« April 2008 | Main | June 2008 »

May 31, 2008

Marines adjust to an evolving Iraq

By Andrew Scutro - Staff writer
Posted : Saturday May 31, 2008 7:55:39 EDT

WESTERN IRAQ — This isn’t the combat mission these Marines expected.

To continue reading:


Gates Seeks More Afghanistan Support at Asia Security Summit

SINGAPORE, May 31, 2008 – Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates continued his quest to get more Asian countries to step forward and help in Afghanistan during a series of bilateral meetings here today at the International Institute of Strategic Studies’ Asia Security Summit.
Talks about operations in Afghanistan as well as Iraq played prominently in most of Gates’ six formal and informal “pull-aside” sessions today, a senior defense official told reporters. The same issues are expected to arise again during three additional bilateral meetings.


By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

Unlike last year’s summit, during which Gates took his case to the full body during his keynote address, this year he used a lower-profile, personal approach during meetings with his counterparts from Japan and Singapore, as well as Great Britain and France.

Japanese Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba “focused a great deal on Afghanistan and the global war on terror and what more, if anything, the Japanese can do to increase their participation in that effort,” the official said.

Later in the day, Gates pressed Singaporean Defense Minister Teo Chee Hean to tap into his country’s helicopter fleet to support Afghanistan operations. “We are always in need of additional heavy lift, and the secretary made the case that helicopter transport in Afghanistan literally saves lives,” the official said.

Gates thanked two European participants at the conference during separate bilateral sessions for their roles in the NATO International Security Assistance Force mission in Afghanistan, and explored ways to enhance the effort.

He urged French Defense Minister Herve Morin to consider deploying French troops to join U.S. Special Forces serving in Afghanistan, and also discussed operations in Iraq, the official said.

British Defense Minister Desmond Browne, just back from visits to Afghanistan and Iraq, “couldn’t speak more highly” to Gates about the U.S. 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit’s performance in the Regional Command South sector of Afghanistan, the official said. “He was astonished by how much they had accomplished in so short a period of time,” the official added.

In discussions about Iraq, Browne and Gates focused on the status-of-forces agreement being negotiated with the Iraqi government, which will affect how British and U.S. forces operate there, the official said.

During last year’s security summit, Gates reminded participants during his keynote address that success or failure in Afghanistan will have a direct impact on what happens in their own back yards. He urged them to do their part to help Afghanistan become a secure, fully sovereign nation, and noted Asian countries such as Japan, Australia and Indian that already are assisting.

Gates encouraged more Asian countries to recognize the stake they have in Afghanistan and to lend their help to ensuring it succeeds. “I would urge others to step forward with assistance to Afghanistan in the areas of governance, reconstruction and counternarcotics,” he told them.

Two additional sessions today -- with Philippine Defense Secretary Gilberto Theodoro Jr. and Chinese Lt. Gen. M.A. Xiatian, deputy chief of general staff for the People’s Liberation Army -- focused on issues other than Afghanistan and Iraq.

Gates and Theordoro discussed the Philippines’ defense reform and counterterrorism efforts. The discussion with Xiatian concentrated on response efforts following a deadly May 12 earthquake in China’s Sichuan province. Xiatian thanked Gates for the prompt U.S. military response provided, and agreed with Gates that more military-to-military exchanges between the two countries can enhance their abilities to cooperate in disaster relief, the official said.

May 30, 2008

Game show seeks military family contestants

By Karen Jowers - Staff writer
Posted : Friday May 30, 2008 13:22:49 EDT

The producers of a new game show for ABC are looking for military families to be contestants on the pilot episode of the show, which will offer “a huge cash prize.”

To continue reading:


Tarawa, 11th MEU to return to San Diego

Staff report
Posted : Friday May 30, 2008 9:13:29 EDT

Thousands of Marines and sailors with the Tarawa Expeditionary Strike Group will return home to San Diego on June 3 following a seven-month deployment, Navy officials said Thursday.

To continue reading:


May 29, 2008

2nd Bn., 3rd Marines participate in Operation Gravel Dump

KARMA, Iraq (May 29, 2008) – Along the road nicknamed Chicago, vehicles lined up for miles, each vehicle getting ready to be searched. But they are not going to be searched by Marines, but by local Iraqi Security Forces.


5/29/2008 By Cpl. Chadwick deBree, 2nd Battalion (2/3)

Marines with Company F, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 1, supported Iraqis with the Karma Iraqi Police and Iraqi Soldiers of 1st Company, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, participated in Operation Gravel Dump.

“The Iraqi Army had (intelligence) that insurgents were smuggling weapons and explosives by hiding them in the gravel trucks,” said 2nd Lt. Adam Steele, platoon commander, 4th Platoon, Co. F, 2nd Bn., 3rd Marines. “So they came up to us and told us their plan to get us all together to search the trucks. The Iraqi Army then asked us if they could do it on this day and we told them yes, and that we would be there to help them with anything that they needed.”

With temperatures reaching more than one hundred degrees both days, the ISF searched every car and truck that came their way, searching for weapons caches, and requiring very little from the Marines.

When a car drove up to the check point, the Iraqi Security Force personnel asked the driver to present their identification cards and searched them while Marine Lionesses searched the women and children, and then proceeded to search the vehicle.

When a gravel truck arrived, they asked the driver to pull into a designated lot to have them dump their gravel to be searched by military working dogs.

“This is a perfect integration of Iraqi Army, Iraqi Police, Lionesses, military working dogs, and infantry Marines,” Steele said. “They did very well and worked hard and well with each other.”

Though no weapons were found during the search, the operation proved to be a success as the Iraqi Army and Police worked together with little help from the Marines.

“The Iraqis worked especially well with each other,” Steele said. “Whenever they had a question or a problem, they would ask each other first to try to solve it before asking the Marines. They were motivated to take control of this operation, to make it their own.”

With the ISF at the helm of the operation, the local population was glad to see that their own security forces were in control of the situation.

One local Iraqi citizen stated, as his vehicle was being searched, that it was good to see that his country men were taking charge of searching Iraqis.

“The people are feeling more and more safe seeing the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police conducting things like these, essentially, on their own,” Steele said. “We were just there for census data. This is what we aim for; to get the Iraqi Police to work on their own. This will set them up for us to eventually leave here. This operation was a great success due to the fact that we had the army and police working together. Their workmanship is due to the Marines living with them and it shows 2/3’s work ethic and dedication to training them for success. Their motivation and dedication let’s us know we are doing a good job out here.”

Legacy of female major killed in Iraq grows

By Mike Barber - Seattle Post-Intelligencer via The Associated Press
Posted : Thursday May 29, 2008 8:26:35 EDT

COUPLEVILLE, Wash. — After they received the hard news of their daughter’s death in Iraq in December 2006, Mike and Re McClung cloaked themselves in solitude, declining requests for interviews.

To continue reading:

May 28, 2008

The Venetian Honors Wounded Service Members

40 of America's most recently wounded service members were given a hero's welcome at The Venetian Thursday night.


May 23, 2008 12:24 AM CDT

They will spend the Memorial Day weekend in Las Vegas as a thank you for their sacrifice.

Action News anchor Casey Smith talked to some of the service members.

Some of the biggest stars in America walked the red carpet in Las Vegas Thursday night.

They are not on television or in the movies, they are in the Armed Forces.

"Walking through those doors today was unbelievably overwhelming," explained Matthew Reilly.

They have all been through some much and are now spending Memorial Day weekend in paradise.

"You cannot put a price tag on anything they have done. But they are all worth a million, they are all worth a million," said Venetian employee Ramona Schenk.

The 40 wounded Americans and their families were the honored guests of Sheldon and Doctor Miriam Adelson.

"They put themselves in harm's way to protect our freedoms. We have to say we are just compelled to say, we want to say thank you to them. Because we do not believe a lot of people are going to say thank you," said Venetian owner Sheldon Adelson.

"To come here to his home, to his palace and on that type of luxury, I felt like a king. It was completely undeserved and then to walk through the doors to this. The welcome of people screaming, clapping and I was just doing my job. My brothers who are still over there, we are just doing our jobs," said Matthew.

Stay tuned to Action News as we monitor developing news around the Valley.

Hard, familiar words: Off to Iraq

Parting is no easier the 2nd time

The charter bus waiting to carry Staff Sgt. Darryl Anderson off to war idled nearby.


Wednesday, May 28, 2008
Star-Ledger Staff

But the Marine reservist hesitated, his tan combat boots planted on the Picatinny Arsenal asphalt and his eyes fixed on his wife, Ann, and his daughters, Katelynn, 10, Carlina, 7, and Elizabeth, 3.

"There is nothing tougher than being away from these faces," said Anderson, 31, of Brick before beginning one last round of hugs and heading off to his second tour in Iraq.

"He's going to miss so much when he's gone," Ann Anderson said as she clutched Elizabeth to her chest and watched her husband, a contractor in civilian life, walk toward the bus.

It was a scene that played out many times yesterday morning as nearly 150 Marines of Golf Company of the 2nd Battalion of the 25th Marines left their home armory for three months of training in California and then the infantry unit's second combat tour in Iraq in five years.

All of the unit's officers and senior enlisted men (women are barred from serving in infantry units) have been to Iraq at least once before, as have about one-third of the more-junior Marines, said Maj. John Fitzsimmons, the unit's commander.

"The combat experience helps," said Fitzsimmons, who led a scout-sniper platoon during a tour in Iraq in 2003.

The Marines flew from Newark to California on a charter flight. They will train for three months at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, then deploy to Iraq in late September for a seven-month tour.

The Marines, who specialize in ground combat, will be assigned somewhere in Anbar province, a sprawling region west of Baghdad that includes the towns of Ramadi and Fallujah. Fitzsimmons, whose civilian job is as a commercial real estate manager in Manhattan, said his unit's specific mission won't be decided until later in the summer.

In California, the Marines will take part in an ongoing training exercise dubbed Mohave Viper to prepare all Iraq-bound active-duty and reserve units. The first training begins today with classroom work, including a crash course on Iraqi culture, language and customs.

As the Marines awaited the order yesterday to board the buses, they stood in tight clusters with family members who used camera phones for last-minute snapshots.

Lance Cpl. Rickey Ferriola Jr., 21, a Rutgers student making his first deployment, said he had been too busy to dwell on the dangers he will face overseas.

His mother, Janice Ferriola, and father, Rickey Ferriola Sr., managed to find time to worry.

"It's going to be tough," Janice Ferriola said. "But we're going to keep him in our prayers, and our whole family is going to be keeping him in our prayers."

Her husband jumped in: "And it's a whole big family, thankfully. So there will be a lot of prayers."

As the Marines and families milled about, Anna Berlinrut made her way through the crowd, quietly handing out fliers inviting families to join Military Families Speak Out, an anti-war organization for military families. Her son, a sergeant, was leaving for his second tour in Iraq.

Berlinrut, a member of the group's Essex County chapter, said she handed out maybe 50 fliers.

"A lot of them are going to go in the trash," she said. "But I've found people who say they'll come to one of our meetings."

Many of the families said their feelings about the war were a private matter.

Their feelings about their sons, husbands and boyfriends were not.

Before the buses boarded, Don D'Amico of Parsippany choked up as he talked about his 24-year-old son, Cpl. Andrew D'Amico, who will be making his second trip to Iraq.

"I'm real proud of him," the father said. "Since he was little, this is what he wanted to do. Now I just want him to come home safe."

US commander: Navy ships likely to leave Myanmar soon

WASHINGTON (AP) — The senior commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific says the Navy probably will withdraw a group of naval vessels from waters off the coast of Myanmar within days unless the government allows the ships to offload their relief supplies for cyclone victims.


By ROBERT BURNS – May 28, 2008

Navy Adm. Timothy Keating, chief of the U.S. Pacific Command, said Wednesday he would discuss the matter later this week with Defense Secretary Robert Gates in Singapore, where they will attend an international security conference.

Keating said the group of ships, led by the amphibious assault ship USS Essex, has other scheduled commitments in the area, including a planned port visit to Hong Kong. They happened to have been in the Gulf of Thailand participating in a naval exercise when the cyclone struck May 2-3.

"Absent a green light from Burmese officials, I don't think she will be there for weeks," Keating told a Pentagon news conference, referring to the Essex. "Days, and then we'll see."

The admiral said the Myanmar authorities' refusal to let the Navy provide relief aid is frustrating. He described the sailors and Marines aboard the Essex as "desperate" to provide help.

"If they can't help, they know they have other things that they joined the Navy and the Marine Corps to do, so they want to get on with that sort of thing," Keating said. "It is certainly frustrating to us at Pacific Command. Imagine how much more frustrating it is to the men and women on the ship."

The admiral said it is not too late for the Navy to contribute to the relief effort, saying, "We believe there's still a mission for us."

The Myanmar government has allowed a limited number of U.S. Air Force C-130s to bring in water and other relief supplies from a base in Thailand. Keating said 70 such flights have been flown thus far.

Accompanying the Essex in waters off Myanmar are the USS Juneau, the USS Harper's Ferry and the USS Mustin. The Essex has 23 helicopters aboard, including 19 capable of lifting cargo from ship to shore, as well as 1,500 Marines. U.S. officials have proposed using the helicopters to distribute relief aid from the Rangoon airport to outlying areas closer to the cyclone victims.

The U.S. vessels have been off the coast since shortly after the cyclone struck.

The Myanmar government says the cyclone killed 78,000 people and left 56,000 missing. An estimated 2.4 million people were left in desperate need of food, shelter and medical care, the United Nations says.

Keating said that when he flew to Rangoon with the first C-130 ferrying relief supplies from Thailand on May 11 he met with a high-level delegation of Myanmar civilian and military officials. He said they expressed appreciation for U.S. offers of more aid but said they could not make decisions at that point.

The Myanmar officials then spoke positively about the prospects for recovery from the cyclone, Keating said.

"As to their assessment of the need for those affected by the storm, it was a much more optimistic assessment than our embassy officials and our intelligence led us to understand," he said.

"They said people are returning to their villages, they're planting their summer rotation of crops," and they said the summer monsoons would wash away the salt water that the cyclone left in the soil and ponds. "Their estimate was not nearly as grave as ours," he said.

May 27, 2008

Optimism Grows as Marines Push Against Taliban

GARMSER, Afghanistan — For two years British troops staked out a presence in this small district center in southern Afghanistan and fended off attacks from the Taliban. The constant firefights left it a ghost town, its bazaar broken and empty but for one baker, its houses and orchards reduced to rubble and weeds.


Published: May 27, 2008

But it took the Marines, specifically the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, about 96 hours to clear out the Taliban in a fierce battle in the past month and push them back about 6 miles.

It was their first major combat operation since landing in March, and it stood in stark contrast to the events of a year earlier, when a Marine unit was removed in disgrace within weeks of arriving because its members shot and killed 19 civilians after a suicide bombing attack.

This time, the performance of the latest unit of marines, here in Afghanistan for seven months to help bolster NATO forces, will be under particular scrutiny. The NATO-led campaign against the Taliban has not only come under increasing pressure for its slow progress in curbing the insurgency, but it has also been widely criticized for the high numbers of civilian casualties in the fighting.

The marines’ drive against the Taliban in this large farming region is certainly not finished, and the Taliban have often been pushed out of areas in Afghanistan only to return in force later. But for the British forces and Afghan residents here, the result of the recent operation has been palpable.

The district chief returned to his job from his refuge in the provincial capital within days of the battle and 200 people — including 100 elders of the community — gathered for a meeting with him and the British to plan the regeneration of the town.

“They have disrupted the Taliban’s freedom of movement and pushed them south, and that has created the grounds for us to develop the hospital and set the conditions for the government to come back,” said Maj. Neil Den-McKay, the officer commanding a company of the Royal Regiment of Scotland based here. People have already started coming back to villages north of the town, he said, adding, “There has been huge optimism from the people.”

For the marines, it was a chance to hit the enemy with the full panoply of their firepower in places where they were confident there were few civilians. The Taliban put up a tenacious fight, rushing in reinforcements in cars and vans from the south and returning repeatedly to the attack, but they were beaten back in four days by three companies of marines, two of which were dropped in by helicopter to the southeast.

In the days after the assault began, hundreds of families, their belongings packed high on tractor-trailers, fled north from villages in the southern part of the battle zone, according to marines staffing a checkpoint. The Taliban told them to leave as the fighting began, they said. Hospital officials in the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah, reported receiving eight civilian casualties as a result of the fighting, including a 14-year-old boy who died from his injuries. The marines did not sustain any casualties, but one was killed and two were wounded in subsequent clashes.

Marines from the unit’s Company C said the reaction from the returning civilians, mostly farmers, had been favorable. “Everyone says they don’t like the Taliban,” said Capt. John Moder, 34, the commander of the company. People had complained that the Taliban stole food, clothes and vehicles from them, he said.

There are about 34,000 American troops in Afghanistan, with more than 3,000 marines having been sent into the country after NATO requested additional help in the south, where the Taliban are particularly strong.

The deployment occurred almost a year after up to 19 unarmed civilians were killed and 50 people wounded on March 4, 2007, when a Marine convoy opened fire after a suicide car bomb wounded one marine. On Friday, the Marine Corps said it would not bring charges against two of the commanding officers from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit for the episode, a decision that was greeted with dismay in Afghanistan.

The commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, Gen. Dan K. McNeill, had a checklist of tasks around the country for 3,200 marines when they arrived in March. But the majority of them have spent a month in Garmser after changing their original plan, which was to secure a single road here, when they realized how important the area was to the Taliban as an infiltration and supply route to fighters in northern part of Helmand Province.

“This is an artery, and we did not realize that when we squeezed that artery, it would have such an effect,” said First Lt. Mark Matzke, the executive officer of Company C.

They also realized it was worth exploiting their initial success. The whole area was unexpectedly welcoming to the American forces and eager for security and development, Captain Moder said. “Us pushing the Taliban out allows the Afghan National Army to come in,” he said. “This is a real breadbasket here. There’s a lot of potential here.”

This southern part of Helmand Province, along the Helmand River valley, is prime agricultural land and still benefits from the large-scale irrigation plan kicked off by American government assistance in the 1950s and 1960s. It has traditionally been the main producer of wheat and other crops for the country. During the last 30 years of war, however, the area has given way to poppy production, providing a large percentage of the crop that has made Afghanistan the producer of 98 percent of the world’s opium.

The region has long been an infiltration route for insurgents coming across the southern border with Pakistan, crossing from Baluchistan Province in Pakistan via an Afghan refugee camp known as Girdi Jungle. The Taliban, and the drug runners, then race across a region known ominously as the desert of death until they reach the river valley, which provides the ideal cover of villages and greenery.

With such a large area under their control, the Taliban were able to gather in numbers, stockpile weapons and provide a logistics route to send fighters and weapons into northern Helmand and the provinces of Kandahar and Oruzgan beyond.

The Taliban, who kicked out villagers and took over their farmhouses, were also mixed with an unusual proportion of Arabs and Pakistanis, Major Den-McKay said.

“The majority of elements in this area are Arab and Pakistani, and the locals detest them,” he said. The insurgent commanders were from Iran, which shares a border with Afghanistan to the southwest, as well as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, he said.

Afghan villagers confirmed that there were local Afghan Taliban fighting, too. But they also said that there were Pakistanis, ethnic Baluchis from southern Iran and Arabs fighting as well.

Locals complained that the Taliban taxed them heavily on the opium harvest. They demanded up to about 30 pounds of opium from every farmer, which was more than the entire harvest of some, so they were forced to go and buy opium to meet the demand, said Abdul Taher, a 45-year-old farmer.

“We had a lot of trouble these last two years,” said Sher Ahmad, 32. “We are very grateful for the security,” said his father, Abdul Nabi, the elder of a small hamlet in the village of Hazarjoft, a few miles south of Garmser. “We don’t need your help, just security,” he said.

Villagers were refusing humanitarian aid offered by the marines because the Taliban were already infiltrating back and threatening anyone who took it, Lieutenant Matzke said.

After a month in the region, the marines have secured only half of a roughly six-square-mile area south of Garmser. Taliban forces operating out of two villages are still attacking the southern flank of the marines and are even creeping up to fire at British positions on the edge of the town.

But the bigger test will come in the next few weeks as the marines move on and the Afghans, supported by the British, take over. The concern here is that the Taliban will try to blend in among the returning villagers and orchestrate attacks.

Major Den-McKay said they were ready. “The threat will migrate from direct attacks to suicide attacks” and roadside bombs, he said.

Now on his fourth tour in Afghanistan, Major Den-McKay said he had seen considerable progress in the confidence and ability of the Afghan security forces. Reinforcements of the police, trained and mentored by the British and Americans, have already moved in and are working well with border police and intelligence service personnel, he said.

The marines, meanwhile, prepare for their next move. To the south are miles upon miles of uncontrolled territory where the Taliban still operate freely, as well as a dozen other districts around the country demanding their attention.

Afghan Police Transform Into Professional, Equipped Force

WASHINGTON, May 27, 2008 – When Army Col. Thomas J. McGrath arrived in Kandahar, Afghanistan, last year as the commander of the Afghan Regional Security Integration Command, he stopped in on a police checkpoint.


By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service

Of the 25 Afghan police manning the point, only one had a police shirt on, only one had a weapon, and they all were high on hashish, the colonel said today in a conference call with members of veteran service organizations.

“They were totally disorganized, but that was your police department,” McGrath said. “It was pretty scary to think about what wasn’t there.”

Now, the same checkpoint is manned by 25 fully equipped police officers, all in uniform and professionally trained under a new program called focused district development.

McGrath called the program’s inception a “flash of brilliance” and said it has changed the course of the fight in many of Afghanistan’s rural districts, where the police once either worked with the Taliban or simply turned a blind eye to their activities.

The training program’s goal is to form a standardized, uniformed police force across the country. District by district, all the officers are removed and taken to a regional training facility. They are backfilled in the meantime with members of the Afghan National Civil Order Police, a highly trained national police force.

The local police go through eight weeks of training in security and infantry tactics. They are given uniforms, weapons, radios and vehicles, and then return to their district as a transformed force, still under the watchful eye of a squad-sized coalition-force mentor team.

“It’s the first time … they’ve understood their roles as policemen and how to support their constitution, how to protect lives and protect property of the Afghan populace,” the colonel said.

The first district to go through the program was from the Zabol province in the country’s south, and so far five districts have completed the program. Three more districts are in training, and McGrath said he plans to have a dozen districts trained in the next few months. The police also, for the first time, are learning to work with their army counterparts.

This has led to an Afghan police force in those areas capable of taking on the Taliban head-to-head. In March and April, police killed about 70 Taliban fighters, McGrath noted.

“That’s the first time, and we have the Taliban confused, because they were usually getting along well with the police, or the police were closing their eyes as they passed through,” he said. “That changes the entire landscape of the operational design. This is an incredible movement forward for the Afghan people and the Afghan security forces.”

The recent arrival of about 1,000 Marines from 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, from Camp Pendleton, Calif., will help boost the training efforts. The Marines will be in Afghanistan for the next seven months, providing police mentorship and security training. McGrath said they will train more than 1,000 police officers before they leave. Across the region, McGrath said, he expects to have up to 3,000 newly trained police officers by fall.

The Marines will move into “hot spots” now controlled by the Taliban where there are few, if any, coalition troops or Afghan National Police, he said.

The Marine unit had a similar mission in Iraq before this deployment. “They bring a lot of experience to the fight. And it’s going to be a fight. These are tough areas that they’re going into,” McGrath said.

Recruiting is up for the police, McGrath said, even in areas with no current police presence. He called the police “fearless” citizens who simply want to train and fight. “I’ve fought with them in combat, shoulder to shoulder, and I have nothing but the best respect for them.”

As successful as focused district development has been, McGrath said, the effort could progress more quickly with more trainers. “My biggest challenge is getting the right number of trainers,” he said. “I could move forward even faster if I had more police trainers down here.”

May 26, 2008

3/9 Marines: ‘Geared to go’

By Trista Talton
Posted : May 26, 2008

CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. — Only time will tell where the men of the final battalion of 9th Marines to reactivate will deploy next year.

To continue reading:


In southern Afghanistan, the marines clear a little space for optimism

GARMSER, Afghanistan: For two years British troops staked out a presence in this small district center in southern Afghanistan and fended off attacks from the Taliban. The constant firefights left it a ghost town, its bazaar broken and empty but for one baker, its houses and orchards reduced to rubble and weeds.


By Carlotta Gall Published: May 26, 2008

But it took the U.S. Marines, specifically the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, about 96 hours to clear out the Taliban in a fierce battle in the past month and push them back 10 kilometers, or six miles.

The operation stood in stark contrast to the events of March 2007, when a Marine unit shot and killed 19 civilians after a suicide bombing attack.

This time, the performance of the new unit of marines, in Afghanistan for seven months to bolster NATO forces, will be under particular scrutiny.

Not only has the NATO-led campaign against the Taliban come under increasing scrutiny for its slow progress in curbing the insurgency, it also has been widely criticized for the high numbers of civilian casualties.

The marines' drive against the Taliban in this large farming region is certainly not finished, and the Taliban have often been pushed out of areas in Afghanistan only to return in force. But for the British forces and for Afghan residents, the result of the recent operation has been palpable.

The district chief returned to his job from his refuge in the provincial capital within days of the battle. Two hundred people - including 100 elders of the community - gathered for a meeting with him and the British to plan the regeneration of the town.

Major Neil Den-McKay, the officer commanding a company of the Royal Regiment of Scotland based here, said of the U.S. Marine's assault: "They have disrupted the Taliban's freedom of movement and pushed them south, and that has created the grounds for us to develop the hospital and set the conditions for the government to come back." People have started coming back to villages north of the town, he added, saying, "There has been huge optimism from the people."

For the marines, it was a chance to hit the enemy with the full panoply of their firepower in places where they were confident there were few civilians. The Taliban put up a tenacious fight, rushing in reinforcements in cars and vans from the south and returning again and again to the attack. But they were beaten back in four days by three companies of marines, two of which were dropped in by helicopter to the south east.

Hundreds of families, their belongings and children packed high on tractor-trailers, had fled north from villages in the southern part of the battle zone in the days after the assault began, said marines at one checkpoint. The Taliban told them to leave as the fighting began, they said. Hospital officials in the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah, reported receiving eight civilian casualties as a result of the fighting, including a 14-year-old boy who died from his wounds. The marines had no casualties in the initial fighting, but one was killed and two were wounded in subsequent clashes.

Marines from Charlie Company said the reaction from the returning population, mostly farmers, has been favorable. "Everyone says they don't like the Taliban," said Captain John Moder, 34, commander of Charlie Company. People had complained that the Taliban stole food, clothes and vehicles from them, he said.

There are about 34,000 American troops in Afghanistan, but additional marines were sent to the country after NATO requested more help in the south, where the Taliban are particularly strong.

Human rights groups say that up to 19 civilians were killed and 50 people were wounded on March 4, 2007, when a Marine convoy opened fire after a suicide car bomb wounded a marine. On Friday, the Marine Corps said it would not bring charges against two marines from the 26 Marine Expeditionary Unit for the episode, a decision that was greeted with dismay in Afghanistan.

The U.S. commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, General Dan McNeill, had a checklist of tasks around the country for the 3,200 marines when they arrived in March. But the majority of them have spent a month in Garmser after changing their original plan to secure a single road here, when they realized how important the area was to the Taliban as an infiltration and supply route to fighters in northern Helmand Province.

"This is an artery and we did not realize that when we squeezed that artery, it would have such an effect," said First Lieutenant Mark Matzke, the executive officer of Charlie Company.

The whole area was unexpectedly welcoming to the U.S. forces, and eager for security and development, Moder of Charlie Company said.

"Us pushing the Taliban out allows the Afghan National Army to come in," he said. "This is a real bread basket here. There's a lot of potential here."

This southern part of Helmand Province, along the Helmand River valley, is prime agricultural land and still benefits from the grand irrigation plan started by U.S. government assistance in the 1950s and 1960s. It has traditionally been the main producer of wheat and other crops for the country, but in 30 years of war has given way to poppies, providing a large percentage of the crop that has made Afghanistan the producer of 98 percent of the world's opium.

The region has long been an infiltration route for insurgents coming across the southern border with Pakistan, crossing the border from Baluchistan via an Afghan refugee camp, known as Girdi Jungle, notorious for its drug smuggling and gun running.

The Taliban, and the drug runners, then race across a region known ominously as the desert of death until they reach the river valley, which provides ideal cover of villages and greenery.

With such a large area under their control, they were able to gather in numbers, stockpile weapons and provide a logistics route to send fighters and weapons into northern Helmand and the provinces of Kandahar and Uruzgan beyond.

The Taliban, who kicked out villagers and took over their farmhouses, sometimes even bringing their families from Pakistan to join them, were joined by Arabs and Pakistanis, Den-McKay said.

"The majority of elements in this area are Arab and Pakistani, and the locals detest them," he said. Some of the Arabs were specialist trainers and some young jihadists from different countries. The commanders were Iranians, which shares a border with Afghanistan to the southwest, as well as Saudis and Pakistanis, he asserted.

Afghan villagers confirmed that there were local Afghan Taliban fighting, too, and named one, Abdul Hadi Agha, who was killed in the recent fighting. But they said there were also Pakistanis, ethnic Baluchis from southern Iran and Arabs.

The local people complained that the Taliban taxed them heavily on the opium harvest. They demanded up to 13 kilos of opium from every farmer, which was more than the entire harvest of some, so they were forced to go and buy opium to meet the demand, said one farmer Abdul Taher, 45.

"We had a lot of trouble these last two years," said Sher Ahmad, 32.

His father, Abdul Nabi, the elder of a small hamlet in the village of Hazarjoft, a few miles south of Garmser, said: "We are very grateful for the security. We don't need your help, just security."

Villagers were refusing foreign aid because the Taliban were already infiltrating back and threatening anyone who took it, said Matzke, the first lieutenant of Charlie Company.

After a month in the region, the marines have secured only half of a 10 square kilometer area south of Garmser, and Taliban operating out of two villages are still attacking their southern flank and even creeping up to fire at British positions on the edge of the town.

But the bigger test will come in the next few weeks as the marines move on, the Afghans take over, supported by the British, and the Taliban try to blend in with the returning population and orchestrate attacks, as everyone here expects them to do.

Den-McKay says the British troops were ready. "The threat will migrate from direct attacks to suicide attacks," he said.

Now on his fourth tour in Afghanistan, Den-McKay said he had seen considerable progress in the confidence and ability of the Afghan forces. Reinforcements of police, trained by the British and Americans, have moved in and are working well with border police and intelligence service personnel, he said. The marines, meanwhile, prepare for their next move. To the south lies a swath of uncontrolled territory where the Taliban still operate freely.

Local Marines Pack-Up, Head Out On Memorial Day

MOUNDSVILLE, W.Va. -- It was tears, hugs and lots of “I love you” as 18 marines from Company K, 3d Battalion, said goodbye to their families in Moundsville, and prepared to head overseas.


POSTED: 1:15 pm EDT May 26, 2008
UPDATED: 6:22 pm EDT May 26, 2008

For some, this will be their second tour of duty.

"First time is fear of the unknown,” said Cpl. Justin Peck. “This time we all know what our job is. We're better at what we do."

Peck's mother, Sandy, has already done this once and said it helps to know although her son is leaving one family, he will be going overseas with another.

"You get to know them and you feel comfortable that they are one big happy little family," she said.

For others, this is the first time they've gone through this tough farewell. It's a bittersweet day, knowing the men will be gone for months, but many of them see this as an honor.

"To have the opportunity to go back to Iraq and serve my county, it's a great honor," said Sgt. Aaron Norris.

Through the tears, families say a positive attitude at home is best.

