cpl. Chadwick deBree
April 24, 2008

Petraeus met with Marines of 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 1, that conduct operations out of the IP station and presented them each with a coin.

The MNF-I commander also spoke with the local Iraqi Police to tell them the fine job that they have been doing in taking control of their area, ridding it of al-Qaeda in Iraq and bringing peace back to the region.

After speaking with the Marines and Iraqi Security Forces, Petraeus met with Mayor Kamal Abd Al Salam Abd Al Wahid, Sheikh Mishan Abbas Al-Jumayli, the preeminent sheikh of the area, Gen. Sa’Dun Talib Al Jumayli, and Lt. Col. Dhalaf Rashed Muhammad to discuss the issues confronting the tribal and city leadership in economically developing the greater Karma area.

Petraeus then walked through the streets to catch a glimpse of the local population conducting daily business as usual. The walk through of the local marketplace allowed Petraeus to observe how well the Marines, ISF and civilian government officials work hand-in-hand, bringing stability back to the area.

Petraeus assumed command of MNF-I in February 2007, and was recently nominated to become the next commander, U.S. Central Command.

Sisters of Fallujah break barriers, build security

FALLUJAH, Iraq – Entry control points (ECP) throughout Fallujah are designed to protect the city from harm and prevent people from transporting illegal contraband such as weapons and explosive materials. Coalition forces discovered the enemy exploiting the cultural sensitivity precluding the search of females by having females carry contraband into the city.


Story by Cpl. Chris Lyttle

Coalition forces then employed female search teams from units such as Combat Logistics Battalion-1 to alleviate the threat of women being used to sneak contraband such as electrical devices, wires, and other bomb making material. This still posed a problem as the female Marines could only be pulled away from their primary duties for short periods.

To rebalance the shift in Coalition manpower and further transition the role of security from Coalition forces to Iraqi Police, last year 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment began the Sisters of Fallujah, a program designed to train local Iraqi women in security operations to search other Iraqi women entering the city through ECPs. The trained Iraqi women were employed throughout the city and have proven themselves to be an effective security element in the prevention of dangerous items entering the city.

3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment returned to Iraq this year as part of Regimental Combat Team-1 and continued the program with the help of female Marines from CLB-1 and instructors from the International Police Advisors (IPA) as they recently graduated several new recruits to work at ECPs throughout the city.

“Their main goal is to check the females, check bags and search the children as well,” said Anna Bailey, an IPA who is leading the sisters’ program for her first time. “In (Iraqi culture), the men are not allowed to touch the women (in routine searches). There’s a safety issue there that needs to be addressed, and that’s when the community chose to step up”

Fallujah follows cities such as Baghdad and Ramadi in the societal changes allowing women to serve a law enforcement role. Although the Sisters of Fallujah solely perform their duties at ECPs, the training to become a member covers an array of relevant topics. The women participated in lectures on police ethics, human rights, torture, women’s issues, working in a terrorist environment, small-arms training and first aid.

Bailey said the IPA’s and Marines do not intend to make the women IPs, but to give them the training for their current duties and prepare them if the city were to one day promote women with more responsibilities.

The new sisters came from areas in and away from the city to take part in this program and they are doing their part to restore the security of Iraq.

29-year-old ‘Ruby,’ a newly graduated Sister of Fallujah, said she moved from Baghdad to work here after her mother, who is a fellow sister, told her about this job opportunity.

“She said she was willing to work with Coalition forces after she realized they were not the enemy,” Ruby said through an interpreter. “Her feelings before are opposite from now. She said she feels closer (to Marines), she is very serious about her job and she feels stronger.”

The Marines and IPAs reinforced their new sense of empowerment when the sisters fired AK-47 rifles and pistols on the firing range during training day three. It was weapons training that they may not use at ECPs at the moment, but it instilled a higher level of confidence within the women.

Most of the sisters admitted they had never handled a weapon before. That was evident when they stepped up to the firing line at 25 yards. With hands trembling, and reluctant to be the first to pull the trigger on the line, the sisters each paired up with CLB-1 Marines to ensure the weapons were handled properly and the rounds were landing on the targets, or at least safely in the right direction. Nearing the end of the shoot, the nervousness disappeared along with the rounds as the Marines and Iraqi women opened up and became more at ease with each other.

“I’m scared the first time, but after I feel better,” Ruby said.” “I feel better about everything, the searches and the shooting, everything. I feel different. I’m happy about this job because I feel like I’m important with the people when I search them. I feel important to my family now because I have this job. This is good for me.”

After the shooting, the Iraqi women were tasked with performing on-the-job training at the ECPs. This gave the women the opportunity to see what their duties will entail, to include personal searches, item searches and effective questioning.

Sgt. Natalie Cespuglio, an on-the-job trainer from CLB-1, has worked with the sisters in-classroom and at ECPs for three months and explained why the success of the sisters’ program is not only important for the security of Iraq, but for the women who are standing up in a security role here for the first time.

“We can’t give up on them because if we give up on them, they’ll give up on themselves,” Cespuglio said. “They really do look up to us. They want to know everything about us. They want to know how we live and what we do. They tell us their situations or problems they have at home with their spouse or their kids and ask us for advice. We try to point them in the right direction and tell them the different options that they have and we compare. They say yeah we can do this, we can’t do that. Even though they’re older than us, we’re like their older sisters.”

Cespuglio said the sisters expressed a positive attitude in that they are doing their jobs for a greater cause.

“They’re very happy. They feel like they’re serving their country- they’re very patriotic,” Cespuglio said. “They feel like they’re making a difference because they want to catch the ‘bad people’ too.”

At the end of the training, the new Sisters of Fallujah were honored through a graduation ceremony and given certificates for their training. Lt. Col. James Zientek, the battalion commander of 3rd Bn. 6th Marines, addressed the sisters and thanked them for their willingness to take part in the program.

“I would like to express my heartfelt thanks for your participation in this program and for doing your part to ensure a safe and secure Fallujah,” Zientek said to the new Sisters of Fallujah. “I speak for my Marines and I know (Faisal Isma’il Husayn a L-Zobai, Fallujah chief of police) Colonel Faisal’s police all look forward to working with you for the greater security (of Fallujah).”

Bailey described the overall challenge of teaching through cultural barriers and how, after her first class, the benefit for Iraqi women comes through employing them beyond their conventional occupations.

“The training through an (interpreter) is kind of difficult, but once the concepts were understood it was good,” Bailey said. “Also to see the females open up with the hands-on training, it was good for them get involved and know that they can do the job. This is the beginning, so this is all history in the making. Hopefully over time, the men of the area will catch on and realize that these women are needed for their safety and for the families of this community and hopefully they’ll realize that they can do other jobs as well.”

'All-access Pass’: Fallujah bridge demilitarized

FALLUJAH, Iraq (April 24, 2008) – Coalition and Iraqi Security forces are diligently working together to aid Iraq in its pursuit of becoming an independent state. Progress is being made daily with keeping al Qaeda in Iraq at bay and transferring security responsibilities to the Iraqi people, allowing Coalition forces to focus more on demilitarizing positions and transitioning out of Iraq.


Story by Cpl. Sean McGinty

An example of such progress is the demilitarization of Fallujah’s New Bridge by the Marines of 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment April 24. Formerly used for military traffic only, the bridge has now opened it’s roadways to the rest of city’s populace.

“We’re opening the bridge and the roads up to give the people of Fallujah a sense of normalcy back,” said Staff Sgt. Thomas A. Pieratti, platoon commander, 3rd Bn., 6th Marine’s Jump platoon.

Opening the bridge has also freed up one of two roads that lead up to it from concrete barriers that frequently congest traffic. The removal of these barriers have become a major improvement for local commuters traveling in and out of the city.

“Within the next month or so we are going to open both roads to allow people to enter and exit the city through the COP,” said Pieratti. At this point, they could only exit the city.

Col. Faisal Ismail al-Zobaie, Fallujah’s chief of police, joined the Marines at the bridge opening, which occurred at 10:30 a.m. with civilian traffic flowing shortly afterwards.

“We’re getting these people back on track to return to their normal lives,” said Sgt. Maj. Rodney A. Robinson, 3rd Bn. 6th Marines’ sergeant major.

With Fallujah police manning a guard-shack on the bridge, Col. Faisal showed Lt. Col. James A. Zientek, 3rd Bn. 6th Marines’ commanding officer, where other policemen would stand post and how they will take the lead in security.

The transition of operations from Coalition forces into the hands of the Iraqi Security Forces is an important step in restoring security to the country. Simple feats such as opening up bridges and roads to the local citizens is a positive sign of a country progressing towards normacly.

“When we give more of the country back to the people, it gives them a sense of pride in that country,” Pieratti said. “That pride will make them more likely to fight for their country.”

That pride is evident through the people of the once war-torn city of Fallujah. With its flowing Iraqi flags at every turn, and Iraqi soldiers and policemen in uniform congregating in the city streets amongst the people, the city is showing its hopes for a brighter future.

Sag Harbor Marine killed in Iraq

On Monday, JoAnn Lyles received a letter from her only child, who wrote her about what he wanted to do with the rest of his life.


BY SOPHIA CHANG | [email protected]
9:59 AM EDT, April 24, 2008

The next day, three Marines delivered the awful news: Her son, Lance Cpl. Jordan Haerter, had been killed by a suicide bomber who attacked his squad in Iraq, according to the military.

"It's just numbing. Today feels worse than the first day," Lyles said through tears at her Sag Harbor home Thursday.

Haerter, 19, was killed in the Ramadi province of Iraq Tuesday about 1:10 a.m. Eastern Standard Time, said 1st Sgt. Amber Kash, a casualty assistance officer. She could not specify the circumstances of Haerter's death, citing security policies.

The Multi-National Corps said two Marines serving with the West Force were killed in Ramadi on Tuesday when a "suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive device detonated at an entry control point," according to a news release.

The attack also wounded three other Marines, two Iraqi police officers and 24 civilians, who were treated at local medical facilities, the release said.

Haerter was part of the 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, and he trained Iraqi policemen in Ramadi, his family said.

Kash said Haerter was deployed from Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, N.C., after enlisting in September 2006, months after he graduated from Pierson High School in Sag Harbor.

On Thursday, the flag outside the school flew at half-staff.

"He was a great, great kid," principal Jeff Nichols said. "He was really well liked. It's just very sad."

Haerter enjoyed video games and driving his truck, and he loved serving in the Marines, Lyles said.

In the letter to his mother, Haerter wrote that he wanted to be a Sag Harbor police officer and retire early enough to take over his father's water filtration business, said Lyles, 51, who is divorced from Haerter's father, Christian Haerter, also of Sag Harbor.

His father declined to comment.

Haerter's girlfriend Nicole Jonat, 18, a college student at SUNY-Oneonta, remained in disbelief Thursday.

"I still feel like they have the wrong person," she said from her Sag Harbor home, where she was spending her spring break.

Funeral arrangements are pending, and burial will be at Oakland Cemetery in Sag Harbor, Kash said.

Kenny Porpora contributed to this story.

April 23, 2008

8th Comm. Bn. deploys to Germany

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. — U.S. military forces are noted for working side-by-side with foreign forces across the globe. Eighth Communications Battalion will have the chance to experience world-wide camaraderie as they deploy to Lager Aulenbach, Germany, April 25 to May 19, in support of Exercise Combined Endeavor 2008.


4/23/2008 By Lance Cpl. Meg Varvil , II MEF

Combined Endeavor is the world’s largest communications exercise. Forty-three nations will bring more than 1,250 participants to Germany to test and document the countries’ communications equipment capabilities and interoperability.

Approximately 25 Marines with Satellite Platoon will add to Combined Endeavor’s multi-national mix.

“We’re excited about getting to know hundreds of people from other nations,” said Staff Sgt. Dwane Johnson, a radio chief with Satellite Platoon, 8th Communications Battalion, II Marine Expeditionary Force. “I’m interested to see the differences between our communicational assets and what various other countries possess.”

The Marines prepared for Combined Endeavor by simulating the exercise aboard Camp Lejeune April 14-18.

“We had a mock set-up of what we will encounter in Germany,” said Johnson.

While deployed, the battalion will work with multiple countries, including Afghanistan. The main objective is to learn how to properly link U.S. communications systems with foreign systems. This will allow the United States, its allies and potential coalition partner nations to operate smoothly if the need arises.

“We plan to demonstrate information sharing and test interoperability,” said 2nd Lt. Michael Haken, the Combined Endeavor detachment officer-in-charge. “We’ll learn how to bring the nations into a coalition network. Then, we will collect the connectivity information from each country to use for future reference.”

The exercise also gives the Marines a chance to train in a new environment.

“Every opportunity we get to set up our gear is training,” Haken said. “This time we really get a chance to step out of the box and train in an unfamiliar place.”

Haken has no doubt the Marines will go above and beyond what is expected of them in Germany.

“The Marines are going to be outstanding,” Haken said. “We have some Marines that have been working in the communications field for a long time and some that haven’t. This gives them a chance to come together to learn and work as a team.”

The Marines in the battalion aren’t the only team joined together by Combined Endeavor. The exercise continues to unite nations, one network at a time.

Deployments can affect even the littlest patriots

About 1,000 2/2 Marines going to Iraq

As a light rain fell on a Camp Lejeune parking lot Wednesday afternoon, Lance Cpl. Jacob Ballard stood under a striped canopy, holding a 15-month-old girl in a camouflage dress with pale pink trim.


April 23, 2008 - 11:30PM

Last time Ballard deployed, Chastity was only a month old. Now, the towheaded toddler has grown into full-fledged daddy's girl.

"When he doesn't come home tonight, she's going to be standing at the door saying ‘Da Da,'" said Anne Ballard, Jacob's wife and Chastity's mother. "She's going to be upset."

Ballard was one of about 300 Marines who left Camp Lejeune on Wednesday, bound for a seven-month deployment in western Anbar province with 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment.

Leaving behind his daughter - whose name is tattooed in Old English letters on his forearm - and his wife, who is pregnant with a son, is not easy, Jacob Ballard said. But it is a little easier knowing his wife can handle anything that comes her way, he said.

"I'm ready to go, do the mission, come back and see my son for the first time," Ballard said.

Like Ballard, Sgt. Glenn McCaulley knows the difficulty of leaving family behind. This is the third deployment for the father of two.

"It gets harder, with having kids," he said.

Being away so long is difficult when they are young, he said, because they change and grow so much in seven months. And getting phone calls about a daughter who won't stop saying, "I miss Daddy," is not easy, he said.

So he looks forward to seeing her come tearing across the parking lot when he returns, he said, as well as being able to make a difference in the lives of Iraqi children.

"The deployments, to me, it's worth it, for the simple fact that I get to bring a piece of freedom that people over there haven't been able to experience - that we take for granted every single day - and bring it to their lives," McCaulley said.

The group Wednesday was the last large group of the roughly 1,000 Marines from 2/2 headed to Iraq. They'll focus mainly on counterinsurgency operations during the deployment, said Maj. Timothy Brady, the unit's operations officer.

This is the third time to Iraq for Brady, and though the combat veterans bring with them lessons learned on previous tours, each time is different, he said.

"The government is changing, the Iraqi security forces are changing and the people of Iraq are changing," he said.

Sgt. Gabriel Faiivae said he was excited for what will be his third deployment with 2/2.

"I mean, I've been through this before," he said. "I'm excited for everyone to get out, actually get out there and do something to make the world better."

Though some of the new Marines were nervous, he said, "we're ready to go."

This is the first deployment for Pfc. Ryan Panfil, who said Wednesday he was both excited and nervous.

"A little bit of both worlds," he said.

The unit returned in July from its last deployment to Iraq, and Panfil said he appreciated the experience the combat veterans bring.

"You've got your leadership; they've been over there," he said. "They know what they're teaching us."

As the men got ready to board the bus, Brady said morale was high.

"We're proud to be serving our country, proud to be a member of 2/2 and serving our nation," he said.

April 22, 2008

Marines clean helos that have flown in every clime, place

ABOARD USS TARAWA (April 22, 2008) – Marines from every section of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 166 (Reinforced), pitched in to keep their aircraft looking good during an agricultural wash down in the Arabian Gulf. The cleaning, or “De-snailing,” as aviation combat crews call it, is done to cleanse the entire aircraft of any foreign matter that has been collected over the last several months.

11th MEU story by Staff Sgt. Sergio Jimenez

The Marines from HMM-166 (Rein), Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, San Diego, are in the last stages of a seven month deployment through the Western Pacific and Arabian Gulf region. HMM-166 (Rein) is the Aviation Combat Element (ACE) of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, Camp Pendleton, Calif.

During this deployment, ACE aircraft flew in and out of the deserts of the Middle East and across tropical jungles of Guam and the Maldives. They ferried relief supplies to villagers in Bangladesh who were ravaged by the deadly Cyclone Sidr in November 2007 and they flew combat training missions into rocky terrain and humid conditions in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa.

“When the helicopters fly onto foreign land, they attract all kinds of dirt and it accumulates over the months,” said Staff Sgt. Ryan T. Parker, Airframes Division Chief, HMM-166 (Rein). “The last thing we want is to bring any kind of foreign soil or organic material from other countries into the United States.”

The night prior to a wash down, the night crews completely removed all panels and avionics components from the entire aircraft so they could get to all the nooks and crannies. “We work behind the scenes,” said Cpl. Chad Smolios, Air Frames night crew supervisor, from Valparaiso, Ind. “We move the aircraft into position so the day crew can thoroughly vacuum, washed them with water and wiped them down with rags,” said Smolios.

“It’s kind of like taking your car to the car wash and washing it inside and out,” Parker added. When the day crew is done cleaning the birds, the aircrafts are left to dry and the night crew comes back to put them back together. “With a good crew, we can take apart and assemble two aircraft in 12 hours,” said Smolios.

Four days into the wash-down, the Marines are not slowing down. They figure they have a couple more long days and nights of work ahead of them. They need to wash 12 CH-46E Sea Knights, four CH-53E Super Stallions, two UH-1N Hueys and four AH-1W Super Cobra helicopters.

To get the job done, every shop in the ACE, including support personnel and officers, help out at one point or another, said Parker. “It is one of the only maintenance procedures that is done by all hands in the squadron, not just one or two sections.”

Parker said that of the four “De-snails” he has taken part in, this has been by far the most efficient and organized. “The Marines are knocking out plane after plane very quickly and are doing a great job,” he said. “It’s been a long, tough job, and a lot of them are pretty beat down, but they’re hanging in there and getting it done.”

VA stalling on care, judge told at S.F. trial

(04-21) 17:30 PDT SAN FRANCISCO -- More than 120 veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq commit suicide every week while the government stalls in granting returning troops the mental health treatment and benefits to which they are entitled, veterans advocates told a federal judge Monday in San Francisco.


Bob Egelko, Chronicle Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The rights of hundreds of thousands of veterans are being violated by the Department of Veterans Affairs, "an agency that is in denial," and by a government health care system and appeals process for patients that is "broken down," Gordon Erspamer, lawyer for two advocacy groups, said in an opening statement at the trial of a nationwide lawsuit.

He said veterans are committing suicide at the rate of 18 a day - a number acknowledged by a VA official in a Dec. 15 e-mail - and the agency's backlog of disability claims now exceeds 650,000, an increase of 200,000 since the Iraq war started in 2003.

