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March 31, 2009

Marines and Sailors Volunteer at Children’s Center

MANAMA, Bahrain – Marines and Sailors assigned to the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) and Boxer Amphibious Ready Group (BOXARG) spent the day playing with children from the Alia School for Early Intervention in Bahrain March, 24.


By Staff Sgt. Matthew O. Holly, 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit Public Affairs
March 31, 2009

Approximately 15 Marines and Sailors from USS New Orleans (LPD 18) spent time socializing with special needs children, gardening and playing with children during gym class.

Staff Sgt. John J. Ankney, data chief for Battalion Landing Team 1/1 assigned to the 13th MEU, said that the selfless work being done at the school is very uplifting.

“I was really impressed with the program’s success in integrating the children with special needs into the primary education gym classes,” said Staff Sgt. John J. Ankney. “The teachers have an amazing talent connecting with the children.”

The center was set up in 2004 by the Bahrain Society for Children with Behavior and Communication Disorders and helps students with communication, social, emotional and physical development problems.

“I wanted to volunteer so I could give back,” said Ankney, a Mission Creek, Idaho native, explaining his reasons for volunteering. “More importantly, I wanted to make a difference.”

The Marines and Sailors also helped plant flowers with the children.

“It was nice to have the opportunity to sit down and garden with the kids,” said Hospital Corpsmen 3rd Class Eli Y. Hernandez, assigned to the 13th MEU’s Battalion Landing Team. “It gave us a chance to connect in a one-on-one environment. Spending time with these children was the bright point of my day!

The 13th MEU is embarked aboard Boxer USS Boxer (LHD 4), USS Comstock (LSD 45) and USS New Orleans (LPD 18) ships deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations to conduct Maritime Security Operations.

Pirates captured after attacking German tanker

(CNN) -- Seven suspected pirates are in German custody after they fired on a naval tanker off the coast of Somalia and were pursued by warships, the German military said.


March 31, 2009

The suspects shot at the tanker in the Gulf of Aden Sunday. The tanker and the warships pursued their boat. The German ship was assisted in the chase by ships operated by the EU and NATO, the military said.

No one was injured in the incident.

Pirating off Somalia has increase over the past four or five years as fishermen realize that pirating is more lucrative. The crime, which is hard to prevent, has raised concerns internationally.

In response a number of countries have deployed navy ships to the region, including the United States, China and Japan.

Iraqi Commandos hone combat marksmanship techniques

Gunfire erupts and empty shell casings clatter to the ground as Iraqi soldiers take aim at close-range targets. As the shooting ceases, an Arabic voice shouts the commands through a megaphone, instructing the soldiers on the next course of fire. After the command to fire is given, the soldiers once again fire at their assigned targets. These drills are part of a training exercise formed to meet the needs of Iraqi Army personnel with the purpose of transforming them into more effective infantrymen.


Story Date
3/31/2009 By
Cpl. Alan Addison,
Regimental Combat Team 8


To assist the Iraqis in this endeavor, Marines from 2nd Platoon, Company B, 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 8, assisted Iraqi commandos from the 7th Iraqi Army Division in weapons training, March 19, 2009.

“I’m impressed with their efficiency,” said 1st Lt. Scott Alexander, platoon commander for 2nd Platoon, Company B, 1st Recon Battalion. “They have performed very well.”

The Iraqi commando training is part of a month-long training package put together by their own senior leaders, which focuses on weapons training, land navigation, patrolling, and a host of other combat skills.

The six-day weapons training package included immediate and remedial action drills, and reloading and engagement drills.

“The Iraqi Army requested this training. They put the training package together, we’re just here to help train them and point them in the right direction,” said Alexander. “These guys are meant to be the top notch soldiers of the Iraqi Army; we just want to pass on as much knowledge as we can to these guys.”

Not only does the training exercise help the commandos hone their existing skills, but it also helps them forge a cohesive bond that’s shared amongst soldiers when they train as a unit. “This is the first time some of these guys have trained together so they are trying to get comfortable with each other, but they are eager to learn and they look to the Marines for advice,” said Robert Wise, a Special Operations Foreign Internal Defense Liaison to the Iraqi Army.

The Marines are not the only ones who see the advantages of training with the Iraqis. Iraqi Army 1st Lt. Amer Mowfuc talked about the advantages of his men being trained by the Marines.

“It’s very important that our soldiers receive training like this. When we train with other groups we get the chance to learn many different techniques, as well as sharpen our own skills.”

Mowfuc also stated that this type of training offers his men the opportunity to learn more about their personal weapons, and training alongside Marines gives them an excellent model to follow.

“We have worked with a lot of other military groups, but I personally would like my soldiers to model their performance after Marines,” said Mowfuc.

Gunfire once again erupted from the Iraqi soldiers’ rifles, piercing the targets in front of them. Marine instructors stood close by, supporting the Iraqi Commandos as they conducted the necessary training needed to be more effective marksmen. After six intense training days, the commandos had sharpened their marksmanship skills and were prepared to enter their next phase of unit training.

For more information on the ongoing mission in Iraq’s Al Anbar province, visit www.iimefpublic.usmc.mil/iimeffwd.

March 30, 2009

The law of the seas

U.S. troops gather evidence for prosecution of Aden piracy

By James Warden, Stars and Stripes
Mideast edition, Monday, March 30, 2009

The second part of a series.

THE GULF OF ADEN — When American forces in the Gulf of Aden find a suspected pirate skiff, they don’t send in the Marines, Navy SEALs or other combat forces. The first people to confront the suspected pirates are members of a Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachment.

To continue reading:


Boxer Supports International Counter-Piracy Effort in Gulf of Aden

Other Attacks Increase off Somali Coast

USS BOXER, At Sea – In a show of international sea power in the Gulf of Aden, seven nations representing three task forces coordinated efforts to pursue a skiff after the pirates on board opened fire on a German oiler, the Federal German Ship (FGS) Spessart, March 29.


Commander, Combined Maritime Forces Public Affairs
March 30, 2009

At approximately 3 p.m. yesterday, FGS Spessart, reported that they were being attacked by pirates who may have mistaken the naval supply ship for a commercial merchant vessel. An embarked security team aboard the ship returned fire on the suspected pirates during the initial attack.

Subsequently, Spessart pursued the skiff while providing additional details of the attack to a variety of international naval vessels operating in the area. A number of naval ships and aircraft joined the pursuit, including: the Dutch frigate HNLMS Zeven Provincien, an SH-60B helicopter assigned to the Spanish warship SPS Victoria, a Spanish P-3 maritime patrol aircraft, two Marine Corps helicopters from the Combined Task Force (CTF) 151 flagship USS Boxer (LHD 4) and the European Union’s CTF 465 flagship, the Greek frigate HS Psara.

Supported by an AH-1 Cobra attack helicopter and a UH-1 Huey assigned to Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 163 (Reinforced), “Evil Eyes,” embarked aboard Boxer, the international naval forces contained the armed suspects until Psara arrived with a German boarding team.

Upon boarding the skiff, the team found seven suspected pirates and their weapons. The suspected pirates were disarmed and transferred to the German frigate Rheinland-Pfalz where they will remain until a final determination is made regarding potential prosecution.

While this event showcased the incredible international naval capabilities operating in the Gulf of Aden, it also highlighted the complexity of counter-piracy operations. The crew of Spessart and the embarked security team provided the critical first line of defense, utilizing defensive measures that are essential for all ships operating in the region. Moreover, nearly five hours transpired between the time Spessart’s armed security team thwarted the initial attack and when an armed boarding team was within range of the pirate skiff. In the interim, armed coalition aircraft kept the suspected pirates from getting away.

This incident in the Gulf of Aden happened at a time when other pirates have been operating well off the eastern Somali coast. The area off the coast of Somalia and Kenya when combined with the waters of the Gulf of Aden equals more than 1.1 million square miles, roughly four times the size of Texas or the size of the Mediterranean and Red Seas combined. In a region this large merchant mariners must often serve as the first line defenders against pirates, because naval forces will likely not be close enough to respond.

Afghan strategy a matter of trust

BAKWA, Afghanistan — Haji Gran, a 70-year-old poppy and wheat farmer, wants a pump for his well.

Click on above link for news video link.

Photo Gallery:

By Jim Michaels, USA TODAY
March 30, 2009

U.S. Marine Sgt. Joshua Randall has an answer: "If (you) start telling us where the Taliban is and where they're placing bombs on the road, I can start asking for water pumps," he tells Gran and his family through an interpreter.

Gran, wearing a white turban and shalwa kameez, the local dress of loose pants and shirt, says he will be glad to provide information about the Taliban. "The bombs are not good for us either," he says.

There are smiles and handshakes all around as Randall's Marines climb back into Humvees and head off on another bone-jarring drive across fallow and drought-hardened fields to the next compound.

Randall's approach is at the heart of the Afghanistan war strategy that President Obama announced Friday. The additional troops Obama is sending to Afghanistan will focus not on battling Taliban insurgents face-to-face, but on improving security in far-flung villages such as Bakwa by winning the trust of the local population, one farmer at a time.

"The Taliban is not my focus," says Marine Capt. Mike Hoffman, a company commander, who lives on a dusty outpost in southern Afghanistan. "If I focus on the people, I'll get (rid of) the Taliban or make them irrelevant. I didn't come out here to kill bad guys."

That philosophy is drawn in part from hard-earned lessons in Iraq, where a strategic shift toward protecting the local population in 2007 helped turn the war against Islamic militant groups such as al-Qaeda. Commanders here caution that Afghanistan is different in many ways but say they're confident the additional troops Obama is sending finally will give them the manpower necessary to secure long-neglected areas — and turn back a reinvigorated offensive by the Taliban and their al-Qaeda counterparts.

"I think we got the concept right," says Maj. Gen. Mart de Kruif, the Dutch commander of NATO forces in southern Afghanistan. "We are finally resourcing the concept."

The 4,000 troops Obama ordered to Afghanistan on Friday will train their peers in the Afghan army and police — who are crucial to confidence-building because they are tasked with holding territory once it has been cleared of insurgents by U.S. and NATO forces. Obama's plan calls for nearly doubling the size of Afghanistan's security forces by 2011, as well as an increased emphasis on diplomatic cooperation from regional countries such as Pakistan and Iran.

The reinforcements will join an additional 17,000 troops that Obama previously ordered deployed, bringing the overall U.S. presence in Afghanistan to nearly 60,000 by the end of the year.

After seven years of war, winning the locals' confidence isn't easy. Hundreds of Afghan civilians died during NATO airstrikes and other raids against militant hideouts last year, according to the U.N., eroding the coalition's popularity. And many people still fear the Taliban, which controlled Afghanistan until the U.S. invasion in 2001 and still exerts influence over broad swathes of the country, including the lucrative opium smuggling trade.

So when the Marines go out on patrol, the primary mission is often to make small talk — to question the locals about their daily work and living habits, for example. Sometimes a breakthrough comes over a meal of lamb or some other local dish.

Hoffman, the unit commander, says his Marines have detained only about a dozen suspects during the past five months. A larger focus is trying to gather intelligence — and break down cultural barriers along the way.

Such was the case when Randall, the Marine sergeant, was interviewing Gran, the poppy farmer.

Gran, a grizzled village elder in a country where age is revered, cocked an eyebrow at Randall, a 23-year-old with smooth cheeks and a youthful face. "Are you the commander?" Gran asked.

Randall explained he was the commander of the patrol and continued the questioning.

After a while, Gran finally seemed to let his guard down. He said he is watchful during the day. "It's impossible to see Taliban during the night," he told Randall.

'We're going in to stay'

NATO and U.S. forces are not clearing an area of insurgents unless they have enough foreign or Afghan forces to then hold the town or village once insurgents have been pushed out. That was a key lesson from Iraq, when American troops cleared regions only to have insurgents pour back in after the U.S. forces left.

"Our techniques have changed since five or six years ago," says Army Brig. Gen. Mark Milley, deputy commander of the 101st Airborne Division, which commands troops in eastern Afghanistan. "When we go in, we're going in to stay."

Commanders say they expect a rise in violence as more U.S. troops move into areas that have seen few foreign forces during the current conflict, particularly in parts of the volatile south. The warmer weather also signals the start of a new fighting season as snows recede and mountains become passable again.

"It will be a spike — not a continuous upward trend," says U.S. Brig. Gen. John Nicholson, deputy commander of the southern region.

About 60% of the 3 million people in southern Afghanistan live in areas that are completely secured, de Kruif, the Dutch commander, said in an interview in his headquarters in Kandahar. That leaves much of the rest of the region without a significant NATO presence.

Apart from the military trainers, most of the other new American forces — which include an Army Stryker brigade, a brigade of U.S. Marines and an aviation brigade — are heading for southern Afghanistan where they are expected to confront insurgents.

"This is going to take time and it's going to be bloody along the way," Milley says. "At the end of the day, it's going to work."

Counterinsurgency tactics in Iraq were boosted by a tribal revolt in western Iraq that American commanders were able to harness to build local security. Afghanistan's tribal structure is very different, making such a revolt here unlikely, commanders say.

The forbidding terrain means that tribes in one valley often mistrust people in the next valley over. Tribes in Afghanistan are much smaller and more isolated and so are unlikely to form the kinds of loose alliances that helped push al-Qaeda out of Iraq, Julian says.

The strategy in Afghanistan is also being pursued with far fewer troops. At the peak of the U.S. troop escalation, or "surge," there were 160,000 U.S. troops in Iraq — compared to the 90,000 coalition troops expected by the end of the year in Afghanistan, which is about one-and-a-half times the size of Iraq.

Commanders say Afghanistan would have a hard time absorbing a large number of foreign troops. Much of the insurgency in Afghanistan is rooted in rugged mountains and countryside, making it difficult to mass troops in any one area to achieve quick results. Obama's plan to increase the number of police and army trainers is designed to make Afghan forces shoulder a larger burden of security so foreign troops don't have to.

Giving farmers a hand

In Bakwa, Company I, 3rd Battalion 8th Marines, has built small outposts to secure a 30-mile stretch of road to the nearby village of Delaram. The security allows farmers to get their produce to a local market.

