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November 30, 2008

Training for war

S.C. is ground zero for combat veterans to get recruits ready to fight

They join up in Detroit and Brooklyn, Phoenix and Seattle, and in hundreds of smaller communities across America.



BY RON MENCHACA || The Post and Courier
Sunday, November 30, 2008

Most were just 11 or 12 when terrorists struck on Sept. 11, 2001, which ignited the chain of events that sent thousands of troops to Afghanistan and Iraq. Soon, it will be their turn to fight.

But first they must be cleansed of bad habits, purged of weakness and stripped of selfishness.

No other state serves a more crucial role in turning civilians into warriors than South Carolina. Every day, the Army's Fort Jackson and the Marine Corps' Parris Island transform legions of malleable young men and women into war-ready fighters.

More than half of all new soldiers and Marines, the backbone of U.S. military ground forces, pass through one of these installations. Most will draw a monthly salary of $1,245.90, base pay for a new private.

With the conflict in Afghanistan in its seventh year, the nation's second-longest war after Vietnam, these fundamental fighter factories hum around the clock to fill the military's ranks. The graduates they produce have no illusions; they know combat looms as a virtual guarantee.

The sober stares of the drill instructors, most fresh from war, reveal this truth. They know that in a matter of months these lessons are the only thing that might save these recruits from death. They know what awaits them over there.


Marine Staff Sgt. William C. Foster stands in a brightly lit stairwell outside a Marine Corps barracks on Parris Island.

He takes one last drag of a cigarette and glances at his watch. "It's about that time," he says, pivoting to head back inside.

It's 3:53 a.m. Wake-up in seven minutes.

His eyes adjust to the darkness inside. The outline of bunks emerges, two long rows stretching the length of the bay. Lumps stir under wool blankets. Foster shouts the time, rows of fluorescent lights pop on overhead and 79 bodies leap to the floor.

The next 20 minutes in the "head" are a blur of arms, boots, toothbrushes, shaving cream and razors. Bodies cram into the tight space, heads bob and weave for a glance in the mirror, hands swipe at the sink.

Foster oversees the chaos from afar. "Bunch of girls," he grumbles.

It's day 33 of boot camp — part of grass week. As its name implies, the recruits will spend most of the day lying on the ground practicing different firing positions.

The 12-week training cycle is far enough along that several of the drill instructors have trashed their vocal chords and resorted to a back-up croak they call "frog-voice." This throaty yawlp sounds even more menacing than their normal growls.

The recruits have shed weight and identities. They refer to themselves in the third person — "Sir, this recruit joined the Marine Corps to change his life, sir."

Recruits come from all sides of society: country-bred farm kids who score "expert" their first time out on the firing range to "silver spoons" unaccustomed to being hollered at or pushed beyond their limits.

Marine First Sgt. Johnny Vancil says recruits who enlist straight out of high school tend to be more focused and physically and mentally prepared for the challenge. For most, though, Marine boot camp is a rude awakening.

"Some have culture shock. They are just not prepared for this place," Vancil says. "I asked one, 'What did you do before you got here?' He said, 'Nothing, sir.' "

The new Army

About 150 miles away, on a sprawling expanse of pine and sand at the edge of the capital city, male and female Army recruits file into formation. They sleep in separate barracks but train shoulder to shoulder every day.

Not so long ago, Army drill sergeants went to great lengths to segregate men and women in basic training. When a platoon of female recruits approached, male recruits were ordered to execute an "about-face" and stare at a wall until the women passed.

The recruits lined up in shorts and sweatshirts for physical training this morning also look different than their predecessors from years past.

M-16 rifles hang from their shoulders. Recruits once spent little time with their weapons outside the firing range; now, weapons are issued right away, along with boots and uniforms.

The idea is to familiarize soldiers with their weapons early in the process. It's not an accident that this approach reflects the methods long embraced by the Marine Corps, which considers every recruit a front-line fighter.

Much of the training at Fort Jackson has adapted to the modern Army, says Col. Kevin Shwedo, the post's deputy commander. The co-ed units, the early exposure to weapons and the encouragement of privates to think for themselves all grew from a desire to better prepare soldiers for current conflicts.

"9/11 caused a transformation in how we train soldiers," Shwedo says. "So we got together with deployed folks and combat vets and asked them 'What is relevant? What is it that's getting soldiers killed?' "

On any given day, some 6,000 recruits train here. Most enlisted for support jobs in administration, mechanics and computers. But the Army no longer draws rigid distinctions between infantry and support soldiers, says Army Lt. Col. John Calahan, whose battalion will practice urban warfare this morning.

Insurgent attacks on supply convoys in Iraq and Afghanistan taught Army leaders that these new wars have undefined battle lines and that many support troops were not adequately equipped with combat skills.

"You are a ground combatant first," Calahan says. "Then we will teach you a special skill."

This same philosophy extends to basic life-saving skills. Every trainee now learns how to start an IV and administer other medical aid that used to be the domain of combat medics.

Soldiers who know how to tap a vein and start an IV can buy wounded comrades crucial time until medics arrive.

But this isn't like stitching together a pillow in high school sewing class. Recruits practice on each other with real needles, giving instructors a chance to see who in their platoons are squeamish.

A female recruit extends her arm and shields her eyes as her "battle buddy" takes a stab. The "victim" grimaces and groans as a little blood spurts out. "Don't look," says the recruit wielding the needle.

Then they switch places. Payback time.

Later, during a convoy live-fire exercise, some get a chance to start an IV under field conditions: Rounds snap, sand blows, instructors yell.

Survivors of a roadside bomb attack must know how to keep the wounded alive, particularly in those fragile minutes after the blast, instructor and combat medic Staff Sgt. Drew Becker says. "A lot of times, it's not a medic who is first on scene."


Stomachs full with warm chow, the Marine recruits march toward an expansive, rain-soaked field for physical training. The Marines will exercise in the boggy field wearing sweatshirts, camouflage pants and boots. No padded mats like the ones Army recruits at Fort Jackson tote to their morning workout.

Foster dips the toe of his boot into the Parris Island grass, and it returns a squishy sound. An approving smile spreads across his face.

Another instructor mounts a raised wooden platform to explain the morning's regimen. Behind him, the first hint of morning light glows low on the eastern horizon. He looks like a symphony conductor presiding over a sea of shaved heads.

For the next two hours, a cadre of instructors push and coax a company of recruits through a painful session of bear crawls, hand-to-hand combat and martial arts.

The recruits' clothes are soaking wet, and a few shiver in the biting wind.

The punishing pace pushes some to their limit. One screams out in pain and leaves in an ambulance. Another breaks down and cries, immediately drawing a swarm of drill instructors who seize on the show of emotion. "Cry, cry, cry," mocks one instructor.

Still, the instructors provide context for the verbal assault. They remind the recruits that combat is no picnic, that what now might seem like mindless abuse will make them stronger for the ravages of war.

Tired and cold, a recruit slacks off on a bear crawl, his rear noticeably jutting above his peers. An indignant, froggy voice explodes across the field: "Get your butt out of the air before you get shot!"

The fog of war

At Fort Jackson a squad of armed soldiers maneuvers silently toward a shipping container converted to represent an Iraqi mosque. Burned out cars and broken furniture litter the ground to simulate the urban environment soldiers encounter in Iraq.

The street signs are in Arabic. Someone has spray-painted "No America" on the side of an abandoned bus.

Insurgents have kidnapped a key government official and have him holed up in a safe house, explains Army 1st Sgt. Kenneth Hendrix.

"It's like Fallujah," he says. "We have some of the buildings rigged with explosives."

Hendrix knows how to re-create the guerilla tactics these soldiers are likely to face when most deploy in the next year or so. He just returned from his fourth tour in Iraq, assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division as part of the surge.

Soldiers fire blank rounds as they close in on the insurgent's base. A masked face and an assault rifle appear in a second story window. A firefight erupts. Pop-pop-pop!

Hendrix lobs a couple of smoke bombs into the fight. A purple and yellow fog washes over the simulated city, cloaking the soldiers in near darkness. The soldiers don't see that they are headed into an ambush. BOOM. Someone has tripped an IED, wiping out the entire column.

If this were Iraq, they'd be dead. Instead, it's a freebie, a life-saving lesson. "I'd rather them learn from a mistake here than over there," Hendrix says.

After the exercise, the recruits critique their performance. One thinks he shot a civilian used as a human shield. A drill sergeant interrupts and tells the soldier that taking out the civilian probably saved the lives of some of his buddies.

"That's collateral damage," he says.

'Like dogs'

A giant banner hangs across a road on Parris Island: "We make Marines."

Nearby, Foster steers his platoon back to the "house."

Street lights silhouette tangled strands of moss eerily draped from massive live oak limbs. Cadence calls echo across the island. Left - right - left - right - left.

The depot's marsh and coastal plain give the appearance of a posh resort. But no one rests here, least of all the men and women who make Marines.

Foster sees little of his wife and two young children during the training cycle. His platoon becomes his family. He grows close to them during the three months they are in his care, and he gets frustrated when they screw up. They must learn. This isn't a video game. When they go off to war, he won't be there to baby-sit.

Some never will cut the cord. Months from now, deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, they will write to Foster, thanking him, seeking his approval. "They are like dogs," Foster says. "They want to please you."

Just down the road, a platoon of recruits wheels in unison around the parade field as if tethered by some invisible rod. They have lived together nonstop for nearly three months, learning to function as a team.

Tomorrow, they begin their final challenge, a legendary rite of passage for those who want to earn the Marine's coveted eagle-globe-and-anchor emblem: "The Crucible" is a hellish three-day ordeal in which recruits eat and sleep little while reviewing all their training.

Drill instructor Sgt. Chad Schwan, who has served three tours in Iraq, says his platoon is beginning to gel. Reaching the cusp of the final phase of training has given them a second wind. "They are seeing light at the end of the tunnel," he says. "I love the Crucible. It completes the transformation process."

The Crucible pulls together weeks of training and helps instill a sense of cohesion and problem-solving that these recruits will rely on when they head to war, Schwan says.

The emblem ceremony that caps the Crucible is so special it's off-limits to everyone: Neither parents nor other Marines can attend.

"The Corps" still is viewed by many young men and women as the toughest branch of the military, and Marine recruiters aren't shy about marketing that distinction to would-be Marines.

Joshua Booker, a 19-year-old from Daytona Beach, Fla., says that's why he chose to become a Marine. "Not everyone can do it."

Brand loyalty is another strong motivator. Recruit Robert Nelson's father was a Marine Cobra pilot in the first Gulf War. There wasn't much discussion in his family about which branch he would enter, Nelson says.

Fighting smarter

Instructors at Fort Jackson and Parris Island say one of the most important changes in the way America now trains its ground troops has been to place greater emphasis on initiative. Historically, soldiers and Marines learned to follow orders and regurgitate basic skills.

Iraq and Afghanistan taught the military that "standard operating procedure" and flowcharts are worthless when the enemy doesn't fight fair.

So now there are more problem-solving exercises and opportunities for lower ranking members to try leadership roles.

Army recruit Corey Tull of Huntington Beach, Calif., prepped his 19-year-old body for the physical demands of boot camp, but the brain-over-brawn approach took him by surprise. "It's mentally harder than I expected it to be."

Shwedo says the Army hasn't rid itself of yelling in recruits' faces. It's just that drill sergeants now target their ire at actions that would get recruits killed in combat.

"The stress we are going to create has to have a direct relation to the reality of combat," Shwedo says. "If your son or daughter is going to Iraq or Afghanistan, do you want them to learn that lesson at Fort Jackson or on the streets of Fallujah?"

For all its advancements and war prep, one thing about basic training has not changed: Combat-tested drill instructors and a grueling regime accomplish what the parents and teachers of many recruits struggled to do for 18 years.

Their sons and daughters leave South Carolina as different people, forever changed by bonds forged through stress, exhilaration and camaraderie. The routine and structure burrow so deeply in their minds that they'll never walk, eat or sleep the same way again.

And as nearly every one of them heads to war, they'll always carry the memories of this life-changing experience.

Reach Ron Menchaca at [email protected] or 937-5724

November 29, 2008

After 40 Years, Marine Gets His Medal

ORLANDO, Fla. - A Florida man has been honored for his service during the Vietnam War about 40 years after everyone in his 15-man patrol was wounded in a firefight.


November 29, 2008

Marine veteran Frank Ambrose, whose patrol was wounded after they stumbled upon two battalions of the North Vietnamese Army, was recently awarded the Silver Star, the Orlando (Fla.) Sentinel reported Friday.

"If they had known we were coming, they would have set up a better ambush for us," he said.

Soon after the incident, Ambrose arrived at a hospital for treatment for injuries, a one-star general and a gunnery sergeant showed up with a tape recorder to ask him about the firefight.

They told him he had been recommended for a medal, but the award never came.

About four years ago, Ambrose said he attended a military reunion and ran into one of the Marines he helped save during the firefight. The man asked what medal Ambrose received, and Ambrose told him he didn't get one.

"The next thing I know, the colonel was talking to me," Ambrose said.

Earlier this year, Ambrose received a phone call telling him the president had given him the award.

"They asked me where I wanted to receive it," said Ambrose, who asked if it could just be mailed to him. "They told me I could pick any military base in the world."

Determined to join

Recruit sheds the pounds to become a Marine

Ulysses Milana wanted to serve in the military, as many of his family members have, but one recruiter after another told the 330-pound former culinary student that he needed to lose weight — and a lot of it.


Posted : Saturday Nov 29, 2008 7:25:45 EST

Milana, 23, of Lewiston, Maine, was turned away by the Army, Navy and Marine Corps. The task seemed impossible — that is, until he met Staff Sgt. George Monteith and the Marines of Recruiting Sub-Station Dover, N.H. Monteith started working with Milana in December 2007 and helped him develop a workout regimen.

“You can sit there and preach,” Monteith said, “… but if you’re not willing to help, then it doesn’t lead you to success. If I say, ‘Go lose weight, and I’ll see you in a year,’ then what kind of help have I offered to make that happen?”

Milana’s pounds started to melt away. It wasn’t easy, he said, but he exercised like a madman, adopted healthier eating habits and said no to the mother of all temptations: beer.

“It was really hard,” Milana said. “You see all your friends drinking beer, and you’re like, ‘Oh, man, I want one.’ ”

Eleven months later, he is 140 pounds lighter. He shipped out for Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., on Nov. 17.

How did he make it happen? Self-discipline and determination: qualities one finds in every good Marine.

Reserve Marines Host Distinguished Visitor

CAMP KOREAN VILLAGE, Iraq — Reserve Marines from 2nd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 5 based here received an honored guest at their remote desert outpost Nov. 26.


11/29/2008 By Capt. Paul Greenberg, Regimental Combat Team 5

The Honorable Donald C. Winter, the 74th secretary of the Navy, flew from Al Asad Air Base to Camp Korean Village, about 50 miles from the Syrian border, to visit with the Marines, sailors and soldiers based here and to wish them a happy Thanksgiving.

Appointed by the president of the United States as secretary of the Navy in January 2006, Mr. Winter is one of the most senior officials in the Marines and sailors’ chain of command. However, he spoke candidly with the troops and encouraged them to honestly express their assessment of the latest equipment in theater and to convey what additional equipment they need to better accomplish their mission.

After a current situation report from Lt. Col. Geoff Rollins, the 2nd Battalion, 25th Marines’ battalion commander, Mr. Winter’s next stop was at the Navy Shock Trauma Platoon’s field medical station on the base.

“I have a special place in my heart for corpsmen,” Mr. Winter told the Navy reservists. Mr. Winter’s father was a petty officer who served as a pharmacy mate during World War II.

The secretary and his staff made their way around the base, traversing the lunar-like surface of the camp on foot. He took the opportunity to address a formation of Marines, sailors and soldiers from a stage which had been built several days earlier out of plywood.

Mr. Winter thanked the troops for their service and emphasized the significance of their contributions in fighting the Global War on Terror. He also pinned the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal on several Marines and sailors and gave them his official coins.

Lance Cpl. Robert J. Albon, 21, a radio systems communications technician with 2nd Bn., 25th Marines from Brockton, Mass., received his award for displaying technical proficiency far beyond his rank and experience. Albon’s citation stated that he working relentlessly, over 400 man hours in austere conditions, to ensure that the battalion’s communications equipment was ready to support the battalion’s demanding counterinsurgency mission in Iraq.

“It was an honor and very surprising,” said Albon, who did not learn that Mr. Winter was coming to the base until that day. “I was just shocked that I could get my award from someone who is so important in the development on the Navy and the Marine Corps.”

Petty Officer 3rd Class Michael Marie was awarded his medal for taking over the role of religious program specialist leading petty officer for the battalion, despite his junior rank. Additionally, Marie dedicated his free time before his mobilization to coordinating the donations of 1,200 bibles from both his church and a non-profit organization.

“Hopefully he didn’t see my knees shaking,” said Marie, 31, a reservist from Unionville, Conn., who is a property and casualty insurance agent in his civilian career.

“It definitely made the event more memorable,” added Marie. “It’s something I’m proud of. It was my first NAM, and the biggest surprise was that it was signed by the Secretary of the Navy. It is something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”

Mr. Winter and his staff then shared an early Thanksgiving with Rollins and his troops at the base dining facility.

“This is an incredible collection of sailors, Marines and soldiers out here in al-Anbar, far from any base of logistical support,” Mr. Winter said of the troops he met and spoke with during his four-hour stay on the base. “They are doing incredible things for our lines of communication with the people of Rutbah.”

When asked what added advantage Marine Forces Reserve brings to the fight in Iraq, Mr. Winter responded, “The reserves gives us an incredible surge capability and the ability to sustain that stature with the level of personnel required. We can tap into skills and experience here that would be difficult to maintain with just active duty. We have succeeded in fully integrating active and reserve forces.”

In speaking of the progress made by the Navy and Marine Corps team, Mr. Winter explained, “We have made incredible strides in the past years. This is evident to those who have had the privilege to come here and see the change. I hope that we will turn over all responsibility to the Iraqis in the near future.”

November 28, 2008

Marching drills, then feasting

Marine recruits take break from routine to eat holiday meal

SAN DIEGO – One by one, 3,000 future Marines stepped up to the glass door of the mess hall for yesterday's midday meal. Pivoting smartly, each recruit snapped off his brimmed camouflage cap and barked “Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen!” as he entered.


By Steve Liewer
November 28, 2008

Then they waited in line as cafeteria workers heaped turkey, ham, roast beef, mashed potatoes with gravy, corn and fruit salad on a cafeteria tray.

A pumpkin pie dessert? Nope, that's for civilians. Marines eat crisp green apples instead. Later, it's back to the parade ground for more marching drills.

Welcome to Thanksgiving at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego.

On a day when the nation gorged on turkey and kicked back to watch football, Sgt. Attikus Piper rousted the members of Recruit Platoon 2145 at 5:30 a.m. and marched them around the open fields.

“Normally, I'd wake up and be lazy,” said recruit Jeremiah Montanez, 19, of National City. “Today, we were drilling and getting yelled at.”

Piper said the platoon is gearing up for a drill competition, so there's no time to waste.

Holidays are no picnic for drill instructors, either. Piper, 24, said his family is far away, in Paducah, Ky., so he planned to spend all day with his recruits.

“I'd rather be here than home on the couch.” he said.

Veteran Marines say there are strong reasons why recruit training doesn't change much for holidays. Consistency keeps recruits focused.

“You're going to be the same drill instructor on Thanksgiving as you were the day before or the day after,” said Nick Popaditch of San Diego, a former Marine who was wounded by an enemy grenade four years ago in Fallujah, Iraq. “They expect it to be hard. When it's not, it's actually kind of weird for them.”
Keeping up the routine reminds them that military service doesn't stop on certain days.

“The oath they took is for every day, including the holidays,” said retired Sgt. Maj. Bill Paxton, a former Marine who has worked for decades at the recruit depot. “What they're doing is giving freedom to their families, and to all families, by being away from home.”

Marine Corps recruit training is famously tough. The young men of Recruit Platoon 2145 (all female Marine recruits train at Parris Island, S.C.) are three weeks shy of graduation.

Recruit Derrick White, 27, of Beaumont, Texas, said he doesn't mind so much that he's missing his mom's turkey or a football game involving his favorite team (“The Dallas Cowboys, sir!”).

“It's a new experience,” White said. “The phrases on Marine Corps posters aren't just slogans. They live it.”

Few recruits understand that better than Russell Meats, 18, of Long Beach. His father and three brothers are Marines. So are six uncles and countless cousins.

“I've wanted to be a Marine since I was 5. I'm thankful I'm finally able to do it,” Meats said. “It's hard being away from my family, but it definitely makes you strong.”

The nearby San Diego skyline reminded Montanez that his family, from National City, isn't far away. They frequently visit Seaport Village on the Embarcadero after turkey dinner at home. But he wouldn't want to give up training to be there.

“At the beginning, I was barely surviving,” Montanez said. “Now I'm living honor, courage and commitment. I'm thankful to God that I'm able to make it here.”

A year ago, recruit Steven Maniscalco, 21, of San Diego spent the holiday visiting his sister and grandmother in Arizona. He's building a new kind of bond with Marines this Thanksgiving.

“I miss my family,” he said. “But I'm spending it with my brothers.”

Steve Liewer: (619) 498-6632; [email protected]

Intelligence site named for slain Ind. Marine

The Associated Press
Posted : Friday Nov 28, 2008 12:46:59 EST

KOKOMO, Ind. — The family of Lance Cpl. James Swain is proud that the Marine Corps named a building at its intelligence base in Virginia after him. But it’s an honor that comes with mixed feelings.