Justice Department lawyer Richard Lepley countered that the VA runs a "world-class health care system." He said the changes the plaintiffs seek in their lawsuit - better and faster mental health care, and more rights for veterans appealing denials of benefits - are beyond the judge's authority.

"Of course we're obliged to provide health care," Lepley said, but "the court does not have standards to determine the speed or the scope or the level of that care."

U.S. District Judge Samuel Conti is presiding over the nonjury trial, scheduled to last two weeks. Conti, a conservative jurist and World War II veteran appointed to the bench by former President Richard Nixon, ruled in January that the case could go to trial. In doing so, he rejected the government's argument that civil courts have no authority over the VA's medical decisions or how it handles grievances.

If the advocates can prove their claims, Conti said in his ruling, they would show that "thousands of veterans, if not more, are suffering grievous injuries as the result of their inability to procure desperately needed and obviously deserved health care."

He also ruled that veterans are legally entitled to five years of government-provided health care after leaving the service, despite federal officials' argument that they are required to provide only as much care as the VA's budget allows in a given year.

But at a later hearing, Conti indicated he was uncertain about his authority to require spending on particular types of health care. The lawsuit plaintiffs - Veterans for Common Sense in Washington, D.C., which claims 11,500 members, and Veterans United for Truth, a Santa Barbara group with 500 members - want him to order the VA to provide immediate treatment for suicidal veterans and prompt care for those suffering from post-traumatic stress.

The trial follows publication of a Rand study last week that estimated 300,000 U.S. troops returning from Afghanistan and Iraq, or 18.5 percent of the total, suffer from major depression or post-traumatic stress.

The lawsuit is a proposed class action on behalf of 320,000 to 800,000 veterans or their survivors. The advocacy groups say the VA arbitrarily denies care and benefits to wounded veterans, forces them to wait months for treatment and years for benefits, and gives them little recourse when it rejects their medical claims.

"The time delays are staggering," Erspamer, the plaintiffs' lawyer, told Conti on Monday. Although the VA says it decides the typical claim for benefits in six months, he said, the agency takes far longer to review post-traumatic stress claims, and four years or more for the government to hear veterans' appeals of denied treatment.

Veterans who seek benefits within the VA's grievance system have no right to a lawyer and no right to demand records or question opposing witnesses, Erspamer said. The plaintiffs want Conti to grant those rights and to require the agency to set a timetable for deciding claims.

Lepley, the government's lawyer, said the VA has undertaken a "huge staff increase" - 20 percent in mental health, 25 percent in claims processing - and now provides one mental health staff member around the clock at every VA center, as well as a suicide-prevention hot line.

For those who do not need immediate care, he said, the agency has a policy of scheduling a mental health appointment within two weeks, and has reached that goal at 80 percent of its facilities.

"These kinds of medical decisions are not something that this court can inject itself into," Lepley said. He referred to the plaintiffs as "single-interest groups" and said the legal rights they seek in the VA benefit system, such as the involvement of lawyers, are "not in the patients' interest."

E-mail Bob Egelko at [email protected]

April 21, 2008

Construction begins on USS Jason Dunham

A lot has changed for the parents of the late Cpl. Jason Dunham since he died in 2004, after saving two other Marines by throwing himself on an insurgent’s grenade in Karabilah, Iraq.


By Dan Lamothe - Staff writer
Posted : Monday Apr 21, 2008 7:57:14 EDT

They visited the White House, where President Bush presented Dunham’s parents with his Medal of Honor on Jan. 11, 2007. They witnessed the naming of the post office in their hometown of Scio, N.Y., in his honor.

And they watched as their three other children continued to grow up, with one getting married, another starting college and the third becoming a teenager.

On April 11, Dan and Debra Dunham honored their hero son again, traveling to Bath Iron Works in Bath, Maine, to help as their two sets of initials were ceremonially welded into the keel of the future Navy destroyer Jason Dunham. The ceremony took place three days short of the fourth anniversary of the blast that claimed the Marine’s life.

“Even though we lost him and it still hurts, there’s a lot of pride,” said Debra Dunham, from her home after the ceremony. “The gift that he gave his brothers was truly that, a gift.”

The ship bearing Dunham’s name, DDG 109, will be an Arleigh Burke-class, guided-missile destroyer. One of two boats awarded to Bath in a $953 million contract, it will stretch 511 feet long, with room for 380 service members.

Deb Dunham, the ship’s sponsor, said the visit to Bath was uplifting, though she wishes dearly her Marine son could have lived past 22 and attended himself.

“The Marine Corps is a very tight and warm family, but Bath Iron Works had the same feel to it,” she said. “We went away with a sense of commitment and pride and warmth from what they’re doing.”

That warmth remains strong between the Dunham family and the late corporal’s comrades in Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines. Several are in touch regularly, including the two other Marines who sustained serious injuries in the blast, Deb Dunham said.

Sgt. William Hampton, a lance corporal when Dunham died, got married and now has a baby girl. Kelly Miller, a private first class at the time, left the Corps and is in college, Deb Dunham said.

“I think it’d be fair to say we’ve adopted them into the family,” Dunham said of Kilo Company. “There’s not a guy that I couldn’t call, and they’d drop what they were doing and come and help us out.”

Several Marines recently offered her husband good-natured advice when they learned Dunham’s little sister, Katelyn, 15, had her first boyfriend, Deb Dunham said. The suggestion: Leave a gun in plain view to let him know who’s boss.

“They’re just as protective of my daughter as they would be of their sisters,” the mother said with a laugh. “They gave Dan a lot of suggestions to let her new boyfriend know that she had more brothers than he was probably aware of.”

MEU Conducts Agricultural Inspection

KUWAIT - The 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) conducted an agricultural wash-down and inspection of its vehicles and equipment in Kuwait, April 11-14.


April 21, 2008
Navy News

The inspection is required for U.S. assets that have been deployed ashore while overseas as a preventive measure against the spread of non-native organisms.

"It will take a total of four days to clean all 224 vehicles of the 11th MEU," said Capt. Gary Thompson, officer in charge of the wash-down station. "One day for offload, one day for backload and two days for washing down."

Marines use high-pressure water hoses to blast encrusted dirt and grime from every crevice of their vehicles, and after the sanitization process is complete, each vehicle receives a thorough inspection by U.S. Customs officials.

"We inspect everything. We're looking for dirt, sand, soil, seeds, grasses -- anything that can carry an organism. We will go over a vehicle three to six times before it is removed from the wash racks and put into the sterile lot for shipment home," said U.S. Customs Inspector, Operations Specialist 2nd Class Jayson Young.

The inspection process can take from one to three days, depending on the type of vehicle: an M1-AI Abrams tank can take up to four days, a fuel carrier a day, and a high-mobility multi-wheeled vehicle, two days.

"We will do several inspections on every vehicle," said Young. "Nothing ever passes the first time, and, usually, nothing passes the second time. You're talking three, four, five inspections before something passes.
Vehicles will be cleaned and inspected 24-hours a day
until this unit is finished."

Over the course of four days, Marines worked non-stop to pass the inspections and finish on time.

"Everything ashore went very well, and we finished six hours ahead of schedule," said Maj. Kevin Rosen, the 11th MEU logistics officer who was overall in charge of the wash-down operation.

The 11th MEU is embarked aboard amphibious assault ship USS Tarawa (LHA 1), which is currently deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations and conducting Maritime Security Operations.

Sailors and 15th MEU Conduct NEO

USS PELELIU, At Sea - Sailors aboard USS Peleliu (LHA 5) and the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) conducted a Non-Combatant Evacuation Operation (NEO) exercise, April 14, in preparation for an upcoming combined deployment.


April 21, 2008
Navy News

NEO provides evacuation support to American citizens and selected third-country nationals in a threatened territory with no means of escape. Marines and Sailors are often called upon to evacuate them to safety.

"It is extremely important that we train for missions like this because of the sensitive nature of moving civilians and families out of an uncertain environment," said 1st Lt. Robert Regedanz, battery executive officer of Battalion Landing Team (BLT) 2/5.
During the exercise, Combat Logistics Battalion (CLB) 15 and BLT 2/5 were sent by CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters to a potentially hostile fictional environment to provide security, medical treatment and accountability for all evacuees.

Once Marines land at the evacuation site, the perimeter around the area is secured by the BLT.

"Our goal is to provide an organized approach to what could be a very hectic situation," said Gunnery Sgt. Ryan Hendrix, attached to CLB-15.

The CLB is in charge of evacuation control and processing the evacuees through check points to confirm they are manifested, healthy and accounted for.

"We group the evacuees in a secure area," said Hendrix. "This is so we can effectively and efficiently get the evacuees checked out and transported as safely as possible."

The evacuees are then taken by helicopter, landing craft air cushion (LCAC) or landing craft utility (LCU) to safety. The Marines have the capability, at full capacity, to evacuate 80 to 100 people an hour from land to sea.

"Our job is to maintain order by making sure our security is tight and that the evacuees are where they need to be throughout the process of moving them out of the country," said Cpl. Manuel Ayala, attached to BLT 2/5. "We all have different tasks, but our mission remains the same."

When the evacuees land aboard the ship, they go through a checkpoint with security. Sailors are checking for anything that could be a threat to the ship and its personnel.

"We set up a security team around the hangar bay so that everyone coming on board can be checked and sent to the right station," said Master-at-Arms 3rd Class Michael Meyervanparis, of Peleliu's master-at-arms office. "We try to keep everything running as smoothly as possible."

From the security checkpoint, the evacuees go through an identification station where colored bracelets are given to separate American citizens, expired passport holders, and VIPs.

"This is one of the most important stations evacuees go through," said Yeomen 1st Class (SW/AW) Krystal Trotter, part of the identification station. "We find out everything from dependants to the language spoken. Medical is also a crucial stage."

The medical station gives rapid screenings of the evacuees' conditions. Any medical emergency gets expedited to the triage areas where trained medical teams can treat the situation.

"We have two purposes for the medical station," said Lt. Cmdr. Andrew Schiemel, Peleliu's senior medical officer. "To protect the crew from any possible diseases and to ensure the non-combatants are appropriately cared for."

Any personal possessions evacuees want to have secured are taken to the dispersing station. This is also where a Navy cash card is given to the evacuees so they are able to purchase any additional food or necessities from the ship store.

"If they have valuables or money, we put them in a safe place," said Personnel Specialist 1st Class (SW) Aldwin Camuro. "We also have spaces where the evacuees can put their pets."

The NEO exercise was conducted to ensure both Naval and Marine personnel are prepared for this real life threat.

"The exercise we are conducting right now could very well be a real life situation while we are on deployment," said Peleliu Command Master Chief B. W. Williams. "With everything going on right now in the world, we have to be properly trained and ready."

Sending in the Marines (to Recruit Women)

Marine Corps ads now run in magazines aimed at women

THE Marines are looking for a few good women.


Published: April 21, 2008

Actually, they will take as many as they can get. Faced with the difficulty of recruiting during a long and unpopular war, the United States Marine Corps has started marketing itself to women in a concerted way for the first time. It is running ads in magazines like Shape, Self and Fitness, which appeal mainly to female readers, as well as through more mainstream outlets like “American Idol,” where the message is a unisex one of patriotism rather than macho swagger.

The Marine Corps still runs its traditional ads — during National Basketball Association and National Hockey League games, and in magazines like Sports Illustrated and Men’s Fitness — often showing male recruits parachuting from airplanes, wielding big guns, driving heavy tanks and stampeding across the ground.

But now it is also showing a softer side. In the latest campaign, a print ad shows a female marine striking a martial arts pose in front of a crowd of men who are looking up to her as their leader. The tag line: “There are no female marines. Only marines.”

The campaign is a big departure for the Marine Corps, which started accepting women for clerical duties in 1918 but until last year advertised to them only fitfully. During World War II, the most memorable recruitment ads aimed at women came from the Army and the Navy.

In 1973, when the military dropped the draft in favor of a volunteer force, the Marines introduced its “few good men” slogan and ran at least one spot for women, reaching out to high school graduates and “college gals” with a brochure that had a picture of a flower on it.

In the 1990s, when the Marines Corps was having trouble reaching recruitment goals, it ran a scattering of ads in magazines like Seventeen and Sports Illustrated for Women, using tag lines like “You can look at models, or you can be one” and “Get a makeover that’s more than skin deep.” That outreach “wasn’t as sophisticated as it is now,” said Jay Cronin, management director of JWT, a unit of the WPP Group, which has been the Marine Corps’ advertising agency for more than 60 years.

Mr. Cronin said the current effort was much different because everyone involved took the time to “understand the psychographics,” that is, figuring out which women might actually want to join the military, and why. That is why the campaign aims at athletic women, not just all women graduating from high school, and the messages conveyed are much more egalitarian.

Although most combat jobs are off-limits to them, women make up 6.2 percent of the Marine Corps and go through the same basic training as men.

“We had never done much female outreach,” said Lt. Col. Mike Zeliff, assistant chief of staff for marketing and advertising for the Marines Corps in Quantico, Va. “but there was an opportunity for us to go after the athletic, young woman who would be well suited to graduate from boot camp. We asked ourselves, ‘What can we do to get the message out to these young women?’ ”

Women are not the only ones being courted specifically. The Marines Corps is reaching out to Latinos with ads in La Raza newspaper that emphasize family and honor (“Each unit in the Corps is a family, and each member knows they never stand alone”), and to Arab-Americans with a message about nationality and identity (“I am American. I am Arab. I am a Marine ... I know where I stand”).

“We never used to have much of a targeting strategy — we were just looking for 18-24-year-old men” said Colonel Zeliff. “Today, we are more niche than ever.”

Given the drumbeat of bad news from the lingering conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, where American military casualties recently topped 4,000, the sell can be a tough one. Sentiment against recuiting has flared on some campuses, as well as in Berkeley, Calif., where the City Council approved a measure in February asking Marine recruiters to vacate their downtown office.

Dana Balicki, national media coordinator for Code Pink, a women’s peace group, called the Marine campaign “just another example of potentially misleading tactics used to sell the war to young people, and especially young women.”

Talking specifically about the print ad that shows a woman in a leadership role, Ms. Balicki said, “She’s supposed to look like she’s being empowered, but she’s in a typical self-defense stance. After knowing the statistics and talking to women who have experienced sexual trauma or violence in the military, it’s hard to think of it as empowerment.”

As opposition against the war continues, Congress has ordered the Marines and the Army to augment their forces. All branches of the military have been reaching out to nontraditional audiences, but none have done so quite as emphatically as the Marine Corps, which is the fourth-largest of the five branches (the Coast Guard is the smallest). Its advertising budget is $157.4 million this year, up from $152.4 million in fiscal year 2007.

The ad featuring a woman commander is intended to appeal to young women who are weary of being separated from boys and men in sports and are eager to prove themselves on a larger stage, said Marshall Lauck, JWT’s lead executive on the Marines account.

“The message is that the Marine Corps offers a unique opportunity to earn that title and be shoulder to shoulder with your male counterparts,” Mr. Lauck said. “That’s an important aspect for the young women seeking that challenge, women seeking an opportunity for a great and selfless endeavor.”

The Marines also broke from tradition earlier this year by running a 60-second spot during several episodes of “American Idol.” Titled “America’s Marines,” the ad featured marines standing in formation against various national landmarks. It was intended to appeal to a general audience, including parents and other people whom military recruiters refer to as “influencers.”

That ad “helped us get that female audience that we’re looking for,” said Steve Harding, a partner at the Marine Corps’ media agency, MindShare (which places ads), which is also part of WPP.

The effect of the publicity is difficult to measure. There has been a small increase in the number of female recruits — to 2,507 in 2007 from 2,320 in 2006 and 2,282 in 2005— but the Marine Corps says it is particularly pleased by the volume of responses to the campaign. The magazine ads include reply cards, and, Mr. Harding said, they yielded more than 1,044 “qualified leads” in 2007, though only two turned into enlistments.

One is Ana Castillo, a senior at William Chrisman High School in Independence, Mo., who mailed in a reply card last September after seeing an ad in a women’s fitness magazine in the waiting room of a doctor’s office. Her older brother is a Navy veteran, and while she had been seriously considering joining the military, the ad prompted her to take action.

Ms. Castillo seems to be precisely the kind of young woman being sought by the advertising. She plays soccer and softball at high school and says she is hungry to prove herself on more dangerous fields.

“The Marines are the toughest,” she said in a telephone interview. “They have the longest boot camp, the highest standards. The Marines want people to actually want to be in the Marines, not just be in it for the money.”

It was those traits that Ms. Castillo saw reflected in the magazine ad, as well as in the words of the recruiter who called her a week after she mailed the reply card. She will turn 18 on June 24 and plans to leave for boot camp on July 7, after her high school graduation.

While the Marines seem to be taking the lead, other branches of the military are increasing their niche efforts as well. The Navy, for example, has started using the Web to recruit women for nontraditional jobs like aviation mechanics, placing banner ads on portals like Yahoo and movie and video game Web sites.

“We did e-mail blasts to women only, and what we found was lots of women out there have an interest” in joining the Navy, but they did not know what jobs were available to them, said Kathleen Donald, an executive vice president and account director with Navy’s ad firm, Campbell-Ewald, a unit of the Interpublic Group of Companies.

Although military officials cite a number of reasons for their recruiting woes — high obesity rates in America, for example, and young people’s shifting attitudes toward military service — the fact is that the images from the battlefront are hard to counteract.

“We’re in the midst of a very difficult war, and the ground forces are taking a pounding,” said Loren Thompson, chief operating officer and military analyst at the Lexington Institute, a research firm.

“I think what the Marine Corps is finding is that even recruiting for a small force in the midst of an unpopular war is becoming something of a challenge,” he said. “They can no longer ignore people purely on the basis of demographic or inscriptive characteristics.”

Maj. Wes Hayes, a spokesman for the Marine Corps Recruiting Command, said in response to Mr. Thompson’s comment, “Look at our fiscal year missions. Since May 2005, we’ve met or exceeded our recruiting goals. Remember, recruiting is a marathon and not a sprint.”

Ms. Castillo said her parents needed some persuading to let her join, despite her brother’s experience in the Navy.

“My mom, well, I’m her little girl,” she said. “She wants me to go to school. My dad was proud. He wanted me to go into the military, but he wants me to go into the Air Force.”

Like anyone entering the Marine Corps today, Ms. Castillo is keenly aware of where she is probably headed. “I’m O.K. with it,” she said. “If I get sent to Iraq, I’m going to be ready.”

April 20, 2008

Island Warriors open up the Road to Peace

KARMA, Iraq – The small Iraqi city street clamored with singing, dancing and rejoicing. It was a time of celebration.


Story by Cpl. Cpl. Chadwick deBree

Marines of 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 1 and local Iraqi Security Forces and community officials celebrated the opening of al-Tareq Ela al-Salaam, which translates to “The Road to Peace,” here, April 14.

Karma Mayor Kamal Abd Al Salam Abd Al Wahid, spoke to the crowd of people including local Iraqi Security Forces, Iraqi government officials, and Marines.

Sheikh Mishan, the preeminent sheikh in the area, then blessed the road as the Iraqi Police moved the barriers that have been there for approximately three years.

“Due to the (observation post) being so close to the road, in the past there was a great threat of (vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices) and (suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices),” said Capt. Phil Dykeman, commanding officer, Company F, 2nd Bn, 3rd Marines. “The road needed to be closed to protect the Marines that lived and operated out of OP Omar.”