When the battalion arrived, the road had been seeded with deadly roadside bombs. Two Marines were killed clearing the road in January, but since then the number of roadside bombs on the route have been declining. Once it was cleared, Marines set up outposts to keep it secure.

Local police who live next door to the Marine base recently told the U.S. forces where three roadside bombs were placed on the road. All three were safely removed.

Hoffman and several other Marines joined Bakwa Police Chief Dagarman Ikal for lunch in his mud-walled compound last week. The Marines talked about security as they struggled to eat joints of lamb that were placed in communal bowls without any silverware. Hoffman told Ikal if he can come up with more police, the Marines can build them another station.

Living among the population often means U.S. forces are enduring primitive conditions. Here in Bakwa, the Marines eat field rations — either portable MREs (meals ready to eat) or precooked food in large trays. Occasionally, frozen steaks and lobster tail are airdropped or flown into the tiny base. When that happens, a Marine cooks the food on a makeshift grill, burning wooden pallets for fuel.

Unlike the early days of Iraq, when Iraqis could never get through the maze of security at large U.S. bases, here Marines encourage locals to come over to the outposts anytime they need help.

"We've come here and embraced the way they do things," says Hoffman, whose feet rest on a makeshift plywood table, alongside a coffee urn. Nearby, a puppy stretches in the sun.

From poppies to wheat

Taliban and other insurgents have been using proceeds from the drug trade to fund their insurgency. NATO commanders have said they will target traffickers and processing labs, but farmers will be encouraged to plant other crops.

Indeed, the outpost here is surrounded by lush fields of wheat — and poppy growing in plain view. Afghanistan produces around 90% of the world's opium, and the money that poppy produces is tough for many poor farmers to resist. "I don't have a problem with them making money off this season's crop with the understanding the next crop that goes into the ground will be wheat or melons," Hoffman says.

"We've told the farmers you can't grow poppies next year," Hoffman says. "You have to grow wheat."

Plus, there are other pressing matters as insurgents lash out against the greater U.S. presence. The police station in nearby Delaram was attacked recently with a suicide bomb that killed a Marine and three Afghan police.

Days later, U.S. Marines and Afghan police were still cleaning up the damage and putting up new blast walls around the station.

Abdul Qudus, the 52-year-old police chief, was wounded by shrapnel in the attack but declined to be evacuated. "The enemy realizes we're making progress with the people," Qudus says. "This is why they made the attack."

March 29, 2009

Combined Task Force 151 hunts down pirates in the Gulf of Aden

By James Warden, Stars and Stripes
Mideast edition, Sunday, March 29, 2009

(Day One of a two-day series)

THE GULF OF ADEN — The USS Boxer is an impressive ship, purpose-built to show up on the horizon and grab a well-protected beach from a determined enemy. An array of helicopters can spot threats before they ever see the amphibious assault ship. Harrier jets can pound them into the ground. And hovercrafts can carry hundreds of Marines and their armored vehicles to storm the beach.

To continue reading:


Photo Gallery:

March 28, 2009

2/7 Marine to receive Navy Cross on Friday

Staff report
Posted : Saturday Mar 28, 2009 8:49:26 EDT

A Marine will receive the Navy Cross on Friday for helping his comrades fight their way out of an ambush in Afghanistan despite sustaining a traumatic injury to his right leg, officials said Tuesday.

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March 27, 2009

Local Post Office Renamed For Fallen Central Texas Marine

LORENA (March 27, 2009)—During a ceremony Friday, the Lorena Post Office was renamed in honor of fallen Marine Gunnery Sgt. John D. Fry, 28, a Lorena native who died in the explosion of a homemade bomb in March 2006 in Iraq’s then-volatile Anbar Province.

Please click on above link for two news video links.

Fry, who was assigned to the 8th Engineer Support Battalion, 2nd Marine Logistics Group, II Marine Expeditionary Force, from Camp Lejeune, N.C., left behind his mother, wife and three young children.

Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, who authored the bill that renamed the facility the “Marine Gunnery Sgt. John D. Fry Post Office Building,” was at the ceremony Friday morning.

Fry was born in Lorena in 1977 and served in Iraq as an ordinance disposal technician where he safely defused hundreds of bombs, saving hundreds of lives, Edwards said.

He was seriously wounded, but turned down a Bronze Star and a ticket home, Edwards said.

He died seven days before he was to return home, after volunteering for one more assignment to defuse three more explosive devices.

He successfully defused two bombs, but insurgents had hidden a fourth bomb under the third and it blew up and killed him, Edwards said.

Fry was buried will full military honors in Rosemound Cemetery in Waco

7th Iraqi Army Division kicks off month-long commando course

CAMP MEJID, Iraq – The members of Military Transition Team 7, working with the Reconnaissance Platoon of Regimental Combat Team 8, recently launched a month-long training course designed to hone the skills of the 7th Iraqi Army Division’s Special Operations Battalion.


Lance Cpl. Jason Hernandez
March 27, 2009

The training program began with a five-day marksmanship refresher, which reminded the Iraqi commandos how to properly zero their weapons, fire at extended distances, and rapidly assess and engage close-range targets with their assault rifles.

Starting with the very basics of weapons training, the MiTT took the Iraqi soldiers from weapons safety and weapons conditions classes to battlesight zeroing and combat drills.

“I’d say they’re giving everything they’ve got,” said Robert Wise, MiTT-7’s special operations foreign internal defense specialist. “They come out here, and in their own way, they try to prove to us that they’re capable of taking over security of the country.”

Wise, a former Marine and retired Army Special Forces soldier, said that despite not having an established rifle training program, the commandos were showing excellent progress and were ready to take control of security operations throughout Iraq.

Working through language and education barriers, the RCT-8 Marines were able to properly instruct the Iraqis on how to rapidly and effectively engage a close-range target. By day five, the commandos were conducting combat reloads and effectively removing any stoppages or jams of their AK-47 assault rifles. The training undertaken by the Iraqis is akin to the Combat Marksmanship Program, a rigorous shooting course completed by Marines before deploying to Iraq.

“We are very happy to be having the U.S. Marines training us,” said Iraqi Army 1st Lt. Amer Mowfuc, an infantry officer with the 7th Iraqi Army Division. “We come out here so the men could practice with their rifles and grow more confident in both their weapons and weapons training.”

When asked whether he felt that the Iraqi military was nearly ready to take the lead in military operations across Iraq, Mowfuc could only reply, “We’re almost there, we just need some more training, and to get our technology and logistics more in line like the Americans.”
The next phase of the commando course will be a land navigation course, followed by medical, convoy and air assault training.

By the completion of their training, the 7th Iraqi Army Division’s Special Operations Battalion will have taken another step toward fulfilling its quest of having a well-trained, disciplined and skilled group of Iraqi commandos to lead their country into the next phase of its history.

Recon teams with Iraqi scout platoon in search of caches

AL KHARMA, Iraq – Dogs barked as four Iraqi soldiers advanced toward a house nestled between dirt fields outside Tharthar, Iraq. Once at the house, an Iraqi soldier questioned the male occupant as another soldier kept a watchful eye during a cache sweep in the vicinity of Al Kharma, Iraq, March 23, 2009.


Story by Sgt. Dorian Gardner
March 27, 2009

A select group of soldiers from the 1st and 2nd Battalions,1st Brigade, 1st Iraqi Army Division, formed the Quick Reaction Force Scout Platoon, which led the way in one of the last integrated missions alongside Marines from 3rd Platoon, Bravo Company, 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 6, would conduct.

Marines and Iraqis set out early that morning, utilizing CH-53E Super Stallion transport helicopters for transit into the rural farmlands east of Kharma, a small area in eastern Al Anbar province. Once there, they conducted a detailed search for arms caches and evidence of terrorist activity.

After the two helicopters departed the landing zone just beyond the edges of the farmland, reconnaissance Marines working with the Iraqi scout platoon divided their small force into two teams and proceeded north toward houses scattered across the rural landscape.

Sweeping from house to house, Gunnery Sgt. Timothy Davis, platoon sergeant of 3rd Platoon, watched as the same Iraqi soldiers who were sitting in his classroom a month prior now conducted searches without the aid of Marines.

“It was a success. [Scout platoon] is ready to go out on their own,” he said, taking note of the abilities displayed that morning.

Iraqi Army Sergeant Major Mohanad Najah Abuod led his unit as they successfully conducted tactical searches and demonstrated small-unit leadership, Davis added.

Some of the soldiers of scout platoon have been operating together since 2003 in different conflicts throughout Iraq. A seasoned unit, they came to the reconnaissance battalion in search of specialized training.

“What they needed was proper training and better methods to conduct operations and that’s what we gave them,” said Davis.

While the scout platoon combed through houses and fields, Iraqi Security Forces and Marines with 1st Battalion, 7th Marines continued the search in a similar rural setting further south, near Al Dayb Al Hasayn. These two sweeps formed a larger Iraqi Security Force operation, and such missions have become more frequent as the command and control capabilities of the Iraqi Security Forces have increased.

Although the mission did not reveal any significant finds, Iraqi units throughout the country have demonstrated their abilities to successfully conduct sweeps and searches without aid.

Even though the time Davis and his Marines spent training the Iraqi scout platoon was short, Marines and Iraqi soldiers grew fond of one another during their working partnership.

“Previous work led to unit cohesion, more so with this unit than any other” according to Cpl. David “La Fleur” Montemayor, a reconnaissance Marine with 3rd Battalion.

The Marines and the Iraqis traded unit patches, a sign of mutual respect and admiration between the two factions of elite war-fighters. They shared smiles and falafel after a successful mission and a safe return to Camp Ramadi.

Even as Marines prepare for a responsible withdrawal, these Iraqi soldiers will remain vigilant as proud protectors of their country.

For more information on the ongoing mission in Iraq’s Al Anbar province, visit www.iimefpublic.usmc.mil/iimeffwd.

USS Hartford and USS New Orleans Undergo Extensive Assessments

MANAMA, Bahrain – The U.S. Navy submarine and U.S. amphibious ship that collided in the Strait of Hormuz March 20, have been undergoing extensive engineering and damage assessments since pulling into Bahrain March 21.


March 27, 2009
Release #052-09
By U.S. Naval Forces Central Command Public Affairs

Engineering and technical experts arrived in Bahrain to assess the damage to USS Hartford (SSN 768) and USS New Orleans (LPD 18). Twelve Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard (PHNSY) personnel and two Naval Sea Systems (NAVSEA) experts are assessing the damage to Hartford and New Orleans and have begun initial in-theater repairs. They will augment Mid-Atlantic Regional Maintenance Center (MARMC) Detachment Bahrain.

While overall damage to both ships is being evaluated, investigators believe Hartford rolled approximately 85 degrees during the collision. Despite the roll, engineering investigations have confirmed the propulsion plant of the submarine was unaffected by this collision. However, Hartford sustained damage to its sail and periscope, as well as the port bow plane.

New Orleans suffered a ruptured fuel tank. Divers have determined the resulting hole is approximately 16 by 18 feet in size. There was also interior damage to two ballast tanks.

In addition to the engineering efforts, two formal investigations are currently underway; a Safety Investigation and a Judge Advocate General Manual (JAGMAN) Investigation. Capt. Craig Kleint, the Dock Landing Ship (LSD) Class Squadron commodore has been appointed as the Investigating Officer (IO) for the JAGMAN Investigation. A senior O-6 submarine officer has been named as the senior member of the Safety Instigation Review, but his name is not releasable until the investigation has been completed.

The Safety Investigation Board is appointed to identify hazards and their causal factors in serious incidents. Their report is an essential tool to identify causes to prevent recurrence.

The JAGMAN investigation is intended to provide and critical and objective overview of what happened. Capt. Kleint, a nuclear-trained surface warfare officer, is joined by a post-command submarine officer. They are supported by a three-person legal team.

Naval Surface Forces (SURFOR) and Naval Submarine Forces (SUBFOR) are providing extensive support to Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT) for the Safety Investigation Board and JAGMAN investigation team.

Both investigations have a 30-day initial timeline, but extensions may be granted if more time is needed to complete the investigation process.

Hartford and New Orleans were currently on regularly scheduled deployments to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations conducting Maritime Security Operations (MSO) when the accident occurred.

March 25, 2009

LAR remains expeditionary throughout deployment

NINEWA PROVINCE, Iraq – Since the Marine Corps is known for its expeditionary prowess, maybe one of the best examples of this trait can be found in Iraq’s Ninewa province. Patrolling the terrain of northern Iraq, the Marines of 3rd Platoon, Company D, 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 8, have spent the bulk of their deployment staying true to this expeditionary mindset by remaining ‘outside the wire’ to interdict smuggling.


Sgt. Dean Davis

“The work these Marines do is tough and they do a phenomenal job every time,” said Staff Sgt. Joshua J. Lepper, platoon sergeant for 3rd Platoon. “The highlight of this deployment has been seeing the Marines out in the field for 75 days at a time with no complaints and happy to do the job they are assigned. I couldn’t ask for a better platoon of Marines.”

Occasionally the platoon returns to Sahl Sinjar Airfield, a remote airstrip here, but ask 1st Lt. John W. Heald, commander of 3rd Platoon, and he will tell you, that like the rest of the Marines in his platoon, he would rather be out operating in the desert and villages.

“It has been rough at times, but this platoon is very tight, which improves any situation,” said Heald. “Being out for this long and living out of the vehicles like this forced us to adapt.”

Adapting to living conditions has given way to a unique cohesion amongst the platoons as well, which are essential to missions like the one the platoon carried out recently, said Heald.

“When you go into these smaller villages, most of what we know comes from our scouts on the ground,” said Heald. “These cities are tight and difficult to navigate through at times, so the implicit communication that was fostered over the months in the field outside the wire has helped with that. It has been really impressive to watch these guys work.

“Also, I think that it may be difficult for some of the younger Marines to grasp the tangible benefits of this deployment, but for the older ones, they are happy to see how much Iraq has changed since their previous deployments because it means everything we did worked.”

Sgt. Saul Pando, chief scout for 3rd Platoon, can attest to that concept as he is now wrapping up his sixth deployment to Iraq.

“Over the last few years in Iraq things have definitely changed, but Marines don’t change their standards,” said Pando. “Sometimes we need to be providing humanitarian aid and sometimes we need to search like we did today. That’s the nature of the Marine Corps though. These Marines get that, and they know when to sink their teeth in.”