"Because if you don't have that you would lose your mind. You would really lose your mind," Peck said.

The Patriot Guard Riders rode motorcycles to escort the Marines’ bus from the Reserve Center. They drove to Cleveland Monday to attach with another unit. Then they'll head to California for several months of training before making the trip overseas.

Their tour of duty is expected to last seven months, but the Marines said that could change while they are overseas.

Marine recovering after being shot in head

By Dan Lamothe - Staff writer
Posted : Monday May 26, 2008 9:39:03 EDT

Lance Cpl. Sam Hansen was on a Mother’s Day vehicle patrol in Taliban-heavy Garmser, Afghanistan, when insurgents opened fire.

To continue reading:


The Wars We Choose to Ignore

Gen. John A. Logan was a Union officer, a fierce Republican partisan, an early advocate of the kind of volunteer army the United States now fights wars with. He is also one of the people credited with coming up with the holiday that we celebrate today. A statue in Logan Circle in Washington shows the general on horseback flanked by two female figures said to represent America at war and America at peace.


Published: May 26, 2008

Given public indifference to a war that refuses to end, perhaps a third statue should be added: America at peace with being at war.

Even as we celebrate generations of American soldiers past, the women and men who are making that sacrifice today in Iraq and Afghanistan receive less attention every day. There’s plenty of blame to go around: battle fatigue at home, failing media resolve and a government intent on controlling information from the battlefield.

According to the Project for Excellence in Journalism’s News Coverage Index, coverage of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has slipped to 3 percent of all American print and broadcast news as of last week, falling from 25 percent as recently as last September.

“Ironically, the success of the surge and a reduction in violence has led to a reduction in coverage,” said Mark Jurkowitz of the Project for Excellence in Journalism. “There is evidence that people have made up their minds about this war, and other stories — like the economy and the election — have come along and sucked up all the oxygen.”

But the tactical success of the surge should not be misconstrued as making Iraq a safer place for American soldiers. Last year was the bloodiest in the five-year history of the conflict, with more than 900 dead, and last month, 52 perished, making it the bloodiest month of the year so far. So far in May, 18 have died.

Television network news coverage in particular has gone off a cliff. Citing numbers provided by a consultant, Andrew Tyndall, the Associated Press reported that in the months after September when Gen. David H. Petraeus testified before Congress about the surge, collective coverage dropped to four minutes a week from 30 minutes a week at the height of coverage, in September 2007.

It was also pointed out that when Katie Couric, CBS’s embattled anchor, went to Iraq to report the story, she and her network were rewarded with their lowest ratings in over 20 years. Hollywood producers who had hoped there would be a public interest in cinematic perspectives on this war have been similarly punished.

The war remains on the front burner for some outlets. On Sunday, The Los Angeles Times gave over much of its front page to chronicling Californians who have died fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Washington Post continues to personalize the war with a series called Faces of the Fallen.

Earlier this spring, Alissa J. Rubin of The New York Times wrote about flying in a C-130 in Iraq, accompanied by soldiers, including one in a coffin at the back of the plane.

“I wondered what exactly he had died for. And although I did not know him, I felt melancholy as we flew onward, accompanied now by ghosts and memories of loss,” she wrote.

She may have been haunted by her proximity, but the rest of us? Not so much. I asked Bill Keller, the executive editor of The Times, how a war that had cost thousands of lives and over $1 trillion was losing news salience.

“There is a cold and sad calculation that readers/viewers aren’t that interested in the war, whether because they are preoccupied with paying $4 for a gallon of gas and avoiding foreclosure, or because they have Iraq fatigue,” he wrote in an e-mail message, adding that The Times stays on the story as part of an implied contract with its readers.

Other news editors have made the judgment — perhaps prodded by falling revenue and slashed news budgets — that public attitudes toward the war have become so calcified that few are interested in learning more. Why bother when things don’t change?

Except that they do, in a heartbeat. Last Thursday, Steve and Linda Ellis of Baker City, Ore., held a funeral for their daughter, Army Cpl. Jessica Ann Ellis. Corporal Ellis, a 24-year-old combat medic, died May 11 in Baghdad, a victim of a roadside bomb during her second tour of Iraq. She had been injured just three weeks before in a similar attack, but chose to go back out. She was assigned to the Second Brigade Special Troops Battalion, Second Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division and had curly, unruly hair, which brought her the nickname “Napoleon Dynamite” early in her military career.

More than 300 people gathered around this collective wound at St. Francis de Sales Cathedral, according to The Baker City Herald. In the funeral Mass, Bishop Thomas Connolly spoke plainly of her contribution.

“She was a good medic, well-trained and as brave as could be,” the newspaper quoted him as saying.

Hanging in the building where I work, there is a striking picture from the newspaper’s archives (by Angel Franco, a New York Times photographer) of a young soldier in Arizona looking up into the eyes of her father, saying goodbye, her eyes shiny with love and fear. I look at the picture every day as I walk by and think of my 20-year-old twin girls, safe at college. The feeling of gratitude is always followed by guilt. My girls are out of harm’s way, but what about that man’s daughter? What about Ms. Ellis?

On Saturday, her parents received an e-mail message from one of the colleagues in Iraq she was charged with looking after.

“There are wounds that don’t show on the outside,” he wrote. “She gave me the best medicine for what I had — hope and love.”

In a phone call Sunday, Mr. Ellis set aside his grief to describe his loss and the loss to the country she served.

“She wanted to be there for her guys; she told us that,” he said. “She gave the largest sacrifice a person possibly could, selflessly, like she did every day of her life.”

He added, “Jessica was a child who had no care in the world, none, besides making you smile, besides making you feel better.”

And although the Pentagon and the current administration will go to great lengths today to talk about the pride we should all feel in the fighting women and men of this country, increasingly onerous rules of engagement for the news media and the military make it difficult for the few remaining reporters and photographers to do their job: showing soldiers doing theirs.

Yes, the message seems to be, we honor the dead, but do not show them in your pictures. Of course, we care deeply about the wounded, but you now need their signed permission to depict their sacrifice. As the number of reporters and photographers has gone down, the efforts to control those who remain have gone up.

Ashley Gilbertson, a freelance photographer who has covered the war for Newsweek, Time and The New York Times and has written about covering the conflict in a book called “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot,” will be going back to Iraq in June. It will be his sixth time there, temperatures will range up to 130 degrees, and each time he has gone back there have been new restrictions.

“Many of my colleagues have turned away from the story because it has gotten to the point where they feel they just aren’t going to get anything useful, which I completely understand,” he said, adding that nonetheless, when the surge ends this summer, he wants to be there to chronicle what follows.

General Logan wrote long ago that both the glories and the consequences of war needed to be shared by all. He warned against “the dangers of confining military knowledge to a comparatively small number of citizens, constituting the select few who may hold the destinies of the country in their hands.”

May 25, 2008


A colleague dropped by on a recent day to tell me that it was the third anniversary of her son’s coming home from Iraq. That stopped me. It’s been 40 years since I stepped off the battlefield, and I’m not home yet. I can still feel the muck of rice paddies pulling on my boots, still hear the jungle hiss and snap in the dark. Even after the night dreams and day drifts have stopped and the loud noises no longer startle, you still press your chin against your shoulder and look back.


Published: May 25, 2008

In those days, we had no time for the dead: Jim Payne from Glendale, Calif., Tommy Gonzales from Beeville, Tex. It was hard losing those good men, hard watching them fall. But we were too busy to grieve or to toll the knell. We wrapped the bodies in muddy ponchos, tossed them like sacks of rice into a helicopter and moved on.

We couldn’t cry for them until we came home, and then we couldn’t stop crying. I cried because they were dead and I was alive, and I could not shake the feeling that I had somehow purchased my life at their expense. I wanted to tell them how sorry I was for living when they could not, sorry for my beautiful wife, for my sweet sons, my wonderful career. For a long time, I lived my life for my fallen comrades. For Worley and Parsons and Ferguson. Ferguson? I knew him all of a minute.

We were on some barren, wind-swept mound of dirt, and the enemy had been raining mortar and artillery fire on us daily. Here came this replacement walking up the road as if he were out for a Sunday stroll. I was sitting on a wall of sandbags next to my fighting hole with Squeaky Williamson of Oklahoma.

“Hey, marine,” the replacement said, stopping in front of me, “where’s the company first sergeant?” I tilted my head in the right direction. “I’m Ferguson,” he said. And just at that moment, as Ferguson was about to lean his rifle against the sandbag wall and shake my hand, I heard the soft phft phft phft of enemy mortars going off on the far slope of the hill opposite ours. “Incoming!” someone yelled. Squeaky flew into the hole first, I landed on top of him and Ferguson landed on top of me. The attack went on for two, three minutes, then there was quiet.

Squeaky, in the bottom of the hole, with the two of us on top of him, was yelling now for us to move, but Ferguson just lay there. “Tell that new [expletive] to get up,” Squeaky yelled. I thought Ferguson was paralyzed with fear, so I jammed my elbow hard in his ribs and rolled him slightly up and off me. I could feel my shirt clinging to my back — fear makes the sweat pour out of you — and when I finally pulled myself out of the hole, I was covered in sweat and blood.

I rolled him back over and instantly saw the wound: shrapnel. He’d gotten hit diving into the hole on top of me and had been lying there on my back, dead, during the attack. Squeaky and I dragged the body out of the hole and laid it in the dirt beside the sandbags.

“Who the hell is that?” a sergeant said, checking for casualties.

“Said his name was Ferguson,” I said. “Just got here.”

“Well, since you’re the only one who can put a name to a face, you get to go to the morgue and ID the body.”

“But I don’t know him,” I protested.

“Yeah, well, you’re it,” the first sergeant said.

The morgue in Danang was a refrigerated Quonset hut by the main airstrip. A pasty-faced corporal sat at a desk filling out forms. Behind him were racks of shelves holding scores of green body bags. “This way,” he said. Ferguson was on a shelf in the back. The corporal unzipped the bag. I gave a quick look. “That’s him,” I said.

“You can’t see his face,” the corporal insisted. And with both hands he reached into the bag and tried to turn Ferguson’s head toward me. Rigor mortis had set in, and the corporal kept trying to jerk the head around in my direction. “I’m telling you — that’s him,” I said.

When I got back, Squeaky was sitting on the sandbags around the hole. “What was that guy’s name again?” he asked.

“Ferguson,” I said, setting my rifle down and taking off my helmet.

So I took Ferguson home with me. Who else was going to remember him? Who else among us “knew” him and could carry his good name, his reputation, the memory of him as a marine? Remembering was part of the bargain we all made, the reason we were so willing to die for one another.

A final test for recruits who would be Marines

(05-25) 04:00 PDT Camp Pendleton, -- San Diego County - In a dusty field off a back road, a group of young Marine recruits gather around a sign to learn the story of Cpl. Jason Dunham.


John Koopman, Chronicle Staff Writer
Sunday, May 25, 2008

Dunham was a Marine squad leader in Iraq. On April 14, 2004, an insurgent tossed a hand grenade, and Dunham jumped on it to save the lives of his buddies. The blast killed him, and Dunham was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest award for valor in combat.

"Cpl. Dunham probably went to basic training right here," a Marine drill instructor tells the recruits, who stand at attention in honor of the fallen hero. "He probably stood right where you are not very long ago."

The recruits respond with a single, high-volume shout:


The recruits are at Camp Pendleton for the final phase of Marine boot camp. Among them are two who grew up in the East Bay: Robert Perez of Pittsburg and Richard Maxwell of Concord, best friends who joined the Marines together a couple of months ago. The Chronicle wrote about the two when they first went into the Marines, and followed them to basic training in San Diego.

Now, the baby faces are gone, replaced with hard lines and sharp eyes. The teenagers have spent the last three months living like Spartans. They have learned to march and to obey orders. They have performed thousands of push-ups and pull-ups, been drilled in the history, lore and culture of the Marine Corps.

And they've learned to kill.

It's a touchy subject. The Marines talk about accomplishing their mission, doing what's right and what needs to be done. But the real job of a Marine is to fight.

Capt. John Boyer, a boot-camp company commander, said basic training is designed to bring out the recruits' natural aggression. It's not so much teaching young men to kill, he said, but conditioning them to survive on the battlefield.

"They are instructed in that killing mind-set," Boyer said. "So when they get out on the battlefield, I would rather have them win than their enemies."

Perez and Maxwell are both devout Christians. They said they sought inspiration from the Bible.

"The Bible says it's OK to kill but not to murder," Perez said. "If we're doing our jobs and lives are being lost, it's because we're defending ourselves."

With U.S. troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, it's likely Perez and Maxwell will find themselves in a war zone. Nearly 5,000 American troops have died in those war zones, out of about 1.6 million who have been deployed there.

A parent's fear

The danger is what worries their parents most. In interviews before the boys went off to boot camp, their mothers - Laura Maxwell and Laura Perez - worried about how military life would affect their sons, and whether they would have to go to Iraq. But both families are also Christian. They said they trusted their sons, and they put their faith in God.

Perez and Maxwell - who are so close they call each other "brother" - were in the same unit in basic training, Platoon 3262. Perez, a former state champion wrestler, proved to be a natural leader, and was promoted early on to squad leader. Maxwell turned out to be a crack rifle shot, and scored the highest of anyone in the platoon when they all qualified on the rifle range.

Recently, they completed the last training exercise on their way to earning the title of Marine. The recruits were bused north from San Diego to Camp Pendleton, where they endured a grueling 54-hour session known as "the Crucible." There, they had to complete a series of tasks, such as transporting the wounded or climbing buildings. They got about four hours of sleep each night, and were given three MRE meals for the duration.

Between the training exercises, drill instructors brought the recruits to signs bearing citations for medals awarded for bravery to other Marines. Most of the citations were from the war in Iraq, and most of the men who earned them died in the process.

One of the ways the Corps instills the killing mind-set is to have the recruits fight each other. There is a hand-to-hand combat course that involves either boxing or hitting each other with big, padded weapons called "pugil sticks."

When the drill instructors called for recruits to fight, Maxwell and Perez leaped to their feet and volunteered to fight each other. They donned groin and head protection and ran into the small 4-by-4 padded ring.

For several minutes, the men pummeled each other mercilessly, until the fight was stopped because Perez was bleeding from the nose and Maxwell from the lip.

While Maxwell and Perez fought, other recruits practiced fighting by hitting a punching bag, punctuating each strike with the shout, "Kill!"

The end is only the beginning

Surviving combat is just one part of the equation for people who live the military life. About 30 percent of the troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from some form of post-traumatic stress disorder, and the suicide rate among veterans returning from those combat zones has soared.

The Marine recruits get an early lesson in stress. That's the whole point of the Crucible.

After all the individual tests are done, the program is capped with a delightful little hike the Marines call "the Reaper."

The recruits step off at 3:15 a.m. Carrying a 60-pound pack, rifle and helmet, they march about 7 miles over gentle hills, and then tackle a steep climb to a ridgeline that was once known as "Mount Mother-."

In the predawn light, the recruits lean into the hillside, grunting and occasionally screaming in pain and frustration as they try to make it up the steep terrain.

From recruit to Marine

After everyone makes it to the top, they start an easier march the final 3 miles back to the main post at Camp Pendleton. There, while still dirty and grimy and bleary-eyed, they form up on a parade ground where they are given their coveted eagle, globe and anchor insignias.

For the first time, they can stop calling themselves "recruit" and start using the title of "Marine."

"It's been a long three months," Maxwell said. "But it was worth it. Most definitely."

The new Marines cleaned up and put on fresh uniforms. To complete the ensemble, they tucked one of their two dog tags inside the laces of their left combat boot. It's a harsh reminder of what can happen in war: Even if a Marine is blown up, his remains can be identified by that one boot with the metal identification.

The best thing about boot camp, Maxwell said, is the camaraderie.

"Having 59 kids come together from half of the United States with one common goal, we all bonded so fast," he said. "That feeling that I can lean on you and you can lean on me, that's the best part of boot camp.

"I've always had a hard time trusting people, and boot camp forces you to trust people."

Marines at last

Next for the recruits of Platoon 3262 is a short leave home.

"I'm kind of scared to go home, to be honest," Perez said. "I'm afraid I'll feel out of place."

Perez and Maxwell had their formal graduation from basic training Friday. Flags flew and the band played, as family and friends watch teary-eyed from the bleachers. It's a scene played out almost every week at Marine boot camp in San Diego.

After their leave, the recruits of Platoon 3262 will head to different schools for further training. They will learn how to fix diesel engines or jet planes, become military police officers or supply clerks.

And some, like Maxwell and Perez, are headed to the Marines' School of Infantry, where they will perfect the art of war, and of killing.

"I'm ready," Maxwell said. "I've dedicated myself to the Marine Corps.

"I want to see some action, too, to be honest."

E-mail John Koopman at [email protected]

'Miracle' Marine Refused to Surrender Will to Live

The young Marine came back from the war, with his toughest fight ahead of him. Merlin German waged that battle in the quiet of a Texas hospital, far from the dusty road in Iraq where a bomb exploded, leaving him with burns over 97 percent of his body.


Severely burned in Iraq bombing, 'Miracle' Marine refused to surrender fierce will to live

By SHARON COHEN AP National Writer
May 25, 2008 (AP) The Associated Press

But for more than three years, he would not surrender. He endured more than 100 surgeries and procedures. He learned to live with pain, to stare at a stranger's face in the mirror. He learned to smile again, to joke, to make others laugh.

He became known as the "Miracle Man."

But just when it seemed he would defy impossible odds, Sgt. Merlin German lost his last battle this spring — an unexpected final chapter in a story many imagined would have a happy ending.

"I think all of us had believed in some way, shape or form that he was invincible," says Lt. Col. Evan Renz, who was German's surgeon and his friend. "He had beaten so many other operations. ... It just reminded us, he, too, was human."
It was near Ramadi, Iraq, on Feb. 21, 2005, that the roadside bomb detonated near German's Humvee, hurling him out of the turret and engulfing him in flames.

When Renz and other doctors at the burn unit at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio first got word from Baghdad, they told his family he really didn't have a chance. The goal: Get him back to America so his loved ones could say goodbye.

But when German arrived four days later, doctors, amazed by how well he was doing, switched gears. "We were going to do everything known to science," Renz says. "He was showing us he can survive."

Doctors removed his burn wounds and covered him with artificial and cadaver skin. They also harvested small pieces of German's healthy skin, shipping them off to a lab where they were grown and sent back.

Doctors took skin from the few places he wasn't burned: the soles of his feet, the top of his head and small spots on his abdomen and left shoulder.

Once those areas healed, doctors repeated the task. Again and again.

"Sometimes I do think I can't do it," German said last year in an Associated Press interview. "Then I think: Why not? I can do whatever I want."

Renz witnessed his patient's good and bad days.

"Early on, he thought, 'This is ridiculous. Why am I doing this? Why am I working so hard?'" Renz recalls. "But every month or so, he'd say, 'I've licked it.' ... He was amazingly positive overall. ... He never complained. He'd just dig in and do it."

Slowly, his determination paid off. He made enormous progress.

From a ventilator to breathing on his own.

From communicating with his eyes or a nod to talking.

From being confined to a hospital isolation bed with his arms and legs suspended — so his skin grafts would take — to moving into his own house and sleeping in his own bed.

Sometimes his repeated surgeries laid him up for days and he'd lose ground in his rehabilitation. But he'd always rebound. Even when he was hurting, he'd return to therapy — as long as he had his morning Red Bull energy drink.

"I can't remember a time where he said, 'I can't do it. I'm not going to try,' " says Sgt. Shane Elder, a rehabilitation therapy assistant.

That despite the constant reminders that he'd never be the same. The physical fitness buff who could run miles and do dozens of push-ups struggled, at first, just to sit up on the edge of his bed. The one-time saxophone player had lost his fingers. The Marine with the lady-killer smile now had a raw, ripple-scarred face.

Lt. Col. Grant Olbrich recalls a day in 2006 when he stopped by German's room and noticed he was crying softly. Olbrich, who heads a Marine patient affairs team at Brooke, says he sat with him awhile and asked: "What are you scared of?' He said, 'I'm afraid there will never be a woman who loves me.' "

Olbrich says that was the lowest he ever saw German, but even then "he didn't give up. ... He was unstoppable."

His mother, Lourdes, remembers her son another way: "He was never really scared of anything."

That toughness, says his brother, Ariel, showed up even when they were kids growing up in New York. Playing football, Merlin would announce: "Give me the ball. Nobody can knock me down."
In nearly 17 months in the hospital, Merlin German's "family" grew.

From the start, his parents, Lourdes and Hemery, were with him. They relocated to Texas. His mother helped feed and dress her son; they prayed together three, four times a day.

"She said she would never leave his side," Ariel says. "She was his eyes, his ears, his feet, his everything."

But many at the hospital also came to embrace German.

Norma Guerra, a public affairs spokeswoman who has a son in Iraq, became known as German's "Texas mom."

She read him action-packed stories at his bedside and arranged to have a DVD player in his room so he could watch his favorite gangster movies.

She sewed him pillows embroidered with the Marine insignia. She helped him collect New York Yankees memorabilia and made sure he met every celebrity who stopped by — magician David Blaine became a friend, and President Bush visited.

"He was a huge part of me," says Guerra, who had German and his parents over for Thanksgiving. "I remember him standing there talking to my older sister like he knew her forever."

German liked to gently tease everyone about fashion — his sense of style, and their lack of it.

Guerra says he once joked: "I've been given a second chance. I think I was left here to teach all you people how to dress."

Even at Brooke, he color-coordinated his caps and sneakers.

"If something did not match, if your blue jeans were the wrong shade of blue, he would definitely let you know. He loved his clothes," recalls Staff Sgt. Victor Dominguez, a burn patient who says German also inspired him with his positive outlook.

German also was something of an entrepreneur. Back in high school, he attended his senior prom, not with a date but a giant bag of disposable cameras to make some quick cash from those who didn't have the foresight to bring their own.

At Brooke, he designed a T-shirt that he sometimes sold, sometimes gave away. On the front it read: "Got 3 percent chance of survival, what ya gonna do?" The back read, "A) Fight Through, b) Stay Strong, c) Overcome Because I Am a Warrior, d) All Of The Above." D is circled.

Every time he cleared a hurdle, the staff at Brooke cheered him on.

When he first began walking, Guerra says, word spread in the hospital corridors. "People would say, 'Did you know Merlin took his first step? Did you know he took 10 steps?' " she recalls.

German, in turn, was asked by hospital staff to motivate other burn patients when they were down or just not interested in therapy.

"I'd say, 'Hey, can you talk to this patient?' ... Merlin would come in ... and it was: Problem solved," says Elder, the therapist. "The thing about him was there wasn't anything in the burn world that he hadn't been through. Nobody could say to him, 'You don't understand.'"

German understood, too, that burn patients deal with issues outside the hospital because of the way they look.

"When he saw a group of children in public, he was more concerned about what they might think," says Renz, his surgeon. "He would work to make them comfortable with him."

And kids adored him, including Elder's two young sons. German had a habit of buying them toys with the loudest, most obnoxious sounds — and presenting them with a mischievous smile.

He especially loved his nieces and nephews; the feelings were mutual. One niece remembered him on a Web site as being "real cool and funny" and advising her to "forget about having little boyfriends and buying hot phones" and instead, concentrate on her education.

But he was closest to his mother. When the hospital's Holiday Ball approached in 2006, German told Norma Guerra he wanted to surprise his mother by taking her for a twirl on the dance floor.

Guerra thought he was kidding. She knew it could be agony for him just to take a short walk or raise a scarred arm.

But she agreed to help, and they rehearsed for months, without his mother knowing. He chose a love song to be played for the dance: "Have I Told You Lately?" by Rod Stewart.

That night he donned his Marine dress blues and shiny black shoes — even though it hurt to wear them. When the time came, he took his mother in his arms and they glided across the dance floor.

Everyone stood and applauded. And everyone cried.

Clearly, it seemed, the courageous Marine was winning his long, hard battle.

"Some of the folks we lose — the fight to get better is too much," Elder says. "But Merlin always came back. He had been through so much, but it was automatic. ... Merlin will be fine tomorrow. He'll be back in the game. That's what we always thought."
Merlin German died after routine surgery to add skin under his lower lip.

He was already planning his next operations — on his wrists and elbows. But Renz also says with all the stress German's body had been subjected to in recent years, "it was probably an unfair expectation that you can keep doing this over and over again and not have any problems."

The cause of his death has not yet been determined.

"I may no more understand why he left us when he did than why he survived when he did," Renz says. "I don't think I was meant to know."

As people learned of his death last month, they flocked to his hospital room to pay their last respects: Doctors, nurses, therapists and others, many arriving from home, kept coming as Friday night faded into Saturday morning.

Merlin German was just 22.

He had so many dreams that will go unrealized: Becoming an FBI agent (he liked the way they dressed). Going to college. Starting a business. Even writing comedy.

But he did accomplish one major goal: He set up a foundation for burned children called "Merlin's Miracles," to raise money so these kids could enjoy life, whether it was getting an air conditioner for their home or taking a trip to Disney World, a place he loved.

On a sunny April afternoon, German was buried among the giant oaks and Spanish moss of Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell. The chaplain remembered German as an indomitable Marine who never gave in to the enemy — or to his pain.

One by one, friends and family placed roses and carnations on his casket.

His parents put down the first flowers, then stepped aside for mourners. They were the last ones to leave his grave, his mother clutching a folded American flag.
Memorial Day is a time to remember the fallen with parades, tributes and stories.

Sgt. Joe Gonzales, a Marine liaison at Brooke, has a favorite story about Merlin German.

It was the day he and German's mother were walking in the hospital hallway. German was ahead, wearing an iPod, seemingly oblivious to everyone else.

Suddenly, he did a sidestep.

For a second, Gonzales worried German was about to fall. But no.

"He just started dancing out of nowhere. His mom looked at me. She shook her head. There he was with a big old smile. Regardless of his situation, he was still trying to enjoy life."

May 24, 2008

Marines become big brothers to local kids

AL ANBAR PROVINCE, Iraq (May 24, 2008) – It was a special day for Marines with 1st Platoon, Delta Company, 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 5, who delivered tables to a school outside of Rutbah, Iraq, May 23 with assistance from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion-17.


By Cpl. Ryan L. Tomlinson

The project was part of a series of operations conducted by 1st Platoon delivering school supplies, books and equipment to a school they have adopted as their own.

“We care about the school and the kids,” said Pfc. Bradley R. Clifton, a scout with 1st Platoon. “You can’t look at any kids in the world and not care about them.”

1st Platoon has been supplying this school for more than a month, visiting it as much as they can between operations to check on the kids. When the Marines noticed the students were in need of tables and benches, they sprung into action. After making contact with the Sea Bees aboard Camp Korean Village, they were able create the tables in less than a week.

“It felt good to help these people out,” said Sgt. David A. Wilson, a light armored vehicle commander with 1st Platoon. “It was worth every effort, especially for a school full of kids.”

The Marines delivered the tables to the school and were greeted with a warm embrace from the children and supervisors upon arrival. One by one, the children came out to play, sitting on the new benches with smiling faces. According to the Marines with 1st Platoon, seeing the kids’ reactions was the greatest part.

“The best part is being able to interact with the children. They don’t understand us, and for them to see us smile, they know we are here to help and get to know them," said Lance Cpl. Carlin D. Alexander, a scout with 1st Platoon.

As the operation drew to a close, the Marines handed out candy to the kids and gave them a soccer ball, bringing excitement to the kids’ faces.

“As much as we go out on missions, we try to support the local communities,” said Alexander. “It’s beneficial because these children will grow up someday and they are going to support us or the (Iraqi Security Forces.)”MNF-West, Official Site, 2008

Oahu children, Hawaii Marines deliver teddy bears to Iraqi kids

SITCHER, Iraq — Children shudder at the thought when that time to see the doctor comes around. But children in the Anbar province area received something special to help them cope with their visit to the doctor.


5/24/2008 By Cpl. Chadwick deBree,

Marines and sailors with 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 1, handed out more than 1,000 teddy bears to children during a two day cooperative medical engagement, May 23-24.

The bears were donated to the battalion to hand out to Iraqi children by the Oahu Chapter of the Zeta Delta Society in Hawaii.

“The purpose of the collection was to have the children of Oahu give something to the children of Iraq,” said Navy Lt. Robert Nelson, battalion chaplain, 2nd Bn., 3rd Marines. “It was a from kids to kids type of operation, and it was great to see that that many people from Hawaii care.

The organization began gathering all the bears as early as September last year to ensure that they would be able to send the bears over to the battalion during their deployment.

During a six-month period, the society was able to gather approximately 1,000 stuffed animals to have the battalion hand out to children. With so many bears to send overseas to Iraq, the organization would have to gather enough money to ship the toys, but one local citizen donated approximately $1,200 to cover the shipping charges.

“Everyone cares about kids no matter where they are at or where they’re from,” Nelson said. “We decided to pass them out during the cooperative medical engagement because seeing the doctor for any kid is scary, it doesn’t matter who you are. The kids were scared when they saw the doctors, but once they got done seeing them and came outside and saw us handing them a teddy bear, then it wasn’t that bad. Hopefully this made up for any shots that they got.”

For Nelson, passing out the bears wasn’t just a way for him to connect to the children of Iraq, but also with his own kids back in Hawaii.

“My kids are part of the Zeta Delta Society,” he said. “So it was neat for me to participate in a project that my kids are in miles and miles away. This was a great way for everyone to give something to the children to make their day that much better.”

Since arriving in al-Anbar Province in February, the Marines of 2nd Bn., 3rd Marines, have conducted two cooperative medical engagements to help the local population receive medical care for free. Each day, approximately 300 people arrived to be looked at by doctors. This is just one of the many things that the battalion is doing to help out the people in their area of operations.

May 23, 2008

Junta agreement opens door to more Myanmar aid

NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar (Reuters) - Myanmar's junta agreed on Friday to admit foreign aid workers of all nationalities to the delta area worst hit by Cyclone Nargis, in what the U.N. called a breakthrough for aiding survivors.


By Patrick Worsnip
Fri May 23, 12:43 PM ET

Western disaster experts, largely kept out of the Irrawaddy Delta and restricted to the former capital Yangon, welcomed the news but wanted more details on the deal struck by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and junta supremo Than Shwe.

"The general said he saw no reason why that should not happen ... as long as they were genuine humanitarian workers and it was clear what they were going to be doing," a U.N. official with Ban said.

Asked whether the agreement on relief experts was a breakthrough, Ban replied: "Yes, I think so. He has agreed to allow all aid workers regardless of nationalities."

The U.N. chief said he hoped the agreement "can produce results quickly. Implementation is the key."

Disaster experts say that unless the generals open their doors, thousands more people in the Irrawaddy Delta could die of hunger and disease, adding to the nearly 134,000 reported killed or missing in Cyclone Nargis, which struck three weeks ago.

European Union humanitarian commissioner Louis Michel expressed relief at the news.

"It is now clear that our joint diplomatic efforts have delivered concrete results," he said in a statement.

"We have no more time to lose, so it's imperative that the Myanmar authorities immediately provide the international community with the practical details of the agreement. The real work of providing life-saving assistance starts now."


The reclusive junta has accepted relief flights into Yangon from many countries, including the United States, its fiercest critic. But it has rejected offers of French and American naval vessels delivering aid.

U.N. officials said the ships were "a very sensitive idea for them -- any suggestion they should dock."

French President Nicolas Sarkozy condemned the refusal to let the navy ship Mistral enter Myanmar territorial waters.

"I profoundly regret this decision. Once again the junta has made the wrong choice," Sarkozy said during a visit to Angola. He said France was still studying ways to deliver the aid, possibly by helicopter or via the nearest Thai port.

The United States said it would not keep its navy ships waiting indefinitely for the generals' permission.