In order to reopen the road to the local population, the situation in the area had to be stable enough so the risk was minimal, and combat engineers had to make new entry control points so Marines could enter and exit the observation post in a way that was safe for both service members and local Iraqis.

Engineers attached to 2nd Bn., 3rd Marines, worked tirelessly day and night to make sure that the opening of the road would go off without a hitch.

“Opening (the road) wasn’t as easy as you would think,” said 2nd Lt. Kevin Ritchie, platoon commander, Engineer Platoon, Headquarters and Service Company, 2nd Bn., 3rd Marines.

“We made countless round trips delivering dirt and gravel. It took about a week to build new posts and reorganize the barrier structure. The platoon was up there until the day prior making sure everything was in place. We also received help from (Combat Logistics Battalion 1) and (Combat Engineer Battalion, RCT-1). They loaned us personnel and equipment, and Trucks Platoon lent us drivers and vehicles to help us get this accomplished. It was a lot of organizations coming together to help get this done,” said Ritchie.

With the mission in Iraq now focused on turning the country over to the Iraqis, the reopening of the road is just one of the many steps to return life back to normalcy and bring stability to the region.

“We’re at the point where our convoys can pass alongside civilian traffic on (the road),” Ritchie, a native of Worcester, Mass., said. “Now the local civilians can drive through Karma like anywhere else without taking a long detour. It’s good to see that kind of consistency.”

This project was a main priority for both the local Iraqi government and the battalion.

When the road was closed, local Iraqis were forced to take a detour that was narrow and dangerous for large vehicles and added more time for them to get to their destination, Dykeman said, and the Iraqis were happy that it was opened up to them.

“The Iraqis were very happy that the road is open,” said the native of Central Square, N.Y. “There was music and dancing. The first vehicle through the road was an Iraqi Police vehicle, which is symbolic since they are instrumental in the security.”

The Island Warriors and ISF are working side-by-side on a daily basis in order to bring stability back to the region. This is all part of the mission the Marines are charged with during their deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Task Force Mustang supports their own

ANBAR PROVINCE, Iraq — Living out in the midst of the desert, resources are numbered. The Marines with 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 5, don’t have that problem thanks to Task Force Mustang.


4/20/2008 By Cpl. Ryan Tomlinson, Regimental Combat Team 5

Every week Marines of TF Mustang, 2nd LAR, stationed out of Combat Outpost 70K, Iraq, support the rest of the battalion by re-supplying those Marines with food, water and other services.

Task Force Mustang is a new unit with 2nd LAR, comprised of one platoon from each company in the battalion. The group was formed to produce another strong unit in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“We bring supplies to the other combat outposts to keep the operation going,” said Pfc. Nolanray C. Perlas, 19, a light armored vehicle crewman with TF Mustang from Jersey City, N.J.

During the re-supply missions, the Marines go from post to post delivering items that are ordered from that respective platoon. Anything from washers and dryers to foods and drinks, the Marines from Task Force Mustang bring it.

“It’s great for 70K to keep the log rolling and bring us the materials we need to operate,” said Lance Cpl. Thomas M. Sanford, 21, a mechanic with TF Mustang from Rockingham, N.C. “It gets us good food even though we are in the middle of the desert.”

The Marines at COP 70K will continue their efforts of re-supplying fellow service members and conduct vehicle patrols on Iraqi roadways until their deployment ends in fall 2008.

“I love seeing my Marines have stuff to sustain themselves and keep morale up,” said 2nd Lt. Ron C. Torgeson, 27, commander of 3rd Platoon, TF Mustang, from Colgan, N.D. “It’s the things that make life out here just that much better.”

April 19, 2008

Video teleconferencing connects deployed Marines, families

ABOARD USS Tarawa (April 19, 2008) – Even though he was in the middle of the ocean Cpl. Michael Wood got to spend 30 minutes alone with his wife and 2-year-old son recently thanks to video teleconferencing, a live video feed setup to connect deployed Marines and Sailors of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit to their families back home.

11th MEU story by 11th MEU Public Affairs

Wood was among nearly 20 Marines and Sailors that got the opportunity to not only hear, but see their loved ones right before their eyes.

“My son just turned two and I got to hear him talk for the first time,” Wood said. “He didn’t do much talking, but he made tons of animal noises,” he said laughing.

Wood said he was excited to see his family and could see that they were just as excited if not more to see him.

“When my son looked at the screen, he just stood there and stared at me till he realized it was me,” he said.

For most people just a seeing loved in front of them makes the whole experience worth it, said RP2 Juan Bejarano, the MEU’s religious program specialist.

“VTC is special because it is the next step up from email, enabling you to see your spouse and kids through video and hear their voices,” Bejarano said. “It’s somewhat of a reality check that your loved one is OK.”

Hawaii-based Marines help provide medical care to Iraqis

KARMA, Iraq – A convoy of humvees, 7-ton trucks, and mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles pull up to a sheik’s home. As they arrive, local citizens, already lined up, wait outside the gate to receive aid through the teamwork of the local government, Iraqi Security Forces and Coalition forces.


April 19, 2008
Story by Cpl. Cpl. Chadwick deBree

On April 12 and 13, Marines of 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 1, alongside Iraqi doctors, conducted a cooperative medical engagement to provide medical care to Iraqi civilians in the Gnather and Lahib villages.

On the first day, Iraqis eagerly waited as Marines from Company F admitted them one at a time to maintain security and organization. Upon going through the gates, the Iraqis would receive a number to help keep track of how many people showed up. They stood in line outside a room where Iraqi doctors listened to their complaints and examined them to help identify their problem.

“Most of the people had upper respiratory tract infections, malnutrition, stomach problems from drinking dirty water and skin infections,” said Dr. Ali Karagoli, an Iraqi medical doctor. “I’m Iraqi so I know what the main complaints are going to be. I look them over to see how severe their condition is and prescribe them medicine to help make them healthy again.”

After being examined by one of the three doctors, the patients went into the next room where they received the medicine that they were prescribed. The battalion also passed out toys, clothes and school supplies to the children who had attended that day.

The whole event came together when the Marines attended a city council meeting where the subject of health care was brought up and the battalion commander wanted to give two days to help provide medical care for the civilians, said Capt. J.C. Lang, commanding officer, Company E, 2nd Bn., 3rd Marines.

“It turned out how we expected it to turn out,” Lang said. “We had a little less than 500 people show up today. This is what the Iraqis expected of their government. They expected someone to help take care of them and provide medical care. All Echo Company did today was provide security.”

“The mission here, our mission, is transition,” Lang said. “We want to show the Iraqis that we are not an occupying force, but that we are genuine in helping them and seeking the best for them. This event today isn’t a photo op so a movie star can come out gain publicity or anything. This is our job here, this is what we do. I expected we would have a sweaty afternoon today and we did. Everyone out here today is willing to work hard to help the Iraqi people get the attention that they need. One thing that I have noticed is that the units that are accepted out here and successful, are the ones that work with the culture, and that’s what we are doing. The transition is moving full steam ahead.”

As the second day of the CME came to a close, Karagoli reflects on the two-day event as a success.

“This is the first time I have done a CME with this unit and everything went well and it was well organized,” he said. “This event is very helpful for the Iraqi people because the medical is free for them (during the event). This is very important to the people because there aren’t many clinics open or supplies in the area. I know that the people are grateful for events like this because it shows them the coalition does care about them.”

The Hawaii-based unit is currently deployed to Iraqi to help transition authority back to the Iraqi people.

April 18, 2008

Learning to Bridge the Cultural Gap

KANDAHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan - Gone are the simplistic battlefields of previous Marine generations where as the classic "Rifleman's Creed" boldly states, "what counts in this war is not the rounds we fire, the noise of our burst, nor the smoke we make. We know that it is the hits that count."


April 18, 2008
Marine Corps News|by Cpl. Randall A. Clinton

Penned more than a half century ago, Marines on the ground in Afghanistan know that the accuracy of their rifles will only get them so far, that only by working with the people of Afghanistan will everlasting improvements be made. However, to work together first requires understanding the culture.

"The difficult thing for most people in this area is being able to see in shades of grey - things aren't black and white. So, it isn't all about knowing what's in the book and doing your drills properly, you still need to keep that in mind you need to be safe and secure, however to talk to folks and to understand the cultural nuances of a place and how to move through the society can take a bit of time to master. Some people have a knack for it some people don't, some people can learn the skill," said Canadian Capt. Michael Bennett, desk officer, CJ9 Civic Office, Regional Command South.

The Marines of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, NATO- International Security Assistance Force know the importance of this skill set, and sought out the assistance of local villagers to fine-tune their techniques...

Bennett prefers to explain the benefits of civil relations with locals in worst case scenario terms, and after spending years teaching and training the specifics of Afghan culture he has a clear idea of why it's important to do the right thing.

"Not having this type of skill or ability in your organization is like not having engine oil in your vehicle," he said. "Eventually you create enough friction that things begin to seize up, things don't work for you. So having the skill allows you to better look after the relations with the local population."

While he freely admits that most of his teaching is common sense, Marines also need to be mindful of local customs.

"The combat zone doesn't have anything to do with it," explains 2nd Lt. Chad Bonecutter, Fire Support Team leader, Bravo Company, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 24th MEU, ISAF. "Something we may take as standard and very polite they look at as rude in their culture. So it's more a culture understanding (task)."

Bonecutter points to the way men are expected to greet, "If they try to hold your hand longer than you want, which makes western cultures a little uncomfortable, but it is very accepted over here. So pulling you hand away pretty quick can be rude."

In this area, tribes live by an honor code, known as the Pashtunwali, and adapting to another culture while communicating through a linguist can be a challenging experience.

"Shame is really big over here. It's just a matter of showing respect, (For instance) talking to someone who may speak English but is not the elder, not the one in charge. Don't hold your conversation with him, use your linguist. That's why they've been disseminated down to the platoon level," he said.

"The big thing they taught is you are going to talk to the elder, you are not going to talk to the linguist. Make sure you don't do that, because that is perceived to be rude as well."

Maj. Bryan Anderson, deputy operations officer, CJ9, ISAF headquarters, emphasized an even more drastic approach to civil affairs.

"Hospitality is even more important here in Afghanistan (than Iraq). It all goes back to the Pashtunwali code," he said. "The code says "if you offer hospitality then you must offer the last piece of bread that you have to the person you bring into your house. You must even risk your life for that person. It is an honor therefore to be asked into a house, to be a guest in Afghanistan. We have to return the favor; we are guests in this country. So it is important to go above and behind and return the hospitality given to us. Anytime we invite someone onto a base with us, near our vehicles we have to be the ultimate guests offering them anything we can, water maybe the candy bar out of the MRE, anything we have we should offer up to them, because they will certainly do the same."

It's the golden rule to the extreme: "Doing it in the context of a combat zone is difficult, but civil affairs is basic common sense if we remember what we would like to see in Jacksonville, (N.C.) or Ocean Side, (Calif.) on the weekends when we are home with our family. That's what the families here in Afghanistan want," he explained.

Over and over the Marines practiced speaking through their linguist, breaking down complicated issues like medical care, sanitation and security into simpler, more-suited for translation sentences. Each time the locals worked with the Marines to bridge their communication divide.

"It was a friendly area, so they welcomed us. They would tell us what was right and what was wrong," said Bonecutter.

The right: Marines stuck to the code of the Pashtunwali and were respectful of the village leadership. The wrong: using words that don't translate correctly, he explained.

Interacting with the local Afghans gave some of the Marines a chance to personalize their presence in country and practice answering questions from local leaders.

"I just put an Afghan face on what we are doing," explained Lance Cpl. Shannon Shipley, artillery scout observer, Bravo Co, BLT 1/6, 24th MEU, ISAF.

Instead of allowing questions to be phrased in term of what the Marines are doing, he began turning the question back to the villagers asking them in turn if they had brought their grievances up to their local government officials. His method helped reinforce the idea of self-sufficiency within the village, province and country, Bennett pointed out.

While he struggled at first communicating through his linguist, the six hours spent in the village gave him the confidence to deal with an elder correctly. "I got a lot more comfortable talking with them," he said.

Shipley's new-found ability should help these Marines avoid Bennett's worst case scenario.

"The benefit is that they will see that "hey, the Marines really aren't bad guys," said Anderson. "If we earn just a little bit of credibility that might make the mission tomorrow easier."

MEU First to Use Improved Grenade Range

CENTRAL TRAINING AREA, OKINAWA, Japan - To give Okinawa-based Marines a place to keep their grenade combat skills fresh, Central Training Area officials recently renovated Range 3.


April 18, 2008
Marine Corps News|by LCpl Richard Blumenstein

Marines with G Company, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, currently serving as the battalion landing team for the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, were the first to utilize the range and its renovated areas April 8.

The renovated portion of the range features such obstacles and targets as a vehicle, building structures and bunkers, which are all used for dummy grenade training. This area was built over an existing dummy range and supplements the nearby area used for live grenade training.

The dummy grenade area also has four distance and accuracy grenade layouts, which are used for scenarios based on the grenade combat readiness requirements for infantrymen, according to Gunnery Sgt. Robert A. Fuller, the maintenance chief and project coordinator for the CTA. The revamped range also contains several urban warfare training areas.

"Obviously you are going to be a little rusty if you haven't done this for a while," said 2nd Lt. Anthony Conticelli, the platoon commander for 1st Platoon. "This way they can develop that muscle memory before they throw the real thing. If you make a mistake with the plastic blue body grenade, you don't have to pay a price."

In addition to grenade training, the range is also capable of supporting M-18A1 claymore mine training. With the improved range areas available for use, the MEU Marines were able to use some of their time between deployments to sharpen combat skills by increasing their proficiency with grenades and claymore mines, according to Conticelli.

The training supplemented the pre-deployment training they received prior to attaching to the 31st MEU, Conticelli said.

"A lot of these guys haven't had the time to throw grenades because our work-up cycle on Camp Pendleton didn't permit it," Conticelli said.

Explosives, such as grenades and claymore mines, serve as an integral part of an infantry Marine's arsenal because of their ability to cause mass casualties to enemy forces, said Cpl. Marshall Kennedy, a 3rd Platoon squad leader with the company.

The Marines practiced explosives tactics, techniques and procedures with simulated grenades and simulated claymore mines to build confidence and refresh their skills before training with live ordnance, Kennedy said.

"It's not hard to teach a Marine how to throw a grenade," Kennedy said, reflecting on the importance of live grenade training. "But it's a different feeling when you are holding a live explosive. One of the things we do as infantry Marines is constantly train for combat, so things like knowing how to throw a grenade stays fresh in our minds."

Marines chanted, "Thumb clip, pull the pin, turkey peek, throw and take cover," while throwing both the simulated and live grenades, to help them move through the motions of deploying the ordnance.

Having ranges like Range 3 available for training is instrumental in keeping Marines combat ready, Conticelli said.

April 17, 2008

A 'Green Card Warrior' No More

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. - An estimated 20,500 U.S. service members are "non-citizens," according to a March 20 article on CNN.com. They choose to serve, fight and possibly lay down their lives for a country to which they owe no allegiance.


April 17, 2008
Marine Corps News|by LCpl B.A. Curtis

Staff Sgt. Javier Castro, one of the many U.S. "green-card warriors" who has avoided applying for citizenship because of work and training commitments, overseas deployments and because of how complicated they thought it was, gained his citizenship during a ceremony in Charlotte N.C., March. 27.

Castro, originally from San Andreas Island, Columbia, immigrated to the U.S. with his family when he was seven years old.

"I would say that 90% of all immigrants come to this country for a new life and change," Castro said. "America has always been the land of opportunity, which is the reason why they and I came."

At the end of high school, Castro decided to join the U.S. Marine Corps, becoming one of the thousands of immigrants who decided to serve in the U.S. military.

"When it came to that point whether to join the military or go to college, I decided I wanted to join the military," Castro explained. "Several recruiters came to the school...but the Marine recruiter was the one I always looked at. He always looked like the baddest in town."

After nine years of service in the Marine Corps, Castro, now the Current Operations Chief of Combat Logistics Regiment 2, 2nd Marine Logistics Group, deployed to Iraq twice and served as a Marine Corps recruiter - often considered one of the Corp's toughest jobs.

Castro was finally enlightened as to how simple it was to receive his citizenship by a fellow Marine on recruiting duty.

"I thought the process was so complicated," Castro exclaimed. "I had a buddy, a staff sergeant on recruiting duty, that I called up and one day told, 'I am getting ready to pick up staff sergeant.'"

"Administration had already told me that I should probably get my citizenship," Castro continued. "I told my buddy this and he said, 'I just got mine last year, do you know how easy it is?'"

With help from this friend Castro was able to get the number to Base Legal and begin the naturalization process.

"They made it so easy," Castro declared. "All I had to do was complete the N-400 form, which is the application for naturalization, a couple of other simple forms that verify your information and have a FBI background check."

Once the forms were filled out and the background came back clean, the application was sent to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, where it began processing. At the end of the processing, Castro was set up with an interview with a USCIS Adjudications Officer at one of their offices in Charlotte, N.C.

According to a USCIS Adjudications Officer, the interviewing process involves a short U.S. History and English exam and screening that ensures applicants are fit to become U.S. citizens.

After Castro completed this interview and was accepted for U.S. citizenship, he and the other 27 people receiving their citizenship (14 of who were military) were officially instated as U.S. citizens at a small ceremony.

"The ceremony was amazing," Castro said. "It was kind of a touching moment for me. You don't really realize it until you are there and see all those people from so many countries who had to struggle to get their citizenship. Just to see them receive it and see how fortunate I was to be in the military and get it so quickly was very emotional for me."

This event was a pivotal moment for Castro and 14 of his fellow service members, some of who have been waiting for years to receive their citizenship. Though the U.S. Government has made it easier for service members to receive their citizenship through the Immigration and Nationality Act, thousands of our troops remain "non-citizens," an issue that was important to the CLR-2 Headquarters Company Commander, 1st Lt. Mark A. Wlaschin, who attended Castro's ceremony.

"It's hard for many Marines to balance the work and training requirements they have with finding the time to go and apply for citizenship," Wlaschin stated.

"I think that every command and every leader on every level should do all in their power to overcome every obstacle and get these Marines their citizenship," Wlaschin said. "We are very proud of Staff Sgt. Castro and his accomplishments. Not only was our country founded on immigrants but it is strengthened by people like Staff Sgt. Castro and his family and the service members who hold 'green cards.'"

April 16, 2008

Wounded Marines Running Their Way to Recovery at Fourth Annual Pat's Run

- Challenged Athlete Foundation Members Participating Courtesy of TriWest -

PHOENIX, April 16 /PRNewswire/ -- After sacrificing their limbs while
fighting to protect America's freedoms in Iraq and Afghanistan, Marines Chris
Chandler and Brandon Mendez refused to let their injuries diminish their
spirits. Both received prosthetic limbs, returned to active duty and are
participating in Pat's Run courtesy of TriWest Healthcare Alliance.


Wed Apr 16, 2008 4:15pm EDT

As members of the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF), Chandler and
Mendez will join nearly 15,000 other runners and walkers at the fourth annual
Pat's Run on Saturday, April 19 at Tempe Town Lake in Tempe, Ariz. TriWest is
providing transportation, lodging and race entries for the CAF athletes.