If there is ever a group of Marines ready to sink their teeth in or pull back and help; it may well be 3rd Platoon, who will continue to do what Marines do best, explained Lepper.

“I think that we are at a stage in the war where we can let the Iraqi Security Forces take over,” said Lepper. “I have seen them operate and they are working well without much help from [Coalition Forces]. The Marine Corps is an expeditionary organization and during this deployment in [Ninewa province] we have proven that day after day. These men will do what Marines do, regardless of conditions, and do a fine job.”

For more information on the ongoing mission in Iraq’s Al Anbar province, visit www.iimefpublic.usmc.mil/iimeffwd.

March 23, 2009

Robots Take Center Stage in U.S. War in Afghanistan

The U.S. military is calling out the "BigDogs" in addition to its big guns as it deploys more troops to fight terrorists in Afghanistan.


Monday, March 23, 2009
By Matt Sanchez

The BigDogs — four-legged robots that can navigate the country's treacherous terrain — and pilotless helicopters than can transport tons of supplies to very remote bases are just two of the new weapons being tested in Afghanistan.

The war zone is increasingly becoming a development laboratory for machines that don't eat, sleep, polish their boots or suffer casualties. But can they succeed where man struggles?

It takes a moment for the senses even to comprehend BigDog, a four-legged robot that vaguely resembles a headless pack animal.

The machine's creator, Boston Dynamics, has a motto — “dedicated to the way things move” — and that’s precisely what is both jarring and fascinating about its invention. Using a gasoline engine that emits an eerie lawnmower buzz, BigDog has animal-inspired articulated legs that absorb shock and recycle kinetic energy from one step to the next.

Its robot brain, a sophisticated computer, controls locomotion sensors that adapt rapidly to the environment. The entire control system regulates, steers and navigates ground contact. A laser gyroscope keeps BigDog on his metal paws — even when the robot slips, stumbles or is kicked over.

Boston Dynamics says BigDog can run as fast as 4 miles per hour, walk slowly, lie down and climb slopes up to 35 degrees. BigDog's heightened sense can also survey the surrounding terrain and become alert to potential danger.

All told, the BigDog bears an uncanny resemblance to a living organic animal and not what it really is: A metal exo-skeleton moved by a hydraulic actuation system designed to carry over 300 pounds of equipment over ice, sand and rocky mountainsides.

So much for the ground war. With IED attacks in Afghanistan increasing on land, air transportation has become a major focus for the military.

Photo EssaysBigDogs and Big Guns
Routine helicopter flights operating 24 hours a day, year round, are crucial for the American mission. The Marine Corps has recently called for unmanned cargo flights to carry essentials to isolated areas that can be reached only by air.

Enter the K-MAX, a remote-controlled helicopter designed to transport heavy loads — even in Afghanistan's high altitudes.

The K-MAX's unique rotor design — two intermeshed rotors turning in opposite directions and slightly angled to prevent the blades from colliding — give this unmanned aircraft a distinct advantage.

“All the energy goes into the lift and eliminates the need for the tail rotor,” said Frans Jurgens, spokesman for Lockheed Martin Systems Integration, which has partnered with Kaman Aerospace Corp. to manufacture the unmanned K-MAX aircraft.

The design enables the relatively small chopper to tow up to 6,000 pounds. “The K-MAX is basically an aerial truck,” Jurgens said.

A ground controller “pilots” the unmanned aircraft using a “digital tablet” — a portable device the size of a clipboard attached to a backpack. The controller has visual contact with the aircraft during takeoff and can see where the K-MAX is going through a camera attached to the unmanned helicopter.

Unlike other unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), the K-MAX currently requires some visual contact — ground controllers to launch and retrieve the aircraft.

During a flight, K-MAX's “autonomous flight brain” calculates the best route to its destination and can automatically re-route itself should an area be designated a “no-fly” zone.

After launch, control transfers to a second ground controller waiting at the point of capture. Once the K-MAX has been sighted, the destination controller discharges the cargo by remote command.

But some in the military remain skeptical that a robot and a distant operator can replace a skilled pilot.

“When you’re dealing with a small area and a very small margin of error, mountains, temperatures, and other factors like heavy unpredictable winds, it’s hard to believe unmanned flights could account for all the variables,” Chief Warrant Officer Timothy Smail, a pilot from Eagle Lift, the 7th battallion 101st Aviation Regiment, told FOXNews.com in a phone interview from Afghanistan.

“Everything those troops have we’re responsible for bringing,” Smail said. “Not saying it can’t be done, I would just be skeptical.”

After two tours in Iraq, Smail is serving a second tour in Afghanistan, which he says is the “most difficult place to pilot in the world.”

But, Jurgens is not concerned.

“The K-MAX will fly repetitive flights that can be predictably programmed,” he said. “Given the fact that traveling by ground convoy is not the preferred transportation, unmanned cargo flights can save pilots from routine unnecessary exposure.”

KMAX has never been deployed to a war zone, but the unmanned aircraft has been a robotic workhorse in the logging industry, where it transfers heavy loads at high altitudes. It has also been used to transport water to fight forest fires.

They'll never fully replace actual people, but robots and unmanned vehicles will spare soldiers from routine tasks and enable them to focus their experience and skills on missions that require the human touch.

Lejeune brigade prepares for Afghanistan

By Trista Talton - Staff writer
Posted : Monday Mar 23, 2009 7:51:11 EDT

CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. — The most important thing to remember is that Afghanistan is not Iraq.

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March 21, 2009

U.S. Navy detains, releases six suspected pirates

(CNN) -- U.S. naval forces hunting pirates off Somalia detained six people this week who appeared to be pursuing a commercial shipping vessel, but soon released them because of a lack of evidence.


updated 9:44 a.m. EDT, Sat March 21, 2009

The Navy said on Saturday the six matched the description of suspected pirates aboard a skiff in the area. The naval crew saw the men throwing objects overboard before they picked up the suspects.

Investigators didn't say what was thrown overboard but said the evidence was not sufficient "to hold the suspects for prosecution."

The detentions reflect the aggressive U.S.-led fight against piracy. The United States is spearheading an international naval task force in the waters off Somalia that launched in February after a rash of attacks.

Participating ships are patrolling more than a million square miles of water, an area about four times the size of Texas, Navy officials have said.

The Navy said it arrested the six on Friday after responding to a distress call from the Philippines-flagged MV Bison Express in the Gulf of Aden, between Yemen and Somalia. The ship, a livestock carrier, reported a small skiff containing six heavily armed pirates was pursuing it.

The guided-missile cruiser USS Gettysburg arrived and found a skiff matching the description. A Seahawk helicopter flew from the Gettysburg over the skiff and reported seeing objects being thrown overboard, the Navy said.

A team from the Gettysburg boarded the skiff, along with members of the U.S. Coast Guard Legal Detachment and detained the six suspected pirates. The U.S. officials transferred the suspects onto the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer, the flagship for the international anti-piracy task force, the Navy said, before releasing them.

The attack on the Bison Express was the second one Friday on commercial shipping vessels in the Gulf of Aden, the Navy said. In the first incident, pirates attacked the MV Sea Green, which managed to fend them off by firing flares as the men approached, the Navy said.

USS Hartford and USS New Orleans Arrive In Port Bahrain

MANAMA, Bahrain (NNS) -- The U.S. Navy submarine and U.S. amphibious ship that collided in the Strait of Hormuz March 20, arrived in port Bahrain March 21.


Story Number: NNS090321-03
Release Date: 3/21/2009 12:06:00 PM
From Commander, U.S. 5th Fleet Public Affairs

USS Hartford (SSN 768) and USS New Orleans (LPD 18) arrived at Mina Salman pier to further assess and evaluate the damage that resulted from their collision at sea.

The incident remains under investigation.

Overall damage to both ships is being evaluated. The propulsion plant of the submarine was unaffected by this collision. New Orleans suffered a ruptured fuel tank, which resulted in a fuel spill of approximately 25,000 gallons of diesel fuel marine in the Strait of Hormuz.

Aerial searches of the area where the fuel spill occurred were conducted yesterday, and revealed no indication of any remaining fuel on the ocean's surface.

The U.S. 5th Fleet has been working in coordination with the Navy Oceanographic Office to determine refined search areas, based on currents and winds. Additional searches were flown by U.S. Navy aircraft today and found no remaining fuel on the surface.

The quick dissipation of the fuel is likely due to the type of fuel, and various environmental factors to include air and water temperatures, winds and seas.

Both Hartford and New Orleans are currently on regularly scheduled deployments to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations conducting maritime security operations (MSO).

MSO set the conditions for security and stability in the maritime environment as well as complement the counter-terrorism and security efforts of regional nations. MSO deny international terrorists use of the maritime environment as a venue for attack or to transport personnel, weapons, or other material

For more news from Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command/Commander, U.S. 5th Fleet, visit www.navy.mil/local/cusnc/.

Suspected Pirates Apprehended and Released in the Gulf of Aden

USS Boxer, At Sea – The guided-missile cruiser USS Gettysburg (CG 64) apprehended six suspected pirates in the Gulf of Aden yesterday after responding to a distress call from two nearby merchant vessels.


From Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command Public Affairs

At approximately 4:30 a.m., the Philippines-flagged Motor Vessel Bison Express sent a distress call to all ships in the area reporting they were being pursued by a small skiff containing six heavily-armed suspected pirates.

Gettysburg closed immediately on the motor vessel’s location and intercepted a skiff matching the description given by the crew of the motor vessel. An SH-60B helicopter assigned to Helicopter Anti-submarine Squadron Light (HSL) 46 embarked aboard Gettysburg, flew overhead the skiff and reported seeing objects being thrown overboard.

A Gettysburg visit, board, search and seizure team (VBSS) subsequently conducted a consensual boarding along with members of U.S. Coast Guard Legal Detachment (LEDET) 409 and apprehended the six suspected pirates. They were transferred onto the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD 4), the flagship and afloat staging base (AFSB) for Combined Task Force (CTF) 151.

After evaluating the situation, CTF 151 determined there was not sufficient evidence to hold the suspects for prosecution and released them back to their small boat.

The attack on Bison Express was the second attack by yesterday on commercial shipping vessels in the Gulf of Aden. Earlier this morning, suspected pirates attacked Motor Vessel Sea Green. The motor vessel fired several warning flares at the suspected pirates as they approached, and successfully warded off the attack.

CTF 151 is a multinational task force that conducts counter-piracy operations in and around the Gulf of Aden, Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean and the Red Sea and was established to create a lawful maritime order and develop security in the maritime environment.

March 20, 2009

2 US Navy vessels collide in Strait of Hormuz

MANAMA, Bahrain – Two U.S. Navy vessels — a nuclear-powered submarine and an amphibious ship — collided before dawn Friday in the mouth of the Persian Gulf, one of the world's most important sea passages for oil supplies.


By REEM KHALIFA, Associated Press Writer Reem Khalifa, Associated Press Writer – Fri Mar 20, 3:15 pm ET

There was no damage to the sub's nuclear propulsion system and no disruption to shipping in the strategic Strait of Hormuz, through which a fifth of the world's oil passes, said Navy spokesman Lt. Nate Christensen, with the Bahrain-based 5th Fleet.

Still, the unusual collision between members of the same navy sparked a sudden rise in oil prices — which had been declining on the day — even though the strait remained open.

Benchmark crude for April delivery had traded lower for most of the morning, but then erased those losses and rose 39 cents to $52 on the New York Mercantile Exchange. In London, Brent prices rose 50 cents to $51.17 on the ICE Futures exchange.

Still, with pressure pulling prices down in the financial crisis, the rise was nowhere near what would have been expected months ago, when such a collision would likely have sent prices skyrocketing.

The incident occurred around 1:00 a.m. local time Friday (5 p.m. EDT, Thursday), when the USS Hartford, a submarine, and the USS New Orleans, an amphibious ship, collided into each other in the narrow Strait of Hormuz, the 5th Fleet said in a statement.

The New Orleans suffered a ruptured fuel tank, resulting in an oil spill of approximately 25,000 gallons (95,000 liters) of diesel fuel, Christensen said.

According to the Bahrain-based 5th Fleet, 15 sailors aboard the Hartford were slightly injured but able to return to duty. No injuries were reported aboard the New Orleans and both ships are currently operating under their own power.

"The spill is closely monitored," Christensen said. "The lightweight diesel, although obviously a fairly substantial amount of gasoline, likely dissipated in the ocean."

Military analyst Loren Thompson of the U.S.-based Lexington Institute said a collision between two vessels in the world's most sophisticated navy is nearly unheard of. It's more common for ships of different navies to collide, or military vessels and commercial ships, he said.

"It's almost inevitable that people are relieved of duty pending investigation," Thomson told The Associated Press by phone. "These sort of accidents are so uncommon that you have to take it for granted that a major mistake occured by one of the vessels' captains."

Both ships were heading to port and were going in the same direction when the incident occurred in the narrow Hormuz, said Christensen. He said the submarine was submerged at the time but that he could give no further details as the collision is still under investigation.

Later Friday, the vessels were on their way to port for repairs and evaluation, added Christensen. Following standard security procedures he could not say where the vessels were headed.

Hormuz at its narrowest is 34 miles (54 kilometers) wide but the location of the collision was not disclosed.

The two ships were on regularly scheduled deployments to the region and conducting security operations, the Navy said. The Hartford is based in Groton, Conn. and the New Orleans is based in San Diego, Calif. As all U.S. submarines, the Hartford is nuclear powered. The New Orleans is an amphibious transport dock ship.

As much as 17 million barrels of oil a day went through the narrow strait in the first half of 2008, or about 40 percent of all seaborne traded oil or 20 percent of all oil traded globally.

March 19, 2009

You Are What You Eat

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C. — Marines not currently within their height and weight or military appearance standards are feeling the burn.


March 19, 2009
Marine Corps News

Earlier this month, Marine Administrative Message 145/09 announced the termination of the 60-day notification and cautionary periods for the Body Composition and Military Appearance Programs.

According to Sgt. Maj. Danny Smith, senior enlisted advisor for the 2nd Marine Air Wing, BCP and MAP originally gave overweight Marines 120 days to meet their regulations without administrative repercussions.