To continue reading:


November 27, 2008

Secretary of the Navy visits troops in Fallujah

Fallujah, Iraq — Secretary of the Navy Donald C. Winter visited Marines and other service members operating in Fallujah, Iraq, during the Thanksgiving Day holiday.


11/27/2008 By Cpl. Chris T. Mann, Regimental Combat Team 1

Winter met with the Marines and Sailors of 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 1, at Camp Baharia to take part in holiday festivities and to praise progress they and other service members are making throughout Iraq, Nov. 27.

During a brief town hall meeting, Winter spoke about the future of the War on Terror and about several changes that are currently taking place in Iraq as part of the transfer of security.

“We are currently in a transition period, and we need to make sure we hand over security to the Iraqis in a proper manner,” said Winter.

Earlier in the day, Winter and Lt. Col. Chris Hastings, commanding officer, 1st Bn., 4th Marines, visited Entry Control Point 1A in Fallujah to witness progress Iraqi Security Forces have made.

Iraqi Police now handle security at the ECP, replacing Marines with the battalion. The ECP regulates civilian and military traffic into the city.

“We looked at operations taking place at the ECP because of the shift in the way they are run,” said Hastings. “The past two weeks have been extremely successful with the way it has been ran, and we suspect that they will continue to prevent violence from occurring.”
Winter also took the opportunity to serve troops a Thanksgiving meal at the camps dining facility.

“I appreciate your hard work and efforts,” Winter said to a group of Marines at the dining facility. “I hope you have a great Thanksgiving; you deserve the dinner that we are serving you, and I hope this shows our appreciation for you.”

Several Marines with the battalion waited in line to speak with Winter and expressed their gratitude for the visit.

Winter urged the Marines to continue making progress in Fallujah, and expressed his thanks for their selfless efforts.

Marines take training to the range

MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. — Marine security guards are responsible for the security of American Embassies all over the world and go through rigorous training to ensure they are up to the task.


11/27/2008 By Lance Cpl. Meloney R. Moses, Marine Corps Base Quantico

Five weeks into training, the students spend eight training days firing the Remington M870 Shotgun, M-4 Carbine and M9 9 mm Beretta Pistol.

According to Capt. Matthew W. Howard, operations officer, the shotgun, has changed very little over time, propelling multiple shells at once for increased accuracy probability.

Tracing its lineage back to the M-16 service rifle, the M-4 carbine fires a 5.56 mm round and is shoulder fired, gas-operated, air-cooled and magazine-fed. With a collapsible butt stock, the M-4 is much easier to carry due to its light weight and short length, Howard said.

The M9 pistol is the standard weapon for most police officers and was adopted by the military in the 1980s, he added.

‘‘The M9 pistol is much easier to handle and maneuver,” said Lance Cpl. Richard M. Kennedy, a MSG student. ‘‘It’s more practical than a rifle or shotgun.”

The MSG Marines qualified with both the M-4 and M9 from the 100-, 50-, 25-, 15- and even seven-yard lines.

Kennedy said that on the first day at the range, the cold, rainy weather made it much more difficult to shoot accurately.

‘‘We just tried to focus on the mission at hand,” he said.

Along with weapons training and qualifications, the Marines are educated in the escalation of force and threat assessment required so they will know the appropriate times to draw a weapon on an aggressor.

For more information about MSG school, contact Gunnery Sgt. Drew Pate at [email protected] or call 703-784-4861.

Note: This is the third of a six part series

Duplin County families host Marines for Thanksgiving

Wallace | Until a few days ago, Andrew Nordberg's prospects for Thanksgiving weren't that exciting.


By Vicky Eckenrode
Staff Writer
Published: Thursday, November 27, 2008

Like many of the young Marines training at Camp Lejeune and without family nearby, Nordberg, 18, expected to hang out in his room and around a mostly deserted base.

Then he heard about program in which families in a Duplin County neighborhood were opening up their homes and dining room tables to the Camp Lejeune Marines for a home-cooked dinner.

"The barracks isn't anyplace to spend by yourself on Thanksgiving," said Nordberg, who along with 18-year-old Marine Michael Walsh, ate at the home of Anita and John Iacovino, a retired couple from Connecticut now living in Wallace's River Landing development.

"We felt like it'd be a nice gesture knowing most likely they can't go home for the holiday," Anita Iacovino said.

Throughout the sprawling, golf course community, 18 families hosted 45 Marines, who rolled in Thursday morning on a commercial bus after an hourlong trip from the base.

They spent the day golfing, playing basketball or simply hanging out in living rooms and watching football games on TV.

It was like countless other Thanksgiving gatherings around the country, except the house guests were strangers a few hours earlier.

"I didn't think anything like this actually went on. They don't know us. We don't know them. They're willing to accept us into their home," Nordberg said. "It's a very overwhelming act."

River Landing homeowners Robert and Carol Steen got the idea last year, and they ended up hosting a dozen Marines for Thanksgiving dinner.

"We were trying to figure out what we could do for our troops," said Robert Steen, who spent 21 years as a pilot and flight examiner for the Army and another 19 years as an aviation contractor for federal agencies. "These kids are absolutely a blast. It's like having family at home."

This year, the Steens put the word out to their neighbors to see if others wanted to participate.

They did, and Robert Steen said he now hopes to make it an annual event.

"We could fill two buses easily," he said.

For Theresa Joseph, 24, this was her first Thanksgiving away from family as a Marine.

A Brooklyn native, Joseph said she usually joined relatives at her mother's house.

"I'm very grateful that I'm here," she said, sitting in the Steens' kitchen where a 15-pound ham and 20-pound turkey were cooking in dual ovens. "I thought I was going to be stuck on base during Thanksgiving. It actually felt great when we got off the bus, and everybody was clapping."

[email protected]

Hero honored at annex with Medal for Valor

MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. — Marines are preparing to enter a building as the machine gunner squints to identify figures approaching from a distance. Suddenly the figures come into focus, and the Marine reacts instinctively to the threat by manning the vehicle-mounted weapon and immediately providing suppressive fire to alert fellow Marines of the impending danger.


11/27/2008 By Pfc. Christopher Duncan, Marine Corps Base Quantico

Exposing himself to the enemy, Lance Cpl. James E. Swain sacrificed his life to preserve those of fellow Marines, and he will be remembered as the embodiment of the Marine Corps’ core values of honor, courage, and commitment.

Swain is the first to earn the Intelligence Community Medal for Valor, the second highest award within the Intelligence Community for bravery, as indicated by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence Public Affairs Office in Washington, D.C.

The award was presented to his mother and father, Mona and Daniel Swain, During the dedication of the Marine Corps Intelligence Activity annex here, which was named in his honor for his actions during the battle of Fallujah in Iraq, Nov. 15, 2004.

The Swain Annex is located adjacent to Hochmuth Hall, the MCIA headquarters building named in commemoration of Maj. Gen. Bruno Hochmuth who was killed in Vietnam.

‘‘Swain and Maj. Gen. Bruno Hochmuth are now brothers in arms in a silent fraternity,” said Col. Philip Gentile, director of Intelligence Integration Division here.

Swain was born into a military family in Germany and moved at least 10 different times before even celebrating his 20th birthday in Kokomo, Ind.

He graduated from Kokomo High School and joined the United States Marine Corps in December 2002.

Upon graduating from the Navy Marine Corps Intelligence Training Center, he was assigned to the 3rd Marine Division and spent less than a year in Okinawa Japan.

While stationed in Japan, Swain volunteered from an assignment to a unit deploying to Iraq, and was assigned to 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Division, 1st Marine Regiment.

Swain was primarily an intelligence analyst who worked hard all hours of the day and night and even volunteered to man the M240G medium machine gun to provide security while the Human Intelligence Team and the Marines of Kilo Company explored the hostile surrounding areas there.

‘‘He never failed in his many tasks. He made me look 100 percent good; that was James,” said Maj. Jeffrey McCormack, Swain’s commanding officer during the deployment. ‘‘He identified an armed insurgent and directed fire. He died saving his buddies.”

November 26, 2008

Staying Power: Marine Corps’ Call Center Contacts, Assists Wounded Warriors

WASHINGTON, Nov. 26, 2008 – Wounded warriors who call into the Marine Wounded Warrior Call Center near Quantico, Va., find truth in the motto, “once a Marine, always a Marine.”


By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

That’s because their calls are answered by people like Alfredo Soto, who fondly remembers the camaraderie he experienced during his service in the Marine Corps.

“We were always being told to look out for and take care of your buddy,” Soto, 36, said. He is one of several veterans and military family members who work the phones at the call center in Dumfries, Va.

“I know I’m out of the Marine Corps, but it doesn’t matter; once a Marine always a Marine,” said Soto, who hails from Aguadilla, Puerto Rico.

After he reached sergeant’s rank, a bad knee persuaded Soto to obtain an honorable discharge in 2007 after serving more than eight years in the Corps. Soto has worked at the call center for about a year. His fluency in Spanish, he said, helps him connect with veterans with Hispanic roots.

The center’s mission is to seek out and assist discharged Marines and sailors injured during service in the global war on terrorism, said director John Chavis, who retired in 2005 as a Marine Corps first sergeant with 24 years of service.

The center has helped more than 9,400 former Marines and sailors since it opened on Nov. 19, 2007, Chavis said. It is a component of the Wounded Warrior Regiment established in April 2007 at the Marine Corps Base at Quantico. The center recently relocated into more spacious quarters just down the street from its original site.

The outreach program, Chavis said, assures discharged Marines and sailors “that the Marine Corps is still with them.”

A Proactive Approach to Help

The center’s proactive approach pays dividends, especially since Marines tend to be independent-minded, Chavis said. Some former Marines, he said, might be “less apt to ask for help” and would rather try to work out their issues on their own.

The center’s customer care representatives make their phone calls from a list of servicemembers known to have been wounded and separated from the military, Chavis said. The representatives also consult a checklist, he said, that contains contact information about available medical care, counseling and other services. The center also provides information to veterans who may want to appeal their service disability ratings, he said, and to help them with job searches.

“Once we make contact with them, if we give them information or something to do, we do a three-day follow-up call,” Chavis said. The center also contacts agencies that the veterans have been referred to, he said, to ensure they’re being provided the services they’ve requested.

Many people contacted by the center have suffered significant war-related wounds, Chavis said, including severe burns and brain trauma, as well as injuries that resulted in amputations. Other veterans bear less-visible wounds, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, he said.

Call center employees pride themselves on “ensuring that when we find an issue with an injured Marine [or sailor], we resolve his issue,” Chavis said. “Our success rate, I’d say, is about 100 percent.”

Injured Marines and sailors still on active duty are assisted by two wounded warrior battalions, one at Camp Lejuene, N.C., and the other at Camp Pendleton, Calif., he said.

Mary Duplechain, 36, who has worked as a customer service representative at the center for a year, knows the military’s workings and its jargon. Duplechain’s Marine husband is a senior noncommissioned officer. Her father, she said, retired from the Navy after 23 years of service.

The call center can help Marine Corps and Navy veterans secure appointments at Veterans Affairs hospitals and other facilities, Duplechain said.

“We have points of contacts, we have numbers [and] names” for available veterans’ services and programs, she said.

The center also makes use of the Defense Department’s America Supports You Web site, Duplechain said, which lists more than 300 nonprofit groups that assist veterans and servicemembers. The Military OneSource Web site is another good resource tool, she said.

Most veterans are grateful for the help, she added.

“That’s the kind of feedback that motivates me to keep on,” Duplechain said. “They are grateful and happy; they know that somebody is out there, wanting to listen to what’s going on with them.”

Jarrett Mattingly, 28, works as one of the call center’s four shift supervisors. Like Duplechain, she is married to a Marine, a commissioned officer.

Mattingly is proud of her work in helping former Marines and sailors obtain benefits they’ve earned through their military service. “I feel that I’m doing something really good,” she said. “It’s a rewarding thing for the people who work here, and hopefully, we’re providing the outcomes that that the people we’re trying to help need.”

The call center is open 24 hours per day, seven days per week, except for federal holidays. Its toll-free phone number is 877-487-6299.

Editor's note: This is the latest in a series of articles about seriously wounded warriors returning to active duty).

November 25, 2008

Corpsman earns "combat V"

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (Nov. 25, 2008) — A hospital corpsman with the 2nd Marine Logistics Group’s 2nd Medical Battalion was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with a combat distinguishing device in an awards ceremony here, Nov. 19th.


11/25/2008 By 2nd Marine Logistics Group (fwd) Public Affairs, 2nd Marine Logistics Group

Petty Officer 1st Class Casey A. Wheeler earned the medal during Operation Rustam, Sept. 30, 2007, while assigned with Military Transition Team 0142, which was partnered with 2nd Battalion, 4th Brigade, 1st Iraqi Army Division.

During the operation, Wheeler, a Wasilla, Alaska native, was part of a six-man team integrated into a squad of 14 Iraqi Army soldiers. The team’s mission was to provide command and control of an Iraqi platoon that was tasked with conducting a raid to capture a high valued individual in the Al Fahdil enclave of Baghdad, Iraq.

The team soon found themselves in an ambush.

Wheeler immediately returned fire in order to assist in the team’s effort to gain fire superiority and allow Marines and Iraqi soldiers to maneuver out of the ambush.

During the battle, the team received three casualties to include one KIA. The first casualty was an IA soldier who was shot in his right leg. After controlling the bleeding, Wheeler returned the IA soldier to the fight.

Shortly after, one of the team members, Gunnery Sgt. Jerome Murkerson Jr., took a fatal gunshot to the head.

Without hesitation, Wheeler attended to the Marine while under fire and moved him to a covered position.

“I did my absolute best to stay in the fight as much as possible,” Wheeler said. “Lt. Leach helped assess gunny. Most importantly I kept calm and remembered ‘they’re not your friend, they’re your patient’ and I couldn’t break down.”

The death of the gunnery sergeant rendered 10 IA soldiers disabled as they panicked in the battle. Wheeler was able to help rally the soldiers and return them to combat.

“After our gunny was killed, they were psychologically incapacitated and mentally unengaged,” he explained. “Four hours later, we put them out on a patrol, gave them motivation and worked as a team and returned them to the fight.”

Wheeler did not let the loss of his teammate stop him. He quickly established a casualty collection point and began coordinating with a coalition quick reaction force to evacuate the casualties from the combat zone.

The team soon took another casualty.

Another teammate, an Army first lieutenant received a gunshot wound to his right leg. Wheeler treated the wound, enabling the lieutenant to continue in the fight.

He then continued to assist at the established casualty collection point and helped coordinate water and medical re-supply to sustain the combat readiness of the team through the 6-hour battle.

It wasn’t until the battle was over that Wheeler would allow himself to step out of the fight and ponder the day’s events. To this day when he thinks about Sept. 30, 2007 he thinks of Gunnery Sgt. Jerome Murkerson Jr., and his team.

“How would you feel if your doc broke down?” he said. “It wasn’t until I was washing the blood off that I was able to reflect on what had just happened. I feel very honored to receive this award, but everything associated with that award, or with that night, reminds me of gunny.”

Wheeler credits his quick reactions to training he did before deployment.

“For the corpsman, if you have any down time, think of the worst scenario to treat a patient and train under that,” Wheeler said. “Even if you’re not calm, fake being calm. Never give up the opportunity to train.”

Sailor risks life, epitomizes heroism

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (Nov. 25, 2008) — An Iraqi reporter from Al Jazeera met his worst nightmare and possibly his best friend when he was caught in the crossfire while covering combat operations, April 4.


11/25/2008 By Cpl. Aaron Rooks, 2nd Marine Logistics Group

The journalist, whose name wasn’t available, was reporting on the actions of the First Iraqi Army Division when he was struck by incoming small arms fire, leaving him severely injured and unconscious in full view of more enemy fire.

Iraqi Army medics were hesitant to provide assistance to the reporter due to his insecure position. This was not the case for Petty Officer 2nd Class Ryan P. Faulhaber, a hospital corpsman serving with Military Transition Team 111 of 1st Battalion, 1st Brigade, 1st Iraqi Army Division. Despite the high rate of continuous enemy fire, Faulhaber made his way to the casualty and proceeded to provide medical aid.

“The other Iraqis in the area did brave things during our time with them, but on that particular occasion, none of the Iraqis were willing to assist the wounded reporter,” said Maj. Mark Slusher, who served as Faulhaber’s team leader in Iraq. “Faulhaber did not hesitate for a moment. There is no better example to set for courage under fire than him.”

Enemy insurgents noticed the Faribault, Minnesota native’s lonely effort and began to increase their rate of fire in an attempt to take him down. Faulhaber ignored the personal risk and continued to calmly provide treatment as rounds impacted the terrain around him. He quickly stabilized the reporter and slowly made his way back to the casualty collection point with the journalist in tow. Iraqi translators later informed Faulhaber that the reporter lived.

The transition team participated in all four of the major insurgency clearing operations that comprised the Basra campaign for the following three weeks. During this time, the Iraqi battalion suffered 25 casualties, and the MTT suffered five. Chief Warrant Officer 3 Ian Anthony, the administrative advisor for the MTT, said that Faulhaber was personally responsible for providing life care to more than 15 of the casualties, in addition to supervising the Iraqi medics’ care of the remaining casualties.

“His prompt and effective medical treatment saved the lives of at least five of the more seriously wounded Iraqi soldiers,” Anthony said.

This wasn’t the last instance of heroism that Faulhaber would exhibit during his service with the Iraqis. Elements of the MTT were exiting the Basra city limits April 24 after conducting a combat patrol when one of the team’s vehicles was attacked by an explosively formed penetrator, which is an improvised explosive device commonly used to penetrate armor at stand-off distances. The device destroyed the vehicles and wounded all five members inside.

Faulhaber was one of the first service members to reach the burning vehicle. The fire quickly began to ignite the ammunition inside, producing a toxic smoke. He ignored this and the incoming enemy fire and proceeded to help remove casualties from the vehicle.

“We had five casualties, which was 30 percent of our operation force strength,” said Slusher, a native of Lebanon, New Jersey. “Same thing again, courage under fire, total disregard for his own safety, vehicle’s on fire, yet doc is totally focused on providing care to our wounded comrades.”

Anthony said two of the vehicle’s occupants were critically wounded. He said Faulhaber’s actions were credited with saving both Marines’ lives.

Faulhaber returned from Iraq in August and now serves as the assistant leading petty officer for the operations section of 2nd Medical Battalion, 2nd Marine Logistics Group. He was awarded a Bronze Star Medal with a combat distinguishing device, Nov. 19, for his actions in Iraq. He said there is now talk that he may receive a combat meritorious promotion to the rank of petty officer first class. Regardless of the outcome, Faulhaber remains modest and unregretful about his actions.

"Faulhaber had a big impact on the Iraqis," Slusher said. "During our time with them, we saw a significant change in their skills and professionalism. That really goes to the heart about being a good advisor. The Iraqi medics are now better trained and more able to care for the Iraqi soldiers, and frankly, many of them are alive today because of Faulhaber."

Scholarship to be named for fallen Marine

It has been nine months since a gunman's bullet took the life of 20-year-old Lance Cpl. Drew Weaver.


By Jami Defenbaugh
Tuesday, November 25, 2008 3:18 AM CST

His memory will live on for far longer.

Drew's classmates, graduates of St. Charles West High School, remember him for his positive attitude, sense of humor and dedication to his country. Work colleagues knew him as someone who made each day fun. Family members say he was a ray of sunshine who could cheer anyone up.

And now Drew is being memorialized another way: in the form of a scholarship from The Marine Corps Law Enforcement Foundation.

"When he passed, his brother said, 'What can I do? What can I do now? I don't have a brother that will see my kids, be with me from now on.' And I guess my comment to him was, the only thing you can do now is keep his memory alive. That's one of the things we're trying to do with this memorial," said Wesley Weaver, Drew's grandfather.

Drew's family has designated the foundation to distribute the $10,345 given to a memorial fund in Drew's name. The funds will provide scholarships for children of Marines or federal law enforcement personnel killed on duty or under extraordinary circumstances while serving their country.

Tom Walter, chairman of the foundation, said this type of contribution was out of the ordinary, and that every penny would go to the children MCLEF serves. The scholarship will be in Drew's name, Walter said, and he hopes to make it an annual award.

Drew joined the Marines out of high school and left for basic training the following September. He always was patriotic, and wasn't sure what he wanted to do once he graduated, Wesley Weaver said.

Wesley Weaver said the family heard reports that Drew was a good Marine right off the bat, one who was "all business and didn't like down time."

"When they went to battle, he was one of the better ones, they tell me. Or perhaps, there wasn't anybody better," Wesley Weaver said.

Marine Sgt. Casey Fulton has said Drew was patrolling the streets in the Al Anbar province of Iraq with members of C Company 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion when Iraqi gunmen fired upon his unit. Patrolling the streets of Iraqi communities is standard routine for Marines in Iraq, as they ensure there is a visible presence and are instrumental in keeping the peace, Fulton has said.

More than 700 people attended Drew's funeral. Wesley Weaver said Drew's family was overwhelmed at the outpouring of sympathy from those in the city, the business community and Drew's school.

"To me, that is the patriotism that's coming out again from not only his family, but from his outside family," he said.

Drew's family would like to thank all who made contributions to the memorial, as well as Baue Funeral Home, organizers of the Lake Saint Louis-Dardenne Prairie Golf Classic and employees of First State Bank, 206 N. Fifth St. in St. Charles, for the services they provided, Wesley Weaver said.

Brian Weaver, Drew's father, declined to comment for this story, other than to say giving the money to the foundation seemed like the right thing to do.

"This boy was my whole life. He was my best friend," he said of Drew.

And his family will be proud of him and cherish his memory for the rest of their lives, Wesley Weaver said.