"We're going to continue to try to encourage them...We're still hopeful," Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said.

"But at some point -- we're talking, you know, days, maybe weeks, not months -- if the position of the Burmese government doesn't change, then eventually we will have to make a decision to reallocate those Naval assets."


On a mission to help 2.4 million left destitute by the cyclone, U.N. chief Ban and his aides met Senior General Than Shwe for more than two hours in the remote new capital of Naypyidaw, 250 miles north of Yangon.

Ban was accompanied by reporters from international media, a rare concession from the junta, which is under tougher Western sanctions for cracking down on pro-democracy protests last year.

For the meeting with the top U.N. diplomat, 75-year-old Than Shwe wore his habitual dark green shirt, open at the neck, laden with medals and decorations befitting a man who has spent 55 years in the former Burma's all-powerful army.

"We got the impression that the man in control is pretty sharp," one U.N. official said.

When his aides suggested that maybe too many concessions were being made, Than Shwe butted in: "I don't see a problem."

Than Shwe said Myanmar was open to receiving relief supplies and equipment from civil ships and small boats. Ban said he had also agreed to allow the airport in Yangon to be used as a logistical hub for distribution of aid, which is still only trickling in.

World Vision, one of the few charities operating in Yangon, said any concessions from the junta were welcome, however small.

"Any positive noises are better than nothing," spokesman James East said in the Thai capital, Bangkok. "We are cautiously optimistic. The critical thing is access to the delta."

Ban saw the extent of the disaster for himself on Thursday, flying in a helicopter over flooded rice fields and destroyed homes in the delta, the former "rice bowl of Asia" that bore the brunt of the storm and its 12 foot (3.5 meter) sea surge.

Ban will attend a joint U.N. and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) donor-pledging conference in Yangon on Sunday. However, ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan said countries would be reluctant to commit money until they are allowed in to assess the damage for themselves.

Condition of DI in motorcycle crash upgraded

Staff report
Posted : Sunday Mar 23, 2008 10:01:52 EDT

A drill instructor hospitalized since March 14 after a motorcycle crash in South Carolina has been upgraded to fair condition and is conscious, a hospital spokesman said Thursday afternoon.

To continue reading:


The hardest job in the Corps: wives spend day in husbands’ boots

CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. — When the warriors of the Marine Corps deploy to foreign lands, they often leave behind family members. While they may not be on the front lines, these loved ones are no less important than the Marines who serve.


5/23/2008 By Cpl. Aaron Rock, 26th MEU

Forty-one Marine Corps spouses, all women, from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit’s Logistics Combat Element, Combat Logistics Battalion 26, participated in a “Jane Wayne Day” here and got a small taste of what their husbands do when deployed.

The Marines-for-a-day spent their time participating in a range of activities their spouses may be involved in and even participated in a real training exercise with the Marines of CLB-26.

Events like this are very important to for the morale and combat effectiveness of the unit, said 1st Lt. Anthony Iliades, assistant logistics officer and provisional family readiness officer for CLB-26.

“It’s a great way for the spouses to see first-hand what Marines do,” he said.

Iliades said it is one thing for the Marines to come home at the end of the day and tell their spouses what they did; it is an entirely different thing for them to actually experience it.

“It’s all about understanding. I think if (the spouses) understand what their Marines do and what they go through, it helps them to communicate and become a better team,” he said.

The day's activities started with a convoy ride in tactical vehicles around a landing zone. The wives put on body armor and helmets and rode in armored Humvees, M-23 7-ton trucks and an amphibious assault recovery vehicle.

The convoy dropped them off at an entry control point in order to process them into a simulated humanitarian assistance camp, where they acted as role players for the Marines at the ECP.

This was important for two reasons, said Lt. Col. John R. Giltz, commanding officer for CLB-26. It gave the spouses a chance to see a real operation the CLB could execute and allowed the Marines the chance to experience processing real civilians during such an operation, Giltz said.

Often at these types of exercises, Marines are brought in to act as role-players and because they are conditioned to follow orders, they don’t act quite like a civilian would, Giltz said.

The experience was extremely informative for the Marines involved, he added.

“One of the things we learned is that you have to treat civilians differently than military,” he said, adding that civilians will act scared, sometimes they won’t follow directions, and will often ask, 'Why?'" he said.

Following the ECP exercise, the spouses went on to drive simulated vehicles in Humvee and MTV-R simulators, shoot a variety of simulated weapons in the Indoor Simulated Marksmanship Trainer, then capped the day off by firing live rounds from an M9 pistol.

Jessica L. Walker, whose husband, Lance Cpl. Robert D. Walker, is a motor transportation mechanic with CLB-26, said her favorite part of the day was shooting the pistol, and that she would recommend other spouses try to participate in events like this whenever they get the chance.

“It was fun and very interesting, especially the processing of people at the humanitarian assistance site,” she said, adding that this was her first time at something like this.

The heat and sun seemed to have no effect on the spouses as they continued through the day, fortified with a lunch of Meals-Ready-to-Eat.

Lance Cpl. Walker was impressed by the fortitude his wife showed throughout the event.

“She’s eight-and-a-half-months pregnant and she did really well being out here all day,” he said.

One thing that didn’t impress her was the MREs.

“I think MREs should only be for emergencies,” she said.

After the day was over, Giltz reiterated the importance of the family to a functional combat unit.

“If we are not plugged into those families there is potential for a bad situation to develop, which will impact operations,” he said.

Because of the rather unique nature of the CLB, and the fact that it draws attachments from many different units, he said it can sometimes be difficult for the unit to properly attend to the needs of the families.

“We are a unit that becomes composite so rapidly it is possible to just look over the family,” he said.

“This gave us an opportunity to involve spouses and family members in a meaningful way with the CLB-26 family,” he said. “While having fun, hopefully they’ll feel closer and more confident in this unit.”

The CLB came off ship after finishing an Expeditionary Strike Group Integration exercise just days before and was in the process of dismantling a humanitarian assistance camp they had constructed for the exercise even as the spouses toured the area.

The time-crunch meant the unit planned and prepared for Jane Wayne Day far in advance of the actual day.

“We had to coordinate everything a week-and-a-half before,” Iliadas said. “We went on ship with it planned, then came back and made some small adjustments.”

After the day was over, many of the spouses expressed positive opinions, while many said they couldn’t wait to shower.

Overall the day went very successfully according to Giltz.

“I think we have some very tired, happy spouses who hopefully have gained a better appreciation for what we do and how we do it.”

The 26th MEU and its Major Subordinate Elements are roughly halfway through their six-month predeployment training period which will form the disparate units into a cohesive, rapid-reaction force. The MEU is scheduled to leave in fall 2008 for a deployment in support of the Global War on Terror.

For more information on the 26th MEU, visit www.26meu.usmc.mil.

Apprenticeship program makes military job skills more marketable

CAMP FOSTER, OKINAWA, Japan — — The United Services Military Apprenticeship Program helps Marines, sailors and Coast Guardsmen make their military job experience more marketable to potential employers after the military.


5/23/2008 By Lance Cpl. Joseph A. Cabrera, III MEF

Through the program, service members in trade related job fields, such as mechanics, electricians and carpenters can log their work and training hours to create a record of their experience. With enough work and training hours, they can earn a certificate of completion for the apprenticeship program from the Department of Labor.

The minimum amount of education and work experience needed for completion of the program varies by trade. The program’s educational requirements for completion can be a combination of different schools and are not limited to military occupational specialty schools.

A completion certificate shows an employer what military job experience the applicant has acquired and how it equates in civilian terms, according to Bob Stenard, Lifelong Learning Center supervisory guidance counselor.

“This could mean a lot of money to some people when they get out,” he said.

The degree to which the employer recognizes the certification varies by employer, trade unions and their locations, said Keena Morris, Lifelong Learning Center education service specialist.

Service members can also receive credit for time served in their respective fields prior to registration in the program, Morris said.

To inform service members of the apprenticeship program, learning center officials regularly conduct unit and individual briefs. Stenard said the best location to attend the brief is one of the Learning Resource Centers located on all Marine Corps camps on Okinawa. Qualified service members can register for the program during the brief.

Stenard suggests service members always attend a brief before enrolling. Those who enroll in the program without getting all the facts often make mistakes causing them to be dropped, he said.

For more information about the program visit https://usmap.cnet.navy.mil or visit the nearest Lifelong Learning Center.

Always faithful to his 'boys': Parade marshal embodies Marine Corps ideals

TOPSHAM — Everett Pope doesn't care how he's referred to during Monday's Brunswick-Topsham Memorial Day pa-rade, as long as he can ride through it in a rusty Hum-vee instead of a shiny convertible.


[email protected]

Parade organizers, who are honoring National Guardsmen and reservists this year, have Pope listed on literature and a Web site as the parade's grand marshal — a fact that came as somewhat of a surprise to the 89-year-old Topsham resident when interviewed Wednesday.

"They've asked me to take some part in the parade and I'm happy to help out however I can and get dressed up or whatever they want me to do," he said. "As long as I can ride with my boys."

Those "boys" are the Marine reservists in Alpha Company of the 25th Marines, 1st Battalion, based in Topsham. They leave for California on Monday afternoon, soon after the parade. From there, they're going to Iraq. This marks the first year they have marched in the local parade, said Jim Grant, a parade organizer.

"It's quite an honor to have them involved, and an honor to have (Pope)," he said. "We'll do anything we can to accommodate him. We certainly understand when a former Marine wants to be with his men."

Pope served for only five years in the Marine Corps Reserve, but it was long enough to mark him for life as a national hero. As a Congressional Medal of Honor winner — the only living one in Maine, he said — he's been grand marshal for many parades and in 2005 was a guest of honor at the Super Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla., alongside President Bush.

But none of it makes him as proud as standing side by side with his "boys."

Pope was a company commander in September 1944 when he and 235 Marine reservists captured a strategic hill on Peleliu Island. Japanese suicide attackers nearly overwhelmed the company with mortars and field guns fired from adjoining peaks, according to an account of the battle written by Technical Sgt. Joseph Alli, a combat correspondent. The hill they took is called "Suicide Ridge."

Things only got worse from there as the Marines struggled to hold Suicide Ridge through the night. Teams of 25 to 30 Japanese fighters stormed the hill repeatedly, testing the courage and resolve of the thinly spread Marines. The Marines fired at the attackers with everything they had. When grenades ran low, they hurled rocks. When ammunition was gone, they threw ammunition boxes and fought the Japanese off with their bare fists.

When day broke, the order to withdraw finally came, but it was too late for too many Marines, said Pope.

"I took the shore with 235 Marines," said Pope. "Eight of us walked out. They gave me the Medal of Honor and I don't know why. A lot of guys deserved it a lot more than I did."

Pope caught shrapnel "in places I can't talk about," which earned him the Purple Heart, but he was back in service within a day.

Pope, a Bowdoin College graduate and later chairman of its board of trustees, moved to Topsham last July to live near his two sons. He spends his days visiting his wife, Eleanor, who is confined to a nursing home in Bath. He hopes she can attend Monday's parade, because she has as much respect for those who serve as he does.

"Every day of my life, I will never forget those Marines who gave their lives," he said. "I'm very impressed with these young men today."

And those young men are impressed with him. A mention of Pope's name to Sgt. Richard Serrano, an administrative non-commissioned officer for the Marine Reserve Rifle Company in Topsham, drew an instant reaction.

"It's a great honor to have a Medal of Honor recipient around," said Serrano. "It's just amazing."

When Pope sees Alpha Company off to battle Monday, he'll volunteer a piece of advice he's given to many Marines before.

"There is one decoration I don't want them to see," he said. "They can get the Bronze Star and the Silver Star and anything else they want, but not the Purple Heart. It's OK to get shot at, but duck."

May 22, 2008

Marine is more than meets the eye

CAMP KOREAN VILLAGE, Iraq (May 22, 2008) – In the middle of the Iraqi desert, there is a Marine who helped create a device that would affect approximately 40 million people worldwide.


By Cpl. Ryan L. Tomlinson

Pfc. Kyle D. Alders, 19, a scout with Charlie Company, 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 5, assisted the members of the world’s blind community by taking part in the invention of a device that makes their lives easier.

“It gave me a sense of pride to know I could help the blind be able to complete things on their own without assistance from others,” said Alders.

The creative young infantryman from West Palm Beach, Fla., became part of the project before his 16th birthday. His grandfather, Brad Davis, became a technician for a corporation that specialized in technology for the blind. One day, Alder’s grandfather brought home a new device called the PAC-MATE, which would change the course of Alders’ life. It changed him from a young man who scored near perfect on the Scholastic Aptitude Test into a successful inventor.

The PAC-MATE is a handheld device used by the blind to type e-mails, read books and scan items. Additionally, because it uses a Global Positioning Device, the PAC-MATE can provide the blind with directions. When his grandfather brought the device home from work, Alders pointed out flaws and suggested solutions.

“The first thing I suggested was the scanning system, and then I suggested an eight-button keyboard with braille lettering,” said Alders. “Originally, I was just interested in it because I wanted to help. I made a couple of suggestions and it became one of the top-ten-used technologies by the blind.”

Alders worked on other projects with the corporation to help the blind until graduating high school and joining the Marine Corps in the summer of 2007 out of his love to serve others.

“I love being in the Marine Corps and enjoy the guys I work with,” he said. “I have a sense of helping people out. I know whenever they need someone to deploy, I will always volunteer.”

Alders is currently serving his first tour in Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Since deploying, he has enjoyed every moment to its fullest.

“Alders is a reliable Marine. I know that if I need him to take care of something, it’s going to get done with him around,” said Lance Cpl. Allen A. Janis, 21, a scout team leader from Foster, R.I., with Charlie Company. “He’s a smart kid, and I’m glad I was able to get to know him.”

When not patrolling through the western Al Anbar province, Alders can always be found with a deck of cards in his hand practicing card tricks or the next group to defeat in a game of spades.

Alders plans to leave the Marine Corps someday and study psychology in college. He also has dreams of opening his own restaurant.

“I’m a type of guy that when I like something, I overkill it,” said Alders. “You only live once and enjoy the small things once.”

Marines learn the ropes waiting for OK to aid Myanmar

Stars and Stripes
Pacific edition, Thursday, May 22, 2008

While the USS Essex Amphibious Readiness Group awaits an OK from the Myanmar government to deliver aid to Cyclone Nargis victims, Marines and sailors with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit hit the ropes Sunday aboard the ship in international waters off the coast.

To continue reading:


Monument to Marines dedicated at development

A luxury housing development in Wailea is the site of a newly dedicated monument honoring the 4th Division Marines who trained on Maui during World War II before shipping out to battles in the Pacific.


Thursday, May 22, 2008

The lava-rock monument was erected on the ruins of a bunker used by the Marines that was discovered during construction of Armstrong Builders' 150-unit Kai Malu project. Developer Robert Armstrong, whose father Robert Sr., served in the Marines, said he created the monument to honor the 4th Marines Division.

A recent dedication ceremony was attended by Lt. Gen. John F. Goodman, commander of Marine Corps Forces, Pacific, and 4th Marine Division veterans.

Three plaques on the monument, located next to a walkway in the development, salute the Marines' "heroic efforts at Roi-Namur, Saipan, Tinian and Iwo Jima, which were critical to securing victory in the Pacific during World War II."

Logistics element in Basra supporting transition teams

BASRA, Iraq — A detachment of Marines from al-Anbar province moved their operations south to Iraq’s third largest city.


5/22/2008 By Lance Cpl. Robert C. Medina, Multi National Force - West

A Forward Logistics Element from 1st Marine Logistics Group was sent to support eight military transition teams with 1st and 7th Iraqi Army Divisions as well as elements of Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company and British forces.

"As far as (MLG’s) concerned, this detachment is the only one that has ventured outside al-Anbar province in support of the MiTTs," said 1st Lt. Brandon W. Koble, executive officer, Military Police Company, 1st Supply Battalion (-) (Reinforced), 1st MLG. "The Marines out here are great; I take it as an honor to lead this team."

The small detachment has provided logistical support to the MiTTs in Basra for the past three weeks. Products provided are water and food supplies, force protection materials and automotive parts, which are vital to the MiTTs they support in Basra.

Normally, the regimental combat teams would support the MiTTs, but since the RCTs are in the Anbar province, there was a need for a forward logistics element in Basra’s province for support, said Koble.

"We are a small detachment of Marines from Camp Taqaddum brought to Shaiba Air Base to support the MiTTs on the logistical side," said Gunnery Sgt. Mark L. Clark, staff noncommissioned officer in charge for the FLE. "We provide a maintenance program and a logistics program so we can push supplies to the forward MiTTs in Basra."

Koble said as the MiTTs start breaking into smaller units and become more mobile, logistic elements have to do the same.

Clark, from Newberry, Fla., said this provides the transition teams the time to advise the IA without worrying about their vehicles and supplies.

"The MiTTs love us being here with them," said Clark. "They love the capabilities and assets that we brought."

Cpl. Brittney N. Thomas, gunner, MP Co., is part of the security element that ensures these much needed supplies reach the MiTTs.

"I think we are doing a substantial job out here," said Thomas, 21, from Houston. "There is nobody else out here to ensure the MiTTs get what they need."

Thomas said each service member has a vital role in the operations.

Col. Robert F. Castellvi, MiTT senior advisor, 1st Quick Reaction Force, 1st IA Division, spoke to these Marines in a group meeting updating them on their mission status.

"You should all be proud of yourselves," said Castellvi. "We only had a couple days notice to come here. We wouldn’t be where we are right now without the (FLE)."

Castellvi said it didn’t matter what job a Marine had at Shaiba, they were all making a difference that can be seen everyday.

US ships idle at sea as Myanmar rebukes aid

BANGKOK (AFP) — US Navy ships loaded with aid will remain off the coast of cyclone-hit Myanmar, US officials said Thursday, despite a rebuke from the ruling generals who refused any help with "strings attached."


May 22, 2008

The four military vessels, waiting at sea since May 13, are carrying 1,000 Marines, 14 helicopters, and 15,000 water containers and purifying kits that can provide tens of thousands of gallons of drinking water per day.

"The ships are waiting, just waiting for permission. How long they'll be there is difficult to say," said Michael Turner, spokesman for the US embassy in Bangkok.

Lieutenant Denver Applehans, a spokesman aboard one of the ships, said they would not venture into Myanmar's territory without junta approval.

"The Essex group is standing by in international waters off the coast of Burma (Myanmar), ready to support aid efforts with our lift, medical and water making capabilities," he told AFP by email.

Myanmar's mouthpiece newspaper, the New Light of Myanmar, said Wednesday that the country did not need aid from US warships and military helicopters, saying the "strings attached ... are not acceptable to the Myanmar people."

US First Lady Laura Bush on Wednesday told the junta -- notoriously distrustful of foreigners -- that it had nothing to fear.

"No, there would be absolutely no strings attached with this aid," the US president's wife said in an interview with the Voice of America, a US Congress-funded broadcaster that has a Myanmar language service.

"I still want to urge the military rulers to let the United States, let the people of the United States help, because we can help in such a very successful way because of the equipment that we have that's available."

The USS Essex, USS Juneau, USS Harpers Ferry and USS Mustin were en route from Japan to the Cobra Gold war games in Thailand when the cyclone hit. Washington redirected the vessels hoping they could provide humanitarian aid.

Foreign governments and aid workers have criticised Myanmar's ruling military junta for being too slow to accept assistance from foreign donors.

While aid is slowly reaching the main city Yangon, relief workers say Myanmar does not have enough equipment, such as helicopters and boats, to ferry the aid to the remote southwest delta, which bore the brunt of the storm.

The first of 10 helicopters contracted by the UN's World Food Programme arrived in Yangon on Thursday, but the others are still days away.

Cyclone Nargis tore into southern Myanmar on May 2 and 3. It has left about 133,000 people missing or dead, according to official estimates.

The UN projected that the cyclone severely affected as many as 2.4 million people, and only 25 percent have been reached with international aid.

May 21, 2008

UN chief goes to Myanmar to cajole junta over aid

BANGKOK, Thailand - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon heads to Myanmar on Thursday for the diplomatic challenge of a lifetime — persuading the ruling generals to let in a torrent of foreign assistance for cyclone victims.


By JOHN HEILPRIN, Associated Press Writer
Wed May 21, 4:04 PM ET

He urged the junta Wednesday to focus on saving lives, not on politics, after it refused an American proposal for U.S. warships to deliver relief supplies.

"We must do our utmost for the people of Myanmar," Ban told reporters after arriving in Bangkok. "This is a critical moment for Myanmar. The government itself acknowledges that there has never been a disaster on this scale in the history of their country."

By the junta's own count, at least 134,000 people are dead or missing from the May 2-3 cyclone. The U.N. says up to 2.5 million survivors are hungry and homeless and there are worries about disease outbreaks in the Irrawaddy River delta.

"The issues of assistance and aid in Myanmar should not be politicized. Our focus now is on saving lives," Ban said.

Yet Ban, a career diplomat who was South Korea's foreign minister before taking the U.N. post, is wading into a situation fraught with politics. Myanmar's top generals have always viewed relations with the world through a dark, political prism.

The isolationist regime is deeply suspicious of outsiders. And the junta is antagonistic toward the United Nations over its lead role in international pressures to restore democracy, seeing the world body as a stooge of the United States and other Western nations.

Ban hopes to put those suspicions on the shelf for now, arguing that he is not coming to attack the military regime, but only to address overwhelming humanitarian needs.

"We have a functioning relief program in place. But so far we have been able to reach only about 25 percent of the people in need," Ban said.

Myanmar has slowly geared up to receive material assistance for storm victims, particularly from neighboring nations, but it is still reluctant to accept more than a relative handful of foreign rescue and relief workers experienced in disaster work.

World Food Program officials in Bangkok said Myanmar had agreed to allow the U.N. agency to use 10 helicopters to deliver aid to stranded cyclone survivors beginning Thursday.

It wasn't clear when the operation would start. The helicopters had to be chartered, flown in on cargo planes to Thailand and reassembled. "We are doing everything we can to get them in as soon as possible," WFP official Marcus Prior said.

He said the helicopters, each capable of carrying three tons of supplies, had permission to fly directly to the devastated delta region, rather than having to drop off their loads at the airport in Yangon, Myanmar's main city.

But Myanmar rejected such help from the United States, whose military is equipped to provide immense and immediate logistical help. Myanmar's state-controlled media said U.S. helicopters and warships were not welcome to join the relief effort.

The United States, France and Britain have naval vessels loaded with supplies — and the means to deliver them — off Myanmar's coast, waiting for a green light. The article did not say whether the French and British supplies would be allowed.

The New Light of Myanmar newspaper, a mouthpiece for the junta, said accepting military-linked assistance "comes with strings attached" that are "not acceptable to the people of Myanmar." It hinted at fears of a U.S. invasion aimed at grabbing the country's oil reserves.

However, the regime has allowed in 40 aid flights by U.S. military C-130 cargo planes, including four Wednesday.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said the four Navy ships off Myanmar would remain in hopes that the junta might relent and approve delivery of aid by U.S. helicopter.

"It's very hard to see that type of suffering that's going on ... and to turn your back and leave," Whitman said.

Ban, a gentle, soft-spoken man who has been described as a natural diplomat, told reporters his two-day visit to Myanmar would include talks with government officials, including the junta's leader, Senior Gen. Than Shwe.

He is entering a land where U.N. officials have little to show for previous efforts to promote democracy and human rights other than vague promises from a junta that has continued to follow its own repressive path.

People in Myanmar are very aware of the U.N. failures, knowing that opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is still under house arrest and that the government is pushing through a draft constitution that ensures the military retains a commanding role in politics.

Many people interviewed on the streets of Myanmar were skeptical about Ban's chances.

"What can he do? He can't do anything," said Khyaw Htun Htun, a businessman handing out beef curry and rice to storm victims at the Shwe Daw monastery near Yangon, one of the many private citizens who have mobilized to help the needy.

"People are hopeful, of course. Then all hope crashes when he leaves," Khyaw Htun Htun added, making a diving motion with his hand. "They (the generals) won't care what the U.N. says."

The monastery in South Dagon has become a refuge for 258 people, most of them women and children. When donated food was dropped off Wednesday, hundreds of children ran from side streets of the village to join the refugees in the monastery hall for lunch.

In a statement welcoming Ban's trip, Suu Kyi's opposition National League for Democracy criticized government relief efforts.

"It is observed that the relief and rehabilitation works in the areas where there have been incredible loss of lives and property could not have been performed competently, effectively or in timely manner," a party statement said.

Outlaws back SEALS

AL ANBAR PROVINCE, Iraq — Sneaking through the shadows of the cool desert night, Navy SEALS have a mission to find and capture a suspected insurgent in western Al Anbar province. Without hesitation, the special operations team grabs the suspect, knowing they have a powerful and mobile infantry platoon to back them up at a moment’s notice.


5/21/2008 By Cpl. Ryan Tomlinson, Regimental Combat Team 5

Marines with Delta Company, 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 5, nicknamed ‘Outlaw,’ supported the U.S. Navy SEALS in executing this operation to capture a key suspect May 19 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The suspect was considered to be one of 1st Marine Expeditionary Force’s (Fwd) most high valued individuals in Iraq.

According to the Marines with Delta Company, this is a huge lead into cracking down on more suspects.

“It felt great for them (the SEALS) to look to us in taking down the high value individuals,” said Cpl. Nicholas A. Iannucci, 21, a scout team leader from West Henrietta, N.Y., with Delta Company. “It made me feel we are finally taking down the right guys to complete the mission.”

During the mission, the Marines patrolled through the outskirts of Rutbah, Iraq, in the event the suspect attempted to escape the household area and cut through the desert. Hours were spent surveying the area and providing security for the SEALS while they completed their mission.

Once the suspect was detained, Outlaw brought them to the Detainee Facility aboard Camp Korean Village to remain in custody.

The Marines were also able to find a weapons cache of more than six rocket-propelled grenade launchers and a variety of other weapons possessed by the suspect.

“It was a unique experience to work with special operations to obtain the individuals,” said Lance Cpl. Alex C. Brilla, a light armored vehicle operator with Delta Company. “We were able to be a quick reaction force to them in an important time.”

The 22-year-old Plantsville, Conn., native, added that despite the long hours of security, the operation was worth every bit of effort catching the bad guys.

‘Outlaw’ serves people of Iraq

ANBAR PROVINCE, Iraq — The Iraqi civilians that reside in the deserts of western Al Anbar province range from traders to farmers. The Marines with Delta Company, 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 5 ensure those people receive proper care.


5/21/2008 By Cpl. Ryan Tomlinson, Regimental Combat Team 5

Members of Delta Company, known as ‘Outlaw,’ patrol through the area, ensuring the civilians are receiving the funding to keep their livestock, sheep and accessories stocked and fed so that they may continue to sustain themselves while also benefiting the future of Iraq.

“We’re here to establish the demographics of the Iraqi populous in order to aid our counterinsurgency missions,” said Sgt. Nick J. Vaughn, a scout team leader with Delta Company, 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion. “We help the people to help that mission.”

While operating in the outskirts of Rutbah, Iraq, the Marines guarantee the presence of Coalition forces is welcoming. They greet the residents, making certain the area is clear of danger while handing out water, food and collecting feedback on livestock and supplies needed for the crops or sheep.

“I have never have had a better feeling of mission accomplishment than when I help out the people,” said Sgt. Carl J. Woods, 24, a scout squad leader from Virginia Beach, Va., with Delta Company.

When the Marines aren’t supporting the farm lands, they are assisting local schools by delivering books, supplies and furniture for the children.

“It’s great to be able to lend a helping hand, open ears and a kind heart toward the people of Iraq,” said Lance Cpl. Nathan T. Klink, a scout with Delta Company. “Having a kind heart towards the children is the best because the simplest things like giving them a pen makes their day.”

Outlaw is scheduled to visit a local school soon to deliver tables and school supplies to the children. According to Marines with the company, they will conduct more missions to assist the citizens in order to make a difference.

“I always wonder if I have left an impact on this world, because that is my life-long goal,” said Klink, 21, from Harford City, Ind. “I’ve always wanted to do something to where people will remember me.”

He concluded operations like these help him believe he could do just that.

May 20, 2008

International sea convoy awaits mediation by Asian bloc to deliver Myanmar aid

BANGKOK, Thailand: Almost within sight range of Myanmar's cyclone-devastated shore are the USS Essex, USS Juneau, USS Harpers Ferry and USS Mustin. They hold 14 helicopters, two landing craft vessels, two high-tech amphibious hovercraft and about 1,000 U.S. Marines.


The Associated PressPublished: May 20, 2008

But nothing is moving.

"We are currently not providing any aid from the ships," said Lt. Denver Applehans, a public affairs officer aboard the Essex, an aircraft carrier-like ship which for the past week has been waiting in international waters just 60 miles (100 kilometers) from the Myanmar coast.

An odd deal may be in the works, however, to allow the U.S. flotilla — and French and British ships in the same situation — to finally join in the relief effort after Cyclone Nargis.

Though extremely reluctant to allow foreign militaries access into the devastated Irrawaddy Delta, Myanmar's ruling junta appears to be considering a proposal that would put Asian intermediaries in charge of ferrying the aid from the ships to the shore.

Today in Asia - Pacific

Quake in China reverses fortunes for dissonant Tibet voices

Global monitor finds no radioactive leaks in quake zone

UN leader tours damaged areas in Myanmar

At an emergency meeting in Singapore on Monday, Southeast Asia's regional bloc ASEAN announced it will set up a task force to handle distribution of foreign aid for the cyclone victims.

Suggestions that foreign ships carrying aid make a forced entry into Myanmar were rejected, however.

"That will create unnecessary complication. It will only lead to more suffering for Myanmar people," said Singapore's Foreign Minister George Yeo.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said over the weekend that the disaster caused by the cyclone is fast being surpassed by what he called a "man-made catastrophe" and warned that Britain would consider circumventing the junta if it continued to deny its people much-needed help.

He did not give details — though the possibility of air drops or direct landings ashore has been raised.

"We rule nothing out, and the reason we rule nothing out, is that we want to get the aid directly to the people," he said.

Britain is currently the chair of the UN Security Council, but resolutions to approve direct intervention in the delta were unlikely because China, Myanmar's biggest ally, has veto power and in the past has supported the junta against international pressure.

The Bush Administration, meanwhile, has been highly critical of the junta's handling of the disaster, but has tried to couple its outrage with more reserved diplomatic efforts out of concern that too much pressure could prompt the junta to become even more defensive and shut off what little aid it is already allowing in.

In the meantime, the flotilla waits.

The US ships can produce approximately 70,000 gallons (265,000 liters) of drinking water per day and the Marines carry equipment capable of producing 5,000 gallons (19,000 liters) of potable water per hour ashore. Just itching to go are more than 120 Navy medics, 12 doctors and three dentists.

Britain's Ministry of Defense said it had dispatched a Royal Navy frigate, the HMS Westminster, to the area "as a contingency."

Britain's Department for International Development said the ship is stationed 12 miles (about 19 kilometers) off Myanmar's coast "and will remain there as part of the UK's humanitarian contingency plans."

The spokesman said the ship carried a crew of 98 and was equipped with a communications facility, a Merlin helicopter, two sea boats, a doctor and a paramedic. The spokesman added that the crew are all trained in disaster relief.

France, meanwhile, has an amphibious assault ship, Mistral, nearby.

French Defense Minister Herve Morin said French officials were still negotiating with Myanmar on delivering Mistral's cargo. French officials have said they are prepared to wait for days or even weeks until they get the green light.

Fallen Marine heroic, selfless

Eupora High graduate, 22, shot to death Sunday during combat in Afghanistan

On Sunday, Marine Cpl. Justin Cooper of Eupora was killed in combat in Afghanistan.