In essence, a Marine checking into a command who was out of standards was not immediately put on a weight control program, Smith said.

“Now that grace period has been terminated,” he added. “The commandant simply feels that commanders now have been given sufficient time to identify those Marines that are not in compliance.”

The MARADMIN further states that service members on, or being processed for, BCP are ineligible for promotion, reenlistment or special-duty assignment.

“If you get assigned to BCP, it affects all kinds of things,” said Master Sgt. Donald Iskerka, Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron’s training chief. “The bottom line is being on a BCP assignment has a negative effect on your career.”

If personal appearance and professional consequences aren’t enough reason to stay in shape, overweight individuals also have a myriad of health issues.

“If you’re overweight, you’re more prone to disease,” said Rebekah Rayfield, a Wellness Clinic dietitian at the Naval Health Clinic Cherry Point. “Diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure – the sky’s the limit. Obesity affects pretty much every organ in our body.”

According to Smith, it all boils down to what is expected of all who don the eagle, globe and anchor.

“As the Marine Corps, it’s not just an image,” Smith said. “We have a standard, and the commandant and sergeant major of the Marine Corps are very adamant that we’re not going to reduce those standards. Marines are expected to be physically fit, and we’re going to hold them accountable to maintain that level of fitness."

Obama Drops Vet Insurance Plan

Obama Drops Vet Insurance Plan; More Showdowns Loom

President Obama won style points from veterans' service organizations this week even as he was forced, under heavy fire, to withdraw his plan to have the Department of Veterans Affairs bill veterans' health insurance for the cost to VA of treating service-connected medical conditions. More disputes are likely between a White House struggling to impose new restraints on federal spending, and advocates for military members and veterans who have borne the brunt of two long and difficult wars. To learn more, read the full article on Military.com.


Tom Philpott | March 19, 2009

"The issue should never have come up [and] he got a black eye out of it," said David W. Gorman, executive director of Disabled American Veterans Wednesday. "But we came out…very, very pleased that he had recognized the issue, he has listened to us, and he has taken heed of our advice."

More disputes are likely between a White House struggling to impose new restraints on federal spending, and advocates for military members and veterans who have borne the brunt of two long and difficult wars.

When the president's full budget request for 2010 is released in late April, the battleground shifts to Capitol Hill and fights are expected over several personnel issues including future military pay raises. Obama also might follow the lead of his predecessor, and listen to his top military adviser, by seeking higher TRICARE fees for working-age military retirees.

This week, however, the cost-savings target was veterans' insurance. Obama's plan drew stiff bipartisan opposition on Capitol Hill and gave Republicans a wedge to try to separate Obama from veterans despite his surprising budget plan to raise overall VA spending next year by 15 percent.

Even comedian Jon Stewart, host of The Daily Show, poked fun at Obama's insurance idea, suggesting the administration next might want to sell to corporate naming rights for different military medals.

On Monday, feeling the heat, Obama took the unprecedented step of hosting a White House meeting with leaders of 11 veterans groups who had sent the president a letter Feb. 27, calling his third-party insurance collection plan for service-related conditions "wholly unacceptable."

"I cannot remember -- and I've been doing [veterans' advocacy work] for 35 years -- any sitting president ever inviting us over and sitting down with us to talk about a policy-related issue," Gorman said. "So we were very grateful for that. It showed us a lot."

Obama explained that insurance companies collect premiums for veterans' coverage but get a break when veterans use VA for service-related conditions. He then asked VSO leaders for their views, and got an earful.

"Everybody was opposed to the idea for a lot of reasons," said Gorman. "The fundamental one was that the foreign policy of the United States sent us war. These are the disabilities we've incurred. It's the federal government's moral and legal obligation to take care of them, not Blue Cross and Blue Shield."

Obama indicated he wouldn't go forward without VSO support. But when he and VA Secretary Eric Shinseki left to visit with employees at VA headquarters, Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, asked the VSOs to go back and consider ways to reduce VA costs enough to fill a $540 million hole that would be left in the budget if the president pulled his proposal.

The VSO met two days later with Emanuel and told him that they all agreed it was not their job to find savings for the VA.

"He was disappointed," said Gorman, who served as spokesman for the group at that meeting. "But I told him we would be more than happy, in fact, would relish the idea of coming back and talking about issues and ideas before they become a policy, a practice or a recommendation in the budget."

That afternoon, when VSO leaders met with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Democratic colleagues, she told them Obama was withdrawing his proposal. The leaders gave the news a standing ovation.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Obama had wanted to "maximize the resources available for veterans" but deferred to concerns raised by the VSOs that his plan could affect families' access to health care.

Glen Gardner, national commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, said the episode showed Obama got bum advice but that he "is willing to sit down and talk about issues. That has to be good for the veteran."

At the Pelosi meeting, Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, noted that Obama's budget proposes ending the ban on concurrent receipt for more disabled retirees -- those with fewer than 20 years service. He warned that the cost will make it very difficult to find money for other new programs, or to block TRICARE fee increases if they are proposed in the president's budget.

The administration will seek a 2.9 military pay raise for next January, enough to match wage growth in the private sector. If Congress agrees to the raise, it will end at 10 a string of annual raises set at least a half percent above private sector wage growth. Personnel chiefs for the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps told a House hearing that 2.9 percent is big enough.

Retired Navy Vice Adm. Norb Ryan, Jr., president of the Military Officers Association of America, disagrees. He said Monday that the string of bigger raises for the military should continue for five or six more years until a pay gap with the private sector, estimated at 2.9 percent, is fully closed.

"With the 6th anniversary of the Iraq invasion, with uniformed leaders saying we've got another decade of persistent conflict ahead of us, why would you abandon such a successful, responsible, measured way of going after a goal [of pay comparability] and stop on the 20-yard line," Ryan said.

He also warned against TRICARE fee increases, which Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, endorsed in our interview in January.

MOAA and other service associations support legislation that would block the Secretary of Defense from raising TRICARE fees in any year by more than the percentage increase in the January pay raise.

March 18, 2009

Obama backs down on vets insurance billing

By Rick Maze - Staff writer
Posted : Wednesday Mar 18, 2009 19:35:13 EDT

The Obama administration waved a white flag of surrender Wednesday, dropping a budget proposal that would have billed private insurance companies for treatment of service-connected medical problems at Veterans Affairs Department hospitals and clinics.

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March 17, 2009

13th Marine Expeditionary Unit Conducts Exercise Sea Soldier

USS BOXER, At Sea - Elements from the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, conducted bilateral training with regional partners, March 5-17, to strengthen relationships and improve interoperability.


Story by Staff Sgt. Matthew Holly
Date: 03.17.2009
Posted: 03.17.2009 10:23

The exercise included military operations in urban terrain training, urban tactics, techniques and procedures training and tactical vehicle capabilities demonstrations.

“The exercise provided us with a valuable training opportunity and was our first exercise since arriving to the region,” said Staff Sgt. Guadalupe Pineda, platoon sergeant for the Combat Engineer platoon, Battalion Landing Team 1/1, 13th MEU. “We had the chance to hang out with, train and learn from our new friends during this exercise.”

In addition to bilateral training it was an opportunity for the 13th MEU to enhance their operating skills.

The exercise not only consisted of military training, but presented an opportunity to test the interoperability between the regional civilian medical facility and the MEU’s casualty evacuation capabilities.

“It’s important to ensure we’re tied in with different civilian medical systems,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Reginald A. Demapelis, assigned to Headquarters and Support Company, BLT 1/1 and a Chula Vista, Calif. resident.

“I was very impressed with the knowledge they had and care they’re able to provide,” added Petty Officer 2nd Class Curtis L. Null, assigned to Headquarters and Support Company, BLT 1/1 and a Knoxville, Iowa native. “They kept me updated throughout the whole process - in the event of a real casualty I’m confident they would be able to provide appropriate care to our Marines and Sailors.”

During the training, there was plenty of time for Marines and their new friends to interact. Whether it was through conversation, food or fellowship they were constantly taking the time to get to know one another.

“A great deal of friendship has been built up very quickly between us and them,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Andres Velasco. “We share a mutual admiration and have gained a parallel trust between our regional partners.”

The 13th MEU is embarked aboard Boxer Expeditionary Strike Group ships deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations to conduct Maritime Security Operations. MSO help develop security in the maritime environment and complement the counterterrorism and security efforts of regional nations. From security arises stability that results in global economic prosperity. These operations seek to disrupt violent extremists’ use of the maritime environment to transport personnel and weapons or serve as a venue for attack.

Marines Stepping It Up With Corporal’s Course on the USS Boxer

USS BOXER, At sea – About 30 Marines from the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit aboard the USS Boxer spent the last month learning and improving the skills needed to become more efficient non-commissioned officers during Corporal’s Course; receiving their diplomas, March 11.



Story by Megan E. Sindelar
Date: 03.11.2009
Posted: 03.17.2009 01:18

The course is a little over three weeks long and the Marines were able to learn and succeed in the development of their leadership skills, said Staff Sgt. Oscar S. Ornelas, Corporal’s Course guest speaker and platoon sergeant with Company C, Battalion Landing Team 1/1, 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

“The instructors gave us the right information with the right instruction,” said Cpl. Robert L. Thatcher, honor-graduate of Corporal’s Course and squad leader with Company C, BLT 1/1, 13th MEU.

Marines received many classes over counseling, war gaming, hip-pocket training and leadership, just to name a few. They also practiced sword manual and trained in the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program once to twice a week, with the last week training everyday, said Thatcher, a Huntington Beach, Calif. native.

Picking the guest speaker is something the students of Corporal’s Course enjoyed.

“We picked Staff Sgt. Ornelas because he made an impact,” said Thatcher.

Ornelas taught only one class, Marine Corps Customs and Courtesies, but the Marines took to his motivation and passion so well, they chose him as their guest speaker.

“I was very passionate and I meant everything I told them,” said Ornelas. “I motivated them and if something I say has an effect on an NCO and they learn something, that is great.”

The Marines, and now graduated members of Corporal’s Course, will be able to put their skills to use, said Thatcher.

Corporal’s Course gave these Marines the ability and knowledge needed to become first-class leaders; following and enforcing customs and courtesies of the traditional Marine Corps – the Marine Corps that has captured America’s hearts and minds for the past 233 years.

Veterans groups irate at Obama's private insurance proposal

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Veterans groups are angry after President Obama told them Monday that he is still considering a proposal to have treatment for service-connected injuries charged to veterans' private insurance plans.


Tue March 17, 2009
By Adam Levine

Leaders of the country's most prominent veterans groups met Monday at the White House with Obama, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and Steven Kosiak, the director in charge of defense spending for the Office of Management and Budget.

Some of the veterans groups were caught off guard when the president said the administration is still thinking about the idea as a way of generating $540 million for the Department of Veterans Affairs in 2010. The groups and some members of Congress have been very vocal in opposing the idea.

The message, according to some of the people in the room, was that if the groups do not like this idea, they need to come back with another way of saving or raising revenue for the VA.

"I got the distinct impression that the only hope of this plan not being enacted is for an alternative plan to be developed that would generate the desired $540 million in revenue," Cmdr. David Rehbein of the American Legion said in a written statement.

But the chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs vowed Tuesday that the plan would never gain the panel's approval.

"VA's sacred duty is to care for veterans injured in honorable service to our nation, and the department should not turn to wounded warriors' private insurance to pay for combat injures," said Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii. "Under my chairmanship, the Veterans' Affairs Committee will not advance any such legislation."

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Obama pledges more help for veterans
Vets object to billing private insurance for service injuries
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said no decision has been made.

"The president and the [veterans service organizations] had a good conversation, and veterans can be assured that the president understands any concerns that they would have," Gibbs said. "The budget the president has proposed represents an historic increase in discretionary spending to take care of our wounded warriors: those that have been sent off to war, have protected our freedom and have come back wounded."

He added, "this president takes very seriously the needs of our wounded warriors that have given so much to protect our freedom on the battlefields throughout the world."

Obama did most of the talking for the administration in the session with veterans representatives, participants said. Shinseki did not speak much in the meeting, which was described as "professional" by David Gorman, executive director of Disabled American Veterans.

The president was sympathetic to the needs of veterans, Gorman said, but insisted that the insurance companies are getting away with not paying for anything.

"The vets are paying premiums to insurance companies, and that is a free ride that needs to stop," Gorman said in describing the president's message to the group.

The groups oppose the idea because they believe that the government has a moral obligation to pay for service-connected injuries for the men and women who risked their lives serving the country.

"This flies in the face of the VA's covenant to cover all service-related health-care expenses," said Jay Agg, a spokesman for AMVETS.

The groups also say that the cost of treating service-connected injuries could lead to veterans quickly maxing out their benefits in third-party insurance, risking coverage for not just them but their families, who are also covered under the plans. In addition, they foresee premiums rising to cover the cost of treating the service-connected injuries.

"We are going to go back in and fight this thing tooth and nail," Gorman said.

He said the president complained that instead of commending the significant budget increase for the VA -- an 11 percent increase in 2010 and $25 billion over five years -- the groups are complaining about this proposal. But Gorman said that the issue of third-party billing is fundamental to the VA and that it is a "distraction" from discussing the budget increases.

Another group, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said that although it is encouraged by the increase in money for veterans' health care, the billing proposal is not acceptable.

"Veterans of all generations agree that this proposal is bad for the country and bad for veterans. If the president and the OMB want to cut costs, they can start at AIG, not the VA," said Paul Rieckhoff, the group's executive director, in a written statement.

The opposition is not a surprise to the White House. The groups had sent a letter opposing the idea when it was just a rumor. Last week, Congress weighed in when members of both the House and Senate Veterans Affairs committees told Shinseki at separate meetings that they objected to the plan.

Shinseki was told by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, that it would be "dead on arrival." Rep. Mike Michaud, D- Maine, said that if it were presented, he would oppose the entire budget.

It is unconscionable, and it is an insult to our veterans who have been hurt overseas," Michaud said. "It is just unbelievable that anyone would ever think of doing that in this budget."

At the time, Shinseki would say only that the idea was under consideration but no decision had been made.

