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October 31, 2008

3/9 Marines pack to fight in ‘every clime and place’

MOUNTAIN WARFARE TRAINING CENTER, Calif. — Usually Halloween is a time to pretend to be something your not and take a break from the everyday routine, but on Oct. 31, Marines from 3rd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, didn’t take a day off; they kept training.


10/31/2008 By Lance Cpl. Brian M. Woodruff, 2nd Marine Division

Marines from Mortars Platoon, Weapons Company had to learn a skill that has been passed down for generations and may make their platoon more combat effective.

Using mules, the Marines learned the skill of animal packing. While it may seem simple to some, Lance Cpl. Keith D. Hassa, a mortarman, was one of three Marines from his platoon to receive the formal instruction. He explained that there is a lot of technical skill that comes with properly packing any animal.

“We had to be able to make a box hitch, a diamond hitch, a barrel hitch, a manie pack; we learned to pack, saddle and ride them, where to feed and water them,” said the Wadena, Minn. native. “There’s a lot involved.”

Although it may seem crude, the art of animal packing actually has many practical uses. Sgt. John A. Freeseha, a master packer instructor here, explained that anywhere there is mountainous terrain, Marines would benefit greatly from this skill.

“Anywhere you can walk these animals can walk carrying a good 500 pounds and they can get places where it’s impossible to get vehicles, so it could be a great advantage to these Marines,” said the Escalon, Calif., native. “If you know how to pack a mule, the same principles apply to packing anything from a dog to an elephant.”

Animal packing skills also give Marines freedom of movement on the battlefield. Tactical vehicles are loud, attract attention and are limited to roads; these animals are not. Sgt. Joe B. Neal, a master packer instructor here, said he believes the animals may let Marines avoid many firefights.

“These animals aren’t restricted to the road, they can move more freely through the mountains,” said the Van Buren, Mich., native. “With these animals Marines can stay off the main roads, also having the advantage of not having to carry everything on their backs, which allows them to move faster.”

Leadership within the platoon seemed to think that the class was an excellent idea, hoping this skill will prepare the men for future deployments.

“There’s a lot of weight involved in moving [a mortar] platoon, when you count the mortar system and then the three to four rounds that each individual carries,” said Staff Sgt. Thomas J. Korabik, the platoon sergeant. “Since we don’t have vehicles, we’re getting a chance to see how well these mortars can move using these animals.”

Cpl. Timothy A. Chuzas, a squad leader for the platoon, looked at the training from a combat stance.

“Utilizing large animals lets us have more guys available to fight, which in the long run makes us more combat effective and keeps the morale up,” said the Stafford, Conn., native.

After this training, Marines from 3rd Bn., 9th Marines feel more confident in their ability to use any type of pack animal if necessary. They have a new weapon in the fight against America’s enemies, and a little extra something that lets them push on an extra mile.

Face of Defense: Marine Amputee Who Returned to Iraq Earns Fellowship

CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq, Oct. 31, 2008 – A noncommissioned officer who returned to Iraq nine months ago after his left leg was amputated above the knee soon will represent the Marine Corps in the halls of Congress.


By Marine Corps Cpl. Sean P. McGinty
Special to American Forces Press Service

Master Sgt. William “Spanky” Gibson, whose courage President Bush recognized during March 19 remarks on the fifth anniversary of Operation Iraqi Freedom, is one of three Marines selected for the first staff NCO congressional fellowships under new Marine Corps parameters for its part in the Defense Department congressional fellowships program.

Bush, who described Gibson’s successful effort to rejoin the fight in Iraq, said that with Americans like Gibson serving, the enemy doesn’t have a chance.

“I want to assist the Marine Corps globally,” said Gibson, 37. “I want to show what staff NCOs can do in a position that staff NCOs have never been challenged in.”

The Marine Corps congressional fellowship is a year-long program opened to staff NCOs for the first time this year. Gibson lost his leg in May 2006 after being shot in the knee by a sniper while serving in Ramadi, Iraq, as a joint terminal attack controller for 1st Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company. After extensive rehabilitation at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., Gibson set out to prove he was fit for duty. He trained for and participated in endurance races and triathlons.

In June 2007, he competed in the "Escape from Alcatraz" triathlon in San Francisco, where he met and asked Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, who then commanded Marine forces serving in the U.S. Central Command area of operations, to let him return to Iraq.

Less than two years after adjusting to his prosthetic leg and fighting to stay in the Marine Corps, Gibson returned to Iraq with the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force as the force fires chief for Multinational Force West here.

Gibson said that while recuperating in Bethesda, he told himself he would never return to the Washington, D.C., area. He was fully focused on returning to Iraq, he said.

“I never contemplated something like this,” he said. “Nine months ago, my thoughts were directed in getting back to the battlefield. Now, I’m going to have to learn more about the legislative process, and I’ll have interaction between generals and congressmen.”

As a congressional fellow, Gibson will trade his uniform for a business suit while working with either the House of Representatives or the Senate. He will work for a member of Congress, doing anything any staffer might do, except for campaign work, said Maj. Ernest E. Robinson of the Marine Corps’ legislative affairs office.

“He will be working in one of the Congress members’ office, working directly for the member,” Robinson said. “Depending on his tasks, he could be involved in legislation or some pretty important business.”

Marine guidelines for the fellowship say Gibson’s new duties could include drafting legislation, serving as a liaison to constituents, planning international conferences and dialogues, and much more.

“I’m looking forward to understanding the legislative process and what it has to do with the Marine Corps,” the Pryor, Okla., native said. “Now us staff NCOs can be a part of that process and have a say in it.”

As with nearly all military congressional fellows, Gibson most likely will serve with a Congress member who serves on the House or Senate Armed Services Committee or the House Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Defense, according to Col. Raymond E. Celeste of Marine Corps legislative affairs.

Gibson will provide accurate information to members of Congress, said Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Neil O’Connell, the senior enlisted Marine in Multinational Force West. “He’s tactically and technically proficient, constantly educating himself, and due to his situation, he’s well versed in the treatment and rehabilitation of the wounded,” O’Connell said.

Selection for the program seems like a natural step for his career in the Marines, Gibson said. The majority of his experience in the Marine Corps has been focused on ground combat, but he said he’s ready for a change.

“I think it’s the perfect time to go,” Gibson said. “This deployment has shown me where my place in the future is. This is going to be an environment I’m not used to, but it’ll be an environment where I can help the whole military.”

Though Gibson’s tour in Washington will be something he has never done before, O’Connell said, his selection to the fellowship shows the Defense Department has faith that Gibson’s extensive experience and professionalism will represent the Marine Corps in a positive light.

“He’s a driven Marine, and he’s earned his selection,” he said.

(Marine Corps Cpl. Sean P. McGinty serves in the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force Public Affairs Office.)

My Marine

My son Zachary was a gangly high-school junior when he casually informed me, in the fall of 2003, that he’d been speaking with military recruiters. “An Army guy, a Navy guy and a marine are coming over,” Zach said. “A parent has to be present because I’m not 18 yet.”


Published: October 31, 2008

“I’ll be present,” I said. “Don’t worry.”

I wore my best vegan-dyed PEACE T-shirt. I was wary but not too worried. Zach was barely 17, graduation seemed far off still and the notion that he would volunteer was laughable. He didn’t like killing anything, even insects. The sight of blood made him gag. His favorite hobby was napping.

Army Guy turned up with a salesman’s enthusiasm. “How are you, ma’am?” he said to me, and answered himself in the next breath. “Great! Let’s just sit you down here. ... ” Soon the couch was covered with glossy brochures detailing the great accommodations at military bases in Italy and Germany, the great medical facilities, the great on-base T.G.I. Friday’s. Zach looked over my shoulder as I examined dreamy photos of Hawaiian bird life and Munich’s museums and beer festivals. “Great opportunities if he likes culture. ... ”

“What about the war?” I said.

“The Iraq thing?” I recall him saying. “That’ll be over in no time. Let’s take a look at some of the great educational benefits.”

Navy Guy had tender brown eyes and was endearingly soft around the middle of his white sailor suit. He confided to me, sotto voce, that the Navy had a really low casualty rate. “All the mothers ask,” he said, with a sad smile. He stayed for lunch, confiding in me about his girl troubles while Zach leafed through a pamphlet showing happy sailors on the deck of a destroyer. “Maybe I don’t want to be in the military after all,” Zach said later. “It seems kind of goofy.”

Then came the marine. He was fit and spit-shined. “My name is Sangster, ma’am. Rhymes with gangster.” As I remember it, that was pretty much all he said to me; his pitch was aimed at Zach. “The Marine Corps will make you puke, make you cry, and when that’s over, you’ll be sent to the most miserable, dangerous, godforsaken place on the planet. So let me ask you: Why should I let you join my corps?”

I opened my mouth to answer (“Goodbye!”) but was quelled by a sharp look from Zach. “Well ... um, sir,” he said. “I think I’m reasonably smart. But I don’t work very hard. I want you to teach me to work.”

Sangster looked at him for a long moment. “We can do that,” he said.

What could happen to my son’s body in Afghanistan or Iraq did not bear thinking about. Also unbearable was the thought of what he might have to see. My late father served in the Marine Corps in the Korean War and later became a combat correspondent. My first husband, Zach’s father, a state trooper, was killed in the line of duty when Zach was 9.

“Has it occurred to you that you might be looking for some version of what you lost when you lost your dad?” I pointed out, in my attempt to talk Zach out of joining.

“Of course,” he said calmly. Oh.

My second husband, Simon, is a peace-loving man. “I can’t say I trust Sergeant Sangster, or his corps,” Simon admitted. “But I do trust Zach.”

Zach graduated from Parris Island skinnier but still recognizably himself. After advanced combat training, he was sent off to Fort Meade to learn to be a correspondent for military publications. He lived with other newly minted marines in a barracks presided over by a man who swiftly became the main character in our boy’s stories. We pictured him as Louis Gossett Jr. teaching his charges to run faster and fight harder. He inspected their uniforms and gave out punishments, but he also took Zach’s temperature when he was ill and made sure Zach flossed his teeth and called his mom. This Sergeant Purcell even encouraged Zach to resume his interest in poetry. One day, Zach told us he ran 12 miles in record time. “I was on my knees, throwing up, and Sergeant Purcell was hollering, ‘That’s what I call a quality effort, Devil Dog!’ ” The pride in Zach’s voice brought tears to my eyes.

Sergeant Purcell later went to Iraq and was wounded. (Zach says he’s O.K.) My son was sent to Okinawa, where he fell in love with a blue-eyed lance corporal named Erin. They married, and in 2007 they were sent to San Diego, which did ease my mind somewhat. But this year Zach re-enlisted. Regardless of who becomes his commander in chief, I still cannot trust the world with my son — there are too many places where horrors lurk — but I do trust my son.

Kate Braestrup, a chaplain with the Maine Warden Service, is the author of a memoir, “Here If You Need Me.”

October 30, 2008

Field Mess Marines Keep Morale High

HIT, Iraq — While some Marines have trouble making an edible hot pocket for themselves at home, the chow hall Marines of Task Force 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 5 have proven themselves qualified cooks, even in Iraq.


10/30/2008 By Lance Cpl. Sean Cummins, Regimental Combat Team 5

The Marines at the chow hall both cook and serve different meals every day, ranging from turkey and mashed potatoes to ribs and corn. Depending on the operation tempo, they sometimes make enough food to feed hundreds of Marines in one day.

Despite the lack of an indoor galley full of equipment as they have at home in Twentynine Palms, Calif., the field mess specialists manage to keep the food on the table and provide a sanitary environment for cooking and eating.

“We don’t have the same equipment as we had in Twentynine Palms, that’s for sure. We don’t have any ovens to make certain items, and we don’t have hot boxes to keep items hot,” said Staff Sgt. Jose M. Lopez, 34, a field mess chief from Levelland, Texas, with Headquarters and Service Company, 3rd Bn., 7th Marines.

Keeping hot chow on the table can make life a little easier for Marines who have been working long hours or have just come back from missions.

“I try and get whatever I can to please the Marines out here. It’s supposed to be a (Meal Ready to Eat) for lunch, but we try to get them a hot meal,” Lopez said. “We’re already out here (in Iraq). Most Marines don’t want to have a MRE, especially when they’ve been on post all day. We try to make them feel more at home in a field environment.”

Creativity and flexibility in the kitchen are important when supplies and equipment are limited. The Marines try to keep the menu fresh when they’re deployed to keep everyone happy.

“The advantage of working out here is that we can pretty much create our own recipes if we choose to do so. We learn from experiences in the past and actually put them to use out here,” said Sgt. Travis A. Ruffin, 25, a field mess specialist attached to Company L, 3rd Bn., 7th Marines. “I wouldn’t say it’s a difficult job, but it’s a steady job. We can’t please everybody, but we try to.”

Perhaps the most important aspect of maintaining a chow hall while deployed is sanitation.

“We’ve got to be up on our sanitation here because we’re in a field environment. Sanitation is very important over here because if we don’t keep our equipment clean and we don’t keep our food at certain temperatures, we could get people sick,” Lopez said.

“It’s harder to keep (the chow hall) clean out here, so we clean more than we do back at Twentynine Palms. Sanitation helps keep Marines in the fight,” said Lance Cpl. David A, Charlot, 20, a cook from Brooklyn, N.Y., attached to Company I, 3rd Bn., 7th Marines.

The field mess Marines know how important it is for them to do their jobs well. It’s more than just food in the belly for Marines, it’s a chance for them to rest and relax during a long day of work.

“(Other Marines) work just as hard as we do. This is their time to get together, enjoy chow and have a good time. We try to provide them with as much as we can to make sure they’re happy so they can push out and do a good job in the field,” Ruffin said.

Combat to College

KEVIN BLANCHARD’S freshman year at George Washington University was unlike anybody else’s on campus.

Please click on above link for photos and video link.

Published: October 30, 2008

Crowded classrooms routinely sent him into a panic. Cubicles triggered tunnel vision. He felt alienated from the 18-year-olds around him and their antics. His leg throbbed as he wandered the campus, trying to remember where to go. His concentration whipsawed and the words he read in textbooks slipped easily from his memory, the result of a mild traumatic brain injury.

A charismatic Marine Corps veteran, Mr. Blanchard, 25, could trace his difficulties to Iraq and the summer of 2005, when a Humvee he was riding in detonated a bomb buried under the sand. The blast claimed half his left leg and mangled his right leg. In short order, he endured numerous surgeries, months in a wheelchair, a titanium prosthesis and intermittent swirls of depression and pessimism. Until, as he tells it, he woke up one morning and decided to count his blessings.

College was the first step in his plan to reshape his life. After four years in the Marines, one combat tour in Iraq and a life-changing injury, how tough could it be?

“I thought, I’m so motivated, so intelligent — I am taking on the school,” says Mr. Blanchard, who now leads efforts at George Washington and nationally to bridge the gulf between combat and campus. “It didn’t happen that way at all. I was so lost.”

Few students make their way to campus directly from an outpatient bed at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, as Mr. Blanchard did. But with the passage this summer of a new G.I. Bill that offers a greatly improved package of education benefits, there will be more. When the bill goes into effect, in August 2009, a boom in post-9/11 veterans is expected at colleges and universities across the nation. And unlike the aftermath of the Vietnam War, when few colleges and universities welcomed military veterans, a growing number are taking steps to ease the difficult transition.

Still in its early stages at many institutions, the effort is led in large part by a generation of student veterans who came to view their own struggles to adapt to academic life as dispiriting and unnecessary.

“Some people are talking about it like it’s a movement,” says Derek Blumke, a University of Michigan senior and cofounder and president of Student Veterans of America, an advocacy group formed earlier this year. “A lot of people are returning now and realizing they want to go to college. They are coming back, getting together and wanting to make this happen. People are mobilizing.”

The legislation fueling the movement pays homage to the original G.I. Bill of Rights, which is considered one of the most successful and transformative government programs in history. It ultimately sent 2.2 million veterans to college after World War II and helped five million others acquire trade skills. Rather than come home to sell apples, as many neglected veterans did after World War I, these veterans helped broaden the middle class and democratize universities, which were primarily bastions of the wealthy and well connected.

Few would argue that the impact of the new G.I. Bill, formally the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act, will rival that of its prototype, mostly because there are far fewer eligible veterans and the new law is less generous. The original bill paid for public, private and vocational education. This one covers public education for most veterans who served after 9/11 and eases the burden of private tuition. The law also extends many benefits to members of the National Guard and the Reserve, and offers stipends for housing and textbooks. But it does not pay for non-degree vocational training.

Still, the law is viewed both by veterans and colleges as an opportunity to do right by today’s combat-tested troops and mend a relationship that has badly frayed since the antiwar movement of the 1960s. The hope is that new veterans, buffeted by war and a troubled economy, can seize on college as a roadmap to a productive life beyond the military.

“This is the biggest step toward turning the page on what we did after Vietnam,” says Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of the advocacy group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. “We saw the G.I. Bill as a way of attempting to deal with veterans’ reacclimation issues in a more comprehensive way. They are in a safe place there in school, moving forward with their life.”

Mr. Rieckhoff’s group spearheaded efforts to pass the bill, written by Senator Jim Webb, a Virginia Democrat and Marine Corps veteran. The bill met strong resistance from John McCain, the senator from Arizona who is now the Republican candidate for president, and from President Bush, who argued that it would prompt service members to choose college over re-enlistment after just three years. But ultimately, it passed handily and was signed into law on June 30.

About 40 percent of the 450,000 veterans in the current program attend community colleges, about the same percentage that attend four-year institutions, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. Many do so by choice. Two-year colleges offer flexible class schedules, enroll older students and can feel less intimidating — all important issues to veterans, who are usually older and often married with families. Online programs are popular for the same reasons.

Some veterans, though, say they wind up in community colleges or fail to transfer to a four-year institution by necessity: the cost is simply prohibitive. The new G.I. Bill will change that.

But money isn’t the only hurdle. Veterans, for the most part, do not have an easy time getting into four-year colleges and universities, particularly selective private ones. Boredom or frustration with high school — often accompanied by mediocre transcripts and SAT scores — led many into the military in the first place. But many institutions have failed to make allowances for the soldiers’ special circumstances or to promote themselves as veteran-friendly. For veterans, adapting to civilian life, let alone student life, is difficult. It is not uncommon for a new veteran, particularly one with mental or physical injuries, to feel overwhelmed by the choices and rhythms of college.

ISMAEL VALENZUELA, now 33, hopes one day to study at Columbia University.

Reared in El Paso, Tex., he did a lackluster stint at a community college, then in 1997 moved to New York to study classical guitar at the New School. Despite his passion, he didn’t feel ready to get serious. “A big piece of the puzzle was still missing,” he says.

A patriot, he had long imagined himself in the military. So in 2000, Mr. Valenzuela enlisted in the Marine Corps. Twice he was deployed to Iraq, the first time at the start of the war. The second tour, with the country in the throes of an insurgency, was much rougher. Days were filled with seek-and-destroy missions and searching houses for weapons caches. A buddy died in combat. Explosions and small arms fire were a constant hazard.

Last year he decided to leave the corps, a tough decision. He traveled through Europe for a while and came home ready for college. But he had missed the application deadline for Borough of Manhattan Community College. He was told to reapply later in the year.

Fearing that if he did not begin school right away he would start a downward drift, Mr. Valenzuela asked to speak to the director of admissions. At first the director, Eugenio Barrios, saw in him just another case of procrastination and immaturity. But Mr. Valenzuela brought up his seven-year career in the corps, and showed pictures of a banged-up Humvee in Iraq. The vehicle had flipped in an accident, a common danger, and Mr. Valenzuela had been knocked unconscious for 10 minutes. He had shaken off the daze and gone right back to work.

The two men shared a rapport, and Dr. Barrios agreed to become the veteran’s mentor.

Mr. Valenzuela did not do so well on the placement exam in reading, writing and math required by the City University of New York. That did not surprise him, because the day of the test he had trouble focusing and remembering facts, perhaps a product of both post-traumatic stress disorder and a mild traumatic brain injury.

Dr. Barrios was quick to tell him that to succeed he would need to apply everything he learned in the corps to his schoolwork.

“Some need more help than others because their academic beginnings were not as strong,” Dr. Barrios says of veterans. “They bring a certain level of maturity and a certain appreciation of our system. Their desire is there. There is a word in Spanish for that: las ganas. They have that very strong will to want to succeed.”

Mr. Valenzuela’s return from war has not been entirely smooth or entirely unusual. In the months after he left the corps, he became easily enraged, got into fights and drank two 12-packs of Heineken a night, he says. He felt adrift and apathetic. That slowly began to change after he started college, in January. With the help of his psychiatrist at the Department of Veterans Affairs, his new girlfriend and Dr. Barrios, he has wrestled down some of his mental health problems. Talking about the war was the first step in a long process.

“I have gotten a lot better,” he says. “I have been pampered right now by the V.A. and the school. They have been perfect, more than perfect.”

Academically, he has struggled. He studies three times as hard as many other students, he says, but makes progress every day. He is passing all his classes this term, though he failed math over the summer. His goal is to study astronomy and engineering, then return to the Marine Corps as a pilot.

Academically, he has struggled. He studies three times as hard as many other students, he says, but makes progress every day. He is passing all his classes this term, though he failed math over the summer. His goal is to study astronomy and engineering, then return to the Marine Corps as a pilot.

“I can see why it would be hard to follow through,” says Mr. Valenzuela, an unyielding optimist now. “I don’t know how many times I just want to throw the books. But I am super-motivated. That is one of the things keeping me sane.”

Still, old habits die hard, even in the classroom.

“I always know where the exit is, how many windows there are and,” he says with a smile, “what’s the weapon of choice.”

SHORTLY after Mr. Valenzuela first showed up for class at the community college’s lower Manhattan complex, Aubrey Arcangel sought him out. Mr. Arcangel is president of the student veterans club, and he wanted to make sure Mr. Valenzuela was doing all right. It was a protective gesture not so very different from the code the military lives by.

New veterans step into college life from a highly structured system and are bedeviled by the looseness they find. How to start a day without a schedule, one that usually begins with physical training? Mr. Arcangel, 26, who left the Army after four years and one tour in Iraq, explains: “You have P.T. formation, then you have P.T., then you have another formation and blah blah blah. There is a procedure for everything, a field manual, a technical manual for everything.”

Then there are the other students, many of whom arrive right from high school. By and large, fellow students have welcomed veterans, although they do sometimes display a morbid — some former Marines say inappropriate — curiosity about life on the ground in Iraq. The discomfort many veterans mention has less to do with any antiwar attitudes than with the students’ maturity level and remove from the war. With fewer than 2.7 million in the armed forces — roughly 2 percent of Americans 18 to 49 — young people know little about the military, how it works and what it is like to fight in a war.

For Mr. Arcangel, Iraq, where he provided security for a lieutenant colonel, has been difficult to shake off. “If I were back there, I think I would go insane,” he says. “It seemed almost surreal.”

That is one reason he became a student leader, working to hook veterans up with one another in a social network. “There are some veterans that are socially awkward and this helps,” he says. At Borough of Manhattan Community College, fewer than 1 percent of enrolled students are veterans — 160 of more than 19,000 students.

Channeling the warrior mentality into textbooks and tests can be especially trying for combat veterans.

John Schupp, a chemistry professor at Cleveland State University, which has about 340 former servicemen and women among its 15,000 students, saw the difficulties firsthand and sold his university on the idea of vets-only courses. Fall semester, first-year vets can take four introductory courses — English, math, biology and “Introduction to College Life” — and in the spring, psychology, chemistry, sociology and one course in the mainstream to ease them into the civilian world.