Nicklaus Lovelady • [email protected] • May 20, 2008

Cooper's father, Alan Cooper, said he was told by Marine officials who visited his home Sunday night that the 22-year-old died after he was shot in the chest, just above his body armor, during a fire fight.

"I never knew so many people could break down and cry over the phone when you tell them something like that," Alan Cooper said as he tried not to sob.

"He had more friends than anyone I know. He was daddy's hero; now he's everyone's hero."

Being a Marine was something Cooper had always dreamed about, his father said.

After he graduated from Eupora High School in 2004, Justin Cooper attended Holmes Community College for one semester before enlisting in the Marines. It was Christmas Eve when he told his father he was going to be a Marine.

"I remember telling him he needed to have a lot of thought before doing this. He felt his country needed him at the time more than he needed school," Alan Cooper said.

He served two tours in Iraq, rising quickly through the ranks. Alan Cooper said he was told his son was one of the best scout snipers the Marines had seen in decades.

Heather Burchfield, 23, went to high school with Justin Cooper and said he was one of the best friends a person could have.

"Coop was that fun-loving, crazy guy everyone liked. He's the one you always wanted on your side because he is always going to take up for you," she said. "Even in high school, he had a soldier's heart. He was a very loyal friend."

Lee Baker, 22, of Eupora said he and Justin Cooper were by each other's sides through almost every experience growing up. Both were born the same day and were like brothers, he said.

"Our whole town is hurting for the loss of Justin. He's going to be severely missed and always remembered," Baker said.

Funeral arrangements are expected to be made later this week. His family has not been told when his body will arrive from overseas.

Family members and friends are planning a candlelight vigil at 7 p.m. Sunday at White Creek Lake in Eupora.

Cooper is one of more than 60 military members with strong ties to Mississippi killed in Iraq or Afghanistan since those conflicts began.

Earlier this month 22-year-old Marine Lance Cpl. Casey Casanova of McComb was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq.

Motorcycle crash kills Marine on leave from Iraq

GRAND RAPIDS -- A Marine home on leave and scheduled to return to Iraq on June 2 died in a motorcycle crash while visiting relatives.


Lance Cpl. Noah Alexander Cole's Obituary and Legacy Guestbook:

Tuesday, May 20, 2008By Theresa D. McclellanThe Grand Rapids Press

Lance Cpl. Noah Alexander Cole, 25, of Martin, was spending his 30-day leave in West Michigan visiting family and friends.

"He was just doing his thing, visiting friends, running around seeing everybody," said his mother, Juanita Cole.

The young man's body was found on the road by a passing motorist just after sunrise Monday, following an apparent overnight crash with his 1997 Yamaha on U.S. 131 near 140th Avenue, near Dorr Township in Allegan County, state police said.

Noah Cole was visiting his grandparents and left around 7 p.m. Sunday, his mother said.

He spent the weekend up north with an uncle near Baldwin and had come back to see his grandparents.

"We didn't know where he went or what he did 'til they found him," she said.

The Martin High School graduate is the youngest of the family's four sons.

A childhood trip to Southern California had 8-year-old Noah Cole convinced he would live there, his mother said. "He wanted to be in Southern California, and to do what he needed to be a Marine in Camp Pendleton. It was the most impressive thing he'd seen in his life."

She described her son as "carefree, fun-loving and happy."

She was not excited about the idea of her son joining the Marines, but he knew what he wanted. "He said, 'You raised us right. I will be OK. It's what I want to do,'" she recalled.

The irony of serving in Iraq and dying in Michigan was not lost on the family's neighbor, Marilyn Schneider, who used to send goodie boxes overseas.

"You go to Iraq and fight your butt off and get killed on a highway. It doesn't seem right," said Schneider, who described Cole as "a good kid."

She would send him packages of peanut brittle, homemade cookies and toothbrushes overseas. "They loved the peanut brittle, and he told me, if he was lucky, he'd get a couple handfuls," she said.

Schneider's husband died seven years ago, and Cole would come to her home and make repairs and clean the yard.

"He was just barely out of high school; he was always coming down to help," she said.

He attended one year of college after graduating from Martin High School. A couple of years ago, he entered the service.

His funeral is planned for 11 a.m. Friday at the Martin United Methodist Church.

The family will greet relatives and friends Wednesday from 6 to 8 p.m. at Stroo Funeral Home, 1095 68th St. SE in Grand Rapids.

From 'Ambush Alley' to peaceful alley

RAMADI, Iraq —
RAMADI, Iraq — Step after step, combat boots hit the pavement. It’s been a few hours for the Marine squad walking the Ramadi streets. Fatigued yet steady, the young men push forward on their routine foot patrol despite the mid-day desert heat; each squad member maintaining a constant alertness with eyes scanning the environment in every direction. The squad leader passes by a familiar face; a local vender who he sees almost every day. Instantly, the look of exhaustion washes away, and a smile is brought to his face. Lifting his hand, he warmly greets the vender with, “Al salaam a’alaykum.”


5/20/2008 By Lance Cpl. Casey Jones, Regimental Combat Team 1

Every day, Marine infantrymen like those with Company A, 1st Battalion, 9th marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 1, patrol neighborhoods and actively engage the community of al-Anbar Province. But the Marines are not alone on these patrols; they are walking side-by-side with Iraqi policemen, mentoring and providing guidance as they take responsibility for the safety of their own community.

According to Lance Cpl. Jonathan R. Chapman, rifleman with Company A, the Iraqi police are doing a remarkable job in the lead role.

“The Iraqi Police are doing very well,” Chapman said. “They are excellent policemen. They’re all very tactically sound.”

The Iraqi Police have taken giant steps over the past year in becoming more independent. This can mostly be attributed to the “al-Anbar Awakening” where tribal leaders supported the Coalition forces’ efforts, and took a stand against al-Qaeda in Iraq last year. Sheiks throughout the province encouraged tribal members to join the Iraqi Police ranks and protect their streets, resulting in Ramadi’s Iraqi Police recruitment to sky-rocket. Today, they are more than 9,000 Iraqi police serving in the province capital.

“The Iraqi policemen lead the patrols since we’re in an advisory, we just guide and assist them,” said 2nd Lt. Derek J. Herrera, a platoon commander with Company A. “Either their sergeant or lieutenant lead the patrols.”

Units throughout the city routinely conduct daily joint patrols, focusing on the community’s safety and the citizens concerns; a stark contrast from the kinetic activity and violence a year ago.

“We try to do joint patrols as often as we can, usually every day,” Herrera said; a different circumstance compared to past units in the city. “I’ve heard from friends and other cohorts, you couldn’t go on patrol in Ta’meem for more than five to 10 minutes without receiving fire. The way the Iraqi policemen describe it, Ta’meem used to be at the forefront of the insurgency. It was once referred to as 'ambush alley.'”

Today shows a more peaceful environment, where Iraqis and Marines patrol the neighborhoods, and receive positive response from the citizens.

“The locals are very friendly towards coalition forces and the (policemen) as well,” Herrera said. “They really appreciate what we do. We’ve never really had a negative reaction from anyone in Ta’meem. The kids run to us and beg for chocolate and the adults really appreciate our help.”

With the positive changes in the Ta’meem area and the progressive steps made by the Iraqi police officers, the station, like many others, is looking towards taking community safety to the next level and bring the city of Ramadi closer to a state of normalcy.

“Our push now, is to make it more police oriented,” Herrera said. “Instead of having ten policemen walk down the street, now we’re trying to make it about only two. That way they can just sit on the corner, talk to the people, and walk the beat around the same block all day. We’re not quite there yet, but that’s the next push.”

Okinawa squadron puts boots on deck for first time

CAMP FIREBIRD, Iraq — Marine Wing Support Squadron 172, currently assigned to 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), is the first III Marine Expeditionary Force wing support squadron to deploy in support of the Long War.


5/20/2008 By Lance Cpl. Michael Stevens, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (FWD)

The Iraq deployment allows the squadron Marines based in Okinawa, Japan, a chance to conduct operations in an environment to which most are not accustomed.

“We wanted to give our Marines and sailors the opportunity to make a global impact,” said Lt. Col. Matthew R. Crabill, squadron commanding officer. “They’ve been all over Asia during the past year, and when asked to deploy here, they said ‘yeah, I’ll do that too.’”

Deploying a 1st MAW support squadron, whose multi-facetted capabilities fulfill different roles and missions, will reduce deployments between other Marine aircraft wing squadrons.

Until the “Firebirds” transferred authority with MWSS-473 last month, the support duties were upheld by 2nd, 3rd and 4th MAW squadrons respectively; all headquartered in the continental United States.

Working with foreign militaries and breaching the language barrier is a familiar task to the Okinawa-based Marines.

“Coming from Pacific Command, the Marines are familiar with working with engineers from other countries,” said combat engineer platoon commander 2nd Lt. Crystal Serrano. “The big difference now is we’re in a combat environment and we’re always maintaining a constant state of awareness.”

Each day brings something new for the squadron as the Marines perform many functions of aviation ground support aboard Al Asad Air Base and throughout Anbar province.

“This is a highly technical unit with 40 to 50 (military occupational specialties) pulling together to complete several functions of aviation ground support,” said Crabill. “Everyone has to be professionally competent in their field, yet ready to become a part of a mission-tailored team at a moment's notice.”

The squadron has a command structure focused on small-unit leadership by noncommissioned officers, which along with dedication to complete the mission, is a large part of their success.

“Almost every Marine who had to extend their contract with us in order to make this deployment did so,” said Crabill. “Most of our leaders are Iraq and Afghanistan war-veterans who wanted to be with their Marines and sailors during this deployment. These are all measures of the command’s collective commitment.”

Heroic last stand, Marines thwart enemy attack

RAMADI, Iraq —
RAMADI, Iraq — It was a typical quiet morning on April 22, with the temperature intensifying as a bright orange sun emerged high from the horizon.


5/20/2008 By Lance Cpl. Casey Jones , Regimental Combat Team 1

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.

May 19, 2008

Healing visions

Artist's portraits touch spirit of lost Marines of Ohio's Lima Company

COLUMBUS - There's a little-known stretch of heaven in Westerville.


Monday, May 19, 2008

"Let's go see the boys," Westerville artist Anita Miller, 47, says as she heads down the unfinished wooden stairs to her studio.

There are "the boys": Eight life-size oil paintings - images she hopes capture the spirit and personalities of Lima Company Marines killed three years ago on the Iraq war's deadliest days for Ohio.

Video: See the portraits and meet the artist
http://news.enquirer.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article Dato=20080518&Kategori;=VIDEO&Lopenr;=80519002&Ref;=AR

It took Miller nearly two years to paint the 6-by-8-foot portraits of the fallen boys-turned-men, six from Greater Cincinnati.

The public can experience her artwork when it moves to the Ohio Statehouse this week for an exhibit that opens Saturday.

The idea came to Miller in a dream, a vision she believes is guided by a higher power. Having no ties to the Marines' families or the military, Miller took a second mortgage to enlarge her studio - a former Army cabin built in 1830.

The art project spawned a healing process that's just beginning, according to family members, several of whom said they felt the presence of their loved ones within Miller's studio.

One by one, parents, siblings, wives and friends of the young Marines, who were killed in separate explosions in 2005, have visited Miller's two-story studio. Relatives from at least seven states plan to pay their respects at the Statehouse on Friday when the Lima Company Memorial, subtitled "A Remembrance of Spirit & Choice," is dedicated during an invitation-only ceremony.

The exhibit will be on display through Veterans Day, when it will be moved to the Cincinnati Museum Center, then other sites.

The life-size canvases will be arranged in an octagon, as Miller envisioned them in her dream.

Lima Company, the 3rd Battalion, 25th Marine reserve unit based at Rickenbacker Air Base, was among the United States' hardest hit during the war. The memorial will include candles and boots recovered after the explosions.

Miller, whose previous work includes landscapes and church paintings, said she asked God for guidance while painting.

"I need to be able to meet these guys in spirit," she said.

Miller said she read a newspaper article about Lima Company's fatalities and wished she could do something for the families. A couple of months later the dream woke her in the night.

"It felt like a download more than anything else," Miller said.

The artist called Lima Company and Statehouse officials, eventually getting their blessing. She built the studio addition with her own loans in 2006 as she gathered photographs from surviving families. Miller's expenses total an estimated $100,000, which includes supplies, lost teaching and commission income over 30 months and overhead such as heating the studio in the winter.

A nonprofit organization was founded in January 2007 to defray some of those costs, raise funds and sell commemorative books to finance a traveling exhibit.


Miller chokes up every time she tells visitors about being divinely inspired once she began to paint in early 2007. As she looked at family photographs of the Marines, she experienced specific traits.

For Sgt. David Kreuter, 26, of Miami Township, "When I picked up his picture and put it next to my heart, I felt a wash of dedication and commitment to service. An absolute unwavering dedication. And it just poured over me like a thousand volts. My body was trembling and my eyes were watering. And I thought, 'I'm not going to get his whole personality. I'm going to get the essence.' "

"I feel like I'm visiting David," his mother, Pat Murray, said on a recent visit to Miller's studio. "It's a way to connect with him. I feel like I'm surrounded by a bunch of friends. ... It gives me great comfort to come up here now. I know where to find David now."

For Lance Cpl. Michael Cifuentes, 25, of Oxford, Miller felt "a wash of goodness, of pure goodness that I've never felt before." The former Miami University tuba player is holding an iPod in his portrait.

For Lance Cpl. Christopher Dyer, 19, of Evendale, the word was "joy."

"They are just so completely awesome," Dyer's mother, Kathy, said last week as she visited Miller's studio. "Today is the first day I've seen them since they've been completed. ... It makes me so happy. It is comforting and it does bring me happiness more than remind me of the sorrow.

"I think Chris in his painting looks like Lee Marvin from 'The Dirty Dozen,' " Dyer said. "He's cocky. He's masculine. He's got that little 5 o'clock shadow. He's sort of got some attitude about him. He's got that Lee Marvin squint."


The background in Miller's first panel is fiery. "I kept hearing 'red, red, red.' It was as if my head disengaged." She couldn't apply the paint fast enough, first with a 3-inch pallet knife and then latex gloves. She had to be helped upstairs afterward.

"I could feel all of the intensity of the terror, the loss, the chaos of that experience. The whole thing exploded in front of my eyes, in full color. I was using my entire body to paint. It wiped me out for two days.

"I literally felt like I carried a little piece of them in my spirit body," Miller said. "I felt like I was the cocoon and all of a sudden they just flew out."

"And here they are. Bravo," said Marla Derga, stepmother of Cpl. Dustin A. Derga, the first Lima Company Marine killed in Iraq, on Mother's Day 2005.


Lima Company Master Sgt. Stephen Walter, who retired from the Marine Corps in January 2006, notified several families when their sons were killed in Iraq. Walter said Miller's project will have a lasting healing effect.

"Anita Miller's artwork, I would argue, has bridged the gap of grief for the families ... of the fallen in a way that the best engineers in America could not," Walter said. "She has touched their heartstrings by making their loved ones part of their lives again in a way that few others could."

But most veterans of Lima Company have been unable to visit Miller's studio because their pain is overwhelming. One family member said those Marines will likely view the Statehouse Memorial alone this summer, when they can view it anonymously.

"It's the parents' pain that I experience," Miller says. "Some days are worse than others. ... Just as powerfully as this thing gripped me, it let me go. There's healing here."

MILITARY: Treating the wounded in the Middle East

Navy docs staff medical facilities in Iraq, Afghanistan

TAQADDUM AIR BASE, IRAQ ---- It wasn’t a roadside bomb or small-arms fire that put Marine Lance Cpl. Douglas Cox in a hospital bed here last week.


By MARK WALKER - Staff Writer | Monday, May 19, 2008 9:10 PM PDT ∞

Cox, 22, was felled by a knee infection. He was undergoing treatment in the well-stocked surgical hospital staffed by Navy doctors.

A native of Jamestown, Pa., Cox is a member of a team that provides security for troops moving in convoys throughout this region, a short distance north of the city of Fallujah in the expansive Anbar province west of Baghdad.

“I really don’t know yet what the problem is,” Cox said as he lay in bed with his leg wrapped. “All I know is it’s swollen and painful.”

Based at the Marine Air Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms, Cox is one of 11,000 local Marines and sailors serving in Iraq this year.

He got a bedside visit from a Marine general, a greeting he said made him a little nervous. Cox said he planned to call his mother that evening to tell her he was in the hospital, but that he was OK and being treated for a noncombat injury.

Marines and sailors serving in Iraq and Afghanistan are supported by a cadre of Navy physicians, corpsmen and other medical support personnel.

That care is increasing survival and recovery rates far beyond those seen in earlier conflicts. The doctors also are employing a kind of group therapy technique, placing moderately injured troops and those with mild cases of combat stress back with their units so they are surrounded by the men and women they serve with each day.

At Taqaddum Air Base, the 1st Medical Company from Camp Pendleton’s 1st Marine Logistics Group provides emergency and routine medical care, as well as the counseling services for troops diagnosed with symptoms of combat stress and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Dr. Greg Jones said specialists who treat psychological disorders work with a base chaplain to treat troops suffering emotional difficulties.

“They do a pretty steady business,” Jones said.

Troops not suffering from acute stress disorders are kept at the base rather than being returned to the U.S.

“We’re finding we can be more successful treating them right here,” Jones said. “We’re able to provide the counseling and keep them with their unit, which often provides the kind of support structure back home.”

The same is true for troops with moderate injuries.

“We’re finding we can put the lightly wounded back with their units also and that their recovery time is often faster,” Jones said.

A short distance from the hospital, however, is a unit whose job is more solemn. The Personnel Retrieval and Processing Unit is responsible for collecting the bodies and personal belongings of troops killed in action, including those blown apart by roadside bombs.

Each member of the Georgia-based unit volunteered for the assignment, one it has had to perform 10 times since arriving at Taqaddum earlier this year.

Care in Afghanistan

More than 1,000 miles away in the expansive deserts of Afghanistan where Marines are fighting the Taliban in the country's Helmand province, Navy doctors have established an air-conditioned battalion aid station at Bastion.

The massive base was established by the British and other coalition forces two years ago. That station provides emergency treatment for wounded troops and has limited surgical capabilities.

The station is ensconced in camouflage tent with a matted floor, unlike the brick-and-mortar facility at Taqaddum that resembles a typical hospital.

The Marines arrived in this hot, southern Afghanistan region in April for a seven-month deployment to quell a spring uprising by the Taliban and foreign fighters.

Inside the tented station, Dr. Greg Crabill is a member of a Shock and Trauma Platoon responsible for stabilizing injured Marines until they can be transported to better-equipped facilities.

The station can treat two troops simultaneously. More can be helped in a mass casualty situation, said the slight-framed Crabill, a family physician when he’s back home at the Marine Air Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms.

More than 3,000 Marines and sailors from the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment are serving in the region until November.

The trauma platoon is responsible for frontline treatment not only at Bastion, but at several other forward operating bases outside the protection provided by the large base.

Improvising, the unit also has converted a delivery truck that can respond to calls outside the base.

Since establishing the aid station in late April, the doctors through last week had not been called on to treat any troops wounded in battle.

Instead, their work has consisted primarily of treating troops stricken by the effects of the punishing temperatures that already reach 120 degrees and higher, and those suffering from insect and snake bites.

Many of the snakes are venomous and the troops are warned of that, but Crabill said that’s a tough battle to win.

“What’s a Marine do when he sees a snake?” the soft-spoken doctor asked.

When it was suggested the Marine might just shoot the snake, Crabill smiled.

“They’re Marines,” he said, laughing. “The first thing they do is pick it up to examine and play with it. That’s how they get bit.”

May 18, 2008

IRR Marines still have Corps rules to follow

By Trista Talton - [email protected]
Posted : May 26, 2008

JACKSONVILLE, N.C. — You gave four to the Corps.

To continue reading:


Military IDs to list only last four digits of SSNs

By Charlie Reed, Stars and Stripes
European edition, Sunday, May 18, 2008

When Social Security numbers were essentially worthless, they used to be stitched and spray-painted on troops’ duffel bags.

To continue reading:


Can you hear me now?

AL-ASAD, Iraq — Communication and data exchange are vital tools in the war on terrorism.


5/18/2008 By Lance Cpl. Michael Stevens, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (FWD)

The United States’ ability to have a sustained strategic battlefield and base-to-base communication system provides all service members an advantage in everyday operations.

Marine Wing Communication Squadron 38, Marine Air Control Group 38, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), provides the vital communication link between several bases operating in western Anbar Province and with units back in the states.

“We are a centralized communication unit that provides 24-hour continual service to support all operations and facilitate the movement of all information on and off the base,” said Gunnery Sgt. David Puente, data chief with Company A, MWCS-38. “Without us here, there would be no internet, email or any other form of communication available.”

Marines work around the clock, maintaining the network’s infrastructure, ensuring no unit operates without the necessary information-flow needed to complete their mission.

“Continual service ensures battle commanders can visually see what’s taking place and make sound decisions based on the information in front of them,” said Puente.

Troubleshooting and adjusting to the system’s ever-changing capabilities remain a constant component of the job.

Working side-by-side with civilian contractors, the system has become virtually flawless, creating endless forms of back-up power and network mapping so it remains running all hours of the day.

In addition to data control and exchange, MWCS-38 also maintains the equipment used in the communication process.

A maintenance section within the squadron fixes radio and computer systems for all wing units and for some Army and Air Force commands stationed aboard Al Asad Air Base.

The squadron supports the large spectrum of 3rd MAW (Fwd.) issues by ensuring desktops, laptops, printers and fiber optic cables used in the data-exchange process remain in good working condition.

“We have a huge responsibility out here in Iraq. The network here is one of the largest communication networks in a deployed environment,” said Capt. Jonathan L. Camarillo, the Company A company commander. “Our Marines do a great job by remaining sharp and focused, knowing that without communication, Marines and all service members operating here cannot successfully complete their mission.”

May 17, 2008

Eyewitness: Ship barred from Burma

The US amphibious assault ship, USS Essex, is moored off the coast of Burma, prohibited by the military government from swinging into action to help cyclone victims. The BBC's Nick Bryant reports from aboard the ship.

click imbedded link in article for video

Page last updated at 21:27 GMT, Saturday, 17 May 2008 22:27 UK

"Hurry up and wait," is almost the unofficial slogan of the American military. It can be deployed with rapid speed in virtually any corner of the planet - and then wait there for days, weeks, sometimes months until given the order and opportunity to fulfil their mission.

In the choppy waters of the Andaman Sea right now, that mission carries the operation name "Caring Response", and involves a four-boat US naval task force which sits just 60 nautical miles off Burma's low-lying Irrawaddy Delta.

Helicopters loaded with aid could get there within 30 minutes. Landing craft, which sit within the bellies of these massive amphibious assault ships, would take less than an hour.

Water purifying machines, ambulances, heavy trucks, medical teams are ready for the off. Tens of thousands of gallons of life-saving drinking water are just over the horizon from the Burmese coastline.

'Ready to go'

The task force arrived here on Tuesday, having been diverted from a training exercise off the shores of nearby Thailand.

Publicly, the senior commanders of the task force are sanguine - surprisingly so. They stay resolutely on message - repeating over and over - that they are not seething with frustration at being so very near but essentially remaining so very far.

Their crews maintain the same detached professionalism. You wonder, though, what they must be feeling in private.

"You get used to having to wait as part of your mission and we really haven't been here that long," says US marine commander, Lieutenant Colonel Scott E. Erdelatz. "No-one here is even near their breaking point. We just want to help out and we will stay on station just a bit longer."

"Our focus is on staying ready, thinking about how to accomplish our mission. We'd like to help. No doubt about it."

"Our assumption is that if we go we'll go with the full consent of the Burmese government. That's our planning assumption right now. We carry orders and policies, so that would be something for others to decide. We just want to be ready to go," Lt Col Erdelatz says.

Suspicion and concerns

Rear Admiral Carol M. Pottenger, the commander of the task force, told me that she has been ordered to respect the sovereignty of Burma and have made no contingency plan to go in without permission from the military junta.

One of the few things that her task force does not have the capability is to conduct airdrops - that is to say attach parachutes to the pallets of aid and then drop them on communities or the countryside below.

That is not the way the US military operates. It is dangerous for a start. It is also a fairly indiscriminate way to distribute aid.

Like all the Americans, she has been struck by the inconsistency of Burma allowing in American C130 transport planes into Rangoon - over a dozen of them - but its refusal to let the aid come from offshore.

She suspects that Burma wants to control the distribution of the aid by making Rangoon the point of arrival.

But many of the roads in the Irrawaddy Delta have been washed away, and Burma does not have an adequate heavy airlift capability - which is precisely the service which the Americans can offer.

Members of this task force have been deployed in the Asian tsunami in 2004, last year's Cyclone Sidr in Bangladesh, East Timor, Cambodia, the Philippines.

One concern within the military is that future missions might be jeopardised if, on this occasion, Burma's sovereignty was ignored or flouted.

Ultimately, it is the White House and Pentagon which lay down the terms of the mission. If the humanitarian crisis worsens, which is likely, and the aid still sits offshore - which is a distinct possibility - "hurry up and wait" might no longer be an option.

May 15, 2008

First Victory on GI Bill Today

This afternoon, the House of Representatives made history. By an overwhelming margin, lawmakers passed the landmark new GI Bill which will make college affordable to the more than 1.6 million Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.


May 15, 2008
Filed under: Education, GI Bill, IAVA in DC, In the News, Legislation, Washington — Paul Rieckhoff @ 3:31 pm

As President Roosevelt said when he signed the original GI Bill for veterans of World War II,

”[The GI Bill] gives emphatic notice to the men and women in our armed forces that the American people do not intend to let them down.”

The House of Representatives renewed that promise. This is a tremendous and bipartisan commitment to our troops. We’ve seen enough bumper sticker and lapel pin patriotism; today, we saw the real thing.

The House vote is a crucial first step, but there is more to be done to get this bill made law. The GI Bill, which passed as a part of the war supplemental funding, still has to be approved by the Senate and be signed by the President. A second step was also taken today, as the Senate Appropriations Committee moved their matching GI Bill proposal out of committee.

I’d like to take a minute to talk about the people who deserve credit for moving the GI Bill this far:

- First and foremost, the bipartisan coalition of combat veterans who introduced the new GI Bill:
Senators Webb, Hagel, Warner, and Lautenberg who put partisanship aside in favor of a fair benefit for the troops who served after them.

- The veterans’ organizations (led by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion, the Military Officers Association, and IAVA) who stood united on this issue, kept up the pressure, and refused to accept compromised or watered-down benefits.

- The many other supporters of a new GI Bill — including at least 22 governors, an array of higher education groups, and of course, thousands of regular Americans who pressured their representatives to make this bill a top priority.

What’s next? The Senate floor vote that may happen as early as Monday of next week. At this point, I am convinced the GI Bill has become an unstoppable force - but I’ve been disappointed by Washington before. With your help, we can ensure that the GI Bill becomes law. You can follow the new GI Bill every step of the way here.

Petaluma Marine to receive Purple Heart

Marine Cpl. Steven Kiernan, 20 of Petaluma, will be awarded the Purple Heart Thursday afternoon at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.



Kiernan lost his left foot and right leg below the knee in a bomb blast in Falluja on May 4 after being in Iraq less than a month. His previous assignment was at Camp David, President Bush’s retreat.

The Purple Heart is awarded to members of the armed forces who are wounded in war. Awarding the medal will be Marine Commandant James T. Conway, who will present the medal in his fifth floor hospital room.

Kiernan, an honor student, enrolled in the Marines in 2005 when he was 17, after fulfiling his Petaluma High School requirements early. He finished boot camp in time to come home and participate in the school’s graduation.

He had hoped to wear his dress uniform for the ceremony, but school policy mandated a cap and gown. The issue drew national attention, with Kiernan agreeing to wear cap and gown over his uniform; removing the gown after receiving his diploma and leaving the outdoor stage.

Marine can’t wear uniform at graduation

The Associated Press
Posted : Thursday May 15, 2008 12:24:34 EDT

BLOOMER, Wis. — A new Marine who’s graduating from Bloomer High School this month won’t be able to wear his military uniform during the commencement ceremony.

To continue reading:


May 14, 2008

Marines stay in Afghan town after Taliban influx

GARMSER, Afghanistan (AP) — U.S. Marines who once planned to be in this southern Afghan town for just a few days are extending their mission by several weeks after facing an influx of Taliban fighters.


By JASON STRAZIUSO – 1 day ago

The change in plans shows that despite a record number of international troops in the country, forces are still spread thin and U.S. commanders must make tough choices about where to deploy them.

Manpower problems are acute in Helmand, the largest and probably the most dangerous province in Afghanistan, where the U.S. 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit arrived late last month to open a route to move troops to its southern reaches near the border with Pakistan.

Britain has about 7,500 soldiers in the province, but does not have enough troops to move south of Garmser, a district still largely held by the Taliban and bursting with opium poppy fields.

The 2,400-strong Marine unit met stiff resistance as they moved in. Between 100 and 400 Taliban fighters moved into the Garmser area as the poppy harvest got under way, apparently to defend their interests in the lucrative drug trade.

Maj. Tom Clinton Jr. said the Marines would be in Garmser for several more weeks. It means the Marines might not take part in an operation that was planned in another southern province this month.

"The number of fighters that stood and fought is kind of surprising to me, but obviously they're fighting for something," Clinton said, alluding to poppies. "They're flowing in, guys are going south and picking up arms. We have an opportunity to really clear them out, cripple them, so I think we're exploiting the success we're finding."

Helmand is the hub of opium production in Afghanistan, which accounts for more than 90 percent of the global supply of this raw material of heroin. The Taliban are believed to derive tens of millions of dollars from the trade.

Still, the Marines have been careful not to alienate residents by destroying the poppy fields that poor farmers rely on for income. Commanders say their goal is to rid the region of Taliban fighters so the Afghan government can move in and tackle the drug problem.

The prospects of that happening appear remote. Although thousands of acres of poppy fields are eradicated annually in Afghanistan, it is only a small fraction of the total area sown. Year after year, production has soared and security has deteriorated.

In recognition of the growing threat posed by Taliban militants, there are now almost 70,000 international soldiers in Afghanistan. The U.S. has 33,000, the most since the U.S.-led invasion in late 2001 ousted the Taliban for giving haven to al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

U.S. forces have mostly operated in the east of the country, rather than the south, where NATO has struggled to find nations willing to fight the increasingly bloody insurgency.

U.S. Gen. Dan McNeill, the top NATO commander in Afghanistan, has said he needs three more brigades — two for combat and one to train Afghan soldiers, roughly 7,500 to 10,000 additional soldiers.

When the Marines eventually leave Garmser, any gains the 24th has made could be quickly erased unless other forces from NATO or the Afghan government move in.

"We can't be a permanent 24/7 presence. We don't have enough men to stay here," said Staff Sgt. Darrell Penyak, 29, of Grove City, Ohio. "We would need the ANA (Afghan army) to move in, and right now the way we're fighting, there's no way the ANA can come in. They couldn't handle it."

Afghanistan's army and police forces are steadily growing, but are still not big — or skilled — enough to protect much of the country. Spokesmen for both forces said they were not aware of plans to send forces to Garmser.

Col. Nick Borton, commander of British forces in the southern part of Helmand, recently visited U.S. positions in Garmser, where he told the Americans he'd be happy if they stayed on.

"If they're here for only a short time, we can't build very much off that," he said. "Their presence for a few days doesn't really help us."

A representative of the U.S. Agency for International Development, the U.S. government aid arm, told Marine battalion commander Lt. Col. Anthony Henderson that "people lose faith if you pull out."