The groups have another meeting with the White House on Thursday to suggest other options. Both AMVETS and Disabled American Veterans believe that the VA could raise more revenue by being more aggressive about pursuing billings for non-service-connected treatments. Increasing third-party billing for non-service related injuries by 10 percent, suggested Agg, would free up more money to help service-related injuries.

Another idea that will be presented would be to bill Medicare.

"This, we believe, would more easily meet the president's financial goal," said Rehbein, of the American Legion.

Gorman said his group is willing to concede some money in the VA budget to avoid the insurance proposal.

"If it comes down to this issue, which is fundamental to the VA and what it should do, we are willing to give up a couple billion to salvage this issue," Gorman said.

A VA spokesman deferred all questions to the White House. White House officials were not immediately available for comment.

March 16, 2009

Veteran on cross-country bike trek dies

The Associated Press
Posted : Monday Mar 16, 2009 11:15:08 EDT

NORMAN, Okla. — A disabled Gulf War veteran who left Norman earlier this month on a hand-propelled bicycle headed for Washington, D.C., to honor fallen soldiers has died.

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Lance Corporal J. B. Breen

Lance Corporal J. B. Breen, 23, Route 1, St. Francisville, IL passed away at Deaconess Hospital in Evansville, IN, March 15, 2009, at 11:30 p.m. as a result of injuries suffered in an automobile accident north of Mt. Carmel, IL.


He was born in Vincennes, IN on Jan. 23, 1986. His parents are John K. "Kim" Breen and Teresa Grumieaux Breen of St. Francisville. J.B. was a member of the St. Francisville Free Methodist Church. He was a graduate of Lawrenceville High School. He was a Lance Corporal in the US Marine Corp Company K, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment,1st Marine Division. He was a rifleman. He is survived by his parents of St. Francisville, one daughter, Keely Jo Breen and her mother Allison of Lawrenceville, IL; one sister, Heather Carter and her husband Bryan of Lawrenceville; three nieces, Jayna, Morgan, and Bailey Carter of Lawrenceville; grandmothers, Ilene Grumieaux and Ola Mae Breen, both of St. Francisville; several uncles, aunts and cousins. He was preceded in death by his grandfathers, Roland Grumieaux and Joe Dale Breen. The funeral service will be held Friday at 11:00 a.m. at the St. Francisville Free Methodist Church with Rev. Irwin Bales officiating. Burial will in Oaklawn Cemetery. Visitation will be Thursday from 5:00 until 8:00 p.m. at the Cunningham-Nichols Funeral Home in St. Francisville. Military rites will be accorded Lance Corporal John Breen by the US Marine Corp. In lieu of flower, memorials may be made to the St. Francisville Free Methodist Church.

Boxer Post Office Delivers Goods

GULF OF ADEN (NNS) -- Sailors and Marines aboard amphibious transport dock ship USS Boxer (LHD 4) rely on postal clerks to receive news from home or packages that improve morale and quality of life.


Story Number: NNS090316-10
Release Date: 3/16/2009 10:03:00 PM
By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class (SW/AW) Brian Gaines, USS Boxer Public Affairs

The process begins as packages and letters are sent to one of two Fleet Post Office (FPO) sites within the United States, according to Postal Clerk 2nd Class (SW) Andrew French.

"All mail that is delivered to ships in the Pacific Ocean is processed out of the San Francisco FPO," said French. "Then, the packages and letters are sorted and packaged to be sent to their final location."

"Getting the mail from the flight deck to our Sailors is a busy process," said Postal Clerk Seaman Faith Jones-Johnson. "We work quickly to ensure mail is getting to the right place in a timely manner."

Mail is weighed and packaged in bulk to be sent to the ships. It is not uncommon for a ship to receive as much as 20,000 pounds of mail during one vertical or underway replenishment. The mail is then sorted by department and division with the help of divisional mail orderlies.

"We have about four mail orderlies per division," said Jones-Johnson. "They must be qualified and are the only people who are allowed to help us handle mail."

In November 1960, the first 644 Sailors were converted to postal clerks (PC) and allowed to wear the PC rating. The need for efficient movement of the mail was a recognized necessity in the days before the Internet and satellite communications. The current 900 postal clerks in the Navy will eventually be merged with the ship's serviceman and storekeeper rates, ending up with about 13,000 Sailors in the combined rate.

Training to be a postal clerk for the military begins after basic training. Postal clerks for all branches of the military undergo five weeks of training at Fort Jackson, S.C. This "A" school is managed and operated primarily by the U.S. Army, with instructors from all five branches.

Some rather unusual requests for mailing items have been made in the past.

"These are against postal regulations under most conditions, so we have to be careful not to let certain items get mailed," French said.

Getting the mail to Sailors and Marines is the top priority for Boxer's post office.

"We don't hold onto mail unless it has to be signed for," said Jones-Johnson. "We want our Sailors and Marines to have their mail as soon as possible, and we don't have a lot of storage room in our post office."

Some Marines, such as Lance Cpl. Sara Hartzel, who works in training and support for the embarked air combat element, noted Boxer's postal clerks are vital to morale.

"I'm glad we have services such as a post office while underway."

Boxer Expeditionary Strike (BOXESG)/13th Marine Expeditionary Unit are currently on a regularly scheduled deployment in support of global maritime security.

BOXESG is comprised of Amphibious Squadron 5, Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 21 Detachment 3, Naval Beach Group 1, Assault Craft Unit 5, Assault Craft Unit 1, Beach Master Unit 1 and Fleet Surgical Team 5.

The 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit is comprised of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 163 (Reinforced), Combat Logistics Battalion 13 and Battalion Landing Team 1/1.

For more news from USS Boxer (LHD 4), visit www.navy.mil/local/lhd4/.

Marine receives Bronze Star for Iraq heroics

Staff report
Posted : Monday Mar 16, 2009 16:37:51 EDT

An Arizona-based Marine received a Bronze Star with combat “V” in March for his actions last year in Iraq, according to a Marine news release.

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March 15, 2009

Family readiness officers go high-tech

By Trista Talton - Staff writer
Posted : Sunday Mar 15, 2009 10:54:25 EDT

JACKSONVILLE, N.C. — More than half of the Corps’ family readiness officers are using a new Internet-based tool to pass the latest deployment news, scrapping the traditional key volunteer-to-spouse phone call.

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March 13, 2009

Lioness Program ‘pride’ of the Corps

MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER, TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. — When the focus of military operations in Iraq shifted from direct combat actions to stabilization and peacekeeping missions, Marines in combat units manning tactical control points throughout the country began using search and seizure methods to capture insurgents trying to smuggle weapons and other contraband through the checkpoints.


Story Date
3/13/2009 By
Lance Cpl. Nicholas M. Dunn,
Marine Air Ground Task Force Training Command 29 Palms

However, since Muslim tradition does not allow a man to touch a woman who is not related to them and knowing American military personnel would not search them unless a female service member was present, insurgents began to use women to smuggle contraband and act as suicide bombers.

To counter this threat, the Marine Corps developed the Lioness Program, which was formed five years ago to provide culturally-sensitive searches on Iraqi women, according to an article written by Regina T. Akers, a Ph.D. historian at the U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command in Washington, D.C.

The Lioness Program attaches female Marines to combat units to search Iraqi women and children who may be trying to smuggle money or weapons through security checkpoints in Iraq. The “lionesses” also train Iraqi women how to conduct proper searches on other women.

“Any time you’re talking about cultural differences, or any other situation, if there is a female involved, you want a female to search them,” said Staff Sgt. James Baker, the Combat Center Provost Marshal’s Office operations chief. “If you don’t follow that rule, you could potentially subject a Marine to the potential hardships of sexual harassment or cultural infringement.

“When you’re in a foreign country or hostile environment, there are a lot of considerations you want to take into account, like cultural differences, language barriers and overall situational awareness,” added the Lexington, Ky., native.

Baker said the Lioness Program observed those differences and successfully struck a balance between maintaining good rapport with the Iraqi people and still allowing Marines to safely do their jobs while deployed.

Cpl. Jacqueline Parker, the Marine Wing Support Squadron 374 supply warehouse noncommissioned officer, was a member of the Lioness Program while on her second deployment to Iraq with her squadron last year. During the deployment, Parker was the only female in the squadron to attend the program.

After attending a week-long training program, she was attached to 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, to provide security and search authority for the battalion’s corpsmen while they offered medical treatment to local Iraqis.

“I led a group of female Marines attached to 1/3 in [Camp] Baharia, Iraq,” said the Mobile, Ala., native. “Basically what we did was set up a tent to search Iraqi women and children prior to giving them medical treatment.

“When I first went to the program, I was nervous – you never know what to expect,” Parker said. “Overall, it was an exciting experience for me, though, and I have no regrets whatsoever. It’s good to know you’re doing something to help people, and I like helping out.”

By affording female Marines like Parker the opportunity to serve directly alongside combat units, the Lioness Program inadvertently provided women with more equality on the frontlines.

“Twenty years ago, seeing a female [Marine] at a checkpoint with a bunch of 03s [infantrymen] would’ve been really uncommon,” Baker said. “Now, it’s almost become a norm. It really isn’t a big deal to see women on the frontlines or at these checkpoints.”

With “lionesses” continuing to serve in Iraq, the significance of women Marines serving side-by-side with combat units has been accented by their ability to perform their duties as well as any other Marines manning the checkpoints.

“I don’t think there was a Marine out there who didn’t understand the importance of having females there,” Baker said. “No one I know ever questioned their abilities or their knowledge. We didn’t look at them as females serving at a checkpoint, we just saw another Marine.”

Tank Marines take responsibilities as quick reaction force

Page Content
“First to fight” is a phrase that often comes to mind when referring to the Marine Corps. Not only is being the first to engage the enemy very important, but reacting quickly to a call for assistance or help is imperative.


Story Date
3/13/2009 By
Cpl Alan Addison,
Regimental Combat Team 8

Marines from Company B, 1st Tank Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 8, conducted quick reaction training March 11, 2009, in preparation to take on responsibilities as Multi National Force-West’s Quick Reaction Force. Although this job calls for these Marines to operate outside of their military occupation specialty, the training they have completed has helped prepare them for their upcoming task.

“They have really adapted to the mission; it’s different from anything they’ve done throughout their current deployment but they’re doing a good job,” said 1st Lt. James Smith, current QRF Platoon Commander, Company D, 3rd Amphibious Assault Battalion. “We’ve been teaching them to transition out of their normal tank mindset into a more infantry-based thinking.”

The last training exercise the QRF Marines participated in was a drill which provided them the opportunity to practice their reaction time from start to finish. As the exercise started, combat-equipped Marines loaded themselves onto a CH-53E helicopter. They unloaded in a target area and transitioned into ground movements. During ground movements, Marines cleared the area and located a safe landing zone for the helicopter. Once Marines completed ground movements, the helicopter was guided back to their position. The QRF Marines boarded the helicopter and returned to their starting point.

“Training like this is very important,” said 1st Lt. Aaron Nord, the incoming platoon commander for the QRF, and 1st platoon commander for Company B , 1st Tank Battalion. “Rehearsals make you fluent and confident in the missions you’re asked to carry out. It also ensures that Marines understand what they’re doing,” said Nord. “We realize the importance of the mission and we’re ready to take over.” Getting a good grasp on training is important considering the QRF will be expected to respond to units located all throughout Multi National Force - West.

The new Quick Reaction Force Platoon Sergeant, Gunnery Sgt. Jason Villasana says his Marines are well-trained and have adjusted very well to the changes in their job description. “I’m pleased with their progress. We received this assignment unexpectedly, but the Marines have worked hard and rolled with the punches that have been thrown at them. They know that they are ground pounders now not just tankers.”

The March 11 training is the last exercise the Marines conducted before taking over the next day. “The training went very well today,” said Smith. “These Marines have done a great job doing a job that there are not very familiar with.”

Being quick to react in a time of need is essential for Marines who are deployed in a combat environment. Although QRF Marines are meant to be the first to fight, they must use that ethos when it comes to their reaction time. These Marines must work and train hard to make sure that in a time of need they are the first to respond and lend assistance to those in need it most.

For more information on the ongoing mission in Iraq’s Al Anbar province, visit www.iimefpublic.usmc.mil/iimeffwd.

March 12, 2009

Brigade needs more Afghan forces

By Trista Talton - Staff writer
Posted : Thursday Mar 12, 2009 18:36:08 EDT

CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. — Among the biggest challenges the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade faces when it enters Afghanistan this spring will be the lack of Afghan security forces in its area of operations, the MEB’s new commander said Monday.

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Urban combat skills addressed

S. Korean marines trained by U.S. forces at Rodriguez Range

By Jimmy Norris, Stars and Stripes
Pacific edition, Thursday, March 12, 2009

The crack of small-arms fire filled the air at Rodriguez Range on Tuesday as troops from the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment worked with South Korean marines to sharpen their urban combat skills.

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March 11, 2009

Marines conduct marksmanship training aboard New Orleans

USS NEW ORLEANS, At Sea — With all of the advancements made towards improving the quality of life while under way, it is also important to remember to create better training tools.


3/11/2009 By Lance Cpl. Megan Sindelar, 13th MEU

The New Orleans is the first commissioned, San Antonio Class ship to include the Indoor Simulated Marksmanship Trainer system (ISMT). The ISMT system aboard USS New Orleans, run by the ship’s combat cargo section, consists of two screens with eight different weapon systems ranging from small arms to heavy machine guns. The ISMT is being used for the Navy weapon’s qualifications as well as Marine Corps training while at sea.

It can be difficult to maintain basic rifleman skills, but the ISMT, in addition to training conducted throughout the deployment, only increases the opportunities to build on those skills while aboard ship for months at a time.

Not many have used the program so far because the ship is still in its early stages of deployment and everyone is still settling down, but eventually Marines and sailors will start using the ISMT as the deployment goes on, said Gunnery Sgt. Ty W. Jones, the senior combat cargo assistant for USS New Orleans.

Due to weather, flight operations and the sea state, it can be a challenge to find opportunities to fire weapons.

“While at sea, it is hard to conduct live fire exercises,” explained Staff Sgt. Tony Serrano, a combat cargo assistant with USS New Orleans. “This system will allow for real-life combat scenarios and familiarization with the weapons—it is practice that can only help and benefit Marines [and sailors].”