“I had to recruit students from the community to get enough in the spring,” he says. “They didn’t just show up on campus. I reached out to the military mom groups. I met with them on a weekly basis.” Last semester, the program’s first, he recruited 14 freshmen. “Once I got the first 14, they were spokespersons.” This semester there are 25 new students in the program.

Mr. Schupp sees camaraderie in the classroom as crucial to getting the veterans to show up, to stay and to thrive. “They tell me over and over they wouldn’t have come to college otherwise,” he says. “In the military world it’s the team. The squadron must survive. When you come to school it’s all personal — my books, my grade, my stuff, my notes. They’re isolated, because other students haven’t seen what they’ve seen.”

The University of California, Berkeley, a hotbed of antiwar protest during the Vietnam War, offers a class called “Veterans in Higher Education,” to help them learn how to prepare for tests and maximize study time. The class is part of Troops to College, an initiative begun in 2006 and championed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to attract veterans to California state colleges and universities and make them feel at home on campus.

And at the University of Michigan, with 90 students receiving G.I. benefits, a veterans services office has been set up to help with paperwork and particulars of the G.I. Bill, to walk new students through course registration and to help them find housing. Such offices can assist members of the service or veterans in gathering lost transcripts before they apply, something not easily done from Iraq, or see to it that veterans have access to counseling, in some cases without having to wait in a roomful of other students. Veterans suffering from combat stress don’t always cope well with crowded rooms.

DESPITE the steps to attract these students, Mr. Blumke of the Student Veterans of America says many in the military view the best universities as off limits, even for the academically qualified.

Mr. Blumke, now 27, had a grade point average of 1.5 when he graduated from high school in Alanson, Mich. The 3.9 G.P.A. he earned in a community college and, he believes, his standing in the military got him into the University of Michigan last year. (Michigan State University rejected him.) He is double-majoring in psychology and political science.

His friends thought he was overshooting when he applied. “Veterans for far too long have been pigeonholed” as only community college material, says Mr. Blumke, a former noncommissioned officer in the Air Force. “The Michigans, U.C.L.A.’s and Dartmouths — there is a social stigma attached to those schools. When I told my friends I was going to U. of M., they couldn’t believe it, because of the liberal ideas that they don’t like the military there. They were stuck in the ’60s and ’70s.”

Until recently, universities made little effort to recruit veterans or to alter the misgivings that Mr. Blumke expressed.

Jim Selbe, the assistant vice president for lifelong learning for the American Council on Education, which represents 1,600 colleges and universities, says that just two years ago “a significant gap” existed “between rhetoric and practice.”

“The gap is beginning to steadily diminish,” he says. “There is a deep sense of obligation to do what’s necessary to provide an opportunity for returning veterans.”

Last year, the council started a program to provide individualized college counseling to seriously injured veterans at military hospitals. The program was the brainchild of James Wright, the president of Dartmouth, who has led efforts to bring more veterans to college.

“The all-volunteer military draws in a segment of the population that has not customarily gone to college in the same proportion as other parts of our society,” says Mr. Wright, a former Marine. He hopes the new G.I. Bill “will cause them to raise their aspirations.”

Dartmouth’s admissions office takes military experience into account, Mr. Wright says. He advises veterans to bring their service record to the institution’s attention, perhaps through the essay requirement. Discipline, as well as job and leadership qualities, brings something to the table that cannot be matched by young students. Yet there has to be a sense that the veteran can cope with the demands of the courses. “We don’t look for the same thing in terms of test scores, but we are not doing them any favors,” Mr. Wright emphasizes. “We want to make sure they are prepared and would succeed.”

The number of recent veterans attending Dartmouth is tiny, all matriculating in the last two years. Last year, two became freshmen; this fall there are six in a first-year class of 1,077.

Mr. Blumke recognizes the uphill struggle and has refined his organization’s pitch, which he delivers repeatedly to colleges and universities: “War is not glamorous, but it is reality. We bring that experience to people who don’t know about it.”

That experience ultimately got James McMahon, who served four years in the Marines, into the college of his choice. Mr. McMahon, 23, had nearly given up on attending the University of Rhode Island, his home state school. The admissions office looked at five-year-old SAT scores and poor high school grades (“I didn’t have a vested interest in college”) and was unimpressed. He was rejected.

Mr. McMahon was in California training other Marines for deployment to Iraq, so his father and girlfriend took up the battle, calling the admissions office and sending letters that underscored his successes.

“My father finally got in touch with the president of the university and with his typical Irish charm said, ‘Something might be wrong with the computer system. I’m sure it’s nobody’s fault. But did you just deny a combat veteran with all this experience and a guaranteed $40,000 if he comes to your school?’ ” Two weeks later, an acceptance letter arrived.

Admissions offices, Mr. McMahon says, “are just not wired to think about it in those terms. I didn’t take it as a personal insult. I was more laughing at the university. My friends from high school, they have bachelor degrees from there and these are the same kids I was getting into trouble with four or five years ago.”

An artilleryman, Mr. McMahon is now being tested for a mild traumatic brain injury. He recently cut back on his classes, saying that the injury was making it hard to keep up. But he is majoring in sociology with a focus on criminal justice and has a 3.24 average.

LIKE his fellow veterans, Mr. Blanchard is determined not to let his injuries dictate his future. Following in his father’s footsteps, he joined the Marine Corps right out of high school, in 2001.

His specialty was combat engineering, because “I wanted to blow stuff up,” he says.

In 2005, he was deployed to Iraq near the Syrian border, where he went on patrols and blew up gates and doors so buildings could be searched. Six months later his Humvee hit the roadside bomb that took half his leg.

After his roommate at Walter Reed was accepted by Georgetown University, Mr. Blanchard decided to aim high himself and apply to George Washington University, which now has about 300 veterans who receive benefits and 200 who do not, a university spokeswoman says.

The two veterans moved into an apartment in Virginia together, and Mr. Blanchard started his first year.

But he didn’t count on his brain playing tricks on him. Although doctors had diagnosed mild traumatic brain injury, he shrugged it off. Compared with losing half a leg and nearly losing his other leg, a slightly shaken-up brain did not register as a concern.

“Whatever,” Mr. Blanchard thought to himself.

Two days into classes, though, he noticed that he was retaining little of what he read or heard in the classroom. “My mind was blurred, cloudy all the time, and I was walking around in a daze,” says Mr. Blanchard, who does not advertise his injuries because he wants no special treatment. “I had a full load and I dropped all my classes except two. And yet I’m studying all the time. It was so frustrating.”

Over time, his brain learned to compensate. “I just started to remember better, adjusting how I think,” says Mr. Blanchard, now a junior studying international business. “It’s still very hard. With classes like regression analysis, I’ll never be the same again,” he says, jokingly.

Although his good leg hurts all the time, he refrains from taking pain medication whenever he can. Instead, he works out at the gym and allows his endorphins to lessen his discomfort, reduce his anxiety and help him concentrate.

He also started a student veterans group, which has put him in touch with about 20 other veterans and has greatly diminished his sense of isolation.

This semester, his grades are average and he is taking a full load of courses, along with added responsibilities as vice president of Student Veterans of America. He ran on a whim in the spring and was voted in. He is setting up a database of services for veterans and working on plans to take his fellow veterans to Walter Reed to help — and urge — wounded service members to go to college. He hopes to collaborate with the university’s hospital on treating student veterans for combat-related problems.

Looking back, he says, it was his injury and the discipline he learned as a Marine that pushed him toward college, a first for his family.

Now that he is here, courtesy of the government, he is not about to squander the opportunity.

“I went through hell and my body shows it,” Mr. Blanchard says. “But I said this is going to be a blessing. I didn’t know how, I just knew it would.”

New Law Authorizes Veterans’ Salutes during National Anthem

WASHINGTON -- Veterans and active-duty military not in uniform can now render the military-style hand salute during the playing of the national anthem, thanks to changes in federal law that took effect this month.


October 30, 2008

New Law Authorizes Veterans’ Salutes during National Anthem

“The military salute is a unique gesture of respect that marks those who have served in our nation’s armed forces,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Dr. James B. Peake. “This provision allows the application of that honor in all events involving our nation’s flag.”

The new provision improves upon a little known change in federal law last year that authorized veterans to render the military-style hand salute during the raising, lowering or passing of the flag, but it did not address salutes during the national anthem. Last year’s provision also applied to members of the armed forces while not in uniform.

Traditionally, members of the nation’s veterans service organizations have rendered the hand-salute during the national anthem and at events involving the national flag while wearing their organization’s official head-gear.

The most recent change, authorizing hand-salutes during the national anthem by veterans and out-of-uniform military personnel, was sponsored by Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, an Army veteran. It was included in the Defense Authorization Act of 2009, which President Bush signed on Oct. 14.

The earlier provision authorizing hand-salutes for veterans and out-of-uniform military personnel during the raising, lowering or passing of the flag, was contained in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2008, which took effect Jan. 28, 2008.

Runners Tackle Marine Corps Marathon to Support Troops

WASHINGTON, Oct. 30, 2008 – As they have for the past 32 years, nearly 20,000 runners gathered at the Marine Corps War Memorial here to tackle the 26.2 miles of the 33rd Marine Corps Marathon on Oct. 26.


Our own Team Marine Parents who participated - photo at end of article link above and here:

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

Among the runners were many individuals and teams who participated as a show of support for servicemembers. Marie Campbell, who lost her husband in the 1996 attack on Khobar Towers in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, ran as her way of helping the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors.

“I do this to give back to others who need grief and recovery support, so TAPS can continue to support the many surviving families who’ve lost someone serving in the military and are walking the road I once walked down,” she said. “TAPS helped me so much in those early years, and I ran the Marine Corps Marathon as part of my own healing.”

Campbell, director of the TAPS “Run and Remember Team,” ran her eighth Marine Corps Marathon this year. TAPS provides care for the families of America’s fallen servicemembers.

While many, if not all, of the participants who ran as part of a troop-support group’s team were running in support or memory of a loved one, they had another important purpose. They helped to raise funds that will be used to support servicemembers and their families. And not all of them were civilians.

Two injured Marine veterans joined together to overcome their injuries, help each other make it across the finish line and help out MarineParents.com in the process.

Lance Cpl. Josef Lopez suffered a sudden illness while serving in Iraq in 2006 that left him paralyzed. He spent months recuperating in the hospital. On the day of the race, however, Lopez faced the challenging course with a customized hand cycle and the encouragement of Cpl. Neil Schalk. The corporal earned a Purple Heart after being injured by a homemade bomb while serving in Iraq in 2005.

The money the two veterans raised will support two outreach programs offered by MarineParents.com. Purple Heart Family Support and Operation PAL provide meals to patients and families at the National Naval Medical Center at Bethesda, Md., and “adopt” injured Marines, sending cards, letters and prayers.

MarineParents.com provides education and support for Marine Corps families, provides support for Marines, and provides community awareness programs for troop support.

Homes for Our Troops also had a 15-person team running to raise funds to build adapted houses to meet the needs of injured veterans.

“We had a couple of people from Massachusetts travel [to run in the marathon], and really, they’re just supportive of the mission … and they’re looking for a way to give back,” Dawn Teixeira, the organization’s vice president, said. “We raised about $20,000. It’ll go a long way toward something in one of the houses.”

As the race concluded less than three hours after it began, it was two first-time runners who took first place in the men’s and women’s open divisions.

Andrew Dumm, 23, of Washington, won the men’s race with a time of 2 hours, 22 minutes, 42 seconds. He was recruited by his brother, an Air Force first lieutenant who won the armed forces division, but finished behind his younger brother.

Cate Fenster, the daughter of a former Army Ranger, won the women’s race with a time of 2:39:32. The 37-year-old teaches neurobiology and physiology at the College of Wooster in Ohio but is currently on assignment at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda.

At the end of it all, however, the big winners were the troops who saw the support of the individual runners as well as that of the troop-support organizations.

October 29, 2008

Wounded troops’ pay overhauled

By Jeff Schogol, Stars and Stripes
Mideast edition, Wednesday, October 29, 2008

ARLINGTON, Va. — Wounded servicemembers whose combat-related injuries are diagnosed after they return home can keep their special pays while hospitalized, Defense officials said Tuesday.

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Marine from Pleasant Valley, killed in Afghanistan, being mourned

A Marine from Pleasant Valley was killed Monday in Afghanistan, his father has confirmed.


By Greg Marano and Rasheed Oluwa • Poughkeepsie Journal • October 29, 2008

First Lt. Trevor Yurista, 31, died when an improvised explosive device exploded near him while he was on duty in a remote region of Afghanistan, his father, Ronald Yurista, said.

Officials from the U.S. Marines and the Department of Defense did not release further details of the circumstances around Yurista’s death Tuesday. Funeral arrangements have not been set.

Capt. Mitch Maury, casualty assistant call officer for the Marines, said today the funeral will be held locally, and a date would probably be announced by the end of the week.

Trevor Yurista, a graduate of Arlington High School, attended Dutchess Community College and John Jay College of Criminal Justice. He graduated from officer candidate school in Virginia in 2005, and had been based in San Diego since then. He worked as a ground intelligence officer in Afghanistan and in Iraq, where he served two previous tours.

Ronald Yurista said this tour was optional, and Trevor went to support the intelligence officers he was training.

“He didn’t have to go with them. ... He could have said no,” Ronald Yurista said, but his son went anyway. “That’s who he was.”

He called his son “wild,” and recalled a time Trevor, with the help of eight friends, rode a motorcycle through the halls of Arlington High School as a senior prank.
He also recalled Trevor using hundreds of donated soccer balls to teach Iraqi children how to play.

Yurista is the second local man to have been killed in Afghanistan in the past two months and the third in the past year. Second Lt. Mohsin Naqvi, a Newburgh native, was killed in September and Spc. Mark Palmateer, a Poughkeepsie resident, was killed in June.

Tuesday’s news just hammered home the reality there are still people overseas who are risking their lives everyday, said Paula Zwillinger, founder of Semper Fi Parents of the Hudson Valley, whose son, Marine Lance Cpl. Robert Mininger, was killed in Iraq.

“My heart and prayers go out to the family,” Zwillinger said. “The sad part is that we go so long with nothing and then you get slammed. In another week we have Veteran’s Day and people take it for granted. Maybe this will bring it home a little bit more.”

Curtis Moore, a former Arlington School District principal who knew Trevor Yurista through middle and high schools, described him as someone who was loyal and respectful. Moore and Yurista kept in touch through e-mail up to the time of Yurista’s death.

“He never gave anybody trouble in school,” Moore said. “He was always quietly respectful of authority, but he never feared authority and was never hesitant to question authority. He was always loyal to his friends and family, to a fault.”

Reach Greg Marano at [email protected]
or 845-437-4809. Reach Rasheed Oluwa at [email protected] or 845-437-4823.

26th MEU gasses up FARP

MIDDLE EAST — Fuel runs moderns armies. It is that simple. Without fuel the war machine grinds to a halt, as surely today as it did during the Battle of the Bulge, when Hitler’s attacking tanks and vehicles lay abandoned roadside for lack of gas.


10/29/2008 By Cpl Aaron J. Rock, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit

So when logistical difficulties led to a fuel supply problem for the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit during its exercise in the Middle East, a solution had to be found.

With a large portion of the MEU deployed ashore at two relatively distant locations and the USS Iwo Jima and USS San Antonio well over the horizon from both camps, helicopter travel was the only viable method to transfer personnel and equipment, but to keep going the thirsty helicopters required fuel. Lots of fuel.

The missions stretched far into the night, and for the pilots to fly back to the ships would have added hours of flight time under night vision conditions, which would have been a safety issue.

“We had an operational challenge, and for the commander, a safety problem,” said Col. Mark J. Desens, 26th MEU commanding officer.

Desens said he was left with two options. One, he could order the exercise to be restructured. Two, the MEU could set up a Forward Arming and Refueling Point (FARP).

The FARP seemed the more logical solution of the two, but even that presented difficulty, according to Desens. There was no ready solution to getting massive amounts of fuel to any proposed FARP.

“We couldn’t get gas to the FARP,” he said. Then again, Desens was a commanding officer who knew his staff could create solutions where there were none. “Get me a FARP,” he told them.

The staff put their heads together and tried to figure out an answer, but nothing was going to work.

“We were running out of solutions,” said Maj. Randall K. Jones, 26th MEU logistics officer.

Cue the ingenuity of one Marine Corps officer coupled with the vast capabilities afforded by the Navy-Marine Corps team.

“We went down and talked to the (Landing Craft Air Cushioned) crew to see about bringing refueling trucks back to the ship to fill them up, when they told us if we could get the proper hoses and attachments they could bring the fuel for us,” said Capt. William S. Ryan, 26th MEU embark officer.

“Once we had exhausted all possible means, the blue-green team definitely came to a single solution to make it happen,” he said.

So the problem was solved. The LCACs from both USS Iwo Jima and San Antonio could bring enough fuel ashore in their own tanks to supply the fuel needs of both Marine camps, including the FARP and fuel needs of vehicles. Marine fuel trucks would fill up from the LCACs' tanks, then transfer that fuel to whatever needed gas.

It was an unorthodox answer to a very serious problem.

“I have never seen LCACs provide fuel to a FARP,” said Desens.

He wasn’t the only one. No one in the MEU had ever previously done this. Ryan said the closest he had ever seen was the use of a Landing Craft Utility, which is a more conventional landing craft, than the high speed LCACs, which are hovercraft designed for fast amphibious assaults.

The significance of the solution towards long term planning for future operations also made a big impact on the planners.

“It definitely opens up our capabilities as to what we are able to provide from ship to shore,” said Ryan. “Understand that we were conducting these operations from over 20 nautical miles away in order to keep the birds in the air and keep the vehicles fueled,” said Ryan.

Throughout the exercise, the system was used to provide more than 20,000 gallons of fuel, according to Jones.

As the exercise came to a close, those same LCACs began returning vehicles and Marines to their respective ships, the vehicles full of fuel taken from the LCAC’s own tanks.

October 28, 2008

Adrian Robles


Cpl. Adrian Robles, 21, of Scottsbluff, went to meet our Lord on Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2008, while serving his country in Helmand Provinces Afghanistan.
His funeral service will be held on Saturday, Nov. 1, at 10 a.m., at Central Church of Christ in Gering, with Pastor Lyle Hinebauch officiating. Interment will follow at Fairview Cemetery in Scottsbluff, in the Veterans Circle with military honors provided by the U.S. Marine Corp. A Prayer Service will be held Thursday, Oct. 30, at 7 p.m., at the chapel. Visitation will be Thursday and Friday, from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., at Dugan Kramer Funeral Chapel. Memorials may be sent to the family to be used for care packages sent to the deployed servicemen. Tributes of sympathy may be left at www.dugankramer.com
Adrian was born Dec. 8, 1986, in Scottsbluff, to Cesar and Yolanda Robles. He was raised in Scottsbluff and was a 2005 graduate of Scottsbluff High School. Shortly after graduation, he entered the United States Marine Corps as a rifleman. He was stationed at 29 palms in California. His deployments included Iraq and Afghanistan. He received three Marine Corps Good Conduct Medals, two Sea Service Deployment Ribbons, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, The Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, The Nation Defense Service Medal, and The Purple Heart.
He enjoyed riding his motorcycle, listening to music, working out at the gym, hanging with family/friends. His handsome smile could brighten anybody's day. His Christian faith was strong and got him through his missions. He was very proud what he did and how much he accomplished during his Marine career.
Adrian is survived by his mother, Yolanda and father, Cesar Robles of Scottsbluff; sister, Beatriz Montanez and her husband, James and their son, Isaiah of Flagstaff, Ariz.; also stepsiblings, Cesar Ricardo Robles and Yovana Chaparro of Colorado; grandmother, Carolina Torres; and numerous aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and cousins.
Adrian has now gone home with the Lord and to reunite with his grandfather, Pedro; grandmother, Ventura; uncle, Vincent; and his fallen Marine brothers.

Pleasant Valley native killed in Afghanistan

First Lt. Trevor Yurista, 31, died when an improvised explosive device exploded near him while he was on duty in a remote region of Afghanistan, his father, Ronald Yurista, said.


Photo Gallery:

October 28, 2008

Ronald Yurista said he expects to learn more details today about the circumstances around his son's death and funeral arrangements after meeting with representatives from the Marines.

Trevor Yurista, a graduate of Arlington High School, attended Dutchess Community College and John Jay College of Criminal Justice. He graduated from officer candidate school in Virginia in 2005, and had been based in San Diego since then. He worked as a ground intelligence officer in Afghanistan and in Iraq, where he served two previous tours.

Ronald Yurista said this tour was optional, and Trevor went to support the intelligence officers he was training.

"He didn't have to go with them... He could have said no," Ronald Yurista said, but his son went anyway. "That's who he was."

N.J. Marine receives Bronze Star

New Orleans — Capt. Joseph Lizarraga, Inspector/Instructor, Battery G, 3rd battalion, 14th Marines, and a Hamilton, N.J. native, was awarded the Bronze Star for meritorious service while on deployment in Iraq, at the reserve center in Trenton, N.J., Oct. 20.


10/28/2008 By Lance Cpl Michael Laycock,

Lizarraga received the award for his efforts during a seven month deployment to Iraq in which he oversaw 80 Marines from the Trenton, N.J., area as they preformed detainee operations. Lizarraga deflected credit from himself, praising the overall team effort of his unit during the time frame.

“I just simply couldn’t have done it without their talents” said Lizarraga. “I truly am, from the bottom of my heart, proud to be able to serve with these Marines.”

Battery G provided combat assistance and detainee care for the area surrounding a regional detention facility in Iraq. Their work was similar to a warden’s. They oversaw the detainees and maintained security of the facility.

“Detainee operations are very complex,” Lizarraga explained. “To do it correctly, you really have to perform and do the right things for the right reasons.

The Marines also worked closely with the local police, training them and augmenting their staff when necessary.

This is what earned them the title of “most customer friendly RDF out there” according to Lizarraga.

He was personally responsible for putting together a speech to help the detainees who were found innocent understand the Marines mission in Iraq.

“We are not here to conquer or to occupy,” Lizarraga would tell them. “We are here to help you. We are here to care about the safety and security of Iraq.”

Programs that Battery G started while in Iraq have gone on to other sites and have been very successful according to Lizarraga. He believes that it is because if you treat the Iraqis right, they will respect you.

Lizarraga received the Bronze Star because of the work he and his Marines did to make Iraq a safer place, and although he received the Bronze Star, if you ask Lizarraga, it’s his Marines that did all the work.

October 27, 2008

Afghans residents improve community with Marines’ support

FARAH PROVINCE, Delaram, Afghanistan — Until just recently, local residents here in Delaram have been deprived of clean drinking water.


10/27/2008 By Sgt. Ray Lewis, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines

The inability to produce fresh water has caused some residents to resort to drawing filthy water from streams and rivers that run through their villages.

Conditions within this community have gradually begun to change, thanks to the assistance of the civil affairs Marines assigned to Task Force 2d Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Afghanistan.

These Marines, which are assigned to the task force’s 3rd Civil Affairs Group, have spearheaded numerous well water projects to give Afghan residents a reason to rejoice.

“These people are poor,” said Gunnery Sgt. Omar Palaciosreal, Team 2 chief, 3rd CAG and Moreno Valley, Calif., native. “It’s not like they can just turn on a faucet. They don’t have a faucet.”