"We can't take back what's happened. But a parent's job is to take care of the possible and leave the impossible to God," Wesley Weaver said. "This is one of those things we can't fix, so we're leaving it in his hands."

Scholarship to be named for fallen Marine

It has been nine months since a gunman's bullet took the life of 20-year-old Lance Cpl. Drew Weaver.


By Jami Defenbaugh
Tuesday, November 25, 2008 3:18 AM CST

His memory will live on for far longer.

Drew's classmates, graduates of St. Charles West High School, remember him for his positive attitude, sense of humor and dedication to his country. Work colleagues knew him as someone who made each day fun. Family members say he was a ray of sunshine who could cheer anyone up.

And now Drew is being memorialized another way: in the form of a scholarship from The Marine Corps Law Enforcement Foundation.

"When he passed, his brother said, 'What can I do? What can I do now? I don't have a brother that will see my kids, be with me from now on.' And I guess my comment to him was, the only thing you can do now is keep his memory alive. That's one of the things we're trying to do with this memorial," said Wesley Weaver, Drew's grandfather.

Drew's family has designated the foundation to distribute the $10,345 given to a memorial fund in Drew's name. The funds will provide scholarships for children of Marines or federal law enforcement personnel killed on duty or under extraordinary circumstances while serving their country.

Tom Walter, chairman of the foundation, said this type of contribution was out of the ordinary, and that every penny would go to the children MCLEF serves. The scholarship will be in Drew's name, Walter said, and he hopes to make it an annual award.

Drew joined the Marines out of high school and left for basic training the following September. He always was patriotic, and wasn't sure what he wanted to do once he graduated, Wesley Weaver said.

Wesley Weaver said the family heard reports that Drew was a good Marine right off the bat, one who was "all business and didn't like down time."

"When they went to battle, he was one of the better ones, they tell me. Or perhaps, there wasn't anybody better," Wesley Weaver said.

Marine Sgt. Casey Fulton has said Drew was patrolling the streets in the Al Anbar province of Iraq with members of C Company 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion when Iraqi gunmen fired upon his unit. Patrolling the streets of Iraqi communities is standard routine for Marines in Iraq, as they ensure there is a visible presence and are instrumental in keeping the peace, Fulton has said.

More than 700 people attended Drew's funeral. Wesley Weaver said Drew's family was overwhelmed at the outpouring of sympathy from those in the city, the business community and Drew's school.

"To me, that is the patriotism that's coming out again from not only his family, but from his outside family," he said.

Drew's family would like to thank all who made contributions to the memorial, as well as Baue Funeral Home, organizers of the Lake Saint Louis-Dardenne Prairie Golf Classic and employees of First State Bank, 206 N. Fifth St. in St. Charles, for the services they provided, Wesley Weaver said.

Brian Weaver, Drew's father, declined to comment for this story, other than to say giving the money to the foundation seemed like the right thing to do.

"This boy was my whole life. He was my best friend," he said of Drew.

And his family will be proud of him and cherish his memory for the rest of their lives, Wesley Weaver said.

"We can't take back what's happened. But a parent's job is to take care of the possible and leave the impossible to God," Wesley Weaver said. "This is one of those things we can't fix, so we're leaving it in his hands."

Scholarship to be named for fallen Marine

It has been nine months since a gunman's bullet took the life of 20-year-old Lance Cpl. Drew Weaver.


By Jami Defenbaugh
Tuesday, November 25, 2008 3:18 AM CST

His memory will live on for far longer.

Drew's classmates, graduates of St. Charles West High School, remember him for his positive attitude, sense of humor and dedication to his country. Work colleagues knew him as someone who made each day fun. Family members say he was a ray of sunshine who could cheer anyone up.

And now Drew is being memorialized another way: in the form of a scholarship from The Marine Corps Law Enforcement Foundation.

"When he passed, his brother said, 'What can I do? What can I do now? I don't have a brother that will see my kids, be with me from now on.' And I guess my comment to him was, the only thing you can do now is keep his memory alive. That's one of the things we're trying to do with this memorial," said Wesley Weaver, Drew's grandfather.

Drew's family has designated the foundation to distribute the $10,345 given to a memorial fund in Drew's name. The funds will provide scholarships for children of Marines or federal law enforcement personnel killed on duty or under extraordinary circumstances while serving their country.

Tom Walter, chairman of the foundation, said this type of contribution was out of the ordinary, and that every penny would go to the children MCLEF serves. The scholarship will be in Drew's name, Walter said, and he hopes to make it an annual award.

Drew joined the Marines out of high school and left for basic training the following September. He always was patriotic, and wasn't sure what he wanted to do once he graduated, Wesley Weaver said.

Wesley Weaver said the family heard reports that Drew was a good Marine right off the bat, one who was "all business and didn't like down time."

"When they went to battle, he was one of the better ones, they tell me. Or perhaps, there wasn't anybody better," Wesley Weaver said.

Marine Sgt. Casey Fulton has said Drew was patrolling the streets in the Al Anbar province of Iraq with members of C Company 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion when Iraqi gunmen fired upon his unit. Patrolling the streets of Iraqi communities is standard routine for Marines in Iraq, as they ensure there is a visible presence and are instrumental in keeping the peace, Fulton has said.

More than 700 people attended Drew's funeral. Wesley Weaver said Drew's family was overwhelmed at the outpouring of sympathy from those in the city, the business community and Drew's school.

"To me, that is the patriotism that's coming out again from not only his family, but from his outside family," he said.

Drew's family would like to thank all who made contributions to the memorial, as well as Baue Funeral Home, organizers of the Lake Saint Louis-Dardenne Prairie Golf Classic and employees of First State Bank, 206 N. Fifth St. in St. Charles, for the services they provided, Wesley Weaver said.

Brian Weaver, Drew's father, declined to comment for this story, other than to say giving the money to the foundation seemed like the right thing to do.

"This boy was my whole life. He was my best friend," he said of Drew.

And his family will be proud of him and cherish his memory for the rest of their lives, Wesley Weaver said.

"We can't take back what's happened. But a parent's job is to take care of the possible and leave the impossible to God," Wesley Weaver said. "This is one of those things we can't fix, so we're leaving it in his hands."

Scholarship to be named for fallen Marine

It has been nine months since a gunman's bullet took the life of 20-year-old Lance Cpl. Drew Weaver.


By Jami Defenbaugh
Tuesday, November 25, 2008 3:18 AM CST

His memory will live on for far longer.

Drew's classmates, graduates of St. Charles West High School, remember him for his positive attitude, sense of humor and dedication to his country. Work colleagues knew him as someone who made each day fun. Family members say he was a ray of sunshine who could cheer anyone up.

And now Drew is being memorialized another way: in the form of a scholarship from The Marine Corps Law Enforcement Foundation.

"When he passed, his brother said, 'What can I do? What can I do now? I don't have a brother that will see my kids, be with me from now on.' And I guess my comment to him was, the only thing you can do now is keep his memory alive. That's one of the things we're trying to do with this memorial," said Wesley Weaver, Drew's grandfather.

Drew's family has designated the foundation to distribute the $10,345 given to a memorial fund in Drew's name. The funds will provide scholarships for children of Marines or federal law enforcement personnel killed on duty or under extraordinary circumstances while serving their country.

Tom Walter, chairman of the foundation, said this type of contribution was out of the ordinary, and that every penny would go to the children MCLEF serves. The scholarship will be in Drew's name, Walter said, and he hopes to make it an annual award.

Drew joined the Marines out of high school and left for basic training the following September. He always was patriotic, and wasn't sure what he wanted to do once he graduated, Wesley Weaver said.

Wesley Weaver said the family heard reports that Drew was a good Marine right off the bat, one who was "all business and didn't like down time."

"When they went to battle, he was one of the better ones, they tell me. Or perhaps, there wasn't anybody better," Wesley Weaver said.

Marine Sgt. Casey Fulton has said Drew was patrolling the streets in the Al Anbar province of Iraq with members of C Company 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion when Iraqi gunmen fired upon his unit. Patrolling the streets of Iraqi communities is standard routine for Marines in Iraq, as they ensure there is a visible presence and are instrumental in keeping the peace, Fulton has said.

More than 700 people attended Drew's funeral. Wesley Weaver said Drew's family was overwhelmed at the outpouring of sympathy from those in the city, the business community and Drew's school.

"To me, that is the patriotism that's coming out again from not only his family, but from his outside family," he said.

Drew's family would like to thank all who made contributions to the memorial, as well as Baue Funeral Home, organizers of the Lake Saint Louis-Dardenne Prairie Golf Classic and employees of First State Bank, 206 N. Fifth St. in St. Charles, for the services they provided, Wesley Weaver said.

Brian Weaver, Drew's father, declined to comment for this story, other than to say giving the money to the foundation seemed like the right thing to do.

"This boy was my whole life. He was my best friend," he said of Drew.

And his family will be proud of him and cherish his memory for the rest of their lives, Wesley Weaver said.

"We can't take back what's happened. But a parent's job is to take care of the possible and leave the impossible to God," Wesley Weaver said. "This is one of those things we can't fix, so we're leaving it in his hands."

November 24, 2008

War tour plays role in firehouse prank

By Joe Bush - Staff writer
Posted : Monday Nov 24, 2008 20:06:47 EST

At first, fellow Marines might have thought Staff Sgt. Daniel Stranahan was nuts for carrying a plaque with him into outhouses in the middle of Iraq — and photographing it.

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Gates: Peralta evidence left room for doubt

Lawmakers’ pleas for award of Medal of Honor denied

By Dan Lamothe
[email protected]
Nov. 24, 2008

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has rebuffed pleas from Capitol Hill to award the Medal of Honor to a Marine who died smothering a grenade, saying “the evidence presented did not meet the exact­ing ‘no doubt’ standard necessary.” The comments came in a Nov. 18 letter Gates sent to eight members of California’s congressional dele­gation. The group asked President George W. Bush to review a Penta­gon decision announced in Sep­tember to deny Sgt. Rafael Peralta the military’s highest honor.

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Corps mulls training for Afghanistan fight

By Gidget Fuentes
[email protected]

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. — The planned shift of combat forces from dusty Iraq to mountainous Afghanistan will reshape predeployment train­ing for many Marine battalions, according to the Corps’ top officer.

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Marine couple teaming up since WWII

Tackle life's trials together

The two old Marines, both legally blind, touch fingers while navigating the living room. Their vision has been reduced to shadows and fuzzy shapes. They work as a team to avoid tabletops and footstools.


By Garret Mathews (Contact)
Monday, November 24, 2008

"I have nothing but good things to say about my military career," Jean Benedict says. "It was the adventure I always wanted to have."

Big smile.

"And if I hadn't gone, I never would have met my Pappy."

That would be Keith Benedict, her husband of 62 years, who promptly blushes.

"I've never been much of a ladies man. I don't know why she picked me, but I'm sure glad she did."

Keith Benedict, 85, was a forward observer and truck driver during World War II, serving first in New Zealand and later at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.

Jean Benedict, 88, was a clerk-typist at the same Honolulu duty station. They met in spring 1945.

"I would rent a kitchen off base for 50 cents, and we'd spend the afternoon cooking tuna steaks," the Evansville man recalls. "The girls had what were called liberty passes. They absolutely had to be back at their barracks by 10 p.m."

"The female Marines were kept separated from the male Marines by a big, long fence," Jean Benedict says. "If the fellows wanted to come calling, they had to walk to the guard shack and show themselves. If the girls said it was all right, they'd let him in. Night after night, Keith kept coming over."

She squirms to get comfortable in the big chair.

"Poor thing," he says. "She's had lots of trouble with her back."

Keith Benedict, a Michigan native, had a "serious bout" with colon cancer in 1988, he says.

"That made me think, because I didn't know how much time I had left. I decided I needed to slow down doing all the things I was doing so I could spend more time with my wife."

She retired as a school secretary. He worked 32 years for Bucyrus-Erie and later built greenhouses.

"We don't need live-in help yet," Jean Benedict says, "but that time is coming. We both know that."

Retina degeneration has kept her from driving since 1982. He hasn't been behind the wheel since 2001.

It keeps them going

"We know we're getting up in years, but the one thing keeps us going," he says. "I mean, how many husband and wives can say they served in the Marines in the Second World War and are still around to tell about it?"

Keith Benedict talks about the morning the company commander made his Marines report for morning formation "buck naked," and how some troops got tired of walking around the two-mile stretch of fence that separated the male and female troops, so they cut a big hole in it and formed a shortcut.

Jean was dating a young man from East St. Louis, Ill., who was killed in the war.

"After that, I knew I wanted to do my part to help the war effort. I enlisted in Chicago. My mother went with me, and I remember her being so excited about riding up and down the escalators at the downtown department stores."

The afternoon sun lights up her engagement ring.

"Cost me $82.50," he remembers. "I was pulling down about fifty bucks a month as a Marine. I bought an $18 war bond every month and sent a bunch of other money home. It took me a long time to save up for the ring, but I managed."

"He never really proposed," Jean Benedict says. "It was like we had this mutual understanding."

They live in the same North Side house that Keith helped build in 1951. The place is across the street from where Jean spent her childhood.

"In some ways, I guess I've come pretty far, and in other ways I haven't," she says.

Keith Benedict wears a bright red T-shirt that boosts the Marines. Hers is white.

"I consider myself one of the luckiest guys there ever was. For one thing, I got out of the Marines without being killed. And for the second. ..."

He looks at the tall woman on the couch.

"Well, I'd say that's pretty obvious."

Former Marine, KC-130 meet up one last time

Staff report
Posted : Monday Nov 24, 2008 20:07:00 EST

Seasons change, people grow older and military aircraft retire to the Arizona desert.

To continue reading:


Former Marine, KC-130 meet up one last time

Staff report
Posted : Monday Nov 24, 2008 20:07:00 EST

Seasons change, people grow older and military aircraft retire to the Arizona desert.

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November 23, 2008

EOD explodes the unexploded

MIDDLE EAST — While looking into the vast expanse of the desert, it’s hard to fathom anyone spending more than a few minutes out there, let alone working with unexploded ordnance (UXO) for hours, if not days, on end.


11/23/2008 By Cpl. Jason D. Mills, 26th MEU

That’s just what eight explosive ordnance technicians, one radio operator and one Navy corpsman from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit did from Nov. 14-17. For four days straight the team combed the seemingly endless desert in the Middle East for any potentially hazardous UXO.

“This range is huge,” commented Gunnery Sgt. Steven Sheals, the explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) detachment officer-in-charge.

The range sweep was an essential step in ensuring the safety of the range for future exercises.

“We’re conducting surface range clearing to ensure there are no UXO range hazards out here for when the (Battalion Landing Team) comes out here for their training,” Sheals said.

He continued, “By removing the UXOs we remove that hazard to make the range safe.”

After four long days of walking up and down the range, the team consolidated all of the UXO they found and safely detonated it.

“This detachment that I have here has a wealth of knowledge; most of the guys have two or more deployments in the (Operation Iraqi Freedom) Theater,” he said, adding his Marines work from sunup till sundown to complete the mission. He said they are given a task and a timetable, and if that means they have to work all day for days on end to get the mission done, then that’s what they do.

In the end, the entire course of action focused on safety; not only the safety of those detonating the UXO, but ultimately, on the safety of those who would come after the detonations were long extinguished.

“You have to do your best to make sure no one gets hurt during training,” said Sgt. Robert Pippin, an EOD technician. "We’re trying to make the range a safer place for when the BLT comes out here to do their training tomorrow and for the rest of the week."

The 26th MEU is currently forward deployed aboard the Iwo Jima Expeditionary Strike Group in the Arabian Gulf in support of local operations.

November 22, 2008

Reserve Commander Adapts and Overcomes

CAMP KOREAN VILLAGE, Iraq — When Lt. Col. Geoff Rollins took command of 2nd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team in October 2006, he had a daunting task before him.


11/22/2008 By Capt. Paul Greenberg, Regimental Combat Team 5

Rollins had 18 months to prepare his Marines for mobilization and deployment to Iraq.

Reservists attend weekend drills one weekend each month and an annual training session each year in order to keep their proficiency honed in their military occupational specialties. The rest of the time, many reservists have typical American lives, with full-time civilian jobs and families.

Rollins, 42, drives more than 700 miles round trip from his home in Richmond, Va., once a month to attend his battalion’s drills. He balances his commitment to the Corps with his family, business career and passion for motorcycle riding.

In accordance with Marine Forces Reserve’s structure, 2nd Bn., 25th Marines is geographically dispersed, for the most part, throughout the northeastern U.S. Weapons Company is co-located with the battalion’s Headquarters and Service Company in Garden City, N.Y.; Company E is based in Harrisburg, Pa.; and Companies F and G are in Albany, N.Y., and Dover, N.J., respectively. The battalion also includes a heavy-weapons detachment from Broken Arrow, Okla.

Although each company drills together one weekend each month, the battalion only comes together once a year for their annual training, which typically lasts between two to four weeks.

Prior to the battalion’s mobilization in May, they received several hundred individual augments from other Marine units to fill out their ranks. The end result was a melting pot of both reserve and active duty service members, both new recruits and veterans, who hail from companies and detachments in 11 states.

They were trained and ready by September to join First Marine Expeditionary Force, an active duty unit based in Camp Pendleton, Calif., which was already in Iraq.

“Through teamwork we can maintain our traditional relationship between reserve and active components,” said Rollins. “I want this battalion to be the epitome of the total force concept. Discipline means doing what is right, all the time.”

The battalion is currently based at Camp Korean Village in Iraq’s western al-Anbar province with the mission of mentoring and providing operational over watch of Iraqi Security Forces.

Rollins cited one of his biggest challenges as “the loss of critical pieces of our pre-deployment training program,” as shortly before mobilization, the battalion’s timeline was moved up 30 days.

Next, shortly before their arrival in Iraq, Rollins was informed that he would have to divide his unit into two separate elements, geographically dispersed, after arriving in-country.

However, in classic Marine Corps fashion, the commander learned to adapt and overcome.

“First and foremost, our greatest accomplishment thus far is the successful split of the battalion for its two missions,” said Rollins. “This has not been done since World War II, and we have successfully executed two distinct missions as two separate task forces. The security-force detachment has made significant improvements to the force-protection posture of Al Asad Air base. The (Korean Village) detachment continues to separate the insurgents from the population with an aggressive patrolling plan, coupled with lines-of-operations management that has involved the battalion in key leader engagements, where we are working with the local government officials in their attempt to build capacity for growth. These lines of operation include economics, government, rule of law and communications.”

Rollins credits much of the success to the increased level of maturity which reservists bring to the table. He explained that this is due, in large part, to the years of both active duty service in the Marine Corps and subsequent civilian work experience, particularly in the fields of emergency medicine and police work.

As a sales consultant for a major information technology firm for 12 years, Rollins cites his own professional experience as a critical element of his development as a leader of Marines.

“Strength comes from cohesion and unity,” wrote Rollins in his command philosophy. “The majority of our Marines and sailors only spend a fraction of their lives in the Corps. During this period, we need to provide them the opportunity for improvement, not only to make a better Marine or sailor, but more importantly a better American citizen. We need to help form positive attitudes of service, honor and commitment. We owe them nothing less.”

Rollins’ previous combat tours include serving as a platoon commander with 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment in Operation Desert Storm in 1991, a company commander for 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment during Operation Restore Hope in Somalia in 1993 and as commanding officer of Echo Company, 2nd Bn., 25th Marines in 2003 during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

This is the battalion’s third mobilization since 2002 and their second deployment to Iraq.

Utility Marines light up Rutbah TCPs, gain knowledge

RUTBAH, Iraq — And then there was light.


11/22/2008 By COP RUTBAH, Iraq, Regimental Combat Team 5

Utility Marines with Support Platoon, Company B, 1st Combat Engineer Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 5 routinely aid the platoon in construction efforts throughout the al-Anbar province.

The utility Marines with the platoon consist of two generator mechanics and two electricians who are currently supporting the platoon in the construction of two traffic control points near Rutbah, Iraq.

The Marines are providing the TCP with electricity for the future Marines and Iraqi Police who will be checking vehicles and personnel as they pass through the TCP.

“We are providing power to the (buildings) at the TCPs and the electrical wiring, including outlets, lights and air conditioning units at the TCPs,” said Sgt. Alejandro R. Castellano, 37, maintenance chief, Support Platoon. “Our utilities goal out here is to provide better living conditions at the TCPs.”

“The TCPs are a great addition to the city of Rutbah to help the Coalition forces and improve the safety and security of the citizens throughout the city with Marines and Iraqi Police working together,” said Lance Cpl. Dmitri R. Murray, 19, an electrician with Support Platoon, from Chester, Penn., who is on his first deployment.

Including their utility duties within the platoon, the utility Marines have also helped with electrical problems at Combat Outpost Rutbah, and aided in other platoon functions.

“While here with Tango Battery 2nd Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment, we have been helping with tasks and troubleshooting problems they have. We’re taking advantage of our presence here,” said Castellano, who is on his third deployment.

“I didn’t only do my job at the TCP, but also helped out building other parts of the TCP as well,” said Lance Cpl. Steven G. Aguirre, 20, electrician with Support Platoon, from Newark, N.J., who is on his first deployment. “When any section needs help, we are there to support them in any way we can from providing security to putting up (barriers).”

Apart from their responsibilities with the platoon, the utility Marines also support RCT-5 with electrical and generator troubleshooting at Camp Ripper.

“We support RCT-5 with all generator maintenance and electrical missions that are tasked to us. We go from wiring (buildings) to troubleshooting all types of electrical malfunctions,” said Castellano, who is from Fairfax, Va. “We provide power to RCT-5’s Combat Operations Center, and we have generator mechanics with our line platoons who are doing various missions throughout the area of operations.”

Castellano, who initially opted to leave the Marine Corps earlier this year, decided to re-enter active duty in order to pass on his knowledge to his junior Marines who haven’t deployed before.

“All my Marines have never deployed before and that’s one of the reasons I came back on active duty,” said Castellano. “(I) wanted to pass on the experience I have been able to gain in the Marine Corps so they can become more proficient in the utilities field and are able to lead Marines on future deployments and become future mentors themselves.”

One such Marine who volunteered for this deployment one week after completing his Military Occupational Specialty school greatly appreciates Castellano’s decision to return to the utilities field.

“I have learned a lot since I have been here,” said Lance Cpl. Kevin M. Kackos, 20, generator mechanic with Support Platoon, from New Franklin, Mo. “I have had the chance to cross train as an electrician while wiring up the (buildings) and have been fortunate enough to have a great mentor, which I think has set me up to be a better leader.”

The utility Marines have their hands full with responsibilities on many different fronts, but will continue to provide service that is essential to the mission of RCT-5 for the duration of their deployment.

Marines to be awarded Navy Cross posthumously

By Dan Lamothe - Staff writer
Posted : Saturday Nov 22, 2008 7:46:45 EST

Two Marines who died in Iraq stopping a small water tanker filled with explosives will be posthumously awarded the Navy Cross, the nation’s second-highest combat honor, a Marine spokeswoman said.

For more about the heroism of Fallen Heroes, Lance Cpl. Jordan Haerter and Cpl. Jonathan Yale:


Marines got more than they bargained for in Afghanistan

The 2nd Battalion, 7th Regiment of the 1st Marine Division -- the Two-Seven -- never expected to deploy to Afghanistan, much less see heavy combat.

Reporting from Forward Operating Base Delaram, Afghanistan -- The Marines of the Two-Seven were not even supposed to deploy to Afghanistan. Their original destination was Iraq, and when they were sent here in April as a stopgap measure to help an overwhelmed NATO force, the plan had been to spend the time mentoring Afghan national police.


By Tony Perry
November 22, 2008

It didn't turn out that way.

Instead of training policemen, the lightly equipped 2nd Battalion, 7th Regiment of the 1st Marine Division found itself engaged in firefights with insurgent units of 100 or more fighters. They faced Taliban snipers and roadside bombs.

Twenty members of the 1,000-member battalion died in combat.

"It definitely was a lot worse than we expected," said Cpl. James Flores, 22, of Thousand Oaks. "A lot more active."

The Two-Seven has begun returning to its desert base in Twentynine Palms; the bulk will be home by early December. The members take credit for leaving behind 800 trained Afghan police, hundreds of dead Taliban fighters and nascent diplomacy with village leaders.

They also served notice that the Marines were back in Afghanistan to stay.

Based in part on the experiences of the Two-Seven and the grit of its individual members, Marine Corps officials are planning to greatly expand their numbers here -- an unexpected result of a deployment that wasn't even supposed to be.

A replacement task force will consist of about 2,300 troops, more than double the size of the Two-Seven's initial deployment. It will include infantry from Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, an air wing from Miramar Marine Corps Air Station in San Diego and a headquarters unit from Hawaii -- a "special air-ground" task force with all the gear, air power and other assets the Two-Seven lacked when it arrived.

An unspecified number of Marine special operators are also in Afghanistan.

Lt. Gen. Samuel Helland, commander of the Marine Force Central Command, said he would like 15,000 Marines sent here soon "to crush the enemies of Afghanistan."

That was never part of the plan. When Commandant Gen. James T. Conway first suggested that Marines be shifted from Iraq to Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates rejected the idea.

Months later, under pressure to bolster North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies in Afghanistan's troubled south, Gates relented. He agreed to send the Two-Seven to Helmand province and deploy the much larger 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit from Camp Lejeune several hundred miles to the east.

The seven-month deployment, Gates said, was "one time" only.

The last-minute move meant the Marines were not accompanied by their usual combat weaponry and gear: heavy artillery, tanks, aircraft, a full-scale supply system and a full reconnaissance unit.

Like the Army, the Marine Corps was already stretched thin on equipment and manpower. The Two-Seven's basic mission -- mentoring the Afghan national police in sprawling Helmand -- was not expected to involve continuous combat.

But the Marines were repeatedly attacked as they established forward bases in the region and began to make contact with local villagers. Before long, the fighting overshadowed the mentoring. Though they had expected to be tested by the Taliban in an area where much of the poppy crop that funds the insurgents is grown, they had not anticipated the intensity of the conflict.

For six months, the Two-Seven had more members killed and wounded -- about 150 -- than did the 20,000 Marines deployed in Iraq. It also did its share of killing.

A Marine sniper killed 12 insurgents in one battle alone, and since arriving in Afghanistan has killed 28, Marine officials said.

"Our guys were running and gunning so fast that the up-tempo was crushing," said Lt. Col. Rick Hall, the battalion commander.

Because of the ferocity of the fighting, Marine officials began providing helicopters and other supplies needed by the Two-Seven. The choppers were transferred from Iraq.

Meanwhile, the efforts to recruit and train Afghan police officers were beset by corruption and narcotics. In one class of 100 recruits, 35 were dismissed because of drug use. Some recruits showed up for training with the red-rimmed eyes of chronic hashish users, Hall said.

The battalion also faced a manpower shortage in mid-deployment as 150 members neared the end of their active-duty stints. An urgent call went out corpswide for volunteers, and more than 300 Marines stateside stepped forward. About 140 were accepted.

"Not a day goes by when I don't mention the warriors of Two-Seven and the great things they're doing," Sgt. Major Randall Carter, top enlisted man at the 1st Marine Division, told Marines at Delaram. "You've been out here alone and unafraid."

Over the summer, Gates ordered the latest deployment lengthened by a month.

Maj. Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, commander of the 1st Marine Division, said Marines, in effect, were starting over in Afghanistan after being the lead U.S. conventional force in toppling the Taliban regime in 2001.

"This is where it all started," Waldhauser told the troops at Delaram. "We're just starting over again. We're going to be at this a long time."

After routing the Taliban, the Marines were largely redeployed to Iraq. A special operations unit arrived in early 2007 but was sent home amid controversy over civilian deaths.

Although commander Hall is proud of his battalion's accomplishments, he says the victories have been incremental. "We haven't won anything yet. We've got a long way to go," he said.

The deaths of 17 Marines, a soldier, a Navy corpsman and an interpreter continue to wear on Hall.

The 49-year-old father of 10 is in e-mail contact with many of the families of the fallen, and his eyes take on a faraway look when he mentions them.

"The character of these families is incredible," he said.

Some families of the slain Marines will be waiting in Twentynine Palms when the bulk of the battalion returns. A memorial service is planned for before Christmas.

"They talk about Afghanistan being the forgotten war," Hall said at his office at the large Bastion base, which the U.S. shares with Britain. "It certainly was on our watch."

At Delaram and seven other forward bases, life is austere, without the comforts common at major bases in Afghanistan and Iraq. In summer, temperatures soar to 120; in fall and winter, the nights are icy.

Among the enlisted, it became a point of pride that the Two-Seven had done more with less. The Marines mockingly refer to the base as the Hotel Del, a reference to a swank beachfront resort near San Diego.

"We had to adapt and overcome, like Marines have been doing since 1775," said Lance Cpl. Nathan Smith, 20, of Wisconsin Rapids, Wis.

At the same time, Marines said their comrades' deaths weighed heavy on their minds.

"Everyone here has felt it; it's not an isolated thing," said Lance Cpl. Colton Cooper, 21, of Dallas. "You have no choice but to keep pushing. It's just part of the job."

Perry is a Times staff writer.

[email protected]

November 21, 2008

Remembering a friend, hero, Marine

FALLUJAH, Iraq — A small pump station on the outskirts of Fallujah, Iraq, sends streams of water through large metal pipes and into the homes and businesses of local citizens.


11/21/2008 By Cpl. Chris T. Mann, Regimental Combat Team 1

Today, these metal pipes carry not only water, but a flood of memories of one Marine’s sacrifice and dedication to his duties.

Marines with Company A, 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 1, gathered at “Pump House Barney,” a combat outpost overlooking the pump station, to remember Cpl. Aaron M. Allen, from Buellton, Calif., during a ceremony, Nov. 22.

Allen, a 24-year-old team leader with the company’s 3rd Platoon, was killed while conducting combat operations not far from the outpost, where he and other Marines lived and worked.

Tears filled eyes of Marines with the company during the ceremony as they spoke quietly to each other, reflecting on the memories of their fellow Marine and close friend.

“The first time I met him, I knew there was just something different about him,” said Lance Cpl. Louis J. Denise, a rifleman with Company A. “When you walked into a room where he was, everyone was centered around him and you just wanted to be next to him.”

Several Marines with 3rd Platoon spoke about Allen’s dedication, telling the crowd of Marines how he had impacted their lives in many positive ways.

Each Marine described Allen’s commitment to the Corps and his devotion to being selfless. Allen was said to have given everything he had to ensure the Marines around him were taken care of before he took care of himself.

The young team leader was well known by most Marines with the company and was looked up to by many, said Denise. He was known for his natural leadership skills and his inapt ability to make others smile.

“From the first day that I checked into Alpha Company, Allen was the first Marine that stuck out to me,” said 2nd Lt. Benjamin J. Stafford, 3rd Platoon commander. “He had a sense of humor that was recognized by his whole unit.”

Several Marines described him as someone who turned their bad days into laughter and kept things tolerable, even during the worst of times.

“I remember when he would sing songs from ‘Top Gun’ in the back of the (Mine Resistant, Ambush Protected vehicle),” said Sgt. Matthew J. Antonik, a section leader with 3rd Platoon. “He could always make us laugh.”

Allen joined the Marine Corps March 22, 2004 and joined up with 1st Bn., 4th Marines, Dec. 12, 2006. Allen had built several close relationships with many of the Marines in the unit.

“Corporal Allen was the best Marine that I knew,” said Antonik. “You couldn’t help but smile when you met him.”

In his first assignment before joining the battalion, Allen served as a basic security guard with Marine Security Force Company at Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base, Georgia, where he completed several military training courses and was a member of a Close Quarters Battle team.

His knowledge and experience in CQB led him to be chosen as the senior instructor for urban patrolling and assault training for his platoon.

Marines, Iraqi Security Forces search for answers to Ferris attack

FERRIS, Iraq — A recent enemy attack at a hospital in Ferris, Iraq has Marines and Iraqi Security Forces searching the city for clues to find suspects linked to the incident.


11/21/2008 By Cpl. Chris T. Mann, Regimental Combat Team 1

Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 1, assisted the ISF during a joint operation in the city to gather information, recently.

ISF work daily to ensure safety of the citizens by walking through local streets and visiting businesses to talk with those who live, work and commute in the area.

IPs from the Ferris station often gather useful information and work with many of the citizens to help prevent violent attacks. They ask questions about suspicious activity that goes on in the cities neighborhoods and investigate their findings.

Weapons Company Marines have aided several of these missions, adding to the number of forces going on security patrols in recent months.

The Marines use the opportunity to teach IPs what they know about security.

“Local security patrols are now joint with Iraqi Police, and we are ensuring they are doing their job and help fix their shortcomings, so they will be ready to completely take over and keep Ferris safe,” said Staff Sgt. Aaron K. Johnson, a platoon sergeant with the company. “The (patrols) are going well; IPs are doing what needs to be done and we will keep working with them.”

The recent attack in the area is being called an isolated incident, but security forces are not taking any chances. IPs and Marines are continuing efforts to prevent attacks and are taking several proactive measures such as additional security patrols as well as hiring more personnel to conduct searches at check points.

In past combat deployments to Iraq, Marines usually patrolled separately from the IPs.

Today’s mission calls for Marines to take a different approach to security. They are assuming an over-watch position, and in many areas IPs are taking the lead in security operations while Marines provide assistance when necessary.

Lance Cpl. Zachary K. Kapinus, a team leader with the company, was deployed to the area last year. He said despite the recent attack, overall security in the area has improved tremendously.

“I worked with the Iraqi Security Forces last year during my deployment and I think things for this deployment are getting better,” said the 20-year-old from New Braunfels, Texas. “We (Marines and ISF) are definitely working together well.”

Future Marine Security Guards Train in Defense

MCB QUANTICO, Va. -- Four weeks into the course, Marine Security Guard students have been put to the test mentally and physically, enduring hours of in-class studies and field exercises, training in defense and weaponry.


By: Lance Cpl. Meloney R. Moses
(Installment 2 of a 6 part series)

‘‘I’m learning a lot of cool stuff and it’s going to be well worth it,” said Cpl. Nathan E. Diezman, a student at the MSG school here.

So far, students have been trained in defense, handcuffing and non-lethal expandable baton.

The handcuffing procedures are taught in standing and prone positions.

According to Staff Sgt. Matthew Kidder, a MSG School Assistant Operations Chief of the Marine Security Group, the prone position is the safest because it allows for more control of the detainee.

With defensive tactics, the students are taken out to the field and partnered to practice the techniques they learn.

Students learn basic baton techniques and then continue re-evaluations throughout the remainder of the course to help them retain what they have learned.

‘‘They must be able to meet the standards so they are able to perform the techniques correctly when they are faced with a problem,” Kidder said.

Similar to the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program, defense is taught so the Marines can better defend themselves as well as prevent incidents while guarding embassies.

‘‘Most of the Marines don’t come in knowing how to handcuff or defend themselves and in such a short time they have to gain expertise,” said Kidder. ‘‘I think defensive tactics is the hardest part.

As the students continue through this course they will face many written and physical tests. One of those tests will be a firearms qualification which could determine whether or not they continue on.

Look for more on MSG School in future editions of the Quantico Sentry.

November 20, 2008

Chairman Notes Military Family Appreciation Week

WASHINGTON, Nov. 20, 2008 – Military Family Appreciation Week begins tomorrow, and Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, issued a message today noting the observance.


American Forces Press Service

Here is the text of the chairman’s message:

“This month, as we celebrate our blessings, and give thanks for our freedom to enjoy them, we take great pride in honoring November 21-28, 2008 as Military Family Appreciation Week.

“Families serve just as their uniformed service members do. And the military family has rarely faced as many challenges as our families do today. After seven years of war, hundreds of thousands of families have served through multiple deployments in support of operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, as well as many other locations throughout the globe.

“But the love and support of our military families do more than allow us to serve abroad. Our families serve at the very center of American society. They are the bedrock of a free republic which provides for a common defense – and their commitment to the values of hard work, self-sacrifice, and moral virtue is a source of great pride and inspiration for us all.

“And, in this service, some families have suffered great loss – the kind of heart-wrenching loss that echoes for generations. We as a Nation owe the families of the wounded, and the fallen, a lifetime of gratitude and respect for a debt which we can never fully repay.

“On behalf of my family and those of the Joint Chiefs, to all our military families, past and present, we thank you for your service, your sacrifice, and your love. You truly are a wellspring of our Nation’s honor, courage, and strength. With you by our side, we accomplish far more than we ever could alone.”


Admiral, U.S. Navy

November 19, 2008

Friends and family mourn Marine killed in Iraq

CAMP PENDLETON — Friends and family today mourned a 24-year-old Camp Pendleton Marine from Santa Barbara County killed in combat in Iraq last week.


7:53 a.m. November 19, 2008

Cpl. Aaron M. Allen of Buellton, a member of the 1st Battalion, 4th Marines, 1st Marine Division, died Friday in Al Anbar Province, according to the Defense Department.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said Allen ``answered the highest call to duty by dedicating his life to defending our freedoms.''

``He served our country proudly and bravely, and we are forever indebted to his honorable sacrifice,'' the governor said in a statement.

More than three dozen comments from friends and family members have been posted on
Allen's MySpace page since Friday.

In his photo gallery, Allen, who graduated from Santa Ynez Valley Union High School in 2002, posted several photos from Iraq that included comments about finding bombs, disliking sand storms and enjoying downtime with his search team buddies.

America's Best Leaders: U.S. Junior Officers, Military

Rising in the military ranks with a wisdom forged by war

While he was gearing up for the long trek through the high desert plains of southern Afghanistan, Capt. Sean Dynan made the rounds among his marines to make sure their sacks were pared to the bare minimum. How much heavy ammunition his infantry company would bring along on its journey was his call as well. If the soldiers brought too little, they could easily run out in the middle of their mission to rout entrenched Taliban forces. Too much and his marines were risking the injury that comes with carrying 120-plus-pound packs in 120-plus-degree heat.


By Anna Mulrine
Posted November 19, 2008

Upon their arrival and in the midst of battle, Dynan was both warrior and diplomat, negotiating with local tribesmen and hearing grievances that spanned from security concerns to when businesses at the local bazaar would be up and running. After 10 years in the Marine Corps, Dynan is an old hand. This is his fourth tour to a war zone, including a stint in the onetime Sunni insurgent stronghold of Ramadi, Iraq, during the most violent part of the conflict.

Dynan's experience is typical of junior officers throughout the U.S. military. They have been called upon to serve in bloody and complicated wars on two fronts, many for more than half of their short careers. As a result, lieutenants and captains often have more combat experience than the generals who command them. "They are wise beyond their years," Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said about junior officers in an address this year to the Army War College. "We owe them our attention and our time." He urged their superiors to listen to them and called upon junior officers to question their superiors as well.

And they have. Indeed, the experience of junior officers has occasionally created strained relationships with senior leadership. Many have been frustrated by what they view as a lack of accountability at the highest levels of leadership. "It has created some tension," says Nathaniel Fick, author of One Bullet Away: the Making of a Marine Officer and a platoon leader in Iraq in the spring of 2003. "A private who loses a rifle gets into more trouble than a general who loses a war."

This stress has been compounded by the demands of repeated deployments on young troops and their families and made the accomplishments of those who have chosen to stay in the military all the more remarkable. Gen. David Petraeus, the former commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, expressed admiration for the captains in the services, as well as concern about losing them, in congressional testimony earlier this year. In 2003, junior officers were leaving the military at a rate of 5.7 percent per year. In 2005, that level was 8.5 percent. Today, it is back down as a result of cash bonuses and education packages, but the Pentagon estimates it is still short roughly half the senior captains it needs.

The chief selling point that has kept many young officers in the military is the belief that they can make a sizable mark in the areas they command. Indeed, in two wars fought with too few troops, junior officers are often given great responsibility. Fick recalls that for a young platoon leader in a tough Baghdad neighborhood, it was a six-hour drive from the northern to the southernmost position of his area of operations. "We haven't seen that before in the military to quite that same extent. A young leader in the U.S. military can have an outsize impact today the way that a junior commander in Napoleon's army couldn't."

Fighter-leader. Being successful under such conditions often requires upending some old rules of leadership for young officers. The notion of the fighter-leader on the front lines, attacking beside troops, "is something I never saw anyone have a hard time with—never," says Fick, now retired and a fellow at the Center for a New American Security, a Washington, D.C., think tank. The problem is that in such a large area of operations, leading alongside one's soldiers isn't always possible or advisable. "It's pretty easy to look another human in the eyes and say, 'This is going to suck, but I'm going to be there with you,' " Fick says. "It's harder saying, 'I need you to do this, and while you do, I'm going to be sitting in the [command center] tent with a cup of coffee."

To say that, Fick adds, he had two litmus tests. He had to know that whatever he asked his troops to do was morally right. "Not the justice of the Iraq war, but our big slice of the pie had to be morally justifiable." Second, he had to know that if any of his troops were killed, he "would be able to stand in their parents' living room and explain to them honestly why their son died working for me and why I thought it was worth it. That raises the bar very, very high," he adds. "But we cleared it every day."

MILITARY: 'Nothing won yet' in Afghanistan

As deployments ends, Marine colonel says much work remains

CAMP BARBER, Afghanistan ---- Lt. Col. Rick Hall says that after more than seven months in Afghanistan, U.S. Marine Corps forces "haven't won anything yet."


By MARK WALKER - STAFF WRITER | Wednesday, November 19, 2008 7:17 PM PST ∞

Hall commands about 1,100 troops who have been fighting the Taliban and criminal elements in Afghanistan's Helmand Province since May. They've also been training Afghan national police units.

While the Marines have made progress in much of the province, Hall said the way to victory in Afghanistan is similar to that in Iraq ---- convincing the population to turn away from the Taliban and the drug lords who rely on growing opium poppies to fund the insurgency.

"What we need to do is to get the people to take interest in their own future," said Hall, whose 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment troops were in the process last week of packing and heading home to the Air Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms. "From the first day we got here, we have focused on having an enduring effect and getting the people to buy into positive change."

Hall's unit, which has lost 20 men, and the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit from North Carolina's Camp Lejeune were ordered to Afghanistan in the spring in what the Pentagon said would be a one-time assignment for the Marine Corps.

That changed a couple of months ago when the Defense Department announced it was sending in replacements this month to preserve the work done over the summer. The newly arriving Marines include units from Miramar Marine Corps Air Station, Hawaii and elsewhere.

The replacements will find more than 800 newly trained Afghan national policemen patrolling villages throughout the province, which is about the size of Vermont. They also will encounter a population embracing a growing sense that the U.S. is dedicated to their safety and economic development, he said.

That's a dramatic change from when he first arrived, Hall said. In those first weeks, he said, tribal elders and village leaders were skeptical of his offers to help.

"Why should we believe you, you're just going to leave," Hall said many told him.

By seeing his troops replaced with fresh Marines, the father of 10 children said the populace is slowly putting more faith in the U.S. commitment.