"We at TriWest admire and are inspired by the resiliency of Chris and
Brandon," said TriWest President & CEO David J. McIntyre. "In honor of the
late Pat Tillman, TriWest is proud to sponsor these Marines who possess
indomitable spirits having triumphed over combat injuries."

The timed run begins at 7 a.m. and finishes around 9 a.m. on the 42-yard
line of Sun Devil Stadium at Arizona State University. The walk or non-timed
run begins at 7:30 a.m. Kids under the age of 12 are also encouraged to
register for free to run the 0.42 mile Kids Run. Proceeds from the event
benefit the Pat Tillman Foundation's Leadership Through Action(TM), which
empowers individuals to make a positive impact in their community.

Chris Chandler "Moving" On
Staff Sgt. Chandler lost his left leg below the knee in 2001 when he
stepped on a landmine while providing security for an explosives ordinance
disposal unit in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
In the wake of the injury, the Aurora, Colo. native made history by
becoming the first Service member to graduate from jumping school and return
to active duty after receiving a prosthetic leg. He is currently based at the
U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) in San Diego.
"I think any obstacle can be overcome if you believe in yourself,"
Chandler says.

Brandon Mendez Overcoming Obstacles
Lance Cpl. Mendez was injured by a suicide bomber while on check point in
Iraq. As a result, he lost his left hand and sustained severe fractures in
both feet.
Mendez is also based at the USMC in San Diego. He plans on moving back to
Orange County, Calif. to attend college for criminal justice after completing
his tour of duty.
"You have to go on with life and bounce back," Mendez said. "I wasn't
going to feel sorry for myself or get depressed about my situation. You can
give up on things or make the best of what you have. I chose the latter."

Challenged Athletes Foundation Helps Wounded Fulfill Dreams
Since the beginning of the Global War on Terrorism, more than 27,000 U.S.
military personnel have been wounded -- many suffering traumatic, permanent
injuries. To help these service members get back into sports, CAF provides
them with training, the specialized equipment and mentoring they need. The
organization often relies on individuals and companies to help with costs
associated with helping the wounded warriors fulfill their dreams of competing
again. To learn about CAF, visit www.challengedathletes.org.

Pat's Run Commemorates Fallen Hero
Pat's Run celebrates the life of Pat Tillman, who left a promising NFL
career to join the Army and fight in the war against terrorism. Tillman, an
Arizona State University graduate and former Arizona Cardinal, was killed in
Afghanistan in 2004. For more on Pat's Run and the Pat Tillman Foundation,
visit www.patsrun.com or www.pattillmanfoundation.org.

About TriWest Healthcare Alliance
TriWest Healthcare Alliance partners with the Department of Defense to do
"Whatever It Takes" to support the health care needs of 2.9 million members of
America's military family. A Phoenix-based corporation, TriWest provides
access to cost-effective, high-quality health care in the 21-state TRICARE
West Region, the 2007 TRICARE Region of the year. TriWest is a proud Corporate
Team Member of America Supports You. Visit www.triwest.com for more
SOURCE TriWest Healthcare Alliance

April 15, 2008

31st MEU Marines, Australian Soldiers work to shelter education

FATULIA, Timor-Leste — Though food, cloths and shelter are known as the three essentials, education is a top priority. Killing two birds with one stone is always better, so when building a school and replacing the roof on another provides the shelter needed to harbor long lasting education, there are few operations more important.


4/15/2008 By Lance Cpl. Jason Spinella , 31st MEU

At the request of the government of Timor-Leste, the Marines and sailors of Combat Logistics Battalion 31, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, based out of Okinawa, Japan, combined their engineering skills with soldiers from the Australian Defence Force to conduct an Engineering Civic Assistance Project, here, from April 15-18.

The project was conducted in order to maintain the MEU’s humanitarian assistance readiness and continue the ongoing commitment to the security and stability of local communities, here, and in the entire South East Asia region.

The ENCAP allowed the Marines and sailors along with the Australian soldiers the opportunity to lend a helping hand and construct a new two-room primary school and repair the roof on another nearby schoolhouse which was severely damaged in a storm last year.

According to Constancio Zogose, the Fatulia village chief, the village is using temporary facilities as a school and is very grateful to the Marines and sailors for coming out and repairing their school.

“We had been waiting to get our school repair proposal answered for some time now,” said Zogose. “When the President of Timor-Leste (Jose Ramos-Horta) found out about our situation, he promised something would be done, and so here we are. It is a dream come true.”

Zogose said that the fact that the President of Timor-Leste kept his promise is a real blessing as the country is experiencing ongoing civil unrest, and strives for restructuring and rebuilding.

“It really means a lot to me that the President kept his word and promised our little village would receive help, this is an answer to our prayers.”

The entire engineering project, including the tin for the roofs, concrete for the ground, and lumber for the structure, cost approximately $40,000, according to 2nd Lt. Brian Woodall, the CLB 31 engineering platoon commander, 31st MEU. The process of construction to build the school was “Balloon Framing,” a style of building that is rarely used in the states.

“’Balloon Framing’ is used when weather may be a factor in the building process of your structure,” said Woodall, a native of Norwood, N.C. “Right after the foundation is made your frames go up to support the roof so the weather will not hinder the framing construction below.”

The “Balloon Framing” technique is rarely used in the states because the length of lumber needed to support the roof, during the early stages of the building process, is costly, but for the project in Timor-Leste it was necessary, added Woodall.

Many Marines and sailors had the chance to help a community in need while fulfilling themselves with happiness and gratitude. For Lance Cpl. Angel Hernandez, a generator operator with CLB-31, it’s a great feeling to make someone’s life a little better.

“It’s a great feeling to know deep inside, I actually helped someone and that somebody else is really benefiting from the work we do,” said Hernandez, a Houston native. “It’s an exciting feeling to see the children’s faces as they watch us work.”

For other Marines another great aspect is being able to help a community of new faces.

“I feel awesome being able to come here and give these children a school,” said Lance Cpl. Mitchell Colwell, a landing support specialist with CLB-31. “I’ll probably never see these children again, but I know deep down inside I made an impact.”

To make the operation a success, it takes more than combat engineers to complete the task. For many Marines like Colwell, the ENCAP gives the opportunity to work out of their usual setting.

“As a landing specialist, I mostly load and unload helicopters, but now I get to help in a different way,” said Colwell, a native of Riverside, Calif.

For Hernandez, the ENCAP has taught him something he will never forget.

“Never take the things you have for granted,” said Hernandez. “There are people who have it rougher than you, and would love to have the things you have.”

While humanitarian and disaster relief efforts are some of the MEU’s capabilities, its Marines and sailors are ready to rise to the challenge and accomplish the mission and are poised to continue promoting good health and friendships across the Asia-Pacific region.

April 14, 2008

24th MEU sharpens sights in Afghanistan

KANDAHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan — The 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit tested the new Target Location, Designation, Hand-off System, called the StrikeLink, outside friendly lines here, April 12.


4/14/2008 By Cpl. Alex C. Guerra , 24th MEU

This marks the first time a MEU, and only the second time ever a unit has used this device in a combat environment.

Strikelink is a digital targeting system that provides forward air controllers, forward operators and reconnaissance teams the ability to observe and quickly acquire battlefield targets for indirect fire and close air support in almost any weather condition.

“The Marine Corps determined they needed a digital fire-support capability,” said Maj. Brian J. Newbold, liaison officer, Marine Corps Systems Command. “SYSCOM hired Stauder Technologies to develop and build the system. (For more than a year) it went through testing and safety inspections. After waiting for it to be validated as a legitimate piece of gear, we are at the last step in the process – field testing.”

The 24th MEU (along with 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment) seemed ideal to receive and employ the system because of their upcoming combat operations in Afghanistan, said Maj. Philip A. Williams, air officer, 24th MEU, NATO-International Security Assistance Force.

Stauder Technologies dispatched technicians to Afghanistan to teach Marines about operation and maintenance of the system for use in upcoming missions.

“I want to see StrikeLink utilized by Marines as effectively and efficiently as it was designed to, which is to take out the enemy,” said Jim J. Davey, training instructor, Stauder Technologies.

The hands-off system allows observers and controllers to paint a better picture of the battlefield than the human eye alone ever allowed.

Compared to what was used in the past; it’s night and day,” said Capt. Ryan B. Ward, AV-8B Weapons Tactics Instructor, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 365 (Reinforced), 24th MEU, ISAF. “In the past, we were using binoculars, compasses and maps to plot out a target, and then send the coordinates via radio. That method really hasn’t changed since the Vietnam War.”

“Now, we use digital binoculars that give the distance and range of a target and transmits that information through StrikeLink directly to aircrafts or artillery batteries,” said Newbold, an AV-8B Harrier pilot by trade. “The system completely reduces human error and time.”

In addition to being an efficient communication tool, the system is able to side step some of the enemy’s countermeasures.

“In an environment where we could have an enemy trying to jam our signal or listen into our transmission, this process is all done in a manner where the enemy can’t listen to what we are doing and has no idea of what is going on,” said Ward.

Among the host of new features the StrikeLink offers, scout observers never loose sight of what matters most.

“This piece of gear is to support the ground troops,” Staff Sgt. David S. Baldock, artillery liaison chief, Headquarters Platoon, Weapons Company, BLT 1/6, 24th MEU, NATO-ISAF. “When an infantryman is taking fire, he needs that support fast. We’re not talking about minutes to get that support; we’re talking seconds he wants that support.”

“Anytime I can save minutes on the battlefield, it is lives saved.”

31st Marine Expeditionary Unit arrives in Timor-Leste to spread goodwill

CAMP CHAUVEL, Timor Leste —
CAMP CHAUVEL, Timor Leste — More than 100 Marines and sailors from the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit arrived in Timor-Leste (formerly East Timor) between April 12-14, to participate in a ten-day multiple site medical, dental and engineering civic assistance project and community relations event throughout the country.


4/14/2008 By Staff Sgt. Marc Ayalin, 31st MEU

The multiple site projects, which is scheduled for April 14-24, is expected to positively impact more than 3,000 Timor-Leste nationals. The combined military effort includes engineers, infantrymen and communications personnel from the 31st MEU along with 50 members of the Australian Defence Force’s 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, also known as “Old Faithful.”

According to the U.S. Ambassador to Timor Leste, Hans Klemm, who greeted the first wave of more than 50 Marines and sailors April 13, there is no better disciplined military force than the U.S. Marines to work with the Australian allies during this endeavor.

“I am filled with gratitude that you are here in a part of the world that really needs our help,” Klemm said during the welcoming speech.

According to Lt. Col. Stuart Lockhart, executive officer of the 31st MEU, the projects are scheduled to be completed in the cities of Bacau, Metinaro and Dili. For Lockhart, the MEU’s participation is key in the success of Marine Forces Pacific’s Theater Security Cooperation goals in increasing stability in the South East Asia region.

“These projects will promote goodwill, strengthen relationships and advance regional stability here,” Lockhart said.

April 13, 2008

In the crosshairs: New weapons system more efficient for 2nd LAR Marines

ANBAR PROVINCE, Iraq — Imagine a weapons sight so powerful that you could read a service members’ name tape from over a kilometer away.


4/13/2008 By Cpl. Ryan Tomlinson, Regimental Combat Team 5

Marines with Charlie Company, 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 5, acquired a gun sight that powerful for the Light Armored Vehicle-25 for this deployment.

Light armored vehicle operators with the battalion have trained with these weapons systems since their combined arms training known as “Mojave Viper” at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, Calif.

The LAV-25 is an eight-wheeled, land driven, amphibious, armored vehicle able to deploy suppressive fire power.

“The new system is amazing for keeping us out of harm’s way and having an element of surprise,” said Lance Cpl. Raphael Delgado, a gunner with Charlie Co. “With it, you are able to stay stationary and never give away your position.”

The new scope system was first installed into the M1 A2 Abrams tank and now onto the LAV-25 A2, the latest model of the vehicle. The weapon consists of magnifications for further target observations and detailed quality to ensure the targets actions are clear.

“The sight gives you better positive identification on your target,” said Delgado, 21, from Wichita, Kan.

According to the gunners, the new weapon has been very impressive since its debut.

“The system is phenomenal; it brings in objects as if you were right there next to it,” said Cpl. Jason P. Detwiler, a gunner with Charlie Co. “If it (was) any better, it would be like playing Playstation in a turret. I love it.”

The new system has been issued to every light armored reconnaissance battalion for LAV operators to train on the new system for their next deployment.

“The LAV 25 community is going in the right direction,” said Detwiler, 21, from Neosho, Missouri. “The system is going to be extremely accurate and help the LAV-25 grow.”

April 12, 2008

2nd LAR welcomes Raven

ANBAR PROVINCE, Iraq — Flying through the sky like a ghost in the wind, a new tool is available to assist infantry Marines gather surveillance without being in danger.


4/12/2008 By Cpl Ryan Tomlinson , Regimental Combat Team 5

Several Marines from 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance, Regimental Combat Team 5, recently volunteered to learn to be Raven Unmanned Air Vehicle operators, here.

The Raven can produce real-time video surveillance of the battlefield. The Marine controls the by using a remote with vision display and knobs like a video game device.

During the 10-day-course, a dozen Marines learned how to operate and troubleshoot every aspect of the system.

“The course was so easy because it was all hands on training,” said Cpl. Brandon J. Barnhart, a scout section leader with Charlie Company, 2nd LAR. “After two beginners flights, (I was) able to take-off, fly, navigate and land.”

The course was taught by a UAV specialist with the Marine Corps Community Service Commission. The Marines said they would train until each was efficient enough with the system to employ it in combat.

New operators with Charlie Co. debuted the flying object during an operation in western Anbar Province April 8. The operators test-flew the plane to demonstrate the true nature of its capabilities.

“The Raven could save the ground combat element a lot of trouble collecting surveillance,” said Cpl. Luis E. Piris-Santiago, a scout team leader and UAV operator with Charlie Co. “We could provide great imagery of what’s going on in that area without ever setting foot into it.”

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles are not new to the military and have become easier to fly and control over the years.

“All I have to do is plot a grid coordinate and the plane does the rest,” said Piris-Santiago, 22, from Allentown, Pa. “It keeps us from sending out route reconnaissance missions because instead of us sending Marines into danger, we could just set a (Raven) up in a minute and be ready to go without the risk.”

Although the Marines know that this system is serious business, they are still able to find fun in them and enjoy the experience of flying it.

“The plane is a ton of fun,” said Piris-Santiago, as he inspected his plane before flight. “It makes me feel like a little kid again playing with cool toys.”

April 11, 2008

Marines immobile in Afghan red tape

Multinational force has multiple leaders

KANDAHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan - Disagreements and coordination problems high within the international military command are delaying combat operations for 2,500 Marines who arrived here last month to help root out Taliban forces, according to military officers here.


By David Wood | Sun reporter
April 11, 2008

For weeks the Marines -- with their light armor, infantry, artillery and a squadron of transport and attack helicopters and Harrier strike fighters -- have been virtually quarantined at the international air base here, unable to operate beyond the base perimeter.

Within immediate striking distance are radical Islamist Taliban forces that are entrenched around major towns in southern Afghanistan, where they control the lucrative narcotics trade and are consolidating their position as an alternative to the U.S.-backed government of President Hamid Karzai.

But disputes among the many layers of international command here -- an ungainly conglomeration of 40 nations ranging from Albania and Iceland to the U.S. and Britain -- have forced a series of delays.

Unlike most U.S. military operations, even the small details of operations here -- such as the radio frequency used to evacuate a soldier for medical care -- must first be coordinated with multiple military commands.

Then, there have been larger disputes over strategy. Some commanders here want more emphasis on civic action in conjunction with local Afghans. Others believe security must take precedence.

For Marines, who are accustomed to landing in a war zone and immediately going into action with their own plans, the holdup has been frustrating.

Frequent changes among command leaders and unclear lines of authority have made it difficult for the Marines to win general approval for the timing, goals and extent of proposed operations.

Marine operations planning, which is routinely completed in hours or days, has gone on for weeks while they await agreement and approval from above.

"They invite us here ... and they don't know how to use us?" said Lt. Col. Anthony Henderson, commander of the 1st Battalion, 6th Marines. "We are trying to keep our frustration in check ... but we have to wait for the elephants to stop dancing," Henderson said, referring to the brass-heavy international command.

"The clash is between the tactical reality on the ground and political perceptions held elsewhere," Marine Maj. Heath Henderson, deputy operations officer for the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, told his staff. "You can make your own judgments about which you think will prevail."

Including the Marines, there are 17,522 allied troops in southern Afghanistan, including British, Dutch, Canadians, Danes, Estonians, Australians, Romanians and representatives of nine other nations, according to the high command.

These coalition military forces are assembled under the banner of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), commanded by U.S. Army Gen. Dan K. McNeill, headquartered in Kabul with an international staff.

Beneath McNeill are five regional commands and numerous national military commands. Henderson's Marine battalion and its parent task force, the 24th MEU, officially are under the command of ISAF and McNeill. But they are assigned to work in conjunction with the regional command here and other coalition forces.

Coordination on long-term strategy is complex, staff officers here said, because the commanders and staffs at each level regularly rotate. Regional command south here, for instance, changes every nine months between British, Canadian and Dutch officers.

With one proposed operation temporarily blocked, Henderson told his planners to consider a scaled-back option.

"I think it's a stretch, but let's look at it," he said, adding glumly, "as the sound of desperation seeps into my voice."

The regional command here, RC-South, declined to comment on any command issues. In Kabul, Brig. Gen. Carlos Branco, a senior spokesman for the ISAF, said the Marines "answer to" ISAF but are under the "tactical control" of RC-South. He said ISAF was satisfied that this is the best arrangement to "coordinate and synchronize" combat operations.

In case of a disagreement, McNeill would make the final decision, said Branco, a Portuguese officer.

The problems are magnified when Afghan government officials at the national and provincial level weigh in with their own judgments. The result, some say, is that the counterinsurgency campaign, which is inherently difficult enough, suffers from the lack of a clear vision and strategy.

"We don't understand where we are going here," said Lt. Col. Brian Mennes, commander of Task Force Fury, a battalion of paratroopers just leaving Kandahar after 15 months of counterinsurgency operations here. "We desperately want to see a strategy in front of us," he said in an interview.

NATO's only previous experience with coalition combat came almost a decade ago with the air war against Serbia. Afghanistan is the first time the alliance has attempted to coordinate ground combat among forces that often don't speak the same language or use the same radio frequencies.

With British, Canadian and U.S. forces fighting in close proximity here, for example, their operations officers must agree even on such details as requests for medical evacuation of the wounded: the decisions include who takes the call, whose aircraft responds and where the wounded soldier is taken.

At the staff level, such difficulties usually are worked out with grace and humor and with a warrior's sense of shared mission. In response to a Marine request this week for help with supplies, a British liaison officer was accommodating. "You'll get what we have," he said.

April 10, 2008

Marines, PSF have a kick

HIT, Iraq —
HIT, Iraq — Usually the sight of Marines and the Iraqi Provisional Security Force jawing at each other would be a bad sign. In this case though, they were actually making their bond stronger.


4/10/2008 By Cpl. Erik Villagran, Regimental Combat Team 5

Marines with I Company, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 5, participated in a game of soccer April 10 with PSF troops to help build unity with them. Soccer games between the two units have become a routine in Hit, Iraq.