This initiative to provide residents with fresh water is merely one of many civil military operations projects carried out by the Marines who deployed here in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Other civil affairs projects include school renovation, road improvement, well restoration and the construction of nine new wells throughout the district and outlying villages.

Upon visiting the newest well site, Palaciosreal said he was very pleased with the amount of progress one well worker had made. The worker had hired additional help and was even working overtime during the religious observance of Ramadan.

“I thought this was quite significant because all the other contractors were fasting because of Ramadan, which prevented them from working a full schedule,” Palaciosreal said. “But, the guy was working nonstop on the well. Despite his fasting, he was still dedicated enough to keep working on the project.”

This well, in particular, is important to local Afghans because it is being constructed in a central area that is located within walking distance of the new Afghan National Police station. By placing the well here, the Marines feel it would benefit all residents and eliminate any stipulation that the well is owned by one person.

“I think the location is perfect, because everybody can come and get the water,” said Cpl. Ericka L. Garcia, a civil affairs Marine and Santa Ana, Calif., native. “It’s outside where everybody can use it at any time, so everybody is going to get their share. No one’s going to take it over.”

On previous patrols to the bazaar – a local shopping area, the Marines received reports of people stealing pumps and keeping them for their own personal use. Based on these reports, the CAG team sought to resolve this issue by selecting a location that was in close proximity to the police station. In doing so, the Marines hoped to provide a deterrent of future theft.

The new water wells are expected to aid in eliminating the health risks local residents faced by continuing to use contaminated river water. Before the wells were restored, residents were fetching their drinking, cooking and cleaning water in the same areas where animals roam.

“I think the new well will make conditions here better. I see where they get water, and it’s nasty,” Garcia said. “Animals walk through there, and it’s not clean. A well here is definitely going to lead to improved health within the community.”

The Marines say they aren’t only providing the Afghan people access to clean water, but also helping to create jobs. Because the contractors used by the Marines employ local laborers to help complete various civil affairs projects, local Afghans are able to put their money back into their own community.

“We’re infusing their economy by creating jobs,” Palaciosreal said. “It’s no different than being back in the U.S. We don’t just put money into the economy, we create jobs. People don’t want handouts; they want to earn what they get.”

Palaciosreal said when you employ the local people they are less likely to work with insurgents. He believes the Afghan people want to make an honest living and not be forced to make improvised explosive devices for local insurgents who oppose governance.

“They don’t want to make bombs,” Palaciosreal said. “They know it’s hurting their people, and they don’t want to do that. They’d rather build wells than create problems for their people, so it has great strategic effects. Plus, we’re doing a good thing.”

While the well projects remain under construction, Marines have handed out bottled water to help local Afghans. Once the wells are complete, the Marines expect the Afghans will increasingly gain better health and a boosted economy from the jobs that were created.

“Everybody benefits. We do our job by providing security; they get wells and access to clean water,” Palaciosreal said. “The Taliban doesn’t give them anything. Of course, we’re going to assist them. The Taliban operates through acts of fear and intimidation; we operate with acts of kindness.”

Next year will be different for troops in Iraq

By Charles Levinson - USA Today
Posted : Monday Oct 27, 2008 6:39:27 EDT

BAGHDAD — When the clock strikes midnight Dec. 31, the U.S. military’s days of operating freely in Iraq will come to an abrupt end — regardless of whether a new long-term security agreement is in place, current and former military officials say.

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October 25, 2008

Hit MWR gets facelift, raises spirits

HIT, Iraq — Even during the fast tempo of a deployment, Marines do what they can to relax when they get down time.


10/25/2008 By Lance Cpl. Sean Cummins, Regimental Combat Team 5

With the help of Staff Sgt. Ruben Garcia, relaxing has gotten a lot easier for 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 5.

Garcia, the Morale, Welfare and Recreation coordinator for 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, has worked hard since arriving at Camp Hit to make the MWR Center a suitable place for Marines to call home and hang out.

“We had 20 computers here and only four were working; and we had five phones and only two were working,” said Garcia, 29, from Hondo, Texas. “Since then, we have set up six more computers and set up another suite, so right now we have 26 computers that are working and 13 phones for the Marines on the camp.”

His initiative hasn’t gone unnoticed by the Marines here. The MWR Center is full of Marines checking e-mail and calling home throughout the day.

“It’s definitely nice knowing that I can call home whenever I get some free time between going out on convoys and training at the camp,” said Lance Cpl. Travis D. Whitaker, 20, a driver with Headquarters and Service Company, 3rd Bn., 7th Marines, from Topeka, Kansas

Though phones and computers do help keep the Marines happy, it takes more than just that to boost the morale of hundreds of Marines during a long deployment.

“We’ve been working on morale stuff like getting TVs (and video game systems). Things that we don’t have on this camp to boost the morale of the Marines after work,” said Lance Cpl. Ivan Colon, 21, a company clerk from Portsmith, Va., with Headquarters and Support Co., who assists Garcia in coordinating events and improving the MWR facilities already in place.

Additionally, Garcia and Colon are trying bring entertainers to the multiple camps across the battalion’s area of operation.

“The main thing right now is not just the MWR (Center), but working with outside agencies,” said Garcia. “We’re working on getting some comedians to hopefully come out next month. Hopefully for November and December, we’ll have some things to boost morale for Christmas and Thanksgiving.”

Garcia’s dedication to helping the Marines is about more than just entertainment, it’s about making sure that even though they are deployed, they can maintain their relationships back home.

“With what were doing now, and what our mission is, it’s essential for us to have this stuff to keep the Marines busy and to communicate back to home,” Garcia said. “The Marines obviously have lives back home. Some of them are about to have their first child. I’m just trying to do anything and everything I can to get what we need to (to help the morale) of the Marines.”

Marine amputee returns to combat after near death experience

CAMP BARBER, Helmand Province, Afghanistan — There was blood in the water. It was a grim addition to the Iraqi sewage canal usually littered with dead sheep and festering fish.
That’s where the Marines of Company E, 2d Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division found their comrade after the attack.


10/25/2008 By Sgt. Ray Lewis, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines

Just seconds before, Cpl. Garrett S. Jones was patrolling the streets of Iraq with his team when he was suddenly hurled 15 feet into the air by an enemy booby trap.

“It was just a big dust cloud,” said Cpl. Robert C. Pofahl, who stood 10 feet in front of Jones when the bomb detonated. “I ran toward him, and I fell in the canal. The mud was almost up to my knees. It was probably the worst smell you could smell. That’s when I saw the blood in the water.”

When Pofahl saw Jones lying there, he feared his friend’s life was cut short. Barely alive, Jones’ life was about to be changed forever.

Pofahl remembers an explosion, tumbling forward, turning back around and hearing Jones yell at the top of his lungs. He then raced to put a tourniquet on Jones’ mangled bloody left leg.

“It sounded like I was whispering and because of the explosion, I couldn’t catch my breath,” Jones said.

When Pofahl arrived at Jones’ position, he realized he couldn’t lift him out of the canal. The muddy water almost made it impossible for Pofahl to grab a hold of Jones. So, he called two other Marines to help pull Jones out.

“We got him up on the side of the road,” Pofahl said. “That’s when Navy Hospitalman Matthew Beceda took over. He cranked the tourniquet one more time, but it snapped. So he had to put another tourniquet on Jones.”

Jones was stable, but the Marines couldn’t call for help because the radio that Jones was wearing was ruined from the blast. They sent three other Marines from the squad to run 1,200 meters back to their combat outpost for help. A group of Marines stayed with Jones and his squad leader who was also injured by the blast.

The next thing Jones knew, he was on board a helicopter flight headed for the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. He was strapped into a gurney with a military chaplain hovering over him.

“The chaplain asked me if I wanted to pray,” said Jones, a 23-year-old Newberg, Ore., native. “We prayed. Then the doctor told me my left leg would be amputated above the knee.”

Shortly after, Jones was in surgery. He awoke a couple days later, but said he doesn’t recall much after the operation but a phone conversation with his relatives.

“I just remember talking to my family,” he said. “I remember saying, ‘I hear they make really good prosthetics.’”

Upon leaving the hospital in Germany, Jones was once again strapped into a gurney and flown to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., where his wounds were cleansed and torn flesh was removed from his body.

“It seemed like forever,” Jones said. “I had a bunch of tubes stuck in me. I was so drugged up I didn’t feel much of anything. I don’t remember much, but I do remember that one of my buddies who was shot by a sniper was also on the same flight. I didn’t know what happened to him, I just saw that he had a bunch of tubes stuck in his chest.”

Military medical officials then transferred Jones to Naval Medical Center San Diego (NMCSD) for further treatment. As a result of being restricted to a hospital bed, Jones wound up losing a lot of weight.

“I went from about 160 to 120 lbs.,” Jones said. “I was in the bed almost all the time. The only time I got up was to do stretching and go to the bathroom. If I wasn’t in my bed, I was in a wheelchair.”

During his recovery, Jones had a total of 17 surgeries to clean the infected area in his left leg. He was treated for third-degree burns and shrapnel that peppered his left shoulder and both legs.

On Aug. 20, 2007, Jones was released from NMCSD -- just in time to see his fellow Marines of Echo Company return home from Iraq.

“I was at their homecoming in a wheelchair completely drugged up,” Jones said. “Seeing my guys was emotional for me because we were all so close, and I knew I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them. When we all get together, it’s like a family reunion. We’re a tight-knit group. We had difficulties at times, but what family doesn’t.”

Jones yearned to be back with his Marine family. Although he didn’t say it, he kept in mind that he one day wanted to serve with the Marines who saved his life.

“We all wanted him back,” Pofahl said. “He’s a good guy to have your back. He’d take the shirt off of his back if you need it. At the same time, we were like, ‘How would he be able to do that because of rehab and all.’”

In the meantime, Jones continued his appointments. In November, he finally linked up with a prosthetist who would help him become familiar with the functions of prosthetics. The prosthetist fit Jones for a total of six walking prosthetics and one snowboarding prosthetic.

An avid fan of snowboarding, Jones realized his potential during a snowboarding trip to Breckenridge, Colo., with fellow wounded warriors from NMCSD and his sister, Sara, in early December 2007. Although Jones had only been on his new prosthetic for two weeks, he was eager to go snowboarding -- a passion of his for more than 15 years.

“The first day, I was able to make it down the mountain,” Jones said. “As the days progressed, I got stronger and more confident on my snowboard.”

Surprisingly, all of the snowboarding helped him deaden some of the nerve endings in his left leg. It also helped him become more accustomed to walking on his prosthetic leg.

“Once I knew I could snowboard again, I realized I was going to be able to do a lot more than just snowboard,” Jones said. “I was like, ‘If I could snowboard, who knows what else I can do?’ It kind of opened my mind up to all the other possibilities.”

Meanwhile, Jones continued his daily physical therapy, stretching, and prosthetic appointments at NMCSD.

“I just kept thinking about my next snowboard trip and getting back to 2/7 ASAP,” Jones said.

Later, in February 2008, Jones was visited by Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. James T. Conway. Seizing the moment of this rare opportunity, he asked the Marine commander for orders to return to the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Training Center at Twentynine Palms, Calif., so he could once again serve with 2/7.

“I asked to come back to 2/7, and his assistant took my info,” Jones explained. “And, a couple of days later, I had orders back to 2/7. I was so excited I almost didn’t believe it.”

When Jones checked back into his battalion, many of the Marines were awestruck. They couldn’t believe how much progress he had made on a prosthetic leg in less than a year.

“None of us knew how advanced prosthetics were,” Pofahl said. “He’s been called a walking legend, literally. We’re all glad to have him around. He’s a really positive and hard worker; one of those guys who don’t let anything get to him, obviously,” Pofahl said.

Although Jones couldn’t return to the infantry, he was able to serve in other sections within the battalion and was subsequently assigned to the intelligence section where he is relied upon to provide his fellow infantrymen with vital information that can aid in keeping them away from harmful situations.

“At first I didn’t know what I was able to do,” Jones said. “It’s good to be able to do something that will keep Marines safe. Although I can’t be out there with them, I get to directly help them.”

Jones wanted to deploy with his unit when it was ordered to deploy to Afghanistan in April 2008. But, he wasn’t yet ready to undergo the intense Mojave Viper pre-deployment training. Regardless, he would get no handouts despite being a new amputee. Realizing he is still a Marine, he knew he would have to prove himself all over again.

“It wasn’t just a hookup,” Jones said. “I had to do all the training all other Marines do.”

Jones participated in “humvee” scenarios, close quarters combat drills, survival training, machine gun packages, combat life saver courses, and several other pre-deployment courses. Although he had gone through this training before, this was his first time enduring it as an amputee.

“My leg popped off a couple of times in the humvee scenario and once when I was leaving a range,” Jones said. “I thought it was funny because ‘How many guys walk around with combat loads and have a leg fall off?’ I still did it to prove that I could deploy as an amputee.”

Once all physical and administrative requirements were complete, Jones was ready to deploy and help the Marines who once helped him.

“I love being with the guys, the same people. I really do,” Jones said. “If it wasn’t for the guys in this unit, I wouldn’t be here. It’s an honor to serve with them and be in a place where many Marines don’t get a chance to go.”

Recovering in just nine months, Jones has become the fastest recuperating amputee to deploy to a combat zone. Still, many people have doubted his ability to survive a seven-month deployment on a prosthetic limb.

“A lot a people were skeptical of me because I’m a new amputee,” Jones said. “It’s been a little bit of a challenge for me, mentally at first. People were saying, ‘Its going to be hard and I can’t do it.’ So, being out here was a confidence builder.”

Jones still struggles with walking. He said it takes a lot of energy to walk in combat boots for 14 hours a day with all the sweating, straining and refitting inside of his prosthetic leg.

He said he will always feel slight discomfort on his left leg because of nerve and bone growth along the skin line of his amputated leg. But, he considers it a small price to pay when comparing it to losing a life.

“We’re talking about a guy who almost died in battle and came back to a similar fight,” said Sgt. Paul E. Savage, an intelligence specialist and Boston, Mass., native. “The fact that it didn’t scare him to come back to his buddies truly speaks volumes of Cpl. Jones’ character.”

Jones said he wants to stay in the Marine Corps because he enjoys serving in such a loyal organization. The career retention specialist (CRS) has even submitted a permanent limited duty (PLD) package so he can continue his military career.

“Everyone here has been supportive in helping me get this reenlistment package started. The CRS submitted a PLD package for me back in March 2008. We are still waiting on that to be finished,” said a hopeful Jones, expressing how he felt about returning to serve with 2/7. “A lot of people are like family here. I guess that’s partly why I’m so happy to be here.”

Despite his abrupt loss of limb, Jones remains upbeat and always keeps his peers in high spirits.

“He’s always motivated,” said Gunnery Sgt. Michael J. Ortiz, battalion intelligence chief and Miami, Fla., native. “His morale is always high. The only time I see him upset is when he sees someone hurt or killed because he takes it personal. But, he always bounces back and visits whoever it is in the hospital to see how they are.”

Jones said he personally meets with new amputees to show them there is “light at the end of the ‘canal.’” He wants them to know just because they are an amputee, it doesn’t mean that they can’t reach their goals.

“I’ve told them to keep their head up,” Jones said. “I want to show them that if I can do it, they can do it. I want to set the example for other amputees. I want to show them that a bad thing might happen, but you can still make good of bad circumstances.”

Jones’ co-workers all feel that his commitment shows he has authentic concern for his Marines. He also has kept in contact with many wounded warriors when they returned home to the U.S.

“He doesn’t know a lot of these Marines, but he doesn’t care. I know he’s made multiple calls to amputees’ doctors to check on how they’re doing. I think it’s awesome that he does that. It shows that he genuinely cares about his Marines,” Ortiz said.

Jones is the first Marine with an above-the-knee amputation to deploy to Afghanistan. There have not been many of these amputees to redeploy to a combat zone to date.

“Ninety percent of the guys in his situation would have likely walked away with their disability and called it a day,” Savage said. “But, he’s still striving to make a point and it’s remarkable.”

Jones continues to push his personal, mental and physical limits. When he returns to the U.S., he wants to train in Utah in early December and represent the Marine Corps in adaptive snowboarding. Competitions will be held in Colorado, Canada, and possibly Italy. He said the competitions will help him prepare to compete in the 2010 Paralympics for snowboarding in Vancouver, Canada.

Corporal Jones wants to continue serving with the 1st Marine Division as an intelligence specialist. He also wants to keep helping fellow amputees continue their service in the Marine Corps. He said he is sending a letter to the commandant entitled, “Back on their Feet and Back in the Fleet.” The letter entails getting PLD packages completed for more wounded Marines in a timelier manner for those who desire to stay in the Marine Corps.

“Just because you have an injury, it doesn’t mean you have to leave the Marine Corps,” Jones said. “You just have to work hard. I want to let those guys know back in the States that there is a place for you. I plan on being one of those examples.”

October 24, 2008

Building Education From the Ground Up

BAGONG BARRIO, GUIMBA, Republic of the Philippines — The clouds opened up letting the sun shine down on the quiet village of Bagong Barrio, a farming community where an overcrowded school is getting a much needed classroom and a face lift as part of Amphibious Landing Exercise 2009.


October 24, 2008
Marine Corps News|by Cpl. Jason Spinella

Marines and Sailors with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit worked side by side with Philippine Marines and local residents to build a new school building as well as renovate some existing classrooms.

The task was tackled by Philippine Marines with Headquarters Battalion and Engineering Service Support Battalion from Fort Bonafacio as well as Marines and Sailors with Combat Logistics Battalion 31, 31st MEU. The project required more than 150 man hours and more than $60,000 worth of concrete and steel. The uniqueness of the building's design was not so much the combination of rebar and concrete, but the absence of wood.

The entire school complex supports approximately 130 students on a daily basis. The new 56 square meter classroom will support 30 students, easing the overpopulated stress of the current classrooms.

“This is my fifth school project to lead with the MEU, and the first time for me to build a school of only steel and concrete -- a unique design accommodating the environment of southeast Asia,” said 1st Lieutenant Brian Woodall, the engineer platoon commander with CLB-31. “The combination of concrete and steel really hold up against the humid, rainy environment, and with the chance of (nature disasters), it is much safer than a wooden structure.”

Even though this may be the fifth time to conduct this kind of mission, for the Marines with CLB-31’s engineer platoon the feeling of joy never seems to dwindle.

“Out of all the projects I have been, this is my favorite because of the interaction between the villagers, Philippine and U.S. Marines,” said Lance Cpl. Thomas Fisher, a bulk fuel specialist with engineers platoon. “I feel like we are a part of the community.”

According to Fisher, a Caledonia, N.Y. native, the local population cooked breakfast and dinner for the Marines and Sailors, in appreciation for their hard work and professionalism. Along with the preparation of food, the local nationals lent a helping hand now and again with moving sand or filling the walls with concrete.

In addition, the residents were vocal about their appreciation of the Marines.

“We are very pleased with the work of the Marines and want them to know without them working so closely with our armed forces, this would not be possible,” said Crisanlida Bautista, the wife of the village chief.

“We needed this school building because of the over crowded classroom problem, and the Marines made it happen,” said Bautista, a Guimba native. “I would like to say thank you to the Marines.”

The school project was one of several engineering projects conducted in support of this year's Talon Vision and Amphibious Landing Exercise. These are annual bilateral training exercises conducted between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the U.S. military, which enhance military interoperability and improve communities through humanitarian assistance and civil action projects. The exercises are currently taking place from Oct. 15-27.

Law Threatens Thousands of Military Votes

SPRINGFIELD -- An obscure state law and an ambiguous federal ballot form are combining to invalidate some of the thousands of absentee votes being cast this fall by Virginians overseas, most of them in the military.


October 24, 2008

State officials confirmed Thursday that they've instructed local registrars to set aside any vote submitted on a federally furnished write-in ballot unless the ballot includes both the name and address of the person who witnessed the vote. An advisory to registrars was distributed earlier this week, said Susan Pollard, a spokeswoman for the State Board of Elections.

Every absentee ballot requires the signature of a witness, who vouches for the identity of the voter. The witness address requirement is specified by Virginia law but not spelled out on the federal form.

Family remembers Marine killed in Afghanistan

San Sim, 23, was weeks away from completing his third tour.

Lance Cpl. San Sim came from a family of pacifists.

His birthplace, the Phillipines, was ever a reminder of their journey from the terror of the Khmer Rouge. But after Sept. 11, 2001, Sim decided to fight.

Please click on the above link for photos.

Friday, October 24, 2008
The Orange County Register

Sim was shot to death while on routine patrol in Afghanistan this week, near the end of his third tour of duty. He was 23.

Seng Sim said his brother was shot Tuesday. He died Wednesday, the Department of Defense reported. A military attaché arrived at the family's home in Santa Ana that same day to notify them, Seng Sim said.

San Sim was part of the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, based in Camp Pendleton and Twentynine Palms. They were due to return to the U.S. next month, First Lt. Curtis Williamson said.

Sim, a rifleman, and his unit headed to southwestern Afghanistan in April.

Their mission was security training for the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police, Williamson said, but “the situation on the ground dictated that they have more of a combat role. He was out there fighting.”

Afghanistan was Sim's third tour abroad; he served twice in Iraq. He won commendations during his career, including two purple hearts.

“He thought family was important, but that it was also important to help those who are suffering,” said Sim's wife, Karla Sim.

It was that desire, she said, that pushed him to re-enlist after his initial four-year commitment.

“We're really proud of him,” Seng Sim said.

Sim's family settled in Santa Ana in 1985, after escaping Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge, and living in a refugee camp in Thailand. San Sim was the youngest of 11 children, born in the Philippines as his family worked to reach the U.S.

Several family members gathered at the Sim's Santa Ana home, wearing white.

Buddhists believe wearing white and keeping candles lit at the house helps to guide Sim's spirit home. They will observe 100 days of remembrance.

Sim's participation in the military clashed some with his family's pacifist beliefs, but he felt strongly about his calling.

“He was proud of what he did,” said sister Serene Sim. “He felt like he was really doing something. After what happen on 9-11, he wanted to go out there and put in his own effort.”

“He felt the need,” sister Yasmine Sim said, “to serve the country that gave us the opportunity to escape from war.”

Sim was in the process of gaining his citizenship; the rest of his family has already been naturalized. Family members said they will petition the government to award him citizenship posthumously.

Sim was a student at Santa Ana Valley High School, where he was a wrestler.

That's where he also met military recruiters and kept in frequent contact with them.

“When he got out of high school, he wanted to do something for his country,” Seng Sim said. “Everything else could wait.”

Family was a big part of Sim's life, evidenced by a pile of dozens of family photos at the Sim home.

He always seemed to surround himself with children, his sisters said. With 21 nephews and nieces, that wasn't too difficult. In his spare time, he enjoyed fishing.

Sim's body is expected to return stateside sometime next week. The Sim family mourns, but will wait for him to return to California before planning a memorial.

“We came to this country to escape war. And now he's died in war,” Yasmine Sim said. “Our thoughts, prayers and wishes go out to the troops still out there.”

Contact the writer: 714-704-3796 or [email protected]

1st LAR Bn. Marine shoots to attain higher goal

CAMP KOREAN VILLAGE, Iraq -- (October 24, 2008) When it comes to basketball, you might expect to find a prospective pro on the court practicing jump shots and passes. You might find him at a pro combine running back rebounds with all he has left under the watchful eyes of scouts. Where you might not expect to find him is supporting the mission of a light-armored infantry battalion here in al Anbar Province, Iraq.


by Cpl. Dean Davis

Cpl. James M. McClendon, a supply administration clerk with 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 5 recently caught the attention of several scouts in both Japan and Philadelphia before deploying.