Hall said he is convinced that farmers in the region will turn away from poppy production to crops such as wheat if they have protection from the Taliban and a way to get their harvest to market.

The latter involves building roads in a country that ranks near the bottom worldwide in paved highways.

"I need $13 million to build the road that can get that done," he said.

Hall doesn't know if he will be back in Afghanistan to see that road come to fruition.

"It's been a labor of love and it's only just beginning," he said. "I wish I could be here to see it through to the end."

A couple of hours earlier, Camp Pendleton's Lance Cpl. Lyle Anderson was sitting in front of a mine-resistant vehicle cleaning gear in preparation for the trip home.

Anderson, whose transportation unit was assigned to Hall, said he believes his time here made a difference.

"They're very scared of the Taliban and families I talked to very much want us here," he said.

Anderson drives a vehicle known as a "Cougar," a large version of the mine-resistant vehicle used to move troops around the region and protect them from roadside bombs.

And that's precisely what Anderson said his vehicle did. He survived four roadside bombings, as did the men inside and the rig itself.

The only injuries during those four bombings, Anderson said, were slight concussions.

The first bombing came on July Fourth and was followed by the three others in rapid succession, he said.

The paucity of roads in the region means the Marines made their own whenever they were on a convoy mission.

The bombings happened when the convoys didn't have a helicopter to scout the land ahead. Taliban riding motorcycles would alert fighters who would place the bombs along the route the Marines were taking, he said.

Contact staff writer Mark Walker at (760) 740-3529 or [email protected]

November 17, 2008

Man Loses 140 Pounds to Join MarinesAP

LEWISTON, Maine (Nov. 17) - Army and Navy recruiters took one look at 330-pound Ulysses Milana and told him to forget about joining.


Daryn Slover, Sun Journal

"'You've got to lose weight,'" Milana remembers them saying.

But Marine recruiters were willing to work with him as he began his weight-loss journey in December 2007.

Now, 11 months later, Milana is 140 pounds lighter as he leaves Monday for Parris Island, S.C., to begin boot camp.

It wasn't easy, Milana said, but he managed to slim down through exercise, healthier eating habits and forgoing an occasional beer after work. The 23-year-old said he even refused a beer at his going-away party Saturday night.

Milana said he always wanted to follow in his family's footsteps by serving his country. His wife, Latoya, also comes from a military family.

Much of his weight-loss motivation came from Latoya, a nurse, who helped him reduce his calorie intake when he began his effort in earnest last December.

"It was really difficult for him at first. He always said, 'I'm gonna lose weight.' But I never took him seriously," Latoya told the Sun Journal newspaper. "Then, when he started to do it, I told him he needed to cut his portion sizes way down."

Marine recruiters also worked with him, helping to develop a workout regimen.

"You can sit there and preach and preach, but if you're not willing to help, then it doesn't lead you to success," Staff Sgt. George Monteith said. "If I say, 'Go lose weight and I'll see you in a year,' then what kind of help have I offered to make that happen?"

A former culinary student, Milana said it was a challenge to give up favorites like pizza and hot wings, but cracking open a cold beer after work was perhaps the toughest guilty pleasure to abandon.

"It was really hard. You see all your friends drinking beer, and you're like, 'Oh, man, I want one,'" he said.

But his determination kept him on track, and he would head for the gym or don a head lamp and go out for a run.

3/25 memorial opens at Cincinnati museum

By Lisa Cornwell - The Associated Press
Posted : Monday Nov 17, 2008 9:28:33 EST

CINCINNATI — Three-year-old Christian Kreuter will see a life-size image of the father he never had the chance to know when he and his mother make their first visit to a memorial honoring 23 Ohio-based service members killed in Iraq.

To continue reading:


November 16, 2008

Marines’ heroic actions at Shewan leave more than 50 insurgents dead, several wounded

FARAH PROVINCE, Afghanistan — In the city of Shewan, approximately 250 insurgents ambushed 30 Marines and paid a heavy price for it.


11/16/2008 By Cpl. James M. Mercure, 2nd Battalion (2/7)

Shewan has historically been a safe haven for insurgents, who used to plan and stage attacks against Coalition Forces in the Bala Baluk district.

The city is home to several major insurgent leaders. Reports indicate that more than 250 full time fighters reside in the city and in the surrounding villages.

Shewan had been a thorn in the side of Task Force 2d Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force Afghanistan throughout the Marines’ deployment here in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, because it controls an important supply route into the Bala Baluk district. Opening the route was key to continuing combat operations in the area.

“The day started out with a 10-kilometer patrol with elements mounted and dismounted, so by the time we got to Shewan, we were pretty beat,” said a designated marksman who requested to remain unidentified. “Our vehicles came under a barrage of enemy RPGs (rocket propelled grenades) and machine gun fire. One of our ‘humvees’ was disabled from RPG fire, and the Marines inside dismounted and laid down suppression fire so they could evacuate a Marine who was knocked unconscious from the blast.”

The vicious attack that left the humvee destroyed and several of the Marines pinned down in the kill zone sparked an intense eight-hour battle as the platoon desperately fought to recover their comrades. After recovering the Marines trapped in the kill zone, another platoon sergeant personally led numerous attacks on enemy fortified positions while the platoon fought house to house and trench to trench in order to clear through the enemy ambush site.

“The biggest thing to take from that day is what Marines can accomplish when they’re given the opportunity to fight,” the sniper said. “A small group of Marines met a numerically superior force and embarrassed them in their own backyard. The insurgents told the townspeople that they were stronger than the Americans, and that day we showed them they were wrong.”

During the battle, the designated marksman single handedly thwarted a company-sized enemy RPG and machinegun ambush by reportedly killing 20 enemy fighters with his devastatingly accurate precision fire. He selflessly exposed himself time and again to intense enemy fire during a critical point in the eight-hour battle for Shewan in order to kill any enemy combatants who attempted to engage or maneuver on the Marines in the kill zone. What made his actions even more impressive was the fact that he didn’t miss any shots, despite the enemies’ rounds impacting within a foot of his fighting position.

“I was in my own little world,” the young corporal said. “I wasn’t even aware of a lot of the rounds impacting near my position, because I was concentrating so hard on making sure my rounds were on target.”

After calling for close-air support, the small group of Marines pushed forward and broke the enemies’ spirit as many of them dropped their weapons and fled the battlefield. At the end of the battle, the Marines had reduced an enemy stronghold, killed more than 50 insurgents and wounded several more.

“I didn’t realize how many bad guys there were until we had broken through the enemies’ lines and forced them to retreat. It was roughly 250 insurgents against 30 of us,” the corporal said. “It was a good day for the Marine Corps. We killed a lot of bad guys, and none of our guys were seriously injured.”

Funerals set for Troutdale marine killed near DC

TROUTDALE, Ore. – The family of a Marine from Troutdale who was killed last weekend while in the Washington DC area is preparing to say goodbye.


News Video link:

Story Published: Nov 16, 2008
By Adam Ghassemi and KATU.com Web Staff

Authorities are investigating the death of Pfc. Maddison Peterson as a possible homicide after his body was found lying on a highway in Arlington, Va., on Nov. 8.

Peterson's mother, Pam, said her son was staying at a hotel and went for a walk that evening but never returned. His body was on the highway when it was struck by a small sports car; the driver called 911.

Investigators are trying to determine whether another vehicle hit her son first but did not stop or if he is a victim of foul play.

"It had to be something horrific to cause the damage to his body that it did," she said.

Her son had been assigned to a presidential guard unit in the nation's capital. He was stationed at Marine Barracks Washington in Washington DC.

His death came just four days after his 22nd birthday. He was supposed to be in town this weekend.

"Yesterday we were supposed to have a birthday party for him, a big open house, but instead, tomorrow, we're having a funeral," his mother said.

Peterson's family says he was not only a Marine but also a budding model – just being accepted by clothing company Abercrombie & Fitch.

There are two funerals scheduled for Peterson:

7 p.m.
Monday, Nov. 17
9200 N.E. Fremont St.
(503) 255-2224
11 a.m.

Tuesday, Nov. 18
2630 E. 18th St
The Dalles
(541) 298-5551

Marines Maintain Vigilance on Syrian Border

AL-ANBAR PROVINCE, Iraq — Reserve Marines from Weapons Company, 2nd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 5 based here drove more than 200 miles Nov. 9 to conduct a security patrol and inspect construction of new Iraqi forts along the country’s border with Syria.


11/16/2008 By Capt. Paul Greenberg, Regimental Combat Team 5

In mid-October, the Marines of 2nd Bn., 25th Marines began conducting patrols in support of Iraqi Security Forces in western al-Anbar province, which for several years in the recent past was a hotbed for weapons and insurgent trafficking, as well as oil and drug smuggling.

The patrol departed the base shortly after dawn, and within an hour stopped along one of the main highways cutting through al-Anbar to assist the driver of a tractor trailer that had jackknifed and come to a rest on its side on the shoulder of the road.

Gunnery Sgt. Michael Dumelle, 34, a platoon commander with 2nd Bn., 25th Marines, ensured that the Iraqi driver was all right and notified the Iraqi highway patrol. The Marines then mounted up in their humvees and made their way to the border.

Most of the Iraq-Syrian border is marked by two parallel dirt berms about 300 meters apart. In the middle is “no man’s land,” where mine fields were laid in various locations by Iraqi troops during the reign of Saddam Hussein.

The Iraqi Border Patrol constantly roves their side of the border area, and the Marines of 2nd Bn., 25th Marines assist them.

“Our mission is to conduct periodic security patrols of a key border area and to provide over watch of Iraqi Security Forces,” said Dumelle.

“The important thing is to make sure they’re doing their job and that they’re being taken care of,” added Dumelle, a Long Island, N.Y., native who works as a property manager for a commercial real estate firm in his civilian career.

While traversing the lunar-like surface along a dirt road within a stone’s throw of the border, Dumelle halted his platoon at a remote site to inspect two trucks which he suspected may be smuggling oil.

The Marines inspected the vehicle and Dumelle, with the help of an interpreter, questioned one of the drivers. Dumelle’s Marines searched the vehicles and found animal feed, tanks of water and veterinary medicine and medical supplies.

“Their story didn’t quite add up, but we didn’t have anything to hold them on,” said Dumelle, who added, “You can’t catch a fish every day.”

A few kilometers away, the patrol spotted a flock of more than 200 sheep grazing on the sparse patches of grass that spring up through the desert rocks and sand.

The Marines continued on their way north to inspect the border fort projects.

The new Iraqi government has been working vigilantly over the past year to replace the aging forts which dot the borderline with Syria.

At the first border fort, the Iraqi construction workers were about a month into their project. They were unloading concrete blocks from the back of a rusty dump truck in the blazing morning sun.

“It’s always good to see reconstruction,” said Dumelle, as he got out of his humvee to talk to the workers.

Adnan Farhan Retha, 23, is a Ramadi native who has been working in the construction business for about four years and has been on this site since they broke ground in October. His brother’s company was contracted by the government of Iraq to construct this fort. Retha expressed a sense of pride in his work, which he explained, “is important to protect our country from insurgents crossing over.”

When asked if he has any fear about working in this remote location so close to a Syrian border fort, Retha responded, “They are human, and I am human. Why should I be scared?”

The Marines gave the workers handfuls of snack-sized Halloween candy packets that one of them had received in the mail from home, then loaded up and pressed on into the afternoon.

Construction workers were putting the final touches on Border Fort 10A, which the Iraqis refer to as “Al Furat.”

Salah Ahmed, 32, is the site supervisor. Through an interpreter, Ahmed conveyed the sense of accomplishment he feels in looking at his near-finished project. He spoke of the hardships he and his men have faced of the past eight months. From the extreme cold last winter, when they struggled to lay the building’s foundation, through the broiling heat of summer, the team has weathered the elements and seen their project through to near-completion.

“We stay close together,” said Ahmed. “We have cooperation.”

The Marines’ last stop before refueling at Combat Outpost Waleed to go home was at Border Fort 12, which is up and running. Dumelle made sure the patrolmen had been paid and were equipped with sufficient rations of supplies.

Patrolman Hazam Eshia Abdel Hassan, 32, is a Baghdad native who has been on the border patrol for the past four years. A 10-year Iraqi Army veteran, he said that despite the physical hardships he has experienced on the border, he is determined to protect his country and one day aspires to become an officer.

“Going on patrol is my favorite,” said Hussan through an interpreter. “I am looking forward to catching the terrorists.”

The Marine convoy arrived safely back at Camp Korean Village shortly after dusk, the lead vehicle narrowly avoiding a large chunk of an engine laying on the dark highway, which had broken off a vehicle during an earlier accident.

“We definitely made our presence known out there,” said Lance Cpl. Anthony Fisher, 20, a Weapons Company rifleman and Reserve Marine from Newton, Kan., who spent about eight hours behind the wheel of his humvee during the patrol.

“Coalition forces are trying to stop smugglers, and we’re not just going to let them walk through,” insisted Fisher. “Hopefully we have subdued the traveling of insurgents in and out of that area. Our skills we learned during our (pre-deployment) training at Twentynine Palms, (Calif.), are really being put to use out there.”

November 14, 2008

USS Boxer, Marine Unit Prepare For Integration Exercise

WASHINGTON, Nov. 14, 2008 – The USS Boxer Expeditionary Strike Group and the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit are preparing to deploy in support of unified combatant commanders, the strike group commander said this week.


By Navy Seaman William Selby
Special to American Forces Press Service

The sailors and Marines are at sea conducting the composite training unit exercise, or COMPTUEX, in scenarios they may face in upcoming deployments, Navy Capt. Peter K. Dallman told bloggers and online journalists Nov. 12.

The Boxer Expeditionary Strike Group is composed of five Navy ships, and the 13th MEU is made up of 2,200 Marines aboard three amphibious ships, Dallman said.

The objective, Dallman said, is to expand the 13th MEU and the Boxer ESG teams’ primary capabilities, which include maritime security operations, decisive combat operations and other operations, including humanitarian assistance.

“We are fully integrated and capable teams, and we are prepared to carry out a broad spectrum of mission actions from any unified combatant commander,” he said.

Dallman and Marine Corps Col. Dave Coffman, commander of the 13th MEU, “have a support team relationship, which means that neither one of us works for the other, but rather we work together,” he said.

“More importantly, this relationship produces a flexible configuration that makes the Boxer ESG/13th MEU team an effective and versatile platform for not only protecting combat power, but also accomplishing other missions such as providing humanitarian assistance and or disaster relief,” he added.

While the units are preparing for future missions, Coffman said, they have yet to be tasked by U.S. Pacific Command or U.S. Central Command. “So we’ll take our mission list and be prepared to go both ways,” he said. Models are in place for whatever the mission may be, he added.

While the Boxer group has specialized in working from sea-to-shore capabilities, Coffman emphasized, “We can do it any way they want it to.”

One challenge the MEU and ESG have is lightening the load of all the equipment, Coffman said.

“We’re too heavy,” he acknowledged. “We’ve got some heavy stuff and some big stuff, and it’s not matched to … the lag of building ships and how quickly we can turn around vehicles.”

But the USS New Orleans has increased capacity in terms of vehicle stowage, the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Boutwell is sailing with the group, he said.

The primary purpose of bringing the Boutwell is to show other countries how the U.S. Coast Guard operates in coastal patrol, law enforcement and coastal defense, said Navy Capt. Mark Cedrun, commanding officer of the USS Boxer.

“We’re working with many coalition partners to fulfill those tasks in order to create stable conditions at sea which are going to allow economic prosperity to continue and enhance global security,” he said.

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

Tigers on the prowl aboard Peleliu, experience life underway

ABOARD USS PELELIU — The Marines and Sailors of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, who have called USS Peleliu home for the last six months, welcomed aboard family and friends aboard on as part of Tiger Cruise 2008 for the final week of deployment.


11/14/2008 By Cpl. Timothy T. Parish, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit

“Tiger Cruise” is a program which allows Marines and Sailors to show what it feels like to be deployed aboard a U.S. Navy ship.

For some prior service members, the experience of being underway is a new one. Mr. Kenneth John, an eight-year Air Force veteran, said he is surprised by the relationship between Marines and Sailors aboard USS Peleliu.

“My experience in the military gave me the impression that the Marines and the Navy didn’t get along too well,” said Mr. John. “[Tiger Cruise] has pretty much changed that.”

Tiger Cruise has also helped Mr. John better understand what Marines do every day while on deployment.

“I really didn’t know what to look forward to. Almost everything they have done has helped me understand better,” Mr. John said. “[My son] has come home and tried to explain, but it’s nothing like witnessing it first hand. That has been the best thing for me.”

Mr. John’s son, Sgt. Barry L. Tiner, a CH-46E Sea Knight Observer with Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron-165, knew of Tiger Cruise from a previous deployment. Bringing his father along was an easy choice given Mr. John’s prior military service, Tiner said.

“I already had dad in mind. It would be a good time to visit with him, spend some time with him and let him see what we do,” said Tiner. “He was in the military, but [he served] in the Air Force, so we are showing him how the Marines do business.”

Tiner, a native of Phoenix, said it was important for his father to see how Marines operate while underway.

“[The Tigers] get to see what we do on a daily basis. Right now it’s the end of the deployment, so it’s kind of dying down a little and we’re not at normal mission tempo, but it gives Tigers a little taste of how we work,” Tiner said.

Separation from friends and family is a given for many Marines and Sailors. With deployments on ship lasting six-months or longer, the time during Tiger Cruise to reconnect with loved-ones is very important, according to George M. Martinez, Jr., a Mechanical Designer from Fremont, Calif. Tiger Cruise gives families a chance to make-up for lost time, he said.

“I’ve always been close with my son,” Martinez said. “You get older and you can’t spend as much time together and that’s the biggest thing for me is to be able to spend time with him.”

Tiger Cruise also lets family and friends relate better to their Marine or Sailor, Mr. Martinez continued.

“It shows me the conditions he lives in and what he does daily. It’s kind of exciting being on a Navy ship. I’ve been on a cruise, but it’s nothing like this, of course,” Mr. Martinez said.

Sgt. George M. Martinez III, a Circuit Board Operator with the Command Element, 15th MEU, hopes the Tigers will better understand what their Marine does and how they live while underway.

“I think it gives them the whole perspective,” said Sgt. Martinez, a native of Tracy, Calif.

Tiger Cruise also gives friends and family a better understanding of life aboard ship other than the idea most civilians have about deployment, Sgt. Martinez continued.

“I think their first impression is that it’s not as dressed up as Hollywood makes it. One thing my dad said is that it is a ship built for a purpose, it’s like a machine,” said Sgt. Martinez. “It’s probably enjoyable [for the Tigers] being on a big warship and to be around Marines and Sailors. You can’t really pay for an experience like this.”

The Camp Pendleton, Calif. based 15th MEU is comprised of approximately 2,200 Marines and Sailors and is a forward deployed force in readiness capable of conducting numerous operations, such as Non-Combatant Evacuation Operations, Humanitarian Assistance Operations and a wide range of amphibious missions. The 15th MEU is currently deployed aboard the USS Peleliu (LHA-5), USS Dubuque (LPD-8) and USS Pearl Harbor (LSD-52) and is on the final leg of deployment.

Changes to Leave Act Benefit Wounded Warriors, Families

WASHINGTON, Nov. 14, 2008 – Recent changes to the Family and Medical Leave Act will extend the period of unpaid, job-protected leave that eligible family members can take to care for wounded warrior spouses, Labor Department officials said.


By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

Legislative amendments to the act signed into law by President Bush provide new entitlements that pertain to military families and enable them to take caregiver leave, officials said.

The Labor Department administers FMLA for private-sector workers. The changes, authorized by the National Defense Authorization Act of 2008, are slated to be published in the Federal Register Nov. 17.

“This final rule, for the first time, gives America’s military families special job-protected leave rights to care for brave servicemen and women who are wounded or injured, and also helps families of members of the National Guard and reserves manage their affairs when their servicemember is called up for active duty,” Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao said.

“At the same time, the final rule provides needed clarity about general FMLA rights and obligations for both workers and employers,” she said.

One change stipulates that eligible employees who are family members of covered servicemembers can take up to 26 work weeks of leave in a 12-month period to care for a covered servicemember with a serious illness or injury incurred in the line of duty on active duty. This change extends the period of available unpaid leave beyond the original 12-week leave period. The new provision was a recommendation of the President’s Commission on Wounded Warriors.

A second family-leave-related amendment to the act makes the normal 12 work weeks of FMLA job-protected leave available to certain family members of National Guardsmen or reservists for qualifying exigencies when servicemembers are on active duty or called to active-duty status.

Qualifying exigencies for which employees can use FMLA leave include:

-- Short-notice deployment;

-- Military events and related activities;

-- Child-care and school activities;

-- Financial and legal arrangements;

-- Counseling;

-- Rest and recuperation;

-- Post-deployment activities, and

-- Additional activities not encompassed in the other categories by which the employer and employee can agree to the leave.

Another change requires employees to follow their employers' call-in procedures when taking FMLA leave. Previous rules were interpreted that employees could inform employers of taking FMLA leave for up to two full business days after initiating it.

Another rule change allows employers’ human-resource officials, leave administrators or management officials to contact employees’ health care providers to verify information on medical certification forms, so long as Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 requirements and medical privacy regulations are met.

Established in 1993 under the Labor Department’s jurisdiction, the FMLA originally entitled most federal employees to up to 12 work weeks of unpaid leave during any 12-month period for:

-- The birth of a child of the employee and the care of the child;

-- The placement of a child with the employee for adoption or foster care;

-- The care of a spouse, child or parent of the employee who has a serious health condition; or

-- A serious health condition that makes the employee unable to work.