The next day, at a meeting of Marines and Afghan elders, the bearded, turban-wearing men told Marine Capt. Charles O'Neill that the two sides could "join together" to fight the Taliban. "When you protect us, we will be able to protect you," the leader of the elders said.

Despite uncertainties over how secure Garmser, O'Neill liked what he heard.

"We have something here we can really exploit, if we can get some Afghan national police here," he said. "The Marines can definitely do the job, but we're not a permanent presence. With their own people providing their own security they can really get something done."

May 13, 2008

US Navy ships move closer to Myanmar, ready to help if asked: commander

JAKARTA, Indonesia - Three U.S. Navy ships are sailing toward Myanmar, ready to deliver aid to cyclone victims if the country's military rulers allow it, a top American commander said Monday.


AP - Tuesday, May 13

The vessels, which have helicopters on board, were currently in the Bay of Bengal, said Vice Admiral Doug Crowder.

"We have three of our amphibious ships that are part of the 7th fleet that are headed that way right now," Crowder told reporters in Jakarta. He said the ships "could provide quite a bit of relief if we are allowed to do so by the current government."

The May. 3 cyclone killed or left missing more than 60,000 people with up to 2 million others facing disease and starvation, but Myanmar's isolationist leaders are not fully cooperating with international relief agencies and governments that want to provide aid.

Helicopters from U.S. ships moored off the coast of Aceh following the 2004 Asian tsunami delivered tons of water and other assistance to isolated communities. The swift response there was credited with helping saving tens of thousands of lives.

Crowder, who commanded the tsunami relief effort, came to the Indonesian capital on board the USS Blue Ridge, the amphibious command ship of the U.S. 7th Fleet. The ship was on a port visit to the city.

Pentagon biggest obstacle to Democrats' GI bill

WASHINGTON - Veterans groups say it's time to expand college aid for GIs, and Democrats want to use an election year to do it. Their biggest obstacle? The Pentagon.


By ANNE FLAHERTY, Associated Press Writer
Tue May 13, 3:18 AM ET

The Defense Department is lobbying against legislation proposed by Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., that would guarantee a full-ride scholarship for service members to any in-state public university. According to defense officials, the plan would hurt its ability to retain service members because the new GI education bill would require only three years before the full benefit kicks in. The Defense Department wants the commitment to be extended to at least six years.

"We have no issue with the fact that Sen. Webb wishes to provide a more generous education benefit to troops," said Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell. "But we are certainly concerned that this would be eligible to them" so soon.

The Pentagon's opposition to Webb's bill underscores the difficulty the military has had in recruiting and retaining an all-volunteer force at a time when it is engaged in a war that is deeply unpopular with the American public.

Adding to the military's dilemma is the larger number of soldiers and Marines needed to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Last year, the Pentagon recommended that the Army be increased by about 65,000 soldiers to a total of 547,000, and the Marines be increased by 27,000 to 202,000.

The difficulty in finding young people also can be attributed in part to low unemployment numbers in recent years. According to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, unemployment dropped from 6 percent in 2003 to 4.6 percent in 2007.

In recent months, the military has had to take creative steps to reach its desired troop numbers. A year ago, when Army recruiters didn't meet their goal, the service announced new $20,000 bonuses for recruits and up to $40,000 if an enlistee signed up for at least four years.

The Army also has granted special exceptions to recruits with prior criminal records, medical problems or low-aptitude scores that would have otherwise disqualified them from service. Senior military officials defended the change in policy as justified because they say current restrictions were so stringent that many members in Congress would have been denied entrance to the ranks because of indiscretions from their youth.

Retention rates have been less troublesome in the military, with the Army and Marine Corps exceeding their goals by large margins in 2006 and staying strong in 2007. Studies have found that combat deployments can prompt service members to re-enlist, usually because of a sense of accomplishment.

Still, the Defense Department is worried that its retention numbers could fall as service members are asked to return repeatedly to Iraq and Afghanistan and they are given too much of an incentive to leave. One particular problem facing the military is its ability to hang on to seasoned combat veterans, including those in the elite forces, who are being lured to higher-paying jobs in the private sector.

Webb, a Vietnam veteran and critic of the Iraq war, counters that his legislation would be more effective in attracting new recruits and would offset any drop in the military's ranks.

"I can't think of a better way to broaden (the) propensity to serve than to offer a truly meaningful educational benefit, rather than simply taking that smaller demographic" of those already enlisted "and pound on it" with repeated combat tours, he said.

May 12, 2008

31st MEU arrives in Thailand for Cobra Gold

Staff report
Posted : Monday May 12, 2008 8:09:32 EDT

Marines and sailors with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit arrived off the coast of southern Thailand on Thursday to participate in Cobra Gold 2008, a multinational exercise focusing on regional cooperation and humanitarian assistance projects.

To continue reading:


3rd LAR remembers fallen brother

The Marines and sailors of 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion gathered with friends and family at the Combat Center’s Sunset Cinema Thursday to honor their fallen comrade Lance Cpl. Drew W. Weaver, who was killed in action Feb. 21 in Iraq.


Pfc. Zachary J. Nola
Combat Correspondent

Weaver, a 20-year-old St. Charles, Miss., native, was a member of Bravo Company, 3rd LAR, and was killed while conducting combat operations in Iraq’s Al Anbar province.

The service began with an invocation by Lt. j.g. Nathan Drake, 3rd LAR chaplain and the playing of the national anthem.

Members of 3rd LAR remembered Weaver as a living testament of the Corps’ values and for his ability to make others smile.

“He absolutely upheld the Corps values of honor, courage, and commitment,” said Drake. “He regained all that for me.”

Marines recalled that Weaver’s professionalism made him stand out amongst other Marines.

“Drew was special to me,” said 1st Lt. Christopher J. Motz, “Drew was special as a Marine. Drew was special as a warrior.”

While recalling the events of that day, Weaver’s brothers-in-arms remembered his commitment to his fellow Marines.

After confronting a group of insurgents Weaver continuously exposed himself to enemy fire in order to shout commands to the Marines he was leading and engage the enemy.

When he caught sight of fellow Marines walking into an ambush, Weaver disregarded his own safety and immediately warned the Marines of the pending threat.

Weaver’s warning drew the enemy’s attention to himself and made it possible for the other Marines to assault the enemy’s position.

Though it cost him his life, Weaver’s courageous and selfless action prevented the looming ambush.

“He was being selfless, he was being a Marine,” said Lt. Col. James R. Parrington, 3rd LAR battalion commander.

In addition to his selflessness and courage, fellow Marines also remember his smile.

“I have no doubt he saved many lives that day,” said Lance Cpl. Jeremy W. Shurtleff, scout, Bravo Company, 3rd LAR. “He was our guardian angel.”

Even as tears were shed, smiles and laughter emerged as friends remembered Weaver’s lighter side.

“He was friendly. He’d greet you with a smile.” said Samuel L. Smalley, grenadier, Bravo Company, 3rd LAR, “If you were having a bad day he’d make it a good day, and if you were having a good day he’d make it a great day.”

Lance Cpl. Weaver’s ability to brighten the lives of those around him seemed to be apparent to all those who knew him.

“He was the type of person who could walk in to a room and brighten it,” said Shurtleff.

After the service ended, the Wolf Pack quietly filed out of the theater. The stage lights remained fixed on the memorial stand in the center of the stage. Only the rifle, boots, and Kevlar adorned with dog tags remained; A symbol of Weaver’s sacrifice.

He gave his life not just for the Marines there with him that day but for the people all over the world who never had the privilege of meeting him.

“If you knew Lance Cpl. Drew Weaver, count yourself among the blessed,” said Motz.

May 11, 2008

Curious crew flows into Tassie

HOBART'S population swelled yesterday as the crew of USS Tarawa took to the streets in what is expected to be a bumper three days for retailers and tourism operators.

The 250m-long amphibious assault ship sailed proudly up the Derwent about 8am yesterday as the city turned on a perfect autumn morning.


May 11, 2008 09:00am

The crew lined the decks with cameras pointed at city landmarks including Mt Wellington and the expansive harbour.

Sergeant Jacob Asbach, one of 3000 sailors and marines on board, had signed up for a mountain bike tour to get a closer look at Tasmania's famous scenery.

"After being stuck down below for a couple of days it will be nice to see the town that way," Sgt Asbach said.

But he seemed unsure of the local wildlife.

"If you go into the woods, are you likely to see a Tasmanian devil? Will they bite you?"

The ship will be in Hobart until Tuesday, the visit expected to inject at least $6million into the local economy.

Premier Paul Lennon officially welcomed the ship and hoped it signalled a resumption of regular naval visits.

"On behalf of the people of Tasmania I would like to extend a warm welcome to the crew of the USS Tarawa," he said.

"Our island state has much to offer, from cosmopolitan cafes to historic villages, mountain peaks to white sandy beaches and all in close proximity."

"The last US warship to visit the state was the aircraft carrier John C Stennis in 2002.

Commanding officer Amphibious Squadron One captain John Miley said the crew was thrilled to be in Tasmania.

"There is definitely a genuine interest. You can see that on the flight deck. There is a buzz -- they are excited about being here," Capt Miley said.

As the massive ship sidled up to Macquarie Wharf with an entourage of pleasure craft, the belly of the beast was a hive of activity.

Sailors and marines had a quick shave and replaced their uniforms with civilian clothes, ready to hit the town.

Once in the city their presence was easy to spot -- rugged up against the cold in hoodies and baggy jeans, some made a bee-line for the local pub while others used the pay phone to call home.

The ship's private television station reminded sailors to maintain their decorum on land.

It also provided information on the local nightlife including advice to "dress for success" at The Observatory and avoid a long list of clubs because of "known criminal activity".

Marine Corps commander Colonel John Bullard said a stay in Perth earlier this month had taken the edge off a long tour of duty.

"We are on our way home and no one wants to screw that up -- we are optimistic they will all be well behaved," Col. Bullard said.

The Tarawa has been on an extended seven-month deployment that included providing humanitarian relief to Bangladesh after Cyclone Sadir.

The ship has also been stationed in the Persian Gulf on non-operational support duties and recently conducted training and provided medical assistance in Djibouti, Africa.

After its Hobart visit the ship is believed to be returning to its home port of San Diego, California on possibly its last ever voyage. The ship was launched during the Vietnam War in 1973 and has since been superseded by Wasp-class amphibious assault ships.

May 10, 2008

Experience increases recruit confidence in basic water skills

MARINE CORPS RECRUIT DEPOT SAN DIEGO — Marines are known as amphibious warriors based on their ability to assault fortified islands by sea.


5/10/2008 By Cpl. Robert Beaver, Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego

During past amphibious assaults, some Americans have lost their lives by drowning in the surf. To give Marines a basic understanding of how to survive the watery forces of nature, they must qualify in Combat Water Survival training during boot camp. Company D recruits earned their qualifications in the first phase of boot camp March 10.

Combat Water Survival training is designed to reduce the fear of water, instill self-confidence and develop the ability to survive in aquatic environments, said Gunnery Sgt. Christopher Glocke, chief swim instructor and company gunnery sergeant for Instructional Training Company.

“We are a military branch capable of fighting on all fronts,” said Sgt. Kendall Wright, drill instructor, Platoon 1063, Company D. “This training is important because if we do not have water survival skills, we will not be as successful (when attacking from the sea).”

Recruits are required to perform several tasks in the water. They swim specific distances, tread water and rescue teammates.

“During this training they learn basic water survival skills,” said Glocke. “The training is not that hard. It helps recruits feel more confident in the water, which is one of the most important things because it teaches recruits to relax, breathe and survive.”

Recruits begin the course with CWS-4 qualification, the minimum qualification requirement for enlisted Marines, which focuses on personal survival without combat gear.

At this level, recruits swim 25-meters in shallow water using the beginner or survival stroke. They are also required to enter the pool from a 15-foot tower simulating the abandon ship technique. After returning to the surface they swim to an area where they tread water for four minutes. Recruits then swim another 25 meters to obtain the minimum requirement for graduation.

After recruits complete the requirements for CWS-4, they move on to the more difficult third and second classes— which involve full combat gear.

“I’ve always been a good swimmer because I grew up near the beach,” said Recruit James Clancy, Platoon 1063. “My preconceived notions were the most challenging. I didn’t think it was possible to swim with all the gear and I worried that the gear would drag me under the water.”

The third class qualification begins with recruits entering the water using the abandon ship technique and swimming 25 meters. Recruits then don full combat gear, enter shallow water and swim 40 meters to the other side of the pool.

Recruits again enter the pool using the abandon ship technique, only this time from an 8-foot tower while wearing full combat gear. One final 25-meter swim completes the third class qualification.

The second class water survival qualification is the last level recruits can obtain in boot camp. The qualification focuses on assisting an exhausted or wounded Marine to safety while wearing full combat gear.

After swimming 50 meters, recruits drag other recruits, simulating wounded Marines, 25 meters to earn the second class qualification.

“As Marines, we will be put in situations where this training will save our lives,” said Wright.

May 9, 2008

Hawaii Marines receive rockin' concert

CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq (May 9, 2008) – “You have been rocking the street of Zaidon, right? You have been rocking the streets of Shohabi, right? You have been rocking the streets of Karma, right? Now it’s time to rock Camp Fallujah, so get up out of your seats and have a good time,” said 1st Sgt. Brian Fogarty, First Sergeant, Company E, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 1, while introducing the Southern California band, The Saloonatics, on stage for a concert aboard Camp Fallujah.


Story by Cpl. Chadwick deBree

The band made their way to Iraq with the desire to travel and give service members in a combat area a chance to relax and forget about their rigorous schedule for a couple of hours.

“It was very rewarding to come out here and perform for the Marines,” said lead singer Sarah Bruni. “My father and brother were in the (Marine Corps), and that drove me to make us come out here to perform for them, and the military has gone above and beyond for us to come out to the different bases to perform.”

The Saloonatics were able to perform in the South Camp section of Camp Fallujah after coordination was done by Warrant Officer Jack Johnson, Nuclear Biological Chemical officer, 2nd Bn., 3rd Marines.

“All it took was one phone call,” Johnson said. “I was tired of Camp Fallujah proper getting all the entertainment, so I made a phone call to see what I could do to get performances for the battalion. A couple days later I got a reply that we were having a band perform here.”

Before the band’s performance, the Island Warriors gave them a tour of their work space and a glimpse into the life of a Marine while deployed.

During their performance, the band played classic rock songs ranging from Ted Nugent’s “Stranglehold” to 3 Doors Down’s “Superman.”

“Our guitarist, Brian (Montrey), is also our band manager, so he picked all the songs,” Bruni said. “He picks songs from the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and today so there is something for everyone.”

For the Marines, this was a chance to let loose for 90 minutes and dive into the world of rock.

“I thought it was awesome, they were pretty good, I enjoyed it,” said Cpl. Aaron Lee, artillery liaison radio operator, S-3, 2nd Bn., 3rd Marines. “I thought it was good for the morale of the battalion because it was something different. Like Warrant Officer Johnson said, it marked the middle of the deployment.”

But the Marines weren’t the only ones feeling the energy from the performance; the band was feeding off of it.

“The amount of energy that we received from the Marines was by far the best thing of the night,” Bruni said. “The energy we got back from them was what made this whole trip worth it. We were able to make them feel like they weren’t here for 90 minutes. They really got into the performance, singing along, jumping around, it was incredible. It’s going to break my heart to leave.”
MNF-West, Official Site, 2008

USS Germantown Visits Laem Chabang, Thailand

LAEM CHABANG, Thailand – Returning home from an extended deployment to the Fifth Fleet area of responsibility USS Germantown (LSD 42) conducted a port visit in Laem Chabang, Thailand.


By LT James Trudeau, USS Germantown Public Affairs
Posted: May 9, 2008

Germantown’s crew was there to promote interaction between the US Navy and Royal Thai Navy (RTN), as well as to provide an opportunity for much deserved rest and relaxation and a chance to experience the unique Thai culture.

Germantown Sailors and Marines were able to interact with Thai citizens while conducting the ship’s community relations program which sends Sailors out into the communities to foster close relationships with their residents.

In Laem Chabang and Pattaya, Sailors and Marines painted the Wat Thung Ka primary school and delivered toys from Project Handclasp to the children there. They were able to give skateboards, scooters, basketballs, and assorted crayons.

At the Karunwet Homage for the Disabled the crew distributed personal hygiene products and Friendship Bags provided by Project Handclasp to 370 residents ranging in age from 18 to 92.

“This was a great opportunity for Sailors and Marines to interact with the local community. Our small donation of material and time had a huge return in their opinion of the United States Military,” said community relations coordinator Lt. Kardosh.

Germantown’s Commanding Officer, Cmdr. Keith Moore was present during the community relations events. “This was a positive experience, kids loved the Sailors and Marines and appreciated the toys. Our visit really made their day.”

Cmdr. Moore also paid a call to Vice Adm. Srivisuth Ratarun, commandant of the RTN base at Sattahip, with Capt. Walter Watson the embassy Defense Attaché, Lt. Cmdr. Thomas Schultz, Commanding Officer of USS Patriot and representatives from the local Navy League promoting relations between the two navies.

When asked by VADM Ratarun on how his crew was enjoying Pattaya Cmdr. Moore had this to say, “We are having a blast!”

Sailors to pump $6m into Tassie

THE visit of US warship USS Tarawa will pump more than $6 million into the local economy, the US Government says.

The 250m amphibious assault ship will bring 3000 sailors and marines to Hobart tomorrow morning.


May 09, 2008 12:00am

The 250m amphibious assault ship will bring 3000 sailors and marines to Hobart tomorrow morning.

The Consulate General of the United States in Perth said yesterday visits by US Navy Expeditionary Strike Groups brought $2 million a day to local economies.

The duration of the ship's stay has not yet been confirmed, but crew members and volunteers will be here until at least Monday to attend an appointment at the Royal Hobart Hospital where they will visit patients during International Nurses Day.

Tarawa Commanding Officer Captain Brian Luther said those on board were looking forward to stretching their legs in Hobart.

"Hobart is an exotic city that Tarawa sailors and marines have been looking forward to coming to for months," Capt Luther said.

The 2002 visit of the USS John C Stennis brought about 5500 personnel to the state and generated an estimated $4.1 million in personal spending, with the average spend per day estimated to be $137 per crew member.

Additional shops are expected to open on Sunday.

Australian Retailers Association Tasmania executive director Duncan McDougall urged retailers to take advantage of the Americans' business.

"The opportunity is there," Mr McDougall said.

"I would certainly encourage retailers to take it."

Capt Luther said sailors and marines would remember the Battle of Coral Sea while in Hobart.

The commemoration celebrates the combined American and Australian naval and air engagement that effectively halted the Japanese southern advance towards Australia.

Events will include a wreath-laying ceremony at Hobart War Memorial, the Coral Sea Handicap at Tattersals Park and guided tours of the Tarawa.

Tarawa has arrived directly from the US 5th Fleet area of operations as part of the USS Tarawa Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG).

While on deployment, Tarawa ESG has provided disaster relief and humanitarian assistance to Bangladesh in the aftermath of Tropical Cyclone Sidr, operated in the Persian Gulf and given support to Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.

US official: 1 shipment to be allowed to Myanmar

WASHINGTON - The governing military junta in Myanmar has agreed to allow a single U.S. cargo aircraft to bring in relief supplies for victims of a devastating cyclone, the Bush administration said Friday.


By FOSTER KLUG, Associated Press Writer
Fri May 9, 2:57 PM ET

White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said the United States welcomed the go-ahead to land a U.S. military C-130 in the country on Monday. He said he hopes this is the beginning of continued aid flowing into Myanmar from the United States, other nations and international relief agencies.

Earlier Friday, Ky Luu, director of the U.S. office of foreign disaster assistance, had said that skilled aid workers were being forced to sit on the sidelines as victims of last week's cyclone were dying. His comments reflect mounting frustration among the United States and other countries as they wait for permission from the military-led government to begin trying to help.

Said Johndroe: "We will continue to work with the government of Burma to allow other assistance. We hope that this is the beginning of a long line of assistance from the United States to Burma." Myanmar is also known as Burma.

Johndroe also said that while the U.S. still has limited leeway to help, "One flight is much better than no flights."

"They're going to need our help for a long time," Johndroe said. He spoke in Crawford, Texas, where President Bush's daughter, Jenna, will be wed on Saturday.

The breakthrough came after days of waiting on the U.S. side. It is not yet known what supplies will be included. U.S. aircraft have been positioned in Thailand and elsewhere nearby waiting for permission to transport supplies to the cyclone-devastated country.

The U.S. military has C-130 cargo aircraft and about a dozen helicopters in the region, ready to fly supplies into Myanmar. Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said Friday that the aircraft could reach Myanmar in a few hours.

In addition, U.S. Navy ships have begun moving from the Gulf of Thailand toward Myanmar to be available if needed.

Johndroe said he could not speak to one specific cause for the breakthrough, but added: "Clearly the junta has determined that the magnitude of this disaster requires additional assistance."

Myanmar has been under military rule since 1962. The current junta came to power after snuffing out a 1988 pro-democracy movement against the previous military dictatorship, killing at least 3,000 people in the process. The junta also violently crushed protests last year.

Luu had urged the generals to allow access to foreign aid teams, including a group of U.S. specialists waiting in Thailand; he said desperately needed supplies are piling up on airport tarmacs.

"This is a very vulnerable population, and a shock of this magnitude is going to take people right off the cliff," Luu told an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a foreign affairs think tank in Washington.

He said the message to the junta is clear: If it allows U.S. officials in, "we will be able to make a difference."

"People are dying, and it's approaching a week," he said.

Myanmar's ruling military junta earlier seized two planeloads of critical aid sent by the U.N. The U.N. food program suspended help after the action, but later said it is sending two planes to Myanmar to help hungry and homeless survivors.

Officials have said that up to 1.9 million people are homeless, injured or threatened by disease and hunger, and only one out of 10 have received some kind of aid in the six days since the cyclone hit.

Tony Banbury, Asia director for the U.N. World Food Program, said by satellite from Thailand that the "big issue" is: What are the Myanmar authorities going to do? The WFP, he said, will keep working, but "I don't think we have much leverage with the authorities."

"Our hands are getting more and more tied," he said. "The situation is obviously desperate."

Sein Win, an exiled leader of Myanmar's opposition, said in an interview that the United States and other nations must more strongly pressure China, which is seen as having significant economic and political influence with Myanmar's generals.

"The world is not telling China to do what they should do ... to save people," Win said. He added that China has leverage over Myanmar, and said "the question is whether they are going to use it or not."

White House renews veto threat against troop funding bill

WASHINGTON (AP) — Congress appears increasingly unlikely to meet its goal of approving President Bush's war funding request before Memorial Day as divisions deepened among Democrats and the White House issued a fresh veto threat.


By ANDREW TAYLOR – 5/9/2008

With only two full weeks remaining before the Memorial Day recess, the measure has yet to pass either the House or the Senate.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., pulled the bill from the schedule Wednesday night after conservative-to-moderate "Blue Dog" Democrats revolted over Democratic leaders' insistence on including in the war funding bill an unrelated provision to sharply increase education benefits for veterans under the GI Bill.

The new GI Bill — designed to give Iraq war veterans enough help to finance a four-year stint at a public college — would cost $51 billion over 10 years. It runs afoul of a rule designed to prevent new benefit programs from causing the deficit to spiral.

The Democratic rebels are the House's top supporters of "pay as you go" budget rules that require that new benefit programs be financed with offsetting spending cuts or new taxes so as not to cause the budget deficit to increase. The war funding bill is an emergency appropriation, but the veterans education funding is a new mandatory benefit program that's supposed to be subject to the budget rule.

"It's the principle involved of not putting a mandatory program of any kind on an emergency supplemental," said Rep. John Tanner, D-Tenn.

Meanwhile, White House budget director Jim Nussle weighed in Thursday with renewed veto threats against rival House and Senate Iraq funding bills, saying the add-ons for veterans and an extension of unemployment benefits were unacceptable.

"To just pile them into the troop funding bill because the troop funding bill is necessary is a cynical process that the president has already been very clear about — the fact that he would veto," Nussle told The Associated Press.

Pelosi told reporters she is confident the impasse with the rebel Democrats can be ironed out, but the delay threatens her goal of getting the war funding bill completed by Memorial Day.

The process for trying to pass the war funding bill involves complicated parliamentary maneuvering that is designed to allow anti-war Democrats to vote against the war funding but still ensure that it makes it through Congress and onto Bush's desk. On the other hand, it makes it more difficult to negotiate a final bill because there's no House-Senate conference committee.

Also Thursday, the Senate Appropriations Committee postponed for a week a vote on its version of the war funding bill, which exceeds Bush's demands by $9 billion. Now, it appears the Senate won't complete floor debate on the measure until just before it recesses for the sacrosanct Memorial Day vacation, leaving no time for a final bill to be passed before the break.

The Pentagon says the delays would force the Pentagon on June 9 to warn civilian Pentagon employees of possible furloughs.

The House bill carries $183.7 billion in spending for military and diplomatic operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as a handful of domestic items such as military base construction funds. That includes $66 billion in 2009 funds requested by Bush, so it does not break through his overall cap.

But the addition of the GI Bill and a 13-week extension of unemployment benefits for people whose benefits have run out would still prompt a veto, Nussle said.

"Judging from what the president has said and where the Congress appears to be heading toward right now, the answer is still the same — that the president would veto," Nussle told The Associated Press.

Brain Injury Clinic To Open At Camp Pendleton

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- Any day now, a new medical facility designed specifically for troops with traumatic brain injuries will open at Camp Pendleton, 10News reported.


POSTED: 4:08 am PDT May 9, 2008
UPDATED: 5:48 am PDT May 9, 2008

About 720 Marines stationed at Camp Pendleton currently suffer from traumatic brain injury, or TBI, military officials told The San Diego Union-Tribune.

The facility opening soon on Camp Pendleton will be part of the Navy Medicine West Office of Neurotrauma. It is the latest in a string of facilities opening nationwide to address the growing number of troops returning from the Middle East with TBI, the newspaper reported.

In San Diego, Navy and Veterans Affairs officials have partnered with the University of California San Diego to improve diagnosis of traumatic brain injuries, which are caused by a sudden and violent force to the brain.

University researcher Mingxiong Huang told the Union-Tribune that about 70 percent of TBIs go undetected by traditional Magnetic Resonance Imaging, or MRIs.

Last month, military officials signed an agreement to send designated service members to UCSD Medical Center for brain testing with high-tech imaging methods.

"We need to find these people and treat them aggressively," Navy Capt. Forrest Faison, commanding officer of the Camp Pendleton Naval Hospital, told the Union-Tribune.

The full societal cost of a mild case of brain trauma can reach $32,000 per year, including treatment expenses, the patient's lost productivity and the value of caregiving by family members, according to a study released last month by the Rand Corp.

The annual figure for a moderate-to-severe case ranges from $268,000 to $408,000, according to the study, which also estimates 320,000 service members nationwide have suffered TBIs.

May 8, 2008

Hobart's ship comes in

HOBART is preparing to cash in on the economic bonanza of a visiting US Navy ship with 3000 crew.

A US Government official last night confirmed the lead ship of the US Navy's first-class amphibious assault fleet USS Tarawa would arrive this weekend.


May 08, 2008 12:00am

The warship is not nuclear powered but is likely to carry depleted nuclear weapons.

News of the visit has sent local businesses scurrying to cater for the ship.

A fruit and vegetable wholesale supplier, who asked not to be named, said his business was stockpiling for a massive order of fresh produce for the crew.

"The ship's business is fantastic as you can imagine with those sort of quantities," he said.

"It's an extremely big order including 900kg of rock melon, 490kg of pears and apples and 500kg of lettuce."

The ship required about 10 tonnes of fresh fruit and vegies.

Salamanca Inn receptionist Abbey Rogers said the hotel had booked eight rooms for US sailors on Saturday and Sunday, but they usually received more once naval ships arrived.

"We're predicting there may be a few more, but we're trying to limit it to what we've got booked because they can be a bit rowdy," she said.

Knopwoods Retreat licensee Kate Duffy said she would stock up and put on extra staff tomorrow and Saturday.

"I've ordered a few extra cartons of Budweiser, but we are hoping to push some Tasmanian products their way," he said.

"There won't be as many of them out as there used to be."

A US Government official said the ship would be in Hobart at the weekend for "a short visit".

The ship provided disaster relief and humanitarian assistance to Bangladesh after tropical cyclone Sidr and conducted operations in the Persian Gulf.

The 250m vessel carries 35 aircraft including AV-8B Harrier jets and Cobra, Hueys, Super Stallion and Sea Knight helicopters.

It docked in Fremantle on May 2, enroute from the US 5th Fleet area of operations, for a weekend stop-over. WA media reported only one incident, when some sailors got mugged ashore.

WA Greens senator elect Scott Ludlam, a former volunteer for Fremantle Anti-Nuclear Group, said there had been no major protests because they did not learn of the visit in time.

Mr Ludlam said it was not confirmed whether it carried depleted uranium weapons.

"It carries two mach 15 phalanx guns for shooting down incoming missiles," Mr Ludlam said.

"Most often the shells fired from these are depleted uranium. We generally assume the worst."

The Greens welcomed sailors but not the ship.

Federal Hotels spokesman Brendan Blomeley welcomed the ship.

"It's great to see naval vessels of this size visiting Hobart again," Mr Blomeley said.

Wisconsin family remembers their fallen Marine

HABBANIYAH, Iraq (May 8, 2008) – Funny, outgoing, crazy, loving, full of life – those are just a few of the many words that describe the late Cpl. Richard “Ricky” J. Nelson, a 23-year-old rifleman from Kenosha, Wis., who was killed by an improvised explosive device in the al Anbar Province of Iraq, Apr. 14.


Story by Pfc. Jerry Murphy

This was Nelson’s second deployment to Iraq with Company F, 2nd Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment, and upon his return, he was looking forward to starting a family with his wife and going to school to become an elementary school teacher.

“He loved kids. He wanted to come home, start a family and become a teacher,” said Kristen Nelson, Nelson’s 20-year-old wife of one year, from Winthrop Harbor, Ill. “Teaching kids would have been perfect for him because they seemed to be the only ones who could keep up with him.”

Nelson’s energy and determination had always been an integral part of his personality. His mother, Susan Nelson, of Pleasant Prairie, Wis., said that he was a rascal growing up and remembered a specific showing of his determination.

“I worked at a Christian school about 12 and a half miles from where we lived. Every day, we left at a specific time and Ricky knew that and one day, he wasn’t ready when we left,” Susan said. “He called me on my cell phone and begged me to come back and pick him up. I told him I wasn’t going to and, sure enough, he showed up to school about two and a half hours late. He rode his dirt bike all the way and said that he didn’t want to miss school.”

Throughout Nelson’s life, he was known as the life of the party, always making people laugh and rarely shying away from a conversation with anyone.

“Ricky was so funny, always cracking jokes. He was the goofball of his class,” Kristen said. “He was a little shy around people he didn’t know, but once you got to know him, he would open up.”

Ricky and Kristen met at Christian Life School, where he was a senior when she was a freshman. Kristen said he told one of his friends that he was attracted to her and his friend set them up. The two dated all through Kristen’s high school years until she graduated in 2006. The couple married on Apr. 21, 2007 and would have celebrated their one year anniversary a week after his death.

One of the fondest memories Lennie Nelson, Ricky’s father, and Kristen have of him was fishing and spending time with him in the great outdoors.

“He loved going camping, fishing and hunting when he was growing up,” Lennie said.

Kristen agreed, saying, “We loved to go fishing and camping. It was just something Ricky loved to do.”

With his unaltered determination, he was said to be the one who would ensure his family was together as often as possible, said Lennie.