“When I saw him play in Japan I could see his drive and love for the game,” said Adrian “Ace” Custis, former Dallas Mavericks player and mentor for McClendon. “I look forward to his debut playing pro, but there’s only one thing that will get him there: hard work.

Standing at just over six feet, short by pro standards, making it to professional leagues is another challenge of the many he’s already put behind him, explained McClendon, who dunked his first ball at age 14.

“I started playing seriously between eighth and ninth grade, and I never was really the athletic type- actually I was kind of a nerd,” said McClendon, now 21. “I was told that I would never make junior varsity- I made the JV team. I was told that I would never make varsity- I made varsity. I was told that I would never play professional ball, but my scouting report is pretty good and I plan to go on and pursue that goal now. “

After his success while playing in high school, he turned his attention toward military service.

“When I came into the Marine Corps I asked about playing basketball, and I guess that kind of persuaded me to join a little,” said McClendon, from Philadelphia. “Just because you didn’t play in college or people say you can’t do it doesn’t mean anything. Look at Michael Jordan. He didn’t even make the varsity team, but he went on to become the greatest player who ever played the game.”

After becoming a Marine he wanted to stay on the East Coast near his daughter, but the Corps had different plans, which worked out pretty well, explained McClendon.

“I ended up in Japan and while I was there I had the opportunity to enjoy the culture and also the chance to play with the Japanese,” said McClendon. “Their style is a lot different from the Americans’. They run a lot of drills and play a really fast game.”

McClendon said that after this deployment he plans to head back overseas to take a shot at playing alongside his brother, now in Japan with the Panasonic Trians.

“I would also someday like to coach high school or college ball, and share my knowledge and motivate younger people to enjoy the sport.”

For now his dream to ascend the professional ranks will have to wait as a more immediate mission lies ahead, but that hasn’t changed his mind about the future.

“Passion for the sport is my motivation,” said McClendon. “If I had a motto for the sport it’s simple: ‘Don’t ever give up.’ –And I won’t.”

October 23, 2008

Marines relocate to newly renovated barracks

Fort Meade's Defense Information School Marine detachment has a new home on the installation as the roughly 100-person unit moved from an aging barracks to a newly renovated facility.


By Alan J. McCombs
Staff Writer

The students made the move Sept. 22 from their former facility in Bldg. 8606 on 6th Armored Cavalry Road to their nearby newly renovated barracks in Bldg. 8607.

The move took them out of a building that both service members and garrison employees described as subpar.

"The conditions were less than ideal," said Marine Master Sgt. Robert Blankenship, senior enlisted advisor to the detachment. "Much of the furniture was broken over there. It wasn't broken from abuse, but just from use."

Building 8607 had been closed for several months while the Directorate of Public Works combated mold and other issues during renovation, said Steve Jackson, the agency's chief of barracks operations. More than $1 million worth of repairs and upgrades were completed, ranging from new paint to new heating and air conditioning systems.

"It's brighter; it's more habitable," Jackson said. "It's a hundred percent better."

The new facility should also allow Blankenship to better enforce accountability in how his Marines maintain their rooms, he said.

"Between the walls [and] the furniture, it was hard to tell what had always been broken and what was freshly broken," Blankenship said.

The Marine barracks, along with other designated barracks buildings, will receive about $300,000 worth of new furniture before the end of the month, Jackson said.

The facility was originally planned to be the home of Air Force students attending the Defense Information School. Those Airmen are now housed in the Freedom Center Complex. However, once renovations on buildings 8478 and 8479 on 6th Armored Cavalry Road are complete, the Marine students, along with Sailors bunking in Bldg. 8605, will relocate there and the Airmen will move from the Freedom Center into buildings 8606 and 8607. The timeframe for the Airmen's move is unknown due to the fact that renovating and rebuilding the two 1950s-era barracks has not begun.

These renovations are part of Meade's larger effort to improve its barracks.

This year, the Department of Defense allocated $52 million to the installation's Training Barracks Upgrade Program, with $26 million budgeted for the current fiscal year and two $13 million installments for the next two years.

The overhaul involves DPW juggling the housing assignments for service members as renovations work their way through the barracks.

The Army Corps of Engineers awarded the $21.6 million project to renovate Bldgs. 8478 and 8479 on Sept. 29 to HSU Development, which is based in Rockville. The finished buildings should feature electrical upgrades, new fire suppression and alarm systems, mold-, asbestos- and lead-abatement as well as antiterrorism and force protection measures.

Initial plans should allow for work to start on the barracks in early 2009 and finish by spring 2010, according to a release from the Army Corps of Engineers Baltimore District.

For the near term, the Marines will most likely be based in Bldg. 8607 for about two years, Jackson said. It's a change that will be fine with service members, Blankenship said.

"I'm happy for the Marines," he said. "[We're] getting our stuff on the walls and figuring where things sit the best."

This story is part of a continuing series examining construction on Fort Meade and in the surrounding area.

Send comments or questions to [email protected]

Virginia Marine running in honor of fallen Bensenville comrade

In a few short weeks, U.S. Marine Dawid Pietrek was supposed to be coming home after his tour overseas ended.

Please click on the above link for a photo slide show.

By Christy Gutowski | Daily Herald StaffContact writer
Published: 10/23/2008

The 24-year-old Polish immigrant enlisted in Bensenville to serve a country that was not yet his own with the hope of gaining citizenship and becoming a police officer.

Last summer, he gave his life for his dream and the country that had yet to officially adopt him.

A fellow Marine in Arlington, Va., touched by Pietrek's sacrifice, will run in his honor Sunday during the annual Marine Corps marathon.

The two never met, but Marine Sgt. Dmitry Novak ensured Pietrek was given a true hero's goodbye while planning his July 1 funeral at Arlington National Cemetery. Novak, 29, a member of the casualty operations section, became close to the Pietreks while helping them with their travel from Poland to attend the service.

Though Novak has known many fallen Marines, including members of his own unit during his two tours in Iraq, his close ties to Pietrek's family made him the clear choice.

"When I thought of a Marine in whose honor I would run, his name is the first that came to mind," Novak said. "The thing about Dawid is that I actually met and got to know his family on a personal level. They were amazing. My wife and I still keep in touch."

Pfc. Dawid Pietrek was killed June 14 with three other Marines during a roadside bomb attack in Afghanistan. Dorota Pietrek chose to have her only son laid to rest in the U.S. among other American heroes.

He also was granted posthumous citizenship.

Pietrek came to the U.S. at about 21 with dreams of graduating from college and becoming a police officer. A trained medical caregiver, he lived with three different families - including two in Elmhurst - while helping their elderly relatives.

He enlisted June 4, 2007, while renting an apartment in Bensenville. His tour would have ended next month.

Novak, a first-time marathon participant, is running with more than a dozen other members of his section. Though each chose a different Marine to honor, all of them are raising money for the same cause - the Marine Corps Law Enforcement Foundation - which each year gives out millions of dollars to the children of fallen Marines and federal law enforcement officials to help with education, medical and other needs.

For more information, or to make a donation, visit http://www.active.com/donate/MC-LEF-CS/SgtNovak or go directly to the foundation's Web site at http://www.mc-lef.org/

Museum Exhibit Honors 25th Anniversary

TRIANGLE, Va. — The National Museum of the Marine Corps unveiled an exhibit Oct. 15, commemorating the 25th anniversary of the attack on the Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon.


10/23/2008 By Lance Cpl. Jimmy Serena Jr. , Marine Corps Base Quantico

Titled “Where Do We Get Such Men,” the exhibit documents the Oct. 23, 1983, attack on the Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion 8th Marines Headquarters, when a suicide bomber crashed a truck full of explosives through security and detonated it under the HQ building, killing 241 Americans.

The title of the exhibit was taken from then Commandant Gen. P.X. Kelley’s welcome to the survivors upon their return to Camp Lejeune, N.C.

He said, “When I met the first flight of your fallen comrades as they arrived at Dover, Delaware, after the mass murder of 23 October, I asked the question, Lord, where do we get such men? As you stand here today I ask the same question. Where do we get such men of courage — such men of dedication — such men of patriotism — such men of pride? The simple answer is that we get them from every clime and place, from every race, from every creed, and from every color.”

“Where Do We Get Such Men” chronologically depicts the Marine peacekeeping mission from August 1982 until February 1984 through quotes, photographs and selected art from the Marine Corps Combat Art Collection.

Base Commander Col. Charles Dallachie, a survivor of the Beirut bombing, was present for the unveiling, along with other survivors. like David Madaras, who was a 22-year-old Marine at the time of the bombing.

“I am extremely honored to be here for the opening of this exhibit,” Madaras said. “Now I can bring my children here and say this is what we did. It almost brings a tear to my eyes to see this exhibit.”

Gregory Balzer, chief of operations for Training and Education Command, had left the Marine barracks one day before the bombing to go to the presidential palace, located a few miles away.

“I woke up to the loudest noise you ever heard. Then I heard a second explosion,” Balzer recalled. “Initially, I feared the palace was under attack. Then came the reports of mass casualties at the barracks. TV reports brought home the devastation visually.”

“There is such activity in coordinating the evacuation, you go on auto-pilot. You’re just sort of numb,” Balzer said.

Then, the realization hits home, hard. “You’ve just lost every friend you have made in your short Marine Corps career,” Balzer said. “Not a day goes by that I don’t think about them.”

As for the exhibit, Balzer said it is recognition that is long overdue.

“It was a tragic defeat, and the Marine Corps doesn’t celebrate defeat,” Balzer said. “The first lesson is to look at what went wrong, what went right. Some people would say we are celebrating a tragedy, … but we need to learn from this experience.”

“Today we open a modest panel exhibit that glimpses a time of great tension when Marines, sailors and their European allies were sent to a city torn by war in 1982 to further an agenda of diplomacy. But instead of peace, they got war,” said museum director, Lin Ezell.

The anniversary of the Beirut bombing is marked each year by Marines remembering their fellow fallen brethren who were killed that day.

According to Ezell, exhibits like this will keep the memory of “Such Men” alive.

October 22, 2008

Life less ordinary: Becoming Marine parents

Joan Gutierrez has a replaced hip and her husband, Jesse, has a rebuilt knee, but the two will participate Sunday in the Marine Corps Marathon 10K in Washington, D.C., to raise money for Purple Heart Family Support, one of the outreach programs of MarineParents.com Inc.

Please click on the above link for a photo.

October 22, 2008

The two joined MarineParents.com when their son, Cpl. Jay Gutierrez, 25, a 2001 Providence Catholic High graduate, enlisted in the U.S. Marines in 2004.

"We are not a military family in that we don't have a background in it," said Jesse, a retired teacher from Hufford Junior High. "It's a real change in your perspective because his mother is a confirmed pacifist and his father is a former Peace Corps volunteer so ... our son turns out to be a Marine."

Through the Web site for parents of Marine soldiers, Joan and Jesse, of Joliet, found support. Now, Joan is director of online support services for MarineParents.com, helping parents learn the ropes of being a Marine parent via message boards. The Web site gets 12 million hits per week.

"We help them transition, grow and learn about the Marine Corps and boot camp and turn into Marine parents because you change when your child enlists into the Marine Corps," said Joan, a retired resource specialist from Joliet Grade School District.

"I've been a more patient, giving person," Joan said. "I've always loved my country, but my love for my country is magnified much deeper."

Jesse agreed.

"All you have to do is travel to other countries to really find out how good you have it," he said. "I traveled extensively to the eastern Caribbean and South America and there is no place like the USA,"

Now, Jesse and Jay plan to run in the 10K while Joan walks in order to raise $2,000 for the Purple Heart Family Support, an outreach of MarineParents.com that has tugged at their hearts.

The mission is to provide support to the families waiting at the bedside of their injured or ill Marines and sailors by providing meals during the weekends at hospitals.

"There is not much available to them on the weekends. ... It's not like you want to travel and go out to dinner so we cater in food twice a month," Joan said. "These families are all hurting and they are all struggling but they don't even have a chance to see each other or communicate with each other. So this gives them the time to connect with each other which makes it less lonely."

To donate online, http://www.teammarineparents.com/2008-mcm10k-Gutierrez.asp or write checks payable to MarineParents.com Inc. Put "Team Gut" in the memo field of the check. Send to: MarineParents.com Inc., c/o Team Marine Parents, P.O. Box 1115, Columbia, MO 65205

"Jay will run the 10K. He will be running a bit more as he runs between his old-timer parents," Joan said. "He will be running and then running back to check on mom."

25 years after Beirut

By Bryan Mitchell - Staff writer
Posted : Wednesday Oct 22, 2008 10:53:35 EDT

Every October, Judith Young makes a solemn trip from her home in southern New Jersey to Jacksonville, N.C., to honor her late son, Sgt. Jeffrey D. Young.

To continue reading:


October 21, 2008

Marching to the ‘sound of the guns’ – more Marines deploy to Afghanistan

CAMP BARBER, Afghanistan – When it was announced that more Marines were needed to support Task Force 2d Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment in Afghanistan, close to 300 Marines raised their hands and volunteered.


10/21/2008 By Sgt. Steve Cushman, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines

Anxious to join the fight, these Marines deployed as combat replacements to fill in for the combat losses suffered by TF 2/7 since it arrived here in early April.

Of those who “stepped forward,” only 150 were selected. Surprisingly, many of the volunteers had just returned from serving in Iraq. Upon hearing these Marines had cut their post-deployment leave short, senior leaders were awestricken to see so many Marines come forward to support their fellow warriors in comba

“This is what Marines do; they answer the call when needed,” said Sergeant Maj. Matthew B. Brookshire of TF 2/7, now part of Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force Afghanistan. “It was humbling to see so many volunteers. It is truly inspiring, and it speaks tremendously of their character and courage.”

The first group of combat replacements landed here at the Bastion flight line on September 11. Also referred to as 9/11, this date serves as a constant reminder of the atrocious and horrific attacks that took place on U.S. soil seven years ago. The events that resulted from these terrorist attacks against the Pentagon and World Trade Center towers led to America’s involvement in the global war on terrorism.

In light of their Iraq deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and now their support of Operation Enduring Freedom, the combat replacements have sacrificed time to spend with family and friends to support TF 2/7 in its mission to conduct counterinsurgency and full spectrum operations with an emphasis on police mentoring of the Afghan National Police. A reinforced infantry battalion of approximately 1,000 Marines, TF 2/7 is currently operating throughout the Helmand and Farah provinces -- an area estimated as large as Vermont.

Although this display of selflessness and dedication to duty will certainly attest to the character and values of each deploying service member, Sergeant Maj. Brookshire offered thanks to the senior leadership at 1st Marine Division as well.

“Credit for getting the Marines here goes to the 1st MarDiv staff,” Sergeant Maj. Brookshire said. “Everything we have needed, they have found a way to make it happen. Their support has been outstanding.”

Assembled from various units within 1st Marine Division, including 1/7, 1/5, 2/1, 2/4, 3rd Assault Amphibian Battalion, and Headquarters Battalion, the combat replacements had only a short time to prepare for this deployment. The Marines of 2/4 had just returned to California a few months ago.

“We came back from a deployment with the 31st (Marine Expeditionary Unit) in mid-July,” said Sgt. Sean R. Patereau, a machine gunner from 2/4 and Tacoma, Wash., native, “We weren’t scheduled to return from block leave until Aug. 21, but most of us were back by the 18th to deploy to Afghanistan.”

Other Marines, particularly those assigned to 1/7, are scheduled to deploy to Iraq within only a few months after TF 2/7 ends their OEF deployment.

“Marines march to the ‘sound of the guns,’” said Lt. Col. Rick Hall, commander, TF 2/7, noting that he was thoroughly impressed by the caliber of Marines joining his task force. He said he was absolutely floored by the number of Marines who had volunteered to join his unit.

Many of the Marines said they volunteered because the battalion needed help and Marines go where they are needed to help each other. One Marine even volunteered because his childhood friend serves with TF 2/7.

“Sgt. Alvin M. Klauson, Jr., and I grew up in the same neighborhood. We lived five houses apart, and went to the same high school,” said Cpl. James D. Shymanik, an assault man from 2/4 and Gurnee, Ill., native. “I came out here to help him.”

The majority of the Marines, however, said the reason they volunteered for this deployment was the chance to fight.

“Nobody joins the Marine Corps for college benefits, or because you make a lot of money. It doesn’t matter if they’re a rifleman or an aviation tech, people become Marines because they want to go out and fight the war,” said Capt. James D. Searels, the Combat Replacement Detachment OIC and Trion, Ga., native,

“Everyone wants to go to Afghanistan, even the commandant, because this is where the kinetic fight is and that’s what Marines are good at,” Capt. Searels said. “Marines are good at blowing stuff up and killing enemy forces who deserve to be killed. That’s what’s going on here right now.”

While supplementing a unit with combat replacements is not a new concept, the sergeant major thought it was extraordinary how the planning came to fruition.

“We are still above our required numbers for deployment, but with the casualties and our short-term deployers who returned to the States, we were just spread too thin throughout our area of operations,” said Sergeant Maj. Brookshire, explaining the reason behind the task force requesting additional forces. “The short term deployers didn’t count against our total strength, but we soon came to realize that they were a vital asset to the fight.”

During his introduction, Lt. Col. Hall explained the task force mission and thanked the Marines for raising their hands on short notice to fill in for his unit’s combat losses.

Due to the previous coordination made in selecting the Marines and preparing for their arrival, the Marines had few questions to ask the task force commander. Although, a few of the questions asked when they arrived here were, “When do we get our Ammo?” and a few asked, “How can we stay to serve with the replacement unit?”

Lt. Col. Hall took an opportunity to brief the Marines on the roles they’re expected to fill and dispel any rumors or exaggerated casualty figures they may have heard. He also took a few minutes to explain the Afghan culture.

“This is not Iraq, and you need to have a proper perspective on this place,” Lt. Col. Hall said. “You will appreciate the difference, as the Afghans are more like us. Your efforts here will be more quickly and greatly appreciated by the people.”

“What you are doing is unprecedented,” added Lt. Col. Hall, referring to his combat replacements as “magnificent young men.” “You have volunteered for one of the toughest and most critical missions for the defense of our nation. You are handpicked out of 280 volunteers… you are some of the most combat ready NCOs and ‘warriors’ in 1st Marine Division.”

Marine camp teaches youth discipline, character

Local ‘Devil Pups’ in a class of their own

On top of Old Smokey, 16-year-old Christian Emery found his character.


By Jeff Pope
Tue, Oct 21, 2008 (midnight)

The Palo Verde High School junior was one of the first to reach the summit of Old Smokey, a 1,300-foot sandy peak at Camp Pendleton Marine Base near San Diego.

However, because achieving the ascent was a group effort and Emery stood alone, the squad leader climbed back down the mountain and literally got behind his teammates.

"I was one of the top to finish in my platoon and then I came back, like, halfway down the mountain and pushed everyone else up," he said. "I got pride out of it. The feeling of accomplishment and pride."

Such teamwork and leadership epitomizes the character that Devil Pups should learn during their 10-day encampment where many Marines undergo basic training.

Devil Pups, Inc. is a nonprofit organization that helps boys and girls gain self-confidence, learn respect and to take responsibility for their actions.

The experience also became a father-and-son bonding experience for Christian.

His father, Rod, was a Devil Pup in 1984. He said he gave vague answers to his son's questions about what to expect at the camp.

"Part of the experience is the unknown. If you go knowing everything, then it doesn't impact you as much," Rod said. "I said, 'you're going to be prepared, you've got what it takes.' So it was really cool when he got back, because then I could tell him everything."

He said Christian has shown more respect and responsibility since his return from the camp.

The name is derived from the nickname Devil Dogs, given to U.S. Marines in World War I. Devil Pups is not a Marine Corps-sponsored program nor is it a mini boot camp, para-military or recruiting organization for the military.

Since 1954, the program has sought to give teens the skills to succeed in life, Southern Nevada Liaison Representative Marie Tomao said.

"This isn't to fix a kid. It's for kids who want to be there," she said.

But the pups do sample the experience of the 10-week boot camp in just 10 days, said camp commander Col. Ray Blum.

It's limited to 600 teens, ages 14-17, from California, Nevada, Arizona and Utah. This year's camp was held July 31 to Aug. 9.

The Southern Nevada chapter is the only one with a 10-week training period prior to the Marine camp and requires its pups to perform community service.

The local pups are among the most disciplined and prepared for the challenges of the Marine camp, Blum said.

"We do not have problems with Las Vegas," he said.

All 18 Devil pups from Southern Nevada graduated from this year's encampment and four won prestigious honors for their efforts.

Rashad Waters finished in the top 5 percent of campers for his physical fitness score while his twin brother, Rasheem, was one of six Honor Pups, recognized for their overall excellence.

The Spring Valley High School sophomores, aged 16, said they benefitted from the increased discipline. Their uncle, who's also their legal guardian, signed them up for the program without telling them.

"At first I really didn't enjoy it. He made it sound like it was going to be exciting, but it really wasn't at first," Rasheem said.

The Waters twins made a remarkable turnaround in their attitudes from the early days of the training period, Tomao said. While volunteering at the Henderson Police DARE Day in early May, the boys introduced themselves to Tomao with names she knew weren't right. One was a girl's name, she said. The boys told her they didn't want to be there.

"So I said, 'if by the end of the day you don't want to be here, you don't have to be here,'" Tomao said. "About an hour later ... they were dancing around in the McGruff and lion costumes dancing with the kids. It took all of about an hour."

During the pre-camp training session, Rasheem earned the most points among males in the physical fitness portion while Rashad finished third. Rashad also earned the Most Improved award for improving his score 78 points during the 10-week period.

"Not many people have that opportunity to go to what my uncle sent me to. I appreciate that," Rashad said.

Kate Hetzel, a 15-year-old Bonanza High School freshman, almost didn't qualify for the camp because her physical fitness score was 43 points below the requirement. But she gained 74 points during the summer to qualify and earned the Most Improved award among females during the pre-camp training.

"She kept pushing and pushing on," Tomao said. "I'm so, so proud of her because I believe in my heart that this young lady has made such a miraculous change from attending this encampment."

Hetzel applied what she knew about the military through her school's Junior ROTC program to overcome the drill instructors' intense disciplinary techniques.

"Contrary to what everyone else was thinking — 'I don't want to be here because I don't want to be yelled at' — I was like, 'yell at me, yell at me,'" she said.

The campers attend for free because sponsors subsidize the approximately $350 cost per pup. The Henderson Police and Henderson and Boulder City Rotary Clubs, the Greater Nevada Marine Corps League are among the organization's biggest annual supporters.

Some of the biggest supporters year after year live in Boulder City, even though no pups have come from the city in recent years, Tomao said.

Boulder City Police and Chief Thomas Finn backed the program this year. Finn said the lessons of teamwork, self respect and citizenship are often missing in society. He said he sees the result of teens' bad decisions from his position, but youth programs like Devil Pups can provide the life lessons that can keep young people on track.

"I don't think you can ever get too much instruction in the core values," he said. "If they don't get it at home, they're probably not getting it in school, so where else will they learn them unless they have a role model."

October 20, 2008

Exploiting Opportunities

CAMP PATRIOT, Kuwait — In preparation for a mechanized sustainment training exercise, Marines from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit offloaded track and assault vehicles at Camp Patriot, Kuwait, Oct. 12.


10/20/2008 By Army Pfc. Alicia Torbush, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit

The training is scheduled to take place at Camp Buehring, Kuwait, starting Nov. 1.

The exercise is a refresher to the pre-deployment training and is intended to sharpen their skills, said Staff Sgt. Keith Garber, motor transportation chief, 26th MEU.

The movement included offloading the equipment from ship to shore using Landing Craft, Air- Cushioned and relocating both personnel and equipment.

According to Chief Petty Officer Michael McDonald, LCAC pilot, Assault Craft Unit 4, an LCAC is a hovercraft used to transport heavy loads from ship to shore and shore to ship.

“The LCAC can carry a combat ready M1A1 Abrams Battle Tank,” added the Detroit, Mich., native.

“One of the obstacles for the LCAC is that the tanks are very heavy,” said Garber, a Philadelphia native. Timing was also a factor in the movement.

“We were under a time constraint,” said Garber. “The ships had to be off station by a certain time so we were moving at a very fast pace.”

In order to help alleviate the limited time that the MEU and LCAC crews had to work with, equipment was offloaded at two different beaches.

“Running two beaches simultaneously is very hard to do,” said Garber.

Ship to shore logistics include knowing what equipment needs to be moved, knowing its location on the ship and moving it around so that the equipment could be transported from the ship to the shore, said Garber.

Once all of the equipment was located on the ship, loaded on to the transport vessels and offloaded on shore, the other needs of the MEU had to be taken care of.

“Some of the logistics include finding billeting, sustainment, and transportation of equipment, gear and personnel,” said Garber.

“The MEU as a whole is pleased with the support that they have been given here at Camp Arifjan as well as Camp Patriot,” he added.

Garber said, despite weight issues and time constraints, the MEU successfully moved several pieces of equipment and personnel from ship to shore and then to different locations around Kuwait.

Reserve MP spices up life for Marines at remote outpost

COMBAT OUTPOST TREBIL, Iraq — When you step into the mess hall here, the first thing you notice is the smell of gourmet coffee. Next, you notice an orderly array of shelf-stable meals displayed in cubbies along the plywood walls, available to the post’s Marines 24-hours a day.


10/20/2008 By Capt. Paul Greenburg,

If you come during morning or evening meal hours, you will find home-cooked meals, made mostly from scratch.

These amenities were made possible, in large part, by the knowledge, skills and experience of one of the post’s most junior Marines, Lance Cpl. Jennifer Shell, who is currently serving as the mess hall manager.

Shell, a 31-year-old military police officer and Reserve Marine from Uniontown, Pa., joined the Corps at the age of 27 after graduating from culinary school in New York in 2003 and from Pennsylvania State University in 2005 with a bachelor’s degree in hotel and restaurant management.

According to Shell, she enlisted in the Marine Corps “because of the pride associated with it and more importantly because of my dad, who served on [Marine Security Guard] detail in Singapore during the Vietnam War.”

Although she was well qualified, Shell was not interested in Marine Corps Officer’s Candidate School.

“I love the camaraderie of being an enlisted Marine,” said Shell. “You can’t find this anywhere else. Sitting on post, staring out into the desert for hours on end, you learn a lot about each others’ lives.”

The first five months of Shell’s tour here were spent serving in the role of military police officer, responsible for the outpost’s security and supporting the various U.S. military advisor training teams and convoy escort personnel that the base houses when they aren’t out on missions in this remote and barren region on the Iraqi-Jordanian border.

The military police officers describe their seven-month tour here as “one long Groundhog Day.” The standard routine is six hours on guard post, followed by six hours on patrol. After returning from foot or vehicle patrols, the MPs have six hours on stand-by as a quick reactionary force. They then have six hours to sleep, awake and begin the schedule all over again.

A member of Military Police Company B, 4th Marine Logistics Group, based in North Versailles, Pa., Shell and four other Reserve Marines from her unit deployed as individual augments to 3rd Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment’s Task Force MP.

Five months into her unit’s tour, Shell’s squad leader, Cpl. Kristyn Stewart, from Pittsburgh, recommended that Shell be appointed to take over management of the mess hall from a more senior Marine.

“She’s a restaurant manager and graduate of culinary school,” said Stewart, 26, who is on her third mobilization and tour in Iraq. “I identified a need, and (Shell) was a perfect fit for the job.”

Cpl. Nathan Dahlheimer, 28, is a military policeman and squad leader from Monticello, Minn, attached to 3rd Bn., 10th Marines. “The menu became really monotonous after five months, and everything was boiled, usually in a bag,” said Dahlheimer. “Lance Cpl. Shell prepared real meals from scratch. She helped improve morale as her meals gave us something to look forward to every night.”

Not only did Shell’s experience create better meals, her work has enhanced the overall service of the mess hall in a number of ways.

“The difference in the organization of the [mess] hall was amazing,” said Gunnery Sgt. Jason Stephens of San Diego. Stephens, 35, arrived here in mid-August and is serving as team chief for the Port of Entry Transition Team.

“She’s kept the shelves restocked every day,” said Stephens. “The overall cleanliness of the [mess] hall is excellent. People actually want to sit down and eat there now as it's a nice place to hang out. I think she brought here everything she learned in the civilian community and applied it to the chow hall. Her experience in managing restaurants in the civilian world was key to this success.”

Stephens explained that because of the aesthetic transformation in the atmosphere of the mess hall, it became the outpost’s social hub where Marines congregate in the evening to play cards and watch satellite TV.

“I thought it was outstanding,” added Stephens. “I was very impressed with Shell, as a junior Marine, taking over the job and running with it.”

Shell is scheduled to return to her home town in late October. After demobilization, she will go back to her career as a restaurant manager in western Pennsylvania.

Although she will arrive in time for her favorite time of the year, the Pittsburgh Penguins’ hockey season, she will miss the camaraderie she feels with her fellow Marines here in Iraq.

“Cooking for people here is much more fulfilling than cooking in the civilian world,” said Shell with an ear-to-ear smile. “The Marines simply appreciate it more.”

October 19, 2008

Platoon puts wraps on security role

RAWAH, Iraq — Six months of security posts and sector patrols have come to an end here for Marines with 1st Platoon, Fox Company, 2nd Battlalion, 2nd Marines, Regimental Combat Team 5, who left their posts at Traffic Control Points 3 and 4 Oct. 12 when Provisional Rifle Platoon 3, RCT-5 assumed the watch.


10/19/2008 By Sgt. M. Trent Lowry, Regimental Combat Team 5

After building the post up from the Spartan conditions in which they found it in April, the roughly three dozen Fox Co. Marines took pride in the progress they made in their six months on post.

"We were here to keep security of the area around the bridge and to win the hearts and minds of the local Iraqis,” said Cpl. Brian M. Roarke, 23, a team leader with Fox Co. from Chilhowie, Va. "At first they'd just acknowledge we were here, but after awhile when they'd see us on patrol, they would smile and laugh when greeting us."

The Fox Co. Marines were in charge of securing the north-south bridge across the Euphrates River into Rawah from the rural parts of western al-Anbar province and training the Iraqi Police in traffic control point procedures. At one point, the platoon was conducting more than five sector patrols a day.

With a major road connecting al-Anbar province with the Syrian border, patrolling the area was extremely important in monitoring possible illegal smuggling or insurgent activity. As a sign that criminals and terrorists no longer found it profitable to operate in the area, 1st Plt., Fox Co., only found small amounts of contraband. The biggest catch was detaining a person from the list of high-valued insurgents (HVI) targeted by Coalition forces as a determined enemy.

"We went in outmanned and outgunned, facing 20 (of the HVI's) sympathizers armed with AK-47s and pistols, and we took him without firing a shot," said Staff Sgt. James M. Peyton, 32, platoon commander of 1st Platoon, Fox Co.

In addition to the detainee, the Fox Co. Marines found a cache of more than 60 artillery rounds, a rocket-propelled grenade and a pistol.

Another responsibility of the Fox Co. Marines was to provide training for the Iraqi Police officers who manned the search area of the TCPs.

"(The Marines) did their best with training the IP," Peyton said.

The learning curve for some of the Iraqi policemen was steeper than others, and the challenge for the Marines was to give each individual Iraqi the best training possible.

"We gave them a brief before each patrol, told them what we wanted them to do -- like where to go and what dispersion to take," Roark said. "They know what to do. It's just a matter of getting the most motivated individuals and giving them the reins."

"It took a while for them to get used to how we operate," said Lance Cpl. Joshua L. Pancake, 19, a rifleman with 1st Platoon, Fox Co., from Columbus, Ohio. "They've got the ability of the basic techniques."

The Fox Co. platoon did a lot building up the TCPs, given what they fell in on when they arrived in April.

"It was pretty torn up. There was hardly any concertina wire or (camouflage) netting up, and there weren't barriers or T-walls," Peyton said. "We built up the area, and the (Navy construction) Seabees came in and built racks and showers for us."

After they had grown accustomed to the area, the Marines could see some progress being made. In the time since they arrived, construction has begun on many new homes, three new schools were built, and improvements to the hospital, water treatment facilities and electrical power grid were made.

"I think it was a wise decision to put us in the city," said Roarke, as opposed to operating out of the combat outpost northeast of the town. "That way the civilians could see us here everyday and feel more confident in the security. The people coming through the TCP were friendly, and we'd tell jokes in Arabic and kick the soccer ball around with kids when we were on patrol."

Given the amount of time spent observing his platoon, Peyton has a high regard for the Marines conduct during the security assignment.

"I think they did great, especially with the tools they were given," Peyton said. "They've always been pretty motivated, and they pulled together.

"The growing of their leadership abilities, from the lowest level, was impressive," Peyton added. "The (junior Marines) were thrown into small-unit leadership positions and really stepped up."

After handing over the TCPs to PRP-3 Marines, the platoon returned to COP Rawah.

October 18, 2008

Anchorage Marine remembered

ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- Family, friends, even complete strangers gathered on Saturday to remember Marine Cpl. Jason Karella Saturday.

Click on above link for a Video Gallery link.

by Leyla Santiago
Saturday, October 18, 2008

They took a look back -- not on Karella's death, but rather his life and purpose.

"He was not just a Marine, but in heart he was a brother," said Salvador Lara, who served with Karella in Iraq. "He was a friend."

A private memorial was held earlier in the day; immediately after a public memorial took place at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9981. Karella was killed earlier this month in Afghanistan.

People here know all too well the sacrifices that come with service, and they came to pay respects to a fallen Marine.

In a family where service for country became tradition, Karella followed suit.

As a Bartlett High School junior, Karella decided to attend Alaska Military Youth Academy for his senior year.

"When he was 15 years old, I came home from work and there was a Marine recruiter on my couch that he brought home, and I kicked him out," Karella's mother, Anne Kitchens said. "Jason turned 16, there was another Marine recruiter on my couch that he brought home, a different one, and I kicked him out.

"And when he turned 17, I finally gave up because there was another Marine recruiter sitting on my couch."

His decision to serve as a Marine brought deployments -- first to Iraq.

"As a leader he always took charge," Lara said. "He always pushed Marines to go out there and not be afraid."

The next deployment took Karella to Afghanistan, where he died while supporting combat missions just two weeks before he was supposed to come home, leaving behind parents, siblings, a fiance and many friends.

The grief will take time to overcome.

"One baby, baby step at a time," Kitchens said. "Maybe a couple back, but there will be a lot more forward."

And on this day they take one step forward -- comforting each other, remembering the smile that rarely escaped photos, and keeping his memory alive.

"Such a special place in ... all our hearts," stepfather Bill Anklewich said. "A wonderful boy, wonderful man. Great man."

A man paying the ultimate price for what he believed. Karella would have turned 21 this month.

His father and mother both say they are overwhelmed by the support shown from the community.

Karella is expected to have another service when the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, the men and women he served with, come back to 29 Palms in California in a few weeks.

Contact Leyla Santiago at [email protected]

24th MEU returns from the forgotten battlefield; completes Afghanistan combat tour

Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C. — It’s over for 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit Marines. No more mid-day patrols in 150 degree heat or endless gusts of powder-like sand. No more sleeping on humvee hoods or in some Afghan villager’s bombed out compound. Marines began returning home following an eight-month deployment to southern Afghanistan today.


10/18/2008 By Sgt. Randall A. Clinton, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit

Their deployment illustrated how adaptable a Marine Air Ground Task Force is in the Global War on Terrorism.

“As a MEU, our missions are always unique and you can never predict what the next year will hold. Deploying to Afghanistan was another example of how versatile this unit is. One year we evacuated Americans from the Beirut Embassy in the largest such evacuation of non-combatants, and the next we spent eight months in southern Afghanistan fighting the Taliban," said Lt. Col. Kent Hayes, executive officer, 24th MEU.

After much self-sacrifice many Marines returned longing for life’s simple pleasures. Such was on the mind of Gunnery Sgt. Angel Cruz, who just wanted to be back home, “sleeping in my own bed, next to my wife and being in my house playing with my daughter and the dogs.”

Cruz, the 24th MEU’s information assurance officer, and a handful of other Marines who came back before of the rest of the unit and were unexpectedly greeted by USO volunteers while walking through the airport.

“I was taken back by all of it. It was the last thing I thought would happen at 11 p.m. in Baltimore. Those families of other service members waiting to greet us was a beautiful display of support for us,” he explained, still noticeably honored by the patriotic display.

As Marines continue arriving, there are constant reminders of their still-fragile success in Helmand province. The 24th MEU commander, Col. Peter Petronzio, has begun explaining the exploits of his Marines as a text-book case-study in Marine counterinsurgent operations.

“The tenants of a successful counterinsurgency are clear, hold and build. You can’t just clear. If you don’t hold, the insurgents come back and if you don’t build then you really aren’t making the place any better. You need to make the place better so the people can see the value of choosing government rule vice accepting insurgent intimidation,” said Petronzio, part of the 24th MEU’s brain trust that will stay behind in Afghanistan to help incoming Marine units transition to the unique challenges of the area.

As he discusses the counterinsurgent strategy, it seems to be at the very least a subconscious explanation to one of the most famous phrases from their deployment. The planned first fight with the Taliban was to be an aerial raid, rivaling any previous heliborne insertion dating back to Vietnam. The Marines of Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion 6th Marine Regiment packed lightly for their mission, counting on returning to base in seven to 10 days for another assignment in the volatile South, instead they stayed.

Taliban fighters flowed into the area resupplying and reinforcing those already well-equipped and aiming in on the Marines.

“We were told that there were insurgents in the area just south of the British southernmost forward operating base (Delhi) and that they would fight us for a few days should we try to move through the area. As we moved to secure the route the insurgents did fight us, but not for a few days. They fought us daily for more than a month,” said the 24th MEU commander.

The increased resistance caused a reexamination of plans. If the 24th MEU moved on after clearing their way through Garmsir, the Taliban would obviously attempt to take back their precious gateway into Afghanistan.

The Marines stayed and transitioned from quick reaction raiders to counter insurgent specialists, and over the next few months focused the full-spectrum of the 24th MEU in the Garmsir city-district. Taliban fighters battled Marines for 35 days in more than 170 engagements. The death knell for the Taliban came May 28 when the Marines of Charlie and Weapons Company, both of BLT 1/6, captured Fort Jugroom, a former British strongpoint turned Taliban headquarters. Meanwhile Alpha Co. reclaimed the once Taliban-controlled Amir Agar Bazaar.

In keeping with counterinsurgency doctrine, Marines held their ground. Just a few days after the Battle for Jugroom, the Marines of Alpha Co., met with village elders in a shura, the first such gathering of local elders in three years. During their shura and in subsequent meetings with locals, the Marines invited people to return without fear of the Taliban. For many, it was the first time they could safely bring their family home since the Taliban forced them out years ago. Petronzio felt the Marines needed to stay in the area to reinforce the sense of security to a population that hadn’t seen international troops since the Soviet occupation decades earlier.

“Another factor was the concern about giving the insurgents a false victory by enabling them to claim they had run us off if we vacated the area a soon as we pushed further south. Also, as we secured the routes through the district center, Afghan citizens who had been displaced by the insurgents began to return to their homes. It would not have boded well for them had we left just as they were returning to an area they thought we had secured and they thought we would remain in to sustain the security,” said Petronzio.

The 24th MEU began the last block of the three-stage counterinsurgent doctrine on June 23 when the Alpha Battery sent Marines from their six-cannon gun line to Forward Operating Base Delhi. There they opened a civil military operations center where Marines doled out cash payments for battle damage. By the time Marines closed the center they had met 1,082 locals and paid them a total of $785,000.

Throughout the city Afghan National Forces began joining Marines on daily patrols and security exercises and shortly after British forces were walking side-by-side with their American allies. They hunted for improvised explosive devices and other weapons caches, finding 86 unexploded ordnances and 26 weapons stockpiles. On Sept. 8 the Marines official handed control of the city-district back to the British, the country previously tasked by NATO for securing Garmsir and the rest of Helmand Province.

The Marines spent the better part of September and October cleaning and packing all of their gear in preparation for the trip home from one of the largest Afghanistan bases. Frustratingly tiny sand particles had to be washed from each vehicle, weapon system and piece of equipment before the Marines could board planes and head home. The trip itself was an exercise in endurance for the traveling Marines as they spent days split between flights and layovers at airports along the way.

“The flight was long but exciting,” Cruz said of the nearly 20-hour flight home.

The Marines landed and loaded busses for the final leg of their journey home. They exited the busses to the screams and cries of their much-missed loved ones. Their arrival home moves their actions in Afghanistan from front-page news into historic context.

“Al-Anbar has come to signify the Marines success in Iraq, and I believe Helmand Province and Garmsir will show the world what impact the Marines can have in Afghanistan,” said Hayes.

“I’m proud of what these Marines have accomplished. They lived in some of the most undesirable locations and conditions imaginable in Garmsir. Seeing the warm welcome they received from their friends and family was a well-deserved end to a demanding deployment.”

October 17, 2008

TBS Keeps IED Training Up to Speed

MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va — Since the war in Iraq began in 2003, more than 1,700 of the nearly 4,200 U.S. fatalities have been caused by improvised explosive devices employed against troops in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.


10/17/2008 By Cpl. Travis J. Crewdson, Marine Corps Base Quantico

In an effort to counter enemy tactics and combat the successful use of these lethal weapons, students at The Basic School are taught to identify and react to devices in IED lane training.

Lieutenants from Fox Company at TBS experienced training Tuesday at Murphy’s Demo Range as they entered week 15 of the 26-week training cycle. After classroom training, the student-officers get up-close IED training from the Marines of Combat Engineer Platoon, part of Combat Instructor Company.

‘‘The purpose of this training is to expose (the students) to currently used trends and IED indicators,” said Sgt. Victor Magana, senior instructor at Combat Engineer Platoon. ‘‘Insurgents have habits just like everyone else, and that creates these common trends.”

Magana said that much of what he teaches is based off reports from deployed troops around the world as well as his experiences in Afghanistan, where he saw several examples of what he shows his classes.

After some instruction and a closer look at some Marine-made versions of IEDs, the students try their hand at identifying and reacting to employed devices in three themed IED lane trails. The ‘‘Korean trail” contains devices reported or suspected to be used in Korea. The ‘‘Afghan trail” is themed toward desert operations, the types of devices used and their methods of employment. The ‘‘Vietnam trail” is set in the tree line and serves as a reminder that not all IEDs are roadside bombs.

‘‘(Combat) is not always in the desert,” Magana said. ‘‘Jungle warfare could come back, and as Marines, we have to be ready for anything. I want our students to be aware of their surroundings, understand the (intelligence reports) they receive and not be new to the concept.”

Along the lanes, TBS students perform a mock foot patrol in full combat gear to maintain their combat mindset. Magana said, the simulation devices they encounter range in size, complexity and employment. Some are victim activated, while others may use command wire, remote activation or multiple incorporated methods. Of course, if a lieutenant happens to step on a pressure plate on the ‘‘Afghan trail,” he will not receive the Purple Heart, just a lot of white powder.

According to Capt. Donnie Fricks, Combat Engineer Platoon commander, the training is part of a combat engineer field exercise, which also incorporates two more days of mobility and counter-mobility demolition applications. During these drills, each student-officer gets to make their own ‘‘bang” using C4 and TNT, learning to employ it to remove or create obstacles in an effort to turn, fix, block or disrupt the enemy.

Some of the Fox Company lieutenants will get a chance to use the techniques they learned this week in their third field exercise by incorporating it into their battle plans. Continued IED detection and reaction training can make the difference in Marine casualties when these officers lead their troops into battlefields around the world.

13th MEU finishes first at-sea training

Staff report
Posted : Friday Oct 17, 2008 11:46:41 EDT

SAN DIEGO — More than 4,000 Marines and sailors assigned to the Boxer Expeditionary Strike Group have concluded their first integrated at-sea workups this week.

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Making the ranks

Four Bowdoin students push their limits at the Marines’ Officer Candidate School

"No one in their right mind would want to go through OCS again," says Jack Dingess '09, who has spent 12 weeks training to become an officer in the United States Marine Corps.


October 17, 2008
By Adam Kommel
Orient Staff

But the rewards of being a Marine officer are worth it to four Bowdoin students.

"It's awful right now, but it's so worth the price you're paying," says Mike Dooley '10.

In a typical day at the Marines' Officer Candidate School (OCS), candidates wake up at 4:30 a.m., in time to get ready for lights-on at 5. Physical training commences at 5:30, and four hours of classes on subjects ranging from history to land navigation follow. Field work and drills come in the afternoon. The lights go out at 9 p.m., but candidates usually use the next few hours to clean gear, write essays, or study by head-lamp, finally falling asleep before midnight.

Dingess and Pack Janes '09 spent the summers after their first and junior years at OCS. Dooley and Luke Flinn '10 attended the school the summer after their sophomore year and plan on returning for their second sessions next summer.

Graduating from OCS, located in Quantico, Virginia, is the most conventional way to become an officer in the Marines. Candidates can take two six-week courses, one after their first or sophomore years and one after junior year, or one 10-week course.

Dingess and Janes say that even before coming to Bowdoin, they knew they wanted to join the military. So it was only coincidence, they say, that as first years they were roommates on the third floor of Maine Hall.

Dingess, a quad-captain and defensive end for the football team, says he first heard about OCS from teammates David Donahue '07 and Brendan Murphy '07.

Janes, who plays short-stick midfield on the lacrosse team, heard about the program through Dingess, and lacrosse teammates Donahue and Alex Gluck '08.

"Pack and Jack are great guys—they're going to do great things," says Murphy, who is now a commissioned officer stationed in Virginia.

OCS recruiter Captain James Colvin visits Bowdoin a few times a year to recruit Bowdoin students, but he says that because Bowdoin is "very close-knit," students tend to learn about the program from other students.

Indeed, Dooley heard about OCS after being introduced to Dingess by a friend who knew he was interested in joining the military, and Flinn discovered OCS after his brother, John Flinn '05, directed him to Donahue and Murphy.

Murphy attended The Basic School (TBS) after graduating from Bowdoin. TBS, a 26-week course designed to train new officers, operates on the tenet that every Marine is a rifleman, and thus teaches officers basic infantry tactics while directing the new Marines to their specialties.

"I'm basically in charge of 50 drivers," says Murphy, a second leutenant specializing in logistics. "What we do is run convoys in support of an infantry battalion."

Officially the mission of OCS is to train, screen, and evaluate potential officers, but the four candidates say that the emphasis of the program is on the latter two aspects.

"The whole process is to see you don't freak out under pressure," Janes says.

"It's like if you had the championship during exams, and everyone is screaming at you," Flinn says, who plays baseball for the Polar Bears.

When asked what the hardest part of OCS was, both Dingess and Janes independently give the exact same answer: "Staying awake," especially in class.

Still, they consider the impossibly busy schedule of candidate life a positive.

"I definitely learned to push my body harder than I thought I could," Janes says. "You can push yourself, mentally and physically, a lot harder than you think you can."

Dingess says that his time at OCS has let him put Bowdoin's workload into perspective.

"The most stressful day at Bowdoin is not comparable to an average day at OCS," he says.

Candidates must eat their thrice-daily meals, called "chow time," as efficiently and quickly as possible.

"You basically have about five minutes to engulf as much food as possible," Dingess says. "If you take any more time than that, you will draw the Sergeant Instructor's attention, which is never a good thing."

The four students say that every candidate gets into at least minor trouble at some point during the session, considering the strict standards of discipline the sergeants enforce.

"I think everyone has that perception that they give out push-ups," Dooley says. "And they do, but a big part of OCS was essays—they give you essays if you mess up—they're pretty much designed to make you nuts."

The 300-word—and they have to be exactly 300-words—essays can be assigned on any subject, such as discipline or accountability, and include a host of other format requirements, mainly to "get under your skin," according to Janes.

Though OCS is intended to attract leaders, the candidates said that the best way to excel is to not stand out.

"You want to fly under the radar there," Flinn says.

"In order to be a good leader, you have to be a follower first," Dooley explains, paraphrasing a lesson he learned this summer. "You'll never understand how to get people motivated if you can't get motivated yourself."

The candidates speak highly of the benefits of military life. Dooley says that he has tried the normal office internship path, but does not find it as satisfying as military life.

"Doing those internships in the summer hasn't been half as rewarding," Dooley says.

Janes says that he wants to be a Marine because he loves the outdoors and a good challenge.

"It's the adventure aspect," he says. "There's a thrill, you wake up every day, and what you do is important for survival."

Colvin explains that the four candidates' commitments are rooted in pride in their country, too.

"There's a strong sense of patriotism in all of them," Colvin says.

Dingess recommends that students interested in OCS should show up in shape. Janes and Dooley focus on the candidates' mental approach.

"Attitude is most important," Janes says.

"You can be the smartest guy in the world, the most fit guy in the world," Dooley says, "but if you get down there with a bad attitude, then you're not going to do well at all."

When Janes and Dingess graduate from Bowdoin, they will officially receive their commission. Both say they will definitely accept their commissions, though candidates are allowed to reject them and pursue other careers. In the fall, the new Marines will train at TBS.

Dooley and Flinn plan to return for their second six-week OCS session next summer.

"I can't wait to finish up and get out there," Dooley says. "The chance to be a part of something that is so much larger than myself is astounding. I'm just so psyched about it."

Welcome Home 4th LAR

MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. — Marines from Delta Company, 4th Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, a reserve unit based at Camp Upshur here, reunited with their loved ones at a special homecoming reception at Barnett Field here Tuesday, October 14. The Marines deployed to western Al Anbar Province in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom from March to October 2008 performing a mechanized security mission across more than 9,000 square miles, an area as large as South Carolina. They were mobilized and attached to 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion out of Camp Lejeune.


10/17/2008 By 1st Lt. Patrick Boyce , Marine Corps Base Quantico

Company D was activated as Weapons Company, 4th Light Armored Vehicle Battalion, in August 1988 and redesignated as light armored infantry in December 1990. In November 1990, they were mobilized to Southwest Asia and temporarily designated as Company E, 2nd Light Armored Infantry Battalion. They were redesignated as D Co 4th Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion in October 1995.

Annual Toys for Tots Campaign Kicks Off

Toys"R"Us, Inc. today announced the launch of its "Make A Difference" campaign to support the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation's annual toy drive.


Posted by: philcrosby on Friday, October 17, 2008

Beginning this Sunday and continuing through December, all Toys"R"Us and Babies"R"Us stores across the country and online will collect toy and monetary donations in an effort to make the holidays brighter and bring a message of hope to the more than 13 million children living in poverty in the United States.

This is the fifth anniversary of the partnership between Toys"R"Us, Inc. and Toys for Tots, and Toys"R"Us, Inc. is the largest retail partner in the organization's more than 60-year history. Throughout the past four years, the company has raised more than $13.5 million and collected more than 1.2 million toys for Toys for Tots. To kick off this year's campaign, the Toys"R"Us Children's Fund awarded Toys for Tots a $100,000 grant to help Toys for Tots representatives around the country jumpstart their holiday shopping.

"Toys"R"Us and the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation share the mission to bring joy to children's lives," said Jerry Storch, Chairman and CEO, Toys"R"Us, Inc. "Together with our employees, our customers and the communities we serve, we are committed to doing all we can to make a difference in the lives of needy children across the country this holiday season."

The company will celebrate the launch of its "Make A Difference" campaign on Thursday, November 6 and Friday, November 7 with Marines and other Toys for Tots representatives stationed at retail locations nationwide. New, unwrapped toys will be collected at Toys"R"Us and Babies"R"Us stores across the country through Sunday, December 7 and distributed to children in the communities where they are donated.

Visitors to the company's dedicated Toys for Tots microsite will find the "ABCs of Giving" a list of tips for parents to use when discussing the importance of charitable giving with their children, a "Wish List" of suggested donations of toys and other items and additional information about the partnership between Toys"R"Us, Inc. and Toys for Tots.

"This partnership unites community members with a common goal of bringing joy to children during the Christmas season. Each year I'm impressed by the incredible enthusiasm that Toys"R"Us and Babies"R"Us customers and employees have for this program," said Lt. General Pete Osman, USMC (Ret), President and CEO, Marine Toys for Tots Foundation. "We are always grateful for their generosity, and as we begin the fifth year of this partnership, we want to deliver more toys than ever before to bring happiness and hope to those children who need it most."

Enemy Engagements Decrease for Marines in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON, Oct. 17, 2008 – As the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment continues to enhance security in Afghanistan, Marines there are experiencing decreased enemy engagements, the battalion’s commander said yesterday.


By Navy Seaman William Selby
Special to American Forces Press Service

“We’ve killed or captured a lot of the [Taliban’s] leadership,” U.S. Marine Lt. Col. Richard Hall, commander of Task Force 2D Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, told bloggers during a teleconference.

Other possible reasons Hall cited for fewer engagements include the recent Muslim holiday of Ramadan, the beginning of winter in Afghanistan and the enhanced efforts of the Afghan National Police.

“We’ve now trained over 800 Afghan National Police and have placed them in various districts,” he said.

Most people think that training and mentoring are not critical parts of counterinsurgency operations, when in fact, they are a subset, Hall said.

“The first thing is the force comes in here and establishes themselves and initiates the security piece, then what we had to do is we had to concurrently do the training and mentoring” of the police, he said.

In addition to training, the Marines have initiated several other long- and short-term projects under strategies they call “focused district development” and “in-district reform.”

The Marines have enhanced the Afghan economy, opened mosques, built schools, and are hoping to build a road, although that may not happen soon, Hall said.

“We’re hoping to build a road here, probably not on our watch, but certainly on our replacements’ watch,” Hall said. The 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines will be replaced by the 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment in the near future.

Hall said that while he is constantly seeing improvement in his districts, there are still several challenges, specifically in recruiting for the Afghan police.

“We really need to recruit from districts in which we are going to replace those [police],” Hall added. “They get a good education, they come back, and there’s an immediate change in the district when they go out there. All our guys that mentor them when they’re back out in their districts have noted the significant improvements that are made.”

As the Marine units prepare to rotate, a top priority is ensuring that the Afghan recruitment is done right.

“I think we got it right now,” said Hall. “The next evolutions [in reform and development of districts] are going to be much more successful, and so it will be the way of the future in emplacing these [police] in the districts, which becomes a foundation for governance at the district level.”

To set the stage for the incoming Marine unit, Hall said his Marines would prepare training on lessons learned.

“We want to give them the proper introduction to the history, teach them the techniques and procedures that will keep them alive,” Hall said. “And we owe that to our brothers.”

In order to be successful, the 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines have to continue to do what the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines have done - focus on the Afghan people, Hall said.

“We have focused on the enduring effort, those things that will last, those operations which create a foundation for the future, like building schools, educating people, building roads, providing jobs, and aiding commerce,” he said.

(Navy Seaman William Selby works for the New Media branch of the Defense Media Activity)

October 16, 2008

Sources: Taliban split with al Qaeda, seek peace

LONDON, England (CNN) -- Taliban leaders are holding Saudi-brokered talks with the Afghan government to end the country's bloody conflict -- and are severing their ties with al Qaeda, sources close to the historic discussions have told CNN.


By Nic Robertson
CNN Senior International Correspondent

King Abdullah of Saudia Arabia hosted meetings between the Afghan government and the Taliban, a source says.

The militia, which has been intensifying its attacks on the U.S.-led coalition that toppled it from power in 2001 for harboring Osama bin Laden's terrorist network, has been involved in four days of talks hosted by Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, says the source.

The talks -- the first of their kind aimed at resolving the lengthy conflict in Afghanistan -- mark a significant move by the Saudi leadership to take a direct role in Afghanistan, hosting delegates who have until recently been their enemies.

They also mark a sidestepping of key "war on terror" ally Pakistan, frequently accused of not doing enough to tackle militants sheltering on its territory, which has previously been a conduit for talks between the Saudis and Afghanistan.

According to the source, fugitive Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar -- high on the U.S. military's most-wanted list -- was not present, but his representatives were keen to stress the reclusive cleric is no longer allied to al Qaeda.

Details of the Taliban leader's split with al Qaeda have never been made public before, but the new claims confirm what another source with an intimate knowledge of the militia and Mullah Omar has told CNN in the past.

The current round of talks, said to have been taken two years of intense behind-the-scenes negotiations to come to fruition, is anticipated to be the first step in a long process to secure a negotiated end to the conflict.

But U.S.- and Europe-friendly Saudi Arabia's involvement has been propelled by a mounting death toll among coalition troops amid a worsening violence that has also claimed many civilian casualties.

A Saudi source familiar with the talks confirmed that they happened and said the Saudis take seriously their role in facilitating discussions between parties to the conflict.

A second round of talks is scheduled to take place in two months, the Saudi source said.

The Afghan government believes the Taliban cannot be defeated militarily, and the Taliban believe that they can't win a war against the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan, the Saudi source said.

The involvement of the Saudis is also seen as an expression of fear that Iran could take advantage of U.S. failings in Afghanistan, as it is seen to be doing in Iraq.

Several Afghan sources familiar with Iranian activities in Afghanistan have said Iranian officials and diplomats who are investing in business and building education facilities are lobbying politicians in Kabul. Learn more about King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia »

The Afghan sources wish to remain anonymous due to their political roles.

Coalition commanders regularly accuse Iran of arming the Taliban, and Western diplomats privately suggest that Iran is working against U.S. interests in Afghanistan, making it harder to bring peace.

Saudi sources say perceived Iranian expansionism is one of Saudi Arabia's biggest concerns.

The talks in Mecca took place between September 24 and 27 and involved 11 Taliban delegates, two Afghan government officials, a representative of former mujahadeen commander and U.S. foe Gulbadin Hekmatyar, and three others.

King Abdullah broke fast during the Eid al-Fitr holiday with the 17-member Afghan delegation -- an act intended to show his commitment to ending the conflict. Eid al-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting.

Saudi Arabia was one of only three countries that recognized the Taliban leadership during its rule over Afghanistan in the 1990s, but that relationship was severed over Mullah Omar's refusal to hand over bin Laden.

During the talks, described as an ice breaker, all parties agreed that the only solution to Afghanistan's conflict is through dialogue, not fighting.

Further talks are expected in Saudi Arabia involving this core group and others.

October 15, 2008

Marine Museum Honors Marines Who Served, Died in Beirut

TRIANGLE, Va., Oct. 15, 2008 – With the 25th anniversary of the terrorist bombing of the Marine Corps barracks in Beirut just nine days away, the National Museum of the Marine Corps here today unveiled a temporary exhibit in memory of the 238 U.S. Marines who were killed that day.


By Carol L. Bowers
American Forces Press Service

"This remains the single most deadly attack on Americans on foreign soil – ever. In this post-9/11 world … this event should be remembered and studied by us all,” said Lin Ezell, director of the museum located just outside of Quantico Marine Corps Base.

“Historians tracking the global war on terrorism will find that it is a quarter century old,” Ezell told a small group of military veterans and museum visitors at the opening of the exhibit.

In the Oct. 23, 1983, attack, a terrorist driving a bomb-laden truck struck the headquarters of Battalion Landing Team 1, 8th Marines, killing 241 Americans, including 238 Marines. Moments later, 58 French paratroopers died in a similar truck-bomb attack.

The exhibit, which consists of a three-panel story board that chronicles the Marines’ peacekeeping mission from August 1982 through February 1984, is titled “Where Do We Get Such Men?”

The title is taken from the text of Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Paul X. Kelley’s welcome to the Marines and sailors who survived the bombing and returned to Camp Lejeune, N.C.:

“When I met the first flight of your fallen comrades as they arrived at Dover, Delaware, after the mass murder of 23 October, I asked the question, Lord, where do we get such men? As you stand here today I ask the same question. Where do we get such men of courage -- such men of dedication -- such men of patriotism -- such men of pride? The simple answer is that we get them from every clime and place, from every race, from every creed, and from every color.”

The exhibit, the first in a series of mini-exhibits, will be available to the public via an electronic library in 2009, Ezell said.

More than a half dozen Marines and sailors who were in Beirut the day of the barracks bombing attended the ceremony at the museum.

Michael N. Pocalyko, managing director and chief executive officer of Monticello Capital, was a young Navy pilot at the time of the bombing. He was airborne at the time, flying a helicopter on an intelligence mission about 25 miles north of Beirut. He found out about the bombing upon his return to his ship.

“My journal that day talks about the dead. So many dead at this time, so many dead at that time, and the numbers just kept going up,” Pocalyko said. “It was outside of anyone’s expectations that a suicide bombing would occur.”

Later, Pocalyko would attend Harvard University and study the international events that pre-dated the bombing as part of his studies on international affairs and economics.

Pocalyko returned to Beirut years later. “The Marine deployment area is now part of the Beirut airport,” he recalled. “The actual site is now part building and part parking lot. It’s nothing like it was.”

Navy Master Chief Petty Officer Mark T. Hacala, who still serves in the reserves, was a medical corpsman on the day of the bombing. Hacala, director of history and education at the U.S. Navy Memorial, said the exhibit highlighted what to some is a forgotten portion of history.

“What people don’t realize is that there was a ground war going on. The bombing is one element,” Hacala said. “To the rest of the world, it was an incident without context.”

Gregory Balzer, chief of operations for the Marine Corps’ training and education command, had left the Marine barracks one day before the bombing to go to the presidential palace, located a few miles away.

“I woke up to the loudest noise you ever heard. Then I heard a second explosion,” Balzer recalled.

Initially, he feared the palace was under attack. Then came the reports of mass casualties at the barracks. TV reports brought home the devastation visually.

“There’s so much activity in coordinating the evacuation, you go on auto-pilot. You’re just sort of numb,” Balzer said.

Then, the realization hits home, hard. “You’ve just lost every friend you have made in your short Marine Corps career,” Balzer said. “Not a day goes by that I don’t think about them.”

As for the exhibit, Balzer said it is recognition that is long overdue.

“It was a tragic defeat, and the Marine Corps doesn’t like to celebrate defeat,” Balzer said. “The first lesson in exegesis is to look at what went wrong, what went right. Some people would say we’re celebrating a tragedy, … but we need to learn from that experience.”

Mike Bangert, a builder from Petersburg, Pa., had the honor of being the only former Marine to bicycle to the museum for the opening of the exhibit.

Bangert, who served in Beirut in 1984, after the bombing, is on a 500-plus-mile bicycle ride to raise support for the issuance of Beirut Memorial U.S. postage stamp. That his journey, independent of other commemorations, brought him here in time for the exhibit’s opening was coincidence, Bangert said. He plans to be in Jacksonville, N.C., in time for the commemoration ceremonies for the bombing later this month at Camp Lejeune.

“My experience in Beirut pales in comparison to that of the real Beirut veterans,” Bangert said.

A House of Representatives resolution expressing the recommendation that a commemorative postage stamp should be issued in remembrance of the victims and in honor of the veterans of the peacekeeping mission in Beirut from 1982 to 1984 is hung up in committee. The resolution has 21 co-sponsors so far, but 50 are needed for action.

“I’m just trying to do my part to raise awareness,” Bangert said.

DoD to hold family support summit Oct. 20

By William H. McMichael - Staff writer
Posted : Wednesday Oct 15, 2008 12:51:27 EDT

Troops and family members are invited to join a live Oct. 20 Webcast of a Pentagon summit meeting that will explore the best ways to support families of service members who are killed, seriously wounded or become ill or injured.

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Another side of combat

FALLUJAH, Iraq – Most Marines agree taking care of the man on your left and right is the number one concern in combat.


Story by Lance Cpl. Achilles Tsantarliotis

Marriage and fatherhood, however, can often affect a Marine’s way of thinking and Cpl. David Thomason is learning why.

Thomason, a 23-year-old company clerk with Headquarters and Support Company, Task Force 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 1, has participated in one deployment to Afghanistan with his unit, and is now on his second Iraq deployment with them.
Throughout his first two deployments, Thomason served with his unit as a rifleman and as an M-249 Squad Automatic Weapon gunner. His only concern, he said, was his fellow Marines around him.

“I remember humping up a mountain in Afghanistan on a cool day,” recalled Thomason. “I remember thinking how nice a day it was before we started, but once we got up there, it wasn’t nice. It was cold. After unloading my 150-pound pack, I was drenched in sweat. It just starts freezing to your body. Guys were going numb. The cold was the least of our worries though, we were taking fire everyday, but I loved it.”

Thomason said during his first two deployments he had an almost “careless” approach to danger, thinking only of mission accomplishment when in a life threatening situation.

“Afghanistan was very dangerous,” said Sgt. Jon Owens, a section leader with JUMP platoon, H&S; Company, Task Force 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines, RCT-1. “We’d take incoming fire every day, get ambushed and mortared—it was serious. Thomason was motivated, though. It was our first deployment, we were all eager (to fight) and being family men was the farthest thing from our minds.”

After Thomason returned from his second deployment things changed for him. He met and married his wife Nicole, and together they parented a son Samuel.

Now about two months into his second Iraq deployment, Thomason said he still has an obligation to the Marines around him, but he also has a wife and newborn son to consider.
“I have a family now,” he said. “I can’t act like a cowboy anymore. I need to be safe so my wife has a husband, and my son has a father when we go home.”

Thomason’s role with his unit has also changed during his current deployment. As a company clerk, he maintains the company’s personnel and equipment accountability and helps to facilitate the company’s daily tasks.

“This is my first deployment as a company clerk,” he said. As a ‘grunt,’ you have a set schedule, or you know when you’re going out and when you have time to rest. Now, with the company needing to be accounted for and Marines to be taken care of, I work whenever needed.”

Being a husband and father has changed Thomason’s perspective on life in and out of the Marine Corps.

“Thinking back to when I was freezing on some mountain in Afghanistan and getting shot at and ambushed every day; time has gone by quickly,” said Thomason. “This deployment is going by quickly. I call my wife and son every so often to see how they’re doing and it makes things easier and gives me something to look forward to. It’s what dads do.”

October 14, 2008

American Gladiators tour Iraq

RAWAH, Iraq — Combat Outpost Rawah, Iraq -- Atop the flatbed of a seven-ton truck and behind wooden pallets stacked as a barrier, gladiators took cover from incoming fire. They popped up to return suppressive fire, and the soccer ball onslaught continued for nearly an hour.


10/14/2008 By Lance Cpl. Joshua Murray, Regimental Combat Team 5

Five members of the new TV series “American Gladiators,” Titan, Phoenix, Militia, Panther and Venom visited the Warlords of 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 5 here Oct. 9.

“Being here is the best experience,” said Titan, a giant of a man, who played Thor in the original “American Gladiators” TV series. “It’s too surreal for us. Meeting the troops is one thing, but these guys are giving up their family, their kids and missing those moments. It’s amazing how much they give up.”

After lugging their baggage off the helicopters, they took a quick tour of the base and got settled into their rooms in the same compound where the Marines of the outpost sleep. They later visited the battalion communications shop to have lunch grilled by Master Sgt. Bill Cannon, communications chief, 2nd. Bn, 2nd Marines.

“It’s good to see the change that’s taking place here,” said Militia, who served in the Marines for four years. “I got this chance to come to Iraq. It was like a dream and just another chance to serve.”

Militia’s story with the Marine Corps began long before his years of service with them. As a young man and a native of Cuba, he longed for American citizenship and risked his life to get it. If not for Marines aboard a Navy vessel, he might not be here today.

“We just jumped in the water, me, my cousin and three friends,” he said of how he got out of Cuba. “Only I and one other survived. (Marines) saved us. They saved my life and took me to America to become an American citizen.

After lunch, the gladiators joined service members in the outpost gym to meet them, give fitness advice and sign autographs. They posed for photos in outlandish positions including chokeholds and headlocks, but the day’s main event was yet to come.

The Marine’s established a variation of the gladiator’s “Assault Course.” The course consisted of barriers comprised of wooden pallets, vehicles for cover and soccer balls for ammunition strategically placed throughout the course. The Marines dashed for their objective, orange road cones, while dodging soccer balls along the way.

“The first time I watched ‘American Gladiators’ was years ago,” said Lance Cpl. William R. Thompson Jr., 21, an infantryman with the Warlords. “It was something I always thought would be cool to do and now I got to do it.”

The gladiators will soon be back in the U.S. to begin their new season of “American Gladiators” in January. During their next season, they will acknowledge the troops they’ve visited and the men and women that will serve overseas in the future.

American Gladiators bring fight to Marines

HIT, Iraq — The American Gladiators paid a visit to the Marines of 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 5 to show their support and have some fun Oct. 8.
Titan, Militia, Panther, Phoenix and Venom, stars from the television show “American Gladiators,” traveled here to sign autographs and take pictures with the Marines.


10/14/2008 By Lance Cpl. Shawn Cummins, Regimental Combat Team 5

The gladiators arrived early in the day and started by spending time visiting the Marines and sailors with the battalion. One of the gladiators, Venom, even stopped to help Marines fill sand bags. After sitting down for lunch and talking to the Marines, the gladiators tested their strength against some of the Marines with some tug-of-war and a few rounds of “Bull in the Ring.”

“I really didn’t expect them to come out and actually do (events),” said Lance Cpl. Dillon J. Bob, 21, a squad automatic weapon gunner with Company L., 3rd Bn., 7th Marines. “For them to actually come out here, it makes us feel like they actually care.”

Alex Castro, a former Marine who plays Militia on “American Gladiators,” was the first to get things started, jumping in line with some of the larger Marines to take on Co. L’s machine gunners in a match of tug-of-war. After a failed attempt by Militia’s team to take the win, Titan ran up to give them a hand during the second round. Despite their best efforts, the machine gunners won again.

After the tug-of-war, the ground fighting began with a game called “Bull in the Ring,” which is a contest to see who the last man standing is. Two Marines stepped up to take on Militia at once and were tossed beyond the sand bags lining the perimeter of the ring in a matter of seconds.