"We play them once a week," said Lance Cpl. Austin D. Breedlove, 19, a rifleman with I Co. from Gowanda, N.Y.

Marines needed three hours to pull out the 10-8 victory against the Iraqis.

"We usually lose." Breedlove said. "The first game we lost 5-0, then 5-2 and 3-2. Not today though. Today we won."

The game started off playfully on both ends, but as the minutes passed, the play intensified. Each team began to compete harder trying to win. The PSF jumped out to a 3-0 lead and Marines had to claw their way back.

The PSF and Marines understand the importance of the games. To them it is a way to make the bond they share stronger.

"These games mean we have good relations," said 2nd Lt. Marwan Naji, 24, a PSF soldier. "It makes me happy to play against the Marines."

It wasn't always apparent during the game that good relations were being built. Marines and the PSF exchanged verbal jabs while the PSF built an 8-5 lead in the game. However, both teams understood that the jawing was all in good fun.

"They can't understand us and we can't understand them, so a lot of trash talking goes on," Breedlove said. "A lot of the trash talking is physical gestures. It never gets violent out there though."

Despite the trash talking from the PSF and a big deficit in the game, the Marines were able to mount a comeback. They scored five unanswered goals to seal the victory. The PSF had a hard time accepting the loss, but came around shortly after the defeat.

"It was a good game even though we lost because we got tired," Naji said.

Marines agreed that it was their endurance that allowed them to snatch victory away from the PSF.

"It got off pretty rocky, but halfway through we started getting them with our stamina," Breedlove said.

The PSF troops were disappointed in the loss, but hopeful about future games against the Marines.

"They are good players and they played, but we are better than them," Naji said. "Next week we'll make a new team and I'm sure we'll win."

One thing is for sure, with Marines and PSF building stronger relations, the guaranteed winners are the locals in Hit.

Marine who lost leg returns to combat in Iraq

Sniper’s bullet destroyed gunnery sergeant’s knee, but not his will to serve

If you’ve ever wondered what the Marines have in mind when they advertise for “a few good men,” look no further than Gunnery Sgt. William “Spanky” Gibson.


By Mike Celizic
TODAYShow.com contributor
updated 7:59 a.m. CT, Thurs., April. 10, 2008

Two years ago, he lost a leg to a sniper’s bullet in Iraq. Today, he’s back in the combat zone — by his own choice.

If you notice an unusual spring in his step as he goes about his duties at Camp Fallujah in Iraq, mark it down to the wonders of the modern technology that went into the carbon-fiber prosthetic leg Gibson wears. He may have surrendered a leg in serving his country, but he’s far from handicapped.

“As soon as a person says disabled, and they think they're disabled, they might as well keep their butt in a chair and not do anything the rest of their life,” the 37-year-old career Marine said in a story reported for TODAY by NBC News correspondent Ned Colt in Iraq.

As he goes about his duties for the 1st Marine Expeditionary force as a weapons coordinator in operations command, Gibson is an inspiration to his fellow soldiers and even to the commander in chief.

"When Americans like Spanky Gibson serve on our side, the enemy in Iraq doesn't got a chance,” President Bush said in a recent appearance in the Pentagon to mark the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq.

In May 2006, Gibson was on foot patrol in Ramadi in Iraq when a sniper’s bullet tore through his left knee. “Basically, the bullet disintegrated my kneecap, completely,” he said.

Being a Marine, his first instinct wasn’t to call for help but to try to get back up and return to the fight. That was impossible with the damage his knee had sustained. Besides the damage to the bone and connective tissue, the bullet that hit him also severed a major nerve and his femoral artery.

In the hospital, doctors tried to save his leg, but Gibson knew it wasn’t going to heal.

“Every day I’d beg the surgeons — I'd beg ’em, ‘Just cut it off, close me up. Get me out of here,’ ” he said, actually laughing at the memory.

Within two months of being wounded, Gibson, who makes his home in Pryor, Okla., with his wife and young daughter, was back at work at Camp Lejeune, N.C.

As he learned to navigate on his new leg, he dove back into sports, relearning how to ski and run.

Encouraged by his progress, he started training for triathlons and last year completed the “Escape from Alcatraz” race, which included a swim from the legendary prison island in San Francisco Bay to the mainland.

Marine Gen. James Mathis was at the swim and while congratulating Gibson for his achievement, asked him if there was anything he could do for the 19-year Marine veteran. Just one thing, said Gibson — get him back to Iraq.

Just two other soldiers have returned to Iraq after amputations, and navigating bureaucratic hurdles wasn’t easy, but with friends like Mathis on his side, Gibson got his wish in February, deploying to his backline job in Fallujah just 21 months after he was wounded.

To Gibson, there wasn’t any question about going back. “It's my life,” he said. “It's what I love. For me at least, being a Marine means being prepared to go into conflict.”

On the base, he’s an inspiration to other Marines, who see what he’s done and find it easier to shoulder their own loads.

“You may be down sometimes, but you look at him and say, ‘This is what it's all about,’ ” said Master Sgt. Solomon Reed. “It's inspirational to the Marines."

Gibson sees it as just doing his job. He’s seen progress in Iraq in the past two years and compares where that country is to where the United States was when it set out on the road to independence.

“This is where we were 232 years ago as a new nation,” he once said. “Now they're starting a new nation, and that's one of my big reasons for coming back here.”

The Reaper

MARINE CORPS RECRUIT DEPOT SAN DIEGO — As the recruits of Company E scaled the mountainous terrain of Edson Range, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., they anxiously anticipated one hill that would grant them the title Marine, the Reaper.


4/10/2008 By Cpl. Carrie Booze, Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego

On the final day of the Crucible, a 54-hour field event in which recruits apply all they have learned during boot camp, Co. E stepped off at 2:30 a.m. to tackle a 9.7-mile hike that includes a 700-foot tall mountain dubbed the Reaper.

“Recruit training is full of stresses and physical challenges that all lead up to the Crucible,” said Gunnery Sgt. Wilbert Hill, chief drill instructor, Company E. “The Reaper is the final test in the Crucible, and finishing the Reaper hike is a major accomplishment.”

The Reaper is a legend at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego’s boot camp because of how steep it is, said Hill. He said the recruits know about it before they arrive to the depot.

“Before I came to the depot I heard that even though the hike is only 10-miles, the Reaper was very challenging and the entire platoon would be hurting after it,” Pvt. Travis Duncan, Platoon 2102, Company E.

In preparation for the Reaper hike, the recruits tackle 3-mile, 5-mile, 5.7-mile and 8-mile hikes, carrying full combat-loads throughout training.

The amount of gear the recruits carry depends on the season, said Hill. During the winter, the recruits’ packs weigh between 65 to 75 lbs each because they must carry heavier cold-weather clothing.

“Most of the recruits are intimidated by each the hikes, but as they complete each of the conditioning hikes they build their confidence to tackle a longer one,” said Hill. “By the time they reach the Reaper hike, they are eager and ready to get through it.”

During the Crucible, the recruits are tested on their teamwork and leadership skills, said Hill. They read award citations at each obstacle they face on the Crucible to learn from other Marines heroic actions, said Hill.

At the peak of the Reaper is Col. Merrit A. Edson’s Medal of Honor citation. Edson Range was named after this heroic Marine.

After the recruits storm the final hill of the Reaper, they read his citation.

During the battle of Guadacanal, Edson’s Raider Battalion, consisting of two companies from the 1st Parachute Battalion, was guarding an airfield when they were attacked by Japanese forces. Under Edson’s leadership where he was encouraging, cajoling, and correcting as he continually exposed himself to enemy fire, his 800 Marines withstood the repeated assaults of more than 2,500 Japanese soldiers. Edson was later awarded the Medal of Honor for his honor, courage and commitment.

“When I finally made it to the top of the Reaper, I was so proud of myself,” said Duncan. “It was a great to finally accomplish something I never thought I could do.”

Although all recruits strive to make it to the peak, due to the physical rigors, some may not.

Dehydration is one of the major safety concerns during the hike. The recruits must fill two canteens before beginning the hike. The company stops four times throughout the hike to allow the recruits to adjust their gear and drink water.

During the hike, there is a lead safety vehicle that carries extra water and sets the recruits’ hiking path. A rear safety vehicle follows the platoons in case a recruit gets injured and cannot complete the hike.

“If a recruit does not complete the final hike, his reason for not finishing and past performance in recruit training will be reviewed. The series commander will determine whether they graduate or not,” said Hill.

Upon completion of their final hike, the recruits are awarded their Eagle, Globe and Anchor emblem and are officially declared United States Marines.

“When I received my eagle globe and anchor, I had tears in my eyes,” said Duncan. “It was strange to hear our drill instructors praise us on our performance during the hike. That moment made all of the hardships, stress and physical pain worth while.”

April 9, 2008

Marines, IPs work together

HIT, Iraq —
HIT, Iraq — Marines know it's important to get Iraqi forces involved in stopping insurgent activity. Recently, they showed that knowledge by getting Iraqi policemen involved in their patrol.


4/9/2008 By Cpl Erik Villagran, Regimental Combat Team 5

Marines with I Company, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 5, recently conducted a patrol through Hit, Iraq, and along the way picked up assistance from the Iraqi Police.

"We were doing a security patrol," said Lance Cpl. Ray E. Alvarado, 21, a rifleman with I Co. from Anaheim, Calif. "We hooked up with the IP to integrate them into our squad so they could do their part in keeping Hit safe."

Marines arrived at the IP station here and arranged for four policemen to join them as part of their patrol through the city. Within minutes, Iraqi policemen were ready to join them.

"They seemed pretty excited," said Lance Cpl. Austin L. Barnhill, 23, a rifleman with I Co., from Riverside, Calif. "None of them were disappointed or had a bad attitude about going out with us."

The Iraqi policemen impressed Marines in the squad during the patrol. They took it very seriously and performed well, Barnhill said.

"They were very cooperative," Alvarado said. "Because of the language barrier, and us not having an interpreter, we couldn't direct them as well as we liked, but it looked like they knew what they were doing."

As the patrol ended, Marines were invited to stay and interact with the policemen before they carried on with the rest of their patrol. They obliged and spent around 30 minutes attempting to communicate with the policemen through broken English. They spent the better part of the half hour showing policemen their gear or joking with them, and also took photos with some of the policemen.

Marines know that patrols with the Iraqi Security Forces not only helps build trust between them but shows the people of Hit that Marines are attempting to work with the local security.

"I think patrols like this make it easier on us because the locals see that we want to work with the local police," Barnhill said. "They see we’re not doing our own thing, but that it's a group effort to maintain security."

The Marines said they were satisfied with how the patrol turned out and how willing the policemen were to participate in their patrol, and that they were so pleased with the patrol that they agreed to return to the police station again to conduct more integrated patrols.

"The patrol was very smooth," Barnhill said. "We didn't run into any problems. There was a language barrier, but we managed to get through that and have a good patrol."

What a difference 31 years makes

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. — During the past 31 years, the role of females in the Marine Corps has changed drastically. One female Marine has experienced those changes firsthand.


4/9/2008 By Lance Cpl. Meg Varvil , II MEF

“It’s been an awesome ride, good and bad,” said Master Gunnery Sgt. Pamela Smith, motor transport chief, II Marine Expeditionary Force. “The bad only made me stronger, smarter and tougher.”

Smith grew up in Tuckerton, a small town on the coast of New Jersey.

“My father is a mechanic, so at a very young age I worked with cars,” Smith said. “I was sitting on his lap driving a four-speed car when I was 5 years old.”

Smith rebuilt her first engine when she was only 12.

When Smith decided to join the Marine Corps during 1977, she and her younger brother visited the recruiter together because they wanted to go through recruit training at the same time.

The movie “Convoy” was a popular film during Smith’s adolescence. This and her early experience with repairing and driving vehicles influenced her job choice in the Corps. So, while looking at occupational options, she saw tractor-trailer operator, thought of the movie and her love of vehicles and knew it was what she wanted to do, she said.

Smith stepped on the yellow footprints at Parris Island, S.C., March 8, 1977.

The transitional training for Smith to become a Marine was considerably different than what female recruits experience today. In boot camp, the females’ physical training gear was light blue denim shorts, pale blue collared shirts, white ankle socks and canvas shoes with flat soles, Smith said.

Females were also required to wear makeup any time they were in uniform.

“We were issued makeup kits,” said Smith. “No matter who you were, you got sky blue eye shadow, ruby red lipstick and blush.”

During boot camp, she envied the training males recruits received, she said.

“I saw the males with their rifles, and I just wanted to fire a rifle,” Smith said. “A gray haired female colonel with bright red lipstick overheard another recruit and me talking about the weapons, and I distinctly remember her saying, ‘My females Marines will not lay in that prone position.’”

After boot camp, Smith was sent to Camp Lejeune.

“When they found out I was going to 2nd Marine Division, my drill instructors sent me to the building where males were issued uniforms to get a sateen utility uniform,” Smith said. “They didn’t have boots small enough to fit my feet, so I had to wear four pairs of socks.”

Several months after checking in to her first duty station, Smith married, and shortly after, became pregnant with her first child.

“Back then, you weren’t allowed to be pregnant and be in the Marine Corps,” Smith said. “You didn’t have a choice. They discharged you.”

Although Smith was now a civilian, she longed to be back in the Marine Corps. It was not long until an opportunity for re-entry arose.

“I went back in right when they started allowing women with children in the Marine Corps,” Smith said. “I had to write an essay to rejoin.”

She was required to address why her husband wouldn’t be a burden on the Marine Corps and why she wanted to re-enlist.

“The recruiter said I must have been a pretty good writer because he didn’t think they would let me back in,” Smith added.

She had to begin her Marine Corps career once again as a private first class with zero time in grade and zero time in service, as if it was her first enlistment.

After Smith re-enlisted, her first proficiency and conduct marks didn’t reflect the work she had done, both in her first enlistment and the beginning of her second, Smith said.

She recalls when she asked why her marks were so low, a staff sergeant in her shop told her it was because women didn’t belong in the Marine Corps.

By the time Smith was promoted to corporal, she had proven herself in the motor transport field. The same staff sergeant who said she didn’t belong in the Marine Corps recommended her as the best mechanic in his shop.

“It took a long time to gain his respect,” Smith said. “You have to wear thick skin and give 150 percent all the time.”

Shortly after, Smith was meritoriously promoted to sergeant.

During 1984, Smith went back to Parris Island as a drill instructor. There, she witnessed the metamorphosis of females in the Marine Corps.

“I was a drill instructor when women started drilling and qualifying with rifles,” Smith said. “I volunteered to be the first female primary marksmanship instructor.”

She was also on the drill field when females began throwing hand grenades.

“They gave us a class and then asked for a volunteer to throw the first grenade,” said Smith. “Everyone took a step back, but I said I would do it. I grew up with all brothers, so I was always the ‘Mikey will do it’ kind of person.”

Even as the years and the Marine Corps progressed, Smith remained a female Marine of firsts.

When Smith was promoted to master gunnery sergeant in 2004, she was said to be the first female master gunnery sergeant in the motor transport maintenance field.

Smith said she’s excited about the huge leaps females have made since she first joined in 1977.

“There are a lot of women in the Marine Corps willing to strap on the same weight, run the same run, and do the same things. We just had to wait for the Marine Corps to let us,” Smith said.

The recruit training and Marine Combat Training females now go through mirrors the training males receive.

Female Marines are constantly deployed all over the world, including operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“It’s hard to believe how drastically things have changed for us,” Smith said.

Smith has no plans to retire anytime soon. She has enjoyed the changes and wants to witness more of the progression of equality.

“I guess I’ll get out when they kick me out,” said Smith. “This is not my job, it’s who I am, and these Marines are my family.”

2nd Intel returns to Lejeune

4/9/2008 By Lance Cpl. Meg Varvil , II MEF

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. — Dark storm clouds didn’t discourage the crowd of family and friends gathered here to welcome home Marines and sailors of 2nd Intelligence Battalion, II Marine Expeditionary Force, April 4.


“We’d be here rain, shine or snow,” the wife of a returning Marine said. “I don’t think the Marines will be worried about our frizzy hair.”

Second Intel. Bn. Marines and sailors were deployed to Iraq for more than six months in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“When they’re gone, some days are trying,” said the mother of Sgt. Ryan Blosser, an analyst with the battalion. “But we were able to communicate with our son a lot, and that makes it more bearable.”

The battalion’s mission was to provide intelligence and counter-intelligence in support of Multi-National Force - West, said Lt. Col. Andrew Gillan, the battalion’s commanding officer.

“Every morning, leaders at every level read our intelligence reports,” Gillan said. “That means every Marine in this battalion made an impact and helped shape decisions.”

The battalion’s efforts in Iraq paid off, but not quickly.

“The most frustrating thing about Iraq is the pace of change,” Gillan said. “There is definitely tremendous progress, but it is very slow.”

Nevertheless, the battalion experienced enormous success during the deployment.

“These men and women did some awesome things in Iraq,” said Sgt. Maj. Hesham Harris, the battalion’s sergeant major. “I don’t even know how to put it in words. They did a remarkable job.”

Friends and family members were also proud of their Marines’ and sailors’ accomplishments.

“He’s done so well (in Iraq),” Blosser’s mother said. “I’ve told him from day one that he is my hero.”

The battalion will take some well-deserved leave and begin to train for yet another deployment.

“Many of these Marines know they’re going right back, but they still step it up to a new level and come back each day with more intensity,” Gillan said. “That is very humbling for me. I’m extremely proud of them.”

For now, the Marines and sailors are looking forward to spending some quality time relaxing with loved ones.

“I’m just ready to lay a big kiss on my wife and spend time with the family,” Gillan said.

April 8, 2008

Military says it's investigating death of Hampton Marine

HAMPTON — The military says the death of a Marine from Hampton is under investigation.


Tuesday, April 8, 2008 12:21 AM CDT
By BOB LINK, [email protected]

Lance Cpl. Cody Wanken, 20, who grew up in Hampton, died last Wednesday in San Diego.

Funeral services for Wanken are scheduled for 10 a.m. Thursday at the Hampton-Dumont High School gymnasium with burial in the Glenwood Cemetery in Goldfield.

Spokesperson 2nd Lt. Jaymie Sicking of the 1st Marine Division at Camp Pendleton in San Diego would not release details about Wanken’s death, saying it is under investigation.

Wanken’s family told the Globe Gazette that his death was related to injuries he received last year while serving in Iraq.

He reportedly suffered eye, ear and other facial injuries in September while in Fallujah.

Wanken was a machine gunner in the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division.

A 2006 graduate of Hampton-Dumont, Wanken joined the Marines in May 2006.

As part of his training, he attended Improvised Explosive Device Dog Training in Alabama and became partners with a black Lab named Seibert.

The son of Rick and Susan Wanken, Cody enjoyed hunting, sports and spending time with family, especially his two young nephews.

Wanken’s obituary appears on Page A12 of today’s Globe Gazette.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Marines, Sailors have a day of fun at sea

ABOARD USS TARAWA (April 8, 2008) – Marines and Sailors from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit and Tarawa Expeditionary Strike Group enjoyed a day of fishing and swimming in the Gulf of Oman during their deployment through the Western Pacific Ocean and Arabian Gulf region.

11th MEU story by Staff Sgt. Sergio Jimenez

The ship’s Moral, Welfare and Recreation Office made fishing reels, tackleboxes and lures available after the ship’s commanding officer, Navy Capt. Brian E. Luther, authorized fishing off the side of the ship. A few lucky ones got a rare chance to ride and go deep-sea fishing aboard a Landing Craft Air Cushioned, a Navy hovercraft.

Some of the more daring swimmers were allowed to jump off the ship from a ramp 30 feet above the water. For safety reasons, only servicemembers who were qualified as advanced swimmers were allowed to participate. Marines from Reconnaissance Platoon, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 5th Marines and Navy lifeguards were on hand to ensure the well-being of the swimmers.

Those who took part the swim call will receive a certificate that shows the global latitude and longitude position of their “swim” as a keepsake and to share with their families.

The special day even included a baptism at sea. In a special ceremony, Lt. Cmdr. Perry Haagen, 11th MEU chaplain, baptized Petty Officer 3rd Class Aaron M. McCue, an aviation support equipment technician, into the Protestant faith in the well deck of the ship.

The swim-call comes just a few days after the Marines and Sailors took part in medical and construction goodwill projects in several villages and sustainment training near Camp Lemonier in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa March 29 through April 3.

April 7, 2008

Family Support Network Helps Families During Marine Deployments

MARINE CORPS BASE HAWAII, April 7, 2008 – Dealing with a loved one’s deployment can be difficult. But for Marine families based thousands of miles from home, the challenges might seem even more daunting if not for an active family support network in place to help them.


By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

Here at Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, home to more than 11,000 Marines and sailors and their families, the Marine Corps Family Team Building program plays a critical role in helping families through multiple deployments.

Historically a volunteer-based effort, the program now benefits from a recent Headquarters Marine Corps decision to create permanent, paid positions at every Marine base to ensure consistent, continuous family support programs throughout the Corps, explained Xiomara Bowes, the program’s director.

The Marine Corps dedicated other expanded resources to the program, as well, introducing broader family support efforts. “We have supplies; we have equipment; we have office spaces; we have facilities,” as well as additional child care and extended-hour training programs, Bowes said.

Now, she said, the program can provide additional services and training, not only to spouses, but also to children of deployed Marines and sailors, as well as their parents and extended families. “It opens it up for more training opportunities, more learning opportunities to just get through the challenging lifestyle,” she said.

But even with this seven-person paid staff, Bowes said the network couldn’t serve the families of about 1,700 currently deployed Marines without a vast volunteer network. The 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force’s 2nd Battalion is deployed now, and the 1st Battalion is preparing to deploy later this year.

“We’re busy when it comes to deployments, especially with the times we are in,” Bowes said. “There’s simply no way we could provide the support families need by ourselves, without the commitment of our volunteers.”

Bowes described the far-reaching efforts she said are particularly important here, because there’s no way to hop into the family car and drive home, and airline tickets home cost hundreds of dollars.

“There’s a sense of isolation for many of them,” said Bowes, a Navy wife herself who understands the challenges deployments bring. “When you’re here in Hawaii and your family is Montana, it’s not like you can get on a plane and go to Montana.”

The isolation can be particularly difficult for younger spouses experiencing their first deployment, she said. The average Marine here is 19 to 20 years old, and about 25 percent of the base population is married.

Even spouses able to pick up and fly home during the deployment can run into a quandary, explained Cheryl Roy, the base’s readiness and deployment support trainer and wife of a 30-year Marine who recently retired. If they leave their base housing for more than 90 days, they’re required to give it up to the next person in line for housing and to get back on the waiting list when they return.

Their medical benefits can transfer with them, but change because the family is moving from a base outside the continental United States to one within CONUS. And if they have pets, they have to consider the quarantine requirements on their return to Hawaii, Roy said. “It’s not an easy move; even if they decide to do that, it has challenges, as well,” Bowes said.

These factors, she said, make a solid family support network especially important.

Spouses often seek out the Family Team Building staff to help them deal with a particular problems, but get something far more important, Roy said. “I think what they’re looking for and what we’re trying to give them are possibly two different things,” she said, “because they come looking for services, and we want to teach them how to take care of themselves. And if you look at each one of our programs, you’ll see that the commonality is in teaching them and educating them in different ways to do just that.”

Training programs are offered on base and online, and they run the gamut from courses that promote personal development such as communication skills and financial awareness to those that develop career skills.

“Our focus is on empowering them. We’re building resiliency,” Bowes said.

“It’s always going to be up and down. It’s just the nature of being in a military family. … There are constant changes to our lifestyle,” she said. “And so because of that, what we want to build is resiliency so they can accept change, transition from one thing to the next, and never skip a beat. … We want to help build resiliency so they can get through those challenges.

The LINKS program -- better known by its acronym than its full name: Lifestyle Insights, Networking, Knowledge and Skills program -- is a vital part of this effort, Bowes said. She described LINKS as “Marine Corps 101,” a program that teaches families about the Marine Corps and its traditions. This, she said, helps build pride among family members and helps them better understand the culture they live in and how it operates.

LINKS also covers topics ranging from how to read a leave and earnings statement, to what services are provided on base and where to go for them, to an overview of Hawaiian culture and language.

The base’s programs also help families understand the family dynamics that take place before, during and after a deployment. Roy pointed to a seven-stage emotional cycle that begins up to six weeks before the Marine’s departure and continues up to 12 weeks after the homecoming -- each stage involving emotional ups and downs for the family.

“We want to teach them about the emotional cycles of deployment, so they understand and are prepared for the emotional roller coaster,” she said. The Family Team Building program’s offerings span the full deployment cycle, from pre-deployment briefings to prepare families for what’s ahead to support groups during the deployment to a warrior transition briefing that helps redeploying Marines transition back to their roles at home.

To help families reach out to each other and give them a little fun during the deployment the base also sponsors an active Operation Homefront program, said Louise Yeager, Marine Corps community services area coordinator. Each month, the program offers a free event for families of deployed Marines and sailors: a bowling day, pool party, picnic, or visit to the local Tiki Island amusement park.

“The families really look forward to these events,” Yeager said. “It’s a chance for them to have fun, but also to get together with the other family members for sharing and support.”

As the Marine Corps Family Team Building program helps families, it’s also helping improve the Marines’ readiness for their deployments, Bowes said.

If the family is not ready for a deployment and not stable enough to handle the deployment -- to be alone, to be without the second parent -- then the Marine can’t go off and do his job,” she said. “A Marine has to be able to go out and concentrate solely on what the mission is. … We have found that, in order to have mission readiness, you also have to have family readiness. They actually correlate.”

A distracted Marine puts his or her entire unit at risk, Roy said. “And we can’t have that, because we want our Marines and sailors to come home. That’s why we’re so committed to this program. We believe in what we’re doing. We believe in our mission to help them achieve their mission.”

April 6, 2008

The heart of a Marine

All Robert Lewis ever wanted to do was join the military. It was a decision no one could understand. Everyone argued against it. Would his dream come true?

Robert Lewis talks like a Marine.



"May I use the latrine?" he asks, sometimes by mistake, and the civilians -- check that, his teachers at West Bloomfield High School -- look at him like he's from another planet. "I mean, can I use the bathroom?"

He walks like a Marine -- shoulders pulled back, chest pumped up, eyes focused straight ahead. He looks like a Marine, with a high and tight haircut, shaved on the sides, a little left on top. He acts like a Marine, lowering the school's flag to half-staff when he is notified that a service member from Michigan has died. It is only right and proper. Nobody else at the school knows how to do it correctly.

And he plays like a Marine. He headed into the woods for spring break, carrying a backpack with 25 pounds of gear, marching for miles, sleeping in a tent, boiling water and living off the land for 10 days, just for the heck of it, while his classmates went on cruises and trips down south. They don't understand him. At a time when the military is searching high schools and struggling to find recruits, Robert Lewis is the exception. He went to them.

Robert Lewis thinks like a Marine, spouting a motto that has become his mantra: "Honor. Courage. Commitment."

"Ooh-rah!" he says.

And in his mind, he is a Marine, a 17-year-old Marine. It is the only thing he has ever wanted. He is still a high school senior, too young to sign up and officially commit, but in his heart, he is a Marine.

In his heart: That his where this story begins.

In his heart: That is where this story will come to an end.

With the death of his dream.

Nobody understands him. Nobody wants him to be a Marine -- not his friends, not his classmates and certainly not his parents. They have peppered him with so many questions he can recite them from memory:

"Why do you want to become a Marine? You're just falling into the government's trap. Why die for Bush's stupid war? You really are an idiot, Robert. You are too young to know what's best for you, Robert. Why, why do you want to be a Marine?"

His girlfriend of two years didn't want him to enlist and they broke up a few months back.

His classmates can't fathom why anybody would put their life on the line for a war that, in their eyes, doesn't make sense.

And his parents, Jay and Kim Lewis of West Bloomfield, can't think of a single family member, on either side, who was involved in the military. When Robert was accepted into the Citadel, the military college in South Carolina, it was one of the happiest days of his life. His father was devastated. "I was crushed that day," Jay Lewis said. "That's when I knew this wasn't a joke."

Nobody, at least none of the civilians, supported his decision. They begged him to change his mind:

"I don't want the person I love coming home in a box. I can't fall in love with you because you're going away to war, I'm sorry. Stop talking about the stupid Marines, it makes me cry, Robert."

So how did it happen?

How did a kid who grew up in an affluent suburb in Oakland County -- an Eagle Scout and member of the National Honor Society -- decide to join the military when everybody was so against it, when we are at war.

David Chu, the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, has told Congress: "Never in the history of the all-volunteer force have our armed forces faced as challenging a recruiting environment as they have during the past several years."

Congress has pumped millions into the Pentagon, increasing advertising, trying to lure recruits by giving bigger enlistment bonuses. In February, Chu testified before the House Armed Services Committee and said that youths' willingness to serve "has declined" and parents and teachers are "less likely to recommend military service."

But Robert didn't need to be sold on anything. "It's what I've always wanted," Robert said. "It's in my heart."

When Robert was in elementary school, he joined the Cub Scouts. He felt like he belonged to something important. When others would question him, he would point at the flag on his shoulder and say: "Do you see that flag?"

Robert advanced into the Boy Scouts. "For most kids, it is an extracurricular activity," Robert said. "In my mind, it was getting me ready for the military."

Nine years ago, when Robert was in third grade, he went to Disney World with his family. On the flight home, he sat next to a soldier, who gave him military patches. They became pen pals.

When the war in Iraq began in 2003, Robert joined Every Soldier Inc., a nonprofit program that sends care packages to service members. Robert went to area hotels and collected boxes of soap and shampoo, anything he could find to send to the men and women in Iraq. His bedroom became a storage facility, filled with toothbrushes and candy and books and packets of letters written by area schoolchildren. "I was doing my duty, as a civilian, as much as I could, to be a part of what they were doing," he said.

When Robert was a child, his parents brushed off his fascination with the military. "We'll see," his mother would say. "We'll see."

She hoped it would fade.

After Robert entered high school, he kept talking about joining the military. "Then it wasn't funny anymore," Jay Lewis said.

He argued constantly with his parents.

After countless sleepless nights, Robert came to a compromise with his mother and father. Robert could join the military but he had to go to college first. Robert decided to go to Florida State University because it has a top-notch criminal justice program.

After graduation, he planned to serve in the Marines for eight to 10 years. Then he planned to go into the FBI or the CIA or the Secret Service.

For military recruiters, Robert Lewis was a dream candidate. He was a good student and a leader.

"I know just about every single recruiter in Michigan by name and they know me."

He picked the Marines because it felt right.

Sixth hour with Mrs. McQuillan.

The arguments were hot, intense and explosive in an English class called Points of View.

"I don't want you to go, Robert. I want you to think about this Robert, this is a huge decision."

Jennifer McQuillan, 33, is a young, energetic teacher who wants her students to do more than learn facts; she wants them to think for themselves; she wants them to question authority; she wants them to read and argue and listen and learn.

The collection of students is diverse and complicated, like a miniature United Nations. White. Black. Asian. Middle Eastern. Christian. Jewish.

McQuillan assigned the class to read "Johnny Got His Gun," an antiwar novel by Dalton Trumbo. It is based on World War I, but the themes apply to Iraq.

Robert sat in the middle of the room surrounded by the other students.

When they discussed the book and argued about war and politics, it was 20 against one. Everybody against Robert.

"Robert took on the entire class, for an hour and a half every day," said Ezra Simons, 17. "He'd tell us all off. It was vicious stuff. It was awkward in here for a couple days. We didn't dislike Robert. We all love Robert, but we were all arguing with Robert."

Every day, Robert had to defend his decision to join the military. He had to defend his heart.

McQuillan asked to have Robert in her class. She wanted him to read Trumbo's novel, as well as "Slaughterhouse-Five," by Kurt Vonnegut.

McQuillan supports the soldiers, but she is against the war. She didn't want Robert to join the military without thinking about the risks. "It didn't matter to me what decision he made," McQuillan said. "I can't pull him from the jaws of danger. That's not my job."

In the class, Robert came to symbolize something bigger than a single Marine -- he took on the voice of the military. Meanwhile, the rest of the class took on the voice of the country. The discussions and debates became grandiose. It was a group of high school students grappling with everything the country is debating. Why are we at war? Should it continue? Where are our tax dollars going? Is it worth it?

"I can't tell students what decision to make," McQuillan said. "But they have to pay attention to what is happening around them."

Most of the time, Robert defended the military by falling back on clichés.

"Be all you can be."

"Freedom isn't free."

And McQuillan was frustrated -- clichés and slogans are easy, she said -- she wanted him to dig deeper.

So she gave him a challenge: Write a paper and explain it to me, but don't use clichés, don't use slogans. She wanted to understand and he took the challenge. It wasn't an assignment. It was something bigger.

He began to write:

When you are finished reading this paper, I can only hope that you will look up at me with tear-filled eyes and understand exactly why I want to be a United States Marine.

He spent days writing the paper. He went for a run -- that's when he does his best thinking, when he is running and his heart is pounding and sweat covers his forehead; that's when everything becomes clear -- and he'd go to his bedroom and pound away at his laptop.

"I want to become a United States Marine because I feel it is my duty to my country, to family and to my community... The cost of freedom is blood, the blood of the very courageous men and women who sacrifice everything to keep us safe and to keep us free. It's the tears of the mothers, the fathers, the brothers and sisters who lose a soldier to the defense of our freedoms."

After two weeks, he was nearly finished. It was 10 pages. It was more than a school paper. This was his manifesto. This was his heart and soul. He wanted to finish but he couldn't. He had to go to a doctor's office. On March 13, Robert went to see a cardiologist. A few months earlier, at a screening program at the high school, a doctor spotted something unusual with Robert's EKG.

Something that required more tests. So he sat on the examining table, wearing a T-shirt, jeans and cowboy boots.

The cardiologist walked into the room at the University of Michigan hospital.

"Is it a false alarm?" Jay Lewis asked.

"No," the cardiologist said. "This is the real deal."

Robert has a heart defect. One of his valves doesn't close properly.

"So can I make it through basic training?" Robert asked.

Maybe you could, the cardiologist said. But you won't be allowed. They won't take you with this kind of preexisting condition.

A military career was out of the question, and Robert started crying.

"You could see that somebody had literally punched him in the stomach," Jay Lewis said. "He was bent over sideways, without the ability to breathe."

There was good news. The cardiologist said that Robert is going to live a long, healthy life. He doesn't need surgery. He can live with the defect, by taking a few basic precautions. He will need to take an antibiotic before going to the dentist and he can't do any heavy weight lifting.

Robert couldn't stop crying. He wanted to die.

Robert and his father went home in silence. Robert was mad at the doctor. Mad at the world. He went to his room and kicked a fan across the room.

Jay Lewis was relieved. His son was going to be fine and the military wasn't an option anymore.

The pain was indescribable. All his dreams were crushed.

Robert went for a run. He ran long and hard, until he got sweaty and he could feel his heart pounding, deep in his chest, and he hoped it would explode.

"I was pissed at the world," he said.

He went four days without talking to his dad. His mother gave him space. "Oh, God, it tore me up," she said.

Robert went to the Marine recruiting station in Howell and told his recruiters. He sat in the office and cried. "Robert Lewis would have made one hell of a Marine," said Staff Sgt. Jonathan Stamper, who recruited Robert. "He was highly qualified and would have become a great officer."

"Robert had heart. He was a natural born leader. He would have been an outstanding Marine. It's a shame we can't get him in."

He finished writing the report to McQuillan, adding a final paragraph about his heart condition:

"It's a death, a death of something that I have loved and dreamed about, a dream I was so close to obtaining and lost so unexpectedly and so unfairly. It was more than just guns and glory to me. That dream was more than just who I aspired to be, that dream is who I am."

A few weeks after learning about his heart condition, Robert was sick of being pitied.

"I hear, 'Oh, it's God's way,' " Robert said. "If I hear that one more time, I'm gonna puke. I understand people go through things much harder. People get the short end of the stick, but I'm pissed off."

Jay Lewis took a more pragmatic point of view. He sees a teenager with an amazing drive, with an amazing focus and determination.

"As hard as it is, it's a life experience," his father said. "I don't know what he will do with his life, but he will be successful. He's not gonna quit."

Both Jay and Kim Lewis see a happy ending.

"But I don't know," Kim Lewis said, "if Robert knows it yet."

Sixth hour. One week later. Robert was back in the classroom, sitting in his usual chair. And the argument had changed. Now, the class was rallying behind him, trying to encourage him, trying to give him hope.

"What are you going to do now?" asked Dan Lowrey, a classmate.

"I'm still going to go to Florida State and major in criminal justice," Robert said.

He lowered his voice. "I just can't jump out of airplanes."

He looked depressed.

"But you've got this mind," McQuillan said. "This amazing mind."

She dropped her head. Frustrated. She wanted him to see everything that is out there, knowing he is still too frustrated to get past the pain.

"You've got a second chance at life," said Mirna Kassis, 17. "You didn't die. We might be relieved, but we are crushed for you."

The pain comes and goes. Sometimes he is depressed. A few minutes later, his attitude changes. He becomes a Marine again. His chest pops out with pride. His eyes get focused. His voice is strong and determined. "I still have a mission to complete," he said. "I've got the rest of my life to live. I'm gonna live long and healthy like the doctor said. I've got a mission to complete. Quit being a pansy. Get up. Brush off. Say your swear word and get on with it. That's where I am now. Yeah, I'm gonna be OK. I'm gonna be all right. I'm gonna find something else."

He still speaks like a Marine, he still looks like a Marine, and he still has the tenacity of a Marine. But right now, he doesn't have a plan. He can't figure out his mission, and that's killing him.

Now, he's like so many other seniors who look into the future, unsure what to do, trying to find a path.

The other day, he said something surprising. "I'm thinking about becoming a chef."

His mother was shocked. "That's not you," she said. He told his classmates and they were stunned. "That's not you, Robert."

And that's the problem. He doesn't know who he is anymore. But he loves cooking and he knows he should follow his heart.

Because the Marine is dead.

Vocal on War, McCain Is Silent on Son’s Service

One evening last July, Senator John McCain of Arizona arrived at the New Hampshire home of Erin Flanagan for sandwiches, chocolate-chip cookies and heartfelt talk about Iraq. They had met at a presidential debate, when she asked the candidates what they would do to bring home American soldiers — soldiers like her brother, who had been killed in action a few months earlier.


Published: April 6, 2008

Mr. McCain did not bring cameras or a retinue. Instead, he brought his youngest son, James McCain, 19, then a private first class in the Marine Corps about to leave for Iraq. Father and son sat down to hear more about Ms. Flanagan’s brother Michael Cleary, a 24-year-old Army first lieutenant killed by an ambush and roadside bomb.

No one mentioned the obvious: in just days, Jimmy McCain could face similar perils. “I can’t imagine what it must have been like for them as they were coming to meet with a family that ...” Ms. Flanagan recalled, choking up. “We lost a dear one,” she finished.

Mr. McCain, now the presumptive Republican nominee, has staked his candidacy on the promise that American troops can bring stability to Iraq. What he almost never says is that one of them is his own son, who spent seven months patrolling Anbar Province and learned of his father’s New Hampshire victory in January while he was digging a stuck military vehicle out of the mud.

In his 71 years, Mr. McCain has confronted war as a pilot, a prisoner and a United States senator, but never before as a father. His son’s departure for Iraq brought him the same worry that every military parent feels, friends say, while the young marine’s experiences there have given him a sustained grunt’s-eye view of the action and private confirmation for his argument that United States strategy in Iraq is working.

While Jimmy McCain’s service is a story all his own — he enlisted at age 17 — it illuminates the beliefs about duty, honor and sacrifice with which family friends say he was raised. Military ideals have defined Mr. McCain as a person and a politician, and he is placing them at the core of his presidential candidacy. Last week, he campaigned at his former stations of duty, explaining how the lessons he learned there would guide his decisions as commander in chief.

“If I had ignored some of the less important conventions of the Academy,” as a demerit-prone midshipman, Mr. McCain said Wednesday at the United States Naval Academy, “I was careful not to defame its more compelling traditions: the veneration of courage and resilience; the honor code that simply assumed your fidelity to its principles; the homage paid to Americans who had sacrificed greatly for our country; the expectation that you, too, would prove worthy of your country’s trust.”

With both potential Democratic nominees in favor of withdrawal from Iraq, debate about the war — whether it is winnable, what would happen if the United States withdrew, how much loss the country can endure — is likely to be a dominant issue in the general election. Mr. McCain’s potential opponents are already implying that he is too willing to risk American lives, too committed to stretching an already unpopular war far into the future.

Out of the Public Eye

Mr. McCain has largely maintained a code of silence about his son, now a lance corporal, making only fleeting references to him in public both to protect him from becoming a prize target and avoid exploiting his service for political gain, according to friends. At the few campaign events where Lance Corporal McCain appeared last year, he was not introduced.

The McCains declined to be interviewed for this article, which the campaign requested not be published. “The McCain campaign objects strongly to this intrusion into the privacy of Senator McCain’s son,” Steve Schmidt, a campaign spokesman, said in a statement. “The children of presidential candidates in this election cycle should be afforded the same respect for their privacy that the children of President Bush and President and Senator Clinton have been afforded.” (To protect Lance Corporal McCain in case he is again deployed to a war zone, The New York Times is not publishing recent photographs of him and has withheld some details of his service).

Born in 1988, the third of John and Cindy McCain’s children, Jimmy inherited his father’s features and slight build, outrageous humor and family tradition of military service that stretches back to the Revolutionary War. His grandfather and great-grandfather were the first parent and son to achieve four-star admiral status in Naval history.

Then there was his father’s ever-growing legend. A hell-raising Navy pilot, John McCain relied on a defiant streak to survive nearly six brutal years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. As Jimmy grew up, his father, first a congressman and then a senator, was always dashing off to speak at military events — a dedication here, a graduation there. Mr. McCain’s reputation was burnished with his memoir, “Faith of My Fathers,” and its adaptation into a television movie.

Two of Jimmy’s three older brothers went into the military. Doug McCain, 48, was a Navy pilot. Jack McCain, 21, is to graduate from the Naval Academy next year, raising the chances that his father, if elected, could become the first president since Dwight D. Eisenhower with a son at war.

The McCain children were not force-fed tales of their father’s bravery, said Orson Swindle, who was imprisoned in Vietnam with Mr. McCain. But “if you’re a man in the public eye, it’s hard for them not to know about it,” Mr. Swindle said in an interview.

Early Ambition

By the time Jimmy was in high school, he was scouting war memorabilia on eBay and playing video games like “Battlefield 1942,” classmates said. He chose sports that simulated combat, like fencing and paintball, and his prized possession was a World War II Army hat.

At Culver Academy, a military-style boarding school in Indiana, he and his friend Nick Moore would fire up “Apocalypse Now” or “Platoon” on a laptop — critiques of war, but never mind — turn the sound down and talk about serving. “The testosterone was flying,” Mr. Moore said in an interview. “He’d say, ‘I’m just going to go in there guns blazing!’ ”

Jimmy wanted to attend the Naval Academy, he told Mr. Moore, and then learn to fly. But how he would get there was uncertain. In interviews, classmates and teachers described him as the kind of kid who contributed impressive thoughts to classroom discussions but did not always turn in assignments, who was always collecting demerits for minor offenses like smoking — descriptions that echo those of his father at the same age. He left Culver after his sophomore year, making it the second school he passed through in two years.

Sometime in the next year, Jimmy enlisted in the Marine Corps. He only called his parents to tell them afterward, according to Lance Cpl. Casey Gardiner, a friend from boot camp. Iraq was tilting toward civil war, with blasts of improvised explosive devices at their highest levels yet. Jimmy McCain was 17, so young that Cindy McCain had to sign consent forms for his medical tests before he could report for duty, according to Gunnery Sgt. Edward Carter, a recruiter in Phoenix who handed her the papers.

By enlisting in the Marines, Jimmy seemed to be giving up his birthright. The Navy is, by reputation, the most aristocratic of the armed forces, the McCains among its most storied families. Now he would hold the lowest rank in a branch known for its grittiness. “The first time I heard he was going to be in the company, I couldn’t believe it,” said First Lt. Sam Bowlby, one of Lance Corporal McCain’s officers in Iraq.

“He didn’t want to be in the shadow of his father,” Lance Corporal Gardiner said.

But the new marine was fulfilling his father’s legacy in at least one way. John McCain had become a hero not for the missions he had flown or the men he had led, but for the privileges he had refused and the hardships he had endured. The North Vietnamese wanted to free Mr. McCain ahead of other captives because he was the son of a Navy admiral and Pacific commander. Mr. McCain refused. Now his son was carving a humble new path that the father, academy-bound since birth, never had.

Jimmy began boot camp on Sept. 11, 2006. He took extra abuse for his last name, said Lance Cpl. Gregory Aalto, a member of his training platoon. Recruits are not even allowed their own eyeglasses, so Jimmy had to wear the standard-issue Marine ones, so unappealing they are known as “birth-control goggles.”

As he completed his training and prepared for deployment, other marines caught only occasional glimpses of his family’s celebrity and wealth, such as when he handed out extra tickets for a Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Oscar De La Hoya boxing match he was attending with his father in Las Vegas. If anyone asked about his family, he had a sarcastic joke at the ready. When a cluster of marines asked how they could help his father’s campaign, Lance Corporal McCain pretended to call him and then passed on a message: they could carry out the contracts the senator had taken out on his rivals’ lives.

“Jimmy was just completely joking,” said Lance Cpl. Johnathan Pebley. “You can kind of tell he doesn’t want to talk about it.”

In July, days from deployment, Lance Corporal McCain, newly engaged to be married, joined his father’s struggling campaign in New Hampshire. He visited the Flanagans and sat unrecognized at campaign events.

At the last stop, a veteran asked for a round of applause for the candidate’s brave Marine son. He did not seem to know that Jimmy McCain was sitting just a few seats away. Almost no one did.

As Father of a Marine

Mr. McCain did not speak publicly about whatever anxiety he may have felt about his son’s deployment, but Mr. Swindle described the experience as difficult. “Anybody who tells you it’s not tough is not being straightforward with you,” he said.

Senator Christopher S. Bond, Republican of Missouri, whose son served two tours in Iraq, said he and Mr. McCain privately traded their concerns. “We talked about how it affects the young men over there,” Mr. Bond said. “He’s basically a father, very anxious about what his son’s going to be doing.”

Representative Duncan Hunter, Republican of California, a former presidential contender whose son was serving in Afghanistan, said he and Mr. McCain would update each other at debates. “He knows what his father and grandfather went through as his sons went off to war,” Mr. Hunter said. “So he’s got a model to follow.”

Indeed, John McCain’s own parents were dressing for a dinner party in London when they learned he had been shot down. They went anyway, never telling other guests. Later, Admiral McCain ordered air strikes on Hanoi, where he knew his son was imprisoned.

Just before Jimmy’s departure, Mrs. McCain decided she had to see him one final time, according to Lieutenant Bowlby. With a few well-placed phone calls, she won permission to visit the Air Force base from which his unit would depart. When Lance Corporal McCain found out, he protested. No special favors, he said. Mrs. McCain stayed away.

“God forbid someone gave him something the rest of the marines weren’t entitled to,” Lieutenant Bowlby said.

Lance Corporal McCain and his fellow riflemen had trained for the worst in the spring of 2007, using paintball guns rigged as M-16s to apprehend costume-clad “insurgents” in fake Iraqi villages.

In the real Iraq, they saw little combat. “We were expecting to get shot at all the time,” said Lance Cpl. Justin Murdock, 20. “But 95 percent of the time, nothing was going on.”

The marines were stationed in Anbar Province, where some of the war’s bloodiest battles had been fought. But the fighting had moved on to other areas, and Lance Corporal McCain’s company mostly did security work, which meant keeping an unceasing eye on the locals, poor Sunnis who grew rice and other crops on small plots.

Lance Corporal McCain’s unit performed “soft knocks” — visits to Iraqi homes intended as reassurance as well as surveillance, said Lance Cpl. Jason Case. His platoon hunted for weapons caches and I.E.D.’s, but also distributed school supplies and candy. Relying on interpreters and the bits of Arabic they all seemed to pick up, the 19- and 20-year-old grunts taught Iraqi police officers how to hold and clean weapons, search vehicles and conduct patrols.

The hardest part, said several marines, was enduring tedium while remaining braced for mayhem. There were physical deprivations, too — searing heat, heavy gear, long hours and minimal sleep.

Fifteen marines with whom Lance Corporal McCain trained or served were interviewed for this article, and all praised his performance. He “was just always a hardworking kid,” Lieutenant Bowlby said. “He never bitched about anything,” he said, and always seemed to be laughing. “The humility of him, that’s what blew me away,” he continued.

For much of his tour, Jimmy McCain was cut off from political news. The rented Iraqi home where his platoon bunked did not have Internet service, and the 30-odd men shared one satellite phone with a shaky signal. Some news arrived via word-of-mouth, like the senator’s New Hampshire victory (Mr. McCain recounted the story at a recent Manhattan fund-raiser). Lance Corporal McCain did see his father once. On Thanksgiving, Mr. McCain visited Camp Habbaniya with Senate colleagues, and the two shared the holiday meal in the chow hall, according to several people present. Mr. McCain asked other marines if they saw security improving and seemed heartened when they told him they did.

Lance Corporal McCain and his unit returned home in February. For his father, who believed that United States strategy in Iraq was working, his son’s tour corresponded well. The company had not lost any men, though three from the battalion had died. It had arrived in a stable area and things had only improved from there. “In my seven months there, you would see drastic changes in Iraq,” Lance Cpl. Greg Jumes said.

Lieutenant Bowlby echoed his comments, as did every marine interviewed. “There were some hairy moments, but compared to the past couple of years, it’s 180 degrees,” he said, comparing his first tour in Iraq with his second.

Mixed Events

Two days after Lance Corporal McCain arrived back in the United States, his father shared his account of the war with Republican congressmen. In a private meeting on Capitol Hill, Mr. McCain mentioned the decline in I.E.D.’s that his son witnessed, the soccer balls he gave to Iraqi children. Mr. McCain’s audience responded with a standing ovation, according to a report published by CNN and confirmed by several aides who were present.

In recent weeks, the news from Iraq has been less encouraging. The cease-fire between the leading Shiite militia and American and Iraqi security forces, which overlapped with Lance Corporal McCain’s tour, has frayed. Bombings and sectarian killings have increased. Days after the fifth anniversary of the war’s start, the death toll of American troops crossed the 4,000 mark.

As Mr. McCain enters the general election, some say that his son’s service will underscore the sincerity of his stance on the war. “He has, to use a gambler’s term, skin in the game,” said Bob Kerrey, the former Democratic senator and longtime friend of Mr. McCain. “It’s among the most important things that people want to know about John McCain in trying to decide whether or not to trust him.”

Last month, Mrs. McCain made a similar argument at a campaign event in Houston. “I want him to represent my son at 3 o’clock in the morning,” she said of her husband, referring to an advertisement for Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York that boasts of her national security credentials. She wore a blue-star pin, the mark of an American with a family member at war.

Her son is back at Camp Pendleton, where he is using the Jeep he just bought to ferry other marines to the beach. Lately he has been teased about a McCain presidency, according to Lance Cpl. Matt Drake, another company member. “Will we have to go patrolling with Secret Service?” they ask.

“Shut up,” Lance Corporal McCain tells them good-naturedly.

April 5, 2008

Marine delivers the goods

HIT, Iraq — Lance Cpl. Kevin M. Natt knows a large chunk of his battalion’s morale rests on his shoulders, and he says he doesn’t mind at all.


4/5/2008 By Cpl Erik Villagran , Regimental Combat Team 5

Natt, 22, a mail clerk from Mangham, La., is responsible for ensuring that Marines and sailors with 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 5, receive their mail as soon as possible.

“I’m responsible for getting mail from postal in al-Asad, Iraq, to our battalion and detachments,” Natt said. “I also keep the mail secure. I make sure nothing is lost or stolen.”

Its work that sounds easier said than done. With multiple loads of mail delivered during the week, Natt must work at a feverish pace to keep Marines happy.

“I get about four tons of mail a week,” Natt said. “Some Marines pitch in on a daily basis with getting the mail into the mail room.”

Marines from multiple companies have made time to assist Natt in his task. They have taken time out of their off-time to ensure all mail is ready to be delivered as soon as possible. Their willingness to lend a hand has helped Natt deliver the mail without any delays.

“Their help is appreciated,” Natt said. “Marines know it’s not a one-man job. They figure he’s getting mail for everyone, so why not help him if they can.”

Natt was trained to do the job when he arrived to Iraq. His ability to learn the billet so quickly hasn’t gone unnoticed.

“For one man handling a battalion’s mail, he’s done and amazing job,” said Cpl. Michael B. Perryman, 22, administrative clerk from Boston. “For him to learn it now and take care of everything is amazing.”

Natt is reminded everyday how much mail means to Marines. He is asked about 30 times a day about mail.

“Mail is important because it’s a morale booster,” Perryman said. “Packages have things inside that are little surprises. Marines like those little pick-me ups; it’s motivating.”

Watching Marines become elated about receiving mail makes the hard labor worth it to Natt. He says he thrives on being depended on and won’t fail his fellow Marines.

“Seeing how happy Marines get when they get mail from family and friends is the best part of it,” Natt said. “I like being the light of their hard working days in Iraq.”

Camp Pendleton Marine killed in traffic accident

MISSION VIEJO, Calif. (AP) -- Officials say a 19-year-old Marine has died after he was injured in a traffic accident at Camp Pendleton.


Apr 5, 8:02 PM EDT

Marine spokesman Lt. Kenneth Kunze says the serviceman was in a private vehicle early Saturday morning when he crashed around 12:30 a.m.

The Marine was taken to a hospital in Mission Viejo north of the base, and was declared dead about 2:20 a.m.

Kunze says the victim was in the 2nd Battalion of the 5th Marines Regiment and he was not performing any military duties at the time of the crash. His name and rank were not released.

Marines set up camp at HAFB

Werewolves have come to the Tularosa Basin and plan to stay for another two weeks.


F-18 training
The Daily News
By Laura London, Staff Writer
Article Launched: 04/03/2008 12:00:00 AM MDT

They are the VMFA-122 Werewolves, a Marine fighter attack squadron from Marine Corps Air Station Beufort, S.C. The squadron has come to Holloman Air Force Base to train on its F-18 Hornets in the desert expanses of the Southwest.

"We don't have anything like this in South Carolina," Lt. Col. Douglas Douds, commanding officer of VMFA-122, said about the training ranges his squadron members have used during their stay at Holloman. "We couldn't be more pleased."

Douds also said he was pleased with the support local residents have shown, especially in light of the squadron "flying around all night."

Capt. Devin Myler, an F-18 pilot, mentioned the Werewolves came to Holloman last week. Jets arrived March 25 and the main body of support Marines on March 26. He explained the squadron is practicing air-to-ground operations for its upcoming deployment.

Douds said the Werewolves will be at Holloman until about the middle of April. They will also go to Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma, Ariz., at the end of May, the last such training before their deployment to CENTCOM AOR, or the Middle East, sometime at the end of summer.

Douds said Werewolf training at Holloman has been a great experience, with plenty of opportunities for both junior and senior pilots to practice.
"We can do stuff here we can't do on the East Coast," Douds said. "We don't get to do ridge line crossings in South Carolina."

Douds said Wednesday the squadron was finished with low altitude training and was going to start live ordnance training. Myler said the squadron conducted much of its low altitude training over the weekend, explaining that low-level training is 300 feet off the ground at 480 knots, or about 552 mph.

Douds said the Werewolves keep a 24-hour operating schedule Tuesday through Thursday.

"We train at the same operational tempo as the theater (of battle)," he said.

Myler explained the 24-hour operating schedule is standard for the Werewolves. The Marines work 12 hours, then are off 12 hours. He said being able to fly at night is important to the squadron's mission, but they don't get to do as much of it on the East Coast.

"People don't like the noise at night," he said.

He mentioned Tuesday night's flying at Holloman lasted until 2:45 a.m. Wednesday morning.

Myler said the Werewolves came to Holloman with 12 Hornets and almost 200 Marines, which includes 18 pilots; a number of operations, planning, intelligence and other personnel; and roughly 150 Marines to maintain the Hornets, which works out to about a dozen per plane.

"It's significantly smaller than an Air Force or Navy squadron," Myler observed.

Myler said the 12 Hornets and 200 Marines comprise a self-sustaining detachment. They have everything they need with them everywhere they go, whatever they are doing. He called the Werewolves "dedicated professionals," which he said makes them easy to work with.

During a tour of the Werewolves' working space at Holloman, Myler pointed out some equipment the Marines brought with them.

"Even for a three-week stay, we have this huge quantity of equipment," he said.

A lot of Marines with a variety of skills work on the Hornets as well, according to Myler. He listed power line Marines, air frame Marines, ordnance Marines and COMNAV, or electric shop, Marines. As for the Hornet aircraft itself, Myler had rave reviews.

"It's very capable. It's been around for a while the design, at least," he said. "The Marine Corps uses it because it's very dynamic and we can use it for almost any environment ... (for) both air-to-ground and air-to-air missions."

He said Hornets have been with the Werewolves since 1988. The planes the squadron brought to Holloman were built in the mid-1990s and have been upgraded for the dual role of air-to-air and air-to-ground operations, according to Myler. Hornets can drop both laser-guided and GPS-guided bombs.