“He was great to have in the home. He loved God, his family and the Marine Corps,” Lennie said. “He was very proud of being a Marine and had a strong dedication to his country.”

Growing up, Nelson heard many stories from his grandfather, a former Marine, which helped his decision of becoming a Marine, with his grandfather always saying, “Once a Marine, Always a Marine.” He joined the Marines and first deployed to Iraq in 2005 and again in 2008.

About Nelson joining the Marines, Kristen said, “I think Ricky was trying to make a statement as an adult, not only to himself, but to his family. He was a huge supporter of the military and it didn’t hurt that his friends encouraged him to join.”

Nelson’s faith played a big role in his life. He grew up in a home where his family went to church every week, and throughout his childhood, he was a member of his schools Junior Bible Quiz team, where he went to Nationals and won championships, Kristen said.

As it is known to most parents, during the teenage years of their children’s lives, they become rebellious and want to do things on their own.

“Ricky had somewhat of a rebellious attitude during his senior year,” Kristen said. “But just prior to his first deployment, he was baptized and dedicated his life to God.”

Susan added, “He would say that through his first deployment and this one, he would be made fun of because his openness to his faith. But that’s just who Ricky was. His friends nicknamed him ‘The Chaplain.’”

In Nelson’s memory, his family developed the Cpl. Richard Nelson Scholarship, which is designed to help families with financial problems attending Christian Life School.

Even throughout the pain and suffering of their loss, Nelson’s family has remained humble, having the piece of mind knowing that his life, while short on this earth, has mad a positive impact with friends, family, fellow Marines and all those around him; carrying on his memory and legacy.

“As hard as this has been,” Kristen said. “I know that God has a plan for everything.”

Myanmar junta accept aid, not aid workers

Military regime allows in supplies, but visas stalled for relief workers

YANGON, Myanmar - After snubbing a U.S. aid offer, Myanmar indicated Friday that it wants foreign relief to help recover from a devastating cyclone but not foreign workers.


Associated Press
updated 10:56 p.m. CT, Thurs., May. 8, 2008

The statement came a day after Myanmar's military government allowed in the first major international aid shipment.

The Foreign Ministry said that it had given priority to receiving foreign aid but was using its own nationals to deliver it to stricken areas.

The United Nations and other agencies have complained that Myanmar is dragging its feet on the issuing of visas for its personnel they say are badly needed to cope with the crisis.

Myanmar's military regime allowed in the first major international aid shipment Thursday, but it snubbed a U.S. offer to help victims struggling to recover from a tragedy of unimaginable scale.

Five days after the storm, the junta continued to stall on visas for U.N. teams and other foreign aid workers anxious to deliver food, water and medicine to survivors amid fears the death toll could hit 100,000.

Among those stranded in Thailand were 10 members of the USAID Disaster Assistance Response Team. Air Force transport planes and helicopters packed with supplies also sat waiting for a greenlight.

"We are in a long line of nations who are ready, willing and able to help, but also, of course, in a long line of nations the Burmese don't trust," U.S. Ambassador Eric John told reporters in Thailand's capital, Bangkok.

"It's more than frustrating. It's a tragedy," he said. Each day of delay means "a lot more people suffering," he said.

Shortage of food
Myanmar's isolationist regime issued an appeal for international assistance after winds of 120 mph and a storm surge up to 15 feet high pounded the Irrawaddy delta Saturday.

But the junta has been accused of dragging its feet despite emerging reports on entire villages submerged, bodies floating in salty water and children ripped from their parents arms.

"My children were crying all night. There is not enough food. There will be no food this evening," said Daw Thay, who took refuge in a monastery with her three children and her 99-year-old mother in a town 60 miles south of Yangon, the country's biggest city.

Daw Thay, 42, said monks were going without food so others could eat.

"We share what we have but there isn't enough. So they (the monks) give the food to the children and the old people first," she said.

Juanita Vasquez, a UNICEF worker in Myanmar, said Thursday that the most dramatic scene she's witnessed were children who have lost or become separated from parents.

There are "more children roaming around this area looking for their families," she said in a telephone interview from Yangon. "We don't know at the moment how many have lost their parents and relatives."

In the swampy delta, a horrible stench rose from corpses and dead animals, bloated and floating in the water. Someone had written on a black asphalt road in Kongyangon village: "We are all in trouble. Please come help us." A few feet away, the desperate plea, "We're hungry."

Not waiting for help
Tired of waiting for help in Yangon, red-robed monks, other civilians and dozens of soldiers cleared piles of debris and toppled billboards from streets and cutting branches off uprooted trees.

"They've started doing the clean up themselves," Aye Chan Naing, chief editor of Democratic Voice of Burma, said as a light rain showered down. "They are volunteers."

Public transportation was slowly coming back to life in the city, with some trains operating, and cars formed lines three miles long to get rations of two gallons of gasoline.

The cyclone blew off the roof of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's dilapidated bungalow in Yangon and cut off its electricity, a neighbor said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject. Suu Kyi, who received a Nobel Peace Prize for her pro-democracy activism, has been under house arrest for years.

More than 20,000 are known dead and tens of thousands more are listed as missing, and the U.N. estimates more than 1 million people are homeless in Myanmar, which also is known as Burma.

Four airplanes carrying high-energy biscuits, medicine and other supplies reached Yangon on Thursday, U.N. officials said. Two of four U.N. experts who flew in to assess the damage were turned back at the airport for unknown reasons, but the other two were allowed to enter, said John Holmes, the U.N. relief coordinator.

By rejecting the U.S. aid offer, the junta is refusing to take advantage of Washington's enormous ability to deliver aid quickly, which was evident during the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that killed 230,000 people in a dozen nations.

Looking for a breakthrough
The first foreign military aid following that disaster reached the hardest-hit nation, Indonesia, two days later. The most significant help came when U.S. helicopters from the USS Abraham Lincoln began flying relief missions to isolated communities along the Indonesian coast.

It was the biggest U.S. military operation in Southeast Asia since the Vietnam War.

With the Irrawaddy delta's roads washed out and the infrastructure in shambles, large swaths of the region are accessible only by air, something few other countries are equipped to handle as well as the United States.

Tim Costello, chief executive of World Vision Australia, said that "it's certainly the case that the Americans, as they showed in the tsunami, have extraordinary capacity."

The U.S. government, which has strongly criticized the junta's suppression of pro-democracy activists, will have to convince the generals that Washington has no political agenda, Costello said.

"Clearly we all know the political context there, and I think it's going to take a little bit more time for a breakthrough," he said.

Gordon Johndroe, President Bush's national security spokesman, said the U.S. was working to gain permission to enter Myanmar.

‘Keep the contributions coming’
One American official, Ky Luu, director of the U.S. office of foreign disaster assistance, created a stir by saying one option being considered was air-dropping aid without permission. But Defense Secretary Robert Gates quickly said he couldn't imagine that happening.

Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej of Thailand offered to negotiate on Washington's behalf to persuade Myanmar's government to accept U.S. aid.

France is arguing that the U.N. has the power to intervene without the junta's approval to help civilians under a 2005 agreement that the world body has a "responsibility to protect" people when governments fail to do it. That agreement did not mention natural disasters.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and British Foreign Secretary David Miliband asked Myanmar's junta to "lift all restrictions on the distribution of aid." Separately, Kouchner said France would make $3 million available to French aid groups operating in Myanmar.

The Association of Southeast Nations appealed to the international community to send relief supplies through Thailand.

"Please keep the help coming, keep the contributions coming, and if you have to, go to Thailand, park there and wait for redistribution from there," said ASEAN secretary-general Surin Pitsuwan.

The U.S. military sent more humanitarian supplies and equipment to a staging area in Thailand on Thursday. A C-17 transport plane brought in water and food, joining the two C-130s already in place, Air Force spokeswoman Megan Orton said at the Pentagon. Another C-130 loaded with supplies was on its way, she said.

The U.S. Navy also has three ships participating in an exercise in the Gulf of Thailand that could help in a relief effort, including an amphibious assault ship with 23 helicopters.

60,000 unaccounted for
China, Myanmar's closest ally, urged the junta to work with the international community.

The London-based human rights group Amnesty International said some donors were delaying aid for fear it would be siphoned off to the army. The World Food Program's regional director, Anthony Banbury, indicated the U.N. had similar concerns.

"We will not just bring our supplies to an airport, dump it and take off," he said.

The U.N. refugee agency said it was assembling a truck convoy to take supplies from Thailand to Yangon, but it would take days to put the shipment together and up to two weeks to reach victims.

Myanmar's state media said Cyclone Nargis killed at least 22,997 people and left 42,019 missing, mostly in the Irrawaddy delta. Shari Villarosa, who heads the U.S. Embassy in Yangon, said the number of dead could eventually exceed 100,000 because of illnesses.

Asked about the death estimate, Costello of World Vision said hours after arriving in Yangon, "That extraordinary volume of rain, of wave, of wind just crushing everything, snapping everything in its wake, that death toll I think could be conceivable." He said some 60,000 people were unaccounted for.

The World Health Organization received reports of malaria outbreaks in the worst-affected area, and said fears of waterborne illnesses from dirty water and poor sanitation was a concern.

Myanmar's state television Thursday showed the prime minister, Lt. Gen. Thein Sein, distributing food packages to the sick and injured in the delta and soldiers dropping food over villages. The date of the distribution was not given.

Although most Yangon residents were preoccupied with trying to restore their lives, activists wrote fresh graffiti on overpasses, including "X" marks — a symbol for voting "no" in a referendum Saturday on a new constitution. Voting has been postponed until May 24 in Yangon, some outlying areas and parts of the delta.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on the junta to postpone the referendum entirely and "focus instead on mobilizing all available resources and capacity for the emergency response efforts."

Pentagon proceeding cautiously on potential aid drop

WASHINGTON (Map, News) - Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday the U.S. military was stepping up preparations for a relief mission in Myanmar, but he said he couldn't imagine air dropping aid without permission from the closed regime.


May 8, 2008 4:20 PM (1 day ago) By MATTHEW LEE and PAULINE JELINEK, AP

His comments followed those earlier Thursday by Ky Luu, director of the U.S. Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, that an air drop was one option being considered as Myanmar's junta continued to stall on accepting assistance from the United States.

Gates said the military was moving aircraft, ships and Marines closer to Myanmar in case permission is granted to deliver humanitarian supplies.

"I cannot image us going in without the permission of the Myanmar government," Gates said at a Pentagon press conference with Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Asked if it would be helpful to victims for the U.S. to drop supplies, Mullen said: "We could. Typically, though, it's sovereign airspace and you'd need their permission to fly in that airspace."

"It's all tied to sovereignty, which we respect whether it's on the ground or in the air," Mullen said.

Luu told a State Department press conference earlier that air drops are often inefficient, could have broader international legal implications and that the best option would be for Myanmar, which is also known as Burma, to accept the aid.

The comments came as the United States and other donor countries continued to wait for permission to enter with tons of assistance and disaster relief personnel to assess what the needs are and move toward distributing the aid.

Among other countries considering air drops are Italy and France, whose foreign minister has suggested the possibility of forcing assistance into Myanmar, officials said.

Pentagon officials have said they are wary of such a scenario because it could be considered an invasion. But French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said this week that air drops could be allowed under the U.N.'s "responsibility to protect" mandate, which applies to civilians.

Officials said there were several problems with unauthorized air drops, especially if there are no experts on the ground to monitor the distribution of aid. Desperate people could riot over the assistance and there is the possibility that security forces might confiscate it and keep it out of the hands of the needy, they said.

The government has reported more than 20,000 deaths and more than 40,000 missing from Cyclone Nargis that hit Myanmar, particularly the Irrawaddy River delta, last weekend. A U.S. diplomat said Wednesday that the death toll in the delta could exceed 100,000. The U.N. estimates that a million people have been left homeless.

Meanwhile Thursday, the U.S. military stepped up preparations for any humanitarian mission to Myanmar, readying ships and Marines that were in the region for a multinational exercise.

The U.S. Air Force moved more airplanes to a staging area in Thailand and the Navy transported Marines of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit and helicopters into Thailand from an aviation combat element of the USS Essex expeditionary strike group, officials said. The Essex and other Navy ships began heading later Thursday toward waters off Myanmar, a journey that Mullen said would take five days.

The Navy happened to have ships and thousands of service members in the Gulf of Thailand for a multinational exercise on humanitarian missions - an exercise called Cobra Gold that started Thursday.

"The Essex group ... either has or is (still) offloading some helicopters to be available in Thailand, because they could reach Myanmar in a very short - in a matter of hours from Thailand - with relief supplies," Gates said. "There are also I think six C-130s available."

Officials said that although the military junta has not agreed to allow U.S. humanitarian assistance, it did ask for some other U.S. help - satellite pictures of the cyclone-devastated areas.

"They asked our defense attache at the embassy in Rangoon for some imagery and we provided it," said Marine Maj. Stuart Upton, a Pentagon spokesman.

Separately, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution urging humanitarian aid to Myanmar's people and asking Myanmar's government to remove restrictions on international aid groups.

Democratic Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts said in a statement that the cyclone "could be remembered as the moment when the United States and the world came to the aid of the Burmese people and made it clear that while we loathe the junta that has isolated Burma from the world and oppressed its citizens, we find common cause with the people of Burma and we will be there by their side at this difficult time."


Associated Press writer Foster Klug contributed to this report.

Mass. Marine Reserve unit mobilized

The Associated Press
Posted : Thursday May 8, 2008 9:37:22 EDT

DEVENS, Mass. — A Massachusetts-based Marine Corps Reserve unit is being mobilized for eventual deployment to Iraq.

To continue reading:


31st MEU may assist in cyclone relief

By Gidget Fuentes - Staff writer
Posted : Thursday May 8, 2008 7:35:15 EDT

President Bush on Tuesday urged the military junta leaders in Myanmar to accept assistance from U.S. Navy ships and Marine forces in the region poised to help the nation recover from a devastating cyclone.

To continue reading:


May 7, 2008

‘Warlords’ gets acquainted with Anbar province, Iraq

AL QA'IM, Iraq — The “Warlords” of Task Force 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 5 began a seven-month deployment to Al Qa’im, Iraq, in mid-April.


5/7/2008 By Lance Cpl. Joshua Murray, Regimental Combat Team 5

The battalion executed a relief-in-place with 3rd Bn., 2nd Marines, and will now aid their Iraqi counterparts in combined-arms counterinsurgency and regional welfare operations.

“We observed the tactics and techniques of Marines with 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines, and learned about the area of operations,” said Lt. Col. Steven J. Grass, commanding officer, 2nd Bn., 2nd Marines. “After a few days, our Marines took charge and will now step off and begin our mission to help Iraqis take control of their destiny.”

Upon arriving to Al Qa’im, members of 2nd Bn., 2nd Marines have met with several of the government leaders in their area to make the transition as smooth as possible for everyone.

“When units in the past transitioned into Al Qa’im, there have been noticeable changes viewed by the local populous,” said Farhan Tekan Farhan, the mayor of Al Qa’im, through an interpreter. “The locals haven’t felt a change since this transition began, which leads me to believe everyone has been very well informed and prepared.”

From infantrymen to administrative clerks, every Marine has heard the phrase, “Every Marine is a rifleman.” Every Warlord put his combat skills to the test through pre-deployment training; however, preparing for this deployment required them to attain skills beyond kinetics.

“Our Marines stepped out of their molds as warfighters to become teachers, ambassadors and mentors,” Grass said. “Providing security and essentials used to improve the quality of life are the keys to success here.”

One project currently underway supports the quality of life, and in some cases, possibly life itself.

“We are currently working on several irrigation projects,” said Grass. “Projects like this will help them get on track to becoming self sufficient.”

Through the Iraqis’ dedication and hard work, and support from the battalion as needed, the Iraqis hope to make leaps and bounds toward security, prosperity and self-reliance for the inhabitants of Al Qa’im and surrounding areas.

“I am very confident in the Americans,” said Farhan. “I know that by working together we will achieve success by improving the many aspects of life here.”

Marines help out on home front

Troops repair vacant public housing units in effort 'to give back'

Some 90 Marines took a break from weapons and combat training yesterday to pick up mops, paintbrushes, sponges and Spackle as they refurbished 30 vacant public housing units.


Posted on: Wednesday, May 7, 2008
By Mary Vorsino
Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer

The Marines will be at it again today.

And they hope to have the 30 units ready by tonight.

"We're here to give back," said 1st Lt. Dan Rhodes, who helped coordinate the Marines' volunteer efforts yesterday and today. The Marines worked on units at the Pumehana, Makamae and Punchbowl Homes public housing projects in Honolulu. The units required basic maintenance and repairs — from painting to waxing floors to heavy cleaning.

The Marines are the latest group to pitch in to repair vacant public housing units — a major problem for the state Public Housing Authority. Of the 6,249 public housing units statewide, about 543 are vacant because they need repairs, according to March 31 figures. The number doesn't count units approved for demolition or otherwise taken out of the inventory.

Chad Taniguchi, public housing authority director, said the state is encouraging volunteer groups to refurbish vacant units in hopes of catching up with a backlog of repairs. The number of vacant units has gone down over the past few years, and Taniguchi hopes to have all the vacant apartments now empty ready for families by the end of the year.

"The help of the Marines in this case is really helpful," Taniguchi said. "Together with some of the nonprofits ... we're hoping to do more of this."

Aloha United Way helped plan the volunteer effort, after the Marines contacted the nonprofit looking to help the community in a big way.

"This provides something tangible that they can see at the end of the day," said Jody Shiroma Perreira, Aloha United Way vice president of marketing.

The group of Kane'ohe Marines, which is set to deploy to Iraq in August, also has other volunteer projects planned in May, including helping to sort donations at a shelter and building a playground at a preschool.

Along with giving back, the projects are meant to break negative stereotypes about Marines and get those deploying used to interacting with civilians. Another coordinator for the group, 2nd Lt. Mark Beaudette, said interacting with "locals" is just what the Marines will be doing in Iraq.

So the volunteer efforts, he said, are good practice.

The mood at the cleanup yesterday was light-hearted, as Marines shuffled between floors with mops, buckets and paintbrushes in hand.

"It feels good, helping and giving back to the community," said Lance Cpl. Zachary Harless, 23, who was doing paint touch-ups in a unit.

Sgt. Jose Juarez, who was painting a closet, nodded.

"It's a good project," said Juarez, also 23.

And residents at the public housing projects were happy for the assistance, saying they have seen units sitting vacant for months because there isn't enough manpower or money to address sometimes minor repairs.

Chong Choi, 61, lives at Punchbowl Homes on Captain Cook Avenue and said a unit near hers is vacant, even though it appears to need little more than a good paint job. With a smile, she said she was happy to see the Marines helping out and giving back.

"It's a good thing," she said.

Reach Mary Vorsino at [email protected]

U.S. navy ready to help cyclone-ravaged Myanmar

WASHINGTON, May 6 (Xinhua) -- U.S. Navy ships are standing by off Thailand awaiting permission to join relief efforts in cyclone-hit Myanmar, the Pentagon said Tuesday.


2008-05-07 04:34:14

"But that's all we can do at this point, is to plan, because we have not received a request from the Burmese (Myanmar's) government," Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said.

The U.S. Navy ships that are ready to leave for Myanmar include the USS Essex, an amphibious assault ship that carries 23 helicopters, three landing craft, and a contingent of 1,800 marines, the Pentagon said.

The nearest U.S. navy ships to Myanmar were reportedly a four-and-a-half-day sail away taking part in an exercise in waters in the Gulf of Thailand.

U.S. President George W. Bush made an appeal to Myanmar's government on Tuesday to accept U.S. disaster teams, saying Washington was ready to help more after a devastating cyclone.

"The United States has made an initial aid contribution but we want to do a lot more," Bush told reporters at the White House.

Also on Tuesday, the Bush administration is offering three million U.S. dollars, up from an initial emergency contribution of250,000 dollars, in aide for cyclone-hit Myanmar.

"We urge the government of Burma to grant full access to the affected areas to international humanitarian relief teams and non-governmental organizations," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said.

Tropical cyclone Nargis, which developed over the Bay of Bengal, ripped through Myanmar's five divisions and states, leaving at least 22,500 people dead and more than 41,000 missing.

The United States has long imposed a trade and investment ban on Myanmar, accusing the government of "poor human rights records."

British troops help US Marines tackle the Taliban in Garmsir

UK troops working as part of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in southern Afghanistan have been taking part in a joint operation with US Marines aimed at disrupting Taliban activity in the volatile Garmsir area of Helmand province.

Troops from 16 Air Assault Brigade joined the Marines, from the US 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), as they pushed south of Garmsir where currently, but for a few border security police, neither ISAF nor the Afghan Security Forces have a presence. The purpose of the operation was to extend security authority further south towards the Pakistan border.


A Military Operations news article
7 May 08

Although British framework operations are currently focused further north, in the areas of Lashkar Gar, Sangin, Gereshk and Musa Qaleh, the British Task Force has had an important role to play facilitating the move of the MEU down through the province.

This type of operation, known as a Forward Passage of Lines, is generally believed to be one of the most complex, involving as it does the initial movement of large amounts of men and equipment long distances across potentially hostile ground and then passage through the positions of the force already deployed on the ground, in this case C Company.

Large convoys are extremely vulnerable and the slightest delay or mishap can have serious repercussions. Thorough planning is essential, particularly in a multi-national context. The Royal Regiment of Scotland, largely responsible for executing the passage on the ground, had neither trained nor operated with the Marines before.

Led by the Task Force Headquarters under 16 Air Assault Brigade, every piece of detail was picked over by British and American commanders and staff officers, shuttling between Helmand and Kandahar to ensure the operation went smoothly. When the time came the Marines, in an initial move, drove south and assembled at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Dwyer, ready to conduct their passage through British lines and across the Helmand River.

So, in the early hours of Wednesday morning, 30 April 2008, the operation began, with a narrow and precarious bridge crossing over the Helmand River, the first obstacle. With their knowledge of the ground and expertise in marking a safe route, the UK troops played a vital part in proceedings.

Other elements of the Task Force also played a significant part: soldiers of 7 Royal Horse Artillery, as well as being prepared to provide artillery support, have taken the lead de-conflicting different parts of the battle space to avoid any possibility of friendly fire; and British engineers from 23 Regiment also stood by to assist with clearing the route of roadside bombs or to lay bridges over the Helmand River if required. Back at Camp Bastion, the British Field Hospital and, in particular the Medical Emergency Response Team (MERT), supporting the Marines' own medical capability, stood by to evacuate any casualties.

Once across the river, the Americans met with stiff Taliban resistance, but achieved their initial objectives. Although there is still some way to go, progress has been made and the reaction from locals has been positive. The Marines are expected to continue further south.

UK military spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Robin Matthews, explained the UK involvement in this latest operation:

"We had people up at Kandahar air base integrated into their (24 MEU) planning, helping to shape the operation. We've got two years of experience of Helmand, knowledge of the people and the terrain, which was a vital part of the planning process. All of this was fed into the planning to help them identify how to conduct the operation to best effect.

"The Brigade also contributed a lot in terms of intelligence and knowledge in advance. We were using our Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) to give surveillance intelligence, and then cover for the route. We also used the intelligence we gathered from patrols around FOB Dwyer near Garmsir to get an understanding of the local atmosphere.

"For the actual operation, the US Marines travelled from Bastion down to FOB Dwyer and then to FOB Delhi under their own steam. From there 5 Scots under the Command of 2 Scots Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel Nick Borton provided route planning and marking.

"23 Regiment Royal Engineers provided Explosive Ordnance Disposal teams. They were also on standby for engineering support where needed, including being ready to put in a new bridge if required. We also provided vehicle recovery teams and a medical team in case things got difficult.

"The convoy travelled from Bastion to Dwyer to Delhi, and a great deal of planning went into sorting out how to accommodate and support them as they went. Convoy logistics patrols went ahead to Delhi to make sure there were supplies in place, although mostly the Marines had to be reasonably self-sufficient.

"The Marines left FOB Delhi under darkness to traverse the last part of the route where the UK gave support, down into Garmsir. They had to traverse a narrow and vulnerable bridge, and the fact that they got all their vehicles across without mishap is a testament to the good planning of Task Force Helmand and the MEU."

Colonel Pete Petrozio, Commanding Officer of 24 MEU, added:

"This is what alliances are all about, professionals coming together to achieve the right effect."

Historic GI Bill Vote Tomorrow

Historic Vote in House of Representatives Tomorrow on World War II-style GI Bill

Iraq Veterans Urge Lawmakers to Vote Yes on GI Bill Funding

NEW YORK -On Thursday, May 8, the House of Representatives will vote on a World War II-style GI Bill for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), the nation's first and largest nonpartisan organization for veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, strongly endorses this critical legislation. It was originally introduced in Congress by some of the Senate's own combat veterans, including Senators Jim Webb (D-VA) and Chuck Hagel (R-NE). The bill has the extraordinary bipartisan support of more than 330 Senators and Representatives and the endorsement of every major Veterans Service Organization from IAVA to the American Legion to Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). The GI Bill is being voted on as an amendment to the war supplemental spending plan.


Wednesday, May 7, 2008
CONTACT: Michael Houston, IAVA (212) 982-9699 or [email protected]

"Congress has a historic choice to make tomorrow. Lawmakers will go on record regarding whether they support our nation's newest generation of veterans," said Paul Rieckhoff, Executive Director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. "The momentum for a 21st Century GI Bill has been incredible. The widespread support among lawmakers on both sides of the aisle proves that caring for our nation's veterans is not a partisan issue. Tomorrow, we urge every member of Congress to vote ‘yes' on GI Bill funding and show unanimous support for our troops."

The GI Bill being voted on tomorrow would substantially increase the educational benefits available to servicemembers who have served since September 11th, 2001. The bill would cover the cost of tuition up to the most expensive in-state public school and provide a living and book stipend, so that new veterans can focus on their educations and their readjustment to civilian life. It would also offer a more equitable benefit to National Guardsmen and Reservists than what is currently available. Furthermore, because the legislation is linked to the cost of higher education, it would keep its value over time.

"In addition to providing veterans with a brighter future, a 21st Century GI Bill would stimulate our nation's economy and serve as a tremendous boon to military recruitment," said Rieckhoff. "Passing a new GI Bill is simply the right thing to do."

Today, IAVA is encouraging its national membership to call their lawmakers and tell them to vote "yes" on the GI Bill. For much more information on this critical issue, please visit http://www.gibill2008.org/

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (www.IAVA.org) is the nation's first and largest group for veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. A nonprofit and nonpartisan organization, IAVA represents more than 90,000 veteran members and civilian supporters in all 50 states. To arrange an interview with Paul Rieckhoff or any other IAVA member veterans, please contact Michael Houston at (212) 982-9699 or [email protected]

May 6, 2008

A Breath of Hope

Walter Reed Tries Yoga to Counter PTSD

Derrick Farley, a 29-year-old Army sergeant stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C., has seen many people die. He served in Iraq for three year-long tours of duty with only six-month breaks between them. He remembers driving trucks along the dirt roads of Tikrit, ever alert for telltale signs of a sniper or the sudden blast of a hidden roadside bomb. His vehicle, he said, was hit 13 times.


By Eileen Rivers
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 6, 2008; Page HE01

After he returned home from his last tour, it was often the less tense moments from Iraq that ran through his mind. For months, he had nightmares during which he screamed out in Arabic as he relived run-ins with detainees. At times, the sound of shots ringing out from the firing range at Fort Bragg would launch him right back onto the roads of Iraq.

Farley is far from alone: A Rand study released last month said 20 percent of the approximately 1.6 million U.S. military personnel who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan suffer from symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

But recently Farley has found a way to quell the symptoms of PTSD. Instead of allowing his mind to flash back to the roadside carnage, the truck driver pictures himself sitting on a yoga mat at the District's Walter Reed Army Medical Center, taking deep, relaxing breaths.

The techniques Farley learned there from yoga teacher Robin Carnes help him to realize that he's "actually here on Fort Bragg and not in Iraq," he explained by phone from the base.

'They're Not as Angry'

The Specialized Care Program at Walter Reed focuses on helping service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan leave their wartime experiences behind.

Yoga, Carnes said, has become a large part of that effort.

In conjunction with a team of psychologists, a physical therapist, two nurses, a social worker and a general internist, Carnes has worked with hundreds of service members.

The program, which serves as many as 120 service members per year, 90 percent of whom suffer from PTSD, costs about $800,000 annually. That figure covers salaries for the program's specialists as well as travel and accommodations for the participants, such as Farley, who typically come for a three-week treatment session.

The yoga that Carnes teaches, a form of guided meditation known as yoga nidra, was added to the program in 2006 after she helped conduct a feasibility study at the medical center.

The results of the study were overwhelmingly positive, she said, adding that the service members appreciated learning skills that they could continue to use after they left.

However, it's difficult to document the program's impact. Participants, who evaluate their own progress, often say they feel better after sessions, Carnes said, but there's little scientific evidence to back their anecdotal reports.

"Students in class come up to me and say, 'I haven't felt this relaxed in a long time,' " Carnes said. "They say that they are more patient with their family. They're not as angry."

Soothed by Ocean Sounds

Farley went through a three-week program earlier this year. On a Thursday afternoon, 11 days into it, he lay on the floor, covered in blankets, head propped up with pillows, along with his wife and five other participants.

A CD of soothing ocean sounds played in the background and, with his eyes closed, Farley listened as Carnes led them through a yoga nidra session.

Periodically, she gave specific instructions: "Bring attention to your eyelids. Feel the place where your eyelids touch. Bring attention to your inner resolve. Think about the things you want from yourself. Focus on your breathing."

Being specific, Carnes said, prevents their minds from re-creating disturbing moments.

"The first day, the first week, there was a lot of restlessness," Carnes said. But during this session Farley and his fellow soldiers fell fast asleep -- a sign of progress, Carnes said.

In addition to twice-weekly yoga nidra classes, soldiers in the program participate in yoga sessions that use physical postures to help alleviate pain and encourage concentration. The Specialized Care Program also includes individual and group therapy, physical therapy, classes that teach coping strategies, and daily seminars that cover topics such as the causes of stress, the primary function of sleep and ways to monitor and reduce depression.

Farley's wife, Jessica, participated in classes with her husband and learned what had been causing Derrick's symptoms. He had never felt comfortable, he said, talking to his wife about his problems before the Walter Reed program.

It was Jessica who originally encouraged her husband to get help. He didn't realize that he was screaming out during the night, but these episodes troubled her deeply.

At first "she kept [the night terrors] from me," Farley said, "because I already felt bad enough not being myself, and she didn't want to add any stress to it." But after an especially bad nightmare, "she said to me, 'You know we need to get you some help.' "

Farley initially sought that help from the 82nd Airborne Division's mental health services in North Carolina. The experts there prescribed medication, he said. He also spoke to a therapist once a week. But he felt as though the prescription was masking his problems rather than solving them, he said.

"You got four brigades at Fort Bragg, and everybody is coming back from their deployment," Farley said. "It's hard to get appointments. It's hard to get time with a therapist. It's hard to be seen every week now. The appointments get stretched out to once a week, once every two weeks, once a month."

His therapist recommended that he apply for the Walter Reed program.

Individually Tailored Care

About 10 to 15 percent of service members in Operation Iraqi Freedom are at risk for PTSD, according to Cynthia Smith, a Department of Defense spokeswoman.

To meet this need for assistance, the Army Medical Command has contracted for 275 additional mental health workers nationwide, according to the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs. The contractors have filled 112 positions, and there are about 137 applicants in various stages of hiring.

Walter Reed is attempting to start pilot programs at bases across the country that will use the medical center's three-week program as a model, said Col. Charles Engel, a psychologist whose department oversees the PTSD program.

What distinguishes Walter Reed's program, Engel said, is its multidisciplinary approach combined with care tailored to each participant.