“It was a good time,” said Cpl. Kyle D. Dringman, who stepped into the ring with Militia during the event. “I’m glad we got to do a little tug-of-war and ground fighting. I’m glad they did something with us instead of just coming and taking pictures because we actually got involved with them a little.”

After leaving Hit, the American Gladiators traveled to Camp Rawah to visit more Marines with the battalion.

October 12, 2008

Supply gives Highlanders goods to keep tip of the spear sharp

CAMP KOREAN VILLAGE, Iraq — It takes a lot of gear to run a battalion. Infantrymen need weapons and chow. Mechanics need parts and tools. Everyone needs something, and aside from haircuts, it all comes from one place: supply.


10/12/2008 By Cpl. Dean Davis, Regimental Combat Team 5

“If you want to put a dollar value on (gear) out here in Iraq, we’re responsible for roughly $5 million of inventory,” said Staff Sgt. Quincy Hughes, supply chief for 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 5. “We also have to account for all the gear ready that was transferred from 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion for our warfighters here.”

As 2nd LAR Bn. rolled out of Camp Korean Village over recent weeks, the 1st LAR Bn. Highlanders took over 2nd LAR Bn.’s battlespace and have settled into the operational tempo here.

“With that turnover, we took on some of their procedures for doing business, but started doing some new things to help enhance the supply process,” said Cpl. Oscar A. Serrano, warehouse chief for 1st LAR Bn.. “The first thing we had to do was organize the battalion’s gear and get accurate counts of all the inventory we have before the battalion pushes out into our operations area.”

Filling the demand for such a broad array of items can sometimes be a daunting task, especially with only a small section to maintain an entire battalion’s supply needs.

“We field gear for (many sections). Medical supplies, vehicle and weapons parts, pens and well- you name it; if the battalion needs it, we can get it,” said Serrano, 22, from Los Angeles. “We have more than 300 different sources for supplying the battalion. It might take some research, but that’s what we do.”

On top of a massive wish list, the supply shop still has a budget that they must manage.

“Our shop is the focal point for almost all of the battalion’s budget,” said Hughes, 32, from New Orleans. “We separate requests by needs and wants. Once we determine that there is a need for that gear, we get it out to the warfighter as quickly as possible to support their mission and keep them in the fight.”

Anchorage Marine killed in Afghanistan

ANCHORAGE, Alaska - Jason Karella, a 20-year-old Marine from Anchorage, has died while serving in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.


by Yvonne LaVoie
Sunday, October 12, 2008

Karella died Thursday, just one month before he was expected to return to the United States.

"He was a young leader," Kevin Karella, Jason's father, said in a phone interview. "Everybody looked up to him and he cared about his Marines so much, and he cared about the job they were doing."

After spending the first part of his high school career at Bartlett, Karella decided to finish his senior year at the Alaska Military Youth Academy.

By the time he graduated, Jason Karella knew he wanted to be a Marine, so he enlisted. His first tour of duty took him to Iraq, and then Afghanistan.

"He said, 'We're making a difference here,'" Kevin Karella said.

According to the Department of Defense, Karella, a corporal, was part of a battalion helping to train Afghan national security forces when he died.

"He was the vehicle commander, (and had) the best seat on the armored Humvee," Kevin Karella said. "But the guy up in the turret wasn't feeling good, and so he gave up his seat ... and he climbed up in the turret.

"And had he not been in the turret, he would have not been killed."

Karella's father said even though his son is gone, he wants those he served with to honor his memory by living life to the fullest.

"We want them to know that there's a reason they're alive and there's a reason they need to go on and be happy and lead great lives," Kevin Karella said.

Officials from the Department of Defense said they cannot confirm Karella's death was the result of hostile fire, citing security concerns.

According to Karella's father, Karella had been shot just a couple weeks before his death, but his protective plate saved him.

A memorial service will be held Saturday at the Anchorage American Legion Post 1 on Fireweed from 2-4 p.m.

October 10, 2008

Care Packages Reach 3/10 Marines!

Last June, the South Central Nebraska Marine Parents support group was contacted by Peggy and Bennett Chamness (owners of Texas T-Bone in Grand Island) needing names of deployed Marines in order to fulfill their care package project.


Marine Parent Jill Weiser
Oct 10, 2008

SCNMP member Joan Perkins of Beaver City, who's son, LCpl. A.J. Perkins, submitted over 125 names of Marines in her sons unit...the 3rd Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment who are currently deployed in Iraq.

Those packages reached those Marines, and A.J. was kind enough to take pictures and recently sent them home to share. From the looks of these photos ...these warriors were very grateful for all the things they received.

God bless you and thank you Bennett and Peggy for all you do for our troops along with those who contributed to this care package project!

Also...a BIG THANK YOU and OOHRAH to A.J. for providing pictures!

Dedication ceremony planned for Lance Corporal Leon B. Deraps Memorial Hwy.

Jamestown, Mo. -

Friends and family of Leon B. Deraps have announced that a formal dedication ceremony for the Lance Corporal Leon B. Deraps Memorial Highway has been set for Saturday, Oct. 18, at 10 a.m.


Boonville Daily News
Fri Oct 10, 2008,

The ceremony will be held at the Jamestown Community Center, 130 E. Row Street, in Jamestown, Mo.

House Bill 1575 was signed into law and Section 227.394 designates a four-mile section of State Route 87 from the intersection of Route AA south in Moniteau County as the Lance Corporal Leon B. Deraps Memorial Highway.

October 9, 2008

Wildfire at Marine explosives range contained

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. - A wildfire that burned up to 1,900 acres on a Marine Corps explosives range was contained Thursday without causing any injuries or damage to buildings on the base, officials said.


Thu Oct 9, 2:29 PM ET

The blaze was fully surrounded about 16 hours after it began, Marine Cpl. Priscilla Vitale said.

The fire erupted Wednesday afternoon about 40 miles north of San Diego as hot, dry weather gripped Southern California. Aircraft attacked the flames and firefighters set backfires, working through the night to slow its advance.

The fire burned between 1,400 and 1,900 acres, said Marine Maj. Kristen Lasica.

The flames were far from the populated part of the 125,000-acre base, but Camp Pendleton's golf course was evacuated as a precaution.

Billowing smoke could be seen in neighboring counties. Some people in Los Angeles called 911 to report the smell of smoke Thursday, Fire Department spokesman Brian Humphrey said.

Marine officials said they did not know the fire's cause or whether training was going on at the range at the time.

A small, separate brush fire broke out and briefly threatened several homes on the base shortly after 9 p.m. Wednesday, but it was quickly contained.

Last October, more than 21,000 acres burned in remote areas of the base. No structures were damaged.

Camp Pendleton, one of the largest bases in the country, takes up 125,000 acres in northern San Diego County. It is home to the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. The Marine Corps established the base in 1942.

October 8, 2008

CAMP PENDLETON: Fire chars 1,000 acres; dry winds expected Sunday

No injuries or damaged structures reported

CAMP PENDLETON ---- A brush fire on Camp Pendleton had burned more than 1,000 acres as of Wednesday night and was still spreading, base officials said.


By North County Times | Wednesday, October 8, 2008 11:47 PM PDT ∞

Marine Maj. Kristen Lasica, a base spokeswoman, said firefighters had the upper hand on the blaze but did not have it surrounded or controlled. Winds of 5 to 10 mph were slowly pushing the flames to the northeast.

The fire started about 3:30 p.m. on a grassy training range on the southwest part of the base. It produced a huge plume of smoke along the southern border of the Marine Corps base, from east Oceanside to Interstate 15.

Although the fire stayed on the base, it burned only about a mile from its border, worrying many residents to the south, authorities said. North County emergency dispatchers said they received "constant" calls from residents concerned that the fire was headed their way.

Four strike teams of five brush engines from Camp Pendleton, coastal and inland North County fire departments and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection battled the blaze, Lasica said. Nine aircraft, including helicopters and planes, assisted by daylight but had to suspend operations at nightfall, she said.

The blaze charred unoccupied land, and no structures were damaged or threatened Wednesday night, Lasica said. The base's golf course at the edge of the range was evacuated as a precautionary measure, base officials said.

No injuries were reported. The fire's cause had not been determined Wednesday, Lasica said.

The blaze took hold on a day of near-record temperatures and blustery winds, but forecasters said that the riskiest fire weather is expected sometime Sunday.

Following a cooling trend Thursday through Saturday, the dry offshore winds known as Santa Anas are expected to kick up in San Diego County on Sunday and last through Monday, said National Weather Service meteorologist Stan Wasowski.

Santa Anas are known for pushing wildfires throughout Southern California, including the fires that devastated the county in October 2007 and October 2003.

Fire warnings have been issued for Los Angeles, Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, where humidity is low and winds are expected to be high, especially along the Interstate 5 corridor.

For more information about wildfire preparation, visit http://sdcountyemergency.com.

Staff writer Colleen Mensching contributed to this story.

Contact staff writer Sarah Gordon at (760) 740-3517 or [email protected]

October 7, 2008

STP extends the ‘golden hour’ to keep Marines in the fight

HELMAND PROVINCE, Now Zad, Afghanistan -- Corpsman Up! It’s a simple phrase used by Marines in combat to let corpsmen fighting alongside them know they need help, and FAST.


10/7/2008 By Cpl. James M. Mercure, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines

Since the Marines have been conducting counterinsurgency operations here, this call for help has pierced the air on more than one occasion.

As they take the fight to the insurgents on a near constant basis, the Marines of Company F, Task Force 2d Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force Afghanistan rely heavily on their Navy brethren.

Thankfully, they are equipped with some of the best corpsmen available.

The corpsmen attached to Fox Company are members of the task force’s Shock Trauma Platoon (STP). The STP is comprised of two medical doctors, two nurses, a physician assistant and 14 corpsmen chosen from various military units around the world. The STP specializes in providing trauma care on the scene, and Afghanistan’s austere environment has made it increasingly more challenging for the corpsmen to perform their duties. Nonetheless, the corpsmen serving here in support of Operation Enduring Freedom are committed to a common goal – saving lives and keeping Marines “in the fight.”

To fulfill its life-saving mission, the STP has implemented a new concept that has greatly enhanced its ability to provide more expedient medical care to the Marines serving on the frontlines. Because travelling a short distance to transport wounded Marines through the rocky and hilly terrain can literally take hours, the STP saw fit to create the Mobile Trauma Bay (MTB) to administer care faster.

Through the use of military equipment and medical materials made readily available, the “docs” are now better equipped to help Marines return to the fight.

“We took a flatbed 7-ton truck an ISO container and an AC unit, and turned it into a Mobile Trauma Bay that would rival any emergency room back in the states,” said Cmdr. James L. Hancock, STP senior medical officer and Illiopolis, Ill., native. “It’s hard to believe I wrote the idea down on a napkin and after a few phone calls with some contractors, had it built.”

Affectionately referred to as a “Doc-in-a-box,” the MTB is basically an E.R. (emergency room) on wheels. It is equipped with the medical equipment necessary for the STP to treat wounds that would normally be untreatable on the battlefield. It comes with equipment such as an ultrasound machine that helps the medical personnel locate shrapnel in the body. Among a long list of other medical equipment, the MTB also has an electrocardiogram that shows how the heart is functioning – critical for diagnostic procedures and evalutions; and a pulse-oximeter that shows oxygen saturation of arterial blood necessary to check for normal lung function in a patient.

“We bring advanced medical care to the fight,” said Navy Hospitalman 2nd Class Rudy R. Estrada, STP surgical technician and San Diego, Calif., native. “With the types of injuries we’re seeing, having the MTB with us is a huge asset. Having the advanced equipment so close to the fight has saved a lot of lives.”

A wounded Marine’s chance of survival is increased exponentially if they reach medical care within the first 60 minutes of the injury or what the docs refer to as the “golden hour.” The golden hour represents the time from the point of injury to the time the patient receives treatment.

“With the capabilities we have, we can extend the golden hour to several hours instead of just one,” Estrada explained. “One of the biggest things we bring to the fight is the psychological aspect. The Marines know that if they get injured, the doc is right over their shoulder like a guardian angel.”

Having the additional support of the MTB makes fighting with the enemy less stressful for Fox Company Marines because they know help is close by.

“When I first told my Marines where we were going, one of the first questions they asked was, ‘How far away will we be from medical facilities?’” said Capt. Ross Schellhaas, company commander and Meridian, Idaho native. “You saw a collective sigh of relief from all of the Marines as they realized we would have an E.R. doctor and his team of corpsmen so far forward with us.”
Pleased with the STP’s performance, the company commander said he felt proud to have the sailors serving with Fox Company Marines.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a group of folks that represent Navy medicine the way our STP has,” Capt. Schellhaas said. “We have several corpsmen out here that have earned multiple Purple Hearts for their efforts in trying to save Marines. The STP will do everything it can to help a Marine who’s down, even if that means putting themselves in harm’s way.”

Fox Company Marines understand the importance of having the STP with them because of the difficult situations the Marines have faced since deploying here in early April.

“The situations we get in here are more complex than a single corpsman can handle,” said Lance Cpl. Brandon W. Besendorfer, infantryman and Golden City, Mo., native. “You know if you get hurt, the STP will be there for you. That makes it a little easier going into combat knowing that they will do whatever they can to make sure you make it home.”

October 6, 2008


Gold Star Families License Plate Bill To Be Signed By Governor

Governor Schwarzenegger is signing SB 1455 (Cogdill) – Gold Star Family License Plates – and you are invited to witness this very significant event. Gold Star Families have been waiting a long time to proudly display these license plates which will honor their fallen family members. These families have endured a most painful sacrifice for the sake of our country; let’s now come together to show them our gratitude and support.


Veterans News
Contact: JP Tremblay
Jerry Jones
Jaime Arteaga
Legislation and Public Affairs
October 6, 2008

This bill signing ceremony will take place on Wednesday, October 8, 2008 at the California Veterans Memorial, Capitol Park, 13th and N Street, in Sacramento, CA.

Please arrive at the California Veterans Memorial at 2:45 p.m.

Invited to participate in this event are Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Secretary Tom Johnson, Major Genera William H. Wade, II, Senators Dave Cogdill and Jeff Denham,
Gold Star Families, and Veterans.

SB 1455, Cogdill, Vehicles: Special License Plates:

This bill authorizes a person who is a family member of a member of the Armed Forces who was killed while serving on active duty in the military to apply for a special license plate with a design containing the words "Gold Star Family."

Note to editors: This Advisory Veterans News and previous CDVA news releases, advisories, and newsletters are available on
our website at www.cdva.ca.gov and via email from [email protected]

Family members to get GI Bill benefits

Troops can shift them to spouse, kids

By Rick Maze - [email protected]
Posted : October 06, 2008

All career service members, regardless of their military occupational specialty, will be offered the opportunity to transfer GI Bill benefits to immediate family members starting next summer, under a plan taking shape in the Pentagon.

To continue reading:


VA rule change may mean higher TBI payouts

By Rick Maze - [email protected]
Posted : October 06, 2008

In the first of what could become many revisions in its disability ratings, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced Sept. 23 that it is changing how it evaluates traumatic brain injuries, a move that could increase disability compensation for thousands of veterans who have been injured by roadside bombs or other explosions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

To continue reading:


Lessons from one vet to another

Posted : October 06, 2008

Bob O’Rourke is a Vietnam War veteran and instructor for Outward Bound veterans courses. Here are three truths he emphasizes to veterans.

To continue reading:


October 5, 2008

Legendary Marine battalion completes Iraq deployment

RAMADI, IRAQ — RAMADI, IRAQ (October 5, 2008) – Just over seven months ago, service members with 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 1, packed their bags and traveled halfway across the world to Iraq, marking the unit’s first battalion-sized deployment since its reactivation in late 2005.


10/5/2008 By Lance Cpl. Casey Jones, Regimental Combat Team 1

The battalion, also known as “The Walking Dead” because of an extremely high mortality rate (above 90 percent) it suffered during the Vietnam War, has completed its tour in Ramadi and is now making its way back to its home station in Camp Lejeune, N.C.

Marines and sailors serving with the battalion have spent the last seven months securing a nearly 800-square-mile battle space (almost the size of Rhode Island), which was the first and largest Mega-Area of Operations in the country assigned to a single battalion.

The AO was previously secured by two Marine battalions, an Army brigade headquarters and a tank company.

Ramadi, no more than two years ago, was arguably the heart of the insurgency in Iraq and considered by many to be one of the country’s most violent cities.

Violence in the city remained relatively high until mid-2007, when a group of sheiks, tribal leaders and other citizens agreed to join and fight against the terrorist insurgency that plagued the area.

Dubbed the “Anbar Awakening,” the unification occurred in the city and quickly spread throughout the province.

With the support of Coalition forces, the movement significantly reduced violence in the province and the region unofficially began a recovery and rebuilding process.

Although the number of attacks declined, the complexity of the mission multiplied.

The Marines of 1st Bn., 9th Marines, maintained security in a still dangerous city, while also partnering with Iraqi police and working with the civic government to rebuild the infrastructure.

“There were a lot of skeptics out there before we came,” said Sgt. Jeremy D. Puckett, a section leader from Padukah, Ky., with 81mm Mortar Platoon, 1st Battalion, 9th Marines. “A lot of people said Ramadi wasn’t ready for just one battalion, but we definitely silenced those critics. We successfully met the commander’s intent and accomplished our mission.”

Throughout their deployment, the Marines and sailors oversaw a variety of critical infrastructure rebuilding projects and community events.

Each of the battalion’s companies devised and completed distinct projects appropriate to their area of operation.

In total, the battalion oversaw the completion of more than 216 projects.

“We definitely left our mark in the city with the various events we held and rebuilding projects,” Puckett said.

Weapons Company, along with embedded Provincial Recovery Team- Ramadi (ePRT) and Civil Affairs Detachment 2, hosted a city-wide, five-day soccer tournament in downtown Ramadi, which proved to be one of the more significant events.

“It says a lot about the strength of (1st Battalion, 9th Marines) and the city; that we were able to hold a soccer tournament,” Puckett said. “The security was so strong we were able to take off our gear and play a Marine versus Iraqi police game.”

To get the locals more involved in the rebuilding process, the Marines built upon the trust and relationships previous battalions established with the populace.

From day one, the “Walking Dead” made it a point to accentuate trust, respect, and honesty.

“This was a great deployment because we were able to form an even stronger relationship with our Iraqi counterparts,” said Capt. John Giannella, a 32-year-old from Hawthorne, N.J., and the Company A commander. “There was always respect on both sides.”

Respecting the Iraqis’ culture and being open-minded was stressed by the battalion’s command, said Puckett.

“It was important for us to embrace their culture because we’re in their country,” Puckett said. “During Ramadan, out of respect for their culture, we didn’t smoke, eat, or drink during the day in the presence of the locals. We’re not here to change their culture, but to better their lives.”

The “Walking Dead” was also responsible for mentoring and developing Ramadi’s maturing police force. Their ability to connect with police in their AO is one of several reasons why the force is now mostly independent.

“The IP’s professionalism has increased dramatically because of the strong relationship between Coalition forces and the IP,” Giannella said, “and also because of the strong leadership among the IP and Coalition forces.”

The battalion usually operated side-by-side with Iraqi security forces, conducting a large number of infantry operations and missions in an effort to train their counterparts.

“Training the Iraqi police was challenging at times because of the cultural and language barriers, and also because we’re military and they’re police,” said 1st Lt. Jacob Womble, a 25-year-old from Tulsa, Okla., and the commander of 3rd Platoon, Company C.
“Right now, they’re doing a lot of military work kind of similar to a militia. We’ve been transitioning them from that role to more of an actual police force.”

The service members trained thoroughly for the types of scenarios they were expected to encounter in Iraq before they deployed, but found themselves adjusting to new ways of operating on a frequent basis soon after their arrival.

“I think the phrase ‘adapt and overcome’ is perfect for what we’re doing over here,” Giannella said. “As a single company, we took over for three companies’ worth of battle space.”

“Although we’re infantry and we train for house-to-house combat and kicking down doors, it’s like what the battalion commander says, ‘we’re Jones and we’re here to paint,’ which basically means adapt to your situation and do whatever is needed to get the job done,” he added.

The IP’s ever-increasing competency allowed the Marines to reduce their presence in the city, gradually moving from living inside the city alongside the IP, to living in outposts along the cities’ perimeter.

Because the city’s security is still fragile, some of the locals worried the move was a sure sign the Marines were packing up and leaving, sooner rather than later.

“The people were a little concerned about our reduced presence,” Giannella said. “But we told them that we would still be here looking over their shoulders and not just leaving.”

While the city is much safer, the threat of attack still exists.

Throughout the deployment the battalion was the target of a number of attacks including eight suicide bombings, over a dozen small arms attacks and more than 10 improvised explosive device attacks.

In addition to providing and maintaining security in the area, the Marines conducted two battalion clearing operations, many cache sweeps and several cordon and knock searches. The battalion detained roughly 50 high value targets during their deployment.

“We did a lot of joint operations with the police,” Womble said. “Some of the night operations were a little intense, but we always made sure the intensity was appropriate to the operation because most of the people are not a threat. We didn’t want to make any enemies by making innocent people upset.”

A key aspect in counterinsurgency warfare is making yourself vulnerable to protect yourself and your fellow comrades.

The “Walking Dead” made that leap of faith and capitalized on the resulting friendships to leave Ramadi a better place.

“Although there were several attacks and there are still bad guys out there, I felt pretty safe the entire deployment,” Puckett said. “The security of the city lies with the people and I felt safe amongst the people.”

DOD, YMCA team up to offer free memberships

Sunday, October 5, 2008
Stars and Stripes

The Department of Defense has announced free family memberships for many servicemembers and their families at participating YMCAs. The new program is effective immediately.

To continue reading:


October 4, 2008

Second house for families of wounded troops opens in San Diego

The 12-bedroom facility allows them to stay close to loved ones being treated at the Naval Medical Center, many for traumatic brain injuries.

SAN DIEGO -- When Nicci McClearn of Chicago learned in July that her Marine son had been severely wounded in Afghanistan, she knew where she was headed: Fisher House, adjacent to Naval Medical Center San Diego.


By Tony Perry, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
October 4, 2008

She had stayed there while providing emotional support to the family of one of her son's war-wounded buddies as doctors worked to save his leg. Now it was her turn to keep a vigil while a loved one received care.

"It's a place where you can talk with people who are going through the same thing you are," McClearn said of the eight-bedroom structure with a red-tile roof. "It's easier to be strong that way, when you know you're not alone."

In the last two months, her son, Cpl. A.J. DeBuono, 22, has undergone 13 surgeries to the left side of his body, with more planned to repair the damage done by a rocket-propelled grenade that hit his Humvee. He is walking now and looking forward to more operations and therapy that may improve his hearing and the dexterity in his hands.

On Friday, he was in the audience as his mother was a guest speaker at the grand opening of a second Fisher House on the medical center's grounds. The new house, like others throughout the nation, is designed to provide free lodging for families of military personnel receiving medical care.

The $4-million project is a gift to the Navy from the Fisher House Foundation, named for the late New York real estate tycoon and philanthropist Zachary Fisher, and the foundation's partners, the T. Boone Pickens Foundation and the TriWest Healthcare Alliance.

The first Fisher House here "gave me a place of normalcy when my life was completely upside down," McClearn said, her voice quavering. "It was a place to cry, to share, to be the mother I am."

The house that opened Friday is the 41st Fisher House built adjacent to military or Veterans Affairs hospitals and medical facilities. In two weeks, a Fisher House will open in Dallas, and a couple of months later, another will open next to the VA Medical Center in West Los Angeles.

"Our future is with the VA," said James Weiskopf, a spokesman for the Fisher House Foundation. "The signature wound of these wars is the traumatic brain injury. That means there is a need for long-term care and long-term places for families."

The first Fisher House here opened in 1992 and has served more than 4,000 families, with the average stay about 14 days. The 8,000-square-foot Fisher House II has 12 bedrooms. Both houses have large kitchens, meeting rooms and furnishings in soothing earth tones.

The Naval Medical Center has become a center for the most severely wounded personnel from Iraq and Afghanistan. With an influx of patients, officials soon realized that the center had outgrown Fisher House 1.

During her weeks in Fisher House 1, McClearn was joined by relatives and by family members of other Marines in her son's unit, the Twentynine Palms, Calif.-based 2nd Battalion, 7th Regiment.

Kim Schultz, whose son Cpl. Sean Cain is in Afghanistan, attended the grand opening with McClearn. The 2/7 has suffered more than 14 killed and several dozen wounded; family members have been busy trying to offer support.

"We're the 2/7, Golf Company, weapons platoon moms," McClearn said.

[email protected]

‘Trading Spaces’; Camp Lejeune units pass torch in Iraq

RAMADI, Iraq — RAMADI, Iraq (Oct. 4, 2008) – With the dust settling on their seven-month deployment, Marines of 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team, 1 are handing over their area of operations in Ramadi, Iraq, to 2nd Bn., 9th Marines.


10/4/2008 By Lance Cpl. Jerry Murphy, Regimental Combat Team 1

The last few days of the battalion’s deployment before returning to their home base at Camp Lejeune, N.C., are dedicated to helping their sister unit become familiar with the AO.

“They (1st Bn., 9th Marines) are definitely making it an easy transition for us,” said Cpl. Glen A. Brannen, a 21-year-old squad leader from Statesborough, Ga., with Company G, 2nd Bn., 9th Marines. “They’re more than willing to help us in every way and are making sure any questions we have for them are answered to the best of their ability.”

The departing Marines may be excited to return home, but their job is not finished. They must first ensure their replacements are ready to take over the battle space and build on their own accomplishments.

“The (2nd Bn., 9th Marines) guys are picking our brains, asking as many questions as they can in the little time we have together,” said Cpl. Justin M. Moreau, a 25-year-old squad leader with Company C, 1st Bn., 9th Marines.

During a mission Oct. 3, Marines with Company C, 1st Bn., 9th Marines, took their 2nd Bn., 9th Marines counterparts to Provincial Security Forces checkpoints along a well-traveled highway in Ramadi.

“We took them to all the PSF checkpoints we have been working at for the last seven months,” said Lance Cpl. Will M. Hill, a machine gunner from Brookehaven, Miss., with Company C, 1st Bn., 9th Marines. “It gives them a better feel for the AO and lets them know which entry control points are manned by PSF.”

Moreau said knowing the difference between the streets of North Carolina and the streets of Ramadi is essential to a successful tour in Iraq.

“It’s important that the Marines with (2nd Bn., 9th Marines) know the cultural differences between us and the Iraqis,” said Moreau, a native of Marksville, Calif. “It’s easy to be respectful, but understanding the cultural difference helps gain the respect of the Iraqi people.”

With their deployment nearing its end and their relieving unit’s deployment just beginning, Marines of 1st Bn., 9th Marines, are confident in the advice they have given to their sister unit.

“I think we’ve done a good job of giving them the tools they need to have a successful tour over here,” Hill said.

October 3, 2008

1st LAR Bn. takes over mechanized security for Anbar province

CAMP KOREAN VILLAGE, Iraq — Marines and sailors of 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 5, finished movement here Sunday as they took the reins for mechanized security in al-Anbar province from 2nd LAR Bn., RCT-5.


10/3/2008 By Cpl. Dean Davis, Regimental Combat Team 5

“Once we have completed our turnover with 2nd LAR (Bn.) and we have all of our gear, the battalion as a whole will move out into the operation area in conjunction with Regimental Combat Team 5 to interdict and disrupt insurgent activity in the area,” said Maj. Henry H. Kayser, operations officer for 1st LAR. “Everybody is on deck now, and we are ready to do our job.”

That job could include a wide range of operations explained Sgt. James G. Hohenstein, a tube-launched, optically tracked, wire-guided (TOW) missile system gunner with Headquarters and Service Company, 1st LAR Bn.

“The realistic training we received while still in the states was vital to tackling the wide array of missions that could be assigned to us,” said Hohenstein, 28, from La Crescenda, Calif. “As the saying goes: ‘train like we fight.’ That’s what we did, and that’s why we will be ready for whatever comes our way.”

With the Iraqi Security Forces now having increased responsibilities for security in al-Anbar province, 1st LAR Bn. will assist the ISF by patrolling the open desert to disrupt insurgent activity.

“1st LAR (Bn.) will be going back to its roots,” said Kayser, 33, from Baltimore, Md. “Instead of living on forward operating bases and (combat) outposts, the Marines will be working and living out of their vehicles and roaming the open desert like LAR is meant to do.”

As the Marines and sailors of 1st LAR Bn. settle into the tempo of their deployment, the teamwork they fostered leading up to now will carry them through their time here successfully, explained Hohenstein.

“It feels good to be a part of such a big operation and to lead Marines with all we’ve practiced to fight the war on terrorism,” said Hohenstein. “All that’s left to do now is dig into whatever is thrown at us, do our job right and come home to our families safe and successful.

Tricare offers active-duty respite care

By Karen Jowers - Staff writer
Posted : Friday Oct 3, 2008 19:19:53 EDT

The benefit was authorized in the 2008 Defense Authorization Act, and Tricare officials now have the mechanism in place to implement it.

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1st LAR Bn. takes over mechanized security for al-Anbar province

CAMP KOREAN VILLAGE, Iraq — Marines and sailors of 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 5 finished movement here Sunday as they took the reins for mechanized security in al-Anbar province from 2nd LAR Bn., RCT-5.


10/3/2008 By Cpl. Dean Davis, Regimental Combat Team 5

“Once we have completed our turnover with 2nd LAR (Bn.) and we have all of our gear, the battalion as a whole will move out into the operation area in conjunction with Regimental Combat Team 5 to interdict and disrupt insurgent activity in the area,” said Maj. Henry H. Kayser, operations officer for 1st LAR. “Everybody is on deck now, and we are ready to do our job.”

That job could include a wide range of operations explained Sgt. James G. Hohenstein, a tube-launched, optically tracked, wire-guided (TOW) missile system gunner with Headquarters and Service Company, 1st LAR Bn.

“The realistic training we received while still in the states was vital to tackling the wide array of missions that could be assigned to us,” said Hohenstein, 28, from La Crescenda, Calif. “As the saying goes: ‘train like we fight.’ That’s what we did, and that’s why we will be ready for whatever comes our way.”

With the Iraqi Security Forces now having increased responsibilities for security in al-Anbar province, 1st LAR Bn. will assist the ISF by patrolling the open desert to disrupt insurgent activity.

“1st LAR (Bn.) will be going back to its roots,” said Kayser, 33, from Baltimore, Md. “Instead of living on forward operating bases and (combat) outposts, the Marines will be working and living out of their vehicles and roaming the open desert like LAR is meant to do.”

As the Marines and sailors of 1st LAR Bn. settle into the tempo of their deployment, the teamwork they fostered leading up to now will carry them through their time here successfully, explained Hohenstein.

“It feels good to be a part of such a big operation and to lead Marines with all we’ve practiced to fight the war on terrorism,” said Hohenstein. “All that’s left to do now is dig into whatever is thrown at us, do our job right and come home to our families safe and successful.

October 2, 2008

Military Families Get New Home Away From Home

Free Lodging Puts Them Close to Hospital

SAN DIEGO -- More family members visiting badly injured sailors and Marines can now literally stay next door to their loved ones at Naval Medical Center in Balboa Park.


Paul Krueger, NBC 7/39 Producer
POSTED: 3:09 pm PDT October 2, 2008
UPDATED: 3:14 pm PDT October 2, 2008

Thanks to generous donations from the Fisher House Foundation and the TriWest Corporation, the 8,000 square foot building, featuring 12 hotel-like suites, is now open on the Medical Center Campus.

It's a home-away-from-home for military families whose active and retired relatives are being treated at the Medical Center. Each of the suites inside the Fisher House is fully furnished, and accessible for the handicapped. There's a community kitchen, living room, dining room and laundry room, where visiting families can meet and get to know each other.

And there is no cost involved for families of the injured service members.

The Fisher House cost about $4 million to build, and it's the second military guesthouse on the Naval Medical Center Campus.

The first Fisher House was built in 1992, and has room for eight families.

Officials Urge Military Voters to Send in Absentee Ballots

WASHINGTON, Oct. 2, 2008 – Overseas-deployed servicemembers and other troops serving outside their home states need to fill out and forward their absentee ballots so their votes can be counted as part of the Nov. 4 federal and state elections, Defense Department officials said today.


By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

Scott Wiedmann, deputy director of DoD’s Federal Voting Assistance Program, said during an interview with Pentagon Channel and American Forces Press Service reporters that some military voters may be waiting for ballots.

“Realizing that military members may be forward-deployed or at training for a period of time, upon returning they may find that their ballot has arrived,” Wiedmann said. “We encourage individuals to vote that ballot from the state as soon as they get it.”

Many states do allow ballot and registration requests well into this month, Wiedmann said.

Meanwhile, the Military Postal Service Agency and the U.S. Postal Service are working together to expedite the delivery of ballots to and from overseas locales, Wiedmann said. Deadline dates for forwarding overseas ballots can be obtained from the MPSA web site, hqdainet.army.mil/mpsa/vote.htm.

“The week immediately preceding the election, the U.S. Postal Service will express mail all of those ballots back to local officials to help ensure that they get back by the close of polls on Election Day,” Wiedmann said.

Some 20 states allow for late counting of absentee ballots, Wiedmann said, as long as the ballots are signed, dated and postmarked by the day of election.

It’s a myth, Wiedmann said, that absentee ballots for a general election contest only count during a close election. In fact, all properly submitted absentee ballots are counted in every general election, he said.

“The localities want to ensure that all ballots that do arrive are counted and part of the final total of the election,” Wiedmann said. “So, every ballot that’s submitted does count.”

Voters without state-supplied ballots can fill out the federal write-in absentee ballot, Wiedmann said, which has space for voters to select their choices for candidates running for the presidency, the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives.

The federal write-in absentee ballot also includes space for some local elective offices, he noted, but those votes may or may not be counted, dependent upon local election laws and regulations.

Additionally, “if the voter does receive their ballot from their state any time before the election, we encourage them to submit that, as well,” Wiedmann said. Checks are in place, he said, to preclude double-counting of votes.

2/9 deploys in support of OIF

Marines and sailors from 2nd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, deployed to Al Anbar province from Camp Lejeune, N.C., in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom Sept. 23, 2008.


10/2/2008 By Lance Cpl. Brian Woodruff, 2nd Marine Division

As the Iraqi security forces take primary responsibility for safety and security in the province, the battalion will provide support for the transition.

“We’ll be supporting the Iraqi Police and Iraqi provincial security forces and continuing to improve the security situation in[Al Anbar],” said 2nd Lt. Nicholas White, 2nd Platoon Commander, Golf Company, 2nd Bn., 9th Marines.

The families of the Marines and sailors were sad to see them go, but happy for them at the same time.

“I’m proud,” said Bryan Billings, father of Lance Cpl. Shane Billings, an M 249 Squad Automatic Weapon gunner with Golf Company, 2nd Bn., 9th Marines. “This has been a goal his whole life, and we’re supporting him, but at the same time I’m nervous.”

The younger Billings, a Rochester, N.Y., native, said that although his parents are worried, he is eager to go.

“I’m a little bit nervous, but I’m excited,” he said of his first deployment. “Every grunt signs up to go to Iraq, so it’s kind of a motivating thing for me.”

Before they loaded their gear and boarded the buses that would take them to their port of departure, the service members enjoyed food and the company of their loved ones. Those who had friends and family there said their company helped make the departure easier.

“It helps me mentally prepare for deployment, spending the last couple minutes with my girlfriend and with my mom and dad,” said Seaman Steve Mondary, a hospital corpsman with Fox Company, 2nd Bn., 9th Marines. “There are a lot of emotions.”

Mondary’s father, Mike Mondary, a former Marine and sailor from Rising Sun, Ind., wished his son the best of luck. “Hopefully they’ll have a really good deployment and they’ll come home safe and sound, every last one of them.”

The deployment comes at the culmination of a long series of training exercises to prepare the Marines.

“We’ve done the typical assault ranges here on Camp Lejeune, we went over to Mojave Viper in California, and we worked with the role-players to get a feel for what it’s going to be like in that society and that kind of culture,” said Billings.

White echoed the feeling. “My platoon is ready to go and are looking forward to the job they have ahead of them,” he said.

October 1, 2008

Calif. Marines train at mock Afghan village

By Chelsea J. Carter - The Associated Press
Posted : Wednesday Oct 1, 2008 13:06:22 EDT

TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. — Marine Capt. Mike Hoffman sat on the floor of a shack with an Afghan mullah and village elders and accepted a meager meal as he sought their help in the fight against the Taliban.

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Military spouses get boost for federal jobs

By Karen Jowers - Staff writer
Posted : Wednesday Oct 1, 2008 16:11:42 EDT

The door to employment with the federal government is being pushed open a little wider for military spouses whose service members have been incapacitated or killed or who are moving with their service members on permanent change-of-station orders.

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Marines aid in efforts to educate Afghan youths

FARAH PROVINCE, DELARAM, Afghanistan — School officials here were only hours away from reopening a boys’ school when Taliban members crept to the school site at night and etched death threats into the newly-constructed concrete walls.


10/1/2008 By Sgt. Ray Lewis, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines

This effort by the Taliban to dissuade school officials from reopening the school proved futile, and the school’s opening marked the first cooperative effort between the local Afghan community and U.S. forces to restore the education system.

Together with support from other local residents and the Marines of Task Force 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Afghanistan, school officials have shown the Taliban they are eager to take back control within their community. They understand the importance of education and remain committed to strengthening the minds of their youth – young males whom the Marines feel may be more easily influenced by the Taliban.

Despite the threats, hundreds of local school children, ranging from age seven to 15, were excited to get their first look inside the new school.

“It felt absolutely gratifying to go into the school and see more than 650 kids just waiting there with big smiles on their faces,” said Gunnery Sgt. Omar Palaciosreal, Team 2 chief, 3rd Civil Affairs Group, TF 2/7.

In an effort to ensure a safe environment, the Marines of Company G and Weapons Company maintained security by patrolling outside the school. Members of the Afghan National Police and Afghan National Army were also on hand, but mainly to interact with the children and to show support for their community.

Following the opening ceremony, ANP and ANA officials passed out soccer balls to the children and distributed gifts that included backpacks filled with school supplies.

“We’re just here for support,” said Gunnery Sgt. Palaciosreal, a Moreno Valley, Calif., native. “We want them to take the lead. This is their show. It’s their people handing out stuff to them. It’s another image that will be etched in their minds. They’re going to start thinking different about the Taliban. They’re going to think, ‘The Taliban is wrong.’”

School officials were determined not to let the Taliban death threats scare them or their students away from the school. One teacher said he wanted to send a message to the Taliban that nothing can stand in the way of a child’s education.

“School is where kids learn right from left and right from wrong. It’s where we open our kids’ minds,” said Abdul Ghariv, a teacher at the boys’ school.

Through the use of an Afghan interpreter, Ghariv was able to express his excitement and tell the Marines how he felt about educating the youth in his community.

“We teach them about math; we teach them about religion and physics; we teach them about everything. The school is important because it is for everyone,” Ghariv said.

The Marines who provided security said the school wasn’t always a learning environment for the Afghan children. It was basically left in shambles, and used for almost everything but gaining an education. Gunnery Sgt. Palaciosreal described the facility as a “run-down, hollow building with no outer wall, broken windows, and old cracked paint.”

“It just didn’t look like a place where any learning occurred,” the CAG team leader said. “The building was dilapidated. Now, the students have an outer wall for protection, and a clean, newly-painted school that is bright and inviting. It’s definitely going to create a strong learning environment.”

The building is now fully operational thanks to an estimated $23,000 in grants from Afghanistan Regional Security Integration Command-South (ARSIC-S) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), an independent government agency that conducts foreign assistance and humanitarian aid. Funds for the outer wall construction were provided by ARSIC-S, while various items purchased to refurbish the school’s interior were funded by USAID.

“The grant was used to renovate and enhance the inside of the school with desks, chalkboards and school supplies, and for the labor workers to put the desks together,” said Staff Sgt. Christopher S. Gonzales, project coordinator, 3rd CAG. “Rather than sitting down on a dirt floor and not being able to study, the children now have a chair and a desk where they can learn.”

The Marines expect the school will further benefit the local economy. In addition to providing the children a new and improved learning environment, it creates more job opportunities for Afghan educators and local residents.

“We’re facilitating the boys’ school project,” said Staff Sgt. Gonzales, a Torrance, Calif., native. “We’re making it happen with monetary means, but the ANP and ANA are handing out the school supplies so the children can see the local support and gain trust in their own system.”

School officials are planning to install heating, venting, air conditioning, and lighting systems in the coming months to make the school comparable to many U.S. schools. They expect the facility to be instrumental in educating Afghanistan’s future — the children. Because the need for an education is not only a problem faced by Afghans, the Marines could relate to the significance of this event.

“These people are brought up in life thinking violence is the only way,” Gunnery Sgt. Palaciosreal said. “In my opinion, education is the only way to change their situation. It provides them an opportunity and a way out of poverty, and a way to grow to develop an understanding about the world around them.”

Afghan residents know poverty all too well. As they go about their daily lives, they strive to survive amidst the chaos and confusion caused by constant violence in a war-torn and grief-stricken country.

As Afghan parents see the value in getting a good education, they realize the school provides them the tools necessary to continue educating their youth. Showing they are anxious to start making improvements, Afghan citizens held first Parent Teacher Association meeting at the school’s reopening. School officials, parents and Marines were all invited to the meeting to discuss future plans for the school and how they can improve the education system.

“Here we are halfway around the world, and we’re having a PTA meeting,” Gunnery Sgt. Palaciosreal said. “That’s a start. I think the people are excited and truly want to get things done.”

The decision to hold a PTA meeting was initially met with some resistance. Afghan residents were hesitant to work with Marines on reopening the school, because they thought the service members would abandon the project once construction of the school’s outer wall was complete. To address these concerns and assure commitment to the project, the Marines coordinated a ‘shura,’ or meeting, with top Afghan officials. Once the project was complete, it was important for the Marines to find out who was going to make sure the school remained operational.

“Who’s going to make sure that these kids get their education and have a place to learn?” Staff Sgt. Gonzales asked. “Who’s going to make sure 10 years from now this school isn’t going to be knocked down and become something else; that this place is going to stay a school?”

These concerns caused the Afghan community to form the PTA, an association of parents and teachers established to supervise school operations and make decisions that would aid in providing the Afghan youth a better learning environment.

“Now that they have a PTA, they can continue to facilitate the education of these young boys,” Staff Sgt. Gonzales said. “This is a great example of the local community coming together.”

Following the meeting, teachers allowed the students to go outside and play with their new soccer balls. Although the Taliban continues to force its opinions and ideals on the Afghan people, many of the residents say they are not afraid and they remain committed to making more positive changes within their communities.

“You need a break from listening to the teacher all day,” said Cpl. Ericka L. Garcia, a Santa Ana, Calif., native. “It’s like the only time the kids get to be free. When they are in the class with the teachers, they have to be quiet and listen and just sit there. When they go outside, they can have fun.”

Garcia said it was important for her and others to interact with the young students, adding that the school reopening offered a perfect opportunity for the children to see the Marines are regular people under their body armor.

“I think it shows the other side of us,” Cpl. Garcia said. “They see us with all the weapons and gear, but when we interact with them, they see that we’re human, too. When we interact with them, it puts them at ease.”

Although the Taliban continues to force its opinions and ideals on the Afghan people, many residents are committed to making more positive changes within their communities. The school reopening is a tell-tale sign of this.

Hawaii delegation joins move to review slain Marine's award

Hawai'i's congressional delegation has added its voices to those seeking a presidential review of the Pentagon's decision to award the late Marine Sgt. Rafael Peralta — whose body shielded others from a grenade blast — a Navy Cross instead of the Medal of Honor.


By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer

"It is our understanding that several members of the California delegation have written expressing their concerns and requesting a review of his case," states a letter sent Friday by the Hawai'i delegation to the White House. "We would also like to convey our disappointment in this decision and strong support in favor of such a review."

The letter is signed by the four members of Hawai'i's delegation: U.S. Sens. Daniel K. Inouye and Daniel K. Akaka, and U.S. Reps. Mazie Hirono and Neil Abercrombie. All are Democrats.

Peralta, 25, a Kane'ohe Bay Marine who volunteered to undertake house clearing in the Battle of Fallujah, Iraq, with other 1st Battalion, 3rd Regiment Marines, was killed on Nov. 15, 2004.

An Iraqi grenade was tossed into the room, and multiple witnesses stated Peralta pulled the grenade to his body. Robert Reynolds, one of the Marines in the room, said Peralta's action saved five Marines that day.

The Hawai'i delegation made reference to the case of Army medic James Okubo, who was awarded the Silver Star for his actions in 1944.

"After reconsideration, the decision was rightly made to award him the Medal of Honor for saving the lives of several of his fellow soldiers in the battlefields of France," the Hawai'i congressional letter states.

Okubo was one of 22 Asian-Americans and American Pacific Islanders whose medals were upgraded in 2000 to the Medal of Honor. Inouye, who lost his arm attacking a German machine gun nest in Italy, was one of those service members to receive the nation's highest military honor.

Peralta's brother-in-law, David Donald, said Rosa Peralta, the Marine's mother, hasn't decided yet if, or when, she will accept the Navy Cross.

"She feels he deserves the Medal of Honor," Donald said. "We want to see what comes about before she makes any decision (about accepting a Navy Cross)."

Several insurgents fired on seven Marines as they went room-to-room in a house. According to an investigation, Peralta was shot in the back of the head by friendly fire — possibly a ricochet — fell to the ground, and soon after, pulled in the tossed grenade.

Peralta had been recommended for the Medal of Honor, but on Sept. 17 his family in California was notified that he would receive the Navy Cross instead.

One medical expert, an Army pathologist, said the head wound would have been immediately incapacitating, and that Peralta could not have executed "any meaningful motions." Four other medical experts said he was capable of pulling in the grenade.

"It is our understanding that the review panel could not confirm whether Sgt. Peralta's actions were deliberate, despite the fact that several fellow Marines who were witnesses to the events of that day verify that he knowingly reached out to pull in the grenade and absorbed the full explosion with his body," the Hawai'i congressional letter states.

Clearly, Peralta made a "deliberate decision" to absorb the grenade blast and protect fellow Marines, the letter said.

Should you join the Guard or reserve?

What active-duty service members need to know

By Tranette Ledford - [email protected]

If you think leaving active duty to join the National Guard or reserve means no more deployments, think again. Prior service and prior deployments won’t keep you on home turf.

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