"The reason why we (Werewolves) exist is to support Marines on the ground," Myler said.

For air-to-air combat, Hornets have heat-seeking A-9 missiles ready at their wingtips, as well as a Gatling gun in the front that shoots 20 mm rounds through a small hole just above the nose of the aircraft. Located on either side of that hole are two smaller openings, which serve to evacuate air to cool the system and allow gasses to escape.

Myler said the Gatling gun can fire 6,000 rounds per minute. Squeezing the trigger for one second will deploy 100 rounds.

Myler said the Marine Corps' Hornets are designed differently than most Air Force planes because they need to be able to land on aircraft carriers. He pointed out the Hornet's landing gear is bigger and heavier to withstand the tremendous forces involved in such landings.

Myler also pointed out the tail hook, also a help with those carrier landings. The tail hook extends hydraulically from the tail and grabs a cable stretched across the landing area. It can slow a Hornet from 180 mph to a dead stop in about 1 1/2 seconds. He noted the entire aircraft is built around the tail hook.

"It's designed to absorb force more than a normal plane would," Myler said.

April 3, 2008

Department to Phase Out Full Social Security Numbers on IDs

WASHINGTON, April 3, 2008 – As a means of combating identity theft, the Defense Department will issue identification cards without full Social Security numbers printed onto them, a senior official said here today.


By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

The Defense Department cares about protecting personal information as well as increasing database security, Mary Dixon, director of the Defense Manpower Data Center based in Arlington, Va., told Pentagon Channel and American Forces Press Service reporters.

Identity theft is a very real problem today, Dixon explained. Criminals who pilfer SSN-bearing identity cards can virtually assume someone’s identity through a few computer keystrokes and clicks of a mouse, she said.

TriCare, the military services’ health maintenance organization, already has removed Social Security numbers from its members’ identification cards, Dixon said.

Plans are to remove the Social Security numbers from identification cards issued to military family members by the end of this year, Dixon said, noting that those cards still would display the sponsors’ SSN, for now. Between 2009 and 2010, all department-issued identification cards will feature only the last four digits of a holder’s Social Security number, she said.

About 3.4 million people now have department-issued common access cards, Dixon said. Around two-thirds of those card holders are military members, and some civilians who deploy overseas, who have full Social Security numbers printed onto the back of their CACs.

“You might lose that card,” Dixon pointed out, noting that family members, including children, could misplace their identification cards, too.

Modern information technology precludes the need to have full social security numbers printed onto employee and family member ID cards, Dixon said.

“Today, all of our (computer) systems can ‘talk’ to each other, so we don’t necessarily need to know all of that information printed on your card,” she said.

New identification cards will be issued as they reach their expiration dates, Dixon said.

Wounded Marines Praise Medical Care, Relate Iraq Experiences

BETHESDA, Md., April 3, 2008 – Two Marines who were injured in Iraq praised the medical care they’ve received at the National Naval Medical Center here during interviews yesterday in conjunction with a grand re-opening ceremony for their newly renovated outpatient quarters.


By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

Iraq combat veterans Cpl. Daniel B. Nicholson and Lance Cpl. Michael S. Stilson live in Mercy Hall on the medical center’s campus.

Nicholson, a native of Brevard, N.C., joined the Marines in June 2005. The tube-launched, optically tracked, wire-guided missile gunner was wounded by a roadside bomb while riding in a truck in Anbar province in November 2006. He suffered injuries to his left arm and face. After arriving at Bethesda a few days after being wounded, he underwent numerous surgeries to repair his broken jaw and lacerated face.

The medical care provided at Bethesda is “tremendous,” Nicholson said.

“The zeal of the staff here at the hospital is just outstanding. … I couldn’t ask for anything better,” he emphasized.

Nicholson said his plans include marriage and going back to school to become a high school history teacher.

Wars have been fought since mankind began, Nicholson said. But war also produces peace, he added. The war against global terrorism is an important endeavor, he said, noting that fighting terrorists in Afghanistan and Iraq precludes fighting them at home.

Nicholson said the excellent medical care he has received at Bethesda makes him feel appreciated and that his service in Iraq wasn’t performed in vain.

“What the patients need, they get” at Bethesda, he said.

Stilson, who hails from Clarkston, Wash., was wounded by a roadside bomb while on dismounted patrol in Anbar province in September.

“Every bone in my left arm was broken,” Stilson recalled, noting he’d also suffered severe shrapnel injuries to both of his legs.
Stilson echoed Nicholson’s praise of the medical care provided at Bethesda.

”You really don’t have any other place, I don’t think, that really cares for everybody like they do (at Bethesda),” he said.

Injured Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans are getting the best medical care available at Bethesda, and “they do everything they can for the guys that got wounded over there,” the Marine rifleman added.

Stilson, who joined the Marines in August 2006, said he believes the mission in Iraq isn’t completed.

“When you’re there, you want to finish the job for those guys who didn’t make it back,” he said.

April 2, 2008

Joint U.S. military team provides medical, dental aid in Africa

CAMP LEMONIER, Djibouti – In many underdeveloped countries access to even the most basic medical care is a big problem. Medical conditions and infections that are easily treated in developed countries can become life threatening if left untreated for a long period of time. This is especially true for young children and pregnant women.


POSTED: 20080402
Story by: Staff Sgt. Sergio Jimenez, 11th MEU Public Affairs

This is why medical and dental teams from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit/Tarawa Expeditionary Strike Group collaborated with Soldiers of the 354th Civil Affairs Brigade, Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa, to provide basic medical and dental treatment to hundreds of Djiboutian citizens during a series of Medical Civil Action Projects from March 29 through April 2 in the remote villages of Goubetto, Chabelley and Dammerjog.

The doctors, dentists and Navy and Marine Corps hospital corpsmen, embarked aboard USS Tarawa, USS Germantown and USS Cleveland also conducted preventive health presentations and delivered basic hygiene items to one of the poorest regions in the world.

The 11th MEU/Tarawa ESG is in Djibouti taking part in routine training exercises as part of their scheduled seven month deployment through the Western Pacific and Arabian Gulf region.

The medical aid mission was led by a functional specialty team from the 354th CAB, stationed here, and was coordinated with the Djibouti Ministry of Health and the U.S. Embassy in Djibouti.

During three separate missions, the medical teams left Camp Lemonier early in the morning aboard 4X4 vehicles and military 7-ton trucks and returned late in the evening. They traveled over pot-holed city streets, dirt and rocky roads to the small villages of Goubetto, Chabelley, Dammerjog.

"Overall, we treated more than a thousand patients," said HMC Sam Y. Kim, independent duty corpsman, Combat Logistics Battalion 11, 11th MEU, Camp Pendleton, Calif.

There aim was to work with local and foreign doctors and train local nurses as part of an ongoing effort to establish good working relationships and build up the healthcare capacity in the area, said Cmdr. Alan Philippi, public health physician, functional specialty team, 354th CAB.

“We paid particular attention to nurses,” said Philippi, because they are the first to see and have the most interaction with patients.

March 30, the joint medical team visited Goubetto, a village about a 90-minute drive from Camp Lemonier. There they found long lines of patients waiting for them. By the end of the visit, the team treated more than 260 patients, said Kim, who is from San Diego.

"The majority of the patients were women and children and most were treated for respiratory ailments, coughs, colds, skin diseases and malnutrition," said Kim. "We gave them multi-vitamins to treat the malnutrition and antibiotics to treat worms," said Kim.

Some small children were treated for ear infections and chest colds and those who required advanced care were referred to the local hospital.

Although the doctors, medics and corpsmen did not encounter many serious ailments, they did see conditions that if left untreated could become life threatening especially to young children.

In one case, "Dr. Nelson pulled out a dead fly out of an infant's ear that had been in there for some time causing a severe ear infection," said Kim. "In the United States, something like this would have been taken care of immediately and the baby would never have had to suffer for so long. But unfortunately, medical care is not readily available here."

Two dentists on the team also treated approximately 15 patients and extracted several teeth. "At first, people were very reluctant to see the dentist. Around here, dentist pull teeth without anesthesia and the experience are very traumatic for the patients," said Kim. "But once word got out that our dentists were using anesthesia and that it wasn't painful, we saw more patients come in for extractions."

According to Kim, the types of patients and ailments they saw at Chabelley, Dammerjog were similar to those in Goubetto. In every location, the medical team advised their patients about the importance of proper hygiene and the relationship between cleanliness and good health, through military and civilian interpreters who spoke a local Somali dialect and French.

According to Philippi, Djibouti health officials have reported seeing improvements in the overall health of the population; improvements Philippi attributes partly to US efforts in the area. The Civil Military Operations projects are making a positive impact in the area and are fostering positive relationships with the people of Djibouti. They are also demonstrating the U.S. government's commitment to helping local residents and improving their infrastructure, said Philippi.

The Djiboutian people were not the only ones to benefit from these projects, said Philippi. The joint missions were a great opportunity for members of the different branches of the military to work together and learn from each other.

"We learned how local doctors treat infectious diseases and the different cases of infections they see at different times of the year," said Kim. "This helps us for planning purposes. In future medical aid missions, we'll know what medications to bring and how to treat the local diseases," he said. "We'll be better prepared and less people will suffer."

Lejeune unit ships off for Iraq

Staff report
Posted : Wednesday Apr 2, 2008 16:15:49 EDT

JACKSONVILLE, N.C. — About 300 Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based Marines are heading to Iraq on Thursday to begin a seven-month deployment.

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Marines Make Kids Happy During Patrol

HIT, Iraq - Lance Cpl. Edwin S. Contreras, an assault man with Company I, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 5, knows the best way to let the Iraqi people know that Marines are here to help is through the children.


April 02, 2008
Marine Corps News|by Cpl. Erik Villagran

Marines with Company I conducted a security patrol March 29 through the city of Hit, Iraq, to ensure all is running smoothly in the city.

"The purpose of the patrol was to provide security for the people and to build rapport with them," said Lance Cpl. Brandon M. Barnes, 21, a team leader with Company I from Fairbanks, Alaska. "We're still looking for suspicious things or anything we can do to hinder insurgent activity."

As Marines walked through the city they handed out treats to kids who approached the patrols. Although some of the kids seemed timid at first, once they saw the candy their fears disappeared. Marines felt that making the extra effort for the kids would demonstrate the good Marines are doing.

"Giving out candy is good for our rapport with the people," said Contreras, 19, from Pico Rivera, Calif. "We win over the hearts of the kids, the parents see that and we win the people over."

Barnes understands the importance of making the kids happy, but to keep kids from disrupting his patrol he had to tell them through an interpreter to keep their distance.

"We don't always bring candy out because when we do they like to swarm our patrols," Barnes said. "We only do it now and then so they know we're trying to help."

When Marines stopped at houses to speak with residents of the neighborhood, the kids followed and watched Marines post security.

"We got to sit down with some people and talk about some interesting stuff," Barnes said. "We try to put a face to the Marines so they know we're human too."

Marines asked questions through an interpreter and spent the majority of the time listening to what the people had to say. They received insight on how the community feels about the Iraq Provisional Security Force, Iraqi Police and Marines.

Marines left the last house on their patrol feeling good about how their patrol went.

"The patrol went smooth," Contreras said. "We got to talk to a lot of people. Most of our patrols are about building rapport with the people. We accomplished our mission out there."

Marine Corps Offers Yoga, Massages to Marriages Strained by War

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — Fighting in Iraq took a heavy toll on Marine Lance Cpl. Daniel Patrick, damaging his hand, injuring his brain and causing him to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Click on above link for photos.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008
Associated Press

But Patrick's body wasn't the only thing hurt by combat. His relationship with his wife was wounded, too. The couple got married shortly after he returned, yet Patrick refused to talk to her about the war. Sometimes he yelled at her.

So the pair marked their first anniversary this past weekend at a Marine Corps retreat that took a decidedly un-military approach to saving marriages: Combining classes in communication with massage therapy, yoga and meditation. It's an effort by the military to ease the strain on married couples when soldiers return to civilian life after long, repeated deployments.

Navy Chaplain Dwight Horn came up with the idea after returning from Fallujah, where he witnessed some of the fiercest fighting in the war.

"It just opened my eyes. I began to see a lot of issues that needed to be addressed," said Horn, a member of the Marine Corps chaplains' program that organized the retreat. He also had trouble resuming life with his wife after coming back from Iraq.

"We're seeing some warriors having a hard time readjusting ... and their spouses are confused by it."

The first-of-its kind program is called "Warrior Couple Readjustment Retreat." Joining the Patricks were 12 other couples, mostly wounded Marines and their spouses from Camp Pendleton.

Pentagon statistics released last year showed the divorce rate in the military holding steady at 3.3 percent, but the numbers say nothing about troubled marriages.

Sitting in a conference room at a Los Angeles-area hotel, Navy Corpsmen Aaron Seibert, 35, and his wife listen to a therapist encouraging couples to open up to one another before their frustrations explode.

The couples discuss the emotional distance that military duty and, in some cases, combat injuries have put between them.

Robin Seibert, 38, nods as she listens. After seven years of marriage, she knows the frustration that comes with a military marriage. But nothing prepared her for her husband's three consecutive deployments, including the one that ended in April 2006 when a mortar round riddled his body with 100 pieces of shrapnel.

"The injuries were extremely tough. I was thinking first, 'Is he going to live?' Then it was, 'Is he going to recover?' Then it was, 'What are we going to do? Is he going to have a job?"' she said.

Meanwhile, Aaron Seibert, of Riverton, Wyo., was battling the mood swings and flaring temper that come with PTSD.

Later in a dimly lit room, Seibert learns to give his wife a foot rub from a massage therapist. Across the room, Patrick massages his wife, Samantha, modifying the technique because his damaged left hand is still in a brace.

"I was like 'OK, yoga and massage are nice. How is it going to help my marriage?"' he said.

The massage lessons are designed to help couples relax with each other.

"When you start getting into the whole mind-body thing and the touchy-feeling thing with Marines, you have to present it in a way they are going to get into it," said Cari Gardonne, who helped design the sessions.

The yoga, for example, is geared toward teaching the benefits of health.

Patrick, wounded in Fallujah in November 2006, was skeptical about yoga, with its "spandex and funny music." But he was willing to try anything to preserve his relationship with his wife.

"It's been a rough year because of me not getting the help I needed at first," Patrick said. "I wasn't willing to admit I had problems. Now that I am getting help, things are a little better."

The Marine wants his wife to see the strides other wounded service members are making.

"I hope that she can see that there are other guys like me, and that I can get better," he said.

At the least, she realized there were others in her position.

"Seeing that there are other wives going through this, I don't feel so alone," she said.

Shepherd Center and Humana Military Healthcare Services Launch SHARE Initiative

Shepherd Center and Humana Military Healthcare Services have partnered with Home Depot co-founder and philanthropist Bernie Marcus to help wounded U.S. military service members and their families obtain additional care to promote their recovery from combat-related injuries.


The program, called the SHARE Initiative, is for military men and women who were wounded during their service in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, as well as their families. The program initially will concentrate on cases in the Southeast, then expand to a larger scope.

“The partnership allows Shepherd Center to complement the care already given through the Military Treatment Facilities system and the Veterans Administration by offering our world-renowned medical and rehabilitation care to U.S. service men and women returning from combat with catastrophic injuries, such as traumatic brain injury or spinal cord injury,” said Dr. Donald Peck Leslie, medical director of Shepherd Center.

Marcus will act as a benefactor for wounded service members to help pay for necessary medical rehabilitation, post-acute rehabilitation, and community and family support services administered at Shepherd Center that may fall outside of their coverage under TRICARE, the health benefits plan for military service members and their dependents. The program also targets military service members who live in rural areas and have limited access to the specialized services they may require.

Marcus and his wife, Billi, have been longtime supporters of Shepherd Center programs and said they decided to provide funding for the SHARE Initiative to make a difference in the lives of wounded military service members.

“These people are giving their lives for us, so I contacted Shepherd Center to ask one question: ‘How can I help?’” Marcus said.

Many of the cases presented to Shepherd Center will involve traumatic brain injury (TBI), Dr. Leslie said. Army officials estimate that 10 to 20 percent of troops leaving Iraq and Afghanistan have signs of concussion, or mild traumatic brain injury. Blasts from explosions are the most common cause of TBI, often called the “signature wound” of the war.

Symptoms may include problems with memory, attention, concentration and sleeping, as well as headaches, confusion, dizziness, nausea and irritability. These symptoms are also similar in people suffering post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which can make diagnosis and treatment more difficult.

The partnership creates a unique program at Shepherd Center with a mission to complement the care provided to members of the military by offering specialized rehabilitation and community reintegration services that insurance does not require, but that Shepherd Center believes is important for people to reach their fullest recovery following a spinal cord or traumatic brain injury.

The vision of the SHARE Initiative is to create an integrated partnership focused on the enhancement of hope and recovery for the wounded warrior. In addition, Shepherd Center and Humana Military Healthcare Services are working collaboratively to raise awareness of available services, obtain early identification and referral of the wounded warriors, and identify family members who need additional support, education and assistance in navigating their way through the recovery process.

Services offered under the SHARE Initiative include neuropsychological evaluation to assess for TBI and PTSD, cognitive therapy, counseling, activity- and community-based rehabilitation, residential services and respite care for family members, and housing while services are being performed. Additional services include assistive technology devices, cognitive prosthetics and home health care equipment, such as bathroom equipment and canes.

“We are proud to be affiliated with this worthwhile initiative to assist our wounded service members in their recovery process,” said Dave Baker, president and CEO of Humana Military Healthcare Services. “The collaboration efforts between Humana Military and Shepherd Center have created a much-needed program, and I commend Mr. Marcus for his leadership and desire to help this deserving population.”

The initiative will also include entry to Shepherd Center’s Marcus Community Bridge Program, which was launched by Shepherd Center in 1999, and funded by an $18 million grant from Marcus. The program provides Shepherd Center case managers who help individuals or their families by assessing their needs and providing educational information regarding resources available in their community. This intervention allows individuals to address psychosocial, career and medical issues that may arise after their injury or illness. It also provides life-skills training and coaching for patients so they can become as independent as possible in their communities.

Shepherd Center, named one of the nation’s top rehabilitation hospitals by U.S. News & World Report, specializes in medical and rehabilitative care for spinal cord injuries, brain injuries, multiple sclerosis, chronic pain and other neuromuscular diseases and illnesses.

Shepherd Center provides a full continuum of services to meet the complex needs of people with traumatic and non-traumatic brain injuries, as well as those individuals suffering complications from a stroke or tumor. Brain-injured veterans join an estimated 1.4 million cases of TBI annually among civilians in the United States. The main causes of TBI are falls, road accidents, assaults, or being struck by an object. More than 5.3 million people in the United States become disabled by TBI.

More information

For more information about the SHARE Initiative, call Shepherd Center at 404-603-4950.

April 1, 2008

UPS, Marines begin year-round Toys for Tots Literacy Program

The UPS Store in Sehome Village has teamed up with the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation to announce its first yearround initiative, the Toys for Tots Literacy Program.


April 1, 2008

This new initiative, in conjunction with The UPS Stores across the country, will provide direct access to books and educational resources for economically disadvantaged children to enhance their ability to read and communicate effectively.

The UPS Store will be selling $1 donation cards. For every dollar donated, a book will be given to a child in the area courtesy of Scholastic, Inc.

For more information, call 650-1377.