Once a Marine Raider, always a Marine Raider

Charles Meacham, better known as Chuck to his friends and family, has pretty much seen it all.


Gazette editor

That, in a nutshell, includes a still-going-strong 62-year marriage to his sweetheart, June, a long career with California and Alaska departments of fish and game and a stint in Washington, D.C., as a commissioner of Fish and Wildlife, the statehood of Alaska, the birth of two sons and six grandsons and, oh yes, two years serving with the U.S. Marine Raiders in the Pacific Theater during World War II.

If that isn’t enough, Meacham, at 83, continues to preserve the history and honor the some 8,000 soldiers who served as Marine Raiders by spending time as a member of the U.S. Marine Raider Association. In fact, he recently completed his term as president of the organization and is now a member of the executive committee.

“It took six years, but we now have a foundation,” Meacham says of the association.

A soft-spoken man, it takes some prodding to get Meacham to talk about himself. But bring up the Raiders and he is ready with stories of pals who were killed, the struggles he and his compatriots faced and the efforts the Raiders made to help win the war.

“We were the first special operation in the military,” he says, thumbing through old photos, books and pamphlets, including one called “bless ‘em all: the raider marines of world war II.”

“Do you know the real meaning of gung ho?” he asks.

Turns out the Marine Raiders were the ones who popularized the Chinese phrase, the literal translation of which is “work in harmony.”

When Brig. Gen. Evans F. Carlson, USMCR, was placed in command of the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion, he chose gung ho as the watchword and spirit of the battalion.

So who were these Raiders and what’s their story?

Long story short, the U.S. Marine Raiders were formed in February 1942 and were the first American ground forces to take the offensive to the Japanese and to stem the tide that had threatened to engulf the Pacific.

The Raiders played a large role in victories at Makin Island, Tulagi, Guadalcanal, Guam and Okinawa.

A pamphlet published by the Marine Raider Foundation states, “No military unit in the history of the United States brought more honor and glory to themselves, more pride to their countrymen and more grief to their enemies as the four United States Marine Raider Battalions of World War II.”

The Marine Raiders lasted just two years and some say senior commanders in the Marine Corps never fully supported the specialized purpose of the Raiders.

That’s not what those who served with Raiders will say, including Meacham.

Born in Newman, Calif., and raised in an area near Mammoth Mountain, Meacham came from a military family. His father served in World War I and his mother, a 1915 graduate of Stanford, was an registered nurse in the first world war.

Meacham decided to enlist in the Marine Corps at the age of 17, which meant his father had to give his permission.

“I wasn’t afraid of being drafted, I wanted to serve,” Meacham says. “I went in at 17 and was out and married before I was 21.”

Indeed, shortly before his 21st birthday in 1946, he married his wife, June. They had two sons and with the help of the GI Bill, Meacham took his young family and enrolled at Utah State University. It was the one school that offered a degree in forestry range and wildlife management.

After graduation, Meacham worked for the California Fish and Game Department and then in 1956 they went to Anchorage where he helped set up the territorial Department of Fisheries. When Alaska became a state in 1959, the organization became known as the Department of Fish and Game.

A few years later, then-Gov. Walter Hickel appointed Meacham as director of International Fisheries and External Affairs. Shortly thereafter, Meacham and the family moved to Washington, D.C., where he served as commissioner of the Fish and Wildlife Department.

“That position was eventually eliminated,” he remembers. “Then we went back to Alaska,” where he worked until his retirement in 1980.

In the meantime, Meacham kept in touch with Raiders buddies, attending annual reunions and giving speeches and writing down memories of those two years of fighting, including this one:

“Thanksgiving dinner on Bougainville, 1943. Somehow a field kitchen was set up and turkey and all the trimmings were there. Unbelievable! We took turns going to chow — every other man off of the line. This was my first hot meal in 25 days. After eating, I immediately threw it all up. There was only one thing to do — get back in line and try again. The second time, my dinner stayed down,” wrote Meacham in “Born Again Raiders, U.S. Marine Corps Birthday Celebration, Nashville, 10 November 2006.”

When asked if he was scared during those two years with the Raiders, Meacham says scared doesn’t quite fit how he felt. He declined to give further details.

Fast forward to now. He and June live in Sequim. They bought a piece of property here shortly after he retired and built a home.

How did they decide on Sequim?

“I did a lot of research on places to retire,” Meacham recalls. “We didn’t want to stay in Alaska where you are housebound a good part of the year.” He says Alaska is a “young person’s country.”

Besides, he adds, Sequim has a lot of Alaskans, many of whom he knows.

Today, Meacham and his wife continue to travel, especially to the annual Raiders reunions. This year’s was in August in Minneapolis, where several Raiders recounted personal experiences during World War II.

Meacham is active in the U.S. Marine Raider Foundation whose goal is to preserve the history of the Marine Raiders with several projects. One of those is purchasing memorial bricks for the 889 Marine Raiders killed in action. Other programs include scholarships for native-born children in the Solomon Islands and others.

But most of all, surviving Raiders want to continue to honor those who have gone before them. As Meacham writes, “We original Marine Raiders are progressing on to new assignments, such as guarding those Pearly Gates, but we would like to keep the Raider heritage alive for future generations of both Marines and non-

Marines and continue to maintain our museums and our scholarship programs.”

As we remember and honor all veterans this week, we also thank them for the courage it takes to protect and serve our country.

Pentagon launches its own version of YouTube

By William H. McMichael - Staff writer
Posted : Friday Nov 14, 2008 12:43:37 EST

Eighteen months after banning access to YouTube and other social networking and entertainment sites on Defense Department computers, the Pentagon has launched a site where troops and families can upload and share videos.

To continue reading:


November 13, 2008

Kids tune in to ‘code talker’

Navajo Marine visits school on U.S. base, tells of role during WWII

By Tim Wightman, Stars and Stripes
Mideast edition, Thursday, November 13, 2008

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — A piece of living history visited Yokosuka Naval Base’s elementary school Wednesday to give students a first-hand account of his role in World War II.

To continue reading:


Company C operates on Iraq’s northern border

SAHL SINJAR, Iraq (13 November, 2008) -- As Task Force Ninewa, a ground-combat element built around 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, moved into the area west of Mosul, Company C, 1st LAR Bn led the way to restrict criminal activity in a place uninhabited by a Marine force of its size for nearly two decades.


By Cpl. Dean Davis

“We are gathering information on the area so we can identify routes and safe havens for foreign fighters and smuggling coming in from Syria,” said Capt. Matthew Miller, commander of Company C, 1st LAR Bn. “Now that the Marines have established a presence here, it’s likely that foreign fighter facilitators will initially change their routes or hides. But once they realize we’re not going anywhere they will either try to avoid us or attack us.”

Whether the insurgents hide or fight, Marines of Company C, “Warpig,” were ready to combat either one, explained Cpl. John O. Nilsen, a light armored vehicle crewman with Company C, 1st LAR Bn.

“It’s interesting that this could potentially be some of the last combat operations for Marines in Iraq,” said Nilsen, who came back into the Marine Corps shortly after the beginning of the war. “It won’t be long before the (insurgents) feel the pressure to use this area, and we will be here to stop them. This is what I came back in to do.”

After reconnaissance of the open area, Company C moved into the wadis and caverns of the Sinjar Mountains to survey some of the routes smugglers and facilitators have been using.
“It’s clear that people were living here and were trying to hide the cave openings,” said Miller. “There’s nothing in them at the moment, but people are obviously moving through here.”

Though security in the urban areas has been handed over to Iraqi Security Forces, the Marines’ presence has been welcomed by the people in the area, said Nilsen.

“An essential part of counterinsurgency is convincing the local population that you’re here to help them, said Nilsen, 30, from Phoenix, Az. “Those out there who cause the Iraqi people harm or attack us had better be looking over their shoulder though, because we’re coming to get them.”

November 12, 2008

Face of Defense: Double Amputee Marine Wants to Stay in to Help Others

WASHINGTON, Nov. 12, 2008 – Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Matthew Ryan Bradford was part of a patrol to clear an area near Haditha, Iraq, of roadside bombs with the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Division, on Jan. 18, 2007.


By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

“We found it,” he said with a chuckle, admitting that he’d gone about it the hard way. “Another guy got hurt, but he just had shrapnel go through his right calf. I pretty much took the full blast.”

The bomb, hidden under a pipe, cost Bradford his left leg above the knee and his right one below the knee. He lost his left eye when a piece of shrapnel went through it and lodged in his brain, and retina damage cost him sight in his right eye. He also suffered intestinal damage.

The shrapnel is still there.

“It’s in a good, safe spot, I guess,” he said. “I don’t have to have anything done with it.”

The unit’s corpsman did all he could medically on the scene, then sent Bradford to a military hospital at Balad. From there, he was sent through Germany’s Landstuhl Regional Medical Center on his way to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. He arrived in Bethesda just three days after his injury and stayed for two months before being moved to the Veterans Affairs facility in Richmond, Va., that specializes in patients with multiple traumas.

From there, it was back to Bethesda to be fitted for a prosthetic eye, then to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio for prosthetic legs at the Center for the Intrepid medical center.

“I walk perfect,” Bradford said of his prosthesis. “I’m used to wearing them for like 12 hours a day now.”

Bradford, who enlisted in the Marine Corps right out of high school, is taking computer training at the Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital in Chicago. When he finishes there, it’s back to San Antonio to start the medical boards that will determine whether he can stay in the Marines.

Bradford said he knows he won’t be able to do every job in the Marine Corps, but he hopes to stay in uniform because he believes he has something to offer.

“I want to be a Marine. I don’t want to get out yet,” he said. “I’m trying to stay in so I can go back to Bethesda and work at the hospital in the liaison office so I can talk to the wounded.”

The motivation behind this decision came from experiences during his early recovery when another Marine helped him get his mind off his injuries, he said.

“He came to my room a lot -- basically, every day,” he said. “Instead of talking about my injuries, we just talked about sports [and] girls.”

The conversation was a welcome outlet for the wounded Marine. “At that time, I was going through [thoughts like], ‘I don’t want to live right now. I don’t have legs or eyes,’” he said.

Now Bradford, a former high school athlete, even shoots hoops every so often. He said he also goes to concerts and bars, and does things any 22-year-old does.

The reactions he occasionally gets when he’s out in public bother him, though, he acknowledged. Some thank him, some buy meals for him, and some even apologize for what happened in the course of serving his country.

“I’m like, ‘Don’t be. It could’ve happened to anyone,” Bradford said. “[I have] no regrets. I’d go back if I could, but I can’t see.”

Bradford’s injuries earned him a Purple Heart, which Gen. James T. Conway, Marine Corps commandant, presented on Valentine’s Day 2007.

“It means a lot,” he said of the medal. “I feel grateful to have it, but I’d rather not have it.”

Troop Support Group Launches New Web Site

WASHINGTON, Nov. 12, 2008 – A troop-support group that provides education on the brain’s and body’s natural responses to stress launched its redesigned Web site yesterday.
“Our Web site is completely redesigned to power our mission of providing the best education, training and resources for supporting strength and resilience in all areas of military life,” said Elizabeth Hawkins, executive director of “One Freedom.”


By Sharon Foster
American Forces Press Service

“The new One Freedom Web site is a portal for our nation's warriors and for everyone who cares about them to connect with a wealth of knowledge and new possibilities for strength and healing,” she said.

The Web site contains a listing of One Freedom programs for military servicemembers, veterans, families and care providers, with easy online registration.

A growing list of resources -- information, organizations and individuals -- is dedicated to supporting military communities using articles, newsletters, videos, links and listings covering a variety of information.

Visitors also can sign up for a quarterly newsletter and donate to support One Freedom's programs.

One Freedom will continue to offer workshops and training focused on how to self-regulate intense life experiences, trauma and everyday stressors.

One of its most popular workshops – the “Strength after Service” series – is a two-hour program that teaches veterans and family members about the brain and body and how they are changed under prolonged stress. A range of skills is taught, including simple, easy-to-use exercises aimed at improving well-being, inner strength and personal communication.

“This introductory workshop frames military stress in a normalizing framework that takes the emphasis off ‘mental-behavioral’ and puts it on our natural response to stress, especially under chronic and acute conditions,” Hawkins said.

The “Strength after Service” series includes sub-topics that provide veterans and family members education on the cornerstones of health such as sleep, nutrition, exercise and structure. One Freedom also offers day-long training on communication for couples and families, addiction training and assistance with understanding the various therapeutic modalities available today.

Marine Corps veteran and One Freedom trainer Dan Taslitz said the workshops “are a powerful path to strength and healing for our military servicemembers, veterans and families.”

“It goes way beyond a yellow ribbon in supporting our nation's warriors by providing the knowledge and skills to integrate their experiences and create bridges of strength back to their families and communities,” he said.

The next “Strength after Service” series will be held Nov. 14 in Colorado Springs, Colo.

November 11, 2008

Skilled hands of maintenance Marines keep 1st LAR rolling

SINJAR AIRFIELD, Iraq -- (November 11, 2008) What does it take to keep a mechanized infantry battalion rolling? At more than 12 tons each, light armored vehicle sounds like a contradictory name, but there’s nothing light about the mission these Marines have.


By Cpl. Dean Davis

“Because of our work, the companies can rest assured that while they’re outside the wire everything will work well on the vehicle so they can do their job, and ultimately, accomplish the battalion’s mission,” said Pfc. Michael J. Peterson, a light armored vehicle mechanic with Headquarters and Service Company, 1st Light Reconnaissance Battalion.

Just getting the job done isn’t the only responsibility that falls on these Marines’ shoulders, explained Master Gunnery Sgt. Frank Alessi, maintenance chief for 1st LAR Bn.

“Just in parts, aside from tools or anything else, they’re responsible for roughly $4 million worth of inventory, all of which they have to account for,” said Alessi. “They can do practically everything they would be able to in the states, but the result is much more visible given the tempo of our operations here.”

Comprised of mechanics, engineers, welders, hazardous materials specialists and more, the mission of the maintenance shop is as varied as the Marines themselves, explained Peterson.

“Teamwork is everything here. With all the moving parts and all that goes into making the vehicles run, we have to rely on each other to make it happen,” said Perterson, 19, from Fountain Hills, AZ. “There is no way you can do this job alone, and just like anything else in the Marine Corps, we count on each other to make it happen.”

Learning from one another is a big part of the cooperation that carries the shop, explained Staff Sgt. Shawn Lawson, platoon sergeant for maintenance.

“Seeing the individual improvements of the Marines and then watching them improve as a team is really impressive,” said Lawson, 30, from Grand Junction, Colo. “Sometimes they have to improvise and adapt in lieu of parts and fabricate something that will work.”

As the sole suppliers of readiness for 1st LAR’s vehicles, the Marines of maintenance will have plenty to do in the months ahead, supporting the mission here, said Alessi.

“These guys know how important their job is for the battalion,” said Alessi. “If they don’t do the job right that could put the whole crew at risk. At the end of the day, all we have is each other, and these Marines take care of that.”

Marines celebrate birthday alongside Iraqi counterparts

CAMP RAMADI, Iraq (Nov. 11, 2008) — Founded in a small Philadelphia tavern on Nov. 10, 1775, by order of the Second Continental Congress, the Marine Corps’ history books were opened, and today, in Ramadi, Iraq, 2008, the pages are still being written.


11/11/2008 By Lance Cpl. Jerry Murphy, Regimental Combat Team 1

Marines of 2nd Bn., 9th Marines celebrated the Marine Corps’ 233rd birthday with a cake-cutting ceremony aboard Camp Ramadi, Nov. 11.

“In three years, five years, 10 years, 20 years, Marines are going to be standing on battlefields we haven’t even begun to imagine yet and they’re going to pause on Nov. 10th and think back to the legacy you have created here,” said Lt. Col. Thad R. Trapp, the commanding officer of 2nd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 1, speaking to Marines of Company F and Headquarters and Support Company. “You guys, right now, are laying out history for future generations. You are fulfilling the legacy of the heroes that have fallen before us. You’re making your own page in history.”

Iraqi Police from Ramadi also attended the ceremony, and the guest of honor was Mayor Latif Obaid Iyada al Chulaybawi, the mayor of Ramadi.

The ceremony opened with a video message by Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. James T. Conway and Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Sgt. Major Carlton W. Kent presenting the traditional birthday message and was followed by the reading of General John A. Lejeune’s historic birthday message.

“When our chapter of history is written, it will be a saga of a selfless generation of Marines who were willing to stand up and fight for our Nation; to defend those who could not defend themselves; to thrive on the hardship and sacrifice expected of an elite warrior class; to march to the sound of the guns; and to ably shoulder the legacy of those Marines who have gone before,” Conway said in the taped message.

Mayor Latif, shared with everyone in attendance a few words of what it meant to him to be the guest of honor at the ceremony.

“We all came here today to congratulate the Marines on their 233rd birthday and wish them a happy birthday,” he said. “I am honored to be the guest of honor at this ceremony.”

Traditionally, the guest of honor, the oldest Marine present and the youngest Marine present receive the first pieces of the birthday cake. The first piece is given to the guest of honor and the second piece is passed from the oldest Marine present to the youngest.

The oldest Marine at the ceremony was Sgt. Maj. Jose Santiago, the battalion sergeant major, and the youngest Marine was Pfc. Travis Taylor, an 18-year-old rifleman with Company G, 2nd Bn., 9th Marines.

Faces of Freedom

KINGSTON -- Pfc. Dawid Pietrek was a 24-year-old Polish immigrant and Bensenville resident who once worked as a home caregiver for an elderly Elmhurst man until the man died at age 88.


November 11, 2008
By DENISE MORAN For The Courier News

Pietrek joined the U.S. Marines with hopes of eventually becoming a U.S. citizen and police officer.

He died June 14, 2008, in a roadside bomb attack in southwestern Afghanistan in Farah Province.

Pietrek's fellow Marines who also died that day were Sgt. Michael Toussaint-Hyle Washington, 20, of Tacoma, Wash., Lance Cpl. Layton Bradly Crass, 22, of Richmond, Ind., and Pfc. Michael Robert Patton, 19, of Fenton, Mo.

While the media might have reported that four Marines were killed in Afghanistan that day, the ones who knew these men would want people to know more about their sacrifice.

Tanner Cleveland of Kingston, who is now serving as a Marine in Afghanistan, was Pietrek's roommate. When Tanner joined his squad, there were 30 Marines. The squad is now down to 23.

Tanner was in the vehicle behind the one Pietrek was riding in when the attack occurred. Pietrek died in Tanner's arms.

Tanner's mother, Jennifer, is making sure people know about Pietrek and other young men like her son by making custom military car magnets known as Faces of Freedom. The car magnets show support for the men and women who serve.

"Faces of Freedom was created as a way to put faces on our troops," Jennifer said. "We hear about the troops killed, the troops deployed, the troops coming home. I just wanted to put their faces out there for the world to see."

"These are the people who protect us every day," Jennifer added. "Faces of Freedom represents not only the faces of today but also the faces of yesterday -- those who are in active duty, retirees, and killed in action. We all know someone who has served. We should be proud of what these people represent. Without them, we would not be free. We would not be the America we are today."

Jennifer grew up in Genoa as did her husband, Bill. Both graduated from Genoa-Kingston High School. The Cleveland family moved to Kingston four years ago. The couple have four children -- Tanner, Rhealene, 14, and 10-year-old twins Gage and Brenton -- and Tanner's dog, an American Staffordshire named Semper.

"Semper Fidelis" is Latin for "always faithful." Americans recognize it as the motto for the U.S. Marine Corps.

"Our hearts are with all the families who have been in our shoes, are in our shoes, and will be in our shoes," Jennifer said. "Always, our hearts are with those families whose shoes we hope we don't ever walk in. This is truly the hardest thing we have ever done. My heart aches every day, praying for their safe return home."

Faces of Freedom supports every branch of the U.S. military.

"Our personalized military car magnets are printed on outdoor, waterproof vinyl," Jennifer said. "We then laminate the printed vinyl to a .03 mil magnet for durability. Finally, our last step is to place a protective coating of UV vinyl on top to ensure our product has even more strength and fade resistance to protect against nature's elements."

"Everything purchased from Faces of Freedom is made right here in northern Illinois," added Jennifer. "We do not send anything out."

Jennifer began selling the magnets, for $19.99 each, in September. She has currently sold 200 magnets.

Tanner and members of his squad will be the ones to decide where money from the sale of the magnets will best be spent, Jennifer said.

Easton Marine eager to rejoin unit

EASTON — There are only four fingers now and a long scar on Ryan Walsh’s left hand, and the 22-year-old Marine is still limping a bit, weeks after surgery to insert a metal plate in his shattered right leg.


By Vicki-Ann Downing
Posted Nov 11, 2008 @ 02:24 AM
Last update Nov 12, 2008 @ 07:43 AM

“Definitely, it’s good to be home,” said Walsh. “I missed my bed.”

A 2005 graduate of Oliver Ames High School, Walsh was injured in an ambush this summer while serving with 1st Marine Division, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, in southern Afghanistan.

After six surgeries in Afghanistan, Germany and the United States, and after receiving the Purple Heart at Bethesda Naval Hospital with his parents looking on, Walsh is back in Easton, undergoing physical therapy at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Braintree.

He is working to regain full use of his left hand, where the middle finger was amputated. He is also coping with pain in his legs, where nerves damaged in surgery and in battle have begun to regenerate.

Walsh’s goal is to rejoin his Marine company at Twentynine Palms, Calif., in mid-January. He surprised them two weeks ago, driving to Bangor International Airport with his brother-in-law, Wayne Casey, to welcome them home from a seven-month deployment to Afghanistan.

Walsh hadn’t seen his company since dusk on July 8, when he was the point man leading two platoons on patrol along the hot and dusty outskirts of a desert city in Helmand Province.