"Nothing we do is by rote," said Roy Clymer, a psychologist and the program's director.

"We see yoga as a part of two important things," Clymer said. "One part of it is the physical aspect . . . that invites them to get in touch with the body to show them that the body doesn't have anything bad to compete against anymore. Another is that yoga is a part of mindfulness, bringing them back in the present moment."

Not About Finding a Cure

Farley wishes he had been able to spend more time in the program. Perhaps "I could have gotten everything out of my system," he said.

He stays in touch with many of the soldiers he met at the program. And each night, he uses the yoga techniques he learned there.

He climbs into bed, closes his eyes and follows his instructor's directions on a CD, allowing his mind to shut down for a peaceful night's rest -- something that he has finally been able to master after six months out of Iraq.

"It's not about finding a cure for PTSD," Farley said. "It's about learning to cope."

2/7 conducts first combat patrol in support of OEF

FARAH PROVINCE, Afghanistan — The Marines of 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division have made immediate progress with Afghans here despite arriving in Afghanistan just weeks ago.


5/6/2008 By Cpl. Ray Lewis, 2nd Battalion (2/7)

The Marines met with the village elders in the Golestan District, arranged for key-leader engagements, and laid groundwork for future civil military projects.

While the Marines traveled here to make liaison with provincial and district leaders of the Afghanistan National Police, they also met with the governor of Farah and village elders to open the lines of communication with the Afghan people. The visit culminated with the battalion commander leading his Marines on 2/7’s first combat patrol.

“This is who we are, so we wasted no time! I wanted the Afghans to know that we’re here to help improve their quality of life. Their mission is our mission; their success is our success,” said Lt. Col. Rick Hall, battalion commander, 2/7.

A Mankato, Minn., native, Hall commands a reinforced light infantry battalion of approximately 1,000 Marines and sailors based out of southern California at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms. Among the battalion’s reinforcements is a combat engineers platoon, a shock trauma platoon, a radio battalion unit, and personnel who specialize in civil military operations.

Sent to Afghanistan to support Operation Enduring Freedom, 2/7 is tasked with the mission of providing security for the ANP, while also mentoring and assisting in its training within assigned boundaries in order to extend the authority and influence of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan during security, stability and regional development.

Although the unit hasn’t yet received all the equipment and personnel it needs to be fully operational capable, the battalion commander said his Marines and sailors have embraced their mission and are committed to achieving success.

Keeping true to its motto, “Ready for all; Yielding to none,” 2/7 has significantly improved relations with the Afghans. The battalion has demonstrated its readiness to help bolster the ANP and shown that it will not allow minor setbacks to interfere with mission accomplishment.

The battalion is currently operating in the initial phase of a 210-day deployment.

“We’ve started our mission and have reaped positive results. The people were thankful for us coming to address their needs, and very surprised in knowing that we have come from so far away to help improve their quality of life,” Hall said. “We will continue to increase our influence throughout this region in the coming days.”

A huge benefit for the Marines was gaining support from the ANP’s regional and corps commanders to enable operations in the nine districts, two provinces and two regions in which the Marines will operate. Although Hall said his Marines are “starting from scratch,” he is confident that they will draw from the lessons they learned during 2/7’s support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The battalion returned to 29 Palms in September 2007 after serving seven months in Fallujah, Iraq, and surrounding areas.

After forging a bond with the ANP, Hall hosted a ‘shura,’ or meeting, with the village elders of the Golestan District — a remote and austere mountainous location in western Afghanistan.

“I think the meeting served as a good introduction for both of us. They seemed pretty positive and receptive, and labeled out in order what their concerns were,” said Capt. Victor A. Lomuscio, commander, Company G, 2/7.

Once the battalion is fully operational, Hall will send a platoon of Marines from “Golf” Company to the Golestan area. These Marines, along with the ANP, are responsible for providing added security to the Golestan area, while 2/7 engages in various civil affairs projects to enhance quality of life for local residents. Lomuscio, a Shelter Island, N.Y., native, will lead this effort.

Following the “shura,” the battalion commander realized that most of the focus was on the availability of medical care, school property and equipment, village infrastructure and security. Hall said he was surprised at how frugal the requests were, but was pleased to know his unit will be able to assist the Afghans in a number of ways.

In addition to working with the ANP and addressing the needs of the Afghan people, 2/7 will also coordinate their efforts with other supporting agencies. In addition to the ANP, the Marines were also accompanied by Spanish and Italian troops, other U.S service members, members of the International Security Assistance Force, Afghanistan Regional Security Integration Command West, Regional Command West and Police Mentoring Team.

“No sooner did we finish the ‘shura,’ we started patrolling,” Hall said. “It was truly a combined joint patrol, and it proved to our alliance partners how committed we are to this mission.”

The patrol also helped instill confidence in the ANP. Hall and his team of staff officers were impressed by the tactics displayed by the ANP during the combat patrol. The ANP has gotten stronger, and Lomuscio said it will get even better when his Marines start training with them.

“I’m confident that we’ve made a positive effect in the area that needs it,” Lomuscio said. “The potential to do a lot of things is amazing. I think we’ll really leave a positive impact on the Golestan Valley.”

Before departing the area, the Marines also met with the Physical Reconstruction Team which specializes in civil military operations. The PRT also provides humanitarian assistance, medical support, digs wells, and provides other services that are geared toward improving quality of life for the Afghan people.

The primary concern, however, is laying blacktop roads. The Marines think it’s a good idea, and the battalion commander is focused on making it happen.

“Blacktopping the roads will have a direct impact on the people,” Hall said. “It will also work to create more credibility for the government and provide legal employment opportunities by adding to the local economy. It also directly correlates to the Afghan government meeting the needs of its people.”

The battalion is working the road plans and other civil affairs projects through the Commanders Emergency Response Program, which is designed to enable local commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan to respond to urgent humanitarian relief and reconstruction requirements within their areas of responsibility by carrying out programs that will immediately assist the indigenous population. With CERP assistance, commanders are authorized to pay for services in such areas as water sanitation, food production and distribution, agriculture, electricity, healthcare, education, and transportation.

“We’re working through all the friction so any follow-on forces will have something to build upon,” Hall said. “We’re making things happen.”

The task at hand is not easy, and the commander is fully aware of this. The Marines know there’s a six-month road ahead of them, but they’re anxious and willing to go the distance. Surely, there’s only so much 2/7 can accomplish in 210 days, but the Marines and sailors are “Ready for All; Yielding to None.”

US ships standing by for Myanmar relief: Pentagon

WASHINGTON (AFP) — US Navy ships, including an amphibious assault ship with helicopters and US marines, are standing by off Thailand awaiting permission to join relief efforts in cyclone-hit Myanmar, the Pentagon said Tuesday.


May 6, 2006

The Pentagon and the State Department have begun planning for a humanitarian relief mission even though Myanmar has yet to respond to US offers of aid, Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said.

"But that's all we can do at this point, is to plan, because we have not received a request from the Burmese government," Morrell said, using Myanmar's former official name.

Myanmar's military government said an estimated 22,000 people were killed by a cyclone that struck the southeast Asian country four days ago.

The nearest US navy ships to Myanmar were a four and a half day sail away taking part in an exercise in waters in the Gulf of Thailand, navy officials said.

They were led by the USS Essex, an amphibious assault ship that carries 23 helicopters, three landing craft, and a contingent of 1,800 marines.

"I know it's a very capable ship for an operation of this nature. It's in the vicinity," said Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman.

He said the Essex was "one of any number of assets that could be used if directed to do so."

Also with the Essex were the USS Juneau, an amphibious transport dock, USS Harper's Ferry, a dock landing ship, and USS Blue Ridge, a command ship and flagship of the US Seventh Fleet.

The amphibious naval group carries enough supplies to support the marine contingent for 30 days, officials said.

The marines also can be deployed ashore to set up clean water stations with portable reverse osmosis water purification units, they said.

Two US aircraft carrier groups also are in the Pacific -- the USS Kitty Hawk and the USS Nimitz. They are near Okinawa, a navy official said.

An expeditionary strike group led by the USS Tarawa, another helicopter-carrying amphibious assault ship, is in waters off western Australia, the navy official said.

"There hasn't been a request for assistance and the president made it clear the offer was out there, if they are so inclined," Whitman said.

US leads pressure on Myanmar to allow in disaster relief

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The US and Australia led international calls Tuesday for the military junta in Myanmar to ease entry restrictions to allow disaster relief to reach the cyclone-hit country.


May 6, 2008

With the latest death toll reaching 22,000 dead, 41,000 missing and expected to continue rising from the weekend cyclone, many aid agencies are still awaiting travel visas to enter the reclusive nation.

But with large parts of Myanmar under water, buildings destroyed, crops ruined and survivors homeless, the country's Social Welfare Minister, Maung Maung Swe, gave no hint Tuesday that entry restrictions would be lifted for outside agencies.

"For expert teams to come here, they have to negotiate with the foreign ministry and our senior authorities," she told a news conference in Yangon.

In Washington President George W. Bush said: "Our message is to the military rulers: 'Let the United States come to help you, help the people."

"We want to do a lot more," Bush said. "We're prepared to move US Navy assets to help find those who've lost their lives, to help find the missing, to help stabilize the situation. But in order to do so, the military junta must allow our disaster assessment teams into the country," he said.

Bush spokeswoman Dana Perino said a Disaster Aid Response Team (DART) was ready to go into Myanmar and that two US Navy ships -- already nearby for a disaster relief exercise and loaded with water and other key aid staples -- were steaming towards Myanmar, but that a request for DART visas had met no response.

Washington released an initial sum of 250,000 dollars whilst the European Union released two million euros (three million dollars) in initial emergency aid.

"Every effort must be made to make sure that assistance is delivered directly to the people most affected by disaster," the EU's Slovenia presidency said in a statement.

"The EU hopes that, in the interest of the population suffering from the emergency, the authorities will make every effort to cooperate with the international relief organisations," it added.

The top UN humanitarian official, Under-Secretary General John Holmes, said the organisation was ready to allocate a "significant" amount from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) to assist the relief effort.

In Geneva, the United Nations said it had a disaster assessment team in neighbouring Thailand still awaiting entry visas.

"For the moment we have a five-member disaster assessment team on standby in Bangkok waiting for their visas, we expect them to be dispatched in the next hours," said Elisabeth Byrs, spokeswoman for the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The UN children's fund (UNICEF) and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said they are also waiting for visas to help distribute humanitarian supplies such as tents, water purification tablets and mosquito nets.

Australia stressed it was "ready, willing and able" to help, but Foreign Minister Stephen Smith warned: "We hope that the regime will allow the independent agencies in to do the usual examinations to work out the most effective way of supplying that aid."

New Zealand's Prime Minister Helen Clarke said her country's help would not be distributed through the military regime in Myanmar but via the UN.

"We really have minimal relations with the government in Myanmar but we can't stand by and see people affected by this tragedy left helpless," she told Radio New Zealand.

Meanwhile individual offers of help from around the globe continued to flood in.

Britain said it was providing five million pounds (10 million dollars, 6.3 million euros) in immediate aid, to be channelled via the United Nations and various charities.

Greece pledged 200,000 dollars (129,000 euros), and promised to send a plane bearing medicine and supplies as soon as the country's airports reopened after the disaster. Spain offered an initial 500,000 euros.

China said it would send one million dollars in emergency aid in batches, some of it in cash, to help reconstruction.

Immediate neighbour Thailand airlifted more than 400,000 dollars' worth of food, drinking water and medical supplies, whilst Indonesia said it would provide aid worth one million dollars.

Japan offered 28 million yen (270,000 dollars) in emergency aid including tents, electric power generators and other emergency goods.

Meanwhile Singapore, which has close ties to Myanmar, pledged 200,000 US dollars in aid. South Korea announced it would provide emergency materials worth 100,000 dollars.

Sweden said it would provide 15 million kronor (2.5 million dollars, 1.6 million euros) in emergency aid.

Newspaper reports military mum on destination of 6-ship convoy

Stars and Stripes
Mideast edition, Tuesday, May 6, 2008

On Sunday, 5,500 sailors and Marines left San Diego on a six-ship convoy, though no one would say where they were headed, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.

To continue reading:


Marines ignore Taliban cash crop to not upset Afghan locals

GARMSER, Afghanistan (AP) — The Marines of Bravo Company's 1st Platoon sleep beside a grove of poppies. Troops in the 2nd Platoon playfully swat at the heavy opium bulbs while walking through the fields. Afghan laborers scraping the plant's gooey resin smile and wave.


By JASON STRAZIUSO – 6 days ago

Last week, the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit moved into southern Helmand province, the world's largest opium poppy-growing region, and now find themselves surrounded by green fields of the illegal plants that produce the main ingredient of heroin.

The Taliban, whose fighters are exchanging daily fire with the Marines in Garmser, derives up to $100 million a year from the poppy harvest by taxing farmers and charging safe passage fees — money that will buy weapons for use against U.S., NATO and Afghan troops.

Yet the Marines are not destroying the plants. In fact, they are reassuring villagers the poppies won't be touched. American commanders say the Marines would only alienate people and drive them to take up arms if they eliminated the impoverished Afghans' only source of income.

Many Marines in the field are scratching their heads over the situation.

"It's kind of weird. We're coming over here to fight the Taliban. We see this. We know it's bad. But at the same time we know it's the only way locals can make money," said 1st Lt. Adam Lynch, 27, of Barnstable, Mass.

The Marines' battalion commander, Lt. Col. Anthony Henderson, said in an interview Tuesday that the poppy crop "will come and go" and that his troops can't focus on it when Taliban fighters around Garmser are "terrorizing the people."

"I think by focusing on the Taliban, the poppies will go away," said Henderson, a 41-year-old from Washington, D.C. He said once the militant fighters are forced out, the Afghan government can move in and offer alternatives.

An expert on Afghanistan's drug trade, Barnett Rubin, complained that the Marines are being put in such a situation by a "one-dimensional" military policy that fails to integrate political and economic considerations into long-range planning.

"All we hear is, not enough troops, send more troops," said Rubin, a professor at New York University. "Then you send in troops with no capacity for assistance, no capacity for development, no capacity for aid, no capacity for governance."

Most of the 33,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan operate in the east, where the poppy problem is not as great. But the 2,400-strong 24th Marines, have taken the field in this southern growing region during harvest season.

In the poppy fields 100 feet from the 2nd Platoon's headquarters, three Afghan brothers scraped opium resin over the weekend. The youngest, 23-year-old Sardar, said his family would earn little money from the harvest.

"We receive money from the shopkeepers, then they will sell it," said Sardar, who was afraid to give his last name. "We don't have enough money to buy flour for our families. The smugglers make the money," added Sardar, who worked alongside his 11-year-old son just 20 yards from a Marine guard post, its guns pointed across the field.

Afghanistan supplies some 93 percent of the world's opium used to make heroin, and the Taliban militants earn up to $100 million from the drug trade, the United Nations estimates. The export value of this harvest was $4 billion — more than a third of the country's combined gross domestic product.

Though they aren't eradicating poppies, the Marines presence could still have a positive effect. Henderson said the drug supply lines have been disrupted at a crucial point in the harvest. And Marine commanders are debating staying in Garmser longer than originally planned.

Second Lt. Mark Greenlief, 24, a Monmouth, Ill., native who commands the 2nd Platoon, said he originally wanted to make a helicopter landing zone in Sardar's field. "But as you can see that would ruin their poppy field, and we didn't want to ruin their livelihood."

Sardar "basically said, 'This is my livelihood, I have to do what I can to protect that,'" said Greenlief. "I told him we're not here to eradicate."

The Taliban told Garmser residents that the Marines were moving in to eradicate, hoping to encourage the villagers to rise up against the Americans, said 2nd Lt. Brandon Barrett, 25, of Marion, Ind., commander of the 1st Platoon.

In the next field over from Sardar's, Khan Mohammad, an Afghan born in Helmand province who lives in Pakistan and came to work the fields, said he makes only $2 a day. He said the work is dangerous now that Taliban militants are shooting at the U.S. positions.

"We're stuck in the middle," he said. "If we go over there those guys will fire at us. If we come here, we're in danger, too, but we have to work," said the 54-year-old Mohammad, who supports a family of 10.

An even older laborer, his back bent by years of work, came over and told the small gathering of Afghans, Marines and journalists that the laborers had to get back to work "or the boss will get mad at us."

Staff Sgt. Jeremy Stover, whose platoon is sleeping beside a poppy crop planted in the interior courtyard of a mud-walled compound, said the Marines' mission is to get rid of the "bad guys," and "the locals aren't the bad guys."

"Poppy fields in Afghanistan are the cornfields of Ohio," said Stover, 28, of Marion, Ohio. "When we got here they were asking us if it's OK to harvest poppy and we said, 'Yeah, just don't use an AK-47.'"

May 5, 2008

Marine works hard for citizenship

By Cpl. Ryan L. Tomlinson
Date Taken: 04.13.2008 | Posted:05.05.2008 15:28

CAMP KOREAN VILLAGE, Iraq – Hard work has paid off for one Marine trying to become a United States citizen.

Continue reading:


Hawaii-based Marines demilitarize patrol base

ZAIDON, Iraq – Marines with Weapons Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 1, demilitarized a patrol base in the Ziadon area, May 1.


May 5, 2008
Story by Cpl. Chadwick deBree

For 13 months, Marines and local Iraqi Police used the patrol base, which was once a home to a local resident, as a location for operations. With the Marines moving towards transitioning their operations to the Iraqi Security forces, the base, also know as Barakat House, is no longer needed.

“About a month ago, we were looking at our operations and what we could do to be more effective,” said Sgt. Brian R. Downing, squad leader, 1st squad, 2nd platoon, Weapons Company, 2nd Bn., 3rd Marines. “It was decided that the way to be most effective was to reduce our footprint in the region, and this is just one of the many things we are doing to reduce our presence.”

The Barakat House was the heaviest fortified position the Marines had in the area, but with the Marines moving into a transition phase, the position was no longer needed.

“We’re moving into a stage where we are just over watching what the Iraqis are doing,” Downing, a 25-year-old native of Danvers, Mass., said. “Now we can concentrate more on conducting joint patrols with the Iraqis through the marketplace to ensure that the business in the area is going strong. This is a very exciting time.”

Downing went on to explain that minutes after the Marines finished removing the barriers around the house, the owner began moving furniture into the house laying it out to his liking.

“The owner and neighbors were very happy to have the house back,” Downing said. “Not because they didn’t want us there, but because they know that with us leaving, that means that the area is safe enough for them. This was physical, living proof that transition in the country is taking place. I’ve heard about things like this and read about this, but nothing could speak more loudly than being a part of actually giving a big piece of property back. It also shows that we trust the IP enough to run themselves without us having to always be there with them. Their ambition and their dedication make it all worth it and it’s really paying off. Seeing the results of them stepping up and taking control from what we taught them, there’s no experience like it.”

Through their Marines’ eyes

Training routine, war experience explained to leathernecks’ parents

By Karen Jowers - Staff writer
Posted : May 05, 2008

Col. Bryan McCoy warned the Marine Corps parents that he would be blunt before he began describing what Marines face in combat, and how leaders prepare them for the death they will see.

To continue reading:


He told them how the Corps prepares them to pull the trigger — mentally and physically.

The parents’ eyes locked onto him as he described the fighting of the grueling push his Marines made through Iraq in spring 2003. At the MarineParents.com conference April 19 in Arlington, Va., the former commanding officer of 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines showed the parents pictures of the fighting, of dead Iraqis, of Marine faces sagging with fatigue, of Marines taking care of their wounded, of Marines mourning their fallen comrades.

Marine mom Julie Jetton found McCoy’s presentation difficult to see and hear, even as she expressed appreciation for his candor.

“I would follow that man anywhere ... I would sign up myself if it were possible,” she said. “It gave me a chance to see it through my son’s eyes. … The training is extraordinary. It was very comforting and reassuring.”

McCoy gave the facts bluntly, yet with compassion, showing the bond he felt with his Marines, Jetton said. “You could see the pain etched on his face” as he talked about his Marines who had been killed or wounded.

“But I felt much better after his talk, because I know my son has had the best training and leadership humanly possible.

“I know my son has found something worth dying and living for — our country.”

Until she came to the three-day conference, Jetton had never met another Marine Corps parent, although she has met a number of Marine veterans. About 180 people were at the event.

“I never once heard the word ‘politics’ mentioned during the weekend,” she said. “No one said, ‘Why me?’”

McCoy told the parents and other family members how the Corps trains Marines mentally, emotionally and physically “to go into the cauldron of stressors.”

He described how Marines are trained to react instantly in the haze of battle when their leader barks a cryptic command. He described combat marksmanship, training, casualty evacuation, combat conditioning, and how leaders train Marines to deal with both internal and external stressors on the battlefield.

“The shock of seeing a mutilated human corpse the first time, if you’re not prepared for it, can be debilitating,” McCoy said.

Killing goes against everything society teaches, McCoy said.

The bullet “pierces flesh, bursts internal organs, smashes bone, and you take a life ... in that second, you took everything from a person they were going to have. You think back to the number of times his mother changed his diapers, fed him … learning to walk, going to school, falling in love, perhaps he had a family. It’s all gone — like that. Killing is the ultimate taboo in our society. We are naturally conditioned to not pull the trigger,” he said.

The time for debate on whether killing is moral or justified is not during combat, he said.

“There can’t be too much cotton between finger and trigger. That breeds timidity and uncertainty and equals casualties and mission failure, and it’s going to get Marines killed. By the same token, we don’t kill what doesn’t need killing. … The crux of what we do … is preparing people to do this and to come out the other side whole.”

He said he told his battalion before battle that the deaths are his responsibility.

“We kill as a unit, we kill as a team, as a pack. We don’t kill as individuals. Those deaths belong to me. I’ll answer to my maker, come that day,” McCoy said. “As a 40-something colonel, I’d better have more emotional shock absorbers in my system than the private first class.”

Jetton’s son is new to the Corps and has not deployed. She has been reading and learning all she can about the service, but was still happy to find a group that provides information and support to parents.

Parents are thirsty for information and for connections with others in their situation, said Tracy Della Vecchia, director of MarineParents.com, Inc.

It started in January 2003, when she was trying to meet other parents of Marines in her son’s battalion, she said.

“My son called me Jan. 1, 2003, and said he was going to Kuwait, and I started scrambling to find out what I could. I knew other parents were scrambling, too, so I just put three pages of information online,” she said.

Della Vecchia said it was important for McCoy to describe what war is like for Marines, and how they are prepared for it.

“When my son was 18 and he went off to war, I thought, ‘He doesn’t know how to turn on the vacuum cleaner, much less sling an M16,’” she said. “I said, ‘Who are these Marines to think my son was ready for war?’”

Marine mother Darlene Kent of Winchester, Va., said McCoy’s presentation made tears stream down her face. She still finds it hard to envision her son in that environment, she said, adding that he’s in Fallujah now.

Kent and her husband Richard had just found out about the group and its event that day, April 19, and plan to spread the word about it.

“This is about supporting the troops,” said Richard Kent, a former National Guard soldier who served in Vietnam.

When their son first deployed, he said, “I remember the anguish [his wife] went through. I told her to drive through it, to gut it up.

“But other mothers here today have told her, ‘You experienced what you should have.’”

15th MEU, Peleliu sail to Western Pacific

Staff report
Posted : Monday May 5, 2008 14:11:22 EDT

SAN DIEGO — Six ships carrying 2,200 Marines and more than 3,000 sailors left San Diego Naval Base on Sunday for a scheduled six-month deployment to the Western Pacific.

To continue reading:


US sailors attacked in Perth mall

Three US sailors on a stopover in Perth on board the US navy ship USS Tarawa have been attacked and robbed in Perth’s CBD.


5th May 2008, 7:30 WST

WA police spokesman Ian Hasleby said that the sailors, who were on shore leave, were confronted by the four youths on the upper level of the Murray Street Mall about 7.30pm.

Mr Hasleby said the youths demanded the sailors hand over money before allegedly punching and kicking the group. The youths allegedly stole a wallet and some cigarettes.

The attack left the sailors with swelling and bruising.

The incident was filmed on security cameras and with the help of the Public Transport Authority, officers from the Police Rail Unit were able to arrest two teenage boys at Cannington Train Station several hours later.

The teenagers, aged 13 and 14, were charged with two counts of aggravated robbery and one count of common assault.

Both were refused bail and are due to appear in Perth Children’s Court today. Police are still hunting for the two other youths believed to be involved.

The USS Tarawa only docked in Fremantle on Friday.

More than 3000 US marines and sailors on board the ship spent the weekend in Perth.

In ghost town where Afghan war begins, UK fights losing battle

There is only silence in Garmser, a ghost town on the edge of the desert in southern Afghanistan. The bazaar is a lonely line of abandoned shops and debris-strewn streets. There is just one trader - a baker - whose sole customers are British soldiers and Afghan police.


Declan Walsh in Garmser The Guardian, Monday May 5 2008

Further out, giant bomb craters dot the broken gardens and shredded fruit orchards of empty houses. Now they are inhabited by the British.

Squatting on a rickety rooftop, Corporal Lachlan MacNeil pointed to a cluster of long, low buildings. "That's the madrasa [Islamic school]. It's a training camp for the Taliban," he said, his face glistening from the morning heat. "Mostly foreigners inside, we hear - central Asians and Arabs, but especially Pakistanis."

For many Taliban fighters, this deserted, dog-eared town is where the war starts. Garmser is the gateway to Afghanistan for insurgents who stream across the border from Pakistan, 120 miles to the south. The British base here is their first encounter with the "infidels".

"They blood themselves against UK forces here, then graduate into the upper valleys," said Major Neil Den-McKay, officer commanding of a Scottish infantry company stationed at Garmser's agricultural college.

The fighters that pass before the British doorstep are as diverse as the Taliban has become. There are hard-bitten ideologues from the original Taliban movement of the 1990s, hired local fighters known as "$10 Taliban", Baluch drug smugglers and al-Qaida- linked Arabs.

But most, Afghan and British officials say, are Pakistani - ideologically driven young men who consider the war as a religious obligation of struggle, or jihad.

"Our understanding is that the madrasas of northern Pakistan are a major breeding ground that provide the bulk of brainwashed Taliban fighters," said Lieutenant Colonel Nick Borton, commanding officer of Battlegroup South.

Up to 60% of the fighters in Garmser are Pakistani, the local Afghan intelligence chief said. They come from militant hotspots such as Waziristan and Swat, but also from Punjab, a rich agricultural province with a history of producing radical Islamists.

"Sometimes the Pakistanis have trouble communicating with local [Pashto-speaking] fighters, because they only speak Urdu or Punjabi," he said.

The insurgents cross from Baluchistan, a sprawling province in western Pakistan whose capital, Quetta, is considered to be the Taliban headquarters by Nato commanders. They muster in remote refugee camps west of Quetta - Girdi Jungle is most frequently mentioned - before slipping across the border in four-wheel drive convoys that split up to avoid detection, said Den-McKay. Sometimes sympathetic border guards help them on their way, he said.

Inside Afghanistan the fighters thunder across the Dasht-i-Margo - a harsh expanse of ancient smuggling trails which means "desert of death" - before reaching the river Helmand. Here, the sand turns to lush fields of poppy and wheat, and they reach Garmser, home to the most southerly British base in Helmand.

A wall-sized map in the British base shows the balance of forces. The British control the town centre; the Taliban a sprawl of mud-walled farmhouses that spills south and east. With its irrigation canals, world war one-style trenches and thick vegetation, the area makes for fine guerrilla ground. "This is one of the few places in Afghanistan where there is a visible frontline," said Captain Ross Boyd, sitting in an outpost surrounded by barbed wire.

Last week US marines joined the battle, sending more than 1,000 troops to punch through the Taliban lines around Garmser. Their mission is to disrupt the two-way traffic of fighters scooting north and opium shipments headed south. The Americans met with sporadic, but dogged resistance. Black-clad fighters ambushed them with small arms and rocket propelled grenades, drawing deadly ripostes from helicopter gunships and fighter jets.

The combat continued yesterday as American heavy guns pounded Taliban positions near Garmser.

At the British base, the UK's ambassador to Afghanistan, Sherard Cowper-Coles, had a taste of the action. As he was being briefed on the fighting, Taliban machine gun fire erupted close to the camp. The exchange ended when British attack helicopters and mortars opened fire on the suspected Taliban positions.

British officers say they have ample evidence that many of the enemy are Pakistani. While remaining coy about their sources of intelligence, they speak of hearing Punjab accents and of finding Pakistani papers and telephone contacts on dead fighters.

Four months ago, Den-McKay said, British Gurkhas shot dead a Taliban militant near a small outpost known as Hamburger Hill. Searching the fighter's body, they discovered a Pakistani identity card and handwritten notes in Punjabi.

The issue of cross-border infiltration has vexed relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Afghan officials say that Islamabad at best turns a blind eye to the flow, at worst encourages it.

Last Wednesday, Afghanistan's intelligence chief, Amrullah Saleh, alleged that an assassination attempt against President Hamid Karzai the previous weekend had been hatched in Pakistan's tribal areas. He said the attackers had been "receiving orders from the other side of the border until the last moments".

The debate has a very different tone in Pakistan. A spate of Islamist bombs has rocked major cities in the past year. But Pakistanis blame the American and Nato aggression in Afghanistan for inflaming Islamist passions, and see the Taliban as an expression of Pashtun nationalism. Pakistanis are also suspicious of the proliferation of Indian consulates in southern Afghanistan.

In Garmser, the Scottish infantrymen hope to push the Taliban back and fill the town with people again. The continuing marine operation may help that objective.

But the main British effort is concentrated in northern Helmand, and local governance is weak in Garmser, where most of the town elders and administrators have fled to the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah.

And as the poppy harvest draws to a close, commanders expect a fresh spurt of fighting in the coming weeks. Combined with the stream of Taliban from Pakistan, British officers recognise they are only holding the line.

"I'm under no illusions. We are not stopping the movement north," said Den-McKay. "We're just giving them something to talk about."

President's Proclamation Honors Troops' Spouses

WASHINGTON, May 5, 2008 – Military spouses embody the courage, nobility of duty, and love of country that inspire every American. On Military Spouse Day, we pay tribute to the husbands and wives who support their spouses in America's Armed Forces during times of war and peace.
The legacy of military spouses began when colonial Americans were fighting for independence. Martha Washington boosted the morale of her husband's troops by visiting battlefields and tending to the wounded. Since then, members of our Armed Forces have served our Nation accompanied by the steadfast love and support of their spouses and families.


American Forces Press Service

While our men and women in uniform are protecting our country's founding ideals of liberty, democracy, and justice, their spouses live with uncommon challenges, endure sleepless nights, and spend long periods raising children alone. Many military spouses are also committed volunteers, serving other military families and local communities. Our Nation benefits from the sacrifices of our military families, and we are inspired by their courage, strength, and leadership.

On Military Spouse Day and throughout the year, we honor the commitment spouses have made to freedom's cause. To learn about ways to support our troops and their spouses and families, I encourage all Americans to visit www.americasupportsyou.mil.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim May 9, 2008, as Military Spouse Day. I call upon the people of the United States to observe this day with appropriate ceremonies and activities and by expressing their gratitude to the husbands and wives of those serving in the United States Armed Forces.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this fifth day of May, in the year of our Lord two thousand eight, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-second.

Scouts send care packages to soldiers

ROCK FALLS -- At the Rock Falls American Legion headquarters, Boy Scouts of various ages scurried around cardboard boxes, packing up items that ranged from travel-sized soaps and shampoos to Crayola crayons and yellow suckers.


Published on: Monday, May 05, 2008

gazette REPORTER
[email protected]

The packages are to be mailed this week to soldiers in Iraq and Kuwait, including at least four from Lee and Whiteside counties.