“I think it’s a good thing to have aboard,” said Lance Cpl. Greg E. Lane, a rifleman with Company A, Battalion Landing Team 1/1. “There’s a wide variety of weapons to shoot—I’m enthusiastic about it.”

By having the ISMT aboard, USS New Orleans is setting the footprints for the San Antonio Class, modern day ships.

“This [training] can save lives,” said Serrano.

Coalition forces focus on helping victims of war

When Lt. Cmdr. Kobena Arthur arrived in Iraq for the first time in September 2008, he pledged to make an impact in the far reaches of the western Al Anbar desert.


3/11/2009 By Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Marie and Capt. Paul Greenberg, Regimental Combat Team 8

Arthur, battalion chaplain for 2nd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 8, focused his efforts on aiding more than 200 Rutbah-area widows through a weekly food distribution program.

Nearly a half-ton of rice and 627 parcels of food have been delivered to the city and redistributed to the local widows by the Iraqi Police and city council since Arthur’s arrival in Iraq. Each parcel contains enough food for a family of four to eat well for several weeks.

“This program is unique in its own way simply because we have the imam who has bought into it,” Arthur said. Once it had the imam’s support, it took off, he said.

Mahmoud Ahmed Nudin Obid, the imam of Rutbah, has worked closely with Arthur over the past six months. Many of the women helped by Arthur’s initiative were widowed during the initial Coalition invasion of Iraq or during the insurgency which has ravaged the city in recent years. Some of their husbands were shot at checkpoints, others were killed while planting improvised explosive devices, or during bombing attacks. A handful died of natural causes, Obid said.

Rutbah, about 20 miles east of Arthur’s base at Camp Korean Village, is a city of approximately 20,000, and the largest population center in the 2nd Battalion’s area of responsibility.

According to both the Bible and the Holy Koran, Christianity and Islam each stipulate that the faithful should take care of their respective society’s widows and orphans.

“According to the Koran,” said Obid in an earlier interview. “If you help the crying of the widows, God will bless you. We must take care of them … this is our religion. We love everybody. Our God orders us to open our hearts toward others. There is no difference between Christians, Jews and Muslims. Our goal is to live and work in peace.”

In November, Obid became the first Muslim religious leader to visit Camp Korean Village since Marines first occupied the base in 2004. Obid is a member of the local city council but generally meets with the chaplain as a religious peer.

The two occasionally discuss doctrine, but more often outline and coordinate Coalition assistance to the local widows, and determine how they can work together to improve the quality of life for the people of Rutbah.

Coalition troops won favor with the local Iraqis by not overlooking religious issues or ignoring the fact that Islam is woven into almost every facet of everyday life here, Obid said through an interpreter. He added that time and additional aid from the U.S. will help the widows overcome their resentment for their losses.

Regardless of how the women became widows, Arthur and Obid are working together to help them - no questions asked.

For more information on the ongoing mission in Iraq’s Al Anbar province, visit www.iimefpublic.usmc.mil/iimeffwd.

March 10, 2009

2,300 Marines, sailors to deploy to Afghanistan

CAMP PENDLETON — More than 2,300 Marines and sailors from Camp Pendleton and Twentynine Palms will deploy to Afghanistan in the coming weeks, Marine officials said yesterday.


7:46 a.m. March 10, 2009

Camp Pendleton will send roughly 1,000 troops from the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, about 400 from the 1st Combat Engineer Battalion and an unspecified number from Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 169.

Twentynine Palms will dispatch about 900 service members from the 3rd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment.

The units' deployments will last seven months to a year. They'll most likely serve in southern Afghanistan, where Taliban fighters and drug traffickers are particularly strong.

In all, about 10,000 Marines will be on combat duty in Afghanistan by summer. Their goal is to help counter increasingly aggressive insurgents and train Afghan National Security Forces.

Boxer becomes piracy task force flagship

Staff report
Posted : Tuesday Mar 10, 2009 15:48:31 EDT

The flag for Combined Task Force 151, the Navy’s counterpiracy flotilla, has moved to the amphibious assault ship Boxer, now operating in the waters of the Middle East.

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Marines shipping extra gear back home

By Ashley Rowland, Stars and Stripes
Mideast edition, Tuesday, March 10, 2009

CAMP EAGLE, Iraq — Which costs more: Buying a box full of toothbrushes or mailing it halfway around the world?

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Marines use resources to locate, properly honor first sergeant major of the Marine Corps

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Marines take care of their own. It’s a mantra every Marine learns in recruit training, and a proud declaration of devotion passed along from generation to generation.
The Inspector-Instructor staff here recently kept true to the saying, by taking care of a Marine who died 37 years ago.


3/10/2009 By Gunnery Sgt. F.B. Zimmerman, Headquarters Marine Corps

As the Marine Corps’ Birthday drew to a close last year, 1st Sgt. David Lee, I&I; first sergeant, knew his staff was responsible for a wreath laying ceremony at the gravesite of the first Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, Sgt. Maj. Wilbur Bestwick. The Marine Corps Casualty Procedures Manual mandates that wreaths be laid at the graves of all former commandants and sergeants major of the Marine Corps on the Corps’ birthday.

“We knew we had to [render honors] about a month and a half out, so we started preparing for it,” Lee said. “About two weeks out we looked up the listed cemetery to confirm that’s where he was buried and they didn't have any record of him. Once we realized he wasn't there, we began searching for where he was buried, and it took about a week to find.”

The cemetery listed as the burial site on Bestwick’s official bio is Alta Mesa Memorial Park in Palo Alto, Calif., but they had no record of him. Lee said the cemetery staff called surrounding cemeteries, but the result was the same -- no record of Bestwick anywhere.

Lee contacted his predecessor to see if he knew where the sergeant major was buried, but he too was never able to find the grave. That Marine had even gone so far as to hire a genealogist, but had no success at locating the grave or family members, Lee said.

One Sunday, only a month prior to the Corps’ birthday, Lee and his Commanding Officer, Capt. Brandon Boers, were brainstorming while watching football. Lee was a prior recruiter, and Boers asked him how he was able to locate vital records on those he was recruiting. That’s when it clicked that the answer may be at the county records office.

So, the next day, Boers and Gunnery Sgt. Antonio Uriegas, made a trip to the county records office to see what they could find. When they received the certified true copy of Bestwick’s death certificate, they finally had the information needed – his burial place was listed as Skylawn Memorial Park in San Mateo, Calif. A quick call confirmed Bestwick was there.

“I knew we could find it because I knew there was a record of it somewhere,” Boers said. “We just had to figure out where to find the record. Within about 15 minutes of finding the actual burial site, we were able to find exactly where the gravesite was.”

Bestwick is buried in the Veterans’ section in lot 74, section A, space two.

A week prior to the birthday ceremony, Lee said a trip was made to the cemetery to scout the location. He said the marker was weathered and overgrown with weeds. A tree root underneath Bestwick’s headstone caused the marker to slant.

While the cemetery staff told Lee he could request to have the site cleaned up, he wanted to make sure it was done by the ceremony, so a small working party was sent to take care of it. The Marines cleaned up the area, and even leveled the headstone.

“It now sits a little higher than the others,” Lee said.

On Nov. 10, 2008, Boers, Lee and their Marines from the I&I; gave proper honors to Bestwick, for what Lee thinks was the first time. Since honors had never been rendered, Lee said they wanted to do something extra, so in addition to laying the wreath and playing Taps, a rifle detail gave a 21-gun salute.

Lee said it was an honor to be able to finally locate and pay respects to Bestwick, but what made it more special, is Bestwick was the first Marine to serve as the I&I; San Jose first sergeant. Lee said has even jumped on board with his predecessor’s idea of naming their building after Bestwick, and is going to work to get that approved.

“It was great … it was like solving a mystery,” said Boers of the challenge of locating Bestwick’s gravesite. “It was a huge honor. I think it’s important for us to remember where we came from and honor those who came before us.”

During a recent visit to the I&I;, the 16th Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, Sgt. Maj. Carlton W. Kent, made a special trip to the cemetery. Despite heavy winds and driving rain, Kent, in his Dress Blue Bravos, paused for a moment of silence before laying a wreath to pay tribute to the first sergeant major of the Marine Corps.

“It was an honor for me to be able to honor Sgt. Maj. Bestwick at his gravesite,” Kent said. “Not only is his warfighting legacy an important part of Marine Corps history, but he’s also important since he was the first sergeant major of the Marine Corps.

“I would just like to thank the Marines from I&I; San Jose for being persistent in locating the gravesite of Sgt. Maj. Bestwick. What the Marines have done just echoes what Marines have been doing since the founding of our Corps in 1775, and that’s to ensure we take care of our fellow Marines.”

USS Boxer Becomes Flagship for CTF 151

USS BOXER, At Sea (NNS) -- USS Boxer (LHD 4), homeported in San Diego, assumed the role as flagship for Combined Task Force (CTF) 151 March 8 after arriving in the U.S. 5th Fleet Area of Operations as part of a regularly-scheduled deployment.


Story Number: NNS090310-06
Release Date: 3/10/2009 5:04:00 PM
By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class T.S. Hall, Combined Task Force 151 Public Affairs

Established in early January, CTF 151's mandate is to deter and disrupt piracy in the Gulf of Aden, Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean and the Red Sea and currently includes naval forces from the United States, United Kingdom, Denmark and Turkey.

"We've had a great deal of success in deterring piracy to this point," said Rear Adm. Terence McKnight, commander, CTF 151. "We've conducted counter-piracy operations on the amphibious transport dock ship USS San Antonio (LPD 17), two guided-missile cruisers -- USS Vella Gulf (CG 72) and USS Monterey (CG 61) -- and now we're going to continue our mission on Boxer, which continues our line of extremely flexible platforms. Boxer has a lot to offer in the fight against piracy."

McKnight said that CTF 151 has coordinated with many nations to help thwart piracy in the region.

"Piracy isn't a problem that affects one or two nations," he said. "It's a problem that affects the whole world and the free flow of commerce in the world's waterways. Piracy requires an international solution."

Capt. Mark Cedrun, Boxer's commanding officer, said the amphibious assault ship provides an exceptional and diverse array of options to commanders in tracking, identifying and deterring piracy at sea.

"We bring unique and very effective tools to the theatre to accomplish any mission or assignment," he said. "Whether it's humanitarian assistance or counter-piracy operations, we're ready."

Boxer's embarked units include the Amphibious Squadron (PHIBRON) 5, Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 21 Detachment 3, Naval Beach Group 1, Assault Craft Unit (ACU) 5, ACU 1, Beach Master Unit 1, Fleet Surgical Team 5 and the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU).

The 13th MEU is comprised of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 163 (Reinforced), Combat Logistics Battalion 13 and Battalion Landing Team 1/1.

For more news from Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command/Commander, U.S. 5th Fleet, visit www.navy.mil/local/cusnc/.

Too much armor robbing Marines of speed in combat

WASHINGTON – Using heavy layers of armor to keep troops safe from bullets and bombs is making the Marine Corps too slow on a battlefield where speed and mobility are critical, a senior military leader said Tuesday.


By RICHARD LARDNER, Associated Press Writer Richard Lardner, Associated Press Writer – Tue Mar 10, 1:13 pm ET

With 8,000 Marines about to be sent to Afghanistan to quell rising violence, Lt. Gen. George Flynn cautioned members of Congress against wrapping them in so much protective gear they can't hunt down more agile insurgents who use the country's rugged peaks and valleys to their advantage.

"The bottom line is that the focus on armor as the principal means of protecting our force is making us too heavy," said Flynn, deputy commandant of the Marine Corps for combat development and integration, during a hearing held by the House Appropriations defense subcommittee.

The weight of personal body armor and steel-encased vehicles limits the speed and maneuverability that make the Marine Corps "more effective and deadly to the enemy," he said.

Body armor has been a proven lifesaver of U.S. troops. But the vests weigh as much as 34 pounds each. When body armor is added to the assault rifles, ammunition, water and other essential gear troops are required to carry, they can be lugging as much as 80 pounds into combat. Besides moving more slowly, overburdened troops tire more quickly and are prone to orthopedic injuries that can take them out of action, officials say.

Convincing a war-weary public of a less-is-more approach won't be easy, they say. If a commander decides the gear shouldn't be used for a particular mission and a service member is killed, there could be a backlash, said Jean Malone, deputy director of experiment plans at the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab in Quantico, Va.

"We've got to have the internal fortitude to come back and say: 'We have the data. We made the right decision. We can't guarantee you that nobody will die in this war,'" he said.

Paring down the amount of armor could actually make troops safer on the battlefield, officials say. Speed and maneuverability give them the best chance of killing or capturing the Taliban and other militants before they can set roadside bombs or get in position for an ambush.

"Being able to maneuver and fight and chase down a fleeing enemy; that's actually where your protection is (versus) armoring up and being more static," said Brig. Gen. Tim Hanifen, deputy commanding general of the Marine Corps Combat Development Command at Quantico.

The loads carried by modern American troops are equivalent to those "the medieval knight wore into and out of battle back in the year 1000 until about the 16th century," he said.

Bomb-resistant vehicles that are light and nimble enough to handle Afghanistan's primitive roads are also needed, Flynn told the defense subcommittee. He outlined plans to buy an all-terrain vehicle strong enough to blunt improvised explosive devices and still have the mobility of a Humvee.

The defense subcommittee is holding oversight hearings Wednesday and Thursday on force-protection programs, readiness levels, and ergonomic injuries. Senior Marine Corps and Army leaders are scheduled to testify.

As troop levels are surging in Afghanistan, so are roadside bomb attacks, according to the Pentagon's Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization.

In January and February, 52 IED attacks in Afghanistan killed 32 coalition troops and wounded 96 more, according to preliminary figures from the organization. During the same two months in 2008, 21 IED attacks killed 10 troops and wounded 39.

Body armor has become a focus of Marine Corps efforts to lighten troop loads because it weighs so much more than the other gear. The standard kit consists of hardened composite plates inserted into a ballistic vest. The vest and plates protect the upper body from armor-piercing bullets and shrapnel.

Personal armor made of substantially lighter composite materials that are more effective than current models won't be available for several years. So the Marine Corps is looking for near-term solutions.

The Marine Corps is buying 65,000 vests called "scalable plate carriers" that weigh under 20 pounds. The carrier, which uses the same plates as the standard vest, doesn't cover as much of the torso. About 14,000 of the plate carriers have been fielded and the feedback has been positive, according to Marine Corps officials.

March 9, 2009

Camp Pendleton units get Afghanistan assignment

Marine force will be led by Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson

CAMP PENDLETON ---- About 1,400 Camp Pendleton Marines and sailors have been ordered to join the fight in Afghanistan this spring, the first large-scale deployment from this base to that country since the 2001 U.S. invasion.


By MARK WALKER - Staff Writer | Monday, March 9, 2009

About 1,000 of the troops are from the base's 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment. An additional 400 are from the 1st Combat Engineer Battalion.

They will be joined by 900 more Marines and sailors from the 3rd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment artillery unit based at the Marine Air Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms in the Mojave Desert, 1st Marine Division spokesman Cpl. Erik Villagran said Monday.

The 2,300 California leathernecks are part of a 17,000-member force ordered to Afghanistan by President Barack Obama last month to blunt rising Taliban and al-Qaida attacks.

The Marine force will total about 8,000 with units in North Carolina and Hawaii also getting the assignment.

The Marines will be joined by a 4,000-member Army brigade and an additional 5,000 support forces to total the 17,000 troops the president is dispatching.

The deployment comes as the U.S. shifts resources and troops from a relatively stable Iraq to the increasingly volatile Afghanistan, where U.S. deaths from roadside bombings, rockets and rifle attacks have risen sharply in recent months.

Once there, the fresh forces will raise the number of American military personnel to about 38,000, giving commanders a little more than half the additional troops they asked for to meet the surge in violence.

As winter gives way to spring, military officials have said they said expect more Taliban-led attacks.

The local Marines who will soon confront those attacks will work under the banner of the II Marine Expeditionary Brigade headed by Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson, a former Camp Pendleton officer. Nicholson was installed as the brigade commander during a Monday morning ceremony at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.

Nicholson told reporters covering that event that his forces will work with the Afghan national army.

"If I'm a villager in southern Afghanistan and see U.S. Marines come by with no Afghan forces, how does that inspire trust and confidence or faith in the central government," he said.

The 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment is training for Afghanistan at Twentynine Palms, Villagran said. That unit has a simple and stark slogan: "Make Peace or Die."

Negotiations with moderate elements of the Taliban is one option under consideration to reduce the violence, Obama said in an interview with the New York Times published Saturday. He compared the effort to what took place in Iraq with Sunni extremists, an effort largely undertaken by Marine Corps commanders.

"There may be some comparable opportunities in Afghanistan and in the Pakistani region," Obama told the newspaper, adding the task would not be easy.

"The situation in Afghanistan is, if anything, more complex," he said. "You have a less-governed region, a history of fierce independence among tribes. Those tribes are multiple and sometimes operate at cross purposes, and so figuring all that out is going to be much more of a challenge."

The Afghanistan assignment for local Marines comes just weeks after thousands of Camp Pendleton and Miramar Marine Corps Air Station troops returned from Iraq. Those troops are not included in the Afghanistan assignment, for which a specific starting date has not been determined.

With the planned drawdown in Iraq, officials have said they do not expect any more large-scale Marine deployments to that country if the relative calm there continues to hold.

For more than a year now, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Conway has been pressing to move all of his troops from Iraq to Afghanistan, arguing the combat environment there is a better fit for his forces.

The Marines heading to the south-central Asian nation that hosted al-Qaida training camps prior to the late 2001 toppling of the hardline Taliban government are being assigned to southern provinces. That region is where attacks against U.S. and NATO troops have risen dramatically in recent months.

U.S. deaths in Afghanistan more than tripled in January and February compared with the same period in 2008, rising from eight that year to 29 in the first two months of 2009.

Brig. Gen. Nicholson, the man overseeing the Marine force, is a combat veteran who survived wounds in a 2004 rocket attack in Iraq when he was commanding Camp Pendleton's Regimental Combat Team 1. As he was being evacuated, Nicholson vowed to his Marines, "I'll be back."

He did return a few months later and, in 2006, was back in Iraq yet again as commander of the base's 5th Marine Regiment.

From August 2007 until August 2008, Nicholson was deputy commanding general of the Marine Corps Combat Development Center in Quantico, Va.

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

A Few Good Women: All-female Marine Team Conducts First Mission in Southern Afghanistan

FARAH PROVINCE, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – Marines of 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment (Reinforced), the ground combat element of Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Afghanistan, now have a special group of individuals to help them complete their mission in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.


Story by Lance Cpl. Monty Burton
Date: 03.09.2009

The Marines employ a select group of all-female Marines from within SPMAGTF-A who are trained to interact with the Afghan female population – a task considered culturally unacceptable for their male Marine brethren operating in the Islamic republic.

A similar program has been used in combat operations in Iraq, but this is the first time Marine forces in Afghanistan have employed the concept.

Capt. Mike Hoffman, commanding officer of 3/8’s Company I, said the all-female team is an important asset for his Marines.

“[The team] provides us access to half of the population that we normally do not have access to,” Hoffman said. “They did extremely well interacting with the female villagers.”

2nd Lt. Johanna Shaffer, the team leader, said their first mission, a cordon and search in support of Operation Pathfinder, was very successful.

“We were accepted by both the men and women villagers and were able to obtain valuable information about the way they lived and what they thought about the Marine Corps operating in the area,” Shaffer said.

During their first mission, the female Marines deliberately donned brightly colored head and neck scarves as a sign of cultural respect to the Afghan women.

“The scarves showed the Afghan women that we were women too, and we respect their culture,” said Shaffer. “They automatically felt more comfortable with us. They showed us their homes, and even though they didn’t have much they were still very generous to us. They accepted us as sisters, and we’re glad that we were here to help them.”

Although Afghan women tend to be more reserved than Afghan men, they still have a large influence on their children, Shaffer said, so engaging with them is important.

“If the women know we are here to help them, they will likely pass that on to their children,” she said. “If the children have a positive perspective of alliance forces, they will be less likely to join insurgent groups or participate in insurgent activities.”

Hoffman said the female Marines were also accepted by the village men.

“They were not opposed by the villagers,” Hoffman said. “They had no problem allowing [the team] the chance to interact with their women.”

According to Shaffer, the concept employed by her team varies greatly from the program in Iraq because of differences in Afghan culture.

“The cultural background here is completely different than that of Iraq,” Shaffer said. “Women here are more timid than in Iraq. There is less of a chance that an Afghan women would try to harm us because they understand that we are here to help them.

“We also do not know much about the daily life of Afghan women,” she said. This provides us not only the opportunity to learn about the women, but also to build and maintain faith and trust of the Afghan women.”

The mission of SPMAGTF-A is to conduct counterinsurgency operations, with a focus on training and mentoring the Afghan national police. Operation Pathfinder was a deliberate counterinsurgency engagement conducted in coordination with Afghan national security forces along Route 515 in southern Afghanistan.

U.S., South Korea begin exercise amid North Korea’s threats

By Jimmy Norris, Stars and Stripes
Pacific edition, Monday, March 9, 2009

SEOUL — The annual Key Resolve/Foal Eagle exercises were to kick off Monday, scheduled to last through March 20.

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2/14 touts advanced artillery system

Staff report
Posted : Monday Mar 9, 2009 8:39:39 EDT

The reservists with Battery D, 2nd Battalion, 14th Marines, had been at Camp Barber only three weeks in February when they conducted a successful field test of their High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, a first for any Marine unit operating in Afghanistan and a sign of what’s in store for the insurgency there, officials said in a news release.

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March 8, 2009

'Accomplishing the mission' in Afghanistan

As 8,000 Marines and sailors prepare to deploy to southern Afghanistan as part of 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, the commander of the Camp Lejeune-based infantry unit that has been serving in southern Afghanistan since November says they have made important gains even while suffering difficult losses.


March 8, 2009 - 8:31 PM

"Counterinsurgency is a sustained commitment that will take time here in Afghanistan; however, we feel we are accomplishing our mission daily and ‘moving the ball' down the field here," 3 rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment commander Lt. Col. David Odom told The Daily News via e-mail.

The 3rd Battalion deployed to Afghanistan as the ground combat element of a special purpose Marine air-ground task force. The task force will be joined in southern Afghanistan later this spring by another 8,000 troops to form the 10,000-strong 2nd MEB.

The assumption of command ceremony for that brigade - and the announcement of the subordinate units that will make up the MEB - is scheduled for this morning at Camp Lejeune. Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson will command the brigade.

Odom said the Marines of 3/8 know that the additional troops will "sustain and advance the successes" made by Marines, Afghan National Security Forces and NATO troops in the area.

3/8's primary mission has been counterinsurgency operations, with a focus on training and mentoring Afghan National Security Forces, Odom said.

They have been able to expand into areas where there was no previous security presence, facilitate better freedom of movement for the local people and prevent movement in those areas by insurgents, he said.

"We do have a viable and capable insurgency that we are fighting against, and there is still much to do; however, we know that with sustained presence and continued efforts alongside the Afghan National Security Forces and Afghan people, we are making a difference," he said.

The unit operates from several bases in various district centers, he said, working with the Afghan people to establish good relations and holding frequent meetings, called "shuras."

"Through seeking to conduct all operations and actions ‘by, with and through' the Afghans, we know we are making a difference that builds steadily over time," Odom said.

The Marines of 3/8 have built on the successes of the 29 Palms-based 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment before them, Odom said. But like 2/7, 3/8 has suffered numerous casualties.

Lance Cpl. Alberto Francesconi, Lance Cpl. Jessie Cassada, Lance Cpl. Julian Brennan, Sgt. David Wallace III, Sgt. Trevor Johnson and Lance Cpl. Kevin Preach all died supporting combat operations, according to the Department of Defense. Lance Cpl. Daniel Bennett died in what the DoD called a "non-hostile" incident.

"Unfortunately, our success here has come with great sacrifice at the loss of some of our brothers," Odom said. "We honor and remember our fallen angels and their families daily here by accomplishing our mission here in Afghanistan."

Contact interactive content editor and military reporter Jennifer Hlad at [email protected] or 910-219-8467.

Afghan National Police, Marines Execute Cordon and Search in Southern Afghanistan

FARAH PROVINCE, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – Members of the Afghan national police and U.S. Marines with 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, successfully completed their first major mission in support of Operation Pathfinder, Feb. 9, in Farah province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.


Story by Lance Cpl. Monty Burton
Date: 03.08.2009

With the ANP in the lead, the two forces conducted a cordon and search of a high-interest village along southern Afghanistan’s Route 515.

Elements of 3/8’s Company I and Weapons Co. executed the cordon and search after receiving intelligence that the village may be harboring weapon caches and insurgent supporters. During the course of the mission the Marines found numerous weapon caches containing more than 150 pounds of explosive material, rocket propelled grenades and improvised explosive device making materials. Co. I also found other evidence that provided names and confirmed the identity of several individuals with suspected ties to insurgent cells in the area. The ANP and Marines executed the mission professionally and efficiently.

The Marines of 3/8 dispatched the biometric automated toolset outside of a forward operating base for the first time since they deployed to the country. The BATS system uses fingerprints, portraits, background information and iris scans to identify individuals and log them into an international database, which can be accessed by any federal agency.

“The BATS system is a way for us to identify the Afghans in a Department of Defense-wide database,” said Capt. Mike Hoffman, Co. I commanding officer. “This information helps us to identify the criminals and insurgents without a problem. If we were to find fingerprints on a weapons cache or an IED, we could pinpoint exactly who it was.”

Sgt. Nick Bender, the Company-Level Intelligence Cell chief, said the system will also help Marine units in the future.

“With the system, the Marines in the future will be able to identify people of interest without a problem,” Bender said. “They will be able to not only identify these individuals, but also access their family information and where they live.”

The cordon and search mission, which began before dawn, involved the blocking of the roads leading to and from the village, and the hasty construction of a processing center to enter all of the villagers into the BATS system.

As the sun began to rise, the ANP and Marines got to work. They started by escorting the Afghan villagers to the processing center to be entered into the BATS system. After the villagers were cleared, Co. I, with the ANP leading the way, began searching every building in the village.

The mission gave the Marines a chance to work in combat operations with the ANP. As the ground combat element of Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Afghanistan, 3/8 works hand-in-hand with the ANP to conduct counterinsurgency operations while training and mentoring them. By conducting partnered operations with the ANP, SPMAGTF-A and NATO’s International Security Assistance Force provide the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan with a professional police force able to keep the Afghan people safe.

“Although it was long and tedious work, we knew it not only had to be done, but done thoroughly,” said Cpl. Zach Switzer, an assault section leader with Co. I. “With the ANP leading the way and the village elders supporting the mission, things ran very smoothly and we were able to uncover numerous weapons and explosives.”

Insurgents use these weapons to attack alliance forces that support the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan with no regard for the lives of Afghan civilians.

The cordon and search also marked the use of a team of specially trained female Marines for the first time in Afghanistan. Based on a concept used successfully in Iraq, the group of female Marines was trained to interact with the female population.

“[The team] is a huge asset and definitely contributed to the successful completion of our mission,” Switzer stated. “Now the women know that we are here to help them.”
Hoffman said overall the mission was extremely successful, and it helped his Marines build a positive relationship with the local Afghan population.

“We are here for the Afghan people,” he said. “It is our mission to build and maintain the faith of the people we are here to serve.”

Good Samaritans Pull Crash Victims from Wreckage

Federal investigators began going through the wreckage Sunday of a small plane that crashed at a Marine Corps base, injuring the three men aboard.

Click above link for photo.

Sun, Mar 8, 2009

The Cessna 172 was traveling from John Wayne Airport in Orange County to Montgomery Field in San Diego when it went down Saturday near a helicopter pad by Las Pulgas Road shortly before 6 p.m. Drivers on Interstate 5, along with several Marines, rushed to the rescue of the three men after their plane crashed just yards from the freeway.

Two men were seriously hurt and the third suffered moderate injuries, authorities said.

FAA records show the plane was registered to Alan Jacobson of Costa Mesa, the Orange County Register reported. According to witness reports, he was the pilot.

Jacobson was taken to Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla and was listed in serious condition, hospital officials said. The other passengers were taken to Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo.

Witnesses said it's a miracle no one in the plane or on the ground was killed.

Jeff Smith was driving southbound on Interstate 5 and noticed the wing on its side and ran over to help the men trapped inside. Smith, a pilot since 1996, said the plane was destroyed.“I just asked if they were alive, that was my first concern.”

Smith said the pilot, a man in his 40s, had a broken wrist and was cut in several places.

The pilot told Smith that his engine went out suddenly. He attempted a short field landing, overshot, and crashed.

“Given the terrain and what he had to deal with right there, I think the guy did a pretty good job,” he said.

About a dozen witnesses stopped to help, many of them Marines.

"There were 2 Marines straight out of boot camp that held this guy over their head. He was a pretty hefty guy.”

All three people aboard were taken to hospitals.

On Sunday the National Transportation Safety Board was moving the plane's wreckage from the crash site to a facility in Pearblossom, said Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor. He said the NTSB planned to issue a preliminary report on the cause of the crash within five days.

March 7, 2009

Reserve chiefs: Our people deserve better retirement

By Tom Philpott, Special to Stars and Stripes
Pacific edition, Saturday, March 7, 2009

Reserve and National Guard members deserve a better retirement plan, one that pays an annuity earlier than age 60 at least for those willing to serve longer than 20 years, Reserve leaders have told Congress.

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March 6, 2009

Sailors, Marines from USS Iwo Jima clean up Sicilian oprphanage

SIGONELLA, Sicily — Sailors from USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7) and Marines from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit volunteered to clean up the Cassa Della Beneficenza Orphanage March 5 in Floridia, Sicily.


Release Date: Mar 06, 2009
Navy Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jonathan P. Idle
Naval Air Station Sigonella Public Affairs

Volunteers improved the overall look of the grounds.

"Today, we're gardeners," said Navy Cmdr. Jonathan Smith, Iwo Jima command chaplain. "We've cleaned up the front and back gardens. We pulled all the weeds, cleaned out the flower beds, racked, swept and changed some lights inside the sanctuary."

Smith explained the volunteer work goes a long way for the morale of the volunteers and children involved.

"The sailors and Marines really love getting out and helping people," Smith said. "It makes them feel good about their mission in this part of the world and makes them feel like they're accomplishing something tangible."

Smith expressed his belief that community relations (COMREL) projects such as this are a great way give back and improve the image of the Navy worldwide.

"Community relations are a big part of what the Navy needs today," he said. "Above all, we need to establish trust with the world at large and the communities in particular, and this is a great way to do that."

Sister Nunziatina Sorella who works at the orphanage appreciated the time the volunteers put into helping clean up the orphanage.

"This is not the first time sailors have come here. Sailors have been coming here for many, many years, and it's a beautiful thing. The kids like it when sailors come because it's like a party for them. It's a different experience, because they don't get exposure to a lot of things. It's a day of joy and fraternity."

Iwo Jima is in the port of Augusta Bay, Sicily, on a scheduled port visit as part of the Iwo Jima Expeditionary Strike Group which is supporting maritime security operations in the U.S. 5th and 6th Fleet Areas of Responsibility.

CH-53s from 13th MEU fly support in Iraq

By Gidget Fuentes - Staff writer
Posted : Friday Mar 6, 2009 19:10:18 EST

OCEANSIDE, Calif. — Marines with the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit’s detachment of CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters left their ship at sea earlier this week and are flying combat support missions in Iraq.

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Grad will wear uniform

Senior allowed to don Marine dress blues for ceremony

A local high school senior who graduated early and joined the Marines will be "walking" at graduation in his uniform, not the school cap and gown, following a change of heart by Saugus High School Principal Bill Bolde.


By Tammy Marashlian
Signal Staff Writer
Posted: March 6, 2009

"Administratively, I recognized that we have never done anything like this before," Bolde said Thursday.

"We have consistently had the practice of all graduates wearing the traditional cap and gown during the ceremony. In fact, we've always had the wording in the contract for seniors that specifically states that "no alterations, substitutions or modifications" may be made to the attire."

His mother, Shari, said she is relieved that her son can wear his uniform.

Nicholas Laccabue left for boot camp Dec. 15 after finishing high school early.

Before leaving, the 17-year-old senior asked his mother to find out if he could wear his military uniform at the June graduation.

"I really didn't think it was going to be an issue," Shari Laccabue said.

Bolde initially denied Laccabue's request in December, but he said Thursday he continued to consider the issue and seek advice from his peers.

"I am a proud American who honors and prays daily for our military leaders as well as the men and women all over the world who make up our armed forces," he said. "My intent has never been to dishonor those who stand watch for our liberties."

The William S. Hart Union High School District has a site-by-site policy in place that allows principals to decide whether a student can wear something other than a cap and gown to graduation, spokeswoman Pat Willett said.

"They really try to maintain the decorum of the graduation practice," Willett said.

The district's policy for graduation attire will most likely be on the March 11 governing board agenda, Willett said.

The board can then adopt a policy outlining instances when a cap and gown would not be required for graduation, she said.

After Bolde's decision in December, Shari Laccabue contacted local veterans and board members to express her outrage.

Her concerns made it to the office of Congressman Howard P. "Buck" McKeon office, who supported Laccabue.

"(McKeon) asked me to make sure the young man is entitled to wear his uniform," said Bob Haueter, spokesman for McKeon.

A Hart district board member challenged Bolde's earlier decision.

"I was just flabbergasted," said Paul Strickland. "Here a young man has accomplished so much completing his required course work early and then going onto to the Marines and sacrificing for his country."

Nicholas Laccabue wanted to be a Marine since the age of 2, his mother said.

"He has never wavered," she said.

He played with GI Joe action figures and dressed up as a Marine for Halloween, she said.

Through his letters home, Shari watched her son mature.

"As an American, I'm just in awe. I'm overwhelmed," she said. "My son has my respect."

He enlisted in 2008 and spent the past three months at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot and training at Camp Pendleton in San Diego, she said.

Bolde remains proud of the achievements of students who attend military academies.

"Nicholas Laccabue is going to walk proudly in his dress blues at the Saugus High School graduation ceremony June 3," Saugus High School Principal Bill Bolde said in a statement. "I am looking forward to putting the Lamp of Learning medallion around his neck, shaking his hand and telling him ‘well done' as he crosses the stage."

March 5, 2009

Don't Mess With A Military Mom

Forget Al-Queda. If there’s a group you DON’T want to mess with, it’s military moms.


KHTS News Director Carol Rock
March 5, 2009

We stick together like hot glue, even if our sons and daughters are “retired” military. There’s something about having spent those sleepless nights, addicted to the news when an IED blows up near a familiar city or the cold chill that goes up our spines at the sight of a Stratus parked on our block that bonds us.

For the unfamiliar, those are the cars driven by military chaplains. You do the math.

Maybe it’s the fear/pride, the forced happy face, the support that has to come before the urge to hold our children close and protect them that makes us tougher than nails.

We keep the stiff upper lip when all around us wonder. And we get mad quicker.

It’s like the Mother Bear instinct, except on steroids way stronger than anything in major league baseball. Don’t mess with our cubs, lest you lose the ability to walk away.

We defend our kids and each other and we’re not afraid to call someone out when they’re horribly wrong.

Which brings me to the situation at Saugus High School.

Senior Nicholas Laccabue has always wanted to be a Marine and when given the opportunity to finish his required courses in December to accommodate an early enlistment, he did it – and three days later, “shipped out” to Marine boot camp.

His mom, Shari, is extremely proud of him. She gets a lot of support from the “Delta Moms,” a support group of mothers whose children are also Marines.

They were the first group she mentioned when she and I talked about her son’s situation.

You see, Nicholas wants to wear his Marine uniform to make the diploma walk in June with his class. He asked politely, probably just like his mama taught him, and Principal Bill Bolde turned him down.

Young man, only 17 now (but turns 18 in April), willing at that tender age to give his life for his country and a school administrator is going to quibble over what he wears to graduation.

This young man wants to walk with the dignity accorded someone representing our country, an honor he’s worked for and his parents – and community – deserve to acknowledge.

The boy isn’t doing it for attention, according to mom. He just wants to wear the uniform he’s earned. As an Army mom, I can tell you the opportunities to wear their dress uniforms are few and far between – graduations being one of them, along with funerals and weddings. Most of the time he’ll be in what soldiers call their BDUs – those familiar camouflage outfits that hide the dirt and the sweat.

Between Bolde’s decision to deny Marine Laccabue his simple request and when graduation rolls around, Nicholas will have suffered all sorts of insults, physical traumas, mental challenges and a litany of “character building” exercises.

Does he really need to be slammed by his school?

With the storm growing around this issue, there has been some serious backpedaling, but as yet, no wrongs have been righted. The Delta Moms stand behind Shari in whatever she did, which included contacting Arnold and Buck – the latter being one of the most powerful members of Congress when it comes to military affairs.

I know, from personal experience, that he can make things happen.

Right with those Delta moms are Blue and Gold Star Mothers and Prayer Angels For the Military.

In fact, they were ready to join Shari at a school board meeting if a “resolution” wasn’t being worked on.

I don’t know if Principal Bolde was in the service. Something tells me he was not.

But I know the moms are ready to teach him some better decision-making skills. And a little respect for our kids in the country’s service.

Afghan National Police, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment Conduct Operation Pathfinder in Southern Afghanistan

FARAH PROVINCE, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – The Afghan national police joined forces with the U.S. Marines of 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, to execute Operation Pathfinder, Jan. 28 - March 7, in Farah province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.



Story by Lance Cpl. Monty Burton
Date: 03.05.2009

As the ground combat element of Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Afghanistan, 3/8 worked with the ANP to conduct the operation, while training and mentoring them.

The ANP and 3/8’s Company I were the main effort in the operation, which consisted of several cordon and search missions, deliberate targeting of suspected insurgent cells, and security patrols in the region along southern Afghanistan’s Route 515. Co. I was supported by Weapons Co. and Co. K.

The operation also gave the Marines the opportunity to partner with the ANP, which gave alliance forces a greater presence in the difficult region of southern Afghanistan. The successful completion of Operation Pathfinder prepared the battlespace for future transfer to the ANP.

“We are here to provide security for the Afghan people,” said Capt. Mike Hoffman, Co. I commanding officer. “With the ANP leading us through the villages and interacting with the villagers, it helps the local Afghans build faith not only in us, but in their own security forces.

“The ANP led every step of the way during the operation; we were there to support their efforts,” he said.

Operation Pathfinder was designed to enhance all aspects of SPMAGTF-A’s overall mission of conducting counterinsurgency, with a focus on training and mentoring the ANP. The operation capitalized on the recent success of Operation Gateway III, which involved the clearing of Route 515 and the construction of three combat outposts along the important east-west route that connects the district centers of Delaram and Bakwa.

During the course of Operation Pathfinder, the ANP and Marines uncovered numerous weapon caches, which included more than 200 pounds of explosive material, rocket-propelled grenades and small arms. The ANP and Marines also detained 11 suspected insurgents.

Hoffman said the increased security along the road provides a safer environment for nearby villages and denies insurgent forces freedom of movement in the region.

The ANP and U.S. Marines also had the support of local villages that enjoy the increased security and counterinsurgency effort in the region.

“We had full support of the village elders, which is key to our success here,” Hoffman said. “We were also able to hold a town hall meeting with the local elders, and we had over 60 people in attendance.”

Cpl. Zach Switzer, a squad leader with Co. I, said the operation gave his Marines the chance to get out and interact with the local populace, while gaining valuable intelligence.

“We were afforded the opportunity to get out amongst the villagers and see how they react to our presence,” Switzer said. “We were also able to work hand-in-hand with the ANP in the villages, which helped us to further train and mentor them.”

During Operation Pathfinder, 3/8 employed for the first time in Afghanistan an all-female team of Marines trained to interact with the female Afghan population.

“The operation showed the Afghan villagers who reside along Route 515 that the Marines are here to help,” Hoffman said. “It also sent a message to the insurgents that we know what they are doing, and we are going to stop them.”

March 2, 2009

Corps expands running suit rollout

By Dan Lamothe - Staff writer
Posted : Monday Mar 2, 2009 21:35:46 EST

MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. — The Corps’ new running suit has been made available to 125 units, the latest step in the plan to get one free outfit to every Marine, officials said.

To continue reading:


March 1, 2009

Movie Details Fallen Marine's Journey Home

TULSA, OK -- The story of a fallen Marine's journey back home has made its way to the big screen.

Click on above link for video and photos.

Posted: March 1, 2009
By Jeffrey Smith, The News On 6

The volunteer escort charged with getting a 19-year-old Marine to his family has adapted his story into a screenplay.

The movie "Taking Chance" shows what it's like to escort a military casket, using the real life story of Lance Cpl. Chance Phelps, who died in Iraq.

Chance's dad, John Phelps, is an award-winning artist who came to Tulsa to showcase his work at an art show. He says the movie changed his life.

"I cried all the way through it," he said. "It was rough."

The concept for the movie started as paperwork, a log Lt. Col. Michael Strobl filled out as he escorted the body of teenager Chance Phelps five years ago.

It became a personal essay, a narrative of the trip to Cpl. Phelps' home in Wyoming.

It grew into a big-screen movie, playing at the Sundance Festival and on HBO.

But at its core, it's about how no one is left behind and about that final escort home.

"Of all our fallen in Iraq, or actually in any war, you can almost insert that name in place of Chance's name, and it actually tells that story, a story that lots of Americans have not seen," John Phelps said.

He says he misses his son every day.

"He was a great athlete, a very funny person, a great comrade to his family and to his fellow servicemen," his dad said. "And he's gone."

Phelps says the movie isn't political. It's about how drivers react upon seeing the casket, or how busy airports come to a complete stop.

"Regardless of how you feel about the war, this is a part of it," John Phelps said. "There are sacrifices being made for our freedom every day."

He says watching the movie is bittersweet.

"He was highly decorated for his actions, but he's not here," he said.

But the film honors Chance's legacy and the legacies of all soldiers who give the ultimate sacrifice.

The movie "Taking Chance," starring Kevin Bacon as Strobl, is playing on HBO.