The Marines were moving along a dirt road with 10- to 12-foot walls on each side when they were ambushed from the front. A blast from a machine gun hit Walsh’s hand, but he kept moving, returning fire.

“Yes, I was still going, it was fine,” said Walsh. “Then I got hit in the shoulder. It knocked me down and knocked my breath out. I got up and was going forward when a grenade went off 15 feet away. The shrapnel from it broke both my legs. It was dark with dust then and we couldn’t see.”

Four of the 12 Marines were wounded in the ambush. Walsh remained conscious throughout, with the presence of mind to remember the camera he carried in the pocket of his pants when the pants were being cut off for surgery.

Walsh asked his British doctor if he would get the camera and photograph his wounds.

“He looked at me like I was crazy, but he did it,” said Walsh. “They’re pretty graphic.”

Later, carried on a stretcher to a helicopter for transport to another hospital, Walsh, lying on his back, filmed the chopper blades whirling over his head.

Walsh said the attack came from the Taliban, the extremist group responsible for the resurgence of violence in Afghanistan.

“Unfortunately, it’s not like they wear uniforms or anything,” Walsh said.

“Our original mission was to help train Afghan police,” said Walsh. “But there wasn’t enough police for all of us to train, so we were conducting security patrols.”

The youngest of James and Cathleen Walsh’s six children, Ryan was the only one not to attend college right away. He enlisted in the Marines out of high school.

“It’s something that, growing up, I always wanted to do,” said Walsh. “Going to college was not for me, at that moment ... It was hard, but I’m glad I did it.”

Walsh spent the summers of 2006 and 2007, and the time in between, as a member of the Ceremonial Guard, stationed at Marine headquarters at 8th and I streets in Washington, D.C. He participated in the summer parade seasons and at funerals at Arlington National Cemetery.

But that quiet work “got tedious,” and Walsh was ready to leave for California a year ago and prepare for deployment in April.

Of President-elect Barack Obama, Walsh said, “I think it’ll be good. He said he would send more troops to Afghanistan and focus on that. We definitely need more troops over there. ”

November 10, 2008

Marines uphold time-honored tradition

FALLUJAH, Iraq — Marines with 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 1, took a brief moment away from daily combat operations to celebrate the 233rd Marine Corps birthday at Camp Baharia in Fallujah, Iraq, Nov. 10.


11/10/2008 By Cpl. Chris T. Mann, Regimental Combat Team 1

Excitement ran unusually high for a combat zone, while Marines took part in the time-honored tradition of the cake-cutting ceremony and the reading of Gen. John A. Lejeune’s and Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. James T. Conway’s birthday messages.

“Ceremonies like these remind you of the brotherhood of being a Marine and give you a sense of motivation to keep going.”said Lance Cpl. Michael Samuel, a 20-year-old administration clerk from Tuscaloosa, Ala. “It goes to show that no matter where we are, we can come together and have a nice ceremony.”

Marines from Companies B, C and Headquarters and Service attended the ceremony, some of whom traveled from combat outposts to celebrate the birthday alongside their fellow Marines.

The Marines stood in formation during the birthday messages and while the traditional first piece of birthday cake was cut.

Lejune’s birthday message on Nov. 10, 1921 was the first ever read during an official birthday ceremony, and has been read each year since.

During the cake cutting ceremony, Lt. Col. Chris Hastings, commanding officer, 1st Bn., 4th Marines, passed a piece of cake to the oldest and youngest Marine present.

Traditionally, the oldest Marine receives a piece of cake first and then passes it to the youngest Marine present, representing the passing of knowledge from one Marine to another.

After the ceremony, Hastings addressed the Marines reminding them to continue their hard work and dedication.

“We are on the absolute edge of winning the war in Iraq,” said Hastings. “You should be proud of what you have done over here and I am proud to share a meal with you and eat a slice of cake today.”

Lima Company art moving to Cincinnati

The Associated Press
Posted : Monday Nov 10, 2008 13:23:01 EST

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Life-size paintings of 23 Marines and service members killed in Iraq are about to be taken down from display at the Statehouse after a five-month run.

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Marines save the day in Orange County fire

(11-10) 04:00 PST Lake Forest, Orange County -- A half-dozen off-duty Marines who raced through a burning motel on Sunday warning sleeping guests that it was on fire were hailed as lifesaving heroes.


Associated Press
Monday, November 10, 2008

Everyone escaped the Americas Best Value Inn motel, including one elderly man who required oxygen after he was carried to safety by one of the Marines. The cause of the fire, which ignited shortly before 8 a.m., was under investigation.

Marine Pvt. Colton Oliver said he and two colleagues were walking along a second-floor landing about 8 a.m. when they saw flames and smoke. They rousted their fellow Marines and all six began knocking on doors and windows of rooms, urging people to leave.

"Everybody was out by the time the firefighters got here," Oliver said. "It's what we're trained to do."

Amy Amadito-Phelps said she and her husband and 14-month-old son were sleeping in a room near the flames when they were awakened. She said the Marines saved their lives.

"We were right next to a room completely on fire, and we couldn't smell smoke," said Amadito-Phelps. "No fire alarms were going off. The only thing we heard was Marines banging on our windows and telling us to get out."

The Camp Pendleton-based Marines, who were on leave, were also staying at the motel.

"I'd call them absolute heroes," said Orange County Fire Authority Capt. Steve Pardi.

A pair of two-story, wood-frame motel buildings were destroyed, and a third structure was damaged, said Battalion Chief Kris Concepcion.

November 9, 2008

Community gets new IDs

FALLUJAH, Iraq — Marines with Company C, 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 1, assisted by Iraqi Police, issued identification badges to civilians living in the Abuyuset area near Fallujah, Iraq, Nov. 8.


11/9/2008 By Cpl. Chris T. Mann, Regimental Combat Team 1

The Abuyuset area is predominantly rural and many of its community members have been unable to travel and obtain ID badges, which are issued by Coalition forces and allow passage through Iraq’s entry control points where Iraqi Police search personnel and vehicles for contraband.

“The reason behind this operation is that it allows people that may not have a vehicle access to the IDs,” said Sgt. Daniel R. Mata, a 22-year-old mobile assault platoon section leader from Seguin, Texas. “The idea is to try and get to the poorer, rural areas and alleviate some of the stress caused by travel.”

Badges are issued to Iraqi male civilians between the ages of 15 and 60 and can allow Iraq-wide access or access to only a specific region.

Each ID card contains a photograph of the individual it belongs to, and can be scanned to display information including his birthday, job, and address.

The Marines also handed out food bags as an incentive to those who participated in the badge process. Approximately 125 food bags were distributed to the area’s citizens.

“This is the first time that the company has done a remote operation like this and I feel today was very successful,” said 2nd Lt. James P. O’Neill, a 28-year-old platoon commander from Sacramento, Calif., with the battalion. “We distributed a lot of food bags to people who got badges.”

The badge system is only one of the many ways Iraqi Police and Marines have combined forces in Fallujah to make the city safer.

Fast-acting Marines save lives in motel fire

Blaze destroys Americas Best Value Inn in Lake Forest.

LAKE FOREST - Residents of a Lake Forest motel are crediting six on-leave Camp Pendleton Marines with saving their lives when a fire broke out Sunday in the motel.


Sunday, November 9, 2008
The Orange County Register

The fire started at 7:56 a.m. at Americas Best Value Inn at 23150 Lake Center Drive, according to OCFA Battalion Chief Kris Concepcion.

The cause of the fire is unknown and two, two-story wood-framed buildings at the motel are probably a total loss, Concepcion said.

The fire, which displaced between 100 and 150 people, was contained about 11 a.m. A shelter and service center was opened at El Toro High School, said Daphne Hart of the American Red Cross.

There were no injuries reported, but one firefighter was overcome by smoke and treated at the scene.

Residents said six Marines who were staying at the motel banged on windows and doors, dodged through flames, yelled at residents to get out and helped those still in their rooms to collect their belongings.

Amy Amadito-Phelps, who was staying in a room on the second floor of the third-story structure, said she, her husband and 14-month-old son would probably have died if not for the Marines.

"We were right next to a room completely on fire and we couldn't smell smoke," Amadito-Phelps said. "No fire alarms were going off. The only thing we heard was Marines banging on our windows and telling us to get out."

Marine Pvt. Colton Oliver said he and two other Marines were walking along the second-story landing about 8 a.m. when they noticed flames shooting out behind a soda machine. They saw smoke streaming out of some of the rooms and decided to act.

Oliver, Pvt. Josh Hernandez and Pvt. 1st Class Thomas O'Brien ran along the corridor, knocking on doors and windows to make sure everybody got out. The other Marines joined in.

Hernandez carried one older man out from his room, they said, and ran directly under flames to help residents, they said. He was treated with oxygen after the fire.

"Everybody was out by the time the firefighters got here," Oliver said. "It's what we're trained to do."

Kenneth Evans, who was staying on the second floor, said the Marines saved his life.

"The fire was blazing and smoking, but they kept yelling that there was a fire and got everybody out. I'd probably be dead now if not for them."

OCFA Capt. Steve Pardi acknowledged that the six Marines were the first to take action in their building.

"I'd call them absolute heroes," he said.

Concepcion said 19 fire engines, six trucks and 100 firefighters responded to the fire. He said it would be a while before residents could go into rooms to check on their belongings. The nearby Irvine Suites Hotel and another hotel under construction were not damaged.

Amadito-Phelps stood outside the charred motel this morning and cried.

She said her family has been staying at the motel for two months. They checked in after they were evicted from their Lake Forest apartment because her husband's flooring contracting job wasn't paying enough.

"My wallet, my laptop, baby stuff, everything is in there," she said. "Everything is gone."

Marines Credited With Rescue at California Motel Fire

LAKE FOREST, Calif. — A half-dozen off-duty Marines who raced through a burning motel on Sunday warning sleeping guests that it was on fire were hailed as lifesaving heroes.


Sunday, November 09, 2008

Everyone escaped the Americas Best Value Inn motel, including one elderly man who required oxygen after he was carried to safety by one of the Marines. The cause of the fire, which ignited shortly before 8 a.m., was under investigation.

Marine Pvt. Colton Oliver said he and two colleagues were walking along a second-floor landing about 8 a.m. when they saw flames and smoke. They rousted their fellow Marines and all six began knocking on doors and windows of rooms, urging people to leave.

"Everybody was out by the time the firefighters got here," Oliver said. "It's what we're trained to do."

Amy Amadito-Phelps said she and her husband and 14-month-old son were sleeping in a room near the flames when they were awakened. She said the Marines saved their lives.

"We were right next to a room completely on fire and we couldn't smell smoke," said Amadito-Phelps. "No fire alarms were going off. The only thing we heard was Marines banging on our windows and telling us to get out."

The Camp Pendleton-based Marines, who were on leave, were also staying at the motel.

"I'd call them absolute heroes," said Orange County Fire Authority Capt. Steve Pardi.

A pair of two-story, wood-framed motel buildings were destroyed and a third structure was damaged, said Battalion Chief Kris Concepcion. One firefighter was treated for heat exhuastion.

November 8, 2008

Surf qualification brings Marines back to amphibious roots

by Cpl Jose Lujano
Date Taken:10.30.2012 | Date Posted:11.08.2012 02:19

CAMP SCHWAB, Japan - Assault amphibious vehicles head 500 meters out from the shores of an Okinawa beach. The AAVs come to a sudden halt, and about 10 Marines and sailors from each AAV leap into the waters in succession.

To continue reading:


U.S. Marines hone landing skills with S. Koreans during exercise

By Ashley Rowland, Stars and Stripes
Pacific edition, Saturday, November 8, 2008

SEOUL — About 2,000 U.S. Marines based in Okinawa and mainland Japan stormed a South Korean beach on Thursday during an annual landing exercise with their South Korean counterparts.

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U.S. Marines hone landing skills with S. Koreans during exercise

By Ashley Rowland, Stars and Stripes
Pacific edition, Saturday, November 8, 2008

SEOUL — About 2,000 U.S. Marines based in Okinawa and mainland Japan stormed a South Korean beach on Thursday during an annual landing exercise with their South Korean counterparts.

To continue reading:


November 7, 2008

What’s next in Afghanistan

Deploying Marines should expect more winter combat as they work to maintain stability

By Dan Lamothe - Staff writer
Posted : Friday Nov 7, 2008 6:38:42 EST

It hasn’t been easy for 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines.

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Applebee’s offers free meals to military

By Karen Jowers - Staff writer
Posted : Friday Nov 7, 2008 12:46:04 EST

Active-duty members, retirees and veterans can get a free meal at a limited number of Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill & Bar restaurants on Veterans Day, with proof of military service.

To continue reading:


November 6, 2008

Where the Marines (and buffalo) roam

Camp Pendleton is an unusual site for the herd of nearly 150. Now, base wildlife officials want to properly manage the bison.

CAMP PENDLETON – After rumbling up and down some dirt roads in a Ford Explorer, through training areas in the rolling grasslands of the central part of this sprawling U.S. Marine base, Eric Kershner has spotted a special herd.


The Orange County Register

He now stands peering through binoculars at the dark brown shapes in the distance, about a quarter-mile away, across grass the sun has baked gold, near a clump of coastal live oak trees.

"There's some young animals in there," he assesses. "Looks mostly like a cow calf herd."

Under a blue sky, the acorn woodpecker's calls are punctuated by the muffled sounds of Marine helicopter blades somewhere in the distance as Kershner brings visitors up close to the nine bison, at once a majestic and surreal site, in part because the iconic buffalo are in the most unusual of places – a military base in Southern California.

One adult bison with a bowed left front leg uneasily eyes the visitors now some 25-30 feet away, while some of the others continue to forage in the dry grass. Near a natural spring pond, not too far away, Kershner, a wildlife biologist and head of Camp Pendleton's environmental security, spotted a herd of 94 not too long ago.

"To me they just symbolize the American West," Kershner says, "Something pretty intriguing about a herd of 1,000 of them rumbling across the prairie."


Kershner says the number of bison at Camp Pendleton stands at about 147, having multiplied from about a dozen the San Diego Zoo gave to the base in the mid-1970s. Left alone to roam freely, the bison generally have kept to 38,000 acres in the central part of the 125,000-acre base.

The buffalo sometime wander into target range, forcing Marines to curtail training and use air horns to scare them away. The base is also home to 347 bird species and 75 mammal species.

Now, base wildlife officials have contacted geneticists at Texas A&M; University to figure out if the bison at the base may be of a rare genetically pure strain. And, testing will help biologists more proactively manage the herd.

"This herd is essentially unmanaged," Kershner says. "I want to get to the point of proper management of the herd as opposed to no management. We just want to make sure that they're a good population."

James Derr, professor of veterinary pathobiology at Texas A&M;, says tests will look at the level of genetic diversity in the Pendleton herd, which equates to its long-term health.

A genetically diverse herd has a better chance of surviving environmental insults, like disease and change in habitat, he says. "If you have long term inbreeding, then you can loose genetic variation (which puts) their ability to survive in the future in question," Derr says.


Early indicators, although far from definitive, from blood testing on two Pendleton bison – an 8-year-old cow and a 3-year-old bull – show the herd is disease free, with no heavy metals in their system despite being on a military base, and have no signs of inbreeding.

"Everything came back very good and they seem to be very healthy animals," Derr says.

Researchers will know more when about 10 of the bison have been tested. A report is expected early next year.

If it turns out that base bison – more the plains bison variety than their smaller counterpart, the woods bison – are genetically pure, it would place them in an elite group of only three such herds nationwide; the other two are at Wind Cave and Yellowstone national parks.

Most bison in the United States have at some point been bred with cattle to make them more palatable for human consumption.

Last week, the Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne announced an initiative to work with state, tribal and agricultural interests to strengthen bison conservation efforts to help the species recover and thrive.

"One of the classic symbols of the American frontier is the image of vast herds of bison grazing on the western plains," Kempthorne said in a statement. "Americans today still find inspiration in bison ranging freely on the landscape, as Yellowstone National Park demonstrates."


Because of over hunting, the number of bison in North America fell from the millions to a few hundred by the late 1800s, pushing the species to the brink of extinction. In the early 1900s, Bison restoration began at Yellowstone, according to the American Bison Society.

The majority of the more than 500,000 plains bison in North America, most of them privately owned, are in herds of less than 1,000 that are fenced within relatively small areas, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior, which now manages almost 7,000 bison in seven national wildlife refuges and five national parks.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

November 5, 2008

Hard-hit 2/7 begins return from Afghanistan

By Dan Lamothe - Staff writer
Posted : Wednesday Nov 5, 2008 9:41:23 EST

The Marine battalion that experienced more casualties than any other unit in the Corps this year has begun returning home from southern Afghanistan, a unit spokeswoman said Tuesday.

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Marines, ANP fight side-by-side to combat terrorism

BALA BALUK, Farah Province, Afghanistan (November 5, 2008) — Bala Baluk, a place where insurgents frequently terrorized Afghan residents, is now much safer due to the cooperative efforts of U.S. Marines and the Afghan National Police (ANP).


11/5/2008 By Sgt. Ray Lewis, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines

After months of training and fighting alongside each other, the Marines and local police have forged a common bond in their efforts to drive out insurgents who have carried out malicious attacks against coalition forces.

Through counterinsurgency and continuous security operations, the ANP and “Gunfighters” of Company G, Task Force 2d Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force Afghanistan, have brought calm to a once volatile region. Decreased enemy activity here is evidence that the Marines and ANP have struck fear into the hearts of enemy forces that now seem reluctant to carry out more vicious attacks.

“Their will has been broken,” said 1st Lt. Peter R. Dixon, an infantry officer assigned to Golf Company’s 2nd Platoon. “They won’t fight us because they have learned some hard lessons.”

Dixon said he has received several reports from informants who say the insurgents are terrified of the Marines and that they don’t want them here in Afghanistan. Efforts to rattle residents and disrupt peace in this part of Afghanistan have proven futile, as the Marines and ANP continue to dominate all opposing forces.

Because the insurgents know they cannot match the superior firepower of the Marines, they seek to harm them by placing improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in their path of travel. Other tactics used by the insurgents include firing mortars and launching rocket attacks against the Marines and local police.

“We know how great our Marines are, so we know they’re going to perform courageously under fire. But, the enemy was quite surprised,” said Dixon, an Atherton, Calif., native. “They were shocked when they first started fighting us.”

Fighting has been fierce throughout Golf Company’s area of operations. While the Gunfighters are confident in their ability to overpower the insurgents and drive them away to help Afghan residents, the price of success has not come cheap. Both sides have suffered combat losses.

“Engaging the enemy together has created a unique and distinct bond between us and the ANP,” said Staff Sgt. Carlos J. Hernandez, a platoon sergeant for Golf’s 2nd Platoon and Los Angeles native. “We fought right beside them. We lost people; they lost people. Yet, we kept pushing forward.”

In reflecting on the intense fighting against insurgents during the beginning phase of this deployment, Hernandez said several Marines and ANP officers were wounded following an ambush against his platoon. After caring for those injured, the Marines returned to the village with the ANP to seek out the insurgents.

“We made sure not to shoot where there were buildings or non-enemy personnel,” Hernandez said. “We were meticulous with our fire discipline; we took the Afghan people and the village into consideration.”

Later, the Marines held a “shura,” or meeting, with local villagers. There, the people thanked the Marines for keeping them safe as they conducted combat operations.

The Marines and ANP have made headway within the community by suppressing the enemy and restoring security. Still, many locals remain hesitant to trust the Marines. Because Afghan residents have been threatened by insurgents for decades, many have lost hope that their quality of life will improve.

“At first the people were timid. So, we talked to the village elders, held shuras with them, and sought out ways to help improve their situation. Once they saw that we were here to help them, they began opening up and coming around us more,” said Cpl. Oscar L. Garza, a squad leader and Corpus Christi, Texas native.

With increased protection from the ANP, coupled with support from Golf Company Marines serving throughout this region, many residents are denying the insurgents occupancy and telling them to leave their community. As the people witness the joint effort between the Marines and ANP to keep weapons and fighters away from their doorsteps, Garza said they are now beginning to show signs of trust.

Since the Marines arrived in April and began training with the ANP in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, they have seen significant improvements within ANP operations. Police officers here have consistently demonstrated courage under fire by displaying strong leadership skills and a sense of honor. Serving with the Marines has caused many to develop a team concept, as many feel they cannot lose with the Marines on their side.

Running to the sounds of the guns has become a commonality between the Marines and ANP. Whenever gunfire is heard, Dixon said the policemen immediately run towards it and show the Marines they are ready to take action against the enemy.

“Last time we got rocketed, within two minutes the ANP had mounted up. Minutes later, their trucks were across the desert, and they had hunted down the insurgent rocket team and arrested them,” Dixon explained.

The ANP play a key role in the effectiveness of combating insurgents. The policemen conduct searches, make arrests, search for weapons, and patrol constantly. The policeman can differentiate the insurgents from the rest of the civilian populace -- something the Marines could not detect easily without ANP assistance.

“They pick up on things that we’d never pick up on,” said Dixon, explaining how the ANP help Marines identify insurgents. “We’ll be driving down the street, and the ANP would stop and get out after recognizing a person was an insurgent due to his turban and hair. Because they’re local, they would know the guy is an insurgent. We’ll search him and find an insurgent ID on him signed by Mullah Omar himself.”

The ANP has chased out various criminals, many of whom were hiding under the banner of the insurgents. The local police have provided a rule of law, and have also settled land and civil disputes.

“Store owners can park their trucks where they want because the ANP are now seen as protectors,” Dixon said. “They know that nobody is going to steal their merchandise. That’s what people want, to be treated fairly.”

With the newfound confidence that the ANP has instilled in their people, they are closer to providing the safe environment the people say they want and need. The Marines said the atmospherics of the surrounding areas is a tell-tale sign that people are ready to stand up to insurgents.

Garza said the progress has come at an ideal time, as the battalion is preparing to return to their families in the United States. The policemen are thankful for what Marines have done for them, but they are also sad to part with the men with whom they’ve forged a unique bond.

“Anytime we go to visit the ANP commanders, they’re happy to see us,” Garza said. “They know its time for us to leave, but they’re still sad.”

Although the ANP has much work to do as a unit, the Gunfighters feel they have laid the foundation for continued success. Yet, they hope the ANP remains a strong force here so all their efforts to train them won’t be in vain.

“We’ve had a hard deployment,” Garza said. “Because we’ve lost so much with the casualties, this means so much to me and my men serving here.”

The Marines of TF 2/7 deployed to Afghanistan in April to conduct counterinsurgency operations with an emphasis on police mentoring. After seeing how far the ANP have come in such a short span of time, the Marines have reason to be proud of their efforts to bring peace and prosperity to the Afghan people.

“We took the area from insurgents and gave it back to the Afghan people with the help of the ANP, and we were capable of that in just 8 months,” Hernandez said. “So, our mission here was a complete success. Every Marine in this company needs to be proud of that.”

November 4, 2008

‘Incredible Marine’ laid to rest

By Rasheed Oluwa - The Poughkeepsie (N.Y.) Journal
Posted : Tuesday Nov 4, 2008 9:54:56 EST

MARLBORO, N.Y. — Hundreds of Trevor Yurista’s family members and friends poured into St. Mary’s Church in Marlboro, N.Y., on Monday for his funeral.

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November 3, 2008

Warrior Care: Compensation, Benefits Handbook Consolidates Warrior Care Information

WASHINGTON, Nov. 3, 2008 – Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said a new handbook is another step in improving the care and support wounded, ill or injured troops and their families deserve. The handbook compiles the myriad information they need in one succinct, easy-to-read publication.


By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

In his foreword to the Compensation and Benefits Handbook, Gates said its biggest benefit is that it “compiles into one source the relevant information that you and your family previously had to search through numerous sources to find.”

The handbook was created to help servicemembers and the family members helping to care for them navigate through the military and veteran disability, evaluation, compensation and benefits programs designed to help them, explained Sharon Gunselman, a department policy and resource analyst.

It walks readers through the processes of recovery, rehabilitation and reintegration back to the military or into civilian life. Each section describes the compensation and benefits available at each stage.

The Dole-Shalala Commission, led by former Sen. Bob Dole and Donna Shalala, health and human services secretary during the Clinton administration, identified the need for a comprehensive information source last year during its investigation of problems at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Gunselman said.

The departments of Veterans Affairs, Labor, Health and Human Services and Education and the Social Security Administration, as well as other governmental and non-governmental agencies and organizations, contributed to the handbook.

The handbook, mandated by the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act, is now available online and is being distributed by the services in hard-copy format. It provides Web sites and toll-free phone numbers, and the electronic version includes hyperlinks. Gunseleman said the book will be updated annually to include new information.

Gates emphasized that the handbook is not intended to be a replacement for what he called “the best source of information” -- the servicemember’s chain of command or medical and nonmedical care providers.

He noted that because all affected servicemembers will have different requirements, their support staffs will help design individual plans that ensure they and their families receive the support and benefits they need.

“You and your fellow patriots who volunteered to serve in our armed forces have no equal in the world,” Gates concluded. “Our responsibility is to provide you care that is unequalled in the world. We owe this to you. We will deliver this to you.”

Another tour in Iraq, another tearful goodbye for Marines

Marines and sailors are headed to Anbar province, but first, the pain of leaving family -- again.

Reporting from Camp Pendleton -- The drill was new to some of the families attached to Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 369. But it was a familiar and heartbreaking scene Sunday for most, who said goodbye yet again to hundreds of Marines deploying to Iraq for repeat tours.


By Tony Perry
November 3, 2008

"This is our fourth and counting," said Barbara Berrios, 25, whose husband is Sgt. Andre Berrios, also 25. Their son, Lucas, is 5 months old.

How will she spend the months with her fiance away? "Planning my wedding," she said between sobs.

The squadron's 340-plus Marines and sailors are headed for Anbar province, west of Baghdad. Their primary mission is to support ground troops attempting to prevent insurgents from using wide-open stretches of desert as smuggling corridors for weapons and fighters.

The squadron came home from Iraq just 12 months ago and, after a few weeks of leave, began training for another seven-month deployment.

"It's not that we're looking for a fight, but we're ready for a fight," said Lt. Col. William Zamagni, a Cobra pilot and the squadron commander. This will be his third tour in Iraq.

Without the adrenaline rush of combat, complacency can set in, which can be dangerous. Sgt. Maj. Robert Ledferd, the senior enlisted man in the squadron, is determined not to let that happen.

"We're going to stick to the basics," he said. "We're going to keep focused and keep looking out for each other."

Family members have their own basics, their own need to focus. They've been given lectures and received pamphlets on how to cope.

"I'm as ready as I'll ever be," said Kristen Stegmiller, 27, as she embraced her husband, 1st Lt. George Stegmiller, 29, who is on his first deployment.

Even for Iraq veterans in the squadron, each deployment offers new challenges. Lance Cpl. Fabian Padilla, 23, is making his second trip to Iraq, the first since the birth of his son.

"The first time, it was a new experience and he didn't know what to expect," said his father, Enrique Padilla of Lancaster. "Now he's a father, and it's more difficult. You can see the pain on his face."

As the buses arrived to take the troops to planes at March Air Reserve Base in Riverside, families snapped last-minute pictures, children began to cry and even a Marine or two had moist eyes.

"Between deployments, you forget how hard it is," said Shawnna Robb, 30, whose husband, Capt. Jeff Robb, 35, is leaving for his fourth deployment.

"If you didn't forget," she said, "you'd never be able to do it again."

Perry is a Times staff writer.

[email protected]

November 2, 2008

Marine moms meet online, gather in Lincoln

The parents of Marines in the Tarawa Expeditionary Strike Group struggled when their children were deployed a year ago.

Please click on above link for photo.

By ZACH PLUHACEK / Lincoln Journal Star
Sunday, Nov 02, 2008 - 12:03:54 am CDT

“You go into your son’s room and you break into tears because he’s not there any more,” said Marine mom Pattie Taylor.

About 15 of those parents soon found comfort and understanding from people they had never met — each other.

Using a Web site, MarineParents.com, they’ve kept in touch.

“Our sons joined the Marines,” said mother Dee McHugh, “but we were drafted into the corps.”

This weekend, for the third time, parents from the message board gathered, this time at Marine mom Sally Rasmussen’s house in southeast Lincoln.

Saturday, they made care packages. They drank and shared stories. They sat on Rasmussen’s porch and teased Oklahoman Jan Feuerborn on the day of the Nebraska-Oklahoma football game.

They half-joked about “loading the bus” on anything or anyone who made their children’s lives more difficult.

“Loading the bus” is Marine parent code for venting about things like out-of-date meals the kids often eat and the news stories they’ve read.

Not all the parents support the Iraq War, but that isn’t the point.

“Regardless of how you feel about the war, those are our boys,” Feuerborn said. “Those are our children.”

The online group met when their sons deployed and started sharing photos a few months later.

They still talk during 2-hour Web chat sessions on Wednesday nights, even though most of their sons are back in the United States.

Many of their Marines don’t even know each other, or only by last names. Some found out their fellow soldiers’ first names from their parents.

“And they’re embarrassed as all hell because we all do this,” Illinois mom Kathy Featherston said.

“God knows it was a blessing for all of us to find each other and that site.”

Reach Zach Pluhacek at 473-7306 or [email protected]

John Ripley, Vietnam War hero, dies at age 69

ANNAPOLIS, Md. – Retired Marine Col. John Ripley, who was credited with stopping a column of North Vietnamese tanks by blowing up a pair of bridges during the 1972 Easter Offensive of the Vietnam War, died at home at age 69, friends and relatives said Sunday.


Sun Nov 2, 2008

Ripley's son, Stephen Ripley, said his father was found at his Annapolis home Saturday after missing a speaking engagement on Friday. The son said the cause of death had not been determined but it appeared his father died in his sleep.

In a videotaped interview with the U.S. Naval Institute for its Americans at War program, Ripley said he and about 600 South Vietnamese were ordered to "hold and die" against 20,000 North Vietnamese soldiers with about 200 tanks.

"I'll never forget that order, 'hold and die'," Ripley said. The only way to stop the enormous force with their tiny force was to destroy the bridge, he said.

"The idea that I would be able to even finish the job before the enemy got me was ludicrous," Ripley said. "When you know you're not going to make it, a wonderful thing happens: You stop being cluttered by the feeling that you're going to save your butt."

Ripley crawled under the bridge under heavy gunfire, rigging 500 pounds of explosives that brought the twins spans down, said John Miller, a former Marine adviser in Vietnam and the author of "The Bridge at Dong Ha," which details the battle.

Miller said the North Vietnamese advance was slowed considerably by Ripley.

"A lot of people think South Vietnam would have gone under in '72 had he not stopped them," Miller said.

Ray Madonna, president of the U.S. Naval Academy's 1962 graduating class, served in Vietnam as a Marine at the same time and said his classmate saved countless U.S. and South Vietnamese troops.

"They would have been wrecked" if the tanks had crossed, Madonna said. He said Ripley also coordinated naval gunfire that stopped the tanks from crossing at a shallower point downstream.

"He was a Marine's Marine, respected, highly respected by enlisted men, by his peers and by his seniors," Madonna said.

Miller said Ripley, who was born in Radford, Va., descended from a long line of veterans going back to the Revolutionary War. He graduated from the Naval Academy in 1962, after enlisting in the Marines out of high school and spending a year in naval school in Newport, R.I.

He earned the "Quad Body" distinction for making it through four of the toughest military training programs in the world: the Army Rangers, Marine reconnaissance, Army Airborne and Britain's Royal Marines, Miller said. He was also the only Marine to be inducted in the U.S. Army Ranger Hall of Fame.

Ripley earned the Navy Cross and Silver Star for his service in Vietnam. He later served on the Joint Chiefs of Staff and was regimental commander at Camp Lejeune, N.C., among other postings.

After retiring from the Marines, he was president and chancellor of Southern Virginia College in Lexington, Va.

Stephen Ripley said his father had a deep and tenacious love for his country, the Marine Corps and his family.

"My Dad never quit anything and never went halfway on anything in his life," he said. "He just was a full-throttle kind of person and those people that he cared about, he really cared about."

Ripley is survived by his wife, Moline B. Ripley, 67; three sons, Stephen Ripley, 43, Thomas Ripley, 38, and John Ripley, 35; a daughter, Mary Ripley, 39; and eight grandchildren.

Funeral arrangements were pending.

Marine Corps on the way to 202K

Service fast approaching its plus-up goal, but more work remains

By Dan Lamothe - Staff writer
Posted : Sunday Nov 2, 2008 10:05:08 EST

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Taking the first steps toward becoming a Marine wasn’t easy for Melissa Weissner.

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From personal trainer to Marine; Marine passes on knowledge

HIT, Iraq — All Marines are taught a skill at the beginning of their military careers that will help support the Marine Corps. Some Marines, though, bring their own skills.


11/2/2008 By Cpl. Shawn Cummins, Regimental Combat Team 5

Cpl. Arron M. Stephens, a former personal trainer, has been helping some Marines from Task Force 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 5 get into better shape while the battalion is deployed to Iraq.

“I think it’s really important (he helps some Marines) because of the fact that (physical training) is not really driven by a set schedule,” said Staff Sgt. Paul M. Hernandez, administrative chief, Headquarters and Service Company, 3rd Bn., 7th Marines. “With everyone’s different shifts, Marines getting together and helping each other out is the best way to make sure everyone is physically fit.”

Stephens has been a certified personal trainer with the International Sport and Science Association for six years now. Since joining the military, his love for training has been renewed by working with the Marines.

“The enthusiasm is really high, and it helps me in the gym. In the civilian world, people don’t have the drive that Marines have,” said Stephens, 27, an administrative clerk with H&S; Co., from Truckee, Calif. “Part of the reason I stopped personal training is because it’s hard to convince people to live a healthy lifestyle. They want to do it to lose weight or get on a yearly kick, but the cool thing about the Marine Corps is they kind of make it a lifestyle.”

The Marines that he works with have picked his brain for weightlifting and nutrition advice and have spent time in the gym with him to learn how they can get in better shape. Stephens tells Marines to skip the sweets, but not meals, so they can keep their metabolism moving throughout the day.

“I came out (to Iraq) planning to get in (better) shape. I didn’t know how to go about it, so I talked to (Stephens) about his personal training skills, and I’ve been going along with him to the gym since we got here,” said Cpl. Chad R. Hochstatter, 23, an administrative clerk with H&S; Co., from Mendota, Ill. “He got me in a good routine, and I’ve lost some weight and packed on some muscle.”

During a deployment, it is often up to the individual Marines to maintain their physical fitness levels on their own time. Marines often work together to stay motivated and make each other accountable for staying in shape, and Stephens’ training puts him in a unique position to help out.

“I think it’s beneficial that we have someone of his caliber to assist Marines with building bodyweight or trying to cut weight,” said Hernandez, 28, who is from Indio, Calif.

“He also helps them with the proper techniques so no one gets hurt while they’re working out.”

Working out provides more than just a way to get in shape, but a way to forget about the daily stresses of being deployed.

“Being a Marine is obviously a stressful job, it’s a stressful environment no matter where you’re at, and exercise is to me the number one stress reliever in my day,” Stephens said. “The gym is definitely where I feel the most relieved; it’s where I get most of my stress out. After you work out you just feel a lot better. It’s one of the high points of my day.”

Stephens’ help has become a valuable asset to those that work with him. Marines are using his knowledge and motivation to get into shape and become better Marines.

“Usually if you train by yourself, you can’t tell if you’re doing a good job, but with (Stephens) helping, he’ll tell me if I’m doing an exercise right and he’ll tell me ‘good job’ once I punch out a lot of reps,” said Hochstatter. “I’ve put on muscle and I’m losing weight. I’d say it helps out tremendously. I think he’s doing a great job coming out here and training people.”

November 1, 2008

Service honors Marine killed in Afghanistan

U.S. gives family certificate making Lance Cpl. San Sim a U.S. citizen as of day he died.

NEWPORT BEACH – Lance Cpl. San Sim's wife made a quiet promise to him Saturday as she ran her hand over the white stars of the flag that covered his coffin.

Please click on the above link for photos.

Saturday, November 1, 2008
The Orange County Register

He's always going to be in my heart," Karla Sim said. "And that of his son."

Sim, 23, a U.S. Marine with a streak of good humor, died late last month in a roadside bomb blast in Afghanistan. His parents and siblings, who had escaped the killing fields of Cambodia before he was born, dressed in white for his funeral Saturday to help his spirit find them.

Along with his medals and a tightly folded flag, his family received a certificate from the government that finally made Sim a U.S. citizen, as of the day of his death.

"He's always been a good person with a big heart," said his father, Sum Sim. "It's sad that he has to leave us so soon."

Sim was born in a refugee camp in the Philippines, the youngest of 11 children in a family fleeing Cambodia. Later, when he started talking about joining the Marines, his sister would remind him that the family had come from war and had seen enough of war.

His family moved to the United States when he was still a baby. He grew up in Santa Ana, loved to fish, wrestled for Santa Ana Valley High School. In old family videos shown during his funeral, he was the skinny boy showing off his dance moves or throwing his head back to laugh.

He joined the Marines after high school. He told his family that he wanted to serve because of "the opportunity that the country has given to us, allowing us to start a life all over again," according to his sister Yasmine.

He shipped out for Afghanistan in April, his third deployment to a war zone after two stints in Iraq. He and Karla had just had their first child, Donovan. One of the videos played at his funeral shows him in his camouflage, hugging his son to his chest.

"It broke his heart when duty called … allowing him to know his son for only four months," his family wrote in a tribute.

More than 50 Marines in dress-blue uniforms attended Sim's funeral. Many had served with him in Iraq or Afghanistan. They talked about how he could crack a joke or quote a movie, even in the worst situations.

They knew him as Simba – a nickname that stuck after someone caught him watching "The Lion King" on his cot.

"He was just a big ball of fun," said Lance Cpl. Dylan Morgan, who served with Sim in Iraq. "He was an all-around good guy."

Sim was killed while on routine patrol in Afghanistan on Oct. 22. His unit was scheduled to return home later this month.

His family buried him on Saturday, walking up a steep hill to his gravesite, throwing popcorn as they went to mark the path for his spirit. They passed a bouquet of fresh roses and six small flags that mark the grave of Navy Medic Marc Allen Retmier, killed in Afghanistan in June.

Buddhist monks in orange robes chanted around Sim's coffin. Marines in white gloves gave him one last, crisp salute.

His wife wore his dog tag on a chain around her neck. Her shoulders shook when Marines presented her with a folded flag.

She ran her hand over his coffin before the burial and told him that she would always remember him and loved him very much. She promised that Donovan would grow up to know his father.

"Thank you," she whispered, "for what you gave me."

She buried him with a cigarette and a few dollar bills, a Buddhist tradition meant to ease his time in the afterlife, before his reincarnation. She placed a white rose on top of his coffin, along with a photograph of their son.

Contact the writer: 714-704-3777 or [email protected]

Marines Will Receive Local Care Packages

COLUMBIA - One local volunteer group is mailing care packages and support to those serving overseas.


Kasey Breda
Reported by: Kevin Lewis
Edited by: Sili Liang
Published: Saturday, November 1, 2008 at 6:31 PM

Although the parking lot had different cars and people, one thing brought them all together--The Care Package Project.

"We have people here today from Chicago, from Wisconsin, from Michigan, Louisiana," said Monica May, the Care Package Project manager.

Volunteers will put a variety of things including batteries, beef jerky, Chef Boyardee, and Jell-O into care packages.

The Care Package Project then sends everything overseas to America's bravest Marines.

A new record of more than 120 volunteers came out to help.

But for one local teen, volunteering was a new experience.

"Well I think it's kind of special that we all take a part in helping people overseas while encouraging them to do better. And to bring them home faster," said Tyler Embry, a first-time volunteer.

Marine parents send 1,000 care packages to the front lines five times a year.

Organizers say the Marines' favorite items are hand-written notes, and it's usually children across the nation who write those notes.

And that's where the letter-screening ladies come into play.

J.J. from Fort Collins, Colorado, sent along a little humor with his support.

"And he says to 'look on the bright side, you don't have to deal with the high gas prices,'" said Wanda Schmitt, a volunteer from Wisconsin.

But the most touching letter could be from Savannah.

Savannah is blind, but that didn't stop her from writing a letter.

With the help of a teacher, her note is brought into focus, both written and etched in Braille.

Once the letters are approved, they go to the mail room where they are signed and then soon to be delivered.

This program is just one portion of things the Marine parents do.

The group also runs a website that helps connect families of Marines.

Care packages help remind Marines of home

HIT, Iraq — Every week dozens of packages marked with the names of Marines within the battalion flood the mailroom floor. These packages all look the same from the outside, but inside are bits and pieces of the lives of the Marines of Task Force 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team-5.


11/1/2008 By Cpl. Shawn Cummins, Regimental Combat Team 5

Care packages containing food, toiletries and trinkets to remind service members of home have been raising the morale of service members for decades. Many of the care packages that the Marines at the battalion receive come from people the Marines have never met, which makes the packages even more special.

“(Care packages) just remind you of home; (they’re) something to look forward to,” said Lance Cpl. Brandt D. Warman, 19, a machine gunner from Del Norte, Colo., with Combined Anti-Armor Team White, Weapons Company, 3rd Bn., 7th Marines. “It’s like Christmas every time you get one. It’s cool whenever you get a package from someone you don’t know.”

The packages help more than just the deployed service members. Mothers from across the nation seem to find happiness in helping bringing comfort to their Marines and the Marines serving with their son thousands of miles from home.

“A lot of my family sends packages to my friends, too. Usually they take turns picking a different (Marine) in the platoon,” said Lance Cpl. Charles Q. Dorr, 21, team leader, 1st Platoon, Company L, 3rd Bn., 7th Marines, from Santa Ana, Calif.. “It's a morale booster. Knowing that it came from home and from the family feels good.”

Lori Tovrea said that after losing her 21-year-old daughter in a car accident, she wanted to do something in her memory, and donating to deployed service members made her feel better. Tovrea has been donating care packages and her time to deployed service members for four years.

“It is the most wonderful feeling knowing that I am helping those fighting for our country,” said Lori Toyrea in an e-mail. “I had a interesting conversation with a person a couple of years ago. He really thought that it was great that I would go do car washes, sell hot dogs and do raffles for people I don’t even know (to raise money for care packages).”

Toyrea said she knows what to send with the help of her nephew, who was previously deployed to Iraq, and asking others who have sent care packages to deployed Marines.

Seeing the pictures that the Marines send back and knowing that she has made a difference means a lot to her, she said.

Some take giving even further than just sending care packages.

Vicky Mohler started donating when her son, Lance Cpl. Aaron D. Mohler, deployed to Iraq twice in 2005 and 2007. Her donating turned into an organization when she started Support America’s Armed Forces. Mohler’s organization has sent care packages to thousands of service members who are deployed away from home.

“There is such a feeling of self worth knowing that a simple card or something that reminds them of home can make an impact on how they keep a positive attitude and stay focused,” said Mohler.