Troop 902 Assistant Scoutmaster Bill Doering led the annual project, which started roughly five years ago when the Illinois National Guard asked the troop to send care packages to some of their guardsmen. The troop decided to take out an ad in the paper to get donations, and collected enough goods to send 13 care packages.

Within months, people in the neighborhood had gotten wind of the project, and made requests for friends and families. Online forums like marineparents.com and online social sites helped spread the word.

"I'd meet people who'd say, 'My son would like a care package, or my cousin or my boyfriend' ... so I just kept a list," Doering said.

To date, the troop has sent about 250 care packages.

"It's just been snowballing, basically... Since Christmas, we've sent almost a hundred (packages) overseas."

One soldier said that many of the children his unit encounters want crayons and pencils, so Doering decided to reach beyond local donations. "So," Doering recalled humbly, "I'll just write some Internet companies that makes pencils and crayons and things, see what I can get."

Some companies responded by giving the troop as many as thousands of pencils, and hundreds of erasers, rulers and other small supplies.

Local groups like the Rock Falls American Legion and VFW also played a large part in the project, mainly through donations that helped curb the packages' shipping cost.

Community residents, local businesses and churches have donated supplies, and most of the shipping costs have been paid by the Rock Falls American Legion and VFW.

"The hard part is getting money to send (the packages) over there," Scoutmaster John Larson said.

The outpouring of donations and the boys' effort to collect them all play into the selfless nature of the Boy Scouts, which Larson said stays with its members long after the program is completed.

You don't have to look far to see this sense of duty stretch beyond the scout years, Larson said, and Sterling's Sam Zigler is living proof.

Pvt. 1st Class Zigler, a former Troop 902 Scout who graduated from Newman Central Catholic High School in 2007, was to attend the Milwaukee School of Engineering after graduation. Instead, he decided to serve with the Marines in Iraq, where he is stationed.

"He's really outgoing," Doering said. "He was in a lot of Newman (High School) plays. He's just a real outgoing young man."

"He's a good kid," Larson said.

The sense of character the troop instilled in Zigler and boys like him is one of the central aims of the Boy Scouts. Projects such as collecting and assembling care packages help achieve that goal, Larson said.

"This is real to these kids. They send these over, they get letters coming back, and people appreciate what they've done," he said. "In the society that we have today, how often do people do stuff for others and not look for something in return?"

And what drives the sacrifice of adults like Doering and Larson, who between them have a total of five-plus decades as Scout leaders?

"It's really neat to be able to sit back and watch these kids mature," Larson said. "That's the reward I get."

Peleliu Strike Group Deploys

SAN DIEGO (NNS) -- USS Peleliu (LHA 5) deployed May 4 in support of the war on terrorism as part of the Peleliu Expeditionary Strike Group's (PELESG) regular deployment rotation.


Story Number: NNS080505-07
Release Date: 5/5/2008 2:57:00 PM

By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class (SW) Jason McKnight, USS Peleliu Public Affairs

The PELESG is led by Commander, Amphibious Squadron (COMPHIBRON) 3 and includes the flag ship, Peleliu, amphibious ships USS Dubuque (LPD 8) and USS Pearl Harbor (LSD 52), the guided-missile cruiser USS Cape St. George (CG 71) and the guided-missile destroyers USS Halsey (DDG 97) and USS Benfold (DDG 65).

"This strike group provides fleet and theater commanders with an assortment of options depending on the needs of any situation they may face," said COMPHIBRON 3, Capt. Jon Padfield. "Be it delivery of combat forces, humanitarian assistance, non-combatant evacuations, or maritime security, Peleliu ESG's assets are ready to provide the right support at the right place at the right time."

Peleliu's Commanding Officer, Capt. Marcus Hitchcock, said the PELESG is an integrated Navy and Marine Corps asset which can reach deep into the shore environment without requiring permanent, fixed land bases.

"Because we bring so many different organizations and capabilities to the area and don't need shore infrastructure, we provide a sea base from which theater commanders can draw exactly the type of support they need," said Hitchcock. "Our embarked Marines can be put on shore via helicopter, hovercraft, or boats to conduct combat operations, or those same platforms can be used to ferry doctors and critical supplies to natural disaster sites to render aid almost immediately."

Medical facilities aboard Tarawa-class amphibious ships such as Peleliu are second only to dedicated hospital ships in the Navy's inventory.

With the addition of cruisers and destroyers, the strike group's ability to conduct maritime interdiction operations ensures vital sea lanes for the world's economies remain free from piracy.

The 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) under the command of Col. Brian Beaudreault will be deploying with COMPHIBRON 3, as well as naval supporting units including the "Surfriders" of Assault Craft Unit (ACU) 1, the "Swift Intruders" of ACU-5, Beach Master Unit 1, and Fleet Surgical Team 1.

Tactical Air Control Squadron 11 Det. 3, Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 21, and Helicopter Anti-submarine Squadron Light 45 Dets. 3 and 5 are providing air support for the deployment.

Image abuse?

Time’s ‘green’ Iwo Jima cover sparks outrage among Marines

By Andrew Tilghman - Staff writer
Posted : May 05, 2008

Donald Mates clearly recalls the moment, more than 63 years ago, when he stood at the foot of Mount Suribachi and looked up as his fellow Marines planted an American flag at Iwo Jima.

To continue reading:


May 4, 2008

New push to award Gabaldon the Medal of Honor

By Adrian Sainz - The Associated Press
Posted : Sunday May 4, 2008 12:09:52 EDT

MIAMI — Armed and alone, Guy Gabaldon roamed Saipan’s caves and pillboxes, using his Japanese language skills to convince enemy soldiers and civilians to surrender during the hellish World War II island battle in the summer of 1944.

To continue reading:


May 3, 2008

Carolina Marine museum site dedicated

By Trista Talton - Staff writer
Posted : Saturday May 3, 2008 8:01:50 EDT

JACKSONVILLE, N.C. — The idea to build a museum that would tell the stories of Marines and sailors who’ve served in the Carolinas is almost as old their presence here.

To continue reading:


Tarawa Marines, Sailors help preserve Australian wild life park

PERTH, Australia (May 3, 2008)— Marines and Sailors from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit and Tarawa Expeditionary Strike Group donated their time and energy to clean up the natural habitat for Australian wildlife at Cohunu Koala Park May 3 during a port visit here.

11th MEU story by Sgt. Scott M. Biscuiti

More than 50 of USS Tarawa’s service members traveled to the sprawling park and got a rare opportunity to interact with well known Australian animals including wombats, kangaroos, dingoes and emus. The group also helped to improve the park’s environment by clearing leaves and debris from the grounds and by performing needed maintenance.

The volunteers started the day by touring the park and getting acquainted to the parks inhabitants. Much of the park is open land where the animals roam as they please. For many, it was their first time in Australia and their first time seeing most of the indigenous species.

“The closest I’ve ever been to any of these animals before was watching them at a distance in a zoo,” said Sgt. Marilyn Zeledon, a data network specialist from Los Angeles. “Walking through the park along side peacocks and emus and holding a Koala were all memorable experiences.”

Once the tour ended the volunteers split up into groups and cleaned their assigned areas.

Zeledon, said she volunteered for the opportunity to get close to the animals and do something that directly affects their well being.

“The group I was in helped with the maintenance of the Koala cages, raked debris from the walking paths, collected fresh eucalyptus and fed some of the animals,” she said.

Some of the groups cleaned the waterways that run through the park and bring much needed fresh water to the animals. RP2 Juan Bejarano, from Brownsville, TX , said clearing the streams was the most rewarding part of his day.

“Watching the dingoes reactions when water started running faster through its areas made it a better day for me and the dingoes,” he said. “It felt good to do something where you see the benefit of your work.”

The community relations project at the park was one of many that the Marines and Sailors have completed during their current seven-month deployment throughout the Western Pacific Ocean and Arabian Gulf region.

Marines’ R&R; to bring $2m a day to WA

More than 3000 US Navy personnel are expected to inject millions of dollars into the local economy after arriving in Fremantle yesterday.


3rd May 2008, 8:00 WST

USS Tarawa docked about 9am for a routine break from duties ahead of its return home to San Diego.

A visit by a US Navy ship such as USS Tarawa injects more than $2 million a day into the local economy, figures from the US Consulate-General’s office in Perth show.

US Navy 7th Fleet WA representative Lt-Cdr Philippe Francois said Perth was one of many R&R; stops around the world used by US Navy ships.

He expected the crew to spend $1 million on tourism alone during the visit, with planned activities including trips to Margaret River and
Rottnest Island, games of golf and diving tours.

“An average sailor will probably spend $300 a day minimum and that includes all activities — knick-knacks, trinkets, food and a hotel,” he
said. “We have a significant number of the crew staying in local hotels and of course they’ll be using all the eateries and restaurants.”

It is the first Perth visit by the US Navy since October when another amphibious assault ship — USS Bonhomme Richard — docked.

USS Tarawa is the leading ship in its class at 250m and has rolling airframe missile launchers, close-in weapons systems and machineguns.

It was recently on maritime security operations in the Persian Gulf and supported war operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It also gave humanitarian relief in Bangladesh after cyclone Sidr.

Lt-Cdr Francois did not confirm how long it would stay for “security reasons”.

“We got a warm reception from the locals who were standing and photographing on the pier,” he said.

Doc loves being ‘green’

KOREAN VILLAGE, Iraq — When a Navy hospital corpsman becomes “green,” he is placed on the front lines with the trust of the Marine Corps infantryman. He runs through the trenches, engaging the enemy, all while putting his own life on the line providing medical care for the wounded.


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

After four tours in two separate conflicts, Chief Petty Officer Truman A. Gartman, chief petty officer of the Battalion Aid Station, 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 5, has been a part of that trust for 14 years and counting.

“What I love most about being with the Marines is the amount of trust they have for (corpsmen),” said Gartman. “From the lowest, a private first class, to the higher-ups, a lieutenant colonel, they trust you with their life.”

The 38-year-old, from San Angelo, Texas, enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1987 and was sent to Sasapo, Japan, for his first duty station.

Gartman was in and out of minor trouble throughout the time he was in Japan, and this caught the attention of his command master chief.

“The command master chief was telling my officer in charge that, because of my attitude, I would be a perfect (infantryman) corpsman,” he said. “He gave me a choice between being separated and going to the green side.”

Gartman checked into 1st Marine Division out of Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., from which he deployed to his first conflict, Operation Desert Shield/ Desert Storm. During the engagements, the young doc cared for wounded Marines as U.S. forces held the Kuwaiti border.

After five years with 1st Marine Division, he went back to caring for Navy sailors. In 1999, he checked into 6th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, stationed out of Marine Corps Base Camp Lejuene, N.C.

“It was a privilege to be back on the green side for good,” said Gartman. “I missed it a lot, and it was great to return to the family.”

He experienced everything from being a standard line corpsman to his favorite duty of them all, a Marine Scout Sniper platoon corpsman with 3rd Bn., 6th Marine Regiment.

After all of the experiences of being a corpsman with a variety of infantry units in several different combat situations, Gartman still came back for more.

“No matter how bad the times were, I always sat down and analyzed what I could have done better,” said Gartman. “I always want to be here to train those who succeed me; that way all the mistakes that I’ve made, they won’t make.”

Now deployed with 2nd LAR on his third tour in Iraq, he trains all of his sailors in everything he knows about medicine and his hobby, construction. According to his sailors, he is used as a giant book of knowledge.

“He’s a good leader,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Titus J. Willis, 25, a hospital corpsman with the BAS, 2nd LAR, from New Orleans. “When it comes to a scale of one through ten on training the sailors, I score him a twenty-five.”

“I hope to leave the hospital corps with better experiences passed down to the other corpsmen,” said Gartman. “I’m here to make all of my sailors not only better people, but better corpsmen”

May 2, 2008


May 2, 2008 -- A brave Manhattan-born Marine - whom doctors nicknamed the "Miracle Man" for surviving burns to 97 percent of his body after a roadside blast in Iraq three years ago - has died, the Pentagon announced yesterday.



Sgt. Merlin German, 22, who endured more than 100 operations as a result of his injuries in February 2005, died on April 11 while recovering from a routine operation to replace skin under his lip at Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas.

The always upbeat Marine with a huge sense of humor was a symbol of hope to other burn patients.

The gunner, known for his keen ability to spot improvised explosive devices, had a tender side - he loved kids and dreamed of setting up a foundation to help burned children and their families.

It is called Merlin's Miracles, at merlinsmiracles.com.

[email protected]

USS Tarawa docks, 3000 US sailors in Perth

The USS Tarawa docked in Fremantle with more than 3000 US marines and sailors making Perth home for the weekend.


Clarissa Phillips

May 02, 2008 05:00pm

The US Navy ship has been deployed for six months already, and will be heading home to her homeport in San Diego for a two-week break after the short stop Down Under.

Those on board haven’t been on land for more two weeks, and Captain John Miley said they’re looking forward to it after a stint in the Gulf.

“I know the sailors and marines have definitely been looking forward to coming down here and getting in. We’ve been underway now for a couple of weeks, so it’ll be a nice break for them. They’ve been working hard,” he said.

The Tarawa crew have made several stops along the way to provide humanitarian assistance to disaster areas.

The deployment started in Bangladesh, where the crew provided medical and dental assistance during the Sea Angel 2 Operation last year.

They then sailed to the Gulf to provide maritime security for troops and other ships in the area, followed by marine training exercises off the coast of Africa before heading back to the Gulf.

It’s a tight squeeze on board the ship, with the massive crew having to fit their lives on the 250 metre ship.

The Tarawa houses all crew, with sailors and marines piled up in triple-bunks, with barely centimetres between their faces and the bed above.

The Tarawa also has gyms, a hospital, dentist, shops, internet access, television and radio, plus has to store food for all on board.

And there are dozens of trucks and tanks to fit in, with loading the ship requiring precision planning by engineering staff, including Lonnie Collins.

“We have everything planned out already…and they give us the plan, our load plan. Depending on what we take, if we get a bunch of boxes it can take four hours. Trucks, it can take an hour, or 30 minutes,” Collins said.

The amphibious assault ship is more than 30-years old and carries 35 aircraft including AV-8B Harrier jets, and Cobra, Hueys, Super Sea Stallion and Sea Knight Helicopters.

The short runway on board means the aircraft have to be agile, most able to take off and land vertically.

Even after years of flying Harrier jets, pilot Mike Rountree still gets nervous when it’s time to land.

“The hardest part is landing on the ship. Ever single time, no matter what we do, missions or otherwise, when we come back to the ship it’s challenging,” he said.

And each aircraft plays a different part. H46 helicopter pilot Michael Johnson’s main role is assault support.

“What our job is is to get marines into and out of zones within a minute of where they want to be and within a hundred feet of where they want to be,” Johnson said.

It takes about two years for pilots to earn their wings to fly any of these multi-million dollar aircraft, which is a huge responsibility seeing the average age of the crew is just under 20.

The Tarawa crew will also volunteer their time at the Cohunu Koala Park while they’re in Perth, where marines and sailors will help weigh and document koalas.

Marine burned on 97 percent of body dies

By Dan Lamothe - Staff writer
Posted : Friday May 2, 2008 8:35:26 EDT

Sgt. Merlin German had been struggling with burn wounds covering more than 97 percent of his body for nearly two years when he made a decision: painful or not, he was going to don his dress blues and whisk his mother away for a dance during a hospital ball.

To continue reading:


Sandwiched between Taliban and poppies, Marines face day of fire in southern Afghanistan

GARMSER, Afghanistan: Gunfire rang out at Sgt. Dan Linas' patrol, pinning his squad down against a dirt berm. The Marines looked across the field on their left, at three mud huts and a grove of trees, in search of the muzzle flash.


The Associated PressPublished: May 2, 2008

Then they trained their M-16s and opened fire.

The sun had barely risen above the horizon, but for the Marines of Bravo Company's 2nd Platoon, the daybreak firefight was just the first in a series of engagements Friday that saw the troops respond with earsplitting barrages of machine-gun fire, mortars and artillery, most of which landed just 600 meters (yards) from the troops' position.

To the Marines' east, north and south lay bountiful fields of opium poppies, to the west an unseen enemy.

Airstrikes and artillery have thundered through this southern Afghan town since early Tuesday when the Marines moved into Garmser, a town classified as Taliban territory where no NATO troops operate. Cobra helicopters have concentrated rounds of fire on mud house hideouts, and artillery has rattled the countryside.

The Marine assault in Helmand province — which British troops have responsibility for — is the first major task undertaken by the 2,400 Marines in the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit since their arrival in Afghanistan last month. Their mission in Helmand — the world's largest poppy producing region — is the farthest south U.S. forces have been in years.

Most of the 33,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan operate in the east, along the border with Pakistan, but the 7,500 British troops in Helmand and 2,500 Canadian troops in neighboring Kandahar province have not proved a large enough force to tame the south. The British have a small outpost on Garmser's northern tip, NATO has no presence south of that.

The Marines do not plan a long stay in Garmser and they will leave the poppy fields be. Their only mission is to open the road for a Marine convoy that will move through the town. For that they must sit and defend the 3-meter-wide (10-foot-wide) lane of dirt.

After returning fire across the empty field Tuesday morning, the men under Linas — a 21-year-old from Richmond, Virginia — jogged 100 meters (yards) to their platoon command center, where men at the lookout post provided covering machine-gun fire.

The platoon mortar team then dialed in coordinates and fired, throwing up puffs of smoke on the field to their west. It's not clear if any militants were hit.

In the foreground, perhaps 40 meters (yards) from the Marines' post, a half dozen Afghan men work in the opium poppy fields, slicing the bulbs to coax out opium resin. They looked up as the mortars boomed out of their tubes, then went back to work.

Some of the Marines of the 24th MEU 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. Compared with the dense population centers in Iraq, artillery and mortar teams have much more freedom to operate in the wide open spaces of rural Afghanistan, where the Taliban operate.

But before more mortars are fired, 2nd Lt. Mark Greenleaf, the 24-year-old platoon commander from Monmouth, Illinois, asks his observers if any civilians are in danger. "What's the collateral damage beyond the tree line?" he barks out.

The area surrounding the field has been empty for days, despite the fact that farmers are working the opium fields in all other directions, an indication for the Marines that the Taliban have a heavy presence to their west. But the issue is made moot by the company commander, Capt. Charles O'Neill, who says that he's not interested in an all-day mortar battle.

Mere moments later, Marines hear the boom of a distant incoming rocket. Everyone rushes to defensive positions, pushing themselves up against mud walls or down into trenches. The boom rattles their outpost but is a couple hundred meters (yards) off target. A wave of gunfire rings out as Marines react, until sergeants bark orders for their men to cease fire.

One forward gunman on the berm of dirt states the obvious: "They missed."

Lance Corp. Matthew Cato, Simpsonville, South Carolina, 21, said: "I don't care, it scared the (crap) out of me."

"I hate hearing those things go off because then you're just sitting here going, 'Oh, man,'" said Corp. Keith Manley, 23, Ilion, New York.

The heat of the noon sun settles in, and the Marines — and the militants — put down their weapons and search for shade.

The countryside stays quiet until a Humvee convoy pulls up in mid-afternoon to evacuate a Marine with a grotesquely swollen sprained ankle. As soon as the Humvees stop, the incoming fire starts.

The 50-caliber machine gunner atop one of the Humvees opens fire, and Marines with M-16s respond in kind. After several minutes of gunfire, squad leaders bark out for their men to conserve ammunition. The region's fine grain sand kicks up every time shots are fired, covering the Marines' position in a cloud of sand.

"If there's too much (freaking) smoke to see the target, then don't waste the rounds," Sgt. Chris Battaglia, 28, yells at his men.

An American artillery team stationed outside town then chimes in, sending round after round exploding only 600 meters (yards) away. Marines yell for everyone to stay down, lest the rounds splinter off and hit a friendly position.

O'Neill, the company commander, says the all-day pop shots by the Taliban amount to little more than nuisance attacks. But the militants are using binoculars and have forward observers with cell phones to try to better aim at the Marines, he said.

"This is pure asymmetric harassment," he said. "They'll pop out of a position and fire a rocket or mortar."

The Marines can't move west into the field to take on the Taliban at close range. Their mission is to open the main road that goes through Garmser, and nothing more. NATO troops are not authorized to eradicate poppy, and troops have assured farmers that they won't touch their fields. At the end of the day, no Marines are hurt or wounded. The Taliban casualty count is not known. But the Marines living in the mud-hut compound under Greenleaf are buzzing from a day filled with adrenaline.

"I thought it was fun," said Cato. "I know I'm doing my job. It's just a good feeling."

May 1, 2008

Marine colonel from Beverly leads strike against Taliban

BEVERLY — A U.S. Marine Corps colonel who grew up in Beverly is leading the first major military operation in years in a dangerous section of southern Afghanistan populated by Taliban fighters.


Published: May 01, 2008
By Paul Leighton
Staff writer

Col. Peter Petronzio is the commander of the 2,300 Marines in the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit. Early yesterday morning, his unit captured the center of the Taliban-held town of Garmsir, according to the Reuters news service.

The mission is the first by U.S. forces that far south in Afghanistan in many years. The fighting is taking place in Helman province, the world's largest opium-producing region and a hotbed of insurgent activity.

"It's a very important mission, and he's the commanding officer," said his father, Jake, a retired Marine captain who lives on Greenleaf Drive in the Centerville section of Beverly. "It's an awful lot of responsibility, but he's been trained for it. He's a very capable Marine officer." The elder Petronzio is a Korean War veteran.

Peter Petronzio, 47, was born in Parris Island, S.C., while his father was serving as a drill instructor at the Marine Corps boot camp. He graduated from Beverly High School and Norwich University and joined the Marines in 1984.

Petronzio has been trained in special operations in everything from jumping out of airplanes to underwater diving. He was named commanding officer of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit in February 2006 and has been deployed several times to Iraq and Afghanistan. His wife and three children live at Camp Lejeune, N.C., the home base for the 24th Expeditionary Unit.

Peter Petronzio told The Baltimore Sun that his goals for the mission in Helman province are to kill insurgents, establish security for reconstruction and disrupt the flow of weapons and fighters from the Pakistani border through the region.

In an interview with The Sun before the operation, Petronzio expressed 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," Petronzio told the newspaper. "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 and his troops are scheduled to return to Camp Lejeune in the fall after a seventh-month deployment, according to The Baltimore Sun.

2/7 leaves for Afghanistan mission

Friends and family gathered over the weekend to bid farewell to the Marines and sailors of 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment.


Pfc. Zachary J. Nola
Combat Correspondent

2/7 will be deployed to Afghanistan for seven months and will conduct security operations as well as train and mentor Afghan police.

It is the first deployment to Afghanistan for 2/7, but the Marines of Golf Co. understand the differences from Iraq.

“It’s a totally different area and a totally different language,” said Lance Cpl. Christopher P. Coon, a mortarman with Golf Co.

“Unlike the Iraqis who will shoot and run, the Afghans will stay and fight, so it is important to work with them and convince them to fight with us,” said Coon.

Even though the 2/7 is facing a new mission morale is high and Gold Co. feels that it is ready to meet the challenge.

“They are motivated and put a lot of work into preparing for this,” said Sgt. Maj. Matthew Brookshire.

“I am very impressed with the performance they have put forward in preparing for this mission,” said Brookshire.

In preparation for the mission Mojave Viper training exercises were slightly modified in order to help Marines prepare for situations they may face out in the field.

However, most of the training that 2/7 underwent in preparation for this deployment was business as usual.

“We concentrated on the basics and worked on perfecting the small but important stuff,” said Lance Cpl. Christopher P. Coon, a mortarman, Golf Co., 2/7.

This is not the first for the majority of the Marines and sailors of 2/7 and family members found it a little bit easier to say goodbye this time around.

“There is some anxiety but it’s a little easier because I am more aware of what to expect,” said greg Bardos, father of Cpl. Brandon Bardos, a mortanman with Golf Co.

Adel Sweet, mother of Lance Cpl. Christopher Darr, a Golf Co. assualtman, fought back tears and waved to her son one last time before the buses headed out.

“I’m a little better than I was the first time and I am still proud of him and behind him 100 percent,” she said.

Marines muscle in on Taliban

GARMSER, Afghanistan — U.S. Marines contended with 110-degree heat, rugged terrain and an increasingly savvy and war-hardened enemy as they pressed deeper into a Taliban stronghold in Afghanistan on Thursday.


By Paul Wiseman, USA TODAY

Operation Azada Wosa — "Stay Free" in the local Pashto language — kicked off Monday and represents a new push by the U.S. military to retake territory that NATO troops have so far been unable to conquer and hold. The 2,400-strong 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit is on its first mission since it started arriving here more than a month ago.

After nearly seven years of war, the challenges facing the U.S. troops here are eerily similar to those they faced when they first arrived to topple the Taliban regime following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Among the familiar problems are dehydration, long supply lines, residents whose loyalties are often unclear and enemy forces that stage quick-hit attacks then slip into the shadows.

Capt. John Moder, the commander of the Marine unit's Charlie Company, says residents have told them they are eager to see the Taliban removed from the area. Their local bazaar has been closed for months because of the fighting.

"They just want to live their lives," Moder says.

Tenacious Taliban

The Taliban aren't giving up without a fight. In groups of three and four, they open fire at the Marines with assault rifles or rockets, then flee. Sometimes they attempt infantry maneuvers, trying to draw the Marines in one direction with a feint, then attacking from another direction. "They were tactically sound," Moder says. "It shows that they've done it before, that they might have been trained."

Moder estimates his men have killed 30 Taliban fighters. Maj. Tom Clinton, executive officer of the Marines' infantry battalion, could not confirm Taliban casualties, but he says the Marines are getting reports that wounded Afghan men are seeking medical treatment in Helmand's capital, Lashkar Gah.

So far, U.S. casualties have been relatively light. Through Thursday afternoon, no Marines had been killed in the operation, although two died last month when a roadside bomb hit their supply convoy.

Six Marines had been injured, none critically: One was shot in the foot, perhaps accidentally; one suffered a concussion from a Taliban rocket or mortar attack; one was bitten by a dog; one fell from a roof and broke an ankle; two broke their legs; and two more sprained their ankles.

The nagging injuries and intense heat are sometimes a more immediate threat than the enemy itself, troops say. "Imagine carrying 75 to 120 pounds of gear and playing a football game where each quarter lasts three hours," says 1st Lt. Mark Matzke, 21, of Arlington, Va.

Keeping them supplied with water, ready-to-eat meals and ammunition is a full-time operation. From Camp Dwyer, a handpicked team of two dozen Marines runs convoys to infantrymen in the field.

"We wanted to be called 'The Nomads' but they gave us 'Wagon Wheel' " instead, says Gunnery Sgt. Javier Duarte, 34, of Miami. Before every convoy, Duarte usually gives the Wagon Wheel team a profanity-laden pep talk, then introduces the chaplain for a prayer.

The convoy heads outside Camp Dwyer's concertina wire and into the desert on the way to the Marines fighting on the outskirts of Garmser. Along the way, they pass Afghans working in the fields, harvesting the poppy that could be turned into heroin and sold in Europe and the United States.

Back at Camp Dwyer, a special team of combat surgeons, doctors, nurses and medics plays cards and lounges in scarce shade, relieved that light casualties mean their skills haven't been needed. Some of the doctors have trained in emergency rooms in Los Angeles and Baltimore, treating victims of gangland shootings.

Medics without borders

Earlier this week, a Marine helicopter touched down carrying an 11-year-old boy with serious shrapnel wounds in his abdomen. Two Afghan men brought the boy to the Marines for treatment after an explosion. Maj. Clinton suspects that the men — perhaps even the boy — may have been Taliban and had misfired a rocket or a bomb. Clinton says the insurgents sometimes bring their wounded for treatment, claiming to be civilians.

This time, medical authorities decided the boy would get better treatment at another NATO base, because there is no pediatric equipment — such as child-size respiratory tubes — at Dwyer.

"I have five kids," says Navy Lt. Commander Luis Marquez, 39, an emergency room doctor from San Juan, Puerto Rico. "I want to save every child I can."

Marines' new enemy: thirst

Heat, heavy loads, lack of water slow attack on Taliban

GARMSIR, Afghanistan - For the Marines fighting in southern Afghanistan, a shortage of drinking water turned out to be nearly as big a concern as Taliban insurgents.


By David Wood | Sun Reporter
May 1, 2008

When Marines of Alpha and Bravo Companies, 1st Battalion, 6th Marines, pushed into Garmsir, a Taliban stronghold, before dawn Tuesday, each toted 18 half-liter bottles of water plus two liters in his pack. Their staggering 100- to 150-pound loads - including weapons, ammunition, mortar base plates, radios, flak vests and helmets and other gear - had troop commanders worried even before the operation began.

Carrying all this, the Marines have struggled night and day across fields of dust and weeds, kneeling or flopping prone to get "eyes on" the enemy or to take cover from fire, then laboriously pushing themselves to their feet to cross irrigation ditches and patrol along green fields of wheat and pink and white poppies.

And in the 100-degree heat, the water has gone down fast.

Only hours into the mission, some platoons were reporting they were low on water. By nightfall, the Marines had asked for an unscheduled resupply of water.

The pallets of bottled water came by CH-46 helicopter from FOB (Forward Operating Base) Dwyer, a major supply base in southern Afghanistan.

Dwyer itself had just received its own resupply of water. Because of the time and risk of ground convoys, the pallets of bottled water came tumbling out of the sky under parachutes.

Alpha and Bravo reported several heat casualties, handled by their own Navy corpsmen. One corpsman, Petty Officer 2nd Class Timothy Altizer, 27, from Princeton, W.Va., was treating Marines with shade, cool water and in some cases intravenous fluids - and rest.

Some of the Marines' missions were delayed until night, allowing them to find shade in the cool mud-and-adobe compounds, lent by local farmers. There, the Marines would shuck their rucksacks and sprawl asleep in helmets and flak vests, in some cases under the curious gaze of chickens and goats.

The high consumption of water was a complication for the Marine battalion, which had to balance the resupply of ammunition and water with available helicopter airlift. By midweek, that adjustment had been made and daily water resupply was under way, said Maj. Tom Clinton, battalion executive officer.

"This is just reality buffering up against the plan," he said.

Alpha Company's commander, Capt. Sean Dynan, spent hours last week fretting over the loads his men would carry and their mission of assaulting a Taliban stronghold by helicopter and spending days seeking out and fighting Taliban insurgents.

"I don't want to be in a situation where we go red [empty] on ammunition because we didn't bring enough," he said one night. "But I don't want my guys going down with dehydration because we brought too much."

Hours before the mission began, Dynan and company 1st Sgt. Scott Hamm went through each Marine's pack, tossing aside extra underwear, toothpaste and candy bars to shave down the weight.

Dehydration and the heavy loads cascaded into other problems as Marines struggled to keep their footing along the narrow ditches and 20-inch-high baked earth irrigation dikes hidden beneath hip-high grass, wheat or poppies.

Lance Cpl. Zach Bell suffered an injury common this week, slipping and badly twisting an ankle as he negotiated his load, including 20 pounds of ammunition, along the slick edge of an irrigation ditch. He was sent by helicopter to the surgical facility at FOB Dwyer.

"I knew it was going to be tricky, so I tried to be real careful with my steps," he said with regret.

[email protected]

VA trial ends with differing views of care

By Paul Elias - The Associated Press
Posted : Thursday May 1, 2008 7:27:12 EDT

SAN FRANCISCO — A two-week trial that scrutinized the quality of health care for veterans concluded Wednesday with the judge questioning how much authority he had to order changes in the Department of Veterans Affairs, even if he found deficiencies.

To continue reading: